Literary waiter / SAT 3-25-17 / Coffee in miltary slang / Locale in two James Bond films / Media inits since 1922 / Subject of 1942 film musical Yankee Doodle Dandy / Joey of children's literature

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Constructor: Sam Ezersky and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: COHAN (51D: Subject of the 1942 film musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy") —
George Michael Cohan (July 3, 1878 – November 5, 1942), known professionally as George M. Cohan, was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and producer. // Cohan began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans." Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including the standards "Over There", "Give My Regards to Broadway", "The Yankee Doodle Boy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag". As a composer, he was one of the early members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s, and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940. // Known in the decade before World War I as "the man who owned Broadway", he is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M!. A statue of Cohan in Times Square in New York City commemorates his contributions to American musical theatre. (wikipedia)
• • •

I had FATHOMS for FETCHES (3D: Gets), and then didn't know two proper nouns that were placed like sentries right at the western entryways to the SE corner (COHAN, ENID). Other than that, there was literally nothing in this puzzle that presented a problem, nothing that took more than a little bit of puzzling, a little bit of cross-working. This was a very nook-and-crannyed 72-worder, so getting footholds was never ever a problem. The whole thing is footholds. Once again, a 1-Across gimme signaled smooth sailing ahead. I filled in "LIFE OF PABLO" without hesitation—it was one of the most talked-about albums of last year (1A: 2016 #1 Kanye West album, with "The"). There was this whole controversy involving some lyrics about Taylor Swift (to which she publicly took offense), and whether Swift did or did not know about them, and even OK them, ahead of time. I know you all are pop junkies ... read about it here and here if you like. Anyway, regardless of the Swift nonsense, the album was critically successful and I knew it. From there, I put down *seven* Downs in the NW corner, six of which were right (just that aforementioned FATHOMS error...). Grid opened right up.

Somewhat weird that I blanked on COHAN—I could see Cagney in my head very clearly, but I just couldn't for the life of me remember who he was playing. I don't remember who ENID is waiting for (47A: Literary waiter). Geraint? I think it's the Arthurian ENID, but I didn't know she was famous for waiting. That clue was hard. YEA (54A: ___ big) and GILT (30A: Finished elegantly) both slowed me down a bit, but whatever time they cost me was more than made up for when I no-looked *all* the short Acrosses in the NE corner. Just threw all the Downs up—and they all worked. With the exception of SEEPY :( I really liked this grid. Cluing was just OK—more trivia-ish, less clever than yesterday's—but it was good enough. Not sure I woulda gone with the cutesy "?" clue on an abortion-related answer (33A: Classic case of making life choices?). Struck me as slightly yucky and tone deaf. Plus you've got LIFE in the grid (1A) and in another clue besides (16A: Time of one's life, maybe), so maybe ... do something different here. But the ROE V. WADE clue is a minor ding on an otherwise appealing puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Jazz Trumpeter Hargrove with two Grammys / FRI 3-24-17 / Novelist Hammond / Bronx Zoo has 265 of them / Bad occasion for anchor to drag / Hybrid business entity / In Luxury Beware painter 1663

Friday, March 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins and John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Hammond INNES (61A: Novelist Hammond ___) —
Ralph Hammond Innes (15 July 1913 – 10 June 1998) was a British novelist who wrote over 30 novels, as well as children's and travel books. He was married to fellow author and actress Dorothy Mary Lang in 1937 who died before him, in 1989. He was awarded a C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire) in 1978. [...] The Doppelganger, his first novel, was published in 1937. In WWII he served in the Royal Artillery, eventually rising to the rank of Major. During the war, a number of his books were published, including Wreckers Must Breathe (1940), The Trojan Horse (1941) and Attack Alarm (1941), the last of which was based on his experiences as an anti-aircraft gunner during the Battle of Britain at RAF Kenley. After being demobilized in 1946, he worked full-time as a writer, achieving a number of early successes. His novels are notable for a fine attention to accurate detail in descriptions of places, such as in Air Bridge (1951), set partially at RAF Gatow, RAF Membury after its closure and RAF Wunstorf during the Berlin Airlift. // Innes went on to produce books in a regular sequence, with six months of travel and research followed by six months of writing. Many of his works featured events at sea. His output decreased in the 1960s, but was still substantial. He became interested in ecological themes. He continued writing until just before his death. His last novel was Delta Connection (1996).
• • •

Hey, solver solver. I have to be brief this morning because of early appointments, so I'll just say yes, I liked this. I've seen both constructor names before, but neither has left a very strong impression (ETCH!), so I had to go back to check out their earlier work, just to remind myself. I think it's fair to say that this is my favorite work from either of them. Solid grid, not much weak fill, and question-mark clues (which can be grating when off) really land. Often I just want to slap those punny little things ("Ooh, look at me, I'm a question-mark clue, aren't I just so coy and naughty?" [slap]). But if they land, then OK, question-mark clues, we're good. OK [Metal finish?] for WARE isn't much, but [Indications of one's qualifications?] for ASTERISKS is head-scratchingly wonderful (needed tons of crosses), as is [What'll give someone a bleeping chance?] for TAPE DELAY (same). For the latter, it came down to that last letter—my brain wanted it to be TAPED LAG (?). And then [Clip art?] for BONSAI? That's just good. Common phrase, completely (and validly) repurposed by the "?". This is definitely a puzzle where the fill, while good, isn't where the main entertainment value lies. Clue writing is crucial, and I'm told (... glares through the computer at someone ...) I don't talk about it enough. So I'm talking about it!

Daryl ISSA is gross, but his name is so crossword-friendly that I'll overrule my own objection and allow it (24D: California congressman Darrell). HEY, BATTER BATTER is glorious because it is baseball, and baseball is right around the corner, and I need something more than just TCM to take my mind off The World. The names might throw people a bit today, in that they all seem a bit old / obscure. I remembered there was a Judith besides Light somehow (IVEY), but I had no idea who this ROY was (5D: Jazz trumpeter Hargrove with two Grammys) (he's really good!), and while I know Sam RAIMI (I swear I just saw something about "Evil Dead" floating around Twitter in the last couple days), Hammond INNES seems like specialized knowledge. He was a mid-century thriller writer, and I know his name only because I have a massive vintage paperback collection in which his books appear a number of times. RAIMI over INNES might rough some people up, I don't know. Otherwise, while I thought the cluing kind of tricky, this played like a Friday. And look at that, it *is* Friday.

Good luck to all competing in this weekend's ACPT. I won't be there :( but I think I'm gonna "play from home," so ... we'll see how that goes.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


One-horse carriage / THU 3-23-17 / Distinctive filmmakers / Old typesetting machine informally / Certain bourdeaux informally

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Constructor: Sandy Ganzell

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: straitened circumstances — three Down columns are less wide than the others; words meaning "the opposite of wide" must precede all the answers in those columns in order for them to make sense (i.e. you have to mentally supply the initial word)

Theme answers:
  • [Thin] MINTS (14D: Girl Scout cookie offering)
  • [Slim] CHANCE (42D: What a long shot has) (ironically, "Fat" also works as the initial word here)
  • [Lean] CUISINE (22D: Brand for weight-watchers)
  • [Narrow] ESCAPE (16D: Barely successful avoidance of calamity)
  • [Skinny] JEANS (49D: Form-fitting casual wear)
Word of the Day: CARIOLE (17A: One-horse carriage) —
noun: cariole
  1. 1.
    a small open horse-drawn carriage for one person.
    • a light covered cart.
  2. 2.
    (in Canada) a kind of sled pulled by a horse or dogs and with space for one or more passengers. (google)
• • •

It's annoying when I have to read a "Note" to understand the theme because AcrossLite can't display it (apparently the "app" can't either), but tech problems aside, I think this is a wonderful little theme. Really uses *all* the viable synonyms for "the opposite of wide. I want to say the theme is thin ... because it is ... I mean it is, and it is ... sparse, I mean. You know what I mean—there aren't many theme squares. That kind of thin. Just 29 squares involved. Even a lightly themed puzzle will have a minimum of 40 or so. And yet this one feels complete as is. Seems possible that one could have added some THIN-related elements somewhere else in the grid, but it seems just as likely that that would've bogged the grid down and resulted in less clean fill. As it is, this grid is mostly very cleanly filled. CARIOLE, though (ugggggh) nearly destroyed me (17A: One-horse carriage). How on god's green am I supposed to keep all the carriage terminology straight, crossword gods! We've been on to the automobile for a century now, come on. Brougham, landau, phaeton, surrey, stanhope, sulky, fiacre ... I've seen most if not all of those in crosswords before. Well, landau for sure.  Maybe I dreamed the others. My point is that CARIOLE was one where I needed every cross and because it crossed a quotation word (TACT) and a vaguely clued clothing item (SARI), and *those* crossed a [random TV station], I was staring down the barrel of Fail for a bit. Had CAMI for 3D: Article of apparel that often leaves one arm bare, and that gave me _BC for 1A: Cable channel owned by Time Warner, which seemed *very* plausible. Ended up figuring out that it had to be TACT at 1D, which gave me TBS, and then SARI. But none of that trouble would've been real trouble without nutso time-traveling archaic CARIOLE. Blargh.

["Should I bring the brougham around, Dad?" "No! CARIOLE, my wayward son!"]

But as I say, nothing else rankled in the slightest. This appears to be a debut from this constructor, and it's a promising one. I like this better than the entire oeuvre of at least a couple oft-published NYT regulars. I mean, that bar's not terribly high, because those guys' puzzles are super-ugh, but still—nice to have a solid hit your first time out. Oh, wait. COSM is terrible. Very terrible. My general good feeling, though, is undiminished.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Early historian of ancient Rome / WED 3-22-17 / Fresh air's opposite / Kid's transport literally / Present location when visiting boondocks / Figure of underground economy / like n r phonetics / brief period in nuclear physics / big brand of kitchen knives

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (theme easy, fill ... ?)

THEME: "literal" depictions of TRI- QUAD- and PENTA- words 

Theme answers:
  • CYCLECYCLECYCLE (3x cycle = tricycle)
  • RANTRANTRANTRANT (4x rant = quadrant)
  • GONGONGONGONGON (5x gon =pentagon) 
Word of the Day: CUTCO (4D: Big brand of kitchen knives) —
Cutco Corporation, formerly Alcas Corporation, is a multi-level marketing company that sells knives. It is the parent company of CUTCO Cutlery Corp., Vector Marketing, KA-BAR Knives and Schilling Forge. Its primary brand is the name Cutco. // The company was founded in 1949 by Alcoa and Case Cutlery (hence "Al-cas") to manufacture knives. The management purchased the company from Alcoa in 1982, and the company acquired Vector Marketing Corporation in 1985. (wikipedia)
• • •

Joyless. Almost literally painful. The theme concept is not clever—I've seen it before. Also, it was transparent. So, nothing fun in figuring out the themers (note that the grid has been made larger to accommodate the central 16-letter answer). So all there is here really is the fill—and extra fill because of the wide grid. And there was not one place on this grid where I was enjoying myself. It's as if the puzzle knew its theme was thin-to-nonexistent, and so it tried to make the clues harder to compensate, but since the fill itself was mostly tiresome, the "hard" (often just awkward) clues just made the whole experience a chore. The offness and vagueness of the clues was what made the solve so unpleasant. [Cold War threat] for RED CHINA, for instance. A. that's incredibly vague, B. that sounds like a slang term and I see no slang indication in the clue, C. I don't remember this being a "threat." Soooo many more "threats" more closely associated with the Cold War. Further, what is CUTCO? I can tell you it's never been in the NYT before. So ... introduce a marginal knife brand on a Wednesday? Sigh. You should be able to handle your not-hard-to-fill grid better than that.

Hardest part for me was OUT HERE (!??!) (36A: Present location, when visiting the boondocks). Seems much more likely that a *resident* of the "boondocks" would use that phrase when explaining something about the "boondocks" to a condescending asshole visitor she heard using the term "boondocks." "OUT HERE, we value politeness, jerkface." I had NOWHERE in there for a while. Stupid "British" clue on RUMP (28A: ___ steak (British term for a sirloin cut)) meant I could do nothing with RU__ (I know "RUMP steak," but had No idea it was "British"—and there are so many non-British ways to clue RUMP, ugh), so that middle got bogged down. Mainly this thing was just a drag. Just an avalanche of stale fill, AVER SETTO ANO ALI REA ITRY OVA ESL UNIS APACE ADO etc.

Finally, I think there is a really bad editing error at the 10A/10D crossing (10A: Figure of the underground economy? (MINER) / 10D: Brief period in nuclear physics: Abbr. (MSEC). If I get a "brief period" in a science clue, that answer is going to be NSEC. Always. I accept that there are other SECs, but you're gonna have to prove it to me in the crosses. Only here ... NINER works perfectly (esp. in a "?" clue). I figured a NINER was slang for a Forty-Niner (because, in football, *it is*). And the Forty-Niners were ... miners, so ... NSEC / NINER. I do not accept that that's wrong. So the editing here is ugh. Just ugh. Not as bad as the horrible editing involved in the E-CLASS / E.C. SEGAR crossing a few days ago, but bad. Bad. Negligent.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dude Jamaica style / TUE 3-21-17 / Onetimei telecommunications conglomerate for short / Native of southern India or norther Sri Lanka /

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Constructor: George Barany and John D. Child

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (felt easy enough, but my time was on the high side)

THEME: TASTE (54D: It's often unaccounted for ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — circled letters spell out each of the five basic tastes detectable by the human tongue

Theme answers:
*apparently when the puzzle came out online last night, the circled squares in the last themer spelled out not UMAMI but UMMAI

Word of the Day: ITT (12D: Onetime telecommunications conglomerate, for short) —
ITT Corporation (ITT) is an American worldwide manufacturing company based in White Plains, New York, producing specialty components for the aerospace, transportation, energy and industrial markets. // The company was founded in 1920 as International Telephone & Telegraph. During the 1960s and 1970s, under the leadership of CEO Harold Geneen, the company rose to prominence as the archetypal conglomerate, deriving its growth from hundreds of acquisitions in diversified industries. ITT divested its telecommunications assets in 1986, and in 1995 spun off its non-manufacturing divisions, later to be purchased by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. // In 1996, the current company was founded as a spinoff of ITT as ITT Industries, Inc. and changed its name to ITT Corporation in 2006. // In 2011, ITT spun off its defense businesses into a company named Exelis, and its water technology business into a company named Xylem Inc. (wikipedia)
• • •

Puzzle has one thing going for it, and that is five solid 15s as themers. Beyond that, though, there's not much here to enjoy. Nonconsecutive squares spelling things out is the opposite of delightful, 100% of the time (plus or minus a percent). There's nothing particularly clever or amazing about answers that have words "hidden" in them in this way. The themers have nothing to do with the theme itself, so it plays like a very easy themeless. Further, the revealer just lies there. There is no twist, no word play, no nothing that makes this theme snap into place. The tastes *are*, in fact, accounted for, as they are clearly marked by the circled squares. If you're going to go the "no accounting for..." angle, then that should have something to do with how the theme expresses itself. That doesn't happen here.

["I got kicked off Noah's Ark. / I turn my cheek to unkind remarks. / There was TWO (61D: Noah count?) of everything, / But one of meeeeeeeeee..."]

The grid is super choppy and segmented, which means it's overwhelmed by short (3- to 5-letter) stuff, which means a lot of stale fill. That said, stale does not mean particularly terrible. It's crossword-normal; it's just unalleviated by longer, more interesting fill. The one unusual answer it does have ("I'M MEAN!") is completely preposterous (19D: Bully's boast). In what universe does a bully boast "I'M MEAN!"? Seriously. I can't imagine *any* plausible context in which a bully might boast that, and here we're asked to believe it's somehow iconic—a common thing associated with the verbal repertoire of bullies. Ridiculous. It's very, very clear that the constructors had real problems managing their themers there. They designed the grid in such a way that "I'M MEAN!" has to cut through *three* themers—that means this was one of the *first* answers they put in the grid (you gotta lock down those multiple theme crosses before you proceed, because very often there simply aren't very many answers that work). Not sure why they greenlighted "I'M MEAN!" I'd've moved my themers around like crazy to find different letter pattern options before I went with a phrase that for all intents and purposes doesn't actually exist.

[Washington Post Sunday crossword writer/editor, on "I'M MEAN!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


New Mexican pueblo dwellers / MON 3-20-17 / Computer program glitch / Jurassic Park insect casing

Monday, March 20, 2017

Constructor: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (on the easy side for a Monday, slightly)

THEME: astronowordplay — familiar astronomical terms clued as if they were not astronomical terms, i.e. clued wackily, i.e. "?"-style:

Theme answers:
  • LITTLE DIPPER (20A: Toe testing the waters?)
  • GAS GIANT (24A: ExxonMobil?)
  • STAR CLUSTER (37A: Oscar nominees' gathering?)
  • RED DWARF (52A: Bashful?)
  • HEAVENLY BODY (57A: Total hottie?)
Word of the Day: RED DWARF
A red dwarf is a small and relatively cool star on the main sequence, of either K or M spectral type. Red dwarfs range in mass from a low of 0.075 to about 0.50 solar mass and have a surface temperature of less than 4,000 K. // Red dwarfs are by far the most common type of star in the Milky Way, at least in the neighborhood of the Sun, but because of their low luminosity, individual red dwarfs cannot be easily observed. From Earth, not one is visible to the naked eye. Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, is a red dwarf (Type M5, apparent magnitude 11.05), as are fifty of the sixty nearest stars. According to some estimates, red dwarfs make up three-quarters of the stars in the Milky Way. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a solid Monday puzzle—simple concept, nicely executed. True, you can do it with any field with a specialized language: politics, baseball, spelunking (I mean ... probably). But so what? If you can find a set of (symmetrical!) terms that can be plausibly wackily reclued, more power to you. Bring on the wacky spelunking puzzles! As I was solving this, I was expecting to come in in slower-than-normal time because of the nature of the theme: "?"-clue themes add a layer (however small) of difficulty to themers. And I certainly didn't nail LITTLE DIPPER right off the bat; even with LITTLE in place, I wasn't sure what was going on, and ended up spilling down into the middle part of the grid and then circling back up to get DIPPER. But despite the tricksiness of the themers and the awkward solving path, I finished in 2:46, which is actually a good 10 seconds or so *under* my Monday average. The non-theme answers were *very* straightforward, and much of the fill was quite short, which tends to make a grid easy to blow through. It's a black-square-heavy grid, too (44 squares), so there were simply fewer squares to fill in than normal. Overall, a breezy, pleasing experience. Classic Monday fare.

My only issue with the theme involved the last answer: HEAVENLY BODY. It's too general, I think. All the others are very specific phenomenon, and then you get this general term for ... what? *Any* planet or star or other celestial body? Not the greatest way to end the theme answer sequence. Also, the clue was kind of icky in its slangy ogliness (57A: Total hottie?). To give you a sense of how cheesy the clue struck me, here: please watch this trailer for the 1985 movie "Heavenly Bodies." All will be clear.

Today's constructors, Dr. Tyson and Ms. Michaels, went to college together back in the day (HAH-vard, I believe, circa the 20th century). My knowing Andrea and Andrea's knowing Neil led to one of the greatest moments of my science-loving daughter's young life 5 years ago, when she got to meet Dr. Tyson following a lecture he gave in Binghamton. Hard to overestimate how important "NOVA ScienceNow" was to her early education. She brought her autographed copy of "The Pluto Files" in to show her 6th-grade science teacher the next day and kind of blew his mind.

 [April, 2012—my daughter is the one on the left]

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Metal band around pencil eraser / SUN 3-19-17 / Interest for limnologist / Basil who designed England's Coventry Cathedral / Computer controlled players in gaming lingo / Plant that's source of caffeine-free tea / Major John Benedict Arnold's co-conspirator / Brightest star in Aquila

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Constructor: Grant Thackray

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "111-Across!"111A: Warning for solvers of this puzzle (SPOILER ALERT!)—theme answers are plot twists in famous movies, revealed via crossreferenced clues:

Theme answers:
  • SOYLENT GREEN (22A: It's actually made of PEOPLE)
  • LUKE'S FATHER (30A: Who VADER was all along)
  • PLANET OF THE APES (45A: It turns out to be EARTH)
  • ROSEBUD (66A: It really is a SLED)
  • KILLS DUMBLEDORE (83A: What SNAPE does, shockingly)
  • NORMAN BATES (100A: To whom the title "PSYCHO" refers)
Word of the Day: HOYDEN (2D: Tomboy) —
a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior (m-w)
• • •

Hey there. My friends Lena and Brayden are in town to record another "On the Grid" crossword podcast, and we spent all day at the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition, so ... I'm pretty beat *and* I have podcast work to do. Thus, this write-up will be shortish. I do want to tell you all, however, that the tourney in Ithaca was a ton of fun: I met lots of readers (and the children of readers, and the friends of children of readers...) and got to give a little talk about solving under tournament conditions and I ran into my friend (and co-organizer of the Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament) Brian Cimmet *but* ... the best thing by far about the tourney was finding out that one of the solving teams had given themselves the team name "Annabel Thompson Fans"! [note: Annabel Thompson has been doing the first-Monday-of-the-month write-up for me for a couple years now, in case you somehow didn't know]. During my talk, I made the group identify themselves, and they were three college students who were somewhat embarrassed at being pointed out, but who were lovely people and sincere fans of Annabel and also *excellent* solvers—their team won 1st place in the Easy team division. Here they are:

This team also ended up winning a ping-pong ball signed by Will Shortz ... long story. More coverage of the Finger Lakes tourney tomorrow—and much more coverage in our upcoming "On the Grid" podcast (Episode 003). But now to this puzzle...

["... from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z!"]

As a matter of purely personal taste, I *hate* crosswords that are laden with cross-references. My general feeling when told by a crossword clue to [See 88-Across] (or the like) is "No. I will not see that. I refuse." I tend to just plow on and get such answers from crosses. When the theme is sooooo cross-reference dependent, however, you can't really do that. So my feelings toward this weren't great from the jump—too much "see this" "see that." But then I got to solving and ... there's something decent here, theme-wise. I don't associate all these movie twists with "spoilers," as so many of them are well known / iconic. But SPOILER ALERT is a good revealer and most of the time, the cross-referenced shorter answer (the Down) is indeed the spoiler.

["Hey! / Remember when / You took me to the movies / To see "SOYLENT GREEN"!]

The one answer that really throws everything off quite a bit is KILLS DUMBLEDORE. First ... awkward verb-phrase answer. Second ... well, verb-phrase period. That is, none of the other themers are connected by verbs. There are implied linking verbs, e.g. SOYLENT GREEN (is) PEOPLE, LUKE'S FATHER (is) VADER (or vice versa, I guess). If it had been, say, DUMBLEDORE'S KILLER or THE DEATH OF DUMBLEDORE and then SNAPE in the cross-reference, it would've been more consistent with the other answers. Above all, though, I don't think of that plot point as a spoiler. You wonder for the whole movie what ROSEBUD is, and then bam! SLED! You think you're on some weird planet for the whole movie and then bam! EARTH! But SNAPE ... just KILLS DUMBLEDORE. There's a lot of wondering "is SNAPE good or bad?" in those books, but his killing Dumbledore doesn't feel like it rises to *spoiler* the way all the other answers do. We don't spend the whole series wondering who killed DUMBLEDORE. It's not a mystery; it's a plot point. The "PSYCHO" one is also a little weak, in that you learn that NORMAN BATES is his *mother* (or has been dressing up like her and murdering people). *That's* the whoa! No one watching is thinking "I wonder who the PSYCHO is." I don't think that term is used anywhere in the film.

[the 1998 remake of "PSYCHO" was pointless, but this song ... amazing]

I had major trouble right underneath KILLS DUMBLEDORE. HELIACAL is nutso and DAD (as a treehouse-builder) was totally unguessable to me, and I think of limn as something having to do with outlines and shadows, not LAKEs, so that was rough rough rough for me. Everything else played pretty normal.

Gotta run. Talk to you tomorrow.

[Taping "On the Grid" at the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition—L to R: Brian Cimmet, me, tournament puzzle constructor Adam Perl, Lena Webb; also pictured, our YETI microphone w/ jaunty new blue hat] [Note: the gentleman in the background watching us (whose name I have shamefully forgotten) won the individual Challenging division and is headed to his first-ever ACPT next week]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [State quarters?] = DORM because "State" is short for [any] State University. "I go to State." 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1991 Daytona 500 winner Ernie / SAT 3-18-17 / Longtime Cunard flagship for short / Aquarium denizen / Polymer add-on

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Constructor: Roland Huget

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Antonio ROSETTI (36D: Mozart contemporary Antonio ___) —
Francesco Antonio Rosetti (c. 1750 – June 30, 1792, born Franz Anton Rösler, changed to Italianate form by 1773) was a classical era composer and double bass player, and was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart.[...] Rosetti wrote a great deal of instrumental music, including many symphonies and concertos. Rosetti also composed a significant number of vocal and choral works, particularly in the last few years of his life. Among these are German oratorios including Der sterbende Jesu and Jesus in Gethsemane (1790) and a German Hallelujah.[3] He is perhaps best known today for his horn concertos, which Mozart scholar H. C. Robbins Landon suggests (in The Mozart Companion) may have been a model for Mozart's four horn concerti. Rosetti is also known for writing the Requiem (1776) which was played at a memorial for Mozart in December 1791. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hmmm, not great. Simply not entertaining, and way too dependent on proper nouns of dubious distinction (many of which cross, which will spell "disaster" for many solvers). [1991 Daytona 500 winner Ernie]?!? That is the epitome of name obscurity. I had IRVAN (correct!) and was certain I had something wrong. And crossing TRIBS? That's just terrible. TRIBS is not not not a thing. I'm solving the puzzle here with three other people in the room and TRIBS elicited nothing but jeers and groans from everyone. Wife had never heard of Bret HARTE and so had DARTE / DAZE. I'm guessing she won't be alone. I briefly had DAMIEN / MOSETTI because I misremembered the minor CT town name. Also, ROSETTI seems not at all important, historically.

I teach Comics so E.C. SEGAR was a gimme (8A: Creator of Bluto and Wimpy), but that is going to be serious N.C. WYETH / NATICK territory for people when it comes to the "E" cross. An initial crossing ... a single letter ("E" CLASS)? Brutal.

There are just too many occasions her for people to trip over uninferrable proper nouns. I guess OUSE / ROSETTI might be another. The bigger problem—bigger than obscurity—is sheer boringness. It's a trivia test, and the only entertaining thing about it, that I can see, is the clue on JIVE TALK (33D: Cat's tongue). Most everything else was a slog and a chore.

EX ANIMO ... I coulda sworn it was ANIMA (15A: From the heart, in Latin). I fixed it early, but that was rough. I know who ALDO RAY is, but only barely. Thank god for AXL ROSE, who was the sole reason I was able to take down the NW without much trouble. What the heck is "Death and the MISER"? I had -ISER and still wasn't sure. Nothing about that clue even *suggests* MISER (45A: "Death and the ___" (Bosch painting in the National Gallery of Art)). Between me and the others in this room, we had at least three different kind of FISH before we got ZEBRA FISH. I had TETRA. Brayden and Lena (my houseguests) had both ANGEL and CLOWN. That's not the puzzle's fault—just a fluke (!) that so many answers seemed plausible. Still, there *is* much to fault here. Honestly, I don't know what else to say. There's nowhere good to go from here. I look one way: E-NOTE. I look another way: PAN IN (49A: Prepare for a close-up), which is not a thing—you zoom in, you pan across. Here, I'll let this screenwriter / director explain it to you:

I get that ROSETTI was a kind of trap, in that many many many people will want SALIERI there. But the thing about traps is that you have to have that moment of "oh, wait it's not right" (check) but also "oh, whoa, it's this other thing I know" (no dice). So today, people get the experience of having been tricked, but (because no one knows ROSETTI) never ever get the experience of "aha!" Which makes the puzzle seem dickish. Which isn't fun.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. More Twitter reaction:

 [Howard Barkin, 2016 ACPT champion]

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Robe-wearing trainer of cinema / FRI 3-17-17 / Command for turning sharply right / Supermarket chain until 2015 / Recreational soccer to Brits / Fort Civil War landmark near Savannah / Thomas who headed 9/11 commission

Friday, March 17, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: IN AN "E" (49D: Foolish ... or, when read as three words, how this puzzle's other four "foolish" answers are arranged) — three other answers are each clued [Foolish]; they form a large "E" in the middle of the grid


Word of the Day: Thomas KEAN (54A: Thomas who headed the 9/11 Commission) —
Thomas Howard "Tom" Kean Sr. (/ˈkn/; born April 21, 1935) is an American Republican Party politician, who served as the 48th Governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. Kean is best known globally, however, for his 2002 appointment as Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, widely known as the 9/11 Commission, which was responsible for investigating the causes of the September 11, 2001 attacks and providing recommendations to prevent future terrorist attacks. He was appointed to this post by U.S. President George W. Bush. Upon the completion of his second term as governor, he served as the president of Drew University for 15 years, until his retirement in 2005. (wikipedia)
• • •

It has its charm, but I really wish it had run on a Thursday. Not really a fan of these half-themes, these coy themes, these "can I be a themeless and a themed puzzle too, please?" themes. In-betweeners. This one feels too thin for a themed puzzle and not wide-open and daring enough to be a themeless. Gets caught in a kind of no man's land. And yet I admire the "E" trick, if only because it somehow works—that is a perfect "E," and the [Foolish] clue works well enough for all of those answers. It's like a mini-theme stuck in between two slices of themeless bread (specifically, the two pairs of 15s in the E and the W). Somehow the 15s all seem both original and boring. Not sure why that is. At least ATTENDANCE SHEET got a somewhat clever clue (2D: Skipping record?).

[man, that 8-note piano loop is, in fact, INANE]

Never heard of Fort MCALLISTER (37A: Fort ___ (Civil War landmark near Savannah)) or Thomas KEAN (54A: Thomas who headed the 9/11 Commission) or GLEN Rock, N.J. (60A: ___ Rock, N.J.), which meant that at times I really felt like I was struggling. But I came in under 6, which is on the fast side for me, for a Friday ... but then this isn't really a *Friday*, as we've established, so I don't know how to rate its difficulty accurately ... except to say it took me 5-something minutes. That's fastish for both Thursday and Friday. Beyond the proper noun problems, I had trouble coming up with "HELL-O!" (needed almost every cross) (1D: When its second syllable is drawn out, "Are you out of your mind?!"), as well as the SLY part of ON THE SLY (wanted D.L. or Q.T., which obviously didn't fit) (23A: Sub rosa). No other high- or lowlights. Gonna go back to watching my NCAA brackets getting blown up. Pretty boring day so far. Mostly chalk. (*This* meaning of chalk, which I don't think I've ever seen as a CHALK clue ... but then, how often do you see CHALK in the grid?)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day, from snowy Binghamton...

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Counterpart of JavaScript / THU 3-16-17 / Pipe with tube / Eco-frienly seafood designation / Bacchus Ariadne painter circa 1523

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: REDACTED (66A: Used a black marker on ... or a hint to three chunks of black squares in this puzzle) — three 15-letter answers are each interrupted by three black squares, which you have to interpret as blacked-out (or "redacted") squares. In each case, the blacked-out squares are initials of agencies that might engage in redacting themselves:

Theme answers:
  • LOOSE-LEAF BINDER (19A: Student's note-taking aid)
  • DOLPHIN-SAFE TUNA (36A: Eco-friendly seafood designation)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS (52A: Large wire)
Word of the Day: J. COLE (27D: Rapper with the 2013 #1 album "Born Sinner") —
Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985), better known by his stage name J. Cole, is an American hip hop recording artist and record producer. Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a solo career as a rapper, he went on to release two additional mixtapes after signing to Jay Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009. // Cole released his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was soon certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[3] His next two releases, 2013's Born Sinner and 2014's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, received mostly positive reviews from critics,[4][5][6] while being both certified platinum in the US. The latter earned him his first Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was also the first rap album in over 25 years to gain platinum certification without any guest appearances or features. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is pretty cute. The revealer is what makes pop—it provides a nice visual, a nice explanation for what has happened to those letters (as I was solving, I was thinking I was headed for something like "UNDERCOVER" or the like). I once made a puzzle for the program of an off-Broadway play about Jack Ruby (true story) that had the FBI and the CIA hidden in it, but they were "hidden" in circles. I like the theme answers themselves too, just as answers in their own right. Well, OK, I don't *love* ASSOCIATED PRESS, but the other two are pretty original. I don't think a LOOSE-LEAF BINDER is a "note-taking aid," though. You don't take notes with a binder. You might keep your notes in one, although you're more likely to see spiral-bound or composition notebooks. Actually, you're increasingly likely to see some electronic device or other (though not in my classroom—sorry, kids). Loose-leaf binders are pretty chunky. Clue on ASSOCIATED PRESS is a little cheap, with its ambiguous and not-at-all in-the-language use of "wire" (i.e. you would call the AP a "large wire service"; you would not call it a "large wire"). But maybe the difficulty needed to be amped up some. In any case, this theme works fine.

["Private EYES"] (48A: Hawks have sharp ones)

Not too much trouble with the solve. REST____ could've been STOP, so I had to wait a bit there (18A: Place with picnic tables, often). Never can spell ROGEN's name right; went with ROGAN initially. Did a double-take at STRIAE but decided it was probably right and moved on. Had most trouble at DJED / J. COLE. It's a fair cross, in that "J" is really the only letter that works there for 26A: Played at a party, say, but it's always super-dicey to cross an initial in a proper noun that you *know* not everyone's going to have heard of (J. COLE is huge, but likely not so much with your crossword-solving crowd). The term NATICK (meaning an unfair crossing, usu. involving at least one non-iconic proper noun) came from crossing NATICK at the "N" with "N. C. WYETH," i.e. from crossing a not-exactly-famous-or-even-inferrable place name with an *initial*. But again, here, even though solvers may have to run the alphabet, that alphabet should (last I checked) lead you to "J." I don't think any other letter makes sense there. I should add that this section was made slightly harder by the highly ambiguous clue on SENSATION (46A: Hit).

Fill in this one is not strong (e.g. ITI III), but it's not weak either. Not a fount of fun, but not exactly an ODE TO SSNS, either. Somewhere in between. Kind of heavy on the improvised, silly-sounding adjectives (GLUEY! STATICKY! SILTY!) but I found those more colorful than irksome.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Newswoman Bakhtiar / WED 3-15-17 / HGTV personality Yip / Long-snouted fish / Elegantly designed trinkets / Angsty music genre / Lowland poetically

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: pffft, do I really have to type this out? — Note: The five rows of circled squares reveal an unusual* feature of this puzzle.

*your definition of "unusual" may vary

Word of the Day: VERN Yip (29D: HGTV personality ___ Yip) —
Vern Yip (born June 27, 1968, in Hong Kong) is an American interior designer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He periodically appeared on TLC's Trading Spaces through its fourth season, and was known for frequently including silk, candles and flowers in the rooms he designed. He is one of the panel of judges on HGTV's Design Star. Yip hosted four seasons of HGTV's show Deserving Design.[3][4] Yip just hosted an HGTV special called Urban Oasis, in which he designed a Chicago loft in the Trump International Hotel, to be given away to a winner. (wikipedia)
• • •

I continue to be amazed that the NYT runs puzzles this joyless and tedious. So much constructing talent out there, but not nearly enough of it is coming to the NYT (any more). Where to begin here ... Let me get this straight: you start your puzzle (1-Across) with a [See blurb] (off to a roaring start!); then the blurb is actually not a "blurb" but a "Note" (Wife: "See blurb ... is the note the blurb? Why isn't it called "blurb"? FAIR QUESTION); then the "Note" tells you ... basically nothing—I mean, *presumably* the circled squares are important For Some Reason. But OK, "unusual feature," tell me more. Then the circled squares are just More Instructions (basically). And finally, what we're left with are ... six short answers that have this actually Completely Unremarkable and not-at-all "unusual" feature. Is anyone looking at ALMOST and going "Oooh, look at that the unusual feature of that word!" No. No. No. So, to recap: [See blurb] leads to instructions leads to more instructions leads to the saddest assortment of theme answers known to humankind. More (far more) real estate given over to Stupid Instructions than to the alleged "features" of interest. Only someone actively committed to joylessness could've produced this.

The fill is blah and old-skewing, but that hardly matters after the theme disaster. I would, however, like to say that BZZT is decidedly not a thing. Not cute, not clever, not a thing. I think Ben here had the right idea:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I mean, come on. These "unusual" theme answers are straight out of some dumb Buzzfeed listicle (actually, most of them are, in fact, in this Buzzfeed listicle)

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Monastic realm / TUE 3-14-17 / Mystery writer Marsh / Anatomy of Murder actor 1959 / online money transfer facilitator / Journalist Nellie / Gesture to punctuate great performance / Asian gambling mecca / Rice-based Spanish dish

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: SALAD DAYS (58A: Youthful time in one's life ... which this puzzle might harken solvers back to?) — theme answers are actors whose last names are also salad types:

Theme answers:
  • SID CAESAR (20A: *"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" actor, 1963)
  • LEE J. COBB (24A: *"12 Angry Men" actor, 1957)
  • ORSON BEAN (36A: *"Anatomy of a Murder" actor, 1959)
  • TOM GREEN (53A: *"Road Trip" actor, 2000) 
Word of the Day: NGAIO Marsh (18A: Mystery writer Marsh) —
Dame Ngaio Marsh DBE (/ˈn./; 23 April 1895 – 18 February 1982), born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. // Internationally Marsh is known primarily for her creation Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police (London). She is known as one of the "Queens of Crime" alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't dislike this theme, but I also don't fully get it. Like, why are they all actors? What does SALAD DAYS have to do with acting? Also, what does DAYS have to do with ... anything, where the theme answers are concerned. I see that the last names of the actors are all types of salads, but how do the actors relate to SALAD DAYS, or "days" at all? Is it because they are all old (sorry, Tom Green)? And so when we see their names, we're like "ah, yesteryear!" I don't quite follow. Beyond that, it seemed fine. Had trouble with the first three letters of AW, GEEZ! (5D: "What a bummer!"). Was not alone (apparently NGAIO = not on everyone's cultural radar):

Misread 9D: Monastic realm as [Monarchic realm] and so needed every cross. Might've needed every cross anyway, because ABBACY? ... not a word that comes readily to mind. Or, to put it less kindly:

That whole NE corner is pretty rough, tbh. I mean: AEROBAT?? (11D: Stunt pilot)

A couple of not-terribly-iconic older names means a lot of opportunities for younger solvers to get totally stymied:

I have done enough crosswords not to be terribly troubled by any of the names. My trouble was CAWED for COOED (32A: Made bird noises), ESOS for ESAS (54D: Those, to José), blanking on COMPORT (not a terribly common term) (42D: Behave), and stumbling on HOLY ARK (mostly because I just think of the ARK part—is the phrase HOLY ARK a rock solid thing? Why *wouldn't* the ark be holy? Seems like a given...) (46D: It stores a synagogue's Torah scrolls). In the end, I guess you can roll with the puzzle's humor ...

Or you can just diplomatically move on:

Happy snow day!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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