“THEMELESS 5” by Natan Last
Step right up and get your Friday themeless treat! Then wash your hands and read more
Constructor: Natan Last
Ben: After a couple of puzzles that I think were less than successful this week, it’s nice to end on a high note. This is the usual strong themeless we’ve come to expect.
Michael: Huge “disagree.” Mainly because it’s so obsessed with cramming in as much pop culture as it can that it has to resort to crud like INDC and SWE and SRI and SMIT (dear lord) and OONA and AMNOT and APED and etc.
Lena: For a while here I felt like I was going to be the BuzzKill on this blog, as I am 32 and yet do not relate to like 80% of the pop culture references. My fellow bloggers here and those in the comments section said “that was fine with me” to much of what I felt was exclusionary. I guess there’s a tipping point for everyone.
Ben: The NW and SE corners are very closed off today to accommodate both the triple-stacked 9’s and the central PRINCESS DIARIES (6D: With “The,” movie in which a Genovian muses, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear”). Cute quote.
Lena: Daaaamn I don’t know anything about PRINCESS DIARIES but it sure sounds deep and philosophical!
Ben: Fortunately, I worked out MARIO KART with no trouble, because that corner is challenging — never heard of EPISTEMIC (33D: Relating to how you can ever really know something, to philosophers) or HILDI Santo-Thomas or the RANI (?!), and only vaguely heard of HAO (40A: Ni ___ (“Hello” in Mandarin Chinese)).
Lena: Man, I loved MARIO KART on SNES (!) and wish I had friends who would play this drinking game with me (47A: The way you REALLY play is you can’t be driving while you’re drinking your beer BUT your beer has to be finished before you cross the finish line). Racing games are basically the only video games I can play. And drinking, well that’s easy.
Ben: But speaking of challenging bits, I will apparently never not be fooled by the odd letter pattern of ALI G (55A: He asked James Lipton, “Has you even interviewed Shakespeares?”).
Ben: I like the irony of putting SLUTSHAME (1D: Belittle for having basic sexual urges and acting on them as one sees fit) and MANWHORES (2D: Dudes who srsly get around) next to each other. That corner actually came out quite nicely, with the possible exception of SHOWMANCE (22A: Relationship that involved a lot of role playing?) — is that a real thing? *googles it* Oh, “Big Brother”. OK, whatever. Also, I missed it while solving, but surely that clue should be in the present tense.
Michael: I’ll play the curmudgeon again, I guess. Loved SLUTSHAME because of the way it was clued. Hated MANWHORES clue for its absurd hypocrisy. If you’d clued WHORES as [Chicks who srlsy get around], well, I think you can guess the reaction you’d (rightly) get.
Ben: I think the hypocrisy of the clue for MANWHORES next to the one for SLUTSHAME is meant to be the joke here. It worked for me, but you’re completely right about WHORES.
Lena: Yeah, I liked SLUTSHAME/MANWHORES coupling in every way except the clue tone. I tried to figure out how to express my issue with it several times this morning and kept deleting it– my gut reaction was that the SLUTSHAME clue sounded defensive– “I shall fuck as I see fit; it’s perfectly natural!” and the MANWHORES clue, well, it’s shameless. No defensiveness necessary. If anything, this coupling points out that women have to defend their choice to get around, but men just… get around. [Ben: Good point.] Also, [get off your knees] sounded unpleasantly/unnecessarily dirty to me for ARISE (17A).
Ben: I liked POSSE CUT (7D: Collaborative rap track like “Monster” (Nicki, Kanye, Bon Iver, Jay Z, Rick Ross) or “Scenario” (Tribe, Leaders of the New School)) — I didn’t know it offhand, but it’s much easier to work out than a lot of yesterday’s rap clues.
Michael: Never heard of SHOWMANCE. Like, ever. Can’t even conceive of what it means. Never heard of POSSECUT despite having *owned* “Scenario” for almost 25 years (Tribe is playing on Fallon tonight, btw, so check that out for sure). North section was almost unsolvable for me. AARON’S something or other? Who the fuck is AARON? This whole knowing / winking / self-congratulatory wallowing in “pop culture” has gone over the top, esp. this week. I’ve wanted to stop solving three of the five puzzles this week, which is to say three of the four that I didn’t make. This feels like Caleb and friends making puzzles for Caleb and friends … not a puzzle intended to be solvable by a reasonably sized audience. But at least, unlike yesterday’s puzzle, I managed to finish this one. You know, you can fold in all the pop stuff you want if you just spread it out. Also, once again, proofreading problems: error in the clue for VINO—should be cross-ref’d with 15-Across, not 15-Down (which doesn’t exist).
Ben: Music watch: LANA for 13A: Del Rey whose best song is still probably “Video Games” imo — agreed, although I’m also partial to “This Is What Makes Us Girls”.
Lena: I like the crossreferencing of AM NOT (11D Natan’s response to “Natan is just a silly booger eater!” maybe) and MEANY (12D: Someone who calls Natan a silly booger eater).
Ben: I didn’t bother listing it above, but there’s a mini-theme, as indicated by SOPHOMORIC (49A: Like a lot of humor in this puzzle, maturity-wise, admittedly). Most of those clues left me cold, although 27A: “Let this be our little ___ / No one needs to know we’re feeling / Higher and higher and higher”: Gandhi for SECRET is my favourite clue today. (Apparently it’s a lyric from Passion Pit — never heard of them.)
Lena: With that self-referential typo/editing clue a few days back and this SOPHOMORIC entry today, I see acknowledgment and hope for change.
Ben: Days Without a Harry Potter Reference – 0 (32D: Deathly Hallow that is 15 inches long and has a Thestral-tail core for ELDER WAND).
Michael: There has to be more to “youthful” than this. There has to be. Brilliant kids (two Ivy-League grads, today) making puzzles as if the only things they care about are kids cartoons, kid-lit, pop music, and sex slang. Those things aren’t bad. They’re great. But I’m begging and pleading for some kind of moderation.
Lena: …this is why I am extremely happy to be promoting indie puzzles here. They strike this balance for me– contemporary and edgy, but so smart, clean, and unique. We just posted about an indie offering three hours ago. Go do that puzzle too.