Ultra 93 vendor / FRI 8-1-14 / Winner of inaugural Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent / First talking pet in American comics / Boorish member of Round Table / First substitute on basketball bench / Indian novelist Raja / It means sulfur island in Japanese / Deity with more than 16000 wives / Catchphrase for paranoid

Friday, August 1, 2014

Constructor: Ashton Anderson and James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AI WEIWEI  (16A: Winner of the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent (2012)) —
Ai Weiwei […] born on 28 August 1957 in Beijing, China, is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes". (wikipedia)
• • •

Yes. More of this. All of the Friday puzzles should by these guys, until they run out of ideas and are no longer of any use to me. This puzzle is alive and current and colloquial and wide-ranging and clean. It's got one of my favorite literary characters—the overconfident, incompetent dickhead, SIR KAY—and a phrase I use all the time—DONE AND DONE ("and I mean Done!"—Homer Simpson), and there's hardly a clunker in sight. Whatever little annoyances there are—prefixes or directions or Latin plant names—are a. small and b. holding up tremendous stuff. Use your dull short stuff wisely! I am quite stunned by the three long, adjacent colloquialisms in the NW, mirrored by two others in the SE (as well as AM RADIO, with its superb clue, 37D: Rush home?). There are even clever little touches, like the placement of JAG and TIGE over TAMER (I know lions are usually the big cats being tamed, but I liked the big cat imagery just the same), or the strong noirish feel achieved by juxtaposing TRUST NO ONE and TAKE THE FALL. Then there's the fact that "TRUST NO ONE" is actually a catchphrase from "The X-Files" (see 47A). Nice. I do have one objection to this puzzle, though. I'm not crazy about AI WEIWEI. He's not so well-known yet, and his name is crazily spelled and not inferable. . . Wait, no. That's not my opinion. That's a direct quote from Will Shortz to me and Caleb Madison re: a Sunday puzzle we published a couple years back. My mistake! (See here; mentioned on Buzzfeed here) (Congrats to WS on smartly, if belatedly, coming around on that one)

Had an easier time in the east than I did in the west with this one; or at least I finished the east first. That NW didn't fall for me til late. Didn't know about CUL, despite 7 years of French (2D: French bottom). It sounds profane. "Un film de cul" is a porn film, so … yeah. It's a rough equivalent of "ass," I think, in that "ass" (as well as "tail") can mean "sex" in colloquial American English (he said, sexily over-explaining things). Wanted only ACERBIC (no fit) at 1A: Very harsh (ACIDIC), and therefore didn't get far up there at first. The fact that all those long Downs up there are multi-word colloquialisms made them pretty tough to parse. 

I wrote in GENT at 20A: "I say" sayer (BRIT), only to have GENT come right back around with a bright "cheerio" at 27D: Hat-tipping sort. Could not fathom what the hell 47A: "The X-Files" program, for short even meant … until I could (SETISearch for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). SIXTH MAN! THE CLOUD! NEW-AGEY! (which I hear way more often than the way, way commoner (in crosswords) NEW-AGER). Supercool work all around.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Financial writer Marshall / THU 7-31-14 / Noire Russie borderer / Sardonic Larry / Antipolio pioneer / Pacific nation once known as Pleasant Island / Hit 1996 live-action / animated film

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Constructor: Jeff Chen and Jill Denny

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: [SPACE BAR] (55A: Visual representation of this puzzle's theme) — rebus puzzle where  you have to insert (or imagine) "SPACE" in each of the squares in 55A in order for all the crosses to work. Two other theme answers take [SPACE BAR] as their clues (one straight, one wacky):

20A: 55-Across, e.g. (COMPUTER KEY)
28A: 55-Across, e.g.? ("STAR WARS" CANTINA)

SPACE answers:
  • AIR SPACES (41D: Areas that may be protected by military jets)
  • DISK SPACE (36D: You might need a lot of it for your files)
  • "SPACE JAM" (56D: Hit 1996 live-action / animated film)
  • SPACE AGE (57D: We're living in it) (I thought I was living in the Digital Age)
  • SPACE BAR (58D: Name for 55-Across)
  • DEEP SPACE (37D: It's far out)
  • SUBSPACES (43D: Regions within regions)

Word of the Day: ANDREA Bargnani (9D: Bargnani of the N.B.A.) —
Andrea Bargnani Italian pronunciation: [anˈdrɛa barˈɲani] (born 26 October 1985) is an Italian professional basketball player who currently plays for the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was selected first overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors. He is a power forward/centerstanding at 213 cm (7 ft 0 in) and weighing 113 kg (250 lbs). Prior to his NBA career, Bargnani played for Benetton Treviso in the Italian Serie A and theEuroleague. In his first two seasons with the Raptors, he helped the team reach the NBA Playoffs. They won the Atlantic Division title in 2006–07. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one was doubly tough—first, the theme was nowhere to be found up top (except possibly by inference from COMPUTER KEY if you were able to piece that one together entirely from crosses) and took some work to uncover even when I got down to where the [SPACE BAR] was; second, the cluing on the short stuff was toughened up quite a bit in places (see, for instance, [Where the nose is] for BOW (of a ship), or [Stroke, in a way] for OAR or [It might make one's shadow disappear] for RAZOR, etc.). I don't normally like definitions as answers, but the cleverness of "STAR WARS" CANTINA as an additional type of [SPACE BAR] won me over. The SPACE crosses were a little ugly on the ends, with the plurals, and I thought 54A *was* the [SPACE BAR], so having [SPACE] BAR be a separate answer was slightly odd / redundant, but otherwise I thought this pretty solid and entertaining. Tough, though. Not brutal, but definitely well on the tough side of Thursday.

Where did I shoot myself in the foot today? Well, the foot, presumably. The question kind of answers itself. But where, geographically? Well, worst early mistake was having --TA- at 32A: Come to and writing in GET AT. I was thinking that one might "come to" one's point, i.e. GET AT something. It's a poor answer, I admit, but there it was. Stalled me over there. Oh, that error was compounded by a (possibly) worse one at 5D: Who said "The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers" (CHOPRA). I would like to apologize to Frederic CHOPIN for ever considering that me might have uttered / written such a banal piece of bathroom-mirror affirmation nonsense. Well, not nonsense. I'm sure it's true enough, the sentiment. But it's hardly an original thought. Here is some CHOPIN as a token of my sincere regret at the brief misattribution.

  • 1A: Financial writer Marshall (LOEB) — No idea. Never had one, never will. I am doomed to continue not knowing this person's name forever. I accept this.
  • 10A: Captain played by Patrick Stewart (AHAB) — Here's where I first suspected a rebus, because PICARD didn't fit...
  • 25A: Dangling piece of jewelry (EARBOB) — [frowny face]. This differs from an EARRING how? Oh, not at all. I see. Wonderful.
  • 34A: Antipolio pioneer (SABIN) — I got caught in no man's land among SALK, (Nick) SABAN, and (Carl) SAGAN. Apologies to you, too, Mr. SABIN.
  • 22D: Nebr. neighbor (KANS.) — Ouch. That's about as bad as OREG. … which I have also seen, sadly. My guess is that whoever is still using these four-letter abbrevs. is also wearing EARBOBs.
  • 51D: Pacific nation once known as Pleasant Island (NAURU) — I kind of have to let "Pacific nations" slowly come together from crosses. I feel like there are a bunch of 5-letter ones, though right now I can think only of TONGA and PALAU. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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