Amino acid vis a vis protein eg / MON 10-22-18 / Big name in elevators / 1982 movie inspired by pong / gas brand whose logo has blue oval

Monday, October 22, 2018

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:02) (it felt harder, but ... I guess not?)


THEME: PLANETS (45D: Etymological origins of the answers to the five starred clues) — just what it says:

Theme answers:
  • MERCURIAL (17A: *Capricious)
  • VENIAL (22A: *Forgivable)
  • MARTIAL (36A: *Warlike)
  • JOVIAL (55A: *Jolly)
  • SATURNINE (61A: *Gloomy)
Word of the Day: MONOMER (39D: Amino acid vis-à-vis a protein, e.g.) —
noun
CHEMISTRY
  1. a molecule that can be bonded to other identical molecules to form a polymer. (google)
• • •

Etymology trivia. OK, I guess. JOVIAL seems a stretch, since that's from Jove, not Jupiter, but since they're the same god ... I'll allow it? Shrug. Biggish corners lent some interest to this Monday puzzle, but it was all a little by-the-book. Also, USENET? I'm sure it still exists in some form, but to just clue it [Online discussion forum] like we're all on it all the time ... is a little weird.


Also weird: VOLGA. I mean, it's not a weird river. It's clearly a prominent river in the continent that is Europe. But I rarely see it in puzzles and honestly know nothing about it except that it's *in Russia*; so off my radar is that river that, faced with -O-G-, my brain was like "... OK ... don't laugh ... but is it CONGO? I Said Don't Laugh!" Weirder: I blanked on Lin-Manuel MIRANDA's last name. Which is like blanking on J.K. ROWLING's last name, honestly. Just stupid. I also blanked on ZOE KAZAN's name last week despite knowing very well what her damn name is. I swear, sometimes I can retrieve the dumbest bulls**t but not stuff that's right in front of me, all the time.


Back to the theme for a sec. The PLANETS are not the "Etymological origins" of these words. The god names are. It's not the same thing. Here, listen to Samantha:



My main hang-ups today were MONOMER (a word I honestly don't know), MPH (I had MPG, which is ridiculous), and VENIAL, which I always want to be VENAL. Wow, turns out they are both words and I never bothered to learn the distinction. I blurred them together in my head to mean "susceptible to bribery, which is forgivable if you, like, pray to God for forgiveness or something." Yikes. Anyway, hope you PLOUGHed through this. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Squared building stone / SUN 10-21-18 / Rapper with 2017 #1 hit Bodak Yellow / First African American sorority / Manhattan neighborhood next to lower east side / Seventh-year exam in Harry Potter

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:06, which is Easy, but ... there were some crosses ...)


THEME: "You're Going Down" — theme answers are all Downs and are all familiar phrases; clues are wacky and make sense only if you take the answer "literally," i.e. mentally supply the word DOWN after the answer in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • BABY STEPS (3D: Headline after a toddler C.E.O. resigns, literally?) (get it: "BABY STEPS *DOWN*")
  • ELEGANTLY PUT (62D: Dissed with flowery language, literally?)
  • LUCKY BREAK (7D: Car failure only a block from the mechanic, literally?)
  • CUTE AS A BUTTON (34D: Like the dress shirt that's just adorable, literally?)
  • PUPPET SHOW (73D: Punch vs. Judy, literally?)
  • THERE'S THE RUB (14D: "For a massage, go that way!," literally?)
  • JAZZ HANDS (77D: One answer to the question "What's your favorite music genre," literally?)
Word of the Day: ASHLAR (55A: Squared building stone)
noun
  1. masonry made of large square-cut stones, typically used as a facing on walls of brick or stone. (google)
• • •

I did not get this. At least not while solving. Tore through it, thinking I was getting the joke, at least a little, because, well, with BABY STEPS, "steps" can mean "leaves" or "takes off" (colloquially), so I was like "ah, repurposed phrase ... for some reason." Same thing with LUCKY BREAK. Your car "breaks" near a garage—that's lucky! OK ... THERE'S THE RUB, again, reimagining the meaning of the word, got it ... still not sure why I'm doing it, but I got it. Then I got to CUTE AS A BUTTON and I honestly didn't get it. But also didn't care. Kept going. Got to PUPPET SHOW and thought "that is ... literally ... what Punch & Judy is ... I do not understand." Only as I was writing in the final themer (which, for me, was ELEGANTLY PUT) did I realize you needed to supply DOWN for the clues to make sense. Only, as I say, several of them "make sense" without the mentally supplied DOWN, so this one felt off and weird. The DOWN just didn't reorient several of the answers enough to be interesting. Also, what is ASHLAR? I mean, it's my Word of the Day, so now I sort of know, but ... Yikes.

[WARNING: PROFANITY, right off the bat and throughout]

Was all set to tell you exactly where this grid's problems were, but then I saw this tweet, and ... it gets right to the point, so I don't have to:


AMARNA (18A: Where cuneiform was discovered) and ASHLAR are easily among the toughest answers in this grid, but that's fine. Crosses are fair, and I actually knew AMARNA from ... well, crosswords, duh. Nothing wrong with tough. There is, however, something wrong with VADUZ (48D: Capital of Liechtenstein). Now you can go on all you want about how "everyone should know every world capital how could you not know blah blah blah?" and that's fine, that's you, you're who you are and god probably loves you, but unless you are a list memorizer (you know who you are, you trivia folks, I see you) then you almost certainly don't know VADUZ. I don't even know how you pronounce that. I can't remember ever seeing it. And its letters are entirely uninferrable. Sooooo the crosses really should be fair. But you've got not one but two proper noun crosses ... and one of them is a rapper, which, you know, she had a #1 hit, and she is legit famous, but only recently so, which means millions of solvers still don't know who the hell she is.


Also, why would anyone know BRATZ is spelled with a "Z" (67A: Popular line of dolls with "Kidz" and "Babyz" spinoffs); I did, for some reason, but it's entirely plausible that a solver would not. I guess the clue is supposed to tip you to the spelling. Not sure how well that's gonna work. So VADUZ is really cruddy because, well, you know going in, if you're the constructor / editor, that you are going to screw some people (a bunch of people) on the crosses. You shouldn't feel that way About Any Of Your Crosses. And I know the constructor knows the rapper cross is dicey 'cause he did a little smiley-face social media post about it. So if you tanked it, just know he's smiling and winking at you.


Saw "Psycho" tonight with live orchestra and it was Great, except ... well, the movie is so phenomenal (I've seen it roughly 845 times) that by the end I totally forgot there was a live orchestra. I was just engrossed in the movie. And then the end came and I was like, "oh, right ... you guys! Right underneath the screen! Good job!" Anyway, film w/ live musical accompaniment is the stuff! Highly recommended.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Eight Elvises Sixteen Jackies / SAT 10-20-18 / Ice planet in Empire Strikes Back / Astronomer with geocentric model of universe / Texter's valediction

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Constructor: Ben Gross and James Somers

Relative difficulty: Medium (probably easier, but it's 5:15am on a Saturday and my unwarm brain came in with a Medium time) (7:45)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: PTOLEMY (4D: Astronomer with a geocentric model of the universe) —

Alexandrian astronomer (of the 2nd century) who proposed a geocentric system of astronomy that was undisputed until the late Renaissance (vocabulary.com)

• • •

This one started pretty dull, but got better (and harder) toward the bottom. There's slightly too much neon junk here, like AREI and especially ILLE (ugh), and to a lesser extent APLAN ICAME AREEL. ILLE always used to get the dumb clue ["Winnie ___ Pu"], which is some Latin version of Milne, I guess. Turns out no clue is really gonna save ILLE. The longer stuff in this grid could've been more interesting too. ANTOINETTE was a giveaway, and TETE-A-TETES and RAT-A-TAT just seem like filler. I see that NETFLIX AND CHILL *wants* to be the marquee answer here, but that phrase has already appeared in the NYT crossword and (worse) already feels soooooo dated. Like, in the future, decades from now, someone will throw an "Early '10s Party" and a couple will come as both NETFLIX and CHILL and people will go "Greeg! (or whatever the new "OMG" is), your costumes are so 2014! Hey, remember memes!? [Sigh] Things sure were better back then." This is another puzzle that really wants you to feel its colloquial nowness. The upside is that this striving gets us the two best answers in the grid: BUTT-DIALED and FLIPPHONES, which are *almost* a perfect crossing; you know, if you could butt-dial a flip phone. BUTT-DIALED is even kind of sitting on FLIPPHONES. Not bad. The rest of the grid was just OK. Workmanlike. Not bad, by any means. But kind of blah.

[Grieg! "Death of ASE"—beware this crosswordese, which may return at any time to bite you!]

Fact that both good answers were "?"d made them Much harder to get, and since both good answers are long answers, not getting them meant not being able to move easily between sections. In fact, the SE corner was by far the hardest part of the grid for me, as both those answers meet down there, and AHOY, MATEY seemed way more possible than the vaguer, breezier AHOY THERE (43A: Ship-to-ship communication). And then the clue on TYPES was impossible for me, even with the "Y" in place. And clues on LAC (31A: Switzerland's ___ de Neuchâtel) and WILL (35A: Something that's "free" (although that's debatable)) meant nothing to me, and I had no idea about the WARHOLS or Hannah Montana, and the FBI is a "Spy grp."? I think of CIA as spies and FBI as, you know, cops, feds, G-MEN. Had the "-BI" and honestly didn't want to put in the "F" because the clue seemed so weird. I had no interesting wrong answers today, though I did want my NEUROTIC to be a PSYCHOTIC at first (40A: Head case, so to speak) (I'm seeing "Psycho" tonight with live orchestra, so maybe that got in my head!). Oh, right, and AHOY, MATEY, botched that one. Oh, and also, the worst one was a wee one back at the very beginning. 14A: Advanced (LENT), for which I had WENT. This led to me imagining a high-schooler asking, in a bewildered voice, "Why are we weading da CWASSICS!? I wanna wead Ward of da Wings!" (1D: Makeup of a high school reading list)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Region of Ghana known for gold cocoa / FRI 10-19-18 / 4x platinum album of 2001 / Official birds of Quebec / Start of some rock genre names / Novelty item in vintage comic book ads / Teacher's timesaver for grading tests / Roll of 4 6 craps

Friday, October 19, 2018

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:17)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: DANAE (51D: Mother of Perseus) —
In Greek mythologyDanaë (/ˈdæn.i-ii/, as personal name also /dəˈn/GreekΔανάηAncient Greek: [daˈna.ɛː]Modern: [ðaˈna.i]) was the daughter, and only child of King Acrisius of Argos and his wife Queen Eurydice. She was the mother of the hero Perseus by Zeus. She was credited with founding the city of Ardea in Latium during the Bronze Age. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was definitely a puzzbro puzz. Trying very, very hard to let you know it's NEXT GEN, man. Look at all the lingo and argot and very-now (or at least very-this-century) turns of phrase. It's made for FRATBROs who go to the gym a lot and say things like "yo, bro, this one time when I was ON VACAY in SYDNEY, showin off my SIX PACK by the OCEAN, you know [high five] I met this girl ASHANTI and we stole this shitty COROLLA and just drove around listening to oldies like NE-YO and J-LO but then the POPO started chasing us and we were like 'SEE YA!' and led them on this long chase to the EDGE of the city until eventually we ditched the CAR down this DEAD END street and just ran for it, and all of this definitely totally actually happened ... bro. Hey you wanna go catch the latest APATOW movie? Cool." Whatever, I'll take aggressively "hello, fellow youths!" over tired and stale any day.


I really don't like when tech stuff stands in for "fresh fill." Generations used to be defined by music, style, etc. and now it's just operating systems or devices or whatever. You can shove your NEXT GEN IO DEVICE (whatever that is), Ugh. I am an Old-in-training, this is my attitude toward the uncritical embrace of all things tech, and it will Never Change. BOO HISS! The SE corner here is one million times harder than the rest of the puzzle, which (for me) was quite easy. First off, did you all know how to spell SMEAGOL?! Dear lord, that name looks Nuts. I never made it through all the Tolkien books (and regretted making it through the interminable Tolkien movies) so his name looks bonkers to me. Also we call them FRAT BOYs, so that messed me up. All the Acrosses in the SE were not easy for me, especially EASY TEN (63A: Roll of 4 and 6, in craps). Maybe FRATBROs with a ratpack fetish (the fratpack!) know that term. Anyway, all of my struggles were in this general region, but they weren't that struggly, honestly. Ended up with below-average time, and that's with the early-morning solving disadvantage. So I'm old enough to be irked by the youthful pretension, not old enough to be fazed by it. Sweet spot!


Gotta run. To the gym. Not to get RIPPED, but to engage in a futile struggle against body fall-apart and eventual death. It's fun!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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So-called black national anthem / THU 10-18-18 / Nickname of singer of 2007's Umbrella / American dance move illegal in Saudi Arabia / Savory Scottish pudding

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:46)


THEME: "LIFT EVERY VOICE" (16D: So-called "black national anthem," informally ... or what 4-, 6-, 22- and 34-Down do, in part?) — the voices BASS, TENOR, ALTO and TREBLE (?) can be found, respectively, running backward / up in the theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • DIDN'T MISS A BEAT (4D: Said something in response almost immediately)
  • BARONETCY (6D: Noble domain)
  • HOT LAVA (22D: Volcano's spew)
  • ENGELBERT (34D: German composer Humperdinck)
Word of the Day: THE DAB (1A: American dance move that, for whatever reason, is illegal in Saudi Arabia) —
Dabbing, or the dab, is a simple dance move or gesture in which a person drops the head into the bent crook of a slanted, upwardly angled arm, while raising the opposite arm out straight in a parallel direction. Since 2015, dabbing has been used as a gesture of triumph or playfulness, becoming a youthful American fad and Internet meme. The move looks similar to someone sneezing into the "inside" of their elbow. wikipedia)
• • •

Is there cold lava? Also, what is TREBLE? Actually, I looked it up, and it appears to be a voice only children have, something like "boy soprano." Also, where's SOPRANO? Oh, right, there's Donna ELVIRA, soprano in "Don Giovanni." Hey, Donna, what's up? OK, so this played like a themeless, for sure. Figured that the longer Downs in the east and west were maybe themers, but had no idea I was dealing with themers in the middle. Was 80% done with the puzzle when I got LIFT EVERY VOICE, and didn't bother to go back and figure out how that was gonna work—I mean, I was so close to the end, why would I do that? It's a cute theme with a nice revealer, though, again, the voice set is super duper weird without SOPRANO. Not sure what answer exists that could contain the letter string ONARPOS, though. SONAR POSITION? That's all I got, and that is bad. It does say LIFT EVERY VOICE, though, and without soprano ... the revealer is kind of a lie.


I had a wrestle with this puzzle a couple of times, but the only time that mattered was at the tail end of BARONETCY. I am 100% certain that this will be the roughest part of the puzzle for most people. I knew that word was spelled weird, but my version of the weirdness was BARONETRY. And I was getting no help from the crosses and adjacent words. I figured [Squirt] was TOT, so that was good, but GOO was not intuitive at all (27D: Halloween "blood," e.g.). and the clue on COLON was just a nasty breaking pitch (36A: Middle of time?), especially if you aren't certain of that first letter. I ended up with ROLON for the answer, checked all the crosses, realized BARONETRY was the only one I wasn't sure of, and fixed it. Yeesh. Other mistakes included STONIER for STERNER (40D: More flinty), and DIDN'T HESITATE for DIDN'T MISS A BEAT, though in that case my wrong answer didn't actually fit. I did type it in, though.

Five things:
  • 32A: Nickname of the singer of 2007's "Umbrella" (RIRI) — I did know this, but I want to thank "The Good Place" for reminding me of it very recently (in the sense that I re- and rere- (RIRI!) watched the entire run of the show last month). It's a passing reference, but it's memorable.
  • 18A: Lady Gaga or Judy Garland (LBGT ICON) — Very much helped by being very much certain that both CFL and HAGGIS were right; this gave me an answer that started LG-, which seemed impossible, and then immediately didn't.
  • 61A: Big tech news website (RECODE) — I have no idea what this is
  • 46A: Kufrin of the 2018 season of "The Bachelorette" (BECCA) — I have no idea what this is
  • 41A: 8: Abbr. (AUG.)AUGust is the 8th month. I'm only explaining this because I know there are at least a few people out there who will not have put it together and are slapping themselves in the forehead right now. Hey, what's up, guys? It's cool. Sometimes the trick gets by us. It happens.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1992 Joe Pesci title role / WED 10-17-18 / One of 18 French kings / Siri's digital cousin / Mama lobster

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Constructor: Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:28)


THEME: a stack of PANCAKEs — three PANCAKEs and then, beneath them, a PLATE (68A: Item that might go under several answers in this puzzle) ... Oh, and off to the sides, two [Syrup brand]s (AUNT JEMIMA and HUNGRY JACK)

PANCAKES:
  • 21A: Kind of makeup
  • 38A: Flatten
  • 56A: Breakfast food item 
Word of the Day: SNELL (51D: Fishhook line) —
noun
  1. 1. 
    a short line of gut or horsehair by which a fishhook is attached to a longer line. (google)
• • •

I assume the MAGIC (1A: Sorcery) is what's making these damned PANCAKEs levitate, but I don't know why in the world you'd use two types of syrup, or pour both of them off to the side of your PLATE. This whole theme is so nuts that I kind of like it, but visually it makes no sense. Or, not much, anyway. Weird grid shape opens up room for some nice long Downs, which are the real highlight of the puzzle, for me (I mean, from a puzzle-solving standpoint—hard to really "like" the PANCAKE thing as a solver because, well, once I got the second PANCAKE, the third one, and the PLATE, were just too easy). Forgot that HUNGRY JACK was a kind of syrup (can't say I've ever seen or had it), and would like to forget that AUNT JEMIMA is a kind of syrup (because of the racism). Too bad MRS. BUTTERWORTH or LOG CABIN wouldn't fit symmetrically in this one. The hardest part of this puzzle for me was, honestly, nothing. Seemed to fill itself in. I did balk at 64A: 10 bucks, in slang (DIME), which tells you how much into drugs I am (I know this use of DIME only in reference to the phrase "DIME bags," which is a quantity of marijuana, as I understand it, I don't really know, I'm quite square) (actually, I do know, I looked it up to make sure).


Five things:
  • 6A: Serving of butter, as might go on top of several answers in this puzzle (PAT) — haha just noticed this alleged themer. My eyes must've just stopped at "serving of butter." PAT is pretty bad here. BUTTER, as they say, is (or would be) better. Yeah, it's six letters and can't sit in the center blah blah blah MAKE IT WORK! NIX the PAT!
  • 39D: With 40-Down, something tapped at a pub (ALE / KEG) — considering the symmetrical positioning of these answer parts ... are we eating these PANCAKEs in a bar? If so, where is this bar and how do I get there?
  • 50A: Siri's digital cousin (ALEXA) — wait, is Siri analog? 
  • 4D: "Licensed to ___" (1986 Beastie Boys album) ("ILL") — uh, I think I am only just now learning that it's "LicenseD" and not "License"
  • 27A: Hearing-related + 28A: Christianity, for one (AURAL FAITH) — I like when rows of answer make interesting phrases, like the names of hypothetical Christian metal bands
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bewitched witch in 1960s TV / TUE 10-16-18 / Periodical format not much seen nowadays / Card groupings in canasta

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:25)



THEME: "THAT'S LIFE!" (66A: Comment of resignation applicable to 17-, 28- and 50-Across) — All theme answers could be clues for the word LIFE

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Classic activity for family night (BOARD GAME)
  • 28A: Serving in a bowl with milk (BREAKFAST CEREAL)
  • 50A: Periodical format not much seen nowadays (PICTURE MAGAZINE)
Word of the Day: ENDORA (12D: "Bewitched" witch, in 1960s TV) —
Endora (Agnes Moorehead), is Samantha's mother and Darrin's chief antagonist in the series. Like all witches, she never reveals her surname, indicating to Darrin that he would be unable to pronounce it. Endora finds mortals dull and disapproves of Darrin, as do many of Samantha's relatives. Endora refuses to even speak Darrin's name correctly, alternatively calling him "Derwood", "What's-his-name", "Darwin", "Dum-Dum", etc., all much to his annoyance. She refers to him as "Darrin" only eight times during the entire series. Endora's ploys to provoke a breakup always fail as Samantha and Darrin's love overcomes every obstacle. Even though Endora casts countless farcical spells on Darrin, she never attempts to destroy him outright. During the first season, Endora threatens her warlock husband Maurice, after he destroys Darrin, saying that she will not have a human being on her conscience. It was one of the few times when Endora went out of her way to protect Darrin from Maurice (see episode 1-10). Endora, once, let Maurice kiss her. But, when she realizes that, after he has kissed her and disappeared, she has contracted an illness which leaves her unable to use her powers, she is furious – until Maurice returns to gives her an antidote, and take her to "the place we used to go to on the Milky Way" to have dinner. She doesn't get along with Darrin's mother, Phyllis Stephens, because she gets along too well with Phyllis' husband, Frank. But, they are civil to one another in, what Samantha calls, "killing one another with kindness". Endora does dote on her grandchildren, Tabitha and Adam; They call her "Grandmama". (wikipedia)
• • •

Happy snoozeday. I like how this puzzle is apparently actively hostile to all things that happened after 1980. You know a puzzle skews very, very old when RHEA Perlman is your hip pop culture reference (72A: Perlman of "Cheers"). Canasta clues and Jack PAAR and "CARA Mia" and ENDORA and OMAR Sharif and "MR. ED" ... you know, for the kids! You could at least pretend to be living in the present. I mean, you clued DRAKE via the duck!? I feel like the original clue on ELENA must've been [Actress Verdugo] and someone in editing was like "This is a little too much, even for us." OK, sure, SELFIE's in here, but even then, the cluer thinks people actually take them with those ridiculous SELFIE sticks, which I've not only never used, but never seen. Lots of short common crosswordesey stuff, and a theme so basic that it's barely there. Also, PICTURE MAGAZINE? What ... is that? Cluing it as "format not much seen nowadays" is absolutely no help. That's just a terrible clue. It provides no valuable information. Ugh. Have you looked at most magazines nowadays? You know what they have a lot, and I mean a Lot of? Ads! Also, pictures. The clue on ENDORA is bizarre, too. What is this mythical "Bewitched" that *isn't* "1960s TV"? Why would you add "in 1960s TV" to that clue?  Again, It Adds Nothing. Also, it's your second "1960s TV" clue of the day. Lastly, that SW corner is a real non-winner. Look at all those identical intersecting letter strings. NET crosses NET. ONE crosses ONE. TON crosses TON *and* TON. Rough. Rough all over. Some of the Downs are nice, but overall ... Ruff.


I had two slow-downs today. The first came at 10D: Crowd-wowing (ELECTRIC), a clue I couldn't really process. Even with ELECT-I- in place, I had no idea what was going on. It's election season, so that probably got in my head a little. Anyway, that's a very odd clue for ELECTRIC. The other trouble spot was, unsurprisingly, around the PICTURE part of PICTURE MAGAZINE (again, I renew my ugh). I couldn't get 52D: T-shirt material (COTTON) the first couple of times I looked at it. I guess the connection between that garment and that fabric is really not that intuitive or tight to me. Are all t-shirts cotton? Ah, I do see that the definition of "t-shirt" does say "generally made of cotton," so OK. I feel like there are far, far more interesting and precise clues you could've gone with there, but this clue is very ... this puzzle. So there's something apt.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hindu divinity / MON 10-15-18 / Eastern ascetic / Night demon / Movie with iconic theme that starts with two alternating notes

Monday, October 15, 2018

Constructor: Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:09)


THEME: YOUNG / AT HEART (67A: With 68-Across, still feeling like a teenager, say ... or a hint to the circled answers) — names for animal YOUNG can be found AT HEART (i.e. smack in the middle) of theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • INCUBUS (1A: Night demon)
  • AKITA (8A: Japanese dog)
  • OPTICAL FIBER (22A: Cable material that transmits data using light)
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (39A: "Really?!")
  • JOHN COLTRANE (49A: Legendary jazz saxophonist)
Word of the Day: DEVA (41D: Hindu divinity) —
noun
  1. a member of a class of divine beings in the Vedic period, which in Indian religion are benevolent and in Zoroastrianism are evil.
    • INDIAN
      (in general use) a god.
• • •

It's been nine years (!) since DEVA was in a puzzle, so if you didn't know that one, you are Forgiven. Certainly eluded me. I had any number of things in there before I got DEVA (entirely from crosses). That was one of a few answers that didn't seem quite *Monday* to me (see also FAKIR), but what *did* seem quite Monday to me was my solving time, so no harm done. It would be great if people stopped pretending that ANATOLE France was a household (i.e. Monday) name. I shouldn't ever see that name unless it's a late-week puzzle with a fairly demanding grid. Modernize your fill! I'm burying the lede here, which is: I thought this was a very good puzzle. The theme was cute and simple and smart and neatly executed *and* dense without being grid-burdening. All the baby animals are, in fact, smack dab in the middle of each theme answer: not just *somewhere* in the middle, but perfectly in the middle. Here's the only problem I had with the theme: the clue on the revealer. [Still feeling like a teenager]??? Uh, yeah, I don't think YOUNG / AT HEART means "still feeling socially and physically awkward and painfully insecure." I think YOUNG / AT HEART is supposed to be a *positive* concept. It doesn't square well with teenagedom. At least not mine.


Had trouble right away, forgetting the word INCUBUS. Also had issues getting OPTICAL FIBER, since the only relevant phrase I know is "Fiber-optic cable." ANATOLE France was a gimme for me, in case you think I complain only about answers I *didn't* know. Also knew FAKIR. DEVA, no so much. Misread 50D: Eight: Sp. as 50A: Eight: Prefix and wrote in OCTO-. Finally, I wrote in NAIAD at 53D: Forest of mountain maiden of myth (NYMPH), which is actually technically possibly true, and is the kind of mistake you make when you know too much myth-stuff and you star with the "N." Blowing NYMPH (!) was a big (well, small) timesuck in the SE, as I got all those Downs in order and then had to figure out which of the Downs was a bummer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Secondary loan signer / SUN 10-14-18 / Image on ceiling of la chapelle Sixtine / Operating system developed at Bell Labs / Travel option for Birthright trips / Bone connection with convex concave fittings / Penalties for illegal bowls in cricket

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium (12-ish)


THEME: "Game Hunting" — theme answers have board game names in them, and are clued as if someone was speaking about board games (i.e. wackily):

Theme answers:
  • THE RISK IS TOO HIGH (23A: "We can't play that game—I can't reach it on our shelf!")
  • SORRY NOT SORRY (38A: "My sincerest apologies, but that game is off the table")
  • I HAVEN'T A CLUE (54A: "We can't play that game unless we borrow someone else's")
  • PLEASE DON'T GO (76A: "I'm begging you, let's not play that game!")
  • LIFE'S TOO SHORT (85A: "No, that game would be over in a flash")
  • ASKING FOR TROUBLE (103A: "I've finally decided! I'm ...")
Word of the Day: COMAKER (82D: Secondary loan signer) —
one that participates in an agreementspecifically one who stands to meet a financial obligation in the event of the maker's default (m-w.com)
• • •

There are just so many things wrong here. First, the title: "hunting" has nothing to do with the theme. Nothing at all. Second, this theme has been done before; or, rather, a tighter, more modest version of it has been done before (here, April 12, 2010). Third, the cluing conceit, the whole gimmick, results in extreme awkwardness. PLEASE DON'T GO, in a game context, makes absolutely no sense. It's like PLEASE DON'T LIFE or PLEASE DON'T MONOPOLY, i.e. a game name cannot be a verb. Also, the last theme clue doesn't have the word "game" in it—unlike literally every other theme clue; if you're going to do a running theme clue ... thing, at least follow through. As for the fill, it's all over the map; there's some great stuff, but a lot of it looks like it was filled in by software powered by a purchased wordlist. There's longer stuff that is unusual but also kinda dull, like ONE'S COLUMN and SADDLE JOINT and the plural (?) MARGINS OF ERROR. Also, ULTRA MAN—what the hell is that?; I teach comics, I don't know what that is. Google is insisting that it's a '60s Japanese TV series, so I'm very confused. Anyway, NO BALLS? COMAKER? This isn't good fill. This is stuff a computer told you was valid. Humans should make human choices to please humans. It's great to get assistance from software, but reasonable human judgment is still required.


I thought this was easy enough, but then got very, very held up around words I didn't know. The first was COMAKER (!?!), a word that hasn't been in the puzzle since '04. Because it's dumb. If you asked me to to define COMAKER, I would've thought, well, that's easy: someone who makes something (say, a quilt) with others. But no. It has some dumb financial meaning that skews the meaning of "make" beyond recognition. Also, the "M" cross could easily have been an "H" (92A: Common filler words = UMS, and I kept wanting UHS). The other, larger tough section was everything in and around the SADDLE in SADDLE JOINT. HAD AT and not SET AT??? HARD SET (!?!?!?!). CAJOLERY! And with the "J" hidden behind a very vague clue for HAJ (59A: It's a trek). The thing that made this section really miserable, though, was figuring out, finally, that the answer to 56A: Laughs and laughs was ... HAS. Imagine, *imagine* having a very basic, infinitely cluable English word like HAS in your grid and thinking, "You know what would be fun...?" Dear lord. Again, stupendously bad human judgment.

["Nobody likes to be *too* close to Lubbock"]

Five things:
  • 113A: Officials in ancient Rome (TRIBUNES) — again, I don't understand the decision here. Why isn't this TRIBUTES—a much more common word with (and this is the important part) infinitely more cluing possibilities? TRIBUNES is more obscure *and* it locks you into a very restricted set of clues. Not so TRIBUTES. Maybe FIT (which would be the second "T" cross in this scenario) is already in the grid somewhere ... that's the only reason I could think of not to go with TRIBUTES.
  • 53A: What's plucked in "she loves me, she loves me not" (COROLLA) — ugh, no, stop. Shove your botany, this is "she loves me," no one is plucking a COROLLA. They're plucking petals. *Petals*. Be human!
  • 18D: Kind of number not much seen nowadays (FAX) — I figured the clue was doing that "number" switcheroo gag and so I wanted a three-letter synonym of ETHER
  • 81A: Island greetings (ALOHAS) — there are a lot of dumb plurals today. Well, there's this, and UNISONS. Oh, right, and of course MARGINS OF ERROR, who could forget?
  • 36A: Turning point in history (ONE B.C.) — I would've thought ONE A.D. was the "turning point, ONE B.C. being just another year as far as anyone knew then. But whatever.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Global currency market with portmanteau name / SAT 10-13-18 / Nissan crossover named for Italian city / 2016 film whose climax is on planet Scarif / Cartoonist's indicator of nodding / Title for Princess Anne beginning in 1982 / Ancestor of Methuselah

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (I think I was around 6 minutes (?), but I don't know, 'cause I had an error only *I* could've made (see below), so I didn't notice the clock when I put in the last letter)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: ZOE KAZAN (29A: Lead actress in 2017's "The Big Sick") —
Zoe Swicord Kazan (born September 9, 1983) is an American actress and playwright. Kazan made her acting debut in Swordswallowers and Thin Men (2003) and later appeared in films such as The Savages (2007), Revolutionary Road (2008) and It's Complicated (2009). She starred in happythankyoumoreplease (2010), Meek's Cutoff (2010) and Ruby Sparks (2012), writing the screenplay for the last. In 2014, she starred in the film What If and the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, for which she received an Emmy nomination. In 2017, she portrayed Emily Gardner, based on Emily V. Gordon, in the film The Big Sick. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very nice work here from Kevin, and I did so well. So so well. Until the end, when I finished but had an error. No Happy Pencil! I knew it had to be in the answer I'd never heard of—49D: Global currency market with a portmanteau name (FOREX). LOL, I can't even guess the basis of the portmanteau, that's how little the actual answer means to me. The problem—and I acknowledge that this is a problem that only I, and possibly other teachers of poetry, had—was that I didn't even hesitate at 60A: Volleyball team, e.g. I wrote in SESTET. The End. That is to say, I ended with FORES for the "portmanteau" ("Formidable Resolution"? "Forbidden Reservations"?). So the "S" should've been an "X." I was worried for a sec that the "F" was wrong, because FATE seems like a really bad answer to 49A: Theme in some time travel fiction. FATE is the main theme in the Aeneid, a mostly non-time travel epic poem. Not sure how FATE is involved more heavily in time travel fiction than in Any Other Genre, so yeah, thought maybe "F" was wrong, but what then? HATE? I mean, it's probably true. Travel through time to kill the person you HATE? Or GATE? "Stargate" is a thing, right? MATE? First mate on a starship, or maybe ... you have to time travel to find a MATE. But the answer was FATE. And the answer was SEXTET. And now this is all that I'm going to remember about this puzzle, which is sad, because I remember enjoying it.


Felt very very easy to start with, because SHONDA was a gimme (1A: Rhimes who created "Grey's Anatomy"), and then NONOS DUDS and ATSEA went right in. Every first guess seemed to be right for me today. KNESSET KESTRELS CORELLI, all just dropping in no problem. ZOE KAZAN is a regular crossword solver, so she'll probably be pretty chuffed today. The SE was the hardest part of this thing by a wide, wide margin, starting with my having no idea what followed the NOT in NOT BAD (33A: Fair). Me: "NOT ... TAN?" And then PIMAS!? Forgot they existed. ISOPOD? Needed many crosses. APERÇU? LOL, uh, I mean, I know the word (solely from crosswords), but yeep. And of course this is where FORE(X) and SE(X)TET were all hanging out, so it was a sandstorm of confusion. So much tentative fill down here that I even second-guessed MURANO, which I *knew* was right (56A: Nissan crossover named for an Italian city), but ... I also kept wanting to call it the "Mitsubishi MURANO," so ... oy. Rough. But again, the first 75% was a rollicking good time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Millennials in relation to their parents / FRI 10-12-18 / Relative of philia agape to Greeks / Reduplicative dance name / Seafood known for its sweet taste delicate texture

Friday, October 12, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard and Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:55)


THEME: LIGHTBULB (49A: Item suggested visually by the black squares in this puzzle's grid) — yeah, the black squares mostly do that, though I don't really buy that the ones in the far E, W and N actually "suggest" anything. I assume WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? (17A: Question after "Hey!") is also a themer

Word of the Day: Enid BAGNOLD (32A: Enid who wrote "National Velvet") —
Enid Algerine Bagnold, Lady Jones CBE (27 October 1889 – 31 March 1981) was a British author and playwright, known for the 1935 story National Velvet. (wikipedia)
• • •
You know I'm not a big fan of themed Fridays (or Saturdays), but this theme managed to stay the hell out of my way—cutely decorative without in any way interfering with my always much-anticipated themeless Friday feast. Black squares make a LIGHTBULB, and a LIGHTBULB can represent an idea, as in "WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?" Great. Also, not taxing on the grid and not asking a lot of me in terms of theme comprehension, i.e. the theme is transparent, and also you don't even have to know there is a theme to finish. Weird grid shape was a ton of fun to navigate—I thought the center might get very dicey, but LIGHTBULB to SNOWCRAB to MCS to MEGADETH, 1 2 3 4, meant that that whole section just lit up (!). I can count on one hand the number of places I made initial mistakes or struggled in any way. 1. I had SERIES and SERIAL (?) before SATIRE at 4D: HBO's "Veep," e.g.; 2. I misspelled SELINA (had the "I" as an "E") at 42D: ___ Kyle, Catwoman's alter ego (this despite being a regular reader of Catwoman); 3. Wrote in RIIS instead of RHYS (thinking Jacob and not Jean) at 30A: Jean who wrote "Wide Sargsasso Sea"; and, off the FA-, wrote in FAVOR instead of FANCY for 48A: Like.


But just because it was easy doesn't mean it wasn't fun. I mean, there's a BADASS LATINO AVENGEr in this damn thing, what more do you want? My proudest moment was remembering JUBA, as I am godawful at remembering world capitals, or ... well, lots of things that I don't actually use on a regular basis. But world capitals, for sure. The worst thing about this puzzle, by a country mile, is ECHOBOOMERS, which couldn't be less of a real thing if it tried (2D: Millennials, in relation to their parents). This is the NO BRA DAY of today's puzzle (please see yesterday's puzzle if you're not following). Nah and nope. I don't even know why such a term would exist; like, why would anyone think it necessary? What kind of relationship is being suggested? Also, isn't "Millennials" bad enough? Do we really need yet another stupid label for this unfairly maligned, ridiculously amorphous group of people? Don't put these trash ephemeral concepts you saw once in some think piece in your puzzles; it's embarrassing.


Five things:
  • 60A: Reduplicative dance name (NAE NAE) — seriously considered NEH NEH and NAY NAY there for a bit
  • 32A: Enid who wrote "National Velvet" (BAGNOLD) — really all she's famous for. She is one of the more common ENIDs of puzzledom, up there with the ENIDs of Arthurian legend, Oklahoma, and Blyton
  • 31A: [Don't you think you're milking it a bit too much?] (MOO) — this is bizarre, in that it is a "?" clue inside of an imagined cow-thought clue. I can accept that a cow's MOO might mean a lot of things, but that the English translation of that thought would involve a "milking it" ("it"?) pun, no, I can't accept that. Sincerely bad.
  • 40A: Focus of Boyle's law (GAS) — learned it from crosswords and somehow remembered it today
  • 44D: Go on and on (JABBER) — had -ABBER and somehow wasn't sure what letter went in the first position. Words like YAMMER and NATTER and probably GAB (8D: Go on and on) were creating a lot of interference.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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