Romanian Rhapsodies composer / WED 7-30-14 / Karmann classic German sports car / Rapper with 3x platinum single Hold On We're Going Home / Dress smartly in old parlance / Turbo Tax alternative for short

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Constructor: Jean O'Conor

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: Recluing kitchen stuff — items found in the kitchen are clued ("?"-style) as if they are not items found in the kitchen, but some other items altogether.

Theme answers:
  • COOKIE SHEET (17A: List of user IDs?)
  • MEASURING CUP (22A: Undergarment fitting device?)
  • CAN OPENER (30A: Jailer with a key ring?)
  • MICROWAVE (43A: Hardly an attraction for a surfer?)
  • CUTTING BOARD (49A: Directors in charge of downsizing?)
  • CHAFING DISH (58A: Attractive but annoying date?)

Word of the Day: "Cookie" (COOKIE SHEET (17A: List of user IDs?)) —
cookie, also known as an HTTP cookieweb cookie, or browser cookie, is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web browser while the user is browsing that website. Every time the user loads the website, the browser sends the cookie back to the server to notify the website of the user's previous activity. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items in a shopping cart) or to record the user's browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited by the user as far back as months or years ago).
• • •

The theme on this one holds up pretty well. The fill really should've been edited into much better shape. It's rough and musty all over the place. Clearly someone got in there mucked with the cluing at 54D: Rapper with the 3x platinum single "Hold On, We're Going Home" (DRAKE), a clue that stands out like a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake [simile stolen from Raymond Chandler] compared to the hoary quality of the rest of the clues. But rapping up one clue hardly constitutes serious editing. In America, we say "first grade," not GRADE ONE (55A: Elementary start). We also never say TOG UP ever. GHIA is horrible as a stand-alone answer (though KARMANNGHIA would be righteous). Many NEINS? Nein. Then there's your usual assortment of tired stuff like ISAO and ENESCO (the grid-friendlist 6-letter composer—can also be ENESCU: handy!). STELA SAXE OSAGES-plural. NUM! I mean, you've got two sets of cheaters* (SW, NE)—the fill in those tiny sections should at least be passable. How 'bout GHEE! GHEE is a thing. A real thing. GHIA wishes it were GHEE.


The theme clues felt a tiny bit tortured, though I got a kick out of the CHAFING DISH clue, for sure. Reasonable theme, weak fill. Pretty much par for the course, of late. Actually, a bit better than some of the stuff I've seen since returning from my time among the MAORI (6D: Most Cook Islanders).

One thing about the theme—seems like you could make a pretty funny Sunday-sized puzzle out of it. The options seem manifold, if not limitless: [Sex in southern Ireland?] (9), for instance.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*cheaters (or cheater squares) are black squares that do not increase word count, inserted primarily to make a grid easier to construct [today, black squares before 10A and below 12D, as well as their rotational symmetry counterparts]

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Mujer of mixed race / TUE 7-29-14 / Rapper who hosted MTV's Pimp My Ride / Away from a chat program say / Noted filmmaker with dog named Indiana

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)



THEME: Plants with animal names — First theme clue begins "Nursery worker's suggestion …" and then each clue simply follows the pattern "… for a ___"; nothing in the clues about animals, so that's just an added thing you have to figure out (after you figure out which kind of "nursery" the clue is on about, and after you figure out where the "first" theme clue is so you know what the first part of the theme clue phrase is, because w/o it, you've just got these ellipsis clues staring at you, which can be maddening …)

Theme answers:
  • SNAKEPLANT (18A: Nursery worker's suggest for a backstabber?)
  • CRABGRASS (3D: … for a grouch?)
  • DOGWOOD (36A: … for a scoundrel?)
  • WOLFSBANE (32D: … for a lothario?)
  • GOATSBEARD (57A: … for a fall guy?)

Word of the Day: MESTIZA (49D: Illusions) —
noun
noun: mestiza; plural noun: mestizas
  1. (in Latin America) a woman of mixed race, especially the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian. (google)
• • •
At a minimum, it was interesting. And it was certainly way harder than the typical Tuesday, what with the rather complicated / double-unstated theme (unstated first because there's no clue tip to the animal angle, and unstated second because unless you know which theme answer is the so-called "first" one, all your theme clues are just partial clues). Seems like 3D should've been "first," in that it is closest to the upper left, where most people start, but there certainly is convention on the side of making the "first" theme clue be the first theme clue that appears in an Across position. Anyway, my first theme answer was SNAKE PLANT, a thing I've never heard of, so I just … had no idea what was going on. Eventually, after figuring out a bunch of themers via crosses, I could see that we were dealing w/ animal plants, and things got a tad easier. But then there was the whole XZIBIT (!) MESTIZA area, which is right hard for any day. I actually know both the rapper and the "mixed race" term, but the latter never dawned on me (til late) and the former … is he still somebody people know? Seems like he is solidly and completely bound in amber from circa 2003.


I fell into a horribly stupid self-made pit when, faced with --KEN at 64A: Wheelbarrow or thimble, in Monopoly, my eye took in only the first word and I wrote in (with what, in retrospect, was a weird amount of confidence) OAKEN. This did two things. First, it gave me a perfectly acceptable word at 58D: Spanish "that" (ESO—I had ESA); second, it gave me -IO as the last two letters of the rapper, and wham bam thank you COOLIO! Then things got ugly. Because just as I'd never heard of SNAKE PLANT, I'd never heard of GOAT'S BEARD, and the leap from "fall guy" to GOAT (given all the imaginative thematic nursery leaps I was already having to make) was pretty far. When I see "fall guy" I just see Lee Majors doing stunts and … what, solving crimes? Did he do that? I never actually watched the show.


So theme was … let's be generous and say "layered" in an "interesting" way. Felt a bit wonky as set up, clue-wise, and as I said, at least two of the plants meant nothing to me, so I didn't Love the theme, but the core concept holds up, and I rather like most of the fill. Except ICE FOG. I'm not fully convinced that's real. ICE stuff is like E-stuff, in that the puzzle keeps trying to sell me new products, and I just get increasingly skeptical. ICE TEA ICE RUN ICE AXE. I think I draw the line at ICEAX(E). OK, that's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Weasley family owl / MON 7-28-14 / Plump songbird / Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has football-shaped head / Those who put lot of effort into social-climbing in modern lingo

Monday, July 28, 2014

Constructor: Tom McCoy

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



THEME: STRING QUARTET (37A: Classical music group … or what the four sets of circled letters make up?) — I don't know how to describe this theme. Circled/embedded letters spell out … what? Strings can be made of "nylon" … and they are analogous in shape to the other three … I honestly don't understand what makes this theme consistent. Mainly I do not understand "nylon." Seems like a huge Odd Man Out.

Theme answers:
  • ZEROPERCENT (17A: Chance of an impossibility)
  • "HEYARNOLD" (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head)
  • ANYLONAGER (44A: For even a second more)
  • VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally)
Word of the Day: TRY-HARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) —
[I have googled [define "try-hards"] and mainly what comes up are gaming sites and sites where people are asking the question "what (the hell) is a 'try-hard'?" I'm deeply suspicious of the reality of this answer. I love "modern lingo," but certain minimum qualities of familiarity must be met, I think.] [Here's a "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" message board, if that helps]
• • •

Well, insofar as the fill was kind of zippy, and the overall puzzle was much tougher than your normal Monday, I was pleased. Probably should've been a Tuesday, but whatevs. Close enough for horseshoes etc. But there is one major problem here—kind of a deal breaker. This theme makes no sense. Or, it makes sense in only the loosest, vaguest way, like "here's some stuff in the broad galaxy of string-ish things." And if you're going to go that route, why not pearls, cheese, theory, etc? But here, there's ROPE, YARN, and CABLE … all of which can be made of many, many things, and share with "string" a physical shape (spaghetti-ESQUE is, I believe, the technical term). But NYLON is the material out of which one might *make* string, or rope, I think. So there's a consistency issue here. You want your revealer to just *snap* the whole puzzle into place. "AH … yes. Bam. Got it." Is the reaction you want. Here, I just made a face at the puzzle and then tried to piece together my comprehension failure. I asked my group (I have a group) and it turns out I wasn't alone in my bafflement, so … yeah. If you don't give a rat's [beep] about tightness of themes, then you can just enjoy the atypically crunchy fill and let it go. But this looks like Theme Fail to me.


What made this one slower than most Mondays. Well, first off, the theme answers are not exactly common phrases. They're real things, but all of them took me crosses / thought to come up with (not always the case on Mondays). "HEY, ARNOLD" was by far the toughest, as I had completely forgotten that show existed. My kid never watched it, I never watched it … I know it only because it's Out There. In the Air. Man. [Chance of an impossibility] sounds like it's going to be some interesting colloquialism, but ends up being highly literal. YOU was clued toughly (32D: Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed). I mean, not so's you'd be up all night sussing it out, but still, these little difficulties add up on a Monday. I was over 3:30, I think, which is 30+ seconds slower than usual (those thirty seconds feel much longer than than they are). I'd say 90+% of my Monday times fall in a very tight group between 2:45 and 3:15, so when the times are outside that range, I know something's up. But again, no big deal. I like a little struggle, a little bite, on Monday, as long as the end result is a good puzzle. Today … things didn't quite come together, theme-wise, but it wasn't a total loss.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine / SUN 7-27-14 / Pathet old revolutionary group / Longtime baseball union exec Donald / European capital to natives / Exemplar of indecision / Names featured in Al Hirschfeld drawings

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "What's My Line?" — Theme clues are all familiar phrases following the pattern [___ line], and answers are all "lines" in the sense of something someone might say (i.e. unexpected answers, not immediately associated with the apparently context of the clue) (so, for instance, [Fault line] is a line one might utter if one was at fault, and not anything to do with an earthquake)

Theme answers:
  • SORRY WRONG NUMBER (22A: Telephone line)
  • SHOW ME THE MONEY (30A: Cruise line)
  • I'LL GET IT (14D: Help line) 
  • MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN? (15D: Date line)
  • ONCE UPON A TIME (52A: Story line)
  • MIGHT MAKES RIGHT (39D: Power line)
  • THAT'S ALL FOLKS (77A: Finish line)
  • IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME (101A: Fault line)
  • EAT FRESH (84D: Subway line) —this struck me as the freshest (!) of the bunch
  • TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE (111A: Laugh line)

Word of the Day: FARFEL (99A: Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine) —
noun, plural far·fel. Jewish Cookery.
a solid foodstuff broken into small pieces: matzo farfel; noodle farfel.
Origin: 
1890–95;  < Yiddish farfl;  compare Middle High German varveln noodles
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014. 
• • •

This was one for people who are a. way, way older than I am, and b. have a very, very different sense of humor than I do. Essentially, if you thought the NYT crossword puzzle had its heyday circa 1980, this was the puzzle for you. You can really taste the Maleska. Almost completely void of any contemporary frame of reference? Check. Cultural center of gravity of roughly 1955? Check. "Humor" (i.e. very very mild guffaws or chuckles that are guaranteed family-friendly and TRITE)? Check. Short fill that is ridiculously, bafflingly arcane, in places where it could easily, with little reworking, be replaced by something reasonable and familiar? Checkity check. I stopped solving within the first minute, at PRAHA, because I couldn't believe it was right. "No way you'd have that in an easy-to-fill corner like that … No way." And yet, way. I mean, that corner's got PSIS and ITGO, so it's not like PRAHA is doing some kind of valiant, Atlas-like labor  and holding the whole area up. Dear lord. HATLO!? "They'll Do It Ever Time"? OK, HATLO's work looks interesting, but that guy's been dead over 50 years and his strip was never terribly major to begin with. Real answers with clever / interesting clues beat obscure proper nouns (especially barely inferable ones like these) Every Single Time. It's construction 101. At this point, we're dealing w/ an editing problem, not a construction one. This theme is so stale, and the fill so mediocre-to-poor (and dated), that I don't know how puzzles like these keep getting published. In 2014. Solving this felt like slightly like punishment. Where was the fun? This was about as fun as filling out a SCHEDULE A (I imagine).


What year is it? Who says "MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN?" No, you may not, and get rid of the bow tie and desperate squeaking voice, and Vote Truman! The fact that the [Laugh line] is TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE tells you everything you need to know about this puzzle. I want you to walk outside right now and just start exclaiming "FARFEL FEHR!" When people ask "Why are you talking gibberish?" just say "Not Gibberish! It was in my puzzle! FARFEL FEHR!" The whole thing started feeling like a trivia contest—as if the puzzle were made harder by the inclusion of stuff like [Pathet ___ (old revolutionary group)] and [___ de Champlain (founder of Quebec)] and [Astronaut Slayton]. I wanted (much) more stuff like "IN THERE" (which is at least colloquial and has some zing) or DATA FLOW. But mostly all I got was punishing moldy stuff.

"Why are you opposed to learning new things!?" Because I'm a small-minded American. Also, I'm not opposed. I'm opposed to people using lame excuses for why cruddy fill is in their grids. Put it this way: if I put Samuel ETO'O in a grid, your reaction would not be, "Oh, I am so glad to learn of this Cameroonian footballer who is a star striker for Chelsea FC." Your reaction would be "WTF?" or "Not *sports* again [groan]" (yeah, I see you) or "Paging Dr. OOXTEPLERNON!" or some such. And much as I enjoy the names of footballers from around the globe, if my puzzle were a mainstream puzzle (such as the NYT), You Would Be Right To Groan, not because ETO'O is not a great name (it is) but because four-letter answers should not be spent on obscure names unless Absolutely Positively Necessary. See also, five-letter words, six-letter words, etc. And by "obscure" I mean "obscure to the majority of the target audience." To many football fans, ETO'O is not obscure.

Also, where is [Party line]? [Shore line]? [Zip line]? [Panty line]? [Bee line]? There Are So Many Lines, with (one imagines) So Many potential different answers, any number of which might've been entertaining / amusing / clever / fresh.


Had to suspend my Puzzle of the Week feature for a bit because I haven't been keeping up w/ All The Puzzles during my travels. I'll probably do something collective for July. I'm taking nominations if you've got 'em. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go gas up the ol' LANDAU (44A: Vinyl-roofed car).
The landau description was revived during the 1960s. There was a trend for making "fake convertibles" by applying vinyl roofs on regular cars. Some of these vehicles were called "landaus" by their manufacturers, and many were fitted with landau bars on the rear quarters (faux cabriolet). Some used the term "Town Landau" such as for one of the 1967 models in the Ford Thunderbird line. This generally meant a wider rear pillar with no rear quarter windows, or a partial vinyl roof that was applied only over the rear seat area (and is thus reminiscent of a town car).

A landau roof is also commonly used on the North American hearse; very long closed rear quarters, a vinyl roof, and huge, polished landau bars have been the preferred hearse style since before World War II. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Zigzag ribbon / SAT 7-26-14 / Resort town near Piz Bernina / Airline relaunched in 2009 / Material also known as cat-gold glimmer / Dutch queen until 1980 / Cousin of goldeneye

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: none, or maybe "JERSEY SHORE," since there's a lot of Italian stuff in the grid like JOE PESCI and LAZIO and AL ITALIA, and WOW FACTOR kind of recalls the name of one of the characters (people?) on the show, JWoww, though as you can see she spells her name differently; I don't think it's a stretch to call the cast SEA CREATUREs … but no, I think I'm reading too much into the grid; I'm sticking with "none"; no theme; NIL.  

Word of the Day: RICRAC (46A: Zigzag ribbon) —
rickrack or ricrac  (ˈrɪkˌræk)
— n
a zigzag braid used for trimming (dictionary.reference.com)
• • •

Since I haven't slept properly in about a jillion hours (read: 48+) and am roughly 8 hours jet lagged at the moment, I figured I would struggle mightily with this one, but instead I tore it up, viciously, if not joyfully. I'd heard rumors that the puzzles had improved notably during my absence. Looking at some of the bylines, I wouldn't be surprised, but I'd hold off on the declarations that "It's Alive!" Ten days or so is not a noteworthy or statistically significant amount of time. It's easy to fall into the recency delusion. I mean, I've written this blog for going on eight years, and if I have a serious negative (or positive) reaction to a cluster of puzzles, I get mail about how I must be in a better mood these days, or "why do you blog if you hate puzzles so much?," when really there is no larger trend. Sometimes you flip "heads" five times in a row. Not likely, but it will happen if you flip long enough. This is all to say today's puzzle was decidedly average—a handful of decent, original answers and a pretty good StaggerStack™ there in the middle, and then either forgettable or below-average stuff most everywhere else. What's super-weird about this puzzle is it has a pretty low word count (64), but with all its short junk, it feels like the word count is much higher. Usually low word-count grids don't feel this choppy, and whatever their potential flaws, I don't have to endure stuff like ERL and ELIS and ADIN and OOO and partial names like NOVO and PIBB. WOW FACTOR (15D: Provider of "!!!") speaks for itself, and LOVE BITE adds some zing, but otherwise, pretty tepid.


Whole SW corner feels off. RATED A is a bond thing, then? You'd never use it to mean "Tops" in any situation I can think of. RICRAC is a new one on me; can't say it's bad, but can't imagine it was a "hoo boy can't wait to get this one in the grid" kind of answer. I spent many years studying the Middle Ages, where monks abounded, and I always new them as ASCETIC. The -AL sounds quaint and odd, like when people say "IRONICAL"—it's a word, but not the word one would, you know, use. EARING sounds like something Eliza (the notorious AITCH-dropper) would say. "Am I 'EARING you right, 'Enry?" she'd ask. I've never spelled DOOZIE like that. I'm a "Y" man, myself.


I've been doing mainly cryptic crosswords for the past two weeks while in NZ. Usually with family, usually over tea. Much more social than this US crossword business. Highly enjoyable, if (much) more time-consuming. Anyway, I'm back in US crossword mode now. I'm here blogging for another week, then I leave again (for less distant lands and for less time). I might blog at least a few puzzles during next week's trip, since I'll at least be in the country, and will be able to access the puzzle at a humane, west coast hour. Anyway, I'm hugely grateful to the people who filled in for me when I'm away. It's a considerable privilege to have so many people I can just hand the keys, without having to worry about, well, anything. So thanks to Erik Agard, The Klein sisters, Doug Peterson, Andrew Ries, Finn Vigeland, and especially Matt Gaffney.

Back with more hot blog action tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. way way Way too jet lagged to get into the potential problems with 36A: Eliza in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," e.g. (MULATTO). Not sure why you'd even have that in your word list, but … nope, nope. Too tired. Bed.

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Annihilate, arcade-style / FRI-25-JUL / Tudor who lost her head / Like God

Friday, July 25, 2014

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: not too tough for a Friday




THEME: none, freestyle grid

Word of the Day: TOLEDO, OHIO (29A: The Glass Capital of the World)
Toledo (/təˈld/) is the fourth most populous city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Lucas County.[5] Toledo is in northwest Ohio, on the western end of Lake Erie, and borders the State of Michigan. The city was founded in 1833 on the west bank of the Maumee River, originally incorporated as part of Monroe County, Michigan Territory, then re-founded in 1837, after conclusion of the Toledo War, when it was incorporated in Ohio.
Toledo grew quickly as a result of the Miami and Erie Canal and its position on the railway line between New York and Chicago. It has since become a city well known for its industry, particularly in glass and auto assembly, as well as for its art community, education, healthcare, and local sports teams. The population of Toledo as of the 2010 Census was 287,208, while the Toledo metropolitan area had a population of 651,429.

                                                                        -- Wikipedia

Blazed through this one with a Feyeresque, Hinmanite, Delfinian time of 8:56. Couldn't find a toehold in the NE and was starting to panic with almost nothing filled in after a minute, but then this freestyle's many long entries began to fall like dominoes in those videos you see of all those dominoes falling: first (24D: Elated) had to be ON CLOUD NINE, and then with just the ???????K?? I got ARTICHOKES from (57A: Heads with hearts), and very soon after ON A LEASH from (30D: restrained); and then right after the aforementioned TOLEDO, OHIO.

My solve was looking like a skeletal grid, those simple ones you see on the placemat at Bob's Big Boy or wherever: I had all the long entries, each connected by one letter to another long entry, without any of the surrounding short fill. It was like cheating, like how long can this continue?, like the first 30 minutes of that Germany-Brazil game. Euphoric. Rode that vibe through the whole thing. Good feeling and so many nice long entries that we've barely scratched them even with that intro.

DOWN GOES FRAZIER! How-ard Co-sell's famous call from the Foreman-Frazier fight in Jamaica. Yes, I looked that up. I thought it was Ali-Frazier in Vegas. And I didn't realize it was Cosell.



A little short on time so the quick version is: nice long entries; a little scruffy on the short fill in places but not too scruffy; tough, tricky clues: let's call it a B+, indeed giving us the letters to ABACAB. An outstanding week of puzzles thus far, which Rex will finish off tomorrow.




*****
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: the 7th edition of the Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament will be held in Manhattan on Saturday, August 9th. I have to miss it this year but I've been the past two years and it's highly recommended. Relaxed, laugh-a-minute atmosphere and you get to meet all the fun (and very friendly) crossword people, not least of all tournament chieftains Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer. Check it here. I'm jealous that you can make it but I can't.


Thanks to Rex for having me, and to his readers and commenters for keeping it interesting.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld until midnight tonight.

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Helmet part / THU-24-JUL / Outwit, in a way / Big bang maker

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Constructor: David Phillips

Relative difficulty: toughish for a Thursday, until you get the trick



THEME: "Paint It, Black" — put the word IT into four different pairs of black squares

Word of the Day: PETER TOSH (32D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)


Peter Tosh, OM (born Winston Hubert McIntosh; 19 October[1] 1944 – 11 September 1987) was a Jamaican reggae musician. Along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer he was one of the core members of the band The Wailers (1963–1974). After which he established himself as a successful solo artist and a promoter of Rastafari. He was murdered in 1987 during a home invasion. --Wikipedia
• • •

Should I know the name David Phillips? I don't, but this is a very polished piece of work, especially impressive if he's a new constructor.


Theme answers:
  • (4D: Hit 2012 Disney film) WRECK IT RALPH 
  • (20A: "Looky here!") CHECK IT OUT
  • (59A: Not worry about something annoying) LET IT SLIDE
  • (22D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle) PAINT IT BLACK
Crossing your IT's yields eight long entries the other way:  ENCIRCLED, COATTAIL, CUTS INTO, SELECTEES, DULCINEA, PETER TOSH, STAIRCASE and ANATOLIA. Essentially what we have is this (excellent) grid with eight black squares added:




Two elegant touches: 1) the letters IT are used as the word "it" uniformly in all four entries and 2) the ITs are symmetrically placed in the grid. A third elegant touch is that no stray ITs appear anywhere in the grid, which would've been slightly unsightly. Not sure if this was by luck or design but if the author is reading this I'd be interested to know in comments. 

Two dings on the theme clues:

1) The clue for LET IT SLIDE sounds off. "Not worry about something annoying" is more like "let it go," while "let it slide" means "decide not to punish a minor infraction." This is a minor infraction, though, so I'll let it go.

2) This one rankles a bit, though: I think the revealer clue at 22D should have read "1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or what the constructor did four times in this puzzle."  I can't find a way to interpret the clue where the solver is painting IT black. I put IT in white letters in the solution grid, for example, but I didn't paint anything black. If I'm missing a reading of this then let me know in comments, but it doesn't seem as on-target as a visual aspect-revealer should be.

But still, a good use of the letters-in-black-squares idea. And check out that grid: at 72 words, it's wide-open (and clean) enough to be an above-average themeless. Don't miss those internal 4x4 blocks in green in the solution grid above; it's one thing to do a 4x4 box in a corner or edge, but quite another to do it in the center like this with long words beaming out of it in all directions. Bravo.




Lovely week of puzzles thus far, isn't it? A-, C+, A, B, and I'm giving today's puzzle a grade of A-. Hoping for a B on Friday so we have all the letters of "Abacab."
 
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for one more day of CrossWorld

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Talkative bird / WED-23-JUL /Tater tots maker / Mekong Valley native

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Constructor: Howard Barkin

Relative difficulty: pretty easy for a Wednesday



THEME: "___ check" — Each of the six words used in the theme entries precedes "check" in a phrase

Word of the Day: TOCCATA (38A: Bach work) —  (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo being a notable example). -- Wikipedia


• • •
This is one of those "both words can precede (or follow) word X" themes, which we've seen a lot of in recent years. They're not terribly exciting since the reveal is always a slight letdown; you'd hoped there was something mysterious and intriguing going on with those starred clues, but then not really.

OK, so accepting the limitations of the theme type, let's see if super-solver (three-time finalist at the ACPT) and super-nice guy Howard Barkin can jazz things up a little for us. The three theme entries themselves are a good start, with nice phrases BODY DOUBLE, BACKGROUND SOUND ("background noise" Googles rather better, but this phrase is also legit and has the cool -ound/-ound echo) and the excellent PERSONAL BAGGAGE. How Howard must've delighted at seeing both PERSONAL and BAGGAGE on his list of check-preceding words, and then hitting a 15-letter phrase with them to boot. Euphoric boost for a constructor when you score a nice 15.

The revealer is a cut above as well: BLANK CHECK is the answer, and the clue is (Complete freedom ... and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue). So you fill in that blank with the six theme words.

The solve was just under five minutes for me and the grid was a mixed bag. Liked seeing those wide-open NW and SE corners, though my Scowl-o-Meter went off some with ARTE, REOS and the contrived RESEEKS right off the bat in that NW. But BARTAB/OREIDA/ATOMIC was a nice stack up there, with good crossers like TIME-OUT and ADIEU. OUGHT TO/TOCCATA/RUN COLD/SWAGGER are elegantly connected sevens in the middle, and ASKANCE, AGA KHAN and EQUATOR are good sevens elsewhere. It gets ragged/crosswordy in the tight parts (ANS - ATRA - MYNA - AKEY - DCIV - ASAN - AMB - STE), but maybe those sevens are worth it.

Americans are everywhere!



Bullets:
  • (19A: Got away from one's roots?) = DYED — That's a good one.  
  • (52A: Love letters letters) = SWAK — sealed with a kiss. And hopefully some other kind of adhesive. 
  • (35A: Palindromic girl's name) = AVA — lots of girls named Ava these days. How long before one of them becomes famous so we can give Ms. Gardner a well-earned break?
  • Speaking of OUGHT TO: I dig this entry in part because of its trippy (and solver-vexing) vowel/consonant pattern of VVCCCCV. Wordplay trivia: can you think of a common, 7-letter word that uses the same pattern? I can only think of one. Put it in comments if you've got it (or a different one).
A grade of "B" is the natural limit for this kind of theme in my book; something really crazy would have to happen to lift it any higher. And with its slightly above average revealer, above average phrases, and lots of nice longish fill, I think we can say that this one comes close to maximizing the concept, so: B it is. B for Barkin! Crossword-powered Howard.

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

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Screenwriter Sorkin / TUE-22-JUL / Making a bundle / Many Snapchat users

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: on point for a Tuesday



THEME:  — "either way, it makes sense" -- seven pairs of words cross in the grid and are clued to the two words/phrases they form

Word of the Day:  STOA (44D: Ancient Greek colonnade)  

  Stoa is a term defining, in ancient Greek architecture, covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoas were open at the entrance with columns, usually of the Doric order, lining the side of the building; they created a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere.

The name of the Stoic school of philosophy derives from "stoa". -- Wikipedia

Took me until almost the very end to catch this snappy and original theme. Seven pairs of words cross in the grid, and form a familiar word or phrase no matter which word you start with. They are:

(6D: With 8-Down, lime shade) = LIGHT GREEN; (8D: With 6-Across, approve) = GREENLIGHT
(16A: With 12-Down, not natural) = MAN-MADE; (12D: With 16-Across, mob inductee) = MADE MAN
(23A: With 33-Across, fan of the N.F.L.'s Packers) = CHEESEHEAD; (33A: With 23-Down, deli product) = HEAD CHEESE (disgusting phrase and thing)
(38A: With 38-Down, place to drop a coin) = WISHING WELL; (38D: With 38-Across, desiring happiness for someone = WELL WISHING
(40A: With 31-Down, jazz legend) = ARMSTRONG; (31D: With 40-Across, coerce) = STRONGARM
(58A: With 54-Down, waffle alternative) = PANCAKE; (54D: With 58-Across, bakery container = CAKE PAN
(59A:  With 57-Down, part of a morning routine) = BREAKFAST; (57A: With 59-Across, basketball tactic) = FAST BREAK




About halfway through the grid I got an eerie "it's too quiet in here" feeling, like in a horror movie: where were this puzzle's theme entries? I'd noticed a large number of cross-referenced clues but it wasn't until about 80% of the way through that it all clicked.

Notice the elegant touches: there are seven word pairs in the grid, which is a lot, and they're placed as close to symmetrically as could be hoped; they're all well-chosen and familiar; all the word pairs cross each other, logically since they're "cross-referenced," and aesthetically because it tightens the theme (and doesn't make you hunt all over the grid for a cross-ref answer).

That's an excellent crossword. In contrast to Sunday's puzzle, which was elegantly constructed but played somewhat dull, this one is both elegant and a fun solve since finding each pair of words isn't tedious and it's inherently interesting that two phrases comprised of the same two words take on radically different meanings if you reverse the order of those words.

I chided yesterday's puzzle for some weak fill, but if you read closely I actually chided it for "easily avoidable" weak fill. There are some crosswordy words in here -- STOA and ISERE especially -- but with a grid this tightly packed and no tough crossings on those two so it's just a small ding.

Best fill: BEATEN DOWN, BANDLEADER, IN-CROWD, SPIED ON, DIRT BIKES, LASERDISC and DRONE BEE.



Clues are a little jazzier than yesterday's. No barn-burners but (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn) is good for RE-ROLL and (44D: Watched through binoculars, maybe) is good for SPIED ON.

It's grading week, and this one gets an A. Original and amusing theme, clean grid despite many theme entries, nice aha moment when I finally grokked the theme idea, and the cleverness of crossing cross-referenced entries. No wonder Will Shortz hired the author as his crossword intern.

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

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New England cookout / MON-JUL-21 / Dumb ox / Delhi dress

Monday, July 21, 2014

Constructor: Matt Fuchs

Relative difficulty: So Easy



THEME: PRIVATE PARTS -- theme entries begin with a word meaning "private"

Word of the Day: CREOLE (Louisiana language) —
Louisiana Creole (Kréyol La Lwizyàn; French: créole louisianais) is a French-based creole language spoken by some of the Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language largely consists of elements of French and African languages, with some influence from other sources, notably Native American languages. -- wikipedia
• • •
I'm predisposed to like this crossword because I'm told it's written by someone named Matt who comes from my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, which he even worked into a clue (48D: Bethesda, Md., is in it). So if you sense any rose-colored glasses, that's why. On the other hand I'm 41 and he's 16, so there might be some middle-aged vs. youth bitterness mixed in as well. I guess in the end I'll just have to judge the puzzle on its merits. Where's the fun in that?


Theme answers:
  • (20A: Big name in ranch dressing) = HIDDEN VALLEY. I thought the brand was "Hidden Valley Ranch," rather than the brand being "Hidden Valley" and the only dressing of theirs you've ever heard of happens to be Ranch? Let me check. OK, this is legit. But Hidden Valley is totally coasting thru life on the strength of their ranch dressing. Looking at their website, they're all in on Ranch. Ride that wave.

  • (27A: Classic of English children's literature, with "The") = SECRET GARDEN. I'm pretty hardcore Anglophile but I've never heard of this. I would probably have clued it in reference to this song, released before today's constructor was born.

  • (44A: Small paid item in the back of a newspaper) = CLASSIFIED AD. Now known as a "craigslist ad." 
  • And then the reveal entry: (What unmentionables cover ... or what 20-, 27- and 44-Across all begin with?) = PRIVATE PARTS. "Unmentionables" is a great word.
So this is a decent theme, but we see the Achilles' heel of the NYT over the past few years painfully swollen yet again: easily avoidable lousy fill, early in the week. A little polishing could surely have relieved this Monday grid of EDUCE crossing ERG and ENS at both extremities,TOILE crossing ETD and EIRE (and EIRE crossing RES clued to the Latin word for "thing"), RIAS and ARHAT. The last two have unmissable crossings, but still, and for the hundredth time: it's Monday, you're supposed to be the gold standard, somebody spend ten minutes and polish the grid. Or schedule it for Tuesday or Wednesday at least. I write crosswords for a living and still don't know what EDUCE means without looking it up, and neither do solvers.

Good fill: PICASSO, FIVE AM, CLAMBAKE, WEBSITES, BARHOP, ESPYS, IS IT ME?

So I'm looking for a "best clue" candidate, and...well, there's nothing. There isn't a single clue I can say any real effort has been put into. Can you imagine unleashing Bob Klahn or Ben Tausig on evocative entries like BARHOP, PICASSO, USSR, CREWCUT, CLAMBAKE and CLASSIFIED AD? They'd be punning you into next week, and you'd love every cheesy syllable. Here, nothing at all to sink your teeth into. I can't even award a "best clue" designation since there's nada that stands out. You tell me in comments what the best clue is and the point will be emphasized.

If we're doing grades this week, I'll go C+ on this one. Adequate but not much more. Did dig the chunky NW and SE corners, though -- that shows some nice flash.
 
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for four more days of CrossWorld

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SUN 7-20-14 / Most hip / Low numero / Swaddles, e.g.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Constructor: Eric Berlin (whose amusing blog is here)


Relative difficulty: a little tougher than average for a Sunday






THEME: "A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE" -- bigrams spelling that central theme entry are given to certain grid entries and taken from others

Word of the Day: ST. LUCIA (105D: One of the Windward Islands)
The island, with its fine natural harbor at Castries, was contested between England and France throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries (changing possession 14 times); it was finally ceded to the UK in 1814. Even after the abolition of slavery on its plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island, dedicated to producing tropical commodity crops. Self-government was granted in 1967 and independence in 1979. -- CIA World Factbook


• • •

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex until his triumphant return on Saturday. I write a weekly crossword contest here and a daily themed mini-crossword here. I also write a weekly current events crossword for The Week which you can find here, a bi-weekly contest crossword for New York which you can find here, and a monthly 21x21 for Washingtonian which isn't online. I've been a professional crossword writer for 17 years, during which my puzzles have appeared in Slate, Billboard, The Daily Beast, Wine Spectator, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal -- and even, on 57 occasions, in The New York Times. My next book comes out in October.

*****


This is intricate: the 18-letter central entry A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE is divided (in the .pdf, apparently not in the .puz) into nine bigrams. Each of these is added to an entry somewhere in the grid (indicated by circles) and removed from another (indicated by an asterisked clue).

Rex doesn't pay enough for me to type them all out, but here are a few so you get the idea: the AL at the beginning of 72-A is added to 51-A (Openly defy), where correct answer "flout" has the AL inserted to make FALLOUT. This same AL is also removed from 53-A (Royal messenger), where grid entry HERD was "herald" before the theme trick.

Let's do another one, from the other end of 72-A: the KE that ends that entry has been added to 138-A (Asparagus unit), which was "spear" but in the grid becomes SPEAKER. That same KE has been removed from 8-D, where (Upbraids) clues not grid entry REBUS but rather "rebukes."

The other seven work just the same. If you can't figure them all out then I'm sure someone will help in comments below.

Do we judge a crossword as art or as entertainment? Let's do both.

Artistically this one is quite nice. First the constructor had to come up with eighteen words that successfully gain/lose these nine bigrams, then he had to fit them into the grid around that long central theme entry. This is probably what necessitated the odd 20x23 grid size; the columns across had to be an even number to keep symmetry while accommodating the (necessarily, because bigrams) even-numbered central revealer, and I'm betting the reason he did 23 rows instead of 21 is because 18 theme words to fit in. So let's call it an A on artistry. I should also mention that the idea of swapping certain letters between two entries is already known (as in this puzzle), but not on such a large scale as it's done here. And having the taken/given letters spell out an appropriate message is also novel to my knowledge.



As entertainment, it was good but not great. Once the central revealer falls and you figure out the trick it's a bit of a slog to finish; I just ignored asterisked clues as long as I could. It's not really a rush to figure out the remaining bigram added/lost pairs. So on the entertainment scale I'd give this one a B, and we'll average the puzzle out to an A-. Which is good.



 Bullets:
  • Many good entries in the 6-, 7- and 8-letter range: ROUNDUP, BABYSAT, BURRITO, SIT ON IT!, HAVANA, THE MAGI, SMORES, Don KNOTTS, AIRPARK, SPAMALOT, UP TO IT, and the always amusing OWN GOAL.


  • Best clue: (97D: Shortening in recipes?) which wasn't OLEO but rather TSPS.

So that's a very good start to the week. I'll see you back here tomorrow night for a look at Monday's puzzle. 

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

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1965 Yardbirds hit / SAT 7-19-14 / Cap'n 1904 novel / Company with the King David Club

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Saturdayish


THEME: No theme

Word of the Day: ERI [54D - "Cap'n ___"(1904 novel)] —
The Golden Boys is a romantic comedy, set on Cape Cod in 1905, about three 70-year-old retired sea captains who try to lure an attractive middle-aged woman into marriage. Developed under the working title Chatham, the film is an adaptation of the Joseph Lincoln novel Cap’n Eri. It stars David Carradine, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and Mariel Hemingway. It only made $43,600 at the box office. Ouch! (Wikipedia)
• • •
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here again. Wow, I lucked out this weekend. I got a Livengood yesterday and a Silk today. Score! Today's puzzle is a classic Barry C. Silk production. Some sports stuff, some oldies music, and a nice wide-open grid pattern. All in all, a spot-on Saturday puzzle for your solving enjoyment.

Were any of you bothered by GO ALL OUT (15A: Pour it on) crossing GO TO YOUR ROOM (8D: Call for a timeout)? I didn't notice the GO duplication while solving, and it doesn't bother me much. I've found that editors tend to be pretty forgiving about minor duplications. And both entries are fun, so really the only reason I mentioned it was to fill up a little space. We substitute bloggers have to meet our quotas.

Bullets:
  • PRETZEL LOOP (27A: Roller coaster feature with a food name) — Now that's a fun answer. Other roller coaster elements I found on Wikipedia: batwing, butterfly inversion, cobra roll, demonic knot, hammerhead turn, Norwegian loop, and the dreaded wraparound Immelman.
  • WILD CARD TEAM (20D: Underdog playoffs participant) — Great entry. Reminds me of the time the Yankees declined the Wild Card.
  • ESAU (25D: Biblical venison preparer) — I thought I'd solved all the ESAU clues, but whaddya know, here's a new one.
  • FOR YOUR LOVE (1965 Yardbirds hit) — OK, I admit I didn't know this song. I dig the lead singer's bongo playing.


  • ODESSAN (47A: Dweller near the Potemkin Stairs) —Somehow this was the first entry I filled in today. I've had a lot of Odessa facts drilled into my head over the years by crosswords.
  • YOUNGER (24A: Like Princess Leia vis-à-vis Luke Skywalker) — They're twins, and I guess Luke was born first. I'm not going to check Wookieepedia to verify. And as you can see, they're quite close. 
  • VAINER (43D: Like Cinderella's stepsisters vis-à-vis Cinderella) — We all tried UGLIER first, right?
  • C SHARP (1D: D preceder) — This is embarrassing, but I didn't know if it was C SHARP or E SHARP until I got the crossing letter from COSMOS. I can never figure out the musical note clues. In my world, they're all just letters randomly followed by SHARP, FLAT, MAJOR, or MINOR.
While I've got your attention, I might as well plug my two new books: Brain-Straining Crosswords and Lickety-Split Crosswords. They both hit shelves on August 5th. Buy the hard one for yourself and the easy one for a friend. Or buy ten copies of each and hand them out as party favors. That's even better! Thanks for hanging with me the past couple of days. Peterson out.

Signed, Doug Peterson, Warrior Prince of CrossWorld

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Blue-flowered Mediterranean herb / FRI 7-18-14 / 1994 memoir with chapter on New Robot Novels / Campus spot for Bluto Otter and Boon

Friday, July 18, 2014

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Fridayish


THEME: No theme 

Word of the Day: BORAGE (49A: Blue-flowered Mediterranean herb) —
Borage /ˈbɒr.ɪdʒ/ (Borago officinalis), also known as a starflower, is an annual herb. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds. (Wikipedia)
• • •

Howdy, crossword fans. Doug here. Rex is still off on his much-deserved vacation in New Zealand. Let me check his itinerary ... Oh, today he's planning to tour the boyhood home of The Bushwhackers. It's a National Monument.

I was chatting with Ryan Hecht (owner of the Clover Theater and co-founder of Lollapuzzoola) last week, and we decided that the Friday puzzle is usually the best puzzle of the NY Times week, especially when it's constructed by one of the classic Friday constructors: Berry, Quigley, Silk, Nothnagel. Ryan remembers the first time he was able to correctly finish an entire Friday NY Times puzzle. What a thrill! And that thrill gave birth to a crossword blog & hooking up with some dude named Brian to put together a weekly podcast and an amazing crossword tournament which, by the way, is the only crossword tournament currently held in New York City. (Register now!) But what if Ryan had run into an impossible crossing? Or if he'd been interrupted and never come back to that pivotal Friday puzzle? The course of human history would have been changed forever, and I'd have nothing to do on a Saturday in August.

An Ian Livengood byline is a welcome sight on a Friday, so let's get to the puzzle. Typically smooth Livengoodian grid. A bit on the easy side for a Friday, but I'm usually on Ian's wavelength. I'm going to give him a demerit for OON at 52-Across. There's a reason it spells "Noo!" backwards. However OON is a small price to pay for YA HEARD, 'FRAID SO, RUSSIAN MOB, RODEO DRIVE, SLEAZEBALL, THE REBELS, RAP GROUPS, etc. There's plenty to like here.

Bullets:
  • DELTA HOUSE (12D: Campus spot for Bluto, Otter and Boon) — Double secret probation! Super entry. All the long entries are fun today, though I'm not 100% sold on ...
  • I GET IT OKAY (28D: "All right already!") — Whaddya think? I wanted it to be I GET IT, I GET IT. This works, but it feels a tad arbitrary to me.
  • COSTAS (22A: Bob of play-by-play) — I initially entered UECKER, because who doesn't love Bob Uecker? Juuust a bit outside.


  • BED HOP (35A: Sleep around) — I was looking for something cutesy here, so the straightforward answer surprised me. This one and HELL (3D: Something to catch from scolding parents) give the puzzle a mildly saucy vibe.
  • I, ASIMOV (1994 memoir with a chapter on "New Robot Novels") — Ooh, I should read this. Asimov is great, and he wrote a bajillion books. 
Signed, Doug Peterson, Drafter of CrossWorld Codicils

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