Surname on financial weekly / WED 9-2-15 / Japanese toon with red bow / Japanese genre with voice actors / Lollipop-loving character of 1970s TV / Classic Duke Ellington tune / Margret Hans who created Curious George / Composer with horn named after him / Oblong tomato / College prank popular in '50s / Ooky cousin on TV / Nearly worthless old French coin

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Constructor: Kevin Christian and Bradley Wilber

Relative difficulty: Easy (well ... for me ...)

THEME: NORSE GODS (58A: They're hidden in 17-, 25-, 36- and 47-Across) —

Theme answers:
  • PANTY RAID (17A: College prank popular in the '50s)
  • MOOD INDIGO (25A: Classic Duke Ellington tune)
  • TRUTH OR DARE (36A: Slumber party game)
  • HELLO KITTY (47A: Japanese toon with a red bow)
Word of the Day: "TELL MAMA" (36D: 1968 Etta James album) —
Tell Mama is the eighth studio album by American singer Etta James. The album was released August 21, 1968 on Cadet Records and was produced by Rick Hall. Tell Mama was James's first album since 1963 to enter the Billboard 200 albums chart and contained her first Top 10 and 20 hits since 1964. It was also her second release for the Cadet record label. (wikipedia)

• • •
So ... this is gonna get a little (read: a lot) Inside Crosswords for a bit, but I think you'll appreciate it. At least I hope so. OK, so perhaps you've heard me talk about how I learned a ton about making crosswords from a single rejection letter I got back in '08 from Patrick Berry, when he edited the Chronicle of Higher Education crossword. That rejection is a touchstone moment in my crossword life—made me realize what a thoughtful and helpful editor Berry was, and made me realize what my standards ought to be for theme excellence. Honestly, the best rejection experience I ever, uh, experienced. Well, I just dug up that rejection letter. I'm going to reproduce for you now the entirety of my Patrick Berry correspondence from seven years ago. See if you notice anything ... familiar. (The first message is my puzzle pitch, the second is his response)

Hi Patrick,

"Divine Intervention"

TRUTHORDARE (11) - *1991 documentary about Madonna's "Blond Ambition" tour
MOODINDIGO (12) - *Duke Ellington composition originally titled "Dreamy Blues"
HELLOKITTY (12) - *Iconic feline character seen on many pink products
BETTYRUBBLE (11) - *Bedrock brunette
AESIR (5) - They reside in Valhalla ... and in the answers to the starred clues of this puzzle [circled squares could be used as well]

Thanks for your consideration,
Michael Sharp [5/18/08]
Hi Michael,

This is a nice idea, but unfortunately we've already run a puzzle very similar to it ("Leading Ladies," 02/01/08 -- the hidden words were all goddesses' names). So I'm afraid I'll have to pass.

If you decide to send it elsewhere, I might recommend replacing the first entry...I think hidden-word themes are always stronger if every word in the theme entry is involved in the concealment, which isn't true of DARE in entry #1. DRAFT HORSES or LOST HORIZON would be possible replacements.

Thanks for your interest in submitting to the Chronicle, and I hope you'll try me again.

Patrick [5/26/08]
So ... yeah. That happened. There's more. I also have an email from Joon Pahk, from August of '08, telling me that he, too, had submitted this theme to Patrick at the Chronicle, and that he, too, had gotten a rejection letter. Joon, however, persevered, and found a home for his puzzle with Peter Gordon at the then not-defunct, indisputably great (crossword-wise) New York Sun (RIP—man that puzzle was good; see Joon's puzzle of 8/27/08 here). Then—THEN—I learned just today (just now) that this theme eventually *did* run in the Chronicle after all, five years later (Oct. 2013), when the Chronicle puzzle was no longer edited by Patrick Berry, but by Jeffrey Harris. That hidden Norse Gods crossword was by Zhouqin ("C.C.") Burnikel (which you can see here; seems lovely). Oh, and it's probably worth noting, just to bring this whole weird saga full circle, that the *current* editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education crossword puzzle is ... [drum roll] ... today's co-constructor: Brad Wilber.

So I have a very strong, weird, personal relationship to this theme. Also, this is the fourth incarnation of this theme That I Know Of (three of which were actually published: Joon's, CC's, and now Brad and Kevin's). And Brad (co-constructor of today's puzzle) is my friend, so I have a strong, weird, personal relationship to him too. Weirder, I had lost all my old email correspondence back in '12 when I had a hard drive meltdown ... until about a month ago, when a family member restored all the data, which allowed me to go back down crossword memory lane, which allowed me to find the old correspondence with Patrick Berry and Joon, which Joon and I were *just* talking about last week ... and now this puzzle comes out. It's just an avalanche of coincidence and nostalgia for me right now. I just wrote Brad and told him all this. I showed him my old grid (also recovered in the hard drive data restoration). He said nice things, because he is Brad. Here, you can judge for yourself. This is my version of this theme from way way back:

 [Note ACME at 1-Across—that's a nod to Andrea Carla Michaels, whose hilarious story about Will Shortz not knowing what HELLO KITTY was led directly to my making this puzzle.]
[Not sure why I thought I could put TYRE in a puzzle where TYR is one of the hidden gods ... that corner needs redoing anyway ... gah, why am I still mentally re-working a puzzle that I'll never publish that's already been done three times!!!]

Annnnnnyway, this is all to say that this theme has been done, though not quite like this. Brad and Kevin's puzzle is 74 words, which makes for some pretty wide open corners. Still, the fill is reasonably clean. I was mildly wincing at ITT and INATIE, figuring I might be in for a crosswordese/iffy fill-fest. But no. Once you get out of the NW (past SOU) the fill evens out considerably. Since it's not an Olympic year, I had trouble with SHANI. I also don't really know what a HEELTAP is. That is, if I saw that word, I would assume it referred to one's tapping of one's heel, not a material object. And I didn't know "TELL MAMA" was an Etta James album. But I picked all this stuff up easily nonetheless.

So thanks, Brad and Kevin, for the surreal solving experience, and the chance to go down my own personal Crossword Memory Lane.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Former New York archbishop / TUE 9-1-15 / Madrid's Sofia Museum / Phrase over movie poster / Like clothing customized from raw fabric / Like name Leningrad

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Constructor: Michael Torch

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Vowel sound progression —last syllables go through 5 vowel sounds, from long A sound (allegedly) to long U sound

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Cardinal Edward M. EGAN (53D: Former New York archbishop) —
Edward Michael Egan (April 2, 1932 – March 5, 2015) was an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000, and as Archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 2001. (wikipedia)
• • •

These puzzle continue to skew old, staid, and safe. This concept is fine—sound progression is a time-tested theme. I've seen many of these before. This one seems reasonably original.Well, there's one problem. Kind of a biggie: uh, that river? It's not pronounced SAYn.  It's more SENN. So, short e, not long a. But maybe it's some Americanism I don't know about. Even so, both RIVER SEINE and CUT AND SEWN both feel like stretches to me. What other SEINE is there? The SANDWICH SEINE? The DIVE BAR SEINE? I get that there is a convention (an olde one) of saying things like "The River Nile"—maybe it's a poetic convention? But it feels stilted. CUT AND SEWN, on the other hand, just doesn't stand alone well, though perhaps this is some inside baseball (or inside tailoring) term that I just don't know. Possible. Anyway, themewise, we move through the long vowel sounds in that last syllable. That's all. Fill is a bit cleaner than yesterday, but still ruthlessly uncontemporary, as is the cluing. Again, this puzzle could've come straight out of '80s, '70s, '60s, no problem. I knew it was not going to be my cup of tea with the first answer I put in the grid:

Is that an *inherently* bad answer? Well, no. But at 1-Across, I knew. I've done enough of these. I knew. It was a harbinger. A telling sign of what the puzzle's cultural center of gravity would be. I feel like the NYT has just decided that making inoffensive, familiar fare for Boomers and their parents is the way they're gonna go. FALA-lalala, HAHA ECRU. This is mightily disappointing, as well as mighty confusing. But maybe as a business model, this makes great sense. For now.

[The only thing that came up when I searched ["LORD GIVE ME A SIGN"] was this song. Literally all hits on the first page related to this song]

Here's an epic puzzle tribute to the late Merl Reagle, by non-prolific crossword artisan Kevin Der. It's got several layers, and is really beautiful, in more ways than one. Check it out.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP