Saturday, January 14, 2012

Taft's partner in a 1947 act / SUN 1-15-12 / Light reflection ratio / Shade of swan's bill Keats poem / California beach town with racetrack / True Colors singer 1986

Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Weather Report"66A: Weather comment represented visually by this puzzle's circled letters (IT'S RAINING CATS AND DOGS) — Six Down answers contain breeds of cats or dogs spelled out in non-consecutive circles

Word of the Day: ALBEDO (15D: Light reflection ratio) —
Albedo [...] , or reflection coefficient, is the diffuse reflectivity or reflecting power of a surface. It is defined as the ratio of reflected radiation from the surface to incident radiation upon it. Being a dimensionless fraction, it may also be expressed as a percentage, and is measured on a scale from zero for no reflecting power of a perfectly black surface, to 1 for perfect reflection of a white surface. (wikipedia)
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A special message for my audience in syndication (i.e. those of you reading this on January 22, 2012): I've decided to make mid-January the time for my annual pitch for financial contributions to this blog. While one might call the blog a hobby (in that I enjoy it and do it in my "spare" time), I treat it more like a job. A job that has not gone undone for a single day in five years. While I have had many offers and suggestions regarding ways to "monetize" (an ugly word) the blog, I've never found any of them appealing, since they would generally involve advertising (no thanks) or in some other way giving up the real or perceived independence of my voice (again, not for me). I much prefer to deal with my readers directly and ask that they consider what the blog is worth and donate accordingly. There is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

Rex Parker
4700 Vestal Parkway East, #279
Vestal, NY 13850-3770

I am well aware that many people do not believe in paying for what they can get for free, and still others are not in the position to give away any money they don't have to. Understood. It's important to me that this site be free and available to everyone. Give what you think fair, or give nothing at all. Some twenty-five thousand people read this blog every day, and somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of that audience reads me in syndication (i.e. 1 or 5 weeks after I've done my initial write-up). To all of you, especially those who have taken time out to send me a kind note, or complain, or otherwise commiserate about our shared obsession, I remain incredibly grateful.
. . .

Now the puzzle: The core of this theme isn't that interesting to me. I've seen a Cats and Dog rebus before, I think, and I'm certain that you could create theme answers ad infinitum that fit this them. How many breeds of dogs are there (a ton)? Cats (I don't know ... but several, probably)? And for any given breed, an untold number of potential answers that contain those letters in non-consecutive order. So we're dealing with a massive potential fund of answers. That's how the constructor was able to manage to get all the Downs to intersect the central Across so symmetrically and perfectly. He surely had an arsenal of theme answers to begin with, and then found three pairs with matching lengths (not that many for a Sunday) and letters in the right place to make the intersection work out. Still, he did get it to work out, and those answers are pretty great. CABLE SITCOMS is a little weak, but the others are all good-to-great (my favorites are MASON-DIXON LINE and PHONOGRAPH NEEDLE). The rest of the grid is very solid and not-at-all cringe-inducing. DEUS EX MACHINA! Sweet. Never heard of a CASTLE IN SPAIN (was looking for "IN THE SKY," which at first made me suspect a rebus was involved), but everything else was at least vaguely familiar and generally zippy. Only trouble I had came in the NE, where I had PHI instead of PSI and couldn't remember ALBEDO (which has probably been a Word of the Day before), so SORBETS (24A: After-dinner choice) looked like it was gonna be HORNETS, which are not an after-dinner choice I'd make. Oh, I also had a little trouble over there in the west, with ATC, which I now understand is an abbrev. of Air Traffic Control. I've never seen that abbrev. in puzzles before. I wanted FAA.

Theme answers:
  • 39D: Shows that can be racier than their network counterparts (CABLE SITCOMS)
  • 41D: Cheating (BREAKING THE RULES)
  • 31D: It's north of the South (MASON-DIXON LINE)
  • 29D: You probably raise you arm for this (ANTI-PERSPIRANT)—not me, I just like to wedge it up in there
  • 13D: It's lowered to hear music (PHONOGRAPH NEEDLE) — nice raise / lowered balance on those last two clues
  • 34D: Big Apple team (BRONX BOMBERS) — my OLD BAG was an OLD HAG at first, so I didn't see this right away 
  • 54A: PBS flagship station (WNET) — I know this only from crosswords. Think I noticed these letters for the first time only recently, after a "Great Performances" or a "NOVA" or something.
  • 73A: Plant tissue (XYLEM) — had the "X" and bam, XYLEM. How I know that word is unclear to me. Almost certainly from crosswords. Usually my brain is busy spewing out a bunch of useless answers, all at once, so to have one come out clean and clear and accurate was refreshing. The other flora answer took a bit more time to develop (23D: Leaf pores => STOMATA)
  • 82A: Shade of a swan's bill in a Keats poem (EBON) — Is "Sleep and Poetry" a major poem. I took a whole course on Romantic Poetry in college and never saw this one.
  • 99A: Austrian physician who lent his name to an English word ending in "-ize" (MESMER) — he was German by birth. He lived in Vienna for a time.
  • 102A: "True Colors" singer 1986 (LAUPER) — I think she's fantastic. And so unusual.

  • 4D: 2000 title role for Richard Gere (DR. T) — Feels like I haven't seen this once-common answer in a while. 
  • 14D: Taft's partner in a 1947 act (HARTLEY) — perhaps unsurprisingly, I get Taft-HARTLEY confused with SMOOT-HAWLEY.
  • 45D: Angry Birds, e.g. (FAD) — I wanted APP.
  • 97D: California beach town with a racetrack (DEL MAR) — I think I had dinner here last year after the Crosswords LA tournament (info on the 2012 tournament, including a free "warm-up" puzzle by Doug Peterson, HERE).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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