Heraldic band / THU 9-30-10 / Destination for Near Eastern caravan / Zeno's locale / Sci-fi role starting 1966 / Low-cost home loan corp

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Constructor: Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Uh-uh" — That's the clue for five theme answers

Word of the Day: SERAI (31A: Destination for a Near Eastern caravan)


(in the East) a caravanserai or inn
[from Turkish saray palace, from Persian sarāī palace; see caravanserai]
nsary. (dictionary.
• • •
This puzzle reviews itself.

I have been surprised this week at how little care has been given to the quality of the fill. The theme is fine—no real memorable answers, but it's consistent enough, with a nice colloquial quality. But the non-theme stuff is Horrible. Over and over again, grimace-inducing answers. Not just one, but at least half a dozen. Obscure names, strange abbreviations, odd forms like LHASAN (ack) (44D: Like the Dalai Lama, historically) and SUBMERSE (ugh) (63A: Put under), and then ... whatever SERAI is. Apparently, the cuteness of the idea of the theme is all that matters. Computers can fill in the blanks. I just don't know ...

Theme answers:
  • 34A: BAD IDEA
  • 36A: BACK OFF
  • 58A: DON'T DO IT
Briefly: shot self in foot early on with DR. SPOCK / KARATE instead of MR. SPOCK (1A: Sci-fi role starting in 1966) / KUNG FU (7D: Style of fighting). Weird to make those mistakes and yet have ORLE (ugh) be a gimme (5D: Heraldic band). Then I confused "L" and"D" and wrote in MLI for 1D: Year Michelangelo began work on "David" (MDI) ("began?" Since when is "year artist began a work" a basis for an important date???). TEAS for BEES (22A: Some socials) also held me up. To this point, frustrating, but not anger-inducing. Normal Thursday stuff. It was not until I encountered the slew of (often absurdly marginal) character / actor names that I began to get annoyed, and then by the time I hit the east coast (toward the end of things), I had completely checked out. Don't know how you cram a section full of ERIKA (25D: Actress Alexander of "The Cosby Show") / SERAI / FNMA (!?) (39D: Low-cost home loan corp.) / A COW / NUM (48A: Deut. preceder) / MINA (52A: ___ Harker, wife in Bram Stoker's "Dracula") and think "yeah, that's good." Also, CAN TOO, YES BUT, DARE ME—I'll take one. I will not take three.

I have used a juicer, but wouldn't know a REAMER if it were staring at me (29A: It gets the juice out).

I have "F.U." written in the margin next to 64A: Girl in "Waterworld" (ENOLA)


  • 43D: Brokerage name since 1992 (E*TRADE) — I confess to enjoying their baby.

  • 8D: Nymph pursuer (SATYR) — pairing of this with FAUN (38D: 8-Down's Roman equivalent) was one of the nicer moments today
  • 23D: Zeno's locale (ELEA) — one of those answers (like ORLE) that you have beaten into you one too many times; eventually, the word just sticks, whether you like it or not (though truthfully, today, my brain rolodexed a host of E-words: EDOM, ELIA, etc. before remembering ELEA—which reminds me, ALEA is the Latin word for "die" (singular of "dice") in case anyone asks)

The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old card game with forfeits / WED 9-29-10 / Implement in Millet painting / 1935 Marx Brothers romp / 1940 Crosby/Lamour/Hope film first travel series

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Constructor: Charles Gersch

Relative difficulty: Eeeeeasy

THEME: Uh ... movies? 7 movies? Double features + a Marx Bros. movie? — DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: LOO (55D: Old card game with forfeits) —

Lanterloo, also known as Loo, is a 17th-century trick taking game of the Trump family of which many varieties are recorded. It belongs to a sprawling line of card games whose more intelligent members include Nap, Euchre, Rams, Mao, Hombre, and Spoil Five. It is considered a modification of the game of "All Fours", another English game possibly of Dutch origin, in which the players replenish their hands after each round by drawing each fresh new card from the pack. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was over before it started. Fastest Wednesday puzzle ever by 20 seconds (3:20). Normally I'd be thrilled, but instead I feel like I got away with something. I cannot take pride in this accomplishment—the puzzle simply did not put up any sort of fight. Further, there is no theme. Just a lot of movies. 100 theme squares (impressive!), but only a very thin unifying principle. Nitpick of the day: don't like when theme answers decide some answers will keep the "THE" and others will just do away with it—so THE COLOR OF MONEY, but LAST PICTURE SHOW. Bah. I wish these movies had Something in common, and that HORTON HEARS A WHO was not among them (more famous as book than film). Other than the above, I have no idea what to say about this one. The rest of the puzzle barely registers; there's just not a lot of room left to do anything.

Theme answers:
  • 14A: 2003 Sandler/Nicholson comedy ("ANGER MANAGEMENT")
  • 17A: 1940 Crosby/Lamour/Hope film that was the first in the "travel" series ("ROAD TO SINGAPORE")
  • 37A: 1971 film that was Cybill Shepherd's debut, with "The" ("LAST PICTURE SHOW")
  • 41A: 1954 Elia Kazan Oscar winner ("ON THE WATERFRONT")
  • 59A: 2008 film derived from Dr. Seuss ("HORTON HEARS A WHO")
  • 62A: 1986 film for which Paul Newman won his only Oscar ("THE COLOR OF MONEY")
  • 7D: 1935 Marx Brothers romp ("A NIGHT AT THE OPERA")
One of the few places that I got slowed down was at 25D: Setting for candlelit romance (BATH). Needed every cross, and didn't even notice what the answer was until I was done and perusing the grid. Answer may as well have been BEDROOM. "Candlelit" is a word that goes with "dinner." Certain people have bathed, with others, by candlelight, but I don't think of it as particularly conventional—any more than having sex, er, "romance," anywhere by candlelight. Other small hitches included: starting out 7D with "ANIMAL CRACK ... oh, dang"; mistaking one crosswordesey word (AGRA) for another (AGAR=>33A: Gelatinous ingredient in desserts); never having heard of LOO, the game; and being certain that HOOCH could not possibly, in a million years, have a "T" in it—I was wrong, it seems (45D: The sauce=>HOOTCH). Everywhere I'm looking, HOOTCH is the "Variant" spelling ... of one thing I'm certain: the dog spells it "HOOCH":

  • 6D: Mideast city whose name, coincidentally, is an anagram of ARABS (BASRA) — speaking of Iraqi anagrams, there is an furniture/appliance store in town called OLUM'S, which anagrams to: MOSUL.
  • 12D: Bankrupt company in 2001-02 news (ENRON) — that doesn't anagram to anything that I can see. "NO, REN!"
  • 60D: Implement in a Millet painting (HOE) — Pretty sure I posted this (or a) Millet painting very recently, featuring the man with the HOE. So my retention of new crossword info is not, as it sometimes seems, at zero. Good to know.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Coleridge's sacred river / TUE 9-28-10 / Foil-making giant / Fabric dealers to Brits / Bushel of Boscs / Homer Simpson's Indian friend

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Constructor: Michael Torch

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Puns on PARA- words — Four different "Pair" homophones lead off four different punny phrases ...

Word of the Day: NO PAR (41A: Like some stock) —

Being without face value; having no par value: a no-par stock certificate.
• • •

This didn't work for me. It's like a bright idea that should've gone nowhere but was forced into becoming the basis for an entire puzzle. PÈRE AMOURS (29D: French father's affairs?) and PARE A PHRASE (58A: Edit?) don't take their original phrases into different semantic universes the way PEAR AMOUNT (11D: A bushel of Boscs?) and PAIR A GRAPHS do (20A: Two charts?). But the biggest problem by far is PAIR A GRAPHS. PAIRA? PAIR-A? PAIR A'? Has anyone anywhere ever written "Pair of" in that manner. LOTTA = "lot of," sure. But PAIRA? PAIR O', maybe. Maybe. None of the other theme answers involve *imaginary spelling*. Total fail. Some ideas, however cute at first blush, need to be put aside until they're fully ripe. Or else thrown away.

Then there's the rest of the fill, which is dull at best (ORE x/w ORAN (28D: Algerian port), ADIA (60D: 1998 Sarah McLachlan song) x/w ADDA, etc. etc.), with the exception of a few of those longer answers — "HOP ON POP" (27A: Dr. Seuss title), WINGSPAN (5D: Bird spec), RIP APART (42D: Shred) and HIT HARD (25A: Severely affected) are all just fine to quite good.

  • 19A: What to "Come see the softer side of," in a slogan (SEARS) — is that slogan still active? It's Very familiar to me, but I don't remember hearing it for years and years.
  • 53A: Danced at Rio's Carnival, maybe (SAMBAED) — the more I look at this word, the uglier it gets. Sitting underneath the awful ARRS. isn't helping it any (49A: Some airport data: Abbr.)
  • 56A: Homer Simpson's Indian friend (APU) — "Friend" is accurate enough, though his main role is snack food provider.

  • 3D: Coffee shop convenience for a laptop (WIFI) — It's a "convenience" for the laptop *user*...
  • 45D: Fabric dealers, to Brits (DRAPERS) — My favorite Draper is Don.

  • 47D: Coleridge's sacred river (ALPH) — I always want this to have an "X" in it, probably because of "Xanadu" in the opening line of "Kubla Khan." ALPH is in the third line of the poem:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. (1-5)
  • 54D: Foil-making giant (ALCOA) — Foil-in-five=>it's this 60%-vowel answer.
  • 63D: Prominent features of a "Cats" poster (EYES) — Possibly the most go-out-of-your-way-to-be-off-putting clue for EYES ever. Not sure I've ever seen a show clued via its poster (?). Here's a "Cats" poster where the only "prominent" thing is ridiculousness.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Large iron hook / MON 9-27-10 / Gem with colored bands / Shows petulant anger / Soapmaker's need

Monday, September 27, 2010

Constructor: Janice M. Putney

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Baseball as metaphor — theme answers follow "verbs-a-noun" pattern, where the "verbs" are all baseball-related

Word of the Day: GAFF (27D: Large iron hook) —

  1. A large iron hook attached to a pole or handle and used to land large fish.
  2. Nautical. A spar attached to the mast and used to extend the upper edge of a fore-and-aft sail.
    1. A sharp metal spur or spike fastened to the leg of a gamecock.
    2. A climbing hook used by telephone and electric line workers.
  3. Slang. A trick or gimmick, especially one used in a swindle or to rig a game.
  4. Slang. Harshness of treatment; abuse.
• • •

Loved it. Solid concept with consistent and solid execution. A 78-worder (so lots of short stuff) that still managed to have pizzazz—both inside and outside the theme answers themselves. Thought I was flying through this at something like record time—and I was, at times, I'm sure—but then two things happened. First, I hit the center, where I simply couldn't make quick sense of 40A: Doesn't stonewall, say. Nothing about that clue suggests "question" to me, so I needed far more crosses than I probably should have to get the answer, FIELDS A QUESTION. Second, at about the 2/3 mark, I heard my wife coming up the stairs, and I got really distracted, thinking "she's going to ask you something or otherwise interrupt you and screw up your superfast time." In fact, she reached the top of the staircase, saw me engrossed in solving, and turned around and went back down the staircase. But I let myself get distracted enough to throw me off. My bad, not hers. In fact, even if she'd interrupted me, it wouldn't have been her bad. She was only coming up to ask me what I wanted to drink, after all. Then she just went ahead and made me a Manhattan. I am married to a woman who a. knows to leave me alone when I'm mid-solve, and b. makes me Manhattans. There are other upsides, but honestly, with those two, I hardly need any more. We're married 7 years today (9/27), and today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I also consider myself a bit drunk (she makes a *strong* Manhattan). Anyway, the short story is, I didn't break any speed records, but still got a reasonably BIG THRILL (37D: Cause of goose bumps, perhaps) out of the whole experience.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Shows petulant anger (PITCHES A FIT)
  • 23A: Gets lucky (CATCHES A BREAK)
  • 40A: Doesn't stonewall, say (FIELDS A QUESTION)
  • 51A: Reacts slightly (BATS AN EYELASH)
  • 63A: Shows affection unexpectedly (STEALS A KISS)

Slowed down by FIELDS A QUESTION, as I said, but also by BIG THRILL, which I could not pick up easily from the front end alone. I also was shockingly stymied by 15A: Hitting of a golf ball (STROKE) — I think it's the awkward cluing that did it. I was looking for something more technical. [Golf shot] might have been easier to uncover, but maybe there's some reason that clue wouldn't be valid. I don't play. I also had to think a bit to remember what the [Large iron hook] was. It's a GAFF. Didn't help that that answer went straight through the beginning of my one trouble theme answer. Also didn't help that my one wrong letter at 24D: Addams who created "The Addams Family" (CHAS) (the "S," which I had as a "Z") also appeared in that same answer. Went with OPAL over ONYX at first (39D: Gem with colored bands), which only shows how cursorily I read clues when I'm speeding – four-letter "Gem" starting with "O," I don't even break stride... other than that, no problems. A smooth, lovely grid. Finished in 3 flat.

Last thing: love the SLAP (71A: Possible response to a grabby boyfriend) directly underneath STEALS A KISS. Nice touch.

Have a lovely autumn day. I know I will.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Country singer Griffith / SUN 9-26-10 / Romance of 1847 / Bedouins trait / Large food tunas / Opening for aspiring leader

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Constructor: Pamela Amick Klawitter

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Location, Location, Location" — Note: Each set of circled letters is described by an answer elsewhere in the grid (e.g. ROOM AT THE TOP is represented by the circled letters "DEN" (a kind of ROOM) AT THE TOP of the grid...)

Word of the Day: Susan ANSPACH (37D: Susan who co-starred in "Five Easy Pieces") —

Susan Anspach (born November 23, 1942) is an American stage and film actress.

Selected filmography

• • •

Solving this was like death. Just groan-inducing answer after groan-inducing answer. The theme was not evident to me at all until I was done — utterly unnecessary to the solving of the puzzle. Perhaps the basic idea here is clever, but the execution, at the level of the majority of the fill in the puzzle, was Severely subpar. Further, how is MENTAL BLOCK a "location?" I see it up top there, in circles, but ... ? Also, DIAGONAL LINES has nothing to do with "location." Ditto SQUARE MILE. So *either* the circles do something *or* they are located ... somewhere. And that's a theme? And I thought Stan Musial was "THE MAN," and Henry AARON was Hammerin' Hank?

But here's why the puzzle was so painful to solve: Everywhere you look—and I mean *everywhere*—short and often Awful fill abounds. Far west, for example, has SHER (?) next to IERE (!?) crossing ERN and RETIE. That's just scratching the surface. I could go on. And on. ATRI / DEES / ERST, anyone? Sorry but ... I mean, -ESCE?! When you've already subjected us to -IERE? And -ISH!?!? It's just mean. Then there are lots o' partials: AND I'M right next (!) to IN HER; plus BE NO, ME NO (at least they rhyme?), A DARN, ONE I ... stop!!! Then there are valid but ugly technical terms like RATEL and CASSIA. And then bizarro, utterly unintuitable names like ANSPACH or RESNIK or EGER or QING (how is that pronounced?). Or strange plurals like AHIS (76D: Large food tunas). And OLEOS. Then, to offset the suffixes, there are the prefixes (IDIO, MASTO), and —the cherry on top— a Random Roman Numeral (MCLI). All in all, unpleasant.

Flashback: Here's what I wrote the last time RATEL showed up (earlier this year): "RATEL (46D: Honey badger). As I was solving, I just stared at his answer. And stared. And stared, thinking, "That can't possibly be right..." Sounds like a pest control device: RAT + MOTEL = RATEL."

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Specification in a salad order (DRESSING ON THE SIDE) — MAYO appears on the "side" of the puzzle
  • 34A: Unit in measuring population density (SQUARE MILE) — MILE appears in a square formation (NE corner)
  • 57A: Opening for an aspiring leader (ROOM AT THE TOP) — the room is a DEN

  • 75A: Diagonals (SLANTED LINES) — LINES appears in diagonally arranged circles
  • 97A: Carp or flounder, typically (BOTTOM FISH) — EEL appears at the "bottom" of the grid
  • 115A: Go-between (THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE) [uh... is that the same as "MIDDLE MAN?"] — AARON, who apparently was THE MAN, or ... is simply a man's name ... appears in "middle" of the grid
  • 15D: Place for a date, frequently (CORNERSTONE) — STONE appears in SE "corner" of the grid
  • 67D: Case of thoughtlessness? (MENTAL BLOCK) — MENTAL organized into a rectangular "block" up top
Rare appearance today by YSLOSORICSAK, who is, of course, OOXTEPLERNON's wily (and possibly Icelandic) henchman and representative on earth. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, well, you're probably better off.

  • 1A: When repeated, a resort near the Black Forest (BADEN) — BORA, PAGO ... and I ran out of 2xplacenames. Three crosses jogged my memory.
  • 19A: Homeric hero (AENEAS) — I'm calling massive bull$#!* on this one. It is true that AENEAS is in Homer's "Iliad," but calling him a "Homeric hero" is kind of nonsense. He's pretty damned minor, compared to the (many) other "heroes" in that poem. Why the *&$! do you clue AENEAS via Homer and not Virgil?—Virgil named his damned epic after the guy, for pete's sake. Boo. Cheap. Bad. Etc.
  • 59A: Fine and dandy, in old slang (OKE) — As a card-carrying member of the Raymond Chandler fan club, I'm kind of required to like this. And yet ...
  • 63A: Writer/critic Trilling (LIONEL) — Highbrow! I would've gone Richie.

["I had a dream / I had an awesome dream"]

  • 65A: Hit computer game with the original working title Micropolis (SIM CITY) — showing my crime fiction / comics leanings here: I wrote in "SIN CITY"
  • 70A: President who said "I'm an idealist without illusions" (KENNEDY) — president during the "Mad Men" years. I'm only up to 1962 (Season 2) right now.
  • 85A: Country singer Griffith (NANCI) — my dad, sister and I all discovered her at same time and Love(d) her. I've seen her live twice. Huge talent. Sweet voice.

  • 89A: Romance of 1847 (OMOO) — oh the wrong answers I had: first DRED (?!), then EMMA ...
  • 117: Rapper ___-A-Che (RIC) — I am usually happy to see rap names in my puzzle, but honestly, I've never heard a thing by this guy. Let's see...

[uh ... I ... don't know]
  • 122A: "Idylls of the King" lady (ENID) — Arthurian lady in four letters, yeah, it's always ENID
  • 70D: Noted Bauhaus artist (KLEE) — he's an artist with many influences and affiliations, and for some reason I can't make this Bauhaus association stick.
  • 85D: Bedouins' trait (NOMADISM) — come on. It's not a religion. Bedouins are nomads, they are nomadic, yes, but are they really practicing NOMADISM?? Someone should produce a show about Bedouin ad execs called "Nomad Men."
  • 102D: Liechtenstein's western border (RHINE) — I get my RHINE and RHONE confused. Happened again today.
And now your Tweets of the Week, puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • My sister keeps asking me stupid crossword questions i told her to stfu im trying to watch tv "blank fear or blank canaveral" SHUT UP
  • @ Some guy who really needed to brush sat down beside me on the subway & asked if he could sleep with me if he helped on the crossword #fml
  • @ Some women sitting across from me are discussing/spoiling the #TGAM crossword...had to put on headphones w/loud music
  • @ just watched a woman do a fucking crossword puzzle while she was driving. she then proceeded to cut me off.
  • @ The woman adjacent to me is doing the Herald crossword with a pen that is also a comb. Why would you want a comb pen? #busnews

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


L'Enfant Prodigue composer /SAT 9-25-10/ Masonry that requires little mortar / Two-time Grammy winner Jon / California city with statue of Jack Benny

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ASHLAR (1A: Masonry that requires little mortar) —

Ashlar is prepared (or "dressed") stone work of any type of stone. Stone masonry utilizing dressed stones is known as ashlar masonry, whereas masonry using irregularly shaped stones is known as rubble masonry. Ashlar blocks are large rectangular cuboid blocks of masonry sculpted to have square edges and smooth faces. The blocks are generally about 35 centimeters in height. When shorter than 30 centimeters, they are usually called “small ashlar”. // Ashlar blocks were used in the construction of many old buildings as an alternative to brick. Generally the external face is smooth or polished; occasionally it can be decorated by small grooves achieved by the application of a metal comb. (This process is usually used only on a softer stone ashlar block. The decoration is known as mason's drag.) (wikipedia)

• • •

This was my fastest Saturday of the year and probably my fastest of the century. I think I did a Saturday in the NYT archive from the mid-90s one time and got in under 6. This one was a hair over 7, and (as usual on Saturdays) I really wasn't pushing it. I take a way more deliberate pace on late-week themeless puzzles than I do on the M-Th puzzles. I just find them more interesting and enjoyable that way. Still, I smoked this, despite never having heard of two answers: ASHLAR and RUGER (26A: Maker of rifles and revolvers). Considered ASHCAN and the far more improbable ASH HAT before letting the crosses eventually resolve the 1-Across issue for me (dicey moment: briefly thought 4D: Attractiveness (LOOKS) was HOOKS ... seemed plausible at the time). The only place I got slowed down in any meaningful way was in the RUGER area, where the PUMPS part of HEAT PUMPS (11D: Alternatives to furnaces) wasn't obvious to me, and I had WATER-something for 29D: Oasis sights (DATE PALMS), leaving me wondering how WEMONS could be 29A: Personal problems (DEMONS). But before and after that little section, it was almost perfectly smooth sailing.

A very, very musical puzzle today, so much so that very early on, I thought there was some oldies theme developing. Weird to get Al Green and the Dave Clark Five and the WAILERS (7D: 1960s-'70s group originally known as the Teenagers, with "the") all in such a small area like that. Lucky to have listened almost exclusively to Motown and Classic Rock stations in high school (and '70s soul music in grad school). Got "SHA LA LA" off just a couple crosses (2D: 1974 top 10 Al Green hit subtitled "Make Me Happy"). Got "I LIKE IT LIKE THAT" off the "I LIKE..." (19A: 1965 top 10 hit for the Dave Clark Five). Needed a bit more help to uncover WAILERS, but still, didn't take much. And then, of course, there's DEBUSSY (35D: "L'Enfant Prodigue" composer) crossing Charlie Parker (43A: Specialty of Charlie Parker=>BEBOP). All in all, a nice assortment of tunes.

Odd coincidence of the day: "I LIKE IT LIKE THAT" was a grid-spanning answer in another daily puzzle just yesterday.

  • 16A: ___ Shelly, writer/director/co-star of "Waitress," 2007 (ADRIENNE) — total guess, extrapolated from the "DR" alone.
  • 30A: Birds said to feed their young with elephants (ROCS) — good day to learn fun facts about flying things: see also SEVEN (39A: Common number of spots on a ladybug).
  • 40A: Crime novelist McDermid (VAL) — very familiar name, though I couldn't tell you a thing she has written. Describes her own work as "Tartan noir," which makes me want to read it. Wikipedia says she's known for "graphic depictions of violence and torture," which makes me not want to read her. Despite my love of crime fiction, I'm not a big fan of gory detail.
  • 45A: California city with a statue of Jack Benny (RANCHO CUCAMONGA) — Lived in inland southern California for a while, so this is a very familiar place name. And a very silly one.
  • 5D: James I's queen consort (ANNE) — May as well have read [Royal-sounding woman's name]
  • 39D: Two-time Grammy winner Jon (SECADA) — "Two-time?" I know him from some '90s pop song I can't even recall now. He seems to have won his Grammys in Latin Pop categories.
Today this blog turns four years old. Only one day (Jan. '07) in that whole time has a write-up not been posted. It's a lot of work writing this thing day in and day out, but mostly it's been my pleasure. I hope you are (still) enjoying it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


First blond Bond / FRI 9-24-10 / Jean Rhys opus / Dixie rival / Tip preceder / Firedome fireflite / Free cookie distributor / My little girl early TV

Friday, September 24, 2010

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "My Little MARGIE" (40D: "My little" girl of early TV) —

My Little Margie premiered on CBS as the summer replacement for I Love Lucy on June 16, 1952, under the sponsorship of Philip Morris cigarettes. Its success prompted NBC, at the sponsor's request, to give it a regular berth - Saturday at 7:30 pm(et) - on its fall schedule, where it lasted for two months. In January 1953, it returned to CBS [Thursdays, 10pm(et)], where it remained until July. Two months later, it was back on NBC (for new sponsor Scott Paper Company) on Wednesday nights at 8:30, where its final broadcast was on August 24, 1955. In an unusual move, the series—with the same leads—aired original episodes on CBS Radio, concurrently with the TV broadcasts, from December 1952 through August 1955. Only 23 radio broadcasts are known to exist in recorded form. // Set in New York City, the series stars Gale Storm as 21-year-old Margie Albright and former silent film star Charles Farrell as her widowed father, 50-year-old Vern Albright. They shared an apartment at the Carlton Arms Hotel. Vern Albright was the vice president of the investment firm of Honeywell and Todd, where his boss was George Honeywell (Clarence Kolb). Honeywell's partner in the firm was played by George Meader. Roberta (Hillary Brooke) was Vern's girlfriend, and Margie's boyfriend was Freddy Wilson (Don Hayden). Mrs. Odetts (Gertrude Hoffman) was the Albrights' next-door neighbor and Margie's sidekick in madcap capers reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy. When Margie realized she had blundered or got into trouble, she made an odd trilling sound. Also in the cast were Willie Best as the elevator operator and Dian Fauntelle. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, that was easy. ERECTS (2D: Puts up) to VETS (21A: Ones doing lab exams?) to ANAT (18A: Coroner's subj.) to WEAVE (14D: Hair extension) — then I saw the clue for WIDE SARGASSO SEA (14A: Jean Rhys opus) (which I would have gotten even without crosses), and the puzzle was very tractable from there on out. Toughest part was getting the long Downs to drop. Bah. Got the front halves without knowing what the back halves were (CORPORATE .... HONCHO? BIGWIG? SEASON ... ALALLERGIES?) until I got all the way down to ABIT. Then I dropped both long Downs and WEBSITE (35D: Free cookie distributor) into the middle of that bottom section, and cleaned everything up easily from there. Only slightly slower than yesterday's (pretty fast) time.

Not too fond of the fill in this one. The long Acrosses (the marquee answers in a grid like this) are OK but nothing very memorable, and WIDE SARGASSO SEA I've definitely seen as a grid-spanner before. GOOGLE CHROME, GOOGLE DOCS ... several other GOOGLE answers would have been interesting. GOOGLE DIRECTORY isn't (50A: Aid to researching 35-Downs by topic). Everything here just seems straightforward and dullish. On Fri. and Sat., I like fresh, contemporary answers and/or a good dose of Scrabbliness. Got neither today. Also, LUTED? That hurt a bit (20A: Performed as a minstrel, maybe). Never heard of SOLO brand ... paper cups? (24A: Dixie rival). Yep, that's what they make: cups. Huh. Marginal actors round out the didn't know / don't like list: BIRNEY (12D: David of St. Elsewhere") and RAE (30A: 1971 Tony-winning actress ___ Allen).

[No lutes, but good minstrelsy nonetheless]

  • 16A: Psychoanalyst Fromm (ERICH) — I've heard of this guy, and yet I still wanted ETHAN. And then ENOCH (?)
  • 34A: She quipped "I've been in more laps than a napkin" (MAE WEST) — way too obvious. Good quote, though.

  • 41A: ___ de Noyaux (almond-flavored liqueur) (CRÈME) — seriously overthought this one. Tried to recall the French word for "almonds" (turns out, it's "amandes"—not that it's relevant here).
  • 5D: Carl Ichan or T. Boone Pickens (CORPORATE RAIDER) — I learned who Both these men are via xwords. It's true. Clearly billionaires don't interest me much.
  • 8D: Tip preceder, maybe (PSST) — if the tip is "you're fly's open," I guess...
  • 11D: Firedome and Fireflite (DE SOTOS) — no way of knowing this, but I got it easily from crosses.
  • 31D: First blond Bond (CRAIG) — Daniel CRAIG: the current incarnation.

  • 48D: Invader of Rome in 390 B.C. (CELT) — I'm used to dealing with the CELTs as the invadED, not the invadERS.
  • 49D: Credits date for "Cinderella" or "All About Eve" (MCML) — That's about as much as I'm ever going to like a Roman numeral clue. Major movies, nice round date. For whatever reason, I know that "All About Eve" is a 1950 movie, so this was a gimme.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Mudder's fodder / THU 9-23-10 / First company to successfully manufacture bubble gum / Usual Suspects setting / Genetic carriers

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DAS RHEINGOLD — circles spell out this first part of WAGNER's RING CYCLE, which apparently opened the Metropolitan Opera's 2010-11 season

Word of the Day: James LEVINE (13D: Met maestro James, longtime conductor of the 17-Across) —

James Lawrence Levine (pronounced /lɨˈvaɪn/; born June 23, 1943) is an American conductor and pianist. He is currently the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Levine's first performance conducting the Metropolitan Opera was on June 5, 1971, and as of July 2009 he has conducted more than 2,456 Met performances. In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. (wikipedia)
• • •

As stunt puzzles go, those of David J. Kahn tend to rate pretty high with me. His competence matches his ambition, which is always nice. Today's puzzle is interesting. I'm not that thrilled with a few of the theme answers — I'm opera-ignorant, but don't most operas have SOPRANOs and BARITONES? and WALKÜRE seems an arbitrary and vicious foreign word, especially considering that it's part of the title of the second part of the RING CYCLE, when what's being ... honored? ... here is the first (see 17A and grid circles). But the puzzle is thematically dense the grid is reasonably interesting, so I enjoyed the solving experience. The ring (of circles) is more of an octagon than anything else, but I can still buy it as a ring, so no major foul there.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Musical work in four parts, with its first part opening the Met's 2010-11 season (RING CYCLE)
  • 13D: Met maestro James, longtime conductor of the 17-Across (LEVINE)
  • 11D: "Die ___" (second part of the 17-Across) (WALKÜRE)

  • 35A: Attendee at a 17-Across (OPERA-GOER)
  • 59A: Singing voices in the 17-Across (BARITONES)
  • 39D: Singing voice in the 17-Across (SOPRANO)
  • 44D: Composer of the 17-Across (WAGNER)
Aside from the WALKÜRE section, I found the puzzle pretty easy. Biggest issue was writing in (with certainty) HEM instead of SUM at 39A: Bottom line. That kept the SW from quickly as it might have. Wrote in BARITONES but then doubted it because I thought 60D: W.W. II site, briefly must be ETO (nope, IWO). I also had a spot of trouble in the SE based on not knowing who ELSTON Howard was (57: Yankee ___ Howard, 1963 A.L. M.V.P.). Last letter into the grid was the "S" in ELSTON (such a weird-looking name). Oh, I forgot—another sports name held me up: SVEN, in the middle of the grid (32A: ___ Kramer, 2010 Dutch Olympic gold medalist in speed skating). I probably watched him win, but that name just didn't stick.

  • 5A: "The Usual Suspects" setting (JAIL) — Is this where Kevin Spacey was sitting the entire time he was narrating? I have largely forgotten that movie, and I don't have any particularly JAIL-y memories of it.
  • 15A: Ireland's ___ Islands (ARAN) — good day to know your Celtic islands. IONA is a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland (23A: Hebrides isle) and the ARAN islands are a small island chain off the west coast of Ireland.
  • 27A: With 6-Down, genetic carriers (NUCLEIC / ACIDS) — my limited science knowledge showed up today; got whole thing with just a few crosses in the first word.
  • 65A: First company to successfully manufacture bubblegum (FLEER) — I'm guessing this is the same company that made baseball cards. . . wow, it appears they didn't go beyond the first sentence of the wikipedia entry to write this clue (word for word).
  • 68A: Trueheart of the comics (TESS) — one of two ladies-of-pop-culture gimmes today; the other was TURNER (48D: Hurt's "Body Heat" co-star).
  • 9D: Mudder's fodder (HAY) — There's all kinds of equestrian language I just don't know. "Mudder" is an example. Needed all the crosses here.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Point in planet's orbit that's closest to sun / WED 9-22-10 / Sanctuary fixture / Kansas canine / Turn of millennium explorer

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: EIEIO — four theme answers contain those five vowels (in order); theme revealed by OLD MACDONALD (57A: Subject of a children's song associated with the vowels in the answer to each starred clue)

Word of the Day: PERIHELION (46A: *Point in a planet's orbit that's closest to the sun) —

The point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body.

[Alteration of New Latin perihēlium : PERI- + Greek hēlios, sun.] (answers.com)

• • •

Cute idea for a theme, but when you have to go to PERIHELION for your fourth theme answer, you should ... keep searching for a fourth theme answer. Jarring to go from common to common to common to WTF!?!?!? I can't be the only one who's never even seen the word before. Surely there is a list somewhere at some puzzle/word nerd site of words and phrases that have this particular vowel sequence. I can't help but wonder if there isn't another path to the execution of this theme that doesn't involve such an obscure (in everyday language) word. It's a cool word, don't get me wrong. I'd love to see it in a late-week themeless. It's icky here, though, because it feels forced. "Here's the only other 9-letter word or phrase I could get to do this." Less than ideal. Also less than ideal is the fill. Grid seems Very lazily filled. Just because a section is tiny doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Just changing MOOS (58D: Sounds heard by 57-Across) to MOPE makes the south instantly much better (two letters changed, three words improved). I get that those MOOS and BAAS are (maybe) supposed to be bonus theme answers, but come on, they're just common (and annoying) plurals that we see in puzzles every day. Load the puzzle up with animal sounds, or else lose MOOS and BAAS in order to make the grid better. That LADED (65A: Put on, as cargo) / ILENE (68A: "Mr. Belvedere" actress Graff) / ARLENE (51D: Francis of "What's My Line?") (all yuck) section Has to be improvable as well. MALAY (1A: Dweller on an Asian peninsula) / A MOLE (?) (14A: Whack-___) / YESES (5D: Some survey responses) / ALEF (4D: Beth preceder), same thing. A little less churning out, a little more thought to the small details—that would be nice.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: *Turn-of-the-millennium explorer (LEIF ERICSSON)
  • 30A: *1996 Grammy winner for the album "Falling Into You" (CELINE DION)
  • 38A: *Treaty of Versailles signer (PRESIDENT WILSON)
  • 46A: *Point in a planet's orbit that's closest to the sun (PERIHELION)
Difficulties for me included PERIHELION, obviously; the HEART part of LOSING HEART (3D: Becoming discouraged), which I just couldn't see (possibly because I had NAH for HAH, 34A: "Not a chance!"); HIGH ALTAR, the clue for which meant nothing to me (35D: Sanctuary feature)—is a "sanctuary" a specific architectural feature of a Catholic church? I just don't know. I also had trouble getting the (graphic) RIB SPREADER (26D: Tool used in thoracic surgery). Everything else was easy, but those hiccups were enough to put me into an above-average time.

  • 37A: 1,055 joules: Abbr. (BTU) — reflexively wrote in ERG. Physics 3 letters=ERG. One of the perils of putting brain on autofillpilot: occasional wrongness.
  • 44A: Pitcher Maddux who won four straight Cy Young Awards (GREG) — arguably the best pitcher in baseball for a good stretch of the '90s. In addition to his many pitching accomplishments, he won 18 (not a typo) Gold Glove Awards. Ridiculous. He is sure to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
  • 11D: Tool used by Hansel and Gretel's father (AXE) — another peril of brain on autofillpilot. Tool, three letters, starts with "A" — now AXE is a good bet, but my brain went AWL! Pretty sure their father was not a cobbler...
  • 1D: Catch that might be mounted (MARLIN) — tricky, odd-sounding clue, but I got it easily. Weird how I can nail this and yet muff LOSING HEART.
  • 42D: It was dropped in the '60s (LSD) — and the '70s. And the '80s. Etc.
  • 38D: Any singer with Gladys Knight (PIP) — I've seen people sing with her who were not PIPs, so not *any* singer. I looove Gladys.

Happy birthday to my not-so-little girl. Double digits. Holy cow. I think that's officially tweendom.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Facial recognition aid / TUE 9-21-10 / Goodnight girl of old song / River that drains more than 20% of France / Pioneering anti-AIDS drug

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: STROKES (39A: Pets ... or what the starts of 17-, 25-, 50- and 61-Across are all kinds of) — First words of theme answers are all kinds of swimming STROKES

From Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle

Word of the Day: IDENTIKIT (35D: Facial recognition aid) —
IN BRIEF: n. - A likeness of a person's face constructed from descriptions given to police. (answers.com)
• • •

Pretty vanilla. "First words are types of ..." Right over the plate. Seems more of a USA Today-type theme. Grid is solid (w/ the exception of that "ORY/CTS/SHH" up north, yuck), but theme feels like something that should have, must have been done a million times. Theme answers are all decent, except BREAST OF CHICKEN, which is weak (three words to the others' two, bland and non-specific, awkwardly phrased). What's the difference between BREAST OF CHICKEN and chicken breast? Is the first one offered at a "banquet" because it sounds "fancy?" At any rate, puzzle is competent, but not too interesting—at least not theme-wise.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Entree on many a Chinese menu (BUTTERFLY SHRIMP)
  • 25A: Cramped alternative to a basement (CRAWL SPACE)
  • 50A: Old New Yorkers, e.g. (BACK ISSUES)
  • 61A: Basic hotel banquet entree (BREAST OF CHICKEN)
This one took me slightly longer than the average Tuesday, for three reasons. First, FRODO instead of BILBO at 1A: "The Hobbit" hero. My daughter would mock me. She is having a "Lord of the Rings"-themed birthday party this weekend. Anyway, after some confused moments, BABAR (1D: King of the elephants in a children's book series) forced me to erase FRODO and eventually BILBO (Baggins) came into view. The next slowdown was IDENTIKIT—complete unknown, needed every single cross, and even then wasn't sure I didn't have an error. There appears to be a brand name of facial recognition software called "Identi-Kit," but the word seems to have a general meaning as well. Lastly, in the speed bump category, we have the front ends of BACK ISSUES and BREAST OF CHICKEN, neither of which came easily, the latter for reasons I've already been over, the former because I (I'm guessing by design) misread the "New Yorkers" in the clue as human beings, not magazines. NOKIA (44D: Mobile phone giant) and CRETE (52D: Where Minos reigned) got me back in business. Then I just went back up to the north, where I'd left some squares blank, and that was that. Took me about 5 seconds longer than yesterday's puzzle.

  • 20A: Pioneering anti-AIDS drug (AZT) — weird that this answer feels dated, even though AIDS clearly isn't. Media seems to expend much more time on ... other things these days.
  • 43A: Tabriz residents (IRANIANS) — speaking of plummeting media coverage. Two years ago the fraudulent elections were big news. Now: well, it's Iran, whaddyagonnado? Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go learn more about Christine O'Donnell's stance on masturbation.
  • 68A: River that drains more than 20% of France (LOIRE) — I'm not sure I understand the clue. Drains it of ... Water? The will to live? Is this by geographical area or sheer water volume?
  • 70A: Labor's partner (PARTS) — Went looking for something birth-related here. PAINS, maybe.
  • 3D: "The Loco-Motion" singer, 1962 (LITTLE EVA) — pretty sure I learned this from xwords, via clues for EVA
  • 27D: Feature of many a bodice (LACE) — would've wanted STAY if I hadn't had the "L" in place already.
  • 18D: Fabled fliers (ROCS) — gimme. Seen that clue a gajillion (i.e. probably 6) times.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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