Phoenician goddess of fertility / FRI 2-23-18 / Vehicle used by police to catch thieves / Cream in cobalt blue jar / In classic form of diamond / Co-star of Office who played Ryan Howard

Friday, February 23, 2018

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ROSE CUT diamond (15A: In a classic form of diamond) —
Various forms of the rose cut have been in use since the mid-16th century. Like the step cuts, they were derived from older types of cuts. The basic rose cut has a flat base—that is, it lacks a pavilion—and has a crown composed of triangular facets (usually 12 or 24) rising to form a point (there is no table facet) in an arrangement with sixfold rotational symmetry. The so-called double rose cut is a variation that adds six kite facets at the margin of the base. The classic rose cut is circular in outline; non-circular variations on the rose cut include the briolette (oval), Antwerp rose (hexagonal), and double Dutch rose (resembling two rose cuts united back-to-back). Rose-cut diamonds are seldom seen nowadays, except in antique jewelry. Like the older style brilliants and step cuts, there is a growing demand for the purpose of repairing or reproducing antique pieces. (wikipedia)
• • •

I warmed to this puzzle as it went on. At first, it was very DAD PUZZLE (puzz equiv of DAD JOKE), with its ROSE CUT diamonds and NOXZEMA and kinda limp fill like OXIDATE and DNA LABS and BUTNO and the long crosswordese ASTARTE (13D: Phoenician goddess of fertility). But somewhere around the SWAGGER line it found its swagger and once CTHULHU took the BAIT CAR, I was in. Speaking of CTHULHU, a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years could probably type out that letter combination but I could not, and cannot, and I *know* the Lovecraftian creature in cwestion. Anyway, that whole SW corner, clues and fill and all of it, is just lovely. AMIRITE? Yes, I am. The rest of the puzzle was just fine, but that's the corner that sold me. [Modern screen test] is especially good for CAPTCHA—it's all kinds of deceptive because of the more common, cinematic meaning of "screen test" (CAPTCHA is the text you have to enter sometimes online to prove you are not a robot—lately I've just had to check "I am not a robot" boxes rather than actually write in a CAPTCHA element ... is CAPTCHA becoming bygone?). The only thing I don't quite understand about this puzzle is why ABU / BIT as opposed to APU / SIT. You can come at APU at least two ways, where ABU there's just the one, and it's not the moooost familiar of proper nouns. Speaking of unfamiliar proper nouns: BJ NOVAK! (8A: Co-star of "The Office" who played Ryan Howard) (jk, I knew him ... but, I mean, he's no MINDY KALING ... where is KALING??? Seriously, I should've seen KALING in a puzzle by now, folks. Work on it.).

Struggled to get started, with BUTNO and XII and OPINE being especially tricky to come up with, for me. Also, NUDE is somehow not on the list of adjectives that quickly come to mind when I think of "The Thinker," despite the fact that he's clearly NUDE, so that was odd. Had real trouble later on with 64A: Places in the field (DEPLOYS) (was "places" a verb or noun? what kind of 'field'?). Last square was the "R" in MARKS (30D: Targets). Again, the verb / noun problem thwarted me, and 36A: Shaker's cry? ("BRR!")was no help until I had that final square surrounded—then the "R" was obvious. I briefly tried to convince myself that UGLI was three syllables, so that was fun (5D: Four-letter fruit pronounced in three syllables => AÇAI). Not sure anything needs explaining today. A POL is a "Party person" in the sense of "political party." Aren't peas an "ingredient," singular? (23A: Shepherd's pie ingredients). Would you really refer to each individual pea as a separate ingredient? Please chew on that. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Request to be connected on social media / THU 2-22-18 / Something unknowns are introduced in / Nonmonetary donation

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: REVERSING COURSE (60A: Backtracking ... or what 17-, 27- and 46-Across are doing?) — theme answers are three different kinds of "courses," all appearing backwards (or "reversed") in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • LANOITANATSUGUA (17A: Home of the Masters) (Augusta National)
  • ARBEGLAERP (27A: Something unknowns are introduced in) (pre-algebra)
  • SREZITEPPA (46A: Starters) (appetizers)
Word of the Day: Alfred ADLER (1D: Alfred who coined the term "inferiority complex") —
Alfred W. Adler(/ˈædlər/German: [ˈaːdlɐ]; 7 February 1870 – 28 May 1937) was an Austrian medical doctorpsychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology. His emphasis on the importance of feelings of inferiority, the inferiority complex, is recognized as an isolating element which plays a key role in personality development. Alfred Adler considered human beings as an individual whole, therefore he called his psychology "Individual Psychology" (Orgler 1976).
Adler was the first to emphasize the importance of the social element in the re-adjustment process of the individual and who carried psychiatry into the community.[5]Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Adler as the 67th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

First, let's talk about why this theme is good and that Presidents Day theme a few days ago isn't. So, President's Day! "Let's put presidents' names in the clues!" "OK, that is fine. That gives the theme a kind of unity. What next?" "OK ... let's anagram them!" "Wait, what? Why? Is there a title or a revealer or some catchy play on words that's going to explain why you're doing that?" "No!" Well, that doesn't ma-" "Also, let's add a letter to the president's names before we anagram them!" "[blank stare]" "Random letters!" "[exasperated sigh] Do those letters at least spell someth-" "No! They spell nothing! Random letterssssss!" And ... scene. Now today's. Answers go backwards. OK, why? Well, there's a play on words with the revealer: REVERSING COURSE. OK, but that's hardly enough, just running answers backwards. What's the hook? Each theme answer is actually a different kind of "course" that is being (literally, in the grid) reversed. So the REVERSING part makes sense, and the COURSE part makes sense, and everything you're doing ... makes sense? Sense!? What an idea.

["Set a course for adventure...."]

I woke this morning to NRA in my grid (31D: Publisher of American Hunter magazine, for short) and this in my Twitter feed:

That's not just a sitting member of the US House of Representatives, that's *my* sitting member of the US House of Representatives. She takes gobs of NRA money and they've given her an "A" rating. So, constructors, if there's a way you can, I don't know, avoid NRA, or at least give it a clue that doesn't look like it was written by the NRA PR department, that would be cool.

I found the spelling backward gimmick easy to pick up, but then hard to enter into the grid. Typing words backwards is nuts, and I must've spent 10-25 seconds stumbling over the front (i.e. back?) end of "Augusta." Just couldn't get the letters, particularly the "U"s, in the right place. Also had SPAT for 19D: Bicker (with), and so ended up with PTE ALGREBRA (reversed) at first. Briefly considered AP ALGEBRA (impossible) and then realized SPAR was a better answer than SPAT. Some trouble getting fron AUN- to AU NATUREL at 33D: Nude, but otherwise not much trouble today at all. A brisk and pleasant solve. See you tomorrow...

Oh, wait, one more thing. So I wrote a bit about the AMAL Clooney clue yesterday because she's a human rights lawyer (which the clue mentioned) and I'd seen her name a bunch recently etc. Well, I only just found out, and I really need everyone to know, that the original clue there (the one that actually appeared in the damned paper, the one that some wise person made a late-change to for the digital editions) was [Mrs. George Clooney]. Just like it appears on her checks, I'm sure (!?).

God bless the non-famous crossword people at the Times who scramble to fix tone-deaf junk like this. Not the first time. Almost certainly not the last.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Obama's stepfather Soetoro / WED 2-21-18 / Mixed martial arts cage shape / Tandoor-baked bread / pre-1917 autocrats / Dr Seuss book that introduces phonics

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Constructor: Ori Brian and Zachary Spitz

Relative difficulty: Medium (once you get past that initial ??? period and realize there's a bleeping rebus on a bleeping Wednesday)

THEME: PO BOX (41A: Certain mailing address, for short ... or a hint to 14 squares in this puzzle) — rebus puzzle where "PO" are squeezed into 14 different squares

Word of the Day: AMAL Clooney (58A: ___ Clooney, human rights lawyer) —
Amal Clooney (née AlamuddinArabicأمل علم الدين‎; born 3 February 1978) is a Lebanese-British barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, specialising in international law and human rights. Her clients include Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in his fight against extradition. She has also represented the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy. She is married to the American actor George Clooney. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a puzzle with 14 PO BOXES. That, it is. It is that. My feelings couldn't be more neutral. It is what it says it is. There it is, take it or leave it. Take or leave 14 of these PO BOXES, why don't you? The concept is one that sounds like it would be cool, or cute, or clever, but it most just ... is. The fill also is. There it is. Fill never gets worse than, say, LOLO (16A: Obama's stepfather ___ Soetoro), but it never gets better than, say, MAGNETO, either (27A: Ian McKellen's role in "X-Men" movies). Just a lot of PO BOXES, in a grid, on a Wednesday. The end.
 [these tweets were posted independently of one another, almost simultaneously]

I flailed at first, not surprisingly, since when's the last time there was a Wednesday rebus? Feels like ages. I only look for a rebus on Thursdays, and maybe Sundays. I've seen them on other days, but I don't like them on other days. This one, though, ended up being Wednesday easy once you figured out what was going on. Just ... remember there are "PO" boxes out there to be found, and you're fine. I actually had a good 1/5 or so of the grid filled in before I finally hit a "PO" box. Went down from the NW, through the center and all the way over to 37D: Salk vaccine target (POLIO) before the theme shoved its way into view. I must've gotten PO BOX along the way but no really registered that it was a revealer. No matter. After that, it was just a matter of going back over earlier trouble spots, filling in "PO"s, and then proceeding with "PO"-search powers activated. Honestly, nothing about this puzzle stood out as remarkable to me, one way or the other, except AMAL Clooney, whose name I had literally just (seconds earlier) read on the NYT's home page—she and George are donating $500,000 to the student March Against Gun Violence. Her work with Yazidi refugees was pretty much the centerpiece of David Letterman's recent interview with George Clooney (the second episode of his new Netflix show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction..."). I'm writing about this because, again, there's nothing in the puzzle to write about. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


US marshal role for John Wayne / TUE 2-20-18 / Consumer giant that makes Bounty / Credit card designation / French author who said intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday)

THEME: LEXICOGRAPHERS (51A: Ones who produced the clues for 20-, 25- and 45-Across) — theme clues are written as dictionary definitions; theme answers are familiar phrases that, when taken differently, can appear to be asking for a literal definition of one of the words in those phrases. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • "HIGH" DEFINITION (20A: adj. under the influence of a drug) (the clue is a definition of "high")
  • "OVER" EXPLAINED (25A: adv. across a barrier or intervening space) (the clue is an explanation of "over")
  • MEANING OF "LIFE" (45A: n. spirit, animation) (the clue is the dictionary meaning of "life") 
Word of the Day: GOGO (58A: Big name in in-flight internet) —
Gogo Inc. is a provider of in-flight broadband Internet service and other connectivity services for commercial and business aircraft, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. 17 airlines partner with Gogo to provide in-flight WiFi, including British AirwaysAer LingusIberiaGol linhas aereasBeijing CapitalAeromexicoAmerican AirlinesAir CanadaAlaska AirlinesDelta Air LinesJapan AirlinesJTAUnited AirlinesHainan AirlinesVirgin AmericaVietnam Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Gogo Inc. is a holding company, operating through its two subsidiaries, Gogo LLC and Aircell Business Aviation Services LLC (now Gogo Business Aviation Inc.). According to Gogo, over 2,500 commercial aircraft and 6,600 business aircraft have been equipped with its onboard Wi-Fi services. The company is also the developer of 2Ku, the new in-flight (satellite solution) Wi-Fi technology. (wikipedia)
• • •

Cute, but (for me) hilariously misplaced on a Tuesday. I was north of my average Wednesday time, nowhere my normal Tuesday range of times. I had zero conception of the theme until I was done. I just knew that the clues had nothing to do with the answers in any way that I could see, so I had to get every one of them via crosses, hacking at them until they looked like something, and then filling in the blanks. This meant I also had trouble with the front end of LEXICOGRAPHERS. (P.S. LEXICOGRAPHERS did not "produce the clues"; only editors or constructors can do that, so the clue is simply wrong without a "?" on it). There was also a lot of hard stuff and "?" stuff in the N/NE that slowed me down considerably. But no matter. The concept is pretty good. The first themer is the best one, because it repurposes the meaning of "definition." The others are literalizations without the concomitant shift in the meaning of the lexicographical word, i.e. that is, no new meaning for "meaning," no new meaning for "explained." But insofar as "high," "over," and "life" are all being isolated and treated as words, in dictionary definition fashion, the theme is consistent and fine.

[XTC should be in puzzles more often]

That whole area east of (and including) BLUDGEON was very rough for me. Needed half the crosses even to see BLUDGEON, and then CAHILL (????) (8D: U.S. marshal role for John Wayne). No idea. None. Not even a movie in the clue? (Not that that would've helped). Have watched many John Wayne movies. Many. No idea about CAHILL. Zero. . . OK, now that I look it up, the name of the movie *is* "CAHILL"??? Since when is that famous, let alone Tuesday famous? Dear lord. Full title: "CAHILL: U.S. Marshal" (1973). This isn't even in the top half of Wayne movies, fame-wise, success-wise, I'm gonna guess quality-wise. No idea why you'd put it in a Tuesday. Or even a Wednesday (which, as we've established, this puzzle should've been). So that was a disaster. Moving east from there, the two "?" clues both stymied me. They're both OK clues, but BARTENDS (10D: Makes the rounds?) and SUMO (12D: Battle of the bulges?) held me up and made CAMUS and TROMP much harder to get. Also, like I know who makes Bounty paper towels (PANDG = P&G = Proctor & Gamble —that type of answer, letter+AND+letter = "ampersandwich"; see, for example, BANDB, AANDP, RANDB, etc.). I don't use "in-flight internet" so GOGO was nono for me. And I had no (literally no) idea that The Huffington Post was HUFFPOST at all, let alone *officially* (38D: Popular left-leaning news site). I have only ever heard HUFFPO, which still seems like a much much better, more in-the-language abbr. for that org.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Shakespearean cries / MON 2-19-18 / Uncle Sam's land for short / Hybrid picnic utensil / Onetime Pontiac muscle car

Monday, February 19, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Monday) (30 seconds over average time)

THEME: president names + a random letter, anagrammed for some reason...

Theme answers:
  • LIFEGUARD (17A: GARFIELD + U = Beach V.I.P.)
  • AND SO AM I (26A: MADISON + A = "Me, too!")
  • FILM LOVER (39A: FILLMORE + V = Movie buff)
  • HAND GRIP (54A: HARDING + P = Squeezable exercise tool)
  • POLICE DOG (66A: COOLIDGE + P = Narc's four-footed helper)
U + A + V + P + P = ............ ?????? UV APP? VA PUP? I'm sure it's something presidential...

Word of the Day: Queen of SHEBA (58D: Queen of ___ (visitor of King Solomon, in the Bible)) —
The Queen of Sheba is a Biblical and Quranic figure. The tale of her visit to King Solomon has undergone extensive Jewish, Islamic, and Ethiopian elaborations, and has become the subject of one of the most widespread and fertile cycles of legends in the Orient. //  The queen of Sheba (מַלְכַּת־שְׁבָא‬, "malkat-šəḇā" in the Hebrew Bible, βασίλισσα Σαβὰ in the Septuagint, Syriac ܡܠܟܬ ܫܒܐ, Ethiopic ንግሥተ፡ሳባእ፡) came to Jerusalem "with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones" (I Kings 10:2). "Never again came such an abundance of spices" (10:10; II Chron. 9:1–9) as those she gave to Solomon. She came "to prove him with hard questions," which Solomon answered to her satisfaction. They exchanged gifts, after which she returned to her land. (wikipedia)
• • •

We need to talk about how objectively bad this puzzle is. Is it performance art? That is the only reasonable explanation I can think of. It's a parody of a bad idea designed to elicit bafflement and anger in people who actually care about good puzzles. Maybe I'm on camera right now? I'm not even angry, I'm just blinking in stunned bemusement. The theme clues are bonkers, esp. for a Monday. Visually painful and confusing. Further: totally unnecessary. I mercifully figured out fairly early on that I did not need to even look at the first part of the theme clues. I just read the post-"=" part and that ended up working just fine. Let's talk specifically about why this is a substandard puzzle. There are two main reasons: the added letters have no rationale, and the anagramming has no rationale. Random added letters, anagrams happening for no reason. Add to that the fact that you can do what I did—just ignore the presidential word math part—and still solve it (i.e. the fact that the theme is irrelevant and ignorable) and, I hope, you can see why this just isn't up to snuff. It's quite baffling that this puzzle was accepted for publication by anyone, let alone the outlet that continues to call itself "The Best Puzzle in the World." People seem to think that I have it in for Will, or for this constructor, or blah blah blah, but I promise you, talk to *any* experienced constructor, and, while they may not use language as strong as mine, they will tell you what's wrong with this puzzle right quick, and the reasons they give will overlap substantially with my own.

AND SO AM I is so weak, especially as a themer. Forced and awkward and anti-climactic. And HANDGRIP isn't much better—I had no idea those squeezy thingies even had a name. Are there really no better PRESIDENT + LETTER anagrams out there? These themers are generally a SAD LOT. Why doesn't this puzzle do *anything* well?! I can't stop laughing at LAY EGGS (48D: What hens do), which is about as scintillating and stand-alone worthy as EAT FOOD or DRIVE CARS. Also, and this is an undeniable editing gaffe, you can't have a clue with "eggs" in it anywhere when EGGS is in the grid, and you *especially* can't have it in the clue for an answer that both means "EGGS" *and* crosses your EGGS answer (53A: Lab eggs = OVA). I teach Shakespeare and had no idea AYS were [Shakespearean cries]. Don't blame Shakespeare for your bad fill. I will say one nice thing about this puzzle: it has a dog in it. Nothing with dog in it can be all bad. Just, you know, substantially bad. I DIG and I FOLD right next to each other? Really. OK, I FOLD, good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rufous ruminant / SUN 2-18-18 / Simple variant of baseball / Rani's raiment / Suggestion of what to do slangily

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Constructor: Elizabeth A. Long

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "SEE 68-ACROSS" (68A: Supercilious sort ... or the title for this puzzle)  — Across themers are wacky "?"-clued phrases that are really ordinary phrases that have had a common "name" "dropped" from them. The dropped name can be found literally dropped (i.e. hanging, appended) to the Across themer:

Theme answers:
  • PHONE MARS / PHONE MANNERS (omg what the hell are "phone manners????")
Word of the Day: TAMMIE Green (37D: Green of the L.P.G.A.) —
Tammie Green (born December 17, 1959) is an American professional golfer. // 
She started her professional career on the Futures Tour, on which she won 11 tournaments and was Player of the Year in 1985 and 1986. In 1986, she qualified for the LPGA Tour by finishing tied for second at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She was LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1987. She was named Most Improved Player by Golf Digest in 1989. She won seven times on the LPGA Tour, including one major championship, the 1989 du Maurier Classic. Her best placing on the money list was 5th in 1997, which was one of four top ten seasons. She played for the United States in the Solheim Cup in 1994 and 1998. She was a member of the LPGA Tour Player Executive Committee from 1992–94. In 2004, she was inducted into the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame(wikipedia)
• • •

Puzzle tries to make me hate it from the jump by naming itself after the worst kind of crossword clue: the cross-reference. "SEE 68-ACROSS" is a horrendous title. Horrendous. It's like ... "Uh, I give up, just look at the revealer, here it is, bye." I have no idea why you decide to go with a title so singularly unimaginative, so repulsive in its evocation of the worst that crosswords have to offer. Mind-boggling.* That said, this puzzle, while not terribly enjoyable, was certainly better than most Sunday puzzles have been of late. There's an interesting two-tiered quality to the themers, with both the wackiness and the "name" getting their own clues, and with the "names" literally "dropping" down from the wacky answers. I love the fact that the theme answer with BING in it is clued [Search engine failure?]. So true, so true. I haven't the faintest what "phone manners" are. "Table manners" are a thing. "Phone manners" is from god-knows-when. Before my time, for sure. People don't even talk on the phone much any more, and when they do ... I mean, have you seen people? "Manners"? LOL, no. "Phone manners" is a. not an in-the-language phrase, and b. utterly irrelevant to the times in which we live. But the other themers seems to work just fine. Theme's not too dense, so the grid doesn't get tooooo bogged down in junk, though it could've been a Lot less junky. There's like half a dozen French words alone. DEUX AMIES spent HIER on an ALPE? OUI. This is still a ways from "enjoyable," but by recent standards, it's a definition improvement. So let's just call it even.

I found this one harder than normal because of the way the theme was structured. Was hard for me to get theme footing for a while. But then some of the hardness was of my own making, like when I thought 36D: Left only the exterior of (GUTTED) was PITTED, or when I wrote in the French MES at 70D: Mine, in Milano (MIO). Thank god I grew up in and went to college in California, because TORRANCE?! (25A: City in Los Angeles County) Really, people know that place? People from California barely know that place. URETHANE was not easy for me (21D: Pesticide ingredient). Seems like there's probably a lot of crap in pesticides. AFLERS hurt, as did TAMMIE, and UNLEARN, and ARREAR (just one!?). And there's nothing like that special feeling you get when you discover ONE?CAT in your puzzle and leave that one square blank because who the hell knows if this amazingly bygone game found only in crosswords will be spelled with an "A" or an "O." A special, special feeling.

On the plus side, DEE got a cool and very contemporary clue (101A: "Mudbound" director Rees). Can't believe ["Mudbound" director Rees] made it into the puzzle before ["Mudbound" director Dee]. That's a name that's gonna get good crossword use for some time. My favorite part of Lent is the PIEROGI part (42D: Polish dumpling). Wife picks them up every Friday from St. Michael's. Had our first batch last night. So buttery and oniony and potatoey and glorious. Mmm, Lenten! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. The WaPo Sunday is the better Sunday puzzle again this week. You can get it easily from their website.

*It occurs to me that perhaps the idea with the puzzle title ("SEE 68-ACROSS") was supposed to be that the NAME of the puzzle was being DROPPED (from its normal place) *into* the grid. There are several problems with this idea: the puzzle hasn't "dropped' its name, but has substituted one name ("SEE 68-ACROSS") for another; further, this new title now simply points to the revealer, which, eliminates the possibility that the solver will have the pleasure of discovering the trick on her own; and lastly, most importantly, cross-reference clues are a joyless void that are never enjoyed, but merely endured, even under the best of circumstances. This is like naming your kid TBD. Actually, no, I take that back. That would at least be interesting.

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Three-lobed design / SAT 2-17-18 / Brand with slogan fill your glass / Fixed cord for paratrooper / Book in which Israelites are rebuked for idolatry / 2007 satirical best seller

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Jung CHANG (29A: Jung ___, author of the 1991 best seller "Wild Swans") —
Jung Chang (simplified Chinese张戎traditional Chinese張戎pinyinZhāng RóngWade–GilesChang JungMandarin pronunciation: [tʂɑ́ŋ ɻʊ̌ŋ], born 25 March 1952) is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in the People's Republic of China. (wikipedia)
• • •

Oh yeah, this had everything yesterday's puzzle didn't. Zing and zazz and freshness and all the good stuff. In fact, I finished it faster than yesterday's puzzle, so really this is the Friday puzzle I wanted. I got it a day late, which is better than not at all. Wentz puzzles are very often very hard, but sometimes I get right on that Wentz wavelength and it feels pretty great—leads to maximum appreciation of artistry. Actually, a grueling puzzle can leave me very impressed, it's just that the difficulty has to feel earned. I have to respect it. I don't want to get destroyed by obscurities or icky cluing that was trying too hard to be clever. The great brutal clue will have me baffled, and then when I finally get it, I have to admit, "yeah, that's good." Anyway, not sure what I'm on about, because this puzzle wasn't brutal, but it was wonderful. Stacks and columns other flashes of 7- and 8-letter answers, and all of it solid-to-brilliant (even if I don't really know what a STATIC LINE is) (12D: Fixed cord for a paratrooper). In fact, there was lots I didn't know in this puzzle that I loved. Never heard of Jung CHANG *or* the "1991 best seller "Wild Swans" that she (she?) supposedly wrote. I want to thank Jung, though, because she put ERICA *JONG* in my head well before I encountered her in the SE (where I recognized her instantly). No idea about a G&S opera with YEOMAN in the title. No idea about BOONE, NC (40A). And hoo boy, TREFOIL (22A: Three-lobed design). That word is vaguely familiar, but that didn't stop TRIFORM from getting in there and mucking things up. But these obstacles are what make puzzles fun—assuming there is gold to be found in the grid. If a grid is just workmanlike, or worse, sad and limp, then all the ??? and difficulty feels not challenging, but punishing.

Had some good luck getting a few long answers easily, like "I AM AMERICA" (by Stephen Colbert) from just the "I" (27D: 2007 satirical best seller) and ANTS ON A LOG from the -L-G (would've gotten it from nothing) (11D: Celery sticks topped with peanut butter and raisins). Had a few mishaps, though. Stared at SAMADA- (42A: Brand with the slogan "Fill your glass") and wondered what kind of exotic wine or tea brand it was going to be. Then got to 31A: "Breaking Bad" protagonist, had -A--, and wrote in ... HANK. [Sad emoji]! Loved the clue on OPTICS (5D: Public perception). So wonderfully current. Loved the clue on FOAL (30A: It's generally up and running within a few hours). Fantastic misdirection. Super-loved the MBA DEGREE / NBA GAMES crossing. And FARM TEAMS, oh man. Talk about an answer that destroys you but forces you to respect it. I had FARMT and absolutely believed that the [Professional feeders] worked on a farm, possibly feeding the livestock. FARM TEAMS are of course minor league teams that "feed" the pro leagues. Just great stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


It was boosted by Atlas / FRI 2-16-18 / Most populous city in Oceania / Sci-fi character who graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2359 / Plastic Clue weapon / Name related to Rex

Friday, February 16, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: James B. EADS (52D: James B. ___, diving bell inventor) —
Captain James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than 50 patents. [...] When he was twenty-two, Eads designed a salvage boat and showed the drawings to two shipbuilders, Calvin Case and William Nelson. Although Eads had no previous experience and no capital for the project, Case and Nelson were impressed with him and the three became partners.
At that time, salvaging wrecks from the Mississippi River was nearly impossible because of strong currents. Eads made his initial fortune in salvage by creating a diving bell, using a forty-gallon wine barrel to retrieve goods sunk in riverboatdisasters. He also devised special boats for raising the remains of sunken ships from the river bed. Eads did much of the diving himself because the work was so dangerous. His work gave Eads an intimate knowledge of the river, as he explored its depths from the Gulf of Mexico to Iowa. Because of his detailed knowledge of the Mississippi (the equal of any professional river pilot), his exceptional ability at navigating the most treacherous parts of the river system, and his personal fleet of snag-boats and salvage craft, he was afforded the much prized courtesy title of "Captain" by the rivermen of the Mississippi and was addressed as Captain Eads throughout his life. (wikipedia)
• • •

Found this one more irritating than interesting, largely because of short proper nouns I had no idea about that really slowed me down. South AMBOY (?) and James B. EADS both mean zero to me. Actually, I've vaguely heard of AMBOY, but mainly as part of the title of the book "The AMBOY Dukes" by Irving Shulman, which I must own a copy of (somewhere deep in my 3000+-strong collection of vintage paperbacks). Cluing was hard and then fussy and straining-clever all over. Lots of four-letter "Star Trek" characters, so that TROI clue was pffft (1A: Sci-fi character who graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2359). SALARY is a "sensitive subject"? OK, I guess, for some, but not like AGE or WEIGHT, so ...??? Kind of forced to say a D STUDENT *is* 60-something, even with the "?" on the clue (9D: One who's 60-something). No idea that COLADA (bad on its own) meant "strained" (43A: Strained, at the bar). Very rough clue on STRAY (57A: Part of a pound?) crossing an exceedingly rough clue on AGENA (which is a thing I barely know, and have only ever seen referenced in crosswords) (44D: It was boosted by Atlas). I don't even really know how the whole Atlas-AGENA thingamajig was supposed to work. I guess AGENA was a "satellite bus" (?) and one of the rockets used was the Atlas? In days of yore? Jeez, trying to get all cutesy with your Atlas clue on what is really the crosswordesiest answer in the grid seems like a horrible idea. ONE NO will always be bad fill to me. Nothing says "Maleskaesque" like bridge slang. GOMER? (45D: Cloddish sort, in slang). Sigh, I guess. There just weren't a lot of "cool!" moments, and bunch of DIRE ones, so this one just didn't work for me, especially considering where I expect Friday (the greatest puzzle day of the week) to be.

["Space Singular Thing"]

The whole grid has a dusty feel about it. Back from when people had BOX CAMERAs and used words like BEAU and INAMORATA. Almost nothing feels fresh or current, despite the fact that there are some very solid answers, like PENTHOUSE SUITE and YOGURT SMOOTHIE and FLAMBOYANT. Much of the rest of the grid, though, seems tossed off. Whole center feels irrelevant and dull. Very idea of the "Honey-do" list always gives me the creeps 'cause it's grossly sexist, and the whole point is you don't say "NO, DEAR" anyway, so what is this clue even doing? (32D: Rejection of a honey-do list). Again, the whole premise feels both implausible and dated, like it's out of some bygone era. PIXELATED clue is pretty good (56A: Like privates, often), though the euphemism "privates" also feels old-fashioned (and semi-childish). Again, as with that Atlas clue on AGENA, the cluer is trying haaaaard to go for the misdirect, and ... well, I just keep making this wrinkled-nose expression as I try to describe my feelings about this puzzle, and I think the expression probably says more than my words ever could. The grid is reasonably well put-together, but it feels stale and off rather than zingy and exciting. The cluing is not the only problem, but it's the main one.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Young ferret / THU 2-15-18 / Jung's inner self / Cold medicine brand for kids / Old-fashioned cry of disgust

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: And the Osprey goes to ... — themers are all Oscar-nominated roles where the character's last name is a type of bird

Theme answers:
  • SCOUT FINCH (3D: Mary Badham's Oscar-nominated role in "To Kill a Mockingbird")
  • MARION CRANE (30D: Janet Leigh's Oscar-nominated role in "Psycho")
  • JACK SPARROW (31D: Johnny Depp's Oscar-nominated role in "Pirates of the Caribbean")
  • LUKE MARTIN (11D: Jon Voigt's Oscar-winning role in "Coming Home")
  • CLARICE STARLING (53A: Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning role in "The Silence of the Lambs") 
Word of the Day: NERTS (57D: Old-fashioned cry of disgust)
[My favorite part of this is the picture—thanks for the visual aid, Google]
• • •

I guess Lesley Manville's nomination for playing Cyril WOODCOCK came too late to make the grid. She doesn't look happy, Peter:

[currently nominated for "The Phantom Thread"]

Also, you could've done this one with all women and then had the revealer be Saoirse Ronan's Oscar-nominated role: LADY BIRD. The 2017 nominations opened up all kinds of possibilities! But what we've got is just fine.

Easy because easy, Medium because proper-noun minefields can be unexpectedly brutal, depending on your knowledge/ignorance. I flew (!) through this one, except for Every Letter of LUKE MARTIN (I finished the puzzle at 32A: RASP), and the tail end of ABIDJAN, which I have heard of but did not trust myself to remember, mostly because I wasn't sure that my brain wasn't just misremembering the name of the country AZERBAIJAN. Otherwise, pretty easy and loads of fun. I have no problem with a non-tricksy Thursday where the theme is just some oddly-related set of answers and the grid looks a little nuts (here, 16 tall and mirror-symmetrical). Really impressive that Peter could get this very narrowly-defined set of themers to be symmetrical while also having CLARICE STARLING slicing across the grid straight through two other themers. But why isn't the grid shaped like a bird, Peter!? Where are the wings!? You need to step up your game, man. Until then, this will do. Oh, but one question: What the hell is going on with TOM KITE? (67A: Golfer who you might think plays best on windy days?). Like yesterday's non-symmetry, today's TOM KITE is scratching the blackboard in my brain a little. Is it or isn't it a themer? Against: the fact that TOM KITE was never, to my knowledge, nominated for an Oscar; and he's not in a theme position (no symmetrical partner); and he's got a "?" clue instead of straight clues like all the other themers. For: well, there's only one "For," and that's the fact that KITE is sure enough a last name that is also a bird. You'd think that in a last name = bird puzzle, you could *somehow* avoid other complete names where the last name was a bird. But apparently not. Rex BEMOANS TOM KITE. Everything else is fine.

Trouble spots:
  • BAMBI (4D: Symbol of gentle innocence) — had the B then the MB, then the AMB, and each time could think only of LAMB(S)
  • ENAMELS (22A: Canine coats) — not hard, I just mistyped it as ENANELS, which only made my LUKE MARTIN struggles worse
  • MINAJ (30A: Rapper with the double-platinum album "The Pinkprint") — I am not used to seeing MINAJ on its own. My brain treats NICKIMINAJ like one word
  • 63D: Tear (JAG) — brutal, both because of the (at least) dual meaning of the word "tear," and because of the "J" cross from ABIDJAN, which, as we've already established, I just couldn't get a handle on
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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