Saturday, December 17, 2011

Brit's bumbershoot / SUN 12-18-11 / Newsman Marvin Bernard / Lumber collector in park / March sisters' creator / Springtime calendar hunk

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Again?" — "A" is added to familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: bumbershoot (17D: Brit's bumbershoot = BROLLY) —
An umbrella.

[Alteration of UMBRELLA + alteration of (PARA)CHUTE.]
• • •

Again? Yes, apparently. Add a letter, wackiness ensues. Adding an "A" is the most minimalist form of this theme that I've ever seen. Alterations are so slight as to be barely perceptible. Most of these are more "mild smile" than "genuine laugh"—only TONY AROMAS is truly amusing, though RUNAWAY MODEL is also decent. This is the kind of puzzle that makes me wonder why constructors get paid $1000 for Sunday puzzles when weekday puzzles fetch just $200. Never, ever, ever has a Sunday puzzle been five times better than your average weekday puzzle (pick a weekday, any weekday). It's not five times as big and certainly doesn't take five times as long to construct (not even close). Also, audience for the puzzle is not much bigger—my traffic is usually highest on Sunday, but not by much, and it's not *five times larger*. Pay scale in the world of NYT puzzles is all screwed up. It's nuts. No idea what the rationale is. I'm not sure there is one. I usually find Sundays among the duller of the week's puzzles, and if the theme doesn't Really sizzle, or if the theme answers aren't exceptionally inventive, then the puzzle just feels long. I mean, relatively long. This one took me 11 minutes.

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Dislike of the son of Mary, Queen of Scots? (KING JAMES AVERSION)
  • 31A: Catwalk no-show? (RUNAWAY MODEL)
  • 45A: Soft-spoken prayer ending? (GENTLE AMEN)
  • 48A: Build a publishing empire? (AMASS MEDIA)
  • 66A: Practical joke used on squirrels? (PEPPER ACORN)
  • 87A: What sweaty dancers create at an annual awards show? (TONY AROMAS)
  • 90A: Rush to get on the train? (DART ABOARD)
  • 103A: Where worms don't last long? (AROUND ROBINS)
  • 116A: What black holes swallow to bulk up? (ANABOLIC ASTEROIDS)    

There was some inventive fill and cluing in this puzzle. I enjoyed MR. APRIL (!) (28A: Springtime calendar hunk)—a bit arbitrary (I suppose MR. anymonth is acceptable fill now) but there's a creativity to this answer that, as a sometime constructor, I admire. I like the very contemporary clue on SYRIA (54A: First Arab country to have sanctions imposed on it by the Arab League) and the cryptic clue on BAT BOY (101A: "Lumber" collector in a park). The only real nutso thing in the puzzle was the bumbershoot / BROLLY thing. Rare that I don't know a word in the clue and don't recognize the answer either. DUNED seems a slightly awkward word (awkword?) (105D: Like much of Fire Island's shore). Tripped on 44D: FEMA part: Abbr. (EMER.) when I hastily wrote in AMER. (helps to think about what acronyms actually stand for before just throwing down an answer based on instinct). Geoffrey the Giraffe used to be in ads for TOYS 'R' US, but I haven't seen him in years (72D: Geoffrey the Giraffe's store). Our TOYS 'R' US was badly damaged in the September floods. Not sure if it's recovered or not. Never heard of either of the KALBs referred to in 84D: Newsman Marvin or Bernard. Other than that, not much more to tell.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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