Fictional character who "died" in 1975 / MON 8-3-15 / News service inits. / Singer K. T. / No-sweat shot / Capital of Senegal

Monday, August 3, 2015

MADAM, I'm ADAM. Nah, just kidding...I'm Annabel! Which doesn't really have a palindrome with anything.
 
Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Hard (to be fair, maybe it would be easier if I had actually been alive in 1975)



THEME: HERCULE POIROT — This theme can be summed up by "I need to read more Agatha Christie." Seriously though, all theme clues are related to her fictional detective Hercule Poirot, who was so beloved that he was the only fictional character ever to have an obituary in the New York Times.

Theme answers:
  • MOUSTACHE (18A: Notable 23-Across feature)
  • HERCULE POIROT (23A: Fictional character who "died" in 1975)
  • LITTLE GREY CELLS (39A: What 23-Across thinks with [as illustrated by this grid?])
  • EGG-SHAPED HEAD (50A: Notable 23-Across feature)
  • DETECTIVE (62A: 23-Across' occupation)

Word of the Day: LITTLE GREY CELLS (39A: What 23-Across thinks with [as illustrated by this grid?]) —
Grey matter or gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system, consisting of neuronal cell bodies, neuropil (dendrites and myelinated as well as unmyelinated axons), glial cells (astroglia and oligodendrocytes), synapses, and capillaries. Grey matter is distinguished from white matter, in that grey matter contains numerous cell bodies and relatively few myelinated axons, while white matter is composed chiefly of long-range myelinated axon tracts and contains relatively very few cell bodies.[1] The color difference arises mainly from the whiteness of myelin. In living tissue, grey matter actually has a very light grey color with yellowish or pinkish hues, which come from capillary blood vessels and neuronal cell bodies.[2]
• • •


Wait, wrong French detective. Here:



Ah, there we go! So anyway, as I mentioned above, the Poirot theme that I knew nothing about made this puzzle very challenging. Too challenging, perhaps, for a Monday? It might have been a LOT easier if all the theme clues helped us figure out Poirot, rather than expecting us to know Poirot to figure out the rest of the theme clues. But hey, Steinberg wrote this when he was 14 (!!!!), cut him some slack.

The rest of the puzzle was pretty rad. Loved the identical clues for SET and LOT as well as for ACHE and LONG. BTW, Davide Steinberg, did you take French in 9th grade? Because  with MASSE, ILS, MLLE, and APERCU - for that matter, HERCULE POIROT - it sure seems like it. Pretty decent fill overall. ALSO, I had no idea that NEAP was such a staple of the crossword world (the crossworld?).  I had HIGH in that spot for the longest time, you know, because high tide is actually a normal concept that normal people know.

Bullets:
  • KEY (22A: Item on a custodian's ring) — That's the name of the school I just graduated from!!!!! The good old Key School, home of the Fighting Obezags. "Obezag" is...just the word "gazebo" spelled backwards because we didn't have a mascot in the 70s and had to make one up so sportswriters could write about us. We even won a contest for Top Mascot. *PTA mom Rex's BFF Liz Glass voice* If you live in Annapolis you should send your kids there!! www.keyschool.org
  • PLUTO (8A: Former planet) — I LOVE THAT WE TOOK PICTURES OF PLUTO I LOVE IT SO MUCH IT'S SO EXCITING AND PRETTY!!!!!!
  • EGO (35A: Big feature for Donald Trump or Kanye West)— Cue outraged commentors. 
 


  • MOUSTACHE (18A: Notable 23-Across feature) — Speaking of French...
Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired rising college student

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Green topper / SUN 8-2-15 / False god / Part of a dealership

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: 0:33 faster than average, says the iPad app, so...about average


THEME: Literally speaking —the circled squares follow the internal directions.

Word of the Day: SKOSH (6A: Tiny bit) —
From Japanese 少し ‎(sukoshi, a little bit). // Noun, plural skoshes. // A tiny amount; a little bit; tad; smidgen; jot. He added just a skosh of vinegar, to give the recipe some zip. (Wiktionary)
• • •
[NOTE FROM REX: Comments section is now moderated. It will take between minutes and hours for your comment to appear, depending on my (and a few others') access to a computer. This policy is not up for debate and not likely to change any time soon. Complaints about bad actors just piled up and so I had to do something. This is it. The last two days' worth of comments have been moderated and the Comments section is much, much nicer—thanks for all the kind notes, btw. OK, now on to today's featured Rex stand-in: the wonderful Melissa!]

Hello! I'm Melissa, and I'm pinch-hitting for Rex today. I, too, live in New York State, but that might be about all I have in common with our illustrious absent host. Rex, I hope you're enjoying your vacation!

I found this puzzle on the meh side: I feel like I've seen this sort of theme somewhere in the not-too-distant past, but I can't dredge up exactly where it was. I also felt like the puzzle was overloaded with proper names. But the puzzle does contain a whopping 11 theme answers, ranging in length from 8 to 13 characters and nicely positioned symmetrically in the grid.

Theme answers:
  • CALLBACK (20A: Result of a successful audition)
  • SPLIT SECOND (25A: Instant)
  • TORN TO SHREDS (37A: In bits)
  •  MINCEMEAT (46A: Kind of pie)
  •  DRIFT APART (54A: Lose that loving feeling)
  •  SCRAMBLED EGGS (62A: Diner offering)
  •  MIXED MEDIA (72A: Art type)
  •  HASH MARKS (83A: # # #)
  •  INTERMINGLED (90A: Like 0's and 1's in binary)
  •  FAST SHUFFLE (105A: Card sharp's deception)
  •  UNBROKEN (112A: Whole)
If you're keeping score, that's one reversal, five slices, and five anagrams. I'm a little bothered that of the sliced answers, one has the cut between two words (TO/SHREDS) whereas the others are all cut in the middle of a word (S/ECOND, M/E/AT, DRIF/T, U/N). I also would have liked to see more than one reversal, or no reversals at all, since it's the odd one out here.

I typically solve on my iPad, which means that I generally am working sequentially through the clues. On my first pass through, I also tend to enter only the things I'm absolutely certain of, because I always forget about the pencil tool. (Then again, even when I solve on paper, I prefer to use a pen, preferably a Pilot G-2 Extra Fine or Ultra Fine blue: I'm a southpaw, and for me, this pen's ink is relatively quick-drying and therefore relatively smear-proof.) One advantage of solving electronically is that when I'm done, there's no evidence of any mistakes I may have made along the way!
Here's what I had after my first pass through today's puzzle:

Not so much, eh? This was a bit sparser than usual, for my first pass through. And so much for certainty, especially with respect to 73D, 76D, 28A, and 60A. (Uncertainty? Paging Schrödinger's buddy Heisenberg, who was stopped for speeding. When the officer asked him if he knew how fast he was going, he said, "No, but I know exactly where I am!" Ba-dum-bump.)


Speaking of 60A (Puffed ___), puffed rice is fairly common, especially among those health food nuts who prefer their breakfast to resemble styrofoam packing peanuts. (There's also puffed wheat, of course, which becomes almost edible if it's coated with sugar, or these days more likely 7D, but that doesn't fit here.) I don't think I've ever seen puffed OATS. When I googled "puffed rice" (with the quotation marks) I got about 491,000 results, compared to about 6,400 results for "puffed oats." But those numbers don't tell the whole story. When I looked through the first couple of pages of puffed oats results, all but one of the hits were for UK links. The only United States-based link went to Amazon—but the box of cereal was fulfilled by a UK company, it's definitely not an American brand because the picture of the box shows that it's "high fibre," and one box would set you back $8.35. Thus, I question this particular cluing decision.

Once I started to make a few successive passes through the puzzle, my errors became obvious. By about the third pass through, I had both SPLIT SECOND and MINCEMEAT and the theme clicked, so I could make some educated guesses at the other theme answers. The NE was the last part of the grid I filled in, largely because (as you can see) I had a taxi instead of a large body of water. Once I erased that, I goofed again by putting Apex instead of ACME (16D: Zenith), which didn't help matters any.

Bullets:
  • RATSO (1D: ___ Rizzo of film) — I hesitated here because Betty also has five letters, and that's the first name of Rizzo in Grease. After my first pass, I was able to fill this one in and the rest of the corner fell fairly easily. But it took me a little while to properly parse 1A (Move, as a plant) and fill in REPOT, even with that initial R in place.
  • SOD (52A: Green topper) and ELF (59D: Figure often dressed in green) — I might know Matt Ginsberg's favorite color now. 
  • LOTION (93D: Bottle in a beach bag) and FRY (109D: Linger in the hot sun) — I had to bring this up because it gives me a chance to put in this, from the great Ella Fitzgerald singing the great Cole Porter.
  • I could have done without the crosswordese of STG ESAI OTOE AMAT OTTOII ASTA DIGHT (11A 14A 45A 97A 110A 47D 64D).
  • START A FIRE (71D: Rub some sticks together, as at camp) — I initially had light A FIRE. Do people still rub sticks together for this purpose? Even back in the dark ages of my Girl Scout days, we had matches.
  • ANODES (80A: Battery ends) — Those poor neglected cathodes never get any attention in CrossWorld! (What did the anode say to the cathode? "You're always so negative!")
  • SHE-CAT (6D: Tom's partner) — I've never heard anyone refer to a queen by this name! (My own neutered tom answers to Leo.)
  • SAYS (15D: "___ You!")Says You is one of my favorite public radio shows. I was sad to hear that the creator and original host, Richard Sher, passed away earlier this year, but I look forward to hearing the new shows with new host (and long-time panelist) Barry Nolan, once they're taped.
  • ORCA (31D: Boat in "Jaws") — Has anyone else who solves on a platform that includes the Mini Puzzle noticed that there's often duplication, or near-duplication, of answers between the little and big puzzles? Today's Mini includes ORCAS (1D: Animals in the acclaimed documentary "Blackfish"). This particular example doesn't bother me so much because it isn't an exact duplication, but there have been multiple instances where the same answer will be clued identically in both puzzles for a single day. Since I use the Mini as a warm-up exercise for the big puzzle, it's always really obvious to me when it happens. I wish I could access previous Minis so I could give you a specific example, but it seems that if you miss the window for a particular Mini, it's closed forever.
  • ME LIKE (92D: Informal approval) — The few times I've heard something along these lines, it's always been "Me likey." That said, I haven't heard even that for a few years.
  • SKID ROWS (9D: Lush locales) — I like this clue. My favorite Skid Row is the one that's home to Seymore and Audrey II.
  • MALI (72D: Country once known as French Sudan) —This is my chance to publicly thank Mrs. Smith, my sixth-grade social studies teacher. In her class, we studied the geography of Africa and Asia, and which enabled me to confidently fill in this answer when I first saw it. So, Mrs. Smith, for this and much more, domo arigato!
Thanks for reading. I'm not Rex, but I hope this has been up to his standard.

Signed, Melissa, off the bench in CrossWorld

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