Solid orange ball / WED 5-31-17 / Former senator RNC head Martinez / Hoof essentially / Blaster toy gun / Fancy cracker topping

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slowest Wednesday for me in years, but I think some of my slowness was weird and idiosyncratic)

THEME: Fishing — there's a warning to some fish (DON'T TAKE THE BAIT) (3D: Warning for easily provoked types ... or for the answeres to the six starred clues?) and also some fish names and then a Down answer that's supposed to look like a fishing line: 9D: What might tempt the answers to the six starred clues?:

(this "J" is the "hook" on the end of the line) 
(there's not actually "bait" on that hook)
(fish aren't normally "tempted" by a bare hook)
(but whatever)

Theme answers:
  • CARP (4A: *Complain)
  • SMELT (24A: *Extract with heat, in a way)
  • PIKE (32A: *Weapon with a point)
  • BASS (44A: *The Mikado in "The Mikado")
  • PERCH (53A: *Birdcage feature)
  • SOLE (69A: *Shoe part)
Word of the Day: MEL Martinez (63D: Former senator and R.N.C. head Martinez) —
Melquíades Rafael Martínez Ruiz, usually known as Mel Martínez (born October 23, 1946), is an American lobbyist and former politician who served as a United States Senator from Florida from 2005 to 2009 and as chairman of the Republican Party from November 2006 until October 19, 2007, the first Latino to serve as chairman of a major party. Previously, Martínez served as the 12th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George W. Bush. Martínez is a Cuban-American and Roman Catholic. He announced he was resigning as chairman of the Republican National Committee on October 19, 2007. (wikipedia)
• • •

Laborious. Cluing was so weird and ambiguous and hard and oblique and "?"-laden that all the joy got sucked right out of this one for me. Also, why would you warn a fish? Also, who can talk to fish? Is this puzzle for Aquaman? The whole hook-on-the-line thing is cute, in retrospect, but overall this thing was painful to solve. Tries to do too much, too cutesily. I'm sure I've seen the whole "I"s-making-a-line thing before. Very sure. Can't remember where, but dead certain. It's interesting that all the fish types can be clued as non-fish things, but again, these things are all interesting in retrospect, outside the solving experience. *Inside* the solving experience, bah. I don't know who's monitoring difficulty levels these days, but they've been wildly off. Two impossibly easy days last week, and now this thing.

I just couldn't get anything. The NW destroyed me, both at the beginning, since I wasted time trying to start there, and at the end, where I had run the alphabet to get the last letter of the puzzle—the "V" in FIVE (1D: Solid orange ball) and VENT (16A: Jacket feature). Didn't get the context of either Across or Down there. Theme clues ranged from straightforward to kinda hard (24A: *Extract with heat, in a way) to *&%^ing brutal (44A: *The Mikado in "The Mikado") (that last clue—a Saturday clue if I've ever seen one—can shove it). EXTORT doesn't involve physical "force," so that clue didn't compute (19A: Take by force). Speaking of force(d), ugh, those "?" clues on AIM (5D: Fire starter?) and GLIMPSE (22D: Short notice?). Painful. The theme itself is already too clever for its own good—why are you jerking around with these clues? DISCI? (29A: Things hurled at the Olympics). Oh sure, they use that word all the time at the Olympics.

STOOL is a [Bar sight]? Sure, OK, but ... Again with the vague cluing. Not big on BYPATHs (?). I never really think about the existence of LABRADOR—didn't occur to me until I had Many crosses. "Ash" is not a TREE? (36D: Ash, e.g.). I had -R-- when I saw that clue, and I had literally just read about an ash TREE (improbable as that may sound)**, so that hurt. TRALALA is cruddy enough w/o the winky little "?" clue (26A: Refrain from singing?). Don't dress trash up in taffeta and try to get me to dance with it. Nothing doing.

I actually think the theme itself is fine and the little hook thing is cute. But god, the meat on this thing was inedible. To me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

**in George Gissing's New Grub Street (1891)

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Horse breed known dressage / TUE 5-30-17 / Rogen "Neighbors" / Simoleon / "Storage Wars" network / Justice Gorsuch / Boxer Drago / Madeline "Blazing Saddles" / Ex Trump / Religion Five Pillars /

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Constructor: Neville Fogarty

Relative difficulty: Average

You might've thought it was by Charlotte
THEME: GREY MATTER — Each theme entry contains a word that, when paired with the word GREY (indicated by shaded squares in the grid), makes up the name of a person (two real men, two fictional women) whose last name is Grey.

Theme answers:
  • LIPIZZANER [ZANE GREY] (17A: Horse breed known for dressage [western writer])
  • MILK OF MAGNESIA [AGNES GREY] (27A: Upset stomach remedy [Brontë governess])
  • REAR LIT [EARL GREY] (39A: Like a silhouette [19th-century U.K. prime minister])
  • HAMMERED IT HOME [MEREDITH GREY] (46A: Really made the point [TV surgeon played by Ellen Pompeo])
  • GREY MATTER (63A: Brains ... or this puzzle's four shaded names?)

Word of the Day: LIPIZZANER (17A: Horse breed known for dressage) —
The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner (Czech: Lipicán, Croatian: Lipicanac, Hungarian: Lipicai, Italian: Lipizzano, Slovene: Lipicanec), is a breed of horse closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where they demonstrate the haute école or "high school" movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the "airs above the ground." The horses at the Spanish Riding School are trained using traditional methods that date back hundreds of years, based on the principles of classical dressage. The Lipizzan breed dates back to the 16th century, when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility. The breed takes its name from one of the earliest stud farms established, located near the Karst Plateau village of Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia. The breed has been endangered numerous times by warfare sweeping Europe, including during the War of the First Coalition, World War I and World War II. The rescue of the Lipizzans during World War II by American troops was made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. Along with the Disney movie, Lipizzans have also starred or played supporting roles in many movies, TV shows, books and other media. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Laura here, guest-posting for Rex, and solving on West Coast time. It's still light out and my laptop and I are outside. (I am considering moving to California just to get the puzzle at 7pm on weeknights.) This one was quite a treat, though I suspect (and have already seen on Twitter) that there are a few entries that will stand out to solvers as somewhat more obscure than one would expect to find on a Tuesday. Case in point: LIPIZZANER, our Word of the Day, which I barely remembered from a brief tweenage obsession with horses. This was after I erased GOAT from 18D (Prize you don't want on "Let's Make a Deal"). (I was originally thinking of a probability puzzle called the Monty Hall problem.)

Let's get meta with an image from Rex's other blog
Of the GREYs referenced herein, I suspect ZANE will be the most familiar to solvers, some of whom may be only familiar with EARL GREY from his namesake tea. 

 "Tea, Earl Grey, hot": The Supercut

  • 3D: Guitarist's key-changing aid (CAPO) — I was pleased to learn the term for the thing I have always referred to as "that clamp thingy on the neck of a guitar" (no musician, I). Also pleasing to see it clued as something other than "Mafia bigwig."
  • 9D: Island wrap (SARONG) — Nothing, what sarong with you?!
  • 57D: One side of a Stevenson character (HYDE) — Ya (or I) gotta like a puzzle that references the Rocky movies (6D: Boxer Drago of "Rocky IV" [IVAN]), Blazing Saddles (13D: Madeline KAHN), 1970s Broadway (15A: "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" musical [EVITA]), the BARD (51D: Shakespeare, for one), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Grey's Anatomy, and the youngest and arguably most obscure Brontë sister. Too bad Neville didn't clue DUNE (68A: Beach hill) as "Novel concerning the struggle for Arrakis."
 "Have I said too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to say to you."

Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Aperitif with black currant liqueur / MON 5-29-17 / Counterparts of dahs / Tousled look of recently woken

Monday, May 29, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen and Seth Geltman

Relative difficulty: Challenging (over 4?!) (I mean, it is 16-wide, but still)

THEME: PRIME TIME (63A: When TV viewership peaks ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, 36- and 53-Across)  — some answers that are ... like ... good times?

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KIR (42A: Aperitif with black currant liqueur) —
Kir is a popular French cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with white wine. // In France it is usually drunk as an apéritif before a meal or snack. It used to be made with Bourgogne Aligoté, a lesser white wine of Burgundy. Now, various white wines are used throughout France, according to the region and the whim of the barkeeper. Many prefer a white Chardonnay-based Burgundy, such as Chablis. // It used to be called blanc-cassis, but it is now named after Félix Kir (1876–1968), mayor of Dijon in Burgundy. Kir was a pioneer of the twinning movement in the aftermath of the Second World War, and popularized the drink by offering it at receptions to visiting delegations. Besides treating his international guests well, he was also promoting two economic products of the region. Kir allowed one of Dijon's producers of crème de cassis to use his name, then extended the right to their competitors as well. According to Rolland (2004),[1] the reinvention of blanc-cassis (post 1945) was necessitated by the German Army's confiscation of all the local red Burgundy during the war. Faced with an excess of white wine, Kir renovated a drink that used to be made primarily with the red. // Another explanation that has been offered is that Mayor Kir revived it during a year in which the ordinary white wine of the region was inferior and the creme de cassis helped to disguise the fact. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not feeling this at all. The theme is a tremendous let-down. I kept wanting PRIME TIME to actually mean something (honestly, I thought maybe the numbers on the theme clues were all "primes"?), but it's just a time that is good. YEAR and DAY and HOUR are at least discrete units, but throw AGE in there and ... who knows? Anything goes, I guess. The worst part about this puzzle was the cluing, which was off, badly, everywhere. The fill has its moments, but some of those moments are garbage. If the puzzle goes 16-wide, I expect there to be a reason and I expect it to be good. Being able to put RED LETTER DAY in the center is not "good" enough. My wife wanted to murder the puzzle for MAIL IT IN alone (59A: Do a perfunctory performance). She's right that PHONE IT IN is much (as in infinitely) more common. MAIL IT IN may be an expression, but yuck. See also RUB NOSES. That's some western bullshit. I know because the lead picture of "Eskimo kissing" at wikipedia features these two:

It's one thing to amass a giant word list. It's another thing to have the ability to control it, to have discernment, to know when to say when, when to say 'no.' I'm not impressed by a tepid theme with some rough (ETERNE, ugh) fill that then tries to play all 'zazzy with a few "fresh" answers. If you can't do your core job right, all the BEDHEAD in the world won't save you.

Bah humbug:
  • 24A: Topic of a happy annual report (BANNER YEAR) — This clue made no sense to me as I was solving. None. Zero. "Happy annual report"? I mean, I get it, in retrospect, but it's not really the "topic." BANNER YEAR is an idiomatic expression, so it's weird to say it's the "topic" or a "report." I kept wondering "What kind of report? Sales report?" I just couldn't envision the occasion at all. Also, I know BANNER DAY better than BANNER YEAR, though I'm not sure why. 
  • 36A: Something circled on a calendar (RED LETTER DAY) — this was King Garbage. What where and when? I've seen a bunch of calendars in my life, I have never seen one where a RED LETTER DAY is "circled." RED LETTER DAY is a *$&%ing metaphor. I circle appointments, birthdays, important days, but RED LETTER DAYs (which is something highly subjective, I think) precisely never. I want this clue to die slowly in prison.
  • 9D: Like a diet lacking bread or pasta, for short (NO-CARB) — ugh there is no such thing as a "NO-CARB" diet. Also, your diet can be "lacking bread or pasta" and still have carbs in it.
  • 18D: Counterparts of dahs in Morse code (DITS) — Morse code remains useful today only to provide an excuse for constructors to put junk in my grid and I am over it. À bas le Morse code cluing!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Musical genre for Gangnam Style / SUN 5-28-17 / Whom Kala reared / Hop o my thumb villain / Character with aria when I am laid in earth

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "In Bad Taste" — Themers are written a la recipe instructions. Answers are all bad (?) things, and together they make A RECIPE FOR DISASTER (106A: What 27-, 39-, 56-, 66-, 79- and 96-Across together make up):

Theme answers:
  • STIR UP A HORNET'S NEST (27A: Step 1: Raise hell)
  • MIX ONE'S METAPHORS (39A: Step 2: Make some literary gaffes)
  • BEAT A DEAD HORSE (56A: Step 3: Devote energy to something hopeless)
  • POUR MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN (66A: Step 4: Be a financial wastrel)
  • CUT A POOR FIGURE (79A: Step 5: Look pretty schlubby)
  • SERVES TWO MASTERS (96A: And finally: Has divided loyalties)
Word of the Day: URBAN II (35D: Pope who initiated the First Crusade) —
Pope Urban II (Latin: Urbanus II; c. 1042 – 29 July 1099), born Odo of Châtillon or Otho de Lagery, was Pope from 12 March 1088 to his death in 1099. He is best known for initiating the First Crusade (1096–99) and setting up the modern-day Roman Curia in the manner of a royal ecclesiastical court to help run the Church. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is the second personal record I've set this week. I'm trying to let that sink in. I've been doing crosswords how long? (A: off and on for > a quarter century) And I've been doing them daily, without fail, in earnest, for over a decade, and I've been to dozens of tournaments ... and in one week, a single week, I break not one but two personal time records? First Friday (under 4), and now today? I was under 7!? Do you know how many times I've been under 8 on a NYT Sunday? None. None times. And when I finished this one the clock was just ticking over to 6:59. I didn't even really understand the theme. In fact, I'm still not sure I do. Seems really ... loose? Incoherent? Cutting a poor figure and beating a dead horse seem like bad things to do, but they hardly seem like "disasters." The whole thing just doesn't hang together very well. Answers feel contrived and far too unrelated to make the theme really click, hum, and whir. But as I say, honestly, what theme? I flew through this thing, destroying every answer I touched. Could do no wrong. It was an amazing feeling.

ONE'S—that is the constructor's little helper. You usually see it in quadstacks, e.g. A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE (15) (a classic example of the type). Here, it helps get MIX ONE'S METAPHORS to the right length to fit into the grid. You can see the constructor played with tenses (and articles) all over the place. [Look pretty schlubby] (2nd person) but [Has divided loyalties] (3rd person) (note: 3rd person is really awkward in an alleged "recipe"). And then you get the indefinite article "A" in A RECIPE FOR DISASTER, which you rarely see. These aren't bad or wrong things; they're just ways that a constructor can play around to get the themers to come out symmetrical. MIX METAPHORS, MIX ONE'S METAPHORS, MIXED METAPHORS, MIXED ONE'S METAPHORS ... all available depending on the length requirements.

["WOO WOO!"]

There's not really anything to talk about here. If I had any trouble, it was dead center, where I wanted GOT AT IT (which didn't fit) before GO TO WAR (54D: Begin fighting), and where WOO was half of a drink I'd never heard of (76A: When doubled, a drink with vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice). I wanted to THROW MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN (again, non-fitting). I thought 21A: Venusian or Jovian was asking for some kind of religious adherent (ALIEN), I never think of Buddha as a YOGI, and 68D: Napping, so to speak really felt like it was gonna be UNAWAKE (UNAWARE). Other than that, just like Friday, it was see clue write answer see clue write answer, start to finish. It's kind of a high, being in the zone like that. It felt semi-impossible, like when this happened in "Caddyshack":

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Peddler of religious literature / SAT 5-27-17 / Great Trek figure of 1830s / Notable 1973 defendant / Dickens character with dead lull about her / Spring's cyclic counterpart

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (Easy, except for SW corner, which is not)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: COLPORTEUR (28D: Peddler of religious literature) —
Colportage is the distribution of publications, books, and religious tracts by carriers called "colporteurs". The term does not necessarily refer to religious book peddling. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sometimes just an answer or two can ruin a whole puzzle for me. And I don't just mean ruin as in "ruin my time." I mean "bring the mood crashing down" or "make me wince in a way that never quite leaves my face." Today's puzzle was mostly excellent, I think. Lots of fresh and lively fill, incl. THROW SHADE and FLEXITARIAN. Fairly polished, wide-ranging. There were some dicey bits, like ETTAS (?) over IATE (??), but in the main, things were pretty ship shape. I am not sure I believe there is such a thing as a FLORIDA TECH (?), but I'll take the puzzle's word for it. Don't mind BOSOMY as a word, I guess, but coulda done without the ogley "centerfold" reference (43D: Like centerfolds, typically). But still, like I say, I was largely digging it. But then: two problems.

Just because a word *technically* exists doesn't mean you should try to pass it off as a legit crossword answer. 999 out of 1000 people are gonna say PRE-NATAL. 1 out of 1000 is going to say ANTENATAL (8D: During pregnancy), and that person is possessed by the ghost of a 19th-century country doctor. Just as you would never say PREBELLUM, you would never say ANTENATAL, no no no. I mean, I'm no doctor, but no. Looks like ANTENATAL might be Australian-speak. That's what google is indicating. But, yeah, I don't live there. So no. You don't take ANTENATAL vitamins, you take prenatal vitamins. You know it, I know it, the Carthaginians knew it. Prenatal. But that was just an eye-roll, frankly, *This* on the other hand, was a hard middle finger:

So much wrong here. First, yes, I *do* enjoy learning new things. But I do Not enjoy inelegantly made grids. This answer is the *only* way into a tight corner. So basically, you get COLP-, and you (if you're like me) go "Huh ... that's the start of no word ever. I must have an error." Then you think, "Wait ... is it MALE BLUE DOT?" Then you dive into the SW and you actually know the pitcher (though aren't sure about ABBOTT v. ABBETT) (39D: Jim ___, one-handed Yankee who pitched a no-hitter in 1993) and you know BOER (44A: Great Trek figure of the 1830s) and you know TERRY, but ... the rest stump you. Oh, you guess NEARER (41D: Like Mars vis-à-vis Jupiter), but ... still stuck. *Two* "?" clues down there? Come on. And that 28-Down, yeah, that still looks like gibberish. I still somehow managed to finish this thing in under 7 minutes, but the last two of those were spent just in that tiny stupid corner.

To end on a word that obscure, that uninferrable, that ... ugh. It sapped all the good vibes. All I was left with was this crappy jerk-word, which I would've been "happy" enough to learn, I guess, if a. it hadn't been such a sore thumb standout compared to the rest of the grid, and b. it hadn't been completely blocking the only entrance to that small corner. Solver experience, not considered. AGAIN: just because a word exists doesn't mean you should pull the trigger. Use some judgment. And for god's sake, don't ruin your otherwise lovely puzzle with obscure clunkers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chief justice in Dred Scott verdict / FRI 5-26-17 / Donnie of 2001 cult film / Sport for rikishi

Friday, May 26, 2017

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easiest Friday I've Ever Done

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (23D: Chief justice in the Dred Scott verdict) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the United States Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States, which created an uproar among abolitionists and the free states of the northern U.S. He was the first Roman Catholic (and first non-Protestant) appointed both to a presidential cabinet, as Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson, as well as to the Court. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was quite smooth, but also maybe too smooth. So smooth it was barely there. I finished in 3:51, a personal Friday record. Faster than every other puzzle I've solved this week (M, T, W and F were all actually within five seconds of one another). The puzzle seems nicely made, but I didn't really have much time to notice. Dropped 1D: ___ mocha (CAFFE) in pretty much right away (no point even looking at those long Acrosses before I've given the short Downs a go), and I honestly didn't pause, hesitate, or have to skip a clue for about the next dozen answers. Read clue, write answer. ELSE ATOLL FLUTE TORUS SMITE and goodbye. Slight hesitation on BFA vs. MFA (12A: Writer's deg.), but powered right through that. If there were such a thing as a Tuesday themeless, this would be it. Looking it over now ... it's really quite nice. Not scintillating, maybe, but not at all boring, and really quite polished. No gunk, lively fill. Possibly this constructor's best work.

There were exactly four answers in the puzzle that I had to work around.

1. I didn't really get the clue at 33A: Cricket, to a grasshopper, or vice versa. I thought maybe there was some adage or some Aesopian something or other that this referred to. Actually, my first thought upon seeing "Cricket" was the sport, but "grasshopper" got me back to reality. I just solved all the crosses, but even at -OUSIN I had at least a second of "????" and thought maybe I had an error. Is "COUSIN" a technical entomological term? Seems dicey.

2. Then I had the "F" in 38D: Surgical tool but couldn't bring it down. I was So Bummed because I knew I was flying and I was relying on that answer to help me turn the corner quickly into the SE. But I just blanked. Luckily ROMAS got me REEDED (educated guess), and then DARKO got me the "K" I needed to see KEEP TALKING.

3. I know BALOO now that I see it, but as I was filling that section in, the "B" didn't help, then the "BA-" didn't help, then the "BA--O" didn't help. Also, I ended up looking at the ELGIN clue really late for some reason. That was a gimme and might've made my progress through the SE a little smoother. But ultimately BALOO got worked out from crosses.

4. This was the only flat-out Don't-Know-It in the puzzle. An old, uncommon proper noun. No big surprise that it was the least movable object. I ran into it early and just turned the other direction (toward the NW). And then I solved the rest of the puzzle and just ended up back there again. Got every letter from crosses, ending with the "Y" in BETRAY (37A: Unknowingly reveal).

The overall easiness owes a lot to CAFFE and DARKO—two gimmes in optimal positions (providing the first letters of a bank of long Acrosses). The "C" and "F," and the "K" and the "O" (respectively) were particularly high-value letters, allowing me to see those long Acrosses very, very quickly. Low proper noun load meant low chance of getting badly stuck. Then there's the fill, which lives very much in the realm of real words / terms, and not crosswordese / obscurities. All of this adds up to Lightning. Hope you had a similarly triumphant solving feeling. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Central Italian river / THU 5-25-17 / Pet with dewlap beret / Wait in strategic location in video game lingo

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: I'LL GO FIRST (54A: Trailblazer's declaration ... or a hint to 17-, 19-, 34- and 51-Across) — Familiar phrases where the last words have been changed simply by moving the letter "I" to the "First" position, resulting in a new words and wacky phrases and wacky "?" clues, huzzah!

Theme answers:
  • PURPLE IRAN (17A: Possible result of spilling grape juice on a map of the Middle East?)
  • FRENCH IGUANA (19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret?)
  • ROLL OF ICONS (34A: Pantheon list?)
  • COVER IVERSON (51A: Guard the 2001 N.B.A. M.V.P.?) 
Word of the Day: FAN ART (11D: Some derivative drawings) —
Fan art, or fanart, are artworks created by fans of a work of fiction (generally visual media such as comics, film, television shows, or video games) and derived from a series character or other aspect of that work. As fan labor, fan art refers to artworks that are neither created nor (normally) commissioned or endorsed by the creators of the work from which the fan art derives. // A different, older meaning of the term is used in science fiction fandom, where fan art traditionally describes original (rather than derivative) artwork related to science fiction or fantasy, created by fan artists, and appearing in low- or non-paying publications such as semiprozines or fanzines, and in the art shows of science fiction conventions. The Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist has been given each year since 1967 for artists who create such works. Like the term fan fiction (although to a lesser extent), this traditional meaning is now sometimes confused with the more recent usage described above. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very tough, mainly because of the themers, which refused to give themselves up without a ton of crosses. The wacky clues were often very little help at getting to anything specific, and without the revealer, it's very hard to see any link among the anagrammed words, or any consistency at all in the themers. After finally locking down the first two, I was certain the theme was geographical—what are the odds of having both Iran and French Guiana involved in anagrams in the first two themers, and then having that theme *not* be about geography? Well, those odds are probably incalculable, and anyway, if I'd been paying closer attention, I'd realize that those countries were "involved" in different ways—i.e. one was the anagram itself, the other was anagrammed into something else. Because I was looking for countries, later themers were especially rough. ROLL OF --- had me unable to think of *any word* that could go there, even in the base phrase. ROLL OF ... the dice. That was all my brain kept doing. Plus I wanted whatever that last word was to be an anagram of a country (!).  Plus I don't think of gods of the Pantheon as "ICONS" (had IDOLS for a bit). This is what I mean about the clues being almost no help at getting to the actual answers. The worst case of this was, unfortunately, the revealer clue. A "Trailblazer" just goes, unannounced, and does Big, Important things heretofore unaccomplished. "I'LL GO FIRST" is not something a trailblazer would say. It's what someone in couples therapy would say. It's a banal statement for a quotidian situation and has zip to do with "trailblazing." That said, cluing aside, this theme is kind of amazing (even if it did take me almost two minutes of confused staring before I understood it)—simply move the "I" to the front, get a new word. Nice twist on the anagram-type theme.

The fill is pretty polished. Hard to pull off when you stack *theme* answers right on top of each other like that (I think of this as "Merling," since Merl Reagle stacked themers All The Time in his Sunday puzzles). Look at all the Downs running through those stacks of themers. There's really nothing bad. Nothing even mildly wince-y. This is what I admire, and see so little of—craft and polish. Dedication to the details, and especially to making sure you are sacrificing the rest of the puzzle on the altar of The Theme. It's not that there's No crosswordese in this thing—you can see repeaters hither and YON: PSA, ALI, OLE, ELI, MDI, ELLA). But now that I type even those answers out, the only one I'd try to ditch if I could is MDI. Maybe ENDO-, if possible. In short, there's not much to fault in the the fill. Considering the theme density, that's really quite impressive.

Tough parts:
  • 4D: Many a Trump property (GOLF RESORT) — seems straightfoward enough, but having GOL- coming out of the gate, I wrote in GOLD-PLATED. Later, I had GOLF COURSE (w/ REBOUND in the cross—21A: Public relations pivot (REBRAND))
  • 13A: Goes high (SOARS) — having tried ALDER for 5D: Wood that doesn't burn easily (ASPEN), I went with LEAPS here, and ouch. ALDER and NARC and SLID all confirmed ("confirmed") LEAPS ... until later crosses unconfirmed it.
  • 55A: Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo (CAMP) — ah, video game lingo, the one knowledge sphere there's actually no hope I'll ever master, or get any purchase on whatsoever. I had CAMO. It's a good guess, I think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Letter carrier at Hogwarts / WED 5-24-17 / Initialism whose third initial often isn't true / High airfare season for short / 20th century author famous for her journals

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "... as a plumber?" — ordinary phrases are clued as if they had something to do with a plumber's behavior:

Theme answers:
  • RUNS HOT AND COLD (20A: Vacillates, as a plumber?)
  • ALL TAPPED OUT (26A: Exhausted, as a plumber?)  (I've heard TAPPED OUT on its own, but add the "ALL" and then I've only heard ALL TIRED OUT or ALL TUCKERED OUT)
  • DOWN THE DRAIN (43A: Wasted, to a plumber?)
  • SINKING FEELING (52A: Anxiety, to a plumber?)
Word of the Day: Buddy EBSEN (62A: Actor Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies") —
Christian Ludolf "Buddy" Ebsen (Jr) (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American singer, dancer, author, film, television and character actor, whose career spanned seven decades. He had also appeared as a guest on several talk and variety shows. The SAG-AFTRA records also show him as Frank "Buddy" Ebsen. // Originally a dancer, Ebsen began his long career in films in 1935, beginning with Jack Benny in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Maureen O'Hara in They Met in Argentina (1941) and June Havoc in Sing Your Worries Away (1942). He also danced with child star Shirley Temple in Captain January (1936), released the same year. Cast as the Tin Man in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen fell ill due to the aluminum dust in his makeup and was forced to drop out of the film. In Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), he portrayed Doc Golightly, the much older husband of Audrey Hepburn's character. He also had a successful television career, including playing Davy Crockett's sidekick, George Russell, in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett miniseries (1953–54). But he is best remembered for starring in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971) as Jed Clampett. He also played the title character in the television detective drama Barnaby Jones (1973–1980), also on CBS. Ebsen had a cameo role in the 1993 film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, not as Jed Clampett, but as Barnaby Jones.
• • •

This is a fine puzzle if the year is 1987 ... is it? ... [looks at calendar] ... nope. Corny, tame puns, with mostly dull, well-worn (if not terrible) fill. Not much to say about this one. Themers all involve plumbing-related wordplay. Kind of a narrow definition of what plumbers do. Two answers related to taps, two related to sinks, which means they're all related to sinks, I guess. Nothing about leaks or drips or snakes or ... look, I don't know. What am I, a plumber? I just know these are very safe, not at all outlandish or funny or even interesting answers. The most interesting part of the puzzle, which was also the hardest part of the puzzle, was the SW corner, specifically those two long Downs. They were very tough to pick up—well, tough for me, as I made the mistake of writing ESL in at 40A: Lang. course (ENG.) (it could never have been ESL, of course, since the "L" *stands* for "Lang."). Both GAG WRITER and I'M NOT SURE feel like party-crashers, like they were in a different ballroom, at a much cooler party, and accidentally stumbled into a seminar on tax preparation. Anyway, that anomalous pair of answers, I liked. The rest you can have back.

I've given myself so many lessons on the EPSOM / EPSON / EBSEN distinction, but apparently none of the them have taken. It's the vowel-in-the-fourth-position that's the (primary) problem. EBS-N!? Maybe if I just remember that the P versions take the O and the B takes the E. Maybe? Probably not. STOKERS? That one also took me a while to pick up (41D: Steamship workers). I wasn't AGASP (!), it's just that "steamship" conjures up a whole mess of old-timeyness, and STOKERS wasn't in my mental picture. I don't think I even knew "stoker" was a specific job title. Nothing else about this puzzle caused me too much trouble, and I finished in the same time as yesterday, which was the same time as the day before. Weird week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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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

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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

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