Shakespearean cries / MON 2-19-18 / Uncle Sam's land for short / Hybrid picnic utensil / Onetime Pontiac muscle car

Monday, February 19, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Monday) (30 seconds over average time)

THEME: president names + a random letter, anagrammed for some reason...

Theme answers:
  • LIFEGUARD (17A: GARFIELD + U = Beach V.I.P.)
  • AND SO AM I (26A: MADISON + A = "Me, too!")
  • FILM LOVER (39A: FILLMORE + V = Movie buff)
  • HAND GRIP (54A: HARDING + P = Squeezable exercise tool)
  • POLICE DOG (66A: COOLIDGE + P = Narc's four-footed helper)
U + A + V + P + P = ............ ?????? UV APP? VA PUP? I'm sure it's something presidential...

Word of the Day: Queen of SHEBA (58D: Queen of ___ (visitor of King Solomon, in the Bible)) —
The Queen of Sheba is a Biblical and Quranic figure. The tale of her visit to King Solomon has undergone extensive Jewish, Islamic, and Ethiopian elaborations, and has become the subject of one of the most widespread and fertile cycles of legends in the Orient. //  The queen of Sheba (מַלְכַּת־שְׁבָא‬, "malkat-šəḇā" in the Hebrew Bible, βασίλισσα Σαβὰ in the Septuagint, Syriac ܡܠܟܬ ܫܒܐ, Ethiopic ንግሥተ፡ሳባእ፡) came to Jerusalem "with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones" (I Kings 10:2). "Never again came such an abundance of spices" (10:10; II Chron. 9:1–9) as those she gave to Solomon. She came "to prove him with hard questions," which Solomon answered to her satisfaction. They exchanged gifts, after which she returned to her land. (wikipedia)
• • •

We need to talk about how objectively bad this puzzle is. Is it performance art? That is the only reasonable explanation I can think of. It's a parody of a bad idea designed to elicit bafflement and anger in people who actually care about good puzzles. Maybe I'm on camera right now? I'm not even angry, I'm just blinking in stunned bemusement. The theme clues are bonkers, esp. for a Monday. Visually painful and confusing. Further: totally unnecessary. I mercifully figured out fairly early on that I did not need to even look at the first part of the theme clues. I just read the post-"=" part and that ended up working just fine. Let's talk specifically about why this is a substandard puzzle. There are two main reasons: the added letters have no rationale, and the anagramming has no rationale. Random added letters, anagrams happening for no reason. Add to that the fact that you can do what I did—just ignore the presidential word math part—and still solve it (i.e. the fact that the theme is irrelevant and ignorable) and, I hope, you can see why this just isn't up to snuff. It's quite baffling that this puzzle was accepted for publication by anyone, let alone the outlet that continues to call itself "The Best Puzzle in the World." People seem to think that I have it in for Will, or for this constructor, or blah blah blah, but I promise you, talk to *any* experienced constructor, and, while they may not use language as strong as mine, they will tell you what's wrong with this puzzle right quick, and the reasons they give will overlap substantially with my own.

AND SO AM I is so weak, especially as a themer. Forced and awkward and anti-climactic. And HANDGRIP isn't much better—I had no idea those squeezy thingies even had a name. Are there really no better PRESIDENT + LETTER anagrams out there? These themers are generally a SAD LOT. Why doesn't this puzzle do *anything* well?! I can't stop laughing at LAY EGGS (48D: What hens do), which is about as scintillating and stand-alone worthy as EAT FOOD or DRIVE CARS. Also, and this is an undeniable editing gaffe, you can't have a clue with "eggs" in it anywhere when EGGS is in the grid, and you *especially* can't have it in the clue for an answer that both means "EGGS" *and* crosses your EGGS answer (53A: Lab eggs = OVA). I teach Shakespeare and had no idea AYS were [Shakespearean cries]. Don't blame Shakespeare for your bad fill. I will say one nice thing about this puzzle: it has a dog in it. Nothing with dog in it can be all bad. Just, you know, substantially bad. I DIG and I FOLD right next to each other? Really. OK, I FOLD, good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rufous ruminant / SUN 2-18-18 / Simple variant of baseball / Rani's raiment / Suggestion of what to do slangily

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Constructor: Elizabeth A. Long

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "SEE 68-ACROSS" (68A: Supercilious sort ... or the title for this puzzle)  — Across themers are wacky "?"-clued phrases that are really ordinary phrases that have had a common "name" "dropped" from them. The dropped name can be found literally dropped (i.e. hanging, appended) to the Across themer:

Theme answers:
  • PHONE MARS / PHONE MANNERS (omg what the hell are "phone manners????")
Word of the Day: TAMMIE Green (37D: Green of the L.P.G.A.) —
Tammie Green (born December 17, 1959) is an American professional golfer. // 
She started her professional career on the Futures Tour, on which she won 11 tournaments and was Player of the Year in 1985 and 1986. In 1986, she qualified for the LPGA Tour by finishing tied for second at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She was LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1987. She was named Most Improved Player by Golf Digest in 1989. She won seven times on the LPGA Tour, including one major championship, the 1989 du Maurier Classic. Her best placing on the money list was 5th in 1997, which was one of four top ten seasons. She played for the United States in the Solheim Cup in 1994 and 1998. She was a member of the LPGA Tour Player Executive Committee from 1992–94. In 2004, she was inducted into the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame(wikipedia)
• • •

Puzzle tries to make me hate it from the jump by naming itself after the worst kind of crossword clue: the cross-reference. "SEE 68-ACROSS" is a horrendous title. Horrendous. It's like ... "Uh, I give up, just look at the revealer, here it is, bye." I have no idea why you decide to go with a title so singularly unimaginative, so repulsive in its evocation of the worst that crosswords have to offer. Mind-boggling.* That said, this puzzle, while not terribly enjoyable, was certainly better than most Sunday puzzles have been of late. There's an interesting two-tiered quality to the themers, with both the wackiness and the "name" getting their own clues, and with the "names" literally "dropping" down from the wacky answers. I love the fact that the theme answer with BING in it is clued [Search engine failure?]. So true, so true. I haven't the faintest what "phone manners" are. "Table manners" are a thing. "Phone manners" is from god-knows-when. Before my time, for sure. People don't even talk on the phone much any more, and when they do ... I mean, have you seen people? "Manners"? LOL, no. "Phone manners" is a. not an in-the-language phrase, and b. utterly irrelevant to the times in which we live. But the other themers seems to work just fine. Theme's not too dense, so the grid doesn't get tooooo bogged down in junk, though it could've been a Lot less junky. There's like half a dozen French words alone. DEUX AMIES spent HIER on an ALPE? OUI. This is still a ways from "enjoyable," but by recent standards, it's a definition improvement. So let's just call it even.

I found this one harder than normal because of the way the theme was structured. Was hard for me to get theme footing for a while. But then some of the hardness was of my own making, like when I thought 36D: Left only the exterior of (GUTTED) was PITTED, or when I wrote in the French MES at 70D: Mine, in Milano (MIO). Thank god I grew up in and went to college in California, because TORRANCE?! (25A: City in Los Angeles County) Really, people know that place? People from California barely know that place. URETHANE was not easy for me (21D: Pesticide ingredient). Seems like there's probably a lot of crap in pesticides. AFLERS hurt, as did TAMMIE, and UNLEARN, and ARREAR (just one!?). And there's nothing like that special feeling you get when you discover ONE?CAT in your puzzle and leave that one square blank because who the hell knows if this amazingly bygone game found only in crosswords will be spelled with an "A" or an "O." A special, special feeling.

On the plus side, DEE got a cool and very contemporary clue (101A: "Mudbound" director Rees). Can't believe ["Mudbound" director Rees] made it into the puzzle before ["Mudbound" director Dee]. That's a name that's gonna get good crossword use for some time. My favorite part of Lent is the PIEROGI part (42D: Polish dumpling). Wife picks them up every Friday from St. Michael's. Had our first batch last night. So buttery and oniony and potatoey and glorious. Mmm, Lenten! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. The WaPo Sunday is the better Sunday puzzle again this week. You can get it easily from their website.

*It occurs to me that perhaps the idea with the puzzle title ("SEE 68-ACROSS") was supposed to be that the NAME of the puzzle was being DROPPED (from its normal place) *into* the grid. There are several problems with this idea: the puzzle hasn't "dropped' its name, but has substituted one name ("SEE 68-ACROSS") for another; further, this new title now simply points to the revealer, which, eliminates the possibility that the solver will have the pleasure of discovering the trick on her own; and lastly, most importantly, cross-reference clues are a joyless void that are never enjoyed, but merely endured, even under the best of circumstances. This is like naming your kid TBD. Actually, no, I take that back. That would at least be interesting.

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Three-lobed design / SAT 2-17-18 / Brand with slogan fill your glass / Fixed cord for paratrooper / Book in which Israelites are rebuked for idolatry / 2007 satirical best seller

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Jung CHANG (29A: Jung ___, author of the 1991 best seller "Wild Swans") —
Jung Chang (simplified Chinese张戎traditional Chinese張戎pinyinZhāng RóngWade–GilesChang JungMandarin pronunciation: [tʂɑ́ŋ ɻʊ̌ŋ], born 25 March 1952) is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in the People's Republic of China. (wikipedia)
• • •

Oh yeah, this had everything yesterday's puzzle didn't. Zing and zazz and freshness and all the good stuff. In fact, I finished it faster than yesterday's puzzle, so really this is the Friday puzzle I wanted. I got it a day late, which is better than not at all. Wentz puzzles are very often very hard, but sometimes I get right on that Wentz wavelength and it feels pretty great—leads to maximum appreciation of artistry. Actually, a grueling puzzle can leave me very impressed, it's just that the difficulty has to feel earned. I have to respect it. I don't want to get destroyed by obscurities or icky cluing that was trying too hard to be clever. The great brutal clue will have me baffled, and then when I finally get it, I have to admit, "yeah, that's good." Anyway, not sure what I'm on about, because this puzzle wasn't brutal, but it was wonderful. Stacks and columns other flashes of 7- and 8-letter answers, and all of it solid-to-brilliant (even if I don't really know what a STATIC LINE is) (12D: Fixed cord for a paratrooper). In fact, there was lots I didn't know in this puzzle that I loved. Never heard of Jung CHANG *or* the "1991 best seller "Wild Swans" that she (she?) supposedly wrote. I want to thank Jung, though, because she put ERICA *JONG* in my head well before I encountered her in the SE (where I recognized her instantly). No idea about a G&S opera with YEOMAN in the title. No idea about BOONE, NC (40A). And hoo boy, TREFOIL (22A: Three-lobed design). That word is vaguely familiar, but that didn't stop TRIFORM from getting in there and mucking things up. But these obstacles are what make puzzles fun—assuming there is gold to be found in the grid. If a grid is just workmanlike, or worse, sad and limp, then all the ??? and difficulty feels not challenging, but punishing.

Had some good luck getting a few long answers easily, like "I AM AMERICA" (by Stephen Colbert) from just the "I" (27D: 2007 satirical best seller) and ANTS ON A LOG from the -L-G (would've gotten it from nothing) (11D: Celery sticks topped with peanut butter and raisins). Had a few mishaps, though. Stared at SAMADA- (42A: Brand with the slogan "Fill your glass") and wondered what kind of exotic wine or tea brand it was going to be. Then got to 31A: "Breaking Bad" protagonist, had -A--, and wrote in ... HANK. [Sad emoji]! Loved the clue on OPTICS (5D: Public perception). So wonderfully current. Loved the clue on FOAL (30A: It's generally up and running within a few hours). Fantastic misdirection. Super-loved the MBA DEGREE / NBA GAMES crossing. And FARM TEAMS, oh man. Talk about an answer that destroys you but forces you to respect it. I had FARMT and absolutely believed that the [Professional feeders] worked on a farm, possibly feeding the livestock. FARM TEAMS are of course minor league teams that "feed" the pro leagues. Just great stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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It was boosted by Atlas / FRI 2-16-18 / Most populous city in Oceania / Sci-fi character who graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2359 / Plastic Clue weapon / Name related to Rex

Friday, February 16, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: James B. EADS (52D: James B. ___, diving bell inventor) —
Captain James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than 50 patents. [...] When he was twenty-two, Eads designed a salvage boat and showed the drawings to two shipbuilders, Calvin Case and William Nelson. Although Eads had no previous experience and no capital for the project, Case and Nelson were impressed with him and the three became partners.
At that time, salvaging wrecks from the Mississippi River was nearly impossible because of strong currents. Eads made his initial fortune in salvage by creating a diving bell, using a forty-gallon wine barrel to retrieve goods sunk in riverboatdisasters. He also devised special boats for raising the remains of sunken ships from the river bed. Eads did much of the diving himself because the work was so dangerous. His work gave Eads an intimate knowledge of the river, as he explored its depths from the Gulf of Mexico to Iowa. Because of his detailed knowledge of the Mississippi (the equal of any professional river pilot), his exceptional ability at navigating the most treacherous parts of the river system, and his personal fleet of snag-boats and salvage craft, he was afforded the much prized courtesy title of "Captain" by the rivermen of the Mississippi and was addressed as Captain Eads throughout his life. (wikipedia)
• • •

Found this one more irritating than interesting, largely because of short proper nouns I had no idea about that really slowed me down. South AMBOY (?) and James B. EADS both mean zero to me. Actually, I've vaguely heard of AMBOY, but mainly as part of the title of the book "The AMBOY Dukes" by Irving Shulman, which I must own a copy of (somewhere deep in my 3000+-strong collection of vintage paperbacks). Cluing was hard and then fussy and straining-clever all over. Lots of four-letter "Star Trek" characters, so that TROI clue was pffft (1A: Sci-fi character who graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2359). SALARY is a "sensitive subject"? OK, I guess, for some, but not like AGE or WEIGHT, so ...??? Kind of forced to say a D STUDENT *is* 60-something, even with the "?" on the clue (9D: One who's 60-something). No idea that COLADA (bad on its own) meant "strained" (43A: Strained, at the bar). Very rough clue on STRAY (57A: Part of a pound?) crossing an exceedingly rough clue on AGENA (which is a thing I barely know, and have only ever seen referenced in crosswords) (44D: It was boosted by Atlas). I don't even really know how the whole Atlas-AGENA thingamajig was supposed to work. I guess AGENA was a "satellite bus" (?) and one of the rockets used was the Atlas? In days of yore? Jeez, trying to get all cutesy with your Atlas clue on what is really the crosswordesiest answer in the grid seems like a horrible idea. ONE NO will always be bad fill to me. Nothing says "Maleskaesque" like bridge slang. GOMER? (45D: Cloddish sort, in slang). Sigh, I guess. There just weren't a lot of "cool!" moments, and bunch of DIRE ones, so this one just didn't work for me, especially considering where I expect Friday (the greatest puzzle day of the week) to be.

["Space Singular Thing"]

The whole grid has a dusty feel about it. Back from when people had BOX CAMERAs and used words like BEAU and INAMORATA. Almost nothing feels fresh or current, despite the fact that there are some very solid answers, like PENTHOUSE SUITE and YOGURT SMOOTHIE and FLAMBOYANT. Much of the rest of the grid, though, seems tossed off. Whole center feels irrelevant and dull. Very idea of the "Honey-do" list always gives me the creeps 'cause it's grossly sexist, and the whole point is you don't say "NO, DEAR" anyway, so what is this clue even doing? (32D: Rejection of a honey-do list). Again, the whole premise feels both implausible and dated, like it's out of some bygone era. PIXELATED clue is pretty good (56A: Like privates, often), though the euphemism "privates" also feels old-fashioned (and semi-childish). Again, as with that Atlas clue on AGENA, the cluer is trying haaaaard to go for the misdirect, and ... well, I just keep making this wrinkled-nose expression as I try to describe my feelings about this puzzle, and I think the expression probably says more than my words ever could. The grid is reasonably well put-together, but it feels stale and off rather than zingy and exciting. The cluing is not the only problem, but it's the main one.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Young ferret / THU 2-15-18 / Jung's inner self / Cold medicine brand for kids / Old-fashioned cry of disgust

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: And the Osprey goes to ... — themers are all Oscar-nominated roles where the character's last name is a type of bird

Theme answers:
  • SCOUT FINCH (3D: Mary Badham's Oscar-nominated role in "To Kill a Mockingbird")
  • MARION CRANE (30D: Janet Leigh's Oscar-nominated role in "Psycho")
  • JACK SPARROW (31D: Johnny Depp's Oscar-nominated role in "Pirates of the Caribbean")
  • LUKE MARTIN (11D: Jon Voigt's Oscar-winning role in "Coming Home")
  • CLARICE STARLING (53A: Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning role in "The Silence of the Lambs") 
Word of the Day: NERTS (57D: Old-fashioned cry of disgust)
[My favorite part of this is the picture—thanks for the visual aid, Google]
• • •

I guess Lesley Manville's nomination for playing Cyril WOODCOCK came too late to make the grid. She doesn't look happy, Peter:

[currently nominated for "The Phantom Thread"]

Also, you could've done this one with all women and then had the revealer be Saoirse Ronan's Oscar-nominated role: LADY BIRD. The 2017 nominations opened up all kinds of possibilities! But what we've got is just fine.

Easy because easy, Medium because proper-noun minefields can be unexpectedly brutal, depending on your knowledge/ignorance. I flew (!) through this one, except for Every Letter of LUKE MARTIN (I finished the puzzle at 32A: RASP), and the tail end of ABIDJAN, which I have heard of but did not trust myself to remember, mostly because I wasn't sure that my brain wasn't just misremembering the name of the country AZERBAIJAN. Otherwise, pretty easy and loads of fun. I have no problem with a non-tricksy Thursday where the theme is just some oddly-related set of answers and the grid looks a little nuts (here, 16 tall and mirror-symmetrical). Really impressive that Peter could get this very narrowly-defined set of themers to be symmetrical while also having CLARICE STARLING slicing across the grid straight through two other themers. But why isn't the grid shaped like a bird, Peter!? Where are the wings!? You need to step up your game, man. Until then, this will do. Oh, but one question: What the hell is going on with TOM KITE? (67A: Golfer who you might think plays best on windy days?). Like yesterday's non-symmetry, today's TOM KITE is scratching the blackboard in my brain a little. Is it or isn't it a themer? Against: the fact that TOM KITE was never, to my knowledge, nominated for an Oscar; and he's not in a theme position (no symmetrical partner); and he's got a "?" clue instead of straight clues like all the other themers. For: well, there's only one "For," and that's the fact that KITE is sure enough a last name that is also a bird. You'd think that in a last name = bird puzzle, you could *somehow* avoid other complete names where the last name was a bird. But apparently not. Rex BEMOANS TOM KITE. Everything else is fine.

Trouble spots:
  • BAMBI (4D: Symbol of gentle innocence) — had the B then the MB, then the AMB, and each time could think only of LAMB(S)
  • ENAMELS (22A: Canine coats) — not hard, I just mistyped it as ENANELS, which only made my LUKE MARTIN struggles worse
  • MINAJ (30A: Rapper with the double-platinum album "The Pinkprint") — I am not used to seeing MINAJ on its own. My brain treats NICKIMINAJ like one word
  • 63D: Tear (JAG) — brutal, both because of the (at least) dual meaning of the word "tear," and because of the "J" cross from ABIDJAN, which, as we've already established, I just couldn't get a handle on
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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World capital founded by conquistador / WED 2-14-18 / 2003 #1 hit for OutKast / Expressionist Schiele / Dark dirty shade

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Valentine's Day — grid is heart-shaped, and then there are three theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • HEARTSTRINGS (1D: Deepest feelings)
  • CUPID'S ARROWS (8D: They lead to love at first sight)
  • SAINT VALENTINE (19D: February honoree)
Word of the Day: POPOV (38A: Vodka with a Russian name) —
Popov is a brand of vodka produced by British drinks giant Diageo plc's Diageo North America subsidiary. It commands a significant marketshare among vodkas in the United States and competes in the low range pricing niche,[3] and because of this it is also affectionately (and ironically) known as "Russia's Finest" among college students. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not sure what I'd think of this puzzle under normal conditions, but following as it does yesterday's inedible off-brand puzzle-trocity, this one looks pretty good. In fact, the second I looked at the grid, I thought, "Yep, already better." This one's not trying to do anything but be pretty and stay clean. it's already got the grid shape going for it, so it can go light on the theme material, thereby easing up on the grid, thereby not torturing the solver with nonsense (except TIRO, LOL). It's best not to look at the grid too hard, because otherwise you will notice that it is irritatingly non-symmetrical. Give it a quick look, seems fine. Stare at it, and the black squares just don't match up. Heart failure! It's like a picture on the wall that is just *slightly* crooked—it's gonna drive me a lot more crazy than the picture that is just obviously crooked. This one is somewhere in the uncanny valley of symmetricality. Off-puttingly shy of the real deal. But, yeah, most people aren't going to notice this at all, or, if they do notice, care.

["Cupid by the hour sends valentines / To my sweet lover and me"]

The thing about the Swiss canton is I always forget if it's ULM or URI and then I think, "no, URI is the mentalist spoon-bender guy, so it must be ULM." And then it isn't (ULM is the city in Germany where Einstein was born). And yet I somehow remembered it was EEO today (I'm never quite sure where the Es an Os go (59A: Fair-hiring initials). I struggled in only a few places. I had -ASTER and still no idea what 25A: Furniture mover? was after (CASTER). Those are little wheels on furniture that lets you push it around easily. Seems like they are literally furniture movers, so the "?" is weird, but I guess the temptation to echo the VAN clue was just irresistible? (32D: Furniture mover, maybe). Took me a while to get ROTISSERIE (35D: Game's turning point?). Only after I was done did I look back and go "Oh, *game*'s turning point." Wrote in SAO PAULO for SANTIAGO, whoops (45D: World capital founded by a conquistador). Couldn't remember the letter of the STREET at 29A: Part of Washington, D.C., known for lobbying firms (K STREET). Wanted to wiggle my EARS (54D: Parts of the body that may be wiggled => TOES). Didn't know DINGE was a "shade"—I thought it just meant, like, "griminess" (58A: Dark, dirty shade). Don't really know POPOV. Lots of vodkas in crosswords, most notably STOLI and SKYY. This appears to be just the second NYT appearance for POPOV. Anyway, happy V-day. Hope you got boxed roses galore!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dakota tribe that attacked Revenant trappers / TUE 2-13-18 / Top Trappist maybe / Airer of Bachelor Catch

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Well, I was slow, but this oversized, so who knows: Medium-Challenging for a Tuesday, maybe?

THEME: BOXED / ROSES (41A: With 44-Across, Valentine's Day gift ... or a hint to the circled squares) — circled squares form a kind of box and contain the letters R, O, S, E

Bonus theme answers:
  • HAVE A HEART (10D: Try some Valentine's Day candy?)
  • STEAL A KISS (37D: Try some Valentine's Day candy, sneakily?)
Word of the Day: ARIKARA (57A: Dakota tribe that attacked "The Revenant" trappers) —
Arikara (English: /əˈrɪkərə/), also known as Sahnish,[2] Arikaree or Ree, are a tribe of Native Americans in North Dakota. Today, they are enrolled with the Mandan and the Hidatsa as the federally recognized tribeknown as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. // The Arikara's name is believed to mean "horns," in reference to the ancient custom of wearing two upright bones in their hair. The name also could mean "elk people" or "corn eaters." (wikipedia)
• • •

This feels exactly like a February *13* puzzle, i.e. off. The revealer isn't exactly classic. I have seen roses come in boxes only in old movies. "Long-stemmed roses," "a dozen roses," these are phrases that sound right. Who says "Oh, you got her *boxed* roses, ooh la la!"? You just Got Her Roses. The whole BOXED thing is weird, just as a phrase—so much so, that I had BOX OF ROSES written in there at first. And then to try to get the little ROSE squares into the grid *along* with pseudo-valentinish themers ... it was too much, and the grid strained. Kind of nice to have the themers be the candy to accompany the roses (that *is* a pretty classic combo), but HAVE A HEART is not a romance-oriented phrase, whereas STEAL A KISS is. It's just wonky, this thing. But that's not what made the solving experience so unpleasant. No, the real puzzle ruiner came with BATCHED IT, which ... is batsh*t. Batsh*t crazy. That's simply not a thing. And if it were a thing, it would be a vomitous thing. I googled ["batched it"] and first of all, this is not a good number of hits:

And second of all, *none* of the first page of hits had *anything to do* with the meaning of the phrase that the clue is positing. Literally, none. Which means that the real number of hits is way, way less than the already meager 4,160 returned by the search. That answer added eons to my time, because I kept looking at BATCH and thinking, "that ... is not how you spell that." Just horrible. And what's worse, it *thinks* it's good. It thinks it's cute. Like, this is surely a debut answer, and apparently both the constructor and editor thought: "Nailed it!" And now it will go into databases everywhere for unscrupulous constructors of the future to use in their puzzles, on the grounds that, "it was used before ... and in the Times!" Lord help me.

[Jacob fixed it!]

Now people are telling me that young people say BATCHED IT (?) but spelled differently (?!) like ... Bached It!?!? I often Bach it, but, you know, I like Bach. BACHED IT is even more hilarious. Here, Evan found a 1907 usage of BACHED IT for you to enjoy:

Mediocre fill abounds, so why go into it? I have no idea what ARIKARA is (57A: Dakota tribe that attacked "The Revenant" trappers), except probably not a Tuesday answer. I've also never seen "The Revenant," but my ignorance of these particular things really isn't the problem today. It's an off theme for an off-holiday puzzle. It's trying too hard to be clever, it's trying to do too much, and everything just, let's say, wilts. There better be one Hell of a Valentine's Day puzzle planned for tomorrow—what else could explain this thing's appearing today? Maybe I don't want to know. We'll see... Hey, next time you put cookies into the oven, I think you should shout, "BATCHED IT!" Oh, better yet—if someone asks you what you did last night, and what you did was waste your evening watching ABC's "The Bachelor," I insist you reply, "Oh, you know ... just BATCHED IT." Then high-five yourself. OK. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Elvis's official middle name is AARON. It's even on his tombstone. The ARON / AARON thing is a bit complicated, but cluing ARON simply as [Elvis's middle name] is wrong. Read more here.

P.P.S. "Batching it" googles much better. It's hilarious to see feedback I'm getting on this: roughly 3/4 "what the hell kind of answer is that?" and 1/4 "it's common, what is wrong with you?!"

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


State capital ESE of Guadalajara / MON 2-12-18 / Onetime competitor of the WB / Tennis tournament since 1900 / High muckety-muck on Madison ave / Singer Kamoze with 1994 hit Here Comes Hotstepper / Actor John of Problem Child

Monday, February 12, 2018

Constructor: Michael Black

Relative difficulty: normal Monday

THEME: CARDHOLDER (59A: One with credit ... or a literal hint to 17-, 27- and 44-Across) — answers "hold" credit "card" names:

Theme answers:
  • "ELVIS AND ME" (17A: Best-selling autobiography by Priscilla Presley)
  • OAXACA, MEXICO (27A: State capital ESE of Guadalajara)
  • DISCO VERSION (44A: Many a 1970s remix)
Word of the Day: ERIC Burdon (47A: Rock's Clapton or Burdon) —
Of all the British Invasion singers, Eric Burdon had the most physically imposing voice. When he burst onto the scene in 1964, his voice was "big and dark," says Steve Van Zandt. "He invented the genre of the white guy singing low." Nor was the depth of Burdon's pitch lost on Steven Tyler when he first heard Burdon sing "The House of the Rising Sun": "I thought, 'Aha! You start off the song an octave lower so you can flambé the tail end of it an octave higher.' " After his run of hits with the Animals ("It's My Life," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood") ended, Burdon showed he could handle Seventies funk during his stint in War, recording the torrid "Spill the Wine" and a souled-out version of "Tobacco Road." (
• • •


This is straightforward and fine. I have no strong feelings about it. Very few themers, but they do what they're supposed to do, consistently, and the revealer is, you know, apt, so it works. TOGAED is pretty bad, and something about spelling out OKAY in "IT'S OKAY" is rubbing me the wrong way. I-TEN spelled out like that is never a winner. And overall the thing is a bit proper noun-heavy. SAWII at 1-Across was not a great beginning—that is a crutch of an answer, and it's up with other proper nouns INI, ALLIE, WIE, ELVIS, SEDAKA, EDNA, CADY, AJAX, OJAY, OPERAMAN (note: few of these are *recent* proper nouns). None of these are objectionable (except INI). I'm just trying to figure out why the vibe of this puzzle wasn't more pleasant. Themers were harder than normal to get because, again, proper nouns. Didn't know the "ELVIS AND ME" autbio (1985), needed many crosses to see OAXACA (and didn't expect the MEXICO part at all), and could not fathom the word that came after DISCO. And yet ... there's nothing wrong here. Totally adequate. Gets a pass.

Would've been nice to have had a bouncier grid, given how light the theme was. Grid is mostly familiar 4- and 5-letter stuff, which rarely results in bounce. Haven't been through a car wash in forever and thought the [Machine near the end of a car wash] might be a WIPER. Thought the horror sequel of 2005 might be "SAW VI" or "SAW IV" or "SAW however they made of those." I never saw (...) any of them. Wrote in FADED for FAINT (64A: Barely visible, as a star) and A BIT for ABUT (11D: Touch) (I think I was thinking in the sense of "just a touch..."). Couldn't remember if it was LAU or LAO (61D: "7 Faces of Dr. ___" (1964 film)) (another dated proper noun). So I muddled through it, but my time was pretty normal. "High muckety-muck" for ADEXEC? I know what it means, but I think the last person I heard say it was Mr. C on "Happy Days." So weird (and, again, dated). Anyway, time for curling. Oh, and please enjoy the most bizarre fridge magnet yet:

(two of my more creative readers make illustrated magnets for me every year; not sure this is an accurate representation of what I do, but I *do* love Arthurian literature, so I'm pretty pleased with the upper part of this, at any rate)
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Mark Twain farce about painter who fakes his own demise / SUN 2-11-18 / As-yet-undeciphered Cretan script / First mass consumer product offering wifi / Buoyant cadences / Runner Liddell depicted in Chariots of Fire

    Sunday, February 11, 2018

    Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: PARONOMASIA — this is a word that means "play on words; pun" ... I don't know if PARONOMASIA is supposed to sound like something else, or ... what. The theme answers appear to be oronyms, which is a word I just learned from the crossword a few days ago ("a string of words or a phrase that sounds the same as another string of words or phrase, but is spelt differently")

    Theme answers:
    • ORCHESTRATES (orca straits)
    • LOCOMOTION (Lowe commotion)
    • LOCKSMITH (lox myth)
    • GROUPIES (grew peas)
    • GERIATRICIAN (Jerry attrition)
    • WHEATIES (wee tees)
    • BORDEAUX (bore dough)
    • MOUSETRAPS (Mao straps)
    • IDEALOGUES (idea logs) (isn't the word "ideologues"?)
    • STRATOSPHERE (stratus fear)
    • MISTLETOE (missile tow)
    • DULCIMER (dull simmer)
    • PROFITEERING (prophet earring)
    • PHARMACIST (farm assist)
    Word of the Day: EDH (4D: Old English letter) —
    noun: edh
    1. an Old English letter, ð or Ð, representing the dental fricatives T͟H and TH. It was superseded by the digraph th, but is now used as a phonetic symbol for the voiced dental fricative T͟H in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) system. (google)
    • • •

    So, these Sunday numbers just got worse:

    I have no idea why it is so hard to make a decent Sunday puzzle, but it sure seems to be. This was a death march. Just a horrible, painful idea that Would Not End. Imagine thinking you were going to make it better by *adding* theme answers—as many as you can, crossing each other, in every nook and cranny. "Idea logs? Hilarious!" quips someone I cannot imagine. "Jerry attrition" is as close to clever as these paranomawhatevers ever come, and nothing else about the grid is even remotely endearing. I got some mail in January that essentially said "you should lighten up on the Sunday puzzles." No. No. Sundays should lighten up on me. This is abuse. The marquee puzzle has become a joke. Again, I refer you to Evan Birnholz's WaPo Sunday Crossword, which even on a so-so day is better than this. Why don't more people recognize this objective reality? (marketing, inertia, blah blah blah, I actually know the answers here, but it's still annoying).

    [SAIL, HO!] [??]

    Can't you do this crap with tons of words. From this grid alone: DINETTES (dye nets?); SENILE (scene aisle?); O'CASEY (okay, see...?); ARLENE (are lean?); RAMBO (ram beau?). Etc. The theme stuff is sooooo dense that none of the rest of the puzzle can breathe. The grid is strangulated by theme overgrowth. An invasive species of theme. Theme kudzu. It's an ecotastrophe. I could assail the overly common and crosswordesey stuff in this grid, but why bother? It's a bust. A total bust. Gonna go watch some minor Olympic sports to wash the taste of this puzzle out of my brain. Before you go saying "oh, you're getting so negative blah blah blah," I liked Thursday and Friday and Saturday a whole lot, and my puzzle approval trendline is actually up this year, and markedly so.

    So there.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. Hey Peter Gordon's weekly Fireball Newsflash Crossword kickstarter for 2018-19 ends today, so get in on that and keep your xword skills and current events trivia Up To Date throughout the year.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Odysseus' rescuer / SAT 2-10-18 / Marvel series depicting Tet Offensive with The / Beer pong receptacle / Tracy Jenna's boss on 30 Rock / Serial podcast host Sarah / Backdrop to AMC's Walking Dead / Bauhaus-influenced typeface / Oenophile's criterion

    Saturday, February 10, 2018

    Constructor: Finn Vigeland

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: Finn's adoration of the creator of "Hamilton" ... or, none

    Word of the Day: THESSALY (17D: Region near Mount Olympus) —
    Thessaly (GreekΘεσσαλίαThessalía; ancient ThessalianΠετθαλίαPetthalía) is a traditional geographicand modern administrative region of Greece, comprising most of the ancient region of the same name. Before the Greek Dark Ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia (GreekΑἰολίαAíolía), and appears thus in Homer's Odyssey.
    Thessaly became part of the modern Greek state in 1881, after four and a half centuries of Ottoman rule. Since 1987 it has formed one of the country's 13 regions[2] and is further (since the Kallikratis reform of 2010) sub-divided into 5 regional units and 25 municipalities. The capital of the region is Larissa. Thessaly lies in central Greece and borders the regions of Macedonia on the north, Epirus on the west, Central Greece on the south and the Aegean Sea on the east. The Thessaly region also includes the Sporadesislands. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    My first thought on opening the puzzle was, "Why ... is this themeless 16-wide? Oh, god, it's not *themed*, is it? Please god no..." My second thought was, "Oh, god ... 15 stacks are (often) bad enough, but 16 stacks?" My third thought was "woo hoo, ORGAN, nailed it!" (1A: Player in a baseball stadium). I don't remember the thought order from there. I've never seen a Revealer in a themeless puzzle before, but LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (29A: Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) functioned precisely that way, giving me a huge aha moment, as I suddenly realized why the damn grid was 16 wide: Finn's tremendous love for Mr. Miranda. And a. why not? and b. he's certainly not alone there. It's slightly adorable, this puzzle. It's also just very solid, stem to stern, with some really delightful moments (not MOs, though, dear god who says that!?!?!) (11A: "Hold on ___!" => A MO). I somehow struggled all over the place *and* finished in a better-than-average time. Weird.

    OK, SO I had trouble with OK, SO, for sure, especially the "K," as, despite the fact that I listened to "Serial" three years ago or whenever that was, I totally forgot Sarah KOENIG's name. Also the "G" was no help with GENET (embarrassingly) (3D: French novelist/dramatist associated with the Theater of the Absurd). My brain kept going "try GODOT!" while my second brain kept going "shut up, first brain!" Spelled NIHAU thusly. Had no idea what two-letter word followed STOOD (23A: Went to bat (for)). Never ever ever heard of GOLDEN PEN. So there was flailing, but I got out OK, and as soon as I saw that 29A clue, I knew the answer and had a crucial, central base of operations from which to solve the rest of the puzzle. Still, forgot LIZ was anyone's "boss" on "30 Rock" and so kept trying to remember Jack's name, and since I had the "L" all I could come up with was LEO, which is somebody's boss's name, right? Maybe on "West Wing" or something (never watched it). Threw down MYNAHS for MACAWS (34D: Colorful birds), so that hurt, but not as bad as throwing down SWISHER for SWIFFER (45A: Big name in mops). Yikes. That one nearly destroyed me in the SE, where I could see neither FLIED nor FOCAL. That NICOLE clue was no help, either (58A: Wife in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night"). SW was pleasantly pliable. Not too thrilled about the "ha-ha, alcoholism is hilarious" clue on DTS (36D: Letters that come before AA?), but overall I found this immensely entertaining.

    Most improbable solving success came when I went at the northern section via successive short Downs and ... got All Of Them Wrong. Starting with 6D, I went LAG / SEAR / MOMA / ABIT. No / No / No / No. And *yet*, the "R" from (wrong) SEAR helped me see REDEEMER (22A: Jesus, with "the"), and I managed to correct everything from there. Lucky. Dumb lucky. OK, bye!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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