Ocean buildup / SUN 4-22-18 / Title city in 1960 #1 song / 1899 gold rush destination / Script suggestion about starting fight scene / Tally in Britain / Supergiant in Cygnus / Early Chinese dynasty / Root beer brand since 1937

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Challenging (14:50) (I've had a ballgame beer and a martini, tho, so ... !)


THEME: Pluses and Minuses [read: Plus E's and Minus E's] — familiar phrases have E's added to one word and dropped from another word, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily:

Theme answers:
  • STARES AND STRIPS (23A: Makes eye contact before undressing?)
  • FATHER IN ONE'S CAPE (39A: Parent wearing your Superman costume?)
  • NOTE A MOMENT TO SPAR (54A: Script suggestion about starting the fight scene?)
  • JETE-PROPELLED PLAN (78A: Ballet choreography?)
  • HAD LESS HORSE MANE (96A: Was harder for the bronco buster to hold on to?)
  • LEAST BUT NOT LAST (115A: Like the digit "0" in 2018?)
Word of the Day: SEA OOZE (62A: Ocean buildup) —
1.Same as Sea mud
(thefreedictionary.com)

• • •

ERM, no. I mean, specifically, ERM is a terrible answer, and also, no, I didn't really enjoy working out this theme. Every answer felt painful. Like ... E is dropped where? And added where? Why are there Other Random Es In These Answers?! Shouldn't themers like this have two and only two Es? I will give props to the title, which is perfect, but ugh, slog city, working this thing out. I also think SMALL OJ and SEA OOZE (!?) are just junk. I mean, they seem like they came from a purchased wordlist, something a computer recommended and the constructor failed to override. SMALL OJ might've been ok if it had been clued differently, perhaps with reference to, I don't know, its *abbreviatedness* or *beverageness* or anything. Took Forever to get that, and since it intersected two already-hard-to-get themers, ugh, the slogginess. Not knowing the tail end of HYPNOS also complicated things. SEA OOZE, also, come on. And lying right alongside a themer, man, that was rough. Ugh, and with [Giggle syllable] in there (worst crossword clue type ever, could be a jillion things), and the totally enigmatic 50D: Tip of the tongue? (ESE) (!?) (because languages, or "tongues," end ... in -ESE ...), yeesh, that central area was a bear. And for what? NOTE A MOMENT TO SPAR? Pfffft, and I was having such a nice day up to this point. Got some great records this morning because it's Record Store Day 2018! And went to a baseball game this afternoon and saw a Tigers prospect with a great name (Funkhouser!) who struck out Tebow, twice. And it's sunnnnnnny for the first time since, I think, 1936, so ... yeah, my mood was good. And now it's less good. But the martini is still kinda working its magic, *and* I'm listening to Talking Heads "Remain in Light," so ... OK, things could be worse.


Got upended all over the place. Misspelled DIEZ as DIES, which made GRAZE super duper hard to pick up (69A: Eat a little here, a little there). I honestly, repeatedly considered ERASE. Also thought SADIES at first, not SALLYS (111A: Actresses Field and Hawkins). Sally Hawkins was in "The Shape of Water." Which I saw. I just ... Hawkins made me go SADIE. Reflex. I also totally tanked the southern part of the grid, everything around ORIANA, whose name I forgot and botched like nine times before I got it right. ALOP? Oy, no. PIANO, no. IS APT TO, ouch. Is it AS DO I or AS AM I??? Again, all of this stuff crossed *two* themers, so ... Slog City. Maybe some of the theme answers end up being clever or cute ... I guess I can see that. But getting there was awfully painful work. I did love "LA CUCARACHA," though!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Fourth god to exist in Greek myth / SAT 4-21-18 / Currency unit equal to 100 kurus / Teacher of lip-reading to deaf / Wite-Out manufacturer

    Saturday, April 21, 2018

    Constructor: Daniel Nierenberg

    Relative difficulty: Easy (mid-6s, but that's with ~30 seconds of "taking screenshots" time—uninterrupted time would've easily been somewhere in the 5s)


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Ron KOVIC (46D: Ron who wrote "Born on the Fourth of July") —
    Ronald Lawrence "RonKovic (born July 4, 1946) is an American anti-war activist, writer, and former United States Marine Corps sergeant, who was wounded and paralyzed in the Vietnam War. He is best known as the author of his 1976 memoir Born on the Fourth of July, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film in 1989 directed by Oliver Stone.
    Kovic received the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay on January 20, 1990, 22 years to the day that he was wounded in Vietnam, and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Wow. This was easy. Eerily easy. I did my usual thing of throwing down all the short Downs I could make fit at first guess in the NW, and then checking to see where I was at with the long Acrosses. Shockingly, with the exception of ITSY for ITTY (ick), allll of my first guesses up there were right, and all of the long Acrosses fell pretty much immediately. Here's my very first pass at the NW:
    And then it just Kept Going. This was a very open grid, with lots of ways to get at every corner, so there really was no getting stuck. Once I committed to ORALIST (I might've ... gagged on that one, a little) and -LYSIS (definitely gagged there), moving down into the rest of the grid was quite easy. The only slight roadblocks were: I wanted SURE for SOLD (25A: Convinced) and then wanted NOT ART for NON-ART (21D: Dada, to its critics), which is a non-answer as far as I'm concerned, but that's non of my business, moving on. I probably had more trouble with CLARET than with anything else in the grid, which is really strange given that I know the word. I think of it as wine and not color, I guess. Just couldn't come up with it. Honestly, there's no more resistance in this puzzle. I could've written in GAY MARRIAGE for 58A: Subject of the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges with no crosses if I'd had to, but I didn't even have to do that, as I'd already plunked THE EYE and DIORAMA down there. 
    No idea about RIGGS (44D: One of the detectives in "Lethal Weapon"), but it hardly mattered—it just filled itself in from crosses. I actually liked most of this grid, just not the ITTY ORALISTLYSIS up top. BRAE is some old school crosswordese (51D: Landform near a loch), but it felt like an old friend more than a nuisance today. If I'm not being bombarded by crosswordese and otherwise bad fill, I'm remarkably cool with the stray quaint old term. An ETUI here, an ASTA there, just fine with me.


    Anyway, today I did not NEED HELP. Everything just clicked. I'm definitely much faster solving at night than solving in the morning. And I've also found that if I do a hardish puzzle right before I do the NYT, it helps a lot. Today's pre-NYT warm-up puzzle was Peter Gordon's latest Fireball Newsflash puzzle; these are always replete with very recent and newsy answers—brutal proper nouns, but always crossed fairly. Anyway, it helped me keep up with some current events *and* got me in fighting shape for this puzzle, which I destroyed.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Kepler's contemporary assistant / FRI 4-20-18 / Topic of mnemonic Eat Apple As Nighttime Snack / Desperately in need of approval in modern slang

    Friday, April 20, 2018

    Constructor: Joel Fagliano

    Relative difficulty: Man, I'm slow when I roll-out-of-bed-solve... (9-something)


    THEME: sadly, yes

    Theme answers:
    • TWENTY-FIVE / THOUSANDTH (10D: With 26-Down, the place of today's puzzle among all New York Times crosswords)
    Word of the Day: HOLT (6D: Otter's den) —
    noun
    1. 1
      the den of an animal, especially that of an otter.
    2. 2
      NORTH AMERICANdialect
      a grip or hold. (google)
    • • •

    ELEPHANT, in room, not forgetting
    Firstly, you can shove this self-congratulatory bullshit and start paying constructors somewhere, anywhere near what the puzzles are worth to you, NYT. The peanuts-level pay (fractions of a penny per dollar profit) remains a fantastic embarrassment and ensures that puzzle-making remains largely the purview of a smallish clique of (mostly) white (mostly) guys who would and could do it for nothing. Already well-off white dudes are the Best because they don't harsh your buzz with talk about *money*, ick, how déclassé. And the Powers That Be have always been dismissive and condescending (and largely silent) on this issue. Extremely so. I've got friends who complain all day long (*as they should*) that women and people of color are underrepresented in the world of crossword constructors and editors, but never make a peep about fair pay. About selling your work to a giant corporation, with no hope of residuals, and being paid largely in "hey, look, your name's in the paper!" Why anyone sells to the NYT for less than $750 for a daily is beyond me (it's currently a laughable $300, with a secret $350 level for the oft-published favorites—by comparison, Peter Gordon's *independent* Fireball Crosswords pays $451). I have no problem with the NYT's using the crossword to help fund "real" news? But come on. They could double, triple, quadruple the pay rate and stil just be printing money. TWENTY-FIVE THOUSANDTH crossword? So? What? I mean, this is an institution that took years and years to Put The Constructor's Name On The Puzzle, then even more years to Put The Name Where People Can See It. See, you're supposed to worship the Institution, and the Editor. Constructor shmonstructor. I would love for an honest accounting of just how much money there is, and where the money goes, crosswordwise. Let everyone see. Go ahead. I dare you.


    Secondly, and more strongly, you can take DEEP STATE (58A: Entrenched network inside a government), and everything you've done to normalize this racist, conspiracy-theory-driven administration, and shove it very, very far.

    Bye.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I know it's 4/20, but I swear I did not write this high.

    P.P.S. Here, please enjoy this puzzle from Brendan Emmett Quigley and 2018 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion Erik Agard?

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    Seuss's star-bellied creatures / THU 4-19-18 / Word before Johnny Lucy / Disney movie set in Arendelle / Chocolaty breakfast cereal

    Thursday, April 19, 2018

    Constructor: Todd Gross

    Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:48)


    THEME: COUNT THE SQUARES (35A: How to find out what "this many" is in 17-, 21-, 52- and 57-Across) — themers have "this many" as part of their clues, and "this many" = number of letters in the answer:

    Theme answers:
    • BEETHOVEN (17A: He wrote this many symphonies)
    • MISSOURI (21A: It borders this many other states)
    • ARACHNID (52A: It has this many legs)
    • MARK SPITZ (57A: He won this many Olympic gold medals)
    Word of the Day: KEENAN Wynn (3D: Actor Wynn of "Dr. Strangelove") —
    Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn (July 27, 1916 – October 14, 1986) was an American character actor. His expressive face was his stock-in-trade; and, though he rarely carried the lead role, he had prominent billing in most of his film and television roles. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    This feels underbaked. Four pretty short themers, and a revealer that is not ... a thing people say. Not a stand-alone phrase. Not wordplayesque. Painfully literal instructions. Just not a lot of there there. Also, the number of letters is pretty iconic for three of the themers (BEETHOVEN's symphonies, spider's legs, Spitz's medals), but number of states that MISSOURI borders? It's an interesting piece of trivia (MO is tied with TN for state that borders most other states) but when I think Missouri I do not think "Oh, sure ... eight." The whole thing just doesn't quite come together on the thematic level. There's some quite delightful fill, though. AE HOUSMAN (10D: "A Shropshire Lad" author) and CROUPIER (11D: Casino employee) in the NE, ULULATES (37D: Grieves loudly) and SNEETCHES (33D: Seuss's star-bellied creatures) in the SW. I like those. Those were by far my favorite things about this puzzle. But the theme is kinda sorta very important on Thursdays, of all days, and outside those longer Downs the rest of the fill is OK but actually a bit on the weak side, so it's hard not to feel a tad disappointed by this one.


    Started stupidly slow on this one. I blame POKE, which is horribly clued (1A: Slow sort, informally). Uh, I've heard "slow POKE," but never POKE on its own. The "slow" is necessary to make POKE make any sense, and "slow" is already in the clue, so ... yuck. I'm sure there's some example somewhere of POKE standing on its own, but come on. The phrase is "slow POKE" and everyone knows that so stop getting cute. Better to have [Slow ___], honestly. Hard, and accurate. Forgot KEENAN, never considered OREO OS, and thought 1D: Classic Milwaukee brews (PABSTS) could be lotsa things. Worst of all, I dropped ELENA into 20A: First name on the Supreme Court (SONIA) without hesitation. Dead certain. Whoops. Besides SSN, I didn't get a damn thing until I picked up UNO, and then the whole north section, and then backed into BEETHOVEN (without really understanding why—just saw ----OVEN and "symphonies" and plunked down the obvious answer). I thought maybe the clue number was the "this many," and so MISSOURI was a revelation. "21 states!? Wow ... I have completely misremembered my US map." Even after COUNT THE SQUARES, I didn't really put things together (this often happens when I'm flying). It was only at ARACHNID that I was like, "OK, hey, even I know spiders don't have 52 legs..." I did (very briefly) think some creature did, though, because I just had the -NID when I read the clue. "52 legs!? What ... the hell creature ... is that?" Only *then* did the full meaning of COUNT THE SQUARES hit me. So in went ARACHNID, and that heretofore pesky SW corner folded, and I was done.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Hypothetical particle that travels faster than light / WED 4-18-18 / Much-covered 1956 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song ./ Like Cockneys in British lingo / Colorful conical candy on stick

      Wednesday, April 18, 2018

      Constructor: Peter A. Collins and Bruce Haight

      Relative difficulty: Easy (oversized and I still got in under 4) (3:57)


      THEME: "I PUT A SPELL ON YOU" (61A: Much-covered 1956 Screamin' Jay Hawkins song ... hinting at what happens three times in this puzzle's solution) — HEX appears directly on top of YOU three times in the grid


      Word of the Day: NON U (59D: Like Cockneys, in British lingo) —
      adjective
      BRITISHinformal
      1. (of language or social behavior) not characteristic of the upper social classes; not socially acceptable to certain people. (google)
      • • •

      Pfffffffffft, OK, so the basic theme is kind of cute. Very literal take on the song title. Or, fairly literal take, as HEX (not SPELL) is placed on top of YOU. And here lies the (or a) problem: that "XU" string that you've got to negotiate not once not twice but thrice in this grid. It gets you into some rough places. In one corner, you're forced into CDE and NON-U to make it work. In the middle you actually get away OK—OLES and ESAS aren't ideal, but they're not horrific, either. What is horrific, however, and what should've been a deal-breaker, is EOUS. I mean ... just look at that thing. It's a monster. It's an unholy gob of letters that can only be held in that particular configuration by a curse OMG I UNDERSTAND THE THEME NOW. Someone hailed Satan and put a spell on that answer to make those letters stay in that disgusting arrangement; and apparently someone put a spell on the puzzle-makers so that they would think -EOUS was a fine thing to perpetrate on the solving public. I mean, if they can take NONU and ENRY and AIT, surely they can choke down -EOUS! There are lots of synonyms for SPELL—why not try out some of them in addition to HEX. Or stay with your little HEX plan, but make a grid that works. Look at this thing. So horrifically pockmarked with black squares in the middle that the NE / SW corners end up ridiculously bloated just to keep this thing at a reasonable word limit. I mean, huge banks of three 8s and a 7, in a themed puzzle, having no relation to the theme at all? It's bizarre.


      I knew TACHYON from having read Watchmen (once again) last month (46D: Hypothetical particle that travels faster than light). TACHYONs play a weirdly imporant role in the plot toward the end of the book. I don't know what an ASTROPOP is, but it was highly inferrable (38D: Colorful, conical candy on a stick). None of the other answers seem like ones that might present problems. EIRE is crosswordese, AIT is crosswordese, NITTI is crosswordese, CNET is crosswordese, UTNE, ASTI, NON U ... —if you didn't know those, you really should. I wish the constructors had been able to execute the theme better, with clean fill and a non-clownish grid, because the concept is pretty tight. Oh well.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS this video put a spell on me. She's ****ing magic.


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      Rock band known for its energy domes / TUE 4-17-18 / Archipelago west of Portugal / Bruece Lee role based on old radio character / Loosening of government controls for short / Giant four-legged combat walker in Star Wars films

      Tuesday, April 17, 2018

      Constructor: Wren Schultz

      Relative difficulty: Easy (3:01)


      THEME: VOWEL (65A: Every other letter in this puzzle's grid(!)) — that's the theme; pretty self-explanatory

      Theme answers:
      • All of them
      Word of the Day: KIWI (57D: New Zealand bird) —
      noun
      1. 1
        a flightless New Zealand bird with hairlike feathers, having a long down-curved bill with sensitive nostrils at the tip.
      2. 2
        informal
        a New Zealander, especially a soldier or member of a national sports team.
      [Actual solving outfit]

      • • •

      I have no idea how hard or easy this is to do, and I don't really care. You'd never notice the gimmick unless someone told you about it, and it has no relevance to the solving process. I guess if you somehow got really stuck and knew the "every other letter" = vowel gimmick, you could maybe narrow down your letter choices, but in a puzzle this easy, that seems highly unlikely. It's basically a profoundly easy and pretty dull themeless, with a very weak one-word revealer that points out an invisible stunt. If a stunt falls in the woods and there's no one ... etc. I genuinely don't understand this. Or, rather, I don't understand going forward with this when you have no zippy wordplay, no revealer, no phrase that you're reimagining. The punchline is just ... VOWEL. It would be great if the NYT thought for a dang second about what it would be like to solve this thing. You're humming along, it's easy, there's absolutely no discernible pattern or theme but you don't care 'cause you're crushing it, and then you hit dum dum DUM ... VOWEL. And you look at the grid and you see that indeed every other letter is a VOWEL but also it looks like any other blah crossword except w/o the pesky theme, I guess. But at least you got to see ODER and BOLA and ONED and NAGAT, though, so at least you've got that going for you.


      I nearly broke 3 minutes on a Tuesday, which hasn't happened for me in a long while. I was half a minute faster today than yesterday. I had almost zero areas of trouble, and very few times when I looked at a clue and didn't know immediately what the answer was. ODER required crosses, but other than that, every answer seemed to just fall before me, without my having to do much of anything. At the very end (NE corner) I lost a few seconds because I hesitated at ___ DEPOSIT (10D: Lode). Figured it was ORE, but wanted confirmation. Then didn't get DEVO at first pass (11D: Rock band known for its "energy domes") and then of course fell in the old COLA / SODA trap at 9A: Pizza party drink (SODA). And so, 3:01. Really, really want those two seconds back. Curse you SODA! I shall never drink thee again ... I mean, I don't drink thee now, but ... moreso!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Stabilizing part of ship's compass / MON 4-16-18 / Supporting nativist policies

      Monday, April 16, 2018

      Constructor: David Woolf

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (3:34) (slowish for a Monday)


      THEME: EYE CONTACT (62A: Asset for a public speaker ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, 37- and 52-Across) — themers all have two "I"s next to each other (i.e. making "contact" in the grid)

      Theme answers:
      • SUNNI ISLAM (17A: World's largest religious denomination)
      • SETI INSTITUTE (24A: Org. looking for aliens)
      • ANTI-IMMIGRATION (37A: Supporting nativist policies)
      • SKI INSTRUCTOR (52A: One teaching pizza slices and S-turns)
      Word of the Day: GIMBAL (23D: Stabilizing part of a ship's compass) —
      noun
      1. a mechanism, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel or aircraft. (google)
      • • •

      So yesterday we had GOOK (well, GO space OK, but come on...) and today, right in the middle of the grid, the longest answer in the puzzle: ANTI-IMMIGRATION. And with an adorably innocuous clue, too. Oooh, *and* it's crossing NRA! Fun. Keep up the ... work, NYT.

      [This is where the party ends / I can't stand here listening to you / And your 37A Friend!]

      I think the theme is pretty clever, actually. You don't see "I"s next to each other very much in English, so having all the answers do that, and then punning on "eye," yes, that works. I got SUNNI ISLAM easy, but SETI institute was slightly tougher (knew SETI, from crosswords, of course, but ... never thought there was a word or term that followed it). Also slightly misread the clue on ANTI-IMMIGRATION—my brain was thinking Native American policies, not the racist white "nativist" policies, perhaps because my brain was wishfully thinking that racist garbage wouldn't be front and center in the puzzle again. Yeah, the problem is definitely with me. I also couldn't make heads or tails of the clue on SKI INSTRUCTOR (52A: One teaching pizza slices and S-turns). Like ... gibberish to me. Further, no idea what a GIMBAL is (needed every cross and still wasn't sure), no idea (until I got the very last letter) what 26D: Still uninformed was getting at (I stared for seconds at NOWISE- thinking that maybe the last letter was "E"??? NOW I SEE?), and weirdly this is the very first I'm hearing of either Daisy or RIDLEY or Daisy RIDLEY, despite having seen her in the role in question (48D: Daisy who plays Rey in "Star Wars" movies). Weird. So, yeah, allllll of that made me slower than normal today. Oh, and I somehow also totally misread 7D: Cartoonist Keane (BIL) as ... well, I don't really know, but I ended up thinking of an old Nickelodeon TV show and writing in KEL, that's how lost I was.


      I'm sure YAO Ming is, in fact, "worth millions," but that's still a super-weird clue for him (63D: Ming worth millions of dollars). When I think of him, I think of basketball, not how wealthy he is. Lots of athletes are far wealthier than him (I mean, I'm pretty sure). I think the clue wanted to alliterate (??) but it should have resisted that urge.  And even then, why not just [Ming worth millions]??? I mean, I'm on record as hating cross-reference clues, but NBA *is* in the (damn) grid, so... if you wanted to annoy me with your clue, you had other, better options.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS "Dancing with the Stars" judge?? (29D) Once again, an LOL "no way" from me. So many absolute whiffs for a Monday. Bizarre.

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      Rear seating compartment in old automobiels / Purple smoothie flavorer / Org that's nearly one fourth Canadian / Portrayer of Mr Chips / Spring river breakup

      Sunday, April 15, 2018

      Constructor: Alex Bajcz

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


      THEME: "Preposition Proposition" — verb phrases that are modeled (verb + preposition) are reimagined as hyphenated noun phrases, with resulting wackiness:

      Theme answers:
      • PULL-UP STAKES (23A: Wagers for a gym exercise?)
      • PICK-UP STEAM (33A: Bad thing to see under a truck's hood?)
      • WALK-ON WATER (48A: Unrecruited athlete's bottleful?)
      • DEAD-ON ARRIVAL (64A: Timely entrance?)
      • STAND-IN LINE (82:A Understudy's delivery?)
      • PUT-ON NOTICE (97A: Scam alert?)
      • RUN-IN CIRCLES (112A: Fight clubs?)
      • SET-TO MUSIC (37D: Soundtrack for a brawl?)
      • GO-TO PIECES (44D: Compositions often chosen for encores?)
      Word of the Day: TONNEAU (20A: Rear seating compartment in old automobiles) —
      noun
      1. the part of an automobile, typically an open car, occupied by the back seats.
        • short for tonneau cover. (google)
      • • •

      It's a simple concept, and it is ... executed. I mean, it does what it does. More of a "hey ... interesting" -type theme than an "ooooh"-type theme, but OK.  There is a certain (perhaps numbing) consistency to the structure of these themers. The clues very rarely get to the level of wackiness normally required for me to enjoy wacky puzzles. And man oh man, with a puzzle saturated with prepositions (in the themers), it would be great if it were not also saturated with prepositions generally. I mean, yikes and EEKS. You've got PUSH IN, TOSSES TO, FLIES TO, OD ON, not to mention ONA and ATA ... it's a lot. It's possible I missed one. Don't really feel like checking thoroughly. The theme is very dense, which ... why? It's not like I"m clamoring for more of this theme. If you've seen 7, you've seen 9. I'd prefer a cleaner / more interesting overall grid to more theme stuff. Sometimes themes seem to try to compensate for mediocrity with density. I don't recommend this. I recommend starting with a baseline of non-mediocrity. I have nothing much against this puzzle, but nothing much for it, either. I really like PINCHRAN (21A: Replaced someone on a base). Is that weird? Probably. I'm just really into baseball right now, despite my team's being abysmal. Longer fill is normally a chance for a grid to shine, but today there's some really awkward stuff, like MISSES A CUE and STEP OUT OF (more prepositions!), and it just doesn't Do much to enliven the grid. ATE RIGHT, that's pretty good. In-the-language, original. More of that would've been nice.


      I flew right through this one, and didn't notice much worth commenting on. I found that bank of Downs up top—APEAK, DISGUSTED, ENCIPHER—pretty tough, first because I forgot APEAK and wrote in ABEAM, second because the clue for DISGUSTED did not really seem like it was looking for an adjective (13D: Saying "Ewww!," say), and third because ENCIPHER ... I'd say DECIPHER, but ENCRYPT. So ENCIPHER just took some patience and acceptance. Your boy ANKA is back for another go 'round. Let's hear more of his pop warblings, shall we?


      And now a word about GO OK. In the grid there is no space between GO and OK, and so you get an answer that looks like a racial slur, and while I didn't even blink at this (I was going too fast to think about parsing), lots of people did, in fact, blink:






      I know the answer is totally defensible (it's not clued in a racial way, etc.), I think it's reasonable to ditch the answer entirely in the interest of not having an apparent racial slur hanging out in your grid. It's not as if GO OK is such great fill. As Evan Birnholz rightly pointed out to me, you lose Nothing in terms of puzzle quality by going with AREN'T / ROOK instead of AGENT / GO OK. Without having a big fight over this issue, please consider deleting this letter sequence from your wordlist. It costs you nothing, zip, nil, zero, and eliminates a possibility for people's taking offense, or even just being mildly put off. It's not as if GO OK is beloved—losing it is not a hardship.



      Also, this from sportswriter / radio host Dan Bernstein, re: 48A: Unrecruited athlete's bottleful? (WALK-ON WATER):

      [*athletes]

      So there you go. Enjoy your Sunday.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Muse symbolized by globe compass / SAT 4-14-18 / One-eighth set in statistics / Writer who called New York City Baghdad on Subway / Collaborator with Sedaka Cooke on 1964 album 3 Great Guys / Hip-hop radio/tv host charlamagne god

      Saturday, April 14, 2018

      Constructor: Sam Ezersky

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: ALI PASHA (55A: Ottoman ruler referenced in "The Count of Monte Cristo") —
      Ali Pasha (1740 – 24 January 1822), variously referred to as of Tepelena or of Janina/Yannina/Ioannina, or the Lion of Yannina, was an Ottoman Albanian ruler who served as pasha of a large part of western Rumelia, the Ottoman Empire's European territories, which was referred to as the Pashalik of Yanina. His court was in Ioannina, and the territory he governed incorporated most of Epirus and the western parts of Thessaly and Greek Macedonia. Ali had three sons: Muhtar Pasha, who served in the 1809 war against the Russians, Veli Pasha, who became pasha of the Morea Eyalet and Salih Pasha, governor of Vlore.
      Ali first appears in historical accounts as the leader of a band of brigands who became involved in many confrontations with Ottoman state officials in Albania and Epirus. He joined the administrative-military apparatus of the Ottoman Empire, holding various posts until 1788 when he was appointed pasha, ruler of the sanjak of Ioannina. His diplomatic and administrative skills, his interest in modernist ideas and concepts, his popular piety, his religious neutrality, his suppression of banditry, his vengefulness and harshness in imposing law and order, and his looting practices towards persons and communities in order to increase his proceeds caused both the admiration and the criticism of his contemporaries, as well as an ongoing controversy among historians regarding his personality. Finally falling foul of the Ottoman central government, Ali Pasha was declared a rebel in 1820, and was killed in 1822 at the age of 81 or 82. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Sometimes the urge to come up with *Brand! New!* fill should be resisted. Constructors should always be on the alert (ALERT!) for new, current, interesting stuff, but ... well, not ECOLABEL (15A: "Non-G.M.O." or "Dolphin-safe"). I have never been a big believer in the ECO- prefix period (I mean, ECOCAR? Who says that?). I think I'd take all your normal ECO-s (e.g. -logical, -nomical, etc.), and probably -tourism, -friendly ... there are a number that are definitely in-the-language. But ECOLABEL isn't one of them. It's just a label. The label pseudopsientifically psuggests that you are doing something ECO-logical by buying the labeled product, but the label itself is not ECO- and I just don't believe this nonsense is an actual category. ROIDED is also super suspect as clued. "ROIDED out" is an adjectival phrase, but ROIDED as a verb on its own ... I don't know. Simply using PEDs would not be called ROIDing. That word usually implies not just use but a certain kind of effect or reaction, e.g. roid rage. MICROUSB is OK, though I keep parsing it MICROUS B, and I didn't even know that's what my charger was called.


      I want to maximally object to DOT CO DOT UK, a garbage heap posing as a monument to cleverness. Like, if you put DOTORG in a puzzle, it would be barfy, and you know it would, so yeah, this DOT CO etc. stuff is nth degree barfy. As if *pieces* of a URL = good xword material. I mean, original, sure, but ... no. Oh, and the single MYTHBUSTER? WTF? (27D: Conductor of science experiments on TV) It's a TV show, and it's plural. One MYTHBUSTER is ... a non-answer. Oh, and the damn "inits." ACA were not "debated" in the 2010s (34D: Much-debated inits. in 2010s politics). Nobody debated the initials. They debated the legislation. Boo. Oh, and do people still NETSURF? On the Information Superhighway, maybe? I got it immediately, but I didn't feel good about it.

      ["COULD IT BE...?"]

      Proper noun gimmes in all corners of the grid made this pretty easy to take down. Robinson CANO, gimme. SACHA Baron Cohen, bigger gimme. Hank AZARIA, biggest gimme. Jessica BIEL should've been a gimme (13D: Jessica of "The Book of Love"), but somehow I confused her and Jessica ALBA and it came out Jessica ABEL (who, it turns out, is a comic book author I know of, so ... that was all very weird). I also did my usual OUZO-for-ORZO screw-up (53D: Minestrone soup ingredient). I usually recoil from bodily fluid clues, but I think the clue on SLOBBER is really clever (8D: Baby pool?). There are lots of good answers here, too, like MASH NOTES and CUBS FAN and CUP OF TEA and FREE-STYLE (esp. as clued) (32A: Like some laps and raps). Started at ALERT (4DD: Reason to check one's phone) and ended at SCAB (52D: Provider of protective coverage), with no major hang-ups along the way.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS Hey, if you're looking for another free daily puzzle to fill the void in your miserable life, or the free time in your joyous life, I suppose, here is a site where you can download all the Wall Street Journal puzzles from this year (.puz versions, regularly updated). If you want the .PDF, you can just go to the WSJ puzzle site, but their .PDFs are for left-handed people (grids on the left, wtf?!), so I'm sticking with the .puz.

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      Spiny fish named after bird / FRI 4-13-18 / Layout with little concern for privacy / Many Youtube video upload / Render undrinkable as alcohol / Piece of armor worn over shin

      Friday, April 13, 2018

      Constructor: Joe Krozel

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: SEA RAVEN (43A: Spiny fish named after a bird)
      Sea ravens are a family, the Hemitripteridae, of scorpaeniform fish. They are bottom-dwelling fish that feed on small invertebrates, found in the northwest Atlantic and north Pacific Oceans. They are covered in small spines (modified scales). (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I have been so happy in recent years to see the low-word-count puzzle fade in prominence. They're not just tough (which I don't mind) but the resulting fill is often unpleasant. Stuff like APTERAL  and VETOER and FROE (real examples). For a while there it seemed like a lot of constructors (all men) were in some kind of low-word-count arms race: Look how low mine is! Oh, yeah, well look at mine, it's lower! They became architectural stunts / pissing contests, but solving them? Yeesh, no. No fun. So when I first looked at this one, I wasn't too thrilled, especially since it's *Friday*, which is my fun day—the day when the puzzles are (ideally) reasonably breezy and wildly inventive. Saturdays are supposed to put you through the wringer, but Fridays?! Fridays want to take you to frolic on the beach and then get ice cream. Good ol' Fridays. Anyway, this Friday didn't look at all like what I wanted, but it was very doable, and ended up being far less painful than I'd feared at the outset. Not a fan of the highly-segmented, four-in-one type puzzle—the quadragon—because you have to get new traction in each quadrant. You better slide through the narrow opening into each quadrant or Good Luck. Today, the sliding was not hard. Well, 3/4 not hard... we'll talk about ZIPPERED later.


      1A: One talking a blue streak? (CUSSER)—that's a good clue, but it's also the last thing I got up there. I thought maybe STYLER (as in, your hair STYLER (?) might "talk" to you about getting a "blue streak" ... in your hair?), and that was absurd but the -ER did suggest RESOLE (the first thing in the grid) (6D: Do some cobbling work on). Then I got lucky—my sister drives a Dodge DURANGO. Or she did. Not sure if her latest SUV is still a Durango, but that hardly matters to you. What matters is she loved the original Durango and talked about it affectionately and drove it into the ground, so while I don't know all the SUV models out there, DURANGOS, I know. From that, got the -UP at the end of STORES UP, and the MORE at the end of TAKE MORE. Then PENTA. So that corner was pretty much taken care of.

      [PENTAgram]

      Then took HOW SO into the SW. Actually, I might've thrown GAZELLES across, then dropped ZIP down, then put SIP at the end of HAVE A SIP (which I thought was SMALL SIP at first), but it's HOW SO that really propelled me into that corner. Very proud that I got WEASELED off just the "W" and threw BOREAL (!) across off just the "A"—finally, teaching poetry for umpteen thousand years pays off! This corner ended up being the easiest by far. I remember very clearly adding RONDA and ROUSEY to my crossword wordlist, so she was a gimme. Only SALE DAYS (?) proved at all eely. NE might've been very tough but I got ACQUIRED / TASTES off just the -ED in ACQUIRED (7D: With 12-Down, blue cheese and black coffee, typically). Also, QUINNS would've been a gimme anyway, and probably ROBLES too. Took a little time to give sideeye to UNNAILED (?) but got out of that corner in pretty good time, which left only the SE ... sigh.

      [UMLAUT]

      So for some reason I could not come up with the letters that followed ZIP at 26D: Like many coats with liners (ZIPPERED). We had recently seen ZIP-ON, I think, and so I went looking for some kind of compound word. I even considered ZIPPABLE (what the ...?). Finally just dove into the corner blind and lucked onto EARN IT (36D: Deserve something through hard work), and then immediately double-lucked onto DIVE BAR (49A: Seedy establishment). As with WEASELED, I couldn't believe my first guess ended up being the right guess. Also, I knew GREAVE! Somehow! Total D'oh! moment when ZIPPERED finally fell in, and, well, Quoth the SEA RAVEN, "There's no more!" ... puzzle to solve. Finished. Not my favorite kind of Friday puzz, but doable and enjoyable nonetheless. Huge applause for 20A: High points? (UMLAUT). That is a hell of a clue. Super wordplay, plus the fake plural? Mwah! Good stuff.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Issuer of ukases / THU 4-12-18 / King in 1922 headlines / 2003 Afghani film that won Golden Globe / Facetious sign in lab office / Where Flash Gordon played polo / Native American charm made with willow hoop / Popular TV dramedy based on Colombian telenovela

      Thursday, April 12, 2018

      Constructor: Jules Markey

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


      THEME: CABLE BOXES (64A: TV adjuncts ... or a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — rebus puzzle with the 3-letter abbr. of four different "cable" channels hidden in boxes throughout the grid:

      Theme answers:
      • DREAM CATCHER / TEAM CREST (what the???) (17A: Native American charm made with a willow hoop / 4D: Image on a soccer jersey)
      • "UGLY BETTY" / GLOBE THEATER (21A: Popular TV dramedy based on a Colombian telenovela / 11D: Setting for Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar")
      • WISHBONES / DASHBOARD (39A: Some gridiron formations / 24D: Place for a clock or a radio)
      • "SAUSAGE PARTY" / GENIUS AT WORK (47A: 2016 comedy that takes place mainly in a supermarket / 28D: Facetious sign in a lab or office)
      Word of the Day: "SAUSAGE PARTY" (47A: 2016 comedy that takes place mainly in a supermarket) —
      Sausage Party is a 2016 American-Canadian adult computer-animated comedy filmdirected by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon and written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. It features the voices of Rogen, Kristen WiigJonah HillBill HaderMichael CeraJames FrancoDanny McBrideCraig RobinsonPaul RuddNick KrollDavid KrumholtzEdward Norton, and Salma Hayek. The film, which is a spoof of Disney and Pixar films,[8] follows a sausage named Frank who tries to discover the truth about his existence and goes on a journey with his friends to escape their fate while also facing his own arch-nemesis, a ruthless and murderous douche who intends to kill him and his friends.
      It was the first American CGI-animated film to be rated R by the MPAA. The film's rough cut premiered on March 14, 2016, at South by Southwest and the film was theatrically released in the United States and Canada on August 12, 2016, by Columbia Pictures. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I liked this one fine. Any time you've got a rebus where the contents of the rebus squares are different, and not symmetrical, the whole grid becomes a kind of minefield, and gets a whole lot tougher even if the clues themselves aren't particularly hard. I was able to track 3 of them down pretty  easily, but the GENIUS AT WORK / "SAUSAGE PARTY" one took a lot of doing. I really had to pin that last rebus square (USA) down before it would reveal itself—it was just about the last square I filled in. Never saw "SAUSAGE PARTY," but I certainly knew it existed, and *might* have had a shot at it if the words "animated" or "Seth Rogen" or "anthropomorphic food" had appeared anywhere in the clue. And GENIUS AT WORK, forget about it. Tough enough as a straight clue/answer, virtually impossible with an invisible rebus square somewhere inside it. I should say that both these answers are original and inventive. The placement of the rebus square just made them tough. I figured the rebus square would be in the symmetrical Across answer (so, in AS WE SAY, to parallel the one in UGLY BETTY), but I guess the idea is that the long Downs (11D, 28D) are the primary theme answers, i.e. parallel to one another the way DREAM CATCHER and CABLE BOXES are. Thus there is symmetry in the involved answers, if not in the actual boxes themselves.


      I was totally thrown by there not being a rebus square in IN A PIG'S EYE, but now I see why. The phrase CABLE BOXES fairly screams "make a rebus puzzle based on me," so I'm slightly surprised someone hadn't done it sooner. DREAM CATCHER was mercifully easy, so I knew there was some kind of rebus pretty early on (after stumbling with STAT instead of ODDS at 1D: Sports figures, plural!!!). I hesitated in stunned disbelief that for the second time this month I was going to be asked to write in BIC PEN (???) (6D: Product advertised withthe slogan "Writes first time, every time"). I wrote the goddess of peace as IRENA and then couldn't figure out the D&D characters (ELVES) and even second-guessed IN A PIG'S EYE, thinking maybe it was in his EAR (...something about a sow's ear...) (29A: "Fat chance!"). Not too many tricky things here, besides the rebuses. Oh, there will undoubtedly be some solvers asking this question:


      Just pick up your phone and look at the number keypad. Specifically at the number "8"—voilà! Our phones pretty much dial themselves now, so general familiarity with the concept the keypad and its features is diminishing precipitously, I'd imagine.


      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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