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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Bard of Gaelic legend / WED 1-18-17 / Boyfriend after breakup perhaps / Inept boxers in slang

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: FAST BREAK (57A: Dynamic basketball sequence represented by the starts of 17-, 23-, 30-, 40- and 49-Across) —just what it says:

Theme answers:
  • BLOCK HEEL (17A: Platform sandal feature)
  • REBOUND GUY (23A: Boyfriend after a breakup, perhaps)
  • PASS JUDGMENT (30A: Render a verdict)
  • DRIBBLE GLASS (40A: Novelty shop buy)
  • SHOOT 'EM UPS (49A: Space Invaders and Asteroids, for two)
Word of the Day: SHOOT 'EM UPS (49A) —
Shoot 'em up (also known as shmup or STG) is a subgenre of the shooter genre of video games. In a shoot 'em up, the player character engages in a lone assault, often in a spacecraft or aircraft, shooting large numbers of enemies while dodging their attacks. There is no consensus as to which design elements compose a shoot 'em up. Some restrict the definition to games featuring spacecraft and certain types of character movement; others allow a broader definition including characters on foot and a variety of perspectives. Shoot 'em ups call for fast reactions and for the player to memorize levels and enemy attack patterns. "Bullet hell" games feature overwhelming numbers of enemy projectiles. (wikipedia)
• • •
I had to look up whether recovered BLOCKs were actually scored as REBOUNDs, and they are, so play on, I guess. As first-words-sequence themes go, I like this one fine. The theme answers themselves are also lively / unusual. I'd never heard of a BLOCK HEEL, though the HEEL part was easy enough to infer. The concept of the "rebound" in dating is familiar enough to me, but the phrase REBOUND GUY felt slightly off, like there was another "rebound" phrase more commonly used ... and yet I can't come up with it. I think of SHOOT 'EM UPS as westerns, and I played Space Invaders and Asteroids as a kid and literally never heard anyone call 'em SHOOT 'EM UPS. Love the phrase, but to this Gen X'er's ears, the '70s/'80s video game clue seemed INAPT. But again, basic theme concept here is sound and the answers generally pleasing. The fill on this one is a mixed bag. Excellent pair of Downs in the NW corner (I'm partial to olde-timey sports slang, and PALOOKAS definitely fits the bill) (2D: Inept boxers, in slang). Most of the rest is just OK, but there are several pretty awful parts. I consider SECADA (21A: Jon with the 1992 hit "Just Another Day") and OSSIAN (35A: Bard of Gaelic legend) desperation fill, and there shouldn't have been any need for desperation today. And I consider SURETÉ beyond desperation (21D: ___ du Québec (police force)). You've fallen into the foreign word vat and can't get out. Not at all a commonly known word, even for someone like me who had many years of French in school. It *is* crossed fairly, but that SURETÉ / TEACUP cross held me up more than anything by far (36A: ___ Chihuahua (tiny dog)) . SECADA could easily have tripped me (his brief period of fame quite behind us now) but as I said: Gen X'er. Still listened to radio / watched MTV a lot in 1992. I know SECADA. Guiltily.


So, yeah, OK puzzle. If there hadn't been all this dumb Scrabble-f***ing around the margins of the puzzle, maybe the fill could've been stronger, but maybe not. Except SURETÉ, none of it was particularly egregious. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Tree-lined walkway in France / TUE 1-17-17 / Nubian heroine of opera / Makeup of planet Hoth / Deviate during flight as rocket / Deal with broken teleprompter say

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: A CARRIE / FISHER memorial puzzle (I think) — stuff related to her role as PRINCESS LEIA (53A: Iconic role for 2-/51-Down) in "Star Wars" (a title spelled out in the circled squares):

Theme answers:
  • CINNAMON BUNS (23A: Hairstyle for 53-Across, colloquially)
  • HELP ME OBI- / WAN KENOBI, / YOU'RE MY ONLY HOPE (18A: With 61- and 37-Across, famous line by 53-Across in [see circled letters])
Word of the Day: OLEAN (7D: Brand of artificial fat) —
Olestra (also known by its brand name Olean) is a fat substitute that adds no fat, calories, or cholesterol to products. It has been used in the preparation of otherwise high-fat foods such as potato chips, thereby lowering or eliminating their fat content. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally approved olestra for use as a replacement for fats and oils in prepackaged ready-to-eat snacks in 1996, concluding that such use "meets the safety standard for food additives, reasonable certainty of no harm". In the late 1990s, Olestra lost its popularity due to side effects, but products containing the ingredient can still be purchased at grocery stores in some countries. (wikipedia)
• • •

I want to pretend like this puzzle didn't happen, so I'm going to say only the bare minimum and then move along. Tribute puzzles should be great. Memorial puzzles should be especially great. Average, mediocre, OK—these are not good enough. The puzzle should kill, or it should not run. I suppose it's possible this puzzle was already in the pipeline (?) and they just ran it with a clue for her name that acknowledges her passing. But that doesn't seem too plausible. The whole thing feels slapdash. She's reduced to a single (albeit iconic) role; her character's hairstyle (from the original movie) (which I have never heard called CINNAMON BUNS—it's always "PRINCESS LEIA hair") is randomly thrown in, apparently just for symmetry (?); the circled squares are awkwardly close-to-but-not-quite centered (and aren't that impressive a trick to begin with); OBI-WAN is divided at the hyphen (!?); and the quote is out of order (again, for symmetry's sake). Throw in the fact that the fill quality is below-average (which is to say, Tuesday-average), and you have a puzzle that isn't really worthy of its subject. It's not tight enough. There's no real hook. The circled squares are just a tacked-on bit of artifice. CARRIE / FISHER was iconic for many reasons, and I wish more of those reasons were here, and that the core concept in general was just ... better. Tighter. As amazing as she was.


I like RAP DUO (9D: Rae Sremmurd, e.g.). It's probably important that you commit Rae Sremmurd ("ear drummers" backwards) to memory now, as it is likely to be the RAE of the future (if there must be one, and I assume there must). Take that ... Actress Charlotte of "Facts of Life" and ... Arctic explorer John! Aren't "old, neglected sweaters" MOTH-EATEN? I am having trouble buying MOTHY. Especially having trouble buying it on top of ALLÉE (garbage fill, esp. for a Tuesday, esp. w/ ALPE, ugh, already in the grid). And crossing OLEOLE (o-lazy) and FETTLE (!) ... maybe MOTHY belongs in that corner. It's certainly "neglected."

Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Lebanese city that was once enter of Phoenician civilization / MON 1-16-17 / Penny Dreadful channel for short / Intestinal fortitude informally / Arrested suspect informally

Monday, January 16, 2017

Constructor: John Wrenholt

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY (63A: Completely ... with a summation of 17-, 30- and 47-Across) — previous three themers start with ONE WAY, TWO WAY, and THREE WAY, respectively, for a total of "six ways":

Theme answers:
  • ONE WAY OR ANOTHER (17A: Somehow)
  • TWO-WAY RADIO (30A: Walkie-talkie)
  • THREE-WAY TIE (47A: Rare occurrence of "Jeopardy!") 
Word of the Day: SWAG (15D: Lavish party favors) —
The freebie swag, sometimes also spelled schwag, dates back to the 1960s and was used to describe promotional items. According to our files, early swag was everything from promotional records sent to radio stations to free slippers for airline passengers. In short order, this particular meaning of swag broadened and soon referred to anything given to an attendee of an event (such as a conference) as a promotional stunt. // This swag didn't gain much use until the 1990s, but it also didn't appear out of thin air. The newer meanings were based on an older, more established meaning that referred to goods acquired by unlawful means. (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

I do like the revealer phrase, and have been known to use it (or the "from Sunday" variation of it) from time to time. It is a weird idiom with a complicated history (read about it here). [Completely] is not how I use it. I think of it as meaning "all kinds of different ways," but I guess by extension you could get to "in every way imaginable" and thus "thoroughly." At any rate, "Completely" is certainly an accepted definition. But it's a wriggly phrase, in which (according to World Wide Words) the number "six" was only the most common number to be used (probably because of alliteration). All kinds of other numbers can be found in six's place over the years. One place I looked had "Forty ways to Sunday." It's a lively idiom. The theme is clever but also flawed. Adding up the numbers of the ways was strange (not necessarily in a bad way). I'm more concerned that the revealer has this totally non-thematic extra part to it, i.e. "to Sunday." It's fine for themers to have only one phrase part (first word, last word, etc.) involved, but a revealer is supposed to work from stem to stern. A good revealer snaps, and *all* of it is involved in indicating what the hell was up with the theme. This puzzle has zero to do with Sunday. If you want that phrase as a revealer, then it should mean something in its complete form. "To Sunday" just hangs out there ... left over. Unnecessary. Abandoned. Not great.

[Debbie Harry starred in a 1997 crime drama called ... "SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY"]

There was one hard patch in this where the cluing seemed both off and vague. The trouble started with SWAG, specifically a. the fact that the clue indicates a plural so I wanted it to end in "S," and b. the word "lavish." The fake-out on the plural is fair enough, but "lavish" ... ? I guess if you are an Oscar nominee and are at some party hosted by the MPAA, then sure, they'll give you an iPad or whatever, but SWAG is just slang for party favors. A gift bag. A bunch of promotional stuff. Anyone who's ever been given "a bunch of promotional stuff" (yeah, I just quoted myself), knows that ... "Lavish" doesn't enter in. Totally unnecessarily limiting adjective. Also, PEANUTS, in my world, needs "Packing" in front of it to make any sense in this context (4D: Alternative to bubble wrap). Also also, when I finally got SWAG, off of that initial "G" at 22A: Intestinal fortitude (GUTS), I wanted GRIT. I also was very tentative about the second vowel in DIVOT (32D: Golfer's gouge), and couldn't nail either ___ SAFE or GET ___ at first shot. Both of those were access points to other parts of the grid, and both required me hacking a crosses fill them out. Ended with a time slightly, but not significantly, north of normal.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Uber-owned company that makes self-driving trucks / SUN 1-15-17 / Nickname for gilded age businessman with penchant for jewelry / Also-ran for golden apple in myth / Fashion guru Tim / Signal meaning no disease on this ship

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easyish


THEME: "Grammar Lesson" — phrases related to grammar that are reclued super-wackily ("?"-style)

Theme answers:
  • FUTURE PERFECT (24A: Utopia?)
  • INDEFINITE ARTICLE (31A: Piece still under consideration for a magazine?)
  • PASSIVE VOICE (50A: "Village" newspaper that's namby-pamby?)
  • RELATIVE CLAUSES (66A: Santa's nieces and nephews?)
  • PRESENT TENSE (89A: Like shoppers worrying about getting the right gift?)
  • SENTENCE STRUCTURE (103A: Jailhouse?)
  • OBJECTIVE CASE (113A: The Prada that one really wants?)
Word of the Day: FIG WASP (43D: Insect that spends its larval stage inside a fruit) —
Fig wasps are wasps of the superfamily Chalcidoidea which spend their larval stage inside figs. Most are pollinators but others are herbivores. The non-pollinators belong to several groups within the superfamily Chalcidoidea, while the pollinators are in the family Agaonidae. While pollinating fig wasps are gall-makers, the remaining types either make their own galls or usurp the galls of other fig wasps; reports of them being parasitoids are considered dubious. (wikipedia)
• • •


THANK-YOU MESSAGE for the week ending January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. Just wanted to thank everyone who made a financial contribution to the blog this week. The messages (both e- and snail-) of support, and the various solving war stories, have been entertaining and occasionally inspirational. I never have a very clear of who my audience is, where they live, etc., so it's thrilling (and somewhat educational) to have that audience suddenly become visible. Material. Actual. Real. Thank-you cards are forthcoming for those of you who sent me snail mail (and emails for everyone else). You are, of course, free to contribute at any time during the year. The mailing address...

Rex Parker
℅ Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton NY 13905

And the Paypal button...

... live full-time in the sidebar of the blog. But this is the last direct pitch you'll hear from me for 51 weeks. It's been a lovely week. Thank you thank you thank you.

----------------------------------------

I like grammar. This puzzle, though, was something less than enjoyable. I solved it around my dinner table with my wife and visiting friends Lena and Brayden, and there was much gnashing of teeth (and swearing) and very few happy sounds and pleased comments. The theme type is very old (take a bunch of terms from any field, reclue them as if they are not from that field), but done well, common theme types can still be wonderful. But this one ... two answers basically ruin this theme. The first is SENTENCE STRUCTURE, which is a total outlier. The other theme answers are distinct, specific grammatical terms, but SENTENCE STRUCTURE is just a very vague, general concept. You can point to all the others. You can't point to SENTENCE STRUCTURE. It's loose. It's a category, and a big one. It can *contain* the other themers (e.g. RELATIVE CLAUSES are part of SENTENCE STRUCTURE). It just doesn't belong. The bigger problem, however, is the clue on OBJECTIVE CASE. First, the connection between Prada and "case" is so loose as to be laughable. If I asked you to name the top ten things you associate with Prada, first, you wouldn't get to ten, but second, however far you got, "case" would not be on the list. If you search [Prada case] you come up with random things like iPhone cases and sunglass cases (not iconically Prada). You also come up with "Prada gender discrimination case." Prada is a terrible, completely inapt point of reference for "case." Further, ironically, I can't make the answer make grammatical sense. Is "objective" an adjective or noun here? Even for fun and hoots and question-markical glee, it doesn't work. The case is your objective, fine, but OBJECTIVE CASE makes zero sense. No sense, on no level.


77-Down is disgusting, and continues the trend of the editor (and constructor, I assume, since they work together) gratuitously shoving neo-Nazis and neo-Nazi sympathizers into the puzzle at every opportunity. Oh, and this puzzle has an actual Nazi too, for good measure. There are any number (i.e. innumerable) ways to clue VON, you know? It's not like you had to clue WERNHER, in which case you'd pretty much have to use this Braun guy. It's all just so gross. TACKY, even. I really don't know what he thinks he's doing. But then I don't get how anyone can justify CSIS. "Oh, I watch many CSIS!" someone somewhere apparently says. Ridiculous.

Bullets:
  • 102A: Specimen, for example: Abbr. (SYN.) — "Specimen" is a SYN(onym) of "example"; tricky.
  • 43D: Insect that spends its larval stage inside a fruit (FIG WASP) — both Lena and Penelope (my wife) knew what this was. I read the clue and both said "wasp!" I said "... something WASP" and both said "FIG!" I didn't know there were wasp types. 
  • 6D: Toddler garment (ONESIE) — I wondered aloud if toddlers wear ONESIEs. Apparently some do. I associate the garment with babies. Newborns. Neonates.
  • 84A: Also-ran for the golden apple, in myth (HERA) — my first thought was HARE (as in "the tortoise and the"), so I was ... close.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Anchovy sand eel / SAT 1-14-17 / Topper for Chaplin's Tramp / Obviously Catholic person in snarky rhetorical question / Bond seen in Wayne's World / Tools descended from alpenstocks / Game with official called stickman / Mock wedding setting in Shakespeare

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SPRAT (19A: Anchovy or sand eel) —
noun
noun: sprat; plural noun: sprats
  1. a small marine fish of the herring family, widely caught for food and fish products.
    • any of a number of small fishes that resemble the true sprats, e.g., the sand eel. (google)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for the week of January 8-January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Cookery Postcards from Penguin"—beautifully designed covers of vintage cookbooks, with provocative titles like "Cookery For Men Only " (!) or "Good Meals from Tinned Foods" (!?). Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As I say in every thank-you card (and email), I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------
Like yesterday, this was phenomenally easy. Unlike yesterday, this wasn't terribly interesting. It just has manifestly lower overall fill quality—the highs aren't very high, and the lows (CERT OPCIT TOATEE) are lower than yesterday's lows. RETROCHIC is probably the nicest thing in the grid (nicely positioned at 1-Across—where marquee long answers belong on Fri and Sat) (1A: Back in). HARE-BRAINED also has charm (22D: Cockamamie). The rest is quite bland—not terrible, just bland. Longer answers like WEED-EATER (?) and WEEKENDER and GRASS STAINS are largely there to provide lots of convenient letters. OPEN SINCE is terrible as a stand-alone answer. And everything else is ... everything else. Adequate, but not sizzling, not funny, not entertaining. I've seen BROMANCE too many times now to credit it with novelty (38D: Bond seen in "Wayne's World"). It's had its moment, and should probably be shelved for a few years, at least. Except for the thrill that comes from crushing a Saturday, I can't imagine this puzzle providing solvers much in the way of enjoyment. It will do ... but "it will do" should not be NYT-standard.


The only difficulty today came in just getting off the ground, i.e. in the NW (where I start every puzzle). RED (4D: Like the lower half of Haiti's flag) and ONES were gimmes (how many three-letter flag colors are there? And [Georges] seems very clearly a plural and very clearly related to money, a la Benjamins and occasionally, though suspectly, Abes). But SPRAT (19A: Anchovy or sand eel) and CERT. (9D: Warrant, e.g.: Abbr.) and especially CRAPS (as clued) (6D: Game with an official called a stickman) were beyond me, so I had to hack around to get those Acrosses in the NW to come into view. But after the NW was sorted, nothing else in the puzzle put up a fight. Having HARE made BRAINED obvious. Having STAINS made GRASS obvious. THE POPE off the TH-, TOATEE off the TO-, and then all the SE Acrosses from there. TORRID pace, without even speeding. Just over 6 min. without trying. Not all easy puzzles bring joy, unfortunately. There's just not enough that's original or bold or risky or ambitious or artful here. It's not that it STANK, it's that more brio or elan or one of those words was NEEDED. How does a puzzle with TORRID SEX and RAW MEAT manage to be tepid? Weird.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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One of renters in Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat / FRI 1-13-17 / Family name in Sir Walter Scott's Bride of Lammermoor / First one was modified Ford D-Series truck / Author with restaurant at Eiffel Tower named for him

Friday, January 13, 2017

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: WES Montgomery (13D: Jazzman Montgomery) —
John Leslie "Wes" Montgomery (March 6, 1923 – June 15, 1968) was an American jazz guitarist. He is widely considered one of the major jazz guitarists, emerging after such seminal figures as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian and influencing countless others. Montgomery was known for an unusual technique of stroking the strings with the side of his thumb which granted him a distinctive sound.
He often worked with organist Jimmy Smith, and with his brothers Buddy (piano and vibes) and Monk (bass guitar). His recordings up to 1965 were generally oriented towards hard bop, soul jazz and post bop, while circa 1965 he began recording more pop-oriented instrumental albums that featured less improvisation but found mainstream success and could be classified as crossover jazz or early smooth jazz. (wikipedia)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for the week of January 8-January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Cookery Postcards from Penguin"—beautifully designed covers of vintage cookbooks, with provocative titles like "Cookery For Men Only " (!) or "Good Meals from Tinned Foods" (!?). Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As I say in every thank-you card (and email), I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------
Wow, this was a treat. Clean, wide-ranging, current. Entertaining, or at least interesting, at every turn. I solved at 3am, having fallen asleep on the couch at 8:30pm the night before (half a large pizza and two glasses of wine will do that to me ... now), so I was deliberate and methodical in my solving (that's fancy-talk for "slow"). And even Frankenstein-monstering my way through this grid, I was done in five minutes. It was right in wheelhouse, and I only hesitated writing in answers a handful of times. Normally stacks (like the one mid-grid) take some doing—some hacking at the Downs before the Across components become visible. Not today. Got BUYER'S REMORSE (35A: New homeowner's feeling, maybe) from the B-Y, and PARODY ACCOUNT (39A: @fakechucknorris, for one) and MUSEUM EXHIBIT (40A: Diorama, maybe) fell almost immediately thereafter. I actually own "BORN THIS WAY" (27D: Grammy-nominated 2011 Lady Gaga album), so that was weird. I will always remember which March girl dies because of the "Friends" episode where Joey and Rachel spoil "The Shining" and "Little Women" for each other, respectively. "Beth DIES!" "Nooooooo!" So I threw BETH up in the NE and took that section out no problem. Occasionally I had to stop and think about something, like when I wrote in OSCAR and sort of thought it referred to the Sylvester Stallone movie of the same name ... (?!) ... (I know it doesn't) ... (now) ... or when I did the thing where you (wrongly) assume [President...] means "US President..." (48A: President who said "If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become president" => HAVEL). But those were just minor hiccups.


There was, however, one genuinely tough (albeit tiny) patch in the NE that stands out less for toughness than for uneven editing. I'm talking about ASHTON-over-PABLO (22A: Family name in Sir Walter Scott's "The Bride of Lammermoor") (26A: One of the renters in Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat"). Why would you stack literary obscurities like that? Virtually anyone solving this puzzle would put both those clues at the top of the list of either "things I didn't know" or "things I wouldn't expect others to know." Either clue on its own is OK, I guess, but stacked character names from not-terrifically-famous books?! Proper nouns are always dicey—if you're going to make them abut, at least draw from different spheres of knowledge. It's not like PABLO or ASHTON can't be clued other ways. PABLO, for instance, can go to rap (Kanye West's 2016 album "Life of Pablo"), art (good old what's-his-name), '70s pop music (Pablo Cruise), etc. Dollars to donuts at least one of the ASHTON / PABLO clues isn't the constructor's original clue. Oh well, very small, technical, editorial blemish on an otherwise really vibrant and pleasing puzzle.


Bullets:
  • 17A: Very much (A TON) — I really hate ATON and ALOT because ugh, right, I know it's one of you guys, why are you making me guess, I hate this game... I guessed wrong this time, but I guessed MME right somehow (23A: Fr. title), so I could see 2D: Fall had to be AUTUMN, and thus changed A LOT to A TON. Pivotal yet boring, this moment.
  • 54A: Ricoh rival (EPSON) — I actually did OK this time. Normally on a clue like this (as I've said), I just get an EPSOM EBSEN EPSON pile-up in my brain and don't know what to do. Terrible vowel trouble. See also EFR( )M (24A: Zimbalist of old TV).
  • 21D: "Toodles" ("SEE YOU SOON") — "SEE YA LATER!" also fits here. Perhaps you found that out yourself.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. like LEK, ADE has recurred (32A: Sweet pitcherful). Already. Clearly my "Let's Not" list is having no effect. Gonna be a long year.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Japanese flower-arranging art / THU 1-12-17 / Old video game maker / Voice-activated assistant

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: Across the Grid Divide — in three rows of the puzzle, two sequential 3-letter Across answers are to be taken (per the clue of the following Across answer) as 6-letter words that have been divided.

Theme answers:
  • BUS TED APART (1st row)
  • BAN ANA SPLIT (8th row)
  • BRO KEN INTWO (15th row)
Word of the Day: MASERS (42D: Atomic clock components) —
A maser (/ˈmzər/, an acronym for "microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation") is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations. (wikipedia)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for the week of January 8-January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Cookery Postcards from Penguin"—beautifully designed covers of vintage cookbooks, with provocative titles like "Cookery For Men Only " (!) or "Good Meals from Tinned Foods" (!?). Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As I say in every thank-you card (and email), I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------
Fantastically underwhelming for a Thursday. A very straightforward and somewhat tired theme. The only vaguely interesting thing about the puzzle is the grid, with its unusual top/bottom symmetry and *non*-all-over interlock, i.e. the two sides of the grid are themselves "divided." I tried to make some sense of the shape of the black squares that divide the two sides from one another, hoping there was some deeper meaning here, but all I could come up with was some kind of awkward, asymmetrical ≠ sign. And so what are we left with? There are only three theme answers here. A non-whopping 33 squares of theme activity. Fill seems fine, but also completely unremarkable / uncurrent / uninteresting. And the the first and third themers are particularly weak. You could swap their final elements and the answers would seem equally adequate. BUSTED IN TWO. BROKEN APART. Yep. Same. BANANA SPLIT is the only one that's spot-on. Also, BUS/TED and BRO/KEN are self-descriptive. BUS/TED is busted, BRO/KEN is broken.  Don't even need the following word. Then there's BANANA, which does. So you can see (I hope) how BANANA SPLIT is, in every way, the superior answer, putting the other ones to shame. That's a problem. I expect a ton more on a Thursday. Ambitious failures are better than this. There's barely a concept here, and not nearly enough thought and craftsmanship has been brought to bear to make this thing as intriguing as an NYT Thursday ought to be.


Sometimes I solicit opinion from 10 o'clock solvers (like me) on Twitter. The verdict tonight seems to be overwhelmingly "played like a Wednesday" and [shrug]. The only answer I had trouble with was MASERS (seen the word but had no idea what it meant til I looked it up just now), but the crosses were so easy that my progress wasn't slowed down much. I wrote in ECHO for 51D: Voice-activated assistant (SIRI), so that added a bit to my solving time as well. Would've been cool if the long Down (TRANSISTOR RADIO) could've had *something* to do with the theme (it does cross alllll the last words in the theme answers). But I don't think it's related to the theme. I think it's just an answer. I had TRANSISTOR RADIO in the '70s. Not sure what's so '50s about it. But sure, '50s, whatever. I did enjoy the clue on ARMHOLE (59A: What you might accidentally try to put your head through when getting into a sweater), but not much else. Here's hoping something livelier comes around the bend tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Port city at one terminus of Appian Way / WED 1-11-17 / Farmworker in Millet painting / Inflation adjusted econ stat / Infomercial pioneer

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: DNA — a single (?) strand of repeated letters "DNA" runs in a vaguely helical shape down the middle of the grid.

Theme answers:
  • WATSON (47D: Co-discoverer of the contents of the circled letters)
  • CRICK (4D: Co-discoverer of the contents of the circled letters)
  • DOUBLE / HELIX (11D: With 55-Down, form of the contents of the circled letters)
Word of the Day: BRINDISI (36D: Port city at one terminus of the Appian Way) —
Brindisi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈbrindizi]; in the local dialect: Brìnnisi; Latin: Brundisium) is a city in the region of Apulia in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Brindisi, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Historically, the city has played an important role in trade and culture, due to its strategic position on the Italian Peninsula and its natural port on the Adriatic Sea. The city remains a major port for trade with Greece and the Middle East. Brindisi's most flourishing industries include agriculture, chemical works, and the generation of electricity. (wikipedia)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for the week of January 8-January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Cookery Postcards from Penguin"—beautifully designed covers of vintage cookbooks, with provocative titles like "Cookery For Men Only " (!) or "Good Meals from Tinned Foods" (!?). Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As I say in every thank-you card (and email), I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------

Look, it's either DOUBLE / HELIX or it's not, and this isn't. Double, that is. You can't put DOUBLE / HELIX in your grid and then offer up a DNA strand that, while passably helical, is not in any way double. So the theme is D.O.A. It's a no. Doesn't work. Start over. Further, just putting CRICK & WATSON and DOUBLE and HELIX in the grid isn't very interesting. Add in a lot of cringe-worthy fill (MDLI over ROIS, for example) and you get a phenomenally mediocre Wednesday. I mean, LIBBER / ERO!?!? Gag. Seriously, was there no way to make that NE corner even minimally presentable? The worst part of this puzzle, however, was the BRINDISI / REAL GNP crossing. I've never heard of BRINDISI. It has 88K people—why on god's green should I have heard of it? Consider that ANCONA (another Italian city I've never heard of) has *408K*, and you can see how (comparatively) insignificant BRINDISI is. It's a jumble of letters. Fine, you're desperate, put it in your puzzle I guess ... but make sure the crosses are fair. Are you sure? Real sure? Because if I go to Google and type [real g], *this* is what happens:


That's because the infinitely more common concept / phrase is REAL GDP, not REAL GNP (52A: Inflation-adjusted econ. stat). And so you cross your obscure Italian town with an economic concept precisely at a fundamentally unguessable letter: Congratulations. Thousands upon thousands of people will screw this up, not because your puzzle was clever, or fiendish, or whatever you'd like to believe it to be, but because it was poorly constructed. Obscure towns are tolerable only if all crosses are fair. One of these crosses wasn't. The end.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Rules in force in England before Norman Conquest / TUE 1-10-17 / Disc-flipping board game / Perfumer Nina / Creator of logical razor

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Challenging (solid minute over my normal time)


THEME: OTHELLO (23A: Disc-flipping board game hinted at by a word ladder formed by the answers to the nine starred clues), also known as REVERSI (50A: Another name for 23-Across) — word ladder going from BLACK to WHITE because those are the colors on either side of an OTHELLO piece

Theme answers:
  • you can figure it out, I'm not even deigning to type the damn steps on the stupid ladder
Word of the Day: DANELAW (42D: Rules in force in England before the Norman Conquest) —
The Danelaw (also known as the Danelagh; Old English: Dena lagunema; Danish: Danelagen), as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the Danes held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. Danelaw contrasts West Saxon law and Mercian law. // Modern historians have extended the term to a geographical designation. The areas that constituted the Danelaw lie in northern and eastern England. // The Danelaw originated from the Viking expansion of the 9th century AD, although the term was not used to describe a geographic area until the 11th century AD. With the increase in population and productivity in Scandinavia, Viking warriors, having sought treasure and glory in the nearby British Isles, "proceeded to plough and support themselves", in the words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 876. (wikipedia)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for the week of January 8-January 15, 2017

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are "Cookery Postcards from Penguin"—beautifully designed covers of vintage cookbooks, with provocative titles like "Cookery For Men Only " (!) or "Good Meals from Tinned Foods" (!?). Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As I say in every thank-you card (and email), I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------
This was a quintessential Tuesday, i.e. a train wreck. Its wreckiness was worsened (for me) by being far tougher than it ought to have been, for all the wrong reasons (namely LEMAT—??????—and that entire NW corner, ugh). Bad fill, bad clues, and a godawful theme. I thought we agreed the word ladder was dead. Dead. Bye bye. Go away. There is no joy in you, word ladder. "Oooh, look how it goes from WHILE to WHITE!" said no one except LOCOS (which is not a word anyone uses at all, btw). GENL!? What is happening!? The fill is soooo bad. The NW is a disaster all on its own. LEMAT goes straight to the "Let's Not" list, where it will join ... LEK!!? Well, whaddya know? I've had the "Let's Not" list only one week and *already* a banned word has returned. LEK. I mean, LEK. Just ... LEK. Twice in 2017 already. LEK. AGA LEK. NIA LEK. EEO LEK. ERN LEK. ENIAC LEK. TEL LEK. MII LEK. ENT LEK. EPH LEK. ANO LEK. I can keep doing this! And why are we enduring this bad fill avalanche? Well, for one, no one cared to polish this thing. And for two, it's the damned joyless theme, which is dense and therefore taxes the grid tremendously. SLAPDASH, DANELAW, and KISSERS are the only things I would rescue from this thing.

[OMG this video! Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt!?]

But back to that NW for a second. On first pass I had AMASS (17A: Aggregate) and absolutely nothing else. Clue on KGS is absurdly vague (5D: Metric measures: Abbr.). Thought VAST might be RIFE (20A: Widespread). Couldn't come up with BRAVO at all (1D: "Congratulations!"). Wanted CASTE but didn't trust it. And about REBAG(14A: Switch from plastic to paper, say) ... OK, first, it's just bad fill. Second, [Switch from plastic to paper] is a tuh-errible clue. The switch from plastic to paper is a broad switch, a general switch, not a rebagging. Who actually literally removes things from a plastic bag to put them into a paper bag. What is the context of that? That is idiotic. Why did you put *&*%# in the plastic bag in the first place? And what are you gonna do with the empty plastic bag now, ya wastrel? It's nonsense. Like a sane person, I wanted some answer related to being eco-conscious. Also ... wait ... I'm sorry, I just caught plural TSKS (!?!?!) out of the corner of my eye and suddenly realized I can't go on expending energy on this puzzle. Inexcusable, this thing. STALE sits in the center of the grid, as if the puzzle knows. It knows exactly what it is. It knows.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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