Weasley family owl / MON 7-28-14 / Plump songbird / Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has football-shaped head / Those who put lot of effort into social-climbing in modern lingo

Monday, July 28, 2014

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a M*)



THEME: STRING QUARTET (37A: Classical music group … or what the four sets of circled letters make up?) — I don't know how to describe this theme. Circled/embedded letters spell out … what? Strings can be made of "nylon" … and they are analogous in shape to the other three … I honestly don't understand what makes this theme consistent. Mainly I do not understand "nylon." Seems like a huge Odd Man Out.

Theme answers:
  • ZEROPERCENT (17A: Chance of an impossibility)
  • "HEYARNOLD" (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head)
  • ANYLONAGER (44A: For even a second more)
  • VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally)
Word of the Day: TRY-HARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) —
[I have googled [define "try-hards"] and mainly what comes up are gaming sites and sites where people are asking the question "what (the hell) is a 'try-hard'?" I'm deeply suspicious of the reality of this answer. I love "modern lingo," but certain minimum qualities of familiarity must be met, I think.] [Here's a "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" message board, if that helps]
• • •

Well, insofar as the fill was kind of zippy, and the overall puzzle was much tougher than your normal Monday, I was pleased. Probably should've been a Tuesday, but whatevs. Close enough for horseshoes etc. But there is one major problem here—kind of a deal breaker. This theme makes no sense. Or, it makes sense in only the loosest, vaguest way, like "here's some stuff in the broad galaxy of string-ish things." And if you're going to go that route, why not pearls, cheese, theory, etc? But here, there's ROPE, YARN, and CABLE … all of which can be made of many, many things, and share with "string" a physical shape (spaghetti-ESQUE is, I believe, the technical term). But NYLON is the material out of which one might *make* string, or rope, I think. So there's a consistency issue here. You want your revealer to just *snap* the whole puzzle into place. "AH … yes. Bam. Got it." Is the reaction you want. Here, I just made a face at the puzzle and then tried to piece together my comprehension failure. I asked my group (I have a group) and it turns out I wasn't alone in my bafflement, so … yeah. If you don't give a rat's [beep] about tightness of themes, then you can just enjoy the atypically crunchy fill and let it go. But this looks like Theme Fail to me.


What made this one slower than most Mondays. Well, first off, the theme answers are not exactly common phrases. They're real things, but all of them took me crosses / thought to come up with (not always the case on Mondays). "HEY, ARNOLD" was by far the toughest, as I had completely forgotten that show existed. My kid never watched it, I never watched it … I know it only because it's Out There. In the Air. Man. [Chance of an impossibility] sounds like it's going to be some interesting colloquialism, but ends up being highly literal. YOU was clued toughly (32D: Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed). I mean, not so's you'd be up all night sussing it out, but still, these little difficulties add up on a Monday. I was over 3:30, I think, which is 30+ seconds slower than usual (those thirty seconds feel much longer than than they are). I'd say 90+% of my Monday times fall in a very tight group between 2:45 and 3:15, so when the times are outside that range, I know something's up. But again, no big deal. I like a little struggle, a little bite, on Monday, as long as the end result is a good puzzle. Today … things didn't quite come together, theme-wise, but it wasn't a total loss.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine / SUN 7-27-14 / Pathet old revolutionary group / Longtime baseball union exec Donald / European capital to natives / Exemplar of indecision / Names featured in Al Hirschfeld drawings

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "What's My Line?" — Theme clues are all familiar phrases following the pattern [___ line], and answers are all "lines" in the sense of something someone might say (i.e. unexpected answers, not immediately associated with the apparently context of the clue) (so, for instance, [Fault line] is a line one might utter if one was at fault, and not anything to do with an earthquake)

Theme answers:
  • SORRY WRONG NUMBER (22A: Telephone line)
  • SHOW ME THE MONEY (30A: Cruise line)
  • I'LL GET IT (14D: Help line) 
  • MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN? (15D: Date line)
  • ONCE UPON A TIME (52A: Story line)
  • MIGHT MAKES RIGHT (39D: Power line)
  • THAT'S ALL FOLKS (77A: Finish line)
  • IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME (101A: Fault line)
  • EAT FRESH (84D: Subway line) —this struck me as the freshest (!) of the bunch
  • TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE (111A: Laugh line)

Word of the Day: FARFEL (99A: Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine) —
noun, plural far·fel. Jewish Cookery.
a solid foodstuff broken into small pieces: matzo farfel; noodle farfel.
Origin: 
1890–95;  < Yiddish farfl;  compare Middle High German varveln noodles
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014. 
• • •

This was one for people who are a. way, way older than I am, and b. have a very, very different sense of humor than I do. Essentially, if you thought the NYT crossword puzzle had its heyday circa 1980, this was the puzzle for you. You can really taste the Maleska. Almost completely void of any contemporary frame of reference? Check. Cultural center of gravity of roughly 1955? Check. "Humor" (i.e. very very mild guffaws or chuckles that are guaranteed family-friendly and TRITE)? Check. Short fill that is ridiculously, bafflingly arcane, in places where it could easily, with little reworking, be replaced by something reasonable and familiar? Checkity check. I stopped solving within the first minute, at PRAHA, because I couldn't believe it was right. "No way you'd have that in an easy-to-fill corner like that … No way." And yet, way. I mean, that corner's got PSIS and ITGO, so it's not like PRAHA is doing some kind of valiant, Atlas-like labor  and holding the whole area up. Dear lord. HATLO!? "They'll Do It Ever Time"? OK, HATLO's work looks interesting, but that guy's been dead over 50 years and his strip was never terribly major to begin with. Real answers with clever / interesting clues beat obscure proper nouns (especially barely inferable ones like these) Every Single Time. It's construction 101. At this point, we're dealing w/ an editing problem, not a construction one. This theme is so stale, and the fill so mediocre-to-poor (and dated), that I don't know how puzzles like these keep getting published. In 2014. Solving this felt like slightly like punishment. Where was the fun? This was about as fun as filling out a SCHEDULE A (I imagine).


What year is it? Who says "MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN?" No, you may not, and get rid of the bow tie and desperate squeaking voice, and Vote Truman! The fact that the [Laugh line] is TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE tells you everything you need to know about this puzzle. I want you to walk outside right now and just start exclaiming "FARFEL FEHR!" When people ask "Why are you talking gibberish?" just say "Not Gibberish! It was in my puzzle! FARFEL FEHR!" The whole thing started feeling like a trivia contest—as if the puzzle were made harder by the inclusion of stuff like [Pathet ___ (old revolutionary group)] and [___ de Champlain (founder of Quebec)] and [Astronaut Slayton]. I wanted (much) more stuff like "IN THERE" (which is at least colloquial and has some zing) or DATA FLOW. But mostly all I got was punishing moldy stuff.

"Why are you opposed to learning new things!?" Because I'm a small-minded American. Also, I'm not opposed. I'm opposed to people using lame excuses for why cruddy fill is in their grids. Put it this way: if I put Samuel ETO'O in a grid, your reaction would not be, "Oh, I am so glad to learn of this Cameroonian footballer who is a star striker for Chelsea FC." Your reaction would be "WTF?" or "Not *sports* again [groan]" (yeah, I see you) or "Paging Dr. OOXTEPLERNON!" or some such. And much as I enjoy the names of footballers from around the globe, if my puzzle were a mainstream puzzle (such as the NYT), You Would Be Right To Groan, not because ETO'O is not a great name (it is) but because four-letter answers should not be spent on obscure names unless Absolutely Positively Necessary. See also, five-letter words, six-letter words, etc. And by "obscure" I mean "obscure to the majority of the target audience." To many football fans, ETO'O is not obscure.

Also, where is [Party line]? [Shore line]? [Zip line]? [Panty line]? [Bee line]? There Are So Many Lines, with (one imagines) So Many potential different answers, any number of which might've been entertaining / amusing / clever / fresh.


Had to suspend my Puzzle of the Week feature for a bit because I haven't been keeping up w/ All The Puzzles during my travels. I'll probably do something collective for July. I'm taking nominations if you've got 'em. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go gas up the ol' LANDAU (44A: Vinyl-roofed car).
The landau description was revived during the 1960s. There was a trend for making "fake convertibles" by applying vinyl roofs on regular cars. Some of these vehicles were called "landaus" by their manufacturers, and many were fitted with landau bars on the rear quarters (faux cabriolet). Some used the term "Town Landau" such as for one of the 1967 models in the Ford Thunderbird line. This generally meant a wider rear pillar with no rear quarter windows, or a partial vinyl roof that was applied only over the rear seat area (and is thus reminiscent of a town car).

A landau roof is also commonly used on the North American hearse; very long closed rear quarters, a vinyl roof, and huge, polished landau bars have been the preferred hearse style since before World War II. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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