Hau pioneering physicist from Denmark / THU 4-26-18 / Bell Atlantic merger partner of 2000 / Greek peak on which Zeus was hidden as infant / Mideast city with stock exchange / Classic catalog provider

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium (or brutal, depending on how you navigated that ridiculous proper noun crossing at 28A/23D)

THEME: "with respect to this answer's location" — themers are phrases where the number of the clue is the first part of the phrase; theme clues refer you to other answers in the grid, which provide the real clues. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 1A: 5-Across, with respect to this answer's location ((1) OVER) — because (the number of the clue) OVER is a BOGEY, which is the answer to 5-Across: Golf score
  • 24A: 22-Across, with respect to this answer's location ((24) SEVEN) (22A: Without stopping = ENDLESSLY)
  • 40A: 41-Across, with respect to this answer's location ((40) WINKS) (41A: Time out? = NAP)
  • 50A: 46-Across, with respect to this answer's location ((50) FIFTY) (46A: In fairness = EQUALLY)
Word of the Day: LENE Hau, pioneering physicist from Denmark (23D) —
Lene Vestergaard Hau (born November 13, 1959 in VejleDenmark) is a Danish physicistwith a PhD from Aarhus University. In 1999, she led a Harvard University team who, by use of a Bose-Einstein condensate, succeeded in slowing a beam of light to about 17 metres per second, and, in 2001, was able to stop a beam completely. Later work based on these experiments led to the transfer of light to matter, then from matter back into light, a process with important implications for quantum encryption and quantum computing. More recent work has involved research into novel interactions between ultracold atoms and nanoscopic-scale systems. In addition to teaching physics and applied physics, she has taught Energy Science at Harvard, involving photovoltaic cellsnuclear powerbatteries, and photosynthesis. As well as her own experiments and research, she is often invited to speak at international conferences, and is involved in structuring the science policies of various institutions. She was keynote speaker at EliteForsk-konferencen 2013 ("Elite Research Conference") in Copenhagen, which was attended by government ministers, as well as senior science policy and research developers in Denmark (wikipedia)
• • •

Not hard to understand this theme, but weirdly awkward to describe. I think of "this answer's location" as referring to its position in physical space, not its clue number, so the theme clue phrasing was hard to understand at first. I saw that OVER was just to the left of, or before, or adjacent to BOGEY, and I didn't quite get how OVER's "location" was relevant. Also, OVER itself seemed to want to be a direction. I quickly saw, though, that its clue number was relevant. Anyway, "location" is not the most helpful or accurate word to use in the theme clues, but like I said, you can suss out the meaning without too much trouble, I think. I liked the theme fine. The rest of the grid, though, had some major issues, the biggest of which is a proper noun crossing which should be Lit Up Neon for any constructor, any editor, any proofreader, dear lord, somebody intervene. RYN / LENE is a goshdarn absurdity. Everyone knows Rembrandt, but that "van RYN" part is far far less well known, and when you cross the "N" with LENE ... holy moses, that is rough. LENE Hau sounds remarkably accomplished, but a. she's hugely obscure, as crossword names go (if she weren't, you'd've seen HAU by now), b. her name is highly uncommon, c. her name is largely uninferrable. That *entire* NW corner should've been gutted and redone. I see that there is the little problem of *two* different theme answers being involved, but when you end up with RYN / LENE, *and* you have ANSE (!?!?!), which is possibly more obscure than LENE, I mean ... you really oughta rethink what you're doing here. I beg all constructors to erase ANSE from your wordlists. It's rank obscurantism and makes people want to punch their crosswords (even / especially those of us who know it).

Always tricky to figure out verb phrases that end in prepositions. Should be a word for that wincey hesitation that comes when you write, say, OPENS ... INTO? ... er ... ONTO ... no? ... how about ... oh, really, IN ON? Huh. EASED BY was less difficult to figure out, though even then I considered "IN" before "BY." I had trouble with the Japanese airport NARITA (27A: Airport serving greater Tokyo) because I now have an interference problem from the popular manga NARUTO, which I have also seen (though far less commonly) in crosswords. But beyond that, and the entire WNW area, there weren't many snags in this one. Pretty smooth sailing. Theme was complicated-seeming, but honestly didn't cause many STRUGGLES. I liked it, but I wish constructors would understand that your clever theme won't be what people remember if you can't handle the fill in the rest of the grid. One **** crossing like RYN / LENE, and the whole thing blows up in your face.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Here is a hilarious bit of editorial self-defense from the *last* time the NYT tried to foist LENE on the solving public (h/t Andy Kravis). For the record, I prefer *this* LENE, but mostly I prefer no LENE.

P.P.S. ALL is duped in this grid (7D: GO ALL / 42D: ALL HERE), which isn't great form, but someone else pointed it out to me, so I can't get too mad about it.

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Diana 1969 Bond girl / WED 4-25-18 / Toffee candy bar / Christian inst in Tulsa / Office inappropriate briefly / Online aid for finding contractor

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4:01)

THEME: angles — circled letters both form and spell out angle types, and then there's a revealer clue: 36A: Is an expert on this puzzle's theme? (KNOWS EVERY ANGLE)

Word of the Day: Diana RIGG (10D: Diana ___, 1969 Bond girl) —
Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth RiggDBE (born 20 July 1938) is an English actress. She is known for playing Emma Peel in the 1960s TV series The Avengers (1965–68), and Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones (2013–17). She has also had an extensive career in theatre, including playing the title role in Medea, both in London and New York, for which she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994 for services to drama. (wikipedia)

• • •

Adam Perl writes the crosswords for the annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition, so I've solved many of his puzzles and worked with him at the tournament for several years now. I typically find his puzzles slightly challenging, in that I just operate on a different wavelength for some reason, but this one actually went down easier than normal, perhaps because the theme had almost no effect on my solve. I finally got KNOWS EVERY ANGLE (after dropping in KNOWS EVERYTHING at first), and then somewhere in the back of my brain a little voice went "uh, so, those circled squares probably form angles or something" but the bigger voice in the front of my brain went "shhh, I'm working here!" Knowing the theme might've helped me a little, but it's more likely that it would've distracted me and taken me out of my rhythm. I usually find that if I try to get ahead of myself and fill in themers early (i.e. before I get to their section of the grid via normal progress), I don't actually gain time at all. I think if I'd been thinking straight, I might've been able to pick up a few seconds in the SW by putting in the letters in ACUTE, but it's just as likely I would've lost those seconds and more trying to figure out what the hell the letters in the SE were doing—I'd've wanted to write in OBTUSE, but of course that's already in the grid in the NW. If I ever knew what a REFLEX angle was, I completely forgot. Thus, keeping my head down and just plowing ahead without much attention to the theme was probably the smart move.

Having the revealer be in a third-person verb phrase is *slightly* awkward, and honestly REFLEX and OBTUSE look identical, so it's hard to appreciate the distinction. It's an OK theme with an OK revealer. The fill gets wobbly in places (ROBT, UNS, PARAS, ALIENEE (the longest crosswordese?), NATANT (!)), but mostly it just gets very old-fashioned and familiar: EER OED ETNA MPAA ATT INT ORU OGEE etc. But the longer Acrosses in the NW / SE keep things interesting, as do the long Downs (loved ANGIE'S LIST in particular) (28D: Online aid for finding a contractor), and PIROGI are delicious (8D: Ravioli relative), so while this puzzle wasn't exactly to my taste, it also wasn't particularly off-putting. It was a puzzle!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


  • 16A: Kings' guards may be taken in it (NBA DRAFT)—the Sacramento Kings are an NBA team
  • 62D: "Towering" regulatory grp.? (FAA)—because they oversee control ... towers ... I assume
  • 8A: Legal assistants, for short (PARAS)—as in "PARAlegalS"

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Furniture superstore / TUES 4-24-2018 / Polish seaport / Hunky-dory / Mortise's partner

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hi, crossworders! It's Clare, and I'm back for yet another Tuesday puzzle. By the time we meet again at the end of May, I'll have graduated! Maybe I'll even have figured out where I'm going to law school by then. As it is, I've turned my thesis in and have just one week of classes left, so it's now a battle between my senioritis and me.

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Difficult for a Tuesday

THEME: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (55A: John Donne quote disproved by 17-, 25- and 43-across?) — Parts of the names of the theme answers are also islands

Theme answers:
  • BRET EASTON ELLIS (17A: Author of "American Psycho")
  • CUBA GOODING JR (25A: "Jerry Maguire" Oscar Winner)
  • IDRIS ELBA (43A: Star of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom")

Word of the Day: GRIZABELLA (29D)
Grizabella is the "Glamour Cat" in the musical production Cats... Grizabella is, at the time of her appearance, a very old cat, withered by her age to the point that she no longer resembles the proud, carefree, flamboyant dancer of her youth... Possibly because of this, it is Grizabella whom Old Deuteronomy consigns to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn. During her change, Grizabella sings the song "Memory," which has been thought of by audiences as a very emotionally touching, profound, and even mysterious composition. It has been recorded by over 150 different artists, including Barry Manilow, Michael Crawford, Barbra Streisand, and Kikki Danielsson. (Wikipedia)

• • •

I thought the theme was clever. It didn't help me solve the puzzle at all, but it was a fun "aha" moment when I looked back after I had finished. Elba has just a brief role in history, but it did provide for that nice Napoleon palindrome, "Able was I ere I saw Elba." (As an aside, IDRIS ELBA definitely has my vote to be the next James Bond).

So, there were lots and lots of names in this puzzle — SO many names. Beyond the names in the themers, there's GARR (32A), ERMA (18D), OLGA (36A), and GRIZABELLA (29D). Even JAKE (30D), although it's clued as an expression and not a person. (The term is such an old-fashioned way to describe hunky-dory that, gasp, it isn't even in Urban Dictionary.) I got so caught up in the names that I convinced myself that 60A: Mortise's partner (TENON) was going to be talking about an old crime show duo or something, not a way to form a joint.

There was also a fair amount of obscurity (by Tuesday standards). The cluing for SERTA (33A) felt pretty strange — I had no idea they were known for numbered sheep plush toys. HD TV SETS (24D: Modern hotel room item) are not really a modern contraption. The old way of talking about them is often "tv sets," and the new way is "HD TVs" or just "TVs," but certainly not combining the terms. CRUDITY (40D: primitiveness) seemed like it was making fun of itself — that word is a crudity. NONCE? ANON? Those are so old that they weren't a big problem; they just provided a musty air for the puzzle.

I had trouble in the SW corner. It seems odd to describe Mao and Xi as ICONS (47D) in China. Leaders, sure, but icons? DR MOM (48D: She might check for a fever with her hand) is a weird way to talk about something every Mom (and Dad) does. It also took me a little while to figure out that 46A: Approach furtively, with "to" was SIDLE UP and not "sneak up." Mix all those in with a 60-plus-year-old Patti Page song, I CRIED, and I stared at the screen for a while. (In the interest of improving this millennial's culture, I listened to I CRIED on YouTube after this puzzle, and it's a very nice jazz song!)

  • Why do crosswords love the color ECRU (2D) so much? I swear there are many more interesting colors than that. Maybe try chartreuse next time?
  • I'm starting to feel bad for ORCAS! They're usually described as killer whales, but this puzzles says they're 28A: Menaces of the deep, which is kind of sad. They're just trying to survive in a dark and dangerous ocean!
  • The new racing bike attachment is clipless pedals; definitely not TOE CLIPS (23D). Those went out of fashion for racers a long time ago.
  • 5D is clever (They're likely to get into hot water: TEABAGS) but felt like it should have a question mark at the end of the clue because it seemed pretty punny.
  • A 13th anniversary gift is LACE (61A)? Who came up with these lists anyway? When I get married, I'm certainly not going to be getting my husband lead for our 7th anniversary... (And just imagine if he tries to give me some)
  • My thesis is on the Confederados, the thousands of Southerners who fled after the Civil War and settled in Brazil, so I was glad to see I'm not the only one with BRAZILIANS  (27D) on my mind.
Hope you all have a great week!

Signed, Clare Carroll, an almost-done-with-college Eli.

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Suffragist Carrie Chapman / MON 4-23-18 / sea snail with mother of pearl shell / Irene of old Hollywood / Semiconductor device with two terminals

Monday, April 23, 2018

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (the "Medium" is almost solely for a themer I've never heard of) (2:53)

THEME: GO FIRST (38A: Lead off ... or a hint to the circled letters) — words meaning "Go!" are contained in the circled letters, which are the first letters in the themers:

Theme answers:
  • SCATTER RUG (17A: Small floor covering)
  • SCRAMBLED EGGS (23A: Standard breakfast order)
  • LEAVENED BREAD (50A: Passover no-no)
  • SHOOT HOOPS (61A: Play H-O-R-S-E)
Word of the Day: SCATTER RUG (17A) —
  1. another term for throw rug. (google)
• • •

This is pretty classic fare from Lynn Lempel: simple theme, lively answers, clean fill. The revealer is spot-on. My only beef, which is not one, is that SCATTER RUG meant zilch to me. Zero, nada. I guessed the RUG part because, well, there were three letters left and the clue had "floor covering" in it, but that term means nothing to me. Is it a regionalism? An older ... ism? "Throw rug," I've heard of. And it's the same thing, so ... shrug, no idea. I also stumbled out of the gate by thinking 1A: Engaged in country-to-country combat (AT WAR) wanted a perfect-tense verb, and then by thinking that 1D: Likewise (ALSO) was SAME! Non-auspicious beginning, and yet I finished under 3, which tells me the puzzle was, in the main, quite easy. Monday easy, maybe even easier than usual. Once I got out of the NW, I paused only a handful of times while writing in answers, and lost time only because I remain the world's worst, most fat-fingered and clumsy keyboard navigator. I'm all typos and misplaced cursors and other nonsense, especially at high speeds.


My favorite corner was the NE, both because it's got the star of "Bullitt," which is one of the greatest movies of all time (I know it's not *that* Steve MCQUEEN, but try telling my "Bullitt"-loving brain that); it's also got Irene DUNNE, whom I adore, especially opposite Cary Grant (see "The Awful Truth," "My Favorite Wife," "Penny Serenade"). And finally, the corner has its own fabulous soundtrack: Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T."! Pretty YOUNG THING! He tells you what the letters mean in the song. He also tells you that TLC means Tender Lovin' Care, so it's a song both danceable and informative.

I am hopelessly DEVOTED to LAURA Linney forever and ever no matter what amen, so it was NICE to see her name here today. Ooh, and Johnny MATHIS. I finally finished cataloguing my LP collection, and there were two or three of his in there, including this ultra-cool one where he's smoking on the cover. I know smoking's bad blah blah blah but it's dumb to pretend some people don't make it look cool.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Ocean buildup / SUN 4-22-18 / Title city in 1960 #1 song / 1899 gold rush destination / Script suggestion about starting fight scene / Tally in Britain / Supergiant in Cygnus / Early Chinese dynasty / Root beer brand since 1937

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Challenging (14:50) (I've had a ballgame beer and a martini, tho, so ... !)

THEME: Pluses and Minuses [read: Plus E's and Minus E's] — familiar phrases have E's added to one word and dropped from another word, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily:

Theme answers:
  • STARES AND STRIPS (23A: Makes eye contact before undressing?)
  • FATHER IN ONE'S CAPE (39A: Parent wearing your Superman costume?)
  • NOTE A MOMENT TO SPAR (54A: Script suggestion about starting the fight scene?)
  • JETE-PROPELLED PLAN (78A: Ballet choreography?)
  • HAD LESS HORSE MANE (96A: Was harder for the bronco buster to hold on to?)
  • LEAST BUT NOT LAST (115A: Like the digit "0" in 2018?)
Word of the Day: SEA OOZE (62A: Ocean buildup) —
1.Same as Sea mud

• • •

ERM, no. I mean, specifically, ERM is a terrible answer, and also, no, I didn't really enjoy working out this theme. Every answer felt painful. Like ... E is dropped where? And added where? Why are there Other Random Es In These Answers?! Shouldn't themers like this have two and only two Es? I will give props to the title, which is perfect, but ugh, slog city, working this thing out. I also think SMALL OJ and SEA OOZE (!?) are just junk. I mean, they seem like they came from a purchased wordlist, something a computer recommended and the constructor failed to override. SMALL OJ might've been ok if it had been clued differently, perhaps with reference to, I don't know, its *abbreviatedness* or *beverageness* or anything. Took Forever to get that, and since it intersected two already-hard-to-get themers, ugh, the slogginess. Not knowing the tail end of HYPNOS also complicated things. SEA OOZE, also, come on. And lying right alongside a themer, man, that was rough. Ugh, and with [Giggle syllable] in there (worst crossword clue type ever, could be a jillion things), and the totally enigmatic 50D: Tip of the tongue? (ESE) (!?) (because languages, or "tongues," end ... in -ESE ...), yeesh, that central area was a bear. And for what? NOTE A MOMENT TO SPAR? Pfffft, and I was having such a nice day up to this point. Got some great records this morning because it's Record Store Day 2018! And went to a baseball game this afternoon and saw a Tigers prospect with a great name (Funkhouser!) who struck out Tebow, twice. And it's sunnnnnnny for the first time since, I think, 1936, so ... yeah, my mood was good. And now it's less good. But the martini is still kinda working its magic, *and* I'm listening to Talking Heads "Remain in Light," so ... OK, things could be worse.

Got upended all over the place. Misspelled DIEZ as DIES, which made GRAZE super duper hard to pick up (69A: Eat a little here, a little there). I honestly, repeatedly considered ERASE. Also thought SADIES at first, not SALLYS (111A: Actresses Field and Hawkins). Sally Hawkins was in "The Shape of Water." Which I saw. I just ... Hawkins made me go SADIE. Reflex. I also totally tanked the southern part of the grid, everything around ORIANA, whose name I forgot and botched like nine times before I got it right. ALOP? Oy, no. PIANO, no. IS APT TO, ouch. Is it AS DO I or AS AM I??? Again, all of this stuff crossed *two* themers, so ... Slog City. Maybe some of the theme answers end up being clever or cute ... I guess I can see that. But getting there was awfully painful work. I did love "LA CUCARACHA," though!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Fourth god to exist in Greek myth / SAT 4-21-18 / Currency unit equal to 100 kurus / Teacher of lip-reading to deaf / Wite-Out manufacturer

    Saturday, April 21, 2018

    Constructor: Daniel Nierenberg

    Relative difficulty: Easy (mid-6s, but that's with ~30 seconds of "taking screenshots" time—uninterrupted time would've easily been somewhere in the 5s)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Ron KOVIC (46D: Ron who wrote "Born on the Fourth of July") —
    Ronald Lawrence "RonKovic (born July 4, 1946) is an American anti-war activist, writer, and former United States Marine Corps sergeant, who was wounded and paralyzed in the Vietnam War. He is best known as the author of his 1976 memoir Born on the Fourth of July, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film in 1989 directed by Oliver Stone.
    Kovic received the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay on January 20, 1990, 22 years to the day that he was wounded in Vietnam, and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Wow. This was easy. Eerily easy. I did my usual thing of throwing down all the short Downs I could make fit at first guess in the NW, and then checking to see where I was at with the long Acrosses. Shockingly, with the exception of ITSY for ITTY (ick), allll of my first guesses up there were right, and all of the long Acrosses fell pretty much immediately. Here's my very first pass at the NW:
    And then it just Kept Going. This was a very open grid, with lots of ways to get at every corner, so there really was no getting stuck. Once I committed to ORALIST (I might've ... gagged on that one, a little) and -LYSIS (definitely gagged there), moving down into the rest of the grid was quite easy. The only slight roadblocks were: I wanted SURE for SOLD (25A: Convinced) and then wanted NOT ART for NON-ART (21D: Dada, to its critics), which is a non-answer as far as I'm concerned, but that's non of my business, moving on. I probably had more trouble with CLARET than with anything else in the grid, which is really strange given that I know the word. I think of it as wine and not color, I guess. Just couldn't come up with it. Honestly, there's no more resistance in this puzzle. I could've written in GAY MARRIAGE for 58A: Subject of the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges with no crosses if I'd had to, but I didn't even have to do that, as I'd already plunked THE EYE and DIORAMA down there. 
    No idea about RIGGS (44D: One of the detectives in "Lethal Weapon"), but it hardly mattered—it just filled itself in from crosses. I actually liked most of this grid, just not the ITTY ORALISTLYSIS up top. BRAE is some old school crosswordese (51D: Landform near a loch), but it felt like an old friend more than a nuisance today. If I'm not being bombarded by crosswordese and otherwise bad fill, I'm remarkably cool with the stray quaint old term. An ETUI here, an ASTA there, just fine with me.

    Anyway, today I did not NEED HELP. Everything just clicked. I'm definitely much faster solving at night than solving in the morning. And I've also found that if I do a hardish puzzle right before I do the NYT, it helps a lot. Today's pre-NYT warm-up puzzle was Peter Gordon's latest Fireball Newsflash puzzle; these are always replete with very recent and newsy answers—brutal proper nouns, but always crossed fairly. Anyway, it helped me keep up with some current events *and* got me in fighting shape for this puzzle, which I destroyed.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Kepler's contemporary assistant / FRI 4-20-18 / Topic of mnemonic Eat Apple As Nighttime Snack / Desperately in need of approval in modern slang

    Friday, April 20, 2018

    Constructor: Joel Fagliano

    Relative difficulty: Man, I'm slow when I roll-out-of-bed-solve... (9-something)

    THEME: sadly, yes

    Theme answers:
    • TWENTY-FIVE / THOUSANDTH (10D: With 26-Down, the place of today's puzzle among all New York Times crosswords)
    Word of the Day: HOLT (6D: Otter's den) —
    1. 1
      the den of an animal, especially that of an otter.
    2. 2
      NORTH AMERICANdialect
      a grip or hold. (google)
    • • •

    ELEPHANT, in room, not forgetting
    Firstly, you can shove this self-congratulatory bullshit and start paying constructors somewhere, anywhere near what the puzzles are worth to you, NYT. The peanuts-level pay (fractions of a penny per dollar profit) remains a fantastic embarrassment and ensures that puzzle-making remains largely the purview of a smallish clique of (mostly) white (mostly) guys who would and could do it for nothing. Already well-off white dudes are the Best because they don't harsh your buzz with talk about *money*, ick, how déclassé. And the Powers That Be have always been dismissive and condescending (and largely silent) on this issue. Extremely so. I've got friends who complain all day long (*as they should*) that women and people of color are underrepresented in the world of crossword constructors and editors, but never make a peep about fair pay. About selling your work to a giant corporation, with no hope of residuals, and being paid largely in "hey, look, your name's in the paper!" Why anyone sells to the NYT for less than $750 for a daily is beyond me (it's currently a laughable $300, with a secret $350 level for the oft-published favorites—by comparison, Peter Gordon's *independent* Fireball Crosswords pays $451). I have no problem with the NYT's using the crossword to help fund "real" news? But come on. They could double, triple, quadruple the pay rate and stil just be printing money. TWENTY-FIVE THOUSANDTH crossword? So? What? I mean, this is an institution that took years and years to Put The Constructor's Name On The Puzzle, then even more years to Put The Name Where People Can See It. See, you're supposed to worship the Institution, and the Editor. Constructor shmonstructor. I would love for an honest accounting of just how much money there is, and where the money goes, crosswordwise. Let everyone see. Go ahead. I dare you.

    Secondly, and more strongly, you can take DEEP STATE (58A: Entrenched network inside a government), and everything you've done to normalize this racist, conspiracy-theory-driven administration, and shove it very, very far.


    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I know it's 4/20, but I swear I did not write this high.

    P.P.S. Here, please enjoy this puzzle from Brendan Emmett Quigley and 2018 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion Erik Agard?

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    Seuss's star-bellied creatures / THU 4-19-18 / Word before Johnny Lucy / Disney movie set in Arendelle / Chocolaty breakfast cereal

    Thursday, April 19, 2018

    Constructor: Todd Gross

    Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:48)

    THEME: COUNT THE SQUARES (35A: How to find out what "this many" is in 17-, 21-, 52- and 57-Across) — themers have "this many" as part of their clues, and "this many" = number of letters in the answer:

    Theme answers:
    • BEETHOVEN (17A: He wrote this many symphonies)
    • MISSOURI (21A: It borders this many other states)
    • ARACHNID (52A: It has this many legs)
    • MARK SPITZ (57A: He won this many Olympic gold medals)
    Word of the Day: KEENAN Wynn (3D: Actor Wynn of "Dr. Strangelove") —
    Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn (July 27, 1916 – October 14, 1986) was an American character actor. His expressive face was his stock-in-trade; and, though he rarely carried the lead role, he had prominent billing in most of his film and television roles. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    This feels underbaked. Four pretty short themers, and a revealer that is not ... a thing people say. Not a stand-alone phrase. Not wordplayesque. Painfully literal instructions. Just not a lot of there there. Also, the number of letters is pretty iconic for three of the themers (BEETHOVEN's symphonies, spider's legs, Spitz's medals), but number of states that MISSOURI borders? It's an interesting piece of trivia (MO is tied with TN for state that borders most other states) but when I think Missouri I do not think "Oh, sure ... eight." The whole thing just doesn't quite come together on the thematic level. There's some quite delightful fill, though. AE HOUSMAN (10D: "A Shropshire Lad" author) and CROUPIER (11D: Casino employee) in the NE, ULULATES (37D: Grieves loudly) and SNEETCHES (33D: Seuss's star-bellied creatures) in the SW. I like those. Those were by far my favorite things about this puzzle. But the theme is kinda sorta very important on Thursdays, of all days, and outside those longer Downs the rest of the fill is OK but actually a bit on the weak side, so it's hard not to feel a tad disappointed by this one.

    Started stupidly slow on this one. I blame POKE, which is horribly clued (1A: Slow sort, informally). Uh, I've heard "slow POKE," but never POKE on its own. The "slow" is necessary to make POKE make any sense, and "slow" is already in the clue, so ... yuck. I'm sure there's some example somewhere of POKE standing on its own, but come on. The phrase is "slow POKE" and everyone knows that so stop getting cute. Better to have [Slow ___], honestly. Hard, and accurate. Forgot KEENAN, never considered OREO OS, and thought 1D: Classic Milwaukee brews (PABSTS) could be lotsa things. Worst of all, I dropped ELENA into 20A: First name on the Supreme Court (SONIA) without hesitation. Dead certain. Whoops. Besides SSN, I didn't get a damn thing until I picked up UNO, and then the whole north section, and then backed into BEETHOVEN (without really understanding why—just saw ----OVEN and "symphonies" and plunked down the obvious answer). I thought maybe the clue number was the "this many," and so MISSOURI was a revelation. "21 states!? Wow ... I have completely misremembered my US map." Even after COUNT THE SQUARES, I didn't really put things together (this often happens when I'm flying). It was only at ARACHNID that I was like, "OK, hey, even I know spiders don't have 52 legs..." I did (very briefly) think some creature did, though, because I just had the -NID when I read the clue. "52 legs!? What ... the hell creature ... is that?" Only *then* did the full meaning of COUNT THE SQUARES hit me. So in went ARACHNID, and that heretofore pesky SW corner folded, and I was done.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Hypothetical particle that travels faster than light / WED 4-18-18 / Much-covered 1956 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song ./ Like Cockneys in British lingo / Colorful conical candy on stick

      Wednesday, April 18, 2018

      Constructor: Peter A. Collins and Bruce Haight

      Relative difficulty: Easy (oversized and I still got in under 4) (3:57)

      THEME: "I PUT A SPELL ON YOU" (61A: Much-covered 1956 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song ... hinting at what happens three times in this puzzle's solution) — HEX appears directly on top of YOU three times in the grid

      Word of the Day: NON U (59D: Like Cockneys, in British lingo) —
      1. (of language or social behavior) not characteristic of the upper social classes; not socially acceptable to certain people. (google)
      • • •

      Pfffffffffft, OK, so the basic theme is kind of cute. Very literal take on the song title. Or, fairly literal take, as HEX (not SPELL) is placed on top of YOU. And here lies the (or a) problem: that "XU" string that you've got to negotiate not once not twice but thrice in this grid. It gets you into some rough places. In one corner, you're forced into CDE and NON-U to make it work. In the middle you actually get away OK—OLES and ESAS aren't ideal, but they're not horrific, either. What is horrific, however, and what should've been a deal-breaker, is EOUS. I mean ... just look at that thing. It's a monster. It's an unholy gob of letters that can only be held in that particular configuration by a curse OMG I UNDERSTAND THE THEME NOW. Someone hailed Satan and put a spell on that answer to make those letters stay in that disgusting arrangement; and apparently someone put a spell on the puzzle-makers so that they would think -EOUS was a fine thing to perpetrate on the solving public. I mean, if they can take NONU and ENRY and AIT, surely they can choke down -EOUS! There are lots of synonyms for SPELL—why not try out some of them in addition to HEX. Or stay with your little HEX plan, but make a grid that works. Look at this thing. So horrifically pockmarked with black squares in the middle that the NE / SW corners end up ridiculously bloated just to keep this thing at a reasonable word limit. I mean, huge banks of three 8s and a 7, in a themed puzzle, having no relation to the theme at all? It's bizarre.

      I knew TACHYON from having read Watchmen (once again) last month (46D: Hypothetical particle that travels faster than light). TACHYONs play a weirdly imporant role in the plot toward the end of the book. I don't know what an ASTROPOP is, but it was highly inferrable (38D: Colorful, conical candy on a stick). None of the other answers seem like ones that might present problems. EIRE is crosswordese, AIT is crosswordese, NITTI is crosswordese, CNET is crosswordese, UTNE, ASTI, NON U ... —if you didn't know those, you really should. I wish the constructors had been able to execute the theme better, with clean fill and a non-clownish grid, because the concept is pretty tight. Oh well.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS this video put a spell on me. She's ****ing magic.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Rock band known for its energy domes / TUE 4-17-18 / Archipelago west of Portugal / Bruece Lee role based on old radio character / Loosening of government controls for short / Giant four-legged combat walker in Star Wars films

      Tuesday, April 17, 2018

      Constructor: Wren Schultz

      Relative difficulty: Easy (3:01)

      THEME: VOWEL (65A: Every other letter in this puzzle's grid(!)) — that's the theme; pretty self-explanatory

      Theme answers:
      • All of them
      Word of the Day: KIWI (57D: New Zealand bird) —
      1. 1
        a flightless New Zealand bird with hairlike feathers, having a long down-curved bill with sensitive nostrils at the tip.
      2. 2
        a New Zealander, especially a soldier or member of a national sports team.
      [Actual solving outfit]

      • • •

      I have no idea how hard or easy this is to do, and I don't really care. You'd never notice the gimmick unless someone told you about it, and it has no relevance to the solving process. I guess if you somehow got really stuck and knew the "every other letter" = vowel gimmick, you could maybe narrow down your letter choices, but in a puzzle this easy, that seems highly unlikely. It's basically a profoundly easy and pretty dull themeless, with a very weak one-word revealer that points out an invisible stunt. If a stunt falls in the woods and there's no one ... etc. I genuinely don't understand this. Or, rather, I don't understand going forward with this when you have no zippy wordplay, no revealer, no phrase that you're reimagining. The punchline is just ... VOWEL. It would be great if the NYT thought for a dang second about what it would be like to solve this thing. You're humming along, it's easy, there's absolutely no discernible pattern or theme but you don't care 'cause you're crushing it, and then you hit dum dum DUM ... VOWEL. And you look at the grid and you see that indeed every other letter is a VOWEL but also it looks like any other blah crossword except w/o the pesky theme, I guess. But at least you got to see ODER and BOLA and ONED and NAGAT, though, so at least you've got that going for you.

      I nearly broke 3 minutes on a Tuesday, which hasn't happened for me in a long while. I was half a minute faster today than yesterday. I had almost zero areas of trouble, and very few times when I looked at a clue and didn't know immediately what the answer was. ODER required crosses, but other than that, every answer seemed to just fall before me, without my having to do much of anything. At the very end (NE corner) I lost a few seconds because I hesitated at ___ DEPOSIT (10D: Lode). Figured it was ORE, but wanted confirmation. Then didn't get DEVO at first pass (11D: Rock band known for its "energy domes") and then of course fell in the old COLA / SODA trap at 9A: Pizza party drink (SODA). And so, 3:01. Really, really want those two seconds back. Curse you SODA! I shall never drink thee again ... I mean, I don't drink thee now, but ... moreso!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Stabilizing part of ship's compass / MON 4-16-18 / Supporting nativist policies

      Monday, April 16, 2018

      Constructor: David Woolf

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (3:34) (slowish for a Monday)

      THEME: EYE CONTACT (62A: Asset for a public speaker ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, 37- and 52-Across) — themers all have two "I"s next to each other (i.e. making "contact" in the grid)

      Theme answers:
      • SUNNI ISLAM (17A: World's largest religious denomination)
      • SETI INSTITUTE (24A: Org. looking for aliens)
      • ANTI-IMMIGRATION (37A: Supporting nativist policies)
      • SKI INSTRUCTOR (52A: One teaching pizza slices and S-turns)
      Word of the Day: GIMBAL (23D: Stabilizing part of a ship's compass) —
      1. a mechanism, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel or aircraft. (google)
      • • •

      So yesterday we had GOOK (well, GO space OK, but come on...) and today, right in the middle of the grid, the longest answer in the puzzle: ANTI-IMMIGRATION. And with an adorably innocuous clue, too. Oooh, *and* it's crossing NRA! Fun. Keep up the ... work, NYT.

      [This is where the party ends / I can't stand here listening to you / And your 37A Friend!]

      I think the theme is pretty clever, actually. You don't see "I"s next to each other very much in English, so having all the answers do that, and then punning on "eye," yes, that works. I got SUNNI ISLAM easy, but SETI institute was slightly tougher (knew SETI, from crosswords, of course, but ... never thought there was a word or term that followed it). Also slightly misread the clue on ANTI-IMMIGRATION—my brain was thinking Native American policies, not the racist white "nativist" policies, perhaps because my brain was wishfully thinking that racist garbage wouldn't be front and center in the puzzle again. Yeah, the problem is definitely with me. I also couldn't make heads or tails of the clue on SKI INSTRUCTOR (52A: One teaching pizza slices and S-turns). Like ... gibberish to me. Further, no idea what a GIMBAL is (needed every cross and still wasn't sure), no idea (until I got the very last letter) what 26D: Still uninformed was getting at (I stared for seconds at NOWISE- thinking that maybe the last letter was "E"??? NOW I SEE?), and weirdly this is the very first I'm hearing of either Daisy or RIDLEY or Daisy RIDLEY, despite having seen her in the role in question (48D: Daisy who plays Rey in "Star Wars" movies). Weird. So, yeah, allllll of that made me slower than normal today. Oh, and I somehow also totally misread 7D: Cartoonist Keane (BIL) as ... well, I don't really know, but I ended up thinking of an old Nickelodeon TV show and writing in KEL, that's how lost I was.

      I'm sure YAO Ming is, in fact, "worth millions," but that's still a super-weird clue for him (63D: Ming worth millions of dollars). When I think of him, I think of basketball, not how wealthy he is. Lots of athletes are far wealthier than him (I mean, I'm pretty sure). I think the clue wanted to alliterate (??) but it should have resisted that urge.  And even then, why not just [Ming worth millions]??? I mean, I'm on record as hating cross-reference clues, but NBA *is* in the (damn) grid, so... if you wanted to annoy me with your clue, you had other, better options.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS "Dancing with the Stars" judge?? (29D) Once again, an LOL "no way" from me. So many absolute whiffs for a Monday. Bizarre.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Rear seating compartment in old automobiels / Purple smoothie flavorer / Org that's nearly one fourth Canadian / Portrayer of Mr Chips / Spring river breakup

      Sunday, April 15, 2018

      Constructor: Alex Bajcz

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: "Preposition Proposition" — verb phrases that are modeled (verb + preposition) are reimagined as hyphenated noun phrases, with resulting wackiness:

      Theme answers:
      • PULL-UP STAKES (23A: Wagers for a gym exercise?)
      • PICK-UP STEAM (33A: Bad thing to see under a truck's hood?)
      • WALK-ON WATER (48A: Unrecruited athlete's bottleful?)
      • DEAD-ON ARRIVAL (64A: Timely entrance?)
      • STAND-IN LINE (82:A Understudy's delivery?)
      • PUT-ON NOTICE (97A: Scam alert?)
      • RUN-IN CIRCLES (112A: Fight clubs?)
      • SET-TO MUSIC (37D: Soundtrack for a brawl?)
      • GO-TO PIECES (44D: Compositions often chosen for encores?)
      Word of the Day: TONNEAU (20A: Rear seating compartment in old automobiles) —
      1. the part of an automobile, typically an open car, occupied by the back seats.
        • short for tonneau cover. (google)
      • • •

      It's a simple concept, and it is ... executed. I mean, it does what it does. More of a "hey ... interesting" -type theme than an "ooooh"-type theme, but OK.  There is a certain (perhaps numbing) consistency to the structure of these themers. The clues very rarely get to the level of wackiness normally required for me to enjoy wacky puzzles. And man oh man, with a puzzle saturated with prepositions (in the themers), it would be great if it were not also saturated with prepositions generally. I mean, yikes and EEKS. You've got PUSH IN, TOSSES TO, FLIES TO, OD ON, not to mention ONA and ATA ... it's a lot. It's possible I missed one. Don't really feel like checking thoroughly. The theme is very dense, which ... why? It's not like I"m clamoring for more of this theme. If you've seen 7, you've seen 9. I'd prefer a cleaner / more interesting overall grid to more theme stuff. Sometimes themes seem to try to compensate for mediocrity with density. I don't recommend this. I recommend starting with a baseline of non-mediocrity. I have nothing much against this puzzle, but nothing much for it, either. I really like PINCHRAN (21A: Replaced someone on a base). Is that weird? Probably. I'm just really into baseball right now, despite my team's being abysmal. Longer fill is normally a chance for a grid to shine, but today there's some really awkward stuff, like MISSES A CUE and STEP OUT OF (more prepositions!), and it just doesn't Do much to enliven the grid. ATE RIGHT, that's pretty good. In-the-language, original. More of that would've been nice.

      I flew right through this one, and didn't notice much worth commenting on. I found that bank of Downs up top—APEAK, DISGUSTED, ENCIPHER—pretty tough, first because I forgot APEAK and wrote in ABEAM, second because the clue for DISGUSTED did not really seem like it was looking for an adjective (13D: Saying "Ewww!," say), and third because ENCIPHER ... I'd say DECIPHER, but ENCRYPT. So ENCIPHER just took some patience and acceptance. Your boy ANKA is back for another go 'round. Let's hear more of his pop warblings, shall we?

      And now a word about GO OK. In the grid there is no space between GO and OK, and so you get an answer that looks like a racial slur, and while I didn't even blink at this (I was going too fast to think about parsing), lots of people did, in fact, blink:

      I know the answer is totally defensible (it's not clued in a racial way, etc.), I think it's reasonable to ditch the answer entirely in the interest of not having an apparent racial slur hanging out in your grid. It's not as if GO OK is such great fill. As Evan Birnholz rightly pointed out to me, you lose Nothing in terms of puzzle quality by going with AREN'T / ROOK instead of AGENT / GO OK. Without having a big fight over this issue, please consider deleting this letter sequence from your wordlist. It costs you nothing, zip, nil, zero, and eliminates a possibility for people's taking offense, or even just being mildly put off. It's not as if GO OK is beloved—losing it is not a hardship.

      Also, this from sportswriter / radio host Dan Bernstein, re: 48A: Unrecruited athlete's bottleful? (WALK-ON WATER):


      So there you go. Enjoy your Sunday.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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