French filmmaker who led Cinéma Pur movement / SUN 8-31-14 / British author who wrote Old Devils / Careless hands crooner / Rush-hour subway rider facetiously / Former Oldsmobile model

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Heard At The Movies" — random words strung together, which, when said out loud, sound like the names of BEST PICTURE WINNERs (109A: What you get when you say 23-, 31-, 47-, 64-, 79- or 97-Across out loud):

Theme answers:
  • CHALLAH BOWED HEAVE (23A: Jewish bread / Played, as a violin / Throw (1950))
  • HONDA WATT AFFRONT (31A: Toyota rival / Measure of power / Insult (1954))
  • DWELL FIERCE SUSS LAVE (47A: Reside / Savage / Puzzle (out) / Wash (2013))
  • THUG ODD FODDER (64A: Hooligan / Strange / Silo contents (1972))
  • WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE (79A: Wildlife protector / Difficult / Hotel door feature (1980))
  • HOW TOUGH HAVE RIGA (97A: "In what way?" / Like overcooked steak / Possess / European capital on a gulf (1985))
Word of the Day: RENÉ CLAIR (20A: French filmmaker who led the Cinéma Pur movement) —
René Clair (11 November 1898 – 15 March 1981) born René-Lucien Chomette, was a French filmmaker and writer. He first established his reputation in the 1920s as a director of silent films in which comedy was often mingled with fantasy. He went on to make some of the most innovative early sound films in France, before going abroad to work in the UK and USA for more than a decade. Returning to France after World War II, he continued to make films that were characterised by their elegance and wit, often presenting a nostalgic view of French life in earlier years. He was elected to theAcadémie française in 1960. Clair's best known films include The Italian Straw Hat(1928), Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Le Million (1931), À nous la liberté (1931), I Married a Witch (1942), and And Then There Were None (1945). (wikipedia)
• • •

Joel Faglia-Yes! So the first and last of these theme-answer concoctions don't really work (not the way I speak, anyway), but the others are remarkably close to the actual movie titles they purport to sound like, and even though the theme was supremely easy to figure out, figuring out individual titles was kind of fun (I somehow never noticed that we'd been given the years of the films in question—for which I'm grateful; puzzle was easy enough without extra hints). This is a highly segmented grid—outside of the theme answers, you get mostly short stuff, so that prevents the fill from being especially noteworthy, but there's no question that this grid is solid, smooth, polished. Joel is Shortz's right hand man at the moment, and not for nothing. He has mad skills for someone who only just graduated from (the greatest) college (on earth).

I don't know how you get around the initial [HCHCHCCHHCHC-] sound on CHALLAH. It's such an obtrusive, noisy sound that it kind of obscures the "ALL A-" sounds it's supposed to be imitating. Bigger problem for me in that answer, though, was BOWED. I thought that violins were BOWED (rhymes with TOAD), not BOWED (rhymes with Maureen DOWD). So between the extra sounds and apparent non-rhyming, I had no idea that I was looking at an aural simulacrum of "All About Eve." Not at first, anyway. "Out of Africa" was a tough one too. Even a best-case pronunciation makes you sound like an early version of Stephen Hawking's voice simulator. There's just no good way to get stress on HAVE, the way you'd have it on the first syllable in "Africa." Also, I say REEE-ga for "Riga," so "HAVE RIGA" is a very bad sound likeness of "Africa," to my brain. But as I say, the others are damned good, as insane as they look.My brain is kind of terrorized right now by the phrase "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE"—I'm a B-movie fan, but I don't think I could stomach "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Mercury's winged sandals / SAT 8-30-14 / Synthetic purplish colorant / Musical title character who made us feel alive again / Outlook alternative / London's onetime equivalent of Wall Street / Cloud Shepherd sculptor / Funky Cold Medina rapper / Beverage with triangular logo /

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TALARIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) —
Winged sandals such as those worn by Hermes and Iris as represented in Greco-Roman painting and sculpture.

[Latin tlria, from neuter pl. of tlrisof the ankles, from tlusankle.] (
• • •

This has some good stuff in it, but the marquee answer (ZZZQUIL) is something I've seen in puzzle(s) before (pretty sure BEQ did it first), and once you've seen ZZZQUIL once, the zing kind of goes out of it. How easily did I get ZZZQUIL? Here are the first two entries in my grid—and yes, I actually stopped solving to take a picture:

One, two. Bam, bam. As you can imagine, once you drop a word like ZZZQUIL in your grid, things get remarkably easy, at least for a little bit. Had no trouble with any of those Z-crosses. In fact, the momentum from that word propelled me all the way down the western seaboard until I hit the bottom, where I hit a wall (more on that later), and then easily across the grid into the NE and on down to the SE, where things got a little trickier. Across the whole top of the puzzle, I was entering answers pretty much as fast as I could type. The NE in particular just gave way. It was kind of disorienting, actually. On Saturdays, I'm geared up for resistance. Not finding any was bewildering. But I got a dose downstairs, first in the SE, where I couldn't get any of those Downs to work, except ATOM ANT, which I stupidly had as ATOM MAN. Never used AOL MAIL or been to a TRIPLEX (!?), wanted "If I HAD …" (as in "… a hammer …"). So there were problems. Also, the ROGAINE clue flummoxed me. I wanted something to do with styling gel. But JEAN ARP and ROSANNE Cash helped me eventually get it sorted.

The big problem was in the SW. Actually, that's where the problem had its source, but its negative ramifications extended up and over to the lower center of the puzzle. Faced with A-E at 47D: Aldous Huxley's "___ and Essence", I really thought the answer had to be AGE. That was the only word that seemed to pair sensibly with "Essence." But then I was looking at 50A: Ones with issues? being SAGAS, and try as I might, I couldn't justify that. Plus, I really wanted 50D: Worked with to be PLIED (spoiler: it was). But PAGAS … didn't compute. So I kept trying to find ways to make that answer work, and failing. Eventually, I put PLIED in definitively and checked all the other crosses. AGE was the only one I wasn't certain about. Pulled it, and voila, PAPAS became clear (though I can't say I was 100% certain of "APE").

That left me with The Guessing Square, id est TAL-RIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) crossing -NC (58D: Party concerned with civil rights, briefly). I figured it was a vowel, but honestly wasn't certain. I entertained DNC and RNC, even though they are parts of parties, not parties themselves. The only other "party" I knew of that might qualify was the African National Congress (or ANC), but [Party concerned with civil rights, briefly] seemed like such a phenomenally vague and narrow way to construe the party that had been in power in South Africa for twenty years (i.e. in charge of All Things, not just 'civil rights'), that I really doubted it could be right. But I was out of options. So cross fingers, brace self, enter "A"—and I got the Happy Pencil! Puzzle Solved. But that's not what I would call an ideal cross, and not a positive note to end on. Puzzle is mostly very solid overall, in terms of grid construction, but between the aftermarket ZZZQUIL at the beginning and the outright guess situation at the end and the astonishing easiness in between, my enjoyment was diminished somewhat.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Whoa, I just discovered the definitive history of ZZZQUIL in crossword puzzles. Who knew!?


Doc Savage portrayer / FRI 8-29-14 / Political theorist Carl / Neighbor of St Kitts / Football Hall of Famer Tunnell / Miss Julie composer 1965 / Kroger alternative / Longtime Laker Lamar / Player of Fin Tutuola / Host of 1950s TVs Bank on Stars

Friday, August 29, 2014

Constructor: Daniel Raymon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: RERI Grist (25A: Soprano Grist) —
Reri Grist (February 29, 1932) is an American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer African-American singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle gets one major thing right—the long answers in every quadrant are solid, and in a few cases flashy and great. 1A: Poll Internet users on (CROWDSOURCE), perhaps took me way too long, but when I got it, the struggle seemed worth it. There's a wonderful colloquial vibe all over, with IN A NUTSHELL, EXCUSE ME, REST ASSURED, and AND THEN SOME all lending the puzzle a lively chattiness. Good long stuff will make people forget bad short stuff—that's the general rule. Today, though … man, this puzzle really tests that rule. It's not so much that the fill is "bad," in the sense that plural suffixes are bad and variant spellings are bad and random roman numerals are bad (I see you, MMIV). It's just name-heavy. Not just name-heavy. Like, crazy-name-heavy. Laden with names that sound made-up. Names that just don't seem like plausible human names. But they are—they are real. I looked them up. Still, even after having looked RERI up, I'm not convinced it's real. I mean, she is. She's had a notable career. But her name's not famous, and it's certainly *entirely* unguessable (unlike, say, SCHMITT, whom I'd also never heard of, but whose name seemed plausibly human). What is a RONELY? Did he play Doc Savage on the radio? Do most of you even know who Doc Savage (pulp hero of yore) is? Oh, wait … crap. HA ha [seriously, genuine LOL]. It's RON [space] ELY, not RONELY. RON [space] ELY is best known for playing Tarzan. He played Doc Savage in a 1975 film you've never seen or heard of. Other big names in that movie include no one.

Then there's the potentially deathly proper noun mash-up in the NNE. If I hadn't been given the "French for 'the handsome'" part of that LEBEAU clue, that whole area might still be staring me down (21A: Longtime N.F.L. coach whose name is French for "the handsome"). Dick LEBEAU is somebody whose name I've heard, so I don't doubt his crossworthiness, but I wasn't gonna get him from [Longtime N.F.L. coach] alone. So OK, I got him. From French. But if you don't know football and don't know French, you might be in trouble. It seems especially cruel, then, particularly to non-sports fans, to cross the one old-timey N.F.L. answer (LEBEAU) with *another* old-timey N.F.L. answer., this time cluing a name not only obscure, but preposterous-looking. EMLEN? That guy hasn't been in the NYT, or any major puzzle, for 15 years. Thank god I'd heard of "NEVIS & St. Kitts" [by which I apparently mean "St. Kitts & NEVIS"] because otherwise that "N" is Entirely unguessable. And if you don't know the rules of French, you'd be forgiven for perhaps thinking LABEAU instead of LEBEAU. And *then* you'd have a real mess on your hands. Proper nouns, particularly ones that are manifestly obscure and unguessable, Have To Be Handled Carefully. If you must include them, keep them Far away from each other and try not to cross them with other proper nouns at unguessable letters. This is a big danger of a massively name-heavy puzzle (like this one)—you're always dancing through a Natick minefield. I don't think there are any true Naticks* here, but there are definitely some scares. The main issue is that Bizarro names distract from the otherwise high quality of the puzzle.

I didn't even mention LIAT, a name I now know because of crosswords, but … again, a very non-name-seeming name. Sports, opera, geography, cinema: whatever your cultural ignorance, this puzzle has a proper-noun groin-kick waiting just for you. The sports-averse must feel particularly pummeled. Crossing not-terribly-famous N.F.L. names and then a double dose of Bo Jackson!? *And* Lamar ODOM? All In A Single Quadrant Of The Puzzle!?!? I legitimately feel sorry for you anti-sports folks today. I really do.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*For a definition of "Natick," click the "FAQ" tab up top; in a nutshell, a "Natick" refers to a crossing of relatively obscure proper nouns at an unguessable letter. I coined the term when I encountered just such a situation at the crossing of *N*. C. WYETH (whose name I now know well) and …. NATICK.


Depression Era architectural movement / THU 8-28-14 / Part of spiral galaxy farthest from center / Kitschy quality / Carriage puller in rural dialect / Boutros-Ghali's successor as UN chief / Adolf Hitler according to 1983 hoax / 1920s-30s Ford output

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOWN / WARD (21D: With 40-Down, how rain falls … or a literal description of the answers to the four themed clues) — four theme answers all run DOWN and all are definitions of WARD:

Theme answers:
  • PATIENT AREA (3D: 21-/40-Down to a doctor)
  • BEAVER'S DAD (10D: 21-/40-Down on 1950s-'60s TV)
  • PRISON WING (28D: 21-/40-Down to a penologist)
  • ACTRESS SELA (24D: 21-/40-Down in Hollywood)
Word of the Day: MODERNE (38A: Depression Era architectural movement) —
Streamline Moderne, or Art Moderne, was a late type of the Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s. Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

I feel like this puzzle's heart is in the right place. Something about its playful spirit makes me want to be fond of it. It's just that there are some core problems, and then a bunch of non-core problems (mainly the fill), that make me want to say, you know, E FOR effort, but nowhere close to A MINUS. (Both the answers mentioned in that last sentence are part of the problem today—EFOR is just terrible fill, and A MINUS is so inaccurately clued that I don't know where to begin. It just is. As someone who grades, a lot, trust me, there's nothing "nearly perfect" about an A MINUS, if only because this would imply that an A is perfect, which, just, no. No no. No.). So let's take the theme. To start, DOWNWARD is one word, not two. Picky? Yes. But with no "?" or … anything to indicate you're snapping a word in half, I don't see how you can do this. So there's that. Then there's the definitions-for-answers, which I don't care for, but I recognize other people's opinions about this feature might differ, and that's fine. It's just … BEAVER'S DAD actually strikes me as quite an interesting and unexpected answer of the Definition variety, where the others do not. PATIENT AREA is a pretty weak/general definition for "WARD." Are "wing" and "WARD" synonymous now? "Wing" signifies to me a sizable architectural feature. Is that what "WARD"s are in prisons? WARDs are "sections" of hospitals, and "sections" of prisons, so making one a highly vague "AREA" and the other an oddly specific and ambitious WING just seems wildly arbitrary.

There should've been "?" or something similar somewhere in all the theme clues. I mean, imagine seeing [Down Ward in Hollywood], no "?", in your clues. Makes no sense. Never mind that having "Down" in so many clues is weird when it's half your revealer. Not sure how you'd get around that, but it feels like a design flaw. Also, [How rain falls]? This is a most bizarre clue for DOWN/WARD. Of all the way rain might fall … down? What *doesn't* fall down? Do other things fall up? Sideways? Man alive there's gotta be some better way to clue DOWN/WARD. [How rain falls] is only a hair's breadth better than [Opposite of UPWARD].

Fill is hurting all over. Currently having a debate online about whether BRA SALE is "green paint" or not. I have no problem with it, but it does have that "yes it's a thing but no it's not a specific enough thing to be an answer" quality. But "bra sale" googles astonishingly well, so I'm going to stand by my pro-BRA SALE instincts. But I won't stand by a lot of this other stuff: STR ARB ARIB ESS (when you already have both ACTRESS and EGRESS in your grid) NO TASTE (?) IN A TRAP DE ORO ITT GES GIS + two RE-words etc. With very little strong fill to offset it. (Note: I liked OFFSETS fine) OUTER ARM is easily the most interesting answer in the grid (23A: Part of a spiral galaxy farthest from the center). Vivid, inventive, good. Rest of it kind of creaks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Truckers contest / WED 8-27-14 / Lightning setting / Political alliance of 1958 / Relative of cuatro informally / Do Not Call Registry org / First name of wolf in Big Bad Wolf / Bit of packaging detritus / Oil giant that's part of Tesoro Corporation

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Constructor: Gareth Bain and David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -A to -ER — wacky phrases that are homophones of normal phrases if you are British (I think)

Theme answers:
  • CONGER LINES (17A: Libretto for "Eel Trovatore"?)
  • FRANK ZAPPER (24A: Microwave for hot dogs?)
  • CHARLIE THE TUNER (37A: Actor Sheen after starting a new career in piano maintenance?)
  • SALES QUOTER (50A: One who knows the earnings report by heart?)
  • TUBER PLAYER (60A: Actor in a Mr. Potato Head costume?)

Word of the Day: FTC (11A: Do Not Call Registry org.) —
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act. Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission Act was one of President Woodrow Wilson's major acts againsttrusts. Trusts and trust-busting were significant political concerns during the Progressive Era. Since its inception, the FTC has enforced the provisions of the Clayton Act, a key antitrust statute, as well as the provisions of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. Over time, the FTC has been delegated the enforcement of additional business regulation statutes and has promulgated a number of regulations (codified in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations). (wikipedia)
• • •

Cornball puns really aren't my thing. The clues on the first couple are pretty funny, but the "humor" here kind of went over, or beside, or in some relation to my head other than the intended one. Plus QUOTER's not really a word. I mean, it is, but it isn't, so that answer really clunks. Also, I did not like the last themer, TUBER PLAYER, at all, because of its inclusion of a -ER word that did *not* conform to the theme … unless the guy on "tuba" is in fact a "playa," in which case, good for him. Seems like this theme might have been as funny, if not funnier, in reverse: -ERs to -As. [Like someone who refuses to root for the Lightning under any conditions?] => TAMPA RESISTANT. Huh? Huh? Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe that's been done. But this didn't amuse me enough to make the mostly uninteresting trip through the rest of the puzzle seem worth it. Fill was overly common and somewhat tiresome to work through, though the long Downs (FOAM PEANUT + WHAT A LAUGH) are pretty charming (11D: Bit of packaging detritus + 29D: "That is SO stupid!").

Puzzle played hard, mostly because of some tough cluing on some short and relatively arcane stuff like ARCO (From *that* clue? No way. I had ESSO at first) (1D: Oil giant that's part of the Tesoro Corporation), and ZEKE (??) (26D: First name of the wolf in Disney's "The Big Bad Wolf") and all the 3-letter answers in the NE. I know the peanuts in question only as PACKING PEANUTS, so without FOAM up there, those short answers were in danger of not coming at all (especially as I didn't know the FTC answer, and can't remember ever seeing that abbr. in a puzzle, though I must've). In the end, there's just too much SETI ERST ERIN UAR TSAR ACHOO MOR LIU UKE EEGS EEO and not enough fun stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Guitarist Kottke / TUE 8-26-14 / Traveler on silk road / 50th state's state bird / Department store founder James Cash / Tuna type on menus

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Constructor: Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: MPS (56D: AWOL chasers … or a hint to the answers to the six italicized clues) —all theme answers are two-word phrases where the first word starts with "M" and the second word starts with "P"

Theme answers:
  • MAKE PEACE (5D: Sign a treaty, say)
  • MENLO PARK (56A: Edison lab site)
Word of the Day: MILK PUNCH —
Milk punch is a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage. It consists of milk, brandy (bourbon), sugar, and vanilla extract. It is served cold, and usually hasnutmeg sprinkled on top. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't much understand the point of a puzzle like this. Unless the theme answers really bring something new and interesting to the table, then you just have a perfunctory exercise on your hands. This theme type can be done a million and one ways—just pick your initials. DAS? TAS? MDS? RNS? Why limit yourself to people? LPS, CDS, MGS, DTS, all await your entheming. This puzzle is totally serviceable, but completely unimaginative—the kind of thing I'd expect to find in many other venues, where no one expects much beyond a 5-to-10-minute diversion, but not the kind of thing I expect in the (still repeatedly alleged) Gold Standard of crosswords. There's not much to fault here, but not much to praise, either. It's just … here. It does have MISS PIGGY, I'll give it that. And it did teach me that there is such a thing as MILK PUNCH—googles at about 1/10 the strength of "eggnog," but sure, "relatives," why not? I learned a new term. And hey, the NYT says there's a MILK PUNCH "revival" afoot. So maybe you'll want to get in on that.

The only difficulty in this puzzle came at MILK PUNCH, specifically at the part where that answer leads up into the north part of the grid via BERTHS (8D: Playoff spots). Didn't know the drink, and then couldn't make sense of the playoffs clue at first, and so transitioning from one part of the grid into the other … didn't go smoothly. But I just rebooted in the north with DAM and ERA and everything was on track again. Zero hiccups. Oh, I wrote in STEAMY for SULTRY (21D: Torrid). That probably cost me some time. And I needed a few passes at AFRESH before I saw it (36D: Over again). But really, these are all terribly minor snags. Mainly this puzzle came, and this puzzle went.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Muzzle-loading firearm / MON 8-25-14 / Lipton alternative / Rice-shaped pasta / Second-rate prizefighter / Big pollinators / All-American Soap Box Derby city

Monday, August 25, 2014

Constructor: Greg Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium (for me … seems to be leaning harder-than-normal for others)

THEME: first mistake — first part of compound word can also mean "error" (wait, can "bumble" mean "error" (n.)? … yes. Not common, usually a verb, but yes. Maybe they're all verbs, but "bobble" is transitive, unlike the others, so … I dunno.

Theme answers:
  • BLUNDERBUSS (20A: Muzzle-loading firearm)
  • BUMBLEBEES (11D: Big pollinators)
  • STUMBLEBUM (29D: Second-rate prizefighter)
  • BOBBLE-HEADS (51A: Promotional ballpark giveaways)
Word of the Day: TETLEY (25A: Lipton alternative) —
Tetley is a British beverage manufacturer, and the world's second largest manufacturer and distributor of tea. Tetley's manufacturing and distribution business is spread across 40 countries and sells over 60 branded tea bags. It is the largest tea company in the United Kingdom and Canada and the second largest in the United States by volume. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Global Beverages (formerly Tata Tea). (wikipedia)
• • •
Thought for sure I'd end up with a well-above-average time as I stumbled all over this grid, but then I finished and the clock said 2:57. That's normal for a Monday. So … maybe I just did the fast parts Real fast, because there were a number of parts where I got stuck (Monday-stuck, but still). Something about the weird "it" in 4D: Had it in mind made me refuse to pull the trigger on the full MEANT TO (I had MEANT …). Then I couldn't come up with TRAYS based on that clue (24A: Surgical instruments). Had the BLU- in BLUNDERBUSS and still needed many crosses because I thought there was some firearm I'd never heard of that started BLUE-. BLUE- something, I thought. Couldn't come up with the tea company right away, despite having the T-. Couldn't come up with the GAME part of GAME TABLE because … well, come on. That's some generic b.s. right there. What Kind Of Game!? I was lucky enough to see that [Self-confidence] led to APLOMB very quickly (even though I don't think I knew they were synonymous … I think I thought APLOMB and ALACRITY were synonyms …). I also knew Lady Gaga played the PIANO. So I made up some time on the back end, but still felt slow. Checked the times at the NYT site and they are ridiculously high. Like, I beat my normal time cohort by about a minute. On a Monday, that's an eternity.

As for the theme, it feels pretty wobbly to me. Or arbitrary … something doesn't quite gel. I see there is a kind of internal logic (words that mean "error" inside words that have nothing to do with "error"), but there seems to be some desire to unite the answers based on sound, specifically "B"s. They all start with "B"s … except one. They all have "-BLE" as their second syllable … except one. Their third syllables all start with "B" … except one. So the theme doesn't really come together that well. In another, alternative-universe version of this puzzle, there are SLIPCASES and GOOFBALLS and BONERPILLS.

In unrelated news, I saw this today, and found it quite compelling. You keep thinking it's going to retreat into cute, quirky Irish comedy, because it is very funny in places, but then … uh, no.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Figure skater Mao / SUN 8-24-14 / Connie's husband in Godfather / Boccaccio wrote biography of him / Cantor German mathematician who invented set theory / Joseph Anton memoir autobiographer / Lane acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure

    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "Second Shift" — second and third letters in first words of common phrases swap places. Wackiness ensues.

    Theme answers:
    • BLOT ACTION RIFLE (23A: Paintball gun?)
    • LEI DETECTOR (28A: Device that can tell if someone's recently vacationed in Hawaii?)
    • SLIVER MINE (33A: Narrow shaft in a mountain?)
    • BRA OF CHOCOLATE (44A: Item from the Victoria's Sweetness catalog?)
    • DIARY MAID (57A: Anne Frank, e.g.?)
    • ERA OF CORN (73A: "Hee Haw" heyday, say?)
    • SATINLESS STEEL (89A: Novelist Danielle without her glossy dress?)
    • CLOD CEREAL (95A: Honey Bunches of Oafs, e.g.?)
    • CALM CHOWDER (101A: Soup after it's been taken off the burner?)
    • CROONER'S INQUEST (113A: What might determine if the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie is truly amore?)

    Word of the Day: HARRIET Lane (117A: ___ Lane, acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure) —
    Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston (May 9, 1830 – July 3, 1903), acted as First Lady of the United Statesduring the presidency of her uncle, lifelong bachelor James Buchanan, from 1857 to 1861. Among the handful of women who have served as first lady while not being married to the president, she is by far the best known. (Most of the other women were relatives of widowed presidents.) // The capital welcomed its new "Democratic Queen" to the White House in 1857. Harriet was a popular hostess during the four years of the Buchanan presidency. Women copied her hair and clothing styles (especially when she lowered the neckline on her inaugural gown by 2.5 inches), parents named their daughters for her, and a popular song ("Listen to the Mockingbird") was dedicated to her. While in the White House, she used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans in reservations. She also made a point of inviting artists and musicians to White House functions. For both her popularity and her advocacy work, she has been described as the first of the modern first ladies, and her popularity at the time is compared to that of Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s. The presidential yacht was named for her—the first of several ships to be named for her, one of which is still in service today. // From her teenage years, the popular Miss Lane flirted happily with numerous men, calling them "pleasant but dreadfully troublesome". Buchanan often warned her against "rushing precipitately into matrimonial connections", and she waited until she was almost 36 to marry. She chose, with her uncle's approval, Henry Elliott Johnston, a Baltimore banker. Within the next 18 years she lost her uncle, both her young sons, and her husband. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Well you're not going to find a theme with a simpler conceit than this. Are you? That isn't a dare, by the way. Anyway, just the tiniest of adjustments (or "shifts," if you must), and the original answer goes all Transformers (™) on you. This is a dangerous game. if you are going to enter the ring with something this lo-fi, and something that relies on what the Ancients called "humor," then your game better be tight. While this effort didn't wow me, it batted about .500 in the Wacky Humor department, which is a higher average than virtually any other wackiness-depenendent puzzle is likely to see. Kind of a tepid opening, but once we hit BRA OF CHOCOLATE I was like "Now we're talking …" DIARY MAID was a bit jarring, as I'm not used to seeing Anne Frank used for whimsy, but ERA OF CORN was dead-on, as was CLOD CEREAL and CROONER'S INQUEST. The clues are particularly nice. Again, the rule with Wacky is go big or go home. I love the invented products in today's clues. I'm telling you right now that Victoria's Sweetness would do huge (Huge) business. How does that not exist already? A little adjacent candy shop where you can buy the perfect complement to Gift of Underwear? Somewhere there is an EXEC going "oh hell yes." And then there's Honey Bunches of Oafs, a perfect vintage Mad Magazine-type spoof name. True, this puzzle is not a jaw-dropper, but it's entertaining, and the fill (as always w/ Mr. Berry) is air tight. Could've been a bit more colorful, perhaps, but overall this was somewhat north of Satisfying.

    Puzzle seemed to be of roughly uniform difficulty throughout, except for the NW, which seriously, if somewhat briefly, threatened to remain a wee white hole. Thankfully I had the LEID in the theme answer, and from that was able to infer LEI DETECTOR, because before that, yeesh. First pass at all the Acrosses and Downs yielded squat, plus I had a 1/4 dozen flat-out wrong answers. OILS for TALC (29D: Masseur's supply); BASS for ALTO (17D: ___ clef); OLD for SAW (32A: Dated). Couldn't remember where Ovid was from. "Virgil's from Mantua, and Ovid's from … from … come on, 20+-year-old Latin education, where are you!?" Turns out clue didn't care where he was from; just wanted EXILE. In the end, LEI DETECTOR settled things. But it was a harrowing 30 seconds or so.

    It was a nicely literary puzzle today, with RUSHDIE and DEFOE really classing up the joint. And of course Danielle Steel. Didn't mean to overlook her. There were several names I did not know, but they ended up being names I had at least seen before—names that were recognizable as names one might have, as opposed to some dumb name like EDEL. I mean I know a GEORG Solti (98D: ___ Cantor, German mathematician who invented set theory) and a HARRIET Tubman (117A: ___ Lane, acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure) and a Carne ASADA (83A: Figure skater Mao), so even though I didn't know any of those names based on their clues, it was just a matter of a few crosses before I set each of them in place.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Casio game / SAT 8-23-14 / Refusal from boy lass / Arm from Mideast lad / Margarie might be described thus / Covered with slug mud / Mesa prerequisite / Sci-fii character remembered for her large bus / Part of euro

    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Constructor: Timothy Polin

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


    Word of the Day: BACCARAT (3D: Casio game) (so … [Casino game])—
    Baccarat (/ˈbækərɑː/French: [bakaʁa]) is a card game played at casinos. There are three popular variants of the game: punto banco (or "North American baccarat"), baccarat chemin de fer (or "chemmy"), and baccarat banque(or "à deux tableaux"). Punto banco is strictly a game of chance, with no skill or strategy involved; each player's moves are forced by the cards the player is dealt. In baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque, by contrast, both players can make choices, which allows skill to play a part. Despite this, the winning odds are in favour of the bank, with a house edge no lower than around 1 percent. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    A slog, but not a hard slog, just … like walking through mud. You know you can do it, it's clear you'll make it to your destination, but the whole process is just somewhat slow and possibly unpleasant. The whole concept here is so arbitrary that I just didn't get it. I mean, I guess there are some cute N-less clues, misdirecting you now and again, but the thing is, once you grok the theme, they aren't cute—I'm no longer seeing their surface; I'm just scanning for a place to drop the "n." So maybe I was supposed to laugh at something like [Refusal from a boy lass], but that didn't happen. I guess the main variable here is "how long did it take you to figure out the theme?" Time to discovery is going to vary Wildly, I'm guessing. But once you do pick it up, you can (surprisingly) pretty much immediately fill in the "theme" answers (directions! who doesn't love those! I mean, me, but who else!?). The instructions are astonishingly literal. There is not twist, turn, or punchline (that I can see). You just go through the motions until you are done. Grid is decent but unremarkable. I feel slightly ripped off—this should've been a Thursday. I want my hard themeless Saturday back.

    I could tell very early on something was off—as I'm sure was the case with virtually everyone. None of the clues make sense without the "n"s, after all. But [Hardly ice outside] tipped me off that there'd be letters missing in the clues (though when and where, I didn't know). And then … [Kat's "I"] … I didn't know what to do with "Kat," but figured ICH had to be right, or might be right. Then I "confirmed" it with MANIA for 1A: Rage. But then I also, off the "C" in ICH, managed to get PEACE for 14A: Quiet parter?. Then I began to see the "n"-ness of it all, and started fixing and adding answers accordingly. NE probably gave me the most trouble, but none of it was very hard after I understood the theme. Slower than normal, but only because of the added step of having to supply the damned "n" in every clue.

    • 20A: Arc's target, maybe (XTC) — Even when I knew that I was dealing with a "Narc," this was hard to get, as I had the "X" but didn't know the drug Ecstasy, or "X," was spelled that way. To me, XTC is a band. A great band.
    • 11D: Margarie might be described thus (ERSATZ) — this was the troublemaker in the NE—I had the terminal "Z" but could Not think of a word describing margarine that fit the bill. Also, I don't think that is how the name "Margery" is spelled. I see from googling that the name (as spelled) exists, but yuck.
    • 33D: Doe, e.g. (POET) — I liked this one. Simple, elegant, massive change in apparent meaning. (The clue should be [Donne, e.g.], of course) 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld / Mayor of Simpleto


    1963 Pulitzer winner Leon / 8-22-14 / Brand of bait pellets / Juan's sweetheart / Dos little words / Member of great quintet / So-called Helen of West Indies / Raise crops on Plains maybe / Literally fire bowl / Killing star Mireille

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    Constructor: Sam Ezersky

    Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe slightly tougher)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: DRY FARM (45D: Raise crops on the Plains, maybe) —
    dry farming
    A type of farming practiced in arid areas without irrigation by planting drought-resistant crops and maintaining afine surface tilth or mulch that protects the natural moisture of the soil from evaporation.
    • • •
    Decent effort here. Gave me a little more trouble than a Friday usually does, almost entirely because of the SE corner. Is it YANK ON or YANK AT, which White House nickname, which Mideast president, what is DRY FARM, etc.? Nothing in the NW corner gave me much trouble, and virtually everything in the SE did—so much so that when I was done, I had an error, and only after I'd methodically checked every answer (and I mean Every answer: all the Acrosses and all the Downs) did I finally arrive at PAS … which is the French word for "not," but NOT the Spanish word for "peace"; that would be PAZ (63D: Guerra's opposite). I never did like EZER in my grid (like EDEL, as well as EDER (not pictured), it's pernicious name-crosswordese), and while I like him slightly better in his full-name form (67A: Mideast president who wrote "The Battle for Peace," 1981), I apparently can't spell his name. Went with WEISMAN. But no. I also didn't know "RAGA rock" was a  thing, got stymied by the tough/good clue on PART I (53D: Epic start), and want to punch LA-Z in the face with all my might (61D: ___-Boy). Until an L.A. sports team called the Zippers comes along, and they are depicted "on the scoreboard" as LAZ, I never want to see that "answer" again. Thank you.

    What is a BBQ SANDWICH? I'll admit I don't eat much meat, but I assumed that, with BBQ, the meat … was named … somehow. "Want a BBQ SANDWICH?" "Sure. [takes bite]." "You like it?" "Mffyeah … shsgood … [chew chew]." "It's rat." "[spit take]!" Thus concludes my mystery-meat BBQ SANDWICH skit.

    SE corner aside, this puzzle was full of things I'm quite familiar with, for better or worse. I knew FRANK GEHRY—I've been to the very distinctive, lovely hall mentioned in the clue (30A: Walt Disney Concert Hall designer). I got IBN and TE AMO and MPEG and INO and DCON and LIRR and LYE and ENOS and 3/4 of EDEL (22D: 1963 Pulitzer winner Leon) so easily that I kind of wanted to high-five myself a few times, mid-solve. Except for GEHRY and possibly DEEP THROAT (47A: "All the President's Men" figure) and eventually BLISTER PACK (60A: Pill holder), there wasn't a lot that excited me. But overall, this is fairly solid work.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Intermediate in law / THU 8-21-14 / Cryptozoological beast / bag of shells Ralph Kramden malapropism / 1948 Literature Nobelist

    Thursday, August 21, 2014

    Constructor: Jules P. Markey

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: POST OFFICE BOXES (39A: Mail conveniences … or a hint to eight squares in this puzzle) — eight PO boxes, one at the beginning of each word in four two-word theme phrases:

    Theme answers:
    Word of the Day: MESNE (47A: Intermediate, in law) —
    1. (Law) intermediate or intervening: used esp of any assignment of property before the last: a mesneassignment.
    2. (Law) mesne profits rents or profits accruing during the rightful owner's exclusion from his land
    [C15: from legal French meien in the middle, mean³]
    • • •

    Very easy, as rebus puzzles go. Once you grok the concept, you can sail through this thing pretty easily. There is a certain elegance to the execution here, as the "PO" boxes follow a pattern. More often (I think … I may be making this up, but I feel like it's more often) rebus boxes are more haphazardly arranged in the grid, balanced in terms of overall dispersal, but not perfectly regular and predictable, as they are today. As a solver, I tend to like the unpredictable arrangement better, but there' something to be said for tying your one little letter pattern ("PO") tightly to the longer "theme" answers. I can't decide  today if the predictable positioning makes the puzzle more or less dull. There's a certain repetitiveness that sets in once you figure out the rebus pattern you're searching for. Once you realize you're just hunting "PO"s … yeah. Then that's what you're doing. At least the four longer answers give you some kind of additional structural integrity. You're not just playing "find the PO"—you actually get results at the end where "PO" matters. Still, there was something workmanlike about this. Maybe it's that the puzzle was just too easy, or the answers weren't interesting or the clues clever enough. There just wasn't any "ooh" moment.

    Biggest problem here was probably the fill, which is below average in too many places. I can take an ITER on the chin now and then, but when you give me an ITER / MESNE combo, I'm gonna get a little PO'd (20A: Roman road + 47A: Intermediate, in law). I think AMERE is one of the worst partials (5 letters) I've ever seen (7D: "___ bag of shells" (Ralph Kramden malapropism)). ALAW is a pretty strong contender in the 4-letter category (14A: Is ___ unto oneself). Actually, now that I really look at it, the rest of the grid is solid enough—it's just dull. SOPORIFIC (ironically, the most exciting answer in the grid, along with MAKE A FIST) (8D: Sleep-inducing + 3D: Prepare to give blood). The whole thing was a walk around the block—nice, but insufficient exercise, and I'll have forgotten about it 15 minutes after it's done.

    I don't think POISON POWDER is a thing. Or, rather, I know that it *is* a thing, as I googled it. But if the first (entire) page of results is any indication, it's exclusively a Pokémon thing. According to, "Poison Powder causes the target to become poisoned. Poisoned Pokémon lose 1/8 of their maximum HP each turn." Whatever that means.

    I really wish this theme had been tied to the police. I mean, POPO describes this theme a helluva lot better than POST OFFICE BOXES does. Hmm, there appears to be a Mr. Popo in the Dragon Ball universe. Before I explain what Dragon Ball is and how it does and does not relate to Pokémon, I'm just gonna sign off.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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