Actress form mixed martial arts champion Carano / WED 2-22-27 / Puccini title heroine / Portmanteau in 2016 world news

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: familiar phrases clued as word ladders — clues are "rungs" on a word ladder leading from first word in themer TO final word in themer:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: GINA Carano (1A: Actress and former mixed martial arts champion Carano) —
Gina Joy Carano (born April 16, 1982) is an American actress, television personality, fitness model, and former mixed martial artist. [...] Outside the ring, Carano performed as Crush in the revamped 2008 television series American Gladiators. Carano has pursued a career in acting since she retired from competition. Her film debut was in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action film Haywire, and she is currently best known for her roles in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Deadpool (2016). (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so word ladders are the last refuge of a crossword scoundrel. Just a terrible idea, in general. But I will give this puzzle credit for taking the typical, tired crossword word ladder (where 1A changes to a new word, over the course of many subsequent Across answers, one letter at a time, until you get to the destination word at the final Across, ugh) and doing something new with it, i.e. putting it in the clues and not in the damn grid (where all it does is take up space and reek of awfulness). And though the theme is not scintillating, the grid is not bad, and the clues put up a reasonable fight in several places, so this one gets a marginal pass from me (though it may be benefiting by comparison to the recent string of subpar puzzles). There are probably a lot of other phrases that one might've used in a puzzle like this. "LIVE TO TELL." ROAD TO HELL. CALL TO ARMS. GONE TO SEED. Etc. But these are the ones that were used. Arbitrary, but such is life. Can't you go straight through TMEN to get from AMEN TO THAT? If you're gonna allow OPED (I assume that's OP-ED and not OPED as in some "poetic" form of "opened") then you should allow TMEN, and then it's just three steps: AMEN ... TMEN THEN THAN ... THAT.

I finished in a pretty normal Wednesday time (low 4s), but felt like I struggled a lot. Always hurts when 1A is a total mystery, and I blanked on GINA Carano. Turns out (after googling her) I know (vaguely) who she is. But between not knowing her and the vagueness of 4D: Hordes (ARMIES), I flailed a bit up there. Flailed again in the east with both LIMBO (tenuously clued as 33D: Gray area) and FLINT (I can see why it would be useful to *some* campers ... but not most) (34D: Camper's tool). Worst struggles came at the end, though, all along the mysterious REPORT CARD (30D: Progress indicator, of a sort). [___ department] and it's REC!? A cellphone replaces a CLOCK!?!?! Are you sure you don't mean "watch"? CLOCK? I don't carry a CLOCK around with me. And then I couldn't remember where Matt Damon was stranded in a 2015 film. Oh, and CEO as the answer to 44D: Board hiree, for short, was never coming. I had no idea what kind of "board" was at issue (condo board?) so CEO never occurred to me until it was filled in from crosses. Nothing stood out as great today (I feel like I've already seen BREXIT too much for it to be special anymore). But it was OK. Fine. Tolerable. That is, better than most every puzzle from the past week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Relating to songbirds / TUE 2-21-17 / Explanatory Latin phrase / Physicist Alessandro inventor of electric battery / Flying insect with prominent eyespots

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: AP TEST (69A: Exam for an ambitious H.S. student ... or what this puzzle has been?) — eight theme answers are all two-word phrases where first word starts "A" and second word starts "P"...

Theme answers:
  • APPLE PIE (20A: Classic American dessert)
  • AMY POEHLER (3D: "Parks and Recreation" star)
  • AT PRESENT (10D: Currently)
  • AFRO PICK (18A: Grooming accessory that may be stuck in the hair)
  • AIR PIRATE (35D: Plane hijacker)
  • AL PACINO (61A: Michael Corleone player in "The Godfather")
  • ART PAPER (57A: Material to sketch on)
  • ATOMIC PILE (31D: Nuclear reactor)
Word of the Day: OSCINE (63A: Relating to songbirds) —
A songbird is a bird belonging to the clade Passeri of the perching birds (Passeriformes). Another name that is sometimes seen as a scientific or vernacular name is Oscines, from Latin oscen, "a songbird". This group contains some 4,000 species found all over the world, in which the vocal organ typically is developed in such a way as to produce a diverse and elaborate bird song. // Songbirds form one of the two major lineages of extant perching birds, the other being the Tyranni which are most diverse in the Neotropics and absent from many parts of the world. These have a simpler syrinx musculature, and while their vocalizations are often just as complex and striking as those of songbirds, they are altogether more mechanical sounding. There is a third perching bird lineage, the Acanthisitti from New Zealand, of which only two species remain alive today. There is evidence to suggest that songbirds evolved 50 million years ago in the part of Gondwana that later became Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Antarctica, before spreading around the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

The crustiness continues with this overly simple theme of no delight. A bunch of AP phrases. The teensiest bit of wordplay in the revealer, but that's it for concept. Otherwise, just a mass of unrelated, often awkward / dated phrases that have one non-interesting characteristic in common. There was a time an adequate but totally unremarkable puzzle like this wouldn't have been accepted because there were just too many good puzzle crowding it out. Every longtime constructor has had a puzzle better than this rejected before. But the bar is low—when you have no real competition (at the daily level), I guess you get complacent and you start turning out "Just OK" and "Good enough." For a while in the '00s, the NY Sun crossword (a superior daily) was keeping the NYT honest. No more. I guess if you see puzzles as simply providing a diversion from life's ILLS, then, sure, this'll do. It's familiar. It's comfortable. It looks like puzzles have looked like in the past (20, 30 years ago). It meets all the minimum requirements. LESSEE ETCETC SEAEELS PTUI. Sure. Print it.

My only problems today involved figuring out the tail ends of longer phrases (that I never hear in real life). The PILE in ATOMIC PILE (we just call them "nuclear reactors" now ... and have for my entire life). The PIRATE in AIR PIRATE (we just call them "hijackers" now ... and have for my entire life). Even the OIL in TUNA OIL gave me pause (43D: Source of healthful fatty acids in a StarKist can). Otherwise, I just filled in the answers easily, as they came. I'd seen IO MOTH before, so that didn't throw me as it might've (14A: Flying insect with prominent eyespots). Ditto PTUI (42A: Spitting sound). Oh, I tripped all over 33D: Recasts damaging information in a favorable light, say (SPINS), needing 80% of it from crosses before I saw the correct answer. I had SKEWS at first, and even when I knew it was wrong, it was hard to shake, or to see anything else. Strange, considering that clue / answer pairing seems very straightforward in retrospect. Sometimes loooonnng clues make me impatient and I don't take them in fully. This is of course my problem, not the puzzle's.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Vegas casino developer Steve / MON 2-20-17 / Tourist destination in county kerry ireland / Fine thin cotton fabric

Monday, February 20, 2017

Constructor: Ed Stein and Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Normal, Medium Monday

THEME: Presidents Day — presidents' names, arranged symmetrically ... [cough] ... and then clues! All beginning "Only president...":

Theme answers:
  • ROOSEVELT (Teddy, I assume) (17A: Only president to scale the Matterhorn)
  • HARRISON (Benjamin, I assume) (27A: Only president whose grandfather was also president)
  • OBAMA (37A: Only president born outside the continental United States)
  • TYLER (39A: Only president to have 15 children)
  • BUCHANAN (44A: Only president to be a lifelong bachelor)
  • CLEVELAND (58A: Only president to be married in the White House)
  • TAFT (53D: Only president to administer the oath of office to two other presidents)
  • FORD (12D: Only president to serve as both vice president and president without being elected)
Word of the Day: ORGANDY (21A: Fine, thin cotton fabric) —
noun: organdie; plural noun: organdies; noun: organdy
  1. a fine translucent cotton or silk fabric that is usually stiffened and used for women's clothing.
early 19th century: from French organdi, of unknown origin. (google)
• • •

These are just president names. So apparently we're just giving up on having actual themes now? I can't think of a lazier Presidents Day-themed puzzle than this one. "Oooh, symmetrical presidents!" Is that the reaction you're supposed to have? Or is it just "Oh, what a curious bit of trivia!" I don't understand the kind of person who is delighted by learning some meaningless and forgettable "Only president to scale the Matterhorn"-type fact. Or, rather, I can see finding that sort of trivia delightful, but I can't see anyone's thinking "oh my, yes, this is a totally sufficient basis for a crossword puzzle." The puzzle is in a really terrible rut of mediocrity right now. They've been dull or ripped-off or just bad for days and days now. I feel like I'm just sitting here waiting for another Patrick Berry or Lynn Lempel or other competent loyalist to show up in the byline; everything else, I'm mostly just enduring.

Obviously the fill here is subpar. When you end on the sterling combo of LTD and LLCS (....?) in the Downs and ADDN (...) SMEW (!) in the Acrosses, well, you know things are dire. Only trouble today involved more fabric nonsense and some casino owner. I wrote in (Eugene?) ORMANDY at one point for the fabric, before Catherine of ARAMON showed up and I was like "Uh, I don't know you." As for [Vegas casino developer Steve] WYNN, well, I wouldn't know he existed if it weren't for crosswords (I didn't remember him today, but I think I've probably seen his name a handful of times over the years). Other than those two answers, only a brief ERRORS-for-ERRATA error slowed me down at all. Oh, and some minor hesitation over TRALEE (a very crosswordesey 6-letter answer). I can't believe JUNO is in this puzzle and AENEID is in this puzzle and there's no cross-reference. She's the primary antagonist! Gonna go have some whiskey and try to forget this puzzle happened.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Greek city mentioned in Acts of Apostles / SUN 2-19-17 / Bloblike Star Wars character / Nickname for Miami 12-time NBA All-Star / Number of French kings named Charles / Backs anatomically / Theme for annual city-magazine issue

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Uh-Oh!" — familiar phrases, "uh" sound changed to "oh" sound, wackiness

Theme answers:
  • NOTE CRACKER SUITE (23A: Office for decoding messages?)
  • STONED SILENCE (33A: What one might sit in at a Cheech & Chong movie?)
  • NO GOATS NO GLORY (46A: Herder's mantra?)
  • HOT DOG BONE (61A: Quality control problem at Oscar Mayer?)
  • DIXIE COPES (63A: Title of a book about Southern Reconstruction?)
  • BREAD AND BOATER (75A: Two sights in a yacht's galley?)
  • PHONE AND GAMES (86A: Helpful things for killing time nowadays?)
  • HOMING BIRD FEEDER (100A: Pigeon trainer, at times?)
Word of the Day: HAVOLINE (74D: Motor oil brand) —
Havoline is a motor oil brand of Texaco, a former major oil company based in the United States that is now merged with the Chevron Corporation.
• • •

A single sound change. I am semi-stunned that this puzzle concept is still a thing at all, let alone a Sunday-sized thing. There is no older theme in all puzzledom. Well, there probably is, but the sound-change is ancient. And this one in particular is wafer thin. There are hardly any limitations on this thing, which means the answers should've been One Hundred Percent Killer. If you're gonna have this basic, this wide-open, this simple a theme, then those answers need to land and land and land. I'd say two of these landed (STONED SILENCE, NO GOATS NO GLORY). The rest range from mediocre to downright pathetic. HOMING BIRD FEEDER!? That doesn't even change the basic concept of the base answer. You just changed one bird into another ... bird. It's not funny. It's not clever. It's ... the first thing you thought of that was the right length to match the almost equally flat-footed NOTE CRACKER SUITE? And look at how off these clues are. [Helpful things for killing time nowadays?] What? This works for "phone," not for "games," which have nothing to do with "nowadays." Further, "nowadays," "games" are on your "phone" much of the time, so ... clunk. More clunk: [Two sights in a yacht's galley?]. I barely know what this means. So ... you see another human in the galley ... and that person is a "boater?" Or is he wearing a "boater" hat? There. Are. Other. Butter. Terms/Phrases. In the world. If you can't come up with a themer that's aces, find another. There are infinite ones available, since your theme is barely there. DIXIE COPES? Maybe you should take another look at "Reconstruction" history. Dixie didn't "cope" so well. "AYE, THERE'S THE ROBE." See? That's a themer. Come on come on come on. The NYT must really, desperately need Sunday submissions. This is ... scraping. 

They still make NEOPETs??? (48A: Virtual dog or cat, maybe). They still say DUDED up??? (92D: Dressed to the nines, with "up"). There were *five hundred and nine* kings named Charles!??? (92A: Number of French kings named Charles) (I honestly read the answer that way until well after the puzzle was finished, when I realized DIX was not Roman numerals, but rather French for "ten") (Maybe put something in the clue indicating the answer will be in a foreign language—this puzzle can't do anything right). 

"Reader Mail"!

Hey, I got reader mail! Let's take a look:
The Onion IS NOT fake news [51A: Fake news site, with "The"]. Both Wikipedia and The Onion itself refer to it as News Satire. Fake news is "completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit". News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. (both definitions per Wikipedia)
Fake news one of the real problems in our society today. The NYT should not make it worse by misrepresenting it. 
Minister Craig Trueblood
Philadelphia, PA

If you want to appear in future installments of "Reader Mail," just send your message to rexparker at icloud dot com and write "OK to publish" somewhere therein.

Also, an announcement: I will be at the Fifth Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition on March 18 (see info below), giving some preliminary talk but mainly just hanging out and talking to people about crosswords. Probably going to be taping some stuff for a future "On the Grid" podcast (Episode 2 up very soon, maybe later today). My podcast co-host Lena Webb will be there too. If you're in the area (central NY), you should come.

Tompkins Learning Partners (TLP) of Ithaca announces Central New York’s premier crossword event, the Fifth Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition on Saturday, March 18th, 2017 from 1-4:00pm. This event is an important fundraiser for TLP, a LiteracyNY affiliated non-profit organization, which provides literacy tutoring, free of charge, for over 100 adults in our community. Puzzlemaster Adam Perl will once again create three original crosswords for the event. Individuals, or teams of up to four, are invited to compete for prizes in one of three levels of difficulty.

For the first time, rather than a set entry fee, players may choose to pay what they can comfortably afford.

To see individual and team pricing, rules, schedule and online registration forms please go to our website at
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Cousin of Manx / SAT 2-18-17 / Cold wine and nutmeg drink / Prison in which Timothy Leary was housed next to Charles Manson / Rennin results in them

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Constructor: Steve Overton

Relative difficulty: Medium, leaning Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SANGAREE (36D: Cold wine-and-nutmeg drink) —
sangaree (countable and uncountable, plural sangarees)
  1. A mixed drink common in the West Indies, similar to sangria and usually featuring wine or fortified wine and spices. (wiktionary)
• • •

There is one interesting answer in this whole grid—EAR-TO-EAR (7D: Beam's path?). I should say "interesting clue"—the answer itself isn't that interesting, but that clue! Clever, but brutal. I had EAR-O-AR and still had no idea what I was dealing with. That clue wasn't just the most interesting thing; it was the most difficult thing. I spent 75% of my time in and around that answer. The rest of the grid was mildly toughish, but whatever struggles there were didn't last long. I usually proceed through the grid via crosses; that is, I never hop around unless I absolutely have to. I had to today, a few times, but I was always able to recover quickly. Flamed out in the middle, then rebooted with CLINK / ALEVE / KATE. Misspelled FOLSOM (first "O" as "U") and so couldn't make my way into the SW ... but then TENOR / REDO bailed me out quickly down there. End of SANGAREE (!?) was a total mystery to me—tried to extend "sangria" to SANGARIA. So, again, stuck. But then RAN got me SWEATSUIT, then MANSE, and that corner was done quickly too.

There's not much to talk about here. It was really adequate, really dull. I don't understand why this grid was remarkable enough to publish. Nothing stands out. None of the fill feels particularly original. Yesterday's puzzle had dull clues, sure, but at least the fill was lively. Today, nothing is lively. It's all slightly oldish, with stuff like DERRING-DO and a decidedly non-current cultural frame of reference. But that's not its problem. Its problem is blandness. All I will remember about this puzzle, if I remember anything, is how bad EAR-TO-EAR kicked my ass. The rest? Yawn. LET US PRAY that things improve in the near future.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Constructors: resist the urge to write yourself into the puzzle (12D). Good fill first, vanity second (or never).

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Vocalist for Black Eyed Peas / FRI 2-17-17 / Button hit everything at once in gamer lingo / First Chinese-American cabinet member / Owner of horse Sleipnir / Occasional SNL host to SNL / Hippie-influenced fashion trend / Grace servant in Jane Eyre

Friday, February 17, 2017

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: STICKY RICE (13D: Staple of Thai cuisine) —
Glutinous rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa; also called sticky rice, sweet rice or waxy rice) is a type of rice grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia and parts of South Asia, which has opaque grains, very low amylose content, and is especially sticky when cooked. It is called glutinous (< Latin glūtinōsus) in the sense of being glue-like or sticky, and not in the sense of containing gluten. While often called "sticky rice", it differs from non-glutinous strains of japonica rice which also become sticky to some degree when cooked. There are numerous cultivars of glutinous rice, which include japonica, indica, and tropical japonica strains. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not sure how a grid with so many decent entries ended up being so boring, but here we are. The cluing was unimaginative and dull. Lots of vague one- or two-word clues, which added toughness but not zazz or sass. The "?" clues were all duds except 51A: Colosseum crowd? (TRE) (i.e. three is a crowd and the Colosseum is in Rome and the Italian word for "three" is TRE). The one answer that really undid all the good will that other answers had built up was ONESALL. God that is terrible. I mean, terrible. Please, constructors, delete it from your word list now. ONE'S answers are Always bad, but this one feels like King Bad. My brain keeps parsing it ONE SALL and pronouncing it to rhyme with "gunsel." Not only is it terrible, it was at the heart of the section that was most difficult to solve. I needed every cross, but WAIVE and ENABLES were not coming to me due to clue shortness/vagueness, and SGT was even worse because of the TGI trap (20A: Abbr. before Friday). I knew FERGIE so I had only the "G"; I sort of knew that LCD had to be followed by "T," and so TGI couldn't be right, but ... the "G" ... the "G" ... So ONESALL really gunked up everything.

I resent SHADES and HADES' coappearance. Too much shared real estate. [Suffix with magne-] has to be up there with the most ill-conceived clues ever. Completely inelegant and ugh-ly. PISH POOLE! Not to my liking. It's one thing to be able to put together a nice grid, and another thing completely to *write* the puzzle well. With the exception of ONESALL, this grid actually looks pretty good; but it was a drag to solve. No ear for cleverness. Some show-offy gamer and math stuff, and then [Bug] [Tuna type] [Omen] etc. Kinda CREAKY cluing.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Ill in Lille / THU 2-16-17 / Religion with public shrines / Five-time grammy-winning duo from the 2010s / Civil war locale beginning in 2011

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Constructor: Keith Redwine

Relative difficulty: Easy (probably more like Medium, but I've seen this exact gimmick before ...)

THEME: ASYMMETRY (35A: Feature of this puzzle that's "fixed" by a literal reading of four squares) — four squares contain word black and, if made literally black, give the grid the customary rotational symmetry it apparently lacks

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: THE [BLACK] KEYS (37D: Five-time Grammy-winning duo from the 2010s) —
The Black Keys are an American rock band formed in Akron, Ohio, in 2001. The group consists of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums). The duo began as an independent act, recording music in basements and self-producing their records, before they eventually emerged as one of the most popular garage rock artists during a second wave of the genre's revival in the 2010s. The band's raw blues rock sound draws heavily from Auerbach's blues influences, including Junior Kimbrough, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. (wikipedia)
• • •

I can't say anything bad about this puzzle—it seems pretty well made. But solving it made me a little sad because I'd seen it before. The identical gimmick. And that puzzle is one of the few puzzles that has stuck in my mind forever: an example of one of the truly killer themes. It was a New York Sun crossword (ed. Peter Gordon) from (I canNOT believe it's this old) January 11, 2008, entitled "Squares Away" and constructed by Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer (read about it here).

Solving that puzzle was a revelation. "Oh, crosswords can do This? Wow." And it was hard—really hard. It never gave you a revealer (like ASYMMETRY here) to *explain* to you that what looks like simply a hard "black"-square rebus puzzle actually uses the "black" squares to bring symmetry back to the grid. And it had *five* "black" squares (one more than today's). Heaney and Blindauer are top-notch constructors and solving their puzzle was formative for me, so this puzzle had no chance. It just seemed like an easier, paler imitation of the one I did nine years ago. I imagine if you've never seen such a thing, it probably looks pretty cool. It did to me once. When the New York Sun had a daily puzzle, it was very often better than the NYT (don't believe me? Ask around). I miss having a daily puzzle so consistently well edited and daring. Peter Gordon is now the editor of Fireball Crosswords (a tough weekly that's well worth your time). I can't believe Will didn't know the Blindauer/Heaney puzzle existed. I guess he didn't care. It's been nine years after all. And the ASYMMETRY revealer is new.

Started in the NW. I knew the Maine mascot was a BEAR and I immediately thought of a sidewalk BOARD for 1A: Menu holder at many a cafe (though clearly a non-sidewalk [BLACK]BOARD was what the clue intended). Since I was sure of BEAR, but the answer was five letters, I thought that one of the squares was to be left blank or skipped for some reason, and started working crosses with that in mine. Turned out the blank/skipped square was square one, and bam, there's the "black" rebus gimmick. About a minute later I hit the ASYMMETRY clue and experienced that sinking deja-vu feeling. Clue on ASYMMETRY made things easy, since it essentially told you where the "black" squares were—find the ASYMMETRY, fix it. Nothing else about this puzzle was terribly memorable to me, although I will say that the grid is admirably clean and sturdy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Szezecin resident / WED 2-15-17 / Poet who wrote in dreams begins responsibility / Obama adviser Valerie / Crewmate of Sulu and Bones / Prov north of Northumberland Strait

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Constructor: Jesse Eisenberg and Patrick Blindauer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: snowman made of food — Themers are food items that contain the names of body parts, clued as if they were being used to build a snowman...

Theme answers:
  • CHERRY PITS (17A: "We used some food to make a snowman. Under his arms we put ___")
  • BUTTERFINGERS (27A: "The we gave him ___")
  • HEAD OF LETTUCE (44A: On top we put a ___")
  • EARS OF CORN (58A: "Finally, we stuck in two ___. Yum!") 
Word of the Day: TROY (55D: Weight classification) —
Troy weight is a system of units of mass customarily used for precious metals and gemstones. There are 12 troy ounces per troy pound, (373.24 g) rather than the 16 ounces per pound (453.59 g) found in the more common avoirdupois system. The troy ounce is 480 grains, compared with the avoirdupois ounce, which is 437 12 grains. Both systems use the same grain defined by the international yard and pound agreement of 1959 as exactly 0.064 798 91 gram. Although troy ounces are still used to weigh gold, silver, and gemstones, troy weight is no longer used in most other applications. (wikipedia)
• • •

[A note on this new and apparently recurring "Celebrity Crossword" phenomenon. Celebrities are human beings, and deserve all the basic considerations afforded to other human beings, so my objection to this way of "marking the 75th anniversary of the NYT crossword puzzle" is in no way personal. Having famous people co-construct is a simple publicity stunt that has nothing to do with making good puzzles, and has no clear relationship to crossword puzzles, period. How about you "celebrate" your anniversary by paying your crossword constructors (much) more. Then you might get back some of the constructors you've lost. Then you might get a better overall quality of crossword submission. Constructor pay actually relates *directly* to puzzle quality, which is all any solver cares about in the first place. The NYT crossword is, pound for pound, the most profitable part of the paper (esp. in stand-alone digital form), so how about you double constructor pay immediately and maybe I won't be so put off by self-congratulatory publicity stunts. That said, I think Jesse Eisenberg is a good writer and actor and I saw him in LAX once and he was far shorter than I imagined but still handsome. Oh, and Patrick Blindauer is good at making puzzles. I was at his first wedding. Just kidding, his only wedding ... so far! Just kidding, he is happily married and his family is adorable. OK: puzzle]

The snowman is oddly constructed. I don't expect realism in a nutso puzzle like this. I mean something about the themers and their clues doesn't quite cohere. Two of the clues give you location, two don't. BUTTERFINGERS is the answer that's bothering me the most, for several reasons. It's got one of those non-anatomically-specific clues, so figuring it out was tough. It's also the only themer where the food is not a fruit / vegetable. It's also the only themer where the food word changes meaning in the full answer, i.e. BUTTER is one thing, BUTTERFINGERS (candy bars) are another. So are the snowman's fingers made from sticks of butter, or candy bars? The former, I think, but the fact that the addition of FINGERS creates another, separate, not-on-the-snowman food ... was awkward.

Let me try again to say what's weird about the theme: with CHERRY PITS, I assume that it's actual cherries that go on the snowman, and that (arm) pits are what the cherry represents, i.e. you aren't putting the pits on him, you're putting cherries on him *as* (arm)pits. With HEAD OF LETTUCE, however, I assume the head of lettuce represents the snowman's head *and* is the actual thing you put on the snow man. Same with corn: you put the whole ear of corn where the snowman's ears should be. HEAD OF LETTUCE is the head, EARS OF CORN are the ears, but CHERRY PITS are not the armpits. Cherries are the armpits. Same for BUTTERFINGERS—I don't put BUTTERFINGERS on the snowman; I put butter on the snowman *to represent* the fingers. So with two themers, the answer is the literal, actual thing I would put on the snowman, but with two others, there's a different form of wordplay involved, where I have to reimagine the literal meaning of the themer in order to picture what goes where on the snowman. This lengthy explanation is one of the saddest things I've ever written, but I feel it is necessary to convey the offness of this theme, which, otherwise, is harmless and even mildly enjoyable (the idea that one might think a snowman's pits in need of a visual signifier is absurd in the best possible way) (Kid, building snowman: "Ma, what're we gonna use for his pits?!" Ma: [worries her son has been out in the cold too long])

The rest of the puzzle is solid and smooth. Normally a whole lotta Scrabble-f***ing in a corner (today, the SW corner) would get side-eye from me, but all the JAZZ crosses work out very nicely. Nothing forced. This puzzle missed DARWIN's birthday by just three days (and Paula ZAHN's by nine). I had the most trouble in the SE, starting with CUT-OFFS, which I never considered a "style" of "jeans." Just something you do to your jeans with scissors when the lower part gets messed up or when you just need shorts real bad. So CUT- did not give the access to the SE that I needed. Then I couldn't get FELON (wanted FAKER or FEIGN or something actually [Counterfeiter]-specific). No idea where Szczecin is and since my brain pronounced it like "Chechen," that's the part of the world I kept thinking of (i.e. Chechnya, not Poland). Lastly, I had no idea, none, that TROY was a "weight classification"; that "T" was the very last letter to fall. So that corner was rough for me, but everything else fell to the easy side.

More snowman treatises tomorrow! Just kidding! Probably!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bygone Toyota sports car / TUE 2-14-17 / Relatives of slack jaws / Archenemy of Bugs Bunny / Advice-giving Dr of radio / Goalie Dominik with 16 seasons in the NHL

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Constructor: Daniel Larsen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ELMER FUDD (64A: Archenemy of Bugs Bunny ... who might say things like 17-, 24-, 32-, 42- and 51-Across) — we've got themers where R- and L-sounds in first word are changed to W-sounds, with resulting spelling changes and resulting wackiness

Theme answers:
  • TWEE HOUSE (17A: Small, cute residence?)
  • SWAT MACHINE (24A: Device for killing mosquitoes?)
  • WHISKEY MOVE (32A: Pouring into a shot glass, e.g.?)
  • WOWED MOUTHS (42A: Relatives of slack jaws?)
  • QUACK OF DAWN (51A: What wakes everyone up in the morning at the duck pond?)
Word of the Day: Dominik HASEK (18D: Goalie Dominik with 16 seasons in the N.H.L.) —
Dominik Hašek (Czech pronunciation: [ˈdomɪnɪk ˈɦaʃɛk]; born January 29, 1965) is a retired Czech ice hockey goaltender. In his 16-season National Hockey League (NHL) career, he played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators. During his years in Buffalo, he became one of the league's finest goaltenders, earning him the nickname "The Dominator". His strong play has been credited with establishing European goaltenders in a league previously dominated by North Americans. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, both with the Red Wings. On January 27, 2017, in a ceremony during the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Hasek was part of the second group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history. (wikipedia)
• • •

Today's constructor is 13 (that's what the NYT is trumpeting via Twitter, anyway), so that is something. Good for him. Now I can start calling Paolo Pasco (who is my daughter's age) "old man." Gonna damn this puzzle with faint praise by saying it's absolutely, 100% credible as a Tuesday NYT offering. Is it poking fun at people with speech impediments, or simply innocently aping a famous cartoon character. I tend to think the latter, but I don't have a speech impediment (unless you count a loudish nasally voice running on and on as impedimented). I never really thought about the fact that Elmer says both his Rs *and* his Ls like Ws. The R-to-W moves here sound more ... natural, to my ear. Also, if someone says "loud" as "wowed," my brain wants them also to say "mouths" as "moufs." A personal tic, I'm sure. I'm also sure this theme has probably been done before, but no matter. It has a certain cuteness.

["That's it, hold it right there! ... [aside] pronoun trouble..."]

The fill needs a lot of work, though, again, it's pretty Tuesday-average. It's a very easy puzzle and you've dropped HASEK in the middle of it? He's very famous as goalies go, but even I, knowing his name well, couldn't spell it at first pass (wanted a "C" where the "S" is). And his name will be the least generally known thing in the puzzle by a country mile. HASEK isn't bad. It's just not really Tuesday, and kind of sore-thumby in this grid. But looking over everything else, honestly, this is better than some bafflingly oft-published NYT constructors are capable of, so I'm gonna end on a high note and say that this is Very promising work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. AW, GOON! Happy Valentine's Day!

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Former Italian PM whose name means beloved / MON 2-13-17 / Alternative to arbitrary governance / Chandon's partner in champagne

Monday, February 13, 2017

Constructor: Brent Sverdloff and Michael Blake

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal)

THEME: H_LL vowel progression 

Theme answers:
  • HALL OF FAME (17A: Rock and roll has one in Cleveland)
  • HELLO, HOW ARE YOU? (23A: Words of greeting)
  • "HILL STREET BLUES" (36A: 1980s cop show that TV Guide once ranked as the greatest TV drama of all time)
  • HOLLYWOOD ACTOR (46A: James Earl Jones or Tommy Lee Jones)
  • HULLABALOO (58A: Ruckus) 
Word of the Day: Giuliano AMATO (7D: Former Italian P.M. whose name means "beloved")
Giuliano Amato OMRI (Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈljaːno aˈmaːto]; born 13 May 1938) is an Italian politician who twice served as Prime Minister of Italy, first from 1992 to 1993 and again from 2000 to 2001. Later, he was Vice President of the Convention on the Future of Europe that drafted the European Constitution and headed the Amato Group. He is commonly nicknamed dottor Sottile, (which means "Doctor Subtilis", the sobriquet of the Scottish Medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus, a reference to his political subtlety). From 2006 to 2008, he was the Minister of the Interior in Romano Prodi's government. On 12 September 2013, President Giorgio Napolitano appointed him to the Constitutional Court of Italy, where he has served since then. (wikipedia)
• • •

Painful on multiple levels. First, there's the self-imposed level—I failed to check all my crosses, spelled HULLABALOO like it sounded in my head (i.e. "-BULOO"), and then spent a full minute after I'd finished trying to track down my error. The spelling of nonsense words is one of my least favorite things about crosswords (see the recent terminal-"H" version of YOWZAH, for instance). But that was entirely my fault. There are reasons you always check the crosses, *especially* with something like HULLABALOO where spelling could get dicey. But back to the pain. Honestly, I filled in OLAF / OSHA 1, 2 and thought "oh ... no." Sometimes you can just feel cruddiness coming right away.  (note: I know it's OLAV—I'm just trying to be historically accurate about what happened) (I fixed it soon thereafter) (OLAV is *not* any better, crosswordese-wise). And sure enough the fill continued to be quite poor, especially up top. Due north is an abomination. Truly terrible. OFART is a terrible partial; it has all the charm of O, FART! (where is thy sting!?). And it's over a French department capital (sigh) (NIMES). And *those* answers cross AMATO (!?!?!?!? on a Monday?!?!?!), REMOW (you must be joking), and the perennially grid-marring TSE. All in a row. How do you leave that section like that? How do you not try harder? How do you not send the grid back for edits? It's all a mystery.

The theme is tired—I've done a vowel progression before, so maybe it's just a thing every constructor does once. But this one seemed particularly weak. It's not restrictive at all, especially since the answers have different word counts, and sometimes the H-LL is its own word and sometimes ... not. HALL OF FAME and "HILL STREET BLUES" should've been ditched in favor of answers that began with words that *contained* "HALL" and "HILL," (e.g. HALLOWEEN or HALLELUJAH, or HILLARY). Consistency. Elegance. Craft. Come on. Try harder. Also, HOLLYWOOD ACTOR and HELLO, HOW ARE YOU? are not good answers. HOLLYWOOD SIGN or BOWL or HILLS, all better. All specific, real things. You just mean movie actor, so HOLLYWOOD ACTOR sounds ridiculous. HOLLIS, QUEENS or HOLLAND TUNNEL could've given you some NYC flavor. And as for "HELLO, HOW ARE YOU?"—it's a thing one might say, but it's pretty limp and robotic-sounding. Hello Stranger, Kitty, Dolly, Goodbye, all better. No one says "ALL-FEMALE" band. It's all-girl band, if it's anything. This thing is maybe an LAT puzzle. It's not (or shouldn't be) NYT-worthy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Gaming trailblazer / SUN 2-12-17 / 1950s French president Rene / Dismaying announcement about disaster relief / Roker's appeal before bastric bypass surgery / Abductor of Persephone

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Do the Splits" — familiar phrases are clued as if one of the words is in fact two words, i.e. clued wackily

Theme answers:
  • GO OFF ON A TAN GENT (23A: Berate some guy for getting too much sun?)
  • POE, TRY READING (37A: Suggestion to a bored short story writer?)
  • BRA IN WAVES (55A: Result of a serious wardrobe malfunction at the beach?)
  • LAB OR PARTY? (74A: Scientist's dilemma regarding work vs. play?)
  • JUST ICE FOR ALL (86A: Dismaying announcement about disaster aid?)
  • FAT AL ATTRACTION (106A: Roker's appeal before gastric bypass surgery?)
  • UNFUNDED MAN DATES (36D: What a cash-strapped beau might take you on?)
  • FU MANCHU MUST ACHE (16D: "That villain in comics has sure gotta be sore!"?)
Word of the Day: POUFS (75D: High hairdos) —

noun: pouf; plural noun: poufs
  1. a dress or part of a dress in which a large mass of material has been gathered so that it stands away from the body.

    "a dress with a pouf skirt"
    • a bouffant hairstyle.

      "he grew his hair out in a sort of pouf" (

• • •

Started out loving this one, but also started out thinking the theme was something very different, more amusing, and more specific than it ended up being. First two themers I got were GO OFF ON A TAN GENT and UNFUNDED MAN DATES, so I thought it was going to be all about dudes somehow ... but then it just ended up being "split" words. Results were often good, but it's an extremely loose premise. There must be tons of words one can split. Why these? Just 'cause. I'm not a big fan of "some stuff I could think of that's symmetrical" as the primary limiter on a theme. Still, as I say, some were quite funny, including BRA IN WAVES and LAB OR PARTY? I still don't get what JUST ICE FOR ALL means in the context of its clue. How is "disaster aid" relevant here? It's dismaying to get ice as a form of disaster aid? To get *only* ice? But ... who brings ice to a disaster at all? I can't even imagine the context in which this makes any sense, let alone is funny. I asked Twitter. No response. Fu Manchu is a creation of *novelist* Sax Rohmer, so that whole "villain in comics" angle in the clue (16D) was lost on me. Also, that FAT AL ATTRACTION clue is super-off-putting. Somehow referring to someone's gastric bypass surgery felt ... overly personal. Dumb. Bad. There had to be a better way to go. I was thinking maybe Weird Al's video for "Eat It," but, improbably, that's NOT the one in which he gets fat. The one in which he gets fat is (improbably) yet another Michael Jackson parody: "Fat." 

I finished with a wrong square. Totally unfindable for me, even though I suspected that one of the words involved was wrong. But POUFS (75D: High hairdos) is not a thing I know very well, if at all, and as clued, well, I went with POOFS. If you hair is poofy ... POOFS. So I had NOB at 83A: Gist, and, as my friend Austin (who made the Same Mistake) said,  NOB "sounded perfectly gist-like to me." NUB, like POUFS, is a fussy word I'd never use. Also, I think of a NUB as a little stump, like a worn-down pencil. Just change NUB to SUB and the whole thing would've been confusion-free. But no. NUB. NUB was the preferred answer.

It's terrible form, design-wise, to have a 10-letter non-themer literally abutting a 10-letter non-themer (as happens twice in this grid). When themers are longer answers (as they are the vast majority of the time), there shouldn't be any non-themers as long (at least not running in the same direction). This is basic. Avoids confusion. Is elegant. RAWRECRUIT (51A: Greenhorn on the force) on top of BRAINWAVES is just yuck. I kept wanting RAWRECRUIT to be theme material and couldn't "split" it. ADMITTANCE (77A: Entry) didn't bug me as much (though, again, a word I'd never use), but the principle holds—non-themers are Shorter than themers. This is 101 stuff. The grid overall seems pretty solid, and many themers were enjoyable, but there was more clunk here, esp. in the theme, than there should've been.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS this is a treasure (the things you stumble on to when you're blogging a crossword...)

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Virginia willow's genus / SAT 2-11-17 / 1973 Tony nominee for Little Night Music / Deliciously different sloganeer

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Constructor: Frederick J. Healy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium for me, but probably closer to Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ILA (30A: Wharf workers' grp.) —
The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) is a labor union representing longshore workers along the East Coast of the United States and Canada, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and inland waterways. The ILA has approximately 200 local affiliates in port cities in these areas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was dismal. Even the fresh stuff was dated (LASER TAG! HAVE A COW! Watch "Home Improvement" and "NYPD Blue"! It's the '90s!), and there's not much fresh stuff to begin with. But mostly the badness wasn't a matter of freshness, it was a matter of simple badness. I just kept wincing at stuff like SEINED and RATEDA and EAN ALTHO LAO ORME ABEAT and oof, especially ITEA (58D: Virginia willow's genus). That is a "delete your puzzle" answer. Let's not. Ever. Never. No. Just godawful. Genuses are always the last refuge of a scoundrel constructor, and this one? What on god's green is it? Who says "DO SAY"? It's DO TELL. Everybody knows that. Multiple WAHOOS *and* multiple DREWS? It just hurts all over, this thing, especially when compared to yesterday's beaut. Jeez, CARIOU? You gotta be really into musicals and/or really old and/or a lonnnnngtime solver (my category!) to know that guy. The only way I'm even getting through this write-up right now is by amusing myself with recluings/reparsings, like, say, [Autobiography of pekoe?] ("I, TEA") and [Gritty '90s religious thriller?] ("GET SATAN!"). Crossing LEHI with ITEA is a textbook example of no no no. Delete your puzzle. I mean, GEE WHIZ, man ...

I will say that there is nothing really *wrong* with the stacks / slabs of longer answers in the corners. "WHEN, THEN?" has a colloquial charm. Not sure why, but I really liked the clue on SCONCE (50D: Keeper of the flame?). I had SEANCE for a bit—again, not sure why. Had RAW EELS for RAW EGGS (43D: Distinctive features of tamago gohan servings, in Japanese cuisine) because I have had eels on the brain for a month or so now (you'll see why—new "On the Grid" podcast episode out soon). I also had SALADS as 21D: Part of many a submarine (SALAMI). Like, I don't know, tuna SALAD, chicken SALAD, something like that? It briefly made sense. SPIKE LEE and HAWKEYE were both gimmes, and a big part of why this puzzle ended up on the easy side for me. Just glad it's over.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. ["Forgive me father, for I have ___" (beginning of fisherman's confession)?] (SEINED). I apologize. Good day.

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Seducer of Josef in Kafka's Trial / FRI 2-10-17 / Librettist for Verdi's Otello Falstaff / Navy enlistee informally / Comedian with 2016 memoir Born a Crime / Director's cry that's said with pause

Friday, February 10, 2017

Constructor: Kyle Mahowald

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: BOITO (28D: Librettist for Verdi's "Otello" and "Falstaff") —
Arrigo Boito (Italian: [arˈriːɡo ˈbɔito]; 24 February 1842 – 10 June 1918) (whose original name was Enrico Giuseppe Giovanni Boito and who wrote essays under the anagrammatic pseudonym of Tobia Gorrio), was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, librettist and composer, best known today for his libretti, especially those for Giuseppe Verdi's operas Otello and Falstaff, and his own opera Mefistofele. Along with Emilio Praga, and his own brother Camillo Boito he is regarded as one of the prominent representatives of the Scapigliatura artistic movement. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very nice longer answers. A very (almost aggressively) current puzzle, very much in the tech-boy universe. Feels like it was made by/for math-science boys who went to college in the '00s. It's got DATA SCIENTISTs and MINECRAFT and the actor who played Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" and the host of "The Daily Show. There are only two women in the puzzle and they're huddling together in the SW corner. Oh, sorry, forgot about LENI (whoever that is). Anyway, the few female answers all TINY four-letter names. Very MALE, is what I'm saying. But well made, I think. MENA is ick and BOITO is obscuroito (to me), but there's not a lot of other junk, and the skeleton on this one is solid—good, strong longer answers holding this thing together.

I did this in fits and starts, racing at times, dead-stopped at others, getting JESSE EISENBERG from *that* clue wasn't easy for me, and the first bit of his name I got was the "EEI" string, which looks wrong / insane (5D: Oscar-nominated actor who has written several humor pieces for The New Yorker). And then DATA SCIENTIST didn't (and still doesn't) sound like a thing. I wanted ANALYST. Bah. But the worst problem came at the end, with my last corner—the SE. And it was all MINECRAFT's fault. I have a 12yo nephew who is ObSessed—goes to conventions and everything. But I just don't think of MINECRAFT as a "video game." That's a label I associate with stand-up console games like "Donkey Kong" or home console games like "Mario Kart" (which fits). And maybe "Myst," I guess. But you play a video game—like, there are clear objectives. It's relatively finite and goal-oriented. I think of "MINECRAFT" as more like a virtual world in which you explore and build ... I don't know. Are there points? Can you score? Win? It's obviously technically right, the clue, but ugh, again, the vagueness. So I had MINIKARTS at some point (and JOE KOOL!). And then TRIBES for 42A: Concerns for sociologists (TRENDS).  Gulf of RIGA? Never heard of it. Got rescued by a blind guess at TARS (after I'd pulled MINECRAFT). Not so fun down there. TRUST ME. But fun overall.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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