L'chaim / THU 5-5-16 / Nonstick pan brand / World's second most translated author / 7 on the Beaufort scale / Sports org. with the Calder Cup

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Thursday

Hi, everybody. It's me! PuzzleGirl! And I'm here to talk you through your Thursday puzzle. If it seems like I'm in a bad mood, it's because I had surgery on my foot three weeks ago and I've been in bed since then. Three weeks! And it wouldn't be so bad if I had been expecting it. Do you know what my doctor said when I asked him back in January about what the recovery time would be like? Of course you don't.
Well, I'll tell you. He said, "You won't be able to drive for a week." What he failed to say was, "And then you won't be able to drive for three weeks after that." And, "There's a good possibility you won't be able to drive for the three weeks after that either." No, he didn't say either of those last two things. And yet, here we are.

So, if I'm in a bad mood, now you know why. If, on the other hand, I say anything crazy, well that's just the Vicodin talking. Got that? Okay, here we go.

Theme: "Ace in the Hole" - the word ACE is presumed to reside in four squares (holes) in the grid.

Theme Answers:
  • 1A: Cel material - [ACE]TATE
  • 13D: Sourness - [ACE]RBITY
  • 24A: Spiritual that lent its name to a 2015 Broadway musical - AMAZING GR[ACE]
  • 12D/30D: Period when dinosaurs became extinct - CRET[ACE]OUS
  • 52A: Hidden advantage that this puzzle employs four times? - [ACE] IN THE HOLE
  • 35D/56D: Neighboring - ADJ[ACE]NT TO
  • 68A: Big name in Italian fashion - VERS[ACE]
  • 51D: Longtime Vegas performer - LIBER[ACE]
This puzzle gave me fits. You should be able to see in the grid above where I made my mistakes. First, I had IRELAND where ICELAND was supposed to go [6D: European country whose telephone directories list people alphabetically by first name]. Then, I had IN OUR instead of IS OUR [65A: "A Mighty Fortress ___ God" (hymn)]. The crosses might have helped me if I had taken the time to think about it. But I didn't. ARRE could be an Israeli port just as well as ACRE to me. And I typically don't pay attention to the cities named in the Random Direction clues, but if I had in this case, I would have seen my mistake.

But that third error? Well, what I think we have here is a living, breathing Natick. Crossing [41D: Charlie Chan's creator Earl ___ Biggers] and [23D: Cubist Fernand] at the last letter is just ... well, that could have been any letter in the alphabet as far as I was concerned. I guess if I'm going to put a positive spin on it, I learned something today. But that's all you're getting.

What else?
  • 21A: TAROT [Holder of The Sun and The World] - I was thinking this was referring to newspapers. Are there any newspapers actually called The World? Now that I think about it, that seems like a fake newspaper name they would use in, like, cartoons.
  • 33A: DEN [TV spot, often] - I had a hard time talking myself out of "spot" meaning "advertisement," which really slowed me down here.
  • 35A: ARIETTA [Short piece at La Scala]
  • 55A: DEMI [Starting half?] - I entered the last three letters and then had to wait to see if the first letter was going to be an H, an S, or a D.
  • 67A: METS [N.L. East team] - Of course, I wanted this to be NATS. Sigh.
  • 8D: SEP [Mo. with Talk Like a Pirate Day] - My favorite line of the Talk Like a Pirate Day origination story is this: "They were playing racquetball, and, as so often happens, they began talking like pirates."
  • 46D: AHL [Sports org. with the Calder Cup] - Darn it! I knew it was a hockey award, but didn't realize it was for only one league.
  • 61D: JAM [Showy basket] - I had to ask Doug Peterson to explain this one to me. He sent me this:

I have two quick things to plug before I let you go.
  1. I contributed a guest puzzle for the American Values Club Crossword this week! If you're not a subscriber, you can subscribe here. Or you can buy single puzzles (including mine!) for the low, low price of $1. I hope you'll try it. And I hope you'll like it!

  2. It's not too late to register for the Indie 500 crossword tournament, which will be held June 4 in Washington, D.C. I attended last year as a competitor and had a blast. This year I'm on the organizing team and, if I do say so myself, it's shaping up to be even better than last year. Don't miss out! Register now!
Thanks, everybody. With any luck, Rex will be back tomorrow.

Love, PuzzleGirl

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Pearl Fishers priestess / WED 5-4-16 / Variety of sherry whose name means little apple / Guitarist Borland / Vocalist known for 1944 song / Muhummad's successor to Shiites / Dante symphony composer / Author of 1841 poem / One-named athlete whose real first name is Edson

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (took me longer than normal, but it's bigger than normal (16-wide))

THEME: "INTO / EACH / LIFE / SOME / RAIN / MUST / FALL" — these words sort of "fall" down the grid (in circled squares) and then two more answers in the corners provide examples of where these words have appeared:

Theme answers:
  • 15A: Author of an 1841 poem that contains the line spelled out by the circled squares (LONGFELLOW)
  • 64A: Vocalist known for the 1944 song whose title (and first line) appears in the circled squares (FITZGERALD) 
Word of the Day: KIT BAG (31A: Purchase at an Army-Navy store) —
noun: kitbag
  1. a rectangular canvas bag, used especially for carrying a soldier's clothes and personal possessions. (google)
• • •

Interesting, though I feel like what's driving it is less cleverness than strange quirks of symmetry—the fact that each word in this relative famous six-word phrase is exactly four letters long is itself tantalizing from a constructor's perspective. The fact that the phrase appears in two works associated with famous people whose names also happen to be the same length is just another quirky coincidence. I don't think that LONGFELLOW work is famous at all, though. The title doesn't appear in the clue because it's got "RAIN" in it. It's called "The Rainy Day" and it goes a little something like this (actually it goes precisely like this):

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary. [source]
Is this famous? Not as famous as the FITZGERALD song, which is not really a FITZGERALD song—it's an Ink Spots song *featuring* Ella. I was wondering why the voice I was hearing in my head was a man's and not Ella's. Then I found it and played it, and there it was, just as I remembered it. This may seem impossible, but I forgot she even sang on it. So ... a not-that-famous poem and a song on which the really famous singer is not the lead ... it's not the strongest theme foundation, but it's solid enough.

I want to point out some details that relate (for me) to consistency and elegance, though these details are simply details and you may not see them the same way. First, and not really all that important, is the fact that all the lyric words are buried inside other words where their lyric meaning is hidden (good!) .... except LIFER, where the meaning of "Life" still pertains. To be fair, I'm not sure there's a way to hide "LIFE" inside a word in a way that de-Lifes it. And to be double-fair, that clue was Wicked (and good) (29A: Big house party?). I had LIFE- and still had no idea what was going on (a LIFER is one who is serving a life sentence ... in the big house, i.e. the pen, so ... he (usually "he") is a party (i.e. member) of the big house). Ideally you bury all those words, but you do what you can do.

Bigger issue for me was having non-theme answers of equal length to the theme answers stacked right on top of (or below) said theme answers. MANZANILLA and INFILTRATE are both great words (and I love those open corners in general), but it's weirdly distracting to me that the theme answers have these non-theme twins right up against them. Not sure why grid was made that way. Easy enough to design a grid that isolates the 10-letter themers. Add black square and push FITZGERALD up / LONGFELLOW down. Also, what is ALTA MONTE Springs (!?!?!?!)? I'm not sure wide-open corners are worth enduring such a marginal place name ... part. Altamont is a thing. That, I would've accepted. This feels like a themed puzzle that the constructor tried to give the virtues of a themeless (open corners, mostly nice longer answers), but for that reason it feels a little ragged to me. Fine, just a little conceptually and architecturally messy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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