TD Garden athlete informally / TUE 5-23-17 / Friendly Islands native / Bread that's often brushed with ghee

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty:Medium-Challenging (a bit on the slow side for a Tuesday)

THEME: PAIRS (68A: Figure skating event ... or what the circled items always come in) —the circled items all intersect in intriguing but ultimately meaningless ways

Word of the Day: LEN Wiseman (26A: "Live Free or Die Hard" director Wiseman) —
Len Ryan Wiseman (born March 4, 1973) is an American film director, screenwriter and producer. He is best known for his work on the Underworld series, Live Free or Die Hard, and Total Recall. (wikipedia)
• • •

This simply doesn't work. It lacks consistency on many levels. No such thins as one PANT or one TONG, but there is, of course, such a thing as one SOCK or one SKI. Once you let SOCK and SKI play, now *anything* that customarily comes in pairs is fair game: boot, shoe, earring, whatever. I thought maybe the crossing PAIRS crossed in certain ways for certain reasons—the TONGs kinda look like TONGs, and the PANTs are arguably pant-shaped. I guess you could try to contend that the SOCKs form one big sock, but that's pretty tenuous, and then there's the SKIs, which ... have no visual relationship an actual pair of skis. There's some winning fill here and there, but there's a good amount of junk too (RWY!? Wow, terrrrrrrible—only used three times in past decade, and the other two were Sundays).

Puzzle felt more Wednesday than Tuesday. All the colloquial stuff made it quite slow (though also more enjoyable than it would've been otherwise—weird trade-off). [Enthusiastic assent] ("I DO, I DO!") coulda been a million things. Ditto ["Wow, unbelievable!"] ("I'M IN AWE!"). Two-worders were also slippery in places. IN RETURN took me forEver to see (39D: Reciprocally). And [Future perfect tense in grammar class, e.g.] is an absurd clue—an absurdly specific clue—for LESSON. Why would I think "tense" = LESSON. I get that one can teach that as a LESSON, but one can teach *anything* as a LESSON. [Parallel-parking at driving school, e.g.]. But in the end, the fill probably averages out to average. Not bad (well, -EME is pretty bad, and NON-PC can go jump in a lake, along with his ugly cousin, UN-). It's just that this is the kind of theme that you should sit on and rework and rethink until it's Perfect. Why run with half-baked stuff like this. Editor's job is to get the best work out of people. But here we have yet another case of "meh, good enough, run it!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. NAAN is a bread. NAN (30A) is a Bobbsey Twin or a Talese. 

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King of gods in Wagner's ring cycle / MON 5-22-17 / Inverse trig function / Form of papyrus document

Monday, May 22, 2017

Constructor: Gary Kennedy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*) (still under 4 minutes) (relax)

[oversized grid: 16x15]

THEME: SWISS / ARMY / KNIFE (1A: With 43- and 76-Across, camping aid) — four functions of said knife:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: WOTAN (2D: King of the gods in Wagner's "Ring" cycle) —
Ultimately from Proto-Germanic *Wōdanaz, cognate with English Woden, Old Frisian Weda, Old Norse Óðinn. Attested since the 12th century in the Chronicon of Godfrey of Viterbo, where it is spelled Wotan. In Old High German, the name could be spelled Wodan, Wotan, Wuotan or Woatan, depending on regional dialect. // After Christianization, the name persisted in folklore and formed various derivations, such as Old High German Wuotunc, Wodunc, medieval Wüetung. In modern (19th century) folklore, invocations of the god could still be found (Grimm, w:Deutsche Mythologie), especially in Westphalia as Wuodan and in Mecklenburg as Wode (also spelled Waur after its approximate pronunciation). However, they descend not from Old High German but from Old Saxon Wodan and Middle Low German variant Wode. // In literary modern German, the spellings Wodan and Wotan competed during the early 19th century, but Wotan became prevalent in the wake of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, published in 1853. (wiktionary)
• • •

WOTAN? Pfffft, man, was that a harbinger. What a dreadful, ridiculous word to put in a Monday puzzle. Just bonkers. But I guess it did prepare me for the Avalanche of crosswordese that followed. This is a solidly Maleskan puzzle. It seriously felt like the early '90s (when I first started solving), when opera trivia roamed freely across the grid and SSTS flew the skies and ... well, IKE wasn't still president, but he may as well have been, as far as the crossword was concerned. If you are putting Cheri OTERI and N*SYNC in your puzzles in order to be hip, with-it, and up-to-date, you are doing something very wrong. And for what? Four functions of a SWISS / ARMY / KNIFE? That is a straightforward, dull-as-dishwater theme. The only thing I admire about it is the grid construction, specifically the breaking of the revealer into three, in order to accommodate the four other themers. Of course, this is also the thing that, from a solver's perspective, I enjoyed the least about the theme. Cross-referenced / themed 1As are Not fun. Also, having themers at the first and last Acrosses still really restricts your grid and puts pressure on the fill, and boy does it show. See WOTAN, above.

Other trouble spots: SHIPLOAD (!?). What a bizarre answer / clue (5D: All a tanker can hold). I assume a SHIPLOAD is *whatever* the so-called "tanker" is holding. The "All" part had me all "???" And that was hot on the heels of The WOTAN Clan (which is what I'm calling that answer now, to amuse myself). Rough. PARTD was also very hard for me to parse (41A: Medicare drug benefit). But my worst wipeout came at 63D: Where all roads lead, it's said. Maybe it says something about my state of mind by that point, but I quickly (and sincerely) wrote in HELL. Let me tell you, it really *felt* right at the time. So right. But then another member of the crosswordese posse (EMERIL!) showed up and I changed HELL ... to HOME. Good look getting 62A: Fad when you're staring down CHA_E. Ugh. But of course all roads lead to ROME, in an old (very old, like everything about this puzzle) saying. Next!!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Political writer Kenneth / SUN 5-21-17 / Peer Gynt character / Two-time Wimbledon winner Lew / Japanese relative of husky / Setting for spring in Vivaldi's four seasons

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: No, yes, whatever, who cares? Let's say "Easy"

THEME: "Misquoting Scripture" — "puns" (loosely defined) based on familiar phrases of biblical origin:

Theme answers:
  • AN AYE FOR AN AYE (22A: The Bible on political horse trading?)
  • THE FLASH IS WEAK (29A: The Bible on camera problems?)
  • ASSAULT OF THE EARTH (42A: The Bible on an alien invasion?)
  • GARDEN OF ETON (58A: The Bible on where Prince Harry learned horticulture?)
  • FALSE PROFITS (71A: The Bible on bad business practices?)
  • THE ROUTE OF ALL EVIL (82A: The Bible on directions to hell?)
  • IN THE BIG INNING (95A: The Bible on a climactic part of a baseball game?)
  • A MARK UPON CANE (107A: The Bible on ruined sugar crops?)
  • LET THERE BE LITE (16D: The Bible on diet food?)
  • FORBIDDEN FLUTE (48D: The Bible on a taboo musical instrument?)
Word of the Day: Kenneth VOGEL (66D: Political writer Kenneth) —
Kenneth Vogel is an American journalist. He is the chief investigative reporter at Politico. He is also the author of Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp–on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics. Vogel's writing often focuses on money in politics. As part of his work, he focuses on political fundraising with particular emphasis on the political activities of the Koch brothers. (wikipedia)
• • •

Just when you think the NYT might be righting the ship ... Sunday! Talk about wronging the ship. This is precisely the tired, hackneyed weaksauce the NYT has taken to serving of late, in increasingly frequent and unpalatable helpings. A pun / homophone puzzle had better be brilliant if it's going to carry an entire Sunday. Merl Reagle could do Fantastic Sunday-sized pun puzzles. Ridiculous, baroque, dazzling, theme-dense creations that had been meticulously thought out and planned, for months, sometimes years, as he waited to find just the right combination of answers, just the write "punchline" (usu. that final themer, which would often have *two* theme elements in one answer—the man was a genius). Now, no one can make a wacky puzzle like Merl could, but this thing isn't even in the ballpark. Not the same city, state, or solar system.

THE FLASH IS WEAK—what is that!?!?! If you're gonna pun, *pun*. At least make the clue a taunt from Superman, say. Better yet, change the answer to THE FLUSH IS WEAK, and give it a toilet clue. Instantly better. I mean, nothing is going to save this terrible theme from its terrible self, but if you're going down in flames, the more outrageous the better. THE FLASH IS WEAK ... ugh, who is chortling at that? There puns are So Tepid. Also, FLUTE for FRUIT is ridiculous and has nothing in common with the other "puns" (where you're dealing either with straight homophones or with a vowel change). And "a salt of the earth"—is that the phrase??? Is it? Because I thought it was "THE salt of the earth," in which case The Pun In This Grid Makes No Sense. It's not "A Farewell to Oms"-bad, but it's bad. And then there's the fill, which is predictably nightmarish. I actually stopped solving at 3D: Setting for spring in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," partly because I literally choked while gasping at how bad that answer is, partly to take a screenshot in order to commemorate the moment. I titled this .jpeg "Vomit":

I was already annoyed that 1A was STK (ugh), and then after getting the "S" and "T" crosses, I tried the "K," and ... nothing. "Is there a ... KEYOTE? Where they grow peyote? What is Happening." Then I got KEYOFE, and after pronouncing it Key-OH-fay in my head a few times, I saw what the clue meant by "Setting." Dear lord. KEY OF E!? Do we have KEYOFA, KEYOFB, etc. to look forward to? Hot. Garbage. Lew HOAD? I don't believe any human was ever named that. SAFARIED as a past-tense verb is ridiculous-looking, and yet it is just about the only part of the grid that has any personality whatsoever, so good for it (46A: Went on an African hunting expedition). Why is the "hill of beans" LIMAS? I mean, as opposed to any other bean? Why "hill"? What is the pun? I *know* that "it doesn't amount to a hill of beans" is an idiomatic phrase, but Why. LIMAS? Could the answer just as easily be KIDNEYS? What is happening? ASE!? ADDA!? ITOFF!? -GENIC? PREV.!? Multiple TADAS? It's ruthless, this thing. A joy-sucking monster where the "best puzzle in the world"'s best puzzle should be.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Political cartoonist Edward / SAT 5-20-17 / Gullible rodent in Scott Adams comic / Celebratory move popularized by Cam / Real-life ice age beast seen on "Game of Thrones" / Muckracker who pushed for model tenements / Metric for gauging female representation in works of fiction / Ski town near Mount Mansfield

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Constructor: Paolo Pasco and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (tilting easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Edward SOREL (26D: Political cartoonist Edward) —
Edward Sorel (born Edward Schwartz, 26 March 1929, The Bronx) is an illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist, graphic designer and author whose work is known for its storytelling, its left-liberal social commentary, its criticism of reactionary right-wing politics and organized religion. Formerly a regular contributor to The Nation, New York Magazine and The Atlantic, his work is today seen more frequently in Vanity Fair. He has been hailed by The New York Times as "one of America's foremost political satirists".[2][3][4] As a lifelong New Yorker, a large portion of his work interprets the life, culture and political events of New York City. There is also a large body of work which is nostalgic for the stars of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood when Sorel was a youth. Sorel is noted for his wavy pen-and-ink style, which he describes as "spontaneous direct drawing" (wikipedia)
• • •

AHI / CAD / CAPRA / NO FAIR — that is how I started this puzzle, or tried to. That's a .500 batting average, not bad, but not enough to get me real traction. For the second day in a row, I had to abandon my NW starting point and start elsewhere. And for the second day in a row things got much easier from there, and for the third (!) day in a row I like the puzzle.  This one is a little on-the-nose for teenage boys, with your requisite "GOT" clue and your requisite chess and computer and science clues and your requisite social media clues and that little bit of juvenile leering in the COOP clue (48A: Place to pick up chicks). Very on-brand, for better and worse. Mostly better. I feel like the NYT has no idea how to find a happy medium with its cultural frame of reference,so mostly it shuffles around with a solidly mid-'60s vibe, but then every once in a while a young former employee / loyalist is called in to "Do Something!" and we get a much more aggressively presentist and youth-oriented puzzle. Now I'm gonna take option B every day of the week, but man there has to be a middle way.

["'Superman II' is taking off all over America..."]

I started with VJS because I am old (12A: Onetime MTV figures). That turned out to be.a prime piece of three-letter real estate, and along with that corner's other gimme (AZIZ), VJS really got me going, both back into the NW (which ended up being a piece of cake when I came at it from east (?)) and into the SE, where I had my proudest moment of the day—remembering (sort of) BAHIA (50A: Brazil's fourth-largest state by population). That is *not* a promising clue—reminiscent of the bad old days when crosswords relied more heavily on obscurish geographical trivia—but while the "fourth-largest state" doesn't suggest crossworthiness, that letter combination (short, vowel-loaded, vowel-ending, with that odd central "H"), ensures that it will show up in puzzles more than most other countries' "fourth-largest states." Didn't know RATBERT (now and forever, from ASOK to RATBERT, always unfunny "Dilbert" can &^$% off) (46D: Gullible rodent in a Scott Adams comic), so that complicated things in the SE, but both BECHDEL TEST and ALICE WALKER were gimmes (!)—that's a lot of gimme. Gimme gimme. I teach Bechdel's "Fun Home" every year, and the BECHDEL TEST was just name-checked on "Riverdale" (of all places), so if you haven't heard of Bechdel or her eponymous test, now you have, and here it is:

Now maybe the long Acrosses in the SE weren't gimmes for you, in which case ... that corner is Awfully proper-noun-reliant (always dangerous). I mean, look:

Seems like that could be a danger zone for some. My danger zone was the SW, where (ugh, another) "Game of Thrones" clue and a chess clue kept me blocked out of the corner:

The new (to-me) SULU clue also made it hard to get traction in there (51A: The Philippines' ___ Archipelago). So I just sank to the bottom and got POD (66A: Edamame discard) and guessed ODE, and then boom, DUST MOP. From there I guessed TRAPS (I actually already had USED), and then it came together, though DIRE took every single cross ((DI-EWOLF had me first thinking: "DIMEWOLF!?") (39A: Real-life ice age beast seen on "Game of Thrones"). All in all, this was zippy and entertaining. Pasco has done consistently great work, which is crazy, as he is still just a junior in high school, I think—he's roughly my daughter's age. My daughter, btw, just got destroyed yesterday (when doing one of Patrick Blindauer's "Piece of Cake" puzzles) by a Nick NOLT- / Janet R-NO crossing. I wanted to shout at her "Why can't you be more like Paulo!? You're not my daughter!" But I bought her "Hamilton" tickets instead (this anecdote has been based on true events and may not have transpired precisely as written).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Moorish castle / FRI 5-19-17 / Bratty girl on Little House on Prairie / Savory Indian appetizer / French filmdom / Port whistler / Classic arcade game with a glass backboard that shatters / Large WW II area / Ponytail's hipster cousin per GQ / Commander during John Brown's capture in 1859 / Half spoken half sung

Friday, May 19, 2017

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALCÁZAR (1D: Moorish castle) —
An alcázar (pronunciation: /ˈæl kəˌzɑːr/) is a type of Moorish castle or palace in Spain and Portugal built during Muslim rule, although some were founded by Christians and others were built on earlier Roman or Visigothic fortifications. Most of the alcázars were built between the 8th and 15th centuries. Many cities in Spain have an alcázar. The term is sometimes used as a synonym for "castillo" or castle; palaces or forts built by Christian rulers were also often called alcázars. (wikipedia)
• • •

Fridays are my best chance to catch an enjoyable puzzle in any given week, and this one worked just fine. About where an average Friday should be. Varied, semi-tough, and armed with at least a few original- / fresh-seeming answers (today, e.g., KISSCAM and CRUSHING IT). This will do. It's a kind of palate cleanser. Light, refreshing. It's not totally filling, but (along with yesterday's decent offering), but it goes a long way toward getting the taste of the Sun-Wed junk out of my mouth. The most notable feature of this puzzle, from my perspective, was the uneven difficulty—specifically, the whole thing seemed phenomenally easy *except* the NW, which definitely made me work. And since I always start in the NW, I struggled early, and so the whole thing felt somewhat harder than it probably actually was. I couldn't do anything with 1A: Walk all over (ABUSE), or any of its crosses until finally I alighted on ECHO (after wondering, possibly aloud, why ALEXA wouldn't fit) (5D: Voice-activated Amazon device). From there it was ON BASE, MAN BUN, and off to the races. Once ENGAGEMENT PARTY dropped, I went down into the SE and up the east coast, no problem. Had some problems getting into the SW, but SAMOSA / CINE / SLEW ended up sliding in fairly easily, which left me, finally, with just that damn, pesky NW corner. Here is a red-line map of my trouble spots.

 [Had IN A SECOND at first—did you?]

So, yeah, the NW. If I've heard of ALCÁZARs before, I definitely forgot about them. Had the -GE at the end of 2D: Heavy rain and wanted only DELU(U?)GE. And then [Wrongly assumed] is just a brutal clue for USURPED. Not the meaning of "assumed" I was expecting. I ended up having to back into that area after getting the back ends of the long Acrosses. Not having any idea who Abby Sciuto is definitely hurt me at 8D: Org. for forensic specialist Abby Sciuto. I tend to think of NCIS as fictional (for obvious reasons) (see also JAG), and Abby Sciuto sounds like a name with wordplay involved. I keep saying it to myself expecting to find it's some kind of pun. Like "Abby Normal" or something. Anyway, NCIS is common enough in crosswords that I guessed it and then finally worked my way back to those first, vicious Downs. The end.

[Last Dance ... LAST CHANCE for love ...]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Looking at my wife's puzzle now, I realize that I forgot what made getting USURPED especially hard to see—like my wife (right now, mid-solve), I spent a good part of my solve with ABASE at 1A: Walk all over. That is a perfectly reasonable answer. *BUT* ...  then for 3D: Wrongly assumed you get a word starting ASU- ... and your brain starts to catch and whirr and stutter and overheat trying to find an ASU- word ... *any* ASU word. The only ASU- word I could think of was ASU (as in Arizona State University). Maddening. So something must be wrong. But everything looks so right ...

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Muse invoked in Paradise Lose / THU 5-18-17 / StarKist competitor / Subject of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard / Island capital named for European royal house

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: WHY (did the CHICKEN cross the ROAD)? (37A: Question raised by four squares in this puzzle?) — four squares contain ROAD in the Down and CHICKEN in the Across:

Theme answers:
  • OFF-ROAD (1D: Where all-terrain vehicles go) / CHICKEN OF THE SEA (19A: StarKist competitor)
  • ACCESS ROAD (15D: Highway adjacent to a throughway) / CHICKEN WIRE (39A: Coop material)
  • ROAD RUNNER (36D: Noted Warner Bros. toon) / PLAY CHICKEN (35A: Risk mutual destruction, say)
  • ROAD MAP (63D: Plan for achieving a long-term goal) / NO SPRING CHICKEN (60A: Person getting up there in years)
Word of the Day: SEPTA (4D: BART : San Francisco :: ___ : Philadelphia) —
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is a regional public transportation authority[4] that operates various forms of public transit services—bus, subway and elevated rail, commuter rail, light rail and electric trolleybus—that serve 3.9 million people in five counties in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. SEPTA also manages construction projects that maintain, replace, and expand infrastructure and rolling stock. (wikipedia)
• • •

Enjoyable! It's always easy to exclaim that when you pick up the gimmick almost immediately, but I've hated many puzzles I've figured out early, so I don't think solver's euphoria is clouding my judgment too much. I think my favorite part of the puzzle is the lone, existential, ennui-ridden WHY? in the center of the grid. It is the question I ask most of puzzles, usually with a pained or confused look on my face. "WHY ... is that theme answer not like the others? WHY ... is this plural suffix (!?) in my grid? WHY ... are you doing this to me?" The theme squares were symmetrical, which on the one hand is neat (as in "tidy"), and on the other is totally unnecessary in a rebus puzzle. Part of the challenge is figuring out where those pesky things are. No reason finding one should allow you automatically to find the other. But honestly, in the middle of solving, my brain didn't even pick up the symmetry. It was too easy a puzzle. I don't usually stop and reflect unless I'm getting Pummeled, and the only *real* issue I had today was a totally self-inflicted, not-stopping-and-reflecting wound at 7D: "y = 2x," e.g. (LINE). Had the "I" and the "E" and saw the clue was mathy and wrote in SINE and the ****ing "I" was correct, so I tried to make myself believe that BASE could work for 5A: Assemble in a field, say (BALE), before finally seeing my problem, ugh.

Couldn't work the Acrosses at first in the NE, but then the puzzle threw a "Paradise Lost" clue at me, which is like throwing a hanging curve over the fat middle of the plate. URANIA! (11D: Muse invoked in "Paradise Lost") After that, except for SAT instead of LAY (29A: Was idle), no problems. Nearly came unglued at the end, in the SW, where I threw *two* wrong Acrosses down—for ---IN, I wrote SATIN (instead of SKEIN (59A: Fabric store purchase)), and for ---LE, I wrote STOLE (instead of SIDLE (64A: Move furtively, in a way) (misread the verb tense, ugh). But URANIA was smiling ... down? ... on me once again, as *both* of those errors ended up giving me correct initial letters, which meant NASSAU was easy (48D: Island capital named for a European royal house), which meant my double-error was actually easily findable and correctable. Win some, lose some, cross the road, move on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Obsolete repro machine / WED 5-17-17 / Dory propeller / Hello Dolly singer informally / Ruling family of old Florence

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Constructor: Paul Hunsberger

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: word loop —two-word phrases where second word is also the first word of a two-word phrase that ends with the first word of the subsequent theme answer. (Yes, it was about as pleasant to solve as it was to read that description); only the broken phrases (that start in one themer and end in the next) are clued, and they're clued, well, essentially, like this:

Theme answers:
  • BACK / COURT (Area that an N.B.A. team has eight ... / ... seconds to clear)
  • CASE / CLOSED (Successful detective's ... / ... declaration)
  • CIRCUIT / BOARD (Critical computer ... / ... component)
  • GAME / OVER (Dreaded words in a video ... / ... arcade)
  • SEEING / DOUBLE (Knocked ... / ... for a loop, say)
Word of the Day: CFL (23D: Grid org. with a 110-yard field) —
The Canadian Football League (CFL; French: Ligue canadienne de football, LCF) is a professional sports league in Canada. The CFL is the highest level of competition in Canadian football. Its nine teams, which are located in nine separate cities, are divided into two divisions: the East Division, with four teams, and the West Division with five teams. As of 2016, the league features a 20-week regular season, which traditionally runs from late June to early November; each team plays 18 games with at least two bye weeks. Following the regular season, six teams compete in the league's three-week divisional playoffs, which culminate in the late-November Grey Cup championship, one of the country's largest annual sports and television event. (wikipedia)
• • •

God, things are just getting gruesome. Aside from fill that includes dumb non-words like ECO-TAX and MIXALOT w/o the "Sir" and a SLEW of crosswordese (from OSLO to OTERI to SSN to ESSENE and back again) this theme ... sigh. It's a simple word loop: AB, BC, CD, etc. ad infinitum (well, not infinitum, but theoretically so ...). The only "interesting" part is the cluing, where instead of cluing the answers in the grid, you clue the "between" answers ... which sounds OK, but in practice is a bleeping mess, because ... well, you can see the theme clues yourself —all ellipses and slashes and you're all "wait, where does this start and end again?" etc. Oh, and there are somehow multiple SADIES there, even though no one can name more than one SADIE (Hawkins doesn't count).


This took me almost as long as yesterday's, because the gimmick was mostly lost on me. I just plowed ahead and got themers mostly from crosses (somewhat from inferences based on the cluing words). I did this weird / horrible thing in the middle where I had CIRCUIT and ended up writing in CLAIMS CIRCUIT (something in my brain went from "circuit court" to "(small?) claims court"). I don't really know what EHOW (ugh) is. I had ETSY. Hardest part was the whole area around the BOARD of BOARD GAME. Had SET and KIT before DRUMPAD. WATERY never ever occurred to me for 58A: Like light beers. Had IN INK before IN PEN (never be impressed by someone who brags about solving this way; it's nonsense). There is so little Joy in the NYT crosswords of late. Just tired / old / bad concepts, with olde fille, and all of it only semi-competently executed. Most frequently published constructors used to be legends. Now ... once in a while there's a legend, and there are a few loyalists who are good at their craft. But mediocre-to-bad constructors are seeing more and more of their work in print because Good submissions are Obviously down. I know you all can see this. I know I'm more vocally annoyed than your average solver, but It's A Problem. Oh my god I just noticed plural ECRUS OK I have to go.

P.S. in much nicer news, my wife was elected to the Binghamton City School Board yesterday. I am very proud of her. When total voter numbers are this small, all that door-knocking ... it matters. I'm now going to go  throw trash out the window of my car in the neighborhoods where my wife *didn't* get the most votes (elections have consequences), so look out ... Sunrise Terrace (wherever that is)!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Outer protein shell of virus / TUE 5-16-17 / Chicago squad in old SNL skits / Victim of river diversion in Asia / Divergent actor James

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Challenging (this took me over 6 minutes; I haven't been over 5 minutes on a Tuesday in probably a decade; my average is about 3:40)

THEME: Well I could see that a state + an extra letter had to be anagrammed for the answer, but damn if I could figure out why. No idea. Kept trying. No idea. Finally read a different crossword blog to discover There Is No Reason. Random states + random letters, anagrammed. That is it. Why "Washington"? No reason. Why add the "R"? No reason. What does WARNING SHOT have to do with Washington? Nothing. Behold the Best Puzzle In The World. This is your god now.

Theme answers:
  • WARNING SHOT (17A: WASHINGTON + R = Intimidation tactic)
  • "I'M SERIOUS" (24A: MISSOURI + E = "No fooling!")
  • NORMAL DAY (???) (33A: MARYLAND + O = Period in which nothing special)
  • BANK RATES (ugh, these answers...) (45A: NEBRASKA + T = Mortgage specifications)
  • AFRICAN LION (52A: CALIFORNIA + N = Majestic)
Word of the Day: CAPSID (5A: Outer protein shell of a virus) —
[seriously, that is what come up at the top of the page when you google [define capsid]]
A capsid is the protein shell of a virus. It consists of several oligomeric structural subunits made of protein called protomers. The observable 3-dimensional morphological subunits, which may or may not correspond to individual proteins, are called capsomeres. The capsid encloses the genetic material of the virus. (wikipedia)
• • •

I keep rewriting this first sentence because I just can't quite come up with the right words to capture how dumb this theme is. I mean, aren't solvers everywhere asking "why these states?" Aren't they asking "Why Those Letters?" Constructors at home, despite the fact that the editor has apparently lost his damn mind / has so few submissions he has to accept nonsense like this—Don't Do This. Your themes need to have some hook, some sense of purpose, something. This is a joke. Maybe it is a joke. Maybe it's some avant-garde performance-art stuff—a puzzle that looks like it means something but actually means nothing! A Thursday on a Tuesday! I have no idea. But I don't think anything so Andy Kaufman-esque is going on here. I think this puzzle is just bad. Really bad. Objectively bad. Anyone out there who has Ever had a puzzle rejected by the NYT is sitting out there this morning going, "... REALLY?!" Yes, really folks. Enjoy!

Analyze this garbage? I would prefer not to.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Historic California route with El / MON 5-15-17 / Sigher's words / Common computer peripherals / Quetzalcoatl worshiper / Soft drink in green bottle

Monday, May 15, 2017

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: INNER CHILD (58A: Part of a person's psyche ... or a hidden part of 18-, 23-, 39- or 48-Across) — types of children, or words that roughly mean "children," are in the "inner" part of all the theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • CAMINO REAL (contains "minor") (18A: Historic California route, with "El")
  • PRIVATE ENTRANCE (contains "teen") (23A: Desirable feature of a rented room)
  • CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (contains "infant") (39A: 2016 film for which Viggo Mortensen earned an Oscar nomination)
  • QWERTY KEYBOARDS (contains "tyke") (48A: Common computer peripherals)
Word of the Day: "CAPTAIN FANTASTIC"
Captain Fantastic is a 2016 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Matt Ross and starring Viggo Mortensen. The story centers on a family that is forced by circumstances to reintegrate into society after living in isolation for a decade. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is decent, largely because the theme answers are long and interesting. I had no idea "CAPTAIN FANTASTIC" was a movie. I know the phrase only from the Elton John album "CAPTAIN FANTASTIC" and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (that is how I remember the title ... looking it up now ... Yes! I was right! I remember this album because it has a gatefold sleeve with an elaborate nightmare Hieronymus Bosch-esque wraparound cover that grossed me out as a child). But, yeah, it was a movie, and now that I look the movie up, I vaguely remember ads for it. Could Not have told you what it was called. Luckily, that answer filled itself in easily from crosses. I'm not terribly enthusiastic about this theme type, and this revealer in particular. I say this as someone who has made (too) many of this theme type. I did a puzzle where I hid Norse gods in answers (e.g. HELLOKITTY, MOODINDIGO); I did a birthday puzzle for constructor Kevin Der once where I just hid his last name in a bunch of answers (e.g. STEROIDERA); a couple years back I did a BEER BELLY puzzle for Buzzfeed (w/ Lena Webb) where we put beer types in the middle of answers (e.g. TEALEAVES, VILLAGEROADSHOW). So it's common. Too common. I've promised myself I won't use that theme type again for a decade. I know I will break that promise, but I felt it had to be made.

But it's the obviousness of INNER CHILD as a revealer that gave me pause today. I was like "this has to have been done, many times." And sure enough, it has. Many times. A very cursory look turned up three different recent crosswords with INNER CHILD revealers. Here's one that has baby animals hidden in the answers (cute!). Here's one that just has "KID" hidden in the answers a bunch of times. And then here's one that's got the exact premise as today's puzzle (and even shares the answer QWERTY KEYBOARD). "Inner" or "Middle" or "Central" or "Inside" [anything] is going to suggest this kind of theme to a constructor. It's not bad. It just is. Can be nice, can be terrible. Almost forgot—I did *another* theme like this called INSIDE DOPE where I "hid" THC in a bunch of answers (e.g. FIFTH COLUMN). Clearly I have a problem. Anyway, today's puzzle is a good example of this type of theme, even though some version of this INNER CHILD concept has been done (a lot).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wings to zoologists / SUN 5-14-17 / Apple of Discord thrower / Onetime tool for talking online / Cult leader killed in Waco siege / Contraction lacking just v / Power machine in woodworking

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Places, Everyone!" — circled-square answers are all two-part answers, where first part must be inferred by the answers place in the grid: for the Acrosses, LEFT, MIDDLE, and RIGHT; for the Down, TOP up top; MIDDLE in the middle; and BOTTOM down below.

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: SAUK (77D: Fox neighbor) —
The Sac or Sauk are a group of Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands culture group. Their autonym is oθaakiiwaki, and their exonym is Ozaagii(-wag) in Ojibwe. The latter name was transliterated into French and English by colonists of those cultures. (wikipedia)
• • •

In retrospect, it's all reasonably logical, but while solving, none of the "places" made any sense to me. It all seemed very haphazard, and I just inferred the answers the best I could. Had trouble at first because I couldn't believe that the fact that the theme answers *crossed* each other meant nothing, but ... yeah, it means nothing. Nothing as far as the execution of the theme itself goes. Means a lot in terms of theme density, which is, on the one hand, impressive, and on the other, troublesome—as with all dense themes, it puts a lot of pressure on the fill. Don't believe me, just ask the ALAE PLANER, or, uh, just PUPATE the ETHELS, if you've got the nerve. Well do ya, punk? The theme works fine, but it wasn't any great delight. Also, the "Right" answers seemed particularly weak. Right-HANDER, Right-MINDED, Right-Clicks ... none of them very snappy. No ANGLES or WINGERS. Also, what is "Bottom BRACKET"? I've heard of teams being at the top or the bottom of the bracket, but the adjective (?) "bottom-BRACKET" ... wait, is it an adjectival phrase? [Where teams ... are found?] They're found bottom-BRACKET? That is awkward.

We need to talk about a few of the answers in this puzzle. First, ASHINE (3D: Glowing). I literally LOL'd and then looked around for someone, anyone, to confirm that that is the single dumbest / most ridiculous A-anything word. AREEL, AGAZE, ALOP ... all of them are ordinary, everyday words compared to ASHINE? I mean ... ASHINE makes AGLEAM look good. This ASHINE's third time *ever* being in the NYT crossword. Amazingly, it even appeared once during the Rex Parker era. I clearly and smartly suppressed this memory. So there's that. Then there's the serious, Natickulous trauma of SAUK, which *also* makes only its third ever appearance today (77D: Fox neighbor). I ... do not know this tribe. Which is fine, I don't know a lot of things. But to cross this obviously not-commonly-known tribe name with _-TESTS!?!?! (82A: Mushroom makers) That could be three different letters. That *has been* three different letters. This is why crosswordese suuuucks and why editing is an important skill. That is a godawful crossing. How did the constructor not know this, the editor not know this, the testers not comment on this. Just dire. SAUK > SNUK or SHUK, I'll grant you, but not by a lot,and by no means definitively. It's not like I look at SAUK and think "o yeah, it's *gotta* be that." This is in the same area where people are going to have KISS instead of BUSS (at least for a bit), so ... blargh city.

Important Crossword Event News:

THE INDIE 500 crossword tournament is happening SATURDAY, JUNE 3, 2017 (i.e. *in three weeks*), in Washington, D.C., and registration is open open open. This is one of two tournaments I try never to miss (the other is Lollapuzzoola, in NYC, in August). Indie is such a welcoming, fun place to be, and the puzzle constructor slate for the tournament this year looks amazing (talented *and* diverse!—check it out!). This a great tournament for veterans and rookies alike. Don't be afraid of your own nerddom. Register now. You'll be happy you did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Baroque artist Guido / SAT 5-13-17 / Tree-tapping spigot / Ignorant middle class per HL Mencken / Yantra sacred hindu diagram formed by nine interlocking triangles

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SPILE (31D: Tree-tapping spigot) —


a peg or plug of wood, especially one used as a spigot.
a spout for conducting sap from the sugar maple.
a heavy wooden stake or pile.
Mining. forepole.

verb (used with object), spiled, spiling.

to stop up (a hole) with a spile or peg.
to furnish with a spigot or spout, as for drawing off a liquid.
to tap by means of a spile.
to furnish, strengthen, or support with spiles or piles. (
• • •

Very tough. Lots of vaguely clued answers, many of them niche slang (NOOB) or proper nouns (RITZ BITS). Luckily, there were gimmes scattered all over the place, but even then, this was rough going. You'd think that when you get ZZTOP handed to you as a gimme, very early, you'd be in business. But strangely, neither "Z" did anything for me. I kept thinking of CHEEZ-ITS at 1A: Tiny Cheese sandwiches, of a sort, and ZYZZYVA at 14A: Nest-raiding insect. I honestly don't know what RITZ BITS are or that they come in ... flavors? ... so, yeah, rough. So strange to be handed ZZTOP and have the only letter that really opens anything up for you be ... the "P"—got POI / TARO right away, but then got nothing in the NW. Moved over and dropped SPOOL at 9A: A thread winds around it (as I was supposed to—that is as intentionally-designed a trap as you're ever going to see), but then corrected to RITE / ANTED and finally got moving for real in the NE. But then I could not move into the center easily at all. Even the CAND- at 10D: Christmas decoration wasn't telling me much. Me: "CANDLE ... something?"

Rebooted with EAVES / ASTERS. Then nothing. Then ISLES (only one letter wrong!) ISTO TACH OSHA and I was in business in the SE. Briefly. Died there too. Problems all over with moving from section to section, because I didn't know most of the long connective answers. BOOBO- was never ever gonna give me BOOBOISIE (5D: Ignorant middle class, per H. L. Mencken). Only word I could think of was BOOBOCRACY (or BOOBOCRATS?). Didn't fit. And ELDERWAND? Forget it. I mean, no, wait, don't forget it, because after ELDER-, I actually guessed WAND pretty easily, but still, niche niche niche answers, everywhere. But in the end the most dangerous answers were the vague ones. I had to bring the whole puzzle down around 36A: One likely to have a large collection of albums to find the STAMP in RARE STAMP DEALER. I laughed out loud as I wrote it in. "SPILE!? LOL, OK, whatever you say, puzzle." And worst of all was the LEAD in LEAD GLASS (58A: High-quality window composition). Had L--- GLASS, and every single cross was bad / iffy. DEE? (59D: River that forms part of the England/Wales border) TANG? (53D: Strong, sharp smell) RENI!?!?! (52D: Baroque artist Guido) That "E" in RENI was a guess. Could easily have been a Natick for me, as LOAD GLASS seemed like something and RONI seemed like *Much* more or a real name than RENI. But in the end LOAD just felt (and was!) wrong. Lasting image of this puzzle for me will be some guy named RENI out checking his SPILEs for sap.

Here's someone else who got screwed by SPILE (and LEAD)

  • "I BELIEVE I CAN FLY" (39A: Grammy-winning R. Kelly hit of 1996) — thank god for this one. Having the "V" from EAVES gave me some help, but honestly there's only one "hit" of his that comes to mind and it's this song. Wait, was "Trapped in the Closet" a hit?
  • SELMA (34D: "The Simpsons" aunt) — still useful to have a vast knowledge of the "Simpsons" universe.
  • TRI (25A: Ironman race, briefly) — tiny word, but opened up RABIN and then TRICK / KNEE, bam bam.
  • LARA (49D: Boris Pasternak heroine) — just when the SW was looking like a dark empty disaster, along comes LARA... 
  • IRENE (27D: Woman's name meaning "peace") IRENE is the most common five-letter woman's name in crossword history, and this bit of etymological trivia really comes in handy, trust me.
THE INDIE 500 crossword tournament is happening SATURDAY, JUNE 3, 2017 (i.e. *in three weeks*), in Washington, D.C., and registration is open open open. This is one of two tournaments I try never to miss (the other is Lollapuzzoola, in NYC, in August). Indie is such a welcoming, fun place to be, and the puzzle constructor slate for the tournament this year looks amazing (talented *and* diverse!—check it out!). This a great tournament for veterans and rookies alike. Don't be afraid of your own nerddom. Register now. You'll be happy you did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Jazz pianist Garner / FRI 5-12-17 / Order repeated before hike / Record producer Pettibone / Civic animal / First lady after Lou / Beloved army leader

Friday, May 12, 2017

Constructor: Bill Clinton and Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: sort of 

Theme answers:
  • DON'T STOP / THINKING / ABOUT TOMORROW (lyrics from Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," the (unofficial?) theme song of the Clinton/Gore 1992 US Presidential campaign)
  • "It's the ECONOMY, stupid!" (noted catchphrase of said campaign) 

Word of the Day: ERROLL Garner (44D: Jazz pianist Garner) —
Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1923 – January 2, 1977; some sources say 1921) was an American jazz pianist and composer known for his swing playing and ballads. His best-known composition, the ballad "Misty", has become a jazz standard. Scott Yanow of Allmusic calls him "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" and a "brilliant virtuoso". He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6363 Hollywood Blvd. (wikipedia)

• • •

Look, I voted for him twice, but this is not a very good puzzle and if I said it was I would get dragged from here to Natick and back because it's manifestly not. It's a vanity-theme puzzle masquerading as a Friday themeless. You wanna make a puzzle, make a *puzzle*—not whatever this winky, self-congratulatory thing is. It's not a satisfying themed puzzle, and it's really not a satisfying themeless. Neither fish nor fowl. Slightly inedible. I guess I briefly enjoyed noticing the Fleetwood Mac lyrics that are so closely associated with this puzzle's co-author's 1992 presidential campaign. Beyond that, there's not much to enjoy here, and deep in your heart (blue, red, purple, whatever color your heart is) you know it. This is a publicity stunt, as all these celeb co-authored puzzles are (though some have been better than others). Meanwhile, the quality of the puzzle on a day-to-day basis is way down, and (in a possibly related fact) constructor pay *languishes* at a dismal $300 (somewhat but not much more if you're a veteran constructor). I thought fair pay was an important issue for Democrats. Here's something from a recent WSJ article:

Last week, the New York Times reported a gain of 348,000 new subscribers—including 40,000 crossword-only subscribers—in the latest quarter.

And that's just since the 2016 election. To give you a sense of how badly constructors are paid, that bump *alone* (in crossword-*only* subscribers) would pay constructors fees for *all* constructors, *annually*, *many* *times* *over*.  It costs under $200K / year (!?!?!) to pay constructors right now. You don't wanna know what that represents as a slice of the NYT's overall crossword revenue, because that slice is nearly non-existent. At that level of inequity, I don't know why anyone even submits to the NYT any more, except for exposure or "prestige." So you see, Mr. President—it's the ECONOMY (I know better than to call you "stupid").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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