Fabulous singer / 8-31-12 / 1980s Meet Press host Marvin / Actress Rachel of Notebook / Oxygen-dependent organism / Gowns that are rarely worn out / Missal stand's place / Retro candy containers / Newsman something somebody doesn't want printed

Friday, August 31, 2012

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PEIGNOIRS (30D: Gowns that are rarely worn out) —

peignoir (pronounced: [pɛ.ɲwaːʁ]) is a long outer garment for women which is frequently sheer and made of chiffon or other translucent fabrics. The word comes from French peigner, to comb the hair (from Latin pectināre, from pectenpectin-, comb) describing a garment worn while brushing ones hair, originally referring to a dressing gown or bathrobe.
Very high-end peignoirs were occasionally sold with sheer long gloves and stockings made of the same material as the peignoir itself for wear to bed or on occasions where the wearer would be seen in her nightclothes; such as visiting or while sharing accommodations during travel. Contemporary peignoirs are usually sold with matching nightgownnegligee orpanties.
A peignoir is notably featured in the opening stanza of the poem "Sunday Morning" byWallace Stevens and in opening chapters of the novel Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, where it is described in the context of beach attire. In Fawlty Towers a flirtyFrenchwoman has the character name "Mrs. Peignoir". (wikipedia)
• • •

This is the kind of puzzle that makes people look at crosswords and think "hmmm, how hard can it be?" It's so smooth that it seems effortless. There's virtually nothing jarring or awkward here, **especially** when compared with other 64-word puzzles. But it's not just clean—it's lively and beautiful. A leaning short stack of *actual* *interesting* long words in the middle, crossed by more actual and occasionally *amazing* long stuff. When do you ever see stacks of answers this long where there isn't at least one clunker or groaner in the crosses? Virtually never. Maybe you don't like NOSEEUMS (21D: Small biters)—that answer always feels a little made up to me, as I've never seen it anywhere outside crosswords, but I've seen it, and it's legit. And anyway, it's overshadowed by lovely stuff like RUNS AFTER, KATIE COURIC (25D: Only person to guest-host "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno"), STORMTROOPERS, DISCOURAGES (the plainest answer in the bunch and it's Rock solid), and the especially awesome PEIGNOIRS (30D: Gowns that are rarely worn out), to say nothing of CRATCHIT (24D: Dickensian surname). This thing is a masterpiece, but not in a way that will be remembered because it's just too smooth—no stunts, no bells, no whistles, just craftsmanship from here to the moon. I don't think people appreciate how hard it is to make a 64-worder (or any puzzle) this solid, this unbumpy, this graceful. Sometimes I forget how good this guy is. He does something a little ordinary-seeming, something with a crack or a chip in it, and all of a sudden he seems quite human. But then he goes and makes something like this, and I remember, "Oh, right. He's Michael Jordan."

I was slightly slow out of the box as I know nothing about Rachel MCADAMS (1: Actress Rachel of "The Notebook"). "The Notebook" is very big with girls/ladies (if my students are to be believed), but largely because of one Mr. Ryan Gosling. Or so I assume. Speaking of whom, I just watched "Drive" yesterday and it was great if you like hard-boiled California neo-noir with a lot of violence and car chases and a dash of '80s style. Or if you like Bryan Cranston or Albert Brooks (who doesn't like Brooks?). I don't really know who KALB is, but I've seen him before and I had the -ALB, so bam (25A: 1980s "Meet the Press" host Marvin). Two old newsmen up there, with HEARST (8A: Newsman who famously defined news as "something somebody doesn't want printed") being the far more famous. I don't know BEULAH from "Pilgrim's Progress" (44A: Land of ___ (destination in "The Pilgrim's Progress"))—sounds like a pig's name. But I could infer it easily enough. Despite ignorance of several answers, there wasn't much that slowed me down. I wrote in IMPART for IMPUTE (16A: Ascribe), and that was a definite hang-up, but otherwise, no road bumps at all. A good (educated) guess at REBA helped (43D: "___ #1's" (2005 country music album)). My "secondary definition" sensor was working, as I handled the "Fabulous" in 37D: Fabulous singer (SIREN) with relative ease. Not many flat-out gimmes, but not many bears either.

  • 32A: They're written for two-part harmony (PEACE TREATIES) — now that is how you write a clue. A work of art. 
  • 33A: Amateur geologist's purchase (GEIGER COUNTER) — I thought these measured radiation?? Why would an "amateur geologist" be detecting nuclear radiation? Maybe there's some hobby I'm unaware of.
  • 42A: Fifth word of the lyrics to "American Pie" (AGO) — probably really tempting to put PIE in here, except ... PIE is in the clue, and PIE is the fifth word of the *chorus*, not the song.
  • 3D: Missal stand's place (ALTAR) — some fancy church equipment I know nothing about, but I knew it was churchy, so ALTAR was easy to suss out.
  • 5D: Last monarch of the House of Stuart (ANNE) — some trivia picked up during my grad school days is still hanging around my brain, apparently.
  • 41D: One beaten by an ape (CHEST) — "One" always makes me think "human being," so this was fun to struggle with at first, as I had to imagine apes (literal and metaphorical) pummeling assorted people. "Tarzan?"
I have to go see what all this "Clint-talking-to-an-empty-chair" business is all about. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Tenor Beniamino / THU 8-30-12 / Big-nosed character of 1980s TV / South Korean model / Excavation locale of ancient Egyptian capital / Diggory young wizard in Harry Potter books / Longtime Vegas entertainer / Christmas in Italia

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ONE DOZEN eggs — middle of grid looks like an egg carton: 2 rows of 6 eggs (represented by Os) (31A: WITH 37-Across, dairy aisle purchase); four theme answers relate to eggs:
  • 16A: Popular kind of 31- and 37-Across (FREE RANGE)
  • 10D: One way to prepare 31- and 37-Across (OVER EASY)
  • 55A: Holder of 31- and 37-Across (EGG CARTON)
  • 36D: Number of 31- and 37-Across in a 55-Across (ONE DOZEN)
Word of the Day: Beniamino GIGLI (49D: Tenor Beniamino ___) —
Beniamino Gigli (pronounced: [benjaˈmiːno ˈdʒiʎʎi]) (March 20, 1890 – November 30, 1957)[1] was an Italian opera singer. The most famous tenor of his generation, he was renowned internationally for the great beauty of his voice and the soundness of his vocal technique. Music critics sometimes took him to task, however, for what was perceived to be the over-emotionalism of his interpretations. Nevertheless, such was Gigli's talent, he is considered to be one of the very finest tenors in the recorded history of music. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, I have very mixed feelings about this one. The core concept is lovely. In fact, theme-wise, I think it works just fine. Its fill-wise, and especially grid-wise, that the puzzle is hurting. This grid is 14x16, and that is just fine—needed to be that shape in order to put the two 6s dead center. What's less fine, and less comprehensible, is that this grid is a 70-worder. To put this in perspective: the max is 78. Most themed puzzles run 74-78. Themelesses (which are typically harder and more wide-open) have a max of just 72. So 70 is a very low word count for a themed puzzle. Why, you might ask, is this a problem? Well, it isn't, per se. The only thing that matters is the overall quality of the puzzle—and this is precisely what suffers by virtue of the low word count here. One or two more black squares in *any* of the quadrants probably could've improved fill immensely (because it is much easier to fill a grid well the higher the word count is). What you have here is somewhat ugly, mostly passable fill, to go with a nice theme, when what you could've had is good-to-great fill to go with a nice theme.

Those massive white corners are unnecessary. So difficult to fill well, in fact, that I have to applaud the SW for being as good as it is. The others, however, are full of ouch. The PORC / AVER / NEUE / AMARNA stack is rough (20A: Excavation locale of an ancient Egyptian capital). NATALE (19A: Christmas in Italia) / RAL is unfortunate (RONEE, not great either—6D: Actress Blakley of "Nashville"). And EUTERPE / PRIE / EADS / NES / GIGLI / ENCLS is only marginally better than a kick in the crotch (Actor George of "CSI"? Tenor Beniamino?). Even going up to just 74 words would've allowed for more possibilities for interesting, clean, sparkly fill. I love wide-open grids as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of smoothness.

Thumbs up to the theme, thumbs down to the grid construction and fill.

I was lucky to get some freebies, including ALF (1D: Big-nosed character of 1980s TV), CAMILLE (22A: French composer Saint-Saëns), and CEDRIC (47A: ___ Diggory, young wizard in the Harry Potter books). I was also able to pull KRONER out with just "R" in place (52A: Currency pegged to euros). Couldn't remember which MR. went to town (TIBBS? SMITH?) and consequently had a hell of a time seeing MANHOOD (21D: What a young buck might want to prove). At first I worried that 42D: South Korean model was referring to a person, in which case I'd've been well and truly in trouble. But no, it's just a Kia ELANTRA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


R&B pioneer Johnny / WED 8-29-12 / Belgium-based imaging company / Mischievous Norse god / Hot-coals walker / Gear with docking stations / Born from jets automaker

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Constructor: Tony Orbach

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: You can call me AL — "LA" is flipped to "AL" in familiar phrases, creating all manner of wackiness...

Word of the Day: Bugs MORAN (22D: Bugs of the underworld) —
George Clarence Moran (August 21, 1891 – February 25, 1957), better known by the alias "BugsMoran, was a Chicago Prohibition-era gangster. He moved to the north side of Chicago when he was 19, where he became affiliated with several gangs. He was incarcerated three times before turning 21. On February 14, 1929, in an event which has become known as the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, seven members of his gang were gunned down in a warehouse, supposedly on the orders of Moran's rival Al Capone. He has been credited with popularizing the act of driving by a rival's hangout and spraying it with gunfire, now referred to as a drive-by shooting. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one gave me lots of little fits. The cluing was baffling in parts—I had to read 27D: This and that with a specific kind of stress to get to BOTH (wanted OLIO, which turned up later, with the same clue, which must've been why BOTH was clued that way to begin with ...); I've never seen the phrase "docking stations" within a hundred miles of STEREOS (52A: Gear with docking stations). If that's an accurate technical term, I've never heard it used, and I've owned STEREOS in one form or another nearly all my life. NO DOPE!? Ugh. Took *every* cross to see that one (8D: A real smarty). So there were those little bafflements. But mainly there was the theme answers ALP TOP COVERS and ALTER ON. Never would've thought to look for "TOP" (with ALP pretty much covering the elevation part) and "lap top covers," while certainly things, aren't things I use or see other people use very often, and somehow I thought the AL at the beginning was going to refer to Weird Al, even though he's known for polka and not yodeling ... and ALTER ON ... I expected a RAH or an OLE to turn up in that answer. It's a play on phrases like "rock on" or "party on" ... but it wasn't til I had every single letter that I saw the proper phrase. Never mind the AGFA / FAKIR crossing, which took me Forever (10A: Belgium-based imaging company + 12D: Hot-coals walker). OK, not Forever, as my time was just high, not astronomically high. But I definitely struggled a bit. I love that the theme answers are creative—the theme is so slight that they really need to be in order to justify this puzzle's existing at all. So a couple are a bit ... awkwardly worded. That's OK. Fill is okay, though a little on the xwordesey/clunky side. GOOSEFLESH (11D: Bodily reaction to fear) and MIRACLEBRA (29D: Push-up garment) are nice, though I've seen the latter a few times now (at least once in the NYT). Maybe put it away for a few years before it starts to fray.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Balm business? (SALVE TRADE)
  • 23A: Yodeling tribute band's repertoire? (ALP-TOP COVERS)
  • 38A: Words of encouragement to a tailor? (ALTER ON)
  • 48A: Figure at Sarah's cigar store? (PALIN'S INDIAN)
  • 57A: "Columbo" trench coat? (FALK JACKET)
Wanted ASKEW at 13D: Out of kilter (AMISS), but, ironically, the [Mischievous Norse god] LOKI helped me set things right. If I knew who Johnny OTIS was, I forgot (32A: R&B pioneer Johnny). I know Shuggie OTIS. OTIS Redding. Let's see ... Johnny OTIS ... oh, I know this song ... from "Grease," of all places:

I just remarked recently that I didn't know SAAB was defunct. It may be bygone as a car, but it's still running strong in crosswords, clearly (53A: "Born from jets" automaker). CRESC. is not great fill, though, to its credit, it is much better than "dimin." (which I've never seen in a grid, to my knowledge) (9D: Dimin.'s opposite, in music).

OK, I think I'm gonna peek at the RNC now and see if any part of it is at all watchable. I think I know the answer ... but I can't stay away. It's like a scab I'm compelled to pick.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Asian nurse / TUE 8-28-12 / Old Philosophers place / 1998 BP acquisition / Outdated tape format / Discontinued Swedish car / Newspaperman Adolph

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Constructor: Lou Borenstein

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — "Hell" is changed to "Heaven" and vice versa in popular song titles. Top of the grid has word BELOW (1A: Traditional location of one of this puzzle's theme words), bottom has ABOVE (64A: Traditional location of one of this puzzle's theme words)

    The songs:
    • HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN (17A: Opposite of an AC/DC song?)
    • STAIRWAY TO HELL (25A: Opposite of a Led Zeppelin number?)
    • BAT OUT OF HEAVEN (42A: Opposite of a Meat Loaf tune?)
    • PENNIES FROM HELL (56A: Opposite of a Bing Crosby hit?)

    Word of the Day: BASAL metabolism (61A: ___ metabolism) —
    Basal metabolic rate (BMR), and the closely related resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the amount of energy expended daily by humans and other animals at rest. Rest is defined as existing in a neutrally temperate environment while in the post-absorptive state. In plants, different considerations apply.
    The release, and using, of energy in this state is sufficient only for the functioning of the vital organs, the heartlungsnervous systemkidneysliver,intestinesex organsmuscles, and skin. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    First, the good: the BELOW / ABOVE thing is a nice extra touch, even if there is no referent (i.e. below what? above what? ... I don't think of BELOW and ABOVE as "locations," exactly, but ... close enough for government work). Also, "PENNIES FROM HELL" is genuinely funny for many reasons, not least of which is that pennies are the worst. From heaven, sure, during the Depression you might think that. But now, from hell indeed.

    Now the less good: the theme was a non-starter for me because "HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN" is a thing. A known, popular thing. So there is nothing funny there, because it was the name of an exceedingly unfunny, tremendously earnest, religious drama starring Michael Landon. For these theme answers to work, they have to surprise by being new and unexpected, odd, strange, funny ... "HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN" is none of these. Then there's the fill, which is pretty dire. When I wasn't choking on crosswordese (and really tired crosswordese too, like AMAH [Asian nurse] and AER), I was enduring an onslaught of gridingly bland fill. Lots of 3s and 4s, and nothing longer than a couple of boring 7s. You could smell the mothballs on this one. So there's a cute core concept, and a nice added dimension with BELOW / ABOVE, but overall, not a predominantly pleasant experience.

    • 14A: 1998 BP acquisition (AMOCO) — Off the "A"; 5-letter gas company, not hard.
    • 21A: Outdated tape format (VHS) — I kind of miss these. I'm having a hard time throwing mine out, even though I got rid of my VCR years ago. I tend to have pointless nostalgia for bygone formats. I own (and even use) a manual typewriter. I just got my first so-called "smartphone" today. (I have no nostalgia for my dumbphone, though; I'm taking a rock to that thing)
    • 4D: Newspaperman Adolph (OCHS) — he's like LOEW (31D: MGM founder) and yesterday's ICAHN. Or that guy you don't really know but he's at half the parties you go to so you somehow learned his name. That guy.
    • 32D: Discontinued Swedish car (SAAB) — hand to god, I had no idea these were "discontinued." Crossworld should've had a funeral. I think being bygone actually *elevates* your status in the Crosswordese Pantheon.
    • 36D: Old philosophers' place (STOA) — the whole puzzle felt about as fresh and entertaining as this answer.
    • 37D: Pants part that gets a lot of wear (SEAT) — the SEAT is not the part of the pants I associate with "wear." I've had pants give out or fray in a number of places; not there. 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Golfer's gouge / MON 8-27-12 / Fan of Jerry Garcia's band / He played Hulk on 1970s-80s TV / Hops kiln / Frilly place mats / Spotted wildcat / Name that comes from Old Norse for young man

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Constructor: Michael Farabaugh

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: A vowel sound progression puzzle
    • LAYAWAYPLAN (17A: Purchasing system with payments made over time)
    • LEE IACOCCA (29A: Former Chrysler C.E.O.)
    • LIE DOWN ON THE JOB (34A: Goldbrick)
    • LOW-FAT DIET (43A: Healthful food regimen, traditionally)
    • LOU FERRIGNO (56A: He played the Hulk on 1970s-'80s TV)

    Word of the Day: NAOMI (42A: Ruth's mother-in-law) —
    Naomi (נָעֳמִי "Pleasant; agreeable; my sweet", Standard Hebrew NoʻomiTiberian Hebrew nåʿå̆mī) is Ruth's mother-in-law in the Old Testament Book of Ruth. Later, she called herself Mara, or "bitter" (Ruth 1:20-21), she said to the women on Bethlehem, "Do not call me Naomi call me Mara (מרה), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me," referring to the death of her husband (Elimelech) and her two sons (Mahlon and Chilion). In Ruth 1:13, she had said to her two daughters-in-law "it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me," (ESV), but the NIV translates this as "It is more bitter for me than for you..." which indicates that Naomi is indeed bitter. Barry Webb points out that there is both an objective element in her life being bitter (bereavement, dislocation and poverty), as well as a subjective element - the bitterness she feels. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I'm all for vowel (sound) progression puzzles early in the week, but the bar seems pretty low on this one. You could make and remake and remake this puzzle, with this theme, infinitely. And it's not as if the answers themselves are stunning—though LIE DOWN ON THE JOB and LOU FERRIGNO are quite decent. It's a very smooth, competently made puzzle, but a bit drab and unambitious as well. Also, remarkably easy, even for a Monday. I torched it in 2:36.

    Today (Sunday) was Women's Equality Day (the anniversary of the 19th Amendment) and my local brewpub, Water Street Brewing Co., celebrated by giving away free desserts ... to everyone. Not just women. Everyone. Equality! The very fact that a brewpub decided to recognize Women's Equality Day at all impressed me, and then the fact that they took it beyond another excuse for Ladies' Night and actually practiced Equality by giving dessert away to everyone really sealed the deal. So I'm blogging now with my belly full of a pint of Dark English Mild, some surprisingly delicious veggie sausage and peppers, french fries, a third of a fresh-baked pretzel, and Equality Brownie (TM). Good times. How does this relate to crosswords? Uh ... OAST, probably, right? (26D: Hops kiln). Oh, yesterday I forgot to wish Will Shortz happy 60th birthday (I did on Facebook, just not here). So—happy birthday, sir.

    Not sure what "traditionally" means in the clue for LOW-FAT DIET (43A: Healthy food regimen, traditionally). I don't think of said diets being "traditional" in any real sense of the word. Also, the word appears to be an equivocation, as if the healthfulness of LOW-FAT DIETs had somehow been debunked. I know there are differing views on the relative healthfulness of the various fats, but I have a hard time imagining the general idea of a LOW-FAT DIET being controversial, health-wise. Maybe it's a matter of degree. At any rate, "traditionally" struck me as weird (as you've probably gathered by now). My normal diet is pretty low-fat, though my diet this evening Clearly was not.

    • 44D: Spotted wildcat (OCELOT) — I was just thinking earlier today that OCELOT should be the next step in the Mac operating system cat progression.
    • 21A: "Make ___" (Picard's command on "Star Trek: T.N.G.") ("IT SO") — partials are never good, but as partial clues go, this one is aces.
    • 20A: Golfer's gouge (DIVOT) — I don't usually mind alliteration, but "gouge" is a truly awful word. This clue sounds like a disease. "Poor Bill—did you hear he got golfer's gouge?"
    • 25A: Frilly place mats (DOILIES) — I always thought these were smaller; specifically, I associate them with a kind of coaster equivalent used in various chain coffee shops / diners I went to as a kid. Cocoa's ... do they still have Cocoa's ... ? Maybe it was just a '70s/'80s Fresno thing. Nope—they're national, and spelled Coco's.
    • 49A: Name that comes from Old Norse for "young man" (SVEN) — cool trivia. Livens things up a bit. Puzzle could've used a little more livening like this. 
    • 4D: Fan of Jerry Garcia's band (DEADHEAD) — seen it before, but still like it. I also know this as a word from gardening—a verb meaning "to remove the spent flowers of a flowering plant."
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Nirvana achievers / SUN 8-26-12 / Banned book of 1928 / 1962 John Wayne film / English author Elinor / Kite Runner protagonist / Onetime Ethiopia colonizers / 1955 Grant/Kelly thriller

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    Constructor: Amanda Yesnowitz and Doug Peterson

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "Put a Lid in It" — a "HAT" rebus (with six "HAT" squares, one in each long Across answer)

    Word of the Day: TACHYON (75D: Speedy subatomic particle) —

    tachyon [...] or tachyonic particle is a hypothetical particle that always moves faster than light. The word comes from the Greekταχύς or tachys, meaning "swift, quick, fast, rapid", and was coined by Gerald Feinberg in a 1967 paper. Feinberg proposed that tachyonic particles could be quanta of aquantum field with negative squared mass. However, it was soon realized that excitations of suchimaginary mass fields do not in fact propagate faster than light, but instead represent an instability known as tachyon condensation. Nevertheless, they are still commonly known as "tachyons", and have come to play an important role in modern physics.
    Most physicists think that faster-than-light particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics. If such particles did exist, they could be used to build a tachyonic antitelephone and send signals faster than light, which (according to special relativity) would lead to violations of causality. Potentially consistent theories that allow faster-than-light particles include those that break Lorentz invariance, the symmetry underlying special relativity, so that the speed of light is not a barrier.
    Despite theoretical arguments against the existence of faster-than-light particles, experiments have been conducted to search for them. No compelling evidence for their existence had been found. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Found this one very easy. Got it after figuring out "LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER" and then looking at the puzzle title: "Oh: lid = HAT ... gotcha." Thought there might be other types of "lids," but no. Sort of surprised there's just six rebus squares in a grid this size. Also surprised at how easy they were to find (*only* in theme answers), and how easy the theme answers were to get—I rarely needed more than a few letters to get them, except with "HORTON HATCHES THE EGG," which I have never heard of (I didn't know Horton did anything but hear a who). Rebuses usually slow things down quite a bit, but not today. Sped things up, if anything. But there's just one problem: I had an error. And not a lazy, forgot-to-double-check-the-grid error. A real, thought-it-was-right-but-it-wasn't error. Namely, I had TACHRON / STAR. Now that I see TACHYON, I'm sure I've seen/heard it before, but I confess to not being completely up to date on my theoretical particles, and, well, TACHRON sounded plausible and STAR definitely works for 97A: Judge's issuance ("I give it ... three stars!"). So, yeah: failure. But a very easy failure.

    I'm used to Doug Peterson puzzles being a little more ambitious than this (I've never done an Amanda Yesnowitz puzzle, so no expectations one way or the other there). I like all the long answers, but there's nothing clever about their cluing, or anything very "HAT"ty about the grid besides the six rebus squares. Oh, I guess there's HATBOX ... that's cleverish. Anyway, I enjoyed it well enough. Lots of good longer fill like WILLIES (93D: Acute uneasiness, with "the") and CHATTYCATHY (53D: Talking doll that debuted in 1960) and ACT ONE'S AGE (11D: Behave). I also love the word ROTTER (119A: No-goodnik), even though it's not that impressive from a Scrabble-score standpoint. The theme answers are all proper nouns (names, titles), which is ... a kind of unity. No rationale for it, but I appreciate the stab at consistency of some sort. Four of the clues have years in them ... so that's ... nothing. Nevermind.

    Theme answers:
    • 25A: Banned book of 1928 ("LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER")
    • 43A: Source material for Broadway's "Seussical" ("HORTON HATCHES THE EGG")
    • 59A: Time's 1930 Man of the Year (MAHATMA GANDHI)
    • 74A: 1955 Grant/Kelly thriller ("TO CATCH A THIEF")
    • 88A: World's first certified gold record, 1942 ("CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO")
    • 107A: Source of the line "They say miracles are past" ("ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL")
    • 110D: Storage item ... or one of six in this puzzle? (HAT BOX)
    • 23A: Storied C.S.A. commander (R.E. LEE) — pretty easy, even though the "CSA" I'm most familiar with provides fresh, local, organic produce to members (Community Supported Agriculture).
    • 24A: Onetime Ethiopia colonizers (ITALIANS) — gimme. Is this common knowledge or just knowledge I happen to have because I'm beset on all sides by historians?
    • 72A: English author Elinor (GLYN) — No idea, but I'm guessing she's been the clue for ELINOR a few times too. Slightly unusual, non-Rooseveltian spelling of that name.
    • 13D: "The Kite Runner" protagonist (AMIR) — Wow. Cool. Way to rescue AMIR from the horrible Land of Var.
    • 18D: Nirvana achievers (ARHATS) — one of my least favorite crosswordy words, but kind of a shoo-in (hat-in?) for this particular puzzle, so: pass.
    • 45D: 1962 John Wayne film (HATARI) — a gripping tale about African video games.
    • 70D: "Solid Gold" host Marilyn (MCCOO) — I just like her name. It's just so ... round.
    • 71D: Mock response to a friend who pulls a practical joke ("I HATE YOU") — struggled here because I totally forgot about the rebus; I'd simply entered "H" where HAT was supposed to go and so nothing was making sense: "I, HE, YOU? What kind of cryptic slang is that?"
    Fun, breezy, smooth, simple ... not a bad Sunday.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    1942 Preakness winner / SAT 8-25-12 / Captain Hook's alma mater / Modern drag / Mariposa's close relative / Chard cab alternative / Hawks old haunt / Teen series title character never seen / Old revolutionist

    Saturday, August 25, 2012

    Constructor: Caleb Madison

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Bobby LAYNE (18A: Football Hall of Famer Bobby) —

    Robert Lawrence "Bobby" Layne (December 19, 1926 – December 1, 1986) was an American footballquarterback who played for 15 seasons in the National Football League. He played for the Chicago Bears in 1948, the New York Bulldogs in 1949, the Detroit Lions from 19501958, and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 19581962. He was drafted by the Bears in the first round of the 1948 NFL Draft. He played college football at the University of Texas.
    He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1968. His number, 22, has been retired by the University of Texas Longhorns and Detroit Lions. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This one roughed me up a bit. A maddening mix of some fresh, current long answers and some gut-kicking, hard-to-suss-out shorter stuff (ICOSA, ALSAB, APNEAL, SEGO). Mainly, the cluing was simply very tough. The worst part of it all, for me, was that as I was solving, I kept thinking "I've seen this grid ... Caleb must have showed this to me a while back ... so ... Why Can't I Solve It More Quickly?!" My current theory is that he showed me a version that had some of these long answers but otherwise different fill. At least I hope that's true. Anyway, that long stuff is mostly stuff I'd've gotten immediately either way. TAYLORSWIFT? Gimme (11D: 2009 Grammy winner for "Fearless"). "THEHANGOVER"? Gimme (24D: 2009 comedy whose tagline is "Some guys just can't handle Vegas"). "GOSSIPGIRL"? Well, not a gimme exactly, but a gimme once a couple of letters were in place (28A: Teen series whose title character is never seen). I love all those answers, plus BUZZKILL (1A: Modern drag) and GOOGOO EYES (though the latter gave me fits as I cycled through GOOGLY, GOOGLE, GOOGIE, and even considered GOOGOL ("She had a hundred eyes?") before finally hitting on GOOGOO) (28D: Kitten's look).

    I had real problems solving this puzzle, right from the get-go. The NW just lay empty until near the very end, when I somehow managed to stare it down. Wanted ZIN but couldn't get anything to confirm it (3D: Chard or cab alternative). Wrote in AM SO and LIEN instead of IS SO and LOAN, so, yeah, that Hurt. Convinced myself that LIEN didn't fit the clue, then realized IS could work instead of AM. This allowed me to see -SOUP, and that "U" allowed me to see/guess LUC (8D: Jacquet who directed "March of the Penguins"). That was all I needed. Finished in the SE, which was much, much easier. But the part of the puzzle that took me the longest was the area around MALINGERED. This is because a. I thought the "feigned" in [Feigned incapacity] was an adjective, not a verb; b. I didn't know LAYNE, so I kept trying a "K" there and getting MAKING ... something (MAKING ERE- ... what?); and c. I didn't know that's what MALINGERED meant. I think I thought it meant something more MALicious. Like ... loitering with malicious intent or something. How sad for me.

    • 9A: Founding need (METAL) — I had SMELT ... which is ... not right. SMELT is a fish. But you can see, kinda, that my brain was in the right place. A METAL-ish place. 
    • 19A: Captain Hook's alma mater (ETON) — I had no idea *and* it was a gimme. Chew on that.
    • 20A: "Tropic Thunder" director and co-star (STILLER) — still needs about a million more grid appearances before he catches his mom.
    • 40A: Altar adjunct (PRIE-DIEU) — Here's a place where knowing some French helped. Didn't help me at 2D: ___ fois que (as soon as, in Arles) (UNE). I never would've considered UNE. That is one rough clue for UNE. French also didn't help much at 10D: Even, in Évreux (EGAL). I wrote in MÊME. Different meaning of "even."
    • 49A: Hawks' old haunt (OMNI) — another (potentially) very tough clue. A gimme for me, but only because I know something about basketball (and have done enough crosswords to see OMNI clued as a sports arena before).
    • 4D: Defenders' assignments (ZONES) — I *think* this is a basketball clue. Seems like it could apply to a bunch of sports. I had CASES here (one more reason the NW ate me alive a little). 
    • 25D: Yupik lang. (ESK.) — ouch.
    • 37D: She hailed from the planet Alderaan (LEIA) — not so hard if you are a "Star Wars" fan and/or you have done a lot of puzzles. Like ETON, this answer seemed the only plausible one for its clue.
    • 54D: Old revolutionist (RED) — I wrote in REB with little thought, until I considered the resulting BEEN THERE, BONE THAT ... which has a certain ring, but ultimately doesn't work (59A: With 61-Across, "nothing new to me!").

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    French novelist Pierre / FRI 8-24-12 / Giant bronze man in Greek myth / Sea fan colonists / Reduce through retirement / Gentle giant of Steinbeck's Of Mice Men / Eureka Excelsior

    Friday, August 24, 2012

    Constructor: Mark Diehl

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: 8

    Word of the Day: PINNA (26D: Outer ear) —
    n., pl., pin·nae (pĭn'ē), or pin·nas.
    1. Botany. A leaflet or primary division of a pinnately compound leaf.
    2. Zoology. A feather, wing, fin, or similar appendage.
    3. Anatomy. See auricle (sense ). [AURICLE = "The outer projecting portion of the ear. Also called pinna."]
    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/pinna#ixzz24QVZHMjx
    • • •

    First of all, Love the grid shape. A giant "8"—for August, I assume [actually, as you can see, there are at least three 8-related answers in the grid—EIGHT-TRACK, OCTAGONAL, SPIDER]. Who cares what it's for, it just looks fantastic. The trouble with the shape is that it gives us So Many little crosses in the Downs. The grid is all about showcasing the Acrosses—essentially, three stacks of three: one up top, one in the middle, one at the bottom. GAG RULE is a nice Down (1D: Discussion stopper), but mostly the Downs are just holding the Acrosses in place, and I guess, in the end, the long Acrosses are good enough to justify some of the dreck we get in the Downs (PINNA, TALOS, LOTI, not to mention the more common stuff) (26D: Outer ear + 28D: Giant bronze man in Greek myth + 9D: French novelist Pierre). Never heard of SPIDER SOLITAIRE (50A: Microsoft Windows game), but the rest of the Acrosses are solid, vivid, interesting. The top is especially clean (LOTI notwithstanding). Puzzle was very easy given that it was not hard to get a bunch of short crosses and then see very clearly where the long Across answers were going. Up top, I tentatively wrote in RITE, and then more firmly wrote in ATTA, SPCA, ARKS, and EVAN, all of which proved more than enough to take out all those Acrosses (except GARAGE SALES, which proved a little bit more tenacious) (1A: Category on Craigslist). Middle section took the longest, but only because of PINNA and TALOS. I was lucky enough to know ARTIE even though I stopped watching "Glee" over a year ago (23D: ___ Abrams, character on "Glee"). That certainly helped. Down below, I got the SE very quickly, and then hammered my way into the SW. Converged upon a scary place where I didn't know a bunch of stuff (POLYPS, PYRITES, ATTRITE, SPIDER ...), but I just threw in my best guesses as fast as I could, stood back, looked it over, and realized it all had to be right. And it was. (32D: Sea fan colonists + 41A: Sulfide-containing group + 33D: Reduce through retirement)

    ATTRITE is my new least favorite word, replacing MULCT. So I got that from this puzzle, if nothing else.

    All in all, an enjoyable, easy puzzle, with just a few rough patches along the way.

    • 25A: Subject of the book "Red Moon Rising" (SPUTNIK) — first thought was something Chinese (Mao's Red Book?) or Japanese (the flag?), but -IK seemed an unlikely ending for anything from those two places. Then the "moon" part led me to space, and bam, SPUTNIK.
    • 29A: Early "cure" for tuberculosis (DESERT CLIMATE) — did the climate not "cure" anyone? Cursory online research shows people sure *thought* it did. One quote I read: "There is no question: tuberculosis put Palm Springs on the map."
    • 36A: "Eureka" and "Excelsior" (MOTTOES) — got it pretty easily, since I knew "Eureka" was California's motto. "Excelsior" is New York's. I grew up in CA. I now live in NY. Neither of these facts explains why the "E" In MOTTOES looks so horrible.
    [WARNING: much profanity]
    • 13D: Gentle giant of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" (LENNIE) — big fat gimme for anyone who had 9th grade English. LENNIE's unintentional murderousness was one of my first "holy #$^&!" literary experiences.
    • 42D: Target of a Fox hunt? (IDOL) — very clever clue, even though the capital "F" made the answer pretty obvious.
    • 43D: One singing "Fight, fight, fight for Maryland" (TERP) — one of the crosswordesiest of the college mascots. Flat-out gimme.
    • 44D: "Aunt" with a 1979 best seller (ERMA) — as in Bombeck. The best seller is "Aunt ERMA's Cope Book" (a title I learned from xwords). Cope book??? I still don't quite get what that is or what phrase it's playing on. Cook book?
    • 47D: Old comics dog (TIGE) — Buster Brown's dog. You've seen him recently—in my July 31, 2012 puzzle. 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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