Daughter of Loki / 4-28-16 / Contemporary of Wordsworth Coleridge / Extinct creature with armored spikes on its back / Nascar stat for short / Rappeller's need / Goldfinger's first name

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Constructor: Kurt Krauss

Relative difficulty: Challenging (mainly because of having to remember exactly how the gimmick works, not because of Inherent difficulty)

THEME: compass directions —Downs run North in the North, South in the South; Acrosses run West in the West, East in the East. Words extending from the center (which is supposed to house a compass rose, the note tells me) start with the relevant words:

Theme answers:
  • NORTHER (which has the direction meaning of "north" in it)
  • EASTMAN (which doesn't)
  • WEST END (which has the direction meaning of "west" in it)
  • SOUTHEY (which doesn't) 
Word of the Day: SOUTHEY (43D: Contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge) —
Robert Southey (/ˈsði/ or /ˈsʌði/; August 12, 1774 in Bristol – March 21, 1843 in London) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey's verse still enjoys some popularity. (wikipedia)
• • •

I've seen this type of gimmick before, for sure. I'm quite sure that I've solved a puzzle that had a compass rose at its center before. And I know I've done puzzles were the answers appear to go backwards. The question is... why? What's the hook? Where's the fun? Here, there is none. I mean, yes, there's the NEWS thing (north east south west, I mean), but even that is slightly botched. You should bury your direction words in non-direction answers, or (less good but still acceptable) make them all direction answers. This grid, however, decides to split the difference. I say "decides" as if anyone was even thinking about this issue, which clearly they weren't. Filling this one grid was an unpleasant experience. Gimmick was obvious early, and then there was just this slog... because once you see that the answers run the "wrong" way half the time, all you're left with is a not-very-well-filled grid. There's no reason backwardsness alone should cause you to put PES and SCH and SATRAP and ADE into one little corner of the grid. Baffling. This lack of polish, or, rather, this reliance on Whatever Works without any care to make it Better, pervades the whole grid. It's choked with ARIL ELOI EFT AURIC SENAT HEL (?!) ELEM NOT I, and there's nothing to mitigate that onslaught. There's just this 1/2 backwards gimmick, which is not so much challenging as it is tedious. Even the clues don't look like they're really trying—mostly one-worders or straight trivia. Come on, man.

Do people know SOUTHEY? I have an English Ph.D. and I took a Romantic Poetry course in college and I've never read him and have barely heard of him. He's totally acceptable as a crossword answer, but he seemed very much like a familiarity outlier today. I wish I liked *something* about this grid, but I don't. SALIVATE and ERGONOMIC are fine answers, but they're not scintillating, and this puzzle really really needs some scintillating to pull itself out of the quicksand of crosswordese and tedium that makes up the rest of the grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Five Pillars adherent / WED 4-27-16 / Terrier of old whodunits / Cryophobe's fear / Hotfoots it, old-style

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: THEME — male-sounding pen names for female authors

Theme answers:
  • ELLIS BELL (17A: Pen name of the female author of "Wuthering Heights") (Emily Brontë)
  • ISAK DINESEN ( 39A: Pen name of the female author of "Out of Africa") (Karen Blixen)
  • ROBERT GALBRAITH (39A: Pen name of the female author of "The Cuckoo's Calling") (J.K. Rowling) (Joanne Rowling)
  • GEORGE ELIOT (49A: Pen name of the female author of "Silas Marner") (Mary Ann Evans)
  • ANDY STACK (61A: Pen name of the female author of True Detective stories) (Ann Rule)
Word of the Day: ANDY STACK (61A: Pen name of the female author of True Detective stories) —
Andy Stack is one of the founding members of the band Wye Oak and a touring member of EL VY, as well as a remix artist and a composer and producer for film and television music. He is noted for his technique of performing drums, keyboard, and electronics simultaneously as part of Wye Oak. (seriously, this is the first thing that came up; I still have no idea who this "female author" is ... hang on ... oh, look, it's Ann Rule, whom I've vaguely heard of) Ann Rae Rule (née Stackhouse; October 22, 1931 – July 26, 2015) was an American true crime author of The Stranger Beside Me, about serial killer, and Rule's co-worker, Ted Bundy. Rule was also known for her book Small Sacrifices, about Oregon child murderer Diane Downs. Many of Rule's books center on murder cases that occurred in the Pacific Northwest and her adopted home state of Washington. (wikipedia)

• • •

Surprised this theme was deemed NYT-worthy. There's nothing here. A set of names that fit in a grid. It's like a theme from a very bygone era, or from a very sub-NYT puzzle. No wordplay, no kicker, no zing, nothing. Here Are Some Pen Names That Women Have Taken Over The Years (Only Two Of Which Are Truly Famous). Yes, women have taken male-sounding pen names. They sure have. This isn't a theme; it's a trivia game. With nothing interesting happening in the rest of the puzzle to offset the dull theme, this one just sinks like a stone. ASTA, AGAPE, SAS ... the fill also feels like it belongs to another era. VENETO MINIM ... we've slid back into arcana a little. Foreign words and foreign word parts and arcana. EENIE ECRU ANNUM.  Yesterday's puzzle was too easy, but it least it was entertaining. I guess people who like crosswords to be "tests of knowledge" might enjoy this. I am not one of them.

["ALIVE" (by SIA)]

I didn't know ELLIS BELL or ANDY STACK. I read one of Rowling's ROBERT GALBRAITH novels and thought it was pretty good, though I keep remembering that pen name as Kenneth Galbraith, who I think is an economist.... yes. That's who he is. Does anyone who's not a paleographer ever actually say MINIM? I learned MINIM in graduate school—it's an important word in MS studies. It's just a "short vertical stroke" in handwriting. The trouble for the modern (inept) scholar like me is that so many different letters are made with minims that reading can be exceeding difficult. You keep hitting blocks of MINIMs and trying to figure out where "m"s end and "n"s begin. Nightmare. I've never heard MINIM used in any other context ever. This puzzle seems obsessed with tiny thing (MINIM, WEE, EENIE ... oh, I guess EENIE is a counting word; I got it confused with EENSY). Also obsessed with Roman thing (Via VENETO, ANNUM, MLI). Neither obsession portends a snappily filled grid. Hoping for livelier things tomorrow...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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