Master of cartoon dog McBarker / THU 3-22-18 / Dutch financial giant / Relative of exempli gratia / Lucia di Lammermoor baritone

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium (Easy-Medium for me, time-wise, but it didn't FEEL that way...)

THEME: like, social media stuff, I think — theme clues all start [One with a lot of ...] and then the ensuing word sounds like something from social media, but the answer is actually more literal and not social media-related at all:

Theme answers:
  • VALLEY GIRL (17A: One with a lot of likes?)
  • ROCKIN' ROBIN (23A: One with a lot of tweets?)
  • MAJORITY OWNER (35A: One with a lot of shares?)
  • FENCE MENDER (49A: One with a lot of posts?)
  • MOTHER DUCK (57A: One with a lot of followers?)
Word of the Day: EDM (40A: Techno is a subgenre of it, for short) —
Electronic dance music (also known as EDMdance music, club music, or simply dance) is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres made largely for nightclubsraves, and festivals. EDM is generally produced for playback by disc jockeys (DJs) who create seamless selections of tracks, called a mix, by segueing from one recording to another. EDM producers also perform their music live in a concert or festival setting in what is sometimes called a live PA. In Europe, EDM is more commonly called 'dance music' or simply 'dance'. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was so weird. I started out flailing and even after I got a few sections fairly quickly (the NE, the SW), I still felt like I was struggling over and over to understand the clues. You have no idea how many passes I took at YEA big, for instance, yeesh. But then I was done and my time was in the 5s (?) which is ... I don't know anymore, but probably a little on the fast side, actually. I am currently literally laughing at the young person who is trying to make sense of how a ROCKIN' ROBIN has "a lot of tweets." I mean, you really have to know that specific song, and I do, but I'm 48, and that song was well before *my* time. Also, I only really *got* it after I had it filled in. It seems like the kind of puzzle that could Really have stymied people, both because the theme is ... just ODD, with non-intuitive answers ... and because the proper nouns are dangerous. I can see MIRA, JOFFREY, EDM (not proper noun, but still...), ENRICO, ROCKIN' ROBIN, VALLEY GIRL, any of those really throwing someone off. I think the theme has a certain cleverness to it, but I don't really like when the whole "joke" of the theme is exclusively in the clues. I never got a sense of the puzzle's identity, never felt a pattern emerging. The answer set is weird. FENCE MENDER does not feel like much of a thing, and a MOTHER DUCK does not have "a lot" of followers—look:

That's less than a dozen. "A lot" compared to what? I like this suggestion for an alternative answer:

Started with SPAT for RIFT (1A: Falling-out), and then "confirmed" it with TELE (4D: Prompter or printer lead-in), ugh. Could not make any sense of 1D: Gets going (REVS UP) or 5D: Tell (SAY TO) (?) or HIGHCS (6D: Hard-to-hit pitches) or PER or EEL or even SHAPE (5A: Mold). If I hadn't eventually gotten PETRI (27A: Kind of dish), I don't know how I would even have been able to get at that whole N / NW area. The "P" from PETRI was how I knew there was an UP up there, and UP got me USE, and of course there's an "S" before UP ... and that somehow got me SILENT H (!). The rest of the puzzle was thorny but not nearly as bad as the N / NW. So this wasn't terrible but didn't really ... land, the way I like the trickiest theme puzzle of the week to Land.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Reason cow swatted herself / WED 3-21-18 / Many single-gear bike / NLer wearing blue orange / Not so intimidating sort of test

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Constructor: Laura Braunstein

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: animal verbs — verb phrases are clued as if they refer to groups of animals:

Theme answers:
  • DUCKS OUT OF VIEW (20A: Why the hunter couldn't shoot the mallards?)
  • FLIES IN THE FACE (25A: Reason a cow swatted herself?)
  • SEALS WITH A KISS (42A: Circus animal enjoying some chocolate?)
  • YAKS ON THE PHONE (47A: Whose conversation might be about shaggy hair and Himalayan peaks?)
Word of the Day: FIXIE (25D: Many a single-gear bike) —
  1. a single-gear bicycle that has no freewheel, so that its wheels cannot move unless power is applied to the pedals. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hey, it's friend-of-the-blog Laura Braunstein. Laura has written for me a bunch, so, you know, full disclosure and all that, but ... this is very solid work. Felt much, much more like a Monday or Tuesday than a Wednesday, specifically in the non-theme fill, but most Monday / Tuesday grids aren't nearly this clean. The problem with early-week / easy grids that are dominated by 3-5-letter answers is that they usually top out at boring. Like, your goals is to keep the worst junk out, and hope your theme is strong enough to carry the day. But here, not only is the theme solid, but somehow the shorter fill is also occasionally interesting. Yes, you've got old standbys like ECRU and ALOU and OLE and AER and ALII, but also FIXIE and PI DAY, which gave the grid some 'zazz. Maybe fewer partial answers (like FIVE-O and AVIV and AVANT) would've been nice. But at worst, the short fill totally holds up, and at best it's playful and fun. The theme is basic but well done. My only frowny-face moment came at the clue for FLIES IN THE FACE (25A: Reason a cow swatted herself?), which is Not Like The Others in that it not only doesn't describe the animal in question at all, but actually refers to an entirely different animal (i.e. the cow). On its own, I like the clue fine, but it does not fit with the pattern established by the other clues, and the introduction of a different animal felt slightly cheap. *But* the puzzle was so easy that this didn't matter at all. If not for the wackiness of the theme, I would've finished this in a normal Monday time. Wackiness put it at a pretty quick Tuesday. I think this should've been a Tuesday, if only to help poor Tuesday out (still the least pleasant weekday puzzle).

[kind of a weird song to have background dancers for, but ... sure, just go with it!]

Weird / interesting / good (?) to see 'HOOD clued in a way that doesn't refer to "homeboys," "homeys" or "boyz" (2D: Home turf). It's still primarily black slang, or it was originally, but it's crossed over pretty well now. Plus, seeing NYT trying to signify blackness is always slightly cringey so ... just play it straight, that works. I wouldn't have used "home" in the clue since HOME is in the grid (TAKE-HOME), but no big deal. Speaking of TAKE-HOME, the clue on that one is the only thing I really don't like about this puzzle (38D: Not-so-intimidating sort of test). As a college professor, I am familiar (I think) with all the various test types. So I was looking for something "not-so-intimidating" and ... couldn't think of what that would be. TAKE OVER? (like a do-over?). TAKE-HOME exams are not "not-so-intimidating." I've had plenty of in-class exams that were very easy compared to TAKE-HOME exams, which can be *rough*, depending on the time limit and expectations. "Not-so-intimidating" is just wrong here. Nothing inherently unintimidating about the TAKE-HOME exam. In fact, the opposite is routinely true. Boo. But hey, nice recuperation of NERD there at 53D: Put-down that nowadays may be worn as a badge of honor. It's nice to see NERD change, over the course of my lifetime, into something people proudly proclaim themselves to be. It was not ... always so. Ask me about the good ol' days some time, children ...

Til tomorrow...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Traditional Japanese gate / TUE 3-20-18 / Pennsylvania university that's home to the Fighting Scots / Edible succulent / Prized taste in ramen / Critical cluck

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SEASON OPENERS (53A: Much-anticipated sporting events ... or, when spoken, what 20-, 28-, 35- and 43-Across have) — spring, summer, autumn, winter ... at the beginning of each themer, respectively

Theme answers:
  • SPRINKLER HEAD (20A: Part of a fire safety system)
  • SOMERSAULTED (28A: Flipped)
  • OTTOMAN EMPIRE (35A: Constantinople was its capital)
  • WIND TURBINES (43A: Instruments of renewable energy)
Word of the Day: ROSS Douthat (42A: Op-ed writer Douthat) —
Ross Gregory Douthat (/ˈdθæt/; born November 28, 1979) is an American author, blogger and New York Times columnist. (wikipedia)
• • •

Took me a non-zero amount of time after finishing the puzzle to understand what the hell the theme was. Me: "SEASON OPENERS ... so the first one is SPRINKLER HEAD ... so ... if you "sprinkle" salt on something you are "seasoning" it????" The "openers" to me are the opening words, and when you say SPRINKLE, SOMERSAULTED, OTTOMAN, and WIND in order, well, not much happens. But it's the sounds of parts of words. A small part, or a combination of parts. I dunno. When I say the themers, I kinda hear the seasons. But figuring this one out was less "Oooh!" and more "Uh ... er ... I guess?" The real noteworthy accomplishment in this puzzle is THREE-RING BINDER (7D: Loose-leaf sheet holder), a central Down that is the longest answer in the puzzle and ... has nothing to do with the theme. It just comes crashing down through all the themers, like "Oh yeah!" (that's the Kool-Aid man, for you youngsters).

It's honestly the weirdest non-theme long Down I've ever seen in a puzzle. Straight through five themers ... for no theme reason! Just a "look at me!" photobomb of an answer. Totally upstages the theme. I approve.

Tiny struggles everywhere in this one, starting at 1A: Put a cork in ... which I took as cork-specific. But no. It's just CLOSE (can't believe I'm saying this, but really could've used a "..., say" in that clue).  "WE'LL pass" instead of IT'LL (6A: "___ pass"). Had SPRINKLER and no idea what could follow it. Got the "H" and went with HOSE (?). Which led to ORG at 22D: Alternative to .com (EDU). Had both DOWN and GLUM before BLUE at 19A: Feeling sad. Couldn't be convinced NIP had anything to do with eating (it's a drinking term) (47D: Light bite). I see now that the clue was talking about an actual bite, with teeth. Two "?" clues in the SE slowed things a bit too (60A: Pitch-perfect? / 66A: Old flame?). And I am not at all convinced that a STUNT SHOW is a thing, so ... that was weird (32D: "Don't try this at home" spectacle). Still, time was pretty normal.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Antique medical device used for electrotherapy / MON 3-19-18 / Taiwanese computer brand / DC Comics superhero with sidekick Speedy / Bureaucratic rigmarole / Cowpoke's sweetie

    Monday, March 19, 2018

    Constructor: Michael Wiesenberg and Andrea Carla Michaels

    Relative difficulty: Medium Monday

    THEME: RAINBOW (48A: What the starts of the answers to the seven starred clues constitute) — all the colors...

    Theme answers:
    • ORANGE PEEL (17A: *Garnish for a cocktail)
    • INDIGO GIRLS (26A: *"Closer to Fine" folk-rock group)
    • YELLOW LIGHT (44A: *Caution to slow down)
    • GREEN ARROW (60A: *DC Comics superhero with the sidekick Speedy)
    • BLUE BIRDS (10D: *Symbols of happiness)
    • RED TAPE (23A: *Bureaucratic rigmarole)
    • VIOLET RAY (35D: *Antique medical device used for electrotherapy)
    Word of the Day: FWIW (56A: Letters suggesting "I'll just go ahead and throw this out") —
    acronym for "for what it's worth". Used mainly in computer-based conversation (instant messaging, email, text messaging, etc.) (online slang dictionary)
    • • •

    Well yes those are the colors of a RAINBOW ... OK. Pretty literal, pretty basic, pretty bland. Doesn't seem NYT-worthy, conceptually. No wordplay or cleverness here at all. The colors are actually the colors. The peels are orange, the birds are blue. The girls aren't actually indigo, though. That must be metaphorical. Or maybe related to denim. VIOLET RAY is almost painfully literal, in that its first word is the color and the second word relates to light. YELLOW LIGHT not doing much better. At least a YELLOW LIGHT is a thing people know. [Antique medical device used for electrotherapy]?? That is a long, grim, bygone way to go to get VIOLET RAY. The fill here is acceptable but no better. Teeters at times, but mostly stays upright. Pretty BLAND overall. Not sure why this gets made, published. Hoping for slightly more adventurous and ambitious stuff tomorrow.

    INDIGO GIRLS is a smug little insidery wink (NYT loves those)—the INDIGO GIRLS were featured in the documentary "Wordplay" (2005) as one of a handful of celebrity solvers (including pitcher Mike Mussina, president Bill Clinton, and comedian Jon Stewart). They were charming, and I have always enjoyed their music. Saw them live twice when I was in college—once in Edinburgh, opening for 10,000 Maniacs; then again, headlining at the Pantages in L.A. I went to Pomona College with Emily Saliers' sister, Carrie. Annnnnnnyway, nice to see the duo's name today.

    I had a lot of little trouble in this grid. Mostly it was a breeze, but I had weird blanking moments. When BAR didn't work at 25A: Place for drinks, my brain just refused to see PUB, even with the -UB in there. Was just looking at an old collection of "Li'l Abner" in the bookstore yesterday, thinking "Who the hell reads this?" And here we are with PAPPY. Abnerspeak (or "Dogpatch") is an old crossword standby. Like, really old. Never bothered to learn much about it. It mostly drifted into the mists of yore. Just not today. Balked at VIOLET RAY because wth is that? Had LOAN for LEND, as I always always do (55D: Supply temporarily). Couldn't make sense of plural GRIEFS for a while (45D: Intense sorrows). Could think only of the grieving sound of GROANS. Really really couldn't make sense of FWIW, which was clued as if it was referring to trash (56A: Letters suggesting "I'll just go ahead and throw this out"). When Green Lantern didn't fit, and Green Hornet didn't fit, I drew a blank at that last themer. Still an easy puzzle. A normal, easy, Monday puzzle. Goodbye.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Pope who excommunicated Elizabeth I / SUN 3-18-18 / Huck Finn possessive / Judas's question to Lord / Term for whole in Swiss cheese / Metallic S-shaped piece

    Sunday, March 18, 2018

    Constructor: Daniel Raymon

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "Taking Your Q" — You don't actually "take" the Q anywhere; You put a "QU-" where a hard "C" sound should be, creating wacky answers, clued "?"-style:

    Theme answers:
    • QUERY WASHINGTON  (24A: Interrogate a founding father?)
    • TRENCH QUOTE (39A: "There are no atheists in foxholes"?)
    • BABY QUAKES (46A: Tremors?)
    • "HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU, QUID" (72A: Comment by a Brit down to his last coin?)
    • QUICK BOXER (93A: One knocking out an opponent in the first round?)
    • PEACHY QUEEN (105A: Monarch who's fine and dandy?)
    • ORDER IN THE QUART (122A: Have a little ice cream delivered?)
    Word of the Day: Kerry Washington (basis for QUERY WASHINGTON) —
    Kerry Marisa Washington (born January 31, 1977) is an American actress. Since 2012, Washington has gained wide public recognition for starring in the ABC drama Scandal, a Shonda Rhimes series in which she plays Olivia Pope, a crisis management expert to politicians and power brokers in Washington DC, and also is a producer. For her role, she has been nominated twice for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesScreen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    The title doesn't really work. Also, this kind of simple sound-change theme only works if the results are legit funny, and ... I don't know. Seems like the clues could've been a lot more inventive. Again, with Wacky puzzles, go *Wacky* or go home. None of this tepid wackiness. Tepid wackiness is wack. All the "?" clues are actually fairly straightforward. The overall result is a very doable but very dull puzzle. The abundance of "Q"s livens up the grid a little, but not enough (some of those "Q"s are wasted on horrible stuff like ESQS and SEQS (?)). Surprised how easy this played, given how many things I didn't know, or barely knew, beginning with 1A: Big name in computer networking (CISCO). I mean, now that I look at it, yeah, sure, I've seen that. But it didn't come easily to me. Neither did MARACAIBO or MCLAREN or RABE or ROHAN or EAMONN (notice the common thread—all proper nouns). But none of those was anything more than a slight speed bump.

    My biggest problems actually came from ticky-tack little bad-fill answers, most notably OSSEO- (!?!) (29A: Bone: Prefix). What the hell? OSTEO-, I know. OSTEO-, I was sure had to be the right answer. I have no doubt that there is some context in which OSSEO- applies, but wow I don't know what it is. I also have no idea about random popes and so when it started with a "P" (63D: Pope who excommunicated Elizabeth I), I wrote in PAUL and then waited for the Roman numeral. Got the "V" and thought, "Sure, why not? PAUL V!" And that's only two letters off, and one of those letters was in the horrid 71A: Suffix in Sussex, where -ASE seemed ... possible? It was finally having TRULTY at 80A: True that made me have to reinterrogate all my crosses. Thus PAUL became PIUS. This is why random Popes are so much fun.

    I have so many announcements this week, where to start? First, today was the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition, at which I have been a speaker and judge for several years now. Had a wonderful time, as usual. Congratulations to Jesse Lansner, who won it handily (He's a very fast solver who will be competing at next weekend's ACPT). Lots of people were there because they'd heard me talk about the tournament in the past. One woman—Mickey Schied—was there in part because she heard the episode the "Allusionist" podcast about last year's Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament, then saw that *this* tournament was happening closer to her home, and she recognized my name from that same podcast, so bam, she decides to show up and compete ... and then WIN the Easy Division. Awesome.

     [Jesse and his championship bracelet]

    [my wife, Penelope, and Mickey Schied]

    So that was fun.

    Now for news you can use:

    QUEER QROSSWORDS ( — Nate Cardin organized and edited this collection of crosswords made (and edited) entirely by LGBTQ+ folks. 22 puzzles, from established pros as well as newcomers, all yours (in the form of a .PDF) when you make a new donation of at least $10 to the LGBTQ+ charity of your choice and forward the receipt to the editor. Instructions are on the website. I gave to the Southern Tier AIDS Program. Good puzzles, good cause(s), not expensive. What more do you want?


    Also, this announcement from Ben Tausig, ed. of the American Values Club Crossword (AVCX):

    Good chance to try out the best of what AVCX has to offer. You should already be a subscriber, but if you're not ... here, try these.


    What else? Oh, I was interviewed for a podcast called "Teaching in the Arts"—it's mostly about teaching, but there's crossword content in there as well. Here's a link to the podcast page at iTunes; or you can just listen to the episode on the web, here.


    Further: in crossword business news, Peter Gordon, ed. of Fireball Crosswords, just announced a 50% pay raise for constructors ($451 / puzzle), meaning that once again his independent outlet pays better than the NYT. The NYT's rates remain shamefully low, given how much profit their puzzles generate. I love that Peter is not afraid to enumerate allllll the ways that making puzzles for him is a superior experience to making them for the NYT.

    Also, it goes without saying that if you like good, hard, tricky puzzles (think Thursday themes with Friday/Saturday difficulty), then you should definitely be a Fireball subscriber.


    And *lastly*: The Indie 500 crossword tournament (Saturday, June 2, Washington, D.C.) is now open for registration. There is a solve-at-home division if you'd like to solve the puzzles but are unable to make it to the tournament in person. This year's tourney is called "Dressed to Fill," and has a theme: FASHION! Check out the tourney home page for all the information you need. I've been to every Indie 500 so far and always have a really good time. The slate of constructors looks fantastic—lots of young faces, lots of female faces (yay!). So I'm excited. Please come and solve and meet lovely people and have a good time.

    Enjoy your Sunday. See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Parsons of old Hollywood gossip / SAT 3-17-17 / Rotating part of tape recorder / Official on Segway / Epitome of completeness / Belbenoit noted escapee from Devil's Island

    Saturday, March 17, 2018

    Constructor: Roland Huget

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: "LE CID" (46A: Massenet opera) —
    Le Cid is an opera in four acts and ten tableaux by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis GalletÉdouard Blauand Adolphe d'Ennery. It is based on the play of the same name by Pierre Corneille.
    It was first performed by a star-studded cast at the Paris Opéra on 30 November 1885 in the presence of President Grévy, with Jean de Reszke as Rodrigue. The staging was directed by Pedro Gailhard, with costumes designed by Comte Lepic, and sets by Eugène Carpezat (Act I), Enrico Robecchi and his student Amable (Act II), Auguste-Alfred Rubé, Philippe Chaperon and their student Marcel Jambon (Act III), and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Act IV). The opera had been seen 150 times by 1919 but faded from the repertory and was not performed again in Paris until the 2015 revival at the Palais Garnier. While El Cid is not in the standard operatic repertory, the ballet suite is a popular concert and recording piece which includes dances from different regions of Spain. It was specially created by Massenet for the prima ballerina Rosita Mauri. (wikipedia)
    • • •
    Well that was oddly easy. Tons of white space—the part in the middle looked particularly daunting—but those 15s were easy to get from just a few letters, and gave you (I hope) a foothold in every corner of the grid. Those highly secluded corners (really hate that in a grid design) can be terrifying, but again, the 15s always gave you something to work with. The problem with a grid like this is that, beyond the 15s, nothing was very interesting about it, and a few of those answers, esp. the technical ones (SHEERED?) were kind of unpleasant. It's a pretty clean grid overall. Acceptable, solid stuff. But after the 15s, which were fun, the rest just felt like work, though admittedly the work was pretty light.

    Got started in a semi-weird way, I think. Took one look at 1A: Official on a Segway, maybe, and, after ruling out some intensely dumb indoor sports thing (POLO REF?), I thought "Oh, it's some kind of COP. Put in COP, bam, Down goes CLEO, OED *and* PRIORENGAGEMENT (!!).

    [so weird, I stopped to take a picture]

    Then "What kind of COPs are there ...? MALL!" And sis boom bah the NW corner is done and I'm zooming across the grid with the next 15! (Do not come at me with '90s-era k.d. lang, crossword!)

    LOL that I'd remember the name of the captain in "Billy Budd" (VERE), but the crosses were fair, so whatever. I slowed a teeny bit in the center, largely because of DIETETICS, a word I almost never see and definitely could not parse. Had _I_TETI_S and was baffled at how a "science" (21D: Nutrition science) could end with "-I_S." It was only when I realized the first part had to be DIET that DIETETICS (which sounds too much like DIANETICS for me to take seriously) became clear. The reason I had those particular gaps in DIETETICS? I thought the "honor" in 20A: It's an honor (ODE) was an OBE (this is your brain on crosswords); I didn't know if the thing about changing course "at sea" was SHEARED or SHEERED; and I was not parsing "LE CID" at all—thought "LE-ID" was one word (one usually encounters "LE CID" in his infinitely more common Spanish form). But again, done fairly quickly, and 15s again gave me the escalator / elevator help I needed to ascend / descend into the remaining parts of the grid.

    It was only the technical stuff that stalled me in any way. CAPSTAN, not a familiar thing to me (8A: Rotating part of a tape recorder). TUMBLER ... I know it *is* a part of a lock, but I honestly couldn't tell you *which* part ("a pivoted piece in a lock that holds the bolt until lifted by a key." ... OK). My favorite part of the solve was getting KNESSET off just the "K" (nice clue) (40D: Mideast diet). Only had a few moments hesitation at the dumb "letteral" clue of the day (where the clue literally points (via a jokey "?" clue) to a letter of the alphabet): 59A: Depot's terminus (SILENT T). Those corners could've been brutal, even with assistance from the 15s, but they just rolled over. I'm not disappointed, exactly. It was all just a bit anti-climactic. 15s good, rest meh. But solid and clean, so that's something.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Restaurant cook on TV's Two Broke Girls / FRI 3-16-18 / Fictional queen of Arendelle / Hepatologist's study / Product introduced in 1984 with ad titled 1984

    Friday, March 16, 2018

    Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

    Relative difficulty: Easy (with a detour into Medium territory because I made one stupid mistake that it took me far too long to undo)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: BEALE Street (42D: Memphis blues street) —
    Beale Street is a street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, which runs from the Mississippi River to East Street, a distance of approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 km). It is a significant location in the city's history, as well as in the history of the blues. Today, the blues clubs and restaurants that line Beale Street are major touristattractions in Memphis. Festivals and outdoor concerts periodically bring large crowds to the street and its surrounding areas. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    HEMOPHILIA *and* ULCER *and* HEROIN ... Kind of a downer of a day at Crossword General Hospital. Beyond that, I thought the grid was pretty delightful. Pretty clean, with some interesting, lively answers. There's very, very little in the way of obscurity here, and the whole thing played very easy *except* for the part where I tried to come out of the west into the center / bottom of the grid. I should've just kept going right across the top, swept down the east coast, and then backed into the center and SW corner. In retrospect, that would've been pretty easy. But instead I tried to come through the VEGETARIAN / WINEMAKER nexus and got bogged right down. Why? Well, you kind of need VEGETARIAN and WINEMAKER to catapult or slingshot or other action verb you into the new sections of the grid if you're coming out of the W/NW.

    And things looked good. Had VEGE- and WINE-, nice head starts on the front ends of both those answers. So what do I do? Well, first, and worst, I drop VEGETABLES into the grid. This doesn't *quite* feel right, but it fits. And then with WINE-, I ... just don't know. Since the clue is looking for an "authority," I am not not not thinking a wine producer. I'm thinking a wine aficionado, a wine enthusiast, a wine ... lover!? It fits. And that, my friends, is how you drop the ball. Hit the easy overhead smash into the net. Fumble on the five yard line. Again, choose your metaphor. I eventually figured it out (MIKES to -MAKER to MESONS, huzzah!), but given how fast I did the rest of the puzzle, that VEGETABLES fiasco took me from what would've been something like a record time to something like average.

    Some of the cluing I could've done without. I have "F.U." written next to 14A: Partner of 5-Across (FREE) (it is not the "partner" of EASY as EASY is defined in its clue, 5A: "Calm down, ace"; so boo) and again at 4D: Where you might hear someone say "Duck!" (POND!? That scenario is preposterous. What are you, hanging out with sheltered 3-year-olds?). Clues on BIDEN (34A: 2017 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom) and CHARON (44A: Largest moon of Pluto) were just [shrugs]—you gotta be able to do better than boring trivia clues like that. CHARON is the damned ferryman! Do some punning or wordplay or Something. My worst moment of the day (after The VEGETABLES Fiasco) was having -ARDEN at 40D: Make a bed? and having absolutely no idea what word that could be. I still can't see anything but HARDEN, even with GARDEN clearly written in there).

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Tail-shedding lizard / THU 3-15-18 / Hebrew name meaning he has given / Frenzied trading floor metaphorically / Voltaire religiously / Sponge alternative

    Thursday, March 15, 2018

    Constructor: Joe DiPietro

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: THE IDES (38A: Date that provides a phonetic hint to four other answers in this puzzle) — today is THE IDES of March (?) and four answers begin with "I'D" so there are many "I'D"s ... in the grid ...

    Theme answers:
    • "I'D TAKE THAT" (3D: "Sounds like a deal")
    • "I'D BE HONORED" (20D: "Yes, how nice of you to offer")
    • "I'D RATHER NOT" (15D: "Count me out")
    • "I'D BETTER GO" (30D: "It's getting late")
    Word of the Day: BREN (11D: Air-cooled machine gun) —
    1. noun
      1. a lightweight quick-firing machine gun used by the Allied Forces in World War II.
    • • •

    THE IDES cannot stand alone like that. I have never seen or heard THE IDES given as a "date." "Hey, what's the date?" "Oh, it's THE IDES." Only in crosswords have I ever seen anyone posit that IDES might stand alone at all, as the midpoint of *any* month. If people know IDES it's in the phrase "THE IDES of March" and that is all. THE IDES, on its own, is a metric ton of preposterous. This puzzle was pretty easy, except for that "date." I had THE, and then THEI, and no idea how those letters might make a "date," and so I went from a lightning fast west half of the grid to a halting, awkward, slower east half—just because of the non-answer THE IDES. I was just lucky to know someone named NATAN, or moving in a connected fashion from the western to the eastern half of the grid might've proved totally impossible. There were answers and clues I liked in this puzzle (never heard BEAR PIT, but TAX DODGER (18A: One with a no-returns policy?), ELAINE MAY (60A: "A New Leaf" actress/director, 1971), and THE PILL (!) (42D: Sponge alternative) were very nice, but the themers almost all seemed misclued, or inadequately clued. ["Yes, how nice of you to offer"] sounds like someone offered you a ride home. Nothing about being "honored" in that clue. "I'D RATHER NOT" is at least somewhat less definitive an answer that ["Count me out"]. And "I'D TAKE THAT" barely sounds like something someone one would say at all. I see how IDES / "I'D"s is a cute thing, but the execution here, and specifically the stand-alone-ness of THE IDES, is kind of gruesome.

    The fill in this one started out very rough. Tiny NW section gave me SUPE, POTTY and ETALII (ugh), and then NUTLIKE (??), so I was not hopeful, but the grid pulled out of its nosedive and ended up being reasonably clean and interesting, in the main. ROLLS DICE is not a phrase—the "THE" is kind of crucial if you want to sound plausibly human. And another day, another machine gun, I guess (BREN). This time, it's a machine gun from WWII that is just four letters long that somehow, in my god-knows-how-many years of solving, I've never seen. So we've gone deep into ancient crosswordese (I'm guessing) to bring you your machine gun today. On the day after UZI. On the day after #NationalWalkOutDay. Truly amazing timing on the NYT's part.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Pioneering text adventure game / WED 3-14-18 / Pertaining to rhythm of speech / Storytelling uncle of fiction / Indian born Big Bang Theory character

    Wednesday, March 14, 2018

    Constructor: Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: MARINARA (61A: Sauce made from ingredients mixed up in 16-, 24-, 37- and 49-Across) — themers have ONION, TOMATO, GARLIC, and HERBS mixed up inside them, respectively:

    Theme answers:
    • ZERO IN ON (16A: Take dead aim at)
    • HOT OATMEAL (24A: Breakfast order often containing cinnamon)
    • ARTIFICIAL GRASS (37A: Indoor stadium surface)
    • BARBER SHOP (49A: A cappella genre)
    Word of the Day: STACY Keach (55D: Keach of TV's "Man With a Plan") —
    Walter Stacy Keach Jr. (born June 2, 1941) is an American actor of stagefilm, and television. Highly prolific, he has played mainly dramatic roles throughout his career, often in law enforcement or as a private detective. His most prominent role was as Mickey Spillane's fictional detective Mike Hammer, which he played in numerous stand-alone television films and at least three different television series throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The role earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination in 1984.
    He has also performed as a narrator for programs including CNBC'S American Greed(2008–) and various educational television programs. Comedic roles include his role in the Fox sitcom Titus (2000–2002) as Ken, the father of comedian Christopher Titus, and as Sergeant Stedenko in Cheech & Chong's films Up in Smoke (1978) and Nice Dreams(1981). His most recent recurring roles include two seasons as the Warden, Henry Pope, in the series Prison Break (2005–2007), "Pops", the father of the main character from the boxing drama Lights Out (2011), the elderly father Bob on the sitcom Crowded (2016) and the father of Matt LeBlanc's protagonist Adam on Man With A Plan (2015–). Keach won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for the television miniseries Hemingway (1988). (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Who. Is Eating. Cold Oatmeal!?!?! Try to order HOT OATMEAL next time you're at the diner. See what kind of look you get. Words-buried-inside-themers puzzles are pretty common, but they can work if done right. This one has a twist in that the words are "mixed up" inside the themers, but I think there's some confusion masquerading as wordplay. The revealer says the "ingredients" are "mixed up," which of course means "mixed together" in the case of MARINARA, but in the individual answers, of course, they aren't mixed up (with each other) at all. They're ... minced, I guess ... which, you also have to do to prepare the sauce, but still, there's a confusion of the senses of "mixed" there. "Herbs" is a little too non-specific for me, recipe-wise. Make the recipe come off as vague and generic. Biggest issue for me, theme-wise, though, was the ridiculous HOT before OATMEAL, and then ARTIFICIAL GRASS, when the much much much (etc.) more common term is ARTIFICIAL TURF.

    [BARBERSHOP ... also, Dame EDNA and MOE and APU]

    The non-theme stuff is actually much stronger than the theme stuff today. Unlike yesterday's all-short-answer, boring-as-heck grid, this grid has scads of long Downs streaming through it, giving it the life and color it desperately needs. PROSODIC is a weird word (6D: Pertaining to the rhythm of speech), and one that took me longer than most of the others to get. But I like it. (Here's a def. of "prosody," in case you're interested) MAKES BANK is the real winner of the day. I had M-K and my first thought was MAKES BANK, but then I thought "Nah, too slangy for this crowd" (34D: Rakes in the dough). But then bang, there it is! Ironic to have it touching MCHAMMER, who made a ton of bank and then famously went bankRupt. I'm really disappointed that this puzzle thought ZORK (?) (13A: Pioneering text adventure game) was important enough to add a *%#&ing submachine gun to the puzzle. It would be so, so easy Not to have a human-killing weapon in this puzzle. So easy. A matter of a couple squares. Here's a picture of 7000* pairs of empty shoes in front of the US Capitol yesterday: one pair for every child killed by guns since Sandy Hook. Have a nice day.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    *I love that snopes fact-checked this number and called it only "Mostly True" because, well, actually, the number is probably a little higher

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Metallica hit with lyric sleep with one eye open / TUE 3-13-18 / Product of Yale Medeco / chips trendy snack food / First name of two of three apple co-founders

    Tuesday, March 13, 2018

    Constructor: Carl Worth

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: KEY WEST (41A: Florida island ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, 52- and 65-Across) — first answers of themers (i.e. the word on the "west" of the answer) is a type of keyboard "key":

    Theme answers:
    • SHIFT GEARS (17A: Change one's approach)
    • ENTER SANDMAN (24A: Metallica hit with the lyric "Sleep with one eye open")
    • CONTROL FREAK (52A: Micromanager)
    • ESCAPE ROOM (65A: Series of puzzle for group solving)
    Word of the Day: TARO (38D: ___ chips (trendy snack food))
    1. a tropical Asian plant of the arum family that has edible starchy corms and edible fleshy leaves, especially a variety with a large central corm grown as a staple in the Pacific. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    First two words in were AJAR and APSE, and that pretty much set the tone for the whole thing. It was a very, very generic puzzle, with dull and familiar short fill everywhere. To its credit, the fill never gets painful or awkward or forced—it's quite solid. But solidly ecru. Solidly ENNUI. Part of the problem is the grid construction. It's a very choppy grid, with a preponderance of short answers. Outside of the themers, there are only four 7s and two 6s in the whole thing. Eeeeeverything else is 3, 4, and 5. I can rattle examples off, but why? Just look at your grid and you can see for yourself. The theme is pretty lifeless too—totally acceptable wordplay on the revealer, KEY WEST, but in the end, it's just a "first words do this" puzzle. Shift, enter, control, escape, zzzz. I will say that three of the four themers are very nice answers on their own (everything but SHIFT GEARS, which is, like the rest of the puzzle ... there). "ENTER SANDMAN" will get a lot of love from Metallica and Mariano Rivera fans (probably a lot more of the latter in this group, i.e. among you all). Rivera was the legendary Yankees closer, and when he'd come out to the mound, well...

    Early-morning solving took its toll on me again, as what was clearly a very easy puzzle somehow took me a totally average amount of time to solve. I could feel as I was solving it that it was easier than normal, but SNEER went in for SNORT (22D: Derisive sound), and the clue on SITE just meant nothing to me (42D: Something pinned on a map) (*any* place is a potential SITE of ... something), and after having already gotten TASE, STUN would not come at all (I think it's misclued—tasing is a form of zapping, but stunning is not a form of tasing—it's vice versa, so "in a way" just doesn't work there). And the worst was TARO chips. "Trendy"? I know what TARO is, of course, but I had TA-O and could see only TACO, which was clearly wrong. Balked at JAKARTA (47D: Capital of the world's largest island country), had only the "A" at back end of ZAPPA and that clue meant zero to me (59A: Frank who performed "Watermelon in the Easter Hay"). Even PORT wouldn't come easily. So the entire east and southeast areas were clunky as hell for me—for no good reason. Morning brain. That is all. I hope that is all. OK... now, that is all. Bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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