Dallas actress J Wilson / SUN 4-23-17 / parvis magna greatness from small beginnings / Sister of Helios Selene / Record label that looks like the name of radio station / Tough draws in bananagrams / Summer piazza treat / One-named singer with #1 hit cheap thrills / Beverage sponsor of old Little Orphan Annie radio show / Occurrences in 30s say

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

Relative difficulty: Easy

the phrase: QUEEN OF JAZZ

[With apologies for my image-editing skills, which are lacking]

THEME: "A Century of Song" — tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (LADY ELLA) on (a day that is close to) the 100th anniversary of her birth (68A: With 70-Across, nickname for a celebrated performer born on April 25, 1917):

Theme answers:
  • 21A: 1938 #1 hit for 68-/70-Across, which was inspired by a nursery rhyme ("A TISKET A TASKET")
  • 15D: Repeated collaborator with 68-/70-Across (LOUIS ARMSTRONG)
  • 47D: Signature tune of 68-/70-Across ("HOW HIGH THE MOON")
  • 119A: Notable quote by 68-/70-Across ("I SING LIKE I FEEL")  
Word of the Day: SHEREE J. Wilson (19A: "Dallas" actress ___ J. Wilson) —
Sheree Julienne Wilson (born on December 12, 1958[1]) is an American actress, producer, businesswoman, and model. She is best known for her roles as April Stevens Ewing on the American prime-time television series Dallas (1986-1991) and as Alex Cahill-Walker on the television series Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001). (wikipedia)
• • •

Tribute puzzles are almost always underwhelming. The typical move is to fill the grid w/ symmetrical trivia. That's basically what this puzzle does. A thoughtful move is to add some twist or gimmick or *something* that elevates the puzzle above mere symmetrical trivia. This puzzle does that too. I am on record (multiple times) as not particularly caring for the "once you've finished, draw on it!" type of gimmick. If the gimmick doesn't relate to the actual solving experience, then it's not much use to me. Interesting, curious, but not compelling the way a more integral theme concept is. So this one is trivia plus ... children's placemat art. The fill holds up OK but doesn't do much more than just sit there. This is all to say that this is a very very average tribute puzzle. It's serviceable, but it doesn't shine. And yet, two things. One, Ella is Ella, and always a joy to remember. One and a half, Ella is my daughter's name, so bonus points there. And two, that crown thing is actually kind of hard to pull off. It seems like it should be easy, what w/ just a smattering of letters here and there, but filling the grid around letter strings that change elevation is surprisingly hard. I have a puzzle in the works with theme answers that run exclusively on diagonals and Dear Lord it's gonna be the death of me. Essentially, you add a full answer's worth of letters (QUEEN OF JAZZ), but you don't actually lock down *any* answers, while compromising / restricting nearly all of them (at least in the upper-center of the grid). E.g. "Q" has to be a certain place—that's two answers compromised (Across and Down). Repeat that for every letter in QUEEN OF JAZZ. Trust me, it's a choke collar. So pulling it off without egregiously painful fill is a nice little feat.

Delete SHEREE from your wordlists. Please. I beg you. You're using it only as a crutch. Delete delete delete. Also, if an answer causes you pain to look at, causes you to make a face, causes you to have to ask whether it should be allowed to fly, for god's sake, no no no. I'm speaking of course of ENNUIS (23A: Listless feelings). What's the plural of ENNUI? Stop it—that's the plural of ENNUI. Those are my only real gripes today, fill-wise. Nothing much to call attention to outside the theme answers, though I like the MAMMA'S GORILLAS stack, if only because it's a good sitcom premise. There were almost no tough parts today, beyond SHEREE. I misremembered the song as "TOO HIGH THE MOON" (?). I had GRAY as GRIM (71A: Dreary), and NIÑO as NENE (56A: Piñata smasher, maybe). The Z-TILES / ZLOTY cross seemed a little cruel, considering that "Z" is not at all solidly inferrable in the Down, and ZLOTY ... well, you should know it's a currency, but I could see someone's guessing something else (VLOTY?). In the end, the QUEEN OF JAZZ thing gives you yet another way to get it, so no foul. Z-TILES just seems a cheap way to get a "Z."

ACETAL (96D: Perfumer's liquid) ... nope, not known to me. ACETYL? ACETATE? ACETONE? Those are all things, right? I just can't keep up. At least I knew enough to guess TAOIST and not MAOIST at 118A: Lao-tzu follower. When I see "name on a blimp" I think Goodyear and literally nothing else, so FUJI was a surprise (38D: Name on a blimp). My favorite moment of the puzzle (by far) (excluding humming "A TISKET A TASKET" to myself) was when I totally utterly and epically misread the clue at 97D: Summer piazza treat (GELATO). Me: "Summer pizza threat!? Uh ... Ants? How the hell should I know?"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


2002 documentary with don't try this at home contents / SAT 4-22-17 / Hit 1959 Broadway play starring Sidney Poitier / Singer with recurring role in General Hospital / Historic conflict in around yellow sea / logo based on Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign / Achivements in large scale topiary

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Constructor: Adam Fromm

Relative difficulty: Very easy (faster than yesterday's, close to a Saturday record)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ILEA (5D: Guts, in part) —
noun: ileum; plural noun: ilea
  1. the third portion of the small intestine, between the jejunum and the cecum. (google)
• • •

I think I went sub-5 minutes once on a Saturday. I might've dreamt it, but it really feels like it happened. Anyway, today was 5:20, and I am very methodical and non-racey on Fri and Sat, so, yeah, this one was off-the-charts easy. Just giving away answers like they were party favors. Threw "JACKASS: THE MOVIE" across with just a few letters up front. Threw RICK SPRINGFIELD down with just a few letters up front. Started with a 1-Across gimme (1-Across is often a harbinger ...). Giving me Scottish island clues right out the gate is the equivalent of leaving your mediocre fastball out over the plate. I will crush it. I hit this one 456 ft. The exit velocity was 115.7 mph. I have been watching a lot of baseball.

AXILLA, ELLIE, SAYER—all gimmes. "ROXANNE"? Silver-platter, room-service gimme. I even got "A RAISIN IN THE SUN" from just the last four letters, and that was *with* a wrong letter in place (I thought they were YERTS—you know, like for TERT...leS?). It was like the puzzle wouldn't allow me any space to screw up. I did have a moment of blanking when I had the ends of *all* the long Acrosses in the SE corner, but couldn't figure out any of them. I don't know why "Jezebel" is in quotation marks in 58A: "Jezebel" costume (RED DRESS). Is that a ... show? Movie? Musical? Huh. A 1938 Bette Davis movie. And people know that? I watch TCM religiously—guess I just haven't gotten to that one yet. Anyway, "A RAISIN IN THE SUN" helped me nail down the SE. No other problems. I had some trouble making sense of 20D: Any I, e.g.: Abbr. (HWY), but crosses helped me out. I liked this puzzle fine, but a Saturday's gotta put up more fight. I had more trouble with yesterday's Easyish Friday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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