Devon cathedral city / TUE 1-31-17 / Hilarity in Internet-speak / Seinfeld stock character / Sean who played Mikey in Goonies / Pope who excommunicated Martin Luther / Item that might be wanted fervently by prisoner

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Constructor: Neil Padrick Wilson

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (somewhat north of my normal Tuesday time)


THEME: IN A BOTTLE (61A: Words that can follow the ends of the answers to the starred clues) — what it says:

Theme answers:
  • CARGO SHIP (18A: *Vessel with a  large hold)
  • QUALITY TIME (23A: *What a family spends together at the dinner table) (big assumption)
  • FORKED LIGHTNING (whatever that is) (38A: *Branches in a storm?)
  • TEXT MESSAGE (55A: *Its arrival may be signaled by a ding) (you're thinking microwave oven)
Word of the Day: Channing FRYE (43A: 6'11" Channing of the N.B.A.) —
Channing Thomas Frye (born May 17, 1983) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The 6'11" power forwardcenter played college basketball for the University of Arizona. He was drafted eighth overall by the New York Knicks in the 2005 NBA draft, and was the first college senior to be selected in that draft. He has previously played for the Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, and Orlando Magic. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was brutal, as my wife can attest, as I could hear her laughing from the next room at my groans and profanity. Let's leave aside the fact that I have no idea what FORKED LIGHTNING is. None. That "K" was the last letter, and there were a few seconds in there where I thought "O my god I'm going to get Naticked on a Tuesday" (I may even have said this out loud, hang on ... wife says yes, I did). Also, SIR BARTON!?!? But whatevs, let's say those are Greeeeat answers and get to the two big problems. First, the theme. IN A BOTTLE!? Revealers can't just be random phrases. That phrase can't stand alone. I did something like this once with an ALL IN revealer, but ALL IN is a stand-alone phrase, and in my puzzle it preceded a lot of other phrases, not just the first / last word. IN A BOTTLE is a very weak revealer, and the whole theme feels like an interesting concept that got destroyed on execution. But the (much) bigger problem was the fill. I wasn't out of the NW before I was saying "Oh, no, this is gonna be bad." When you can't get out of a corner on a *Tuesday* without ABU and Dan bleeping ISSEL, yikes. And I knew ISSEL. I remember him from my childhood. But no. No. And it got worse from there. Eventually, the number of non-word / abbr.-words got downright comical. INCOG *and* COHAB!? What is happening? AGAZE? O, man, no.


Bullets:
  • Channing FRYE — unless you are a pretty serious basketball fan, you don't know who that is
  • LOLZ — I thought "lulz" was the preferred ... plural? 
  • LE OX — it goes in Le YOKE
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Venerable London theater / MON 1-30-17 / Summer in soissons / Card with two pips / Items on Indian necklace / Whirrer on muggy day

Monday, January 30, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Average Normal Everyday Monday time (in the 2:50s)


THEME: MALE LEADS (57A: Certain Hollywood stars ... or an apt title for this puzzle) — answers begin ("lead") with MALE animals:

Theme answers:
  • STAGNATED (18A: Got stuck in a rut)
  • COCKTAIL HOUR (20A: Time before dinner for socializing)
  • BULLETPROOF VEST (37A: Protection for a police officer)
  • BUCKEYE STATE (53A: Ohio's nickname) 
Word of the Day: OLD VIC (24A: Venerable London theater) —
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, and renamed in 1833 the Royal Victoria Theatre, in 1871 it was rebuilt and reopened as the Royal Victoria Palace. It was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 and formally named the Royal Victoria Hall, although by this time it was already known as the "Old Vic". In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian Baylis assumed management and began a series of Shakespeare productions in 1914. The building was damaged in 1940 during air raids and it became a Grade II* listed building in 1951 after it reopened. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is in many ways an elegant puzzle. Reminded me of some of the best Mondays I've done: smart, simple, clean. Lynn Lempel-esque. And there's very little way in the way of junk fill, which so often mucks up early-week puzzles. So it's a definite thumbs-up today. One minor but noteworthy issue with the theme: STAG and BUCK are not only the same animal, one (the former) is really a subset of the other (the latter). Stags are just big bucks ("buck" referring to any adult male deer). To have only four "males" and then have half of those be the same animal, that's a bit of a glitch. Would've been cooler to be able to spread the theme more widely across the animal kingdom, but that might simply not have been possible. Actually, RAM-. That would've worked, right? I mean, very few things start with DRAKE- or STALLION-, but RAM-. Or BOAR-? BOARD-CERTIFIED!? I'd've ditched STAG, is what I'm saying. Still a lovely little puzzle, but thematically perhaps not as ambitious / exacting as it ought to have been.


Don't like LIE TESTS at all (33A: Polygraphs).  They are called "lie-detector tests." They are not called anything else. Also, the (much more) common phrase is EPIC FAIL. No -URE (3D: Huge blunder). I fear these answers came from some bloated but not very discriminating wordlist. Oh well, I guess if the upshot of that wordlist is that the grid comes out overwhelmingly clean, I should be grateful. I had no real trouble today, though I did go with THE VIC (?) instead of OLD VIC at first (24A: Venerable London theater). If it's a London theater, shouldn't it be a "theatre"? One other mistake was writing in MARX for 54D: Marx who wasn't one of the Marx Brothers (KARL). Yeah, yeah, I know. I know.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Famed Broadway restaurateur / SUN 1-29-17 / Linc's portrayer in 1999's Mod Squad / Composer Max who was called father of film music / Last mustachioed president

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Constructor: Jim Hyres and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Normal / Medium



THEME: "Hit the Deck" — a visual representation of "TWENTY-ONE" (i.e. Blackjack) (69A: Game depicted in the circled squares) with imagined PLAYER hand on left side (1A: One side of a  69-Across showdown) and DEALER hand on right (14A: Other side of the showdown), with the PLAYER hitting twenty-one ("I WIN") (123A: 1-Across's cry) and the dealer going BUST.

Word of the Day: Max STEINER (87D: Composer Max who was called "the father of film music") —
Maximilian Raoul "Max" Steiner (May 10, 1888 – December 28, 1971) was an Austrian-born American music composer for theatre and films. He was a child prodigy who conducted his first operetta when he was twelve and became a full-time professional, either composing, arranging, or conducting, when he was fifteen. [...] Steiner composed over 300 film scores with RKO Pictures and Warner Bros., and was nominated for 24 Academy Awards, winning three: The Informer (1935); Now, Voyager (1942); and Since You Went Away (1944). Besides his Oscar-winning scores, some of Steiner's popular works include King Kong (1933), Little Women (1933), Jezebel (1938), Casablanca (1942), The Searchers (1956), A Summer Place (1959), and Gone with the Wind (1939), the film score for which he is best known. // He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score to Life with Father. Steiner was a frequent collaborator with some of the most famous film directors in history, including Michael Curtiz, John Ford, and William Wyler, and scored many of the films with Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred Astaire. A lot of his film scores are available as separate soundtrack recordings. (wikipedia)
• • •


Hard to concentrate on / care about this puzzle right now, with immigrant families being literally torn apart as I write. Yep, that's blackjack ... there it is. PLAYER v DEALER, I WIN v. BUST ... cute. Shrug. Even if I weren't depressed at the thought of living in a racist police state for four more years, I don't think this puzzle would've amused me much. Buncha face card / numbers in circled squares ... I'd hardly call those proper theme answers. It seems like a pleasant enough diversion, but pretty old-fashioned and largely boring. Some of the fill was irksome, but mostly it was serviceable. It's "Gimme five!" not "GIVE ME FIVE" (which is what aliens say, with perfect enunciation, when imitating human life forms). GRAU is OFFAL. But the worst is SUM TO. I have no idea how that's even used. Does it mean "come to," as in "add up to"? Blargh, IMO.

[SKA BAND]

Circled squares made "themers" easier, but the N and ENE sections of the puzzle were really hard for me, so the whole thing evened out to average difficulty. LOB, OMAR EPPS, and TVSPOT were all really hard for me to see, and so were TOOL BAR and VAMOOSE (without the "TV" part of TVSPOT, very hard to see the long Acrosses up there). And then the SUMTO (ugh) DAY TRADER part was also really hard for me. Lots and lots of methodical hacking in those parts to get them to work out. The rest flew by pretty easily.

Bullets:
  • 54A: Jane Rochester, nee ___ (EYRE) — guess who's back? Back again. (See yesterday's puzzle) (Charlotte Brontë wrote "Jane EYRE" under the pen name Currer Bell ... but you knew that)
  • 101D: City that's home to the Firestone Country Club (AKRON) — forgot about their association with rubber. Kept thinking of Flintstones.
  • 88A: Investment seminar catchphrase (CASH IS KING) — ??? This has some specific context of which I am unaware. Wikipedia entry on it is murky and mentions "investment seminars" not at all.
  • 57A: Matchmaker of myth (EROS) — this makes him sound more like a dating service. He hardly puts happy couple together.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. looks like a federal judge just ordered a temporary stay of the stupid immigration ban Executive Order, at least for those in transit / detained at airports. Small victory. I'll take it. Good night.

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Italian brewery since 1846 / SAT 1-28-17 / Gesture of razzle-dazzlement / Its logo consists of pair of calipers in oval / Classic novel written under nom de plume of Currer Bell

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy (6:40-something)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PERONI (23A: Italian brewery since 1846) —
Peroni Brewery is a brewing company, founded in Vigevano in Lombardy, Italy, in 1846. It has been based in Rome since 1864. The company's main brand in Italy is Peroni (4.7 ABV), a pale lager sometimes known as Peroni Red in export markets. However, it is probably best known worldwide for its premium lager, Nastro Azzurro (5.1% ABV), which was the 13th best-selling beer in the United Kingdom in 2010. (wikipedia)
• • •


Too many long giveaways made this more Friday- than Saturday-ish. With no crosses crosses, I got "JANE EYRE" "HE GOT GAME" ACHILLES, JOHN HENRY, and BON JOVI. That's handing me A FEW too many. I mean, thanks—I always feel quite amazing when I crush a Saturday—but my success today felt tainted a bit by the gimmes. The best solves involve succeeding by unlocking the tricky clues. That "JANE EYRE" clue made getting that answer (and the whole corner) into the equivalent of dunking the basketball ... by climbing a ladder on sitting on someone's shoulders. I do got game, but I didn't get to show it here. Too much just handed to me. Speaking of not feeling great about my success—let's look at another way that that happens, i.e. when I avail myself of my deep store of crosswordese to crack open a puzzle. I guess that is "game" (i.e. talent) of a sort, or at least the product of experience, but it still feels slightly cheap. For instance, first word in today: DEBAR. Who's gonna feel good about that? Then KIR over ECO—the former I'd never heard of before crosswords (today, instant gimme) and the latter I see clued this way ("Friendly" prefix) so often that I had no doubt about it. KIR over ECO + DEBAR got me BAD JOKE (1D: Something a bomber delivers?), and I was off. I wonder if you could've left the "?" off the BAD JOKE clue. It's pretty literal. And that would've made things a lot harder, probably. Anyway, gimmes + heavy reliance on crosswordese make me less than exultant today about my good time.


Only thing in the grid I had no clue about was PERONI, which I'm sure I've seen before once or twice. I think it might even have been the Word of the Day before. But it didn't take. I'm not sure it'll take now. I'm writing about it in the hopes that it'll take. PERONI was part of my mild solving problem in the middle. No initial "P" meant that for a while PLEDGING was hard to see (23D: Activity in a drive). Also, several of those Across clues didn't compute at first, namely 30A: " (INCHES) and 37A: Opposite of slow (FLYING) and 43A: A cry of relief (TGIF). The last one, I really should've gotten more quickly, as I had the "T," but no dice. Corners of this thing mostly went lightning fast, though SW was probably the toughest. Front end of 41A: "Gotcha" (SO I SEE) was a mystery. I wanted "OH, I SEE" or some such. And then there was AIR ... PIPE? Not HOSE? I knew ESPN was 100% correct (49A: "Outside the Lines" airer) so I discarded HOSE quickly, but PIPE? This was the one clue that provoked reaction on Twitter from a reader last night:


He then sent me a link to some SCUBA forum where this very "mistake" (I think it's a real mistake, I'm just being careful) had come up before. Good luck getting WS to change his mind on something like this. But even non-SCUBA me gave that answer side-eye. I also wasn't sure about the back end of SPIDER EGG (wanted SAC) or RED ROBIN (wanted ROSES, though in retrospect, that was a terrible want). Last minor (very minor) stumble was wanting IN A STIR for IN A SNIT (47A: Agitated). Second "T" in TRIOLET was my last letter (39D: Eight-line verse form). I liked the puzzle fine, but it was light-weight, and without a lot of sparkle. Maybe if I hadn't seen JAZZ HANDS before, that would've added something. BANG-UP JOB is nice. Otherwise, you know, fine.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Half a ten-spot / FRI 1-27-17 / Loafer alternative / Romance novelist Tami / Bradley with many medals / Brand with the flavor French Silk / Loyalists American Revolution / Actress Saoirse / Bond girl Kissy Suzuki / Stray calf / Alto clef instrument

Friday, January 27, 2017

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Tougher than average


THEME: Themeless

Word of the Day: OMAR (1D: Bradley with many medals) —
General of the Army Omar Nelson Bradley (February 12, 1893 – April 8, 1981), nicknamed Brad, was a highly distinguished senior officer of the United States Army who saw distinguished service in North Africa and Western Europe during World War II, and later became General of the Army. From the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944 through to the end of the war in Europe, Bradley had command of all U.S. ground forces invading Germany from the west; he ultimately commanded forty-three divisions and 1.3 million men, the largest body of American soldiers ever to serve under a single U.S. field commander. After the war, Bradley headed the Veterans Administration and became Army Chief of Staff. In 1949, Bradley was appointed the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the following year oversaw the policy-making for the Korean War, before retiring from active service in 1953. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Laura here, filling in for Rex, whose computer MADE A BOOBOO (15A: Slipped), so he said GO FOR IT (41A: "Be my guest!"). This was somewhat of a TOSSED SALAD (55A: Course that offers mixed results?), but I hope this post AMELIORATE[s] (26D: Take[s] the edge off) your solving experience. Smooth sailing in the SE and the NE, then completely turned to GOO (39D: Too-sweet sentiment) in the SW -- I sat there NAVEL GAZ[ing] (being 25D: Way too introspective) and thought, I can't finish this, and I'm going to disappoint Rex and the teeming millions. But then, previous years of living in NYC brought to mind NATHAN (25A: First name in hot dogs), and vague impressions from reading too many bad fantasy novels in my adolescence gave me LIEGEMAN (38A: Vassal), and I finally got it all, SO THERE (11D: "Told ya!"). I originally had ONTARIO for BAHAMAS (5D: Where many Loyalists settled after the American Revolution), because it is also true. OMAR Bradley is the Word of the Day because he's one of those names I remember from endless WWII documentaries on basic cable; however, had I used it in a puzzle, I would've clued it differently (Character on "The Wire" who says, "You come at the king, you best not miss"). Fill was pretty clean in general, although there were some repeated letter strings in the NW (OMAR/OMAN/OBIWAN/RONAN) that bothered me.


Bullets:
  • MEGAN (28D: Actress Mullally with two Emmys) — Nice to see my girl MEGAN in a puzzle again. I've been told I look like her. She's a fantastic singer! (There the similarity ends.)
  • PIMIENTO (33D: Red stuffing?) — At first, had PIMENTO. Could not see that extra i
  • ARIOSE (43A: Melodious) — I wanted this to be OTIOSE ("Serving no practical purpose, like a crossword puzzle.")
  • OPEN BORDERS (1A: Feature of the European Union) — First appearance of this phrase. I can't help but wonder -- and hope -- that the puzzle is trolling the new administration. Something there is that doesn't love a wall.
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Best Picture subject nine inches shorter than actor who portrayed him / THU 1-26-17 / Le Duc decliner of 1973 Nobel prize / Whisky first produced for King George VI's 1939 visit to Canada / Supervillain in 2015's Avengers sequel / Subject of 1820 compromise / Sports star with signed jersey in Vatican / Feature of many minion in Despicable Me

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Constructor: Hal Moore

Relative difficulty: Challenging


THEME: A LITTLE BIRDIE (36A: Secret's source ... that can be found four times in this puzzle) — rebus puzzle where a "birdie" name is made "little" (i.e. squooshed into a single square) four times.

Theme answers:
  • BAL[LOON]IST / C[LOON]EY
  • FRA[TERN]ITY / E[TERN]AL
  • T.E. LA[WREN]CE / LO[WREN]T
  • [CROW]N ROYAL / IN [CROW]D 
Word of the Day: Le Duc THO (20A: Le Duc ___, decliner of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize) —
Lê Đức Thọ (About this sound listen; 14 October 1911 – 13 October 1990), born Phan Đình Khải in Hà Nam Province, was a Vietnamese revolutionary, general, diplomat, and politician. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973, but he declined it. [...] Thọ and Henry Kissinger were jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in negotiating the Paris Peace Accords. However, Thọ declined to accept the award, claiming that peace had not yet been established, and that the United States and the South Vietnamese governments were in violation of the Paris Peace Accords:
However, since the signing of the Paris agreement, the United States and the Saigon administration continue in grave violation of a number of key clauses of this agreement. The Saigon administration, aided and encouraged by the United States, continues its acts of war. Peace has not yet really been established in South Vietnam. In these circumstances it is impossible for me to accept the 1973 Nobel Prize for Peace which the committee has bestowed on me. Once the Paris accord on Vietnam is respected, the arms are silenced and a real peace is established in South Vietnam, I will be able to consider accepting this prize. With my thanks to the Nobel Prize Committee please accept, madame, my sincere respects.
The ceasefire would not last, with the war ending when Saigon fell in 1975 and North Vietnam captured South Vietnam. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hard as hell because of the nature of the rebus—even when you know it's a rebus, and even when you know it involves A LITTLE BIRDIE, you have no possible way of knowing which of hundreds of birds it might be, or where the rebus squares might be (though at some point you can infer that there will be one per corner). Cluing was also slanted hard, especially in the rebus answers. Since the theme itself isn't that clever, there's not much to this but its challenge, which is OK. It's nice to have a challenge once in a while. And the birds, though hard to turn up at times, did provide a kind of "aha" moment when they appeared. So it played like a Saturday, and that was kind of irritating, and the concept is no great shakes, but I had an OK time, as frustrating solves go. I have to say, though, that I was predisposed to be irritated by this puzzle because Yet Again (seriously, this happens a couple times a month, it seems), the NYT puzzle site had a glitch. This time, it just wasn't providing the .puz file. Not there. This was what I got:

So I had to solve in the applet, directly on the site, and I ****ing hate that interface. Since it doesn't behave quite like the AcrossLite interface, I fumbled with the cursor a lot more than I do normally. Unwieldy. Blecch. The NYT makes massive profit on the puzzle, continues to pay constructors abysmally, and yet can't manage to deliver its product on time without technical glitches for what seems like more than a few weeks at a pop. Embarrassing.

[Cover of a Bon Iver song]

Fill on this one is OK, though THO is a no imho (20A: Le Duc ___, decliner of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize). I mean it's bad fill. Even if you'd clued it as shortened "though" it's bad, but here, it's massively dated and pretty obscure. So even worse. And -IZE is terrible, but there's really not much else that's inherently unpleasant. Aside from the many many missteps, e.g. NECK for NAPE (8D: Common spot for a sunburn), MAN for IT'S (11D: "___ alive!"), RAH for AYE (12D: Word of support), ORBS for ASPS (5D: Ancient symbols of sovereignty), HERB for C[LOON]EY (3D: Rosemary, for one), which is as obviously-by-design a trap as I've seen in a while. I also had trouble with the proper nouns. Couldn't bring up SAPPHO from that clue (1D: Plato's "tenth Muse"), couldn't remember ULTRON (kept thinking VOLTRON), no idea who BEA Benaderet is (I'm guessing she's at least as old as Le Duc THO), and KIERAN Culkin was a name I eventually halfway remembered, but from where, I don't know. I do know I couldn't pick him out of a line-iup. The toughest part, though, was the birds, and that LO[WREN]T / T.E. LA[WREN]CE was far and away the hardest to find. Parsing either of those without the bird is tough. That was my last square, though I briefly thought it was T.H. LAWRENCE (because of T.H. White, probably). The LOON was the second-most elusive bird, followed by the CROW (my first bird, which was the last square I got in that corner, but the first bird I actually found). TERN was probably easiest to turn up, though it came second for me, and I knew to look out for birds by then. Once again, the puzzle plays old, but the challenge was in general a welcome one.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kind of dye with vivid colors / WED 1-25-17 / Christina who played Lizze Borden / Montana city that consolidated with Silver Bow County / Giraffe's cousin / bit of birdbath gunk / Uriah Heep's profession

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: "@#$!" from [various fictional characters] — bowdlerizations and euphemisms for profanity

Theme answers:
  • DAGNABIT! (17A: "@#$!" from Deputy Dawg)
  • HORSE HOCKEY! (24A: "@#$!" from Colonel Sherman Potter) (fun fact, your editor once told me and a co-constructor that Sherman Potter was not famous enough to be a theme answer in a puzzle) (this was after rejecting Sherman Alexie) (puzzle ran in another venue) (it's probably the best easy puzzle I've ever (co-)made) (true story)
  • SHAZBOT! (39A: "@#$!" from Mork)
  • OH, BARNACLES! (50A: "@#$!" from SpongeBob SquarePants)
  • JEEZALOO! (61A: "@#$!" from Frank on "Everybody Loves Raymond")
Word of the Day: Uriah Heep (52D: Uriah Heep's profession=>CLERK) —
Uriah Heep is a fictional character created by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield. // The character is notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own "'umbleness". His name has become synonymous with being a sycophant. He is one of the main antagonists of the book.
• • •

Well. OK. I actually enjoyed parts of this, despite the extreme datedness of the whole thing. Not sure how anyone under 40 is going to find this puzzle doable at the Wednesday level, since even "SpongeBob" watchers are in their 30s now, and the shows only get older from there, and only a few of these @#$!s are truly iconic / representative. SHAZBOT is the only one that even approaches a definitive catchphrase, and HORSE HOCKEY is the only one I can even clearly remember hearing, though JEEZALOO rings a very faint bell. The animated ones fall on either side of my wheelhouse, though I've certainly seen both toons and have zero recollection of hearing these particular exclamations. This is to say that they are familiar to me in precise relation to my age (i.e. "Mork & Mindy" and "M*A*S*H" were childhood staples, I watched a little "Everybody Loves Raymond," and the others I watched sporadically, accidentally, here and there). Despite the generational bias, I still think SHAZBOT is the only spot-on entry. I certainly know DAGNABIT but that expression isn't strongly associated with any character in particular (in my mind) and is therefore by far the weakest thing here, conceptually. Sounds like a @$#! from any OATER, honestly. Seems like it's also kind of alt-spelled (I'd do two "B"s) Anyway, mothball city, theme answer-wise, but the concept was kind of fun, I think. Fanciful profanity is at least original and wacky, and no more or less than it pretends to be. Face value fake-swearing. Fine by me.


Going on to my "Let's Not!" list today is every formulation of [network]TV. No one but no one would say that "The Voice" airs on NBCTV. What, did you think someone might think it was a radio program? It's on NBC. Stop the madness. AZO and ALGA and PROSY and ON HIRE and multiple FSTOPS are the clunky stuff today, and that's not too bad. RUMOR HAS IT, SYCAMORE, and SNAPCHAT are nice-ish long Downs. I misspelled CRONIN thusly, and stupidly wrote SPAM / PANING instead of SCAM / CANING (which is to say, I wrote in SPAM for 32A: Robocall from the I.R.S., e.g. and didn't check the cross very well—only reason I even found that mistake was because SPAM magically occurred "again") (53D: Much-maligned food). Alright, I'm done. See you Thursday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. a note from Ben Tausig, ed. of the American Values Club Crossword:

"This Wednesday's AVCX is a polemical puzzle by me. After the pos energy of the march, maybe it's a little poorly aimed to point a cruciverbal weapon at trump. I mean, whatever, but what we're going to also do is donate 100% of subscription money received this Wednesday to Planned Parenthood. The puzzle itself, titled "Of the Free World," will be available free. There will be a blurb/link on the front page of avxwords.com to download it." Here's the official statement re: today's puzzle.

P.P.S. to enter for a chance to win one of FIVE American Values Crossword Club subscriptions I'm giving away today, just RT this Tweet or "Like" this Facebook post some time today. Thanks!

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Part of brain believed to control emotion / TUE 1-24-17 / 1974 top 10 foreign language hit / WW II Allied landing site in Italy / Right-hand page of open book

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Constructor: John R. O'Brien

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: HIDDEN GEM (58A: Masterpiece waiting to be found ... or a hint to the words in the circled letters) — mostly non-consecutive sequential circled letters in themers spell out ... gems:

Theme answers:
  • TOLL PLAZA (17A: Place to pay the going rate?)
  • JEOPARDIZE (25A: Put at risk)
  • PAPER AIRPLANE (35A: Something that might be thrown behind a teacher's back)
  • PRESUMABLY (49A: In all probability)
Word of the Day: ANZIO (7D: W.W. II Allied landing site in Italy) —
Anzio [ˈantsjo] is a city and comune on the coast of the Lazio region of Italy, about 51 kilometres (32 mi) south of Rome. // Well known for its seaside harbour setting, it is a fishing port and a departure point for ferries and hydroplanes to the Pontine Islands of Ponza, Palmarola and Ventotene. The city bears great historical significance as the site of Operation Shingle, a crucial landing by the Allies during the Italian Campaign of World War II. (wikipedia)
• • •

Everything about this puzzle screams "bygone." This theme type—one of the weakest and most ancient—had, I thought, been quietly phased out over time. "Non-consecutive letters that "spell" things" is a fantastically unimpressive and uninspiring gimmick. Those gems aren't "hidden." If you'd strung gem names across two words in the theme answers (e.g. HOP ALONG or DROP A LINE or whatever), and you *didn't* provide the circled squares, and then hit us with HIDDEN GEM, yeah, OK, maybe. But that would be near impossible to do four times with familiar gem names. You could also do the same kind of "hiding" with the letters GEM (e.g. STAGE MANAGER etc.) and that would get you a legit HIDDEN GEM. But finding today's HIDDEN GEMs is like finding secret messages from Cleopatra in your Denny's menu. They're there if you want them to be there. But they aren't *there*. It's not hard to find the letters "RUBY" in a word or phrase. ARGUABLY. CRUMBLY. DRUG BUY. Etc. This puzzle seems like something I'd see in another venue *not* billing itself as "the greatest puzzle in the world." But it's not up to (what should be) NYT standards. And that's without even mentioning the fill, which is far too often tired old stand-bys (some real "classics" today, like the full "ERES TU" and ORA pro nobis, as well as the usual glut of OTO ACTAS DODOS OLEO etc.). The grid is also oddly built, with these huge 8-blocks in the NE / SW, but a super-choppy, black-square riddled middle. 74 words? The whole thing should probably have been rebuilt at 76 or 78 with the fill drastically improved. 


It was very easy. The big revelation for me today was that I can't spell GENTEEL (29A: Affectedly polite). I said the word to myself in my head as I read the clue, but what came out of my fingers and on to the screen was GENTILE. This and TOLL BOOTH were my big missteps for the day, though I also had ADOPT (?) for ACT AS (4A: Assume the role of) and ETS (??) for EMS (43D: Letters on many ambulances). The best part of the grid, for me is DRE DEY down at the bottom. Those aren't "good" answers, but side-by-side they form an unintentional pun that is at least amusing me.



Good dey.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Aware of in cool cat slang / MON 1-23-17 / Little shaver to Scot / 50s Ford flops / Many John Wayne film informally / Corkscrew-shaped noodles

Monday, January 23, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:48)


THEME: FAIRY TALE (60A: What the starts of 17-, 26-, 35- and 50-Across are) — those beginnings spell out "RUMP/EL/STILT/SKIN"

Theme answers:
  • RUMP ROAST (17A: Slow-cooked beef entree)
  • EL DORADO (26A: Fabled city of wealth sought by conquistadors)
  • STILT WALKER (35A: One with a leg up in the circus business?)
  • SKIN GAME (50A: Gambling scam)
Word of the Day: ETHAN Hawke (32D: Actor Hawke of "Boyhood") —
Ethan Green Hawke (born November 6, 1970) is an American actor, writer, and director. He has been nominated for four Academy Awards and a Tony Award. Hawke has directed two feature films, three Off-Broadway plays, and a documentary, and wrote the novels The Hottest State (1996), Ash Wednesday (2002), and Rules for a Knight (2015). // He made his film debut in 1985 with the science fiction feature Explorers, before making a breakthrough appearance in the 1989 drama Dead Poets Society. He then appeared in numerous films before taking a role in the 1994 Generation X drama Reality Bites, for which he received critical praise. In 1995, Hawke first appeared in Richard Linklater's romance trilogy, co-starring opposite Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, and later in its sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), all of which met with critical acclaim. // Hawke has been twice nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; his writing contributions to Before Sunset and Before Midnight were recognized, as were his performances in Training Day (2001) and Boyhood (2014). Hawke was further honored with SAG Award nominations for both films, along with BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for the latter. // His other films include the science fiction drama Gattaca (1997), the contemporary adaptation of Hamlet (2000), the action thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), the crime drama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), and the horror film Sinister (2012). (wikipedia)
• • •

This may as well be a themeless, so unremarkable is the theme. There are a few nice answers, most notably in the south (MISCAST alongside ASK AWAY; and I especially like I'M A FAN), but way too much short gunk / crosswordese. And, as I say, a super-blah theme. I wasn't yet out of the NW before I knew the fill would be a problem. It's HEP TO MOO WHAP! I like LASER fine but for some reason LASE in its various verb forms irks and even ires me (if IRES were a thing, which, I maintain, it is not and never will be, sorry crosswords) (yes, I know IRES isn't in this puzzle; it's just that even thinking about it gets me so IRED, I ...). In the end, though, this was more plain old dull than bad. Musty. If your dad was HEP TO EDSELS when you were a WEE LAD, maybe this spoke to you.


Difficulty-wise, it was just a shade easier than average for me. Had some hesitation at the phrase ON MIKE (had the ON, but the second part needed crosses, since AIR came up short) (3D: Like a live radio announcer). Also needed all the crosses for WHAP because WHAP, WTF? (6D: Fly swatter sound) I don't really know the phrase SKIN GAME, but that answer must've just filled itself in via crosses. The biggest trap in the puzzle is probably the CLUMSY / KLUTZY one (38D: All thumbs), which I clumsily and / or klutzily fell into. Luckily for me I saw that that made the ending on the central themer -ALCER, and my spidey sense told me that was unnnnlikely. So change: to KLUTZY, to ZALES, to zip zap zoom ET AL. And done. Wish there were more to say. There is not.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1960s sitcom set in 1860s / SUN 1-22-17 / Grammy winning drummer Lyne Carrington / Piano dueler with Donald in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: "Mishmash" — familiar phrase ends in a word which is then repeated with a vowel change, creating a kind of sing-songy nonsense phrase that gets a "?" clue:

Theme answers:
  • POWDERED-WIG WAG (23A: Witty British judge?)
  • JOINED-AT-THE-HIP HOP (38A: Three-legged race, e.g.?)
  • FINGERTIP TOP (55A: Nail?)
  • "OF THEE I SING" SONG (66A: "America"?)
  • LET HER RIP RAP (81A: Grant a girl permission to dis Drake?)
  • NEW YORK KNICK KNACK (98A: Ability to score at Madison Square Garden, e.g.?) (whoever clued this has not seen the Knicks play lately)
  • TRIPLE FLIP FLOP (117A: Diving disaster?)
Word of the Day: RIPRAP (81A) —
Riprap, as rip rap, rip-rap, shot rock, rock armour or rubble, is rock or other material used to armor shorelines, streambeds, bridge abutments, pilings and other shoreline structures against scour and water or ice erosion. It is made from a variety of rock types, commonly granite or limestone, and occasionally concrete rubble from building and paving demolition. It can be used on any waterway or water containment where there is potential for water erosion. (wikipedia)
• • •
I don't have the inclination to deal too much with this inanity today. I'm still filled with hope and optimism after seeing the Women's marches all over the world today, and I'm not gonna let this puzzle get me down. I'd never heard of WIGWAG or RIPRAP, but they both appear to be things, so all the ping-pong ding-dong clip-clop endings are real things, hurrah. The whole thing didn't feel clever so much as awkward. I kept having to think about how the phrase worked, exactly. None of them ever seemed funny. Luckily, the puzzle was so easy that I didn't have time to dwell much on how sub-entertaining it was. Finished in well under 9, which is down near record territory for me on a Sunday. Is my fingernail the top of my fingertip? That seems ... wrong. Directionally wrong. The finger tip is the end. It has no top. I guess the nail is on "top" of my finger, in a way, but the lack of spot-on-itude there (and elsewhere) was irksome. It's "let 'er rip"; the idea anyone's saying that "h" is pretty hilarious. A very enthusiastic elocution coach, perhaps. You don't "hop" in a three-legged race, do you? The "third" leg consists of two legs moving as one, but not ... hopping. What is a triple flip? I am guessing it is a thing where you flip three times, but it's hardly a snappy diving phrase, like a pike or a tuck. There is no "flip" in Olympic diving. Somersaults are involved, but ... you see, all these phrases just feel off. Like carob. It's not chocolate. You can fool some rube who wants to be fooled, but I like chocolate, and you can't fool me.


I had MALT for ICEE (5D: Drink commonly served with a spoon straw) and I did not know COPs were called [Bluecoat]s. I was thinking it was some Revolutionary counterpart to the Redcoat. Beyond those initial hiccups, I don't remember any resistance whatsoever. Fill isn't terrible. It just is. I need to get back to drinking and watching TCM now. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Violinist Kavafian / SAT 1-21-17 / Bulbous perennial / Xmas for Jimmy Buffet / First name in infamy / Dumb Dumber drive destination

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TARPONS (33A: Prized game fish) —
noun
plural noun: tarpons
  1. a large tropical marine fish of herringlike appearance. (google)
• • •

This was pretty enjoyable. Had to wrestle with it A WEE BIT, and fell into many traps along the way, but in the end it was slightly more tractable than your average Saturday fare, I think. Couple of nice long Downs, for sure, and then a very solid, serviceable grid, with little in the way of junk. I'd call EDESSA junk (it's certainly high on the list of 6-letter crosswordese), buuuut it really helped me solidify traction in the north, so I'll just give it a polite nod and move along. The proper nouns are a little dated at times (NEVE over BOYER!) but then there's Paul RUDD and BIG PAPI, so maybe things balance out. Oh, ANI. ANI is not good. You can clue it however you like (Skywalker, DiFranco ... some violinist ...), it's always gonna be crosswordese. But the overall state of the grid is strong.

[RUDD]

How many holes did I fall into? Let's count
  1. Had the -OW at the end of 2D: Words of understanding and was *certain* that answer ended in KNOW.
  2. Had the O (from YOKO) and U (from RUDD) in the answer for 27D: Works of a lifetime and *confidently* wrote in OPUSES.
  3. Opened the puzzle with an amazing run of Downs (KTEL! BOO! ADREP!) and then, after getting the -UM part ... PODIUM!! (8D: Oration location). 
  4. I don't even feel bad about the MARLINS-for-TARPONS mistake, tbh. I'm only human.
  5. RYE before ALE ... never fail?
  6. Aaaand my favorite wrong answer of the day: for 57D: Appropriate answer for this clue, I had: ANS.
That'll do for today.

AS EVER,

Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Better adversary to deal with in saying / FRI 1-20-17 / Genres for Ladysmith Black Mambazo / Eponymous physicist Ernst / TV character who fronted as a waste management consultant

Friday, January 20, 2017

Constructor: Angela Olson "PuzzleGirl" Halsted

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PITTI Palace (52D: Florence's ___ Palace) —
The Palazzo Pitti (Italian pronunciation: [paˈlattso ˈpitti]), in English sometimes called the Pitti Palace, is a vast, mainly Renaissance, palace in Florence, Italy. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. The core of the present palazzo dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker. // The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions. // In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napoleon, and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy. The palace and its contents were donated to the Italian people by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1919. // The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence.
• • •


A woman constructor! First of the year! Who had January 20 in the pool? I love this puzzle, both because it is good, and because Angela is my good friend and I haven't seen her name in the NYT for a long time, and because the central crossing in this grid is perfect for today. That is surely a coincidence, but sometimes God smiles on your puzzle. If only 23-Down were TONY ORLANDO (it fits, Angela!!!). I have been to ORIOLES games with Angela. I have been to Yankee Stadium with Angela and seen MARIANO Rivera give up TWO home runs to my Tigers in the top of the ninth, only to see the &$^%ing Yankees win it in the bottom of the inning on Some Guy's walk-off homer (you see, Angela, I've repressed that part of the memory. I only remember Miggy hitting one out off your beloved MARIANOone of the greatest baseball things I've ever seen live). Oh my god I just want to keep talking about baseball. It's so much more pleasant and hopeful and soothing than anything else I might be forced to think about today.


I did not know PITTI Palace, but the rest of this felt pretty easy. I had issues with ENTICE ([Decoy] is a verb??) ("Sirens decoyed sailors to their deaths ..." Sounds off). I also had issues with the REPS / RETCH crossing, as I misread 25A: Training tally as [Training rally]. I also sometimes thing RETCH (25D: [Gag!]) is spelled with an initial "W." And it is. Just not with this meaning (either spelling makes a perfect cross for 38-Across today, tbh). We're probably gonna see a new HUAC soon, so that's timely. Obama (aka MR. RIGHT) EXITS, so that's sad (I just this second Unfollowed @POTUS on Twitter). SOP UP ... yeah, sure ... bribery, corruption. That works. That's coming. INANITY. Obviously. It's hard not to tea-leaves this thing. I mean, CAD / LEERS!? That's pretty spot-on. Change LEERS to GRABS and bingo. Or, hey, rebuild the grid and go the full SEXUALLY ASSAULTS (15!). So many appropriate options.


As with George Michael yesterday, I managed to make the cross-referenced clues work for me today, as the TOPAZ clue (50D: 1967 Cold War suspense novel by 9-Down) sent me teleporting into the NE via URIS (9D: See 50-Down). I'm totally biased, but I honestly don't see much here to sneer at. ESS? I guess. PSS. Yes. But that is nitpicking. I know from nitpicking, and that is nitpicking. There is no doubt this will be the most enjoyable part of my day today, so thanks, Angela. Love ya. XO.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Native-born Israeli / THU 1-19-17 / Leader targeted in 1989's Operation Nifty Package / Bill Haley's backup band

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: CHECKERED PAST (36A: Liability for a political candidate ... as depicted four times in this puzzle?) — PAST is depicted, in unchecked-letter / checkerboard patterns, four times in the grid.

Word of the Day: ROBBY Mook (37D: ___ Mook, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager)
Robert E. "Robby" Mook (/mʊk/; born December 3, 1979) is an American political campaign strategist and campaign manager. He was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, which lost to Donald Trump. // Mook worked on state campaigns, leading up to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Mook then joined the Democratic National Committee, and worked for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign as a state director in three states. // Mook managed Senator Jeanne Shaheen's campaign as she ran in New Hampshire for election to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2008, served as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012, and as the campaign manager for Terry McAuliffe's successful 2013 gubernatorial campaign. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle must've been constructed a while a go. At least a couple years ago. Because it's basic premise is manifestly false—a point that would be more glaring only if this puzzle ran *tomorrow*.


But let's pretend it's still the 20th century and grant the puzzle the truth of its essential claim. It's a neat concept, though it doesn't really pop, visually, the way a pattern-based theme ought to. Looks *very* cool in the thumbnail (i.e. tiny icon) version of the grid on my desktop. But full-sized, the effect isn't as great, and it's weirdly at its greatest when the grid is completely empty. As you solve (or as I solve, on screen), the filling in of white space dilutes the checkered effect by marring B/W contrast. I didn't see checks so much as these little spits of land (unchecked letters) sticking out from the mainland of letters. Still, conceptually, cool, especially as the PAST rotates clockwise a tick at a time if you move clockwise from NW to SW (i.e. P starts in the N position and ends up in the W position).

["I won't let you down / I will not give you up"]

I'd like to thank George MICHAEL for getting me going today (30A: George who sang "I Want Your 7-Down"). He was the first answer (besides the incidentals KEEP, SES, and OFA) that I got, and he gave me SEX (!), which (along with MATT Groening) opened the NE up quickly. Mostly I found the puzzle tough, though the clock says my time was quite normal. Botany and fabric and other topics I'm bad at seemed to keep coming up, and those southern corners are horribly sequestered. Teeny tiny narrow entry points. I actually needed the theme to get going in the SE (felt like cheating), because the only thing I knew cold down there was NORIEGA (61A: Leader targeted in 1989's Operation Nifty Package). The long Downs down the middle were great (STEEPLE CHASES / TOP O' THE MORNIN') (14D: They present hurdles / 15D: Cork opener?)—interesting phrases, cleverly clued—which somewhat offset / distracted from a little roughness in the short stuff. Worst cross for me was SHOCKS / CPI. The latter (4D: Economic benchmark, briefly) I can now infer (Consumer Price Index)—now that I guessed SHOCKS, which is super hard to get to from [Blows]. Yikes. But I guessed right, my time was normal, the theme works pretty well, so I'm calling it a good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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