True Blood vampire Northman / FRI 2-27-15 / Prefix meaning heavens / Frequent demonstrator of doppler effect / Knot toads parliament / So-called Japanese chess / Classic 1984 film in which most dialogue was ad-libbed / Evolutionary biologist who wrote Panda's Thumb

Friday, February 27, 2015

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Medium (Medium-Challenging for me because Tiredness/Stupidity)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SHOGI (22D: So-called Japanese chess) —
Shogi (将棋 shōgi?) (/ˈʃɡ/Japanese: [ɕo̞ːɡi] or [ɕo̞ːŋi]), also known as Japanese chess or the Generals' Game, is a two-player strategy board game in the same family as Western (international) chesschaturangamakrukshatranj and xiangqi, and is the most popular of a family of chess variants native to JapanShōgi means general's (shō 将) board game (gi 棋).
The earliest predecessor of the game, chaturanga, originated in India in the 6th century, and sometime in the 10th to 12th centuries xiangqi (Chinese chess) was brought to Japan where it spawned a number of variants. Shogi in its present form was played as early as the 16th century, while a direct ancestor without the "drop rule" was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki, which is an edited copy of Shōchūreki and Kaichūreki from the late Heian period (c. 1120).
• • •

My normal strategy of throwing down all the short Downs as fast as I can, first answers that come to mind, and then looking back and seeing if I can pick out the long Acrosses with the help of pattern recognition … did not work today, despite the fact that many of my first guesses for the Downs were correct. RISE and ASIA. PEP. RONA and IF AT—all good. But any hope of seeing correct Acrosses was somehow stymied by MAKE (for COST) and ALEC (for ERIC) and a botched Mass. motto word (always sucks to trip on the worst bit of fill in the puzzle) (ENSE). Also, I couldn't remember parliament of OWLS, despite the fact that that was the name of a Batman arc only a few years back (actually, "Court of OWLS"), and despite the fact that my boy Chaucer wrote "The Parliament of FOWLS." Actually, I think it's because of the Chaucer title that I didn't get OWLS, despite the rhyming. Result was sadness and then doubt—I started pulling different little words, some of which were correct. I also forgot that "Spinal Tap" was actually called "THIS IS SPINAL TAP" (14A: Classic 1984 film in which most of the dialogue was ad-libbed), so despite thinking of that movie first, I didn't write it in because, of course, in my head, it "didn't fit." So that whole up-top experience made the puzzle tougher than average for me. But maybe not for more alert people. Here's where I (finally) got started:

Courtesy of the gimme GARP (32A: Robin Williams title role). From here, the bottom was done in under a minute. Seriously. It was the mirror image, the opposite, the world upside down, compared to the north. Probably helped that STEPHEN JAY GOULD (52A: Evolutionary biologist who wrote "The Panda's Thumb") spoke at my college when I was a senior, so I got him off the -LD. Yes, that definitely helped. But after SHALL WE went in (48A: "Ready to go?"), Every Single Short Down off of that was obvious, so the bottom was Monday for me. Ended up getting SPARE THE ROD without ever reading the clue.

From here, the west was easy, but I briefly ran into the problem I feared—not being able to get up into that top part. The problem: MELISMA (20A: Musical phrase in which a single syllable is sung over several notes). Vaguely familiar, now that I look at it, but not in my knowledge base. So I got as far as PSYCHIC and then worried a little. I had wanted TRAMP earlier for 14D: Galumph, so I tried that. Same with ROSEATE. But still … it all felt a bit dicey. But once I got PHONES, finally, this happened.

From there it was ERIC and OWLS and quickly all was done.

This was a good puzzle, I think. I would say that this is *in spite* of its design, which looks cool, but which loads up the puzzle with short answers. And while those have their share of predictable ugliness today [shakes fist at ENSE!], overall, they're pretty clean. The central chunks are chunkily varied, and the long Acrosses up top and down south are nice (nicer up top, so I was happy to end there).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Soap star Deborah / THU 2-26-15 / Eponymous Soviet minister of foreign affairs / Tabloid nickname of '80s / Hunter of wallabies kangaroos / Coin first minted in 1964 / Azalea with 2014 #1 hit Fancy / Liberian president Peace Nobelist Johnso Sirleaf /

    Thursday, February 26, 2015

    Constructor: Caleb Emmons

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Half words — theme answers end with "half ___," represented in the grid by only the first *half* of the missing word; thus:

    Theme answers:
    • KENNEDY DOL (for "Kennedy half-dollar") (17A: Coin first minted in 1964)
    • SUPER BOWL TI (for "Super Bowl half-time") (24D: Occasion for a much-hyped performance)
    • GOING OFF COC (for "going off half-cocked") (10D: Acting rashly)
    • FLYING AT MA (for "flying at half-mast") (54A: Signaling remembrance, in a way)
    Word of the Day: Deborah ADAIR (48A: Soap star Deborah) —
    Deborah Adair (born Deborah Adair Miller on May 23, 1952 in Lynchburg, Virginia) is an American television actress, primarily known for her roles in soap operas. […] In total, Adair has appeared in seven different projects produced by Aaron Spelling; DynastyMatt HoustonThe Love BoatFinder of Lost LovesHotel (in which she played four different roles between 1984–87), Melrose Place and the television movie Rich Men Single Women (1990). She has also appeared in a variety of other primetime series such as Murder, She WroteBlacke's Magic and MacGyver. She also played a supporting role as Kate Chase in the Emmy Award-nominated miniseries Lincoln (1988).
    • • •

    I was deep into this one before I understood the theme. Got KENNEDY DOL and thought "well, DOL is a cruddy abbr. for "dollar," so this should be interesting," forgetting that there is no such thing as a "Kennedy dollar." Got the whole center of the grid and then finished the tail end of SUPER BOWL TI and that's when the dime dropped. Ah … Half. Half-time. Half-dollar. OK then. I like the concept, though it makes for an ugly grid, with those nonsensical themers. It also just looks like the answers got lopped off.  The visual impact is poor. But the concept is solid. I wish it had been possible for all the themers to come out looking like actual phrases, a la FLYING AT MA! Maybe they could each have had their own wacky clues. FLYING AT MA could be [Like one involved in a family squabble?] GOING OFF COC is one letter shy of being fantastic. [Becoming celibate, perhaps?]. At any rate, relative ugliness of themers aside, the fill is remarkably solid, and the longer non-theme answers interesting and vibrant.

    This was a pretty easy puzzle, but I got slowed by a couple of things. First, I couldn't tell which longer answers were and weren't theme answers. Long Acrosses both are and aren't themers. Long Downs both are and aren't themers. Because both 31A: Crazy place? (FUNNY FARM) and 38A: Company with a lot of bean counters? (STARBUCKS) ended with question marks, I thought they were in on the theme wackiness (failing to note that KENNEDY DOL did not have a "?" clue…). Also, answers that could've been clued in very familiar ways were given rather obscure clues. No Red ADAIR today. No [Comedian Degeneres], either (ELLEN). Those were both super-tough for me. I also found the partials a bit rough. Who says "JUDO chop"? And what is an ANNO mundi? A year of the world? What is that? I should know, I guess, but I don't. I also didn't know bees WAGGLED, or that waggling was dancing. But I did know IGGY. I'll cling to that.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS here's a nice article re: the upcoming charity crossword tournament in Ithaca (where I'll be next Saturday, Mar. 7). Lots of crossword folks were interviewed for this. Check it out.


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