Believer in Ethiopian Zion / THU 4-27 / First commercial film with stereophonic sound 1940 / Afghanistan's third largest city / Longtime New Yorker writer Pauline / Long-running tv drama started in 2003

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Constructor: Todd Gross

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: SUDOKU PUZZLE (8A: With 67-Across, what the circled part of this crossword represents) — the CENTRAL / SQUARES (1A: With 68-Across, the circled part of this crossword) form a sudoku-type puzzle, with the letters R, A, T, and E instead of numbers.

Word of the Day: Cinnabar (27D: Cinnabar, e.g. => RED) —
noun
noun: cinnabar
  1. a bright red mineral consisting of mercury sulfide. It is the only important ore of mercury and is sometimes used as a pigment. [emph. mine]
    • the bright red color of this; vermilion.

      "the blood coagulated in cinnabar threads"
• • •
"I HATE YOU, PUZZLE!" Actually, I have no such strong feelings today, but I do like that little embedded scream there in the SW corner. I have no interest in SUDOKU. Don't get it. Also, don't like the perpetuation of the idea that anyone who's into crosswords must be into SUDOKU. Like we're just pleased to be filling in boxes. SUDOKU is pure logic. The same kind of logic. Over and over and over, with no connection to culture, humanity, etc. No thanks. You guys have fun, but no. Anyway, this puzzle is what it is. Conceptually, I guess it works, but there's one thing I sincerely don't understand: what is CENTRAL / SQUARES doing in this puzzle? Like, at all. That is a whole lot of theme real estate given over to words that are completely redundant and (thus) unnecessary. I can see that the squares are central, in that ... they are circled. There. In the center. The SUDOKU / PUZZLE part tells me to look at those manifestly "central" squares, and tells me what they are. I really thought CENTRAL would tell me about the puzzle somehow. I see that the four letters are all inside the word "CENTRAL," but ... nope, I don't see a pun or trick or anything (unless... that *is* the trick?). The letters in the Sudoku grid are R A T and E. I don't know why (except those are handy letters to use if you're going to run a bunch of answers together). I do know that CENTRAL / SQUARES is not needed here, at all.


This grid was a kind of crosswordese showcase. I mean, any time you can see EIRE *and* ERSE in the same grid, that's a museum-piece puzzle you've got on your hands. Here were some lowlights:


"BACK AT YA" would make great fill. "AT YA" on its own, nope. "NUM" ugh—that bit of garbage actually ended up affecting my solve, as I went for CAP Lock (crossing PTL!?) instead of NUM / MTM, and that made the whole NE kinda hard to get into. PSSST is ridiculous, of course, unless you would also accept PSSSST, PSSSSSST, and NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Speaking of no, ONO. Hawaiian fish? Nice try. All you did was make me have to work (albeit slightly) to get the same old musician / performance artist we always see in the grid. Fun fact: the fish in question is known generally as "wahoo" (WHEE!). "Many Hispanic areas of the Caribbean and Central America refer to this fish as peto." So ... look for PETO in your grid next, I guess.

Bullets:
  • 27D: Cinnabar, e.g. (RED) — total road block, this one. Had no idea what "Cinnabar" was. Could think only of Cinnabun and Edna Ferber's "Cimmaron." Even with RE- in place, I had to get that last letter from the cross. 
  • 11D: Numerical prefix (OCTO-) — oy, not only is this bad fill, the clue doesn't even bother trying. It just sits there sullenly going "I don't know ... just guess ... not my problem ..."
  • 52A: "Inner-city" for "black," to some people (CODE) — hey now! What's this? Hello. Looks like the puzzle woke up and found some attitude. More of this insightful sass, please. (I think "urban" is the more common CODE now, but I'll accept "Inner-city" on Marvin's behalf)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Grenache for one / WED 4-26-17 / Hostility in British slang / Cuneiform discovery site / Extinct relative of kiwi / Second-largest Arabic speaking city after Cairo / Degree of expertise in martial arts / Fifth-century invaders of England / US president who becomes president of future earth on Futurama / SIster chain of Marshalls / Candy often used in science fair volcanoes

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: DOS EQUIS (64A: Beer brand whose logo hints at the answers to 17-, 19-, 38-, 43- and 61-Across) — all those answers have a double "X" in them:

Theme answers:
  • REDD FOXX (17A: "Sanford and Son" star of 1970s TV)
  • NEXXUS (19A: High-end shampoo brand)
  • ANTIVAXXER (38A: Shot blocker?)
  • EXXON MOBIL (43A: BP rival)
  • TJ MAXX (61A: Sister chain of Marshalls)
Word of the Day: VINROSE (42A: Grenache, for one) —
Huh, not a word. Turns out it's two words. Two French words: VIN ROSÉ, i.e. Rosé wine. Wow. OK.
• • •

This is a nice theme. Shoulda been Tuesday—it's more a Tuesday type, more a Tuesday difficulty level, but nice, simple, interesting, with original and unusual themers. Very pleasant. I don't know what NEXXUS is. Is that something available in salons only? It rings the vaguest of bells, but I definitely had to go to the crosses to get that one in there. The others Xers were all very familiar. I particularly like ANTI-VAXXER (as a word, not as a concept or a delusional human). I want to call a massive foul on VIN ROSÉ, though, and not just because the clue [Grenache] was meaningless to me, and not just because when I finally filled it in (entirely from crosses) I had no idea what I was looking at. I didn't know NEXXUS, you'll note, and I ain't mad at NEXXUS. But VIN ROSÉ. I have never seen the phrase. I drink wine not infrequently—I mean, I'm no OENO-phile, but I drink—and while I've heard of rosé (never drink it, but heard of it), the French phrase? No. Do people use it. We say white wine, red wine, rosé. There are French words for wine types, but for just the general category of wine. "Here, try this vin rouge?" No. And if we don't use it in English, why is it here? It's pretty long for a foreign word. If "in France" had been in the clue, maybe. But it's absurd to think that a wine *type*'s being in French is going to tip you to the answer's being in French. For example, [Chenin blanc, e.g.] is a perfectly good clue for WHITE WINE, despite the clue words being French. I would never look at that clue and think, "well, the answer must be French." And yet this stupid Grenache (?!) clue. Oy.


Here are my trouble spots for the day:


The real fly in the ointment, strangely, was SAY NO (21A: Put one's foot down). Metaphors! I had the "S" and blithely wrote in STOMP. That gave me an answer at 22D: Making it big that started TR- (totally plausible), so I never questioned it (until I did). The one other place in the grid I hesitated was at AP---- (31D: Culmination of a challenging H.S. course). We call them AP TESTS. I have a human in my house who is taking two next month. AP EXAMS is probably the official term, and I don't think it's incorrect, I just know people say TEST much more often. OK, done, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1980s Pakistani president / TUE 4-25-17 / Wind tile in mah-jongg / WW II era British gun

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Constructor: Gary J. Whitehead

Relative difficulty: Probably normal ... don't know. I stopped to take a screenshot mid-solve, so my time tells me nothing ...


THEME: HOME (71A: There's no place like it ... or a word that can precede either half of the answer to each starred clue) — just what it says...

Theme answers:
  • BODYGUARD (17A: *V.I.P.'s security agent)
  • GAMEBOY (22A: *Nintendo hand-held)
  • COMPUTER PORT (27A: *Place to plug in a USB cable)— ouch. I think the answer you're looking for here is "USB PORT"
  • MOVIE THEATER (48A: *Multiplex, e.g.
  • ICELAND (56A: *NATO's smallest member, populationwise) — I had IRELAND briefly :(
  • FRONT PAGE (63A: *Where a newspaper's biggest stories go)
Word of the Day: ZIA (41D: 1980s Pakistani president) —
Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (Urdu: محمد ضياء الحق‎; 12 August 1924 – 17 August 1988) was a four-star rank general who served as the 6th President of Pakistan from 1978 until his death in 1988, after declaring martial law in 1977. He was Pakistan's longest-serving head of state. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is the second time in recent memory where I would've stopped solving if I hadn't had to write about the puzzle. And in this case, I would've stopped almost immediately. Wrote in 1A: IRAQ, then went straight to "Q" for the cross ... QTY? First thought: "Dude, that "Q" was not worth it." Went on to next answer: 14A: Suffix with refresh or replace. And right there, I was out. Done. I'm three answers in and the fill is already a war crime.


This is a small corner. There is noooooo reason for -MENT to be in your small corner unless your small corner is Very compromised by the theme *or* you don't know what you're doing. You can look at that corner and see that it didn't get better. REORG URI and EGESTS? Disaster. By the time I made my way to the center, with its improbable (and ultimately self-referential) ZZZ string, I figured the theme was some weird thing with "Q"s and "Z"s because why else would they be in this grid when the fill is so terrible. There must be a reason .... there was no reason. The theme type was one of the oldest in the book, one that provides all the pleasure of re-reading the theme answers while inserting "HOME" before each part. Which is to say, no pleasure whatsoever. On the day that the NYT takes it mini puzzle into the land of Snapchat (something called Snapchat Discover), it continues to take its *real* puzzle into the grave and heap dirt upon it. We're in an astonishing run of non-inventive puzzles, non-current, running-on-fumes-of-the-1990s puzzles. But hey, you can get the mini crossword in Snapchat now, so everything's fine, I guess.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I love this article about the NYT's move into Snapchat Discover because it contains this sentence: "It even includes a mini-crossword puzzle for its younger readers."

P.P.S. the Philadelphia Inquirer has changed its crossword to the "Universal Crossword," which would not be notable at all except that Universal = notorious crossword plagiarist, whom you may remember from this story at fivethirtyeight.com last year. He's still widely syndicated. Even merriam-webster runs his puzzle (on their website, I just found out). There's no law against his continuing to be published, just as there's no law against my occasionally reminding you that "unrepentant crossword plagiarist" is a concept that exists in the world. (Thanks to Evan Birnholz for calling this to my attention)


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Notes of chord played in rapid succession / MON 4-24-17 / Marksman with M40 / Obstacle for drone / Napped leather

Monday, April 24, 2017

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. normal Monday)


THEME: idioms involving food  ... or, I guess, idioms that use food metaphorically(?)

Theme answers:
  • WORD SALAD (17A: Gobbledygook)
  • NOTHING BURGER (30A: Big fat zero)
  • COUCH POTATOES (47A: Habitual tube watchers)
  • HUMBLE PIE (63A: What a shamed person has to "eat")
Word of the Day: PEGASUS (9D: Flying horse of Greek myth) —

Definition of Pegasus

  1. 1 :  a winged horse that causes the stream Hippocrene to spring from Mount Helicon with a blow of his hoof
  2. 2 archaic :  poetic inspiration
  3. 3 :  a northern constellation near the vernal equinoctial point (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Forgot this as soon as I solved it. The answers don't cohere very well at all. Three are prepared items, clearly meant to be eaten (salad, burger, pie), but potatoes ... in COUCH POTATOES, I don't think of food *at all*. With all the others, you have to. You literally figuratively eat HUMBLE PIE. And, as I said, the others are specifically food items. I think of a raw potato when I think of COUCH POTATOES. They're not COUCH HASH BROWNS. I don't care if you think I'm being overly picky here—this is a glaring inconsistency. BAD APPLE (e.g.) would be slightly better because at least I can eat a *raw* apple. Moreover, NOTHING BURGER is a phrase I've barely ever heard, and it's just unpalatable to look at. Aesthetically garbage. WORD SALAD is a little more common, and the others are super-familiar. This one just feels conceptually weak and loose. And there's nothing in the fill to redeem it. Forgettable placeholder.

["FADING Fast"]

Not much resistance today, because it's Monday, and that's how Mondays are. What little struggle I had involved not so much answers as single letters. Only *answer* I had trouble with was 10D: "Save me a ___!" ("SEAT"). I often fail at partials, my mind somehow working differently and more strangely than others' when it comes to fill in the blank. I'd've made a *terrible* Password contestant: Partner: "Black .... ___" Me: "... Death?" All my brain wanted was "Save me a SLICE [or PIECE]." I like pie. And cake. Beyond that, I couldn't even be bothered to read the whole clue at 2D: Time in Manhattan when it's ... see I can't even be bothered to type the whole thing, and then do the time zone math, ugh. No thanks. So I had TWO-M and went to the cross. Had GST instead of GMT (27A: Clock-setting std.), until I realized there's probably no such thing as a SENS department (28D: Store department selling suits and ties). FBI is obviously G-MAN, but I still left the "G" blank and checked the cross for a possible "T" (58D: F.B.I. worker, informally). And then there's the worst square of all, the square in the dead center of the puzzle, the square that asks me, you, every last one of us to believe that PANSY is a "girl's" name. What a *&$^ing abomination of a clue. Nobody is named PANSY. Women (*women*) are sometimes named PATSY. So today, I am declaring ENDTOTE a perfectly fine answer for 26D: Bit of appended text. No one should be forced to write in PANSY. What a godawful, totally unnecessary cluing move. It's a flower. Go with flower. It's fine as a flower. Who the hell is named PANSY!?  That clue is just crazy.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dallas actress J Wilson / SUN 4-23-17 / parvis magna greatness from small beginnings / Sister of Helios Selene / Record label that looks like the name of radio station / Tough draws in bananagrams / Summer piazza treat / One-named singer with #1 hit cheap thrills / Beverage sponsor of old Little Orphan Annie radio show / Occurrences in 30s say

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

Relative difficulty: Easy

the phrase: QUEEN OF JAZZ

[With apologies for my image-editing skills, which are lacking]

THEME: "A Century of Song" — tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (LADY ELLA) on (a day that is close to) the 100th anniversary of her birth (68A: With 70-Across, nickname for a celebrated performer born on April 25, 1917):

Theme answers:
  • 21A: 1938 #1 hit for 68-/70-Across, which was inspired by a nursery rhyme ("A TISKET A TASKET")
  • 15D: Repeated collaborator with 68-/70-Across (LOUIS ARMSTRONG)
  • 47D: Signature tune of 68-/70-Across ("HOW HIGH THE MOON")
  • 119A: Notable quote by 68-/70-Across ("I SING LIKE I FEEL")  
Word of the Day: SHEREE J. Wilson (19A: "Dallas" actress ___ J. Wilson) —
Sheree Julienne Wilson (born on December 12, 1958[1]) is an American actress, producer, businesswoman, and model. She is best known for her roles as April Stevens Ewing on the American prime-time television series Dallas (1986-1991) and as Alex Cahill-Walker on the television series Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001). (wikipedia)
• • •

Tribute puzzles are almost always underwhelming. The typical move is to fill the grid w/ symmetrical trivia. That's basically what this puzzle does. A thoughtful move is to add some twist or gimmick or *something* that elevates the puzzle above mere symmetrical trivia. This puzzle does that too. I am on record (multiple times) as not particularly caring for the "once you've finished, draw on it!" type of gimmick. If the gimmick doesn't relate to the actual solving experience, then it's not much use to me. Interesting, curious, but not compelling the way a more integral theme concept is. So this one is trivia plus ... children's placemat art. The fill holds up OK but doesn't do much more than just sit there. This is all to say that this is a very very average tribute puzzle. It's serviceable, but it doesn't shine. And yet, two things. One, Ella is Ella, and always a joy to remember. One and a half, Ella is my daughter's name, so bonus points there. And two, that crown thing is actually kind of hard to pull off. It seems like it should be easy, what w/ just a smattering of letters here and there, but filling the grid around letter strings that change elevation is surprisingly hard. I have a puzzle in the works with theme answers that run exclusively on diagonals and Dear Lord it's gonna be the death of me. Essentially, you add a full answer's worth of letters (QUEEN OF JAZZ), but you don't actually lock down *any* answers, while compromising / restricting nearly all of them (at least in the upper-center of the grid). E.g. "Q" has to be a certain place—that's two answers compromised (Across and Down). Repeat that for every letter in QUEEN OF JAZZ. Trust me, it's a choke collar. So pulling it off without egregiously painful fill is a nice little feat.


Delete SHEREE from your wordlists. Please. I beg you. You're using it only as a crutch. Delete delete delete. Also, if an answer causes you pain to look at, causes you to make a face, causes you to have to ask whether it should be allowed to fly, for god's sake, no no no. I'm speaking of course of ENNUIS (23A: Listless feelings). What's the plural of ENNUI? Stop it—that's the plural of ENNUI. Those are my only real gripes today, fill-wise. Nothing much to call attention to outside the theme answers, though I like the MAMMA'S GORILLAS stack, if only because it's a good sitcom premise. There were almost no tough parts today, beyond SHEREE. I misremembered the song as "TOO HIGH THE MOON" (?). I had GRAY as GRIM (71A: Dreary), and NIÑO as NENE (56A: Piñata smasher, maybe). The Z-TILES / ZLOTY cross seemed a little cruel, considering that "Z" is not at all solidly inferrable in the Down, and ZLOTY ... well, you should know it's a currency, but I could see someone's guessing something else (VLOTY?). In the end, the QUEEN OF JAZZ thing gives you yet another way to get it, so no foul. Z-TILES just seems a cheap way to get a "Z."


ACETAL (96D: Perfumer's liquid) ... nope, not known to me. ACETYL? ACETATE? ACETONE? Those are all things, right? I just can't keep up. At least I knew enough to guess TAOIST and not MAOIST at 118A: Lao-tzu follower. When I see "name on a blimp" I think Goodyear and literally nothing else, so FUJI was a surprise (38D: Name on a blimp). My favorite moment of the puzzle (by far) (excluding humming "A TISKET A TASKET" to myself) was when I totally utterly and epically misread the clue at 97D: Summer piazza treat (GELATO). Me: "Summer pizza threat!? Uh ... Ants? How the hell should I know?"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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2002 documentary with don't try this at home contents / SAT 4-22-17 / Hit 1959 Broadway play starring Sidney Poitier / Singer with recurring role in General Hospital / Historic conflict in around yellow sea / logo based on Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign / Achivements in large scale topiary

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Constructor: Adam Fromm

Relative difficulty: Very easy (faster than yesterday's, close to a Saturday record)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ILEA (5D: Guts, in part) —
noun
Anatomy
noun: ileum; plural noun: ilea
  1. the third portion of the small intestine, between the jejunum and the cecum. (google)
• • •

I think I went sub-5 minutes once on a Saturday. I might've dreamt it, but it really feels like it happened. Anyway, today was 5:20, and I am very methodical and non-racey on Fri and Sat, so, yeah, this one was off-the-charts easy. Just giving away answers like they were party favors. Threw "JACKASS: THE MOVIE" across with just a few letters up front. Threw RICK SPRINGFIELD down with just a few letters up front. Started with a 1-Across gimme (1-Across is often a harbinger ...). Giving me Scottish island clues right out the gate is the equivalent of leaving your mediocre fastball out over the plate. I will crush it. I hit this one 456 ft. The exit velocity was 115.7 mph. I have been watching a lot of baseball.


AXILLA, ELLIE, SAYER—all gimmes. "ROXANNE"? Silver-platter, room-service gimme. I even got "A RAISIN IN THE SUN" from just the last four letters, and that was *with* a wrong letter in place (I thought they were YERTS—you know, like for TERT...leS?). It was like the puzzle wouldn't allow me any space to screw up. I did have a moment of blanking when I had the ends of *all* the long Acrosses in the SE corner, but couldn't figure out any of them. I don't know why "Jezebel" is in quotation marks in 58A: "Jezebel" costume (RED DRESS). Is that a ... show? Movie? Musical? Huh. A 1938 Bette Davis movie. And people know that? I watch TCM religiously—guess I just haven't gotten to that one yet. Anyway, "A RAISIN IN THE SUN" helped me nail down the SE. No other problems. I had some trouble making sense of 20D: Any I, e.g.: Abbr. (HWY), but crosses helped me out. I liked this puzzle fine, but a Saturday's gotta put up more fight. I had more trouble with yesterday's Easyish Friday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Add british style / FRI 4-21-17 / Jazz on sports tickers / Thin layer of foam at top of espresso / Shark-jumping sitcom character / Alternative nickname for Liz / Iconic part of Nancy Sinatra's early attire / toon who wears red hair bow

Friday, April 21, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TOTAL BASES (29D: A batter receives four for a grand slam) —
In baseball statistics, total bases (TBs) is the number of bases a player has gained with hits. It is a weighted sum for which the weight value is 1 for a single, 2 for a double, 3 for a triple and 4 for a home run. Only bases attained from hits count toward this total. Reaching base by other means (such as a base on balls) or advancing further after the hit (such as when a subsequent batter gets a hit) does not increase the player's total bases. // The total bases divided by the number of at bats is the player's slugging average. // Hank Aaron is the career leader in total bases with 6,856. Stan Musial (6,134) and Willie Mays (6,066) are the only other players with at least 6,000 career total bases. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one played pretty easy; except for one failed initial [Foray] into the INROAD section of the grid, I moved through this one without much hesitation. Grid is mostly sparkly, with a ton of mid-range to long answers of good to great quality. Things get a little rough, fill-wise, in the (surprise) aforementioned INROAD section of the puzzle, and the S/SW in general, but that assortment of cruddy short stuff down there does very little to affect the overall quality of the fill. Cluing felt *on* today. Low on "?" clues, high on squint / tilt head / ponder-the-multiple-possible-meanings clues. [Get down, in a way] for LIE, [Bull, essentially] for OPTIMIST, [Kennedy colleague] for ALITO—all clever misdirects. Got initial propulsion from CREMA (14A: Thin layer of foam at the top of an espresso)—my dad is verrrrrry precise in his espresso-making, as are the folks at my local cafe / roasteria, so CREMA is a phenomenon I know well. That answer gave me enough momentum to get most of the way through the first half of the grid. And then THE FONZ took it from there (30D: Shark-jumping sitcom character), hurtling me down into the bottom of the grid, and then, via the precious "Z," over into that pesky SW corner. Those two key gimmes were all I needed.


[Classified] for PEGGED was just hard. Accurate enough, but yikes. And I had PURSUE for 46D: Hound at first, so you can see why the SW was the roughest area for me. I don't really like the French answer at 61A: Café freebie (EAU). Cheap cluing move. Yes, "café" is a French word, but it's also an English one (was the accent supposed to indicate something to me?—it didn't). Also, I wanted DDE at 64A: Pres. whose given birth name was David but didn't write it in because I knew one of those "D"s *stood* for "David," and, well, the clue can't refer to an initial via the name it stands for ... :( ... but apparently it can. So the SW corner strikes yet again. "I'M BAD"!—yes you are, SW corner. Yes you are. I had ACES for 54D: Super (A-ONE) but beyond that no other significant missteps (that I haven't already mentioned). The GRAMMAR NAZI clue is cute (53A: Type for who this clue will be annoying?), though I'm honestly never that thrilled to see NAZI in my puzzle, in any context. Not nearly bygone enough for my taste.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Why Japanese tipplers anticipate afterlife / THU 4-20-17 / Designation for UK vessels / 1952 Bernard Malamud novel / Organic jewelry material

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: Eh? — familiar phrases are clued as if one of their silent Es were accented; enter wackiness.

Theme answers:
  • FOR HEAVEN'S SAKÉ (20A: Why Japanese tipplers anticipate the afterlife?) (I woulda said "look forward to" rather than the blander / less enthusiastic "anticipate"; they're tipplers, for pete's saké!)
  • WHACK-A-MOLÉ (31A: Pound on some Mexican food?)
  • LAMÉ EXCUSE (39A: "I didn't know you disliked shiny fabrics!," e.g.?)
  • RUN FOR THE ROSÉS (48A: Quick trip to pick up white zinfandel and blush?)
Word of the Day: TOPE (25D: Emulate a 2-Down (WINO)) —
verb
archaicliterary
verb: tope; 3rd person present: topes; past tense: toped; past participle: toped; gerund or present participle: toping
  1. drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis. (google)
• • •

This mild-chuckle concept, like much recent NYT fare, feels dated, but honestly today it feels dated in a comfy sweater kind of way. It's a consistent, cute, well-made puzzle, with fill that skews old (i.e. familiar / slightly crosswordesey) but not painful. Solving this thing was a completely pleasant experience. Wait, there is one inconsistency, which is that the altered word is the last word in all the themers ... but one. That's a bit wonky. Not uncoincidentally, that is the one themer I had trouble with, the one that I flubbed at first. I had the last two letters (-SE) and once I dropped the "X" from LEX (33D: Law of ancient times), I took one look at 39A: "I didn't know you disliked shiny fabrics!," e.g.? and -----X--SE and (with the theme already known to me), confidently made that last word EXPOSÉ. I like the idea that some investigative reporter has figured out that you dislike shiny fabrics and is going to tell the world about it. Aha! Gotcha! EXPOSÉ would've made the theme execution thematically consistent. Coulda used OVEREXPOSE as the base answer and clued OVER EXPOSÉ ... some type of way, I don't know. [Having moved on from embarrassing press coverage?]. Something like that. But instead it's LAMÉ in the *first*-word position. Shrug. OK. Not a big deal.


Here are a few assorted thoughts I had while taking my leisurely springtime stroll through this grid:

Assorted thoughts:
  • 7D: Certain trank (LUDE) — this took me multiple passes, mostly because I just kept wondering what kind of word "trank" was. Sincerely thought it was a clothing portmanteau (trousers + tanktop?)
  • 1A: Departed (AWAY) — LEFT. Later, DEAD.
  • 11D: Went to night school (TOOK A CLASS) — This is green paint. This is "EAT A SANDWICH." This isn't great.
  • 42D: Reach by air (LAND AT) — needed every cross. Just didn't compute.
  • 60A: Antihero of "A Clockwork Orange" (ALEX) — because it's a crossword, I flubbed the spelling (ALEC).  
  • 61A: Influence for Enya, historically (CELT) — wait, so there's just this one CELT who influenced her? Like, just this one guy named Angus who's like "You should really make some ethereal New Age music, lass"?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Early capital of Alaska / WED 4-19-17 / 1917 dethronee / Salutation among Winnie Pooh friends / Log painted deceptively to look like cannon / Fly spurn thee Shelley

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Constructor: Emanuel Ax and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: NOTE (52D: Word that can follow the ends of 20- and 54-Across and 4- And 26-Down) — also, the black squares make a kind of note symbol in the middle of the grid

Theme answers:
  • MONSTER MASH (20A: Classic song with the lyric "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?")
  • SAWED IN HALF (54A: Like some magicians' assistants, apparently)
  • RUNNER'S HIGH (26D: Exercise-induced euphoria)
  • WHISKEY SOUR (4D: Drink often garnished with a cherry) 
Word of the Day: VICUÑA (42A: Andean animal with expensive wool)
The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) or vicugna (both /vɪˈknjə/) is one of two wild South American camelids which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, the other being the guanaco. It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years, and has to be caught from the wild. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's wool is very soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments; today the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears in the Peruvian coat of arms. (wikipedia)
• • •

A strange and rough enterprise. Strange because the theme is so rudimentary ("word that can follow" with a mere one-word revealer) I didn't know this theme type was even accepted any more. Usually you gotta do something extra to make a "word that can follow" theme fly in the NYT these days. Maybe the picture of the "note" in the middle of the grid was considered that something "extra." Since it relates not at all to the solving experience, it doesn't seem enough for me (though putting the "note" there is a nice little bit of superficial flare). Also strange—there's hardly anything musical about the puzzle. I  expected more. PLAY AREA gets a jokey piano clue (32A: What the keys are to a pianist?), but there's not much else. Then there's the strange grid—caused by the "note" structure—which is not-at-all-symmetrical (not a fault, just a feature).

["classic" ... but completely unknown to me]

But then there's the rough: namely, the frame of reference (way way before and to the side of my time—too bad for me) and the truly wincey fill, especially in what we'll call the "compromised corners" (NW, SE). Why "compromised"? Well, take out everything but the themers and you'll see. You've got tight corners that come pre-packed with theme material in the Across *and* Down. This is what can happen when you try to get slick and cross your themers. So the NW is a disaster. Like, a throw-it-out, no-way, not-gonna-submit-this disaster. "A CENT" (?) x/w "ERE I" (!?!?) is an automatic DQ, sorry, thanks for playing. I can handle a French king and a bygone Alaskan capital, but not not not when they're (monster) mashed together with ACENT and EREI. The SE is less bad (it would almost have to be) but still rough, with yet Another partial (A FATE—at least that one was easily gettable) and the partial N.CAR. and the semi-ridiculous HALLO. If either the theme or the fill in other places had been stronger, the corners wouldn't have stood out so badly.

["... HALLO!?"]

I did love the longer Downs. I love WHISKEY SOURs and remember and hope to re-achieve soon RUNNER'S HIGH. I've been to a conference in ABERDEEN (lovely) and, I mean, GRETA GARBO is GRETA GARBO, so no problem there. Do you curtsy with "TADA"?! (21D: Cry before curtsying or taking a bow). Seems like there are at least two intervening things between the cry and the curtsy, so "before" is technically accurate but leaves out a lot. That threw me badly. The use of "feud" to describe SHIA / Sunni relations ... I don't know. Seems flippant. They're not the Hatfields and McCoys or Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. DAYMARE is a preposterous concept. Inferrable, but preposterous. Just try telling someone you had a DAYMARE and see how seriously they take you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Roger who played part on Cheers / TUE 4-18-17 / Roger formerly of Fox News

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Don't know ... don't care


THEME: grid uses only letters R, E, T, L, S, I, and A 

Word of the Day: no, none of these are good enough
***
• • •

Well here's where I would've stopped if I didn't have a crossword blog:


Hard to overstate how bad this concept is. How joyless and STALE and etc. What's worse, it's not even original *to the constructor*. He (and the editor, who somehow accepts this stuff) foisted a similar disaster on us a couple years back, where just eight letters were used in the construction of the grid. Here, see (Apr. 14, 2015):



Fun, right? And now, just seven. I can't wait for 6, 5, etc. I'm sure things will improve with fewer letters. I'm sure of it.


Here's a tweet re: *Sunday's* puzzle, before this thing ever came out:


I think we can roll it over and apply it to today as well. Moreso. Here are some more tweets, just because I don't have anything to say about this puzzle that isn't obvious.


 I like this one:


Oh, here's an actual puzzle-related problem someone had:



Let's all pretend today's puzzle never happened. Yes, that's nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. SISSIES is a bullshit pejorative (15D: Fraidy-cats). Let's retire it. It's mostly just "S"s anyway, no one would miss it.

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Jellystone Park toon with bow tie / MON 4-17-17 / Noisemakers at 2010 World Cup / Blue toon whose enemy is Gargamel

Monday, April 17, 2017

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: OOH! OOH! — themers open with repeated long-U syllable:

Theme answers:
  • LULULEMON (17A: Big name in athletic wear)
  • BOO-BOO BEAR (23A: Jellystone Park toon with a bow tie)
  • PUPU PLATTER (35A: Assortment of appetizers at a Polynesian or Chinese restaurant)
  • GOO-GOO EYES (49A: Amorous look)
  • VUVUZELAS (58A: Noisemakers at the 2010 World Cup)
Word of the Day: PINOCHLE (35D: Game played with a 48-card deck) —
Pinochle (English pronunciation: /ˈpnʌkəl/) or binocle (sometimes pinocle, or penuchle) is a trick-taking card game typically for two to four players and played with a 48-card deck. It is derived from the card game bezique; players score points by trick-taking and also by forming combinations of cards into melds. It is thus considered part of a "trick-and-meld" category which also includes a cousin, belote. Each hand is played in three phases: bidding, melds, and tricks. The standard game today is called "partnership auction pinochle." (wikipedia)
• • •

Very undisciplined, sloppy solve from me, and yet I still ended up well under my Monday average (so, like, 15 seconds under). Absolutely botched the NW at first when I got WDS at 1A: Dict. entries and then, off that "D," dropped DIPSOS at 2D: Boozehounds (DRUNKS). DIPSOS really felt right. Like, it's the D-word that a *crossword* would choose in that moment (whereas normal humans would of course choose DRUNKS). Anyway, I fixed it fairly quickly when WILSON (1D: President during W.W. I) made all the Acrosses up there look nuts. I also balked at a couple of obvious answers. Had -RAN--- for 18D: Radioactive element and just blanked. Had ---LADY (!?) at 24D: Title for the Virgin Mary and ... same. I think "title" had my brain going to adjectives like Thatcher's "The Iron Lady," I don't know. But those kinds of hiccups cost seconds, and seconds are precious when you're trying to keep your time in the 2s. Then there's the fact that I have fat dumb fingers and can't control the cursor worth a darn, and when it got away from me and ended up down at 51D: Killer whales, instead of putting it back up in the place I was working, I just wrote down ORCAS and started in on that new section. Like I said, undisciplined. And, like I said, I still crushed it.


I enjoy a simple semi-wacky sound theme like this on a Monday. Yes, the OO/OO thing is not exactly tight—you leave a few potential options on the table (CHOO CHO, MUUMUU, JUJU). But the answers in the chosen symmetrical set are a lively bunch, and the rest of the fill, though not sterling, is solid and inoffensive. Could've done without the no-one-says-it AMUSERS, especially after already having dealt with SNARLER (see also BUDGETER, I guess), but otherwise, nothing made me wince. I might've gotten close to my record time if I hadn't (once again) blanked, this time (at the very end) on 9A: H.S. class for a future doctor, maybe (AP BIO). Too much abbr. for my brain to handle. Had the AP in place and went to close it out ... and pfft. Had to toggle to crosses. Precious seconds! Maybe if ICE SAWS had computed as "fishing tools" earlier, things coulda been different (my honest first thought with ICE SAWS: "What ... are they doing to the fish!? ... oh, right").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1976 blaxploitation film that was sequel to Dolemite / SUN 4-16-17 / Made-for-TV western co-starring Travis Tritt / Oz figure for short / Nickname for Angel stadium / Vox co-founder Klein others / Native Rwandan / Moved jocularly / Group lampooned in Django unchained

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "Saddle Up!" — "Figures" on top of their horses (literally):

Theme answers:
  • CISCO KID / DIABLO
  • ZORRO / TORNADO
  • LONE RANGER / SILVER
  • ROY ROGERS / TRIGGER
  • TONTO / SCOUT
  • DALE EVANS / BUTTERMILK
Word of the Day: CISCO KID (35A) —
The Cisco Kid is a fictional character found in numerous film, radio, television and comic book series based on the fictional Western character created by O. Henry in his 1907 short story "The Caballero's Way", published in the collection Heart of the West, as well as in Everybody's Magazine, v17, July 1907. In movies, radio and television, the Kid was depicted as a heroic Mexican caballero, even though he was originally a cruel outlaw. It was also referenced in the popular 1977 television show, CHiPs. (wikipedia)
• • •

The frame of reference here is very old, and the premise pretty tired. The "figures" atop the horses are sometimes pairs but then sometimes not pairs and literally none of them has been a central figure in American culture for well over half a century (Johnny Depp's "LONE RANGER" bomb notwithstanding). I had this strange realization just now that I don't even know who the CISCO KID is. The name is familiar enough, but I realize now that my familiarity with it is probably due almost entirely to my having seen Gene Wilder in "The Frisco Kid" when I was ... a kid. That's pretty weird, as puns go. "Disco Kid" I can see—it takes things in an unexpected direction. But "The Frisco Kid" is a totally plausible cowboy name. (/digression). So the whole thing was mothbally and the fill itself was no great shakes either—even the "original" longer fill was about as interesting as ECRU: AX HEAD? BAR MAGNET? FRET SAW? How are these answers exciting? Items from some old prospector's tool shed don't strike me as scintillating fill. PAH (?!?). Also, GRANPA? Look, it's GRAMPA or it's GRANDPA, but it is not GRANPA. That is terrible. I guess a really old GRANPA would say PAH, though, so ... nice crossing?


The painful icing on this one was the thick layer of "?" clues. Actually, I think they were truly thick only in one part of the grid, but at some point I was literally swearing at the puzzle as, everywhere I turned, another stupid "?" clue. Was MENDEL really a [Pea nut?]. He was a genetics nut. Are PEALS really heard at modern weddings? (32D: Wedding rings?) Is life at all improved by this clue for SKI: 95A: Go on a run? It's so dull and literal it hardly needs a "?". The ones that really *work* today are 37D: Is Greek (IOTAS) and 59A: Down in front? (SUB-) and maybe 62D: Top secret? (WIG). Cluing was too often off today. ALLAH is a [Prayer figure]? I mean, sure, but that's a terribly generic clue for ALLAH. And then there's ugsome stuff like BEERY and WE LOST (I had WOE IS I!) and Arnold Schwarzenegger's ****ing middle name!? (ALOIS). Come on.


Further: a BUTTERMILK DONUT is not a "breakfast item." Donuts, while frequently eaten in the a.m. w/ coffee, are not not not parts of "breakfast" or any meal. I go to diners with extensive "breakfast" menus and I don't even know if there are donuts on there. I've never seen anyone eat a donut *at breakfast*. I know Dunkin' has a "breakfast" menu now but please, stop. No. Also, < 1% of solvers are going to have seen "THE HUMAN TORNADO" (24A: 1976 blaxploitation film that was a sequel to "Dolemite"). I've seen many, many blaxploitation flicks (they're an important part of the history of American Crime Fiction, which I teach) and I don't even know this title. "Dolemite," yes. "THE HUMAN TORNADO" ... no. I mean, I kinda like it here, since at least it's original and not dull, but it's weird that something that obscure passed as a themer. See also "RIO DIABLO," the clue for which is hilarious in its "no seriously this is a thing guys I swear!" pleading (42A: Made-for-TV western co-starring Travis Tritt).

["I used an earthquake to mix my milkshake!"]
[Definitely NSFW]

The SE has some nice stuff going on, like the loopy LOCOMOTED (86D: Moved, jocularly) and the so-awkward-it's-cute partial ON ONE HAND, as well as the colorful PILE IT ON. But that corner was not enough to counteract ... everything else.



Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Epithet for Louis VI / SAT 4-15-17 / Metaphorical rock of Matthew 16:18 / Band that shares its name with film canine / 3D White brand / Org with biennial bids / Sandy who won 1985 British Open / UT's library

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Sandy LYLE (61A: Sandy who won the 1985 British Open) —
Alexander Walter Barr "Sandy" Lyle, MBE (born 9 February 1958) is a Scottish professional golfer. Lyle has won two major championships during his career. Along with Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, he became one of Britain's top golfers during the 1980s. He spent 167 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking from its introduction, in 1986, until 1989. Lyle was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in May 2012. (wikipedia)
• • •

This felt quite easy, but a few small areas really put their teeth into me for a bit there. No problem entering the puzzle in the NW and heading most of the way through the fat center of the grid. But, bizarrely, the only answer I wanted at 17A: Rich dessert was CHEESE ... TART. And then, since REC hall is not a thing to me and LAKE does not equal [Reservoir] without force ... well, I abandoned that area. The BRICKS part of HIT THE BRICKS took some doing, which left the NE unexplored for a while. When I did get up there, GYM (instead of SPA) crossed with CITY-something (instead of DOGPARKS) slowed me a bit, but JAGR was a gimme (19A: Hockey legend Jaromir), so I fixed things pretty quickly. The two real tough parts were DOTEDU (43D: School closing?), both because I've never seen that written out and because it was "?"-clued, and then lastly because I *still* don't quite understand how 63A: Chips, initially is SPUD. Are we talking potato chips? And what "chips" begin with the prefix SPUD-. Oh, wait. Is it supposed to be that (potato) chips started out (initially, pre-cooking) as a SPUD? God that is awful. Too many things are "chips" in the world for that to clue to read as at all potato-specific. And then add a plural-to-singular clue-to-answer "fake"-out. Torturous. Bad.


Last but not least in the toughness department was the whole SW, where having CAR didn't help get TOYCAR (44A: Place for a decal, maybe). and none of the initial letters on the long Downs did any good. Even getting into the short stuff with LAIR and GRE and AWAG (agag!) provided little help. I finally got the boost I needed from a *wrong* answer: POTHOLE (38D: Unforeseen trouble). That got me the "T" which got me TOY which got me PONYTAIL (37D: Women's World Cup sight). From there, I figured out POTHOLE was actually wrong (it's PITFALL) and voila—I put in the stupidly redundant SHOO AWAY and—puzzle solved! Non-trouble parts were smooth and enjoyable. I thought "THE MECHANIC" (4D: 2011 Jason Statham action flick) was a Christian Bale film, so I hesitated filling in the end (the Bale film is "The Machinist," it turns out). There are no such things as SPACE TOURISTS (yet) so cluing them like they're real is strange, though I love the answer itself (36A: Ones counting down to vacation time?). I like the WHOA SEXY juxtaposition. Makes THE JONESES seem like exciting neighbors to have. No wonder you compare yourself to them enviously (56A: Object of envious comparison). Overall, this was a pleasing, varied, bouncy puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Verona vino / FRI 4-14-17 / 16 things in Don Giovanni / Foreigner's genre / Instrument with three-sided body / Instrument with octave keys / Creator of 1966 underground film chelasea girls

Friday, April 14, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Marc SOAVE (15A: Verona vino) —
noun
noun: Soave
  1. a dry white wine produced in the region of northern Italy around Soave. (google)
• • •

As with yesterday's puzzle, I found this one nicely made but dull. I think "ABOUT THAT..." was my favorite moment, because it seems fresh and colloquial and different. Everything else, solid as it was, was less than exciting. STRAIT-LACED, even. Also, eight "?" is a little much for me. Anything over five starts trying my patience. If you wanna get cute, sure, have some fun with a few "?" clues (assuming they are Perfect) but maybe try being cute without them. [Yankee fare] messes with your mind *without* resorting to "?". Ditto [Family-friendly diner choice], [Kayak alternative], etc. How do I know how much BBS cost? (24D: Cheap shot?). Anyway, by about the sixth "?" clue I think I audibly ugh'ed. You gotta nail those, especially with nothing else really sterling going on in the fill. But again, this is solid and I did not dislike it.


I've noticed lately that, in troublesome areas, there's usually just one answer that's really holding things back. Now, in the NW today, the whole far west part was a disaster. I had a DRUM getting beaten, and a BUST as my [Museum offering]. Also, my [Persian, e.g.] was a CAT (duh). But ATLAS and SHOT proved right, and somehow I was able to backfill (reasonably quickly) all the crap I messed up with those initial Downs. But in other places it was a single answer that (in retrospect) gunked up the works. APED was a killer in the east (28A: Followed closely?). Got it down to -PED and still couldn't think of anything but SPED. Then in the south, the culprit was TENAM (49D: 1000, familiarly). TENGS ... is obviously wrong, from a math standpoint, but it's all my brain wanted with just the TE- in place. 1000 is not not not TENAM "familiarly" unless you are in the military. Do you say "ten hundred?" Weird. IF SO does not mean [Then]. There's nothing conditional about [Then]. I see where a lawyer could argue their equivalence, but that is weaksauce in extremis.


 [I met Cody Decker before tonight's Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets AA) home opener and then he got three hits including two doubles because I have that effect on people]

I have to get up at 4am so I really need to go to sleep now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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