Guardian Angel Curtis / SUN 5-27-18 / Bygone Cambodian leader with palindromic name / Query from Judas / Shape of every Baha'i temple / Alias of rapper Sean Combs / Former Nebraska senator James

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Constructor: Andrew Chaikin

Relative difficulty: Easy or Easy-Medium

THEME: "21" — "21" = definition for all themers / all themers are 21 letters long (standard Sunday grid width) (there are also assorted incidental clues containing the number "21" throughout the grid)

[21] answers:
Word of the Day: Curtis SLIWA (69D: Guardian Angel Curtis ___) —
Curtis Sliwa (born March 26, 1954) is an American anti-crime activist, founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels, radio talk show host, media personality, and chairman of the Reform Party of New York State. (wikipedia)
• • •

Grueling. I finished very quickly, but like all painful experiences, it felt eternal. There are several reasons why a puzzle like this is never gonna be a CROWD PLEASER (to borrow a term from Saturday's lovely puzzle). First, definitions as answers ... always dicey. At best, dull. At worst tortured. *Especially* tortured when you have to make those answers fit into 21 squares exactly. Thus the phrasing on precisely None of these seems just right. AGE FOR DRINKING LEGALLY is something ALIENS would say when trying to pass as humans. "We should consume alcoholic beverages now, perhaps from one of the more popular TAVERNS in this urban area. Everyone here is the AGE FOR DRINKING LEGALLY, correct? Splendid!" That, or the never-released sequel to "The Year of Living Dangerously." GUNS IN A MILITARY SALUTE is probably the tightest of the bunch, while SPOTS ON ALL SIDES OF A DIE is like having your pinky sawed off with a butter knife. WINNING BLACKJACK *TOTAL*??? Torturing the English language, you are. Further ... there's nowhere for this puzzle to go. It's just a relentless death march of [21]s. The final themer is kind of a revealer, or a twist, but even it kind of whiffs. "THESE" hardly seems specific enough. Theme answers, longer answers, long Acrosses ... say what you mean. THESE? Everything about the themers is just ... off, phrasing-wise. My only serious probably came in trying to parse SPOTS ON ALL SIDES OF A DIE, and that was largely due to my writing in NECCA instead of NECCO (53D: Brand of wafers).

Then there's the fill. The grid ... it's trying to have a low word count, I think, which is not a great idea. I mean, hurray for ONE TOO MANY and MALEFICENT, but man, overall the fill suffers pretty bad. ELRIO? SNCC? TERNI??? SLIWA!?!?!?! That SLIWA SNCC area in the middle is just dire. And then there's ON A STAR (??), a phrase that should never stand alone. See also Friday-less TGI. And CASE OF, dear lord (73D: Start for every Perry Mason title, wiht "The"). And many more. Too many. CLEA! ITA! GUVS!?!? It's ALOAD, it's ATRAIN, it's ABLAST, it's ... ADLAI! I did this at high speed, but it felt like HI-SPEED (80D: Unlike dial-up internet service, informally), i.e. something ungainly and faux whimsical and sad. QUESTIONS IN A BASIC GAME (21)? NUMBER OF TV'S JUMP STREET (21)? Is it theme? Did I theme? 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Patronize off-track betting say / SAT 5-26-18 / 2014 Facebook acquisition / Portrayer of Warren Buffet in HBO's too big to fail / Intimate practice done at distance / War-torn mideast city

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (7:02) (honestly thought I was like a minute faster, oh well...)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: LARGO (8D: Slow and dignified) —
adverb & adjective
  1. 1. 
    (especially as a direction) in a slow tempo and dignified in style.
  1. 1. 
    a passage, movement, or composition marked to be performed in this way. (google)
• • •
Thought I was going to go to sleep and solve this one in the morning, but then I couldn't fall asleep right away (I blame my afternoon nap) and then my wife began solving the puzzle Right Next To Me,   which made sleep impossible ("what's she writing? she's writing fast, is it easy? why can't I turn this part of my brain off?"), so I had to just get up and solve the thing. I don't think I was as affected by near-sleep as I am when I try to solve immediately after actual sleep, but some kind of slo-mo effect did seem to be in place. I thought I torched this, but my time was just Pretty Good (by my standards). My fingers apparently weren't moving as quickly as I thought they were. I expect the puzzle to be a CROWD PLEASER, both because it's on the easy side (for Saturday) and because the marquee answers are both bright and familiar. Nothing very obscure in this grid (except Thatcher's husband's name, wth!?). My only gripe is that the SE is just a little too overladen with techy stuff. Two 8-letter apps *and* HTTP in the same little corner = overkill. Spread it oouutt. Oh, and no way the clue for THE CURE should refer to the song "Friday, I'm in Love" when IN LOVE is also in your grid. That is an editing error. THE CURE's catalogue is pretty sizable. No reason for that to happen.

The vast majority of this grid felt quite easy for a Saturday, but there were a few answers in key positions that I struggled to come up with. Slowish start in the NW where I dumbly passed up the chance to write in AZT (4D: Drug marketed as Retrovir), because even though it was my first guess, I thought, "that can't be right ... 'retrovir' sounds more like some kind of Viagra-type pill—Retrovir: Returns Your Manhood!" But the three-letter pill was Of Course AZT, so boo hiss to my instincts. I also opted for LENTO over LARGO, because I will forever get those two confused. But after that initial awkwardness, I settled in. Still, here are the handful of answers that noticeably stopped my flow:

Flow stoppers:
  • 32D: Margaret Thatcher's husband (DENIS) — again, I ask, wth? (who the hell?). That's a French St.'s name and that's really all that that name is. 
  • 41A: Heat (ESTRUS) — as this answer crosses DENIS, you can see how things got a little mucked up there in the middle east of this puzzle. Talk about your vague-cluing. [Heat]! That could go a ton of ways. I had EST- and never once considered ESTRUS. That's not a word I've thoguht of or seen in a long long time. [Heat] has so many literal and slang meanings. Argh. So, yes, the DENIS-in-ESTRUS portion of our puzzle was rough going.
  • 36D: Certain voter ID (DEM) — I am booing this answer so hard. This is an answer where the constructor high-fives himself and the solver just stares at him, eyes half-lidded.
  • 47D: "Never stop improving" sloganeer (LOWES) — I am truly terrible at all slogans. Even the ones I know (from TV advertising) I think, "Oh, right that ... slogan ... what was that advertising again?" So now of course I can hear the LOWES guy's voice sloganeering this slogan, but while solving, nope.
  • 58D: Some shelter volunteers, briefly (RNS) —that danged first letter! I should've just left it and it would've filled itself in easily enough from the cross, eventually, but of course I had to sit there and *think* about the stupid letter. Costly, time-wise. 
But again, mostly this thing was not a struggle at all. Had a ton of trouble parsing "THE LEGO MOVIE" (39A: Blockbuster 2014 animated film), but parsing problems are part of the package. That's just Saturday being Saturday. All in all, a solid production, with a HOT PHONE SEX bonus. How lucky we are to be alive right now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Fictional work that eschews literary conventions / FRI 5-25-18 / Sister chain of applebee's / Rocker nicknamed Motor City Madman / Time-killing plays for quarterbacks / 12x platinum compilation album by Rolling Stones / Reality show whose contestants must be good with numbers

Friday, May 25, 2018

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium? I slept from 8:30pm to 2:00am, then solved, so ... I feel like I'm out of space and time right now, as I type this at 2:39am. I think my time is a Medium time, maybe tilting Easy (5:52)

THEME: none, except there's a field goal shape and the long answer is NUCLEAR FOOTBALL ... do you kick ... that? Does TED NUGENT kick it? USA USA?

Word of the Day: HOT ROCKS (37D: 12x platinum compilation album by the Rolling Stones, familiarly) —
Hot Rocks 1964–1971 is the first compilation album of Rolling Stones music released by former manager Allen Klein's ABKCO Records (who gained control of the band's Decca/London material in 1970) after the band's departure from Decca and Klein. Released in late 1971, it proved to be The Rolling Stones' biggest-selling release of their career and an enduring and popular retrospective.
After reportedly having been duped by Klein to unknowingly sign over the recording copyrights to all of their material from 1963 to 1970, The Rolling Stones left Decca and formed their own label, Rolling Stones Records, with a new distributor. They recorded Sticky Fingers throughout 1970, releasing it the following spring. Although Klein—and now ABKCO—no longer had The Rolling Stones as clients, their fruitful catalogue was ripe for the picking and, thus, Hot Rocks 1964–1971 was quickly compiled as a double album greatest hits package. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ironically, or aptly, couldn't get 1A: Frustrated solver's cry ("I"M STUCK!") and so the NW ended up being a total bust at first past. I managed to get IHOP / PORN in there (which I'm fairly sure is the name of somebody's tumblr feed, somewhere ... just sexy music and slo-mo syrup etc. ...) but nothing followed, so I had to roam the grid in search of a gimme to get me started. Thank you, Bobby SEALE (20A: Co-founder of the Black Panther party). SEALE ADA ELDER ENDER'S EDU got me started, but then I stalled and had to roam some more. Picked things back up with TASE ERIE SSN EATS* EAVE, but I pulled EATS because I was least sure of it, and could think of lots of other things that could go there (most notably, FOOD) (28A: Grub). Pulling it let me see the SCENT in PINE SCENT and the NOVEL in ANTI-NOVEL, and that's all I needed. Back-filled the NE and then devoured the rest of the puzzle in methodical clockwise fashion. Seriously, just did a lap around the puzzle, finishing up a the "T" in STARBURST (3D: Fireworks effect). Had a brief scare when I couldn't make continuous progress coming down into the SE—had THE but couldn't see VOICE, had HOT and couldn't remember ROCKS—so I restarted in SE and bang, DLINE (another football answer!) (51D: Gridiron group that tries to sack the QB, collectively) got me going again. Second half of the puzzle (south and west) went much, much faster.

For novice or still-struggling-with-Friday/Saturday solvers out there, maybe it's worth saying that when I say I got IHOP / PORN right away, I did this not because I actually *know* that IHOP is the [Sister chain of Applebee's], but because I know that IHOP is a chain restaurant that's four letters long. That is how crossword brain works—clue narrows it down to a category, brain rolodexes through known items in that category that fit whatever pattern the grid is presenting. I actually wanted SMUT at first for 19A: Steamy fare, but checking the restaurant cross, I thought "hmmm, IHOP?" Which gave me the "P" and that stands for PORN and also stands for "pool" (it stands for "pool"!), 76 trombones! "Gary, INDIANA, Gary INDIANA"! (consider yourselves THANKED for indulging me in this "Music Man" digression")

Is DEEP FAT real? I mean, it's not a thing, is it? How is it "deep"? How deep is your fat!? I really need to learn. Seriously, though, I thought it was "deep" only insofar as you had to put enough of it in the fryer to submerge stuff. It's a weird thing to see stand on its own, without "fried" or "fryer" after it. AD UNITS is so phenomenally dreary as an answer, it makes me hate comprehensive crossword compiler word lists, and I have been in English departments in one way or another for three decades and have literally never come across the term ANTI-NOVEL (I'm sure they exist, they just ... don't, for practical purposes, is what I'm saying). But I mostly enjoyed solving this. Solid grid, whimsical grid shape, snazzy fill here and there (FAIR SHAKE, HOT ROCKS, LET'S ROLL, HATES ON). OK, so no one actually says AH, BLISS, and VROOMED is super-weird in the perfect tense, but those are at least colorful answers. It's fine.

PS LOL OBAMA crossing NUCLEAR FOOTBALL. You *wish* he still had the football. Congrats on your well-considered choices, USA. How'd that North Korea summit thing work out for you? Good? Well, you'll always have the coin.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Seinfeld's stringed instrument / THU 5-24-18 / output of spinning jenny / Portable music player brand / City center of 1890s Klondike Gold Rush

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (hard to say, though, since I have to adjust for a. morning solving and b. oversized grid) (6:59)

THEME: SPOON-ERISMS (61A: What 18-, 25-, 37- and 52-Across all are (whose circled letters name something used with the base phrases)) — spoonerisms of things that can be eaten (or served?) with a spoon...

Theme answers:
  • WHINNY MEETS (18A: Horse races?)
  • JERRY CELLO (25A: Seinfeld's stringed instrument?)
  • PASTY HOODING (37A: Particularly pale Ph.D. ceremony?)
  • PAY GROUPON (52A: Pony up for a certain online deal?)
Word of the Day: DAWSON City (1D: ___ City, center of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush) —
The Town of the City of Dawson, commonly known as Dawson City or Dawson, is a town in Yukon, Canada. It is inseparably linked to the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99). Its population was 1,375 as of the 2016 census. [...] Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town's population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000. St. Paul's Anglican Church built that same year is a National Historic Site. [...] In 1978, another kind of buried treasure was discovered when a construction excavation inadvertently uncovered a forgotten collection of more than 500 discarded films on flammable nitrate film stock from the early 20th century that were buried in (and preserved by) the permafrost. These silent-era film reels, dating from "between 1903 and 1929, were uncovered in the rubble beneath [an] old hockey rink". Owing to its dangerous chemical volatility, the historical find was moved by military transport to Library and Archives Canada and the U.S. Library of Congress for both transfer to safety film and storage. A documentary about the find, Dawson City: Frozen Time was released in 2016.
The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Other writers who lived in and wrote of Dawson City include Pierre Berton and the poet Robert Service. The childhood home of the former is now used as a retreat for professional writers. [...]
The city was home to the Dawson City Nuggets hockey team, which in 1905 challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Travelling to Ottawa by dog sled, ship, and train, the team lost the most lopsided series in Stanley Cup history, losing two games by the combined score of 32 to 4. (wikipedia)
• • •

This shouldn't have been so hard, but getting spoonerisms from wacky clues (what other kind could you use?) turns out to be hellishly difficulty. Even when I got WHINNY, I had no idea what kind of "races" I was dealing with, and since at that point I had no idea spoonerisms were even in play ... that whole area was a disaster. I forgot about Imelda MARCOS and could think only of Corazon Aquino, who refused to fit (5A: Onetime big name in Filipino politics). I had -AYS and still couldn't get 5D: Parts of springs (MAYS). Brutal. ARM (6D: Inlet)? Brutal (wanted RIA?). SRSLY? (10D: "Are you kidding me?," in texts)? Brutal (I wanted some version of ORLY?)

It felt like forever before I got the theme, I had the better part of three themers and still nothing. Then I wrote in JOEYS but typoed LOEYS, which mean I kept seeing the *wrong starting letter* for JERRY CELLO (awkward in the non-possessive, but I'll allow it, I guess). Wrote in PASTY HOODIES at first because, as you can see, I had no idea what the theme idea was. "Oh, they're calling Ph.D. hoods "hoodies?" What fresh joke is this!?" Considering the grid is oversized and I was trying to solve upon waking, I have nooooo idea how I squeaked in under 7 minutes. Even reviewing it now, the puzzle feels hard hard hard. I love spoonerisms, and this one has a nice little twist with the whole spoon angle. The spooniness of the themers kind of falls apart as the themers progress. I definitely eat cereal with a spoon, and jello, well, I don't eat that, but sure, I would use a spooon. Hasty pudding???? I don't know what it is, besides a Harvard humor org. of some kind. But assuming it is anything like other kinds of puddings of which I'm aware, spoon seems like the reasonable implement. Grey Poupon, though? I mean, if you're just straight eating Grey Poupon with a spoon, I'm sorry, man. Things must be pretty bad.

Cluing just seemed harder than normal all over. Check out the undercluing at 45D: Some "me" time (SPA DAY) and 30D: Best Buy buy (HDTV). It was like getting [Food item] as a clue for PIZZA or something. You could narrow it down A Little. And then the short vague stuff like 56D: Out for ALIBI, yipes. And then 50A: Doctor or engineer for RIG. Good clues, but hard. Felt like they were trying to compensate for a theme they didn't think was too tricky, but then the theme was plenty tricky, so the overall result played quite hard. But again, my time says it wasn't That hard. Some good fill and clues in here. I especially enjoyed 62D: Opposite of a poetry slam? (ODE), which I wrote in thinking, "yes, ODEs are much more formal and stately than slam poetry," and only later figured out that an ODE praises something instead of "slamming" it. Nice. F*** the NRA, though. Surprised these particular constructors are still using it in puzzles (42A: Grp. with a firearms museum).

[11D: R&B singer who had a 2015 #1 hit with "Can't Feel My Face"]

  • 31A: Literary character with a powerful face (HELEN) — because it launched a thousand ships, per Marlowe. I am obsessed with the Trojan War and I teach Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and I still had trouble getting this one from the clue!
  • 44D: Portable music player brand (DISCMAN) — ... of yore
  • 12D: Mulligan in a dice game (REROLL) — "Mulligan" = do-over. Term from golf (I mean, I think—I've never played golf in my life)
  • 36D: What queso de bola is another name for (EDAM) — learned this recently in another puzzle. Sadly, did not remember it today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Superman-like stance / WED 5-23-18 / Island that's world's third-smallest country after Vatican City Monaco / Quarter barrel of beer /

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (laughably challenging—a full minute over my slowest recorded Wednesday time since I started keeping track in mid-April) (6:17)

THEME: "expanded" (??) — clues are followed by "... expanded?" and that apparently means that the answer can be found by joining elements on either end of the theme answer ... so the stuff in the middle, which appears to be gobbledygook, has "expanded" the real answer to make a newer, longer answer that is the answer to ... nothing? I think? [updated: fuller explanation below, in italics]

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREET ART)
  • 22A: Forming a crust, expanded? (CALIFORNIA KING)
  • 47A: Choose in advance, expanded? (PRESIDENT-ELECT)
  • 57A: Inspiration for something, expanded? (SOUTH PARK)
Word of the Day: NAURU (49D: Island that's the world's third-smalles country, after Vatican City and Monaco) —
Nauru (NauruanNaoero/nɑːˈr/ nah-OO-roo or /ˈnɑːr/ NAH-roo), officially the Republic of Nauru (NauruanRepubrikin Naoero) and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia, a subregion of Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, north of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With 11,347 residents in a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific, smallest republic and third smallest state by area in the world, behind only Vatican City and Monaco. (wikipedia)
• • •

What is this? I don't understand the theme. I get the "expanded" part, but ... why? What are the middle letters? What does the "expansion" mean or represent or anything? Why? It's entirely baffling to me why this puzzle got made, published, etc. Don't a lot of longer phrases have letters on either end that could also make ... a word? Is there even a concept here, something that's being enacted or demonstrated? I mean, honestly, anything? It's such a bad theme I cannot explain its existence. The constructor is prolific, so it's not like some new constructor just had a weak idea. And anyway, that's hardly the issue, since the editor had to accept this thing. And it's got a dumb shape AND it's ridiculously hard for a Wednesday. I routinely do Friday puzzles much faster than I did this thing. Not having Any Idea what the answers to the themers were (since they're utterly unclued), and having literally never heard of a CALIFORNIA KING (born and raised in California, btw), AND staring down giant NE and SW corners that had Fri/Sat-level clues in them, I was floundering. God, what an awful combination—terrible, inexplicable theme AND difficulty pitched way above average. I had to go to Twitter to make sure I wasn't missing something. Thankfully (for my sanity), other late-night solving stalwarts had no clue either.

[update: someone from crossword twitter read the "constructor's notes" and explained: apparently if you abbr. the first words in the themers, you get the answer to the clue. Well, that's better than I thought, but since it missed me, and loads of other people, I'm gonna stand by the idea that this was a design failure ... I mean ST and CA, alright, but PRES? And S??? Those are some weakass abbrevs. and the "expanded" answers remain entirely unclued]

The raisin on this terrible sundae was the stupid "Man up!" bullshit at 6D: "Grow ___!" ("Man up!") ("A PAIR"). You know what the NYT could use? More people without A PAIR. Lots and lots and lots more constructors and editors etc. who possess precisely no pairs. That whole place is such a sausagefest—I'm sure this "tickles" them no end, but honestly, this is an institution that not only inadequately represents women, but that just shrugs ignorantly at the very problem. Here's the preposterously naive recent editorial statement on gender imbalance in the ranks of NYT crossword constructors (posted to a semi-popular constructing listserv by the most famous person in all of crosswords):

Why don't more women wanna be part of this dickfest? I'm sure the problem is not at all cultural. Nope. Chicks just aren't interested man. Stop whining. Grow A PAIR. Etc. 

Also, **** that GHETTO clue, man (27A: Poor area). The puzzle is so white and affluent at every level that I'm not really up for this terse, reductive characterization of GHETTO. Keep it out of your puzzle or (last resort) clue it via music, preferably hip-hop (though Elvis is probably the most widely known referent for the puzzle-solving crowd). "Poor area"? Come on. The only "poor area" I see right now is the editorial office that exercised exceedingly "poor" judgment in publishing this thing. I'm too tired to even go into why the NE and SW were hard. They just were. And I totally forgot NAURU, possibly because it's impossibly small. Possibly because my brain couldn't think past PALAU. 

THUD THUD THUD THUD (either the sound of the puzzle falling flat or the sound of my head hitting my desk in frustration at the multiple levels of badness on display here—take your pick)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dame Myra of piano fame / TUE 5-22-18 / Compound in synthetic rubber / Constellation next to Draco / Sheik's land in poetry / drain decloggers

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium, sliding toward Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*) (3:58)

THEME: BIG DIPPER (9D: Part of 17-Across ... and what the circles from A to G depict) — themers related to big dipper and connect-the-dots gives you a kind of replica of said dipper:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Constellation next to Draco (URSA MAJOR)
  • 34D: Thing located in the night sky by extending a line from circle F past circle G (NORTH STAR)
  • 64A: Another term for 17-Across (GREAT BEAR)

Word of the Day: RONDEL (47D: 14-line verse with only two rhyme sounds) —
rondel is a verse form originating in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century. It was later used in the verse of other languages as well, such as English and Romanian. It is a variation of the rondeau consisting of two quatrains followed by a quintet (13 lines total) or a sestet (14 lines total). It is not to be confused with the roundel, a similar verse form with repeating refrain.
• • •

OOF. The theme would've been OK, I guess—it's got issues, which I'll get into, but it does what it does and some people like drawing on their puzzles, so, whatever, fine—but when you throw in the fill, this one just slides down enjoyment mountain into the valley of OOF. Let's start with the theme. It's all over the (star) map. It's main purpose seems to be to create a connect-the-dots puzzle that allows us / forces us to envision the BIG DIPPER. But the revealer is in this weird place, and it's clued as *part* of some bigger constellation, which is in the puzzle ... twice (once in Latin, once in an English form that no one ever uses). And then there's NORTH STAR ... which is also called Polaris, but you don't see that here. Also, Polaris is not in the BIG DIPPER or anywhere in URSA MAJOR (it's in the minor bear). So it's conceptually interesting, somewhat ambitious, but rough. And then the fill, come on, can we get this stuff cleaned up. Editors should be sending MTW puzzles with fill like this back to constructors with a "please improve this" message. You know at ARABY that things aren't gonna be great. And then bang there you are with all of ESO BESO which causes you to pause for a stunned second ORSO (!) like some kind of DODO. But OOF, EENY EMO NEG ANOD (!?), ASEA TERI LAO INURE ELON ENOLA (sans gay) SERE ILSA LYES *and* RYES (rhyming unlikely plurals!) ... and that's not even touching the longer unpleasantness BUTENE and RONDEL. This thing is Out of the Past, except "Out of the Past" is one of the greatest movies of all time, so scratch that. It's just stale.

I don't really stop to read and figure out long cross-referenced clues if I don't have to, and I'm certainly not consulting circles unless absolutely necessary, but the theme answers were pretty gettable without much time spent mucking around trying to figure out the exact relationship of the stars in space. Difficulty came from fill. In and around BUTENE, in and around RONDEL—that was all my puzzle drama. Didn't know if it was gonna be ENURE or INURE (16A: Habituate) and stupidly (and mostly inexplicably) wrote in PADUA for 9A: Noted tower setting (BABEL). I was probably thinking PISA, but there were five letters, so ... PADUA! Had trouble with ON DOPE because ... what year is it? Also DODO because DOLT DOPE etc. (36D: Numbskull). And there's ORBIS, dear lord, why? It's Tuesday. What does the "?" in the clue even mean? Is "Caesar's world?" some kind of expression? A pun? ORBIS ... honestly, that answer alone should've prompted a rewrite request. Really hope you know Latin or else are *certain* about the whole ILSA / ELSA thing (which I still botch like half the time ... including today). Do better, puzzle!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Puppeteer lewis / MON 5-21-18 / 1960s-70s Ford named for Italian city / Popular Cartoon Network programming block

Monday, May 21, 2018

Constructor: Hannah Slovut

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:42)

THEME: baby steps — first words of themers progress from BABY to ... GHOST (!?!?!)

Theme answers:
  • BABY ALBUM (17A: Holder of some precious memories)
  • CHILD PRODIGY (22A: Wunderkind)
  • TEEN VOGUE (30A: Fashion magazine spinoff)
  • ADULT SWIM (41A: Popular Cartoon Network programming block)
  • SENIOR MOMENT (47A: Temporary mental lapse)
  • GHOST TOWN (59A: Place where no one lives anymore)
Word of the Day: Lorena OCHOA (16A: Women's golf star Lorena) —
Lorena Ochoa Reyes (Spanish About this sound [ˈlore'naˈocho'a] ; born 15 November 1981) is a Mexican professional golfer who played on the U.S.-based LPGA Tourfrom 2003 to 2010. She was the top-ranked female golfer in the world for 158 consecutive and total weeks (both are LPGA Tour records), from 23 April 2007 to her retirement in 2 May 2010, at the age of 28 years old. As the first Mexican golfer of either gender to be ranked number one in the world, she is considered the best Mexican golfer and the best Latin American female golfer of all time. Ochoa was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017. (wikipedia)
• • •

Flying high off my fastest time since I started recording them five weeks ago. That kind of success always makes one predisposed to like a puzzle, and ... yeah, I didn't hate this one, so maybe the drug of speed is having its way with me. Well, not the actual drug of speed—not sure what that would do to me. I didn't really notice the theme as I was solving, and I *certainly* didn't notice that I ended up not just in the grave but Risen From It. What the hell is up with that last themer? It was bad enough to have the "senior" answer be the horrible phrase SENIOR MOMENT, a godawful never-say-it-in-my-presence euphemism for just spacing, which honestly I've been doing since forever. I put the crackers in the fridge, like, 2 weeks ago. I'm only 48. Don't SENIOR MOMENT me. Anyway, it's the only life stage here represented by a lapse or weakness, boo. But GHOST, man, what the hell? Why you got me undead? Dang. Were there no good WRAITH or ZOMBIE phrases? VAMPIRE BAT was one letter too long (though you coulda gone BABY ALBUMS plural and made it work). Or, you know, CORPSE POSE, that works too. Not sure if the last themer is trying to be funny or what? It's bizarre. Eerie. But it's Monday and the theme is otherwise kinda dull so bring on the dancing mummies, I guess, sure, why not?

Hardest thing about this puzzle was parsing the longer Downs, specifically PILE IT ON and HOTFOOT IT. The former moreso than the latter. How do you feel about repeated small words like "IT"? Normally I don't mind much, but somehow the fact that "IT" shows up in both of the marquee non-theme long answers up top ... highlights the duplication more. If the second "IT" phrase had been GOT IT, and that answer had been buried somewhere near the bottom of the grid, I probably wouldn't even have noticed the duplication. Besides those longer Downs, the only answers that gave me pause were TORINO (29A: 1960s-'70s Ford named for an Italian city)—I had TURINO ... because the city is Turin, and also there's a video game series called Gran Turismo ... which I don't play, but I must know the name somehow. Anyhow, the "U" thing messed me up, which then made LOG weird (23D: Item in a grate). I also had trouble with NO MSG (12D: Request to a waiter), since the type of restaurant where one might actually say that phrase was inconveniently left out of the clue. I had the "G" first couldn't think of any words that would work. I got ROOD easily, but only because I'm a medievalist who teaches a poem called "The Dream of the ROOD" on a regular basis. Seems hardish for normals. Crosswordese all up and down this thing (NE and SW corners particularly stuffed). Haven't seen AIWA in forever, perhaps because it now requires the word "Onetime" in its clue. So let's just say kinda stale but mostly solid, with a final themer that, love it or hate it, at least takes the puzzle out of the realm of the mundane.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Unnamed character in Camus's Stranger / SUN 5-20-18 / Filth covering pecans such / Mozart's Don Alfonso Leporello / Scottish accents / Backyard shindig informally

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium (?) (I've been drinking a little) (12:25)

THEME: "Rhymes, Schmymes"— two-word phrases where second word just replaces opening sounds of first word with SCHM-

Theme answers:
  • BOOZE SCHMOOZE (23A: Conversation over a few whiskeys?)
  • NUTS SCHMUTZ (38A: Filth covering pecans and such?)
  • DEER SCHMEAR (50A: Venison spread?)
  • NO SCHMO (67A: Hardly a dolt?)
  • DUCK SCHMUCK (83A: Avoid a jerk?)
  • QUIT SCHMIDT (90A: Break up with an "unbreakable" Ellie Kemper character?)
  • HALTS SCHMALTZ (111A: Puts a stop to sentimentality?)
Word of the Day: "The Island of Dr. MOREAU" (64D: H. G. Wells villain) —
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. Wells described it as "an exercise in youthful blasphemy".
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic of early science fiction and remains one of Wells's best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif "uplift" in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species in order to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence. It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme is pretty dang simple—you just have to take all the SCHM- words you can think of and work backwards. But that doesn't mean it wasn't at least mildly entertaining. It was. And it was also easy—very easy—to figure out theme answers. The puzzle-makers must have understood this and adjusted the rest of the puzzle accordingly, because OMG I was struggling to figure things out all over the place. Hardly any of this grid doesn't have ink on it (I print out and mark up the areas where I have difficulty or criticism). Let's start with 1A: Picnic annoyance (BUG BITE). That could've gone a thousand ways, and I needed most of the crosses to see it. I feel like some version of this (clue vague, crosses desperately needed) kept happening over and over and over. 70A: Virus fighters (TECHIES) (!?!?!)—I get that computers can have viruses and TECHIES (among infinite other things they do) might work to clear a computer of viruses, but yikes that connection was tenuous. 75A: Buds come in them (SIX PACKS)! Clever, but oy so much cross-needing. 33D: Dusted off, say (TIDY)! Oh, so it's not a verb, then? Thanks. BASE PAIR, hard (100A: DNA building block). SNIGLET, hard (and wtf pretending that it's an ordinary slang word as opposed to a slang word specifically created by Rich Hall specifically and solely for comedic gags invented by him and not seen or heard since the '80s) (114A: Term for a word that isn't [in] the dictionary, but maybe should be). I honestly felt like I was flying through this thing, but my time says "nope, average at best." Does alcohol make you overestimate your prowess. That might be what's going on here. The Manhattan I had with dinner is still working its magic...

One of the toughest areas for me was the intersection of 10D: Be a witness (LOOK ... ON?) and 31A: Moreover (TOO). When LOOK AT wouldn't work, other options all sounded wrong and seemed improbably. And "Moreover" means more (to me) than a simple too. Also, I would only use "Moreover" and the beginning of a sentence, where I would never use TOO. And then OOZE OUT ... I guess the OUT was the only thing that could work there, but that also too moreover was strange, somehow. Hey, NUTS SCHMUTZ doesn't rhyme, booooooo! SCROD is supposed to be a jokey past tense of SCREW? I don't get that at all. I mean, I am all for the insane joke clue, but ... what is the analogue here? All the -EW verbs I can think of are already past tense (e.g. DREW, FLEW, KNEW). SPEW SPOD? Nope. Seriously wtf are they thinking here? SCREWED ... is what sounds like the past tense of SCREW. What -OD past tense is there besides TROD? Whatever, this "joke" makes no sense. I like ambition, but the execution is a flop.

Best wrong answer today, by which I mean Worst wrong answer because it was both ridiculous and costly, is MR. HYDE for MOREAU (64D: H. G. Wells villain). DR. MOREAU woulda been nicer. Aren't BASSOS really BASSI? Yes, the answer is yes. Again, I ask, wtf? OK, though you probably can't tell, I thought this puzzle was better than your average NYT Sunday—it's a garbage day, so it's a low bar, but a thumbs up is a thumbs up so take it. Good day.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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