Peddler of religious literature / SAT 5-27-17 / Great Trek figure of 1830s / Notable 1973 defendant / Dickens character with dead lull about her / Spring's cyclic counterpart

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (Easy, except for SW corner, which is not)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: COLPORTEUR (28D: Peddler of religious literature) —
Colportage is the distribution of publications, books, and religious tracts by carriers called "colporteurs". The term does not necessarily refer to religious book peddling. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sometimes just an answer or two can ruin a whole puzzle for me. And I don't just mean ruin as in "ruin my time." I mean "bring the mood crashing down" or "make me wince in a way that never quite leaves my face." Today's puzzle was mostly excellent, I think. Lots of fresh and lively fill, incl. THROW SHADE and FLEXITARIAN. Fairly polished, wide-ranging. There were some dicey bits, like ETTAS (?) over IATE (??), but in the main, things were pretty ship shape. I am not sure I believe there is such a thing as a FLORIDA TECH (?), but I'll take the puzzle's word for it. Don't mind BOSOMY as a word, I guess, but coulda done without the ogley "centerfold" reference (43D: Like centerfolds, typically). But still, like I say, I was largely digging it. But then: two problems.

Just because a word *technically* exists doesn't mean you should try to pass it off as a legit crossword answer. 999 out of 1000 people are gonna say PRE-NATAL. 1 out of 1000 is going to say ANTENATAL (8D: During pregnancy), and that person is possessed by the ghost of a 19th-century country doctor. Just as you would never say PREBELLUM, you would never say ANTENATAL, no no no. I mean, I'm no doctor, but no. Looks like ANTENATAL might be Australian-speak. That's what google is indicating. But, yeah, I don't live there. So no. You don't take ANTENATAL vitamins, you take prenatal vitamins. You know it, I know it, the Carthaginians knew it. Prenatal. But that was just an eye-roll, frankly, *This* on the other hand, was a hard middle finger:

So much wrong here. First, yes, I *do* enjoy learning new things. But I do Not enjoy inelegantly made grids. This answer is the *only* way into a tight corner. So basically, you get COLP-, and you (if you're like me) go "Huh ... that's the start of no word ever. I must have an error." Then you think, "Wait ... is it MALE BLUE DOT?" Then you dive into the SW and you actually know the pitcher (though aren't sure about ABBOTT v. ABBETT) (39D: Jim ___, one-handed Yankee who pitched a no-hitter in 1993) and you know BOER (44A: Great Trek figure of the 1830s) and you know TERRY, but ... the rest stump you. Oh, you guess NEARER (41D: Like Mars vis-à-vis Jupiter), but ... still stuck. *Two* "?" clues down there? Come on. And that 28-Down, yeah, that still looks like gibberish. I still somehow managed to finish this thing in under 7 minutes, but the last two of those were spent just in that tiny stupid corner.

To end on a word that obscure, that uninferrable, that ... ugh. It sapped all the good vibes. All I was left with was this crappy jerk-word, which I would've been "happy" enough to learn, I guess, if a. it hadn't been such a sore thumb standout compared to the rest of the grid, and b. it hadn't been completely blocking the only entrance to that small corner. Solver experience, not considered. AGAIN: just because a word exists doesn't mean you should pull the trigger. Use some judgment. And for god's sake, don't ruin your otherwise lovely puzzle with obscure clunkers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chief justice in Dred Scott verdict / FRI 5-26-17 / Donnie of 2001 cult film / Sport for rikishi

Friday, May 26, 2017

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easiest Friday I've Ever Done

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (23D: Chief justice in the Dred Scott verdict) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the United States Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States, which created an uproar among abolitionists and the free states of the northern U.S. He was the first Roman Catholic (and first non-Protestant) appointed both to a presidential cabinet, as Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson, as well as to the Court. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was quite smooth, but also maybe too smooth. So smooth it was barely there. I finished in 3:51, a personal Friday record. Faster than every other puzzle I've solved this week (M, T, W and F were all actually within five seconds of one another). The puzzle seems nicely made, but I didn't really have much time to notice. Dropped 1D: ___ mocha (CAFFE) in pretty much right away (no point even looking at those long Acrosses before I've given the short Downs a go), and I honestly didn't pause, hesitate, or have to skip a clue for about the next dozen answers. Read clue, write answer. ELSE ATOLL FLUTE TORUS SMITE and goodbye. Slight hesitation on BFA vs. MFA (12A: Writer's deg.), but powered right through that. If there were such a thing as a Tuesday themeless, this would be it. Looking it over now ... it's really quite nice. Not scintillating, maybe, but not at all boring, and really quite polished. No gunk, lively fill. Possibly this constructor's best work.

There were exactly four answers in the puzzle that I had to work around.

1. I didn't really get the clue at 33A: Cricket, to a grasshopper, or vice versa. I thought maybe there was some adage or some Aesopian something or other that this referred to. Actually, my first thought upon seeing "Cricket" was the sport, but "grasshopper" got me back to reality. I just solved all the crosses, but even at -OUSIN I had at least a second of "????" and thought maybe I had an error. Is "COUSIN" a technical entomological term? Seems dicey.

2. Then I had the "F" in 38D: Surgical tool but couldn't bring it down. I was So Bummed because I knew I was flying and I was relying on that answer to help me turn the corner quickly into the SE. But I just blanked. Luckily ROMAS got me REEDED (educated guess), and then DARKO got me the "K" I needed to see KEEP TALKING.

3. I know BALOO now that I see it, but as I was filling that section in, the "B" didn't help, then the "BA-" didn't help, then the "BA--O" didn't help. Also, I ended up looking at the ELGIN clue really late for some reason. That was a gimme and might've made my progress through the SE a little smoother. But ultimately BALOO got worked out from crosses.

4. This was the only flat-out Don't-Know-It in the puzzle. An old, uncommon proper noun. No big surprise that it was the least movable object. I ran into it early and just turned the other direction (toward the NW). And then I solved the rest of the puzzle and just ended up back there again. Got every letter from crosses, ending with the "Y" in BETRAY (37A: Unknowingly reveal).

The overall easiness owes a lot to CAFFE and DARKO—two gimmes in optimal positions (providing the first letters of a bank of long Acrosses). The "C" and "F," and the "K" and the "O" (respectively) were particularly high-value letters, allowing me to see those long Acrosses very, very quickly. Low proper noun load meant low chance of getting badly stuck. Then there's the fill, which lives very much in the realm of real words / terms, and not crosswordese / obscurities. All of this adds up to Lightning. Hope you had a similarly triumphant solving feeling. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Central Italian river / THU 5-25-17 / Pet with dewlap beret / Wait in strategic location in video game lingo

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: I'LL GO FIRST (54A: Trailblazer's declaration ... or a hint to 17-, 19-, 34- and 51-Across) — Familiar phrases where the last words have been changed simply by moving the letter "I" to the "First" position, resulting in a new words and wacky phrases and wacky "?" clues, huzzah!

Theme answers:
  • PURPLE IRAN (17A: Possible result of spilling grape juice on a map of the Middle East?)
  • FRENCH IGUANA (19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret?)
  • ROLL OF ICONS (34A: Pantheon list?)
  • COVER IVERSON (51A: Guard the 2001 N.B.A. M.V.P.?) 
Word of the Day: FAN ART (11D: Some derivative drawings) —
Fan art, or fanart, are artworks created by fans of a work of fiction (generally visual media such as comics, film, television shows, or video games) and derived from a series character or other aspect of that work. As fan labor, fan art refers to artworks that are neither created nor (normally) commissioned or endorsed by the creators of the work from which the fan art derives. // A different, older meaning of the term is used in science fiction fandom, where fan art traditionally describes original (rather than derivative) artwork related to science fiction or fantasy, created by fan artists, and appearing in low- or non-paying publications such as semiprozines or fanzines, and in the art shows of science fiction conventions. The Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist has been given each year since 1967 for artists who create such works. Like the term fan fiction (although to a lesser extent), this traditional meaning is now sometimes confused with the more recent usage described above. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very tough, mainly because of the themers, which refused to give themselves up without a ton of crosses. The wacky clues were often very little help at getting to anything specific, and without the revealer, it's very hard to see any link among the anagrammed words, or any consistency at all in the themers. After finally locking down the first two, I was certain the theme was geographical—what are the odds of having both Iran and French Guiana involved in anagrams in the first two themers, and then having that theme *not* be about geography? Well, those odds are probably incalculable, and anyway, if I'd been paying closer attention, I'd realize that those countries were "involved" in different ways—i.e. one was the anagram itself, the other was anagrammed into something else. Because I was looking for countries, later themers were especially rough. ROLL OF --- had me unable to think of *any word* that could go there, even in the base phrase. ROLL OF ... the dice. That was all my brain kept doing. Plus I wanted whatever that last word was to be an anagram of a country (!).  Plus I don't think of gods of the Pantheon as "ICONS" (had IDOLS for a bit). This is what I mean about the clues being almost no help at getting to the actual answers. The worst case of this was, unfortunately, the revealer clue. A "Trailblazer" just goes, unannounced, and does Big, Important things heretofore unaccomplished. "I'LL GO FIRST" is not something a trailblazer would say. It's what someone in couples therapy would say. It's a banal statement for a quotidian situation and has zip to do with "trailblazing." That said, cluing aside, this theme is kind of amazing (even if it did take me almost two minutes of confused staring before I understood it)—simply move the "I" to the front, get a new word. Nice twist on the anagram-type theme.

The fill is pretty polished. Hard to pull off when you stack *theme* answers right on top of each other like that (I think of this as "Merling," since Merl Reagle stacked themers All The Time in his Sunday puzzles). Look at all the Downs running through those stacks of themers. There's really nothing bad. Nothing even mildly wince-y. This is what I admire, and see so little of—craft and polish. Dedication to the details, and especially to making sure you are sacrificing the rest of the puzzle on the altar of The Theme. It's not that there's No crosswordese in this thing—you can see repeaters hither and YON: PSA, ALI, OLE, ELI, MDI, ELLA). But now that I type even those answers out, the only one I'd try to ditch if I could is MDI. Maybe ENDO-, if possible. In short, there's not much to fault in the the fill. Considering the theme density, that's really quite impressive.

Tough parts:
  • 4D: Many a Trump property (GOLF RESORT) — seems straightfoward enough, but having GOL- coming out of the gate, I wrote in GOLD-PLATED. Later, I had GOLF COURSE (w/ REBOUND in the cross—21A: Public relations pivot (REBRAND))
  • 13A: Goes high (SOARS) — having tried ALDER for 5D: Wood that doesn't burn easily (ASPEN), I went with LEAPS here, and ouch. ALDER and NARC and SLID all confirmed ("confirmed") LEAPS ... until later crosses unconfirmed it.
  • 55A: Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo (CAMP) — ah, video game lingo, the one knowledge sphere there's actually no hope I'll ever master, or get any purchase on whatsoever. I had CAMO. It's a good guess, I think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Letter carrier at Hogwarts / WED 5-24-17 / Initialism whose third initial often isn't true / High airfare season for short / 20th century author famous for her journals

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "... as a plumber?" — ordinary phrases are clued as if they had something to do with a plumber's behavior:

Theme answers:
  • RUNS HOT AND COLD (20A: Vacillates, as a plumber?)
  • ALL TAPPED OUT (26A: Exhausted, as a plumber?)  (I've heard TAPPED OUT on its own, but add the "ALL" and then I've only heard ALL TIRED OUT or ALL TUCKERED OUT)
  • DOWN THE DRAIN (43A: Wasted, to a plumber?)
  • SINKING FEELING (52A: Anxiety, to a plumber?)
Word of the Day: Buddy EBSEN (62A: Actor Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies") —
Christian Ludolf "Buddy" Ebsen (Jr) (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American singer, dancer, author, film, television and character actor, whose career spanned seven decades. He had also appeared as a guest on several talk and variety shows. The SAG-AFTRA records also show him as Frank "Buddy" Ebsen. // Originally a dancer, Ebsen began his long career in films in 1935, beginning with Jack Benny in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Maureen O'Hara in They Met in Argentina (1941) and June Havoc in Sing Your Worries Away (1942). He also danced with child star Shirley Temple in Captain January (1936), released the same year. Cast as the Tin Man in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen fell ill due to the aluminum dust in his makeup and was forced to drop out of the film. In Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), he portrayed Doc Golightly, the much older husband of Audrey Hepburn's character. He also had a successful television career, including playing Davy Crockett's sidekick, George Russell, in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett miniseries (1953–54). But he is best remembered for starring in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971) as Jed Clampett. He also played the title character in the television detective drama Barnaby Jones (1973–1980), also on CBS. Ebsen had a cameo role in the 1993 film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, not as Jed Clampett, but as Barnaby Jones.
• • •

This is a fine puzzle if the year is 1987 ... is it? ... [looks at calendar] ... nope. Corny, tame puns, with mostly dull, well-worn (if not terrible) fill. Not much to say about this one. Themers all involve plumbing-related wordplay. Kind of a narrow definition of what plumbers do. Two answers related to taps, two related to sinks, which means they're all related to sinks, I guess. Nothing about leaks or drips or snakes or ... look, I don't know. What am I, a plumber? I just know these are very safe, not at all outlandish or funny or even interesting answers. The most interesting part of the puzzle, which was also the hardest part of the puzzle, was the SW corner, specifically those two long Downs. They were very tough to pick up—well, tough for me, as I made the mistake of writing ESL in at 40A: Lang. course (ENG.) (it could never have been ESL, of course, since the "L" *stands* for "Lang."). Both GAG WRITER and I'M NOT SURE feel like party-crashers, like they were in a different ballroom, at a much cooler party, and accidentally stumbled into a seminar on tax preparation. Anyway, that anomalous pair of answers, I liked. The rest you can have back.

I've given myself so many lessons on the EPSOM / EPSON / EBSEN distinction, but apparently none of the them have taken. It's the vowel-in-the-fourth-position that's the (primary) problem. EBS-N!? Maybe if I just remember that the P versions take the O and the B takes the E. Maybe? Probably not. STOKERS? That one also took me a while to pick up (41D: Steamship workers). I wasn't AGASP (!), it's just that "steamship" conjures up a whole mess of old-timeyness, and STOKERS wasn't in my mental picture. I don't think I even knew "stoker" was a specific job title. Nothing else about this puzzle caused me too much trouble, and I finished in the same time as yesterday, which was the same time as the day before. Weird week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TD Garden athlete informally / TUE 5-23-17 / Friendly Islands native / Bread that's often brushed with ghee

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty:Medium-Challenging (a bit on the slow side for a Tuesday)

THEME: PAIRS (68A: Figure skating event ... or what the circled items always come in) —the circled items all intersect in intriguing but ultimately meaningless ways

Word of the Day: LEN Wiseman (26A: "Live Free or Die Hard" director Wiseman) —
Len Ryan Wiseman (born March 4, 1973) is an American film director, screenwriter and producer. He is best known for his work on the Underworld series, Live Free or Die Hard, and Total Recall. (wikipedia)
• • •

This simply doesn't work. It lacks consistency on many levels. No such thins as one PANT or one TONG, but there is, of course, such a thing as one SOCK or one SKI. Once you let SOCK and SKI play, now *anything* that customarily comes in pairs is fair game: boot, shoe, earring, whatever. I thought maybe the crossing PAIRS crossed in certain ways for certain reasons—the TONGs kinda look like TONGs, and the PANTs are arguably pant-shaped. I guess you could try to contend that the SOCKs form one big sock, but that's pretty tenuous, and then there's the SKIs, which ... have no visual relationship an actual pair of skis. There's some winning fill here and there, but there's a good amount of junk too (RWY!? Wow, terrrrrrrible—only used three times in past decade, and the other two were Sundays).

Puzzle felt more Wednesday than Tuesday. All the colloquial stuff made it quite slow (though also more enjoyable than it would've been otherwise—weird trade-off). [Enthusiastic assent] ("I DO, I DO!") coulda been a million things. Ditto ["Wow, unbelievable!"] ("I'M IN AWE!"). Two-worders were also slippery in places. IN RETURN took me forEver to see (39D: Reciprocally). And [Future perfect tense in grammar class, e.g.] is an absurd clue—an absurdly specific clue—for LESSON. Why would I think "tense" = LESSON. I get that one can teach that as a LESSON, but one can teach *anything* as a LESSON. [Parallel-parking at driving school, e.g.]. But in the end, the fill probably averages out to average. Not bad (well, -EME is pretty bad, and NON-PC can go jump in a lake, along with his ugly cousin, UN-). It's just that this is the kind of theme that you should sit on and rework and rethink until it's Perfect. Why run with half-baked stuff like this. Editor's job is to get the best work out of people. But here we have yet another case of "meh, good enough, run it!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. NAAN is a bread. NAN (30A) is a Bobbsey Twin or a Talese. 

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King of gods in Wagner's ring cycle / MON 5-22-17 / Inverse trig function / Form of papyrus document

Monday, May 22, 2017

Constructor: Gary Kennedy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*) (still under 4 minutes) (relax)

[oversized grid: 16x15]

THEME: SWISS / ARMY / KNIFE (1A: With 43- and 76-Across, camping aid) — four functions of said knife:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: WOTAN (2D: King of the gods in Wagner's "Ring" cycle) —
Ultimately from Proto-Germanic *Wōdanaz, cognate with English Woden, Old Frisian Weda, Old Norse Óðinn. Attested since the 12th century in the Chronicon of Godfrey of Viterbo, where it is spelled Wotan. In Old High German, the name could be spelled Wodan, Wotan, Wuotan or Woatan, depending on regional dialect. // After Christianization, the name persisted in folklore and formed various derivations, such as Old High German Wuotunc, Wodunc, medieval Wüetung. In modern (19th century) folklore, invocations of the god could still be found (Grimm, w:Deutsche Mythologie), especially in Westphalia as Wuodan and in Mecklenburg as Wode (also spelled Waur after its approximate pronunciation). However, they descend not from Old High German but from Old Saxon Wodan and Middle Low German variant Wode. // In literary modern German, the spellings Wodan and Wotan competed during the early 19th century, but Wotan became prevalent in the wake of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, published in 1853. (wiktionary)
• • •

WOTAN? Pfffft, man, was that a harbinger. What a dreadful, ridiculous word to put in a Monday puzzle. Just bonkers. But I guess it did prepare me for the Avalanche of crosswordese that followed. This is a solidly Maleskan puzzle. It seriously felt like the early '90s (when I first started solving), when opera trivia roamed freely across the grid and SSTS flew the skies and ... well, IKE wasn't still president, but he may as well have been, as far as the crossword was concerned. If you are putting Cheri OTERI and N*SYNC in your puzzles in order to be hip, with-it, and up-to-date, you are doing something very wrong. And for what? Four functions of a SWISS / ARMY / KNIFE? That is a straightforward, dull-as-dishwater theme. The only thing I admire about it is the grid construction, specifically the breaking of the revealer into three, in order to accommodate the four other themers. Of course, this is also the thing that, from a solver's perspective, I enjoyed the least about the theme. Cross-referenced / themed 1As are Not fun. Also, having themers at the first and last Acrosses still really restricts your grid and puts pressure on the fill, and boy does it show. See WOTAN, above.

Other trouble spots: SHIPLOAD (!?). What a bizarre answer / clue (5D: All a tanker can hold). I assume a SHIPLOAD is *whatever* the so-called "tanker" is holding. The "All" part had me all "???" And that was hot on the heels of The WOTAN Clan (which is what I'm calling that answer now, to amuse myself). Rough. PARTD was also very hard for me to parse (41A: Medicare drug benefit). But my worst wipeout came at 63D: Where all roads lead, it's said. Maybe it says something about my state of mind by that point, but I quickly (and sincerely) wrote in HELL. Let me tell you, it really *felt* right at the time. So right. But then another member of the crosswordese posse (EMERIL!) showed up and I changed HELL ... to HOME. Good look getting 62A: Fad when you're staring down CHA_E. Ugh. But of course all roads lead to ROME, in an old (very old, like everything about this puzzle) saying. Next!!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Political writer Kenneth / SUN 5-21-17 / Peer Gynt character / Two-time Wimbledon winner Lew / Japanese relative of husky / Setting for spring in Vivaldi's four seasons

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: No, yes, whatever, who cares? Let's say "Easy"

THEME: "Misquoting Scripture" — "puns" (loosely defined) based on familiar phrases of biblical origin:

Theme answers:
  • AN AYE FOR AN AYE (22A: The Bible on political horse trading?)
  • THE FLASH IS WEAK (29A: The Bible on camera problems?)
  • ASSAULT OF THE EARTH (42A: The Bible on an alien invasion?)
  • GARDEN OF ETON (58A: The Bible on where Prince Harry learned horticulture?)
  • FALSE PROFITS (71A: The Bible on bad business practices?)
  • THE ROUTE OF ALL EVIL (82A: The Bible on directions to hell?)
  • IN THE BIG INNING (95A: The Bible on a climactic part of a baseball game?)
  • A MARK UPON CANE (107A: The Bible on ruined sugar crops?)
  • LET THERE BE LITE (16D: The Bible on diet food?)
  • FORBIDDEN FLUTE (48D: The Bible on a taboo musical instrument?)
Word of the Day: Kenneth VOGEL (66D: Political writer Kenneth) —
Kenneth Vogel is an American journalist. He is the chief investigative reporter at Politico. He is also the author of Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp–on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics. Vogel's writing often focuses on money in politics. As part of his work, he focuses on political fundraising with particular emphasis on the political activities of the Koch brothers. (wikipedia)
• • •

Just when you think the NYT might be righting the ship ... Sunday! Talk about wronging the ship. This is precisely the tired, hackneyed weaksauce the NYT has taken to serving of late, in increasingly frequent and unpalatable helpings. A pun / homophone puzzle had better be brilliant if it's going to carry an entire Sunday. Merl Reagle could do Fantastic Sunday-sized pun puzzles. Ridiculous, baroque, dazzling, theme-dense creations that had been meticulously thought out and planned, for months, sometimes years, as he waited to find just the right combination of answers, just the write "punchline" (usu. that final themer, which would often have *two* theme elements in one answer—the man was a genius). Now, no one can make a wacky puzzle like Merl could, but this thing isn't even in the ballpark. Not the same city, state, or solar system.

THE FLASH IS WEAK—what is that!?!?! If you're gonna pun, *pun*. At least make the clue a taunt from Superman, say. Better yet, change the answer to THE FLUSH IS WEAK, and give it a toilet clue. Instantly better. I mean, nothing is going to save this terrible theme from its terrible self, but if you're going down in flames, the more outrageous the better. THE FLASH IS WEAK ... ugh, who is chortling at that? There puns are So Tepid. Also, FLUTE for FRUIT is ridiculous and has nothing in common with the other "puns" (where you're dealing either with straight homophones or with a vowel change). And "a salt of the earth"—is that the phrase??? Is it? Because I thought it was "THE salt of the earth," in which case The Pun In This Grid Makes No Sense. It's not "A Farewell to Oms"-bad, but it's bad. And then there's the fill, which is predictably nightmarish. I actually stopped solving at 3D: Setting for spring in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," partly because I literally choked while gasping at how bad that answer is, partly to take a screenshot in order to commemorate the moment. I titled this .jpeg "Vomit":

I was already annoyed that 1A was STK (ugh), and then after getting the "S" and "T" crosses, I tried the "K," and ... nothing. "Is there a ... KEYOTE? Where they grow peyote? What is Happening." Then I got KEYOFE, and after pronouncing it Key-OH-fay in my head a few times, I saw what the clue meant by "Setting." Dear lord. KEY OF E!? Do we have KEYOFA, KEYOFB, etc. to look forward to? Hot. Garbage. Lew HOAD? I don't believe any human was ever named that. SAFARIED as a past-tense verb is ridiculous-looking, and yet it is just about the only part of the grid that has any personality whatsoever, so good for it (46A: Went on an African hunting expedition). Why is the "hill of beans" LIMAS? I mean, as opposed to any other bean? Why "hill"? What is the pun? I *know* that "it doesn't amount to a hill of beans" is an idiomatic phrase, but Why. LIMAS? Could the answer just as easily be KIDNEYS? What is happening? ASE!? ADDA!? ITOFF!? -GENIC? PREV.!? Multiple TADAS? It's ruthless, this thing. A joy-sucking monster where the "best puzzle in the world"'s best puzzle should be.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Political cartoonist Edward / SAT 5-20-17 / Gullible rodent in Scott Adams comic / Celebratory move popularized by Cam / Real-life ice age beast seen on "Game of Thrones" / Muckracker who pushed for model tenements / Metric for gauging female representation in works of fiction / Ski town near Mount Mansfield

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Constructor: Paolo Pasco and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (tilting easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Edward SOREL (26D: Political cartoonist Edward) —
Edward Sorel (born Edward Schwartz, 26 March 1929, The Bronx) is an illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist, graphic designer and author whose work is known for its storytelling, its left-liberal social commentary, its criticism of reactionary right-wing politics and organized religion. Formerly a regular contributor to The Nation, New York Magazine and The Atlantic, his work is today seen more frequently in Vanity Fair. He has been hailed by The New York Times as "one of America's foremost political satirists".[2][3][4] As a lifelong New Yorker, a large portion of his work interprets the life, culture and political events of New York City. There is also a large body of work which is nostalgic for the stars of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood when Sorel was a youth. Sorel is noted for his wavy pen-and-ink style, which he describes as "spontaneous direct drawing" (wikipedia)
• • •

AHI / CAD / CAPRA / NO FAIR — that is how I started this puzzle, or tried to. That's a .500 batting average, not bad, but not enough to get me real traction. For the second day in a row, I had to abandon my NW starting point and start elsewhere. And for the second day in a row things got much easier from there, and for the third (!) day in a row I like the puzzle.  This one is a little on-the-nose for teenage boys, with your requisite "GOT" clue and your requisite chess and computer and science clues and your requisite social media clues and that little bit of juvenile leering in the COOP clue (48A: Place to pick up chicks). Very on-brand, for better and worse. Mostly better. I feel like the NYT has no idea how to find a happy medium with its cultural frame of reference,so mostly it shuffles around with a solidly mid-'60s vibe, but then every once in a while a young former employee / loyalist is called in to "Do Something!" and we get a much more aggressively presentist and youth-oriented puzzle. Now I'm gonna take option B every day of the week, but man there has to be a middle way.

["'Superman II' is taking off all over America..."]

I started with VJS because I am old (12A: Onetime MTV figures). That turned out to be.a prime piece of three-letter real estate, and along with that corner's other gimme (AZIZ), VJS really got me going, both back into the NW (which ended up being a piece of cake when I came at it from east (?)) and into the SE, where I had my proudest moment of the day—remembering (sort of) BAHIA (50A: Brazil's fourth-largest state by population). That is *not* a promising clue—reminiscent of the bad old days when crosswords relied more heavily on obscurish geographical trivia—but while the "fourth-largest state" doesn't suggest crossworthiness, that letter combination (short, vowel-loaded, vowel-ending, with that odd central "H"), ensures that it will show up in puzzles more than most other countries' "fourth-largest states." Didn't know RATBERT (now and forever, from ASOK to RATBERT, always unfunny "Dilbert" can &^$% off) (46D: Gullible rodent in a Scott Adams comic), so that complicated things in the SE, but both BECHDEL TEST and ALICE WALKER were gimmes (!)—that's a lot of gimme. Gimme gimme. I teach Bechdel's "Fun Home" every year, and the BECHDEL TEST was just name-checked on "Riverdale" (of all places), so if you haven't heard of Bechdel or her eponymous test, now you have, and here it is:

Now maybe the long Acrosses in the SE weren't gimmes for you, in which case ... that corner is Awfully proper-noun-reliant (always dangerous). I mean, look:

Seems like that could be a danger zone for some. My danger zone was the SW, where (ugh, another) "Game of Thrones" clue and a chess clue kept me blocked out of the corner:

The new (to-me) SULU clue also made it hard to get traction in there (51A: The Philippines' ___ Archipelago). So I just sank to the bottom and got POD (66A: Edamame discard) and guessed ODE, and then boom, DUST MOP. From there I guessed TRAPS (I actually already had USED), and then it came together, though DIRE took every single cross ((DI-EWOLF had me first thinking: "DIMEWOLF!?") (39A: Real-life ice age beast seen on "Game of Thrones"). All in all, this was zippy and entertaining. Pasco has done consistently great work, which is crazy, as he is still just a junior in high school, I think—he's roughly my daughter's age. My daughter, btw, just got destroyed yesterday (when doing one of Patrick Blindauer's "Piece of Cake" puzzles) by a Nick NOLT- / Janet R-NO crossing. I wanted to shout at her "Why can't you be more like Paulo!? You're not my daughter!" But I bought her "Hamilton" tickets instead (this anecdote has been based on true events and may not have transpired precisely as written).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Moorish castle / FRI 5-19-17 / Bratty girl on Little House on Prairie / Savory Indian appetizer / French filmdom / Port whistler / Classic arcade game with a glass backboard that shatters / Large WW II area / Ponytail's hipster cousin per GQ / Commander during John Brown's capture in 1859 / Half spoken half sung

Friday, May 19, 2017

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALCÁZAR (1D: Moorish castle) —
An alcázar (pronunciation: /ˈæl kəˌzɑːr/) is a type of Moorish castle or palace in Spain and Portugal built during Muslim rule, although some were founded by Christians and others were built on earlier Roman or Visigothic fortifications. Most of the alcázars were built between the 8th and 15th centuries. Many cities in Spain have an alcázar. The term is sometimes used as a synonym for "castillo" or castle; palaces or forts built by Christian rulers were also often called alcázars. (wikipedia)
• • •

Fridays are my best chance to catch an enjoyable puzzle in any given week, and this one worked just fine. About where an average Friday should be. Varied, semi-tough, and armed with at least a few original- / fresh-seeming answers (today, e.g., KISSCAM and CRUSHING IT). This will do. It's a kind of palate cleanser. Light, refreshing. It's not totally filling, but (along with yesterday's decent offering), but it goes a long way toward getting the taste of the Sun-Wed junk out of my mouth. The most notable feature of this puzzle, from my perspective, was the uneven difficulty—specifically, the whole thing seemed phenomenally easy *except* the NW, which definitely made me work. And since I always start in the NW, I struggled early, and so the whole thing felt somewhat harder than it probably actually was. I couldn't do anything with 1A: Walk all over (ABUSE), or any of its crosses until finally I alighted on ECHO (after wondering, possibly aloud, why ALEXA wouldn't fit) (5D: Voice-activated Amazon device). From there it was ON BASE, MAN BUN, and off to the races. Once ENGAGEMENT PARTY dropped, I went down into the SE and up the east coast, no problem. Had some problems getting into the SW, but SAMOSA / CINE / SLEW ended up sliding in fairly easily, which left me, finally, with just that damn, pesky NW corner. Here is a red-line map of my trouble spots.

 [Had IN A SECOND at first—did you?]

So, yeah, the NW. If I've heard of ALCÁZARs before, I definitely forgot about them. Had the -GE at the end of 2D: Heavy rain and wanted only DELU(U?)GE. And then [Wrongly assumed] is just a brutal clue for USURPED. Not the meaning of "assumed" I was expecting. I ended up having to back into that area after getting the back ends of the long Acrosses. Not having any idea who Abby Sciuto is definitely hurt me at 8D: Org. for forensic specialist Abby Sciuto. I tend to think of NCIS as fictional (for obvious reasons) (see also JAG), and Abby Sciuto sounds like a name with wordplay involved. I keep saying it to myself expecting to find it's some kind of pun. Like "Abby Normal" or something. Anyway, NCIS is common enough in crosswords that I guessed it and then finally worked my way back to those first, vicious Downs. The end.

[Last Dance ... LAST CHANCE for love ...]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Looking at my wife's puzzle now, I realize that I forgot what made getting USURPED especially hard to see—like my wife (right now, mid-solve), I spent a good part of my solve with ABASE at 1A: Walk all over. That is a perfectly reasonable answer. *BUT* ...  then for 3D: Wrongly assumed you get a word starting ASU- ... and your brain starts to catch and whirr and stutter and overheat trying to find an ASU- word ... *any* ASU word. The only ASU- word I could think of was ASU (as in Arizona State University). Maddening. So something must be wrong. But everything looks so right ...

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Muse invoked in Paradise Lose / THU 5-18-17 / StarKist competitor / Subject of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard / Island capital named for European royal house

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: WHY (did the CHICKEN cross the ROAD)? (37A: Question raised by four squares in this puzzle?) — four squares contain ROAD in the Down and CHICKEN in the Across:

Theme answers:
  • OFF-ROAD (1D: Where all-terrain vehicles go) / CHICKEN OF THE SEA (19A: StarKist competitor)
  • ACCESS ROAD (15D: Highway adjacent to a throughway) / CHICKEN WIRE (39A: Coop material)
  • ROAD RUNNER (36D: Noted Warner Bros. toon) / PLAY CHICKEN (35A: Risk mutual destruction, say)
  • ROAD MAP (63D: Plan for achieving a long-term goal) / NO SPRING CHICKEN (60A: Person getting up there in years)
Word of the Day: SEPTA (4D: BART : San Francisco :: ___ : Philadelphia) —
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is a regional public transportation authority[4] that operates various forms of public transit services—bus, subway and elevated rail, commuter rail, light rail and electric trolleybus—that serve 3.9 million people in five counties in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. SEPTA also manages construction projects that maintain, replace, and expand infrastructure and rolling stock. (wikipedia)
• • •

Enjoyable! It's always easy to exclaim that when you pick up the gimmick almost immediately, but I've hated many puzzles I've figured out early, so I don't think solver's euphoria is clouding my judgment too much. I think my favorite part of the puzzle is the lone, existential, ennui-ridden WHY? in the center of the grid. It is the question I ask most of puzzles, usually with a pained or confused look on my face. "WHY ... is that theme answer not like the others? WHY ... is this plural suffix (!?) in my grid? WHY ... are you doing this to me?" The theme squares were symmetrical, which on the one hand is neat (as in "tidy"), and on the other is totally unnecessary in a rebus puzzle. Part of the challenge is figuring out where those pesky things are. No reason finding one should allow you automatically to find the other. But honestly, in the middle of solving, my brain didn't even pick up the symmetry. It was too easy a puzzle. I don't usually stop and reflect unless I'm getting Pummeled, and the only *real* issue I had today was a totally self-inflicted, not-stopping-and-reflecting wound at 7D: "y = 2x," e.g. (LINE). Had the "I" and the "E" and saw the clue was mathy and wrote in SINE and the ****ing "I" was correct, so I tried to make myself believe that BASE could work for 5A: Assemble in a field, say (BALE), before finally seeing my problem, ugh.

Couldn't work the Acrosses at first in the NE, but then the puzzle threw a "Paradise Lost" clue at me, which is like throwing a hanging curve over the fat middle of the plate. URANIA! (11D: Muse invoked in "Paradise Lost") After that, except for SAT instead of LAY (29A: Was idle), no problems. Nearly came unglued at the end, in the SW, where I threw *two* wrong Acrosses down—for ---IN, I wrote SATIN (instead of SKEIN (59A: Fabric store purchase)), and for ---LE, I wrote STOLE (instead of SIDLE (64A: Move furtively, in a way) (misread the verb tense, ugh). But URANIA was smiling ... down? ... on me once again, as *both* of those errors ended up giving me correct initial letters, which meant NASSAU was easy (48D: Island capital named for a European royal house), which meant my double-error was actually easily findable and correctable. Win some, lose some, cross the road, move on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Obsolete repro machine / WED 5-17-17 / Dory propeller / Hello Dolly singer informally / Ruling family of old Florence

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Constructor: Paul Hunsberger

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: word loop —two-word phrases where second word is also the first word of a two-word phrase that ends with the first word of the subsequent theme answer. (Yes, it was about as pleasant to solve as it was to read that description); only the broken phrases (that start in one themer and end in the next) are clued, and they're clued, well, essentially, like this:

Theme answers:
  • BACK / COURT (Area that an N.B.A. team has eight ... / ... seconds to clear)
  • CASE / CLOSED (Successful detective's ... / ... declaration)
  • CIRCUIT / BOARD (Critical computer ... / ... component)
  • GAME / OVER (Dreaded words in a video ... / ... arcade)
  • SEEING / DOUBLE (Knocked ... / ... for a loop, say)
Word of the Day: CFL (23D: Grid org. with a 110-yard field) —
The Canadian Football League (CFL; French: Ligue canadienne de football, LCF) is a professional sports league in Canada. The CFL is the highest level of competition in Canadian football. Its nine teams, which are located in nine separate cities, are divided into two divisions: the East Division, with four teams, and the West Division with five teams. As of 2016, the league features a 20-week regular season, which traditionally runs from late June to early November; each team plays 18 games with at least two bye weeks. Following the regular season, six teams compete in the league's three-week divisional playoffs, which culminate in the late-November Grey Cup championship, one of the country's largest annual sports and television event. (wikipedia)
• • •

God, things are just getting gruesome. Aside from fill that includes dumb non-words like ECO-TAX and MIXALOT w/o the "Sir" and a SLEW of crosswordese (from OSLO to OTERI to SSN to ESSENE and back again) this theme ... sigh. It's a simple word loop: AB, BC, CD, etc. ad infinitum (well, not infinitum, but theoretically so ...). The only "interesting" part is the cluing, where instead of cluing the answers in the grid, you clue the "between" answers ... which sounds OK, but in practice is a bleeping mess, because ... well, you can see the theme clues yourself —all ellipses and slashes and you're all "wait, where does this start and end again?" etc. Oh, and there are somehow multiple SADIES there, even though no one can name more than one SADIE (Hawkins doesn't count).


This took me almost as long as yesterday's, because the gimmick was mostly lost on me. I just plowed ahead and got themers mostly from crosses (somewhat from inferences based on the cluing words). I did this weird / horrible thing in the middle where I had CIRCUIT and ended up writing in CLAIMS CIRCUIT (something in my brain went from "circuit court" to "(small?) claims court"). I don't really know what EHOW (ugh) is. I had ETSY. Hardest part was the whole area around the BOARD of BOARD GAME. Had SET and KIT before DRUMPAD. WATERY never ever occurred to me for 58A: Like light beers. Had IN INK before IN PEN (never be impressed by someone who brags about solving this way; it's nonsense). There is so little Joy in the NYT crosswords of late. Just tired / old / bad concepts, with olde fille, and all of it only semi-competently executed. Most frequently published constructors used to be legends. Now ... once in a while there's a legend, and there are a few loyalists who are good at their craft. But mediocre-to-bad constructors are seeing more and more of their work in print because Good submissions are Obviously down. I know you all can see this. I know I'm more vocally annoyed than your average solver, but It's A Problem. Oh my god I just noticed plural ECRUS OK I have to go.

P.S. in much nicer news, my wife was elected to the Binghamton City School Board yesterday. I am very proud of her. When total voter numbers are this small, all that door-knocking ... it matters. I'm now going to go  throw trash out the window of my car in the neighborhoods where my wife *didn't* get the most votes (elections have consequences), so look out ... Sunrise Terrace (wherever that is)!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Outer protein shell of virus / TUE 5-16-17 / Chicago squad in old SNL skits / Victim of river diversion in Asia / Divergent actor James

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Challenging (this took me over 6 minutes; I haven't been over 5 minutes on a Tuesday in probably a decade; my average is about 3:40)

THEME: Well I could see that a state + an extra letter had to be anagrammed for the answer, but damn if I could figure out why. No idea. Kept trying. No idea. Finally read a different crossword blog to discover There Is No Reason. Random states + random letters, anagrammed. That is it. Why "Washington"? No reason. Why add the "R"? No reason. What does WARNING SHOT have to do with Washington? Nothing. Behold the Best Puzzle In The World. This is your god now.

Theme answers:
  • WARNING SHOT (17A: WASHINGTON + R = Intimidation tactic)
  • "I'M SERIOUS" (24A: MISSOURI + E = "No fooling!")
  • NORMAL DAY (???) (33A: MARYLAND + O = Period in which nothing special)
  • BANK RATES (ugh, these answers...) (45A: NEBRASKA + T = Mortgage specifications)
  • AFRICAN LION (52A: CALIFORNIA + N = Majestic)
Word of the Day: CAPSID (5A: Outer protein shell of a virus) —
[seriously, that is what come up at the top of the page when you google [define capsid]]
A capsid is the protein shell of a virus. It consists of several oligomeric structural subunits made of protein called protomers. The observable 3-dimensional morphological subunits, which may or may not correspond to individual proteins, are called capsomeres. The capsid encloses the genetic material of the virus. (wikipedia)
• • •

I keep rewriting this first sentence because I just can't quite come up with the right words to capture how dumb this theme is. I mean, aren't solvers everywhere asking "why these states?" Aren't they asking "Why Those Letters?" Constructors at home, despite the fact that the editor has apparently lost his damn mind / has so few submissions he has to accept nonsense like this—Don't Do This. Your themes need to have some hook, some sense of purpose, something. This is a joke. Maybe it is a joke. Maybe it's some avant-garde performance-art stuff—a puzzle that looks like it means something but actually means nothing! A Thursday on a Tuesday! I have no idea. But I don't think anything so Andy Kaufman-esque is going on here. I think this puzzle is just bad. Really bad. Objectively bad. Anyone out there who has Ever had a puzzle rejected by the NYT is sitting out there this morning going, "... REALLY?!" Yes, really folks. Enjoy!

Analyze this garbage? I would prefer not to.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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