Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg heroine / THU 3-31-16 / 1890s vice president Stevenson / Bit of Blues Brothers attire / Jazzman Baker / Spaniard granted right to conquer Florida by Charles V

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Constructor: Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [Double __?] — all theme clues follow that model (familiar two-word phrases beginning "Double..."), and answers are familiar "___ AND ___" phrases where both blanks are filled with words that mean roughly the same thing as the ___ in the clue. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Double solitaire? (ONE AND ONLY)
  • 21A: Double space? (NULL AND VOID) — not sure how "space" = "null," but ... moving on 
  • 33A: Double take? (SNATCH AND GRAB)
  • 50A: Double life? (VIM AND VIGOR)
  • 55A: Double back? (AID AND ABET) 
Word of the Day: DEER Valley (15A: ___ Valley (Utah ski resort)) —
Deer Valley is an alpine ski resort in the Wasatch Range, located 36 miles (58 km) east of Salt Lake City, in Park City, Utah, United States. The resort, known for its upscale amenities, is consistently ranked among the top ski resorts in North America. // Deer Valley was a venue site during 2002 Winter Olympics, hosting the freestyle moguls, aerial, and alpine slalom events. It also regularly hosts competitions for the International Ski Federation. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, that is a lot of wordplay for not very much excitement at all. Still kind of hung up on how NULL = "space," but I'm sure I'll get over it. Easy and dull, with some decent longer answers here and there, but also with some dreadful fill right where you'd expect it (i.e. in the thematically tight spaces—see DELA next to BRYN adjacent to IS SO, for example). The only thing I'm going to remember about this puzzle is Holy Crap there's *another* ADLAI Stevenson. I kept wanting and not wanting ADLAI because it fit and it's the epitome of crosswordesey names so likelihood of its being in this puzzle seemed high, but the date ... the date ... ADLAI ran against Ike so No Way he was Veep in the late 19th century!? But then the answer *was* ADLAI, so I looked it up and whaddyaknow? ADLAI I (now that would be some terrible fill) was Grover Cleveland's running mate the second time around (Cleveland won popular vote three times in a row, but got beat by Benjamin Harrison in the middle there). The two-time loser to Dwight ADLAI (ADLAI II, which would be really Amazingly bad fill!) was the grandson of ADLAI I. I had no idea. None zero none. History!

OVOIDAL is a painful word. Sounds like part of a disease name. The clue on EVA (4D: "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" heroine) is 19 kinds of preposterous. Forget that it's a gratuitous opera clue (the snootiest, most elitist and exclusionary kind of crossword clue), it expects me to have heard of it, and to know who composed it, when it's from, etc. I know none of these things. Buncha German words ... heroine. EV_? No idea. Luckily, the puzzle was so easy that this absurd clue didn't matter. Something about [On-schedule] cluing TIMELY feels off. Word means "appropriately timed," or "relevant to the times," which is not something you'd say about a train or bus. Those things run "on time." Also, what does "stink eye" mean. I think of LEER as an action that's sexual and somewhat lurid, whereas "stink eye" ... I don't know. Sounds like a face you'd make at someone you don't like. "Stink eye" cuts out all implications of lasciviousness, which seems wrong. I think my favorite answer was DRAWS STARES, just because it seems unusual and original. The rest was mediocre and over quickly.

Goodbye, March.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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College in Down Under slang / WED 3-30-16 / Flopper in basketball / Part of insects body that holds legs / Calvin Hobbes conveyance / Arcade game played on incline / Trumpet guitar effect

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Reynolds

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: CLIMATE CHANGE (34A: Environmentalist's concern ... or a hint to the circled letters) — contiguous circled letters are, in four different answers, a jumble (or "change") of the letters in "CLIMATE"

Theme answers:
  • CHEMICAL TESTING (17A: Some lab work)
  • MEAL TICKET (2A: Source of income)
  • DIRECT MAIL (49A: Like some ad campaigns)
  • SATELLITE CAMPUS (56A: School branch)
Word of the Day: ERIC the Red (5D: ___ the Red) —
Erik Thorvaldsson (Old Norse: Eiríkr Þorvaldsson; 950 – c. 1003), known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr hinn rauði), is remembered in medieval and Icelandic saga sources as having founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. The Icelandic tradition indicates that he was born in the Jæren district of Rogaland, Norway, as the son of Þorvald Ásvaldsson, he therefore also appears, patronymically, as Erik Thorvaldsson (Eiríkr Þorvaldsson). The appellation "the Red" most likely refers to his hair color and the color of his beard. Leif Erikson, the famous Icelandic explorer, was Erik's son. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a tried and true, red white and blue theme type. Some revealer phrase with CHANGE or CRAZY or DANCE or some other word signifying "mix the letters up," and then a bunch of phrases that feature the letters in the other revealer word all jumbled up and strung across two words in a bunch of theme answers. For example, here's a CHANGE OF HEART puzzle from three years ago. Anyway, you get the picture. You can probably imagine a lot of phrases around which one could, theoretically, build this type of theme. This one is solid, for sure, with very decent theme answers. But it was a bit of a letdown to solve because you get the gist of it right away—I actually got the revealer before I got any of the themers, but even if I'd uncovered CHEMICAL TESTING first, I would've known *right away* what the revealer was. This happened to me today with a different puzzle in a different paper, where, one answer in, I not only knew the revealer would be BREAK BREAD, but I could easily go down and fill in the other "broken" breads, just by inference, with no crosses or anything (PITA, RYE...). Conceptually solid, this one is—a serviceable example of a well-worn concept. But the AHA came early, not late, and it came as an "Oh, you again," not a "Whoa, who are you!?"

Longer Downs in the NW and SE corners are nice, actually. I do want to say something about some subpar short fill here, not because it's particularly bad today (it isn't; not particularly). I want to be clear that when I grouse about stuff like ASSN, CUL, AAH, OTIC, -IER, SSE, LOC, ATO, TOBE, etc., first, it's not that any one of those is a dealbreaker (though honestly -IER is close). It's that when they pile up, they become irksome. And second, they become more irksome the easier the grid is to fill. If the puzzle is not terribly theme-dense, then these kinds of one-star answers should be at a bare minimum. In a theme-dense puzzle (esp. a very good one), I can put up with more. In a sparkly themeless, I can put up with more. But in a fairly ordinary themed puzzle, I expect the constructor to polish The Hell out of the grid. Just so we're clear.

I did my first ever Twitter poll tonight. Just a one-hour poll asking readers which is the better cross: TEAM / -IER (which is actually in this grid) or TRAM / IRR. The results aren't as surprising as my mild change of heart (!) about the vast superiority of TRAM / IRR. Hang on, let me check the final results now ... Well, with 7 minutes left, and 58 votes in, TRAM / IRR. is still crushing, with 74% of the vote. But puzzle whiz Jeffrey Harris claimed that IRR. was a "crossword invention," like SOR. for "sorority." I find IRR. a perfectly normal abbr., having seen it on clothing tags in outlet stores when I was growing up. Or So I Thought. Trying to find visual evidence on line is proving well nigh impossible. I still believe that abbr. is legit, but Jeffrey, as usual, appears to be something other than wrong. So while I'm still #teamtram (as opposed to #teamteam), I'm less indignant than I was at the choice that was made in this grid.

Lastly, it's worth noting, in case you didn't catch it up top, that ERIC the Red appears to be an ERIK, in actuality. Is this a fudgeable spelling? Strikes me as at least mildly IRR.

Lastly lastly, if you mentally reparse NORSEMEN, you might get a phrase that makes you giggle like the 8th grader that you are I am.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Op-ed columnist Timothy / TUE 3-29-16 / Supporting stalks / Ancestor of harmonica / Obsolescent designation in music business / Early filmmaker Fritz / Sch overlooking Harlem

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOGLEGS (38A: Some links holes ... with a hint to the circled letters) — golf theme with dog breeds spelled out in the shape of "doglegs" on a golf course (SETTER, POODLE, BEAGLE, COLLIE). Some other golf answers, including:
  • LADIES' TEES (?!) (17A: What red markers may indicate on 59-Acrosses)
  • GOLF COURSE (59A: 18 holes, often)
  And possibly these are supposed to be themed as well (?)
  • ON A PAR (20A: Even (with))
  • CARDED (55A: Scored, as on a 59-Across)
Word of the Day: Timothy EGAN (2D: Op-ed columnist Timothy) —
Timothy Egan (born November 8, 1954 in Seattle, Washington) is an American author and journalist. For The Worst Hard Time, a 2006 book about people who lived through The Great Depression's Dust Bowl, he won the National Book Award for Nonfiction[3][4] and the Washington State Book Award in history/biography. // In 2001, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series to which Egan contributed, "How Race is Lived in America". He currently lives in Seattle and contributes opinion columns as the paper's Pacific Northwest correspondent. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't play golf and had no idea LADIES' TEES even existed. Also never heard CARDED used to mean "scored." Like, ever. I do know what DOGLEGS are (because of crosswords, weirdly), but MAN, this puzzle left me cold, for several reasons. The first: too Inside Golf. I don't care. I just don't care. LADIES' TEES? I'm guessing they are closer to the pin? Because ladies ... can't hit the ball as far as the men? Or maybe I'm reading the answer all wrong and LADIES' TEES really refers to women's t-shirts. I'm going to choose to believe that when LADIES' TEES are on sale at the department store, "red markers" are used to point this out. Putting dog breeds into little dogleg shapes is pretty corny *and* it puts a lot of pressure on the grid, making it hard to fill cleanly. Hence the Avalanche of painful fill, including every crosswordesey name in the book. Seriously. All of them: ELIE and ESAI and TESSA and ISAK *and* (seriously, we're still going...) ESME and AMOS. And dear lord, JA RULE? Still, we're putting him in puzzles? I'm normally very much pro-hip-hop, but JA RULE has become crutch fill for people who wouldn't know hip-hop from IHOP. It's been a decade+ since he's done anything musically significant. He shouldn't be anywhere near a Tuesday puzzle.

ONE LOOK is basically a giant partial (25D: It just took this before "I fell so hard in love with you," in a 1960s hit). Not great. Also, isn't the lyric "and I fell so hard, hard, HAAAAAARD ..." or is that just the Linda Ronstadt version? (or maybe she's just extending the syllable?)

STIPES and INGLE are words I would go to only in desperation, especially in an early-week puzzle. Weird to think you can get away with ON A PAR as a themer, when a. you don't even clue it via golf (the way you do w/ the symmetrical CARDED) and b. the idiom isn't very golf-y at all. Would you say ON A PAR in relation to golf? I know "PAR" is a golf term, obviously, but is ON A PAR? And I'm supposed to believe in plural POOHS? Again, in an early-week puzzle, I refuse to believe. SCOUNDREL is a nice word, and I like the clue on STEVENS (21A: Cat in a record store). Otherwise,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hand-blown wine bottle that's also title of 1968 Beatles song / MON 3-28-16 / Pear-shaped string instrument / Opposite of bench player / Did stylized ballroom dance / Early caucusgoer

Monday, March 28, 2016

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: APPEALING (35A: Winsome ... or like the ends of 17-, 24-, 51- and 58-Across, to a punster?) — last words in theme answers are all foods that you "peel":

Theme answers:
  • ADAM'S APPLE (17A: Bump on the neck)
  • HOT POTATO (24A: Issue that's too dangerous to touch)
  • TOP BANANA (51A: Grand pooh-bah)
  • GLASS ONION (58A: Hand-blown wine bottle that's also the title of a 1968 Beatles song)
Word of the Day: GLASS ONION
Glass onions were large hand blown glass bottles used aboard sailing ships to hold wine or brandy. For increased stability on rough seas, the bottles were fashioned with a wide-bottom shape to prevent toppling, thus making the bottles look somewhat onion-shaped. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well, I learned what a GLASS ONION is, so the puzzle wasn't a total loss. As for what a "punster" would do—look, if that "punster" were any good, he/she wouldn't be making this truly awful and tired pun. I get that that is the *point* of many puns—they make you groan. And I also get that, as an avowed pun-disliker, this puzzle isn't really *for* me. And yet this pun is so cheesy and third-grade that I feel like, even from a pun-lover's perspective, this has got to be disappointing. It is somewhat interesting that all the peeled foods appear at the end of non-food phrases. And I appreciate how clean the grid is, overall. And I don't even mind that the puzzle skews pretty old (CLASSIC rock, including the Beatles' "GLASS ONION," and SHEMP and ARP and STAN Lee and really nothing recent). Puzzles are allowed to do that from time to time. But yikes, that pun.

I think the clue on HOP UP is odd. I can't really use it in a sentence to replace [Increase the energy of]. "Let's HOP UP this party?" You can get "hopped up" on, let's say, goofballs. But "HOP UP" is more of an invitation to get on a stool or someone's lap or a horse or something somewhat elevated that you sit on. Any other usage feels a little awkward. I think I wanted PEP UP at first. Otherwise, there were very few hiccups or missteps in this one. Tore straight through it with little hesitation. Maybe I waited to figure out what letter shape the [Letter-shaped girder] was going to be. In fact, I'm sure I did. But nothing else was even slightly vague or unclear. Straightforward, familiar words, terms, places, etc. That is, a Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Peg solitaire puzzle brand / SUN 3-27-16 / Longtime soap actress Hall / Latin word in back of dollar bill / Composer of Windows 95 start-up sound / 1914 battle site / One-named hitmaker of 1950s-60s

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Pitch Imperfect" — famous advertising slogans, but with one word anagrammed into another word, creating wackiness and "?" clues and all that...

Theme answers:
  • WE LOVE TO SEE YOU SLIME ("Smile") (what slogan is this??? oh ... looks like it was a McDonald's slogan for a few years in the early '00s)
  • THIS DUB'S FOR YOU ("Bud's") (Budweiser)
  • OBEY YOUR T-SHIRT ("Thirst") (is this Gatorade? Gah, YAH, Sprite! My bad...)
  • THE FABRIC OF OUR VEILS ("Lives") (Cotton)
  • YOU DESERVE A BAKER TODAY ("Break") (... another McDonald's!?!?! That seems ... like a foul)

Word of the Day: HI-Q (6D: Peg solitaire puzzle brand) —
Peg solitaire (or Solo Noble) is a board game for one player involving movement of pegs on a board with holes. Some sets use marbles in a board with indentations. The game is known simply as Solitaire in the United Kingdom where the card games are called Patience. It is also referred to as Brainvita (especially in India). // The first evidence of the game can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV, and the specific date of 1687, with an engraving made that year by Claude Auguste Berey of Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princess of Soubise, with the puzzle by her side. The August, 1687 edition of the French literary magazine Mercure galant contains a description of the board, rules and sample problems. This is the first known reference to the game in print. // The standard game fills the entire board with pegs except for the central hole. The objective is, making valid moves, to empty the entire board except for a solitary peg in the central hole. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hey, it's my old pal, PB2 (PB1 = Patrick Berry). I didn't not understand this theme for the longest time. In fact, it wasn't until I was completely finished that I got the whole advertising slogan angle. I was too focused on random anagrams to notice much of anything else. I kept trying to find some kind of pattern, some rationale, and kept coming up empty. The advertising angle ties things together somewhat, but only very, very loosely. There's just not much (if any) logic to the anagramming. Sometimes it's the product name, sometimes it's not, sometimes the anagram's at the end of the phrase, sometimes it's not ... I don't know. And there are only six theme answers? With that few answers, I'd expect a much zippier and more colorful and cleaner grid than this one. With the exception of UNFRIENDED (79D: Cut ties with, in a way) and ROOMBA (76D: iRobot vacuum), this puzzle felt quite staid and dated. There were several patches of short fill that were very, very rough (ERES EVRY SEI RIEN—three languages in four adjacent answers?!; ISS SHH DEI OSHEA; TRURO DREI ESAU; etc.). It all felt somewhat old, somewhat uninspired, and the theme just didn't hang together neatly, or feel very special.

There must be a million advertising slogans, but it's actually probably very hard to find one where you can anagram a single word and make a wacky phrase out of it, so perhaps the theme is tighter, or at least harder to pull off, than I imagined at first. That said, the slogan seems to be "PLEASE Don't squeeze the Charmin," so some fudging has been allowed. That's fine. Was SMELT IN YOUR MOUTH, NOT IN YOUR HAND too long? Oh, yeah, way too long. GOOD TO THE LAST PROD? A LITTLE BAD'LL DO YA? LET YOUR FRINGES DO THE WALKING? THINK MALLS? I dunno. It's kind of fun to come up with these, but the concept still seems slightly weak. There's some hardcore old school proper noun crosswordese here, like TRURO and LEMA (both of which I learned from crosswords, both of which I've seen only in crosswords, only one of which I remembered today). ENDO ORDO AERO ... and then JEOPARDOUS, which is a word no one has ever used ever. I just kept waiting for this one to perk up, but it never did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Rough loosely woven fabric / SAT 3-26-16 / Mechanism for making things disappear in 1984 / Calligrapher's grinding mortar / Irish revolutionary Robert / Jimbo's sidekick on South Park / 458 488 on road / Fictional dog owned by Winslow family / Yellow-flowered primrose / Drug company founder of 1876 / Clusters of mountains / Fraternal patriotic org / Crooner with 1978 album You Light Up My Life

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: RATINÉ (28A: Rough, loosely woven fabric) —
A loosely woven fabric with a rough nubby texture. (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

Fastest Saturday in a long, time. Under 8, and I stopped to take screen grabs, so ... yeah. Cake. The problem with lower word counts is, you're always gonna pay for it somewhere (well, mortals are, anyway), and today it felt like the price was a bit too high (word count: 64). There are a few great answers—MOM JEANS and MEMORY HOLE (34A: Mechanism for making things disappear in "1984") and TOTAL IDIOT (20A: Big dip)—but you get into some of those nooks and crannies and it gets pretty jarring. I was having a pleasant enough time at first. I saw straight through the "?" clue at 1A: Produces heat? (DRAWS), guessed the answers correctly, tested it on the "D" and guessed DRIFT (1D: Sight after a blizzard), and it all came together quickly. In less than 30 seconds, I was here:

Here, WILLA CATHER acts kind of like a fishing line: you're just trying to get Any of the crossing answers to bite. Luckily for me, CETERA, ASHEN and -STER all did. This is precisely when things started to go south. Latin plural ... ugly suffix ... I was hoping that would be the worst of it (not sooo bad), but then *directly* after that came the MASSIFS (?!) / SAR (!?!) crossing, and Enjoyment Levels took a nosedive from which they only partially recovered (29D: Clusters of mountains / 38A: Fraternal patriotic org.). If you keep looking at -STER over SAR you will become sad and your sadness will deepen and deepen until you avert your eyes. I recommend not looking. MASSIFS would just be one of those "Oh, huh, what an odd new word" words if -STER and SAR weren't stabbed right into its heart. As is, that corner is a Blot. After that, we get stuck in the rough terrain of -ERS-ville: a patch of roughly one bajillion plurals, most of them ending -ERS (or -ORS). You know the old expression: COVERS ROTORS, SAVERS DOTERS. You don't? Well, now you do.

Once I hit yet another French-derived nutso word (RATINÉ!?) and the never-welcome author abbrev. EAPOE, I got worried again. Then the TSETSES showed up and I was beginning to think this was SATAN'S own puzzle. Now, to be fair, there's a lot of meat to this puzzle, average words doing average things. But it fizzles out in a particularly, strangely weak SE corner and ... well, that's that. From a speed-solving, tournament warm-up perspective, I guess I'm elated. But the bumps were just a little too bumpy for me today—again, not unexpected when the puzzle plummets to sub-68 depths.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I was looking for the Rickie Lee Jones song where she actually sings "E.A. POE" ("Traces of the Western Slopes," off of the immaculate "Pirates" album). But then I found this and just watched it on repeat like 30 times.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mellow R&B track / FRI 3-25-16 / Acid alcohol compound / French border region / 500-pound bird hunted to extinction / Lost tapes rapper / Echos French daily / W competitor

Friday, March 25, 2016

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: RENÉ Préval (52A: ___ Préval, twice-elected president of Haiti) —
René Garcia Préval (French pronunciation: ​[ʁəne pʁeval]; born January 17, 1943) is a Haitian politician and agronomist who was twice President of the Republic of Haiti. He served from February 7, 1996, to February 7, 2001, and from May 14, 2006, to May 14, 2011. He was also Prime Minister from February 1991 to October 11, 1991. Préval was the first elected head of state in Haitian history to peacefully receive power from a predecessor in office, the first elected head of state in Haitian history since independence to serve a full term in office, the first to be elected to non-successive full terms in office, and the first former Prime Minister to be elected President. His presidencies were marked by domestic tumult and attempts at economic stabilization, with his latter presidency being marred through the destruction wrought by the 2010 Haiti earthquake. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wrote two exams and gave two exams and hiked in the woods for an hour and ate pizza and drank a Manhattan and had a chocolate-chocolate chip / walnut cookie my daughter made and Passed Out on the couch at like 9pm last night. Woke up (in bed, somehow) at 7am. Now it's 7:36 and I'm staring at this puzzle trying to recreate why it played so hard for me, given that so much of it—almost all of it—is fresh, up-to-date, familiar stuff. Stuff. You know, things, JUNK. Not PACK (1D: Stuff). Not PACK, Ian! Seriously, though, that was a nice misdirect, and 22% of the reason that I couldn't make the NW corner work for so long there at the end. But that corner was only the last in a series of roadblocks for me. In between the roadblocks was some lovely, vibrant scenery. I do like this puzzle. I think I was just having car problems, to continue this poor metaphor. So ... OK. I started in the NW and got absolutely nowhere. A French daily I've never heard of ... probably ends "-ES"; Probably LES but not sure, could be DES (?). Wanted JUNK / KNEEL (half right!). Tore that out. Wanted, amazingly, ARAL at 3D: Water source for 11 countries (NILE). ARAL is the one that is *disappearing*, Rex. Come on! So I just abandoned ship up there, to toggle to another metaphor. And then I found a much friendly, warm, laid-back reception in the NE, in the loving embrace of SLOW JAM (7A: Mellow R&B track), the first thing I put in the grid with any certainty.

Between that and "Glengarry Glen Ross," that whole corner was Mine (11D: "Glengarry Glen Ross" co-star, 1992). But one problem coming out of there—the biggest problem I had in the whole damn puzzle—was 7D: Pink property. I kept hacking away and getting letters, but it continued to make no sense. I sensed early it could be a Monopoly property, but, funny story, I have none, and I mean zero, recollection of there being a STATES AVENUE. I mean ... none. So I eventually had AVENUE (from crosses) and STATE (from crosses) and thought "Hmm, STATE blank AVENUE, what letter goes there? "S"? STATE S AVENUE ... what is that?" If I had to name all the Monopoly properties I could, I would never name STATES AVENUE, clearly. MARVIN GARDENS, BOARDWALK, ST JAMES PLACE, VERMONT AVENUE, PACIFIC AVENUE, see, I know a lot of them. Soooo. I got slowed right down. Also couldn't remember how to spell the DHABI part of ABU DHABI (seriously, even now I typed "DAHBI"), and that was the part I *needed* to get into that perilous little SE corner (38D: Where Etihad Airways is headquartered). But ESTER / SPA / ARISEN bailed me out.

Did you know HANGOVER CURE has exactly the same number of letters as HAIR OF THE DOG? (19D: Supposed morning remedy) And they both start with "H"! Fun! [faceplant].

HATERADE and HASHTAG already feel like dated slang your parents know and use wrong, but I still like them, perhaps because I'm actually the parent in this scenario. I tore up that SW corner (GARETH is a close personal friend of mine), and went right up to the NW corner, where I nearly died. That clue on 1A: Far and away one's favorite writer? is both ingenious and unfair. The "favorite" part really adds unnecessary and irrelevant information that even the "?" doesn't fully redeem. The "Far and away" part is perfect. Same with "writer." But "favorite"? Thought for sure it would be an actual writer's name. A writer who might be someone's actual favorite. A specific writer, anyway. Vague clue on EVEN (2D: Flush) and (as with PENPAL) general category of answer (rather than specific answer) for 5D: Snorkeling mecca (ATOLL) added to my woes. I think AVIATE eventually saved me (14A: Fly). Don't remember.

There's some great, great clues in here, including
  • 17A: Slice from a book? (PAPER CUT)
  • 12D: Chill in bed? (AGUE)
  • 26D: Statements for the record (LINER NOTES)
Overall, this was a fine puzzle that I was in no shape to handle effectively this morning.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Abbr in Guiness logo / THU 3-24-16 / Washington Post March figure / Washington Post April figure / Author who wrote Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Constructor: David Liben-Nowell and Tom Pepper

Relative difficulty: Medium, except for the part where I had an error that wasn't actually an error, which took my time to Infinity, so ... Medchallengimpossible?

[ZIP your LIP]


The "self-descriptive statement about a 16-Across [LOGICAL FALLACY]" is:

CIRCULAR REASONING MAKES NO SENSE BECAUSE, which reads in a rectangular loop in the middle of the puzzle

Then there is another theme answer at the bottom: BEG THE QUESTION (64A: Reach a conclusion by assuming one's conclusion true)—so, another form of circular reasoning

Word of the Day: "The Washington Post March" (34A: "The Washington Post March" figure => SOUSA) —
The Washington Post is a march composed by John Philip Sousa in 1889. Since then, it has remained as one of his most popular marches throughout the United States and many other countries.

• • •

This was joyless, largely for technical reasons, but also for circular reasoning being represented in a ... rectangle. Sad trombone. But the concept is cute, and clever, in its way, and deserved better treatment than it got in the online and downloadable versions. In the latter, an important element of the puzzle (the "AROUND" clue) simply wasn't there. But apparently in the app and on the NYT site, as well as in the Across Lite (.puz, downloaded) version, the puzzle simply has a flat-out, no-doubt-about-it error. There appears to have been a late change to the grid, but not a commensurate change to the *clues*, so ... the clues said DAZE / ZIP (21D: Flabbergast / 33A: Nada), but the "correct" grid said DALE / LIP (see grid, above). So no one got a Happy Pencil or congratulatory message or anything ... just seconds to minutes of bewilderment wondering where the damned error was (answer: nowhere). So spectacular technical incompetence overshadows the damn puzzle. I feel bad for the constructors. [UPDATE: I am told the error was fixed sometime last night]

There's not much to say here. The theme is self-explanatory and you liked it or you didn't. Fill is not very interesting, but it's not terrible either. It just is. CUBANO is nice and timely, given the recent presidential visit to Cuba (29D: Castro, por ejemplo). I flew through this pretty quickly except for in the west, where I couldn't get the circular phrase to meet up until I (finally) figured out BEACON (25D: High light?). I was thinking much higher, like up in the sky. I had BE-CO- and decided to run the alphabet for the first missing letter. Luckily for me, the first letter of the alphabet is "A." Clue, solved. Puzzle, finished.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. in case you were befuddled by the clue at 35A: The Washington Post April figure (NAT): the Nationals (aka the NATs) are Washington's baseball team, and baseball's regular season begins in April, and presumably the Post writes about ... them.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Young competitor in Hunger Games / WED 3-23-16 / Bridge four-pointer / Romantic comedy featuring two members of Brat Pack / Like toves in Jabberwocky / Strongman player on A-team / Parts of ratchets

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Constructor: Alex Boisvert and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TRIPLE TIME (54A: Minuet meter ... or a description of the answers to the starred clues?)— theme answers are three-word phrases, each word of which can precede "TIME" in a (reasonably) common phrase or word:

Theme answers:
  • NEXT-DAY AIR (17A: *Speedy shipping option)
  • "ABOUT LAST NIGHT" (23A: *Romantic comedy featuring two members of the Brat Pack)
  • STARTING ALL OVER (33A: *Going back to square one)
  • LONG LOST FATHER (47A: *Recurring soap opera plot device) 
Word of the Day: PAWLS (45D: Parts of ratchets) —
A hinged or pivoted device adapted to fit into a notch of a ratchet wheel to impart forward motion or prevent backward motion.

• • •

Interesting variation on the "Words That Can Precede..."-type puzzle. No idea what's going on and then, boom, revealer, followed by the joy of saying all the words in the theme answers in succession, each one followed by "Time," I guess. I wonder how big the "___ TIME" list was to begin with. I'm guessing Massive. I'm impressed that they got three very solid answers out of this theme. As for LONG LOST FATHER, that one is a reach. I'm sure that some soap somewhere has featured such a thing. Who knows, soaps run so long that perhaps the conceit has been used multiple times. But as soap opera plot devices go, this one doesn't feel ... paradigmatic. EVIL TWIN, now *that's* a soap opera plot device. But it's just weak, it's not terrible, and given that the others are air-tight, I don't think there's much harm done.

I now and forever object to TOVE, BRILLIG, SLITHY, and all the other "Jabberwocky" nonsense, except in cases of pure necessity (11D: Like the toves in "Jabberwocky"). The idea that we're all supposed to know that made-up junk has always annoyed me, and here, it's patently unnecessary. That NE corner can be redone a million ways, with real words. Maybe you could ditch OLIN and NARITA in the process. The fill is mostly solid and serviceable. TURN TAIL and END RUN are cool, dynamic answers. I want to like LOVE HOTEL, but I don't know that I've ever seen or heard of it. Strange euphemism. I'd think LOVE NEST, or, better, NO-TELL MOTEL. Looks like the concept is much more common overseas, particularly in Japan. I'm familiar with the idea, just not this specific phrase. I also think of Cal Ripken, Jr. as a shortstop, as does everyone, so that clue on THIRD, while defensible, is mostly just annoying (he didn't move to THIRD 'til '97—his 15th year in the league). I blanked on RUE, and read the "Young" in 55D: Young competitor in "The Hunger Games" as somebody's name, i.e. the person who competed against someone named Young. Sigh. Surprised that TOOLS was allowed to fly with that clue (34D: Obnoxious sorts), which turns TOOLS into the rough equivalent of DICKS. OPE should always be a nope unless gun to head. No real problems, otherwise. Generally fine work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Constructors: Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ABC (64A: One way of ordering things, like all the consonants in rows three, six and nine) - the consonants in these rows are indeed ALPHABETIZED 

Theme answers:
  • BOCA (17A) - DEFOG(18A) - HOJO(19A)
  • KOALA (28A) - MEN (30A) - PIQUE (31A)
  • ORS (44A) - TOV (45A) - WA(47A) - YAZ (48A)

Word of the Day: SALTON Sea (51D: California's_______Sea)

We went to the Salton Sea in 2013 and there were many, many dead fish. Photo by Russell Bates

The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial and Coachella valleys.

The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Its surface is 234.0 ft (71.3 m)[1] below sea level. The deepest point of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamorivers, as well as agricultural runoff, drainage systems, and creeks.(wikipedia)
• • •
Hi there Rexual Beings. I'm Amy and I'm filling in for Rex today. This was a last-minute arrangement and I just got back from a wine tasting, so please forgive me if I'm a little sloshy. I'm not sure I would have accepted this assignment on a similarly wine-fueled Thursday night.

This was a slightly more challenging and significantly more rewarding Tuesday puzzle than I've seen in some time. There's almost no crappy fill and some sections are truly delightful. While I didn't need to spot the theme in order to solve the puzzle, I found it very clever that constructors Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel managed to arrange three solid lines of answers that cumulatively contain every English consonant in alphabetical order.

That said, as an alumna of the San Diego Zoo summer curriculum, I must take issue with the myth-perpetuation that a KOALA (26A) is a bear. A KOALA is a marsupial, and a slow, stupid (though adorable) one at that. As an aside, here in Los Angeles, the citizenry is bitterly divided on the recent Koala v. Mountain Lion controversy.

I wish ODIE (14A: "Garfield Drooler), AMIE (36A: French female friend) and MOIRE(57D: Wavy-patterned fabric) would take a break from crosswords. Maybe a forever break. I also hate ELIZ (35D: Part of QE2: Abbr) - who says "Eliz"? Nobody, that's who.

Brand names show up more than usual with SKOR (13D: Hershey toffee bar), TARGET (40A: Walmart competitor), DASANI (42A: Fiji competitor), PELLA (53D: Big name in windows), PIK (62A: Commercial ending with Water) and HARDEES (69A: Sister fast-food chain of Carl's Jr.).  

I approve of ON A DIET(20A: Losing some love handles) and HOME GAMES (49A: They're never away), neither of which I've seen before in that context.

Signed, Amy Seidenwurm, Undersecretary of CrossWorld

[Check out Amy's website - You And What Amy]


Jean old-time French pirate with base in New Orleans / MON 3-21-16 / Coffee shop employee / Sink-side rack / Action star Jason

Monday, March 21, 2016

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Challenging (3:45, i.e. a Medium Tuesday)

THEME: HUSH HUSH (66A: Top-secret ... or a hint to 17-, 25-, 39- and 56-Across (AND 66-Across!) — phrases contain "SHH"

Theme answers:
  • SMASH HIT (17A: #1 success)
  • RUSH HOUR (25A: Likeliest time for a traffic jam)
  • TRASH HEAP (39A: Rubbish pile) (not RUBBISH HEAP?)
  • FISH HOOK (56A: It's at the end of the line)

Word of the Day: Jean LAFITTE (21A: Jean ___, old-time French pirate with a base in New Orleans) —
Jean Lafitte (c. 1780c. 1823) was a French-American pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He and his elder brother, Pierre, spelled their last name Laffite, but English-language documents of the time used "Lafitte". The latter has become the common spelling in the United States, including for places named for him. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm going to judge this as a Tuesday puzzle, since the constructor had nothing to do with what day of the week it ran on. But just for the record, I was almost a minute slower than (Monday) average on this puzzle. Its fill and clues make it manifestly un-Monday. LAFITTE is late-week stuff, STATHAM is a name I know but had no clear idea how to spell, understanding the clue and parsing the answer at 47D: Union agreements, informally? (PRE-NUPS) were both really tough to do, etc. Vague clues on UNWISE and UNTIDY, plus LAFITTE, plus IGNEOUS made that NE weirdly slow-going. Annoying when puzzle is so badly mis-slotted, but again, that has nothing to do with the puzzle's inherent quality. So ... quality. I mean, it's fine. I sort of like the SHHs (SHH is horrible fill on its own, but it's a neat little hidden element), and I like that the revealer also participates in the gimmick—nice trick. The fill is OK, but seems very 50-years-ago (despite Jason STATHAM crossing SAM Smith). I don't think people have given each other NOOGIEs in generations, DIG? Sorry if I sound like a FUSSPOT (another word no one has used in decades), but this just felt musty. It's like a nice-ish sweater that smells a little of mothballs: I'll keep it, but I won't find it too pleasant to ... wear ... in the near term. I think the simile fell apart a bit there, but you get the idea. Do WAH Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy old (60D: Do ___ Diddy Diddy" (1964 #1 hit)).

IN SPACE is kind of a weak stand-alone answer (44D: Where "no one can hear you scream," per "Alien"). I really dislike UNCAST, but I think that might just be personal taste (although, in my defense, it really really doesn't google well). Most of the annoying stuff is too slight to be too bothersome. I tripped all over the place. Took a while to remember DRAINER (3D: Sink-side rack). I call mine a "drying rack" and actually tried DRY RACK here, which is ridiculous, since "rack" in is in the clue. Had NEW DAY for NEW ERA (59A: Dawning period). Had CUT IT for CAN IT (63A: "That's enough out of you!"). I'm going to CAN IT now and get back to my laundry.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Maurice who painted Parisian street scenes / SUN 3-20-16 / Black white sneaker lingo / Regenerist brand / Streaming video giant / 1999 rom-com based on Pygmalion / jacet phrase on tombstones / Small-capped mushrooms / Hero of kid-lit's Phantom Tollbooth / Band with Ben Jerry's flavor named for it / Old Spanish kingdom

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Double-Crossed" — Note:

The word that's spelled out: REMAINDERS (because every letter in every theme answer is used exactly twice ... except one)

Theme answers:
  • HIPPOCRATIC OATH (27A: *Doctor's orders?)
  • "SHE'S ALL THAT" (38A: *199 rom-com based on Shaw's "Pygmalion")
  • LOS ALAMOS (42A: *Manhattan Project site)
  • BAR MEMBER (56A: *Lawyer)
  • PRIDE PARADE (58A: *Event with rainbow flags)
  • UNDER DURESS (70A: *Pressured)
  • SETS A DATE (73A: *Makes wedding plans)
  • MIAMI-DADE (86A: *County that includes much of Everglades National Park)
  • PRETTY PENNY (90A: *Tidy sum)
  • GOES UNDERGROUND (103A: *Hides out)
Word of the Day: ASTANA (32A: Capital of Kazakhstan) —
Astana [...] is the capital of Kazakhstan. It is located on the Ishim River in the north portion of Kazakhstan, within Akmola Region, though administrated separately from the region as a city with special status. The 2014 census reported a population of 835,153 within the city, making it the second-largest city in Kazakhstan. // Founded in 1830 as the settlement of Akmoly (Kazakh: Ақмолы) or Akmolinsky prikaz (Russian: Акмолинский приказ), it served as a defensive fortification for the Siberian Cossacks. In 1832, the settlement was granted a town status and renamed Akmolinsk (Russian: Акмолинск). On 20 March 1961, the city was renamed to Tselinograd (Russian: Целиноград) to mark the city's evolution as a cultural and administrative centre of the Virgin Lands Campaign. In 1992, it was renamed Akmola (Kazakh: Ақмола), the modified original name meaning "a white grave". On 10 December 1997, Akmola replaced Almaty to become the capital of Kazakhstan. On 6 May 1998, it was renamed Astana, which means "the capital" in Kazakh. // Astana is a planned city, such as Brasilia in Brazil, Canberra in Australia and Washington, D.C. in the United States. The master plan of Astana was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. As the seat of the Government of Kazakhstan, Astana is the site of the Parliament House, the Supreme Court, the Ak Orda Presidential Palace and numerous government departments and agencies. It is home to many futuristic buildings, hotels and skyscrapers. Astana is a centre for sport, having been set to host the Expo 2017. Astana also has extensive healthcare and education systems.
• • •

There is no doubt that this is a clever theme, but I didn't experience it at all while solving. I noted that there were starred clues, but there was no trickiness involved, they were all easy to get, and there was no apparent pattern. It wasn't til I was done (in under 10 minutes!?) that I noticed the "Note" there up next to the title. So I read it. And followed instructions. And found out what the deal was. Needless to say, this type of after-the-fact theme is not my favorite type. I want the reveal to hit me right between the eyes, mid-solve, and I want it to unfold like a continual revelation. Is that too much to ask!? Maybe. Following the Note's directions, crossing out the letters, etc., felt like performing an autopsy. There is a kind of aha moment that comes when you (finally) see what's going on, and the theme, to its credit, is flawlessly executed. And REMAINDERS is the mot juste, to be sure. It just feels like a kind of sad magic trick. "I finished your puzzle, and it was nice, and ... oh, there was something to it? Oh, OK, explain it to me. Oh, ha ha, wow. Good one." It has to be explained. The solver doesn't just Get it in the course of solving. Therefore, :(

As a bloated themeless, this one works quite well. It's a lot sassier and more interesting than most Sundays tend to be, and never drifts into the doldrums of cruddy boring fill. The long Downs are marvelous (SPEECH BUBBLES! NICOTINE PATCH!), and there are some neat up-to-date thing like MODS (short for "moderators") (47D: Chat room policers, informally) and APPLE / CEO / TIM Cook. I have seen MODS a few times lately as friends of mine have gleefully reported on the sad attempts of a certain disgraced crossword editor to erase information about himself on his wikipedia page. Let's just say the wikipedia MODS weren't amused.

The only trouble I had with this one was ASTANA, which I'm just never going to remember, and LLC / CARB (34D: Cousin of inc. / 45A: Engine part, briefly). I wanted LLB and LLD at first, and my knowledge of engines is not, uh, great. To me, a CARB is a starch thing, a bready pasta-y thing. Engines have "cams," right? That's the engine part I know. Anyway, that little intersection caused a hiccup. But otherwise, I sailed through this faster than I've sailed through any NYT Sunday in a long time. Sometimes I finish a puzzle so fast I simply don't notice the theme (this typically happens on Monday or Tuesday). But today, it wouldn't have mattered if I'd taken the time to smell the roses—the theme was invisible. I wish there's been a way to push the theme into view or to make it somehow more ... relevant to the solve.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if this theme seems familiar ... Patrick Berry! (from Sep 2007) (may as well accidentally duplicate the best!) (I say the same thing about the theme, use the same visuals ... it's crossword Groundhog Day)

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Green Lantern's archenemy / SAT 3-19-16 / Surrounded old-style / Good name for girl who procrastinates / Patron for desperate / Magpie Grainstack / Comedican Marc who recorded memorable podcast with President Obama

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (that threatened several times to become Challenging)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SINESTRO (49A: Green Lantern's archenemy) —
Thaal Sinestro is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by John Broome and Gil Kane, and first appeared in Green Lantern (vol. 2) # 7 (August 1961). // Sinestro is a former Green Lantern who was dishonorably discharged for abusing his power. He is one of the Green Lanterns' most enduring enemies, though he occasionally has acted in anti-heroic roles as well. In 2009, IGN ranked Sinestro as the 15th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time. (wikipedia)
• • •

Delightful, and a little scary. Those corners are like scary little dark rooms that threatened No Escape many times, but I somehow managed to Houdini my way out of them the couple of times I felt caught. The fill in this thing is bananas, mostly in a (very) good way. I mean, no one likes ENGIRT or MII or NO SEE, but it seems pretty narrow-minded to pick on those few answers when there's nothing else nearly that absurd in the whole grid, and when so many other answers are just dazzling. NUDISTS on a LOVE SEAT! A TREE-HUGGING ZELDA FITZGERALD! A PROPOSAL *and* "A WEDDING." And the MAGIC CHARMS of SINESTRO! Wide-ranging and entertaining material. Difficulty level was very hard to gauge because the feel of the puzzle kept alternating between breezy and stone-hard. Luckily for me, the stone-hardness didn't last long, and the puzzle finished (in the SW) very very quickly, so overall this came out on the easy side for me. Tons of fun. Let's see how it all went down. To start, well, I feel like I got very lucky, but maybe I think my instincts were just on. I didn't know the [Patron for the desperate] at 1-Across, but I guessed "ST." something-or-other, and that was enough to get me THEODORE (2D: Presidential first name), which I confirmed with A DASH, and off we go:

Biblical suffix -ETH at 5-Down and that got me MONETS, and from there, the NW didn't last long. Once I dropped the "Z" from SCHMALTZ (1D: Bathos), ZELDA FITZGERALD went right in (30A: "Save Me the Waltz" novelist, 1932)—huge gimme, and probably the single biggest reason this puzzle played on the easy side. When a grid-spanner just falls in your lap, things open up quick.

After MICHELLE WIE, I tried to drop into the SE, but to no (and I mean No) avail. So I followed NON-CITIZENS up to the NE, where I found the NUDISTS (they stand out), and managed to clean up there pretty nicely, despite some pretty brutal cluing with highly misdirective cluing, namely 11D: Main passage for SEAWAY and 26A: Brace for DYAD. "Main" meaning the "sea" (not "primary") and "brace" meaning "pair" (not "support"). I wanted LOVE NEST instead of LOVE SEAT (15A: Couples' soft spot?), and I misspelled SCALIWAG (like that), I overcame those mistakes without too much trouble.

The real struggle came in the SE, where an Altman movie starting "AW-" had me stymied (and a little angry at myself; I thought I knew the Altman corpus pretty well). None of the other Downs would come either, so I had to dive down and pick up JANIE (thank god for JANIE) (45D: Who's "got a gun" in a 1989 Aerosmith hit). But then ... I really had to work by inference again. Got nowhere until I just put in the -ED ending at 31D: Came back strong. Simply doing that gave me -ED---S at 54A: Rush relatives, which I immediately recognized as SEDGES (yet another misdirection in the cluing, this time with "Rush"). From that "G" I inferred the -ING ending on what ended up being "A WEDDING" (32D: 1978 Robert Altman comedy with Desi Arnaz Jr. and Carol Burnett). The "N" in "-ING" gave me WIENIE, and things came together from there, but that corner was easily the hardest.

Thought I might have trouble getting into the SW, as I couldn't figure out what the last word was in LOSING THE P--- (15D: Getting totally confused, idiomatically). "Page"? I didn't think I knew the phrase. Eventually stumbled on PLOT, but then saw the -MT ending on one of the Acrosses and thought "well that can't be right ... unless it's UNDREAMT." And then I looked at the clue and whaddya know (51A: Yet to be imagined). That corner came together in like 30 seconds. And ... SCENE! (40A: "And ... ___!").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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