Celebrity couple portmanteau / THU 9-18-14 / Tree in giraffe's diet / Tree-dwelling snake / Unhelpful spelling clarification #1 / Female motorcyclists in biker slang

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: CASEY (16A: Man trying to clarify the spelling of his name in 21-, 25, 38-, 52- and 57-Across) — Theme answers all start "C as in …," "A as in …," etc. with each answer ending (unhelpfully) in a word that sounds like another letter of the alphabet; thus:
The "punchline" being that one might think the fellow's name is "QRCIU" (66A: What the listener might think 16-Across's name is?)

Word of the Day: KIMYE (32D: Celebrity couple portmanteau) —
Proper noun
  1. (slang) The couple consisting of celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
Blend of Kim and Kanye. (yourdictionary.com—"Your Dictionary: The Dictionary You Can Understand")
• • •

This was a weird one—mostly in a good way. 16 wide. That's a little weird. I got the basic theme concept early on, at C AS IN CUE. Before I had that answer filled out, I thought it was going to be something playing on different possible pronunciations of "C"—something like "C AS IN CEL." Once I got it, though, I saw that the resulting words were going to sound like different letters. Cool. Funny. And the man's name is going to be CASEY. Great. Let's go. The problem for me was mainly one of let-down. First, the other theme answers, by their very nature, didn't have much playfulness about them and (since I knew the core concept) were in no way surprising. And since the grid has no real sparkle—it's very clean and solid, but it's mostly Monday-level fill with no remarkable longer answers—I worked through it without that much pleasure (except a bit of smug pleasure, which turned quickly to guilty pleasure, at getting KIMYE and YOLO so quickly).

Let-down part II was that the revealer is an absurdity. I don't just mean that QRCIU is literally absurd, i.e. meaningless, but that the core conceit—that one would think that that is how the fictional CASEY was spelling his name—is preposterous. If you say "C AS IN CUE," no one thinks you are saying the first letter is "Q." Actually, scratch that. With "C AS IN CUE," the conceit actually kinda Does work, in that there is a word that sounds like CUE (namely QUEUE) that *does* start with "Q." It's the other letters where it doesn't work. Anyone hearing "blank as in blank" knows that the first blank is a letter and the second blank is a word. Not a letter. A AS IN ARE could not lead anyone to think that the second letter is "R" because there is no word *starting* with "R" that sounds like "ARE." And I see there is a "?" on the end of the 66-Across clue, so … OK, but this is simply not how the "blank as in blank" thing works. I can see now that picking up on the "the last words in the theme answers all sound like letters" concept almost instantly really spoiled whatever the revealer was supposed to do for me. So I started out impressed, but the feeling wore off a bit by the end.

Best wrong answer—66A: What the listener might think CASEY's name is?: QUE SI.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Dickens' scheming clerk / WED 9-17-14 / Original Veronica Mars airer / Literary hybrid / Drink made with Jameson / Gender-bending role for Barbra Streisand

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel and Don Gagliardo

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: POLLINATION (62: Job done by the insects seen above the circled words in 17-, 26- and 50-Across) — grid features three flowers (IRIS, ASTER, ROSE) and a "BEE" atop each one:

Theme answers:
  • IRISH COFFEE (17A: Drink made with Jameson, maybe)
  • YES, MASTER (26A: Genie's reply)
  • PROSE POEM (50A: Literary hybrid)
Word of the Day: POGO (42D: Okefenokee possum) —
Pogo is the title and central character of a long-running daily American comic strip, created by cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973) and distributed by the Post-Hall Syndicate. Set in theOkefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States, the strip often engaged in social and political satire through the adventures of its anthropomorphic funny animal characters.
Pogo combined both sophisticated wit and slapstick physical comedy in a heady mix ofallegory, Irish poetry, literary whimsy, puns and wordplay, lushly detailed artwork and broadburlesque humor. The same series of strips can be enjoyed on different levels by both young children and savvy adults. The strip earned Kelly a Reuben Award in 1951. (wikipedia)
• • •

Good morning. Late post today (7:15 am-ish). Poor night's sleep on Monday + full day teaching Tuesday + long walk in the woods with the dogs + first night of Binghamton Restaurant Week last night (which involved a Little alcohol) = me walking in the door last night and almost instantly falling asleep for ten hours. These things happen. The puzzle was cute. I didn't notice the theme at all until I'd finished, and then I had a nice little moment of "oh, look at that: BEEs." You usually see "hidden" (in this case "circled") words straddling the two words of a theme answer, but they're pushed off to one edge here for a reason—in order to more easily accommodate the BEEs. So that seems fine. Grid isn't crowded with theme answers, so the fill has a little room to breathe and as a result is not terrible. If I could send one answer back, it would probably be REDOSE. Maybe ROLEO or EDA, neither of whom I have ever seen outside a grid. But like I say, the rest seems pretty solid, particularly the long Downs. SWEET TALK wins Best Answer (11D: Cajole).

SWEET TALK was also the hardest thing for me to see. I did most of this puzzle at a Monday pace, but that NE corner held me up a bit because I couldn't see either of those long Downs for a bit. Had AMS (?) for 16A: Like early morning hours (WEE(pro tip: when the clue clearly calls for an adjective, try an adjective). Never heard of Fort Donelson National Battlefield, so TENNESSEE had to come from crosses. Forgot there was a PETER Farrelly. And worst of all, had Mountain DEW *and* had never (ever) heard of "mountain ASH." I assume it's a … tree? Yes! "Mountain ash is a name used for several trees, none of immediate relation" (wikipedia). Useful! So there was a little struggle up there. The rest of the puzzle put up no resistance, except Miss ELLIE (51D: "Dallas" matriarch). She was a little ornery. Got her confused with a cow there for a bit (ELSIE).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Resin used in incense / TUE 9-16-14 / 1990s R B group with repetitive sounding name / early mets manager Hodges / Family in 2009 best seller This Family of Mine / City midway between Detroit Toronto

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium (with lots of variation likely)

THEME: ON and ON and ON (52A: How a motormouth talks … or what 20-, 29- and 43-Across literally have in common) — theme answers feature the letter pairing "ON" three times

Theme answers:
  • TONY TONI TONÉ (20A: 1990s R&B group with a repetitive-sounding name)
  • LONDONONTARIO (29A: City midway between Detroit and Toronto)
  • MONSOON SEASON (43A: June to September, in India)
Word of the Day: ELEMI (33D: Resin used in incense) —
Canarium luzonicum, commonly known as elemi, is a tree native to the Philippines, and anoleoresin harvested from it. // Elemi resin is a pale yellow substance, of honey-like consistency. Aromatic elemi oil is steam distilledfrom the resin. It is a fragrant resin with a sharp pine and lemon-like scent. One of the resin components is called amyrin.
Elemi resin is chiefly used commercially in varnishes and lacquers, and certain printing inks. It is used as a herbal medicine to treat bronchitiscatarrh, extreme coughing, mature skin, scars, stress, and wounds. The constituents include phellandrenelimoneneelemolelemicinterpineolcarvone, and terpinolene. (wikipedia) (not to be confused with the 1985 John Malkovich film "ELENI" or the 1983 book it's based on)
• • •

This theme is slightly kooky and fairly entertaining. Must be pretty difficult to come up with a symmetrical set of these 3xON phrases, because LONDON, ONTARIO is a pretty deep cut. I've been there … well, I drove past on my way to McMaster University in Hamilton. Anyway, I have first-hand experience of the place, is what I'm saying, and I don't know how commonly known LONDON, ONTARIO is in the States. TONY TONI TONÉ was very well known at one point, but I have a feeling that answer is going to be the primarily stumbling block for a good chunk of solvers today. They had a string of #1 R&B hits in the late '80s / early '90s. Raphael Saadiq (whose name is crying out to be in crosswords) has a pretty successful solo career now. Even if you had heard of them, it's quite possible you didn't know exactly how to spell their name. For that, you can certainly be forgiven.

ELEMI is pretty horrid, but most of the rest of the fill is pretty good. I thought the pedal was a "WAH WAH" pedal. Just one WAH? Wha? Puzzle played very easy for me, generally. One answer that gave me a little trouble was the one with perhaps the best (in the sense of craziest-sounding) clue—3D: Like sheer fabric or sautéed onions (TRANSLUCENT). Very nice (despite the duped ENT, which is also duped in TENTS and CENT, and which is anagrammed in TEN). Also, RAINS ON crossing MONSOON SEASON—hat tip to that. My only real mistake came at 52D: Choice on a gambling line (OVER). I had ODDS.

That is all.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Polynesian island whose internet suffix is tv / MON 9-15-14 / Old British rule in India / Diana Rigg's role on Avengers

Monday, September 15, 2014

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: JELLY (67A: What quivering legs feel like … or a word that can precede the starts of 17-, 27-, 45- and 60-Across) —

Theme answers:
  • BELLY DANCER (17A: Performer who may have a navel decoration)
  • FISH AND CHIPS (27A: Some British pub food)
  • ROLL OF THE DIE (45A: Risk, figuratively)
  • BEAN SPROUTS (60A: Common stir-fry ingredients)
Word of the Day: TUVALU (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) —
Tuvalu (Listeni/tˈvɑːl/ too-vah-loo or /ˈtvəl/ too-və-loo), formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway betweenHawaii and Australia. It comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of  to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an oceanic area of approximately 900,000 km2. Its nearest neighbours are KiribatiNauruSamoa and Fiji. Its population of 10,837 makes it the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, with only the Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. In terms of physical land size, at just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than theVatican City at 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi), Monaco at 1.98 km2 (0.76 sq mi), and Nauru at 21 km2(8.1 sq mi). (wikipedia)
• • •

Quaint. A "word that can precede" puzzle. Feels like I haven't seen one in a while, though I do so many puzzles, maybe I have and I just forgot (they don't tend to be memorable). JELLY Bellies and JELLY beans are really too close to one another. In a puzzle like this, your themers (in this case, your JELLYs) really should all be quite distinct, one from the next, and as far as I know the only difference between your bellies and your beans is that the former is a brand, and … maybe it's smaller and less waxy? I don't know. I do know that they're too related to hold down different theme positions. This theme is stretched a little thin. Hard to do. DONUT isn't going to give you many good answer options, and you've already got the edible sweet "jelly roll" represented here. Jelly sandals are definitely a thing, but maybe not a Monday thing? Anyway, I call "foul" on the JELLY Belly / JELLY bean redundancy.

I would've called foul on "ROLL OF THE DIE," because I have always heard "dice," but there's plenty of attestation for the answer in the grid. Overall, the fill is pretty decent, for the most part. OENO-, S'IL, and (*especially*) -ISE have no place in most grids, but especially in an easy Monday grid. The -ISE is clearly a casualty of the rampant Scrabble-f*cking there in the SW (you can see the same thing happening in the NE, only the result there are slightly less dire). Just for fun, I redid those corners, maintaining all the gratuitously Scrabbly letters.

I like mine better, though some may balk at IMO and/or IGO—and of course my best advice is Never Do This. Make the grid as Good as it can be, not as chock full o' "Z"s as it can be. This is especially important for new constructors. Trust me on this. Go for smoothness and overall high quality over superficial 'zazz that means you have to stomach "-ISE" in your grid.

["Dr. JAZZ Dr. JAZZ, make my JELLY roll…"]

Mid-range non-theme answers in this puzzle are quite good. EMMA PEEL + "The PRISONER" = '60s TV fabulousness and the JOHN DOE / FATALLY symmetry is very nicely done. Perhaps not intentionally done, but who cares? KIDNAPS, also good. Wish "ARCHER" had gotten the TV clue it deserves. Speaking of "TV," what is up with that TUVALU clue? (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) It's true, that is the most obscure thing in this otherwise easy grid, but it seems a little much to give away two letters in the clue. Crossword clues very rarely just hand you letters like that. Ouch, just saw INAS. Gonna stop now before I notice more warts. Puzzle was OK!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Lost lady in Raven / SUN 9-14-14 / Philippine province with repetitive name / Cleaning aid since 1889 / 2012 gold-medal gymnast Raisman / Ocho Jamaican resort / Clove hitch sheepshank / German city on Baltic / Hip-hop record mogul Gotti / Speedy Northeast conveyance / Great White Hope director Martin

    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    Constructor: Tony Orbach and Patrick Blindauer

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "Celebrity Spoonerisms" — just what it says. (Definition of "spoonerism" HERE)

    Theme answers:
    • CAINE PILLAR (from "painkiller") (26A: Actor Michael's means of support?)
    • FEY HEALED (from "hay field") (28A: Comic Tina recovered from her wound?)
    • LEE SCION (from "sea lion") (42A: Heir of martial artist Bruce?)
    • FIRTH BOTHER (from "birth father") (52A: Annoyance for actor Colin?)
    • GERE BOGGLES (from "beer goggles") (68A: Thunderstruck critic's review for actor Richard?)
    • SHEEN CLEATS (from "clean sheets") (88A: What actor Martin calls his athletic footwear?)
    • WEST MYTH (from "messed with") (97A: Urban legend about rapper Kanye?)
    • BYRNE TACK (from "turn back") (114A: Musician David's equestrian accouterments?)
    • POEHLER SOUR (from "solar power") (117A: Tart cocktail named for comic Amy?)
    Word of the Day: ALY Raisman (59A: 2012 gold-medal gymnast Raisman) —
    Alexandra Rose "AlyRaisman (born May 25, 1994) is an American artistic gymnast.
    At the 2012 Summer Olympics, she was captain of the gold medal-winning US women's gymnastics team, and individually won a gold medal on the floor and a bronze medal on the balance beam. She was also on the US teams that won a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships. In 2013, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Very straightforward theme that rides entirely on whether the spoonerisms (and/or their clues) are funny. Spoonerizing for spoonerizing's sake—who cares? Spoonerize your way into a gloriously ridiculous phrase—bingo. The more unlikely and outrageous the spoonerism is, the better. I thought these were mostly pretty good. Some—like CAINE PILLAR and SHEEN CLEATS—felt a little dry, but FIRTH BOTHER is great for both the weirdness of its surface as well as the unexpected base phrase; POEHLER SOUR and BYRNE TACK both have radical respellings despite being perfect spoonerisms, and so have a certain visual interest; and GERE BOGGLES is just a home run on all counts. It belongs at the center. My main criticism of this theme is how loose and arbitrary it seems. I mean … I assume you could do several more Sunday puzzles with this same conceit. I don't think "Celebrity" is a narrow enough category. Something a little narrower, something that could've lent itself to a halfway decent title … I mean, this title's not even trying. You're very close to all actors here. LEE was an actor, and you could clue WEST as an actress, so it's just BYRNE that's holding you back. Actually, I take that back: Gabriel BYRNE is a pretty prominent actor, actually. So maybe all actors and a title that plays on the word "acting" somehow … I'm just saying that not a lot of thought appears to have gone into making the theme tight, or the title interesting.

    The clue on FEY HEALED (Comic Tina recovered from her wound?) is kind of unfortunate, given that she was in fact wounded, with a knife, as a child … I mean, not that she'd be offended or anything. There was just a violence about that clue that made me wince a bit. She did, however, heal nicely, so … maybe it's a triumphant clue after all and I'm just looking at things the wrong way. Let's talk about something else. How about difficulty? I blazed through most of this except for the NE—where my [Blade in the back?] was a SPATULA (!?) and the Polo-CATHAY connection made no sense to me until after-the-fact (CATHAY is Marco Polo's name for "China"). I also had some trouble in the East, where OH HAPPY DAY (39D: "Praise the Lord!") provides an object lesson in the Dark Side of Great Answers. Tony and Patrick must've *really* wanted OH HAPPY DAY because right down the whole length of that thing, the fill gets markedly uglier and more forced than it is anywhere else in the grid. The top part is the worst, with AOKS (!) UNHIP KIEL and ALY awkwarding up the joint pretty badly. That KIEL / ALY crossing very nearly killed me. Never heard of the gymnast, but luckily remembered that a. KIEV is in Ukraine, and b. KIEL was a relative obscurity I complained about a few months back. I briefly considered KIEM / AMY, but to my credit, couldn't take KIEM seriously. Further down the OH HAPPY DAY ladder we get ORA and RPTS (no and no) and then ANS. As always, the problem isn't a single entry but a gruesome pile-up. Was the trade-off worth it? That's the question.

    Puzzle of the Week this week was easy to decide. You definitely owe it to yourself to subscribe to Fireball Crosswords (what is taking you so long?) and immediately solve the latest puzzle by Peter Broda, a meta puzzle called "Cross Hatching" that is truly clever. I would discuss it more, but it's a contest puzzle, and the deadline hasn't passed … or maybe it has … I'm too lazy to check, so I'm gonna play it safe and stay mute.  But Broda's "Cross Hatching" is not my Puzzle of the Week. No, that honor goes to Patrick Blindauer's "Change of Heart" puzzle (NYT), which broke the internet, or at least the parts of the internet attached to CrossWorld. It rattled more cages, more loudly, than any puzzle I've ever covered. Ever. So for looming large over the puzzle week (and likely the Puzzle Year), … point to Mr. Blindauer.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out Matt Gaffney's superb new Mental Floss article on how crossword puzzles are made WORD-WEAVING 101: HOW TO LOVINGLY AND SKILLFULLY CREATE A CROSSWORD PUZZLE"). He builds a puzzle right before your eyes, letting you in on his thought processes at every stage. It's the best concise explanation of crossword construction basics that I know of.


    Comedian Paul / SAT 9-13-14 / Montreal eco-tourist attraction / Source of conflict in antiquity / Italian after-dinner drink / Anchors of some malls / Classic storyteller who wrote under pseudonym Knickerbocker

    Saturday, September 13, 2014

    Constructor: Josh Knapp

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Paul MOONEY (41D: Comedian Paul) —
    Paul Gladney (born August 4, 1941), better known by the stage name Paul Mooney, is an American comedian, writersocial critic, television and film actor. He is best known for his appearances on Chappelle's Show and as a writer for the comedian Richard Pryor. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Three quarters Easy-Medium, one quarter free-fall. I spent as long on the little SW corner as I did on everything else. I don't even remember the rest of the puzzle. I guess it was OK. It looks OK. But it didn't give me any real trouble. After some flopping around in the NW, I changed 17A: When bars close in Boston from AT TWO to TWO AM, and then got "DOWN HERE!" off that "W" and the final "E" (from DEC., the only flat-out obvious answer up there). Things came together from there. After getting SINE, I had first two letters of all those Downs in the middle, and that was enough to get all of them reasonably quickly. Lucked into the NE corner by guessing IN BETA from the terminal "A," then getting ITEM and TEXT ME. With the exception of a SET-for-LOT error (8D: Universal area), nothing up there was too tough. CPL and ORE were, in fact, gimmes (no such gimmes in the grid's SW counterpart). LEMONGRASS was a piece of cake, and with GRAPPA and GRIMM going in very easily, it didn't take long to bring down that SE section either. That just left the SW…

    Ugh. The SW corner left me feeling more exasperated than satisfied. More my bad luck than anything the puzzle did wrong, though I wonder if this corner wasn't markedly harder on some objective level. That is, I have no way of knowing if this corner is consistent with the difficulty of the rest of the grid (in which case my stumbling was an idiosyncratic glitch) or if the corner really is clued in a way that radically separates it from the rest of the grid, difficulty-wise. First problem, for me, was 40A: "Gotcha," in old lingo (I'M HIP). Just had the -P, and could come up with nothing. This was due to not understanding At All that "Gotcha" meant "I understand you." All I understood from "Gotcha" was "I tricked you," "I nailed you," "I nabbed you," etc. Maybe those all have exclamation points, i.e. "Gotcha!"? I don't know. But (horrible, trite, overused, wish it would go die) I'M HIP never Ever occurred to me. I probably should've gotten CINEMAS, but I've only ever heard of retail stores being mall "anchors," so CINEMAS was nowhere on my radar. Wanted REISER for the [Comedian Paul]. MOONEY was rough. When I googled him (after I finished), I recognized him (from "Chapelle's Show"), but I sure didn't know his name. Never considered the "long race" was an election (TUE). Good clue, but trickiness there just hyper-brutalized an already brutal corner.

    Never considered that the "bridge" at 58A: Something on either side of a bridge was anything but a … well, a bridge. You know, with cars and stuff (had CROSSSPAN there at one point … is that a thing?). [Kind] was too vague for me. [Fair] was too vague for me. Thought [P.E.I. setting] was CAN or ATL. LYRIC, no hope … not for a while, anyway (46D: Words that are rarely spoken). If I think of that word, it's usually in the plural. Despite considering NOUN and AOK at various points, the only way I finally cracked that SW corner was by forcefully, somewhat desperately putting down TENACIOUS for 56A: Like bulldogs. That worked with AOK and made me try out LOCO at 49D: Unscrewed (instead of BATS or NUTS, which had been in there before). Then that "K" from AOK really looked like it needed a "C" in front of it … and bam went LYRIC. Then it was all over but the shouting. But I didn't really care. End result: hard, competent, forgettable. No terrible parts, no sparkle, no charm. CHEESEBALL, LEMONGRASS, and "DOWN HERE!" are winners. I wish there were more. Clues were better than fill today—special commendation for [Chase scene producer, for short]. An SNL clue that's not only new, but clever? Much appreciated.

    Another weekend, another two themelesses by men. The gender divide is widest where themelesses are concerned. Cannot remember the last time I saw a female constructor's byline on one. I miss Karen Tracey, is what I'm saying. I just googled [Karen Tracey Rex Parker] and THIS is the first hit that came up. Just read that first paragraph—that's some effusive praise from young Rex Parker. Come back, Karen Tracey!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Pioneer in Nevada gaming industry / FRI 9-12-14 / Tamid ever burning synagogue lamp / Inits of Thoreau's mentor / Musician with 2012 album lux / artistic friend of zola / Rival of Captain Morgan /

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Constructor: Michael Wiesenberg

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: NER Tamid (39D: ___ Tamid (ever-burning synagogue lamp)) —
    In Judaism, the sanctuary lamp is known by its Hebrew name, ner tamid (Hebrewנֵר תָּמִיד), which is usually translated as "eternal flame" or "eternal light". Hanging or standing in front of theark in every Jewish synagogue, it is meant to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalemas well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple. It also symbolizes God's eternal presence and is therefore never extinguished. It is also intended to draw parallels between God and fire, or light, which is emphasized throughout the book of Exodus in the Torah. Additionally, it is often used to symbolize the light released from the shards of the receptacles that God used to create light and goodness.[citation needed]
    These lights are never allowed to dim or go out, and in the case of electric problems, alternative emergency energy sources are used to prevent it from diminishing.
    Though once fueled by oil, most today are electric lights, including some that are solar-powered. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This is definitely solid enough to pass muster on a Friday, but I did find it a bit of a BORE. There were some nice colorful bits here and there, like I'M OUTTA HERE and DEAR READER… and HOW ON EARTH!? But there was also a lot of blah, including longer phrase (BE NICE TO, DRIVE TO WORK) that seem more like random excerpts of human speech than strong, self-standing phrases. The threes in this one are Particularly rough. NER is about as low as it gets, partial-wise, and RWE, EHS, SITU, AOKI … not a ton better. FURL is a funny word I believe to be real (by inference from its UN-prefixed cousin) but have never heard. Oh, look, "Secure neatly" is the first definition you see when you google "FURL"—and umbrella is mentioned there as well. We all appear to be furling all the time and yet Never calling it that. What's wrong with us?

    It's ARENA ROCK. It's not STADIUM ROCK (1A: Queen's music). Just 'cause google tells you something's a thing doesn't mean it's *really* a thing. If you know in your heart of hearts that the *real* phrase is actually different, don't settle for the knock-off.  OVERSTRESS and ENSNARED and INTERSPERSE just look like reasons to hurl a lot of common letters at me all at once. I liked ROMA TOMATO less for the answer itself than for the hole it made me fall into, namely thinking the answer *started* TOMATO. I had -OMAT- at the front end of that answer, and instinctively wrote in TOMATO-, figuring the rest of the answer would work itself out somehow. Didn't know what DIT was supposed to stand for at 12A: Film developer?: Abbr., but I let it ride for a while. ROMATOMATO now looks awesomely ridiculous to me, and I am amusing myself by saying ROMATO-MATO over and over. Domo arigato, ROMA TOMATO!

    Good day.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Sturdy tree in beech family / THU 9-11-14 / Canadian pop singer Lavigne / Rapunzel's prison / Cowboy's home familiarly / Yellow-centered bloomer / Partner of Dreyer / Cow in Borden ads

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: "Change Of Heart" —
    Note: "This crossword was the most-discussed puzzle at Lollapuzzoola 7, a tournament held in August 9 in New York City. The event was directed by Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer. Hint: The title is key to solving the puzzle. Time limit: 45 minutes."
    Across answers are incompatible with the Downs unless you "change" their "hearts" (i.e. middle letters). Sure, you get the wrong answers in the Acrosses, but you get the Downs right, *and* you've got a plausible grid to boot, with real words / phrases / names / abbrs. resulting from all the changed "hearts." (All "heart" "changes" shown in red on the grid above)

    Word of the Day: GERARDO (7D: "Rico Suave" rapper) —
    Gerardo Mejía (born April 16, 1965), better known as simply Gerardo, is a Latino rapperand singer who later became a recording industry executive, and more recently a youth pastor. Born in GuayaquilEcuador, he and his family moved to Glendale, California, when he was 12 years old.
    Based in Los Angeles, California, Gerardo became known for his bandana, skintight jeans, locking, and shirtless torso. He sometimes refers to himself as the "Latin Elvis", the "Latin Frank Sinatra" or the Latin "Tony Zuzio" or "Joe Rider". (wikipedia)
    • • •

    If you solve your puzzles Downs-only (as some expert solvers have been known to do, especially on early-week puzzles), then you would've had a perfect grid without ever understanding that there was a trick, twist, or theme of any sort. Acrosses would've all looked good, and you'd've had no reason to doubt any of your answers. In fact, your answers would've been "right"—the answers considered right by the computer, anyway. I really wasn't sure how I was supposed to fill this thing in, even after I figured out the core gimmick. Well, actually, at first I *thought* I had the gimmick figured out, but I was overdoing it—I thought *every* middle letter, in both Acrosses *and* Downs, was different in both directions. Needless to say, my grid was riddled with blank squares, into which I had no idea what to put. Then finally I realized oh, it's just the Across answers that have the "heart problems" (a less breakfast-table-worthy title for this puzzle…). Then things got quite a bit easier. I thought maybe something would be spelled out, that there'd be some pattern to the heart changes … but no. You just change the "correct" Across answer to conform to the Down answer. Nevermind the "wrong" answer in the Across—your grid still looks great.

    I don't know what to say about this puzzle. Hard to talk about fill quality and all that in a puzzle that's so thematically constrained. I do think it's important that all the Downs be Super-famililar, especially the ones that go through Across "hearts," because technically those crosses are not true crosses, i.e. normally you have two chances at every letter—the Across and the Down—but not here. If you don't know a Down that runs through an Across "heart," then the only thing that can help you is knowing that the Across, even with the changed "heart," has to form a real possible crossword answer. But you can't really *know* that about the puzzle except by inference, probably after you've already completed the puzzle. This is all to say that I fear for the people who have never heard of GERARDO. GE- are really the only plausible letters to lead it off, considering they're the only ones that make sensible Acrosses, but again, if you don't know that you need to make sensible Acrosses (there's nothing tell you you do), and you aren't up on your one- (maybe two-) hit wonders from the early '90s, then yikes.

    I think that's all I have to say today. I predict feelings will be mixed about this one. I'm torn. I kind of wish there was something tying it all together, something punchy and unifying, something more than just the title. But it's unique and ambitious and memorable—all good(e) things.

    Weirdest moment—realizing just now that the [spoiler alert!] in the clue for EARTH (26D: "Planet of the Apes" planet [spoiler alert!]) was referring to the end of the movie. I thought it was referring to the puzzle itself, i.e EARTH is, literally, a "Change of HEART." Needless to say, thinking that EARTH was a theme answer caused some, uh, confusion. I kept waiting for other changes of HEART, like, uh … HATER? I don't know.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Sinatra's big band leader / WED 9-10-14 / Bandoleer filler / Cleanser brand that hasn't scratched yet / Beachgoer's cooler-offer / Half exorbitant fee

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Constructor: Jim Peredo

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: Been There, Done That — "message" referred to in the clue 69A: Where you might see the message formed by the last words in 21-, 32-, 42- and 54-Across (T-SHIRT)

    Theme answers:
    • "HOW YOU BEEN?" (21A: "What's goin' on?") (first guess: HOW YOU DOIN'?)
    • "PUT 'ER THERE!" (32A: "Let's shake!")
    • "NO HARM DONE" (42A: "Don't worry, I'm O.K.")
    • "GIVE ME THAT!" (54A: "Hand it over!")

    Word of the Day: Tommy DORSEY (52A: Sinatra's big band leader) —
    Thomas Francis "TommyDorsey, Jr. (November 19, 1905 – November 26, 1956) was an American jazz trombonisttrumpetercomposer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", because of his smooth-toned trombone playing. Although he was not known for being a notable soloist, his technical skill on the trombone gave him renown amongst other musicians. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid-1930s, he led an extremely popular and highly successful band from the late 1930s into the 1950s. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I have to say that I love the theme answers. The theme itself … we'll get to that. But the answers in their own right, regardless of the theme, make a great set. A colloquial barrage, the first two expressing happiness upon meeting an old friend, the third expressing forgiveness for his friend's stupid loud ring tone, and the fourth expressing less forgiveness. I just like saying all four of these answers in a row. Joy up top, annoyance underneath. As for the theme itself, I've never seen the old/trite phrase "Been There, Done That" on a T-SHIRT. It's annoying enough when someone says it out loud—why would you want to print something that banal and meaningless on a shirt and thus figuratively shout it at everyone you see? I actually haven't even heard anyone say the phrase in something like a decade, maybe more. I feel like it was big in 1993. Anyway, theme shmeme. But theme *answers*, as a set—big thumbs-up.

    Fill is average. Maybe slightly below. Long Downs are just fine, but the shorter stuff really creaks. Stuff like JAI and LOA and ATTA and KARTS, which are really just phrase parts, are less than ideal. I was not aware the KARTS could go without the GO. In most cases I think "K" beats "T," but TARTS > KARTS as fill, I think. And UTE / UKE is probably a tie. The team name "Redskins" is flat-out racist and you shouldn't dignify its somehow continued existence by putting it in a puzzle clue—dropping the "red" doesn't make it better. When they eventually change their name, and they will, I really hope they find something more creative than "SKINS." The Washington Skins … would be creepy.

    Puzzle was mostly easy. Clue on PER YEAR threw me off (8D: How salaries or rainfall may be reported), as it sounds like the reporting itself is happening only once a year. I'm not sure I even know what "report" means in this context. "Measured"? "Recorded"? Anyway, I probably wanted something like ANNUALLY, and had to wait for crosses to fill it in. I briefly invented a kind of styptic pencil that you use on TICKs (16A: Styptic pencil target). I think it's going to be a big seller. I also CHARred whatever was on my barbecue. I don't associate SEAR with "blackening," or, rather, I associate CHAR with "blackening" more. Couldn't figure out which CD was being referred to, and even when I thought of the financial instrument, I couldn't remember (quickly) what the "C" was or how to abbr. it. CERT. is a less-than-great answer, so I felt ill-rewarded for my confusion. And then lord knows how you spell HOOHAHS. I had 65A: Electric bill abbr. as KWT and thus ended up with HOOHATS.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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