Older brother of Malcolm on Malcom in Middle / FRI 11-16-18 / Von Trapp father in Sound of Music / Rexha pop singer with 2017 #2 hit Meant to Be / Jellylike organism once classified as fungus / Young prey for bobcat

Friday, November 16, 2018

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:34, and I was only half-awake)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Elizabeth ARDEN (40A: Who said "There's only one Elizabeth like me, and that's the queen") —
Florence Nightingale Graham (December 31, 1878 – October 18, 1966), who went by the business name Elizabeth Arden, was a Canadian American businesswoman who founded what is now Elizabeth Arden, Inc., and built a cosmetics empire in the United States. By 1929 she owned 150 upscale salons across the United States and Europe. Her 1000 products were found in the luxury market in 22 countries. She was the sole owner, and at the peak of her career, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

Always dicey embarking on a Friday puzzle just after rolling out of bed in the morning, but after an initial misstep (LEVER for SNOOP at 1D: Pry), I was off and running, and very little of substance ever stood in my way. HEIDI was an extreme gimme (2D: Heitkamp of North Dakota politics) and then ODE got me out of that 1D mistake and whoosh, goodbye. Made it all the way to the very last section (SE) before I encountered the only truly terrifying square in the puzzle: the crossing of BEBE (56D: ___ Rexha, pop singer with the 2017 #2 hit "Meant to Be") (who?) and ADELAIDE. Now, I know ADELAIDE very well. Or, rather, I know of its existence. I've never been there, or anywhere in Australia, despite having been to New Zealand four times (my wife grew up in Dunedin, NZ) (Note to wife: honey, next time, we really got get across the pond or whatever you people call that water between NZ and AUS). Anyway, I know ADELAIDE exists, but that vowel at AD-LAIDE ... oh, no, I was not at all confident about that. And BABE Rexha seemed very, very plausible. But in the end ADELAIDE just looked / felt right, and it seemed much more likely that you'd go to a marginal proper noun for BEBE than for BABE, so I guessed "E," which was right. Still, if I'd been the constructor, I think I would've done anything to avoid that cross (or I would've clued BEBE in a much more gettable manner).

[this whole album is phenomenal just fyi]

Five things:
  • 10D: Big name in men's deodorant (AXE) — well of course, but "name" had me wanting an actual person's name, so even at A-E I was like "... ACE? Is that a guy's name?"
  • 40A: Who said "There's only one Elizabeth like me, and that's the queen" (ARDEN) — Wow, turns out I didn't really know who she was. I'm a fan of old movies and I appear to have slightly confused Elizabeth with Eve:
  • 37D: Spiced holiday drink (WASSAIL) — I thought that was just something you said for a toast, like SKOAL! or SALUT! or whatever. Interesting.
  • 13D: Jellylike organism once classified as a fungus (SLIME MOLD) — I'll just take your word for it that this is a thing. I think I remember it from my D&D Monster's Manual ... or maybe I'm confusing it with Gelatinous Cube ...
  • 43D: Period of great climate change (EOCENE) — another semi-treacherous moment, as I had ITALIA at first for 58A: Neighbor of Suisse (ITALIE), and therefore sincerely thought the "period of great climate change" might be ICE AGE

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Noted artist on Bad Boy Records / THU 11-15-18 / Catchphrase for Moe Howard / Comic strip reporter Brenda / Cloned machine of old / 1990s game disk / Wash out with solvent

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:45)

THEME: MICROLOANS (60A: Money to start small businesses ... or a hint to five squares in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle with five "IOU" squares (so, an "IOU" is indicative of a loan and since "IOU" has been shrunk into a single square ... MICROLOANS!)

Word of the Day: ELUTE (2D: Wash out with a solvent) —
Online string instrument ... just kidding. Actually: "verb
  1. remove (an adsorbed substance) by washing with a solvent, especially in chromatography.
    " (google)
• • •

This is an extremely solid rebus puzzle, with a revealer that seems like it's been waiting all its life for someone to come along and make a puzzle based on it. As is typical with rebuses (and, just, most puzzles in general, honestly), I was slow to start, and particularly so given where I started. Hard enough to get DUBIOUS HONOR under any circumstances, but especially when it's hiding a tiny IOU, and especially when it also crosses ELUTE, which is up there on the yuckiest crosswordy words list. The Least Wanted list. ELUTE isn't a word, it's a typo. "Did you mean KLUTE? No? Did you mean ELUDE? No? Did you mean ELATE? No? I give up. Goodbye." I had OU-I at 4D: "Certainement!" and figured I was dealing with some kind of "leave a square blank" puzzle. Like, the answer was obviously OUI, but it just skipped over a square for some reason—what would that reason be!? Well as we know now, it was the "IOU" square. But I didn't figure that out there and then. I drifted down until I got to 44A: Catchphrase for Moe Howard, and after I got WHY, I knew the answer, knew it wouldn't fit, and so got very ... suspicIOUs. Got the gimmick pretty quickly then, as PREC- seemed to really want "IOU" to follow it (27D: Contents of a treasure chest = PRECIOUS GEMS). With this new "IOU" knowledge, I was able to go back to the NW, clean it up, and move on. Close encounters with ELUTE ALOU BIOME ELEA TOAT ESTA and COR had me a little (lot) wary of this one, but honestly I forgot all about that when, off of just -IOUS-, I got NOTORIOUS B.I.G. (10D: Noted artist on Bad Boy Records, with "the"). A great answer, and a themer to boot! The rest of the puzzle could've been a dog's dinner for all I cared. I was set. Then the revealer came in and gave the whole theme gimmick a solid rationale. Fine. Just fine.

Today I learned that the adjective is not SIOUXAN, which ... I mean, looking at it, yeah, that looks bad. Still, though, I balked slightly at SIOUAN, but the crosses checked out, so I was fairly (and rightly) confident.

I don't think of druids often, but when I do, their ROBEDness apparently isn't in the first tier of things I think about, 'cause that answer was slow to come to me. But I did get very lucky with the proper nouns today; in addition to NOTORIOUS B.I.G., I lucked out with the clues on STEINEM (20A: "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions" author) and STARR (33A: Comic strip reporter Brenda)—feminist icons both. May as well throw PELOSI in there too, as she was also a gimme (46D: House speaker after Hastert). I couldn't figure out what was PRECIOUS at first about the treasure chest. Wanted CARGO, didn't fit. Got the "G" and wanted GOLD (?). I think I've said this before, but PRECIOUS GEMS seems redundant. "Look at these worthless gems!" is not a phrase I can imagine someone saying. But I recognize that PRECIOUS GEMS is a real phrase (I just think it's more a jeweler's phrase than a pirate's). Thought the "con artist" might be a CHEATER, but I like CHARMER better (42D: Many a con artist). And I think I'm finally getting the "Frozen" crosswordese sorted—she's ELSA, and the snowman's OLAF, and the reindeer is SVEN, is that right? Is there more? Ooh, looks like there's a younger sister ANNA and a prince named HANS. That makes five reasonably common four-letter crossword answers that could have "Frozen" clues. You are welcome for this public service.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


German rapid transit system / WED 11-14-18 / Mag for docs / Muse featured in Xanadu / Hypothetical body in the solar system beyond Nepture / Western flick in old parlance / Govt org dating from 1930s

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:45)

THEME: GROW A BEARD (57A: Do the opposite of shave ... as suggested by the circled letters) — first words of themers (in circled squares) "grow" into a "beard" by the time we get to the revealer (though there, the circled squares form the *last* word):

Theme answers:
  • B FLAT MAJOR (16A: Key for five Mozart piano concertos)
  • BE YOURSELF (22A: "Just act natural!")
  • BEA ARTHUR (34A: "The Golden Girls" actress)
  • BEAR TRACKS (47A: Worrisome sign around a campsite)
Word of the Day: UBAHN (23D: German rapid transit system) —
The Berlin U-Bahn ([uː.baːn]; short for Untergrundbahn, "underground railway") is a rapid transit railway in Berlin, the capital city of Germany, and a major part of the city's public transport system. Together with the S-Bahn, a network of suburban train lines, and a tram network that operates mostly in the eastern parts of the city, it serves as the main means of transport in the capital. (WIKIpedia)
• • •

Over a minute faster than yesterday. Very much helped out by the theme (in that by the time I got to the bottom of the grid, I was able to write in BEA and thus get BEAR TRACKS very easily, and then getting the revealer was a cinch). The corners felt a little open, and thus a little tough, but on balance this thing definitely came in on the easy side. Not sure how I feel about this incrementally-adding-a-letter thing. The concept isn't that scintillating, and the themers don't even have that much stand-alone charm (I mean, I love BEA ARTHUR, but the rest are just OK). The revealer, too, struck me as a bit anemic. Very "EAT A SANDWICH." I was much more intrigued by the fill than I was by the theme. THAT GUY, BEER HAT, JOB FAIR, JANELLE Monáe and "OH, JOY" all gave the puzzle a lively personality. IRAIL (!?) sounds much more like a "rapid transit system" than UBAHN, and PLANET X sounds more like a '30s sci-fi pulp story than an actual thing, but I don't think there are many parts of the grid that are significant stumbling blocks. All in all, a little wobbly, but enjoyable. Here's a grid that my friend Christopher Adams did a few months ago—similar concept, but in reverse:

(and here's his puzzle website—a huge trove of free goodness just waiting for you)

JAMES BEARD > GROW A BEARD. If NYT puzzles had titles (which they should) then the title could've carried the burden of theme indication and that last themer could've been something more interesting. The lack of titles really does limit puzzling possibilities. It's an invisible deficiency, but a deficiency nonetheless. All tournament puzzles have titles. Sunday puzzles have titles. WSJ puzzles have titles. Because they are fun and (more importantly) useful. They liberate your grid, or at least give you more options for realizing your theme idea.

Know your crosswordese: OATER! (29D: Western flick in old parlance) It is another word for a western (movie). I know this because I do crosswords (though I have occasionally heard the word in the wild) (though I also watch a ton of TCM and I'm not sure if that counts as "the wild"). OATER is an anagram of another important piece of crosswordese, which is also in this puzzle: ERATO. They are both anagrams of ORATE, which is a normal word that humans use, so no need to go into it here. As for ERATO, I'm not sure this clue is so great (45A: Muse featured in "Xanadu"). The muse that's "featured" in "Xanadu" is Terpsichore (the 'real' name of the main character, Kira, played by Olivia Newton-John—please subscribe to my "Xanadu" podcast and newsletter, I have so much more to say about that ridiculous movie, which somehow costars Gene Kelly (!) and yet features truly terrible dance numbers)

[Seriously, what is this!?!?]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Nauru's capital / TUE 11-13-18 / President Herbert's wife mother / di pietro artist better known as Fra Angelico / Representatives Sessions Aguilar for instance

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Constructor: John Ciolfi

Relative difficulty: Challenging (4:53) (slowest Tuesday time this year by half a minute)

THEME: ANDES (69A: Mountain chain about 5,000 miles long ... or a hint to 17-, 25-, 31-, 44-, 50- and 61-Across) — -ES is added to the end of familiar phrases? (with wacky clues?) ... so it's the familiar phrase *AND* "ES" ...

Theme answers:
  • HOUSE PETES (17A: Representatives Sessions (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA), for instance?) (house pet +ES)
  • FOR THE WINES (25A: Why many people visit Napa?) ("For the win!" +ES)
  • BABY SITES (31A: Nurseries?) (babysit +ES)
  • BEAR CUBES (44A: What ice trays typically do?) (bear cubs +ES)
  • HOOVER DAMES (50A: President Herbert's wife and mother?) (Hoover Dam +ES)
  • GUESS NOTES (61A: Play "Name That Tune"?) ("Guess not ..." +ES)
Word of the Day: YAREN (22A: Nauru's capital) —
Yaren (in earlier times Makwa/Moqua), is a district of the Pacific nation of Nauru. It is the de facto capital of Nauru and is coextensive with Yaren Constituency. [Population: 747 ... !?] (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, what was this? Every themer, and much of the fill, was disastrous for me. Literally had no idea what the theme was supposed to be, or how to take any of the theme clues. Even after I got the themers from crosses, I had no idea what the "joke" was. Only after I finally got BEAR CUBES did I see that something w/ E was happening. But it still took me forever to see HOOVER DAMES (esp. the "D," as the only Macbeth lines I could remember is "Is this a dagger I see before me?" and "Out, damned spot!"—"TO BED" completely skipped my mind) (34D: Words repeated by Lady Macbeth in Act V, Scene 1). The main problem with this theme is that ... it's not clear if the theme means "and there are Es" or "plus ES." HOUSE PETS is perfectly normal plural phrase. Add as "E" to get HOUSE PETES. There's absolutely no reason I should expect that the theme is "add ES," since it looks like simply "add E." This is also true for BABY SITES and BEAR CUBS, which are simply ordinary plurals with "E" added. But then there's the totally unpluralizable "for the win" and "Hoover Dam" and "Guess not!", so yeah, in retrospect, I can see that the theme was actually "add ES," but mid-solve, oof.

It's funny the puzzle thinks I know the first names of US Reps nowhere near where I live. There are many hundreds of them. I know a *Jeff* Sessions, and I know a Pete *Domenici*, but they were both Senators. Anyway, HOUSE PETES, my god. No way. So for a Tuesday this theme was very hard. But also the theme is off. And the puzzle makes the grave mistake of thinking that more is better, that cramming the grid with theme material will make the puzzle somehow more entertaining or more impressive, when all it does is strain the grid. I'm still laughing at YAREN. I mean ... what? It's bad enough I have to remember NAURU, a very very very tiny country. But its so-called capital? More people live In My Neighborhood than live in YAREN. I got YAREN and gaped at it. Checked the crosses. Shrugged. Thank god for crosses. Beyond that, the fill was rough all over. Not yesterday rough. But rough. Long Downs in the NE were the one highlight for me.

ANGIOGRAM (32D: Cargiologist's X-ray) and BERNOULLI (33D: Mathematician Daniel after whom a principle in named), ha ha on a Tuesday? My dad was a radiologist, but even then I had trouble coming up with ANGIOGRAM. And I just flat-out don't know BERNOULLI. At all. Fun. Also, I totally forgot the TROGGS (48D: Band with the 1966 #1 hit "Wild Thing," with"the"), which hurt a lot (me: "the FRUGGS? ... the ... what was Iggy Pop's band???"—it was the Stooges, so I was way off there). The TROGGS and James ARNESS (40D: "Gunsmoke" star James) placed this emphatically in The Land Before (My) Time. I wish I had liked this better. It's possible the theme would've played better, or more clearly, with "ES" added somewhere in the middle of the phrase (so the apparent plural thing wouldn't be an issue) ... and maybe if it ran on a Wednesday :)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Longtime SNL cast member Thompson / MON 11-12-18 / Spiced tea from East / Site with Shop by category button / Felipe first Dominican manager in MLB history

Monday, November 12, 2018

Constructor: Kathy Bloomer

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:02)

THEME: COME TO THE TABLE (57A: Show up for negotiations ... or a hint for 20-, 33- and 42-Across) — each theme answer contains a piece of silverware

Theme answers:
  • STICK A FORK IN IT (20A: Declare something completely finished)
  • GAG ME WITH A SPOON (33A: Expression of disgust in Valley Girl-speak)
  • GO UNDER THE KNIFE (42A: Have surgery)
Word of the Day: OPEL (14A: Affordable German car) —
Opel (Opelpronounced [ˈoːpl̩]) is a German automobile manufacturer, subsidiary of Frenchautomaker Groupe PSA since August 2017. From 1929 until 2017, Opel was owned by American automaker General Motors. Opel vehicles are sold in the United Kingdom under the Vauxhall brand.
Opel traces its roots to a sewing machine manufacturer founded by Adam Opel in 1862 in Rüsselsheim am Main. The company began manufacturing bicycles in 1886 and produced its first automobile in 1899. After listing on the stock market in 1929, General Motors took a majority stake in Opel and then full control in 1931, establishing the American reign over the German automaker for nearly 90 years.
In March 2017, Groupe PSA agreed to acquire Opel from General Motors for €2.2 billion, making the French automaker the second biggest in Europe, after Volkswagen.
Opel is headquartered in Rüsselsheim am MainHesseGermany. The company designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes Opel-branded passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles, and vehicle parts and together with its British sister brand Vauxhall they are present in over 50 countries around the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed bag today, but let's start with the good news—those themers are all lively and interesting. As stand-alone phrases, they are great, and they give the puzzle a lot of sassy personality. All of them are idiomatic in one way or another, even the revealer, and that colloquial quality really spices things up. I'm also a big fan of "WHO KNEW?", KEELS OVER, and PUT ON AIRS—I especially like the clue 64A: Act all hoity-toity because it reminds me of Michael Ian Black's podcast "Obscure" (about Jude the Obscure), which has an episode called "Hoity-Toity!" which is what Arabella yells at Jude the first time she sees him walking past ... not sure if it's before or after she throws a greasy pig part at him ... anyway, bring back "hoity-toity!" I say! (Also, check out "Obscure," it's a bunch of fun).

But then there a number of problems. First, this isn't the tightest theme; spoon fork knife, OK, but ... two are at end of their themers, one isn't; two are things you would actually put in your mouth, one *decidedly* isn't. I mean, not that we put knives in our mouths as a rule, but we definitely don't put *surgical* knives in our mouths. And look, surgeons, if I'm wrong about that, please don't tell me. Also, the revealer is pretty weak, in that it doesn't really evoke silverware specfiically. COME TO THE TABLE? Lots of things are on a table, lots of things are involved in a place setting. Maybe do something with SILVER ...? I dunno, but this revealer just lies there. Then there's the very serious problems with the fill. The grid is choked with crosswordese, some of it of a stunningly archaic variety. IGLU!? You can see what happened—the fill is weakest along the length of the central two themers. They are treacherously close, and the grid just groans with hypercommon or just plain bad short fill as a result. If you position your themers such that you give yourself -G-U as a starting point, you really are dooming yourself to IGLU. Gotta make better choices, or build a more forgiving grid, or let your themers breathe more, or something. Real problem is those 14s—14s are very hard to work with. Very unwieldy, and you can't put them on the third / thirteenth rows because of black square issues, so they're crowding the middle of the puzzle. Much of the grid is under strain because of the lack of breathing room between the very long themers. So we get SOT ERGS ETON ALOU ATPAR ELAN RAJAS ACERB ENOLA OBIS AAA ETATS SOU (ugh) IGLU (2x) OPEL HOER (?) UHURA. It's a crosswordese barrage. And it's pretty brutal.

  • 53A: Org. with the longtime leader Wayne LaPierre (NRA) — f*** that guy and this answer and this clue and all of it. I know it's a useful answer, but this is pretty much a white terrorist org. now, so maybe delete it from your wordlist. Please. EURO could've been changed to ESSO and the whole horrid gun-fetishizing scene could've been avoided.
  • 39A: Give the glad eye (OGLE) — again, jeez, read the room (i.e. country). This old-timey euphemism for a creepy predatory gaze is somehow much worse than just a straightforward clue. 
  • 1D: Moo goo gai pan pan (WOK) — indeed, a funny clue, but one that had my speed-solving brain totally flummoxed, as I thought ... I just couldn't figure out what I was reading. It was like I was seeing double and I couldn't parse it to save my life, so I actually had to go to crosses, ugh. My bad.
  • 43D: "You wouldn't believe it if I told you" ("DON'T ASK!") — more good colloquial stuff, though I couldn't get the part after DON'T, and since I couldn't get the part before -TO THE TABLE, I was in this weird position of being almost done but locked out of that SW corner. Had to jump into it and solve my way back out.
  • 48A: One-named singer with the 1985 hit "Smooth Operator" (SADE) — this puzzle has me wishing SADE and REBA did a duet together, if only for the complete and utter unexpectedness of it
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Indie rocker with 2009 #3 album Middle Cyclone / SUN 11-11-18 / Charcuterie stock / Mythical queen of Carthage

Sunday, November 11, 2018

NOTE: Apparently this puzzle is a contest. I found this out after I solved, after I wrote about the puzzle, after I already posted. Having done the work, there's no way in hell I'm taking down this post, but I am telling you not to read on if you don't want the contest "spoiled" for you. If you are sincerely irate that someone might use my post to "cheat," enter this contest, and dishonorably win the huge pile of riches, I don't know what to tell you.


Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:59)

THEME: "Escape Room" — theme answers are instructions on how to "escape this crossword": you need the LETTERS ON THE KEYS (because four different squares have "KEY" going in one direction and a single *letter* (which you need to escape...) going in the other). You take those KEY-crossing letters (which are Y, A, T, and W) and literally PLACE THEM IN THE CORNERS, after which you can READ NEW DOWN WORDS, namely: "YOU / ARE / OUT / NOW" — here's the grid with the letters actually placed in the corners:

[Side note: Are you having trouble getting the app to take your solution? I solve in AcrossLite, and it took my grid when I entered the single letters in the "KEY" squares (i.e. I wrote in NASTINESS, IMARET, SWEET, and SNOW DAY, even though it left the crosses looking funny). Maybe the app works the same way?]

Word of the Day: Peter STRAUB (33A: Horror writer Peter) —
Peter Francis Straub (born March 2, 1943) is an American novelist and poet. His horror fiction has received numerous literary honors such as the Bram Stoker AwardWorld Fantasy Award, and International Horror Guild Award. (wikipedia)
• • •

Escape Rooms are entirely not my jam. Many, many of my friends are very, very into them. I feel about them the way I feel about most other things that combine group activities and being locked in a room I can't immediately get out of, i.e. nope. I like crosswords, and I like some crossword variants like Vowelless crosswords or ... what are they called, Something Different or something like that, where most of the answers are ridiculous / nonsensical entries that are still somehow gettable through inventive cluing; and I'll do an Acrostic if I'm bored, and I'll have a look at a Spelling Bee or even a Jumble if I'm waiting for the water to boil, buuuuuuut ... Escape Rooms, no. See also Puzzle Hunts and Learned League and etc. I'm very anti-social, or narrowly social, and my puzzle tastes are kind of narrow too. Where was I going with all this: oh yeah, Eric's puzzle. I was deep enough into my Manhattan to feel very open-minded about this. Enthusiastic, even. I mean, I gotta do it, so why not do it with a spirit of adventure? And what can I say? The thing where theme answers are instructions—not my favorite kind of solving experience. Tab A in Slot B, Fold Here, etc., just doesn't make for hot fill. That said, this particular gimmick is neat and tidy and clever and not a fussy nuisance—and the grid was crisp and clean—so a good time was had. By me.


I didn't really know what to do with the KEY squares in the grid, so I left them blank and went back to check them out once I'd filled in the rest of the grid. It took me a minute or two of fiddling around and writing out the KEY letters and then plugging them in to see the "escape." It's nice that when you plug in the KEY letters in the corners, not only do the Down answers spell out the escape phrase, but the Across answers also form perfectly acceptable words (YEAR CHINA TOAST SLEW). Is that how you spell GASSES? I think I would write GASES. Oh, man, that looks bad too. Nevermind. Coolest answers, to my ears / eyes, are oddly symmetrical: NEKO CASE and LAST GASP. I had never heard of NEKO CASE and then for some reason I can't recall "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" (2006) fell into my lap about a decade ago and I was like "whaaaaat is this?" This song in particular.

Not much in the way of trouble here today. What didn't I know? STRAUB. That's a name I've seen in bookstores, I guess, but I know nothing about his work. Thank god that "B" was crystal clear, 'cause I was fully ready to go with STRAUS. The only other part of the grid that made me squirm a little was NICAD over MEDI- crossing DISS (and I once wrote a DISS, so dis whole situation is a little weird).  I see NICAD from time to time, but it still doesn't come easily to me. And what ever was MEDI- ...? 97A: Prefix on some first-aid products. I guess that's ... correct. Let's just say that that little patch is not one of the lovelier parts of the grid. But that patch is anomalous. Whoa, I just looked at LESSSO and it freaked me out a little, so I'm gonna stop now. Hope you escaped. See you tomorrow, or next Sunday, or whenever you read me next, I guess.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Smetana composition inspired by river / SAT 11-10-18 / Subject of class six-volume work by Edward Gibbon / Rebel fighter during Mexican revolution / Dog depicted by Monopoly's dog token / TV show created by Vince McMahon / Like landscape paintings that focus more on color lighting than fine detail / Woman's name meaning pleasure

    Saturday, November 10, 2018

    Constructor: Will Nediger

    Relative difficulty: Medium (8:37)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: "THE MOLDAU" (15A: Smetana composition inspired by a river) —
    Má vlast (Czech pronunciation: [maː vlast], meaning "My homeland" in the Czech language) is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. While it is often presented as a single work in six movements and – with the exception of Vltava – is almost always recorded that way, the six pieces were conceived as individual works. They had their own separate premieres between 1875 and 1880; the premiere of the complete set took place on 5 November 1882 in Žofín Palace, Prague, under Adolf Čech, who had also conducted two of the individual premieres. [...] Vltava, also known by its English name The Moldau, and in German Die Moldau, was composed between 20 November and 8 December 1874 and was premiered on 4 April 1875 under Adolf Čech. It is about 13 minutes long, and is in the key of E minor. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    It's a solid grid but not nearly as entertaining as yesterday's. I just couldn't get that excited about obscurish proper nouns like "THE MOLDAU" (?) and SIR PURR (?). As for TURNERESQUE (which I got reasonably quickly), once you've seen ZOLAESQUE, all the [name]-ESQUEs are kinda [shrug]. The SE corner is pretty hot, but the rest of it was just OK for, and much of the cluing seemed off or obnoxious. What kind of clue is that for EDNA? (7D: Woman's name meaning "pleasure"). In what language? (the answer is Hebrew—why not give that, at least? Otherwise, it's both tough *and* uninformative). A HOT DATE is only a HOT DATE if you already *have* chemistry, [Chemistry test?] is a bad clue. Technical terms like PLANER and OCTILE always seem sterile and blah. Flu shots don't really "target" the flue—they help you produce antibodies etc. whatever, you know how it works. [Target of some shots] just doesn't seem a very FLU VIRUS-specific clue. I assume that [Gambler's spot] was intended to mislead; I had PI- and went with PIT, an answer I prefer infinitely to PIP. I do not understand why anyone would put a "P" there over a "T"—if only because the cluing possibilities for PIP are so much more limited. Also, PIP is a far stupider word. The ogley / cutesy STRIPPERS clue I could probably do without, too (1A: Pole stars?).

    Wasn't sure if it was WWE RAW or WWF RAW, because again, as with the NFL, I could give a ****. Football, pro wrestling, strippers. This puzzle was for some dude who is not me—though I do like the symmetry (and taste!) of SUSHI and GYOZA, and I am a big fan of comic books (MAGNETO) and the ROMAN EMPIRE (as a historical thing, not as a model of governance so much). Twice I thought the clue was going for a specific thing when it was going for a general thing, so that was annoying. Thought the "rebel fighter" in 62A: Rebel fighter during the Mexican Revolution would be one guy, and the "Dog" in 44D: Dog depicted by Monopoly's dog token was gonna be one, like, famous dog. But it's just a breed (SCOTTIE). Mad at myself for blanking on LUNA Lovegood, especially as I am working my way through the Harry Potter books now, in French (I read them once before in English with my daughter a decade+ ago). I was like "L.... AURA Lovegood? LARA? LENA?" Such a gimme, so wasted on me. CLINE and ANN and REID and DALEYS were all proper nouns I could handle. "I'M ALIVE!" is more an ELO song than a plausible "cry" (4D: Survivor's cry). And what the heck is up with that TSK clue (58D: [Oh, no you didn't!]). First, those aren't equivalent in the least. They don't have the same tone or meaning. Also, I think you're trying to do this:

    ... which, as you can see, is spelled and punctuated differently, and really doesn't convey, on any level, in any way, the quaint rebuke of TSK.

    Final thoughts:

    • 54A: Reminder of a hit (WELT) — takes advantage of word ambiguity; classic cluing move
    • 61A: What sharks take interest in (USURY) —ditto, 2 times

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Eponymous Belgian resort town / FRI 11-9-18 / Bar Ireland's oldest pub dating to AD 900 / Sentry's query / JJ's sister on good times / Caesar's conquest of 58-50 BC

    Friday, November 9, 2018

    Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:02) (actually probably very easy, but my brain is not yet warmed up this morning...)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: SEAN'S Bar (28A: ___ Bar, Ireland's oldest pub, dating to A.D. 900) —
    Seán's Bar is a pub in the town of Athlone that is Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to AD 900. In 2004 Guinness World Records listed Seán's Bar as the oldest pub in Europe.[1][2][3] Seán's Bar is located at 13 Main Street, Athlone, on the west bank of the River Shannon in central Ireland, and was originally known as "Luain's Inn". It is often colloquially referred to simply as "Seán's". (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I have no pep or vim or whatever this morning. I'm mostly just trying to get my eyes to focus on the screen without slowly shutting. And yet even at hunt-and-peck speed, I finished this in 5:02—nowhere near my record, but fast enough for me to think I could've smoked this thing if I'd been above 50% power. Twitter confirms alot of PBs (personal bests), so I think "Easy" is probably a fair rating. I loved this grid and if I'd been fully awake I likely would've wished that the cluing was somewhat harder. In my current condition, however, it felt just right. There were three parts that slowed me down. As usual, the beginning slowed me down (I should really just take this for granted—of course the beginning is likely to be one of the hardest moments in the puzzle: you have no information in the grid to go on). I ran the short Downs and got a few of them. Actually, of the shorter ones, I got only OER and ASAP, but I also got WHO GOES THERE? immediately, so that was nice. But NO-GOOD and CRED weren't easy for me as clued and, worse, once I got RE-R at the front end of 16A: Backward, I figured that third letter had to be an "A"—REAR-something. Then I wrote in YEAS for 2D: Agreeable answer to an invitation. Sigh. YEAS are "answers," plural, and they're more "answers" to calls for votes. So that was dumb. Then I couldn't drop REDEFINES down. I just had RED- and no idea (8D: Adjusts the parameters of). And that's the only way to get from that corner to the center and NE of the puzzle, so again, things slowed down.

    Things very much slowed down around SEAN'S (???), which is bad fill (plural name) dressed up as if it were a class, cultured crossword clue. Nice save. Still, never heard of it, so I had to hack at every cross in that little section. But again I had huge luck with the longer answers. FUNNEL CAKES took no effort. TOURIST TRAP, eventually, took no effort. I had most of GLASS CEILING filled in before I saw the clue, so, easy. These long-answer victories made up for some of the shorter-answer flubs. I finished on a very murky section that had me a Little worried, because I couldn't remember CONESTOGA. I knew very well that the word was C- something -STOGA, but my problem was I never learned the wagon word until I was an adult, and growing up in California there was a bottled mineral water called CALISTOGA (there probably still is), and that is the only word my brain could think of. So between C- and -STOGA lay a void, a murky unknown, a scary dark territory that also contained an answer I had wrong (MENDS for MOLDS at 27D: Gets into shape?), and then one I wasn't entirely sure about (34A: Old Speckled Hen, for one — ALE). But I molded that section into shape block by block, and boom, done. And somehow my time was well below average. OK, then!

    Five things:
    • 48D: Competitor of Us Weekly (STAR) — I would not know. STAR? Oh this is one of those supermarket check-out rags? Yeah, no.
    • 37D: Largest carrier in Japan (ANA) — All Nippon Airways. Crosswords taught me this. Actually, crosswords just taught me ANA. I only looked up what the letters stood for just now on the google.
    • 46A: Fishing basket (CREEL) — pretty funny to have this answer in the same puzzle with 21A: "Fish are friends, not ___" (line from "Finding Nemo"). Also, I think there should be an animated "Rocky" parody starring a fish boxer named "CREEL"; Nemo can be his trainer or something.
    • 40D: J.J.'s sister on "Good Times" (THELMA) — Scooby-Doo's VELMA was the only non-SELMA -ELMA I could think of at first, but then this name came back to me. Temporary layoffs!
    • 48A: Eponymous Belgian resort town (SPA) — this fact is still highly weird to me. It's like discovering there's a town in England called BATH. . . wait, what?! No. Really? Let me check. . . well whaddya know... well this all just came full circle: "The city became a SPA with the Latin name Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis") c. 60 AD when the Romans built baths and a temple in the valley of the River Avon, although hot springs were known even before then." (wikipedia)
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Japanese mushroom / THU 11-8-18 / Notable feature of North Dakota and Texas / Format that preceded Blu-Ray / Bottle cap type

    Thursday, November 8, 2018

    Constructor: Sam Ezersky

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: GO WEST, YOUNG MAN (37A: Horace Greeley's advice, as followed by 17-, 25-, 50- and 60-Across?) — theme answers all end in LAD, which has been transposed to the beginning of the clue (the lad moved west...get it?)

    Theme answers:
    • [LAD]POWERBAL (17A: Many a hit by Def Leppard) 
    • [LAD]ARMORC (25A: Like medieval knights)
    • [LAD]TACOSA (50A: Meal served in an edible bowl)
    • [LAD]SUPERBOW (60A: Famously expensive commercial)

    Word of the Day: DECOCT (13D) —
    Decoction is a method of extraction by boiling herbal or plant material to dissolve the chemicals of the material, which may include stems, roots, bark and rhizomes. Decoction involves first mashing the plant material to allow for maximum dissolution, and then boiling in water to extract oils, volatile organic compounds and other various chemical substances. Decoction can be used to make herbal teas, leaf teas, coffees, tinctures and similar solutions. (Wikipedia)
    • • •
    Hello everyone, Rex is unavailable, which means it's time for two bright-eyed rookie guest bloggers to fill in for today. We're two Northwestern students (Megan Beach and Tristan Jung) who need to tag team puzzles to get them done efficiently, but that means you get double the variety in your blog post! We prioritized this blog post over homework. What a FIESTA we had doing this puzzle instead.

    Megan: While running through the acrosses, I put in TACOSALAD right away, but quickly realized something funny was going on with the theme and deleted it. Tristan got GO WEST YOUNG MAN but we still didn't figure out the LAD gimmick until we were well over halfway through. Once that happened, it was relatively smooth sailing.

    Tristan: Well, I knew the quote, but I confused Horace Mann (the public education guy) with Horace Greeley (noted newspaperman and presidential candidate) the whole time. Not IDEAL. I had some trouble with the southwest corner and the FLINGS/I AM ALI/EDITOR crosses. For one, I inexplicably couldn't think of the first two words of the boxing documentary despite getting NATO and SIR without much trouble. Not a huge Def Leppard fan, but POWER BALLAD was easy to get once we determined the quote.

    Megan: Yeah, this seemed like a lot of theme answers that led to some awkward fill - SSS (47A: sound of a leak) is just bad. Not a fan. ENE (57A: ending with polypropyl-) is a little technical, but, whatever. #MeTOO is at least topical. Also, what is up with IN PHASE? According to Google, it's a thing, but it really threw me – I think we got that answer almost entirely via crosses. Overall, I did enjoy the puzzle, even with a hokey theme.

    Tristan: There were some easy gets for NFL fans with VIKES and BREES, but those might've been hard if you don't watch sports. I appreciated Sam's theme for what it was doing and the historical context. I went to summer camp on the old compound of Horace Greeley's 1842 utopian colony in Pennsylvania, and I later went west for college, so I clearly am living his legacy.

    • DVDVIDEO — Has anyone ever called it this...ever? 
    • AIGHT — I (Megan) loved this clue. I think it's funny and just weird enough, and I actually use it in my texts more frequently than I'd like to admit.
    • OMG/WAY — omg no way i had no idea people under the age of 25 use funky abbreviations and condense words. we should put them in every crossword to keep things fresh and hip (Tristan, who didn't like it as much)
    • LEVIN — Ira Levin is a top three literary Levin, just behind the one from Anna Karenina.

    Megan Beach and Tristan Jung, Crossworld's Newest Court Chroniclers

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

    [Follow Tristan Jung on Twitter and his blog]

    [Follow Megan Beach on Twitter]


    Former colony that's gambling mecca / WED 11-7-18 / Meaning of Simba in Swahili / Tricky bowling situation / 1060s muscle car / Gin rummy combo / Baseball throw that might thwart squeeze play / Comic strip opossum

    Wednesday, November 7, 2018

    Constructor: Timothy Polin

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:27)

    THEME: PISA, ITALY (38D: Home to this puzzle's featured structure, as hinted at by the starts of the answers to the starred clues) — LEA / NIN / GTO / WER (?) spelled out and depicted in the grid, and then there's a bunch of themers that start with synonyms for "lean":

    Theme answers:
    • TIP SHEETS (4D: *Bettors' aids)
    • ANGLE FOR (18A: *Seek surreptitiously)
    • TILT AT WINDMILLS (39A: *Fight imaginary enemies)
    • PITCH OUT (60A: *Baseball throw that might thwart a squeeze play)
    Word of the Day: CAMELLIA (16A: Shrub used to make tea) —
    1. an evergreen eastern Asian shrub related to the tea plant, grown for its showy flowers and shiny leaves. (google)
    • • •

    This puzzle wins the Trying Too Hard award for the year, man. I mean ... so much stuff, and none of it works. It's kind of amazing. First, that tower ... it's leaning a preposterous, physically impossible amount. As an approximation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy, as you insist), it's hilariously off-the-mark. Then there's the fact that the revealer is absurd. PISA, ITALY? As opposed to PISA, TEXAS? And then the verbs at the "starts" of the theme answers aren't ones you'd ever use in relation to that tower. And then the tower itself is built out of discrete words (... kind of interesting ...) except the foundation, which is just -WER. And poor DELI's just sitting up there like "what about me? Come on, let me in! How 'bout this: DE LEANING TOWER!? That sounds good, right? Guys!" This puzzle is what happens when you draw something, and it's not quite right, so you add a new element, and now it's actually worse, so you try another little fix and, nope, still worse, and etc. Also, lots of crosswordese and also EOLIAN and CAMELLIA :(

    LOL I almost forgot about MIDGUT, what the hizzeck is that? I'm literally laughing at that dumb answer. When would you even use that? "I hit him in the gut." "Which gut?" "Uh ... MIDGUT?" I mean, "gut" kinda already implies "mid," as in the midsection of your body. Also, the clue is dumb. Your intestines are ... you've seen anatomy textbooks and doctors' office diagrams and stuff, right? Your intestines are not in one place in your "gut" (still laughing at the scientific precision of all this). They are all over your "gut"—left to right, top to bottom. What is this answer? What is this clue? I'd redo the entire SW corner before I let MIDGUT stand.

    Gonna go cap off this mixed-result but generally good election night with a shot of whiskey. Mwah!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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