1983 sci-fi drama / WED 11-26-14 / Old galley / Willow shoot / Like Toves in Jabberwocky / Sci-fi author Stanislaw / Letterman's favorite activity? / Doo-wop group with 1963 hit Remember Then / Biblical debarkation point

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Constructor: Michael S. Maurer

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: WAR GAMES (58A: 1983 sci-fi drama … or a possible title for this puzzle) — theme answers are terms related to the military and … I guess the clues are playing "games" by being wacky (?):

Theme answers:
  • M*A*S*H UNIT (17A: Potato?)
  • SHORE LEAVE (24A: Ebb tide?)
  • PRESENT ARMS (34A: Inoculation order?)
  • FIRING LINE (49A: "Clean out your desk!"?)
Word of the Day: LAVALIERES (9D: Some microphones) —
lavaliere′ mi`crophone n.
a small microphone that hangs around the neck of a performer or speaker.

• • •

Had my fingers crossed for a decent birthday puzzle, but this one didn't quite come through. I'm not even sure I fully understand the theme. I don't see the "GAMES." I see wacky clues—are those the "GAMES"? I can only guess. Also, "WAR" is inapt in the extreme. Only two of these themers are related to war (M*A*S*H UNIT and, possibly, FIRING LINE). The others are military, but have no necessary connection to war. The whole "possible title" makes very little sense. Seems awfully tenuous. In the revealer clue's defense, though, it just says "possible title," not "appropriate" or "good title." Puzzle played hard for a Wednesday, largely because the themers were not easy to pick up even after you grokked the theme. PRESENT ARMS took me forever. I ended up solving this in very unusual fashion—closing in on the middle from all sides. I think my last letter in the grid was the "R" in PRESENT ARMS / LAVALIERES. I'd never heard of the latter. Not that I could remember. Other crosses for PRESENT ARMS were hard to pick up as well. SALESMAN was not easy to get from 37D: Infomercial figure. I'd never heard of the EARLS (did they wear LAVALIERES? (which I keep wanting to call LEVOLOR, like the blinds, which I only just now found out was spelled that way). STEP INSIDE, also tough to get to from [Words of welcome]. Bit of a toughie, and a bit old-fashioned-feeling, overall. Outside LISTEN UP and STEP INSIDE, the fill is pretty musty/creaky. All DAR and BIREME (43D: Old galley) and ELIA and OSIER and RMN. This puzzle might've felt fresh during the RMN administration.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I don't like the "?" clue on ANAGRAMS. In a puzzle where the themers have "?" clues, you don't give "?" clues to other long answers that run in the same direction. That's just confusing. Getting the "?" clue there, in an answer that's as long as the themer in the NW corner, made me think theme clue. Then when I got ANAGRAMS, I tried to see how it was thematic, only to discover it wasn't. OK, fair game, my fault for not noticing it wasn't precisely in a theme position. But I would've avoided the "?" clue there. The clue itself doesn't really make sense. Is the idea that a "Letterman" is someone who enjoys … letters? But … why would that mean you enjoyed *rearranging* them, specifically? There's just a ton of slack in the logic of this puzzle. IOR IOR IOR. SPLAT. Maybe next year I'll get the birthday puzzle I've always wanted. This year, I'll have to settle for cake.

I'm also not convinced "WAR GAMES" is a "sci-fi" movie, even though wikipedia says it is. Everything was supposed to be plausible, right? It's not like aliens inhabited the computer. "Joshua" wasn't like Hal—it didn't develop a kind of human sentience. Did it? Maybe I'm misremembering the level of Joshua's anthropomorphosis. Anyway, "Star Wars" was sci-fi. "Blade Runner" was sci-fi. "E.T." was sci-fi. "WAR GAMES"—I'm less sure.

Travel safe if you're traveling, especially in the NE.

See you on Thanksgiving.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    American athlete born 11/25/1914 / TUE 11-25-14 / Early moon lander for short / Conifer with toxic seeds / Conventioneer's ID

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: JOE DIMAGGIO's 100th birthday

    Theme answers:
    • CENTERFIELD (17A: Position of 62-Across)
    • HITTING / STREAK (24A: With 27-Across, record-setting achievement of 62-Across)
    • FIFTY-SIX GAMES (38A: Duration of 62-Across's 24-/27-Across)
    • YANKEE / CLIPPER (52A: With 54-Across, moniker of 62-Across)
    • JOE DIMAGGIO (62A: American athlete born 11/25/1914)
    Word of the Day: ALTON Brown, host of "Iron Chef America" (57A) —
    Alton Crawford Brown (born July 30, 1962) is an American television personality, celebrity chef, author, actor, and cinematographer. He is the creator and host of the Food Network television show Good Eats, the mini-series Feasting on Asphalt and Feasting on Waves, and host and main commentator on Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen. Brown is also the author of several books on cookery. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This is about as dull as you can make a tribute crossword. I don't understand even making this puzzle if all you can do is plug in tired facts as theme answers. The puzzle overall is certainly competently constructed—there's not too much bad fill, and the big NE/SW corners are rather nice. But the theme? It does nothing. It has no twist, no play, no zing, no anything. Just the facts, ma'am. If you are going to pay tribute to a guy (or gal), Pay Tribute (with something genuinely inventive and creative) or stay home. Seriously, though, those big corners are nice. If I ignore the theme and just look at those, then I can work up warm feelings about this puzzle. Although that warmth might also be a. the bourbon I've been drinking tonight, or b. the mild case of rage I have over this whole Ferguson debacle. Just to end on a high note, though, a solid ovation for that NE corner—all the Downs, gold.

    If there were more to say, I'd say more. But there's not, so I won't. Good day.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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