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THEME: "CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN" (17A: With 58-Across, buy or sell direct … or what to do in this puzzle three times?) — three times there are black squares where you will want to put "MAN" … those black squares are situated between (i.e. in the "middle" of) two MEN … or MANs, I guess: one on top of said black squares, one on the bottom.
RAIN (20A: Best Picture between "The Last Emperor" and "Driving Miss Daisy")
THE ICE / COMETH (34A: With 37-Across, drama set in New York's Last Chance Saloon)
AGUA (53A: Central American capital)
Word of the Day: "ACT ONE" (3D: 2014 Broadway play based on Moss Hart's autobiography) —
This is a puzzle that doesn't seem to know what either "middle" or "cut out" means. For the premise, CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN, to make any sense at all, you have to imagine that there was a MAN where three black squares are, where the expected but absent MAN would have sat between one MAN (on top) and another MAN (below). So, you (solver) "cut out" a "man" that was in the "middle" of two other "men." Only I, the solver, do not do that. What *I* do is cut out MAN. I just don't enter it. Or, rather, I enter it twice, once above where it should've gone, and again below. The cut-out MAN isn't in the "middle" of anything except this ridiculously contrived, entirely theoretical "MAN" stack. "MAN is not in the "middle" of "RAIN [Man]"—it's at the end. The only place I "CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN" is with "THE ICE [man] COMETH." There, MAN is in fact in the middle. Otherwise, *I* just cut out (or leave out, because I have nowhere to put it) MAN. The fact that that "MAN" (in an impossible, imaginary, non-existent grid) would have sat in the "middle" of a MAN sandwich has nothing to do with me. *I* didn't do anything to said sandwich. This puzzle is a conceptual mess with inaccurate, confusing instructions. And the fill is no good, but you knew that. Actually, it's probably NYT-average. At this point in the NYT's history, that is not a compliment.
Never heard of PEKING MAN (23A: Archaeological discovery of the 1920s whose fossils have been missing since 1941). Real familiarity outlier, given how common the other "MAN"-containing answers are. The other *huge* outlier is AGUA. You just snapped that word in two, whereas with the others, you removed the word "MAN" (also, those other two altered answers are titles of dramatic performances, making [Man]AGUA an even huger outlier: foreign, broken, not a drama. Difficulty for me came entirely from the man-sandwich angle; I could see how "MAN" was missing, but then it kept turning up. I thought we were cutting MAN, but we're not … except sometimes. Putting it all together, finally, did not make for an AHA moment. More "oh" [shrug]. Never heard of "ACT ONE" (3D: 2014 Broadway play based on Moss Hart's autobiography), though that seems like a fine clue for otherwise not great fill. Heard of GTOS, but to me Road Runner is Time Warner's high-speed internet service (33A: Onetime Road Runner rivals). I'm still not sure how 24D: Chapter seven? works for ETA. Is it that … ETA is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet, and chapter is some kind of fraternity/sorority reference? I hope not, 'cause that is weak. And the expression is "Well I'LL BE a monkey's uncle" (not "I'M A") (59D). It's like … you wouldn't say "Well I'M damned." You'd say "Well I'LL BE damned." It's like that. That "I'M A" clue was the most painful thing in a largely unpleasant puzzle.
I feel like I would've felt more warmly about this puzzle if MANWICH had somehow been involved. Seems to express what's happening better than today's revealer does.
THEME: I bet you think this song is about YOU — Songs that have YOU in their titles, arranged in pieces, symmetrically, such that the YOU at the center of the puzzle is shared by every title:
I'VE GOT / YOU / UNDER MY SKIN (1A: With 38- and 46-Across, 1966 4 Seasons hit) (I had no idea they did a version of this song; I don't associate with them At All)
I WANT TO TAKE / YOU / HIGHER (26A: With 38- and 67-Across, 1970 Sly & the Family Stone hit)
ALL / YOU / NEED IS LOVE (10A: With 38- and 50-Across, 1967 Beatles hit)
JUST THE WAY / YOU / ARE (21A: With 38- and 65-Across, 1977 Billy Joel hit)
Word of the Day: ODAS (39A: Harem rooms) —
Oda (Turkish: oda, "a room, chamber") is a room within a harem found in the Ottoman Empire. // During Ottoman period the harem division of the Topkapı Palace was home to the Valide sultan (Sultan's mother); the odalisques and wives of the Sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. There were nearly 300 odas in the harem and it housed as many as 500 residents, which sometimes amounted up to 300 women, their children, and the eunuchs. (wikipedia)
• • •
They all share that YOU, and they are symmetrical. But I don't see what's enjoyable about any of it, except if you happen to like some or all of the songs involved. Remembering songs can be nice. But as a crossword, it's just fussy. Multiply cross-referenced clues, chopped up answers … no pleasure there for me. It's architecturally interesting, in its way, but mainly it seemed messy. Titles smashed to bits. Interesting upon reflection, but not very pleasant to solve. The fill (once again) is remarkably poor in places. It's a 76-worder w/ cheaters, so why the RIV / IPSO, why the AWET / ODAS, why the ERES / ILO / AAU / KAI, why the EHLE / AROW / LOGY, and why the THE JETS? It all felt so terribly unpolished. Yes, everybody likes these songs. They are popular, they are old, they are going to play well with the NYT's core demographic. And there's definitely some decent longer, non-theme stuff in there (weirdly, unusually, that may be where this puzzle is strongest—RUN ALONG, GRAPE NUTS IMPOSTOR! You can have HAIR COMB (?) back, but the other longer stuff is pretty decent. But the short stuff is too often unbearable, and the theme has no appeal except nostalgia.
14A: Scope (ROOM) — strangely, this little nook in the north caused me the most difficulty. Took me a while to get ROOM, in part because 7D: Makes a wrong turn seemed so … turn-specific. Took me a while to consider the general ERRS. Also ELK was well (and pretty nicely) hidden at 7A: Popular game? Is it popular? Really? Well, at any rate, I like the play on "game."
48A: U.K. neighbor (IRE) — that is a nice attempted save, emphasis on "attempted": still no good to have IRE and IRATE in the same grid.
47D: "6 Rms ___ Vu" (1972 play) ("RIV") — Honestly, I went with "WIV." Thought we were doing baby talk play on a Forster title. "Me want woom wiv vu!" I have never heard of this "play." It was probably a big deal when these songs were (more) popular.
As Poland made the transition to democracy from 1989, the airline began a transformation from a Soviet-controlled carrier to a European flag carrier. LOT started a process of fleet renewal with the purchase of Western aircraft to replace old Soviet models. With the arrival of the first Boeing 767-300ER, LOT started inter-continental services to Chicago, Newark, Toronto, and New York City. These four main routes have been some of the most popular flights that LOT operates, especially during the summer season when many Poles seek to come back to their homeland for vacation.
LOT found itself undergoing constant management change in the late 2000s due to worsening financials and reductions in market share. After placing orders for several Boeing 787 aircraft and taking delivery of two, the carrier has found itself "nearly insolvent" due to the January 2013 grounding of the 787. (wikipedia)
• • •
This is an odd, loose theme, but I don't mind it. That is, I don't mind the idea. I mind, slightly, DENIS DIDEROT on a Tuesday—his relative obscurity makes him a massive outlier in this line-up. And I mind somewhat more SUCH SWEET SORROW, since it's essentially a partial. It's easy, and hence likely welcome to solvers trying to move through this harder-than-usual puzzle, but it's not good as stand-alone fill. Not at all. So the theme idea is just OK and the execution is a bit wobbly. The fill is quite bad. Demonstrably bad. I count eight (!) entries that I'd consider "Fill Of Last Resort," and that *doesn't* include the more typical crosswordese like AGAR, ONO, ROO, ETAS, OER, etc. On a Tuesday, fill should be *much* much cleaner than this. OLEA? (40D: Olive genus) Bad enough on its own, but somehow worse in a puzzle that already has LEA. Then there's EMER ETH SSE RUS ELUL NOI and SPEE (the last of which I botched because I confused it with that other crosswordese gem, SMEE). And what the hell is up with the clue on LOT? I've been doing puzzles a long, long time, and I'm not sure I've ever seen LOT clued as a Polish airline. I just checked the cruciverb.com database: of 253 LOTs, precisely zero have been clued via the airline. None. None. Again, it's Tuesday. I have no idea what that clue was all about.
Scouts earn merit BADGES, so MERITS (?) slowed me down (28A: Scouts earn them), as did my inability to get the vowels right in KIL-M-NJARO. Misread [Part of a televised movie review] as [… movie crew] and so had trouble with CLIP (had GRIP at some point). My SMEE-for-SPEE troubles mean PUNJAB was pretty tough to come up with (46D: Indian state whose name means "five rivers"). Everything else was fairly straightforward, though not necessarily instantly gettable. I was over four minutes today, which is pretty rare for me on a Tuesday. The relatively slow time matters not at all to me. The uneven, ultimately unsatisfying solving experience—that matters.
Hope all you New Yorkers are surviving the alleged End Times Snowstorm. We're only getting an inch or three here in central upstate NY.
Relative difficulty: Medium-ish (my time was a teeny bit high for a Monday)
THEME: FRESH START (56A: New beginning … or what 16-, 23-, 31-, 38- and 45-Across each have?) — theme answers are familiar two-part phrases/names where first part can also be a synonym for "fresh" in the sense of … well, multiple senses, actually … I was going to say "sassy," but … just, see below…
FLIP WILSON (16A: 1970s comedian whom Time magazine dubbed "TV's First Black Superstar")
SMART COOKIE (23A: Clever person)
PERT PLUS (31A: Shampoo in a green bottle)
BOLD TEXT (38A: Type meant to stand out)
FORWARD PASS (45A: Counterpart to a lateral)
Word of the Day: APISH (26A: Copycatting) —
1. Resembling an ape.
2. Slavishly or foolishlyimitative:an apishimpersonation.
3. Silly;outlandish. (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •
This has a couple problems on the theme front. First, the "fresh"ness of someone who is forward (i.e. the guy who gets slapped by the girl for being excessively presumptuous) is very different from the "fresh"ness of someone who's just giving you lip, backtalk, sass, what have you. And "bold" feels like only the loosest of synonyms. So the "fresh"nesses see like they're offering themselves up as a coherent set, but I don't think they are. Second, BOLD TEXT … sat ill(y) with me. It googles fine, but that "type" is called "BOLDFACE" if it's called anything. I'd've liked that better, despite its X-lessness. Hell, I'd've liked BOLD MOVE better. BOLD TEXT feels "green paint"-ish. Like ITALIC TEXT or UNDERLINED TEXT. Meh. Then there's the fill. Now, I'm a big fan of the multiple long Downs, all of them at least solid. But I'm surprised Ian-not-SEAN (nice vanity clue there) (62A: Ian : Scotland :: ___ : Ireland) had to resort to such low-rent fill so often. GOERS at 1A: Attendees was just painful, and then to have RUER in the puzzle too. Nominalizing verbs w/ -ER always feels mildly half-assed, but some (say, RUNNERs) are better than others (say, GOERS). I have no issues with RISER or PARER, but here they add to an unfortunate overall ER(R)-ness.
And then APISH, oh, man. No. Here's what happens when you try to google [define apish]:
See. Google's like "Nah, you mean this other, similarly ridiculous thing, right?" Then when you insist "no, I really mean 'apish'," you get a definition that has only the most tangential relationship to the clue:
Clue says [Copycatting]. I guess the second definition pictured above covers "copycatting," in that apes are imagined to be copiers of human behavior (hence the *verb* ape, aping). [Copycatting] as APING, I'd buy. But APISH? As you can see by the helpful chart, no. That is not a word one uses these days. And on a Monday? Come on. Anyone using APISH at all, particularly on a Monday, should be a RUER indeed.
62A: Ian : Scotland :: ___ : Ireland (SEAN) — botched this very badly on the first go-round because I didn't fully scan the clue. Had the final "N" and saw "Ireland" and instinctively wrote in ERIN. :(
41D: "The Garden of Earthly Delights" artist (BOSCH) — blanked hard on this. Had -OSC- and could think only of TOSCA.
30D: Winning "Hollywood Squares" line (OOO) — well, it beats [Losing "Hollywood Squares" line], but not by much.
ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (116A: Caution to an orphan girl not to leave her wildebeest behind?)
OBTUSE ANGEL (70D: Lovely but stupid person?)
Word of the Day: LINDIED (96D: Did a 1930s dance) —
The Lindy Hop is an American dance that evolved in Harlem, New York City, in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. (wikipedia)
• • •
This is not the kind of theme I expect to be able to pass muster anymore. Can't imagine why it was accepted. It's completely adequate, but the core concept is ancient, and not terribly imaginative, and Sunday is a marquee day. I don't understand how a theme like this deserves showcase status. This theme is (more or less) infinitely replicable. Just find any word where the "twist" thing with the last two letters works, find a phrase that ends in one of the variations, boom, theme answer (DIRTY POLO, FORD PINOT, etc.). Now, it's possible that if your answers and/or clues are truly, genuinely funny, then the tiredness of the concept won't be an issue, and this puzzle does manage to get off a couple good phrases, most notably RAISING THE BRA and ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (which is enjoyably ridiculous). The rest are just OK, at best, and I CANNOT TELL A LEI doesn't make sense at all, even as clued. You can't tell them … apart … you mean? Right? You would never use that phrasing to mean what the clue says you mean. Never.
The fill here is often ILLY chosen. It's probably average-ish, over all. The NE and SW corners deserve some praise, but there's probably a bit too much ENERO ATEM AMENRA for my taste. This puzzle has this weird thing it's doing with both adjectival and past tense -ED suffixing. That is, stuff, that I never see with that suffix somehow has that suffix. ENCORED? PILLARED? LINDIED? All defensible, I'm sure, just like PETTER (?) is probably defensible. It's just odd. ANISES? If you say so. At least that one makes me (or my inner 8-year-old, which is just a euphemism for "me") laugh.
[Time has made this … disturbing. Moreso …]
I published a puzzle once called "Final Twists" (Penguin Classics Crossword Puzzles, ed. Ben Tausig). But there, the "twists" involved the whole word (not just the final two letters) *and* (this is key), they all involved titles of crime novels (which, of course, typically feature "final twists"). [Raymond Chandler crime novel about giant banana skins?] = THE BIG PEELS. Etc. So the theme, you know, made sense. Here, "Twist Ending" is just this random thing you're doing to totally unrelated phrases, so the theme lacks coherence. Also, A QUARTER TO TWO would never fly as a crossword answer, so it shouldn't be able to fly as a base answer for a theme phrase.
Hey, the 3rd Annual "Finger Lakes Crossword Competition" is coming up on Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Ithaca, NY. I'll be there again this year, doing a Q & A and judging. Ithaca's own Adam Perl will be constructing puzzles especially for this competition. You Northeasterners (and esp. you central NYers, you know who you are) should consider coming. Last year was a lot of fun. Proceeds benefit Tompkins Learning Partners, which supports adult literacy in the community. Click HERE to get more info.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
PS Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" — 13 interconnected puzzles that lead to a final answer — is now available at his website. It's a contest, the grand prize of which is a book of poetry written by Eugene T. Maleska (who knew?). Here's the "Space Puzzlefest" description:
Patrick Blindauer's Space Puzzlefest consists of about a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer (in a different way each time). All of these answers get combined at the end to form a final answer, which you can email to Patrick to be entered in the Feb. 27th drawing for the Grand Prize: a copy of "Sun & Shadows," a book of Vogonesque poetry written by former New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska. You can enroll at http://patrickblindauer.com/puzzlefest.php; for only 17 Buckazoids you'll receive an invitation to Patrick's Space Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. Come on a stellar puzzventure with Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" (oxygen not included)!