Dame Myra of piano fame / TUE 5-22-18 / Compound in synthetic rubber / Constellation next to Draco / Sheik's land in poetry / drain decloggers

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium, sliding toward Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*) (3:58)

THEME: BIG DIPPER (9D: Part of 17-Across ... and what the circles from A to G depict) — themers related to big dipper and connect-the-dots gives you a kind of replica of said dipper:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Constellation next to Draco (URSA MAJOR)
  • 34D: Thing located in the night sky by extending a line from circle F past circle G (NORTH STAR)
  • 64A: Another term for 17-Across (GREAT BEAR)

Word of the Day: RONDEL (47D: 14-line verse with only two rhyme sounds) —
rondel is a verse form originating in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century. It was later used in the verse of other languages as well, such as English and Romanian. It is a variation of the rondeau consisting of two quatrains followed by a quintet (13 lines total) or a sestet (14 lines total). It is not to be confused with the roundel, a similar verse form with repeating refrain.
• • •

OOF. The theme would've been OK, I guess—it's got issues, which I'll get into, but it does what it does and some people like drawing on their puzzles, so, whatever, fine—but when you throw in the fill, this one just slides down enjoyment mountain into the valley of OOF. Let's start with the theme. It's all over the (star) map. It's main purpose seems to be to create a connect-the-dots puzzle that allows us / forces us to envision the BIG DIPPER. But the revealer is in this weird place, and it's clued as *part* of some bigger constellation, which is in the puzzle ... twice (once in Latin, once in an English form that no one ever uses). And then there's NORTH STAR ... which is also called Polaris, but you don't see that here. Also, Polaris is not in the BIG DIPPER or anywhere in URSA MAJOR (it's in the minor bear). So it's conceptually interesting, somewhat ambitious, but rough. And then the fill, come on, can we get this stuff cleaned up. Editors should be sending MTW puzzles with fill like this back to constructors with a "please improve this" message. You know at ARABY that things aren't gonna be great. And then bang there you are with all of ESO BESO which causes you to pause for a stunned second ORSO (!) like some kind of DODO. But OOF, EENY EMO NEG ANOD (!?), ASEA TERI LAO INURE ELON ENOLA (sans gay) SERE ILSA LYES *and* RYES (rhyming unlikely plurals!) ... and that's not even touching the longer unpleasantness BUTENE and RONDEL. This thing is Out of the Past, except "Out of the Past" is one of the greatest movies of all time, so scratch that. It's just stale.

I don't really stop to read and figure out long cross-referenced clues if I don't have to, and I'm certainly not consulting circles unless absolutely necessary, but the theme answers were pretty gettable without much time spent mucking around trying to figure out the exact relationship of the stars in space. Difficulty came from fill. In and around BUTENE, in and around RONDEL—that was all my puzzle drama. Didn't know if it was gonna be ENURE or INURE (16A: Habituate) and stupidly (and mostly inexplicably) wrote in PADUA for 9A: Noted tower setting (BABEL). I was probably thinking PISA, but there were five letters, so ... PADUA! Had trouble with ON DOPE because ... what year is it? Also DODO because DOLT DOPE etc. (36D: Numbskull). And there's ORBIS, dear lord, why? It's Tuesday. What does the "?" in the clue even mean? Is "Caesar's world?" some kind of expression? A pun? ORBIS ... honestly, that answer alone should've prompted a rewrite request. Really hope you know Latin or else are *certain* about the whole ILSA / ELSA thing (which I still botch like half the time ... including today). Do better, puzzle!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Puppeteer lewis / MON 5-21-18 / 1960s-70s Ford named for Italian city / Popular Cartoon Network programming block

Monday, May 21, 2018

Constructor: Hannah Slovut

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:42)

THEME: baby steps — first words of themers progress from BABY to ... GHOST (!?!?!)

Theme answers:
  • BABY ALBUM (17A: Holder of some precious memories)
  • CHILD PRODIGY (22A: Wunderkind)
  • TEEN VOGUE (30A: Fashion magazine spinoff)
  • ADULT SWIM (41A: Popular Cartoon Network programming block)
  • SENIOR MOMENT (47A: Temporary mental lapse)
  • GHOST TOWN (59A: Place where no one lives anymore)
Word of the Day: Lorena OCHOA (16A: Women's golf star Lorena) —
Lorena Ochoa Reyes (Spanish About this sound [ˈlore'naˈocho'a] ; born 15 November 1981) is a Mexican professional golfer who played on the U.S.-based LPGA Tourfrom 2003 to 2010. She was the top-ranked female golfer in the world for 158 consecutive and total weeks (both are LPGA Tour records), from 23 April 2007 to her retirement in 2 May 2010, at the age of 28 years old. As the first Mexican golfer of either gender to be ranked number one in the world, she is considered the best Mexican golfer and the best Latin American female golfer of all time. Ochoa was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017. (wikipedia)
• • •

Flying high off my fastest time since I started recording them five weeks ago. That kind of success always makes one predisposed to like a puzzle, and ... yeah, I didn't hate this one, so maybe the drug of speed is having its way with me. Well, not the actual drug of speed—not sure what that would do to me. I didn't really notice the theme as I was solving, and I *certainly* didn't notice that I ended up not just in the grave but Risen From It. What the hell is up with that last themer? It was bad enough to have the "senior" answer be the horrible phrase SENIOR MOMENT, a godawful never-say-it-in-my-presence euphemism for just spacing, which honestly I've been doing since forever. I put the crackers in the fridge, like, 2 weeks ago. I'm only 48. Don't SENIOR MOMENT me. Anyway, it's the only life stage here represented by a lapse or weakness, boo. But GHOST, man, what the hell? Why you got me undead? Dang. Were there no good WRAITH or ZOMBIE phrases? VAMPIRE BAT was one letter too long (though you coulda gone BABY ALBUMS plural and made it work). Or, you know, CORPSE POSE, that works too. Not sure if the last themer is trying to be funny or what? It's bizarre. Eerie. But it's Monday and the theme is otherwise kinda dull so bring on the dancing mummies, I guess, sure, why not?

Hardest thing about this puzzle was parsing the longer Downs, specifically PILE IT ON and HOTFOOT IT. The former moreso than the latter. How do you feel about repeated small words like "IT"? Normally I don't mind much, but somehow the fact that "IT" shows up in both of the marquee non-theme long answers up top ... highlights the duplication more. If the second "IT" phrase had been GOT IT, and that answer had been buried somewhere near the bottom of the grid, I probably wouldn't even have noticed the duplication. Besides those longer Downs, the only answers that gave me pause were TORINO (29A: 1960s-'70s Ford named for an Italian city)—I had TURINO ... because the city is Turin, and also there's a video game series called Gran Turismo ... which I don't play, but I must know the name somehow. Anyhow, the "U" thing messed me up, which then made LOG weird (23D: Item in a grate). I also had trouble with NO MSG (12D: Request to a waiter), since the type of restaurant where one might actually say that phrase was inconveniently left out of the clue. I had the "G" first couldn't think of any words that would work. I got ROOD easily, but only because I'm a medievalist who teaches a poem called "The Dream of the ROOD" on a regular basis. Seems hardish for normals. Crosswordese all up and down this thing (NE and SW corners particularly stuffed). Haven't seen AIWA in forever, perhaps because it now requires the word "Onetime" in its clue. So let's just say kinda stale but mostly solid, with a final themer that, love it or hate it, at least takes the puzzle out of the realm of the mundane.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Unnamed character in Camus's Stranger / SUN 5-20-18 / Filth covering pecans such / Mozart's Don Alfonso Leporello / Scottish accents / Backyard shindig informally

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium (?) (I've been drinking a little) (12:25)

THEME: "Rhymes, Schmymes"— two-word phrases where second word just replaces opening sounds of first word with SCHM-

Theme answers:
  • BOOZE SCHMOOZE (23A: Conversation over a few whiskeys?)
  • NUTS SCHMUTZ (38A: Filth covering pecans and such?)
  • DEER SCHMEAR (50A: Venison spread?)
  • NO SCHMO (67A: Hardly a dolt?)
  • DUCK SCHMUCK (83A: Avoid a jerk?)
  • QUIT SCHMIDT (90A: Break up with an "unbreakable" Ellie Kemper character?)
  • HALTS SCHMALTZ (111A: Puts a stop to sentimentality?)
Word of the Day: "The Island of Dr. MOREAU" (64D: H. G. Wells villain) —
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. Wells described it as "an exercise in youthful blasphemy".
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic of early science fiction and remains one of Wells's best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif "uplift" in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species in order to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence. It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme is pretty dang simple—you just have to take all the SCHM- words you can think of and work backwards. But that doesn't mean it wasn't at least mildly entertaining. It was. And it was also easy—very easy—to figure out theme answers. The puzzle-makers must have understood this and adjusted the rest of the puzzle accordingly, because OMG I was struggling to figure things out all over the place. Hardly any of this grid doesn't have ink on it (I print out and mark up the areas where I have difficulty or criticism). Let's start with 1A: Picnic annoyance (BUG BITE). That could've gone a thousand ways, and I needed most of the crosses to see it. I feel like some version of this (clue vague, crosses desperately needed) kept happening over and over and over. 70A: Virus fighters (TECHIES) (!?!?!)—I get that computers can have viruses and TECHIES (among infinite other things they do) might work to clear a computer of viruses, but yikes that connection was tenuous. 75A: Buds come in them (SIX PACKS)! Clever, but oy so much cross-needing. 33D: Dusted off, say (TIDY)! Oh, so it's not a verb, then? Thanks. BASE PAIR, hard (100A: DNA building block). SNIGLET, hard (and wtf pretending that it's an ordinary slang word as opposed to a slang word specifically created by Rich Hall specifically and solely for comedic gags invented by him and not seen or heard since the '80s) (114A: Term for a word that isn't [in] the dictionary, but maybe should be). I honestly felt like I was flying through this thing, but my time says "nope, average at best." Does alcohol make you overestimate your prowess. That might be what's going on here. The Manhattan I had with dinner is still working its magic...

One of the toughest areas for me was the intersection of 10D: Be a witness (LOOK ... ON?) and 31A: Moreover (TOO). When LOOK AT wouldn't work, other options all sounded wrong and seemed improbably. And "Moreover" means more (to me) than a simple too. Also, I would only use "Moreover" and the beginning of a sentence, where I would never use TOO. And then OOZE OUT ... I guess the OUT was the only thing that could work there, but that also too moreover was strange, somehow. Hey, NUTS SCHMUTZ doesn't rhyme, booooooo! SCROD is supposed to be a jokey past tense of SCREW? I don't get that at all. I mean, I am all for the insane joke clue, but ... what is the analogue here? All the -EW verbs I can think of are already past tense (e.g. DREW, FLEW, KNEW). SPEW SPOD? Nope. Seriously wtf are they thinking here? SCREWED ... is what sounds like the past tense of SCREW. What -OD past tense is there besides TROD? Whatever, this "joke" makes no sense. I like ambition, but the execution is a flop.

Best wrong answer today, by which I mean Worst wrong answer because it was both ridiculous and costly, is MR. HYDE for MOREAU (64D: H. G. Wells villain). DR. MOREAU woulda been nicer. Aren't BASSOS really BASSI? Yes, the answer is yes. Again, I ask, wtf? OK, though you probably can't tell, I thought this puzzle was better than your average NYT Sunday—it's a garbage day, so it's a low bar, but a thumbs up is a thumbs up so take it. Good day.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Fine dandy old slang / SAT 5-19-18 / Geological feature of Zion National Park / ES game company that produced Yahtzee Bingo / Fruits also known as bottle gourds / Slight upward curves as in roads beams / River of central Germany

    Saturday, May 19, 2018

    Constructor: John Guzzetta

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (w/ solve-upon-waking difficulty rating adjustment) (8:45)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: SLOT CANYON (1A: Geological feature of Zion National Park) —
    slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide. Some slot canyons can measure less than 1 metre (3 ft) across at the top but drop more than 30 metres (100 ft) to the floor of the canyon.
    Many slot canyons are formed in sandstone and limestone rock, although slot canyons in other rock types such as granite and basalt are possible. Even in sandstone and limestone, only a very small number of creeks will form slot canyons due to a combination of the particular characteristics of the rock and regional rainfall. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Trying to figure out why I found this one so flavorless. Possibly because some of the answers meant nothing to me. In fact, the first two long ones are things that maybe I've heard of ... but not really. I ended up inferring them from their word parts (starting from the "Z" that I got from my one gimme up there, AZARIA (6D: Voice actor Hank)). But as far as their being actual things ... I mean, IF YOU SAY SO (best answer in the grid, in my humble as well as honest opinion). OKE was oke-ward but also something I got because of the olde-timey crime fiction that I sometimes read. BRAE I got because I solved crosswords in the early '90s when crosswordese reigned (and rained!). So there's some stuff I just don't know that is also somehow not exciting to learn (you bait hooks with worms ... oh, those WORMS are RED? You don't say ...) (24A: Common bait for fishing). And then the trivia. E.W. LOWE!? Sure, OKE, why not? (18A: E.S. ___, game company that produced Yahtzee and Bingo). This would all be more tolerable if there were more exciting moments, or much much much more entertaining cluing to give the puzzle some spark. As it is, the "spark" (if you want to call it that) comes from the ejaculatory imagery at 14D: One making deposits in a bank? (SPERM DONOR). I have no problem with that answer, but the clue getting cutesy with jacking off, that I'm less fond of. Also why does that clue even have a "?" on it? Are they not officially called "deposits," is that it? It's a sperm bank, you leave your semen there, right? Is this too much? Had your breakfast yet? Anyway, the clue doesn't need the "?" and isn't particularly clever in the first place.

    But mostly the grid is fine, actually. It just doesn't do anything for me. CALABASHES? (25D: Fruits also known as bottle gourds) Again, I think I've heard of those, but I can't even picture them. Clearly I'm just having wavelength issues today. I found most of this puzzle pretty easy. Got all knotted up in the NE with ODER for EDER and thus TOTTER for TEETER and all kinds of RED fish (shad! sole!) before WORM. Oh, look, the ODER *is* a German river—so I'm not totally insane. What the bleep is EDER??? Aha, it's just a different ... German ... river. Man, crosswordese is delightful. Note: Leon EDEL wrote a five-volume of Henry James, and trust me, some day, you will need that information. EVEL Knievel, I assume you're already familiar with. Had DOES before ROES (44A: Some deer) and NO IDEA before NO CLUE (41D: "I haven't the foggiest!"), so that made things somewhat rough in the SE. But overall, pretty breezy. Just not nearly zingy or WACKY enough.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Longtime CNBC commentator Ron / FRI 5-18-18 / Annual meteor shower in October / Lying flat on one's back in yoga / Modern land in ancient Sasanian empire

    Friday, May 18, 2018

    Constructor: Ryan McCarty

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Easy except for that NE corner, which is treacherous) (5:46)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Ron INSANA (1D: Longtime CNBC commentator Ron) —
    Ron Insana (born March 31, 1961) is a reporter for Market Score Board Report with Ron Insana, syndicated by Compass, and a Senior Analyst and Commentator at CNBC. He was Managing Director of Insana Capital Partners from inception to collapse. He was the anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs", which aired weekdays during stock market hours. Until December 5, 2003, he and Sue Herera co-anchored CNBC's then flagship nightly financial news program, Business Center. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    [Note: today's constructor may have built his word list himself, or even constructed this puzzle totally unaided by software, for all I know—but I'm about to go off about purchased word lists and improperly managed constructing software anyway, on general principle] [Don't worry: I actually liked the puzzle]

    Control your word lists, people. I know some of you are spending a not-small sum buying a hefty word list from a noted constructor, but JEEZ, rein it in. OWLET MOTHS is bonkers (34A: Insects named after a small bird). It's fine that those moths are real and so they're valid blah blah blah. The point is unless you're an entomologist I don't believe you know what those are. It sounds like you're saying "outlet malls" with a mouthful of oatmeal. OWLET MOTHS looks like something you found out about when your computer told you "hey, this fits here." Mostly I'm against using stuff (esp. longer answers) you don't actually have some familiarity with yourself. Something like OWLET MOTHS just screams "computer fill." Or it shrieks it. Do owls scream or shriek? Man, "shriek" is a weird-looking word. Am I spelling that right? Anyway, the point is, outlier obscurities like this detract from your otherwise lovely grid. Computer assistance is fine—perhaps necessary for some of these grids with showier stacks—but nothing can substitute for good taste and discretion. See also INSANA, wtf. Who voluntarily puts that in their puzzle? Oh, and ASPISH. Come on.


    There's some clunky stuff here, like ATARUN :( and ENHALO :( but overall I found the grid pretty clean. Not exciting, but far from unpleasant. Whoa, what are HYSONS??? I'm only just now seeing this answer (I guess when PEKOES didn't fit, I just got the rest of that answer from crosses). Again, I'm calling 'Roided Word List on this answer (though I'm actually glad to learn this word, as it seems like something I should know, unlike OWLET MOTHS and INSANA). I think my mostly warm disposition toward this puzzle began with CORPSE POSE. One good answer can really do a lot to make the overall solving experience a positive one. PRIDE PARADE was probably the only other answer I actively liked (30A: Outmarch?). Oh, and BANSHEE. RARE JEWELS feels odd to me. Not sure why. Something about it just doesn't quite land. "Precious gems" seems right. RARE JEWELS sounds like a villainous pirate would use when talking of his nefarious plans. If I google ["rare jewels" treasure chest], the NYT's own puzzle blog is the first site that comes up. I like HOV / LANE as successive answers. I like the colloquiality of "JEEZ!" and "SAY WHEN..." There's more here to like than there is not to like.

    It was all very easy, though. A minute faster (for me) than yesterday's puzzle. But that NE corner was almost a total disaster. I only know the PERSEIDS and LEONIDS ... so ORIONIDS was ??? Add to the confusion an erstwhile ABC sitcom I've never ever heard of (13D: "The Real ___," former ABC sitcom) (wow, it aired for A Whole Year), a [Modern land in the ancient Sasanian Empire] that I thought was OMAN, and then LIMP—dear lord, that clue (10D: Not go off without a hitch?). If you have a "hitch" in your step, you are limping? Ha ha, your disability is comical? Yikes. I spent what felt like a ton of time trying to find some four-letter synonym for ELOPE. Oh, and I almost forgot. For [Hog's squeal?] I of course had OINK. Thanks, "N" from BANSHEE! You were a ton of help [/sarcasm]. Nothing else but HYSONS and INSANA gave me any trouble. Weird to pack your difficulty into one small corner of the grid, but you do you, puzzle. I got out alive, and with a respectable time, and while I made disbelieving faces a few times, I never groaned or headdesked, so: thumbs up!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    1958 Physics co-Nobelist Frank / THU 5-17-18 / Jagged mountain range / Friend of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory / Soft drink whose logo features red circle / Hester Prynne's mark / TV personality in bow tie

    Thursday, May 17, 2018

    Constructor: David J. Kahn

    Relative difficulty: Medium (6:47—on the high side for me, but I solved this around 12:30am after napping for the better part of four hours (!), so the slowness-upon-waking adjustment applies)

    THEME: MAY 1718 (37A: See 18- and 60-Across) — apparently the cities of NEW ORLEANS and SAN ANTONIO were founded in that ... year .. three hundred years ago this ... month? OK.

    Theme answers:
    • 11D: 60-Across site (ALAMO DOME)
    • 33D: 18-Across sights (JAZZ BANDS)
    Word of the Day: ILYA Frank (16A: 1958 Physics co-Nobelist ___ Frank) —
    Ilya Mikhailovich Frank (RussianИлья́ Миха́йлович Франк) (23 October 1908 – 22 June 1990) was a Soviet winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1958 jointly with Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov and Igor Y. Tamm, also of the Soviet Union. He received the award for his work in explaining the phenomenon of Cherenkov radiation. He received the Stalin prize in 1946 and 1953 and the USSR state prize in 1971. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I don't get this at all. We celebrate city foundings? By month? Since when? And who cares? This puzzle exists because NEW ORLEANS and SAN ANTONIO have the same number of letters. That is the only reason this puzzle exists. Do you want to know how thin this theme is? I'll tell you. Please consult the long Downs. I mean ... it's like you knew, "man, this is not enough for a theme," and so you were like "let's put in a couple answers associated with the cities! Brilliant. OK, what's iconic?" And then your idea of iconic is ... [drumroll] ... the ALAMO! (nice) ... DOME! (.... what?). And then some JAZZ BANDS. Iconitude complete! The End! [kisses fingertips] [daps] [Tebows] [moonwalks out of room]
    The numbers-in-the-grid thing is only irksome because today is May 17, 2018, so what the hell was the date gonna be? Even when I (finally) got that numbers were supposed to go in there, I didn't know if I was looking for a specific date (May 18 ... some year?) or what. Further, "7" and "8" are properly numerical, whereas "1" and "1" are stupidly numerical (i.e. no one writes them like that).  Further furrther, the fill is not good, and it's especially bad in the NE. I mean, ILYA / MYNA? Blargh.
    [SAME! (10A)]
    I kinda like the concept of a TATTOO RIOT and also the phrase, "DON'T ASK, DOORMAT." That's exactly what you'd say to a DOORMAT who got too nosy, and then the DOORMAT would of course reply, "sorry, sir / ma'am." Because that's what DOORMATs do. SEISM remains one of the ugliest words and SRTAS one of the absurdest abbrevs., while DAZS remains a sad name part. WE WON? No. IN A WORD, no.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. it's a *scarlet* A

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Toyota coupe sold from 1970 to 2006 / WED 5-16-18 / John who played older Kunta Kinte on Roots / Focus of Facebook sidebar / Get Happy composer / bay in fifth for one

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Constructor: Jonathan Schmalzbach and Bill Albright

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (I just wasn't on its wavelength, it's probably pretty normal) (4:47)

    THEME: FRENCH TWIST (62A: Classic hairstyle ... or a hint to the puns in 17-, 25-, 39- and 51-Across) — answers are puns on the first names of French guys, with clues suggesting that the puns are "nicknakes":

    Theme answers:
    • JEWELS VERNE (17A: Nickname for a glitzy author?)
    • CLOD DEBUSSY (25A: Nickname for a clumsy composer?)
    • TOO LOOSE LAUTREC (39A: Nickname for a sloppy painter?)
    • BLAZE PASCAL (51A: Nickname for a fiery philosopher?)
    Word of the Day: AUDRA McDonald (35A: Actress McDonald) —
    Audra Ann McDonald (born July 3, 1970) is a German-born American actress and singer. Primarily known for her work on the Broadway stage, she has won six Tony Awards, more performance wins than any other actor, and is the only person to win all four acting categories. She has performed in musicals, operas, and dramas such as A Moon for the Misbegotten110 in the ShadeCarouselRagtimeMaster Class and Porgy and Bess. As a classical soprano, she has performed in staged operas with the Houston Grand Operaand the Los Angeles Opera and in concerts with symphony orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic. In 2008 her recording of Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with the Los Angeles Opera won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. She has a close working relationship with composer Michael John LaChiusa who has written several works for her, including the Broadway musical Marie Christine, the opera Send (who are you? i love you), and The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle. With her full lyric soprano voice,[3]she maintains an active concert and recording career throughout the United States performing a wide repertoire from classical to musical theater to jazz and popular songs. In 2016, McDonald was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. In 2017 she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    French guys have funny names, I guess. I don't know. You like the puns or you don't and that's pretty much that. I don't really know what a FRENCH TWIST is, so the revealer didn't do much for me, and I don't think it really expresses what's going on in the theme. Or, it does, but only in the vaguest of ways. Why are these puns "nicknames"? What does "twist" have to do with nicknames? FRENCH TWIST could just as plausibly, probably more plausibly, be the revealer for a theme were French names are anagrammed.The wacky clues also don't make much sense. I mean, even if we accept the wacky context. Am I really gonna look at a painting and go, "mmm, TOO LOOSE, I think." What? Also, "tool ooze" is a better pun. I do not think of a "CLOD" as a clumsy person. I think of him as a tedious bore, perhaps socially awkward or irritation. Pratfalls don't really come into it. "Clod" is an abusive term for a stupid person. "Clumsy"? You're just ruining these. JUULS VERNE would've been great. [Nickname for a vaping author?]. It's legitimately loopy, and very current. These puns and clues just feel stiff. Musty. I get that puns are fun and all, but the execution here felt a little, well, clumsy. And old-fashioned.

    Too much crosswordese, but that's not too shocking. I found the puzzle pretty easy *except* for the NW and far south, both of which drove me bonkers. 1A: Issue = ??? Is it a verb or a noun, and then which verb or noun meaning ... ? No idea. So TAJ went in to 1D: ___ Mahal and then I should've dropped in ONE at 2D: Start of every ZIP code in Pennsylvania, because the only other three-letter numerals are TWO and SIX and those obviously didn't work. But my brain just went "dunno" and kept going. 4D: Named, for short ... no way I was getting the awkwardly spelled IDED from that. Then there's 14A: What a current flows through (ANODE). What ... kind of current? I was thinking air. Total disaster up there. And down south. Had SELDOM and SPACED before SPARSE (47D: Few and far between). CRU (more crosswordeeeese) had that absurd "?" clue on it (63D: Grand finale?) ("grand cru" is a wine thing I'm not going to bother to look up right now, sorry). Totally blanked on Indian prime ministers not named Gandhi. ALEPH (still more crosswordese) eluded me as I wanted ALPHA (54D: Beth's preceder). And FAN, no way. No way I think of that as an "item," though I guess it falls under that very general category (62D: Item above a kitchen stove). It's usually integrated into the hood of the stove, so its item-ness doesn't really define it. I think I hated the cluing on this one more than anything. But mostly the puns just didn't entertain me much. Felt flat. DRIVE TIME is a good answer, though. We'll always have DRIVE TIME.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Ewbank 1969 Super Bowl-winning coach / TUE 5-15-18 / Kitchnware brand with hyphenated name / Music genre for Tokyo teens / Sitting position in yoga / 1959 film set in Dogpatch USA

    Tuesday, May 15, 2018

    Constructor: Garry Trudeau and Ross Trudeau

    Relative difficulty: played easy for me, but I don't know why; seems to be playing hardish for others (for a Tuesday) (3:16)

    THEME: STAND-UP COMICS (33A: Dave Chappelle and Dane Cook ... or a literal hint to the answers to the eight starred clues) — answers are all titles of comic *strips* that are going Down (so ... standing up):

    Theme answers:
    • TIGER (2D: *Feline in a zoo)
    • LIL ABNER (25D: *1959 film set in Dogpatch, U.S.A.)
    • BABY BLUES (14D: *Dreamy eyes, informally)
    • OPUS (49D: *Magnum ___)
    • POGO (7D: *Bounce on a stick)
    • DICK TRACY (28D: *Detective who wore a two-way radio)
    • GARFIELD (23D: *President between Hayes and Arthur)
    • MUTTS (46D: *Mongrels)
    Word of the Day: "TIGER" (2D: *Feline in a zoo)
    Tiger was an American comic strip created by cartoonist Bud Blake. It ran from May 3, 1965 until the spring of 2003. [...] Tiger followed a gag-a-day format and was designed to appeal to both adults and children. It centered on a scrappy group of school-aged kids in an unidentified, middle-class neighborhood. Parents and teachers were occasionally referred to, but no adult was ever pictured. Tiger was told from a child's perspective and retained its innocent kids' eye world view from beginning to end. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    As I was solving this, it felt a little rough, a little clunky, but I finished pretty quickly and hadn't quite taken it all in yet. Then I took a good look at the theme and thought, "Oh, yeah ... it's rough." Then I glanced at Twitter, where normally mild-mannered folks were ripping this thing apart, so ... there are problems. Here are a few of them. I'm gonna start with the theme, which is conceptually OK. Comic titles in the Downs. But for this to Work work, all the titles—not some; all—need to be clued as something other than the comic. See, for instance, the clues on TIGER, BABY BLUES, OPUS; do *not* see, for instance, the clues on LIL ABNER and DICK TRACY, which are impossible to clue without reference to their comics-ness. LOL at the idea that anyone thinks of LIL ABNER as a "film." Not sure why they didn't bother to try to hide DICK TRACY via filmdom too, but they didn't. At any rate, the other answers can all be masked but those cannot, so the theme (as executed here) fails. It just does. It does because if you'd had the whole thing just be titles of famous comic strips, running Down ... that's just boring. And dumb. What's interesting is masking them. But you can't really redirect the meaning on two of your big themers, and so: thud. But wait, there's more (problems).

    "TIGER"? Like ... what? What is that? I am reading about it and I see that it was fairly widely circulated, even in my lifetime, but whatever it was, it Dis Ap Peared from the face of the earth a while back and has never been heard from again. It is the opposite of iconic. It has no afterlife. Zero. No one is going to do that reboot. Was there not some other five-letter comic strip that would've worked better? And "OPUS"? That is a stretch. Everyone knows OPUS as the penguin in "Bloom County," but far far fewer know that he was the titular star of his own comic strip. Probably because it was Sunday-only, and ran for just five years (in the mid-'00s). I'm not knocking it, per se, but it just doesn't rate compared to the other, much more recognizable titles you've got here. Why not replace it with ZITS, say? And, look, PEANUTS (7), BLONDIE (7), both clueable in non-comics ways! Sigh. Look, I think for this theme to work, you have to ditch DICK TRACY, LIL ABNER, TIGER, and OPUS (so, half your themers) and replace them with familiar strips whose names are maskable (i.e. clueable in non-comics ways). Then, your theme works. Here, no, it doesn't.

    But that's just the theme. The fill ... EEK*. Not sure where to start, so I'll just dive in. WEEB!? Oy, that is the crosswordesiest of names. Absurd. I wrote in SHEB because I had the "B" and thought, "Oh, what's that ridiculous name I know only from crosswords? Oh, right, SHEB!" But it's WEEB. That one's gonna destroy people. REWELD? I keep laughing every time I look at REWELD. I guess you can RE- anything, so sure, weld, why not? RECLIMB, RECARVE, REDANCE, REWELD. T-FAL? Needed every cross for that. Another crosswordese thing I've seen before but couldn't remember. You've got "eyes in the clue for BABY BLUES but then EYED in the puzzle (DOE-EYED). Slight foul. Also, speaking of eyes: SEEST (unslight foul) (as opposed to OPUS—an unslight fowl). The most absurd thing in the grid isn't just ORANG (which is always mildly absurd). It's ORANG being neighbors with ORANG...ES. What the ...? Why would you do that?? Knock knock who's there ORANG ORANG who ORANG you glad ORANGES isn't also in this grid oh wait it is Nevermind. I mean, ORANGES!? It's a fine word, but now it looks like a French plural of ORANG. There's lots of other little crosswordese infelicities and foreignisms, but I'll leave those be. As with yesterday's, this one needed a Lot more polish. I like DRIVE-INS. I also like how DO OR DIE looks like "DOOR—DIE!" But I don't understand most of the choices that went into making this. I'm just glad I was (improbably) on the puzzle's wavelength, so my dislike wasn't also compounded by solving frustration (a toxic combo).
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      *(note: actually, this may be the only time in my long history of solving where I enjoyed seeing EEK—seemed appropriate)

      PS ASANA is *any* position in yoga. No idea what that clue thinks it's doing (45D: Sitting position in yoga)

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Certain red dye / MON 5-14-18 / End of drinking hose / Fowl raised for food / Rapper with 1996 double-platinum album Hard Core / Banned pollutant in brief

      Monday, May 14, 2018

      Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

      Relative difficulty: north of Medium (3:20)

      THEME: FIGHT CLUB (62A: 1999 Brad Pitt movie hinted at by the beginnings of 17-, 21-, 39- and 52-Across) — first words are all things one might do in a "fight":

      Theme answers:
      • BITE VALVE (17A: End of a drinking hose)
      • KICKSTART (21A: Get going, as an old motorcycle or a new company)
      • SCRATCH AND SNIFF (39A: Like some magazine perfume ads)
      • PUNCH BOWL (52A: Party vessel with a ladle)
      Word of the Day: POULT (9A: Fowl raised for food)
      1. a young domestic chicken, turkey, pheasant, or other fowl being raised for food. (google)
      • • •
      This is a distressingly bad puzzle. Please understand that I say this with no animosity, no grudge, no nothing but extreme disappointment that the editor is not doing his job. The theme itself is pretty basic, nothing remarkable, but not terrible. Based on their relevance to the word "fight," the first words form a kind of "club"—a slight stretch, maybe, but within the bounds of crossword convention, for sure. I have no idea what a BITE VALVE and even less (far less) of an idea what a "drinking hose" is. "Fetch me my drinking hose! No, that's a garden hose! No, those are pantyhose!" Etc. I do think themers (especially on a Monday) should be reasonably familiar terms, and the things in their clues should also be reasonably familiar things, and neither my wife nor I (two Ph.Ds between us) know what BITE VALVEs or "drinking hoses" are. So maybe a different themer there would've been preferable. But still, theme-wise, this is all mere wobbliness. Not all themes can be great. Some are just OK. Let's say this theme, and its execution, are just OK.

      What's not OK is the fill. There is no excuse, when you have a veteran constructor, and a veteran editor, and extremely talented young constructors working in-house, that any of us should have to deal with ****ing EOSIN in a Monday puzzle. See also POULT. See also the egregious and intolerable OBLA. Editors should edit. You could tell the constructor: "Nice theme. Fix this fill and we'll run it." Or—OR—just fix it yourself. I guarantee at least two of the people who work there could fix the junkiness in this grid in not a lot of time. I just need people to understand that this is substandard. Objectively. EOSIN and POULT on a Monday are Ridiculous because they're unnecessarily obscure (EOSIN being radioactive crosswordese most folks won't touch unless desperate). OBLA is terrible any day, anywhere, any time. OBLA crossing OFA. I mean ... this is amateur hour, only None Of The People Involved In The Making Of This Puzzle Is An Amateur. I'm not even gonna touch the heaping helping of crosswordese in this puzzle, i.e. most of the 3- and 4-letter fill. That's not unforgivable. But EOSIN should make any constructor, especially one making a breezy Monday, go "Nope!" Ditto POULT. And OBLA—OBLA should get your constructor card revoked.

      I cannot promise that I haven't screwed something up here—repeated a word, or made something worse—but this *extensive* refill (from SW to NE) took me like 10 minutes, and it *feels* like a considerable improvement.
      Or maybe try this, with a somewhat different center:
      No OBLA. No EOSIN. No POULT. I really wanna get into that NW to see if I can scrub ETTU / ARTE, but it's getting late. Please note—I did not use software here. Just refilled the grid by hand. I am not some magic fixer. I'm not even particularly talented. I'm someone who took a few minutes to try to make a bad grid better. Maybe the editor should be doing ... that. He's way better at it than I am. If only he cared.  

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      Arcade hoops game / SUN 5-13-18 / 1940s vice president wallace / shroud of secrecy idiomatically / Southernmost of lesser antilles / Napa Valley vintner Robert / Instrument plucked with mesrab / Model page known as queen of pinups / Command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard

      Sunday, May 13, 2018

      Constructor: Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard

      Relative difficulty: Medium (11:51)

      THEME: "Love at First Site" — familiar names and phrases clue ("?"-style) as if they were fake dating websites:

      Theme answers:
      • 22A: Good name for a deep kissers' dating site? (FRENCH CONNECTION)
      • 51A: Good name for a dating site full of hot dudes? (STUD FINDER)
      • 57A: Good name for a dating site of massage therapists? (RUBBER MATCH)
      • 76A: Good name for an extreme sports dating site? (ACTION ITEMS)
      • 83A: Good name for a non-monogamist dating site? (OPEN FLAMES)
      • 115A: Good name for a dating site for lovers of natural foods? (ORGANIC CHEMISTRY)
      • 15D: Good name for a carpentry dating site? (BOARD MEETING)
      • 60D: Good name for a "High Noon"-themed dating site? (WESTERN UNION)
      Word of the Day: action items —
      In management, an action item is a documented event, task, activity, or action that needs to take place. Action items are discrete units that can be handled by a single person. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I like the theme concept here a lot. As usual, I wish the clues were even more outlandish. Wacky it all the way to 11. For instance, I was very, very disappointed in the clue for RUBBER MATCH. I mean ... a fake "dating site" theme and you've got "rubber" in your hand (?) and you go "massage therapist"? Come on, man. I had the RUBBER part and a few letters in the second word and was like "RUBBER RANCH!? What the hell is that? That sounds ... insane!" Who is SEAN BEAN? Oh, looks like he was in GOT, which explains my not knowing him. There was a time in the mid-2000s when it seemed like the puzzle was asking me to know a lot about "Ally McBeal," and I refused. I somehow continue to refuse to know anything about GOT, possibly because I didn't like the first book and so stopped reading and don't care. I hear the TV show stands up well on its own. Someday, I may find out. Someday. Anyway,  SEAN BEAN! (pronounced "Seen Bon"). Cool. Once again I have seen ridiculously fast times posted on Twitter (well, two, anyway) and so I don't know ... my time was average. I had a bunch of trouble parsing, or even seeing, a bunch of the themers, and the cluing was sufficiently tricky in parts that I never felt like I got good traction. Enjoyed it, but definitely had to work for it.
      I just stared at ACTION ITEMS for a bit there. No idea what ... those ... are. I was like "cool, ACTION COMICS ... nope, doesn't fit. OK I'm out of ACTION phrases." Also had ORGANIC CHEMICALS (?) at first. I hadn't really absorbed the whole theme thing very well, apparently. First themer I got was WESTERN UNION and I somehow assumed the answers would all be businesses. But no. I had such terrible trouble right off the bat, in the NW, that I thought something terribly tricky was going on. Turns out I had just one answer wrong (SITCOM for SATIRE at 18A: "The Simpsons" or "Futurama") and that alone destroyed my chances up there. I suspected both ARCS and MEH and should've guessed NBA JAM up there at 1A: Arcade hoops game, but I dunno, the SITCOM thing just got me mired. Totally blanked on JINPING (4D: Chinese leader Xi). More name trouble: no idea who PAIGE Davis or TESSA Thompson is. Figured them out from crosses. Names! Especially current pop culture names! Soooooo exclusionary. Or inclusionary, I guess, if you want those specific things and also really pay attention to cast lists. Other name I didn't know: HENRY (38D: 1940s vice president Wallace). Also TRISH ... is that a Nixon clue? (67A: Patty alternative?). So weird. I don't think I understand how the daughter is an "alternative" to the wife (???) (LOL my wife just explained to me that "Patty" and "TRISH" are both shortened forms of the same name, "Patricia"; I miss my Nixon reading already). I had 102D: Certain computer whiz as TECHY (var.? ) because I had the "Y" and ... that's all I could come up with. [Male computer whiz] might've been a little clearer as a clue for IT GUY. Still, overall, a very decent puzzle. I never hit speeds so fast I felt like I was drunk, but I did, finally, have a feeling I could be someone, be someone.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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