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THEME: Secret theme! A-E-I-O-U—each row includes only one vowel, in that order: rows 1, 6, and 11 contain only A, rows 2, 7, and 12 contain only E, and so on.
Word of the Day: "Poltroon" (20A: "Utter coward") —
"An utter coward" (Google) [ಠ_ಠ -Ed.]
"A spiritless coward: craven" (Merriam Webster)
• • •
Hello, I'm Adrianne Jeffries, live from New York. I'm sorry I'm not Rex! I'd be disappointed if I were you, too.
Speaking of disappointment, boy what a not-fun puzzle this was for me! The A-E-I-O-U ploy is super clever, but 1) it doesn't present itself until the end of the downs, and 2) at what cost?
The puzzle starts off Tuesday-ily enough, as we CHAT and AT BAT and TBA, all normal normal, until we hit POLTROON, which, if anyone organically got this answer, I'll eat my hat.
But okay, while recovering from POLTROON, we hit a run of mediocrity with SISS ("to make a hissing sound"), FRAS (this will be good for Scrabble), and SSTS ("supersonic transport), plus ELL and RRR and ICI. We have the "Peter, Paul & Mary" clue, which we also had yesterday, except today they're a TRIO. RUFUS as in Wainright felt like the freshest clue in the puzzle:
Speaking of freshness, FRESHETS is a word I learned ("a great rise or overflowing of a stream caused by heavy rains or melted snow," says Merriam Webster).
I don't think I need to say which answer felt the mustiest:
Oh look, it's making a comeback! Source: Google's Ngram Viewer, which searches for phrases in books.
I'm scanning the puzzle for answers I liked and keep spotting more duds, like TKT. I did like THE CREEPS and SNOOT, because they are words for humans.
The thing with the rows and the vowels was really nifty. My crossword partner and I basically gasped when we realized what that clue was saying. For that kind of acrobatics, Caleb, I'll forgive you PHILIP III, OOO, and AAA MAP. The rest of the fill here looks ham-handed, though—especially when compared to the deftness of the theme trick.
Hello, CrossWorld! I'm Eli Selzer, filling in for Rex, today only! Who am I, you ask? I'm a screenwriter in LA (I'll save you the IMDB search: nothing produced. I've had multiple scripts in development over the last 5 years at fairly well-known companies, but still no credits to my name. It's a cruel business). You may have met me at the Crosswords LA Tournament, where I've managed to not embarrass myself on 3 separate occasions. I've not yet attended ACPT. I've never constructed a puzzle, so I don't tend to notice things like cheater squares (or fully understand them, honestly), but I tend to agree with Rex's opinions on puzzle quality. I'm not overly-familiar with most constructors, aside from a few favorites. So how did I get this sweet gig, then? Simple: I asked, and Rex said yes.
On to the puzzle!
GEORGE TENET (11D. *C.I.A.'s second-longest serving director)
MONICA SELES (17A. *Youngest French Open Champion)
DARYL HANNAH (24D. *"Splash" star)
YOKO ONO (39A. *"Double Fantasy" singer)
PALINDROMES (60A. What the ends of the answers to all the starred clues are)
This seemed like a straight-over-the-plate Monday. My time was a bit over my average Monday (3:13), but I had a few typos (the danger of only solving on my phone, which is how I solve 95% of the time). Also, I was taking my time because I knew I had to blog about it when I was done. Theme was straight-forward with a revealer to match. Nothing much to tie the answers together other than the fact that they're all people with palindromes for last names.
Side note: In elementary school, I had an English book with a story called "Hannah is a Palindrome," where a teacher allows her class to mercilessly pick on a girl named Hannah because she is a palindrome until Hannah takes the initiative to look up "palindrome" and turns the tables on a boy named Otto. That story is still what I think of every time palindromes come up. So... good job, story, I guess?
The themers didn't give me much trouble. I'm a bit embarrassed that I read "Youngest French Open Champion" and immediately thought of men. I'm better than that, both as a solver and a human being. Also, drew a blank on GEORGE TENET, but it didn't really slow me down. Fill overall seemed pretty solid; I'm not drawn to any obvious garbage. The partial INS isn't ideal, especially paired symmetrically with the partial TOS. I guess looking it over again, there's a pretty fair amount of partials throughout, but it didn't stand out while solving, so I'll give it a pass. ATTAR feels like the difficulty outlier to me. It's not inappropriate for a Monday, just stuck out a bit. I felt like I had one error slow me down, but looking over the puzzle, I can't for the life of me remember what it was, so I'll just say that it was a solid, if somewhat unremarkable, puzzle that I largely enjoyed. Not bad for a Monday!
NOLTE (29A. Nick of "48 Hrs.") — Makes me think of Rifftrax (the current project of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew), and specifically, of Mike Nelson's impression that comes up in so many of their riffs.
NAME (32A. Peter, Paul or Mary) — Or John or Finn or Elliot or Stu or Joe or Thor or Melissa or Ahmed or Geena or Lindsay or Lindsey or...
PICARD (5D. Jean-Luc of the U.S.S. Enterprise) — Automatic bullet for TNG references.
MOE (34D. Slapping Stooge)— My wife likes the Three Stooges more than I do (I'm more of a Marx Brothers guy). But I'm highlighting this clue because I couldn't write a post for this blog without a Simpsons reference.
PAEAN (57A. Song of triumph)— Fun word. But only pointing it out to get in another one:
So, this has been fun! Thanks to Rex for letting me fill in. I emulated him as best as possible by solving and blogging with a glass of bourbon. I recommend it.
Signed, Eli Selzer, um... what title hasn't been taken? False Dauphin? I'll go with that.
THEME: "No Escape" — There's a BLACK HOLE in the middle of the grid.
Word of the Day: LA TOSCA (41D. French play that inspired and Italian opera) —
La Tosca is a five-actdrama by the 19th-centuryFrench playwright Victorien Sardou. It was first performed on 24 November 1887 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martinin Paris, with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Despite negative reviews from the Paris critics at the opening night, it became one of Sardou's most successful plays and was toured by Bernhardt throughout the world in the years following its premiere. The play itself is no longer performed, but its operatic adaptation, Giacomo Puccini'sTosca, has achieved enduring popularity. There have been several other adaptations of the play including two for the Japanese theatre and an English burlesque, Tra-La-La Tosca (all of which premiered in the 1890s) as well as several film versions.
La Tosca is set in Rome on 17 June 1800 following the French victory in the Battle of Marengo. The action takes place over an eighteen-hour period, ending at dawn on 18 June 1800. Its melodramatic plot centers on Floria Tosca, a celebrated opera singer; her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, an artist and Bonapartist sympathiser; and Baron Scarpia, Rome's ruthless Regent of Police. By the end of the play, all three are dead. Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and sentences him to death in the Castel Sant'Angelo. He then offers to spare her lover if Tosca will sleep with him. She appears to acquiesce, but as soon as Scarpia gives the order for the firing squad to use blanks, she stabs him to death. On discovering that Cavaradossi's execution had in fact been a real one, Tosca commits suicide by throwing herself from the castle's parapets. (Wikipedia)
• • •
This was a Janus-like puzzle for me. The upper/left half was really straightforward, and the other other half (this puzzle is literally divided into two pieces) was a bit trickier. Not much, but there was a noticeable hiccup in solving for me. Was it the gimmick that made the bottom/right harder? I don't think so. There are just some tricky choices, like ACACIA (93D. Mimosa, for one) and EASY FIX (90D. Simple solution)that bump up the difficulty. Not hard for a Sunday... just a rougher groove than I'd found on the west side.
So there are two parts to this theme. Number one: long phrases that describe a BLACK HOLE.
HEART OF DARKNESS (21A. Novella that served as the basis for "Apocalypse Now")
DISAPPEARING ACT (14D. Avoidance maneuver)
FATAL ATTRACTION (42D. 1987 Michael Douglas/Glenn Close blockbuster)
CENTER OF GRAVITY (112A. Tightrope walker's concern)
And those are cute. All four of them. Zero complaints. A black hole theme that... wait for it... doesn't suck. But there's a second theme. The 3x3 block of black squares dead center represents a BLACK HOLE, and there are 12 short answers being sucked into it. For each of those entries, the word "hole" has to be added on at the end so that the clue/answer pair makes sense. Those answer are: LOOPHOLE, MOUSE HOLE, POTHOLE, PIE HOLE, HIDEY-HOLE (wasn't familiar with this guy), BOREHOLE, PORTHOLE, BLACK HOLE, RAT HOLE, PINHOLE, IN THE HOLE, NAIL HOLE. Due to the attractive nature, the entries beneath and to the right of the hole are sucked up and back into the hole. Instead of writing HIDEY-HOLE in, you just put in YEDIH. Some poor sap's gonna submit a puzzle to The Times in a few years, get rejected for putting YEDIH in the grid, and not know why, because he's just gonna insert this "answer" from a word list. Don't be this guy.
So this is cute, too. A nice visual effect. I was wondering if the whole second half of the grid would be reversed, with every entry being affected by the black hole, but nope. That's fine. Two black spots on this puzzle, though. First, why is PIE duplicated between MEAT PIE and PIE HOLE (theme answer!)?!? This is clearly a constructor error, but should've been caught and fixed ahead of time. Some might argue "short word, not a dupe, doesn't count, you can never have too much pie, &c." I am set in my ways, and I don't care if it's a short word. It is a very meaningful word, so it certainly counts. The other is certainly and editorial choice: DRAT (108D. "Darn!") and DARN IT. Why not use a different clue? Or link the two together? I don't understand the reasoning behind this at all.
I praise the constructors for using corner cheater squares in exchange for (what I assume is) cleaner fill. That's an unexpected decision.
COIN PURSES (13D. Change places) — Favorite clue of the puzzle. Sure, I saw right through it (wanted REGISTERS, though), but a verb/noun misdirect is a good time.
AARP (93A. 50 or more people?) — This would be a "favorite" contender, if I'd not seen some variant of it before. Speaking of "people," no PEEP HOLE in this grid?
EPISODE I (29A. "The Phantom Menace" in the "Star Wars" series) — I still haven't seen "Star Wars." But I knew enough to get this right away. Are there any other things that are commonly referred to as "episode one," or is this it? Google suggests that part of the video game Half-Life 2 is "episode one," but the closest I've come to that is playing Portal. Help me out here.
AFRESH (45A. From scratch) — "I shall bake this cake afresh!"
LEANN RIMES (70D. Singer with the 1997 3x platinum single "How Do I Live") — For about a year in the late '90s, Dad would play his one LeAnn Rimes album anytime we got in the car. It was most noticeable going to and coming home from church. And it would always start from track one, "Blue." And sometimes he'd put it on repeat. Taste the yodeling with me.
YES MEN (12D. Rubber stamps) — Hadn't heard the slang usage of the clue before, but it makes sense, metonymically. It's a fun entry, regardless.
HATE MAIL 74A. Some written rants) — I hear that one Mr. Parker gets great joy from receiving your missives (as well as ones likely intended for Mr. Shortz), so please, keep the coming. Address is on the sidebar. You know what to do.
Word of the Day: NEPAL (43D: Traditional birthplace of Buddhism) —
Wedged between the high wall of the Himalaya and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow peaks and Sherpas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras.
• • •
Thanks to Rex for letting me guest-blog this week, and to his commenters for keeping things more or less under control. There were exceptions, but they know who they are and will do better in the future.
I never introduced myself, so what more awkward time than now that I'm done here: I'm Matt Gaffney dammit, a professional crossword puzzle writer for the past 17 years. I write a weekly contest crossword here ($26 per year, close to being worth it), a daily mini-puzzle here (free for another week, then it costs $25 per year; definitely worth it now), a weekly current events crossword for The Week which is here, and a monthly 21x21 for Washingtonian Magazine which is here. My favorite of my books is here. Second favorite is here. Third favorite is here. Best article I've written about crosswords is here.
The kids know how to make themelesses now, don't they? Had the pleasure of lunch with this puzzle's author (and Shortz protege Joel Fagliano) at the Shake Shack while attending Lollapuzzoola a couple of years ago in Manhattan. Highly recommended tournament which is only a couple of weeks away now -- go if you're in the NYC area.
Liked TIME BOMB, ON SALE NOW!, POWER NAP, BOX SCORE, WIN THE WAR, WET ONE, LIBRARIAN, COURT VISION, ON AVERAGE, VIOLA SOLO, and SNEEZE.
Letter grade of A. Thanks, Rex! The Ders (and Faglianos) know what they're doing, do they not?
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 24 more hours
Someone in comments complained I had no bullet points. So today, 20 bullet points:
1) Patrick Berry, a byline you very much like to see.
2) Don't expect a vowel in the 1-box in a themeless/a.k.a. freestyle grid, do you? I didn't. Threw me off. INSIDE MAN (1a: Helper in a heist)
3) MAMET (22A: "The Cryptogram" playwright David). Amusing clue for a crossword puzzle answer, referencing a different puzzle type.
4) Misdirecting clue at (5D: Bankruptcy declarer of 2013). Not a company but the financially distressed municipality of DETROIT.
5) Power 9s: GHOST TOWN, SWEET N LOW, NEW MEXICO, HIT OR MISS, aforementioned DARYL HALL and INSIDE MAN.
6) DARYLHALL as one word looks like a Norwegian surname.
7) MINIS (7D: Some M&M's) was misdirecting. I was thinking it would be a plural color.
8) You're a geography nerd if you had MA??ARA at 10-D and thought the answer would be MARMARA.
9) If you like variety cryptics, check out this Patrick Berry v.c., which I have not yet solved but which is getting extremely positive reviews in the Crucisphere.
10) Grid is a little compartmentalized. NW and SE corners only a little outflow. Very minor blot.
11) Never heard of COMPUWARE but I bet they're one of those companies things would be different without.
12) Don't understand how the clue for ONE AND ONLY(24D: Perfect match) makes sense. One and only is a unique individual, like "The one and only Lionel Richie," while a "perfect match" is two compatible people.
13) Third best clue: GHOST TOWN(32D: Nobody's home)
14) Second best clue: CHASTENED (17A: Newly humble). Precisely and elegantly put.
15) Best clue: SWAT (3D: Try to beat the buzzer?)
16) ESPYS (29D: Awards show since 1993). What, no Caitlyn??
17) Raise your hand in shame if you had O?AL and put OPAL instead of OVAL at first for (Like some lockets). But I feel that there are enough opal lockets around to make this plausible.
18) Five worst entries test: SOPS, ANG, GILDA, SACS, ET AL. Squeaky clean.
19) Unfairly left off the Best Three Clues list: (Wood choppers of old) for FALSE TEETH.
20) Runner-up for newly revised Best Four Clues list: (Classic pop) for NEHI.
Letter grade of A.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for one more day