Default with Spaces: 150841
My Xfinity cable service recently replaced its music channels with the Pandora app. I have a Pandora account but I’ve never been able to train the algorithm to play exactly what I want. I created a station a few years ago that was intended to play contemporary Billboard hits. I tried it out last weekend and discovered that it plays songs that were hits when I created the station, and not hits today. The station also has a tendency to go down rabbit holes. After playing a hip-hop song, it decided to play exclusively hip-hop, establishing that passive listeners are not entitled to variety. I did jot down Brother Ali (65) and Dyme Def (60) for the database, but I wish I could have better way to listen to current top-40 music. Any advice from Pandora experts?
California’s wet winter has produced what news stories are calling a super bloom (70) in desert flora. I’m not sure if this is a regularly used term for the phenomenon, or if it will be an ephemeral buzz-term related to climate like “polar vortex” or “snowpocalypse.”
I added the Michael Masterson book title Ready Fire Aim (70). I’m interested to see if the title phrase gains traction as a hyphenated adjective for impulsive decision making. I’ve seen the phrase used in that fashion in recent commentaries about the Trump administration.
Default with Spaces: 150789
Mahershala Ali (65) was already in my list, but his Oscar win for Moonlight solidifies another good clue option for ALI.
Mayonnaise cafes (72) are apparently a new culinary trend in Japan. The creamy dressing has been a popular Western import there for a long time, but now the Japanese can seek out trendy restaurants in which all menu items, including dessert, contain generous portions of mayonnaise. I haven’t found evidence of “mayo cafe” as an alternative term.
I saw the phrase “crazy cheap” (80) and wondered if 11C sanctions “crazy” as an adverb. It does, and the adverb definition gives “crazy good” (75) as an example. I added both of those phrases. What other “crazy [adjective]” phrases are common?
DRAWING A BLANK
Players are given assignments to draw things from various disciplines. The drawings are judged not on artistic ability but on a set of details that represent a basic visual familiarity with the thing to be drawn. Players are randomly given cards before they begin drawing. Some cards reveal one of the details that will be judged and other cards have no information; player receiving those cards have “drawn a blank.” The completed drawings are shown to all players. Before the judging, each player must secretly vote for an opponent that they believe drew a blank. The judges then announce the details and the players who did draw blanks. Players score for including the judges details in their drawings, for voting correctly, and for garnering incorrect votes from opponents.
At one of my early ACPT appearances I presented an after-hours game called Thingamadoodles, which was a drawing based Balderdash variant. The game played poorly and I pulled the plug after a single session. Years later I mentioned the game to Darren Rigby. I admire his game design and wondered if he might have a remedy. Darren said that the game was similar to an idea that he was working on called Drawing a Blank. He invited me to collaborate on an after-hours game for the 2011 NPL convention in Providence and I agreed.
The game logistics were almost completely based on Darren’s original concept. I contributed by helping with the content, i.e. ideas for well known and drawable items that players could have fun with. Many of the judged details involved spatial memory: In Grant Wood’s American Gothic, is the male farmer on the left or right? In which part of Australia’s coast is the island of Tasmania? Darren was also very thoughtful about designing elements that improve gameplay efficiency, such as voting cubes that players could use to keep track of votes for scoring purposes. At the convention Darren and I took alternated between being the primary presenter and the assistant. A memorable bit of comic ad-lib occurred when I was presenter and Darren assisted. I explained to players that they did not need to be proficient artists to score points, and used Darren’s “crude rendering” of the art school admissions test character Tippy the Turtle as an example. When I said “crude,” Darren turned to me with dramatic indignation. It was a fun bit that we used in several sessions.
DOWNLOADABLE PUZZLE: Unthemely #92 (PUZ) (PDF)
34-Down was the seed entry in this puzzle. I learned it from a friend who offered to make some intellectual property available for a work project. The fill came together pretty quickly and I managed to include some additional first-time (for me) entries. Happy solving!
Default with Spaces: 150720
NOTES: Merriam-Webster recently announced a new list of words to be incorporated into the dictionary. Most of the additions are entries I already had in my word list, though I got a few new entries, such as SEUSSIAN (65), that could be useful as general fill. The Trump administration presents an opportunity to add to entries to Default. Members of the White House staff and cabinet require some “vetting” for a crossword database just as they do for their actual job positions, though I did add SEAN SPICER (60) because I’ve been watching those SNL videos with Melissa McCarthy playing the gum-chomping press secretary. MAR-A-LAGO (65) might be utilitarian fill, though I resisted adding its partials that are not already represented as legit letter combos. I’m watching Riverdale on The CW. The modern-noir soap opera reimagining of the Archie Comics characters is hit-amd-miss, but I like the New Zealand-born lead actor K J APA (60) for his name. When Sybil watches, she comments on his massive eyebrows every time he appears onscreen. I hope the show survives so that his name becomes eligible fill for Daily Celebrity Crosswords.
FIRST (3-5) / SECOND (4 4)
Stephen Bannon, who feels sitcoms lack
A FIRST viewpoint, will bring SECOND back.
To play Donald and Ann,
Trump and Coulter’s the plan.
It’s a black-and-white show (minus black).
Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #25 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.
DOWNLOADABLE PUZZLE: Unthemely #91 (PUZ) (PDF)
Sheesh, it’s been a long time since I worked on a crossword puzzle. To give you an idea of how long this themeless grid has been sitting on my desktop, the original seed entry at 1-Across was the hip, trending term POKESTOP. The seed, along with a majority of the grid’s top half, was replaced due to a partial dupe discovered after the first fill attempt.
Michael Sharp’s crossword-themed podcast On the Grid, which has apparently and unfortunately petered out after a single episode (ETA: Lena Webb reports, in the comments, that a new On the Grid episode will soon be posted.), included a discussion on terms with an E- (for electronic) prefix, such as EMAIL, EZINE, EFILE, and ECIG. Michael asked guests which of these terms are still in common use and which are passe, and should therefore be removed from crossword fill consideration. I thought about that discussion when cluing 44-Across. The entry has a few approaches and the one I chose seems to have rapidly declining relevance among younger generations.
On the topic of blogs and podcasts, I’ve added Dan Katz’s blog Puzzlevaria to my links list. Dan’s posts focus on long-form puzzle periodicals and events such as P&A Magazine and MIT Mystery Hunt. The blogosphere boasts numerous analysis and review sites for crossword puzzles, and I’m glad that a similar site has now been created for hunt puzzles.
Finally, I want to plug a new puzzle book by friend and occasional LaaP commenter Roger Barkan. Colossal Cave Collection, published by Grandmaster Puzzles, is a book of Cave puzzles. Jeffrey Schwartz describes this abstract logic puzzle type as “Paint by Numbers on steroids.” The page linked above includes a free donwloadable sampler. I’m still getting my sea legs with this puzzle type but I did manage to solve the first puzzle using a hint, indexed in the back of the book, and a fair amount of erasing.