1941 siege target / SUN 1-21-18 / Old Parlophone parent / Fan publications informally / Trickster of Navajo mythology / Chemical source of fruit flavor / Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies / Make out at Hogwarts / Pagtron of Archdiocese of New York briefly / Shoulderless sleeveless garment

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Constructor: Victor Barocas and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "Substitutes" — theme answers up top are ordinary phrases following the pattern [___ FOR ___]; in the bottom half, theme clues ask you to "remember" one of the theme answers from the top half, and then you're supposed to make a substitution in the bottom-half theme clue by taking the "remembered" theme answers literally, i.e. swapping out the first word for the second. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • PLAY FOR TIME (23A: Stall) // ELIZABETHAN ERA (95A: Play Time of Shakespeare (remember 23-Across)) {when you "remember 23-Across," you "remember" to substitute the word PLAY for the word TIME in this clue}
  • NOT SAFE FOR WORK (33A: At risk of being offensive) // TELECOMMUTE (111A: Not safe Work at home (remember 33-Across))
  • CRY FOR HELP (43A: Subtle sign from the distressed) // TEMPORARY EMPLOYEE (73A: Seasonal cry help (remember 43-Across)) 
  • RECIPE FOR DISASTER (56A: Very bad plan) // EARTHQUAKE (87A: Recipe Disaster that entails a lot of shaking (remember 56-Across)) 
Word of the Day: ELIS (45D: Ancient land where the Olympics began) —
Elis /ˈɛlɪs/ or Eleia /ɛˈl.ə/ (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις ĒlisDoricἎλιςAlisEleanϜαλις Walisethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds to the modern Elis regional unit. Elis is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea. Over the course of the archaic and classical periods, the polis of Elis controlled much of the region of Elis, most probably through unequal treaties with other cities, which acquired perioikic status. Thus the city-state of Elis was formed.(wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is lovely, but this theme didn't work for me at all. Any theme that is tough to explain clearly and succinctly has a good likelihood of being problematic. It's not that this one was tough to figure out, it's just that it only really affected four theme answer (i.e. the first four are just straightforward answers to straightforward clues), so it was barely there—so much so that I never bothered to "remember" anything. And who "remembers" clues? That's a weird word choice. There are something like 140 answers in this grid. Asking me to "remember" some number clue is absurd. I just ended up getting those answers from crosses / by inference. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't be bothered to figure out what. Only after I was done did I go back and try to find out what all this "remembering" was about. So it's a half-theme that doesn't even need figuring out. Even the title of the puzzle feels like it's not really trying. "Substitutes"? That's it? As I said, the grid itself is clean and lively, which is always nice. But the theme was super-off to me, and theme is kind of important on a Sunday.


GAYBORHOODS! I knew those were gay areas or districts or ... some word, but I did not see this particular neologism (!) coming. SHEDFUL made me laugh because come on, that is not a meaningful quantity (65D: Quantity of garden tools). Probably the hardest answer for me to get in this puzzle was 1A: Enjoy some rays? (SCUBA). Couldn't decide if the dog was going GRR or ARF (5D: Terrier's warning), so I needed most of the other crosses to see SCUBA (a "?" clue which, it turns out, we are getting only for the "joy" of encountering the repeat clue at 61A: Enjoys some rays (BASKS)). How is a CRY FOR HELP "subtle"? If it's a cry, it's ... by definition ... not subtle. Baffling. I had just a couple of initial mistakes today: TBONDS for TNOTES (man, that's a boring mistake) (93D: They take 2-10 yrs. to mature) and POOH BEARS / SHE-GOAT for CARE BEARS (21A: Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies) / PET (?) GOAT (14D: Nanny around the house?). I wish I had more to say about this puzzle, but I don't. Hope you enjoyed the theme more than I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Pomerrigio follower / SAT 1-20-18 / Hop hop icon born Lisa Williamson / Blondie's maiden name / Nocturnal predators of fiction / Tony official character voice of Donald Duck / Setup for Netflix film say

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: none

Word of the Day: pomeriggio (21A: Pomeriggio follower => SERA)
SERA = evening (Italian)
• • •

Another hard puzzle today, though today was far more in line with expectations—a proper themeless puzzle that was properly tough. Finished in less time than yesterday's abomination took me, predictably. Thought the clues on this one were trying too hard to be hard/clever in many places, and some of the fill (especially proper nouns) got weird and obscure, but the big-ticket stuff looks very good, and overall I think it's a nice example of what a typical Saturday puzzle should be like: hard and occasionally humiliating but ultimately satisfying. Some of the clues were completely unintelligible to me, even after I'd solved them (see 21A: Pomeriggio follower, for example). Also, "Blondie" knowledge that goes *that* deep. That's insane. "Blondie" is super-old. Super. Old. I teach a course on Comics and this answer was a mystery to me. Got it by inference (from Betty Boop), as I'm sure most people did. With Howdy Doody also in the comic, well, you can feel this thing skewing pretty retro. Even the hip-hop reference was retro: I haven't heard of SISTER SOULJAH since the '90s (10D: Hip-hop icon born Lisa Williamson). Also, SIST*ER*!?!?! That bit stunned me. I got the answer quickly because I started with the last -AH in place, but I spelled it SISTAH SOULJAH because ... in hip-hop ... -ER to -A(H) sound / spelling change is pretty standard. See, uh, SOULJAH, for one.


Felt like there were a Ton of "?" clues, but there were just six. Three of them are quite close together in the NW, though, so I felt like I was being bombarded. I think the puzzle gets a *little* careless with proper nouns at PELLA / AMATO. The window name I've seen (25D: Big name in windows), but couldn't recall specifically (kept wanting PEALE or PEELE), and AMATO is gibberish to me (35A: Pasquale ___, baritone at the Metropolitan Opera). I thought maybe this was a new clue for ERATO. Totally feasible that neither name will be known to a solver, and only AMATO is (fairly) inferrable with that one letter missing (-MATO). Also, ANSELMO, LOL what? The only reason I got this was that my aunt lives in San ANSELMO, and Van Morrison sings a beautiful song called "Snow in San ANSELMO." "Official character voice of Donald Duck" is like a parody of an obscure clue. Like, today? Now? Is Donald Duck being voiced anywhere? Or is this in the past? You can see I'm not looking it up. It's so weird that this is a thing the puzzle thinks I might know. (Yes, he's currently Donald's voice, and apparently "Duck Tales" is on the air somewhere, I don't know). Anyway, hope you are familiar with PACHINKO (I botched the spelling there at first) (4D: Its player may have a yen for gambling) and CMA (27D: Nashville awards org.) and POLIS (23D: Sparta, e.g.) and SISTER SOULJAH or the California city San ANSELMO. Mind your names, constructors. Mind your names.


RELEASE WAIVER felt redundant (11D: Paper signed before filming begins). Heard of signing releases and signing waivers but not RELEASE WAIVERs.  SYNODAL is a word I'd be happy never to see again (see also yesterday's "appurtenance") (41A: Like certain ecclesiastical councils). I like BIG TICKET ITEM best, and I like it's clue best (12A: One taking a lot of credit, maybe?), and I like that the constructor knew enough to put the "Best" stuff right across the top of the dang grid. I was super-proud of myself that I remembered SARAI today straight away (38D: Name changed in Genesis 17:15). Less proud that I went with HAIRCUTS at 30D: Changers of locks (HAIR DYES) and thus fell in a hole that added probably a solid minute to my solving time. Pfffflert. Nothing will get you stucker longer than a wrong answer. "There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself"—Philip Marlowe, in The Long Goodbye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Thrill seeker's appurtenance / FRI 1-19-18 / Third largest city in Switzerland / Last new Beatles track before their split in 1970 / 1966 Pulitzer-winning Edward Albee play

Friday, January 19, 2018

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Challenging



THEME: BEETHOVEN (35A + 36A) on EARPHONES (21D + 39D) — there is a note:



Word of the Day: PARADOR (8A: Spanish hotel) —
noun
  1. a hotel in Spain owned and administered by the Spanish government. (google)
• • •

Why? Why would you do this? Fridays are the Best Days for puzzles. My favorite day. Themeless puzzles that are on the easier side. These are usually the most delightful puzzles of the week. So why would you run this Saturday+-difficulty Maleska-era-skewing wisp-of-a-joke puzzle today!? If you had to do it, do it Tomorrow. It was certainly hard enough (my time was 2x normal Friday and well above my normal Saturday). This was a whole lot of brutality just so I could notice the "H" at the end. I probably could've made the experience slightly easier if I had Bothered To Look At The Note At All, but I resent notes and never read them until after I'm done. I take it as a personal challenge. A dare. If I need your note, your puzzle's no good and I'm no good as a solver. If I'd read it, I *probably* would've pieced together that the central answers were involved, and that would've given me BEET (instead of ACAI, ugh), and that western section might've fallen a Lot sooner (it was a nightmare). But I'm not playing your stupid reindeer games on Friday. Just *seeing* the little yellow "Note" symbol in my software gave me ill will toward this puzzle. And then it was hard and full of weirdness and obscurity and "clever" cluing, and Then the payoff was ... what it was. If you absolutely had to make this "joke," why not do it inside a clean, modern, delightful grid, instead of this painfully BORESOME one (I hope I'm using that "word" right—I refuse to look it up).


No idea:
  • GRAB BAR (1A: Help during the fall?) — ?????????????? Brutal. Do you mean "hand rail?" What the hell is a GRABBAR!? This was the beginning of the end for me in the west, as I had 5D: Smoking GUN. And thus -R--GAR at 1-Across. Forever.
  • ACCORDS (1D: Grants) — Oh, it's a verb. How nice. Not how I was reading it.
  • BEAR (4D: Difficult thing to do, informally) — without GRABBAR, no hope
  • PARADOR (8A: Spanish hotel) — a what now?
  • ABILENE (16A: Hardin-Simmons University setting) — I teach at a university and have never heard of this university, and thus could not have known where it is located
  • ABASE (9D: Mortify) — Kept thinking about someone being "mortified" and just refused to accept that "abased" meant the same thing
  • COY (26A: Hardly fresh) — ugh these words. What decade are these gender politics from? I had CO- and had to run the alphabet. Twice
  • SLOPE (27A: It's not on the level) — SLANT
  • PIERO (28D: Renaissance artist ___ della Francesca) — cannot keep all those guys straight, and without SLOPE ... nope
  • BEET (35A: Healthful juice source) — ACAI, as I (a) say above
  • GOPRO (37A: Thrill-seeker's appurtenance — just brutal, this clue. I forgot these exist. They don't have anything to do with the "seeking" of the thrill, just the recording of it. The word "appurtenance" is a horrifically ugly thing to have to look at. 
  • MEI (47A: ___ Lan (giant panda born at the ATLANTA zoo)) — there are so many damn zoo pandas at this point, expecting people to know the particular three-letter Chinese name part at this point is ridiculous. The cross-reference adds nothing here.
  • ELENA (50D: "The Vampire Diairies" protagonist") — nope, but luckily ELENA is a name that appears on crosswords a lot
  • ISN'T (52A: That right introduction?) — this may be the most painful "?" clue I've ever read, whereas my wrong answer is probably the best wrong answer that ever was. I had: STET. "DELE? No, that right! STET!" Me: "I don't know why the editor is talking like that, but OK."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Foot baby-style / THU 1-18-18 / Jewel case insert / Group rallied by Mao Zedong / Lady Ashley Jake Barnes's love in Sun Also Rises / Some roles in Jack Benny film College Holiday

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Constructor: Ryan McCarty and Alan Southworth

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: NO WAY (69A: "Forget it!" ... or a hint to 17-, 30-, 46- and 62-Across) — DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: "KUBO and the Two Strings" (58D: 2016 animated film "___ and the Two Strings") —
Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 American 3D stop-motion fantasy action-adventure film directed and co-produced by Travis Knight (in his directorial debut), and written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. It stars the voices of Charlize TheronArt ParkinsonRalph FiennesRooney MaraGeorge Takei, and Matthew McConaughey. It is Laika's fourth feature film produced. The film revolves around Kubo, who wields a magical shamisen and whose left eye was stolen in infancy. Accompanied by an anthropomorphic snow monkey and beetle, he must subdue his mother's corrupted Sisters and his power-hungry grandfather Raiden (aka, the Moon King), who stole his left eye.
Kubo premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival and was released by Focus Features in the United States on August 19 to critical acclaim and has grossed $77 million worldwide against a budget of $60 million. The film won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects, becoming the second animated film ever to be nominated in the latter category following The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). (wikipedia)
• • •

Weird, we get a My Chemical Romance clue (45A: My Chemical Romance genre => EMO), but ... NO WAY?*

[*Gerard WAY is the lead singer for My Chemical Romance]

Two things about this puzzle are startling. First, the theme, which is so conceptually remedial, I have a hard time imagining its running in any majoy daily, let alone the "gold standard" puzzle. You just take WAY out? To get tepid phrases that are sometimes actual things and sometimes non-things? ONE STREET? That's funny? That's ... what is that? This is a puzzle you make early in your career and it gets rejected and then you learn to make your themes more interesting. When I got to the revealer ("NO WAY!"), I thought, "That ... that can't be it. Is that it?" It was it. And the resulting answers: HIGH ROBBERY, not a thing (unless you smoke pot and then knock over a bank, I guess), SUBSTATIONS, absolutely a thing, ONE STREET, a thing but not a standalone thing ... and then there's RUN A TRAIN. This is where I really, really wonder if anyone took any time editing this thing. The *only* reaction to this puzzle that I saw on Twitter last night involved this answer. Go ahead and google RUN A TRAIN (in quotation marks) if you don't know what that phrase means in common parlance. Let's just say that if the NYT does indeed have a "breakfast test" for its answers, this one proooooooobably doesn't pass. Surely Will's younger assistants know the slang meaning of this phrase. I wonder if the constructors thought they were being cute, or had a bet, or something. "We'll never get this by him!" "Let's try!"







I found the puzzle really easy except for the far north, where BRETT (???) (6A: Lady ___ Ashley, Jake Barnes's love in "The Sun Also Rises") and BOBBER (it's not just "bob"?) (6D: Tackle box item) and especially RUBADUB (who doesn't love a partial nonsense phrase!?) (7D: Start of a children's rhyme) really gummed things up. The SW also slowed me down, as all that Cockney nonsense was unintelligible to me. Neither LONDONER (37D: Cockney, e.g.) nor 'ERE (68A: "Listen ___!" (Cockney cry)) came into view easily. I thought maybe the Cockney person (?) was saying "Listen 'A ME!" Ugh. Oh, and I forgot what a "jewel case" was (oh, these modern times!) and so CD-ROM (bygone!) was rough for me as well (53A: Jewel case insert). Also got thrown by the theme-length answer with the "?" clue that was *not* a themer (I really hate that sort of junk). CEMENT MASON is as long or longer than all themers and (like the themers) has a "?" clue, so I went looking for a missing WAY. To no avail. But the rest was a cinch and even these problem areas weren't tough to work out. But overall, this was unpleasant, in more ways than one.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Site of Zeno's teaching / WED 1-17-18 / Dystopian novel set in year 2540 / Close-fitting head covering / Longtime Syrian strongman

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Easy (note: grid is oversized at 15x16)


THEME: DOWN FEATHERS (11D: Warm winter coat contents ... or what is present in the answer to each starred clue?) — different birds are embedded in the long "down" answers. Birds have "feathers" ... and the answers go "down" ... so there you go.

Theme answers:
  • WAYNE GRETZKY (25D: *Sports legend who was an M.V.P. for eight consecutive seasons)
  • A GAME OF INCHES (5D: *Baseball, according to some)
  • "TELL ME ANOTHER ONE" (7D: *"A likely story!")
  • BRAVE NEW WORLD (22D: *Dystopian novel set in the year 2540)
Word of the Day: down (11-Down) —
noun
  1. soft fine fluffy feathers that form the first covering of a young bird or an insulating layer below the contour feathers of an adult bird.
    synonyms:soft feathers, fine hair; More
    • soft fine fluffy feathers taken from ducks or their nests and used for stuffing cushions, quilts, etc.; eiderdown.
    • fine soft hair on the face or body of a person.

      "the little girl had a covering of golden down on her head"
• • •

This puzzle has one major (maybe not fatal, but major) flaw, and that's that the revealer is an awkward redundancy. As you can see from the Word of the Day definition, "down" *means* feathers.  So ... DOWN FEATHERS ... !?!? Your revealer needs to be snappy and in-the-language and bang-on, and this one just flomps. That's when you "flop" in a "lump" on the ground, I think. DOWN FEATHERS was the answer I finished on, and unlike the rest of the puzzle, it took a bunch of work because ... again, DOWN FEATHERS, not a good phrase. "Down comforter," "down coat," etc. The word "feathers" is absurdly excessive. It's sad because there's potential to this type of embedded-word puzzle. You just need the right revealer, and this wasn't it. Also, as I've said before, with embedded words, the ideal is that every word in the theme answers touches said word, so there are no uninvolved words. WAYNE GRETZKY is a *perfect* embedded-word answer. Beautiful. Who knew EGRET was in there!? A revelation! The rest have extraneous words. A GAME, not involved, TELL ME, not involved, WORLD, not involved. And then there's the revealer. So if you solved left-to-right, as I did, this went from promising and possibly delightful to frowny-face disappointing.


The grid is chock full o' crosswordese (I mean, that first row is paradigmatic ... actually, the second row doesn't get much better ...), so that was unfortunate, but I've definitely seen worse grids. ARIOSE and LIENEE, despite being look-uppable words, are gruesome crosswordese to me (I only ever see them in crosswords, they are only here because of the favorable letter combinations they provide, not because someone thought, "ooh, that'll look nice..."). I have to say, though, that the clue on APOSTROPHE is a hall-of-famer. A perfect use of the "?" clue. Evokes one thing, actually clues something *entirely* different. Aggressively, unexpectedly literal clue. Also, I like bourbon. So that clue, like bourbon, warms my heart.


Bullets:
  • 6A: Site of Zeno's teaching (STOA) — OK, so just now I learned that there are two Zenos. That ... hurts. (e)How did I not know that?? There's Zeno of ELEA (the answer I wanted here) (he's the ZENO of "Zeno's Paradoxes"), and then there's Zeno of Citium (!?!?!) (c. 334 – c. 262 BC), the founder of (wait for it ...) STOIcism, so-named for the place where he taught: the Stoa Poikile in Athens. STOA is here a proper noun. It is also a regular noun meaning "a classical portico or roofed colonnade" (google).
  • 65A: Pasta used in soups and salads (ORZO) — always have to stop and think which one is ORZO and which one is OUZO (the anise-flavored Greek liqueur)
  • 38D: Mortgagor, e.g. (LIENEE) — the clue and the answer are competing in a "who's uglier?' contest. Too close to call.
  • 9D: Longtime Syrian strongman (ASSAD) — well, at least they called him "strongman." I'd've gone with something ... stronger. Actually, I'd probably not use him in a grid at all. Bygone tyrants, I can tolerate in my grids somewhat. Active ones, less so.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dance-based fitness program / TUE 1-16-18 / Weightless state informally / Chichi chihuahua accessory / Yankees great dubbed Old Perfessor / neighborhood where kimchi might be found informally

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: FOUR-LETTER WORDS (39A: Curses ... or what 18-, 20-, 26-, 48-, 57- and 63-Across are, literally — answers in question are formed from a total of four letters ... at least I think that's it. I hope that's it. It's very early in the morning ...

Theme answers:
  • SASSAFRAS (18A: Its root was once used in root beer) (SASF)
  • SENESCENCE (20A: Process of aging) (SENC)
  • LOLLIPOP (26A: What always deserves a good licking?) (LOIP)
  • NONSENSE (48A: Poppycock) (NOSE)
  • TATTLETALE (57A: Snitch) (TALE)
  • RECHERCHE (63A: Exotic) (RECH)
Word of the Day: ZUMBA (68A: Dance-based fitness program) —
noun
trademark
  1. an aerobic fitness program featuring movements inspired by various styles of Latin American dance and performed primarily to Latin American dance music. (google)
• • •

This grid is a lovely bit of fun, but I confess I don't really get the theme. I mean, I *get* it (I think), but aren't ... a lot of words FOUR-LETTER WORDS, in the sense that they are made up of a total of four different letters of the alphabet? Yes, SASSAFRAS uses only SAFR, but, for instance, SENSEI uses only SENI, and ... so? I guess I just don't know how special these kinds of four-letter words are. Obviously the longer the word gets, the more unusual the four-letterness, but that still doesn't feel special enough to build a theme around. I like the idea of playing around with the meaning of FOUR-LETTER WORDS, but this particular play feels flimsy. But as I say, taken as a themeless, just for the pleasure of the words in the grid alone, I enjoyed this once. It bounced, and (for a Tuesday in particular) was very, very clean (with only OTTOI mucking things up—adding that guy to my Retire Your Fill! (RYF) list).


The bounciness was also the only thing challenging about the puzzle. It took a little thinking to parse stuff like K-TOWN (short for Koreatown) (17A: Neighborhood where kimchi might be found, informally) and BAD PR (6A: What a divorce may generate for a celeb) and "OH, WELL" (4D: "That's a bummer"). Easier for me to get something like PESETA than EHOW, which I had as ETSY at first (ETSY involves people selling things they make themselves, EHOW involves showing people how to do things themselves). ZUMBA makes me think how little I've seen TAEBO in puzzles lately, which puzzles deserve commendation for. I hereby grant you a five-year license to use ZUMBA; we'll check back in in 2023 to see if ZUMBA still warrants it (68A: Dance-based fitness program). The toughest answer for me to get was PITON, because they have spikes so I always think there's a "K" in there, and then I think the answer's more literal, like GRIP ON, and ... I don't know, it's not a word I encounter anywhere but crosswords, and no other word looks like it (nothing very common fits -ITON, or P-TON, or PI-ON, or PIT-N, or PITO- ... it's weird), so I just have trouble slotting it in my brain properly.

Bullets:
  • 14A: Pharmaceutical giant that makes Valium (ROCHE) — can't keep my pharmaceutical giants straight, and totally forgot this one today. LILLY, PFIZER, MERCK ... where were you when I needed you!?
  • 49D: Slimeball (SLEAZE) — wrote in SLEAZO because I really thought the NYT had tried in the past to convince me that was a term, but then I realized I was thinking of CREEPO
  • 64D: Org. concerned with soil and water (EPA) — LOL not anymore. This clue is at least a year old.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I didn't understand the theme until I was done; while I was solving, I thought it had something to do with "stuff you say instead of swearing," like SASSAFRAS! and NONSENSE! (you know, instead of "bullshit!")

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French president's palace / MON 1-15-18 / Cruet filler at Italian restaurant

Monday, January 15, 2018

Constructor: Agnes Davidson and Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "FREE AT LAST" (61A: Final words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech ... or a hint to the endings of 17-, 24-, 39- and 49-Across) — "last" words of all the theme answers can also be verbs meaning "Free":

Theme answers:
  • NEW RELEASE (17A: Singer's latest)
  • TAX EXEMPT (24A: Like religious institutions vis-à-vis the I.R.S.)
  • "THE COAST IS CLEAR" (39A: "We can go safely now")
  • "BEG PARDON?" (49A: "Excuse me?")
Word of the Day: COSPLAYS (40D: Dresses up for a comic con, say) —
cos·play
ˈkäzˌplā,ˈkäsˌplā/
noun
  1. 1
    the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.
verb
  1. 1
    engage in cosplay. (google)
• • •

Thank God Almighty! A good puzzle! It's a holiday puzzle appearing *on* the actual holiday (holiday-adjacent holiday puzzles are always disappointing), and it manages to be appropriate to the day while still being playful and entertaining (instead of pious or somber). It was also easy as heck, so everyone will be feeling quite triumphant today. Fun for all! Nothing much here to irk or gall. From a constructing perspective, I'm wondering why *two* cheater squares were needed in the NW (and SE) corner (these are the black squares under 1D: SIN and after 1A: STP, as well as the corresponding black squares in the SE—black squares that do not add to the word count; they're generally used only to make a grid easier to fill). The grid doesn't seem that demanding ... theme's not that dense. But no big deal. I'll take a clean grid, however you get there, over an unclean one any day.


Not that many hesitations today. Briefly thought maybe 7D: Shout at Fenway Park was BOSOX instead of "GO SOX!" I don't really think about umbrella parts that much, so I was slightly more hesitant on RIB than I should've been, despite the fact that it's the word my brain threw up first. Took me a while to get GALLS (51D: Vexes) because my brain (stupid brain!) doesn't think "gall" and "vex" are synonyms. I associate the former with anger and the latter with frustration, which, I know, is splitting hairs, but that's what the brain does, what can I tell you? I hit that vacuum cleaner clue and thought "Ooh, you know this!" then with through ORACH and ORKIN and DYSON and the rest of my Rolodex of 5-letter things that start with "O" *or* are vacuum-related. Then I just got it from crosses. Yes, I've heard of ORECK, no, I would never have gotten it today without help. Also had BED for SPA (69A: Resting place?). Bed is more of a non-"?" answer. And thus ends my litany of trouble spots.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Italian castle town / SUN 1-14-18 / Comics superhero with filed-off horns / Connecticut city near New Haven / Steinbeck novella set in La Paz / Creator of Planet Money podcast

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "Supreme Intelligence" — central answer is OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE (67A: Illegal interference ... or what can be found in ths puzzle's 1st, 3rd, 7th, 15th, 19th and 21st rows?). The idea is that on all the lines mentioned in the central answers's clue, you can find the complete name of a Supreme Court justice—a name that gets "obstructed" (interrupted by black squares) twice.

Theme answers:
  • line 1: ANTONI / N SC / ALIA
  • line 3: ABE / FORT / AS
  • line 7: EARL / WAR / REN
  • line 15: ELEN / A KA / GAN
  • line 19: SONIA / SOTO / MAYOR
  • line 21: STEP / HEN / BREYER
Word of the Day: Mike D'ANTONI (1A: Mike who was the 2017 N.B.A. Coach of the Year) —
Michael Andrew D'Antoni (born May 8, 1951) is an American-Italian professional basketball coach who was formerly a professional basketball player. He is currently the head coach of the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). While head coach of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, he won NBA Coach of the Year honors for the 2004–05 NBA season after the Suns posted 33 more wins than the previous season. He coached the New York Knicks starting in 2008 before resigning in 2012. He was hired by the Lakers after seven games into the 2012–13 season. D'Antoni, who holds American and Italian dual citizenship, is known for favoring a fast-paced, offense-oriented system. On June 1, 2016, D'Antoni was named as the new head coach for the Houston Rockets. (wikipedia)
• • •


THANK YOU to all who contributed to my blog this past week. It's been lovely to hear from so many different people from around the country (the world, even). I have no good way of gauging how many readers I have or where they are, so it's nice to have a week where people check in from all over. You are of course free to contribute at any time during the year—you can always find the PayPal button and snail mail address in the sidebar of this blog. But this is the last time I'll put this info in the body of my write-up until 2019:


Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

As one of my favorite readers wrote me this week, "Here's to a Natick-free 2018!" May the puzzles get better and your solving skills get stronger. Now—onward. Puzzleward!

• • •

This is a show-off puzzle—it's designed entirely to be looked at once it's completed, and in no way designed to be enjoyable while you are actually solving it. Or, rather, it is intermittently enjoyable, in the way that a large themeless puzzle might be, but without any theme answers save that central one ... it's like there's no there there. Or, rather, there is a there there, but while you're actually doing the activity of solving, it's largely if not entirely invisible. It's possible—just possible—that you got so bogged down in that SW corner that you *needed* to discover what the theme was in order to complete this thing, but it seems like most people would just solve the thing without paying much attention to the theme or bothering to stop to figure out what was going on. I almost didn't see that the *first* names of the justices were involved, and, in fact, would *never* have seen it if BREYER hadn't been un-"obstructed." That made me notice STEP / HEN, which then made me realize that all the justices were complete names. That, of course, made the puzzle more impressive, architecturally. Sadly, I could not go back in time and make it relevant to my solving experience in any way. Not yet, anyway! Crossword Time Machine still has kinks.


Weirdly small grid. Well, "weird" in the sense of "rarely seen." It actually makes perfect sense for this theme, since OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE is 20 squares. Thus the grid is 20x21 instead of the standard 21x21. All of my fill complaints / questions involve highly thematic portions of the grid—the most complaint-worthy of which is the SW, where "TO HELEN," OTRANTO, and ANSONIA (!?) team up to make a weird proper noun Bermuda non-triangle. HOP STEP also eluded me—and I've been watching a Ton of NBA Channel (118A: Evasive basketball move). I thought it was "jump step," but maybe when it's tiny it's a HOP STEP. Anyhoo, that corner, yikes. I know the gothic novel "The Castle of OTRANTO," so I was able to navigate the corner OK, but it definitely felt dicey. Oh, and I also know GANYMEDE pretty well from mythology (less well from astronomy). His name appears early on in the Aeneid as one of the many indignities Juno has had to endure (Jupiter lusted for young Ganymede and so raped him, which was kind of Jupiter's thing). Only a couple of other proper nouns seemed likely to cause trouble: IBANEZ (whom I know better as a former baseball player, though that's IBAÑEZ) and ORIENTE (which ... I got entirely from crosses. Never heard of it) (59D: Cuban province where the Castros were born).


Bullets:
  • "Supreme Intelligence" — I don't really understand the title of this puzzle. I get "Supreme" alright, but "Intelligence"? How is that relevant?
  • 53A: "I knew that would happen!" ("CALLED IT!") — I had "NAILED IT!," which feels at least slightly defensible as an answer.
  • 105A: Hooded cloak (CAPUCHIN) — I know the monkey, and the monks (... hey ... I just got that! ... oh, no, wait, they're technically friars ... nevermind), but did not know the hood thing. It looks like the friars wore "sharp, pointed hoods," and yet the garment definition of CAPUCHIN reads: "a hooded cloak for women" (my emph.). No word on what the monkeys prefer to wear. 
  • 107D: What has casts of thousands? (IMDB) — probably the toughest answer for me to get, and it's a "gateway" answer (i.e. one of those answers that gives you access to an entirely new section), so I had to jump into the SE corner and work my way back out.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Shakespearean fencer / SAT 1-13-18 / Neighbor of Allemagne / Pertaining to colored rings / Measure of data transfer speed for short / Like eisteddfod festival / 1940 Fonda role

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Constructor: Alan Derkazarian

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: none

Word of the Day: Charles HAID (31A: Charles of "Hill Street Blues") —
Charles Maurice Haid III (born June 2, 1943) is an American actor and director, with notable work in both movies and television. He is best known for his portrayal of Officer Andy Renko in Hill Street Blues. [...] Haid is a cousin of television talk show host and Jeopardy! creator Merv Griffin. (wikpedia)

• • •

Hello, solvers. It's early January, which means it's time for my once-a-year, week-long pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. To be clear—there are no major expenses involved in writing a blog. There's just my time. A lot of it. Every day (well, usually night), solving, writing, hunting down pictures and videos of various degrees of relevance and usefulness, chatting with folks and answering puzzle questions via email and social media, gathering and disseminating crossword-related information of various kinds, etc. It's a second job. My making this pitch means I'm all in for another calendar year of puzzle revelry with all y'all. I'm excited about the year. I've got my own crossword construction project I want to get off the ground, and I'm hoping to take a more active role (along with some crossword friends) in recruiting and mentoring new and aspiring constructors. But the bulk of my work will be the same as ever: I'll be here with a new post every single day. Solve, write, repeat. Despite my occasional (or, OK, maybe frequent) consternation with the State of The Puzzle, the crossword community continues to give me great joy, and I'm proud to run an independent, ad-free blog where people can find someone to commiserate with, someone to yell at, or, you know, someone who'll just give them the damn answers. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Women In Science"—Rachel Ignotofsky's beautiful cartoon portraits of women scientists from antiquity to the present. I've heard of a few of these women (mostly crossword names like ADA Lovelace, Marie CURIE, MAE Jemison) but most of these names are entirely new to me, so I'm excited to learn about them as I write my thank-you notes. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As ever, I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

• • •

Back-to-back easy themeless puzzles. Also, back-to-back puzzles with very diverse content. Old, new, black, white, queer ... not everyone may notice this, NYT, but I do, and I appreciate it. I like to see *everyone* having a good time. Thanks for listening to those of us who have raised the breadth-of-representation issue these past few years. And, you know, please continue. You could toughen up these late-week puzzles a little, though. Blew through this one in roughly the same time it took me to do yesterday's, and yesterday's was already easy. Had a roughish time in the eastern region (where I finished) because ... well, a host of reasons, which I'll get into, but otherwise, my only hesitations / hiccups were misspelling FELIZ (FELIX!) and going with IRISH at first for 53A: Like an eisteddfod festival (WELSH). 


For the most part I'M IMPRESSED with this grid, though the heavy reliance on -ERs (REARER, MAKER, FUELERS) was a notable SORE SPOT, as was whatever the hell AREOLAR is supposed to be. That answer started out as AREOLIC and then went several other ways before finally landing where it needed to land. The ending on that word was the beginning of my troubles in the east. Also couldn't fathom 29A: London or Manchester (WRITER). I know who Jack London is, but who the hell is this alleged writer, "Manchester?" I google [writer Manchester] and I just get some biographer I've never heard of. I resent this kind of trickery. I mean, I love the trickery, but the other city (besides London) should be a recognizable writer. Heading down the grid from WRITER: no idea at all who HAID is, so needed every cross there, and BIT SEC ... I mean, it's inferrable, but not a term I've heard. I stared at --TER DOG for a bit wondering "How Do You Not Know This? Is It OTTER DOG!?!?" (29D: Newfoundland or golden retriever). And then I got it, and then that area started to cave. But this was the only drama of the solve, and it didn't last long, actually. I can see how some solvers might struggle with a few of the proper nouns (HAID for sure, and possibly SOLANGE and EL DUQUE), but I'm still guessing this played far easier than average for most of you. "A Seat at the Table" is a great album, by the way. Give it a shot.


Today I remembered that there was a prime minister named EDEN. Huge win for me. Non-Churchill, pre-Thatcher PMs are like popes to me, i.e. shrug. I did learn ATTLEE at one point, though. Had to. Look at those letters. You're definitely going to see ATTLEE, if you haven't already. EDEN usually gets a much softer clue, so you don't see the PM often, but you do sometimes, and I remembered him, so so self-high-five! Favorite clue of the day was probably the deceptively simple [Field work] for "NORMA RAE" (14D). Not an easy title to parse if you're coming at it piecemeal and don't know you're looking for a movie. OK that's all for today, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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