Home of Team Coco / WED 12-31-14 / Muslim princely title / Firth of Clyde island / Pioneering sci-fi play / Actor with movie line Me I always tell truth even when I lie

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: PRNDL (68A: Quintet representing the ends of the answers to the five starred clues) — theme answers end in PARK, REVERSE, NEUTRAL, DRIVE, and LOW

Theme answers:
  • THEME PARK (18A: *Legoland, for one)
  • DOUBLE REVERSE (29A: *Tricky football play)
  • GENDER NEUTRAL (34A: *Like you or me?)
  • INTERNAL DRIVE (44A: *Essential feature of a PC)
  • SWEET 'N' LOW (57A: *Equal rival)
Word of the Day: EYRA (41A: South American wildcat) —
The jaguarundi or eyra cat (Puma yagouaroundi), is a small, wild cat native to Central and South America. In 2002, the IUCN classified the jaguarundi as Least Concern, although they considered it likely that no conservation units beyond the megareserves of the Amazon Basin could sustain long-term viable populations. Its presence in Uruguay is uncertain.
In some Spanish-speaking countries, the jaguarundi is also called gato coloradogato moroleón breneroonzatigrillo, and leoncillo. The Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation of its common English and Portuguese name is IPA: [ʒɐɡwɐɾũˈdʒi]. It is also called gato-mouriscoeirágato-preto, and maracajá-preto in Portuguese. Jaguarundi comes from Old Tupi yawaum'di. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a simple, almost retro theme—a "last words"-type theme that is pretty well executed. Theme answers are solid, interesting, nicely chosen. My only real criticism today is that the puzzle is overly ambitious at 74 words. What I mean is, the fill might've come out a lot cleaner and more pleasing if the grid had been a more generous and forgiving 76 words. Sounds like a minor distinction, but the difference between driving one eight-letter word down through three (!) themers and driving two (!!)? It's major. In the NE, the long Downs are OK, and the resulting surrounding fill consequences really aren't terrible; only ARRAN and ETH rate as sub-optimal (from my POV). In the SW (the other area with 2 eights crossing 3 themers), things are quite a bit worse, starting with RRR (never good) and EYRA (an answer that has never been in a Shortz-era puzzle before, and has, per cruciverb.com, been in only one crossword from a major publisher … ever. One.). O'MARA and PLAT are mildly wobbly, and then there's NAWAB (50D: Muslim princely title), another answer of EYRA-like obscurity (it's been in only one NYT puzzle since I started blogging 8+ years ago). On the plus side, I actually like those parallel 8s in the SW (DETECTOR and EYES ON ME). But I think the puzzle would've been better overall with a higher-word-count grid that allowed the themers to breathe a little, and took some of the pressure off the short stuff.

  • 37D: School basics, in a manner of speaking (RRR) — Should've put this in right away, but resisted, both because I had PUMA for EYRA (grrr…), and because I felt sure there was some other expression that would've fit that I was forgetting. But I think I was thinking of ABCS, which, of course, wouldn't fit.
  • 40D: Big name in jeans (LEVI) — wrote in LEE'S. Then, as if to taunt me, LEE showed up with the same clue (47D).
  • 49A: Art house showings (INDIES) — I love that this answer is over MALL COP, since it makes me think of "Paul Blart: MALL COP" and "Paul Blart: MALL COP 2" (!!?), which are, let's say, not INDIES.
  • 1A: Manual (STICK) — I guess this is a theme answer too, now that I think of it. Or an anti-answer, since PRNDL really applies only to cars with automatic (non-STICK!) transmission.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Western Afghan city / TUE 12-30-14 / Zairean president Mobutu Seko / Film producer Carlo / Toon Chihuahua / Green who was on four seasons of voice / Our planet to Germans / Victims of farmer's wife / Jersey shore housemate / Socialist disparagingly

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a T)

THEME: LOOP DE LOOP DE LOOP (41A: Maneuver for slot car racers or stunt pilots, as suggested by this puzzle's circled letters) — circled letters spell "LOOP," and "loop" (i.e. the letters rotate positions) two full times as you follow the circled square pattern around the grid...

Word of the Day: RED TOP (32D: Common grass variety named for its color) —
Agrostis gigantea, known by its common names Black Bent and Redtop, is a perennial grass of the Agrostis genus.
It is native to Europe, but in the cooler areas of North America was widely used as a pasture grass until the 1940s. Although it has largely been replaced by soybeans and more palatable grasses, it still gets some use in poor soils. It was one of the grasses planted in areas disturbed by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It generally does well in response to fires, due to survival of rhizomes and seeds. 

It can be found in open woodland, rough grassland, hedgerows, roadsides and waste ground, and as a weed on arable land. (wikipedia) 
noun: redtop
  1. a tabloid. (google)
• • •

There is one great thing about this puzzle, which is that if you start with any circled area and go in any direction every subsequent iteration involves a one-click rotation of the letters, resulting in two full rotations (LOOP DE LOOP DE LOOP) once you've completely circumnavigated the grid. That, I like. I like literally nothing else. Nope, wait: CANOODLE. CANOODLE, I like. But OMG the fill. Also, the phrase LOOP DE LOOP DE LOOP is not a thing. LOOP DE LOOP, yes. Extra DE LOOP, wtf? You invented a phrase so that you could do your little loop acrobatics (you also expanded the grid to 16 wide, which is fine, actually). I winced when I filled in the revealer, but it's just this side of tolerable. What's intolerable, however, is the fill. Like, everywhere, it is very poor.

SHOT PAR is an ironic entry, in that this puzzle didn't. But also apt, in that it is a poor entry, and therefore nicely represents the overall quality of the grid. The short stuff is a train wreck. I'm not kidding you when I say that I was dubious about this thing before I'd even left the tiny NW corner. The APOLO went up and I kind of looked at the grid sideways. Then ERDE went in and I literally stopped and doubled over. And sighed. REDTOP? SOLI? ALLA? ALOES plural. Just on and on and on w/ the non-Tuesday, keep-it-to-a-minimum fill. SESE CEELO APOLO OCELO — all crutch names. The punchy line of it all was HERAT. Looks like this is my third time ever seeing this [Western Afghan city] (?), and unshockingly, both other times were On A Saturday. I'm floored that the constructor couldn't get HERAT out of there. Stunned. Any constructor worth his/her salt isn't going to let that **** stand. You could do a million things w/ that section and you go with HERAT? What's that holding up, exactly? ACELA (again, ugh)? The now-embarrassingly-dated SNOOKI? RECOPY? I guess you can write it all off to "theme density," but that's a cop-out. This is just poorly filled. If you can't execute the stunt to perfection, don't perform the stunt.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Monday, December 29, 2014

    Constructor: Peter A. Collins

    Relative difficulty: Pretty Mondayish

    THEME: Spell It Out — Theme answers are familiar phrases, the first words of which spell the letters "IT OUT."

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: *What a good speaker maintains with the audience (EYE CONTACT)
    • 25A: *Golfers' bookings (TEE TIMES)
    • 30A: *"Man!" ("OH BROTHER")
    • 45A: *"Wait, wait ... go back" ("YOU LOST ME")
    • 51A: *Bit of Boston Harbor debris in 1773 (TEA CHEST)
    • 64A: Leave no room for misinterpretation ... or what the first words of the answers to the five starred clues do, literally (SPELL IT OUT)
    Hi, everybody. PuzzleGirl here with your Monday puzzle while You-Know-Who is traveling. I hope you all are enjoying the holidays. We had a very low-key Christmas here at the PuzzleHouse. I spent most of Christmas Day backing up computers and phones and upgrading software on various computers and phones. You know, Christmas stuff. PuzzleHusband and I also completely geeked out on a jigsaw puzzle. Can't remember the last time I put one together, but I grabbed one at Target last week thinking the kids might enjoy it. Well, they had no use for it but it got done anyway due do our addictive personalities.
    But hey, what about this puzzle? Nice little Monday jaunt, I'd say, until I got down to the Texas area of the grid. I had ELLE for MLLE. (61D: Fr. girl) and SAPPY for SOPPY (53D: Maudlin) so I just couldn't figure out what was wrong. I decided it wasn't worth fretting over so I just had Across Lite tell me the problem. I'm sure I would have eventually figured it out but I knew I needed to blog so didn't want to spend the time. I'm eager to know if that spot caused problems for anyone else.

    • 1A: Titanic victim John Jacob ASTOR. Way to start us off on a light note.
    • 21A: LITCHI nut (Chinese fruit). Do people know what these are? I'm pretty sure I've never heard of this.
    • 29A: Fox News anchor Smith (SHEP). Not sure how he can stand to work at Fox News. He doesn't really seem to fit in with the rest of them.
    • 69A: Letters between jays and ells (KAYS). I can't decide if I hate this because spelling out letters is lame or if I like it because it kind of matches the theme.
    • 3D: October 31 option (TREAT). Tricky. (See what I did there?)
    • 6D: Glam rock band MOTT the Hoople. As it turns out I don't know any Mott the Hoople songs. At first I thought I'd use "Flirtin' With Disaster," but that's Molly Hatchet. Totally different band.
    • 10D: Thwarts (STYMIES). Both good words.
    • 13D: Enjoys Joyce, Carroll or Oates (READS). Cute clue. I've read several Joyce Carol Oates books, but gave up on reading her when I tried "Missing Mom" back in 2005. I believe Ms. Oates must have fallen on her head and lost the ability to write a complete sentence. I could not follow (or finish) that book.
    • 30D: Like integers of the form 2n + 1 (ODD). So now we need to do math. Great. Just great.
    • 37D: Juillet's season (ÉTÉ). French!
    And with that, I must take my leave. With any luck, Rex will be back tomorrow.

    Love, PuzzleGirl


    Mrs King on TV's Scarecrow Mrs. King / SUN 12-28-14 / Bad-tempered in Shakespeare / Antimalarial agent / hawaii five-0 crime-fighter informally / Jefferson Airplane genre / 1976 hit for Hall & Oates / Anne Hathaway's persona in 2012's Dark Knight Rises / Arrive casually informally

    Sunday, December 28, 2014

    Constructor: Joe Krozel

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "Fill-in-the-Blanks" — Clues are words with letter strings removed. Answers are common phrases that describe the removed parts. Thus:

    Theme answers:
    • MISSING PERSON (26A: Su___ic)
    • DELETED SCENE (32A: Ob___ly)
    • UNUSED MINUTES (50A: ___t)
    • DROPPED CALL (71A: Lo___y)
    • FORFEITED GAME (91A: Li___nt)
    • STRIPPED BARE (105A: Ca___t)
    • ABANDONED SHIP (114A: Wor___er)
    • STOLEN ART (46D: E___hen)
    Word of the Day: TIP ROAST (88D: Sirloin cut) —
    Round Tip Roast or Tip Roast or Sirloin Tip Roast or Tip Sirloin Roast: A cut away from the sirloin section, this roast is tender enough to be oven roasted or used as kabobs. When trimmed it's called a trimmed tip roast or ball tip roast. (food.com)
    • • •

    There are two levels on which this theme operates—clue and answer. Now that I write that out, it sounds like the levels at which all crosswords operate, but hear me out. What I mean is that there's the question of how well (cleverly) the omitted letter string / word is represented in the clue, and then there's the solidity of the answer phrase. I point this out mainly because I found myself feeling like some part of every theme clue/answer kept failing. Clue choices often seemed ridiculous. Why is there a "ly" in 32A: Ob___ly? That's a terribly hidden "scene" with a totally gratuitous adverbial ending. And don't even get me started on 50A: ___t. What the hell is that? I look at a clue like 71A: Lo___y and think, yes, that works. CALL is hard to infer, the adverbial quality of the base word is hidden … and the answer phrase, DROPPED CALL, is spot on. Perfect. A real thing. But many of the remaining clues/answers did not live up to this standard. FORFEITED felt like the wrong word in the first place, and FORFEITED GAME is total green paint (i.e. something someone might say, but not solid enough to be a stand-alone answer). See also ABANDONED SHIP. One might shout "Abandon ship!" But ABANDONED SHIP = green paint. You could put a ton of different nouns after ABANDONED and they would be just as crossworthy. Also see also STOLEN ART (?!?!). KISS, CAR, MOMENT … all more real than ART in that phrase. And 114A: Wor___er again has that gratuitous additional letter thing going on, i.e. We Don't Need The "-er". You could've claimed "need" if the idea was that in all cases the missing part would be removed from the center of the clue word. But 50A: ___t screwed up that rationale big time. So … I feel like there is a good idea somewhere underneath all this, but the execution shows a real lack of artistry. It's clunktastic. Also, the title = terrible. Reeks of "I give up."

    And EATEN RAW … how is that legal? Seriously. Are we just stringing together words now and calling them legit answers. EATEN RAW seems about as legit as APPLIEDGENTLY or COOKEDONLOW. THE TOP is almost but not quite as bad (1A: Where it's lonely, it's said). I know the expression "It's lonely at the top," but THE TOP doesn't hold up well on its own. What about THEBOTTOM? [Worst barrel part]? THESIDE? [What you might get dressing on]? Why not? It's a free-for-all. Anything goes. CURST BOPIN NONONO. Sigh. Actually, the overall fill quality is decentish. Ish.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Supermodel Karlie / SAT 12-27-14 / Elaborate underground complex in Lord of Rings / Sister of Cartoon Network / Quaint stage accessory / Comfortaire competitor / Popular pop-up preventer / 2001 video game set in Liberty City / Red three-year-old of tv / Economist who wrote Essay on Principle of Population 1798 / Cliched sequel catchphrase

    Saturday, December 27, 2014

    Constructor: David Phillips 

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: ADAK (56D: Alaskan island or its principal town) —
    Adak Island (AleutAdaax) is an island near the western extent of the Andreanof Islands group of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Alaska's southernmost town, Adak, is located on the island. The island has a land area of 274.59 square miles (711.18 km2), measuring 33.9 miles (54.5 km) on length and 22 miles (35 km) on width, making it the 25th largest island in the United States.
    Due to harsh winds, frequent cloud cover, and cold temperatures, vegetation is mostly tundra (grasses, mosses, berries, low-lying flowering plants) at lower elevations. The highest point is Mt. Moffett, near the northwest end of the island, at an elevation of 3,924 feet (1,196 m). It is snow covered the greater part of the year. Adak, Alaska is its largest and principal city.
    The word Adak is from the Aleut word adaq, which means "father". (wikipedia)
    • • •

    NYT hasn't touched ADAK in 11 years, and no major puzzle outlet has touched it in 10. And you thought NDAK and SDAK were terrible. Yikes. I lead with this sub-tolerable bit of fill because it's at the heart of this puzzle's tragic flaw—a flaw I encountered only at the very end of what was to that point a very pleasurable solve. That SE corner was like … running a great race and being in sight of the finish line and then tripping over your laces, falling on your face, and being knocked unconscious. It's *so* much worse than every other part of the grid, that I have no idea why a. the constructor didn't sense that and fix that whole section, or b. the editor didn't insist upon a rewrite. It's the editor's responsibility, in the end, to get this stuff right. And ATARAXY (?) and ADAK (all the "?"s in the world) crossing a brand (?) of "pop-up preventer" that I've never heard of—that, that ain't right. If the pop-ups are being blocked, shouldn't I be AD-*UN*AWARE? Or is it ADA-WARE (made specially for dentists)? I figured -WARE was a suffix, as it so often is in internet contexts (e.g. malware, spyware, ADWARE!!!). Yeesh and yikes. In the end, I got the -DA- in ADAWARE from guess/inference. It was the best guess I had, despite the fact that ADAK in particularly looked absolutely nutso. Implausible in the extreme. But there it is. ADAK.

    If the rest of the puzzle hadn't been so good, I wouldn't have cared nearly as much. It's the sore thumb quality of that quadrant that makes me mourn the Great puzzle this could have been. I mean … MALTHUS! (8A: Economist who wrote "An Essay on the Principle of Population," 1798). I was like "whoa, highbrow!" Nice contrast to the super-lowbrow MTV MOVIE AWARDS, ADULT SWIM, SKYMALL, and GRAND THEFT AUTO / III! I mean, you could see only scant evidence of grid strain before the SE corner came along. MORIA is not great. ETAIL and KLOSS (?), also kind of yuck. But otherwise, everything was pretty shiny and nice.

    • 1A: Clichéd sequel catchphrase ("HE'S BACK!") — This *feels* right, but quick googling is turning up nothing specific. The phrase must be used plenty in ads for, say, Ace Venture sequels or Terminator sequels or, I don't know, Ernest sequels or Benji sequels. But the only "___ Back!" phrase that sticks in my mind is this one:
    • 44A: Ascension Isl. setting (ATL.) — had the "A" and thought "probably ATL" but held off for fear it would be a time zone (AST?) or even possibly a continent (AFR.). The island, it turns out, is in the Dead Middle of the Atlantic between South America and Africa.
    • 6D: Quaint stage dancing accessory (CANE) — my first thought was BOA, which is inapt on several levels.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Punic war agitator / FRI 12-26-14 / Game played by British schoolkids / Acronymic weapon name / Tanyard sight / Love ballad from 1973 album Goats Head Soup / Vessels of Napoleonic war

    Friday, December 26, 2014

    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: WESSEX (42D: Alfred the Great's kingdom) —
    Wessex (/ˈwɛsɨks/Old EnglishWestseaxna rīce, "kingdom of the West Saxons") was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until the emergence of a unified English state during the early 10th century. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Just over 6 minutes, and that's with maximum family post-dinner distraction all around me. My nephew got like half a dozen nerf … swords? Just an arsenal of brightly colored cutlery. Anyway, there's barely been a minute all day long when those weren't being sliced, thrown, balanced on one finger, etc. all over the house. Two kids are watching "Twilight Zone" right now, and even now, both have "knives" in their hands and are swinging them, balancing them, tapping them. Honestly, it's a ****ing nightmare. And still: 6 minutes. I didn't even bother to remove myself to a private place to solve. Full chaos all around me: 6 minutes. That's how I know this was Easy. There were some sticking points. ROMANO for ASIAGO (1D: Often-grated cheese). BOMB (?) for SLOB (4D: Home wrecker?).  And then two words that I just can't accept. CONKERS (!??) (why would anyone know this? Is this in Dickens novels or something?), and LONGIES (oh no. no no. no. I'm wearing them right now, I wear them virtually every day from November to April, and no. "Long johns," yes. LONGIES? Yuck ugh and hell no. This is a beautiful grid, generally, but CONKERS and LONGIES made me grimace. Also, no abbr. hint anywhere in the MAYO clue, which I also deeply dislike (29D: Ingredient in Marie Rose sauce). I also simply have never ever ever heard of Marie Rose sauce.

    Gimmes were reasonably plentiful, though: GENA, USA, GRAMOPHONES, ESPN. Then, with just the initial letter in place: AKIMBO, SWEPT, "ANGIE," NOVELLA. And one I got going, there was traction everywhere. NW and SE were hardest to get into, given the limited access routes. But GRAMOPHONES and MR. DEEDS got me out of the NW, and NOVELLA (38D: Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," e.g.) got me into the SE, so there just weren't any scary parts. It was just nice. A nice way to come down from a pretty massive Christmas meal. I've said it before and I'll say it again, to get a middle section like that, with answers from 6 to 14 letters long all running through each other, to come out that smoothly takes incredible talent and artistry. Berry, as usual, makes it look easy. Nothing flashy. Just clean, unforced fill. Nice.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Startling newsmaker of 10/4/1957 / THU 12-25-14 / Cassava lookalike / Backdrop for Chamonix / Duck Hunt console for short / Aquarium giant / Samosa topping /

    Thursday, December 25, 2014

    Constructor: Xan Vongsathorn

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging? Does that sound right? I was live-tweeting and drinking, so I have no idea ...

    THEME: MIXED[NUT]S — all six permutations of "NUT," rebusized

    Theme answers:
    • CH[UTN]EY / SP[UTN]IK 

    Word of the Day: Joe Quimby (46A: Joe Quimby on "The Simpsons," e.g. => MAYOR) —
    Mayor Joseph "JoeQuimby, nicknamed "Diamond Joe," is a recurring character from the animated television series The Simpsons. He is voiced by Dan Castellaneta, and first appeared in the episode "Bart Gets an F". A member of the Democratic Party, Quimby is the mayor of Springfield, and is a composite parody of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and certain other members of the Kennedy family who have entered politics. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    Merry Christmas. This will be one of my TERSEST write-ups ever, as it is late on Christmas Eve and everyone is heading off to bed in their new Christmas pajamas and I want to do same, asap. I was excited to see Xan's name as constructor today, as I haven't seen it for a while, and I like his work. I found this one quite hard at first, and then much less so, which is pretty standard with rebuses—they're brutal, then you pick up the gimmick, then they're not brutal. This grid doesn't even have an unusual name or term in it—I know, I looked. The fill is remarkably straightforward, though (mostly) not in a bad way. Outside the theme stuff, OPEN PIT is about as outré as it gets.

    Nutmeg from Jacob Wild on Vimeo.

    Fill in this one gets pretty rough in places, most notably in ETCHA / EHS / HAHAS territory. Yipes. But considering the theme density and the amount of very short fill, this thing's reasonably clean overall. My first thought on hitting the revealer was "I know I've seen this theme before." In fact, MIXED NUTS has been the revealer two other times since I started blogging, but one simply had rearranged "NUTS" hidden inside various theme answers, and the other rearranged specific nuts (i.e. CASHEW, PECAN, etc.) in the same fashion, and neither one of them was a rebus that worked in both directions and took all anagram permutations into account, so … I think this one wins. And to all a good night.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    1955 Julie London hit / WED 12-24-14 / Old New Yorker cartoonist William / Return of Jedi dancing girl / Maserati competitor

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    Constructor: Adam G. Perl

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: geographical puns — three answers all have symmetrical pun equivalents:

    Theme answers:
    • CRY ME A RIVER (17A: 1955 Julie London hit) / CRIMEA RIVER (62A: Certain waterway to the Black Sea?)
    • GO-BETWEEN (33A: Intermediary) / GOBI TWEEN (44A: 11- or 12-year-old Mongolian desert dweller?)
    • PARASAIL (21A: Glide, in a way) / PARIS ALE (55A: Left Bank quaff?)
    Word of the Day: "CRY ME A RIVER" (17A: 1955 Julie London hit) —

    • • •

    1955 Julie London hit!!? This clue alone says everything about why this puzzle skewed hard for me. You know, there was a much bigger (and *much* more recent) song with this same title. It hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2002. But I guess 1955 is closer to the typical NYT solver's comfort zone. Still. Somehow.

    [2009 Justin Timberlake hit]

    Between not knowing Julie London's work and having MAJOR for MACRO and the tough clue on TIME (4D: Cons do it) and the so-horrid-I-didn't-trust-it APAIR, that NW corner was a bit of a bear for me. Also, I had no real idea what the theme was until near the very end. Actually, I had half this puzzle filled in before I had a single theme answer (I mean, before I had a single "?" theme answer in). I don't know what a NATAL chart is. EPEE relates to sign language? No idea. I actually think the theme is kind of cute, but virtually everything about this puzzle skewed older and well out of my wheelhouse.

    The fill here is less than strong. The Scrabble-****ing (in NE, SW) is mysterious. I don't really understand it. I mean, I do, but I don't. Actually, the SE corner almost makes me wish there'd been some Scrabble-****ing over there. It looks like a bunch of anagrams of the same word, over and over. Lots of subpar stuff here = OOLA, APAIR, ARIP, ENEROS (!), QEII, NOBIS, the SITON / SETON crossing … it was all a bit of a slog. But I did kind of dig the geographical puns, in retrospect.

    Gotta go because my computer is gonna die and I don't have my charger :(

    Happy Christmas Eve.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I'd've liked APAIR if the clue had been ["Grow ___!"]


    Puppeteer Tony / TUE 12-23-14 / Former FBI chief Louis / Fireside chat prez / Bake in dish / Rapper with 1991 hit Rico Suave / British rule in old india

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    Constructor: Bruce Haight

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "JACK and the BEANSTALK" — puzzle visually represents the fairy tale with JACK (in circles) at the bottom of the BEANSTALK, GIANT (in circles) at the top, and then the FEE-FI-FO-FUM chant represented in descending and *aaaaaalmost* (but not) symmetrical places in the grid.

    Word of the Day: ESCALLOP (39D: Bake in a sauce) —
    1. to bake (food) in a sauce, milk, etc., often with breadcrumbs on top; scallop. (thefreedictionary.com)
    • • •

    No thanks. I mean, it has potential, I guess, but the there are architectural issues, which create fill issues, which create grumpy-face. I mean, with that centered BEANSTALK, you've basically gotta stack sevens in all the corners (hence the cheater squares in the SW/NE corners—those are like release valves). Stacked sevens aren't hard to pull off, but here they are burdened by thematic constraints, and so we get the fallout: EZINE made me wince and ILLE made me check out entirely. Also, circling 5/6 of GIANTS … I mean, you can't really *hide* GIANT in another answer, but still, when you're hiding everything else, it stands out. It's not hard to "hide" FEE or FI or FO or FUM. They don't add much here. They're not symmetrical, as they really should be. and they don't have the right sounds inside their own answers, e.g. it's ELFIN, not ELFINE, and PERFUME, not PERFUM. Mainly it just feels anemic, weak, kind of pointless, not worth it.

    [I'm posting this only because I sang it at the top of my lungs with my sister last night as she was driving us around town, with the mystified/horrified kids in the back seat…]

    Further: clue on ENABLER is hilarious, in that it appears to be the opposite of true (20A: One helping an addict). If you are an ENABLER, you are not, I assure you, "helping" an addict. "PEACE" for ["Ciao"] is a massive stretch. ESCALLOP … I don't know what that is, but it's not really a fun Tuesday-level answer. Not sure when GASSER was last uttered unironically, but I guarantee you it was before I was born. And doesn't "gas" mean essentially the same thing? Clue on GO FOR (47A: Attempt, as a field goal) … as my friend just said, "You usually use that term when you don't attempt a field goal but try to pick up the first down." This whole puzzle just 46-Down. I prefer a puzzle that is 100% SARG-FREE(H). If you want some genuine (and seasonal) crossword entertainment, please try The Grid Kid's latest puzzle, "Ho-Ho Ha-Ha." It's pretty (read: very) racy, but approximately 763% funner than today's NYT.

    Best news I heard today, puzzle-wise, is that in the new year, at least one daily crossword is going to start offering crossword constructors more money than the NYT currently does. And they probably won't be alone. I expect yet another daily to do the same in the near future. This means the NYT will (at a minimum) keep pace, or else watch its talent brain-drain (already well underway) speed up alarmingly.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Dadaist Max / MON 12-22-14 / Ugly Middle-earth characters / Title cop played by Al Pacino / Hidalgo home / Repeated word in Banana boat song

      Monday, December 22, 2014

      Constructor: Lynn Lempel

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: PED XING (39A: Something often seen on a street corner, briefly … or , literally, something seen in eau corner of this puzzle) — four crossing "PED" letter strings:

      Theme answers:
      Word of the Day: SOLON (70A: Wise man) —
      Athenian lawgiver and poet. His reforms preserved a class system based on wealth but ended privilege by birth. [Thus…]n.
      1. wise lawgiver.
      2. legislator. (thefreedictionary.com)

      • • •

      Seen it. Well, a version of it, back in 2009, when the crossing PEDs were rebusized. But no matter—this is clean and reasonably clever. Very theme-dense. My only beef is … well, two beefs. 1. I prefer when the hidden/embedded word spans two words (as in SHARP EDGE) rather than simply sits inside a word (STAMPEDE) or (worse) sits inside one word in a two-word phrase, leaving that second word just flapping there in the non-thematic wind (SPED AWAY). There are many PEDs to deal with here, so phrase-spanning PEDs in every case would be too much to ask for, but it would have been elegant to have them in all the longer answers. And then 2. I prefer when embedded words find themselves in phrases in which their base meaning is disguised. In this case, that would've meant no "PED" where "PED" was referring to feet. But both IMPEDIMENT and PEDAL have the same Latin root (interestingly, STAMPEDE appears to have no etymological relationship to L. pes, pedis 'foot'). I can forgive IMPEDIMENT, since it isn't so obviously foot-related, but PEDAL feels too spot-on. Too related to the PED in PED XING. Yes I'm over thinking this, but (also) yes I think elegance is a worthy consideration, even in a Monday.

      • 11D: Simple aquatic plant (ALGA) — this is one of three spots where I had some hesitation. Actually, here, I wrote in a flat-out wrong answer: ALOE. 
      • 32D: Late (TARDY) — Had TAR-Y. Wrote in TARRY—a weirdly related but clearly wrong answer. 
      • 70A: Wise man (SOLON) — Had the S- and couldn't come up with it immediately. Forgot SOLON was a generic term and not just a specific Athenian lawmaker.  
      That's all for today. My holiday eating regimen is sapping my energy a bit ...
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Actress Strahovski of 2000s TV / SUN 12-21-14 / Computerdom informally / Roy Rogers's real last name / Risky chess move / Zion National park material / Tree whose pods have sweet pulp

        Sunday, December 21, 2014

        Constructor: Joel Fagliano

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: "Season's Greetings" — add "HO" sound for wackiness:

        Theme answers:
        • HO HUM DINGER (22A: Homer that leaves people yawning?)
        • HOKEY WORD (24A: "Shucks!" or "Pshaw!"?)
        • BLACK-EYED HOPIS (42A: Southwest tribe after a fistfight?)
        • DESPICABLE HOMIE (67A: Backstabbing pal?)
        • NO-MONEY HOEDOWN (91A: Barn dance that's free to attend?)
        • CROSS HOBO (114A: Vagrant after getting kicked off a train, say?)
        • HOKUM TO PAPA (117A: Stuff your dad finds ridiculous?)
        Word of the Day: MARA Liasson (111D: ___ Liasson, NPR political correspondent) —
        Mara Liasson (/ˈmɑrə ˈl.əsən/; born June 13, 1955) is an American journalist and political pundit. She is the national political correspondent for National Public Radio[1] and also a contributor at Fox News Channel. (wikipedia) (I will never not make public radio correspondents my WOTD … I'm coming for you, Ira Flatow …)
        • • •

        If you never solved a Christmas-themed puzzle in your life before today, this one likely seemed cute to you. And it is, without a doubt, a well-made puzzle, with a consistent theme and very good, fresh fill. If Joel (who works for W.S.) is being groomed for Will's job, well, fine by me. He's super-talented and lives in the 21st century, so thumbs-up. But back to the theme—I knew what it was before I started. Or, rather, I said to myself, "It's not just adding 'hos' to things, is it?" And then that's exactly what it was. Very good HO-adding, for sure, but very predictable HO-adding nonetheless. Either I am some kind of psychic *or* I've seen this theme before at least once. I mean, seriously, it was the most obvious / cliché theme I could think of off the top of my head, so it must've been done more than once. Still, though, these answers are new to me, and pretty funny on the whole. And you'll struggle to find bad fill here. The future looks bright. Here's to more careful editing, better attention to detail, and cleaner fresher fill in 2015. Not sure why I'm making the New Year's speech now, but I am.

        My coup of the day was remembering SLYE (14D: Roy Rogers's real last name). Took me just 25 short years to commit that old-school GEM to memory. Yay me. TIM COOK (5D: Steve Jobs's successor at Apple) and EBOLA VIRUS (16D: Cause for quarantine) give the puzzle a very up-to-the-minute feel, while YOGA POSE and SOY LATTE show that the NYT *knows* its demographics. KUDOS also to BAR SCENE and its clue (11A: Likely feature of a college town). Took me a lot of crosses too see it, but when I did: your prototypical "aha" moment.

        PUZZLE NEWS: Matt Gaffney's (amazing) Weekly Crossword Contest is going to a subscription-only basis in 2015 (and good for him—good puzzles are worth paying for). 52 top-tier meta-puzzles for just $26. All the details here. For aficionados and aficionados-in-the-making. Get some.

        See you tomorrow.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        P.S. SOY LATTE anagrams to SLYE TO A T. Like, when you describe a young Roy Rogers perfectly. "That's SLYE TO A T!" she said, delightedly.


        Literary/film critic Janet / SAT 12-20-14 / Plato portrayer in Rebel without Cause / Flying female fighters in WWII / Dr archenemy of Fantastic Four / Jazz/funk fusion genre / Faddish food regimen / Practice with Book of Shadows

        Saturday, December 20, 2014

        Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: Dock ELLIS (50D: Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD) —
        Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. (March 11, 1945 – December 19, 2008) was an American professional baseball player. A pitcher, Ellis played in Major League Baseball from 1968 through 1979 for the Pittsburgh PiratesNew York YankeesOakland AthleticsTexas Rangers, and New York Mets. In his MLB career, he had a 138–119 win–loss record, a 3.46 earned run average, and 1,136 strikeouts.
        Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later stated that he accomplished the feat under the influence of LSD. Reporters at the game say they do not believe the claim. Ellis was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in 1971. That year, the Pirates were World Series champions. Joining the Yankees in 1976, he helped lead the team to the 1976 World Series, and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the process.
        Ellis was an outspoken individual who advocated for the rights of players and African Americans. He also had a substance abuse problem, and he acknowledged after his retirement that he never pitched without the use of drugs. After going into treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons. He died of a liver ailment in 2008 at the age of 63. (wikipedia)

        • • •


        Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

        Rex Parker
        ℅ Michael Sharp
        54 Matthews St
        Binghamton NY 13905

        And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

        I assume that worked.

        For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

        • • •

        Wow, Christmas is coming early this year. Or maybe it's the eight great puzzles of Hanukkah. Just a crazy Friday/Saturday themeless constructor line-up this weekend. Wilber/Peterson yesterday, Der/Livengood today. Makes me want to ask "Where the hell have y'all been lately?" But let's focus on the wondrous bounties of the present moment. I found yesterday's a snappier puzzle than this one here, but this one here is still lovely. A little sturdier, a little more inside-the-box, but still packing a decent wallop, and hiding a few real surprises. Biggest surprise (the one that came closes to knocking me flat on my ass) was UNO DUE TRE (13D: Italian count?). Try parsing that **** from the back end. Me: "What the hell ends in -UETRE!?" Had me doubting DEA and everything. Didn't help that the Italian answer was abutted by the highly questionable MANSLAYER. I mean, really, what is that? Murderer = slayer. MANSLAYER is redundant, at best. What, is it supposed to remind me that I'm not dealing w/ Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer"? Manslaughter, I've heard of. Maneater, same (watch out boy, she'll chew you up). But MANSLAYER, choke yuck ack. I had the -SLAYER part and still struggled to get that. I teach crime fiction: no MANSLAYERs up in there.

        Still, there's great answers APLENTY here. REAL GOOD stuff. Speaking of APLENTY, not so easy to see when you have decided 36D: Caterwaul is HOWL. Had 35A: In abundance ending in -ENTH for too long. Also went for NINJA over WICCA (9D: Practice with the Book of Shadows). Even in retrospect, seems plausible. The only thing I'd really never heard of was "NED'S Declassified" (54D: "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show)). But then I never even saw the clue. That corner, and its symmetrical opposite, were pretty easy. It was the other corners that smacked me around a bit. 6x9s somehow way harder to piece together than the 5x8s. Puzzle started out very easy with a gimme at 1D: Tagliatelle, e.g. (PASTA), with the "P" then confirming my suspicions that 1A: Where much grass grows was POT-related. There were a sizable number of Gimmes today: PASTA, MOLIERE, SERAPE, novel-ETTE, Dr. DOOM, Janet MASLIN. Still, puzzle clocked in only slightly faster than usual. I think the clue on ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was my favorite, though I don't think it needs a "?", actually. Clue is pretty damn literal.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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