Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mouse in classic Daniel Keyes book / SUN 10-16-11 / 1977 thriller set at sea / Musical symbols that resemble crosshairs

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Getting in Shape" — Six theme answers are represented literally by circled squares in the grid

Word of the Day: TOMAS Berdych (44A: Tennis's Berdych) —
Tomáš Berdych (Czech pronunciation: [ˈtomaːʃ ˈbɛrdɪx]; born September 17, 1985, in Valašské Meziříčí) is a professional tennis player from the Czech Republic. His most notable achievements are reaching the final of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, and the semi-finals of the 2010 French Open. He defeated the Croatian player Ivan Ljubičić in five sets to win the Paris Masters (which is a part of the ATP Masters 1000) in 2005. He has since reached the final of the Miami Masters in 2010, but he was defeated by the American athlete Andy Roddick in 2 sets. He reached a career high of World No. 6 on October 18, 2010. (wikipedia)
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This'll have to be brief, as my daughter is downstairs watching "Star Wars" by herself, and I really feel that she needs my running commentary.

I thought this puzzle was pretty dang cool—one of the better uses of circled squares that I've seen in my time. Love that the theme answers were essentially unclued save for the shapes themselves. I didn't even grasp the theme completely until I was about 2/3 done—I could tell that shapes were involved, as the theme answers started to come into view, but it wasn't really until the end, with ARCTIC CIRCLE, that I had to think about how the theme worked exactly. That NW corner was by far the toughest thing about the puzzle (though, ultimately, not that tough). Before I got ARCTIC, I had ICEE and ESTEE and nothing else. Wanted MESA for 36A: Geological feature on a Utah license plate (ARCH). Didn't get [Game hunters] until I had -ETTERS in place—just wasn't computing for me (SETTERS). I'm guessing that "character" in the clue 2D: Character in "The Hobbit" is an alphabetical character, not some dude named RUNE (never read "The Hobbit"—TRUE FACT!). And CLUTCH just didn't come easily (4D: Critical situation). But once I threw ARCTIC up there, everything else started to behave.

Theme answers:
Pretty cool that you get a twofer with LOUVRE — clue refers to the Pei pyramid, and the answer runs right through the (pyramidesque) triangle formed by L-O-V-E. I was surprised by how few groaners there were in this one. Sundays are always bound to have a few—big grid, more chances for junk to work its way in. But REINK was the only thing that made me wince a little, and I'm fairly certain it's a real word, so no complaints. I though CODAS were [Repeated musical phrases], but answer was RIFFS ... but then CODAS showed up later in the grid (102D: Musical symbols that resemble crosshairs)! What were people calling that phenomenon? A malapop? Weird to have it happen with CODAS, which isn't exactly the most common bit of crossword fill.

Thought that [Friend of Fifi] would be a dog like Rex or Rover (but it's French for "friend" (f.): AMIE). Thought [Eggs in a sushi restaurant] would be a Japanese word, not simple ROE. Also went with OOPS instead of OH NO until BIDEN set things straight. I like the short-named retro movie vibe created by ORCA (99A: 1977 thriller set at sea) and CHE! (15D: 1969 film with an exclamation point in its title) Knew EL NIÑO even before I looked at the clue, as the answer started ELN ... and not much else does (115A: Phenomenon associated with the Southern Oscillation). Never had to read Flowers for ALGERNON (68D: Mouse in a classic Daniel Keyes book), but I've been familiar with the title since middle school, so a few crosses were all I needed. 45A: Aviation pioneer Sikorsky is one of your minor IGORs (behind Stravinsky and Dr. Frankenstein's assistant but ahead of Larionov in prominence). I know him only from crosswords.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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