Percussion in pagoda / MON 11-19-18 / Streamer of Game of Thrones / Noted 1965 film / Fluid 2017 film / Lacking depth informally

Monday, November 19, 2018

Constructor: Jim Hilger

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:09)

THEME: the blank of blank — movie titles that follow that pattern, each of them 15 letters long

Theme answers:
  • "THE COLOR OF MONEY" (20A: "Green" 1986 film?)
  • "THE SHAPE OF WATER" (36A: "Fluid" 2017 film?)
  • "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" (47A: "Noted" 1965 film?)
Word of the Day: Carl ORFF (56A: Carl who composed "Carmina Burana") —
Carl Heinrich Maria Orff (German: [ˈɔɐ̯f]10 July 1895 – 29 March 1982) was a German composer, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana (1937). In addition to his career as a composer, Orff developed an influential approach toward music education for children. [...] The Orff Schulwerk, or simply the Orff Approach, is a developmental approach used in music education. It combines music, movement, drama, and speech into lessons that are similar to child's world of play. It was developed by the German composer Carl Orff (1895–1982) and colleague Gunild Keetman during the 1920s. Carl Orff worked until the end of his life to continue the development and spread of his teaching method. 
The Orff Approach is now used throughout the world to teach students in a natural and comfortable environment. The term "schulwerk" is German for (literally) "school work" or "schooling", in this regard in the area of music. (wikipedia)
• • •

First: TWOD = Two-D i.e. two-dimensional (47D)
(yes, it's bad...)
(so much email about this...)
(OK, moving on...)

These movies do share a certain quality. Unfortunately that quality is solely structural (THE blank OF blank where both blanks are five letters long), which makes cluing coherence a real problem. The quotation-marks thing in the cluing just does not work. If all the quoted words had been colors, or had all been words might use to describe movies, or had had any kind of coherence whatsoever, well OK. But this is just random words put in "quotation marks"—why? "Fluid" 2017 film? That ... what is that? That's not a term you'd use for film. It makes no sense to call a movie "fluid"? "Noted," sure. "Green," uh, maybe? Maybe the film is ecological, somehow? But "fluid"? Gah. And the fill here is really rough. Way way too rough for a Monday, and that just shouldn't be. This theme is not taxing. Three 15s. That's it. No reason you can't create a smooth, humming grid around that framework. But here I am looking at WHELM. Pffffff.

I had minor trouble all over the place, so I guess I should be happy my time came out pretty much dead normal. I could picture a pagoda, but the "percussion" there? I was thinking something much more drumlike, and therefore couldn't recall it. "OH BOY" took an odd lot of work (6D: "Yippee!"). First thought was "OH YAY!" (I had the last "Y"). Thought [Story] was a level of a building. Clue on FLUFF is accurate enough but even with FLU- I wasn't sure. Hey, why is SELF the answer for 34A: Subject most familiar to a portrait painter. I honestly have no idea what this means. I know that there are such things as self-portraits (Van Gogh has a famous one; Rembrandt did a bunch), but John Singer Sargent was a portrait painter—in that he painted people's portraits. Why would SELF be "most familiar" to him? If there's wordplay here ... well, I demand a "?", firstly. And secondly, I don't get it. Use a specific painter, or throw this clue in the garbage.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Kingdom in Prisoner of Zenda / SUN 11-18-18 / Nagy of Hungarian history / Crescent-shaped Italian pastries / Mississippi River bottom feeder / Variety of stud poker familiarly / Peter's chief of staff on Good Wife

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Constructor: Byron Walden and Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (11:31)

THEME: "Portmanfaux" — wacky phrases that reimagine the basis for common portmanteau words:

Theme answers:
  • MURDER CASE MURSE (22A: Satchel for a homicide detective?)
  • SKI RESORT SKORT (31A: Unseasonal wear on a winter vacation?)
  • BRADY BUNCH BRUNCH (52A: Late-morning meal for a TV family?)
  • GREY POUPON GROUPON (64A: One way to buy mustard cheaply?)
  • SPACE PROGRAM SPAM (71A: Emails such as "Click this link to become an Apollo astronaut?)
  • BURNING LOG BLOG (93A: Collection of Yule-centric posts?)
  • SALTED PORK SPORK (107A: Utensil for eating some cured meat?)
Word of the Day: OSCAR ARIAS (17D: Costa Rican president who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize) —
Óscar Arias Sánchez (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈoskaɾ ˈaɾjas]; born 13 September 1940 in HerediaCosta Rica) was President of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2010. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis.
He is also a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. In 2003, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Criminal Court's Trust Fund for Victims. (wikipedia)
• • •

Only some of these are anywhere near believable as portmanteaux. You'd never portmanteau something as long as SPACE PROGRAM to a mere four-letter word (also, I don't think the "spiced ham" portmanteau is official—wikipedia claims that that's just "popular belief"). There is nothing particularly "Yule" about a BURNING LOG, so I have no idea what that clue thinks it's doing. Any log on any fire is burning, so Yule shmule (also "burning log" is a terrible stand-alone phrase... this portmanfaux could've / should've been soooo much better). And SALTED PORK is what you went with. SPORK [according to the wacky portmanfaux offered here] is just PORK with an "S" at the beginning, so ,... you could've gone with literally any "S" word ... why not SZECHUAN PORK or SEXY PORK or SPECKLED DORK for that matter. Since it's all totally arbitrary, these fauxmanteaux should all *kill*; too many of these are weak or boring.

There was a bunch of longer stuff I just didn't know, or didn't believe was a real thing (e.g. BLUE PAPER (?)), so things were tough all over for me. If I knew RURITANIA, I forgot it (3D: Kingdom in "The Prisoner of Zenda"). MUDCAT? No way (20A: Mississippi River bottom feeder). No idea about OSCAR ARIAS (though he seems to have been president the one time I visited Costa Rica—weird) and definitely no idea about RISE OVER RUN (I mean, that checks out, that is what slope is, but that is not a phrase I ever heard while learning to calculate slope). So the NE was very hard for me. The worst part, however, was the CORNETTI / IMRE crossing, which is really bad (78D: Crescent-shaped Italian pastries / 99A: Nagy of Hungarian history). Startlingly bad. I just guessed. I've talked to others tonight who had to do the same. I've never heard of CORNETTI, and while that sounds better than CORNITTI, IMRI seems like a very plausible Hungarian name to me. I guessed correctly here, but when you're crossing obscure nouns (esp. if one of them is proper) at a vowel, you have to be really really careful. Nothing cluing could've done for this one. The cross is just inherently yucky.

Five things:
  • 1A: Era of ignorance (DARK AGES) — don't like this. Should be DARK AGE. Saying DARK AGES implies that it is an actual period of time. There is no such time. It's some bullshit that people say about the early part of the Middle Ages. Also, we are super-"ignorant" right now. I mean ... jeez, just look around. Further, the "dark" part has more to do with the historical record—the small number of extant MSS from the period—than it does with the "ignorance" of the "era." I mean, hi, here's the most cursory research re: "DARK AGES": "The term employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the era's "darkness" (lack of records) with earlier and later periods of "light" (abundance of records)." (wikipedia). DARK AGE, singular, as a figurative term, fine. But please don't tell people the DARK AGES were a real time, or a time of "ignorance." Just reinforces presentist dumbness.
  • 1D: Deaden acoustically (DAMP) — oddly maddening. Even when I got to -AMP I just wanted TAMP.
  • 12D: Word from the Latin for "noose" (LASSO) — honest-to-god thought this was gonna be RIATA (or REATA)
  • 57D: Hightail it, saltily (HAUL ASS) — approved; my favorite thing about this grid
  • 67D: Western powwow held every year or so (NATO SUMMIT) — maybe not "powwow"; just maybe; just a thought; maybe; maybe examine your metaphors; possibly; is all I'm saying ... especially in the context of "Western." It's so easy to just change this to "meeting" or even "get-together" if you want some misdirection.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I should've caught this:

It may seem a small thing, but casually assuming that a profession defaults to male perpetuates the erasure of women from the public sphere *and* the truly dumb idea that only women are gendered, or that we only need to mention gender when women are at issue—we often mark gender when the answer's female, but act like it doesn't exist when the answer's male. Bad habit.

PPS I'm getting email explaining the actual meaning of "spork" to me, which ... :( ...  I know what "spork" means. My first-paragraph comments were about the portmanfaux, not the actual word / portmanteau. Thank you.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Player of mother on Black-ish / SAT 11-17-18 / Band since 1922 / Gem that's been polished but not faceted / Catlike Pokemon with onomatopoeic name

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Constructor: Doug Peterson and Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium (8:08) (a.m. solve)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: CABOCHON (29D: Gem that's been polished but not faceted) —
cabochon (/ˈkæbəˌʃɒn/, from Middle French caboche "head") is a gemstone which has been shaped and polished as opposed to faceted. The resulting form is usually a convex (rounded) obverse with a flat reverse. Cutting en cabochon (French: "in the manner of a cabochon") is usually applied to opaque gems, while faceting is usually applied to transparent stones. Hardness is also taken into account as softer gemstones with a hardness lower than 7 on the Mohs hardness scale are easily scratched, mainly by silicon dioxide in dust and grit. This would quickly make translucent gems unattractive—instead they are polished as cabochons, making the scratches less evident. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ah, what a pleasant surprise. Two of the best constructors, who are also two of my favorite people. I did not get much sleep (because I went to see Richard Thompson in Ithaca last night, which ... probably more about that another time) and Saturdays are daunting no matter the solving conditions, so it was nice to see friendly names; even if they both are capable of making wicked-hard puzzles, I felt confident that I was in good hands. And my confidence was not misplaced. This had just the right balance of breeziness and brutality. When I look over my marked-up grid, the trouble isn't located in one spot so much as All Over, but none of that trouble was fatal, or even painful. Even the answer from outer space (for me, CABOCHON), was thoroughly gettable from crosses—had it as CABUCHIN for the brief moment I wanted 48A: Band since 1922 to be WIRE-something, but that was easily fixed. As far as proper noun trouble goes, the one answer that's going to at least half-flummox a lot of solvers is TRACEE ELLIS ROSS (15A: Player of the mother on "Black-ish"). I lucked out there, for a few reasons. One, her *first* name has been on my radar for a while (I mean, this is crosswords, right, so ... obviously). Also, I watched "Black-ish" early on. Also, I had this weird experience of opening up a spiral-bound notebook I owned in grad school and seeing this ad for Sprint's FONCARD (!?) (put that in your grid and smoke it!), and, uh, look who it is (I think):

I mean, I'm *pretty* sure that's her. The '90s were crazy. Anyway, I knew the TRACEE part, and I knew she had three names, and I kind of felt / fumbled my way forward from there.

[He played this, and while it missed Linda Thompson's voice, it is such a great, great song that I did not care. Here's a version with the amazing Nanci Griffith, whom I've also seen in concert, twice, back in the '90s, which is when I was in grad school, which is when I owned that spiral-bound notebook with TRACEE ELLIS ROSS in it—full circle!]

So the clue on 1A: Going in was just malevolent (AT FIRST). I wanted some kind of verb phrase and then didn't know what I wanted. I was also having trouble with ATTACH (1D: Staple, e.g.), in part because I had HSN as MSN (which, if I was thinking straight, would've been MSNBC...) (24A: Basic cable inits.). The PILOT part of TELEVISION PILOT took some doing—I guess the PILOT is kind of a "pitch," isn't it? Anyway, my brain kept wanting TELEVISION PITCH. Seriously. It did. I kept trying to reason with it but it was like "Nah, it's PITCH." Sigh. Despite the cluing being ratcheted up quite a bit, there were enough helpers along the way (TREXES, ABDUL, KABUL, ECO, LLOSA, HONDAFIT) that I never got stranded or totally stuck. A tough workout that is fun and not maddening—that is what I want from a Saturday, and that is what I got.

[I mean ... I got to see him play this. Live. Right there in front of me. Unreal]

Five things:
  • 45A: 2011 musical with the highest-charting Broadway cast album since "Hair" in 1969 ("BOOK OF MORMON") — My theater-major daughter went to see this by herself (her first show by herself) in Minneapolis a couple of days ago and was so excited. "I got to sit in a box! The woman next to me ... was not sober, but it was OK." Anyway, this show was at the front of my brain for this reason, so no problem.
  • 9D: "It has one syllable" and "Its fourth letter is T" (HINTS) — I'm just gonna go ahead and give this one "Clue of the Year" for 2018
  • 47D: Catlike Pokémon with an onomatopoeic name (MEW) — I as all set to be resentful at having to know some Pokémon **** but the clue really helps you out so I'm fine.
  • 35A: Plied, in a way (WINED) — one of the hardest answers for me to get for sure, not least because I kept reading it as [Piled]. Also thought the adjacent answer (40A: Is up on) was READS.
  • 31A: *scratches head* ("HOW ODD...") — Me, after getting final -DD: "Wait, there's no six-letter word that ends in "DD." But those Ds are definitely right ... how odd?)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Older brother of Malcolm on Malcom in Middle / FRI 11-16-18 / Von Trapp father in Sound of Music / Rexha pop singer with 2017 #2 hit Meant to Be / Jellylike organism once classified as fungus / Young prey for bobcat

Friday, November 16, 2018

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:34, and I was only half-awake)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Elizabeth ARDEN (40A: Who said "There's only one Elizabeth like me, and that's the queen") —
Florence Nightingale Graham (December 31, 1878 – October 18, 1966), who went by the business name Elizabeth Arden, was a Canadian American businesswoman who founded what is now Elizabeth Arden, Inc., and built a cosmetics empire in the United States. By 1929 she owned 150 upscale salons across the United States and Europe. Her 1000 products were found in the luxury market in 22 countries. She was the sole owner, and at the peak of her career, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

Always dicey embarking on a Friday puzzle just after rolling out of bed in the morning, but after an initial misstep (LEVER for SNOOP at 1D: Pry), I was off and running, and very little of substance ever stood in my way. HEIDI was an extreme gimme (2D: Heitkamp of North Dakota politics) and then ODE got me out of that 1D mistake and whoosh, goodbye. Made it all the way to the very last section (SE) before I encountered the only truly terrifying square in the puzzle: the crossing of BEBE (56D: ___ Rexha, pop singer with the 2017 #2 hit "Meant to Be") (who?) and ADELAIDE. Now, I know ADELAIDE very well. Or, rather, I know of its existence. I've never been there, or anywhere in Australia, despite having been to New Zealand four times (my wife grew up in Dunedin, NZ) (Note to wife: honey, next time, we really got get across the pond or whatever you people call that water between NZ and AUS). Anyway, I know ADELAIDE exists, but that vowel at AD-LAIDE ... oh, no, I was not at all confident about that. And BABE Rexha seemed very, very plausible. But in the end ADELAIDE just looked / felt right, and it seemed much more likely that you'd go to a marginal proper noun for BEBE than for BABE, so I guessed "E," which was right. Still, if I'd been the constructor, I think I would've done anything to avoid that cross (or I would've clued BEBE in a much more gettable manner).

[this whole album is phenomenal just fyi]

Five things:
  • 10D: Big name in men's deodorant (AXE) — well of course, but "name" had me wanting an actual person's name, so even at A-E I was like "... ACE? Is that a guy's name?"
  • 40A: Who said "There's only one Elizabeth like me, and that's the queen" (ARDEN) — Wow, turns out I didn't really know who she was. I'm a fan of old movies and I appear to have slightly confused Elizabeth with Eve:
  • 37D: Spiced holiday drink (WASSAIL) — I thought that was just something you said for a toast, like SKOAL! or SALUT! or whatever. Interesting.
  • 13D: Jellylike organism once classified as a fungus (SLIME MOLD) — I'll just take your word for it that this is a thing. I think I remember it from my D&D Monster's Manual ... or maybe I'm confusing it with Gelatinous Cube ...
  • 43D: Period of great climate change (EOCENE) — another semi-treacherous moment, as I had ITALIA at first for 58A: Neighbor of Suisse (ITALIE), and therefore sincerely thought the "period of great climate change" might be ICE AGE

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Noted artist on Bad Boy Records / THU 11-15-18 / Catchphrase for Moe Howard / Comic strip reporter Brenda / Cloned machine of old / 1990s game disk / Wash out with solvent

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:45)

THEME: MICROLOANS (60A: Money to start small businesses ... or a hint to five squares in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle with five "IOU" squares (so, an "IOU" is indicative of a loan and since "IOU" has been shrunk into a single square ... MICROLOANS!)

Word of the Day: ELUTE (2D: Wash out with a solvent) —
Online string instrument ... just kidding. Actually: "verb
  1. remove (an adsorbed substance) by washing with a solvent, especially in chromatography.
    " (google)
• • •

This is an extremely solid rebus puzzle, with a revealer that seems like it's been waiting all its life for someone to come along and make a puzzle based on it. As is typical with rebuses (and, just, most puzzles in general, honestly), I was slow to start, and particularly so given where I started. Hard enough to get DUBIOUS HONOR under any circumstances, but especially when it's hiding a tiny IOU, and especially when it also crosses ELUTE, which is up there on the yuckiest crosswordy words list. The Least Wanted list. ELUTE isn't a word, it's a typo. "Did you mean KLUTE? No? Did you mean ELUDE? No? Did you mean ELATE? No? I give up. Goodbye." I had OU-I at 4D: "Certainement!" and figured I was dealing with some kind of "leave a square blank" puzzle. Like, the answer was obviously OUI, but it just skipped over a square for some reason—what would that reason be!? Well as we know now, it was the "IOU" square. But I didn't figure that out there and then. I drifted down until I got to 44A: Catchphrase for Moe Howard, and after I got WHY, I knew the answer, knew it wouldn't fit, and so got very ... suspicIOUs. Got the gimmick pretty quickly then, as PREC- seemed to really want "IOU" to follow it (27D: Contents of a treasure chest = PRECIOUS GEMS). With this new "IOU" knowledge, I was able to go back to the NW, clean it up, and move on. Close encounters with ELUTE ALOU BIOME ELEA TOAT ESTA and COR had me a little (lot) wary of this one, but honestly I forgot all about that when, off of just -IOUS-, I got NOTORIOUS B.I.G. (10D: Noted artist on Bad Boy Records, with "the"). A great answer, and a themer to boot! The rest of the puzzle could've been a dog's dinner for all I cared. I was set. Then the revealer came in and gave the whole theme gimmick a solid rationale. Fine. Just fine.

Today I learned that the adjective is not SIOUXAN, which ... I mean, looking at it, yeah, that looks bad. Still, though, I balked slightly at SIOUAN, but the crosses checked out, so I was fairly (and rightly) confident.

I don't think of druids often, but when I do, their ROBEDness apparently isn't in the first tier of things I think about, 'cause that answer was slow to come to me. But I did get very lucky with the proper nouns today; in addition to NOTORIOUS B.I.G., I lucked out with the clues on STEINEM (20A: "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions" author) and STARR (33A: Comic strip reporter Brenda)—feminist icons both. May as well throw PELOSI in there too, as she was also a gimme (46D: House speaker after Hastert). I couldn't figure out what was PRECIOUS at first about the treasure chest. Wanted CARGO, didn't fit. Got the "G" and wanted GOLD (?). I think I've said this before, but PRECIOUS GEMS seems redundant. "Look at these worthless gems!" is not a phrase I can imagine someone saying. But I recognize that PRECIOUS GEMS is a real phrase (I just think it's more a jeweler's phrase than a pirate's). Thought the "con artist" might be a CHEATER, but I like CHARMER better (42D: Many a con artist). And I think I'm finally getting the "Frozen" crosswordese sorted—she's ELSA, and the snowman's OLAF, and the reindeer is SVEN, is that right? Is there more? Ooh, looks like there's a younger sister ANNA and a prince named HANS. That makes five reasonably common four-letter crossword answers that could have "Frozen" clues. You are welcome for this public service.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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German rapid transit system / WED 11-14-18 / Mag for docs / Muse featured in Xanadu / Hypothetical body in the solar system beyond Nepture / Western flick in old parlance / Govt org dating from 1930s

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:45)

THEME: GROW A BEARD (57A: Do the opposite of shave ... as suggested by the circled letters) — first words of themers (in circled squares) "grow" into a "beard" by the time we get to the revealer (though there, the circled squares form the *last* word):

Theme answers:
  • B FLAT MAJOR (16A: Key for five Mozart piano concertos)
  • BE YOURSELF (22A: "Just act natural!")
  • BEA ARTHUR (34A: "The Golden Girls" actress)
  • BEAR TRACKS (47A: Worrisome sign around a campsite)
Word of the Day: UBAHN (23D: German rapid transit system) —
The Berlin U-Bahn ([uː.baːn]; short for Untergrundbahn, "underground railway") is a rapid transit railway in Berlin, the capital city of Germany, and a major part of the city's public transport system. Together with the S-Bahn, a network of suburban train lines, and a tram network that operates mostly in the eastern parts of the city, it serves as the main means of transport in the capital. (WIKIpedia)
• • •

Over a minute faster than yesterday. Very much helped out by the theme (in that by the time I got to the bottom of the grid, I was able to write in BEA and thus get BEAR TRACKS very easily, and then getting the revealer was a cinch). The corners felt a little open, and thus a little tough, but on balance this thing definitely came in on the easy side. Not sure how I feel about this incrementally-adding-a-letter thing. The concept isn't that scintillating, and the themers don't even have that much stand-alone charm (I mean, I love BEA ARTHUR, but the rest are just OK). The revealer, too, struck me as a bit anemic. Very "EAT A SANDWICH." I was much more intrigued by the fill than I was by the theme. THAT GUY, BEER HAT, JOB FAIR, JANELLE Monáe and "OH, JOY" all gave the puzzle a lively personality. IRAIL (!?) sounds much more like a "rapid transit system" than UBAHN, and PLANET X sounds more like a '30s sci-fi pulp story than an actual thing, but I don't think there are many parts of the grid that are significant stumbling blocks. All in all, a little wobbly, but enjoyable. Here's a grid that my friend Christopher Adams did a few months ago—similar concept, but in reverse:

(and here's his puzzle website—a huge trove of free goodness just waiting for you)

JAMES BEARD > GROW A BEARD. If NYT puzzles had titles (which they should) then the title could've carried the burden of theme indication and that last themer could've been something more interesting. The lack of titles really does limit puzzling possibilities. It's an invisible deficiency, but a deficiency nonetheless. All tournament puzzles have titles. Sunday puzzles have titles. WSJ puzzles have titles. Because they are fun and (more importantly) useful. They liberate your grid, or at least give you more options for realizing your theme idea.

Know your crosswordese: OATER! (29D: Western flick in old parlance) It is another word for a western (movie). I know this because I do crosswords (though I have occasionally heard the word in the wild) (though I also watch a ton of TCM and I'm not sure if that counts as "the wild"). OATER is an anagram of another important piece of crosswordese, which is also in this puzzle: ERATO. They are both anagrams of ORATE, which is a normal word that humans use, so no need to go into it here. As for ERATO, I'm not sure this clue is so great (45A: Muse featured in "Xanadu"). The muse that's "featured" in "Xanadu" is Terpsichore (the 'real' name of the main character, Kira, played by Olivia Newton-John—please subscribe to my "Xanadu" podcast and newsletter, I have so much more to say about that ridiculous movie, which somehow costars Gene Kelly (!) and yet features truly terrible dance numbers)

[Seriously, what is this!?!?]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Nauru's capital / TUE 11-13-18 / President Herbert's wife mother / di pietro artist better known as Fra Angelico / Representatives Sessions Aguilar for instance

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Constructor: John Ciolfi

Relative difficulty: Challenging (4:53) (slowest Tuesday time this year by half a minute)

THEME: ANDES (69A: Mountain chain about 5,000 miles long ... or a hint to 17-, 25-, 31-, 44-, 50- and 61-Across) — -ES is added to the end of familiar phrases? (with wacky clues?) ... so it's the familiar phrase *AND* "ES" ...

Theme answers:
  • HOUSE PETES (17A: Representatives Sessions (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA), for instance?) (house pet +ES)
  • FOR THE WINES (25A: Why many people visit Napa?) ("For the win!" +ES)
  • BABY SITES (31A: Nurseries?) (babysit +ES)
  • BEAR CUBES (44A: What ice trays typically do?) (bear cubs +ES)
  • HOOVER DAMES (50A: President Herbert's wife and mother?) (Hoover Dam +ES)
  • GUESS NOTES (61A: Play "Name That Tune"?) ("Guess not ..." +ES)
Word of the Day: YAREN (22A: Nauru's capital) —
Yaren (in earlier times Makwa/Moqua), is a district of the Pacific nation of Nauru. It is the de facto capital of Nauru and is coextensive with Yaren Constituency. [Population: 747 ... !?] (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, what was this? Every themer, and much of the fill, was disastrous for me. Literally had no idea what the theme was supposed to be, or how to take any of the theme clues. Even after I got the themers from crosses, I had no idea what the "joke" was. Only after I finally got BEAR CUBES did I see that something w/ E was happening. But it still took me forever to see HOOVER DAMES (esp. the "D," as the only Macbeth lines I could remember is "Is this a dagger I see before me?" and "Out, damned spot!"—"TO BED" completely skipped my mind) (34D: Words repeated by Lady Macbeth in Act V, Scene 1). The main problem with this theme is that ... it's not clear if the theme means "and there are Es" or "plus ES." HOUSE PETS is perfectly normal plural phrase. Add as "E" to get HOUSE PETES. There's absolutely no reason I should expect that the theme is "add ES," since it looks like simply "add E." This is also true for BABY SITES and BEAR CUBS, which are simply ordinary plurals with "E" added. But then there's the totally unpluralizable "for the win" and "Hoover Dam" and "Guess not!", so yeah, in retrospect, I can see that the theme was actually "add ES," but mid-solve, oof.

It's funny the puzzle thinks I know the first names of US Reps nowhere near where I live. There are many hundreds of them. I know a *Jeff* Sessions, and I know a Pete *Domenici*, but they were both Senators. Anyway, HOUSE PETES, my god. No way. So for a Tuesday this theme was very hard. But also the theme is off. And the puzzle makes the grave mistake of thinking that more is better, that cramming the grid with theme material will make the puzzle somehow more entertaining or more impressive, when all it does is strain the grid. I'm still laughing at YAREN. I mean ... what? It's bad enough I have to remember NAURU, a very very very tiny country. But its so-called capital? More people live In My Neighborhood than live in YAREN. I got YAREN and gaped at it. Checked the crosses. Shrugged. Thank god for crosses. Beyond that, the fill was rough all over. Not yesterday rough. But rough. Long Downs in the NE were the one highlight for me.

ANGIOGRAM (32D: Cargiologist's X-ray) and BERNOULLI (33D: Mathematician Daniel after whom a principle in named), ha ha on a Tuesday? My dad was a radiologist, but even then I had trouble coming up with ANGIOGRAM. And I just flat-out don't know BERNOULLI. At all. Fun. Also, I totally forgot the TROGGS (48D: Band with the 1966 #1 hit "Wild Thing," with"the"), which hurt a lot (me: "the FRUGGS? ... the ... what was Iggy Pop's band???"—it was the Stooges, so I was way off there). The TROGGS and James ARNESS (40D: "Gunsmoke" star James) placed this emphatically in The Land Before (My) Time. I wish I had liked this better. It's possible the theme would've played better, or more clearly, with "ES" added somewhere in the middle of the phrase (so the apparent plural thing wouldn't be an issue) ... and maybe if it ran on a Wednesday :)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Longtime SNL cast member Thompson / MON 11-12-18 / Spiced tea from East / Site with Shop by category button / Felipe first Dominican manager in MLB history

Monday, November 12, 2018

Constructor: Kathy Bloomer

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:02)

THEME: COME TO THE TABLE (57A: Show up for negotiations ... or a hint for 20-, 33- and 42-Across) — each theme answer contains a piece of silverware

Theme answers:
  • STICK A FORK IN IT (20A: Declare something completely finished)
  • GAG ME WITH A SPOON (33A: Expression of disgust in Valley Girl-speak)
  • GO UNDER THE KNIFE (42A: Have surgery)
Word of the Day: OPEL (14A: Affordable German car) —
Opel (Opelpronounced [ˈoːpl̩]) is a German automobile manufacturer, subsidiary of Frenchautomaker Groupe PSA since August 2017. From 1929 until 2017, Opel was owned by American automaker General Motors. Opel vehicles are sold in the United Kingdom under the Vauxhall brand.
Opel traces its roots to a sewing machine manufacturer founded by Adam Opel in 1862 in Rüsselsheim am Main. The company began manufacturing bicycles in 1886 and produced its first automobile in 1899. After listing on the stock market in 1929, General Motors took a majority stake in Opel and then full control in 1931, establishing the American reign over the German automaker for nearly 90 years.
In March 2017, Groupe PSA agreed to acquire Opel from General Motors for €2.2 billion, making the French automaker the second biggest in Europe, after Volkswagen.
Opel is headquartered in Rüsselsheim am MainHesseGermany. The company designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes Opel-branded passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles, and vehicle parts and together with its British sister brand Vauxhall they are present in over 50 countries around the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed bag today, but let's start with the good news—those themers are all lively and interesting. As stand-alone phrases, they are great, and they give the puzzle a lot of sassy personality. All of them are idiomatic in one way or another, even the revealer, and that colloquial quality really spices things up. I'm also a big fan of "WHO KNEW?", KEELS OVER, and PUT ON AIRS—I especially like the clue 64A: Act all hoity-toity because it reminds me of Michael Ian Black's podcast "Obscure" (about Jude the Obscure), which has an episode called "Hoity-Toity!" which is what Arabella yells at Jude the first time she sees him walking past ... not sure if it's before or after she throws a greasy pig part at him ... anyway, bring back "hoity-toity!" I say! (Also, check out "Obscure," it's a bunch of fun).

But then there a number of problems. First, this isn't the tightest theme; spoon fork knife, OK, but ... two are at end of their themers, one isn't; two are things you would actually put in your mouth, one *decidedly* isn't. I mean, not that we put knives in our mouths as a rule, but we definitely don't put *surgical* knives in our mouths. And look, surgeons, if I'm wrong about that, please don't tell me. Also, the revealer is pretty weak, in that it doesn't really evoke silverware specfiically. COME TO THE TABLE? Lots of things are on a table, lots of things are involved in a place setting. Maybe do something with SILVER ...? I dunno, but this revealer just lies there. Then there's the very serious problems with the fill. The grid is choked with crosswordese, some of it of a stunningly archaic variety. IGLU!? You can see what happened—the fill is weakest along the length of the central two themers. They are treacherously close, and the grid just groans with hypercommon or just plain bad short fill as a result. If you position your themers such that you give yourself -G-U as a starting point, you really are dooming yourself to IGLU. Gotta make better choices, or build a more forgiving grid, or let your themers breathe more, or something. Real problem is those 14s—14s are very hard to work with. Very unwieldy, and you can't put them on the third / thirteenth rows because of black square issues, so they're crowding the middle of the puzzle. Much of the grid is under strain because of the lack of breathing room between the very long themers. So we get SOT ERGS ETON ALOU ATPAR ELAN RAJAS ACERB ENOLA OBIS AAA ETATS SOU (ugh) IGLU (2x) OPEL HOER (?) UHURA. It's a crosswordese barrage. And it's pretty brutal.

  • 53A: Org. with the longtime leader Wayne LaPierre (NRA) — f*** that guy and this answer and this clue and all of it. I know it's a useful answer, but this is pretty much a white terrorist org. now, so maybe delete it from your wordlist. Please. EURO could've been changed to ESSO and the whole horrid gun-fetishizing scene could've been avoided.
  • 39A: Give the glad eye (OGLE) — again, jeez, read the room (i.e. country). This old-timey euphemism for a creepy predatory gaze is somehow much worse than just a straightforward clue. 
  • 1D: Moo goo gai pan pan (WOK) — indeed, a funny clue, but one that had my speed-solving brain totally flummoxed, as I thought ... I just couldn't figure out what I was reading. It was like I was seeing double and I couldn't parse it to save my life, so I actually had to go to crosses, ugh. My bad.
  • 43D: "You wouldn't believe it if I told you" ("DON'T ASK!") — more good colloquial stuff, though I couldn't get the part after DON'T, and since I couldn't get the part before -TO THE TABLE, I was in this weird position of being almost done but locked out of that SW corner. Had to jump into it and solve my way back out.
  • 48A: One-named singer with the 1985 hit "Smooth Operator" (SADE) — this puzzle has me wishing SADE and REBA did a duet together, if only for the complete and utter unexpectedness of it
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Indie rocker with 2009 #3 album Middle Cyclone / SUN 11-11-18 / Charcuterie stock / Mythical queen of Carthage

Sunday, November 11, 2018

NOTE: Apparently this puzzle is a contest. I found this out after I solved, after I wrote about the puzzle, after I already posted. Having done the work, there's no way in hell I'm taking down this post, but I am telling you not to read on if you don't want the contest "spoiled" for you. If you are sincerely irate that someone might use my post to "cheat," enter this contest, and dishonorably win the huge pile of riches, I don't know what to tell you.


Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:59)

THEME: "Escape Room" — theme answers are instructions on how to "escape this crossword": you need the LETTERS ON THE KEYS (because four different squares have "KEY" going in one direction and a single *letter* (which you need to escape...) going in the other). You take those KEY-crossing letters (which are Y, A, T, and W) and literally PLACE THEM IN THE CORNERS, after which you can READ NEW DOWN WORDS, namely: "YOU / ARE / OUT / NOW" — here's the grid with the letters actually placed in the corners:

[Side note: Are you having trouble getting the app to take your solution? I solve in AcrossLite, and it took my grid when I entered the single letters in the "KEY" squares (i.e. I wrote in NASTINESS, IMARET, SWEET, and SNOW DAY, even though it left the crosses looking funny). Maybe the app works the same way?]

Word of the Day: Peter STRAUB (33A: Horror writer Peter) —
Peter Francis Straub (born March 2, 1943) is an American novelist and poet. His horror fiction has received numerous literary honors such as the Bram Stoker AwardWorld Fantasy Award, and International Horror Guild Award. (wikipedia)
• • •

Escape Rooms are entirely not my jam. Many, many of my friends are very, very into them. I feel about them the way I feel about most other things that combine group activities and being locked in a room I can't immediately get out of, i.e. nope. I like crosswords, and I like some crossword variants like Vowelless crosswords or ... what are they called, Something Different or something like that, where most of the answers are ridiculous / nonsensical entries that are still somehow gettable through inventive cluing; and I'll do an Acrostic if I'm bored, and I'll have a look at a Spelling Bee or even a Jumble if I'm waiting for the water to boil, buuuuuuut ... Escape Rooms, no. See also Puzzle Hunts and Learned League and etc. I'm very anti-social, or narrowly social, and my puzzle tastes are kind of narrow too. Where was I going with all this: oh yeah, Eric's puzzle. I was deep enough into my Manhattan to feel very open-minded about this. Enthusiastic, even. I mean, I gotta do it, so why not do it with a spirit of adventure? And what can I say? The thing where theme answers are instructions—not my favorite kind of solving experience. Tab A in Slot B, Fold Here, etc., just doesn't make for hot fill. That said, this particular gimmick is neat and tidy and clever and not a fussy nuisance—and the grid was crisp and clean—so a good time was had. By me.


I didn't really know what to do with the KEY squares in the grid, so I left them blank and went back to check them out once I'd filled in the rest of the grid. It took me a minute or two of fiddling around and writing out the KEY letters and then plugging them in to see the "escape." It's nice that when you plug in the KEY letters in the corners, not only do the Down answers spell out the escape phrase, but the Across answers also form perfectly acceptable words (YEAR CHINA TOAST SLEW). Is that how you spell GASSES? I think I would write GASES. Oh, man, that looks bad too. Nevermind. Coolest answers, to my ears / eyes, are oddly symmetrical: NEKO CASE and LAST GASP. I had never heard of NEKO CASE and then for some reason I can't recall "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" (2006) fell into my lap about a decade ago and I was like "whaaaaat is this?" This song in particular.

Not much in the way of trouble here today. What didn't I know? STRAUB. That's a name I've seen in bookstores, I guess, but I know nothing about his work. Thank god that "B" was crystal clear, 'cause I was fully ready to go with STRAUS. The only other part of the grid that made me squirm a little was NICAD over MEDI- crossing DISS (and I once wrote a DISS, so dis whole situation is a little weird).  I see NICAD from time to time, but it still doesn't come easily to me. And what ever was MEDI- ...? 97A: Prefix on some first-aid products. I guess that's ... correct. Let's just say that that little patch is not one of the lovelier parts of the grid. But that patch is anomalous. Whoa, I just looked at LESSSO and it freaked me out a little, so I'm gonna stop now. Hope you escaped. See you tomorrow, or next Sunday, or whenever you read me next, I guess.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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