Huck Finn's father / SUN 9-30-12 / Sholem Aleichem protagonist / One-named Brazilian soccer star / One-sixth of drachma / Weavers willows / Capital of Swiss canton of Valais / ABC in Variety-speak / Wild equine

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Constructor: Elayne Cantor and Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Car Talk" — car-related answers, wacky non-car-related clues

Word of the Day: PELEG (12D: Genesis man who lived 239 years) —
Peleg (Hebrewפֶּלֶג / פָּלֶגModern Péleg / Páleg Tiberian Péleḡ / Pāleḡ ; "division") is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as one of the two sons of Eber, an ancestor of the Israelites, according to the "Table of Nations" in Genesis 10-11 and 1 Chronicles 1. Peleg's son was Reu, born when Peleg was thirty, and he had other sons and daughters. According to the Hebrew Bible, Peleg lived to the age of 239 years. (wikipedia)
• • •

We're into a run of not-so-great puzzles. Honestly, the last few have felt dated, stale, and seriously lacking in overall polish. Here, we just have car stuff. All the interest is in the clue, but those miss as often as not, and are often forced and awkward. Then there's the fill, which, collectively, is some of the worst I've seen on a Sunday puzzle in some time. A punishing barrage of crosswordese—or worse, often: plural crosswordese: OSIERS, ENOTES, RAYONS, NAES, LEOS, TSETSES, GRRS, OLLAS, TEHEES (!?!?!)—just painful. There's lots more non-plural junk as well, and almost nothing sparkly or thoughtful on the plus side to balance it out. I've written down "YO, DUDE," NIGHTIES, and BACK PAY as non-theme answers that I particularly like. That's it. I'm begging constructors—try harder! DEMAREST is a massive waste of an 8! You only have so many longer answers—make them count. And the short stuff doesn't have to be scintillating, but keep the truly stale and outright gag-worthy stuff to a small handful. It Can Be Done. In this day and age, what with all the tools available to constructors, and with more scrutiny than ever given to puzzles, there's just no excuse for filling puzzles in ways that are barely serviceable.  I'm looking at that KIP, PAP, ANEMO-, ADESTE, ASI, CTS corner and thinking "Why!?" Yes, BACK PAY and "YO, DUDE" (both in that corner) are good, but did they really necessitate all that dead weight? Sundays especially, being long, should have many, Many highlights. "Barely serviceable" becomes "actively abusive" in a puzzle that's 21x21.

I have a long list of the stale fill that plagues this puzzle, but I'll spare you. You can see it. You saw it. It has been SEEN by you (50D: Comprehended).

Theme answers:
  • 23A: What Katie Holmes lost in divorce court? (CRUISE CONTROL) — "lost?" I thought she wanted out. Also, "control?" That's what you have in a marriage? What kind of vaudvillean gag is this? "Take my spouse ..."
  • 28A: Commute on a crowded bus, e.g.? (REAR BUMPER) — not even sure how this works. Is the guy bumping people's REAR ends? Is he at the back of the bus? Mystifying.
  • 55A: Epiphany? (HEAD LIGHT)
  • 69A: What "Send" triggers? (AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION)
  • 80A: Legal proceeding over a meth bust? (CRANK CASE) — drug slang. Good. More of that.
  • 110A: Smell of sour milk? (TURN SIGNAL)
  • 118A: Bling-bling? (HOOD ORNAMENTS) — "Bling" (and esp. "bling-bling") is, and has been, dead. From the wikipedia entry, subheading "Mass Usage" (emph. mine):
While the specific term bling was first popularized in the hip hop community, it has spread beyond hip hop culture and into mass culture. This is similar to the meteoric rise of hip hop music itself, which has led to its most popular artists becoming mainstream pop music icons. "Bling" was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 and to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006. Companies such as Sprint and Cadillac have used the word bling in their advertisements. During a 2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Jacksonville, Florida, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney admired a baby decked in dress attire with gold jewelry and said, "Oh, you've got some bling-bling here."[3]
In 2004, MTV released a satirical cartoon showing the term being used first by a rapper and then by several progressively less "streetwise" characters, concluding with a middle-aged white woman describing her earrings to her elderly mother.[4] It ended with the statement, "RIPbling-bling 1997-2003." In 2005, the rapper B.G. remarked that he "just wished that he'd trademarked it"[5] so that he could have profited. Like many cases of once-exclusive vernacular that becomes mainstream, the views of the originators towards the term have changed significantly over the years. On VH1's Why You Love Hip-Hop, rapper Fat Joe stated, "rappers don't call jewelry 'bling' anymore, we just call 'em "diamonds"."
For a relatively straightforward puzzle, I found parts of it pretty hard. Specifically, the NE and SW corners, which were serious problems. At one point I wasn't sure I was going to get the NE at all. Couldn't remember how to spell DEMAREST (40A: 1946 Best Supporting Actor nominee William). No clue on EIRE (33A: "Sing of old ___ and the ancient ways": Yeats). No clue on CARB (14D: Dual-___). Never ever heard whatever meaning of ACE that clue is going for (13A: Dandy). I had FOP and then A-OK. ACE as adjective? OK, I guess so, though "dandy" doesn't feel like a very tight synonym. POTPIE, also tough (16D: Round entree). SW corner was a little easier, if only because TURN SIGNAL was understandable and gettable (where REAR BUMPER, in the NE, really really wasn't). But still—I had either BIG-TIME or BIG-DEAL or something like that before BIGGEST (90D: Number-one). No clue on SION (111D: Capital of the Swiss canton of Valais). NECK before NAPE (104A: Spot for a farm laborer's sunburn). No clue on PENN'S (100D: ___ Landing (part of Philadelphia)). ENTIRE before INTACT (97D: Whole). And SUD-for-SUR (84D: Spanish direction) meant that IN SPIRIT took a good long time to see (97A: With one's heart, if nothing else). Rest of the puzzle seemed relatively normal, difficulty-wise.

  • 51A: Digit in military lingo (NINER) — not the "digit" I was imagining. I was picturing a toe or finger.
  • 85A: Programming behind computer pop-ups (ADWARE) — aka The Worst Thing About The Internet (after trolls).
  • 109A: Potentially slanderous remark (LIE) — I had DIS.
  • 123A: Wild equine of ASIA (ONAGER) — crossworld's biggest ass. Anagram of "orange." Always makes me think of Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin," for some reason.
  • 126A: ABC, e.g., in Variety-speak (NET) — neglected the "e.g." which had me thinking of ABC specifically. I knew CBS was "the Eye," but ABC ... eluded me.
  • 2D: One-named Brazilian soccer star (ADRIANO) — I don't know this guy. RONALDINHO I know.
  • 55D: ___ bar (HEATH) — Ugh. Lowercase "bar" made me doubt it til the bitter end, but I guess the bar is just called HEATH, so "bar" would be lowercase. Still, ugh on this clue.
  • 70D: One-sixth of a drachma (OBOL) — if I had to nominate, say, five crossword answers for Most Quintessential Crosswordese, this would almost surely make the slate. The clue reads like a parody of itself. Sounds like every pop culture representation of crosswords ever. Movies and TV shows always imagine crosswords as reservoirs of exotic and/or obscure words. In "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1987), for instance, Mimi Rogers (speaking of ex-Mrs. Cruises) impresses her bodyguard when he asks for help with his crossword and she comes up with the answer: URDU. And I thought: Of course. Of course it's URDU. Had to be something four letters long and foreign, right? But at least URDU has the virtue of being spoken by millions and millions of people, whereas no one currently living has ever spent an OBOL
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Gondoliers nurse / SAT 9-29-12 / Autobus alternative / Wood lice pill bugs / Like George Bush's promised nation / Summer mountain feature / Dutch Golden Age painter / He was traded between Chicago teams in 1992 /

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Earl AVERILL (12D: Earl in the Baseball Hall of Fame) —
Howard Earl Averill (May 21, 1902 – August 16, 1983) was an American player inMajor League Baseball who was a center fielder from 1929 to 1941. He was a six-timeAll-Star (1933–38) and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. // Born in Snohomish, Washington, Averill broke into the major leagues in 1929 (at the age of 27) with the Cleveland Indians. He played for Cleveland for over ten years, and remains the all-time Indian leader in total basesruns batted inruns, and triples. He also remains 3rd in all-time Indian hits and doubles, and 4th in all-time Indian home runs and walks. During his time in Cleveland, the team never finished higher than 3rd. He's famous for hitting the line drive that broke Dizzy Dean's toe in the 1937 All-StarGame. Averill was the first major league player to hit 4 home runs in a doubleheader (with home run in each game) on September 17, 1930; he was also one of the first players to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat (April 16, 1929, opening day). Averill batted .378 in 1936, leading the American League in hits with 232, but finishing 2nd to Luke Appling in the batting race (Appling batted .388 for the White Sox). // During a July 1 incident in 1935, Averill was lighting firecrackers with his four children as part of a pre-4 July celebration. One exploded while he was holding it, and he suffered lacerations on the fingers of his right hand, as well as burns on his face and chest. After several weeks, he made a full recovery. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another day, another themeless decidedly Not in my wheelhouse. Again, not sure what the seed answers are here, though I'm guessing GIRLIE (sic!) GIRLS is one of them (33A: Lovers of all things Barbie, say). I'd have loved that if it had been spelled right. JUNK E-MAIL is called JUNK MAIL, so that didn't go down well either (35A: Filter target). I do like the phrase STRANGE BIRD, so thumbs-up there (36A: Odd one). But other long stuff, like THE TAKING (?) (5D: What leftovers may be for) and REQUIRES OF (54A: Needs from), is often really awkward and clunky, so the entertainment value of the grid is pretty low. NARYA didn't help (46D: ___ one (nobody)). Neither did the obsure AVERILL. I'm trying to imagine putting that in a grid and just can't. Lots of people are in the Hall of Fame. Not all of them are worth having in your grid. This really seems like an autofill suggestion. And what does it get you? Nothing great that I can see. I'm supposed to know Jenna Bush's married name? Maybe this puzzle was for you, but it wasn't for me.

I had "TURN it down!" and entertained "TAKE it down!" before finally hitting on "TONE it down!" That's a trappy trap. "The Gondoliers" nurse? Ugh, no. No. Maleskish opera fuddiduddiness (INEZ). INEZ is my grandmother's name. There's gotta be a better clue. I liked the odd, interesting clue on GENTLER (21A: Like George Bush's promised nation), though it's really half-like said nation, since the phrase was "kinder, GENTLER nation." I think this was about the time he was saying stuff like America should be more like "The Waltons" and less like "The Simpsons." 1992 was neither kind nor gentle to him. [Summer mountain feature] is really just [Mountain feature] with "Summer" thrown in to fool you, although maybe in winter the mountain is totally covered in SNOW and thus can't be said to have a CAP. I dunno. That's some technical weather stuff I'll let the pros work out. Wanted JORDAN at 44A: He was traded between Chicago teams in 1992 (SOSA).

It was only after trying to say "Anxiolytic" out loud that I realized the connection to anxiety (or so I imagined), and thus figured TRANQ (first spelled TRANK) might apply (9D: Anxiolytic, e.g., for short). Expected something slightly more exotic-sounding for [Sichuan cooking ingredient] (CHILI OIL). I know JAN STEEN from many a crossword (35D: Dutch Golden Age painter), and he certainly helped in that SW corner, where TREN (59A: Autobús alternative) and MALE (53A: Like some plugs) could easily have stayed hidden a lot longer. Guessed SERAPE with just the first "E" in place because SERAPE was the crosswordesiest thing I could think of that fit. This helped a lot with ISOPODS, which came easily as a result of that "P" (40D: Wood lice and pill bugs). I admire the clue on MR. T because it didn't help at all (53D: Star of the motivational video "Be Somebody ... or Be Somebody's Fool"), but when I finally solved it I was able to see the "hint" in the clue ("Fool!"), and so had a satisfying little aha moment after all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Old fast food chain whose mascot's head was orange / FRI 9-28-12 / Tank named after French WW II general / Pou basis of operations / Otto goes after it / Musical with song Bui Doi / Moma's Two heads Birds in Aquarium / Eclipse alternative / English boys school founded 948

Friday, September 28, 2012

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: LECLERC (36D: Tank named after a French W.W. II general) —

The AMX-56 Leclerc, commonly known as the Leclerc, is a main battle tank (MBT) built by Nexter of France. It was named in honour of General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque who led the French element of the drive towards Paris while in command of the Free French 2nd Armoured Division (2ème DB) in World War II.
The Leclerc is in service with the French Army and the army of the United Arab Emirates. In production since 1991, the Leclerc entered French service in 1992, replacing the venerable AMX 30 as the country's main armoured platform. With production now complete, the French Army has a total of 406 Leclercs and theUnited Arab Emirates Army has 388. The current price in 2011 is €9.3 million. (wikipedia)
• • •

Yuck. Not my cuppa. NW done in five seconds, while NE alone took well over five minutes, most of it just sitting there staring at not much. Grid is full of old, random, and pretty obscure stuff that I just don't care about. LECLERC? Is that famous as a general, a tank, or neither? CIARDI?! (43D: John who wrote the textbook "How Does a Poem Mean?") I knew that, because I was a medievalist and I know him as a translator of Dante, but that guy is just Not common knowledge. NEDICK'S!?! (14D: Old fast-food chain whose mascot's head was an orange)?! If you lived in NYC before 1980, no doubt a total gimme. Otherwise, massive WTF? I've seen it once before, and it stumped me then, so this time ... still stumped me, but somehow that initial "N" eventually floated into my mind. If it hadn't, the NE still wouldn't be done. That "N" let me see "MISS SAIGON," which I had no hope of getting otherwise (never saw it, don't recognize the song in the clue) (5A: Musical with the song "Bui Doi").

Still don't really understand 13D: Draw for an inside straight, say (ONE CARD). So ... I draw ... ONE CARD ... when I draw ... for an inside straight. Because I have a three, four, six, and seven in my hand? But I could draw ONE CARD ... in many situations ... card wise. An outside straight situation, for instance. I just don't see the firm connection between clue and answer. Couldn't tell if clue was verb or noun or what. ONE CARD is just bad fill to begin with. Like TWO DOGS or THREE PENNIES or something. Thought ILA was ILO (both bad, both labor-related) (11D: Pier grp.). GOT IT ON doesn't say [Began brawling] to me. It says [Brawled]. What's this "began" stuff? I see the wants-to-be-cute river-relatedness of the AARE clue now, but not while solving (10D: Swiss banks may be affiliated with it). Had SETTE as SIETE because foreign numbers, whatever (9D: Otto goes after it). Never heard of [Hyperhidrotic] and so no hope for SWEATY. DOTE doesn't mean [Be feeble-minded] to me, except in some retrospective, dictionary-esque way, as it slowly dawns on me that it's probably connected to "dotage." IRE was ADO (6D: Madness). MAPS could've been anything (5D: Hikers' helpers). That corner was a bleeping disaster. And not a rewarding one.

VUVUZELA feels like a clue that would've been timely back when that ... instrument? ... was in the news, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (38A: Stadium ear piercer). Now it just seems dated. I know the VUVUZELA still exists, but the puzzle reeks of 2010 because of that clue. Most (non-soccer-fan) people, if they've heard of that word, heard it in the summer of 2010 and then never again. I assume it was a seed word for this puzzle, and that this puzzle was in fact made in the summer of 2010 or shortly thereafter. I can't really imagine what the other seed answers were, except perhaps SENSORY OVERLOAD (which is a nice grid-spanner) (7D: Potential downside of the information age). I don't see much here that I'd deliberately put into my grid, and in a themeless I expect at least half a dozen nice medium-to-long answers. Don't see many that would qualify here.

A "rib" clue on CORDUROY could've been cute, but this one is just awkward, and not playing on any phrase I know (30A: What shows its ribs?). St. ALBAN'S? Hmmm, rang enough of a bell that I got it, but blah (35A: St. ___ (English boys' school founded in 948)). I guess the Mitsubishi (had to look that up) Eclipse is a sporty car ... and a MIATA is also sporty? So that's the rationale there (47A: Eclipse alternative). Thought [Atlantic follower, in Monopoly] was VERMONT. It wasn't (VENTNOR). The only thing I liked about ARPS was that I got it easily (28D: MoMA's "Two Heads" and "Birds in an Aquarium"). And ugh, STO is the Worst (well, it's not as bad as POU, which I have also seen in puzzles, but it's pretty damned bad–"Pou STO" is really the bottom of the crosswordese barrel; avoid at all costs).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Movement founded by Yasser Arafat / THU 9-27-12 / Part of metaphorical ladder / Batman villain in cryogenic suit / Classic 1740 romance subtitled Virtue Rewarded / Speechwriter Read My Lips No New Taxes / Classical musician whose career has had its ups and downs

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: ON/OFF SWITCH (56A: Toggle ... or a hint to 18-, 29- and 45-Across) — OFF and ON are switched in familiar phrases, creating ... well, gibberish

Word of the Day: AL FATAH (7D: Movement founded by Yasser Arafat) —
Fataḥ (Arabicفتح‎ Fatḥ) (also known as FatehLevantine Arabic: [ˈfateħ]) is a majorPalestinian political party and the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization(PLO), a multi-party confederation. Though it is on the left wing of Palestinian politics, its character is primarily nationalist rather than social democratic. (wikipedia)
• • •

I liked the idea of the puzzle more than I liked the results. You've got a great revealer, and it's applied literally to the base phrases in the theme answers, so, you know, it works. But gibberish is gibberish. Never been a big fan of gibberish in my grid. I really wish FROFFT ON ICE meant something, but it doesn't. Also not thrilled by the fact that some of the ONs and OFFs are self-standing words, and some are just letter strings from inside other words. Actually, it's about 50/50 on that count (neither ON/OFF is self-standing in first theme answer, both of them are in the second, half of them are in the third). Feels ragged. Clever, tough to suss out, but ragged. Then there's the grid, which is mostly nice—largely clean, full of interesting answers and original clues. I got crushed in the NW, where I could not see ON PAROLE at all (2D: Out, in a way), and had no idea about JOB (1A: Part of a metaphorical ladder) or (esp.) JUG (!?) (1D: ___-eared). So I just stared at this little patch of empty space and had no idea what to do with it. Wasn't even that sure about UNA. Hard and unrewarding (JUG-eared is a thing I guess I've heard of, but ... not fond of that clue at all). Then there was TEBOW. I had all the middle letters and still had no idea. Getting TEBOW was possibly the worst thing about this solve. Took me forever to get it, and when I got it, I was repulsed. I mean, of course it's TEBOW, but talk about not deserving it. Ugh. UGH. So many great, deserving athletes in America and the most popular is ... that guy. I'm sure he's nice. That's what I hear. But struggling like crazy to get an answer that you find ridiculous is not pleasant. I literally groaned when I got that one. "Silly me, I was thinking of athletes who have had some professional success, won titles, etc." In other news, Romney thinks Jack Nicklaus was the "greatest athlete of the 20th century." Smh.

IN A WAY (65A: To some extent) is IN A CLUE (see 2D), so ... that probably shouldn't happen.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Sports team management group (FROFFT ONICE)
  • 29A: Digress (GO ON OFF A TANGENT)
  • 45A: What a mayor wins, usually (ON-YEAR ELECTIOFF)
First real success with this grid was nailing FRONT OFFICE, which of course was only partially nailing FRONT OFFICE, which of course was pretty meaningless in the end. Not really familiar with either CHROMA (8A: Color classification quality) or MACRON (12D: Diacritical mark), and given that two of the other longish answers in that NE corner were nearly unclued cross-references, I'm a little surprised I didn't have more trouble up there. Side note: CAT YEARS is baloney as a thing a vet would calculate, and possibly as a thing in general (8D: Age calculation at a vet clinic). DOG YEARS, sure. CAT YEARS???? What self-respecting vet talks in CAT YEARS? I have had a cat for 17 actual years and no vet has ever said "oh, he's 119 in CAT YEARS." Dear lord. CAT YEARS don't exist. Next you'll be telling me there are FERRET YEARS. Come on, man.

RON Swanson is my hero, and one of the few outright gimmes I had today (10D: ___ Swanson, "Parks and Recreation" boss). See also MR. FREEZE (38D: "Batman" villain in a cryogenic suit) and SCOTSMAN (37D: Arthur Conan Doyle, e.g.). The little bit of trouble I had in the SW would've been a whole lotta trouble if I hadn't had friends who were 18th-century literature specialists, through whom I know of the existence of "PAMELA" (62A: Classic 1740 romance subtitled "Virtue Rewarded"). Kind of a mean clue on NOONAN (46D: Speechwriter who coined the phrase "Read my lips: no new taxes"); I mean, that phrase was a millstone in the '92 election. I see where the YO-YO MA clue is going with the up/down YO-YO thing (47D: Classical musician whose career has had its ups and downs?), but don't like it, primarily because it has zero relation to the cellist's actual career or music (though I guess one could think of notes on a scale as going up and down ... nope, still don't like it).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Happy 9th anniversary to my wife, Sandy.
P.P.S. Happy belated birthday to this blog (9/25). Six. Years. Wow. Really? That's like ... 93 in CAT YEARS.


Pigskin stitching / WED 9-26-12 / Morgantown's locale / Curiosity's launcher / Country mentioned in Sinatra's Come Fly with Me / Scored in 80s / Online honcho

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: FIELD / GOALS (35A: With 37-Across, events described by 23-/44-Across)— featuring the phrase "THE KICK IS UP / AND IT IS GOOD!"—a reasonably common football ANNOUNCER phrase. FIELD GOALS are always taken from within the HASHMARKS on either side of the field, with the position depending on where the prior play ended.

Word of the Day: HASHMARKS (32D: They appear at one-yard intervals) —
hash mark
1. A service stripe on the sleeve of an enlisted person's uniform.
2. Football A mark in either of two series placed on the field perpendicular to the yard lines and used for spotting the ball. (
• • •

Fell asleep *very* early last night, so didn't get to the puzzle til *very* early this morning (i.e. a few minutes ago, around 5:30am). I made the mistake of checking Facebook first, where my constructor friends were already ragging on this puzzle. So I did not have high hopes going in. Nor did I have a terribly high opinion of the puzzle going out, but I clearly didn't dislike it as much as my friends. Circles shmircles, I always say, but these work OK. An ANNOUNCER will indeed say the phrase "THE KICK IS UP / AND IT IS GOOD"; I think I've heard the contraction "IT'S" more often than "IT IS," but that's hardly a disqualification. Circled letters spell "football" and are form a reasonable visual approximation thereof. FIELD GOALS are taken within the HASHMARKS ... seems pretty tight, for what it is. I will never understand the clue on XXX, which isn't accurate in any way. That *must* have been changed. The original clue *must* have referenced PORNO (51A: Flick not shown on network TV), first because that's such a perfect opportunity for cross-referencing, and second because, well, the clue is literally nonsensical. As you can see from the picture, [Pigskin stitching] has zero in common with XXX. But if you just leave it alone, and don't call attention to it, no one's going to question what the Xs are. They're clearly meant to represent the stitches. Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, NOT close enough for a specific clue.

One last weird thing with the theme. GLADIATORS (9D: Lions' foes) looks like a theme answer—football players are certainly referred to using this kind of high-falutin' language all the time. But while football players may be called GLADIATORS in some contexts, rarely are they also called OIL PAINTERs (26D: Manet or Monet). So I'll just consider GLADIATORS an unintentional "bonus" theme answer and not worry too much about the symmetry issues there.

I have no idea how SOLIDS works for 43D: Pool side. None. But again, it's early, my brain may just not be completely warm yet. Oh ... stripes and SOLIDS. OK. Brain's back online now.

Love the clue on SLASH (43A: One of two on a short date?). Really had to focus on it because of my problem understanding SOLIDS (the first "S" cross on SLASH). I'll be grading my first sets of papers next week, so the Strunk & White dictum feels relevant (56A: Adhering to Strunk and White's advice "Omit needless words"). First papers tend to be loaded with air—like when you open a big potato chip bag and there's really only about two fistfuls of potato chips in here, and most of those are broken, and kind of greasy, and you know you really shouldn't be eating this *&$% 'cause it's not good but somehow you are compelled. Like that. I've never seen/heard of SYSOPs outside of crosswords, but I am confident that they exist (12D: Online honcho). I thought that an APE was [Probably not Mr. Right]. I stand by that thought, even though it was not helpful here. I recently watched a movie called "Making Mr. Right" with John Malkovich as both a scientist and an android. It wasn't that great, except for the parts with Laurie Metcalf and Glenne Headly, both of whom I adore. Hey, Headly was married to Malkovich during making of "Making Mr. Right." Trivia! Speaking of the '80s. I had no idea what to do with [Scored in the 80s] at first (GOT A B). I tried thinking of specifically '80s sex slang, but no dice.

Only part of "Come Fly With Me" I can remember is the title and the subsequent "let's fly away!" so I'll let Frank play us out. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Reggae artist Paul / TUE 9-25-12 / Fungus that affects cereal / Game piece on Stratego board / Miserly Marner / 1999 Frank McCourt memoir

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: NESSIE — circled squares (or gray squares, depending on your solving medium) spell out "NESSIE" and appear to represent, in their layout, the figure of the LOCH NESS MONSTER (38A: Subject of this puzzle) as depicted in the famous "SURGEON'S PHOTO" (20A: Supposed evidence of the 38-Across); NESSIE, like Sasquatch and the yeti, is a subject of interest in the field of CRYPTOZOOLOGY (51A: Field of study that includes the 38-Across). Some think NESSIE is REAL. Most (I assume) think FAKE (66 or 67A: What some consider the 38-Across to be)

Word of the Day: DOWSE (50D: Search for water, in a way) —
intr.v., dowsed, also doused, dows·ing, dous·ing, dows·es, dous·es.
To use a divining rod to search for underground water or minerals.

[Origin unknown.]

Read more:
• • •

First thought: "Oooh, a grid with a tiny chimney. How adorable!"  Next thought: "Six highly disconnected gray squares? Oh, this can't be good." In the end, it was just a fairly straightforward LOCH NESS MONSTER puzzle with the added little bit of visual interest in the grid's attempt to approximate the famous Nessie photo. I've looked at the photo. I've looked at the grid. The likeness ... isn't great. Therefore the gimmick feels a little forced. But the head-peeking-above-water bit, with the extra square up top, is a nice flourish, and the grid is reasonably clean, so my overall feelings about this one end up somewhat on the positive side.

Took me Forever to get that first theme answer: SURGEON'S PHOTO. It is really, really hard to parse when you have no idea what the context is. "A SURGE ... OF? ... something?" Also had a lot of trouble seeing BAR GRAPH (4D: Chart in many a PowerPoint presentation), even with BAR- solidly in place. But since it's an early-week puzzle, I didn't spend a lot of time struggling (the earlier in the week it is, the less time I spend trying to get unstuck before moving on). I just jumped to the next section over and restarted there, and that sent me off like a shot. Would've gotten held up at ERGOT, except ERGOT is my old friend ("Hello ERGOT my old friend ...") (32A: Fungus that affects cereal)—it absolutely wrecked one of my grids many years back, so I've never forgotten it. Not that it's good fill; it isn't. Neither is the plural D'OHS. I love Homer, but that's an ugly plural.

I can see how this might've played somewhat tougher than your typical Tuesday puzzle (though my time was only a few seconds off of normal). Leaving ERGOT aside, there are several clues requiring rather specific knowledge of niche cultural categories, like board games (SCOUT) (24A: Game piece on a Stratego board), reggae (SEAN) (6D: Reggae artist ___ Paul), and olympic swimming (THORPE) (27D: 2000 and 2004 swimming gold medalist Ian). To make up for this, there are a bunch of literary gimmes: SINCLAIR (40D: Upton who wrote "Oil!") and SILAS (26D: Miserly Marner) and 'TIS (29A: 1999 Frank McCourt memoir), to name three. Speaking of literature—you should get Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton and read it now. It is a gripping and moving and inspiring account of his life in the wake of the publication of "The Satanic Verses" (1988). Like most memoirs, it is no doubt in some ways self-serving, but the occasionally righteous tone seems fitting, understandable, justified. Plus (and it's a Big plus): dude can write.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Daydreamer encountered by Odysseus / MON 9-24-12 / Old home for Mr. Met / Mel Torme's nickname / Ex-Yankee All-Star Martinez / Muzzle-loading tool / Perpendicular to keel

Monday, September 24, 2012

Constructor: John Dunn

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: VAPOR TRAILS (59A: What airplanes leave in the sky ... or what 17-, 23-, 37- and 48-Across have?) — theme answers end with synonyms for "vapor"
  • PICK UP STEAM (17A: Gather momentum)
  • THE VELVET FOG (23A: Mel Tormé's nickname)
  • "GET OFF OF MY CLOUD" (37A: Rolling Stones hit whose title follows the words "Hey you")
  • STEP ON THE GAS (48A: "Hurry up!")

Word of the Day: POLITY (26A: System of government) —
n., pl., -ties.
  1. The form of government of a nation, state, church, or organization.
  2. An organized society, such as a nation, having a specific form of government: "His alien philosophy found no roots in the American polity" (New York Times).
[Obsolete French politie, from Old French, from Late Latin polītīa, the Roman government. See police.]

Read more:
• • •

Mostly very easy, which is no surprise on a Monday. I had to solve on the applet at the Times' site because (once again) the link to download the puzzle was broken at the time the puzzle was supposed to come out. This happens with a surprising amount of frequency, and should be embarrassing to an organization charging so much of its puzzle (compared to any other outlet) while continuing to pay constructors so little (in relation to the money that's ultimately made off their work). But I got my puzzle eventually, so it's not like they killed my dog or anything, so I'll stop complaining about their incompetence now. The puzzle is a very straightforward "last words"-type puzzle, with an interesting revealer, which was surely the inspiration for the whole puzzle. The only wonky thing about the answers is that all the vapors are well and truly vapors (however metaphorically employed) *except* gas, which, in the answer STEP ON THE GAS, is a liquid, not a vapor. No big deal. Just an anomaly.

Got slightly stuck in the mud a couple of times right at the beginning. CASINO wasn't an instant gimme for me, so I had to work crosses, and even when I got CASINO, I had all kinds of trouble seeing NAUGHT (5D: Nothing). I needed 3 or 4 letters before the answer became evident (I was secretly happy to see my wife have the same problem later in the evening). The word POLITY was somewhat unexpected on a Monday, and I didn't trust that it was right at first. Tried to confirm the "P" but nothing seemed to fit for 26D: One of 15, 490 in the first edition of the O.E.D., first because I figured the answer was some form of "definition" (even though that number is, in retrospect, very low for "definition" to fit), and second because I figured the answer was an abbrev. (O.E.D. in the clue seemed to signal that). PAGE is obvious in retrospect, but not so much as I was solving (very quickly). But once I got off the west coast of this puzzle, every answer went down pretty much as quickly as I could read the clues, and so my time was still pretty swift, even for a Monday.

  • 54A: Perpendicular to the keel (ABEAM) — the A-BEAM's connected to the ... H-BOMB, the H-BOMB's connected to the ...
  • 23D: Ex-Yankee All-Star Martinez (TINO) — my first instinct is *always* TITO. It just seems more ... namelike than TINO.
  • 28D: Daydreamer encountered by Odysseus (LOTUS-EATER) — they're usually plural.
  • 47D: Muzzle-loading tool (RAMROD) — "Tool" made me laugh. Really wanted answer to be "Revolutionary War reenactor."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


2001-02 Nickelodeon sitcom / SUN 9-23-12 / Soviet author Ehrenburg / Onetime Time competitor / 1965 title role for Ursula Andress / Dweller along Volga / Actress Martha who played Sinatra's love interest in Some Came Running / Most excellent modern slang

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Breath-Taking" — dedicated to ELIZA / DOOLITTLE (28A: With 78-Down, character commemorated in the answers to this puzzle's starred clues). Clues are for wacky phrases that contain words that start with "H"—in the grid, a la Eliza's pre-tutored speaking style, the "H" is dropped, and the result is ... just a familiar phrase.

Word of the Day: ENOUNCE (20A: Set forth) —
tr.v., e·nounced, e·nounc·ing, e·nounc·es.
  1. To declare formally; state.
  2. To pronounce clearly; enunciate.

Read more:
• • •

There is the germ of a clever idea here. But wackiness is always a mildly dicey proposition to start with (gotta be done really well if it's done at all), and here, it's not even on paper—just in your head. So most of the time you end up figuring out familiar phrases, mostly from crosses, and then backtracking to what the wacky H-containing phrase must've been. And your grid is not wacky. And in fact, outside the theme answers (which seem to have no relationship to one another), the grid is in fact mostly dull, occasionally painful. The theme is very dense, so I understand that the fill is going to be a bit boxed in, maybe a bit compromised or limited here or there. But this grid has literally NO interesting answers outside the theme answers, and mostly it feels as if it was filled either by machine or (related) someone to whom all words are roughly equal in interest and quality, so a valid answer is a valid answer. One INRE = one ERSE = one ROIL = any four-letter word. No sense of craft or discrimination. Take virtually Everything on a diagonal from ANET down to HYER (89D: Actress Martha who played Sinatra's love interest in "Some Came Running"). There's just so much rot. And I thought I hated ALIENEE more than any word that length—and then I met ENOUNCE. You'd have to hold a gun to my head to get me to let that thing into my grid. There's just a [shrug] "sure, whatever" attitude in the fill. "Well ... it's a word. Good enough—next!" It's dispiriting. When corners are hard, you want the work to be worth it. When the payoff involves ENOUNCE and/or ALIENEE, then you are left feeling badly ripped off.

Theme answers:
  • 24A: *Male pattern baldness? (AIRLINE TRAVEL)
  • 32A: *Baying? (NIGHT OWLS)
  • 51A: *Cardiologist's concern? (STATE OF THE ART)
  • 67A: *Caries? (ARM TO THE TEETH)
  • 83A: *Marriage in 2004, divorce in 2011? (SEVEN-YEAR ITCH)
  • 102A: *Conduct classes? (OLD SCHOOL)
  • 113A: *Petrified wood? (FOREST OF ARDEN) — this doesn't make sense in wacky mode (the Forest of Harden!?!?), so boo.
  • 14D: *Stable hands? (ALTAR BOYS)
  • 3D: *Endless bagpipe tune? (LONG ISLAND SOUND)
  • 48D: *Gold-plated forceps? (EYEBROW TWEEZERS)
  • 13A: Most excellent, in modern slang (BADDEST) — Hmm. Stretching the meaning of "modern" pretty thin here. In related news, Michael Jackson's "Bad" just celebrated its 25th anniversary (Aug. 31).
  • 75A: Occupants of the lowest circle of Dante's hell (TRAITORS) — I like to keep about half a dozen copies of "Inferno" on hand at all times, 'cause ... you never know.

  • 91A: Inventor after whom a Yale residential college is named (MORSE) — Because there aren't enough Yale-oriented clues in the world. Insane clue for a very familiar answer. See also the clue on JUNEAU (95D: Gold prospector Joe with a state capital named after him).
  • 93A: Soviet author Ehrenburg (ILYA) — oh, sure, who could forget ... that thing ... he wrote.  
  • 8D: Kellogg offering, briefly (MBA) — so, some university's b-school is named "Kellogg" ... aha, Northwestern. I did not know that. My only associations with Kellogg are cereal-related. Or basketball analyst-related.
  • 39D: French composer of "Vexations" (SATIE) — no one really expects you to know what he composed (though I recommend "Gymnopédies"). You just need to know French composer, 5 letters, boom: SATIE (maybe someone else too, but I'd try SATIE first).
  • 43A: Extinct emu-like birds (MOAS) — in the plural. You don't see that too often. I only wish "emu-like" could've been in the grid instead of just the clues.
  • 50D: Onetime Time competitor, briefly (US NEWS) — ... and World Report. It seems to still exist in some form—online, and as a ranker of colleges and universities. I guess it just isn't in Time's league any more?
  • 64D: 1965 title role for Ursula Andress (SHE) — I know the H. Rider Haggard novel. With the answer at three letters, I just made an educated guess here.
  • 70D: Dweller along the Volga (TATAR) — Oddly easy. Had the "T" and just thought "what's the crosswordesiest thing I can think of?"
  • 76D: 2001-02 Nickelodeon sitcom ("TAINA") — the biggest "WTF!?" of the day, by far. Never heard of it, which is stunning given its longevity and lasting cultural resonance.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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