Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /

Friday, October 31, 2014

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none except a vaguely spooky Halloweenish vibe created by the two "Cask of Amontillado"-related answers near the grid center... —

Word of the Day: AWEIGH (26A: Barely clear, in a way) —
adj. (of an anchor) raised just clear of the sea or riverbed.

Read more:
• • •

Grid itself is solid enough. I liked NO-BRAINER, and the clue on METALLICA (44A: Anthrax cousin). But the solving experience was less than enjoyable, for a host of reasons. First there's the clunk. Not the KLINK. The clunk. That's the sound of the off-brand word COGNOSCENTE. It's a word. But you never hear it used in the singular. Like, ever. I guarantee you a  majority of solvers had no (or little) idea what letter to put at the end there, or had an idea and it was wrong. I considered "O." Graffito, graffiti … it seemed logical. Anyway, COGNOSCENTI is the word everyone uses. Plural. And then there's the massively Variant SATE SAUCE. In case you haven't put it together yet, that's "satay sauce." The way I know it's "satay" is a. every crossword version of the word ever (incl. four times in the NYT since I started this blog, vs. zero times for SATE), and b. this product:

(I should note, however, that Fireball Crosswords editor and future NYT crossword editor (I assume / dream) Peter Gordon appears to like the SATE spelling; he is the only editor, per the cruciverb database, to clue SATE via the "Asian" "appetizer")

Then there's the wild unevenness of the puzzle, difficulty-wise. I had that NW corner done in about 30 seconds (ROCK BANDS was my first answer). And while the middle took me a while, the lower corners were easy enough that I could just jump in there, plant a few gimmes (TOONS and KERI in the SE, LES and NOBIS in the SW), and polish them off without too much trouble. But then there was the NE, where I had RAW TALENT and TSA and then nothing. It's possible that knowing that AWEIGH fit its clue would've helped, but I sure as hell didn't know that's what AWEIGH meant, so I just stared at AWE--- wondering WTF. [Book after Hosea]? Blank. Even with terminal "L," blank. That one-off Oscar nominee guy … I had the "T" and could think only of TEVYE (is that right?). I think that's the character name. No hope on Sea-TAC without any crosses. Long Downs and JACK just wouldn't come without sufficient help from crosses. So I sat awhile, until I just guessed that SEPIA was an "effect" of Photoshop and JOEL was maybe a bible book. And that was that. AWEIGH. Ugh. Admittedly, my problems with that corner might be idiosyncratic. It was the difficulty *imbalance* that was bothering me, more than the difficulty itself. Also, TOPOL, yuck. Also, problems up there were related to the whole last letter in COGNOSCENT- problem (above).

But the worst thing about the puzzle is the factual error at 32A: Like Fortunato, in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." I can see how the constructors or editor really really wanted (for some reason) to link the not symmetrical but somewhat centered answers BURIED ALIVE and HORROR STORY. But here's the thing. Two things. A. if you want to go horror, go one or three or none. This 2/3 bit is just awkward. But more importantly B. don't force a common clue term on disparate answers unless the answers can handle them. Now, there are HORROR STORYs out there that feature people being BURIED ALIVE. I'm sure of it. It's just that "The Cask of Amontillado" isn't one of them. Being immured, walled up, is not (not) (not not) the same as being BURIED ALIVE, however underground the walled-up chamber might be. Lots of sites on the Internet will use the phrase BURIED ALIVE to talk about what happens to Fortunato, but, like many if not most things on the Internet: wrong. Wikipedia? Wrong. I kept trying to make WALLED UP fit. Look, I'm sure the clue is defensible, but immurement and being BURIED ALIVE seem to me very, very different things. It's the difference between (quick) suffocation and (somewhat less quick) starvation/dehydration. Both gruesome, yes, but different. Fundamentally different. My friend Amy seems to think you *could* suffocate in a walled-up chamber if the mortar seal were tight enough. Admittedly, murdering folks is somewhat out of my purview. Still, I'm standing by my primary contention, which is that the dude gets walled up, not "buried." Needless to say, the middle was difficult for me not because I hadn't read "Cask," but because I had.

Off to (re-)read Poe. Tis the season.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Nonhuman singer of 1958 #1 song / THU 10-30-14 / Like liquor in Ogden Nash verse / Focus of Source magazine / Covert maritime org / French woman's name meaning bringer of victory /

    Thursday, October 30, 2014

    Constructor: David Woolf

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: CHIP — CHIP rebus, in a grid shaped like a poker chip.

    Word of the Day: PINEAL (23D: Kind of gland) —
    The pineal gland, also known as the pineal bodyconarium or epiphysis cerebri, is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces melatonin, a serotonin derived hormone, that affects the modulation of sleep patterns in both seasonal and circadian rhythms. Its shape resembles a tiny pine cone (hence its name), and it is located in the epithalamus, near the centre of the brain, between the two hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two halves of the thalamus join. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I'm all jacked up on baseball. The grid looks like a baseball to me. Baseball.

    So it's a chip rebus where the grid looks like a chip, and that's about all I have to say about this puzzle. I mean, it is what it is. Somewhat interesting to look at. Somewhat interesting to solve, in the way that all rebuses are. Or most. Fill has some nails-on-chalkboard moments (EMEERS [ouch] STAC ICEL ONI). I thought ARIZONAN. ARIZONIAN googles better, but then again it is a brand of tire, so … Would've been nice if there were actually a famous VERONIQUE to pin that answer to. Do people still ELOCUTE? Did they ever? My favorite part of the puzzle was finding the "CHIP" in ARCHIPELAGO. That's some nice hiding. Plus I just like that word. SPY CAR feels like a barely real thing. Is anything 007 uses a SPY thing?

    Took me a while to see the rebus, and to get started in general. Upper right went first, but once I got to 26D: Nonhuman singer of a 1958 #1 song, where I had -MU-K, I stalled. Restarted in the west with ECOL, then stalled out at 16D: Tribe of the Upper Midwest, where I had -PEW-. You see the pattern here. Once I built up everything *around* the "16" square (including SPY CAR and PIEROGI), the CHIP thing came to me. Puzzle got easier thereafter. Mainly I was glad to get to quite wondering whether QDOBA was a "spice" (29D: Fast-food chain named after a spice => CHIPOTLE).
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Wait. What? This grid is supposed to look like a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE!? (56A: Treat represented visually by this puzzle's answer). Well that makes more sense, as it has chips in it, and less sense, as it is easily the ugliest CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I've ever seen. Are the black squares also chips? Looks more like a throwing star or a mangled jack-o-lantern or a jack-o-lantern that's been disfigured by a throwing star. Seriously, though, black square destroy whatever cookie visual is supposed to be happening here.


      Longtime Prego slogan / WED 10-29-14 / State that borders Bangladesh / Bach composition

      Wednesday, October 29, 2014

      Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: "IT'S IN THERE" (54A: Longtime Prego slogan … with a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — "IT'S" is embedded/hidden in five answers

      Theme answers:
      • PIT STOP
      • HIT SONG
      Word of the Day: GINA Lollobrigida (19A: Actress Lollobrigida) —
      Luigina "Gina" Lollobrigida (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒiːna ˌlɔlloˈbriːdʒida]; born 4 July 1927) is an Italian actress, photojournalist and sculptor. She was one of the highest profile European actresses of the 1950s and early 1960s, a period in which she was considered to be a sex symbol.
      As her film career slowed, she established second careers as a photojournalist and sculptor. In the 1970s, she scooped the press by gaining an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary Communist dictator of Cuba.
      She has continued as an active supporter of Italian and Italian American causes, particularly the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). In 2008, she received the NIAF Lifetime Achievement Award at the Foundation's Anniversary Gala. In 2013, she sold her jewelry collection, and donated the nearly $5 million from the sale to benefit stem cell therapy research. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Watching World Series Game 6, so don't have much energy to give the write-up tonight, which is just as well, as this is one of the weaker Liz G offerings I've seen in a while. The core is solid enough. I barely remember that Prego slogan, but it rings a faint bell, and it's made into a fine revealer here. Not sure how hard it is to hid "IT'S," but we get some pretty nice theme answers as a result. Nice central crossing there where PIT STOP meets HIT SONG. But the fill here is crusty and dusty in the extreme. Everywhere I look there's half-century-old crosswordese or trite fill gunking up the works. [Deep breath] OLEO EOS ELI SSE RESOD (!) BIOG (!?) SSNS RET ARIOSO ANTE DONEE EVERTS ULNA ASSNS EGIS (Var.!) AGORA OBI REATAS ASSAM ORAN ORR. I want to say SELA too, but we'll let her and LIU slide. Still, that is nutso-level Avoid-If-At-All-Possible fill. I am struggling to understand this. Liz's "Puzzle Nation" puzzles are always much cleaner than this. I wonder if she has tacitly joined the ranks of independent constructors who keep their best work for themselves and dump lesser stuff on the NYT. That's probably inaccurate—again, I think the core concept here is solidly NYT-worthy. But the fill, man, it hurts. WEIRD. [NOTE: apparently this puzzle was accepted for publication 7 or 8 years ago … I can't even begin to say everything there is to say about how f'd up that is …]

      BONGS and KNEE BENDS! Sounds like fun. But I'm gonna stick with baseball for now. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      First anti-AIDS drug / TUE 10-28-14 / Golden Horde members / Company that owns Ferrari / Luck that's workin for ya / Old-time actress Hagen / That something in Arlen Mercer standard / Subject of massive statue in ancient Parthenon

      Tuesday, October 28, 2014

      Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: NBA (48A: Org. whose only members with non plural names appear at the ends of 17-, 25-, 41- and 56-Across)

      Theme answers:
      • ALL THAT JAZZ (17A: Related add-ons, informally)
      • "DAYS OF THUNDER" (25A: Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman racing film)
      • OLD BLACK MAGIC (41A: "That" something in an Arlen/Mercer standard)
      • BEAT THE HEAT (56A: Keep cool in summer)
      Word of the Day: "DAYS OF THUNDER" 
      Days of Thunder is a 1990 American auto racing film released by Paramount Pictures, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott. The cast includes Tom CruiseNicole KidmanRobert DuvallRandy QuaidCary ElwesCaroline Williams, and Michael Rooker. The film also features appearances by real life NASCARracers, such as Rusty WallaceNeil Bonnett, and Harry Gant. Commentator Dr. Jerry Punch, of ESPN, has a cameo appearance, as does co-producer Don Simpson.
      This is the first of three films to star both Cruise and Kidman (the other two being Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut).
      • • •

      It's a very nice theme idea. Just right for a Tuesday. When I hit "N.B.A." I didn't really bother reading the whole clue, and didn't think the theme was very tight. Then, when I finished, I saw the unifying idea. Nice—not just some random NBA teams, but the only four that have non plural names. That gives the theme the coherence and tightness it needs. Found the clue on ALL THAT JAZZ actually a bit tough. I think the "add-ons" part threw me, as I think of the phrase meaning simply "all the related things"; the notion of adding on isn't really a part of it (though I think the clue's perfectly defensible). My only real issue with the theme is that OLD BLACK MAGIC is essentially a partial, a fact which necessitates the weird cluing, with the unexciting "That" in quotation marks at the beginning. OLD BLACK MAGIC just doesn't stand on its own very well. But overall, the theme is reasonably clever and reasonably well executed.

      The fill is more troublesome. This is at least partially the result of the Highly segmented grid. Tons of black squares (40) creating tons of nooks and crannies composed mostly of 3s, 4s, and 5s, i.e. not the most exciting fill on the planet. But this puzzle's short stuff was pretty subpar, even by short stuff standards. In the same little section you have multiple icky answers: I WAS and OSE, GST and IMA, ALLA and ILIAC and OCHRES (plural) and ASTO, EERO TADA and LTYR (!). The ANDI / DVI crossing is particularly shabby. There's more, but why list it? Greater care in overall grid construction would've been nice. Also, I would've said SUBTROPICAL, not SUBTROPIC, but perhaps that's just me. Never lived anywhere where either adjective would apply.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Eleniak of Baywatch / MON 10-27-14 / Long-running western anthology / Eponymous star of 1960s sitcom / Tennis champ Kournikova

      Monday, October 27, 2014

      Constructor: Stanley Newman

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: DVD RECORDER (53A: TV hookup option … or what you are by solving this puzzle?)— two answers have "DVD" as their initials:

      Theme answers:
      • DICK VAN DYKE (21A: Eponymous star of a 1960s sitcom, the only American TV star with his three initials)
      • "DEATH VALLEY DAYS" (37A: Long-running western anthology, the only American TV series with its three initials)
      Word of the Day: "DEATH VALLEY DAYS"
      Death Valley Days is an American radio and television anthology series featuring true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945 and continued from 1952 to 1970 as a syndicated television series, with reruns (updated with new narrations) continuing through August 1, 1975.
      The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team BoraxBoraxo) and hosted by Stanley Andrews (1952-1963), Ronald Reagan (1964-1965), Robert Taylor (1966-1969), and Dale Robertson (1969-1972). With the passing of Dale Robertson in 2013, all the former Death Valley Days hosts are now deceased. Hosting the series was Reagan's final work as an actor; he also was cast in eight episodes of the series. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This puzzle is puzzling. First, there are two theme answers. That makes this as thin a theme as I've ever seen on a Monday. Yes, the revealer is part of the theme, but even so—really, really, really thin. Second, DVD RECORDER? Do those still exist? Did anyone ever own one? A google search reveals that said recorder is a real thing, but it's telling, I think, that the first page of hits returns an article entitled "Why DVD Recorders Are Getting Harder to Find." DVD RECORDERs did not kill the VCR—first the DVR and then streaming services did that. I cannot imagine why anyone would own a DVD RECORDER? I refuse to believe it is a common "TV hookup option." To be fair, the clue doesn't say "common." But still, it's weird to build your puzzle around such an uncommon, semi-archaic device. Third, why is it interesting that DICK VAN DYKE and "DEATH VALLEY DAYS" are "the only" things in their categories with these "three initials"? Seriously. Does that fact make anyone go "wow?" Would I expect lots of "American TV stars" or "American TV series" to have those initials? "How I Met Your Mother" is undoubtedly the only "American TV series" with the initials "HIMYM," but … so?

      Lastly, if the theme is going to be this thin, the fill should be much better. It is by no means terrible, and there's some good, timely stuff in the cluing, most notably JEANNE Shaheen (50A: New Hampshire senator Shaheen), who is in a tough fight to hold on to her Senate seat right now. PAPA JOHNS is a pretty lively answer (gross pizza, gross corporation, but lively answer) (32D: Rival of Domino's). But the grid is so segmented that almost all we get is warmed over short stuff. I don't understand why, in the age of construction software, a corner like the SW corner exists. MDLII may be the most needless RRN (Random Roman Numeral) of all time. It's not like any of the other fill down there is glowing. Tear it out. Rebuild.

      That's all. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



      Sunday, October 26, 2014

      Here you go:

      THEME: X MARKS THE SPOT / ALPHANUMERICS — if you take all the Xs in all the grids from the past week, in order, and change each one to a letter of the alphabet based on the number that's in its box (i.e. "X" in a box numbered "20" = T, "X" in a box marked "5" = E, etc.), you end up with the phrase

      TEMPUS FUGIT (i.e. "time flies")

      You can see the Xs in the today's grid are in the boxes numbered "7" (which represents "G", the 7th letter of the alphabet), "9" (which represents "I"), and "20" (which represents "T")—these are, as you can see, the last three letters in the solution phrase, "tempus fugit."

      So the mathematical times symbol (i.e. "X") ends up indicating (via ALPHANUMERICS) the letters in a Latin phrase related to time.

      [Note: "time flies" are the last words in the Tears for Fears video I posted Saturday. Not that that should've helped you any …]


      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Unusual diacritic used in Portuguese / SUN 10-26-14 / Lila Oscar winner for Zorba Greek / Yellow diner packet / Long-distance swimmer Nyad / Vice of Dorian Gray / English city where Magna Carta originated / Martial artist Jackie / March birthstone traditionally

      Constructor: Caleb Emmons

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: "Winners' Circle" —

      Puzzle note:

      So the letters spell out CHAMPION or DEFEATED depending on whether you enter the winners' or the losers' names, respectively.
      • ALI / FOREMAN

      Word of the Day: ESCARP (39A: Steep slope) —
      1. A steep slope or cliff; an escarpment.
      2. The inner wall of a ditch or trench dug around a fortification.
      1. To cause to form a steep slope.
      2. To furnish with an escarp.
      [French escarpe, from Italian scarpa. See scarp.] (

      Read more:
      • • •

      I didn't see the note at first, so I just figured you were supposed to put in the winners … it is called "Winners' Circle," after all. Then I tried to guess what we were supposed to do with all those letters. Wrote them out (in order of appearance, not, as the note indicates, "roughly clockwise" proceeding from the upper left). Got ACHAMNIOP, which was enough for me to see CHAMPION. Then I connected the circles, figuring that perhaps there was some kind of figure I could make by doing so. Ended up with the world's ugliest star. Thought "if this is part of the puzzle design, that is Messed Up." But no, the "star" was my own invention. The part of the design I couldn't see (because, again, I hadn't seen the note and was just following the apparent directions implied by the title) was the fact that inserting the letters of the losers got you DEFEATED. That's ingenious. Didn't blow my mind, exactly, but made me nod in a vaguely appreciative way, which is something. [Note, the reason I didn't see the note at first is because notes in Across Lite are not printed anywhere you can clearly see—you have to notice that there's a little yellow note icon near the upper left corner of your grid, and then click on that]

      My only issue with the puzzle (aside from occasional clonks like LOC CIT and IS MAN and IN ROME and O TILDE (!)) is that all of the battles depicted in the crosses are singular and definitive … except that between BATMAN and THE PENGUIN. If BATMAN had, indeed, "defeated" THE PENGUIN, then he would no longer be a character. Does anyone know when / where / how BATMAN "defeated" THE PENGUIN? No, you don't. Because Comics. THE PENGUIN is always alive and well somewhere (most notably, at the moment, on FOX's "Gotham"), and there is no victory. There is never victory. Or defeat. Not of the iconic main characters, anyway. There's just … comics. I can tell you when / where / how all the other battles in this puzzle went down. Not that one. So minus one there.

        A couple of other things. First, you should check out Hayley Gold's webcomic about the NYT crossword, called "Across and Down." She's supposed to have a comic up tomorrow about this past week's meta-puzzle contest, so be sure to check that out. Second, the Crosswords LA tournament took place last weekend, and the entire set of tournament puzzles (specially constructed for the tournament by an all-California cast of top-flight constructors) are now available. Here's the blurb:
        Curated by Crossword Fiend Amy Reynaldo, there are tough puzzles by David Quarfoot and Byron Walden, plus more approachable puzzles by Merl Reagle, Trip Payne, Patti Varol, and Melanie Miller. Also included are a pair of warm-up puzzles from Andrea Carla Michaels and Susan Gelfand -- and a puzzle suite by John Schiff (a team activity).
        Eight crossword puzzles (+ the non-crossword puzzle suite) for just five bucks, with proceeds going to "a grassroots 501(c)(3) dedicated to cultivating a childhood love of reading (Reading to Kids)." Get the puzzles in either .puz or .pdf format here

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        1977 PBS sensation / SAT 10-25-14 / Trumpeter Jones / Musical partner of DJ Spinderella Salt / Singer Aguilera's nickname / Mysore Palace resident / Sci-fi disturbances / Sassiness slangily

        Saturday, October 25, 2014

        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        [In lieu of a finished grid, please accept this picture of my dog balancing a cupcake on her head.]

        THEME: none, except, you know, the META

        Word of the Day: "PIE JESU" (42A: Requiem Mass part) —
        Pie Jesu (original Latin: Pie Iesu) is a motet derived from the final couplet of the Dies irae and often included in musical settings of the Requiem Mass. // The settings of the Requiem Mass by Luigi Cherubini, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Duruflé, John Rutter, Karl Jenkins and Fredrik Sixten include a Pie Jesu as an independent movement. Of all these, by far the best known is the Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem. Camille Saint-Saëns said of Fauré's Pie Jesu that "[J]ust as Mozart's is the only Ave verum corpus, this is the only Pie Jesu".
        Andrew Lloyd Webber's setting of Pie Jesu in his Requiem (1985) has also become well known. It has been recorded by Sarah BrightmanJackie EvanchoSissel KyrkjebøMarie OsmondAnna Netrebko, and others. Performed by Sarah Brightman and Paul Miles-Kingston, it was a certified Silver hit in the UK in 1985. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        So I'm playing along with Management (NYT Management) and not posting the grid. Because Contest. Even though most people don't give a rap about the contest and would just as soon know what the meta is right now. I know, man. Believe me. I hear you. But since you don't even have to fully solve today's puzzle to get the meta-puzzle clues, I'm not sure how necessary a grid reveal is. If you were able to unveil the meta clues in today's puzzle *and* you have experience solving metas, then getting the answer should be a cinch. But don't feel bad if you're stumped. Many people's initial forays into meta-puzzling are fruitless and frustrating. But I love a good meta, and this one is at least good. My only problem is … I was right. About earlier grids—they were made weaker, fill-wise, because they were meta-weight-bearing, i.e. if there'd been no meta, Every Single One of the themed puzzles this week would've been better. But … on the whole, the puzzles weren't what I'd call "bad," and the meta is really quite nice.

        I knew what the meta was before I solved this puzzle. I got an email from a well-known constructor telling me she was able to grok the meta early based on comments I'd made on my blog. This was surprising to me, as I had not solved the meta yet, and so anything I revealed via my blog was entirely accidental. So I made her tell me what it was I said that tipped her, and I was able to figure out the theme from there. My initial hunches were all good—there was just one little connection that I, a reasonably seasoned meta-solver, should've made, but didn't (a connection laid out pretty explicitly in today's grid). When she told me (or hinted at it, anyway), I did a sincere and hearty "D'oh!" The trick is something out of Meta-Solving 101, Rexy! Maybe 102. Anyway, many top meta-solvers were able to smoke out the meta answer early. I wasn't really trying very hard, but still, I think I should've seen what was up, considering I was sniffing around the right places.

        OK, so … yeah. See you tomorrow, maybe. I forget what the prize is for this contest, but I hope you win it.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Title carpenter of 1859 novel / FRI 10-24-14 / Flowering plant named for Greek god / Henchman first seen in Spy Who Loved Me / Richard March inventor rotary printing press / One with short hajj

        Friday, October 24, 2014

        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: none — I mean, none on its own. There is, of course, the meta:

        Word of the Day: Richard March HOE (25A: Richard March ___ (inventor of the rotary printing press)) —
        Richard March Hoe (September 12, 1812 – June 7, 1886) was an American inventor who designed an improved printing press. […] In 1843, Richard invented a rotary printing press that placed the type on a revolving cylinder, a design much faster than the old flatbed printing press. It received U.S. Patent 5,199 in 1847, and was placed in commercial use the same year. In its early days, it was variously called the "Hoe lightning press," and "Hoe's Cylindrical-Bed Press," and was later developed into the "Hoe web perfecting press." (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Well, I don't think this puzzle has a theme, but who knows? I don't see anything "times"-related except a couple more "X"s (they're baaack…) and that lone watch clue for LCDS (4D: Watch things, for short). Maybe if I blacken all the letters in the word "TIMES," I'll get a picture of a beetle or a pterodactyl or Richard Simmons. I noticed that "ATE" appears 5 times (TIMES) in this grid. I don't think that means anything. I noticed "TEST" appears 3 times (TIMES) in this grid. I don't think that means anything either. I noticed that T.S. ELIOT is an anagram of TOILETS. You can do with that what you will. Mainly I noticed that this is the cleanest grid of the week, perhaps because it was the first one not required to do two things at once (i.e. have a theme *and* relate to the week-long meta somehow). Fill is mostly clean, and there's enough excitement in the SE corner for three puzzles. GIN JOINTS is easily my favorite answer in the whole damned puzzle.

        Solved this one in a way that is increasingly familiar: slow start, then traction, *speed*, then slow finish (as, almost inevitably, the last place I arrive at in the puzzle is the toughest for me). At first I didn't have much besides EAU and STD and the incorrect FOBS (instead of LCDS). But for some reason [Patient looks?] all of a sudden became obvious (XRAYS), and that got me going. Never heard of an ORG CHART, but it was inferable, and so I was out of that corner pretty quickly after the initial push from XRAYS. Things sped up from there. The crosswordtastic LENYA got me into the SW and I destroyed that corner in a matter of seconds despite not knowing who UZO Aduba is (I guess I'll be seeing that last name in crosswords soon, too). LET IT BE instead of LET IT GO slowed me down a tad, but GANJA got me back in the game. EGOTISTS over ELITISTS at first (38D: They think they're special), but that didn't last long. Burned my way right up into the NE section, where I experienced my final, slower, push to completion after throwing up not CZARS but TSARS at 10D: Bygone emperors). This made ZIP UP and CRASS harder to get than they should've been. HOE was a mystery, but I expect he was designed to be. In the end, pressure from the words I did know in that corner forced TSARS to turn to CZARS and I was done.

        Not sure why APTEST wasn't clued as an AP TEST, since we've already got one (even more strained) superlative adjective in the grid at SEDATEST. But I don't have any other nits, really. This was fine. Excited to see how all these puzzles tie together tomorrow. I've been asked not to comment on tomorrow's puzzle At All (because of the whole contest thingie …). I'll play that by ear. There will definitely be a post. Whether you'll get commentary or a grid, I don't know. Come back and find out, won't you?

        Aw crap, I just realized that the first word of the first clue (1A: Times for speaking one's mind?) is TIMES so now it's back to that dimly lit room in my house where I keep all the clues and photos tacked to a wall and connected with pins and string like some cliché detective / serial killer in every hour-long murder drama on TV for the past two decades. I hate it in there!

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Tabasco turnover / THU 10-23-14 / Michael of Weekend Update / Brewster arsenic old lace role / cousin of exampli gratia / Tolkien's Gorbag Bolg / 2006 million-selling Andrea Bocelli album / Designer who wrote things I remember

        Thursday, October 23, 2014

        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: [Times Square]— there are four "squares" made out of the word TIME—actually, each "square" is made out of two TIMEs running clockwise. These "squares" are arranged symmetrically in the grid.

        Word of the Day: Michael CHE (40A: Michael of "Weekend Update" on "S.N.L.") —
        Michael Che (born May 19, 1983) is an American stand-up comedianwriter, and actor. He was briefly a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and has previously worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live. Starting at the end of September 2014, he will serve as a Weekend Update co-anchor for the 40th season of Saturday Night Live, alongside Colin Jost[2] Che will be replacing Cecily Strong in Weekend Update. Che is the first African-American co-anchor in the history of Weekend Update and the first former Daily Show correspondent to leave for Saturday Night Live (although a former SNL cast member has later joined The Daily Show.) (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Smoother and cleaner today, though the theme is so slight that I nearly missed it entirely. I was actually concerned at the end when I had TIM for the answer to the revealer, and couldn't figure out why I hadn't encountered any other weird, partial, potentially rebus-y answers anywhere in the grid. I figured there'd be a TIMES square. An ambitious rebus, that. But I believed! Sadly, or happily, we got the TIMEs square we got. Four of them, actually. And so another puzzle about "time" goes into the meta mix. Only one "X" today, so the weird "X"-ification that seemed so promising as a meta element in puzzles from earlier this week appears less important now. Nothing about this grid stands out as particularly odd, except perhaps a general dullness. There are no marquee answers, and not much in the way of fresh, colloquial, modern fill. HATE MAIL has some bite. I called that new clue on CHE, by the way. Earlier this month. Here it is. Proof.

        No real trouble with today's grid. Wanted HUNK before HULK, though both seem weirdly (if differently) judgmental. Wanted AVALON for [Camry competitor], but Toyota makes both, so probably not a great guess. MORTIMER Brewster was a big "?" but MORITMER's a name I've seen, so getting it from crosses = cake. Probably the hardest answer for me to get today was DAYSAIL, as I don't DAYSAIL or NIGHTSAIL or SAIL and have (thus?) never heard the term. The grid offered up so little resistance that I cut right across (and down) and ended up connecting the NW with the SE before I'd filled much of anything in. AMA MERV VANISH HIE IDOS OPIATE LIED. Boom. Then I went back and filled in the stuff I'd blown by. SW corner was the easiest, SASHIMIS was the iffiest (plural???? that answer is … damn it! I genuinely want to say 'fishy' but I hate puns! I guess it's just 'suspicious' then.).

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          Actor Gerard of Buck Rogers / WED 10-22-14 / Mikado maiden / 007 film of 1981 / Biotechnology output for short

          Wednesday, October 22, 2014

          Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: smiley face — Black squares in the grid form a smiley face / jack o' lantern image. A few of the Across answers relate to eyes:

          Theme answers:
          • PEEK-A-BOO, I SEE YOU (17A: Words to a baby)
          • FACE / TIME (32A: With 33-Across, meeting with someone in person)
          • "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" (59A: 007 film of 1981)
          Puzzle note:

          Word of the Day: LEON Czolgosz (65A: Czolgosz who shot McKinley)
          Leon Frank Czolgosz (Polish form: Czołgosz, Polish pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʂɔwɡɔʂ]; May 5 1873 – October 29, 1901; also used surname "Nieman" and variations thereof) was a Polish-American former steel worker responsible for the assassination of U.S. PresidentWilliam McKinley.
          In the last few years of his life, he claimed to have been heavily influenced by anarchistssuch as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          There's an oddball quality to this one that I kind of like, and PEEK-A-BOO, I SEE YOU indeed a great answer, but overall, we seem to be somewhat south of normal quality (normal NYT quality, normal Blindauer quality). A lot is now riding on the meta payoff. Well, nothing is actually riding on it—unless you've hatched some kind of nerdy betting scheme —but since all the puzzles have felt Off in some way so far, and the fill has seem oddly compromised in inexplicable ways, it'll be hard to see how it all was worth it if payoff time doesn't pay off. Now I didn't think today's puzzle was bad, by any means. But again it was weirdly harder than its day of the week would suggest, and the theme was really Really loose (face answers? first and last are about eyes, middle … isn't … ?). The cross-referencing continues apace, for some reason. The triple-cross-ref involving OZONE (and DIOXIDE and OZONE) has to be one of the least exciting reasons for having to move my eyes (!) back and forth and back and forth that I've ever seen (!) in a crossword. Again, Xs are crammed into places in ways that compromise fill (XER not great, XOO tuh-errible). I look at a short abbr. like GMO, which is, to be fair, a thing I can, in retrospect, define (genetically modified ingredient), and wonder why it and proper noun TIMON are even there when that little upper-lip section can be filled So much more cleanly, w/ about 5 seconds work (that's how long it took me). But, again, the fill is not, overall, bad. There are delightful areas—like the chivalric stand-up comedy in the SE (LANCELOT and his ONE-LINERs) and the zaniness of CARL ORFF's YUMYUM NEWSROOM in the SW.

          ROZ Chast gets a mention—her fabulous memoir about her parents, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, just got short-listed for the National Book Award in the nonfiction category, where it is competing with books about the Taliban, China, and evolution, which I'm sure makes sense somehow. I resented being forced to remember "Scent of a Woman" (28A: Emulated Pacino in a "Scent of a Woman" scene => TANGOED); I assumed the answer was ORATED or BLOVIATED or CHEWED THE ***** SCENERY. There were names I didn't really know, but that happens—a GIL here, a LEON there. Having KARATE for KUNG FU really mucked me up for a while. I seem to have transposed "Li'l Abner" and "TIMON of Athens" at 22A: Another time, in "Li'l Abner" (AGIN), as I calmly and wrongly wrote in ANON. I would read a Shakespeare-ified "Li'l Abner" (or a Dogpatched Shakespeare … maybe something about taking up arms AGIN a swamp o' troubles … you get the idea).

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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