Device that keeps ship's compass level / TUE 10-25-16 / Big name in bicycle helmets / Tuliplike flower whose name means butterfly in Spanish / Longtime Federer adversary / Hidden symbol between E X in Fedex logo / Coal-rich German region

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Constructor: John E. Bennett

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a TUES.)

THEME: "THE ROUND'S ON ME" (35A: Offer at a pub ... as suggested by this puzzle's circled squares) — types of liquor / beer form a vaguely "round" shape in the grid

Word of the Day: MASTIC (12D: Tile adhesive) —
noun: mastic; plural noun: mastics; noun: mastic tree; plural noun: mastic trees
  1. 1.
    an aromatic gum or resin exuded from the bark of a Mediterranean tree, used in making varnish and chewing gum and as a flavoring.
  2. 2.
    the bushy evergreen Mediterranean tree of the cashew family that yields mastic and has aromatic leaves and fruit, closely related to the pistachio.
  3. 3.
    a puttylike waterproof filler and sealant used in building. (google)
• • •

That revealer is a swing and a miss. Big miss. Terrible miss. THIS ROUND'S ON ME is a phrase. A fine phrase. A grid-spanning 15-letter phrase. THE ROUND'S ON ME is something the alien pretending to be a human might say. Also, it's not an "offer," as the clue seems to think. It's a declaration. Further, the kinds of alcohol are pretty arbitrary, and only a few of them really fit the whole "this round's on me" thing. A round of cognac? Really? Lastly, the shape is not, in fact, round. It's octagonal. An interesting concept, totally botched in the execution. Don't do this.

[from Letterman—OMG that CD longbox!]

This played somewhat harder than normal for me (4:01) first because of the ludicrous revealer, and then because of several words I just didn't know: GIMBAL (48A: Device that keeps a ship's compass level), MASTIC, and GIRO (26D: Big name in bicycle helmets). That last one especially, hoo boy. Really stymied my eastword motion. I think my last letter was the "A" in GIMBAL. Might've been the "B" if I hadn't already changed THE NET to THE WEB (29D: What Wi-Fi can connect you to). Had LAST LAP instead of LAST LEG (25A: Final part of a relay) and zero idea what a [Common name for a cowboy] could be, despite having watched untold number of westerns. DESTRY Rides Again. I have no idea who this DUSTY guy is, to say nothing of his allegedly numerous namesakes. The lower part of the SW corner is a boatload of atrocious fill, and RETESTS abutting EAGEREST (!?) is also not great to look at. UNREAL is pretty good, as clued (2D: "That is SO incredible!"), but the rest doesn't have much going for it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Virginia city known for shipbuilding / MON 10-24-16 / Final stanze of ballad / Molars usually have four of these / Pair of cymbals operated by foot pedal

Monday, October 24, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: On the easier side of Mondayness

THEME: MORNING SHOW (58A: Breakfast-time TV fare that usually includes the ends of 17-, 28, 36- and 44-Across) — themers end with NEWS, TRAFFIC, WEATHER and SPORTS, respectively

Theme answers:
  • NEWPORT NEWS (17A: Virginia city known for its ship-building)
  • DRUG TRAFFIC (28A: Flow of narcotics)
  • UNDER THE WEATHER (36A: Not feeling so hot)
  • SPOIL SPORTS (44A: Killjoys)
Word of the Day: CUSPS (1A: Molars usually have four of these) —
A cusp is a pointed, projecting, or elevated feature. In animals, it is usually used to refer to raised points on the crowns of teeth. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a perfectly reasonable puzzle ... from 30ish years ago that has somehow found its way to 2016. The NYT is having this problem over and over and over again lately. Problem isn't (only) with the quality of the puzzle, it's with the ambition level. No, "ambition" isn't even the right word, since I don't think a puzzle has to be super-edgy or complicated or avant-garde to be good. A very simple puzzle can be good. But there's no attempt to be current or funny or, for lack of a better word, alive. We're getting a ton of by-the-book puzzles. First words do this. Last words do this. Etc. With fill and clues that are less terrible than stale. Nobody expects That much from a Monday, but I think that's actually a cruddy attitude to have towards Mondays and the people who make them well. A little zing, a little imagination, a little spark. This is all I ask of Mondays. Actually, it's all I ask of most days. I won't list all the tiresome fill here, largely because every puzzle has Some, but just look at the grid and consider how much of this stuff you see over and over and over. Even something like EMOTE or ORATE or SATED—perfectly fine words, but relentless, and today, all in the same section. A puzzle made for people who wear AFTA and watch morning TV fare, i.e. not me. And, increasingly, not a lot of solvers. If it is unreasonable of me to keep asking the NYT to be the best, then maybe they should stop calling themselves the "best." That way no fraud, no unrealistic expectations.

Turns out I don't really know what CUSPS means. I finished this puzzle in under my normal Monday time, but I think I might've set a personal Monday best if I'd had some conception of CUSPS. I know the term "bicuspid," but I think of "cusp" as meaning the edge; like ... you're on the *cusp* of something. Or in astrology, if you're on the *cusp*, you are on the edge or boundary of two different signs. Right? Anyway, the clue [Molars usually have four of these] totally stymied me. Filling in ROT at 4D: Drivel didn't help (it's PAP). Also had lots o' trouble with 5D: One often seen standing just out side a building's entrance (SMOKER), since all I wanted was some version of "doorman." So maybe it's most accurate to say this puzzle had a Challenging (for a Monday) NW corner, and a hyper-easy everything else.

  • 50A: Shoe material (LEATHER) — not that I care, but you don't usually see replicated letter strings as long as the one this answer shares with WEATHER (in UNDER THE WEATHER)
  • 8D: "___ Gotta Be Me" (Sammy Davis Jr.  song) (I'VE) — not sure why I'VE sounds too formal / grammatical to precede "Gotta," but it does. I GOTTA feels more natural. But a title's a title's a title.
  • 11D: Procedure for solving a mathematical problem (ALGORITHM) — not to be confused with the theoretical concept AL GORE RHYTHM. P.S. I have a mathematician friend, who is also a constructor friend, who teaches in NEWPORT NEWS. Here's the exciting proof.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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