Coins that pay for passage over River Styx / SUN 12-11-16 / Skimobile informally / Purported rural shenanigan / Quaff in Middle-Earth / Nickname Game of thrones dwarf

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Retronyms" — theme answers are ... retronyms (you'd think you could've tried a little harder with the title, there...)

Theme answers:
  • BRITISH ENGLISH (21A: Dialect that was called 22-Across before the age of colonialism)
  • SNAIL MAIL (33A: System that was called 34-Across before the Internet)
  • REAL NUMBER (35A: Concept that was called 36-Across before research into the square root of negatives)
  • BLACK LICORICE (52A: Food that was called 53-Across before Twizzlers and the like)
  • FLATHEAD SCREW (78A: Fastener that was called 80-Across before a rounded design was implemented)
  • SILENT FILM (96A: Entertainment category that was called 97-Across before talkies)
  • PAPER COPY (98A: Object that was called 100-Across before electronic documents)
  • ORGANIC FARMING (109A: Activity that was called 111-Across before pesticides)
Word of the Day: AREPAS (29D: South American corn cakes) —
Arepa (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈɾepa]) is a type of food made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisines of Colombia and Venezuela. [...] The arepa is a flat, round, unleavened patty of soaked, ground kernels of maize, or—more frequently nowadays—maize meal or maize flour that can be grilled, baked, fried, boiled or steamed. The characteristics vary by color, flavor, size, and the food with which it may be stuffed, depending on the region. It can be topped or filled with meat, eggs, tomatoes, salad, cheese, shrimp, or fish depending on the meal. (wikipedia)
• • •

Easiest Sunday puzzle I've ever done. Nearly broke 8 minutes, which I have only ever done on like a Newsday or Globe Sunday (i.e. much less thornier brands). I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. The title tells you what the theme answers will be, and then there you are. The one tricky thing, from a construction standpoint, is you've gotta make sure you have a Down answers beginning at the front of the second word in every themer, so that the theme clues make sense when they refer to an "Across" answer where the number is not in its usual flush-left position. But that's the only thing separating this puzzle from one that is titled, say, "Big Cats," where the answers are JAGUAR, PUMA, etc. That is ... there's nothing to it. In fact, I started solving without looking at the title, and about midway I thought, "So these are just ... what's that word ... oh, yeah, retronyms." And then I looked at the title: "Retronyms." And I thought "you must be joking..."

There are four "IT"s in this puzzle, as well as one 'TIS—in a puzzle that already contains ITIS. So ... that happened. AREPAS are tasty, so I enjoyed thinking about them. Surprised they don't appear in crosswords more often, what with their savory taste and appealing letter combinations. Today's great crosswordese-retrieval triumph was reading 40A: Coins that pay for passage over the River Styx and, off the "O," putting OBOLS right in. Today's snags—such as they were—came in the NE, where TOA (not TOE?) (28A: ___ point) crossed ALGAL (17D: ___ bloom (result of fertilizer pollution)), and then again at NO ONE'S down below—came at that answer from the back end and needed every cross to understand what the hell was going on (116A: Not belonging to anybody). Oh, rounding the corner out of the N and into the NE was also mildly rough (!) because I had the UN- but not the HANDS of UNHANDS (12D: Releases, dramatically). That clue is vaguely phrased, both pre- and post-comma, so ... I circled back around and approached from underneath. There really isn't anything to say about this puzzle. The title tells you the theme. The theme answers are as promised. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [They go about two feet] is a great clue for SOCKS (42D)

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Elvira's love in opera / SAT 12-10-16 / Ambassador sent by the Vatican / Gogol's Aksenty Poprishchin per title / San Antonio-based refinery giant / Island home to Sleeping Giant mountain / US city whose name looks like form of poker / Middle Karamozov brother / Comedian who voiced lead in Secret Life of Pets

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TESORO (45D: San Antonio-based refinery giant that acquired Arco in 2013) —
Tesoro Corporation (NYSETSO aka: "Tesoro Petroleum", or simply as "Tesoro") is a Fortune 100 and a Fortune Global 500 company headquartered in Texas at San Antonio, with 2013 annual revenues of $37 billion, and over 5,700 employees worldwide. // Tesoro is an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products, operating seven refineries in the Western United States with a combined rated crude oil capacity of approximately 845,000 barrels (134,300 m3) per day. Tesoro’s retail-marketing system includes over 2,264 branded retail gas stations, of which more than 595 are company-operated under its own Tesoro brandname, as well as Shell, ExxonMobil, ARCO, and USA Gasoline brands. (wikipedia)
• • •

Got a little frightened by the byline, as Byron Walden puzzles can be brutally hard (ask anyone who was there about Puzzle 5 at the ... 2006? ... American Crossword Puzzle Tournament—that thing broke even expert solvers in half). But this ended up being very tame. I realize now, though, looking over the puzzle, that I can say that only because these pretty obscure answers like "ERNANI" and NUNCIO (31A: Ambassador sent by the Vatican) are well known to me from decades of solving. Like, I couldn't tell you one thing about "ERNANI," but it slid right into place when my brain saw "opera" in the clue and looked at the terminal "I" in the answer. Bam bam. And NUNCIO I had seen before. Dumb luck. I don't know how widely that word is known, generally, but I had it in my back pocket, so I was able to fly through this thing based on what feels to me like specialized crossword knowledge (which, honestly, often feels like it doesn't count—like I got through it not via skill, but via a kind of inside-information scam). I did get bitten by an unfamiliar name, though: ETTORE! (13D: Automotive pioneer Bugatti) (in Arthurian legend, she's a she, so that's weird) (update: whoops, in Arthurian legend, the woman I'm thinking of is ETTARRE ... nevermind!). And then semi-bitten by TESORO, which I didn't know but was able to guess off the TES-.

SNOCKERED? (28A: Three sheets to the wind) I was favoring KNOCKERED or KNACKERED (which I think means "tired"), but ... SNOCKERED? OK. The more I say it to myself, the more plausible it sounds. There weren't many answers I *loved* here (except SLEEPER HOLD), but it held together pretty well. I had STAND NEAR TO for a bit, which is odd. I have never ever heard the phrase PET HATES (7A: Bugaboos). That was, oddly, harder to take than ETTORE. Not knowing an answer is one thing—getting it and feeling like it's phony, that's a much worse thing. But then I notice that the grid also contains "I'M TOO SEXY" and I find myself appeased. Weird how that works.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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