Hit 2017 Jordan Peele thriller / MON 6-26-17 / Given benediction old fashioned way / Turkish pooh-bahs

Monday, June 26, 2017

Constructor: Brian Greer

Relative difficulty: Challenging (30+ seconds over my normal, which is Significant on Monday)

THEME: HARRY / POTTER and THE PHILOSOPHER'S / STONE — anniversary puzzle honoring the debut of the HP series by J.K. ROWLING, whose name is embedded in that center row, across three answers (oh, and DANIEL RADCLIFFE's in there too, for good measure)

Word of the Day: "GET OUT" (13A: Hit 2017 Jordan Peele thriller) —
Get Out is a 2017 American horror film written, co-produced and directed by Jordan Peele, in his directorial debut. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, LaKeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener, and follows a young interracial couple who visit the mysterious estate of the woman's parents. // Get Out premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2017, and was theatrically released in the United States on February 24 by Universal Pictures. The film has grossed $251 million worldwide against its $4.5 million budget and received universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike. (wikipedia)
• • •

This appears to be a debut from this constructor. And I do love HARRY / POTTER (both because I enjoyed the series myself and because of how genuinely important that series was and is to my daughter, who graduates high school next year). So I'm inclined to have affection for this puzzle. And yet ... I can't ignore some of the messier technical details. The fill is rough from the jump and never improves. This is largely because (once again) vaunting ambition got the constructor into jams he just couldn't get out of, and so the grid ends up getting pinned and pasted and paper-clipped together every which way, with material no one would ever use for building anything except in the most desperate of circumstances. I also don't quite get why HARRY and POTTER were hidden like that (not clued in relation to the theme). I imagine the original concept had the theme clue on HARRY, and then someone somewhere got the idea to put it on the "first" (closest to the top) themer. Weirdly, HARRY (67A: Persistently torment) and POTTER (68A: Crafty person at a wheel?) were two of the harder answers to get in this grid. But that's not a problem. The problem is ... it's just weird having him lurking down there, uncredited. And can we talk about the ludicrous letter string (GHIJK)? I mean, it's clear why you felt you needed to do it—consecutive JK is hard to come by—but oof. Your fill is already buckling pretty pad under the weight of the theme. That answer is a laugher, and you don't want a laugher front and center.

There's some great stuff scattered in here. The clue on ALASKAN—mwah! Fantastic. Not Monday by any stretch, but perfect nonetheless (12A: Person in a detached state?). And hurray for the very current clue on "GET OUT," which, unlike most of my friends, I have yet to see. It's streaming now, so it shouldn't be long now. But those were the only two real highlights (besides the considerable highlight of being reminded J.K. ROWLING exists). I was skidding off the road immediately with 1D: Given benediction, the old-fashioned way (BLEST) (!?). Everything about that is Red Flag. Too much gunk up top, with that and ETH and A HOT. Absolutely no reason *that* part of the puzzle should be *that* rough. Down below, roughness makes more sense (more theme-dense by a good margin). AS NEAT = barf. Ditto -IER. ID NO. was ridiculous in that That Number is an SSN and I Know That the Puzzle Bloody Well Knows It (60D: Nine-digit fig. on a Social Security card). How many times in the past quarter century have I written SSN into a puzzle? How many, Lord!? Oh, and EFFS? Eff that. Biggest self-inflicted wound: staring at ST---S for 26A: Units in stables and writing in ... (drum roll) ... STEEDS. The coup de grâce? Putting AVID in right underneath it (37A: Enthusiastic => KEEN). Sigh. Onward!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Second-largest city in Vermont / SUN 6-25-17 / Petroleum byproduct used to make synthetic rubber / Island south of Cyclades / Brenda's twin on Beverly Hills 90210 / Where Sanyo Panasonic are headquartered / Tech company founder Michael

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Cropped" — various crops (!) are "shortened" (into two-letter-per-square chunks) inside the theme answers, with the revealer (VEGETABLE SHORTENING) explaining the gimmick (107A: Canful in a cupboard ... or a hint to parts of six answers in this puzzle):

Theme answers:
  • ASIAN LONG-HORNED (BEET)LE (27A: Tree-damaging pest accidentally introduced to the U.S. in 1996)
  • FOUR (CORN)ERS (44A: Southwest tourist destination)
  • (KALE)IDOSCOPIC (48A: Having a variegated, changing pattern)
  • NATIONAL AR(CHIVES) (68A: Constitution holder)
  • SYMP(TOMATO)LOGY (90A: MCAT subject)
  • COSM(O KRA)MER (93A: "Seinfeld" character)
Word of the Day: Tommy HAAS (56D: Tennis great Tommy) —
Thomas Mario "Tommy" Haas (born 3 April 1978) is a German professional tennis player. He has competed on the ATP Tour since 1996. After breaking into the world top 100 in 1997, and reaching a career-high singles ranking of World No. 2 in May 2002, Haas's career was interrupted by injuries: he has twice dropped out of the world rankings due to being unable to play for twelve months.[1] His first period of injury saw him miss the whole of the 2003 season, and he did not return to the world's top 10 until 2007. He also missed over a year's tennis between February 2010 and June 2011, but has since returned to play on the tour. He returned to World No. 11 in 2013 after reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open for the first time in his career. // Haas has reached the semifinals of the Australian Open three times, and Wimbledon once. He is among a few players to have reached the quarterfinal stage of each of the Grand Slams. He has won 15 career titles in singles, including one Masters tournament(Stuttgart) in 2001, and has a silver medal from the 2000 Summer Olympics. (wikipedia)
• • •

I vaguely remember when shortening came in a can (I'm remembering largish cans of Crisco in the pantry when I was a kid). When I've used it lately, it's come in sticks ... so getting that revealer was a bit tricky. But otherwise, no problems here. At least, not after the gimmick became clear, which didn't take too long. Often with puzzles like this, once you grok the theme, the hunting down of the remaining answers really isn't that much fun, but today I quite liked the vegetable hunt. I had no idea what vegetables were coming up, and at least half the time, they showed up in bonkers (i.e. really unusual) answers like ASIAN LONG-HORNED (BEET)LE (!) and SYMP(TOMATO)LOGY (!). I think a tomato is technically a fruit, but we'll leave that debate to ones pickier than I (you know who you are). Only two things really made me wince, and that was due entirely to their cluing. First, cutesy clues on OBESE now strike me as kind of awful (121A: Like those who really have guts?). Not *offensive* awful, just ... somewhat yucky. Would you tell an OBESE person, "Hey, you're a real *gutsy* person! ... huh? Huh? Get it!?" Probably not. And then there's the clue on NIGEL (22A: British politician Farage). F*** that guy. You wanna *kill* the entertainment, destroy the joy, put that guy in your puzzle. It's like finding mouse poop in your ... well, anywhere. It's mouse poop, basically. There is no other IDI, no other AMIN, but there are sure as f*** other NIGELs, so spare me that racist ********@#$%. Thanks for listening.

I have seen Tommy HAAS in the puzzle several times of late, and since clues keep calling him "great" I imagined he was from the distant past, but no. He's younger than I am by almost a decade. And has never won a major. So ... "great"? Remember, this is a world that contains Serena Williams, so ... "great"? He's clearly very good at tennis. But I feel slightly less bad about not recognizing his name now.

  • 73A: Second-largest city in Vermont (ESSEX) — this is the first I've heard of it. Name recognition has a pretty precipitous drop-off there after Burlington. I was like "... STOWE?"
  • 9D: Often-doubled cry at a play (AUTHOR) — had the "AU-" and wrote in "AUTEUR!" because if the Italians get "Bravo!" then the French should have something ... though I guess they already have "Encore!" 
  • 12D: Former Haitian president Préval (RENÉ) — I somehow mostly remembered this guy's name today. Trivia has a way of Not sticking to my brain, so it's always nice when something takes, or begins to.
  • 29D: Where Sanyo and Panasonic are headquartered (OSA(KA)) — four squares, and I had the "S" ... so I tentatively wrote in ASIA even as I side-eyed the front end of 27-Across...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Von Rothbart's daughter in ballet / SAT 6-24-17 / Running gold medalist Steve / Combination undergarment / Old competitor of bikini bare / One-named singer with 2013 top 5 hit Gentleman / Jazz Fest setting informally / Company with striking footwear

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALAN Bean (19A: Bean in a pod?)
Alan LaVern Bean (born March 15, 1932), (CAPT, USN, Ret.), is an American former naval officer and Naval Aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut; he was the fourth person to walk on the Moon. He was selected to become an astronaut by NASA in 1963 as part of Astronaut Group 3. He made his first flight into space aboard Apollo 12, the second manned mission to land on the Moon, at the age of thirty-seven years in November 1969. He made his second and final flight into space on the Skylab 3 mission in 1973, the second manned mission to the Skylab space station. After retiring from the United States Navy in 1975 and NASA in 1981, he pursued his interest in painting, depicting various space-related scenes and documenting his own experiences in space as well as that of his fellow Apollo program astronauts. (wikipedia) (I guess Bean is in a "pod" because ... space pod? I searched "pod" on the wikipedia page and turned up nothing)
• • •

Fairly clean for a lowish-word-count puzzle, but fairly dull as well. HOPE TO GOD and MALIA OBAMA are sharp, and DEMOLITION DERBY is OK (but not original—this clue is basically recycled from 2001). But the rest just sits there. It was a fine workout, but more routine and lackluster than I expect from a Saturday. The over-reliance on proper nouns is a bit of a drag here. The NE gets particularly bad, with LAALAA next to ERNEST crossing ALAN, right in the same section with the worst cross in the whole puzzle: ODILE / OVETT. That's dire. That's a one-way ticket to Natick for some people, especially considering the relative popularity of the AVETT Brothers. Yikes. Anyway, that section is yuckily name-dense. Rest of the grid doesn't have this same issue, though ESALEN will be rough for youngSTERs (just as ODELAY will be rough for oldSTERs).  LAALAA and LALA in the same grid? With YAYAS? Nah, nah. Make better choices.

I had a rougher-than-usual time with this one, due almost entirely to the wheels coming off in the SE. Looking back, my stuckness doesn't make sense. It's stupid. I should've been much faster. I just Could Not see (or, later, spell) NOXZEMA (35D: Brand once advertised with "Take it off. Take it all off"). I had BELOW ZERO and PARALLELED and FOWL and (tentatively) BOLES, and (more tentatively) NOLA, but ... nope. Stuck. N--ZE-- was staring at me and all I could think of was NETZERO, which seemed unlikely to have had a slogan about "taking it all off." Kept plugging in *correct* answers (MEGA, FORTY, e.g.) but still not seeing things. Turns out I did that thing where I don't look at all the damned clues before behaving as if I'm stuck. Once I looked at 52A: "Love is not ___" ("Tears on My Pillow" lyric), I found I could sing the song (is it in "Grease" somewhere? Not sure how I know it), and so my brain started to sing it ("Love is not a gadget...") and bam, A TOY went in. Then DAY at the end of DAY-TO-DAY; then MEGA. Finally "got it," but "it" was ... NOCZEMA. Which left me with BOCSET for 41A: It might contain a discography). Oy. Another minute or so of befuddlement followed. Then completion.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Baby animal in parable in II Samuel / FRI 6-23-17 / Subject of 1984 mockumentary / Edible seed of pumpkin squash / Verdi opera set in fifth century

Friday, June 23, 2017

Constructor: James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PERCALE (20D: Bedsheet material) —
noun: percale
  1. a closely woven fine cotton or polyester fabric used especially for sheets. (google)
• • •

Expected something a little showier here, but all in all it's decent and clean. The long Acrosses don't really sing, though I do like the juxtaposition in the north, i.e. the idea of someone (I assume drunkenly) twirling in SWEAT PANTS while asking "HOW DO I LOOK?" I finished in just over 6. I don't know if the puzzle was easier or harder or exactly as hard as I rated it because I was aided somewhat in the NW, and mightily in the SE, by that niche knowledge I have only because I solve a ton of crosswords, i.e. by crosswordese. I got a superfast start by guessing AMMO right out of the box (1A: They may make the rounds) and then confirming it with (drum roll) ARNESS! (crosswordese the first) (1D: "Gunsmoke" actor James). And then at the end, in the SE corner, I just had blank space below SPINAL TAP, and got a little panicky. Then I tried ATTILA (42D: Verdi opera set in the fifth century). Now I know squat about opera, and I know zero about ATTILA, but something about the clue jogged the answer loose. I didn't trust it At All, but after stumbling with PHOTON instead of PHASER at 43D: Particle beam weapon, I could see it was all going to work out. Shoulda been able to get GARTH from just the "G"; shoulda been able to get PEPITA from the "PE-" ... but shoulda woulda coulda didn't. ATTILA to the rescue.

Other trouble spots:
  • Wanted MU SHU at 2D: Kind of pork, but saw the number of squares and wrote in MOO ... SHO :(
  • Had the "B" at the end of 7D: Baby animal in a parable in II Samuel and wrote in BEAR CUB
  • Wanted THE KEYS instead of CAR KEYS for some reason (35A: Request to Dad, perhaps)
  • Could remember only ASNER and ZOOEY DESCHANEL as Ferrell co-stars in "Elf" 
  • Could picture SLUGGO perfectly in my head (I own two fat volumes of "Nancy" comics) but for some reason his name eluded me and it came out BLUTTO (39D: Nancy's friend in the comics). 
  • TEST SCORES is boring and annoying because when I had ___ SCORES, I expected something specific. I wrote in PSAT, knowing full well no one puts those on their actual applications (do they?)
  • 34D: Arm that's tucked away (COVE) — just brutal. Way harder than anything else in the puzzle.
  • DRAT for CRUD (48A: "Oh, darn!")
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Japanese chess / THU 6-22-17 / Balaam's talking beast / Katniss's partner in Hunger Games / Prison guarded by Dementors /

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Constructor: Ruth B. Margolin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: EYESEEEYE — phrases following pattern "___ [body part] to [body part]" are represented in the grid with the "___" part literally between the [body part]s:

Theme answers:
  • HANDPASSHAND (pass from hand to hand) (20A: Transfer, as in a bucket brigade)
  • EARSMILEEAR (smile from ear to ear) (33A: Grin broadly) (I think "grin from ear to ear" is the more common phrase, but this is acceptable)
  • TOESTANDTOE (stand toe to toe) (40A: Confront one another head-on)
  •  FACEMEETFACE (meet face to face) (50A: Rendezvous)
Word of the Day: TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores)
noun: tidal bore; plural noun: tidal bores
  1. a large wave caused by the funneling of a flood tide as it enters a long, narrow, shallow inlet. (google)
• • •

Jet. Lag. Jetlag. Why didn't I get someone to cover today? Dunno. But here I am after west-to-east travel that got me home around 1 a.m. this morning and now it's some other a.m.  this morning and I'm solving and writing. It's fun. So I'd like to thank Ms. Margolin for lobbing a softball this morning—one that took me something like the usual amount of time, but that I knew was easier than usual. The basic concept is simple but effective, and was very easy to pick up. And then once you pick it up, it had the same advantage palindromic themes have, in that if I got one end, I could fill in the other immediately. Again, my tired brain and body thank you, Ms. Margolin. The puzzle was probably more interesting in the fill than in the theme, where OUTDOORSY and AZKABAN were both genuine pleasures, the clue on SIGH gave my weary brain a slap in the face (1D: Heaved "ho"?), and AAAMAP (25D: TripTike, e.g.) provided sufficient visual weirdness.

This puzzle would've been "Easy" even for sluggish me if I'd ever (ever) head of a TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores). Add to my never-heard-of-it the fact that it had a ruthlessly tricky clue, and then add in the fact that I got NICEAN instantly (and spelled it thusly) (29D: Christians' ___ Creed) and that little inch-wide section in the SW explains almost all my "difficulty" today. Proud to have remembered EILAT even if I had to leave the last vowel blank because of non-remembering. Had ILLS for AILS but there's no shame there (53D: Troubles). [Book of the Bible after Amos] is a pretty hilarious clue for me, in that it supposes that I have any idea where Amos is (OBADIAH). There are three "IN"s in this grid, but that doesn't really bug me. Today, I'm just happy to be here, at my good old desk with my good old writing set-up, even if I do have a good old travel headache. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. CHEEKDANCECHEEK would've made a Very cool 15.

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Some native Nigerians / WED 6-21-17 / Insect made of paper / Pitchfork-wielding assemblage / Covered with sludge / Hip-hop pal / Component not found on digital watch

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (easy theme, but the fill / cluing ... MUCKY)

THEME: BUTTERFLY (35A: Word that must be added to 1-, 8-, 65- and 66-Across to make sense [with a visual hint in the grid] — put "BUTTERFLY" before the corner Acrosses. I guess those four black double-L formations are visual representations of the insect in question:

Theme answers:
  • ORIGAMI (1A: Insect made of paper)
  • MADAME (8A: Puccini opera)
  • SOCIAL (65A: One going from party to party)
  • MONARCH (66A: Orange, black and white flutterer) 
Word of the Day: IBOS (54A: Some native Nigerians)
The Igbo people (English: /ˈɪɡb/; erroneously Ibo, formerly also Iboe, Ebo, Eboe, Eboans, Heebo; natively Ṇ́dị́ Ìgbò [ìɡ͡bò][citation needed]) are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

I knew as soon as I opened this that the black squares were gonna be some element in the theme, but lord knows what. I saw a bunch of "L"s. Then moths kissing. Shrug. Once I got that central element, then the puzzle got very easy (all of the themers, transparent), but there was enough rough / odd fill and iffy cluing to make the puzzle somewhat harder, overall, than an average Wednesday. The theme just doesn't come off very well. The visual is a little weak, and the four corner answers are ... I don't know, not much of a revelation. ORIGAMI feels like a stretch. Butterfly isn't a shape I readily associate with that art form (unlike, say, the crane). And it's just a paper version of the "insect" in the MONARCH clue, so there's not a lot of variety. I guess there aren't that many words that can precede "BUTTERFLY" comfortably. Maybe that's a sign. Sometimes you have to a let an intriguing idea go instead of forcing it.

Speaking of forcing it, ENDWAYS! AT ONE GO! These are awkward, uncurrent phrases. IBOS is old-school crosswordese (and now apparently very much the non-preferred term—IGBOS is gonna be harder to shoehorn into grids). If you're gonna use ITGUY, then your clue should indicate gender. [PC problem solver] has nothing "guy" about it. [Hip-hop pal] is jarring. The "pal" part really ... doesn't nail it. Something tonally off-sounding. Very MUCKY (btw, wtf?). The entire center area could be soooo much cleaner, without that much effort. ON DATES was awkward, UHS was awkward, RAINHAT is always awkward, RAYOVAC ... is a brand, but one I never see. ICE COLD is a great answer, but I wasn't a big fan of the clue (17A: Phase in beer ads). Clue on MACK was just fine (19A: Vehicle company with a bulldog logo), but I botched it bad: four letters, starting in "M" — I went with MINI. In my defense, well, this ad, for starters:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hill that's steep on one side gentle on other / TUE 6-20-17 / Southern region where blues developed / Pilgrimage site in central italy / Roamer of Serengeti / Like group you're in if you're out

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: AIRPORT TERMINALS (55A: Arrival and departure locales hinted at by 17-, 21- and 50-Across) — final words in the three themers are all airlines:

Theme answers:
  • MANCHESTER UNITED (17A: One of the premier clubs in the Premier League)
  • MISSISSIPPI DELTA (21A: Southern region where blues developed)
  • SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST (50A: Annual Austin festival)
Word of the Day: CUESTA (47A: Hill that's steep on one side and gentle on the other) —
A cuesta is a hill or ridge with a gentle slope on one side, and a steep slope on the other. In geology the term is more specifically applied to a ridge where a harder sedimentary rock overlies a softer layer, the whole being tilted somewhat from the horizontal. This results in a long and gentle backslope called a dip slope that conforms with the dip of resistant strata, called caprock. Where erosion has exposed the frontslope of this, a steep slope or escarpment occurs. The resulting terrain may be called scarpland. (wikipedia)
• • •

The one and only thing I like about this puzzle is that it looks interesting. 16-wide, with those ridiculous 11-letter non-theme Acrosses riding shotgun with the top and bottom themers? Bonkers. Oh, and KICKS BUTT is kinda fun. But besides that, this thing was deeply unpleasant. I'll start with the theme, which is just a bloated last-words theme. The revealer fails twice, first by being a really booooring entry, and second by being ... not really what ... those last words are. Those are airlines. They may have their own "terminals." Or they may not. Theme answers themselves are fine, but the revealer was kind of a letdown. And then there's Maude! I mean, the fill (and cluing). Hoo boy. Here we come to the Downside of the puzzle's "interesting" look. Those 11-letter Acrosses abutting the grid-spanning themers make for a ****ton of cruddy short fill in the crosses. INA SSN OPE (ugh) TRA EDA SYS TEMAS (double ugh). Things get rough in other places too: ACHOO TWPS (ugh ugh ugh) INTWO NCIS—that's a pretty section. My favorite*, though, was AKEY crossing CUESTA. That was my last square. I hate riddles. I hate bad fill. AKEY is an answer to a riddle, and it is also bad fill. CUESTA was just a thing I've never heard of that clearly doesn't belong in a Tuesday. I saw "hill" in the clue and thought "CREST ... A?" Oy.

I don't like the clue on LGBT (40D: Like the group you're in if you're out, for short), as it seems to imply that being "out" is a precondition of being L or G or B or T. Now it doesn't say "*only* if you are out," so I guess you can lawyer that clue into being technically accurate, but it feels off, and all for the sake of wordplay (in/out) that isn't even that good. The clue did get some pretty high-power defense when I complained about it last night, though:

Ben and Andy are certainly right, but I still think the use of the conditional in the clue is lazy and confusing. In frustration, I'm gonna go punch IDEATE in the face (12D: Conceptualize). I'm just tired of looking at it, is all. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Doll-making tribe of Southwest / MON 6-19-17 / Heroine of Jean Auel's Clan of Cave Bear / Desserts with layered fruits whipped cream

Monday, June 19, 2017

Constructor: Susan Gelfand

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (theme type, incl. its complete reliance on proper noun knowledge, made this slightly tougher than the average Monday)

THEME: DUETS (37A: Performances by two singers ... like 21- and 49- Across and 3- and 29-Down) — familiar phrases are clued as if they were two singers:

Theme answers:
  • PAGE TURNER (3D: Singers Patti and Tina?)
  • ROTTEN APPLE (21A: Singers Johnny and Fiona?)
  • URBAN LEGEND (49A: Singers Keith and John?)
  • KELLY GREEN (29D: Singers Tori and Al?) 
Word of the Day: Tori Kelly (of KELLYGREEN (29D: Singers Tori and Al?)) —
Victoria Loren "Tori" Kelly (born December 14, 1992) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer and voice actress who slowly gained recognition after starting to post videos on YouTube at the age of 14. When she was 16, Kelly auditioned for the singing competition television series American Idol. After being eliminated from the show, Kelly began to work on her own music. In 2012, she independently released her first EP that she produced, wrote, and mixed herself, titled Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly. The following year, Scooter Braun became her manager after seeing her videos on YouTube and introduced her to Capitol Records, with whom she signed in September. Kelly's second EP Foreword came out in October 2013 as her first major label release. On June 23, 2015, Kelly's debut album, Unbreakable Smile, was released. The lead single, "Nobody Love", was released in the spring and became her first US Billboard Hot 100 appearance. Kelly was nominated for Best New Artist at the 58th Grammy Awards. She voiced a shy teenage elephant named Meena in the 2016 animated film Sing. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a nice theme concept, though I think it's more a Tuesday or (with tougher cluing throughout) Wednesday concept. The "?" clues are tricky, and I had to fill in at least some of every theme answer from crosses before I had any chance at getting it. [Singers Keith and John?]??? Give me that out of context, and I'm gonna be like "uh ... SWEAT ELTON?" And I've never ever Ever heard of Tori Green. I mean, never. I see where she got a Best New Artist Grammy nomination recently, but ... she ain't close to Monday-famous. No major awards, no major hits (her highest charting song hit only #51??) ... just no. I mean, all best wishes, but right now, nah. I recognize only one "Singer Tori," and her last name isn't Green.

Fill is not bad. I'd've tried to get rid of phrase parts like VOOM and THEM'S and LEONE, foreign crosswordese like ÉTÉ and plural TÊTES, and lastly AYLA, which, ugh, no, nails on chalkboard. That is pure, uncut crosswordese: a weird four-letter fictional name that isn't well known. This isn't like EYRE or AHAB or IAGO. AYLA should retire to the Island of Crossword Has-Beens and stay there except in case of real crossword emergencies. She can take care of ASTA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Popular rapper with feline-sounding name / SUN 6-18-17 / Neutrogena dandruff shampoo / Asian plumlike fruit / Up for paradoxically / Onetime rap moniker / Intoxicating polynesian drink

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Normal

THEME: "Silent Treatment" — familiar phrases clued as if their silent letters didn't exist. Silent letters (in circles) spell out KNIGHT (so ... per the title ... Silent "(K)Night" ... which has like three silent letters in it, actually ... but ... I don't know; I think that's the theme)

Theme answers:
  • DOUBLE (K)NOTS (23A: Reversals of reversals in sentences?)
  • GIVES A DAM(N) (41A: Donates shelter to some beavers?)
  • RENAISSANCE FA(I)RE (57A: Soup, black bread and, for the wealthy, meat?)
  • REI(G)NING MONARCHS (81A: Kings and queens bringing their steeds to a halt?)
  • AFTER (H)OURS (98A: "Excuse me, but my partner's and my kids go first!")
  • TARO(T) SPREAD (119A: Feast consisting entirely of Hawaiian foodstuffs?)
Word of the Day: TYGA (30D: Popular rapper with a feline-sounding name) —
Micheal Ray Stevenson (born November 19, 1989), known by his stage name Tyga (a backronym for Thank you God always), is an American rapper. In 2011, Tyga signed a recording contract with Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records and Republic Records (formerly Universal Republic Records). His major label debut Careless World: Rise of the Last King, includes the singles "Rack City", "Faded" featuring fellow Young Money artist Lil Wayne, "Far Away" featuring Chris Richardson, "Still Got It" featuring Drake, and "Make It Nasty". He released his third album Hotel California, on April 9, 2013, and includes the singles "Dope" featuring Rick Ross, "For The Road" featuring Chris Brown, and "Show You" featuring Future. (wikipedia)
• • •

The basic gimmick here is super duper basic and old. Words have silent letters ... yup, they sure do. So the only "joy" is the wackiness of the clues, which are not very funny, as written. So it's a bit of a dud. Then I thought, well, the circled letters must do something ... and they do. They do spell KNIGHT. Which (I guess?) relates to the title ("Silent Treatment"), in that the puzzle has a silent, if not a holy, KNIGHT in it. OK. It's just ... weird, because the waters are all muddied by the fact that the *word* "KNIGHT" itself has A Bunch of silent letters in it, not just the "K." Also, even though the "k" in "knight" is silent, technically ... in the context of the puzzle ... *every* letter in "knight" is silent. So it's just ... loose and unclear, concept-wise. A puzzle's gimmick / theme / revealer / whatever should *snap* into place. Boom. Pow. There it is. No questions. No loose ends. This theme wasn't that strong to begin with, in its bones, and then the added spelling-"knight" bit, rather than clarifying matters, only raised more questions about what, exactly, the puzzle was trying to do.

Also the puzzle got a little cute in the fill, perhaps because it was trying to make up for a pretty anemic theme, with only six themers in play. Scrabble-f***ing gets you the ludicrous AQUACAR (?) / LOQUAT crossing in the NW and the less explicable DR. OZ / ZETA crossing in the SW. DROP / PETA is better if only because the cluing options for DROP are so much more numerous. You can go thousands of ways with DROP, but only one kinda icky way with the celeb doc. It's patchy, this grid. There's the SNOOP LION / ANTI / TYGA patch in the north, which I kinda like, but which will be very rough for you if you don't follow contemporary R&B/hip-hop music. Then there's the is-this-a-parody-of-bad-crosswords patch in the east, where things break down something awful. TGEL (62A: Neutrogena dandruff shampoo) (what ... is that? whatever it is, it's not good fill), crossing GOT A C (so bad it's almost good but not quite) and the dreaded E-CASH (64D: Digital currency). The puzzle on the whole isn't terrible, but it just never quite found its footing, never quite came together, and was far too ... yeah, patchy, in the end, to be very enjoyable.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. what is a TAROT SPREAD? I have never heard of that? Is that what it's called when the tarot card leader lays out your ... cards? To read? Familiarity-wise, that answer seems like a major outlier.

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Rows / SAT 6-17-17 / Uncut / Flow / Friends / Believe

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Constructor: Ryan McCarty

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: SEMIBREVE (26A: Whole note, to a Brit) —
In music, a whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head and no note stem. Its length is equal to four beats in 4
time, that is the whole 4
measure (or bar). Most other notes are fractions of the whole note (e.g., half notes and quarter notes are played for one half and one quarter the duration of the whole note, respectively).

The symbol is first found in music notation from the late thirteenth century, and its British name derives from the semibrevis of mensural notation, which is the origin of the British name. The whole note and whole rest may also be used in music of free rhythm, such as Anglican chant, to denote a whole measure. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Can I PIG IT? Everyone say "yes you can!" Lena here, covering for Rex on this debut puzzle by Ryan McCarty. I don't see a lot of Saturday debuts-- it's my favorite day of the puzzling week and I'm a tough customer when it comes to themeless fare. Also when I'm blogging a puzzle for Rex everything takes me like 50 times longer than it does him, and so when the puzz drops at 10pm I know I'm in for a long, and potentially cranky, night.

As themelesses go this one is not terribly sparkling in terms of the overall fill, but the marquee/seed entry, SCHUYLER SISTERS (33A: Sibling trio in "Hamilton") is certainly a modern-day crowd pleaser. Sometimes it's nice to drop in a grid-spanning answer like that with few/no crosses. Maybe you look around to see if anyone saw you just totally own the longest answer in the hardest puzzle of the week.

My solve started at 1D (French anise-flavored liqueur) with the declaration "It's either PERNOD or PASTIS" and confirmation of the latter by incorrectly filling in TIFFS for 19A (Rows) and its correct-yet-incorrect T. Oops. TIFFS also allowed for ENTIRE (2D: Uncut), and so before I knew it I had a wrong answer locked in. I think it stayed in there for a while, too-- I seem to recall ending in the NW and realizing my mistake through TOURNIQUET (4D: Flow stopper, of a sort).

Someone told me that I need to crawl out from under my rock and watch "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." I barely made it through one. Her voice is the vinegar that curdles the show. And that's just one of the problems I have with it. Anyway I dissed the show and now I've got the star's full name stabbing straight down the middle of the grid-- this is the kind of cosmic revenge I can get down with. ELLIE KEMPER (14D: Title actress on Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") was ELSIE KEMP_R for a bit because I didn't know LIDA ROSE (20A: Barbershop staple from "The Music Man") and couldn't remember Ms. EDERLE (46A: Channel swimmer Gertrude). 

Although the fill didn't particularly dazzle me I did find myself enjoying many of the clues. I wanted 25D (Goes for the bronze?) to be ORES so bad because crosswords (you get what I'm saying here, right Crossworld? Those "wait what, you can verb that word?" answers), but I do like the actual clue/answer (SUNS). I also have a masochistic love for those nasty little one-word clues like 3D (Flow), 30A (Friends), and of course the devilish 19A (Rows). They keep me on my toes. Oh yeah, and (Meal maker?) for PESTLE is an excellent clue-- exactly how I like my question markies.

Imagining DANES waging war, fighting for territory, to become the (Builders of the original Legoland) cracked me up. 

The tortured plural STASES (57A: Equilibria) and the tortuered partial ILIE (37A: "Would ___?) did not crack me up. I have burned down almost-complete grids for less ugly fill, and if I were trying to get a puzzle in the NYT I wouldn't have even considered it. And I wouldn't have been terribly attached to the content of that corner-- IONIAN, QUINTE and HISPANIA are not the kind of answers I would be sad to lose. 

Overall a pretty smooth and ultimately pleasant debut themeless. Not too easy, not too hard. Just right for piggin' it. 

P.S. Fun fact: if you accidentally highlight text in Blogger you cannot make it go away. I tried, but ultimately just picked the closest color to the background because, like I said, I'm piggin' it.

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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Old baseball mascot with C on his cap / FRI 6-16-17 / French philosopher who wrote Reflections on Violence / Popular nail polish brand / School once headed by Mies van der rohe / Always one of kind sloganeer / Potent pot component for short

Friday, June 16, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium (felt very hard at first, but in the end, my time was only just a tad north of normal)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EVA Green (30D: Green on the silver screen) —
Eva Gaëlle Green (French: [ɡʁin]; Swedish: [ˈɡɾeːn] born 6 July 1980) is a French actress and model. She started her career in theatre before making her film debut in 2003 in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Dreamers. She achieved international recognition when she appeared as Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem in Ridley Scott's historical epic Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and portrayed Bond girl Vesper Lynd in the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006). In 2006, Green was awarded the BAFTA Rising Star Award. // Since 2006, Green has starred in independent films Cracks (2009), Womb (2010), and Perfect Sense (2011). She has also appeared in the television series Camelot (2011), and played Angelique Bouchard in Tim Burton's big-screen adaptation of Dark Shadows (2012). In 2014, she played Artemisia in the 300 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), and Ava Lord in Frank Miller's and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). She also starred as Vanessa Ives in Showtime's horror drama Penny Dreadful (2014–16). Her performance in the series earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards. In 2016, she played the titular character in Tim Burton's fantasy film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. (wikipedia)
• • •

Brutal, brutal beginning, and then ... I dunno, guess things picked up, because I finished somewhere in the 7s, which is pretty normal. Oh, and daughter tried to talk to me mid-solve, and I *tried* to listen w/o telling her to buzz off, so ... even with that added level of difficulty, I still came in with a normal time. But to start, nothing, but nothing would work. Nothing. Tried ONIONS at 1A: Alternatives to olives (TWISTS) and it didn't get prettier from there. At least I had the cocktail part right. What's weird—we love our martinis and we *only* ever order them with TWISTS. So ... yeah, I think that counts as "ironic." Who is SOREL? I Do Not Know (6D: French philosopher who wrote "Reflections on Violence"). That hurt. Edward SOREL is a fantastic cartoonist; if you have to use SOREL, why not him? This French guy is Saturday, not Friday. But no matter. Had SATIRE instead of TRACTS (ugh, what a terrible, general, not-particularly-Swiftian answer) (1D: Swift writings). Is "center" really ever abbreviated CTR. in arena names? Yikes. AS AM I before SO DO I, 'cause... how would you know? (25A: "That makes two of us") And you can see, I'm not even out of the NW yet. As I say: brutal.

NE got me ATTN and THC, but zero thereafter. I somehow got a grip with TESH (how embarrassing) somehow, with the assumed "S" (at the end of 35A: Toaster components), I got SASHIMI at 37D: Dish often garnished with white radish. From there, I was able finally to get some traction (despite the mysterious, haven't-heard-the-name-since-childhood CHINET (43D: Big namein disposable tableware)), and after I got past the absurd MR. RED (MR. MET's weird cousin no one likes to talk about?) and the ugh-groan clue on FIRST (28D: Who's there) (took me many seconds of thinking to see how that was right), the puzzle all of a sudden opened up, and there wasn't much struggle thereafter. Weird how just a little momentum can send you barreling through a grid that 30 seconds earlier had been totally impenetrable. There ended up being many fine answers in this grid (incl. SOCIAL MEDIA and GENDER FLUID–which has been in the NYT before). My solve was just rough, and some of the cluing seemed rough (both as in "hard" and as in "yuck"). The BATTED clue is irking me no end (7A: Went for a run). I *assume* the context is baseball ... and no. You're trying to get on base. You're mostly trying not to make an out. Yes, you might "go for" (awk!) a "run," and I see what you're trying to do there with the misdirection, but the whole thing just ignores the actuality of baseball too much. The clue caused me actual pain. Not LEGIT, imho.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I'm seeing people post re: their fast times, so my initial struggles could easily have been a personal anomaly.

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Former Cleveland Orchestra conductor George / THU 6-15-17 / European sister brand of buick / Old beer with ad line from land of sky blue waters / 2000s Japanese P.m. / Suisse sweetheart

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Constructor: Richard F. Mausser

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "THE DIRTY DOZEN" (53A: Hit movie released on June 15, 1967 ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — twelve different answers (w/ asterisked clues) must be preceded by "DIRTY" to make sense

Theme answers:
  • JOKE 
  • JOB
  • LIAR
  • RAT
  • WORK 
  • LOOK
  • TRICK 
Word of the Day: OJAI (61A: California tourist destination) —
Ojai (/ˈh/ OH-hy) is a city in Ventura County in the U.S. state of California. Located in the Ojai Valley, it is northwest of Los Angeles and east of Santa Barbara. The valley is about 10 miles (16 km) long by 3 miles (5 km) wide, surrounded by hills and mountains. The population was 7,461 at the 2010 census, down from 7,862 at the 2000 census. // Ojai is a tourism destination with boutique hotels and recreation opportunities including hiking, and spiritual retreats, as well as for a farmers' market on Sundays with local organic agriculture. It also has small businesses specializing in local and ecologically friendly art, design, and home improvement—such as galleries and a solar power company. Chain stores (other than a few gas stations) are prohibited by Ojai city law to encourage local small business development and keep the town unique.  // The origin of the name Ojai has historically been known as derived from a Native American word meaning nest. The city's self-styled nickname is "Shangri-La" referencing the natural beauty of this health-and-spirituality-focused region. While there are no known references, it is commonly claimed that the mountains visible from the city were used, but then cut, from the 1937 movie as the mystical sanctuary of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. (wikipedia)

• • •

It's an anniversary puzzle that actually appears on the right day, so that's something. Also, the mirror symmetry grid looks kinda cool. Beyond that, I don't know. It's clean enough, and there are some OK answers here and there, but this gimmick was transparent, and it made the puzzle overall way too easy. The only interesting part was the revealer, which provided an answer to the annoyed question I was asking in my head from about 5 seconds in until I finished: "Why is this happening!?" I got the "dirty" angle before I ever even got out of the teeny NW corner. I thought there'd be other words involved somehow, but no: "dirty" just kept coming. Made all the asterisked clues a cinch to get. I finished in under 4 (!?), which is about where I was Tuesday, and a good half minute faster than yesterday. I like this better than I would a puzzle where LORETTA'S WIT is a theme answer, but honestly that's not saying much.

I would tell you where I struggled, but I didn't. I held back writing in a few things to make sure the crosses checked out, and I balked at least once at writing in IDEATE, despite the fact that it's the first thing I considered (37A: Brainstorm). I think of the clue as a noun, but of course it can also be a verb. Only place I can imagine someone's having trouble is maybe in the SZELL / LPNS section (i.e. the SE). Nope, wait—my wife just came in and told me her error. She'd never heard of HAMM'S (5A: Old beer with the ad line "From the land of sky blue waters"), so she guessed TAMM'S, thinking (re: 5D: Giggle), "Well, that's a really stupid way to spell TEEHEE, but OK ..." To be fair, the correct answer is also a really stupid way to spell HEE HEE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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