Medieval merchants guild / SAT 11-30-13 / Accent for plus fours often / Tarte French apple dessert / Literary wife in Midnight in Paris / Recognition not sought by Benjamin Franklin / Second baseman in both of Dodgers' 1980s World Series / Relative of aloha shalom

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Constructor: Byron Walden and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HANSA (45D: Medieval merchants' guild) —
:  a league originally constituted of merchants of various free German cities dealing abroad in the medieval period and later of the cities themselves and organized to secure greater safety and privileges in trading
:  a medieval merchant guild or trading association (
• • •

Wow, I was off my game and/or this was tough. NW and SE were reasonably tractable, but the SW and *especially* the NE just broke me. In the NE, I had the lower halves of *all* the Downs and still couldn't get any of them. Some kind of MIND. Some kind of -ANCE. Some kind of -ERED. Some kind of -NDER. Even after getting (guessing) ACT TWO (24A: Setting for many reprises), I still got only ALLOWANCE. Then crossed it with LILO (16A: Disney title character surnamed Pelekai). Then sat some more. BOY WONDER still doesn't make much sense to me—he's an [early riser] because he "rises" through the ranks at a young age? Because the BOY WONDER is Robin and a robin is a bird who rises early (this is not correct, but it's the first thing I thought of). Anyway, only after inferring BOY WONDER from -O--ONDER did I get the rest. SHOW, UGLY, CRAB, all basic words, all totally hidden from me by the clues.

SW was a bit easier but a lot messier (and I *knew* STEVE SAX) (38A: Second baseman in both of the Dodgers' 1980s World Series). Had GAVE A DAMN and DARN before HOOT. NEED before HATH (was thinking "Watson, some here, I NEED you."). NEED was a huge killer, because I wanted INTER ALIA but kept refusing to enter it because NEED seemed right (and, oh, by the way, fit with both DAMN and DARN). Gah. After my frustration waned, I looked at the grid, and I think it's really nice, for the most part. I will say I hate TATIN (what on god's green earth!?) (3D: Tarte ___ (French apple dessert)) and HANSA (I have a Ph.D. in medieval literature and don't know this term) and, to a lesser extent, BIOGAS. But the rest is overwhelmingly solid, and there are many nice longer answers. What are "plus fours"? Brad just has a much, much bigger vocabulary / knowledge of music/opera than I do, so sometimes I Really struggle with his stuff. Anyway, back to "plus fours" [looking them up …] ah, knickerbockers. Short pants, four inches below the knee. And apparently you wear them with a single ARGYLE SOCK. Jaunty (61A: Accent for plus fours, often).

SGT. SCHULTZ (from "Hogan's Heroes") is a nice answer (1A: 1960s sitcom character with the catchphrase "I see nothing!"). I could hear only Maxwell Smart and (for some reason) Gene Wilder in my head when I saw the phrase "I see nothing!" Weird. I very, very briefly entertained Fred ETHEL MERTZ (the -TZ being all I had at first). But that was a '50s sitcom. What else did I botch? Ooh, RECKONS for LOOKS AT ("K" in the same place, both answers). BEERY for SUDSY (let me tell you, SUDSY looks real good when you've had BEERY in there for a bit). DATA for TROI (quickly fixed once I got ZELDA—the sole gimme I encountered early on) (10D: Literary wife in "Midnight in Paris"). I think that's it. It was a maddening toughie (for me), but nicely built.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Hartmann of talk radio / FRI 11-29-13 / Tod's sidekick on Route 66 / One shot in cliffhanger / Ray Charles's Georgia birthplace / Home to Bar-Ilan univ / Her last film was High Society

Friday, November 29, 2013

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: JEWISH RYE (33A: What corned beef is often served on) —
… so-called "Jewish rye" is further seasoned with whole caraway seeds and glazed with an egg wash, and is traditionally associated with salted meats such as corned beefpastrami, and (outside kosher circles) ham. (wikipedia)
• • •

Adequate. On themeless days, I'm interested not only in the overall quality of the fill (today, a bit below-average, esp. for a relatively easy-to-fill 72-worder), but in the quality of the seed answers (the marquee answers that, presumably, you start building your grid with). I like MINT JELLY fine, but I don't really see any of the rest as wonderful seed answers. Just answers. Maybe JEWISH RYE resonated with people. I'd never heard of it. I thought "RYE" and then couldn't figure out what that first word was for a while. So maybe that's also a seed answer. Still. The structure of this grid is kind of annoying. Highly segmented, and then the segments mostly contain short, uninteresting answers, as well as junk you just shouldn't see in a high-word-count themeless. ACTA. ALAR. REORG. EAP. DIAN. SENAT. USOC. ALTA. A pile of abbrevs. I guarantee you that the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" tomorrow just crushes this puzzle in terms of both challenge and overall interest level. This puzzle is just OK.

Thought it was going to be a breeze (PUDDY TAT = gimme, and all the NW and W went fast from there), but I had trouble in the middle and SW, due almost entirely to PENALTY (toughly clued as 35D: 10 or 15 yards, say) and EAP (ugh) (42A: "Eldorado" initials), which I had as ELO (did they not have an album called "Eldorado" … oh, damn, that was "Ole Ole" … never mind). Should've gotten JULEP easily, but not knowing JEWISH and having ELO meant JULEP stayed hidden a while. Also had a lot of trouble coming up with NEWSY (22D: Like many holiday letters). Easy again in the NE, but slightly troublesome in the SE—actually, just getting into the SE was troublesome because I had SHYEST for COYEST (41A: Least brazen). Managed to work backward from ASU (gimme) / ALTA / USOC (yes, the junk saved me—doesn't mean I have to like it), and finished up with the "B" in BEENE (43D: Designer Geoffrey).

That is all. Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgivings. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. AFIRST is always terrible please never use it ever kthxbye.


Little Bighorn conflict / THU 11-28-13 / Horror film director Alexandre / Canadian-born comedian once featured on cover of Time / Mother of Nike in myth / Anti-apartheid activist Steve / Joe Louis to fans /

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Constructor: Loren Muse Smith and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "SNAKES ON A PLANE" (61A: Cult classic whose title is depicted four times in this puzzle) — ASP appears on top of different kinds of PLANEs in the grid. What kinds of planes? Well, a BOMBER, a GLIDER, and a JET (also, the PLANE of the theme answer):

Theme answers:
  • 15A: Joe Louis, to fans (THE BROWN BOMBER)
  • 34A: One interested in current affairs? (HANG GLIDER)
  • 42A: Gang Green member (NEW YORK JET)
Word of the Day: Alexandre AJA (40D: Horror film director Alexandre ___) —
Alexandre Aja (born 7 August 1977) is a French film director who rose to international stardom for his 2003 horror filmHaute Tension (known as High Tension in the US, and known as Switchblade Romance in the UK). He has also directed the horror films The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Mirrors (2008) and Piranha 3D (2010). (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed feelings here, though this is definitely a step up from T and W. The theme type is one that is invisible until the end, so the feel when solving is kind of blah. Straightforward (except that clue on HANG GLIDER, which is clever, but I hate when just one theme answer has a "?" clue—all or none; feels weird otherwise). There's basically no theme, not even an appearance of one, until the revealer. When this is the case, the reveal has to be great. Today, it's OK. Maybe good. Different snakes would've been great. Just ASP = less so. Fact that ASP is itself crosswordese doesn't help me love it. But I will say that this is a cute use of the movie title. "Cult classic" is a massive stretch. I've never heard it called that, and do not believe that anyone ever actually still watches this film. But it is a movie with some fame and some campy currency, so it's certainly revealer-worthy (fun fact: my friend Christa Faust wrote the novelization of "SNAKES ON A PLANE").

[PROFANITY ALERT—if easily offended, just don't press "Play"]

There's still far too much crud in the fill. This is largely by design—not that the plan was to glut the grid with crosswordese, just that when you make a grid like this, with such a preponderance of 3-to-5-letter stuff, and when you try so desperately to Scrabble up your grid, well, there will be blood. Won't list it all, but the ISPS / RIAA / IRR is ugly and AMS / ASSNS isn't making any friends either, and for this we had to (again) have cheater squares?* You probably noticed that the grid is a weird shape: 14x16 (on account of the revealer's length). About this, I have no opinion.

Found the puzzle very hard. At times, it felt like the puzzle was trying too hard to make things tough. You've got a Tue-Wed.-looking grid, and you're having to Thursday it up. So solvers have to struggle to get rather unremarkable results. Not a satisfying feeling. AJA is crosswordese. Cluing it via some horror director doesn't change that. Whole western part of the grid was brutal to me, largely because both CALYX and SIOUX WAR were big ???s. Had CAL- and S-OU--A-. I own an iPhone and SYNC didn't click for me. SPAWN could've been SCION. Or a host of other things. Rough. SIOUX WAR is a lovely answer, though. I wouldn't call anything else "lovely," but neither would I call the fill, in the main, any worse than average. In fact, average is about right. Xs are nice, but the ESPY EEW ENYA stuff kind of negates whatever glory is gained by those Xs.

[Again, PROFANITY ALERT—avoid "Play," avoid complaining]

Gotta run. Expecting my friend and fellow (much superior) speed-solver Katie Hamill and her daughter *any* second now. They have had a day-long bus odyssey/ordeal, so I have to prepare the bourbon.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    *black squares that do not add to word count but make puzzle (often much) easier to fill (here, the black square next to the "8" square and before the "70" square)


    Noodles in Japanese cookery / WED 11-27-13 / Lisa with 1997 hit I Do / Brand from Holland / Old ragtime dance / Many aria singer informally

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Constructor: Jules P. Markey

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: THANKSGIVING DAY (39A: Setting for the starts of 17-, 24-, 51- and 64-Across) — opening words in familiar two-word phrases are parts of a THANKSGIVING DAY meal:

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: Source of easy money (GRAVY TRAIN)
    • 24A: One of a pair in a court (SQUASH RACKET)
    • 51A: Locale for a big mirror (DRESSING ROOM)
    • 64A: Old ragtime dance (TURKEY TROT)

    Word of the Day: SOBA (58A: Noodles in Japanese cookery) —
    Soba (そば or 蕎麦?) is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It is synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheatflour, and in Japan can refer to any thin noodle (unlike thick wheat noodles, known as udon). Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. It takes three months for buckwheat to be ready for harvest, so it can be harvested four times a year, mainly in spring, summer, and autumn. In Japan, buckwheat is produced mainly inHokkaido. Soba that is made with newly harvested buckwheat is called "shin-soba". It is sweeter and more flavorful than regular soba. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Let's start with the fact that it is not, in fact, THANKSGIVING DAY. Minor consideration, perhaps, but I'm gonna start there anyway. Not the puzzle's fault it got placed on a Wednesday. Only … no, wait it *is* the puzzle's fault. Since THANKSGIVING DAY is always on Thursday, you need to develop a Thursday-worthy theme if you want to do a THANKSGIVING DAY puzzle. This is a Monday theme at best. This puzzle should've been rejected on the basis of non-Thursdayness alone, but let's move on. Whose THANKSGIVING DAY meal consists of only turkey (w/ gravy and dressing) and squash? Squash? I've literally never had squash at a THANKSGIVING DAY meal. I am sure someone has. I recognize that it is a food associated with autumn. But a. it's not iconic enough to be part of a THANKSGIVING DAY meal, and b. Where Are The Other, Actually Iconic THANKSGIVING DAY Foods? Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce … I don't know, something! This is a rather incomplete meal I'm being offered here. Then there's the fact that this theme ("first words") is old as the hills and needs to Really snap in order not to feel musty. Then there's the fill, which is dire, and you know that. I'm not making up reasons to complain here. These are all obvious problems. No pro puts ETTE EROS and ESE all in the same damn small corner. I guarantee you this grid was created without constructing software. It's a very small investment to keep help you keep your fill from looking like dated crap. Don't be afraid of databases. You can over-rely on them—they are no substitute for good judgment—but they do help keep things clean. Gah! NEOS BIOTA OTOS ISH OVI AGA ALA ACRO ASHY ENERO ESL etc. … this is Not a hard grid to fill. 76 words. And you needed 2 cheater squares*? Man alive.

    Did this faster than I did yesterday's. Would've been very close to 3 minutes flat had I not gotten royally turned around in the NE, where BUICK SEDAN (really? are we just accepting [any make] SEDAN now?) just would not come (10D: LaCrosse, for one). Needed almost every cross before I saw it. Also just blanked on 16A: Word before income or exhaust (DUAL), even after I had D-AL. Got mildly slippery in the LOOIES section of the grid, but otherwise it was mostly fill-in-the-blank-and-try-not-to-wince. SE corner is borderline if not out-and-out Scrabble-f***ing. MEZZO is not that great a "word" in the first place, and if it forces us to endure YMA and ALOOP, just for the sake of two "Z"s, I have to question its value.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    *black squares that do not add to word count but make puzzle (often much) easier to fill (here, the black square next to the "8" square and before the "70" square)


    Imager of the earth's surface / TUE 11-26-13 / Transitional zone between plant communities / Modern home of ancient Zapotec civilization / Extinct ostrichlike bird / Hawaii five-o nickname / Friend of Porky Spanky

    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    Constructor: Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging 

    THEME: TRADEMARKS (62A: Intellectual property protection … or what the starts of 17-, 21-, 39- and 57-Across once were) — just what it says

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: Hiker's snack (GRANOLA BAR) — these are such a popular, everyday food that I hardly think of them as having any association with hikers. Gorp is super hikery. Kids have GRANOLA BARs in their lunch boxes. 
    • 21A: What's being discussed in the National Enquirer or Globe (TABLOID BUZZ) —ugh (see below)
    • 39A: Provision in many a construction contract (ESCALATOR CLAUSE) — no idea what this is. Sounds vaguely familiar. Very vaguely.
    • 57A: Poor weight-loss practice (YO-YO DIETING) — far and away the best answer in this grid. 

    Word of the Day: LANDSAT (18D: Imager of the earth's surface) —
    The Landsat program is the longest running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth. On July 23, 1972 the Earth Resources Technology Satellite was launched. This was eventually renamed to Landsat. The most recent, Landsat 8, was launched on February 11, 2013. The instruments on the Landsat satellites have acquired millions of images. The images, archived in the United States and at Landsat receiving stations around the world, are a unique resource for global change research and applications in agriculturecartography,geologyforestryregional planningsurveillance and education. Landsat 7 data has eight spectral bands withspatial resolutions ranging from 15 to 60 meters; the temporal resolution is 16 days. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I feel sorry for this puzzle. A little sorry, anyway. It looks much worse than it probably is by contrast with yesterday's wonderful effort. The theme here is painfully straightforward. I don't care at all that the first words of these phrase used to be TRADEMARKS. That is a fact, not a revealer. There's no playfulness, no real revelation. Nothing. Also, there's not consistency. Usually with this type of theme, you use the theme words in non-theme contexts—see for example YO-YO DIETING and ESCALATOR CLAUSE, where the initial words don't refer to the same thing referred to by the revealer (i.e. words are used metaphorically in the theme answers). But with the other two theme answers, those initial words are simply literal. GRANOLA BARs are made from granola. No metaphor. No change of context. Just … granola. So, the theme is a snore, and an inconsistent one at that. Further, TABLOID BUZZ is decidedly not a thing. Not a phrase. It googles so terribly that I can't believe it passed editorial scrutiny. Put it in quotation marks and google it. 9,000. That is a godawful number. By contrast, RESTAURANT BUZZ yields over 25,000 hits, and that is *definitely* not a coherent, self-standing phrase. TABLOID FARE gets you 16,300. Also terrible, but as you can see, less terrible (viability-wise) than BUZZ. Your Zs are worthless when they are forced like this.

    Never heard of LANDSAT. Middle of puzzle was thus way more difficulty for me than any patch of puzzle normally is on a Tuesday. ECOTONE! Ugh (37D: Transitional zone between plant communities). Sorry, but that's just long crosswordese. Never encountered it outside a grid. Half as many long Downs today, and they are less than half as good. Crosswordese is more plentiful and more grating. Multiple CIAOS? A few people complained about yesterday's INKS, which is a stupid complaint if you know anything about comics or tattoos. Also, if INKS is a bad plural (and it isn't), then what about CIAOS? Are we just going to accept CIAOS? Are we just going to accept ASSNS ATEIN ATA ADREP *all in the same corner*? Looks like Kevin's puzzle yesterday was less a new trend and more an exception that proves the rule—the quality of the product here is slowly diminishing.

    The fact that it is my birthday makes this puzzle especially disappointing. Oh well, at least There Will Be Cake.

    See you tomorrow.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Slugger Carlos / MON 11-25-13 / Comedy Central cartoon set in year 3000 / Term of address for noblewoman / Italian city with semiannual fashion week

      Monday, November 25, 2013

      Constructor: Kevin G. Der

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**)

      THEME: Start of a bumper sticker … — all theme answers are common opening phrases from bumper sticker slogans.

      Theme answers:
      • 20A: Start of a bumper sticker that may end with one's favorite vacation spot (I'D RATHER BE IN …)
      • 29A: Start of a bumper sticker that may end with one's favorite hobby (HONK IF YOU LOVE …)
      • 45A: Start of a bumper sticker that may end with one's favorite (usually expensive) vehicle (MY OTHER CAR IS A…)
      • 54A: Start of a bumper sticker that may end with one's favorite attraction (WILL BRAKE FOR …) — I don't quite get "attraction" here. If I WILL BRAKE FOR turtles, I like them, I don't want to kill them, but "attraction" doesn't really get at it. Also, wondering if "I BRAKE FOR" isn't the more common phrase. Just wondering.
      Word of the Day: KNISH (36D: Jewish turnover) —
      A piece of dough stuffed with potato, meat, or cheese and baked or fried.

      [Yiddish, from Ukrainian knysh, probably of Turkic origin.]

      Read more:
      • • •

      Looks like some of the best constructors are still submitting to the NYT—though with lag times that can run to several years, Lord knows when this one was submitted. At any rate, *this* is how to do an early-week puzzle. What a weird theme. As I was tearing through it (or trying to) I was wondering what I was missing … some connection among the left-off words? I had this sensation of being left hanging. But this turned out to be the point. Despite being incomplete thoughts, the set as a whole is drum-tight. Answers don't need endings. Fill in the blank. Use your imagination. We've all seen bumper stickers that open with these phrases. Hackneyed and lame, as bumper stickers (I think all bumper stickers are terrible and would abolish them if I were Emperor). But as a crossword conceit—all of a sudden this banal rear-of-your-car dumb-assery becomes a clever, and totally unexpected, set. The most fun part is just inventing your own bumper sticker in your mind. For instance, *my* bumper sticker reads HONK IF YOU LOVE SILENCE!

      Allow me to continue. This thing has eight (8) 7+-letter Downs. You may have noticed that, generally, not always, but usually, the more interesting fill is the longer fill. The longer your answer, the more greater the likelihood you'll be able to break free of the gravitational pull of Planet Crosswordese and get to somewhere worth going. And look—all of today's are interesting, even downright creative. I will say that SANDPIT feels made-up. Is that really a thing? I mean, I can indeed imagine a pit made in the sand, but who would call that a SANDPIT? Not beaching-going child-me. Or maybe I would've. I probably wouldn't have called it anything. "Hole," maybe. That's possible. "What're you making there, Mikey?" "It's a hole, dad. What does it look like?" I was sarcastic at a young age. Aaaaanyway, SANDPIT! At least it's interesting! And DNA SAMPLING!? Fantastic. That's Friday-themeless good. But perhaps best of all is, in fact, the short stuff, and how well-managed it is. Crosswordese kept to a minimum, and spaced out so you don't notice it, and *none* of that awkward abbr. or plural suffix or other ^***ing nonsense that often tries to pass itself off as legitimate fill. And you also get some legitimately good shorter stuff, like VIPER and KNISH, and most of your short stuff is real words. Look, this is just Good. Stem to stern. Creative/loopy theme combined with real grid craftsmanship. Attention to detail. Even on puzzles that people are going to burn through in a matter of minutes, this stuff matters. To some of us, anyway.

      Tomorrow: my recipe for VIPER KNISH. Secret family recipe. World-class. Until then...

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      One-named singer with hit Locked Up / SUN 11-24-13 / Sports league-backed cable network / Yvonne with 1978 #1 hit If I Can't Have You / Port city from which Amelia Earhart last flew / La Dominican Republic first Spanish settlement in Americas / Football Hall-of-Fame coach Greasy

      Sunday, November 24, 2013

      Constructor: Gary Cee

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: "Hits and" — songs with women's names in the titles. Clues reimagine the songs as being about actual women:
      • 22A: "Greetings, Ms. Retton!" ("HELLO, MARYLOU")
      • 31A: "Very nice, Ms. Kennedy!" ("SWEET, CAROLINE") (ew, introduction of the comma there is painful, especially as other songs do not have to be similarly altered to fit the clue)
      • 37A: "Hurry up, Ms. Brennan!" ("COME ON, EILEEN")
      • 55A: "Cheer up, Ms. Teasdale!") ("SARA, SMILE!")
      • 62A: "Am I the one, Ms. Andrews?" ("JULIE, DO YA LOVE ME?")
      • 74A: "You look hot in a thong, Ms. Hawkins!" ("SEXY, SADIE") (ew, ew, ew … why in the world did the clue go to "thong"??? Clue works perfectly well with just "You look hot…" "In a thong" is completely gratuitous and kinda creepy)
      • 86A: "I need a hand, Ms. Fleming!" ("HELP ME, RHONDA!")
      • 94A: "Leave it alone, Ms. Zellweger!" ("WALK AWAY, RENEE")
      • 110A: "Time to show your cards, Ms. Field!" ("LAY DOWN, SALLY!") — is that the phrase for "show your hand"—"lay down"?
      Word of the Day: ELDER (99D: Black-berried tree) —
      Sambucus (elder or elderberry) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae. It was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified due to genetic evidence. It contains between 5 and 30 species ofdeciduous shrubs, small trees and herbaceous perennial plants.
      The genus occurs in temperate to subtropical regions of the world. More widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to parts of Australasia and South America. Many species are widely cultivated for their ornamental leaves, flowers and fruit.[2]
      The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5–30 cm (2.0–12 in) long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries (rarely yellow or white). (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This theme is far too straightforward and weak for the alleged best puzzle in the country. It's songs with women's names in them. That is all. The clues try to dress it up, but it's lipstick on a pig. Puzzle ends up being way way way too easy in the theme stuff (except for "JULIE, DO YA LOVE ME?"—never heard of that), and then clunky, crosswordese-heavy, and artificially toughened in the fill. Who clues ELDER that way? A tree? I know "elderberries," but I thought those came from bushes. My pop music knowledge of the late-70s is very good, but ELLIMAN? Couldn't bring her back at all. Anyway, I blew through the theme part, and then hacked at the rest with a machete. Lots of wincing, not a lot of grinning. Why can't I BE more positive? Right? Well, because. Because. Because LAE, Lady. LAE. Am I pronouncing that right? Is it pronounced "lie"? Gah, who knows? As you can see, now I'm just amusing myself, as the puzzle has failed to do that job for me. I do like KEY FACTOR alright. And BRITCOM (100A: "Absolutely Fabulous" or "Father Ted"). DOG EAT DOG, somewhat. The rest, no.

      That's all. Wish there was more to talk about, but there isn't. Unless you want me to catalog the suboptimal fill for you. NEALE! ELYSE! Oh, you don't want me to do that? OK, good. I BE tired, anyway. Need to LAE down. Good day.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Star in Virgo / SAT 11-23-13 / Spinal cord surrounders / Title name written on door of this legended tomb in poetry / Its main island is Unguja / Grammy-nominated Ford / Sound in comic BC / Sitcom pal of Barbarino Horshack / Great Caruso title role player

      Saturday, November 23, 2013

      Constructor: Frederick J. Healy

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: PIAS (49D: Spinal cord surrounders) —
      Pia mater (/ˈp.ə ˈmtər/ or /ˈp.ə ˈmɑːtər/) often referred to as simply the pia, is the delicate innermost layer of themeninges, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Pia mater is medieval Latin meaning "tender mother." The other two meningeal membranes are the dura mater and the arachnoid mater. Pia mater is a thin fibrous tissue that is impermeable to fluid. This allows the pia mater to enclose cerebrospinal fluid. By containing this fluid the pia mater works with the other meningeal layers to protect and cushion the brain. The pia mater allows blood vessels to pass through and nourish the brain. The perivascular space created between blood vessels and pia mater functions as alymphatic system for the brain. When the pia mater becomes irritated and inflamed the result is meningitis. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This is an OK grid, though I've seen most if not all of these answers before. This overfamiliar feel may be part of the reason that I Absolutely Crushed this puzzle. I've only been tracking my daily times for a bit over two months, but my time on this one—5:38—is nearly three minutes under any of my other recorded Saturday times. Bananas. I think the thrilling speed might have clouded my initial judgment, though. When I was done, the only crap I really noticed was the abysmal PIAS (49D: Spinal cord surrounders), which set up a near-Natick for me at 49D/49A: Board game with black and white stones (PENTE). Some vague memory of owning a game of PENTE as a child allowed me to guess the "P" correctly, but that crossing feels awfully rough. Anyway I thought the bad fill was minimal because I blew through this thing. But a constructor-friend of mine points out that this shape of grid is among the easiest themeless grids to fill, and thus the wealth of sub-optimal fill is probably not justified. He took me on a tour: TIAS, SOI, ZOT (!?!?!), SPICA, ANIL, PIAS, SAIS *and* AUSSI, TABUS … and he's right. They're all kind of yucky, and that much yucky has no place in a 72-word themeless like this, especially when there is nothing particularly original in the longer fill. This is a lesson in relativity—relative ease/difficulty can massively warp one's sense of whether a puzzle is good/bad. We will tend to love the stuff we ace and dislike (if not hate) the stuff that makes us huff and puff. Just because a puzzle has a bunch of Zs and Js does not mean that it's particularly good.

      Why was this so easy for me?:
      • JETS FAN (1D: One feeling 15-Across after Super Bowl III) — I knew who played in Super Bowl III. Thus, this answer went straight in the grid, and the whole NW corner came together quickly after that.
      • "ULALUME" (2D: Title name written "on the door of this legended tomb," in poetry)— this is possibly the longest piece of crosswordese in existence. I also saw it recently, which helped me recall it with just a cross or two.
      • PASEOS (42D: Leisurely strolls) — why do I know this word (as anything but a bygone Toyota model)? I just do. Crosswords. Sometimes stuff like this just sticks. 
      Everything else was just easy on its surface.

      Nothing else here is really worth mentioning. Good night. And thanks to treedweller for covering for me yesterday.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Star of Bunuel's "Belle de Jour"; 19th-century abbot and scientist; Cygnet's parents

      Friday, November 22, 2013

      Constructor: Patrick Berry

      Relative difficulty: EASY

      THEME: none 

      Word of the Day: URI (Altdorf's canton) —
      Uri is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland and a founding member of the Swiss Confederation. It is located in Central Switzerland. The canton's territory covers the valley of the Reuss River between Lake Lucerne and the St. Gotthard Pass. Wikipedia 
      Area: 416 sq miles (1,077 km²)
       University: The Educatis University
      • • •
      Hello, Rexworld. This is treedweller, filling in. Rex is in Washington lobbying for an EYEPIT exception to the filibuster limits. I was wary of agreeing to guest-host, since Friday/Saturday puzzles are still a little hit-or-miss for me and I didn't want to be up half the night. Happily, I found this nice, breezy romp that would be a solid Wednesday if you worked in a theme somehow. Except you don't need to, because it's fun without a theme. So I guess that's why it showed up today. Either that, or this is that one-in-a-million puzzle that I just clicked with while others won't.

      Either way, as always, that's "for a Friday" Easy. I left the NW mostly empty until I worked my way back up, and still wondered if I'd finish when I got there. I was stymied by the fact that most of what I had there was wrong, but once I buckled down and searched out my mistakes, it fell quickly. If anything, I think I'd be a little disappointed that Friday was so easy if I wasn't blogging it.

      • 11D Milk Additive OVALTINE — (cf. 1A BOSCO) I tried to get Vitamin D in there awhile, then moved on until I had few crosses.
      • 6A TV actor who lived, appropriately, in Hawaii JACKLORD — Being from Texas, I am pretty familiar with (6D One of the Bushes JEB), for good or ill, so I quickly sussed the actor.
      • 53A Dicey issue (HOTPOTATO) / 56A Deep-fried treat (ONIONRING) — I like both of these individually, and I like that they are stacked together. cf. 28A Relative of a leek CHIVE.
      • 57A Third-place finisher in 2004 and 2008 / 42D "Northanger Abbey" novelist (NADER / AUSTEN) —Being in the Best City in Texas, I would have preferred a "Low point-" / "Live Music Capitol of the World-" type cluing, but I do enjoy Ms. Austen now and then, and I voted for NADER when he was Green (i.e., not in '08).
      • 36A First name in pop (CELINE) — when Michael didn't fit, I just waited. I know it's perfectly acceptable as a clue/answer, but it pained me to see it.
      Signed, tree dweller

      P.S. Rex here—if you have time, check out my 11/22/63 anniversary puzzle, created for the current Off-Broadway drama "Witnessed by the World"


      Malay for human / THU 11-21-13 / Trypanosome carrier / People for whom tena joe means hello / Her birthday is Oct 4 2011 / O'Brien's team / President whose initials stink /

      Thursday, November 21, 2013

      Constructor: Jules P. Markey

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: DOWN COMFORTERS (15D: Some bedcovers … or, literally, what the four unclued answers are) — four DOWN theme answers are all phrases that might comfort someone, i.e. COMFORTERS. All theme answers are clued "[ ]":

      Theme answers:
      • NOT TO WORRY
      • THERE, THERE
      Word of the Day: BAIN Capital (47D: ___ Capital) —
      Bain Capital is an American alternative asset management and financial services company based in Boston, Massachusetts. It specializes in private equityventure capitalcredit and public market investments. Bain invests across a broad range of industry sectors and geographic regions. As of early 2012, the firm managed approximately $66 billion of investor capital across its various investment platforms.
      The firm was founded in 1984 by partners from the consulting firm Bain & Company. Since inception it has invested in or acquired hundreds of companies including AMC TheatresAspen Education GroupBrookstoneBurger KingBurlington Coat FactoryClear Channel CommunicationsDomino's PizzaDoubleClickDunkin' DonutsD&M HoldingsGuitar CenterHospital Corporation of America (HCA)SealySports AuthorityStaplesToys "R" UsWarner Music Group andThe Weather Channel.
      As of the end of 2011, Bain Capital had approximately 400 professionals, most with previous experience in consulting, operations or finance. Bain is headquartered at the John Hancock Tower in Boston, Massachusetts with additional offices in New York CityChicagoPalo AltoLondonLuxembourgMunichHong KongShanghaiMumbai, and Tokyo.
      The company, and its actions during its first 15 years, became the subject of political and media scrutiny as a result of co-founder Mitt Romney's later political career, especially his 2012 presidential campaign. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Thought this one was pretty cute, but man was it clued hard (by which I mean, more specifically, vaguely). [___ Capital]? Yikes. [Fleet vehicle] = ship, limo, TAXI. I still don't know how TEES are [Athletic supporters?] unless you wear a TEE shirt with your team logo on it … ? [Oh, wait, TEES prop up balls for striking … OK, I guess that works] The clue on OBAMA stinks (53D: President whose initials "stink"), as no one thinks of presidential "initials" as consisting of only two letters. JFK, LBJ, DDE, HST, ETC. It's BHO, not "B.O." Booo to that. Also, I was unaware of the existence of the term NON-WAGES (27A: 401(k) employer matching contributions, e.g.). That answer alone cost me tons of time. GIVES for CAVES, ELM for OAK, ARM for ARC (4A: Go ballistic? — because balls ARC through the air? Booo to that, too). Cluing was either vague—[Card]? [Acid]? [In]? [On]?—and bland or a bit off. But the fill is OK, and the revealer is adorable. Only problem with the theme (that I can see) is that "THIS WILL PASS" feels off to me. When I search it (in quotation marks), I get a bajillion hits, but the entire first page of hits all refer to a recent quote from Richie Incognito, for some reason. I'm not kidding. Every Single Hit on that first page of results. Weird. It's probably a fine phrase, but "This too shall pass" is the phrase I keep hearing in my head.

      Most disappointed in my utter failure to recall John FOWLES (22A: John who wrote "The French Lieutenant's Woman"). I've read "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and can name several FOWLES novels but as I was solving I just couldn't retrieve it, despite having the initial letters. I was like "FOLLET? FOWLER?" Ugh. I've seen that ORANG clue before (10D: Malay for "human"), but didn't remember it today. Pretty vicious. SAMOS also seems vicious (56D: Aegean island). I had -AMOS and no idea what to do with the first letter, as I had no idea what "Trypanosome" was and so TSE-TSE wasn't coming (55A: Trypanosome carrier). All in all, a solid theme with decent fill and less-than-delightful cluing.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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