Chunnel train / THU 7-19-18 / Vessel that's 1% full / 1847 novel partly set on whaler / Many ancient tombstone / Surname of three baseball brothers / First NFL player on cover of Sports Illustrated

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Constructor: Mike Knobler

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:30)


THEME: SECRET CODE (17A: What the answers to the six starred clues follow, as hinted at by 66-Across) (66-Across = NEXT PLEASE) — for starred clues, you have to move each of the letters in the correct answers one step up in the alphabet to get the letters that need to go into the grid—these new stepped-up letters spell real words, although those words have nothing to do with anything:

Theme answers:
  • DUD -> EVE
  • ETSY -> FUTZ
  • SNEER -> TOFFS
  • TANKS -> UBOLT
  • OHMS -> PINT
  • HAL -> IBM (this has been the subject of some "2001: A Space Odyssey" speculation...)
Word of the Day: Y.A. TITTLE (5D: First N.F.L. player on the cover of Sports Illustrated)
Yelberton Abraham Tittle Jr. (October 24, 1926 – October 8, 2017), better known as Y. A. Tittle, was a professional American football quarterback. He played in the National Football League (NFL) for the San Francisco 49ersNew York Giants, and Baltimore Colts, after spending two seasons with the Colts in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).[b] Known for his competitiveness, leadership, and striking profile, Tittle was the centerpiece of several prolific offenses throughout his seventeen-year professional career from 1948 to 1964. (wikipedia)
• • •
I am laughing so hard at the non-sports types among you (and that's a lot of you, including my wife, currently solving in the next room) trying to make any kind of sense of YATITTLE. "Who would name their kid YA!? Or is it YAT?!" Someone should try to put YELBERTON (his actual given name) in a grid and see what happens. Me, I was thrilled to get that clue, because though I didn't know it straight off, I got it with only a few crosses, and it felt like I got a secret EZ PASS or something. Sadly, I'd struggle a bunch later, and my time wouldn't be any better than normal. For me, this was like solving a themeless with six mystery answers. Six answers I had to get almost entirely from crosses—for a couple, like UBOLT, I could see from the letter pattern what words they were going to make, so I didn't need *every* cross. But most, I needed. So it was slow going in parts. But ... hey, wait, what are TOFFS? My brains was cool with it, but now my brain is realizing it was thinking of DOFFS. Are TOFFS like ... fops? Huh, British informal derogatory. Interesting choice. "Rich or upper-class person." Well OK then.


As for the code, I couldn't make ETSY into anything so I just jumped to 66-Across, which I hate doing, but I needed a hint. Got NEXT easy enough, but thought maybe it was NEXT IN LINE! (which fits). Later, I looked at NEXT PLEASE trying to see what code was embedded therein—maybe some hint at a letter equivalency or letter swap or something ... but no. It's just NEXT. That's the clue word. PLEASE is superfluous. Why is there a superfluous word in your revealer? In the end, this is just six short words that can be changed to other words via ROT-1. That's the official name of your (not really) SECRET CODE. It's just a code. And you crack it with NEXT. Maybe if I had a BLOODY MARY, one SIDE EFFECT would be enjoying this whole premise. Alas, I'm not drinking this month.


High word-count grid with lots of short stuff, though there's six longer (8+) non-theme answers here, all of them at least solid. I guess I don't have much to say about the overall fill. Seemed fine, if a bit stale in parts (ALOU OMOO ERIES CTA PDAS etc.). I made some dumb mistakes along the way, mostly by misreading clues. Wrote in TREE at 1A: Christmastime purchases because I didn't see the plural (FIRS). Considered SPELL at 72A: Participated in a bee because I missed the verb tense (SEWED). Nothing was terribly hard. Just a matter of navigating around six totally (from my perspective) unclued words. Did you know that by today's SECRET CODE, ANNA would become BOOB. Oh, what fun. ANTS would become BOUT. STAR would become TUBS. ADDER -> BEEFS. Sigh. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. That clue on YACHT is pretty clever (5A: Vessel that's 1% full?) (i.e. full of "the 1%," i.e. the very rich)

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Grammy-winning dubstep pioneer / WED 7-18-18 / Wolf riders in Lord of Rings / Workout-obsessed sorts colloquially / Operating system whose logo features penguin / Newnowned ancient orator / Madea's portrayer in long-running film series

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (5:56)


THEME: F(OS)SIL (29D: What each circled square in this puzzle represents) — taken together, the circled squares spell TYRANNOSAURUS REX; bonus themer in the middle of the grid = DIG SITE (39A: Archaeologists' workplace)

Word of the Day: PALLS (53D: Becomes tiresome) —
verb
  1. become less appealing or interesting through familiarity. (google)
• • •

A complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ... broken into precisely eight pieces ... of exactly the same size ... that is some find. For me, there was both an aha and a letdown at the end. Not "wow," but "really? That?" SHEESH. Perhaps also HOO BOY, though I honestly don't know what sound the puzzle is making with 9D: "Whew!" Is that like "Phew, that was a narrow escape"? Or "woohoo, that was fun"? HOO BOY is highly malleable, as far as I can tell. Wikitionary just has it as used to express strong emotion.  I use it to express the magnitude of an issue or problem. I think. I honestly haven't thought too hard about my HOO BOY usage, tbh. Anyway, back to the puzzle. There is a cleverness and an ambition here. Admirable. But something about the execution, and specifically about the moment I discovered the gimmick (immediately post-solve), was dissatisfying. Like someone had pulled a prank on me, but it wasn't a very good one, so, like, I wanna be a good sport about it, but I'm super-judgy about technique, so ... it's a weird space to be in. The feeling upon completion was not on the positive side, is all I can say.


Are GYM BU(NN)IES women? Do women call themselves that? Really? I mean, really to either question, actually. That answer reeks of OGLE-ness. Why can't women just be GYM RATS like guys? Did we need the Playboy-inflected "BUNNIES"? I go to the gym virtually every day and have never heard this term, so I'm baffled and slightly off-put. [cranks up the google machine] I'm poking around the internet now and seeing a. that the term relates primarily to gay men, and b. that there is a whole section of the internet that clearly doesn't know a. and uses the term in the sexist garbage way I imagined. The world is big and weird. If the clue wants to be gay, it should be gay. Just ... be it. Don't be all coy with this [Workout-obsessed sorts, colloquially] stuff. Be Specific. Otherwise, a lot of old squares like me are going to assume you're into some sexist dickery again.


Figuring out that the circled squares were rebus squares wasn't that hard. Figuring out that they were just two letters apiece, also not terribly hard. Seeing what they had to do with each other, even after the F(OS)SIL revealer, was not easy (but then, I was not stopping my solve to look at all the squares and see). The worst problem for me, though, was that I thought the [Big name is French perfumes] at 1A was COCO (as in Chanel). So (TY)LER PERRY, whose name I know well enough to have been the first person to put his full name in a NYT crossword puzzle thank you very much, was not even on my radar at first. I kept thinking of Medea, not Madea, and wondering how I'd know any such actress (3D: Madea's portrayer in a long-running film series). Not knowing the term GYM BU(NN)IES, also tough on my solving time. Had no idea PALLS was a verb; the clue meant nothing to me (53D: Becomes tiresome). Never heard it used that way.


The "S" at the end of both SROS and ENOKIS is awful. Neither of those wants to be plural, and you've pluraled them together, simultaneously. Had OVATE at first for 26A: Egg-shaped (OVOID), possibly because OVATE means "having an OVOID shape" (this is another ASDOI / ASAMI /// ALII / ALIA situation where I just hate both options and hate having to guess. Do you all know SKRILL(EX)? I laughed as I wrote that in, thinking of how many people solvers would be wondering "What is a SKRILL EX?" I knew the name and still managed to misspell it (SKRILLIX. Silly rabbit ...). Oh, and I had BEAUTY SPOT, which I thought was the name for it (35D: Mole). Maybe not. Or maybe, it's another ASAMI / ASDOI situation, in which case throw it in the river. SHEESH, HOOBOY, etc. In the end, I think this one tried a tad too hard to be SHOWY.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Comics hero with magic ring / TUE 7-17-18 / Annual internet awards / Part of mosque from which call to prayer is made / Smartphone predecessor for short / Cartoon boy who makes many prank calls / Product label looked for by lactose intolerant

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Constructor: Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:18)


THEME: FLYING / COLORS (37A: With 40-Across, what a straight-A student passes with ... or a hint to 17-, 27-, 46- and 62-Across) — things that can fly and also start with a color:

Theme answers:
  • RED BARON (17A: W.W. I enemy ace)
  • GOLDEN SNITCH (27A: Quidditch ball that ends the game when it's caught) [phrasing?]
  • GREEN LANTERN (46A: Comics hero with a magic ring)
  • BLUEBIRD (62A: Symbol of happiness)
Word of the Day: WEBBYS (67A: Annual internet awards) —
Webby Award is an award for excellence on the Internet presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a judging body composed of over two thousands industry experts and technology innovators. Categories include websites; advertising and media; online film and video; mobile sites and apps; and social. (wikipedia)
• • •

Quick write-up this morning—miserable heat made me fall asleep early last night, and now miserable heat + grogginess is making want to get to (more) coffee and cool, cool yogurt/berry shake as soon as possible. Themewise, this one works well. I had to think for a few seconds, after I'd finished, what the "flying" had to do with any of it, because only themers 1 and 2 seem inherently about flying to me, but yes, they all fly, and they all start with colors, ta da. The one outlier in the group is GOLDEN SNITCH, mainly because the GOLDEN part, while accurate, is not a crucial part of its name. It's the Snitch. You catch the Snitch. In accounts of Quidditch, players chase the Snitch, not the GOLDEN SNITCH. "Way up above them, Harry was gliding over the game, squinting about for some sign of the Snitch" (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (or Philosopher's) Stone) See. It's like that throughout. The blue red and green colors are essential to the identity of their respective answers today; golden, not so much. Could've gone with YELLOWJACKET in that same space, but I guess the allure of HP was too strong. The clue on GOLDEN SNITCH is also kind of messed up (27A: Quidditch ball that ends the game when it's caught). The "ball" does not "end the game"—catching it does. The ball doesn't "end the game when it's caught." I'm just imagining the ball going, "OK, everyone, I'm caught, that's it, game over." Grammar! Still, though, I think the theme holds up reasonably well.


Fill-wise, there are problems, but it's Tuesday, so what's a Tuesday without fill trouble. Was put off the grid right away with the horrible ASDOI / ASAMI dilemma at 3D: "Likewise." "Here, guess which terrible answer it is. You have no way of knowing and have to get it from crosses. Fun, right!?" (see also the ALII / ALIA dilemma at 66A: Et ___ (and others), ugh). Also, DETOO, gah. It's bad enough I have to see D2 spelled out, seeing it as a name *part* and not the full name is unpleasant. I'd sooner accept ARTOO, because at least that's what people occasionally call it (him?). But then there is some nice stuff here. Love PREFAB and CYBORG. Mostly the grid is bland, as opposed to downright obnoxious. As Tuesdays go, this is decent work.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Surfin 2008 rap song / MON 7-16-18 / Approach respectfully in modern parlance / Place to see town while painting town red / Hit 2017 computer-animated film

Monday, July 16, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Monday) (3:36)


THEME: "COCO" (60D: Hit 2017 computer-animated film ... or a hint to 20-, 27-, 49- and 58-Across) — Theme answers are all two-word phrases where both words start "CO-":

Theme answers:
  • COUNTRY CODE (20A: Start of an overseas telephone number)
  • COUNTERFEIT COIN (27A: Faux money)
  • COMPLETE CONTROL (49A: What a micromanager would like to have)
  • COME CORRECT (58A: Approach respectfully, in modern parlance)
Word of the Day: CORONET (47D: Princess' headwear) —
noun
  1. 1. 
    a small or relatively simple crown, especially as worn by lesser royalty and peers or peeresses.
  2. 2. 
    the band of tissue on the lowest part of a horse's pastern, containing the horn-producing cells from which the hoof grows. (google)
• • •

Didn't care much for this one. Cool to see "COCO" clued this way for the first time, but the themers (with the notable exception of COME CORRECT) were kind of blah, and the revealer in a weird position, and ideally there would've been no other "CO-" words in the grid at all besides the ones in the themers (but we've got COO, COARSE, and CORONET). The theme type is pretty old-fashioned. I mean, it's fine, I just expected much better. Bizarre to me that you'd go back to the "SWAG Surfin'" well so soon (5A: "___ Surfin'" (2008 rap song))—and again on a Monday. Most of the fill was pretty dull, though there the grid has its moments. SELF-CARE is nice, and pretty current/modern (at least I hear the term much, much more now than I did, say, 5+ years ago) (38D: Tending nto one's own well-being). Enjoyed MUMBAI and RAITA. As I suggested above, COME CORRECT is very original, though I don't know about "modern parlance"—I know it almost exclusively from '80s-'90s hip-hop (and a quick google shows it still has musical currency). Whatever, cool concept. Would've enjoyed ROOFTOP BAR maybe on a different day of the week, or with a non-"?" clue. Here, nothing said "BAR" to me, or even "TOP," so I had to hack it with crosses. Lots of crosswordese (EERIE, ETON, ETAL, et al.). Never like POOP in my grid, no matter what the clue. By no means a bad puzzle, but not for me.


The clue on TALE was completely baffling to me. Now, I can see it—the whole idea that fishermen (always men?) tell lies about the one that got away or whatever. "Fish story" is even a general term for a far-fetched story. But the way it's clue, I really thought the dude was bringing something home ... and mere TALE didn't really cut it for me. I had -ALE and still nothing. Also really wanted the term PILE ON, which very much fits the clue (9D: Add even more criticism) ... just not the number of boxes in the answer. I also just couldn't remember CORONET. I had the COR- and could think only of CORONAS, CORONAE ... maybe COROLLA? ... I dunno. I feel like CORONET was a brand of dishware when I was growing up. Or disposable dishware, or something, is that right? Whoops, nope, that's Chinet. Sigh. Anyway, CORONET, it's just a crown, sans any fancy jewels I guess. Hmm. OK, I'M OUT.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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French city where D'Artagnan lived in Three Musketeers / SUN 7-15-18 / Worlds external to mind / Musical set in St. Tropez familiarly / Cornbread variety named for where it's baked / Song sung by garth books on Jay leno's last tonight show / Lesley who played Mrs Patmore on Downton Abbey / West coast beer brand informally

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Constructor: Sam Ezersky and Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (12:28)


THEME: "Complimentary" — familiar phrases clued as if they were compliments (by reimagning the meaning of the first word in the answer)

Theme answers:
  • OUTSTANDING BILLS (24A: Compliment to a lawmaker?)
  • RADICAL MOVEMENT (36A: Compliment to a composer?)
  • SWEET TALK (62A: Compliment to a lecturer?)
  • STELLAR CLASSIFICATION (64A: Compliment to a taxonomist?)
  • KILLER BEE (67A: Compliment to a champion speller?)
  • SOLID FOUNDATION (87A: Compliment to a charity organizer?)
  • SMASHING PUMPKINS (103A: Compliment to a vegetable gardener?)
Word of the Day: PASTICCIO (47D: Musical medley) —
noun
  1. another term for pastiche. (google) (grrrrrrrr)
In music, a pasticcio or pastiche is an opera or other musical work composed of works by different composers who may or may not have been working together, or an adaptation or localization of an existing work that is loose, unauthorized, or inauthentic. (wikipedia)
• • •

Really didn't care for this one, which is startling, given that I love almost every puzzle Byron Walden touches. This one, though, had a theme that I found corny and dull, and then fill that was just ... it was like someone got enamored of his deep wordlist and decided to let it explode all over his grid, with very little in the way of restraint or balance. Marginally famous pop culture names all over the place (well, concentrated in the NW, but all over the place). A Garth Brooks THE and then a gratuitous river THE (THE SEINE? Booooo). ASHCAKE *and* ASHE *followed immediately by* ASHEN? TESSES? IMRE? Holy crap, TARBES????!!?! This is the first time in my life I'm even hearing of this place's existence. If it were a crossworthy place, It Would Have Been In The Grid Before (oh, sorry, it *has* appeared in the grid before ... once ... just after the end of WWII (seriously)). I can accept PASTICCIO as something I should know, even though I didn't, but I'm never going to accept "THE DANCE," don't @ me about Garth Brooks' fame and sales etc. (12A: Song sung by Garth Brooks on Jay Leno's last "Tonight Show"). Oh really, wikipedia, it's his "signature song," is it? Look, I didn't spend the entire decade of my 20s assiduously avoiding that guy's music (and Jay Leno) for you to go shoving my face in it in my cranky middle age! OK, so "THE DANCE" is not objectively bad, just bad in my particular ears and nose and throat. If not for THE THE in THE SEINE, I probably would've let Garth go tbh. What the hell kind of non-word is NON-EGOS? See, you should exercise discretion, not just put in Whatever Fits. NON-EGOS is never going to be good fill (80D: Worlds external to the mind). Sometimes it's good not to GO ALL IN with your wordlist. Real words, please. DAREN'T!? Is that how they speak in TARBES (wherever that is)?


And then so many multi-word phrase, it got irksome after a while. TOOK AIM AT, TAP IN TO, ACT AS IF, GO ALL IN, SON OF A, DO ON ... I dunno, it was as if the puzzle knew its theme was pretty standard-issue NYT and so tried to zazz it up, but the zazz knob kind of broke and things ended up a bit of a mess. This is a very different problem from having your grid overrun with crosswordese, but it's a problem nonetheless. I did like the neat stack of three themers in the middle. Very Merl Reagle-esque. And some of the fill was interesting. I am never going to care about "Doctor Who," but I still didn't mind TIME LORDS (41D: Beings on TV's "Doctor Who"). And ONE-PAGER is some very in-the-language slang (IMPO) (in my professiorial opinion). I barely remember JARTS and don't even know what the portmanteau is there (77A: Banned game projectiles). I assume it's a portmanteau of something and darts. JORTS woulda been great. Jeans + shorts. Makes sense. JARTS? Oh ... looked it up. It's "javelin darts." LOL, did you know that? With a name like that, I'm shocked, Shocked that they had to ban them. I weirdly liked the clue on NIGER (95A: Major exporter of uranium). I mean, how would I know that ... except I'm old enough to remember the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq War, so ... yeah. OK, it's hot and I want a FRAPPE, so bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I'll repeat my announcement from yesterday, since it's relevant to Sunday-solvers as well:
    Some puzzle suggestions for you Saturday solvers. Peter Broda has a suite of Vowelless Crossword Puzzles available right now (ed. Andy Kravis). Vowelless crosswords are a really entertaining, and tough, variation on your favorite pastime. Seven puzzles, pay what you want. Get them here. Also, be sure to check out this past week's American Values Crossword second puzzle, a "labyrinth-style puzzle" by Francis Heaney, entitled "The Maze Ruiner." If you're not already a subscriber, just pay the $1 and get it a la carte. I promise you, you'll be wowed. It might take you half and hour, or an hour, or a day, or longer, but It Is Worth It. Really impressive work. Very clipboard-worthy. Get it here.
    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Style of Southern hip-hop / SAT 7-14-18 / Banana Republic's parent company / Symbol of change in math / City license once needed to work in establishment serving alcohol / Ancient city rediscovered in 1870 / Home to ancient Zapotec civilization / Strain of potent marijuana

    Saturday, July 14, 2018

    Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

    Relative difficulty: Medium (8:16) (possibly easier: one possibly idiosyncratic mistake made a Huge difference today) (possibly harder, if your knowledge of rap or weed is not strong, or at least existent)


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: CRUNK (34D: Style of Southern hip-hop)
    Crunk is a subgenre of hip hop music that emerged in the early 1990s and gained mainstream success during the mid 2000s. Crunk is often up-tempo and one of Southern hip hop's more dance and club oriented subgenres. An archetypal crunk track frequently uses a main groove consisting of layered keyboard synths, a drum machine rhythm, heavy basslines, and shouting vocals, often in a call and response manner. The term "crunk" is also used as a blanket term to denote any style of Southern hip hop, a side effect of the genre's breakthrough to the mainstream. The word derives from its African-American slang past-participle form, "crunk", of the verb "to crank" (as in the phrase "crank up"). (wikipedia)
    • • •

    What a lovely puzzle. Or, for me, five puzzles, because all five sections (the corners + the fat middle) played differently from one another. Easy, medium, hard (both inherently hard and hard-because-of-error)—this thing ran the gamut. In the end, my time was just average, but it felt like I was one kind-of-dumb mistake away from lighting it up, burning it down. After fighting my way out of the NW (ARRIS!? APSIS?! Yikes; NTESTS, ugh), I thought I'd come storming down into the middle, but after I gave up on STIP-something and wrote in STROBE LIGHT at 14D: Party flasher, things came to a halt right quick. Wrote in GNARL at 31A: Get all twisted up (RAVEL) and that pretty much killed things in the middle for a while. Then I lucked out: I knew CRUNK. CRUNK feels like a crucial answer, and a serious generational dividing line. If you know enough about rap to know subgenres, well, here's not just the answer, but a very very important "K," the lead letter in 48A: Term of respect in old westerns ... so, effectively, here is the entire SE corner, on a platter. No CRUNK, no korner. I would've been baffled by the [Term of respect...] if not for that "K," but with (only) the "K," I got KEMO SABE and the SW corner went down in sub-Monday time. Not kidding. I remember nothing. It filled itself in. Didn't even see half the clues. Total fire hazard, that corner. Whoosh. So at that point, my experience was Medium (NW), gruesome (middle), and Kids' Menu Easy (SE). Onward!


    Even with the top and bottom of MORAL CENTER, still couldn't see it at first (21D: Source of guiding principles). So, two corners down, (amoral) center still elusive. Went into the NE corner very confident. Had that sweet DOT sitting there, giving me first letters of all those Acrosses. And boom there goes DISBAR, boom there goes ON TIME, bo ... bi ... er ... hmm, what "parent company" could start with a "T"? Better check the Downs ... hmmm, OK 11D: Like valentines, starts "AM-" ... how 'bout AMOROUS!? Oh yeah, now we're cooking (narrator's voice: he was not cooking). I just got destroyed up there, and all because of two answers. 8D: Like the best streams? (IN HD). This is a horrible clue, mostly because, as a "?" clue, it offers actually no "?"-type wordplay. No familiar phrase, no pun. Streaming is a real thing, streams are real things (video-wise, I mean), so there's no real "?"-worthiness. And the phrasing on the clue evokes ... nothing. So I'm looking for a word that goes with the word "stream," four letters, starts "IN-." Nothing. Same parsing problem on the "parent company." Not expecting two words. Possibly because everyone knows the store as GAP. It's officially THE GAP, but first sentence of damn wikipedia entry (which is titled "Gap Inc." btw) says, "The Gap, Inc., commonly known as Gap Inc. or Gap, (stylized as GAP) is an American worldwide clothing and accessories retailer" (emph mine). So, staring down a six-letter answer that starts with "T" that is a "parent company," I went with ... can you guess?  ... that's right, TARGET! Oy. I never made it out of there. Had to finish center and work my way back up (via back ends of STEEL CAGE and AMATORY). 


    How did I manage to tip the center with no further help from the corners? Honestly, it was just CAVER (28D: Speleologist). Once I committed to that answer, GNARL went out, RAVEL went in. Then, knowing 31D: Give up probably started RE- (it did: RENOUNCE), I had the E, E, and -IC in GENETIC and I saw it! Match, meet newspaper. Once again, whoosh. There went the center. It was that easy. But only after it was that difficult. Finished up in the SW, thanks to getting GERMANE instantly, off the "G" (33D: Material), and also thanks to having recently looked up KUSH for some reason. That is, I knew it was  pot, but needed specifics. I forget why. I don't even smoke. I just wanted to know. Anyway, bone up on your pot and rap terminology if you want to have a future in solving. Not joking. OK, bye.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. there was hardly any junk in this grid, and what little there was was Saved By Rhyme (SBR). When your fill is slime, try a rhyme! Need AMUCK? Bring in a duck! Stuck with ARRIS? You'll always have Paris! Etc.

      P.P.S. some puzzle suggestions for you Saturday solvers. Peter Broda has a suite of Vowelless Crossword Puzzles available right now (ed. Andy Kravis). Vowelless crosswords are a really entertaining, and tough, variation on your favorite pastime. Seven puzzles, pay what you want. Get them here. Also, be sure to check out this past week's American Values Crossword second puzzle, a "labyrinth-style puzzle" by Francis Heaney, entitled "The Maze Ruiner." If you're not already a subscriber, just pay the $1 and get it a la carte. I promise you, you'll be wowed. It might take you half and hour, or an hour, or a day, or longer, but It Is Worth It. Really impressive work. Very clipboard-worthy. Get it here.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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      Fore-and-aft-rigged vessel / FRI 7-13-18 / / Apocalytpic event predicted in Norse mythology / West Indian sorcery / Fractions of krona / Martial art whose name means literally sword way

      Friday, July 13, 2018

      Constructor: Trenton Charlson

      Relative difficulty: Easy (4:20)

      [mirror symmetry!]

      THEME: ZZ TOP (52A: Rock band whose name is suggested by the first row of this puzzle) — "ZZ" is in every answer at the "TOP" of this grid ... not really a full-fledged theme, but it's something!

      Word of the Day: OBEAH (15A: West Indian sorcery) —
      Obeah (sometimes spelled ObiObeahObeya, or Obia) is a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies. Obeah is difficult to define, as it is not a single, unified set of practices; the word "Obeah" was historically not often used to describe one's own practices. Some scholars, such as Diana Paton, have contended that what constitutes Obeah in Jamaica has been constructed by white society, particularly law enforcement. Accordingly, different Afro-Caribbean communities use their own terminology to describe the practice, such as science, among the Jamaican Windward Maroons. Obeah is similar to other Afro-American religions such as PaloHaitian VodouSantería, and Hoodoo in that it includes communication with ancestors and spirits and healing rituals. Nevertheless, it differs from religions like Vodou and Santeria in that there is no explicit canon of gods or deities that is worshipped, and the practice is generally an individual action rather than part of a collective ceremony or offering.
      Variants of Obeah are practiced in the Bahamas and in the Caribbean nations of BarbadosBelizeDominicaGrenadaGuyanaJamaicaSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSurinameTrinidad and Tobago, and the Virgin Islands, as well as by the Igbo people of Nigeria. In some cases, aspects of these folk religions have survived through syncretism with Christian symbolism and practice introduced by European colonials and slave owners.
      • • •

      Talk about yo-yoing. Yesterday, had my worst M-Sat time since I started recording my times (three months ago); today, had my fastest Friday time in that same time span (which was also faster than all my recorded Thursday times). And this was an A.M. solve—those are usually 50% slower than nighttime solves. World upside-down! Today, I knew better than to roll out of bed and go straight to the computer, so I went downstairs, went through the whole ritual of making coffee (pour-overs require attention), talked to the dogs, etc. Then I solved. And just that period of waking up made a huge difference. I tore through this so fast I surprised myself. I kept waiting for the debilitating speed bump to hit, but it never did. There were a few harrowing curves, but I managed to handle them without veering too much off course or slowing down too much. It helped (a lot), that I had finally gotten around to watching "Thor: RAGNAROK" just last month (though of course I misspelled it the first time: RAGNORAK, rhymes with ANORAK?). If not for that movie, that answer would be brutal, totally out of line, but the movie was a huge hit, so ... fair ball! I also thought 36A: Fore-and-aft-rigged vessel was a KETEL (a la KETEL One? The vodka named after ... a boat?). But HOTS straightened that out and then came SCHROEDER and zoom I was off. Speaking of zoom: so many ZEEs! I don't really care about the Scrabble-tile value of the letters in any grid—I just care that the fill is good. And trying to force Js and Qs and what not into your grid in a way that compromises the overall quality of the fil is of course a disaster: hence the term "Scrabble-f***ing." Today's Zs were very very showy, but they were not at all forced. Nowhere did I think "Nice job, genius, you got your Z but ruined this whole corner, I hope you're happy!" All Zs and Xs and even that one J are positioned beautifully. No reaching. Everything smooth. Hurrah.


      Besides misspelling RAGNAROK, I had one other write/rewrite situation that impeded my progress a bit: up in the NE, where DORMER sits on ISO. I assume a DORMER is a window that you add to a loft so that you can see ... out? Is there another meaning of DORMER. Anyway, [Loft addition] was hard, and I'd never heard of ISO in this context (31A: Film speed letters), *and* I wrote in ZERO IN ON instead of ZEROES IN (problem with speed-solving: you can miss little things like whether the clue is in the 2nd person (!). So I made a little mess there and had to clean it up. Not a huge deal. But a deal of sorts. A comparative deal. (Side note, "film speed" in 31-Across clue refers to photographic film; I was thinking motion picture speed, like, I dunno, how fast the film goes through the real (!?). Whoops)
      Film speed is the measure of a photographic film's sensitivity to light, determined by sensitometry and measured on various numerical scales, the most recent being the ISO system. A closely related ISO system is used to describe the relationship between exposure and output image lightness in digital cameras. (wikipedia)


      [BING!]

      Bullets:
      • 15A: West Indian sorcery (OBEAH) — while the grid is pretty clean, it definitely helped to Know Your Crosswordese. I've never seen OBEAH anywhere outside of crosswords (except maybe in a comic book or two...), but every few months it comes in handy, solving-wise. See also ORE as clued (21D: Fractions of a krona).
      • 13D: Old-fashioned image projector (ZOETROPE) — I know this only because it's the name (I believe) of Francis Ford Coppola's production company. Let me just check BING ... (said literally no one ever what the hell, 39-Down!?) ... yup! It's American Zoetrope now (also now entirely owned by his children, Roman and Sofia), but it was indeed just ZOETROPE Studios for a time. 
      • 28D: "Beowulf," essentially (ELEGY) — once again, an answer squarely inside my wheelhouse causes me above-average trouble. I teach "Beowulf" from time to time, and while, yes, I would talk about its elegiac quality, I'm not sure I'd say it's "essentially" an elegy. There are lots and lots and lots of parts of it that are more heroic epic; it's mainly the last bit with the dragon / suicide mission / sad kinsmen sitting around wondering what's next / funeral pyre part that gets all ubi sunt-ish. (BING it, or "google" it, if you insist)
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Wisest and justest of all centaurs in Greek myth / THU 7-12-18 / Pro wrestling star John / Some addenda in research papers / 1973 Jim Croce hit / Lux composer of 2012

      Thursday, July 12, 2018

      Constructor: Joe DiPietro

      Relative difficulty: Challenging (11:47 ... third slowest time for Any puzzle in the last three months—and the two slower times were Sundays) 


      THEME: HANDS DOWN (34D: Easily ... and a hint to four answers in this puzzle) — Four theme answers turn Down at one point before continuing Across again *on the original line*; the part of the answer that turns Down, taken on its own, is a word that can precede "HAND" in a familiar word or phrase:

      Theme answers:
      • DEFOREST (1A: Clear of trees)
      • EVA LONGORIA (22A: "Desperate Housewives" co-star)
      • ENVIRONS (38A: Surrounding area)
      • TREASURE MAP (51A: It often features an "X")
      Word of the Day: CHIRON (29D: "Wisest and justest of all the centaurs," in Greek myth) —
      In Greek mythologyChiron (/ˈkrən/ KY-rən; also Cheiron or KheironGreekΧείρων"hand")[1] was held to be the superlative centaur amongst his brethren, as he was called as the "wisest and justest of all the centaurs" [come on, man, wiki-cluing is lazy] [...] A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, Chiron was said to be the first among centaurs and highly revered as a teacher and tutor. Among his pupils were many culture heroesAsclepiusAristaeusAjaxAeneasActaeonCaeneusTheseusAchillesJasonPeleusTelamonPerseus, sometimes HeraclesOileusPhoenix, and in one Byzantine tradition, even Dionysus. (wikipedia)
      • • •


      I napped on couch for better part of an hour immediately before solving: NOT a recommended solving strategy. That was brutal for me. I picked a bad day to start at 1-Across, I guess. I just poked at the grid a bit until I realized I'd better go hunting for some kind of revealer. So I delved into the SE corner, and eventually got all of it. That corner wasn't terribly hard—but that's because it's HANDS FREE (there's a revealer someone should try to build a puzzle around!). As for the rest of the grid, oof. Three of the four hands screwed me up something awful. First one I got was EVA LONGORIA, and never having watched a single episode of "Desperate Housewives," I figured the answer was just some EVA I couldn't remember. MENDES didn't fit, so I was stuck. Didn't help that that corner also had 16A: Joined (WED), which I had as MET, and 6A: Smack-dab (SPANG) (!?!?!), which I had as SPANK. I think I was thinking of "brand spankin' new" ... all I know is SPANG is garbage (albeit garbage I think I've seen in a puzzle before at least once). So, hurray, I got my first "hand" (FORE!), surely I'm on my way! ... Nope. 


      Could not remember the damned centaur's name (CHIRON) and had no idea the "hand" would be in his name, so the whole middle was a disaster. Instead of ENVIRONS I had, let's see: AURAS, then EDGES, then EAVES (!?). So rough. The NW wasn't much better. FORENSICS is "the art or study of argumentation or formal debate" to me, not whatever happens on "CSI" (forensic science?). TABLES as research paper addenda was baffling. EL CHEAPOS??? Who says this and where (in the world) did the EL part come from? Also, do I want to know? I had trouble with even the non-theme stuff in the NW: EPIC, ROCK, ESS (wanted "EGO-") (40A: Self-starter?). Just a disaster. Finally limped into the SW and ... crushed it. By that point, I guess, I had things pretty well sussed. But it was still a humiliating overall experience.



      I wonder if anyone is going to get Naticked by the CENA / CHIRON crossing today. If you don't know at least one of them, that "C" is not exactly inferrable. I've heard of both, but I can easily imagine a reasonably accomplished solver who has heard of neither. 



      One of the roughest / strangest things about this theme is that one of the "hands" doesn't go *all* the way "down"—IRON, LONG, and SURE all go down til they hit bottom (a black square or the puzzle's edge). But FORE just hangs there, bouncing back up before it comes anywhere near bottom. Would've made more sense to find a 1-Across answer that contained a "hand" that could've been dropped down in the position now held by SHUL (4D: Synagogue)



      I know the phrase "burn rubber" a lot better than LAY RUBBER (57A: Accelerate a vehicle suddenly); I like "burn" roughly 100000x more than LAY, but I'm not the king of Valid Idiomland, sadly. One odd thing about this theme is there are tons and tons of "hands" that didn't make the cut. FARM, SLOW, BACK, FREE... This theme might've made more sense in a Sunday-sized puzzle (though man that would be one tough Sunday). I've seen this exact theme type before (where part of an answer just drops Down), but the revealer gives it a new twist. Overall this is a worthy, challenging effort, light on junk and heavy on butt-kicking.

      Please do yourself a favor and go get the new suite of Vowelless Crossword Puzzles from Peter Broda. Perfect for stocking your clipboard in advance of your impending summer vacation to That Place with Your Family. If you've never done Vowelless Crosswords before, they are great fun, and make for very good pattern-recognition practice. They will divert you and consume large swaths of time, what more could you ask for? Seven puzzles, pay what you want! Get it get it.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        P.S. watched my wife finish her puzzle this morning, which reminded me of something:


        If you've never seen AQI (and I had never seen it until it jumped out of a crossword at me several years ago), then you're in trouble (61A: Atmospheric pollution meas.). You have to talk yourself out of ANI, either by figuring out that "Q" might stand for "quantity" (no) or "quality" (yes) and "N" can't stand for anything reasonable, *or* by reasoning that you've seen ANI for years, in all kinds of cluing incarnations, and if it were some kind of pollution abbr. you probably would've seen it by now.

        P.P.S. shout-out to everyone who wanted their salmon to be COHO (I learned NOVA ... from crosswords ... though I've since seen it in the wild) (19D: Salmon variety).

        P.P.P.S. last thing, re: EL CHEAPOS. First, forgot to note the utter ridiculousness of having "EL" (singular definite article) precede plural CHEAPOS. Second, here's an article by Jane H. Hill that highlights the ubiquity *and* questions the innocence of mock Spanish in the U.S. It suggests there's something at least vaguely racist about the mock honorific "el cheapo," and o-suffixing in general, esp. to suggest inferiority (thanks to Ben Zimmer for the reference):
        Mock Spanish itself is a system of four major strategies for the ``incorporation'' of Spanish-language materials into English. These strategies yield expressions that belong to a pragmatic zone bounded on one end by the merely jocular, and on the other by the obscene insult. They include (1): ``Semantic derogation'': the borrowing of neutral or positive Spanish loan words which function in Mock Spanish in a jocular and/or pejorative sense; (2) ``Euphemism'': the borrowing of negative, including scatological and obscene, Spanish words, as euphemisms for English words, or for use in their own right as jocular and/or pejorative expressions, (3) ``Affixing'': the borrowing of Spanish morphological elements, especially el ``the'' and the suffix -o, in order to make an English word especially jocular and/or pejorative, and (4) ``Hyperanglicization'': absurd mis-pronunciations, that endow commonplace Spanish words or expressions with a jocular and/or pejorative sense and can create vulgar puns. (Jane H. Hill, "Mock Spanish: A Site For The Indexical Reproduction Of Racism In American English," 1995)
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        Pianist comic Victor of old TV / WED 7-11-18 / Memorable 1995 hurricane / Suddenly stopped communicating with in modern lingo

        Wednesday, July 11, 2018

        Constructor: Michael Hawkins

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:52)


        THEME: SNOOZE BUTTON (49A: What a late sleeper may use ... resulting in 19-, 31- and 40-Across?) — familiar phrases that, when taken with a different meaning, suggest what happens when you hit the SNOOZE BUTTON:

        Theme answers:
        • RADIO SILENCE (19A: Incommunicado period)
        • BUZZKILL (31A: Debbie Downer)
        • SOUND OFF (40A: Express one's opinion in no uncertain terms)
        Word of the Day: HOBART (44D: Capital of Tasmania) —
        Hobart (/ˈhbɑːrt/ (About this sound listen)) is the capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania. With a population of approximately 225,000 (over 40% of Tasmania's population), it is the least populated Australian state capital city. Founded in 1804 as a British penal colony,Hobart, formerly known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, is Australia's second oldest capital city after SydneyNew South Wales. Prior to British settlement, the Hobart area had been occupied for possibly as long as 35,000 years, by the semi-nomadic Mouheneener tribe, a sub-group of the Nuennone, or South-East tribe. The descendants of these Aboriginal Tasmanians often refer to themselves as 'Palawa'. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        This was a pretty decent themeless puzzle. Or that's how it played, anyway. I worked my way down to SNOOZE BUTTON, saw that it was a revealer, but didn't really bother to try to figure out the gag. The rest of the puzzle was straightforward enough that I didn't need to think about how the revealer worked. It's just a themeless puzzle, and then later on you realize, oh yeah, I guess those three answers do kind of do what the latter part of the revealer clue says. Interesting. The puzzle is very, very light on theme material, which may be another reason it feels like a themeless—the grid has room for more interesting fill than you normally find in MTW theme puzzles. GHOSTED, HOT YOGA, and WORD LENGTH (as clued) were my favorites, but it's all pretty solid. That TATAS EKED DESI block is about the only real weak spot. Everything else holds up. I don't mind a thinnish theme if a. the theme works, and b. the rest of the grid is particularly strong. And so the thinness of the theme didn't matter to me. Better to have a thin theme that works than to choke a grid with theme material and cause the rest of the grid to suffer. Clean fill, interesting fill, very acceptable theme. I'll take it.


        Had trouble with NEW TAKE at first, because I know HOT TAKE so much better. Also, because the clue, [Fresh spin on a familiar idea], really should've stopped after [Fresh spin]. That's the equivalency. The rest is just added on. Maybe NEW TAKE can stand alone, whereas "Fresh spin" probably needs the prepositional phrase that follows. It's just that I don't think NEW TAKE does stand alone very well. In fact, when I google ["new take"], the first thing that comes up is the phrase "new take on something" from WordReference Forums. That's the idiom. I know I am overthinking this; what else have I got to do?! It's just ... well, look:


        Those are the videos right under the first google hit. New take on new take on new take on. Ergo, NEW TAKE doesn't really stand alone, ergo "on a familiar idea" is unnecessary because NEW TAKE is really parallel only to "Fresh spin." QED, LMNOP, UFO, TTYL. I continue to not like BUSHSR as an answer. he's BUSHI. I know that BUSH SR. is in fairly common usage, but I don't have to like it, and I don't. BUSHI—that is the answer I want to see. And what the heck kind of merry-go-round has a UNICORN on it? And isn't the merry-go-round itself the "ride." Weird to call an individual animal a "ride." I know, you ride it, blah blah blah. I have no idea why anyone would go to merry-go-rounds for their UNICORN clue. It's preposterous. I forgot OPAL was a hurricane. I remember IVAN ... maybe IRENE? But OPAL was, contrary to the clue's assertion, not "Memorable" to me. (It was undoubtedly memorable to others.) Nothing else in the grid presented much of a problem. Pretty easy and uncomplicated overall. Enjoyable, despite the handful of answers / clues that I've spent the last paragraph griping about.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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