Palindromic elemento / SUN 7-24-16 / Common Coke go-with / Friend of Lucy Ricardo

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SPACE INVADERS — grid is a representation of a screenshot from the video game

Word of the Day: BIG DIG (Boston megaproject completed in 2007, informally) —
The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known unofficially as the Big Dig, was a megaproject in Boston that rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93)—the chief highway through the heart of the city—into the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel...The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests,[2][3] and one death.[4] The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998[5] at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006).[6] However, the project was completed only in December 2007, at a cost of over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars, meaning a cost overrun of about 190%)[6] as of 2006.[7] The Boston Globe estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that it will not be paid off until 2038. -- Wikipedia
• • •

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex for the next eight days, which he'll spend at the baccarat tables in Monte Carlo (I'm guessing). I write a daily crossword here and a weekly crossword contest every Friday here. My latest crossword book is this.

Crossword wunderkind David Steinberg is our constructor today; I think he's the only teenager who's won my Crossword of the Month award (September 2015).

His puzzle is a SPACE INVADERS (91A: 1970s-'80s craze that's the theme of this puzzle ) screenshot in cruciverbal form, and there's a lot going on: a MOTHERSHIP in circled letters up top; nine entries invaded by ETs; SAFE spelled by four unchecked letters in the bottom section of the grid, indicating those boulder-like things you could hide under in the game; a LASER pointing upward in the upper left of the grid, hidden in the downward PRESALE (6D: Event for select customers) indicating the lasers you'd fire; and a cannon-shaped CANNON in the lower-left.

Phew...that's a lot of different ideas tossed into the mix, but I'm afraid this comes off as more of a big, confusing mess than a coherent and pleasant return to childhood. Lots of "well, not quites" as I looked over the grid later: the Space Invaders shot downward at the player, which isn't represented; using ET as your "Space Invaders" conflates two very different early '80s things (E.T. was sweet and ate candy, Space Invaders were trying to destroy your civilization); SAFE seems like an arbitrary word for those shelters down below, since the Space Invaders' missiles ate away at them, and they disappeared altogether when the Invaders got low enough; that thing was called a MOTHERSHIP? And why is it in that loop shape? Part of the problem is that Space Invaders was one of those games that was more popular in its Atari 2600 version than its arcade version, and the two were stylistically not identical. David used the arcade version here, so this didn't hit my nostalgia radar correctly. Are ROCKET FUEL (112A: Mission requirement) and AIRPORT BAR (116A: Place to get drunk before getting high?) supposed to be theme? I don't think so.

With all that going on, the fill took some hits: SSE / OSS / SSR / SSN / EEE / HET / RET / ORO isn't a great worst-of list for 3-letter entries. But the constructor also managed to sneak a lot of nice entries in as well, such as ETHEL MERTZ (41D: Friend of Lucy Ricardo), CHEAP DATE (49A: One not looking for an expensive night on the town), and ELDERBERRY (45D: Fruit used in wines and syrups).

The best part of the theme is the nine "Space Invading" ET's. PREEN, DOH, MINUS, DIED, TAKEN, GAME, DUO, MARKING and ABS became PRETEEN, DOETH, MINUETS, DIETED, TAKE TEN, GAMETE, DUE TO, MARKETING, and ABETS. Maybe this could've been a decent theme by itself, without all the other stuff, and then that "E.T." does not equal "Space Invaders" wouldn't have bothered me since you're just using "Space Invaders" to mean "E.T. was from space, and he's invading these entries". That might've been the way to take this. But with all the other elements in there it becomes a disharmonious mishmash.

It's schoolmarmish, but I assign grades to puzzles when I fill in for Rex, and I'll give this one a C-. When David Steinberg's Greatest Hits is released someday it will be a very nice volume, but I don't think this puzzle will make the cut. No worries, he has plenty of others to choose from. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 7 more days

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Pop singer Goulding / SAT 7-23-16 / WW II landing site in Italy / 24-book classic / Biggest rival of US Foods / Year-end tradition since 1966 / Half of 2000s stoner-film duo / Longtime hair lightener brand / Alternative to Flix / Music genre for Miriam Makeba / Last name in funnies for nearly 50 years / First lady Barbara's Russian counterpart

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Constructor: Debbie Ellerin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: KIT CAR (37A: Do-it-yourself wheels)
Not to be confused with KITT.
For other uses, see Kit (disambiguation).A kit car, also known as a "component car", is an automobile that is available as a set of parts that a manufacturer sells and the buyer himself then assembles into a functioning car. Usually, many of the major mechanical systems such as the engine and transmission are sourced from donor vehicles or purchased new from other vendors. Kits vary in completeness, including as little as a book of plans, or as much as a complete set with all components included. // There is a sub-set of the kit car, commonly referred to as a "re-body", in which a commercially manufactured vehicle has a new (often fiberglass) body put on the running chassis. Most times, the existing drive gear and interior are retained. These kits require less technical knowledge from the builder, and because the chassis and mechanical systems were designed, built, and tested by a major automotive manufacturer, a re-body can also lead to a much higher degree of safety and reliability. // The definition of a kit car usually indicates that a manufacturer constructs multiple kits of the same vehicle, each of which it then sells to a third party to build. A kit car should not be confused with a 'hand built' car or 'special' car, which is typically built from scratch by an individual. (wikipedia)
• • •

I told you. Literally, I told you. The last time this constructor published a puzzle in the NYT, I thought that the theme was perhaps a little trite, but that the *execution* was virtually flawless. I then went on to write: "This puzzle doesn't excite me, but it does give me sincere hope for decent future work." Well keep hope alive, yes we can, etc., because here is the "decent future work" I was talking about. And a *Saturday* puzzle, too–way on the other end of the puzzle week from that last puzzle (a Monday). I just Enjoyed this puzzle. It had that nice mix of hard and doable, pop culture and vocabulary, and cleverly tough (or toughly clever) clues that make for a good Saturday work out. I had the feeling of struggling in many places, but I never got truly bogged down. Those corners are all pretty sequestered, and things can get a little frightening when you are in blind alleys, with no way out. But in the end it was like a delicious small-plate meal—I'm still kind of hungry, but what I ate was really satisfying. Maybe if I just have another drink, I'll be good. I might've lost the metaphor there. Now I'm thirsty. It's Really hot and we have AC in only room and that is not the room I am in. I'm gonna run and get water and then start another paragraph.

This one leans a little heavily on proper nouns, for sure, and while this mostly didn't feel excessive, I can see something like ELLIE (16A: Pop singer Goulding) over LIANE (18A: Actress Balaban of "Supernatural") being a real trouble spot for folks (I knew the former, but definitely not the latter—though I think the crosses are gettable enough that I could've blanked on both and still been OK). Names *definitely* helped me get started, as SEURATS was the first thing I plunked in (after inferring the terminal "S" at 1A: Those falling head over heels?). I then followed that up with AMY (Poehler) and "FAMILY GUY," and while that corner still put up a fight, I had enough of a toe hold to get moving. I had TRIMMED for SLIMMED at 33A: Reduced and then *wrongly* inferred the terminal "S" at 33D: Things that one is good at (SKILL SET), so the SW corner was probably the toughest for me. At first, all I had was IVS. But then 46D: Something to carve out seemed to be screaming NICHE, so I went with it, and things panned out. After that, I misspelled FAGAN (thusly) (41D: Charley Bates's mentor, in literature) and mostly guessed and fumbled at the letters in 38A: W.W. II landing site in Italy (ANZIO) (EZIO and PINZA and ANZAC were all shouting at me in my mind). But everything else went pretty smoothly.

I am outta here til August 2. My replacement knows more about crosswords than I do, so you're in good hands. He'll be taking over from Sunday to Sunday. Then it's an Annabel Monday. Then I'm back. See you back here in 10 days.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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