Model in a science class / SAT 4-18-15 / Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu who found sailing route around Africa / Graham old Kellogg's cereal / Foreign state with capital Panaji / Emperor crowned in 962 / Alternative to Beauvais-Tillé / Boogie Nights persona played by Mark Wahlberg / Like spectacled bear / Metal band with 1994 #1 album Far Beyond Driven / Hawaii Five-O imperative / Big Japanese chip maker

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Constructor: Damon J. Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: none

Word of the Day: ORRERY (46D: Model in a science class) —
noun
  1. a mechanical model of the solar system, or of just the sun, earth, and moon, used to represent their relative positions and motions. (google)
• • •

This puzzle conveniently illustrates the point I made yesterday about How To Build A Themeless Grid. Actually, you can build them all kinds of ways, but if you build them in a way that leaves you with tons of short fill, your end result will likely be less than stunning. Yesterday's went with a half-dozen 15s and not much else in the 6+-letter length category, resulting in some decent 15s (maybe a 2/3 "hit" rate), and then a whole lot of dreck and otherwise forgettable stuff. Today's grid makes for a nice comparison because it's got some of the same issues, just less so. Highly segmented (I always think of these as "bullet-ridden") grid, more 3-to-5-letter answers than you'd really like to see in a themeless, and (thus) some yucky fill issues (I won't list them all—you can see for yourself). But, BUT, the grid is *rife* with answers in the 7-to-12-letter range, i.e. more meaty fill that allows for more wide-ranging, eye-popping, grabby answers. Virtually every 7+-letter answer is at least good, and OKELY-DOKELY, DIRK DIGGLER, BELIEVE YOU ME, SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN, HOW NICE, OH COME NOW … all these are really, really nice. THE CLASH symmetrical with the TEA PARTY! That's what you call running the cultural gamut. Anyway, you can see (I hope) how shifting the grid toward an emphasis on more marquee fill of varying lengths make for a more complex and satisfying themeless puzzle.


I had a little trouble getting started there in the NW. I think I didn't get much of anywhere until I found the NED Flanders clue, and then guessed FIREPLACE / ASH. It was FIREPLACE / LOG, of course—why would use a poker on ash? But FIREPLACE got me traction. Here's my grid early on in the solve (note the TIMERS mistake at 2D: Meet people—not sure why I was so confident, though, to my minimal credit, I interpreted "meet" correctly):


With NED in place, OKELY-DOKELY was a gimme (though spelling it wasn't), and I had a pretty fast solve thereafter. Had ESSE for ETRE, TLR for TSR (it's been decades, now, of seeing that damned D&D clue; you'd think I'd have TSR down pat). I had Louise RAINER starring in the "Phantom Lady" instead of Claude RAINES … oh, but it looks like that's not how you spell Claude Rains (also not how you spell Luise Rainer, btw). Looks like the RAINES in question is Ella RAINES, Whoever That Is. Dodged a bullet there, I guess. Finished with ORRERY, a word I've seen often enough, but never quite remember. Luckily, crosses didn't let me down.

Happy Record Store Day!
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I wonder if anyone will go with DARK DIGGLER. I recently watched "Singin' in the Rain" and *still* couldn't have told you there was a LINA in it.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]

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    Super Six maker of 1920s / FRI 4-17-15 / Lover of Jane Porter / Man who went into self-imposed exile in 2013 / Title Inuit of film / Longtime food product with mascot in cowboy hat

    Friday, April 17, 2015

    Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: OCULI (15A: Eyelike designs) —
    noun
    ARCHITECTURE
    plural noun: oculi
    1. a round or eyelike opening or design, in particular.
      • a circular window.
      • the central boss of a volute. (google)
    • • •


    I could tell by the grid pattern that this would likely be less than satisfying. Minimal marquee answers, a half dozen latticed 15s—thus, a highly segmented grid with tons and tons of 3-to-5-letter fill. So *all* of the interest ends up in the 15s, and some of those are likely to be contrived—most likely the Across ones, since you have to drive them through the four pre-existing Down 15s. And the puzzle pretty much lived up to my expectations. Those Across 15s are, indeed, contrived—that is, they are phrases one might say, but they don't stand alone very well. And then the overall fill is, indeed, below normal themeless standards. I knew just from solving the NW that this was going to be a semi-painful solving experience:


    Actually, it was 4D: Sound heard a lot by new parents that was the harbinger of doom. Three seconds in to the solve and I have one of those "how do you spell the non-word sound?" moments. Solved the surrounding answers and at SUR- I was satisfied that the WAH thing wasn't an outlier—*all* of the short fill was going to be like this, and there was a Lot of it to get through. It was one of those puzzles that really benefits veterans w/ a deep store of crosswordese. I got OCULI no crosses (though I called it OBELI at first—those are words I'd put in the same category of desirability, i.e. Low). I somehow remembered ICAHN (yuck). SERIA STRO CERT NTHS ESSO ETNA BARI … the oldie/goodies kept coming. How could they not when you build a grid like this? Well, maybe if you actually cared about eliminating them. But the current state of affairs continues to be: if the theme is good, the fill doesn't matter, and if the 15s are acceptable / interesting (as some of these are) then whatever. This is what (some) constructors are learning. Here's what I wish they'd learn—compromises in the fill are OK if they are minimal and if the payoff (the marquee stuff) is gold. Here, the compromises are big, and the payoff is just pretty good. I really like all the long Downs. I do. I particularly love the semi-juxtaposition of MISTER PRESIDENT and ELIZABETH WARREN. But these 15s aren't worth everything else.


    One other thing to note: CLEAN SWEEP and WHERE'S THAT? and (for timeliness) SNOWDEN are wonderful. But they are the *only* answers in that mid-range length (besides TIE GAME, which is also acceptable). It's either 15s or 3-4-5s with this one. On a Friday, you're going to get a much better payoff if you can get into that middle answer length (say, 7-10), where answers can really shine. Minimize the short stuff, don't fetishize the 15, and you can have yourself a great Friday puzzle. But this choppy, bullet-riddled, highly segmented grid spells trouble right out of the gate. All those short answers will bog a Friday themeless down right quick. Construct a grid that allows you to avoid over reliance on the 3-4-5s. I beg of you.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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