Prehistoric Southwest culture / MON 12-11-17 / Service organization with wheel logo

Monday, December 11, 2017

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: HEADPHONES (63A: They bring music to one's ears ... or a hint to 17-, 21-, 33-, 45- and 54-Across) — types of "phones" are at the "head" of each theme answer:

Theme answers:
  • ROTARY CLUB (17A: Service organization with a wheel logo)
  • CELL BLOCK (21A: Prison unit)
  • MOBILE HOME (33A: Domicile with wheels)
  • SMART ALECK (45A: Wiseass)
  • PAY FREEZE (54A: Action taken by a company in distress)
Word of the Day: ANASAZI (4D: Prehistoric Southwest culture) —
The Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.[1] The Ancestral Puebloans are believed to have developed, at least in part, from the Oshara Tradition, who developed from the Picosa culture. // They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and cliff-sited dwellings for defense. The Ancestral Puebloans possessed a complex network that stretched across the Colorado Plateau linking hundreds of communities and population centers. They held a distinct knowledge of celestial sciences that found form in their architecture. The kiva, a congregational space that was used chiefly for ceremonial purposes, was an integral part of this ancient people's community structure. // In contemporary times, the people and their archaeological culture were referred to as Anasazi for historical purposes. The Navajo, who were not their descendants, called them by this term. Reflecting historic traditions, the term was used to mean "ancient enemies". Contemporary Puebloans do not want this term to be used. (emph. mine) (wikipedia)
• • •

OK I'm definitely better at night-solving than waking-and-solving. After a cruddy week of solving last week, I destroyed this puzzle in 2:40. Too bad I didn't like it better. The theme is dense, but dense with redundancies—cell phones and mobile phones are pretty much the same thing, and smart phones are just a subset of ... one of them. So the grid is dense with themers, but not ones that really diversify the theme or make it more interesting. In fact, all the themers are pretty dang dull. And then the grid (under pressure from all the theme stuff) is even duller. Just blah. Waytoo much junk for an easy puzzle (SEENO, ENDO, HABLA, ONICE, bleeping ODA!?). Complete snoozefest on every level. Usually being superfast endears me to a puzzle, but not today. Not even close.

Here were the parts that put up any resistance at all: ANASAZI (I can never remember this term, and it's not a term contemporary Puebloans like, so ... ); HUM (34D: Good engine sound) (I think I had the onomatopoeia MMM there at first, until LAUDING fixed things); ON ICE (had ON TAP) (31D: In reserve). That's it. Thank god it went by fast; I didn't have time to get well and properly bored. Nothing more to say about this one. I'll provide more commentary when the puzzle gives me more to work with.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chocolate-coated snack stick / SUN 12-10-17 / early 2000s outbreak for short / Irish form of Mary / Traditional Filipino dish marinated in vinegar soy sauce / Hermione's patronus in Harry Potter books / Standout hoopsters

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard and Laura Braunstein

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (I finished in Easy time, but I had an error; the puzzle is *very* proper-noun heavy, so you just as easily torch this puzzle as fail miserably...)

THEME: "Full-Body Cast" — actors names ("cast"!) have "body" parts embedded (smushed and rebused) inside them—so the rebus squares are BIT PARTS (112A: What eight actors took on for this puzzle?). I guess the body parts are tiny (i.e. shrunk down to fit in one square), hence "bit"...

The Cast:
  • EARTHA KITT (25A: "Batman" actress, 1967-68)
  • DON CHEADLE (31A: "Traffic" actor, 2000)
  • JOHN LEGUIZAMO (36A: "Super Mario Bros." actor, 1993)
  • ELSA LANCHESTER (54A: "Bride of Frankenstein" actress, 1935)
  • DENZEL WASHINGTON (65A: "Training Day" actor, 2001)
  • MICHELLE YEOH (80A: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" actress, 2000)
  • RYAN PHILLIPPE (94A: "Crash" actor, 2004)
  • OLIVER PLATT (102A: "Frost/Nixon" actor, 2008)
Word of the Day: POCKY (73D: Chocolate-coated snack stick)
Pocky (ポッキー Pokkī, Japanese pronunciation: [pokʲꜜkʲiː] (About this sound listen)) /ˈpɒki/ is a Japanese snack food produced by Ezaki Glico. Pocky was first sold in 1966,[1] and consists of chocolate-coated biscuit sticks. It was named after the Japanese onomatopoetic word pokkin (ポッキン). // The original was followed by almond coatings in 1971, and strawberry coatings in 1977. Today, the product line includes variations as milk, mousse, green tea, honey, banana, cookies and cream, and coconut flavored coatings, and themed products such as "Decorer Pocky", with colorful decorative stripes in the coating, and "Men's Pocky", a dark (bittersweet) chocolate and "mature" version. (wikipedia)
• • •

For a Sunday-sized rebus, I solved this one very quickly. Normally rebuses slow me down—even after I've caught on to the gimmick, the rebus squares can still be peskily elusive little buggers.  And I'll admit to having trouble finding the body part in DENZEL WASHINGTON, as well as trouble remembering that RYAN PHILLIPPE even existed (haven't thought about him since "Cruel Intentions" (1999)). But otherwise, I cruised right through this thing, despite (and occasionally because of) all the proper nouns involved. The grid felt very dangerous—the constructors not only larded it with proper nouns, but dropped in some terminology not often seen in crosswords. POCKY! Do you all know what that is? I do ... but I think of it as having emerged as a foodstuff in America well after my childhood, so I don't know how much older folk know about it. And "NARUTO," yikes. I teach comics and *I* had trouble with that answer (largely because I don't read contemporary boy-manga (i.e. shonen)). I am very familiar with the title, but the spelling ... kept eluding me.

But the answer that actually brought me down was an answer I thought was more exotic than it turned out to be. I had the "Traditional Filipino dish" at 56A: Traditional Filipino dish marinated in vinegar and soy sauce as POREADOBO. Once I saw the clue, I figured it would just be some exotic word I didn't know, and I'd have to rely on all the crosses. So I did ... and one of the crosses betrayed me. 37D: Crash, with "out" (ZONK). I had the "Z" early on and unblinkingly wrote in ZONE. I think of "crash" as having to do with losing focus / steam, though it can also mean sleep. I don't feel like "ZONK out" and "Crash" are that interchangeable, whereas I think of "crashing" and "zoning out" as things I start doing every night on the couch around 9pm. Anyway, it's my bad, I'm sure ZONK is the better answer. I just fell in a hole I had no hope of getting out of. It happens. Rarely, to me, but it does.

I enjoyed the puzzle—the grid is full of sparkle. I had a few issues with the theme, though. HEAD, I would argue, includes EAR and EYE. Like, if you brought me a HEAD and it didn't have EARs and EYEs, I'd be like "what did you do to this HEAD!?" So there's redundancy in this body "part" list. Twice. Oh, no, wait: thrice—LEG presumably contains SHIN. You get the idea. Further, the LIVER is an internal organ, so that's ... weird. All the other parts are external / visible. So the assortment of body parts is pretty ragtag. But otherwise it's a pretty solid rebus, one I caught very early (at Cheadle) and only struggled with at OLIVER PLATT (I never saw "Frost/Nixon" and had no idea he was in it—I don't think of him as having any particularly iconic roles). Also, I happily put in RADAR at 103D: Real-time tool for meteorologists, so finding that LIVER was hard. And, again, why would I be looking for an internal organ?? But again, the whole thing was mostly entertaining and enjoyable. T'AIME is very rough, but it's the only answer I would absolutely bounce from the party (62D: "Je ___" (French words of affection)). The rest can stay. I mean, I probably wouldn't *talk* to IATE, but he can still hang if he wants (81D: "Must've been something __").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I finished a new off-season baseball crossword. Enjoy:

Rex Parker's Off-Season Baseball Crossword #2: 
"Angel ... in the Outfield?" (PDF) (.PUZ

P.P.S. I-65 does not run through ATLANTA, so I don't know what happened with that clue. Typo for "I-75," I imagine...

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