Sherm Is Typing His Term Paper On A Computer

On By In 1

Constructor:George Barany and John D. Child

Relative difficulty:Medium-Challenging (felt easy enough, but my time was on the high side)

THEME:TASTE (54D: It's often unaccounted for ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — circled letters spell out each of the five basic tastes detectable by the human tongue

Theme answers:
*apparently when the puzzle came out online last night, the circled squares in the last themer spelled out not UMAMI but UMMAI

Word of the Day:ITT(12D: Onetime telecommunications conglomerate, for short) —
ITT Corporation (ITT) is an American worldwide manufacturing company based in White Plains, New York, producing specialty components for the aerospace, transportation, energy and industrial markets. // The company was founded in 1920 as International Telephone & Telegraph. During the 1960s and 1970s, under the leadership of CEO Harold Geneen, the company rose to prominence as the archetypal conglomerate, deriving its growth from hundreds of acquisitions in diversified industries. ITT divested its telecommunications assets in 1986, and in 1995 spun off its non-manufacturing divisions, later to be purchased by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. // In 1996, the current company was founded as a spinoff of ITT as ITT Industries, Inc. and changed its name to ITT Corporation in 2006. // In 2011, ITT spun off its defense businesses into a company named Exelis, and its water technology business into a company named Xylem Inc. (wikipedia)

• • •

Puzzle has one thing going for it, and that is five solid 15s as themers. Beyond that, though, there's not much here to enjoy. Nonconsecutive squares spelling things out is the opposite of delightful, 100% of the time (plus or minus a percent). There's nothing particularly clever or amazing about answers that have words "hidden" in them in this way. The themers have nothing to do with the theme itself, so it plays like a very easy themeless. Further, the revealer just lies there. There is no twist, no word play, no nothing that makes this theme snap into place. The tastes *are*, in fact, accounted for, as they are clearly marked by the circled squares. If you're going to go the "no accounting for..." angle, then that should have something to do with how the theme expresses itself. That doesn't happen here.

["I got kicked off Noah's Ark. / I turn my cheek to unkind remarks. / There was TWO (61D: Noah count?) of everything, / But one of meeeeeeeeee..."]

The grid is super choppy and segmented, which means it's overwhelmed by short (3- to 5-letter) stuff, which means a lot of stale fill. That said, stale does not mean particularly terrible. It's crossword-normal; it's just unalleviated by longer, more interesting fill. The one unusual answer it does have ("I'M MEAN!") is completely preposterous (19D: Bully's boast). In what universe does a bully boast "I'M MEAN!"? Seriously. I can't imagine *any* plausible context in which a bully might boast that, and here we're asked to believe it's somehow iconic—a common thing associated with the verbal repertoire of bullies. Ridiculous. It's very, very clear that the constructors had real problems managing their themers there. They designed the grid in such a way that "I'M MEAN!" has to cut through *three* themers—that means this was one of the *first* answers they put in the grid (you gotta lock down those multiple theme crosses before you proceed, because very often there simply aren't very many answers that work). Not sure why they greenlighted "I'M MEAN!" I'd've moved my themers around like crazy to find different letter pattern options before I went with a phrase that for all intents and purposes doesn't actually exist.

[Washington Post Sunday crossword writer/editor, on "I'M MEAN!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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