Discharge as from a volcano / TUE 7-25-17 / Protective embankment / Ambient music as ignorable as interesting / Zoë Avatar / Jason's vessel / House of Elizabeth II / Variety show host 1951-71 / Ibsen's Gabler / Captain Nemo's vessel

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:37)



THEME: SPREAD THE GOSPEL (61A: Evangelize ... or what this puzzle's circled squares do? — Letters in the names of the four canonical gospels are "spread" through four theme entries.
  • 17A: Was loved by MEANT THE WORLD TO
  • 22A: Know-it-all SMART ALECK
  • 39A: Comment after a fortuitous happening LUCKY ME
  • 50A: Frequently going from one post to another
    JOB HOPPING
Word of the Day: BLAIR HOUSE (51D: ___ House (Washington landmark)) —
The President's Guest House, commonly known as Blair House, is a complex of four formerly separate buildings—Blair House, Lee House, Peter Parker House, and 704 Jackson Place—located in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. A major interior renovation of these 19th century residences between the 1950s and 1980s resulted in their reconstitution as a single facility. The President's Guest House is one of several residences owned by the United States government for use by the President and Vice President of the United States; other such residences include the White House, Camp David, One Observatory Circle, the Presidential Townhouse, and Trowbridge House. The President's Guest House has been called "the world's most exclusive hotel" because it is primarily used to host visiting dignitaries and other guests of the president. It is larger than the White House and closed to the public. (Wikipedia)
• • •
11D: Variety show host of 1951-71

I'm going to go 32A: No holds BARRED on this one: it is my least favorite of all the puzzles I've blogged for Rex. It's not a terrible puzzle, but meh. The theme itself is kinda old fashioned, as is much of the fill (more on that later), and while it was competently executed ... if not for 20A: Zoë of "Avatar" (SALDANA) and 69A: Craft company with a 2015 I.P.O. (ETSY), I could've been solving this with my grandfather in 1982. And as much as I miss those times, and I as much as I miss him, I'd rather solve a better puzzle.
“It’s hard when you go and fight for a role, because they’re like ‘I don’t know, man, you mean, it’s like the blue girl from Avatar? ... I want to go down a different route. I feel like a little bit of an underdog because I live in space, nobody wants me here on Earth.” (Interview in The Independent)
Fill-wise ... TSK (41A: Sound of reproach). We've got our prefixes: LACTI, ALTI, TERA, and ISO. We've got BSIX (take one ADAY). We've got DSHARP crossing ESCARP (I'll bet MSHARP will be glad he ESCARPed this one). We've got ANTE, APSE, ADA, and ENO. SPEW, EEGS! HIE there, RUSSO! ABAFT, PELOSI, say the GOP Reps. I did like to see both fictional ships ARGO (25A: Jason's vessel, in myth) and NAUTILUS (35A: Captain Nemo's vessel).

66A: Family history, e.g.
Bullets:
  • 4D: House of Elizabeth II (WINDSOR) Almost exactly 100 years ago, the British Royal Family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.
  • 23D: What gives you the right to bare arms? (TANK TOP) — Not in Congress, apparently.
  • 9D: Nuisance in an online comments section (TROLL) — Don't be one. 
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Green condiment / MON 7-24-17 / George Rumble in the Jungle / Ke$ha TiK / Ouzo flavoring / Taj Mahal city / Muppet with wings / Milo Verdict

Monday, July 24, 2017

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:17)


THEME: Morphological reduplication (as they call it in linguistics) — An idiom and the names of a person, a brand, and a Muppet repeat sounds (morphemes) in a rhyming pattern.

Theme answers:
  • 28A: Ramen product -- OODLES OF NOODLES
  • 56A: "Sesame Street" Muppet with wings and a magic wand -- ABBY CADABBY
  • 6D: Competing with the goal of victory -- IN IT TO WIN IT
  • 7D: Daredevil in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame -- EVEL KNIEVEL
Do you get enough noodles in your noodle soup?

Word of the Day: RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE (from the clue for FOREMAN [13A: Boxer George who lost the Rumble in the Jungle]) -- almost a reduplication!
The Rumble in the Jungle was a historic boxing event in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974 (at 4:00 am). Held at the 20th of May Stadium (now the Stade Tata Raphaël), it pitted the undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman against challenger Muhammad Ali, a former heavyweight champion. The attendance was 60,000. Ali won by knockout, putting Foreman down just before the end of the eighth round. It has been called "arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century". The event was one of Don King's first ventures as a professional boxing promoter. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Jeepers creepers! This super-de-duper puzzle was just chock-a-block with boogie-woogie. The nitty-gritty: Peter Gordon gives us a grid with left-right symmetry (as opposed to the standard topsy-turvy rotational symmetry), no doubt to accommodate a set of hodge-podge theme entries without symmetrical lengths. Add the hocus-pocus of crossing the 15-letter OODLES OF NOODLES with the two 11-letter down themers and that's evidence of some razzle-dazzle construction skills.
I wonder if there's a Goth Muppet named AVER CADAVER
The fill was neither fuddy-duddy nor hoity-toity. There's some kind of postmodern fusion cuisine suggested by WASABI (1A: Green condiment served with sushi), TACO BELL (42D: Fast food chain with the slogan "Live más"), and RONZONI (16A: Brand of pasta). You've got your Midwestern cities represented with ST PAUL (11D: Capital of Minnesota) and SHEBOYGAN (38D: Wisconsin city on Lake Michigan). And I have a teentsy-weentsy quibble with SLABBING (45D: Applying thickly, with "on") because it seems a bit hugger-mugger, but okey-dokey.
EVEL KNIEVEL was IN IT TO WIN IT
Bullets:
  • 44A: Milo of "The Verdict" (O'SHEA) — Poor Milo. A long career in British cinema, and you are known forever to crossword solvers as the judge from a 1980s Paul Newman legal drama. I propose that from now on we clue O'SHEA as [Rapper and actor ___  Jackson, better known as Ice Cube].
  • 70A: Molecule components (ATOMS) — Q: Why can't you trust atoms? A: Because they make up everything.
  • 63A: Punk rock's ___ Pop (IGGY) — I'll let Iggy sing me out.
 I see the stars come out tonight

Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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1943 French novella / SUN 7-23-17 / Pacific capital / The Big Pineapple / Dance craze 2010s / Agency Human Genome Project / Bert who sang "If I Only Had the Nerve" / 1990 Nobelist Octavio

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Easy (16:36)



THEME: "Back on the Charts" — Names of musical artists are "back" -- i.e. at the end of the entries -- and on the charts -- i.e. in the grid.

Theme answers:
  • 30A: Title character in a 1943 French novella [6] (LITTLE PRINCE)
  • 47A: The Big Pineapple [4] (HONOLULU)
  • 66A: Like some lawyers' work [4] (PRO BONO)
  • 86A: "Why are you looking at me?" [4] (WHAT'D I DO)
  • 100A: 11th-century campaign [4] (FIRST CRUSADE)
    First Crusade
  • 3D: 17,000+-foot peak near the Equator (MOUNT KENYA)  
  • 5D: Make airtight, in a way [4] (HEATSEAL)
  • 10D: Healthy [4] (IN THE PINK)
  • 12D: Nightshade family member [4] (MANDRAKE)
  • 13D: Prized possession [5] (CROWN JEWEL)
  • 26D: One doing routine office work, informally [5] (PEN PUSHER)
  • 51D: Dave of jazz [4] (BRUBECK)
  • 63D: One leading the exercises, for short? [4] (PE TEACHER)
  • 70D: Fruity spirit [6] (PEAR BRANDY)
  • 73D: Vain, temperamental sort [7] (PRIMADONNA)
  • 77D: Band member's main squeeze? [4] (ACCORDION)
  • 82D: 1940 Disney release [3] (FANTASIA)*
  • 87D: Pulling off bank jobs [5] (HEISTING)
* Depending on your preferred cultural frame of reference, this could have also been early 80s synth-rock band ASIA (with their chart-topping hit "Heat of the Moment") or third-season American Idol champion FANTASIA (with her chart-topping hit "I Believe"). Also, dude. DAVE BRUBECK. Take Five and take him back to the charts.

Word of the Day: AGOUTI (69A: Guinea pig relative) —
The term agouti (Spanish: agutí, pronounced [aɣuˈti]) or common agouti designates several rodent species of the genus Dasyprocta. They are native to Middle America, northern and central South America, and the southern Lesser Antilles. Some species have also been introduced elsewhere in the West Indies.[1] They are related to guinea pigs and look quite similar, but are larger and have longer legs. The species vary considerably in colour, being brown, reddish, dull orange, greyish or blackish, but typically with lighter underparts. Their bodies are covered with coarse hair which is raised when alarmed. They weigh 2.4–6 kg (5.3–13.2 lb) and are 40.5–76 cm (15.9–29.9 in) in length, with short, hairless tails. (Wikipedia) [Them are cute rodents. (Me)]
• • •
Hello, CrossWorld! Rex is on a well-deserved vacation, so you get me, Laura, blogging the puzzle through next Sunday. Be confident there will be no disruptions in your regularly scheduled crossword blogging service. Between you and me, I didn't find this a terribly exciting Sunday with which to start our week together. I wanted the theme to do more than just hide the names of chart-topping popular musical artists -- in fact, I even spent a little time browsing the Billboard charts to see if there was any correlation between, say, the entry number and the artist's chart position re their biggest hit -- but, no, unless I'm missing something. (Mansplain at me in the comments, if so.) A few of the artists are hidden beautifully in the entries (86A: WHAT'D I DO, 26D: PEN PUSHER [wait, don't we usually say PENCIL PUSHER? or PAPER PUSHER?]) but others were more than obvious (30A: LITTLE PRINCE, 10D: IN THE PINK). Also -- and this is likely a function of cramming so many (eighteen!) themers into the grid -- we've got some oldies in there -- Dion! Lulu! -- who are outliers from the rest of the late-1980s-to-the-present playlist.

Double helix in the sky tonight

Fill-wise ... wow, lots of little words. I'm working hard on improving my own constructing skills, and I struggle the most with limiting the inclusion of three-letter entries that are abbreviations or tired crosswordese. It's difficult to do this well, and this grid suffers a bit with EST, WTO, AEC, NIH, DSO, DOA, OTB, FCC, CNN, NEA and the like.

Bullets:
  • 89A: Inverse trig function (ARCTAN) — One of my crossword twitter friends (who is also a fine constructor) goes by the handle @ArctanPrime. Being a humanities person/librarian who hasn't taken math since my first year of college, I didn't quite remember what this meant. Now I know! Raising a glass in your general direction, Chris!
  • 99A: Lewis ___, 1848 Democratic candidate for president (CASS) — Is he the most famous CASS out there? Not Ellen Naomi "Mama CASS Elliot" Cohen? Or legal scholar CASS Sunstein? Anyone?
  • 55A Bert who sang "If I Only Had the Nerve" (LAHR)But I could show my prowess/ Be a lion, not a mowess/ If I only had the noive ...
See you tomorrow! And the day after that. And a few more after that!

Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Ankh-holding deity / SAT 7-22-17 / cartoon avatars on Snapchat / single serve coffee holders / Wearer of h inscribed hat / Lead female role on Netflix's House of Cards / Big-box store founded in 1946 / Sportscaster Rich

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (suuuuper-easy, I'm told, but I have a slight concert hangover this morning, so I was just fast, not Fast)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALUM (8D: Application to a cut) —
noun: alum; noun: potash alum
  1. a colorless astringent compound that is a hydrated double sulfate of aluminum and potassium, used in solution medicinally and in dyeing and tanning.
    • any of a number of analogous crystalline double sulfates of a monovalent metal (or group) and a trivalent metal.
      plural noun: alums
• • •

Must be very quick today, as I am writing inside an absurdly small window. Didn't get back from the ELVIS Costello concert at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown until well after midnight, and I have to be out of the house again at 7:30am. So you all get maybe half an hour this a.m.—and I've already used a good chunk of it writing these first two sentences. This puzzle is just fine, though it feels like a parody of a puzzle that's trying extra super special hard to be current. Twitter! Facebook! Two Snapchat clues! Kids like the Snapchat, right? Am I Relevant Yet!? We are living in a digital world, and I am a digital girl boy, but take it easy. I actually enjoyed LATTE ART and FOAM HAND more than any of the marquee social media stuff (or BITMOJIS, for ****'s sake). And it's weirdly extra jarring to see a puzzle be so Now and then have crap like SERT and AMENRA and ATBAR in it. Fustiness stands out by contrast. But as I say, overall, this is a win, and, if you're coming from a certain cultural space (under 50), it was likely Very easy for you (compared to other Saturdays, I mean).


Quick Stuff:
  • ALUM — I apparently have no idea what this is (that is, if it's not someone who's REUNING); a large part of whatever stuck-time I had was spent here, trying to figure out how four letters ending in "M" was not BALM (8D: Application to a cut).
  • KOJAK (27A: Lieutenant of 1970s TV) — In naming the detectives he used to watch on TV, Elvis Costello name-checked this guy last night, though he saved his most effusive praise (rightly, if possibly ironically) for one Ms. Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury of TV's "Murder, She Wrote")
  • LOOSE TEA (34A: What some caddies carry) — got the TEA part fine, but the LOOSE part, ugh. See also the latter part of CREED (26D: Seminary study).
  • SATE (43D: Be adequate for) — Screw this word. One word should not be able to be clued [Be adequate for] *and* [Fill to the gills] (an actual clue once used in a puzzle by this actual constructor). I think it can also mean, simply, [Satisfy] or [Fill to something less than the gills], so this stupid word apparently means every single level of filling, and thus is useless. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Draftkings competitor / FRI 7-21-17 / Formally approve as document old-style / Early Indus Valley settler / Devotee of Motley Crue Megadeth / Player of drug kingpin on Wire / One-named singer with 2016 #1 hit Pillowtalk / 1949 Hepburn Tracy courtroom film / Faddish dance move done to 2015 hit Watch Me

Friday, July 21, 2017

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: BIP (31D: Marcel Marceau persona) —
Marcel Marceau (French pronunciation: ​[maʁsɛl maʁso]; born Marcel Mangel, 22 March 1923 – 22 September 2007) was a French actor and mime most famous for his stage persona as "Bip the Clown". He referred to mime as the "art of silence", and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years. As a youth, he lived in hiding and worked with the French Resistance during most of World War II, giving his first major performance to 3000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Following the war, he studied dramatic art and mime in Paris. (wikipedia)
• • •

I wonder if the vanity clue on TEEN was Paolo's or Will's (12D: This puzzle's constructor, for one). I mean, Paolo's already been at this for *two years*, so the TEEN thing isn't exactly news. Also not news: the kid is immensely talented, and respected by top editors and constructors across ... let's say, Crossworddom. He is on the constructor slate for the upcoming Lollapuzzoola tournament in NYC (August 19), and he's written puzzles for American Values Club Crossword, and ... probably other stuff. It's sick. This puzzle has a few wobbly moments, but basically looks like what I've come to expect from this constructor: very smooth and very current, with pop cultural predilections. Pop culture is dangerous, though, and I'm betting at least a few people founder and crash on the rocky shores of ZAYN (a massive pop star, but ... I mean, definitely not a gimme for the crossword crowd). My wife had LAID / ZAYD and never questioned it until she got the error message. She then thought, "Hmm, is it LES MIS?!" before eventually figuring out her error. BIGGIE SMALLS and Spike JONZE and IDRIS ELBA add to the pop cultural bro-fest down south. Quite a group.

[d. JONZE]

I didn't expect to end up with a solidly sub-5 time, as I flopped around a lot. A quarterback's asset is obviously his ARM, so I botched that one at first pass (3D: AIM). Did you know "I NEED A MINUTE" fits in the space ALLOTted? It does (19A: Words from one about to break into tears: "I NEED A MOMENT"). I spelled Spike JONES then Spike JONEZ before finally alighting on the correct Spike JONZE (56A: Spike who directed "Being John Malkovich"). I used to watch ESPN a Lot and have seen innumerable ads for fantasy sports apps and still, for the life of me, I couldn't remember the word that followed FAN at 7D: DraftKings competitor. FANZONE? FANBROS? FANDOME? Had to work the crosses to turn it up. Still, despite those hiccups, I found this one very enjoyable.  I would humbly suggest that the constructor (and all constructors) delete the following from their wordlists: BIP, ENSEAL, REMS (plural?), and GALOP (I put GALOPS in my first ever published NYT puzzle and I still haven't forgiven myself).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Edward VII familiarly / THU 7-20-17 / Shorthand system inventor Pitman / Fictional swordsman / Screenplay directive / Massey of old movies

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (my exceedingly slow time was probably highly idiosyncratic)


THEME: ugh, I don't know, some puns on interrogative words or something god it was awful

Theme answers:
  • "WATT'S THE PROBLEM?" (17A: James is keeping me from getting a steam engine patent?)
  • "HOWE'S BUSINESS?" (35A: Hockey, to Gordie?)
  • "HU LET THE DOGS OUT?" (56A: A former leader of China gave his shar-peis some exercise)
Word of the Day: LOBAR (11D: Lung-related) —

adjective: lobar
  1. relating to or affecting a lobe, especially a whole lobe of a lung. (google)
• • •

Painful. Painful because the theme is so groany and old and thin, painful because the puzzle is 100 years old in all the worst ways, and painful because I spent a hard 3-4 minutes just stuck in the NW wondering if I was ever going to get the last four squares. I blame EXEDOUT, one of the dumbest crossword entries in modern times. No One Would Write That. But look, let's just blame my problems in the NW corner on me and get back to the real problem, which is ugh. There are only three of these theme puns. They aren't funny. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this? Why these people? Why not Where or When or Why puns? Why not why (OK, so no one's named WYE probably ... still). Watt and Howe have clues related to what they did, but Hu? Hoo boy, no. Howe and Hu are exact homophones, but Watt is natt. It's a wacky weak not-funny pun puzzle. You wanna pun, you better bring heat. Fire. Or go home. No more of this soft dad humor b.s. It's depressing.


And I haven't even started in on the multiple answers that are deserving of contempt. I have "F.U." (or a longer version thereof) written All Over my marked-up grid. I've already introduced you to EXEDOUT, which crosses COSA (I did not know this meaning) and CUTTO (dear lord that is terrible fill ... "phrase" more than "directive" ... just ugly in the grid). This was my long dark night of the grid. Here's the squares I *didn't* have, for an awfully long time:


EXE---T just would not compute for me at 15A: Edited, in way. Thought for sure that Spanish thing was ESTA or ESTO or ... something like that that I'd maybe seen before. And C-TT- looked utterly wrong. Totally impossible. It got so bad, I was doubting "REBECCA" at one point (1A: Hitchcock film with Laurence Olivier). Only after I ran the Big Ten in my head did I think *O*SU at 24A: Big Ten powerhouse, for short, and that finally unclogged things. But I actually don't have "F.U." written next to any of that (though I probably should). Instead, it's written next to:

Bullets:
  • REWARM (1D: Nuke, maybe) — no. WTF is REWARM. If you "Nuke" something, you REHEAT it, for *$&%'s sake. That's what nuking does. REWARM, ugh, boo. Terrible.
  • OLEOOIL (59A: Margarine ingredient) — stop. Just stop. OLEO is a thing. OLEO OIL is just some vowelly nonsense. Fill your grid better. Your fill is about as scrumptious as OLEO OIL (whatever that is!)
  • BERTIE (25A: Edward VII, familiarly) — What Year Is It? How on god's green do I know what pals called some bygone king who died before I was born. He died in 1910. "Feel the Bert!" Make it stop!
  • ISAAC (31D: Shorthand system inventor Pitman) — Shorthand. Shorthand? Shorthand. Soooo many ISAACs in the world and ... shorthand. Like the puzzle isn't already a parody of the dated NYT old white dude puzzle ... you had to go ahead and add shorthand. Fine.
Also, stacking French words is terrible form (see AMI over ÉCOLE). The end

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. apparently OLEOOIL (I can't believe I have to revisit this junkwad) has a different clue on other platforms. Why ... I have no idea:

 

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Made for moments sloganeer / WED 7-19-17 / Line from Student Prince appropriate to this puzzle / Early 2000s apple product / anti-doping target, informally / Descriptive of los Andes / Hold aside for year as college athlete

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Constructor: Michael S. Maurer and Pawel Fludzinski

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: DRINK DRINK DRINK (32A: Line from "The Student Prince" appropriate for this puzzle) — this puzzle contains various toasts from around the world

Theme answers:
  • TO YOUR HEALTH!
  • DOWN THE HATCH!
  • SALUD!
  • L'CHAIM!
  • TIRAMISU!
  • AMALFI!
  • KANPAI!
  • NEHRU!
  • PROST!
  • ROID!
Word of the Day: "The Student Prince" (See 32A) —
The Student Prince is an operetta in four acts with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly. It is based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's play Old Heidelberg. The piece has elements of melodrama but lacks the swashbuckling style common to Romberg's other works. The plot is mostly faithful to its source. // It opened on December 2, 1924, at Jolson's 59th Street Theatre on Broadway. The show was the most successful of Romberg's works, running for 608 performances, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s. It was staged by J. C. Huffman. Even the classic Show Boat, the most enduring musical of the 1920s, did not play as long – it ran for 572 performances. "Drinking Song", with its rousing chorus of "Drink! Drink! Drink!" was especially popular with theatergoers in 1924, as the United States was in the midst of Prohibition. The operetta contains the challenging tenor aria "The Serenade" ("Overhead the moon is beaming"). (wikipedia)
• • •
This is terrible. Truly not good, on every level. So bad it makes me almost never want to drink again. We can start with the boring, basic, nothing theme. Let me get this straight—the theme is ... toasts. That's it. Just toasts. And there are just four of them (?). Four ... toasts from around the world. Oh, and then a "formal" and an "informal" ... toast (in English). These latter toasts are at least mildly colorful, but still ... toasts. And the revealer ... wow. Like most of this puzzle, it is out of the past (and not in the good, film noir way). I have no idea what "The Student Prince" is. None. Never seen the movie, wasn't alive during Prohibition to see the operetta. No idea. Didn't matter, as the answer was obvious, but how ridiculous to have a revealer that old and marginal, and on a Wednesday.


Speaking of old and marginal, let's move on to the other reason this puzzle is bad—the fill. I thought we'd finally gotten rid of much of this junk: KCAR? ROK? IDI? ARNE? *&$^ing ALER!? Gah, this is a mess. A mid-20th-century mess. A NEHRU jacket-era mess. Then there's the truly-bad-in-any-era EMAC (40A: Early 2000s Apple product) and SERIE (59A: Something to watch on la télé). Then there's merely bad ALTOS IMIT HOSP. Then there's the complete lack of anything interesting (besides maybe REDSHIRT) (35D: Hold aside for a year, as a college athlete). I mean, C'MON, man. Round these undead answers up and send them back to the tombs whence they came. In the end, the puzzle's only virtue was its short life span—I drove a stake through its heart in less-than-Tuesday time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Colonial-era headgear / TUE 7-18-17 / Cleverness thought of too late to use / Peter who wrote Serpico / Dressing up as fictional characters with others / Cartoon character who explores with Boots

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: ON THE UP AND UP (42A: Straight-shooting) — two other themers start with devices that can take you up (or down, actually, but whatever). So since there are two ... UP ... and UP:

Theme answers:
  • STAIRCASE WIT (17A: Cleverness thought of too late to use)
  • ESCALATOR CLAUSE (30A: Flexible contract provision) 
Word of the Day: SCRY (27D: Foretell the future by using a crystal ball) —
verb
verb: scry; 3rd person present: scries; past tense: scried; past participle: scried; gerund or present participle: scrying
  1. foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface.
[this clue really should say [*Pretend* to foretell the future etc.], come on ...] [also, what the hell is "other reflective object or surface"!?]
• • •

These are not the most familiar of themers. I knew one. My wife knew one. They were not the same ones, and the one I knew, I knew only in French—never heard STAIRCASE WIT, but I inferred it from "l'esprit de l'escalier." ESCALATOR CLAUSE baffled me. I had CLAUSE and ESC- and had to resort to crosses because ESCAPE wouldn't fill the space. I like the weird grid shape, and I actually kind of like the super-light theme (3 answers? 39 squares?), and the fact that they didn't even bother trying to give the revealer a dopey revealer clue. Simple. People can figure it out without your getting all corny with it. And yet I don't think I Like liked this puzzle. Any puzzle with REUNE(S) starts with two strikes against it, and ugh, SCRY and ATTA and AER and TNN ... so much MAASwordese, blargh. A puzzle with only three themers should have Much better fill than this. "Annie Hall," yes, ANTEHALL, no (31D: Entrance room where guests wait). So despite its quirky charms, I'm gonna say nay. Wait. Wait, no, I changed my mind—I thought it was a near-miss, but then I noticed that you can kinda sorta make a case that the grid has a kind of staircase/escalator shape (taken from SW corner to NE corner), and even if that is what we in the business call "reading too much into things," I don't care. I need Tuesday not to fail every week. So consider this the most marginal of positive reviews.


Aside from ESCALATOR, I didn't have much trouble here. Biggest issue by far (compounded by its adjacency to ESCALATOR) was with 26A: Place to find a pen and teller (BANK). I had the -NK and my eye got only as far as "pen" and I wrote in ... OINK. Now this "makes sense" insofar as a pig oinks and a pig lives in a pen. In all other ways, it makes no sense, particularly considering that OINK is not a "place," ugh. Otherwise, smooth sailing.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rod-shaped bacterium / MON 7-17-17 / Brand of sheepskin boots / Annoying feature of online stream

Monday, July 17, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: ODDS AND ENDS (55A: Miscellany ... or a description of the final words in 15-, 23-, 30-, 38- and 43-Across) — final words of themers are both odds (i.e. odd numbers) and ends (ends of their respective answers)

Theme answers:
  • AIR FORCE ONE (15A: President's plane)
  • STRIKE THREE (23A: Cry before "You're out!")
  • GIMME FIVE (30A: "Up top!")
  • GAME SEVEN (38A: Conclusion of a close World Series)
  • ON CLOUD NINE (43A: Ecstatic)
Word of the Day: SAO TOMÉ (39D: Príncipe's sister island) —

São Tomé and Príncipe (/ˌs təˈm ən ˈprɪnspə/ SOW-tə-MAY-ən PRIN-si-pə or /ˈprɪnsp/ PRIN-si-pay;[7] Portuguese: [sɐ̃w tuˈmɛ i ˈpɾĩsɨpɨ]), officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres (87 miles) apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres (155 and 140 miles), respectively, off the northwestern coast of Gabon. // The islands were uninhabited until their discovery by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Gradually colonized and settled by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, they collectively served as a vital commercial and trade center for the Atlantic slave trade. The rich volcanic soil and close proximity to the equator made São Tomé and Príncipe ideal for sugar cultivation, followed later by cash crops such as coffee and cocoa; the lucrative plantation economy was heavily dependent upon imported African slaves. Cycles of social unrest and economic instability throughout the 19th and 20th centuries culminated in peaceful independence in 1975. São Tomé and Príncipe has since remained one of Africa's most stable and democratic countries. // With a population of 192,993 (2013 Census), São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African country after Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. Its people are predominantly of African and mestiço descent, with most practising Roman Catholicism. The legacy of Portuguese rule is also visible in the country's culture, customs, and music, which fuse European and African influences.

 • • •

This is an exemplary little Monday. Full of mainstream, gettable, common answers. Not overly reliant on crosswordese or abbrs. or partials or other nonsense. And the theme—makes sense! The revealer reveals! Wordplay! Accurate wordplay! Hurrah. The numbers go in order, of course; I want to call that "elegant," but I think it's actually necessary ... although some variant with answers like "HEY NINETEEN" and "FRESHMAN FIFTEEN" (15!) could've been interesting. Anyway, this puzzle will not blow your mind, but it is a very fine example of what a Monday should be: easy, accessible, smooth, quirky, fun. Tom! Nice work, Tom.


I really gotta remember not to look at Twitter until I've finished the puzzle because even though people don't usually spoil it outright, I don't like seeing people's posted times. Gets in my head. Sets up expectations. Ruins the experience. This is a bit like how I feel about books I read or movies I see—the less I know going in, the happier I am. Clean slate! Anyway, I looked at Twitter and saw someone posted a personal record time, so I thought "crap, that means I'm gonna trip all over myself solving this thing." But I didn't. Solve felt choppy, for sure, but I came in a good 10-15 seconds under my Monday average (so ... in the low 2:40s). And that's despite confidently filling in a completely wrong second half of the answer at 29D: Means of tracking workers' hours. Went with TIME CLOCK, perhaps because they are a part of local business history here in Binghamton, NY: "1889: Harlow E. Bundy and Willard L. Bundy incorporate the Bundy Manufacturing Company in Binghamton, New York, the first time recording company in the world, to produce time clocks" (wikipedia). UNSNAG was the only iffy part of the puzzle for me (42D: Release from being caught on a nail, say), but I *guess* it's a word, so OK. Overall, a nice treat to tide us over until Wednesday (since Tuesday will inevitably be a disaster).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Five Norwegian kings / SUN 7-16-17 / Nighty-night wear / Bird bills / Actress Kazan / Word before Cong or Minh / Resident of Tatooine / Irish for "We Ourselves" / Hong Kong's Hang Index / Scott of "Joanie Loves Chachi"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels and Pete Muller

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: DRINKS ALL AROUND (29D: "It's on me!" ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — Drinks are "all around" in circled letters in almost-symmetrical places "all around" the grid. Starting at 12 o'clock and proceeding clockwise, we have six drinks on our menu:
  • BEER (what I'm drinking right now)
  • PINK LADY
  • COSMOPOLITAN (at 5 o'clock, which it is, somewhere)
  • WINE
  • TIA MARIA (I read this backwards at first, and was all, "What's a MAI TAI RA?")
  • DIRTY MARTINI
Our revealer crosses COCKTAIL LOUNGES (61A: Places to get looped).


Word of the Day: NED ROREM (82A: "Miss Julie" opera composer, 1965) —
Ned Rorem (born October 23, 1923) is an American composer and diarist. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976. He received his early education in Chicago at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the American Conservatory of Music and then Northwestern University. Later, Rorem moved on to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and finally the Juilliard School in New York City. Rorem was raised as a Quaker and makes reference to this in interviews in relation to his piece based on Quaker texts, A Quaker Reader. In 1966 he published The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem, which, with his later diaries, has brought him some notoriety, as he is honest about his and others' sexuality, describing his relationships with Leonard Bernstein, Noël Coward, Samuel Barber, and Virgil Thomson, and outing several others (Aldrich and Wotherspoon, eds., 2001). Rorem has written extensively about music as well. These essays are collected in anthologies such as Setting the Tone, Music from the Inside Out, and Music and People. His prose is much admired, not least for its barbed observations about such prominent musicians as Pierre Boulez. Rorem has composed in a chromatic tonal idiom throughout his career, and he is not hesitant to attack the orthodoxies of the avant-garde. (Wikipedia)
• • •
If the spirit moves you
Let me groove you

Laura here, toasting Rex with a BEER as he takes a break. We've seen more than a few alcohol-themed puzzles over the years -- heck, there's a whole book of them -- but here's a new twist (Charles Dickens walks into a bar. "I'll have a dry martini." Bartender: "Olive or twist?"). Nice double-revealer crossing in the center; fun finding the embedded drinks all around the grid. I would've liked slightly more consistency in the themers -- we have the generic categories BEER and WINE but then cocktails like DRY MARTINI, PINK LADY, and COSMOPOLITAN, and a liqueur: TIA MARIA. The challenge, I can imagine, was to find symmetrical alcohol varieties that would then fit all-roundly all around the grid. While I toast the constructors' ambition, their grid suffered in terms of fill that would accommodate the theme. ERNA (111A: Met soprano Berger), ERLE (20A: First name in courtroom fiction), ELSA (110A: Captain von Trapp's betrothed [which reminds me of this McSweeney's classic]), ORLE (53D: Shield border), and ERTE (101A: Artist who designed costumes for "Ben-Hur") are all handy combos of letters that have vowels on the ends and consonants in the middle. Cheers: new take on old theme; jeers: tired fill to get the new take to take.

As one of the 44D: Boomers' offspring (GENX), I appreciate a grid that contains both Joanie Loves Chachi (34D: BAIO [Scott of [the aforementioned] [who was a total asshole regarding costar Erin Moran's death earlier this year]) and FONZ[ie] (57D: 1970s TV cool dude, with "the").

"Sit on it!"
With Andrea's collaboration today, and -- since I last guest-posted -- puzzles by Susan Gelfand, Lynn Lempel, Zhouqin Burnikel, Ruth Margolin, and collaborations from Elayne Boosler and my college classmate Lisa Loeb, we are now up to 14% women constructors so far this year: 28 out of 169. 2017 is still tracking to be the worst year on record for women constructors at the New York Times. I encourage all aspiring constructors to take a look at Andy Kravis's new project, Grid Wars -- he has some excellent tips.

Bullets:
  • SENG (12D: Hong Kong's Hang ___ Index) — An alternative to NYSE as a stock index in the fill.
  • DRAKE (30A: Male duck) — Could've clued as "'Hotline Bling' artist who got his start on 'Degrassi: The Next Generation'." 
  • NOME (43D: Gold rush city of 1899) — I had gotten this through crosses, and then going back and looking at the grid, at first I thought it was something like: Response to "Me!": "NO, ME!"
  • DRAPE (106A: Hang) — How about, instead: "Clothing material source for 110A's rival"?
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Video game character rescued by Link / SAT 7-15-17 / Incredible in modern slang / Watt per ampere squared / Traditional rite of passage among Masai / Capital whose name means city inside rivers

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Constructor: Zachary Spitz

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Jack OAKIE (29D: Oscar nominee for "The Great Dictator") —
Jack Oakie (November 12, 1903 – January 23, 1978) was an American actor, starring mostly in films, but also working on stage, radio and television. He is best remembered for portraying Napaloni in Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (wikipedia)
• • •

Gonna pass on this one because of the stupid *&$^ing frat-boy (SIGMA CHI?) juxtaposition of BALLS and DICK at the top of the grid. Did he have a bet with his friends as to how much sexual material and innuendo he could cram in here. ARSE and SEX and KNELT and BLEW (!) and, I don't know, MELON? Ugh. SO BAD. Actually, more SAD than bad. The actual grid, overall, is pretty well made. But it's just a tiresomely Dude puzzle anyway, even without the cheap tittering. I mean, the only women in the puzzle look like this:



Oh, and this:


And then Michelle WIE, who is here because her name is convenient (24D: 2014 U.S. Women's Open champion). Even EVA manages to not be a woman, Somehow (5D: Spacewalk, for short). Oh, whoops. Almost forgot about TRACI Lords. OK ... so, she's a legit actress with a long resumé, but given this puzzle's ... let's say, prurience ... I'm guessing it's most interested in her early career (full disclosure: I own her album "1000 Fires"; it's pretty good).



I have seen AMAZEBALLS in a puzzle before, so this felt old, even though it is (apparently) new to the NYT (not saying much) (1A: Incredible, in modern slang). The only answer I really like here is TWEETSTORM (62A: Digital barrage). Marginal foodstuff names (DATE SUGAR? ROCK MELON?) are not my idea of a good time. ATTU and CKS are really really not my idea of a good time. PLUTOMANIA is super made-up, and also sounds like some kind of Disney fetish (57A: Excessive desire for wealth), which is SAD, as that corner is nice otherwise. OK, I'm done with this one. I miss Patrick Berry's Friday puzzle. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS one of my Twitter followers just floated the theory that the puzzle was actually giant subtweet of the president*.  SAD and TAX EVASION etc. I think if you look *exclusively* at the SE corner, you can make that case. Otherwise, I dunno...

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Beach grass that prevents erosion / FRI 7-14-17 / Onetime owner of Skype / Short-legged item of furniture / Playwright who wrote Hell is full of musical amateurs

Friday, July 14, 2017

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SEA OATS (13D: Beach grass that prevents erosion) —
Uniola paniculata or sea oats, also known as seaside oats, araña, and arroz de costa, is a tall subtropical grass that is an important component of coastal sand dune and beach plant communities in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. Its large seed heads that turn golden brown in late summer give the plant its common name. Its tall leaves trap wind-blown sand and promote sand dune growth, while its deep roots and extensive rhizomes act to stabilize them, so the plant helps protect beaches and property from damage due to high winds, storm surges and tides. It also provides food and habitat for birds, small animals and insects. (wikipedia)
• • •

The one downside of being a constructor as immensely talented as Patrick Berry is that, well, when you lay down a SEA OATS people can *really* see, touch, taste, and feel the SEA OATS. The only place where I struggled even in the slightest was in and around and all over the SEA OATS, so my brain now believes this to be "the SEA OATS puzzle" even though SEA OATS is only one moderately-sized, literally marginal answer. Everything else about this grid is so smooth, so unforced, so well known, generally, that something pulled deep from the bottom of the fauna well really, really stands out. But focusing on that one answer is ridiculously unfair, not just because (as I said) it's all alone in its strangeness, but because despite its strangeness, it's actually a real thing. The clue wasn't bad, the answer wasn't some implausible phrase or super-olde-timey character actor's name. It's just a word I didn't know, which is fine. It will be the answer (I bet) that is the most unfamiliar to solvers. But so what? It Was Crossed Fairly. Rare and fairly crossed is all I ask my "???" fill to be.


Another reason I don't remember the non-SEA OATS part of this puzzle very well is that I finished it in 4:24. And at 5am?! It's dark and raining out, and both wife and daughter are out of town. Perhaps I have discovered my optimal solving conditions: darkness and utter solitude. Sadly, those conditions would probably be highly sub-optimal for my non-solving life, so I'll just enjoy this little solving success while I have it. I guessed SCRAP right away (1D: Throw away), confirmed it with PIPES (22A: Singing ability, informally), and I was off. Had STATE, threw down BANKS, and then "confirmed" it with ... BALKED (27A: Made objections). Oh well, can't expect all your first guesses to be good ones. Luckily SILVER LININGS went down supereasy, and I could sneak into the SW from down under. Swept back up and solved on a SW-to-NE diagonal, going through that center stack faster than I've ever gone through any largish stack in my life. Only resistance was back end of HARBOR MASTERS, and all I needed was a few crosses to pick that up. Lucky to remember DOANS pills (from '80s TV ads, I think). Despite ON FILM before ON TAPE (and the aforementioned oceanside disaster that was SEA OATS), the NE succumbed pretty easily. That left the SE, where the horrible clue on NHL (47A: Montreal is part of it: Abbr.) stalled me a bit, but not much. Once I got SWORE and SHAW in there, the corner fell quickly.


Back to that NHL clue. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens are in the NHL, but you would never, ever, ever have the following clue: [Los Angeles is part of it: Abbr.] for NHL. Or for NBA or MLB, for that matter. It's a major metro area; presumably it's a part of Lots of things. Come on. Anyway, this is a very impressive grid, even if no one answer really stands out. My favorite thing about it was crushing it. I'll take a smooth, clean, largely uneventful Berry puzzle any day (but especially Friday). The only (tiny) flaw, from a structural standpoint, is how much the grid relies on plurals. ALL the long central answers (Across and Down) are plurals, as are several more 8+ answers. Plurals are real words, so there's no real harm done. They're a useful constructing crutch, but it's odd to see So Many of them here. I doubt anyone but me noticed, though. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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