Brickowski protagonist of Lego Movie / WED 8-15-18 / Muscles used in Russian twist for short / When sung five times ABBA hit

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Constructor: Kathy Wienberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (5:05)


THEME: anagrams — answers are essentially cryptic crossword clues where one word is taken to mean "mix the other word up"

Theme answers:
  • MAD SCRAMBLE (17A: DAM) — so "DAM" is just "MAD" SCRAMBLEd up
  • STIR FRIED (24A: FIRED) — "FRIED" has been STIRred
  • BIPOLAR DISORDER (36A: PARBOIL) — etc.
  • MIXMASTER (50A: STREAM)
  • DAILY JUMBLE (62A: LYDIA)
Word of the Day: WEAL (2D: Prosperity) —
(1)noun
a red, swollen mark left on flesh by a blow or pressure.

MEDICINE

an area of the skin that is temporarily raised, typically reddened, and usually accompanied by itching.

(2)noun
formal

noun: weal
that which is best for someone or something.
"I am holding this trial behind closed doors in the public weal"
• • •

This feels hackneyed. I mean, it's just a cryptic cluing technique. A common one. You look for that word that can signal anagram (e.g. "wild" "crazy" "strange" etc.) and that helps you figure out the answer (cryptic clues have a literal component as well as a wordplay component, as you probably know). I'm guessing the whole concept sprang from BIPOLAR DISORDER, a nice, grid-spanning answer. A couple of these answers (MAD SCRAMBLE, STIR FRIED) are notable for the fact that either of the words in each answer could technically be an anagram trigger word, i.e. "MAD" can mean mixed-up, and so can "FRIED" (though the latter may be a little more tenuous). I didn't like that three of these themers were noun phrases and two were verb phrases. Concept wasn't terribly hard to pick up, despite the lack of a revealer, but each one was its own little struggle. Well, MIXMASTER was a giant struggle. Could not quickly anagram STREAM into anything that made sense, and even as I got crosses, nothing looked right. Do people even know what a MIXMASTER is. I know it only as a DJ title. Is it something else? Oh, looks like it's a trademark for a food processor. I did Not know that. I know the DAILY JUMBLE as just the Jumble, so that was weird.


Mostly I found the fill, and especially the clues, just a terrible grind. Starting with TWELVE. [Midday] is awful. There's a TWELVE midnight too. Ugh. I wrote in ATNOON at first. Imagine cluing TWELVE that way. So many ways to go and you go [Midday]. WEAL is a horrible word no one uses. LESSEE just screams "here are a bunch of common letters!" 15A: Not occurring naturally is MADE??? Lots of things occur in nature that are MADE. Animals and plants "make" a lot of stuff. Nests, webs, oxygen! Booooo to that clue. Had no idea VECTOR meant "course" (5D: Airplane course)—I think of it as a direction. But I guess that's what "course" is, too? Oof. Slog slog slog. FOTO? RRR? Paint device—had GUN, no idea about AIR. ROY is "Mr." Rogers? OK. Lots of a T Rex's skeleton seems big to me, I dunno. JAW? Sure, whatever. There was no joy here. No fun. No cleverness or playfulness. I don't mind the core theme concept, actually, though the answer set could probably be stronger. But I did mind the solve as a whole. Just unpleasant. Not made with solver enjoyment in mind. Vague or off clues everywhere. And ugh, the EMMET clue (7D: ___ Brickowski, protagonist of "The Lego Movie"). I saw that movie and still ... pick real people, or much, much more famous fictional characters for your name clues, please.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Peebles in Memphis Music Hall of Fame / TUE 8-14-18 / Noted Lakota leader

    Tuesday, August 14, 2018

    Constructor: Andy Kravis and Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:01)


    THEME: wacky wardrobe — familiar phrases are clued as if their last words were articles of clothing:

    Theme answers:
    • BLASTING CAP (18A: Article of headwear for an explosives engineer?)
    • THREE-WAY TIE (35A: Article of neckwear for the Stooges?)
    • PEOPLE WATCH (42A: Wrist accessory for a celebrity magazine editor?)
    • BORSCHT BELT (60A: Waist accessory for a Russian cook?)
    Word of the Day: ANN Peebles (9D: Peebles in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame) —
    Ann Lee Peebles (born April 27, 1947) is an American singer and songwriter who gained celebrity for her Memphis soul albums of the 1970s for Hi Records. Two of her most popular songs are "I Can't Stand the Rain", which she wrote with her husband Don Bryant and radio broadcaster Bernie Miller, and "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down". In 2014, Ann Peebles was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    OSSIE's always in the grid
    Nice to see RUBY DEE here for once
    OK, now *here* is an example of an old-fashioned theme type that is executed perfectly. Last words reimagined. Get a nice thematic grouping, write some wacky "?" clues, and bam, there's your Tuesday. Just fine. You know what makes this work? Judicious Restraint! There are just four themers here. This is an acceptable amount, but not a showy amount. You know what showiness would've got you here. A forced JACKET answer and then a whole lot cruddier class of fill (because you put added strain on the grid with your dumb fifth themer). As is, the grid can Breeeeathe and so the fill is impressively smooth. Like ... look at your average early-week NYT; it just can't compare. It's not that the fill is terribly showy (though INCINERATE and CRAZY HORSE are solid entries); it's that there are no potholes, not groans, no ughs, no EWWs, except for EWW, which I despise, spelling-wise (you can't pronounce a double-W, come on). It's just glossy, this thing. I wish I hadn't *finished* on EWW—terrible way to end an otherwise lovely solve (also, between spelling that and hesitations around THREE-WAY TIE, that answer cost me a couple of seconds that would've put me under 3, grrrrr). My only non-EWW gripe is PBJ, which is not a thing. I see where the grid is trying to get all cute with its bookend [Three-letter sandwich] clues (see the first and the last Acrosses), but only BLT is truly three letters. It's PB *AND* J and will never be otherwise no matter what you say. More importantly, it's literally never BL *AND* T, and so the attempt at symmetry with those clues only highlights the asymmetry. Boo and hiss and EWW. Otherwise, hurray.


    I think that's all I have to say about this one. I'm surprised I didn't break a speed record on this one, as the only places I remember hesitating at all were 1. right away, when I put BLT in 1-Across, like a normal human; 2. with ANN Peebles, whom I did not know was one of the Peebleseses; and 3. the multiply-aforementioned EWW. Every other answer I wrote in immediately or nearly immediately after reading the clue the first time.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Nongovernmentally owned ship decked out for war / MON 8-13-18 / Jason's fleece-seeking ship / Cannabis variety used for rope / Gel producing succulent

    Monday, August 13, 2018

    Constructor: Lynn Lempel

    Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging (3:17) (though I stupidly fell into a hole that no one else will have fallen into, so maybe slightly easier?)


    THEME: GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS (61A: Start of a mixed message, as illustrated by 17-, 23-, 39- and 54-Across) — themers are phrases that have a common meaning (largely GOOD), but that can be reinterpreted to have a different meaning (allegedly BAD):

    Theme answers:
    • GO DOWN IN HISTORY (17A: Leave a lasting legacy ... or do worse at school)
    • MAKE PASSES (23A: Succeed on the gridiron ... or invite a slap in the face)
    • GET A RUN (39A: Score in baseball ... or ruin some hose)
    • DRAW A BLANK (54A: Be lucky in Scrabble ... or come up short memorywise)
    Word of the Day: SARA Gilbert (70A: "Roseanne" actress Gilbert) —
    Sara Gilbert (born Sara Rebecca Abeles; January 29, 1975) is an American actress, best known for her role as Darlene Conner on the ABC sitcom Roseanne (1988–1997; 2018), for which she received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations. She is also co-host and creator of the CBS daytime talk show The Talk and has had a recurring role as Leslie Winkle on CBS's The Big Bang Theory. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This one was surprisingly wobbly. Grid is unsurprisingly clean and bright, but the theme just felt off to me. Forced. Specifically, the two middle themers seem off, for different reasons. MAKE PASSES is not a phrase you'd really use re: football. It's green paint-ish. Yes, a QB might, in fact, MAKE PASSES, but it's not a good stand-alone phrase. The phrase stands alone Much better for the "Bad" part of the clue: [invite a slap in the face]. But ... this raises an interesting question. Is making passes (in the sense of coming on to someone) inherently "bad"? I get that it's associated with unwanted attention, specifically from men, and that certain kinds of "passes" might in fact be sexual assault, or at least highly inappropriate. But aren't there such things as passes that are appropriate and potentially well received? I mean, the very phrase is kind of messed up, and it's probable that the connotations of the phrase are mostly negative. But it's not clear to me that allllllll passes are bad. Also, why is it only one slap that's being invited if there are multiple passes? Moving on to GET A RUN ... that's not a great standalone phrase in any context. Very EAT-A-SANDWICH. I also just don't like that the clues go Good-then-Bad, as opposed to Common usage-then-punny usage, which feels much, much more natural to me. Again, I know that the theme is literally GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, so the progression makes sense, but I found the moving around of the more common usage (first part of clue here, second part of clue there) irksome. I think GO DOWN IN HISTORY works OK, and DRAW A BLANK works best of all, but those middle two just feel clumsy to me.


    I fell into a TAR pit of my own making today while solving. I was humming along, at probably a better-than-average clip, but then I tried to round the corner at 35A: Times Sq. squad, to move into the SE, and the wheels came off. "Times Sq." felt specific, so, faced with NY--, I went with someplace specific: NYSE. Which, in my defense, *is* somewhere specific. Just not somewhere in Times Square. Things go much worse. The "E" from NYSE gave me ENDED for 37D: Brought to ruin (DID IN). And AIDE worked just fine with ENDED. So I really got BOGged down. At one point I ended up with SERBIA at 49A: One of the Baltic States (!?) and fleetingly considered ORLANDO for 46D: U.S. city with the world's busiest airport. But the rationale part of my brain was like, "psst, buddy, it's ATLANTA," and so I slowly put the grid into presentable shape. I also conflated BEET and LEEK, which I weirdly do a lot. Borscht is beet. Vichyssoise is LEEK. I will forget this almost immediately.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Commercial aunt since 1889 / SUN 8-12-18 / Wide-swinging blow / Hebrew letter on dreidel

    Sunday, August 12, 2018

    Constructor: Ross Trudeau

    Relative difficulty: Very Easy (7:45, my all-time Sunday NYT record)


    THEME: "If I Were You..." — In each themer, the answer is a familiar phrase where one of the "I"s has been turned into a "U," resulting in the usual wackiness...

    Theme answers:
    • BUTTER RIVALS (23A: Land O'Lakes and Breakstone's?)
    • WORKING THE SOUL (before I looked at the title, really thought this was a play on "working the pole") (31A: Ministering?)
    • CURSES, FOULED AGAIN (47A: "Damn, I can't seem to get a ball into fair territory?)
    • JUNGLE ALL THE WAY (62A: Like a trip overland from Venezuela to Bolivia?)
    • HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL (82A: Expensive line of nonsense someone throws you?)
    • TRUCK QUESTIONS (95A: "What are you hauling in there?" and "How many axles you running?")
    • PASSWORD HUNT (108A: Entering your middle name, then date of birth, then adding a "1," etc.?)
    Word of the Day: LOVE DART (112A: Missile in a mating ritual) —
    love dart (also known as a gypsobelum) is a sharp, calcareous or chitinous dart which some hermaphroditic land snails and slugs create. Love darts are made in sexually mature animals only, and are used as part of the sequence of events during courtship, before actual mating takes place. Darts are quite large compared to the size of the animal: in the case of the semi-sluggenus Parmarion, the length of a dart can be up to one fifth that of the semi-slug's foot.[1]
    The process of using love darts in snails is a form of sexual selection.[2] Prior to copulation, each of the two snails (or slugs) attempts to "shoot" one (or more) darts into the other snail (or slug). There is no organ to receive the dart; this action is more analogous to a stabbing, or to being shot with an arrow or flechette. The dart does not fly through the air to reach its target however; instead it is fired as a contact shot.
    The love dart is not a penial stylet (in other words this is not an accessory organ for sperm transfer). The exchange of sperm between both of the two land snails is a completely separate part of the mating progression. Nevertheless, recent research shows that use of the dart can strongly favor the reproductive outcome for the snail that is able to lodge a dart in its partner. This is because mucus on the dart introduces a hormone-like substance that allows far more of its sperm to survive.
    Love darts, also known as shooting darts, or just as darts, are shaped in many distinctive ways which vary considerably between species. What all the shapes of love darts have in common is their harpoon-like or needle-like ability to pierce. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I was going to write something short and sweet about how this is a very, very generic puzzle from 1997, about which there is virtually nothing to say, etc etc, but I am so overwhelmed with this new LOVE DART knowledge from my Word of the Day research that my brain has kinda fogged up. I looked the phrase up figuring it would be somehow metaphorical. Lots of traditions in medieval love poetry of shooting arrows from your eyes when you fall in love, or arrows being shot into you when you see your true love, so LOVE DART didn't strike me as outlandish, but it was odd enough for me to google. And here we are. I now know the phrase "penial stylet." I don't know if I can unknow it. I'm going to try. We'll see. But back to the puzzle. . .


    Seriously? We're just doing a change-a-letter? And the most basic kind? With a title that holds your hand and tells you everything is going to be OK and basically treats you like a complete moronic incompetent. I did this thing in record time and still resented every second of it. Here's what I liked: the DJANGO / JP MORGAN cross, and the ROUNDHOUSE BAITSHOP columns. Here's what I didn't like: too much to list. I'm basically just insulted at how low the bar is for Sundays. A change-a-letter? Just one letter? And the title is basically a lie. It should be "If One Of the 'I's Were You," or "If Only One 'I' Were You," because there are Plenty Of "I"s Still In Those Themers. And the punny answers aren't even funny. Just because someone's made puzzles for you before does not mean you have to accept mediocre stuff like this. You honestly think this is a meritocracy, people? This is absurdity. This is some old boys network / unlevel playing field stuff. The NYT is supposed to be the "best puzzle in the world," but I guarantee you that virtually every Sunday-sized puzzle published today will be as good if not much, much better than this. WaPo will crush this. Good chance Frank Longo's syndicated puzzle, which appears in my local paper, will crush this. LAT? Likely. Newsday? Dunno, but sure, I'll put money on that. I wish solvers demanded more. Because those folks over there, who are just Printing Money with this crossword thing, clearly have contempt for you and are happy to write me off as a crank. Which is fine, I'm used to it. But you deserve so much better. I think the idea today was make it so easy that everyone sets a record time and, in the elation, forgets how mediocre the puzzle is.


    Despite lightning-fast time, I did have some struggle points. I feel like I might've come close to breaking 7 minutes if I could've figured out HAS (90A: Orders). Even with _EAD TO in place, I thought the answer was LEAD TO (90D: Move in the direction of), so eventually I just worked my way down to that one square and then plugged in letters that might make sense. Put in HAS, thought, "???" Then it sunk in: oh, at a restaurant. [Orders]. HAS. Got it. Yikes. I also struggled with the first letter of SHIN. Why in the world would you take a perfectly good English word, with different meanings and lots of wordplay potential, and then clue it as a Hebrew letter? I have nothing against Hebrew as a language, but if you have a choice to make a word a versatile actual English word, or a foreign word with just one meaning ... come on. This is puzzle-making 101. So disappointing, this whole puzzle. OMG Why is Aunt JEMIMA even ... no, you know what? That's all. I'm done.

    REXMAIL

    Hello and welcome to my first ever installment of REXMAIL, where I answer your letters for everyone to see. Today's letter is from Brian and Bonnie, who live ... man, I should've asked. On the west coast, I know that. Here it is:
    Hi Rex!
    My significant other and I have become big fans of your blog ever since we started doing the NYT crossword on a daily basis. Since your wisdom always guides us when we've lost our way with a puzzle, we were hoping you could help us resolve a different kind of crossword-related issue:

    We live on the west coast and we usually complete the puzzle sometime around 7 PM, when the newest one is posted online. Unfortunately, our cat (Marcel) seems to enjoy the crossword as well (or really wants some extra attention at 7 PM), and often sits directly in front of us or stands on the keyboard, inputting some answers of his own (they're usually incorrect).

    Marcel's interruptions often interfere with our ability to complete the puzzle as quickly as we otherwise could. Today, after his intrusions certainly prevented us from beating our best time, I said, angrily, "I bet Rex Parker doesn't have to deal with this kind of nonsense!" My significant other strongly disagreed, and now we have a gentleman's bet over:
       1) Whether you have a cat (or other small house pet), and,
       2) If so, whether that pet ever interferes with your crossword-time.

    If both are true, then do you have any advice for completing the crossword around obnoxious pets? I'd gladly take losing the bet in exchange for some helpful pointers on our pet-problem!

    Sincerely and appreciatively,
    Brian and Bonnie
    Dear Brian (and Bonnie),

    I thought you were going to end up asking me for advice on how to stop Marcel from interfering with your solving. I was going to say, "Have you tried talking to him?" But I see that instead your questions are of a more personal nature. First, do I have a cat or small housepet? No. My smallest housepet is a medium-sized husky/shepherd mix who doesn't care for crosswords at all. I had two cats a while back, but they've both been dead for a while now, and even then weren't really desk-dwellers. My dogs sometimes pace or whine or pant or do some other repetitive, noise-causing action that can be distracting, especially if I'm in the middle of a very hard puzzle. But mostly they stay downstairs with The Lady (that's what they call my wife) when I'm upstairs solving. So Brian, you win the bet, I don't really have to deal with "this kind of nonsense":

    [actual Marcel, who probably found 93-Across corny]

    If you have questions for REXMAIL, you can email me at rexparker at icloud dot com, but honestly, mail is always better when it's snail, so consider availing yourself of the USPS: Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp 54 Matthews St Binghamton NY 13905. Cheers.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    People of southern Kenya / SAT 8-11-18 / Two-pointed hat worn by Napoleon / Main antagonist in Toy Story / Emmy-winning newsman Roger / Tammany Hall cartoonist / Word from Latin for seaweed / Repetitive farewell from Sound of Music / Scientists who measure exact shape size of earth /

    Saturday, August 11, 2018

    Constructor: Ryan McCarty

    Relative difficulty: Medium (7:44)


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Luis SUÁREZ (14D: International soccer star Luis ___) —
    Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz (American Spanish: [ˈlwis ˈswaɾes]; born 24 January 1987) is a
    Uruguayan professional footballer who plays as a striker for Spanish club Barcelona and the Uruguay national team. Often regarded as one of the best players in the world, Suárez has won 16 trophies in his career, including five league titles and a UEFA Champions League title at club level, and a Copa América with Uruguay. A prolific goalscorer, Suárez has won two European Golden Shoes, an Eredivisie Golden Boot, a Premier League Golden Boot, as well as ending the six-year dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo by winning La Liga's Pichichi Trophy in 2016. He has scored over 400 senior career goals for club and country. [...] On 20 November 2010, Suárez bit PSV's Otman Bakkal on the shoulder during a 0–0 draw. Ajax suspended him for two matches and fined him an undisclosed amount, which the club said they would donate to a "good cause" [...] On 21 April 2013, during a 2–2 draw with Chelsea in a Premier League match at Anfield, Suárez bit Branislav Ivanović; this was the second time Suárez had bitten an opponent. It was not noticed by the officials, and Suárez scored an equaliser in injury time. The bite prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to call on the FA to take a hard line with Suárez: the FA charged him with violent conduct and he was fined an undisclosed sum by his club. [...] For Uruguay's final group match against Italy on 24 June, Uruguay needed a win to advance to the knockout stagewhile Italy only needed a draw. Around the 79th minute and with the score at 0–0, Suárez clashed with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini while waiting for a cross. Replays showed that Suárez lunged at Chiellini and bit his shoulder (Chiellini showed bite marks), followed by Suárez falling and clutching his face. (wikipedia) (biting emphasis mine)
    • • •

    So as I have said before one of my techniques for solving themelesses with quadrants that contain a stack of long Across answers is to just pound the short Downs as fast as I can, without much thought—first thing that comes to mind—and then look at the Across clues and see if what I've written makes Any kind of sense. Weirdly, despite near certainty that some if not most of my Down guesses will be wrong, this method yields results more times than not. Today, I missed the majority of the Downs in the NW, including three in a row (POUT, SOAR, LORD at 5D-7D, respectively), but I got YEARS and NILES and SUR, and somehow, through all the wrong junk, I was able to see BABY SLINGS almost immediately (1A: Alternatives to strollers). Pattern recognition is strange. Apparently you can see patterns even through a fog of bad information. Your brain can adjust to "only some of these letters are right" and find answers. Hurray, brains! Once I got BABY SLINGS, all the wrong Downs were instantly fixable (SULK, LACE, IDOL!), and the whole corner fell quickly.


    Where I struggled was in the small corners, both NE and SW. POLS for [Stumpers?] was very tough. Had weird lot of trouble with ALGA because my brain kept shouting NORI at me (18A: Word from the Latin for "seaweed"). And no way I was getting the OIL part of OIL TOWNS. That was the last answer I put in the grid. They are major American cities. I don't associate them with oil (any more?) (actually, I never associated Houston with oil, and I associate Dallas with oil only because of the TV show "Dallas"). On the other side of the grid, I could swear I just saw GLENS Falls in a puzzle, only it was GLEN Falls (!?!?!?!). Weird hallucination. HELLUVA was very tough (34D: Extremely, informally). GAGMAN is a ridiculous term. MUDD I forgot. And DOTTED I'S ... ok that one I actually think is bad. Badly clued. Non-capital "I"s are by definition "dotted." Hawaii has I's. It has a double I. But ... there's nothing in the clue (and a "?" clue at that) that points to DOTTED, specifically. I would feel the same way I would if the answer to [What Chattanooga has that Nashville lacks?] was CROSSEDTS. Boo.


    Bullets:
    • 33A: Problems resulting from a poor paternal relationship (DADDY ISSUES) — No. Gross. This is a derogatory phrase used almost exclusively of women, frequently in reference to women's sexual behavior. No one (esp. no man) has any business touching this. Another boo.
    • 48D: "Go back" button abbr. on some remotes (PREV.) — ???? What? Blecch.
    • 55A: Elite operative, for short (U.S. NAVY SEAL) — I believe you mean "for long," because people just say NAVY SEAL.
    • 23D: People of southern Kenya (MAASAI) — I did an extensive report on Tanzania in 7th grade, during which I learned a lot about the ... MASAI. Needless to say, this answer surprised me. I see that this double-, non-dotted "A" spelling is the preferred one (the one used by Wikipedia, for instance), but what the hell, middle-school reference material of 1982!? Why'd you hang me out to dry like that?
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Multi-time pro bowl tight end Greg / FRI 8-10-18 / Main antagonist in George Orwell's 1984 / Setting for first Mickey Mouse cartoon / Ranch sobriquet / Move to right incrementally

    Friday, August 10, 2018

    Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4:59)


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Greg OLSEN (5D: Multi-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg) —
    Gregory Walter Olsen (born March 11, 1985) is an American football tight end for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at the University of Miami, and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He holds an NFL record as the first tight end in league history to record three consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Very much my thing. Easy-Medium Fridays are such a glorious feeling. A nice 5-minute workout. And (on good days), you get to see some new / interesting answers and some quirky clues and just generally enjoy yourself. There's some less-than-great short fill in here, but the longer answers make off the short stuff pretty forgettable. If there's one mild criticism I have it's that man oh man is this puzzle reliant on names. Maybe they're just clustered, so they seemed more prevalent than they were. Or maybe it's that I flat-out didn't know two of them, and so my whole field of attention (is that ... does that make sense?) was drawn to names—that is, I noticed them *all* because I didn't know *two*. Names became an issue, so I saw them, in a way that I might not have seen them had I not gotten tripped up. Most of the names are pretty mainstream, or at least crossword-mainstream. But Ay  ay AYLA, I can never remember her. AUEL, I can remember. AYLA no. But she wasn't the problem. The problem, for me, was Greg OLSEN, who (since he is a *current* NFL player) is new to me as of fifteen minutes ago. The NFL is a garbage on so many levels that I can't watch any more ... which is really gonna hurt me now and again with crosswords, but I guess that's the price I pay for not tacitly supporting racist billionaires or accepting that other people's CTE is a small price to pay for my amusement. I'll take the occasional crossword struggle. I can deal.


    Like yesterday, I stumbled badly out of the gate, figuring [Insolent talk] was SASS. I knew better than to actually write SASS in, but still, that's what I wanted. I also wanted "I SEE" for 4D: "You make a point" ("FAIR"). But I nailed APIA, so I give myself credit for that. But the rest of the NW was a bust, so I just moved over to the north and, after whiffing on OLSEN, ran EMIL RELY and ASL, and that got me going. Once I got my footing ... well, I lost it again in the NE. I don't think I've read "1984" since high school. I have almost no memory of it. Same with "Brave New World," which I conflate with "1984." Anyway, the "Main antagonist" of that novel? O'BRIEN? If you say so. That "B" was (fittingly) Brutal for me, as I have never heard anyone call a C-NOTE a "BEN"—sincerely thought it might be CEN, as in "century," as in 100 ... they're Benjamins. What's this informality stuff?


    Got very lucky with the longer stuff, throwing down PUT PEN TO PAPER and EMPORIUM and RETRONYM and STEAMBOAT and HANK AARON and "ARE YOU BLIND?" with very little help from crosses. Struggled with LAMEST because I didn't know we were still using that dumb word. I wouldn't write it in at first because I didn't believe it could be right. "Lame" to mean "bad" = kind of derogatory to some disabled people, so I just avoid it. Luckily, English is a big language and there are other words available. My favorite single line in the grid is SINUS ERROR (I've had those before), though iTUNES EST ORA sounds like a really wise Latin saying. Alea iacta est, Carthago delenda est, iTunes est ora, etc., et alii, res ipsa loquitur, sic transit gloria.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    Fad teddy bear name of the 1980s / THU 8-9-18 / Metaphor for death in Eugene O'Neill play / 1922-91 initials / Tracy Marrow's stage name / Small relative of elephant bird

    Thursday, August 9, 2018

    Constructor: Patrick Merrell 

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Medium for me, but I totally fell on my face right out of the gate ... I think it's somewhat easier than my time suggested) (5:53)


    THEME: NO! — familiar phrases that start with "NO" are clued as if they are negative responses to question, i.e. you have to mentally supply a comma after the "NO"...

    Theme answers:
    • NO, RHYME OR REASON (17A: Q: "Can I write both a poem and an essay?" A: "___")
    • NO, GREAT SHAKES (36A: Q: "Is that snack bar known for good burgers?" A: "___")
    • NO, MAN IS AN ISLAND (60A: Q: "Should you call that stopover between Liverpool and Belfast a peninsula?" A: "___")
    Word of the Day: Teddy RUXPIN (37D: Fad teddy bear name of the 1980s) —
    Teddy Ruxpin is an animatronic children's toy in the form of a talking bear. The bear's mouth and eyes moved while "reading" stories that were played on an audio tape cassette deck built into its back. It was created by Ken Forsse with later assistance by Larry Larsen and John Davies, and the first version of the toy was designed by the firm RKS Design. Later versions would use a digital cartridge in place of a cassette. At the peak of his popularity, Teddy Ruxpin became the best-selling toy of 1985 and 1986, and the 2006 version was awarded the 2006 Animated Interactive Plush Toy of the Year by Creative Child Magazine. A cartoon based on the characters debuted in 1986.
    In 2018, it was announced that Alchemy and The Jim Henson Company will make a new Teddy Ruxpin TV series. The series will be animated in a digital puppetry form and will be aimed at preschoolers. (wikipedia) (emph mine what the hell???)
    • • •

    Q: "Did Courtney win her legal battle with her record label? A: "___" (NO, LOVE LOST!)
    Q: "Should we play rap music for the male members of this retirement community?" A: "___" (NO, COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN!)
    Q: "Wait ... is Julia in the car?!" A: "___" (NO, CHILD LEFT BEHIND!)

    Etc.


    I can't say that the theme was terribly enjoyable. The clues were contrived in a way that I didn't find funny. Essays don't directly evoke "reason" to me, there's no reason a snack bar should be good at burgers *or* shakes but not both, and who in the world would ask the question, "Is the *ISLE* of Man a peninsula?" The potential for humor is there, I guess, but with just three themers chosen (apparently) for their ability to fit in the grid neatly, there just wasn't enough zip or oomph or whatever it is that makes the crossword fun. After I pieced together the first themer, the others got increasingly easier, to the point where I wrote in NO MAN IS AN ISLAND with just the final handful of letters in place. Still, despite the easy-to-uncover theme, my time was not fast. This is largely because I literally (i.e. figuratively) fell down right out of the gate. 1A: Sounds of surrender (SIGHSmeant nothing to me (Me: "UNCLE...S?"), and then I dumbly wrote in ISIAH (?) at 14A: A patriarch of the Israelites (ISAACand then really truly screwed things up when I imagined 20A: Meet stick (BATON) might be a KABOB—I swear to you that I actually wrote this in, and yes, I see now that the clue does not say [Meat stick], thanks for pointing that out. So ... by my calculations, I basically gave myself a self-inflicted 1-minute time wound. Everything after that went much easier.


    I did feel like I was flailing a lot, even if I was making steady progress. Pictionary rules? No idea, so NOUN was all from crosses. Hesitated on ALP because I figured the answer would be French, i.e. ALPE, which didn't fit (22D: Tour de France high point). No idea cars' names used to be on HUBCAPs. Hard to see both SKIN (35D: Exterior) and RUB (43D: Steak coating). Really truly sincerely right up until I solved this puzzle thought that the bear was called Teddy RUX*B*IN, ugh. REMORA is a word I barely know. How in the world would I know what night "77 Sunset Strip" was on (!??!?!)? And I put in LESS for SANS (67A: Lacking). Would've been nice to have some flashier fill given how scant the theme is, but the grid certainly isn't bad as is. It's OK. Just OK. If you enjoy the humor of the theme here, then it was probably enough. I would've liked more humor, and somewhat zingier fill. [SIGHS]


    The Chronicle of Higher Education just published a profile of yours truly, with lots good background on the blog and on the state of Crossworddom in general. Give it a read. Thanks.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. Here's a video interview of Erik Agard and Angela Halsted talking (pointedly but diplomatically) about how to construct good crossword puzzles.  Good stuff.

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    Goddess of Pop / WED 8-8-18 / Very pixel-dense as TV picture / Teammate of Babe on 1920s Yankees

    Wednesday, August 8, 2018

    Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:26)


    THEME: GREAT / MINDS / THINK / ALIKE (1A: With 27-, 49- and 66-Across, phrase applicable to five innovations in this puzzle (as suggested by the starred clues)) — I guess it means that both the dudes in the clues ... innovated the innovations in question? Sure, let's go with that:

    Theme answers:
    • LIGHT BULB (18A: *Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan)
    • CALCULUS (23A: *Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Isaac Newton)
    • PERIODIC TABLE (33A: *Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev and Julius Lothar Meyer)
    • ATOM BOMB (50A: *Leo Szilard and Joseph Rotblat)
    • TELEPHONE (54A: *Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray)
    Word of the Day: Danny AINGE (50D: Longtime Boston Celtics executive Danny)
    Daniel Ray Ainge (born March 17, 1959) is an American basketball executive and former professional basketball and baseball player. Ainge is currently the general manager and President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA). 
    Ainge was an outstanding high school athlete. At Brigham Young University, he was named national basketball college player of the year and won the John R. Wooden Award for the most outstanding male college basketball player. While in college, Ainge also played parts of three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball(MLB), mostly as a second baseman. He was then drafted into the NBA by the Celtics. Ainge completed 14 seasons, playing for the Celtics, Portland Trail BlazersSacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, primarily as a shooting guard. He went on to coach the Suns for three seasons before joining management of the Celtics, with whom Ainge has three NBA Championships to his credit (two as a player, one as President/GM).
    He is the only person to be named a high school first team All-American in american footballbasketball, and baseball. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Trivia theme. Not very interesting to me, at all. Who are these people? Joseph Swan? Honestly, most of the names in these theme clues, I've never heard of. I mean, I could look them up, but I'd forget them quickly, no doubt, and anyway I'm not playing a trivia contest. What's bizarre is the gap between the clues (which are arcane to me) and the difficulty level (just a tad over Monday, i.e. super easy). The clues could've just been "some random dudes' names" and the puzzle would've been almost as easy (I think Edison and Newton and Bell probably helped a little). So it's a trivia theme (a minus, in my book) where the trivia is pretty much non-essential to not just solving, but destroying the puzzle. But honestly, I was negatively predisposed from 1-Across. Any 1-Across that wants me to look elsewhere, let alone at three elsewheres, can get bent. Audibly sighed and ughed when I saw that  1-Across clue. Nearly fell INAHEAP (more ugh), but I soldiered on. I'M OK. There's not much interesting here besides maybe CALL UP, which I like because I like baseball. I just looked at INRE and TATAS, so my displeasure is spiking. Let's move on.


    OH WELL, there's not really anywhere to move to. I felt like I was struggling badly early on, but that was just my brain struggling to shake off the solver rage brought on by the 1-Across clue. Once I got MINDS, I went ahead and filled in the other words in the revealer, and then started building the grid up from the bottom, off ALIKE, so my path around the grid was bizarre, which usually results in a higher-than-average time, but not today. I feel like I could've been under 3 today if I hadn't let 1-Across throw me and I hadn't bounced around the grid so much. Man, that 1-Across clue. Sorry, but I can't leave it alone. I also lost time because that stupid clue also forced me to pause to adjust the clue box in my software, which wasn't showing the entire stupid stupid overlong grammatically atrocious and in all ways terrible 1-Across clue; "applicable," "innovations," "suggested by"—so much vague clunkiness gumming up the works). I need A NAP. Didn't have many missteps today. Wrote in OGRE for MAGE (8D: Dungeons & Dragons figure). That's about it. I guess I should say that though the fill is not good, it could've been much much worse. Almost every Down had to go through one if not two themers. Not a lot of wiggle room. So that's something.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I did an interview Osvaldo Oyola for the website "The Middle Spaces (comics. music. culture.)"—it's primarily about my experience teaching comics, but there's a ton in there about crosswords as well. You can check the interview out here.

    P.P.S. a reminder that the MAMA clue (27D: Papa's mate) is heterosexist, OK bye


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    Middle-earth area under Misty Mountains / TUE 8-7-18 / Louisiana Purchase region from 1838 to 1846 / Roman emperor of AD 69 / Onetime Mets manager Hodges

    Tuesday, August 7, 2018

    Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

    Relative difficulty: Medium (3:22)


    THEME: BEER INGREDIENTS (37A: What's found hidden inside 16-, 23-, 47- and 59-Across) — HOPS, WATER, MALT, YEAST

    Theme answers:
    • SHOPSTEWARD (16A: Union representative)
    • IOWATERRITORY (23A: Louisiana Purchase region from 1838 to 1846)
    • ANIMAL TRAINER (47A: Job at a circus)
    • HAPPYEASTER (59A: Spring greeting)
    Word of the Day: MORIA (14A: Middle-earth area under the Misty Mountains) —
    n
    1. folly or excessive frivolity
    2. (Medicine) a mental impairment affecting intellectual functions (thefreedictionary)

    Also

    In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, Moria was the name given at the beginning of the late Third Age to an enormous and by then very ancient underground complex in north-western Middle-earth, comprising a vast network of tunnels, chambers, mines and huge halls or mansions, that ran under and ultimately through the Misty Mountains. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    No. No to all this. No to the truly limp revealer, no to MORIA URBS OTHO ARYA SWAMUP, no no no. EKES and STS and HUP and EGAD!, this is grating. The revealer is the worst thing. It is a boring phrase that involves no wordplay and would never qualify as a valid crossword answer were it not (limply, I say) describing the"ingredients" found in the theme answers. The whole puzzle feels like an excuse to use IOWATERRITORY, which is probably the only phrase in existence that contains WATER broken across two words. SAW A TERMITE! WOODROW ATE RICE! See, not easy. But who cares? This puzzle is not sufficiently beery, and the lack of wordplay in the themer is just killer. Deadens the puzzle. We need something cute to sell this slim concept, and instead we get a mere description. Blargh. And MORIA, come on, that is not valid. This is only the second appearance of this "word" in the NYTX For A Reason. No one says URBS. Make more judicious fill choices!


    Almost all of my slowness, such as there was, was a result of the Terrible clue on STUN, which does not suggest STUN at all (35D: Bring to a standstill, say). Only if I am a perp trying to flee from a cop and she STUNs me with a stun gun does this dumb clue apply. I had the ST- and thus STOP, which, as you can see, actually fits the clue. I then went on to go with IWIN over IWON (39D: "Victory is mine!") (always a stupid, stupid decision to have to make—no way to know what verb tense this is; clue is in present so I went with present, Silly Me). I also went with ECRU for 40D: Window shade? (EAVE). I was thinking ... well, I was thinking it was four letters, starting with "E," and maybe the window shade was the shade of ECRU. Many window shades are ECRU, aren't they? Maybe not. At any rate, the eastern seaboard was a disaster. The rest of this was pretty easy, MORIA notwithstanding. Tuesday, bluesday. Bring on tomorrow!
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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