1968 Heineken acquisition / THU 2-11-16 / Fair-hiring watchdog for short / Secret identity of Dick Grayson / Reddit Q&A session briefly / Dweller on upper Mississippi / Gifting someone with clock in China / Perfect Elements maker

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Famous people, initially  — seemingly random words are actually meant to be read as two initials + a noun meaning "guy" or "woman"—so answers are famous men / women who fit the profile:

Theme answers:
  • MARIE ANTOINETTE (17A: Malady?) [her initials are "M.A." and she's a "lady"]
  • TOM ARNOLD (22A: Tamale?)
  • LINDA EVANS (30D: Legal?)
  • ROY ORBISON (27D: Roman?)
Word of the Day: LOLA (29A: Popular fragrance that's a girl's name) —

• • •

This is a clever idea, and I can't think of any other viable clues, i.e. word that can be reimagined as two letters + word meaning "man" or "woman." It's a pretty random assortment of people—would've been nice if there'd been a way to add more, I don't know, coherence to the whole thing. It wasn't that entertaining or exciting, as Thursday themes go, but it's consistent, and the core cluing trick is a good one. The constructor also worked out how to get her theme answers symmetrical, going with mirror symmetry over the usual rotational symmetry. I don't know if this was *necessary*, as I haven't taken / won't take the time to scroll through all the "ta males" I can think of (Tim Allen, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) or any of the other clue name possibilities to see if other theme answer arrangements were possible. I think TOM ARNOLD and LINDA EVANS date this puzzle terribly, as they were relevant 20 and 30 years ago, respectively, and have not been relevant since. MARIE ANTOINETTE and ROY ORBISON are both timeless, so no problem there. My general feeling is that, with so many options available (in theory), the names you go with should be either legendary or current. TOM ARNOLD and LINDA EVANS are neither. Perfectly good crossword answers, just ... when you have options, it's harder to justify them as your choices.


Fill-wise, fine. Weak points, strong points. SPIT TAKE, always good (4D: "You did WHAT?" reaction). I had TIME SUCKS for TIME SINKS, so that cost me (34D: Mindless but addictive app games, e.g.).

The wikipedia definition of TIME SINK(S) focuses on games, though not on the games themselves, but on certain features in the games that encourage / force players to spend more time in the game without making progress. "Players may use the term disparagingly to describe a simplistic and time-consuming aspect of gameplay, possibly designed to keep players playing longer without significant benefit." TIME SUCK(S) googles better, but only slightly. I use TIME SUCK. I will never use TIME SINK(S). That said, I think it's a reasonable answer, even as clued, and certainly the most interesting answer in this grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Japanese PC maker / WED 2-10-16 / Hobos conveyances / Bodybuilder's dirty secret informally / Celeb parodied by Maya Rudolph on SNL / Exodus hero Ben Canaan

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: INTEGER (37A: The first parts of 17- and 22-Across are always this, the first part of 46-Across is sometimes this, and the first part of 55-Across is never this) — first parts of themers are NATURAL, WHOLE, RATIONAL, and IMAGINARY, respectively ... these are adjectives that (when they precede "number"?) do what the INTEGER clue says they do.

Theme answers:
  • NATURAL DISASTER (17A: Tsunami, for one)
  • WHOLE BEAN COFFEE (22A: Grinder input)
  • RATIONAL THOUGHT (46A: Sound judgment)
  • IMAGINARY FRIEND (55A: Hobbes, in "Calvin and Hobbes") 
Word of the Day: NEC (32D: Japanese PC maker) —
NEC Corporation (日本電気株式会社 Nippon Denki Kabushiki Gaisha) is a Japanese multinational provider of information technology (IT) services and products, with its headquarters in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. NEC provides IT and network solutions to business enterprises, communications services providers and to government agencies, and has also been the biggest PC vendor in Japan since the 1980s. The company was known as the Nippon Electric Company, Limited, before rebranding in 1983 as just NEC. Its NEC Semiconductors business unit was one of the worldwide top 20 semiconductor sales leaders before merging with Renesas Electronics. NEC is a member of the Sumitomo Group. (wikipedia)
• • •

I've heard from at least a couple people already tonight that they set personal Wednesday records with their solving times on this one, but it played only *sort of* easy, not very easy, for me (*last* Wednesday's was very easy—record-settingly so). Something about SEA ROVERS (?!) and STOMA and NEC provided enough resistance to keep things plausibly Wednesdayish, but I'm guessing most people who time themselves will find themselves on the fast side today. As for the theme—I don't care. I look at that Eternal clue on the revealer (INTEGER) and my head hurts. I'm sure that what it says about INTEGERs is true, but this adds nothing to the pleasure of the solving experience. Between the length and tediousness of that damned clue, and the fact that NUMBER is what follows NATURAL, WHOLE, RATIONAL, and IMAGINARY most readily in people's minds, I give this theme a 10 for technical accuracy but a 2 for joy.  In fact ... where is "number" here? "The first parts of 17- and 22-Across" are NATURAL and WHOLE ... but don't they need to be "NATURAL number" and "WHOLE number" to be an INTEGER? "NATURAL" is not always an INTEGER. That just makes no sense, grammatically. So I'm really confused as to how this is supposed to work on a basic, literal level. As for the fill, it is pretty much NYT-average; no great moments, but not much that's terrible either. A placeholder of a puzzle. Adequate and forgettable.

Stupidest move by me was looking at 6D: Herod's realm, seeing the letter pattern --DE-, and writing in ... [drum roll] ... HADES. In my defense ... ugh, I don't have much of one, but when my brain scrolled through "realms" that fit that pattern, and it hit HADES, some part of it must've gone "Herod ... bad man ... sure, go with it." This made the north very rough (the only section that played that way). I wrote TIFF for HUFF (51D: Fit of pique). Again, brain misfired here—seems to have merged SNIT and HUFF and ended up with TIFF. Gonna go back to CNN now and catch the tail end of the NH Primaries coverage. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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