Transylvanian count informally / MON 4-27-15 / Desert green spots / Precious stringed instrument informally

Monday, April 27, 2015

Constructor: Johanna Fenimore

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (time: 2:52)

THEME: [Left speechless] — same clue for five answers:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: HOOKAH (9D: Hashish pipe) —
  1. an oriental tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube that draws the smoke through water contained in a bowl. (google)
• • •

Vanilla in extremis. I'm not sure I used "in extremis" correctly there. I meant to convey both "extremely" and "deathly"—though "deathly" is an exaggeration, and Death by Vanilla, honestly, I can imagine worse things. It's just that the grid is constructed in such a way that there is virtually no non-theme fill longer than 6 letters, and what there is is mostly 3 4 5s, which is (predictably) very, very familiar stuff. So there's almost no interest outside the theme (HOOKAH is wondering what it's doing in this puzzle—it's got no one exotic or adventurous to hang out with here; no, wait, I see it's met HECK YES and they appear to be getting on pretty well). But if it's workmanlike, it's at least solid. CIEL (22D: Sky: Fr.) has absolutely no business in an easy Monday puzzle like this, but nothing else strikes me as yuck or out of place.

But the theme … there's a wonkiness. An off-ness. It has something to do with KICKED IN THE HEAD (which, in its familiarity / commonness, is a massive outlier), but much, much more to do with verb tense / part of speech. With the exception of BLEW / AWAY, all the others are past participles or adjectival. So is "Left" a transitive verb (I left her speechless) or a past participle (I was left speechless)?  Seems like meaning shifts from answer to answer. BLEW / AWAY and KICKED IN THE HEAD seem to necessitate a transitive verb interpretation, where as all the others seem synonymous with "blown away" (i.e. they can all be preceded by "I was …"). Maybe it doesn't matter that you have to continually shift context to make [Left speechless] make sense. I found the inconsistency maddening, but I can be OCD like that. And I am still having a tough time accepting KICKED IN THE HEAD at all. If you google "in the head" there's "soft in the head" and "not right in the head" and "hole in the head" right there on the first page of results. Ooh, there's one hit titled "People Are Getting Kicked in the Head Out There," but that's about police violence, so … more literal. Anyway, here is the only kick(ed) in the head I can unhesitatingly accept:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    U-shaped bone above larynx / SUN 4-26-15 / Racoonlike animal / Worrier's farewell / Mother of Levi Judah / Relative of Cerulean / Viola's love in Twelfth night / WWII Dambusters for short / Franz's partner in old SNL sketches

    Sunday, April 26, 2015

    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "Which is Wish" — Wacky "ch"-to-"sh" sound changes:

    Theme answers:
    • LAST DISH EFFORT (23A: Valiant attempt to finish off a seven-course meal?)
    • LAWN SHARES (30A: What an investor in golf courses might buy?)
    • SHEEP THRILLS (36A: Grazing in a meadow and jumping fences, for two?)
    • YOU BETTER WASH OUT (48A: "Be sure to lose!"?)
    • MIX AND MASH (64A: Two blender settings?)
    • KARATE SHOP (68A: Dojo Mart, e.g.?)
    • MUSH TO MY SURPRISE (82A: What I unexpectedly  had for breakfast?)
    • MARSH MADNESS (92A: Swamp fever?)
    • POKER SHIPS (100A: Floating casinos?)
    • SHEAF INSPECTOR (112A: Reviewer of the paperwork?)
    Word of the Day: HYOID (57A: ___ bone (U-shaped bone above the larynx)) —
    The hyoid bone (lingual bone) (/ˈhɔɪd/; Latin os hyoideum) is a horseshoe-shaped bonesituated in the anterior midline of the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage. At rest, it lies at the level of the base of the mandible in the front and the third cervical vertebra (C3) behind.
    Unlike other bones, the hyoid is only distantly articulated to other bones by muscles or ligaments. The hyoid is anchored by muscles from the anterior, posterior and inferior directions, and aids in tongue movement and swallowing. The hyoid bone provides attachment to the muscles of the floor of the mouth and the tongue above, the larynx below, and the epiglottis and pharynx behind.
    Its name is derived from Greek hyoeides, meaning "shaped like the letter upsilon (υ)". (wikipedia)
    • • •

    After my last two less-than-stellar outings, I came into this one itching for a fight, but … this thing is a pussycat. It's cute and has no fight in it at all. While this was probably simpler and more easily solvable than I like my Sundays to be, sometimes I think you gotta lower the bar and give up-and-comers and neophytes a taste of Sunday success. This puzzle seems designed for just that purpose. Theme couldn't be much simpler, conceptually, and the fill is virtually without obscurity—smooth in a way that is completely characteristic of Patrick Berry grids. Would've been nice if the theme answers / and clues had been funnier, or at least zanier, on the whole. The whole set got just two mid-solve smiles out of me—a little one for SHEEP THRILLS (the incongruity here is great … if you've ever been around sheep, the idea that anything "thrills" them is pretty hilarious), and a big one for the big winner of the day: MUSH, TO MY SURPRISE. That's the kind of bizarre, nutso answer that can make an easy, straightforward puzzle tolerable and even enjoyable to solvers who generally like their puzzles tougher. In general, I kept wanting the theme clues to Go Bigger, Bolder, Weirder. You could've done more gruesome stuff with MARSH MADNESS than simply 92A: Swamp fever? (though as two-word clues go, that's a good one).

    Only struggle for me today was in and around HYOID, which I either didn't know or forgot. Vague cluing on KEYCASES (45D: Ring alternatives), as well as my not really knowing what KEYCASES are (except, you know, by retrospective inference), made that center area rocky, at least for a bit. I misspelled SAGAL, as per usual, and I took some time to solve the KEA / LOA issue (side note: the KEA / LOA issue is my least favorite cluing conundrum of all time … write in "A" in third position and check crosses … zzzz). Oh, also had to work a bit for 49D: Worrier's farewell (BE SAFE), both because I couldn't understand the connection between the two words in the clue, and because I had UTEP for UTES (61A: Pac-12 team) (not a fun hole to fall into), and therefore had BEPA-- sitting there. Note: UTEP is in Conference USA … maybe I'll remember that next time. I put in ILSA for INGA (76D: "Young Frankenstein" character) and MASS (?) for MENU (67D: Preprandial reading), but otherwise, no trouble. I burned the whole SE half of the puzzle to the ground  so fast I thought I might've beat my Sunday record. No. Not close. But still easy.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. What is up with the title? Is that … what is that? Usually there's some play on words or joke or something. I see the CH-to-SH change, but that phrase is meaningless and without clear referent. [Note: yes, of course, the base phrase is "which is which," and it's changed to "which is wish," but that is not clever. That is simply an arrow pointing right at the theme—not suggesting or hinting at the theme. Pointing. Directly. It's also nonsense. Grammatically impossible. Gibberish. But maybe the title is part of the puzzle's overall orientation toward easiness.]

      P.P.S. SHE'S DANISH … missed opportunity right there.

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