Indian crepes / TUE 11-12-19 / 1960s activist Hoffman / Scottish funeral accompanist / Item with dollar sign on it in cartoons

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Constructor: Gabrielle Friedman and Jakob Weisblat

Relative difficulty: Challenging-ish (I just woke up, but still, mid 4's is slow)


THEME: "BYE BYE BYE" (58A: 2000 'N Sync hit ... or a hint to 17-, 26- and 45-Across) — all themers start with "bye" homophone:

Theme answers:
  • BI-CURIOUS (17A: Interested in experimenting sexually, maybe)
  • BUY AMERICAN (26A: Stick with U.S.-made products)
  • BY A LONG SHOT (45A: Easily)
Word of the Day: TEST BED (23A: Experimental setting, as for a new initiative) —
a vehicle (such as an airplane) used for testing new equipment (such as engines or weapons systems)broadly any device, facility, or means for testing something in development (merriam-webster)
• • •

So there are issues. Let's start with themer 1, which is gonna rub some solvers the wrong way, for a variety of reasons. Now, I'm slightly outside my area of expertise here, but my understanding is that BI-CURIOUS is kind of a dated term, with the term "Questioning" being preferred in cases of not-conventionally-fixed sexual identities. Defining BI-CURIOUS solely in terms of *sexual* experimentation kind of makes "bi" seem like a. just a sex thing, and b. not a real identity. I don't think bisexual people like it. Again, I absolutely do not speak for all or even some bisexual people. I'm just already seeing pushback online. So there's that. It's definitely a term that people use, and it's in the dictionary in a non-pejorative sense, so fair game. But you gotta be concerned about how words are gonna land, not just whether the Dictionary gives you the thumbs-up. The next major issue for me today is ... WHY make a Tuesday puzzle with a themeless grid? 70 words is Absurdly low for an early-week themed puzzle. It's the word count you'd expect to see on Fri or Sat. When you have just four themers, you should think of that as an opportunity to make the grid sparkly *and* clean. Clean, I say. This grid, ugh. Yes, there are lots of longer answers, but they are not all good, and the shorter stuff starts to come apart. Could've done without NO TAR, NOT PASS (yuck), a single TONG, DII, ARTE, LINEA, XYLO (!?), INHD, etc. ROBING is patently not a thing. HOODING takes place at Ph.D. ceremonies. ROBING ... is what I did ... I guess ... to myself ... before I walked at H.S. and college graduation? And then the activity would be ... self-robing? Do graduating people have servants who robe them? Genuinely bizarre. Wheels came off for me at LOOT BAG (43D: Item with a dollar sign on it, in cartoons). Just, no. I'd sooner accept LUTE BAG, as in, "Where did I leave my lute...?"


Never heard of TEST BED, so that was rough. Clue on YES I AM was inscrutable to me (8D: Personal affirmation). Kept wanting "Yes, Ma'am" to fit. "Personal" ... made me think ... well, not of the self. Had PHONE CHAT before VIDEO CHAT (11D: Skype call, say). ROAMS before ROVES, of course (9A: Travels here and there). Forgot what DOSAS were (my bad) (63A: Indian crepes). Totally forgot the 2013 film for which Judi Dench received a Best Actress nomination  ("PHILOMENA"). Like, completely forgot. I could see the poster, and maybe Judi's ... son? On that poster? But that's it. Put in PHILOMELA, which is a poetic word for "nightingale" (w/ a gruesome back story). Thought [Stick with U.S.-made products] was referring to an actual stick. Like a selfie stick or deodorant stick. Sigh. Very dumbly wrote in STATE TAX before STAMP TAX (53A: Colonial grievance that was a cause of the Revolutionary War). Did not (at all) expect 45A: Easily (BY A LONG SHOT) to be BY phrase. Maybe a WITH phrase? Not sure. There were likely other hiccups, but I don't care to rehearse them. The theme was an old type, but fine on its face

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rapid green growth in lake or pond / MON 11-11-19 / 1960s-70s teen idol with the hit Julie Do Ya Love Me / General Mills cereal since 1937 / 760-mile river that starts in Switzerland / Protection sold at Apple store / Southwestern plant with swordlike leaves

Monday, November 11, 2019

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:12)


THEME: THINK TANK (64A: Research institute ... or, when read as a direction, a hint to the ends of the answers to the starred clues) — last words of themers are kinds of "tanks":

Theme answers:
  • POOL SHARK (17A: *Hustler with a cue stick)
  • WINDMILL DUNK (24A: *Showy basketball two-pointer)
  • TEARGAS (40A: *Riot dispersal weapon)
  • BOBBY SHERMAN (51A: *1960s-'70s teen idol with the hit "Julie, Do Ya Love Me")
Word of the Day: BOBBY SHERMAN (51A) —
Robert Cabot Sherman Jr. (born July 22, 1943) is an American singer, actor and occasional songwriter, who became a teen idol in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had a series of successful singles, notably the million-seller "Little Woman" (1969). Sherman mostly retired from music in the 1970s for a career as a paramedic and later police officer, though he occasionally performed into the 1990s. (wikipedia)
• • •

Found this one largely boring. The longer Downs would've been a nice bonus feature of an otherwise easy Monday if they'd been at all interesting, but they were just OK, and the theme ... well, I'm biased. Roughly a decade ago now, a friend of mine and I had a "tank"-based puzzle rejected by the current editor because He Had Not Heard Of Either Of Our Sherman Options. The theme was TANK TOP and the themers all ran Down and the first words (i.e. the "top") of the themers were all tank types. We had reasonably famous author SHERMAN ALEXIE in our initial draft. No dice. OK, hey, what about SHERMAN POTTER, who was, you know, a central character on "M*A*S*H" for, like, ever? Still no dice. Whatever, we submitted it to the LA Times and it ran with our original Alexie answer. The point is—BOBBY SHERMAN?!?!?! You've heard of BOBBY SHERMAN!?!?! Who was famous for like 10 minutes when I was like 4 years old!?!? I wanna say "OK boomer," but a real boomer Would Have Heard of Sherman Potter. Oof. Anyway, THINK TANK is somewhat clever as a revealer, but overall I didn't find the theme or themers very moving. The grid is also loaded with over-familiar stuff (NIA EENIE NENE ENOKI ASAHI HUH AAH ECARD).


TEAR GAS is somewhat grim. Does PASS GAS pass the breakfast test? I'd take it before TEAR GAS. Might make your eyes water, but not part of a gruesome police state violence ... I don't think. I can't believe this puzzle missed the chance to use "BABY SHARK" for the first themer. When you accept puzzles months if not years in advance, you're less nimble to cultural trends. "BABY SHARK" would've made this thing much more current. POOL SHARK is fine, but not as exciting. I guess the idea is that all of the "tanks" are used non-tank contexts, i.e. the second word changes meaning in a "tank" context (basketball dunk becomes dunk in water, tear gas becomes gasoline, etc.). So I get it. POOL SHARK makes for greater consistency, I guess. But it's less fun. In much more particular-to-me news, I hate the word ALGAL when I see it alone in a grid and I don't like it any better here in ALGAL BLOOM (30D: Rapid green growth in a lake or pond). Had ALGA and then no idea. The fact that that answer crosses BOBBY (about whom, also, no idea), took me from a probable comfortable sub-3 time to a very average 3:12. I mean, really, BOBBY SHERMAN. I had the SHERMAN and, sincerely and truly, wrote in ALLAN, who is, I'm sorry, the more famous first-name-five-letters-last-name-SHERMAN. Blah. Good day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Asian metropolis of 28+ million / SUN 11-10-19 / Tennis player with record 377 cumulative weeks ranked No 1 / 1980s auto imports based on Fiat / Speed skater who won five golds at 1980 Lake Placid Olympics / Mughal emperor of India known as Great / Cinematographic innovation of 1970s / Captain played twice in film by Charles Laughton

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium (slow for me, but thematically easy, I think) (11:12)


THEME: "Double Sixes" — wacky phrases with six double letters in a row:

Theme answers:
  • BASSI IN NEED DOODLE (23A: Low singers, short on money, draw idly?)
  • DOES SAAB BOOKKEEPING (37A: Works as an accountant for a Swedish aerospace company?)
  • QUEEN NOOR ROOMMATES (53A: People who share an apartment with a Jordanian royal?)
  • ISAAC COOLLY YEEHAWS (75A: Designer Mizrahi shouts like a cowboy in a nonchalant way?)
  • SWIM MEET TEEN NEEDLED (94A: Headline after an adolescent at a pool competition is made fun of?)
  • ENROLLEES SEEM MEEK (112A: Matriculated students appear to be timid?) (why is "to be" in the clue???)
Word of the Day: WHO (73A: 50,000-watt clear-channel radio station in Iowa for which Ronald Reagan was once a sportscaster) —
WHO (1040 kHz "Newsradio 1040") is a commercial AM radio station in Des Moines, Iowa. The station is owned by iHeartMedia and carries a news/talk radio format.
WHO broadcasts with 50,000 watts, the maximum power permitted for commercial AM stations. It uses a non-directional antenna. WHO dates back to the early days of broadcasting and is a Class Aclear-channel station. With a good radio, the station can be heard over much of the Central United States during nighttime hours. During daytime hours, its transmitter power and Iowa's flat land (with near-perfect soil conductivity) gives it at least secondary coverage of most of Iowa, as well as parts of IllinoisMissouriNebraskaKansasWisconsinMinnesota and South Dakota. It is Iowa's primary entry point station in the Emergency Alert System. [...] 
Future United States President Ronald Reagan worked as a sportscaster with WHO from 1932 to 1937. Among his duties were re-creations of Chicago Cubs baseball games. Reagan received details over a teleprinter for each play and would act as if he were in the stadium, reporting on the game while seeing it from the press box. Many radio stations used this re-creation system until sports networks became more common. (wikipedia)
• • •

Extremely not my jam or idea of a good time. The themers weren't so much hard to get as they were dreary to get. Extremely forced. So much so, that any humor is mostly drained out of them. As for the rest of it, it was off my wavelength at every turn. Felt like an enormous slog, despite my enormously average time. There's nothing really to say about this theme. There it is. Six double-letters in a row ... that is ... what those answers all have. No tricks. No gimmicks. No nothing but a bunch of tortured premises and awkward "?" clues. I get that this scratches some people's fun itches, but it just made me itchy. I had no trouble putting most of the themers together, but I had all kinds of trouble with understanding what much of the non-theme clues were going for. There was a GRAIL at the Last Supper? There's such a thing as a MOONBOW?? DELHI has *how many* inhabitants!?!? There's an apostrophe-S in PIRATE ('s) BOOTY?!?! And wbat the hell is up with this absolutely gratuitous Ronald Reagan content? And right under Liz CHENEY? Ugh, yuck, stop. WHO can be so many things? Why this dumb radio station? I mean, you've got WHO crossing HOW, you could've done something clever (or faux-clever) with that. Don't you raise a stink? And at any rate, that phrase is dated. I dunno. I just couldn't find much to enjoy here. It's been a good week up til now, for the most part. Law of averages, I guess. And this puzzle isn't empircally bad. It's just for someone not named me.


So many points of hesitation or bafflement. Clues on ENRON (20A: Case study in many business ethics classes) and DRUMS (10A: Skins, so to speak) and USDA (12D: National School Lunch Program org.) were all rough for me. I thought the cream sauce (29A: Served in a certain cream sauce) was ALFREDO. I don't think DANDY equals [First-rate]. To me, it's good, fine. In fact, fine and DANDY. I had DA-DY in place and even then nearly wrote in DADDY (just 'cause it made a word). Had OH at the beginning of 55D: Cry of dismay (OY VEY!) and so misremembered the dumb cars as HUGOS (sure sounded right) (62A: 1980s auto imports based on the Fiat). Wanted KEEP ON for 66A: Not doff and could not come up with a synonym for "keep" (?!). Wanted the "hay" to be in a LOFT (that's why they call them "hay lofts" and not "hay BARNs," ugh). Forgot Eric HEIDEN existed. Don't think of a simple SHRIMP as a "food item." Found clue on KODAK really hard because film is dead and those ads (and the whole concept of a "Kodak moment") = exceedingly bygone. Something something YALE, whatever (78D: The Collegiate School, today). Calvin / ALVIN, man am I bad at those type of clues (84A: Man's name that becomes another man's name when a "C" is put in front). CHAIR BEDS!?!?! LOL What the hell are those? (76D: Alternatives to sleeper sofas) They sound dreadful. No one literally no one calls "jeans" (a real word!) DENIMS. As you can probably tell, I'm just glad this one is over. See you tomorrow (or next week, if you're of those Sunday-only-type people!).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the Vox crossword puzzle a. exists, b. has been unbelievably terrible, and c. ditched their regular constructor for a new constructor yesterday and the puzzle was actually good. Here it is (the 9 November puzzle).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Obsolescent aid for businessperson / SAT 11-9-19 / Stereotypical exclamation from Hercule Poirot / Aircraft that excels at water landings / Rapturous reception for Oprah Winfrey / Corporate shuffle for short

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Constructor: Neil Padrick Wilson

Relative difficulty: Easy (untimed, but once I got going, there wasn't much resistance—plus Twitter is *awash* in 'PERSONAL BEST SATURDAY TIME!" notices...)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: FLOAT PLANE (11D: Aircraft that excels at water landings) —
floatplane is a type of seaplane with one or more slender floats mounted under the fuselage to provide buoyancy. (wikipedia)
• • •

Solving first thing in the morning, my brain just doesn't operate quite right. I printed this one out, put it on the clipboard, sat down in the comfy chair to solve, and the first answer I went to was 23A: "And this affects me ... how?" Like, why would I do that? Why would I start there? That's' just weird. Maybe my eye caught the clue and its strange colloquialness just piqued my interest, I dunno. But I do know I spent like a minute just poking around that answer ("OK. SO?") and its crosses (I could get only EON and OPTTO). Then I was like "huh, well, this has been fun, wonder what the rest of the puzzle is like," hopped just an inch over to the NW (traditional crossword starting point!) and TEN INAPT NAPE ACHE whooooosh, off I went. ASPERUSUAL off the ASP-, "SUPER FREAK" off of nothing (an enormous gimme), and on and on. No idea if solving in the evening on computer would've gotten me a record Saturday time, but it seems possible. Only issues were spelling of MADEA (classical theater lover in me just instinctively went "MED-"), and, oddly, WOMAN, whose clue (44D: Amazon, e.g.) was ... I mean, accurate, I guess, but a bit like using ["Moby-Dick," e.g.] as a clue for BOOK or [Jack Lemmon, e.g.] as a clue for HUMAN BEING. Got the WOM- part and for a half-second thought I must have had something wrong. Then WOMAN dropped. OK. So?


I am trying to pinpoint why I didn't find this one very exciting, despite the fact that it's trying so hard. I like many answers in it. I like "SUPER FREAK" (even if the clue was Way too easy). I like SNOOZEFEST, I like "NO PROBLEMO!" (very early-Bart-Simpson). But ENGLISH TEA and FLOAT PLANE and USED AS BAIT and UTTER BORES (plural) felt like a wordlist dump. Who would even think to put ENGLISH TEA in a puzzle. I know ENGLISH BREAKFAST TEA (too long for any non-Sunday grid), but ENGLISH TEA? FLOAT PLANE is a thing, for sure, but feels technical in a way that it's hard to imagine someone's really *wanting* that answer. ZORRO MASK looks cool, but isn't that just a mask? Like, a black mask that covers just your eyes? There's a movie called "The Mask of Zorro." The thing that really makes the Zorro look, besides the sword, is the hat. USED AS BAIT is a verb phrase that feels very iffy as a standalone answer. USE AS BAIT, USES AS BAIT, USING AS BAIT, are these all good? I'm fumbling around here trying to put my finger on why I didn't find this groovy, despite there not being much junk at all (TGI and NOTUS were my only real "ick" moments). I think it's that it doesn't have a voice. It doesn't feel like a human made it. Constructors, at their best, have voices, personalities, they have a feel to their puzzles. "Voice" is the best term I can think of. This one doesn't have a distinctive voice. It's like ... somewhere in the uncanny valley of Saturday puzzles. Like, it's very puzzle-like, very passable, and yet there's something ... off. Like a super-sophisticated but not-sophisticated-enough robot made it. "This is human fun, yes!?" I mean ...yes? I'm not outraged. But I didn't have a blast. "Your hot dog buns come in OCTETs, yes!?" Sure they do, Puzzy. Sure they do.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Devil-may-care motto in brief / FRI 11-8-19 / Classic arcade game with announcer who shouts boomshakalaka / Hoedown musician's aid / Obsolescent living room fixture

Friday, November 8, 2019

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (I think — untimed)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: ASA GRAY (37D: Charles Darwin contemporary) —
Asa Gray (November 18, 1810 – January 30, 1888) is considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century. His Darwiniana was considered an important explanation of how religion and science were not necessarily mutually exclusive. [...] A prolific writer, he was instrumental in unifying the taxonomic knowledge of the plants of North America. Of Gray's many works on botany, the most popular was his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive, known today simply as Gray's Manual. Gray was the sole author of the first five editions of the book and co-author of the sixth, with botanical illustrations by Isaac Sprague. Further editions have been published, and it remains a standard in the field. (wikipedia)
• • •

Peter Wentz rarely disappoints. Wentz and Weintraub are the names I like to see on Friday (I like other names, too, but those names are locks). This one started out feeling extremely easy. I'd barely hit my comfy chair before MSG / MACROS went in the grid, the STAN AIL SILENT C. Couldn't see CLAWHAMMER (17A: Basic part of a tool kit) til I finally got that "W," and slightly doubted ON ITS END (my reaction: "really?"), but I was out of that NW section fast, and then rode REMNANT to the NE and polished that off quickly as well. JOKE gave me the "J" I needed to see BANJOPICK, and then, with "NB-" in place at 24D, I said to myself "Please be NBAJAM, please be NBAJAM," and then I looked at the clue and whaddyaknow: 24D: Classic arcade game with an announcer who shouts "Boomshakalaka!" I didn't even play that game, but I knew it existed and I *loved* seeing it here (also *loved* guessing it out off just the first two letters without even looking at the clue, and then having the clue confirm it!). CLAYMATION slowed me down slightly because the clue was vague (in a fine, totally Friday-appropriate way) (31A: Film models are used in it). But I didn't have any real abatement to my cruciverbial progress until the SE, where I balked at both of the long Downs that started with "F"—eventually tested FATHEAD (42D: Half-wit) and PDA OAK FLATTOP all confirmed it. Still, I stared at various letter arrangements at 48A: Obsolescent living room fixture until I got to PL--MAT- and still I stared. "Looks like PLAYMATE ... did people used to have PLAYMATEs just standing around their living rooms?" No, I'm just very very old and could not accept that something as modern-sounding as PLASMA TV could be "Obsolescent." But, ALAS.


Experience just one massive screw-up, and that's when I wrote in FANNIEMAE instead of SALLIEMAE (43A: Student loan provider). Big eraser marks there. Tinier eraser marks right above it, where I wrote in INA instead of AHA at 37A: ___ moment. But both flubs were easily fixed, and I ended at ASA GRAY / YOLO, which is a great and fitting crossing, as YOLO was one of ASA GRAY's favorite expressions! Darwin: "Asa, I don't know if that plant is safe to eat..." Gray: "But it smells so nice ... and, well, as I definitely like to say, YOLO!" When he awoke from his coma three weeks later, he named that plant the Yellow YOLO. True story.


Five things:
  • 9D: Take a pointer? (DOGNAP) — this answer made me sad. Don't steal dogs! Also, how many "naps" does one puzzle need!? (See 18D: After-dinner amenity)
  • 29D: Stainless steel element (NICKEL) — I swear I will go to my grave not being entirely sure if it's NICKEL or NICKLE
  • 39D: Soothing application (ALOE GEL) — something about this answer felt slightly "green paint"* to me. I had ALOE and was like "...? balm? stick? pen?")
  • 23A: How a sofa might be turned (ON ITS END) — still slightly mad at this one. You wouldn't accept ON HER FACE for [How a girl might fall] so ... harrumph.
  • 57D: Org. targeted by Moms Demand Action (NRA) — hey, I found a good NRA clue
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*"green paint" = phrase that one might say but that does not make a very strong stand-alone answer. Often an "adj./noun" pairing.

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Nitrogen compound / THU 11-7-19 / First magnitude star in Cygnus / Walter 1950s-70s Dodgers manager / Former Indiana arena that hosted four Final Fours / Onetime British band whose name consists of letters suggesting bliss

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium? (I solved on paper without a timer ... if you knew the old trivia clues, probably easy; if not ... not)


THEME: diamonds — circled squares form—and spell out—different "diamonds":

Theme answers (from L to R, top to bottom):
  • Faux diamond (??)
  • Hope Diamond
  • Baseball diamond
  • Neil Diamond
  • Legs Diamond
Word of the Day: LAC (24A: Sealing wax ingredient) —
a resinous substance secreted by a scale insect (Laccifer lacca) and used chiefly in the form of shellac (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

I have "yeesh" written multiple times in the margins of my puzzle print-out, if that gives you some sense of how this went. There weren't many pleasant moments today. NICEISH, that was my one moment of "oh, I like that!" (58A: Kind of kind). Let's start with the end—that is, making sense of the circled squares. When I started, I took one look at the grid and thought, "OK, scattershot circled squares, those'll add up to something eventually, let's just go." The key word there is "scattershot," i.e. in no way did I see five discrete diamond shapes. Not at all. The "baseball" diamond puts circles so close to the other diamonds that the shapes lose their individual identity, at least to a cursory glance. So theme shmeme. It may as well not have been there, and in no way added to or subtracted from my solve. Only became an issue when, in the end, I looked back over the grid and thought "What ... was that?" There's no revealer, so figuring it out was tougher than usual. But not that tough. I don't think of the moment you discover the theme as an "aha" moment unless it comes mid-solve and helps move you along. Not sure what to call an irrelevant after-the-fact theme discovery. But that's what I experienced. Very much a let down. "Faux" seems particularly weak as a type of "diamond." The others are OK, but who cares? Making shapes like this feels very old hat. Nothing new or exciting going on here, themewise.


So as for the actual solving experience, this puzzle may as well have been a themeless, and as a themeless ... hoo boy, it was not satisfying. My main complaint was the trivia, which was stale and old and obscurish at times, *especially* if sports (and **especially** old sports trivia) is not really your thing. This thing was sports-heavy even for me, a sports-following person since I was a boy. And when I was a boy, Walter ALSTON (33A: Walter ___, 1950s-'70s Dodgers manager) and WEEB (!?) Ewbank (40D: Hall-of-Fame coach Ewbank) were already in history's rearview mirror. Dodgers were my first sports fandom, but the only manager I ever knew was Tommy Lasorda. Anyway, I was semi-stunned to see the puzzle go to the old-coach well more than once. WEEB *and* ALSTON!? Two, two, two old coaches in one (puzzle)!? To say nothing of the more common sports stuff (GOT A HIT, BALKS, the baseball diamond in the middle of the grid, CAVRCA DOME ...). But it was mainly the coaches that got me.


And then there was the trivia like FROZONE (back to the "secondary characters on 'The Incredibles'" well, I see) (16A: Character voiced by Samuel L. Jackson in "The Incredibles") and then meaningless (to me) stuff like OIL RING (41D: Engine part that distributes lubrication evenly) and ALAMOSA (38D: Colorado city on the Rio Grande). And tired old xword stuff like DENEB and AZOLE and IGAS (plural!) and SOU and LAC (!) and the non-Nan Bobbsey twin FLOSSIE (!?!?) (speaking of old). There wasn't much to cheer about. The theme was ultimately familiar and inconsequential, the fill was trivia-laden and mired in a pretty bygone era. OK, I'll give TOTAL LIE and HOT WINGS some credit. They do liven up the grid. But solving this just wasn't fun. PESETA *and* LIRA?! LOT *and* LOTT?! MRS. C *and* ESTELLE!? SELASSIE *and* FLOSSIE!?!?! (just kidding on that last one). I'll pass. Or, I would have, if I didn't have to write this blog :)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hip-hop artist with 2006 hit Ms New Booty / WED 11-6-19 / Marvel hero with multiple M.I.T. degrees / Bygone Fords / Gal eponymous gun designer / Award that encourages technological development to benefit humanity

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium (for me, easy for lots of others, apparently)


THEME: TRIPLEX (38A: Three-screen cinema ... or a hint to 17-, 26-, 46- and 61-Across) — all themers have "XXX" in them

Theme answers:
  • XXX RATING (17A: Raciest classification)
  • BUBBA SPARXXX (26A: Hip-hop artist with the 2006 hit "Ms. New Booty")
  • SUPER BOWL XXX (46A: Contest in which the Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-17)
  • XXXL SHIRT (61A: Article of clothing at the very end of the rack)
Word of the Day: THE X PRIZE (34D: Award that encourages technological development to benefit humanity) —
XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that designs and manages public competitions intended to encourage technological development that could benefit humanity. Their Board of Trustees include James CameronLarry PageArianna Huffington, and Ratan Tata among others.
The XPRIZE mission is to bring about "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity" through incentivized competition. It fosters high-profile competitions to motivate individuals, companies and organizations across all disciplines to develop innovative ideas and technologies that help solve the grand challenges that restrict humanity's progress.
The  Ansari X Prize relating to spacecraft development was awarded in 2004, intended to inspire research and development into technology for space exploration. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle thinks it's way EDGIER than it is. Like, it's trying really Really hard to make you believe it's hip and now and clued in but as a puzzle, I found it clunky and dreary. Where to start? First, I still, at the moment of my writing this sentence, have no idea what the clue on the revealer means. What is "Three-screen cinema"? I have heard TRIPLE X used only (or almost only) in one context—and it's exactly the same context as XXX RATING (i.e. the context is porn). So, for me, the revealer and the first themer are essentially the same thing, which means the puzzle's already a bust.

[UPDATE: some helpful Twitterers have informed me of some things regarding the TRIPLE X clue. the most important is probably that it's one word: TRIPLEX. Two syllables. TRI and PLEX. Wow. OK]




[So even people who have heard of this concept think the clue here is bad, OK, good to know. Anyways, end of UPDATE, back to original write-up]

Then there's the X's, generally. Most of these themers pick up the X's super cheaply. I mean, XXXL SHIRT?!? SUPER BOWL XXX. So a "add all the X's" size on an arbitrary piece of clothing and an arbitrary Super Bowl? The only actually interesting themer here is BUBBA SPARXXX, whose name I know, but whom I have apparently stored in the same part of my brain that contains UNCLE KRACKER. It's actually probably not surprising that I have stored an '00s rapper named Bubba and an '00s singer named Kracker in the same part of my brain. Anyway, here's Uncle Kracker's "Follow Me," which I'm playing mostly because I don't know and don't want to take a chance on a song called "Ms. New Booty" right now:


The grid feels like it was made by someone with a giant wordlist who wants to use as much of "new" stuff as possible, quality be damned. Actually, that's not entirely fair. My only real problems were with CS MAJOR—I've been on U. campuses most of my life and while I'm sure it's a real abbr. it's not one I hear at all ("CS" = "computer science," in case you hadn't figured that out). It's got that insidery thing where if it's your major it's transparent, but to the outside world ... I mean, with specific context, I can infer it, but "CS" is no "PoliSci" or "CompLit" as far as recognizable major abbrs. go. Also, just the confusion of "tech" stuff with cultural currency gets Tiresome to me, and this one has CS MAJOR *and* THE X PRIZE, another thing I'd never heard of. When I looked it up, I cared less. Worse, the puzzle doesn't seem to know or care what it is. It just lifts its clue Straight Out Of The Wikipedia Entry (that's how you for sure know that an answer is on shaky ground).


Didn't like that, in addition to the Roman numeral in the Super Bowl answer, we get yet Another (random) Roman numeral at 62D: Nero's 91 (XCI). Austin PEAY is oof, not great as stand-alone fill (45A: Austin ___ (Tennessee university)). Thank goodness PLATH is ultra famous, because that cross could've been dicey. The only way I know PEAY is that Austin PEAY is (I think) a perennial, or semi-perennial, or at least occasional 16-seed in the annual NCAA March Madness college basketball tourney. Outside the answers I didn't know, the puzzle was Very easy, and this will please many people. And at least it's *trying* and not just lying there. But again, I just wish that constructors would care more about polish and elegance and less about gimmickry and superficial "new"-ness. Also, there's gotta be a better way to make your puzzle current than just shoving tech stuff in. So depressing. I liked seeing VENMO, though (11D: Mobile payment service owned by PayPal). Good to have fresh-ish five-letter answers with real currency (sorry, I think that's a pun. I *am* sorry)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. You can take the UZI back, and Cosby too, tbh, though man I do miss the time when thinking about the HUXTABLES made me happy.

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Black tea variety / TUE 11-5-19 / "The Grapes of Wrath" migrator / Edwards or Ramstein: Abbr.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:53)



THEME: Juicy Part (64A: Movie role with range ... or what 17-, 24-, 39- and 51-Across each have?) — the shaded portions of the theme answers are various fruits, which typically bear juice

Word of the Day: PATINA (9D) —

Patina (/ˈpætɪnə/ or /pəˈtiːnə/) is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of copper, brass, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes), or certain stones, and wooden furniture (sheen produced by age, wear, and polishing), or any similar acquired change of a surface through age and exposure.

• • •

Theme answers:
  • AUTOMATON (17-A): Robot
  • ANKLE MONITOR (24-A): Object commonly worn by someone under house arrest
  • LANDSCAPE ARTIST (39-A): One making a scene outdoors
  • ROMAN GODDESS (51-A): Venus, for one
Hola, amigos. What's shakin'? Feels good to rap at ya. I'm first-time poster, long-time reader Adam Jacobi. Wish we could have met under better circumstances than "Rex Parker is in Michigan," but so it goes.



On to better news: this was a decent little Tuesday of a puzzle, wasn't it? Sturdy. The theme answers were all recognizable words/phrases on their own, the hidden elements spanned multiple words where possible—and in the first theme answer, it's one word, but the theme element used six of the nine letters, nice—and the fill was just plain clean. ABBA as your 1A isn't the best opening note in crossword history, but it crosses BUTT, so it's good to see the puzzle get a little... cheeky. Even better, the three-letter answers were sparse and common. Yes, there's some Crosswordese sprinkled throughout the puzzle, but 1) it's a Tuesday, and 2) if the furthest a puzzle strays from real words is SRA or BAA, that's not much to complain about, right?

So naturally, here's the part where I complain.

If I had a quibble on the theme, it's that when I think of common fruit juices, pear doesn't crack the top 10. Google tells me it's often for babies. Okay. It's not as flagrant as, say, the notion of banana juice, but apples and grapes are still out there, y'know? Especially considering it's in the one full-length theme answer. Obviously, this could come at the expense of the answer quality as a whole, and I'd probably rather see four quality answers that hide passable theme elements than four passable answers that hide quality theme elements, if that makes sense. Just not digging pear juice.

The puzzle plays pretty old. That's not a complaint, per se—there are people whose pop culture windows are all over the place who do these crosswords, and a Tuesday should be accessible to a very large portion of them. But I counted precisely six clues that would not have been solvable 25 years ago, and every single one of them—PIBB, YELP, STAN, DORA, JAKE, COP—could easily be re-clued back to the '70s without much difficulty. Move the window to "not solvable 30 years ago," and all you're adding is ROMA and OSLO; again, by themselves, still eminently recognizable. To reiterate, populating the grid with plain words is not necessarily a complaint, but it forces the clues to do a lot of heavy lifting to make up for unimaginative fill if the solving experience is going to be truly satisfying.



Bullets:
  • 9A: ____ Xtra (soft drink) (PIBB) — At least the second Pibb shout-out in the last four weeks, and this one's "Pibb Xtra," a name Coca-Cola unleashed on the world to liven up the brand—and which now sounds far more hopelessly out of date than the preceding Mr. Pibb. Pibb Xtra! The soda that rides a skateboard! [guitar riff!] [always wear proper safety equipment when operating a skateboard or opening a soft drink can under parental supervision] 
  • 26D: Bread baked in a tandoor (NAAN) — I once had visions of being a restaurateur, and my first pitch to investors was an Indian restaurant that served this bread before every meal. Unfortunately, it was a naan-starter.
  • 36A: Greek H's (ETAS) — It's technically a word, but why not go with "Airport board listings, for short"? When was the last time you counted Greek letters or had to refer to multiple amounts of them? I feel secure in assuming that "There sure are a lot of etas in this Greek text!" is not a common observation to the majority of crossword solvers. It's okay to join the 20th century in your Tuesday clues. 
  • 13A: Neighborhood neglected by local government (SLUM) — Honestly, I'm about ready for "slum" to be retired as a term—far too loaded, and you don't need me to explain more than that—but at least the clue is surprisingly responsible about its description.
  • 11D: Advice often seen in Cosmopolitan and Seventeen (BEAUTY TIPS) — Got the first two letters on crosses and filled it with "BE YOURSELF" at first. Silly, precious me.
What did you think?

Signed, Adam Jacobi, Clown Prince of CrossWorld

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Largest island in the Philippines / MON 11-4-2019 / Be too sweet, possibly / Earner of at least 21 merit badges / Wing-to-wing measures

Monday, November 4, 2019

Constructor: Trent Evans

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: METAL MUSIC — The first word of each theme answer is a metal,and the clue is related to music.

Theme answers:

  • NICKELBACK (17A: Rock band with the 2001 #1 hit "How You Remind Me")
  • SILVER BELLS (23A: Classic Christmas song with the lyric "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks / Dressed in holiday style")
  • PLATINUM RECORDS (38A: Million-selling albums)
  • TIN PAN ALLEY (47A: Old New York song publishing locale)
  • METAL MUSIC (59A: Genre for Slayer and Iron Maiden...or a hint to 17-, 23-, 28- and 47-Across)

Word of the Day: ASTOR (First U.S. millionaire John Jacob ____) —
John Jacob "JackAstor IV (July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912) was an American businessman, real estate developer, investor, inventor, writer, lieutenant colonel in the Spanish–American War, and a prominent member of the Astor family.
Astor died in the sinking of RMS Titanic during the early hours of April 15, 1912.[2] Astor was the richest passenger aboard the RMS Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time with a net worth of roughly $87 million when he died (equivalent to $2.26 billion in 2018).
(Wikipedia) 
• • •


OMG you guys i am so sorry for being late!!! I just completely forgot. Kind of ironic bc my mom and her twin forgetting that they were supposed to post was the whole reason I started writing for Rex! But I'm here now. Hi! 

Image result for francisco goya
Witches' Sabbath by Francisco Goya
I wanted to like this puzzle more than I actually did but I keep getting hung up on METAL MUSIC. Correct me if I'm wrong but I've never heard anyone call it anything but "metal." I mean seriously! One thing I did love, though, is how all the second words of theme answers connected to music just as much as the clues did--BELLS, RECORDS....and, uh, ALLEY. I guess you could play music in an alleyway?

One last gripe: "Gone with the Wind" is not the only possible clue for TARA! Other than that though, nice easy-breezy Monday.

Anyway, my new fellowship is awesome but tbh some days I almost consider going for an MBA because I had to get a second job and I'm soooo tired. 
Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired.

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Fluffy neckwear / SUN 11-3-2019 / Egg on / Spoil, as a Parade

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: easyish - medium


THEME: ALL THE RIGHT MOVES — An "e" sound is added to the name of movies in the form of "ie", "y", and "ee":

Theme answers:
  • A ROOM(IE) WITH A VIEW (23A: Your apartment-mate, if you don't close the door before showering?)
  • ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK(IE) (31A: Your wish, maybe, when a rambunctious terrier puppy is first brought home?) 
  • RAGING BULL(Y) (50A: Tyrannic sort?)
  • IRON(Y) MAN (54A: O. Henry?)
  • JOHN WIK(I) (80A: Online reference about toilets?) (this one doesn't work b/c the movie is "John Wick" not "John Wik" so you're no longer just adding an "e" sound)
  • GOOD(Y)FELLAS (82A: Guys who pass out Halloween treats?)
  • STRANGERS ON A TRAIN(EE) (96A: What outsiders think about the new hire?)
  • A HARD DAYS NIGHT(IE) (110A: What the exhausted working woman wears to bed?)
Word of the Day: SLUSH PILE (Editor's stack of unsolicited manuscripts) —
In publishing, a Slush Pile is a set of unsolicited query letters or manuscripts that have either been directly sent to a publisher by an author, or which have been delivered via a literary agent representing the author who may or may not be familiar to the publisher. (wikipedia). 
 ... so exactly what the clue says...
• • •
Back by unpopular demand, it is I, Jeff Lin, the guy who railed on David Steinberg that one time.  I didn't read the comments last time so I assume it was an EPIC FAIL.  Quick aside before getting to it.  So, since I started doing crosswords, I had a bit of an EGO and have been quite VAIN and elitist about only doing the Times (that brief period where I also did the USA Today puzzle aside).  But, based on recommendations from Rex, the commenters, and the NYTXW Twitter community, my friends and I (shout out to EB, LA, JB, and TW) gave the American Values Club Xword a shot (on top of, not in LIEU of, the Times) and have not been disappointed.  Their puzzles are refreshing and fun in all the ways the Times is old and stodgy, so I also highly recommend everyone check them out.

Anyways... The reason I wanted to highlight how refreshing the AVCXW puzzles are is because good lord were there a lot of gluey proper nouns in this one.  WOPAT, HOREB, KIRI, YGOR, OMARR, ZAK, READE, TOD, ISAAK, AACHEN, and OSCAN?  I knew a grand total of zero of THESE references.  Also not the usual URIS clue.  Non proper nouns like CHUBS, TABSET, and MAIS also whooshed over my head.  There were just so many of these crossing each other and slowing me down before I could pick up the theme.  Took a lot of BRUTE strength to get through all of them.  Just couldn't TORE through it (yes, I know the grammar is off, but I wanted to get another answer in the write up so just work with me here).


The RESTE of the puzzle was fine.  Didn't expect the YANG Gang to be the first 2020 ELECT(s)ion related answer, but Buttigieg is really hard to spell and pronounce (I had to double check myself to make sure I didn't go AMISS with the spelling; I still have no idea how to correctly pronounce it).  Overall, maybe this puzzle should have stayed in Will Shortz's SLUSH PILE.

Bullets:
  • 28A: Expensive (PRICY) — I prefer "pricey" spelled with an E which would have kind of worked with the theme but fine
  • 41A: Early Human (CROMAGNON) — Don't know why I thought it was cro-magnum like the P.I. or the wine as I don't really partake in either
One last aside before I go.  In light of the recent tragic end of Deadspin, one of my favorite sites to read, I just wanted to put in writing how grateful I am that Rex has this forum and that he (and idiots like me) can use it to not just "stick to crosswords".  Nothing in this world happens in a vacuum, crosswords included, and I hope sites like this and what Deadspin used to be continue to speak truth to power and get the support they deserve.  If you disagree, feel free to EAT ME.

Signed, Jeff Lin, The Antipope of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook] [I also have a Pierre Delecto-esque Twitter, but I only use it to follow Rex and others so no need to follow me]

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Southernmost team in the NBA / SAT 11-2-2019 / 2008 Lil Wayne hit whose title is slang for lots of money / One-point throw in horseshoes / Mourner in the Book of Ruth / Longtime CBS drama spinoff / Org. that operates the Large Hadron Collider

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Constructor: Paolo Pasco + Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: easy-ish (3:53)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: SEMORDNILAP (Reversible word) —
definition: A word, phrase, or sentence that has the property of forming another word, phrase, or sentence when its letters are reversed. A semordnilap differs from a palindrome in that the word or phrase resulting from the reversal is different from the original word or phrase. 
etymology: A reverse spelling of palindromes. "Semordnilap", according to author O.V. Michaelsen, was probably first used by recreational linguist Dmitri Borgmann, cited by Martin Gardner in the revised edition of C. C. Bombaugh's Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature (1961). The underlying concept (but not the term) is found at least as far back as Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno (1889). [wiktionary]

• • •
Once again, it's me, indie constructor Christopher Adams filling in for Rex. Always happy to do so, and I seem to have good luck with blogging puzzles that are NOT TOO BAD at worst. And this one, by two of my constructing idols, definitely falls into that camp. Perhaps not the flashiest of puzzles, but it has most of what I want out of puzzles. First and foremost, that grid is clean. I'm a huge believer in the idea that a puzzle is only as good as the worst entries, and there's almost nothing that made me scowl while solving. Maybe QUIK or IN LEAGUE, which looks weird in the grid without "with", but I'm really grasping at straws here.

Oftentimes, with solidly-filled grids, it can be hard to work in a lot of good answers, since a good chunk of the effort is spent on establishing the floor, not raising the ceiling. But there's some solid work here: I WILL NOT and COME AT ME stacked in the NE, NOT TOO BAD and DREAM DATE in the SE, and MIAMI HEAT, SEMORDNILAP, and FRACTAL (I'm biased here) elsewhere. More flash comes from the clues, especially [Commanding lead?] for ACTOR DIRECTOR and [Cooler filled with juice?] for ELECTRIC FAN. In both cases, the ? gives some of the game away, but it was still fun figuring out those clues even knowing that those words were all being used in a second context different from the natural surface reading.

"A woman is alive / You do not take her for a sign in NACRE (52A: Shell material) on a stone"

Anyway, as noted above, I had a reasonably quick solve; I had the luck of knowing A MILLI (1A: 2008 Lil Wayne hit whose title is slang for lots of money) immediately, but even if I didn't, the downs weren't terribly tricky, and AT BIRTH / MIAMI HEAT / LAN / IRAQ (well, 3/4 of that; see later) would have been gimmes even without the first letter in position. (For that matter, TIN EAR and BANANA would also have gimmes if I'd bothered to look at those first; I usually hit the top row first to try to get starting letters and then go through all the downs off that, especially when solving on paper.) After knocking out that corner, SEMORDNILAP was a nice jump into the middle, and very little from there offered any resistance. Finished around where ELECTRIC FAN connects the NE to the middle; I had MEAN for NORM and both SHARE (confusing retweets and shares) and CHIRP before CHEEP, and figured both were wrong and left that to the end to untangle. And, coming back to that area with a fresh mind after finishing the rest helped; the errors quickly corrected themselves, and that was that.

Olio:
  • (Woman's name that's an anagram of two men's names) EDNA — Can we stop with these types of clues? For starters, they're not helpful at all until you have most / all of the letters in; i.e. not helpful, period. They're also just pretty lazy, imo. And for some reason you almost always only see these clues for women's names, as if there's no other way to clue these names. Knowing Paolo and Erik, I'm sure they had an awesome clue highlighting an Edna that, if you don't know, you should (and you'd be glad to learn about them). But still disappointing to see this clue on their puzzle; one of the few things I didn't like.
  • (Despot with a nuclear arsenal) KIM — Can we also stop with this? Like, there's plenty of ways to clue this without invoking existential despair and the weariness of world politics. If I wanted to be reminded of that, I'd look at any other page of the Times (not that I read the dead tree version, but I digress). Again, tentatively putting this on the editors; knowing the constructors (and especially Erik and his work w/ the crossword collaboration Facebook group), I'd wager the submitted clue involved a woman, a person of color, or both (Chloe Kim, anyone?).
  • (Cardiologist's favorite vegetable?BEET — Not going to say that we need to stop with this (it's not as bad as those awful "apt name for a (profession)" clues), but I wouldn't be disappointed if I never saw another of these clues again. Also, slight demerits for this crossing BEAT POET, if only because this clue is punning off of BEAT and it's an implicit dupe.
  • (Modern-day home of where the biblical Abraham was born) IRAQ — I'd count myself as a speed-solver, but Paolo and Erik are both much better than me, imo. Still, this clue was one where I didn't take as much time as most people. I didn't read the entire clue until writing this—while solving, I only saw "modern" and "biblical" and dropped in IRA?, then looked at the cross on the last letter. To be sure, there's occasional pitfalls to not reading the entire clue—and I've definitely had that happen before—but when it works, it's a real time-saver.
  • (Jack Nicholson's classic line "You can't handle the truth", for oneAD LIB — didn't know this, but easy to figure out with a few crosses, and something fun to learn. This is the sort of interesting clue I like to see in puzzles, and that more constructors / outlets should use.
  • (2008 Lil Wayne hit whose title is slang for lots of moneyA MILLI — nothing to say about this song, I just wanna stay on the soapbox a little longer and say that not only is this entry perfectly fair for crosswords, but that there ought to be more fresh, modern stuff like this. Too often it feels like crosswords embrace older stuff, which can be off-putting to younger solvers; it's certainly better when everybody can see themselves reflected in the puzzles, and if us younger folk can embrace the opportunity to learn about Nita Naldi or Anouk Aimee or whoever, then older folk can certainly do the same with Lil Wayne and such.
Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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