Alice's cat in Through Looking Glass / WED 6-20-18 / Small Eurasian songbird / Goes by livery taxi / Firecracker goes in one / Religious leader usually sporting beard / Real dogs eat meat sloganeer

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:59, slowish for me, but I'm getting over a cold and my eyes are dry and the fan was irritating them etc. ...)

THEME: OU -> U — phrases with "ou" words have the "o" removed, creating good old-fashioned wackiness...

Theme answers:
  • PROPER NUN (17A: Well-behaved sister?)
  • FUR ON THE FLOOR (23A: Evidence of a cat fight?)
  • CURSE CORRECTION (37A: TV bleep?)
  • CURT REPORTERS (45A: Impolite press conference attendees?)
  • PALACE CUP (59A: Part of the queen's tea service?)
Word of the Day: Jacques PÉPIN (48D: TV chef Jacques) —
Jacques Pépin (French pronunciation: ​[ʒak pepɛ̃]; born December 18, 1935) is an internationally recognized French chef, television personality, and author working in the United States. Since the late 1980s, he has appeared on French and American television and written an array of cookbooks that have become best sellers.
• • •

I just don't care about this. It's not trying to be anything but a warmed over puzzle from 1982. There's not even a clever revealer. Take out the "O" ... tada? Besides BULLFINCH (9D: Small Eurasian songbird) and GOOD FAIRY (3D: Tinker Bell, e.g.), there's nothing good here. HIRES A CAR made me want to SHUT A COMPUTER, namely my own. Super-choppy grid with infinite 3-to-5-letter words, most of them repeaters. Proper n(o)uns are mostly from the olden days (e.g. GARBO, PÉPIN). Alice's cat??? And any puzzle that contains UEYS is going to get multiple NAYS from me. Puzzles simply must be more colorful, more current, and more ambitious than this. Demand better. Sorry I can't do more for you today, but this puzzle just doesn't warrant it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mercenary for British in Revolutionary war / TUE 6-19-18 / Candy with comic once / Hit 2016 animated film with tagline welcome to urban jungle / Litmus paper reddener

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (3:43), though it's slightly oversized, so the actual difficulty level may be closer to Medium 

THEME: TRIGGER / WARNING (26D: With 25-Down, caution before a potentially upsetting lecture ... or a hint to 19- and 59-Across and 7-Down?) — firearms are in all the theme answers ... at least I think that's it. I don't really get the WARNING part:

Theme answers:
  • RIDES SHOTGUN (19A: Sits in the front passenger seat)
  • RIFLE THROUGH (59A: Do a hurried search in)
  • BAZOOKA BUBBLEGUM (7D: Candy with a comic, once)
Word of the Day: Henri ROUSSEAU (68A: French painter Henri known for "The Sleeping Gypsy") —
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (French: [ɑ̃ʁi ʒyljɛ̃ feliks ʁuso]; May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll and tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties; by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time.
Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality. Rousseau's work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so that is *not* the Tuesday ROUSSEAU, you guys. Tuesday: Jean-Jacques. Saturday: Henri. It's pretty straightforward.

I liked how weird this puzzle was—the strange shape, the relative openness, some buzzy answers—but conceptually I'm slightly confused. I see that the theme answers all have firearms in them, and firearms have TRIGGERs, but how exactly does WARNING fit in? Is the revealer WARNING me that there are things with TRIGGERs in the theme answers? But the word "hint" in the revealer clue would appear to be doing the alerting, or "warning" ... so WARNING feels extraneous. Just hanging out there, doing nothing. Further: guns, violence, yuck. This is a personal thing, but I don't really want to participate in crossword gunfests. Guns don't "tickle" me, I guess. Too much daily slaughter in this country for me to be able to enjoy cutesy gun-related wordplay. Also, wish the grid had been flipped so TRIGGER came first. It's like a crooked picture frame, the placement of the revealer answers. I just want to fix it. First word should come first, not second. But instead the first word is 26D and the second word is 25D and the whole thing feels alop. BAZOOKA BUBBLEGUM messes everything up by being 16 letters long, which means TRIGGER and WARNING can't sit evenly on opposite sides of the grid, which would be ideal, and which they would be able to do in a grid with the normal 15 rows. And so here we are with wonky TRIGGER and WARNING. Aesthetically, it's irking me. But if I just pretend there's no theme, I actually like this grid pretty well, except for WANGLE, which is about the most off-putting word in the English language (67A: Accomplish schemingly). I really wanted WRANGLE there, as it's a good word, as opposed to WANGLE, which is like WIGGLE and DANGLE got together pretended to be a phallus. I mean, come on. It's got WANG right in the name.

That FIREPLUG clue, what the hell? (64A: Short, stocky person, figuratively). Seems to be used primarily, if not exclusively, of athletes (at least in the dictionary defs that I'm seeing). Kind of important context, in that it seems a bit like an insult otherwise. Not really sure what ALLSPICE is—if I had to name all the spices, I'm not sure I'd name ALLSPICE—and I have no idea what "ZOOTOPIA" is. SAN REMO, also tough, and PITEOUS took a lot of crosses too. I think this puzzle really was somewhat tougher than the usual Tuesday, but again, because of the colorfulness, I didn't mind. Well, ORDERER I mind :( And of course WANGLE. The goodwill that the puzzle lost by playing with guns it won back somewhat with one word: ASYLUM (69A: A political refugee might seek it). I'm tempted to leave you with pictures of children being torn from their parents or audio of distraught children being held in "camps," missing their parents and crying while U.S. border patrol agents make jokes about them, but instead I'll just express my sincere hope that your own family is safe and happy and free.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. after I finished this write-up, I noticed the following tweet ... which shows that I was not the only one to have issues with this gun theme. Not by a longshot.

Click here to read the editor's whole write-up, complete with amazingly gratuitous and insensitive photograph (a very specific kind of RIFLE, being fired in ... Florida). Thanks to my friend Erin for passing along this little tidbit:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Actress Raymonde of Lost / MON 6-18-18 / Trendy much used lingo / Hawaiian surfing mecca / Candy suckers in form of jewelry

Monday, June 18, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:10)

THEME: BUZZ WORDS (59A: Trendy, much-used lingo ... or a hint to the starts of 16-, 23-, 35- and 48-Across) — "starts" of those answers are synonyms for "BUZZ" (as in "contact via telephone"):

Theme answers:
  • PHONE JACK (16A: Wall fixture for a landline)
  • DIAL SOAP (23A: Bathroom bar offering so-called "round-the-clock" protection)
  • CALL TO ORDER (35A: Start, as a meeting)
  • RING POPS (48A: Candy suckers in the form of jewelry)
Word of the Day: TANIA Raymonde (15A: Actress Raymonde of "Lost") —
Tania Raymonde (born Tania Raymonde Helen Katz; March 22, 1988) is an American actress. She began her career in the recurring character of Cynthia Sanders in TV series Malcolm in the Middle between 2000 and 2002, followed by the role of Alex Rousseau in the ABC series Lost from 2006 to 2010. She has since played Carla Rinaldi on MTV's Death Valley(2011), starred in the horror film Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) and portrayed Jodi Arias, the title role in the TV movie Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret (2013). In April 2015, she joined the cast of the TNT series The Last Ship. She is a star of the current Amazon Video series Goliath. (wikipedia)
• • •

First-words-type puzzle. Very old-school. This one has a kicky little revealer, which is probably the nicest answer in the grid, but it's still just a ... first-words-type puzzle. Also, the "phone" in PHONE JACK refers directly to the telephone, whereas the other first words all go another direction (different DIAL, different CALL, different RING). That's a ding. Another ding: the weird grid shape that gives us non-themers (specifically MACADMIA and SNAIL MAIL) right alongside themers of exactly the same length. That alone is awkward, and it's especially awkward when those non-themers are *longer* than some themers in the grid  (i.e. MACADAMIA is longer than DIAL SOAP or RING POPS). The grid has weird big corners and a badly black square-riddled middle. It's structurally all kind of a mess, and conceptually ... it's just plain. Old-fashioned. TAJ is a name part. AMAT is crosswordese. EKING, APING, NOS ... there's just too much that needs improving. Monday is usually pretty reliable, and while this one is by no means terrible, it's just not up to par. Also, UNICOLOR? Come on, no one says that.

["I hope he's talking to a he not a she..." LOL, OK...]
[from the "Sixteen Candles" soundtrack]

AS SOON is obviously terrible fill—it's long *and* it's partial, and if you have to use it (which you shouldn't) why in the world, why why why would you do the incredibly annoying thing of writing a *cross-reference* clue to yet another not-great answer (1A: ASAP). Do not call attention to the worst answers in your grid by giving them grievous, convoluted clues that require the solver to stop and think about how bad the whole situation is. Just write a simple clue, minimize damage, and move on. If your puzzle is good, the solver will forget the badness. AS SOON ... that's not an answer, that's a wind instrument typo. My biggest struggles today were TANIA (who?) and the horrible dumb crosswordese CZAR, which is a spelling that I only associate with political titles like "Drug CZAR" or whatever. The actual Russian rulers (54D: Ruler until 1917) are almost always spelled TSAR, which is how I spelled this answer first time out. I also wrote in NIL for ZIP (60D: Nada), so seeing BUZZ WORDS was oddly hard. Yet another way this puzzle found to be mildly annoying. Lastly, CANNED IT in the past tense is hilarious. You say "can it!" to get someone to shut up, but "he CANNED IT...."????  If you google ["Canned it"] you will get a host of sites related to canning, as in the process of putting things into cans. Past tense of the colloquial CANNED IT is implausible. Again, as with UNICOLOR, I just can't hear it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. thanks very much to Oliver Roeder for filling in for me yesterday. Ollie is a senior writer for Check out his weekly puzzle column, "The Riddler," if you like math, logic, and probability challenges.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Director Taika / SUN 6-17-18 / Charlize Theron's role in 2015's "Mad Max" reboot

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard, Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Easyish (for me, your guest blogger, 16:58)

THEME: Tricky Trios — The four across-themers are famous trios, the third and final elements of which are "standing," as in they are standing vertically in the down entries that meet the end of the across entry, as revealed by the final long entry, "LASTONESTANDING."

Word of the Day: Taika WAITITI (98A: Director Taika ___) —

Taika David Waititi (/ˈtaɪkə waɪˈtiːti/; born 16 August 1975), also known as Taika Cohen, is a New Zealand film director, screenwriter, actor, and comedian. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night. His feature films Boy (2010) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) have each been the top-grossing New Zealand film, with the latter still holding that title as of 2018. He co-directed the horror comedy film What We Do in the Shadows (2014) with Jemaine Clement, which brought him further critical acclaim and recognition. Waititi later directed the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which received critical acclaim. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Dear readers, I shall not bury the lede: Rex Parker is not here. He's off gallivanting beneath the bright lights of Broadway in our fair borough of Manhattan, I believe. Anyway, I'm 100 percent sure about the gallivanting part. So, alas, you're stuck with me for the next few hundred words. And now that Mr. Parker has been so kind (i.e., gullible) as to let me alight in his aerie, I would like to pull back the curtain a hair and shed a sliver of light on a trade secret: Rex does the crossword at night. He does tomorrow morning's crossword the night before! You all probably know this already but you see, folks, I didn't even know it was physically or metaphysically possible to do crossword puzzles at night. I barely knew it was legal. My personal crossword-puzzle-solving fuel is a complex and finely orchestrated cocktail that combusts best in the a.m.: the chill air of morning, the harsh light of day, cheap coffee, a cigarette. Yet here I am, in the middle of the night, solving Sunday's crossword on Saturday. I feel very well through the looking glass. Anyway, onward, through the mists.

Theme answers:
  • SNAPCRACKLEAND[PO]P (23A: Breakfast trio)
  • KUKLAFRANAND[OLLI]E (38A: Puppet show trio)
  • WYNKENBLYNKENAND[NO]D (64A: Sailing trio)
  • PETERPAULAND[MAR]Y (87A: Folk trio)
  • LASTONESTANDING (Survivor of an all-out brawl ... or a hint to 23-, 38-, 64- and 87-Across) 
I haven't written 39,218 of these blogs already like Rex has, so I think I'm well within my wide-eyed rights to say: I really liked this! Not least of which among the reasons for that is that I'm still sort of floating from seeing one of this puzzle's co-authors, Mr. Agard, win the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in no less than miraculous fashion back in March. This puzzle was smooooth—a deluxe $5 decaf on a Saturday night.

Everything went so swimmingly time-wise at first as I eyed a personal best under these borrowed bright lights: From the jump, I knew there was some geometric funny business going on in this grid because SNAPCRACKLEANDPOP didn't fit and I was confidently unaware of other breakfast trios that matched my downs. My first thought was ampersand rebus!, but not to be. My second was, pop rebus! Again, rebus rebuffed.

So I puttered around for a while, leveraging some geography bee knowledge with CANADA and HELSINKI and the like, and then stumbled on what was the key to unlocking this for me and what may be the single most beautiful word in the English language: my first name, "Ollie." As in, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, a theme answer here and the delightfully bizarre-looking midcentury puppet television show. I have never seen it, but know its name from the VCR cassettes that would mysteriously populate my girlfriend's father's house. That's the beautiful thing about crosswords: They grind rare and bizarre and disparate personal experiences into the tidy answer boxes and you and I feel as though we are connected. Don't we?

Anyway, that made the revealer and rest of the themers pieces of cake and I was cruising to a P.B. that I would brag about at length here when all of a sudden ...


I wrote everything you could possibly write in here. RUNFORTHEHILLS. HEADFORTHEHILL-oops.  HEADTOTHEHILLS. RUNFORTHEHILLL. (That last one was a typo.) It turns out that in my addled mind there were many ways to flee, none of which Agard, Chung and Ni were looking for. Let's chalk it up to an overdeveloped "flight" part of my fight-or-flight response. Fight-or-flight-or-flight-or-flight-or-flight.

The short stuff—I know Rex likes to talk about the short stuff—seemed OK: there's TOK but the clue ("TiK ___" (Kesha hit)) saves it in my book. And the old standards ESL, IRASAL, ANIN, but hey, this is a crossword puzzle, and they always seem like old friends to me. Speaking of, my buddy BRIN got his first name in here, too, but clued as the much less famous head of some company called Google? Also there's ASS (___-backwards).

As a journalist in New York, I loved the WYNC shoutout. AFLAC's advertising continues to be highly effective if only for crossword solving. One's liberal arts education does not go to waste with the inclusion of LOCKE. Nor does your misspent youth with KILO, LSD and UNCORK. Or your lamely spent one with LIMESODA.

Anyway, we'll all live to fight (or flight) another day. Thanks, Rex. (And apologies for this blog post in advance.)

  • 78A: Strip pokers? (AWLS) — I had noooo idea what this meant for an embarrassingly long amount of time.
  • 84D: Charlize Theron's role in 2015's "Mad Max" reboot (FURIOSA) — I never saw it but, given the title of the movie, makes sense. OK well I saw 10 or so minutes and got scared and turned it off.
  • 63D: Nursing facility? (MAMMARYGLAND) — I get it.
  • 13D: In view? (POPULAROPINION) — You see, what this is clue is doing is depending on what the definition of "in" is, and according to Merriam... OK, I'll shut up.
Signed, Oliver (Ollie) Roeder, Savant Dunce of CrossWorld

[Follow Oliver on Twitter ... if you dare]


Ancient Greek colonnade / SAT 6-16-18 / Vacation destinations off coast of Venezuela / Japanese lunch option / path of overnight star / Flawlessly styled in modern slang / Former reality TV show first hosted by Anderson Cooper / Argentine soccer star, informally / Letters before Q

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:48)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: CLOVIS (20D: First king to unite all the Frankish tribes) —
Clovis (LatinChlodovechus; reconstructed Frankish*Hlōdowig c. 466 – 27 November 511) was the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler [wikicluing!], changing the form of leadership from a group of royal chieftains to rule by a single king and ensuring that the kingship was passed down to his heirs. He is considered to have been the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled the Frankish kingdom for the next two centuries. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was fabulous. It was so good that I'm not even that mad about a couple of really regrettable answers. The cluing was smart and sassy, and the fill was diverse and (often) contemporary. The whole thing was playful and fun, from the dad-joke "EXCUSE YOU!" (15A: Comment after a burp) to the clue on LGBT (10A: Letters before Q) (!) to the delicious BENTO BOX to the World Cup-relevant LEO MESSI (10D: Argentine soccer star, informally) to the weird trip down reality TV memory lane with "THE MOLE" (21A: Former reality TV show first hosted by Anderson Cooper) to, heck, even the clue on RING TOSS, which is perfectly misdirective (37D: Fair game). All that, and it was easier than usual, which always gives one a triumphant feeling. I got AZERA right off the bat, and that proved very helpful in giving me instant momentum. The "Z" wasn't immediately helpful (I was looking for ZENITH ... something), but, oddly, all the common letters in AZERA were. I had to get ZERO TO HERO entirely from crosses because, until the last square, I was totally misunderstanding what kind of "star" we were dealing with (2D: Path of an overnight star).

So let's look briefly at the regrettable answers. First, WIN AN OSCAR, which is about as EAT A SANDWICH an answer as I've ever seen in a grid. WIN AN EMMY / GRAMMY / TONY / SWEEPSTAKES / RACE  ... these are phrases one might say, but they are not tight, not standalone-worthy. So, for example, GET A LIFE, yes, GET A ROOM, yes, GET A POODLE, no (despite the fact that a human being might, in fact, GET A POODLE). The clue is also kind of dumb; it makes assumptions about what actors want to do (28D: What every actor would probably like to do). So that answer is a bit ridiculous ... whereas FAT ELVIS is just mean (36D: The King, late in his career). It's also not really a thing unless you clue it as the colloquial term for the Elvis stamp the public *didn't* vote for. Elvis definitely got fat, but FAT ELVIS was not a phrase of any standing until the whole stamp vote thing (26 years ago this month). FAT ELVIS is a loser in a national stamp vote. I could accept a stamp clue; but even then it's pretty insulting. Without a stamp clue, well, I OBJECT (19A: Court interruption). Also, I probably would've changed BEERY to LEERY because I just don't think anyone says BEERY (47D: Like pub patrons). But like I said, the rest of this thing sizzles so I'll take this one, FAT ELVIS, WIN AN OSCAR and all.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. waaaaaait a sec. Is a PALM tree the same as a palmetto? (26D: Image on the South Carolina flag)??? A quick perusal of the internet says ... not exactly: While they are all members of the Arecaceae family, palmettos (Sabal adans.) and palms are not the same plants." I see things called "palmetto palms," so maybe there's some common-parlance kind of way that this clue works, but ... it's the dang Palemetto State. Calling it just a PALMseems off.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Very muscular in slang / FRI 6-15-18 / Surname at Daily Planet / Hired gun in underworld lingo / Early conqueror of Valencia / River running down to sunless sea in Kubla Khan / Border river in Midwest / Second-most common family name in Vietnam

    Friday, June 15, 2018

    Constructor: Sam Ezersky

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (6:17 ... on the slower side for me, but this was a 4 a.m. solve and I was bleary-eyed and mostly just poking at it)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: LA LIGA (2D: Spanish pro soccer association) —
    The Primera División, commonly known as La Liga and as La Liga Santander for sponsorship reasons with Santander, is the men's top professional association footballdivision of the Spanish football league system. Administrated by the Liga de Fútbol Profesional(LFP), La Liga is contested by 20 teams, with the three lowest-placed teams relegated to the Segunda División and replaced by the top two teams in that division plus the winner of a play-off.
    A total of 62 teams have competed in La Liga since its inception. Nine teams have been crowned champions, with Real Madrid winning the title a record 33 times and Barcelona 25 times. After Athletic Bilbao claimed several titles in the league's early years, Real Madrid dominated the championship from the 1950s through to the 1980s, when Athletic and neighbours Real Sociedad each won the league twice. From the 1990s onwards, Barcelona (15 titles) and Real Madrid (9 titles) were both prominent, though La Liga also saw other champions, including Atlético MadridValencia, and Deportivo de La Coruña. In the 2010s, Atlético Madrid became increasingly strong, forming a trio alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona which occupied the podium places exclusively. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Great run through the middle. The rest was just OK. Got off to a very bad start with 1D: Perfumery compound (ACETAL), which ... how many damn ACE- words are there. -TATE, -TONE, -TYL, and now this? If it's perfume I know ESTER and ATTAR and maybe ENOL (is that related to perfume?), and then I'm out. ACETAL just isn't fun. But LA LIGA is, and it's football (i.e. soccer) mania now with the World Cup going on, so I enjoyed seeing this answer. I also weirdly enjoyed remembering that LANCE BASS exists (25A: Singer with the 2007 autobiography "Out of Sync"), though I'm reminded of that on a pretty regular bas(s)is, because I some how own this truck:

    And another one like it featuring a different member of N*SYNC (Joey, I think). I used to have a buy-silly-crap problem. It's somewhat better now.

    [35A: Perform a disco dance]

    Biggest problems of the day involved LOP-EARED (14A: Like the Trix rabbit), which I couldn't see/parse well at all, and then DNA BANK (15D: Modern sort of "Noah's Ark"), which is a term I'm not that familiar with and so once I got to DNA-ANK, I made it a TANK—a DNA TANK. Like a FISH TANK, but ... for DNA. I almost made it a ZANK because of BOZO at 24A: Classic clown name, but then weirdly BOZO ended up being the answer to 24-Down, which was also [Classic clown name]. So I had BOTO / TANK for a bit. I was totally prepared to believe that there was a clown so "classic" I had never heard of him. Sounded vaguely Italian. BOTO, the vaguely Italian classic clown. Why not?

    • 56A: "Star Wars" villain (KYLO REN) — lots of trouble with this because ... I read "Star Trek"; I blame AGA KHAAAAAAAAAN! Hey, waaaaaaaait a minute. KHAN is in the clue for ALPH (6D: River running "down to a sunless sea," in "Kubla KHAN"), an answer that actually crosses AGA KHAN. That ... seems like an oversight. Shouldn't replicate a conspicuous clue word like that.
    • 33D: Investor's purchase outside an exchange, informally (OTC STOCK) — I'm used to seeing OTC clued this way, but man it looks/sounds dumb all written out fully like this.
    • 47D: Commercial lead-in to X (UBER) — I do not understand this clue. What is UBER X? Is X a variable, so it's actually UBER-[anything]? Oh ... looks like UberX is some subset of Uber (the rideshare service). That is a pretty niche clue. I've never taken an Uber in my life, so all the  Uber subtypes ... yeah, I haven't bothered to read up on those. 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Source of multicolored Maos / THU 6-14-18 / Way to put legislators on record / Dual-purpose viewing equipment / Classic fantasy game informally / Promontory with tragic romantic story connected to it

    Thursday, June 14, 2018

    Constructor: Joe Krozel

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (~5:50 ... though clock read in the low 8s ... explanation below)

    THEME: ROLL CALL VOTE (1A: With 44- and 76-across, way to put legislators on record ... or the start, middle and end of a word ladder) — a word ladder [yes, in the year of our lord 2018, a word ladder] that goes from ROLL to VOTE, with CALL at the center. The other "steps" in the ladder have nothing to do with legislators, afaict]:

    Theme answers:
    Word of the Day: AISHA Tyler (17A: Talk show host/actress Tyler) —
    Aisha N. Tyler (born September 18, 1970) is an American talk show host, actress, comedian, author, producer, writer, and director. She is known for portraying Andrea Marino in the first season of Ghost Whisperer, voicing Lana Kane in Archer, portraying Dr. Tara Lewis in Criminal Minds and portraying Mother Nature in the Santa Clause film series, as well as recurring roles in CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationTalk Soup and Friends. She is a former co-host of CBS's The Talk, and the host of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Tyler also hosted Ubisoft's E3 press conferences from 2012 to 2016, and has made various video game appearances including Halo: Reach and Ubisoft's Watch Dogs where her voice and likeness are featured. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Do you really need me for this? I'll give you a little peek at what solving this puzzle was like inside my household tonight. Me: [opens puzzle, reads 1-Across, closes puzzle, rethinks chosen blogging lifestyle]. Wife, speaking from next room: "Alright, here I go ... oh, god." It's so bad. It's all so bad. First, it's a word ladder. And honestly, we can stop there. No one wants a word ladder. They are joyless exercises in joylessness. They are the mustiest, oldest, tiredest of theme concepts, and though this one tweaks the concept ever-so-slightly (by making the first middle and last "step" a coherent phrase), the tweaking was minor and weird, and in the end, it was still a word ladder. There is nothing to them. Literally nothing. I mean, check out the clues ... imagine thinking [Sixth clue ...] is a good thing, an exciting thing, a reason you subscribe to the "greatest puzzle in the world." And there are So Many Steps Dear Lord Whyyyy!? And you can go from PALL straight to MALL! Why are there all those other "steps"? What kind of circuitous "ladder" is this??? This, solvers, is what it looks like when a monopoly thumbs its nose at you. And it's oversized (16-wide!). LOL. Enjoy!

    I sincerely shut the puzzle down so I could mentally regroup, so visceral was my negative reaction to 1-Across. Long, convoluted ... and—and I can't stress this enough—a word ladder. So I was probably 2 and half minutes away from the puzzle before I started it in earnest. I finished in the low 8s, so I figure I was in the high 5s, but I was never really doing this with any kind of pace. My heart just wasn't in it. I would never have bothered with this puzzle At All if I hadn't had to write about it. Would've quit at 1-Across and not felt bad about it at all. But I did solve it, so ... there are some really off-putting things in here. CHOKE COLLAR, for one. They're bad. They have the word "choke" in their name. If they were nice, they'd have a nicer name. When was choking ever good. Please don't at me with your fake-woke "Well actually some dogs..." nonsense. Choking is something you can take right out of my puzzle, thanks—unless a team chokes in a game, or you choke up on a bat, or maybe there's some slang for artichokes out there ... but choking living beings, pass. Worse, way worse, is the eugenics nonsense clue on ROYAL BLOOD (19A: Nice genealogical find). "Nice?" "Nice?" Who are you? Who wrote this, my racist great aunt?* Who the heck cares about the royalness of blood. Ick, this racist world is bad enough without people fetishizing blood like that. Hard pass. Oh, and then we've got suicide at LOVER'S LEAP, so that's nice. This puzzle is putrid at every level. Here, I'm gonna let other people take over now, bye.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    *this great aunt is fictional, but, you know, plausible

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Old cylindrical music collectible / WED 6-13-18 / So called father of string quartet / science friday broadcaster / Frodo's friend in lord of rings / Blues singer Ma

    Wednesday, June 13, 2018

    Constructor: Michael Hawkins

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:21)

    THEME: sewing, I guess — themers end with SEAMS, THREAD, NEEDLE, and STITCHES, respectively:

    Theme answers:
    • BURST AT THE SEAMS (17A: Not be contained anymore)
    • LOSE THE THREAD (27A: Forget one's place in a conversation)
    • MOVE THE NEEDLE (39A: Have measurable impact)
    • LEAVE IN STITCHES (50A: Make laugh hysterically)
    Word of the Day: Ma RAINEY (15D: Blues singer Ma) —
    "Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett, September 1882[ or April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the earliest African-American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of blues singers to record. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues". (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Four themers loosely connected by their last words. Again, we get an adequate, common theme-type and a grid that feels phoned in from decades ago. There's not even a revealer or any kind of wordplay to make this theme snap together. Just a general word grouping. And sometimes those words are directly related to the sewing meaning (BURST AT THE SEAMS) and sometimes they're not (MOVE THE NEEDLE). It's all just so weak. Just so much filler. And the grid is so so choppy. Cascading short answers, the grid awash in 3s and 4s (again). Just did this week's American Values Club Crossword, which just makes a mockery of most NYT themed puzzles (as do most AVCXwords). Oh, and it was made by a woman, but let's stay on topic. Why is the "best puzzle in the world" this mediocre? More of you need to be asking this. Aloud. Or in writing.

    Even to recount my journey through this puzzle is an exercise in dullness. Wanted SNEEZE at 1A: Cause for a blessing (ACHOO) and it wouldn't fit so ABBA / ADA / HORA etc. Done. I do not believe that BROWN RICE is a [Side dish at a Chinese restaurant]. I'm sure you can get it if you ask, but the association there is not strong. Chinese restaurants serve white rice. The only thing I remember about solving this is having trouble with GENTLE (of all things!) (24D: Soothing). Had the GEN-, wrote in GENIAL (?!), which is not a terrible guess, but GENTLE is certainly better, as well as being a hell of a lot more ordinary. I liked ON THE SLY, and LEDTVS was fun to parse, and honestly the grid is not tortured. It's just clogged with repeaters, yet again, and the theme is tepid, yet again, and I just want ... better. I don't expect it to happen any time soon. Huge pay raise and a much more conscientious editorship would help. But again, don't hold your breath. Good night.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Old Icelandic saga / TUE 6-12-18 / Cat burglar's shoe purchase / Polynesian shindig / Loudly crying face for one / Makeba singer known as Mama Africa

    Tuesday, June 12, 2018

    Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Tracy Gray

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:20)

    THEME: JUST FOR KICKS (48A: Why the buyers of 20-, 28- and 42-Across are in the shoe store?) — ordinary, non-shoe-related two-word phrases are clued as if the second word in each phrase was a shoe

    Theme answers:
    • SUCTION PUMPS (20A: Cat burglar's shoe purchase?)
    • WATER MOCCASINS (28A: Synchronized swimmer's shoe purchase?)
    • PARTY PLATFORMS (42A: Even coordinator's shoe purchase?)
    Word of the Day: MIRIAM Makeba (25D: ___ Makeba, singer known as "Mama Africa")
    Zenzile Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil-rights activist. Associated with musical genres including Afropopjazz, and world music, she was an advocate against apartheid and white-minority government in South Africa.
    • • •

    Dull but satisfactory.  The whole conceit seems forced. Not the shoe part, but the revealer and its clue, and, well, just the whole idea of people going to a shoe store. I get the wordplay in the revealer ("kicks" = slang for shoes), but the JUST FOR part ... I don't get so much. I mean, if the premise is that you are "in the shoe store," then why else would you be there? That is why the store exists. That is what they sell. If you were in Wal-Mart JUST FOR KICKS (i.e. shoes), well, then, the JUST FOR makes sense, as there are so many other things one might purchase there. I'm just saying that these are shoe puns, which are fine, or at least, you know, the kind of thing one might build a theme around, but this particular revealer and the "shoppers in a shoe store" premise just feels forced, is all. As for the rest of the grid, it's glutted with repeaters. The grid is constructed for maximum crosswordese (i.e. hyper-dense with 3/4/5-letter words), and from IROC to URSA to EDDA to ABIE to etc., the puzzle really plays the hits. It's not a grotesque grid. It's clean, but dull clean. A beige countertop, well scrubbed. Longer Downs are more interesting, but longer answers are always more interesting, and these aren't particularly memorable. TBOONE seems really obnoxious, as name parts go. I would say the same about CTHOMAS or MEMMET. I think only J EDGAR can get away with this nonsense. On the whole, then, I don't know ... the puzzle works, but it's joyless. No BOOS, just a shrug.

    I was slow to pick up the theme, as I had SUCTION and could think of nothing but CUPS. Even now, looking at SUCTION PUMPS, I keep thinking, "what ... is that? It sounds like a thing, but it also just sounds like ... a pump." Anyway, I'm not questioning its somethingness, just saying that PUMPS took every cross to get. After that, nothing was particularly tough, but then I know "ABIE Baby" because it's crosswordese and IROC because it's crosswordese and EDDA because well actually because I'm a medievalist but also because it's crosswordese. Particularly with something like "ABIE Baby," where it's a proper noun and bygone and crosswordese, I feel guilty for plunking it down immediately. This puzzle skews awfully old, now that I look at it. Who says WHO DAT? (besides ... maybe Saints fans? Bengals fans? I forget, one of those...) (quick check: WHO DAT? is Saints, WHO DEY? is Bengals, for some reason). Not much more to say. This is a placeholder puzzle. For a Tuesday ... well, that's above average. Not good. But above average, for sure.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Hand tool for boring holes / MON 6-11-18 / Tropical tree with hot pink flowers / Danny DeVito's role in 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest / Spreadsheet amount shown in parentheses

    Monday, June 11, 2018

    Constructor: Gary Cee

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:56)

    THEME: DRINKS ARE ON ME (35A: "I've got this round!" ... or a literal hint to this puzzle's theme) —Drinks (not clued as drinks) sit literally on top of the word "ME" (in circled squares) four times:

    Theme answers:
    • SIDECAR (17A: Motorcycle attachment)
    • MIMOSA (21A: Tropical tree with hot pink flowers)
    • GIMLET (53A: Hand tool for boring holes)
    • MARTINI (61A: Danny DeVito's role in 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") [why is "1975's" in this clue???]
    Word of the Day: GIMLET —
    1. 1. 
      a small T-shaped tool with a screw-tip for boring holes. (google)
    • • •

    The hardest part of this puzzle by far was the themers. Every one of them except SIDECAR is best known as a drink name, so cluing them otherwise was rough. But nothing about this puzzle was rough in the least, so it ended up being snugly in Monday difficulty territory. GAVOTTE is maybe not quite a Monday word, but it's featured in one of the better known songs in pop music history, so I figure people at least know it that way. (I always thought she was saying that he watched his "silk cravat")

    Putting short drink names on ME is not technically so difficult, but I like the concept. I think it works. The grid is way too crammed with repeaters (a nicer word for "crosswordese"), largely because it's constructed in a super-choppy way, creating tons of 3- and 4-letter answers. So that part was less than pleasant. But for all that, the grid was pretty smooth, and there are some nice moments (LOOK ALIVE! TIDE OVER), and so, especially in the wake of yesterday's disaster, I will take this.

    UPI EMI BMI RPI REI UPS ... only two of these were actually in the puzzle, but a lot of these answers bleed into one another in my head. I got UPI and EMI right, but I feel like it was dumb luck. My fingers just instinctively entered my first guesses and then the crosses confirmed them. Not really much to talk about in this one. ONE YARD is absurd, as it opens the floodgates for [insert number here] YARDS. Well, probably a number 100 or less. Still, ONE YARD, harrumph. Never did get the whole WREAKS / WRECKS (havoc) thing straight. Actually, I know it's WREAK, but I feel like people pronounce it "wreck," which makes me wonder if that's a mistake or if that's its actual pronunciation, spelling be damned. Anyway, it's WREAK, and the past tense is just WREAKED, if you somehow didn't know and find yourself needing this info in the future.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Title kitten in Key Peele action comedy / SUN 6-10-18 / Early online forum / Rope for strangulation / Utah's Canyon locale of petroglyphs

    Sunday, June 10, 2018

    Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:50)

    THEME: "Rush Hour Headaches" — rush hour-related puns (?)

    Theme answers:
    • CHUTE FOR THE STARS 923A: Lane restricted to allow motorcades through?)
    • CRAMPING MY STILE (36A: Pressing and shoving me as I enter the subway?) 
    • ROUTE OF ALL EVIL (55A: Highway obstructed by accidents, detours and contruction?)
    • BUSSED YOUR BUTT (82A: Took public transportation while one's wheels were at the shop?)
    • I NEED TO LOSE WAIT (98A: "This tollbooth line will make me late!"?)
    • PAY YOUR FARE SHARE (116A: Split an Uber?)
    • MAKE THE TEEM (15D: Get to Grand Central right at 5:00?)
    • GIMME A BRAKE (66D: "I'm scared by the speed you're going in this traffic!"?)
    Word of the Day: Priyanka CHOPRA (60D: "Quantico" actress Priyanka) —
    Priyanka Chopra (pronounced [prɪˈjaːŋkaː ˈtʃoːpɽaː]; born 18 July 1982) is an Indian actress, singer, film producer, philanthropist, and the winner of the Miss World 2000 pageant. One of India's highest-paid and most popular celebrities, Chopra has received numerous awards, including a National Film Award and Filmfare Awards in five categories. In 2016, the Government of India honoured her with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, and Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the worldForbes listed her among the World's 100 Most Powerful Women in 2017. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I don't really want to get in to it. This is not a good puzzle, but sadly it isn't far off of average for the NYT Sunday, of late. Or maybe "of ever." Weak, awkward puns ... but big, so there's more pain to experience. I continue to be stunned that they don't get better submissions than this. Why Don't The Good Constructors Make Sundaysssss!? The state of the NYT Sunday is a travesty and a tragedy and more of y'all should be barking at the powers that be to get their **** together (note: **** = "acts," if anyone asks). I haven't even seen tomorrow's Washington Post Sunday puzzle (by Evan Birnholz), but I guarantee you—GARE UNH TEEEEE U!—it's better than this. Evan's most shamelessly phoned-in effort is gonna be better than this, because conceptually, this just isn't good enough. It's the opposite of ambitious. It's the epitome of rehashed. And the puns miss so bad, so much of the time. What even *is* a "CHUTE," traffic-wise. I've been driving for over 30 years, and the only chutes I know about are, like, trash chutes, and the game Chutes & Ladders, and then maybe water parks have chutes that you go down (another name for "water slides"?). I dunno. I *do* know that I would probably have been 30 seconds to a minute faster than I was if I hadn't stared blankly at MAKE THE TEEM for so long ... first, was not expecting a themer there, in the Down position, but second and more importantly, TEEM is a noun now?? As in "the time when a place is TEEMing with people?" Can you hear the depth and magnitude of my exasperated sighs. I feel like New Jersey can hear me.

    Why is there no BUTT-specific part of the clue for BUSSED YOUR BUTT? Please, dear lord, liven this thing up somehow. And *that* is your WAIT pun?? I NEED TO LOSE WAIT? Where do I begin to explain why this isn't good? As with the TEEM answer, the phrasing just doesn't work, at all. It's a grammatical nightmare. If the puns were at all bold or clever or entertaining, maybe you could get away with the wacky usage, but these are so dull they *wish* they were groaners, so grammar weirdly matters. It's pretty much all you have left. Paying a fare is already a thing, so PAY YOUR FARE SHARE just doesn't reorient the base phrase enough to be interesting. I like CRAMPING MY STILE OK, but that's about it. I would get into the fill, but ... I don't want to. So that takes care of that. Let's just say it's rough all over. OBLAh blah blah. FILI. XYLO. IOR. Argh, I'm doing what I said I wouldn't do. I have to stop. Write your congressperson. This madness must end.

    Oh, wait, I almost forgot. We need to talk about ANOS, mostly because it set off this hilarious and revelatory tweet exchange:

    Good luck getting "100 Anuses Of Solitude" out of your head today, or ever. I'm stunned (in the happiest of ways), that editor Ben Tausig has made tilde-means-tilde the official policy of the American Values Club Crossword. Look what happens when you decide to set high standards and take your job seriously! Good things. Oh, also, I should mention that Ben also sent me the following note re: AVCX subscriptions
    You may have seen that the AVCX, in tandem with solvers, is creating a fund to subsidize low-income solvers who struggle to or cannot afford subscriptions.

    There is no application process or necessity for explaining the reasons for needing a subsidy; we're going on the honor system. So anyone who feels that they can't afford a subscription, but would like one, can simply email, and they'll be signed up for a year. We currently have something like 140 available, so if you would like to spread the word, please do so!

    Thank you,
      So today's NYT puzzle isn't good, but people can be good, and crossword can definitely be good, so go do the Washington Post Sunday crossword and subscribe to the AVCX and have yourself a merry little June 10th now.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Caleb Madison and Marley Randazzo are putting out a new crossword at Motherboard called "Solve the Internet." It's a "new weekly mini crossword puzzle, covering memes, rap beefs, internet drama, and everything else your brain may or may have not absorbed in the last few weeks." It's hard as hell if you are an out-of-touch Gen Xer like me, but that makes it great pop culture training. Give it a try.

      P.P.S. 68D: No-nonsense quartet? is ENS because there are four of the letter "N" in "No-nonsense," you're welcome.

      [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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