Baseball great Buck / THU 6-30-16 / 1956 jazz/blues album with exclamation point / Heavy drinkers informally / Caligula's love / Tout's stock in trade

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Constructor: Jonathan M. Kaye

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TOP / OFF (38A: With 39-Across, refill to capacity ... or a hint to interpreting the clues at 17-, 27-, 46- and 61-Across) — if you literally take the top off of each letter in the theme clues (i.e. block out / discard the upper half of the clue), you get a new clue appropriate to the answer:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: B0B (i.e. DUD) -> DEFECTIVE BULLET
  •  27A: TB8L (i.e. IDOL) -> ADORED SUPERSTAR
  • 46A: 8V8TB (i.e. OVOID) -> SHAPED LIKE AN EGG
[If you still don't get it, try this: A. draw a horizontal line straight through the clue; B. erase / block everything above the line; C. the remaining letter parts (everything beneath the line) is the clue]

Word of the Day: ERIKA Christensen (20A: Christensen of "Parenthood") —
Erika Jane Christensen (born August 19, 1982) is an American actress and singer whose filmography includes roles in Traffic (2000), Swimfan (2002), The Banger Sisters (2002), The Perfect Score (2004), Flightplan (2005), How to Rob a Bank (2007), and The Tortured (2010). For her performance in Traffic, she won the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with her co-stars. // In 2006, she starred on the short-lived drama series Six Degrees on ABC. From 2010 until its ending in 2015, Christensen starred as Julia Braverman-Graham on the NBC family drama series Parenthood. In 2014, she won a Gracie Award for her performance in the role. Christensen portrayed Betty Beaumontaine on ABC's short-lived crime drama series Wicked City. (wikipedia)
• • •
I've seen variations on this theme before. Well, at least one, so maybe not variations, plural, but I've definitely seen the divide-a-letter gimmick before. I'm guessing many will finish and not really understand what is going on. It took me a little bit to put it all together, especially considering I had DEFECTIVE BULLET well before the revealer and couldn't make any sense of it. When in doubt, get Very Literal ... so I did, and voila. I am not a big fan of definitions-as-answers, and these answers have been particularly ... let's say, massaged (since it's a nice word) ... to get them into 15 form. So not only do I get definitions as answers, I get some pretty iffy ones at that. I would never get to DEFECTIVE BULLET from "Dud" unless absolutely forced to. The ADORED in ADORED SUPERSTAR is at least semi-redundant. SHAPED LIKE AN EGG ... well, that one's so ridiculous it makes me laugh, so I actually kind of like it. BRIGHTLY COLORED seems just right. Fill is smooth—it's a 78-worder, so it oughta be. The APER / REFI / EPEE / ERIKA is the only densely yucky part of the grid. SILLY ME and PRE-NUP give the grid a little colloquial zazz. This is not a type of puzzle I particularly enjoy, but it's reasonably well done for what it is.

Difficulty lay (aside from the obvious theme-figuring-out stuff) in a few misdirective / ambiguous clues. I was so proud of myself for dropping EMU and LARGEST, bam bam. And then the "A" in LARGEST worked for MAUVE so I knew I'd nailed it. Until I couldn't finish the corner. The hole I dug wasn't too deep, but it was ... interesting. Most notably, I convinced myself that "old-time cookie recipes" contained an ingredient called GERM (as in "wheat germ," duh). Other mistakes weren't nearly as costly. I knew "Tout" related to gambling, but for some reason I decided his stock-in-trade was ODDS (?). ID NO. was really hard for 24D: Prisoner's assignment, Abbr. And then the highly ambiguous 45D: Pen made getting into the SE a little tricky. If this were my puzzle, I'd probably have changed SORE (66A) to SAND, thereby getting rid of the always-terrible ADES and picking up the Flock of Seagulls song "I RAN" at 58D. But SORE works too. Different strokes etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Worker at Omnicrom Group / WED 6-29-16 / Fodder's place but not mudder's / 100 points to jeweler / Despised figure in Fiddler on Roof / Natty neckwear / bisschen not much Ger /

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Constructor: John Lampkin

Relative difficulty: Medium (felt Easy, but clock said otherwise)

THEME: gratis — clues (which all follow the pattern [It ___]) suggest something for which you don't have to pay, but answers take the clues in other, unexpected directions:

Theme answers:
  • WEATHERVANE (19A: It's on the house)
  • DEAD BATTERY (53A: It carries no charge) 
  • EMPTY CHAIR (27D: It's free)
  • RAVE REVIEW (10D: It's complimentary) 
Word of the Day: GELÉE (31D: Hair goop) —

a jellied substance, especially a cosmetic gel or a jellied food. (
• • •

Not much to say here. This seems highly adequate: it's this, it's that, but not what you think, aha, I see, the end. Honestly, I had no idea what the theme was until I was done and went looking. Answers themselves told me nothing. Only after examining the clues for the longest answer did I see the pattern. Interestingly unobtrusive, this theme. Why wouldn't you say [It's free of charge] for DEAD BATTERY? Seems a much more natural phrase, and still literally applies to a DEAD BATTERY. Oh, right, I see. You've got [It's free] as one of your other theme clues. OK then. I guess "carries no charge" will have to do. Inelegant, but acceptable/necessary. Didn't mind the double [Pub offering] but the triple was irksome. Pubs don't offer SUDS. ALE and BREW are not slang, so the non-slang clue fits. SUDS needs slang in the clue to fly. Felt similarly about GELÉE, but in reverse. That's a formal word—one used way way less than simple GEL—so "goop" hardly seems appropriate. For GEL, sure, "goop." But GELÉE needs a less downscale word.

Not sure why you clue ARI as an abbr. except for the sole purpose of getting people to guess STL first (9D: Cardinals, in stats). "In stats" is a ridiculous phrase. It's not anything "in stats." It *is* something "in football stats," but then no one would step into your little trap. Traps should be clever! Speaking of clever, that COLLEGE clue (29A: Emerson or Dickinson). Now that's a trap. Or, rather, an incredible misdirection. Needed many crosses before I stopped looking for something to do with 19th-century American literature. Had HAM IT (a la PIG IT!) instead of HAM UP (26D: Overplay), IVORY before CAMAY (33A: Brand once billed as "the soap of beautiful women"), I LOSE before I LOST (24D: "You beat me"), and DIG DOWN before DIG DEEP (41D: Try one's utmost). Else ... you know, a puzzle. It's a puzzle. It's nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. here a little something on yesterday's HAREM clue and the broader problem it represents.

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Niece's counterpart in French / TUE 6-28-16 / Mathematician whose name sounds like ship / Antarctic volcano named for place in underworld / Moniker for GErman chancellor Konrad Adenauer / Spider's web-producing organ / Decidedly non-feminist woman's group

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Challenging (not even close to Tuesday)

THEME: spider — some spider answers and then eight LEGs

Theme answers:
  • ARACHNIDA (29A: Spider's class)
  • BITE MARKS (48A: Things spiders leave)
  • CHARLOTTE (22D: Spider of children's literature)
  • SPINNERET (23D: Spider's web-producing organ) 
Word of the Day: SPINNERET 
noun: spinneret; plural noun: spinnerets
  1. any of a number of different organs through which the silk, gossamer, or thread of spiders, silkworms, and certain other insects is produced.
    • (in the production of man-made fibers) a cap or plate with a number of small holes through which a fiber-forming solution is forced. (google)
• • •

An inspired idea that came out just dreadful. I mean ... it's like the concept took over and no one involved with making this puzzled cared about the solver's experience any more. All technique, no joy. Fill is a disaster—an out and out, tone deaf, ridiculous vocab/proper-noun-laden Dis As Ter. That SE corner alone, jeez louise. HEHHEH?? NEVEU? Honestly, this is abusive. What could've been clever and cute if done properly on a Tuesday just gets destroyed by careless execution. Try to do too much (the legs AND the four themers AND the fact that the themers intersect) and the whole thing falls apart. I mean, SPINNERET? Come on. BITE MARKS? Arbitrary. Why does the technical fact of making four themers intersect mean ... anything? Why subject solvers to arbitrary nonsense just for some technical "feat." And KRESGE (!?) crossing EREBUS and DER ALTE and SOLTI and GALEN? ADLER crossing EDA and NEVEU (!?!!)? Some name-part (!) called GELL crossing EPICENE? ICE ... LESS????? (humans would say "ICE-FREE"). No. It's Tuesday, for ****'s sake. I guarantee you that the multiple concatenations of proper nouns and foreignisms are going to send myriad solvers crashing to the ground. Why distract from your adorable eight-legged creation with a short-fill horror show. It makes no sense.

P.S. I fell asleep before solving last night and woke up to more confused and angry puzzle-related messages / email than I've had in a good long while. OMOO OLEG ... was there some contest to cram as many short crosswordese names into a grid as possible? Because we have a winner.

P.P.S. that clue on HAREM is ridiculous (31D: Decidedly non-feminist women's group). Why is it that every time the NYT crossword touches the word "feminism," it feels like the editor both doesn't understand it and doesn't respect it?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Faerie Queene woman whose name means peace / MON 6-27-16 / Spanish red wine / Insult slangily / Admonishment for public displays of affection / Vaping need informally / Lyft competitor

Monday, June 27, 2016

Constructor: Kevan Choset

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: LIVES OF EASE (59A: Carefree existences ... or, punnily, what 17-, 27- and 45-Across have) — answers are LIVES (i.e. human beings) with only "E"s as vowels in their names:

Theme answers:
  • PEE WEE REESE (17A: 1940w-'50s Dodgers great who lent support to Jackie Robinson)
  • ELLEN DEGENERES (27A: Comedian who hosted the 2014 Oscars)
  • RENEE ZELLWEGER (45A: Actress with the classic line "You had me at hello")
Word of the Day: RIOJA (1A: Spanish red wine) —
Rioja [ˈrjoxa] is a wine region in Spain, with Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca., "Qualified Designation of Origin"). Rioja wine is made from grapes grown in the autonomous communities of La Rioja and Navarre, and the Basque province of Álava. Rioja is further subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Many wines have traditionally blended fruit from all three regions, though there is a slow growth in single-zone wines. (wikipedia)
• • •
I have 15 minutes to write this. Can I do it? We'll see.

Finished in 2:40, despite what felt like many hicc- and f*ck-ups. Stymied right away at 1A: Spanish red wine. Only five-letter wine my brain wants is SOAVE, for some reason. Move to 1D: In awe, and confidently write in AGOG. So we're off to a roaring start. Luckily for me, Ed ASNER got me the right track and then PEE WEE REESE catapulted me into the grid (though not before I had a RIOJO/A trip-up; this is why you check your crosses, always. RIOJO / ORE would've looked fine to my eyes ... but 5D clue says otherwise). After I got the NW squared away, I entered answers almost as fast as I could type, with only two real moments of hesitation. The first was at 27D: Vaping need, informally. First, I read it as "vamping" and wanted MIKE (you know, microphone, "informally"). My iPhone autocorrect also insists that "vaping" is "vamping," by the way. When I realized, no, it's "vaping," I just froze. What does one need in order to vape, except possibly "desperation" or "lack of dignity"? E-CIG? That's a weird way to clue E-CIG. Like cluing FOOD [Eating need]. Gah. The less you ask me to know about or think about vaping, the happier we're all gonna be.

The next and final slow-down was the revealer. Had LIVES OF ... and wanted EASE, but the phrase LIVES OF EASE has so little snap, so little crispness, that I couldn't take it seriously as a revealer. The plural is what makes it weird. It's a limping revealer. But it's accurate enough, and the LIVES part takes what could be a supremely dumb idea (themers where the only vowels are Es!!!) and gives it focus and specificity (all the answers are people, i.e. LIVES). Approved.

13 minutes! Unh! In your face ... time!

Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Queen pop music nickname / SUN 6-26-16 / OutKast chart-topper / Supercontinent of 200 million years ago / Subj for radio astronomer / Food feelings after big meals / River tributary of Thames / Tree with catkins / Seal of Solomon others

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Constructor: Priscilla Clark and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (assuming you know all the MLB teams)

THEME: "Sports Page Headlines" — phrases that look like baseball headlines are clued as ... I don't know, something else:

Theme answers:
  • MARINERS BATTLE PIRATES (23A: Conflict at sea) (bad outlier—all the others are about losses)
  • TIGERS CAN'T HANDLE CUBS (47A: Parenting problem at a zoo) (how are these not "?"'d?)
  • YANKEES DEFEAT REDS (69A: Cold War synopsis)
  • PADRES BOW TO CARDINALS (94A: Show of respect at the Vatican)
  • NATIONALS TOPPLE ROYALS (120A: Overthrow of a monarchy)
Word of the Day: KOSS (8D: Big name in headphones) —
Koss Corporation is an American company that designs and manufactures headphones. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 1958, the company invented the first high fidelity stereophones. Koss continues to design and manufacture headphones and audio accessories. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am huge baseball fan, so I should've loved this, but Oh Man I did not. I thought that at least I might get *different* "sports" (as implicitly promised by the puzzle's title), but no. It's just all .. baseball teams. And all ... imagined headlines of hypothetical outcomes, four of which involve losing, and one of which involves simply "battling." For some reason. God how I wish interleague play weren't a thing, both because I genuinely hate it and because then 80% of these imagined sports headlines would be inconceivable (except as World Series headlines) and then maybe this puzzle wouldn't exist. It's hard to explain how joyless I found this. Perhaps this is because I Love crosswords and I Love baseball, and when you put them together, I expect Love-squared greatness. But here, what I get is so dull and straightforward, I don't really understand how it qualifies as a theme. Certainly not a theme in the self-described "best puzzle in the world."

 [At a Yankees game last year: (top) Mike Nothnagel, Doug Peterson, (bottom) Brad Wilber, Sam Ezersky, me; not pictured: the rest!]

Are NATIONALS ... what are nationals? They're just citizens of a particular country. Does the puzzle mean "nationalists"? I can't imagine a political headline of "NATIONALS TOPPLE ROYALS." And "Yankees" is not a term associated with the Cold War. Google [Yankees Reds Cold War] and you get some baseball sites, some Cold War sites that explicitly exclude the word "Yankees" from the search, and also you get a one hit for the official blog of the NYT Crossword itself (telling you how great this puzzle is, no doubt). This is botched left right and center, at the thematic level. As for fill, it's fine. Acceptable. Neither great nor terrible. But the theme is D.O.A. and then some. The only one of these that works on any level is TIGERS CAN'T HANDLE CUBS (it's cute to imagine). None of the other team names *really* go together. They're forced. And in the service of what? Bland, boring, monotonous.

No real trouble except in the HAN / TOTO section. I don't remember TOTO harassing the Cowardly Lion. I wanted FEAR there. Or maybe GNAT, I don't know. HAN I know as a Chinese ethnicity, not as characters. GEM did not come easily at all for the Pink Panther clue. HOVER CAR seems made-up. I absolutely needed to know TIGERS were a baseball team to get that section, which made me pity all the non-sports fans who do the puzzle. Normally, I don't pity these folks at all, but today, it's just the *one* sport, and there are ten different team names to get here. You should be able to get them all, but I can see non-baseball fans getting slowed down badly. *I* got slowed down just by mentally scrolling through all the teams trying to find the right one. Ugh. Death this puzzle was. Next!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pedestal support / SAT 6-25-16 / Detractors epithet for Putin regime / IHOP topping option / Municipal mainstays / Setting of so-called seven islands of Greence / 13th century bc king with namesakes / European race place / Good to Galba / butterlike product of beef fat / Winner of NBC's America's Toughest Bouncer 1980

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: SOCLE (37A: Pedestal support) —
noun: socle; plural noun: socles
  1. a plain low block or plinth serving as a support for a column, urn, statue, etc., or as the foundation of a wall. (google)
• • •
If you failed, allow me to tell you exactly where you failed: at SOCLE. You failed at SOCLE. On the rocky shores of SOCLE, your bark was shattered and sank. Other places certainly had their tough moments, but I don't see any other puzzle-destroying sections. SOCLE is a genuine obscurity, and SEKO ... you should probably know him, but even though I've seen his name in puzzles many times, even I wrote in that "S" tentatively. And POS!? I was totally happy, for a number of seconds > 1, with P.I.S as my [Municipal mainstays: Abbr.]. I read a lot of hardboiled crime fiction, so it made sense to me. I was going to go down with SICLE when some part of my brain (the working part) said "P.I.S ain't right." I tested the "O" and had a brief moment of how "how does P.O.S work?" but then got it: post offiices. Makes much more sense for the clue than private investigators. Still, I was not at all sure about SOCLE, and was very happy when I dropped UPDO (last thing in the grid) and the Happy Pencil came up. But hoo boy ... SOCLE. Yeah. Could've done without that scare.

I've been reading David Thomson's "How to Watch a Movie" (which weirdly makes me think of today's constructor, who writes about movies for The Ringer) and he mentions "Un Chien Andalou" at least once, so 1A: Co-writer of the Surrealist silent film "Un Chien Andalou," 1929 (DALI) was a gimme, and that whole NW corner ended up playing like a Tuesday or Wednesday for me. More mid-week level difficulty right down the west side of the grid, despite blanking on JUNO (whose actors and movie poster I could visualize clearly) (29A: Title teen in a 2007 hit indie film) and not entirely believing that SHOE ADDICTS was a thing. But then I got into the middle—the SOCLE—area, and things tightened up considerably. Just getting into the SE and NE proved tricky, and that half probably took me twice as long as the first half. DARIO? (30A: Literature Nobelist ___ Fo) DARI-no. N-ROTC!? Yikes. PILAR? Didn't know at all. Then I had CIA instead of NSA, and that tiny little error was really crucial. It was a gateway; once I fixed it, I shot right up into the NE corner and took it out. Game over.

Overall, the puzzle is this odd combo of old-fashioned and ultra-modern. Lots of good longer stuff, of which KREMLIN, INC. (12D: Detractors' epithet for the Putin regime) was easily my favorite (SCREENER DVD was a solid second). Great bite, great fun. If you failed to survive SOCLE, though, I can see how you might have very different opinions.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dr. Kildare portrayer Ayres / FRI 6-24-16 / Los Angeles suburb next to San Fernando / American Me star 1992 / Brewery named for Dutch river / Harold Hill's portrayer in original cast of Music Man / Another name for Michaelmas daisies

Friday, June 24, 2016

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Easy except for one answer...)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: LAKE VIEW TERRACE (11D: Los Angeles suburb next to San Fernando) —
Lake View Terrace is a suburban district in the north east quadrant of the San Fernando Valley region of the City of Los Angeles, California. // Surrounding areas include the Angeles National Forest, Little Tujunga Canyon, Big Tujunga Canyon, Hansen Dam, Kagel Canyon, and a portion of the Verdugo Mountains. The community lies adjacent to the communities of Sylmar, San Fernando, Shadow Hills, Sunland, Sun Valley, and Pacoima. The area shares the 91342 ZIP code with Sylmar. Lake View Terrace is accessed by the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) and the major thoroughfares of which include, Foothill Boulevard, Glenoaks Boulevard, Van Nuys Boulevard and Osborne Street. // The community is middle-class and ethnically mixed, including Latinos, African-Americans, Whites and Asians. // The area hosts a large equestrian community, and is one of the few remaining residential areas in the City of Los Angeles that has private homes zoned for horsekeeping. Lake View Terrace gained international notoriety as the location of the beating of Rodney King by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991. (wikipedia)
• • •

My standards are so much higher for Patrick Berry puzzles than they are for others', so this one struck me as fairly ordinary (i.e., good) except for one answer that detracted heavily from my enjoyment of and appreciation for this puzzle. LAKE VIEW TERRACE? I am semi-stunned that anyone would waste a grid-spanner on a Friday (or Saturday) on a marginal US suburb. Of suburb whose sole claims to fame appear to be a. being the city after which a Samuel Jackson film was named, and b. being the place where Rodney King was beaten. That latter event was surely historical, but who the hell knows the specific suburb it took place in? I literally just watched the 5-part ESPN documentary on O.J. Simpson, which focused heavily on the Rodney King beating and the entire history of racial strife and tension in Los Angeles, and I still couldn't retrieve LAKE VIEW TERRACE. May as well have been clued [This gated community near where I live]. A puzzle sinker, for me.

Otherwise, as I say, this was very easy, very clean. [Genesis grandson] I had as ESAU at first because, *every man is someone's grandson*, but fixing that wasn't hard. AGGRESSOR NATION (3D: Hostile territory?) took a while to come together because it's not a very common phrase. I mean, it's far more common than LAKE VIEW TERRACE, and far more acceptable, but when I had AGGRESSORN___ I actually thought I might have an error somewhere. Having GIST for MEAT (39A: Most important part) didn't help. But again, surrounding material was easy enough that I didn't stay stuck for long. Had FIRE EXIT (?) before FIRE LANE (15A: No-parking area in a parking lot) and never quite got me head around the tense of REAWOKEN (17A: Brought out of hibernation). Luckily, there is no band called ELA, so ELO it was. ETONITES had to transform to ETONIANS (49A: Some Kings' Scholars), but all other things just slid neatly into place. The end.

[screenshot courtesy of Andrew Ries]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. this was pretty cool:

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Phrase in group photo caption / THU 6-23-16 / Radiohead frontman Thom / Speakeasy-goer / They're best left untouched generally

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Constructor: Megan Amram and David Kwong

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Formal expressions! — familiar expressions containing a word that can also be a shortened version of a common name have that word changed into the more formal version of the name, resulting in hilarious nonsense:

Theme answers:
  • ROBERT FOR APPLES (17A: Play a game on Halloween, formally?)
  • PENELOPE PINCH (25A: Be exceedingly frugal, formally?)
  • DOROTHY MATRIX (40A: Kind of printer, formally?)
  • SYLVESTER AS A FOX (52A: Very cunning, formally?)
Word of the Day: RENEE Elise Goldsberry (18D: "Hamilton" actress ___ Elise Goldsberry) —
Renée Elise Goldsberry (born January 2, 1971) is an American actress, singer and songwriter. // She is currently performing on Broadway as Angelica Schuyler Church in Hamilton, a performance for which she won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Goldsberry's other Broadway credits include Nettie in The Color Purple, Mimi in Rent, and Nala in The Lion King. Goldsberry has also portrayed many roles on television, perhaps best known for her recurring roles as a singer on Ally McBeal, as assistant Cook County State's Attorney Geneva Pine on The Good Wife, and her starring role as Evangeline Williamson on One Life to Live. (wikipedia)
• • •
Megan paid me to say that this puzzle was good, but she didn't have to. I sincerely loved it. I mean, I'm keeping the money. I'm just saying it wasn't *necessary*.

This felt like more of a Wednesday than a Thursday, but that's about the only complaint I have. This was a lot of fun to solve, and the concept was absurd in just the right way. I legitimately LOL'd (or, formally, laughed out loud) at the first theme answer. My whole theory of wacky is: if you're going to go wacky, go completely insane or go home. That first themer makes me imagine a guy named Robert who is very pro-apples. He will put an apple in every pot. Vote Robert: For Apples. Then the second themer had my wife's name in it, so honestly the rest of the grid could've just been filled with EERO, I was sold.

I had one dumb mistake I had to track down when I went with the (to my ear) more appropriate AH YES at 21A: "Now I remember" instead of "OH YES," which reads more, uh, orgasmic. "Ah yes, I remember it well" is a lyric of some sort, right? By CAEN or CAAN or KERN or LOEWE or some such? OMG, look, crossword coincidence: it's from "GIGI"!

Didn't help that that initial vowel was crossing a Greek word, but honestly, POLIS > PALIS even if you know little to no Greek. Still, I can imagine someone ERRing there. At one point I wondered what WARS BARS were, but only briefly. WELD and MELD both work perfectly well for 36A: Fuse, but alas, there are no WARS BARS (yet). I made the usual G-for-J error at GIBES JIBES. I didn't know RENEE because I am not rich / lucky enough to have seen "Hamilton" yet, but crosses were easy. The long answers, LEFT TO RIGHT and HELEN (grrrr...) MIRREN were the special sauce that made this puzzle extra tasty. And I liked how Keanu REEVES crossed the "MATRIX" answer. That is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Geraint's beloved / WED 6-22-16 / Airline with flying boats in 1930s-40s / Sired biblically / Hummer's instrument / Shoulder-slung synthesizer / Near-impossible NFL point total / Talismans or curses they protect against / Wrinkly citrus

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Constructor: Fred Piscop

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: blank AND blank — theme clues are [What ___ can anagram to] and the answers are familiar phrases following the "___ AND ___" pattern (so, the AND is not actually part of the anagram—the idea is that the clue word anagrams into two words, and the answers represent some imagined person saying "first word" AND "second word")

Theme answers:
  • GIN AND TONIC (17A: What NOTICING can anagram to)
  • DATE AND TIME (29A: What MEDITATE can anagram to)
  • NEAT AND TRIM (44A: What MARTINET can anagram to)
  • KISS AND TELL (59A: What SKILLETS can anagram to)
Word of the Day: DORA (18D: "David Copperfield" wife) —
Dora Spenlow is a character in the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. She is portrayed as beautiful but childish. David, who is employed by her father, the lawyer Mr Spenlow, falls in love with Dora at first sight and marries her. She proves unable to cope with the responsibilities of married life, and is more interested in playing with her dog, Jip, than in acting as David's housekeeper. All this has a profound effect on David, but he still loves her. However, a year into their marriage she suffers a miscarriage, and her health steadily declines until she eventually dies. // Charles Dickens named his daughter Dora Annie Dickens after the character on her birth in 1850, but she died the following year at the age of eight months. (wikipedia)
• • •

Didn't fully grasp this until it was over. That is, I got that I was supposed to be anagramming something or other, but I didn't really slow down enough to see that the emerging answers had extra letters (specifically the AND bit). So when I was done I thought the theme was really thin. Then I grasped the little bit of wordplay involved with the "AND" and the theme seemed slightly stronger. The fill is pretty olde-timey (your ENIDs and UGLIs and RAREDs and TOILEs and what not), but solid enough for what it is. I don't have much to say about it. It's fine. A placeholder. Something to tide me over until a (fingers crossed) tricky / brilliant Thursday puzzle. The one thing this puzzle was was Easy. I was 15-20 seconds under yesterday's puzzle, and that was despite a. not really getting the theme and b. nearly wiping out at DORA / DATE AND TIME. I needed every single cross. I flat-out didn't know DORA, and DATE AND TIME ... is a phrase? That ... people say? It's the weakest, or un-snappiest, of the AND phrases. NEAT AND TRIM isn't that great either. The other's are great—vivid, real *things*.

BONK held me up too, somehow. Wanted BEAN. And something about the cluing at 28D: Sleep-deprived employee, maybe kept WORKAHOLIC out of consideration for too long. I think the "employee" part is what did it. No, I know the "employee" part is what did it. It is needless. I get that it is supposed to evoke "office" or "workplace," but you could put "person" in there and it's the same. You're a WORKAHOLIC whether you are *my* employee or not. You can be a WORKAHOLIC without being anyone's employee (but your own). WORKAHOLIC relates to work, not to being anyone's employee, specifically. That damn word evoked a relationship that has nothing to do with the answer. [Sleep-deprived guy on subway, perhaps] is just as accurate. I have to go back to watching USA get destroyed by Argentina in the Copa America now. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Five-time Olympian Torres / TUE 6-21-16 / Spanish soccer star Sergio / Big part of ship's rigging / Steaming Mexican treat

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Constructor: Julie Bérubé

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Tuesday)

THEME: SUPER / CALI / FRAGI / LISTIC / EXPI / ALID / OCIOUS — those parts of the "Mary Poppins" song appear in circled squares in the grid

Word of the Day: Saoirse RONAN (7D: "Brooklyn" actress Saoirse) —
Saoirse Una Ronan (/ˈsɜːrʃə ˈnə ˈrnən/ SUR-shə; born April 12, 1994) is an Irish-American actress. She is a two-time Academy Award nominee; receiving Best Supporting Actress nomination for Atonement (2007), and a Best Actress nomination for Brooklyn (2015). She also received three BAFTA Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, two Screen Actors Guild nominations and two Satellite Award.
She had her feature film debut in the romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007). Other notable film roles include City of Ember (2008), The Lovely Bones (2009), Hanna (2011), The Way Back (2010), Byzantium (2012), The Host (2013), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). // In January 2016, Ronan featured in Forbes '30 Under 30' in both the European and USA editions.  In March 2016, Ronan made her Broadway debut in a revival of The Crucible, playing the role of Abigail Williams. In June 2016, Ronan appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine, one of ten young leaders selected as 'Next Generation Leaders'.
• • •

I'm watching a lot of soccer right now (with both Copa America and the UEFA European Championship happening as we speak) and I still couldn't come up with RAMOS. I didn't see "Brooklyn," but I watched the whole interview Colbert did with Saoirse RONAN and still couldn't come up with her name. Those two names alone accounted for 50% of the difficulty in this puzzle, which was otherwise pretty easy. RONAN was particularly vexing, as I had no idea about the "R" cross (6A: Mate) because I just had --O and all I could think of was "TWO" (?!) and the "B" in BRO wasn't coming because even by the time I got -OOTIE into place at 6D: Baby's footwear, I hesitated. Thought maybe FOOTIE was a thing (though I see now that "foot" is in the clue so that was always impossible). RAMOS I was able to take down through crosses a little more expeditiously. I also had FERMI winning gold medals at the Olympics in the '20s (60% correct), but that worked itself out fairly quickly as well.


As for the theme, it's cute, of course. I mean, who doesn't like that song, Julie Andrews, etc. It's not a theme you want to scrutinize too hard though, because you'll notice that normal thematic symmetry has been completely chucked out the window, and that CALI is a total outlier for not being pronounced in its answer the way it is in the song, and that the real divide, syllabically, should be ALI / DOCIOUS, not ALID / OCIOUS (just listen, or sing it, you'll see), and that ATROCIOUS is a cop-out since that word (unlike all the other theme answers containing song syllables) is actually *in* the song. Prominently. FEROCIOUS might've been nice there. Anyway, as I say, if you just finish the puzzle, hum the tune, put the puzzle away, you're good.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. also, just last year, there was this epic version of this same theme. So, constructors ... maybe save that "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" crossword you're working on 'til, I don't know, 2026, at least. :)

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Kylo Ren's portrayer in Star Wars Force Awakens / MON 6-20-16 / Conductor Solti / Frodo's portrayer in Lord of Rings / Battered appliance

Monday, June 20, 2016

Constructor: Jason Mueller

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CLUBS (41A: Items found at the ends of 17-, 23-, 53- and 64-Across) — golf clubs

Theme answers:
  • ELIJAH WOOD (17A: Frodo's portrayer in "The Lord of the Rings")
  • WAFFLE IRON (23A: Battered appliance?)
  • ADAM DRIVER (53A: Kylo Ren's portrayer in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens")
  • LEMON WEDGE (64A: Iced tea garnish)
Word of the Day: ADAM DRIVER 
Adam Douglas Driver (born November 19, 1983) is an American actor. He made his Broadway debut in Mrs. Warren's Profession (2010). He returned to Broadway in the 2011 production of Man and Boy and made his feature film debut in J. Edgar (2011). Driver appeared in supporting roles in a wide range of films, including Lincoln (2012), Frances Ha (2012) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). In 2014, Driver starred in While We're Young and won the Volpi Cup for his role in Hungry Hearts (2014). // Driver gained worldwide attention and acclaim for playing the character Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), a role which he is set to reprise in the future Star Wars films. For his supporting part as Adam Sackler in the HBO comedy-drama series Girls, Driver has received three consecutive nominations for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. (wikipedia)
• • •

In lieu of a write-up, I'm just going to post the four versions of this theme that I found on the cruciverb database inside of 2 minutes. I guess, you know, it's Monday, few minutes of diversion, who cares if it's new or fresh or thoughtful, who cares if it's a last-words (or first-words) type theme characteristic of a bygone era that I knew immediately had to have been done before many, many times? Who cares? It's Monday! It's just a puzzle! Relax! OK, I will. Here's your write-up. Good day.

 [Rich Norris, sn, 10/15/00]
 ["Norma Steinberg," sn, Sep. 5, 2000]

[Allan Parrish, LA Times, 2/24/05]

[Pete Mitchell, NY Sun, 10/29/07]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the name-iness of the grid meant that it took me longer than I would've liked, but not so much longer that it took the puzzle out of the normal Monday difficulty realm. Needed every cross for ADAM DRIVER (despite knowing very well who he is), and could not for the life of me remember ELIJAH WOOD at first. Kept thinking "Frodo ... which hobbity looking guy was that? ... ELI ... ELI? What actor do I know named ELI?" Etc.

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Sidekick in 1990s SNL skits / SUN 6-19-16 / Many-time Indy 500 pace car / Hazel's love in Fault in Our Stars / 1991 film with tagline secret of life secret's in sauce / Brand with two harnessed horses in its logo / Starting point for Pompeii tourism / 1948 John Wayne film

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Traffic Intersection" — some black squares (in the above version) function like intersections, where the square is "RED" in answers that precede and follow the square, but do not go *through* the square, and "GREEN" in answers that *do* go through the square, thus:

Theme answers:
HANK [Green!] BERG, but
BEET [Red!] // [Red!] SCARE

BLOOD [Red] // [Red] RIVER

BIG [Red] // [Red] HAIR

SEES [Red] // [Red] EYES

TURNS [Red] // [Red] HOTS

and finally


Word of the Day: TALLINN (63D: Baltic capital) —
Tallinn (/ˈtɑːlɪn/ or /ˈtælɪn/, Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtɑlʲˑinˑ]; names in other languages)[citation needed] is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn occupies an area of 159.2 km2 (61.5 sq mi) and has a population of 440,950. Approximately 32% of Estonia's total population lives in Tallinn. (wikipedia)
• • •

RUNNING A [Red] LIGHT. Cute. All the other intersections involved legal driving behavior, but here, a violation, and a near-miss of the JOLLY [Green] GIANT. I thought this theme worked pretty well. I was advised by a note that I should do the PDF or "Web game version" (?) because there would be colored boxes of some sort, possibly with green on two sides of the square and red on the other two sides? Wouldn't that make solving it really obvious. Part of the challenge for *me* was finding exactly which black squares were functioning as intersections. I get that colors are pretty and all, but why give so much away? Oh well, no matter, I did it My Way, and it worked. What's more, the fill was really very clean. I continue to not know TALLINN, so that second "L" was my last squares, but ... maybe next time it'll stick. There's always next time. Good ol' next time.

I picked up the precise nature of the theme at HANK [Green]BERG. I am a Tigers fan, so this is not a surprise. I have never heard of TOMGIRL and do not in any way believe it to be a real thing. TOMBOY, of course. TOMGIRL ... I thought the "Tom" part was supposed to connote the gender convention-breaking for the girl. How do you hop from boy to girl via "Tom"? It makes no sense. What's more, no one ever says it ever. Also, SANTACON is a "pub crawl"? Where when what? Typically "-con"s are conventions. I have never heard of this con and have no way of knowing if it's really famous or just some regional thing or what. Oh, wait. I do have the Internet / internet. Hang on. Wow, it looks like a very modern and really stupid thing and I'm going to go back to not knowing about it now. I was surprised to get stymied by an ampersandwich (BANDB). It's been a while. Usually I can spot those, but today, because the clue was so vague (1A: It's accommodating), and because the "D" cross was a tough "?" clue (4D: One going for a board position?), I had to work that area down to the last square before I knew what was going on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Liberal political activist Ralph / SAT 6-18-16 / Wendi ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch / Big comics character / Tavern assistant / application of democracy to love per HL Mencken

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Constructor: Todd Gross

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: squaresville (actually, none, I think) 

Word of the Day: RUNAGATES (3D: Fugitives) —
1. A renegade or deserter.
2. A vagabond.

[Alteration of obsolete renegate, renegade (influenced by run and agate, on the way), from Middle English, from Medieval Latin renegātus; see renegade.] (
• • •

Yipes. 45 black squares is ... a lot. I'm gonna say "too many" (esp. on a Saturday). The weird floating-square pattern is not without its charm, visually, but from a solving standpoint, that swiss-cheesiness just seems like a cop-out. Give me back my Saturday white spaces! (which sounds vaguely racist, but ... you know what I mean). The fill was highly uneven and frequently ugly. So ... many ... VANESSAS. Long name plurals always seem ridiculous to me. If only we could've paired the VANESSAS with a [Sergio et al.] clue for the equally-not-good LEONES. Just look at all the plurals and otherwise "S"-ending words. I mean, how many NOONS do you need? Note how the "SS" in VANESSAS and the "SS" in HARASSES are both positioned to give us "S"-ending Downs. ITERS, god, no, make it stop (44D: Things that lead to Rome?). That one's bad enough in the singular. CLI!? Come on. And who in the what in the who is NEAS??? (29D: Liberal political activist Ralph). That's just bonkers. If that were anybody, anybody crossworthy, we'd've seen him in Countless puzzles by now. According to wikipedia, "Ralph Neas (born May, 17, 1946 in Brookline, Massachusetts) is former President and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association, representing generic drug makers and suppliers." What is happening?!?! Who? Ah, here we go:
From 1981 through 1995, he served as Executive Director of the nonpartisan Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).[5] At LCCR, Neas directed national civil rights campaigns including the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, the 1988 Fair Housing Act Amendments, the Japanese American Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the 1982 Voting Rights Act Extension. Senator Edward Kennedy, in a 1995 Senate floor statement, described Neas as the "101st Senator for Civil Rights.
I'm sure he's a nice guy, but in a puzzle already glutted with obscuritude, and crossing the godawful LEONES, no. It's like the grid was built to accommodate a few decent longer answers, but literally nothing else. Honestly, this thing should be torn down all the way to its bones (i.e. the grid-spanners) and rebuilt. And that's only if you accept the grid design as it is, which I'm not sure I do.

This puzzle was 3/4 pretty easy and 1/4 insane—that quarter being the NW corner. The BAR part of BARBACK was easy (1A: Tavern assistant), but the rest, less so, especially considering that with __T in place at 5D: Part of the conjugation for "avoir," and *knowing French*, I went with the clear choice ... ONT. Third person plural present indicative. . . But no. Too common, I guess, because the puzzle went with third person singular present *subjunctive* AIT (hey, puzzle, you know that's an island in a stream, right? ... that is what that is). Ugh. AIT. But the big ugh, the queen bee ugh in that section, was 3D: Fugitives (RUNAGATES). It's like someone shouting at his marbles: Flee, marbles, flee!!! I have never seen that word in my life. Reaction on Twitter from serious solvers is so far similar. Run ... run ... where are we running ... somewhere ... but where? I'm guessing that a not insignificant number of people will solve this thing right down to the DENG / RUNAGATES crossing and then, just, die. Or guess, I guess. That crossing is death. Also, completely unpleasant. Luckily, I remembered that the ex Mrs. Murdoch was Asian, otherwise, lord knows what letter I'd've gone with instead of the "G."

AMII? (38D: ___ Stewart, singer of the 1979 #1 hit "Knock on Wood"). Wow. That's how you spell that? I knew it was a weird spelling of "Amy," but I didn't know it was Insane Latin Plural-looking weird. ENSE! Why won't that horrible motto part die? I'm gonna let this one go now. The only thing pleasant I'm taking away from it is the nonsense phrase "BARBACK Obama," which I hope someone turns into a wacky theme answer right quick.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. OMG, AIT is *literally* "(an island) in the stream" (i.e. it crosses the STREAM of MAINSTREAM MEDIA). How in the world do you give it the stupid French subjunctive clue, aargh?!

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