Caribbean capital, to locals / FRI 1-31-14 / Tribe of Chief Shaumonekusse / Source of the word "admiral"

Friday, January 31, 2014

Constructor: Chris McGlothlin

Relative difficulty: Medium-difficult



THEME: None 
 
Word of the Day: HUTUS  [Many Rwandans]
The Hutu /ˈht/, also known as the Abahutu, is an ethnic group in Central Africa. They mainly live in Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where they form one of the principal population divisions alongside the Tutsi and the Twa.
• • •

In a freestyle (a.k.a. a "themless" but freestyle sounds cooler) with six grid-spanning entries the first thing I notice is the quality of those entries. Let's look:

1-a [ "No more wasting time!"] = LET'S DO THIS THING. Excellent.
16-a [Pixar, e.g.] = ANIMATION STUDIO. Very good.
17-a [Was just getting started] = HAD A LONG WAY TO GO. Very good.
56-a [Numbats] = BANDED ANTEATERS. If you say so.
59-a [Washington report starter] = I CANNOT TELL A LIE. Very good.
60-a [Charm] = CAST ONE'S SPELL ON. These "one's" idioms are ubiquitous in triple and quad-stacks. I don't have time to do it now but I'd wager that if you looked at all the trips and quads ever printed in the NYT close to 50% of them would have one of these ONE'S in the mix. They're an object of some ridicule among constructors since they often require stilted language to use outside of a dictionary listing, such as A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE or ANTS IN ONE'S PANTS. ("Having ants in one's pants is a most dreadful situation in which to find oneself.") They're culled from databases as a general rule; for example, of the 8 (!) Google hits received by "casts one's spell on," zero are from use in natural language (the others are translations to foreign languages and other database listings). So this one we'll call "pretty bad." But 4.5 out of 6 is pretty good for double trips.

Lively 8's going gown, too: LA HABANA (a.k.a. Havana, Cuba), TIDIES UP, TACO BELL, I GO TO RIO and IN WANT OF all stand out. In the seven range we have BAR EXAM, GET EVEN and SILENTS, and in the 6 range we get ARABIC, I DO NOT, and VOYAGE. That's a lot of good fill.



The usual rap against very wide-open grids is that you get a lot of lousy short fill. Let's list the, say, five worst pieces and see the damage: ANANAS [Pineapples: Sp.], SSA, OTO, LEU and BEEK. Not all that bad, but there are going to be a lot of solvers who don't know that "Havana" takes a B in Spanish and think that Van der Veek sounds like a plausible Dutch name.

Better than your usual double-triple.

**********

Contest Results:

Wednesday's puzzle had an almost-awesome theme: constructor Michael Black found Elgin Baylor concealing NBA and Woodrow Wilson concealing WWI, but spread the acronyms out among the names for the other two entries. Could Rexheads balance those with an 11 and 13 that kept their acronyms intact to maximize this lovely idea?

Our two winning entries are:

Rob. C for ZSA ZSA GABOR, clued as [Actress and an organization she belonged to]. Which is the SAG.

And..well, me for [Pitching great and his statistic] for MARIANO RIVERA. And his ERA.

Career ERA: 2.21!


So that would even up the two entries and keep all the trigrams intact. Though these aren't as good as the first two, since the ERA doesn't span both words and because, although Zsa Zsa was a member of SAG, she isn't especially strongly identified with it.

Since I didn't specify that they had to be 11 and 13, let's give the other prize out to the best entry of any length. That goes to Evan for longtime NFL player London Fletcher.

Rob C. and Evan, please e-mail me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com so I can send you your loot.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for three more days of CrossWorld

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Totally stoked / THU 1-30-14 / Like a rat's eyes / Sch. near Albany, N.Y.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: Medium-difficult



THEME: "The Riddler" -- an old riddle gets a Schroedinger twist

Word of the Day: ANKARA  — [Site of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations]
Turkey's 'other' city may not have any showy Ottoman palaces or regal facades but Ankara thrums to a vivacious, youthful beat unmarred by the tug of history. Drawing comparisons with İstanbul is pointless – the flat, modest surroundings are hardly the stuff of national poetry – but the civic success of this dynamic and intellectual city is assured thanks to student panache and foreign-embassy intrigue. The country's capital has made remarkable progress from a dusty Anatolian backwater to today's sophisticated arena for international affairs.

[Lonely Planet Guide to Turkey]

Kocatepe Mosque, Ankara

• • •

Theme answers:

17-Across [With 27-Across, an old riddle] = WHAT'S BLACK WHITE
27-Across [See 17-Across] = AND RE(A)D ALL OVER
49-Across [Answer to one spelling of the riddle] = THIS NEWSPAPER
63-Across [Answer to another spelling of the riddle] = A SUNBURNED PANDA

Just one curiously circled square in the grid, intriguing. Turns out you can put either E or EA in that circle to get "red" or "read," which answer different versions of that old riddle: "read" for "this newspaper" and "red" for "a sunburned panda." The versions of the second one I heard as a kid had a skunk, panda, penguin or zebra in a blender, which shows you what awful people I had as childhood friends. Note that either the E or EA works on the down entry too, with either SET or SEAT working for [Box ___].

So that's an OK theme, not thrilling but if you hadn't heard the "sunburned panda" one I guess it's good for a laugh. Minor dings for rephrasing the original joke and punchline to fit the grid -- it's really "What's black and white and red all over" and "a newspaper," not "What's black, white and red all over" and "this newspaper."  But the idea of a one-letter Schroedinger puzzle (those puzzles where certain squares work with either of two letters in them) is novel to my knowledge, as is the idea of a Schroedinger square where you can use either one or two letters. So points for that.



I also liked the cluing style of this one. I enjoy solving (and writing) clues that reveal just enough history/geography/politics to make getting the answer a challenge, like [U.S. city known to some locals as Siqnazuaq] for NOME -- looks like an Inuit placename, but you've got to puzzle that out -- or [Capital in 2004-05's Orange Revolution] for KIEV, or [Site of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations] for ANKARA. Clues like that are like solving a mini-Sporcle quiz.

The fill is fine. Four long theme entries are pretty constraining, plus the Schroedinger square, so it'd probably be tough to knock the fill out of the park. I liked EPHEMERA, JOHANNES, METEOR, IMHO and NO LOSS. On the downside, I've never head a baseball field/stadium called a BALLYARD as it is at 6-Down [Home is one corner in it].

My favorite puzzle of the week so far.

*****

Check out yesterday's comments section for a contest (with prizes)! There are lots of entries there already, but we'll give one more day in case anyone missed it. Leave your entries in comments there (not under today's comments, under yesterday's) and I'll announce the winners tomorrow.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for four more days of CrossWorld

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A general and his country / WED 1-29-14 / "The Kiss" sculptor / Smile like Snidely Whiplash

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Constructor: Michael Black

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: "Organization Men" — Four guys with an apt initialism/acronym ensconced in their names

Word of the Day: SABO [1988 N.L. Rookie of the Year Chris] —
Christopher Andrew (Chris) Sabo (born January 19, 1962, in Detroit, Michigan) is a former third baseman in Major League Baseball who played for the Cincinnati Reds (1988–93, 1996), Baltimore Orioles (1994), Chicago White Sox (1995) and St. Louis Cardinals (1995). At 6'0" and 180 lb (82 kg), he batted and threw right-handed. He attended Detroit Catholic Central High School. [Wikipedia]
• • •



Theme answers:

20-Across [A general and his country] = ULYSSES S GRANT
37-Across [A hoops great and his league] = ELGIN BAYLOR
44-Across [A comic and his former show] = ADAM SANDLER
59-Across [A president and his conflict] = WOODROW WILSON

This is a good theme that could've been an excellent theme. Notice how cool it is that Elgin Baylor (on the NBA's All-Time 50 Best Players list, if you didn't recognize his name) hides NBA and that Woodrow Wilson hides WWI. Those are perfect. If the constructor had found two more that hide their acronym intact like those two do, I'd be giving this theme a 10. But scattering them amid the whole name in Ulysses S. Grant and Adam Sandler robs the theme of a big chunk of its tightness. For example, of the 139 cast members in SNL history, three others also contain SNL in their names (Christine Ebersole, Siobhan Fallon, Chris Parnell). Sandler is the most famous, of course, but I'm making the point that the constraints are seriously loosened if you don't require the three letters to be consecutive.



I don't have suggestions off the top of my head -- a famous athlete from a three-letter college would be a good start, for instance -- but if the constructor had found two more this would've been a beautiful theme. As it is, I'll give it a mild thumbs-up. (Put suggestions in comments -- two winners get a set of crossword stationery from me. Surprise contest!) Note to budding constructors: tighten those themes up as much as possible, especially when you've got a very nice core idea.

I've been whining for the past two days about the musty vibe of the the week's first two puzzles, but the windows have been opened and a tide of fresh clues has cleared my sinuses. We get a Jennifer LOPEZ shout-out, a RAZR phone, even a JPEG and a SKORT. Combined with the usual (and welcome) classical references (RODIN, NIOBE, AQUA / VITAE) I'd say this is a nice mix that won't leave younger solvers feeling, like, totally alienated, you know?

JPEG of a SKORT


The fill, though -- oof. This really needed some TLC from the editor. SALA, AMOLE, OAST, ENOL crossing ENA, ISOLA, AGIN, OME (ugh), A-TESTS, WEIR clued as [Small dam] instead of Bob of the Grateful Dead or Peter who's been nominated for Best Director four times. That's some harsh wordage. Again, unnecessary suboptimal fill seems to be an unsolvable problem for NY Times puzzles; you just don't see this level of dreck in other top-level crosswords. Like a golfer who's good from the tee and the fairway but loses tournaments because his putting is shaky -- that's what we've got here. The NYX needs to up its short game. (But the constructor did do well from the fairway: SHADOWBOX and PAY-TO-PLAY are excellent).

In the NE and SE corners we have examples of what foul-mouthed crossword constructors call "Scrabble-f!@#king." You heard me complain yesterday that Tuesday's puzzle didn't have any of the rare letters in it (X, Q, Z or J). That's not a crime, but you do like to work those into the mix when you can lest your grid fall into a torrent of RSTNLE and not much else. But the key is to work them into the mix elegantly, without paying a price in fill. That Q at the corner of ESQ and AQUA isn't so bad, for example.

But in the NE the price for the nice JPEG is the awful OAST, and in the SE the price for the nice LOPEZ/RAZR crossing is the icky ISOLA. This -- going too far for your expensive Scrabble letters -- is Scrabble-f!@#king. Constructors, avoid this! Go for the lay-up if you're not sure about the slam dunk. If you've got the dunk, though, by all means, go for it. While wearing a skort.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for five more days of CrossWorld

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Stuff in a muffin / TUE 1-28-14 / It's just one thing after another / Farm sound

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "You don't know -BO" -- base phrases take a -BO ending (with spelling changes) to make wacky new phrases.

Word of the Day: PARAKEET.  Parakeet is a name for any one of a large number of unrelated small to medium sized species of parrot, that generally have long tail feathers. Older spellings still sometimes encountered are paroquet or paraquet. [Wikipedia]


• • •

Matt Gaffney here again, filling in for Rex all week.  Theme answers take a -BO sound:

Theme answers:

20-Across [Celebration dance after a goal?] = SOCCER MAMBO
57-Across [Punched out a Disney elephant?] = STRUCK DUMBO
11-Down [Aerobics done to Chubby Checker music?] = TWIST TAE-BO
29-Down [Give a hobbit a ring?] = PHONE BILBO

I saw the -BO entries emerge and kept trying to guess what the revealer would be. And then...there's just no revealer. We're just adding -BO to phrases for no reason. Sort of a downer, since a solver at this point in the evolution of the add-a-letter/letters/sound idea is going to be looking for a revealer, which would ideally add  a unifying and humorous flourish, but here -- we got nothin'. Not optimal.

I was also unable to find any of the four theme entries very humorous. Punching an elephant isn't funny, and neither is dancing after a soccer goal or doing aerobics to music, which are very common activities. I guess phoning a character from The Hobbit is slightly wacky, but if that's the go-to theme entry then we're probably not bringing down the house.

The fill had 78 entries in it, normally the max in a daily puzzle, and the grid is not at all taxing with just four 10/11-letter themers. But there's little sizzle in it; the best entries are PARAKEET, DUBAI...what else? SPLIT UP? Maybe INFRA-RED? There's not a single marquee piece of fill, and a grid with just four medium-size themers (and no revealer) should have been full of them. If Brendan Quigley had filled this thing there'd be six or eight pieces of stellar longish fill that no reviewer could fail to mention; here there's not really a single one. None of the four rare letters make an appearance, either.

On the positive side we can say that the fill is clean: there aren't any awful entries, though I think the abbreviation for Baptist wants to be BAPT instead of BAP, and URGER and OBI are a little less than good. But not a big deal. Overall, the fill is clean but unexciting.   

The clues have more of the same musty vibe I noted in yesterday's puzzle, where not a single clue couldn't have been written 10 years ago. In today's puzzle we have exactly one clue less than a decade old, [Home of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building] for DUBAI. But that's your daily dose of modernity; check out the SE corner, where BART is [Former baseball commissioner Giamatti], HART is [Politico Gary], and OTTO is [Comics canine]. If I were Rex I would write "1987 called and it wants its corner back," but I'm not so I won't. But it did and it does.

Any one of these clues is OK in a vacuum, but when you have zero or one clues per day referencing anything that happened in the previous decade? I hope we've just hit a musty patch and that clues later in the week will have more zip. Again, the NYX doesn't need to become a hipster puzzle, but an occasional reminder  that we're solving a puzzle in the 21st century would help enormously.






Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for six more days of CrossWorld

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Kind of acid in soapmaking / MON 1-27-14 / 1963 Elizabeth Taylor role / Mideast bigwig Var

Monday, January 27, 2014

Constructor: James Tuttle
Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: It's about TIME! Theme entries are comprised of two words that can precede or follow "time" in a phrase.

Word of the Day: FIBONACCI — [Eponym of a number series that begins 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ...]
Leonardo Fibonacci – was an Italian mathematician, considered by some "the most talented western mathematician of the Middle Ages." (wikipedia)
• • •


Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex this week while he's doing who-knows-what in historic Binghamton (probably just grading papers, but let's pretend he's parasailing days and drinking absinthe evenings).



Quick graf to establish my sterling bona fides: I've been a professional crossword puzzle writer for the past 15 years. I write a daily mini-puzzle here (easy), a weekly current events puzzle for The Week here (medium), and a weekly crossword contest here (difficult) . I also write a crossword blog here. And I do other crossword stuff which is easily Googleable. Or Bingable, since Rex lives in Binghamton.

On to the Monday NYX:

Theme answers:
  • 17-A [*Flying] = AIR TRAVEL
  • 24-A [*One placed between warring parties] = PEACEKEEPER
  • 32-A [*Contestant's help on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"] = LIFELINE
  • 45-A [*King, queen or jack] = FACE CARD
  • 52-A [*Piece of furniture that might be under a chandelier] = DINNER TABLE
  • 63-A [Vacation lodging purchase ... or an arrangement between the two halves of the answer to each starred clue?] = TIME SHARE
It's OK to do a crossword theme that's been done before, but if you're going to do it, do it with a new wrinkle. And that's what James Tuttle does today: each of the five theme entries (besides the revealer) consists of a two-word phrase, the first of which precedes the word "time" in a phrase, and the second of which follows it. So we have "airtime" and "time travel," then "peacetime" and "timekeeper," and then three more that you've probably already deduced.


This kind of "word that follows ...." theme is well-known, but I applaud the wrinkle here that the two phrases "share" the word TIME, as given in the TIME SHARE revealer. I'm told that real-life timeshares can be a huge pain in the ass, but this one was quite pleasant. So thumbs-up on the theme.

Bullets:
  • Star fill: the aforementioned FIBONACCI, plus CLEOPATRA, I DUNNO, BLEND IN, and a FACE CARD which is always welcome in my beloved weekly Texas HOLD 'EM game. You want all of these in your crossword.
  • But: Rex and other smart critics have repeatedly highlighted the Achilles' heel of the New York Times puzzle, which is early-week suboptimal fill, and as a crossword demon I can't let it pass without comment. OLEIC [Kind of acid in soapmaking], EMEER [Mideast bigwig: Var.], and OATEN [Like some cereals] don't belong in crossword puzzles period, and on a Monday I'll ding those three a full .75 on the 5-star scale used at the blog Diary of a Crossword Fiend. The "Var." tag should be used about three times a year in a daily crossword, and never on Mondays. Ne[Var.]. There's some other less-than-Monday stuff in here, too (EWERS, NICAD, IRANI) that you don't see in other top-level crosswords.
  • I dig the amusing linked clues at 2-Down and 14-Across, TRIED and TRUE. Good decision to go unconventional on the cluing there.
  • General un-dig: this crossword doesn't have a single clue that couldn't have been written ten years ago. How about a "Book of Mormon" reference for LDS, or a "Blue Jasmine" reference for ALLEN for Woody instead of Ethan, or a David SPADE reference instead of [Digging tool]? Would that've killed anyone? I'm not saying the NYX has to become one of the hipster crosswords, but every single clue in this puzzle could've been from pre-2004. [First number dialed when calling long distance] for ONE doesn't help the musty overall vibe, either.
  • Not that there's anything wrong with classical: AENEID, DOLCE, AHAB and PENN are all solid items in the Western canon.  
On the Fiend scale I'd give the theme here a 4.30 out of 5.00, but the fill and overall stale cluing vibe a 3.50. We'll average that out to a 3.80, and I will say that I enjoyed the solve and look forward to the rest of the week, and congratulate Mr. Tuttle on what I see is his 4th Times puzzle. Bravo to him, and over and out until tomorrow.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for one week of CrossWorld

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Gershwin biographer David / SUN 1-26-14 / Merry Drinker painter / Back to Future villains / Li'l Abner's surname / Funeral delivery of old / Movie director who was himself subject of 1994 movie / Title girl Chuck Berry hit / Pop singer Del Rey / Cynic Bierce

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Constructor: Daniel A. Finan

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: "It's All Relative" — Cross-referenced clues (stacked one atop the other) make sense only in reference to each other, i.e. based on their position relative to one another, you (the solver) have to supply the word [under] or [over] to make sense of one part of each answer pair.

THUS … :
  • 51D: 3-Down, relatively (BEWITCHED) … which is (literally) [under] A SPELL (3D)
  • 6D: 73-Down, relatively (NO WAY, JOSÉ) … which is (literally) [over] MY DEAD BODY (73D)
  • 52D: 8-Down, relatively (FEELING THE HEAT) … which is (literally) [under] THE GUN (8D)
  • 12D: 93-Down, relatively ("TALK TO YOU LATER") … which is (literally) [over] AND OUT (93D)
  • 82D: 14-Down, relatively (SHELTERED) … which is (literally) [under] LOCK AND KEY (14D)
  • 42D: 95-Down, relatively (EXCESSIVE) … which is (literally) [over] THE TOP (95D)

Word of the Day: ELOGE (99D: Funeral delivery of old) —
n. a virtual theater seat (I assume)
• • •

Wow. I'm not sure there's a puzzle that better exemplifies the discrepancy between concern for theme and concern for fill than this one. Essentially, if your theme passes muster, you can put virtually anything you want in your grid and no one is going to say 'boo.' This is a clever and ambitious theme, but the fill is hilariously bad in many, many places. I say "hilariously" not figuratively (with some kind of dismissive sneer in my voice), but literally, as in "I literally laughed out loud at how bad this fill was—multiple times, LOL, for real." I knew things were Not going to go well in the NW (this is often the case, i.e. I can tell from the NW corner alone how good/bad the entire puzzle is going to be, fill-wise). LAICAL just hurts (more than LAIC, even), as did PIS, ONAN, and esp. KAS. But that's not exactly unusual in its mediocrity. Certainly not sub-NYT at this point. But then I hit TREELET and the wheels came off (55A: Sapling). That answer made me laugh so hard I almost didn't see ODI (!?). TREELET appeared once in a puzzle 13 years ago. Lord knows what *that* guy's excuse was. Hee hee. TREELET. Rich.


And here's the thing—it's a shame. Because as Annoying as I find extensive use of cross-referencing in clues (esp. theme clues), in the end, this theme was imaginative, and air tight. Nice symmetrical alteration between "under" and "over" phrases. Good. But this should've been sent back for refilling. The south is probably the worst part—the part that best exemplifies how shoddy the fill is. EWEN is bad, in that it's an obscure proper noun, but let's say any given section can have a clunker like that. But Right Next to ELOGE? What kind of antiquated nonsense is that. Again, database says some guy used it once (7 years ago), so … fair game! Better care and craft could minimize this arcane / bygone / anything-goes nonsense. But somebody, Somebody, has got to overrule the computer. SLIGO? SEHR? Again, it's not that any one of these answers shouldn't be permissible. It's the constant onslaught of foreign or antiquated or partial stuff that significantly detracts from the pleasure one should be having piecing together this more-than-decent theme. My friend recently made the following chart, and it is crude and unfair, but it gets at a certain general truth:


There is no polishing going on. There is accepting and rejecting based on whether a theme "tickles," but there is nothing between us and IRED, ERSE, etc. A smattering of that stuff is tolerable. A spate, however, is just too much.

The Puzzle of the Week this week was a tough call, with a cute "Monster Under the BED" puzzle by Matt Jones (Jonesin' Crosswords) and a genuinely astonishing, NSFW themeless by independent constructor Peter Broda (The Cross Nerd). But the winner by a nose was Doug Peterson for his Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (themeless). Sunday through Friday, Newsday produces a solid, easy themed puzzle, but on Saturday, woooo look out! Fill gets much more ambitious and the clue difficulty goes to 11. The great thing about Doug's puzzle was how *clever* the hard clues were. [It might cover your elbows] is PASTA SAUCE, [Something found around a tree] is SHOE, [Grades above 86, typically] is OCTANES. Over and over again, the clues fake right and go left. The fill is smooth as hell. I mean "Put Most Themelesses To Shame" smooth, while sacrificing nothing in the way of interesting longer answers (HAD KITTENS, "MARIO PARTY," VOODOO DOLL, etc.). I just love solving Doug's puzzles generally. Always smart, funny, clever—*enjoyable*. No cheapness anywhere. Pick up his book of Easy puzzles here ("Easy as ABC Crosswords"), and check out the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" every Saturday (available, like so many puzzles, via Amy's "Today's Puzzles" page).

In case you missed it, here's my review of Ben Tausig's recent book "The Curious History of the Crossword," which appeared in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Read it here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Inuit knife / SAT 1-25-14 / Modern Gallantry pen name / Spread the Happy sloganeer / 2012 Pro Bowl player Chris / Valley of Amazement novelist 2013 / Megadyne fractions

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: none

Word of the Day: Park TAE-hwan (63D: Swimming gold medalist Park ___-hwan) —
Park Tae-hwan (born September 27, 1989) is a South Korean swimmer. He is a member of the South Korean national swimming team, based in TaereungSeoul. He won a gold medal in the 400 meter freestyle and a silver in the 200 meter freestyle events at the 2008 Summer Olympics. He is the first Asian swimmer to claim a gold medal in men's 400 m freestyle, and the first Korean to win an Olympic medal in swimming. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is solid. Workmanlike, but solid. It's a *little* too heavy on the icky / tired short stuff (see esp. the NERTS / ELIA / ANS collusion in the SE). But it's certainly not bad, and it gave me a good workout, especially in the SW corner, where I stalled quite badly. At first all I had was NUMBSKULL. Then I guessed ECOLI and UNLOCK and thought "I got this." But no. Put in URNS. Still no. Tried LANK and LEAN where I needed LITE. Tried NATL where I needed NAUT. As for TAE—forget about it. That was never gonna happen (though I will say that my flat-out guess of RAE probably helped me see NUTELLA, finally) (66A: "Spread the Happy" sloganeer). Clue on RAIN OUT is quite poor, as a RAIN OUT is not a "game." By definition. Clue says that it can't be played, but a RAIN OUT is only ever in the past, so it should say "couldn't" be played. Clue is trying to be cutesy, but it needs a "?" if it wants to play this fast and lose with reality/grammar.


So the [Bible] is the WORD OF GOD now? Just … is? Not "to some," or "allegedly"? OK then. I will take a stance of MUTISM on this issue, I guess. (me, mid-solve: "Mutes have an -ism now?"). I think the bigger corners are better than the smaller corners. NW is probably the best, with a nice "Z" intersection to start things off. Clue on ZOMBIE is very good and had me puzzled for a long time (1A: Body that doesn't remain at rest?). I like the [Johns of Britain] [John of Britain] sequence, mostly because I wrote in LOOS and MAJOR. Not so helpful. I have ordered many an Americano in my time, and … SODA? We're not talking about the coffee drink, then? Oh, no, I see it's a Campari-based cocktail. Weird coincidence—I bought my first ever bottle of Campari yesterday so that I could make a Negroni (easy, colorful, enjoyable). I felt compelled to branch out into non-G&T gin drinks because the good people at St. George Spirits (who apparently read my blog) sent me a bunch of gins as part of a thank-you gift, and, well, they're not going to drink themselves. They also sent me bourbon. Anyway, where was I? Eh, who cares. Now I'm thirsty.



Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if you're wondering how I could refrain from talking about the crosswordese ZOMBIE that is ULU (38A: Inuit knife) … my strategy was "just ignore it and it will go away." We'll see …

P.P.S. I review Ben Tausig's book "The Curious History of the Crossword" in today's Wall Street Journal. Here's a PDF.

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Square in old slang as indicated by forming a square with one's hands / FRI 1-24-14 / Instruments played with mizraabs / Ambush locale in episode 1 of Lone Ranger / Sun disc wearer in myth

Friday, January 24, 2014

NOTE to PRINT SOLVERS — your puzzle will be different due to last week's NYT screw-up. Go here if you are looking for the puzzle by Kevin Der (which was supposed to run last week, and which online solvers, including me, *got* last week).

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none

Word of the Day: WAHINE (15A: Miss out on a board) —
n.
  1. Hawaii. A Polynesian woman.
  2. Sports. A woman surfer.


Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/vahin#ixzz2rHcXO6VL
• • •

I liked this one, though more for its cluing than its fill, I think. I just found it entertaining to solve. Turns out I don't mind a bunch of "?" clues if they are clever *and* the puzzle is relatively easy. Some of them were transparent (e.g. [Civic leader?] = CEE), but others required more thought (e.g. [One who's trustworthy?] = HEIR). I think I'd've given the puzzle a thumbs-up for the clue on MILE HIGH CLUB alone (26A: Group that no one on earth has ever joined). A great entry deserves a great clue, and this one got one. There's a slangy feeling to the grid, which I enjoy. I think you'd have to be pretty rude/paranoid to answer the door with "WHO'S THAT?!" but I guess if you let the person in with a warm "HOW ARE YA!?" then all would be forgiven. There is some fill here that is a bit frown-worthy. HEPS? Weirdly, I had HUTS there (see 25D: Humble dwellings)—but maybe "HUTS" are the sounds a quarterback makes and HEPS are the sounds drill sergeants make? Or are those HUPS? Whatever, I'm still not a fan of HEPS. Anyway, HUTS was already in the grid, in residence form, so that answer was never gonna be right. Eventually ESPOUSED forced me to fix it. Also, never liked IRES and never will. Cannot take that word seriously a. as a verb or b. in the plural.


Weird coincidence: not twenty minutes ago, I opened mail from a Rex Parker reader who railed against 44A: "___ magnifique" (TRÈS), claiming it was either awkward or redundant or roughly as bad as saying "very unique." Anyway, the point is He Criticized the Clue Before the Puzzle Came Out. I guess it's a recycled clue, but still, it was Very eerie to come across that clue tonight [OK, now that I see that this puzzle actually appeared in newspapers *last* Friday, this coincidence is not so weird]. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about written-out numbers in crossword answers—the kind of numbers you *never* see written out in real life. Like, today, I-TEN and (I think) L SEVEN. See also BTWO, VSIX, etc. Allowing written numbers like that certainly makes for some interesting, unexpected fill, but it also always feels a bit … cheap, somehow. The Dudley Moore movie is "10," not "TEN." "EIGHT MILE" would just seem wrong. But it's a convention I've learned to live with, and maybe it does more good than harm in the long run—allowing for more interesting fill possibilities and solving challenges.

Overall, this was enjoyable. I wasn't awed, but I wasn't ired, either.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Sea goddess who rescued Odysseus / THU 1-23-14 / Actress/model Kravitz / Snack brand represented by Sterling Cooper on Mad Men / Carlissian of Star Wars films / Member of boy band with nine top 10 hits / Poet who wrote If you want to be loved be lovable

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: BLOCKs — solvers have to supply 3 BLOCKs as well as the missing numbers for the post-BLOCK Acrosses and Downs, which don't actually appear in the grid.
  • NEWKIDONTHEBLOCK
  • BLOCKADE
  • SUNBLOCK
  • BLOCKSOUT
  • BUTCHERBLOCK
  • BLOCKPARTIES
  • CINDERBLOCK
  • BLOCKQUOTES
  • ICEBLOCK
  • BLOCKBUSTERMOVIE
  • CELLBLOCK
  • BLOCKAGE
Word of the Day: IDAS (53D: One of the Argonauts) —
In Greek mythologyIdas (Ancient GreekἼδας Ídas) was a son of Aphareus and Arene and brother of Lynceus. He and Lynceus loved Hilaeira and Phoebe and fought with their rival suitors, Castor and Polydeuces, killing the mortal brother Castor. He was also one of the Argonauts and a participant in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. He kidnapped MarpessaApollo also desired her andZeus made the girl choose. She chose the mortal Idas, fearing that Apollo could abandon her when she grew old. With Marpessa, Idas had one daughter named Cleopatra. (wikipedia)
• • •

When you have an elaborate concept like this, it's really, Really important for the execution to come off with a hitch. While this puzzle represents an interesting variation on the rebus puzzle, the bit where the solver also has to supply missing numbers in the grid and figure out those unnumbered (in the grid) Acrosses and Downs—that was far from enjoyable. I finished the puzzle and had no idea that those post-BLOCK answers (i.e. BLOCKade, BLOCKs out, BLOCK parties, etc.) were even clued. At all. This is because I, like many constant solvers, do not read the clues like a book, from beginning to end. We look at the grid and let the grid tell us what clues to look at. So there was no way I was ever going to see 23-Across (in the clue) because there is no "23" in the grid. It's a pretty simple problem. And, the thing is, I didn't even need the clues (23A/D, 39A/D, 56A/D). I realized that the answers would simply be "words/phrases starting with BLOCKS" and figured them out from crosses. The awkwardness of the numbering, combined with the inessentialness of the numbering, proved a huge distraction. Mainly, it made the solve more puzzling (not good-puzzling, more WTF-puzzling), and less enjoyable than it might have been had the core concept just *snapped* into view. As I was solving, I was thinking "OK, something's coming, some revealer, something that will explain the unclued stuff and tie all this BLOCK stuff together." But the shoe never dropped. Later, someone pointed out that the missing clues are actually there—they're just not numbered in the grid. Oh. OK. That seems more a design flaw than a design feature.


Fill is not good, but it's a pretty dense theme, so I can let it slide (though every part of me wants to rag on "TSU," Whatever That Is) (Holy Crap, it's Texas Southern University, not Texas State, as I'd imagined) (TSU hasn't been clued this way in 20 years, BTW). OK, no, I do have to perp-walk IDAS, ELOI/ELEA, TSU, ENOW, LUNE, OXI, and INO. OK, that is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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2010 Jennifer Aniston movie / WED 1-22-14 / Swiss king of hoteliers / Quimby of children's lit / Music genre that influenced No Doubt / Like some farm cultivators

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Constructor: Jared Banta

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: HANSEL AND GRETEL (35A: Story mapped out in this grid, from lower left to upper right) — circles spell out BREAD CRUMBS and form a winding path leading from SW corner (where one square represents "HOME") to the NW corner (where another square represents "WITCH"). The fairy tale's publisher (BROTHERS GRIMM) (52A: Publishers of 35-Across, with "the") and … some guy who wrote fairy tales But Not This Fairy Tale (?!) (HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN) (20A: With 23-Across, giant in fairy tales) are also in the grid

Word of the Day: CÉSAR RITZ (34D: Swiss "king of hoteliers") —
César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was a Swiss hotelier and founder of several hotels, most famously theHôtel Ritz, in Paris and The Ritz Hotel in London. His nickname was "king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings," and it is from his name and that of his hotels that the term ritzy derives. (wikipedia)
• • •

This feels like a good core idea that did not get the execution it needed. The puzzle doesn't quite … come off, for a variety of reasons. Grid can't really capture the there-and-back-again quality of the story, so we just have the voyage to the WITCH. If the kids had died there, that would be great, but of course they didn't. Next, the "HOME" and "WITCH" squares (great idea to have those rebus squares) are poorly "hidden." Ideally, you would clue the rebus answers in such a way that the core meaning of the rebus square is masked (a la "THE S[witch]"—"witch" meaning is totally lost within the answer). But here we have [witch]ES, which is just sad, and then AT [home] / [home] BREW, both essentially preserving the meaning of [home], and therefore, not great as rebus squares. Very, very hard to disguise  them, I'll grant you. If you move them off the corners you've got a better shot. But let's move on.


Circles are not just arbitrary, they are the very definition of arbitrary. The arbitrariest. Completely randomly placed. But they capture the winningness of the route effectively, so I actually don't hate them. They make sense. But here's what doesn't *quite* make sense to me: I'm not fairy tale expert, but … what is HANS CHRISTIAN / ANDERSEN doing here (we'll leave the fact that ANDERSEN has no corresponding symmetrical theme answer for now)? I am looking through his oeuvre (cursorily, I'll grant you), and I can't find a version of "Hansel & Gretel." Actually, scratch that. I can find a *version*, but it's not actually called "HANSEL AND GRETEL"—it's called "The Pancake House"! Here it is. The characters are named Hans and Grethe. So … yes, it's a version. But, problem: that version has No Bread Crumbs. So this huge, two-tiered theme answer is here, but it has no direct relationship to the theme. It's just vaguely "fairy tale"-related. My fellow blogger thinks the clue probably originally referred directly to the theme, but was fact-checked late in the game, after the puzzle had been accepted and edited. So clue gets changed and you get this looong "theme" answer that just … hangs there. Sadly. Inaptly.

Oh, also, TNS. Never seen it. A 3-letter answer I've never seen. Huh. Interesting. Rest of the fill is pretty average. I mean, RELOG is horrid, as is HIST., and TWO-ROW is from outer space (42D: Like some farm cultivators), but the rest seems mostly fine. Love CÉSAR RITZ because who knew his name was CÉSAR!? Interesting trivia.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. here's something kind of cool—one of my readers sent me a photo of himself when he was a child, in the late '40s, in a cool cowboy outfit, standing in front of a house just a few doors down from where I currently live in Binghamton, NY. So naturally my wife and I went over and took a photo of me holding the old photo in front of that same house. Results here, at my wife's blog.

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Indonesian currency / TUE 1-21-14 / High in German names / Magazine launch of 1933 with hyphen in its name / Times Square booth sign / Fictional Flanders Plimpton / Ski resort in Salt Lake county / 2007 documentary about health care system

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Constructor: Todd Gross

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: WORD / LOOP (1A: With 72-Across, what the answers on this puzzle's perimeter form) — words on perimeter form a loop, where (moving clockwise from 1A), each successive answer  represents a one-letter change from the previous one, until you end up back where you started: at WORD. [I'm told that the "O" is also part of the theme, in that it is the only vowel in the themers, and appears exclusively in themers; I can't imagine most people will notice this, or care, but in case it is thematic, I'm telling you about it]

Theme answers:
  • WORD, WOOD, WOOT, TOOT, HOOT, HOOP, LOOP, LOOK, KOOK (I went for LOON here at first…), COOK, CORK, CORD
Word of the Day: RUPIAH (54A: Indonesian currency) —
n.pl.rupiah.
A basic unit of currency in Indonesia.

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/rupiah#ixzz2r04mVEha
• • •

Yesterday's puzzle was gunky, but it looks squeaky clean next to this thing. First, this theme is kind of a pointless and dull trick, but let's just say it's a cute variation on the (tired) word ladder, give it some credit for its loopiness, and move on. What about the rest of the puzzle? The majority of the puzzle? The Answers You Have To Fill In To Complete The Puzzle? Well, those … yikes. At this point, I don't understand how a constructor can make a grid like this and *not* say to himself, "man, this really could be better." There is so much junk here, it's astonishing. Very few interesting, longer answers—but tons of 4- and 5-letter answers, and so many of them mediocre-to-outright-bad. The constructors whose work I (generally) love, these people would (mostly) be ashamed to have corners like that SE corner: ADRIP, ATRIP, and RUPIAH (!?!?!)? In the same tight space? And that's hardly out of the ordinary for this grid. AWEE!? UPAS? OBER? Everywhere you look, the grid's marked by an "eh, whatever, good enough" attitude. No craft. No care for the fill. Database says the answer has been used before, so, sure, go with it. No matter if it's icky or rarely used or whatever. Computer Say Good So Good. This drives me nuts. As you can see. LETA WILEE ORNE ISE. There is no good reason for fill to be this poor. And it IS poor, and even those of you who think I'm "too harsh" know that this is poor. You've been at this too long. Come on, now. This theme may require a compromise here or there (esp. in the corners), but a gajillion compromises? No.


I will give the puzzle this—it has one nice patch: the KEYWEST NEWSEEK SEXUAL CARWAX nexus. Side note: I think something marketing itself as SEXUAL CARWAX might sell very well.



Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Morning Joe co-host Brzezinski / MON 1-20-13 / Dunes transport briefly / Former owner of Capitol Records / Actress Saldana of Avatar / Matchmaker's match-ups

Monday, January 20, 2014

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: MLK, JR. (38A: Annual Jan. honoree) — a tribute puzzle in honor of MLK Day (i.e. today)

  • LINCOLN MEMORIAL (17A: Site of a 1963 speech by 38-Across)
  • CIVIL RIGHTS (30A: Cause associated with 38-Across)
  • "I HAVE A DREAM" (49A: Repeated phrase in 38-Across's speech at the 17-Across)
  • "WE ARE FREE AT LAST" (65A: Famous closing words of the 49-Across speech)


Word of the Day: MIKA Brzezinski (36A: "Morning Joe" co-host Brzezinski) —
Mika Emilie Leonia Brzezinski (/ˈmkə brəˈzɪnski/; born May 2, 1967) is an American television host and journalist. Brzezinski co-hosts MSNBC's weekday morning broadcast Morning Joe with former Republican representative Joe Scarborough. // Brzezinski was born in New York City, the daughter of Polish-born foreign policy expert and former National Security AdvisorZbigniew Brzezinski and Swiss-born sculptor Emilie Anna Benešová. Her mother, of Czech descent, is a grandniece ofCzechoslovakia's former president Edvard Beneš. Her father was then teaching at Columbia University, but the family moved to McLean, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., in late 1976, when Zbigniew was named National Security Advisor by newly elected President Jimmy Carter. Her brother, Mark Brzezinski, is an American diplomat and the current United States Ambassador to Sweden since 2011. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty lackluster, as tributes go. Liz is one of the best constructors on the planet, but this theme just lies there. Bunch of "I HAVE  A DREAM"-related speech stuff. Kind of ho-hum. My favorite thing about this puzzle is ATTACK AD (58A: Aggressive campaign TV spot) — a modern reality that represents the reality of our current political system. Great, modern answer that cuts against the obligatory pieties of today like an indictment. Fill is a bit subpar in places, too—standard for the NYT, but a bit less than I expect from a constructor of this caliber.

[Any way we can get "AMERICA HAS GIVEN THE NEGRO PEOPLE A BAD CHECK" into the puzzle? How come no one ever quotes *other* parts of this (great) speech???]

I found this a bit harder than normal (though by no means "hard" in any absolute sense) because of PARI- (which I didn't know how to spell: went with PARA) and ONE ALL (which I had as ONE ONE). That made 21A: Matchmaker's match-ups look like this: POIRANGS. I am quite fond of this terribly wrong non-word, POIRANGS. Sounds like an exotic ape … or fruit. But alas, the answer was PAIRINGS. I also stumbled by entering the in-the-language EPIC instead of the crosswordese / technical term no one uses, EPOS at 46A: Long narrative poem. This meant that my Niagara Falls (40D: Niagara Falls sound = ROAR) was making all kinds of weird sounds, most notably FIAR (I typoed the "F" somehow, perhaps instinctively following MLK with JF … K? Who knows? Anyway, slowed down there as well. Time was still quite normalish.

Enjoy your day, especially if you're lucky enough to have it off.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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