The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, May 30, 2015 (The Rex Parker Write-Up)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament

Saturday, May 30, 2015—Washington, D.C.

We drove down to suburban D.C. to stay with PuzzleGirl, which we have done several times before, but usually only to visit before leaving the country via Dulles. The drive was typical summer road trip stuff—heat, construction, Harrisburg, traffic, Gettysburg, traffic, accident, traffic, urban traffic madness, creepily bucolic area around C.I.A. headquarters … and done. 6+ hours. Ridiculous. But we were in no rush, and we made it in time for 7:30 dinner reservations, so my pre-tournament excitement was undiminished. First great surprise was that constructing phenom and all-around good guy Doug Peterson was staying with PuzzleGirl too. The second great surprise was that Doug had brought me vintage sleaze paperbacks for my (sizable) collection. This actually wasn't much of a surprise, as it's become something of a ritual—I meet Doug at a tournament, he hands over roughly 4-to-6 smutty old books in a ratty plastic bag, all of us end up crying-laughing. Here's a typical specimen:

So we all had Italian food nearby and constructor Barry Silk came along (he's the guy who makes seemingly every LAT Saturday puzzle). I had chianti and split a pizza with my wife. You really don't need to know any of this.

[Former ACPT D-division champion Vega Subramaniam and her tournament-rookie father, Mani]

Up early the next morning to drive into Georgetown. The tournament took place on the GWU campus in the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center For Something Or Other—I don't remember the last part because Cloyd Heck is such a mesmerizing name sequence, you hardly feel anything else around it is worth remembering. Cloyd! It's like Clyde and Lloyd got together and said "Heck, let's have a baby!" A truly building-worthy name. The stairwells of the building had huge posters of famous GWU alumni affixed to the underside of the stairs, creating a truly vertiginous stair-climbing experience. But again, I digress. The tournament space was lovely; you entered down a large, wide staircase into a large well-lit area with a stage on one side. We got there early so we could see all the contestants arrive. My wife decided to assume the role of official tournament photographer: "it's amazing what you can get people to do if you act like you're in charge and have a camera around your neck." I got to meet a lot of first-time tournament-goers and see a lot of old friends. The air was festive. It should be noted, however, that the organizers—Erik Agard, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, and Evan Birnholz—were All Business. There were very few hiccups all day long, and this was clearly due to the fact that the organizers were well and truly *working* from start to finish. Really impressive how well they cooperated and improvised and generally made the trains run roughly on time.

[Peter Broda and Erik Agard—working]

I can't talk about the puzzles in detail. I can say that all contestants solved five puzzles: three before lunch and two after. Then the top three contestants in each division—Outside Track (beginner) and Inside Track (advanced)—solved Puzzle 6 on stage while the rest of us looked on in awe / sympathy (both Outside and Inside Track solved the same grid, but did so using very, very different clues—the Inside Track clues were Brutal). But to rewind a bit—Erik Agard's puzzle was first. It had parts that were (appropriately) in color, so that was new. It also was not not not nearly as easy as most people seemed to expect a Puzzle 1 to be. I struggled, and I ended up doing better on that puzzle (relative to the field) than on any other puzzle that day. It was my favorite puzzle of the day, though I should say now that there was not a bad, or even a Just OK, puzzle in the bunch. The whole set was amazing and if you don't believe me, or if you do, you should go get them and see for yourself. I tried to congratulate Erik on his great puzzle after I'd finished it, but he was nowhere to be found—I think he was in the scorer's lair, which was this mystery area behind a black curtain that none of us were allowed to—or dared to—enter.

[Tournament organizer / constructor Neville Fogarty and crossword bon vivant Tony Orbach]

Peter Broda's puzzle was next (Puzzle 2), and this is the puzzle that caused a bunch of errors among the top solvers. There were slashed squares, and you had to write a letter in each half of the square, and—as was made perfectly clear to us from the outset—which half of the square you put which letter in *mattered*. But not everyone was as attentive as they needed to be to those instructions, so there was some carnage. I was terribly slow on that puzzle, but since I got out of it clean, my slowness didn't really matter that much. Puzzle 3 was by Finn Vigeland, and it had won the right to be in the tournament, having been selected as part of a contest from a pool of puzzles submitted by comparatively novice constructors. It was a very deserving puzzle. Again, parts of the grid were in color. The grid had objects on it—little, emoji-like renderings of a familiar object. All over the place. You had to figure out why. Really entertaining.

[Contestants Brayden Burroughs, Lena Webb, Adam Jackson]

We ate lunch at a Baja Fresh because we were lazy and there were a lot of us and actually it was pretty damned good. Tournament was running a little behind at that point, but not so's you'd notice. People seemed to be having too much of a good time to care. After lunch there was a puzzle by Andy Kravis. The whisper campaign—instigated by Andy, I'm pretty sure—had it that this puzzle, Puzzle 4, was going to literally figuratively decapitate people. It would be the equivalent of Puzzle 5 at the ACPT—the terrifying, world-slaughtering monster. This ended up being complete B.S.—so much so, that I got paranoid that I was solving it *too* easily; I figured I must be missing something. Threw my game off pretty badly. So remember if you ever attend one of these things in the future: mind games are apparently part of the deal. Don't believe the hype—just Follow Instructions and solve the puzzle. Puzzle 5 … what was it? Oh, Neville's puzzle. A fine, tricky-at-first-but-ultimately-doable puzzle. Turns out the puzzle had an interesting back story, which involved its having to be completely rewritten (they took test-solver feedback very seriously). The original idea sounded amazing, but also, possibly, solver-maddening. None of that really matters, though, as the resulting product was excellent. And just like that we were done. And *very* shortly thereafter (before Puzzle 5's time had officially completely elapsed), I found out that I had had a perfect tournament—clean, no errors. In the end, I finished 9th (out of 100 contestants—an impressive total for an inaugural independent tourney). I will never, ever finish higher than 9th at any tournament. Thus, I am The 9th Greatest Crossword Solver in the Universe In Perpetuity Forever and Ever Amen. I didn't get any hardware, but that single-digit finish (and my favorite number to boot!) was good enough for me.

[Trip Payne senses a disturbance in The Force—runs to tell Al Sanders about it]

Both of the finals were pretty thrilling. On the Outside Track, Andrew Miller (a tournament rookie who had destroyed the competition all day long) finished way before the other two contestants, but (dum dum DUM) he made the mistake (familiar to anyone who has seen "Wordplay") of leaving squares blank, even after having stepped back and checked the grid. Note to future on-stage solvers—apparently it can be hard to see the parts of the grid that are below waist level when you are stepping back to check your grid at the end. Anyway, his mistake paved the way for Joshua Himmelsbach (another rookie) to take the top prize. Christine Quinones ended up finishing well before time elapsed, so she got the … silver, or whatever they were calling 2nd place.

[Contestant Joshua Himmelsbach, looking, fittingly, victorious]

Then it was time for the big guns—all A-level competitors at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT), all people who had solved on stage and won before, in other venues. Joon Pahk had a Lollapuzzoola championship under his belt, Amy Reynaldo won the ACPT B division back during the year documented in "Wordplay" (you can see her curtsey if you watch real carefully), and Eric Maddy had won many regional tournaments around the country, most notably (and recently) Crosswords LA. Joon was the favorite (he's one of the very fastest solvers in the country) and he didn't disappoint, finishing comfortably ahead of the others, with no errors. Here he is looking gleeful while the others still toil away:

Amy made steady, methodical progress and came in a comfortable second. Eric didn't manage to finish in the allotted time, so he took third. That someone of his solving caliber couldn't finish in time should give you some idea how hard the cluing was. With the Outside Track clues, the puzzle was tough—but with the Inside Track clues, it was well nigh impossible. Mere mortals could not hope to solve this thing at all. So congrats to all of them, and to anyone who dares to solve a tough puzzle on stage with 100+ people watching you. I would probably break down and cry and/or put my fist through the grid.

Then there were awards to hand out. Here's the list of winners:

1st Inside Track: joon pahk
2nd Inside Track: Amy Reynaldo
3rd Inside Track: Eric Maddy
[Amy, Eric, joon]

1st Outside Track: Joshua Himmelsbach
2nd Outside Track: Christine Quinones
3rd Outside Track: Andrew Miller
[Andrew, Christine, Josh]

The PuzzleGirl Rookie of the Year Award: Andrew Miller
[Andrew's wearing the medal; Neville, for some reason, is celebrating]

Bobsy Jane's Pretty Penmanship Award: Laura Zipin (runner-up was Bret Martin)

the joon pahk award for worst handwriting: Christopher King
[He has a puzzle site:] Indie Spirit Award: Amy Reynaldo

The Yogi Berra Best Wrong Answer Award: Megan Beresford

Special Dairy-Related Tradition Drawing Winner: Joe Cabrera (winner of this drawing got to hit any constructor of his/her choosing with a pie)
[Pie Victim: Puzzle 2 constructor Peter Broda]

After the tournament, a most unusual / terrible post-tournament dining experience for me and a few of my friends. Then back to PuzzleGirl's house to rest up for next day's trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles lose to the Tampa Bay (don't call them "Devil") Rays, with actual Oriole fan and UVA junior-to-be and independent crossword constructor Sam Ezersky. But I'll just stop there. I can't recommend this tournament highly enough. In terms of the combination of professionalism and pure fun, only Lollapuzzoola can really compare (and you should definitely go to that—NYC, Saturday, August 8). I really hope Indie 500 happens again next year. It deserves to be an annual event. Thanks to all the organizers, and everyone who came up to me at the tournament and said (mostly) nice things. Yay, dorks!

Awaiting next year,

[Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]
[Get the 2015 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament puzzles here (under "ORDER")]
[Register for Lollapuzzoola 8 (on 8/8!) here]
[All photos ©2015 Penelope Harper]


Coin to pay for passage across River Styx / SUN 5-31-15 / Anti-revolutionary of 1776 / Seasonal linguine topper / Choco Klondike treat / Park opened in 1964 / Chocolate mint brand with peaks in its logo / Hematophagous creature

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Making Projections" — theme answers "project" one letter above and below, and when you read the "projected" letters clockwise, starting with the top center letter, the letters spell out "SORE THUMB."

Theme answers:
  • [S]HARKFIN (9D: Seafood soup base)
  • [O]LD FAITHFUL (12D: Attraction that operates under its own steam?)
  • [R]ADIO ANTENNA (15D: Catcher of some waves)
  • SUNSHINE STAT[E] (59D: Words below a orange on a license plate)
  • VAMPIRE BA[T] (72D: Hematophagous creature)
  • OCEAN TRENC[H] (67D: Mariana, e.g.)
  • DROP-DOWN MEN[U] (62D: It might contain a list of postal abbreviations)
  • [M]OUNT MCKINLEY (4D: Peak that's known as "The Great One")
  • [B]EAN SPROUT (6D: Crisp bit in a stir-fry)
Word of the Day: OBOL (36D: Coin to pay for passage across the River Styx) —
Charon's obol is an allusive term for the coin placed in or on the mouth[1]of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Archaeological examples of these coins, of various denominations in practice, have been called "the most famous grave goods from antiquity." (wikipedia)
• • •

Hard to assess this puzzle adequately, as I did it very late, after a very full day of crossword tournamenting (about which more next week, when I have time to do it justice—short version: astonishingly good, especially for an inaugural run. Oh, and Joon Pahk won.). We were out to dinner at the world's slowest restaurant (my friend Finn timed my wine order: 55 minutes … to pour and deliver a glass of wine … but I digress), so Erin pulled out her phone and started looking at the puzzle and told us the title and we guessed the trick pretty quickly, without doing much of the grid. Then we went back to eating and drinking. Actually, we probably went back to waiting. Once I got my wine, I didn't really care. It was a gorgeous night in D.C. and we were eating out on the deck and the tournament had been really inspiring and impressive in everywhere, so Bring My Flatbread Pizza Whenever, Lady. I'm good.

[Crossword blogger Amy Reynaldo, giving attitude and taking home hardware]

I should say that we got the premise early, but not the Big Reveal, which I'd say is the one thing about this puzzle that is special—playing, as it does, on the expression "to stick out like a sore thumb." But the easy-to-grok premise and easy-to-solve themers made the solve less-than-scintillating. The cluing was pretty tough, though (in a good way), so at least the puzzle put up a reasonable Sunday-fight. I didn't have many interesting *moments* while solving, though I do have some disparate observations, and here they are:

  • OBOL! — I remembered this. As you know, when you don't know something, and then you learn it from crosswords, and then you remember it in a subsequent crossword, you feel a huge onrush of victory in your veins. 
  • EKE BY! — The longer I look at this, the more ridiculous it seems. You eke out or you scrape by. EKE BY can eke on by, as far as I'm concerned. 
  • HELENA! — crossword constructor Doug Peterson was born there. Also, HELENA is the name of the best character on "Orphan Black." So there's some double-trivia for you.
  • MOREL! — I did not know these were "seasonal." (19D: Seasonal linguine topper)
  • REORGS! — this answer can also eke on by.
  • SUH-WEET! — far and away the greatest thing in this grid. I was sort of psyched when I thought the answer was going to be "SWEEEET!" But "SUH-WEET" is DEF. better.

I think I'm done for the evening. Gonna see a game at Camden Yards tomorrow (if it doesn't get rained out) and then trek home. Annabel has the Monday tomorrow, so I'll see all y'all on Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS here is a link to my wife's public (Facebook) album of photos from Saturday's Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, in case you're interested.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mushroom layer of beef Wellington / SAT 5-30-15 / Trademark Isaac Asimov accessory / Footwear donned on camera by Mr. Rogers / Onetime Strom Thurmond designation / Noted employee of Slate / Spectator who got standing O at Wimbledon in 1981

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilber 

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: DUXELLES (17A: Mushroom layer of a beef Wellington) —
Duxelles is a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms or mushroom stems, onionsshallots and herbs sautéed in butter, and reduced to a paste (sometimes cream is used, as well). It is a basic preparation used in stuffings and sauces (notably, beef Wellington) or as a garnish. Duxelles can also be filled into a pocket of raw pastry and baked as a savory tart (similar to a hand-held pie). (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello from outside of D.C. I'm solving this puzzle from the living room of my friend Angela (aka PuzzleGirl). Angela and Doug Peterson and my wife and I all solved it individually but simultaneously. The constructors are friends of ours, so it was like they were here too at our virtual reunion. I thought there might be more cursing or cooperative solving, but it was all over much too fast. Too fast because it should've been harder because it's a Saturday and too fast because it was really entertaining and I wish it lasted longer. The first thing we want to say is LESTERS is terrible. As I wrote it in, I said, "Oh, Brad and Sam are gonna hear about this." And now they have. My wife and Angela also expressed deep dissatisfaction with LETTUCES. I pointed out that the LESTERS had to eat *something*, but that was not a satisfying response to them.

Both Doug and I thought MOCS at first for 1D: Footwear donned on camera by Mr. Rogers (KEDS) and both of us figured out our mistake because of EMINENCE (15A: Prestige). It was interesting to solve sitting next to Doug, who is a legit speed solver. He solved on paper and beat me, but not by much. It was nice to commiserate in real time about great stuff. I kept saying stuff like "Oh, good clue on 36-Across (or 9-Down)" or "Oh, man, 27-Down (or 30-Down) is great." Puzzle is solid and (for a Saturday) light. DUXELLES seemed a strong outlier, in terms of general familiarity. I had DUXELLE- and didn't know, so Doug showed me his grid and I was like "Just an 'S' … huh." (I would've got it two seconds later from LESTERS). On the opposite end of the spectrum from DUXELLES is SNERT, which was, I think, all of our first answer. Actually, I went MOCS (wrong) SPIRE (right) SNERT (right) FETE (right). I had KIDS MENU at first, but then 7D: TV honor last presented in 1997 started "NC-" and unless there was an NC WYETH award of some sort, that wasn't going to work. Quickly changed it to KIDS MEAL. What else?

  • 25A: Danger in stories of Sinbad the sailor (ROC) — I thought this was a gimme. Angela went with ORC. Wrong book. 
  • 45A: Annual Vancouver event, familiarly (TED) — None of us were certain what this referred to. We assume it's TED Talks. None of us knew it was "annual" or that it was based in Vancouver.
  • 9A: Like TV's Dr. Richard Kimble, famously (FRAMED) — wife had the best wrong answer (or answer idea) here: PRE-MED.
  • 16A: Spectator who got a standing O at Wimbledon in 1981 (LADY DI) — Doug said, "That's a total Brad clue: it's tennis, it's trivia … and he's got the 'O' there so you know the answer's gonna be a shortened form."
  • 40D: "The Principles of Mathematics" philosopher (RUSSELL) — I had the RUSS- and still didn't know. Doug and I were both thrown by the "Mathematics" part. I know him as an atheist.
  • 38A: Trademark Isaac Asimov accessory (BOLO TIE) — Great clue. This answer made me think that a ROBO-TIE would be a great thing.
  • 1A: It may facilitate playing with one's food (KIDS MEAL) — if only KIDS MEAT was a term, we could've avoided LESTERS entirely. [Chicken nugget, e.g..] => KIDS MEAT? We are all now halfway convinced that KIDS MEAT is a thing. Or could be.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]
[Follow Doug Peterson on Twitter]
[Follow PuzzleGirl on Twitter]


Heckelphone lookalike / FRI 5-29-15 / Steel brackets with two flanges / 1998 coming-of-age novel by Nick Hornby / Setting for hawthorne's marble faun / Ben who played wizard in wicked / First high priest of Israelites / Broadway chorus dancers informally / Arabian port home to Sinbad Island

Friday, May 29, 2015

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium or Brutal, depending

THEME: none

Word of the Day: EYE RHYMES (36A: Four-hour tour features?) —
eye rhyme
  1. a similarity between words in spelling but not in pronunciation, e.g., love and move. (google)
• • •

Wow, this did not end well for me. I have not come that close to not being able to finish an NYT puzzle in a long, long time. I can't remember how long. I was cruising along just fine—felt like a pretty normal Friday, difficulty-wise—and I was thinking, "well, it's not the greatest Patrick Berry puzzle I've ever done, but it's pretty good." So all was right with the world. And then, just as I was closing in on the finish line: disaster. Specifically, this:

Actually, when I took this picture, I had already gone forward and come back a few times. I actually had (the correct) GOT TO (34A: Really affected) and (the correct) HATCHES (37D: Sub entries) written in initially, but since I ended up utterly unable to solve any of the remaining answers with those answers in place, I pulled them. Now, as you can see, I should've (as I eventually did) pulled back even further. ASS is wrong. It's APE. And that's part of what is completely brutal about this little patch of answers there in the west-center. If you are familiar with the term EYE RHYMES, then there's a good chance that none of the surrounding stuff gives you any trouble. But if EYE RHYMES is an utter unknown to you (as it was to me—I've been teaching poetry for twenty years and cannot ever remember learning or seeing the term), then all those crosses become lethal. Cluing -SOME an "adjective-forming suffix"!? That's sadism. Cluing GYPSIES as "Broadway chorus dancers"? What? Why would you call them that? I can't even reconcile the image in my head when I see GYPSIES with the image in my head when I see "Broadway chorus dancers." Throw in the easy-to-mess-up APE/ASS issue, and you've got a near knockout punch.

[Busta Rhymes]

I honestly thought I was dead. EYER- couldn't be right … and yet there was no way around it. And EYERH- … that just looked like crazy talk. Weirdly, the *only* way I managed to pull out of it all was to imagine suffixes (staring with "S"?!?!?) that could make adjectives. I just stumbled into -SOME. Tested it … it worked with GOT TO … and then ASS became APE and I was done. The "?" clue on EYE RHYMES … that's the most obscure term in the grid (even if you don't think it's obscure, there's nothing in the grid that's obscurer), and you put a "?" on it? Talk about your Unsatisfying Experiences. How can I know how clever the "?" is if the term itself is meaningless to me?

But perhaps the moral of the story is: "don't give up" or "be patient" or "hang in there, baby." I was done for. I was so done for, I stopped to tweet about how done-for I was. But I waited the puzzle out and scratched and clawed my way up from an F to, like, a D. Good enough!
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


    Writer Osnos of New Yorker / THU 5-28-15 / Technology inside Kindles / Savoriness in Japanese / Palo Alto-based car company / Duke's ride / Star Wars whistler

    Thursday, May 28, 2015

    Constructor: Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: ALTERNATION (54A: Duke's ride + slowly = this puzzle's theme) — theme clues refer to three different answers: the first + second answers alternate letters in the grid, combining to create a third answer, which is what's clued on the other side of the "=" sign; actually, I guess the theme is EVEN / ODDS (33A: With 34-Across, 50-50 chance … or a hint to answering six equations in this puzzle). It's really more ODD / EVENS, since the first addend starts with square 1, then square 3, etc., but whatever:

    Theme answers:
    • CELLO SUITES (16A: Hits hard + famed spokescow = some Bach compositions)
    • RAIL PASS (20A: Rends + word of regret = commuter's purchase)
    • CIA SPIES (22A: Cloak + Egyptian deity = some spooks)
    • BLUETITS (48A: Rear + floral rings = colorful birds)
    • FREE MEAL (50A: Relief org. + stagger = soup kitchen offering)
    Word of the Day: CLERISY (1D: Intelligentsia) —
    1. a distinct class of learned or literary people. 
      "the clerisy are those who read for pleasure" (google)
    • • •

    This theme is a kind of curiosity, but it's not very compelling. It has no personality. The theme answers have nothing to do with each other. Answers occasionally feel contrived (CIA SPIES) or highly arbitrary (BLUE TITS). Needs another level of … something … to be good. The theme is both the easiest and least interesting part of the puzzle.  Honestly, the theme is like one of those one-star (difficulty) Games magazines puzzles, shoe-horned into a grid. Diverting little bits of wordplay, but not worth building a whole Thursday puzzle around. The theme is dense, but because it does not take much thought to figure out, and because it's not funny or otherwise engaging, our attention turns more to the fill, which sputters. What's worse, it sputters *and* it's made tougher than usual (to make up for the easy themers), so you have to work harder, but the results are the results, and they include ATTA ETTA CUEIN AYS NSC UAE ARTOO … the justly reviled two-H version of AHH … and the horrid-masquerading-as-hip E-INK (28A: Technology inside Kindles). There were some entertaining bits, and it certainly had enough bite for a Thursday, but no cleverness, no humor, no real cohesion, so not much to be gladdened by. Plus (side note) how does no one, from the constructor to the editor(s) to the proofreaders, pick up the REAR dupe (it's the answer to 42A *and* the clue for half of 48A)?!

    Here's where I figured out the basic gag:

    Here are some things that I thought might need explaining:
    • 5D: Good name for an R.V. inhabitant? (STU) — STU = the letter string between "R" and "V" … so STU "inhabits" an "R.V." question mark? Get it!? Yeah, you get it.
    • 17D: No longer available, as a book: Abbr. (OOP) — this stands for "Out of Print." How could you not know this, you illiterate jerk? A gimme for all the members of the CLERISY, no doubt.
    • 39A: Jumper line (HEM) — I know "jumper" as a sweater (Brit.) (also NZ), but here it's a collarless, sleeveless dress typically worn over a blouse.
    • 24D: Writer Osnos or the New Yorker (EVAN) — like you, I have no idea who this is. And I subscribe. :(
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. two days til this!:

    Go here for more info!

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


    Tamiroff of Anastasia / WED 5-27-15 / Jazz players are incapable / Transport in Ellington tune / Singer Perry opted out / Drying-out woe for short / Female producer of lanolin / Ipana competitor / Often-punted comics character

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Constructor: Jim Quinlan

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: Contraction/negation — Ordinary words / phrases the end with letter strings that sound like ordinary verbs (e.g. CAN, DID, etc.) have a negative contraction (e.g. "N'T") added to the end and are reclued in a fittingly wacky way:

    Theme answers:
    • ANI MUSTN'T (18A: Singer DiFranco should heed a warning) (no "?" on these clues?)
    • CATS CAN'T (23A: Jazz players are incapable)
    • BUSH WASN'T (35A: W. never existed)
    • MATH ISN'T (49A: Calculus disappears)
    • KATY DIDN'T (55A: Singer Perry opted out)
    Word of the Day: BUSHWA —
    NORTH AMERICANinformal
    1. rubbish; nonsense. (google)
    • • •

    This is bizarre, but not without charm. The concept is creative, but the execution's a bit wobbly. ANI MUSTN'T takes the theme off the rails a bit, as ANIMUS requires the addition of T + N'T to get to wackiness. That is, ANIMUS doesn't end in "MUST," while CAT SCAN *does* end in CAN, MATHIS *does* end in IS, etc. There's the appearance of a verb at the end of all the other theme answers. Further, BUSHWAS—in the plural—is exceedingly rare. It's just not word you'd ever see pluralized. If you google it in quotation marks, you get words lists, and only 7000 or so hit total. FATWAS works better, though it would be pretty hard to clue FAT WASN'T in a plausible way (though it couldn't be much less plausible than the clue for MATH ISN'T). My point is that this puzzle's wacky ambition is adorable, but the assembled themers are not all ready for prime time. Still, I'll take the creative concept that doesn't *quite* come off over a tired concept with all its papers in order.

    There are come cool juxtapositions in this grid. I like that the A-TRAIN has pulled up to the STAtion, and that VAN GOGH sits ambivalently between highbrow museum ART and lowbrow museum gift-shop TOTE BAG. I still can't bring myself to accept that a SKIBOB is a thing. I've tried. It's not taking. I had no idea who that AKIM guy was. I had him as an ARAM (8D: Tamiroff of "Anastasia"). My QUITS started out as RESTS. Beyond that, I had zero trouble with this puzzle, which was both smooth and easy. I see that there are some stray not-great answers (CDL, OLA, ITE, AKIM), but they really don't get in the way of puzzle pleasure. If suboptimal stuff is fairly rare and easily dealt with, then I don't care. So this week has started with three puzzles in a row where the fill has been acceptable or better. I have this weird feeling of optimism. I'm sure it's unfounded, but I'm going to enjoy it while it's here.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


    One who's fluent in both JavaScript Klingon say / TUE 5-26-15 / Foes of Saruman in Two Towers / Mexico's national flower / Cabot murder she wrote setting / Dhaka dress

    Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    Constructor: Gareth Bain

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Tuesday)

    THEME: "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" (39A: Beatles hit that's a hint to both parts of the answer to each starred clue) — "LOVE" can precede both parts of theme answers in familiar phrases:

    Theme answers:
    • CHILD SEAT (18A: *Removable car safety feature)
    • BIRD'S NEST (22A: *Asian soup ingredient)
    • MATCH GAME (54A: *Classic daytime show hosted by Gene Rayburn)
    • LIFE STORY (61A: *Biography)
    Word of the Day: "MATCH GAME"
    Match Game is an American television panel game show in which contestants attempted to match celebrities' answers to fill-in-the-blank questions. The precise format of the show varied through five runs on American television: 1962 to 1969 (on NBC), 1973 to 1982 (on CBS and later in syndication), 1983 to 1984 (again on NBC as part of the Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour), 1990 to 1991 (on ABC) and 1998 to 1999 (in syndication). Most American incarnations of the show have been hosted by Gene Rayburn.
    The most famous versions of the 1970s and 1980s, starting with Match Game '73 (renumbered by year until 1979), are remembered for their bawdy and sometimes rowdy humor involving contestants trying to match six celebrities. The series has been franchised around the world, often under the name Blankety Blanks.
    In 2013, TV Guide ranked it #4 in its list of the 60 greatest game shows ever. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Well, some weird combo of Firefox (my new most hated browser) and Blogger and me just managed to permanently (it seems) erase 2/3 of my completed write-up, and I just can't bear to do it again. It was fantastic, I assure you. Short version: puzzle is an old concept, well executed. Clean fill. I made many, many errors and missteps (for a Tuesday). I had these listed for you in bullet points (formatting these was where things went very wrong from a technical standpoint). Here's what remains of that list:

    • Had -OG at 62D: Confused state and could think only of GOG. I don't understand, either.
    • The clue on "MATCH GAME" was totally confusing, but now I understand it. It's a game show. Clue it as game show, and I got it. Clue it as "daytime show" (which could be anything), and you lost me (I'm figuring it's something *else* Gene Rayburn did that I didn't know about). But you can't clue it as "game show" because GAME is in the answer. Thus, ironically, I struggled to get my favorite game show of all time.

    [Meara + Dawson = peak TV]
      • 57D: Title for a jeune fille: Abbr. (MLLE) — I wrote in ELLE, which is not, obviously, an Abbr. This error contributed mightily to my "MATCH GAME" woes.
      But I'm exaggerating the amount of real struggle. This was still a pretty easy puzzle, and a competently put-together one at that.

      So, yeah. There you go. You get Partial Blog today. Gonna go crush my computer with a mallet now. Eight+ years and I've never lost a write-up. First!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


      Mountain Dew alternative / MON 5-25-15 / Polynesian carvings / Island nation for which distinctive cat is named

      Monday, May 25, 2015

      Constructor: Jennifer Nutt

      Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

      THEME: "I NAILED IT" (57A: Appropriate exclamation upon solving this puzzle?) — last words of theme answers describe a manicure (I think): first CLIP, then FILE, then BUFF, then SHINE, then POLISH. I hope I have this right.

      Theme answers:
      • VIDEO CLIP (17A: Excerpt shown on TV)
      • CIRCULAR FILE (23A: Wastebasket, jocularly)
      • TRAIN BUFF (33A: Visitor at a railroad museum, say)
      • MOONSHINE (39A: Product of a backwoods still)
      • SOCIAL POLISH (45A: What a boor sorely lacks)
      Word of the Day: BABYLON (9D: Ancient Hanging Gardens city) —
      Babylon [...] was a significant city in ancient Mesopotamia, in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city was built upon the Euphrates, and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. // Babylon was originally a small Semitic Akkadian city dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC. The town attained independence as part of a small city state with the rise of the First Amorite Babylonian Dynasty in 1894 BC. Claiming to be the successor of the more ancient Sumero-Akkadian city of Eridu, Babylon eclipsed Nippur as the "holy city" of Mesopotamia around the time Amorite king Hammurabi created the first short lived Babylonian Empire in the 18th century BC. Babylon grew and South Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia. // The empire quickly dissolved after Hammurabi's death and Babylon spent long periods under Assyrian, Kassite and Elamite domination. After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 609 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city came under the rules of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid empires. // It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from c. 1770 to 1670 BC, and again between c. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000. Estimates for the maximum extent of its area range from 890 to 900 hectares (2,200 acres). // The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris. (wikipedia)
      • • •
      I know nothing about manicures, but this theme strikes me as both clever and tight. I don't think I know what "SHINE" means. I mean, of course I know what that word means, but the difference between "SHINE" and "POLISH" is lost on me. Maybe there's some clear stuff that goes on before the "POLISH." If my daughter were nearby right now, I could ask. But she's not, so I'm 'just going to trust that this puzzle has the whole manicure verb progression right. Speaking of polish—the fill on this thing looks great. It's not what you'd call zippy, but that's understandable, given that the grid's trying to keep *six* long themers in place without having the rest of the grid go to hell. Failing to go to hell is all the non-theme parts of the grid had to do, and they did that admirably. All in all, a promising start to the work week ... only it's Memorial Day, so nobody's working, so ... just "week."

      There were a couple things I didn't understand. One is technical—why are there cheater squares* (black squares before 31A and after 41A, respectively? Those sections should've been awfully easy to fill without having to add the cheaters. But I assume the constructor tried that, and just couldn't get the fill to come out clean enough, and so added the cheaters and got the job done. It's a very minor thing. I'm not even complaining—just wondering aloud, from a constructor's standpoint, why one would resort to cheaters *there*. The other thing I don't understand—why TRAIN BUFF?? I mean ... trains? If you needed "train" for your theme to work, OK, but "train" has nothing to do with the theme, so why not go with the much more familiar MOVIE BUFF? There are millions of MOVIE BUFFs and, like, seven TRAIN BUFFs in the world, so ... that choice mystifies me. Again, not complaining. Just standing here, baffled.

      I got slowed down a bit by TRAIN BUFF (had TRAIN and had no idea what could come after). I also took a while to come up with SOCIAL POLISH, since it's not a phrase that stands alone that well. "Social graces" googles about 25 times better, for instance. It's an actual phrase, it's just not snappy or self-evident, hence the delay in my figuring it out. I also hesitated at SEIZE because I Swear To God I never know the I/E order there. SIEGE, I then E, SEIZE, E then I. I can tell myself that now, but in the heat of solving, that knowledge just isn't accessible and I end up guessing / checking crosses.

      Lastly, sadly, Anne Meara died yesterday. I should say Anne MEARA, since her last name has been common crossword fare for decades now. She was also a crossword buff (!) herself, and a nice person to boot. Oh, and a comedy legend, obviously, but I just took it for granted that you all knew that. I hope someone's making a (good) tribute puzzle for her right now. She deserves it.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      *cheater squares = black squares that don't add to the word count (generally added by constructors solely for the purpose of making the grid easier to fill)

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


      Kyrgyz province / SUN 5-24-15 / PBS craft show for 21 seasons / Sci-fi narcotic / AI woman in 2015's Ex Machina / Bariton in Mikado / Local theater slangily / Warrior in Discworld fantasy books / Former Jets coach Ewbank / Speed-skating champion Kramer / Sun's 10th planet once /

      Sunday, May 24, 2015

      Constructor: Kevin G. Der

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: "A Tale of Many Cities" — celebrating the 142nd anniversary of the publication of JULES / VERNE's "Around the World in Eighty Days"; puzzle note reads:

       Circled letters form a circuitous path around the grid ("world") starting at the "A" in KCAR (93A) and going east, off the grid, and back around to the west side of the grid, ending almost exactly where we began (at the "S" in RAYS (79A)). The circles spell out "AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS"; further, each long Down clue has an appended clue—a country, followed by word lengths for the city you're supposed to find hidden (in not-always-consecutive letters) in that answer; thus, in the clue 3D: Brooklyn Heights school [U.S.; 3, 9], the [U.S.; 3, 9] part indicates that the hidden city in SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE is in the US and is two words, 3 and 9 letters long, respectively (i.e. SAN FRANCISCO)

      Theme answers:
      • SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE (San Francisco)
      • LETTING ONE'S HAIR DOWN (London)
      • LEMON SQUEEZER (Suez)
      • BORN TO BE MY BABY (Bombay)
      • SPECIAL COURT MARTIAL (Calcutta)
      • YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING? (Yokohama)
      Word of the Day: "THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP" (31D: PBS craft show for 21 seasons [U.S. 3, 4]) —
      The New Yankee Workshop is a woodworking program produced by WGBH Boston, which aired on PBS. Created in 1989 by Russell Morash, the program is hosted by Norm Abram, a regular fixture on Morash's This Old House. The series aired for 21 seasons before broadcasting its final episode on June 27, 2009. (wikipedia)
      • • •


      I got the gist of the theme very early—if you get 1D, you get 141D, and very quickly you're down to a finite number of books this puzzle can be about. Here's what my grid looked like less than a minute in:

       [So ... Journey to the Center of the Earth?]

      My philosophy on puzzles with "Notes" is "Ignore Them." I like the challenge of figuring out what's going on for myself. So I just plowed forward and had faith that the gimmick would reveal itself to me. And quickly I could see that the letters were spelling out "Around the World in Eighty Days." I didn't stop to see how, exactly, or what the pattern was, but I could tell that's the book I was dealing with. The only question that nagged at the back of my mind for the entirety of the solve was "What do those secondary clues mean?" But I didn't stop to think about it much, because the puzzle seemed to be coming together just fine without my knowing. And indeed, I finished the whole thing and got the Happy Pencil sign and everything and still didn't know what the secondary clues were all about. But shortly after I started thinking about it in earnest, I got it. The numbers had to be word lengths, and the countries had to be places that Phileas Fogg visited ... so, cities. Aha, there's NEW YORK, there's SAN FRANCISCO ... got it. Pretty dang cool. And of course the path of the circled letters, like Fogg's journey, starts and ends in "London" (i.e. 6D), and follows Fogg's globe-circling itinerary—an eastward voyage through SUEZ, BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, HONG KONG, YOKOHAMA, SAN FRANCISCO, NEW YORK, in order—precisely.

      It's an oversized grid, so if it seemed to take you longer than usual, that could have something to do with it. Also, perhaps you're like me and you've Never Heard Of several of the theme answers. SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE? Mystery. Inferable mystery, but still, mystery. "THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP"? This is literally the first I'm hearing of it. I know a lot of Bon Jovi songs, but not "BORN TO BE MY BABY." As for SPECIAL COURT MARTIAL ... I'm sure it's a thing, but it's an adjective attached to COURT MARTIAL, as far as I know. And "THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT" ... well, I confess I knew that one. But I don't know how. In my mind, it co-starred Chow Yun-Fat, but that's "The Replacement Killers," a 1998 movie with Mira Sorvino. "THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT" co-starred Samuel L. Jackson. I don't think I've seen it, despite the fact that the title is so close to the title of my favorite novel I probably should've seen it now, if only by accident.

      Ambition and cleverness will get you everywhere, and it will certainly excuse some infelicities in the fill (ATRI is comically crosswordesish, and a few other things are less than lovely, but they just don't seem that significant when the Big Picture is this grand. Wait, what's an UDE ??? (60A: Ulan-___ (capital of a Russian republic)).  That and OSH and EROO and TEA OR and the like are of course unideal, but I still say those hiccups are too small to significantly diminish my enjoyment and admiration today. Sundays have been ... not great, of late. This, *this*, is the level of artistry and complexity the Sunday should be aiming for most if not all of the time. Haven't seen much from Kevin Der lately. If he can make one of these fantastic Sundays only about once per year ... fine. I can wait. Now we just need 51 more like-minded, like-talented constructors to step up.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. we're just one week away from the inaugural Indie 500 Crossword Tournament in lovely downtown Washington, D.C.  Solve six puzzles by some of the top young constructors in the country! Hang out with dorks just like you! Realize you have no hope of winning and realize also that you don't care because that's not why you go to crossword tournaments! (That last one applies especially to me). Also, there will be pie. I have been promised. The puzzles will be good and the vibe will be loose and fun and if you've ever been tourney-curious, this will be a good place to start. All the info you need is here. Hope to see you there: Saturday, May 30, D.C.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


      Maude's cousin on 1970s TV / SAT 5-23-15 / to the stars autobiographer / Mork's supervisor on Mork & Mindy / Led Zeppelin's final studio album appropriately / County of Lewis Carroll's birth / Hollowed out comedic prop / It's not for me to say crooner / Form of xeriscaping

      Saturday, May 23, 2015

      Constructor: Peter Wentz

      Relative difficulty: Medium (leaning toward the easier side)

      THEME: none 

      Word of the Day: STEM fields (31D: ___ fields) —
      STEM is an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science,[note 1] technology, engineering, and mathematics. The term is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development. It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy. The acronym arose in common use shortly after an interagency meeting on science education held at the National Science Foundation chaired by the then NSF director Rita Colwell. A director from the Office of Science division of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists suggested the change from the older acronym SMET to STEM. Dr. Colwell, expressing some dislike for the older acronym, responded by suggesting NSF to institute the change. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Nice work from Mr. Wentz, full of all kinds of traps and potholes, but ultimately very solvable. Fill is fantastically polished (except ONEHR, wth?), and the grid is teeming with good-to-great longer answers. It was a light workout, but I'll get my heavy workout (probably) tomorrow with the Newsday Stumper. This one fought me hard enough. I made many mistakes, but none of them fatal. I like a scrappy puzzle that isn't dickishly hard or full of rank obscurities. Here's what my opening gambit looked like:

      [Me, after getting 17A: "Is that racist?" Answer: "No, not really"]

      Solving this puzzle felt a bit like solving a maze, where I kept going down routes that turned out to be dead ends, then backing out and finding the right way again. Lather rinse repeat. It was a strange experience, being so often wrong but never having the feeling of being frustratingly stuck. How many mistakes did I make? Let's count. So ... I wrote in THIEF for 1D: Member of a den (HYENA). At some point I wrote in ARIA for 19A: "O Sanctissima," e.g. (NOEL). Had YEAH, I'LL BET for YEAH, I'M SURE (15A: "A likely story ..."). Then ENTIRE for EN BLOC (25A: All together). Further, EBAY for ETSY (30D: Modern collection of vendors). Must've had several varieties of wrong answer just trying to find the correct plural at 51A: Swedish coins (KRONOR). I moved over EXIT RAMPS before EXIT LANES (33D: You might move over for them on the highway). And between RAMPS and LANES, I made my last and greatest mistake—a twofer that involved SCARFS for SNARFS (46D: Gobbles) *and* MERCER for LERNER (48A: "My Fair Lady" lyricist). So, how many genuine mistakes is that? [1, 2, 3 ...]. I count nine. Nope, whoops, left one out. I had AGA and ALY before A LA (62D: Lead-in to a chef's name) because I misread the clue. Can you guess *how* I misread it? Yeah, you probably can.

      Hardest answer for me to get was, oddly, OINK (39D: Word repeated before "here," in song) ("SONG" is in the grid (14D) ... but we'll just let that slide). This is partially because I misread the clue (yet again), and was thinking not "repeated before" but "before and after. Wanted OVER here... then thought maybe O, I AM here ... you gotta get pretty deep into "Old MacDonald" before you hit "with an OINK OINK here ..." It's not exactly a definitive lyric. Hence my struggle. So, yes, many traps, but still not too much difficulty. Fine weekend fare.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. we're just one week away from the inaugural Indie 500 Crossword Tournament in lovely downtown Washington, D.C.  Solve six puzzles by some of the top young constructors in the country! Hang out with dorks just like you! Realize you have no hope of winning and realize also that you don't care because that's not why you go to crossword tournaments! (That last one applies especially to me). Also, there will be pie. I have been promised. The puzzles will be good and the vibe will be loose and fun and if you've ever been tourney-curious, this will be a good place to start. All the info you need is here. Hope to see you there: Saturday, May 30, D.C.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


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