Italian for sleeves / FRI 5-27-16 / Longtime All My Children role / First novel of Great Plains trilogy / Hybrid woman-bird monster / Magna carta drafters / Title trio in 1986 comedy

Friday, May 27, 2016

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Medium (leaning somewhat toward easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TAXON (18A: Phylum, order or genus) —
In biology, a taxon (plural taxa; back-formation from taxonomy) is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit. Although neither is required, a taxon is usually known by a particular name and given a particular ranking, especially if and when it is accepted or becomes established. It is not uncommon, however, for taxonomists to remain at odds over what belongs to a taxon and the criteria used for inclusion. If a taxon is given a formal scientific name, its use is then governed by one of the nomenclature codes specifying which scientific name is correct for a particular grouping. (wikipedia)
• • •
Taxon. Tax off. Taxon, tax off ... the taxer. TAX TAX.

[You're welcome]

I'm trying to think of things to say about this puzzle, but I'm fantastically distracted by my Twitter feed, which is half live-tweets of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and half animated discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of "High Society" (1956). It's all too enthralling. Allegedly, there's an important NBA playoff game on right now as well, but I haven't heard a peep about it. This puzzle was enjoyable, mostly. West fell fast, east ... didn't. After a couple early miscues (AGE for SWM, ENYA for ERTE) I went sweeping down the west side of the grid pretty easily, then moved into the middle and kinda got stuck for a bit (finished in 6:09, so not *that* stuck, but stuckish). First there was the ON ICE / IN ICE problem (IN makes me wince), then the NE, where ... let's see. I threw AVAIL in and then crossed it at the "V" with ... OVATE. But when the "T" cross was some kind of green (er, that is, 13D: Kind of blue that's close to green), I somehow ... I ... well, I changed OVATE to OVOID and went with NILE. NILE blue. Is that a thing? It felt thingish. It was wrong. MIENS and DENS helped out and things settled down. Really really really thrown off by the word "attraction" in 34A: Attraction temporarily shut down and partly moved to Siberia during W.W. II, so much so that even with LENIN in place I still thought I was dealing with some kind of carnival ride. The LENIN SWING or something.... but it was just his TOMB.

[This video is unrelated to anything in the puzzle. It was on 89.3 The Current (Minneapolis!) as I was writing this, so I just stuck it in here, why not?]

Yucked out at the awkward EMBANK, where -MBAN- did zero for me (PET rock ... cute) (29A: Kind of classic rock?). Thus stuck, I switched to the SE to see what I could do—and bam, off the "O" got "O, PIONEERS," and RIC OCASEK would've been a gimme even without the initial "R" in place. Filled the grid back up to horrible EMBANK, ending with that "E."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Brother Antonio Girolamo in music history / THU 5-26-16 / Foe of Ottomans / Nursery bagful / 1777 battle site / When shortened topic in sexology / 1836 battle site / white one said to symbolize I'm sorry

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: transformative compressions — two-word phrases are clued as if they were "[first letter of first word]-second word" words, "[w]hen shortened." Thus, for example, [When shortened, June 1944 offensive] might clue the answer DORIS DAY (because "when shortened," "DORIS" becomes "D"...). And so:

Theme answers:
  • VITAL SIGNS (4D: When shortened, winning symbols)
  • QUICK TIPS (18A: When shortened, ear swabs)
  • FOXHOLE (24D: When shortened, violin feature)
  • ONION RING (11D: When shortened, rocket seal)
  • GUEST SPOT (34D: When shortened, topic in sexology)
  • TAPAS BARS (58A: When shortened, ski lifts)
  • BLINDSIDES (one-word verb? two-word plural noun?) (31D: When shortened, lesser-played songs) 
Word of the Day: PAAVO Järvi (50D: Conductor Järvi) —
Paavo Järvi (Estonian: [ˈpɑːvo ˈjærvi]; born 30 December 1962) is an Estonian conductor.
Järvi was born in Tallinn, Estonia, to conductor Neeme Järvi and Liilia Järvi. His siblings, Kristjan Järvi and Maarika Järvi, are also musicians. After leaving Estonia, the family settled in Rumson, New Jersey. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Max Rudolf and Otto-Werner Mueller, and at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute with Leonard Bernstein. // From 1994 to 1997, Järvi was principal conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. From 1995 to 1998, he shared the title of principal conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Sir Andrew Davis. Järvi was music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2011. The orchestra made a number of recordings for the Telarc label during Järvi's tenure. In May 2011, he was named the orchestra's Music Director Laureate. Since 2004, he has been the artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen and an Artistic Advisor to the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. In 2006, Järvi became the principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and served in the post until 2014. In 2010, he became music director of the Orchestre de Paris. He is scheduled to conclude his tenure with the Orchestre de Paris at the conclusion of his current contract, at the end of the summer of 2016. In June 2012, the NHK Symphony Orchestra named Järvi its next chief conductor, beginning in the 2015–2016 season, with an initial contract of three years. Järvi recently starred in the documentary Maestro, directed by David Donnelly, which followed Järvi and an array of brilliant musicians as they performed across the globe. (wikipedia)
• • •
Wow, this was not an easy theme to describe succinctly. It's kind of bizarre, in that there's no connection at all, meaning-wise, between the answer in the grid and the "shortened" answer that's actually being clued. There's just this clever bit of wordplay going on, over and over (and in intersecting answers—nice). I found it oddly delightful. Wacky in a way I somehow appreciated. I can even forgive the Absurd Scrabble-f*cking in the SW corner—why is that "J" there? TAJ really really limits cluing possibilities, leaving you only with proper noun / fill-in-the-blank cluing options (here, the banal 58D: ___ Boston (luxury hotel), yawn). TAN or TAB or TAG or TAP beats TAJ any day. Any. Day. It is *bizarre* that there is no "Y" in this grid, because the only way I can understand that corner "J" is if the constructor was actually going for a pangram (i.e. a puzzle with every letter in the alphabet represented at least once). But there's no "Y". There's no Y!!! It's so weird. I feel like there must've been one that got edited out. Wait, where was I? Oh, right. I actually enjoyed this theme, and most of this grid.

TAPAS BARS was both my favorite answer and the hardest (for me) to get. This is partly because of TAJ (?) [shakes fist], partly because I don't think of a BOT as a "harvester," partly because that [Remover of dirt...] clue was doing nothing for me, partly because I wasn't *entirely* sure of the spelling on PAAVO. But I just hacked at it wildly and finally things fell into place. Two other trouble spots were a. in the north where ETAS and SALE were not at all apparent to me. The latter really looked like it would be OPEN, and the former was just inscrutable; and b. in the east, where the BILGE / ASTER / LILT / DEBRIS mash-up was mildly befuddling. Clue on DEBRIS was particularly vexing (30A: Refuse). Other than that, I had TOYS for 10A: Nursery bagful (LOAM) at first, but not many other hiccups. Finished in somewhat under my average Thursday time.

I think QUICK TIPS is the weakest themer here, in that I don't really know what those are. Or, I do, probably, but that answer just doesn't stand alone as well or seem as snappy as the others. I mean, yes QUICK TIPS are a thing the way GREEN PAINT is a thing, but ... HELPFUL TIPS googles twice as well, and no one in their right mind thinks *that's* a great phrase (HELPFUL HINTS, however, would be good ... but I (really) digress). I'm not faulting the answer so much as noting its wobbliness vis-a-vis the other answers. It's good enough—not much else you can do to pick up the Q-TIP reference. Weird, inventive, interesting. FINE!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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