Festival of Colors celebrant / SUN 7-22-18 / Former QB Tony / Big Ten anthropomorphic nut / Rockettes motions / Bikini blast / Marshal Dillon / City Missouri Council Bluffs / Golden calf Exodus / Frederick Forsyth File / Villagers victimized Grinch

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: 16:19 (Note: This week, I'm going to share my times, instead of rating the puzzles, and you can infer from there)



THEME: "Movie 'M*A*S*H' 'Up'" — Two one-word movie titles are stuck together to make a wacky plot description of a third movie.

Word of the Day: GESTALT (27A: The forest, as opposed to the trees) —
Gestalt psychology or gestaltism (/ɡəˈʃtɑːlt, -ˈʃtɔːlt, -ˈstɑːlt, -ˈstɔːlt/; from German: Gestalt [ɡəˈʃtalt] "shape, form") is a philosophy of mind of the Berlin School of experimental psychology. Gestalt psychology is an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world. The central principle of gestalt psychology is that the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Rex is away on a well-deserved vacation; I (Laura) will be here through next Saturday. Think of me as Rex's MALEFICENT PERSONA or GHOST AVATAR or CLUELESS SHARKNADO.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: "Anchorman" = ? (1976) + (1980): NETWORK FAME
  • 28A: "Rear Window" = ? (2004) + ? (2014): SAW NEIGHBORS
  • 44A: "Silence of the Lambs" = ? (1946) + ? (1960): NOTORIOUS PSYCHO
  • 68A: "Transformers" = ? (2000) + ? (1992): TRAFFIC TOYS
  • 77A: "Jurassic Park" = ? (1997) + ? (1975): TITANIC JAWS
  • 98A: "Twister" = ? (2004) + ? (2013): SIDEWAYS GRAVITY
  • 115A: "Dumb and Dumber" = ? (2007) + ? (1979): SUPERBAD HAIR
  • 125A: "The Poseidon Adventure" = ? (1956) + ? (1984): GIANT SPLASH
I enjoyed this very much, and even though I solved it on my phone during the set break at a concert (Guster with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra; they were awesome!), it flowed pretty quickly, because a) movie names/trivia are my thing; b) I very much like (and like to make) theme-types where you take a category and stick the names of things in that category together to make new, funny things. My primary beef with this set is that the theme entries could apply to many other movies; it's almost arbitrary which movies the constructor or editor(s) decided to clue for each M*A*S*H (1970) Up (2009). Like ... okay, SAW NEIGHBORS is a pretty succinct plot summary for Rear Window, I'll grant you that, but how many movies have a NOTORIOUS PSYCHO in them? Many movies. At the very least, all the Fridays the 13th. (Also, plenty of Hitchcock in this grid, not that I'm complaining). And GIANT SPLASH could summarize pretty much any movie in which something unpleasant happens to a cruise ship. Does a tornado (subject of the 1996 film Twister) really have SIDEWAYS GRAVITY? Because that would be cool (in the sense of interesting; not that I'd want to experience it personally).

2008 + 2015 + 1944 + 1996 = July 22-28, 2018
Fill-wise, not much gave me trouble, though the NE was the last to fall; somehow I wanted [34A: Best in mental competition]: OUTWIT to be an adjective (i.e. ___EST rather than a verb). Funny story about [106A: Frederick Forsyth's "The ___ File"]: ODESSA. I tried to put IPCRESS here -- though The Ipcress File is a spy novel by Len Deighton published ten years earlier; many spy novels are entitled The Something File, or The Whatever Conundrum, or The [insert European city here] Connection. The spy novel is a genre I have tried repeatedly and failed to get into; some years ago I was reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John LeCarre, 1974). I complained to a friend that even though I could absorb fantasy sagas that ran to thousands of pages and took up entire endcap displays at Borders, and remember who all the different dynasties were, and which alien lifeform was feuding with which magic school fraternity, I tried to read one spy novel and got utterly confused trying to remember who all the characters were and whether they were the mole. "So you're saying," responded my friend, "That you'd've liked that book better had it been titled Hobbit Wookiee Direwolf Borg?" Yes. Yes, I would.

Bullets:
  • [1A: Festival of Colors celebrant]: HINDU — The Festival of Colors, or Holi, happens every spring (in 2018 it was on March 1 & 2) and celebrates not only the return of spring, but the repair of broken relationships.
  • [17D: Silents star whose name is an anagram of 112-Down]: Pola NEGRI began appearing in films in Berlin in the 1920s; she moved to Hollywood and specialized in femme fatale roles. She returned to Germany in the 1930s and starred in a few sound films, and was rumored to be a favorite of a certain dictator. She came back to Hollywood as the Nazis rose to power and had a few cameos, but mostly retired from film after the 1940s.  
  • [45D: Without a contract]: ON SPEC — Most crossword puzzles are submitted to editors ON SPEC. There are probably fewer than ten constructors who work full-time, on contract, only making puzzles (and not, say, also as editors of other folks' puzzles).
Thanks folks! I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.

Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Common perfume oil / SAT 7-21-18 / Pioneering infomercial company / Sports org. since 1916 / Noted Obama portrayer / Marsh Bird / French waves / Performers taking bows onstage?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (8:17)



THEME: none

Word of the Day: NEROLI (Common perfume oil) —
Neroli oil is an essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara or Bigaradia). Its scent is sweet, honeyed and somewhat metallic with green and spicy facets. Orange blossom is also extracted from the same blossom and both extracts are extensively used in perfumery. 
• • •
Substitute blogger alert! While for the bulk of Rex's coming vacation you'll be in the capable (much more so than my own) hands of Laura Braunstein, today OFL let me take the wheel. I'm Matt and while it's easy to find me talking crosswords on Twitter, today is my first time on the blog. On to the puzzle.

Grid-spanning quadruple stacks. Bleh. With grids like this, you're opening up two cans of worms: is the long stuff snappy enough to help with compromises in the necessary short downs, and how much glue are you going to find, especially in the crummy middle? I think the constructor did about as well as you can do with quadruple stacks. The long stuff felt fresh while still feeling in the language instead of forced: THERE'S NO I IN TEAM, ORDERED A LA CARTE, TELLS IT LIKE IT IS, PEER ASSESSMENTS are all full of constructor-friendly letters while feeling accessible to solvers, and STRING ORCHESTRAS (1A: Performers taking bows onstage?) threw me much longer than I'd like to admit, even with the ? raising my hackles. 



But the rest became a test of your crosswordese knowledge, and on the whole, uninspiring. I definitely (for now) am A Young Person, and a mixed bag on the short stuff cost me significant time. KTEL, XKE, ELAM, LUI, EDO, ELO, LSD, came quick. And short fill-wise, we've got to accept some stuff in this grid design. But I hit real roadblocks in other places, especially the Maleska-esque NEROLI (only one other appearance in the Shortz-era), a bird I've never encountered in SORA (only one NYT appearance in the 15 years I've been doing the puzzle), and ONDES (7D: French waves). If you're of a different generation, I can see trouble with Comedy Central star-cum-Oscar-winning director Jordan PEELE (46D: Noted Obama portrayer), and that's not to say anything of FALSER, which is just crummy. ENCAGE and REDEPOSIT a little less so, but a trade-off I'm willing to make given how un-awkward the long stuff was. In the end, for a Saturday that time-wise I found a bit tougher than normal, I'm remembering the "blah" much more than the misdirection in the top half, which is a shame. 

Bullets:
  • 37D: DARLINGS (angels) and 38D: STINKERS (No-goodniks) — A fun little juxtaposition. Maybe I'd've rolled my eyes if the clues were "angels" and "devils," but as it is it feels like an easter egg in a themeless.
  • 1D: STOGY (Low-end smoke) — Just reminded me of the all-ways bad EL CHEAPOS of a bit ago, but you can do a lot staler at 1D.
Until next time, assuming I'm welcomed back.

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Title character of 2006 mockumentary / FRI 7-20-18 / Dreamhouse resident / Food portmanteau / Hydroxyl-bearing compound / Catwoman portrayer Meriwether / Colorful seasoning that originated near Himalayas / Five-letter capitol written as two words in its native language

Friday, July 20, 2018

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:58)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAN characters (35A: ___ characters (Chinese script)) —
Chinese characters (simplified Chinese汉字traditional Chinese漢字pinyinhànzì; literally: "Han characters") are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write a number of other Asian languages. They remain a key component of the Japanese writing system, where they are known as Kanji. They were formerly used in the writing of Korean (where they are known as Hanja), Vietnamese (in a system known as Chữ Nôm) and Zhuang (in a system known as Sawndip). Collectively, they are known as CJK charactersVietnamese is sometimes also included, making the abbreviation CJKV. (wikipedia) (emph mine)
• • •

This is a very solid and smooth offering, for sure. Polished within an inch of its life. Near zero on the GarbageMeter. There's nothing terribly grabby in the way of fill, but when All Of It works, I am not about to complain. PINK SALT, that's pretty original, although I mainly think of it as "salt rich people will pay a lot for based on erroneous beliefs about its health benefits" salt. I also think we have some in the cupboard somewhere. Or did. We definitely use a salt mill, so that's pretty ridiculous. Where was I? Oh, this puzzle is good. NOSE-TO-TAIL is probably the most original thing here, and also the thing that gave me the most trouble. I did not realize this was a cuisine trend ... where you eat All Of The [Insert Animal Here]. I guess it's ecological or something, like farm-to-table. I am trying to eat (far) less animal. NOSE TO TAIL sounds like a kind of formation you would not want to be in. That answer was hardest for me, and helped make the SE corner the toughest corner. Not too tough. Just tougher than the rest.


Started out hot with BARBIE—my sister probably had a Dreamhouse, or wanted one; she definitely had the Corvette—but weirdly couldn't think of what the final four letters could be. Sincerely thought: "What was Barbie's last name?" DOLL. Her last name was DOLL. But just BARBIE was enough to get me going on the Downs. Went straight from there over into the NE via ERITREA. Tried to go into the SW, but somehow FIXTURES and UP NEXT just weren't going to reveal themselves from just their back ends, and so I worked the NE instead. Very fast there, with just a START SLOW hiccup before STARTS SMALL (11D: Not bite off more than one can chew). Biggest problem was figuring out what word I could make out of -ORKMA-- (31A: One might be by the water cooler). "... PORKMAIL?" Seriously, the -ORK was just so weird-looking.


Jumped over to RUBS, which quickly got me BORAT and RAISINS. Only problem in that quadrant was the HEFTS error I always make with the stupid sword handles (HAFTS). Getting into the SE was the only real problem this grid presented. I had HALF- and no idea what followed at 35D: Divided barrier. Eventually just guessed the DOOR part. Short Downs just weren't that quick in coming down there. Blanked on NRC (53D: Government org. concerned with radioactive waste). Also really struggled with both GAIN (49D: Appreciation) and LINE (50D: A cameo might have one). Had -AIN and -INE and still no idea, right at the end. Had to close them out by getting OGLE from O---E (48A: Check out, in a way). Today I was grateful to have "RUR" (24D: Play from which the word "robot" comes) and SABRA (36A: Israeli-born Jew) and ENOL (52A: Hydroxyl-bearing compound) in my big bag of crossword vocabulary (SABRA is the rarest of those, but common enough that it's worth remembering). A stupid lazy fly is buzzing in my office so I'm going to quit before I go insane like Walter in that one "Breaking Bad" episode. Bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    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]

      Read more...

      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]

        Read more...

        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

        [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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