Fairy tale question / MON 7-22-19 / Strong-smelling cheese made in England / Louisiana's avian nickname

Monday, July 22, 2019

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:51)


THEME: RUM PEL STILT SKIN — clue to the revealer says it all: 61A: Fairy tale question whose answer is spelled out in the starts of 18-, 24-, 40- and 51-Across ("WHAT'S MY NAME?")

Theme answers:
  • RUMMAGE SALE (18A: Yard event to clear out the attic)
  • PELICAN STATE (24A: Louisiana's avian nickname)
  • STILTON (40A: Strong-smelling cheese made in England)
  • SKINNY DIPPER (51A: One barely in the water?)
Word of the Day: EUROPA (66A: Mythical beauty who lent her name to a continent) —
In Greek mythologyEuropa (/jʊəˈrpəjə-/Ancient GreekΕὐρώπηEurṓpēAttic Greekpronunciation: [eu̯.rɔ̌ː.pɛː]) was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a Phoenician princess of Argive origin, after whom the continent Europe is named. The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a bull was a Cretanstory; as classicist Károly Kerényi points out, "most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa."
Europa's earliest literary reference is in the Iliad, which is commonly dated to the 8th century BC. Another early reference to her is in a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The earliest vase-painting securely identifiable as Europa dates from mid-7th century BC. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle might very well have been even easier than I've rated it. I say that because I absolutely drove the car into the ditch in one answer—total and complete incompetence and negligence on my part. Some bad luck, but mostly just idiocy (mine, and ironically, at an answer that crosses IDIOTPROOF (30D: Impossible to mess up): instead of coming down the middle of the grid, from left to right, like a normal, I did this dumb thing where I followed a solving path off the end of PELICAN STATE and then straight down the east of the grid via IDIOTPROOF (so proud to get that off of just a couple letters ... insert maxim about pride here). In following this path, I ended up in the position of having to come back into the center of the grid upside-down and backward, i.e. from bottom right toward the upper left. Fine, doable, except what happened was a. when I looked at 49A: Ledger entry on the minus side, I had one letter in place (the final "T"), and b. when I read the clue, my eyes never got past the "Ledger entry" part and I wrote in .... ASSET. So not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Couldn't-be-wronger. And if I hadn't had that "T," I probably wouldn't have screwed up and jumped the gun, and if I'd just read the clue to the end, I certainly would've gotten DEBIT. But see "T" write ASSET biff bam boom. And then, predictably, I immediately stalled. No hope for PIPE and BISECT to say nothing of OPED and STUDY. I got so flustered that I couldn't figure out how to clean up the mess and just started up again back in the NW and worked my way back down, at which point the error quickly became obvious. Still, I probably lost 15-20 seconds with that screw-up, which means I *should've* been in the 2:30s, not the 2:50s, and 2:30s, for me, is very fast. Not record, but record-adjacent. But what about the theme!? Was the puzzle good!? Tell me what to think!?!?! Easy. We're getting there.


Lynn Lempel's name doesn't pop up in NYT crossword bylines as much as it once did (back in the mid/late '00s. Back then, Ms. Lempel was averaging 8 puzzles a year or so for a while. Of course back then, the NYT was publishing considerably more woman-authored puzzles (nearly 50% more than now!), but more on that some other time (i.e. the next time I think about it, maybe tomorrow). She has a well-deserved reputation for sparkling M/T puzzles: tight, clever themes, clean grids. This one's no exception. Theme type here is a reasonably common one, and the revealer didn't land for me the way it probably did for others (that question makes me think more Snoop Dogg than Stilt Skin), buuuutt the revealer questions does tie nicely into the theme, in that it forces you to sound out his name (and, uh, keep your first-born child, I guess). In an odd coincidence, I had a stilton cheese sandwich this afternoon. Eeeeeeerie.


Thanks to Christopher Adams for filling in for me last-minute yesterday—it did not occur to me until quite late that going to a concert at night, 90 minutes away from my home, might seriously interfere with my ability to produce the Sunday write-up in a timely fashion. His generosity allowed me to enjoy Blondie and Elvis Costello without that "youregonnahavetoworkwhenyougethome" feeling nagging at the back of my mind all night.

Sometimes when you go to concerts, there are crossword constructors there (Mike Nothnagel says 'hi')

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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They don't keep their thoughts to themselves / SUN 7-21-19 / "However," in textspeak / Someone who might engage in a hobby with some frequency? / Dangerous substance that smells like bitter almonds / Org. with an Inspiration Award and an Award of Valor

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Constructor: Jason Mueller + Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: easy (6:30)



THEME: "Fifty Years On" — a tribute puzzle to the Apollo 11 moon landing

Theme answers:
  • APOLLO ELEVEN (3D: Long-distance traveler of 1969)
  • MAN ON THE MOON (14D: Achievement of 1969)
  • TRANQUILITY (23A: Name of a sea first visited in 1969)
  • ARMSTRONG (71A: Newsmaker of July 1969)
  • ONE SMALL STEP (32D: What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in a corner of this puzzle)
  • ONE GIANT LEAP (36D: What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in another corner of this puzzle)
  • THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (110A: Announcement of July 1969)
Word of the Day: RBG [59A: The Notorious ___ (Supreme Court Nickname)] —
[Ruth Bader] Ginsburg has been referred to as a "pop culture icon". Ginsburg's profile began to rise after O'Connor's retirement in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Her increasingly fiery dissents, particularly in Shelby County v. Holder 570 U.S. 2 (2013), led to the creation of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr and Internet meme comparing the justice to rapper The Notorious B.I.G. The creator of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr, then-law student Shana Knizhnik, teamed up with MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon to turn the blog into a book titled Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Released in October 2015, the book became a New York Times bestseller. In 2015, Ginsburg and Scalia, known for their shared love of opera, were fictionalized in Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang. [Wikipedia, emphasis mine]
• • •
Christopher Adams here, filling in once again for Rex. Fun fact: today's puzzle was originally scheduled to be by me, but then it got pushed back to next week because this puzzle needed to run today. So that means I don't get to self-blog my own puzzle. It also means I had a pretty good hunch of what the theme was going to be, although the title may or may not have given things away, depending on how much you've seen in the news about the anniversary.

In any case, this one definitely played easy, and about the only stumbling block I hit was right at the beginning. After filling in TSA (an agency I don't care for, with a cutesy clue I don't care for either), my brain decided that the [Long-distance traveler of 1969] was ALAN SHEPHERD; folks more knowledgeable about this sort of thing will realize that I messed up both the spelling of his name (it's SHEPARD) and the landing he was in (his was a few years later). But thankfully, lots of easy answers like ROE and OTOH, coupled with some old standbys like ETO, OSLO, PALEO, etc., led to me fixing that error very quickly.

I didn't particularly like the spelled out ELEVEN (instead of APOLLO 11), but symmetry dictated it. OTOHI did like the ONE SMALL STEP / ONE GIANT LEAP symmetry; I've never noticed before that they're the same length. From those, filled in the lower corners very quickly, thanks to the theme clues, and then most of the bottom. I'd like to call attention to the bottom middle, which is (a pair of helper squares aside) essentially a 5x7 region, and filled very cleanly, and with some good answers. FOOD CHAIN is my favorite there, but IDLESSE and DELTA (whose clue, [Dirty mouth?], I absolutely loved) ensured that I was SOLD ON that area.


Most of the theme answers in this one filled themselves in pretty fast, especially once I got confirmation on the theme. None came as fast THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, though, which I dropped in without any crosses. Despite being the last theme answer, though, I encountered it maybe a third of the way into solving, thanks to hopping around the grid. But I like that it's at the end; it's like the entry itself is landing on the bottom of the grid.

Otherwise, though, the rest of the solve was just that—a solve. Not too much stood out, good or bad. Finished up in the center, which was a bit closed off from the rest of the puzzle. Would've liked to have that connect more to the rest of the puzzle, or at least contain some longer answers; definitely felt a bit choppy, and AMBIT (a word I could do without) didn't help either. But RBG, COOKIE JAR, JOR-EL, even CYANIDE (more for the fun fact in the clue than for the word itself) were enjoyable, so I can't complain too much about that area.

Also: that center area kinda looks like a face; not a happy face, not a frowny face, just a face. It almost wants to say that "yeah, this was a puzzle" and nothing else; I'm a little more upbeat about this one. It may not have knocked my socks off, but it was cleanly filled (which is always my top priority) and, unlike some recent tribute puzzles, didn't make me wince and groan by stuffing way too much in there. And sure, this one may feel a bit encyclopedic at times (especially with the repeated "1969" in clues, which wore a little while solving), but at the end of the day, there's nothing that feels out of place here, nothing that feels missing, and the little touches in the bottom corners are a nice bonus.



Olio:
  • OMANI (65D: Nationality seen in most of Romania) — More of a cryptic clue than a normal clue; OMANI is literally found in Romania, sandwiched between the R and the A. That said, definitely on the easier side of cryptic clues, and with fair crossings everywhere, it's the perfect place to use such a clue.
  • BEER ME (88A: Request for a cold one) — Debut yesterday, second time today. I've noticed Will has a tendency to phase in some newer answers with short intervals between appearances, which is a good way to reinforce learning; in any case, given the weather, make it a really cold one.
  • NBA TEAM (95A: Wizards, but not witches)  — The masked capital strikes again! (Masked capital meaning that the first word is a proper noun and is not just capitalized because it's the first word in the clue.)
  • SATS (4D: 800 things?) — Didn't care for this. For one, the clue doesn't have a surface meaning w/o the question mark, so it's not good wordplay. For another, the SAT isn't out of 800; only the individual sections (but not the essay!) are. Finally, it's just a meh plural initialism; with SITS ATOP nearby, I might've changed this.
  • MAIA (90D: Mother of Hermes) — Forget Roman Greek mythology, let's clue this as American ice dancer and Olympic medalist Maia Shibutani, who turned 25 yesterday, and who  also merits a tribute puzzle.
Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Often-reddish quartz / SAT 7-20-19 / Best-selling game with hexagonal board / Pioneering thrash metal band with its own music festival Gigantour

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (honestly it felt pretty easy, but clock said 8:48 when I was done, and ... I wasn't actually done, because I had errors that took me another minute to sort out)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: JANK (42A: Of very poor quality, in modern slang) —
google.com

• • •

Hey, I just learned that a JANKER is a device for transporting logs (Scot.). Handy! Honestly, though, that _ANK / _ASPER crossing was a teeny bit dicey for me. I know "janky," and I guess I have heard JANK (which means ... the same thing??), but I honestly considered DANK, and then wondered how it was possible that I've never really known what DANK meant at all (me : DANK :: Joni Mitchell : clouds). *Thank*fully I knew (vaguely) that JASPER was some kind of stone (don't ask me which kind) (42D: Often-reddish quartz), and DASPER seemed super-dumb, so felt pretty confident in that "J." The main memorable moment in this puzzle, however, was not a fun one. It was my ultra-confidently (and, to be quite honest, *correctly*) putting in LEROY at 38A: Man's name that means "the king" (ELROY). See, LEROY is a name that both means "the king" *and* might belong to a non-toon human being. ELROY is solely a Jetson, whereas Leroy Brown (both the titular Jim Croce character and Encyclopedia Brown!) and Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige and artist LeRoy Neiman and, uh, former Mariners rightfielder Leroy Stanton are all very real Leroys. Whereas when I google ELROY my first hit is a Wisconsin town of about a thousand souls. Seriously, this is the big image at the top of the first page of hits:


So when I finished I had RETILD (23D) and SEEDRIDE (!) (35D), which I knew were wrong, but I just couldn't see how anything in the grid was off. That's how solid "Leroy" seemed. Eventually I saw SLEDRIDE (35D: It's going downhill) and got to the "right" answer.

first thing I put in the grid (2D: Nebula Award winner Frederik)
The one thing I really liked about the puzzle was "BEER ME!" (59A: "Another Bud, bud!"), though I haaaaaaate the clue, which no one would say, ever. Or, you know, I hope not, 'cause it's terrible. Less terrible, but still not great, is the "AH" at the beginning of "AH, THIS IS THE LIFE" (34A: Comment of complete contentment). It's a pretty well-known crossword fact that the sound one makes when luxuriating at a spa or some other place of deep relaxation and, let's say, contentment, is "AHH" or maybe "AAH," but not "AH," which is really just a tepid form of "AHA." As in "ah, I see." The whole deal with the sound you make before saying "THIS IS THE LIFE" is that you are siiiiighing it, and the mere two-letter "AH" does not convey this sense of audible bliss at all. It's like someone just stumbled on "the life," and was like "ah ... I guess this is it." Like they found the sock they were looking for.


("... and this is Canada")
Other issues:
  • 12D: Complained loudly and publicly (MADE A STINK— had MADE A SCENE, as did you at some point, I'm guessing
  • 32D: Capital on the Balkan Peninsula (TIRANE) — ugh, *this* place. Puzzle can never decide whether it's final letter is "E" or "A," so I can't either
  • 20A: "Bandleader" with a 1967 #1 album (SGT. PEPPER) — had "SG-" to start and thought, "well, that's wrong ..."
  • 8D: Best-selling game with a hexagonal board (SETTLERS OF CATAN) — I guess lots of people play this. I know the name, of course, but was reluctant to put it in, as I thought "Catan" was spelled like "Bataan," i.e. with two a's. I guess it's just called CATAN now??? My nerd friend seemed to suggest that. I wouldn't know.
  • 15A: Fix without doctoring (HOME CURE) — oof. Pretty sure term you're looking for is "home remedy"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Mascot of Winnipeg Jets / FRI 7-19-19 / Las Vegas casino with musical name / Mormon settlement of 1849 / Orange half of iconic duo / One-name singer with 1993 platinum album Debut / Spun wax say / Player of Skipper on Gilligan's Island

Friday, July 19, 2019

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Medium (Brutal SW + v. easy elsewhere = Medium) (6:06)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: Eudora WELTY (57A: Pulitzer-winning writer of "The Optimist's Daughter") —
Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American short story writer and novelist who wrote about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of the South. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of AmericaHer house in Jackson, Mississippi, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as a house museum. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ouch. Actually, ooh, nice ... then ouch. Really was enjoying this one until I hit the SW, where I couldn't make anything happen, and even after I circled the entire rest of the grid and came back to it, I couldn't make anything happen. As I was finishing off the SE, I was thinking "ugh, I gotta go back there and I'm already walled in and no help is coming so fuhhhhhhdge." So, yeah, this isn't the greatest thing, this having one corner be drastically harder than the rest of the grid (early Twitter feedback shows me very much not alone in my SW struggles). The problem is that now the SW is all I remember about this grid. Everything weirdly hard about the SW. And ATHIRST (38D: Quite eager). It's like the worst thing in the grid, why would you make the ATHIRST corner your hardest corner?? It just ensures that ATHIRST stays with you instead of drifting away as better answers come to the fore. To be clear, this is a very well-made puzzle that I mostly enjoyed, and ATHIRST is the only thing that makes me go ugh. Just ... don't put the ugh word in your hardest section. It makes everything so much ugh-ier.


Problems with the SW started with the always annoyingly ambiguous ELUDE-or-EVADE dilemma at 29A: Shake off (EVADE). ELUDE is sooooo much better as an answer for this clue. I think of EVADE as going around something and ELUDE as *specifically* escaping from something. I mean, fine, they are roughly synonyms, but ugh. And 60% of their letters are the same, double-ugh. So that went bad. And then MENACE clue was super vague (25D: Shark, to swimmers), so even with the "M," no help. Both long Downs meant nothing to me (and one was a tricky "?" clue). I really hate the cluing on ARIA and EPIC mainly because those are perfectly good ordinary words that have been given proper noun clues (ugh) and (bad luck for me) clues that are specifically from **** I care nothing about. I hate casino names like you wouldn't believe. Resent having to know them at all. Misremembered ARIA as AIDA, so that hurt. And EPIC Games??? Pffft, no way. The entire stack of four proper nouns down there, EPIC / BJÖRK / MOOSE (!!?!!) / WELTY, was utterly unknown to me at first. I own BJÖRK albums so I got her eventually, and I know *of* WELTY, at last, but oof, between all that and the ridiculous ATHIRST, I was most definitely screwed. Oh, and EGG HASH, LOL what? What is that? I'm in diners a lot and ???? Corned beef hash is a big deal. But EGG HASH?! Yikes. I didn't know what a SKIN GAME or what BLUSH PINK (?) was either, but their crosses were super-workable, so ... no complaints. Lovely puzzle overall, just wish it hadn't been so lop-sided, difficulty-wise.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Churchill's successor in 1955 / THU 7-18-19 / Churchill's successor in 1945 / Hindu protector of universe / Backstory for TV's Magnum / Bean nharvested by Aztecs / 1986 music memoir / Egyptian protector of tombs / Fall of Troy escapee / Tesfaye real name of singer Weeknd / What ! can mean computer programming

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:24 at 5 in the a.m.)


THEME: two-letter words >>> two-letter initialisms — familiar phrases clued as if one of the two-letter words in that phrase is really two initials:

Theme answers:
  • THE WIZARD OF I.D. (20A: Bouncer who can always spot a fake?)
  • LIFE OF P.I. (30A: Backstory for T.V.'s Magnum?)
  • I.M. A BELIEVER (35A: Advice for how the pope can reach out online?)
  • THIS IS U.S. (42A: Statement before "... and that's Canada!"?)
  • SOME LIKE I.T. HOT (53A: Certain people prefer their computer specialists to be attractive?)
Word of the Day: Julián CASTRO (1D: Democratic politico Julián) —
Julián Castro (/ˌhliˈɑːn/ HOO-lee-AHNSpanish: [xuˈljan]; born September 16, 1974) is an American Democratic politician who was the youngest member of President Obama's Cabinet, serving as the 16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017.
Castro served as the mayor of his native San AntonioTexas from 2009 until he joined Obama's cabinet in 2014. He was mentioned as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. Castro is the twin brother of Congressman Joaquin Castro.
On January 12, 2019, Castro launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 2020 in San Antonio. (wikipedia)
• • •

I think the only thing that truly slowed me down today was the stunned, blinking surprise I had on discovering that ... that was it. It's just a two-letter word imagined as a two-letter initialism. The End. Feels like it should've been a Wednesday theme. Certainly my solving time was more Wednesday than Thursday. Pretty basic, pretty old-fashioned, pretty generic, but OK. The themers actually mildly amused me. Well, THE WIZARD OF I.D. did—that one's smashing. And THIS IS U.S. still has me smiling, primarily because of the clue, which is completely absurd. I always say, if you're gonna go wacky, go big or go home, and "big" can include "flat-out ridiculous." Honestly, just trying to imagine the context in which anyone would say this answer and then go "... and that's Canada!" (exclamation point!) is pretty entertaining. Probably not great to have IT in the grid (31D: IS IT?) when "IT" is one of your central themer words. Also, "I'M" is bugging me as a base word. It's a contraction. Feels ... off. Like cheating. I'm not being fair, there, as I'M is clearly a word and clearly has two letters, but somehow the apostrophe's being in there makes it an outlier in my eyes. Biggest actual solving struggle today was APTNO (8A: Metropolitan address abbr.). "Metropolitan" threw me, and also ... isn't the abbr. usu. just APT.? Do you really write out "APT. NO. 2B?" At one point my brain wanted APTWO (it was thinking "apt. 2," to the extent that it was thinking at all). Also, the cross there (NOT) did NOT mean anything to me (11D: What "!" can mean in computer programming).


Five things:
  • 24A: Cinephile's channel (TCM) — I'm so used to the NYTXW's getting this wrong that I actually wrote in the wrong answer, TMC, at first. TCM is in fact the correct answer to this clue. No one even watches The Movie Channel, do they?
  • 5A: Projecting arm of a crane (JIB) — just learned this from some other puzzle I just did. Also wasn't at all sure I remembered it correctly and had to use all the crosses to confirm it.
  • 49D: Half-laugh (TITTER) — I thought "well at least it's too long to be TE(E) or HEE." 
  • 36D: What B and C (but not A) may represent (ELEMENTS) — my god I'm bad at these types of clues. It's a stock clue type, and my only hope is just hacking the crosses until a word appears.
  • 35D: Biometric reading (IRIS SCAN) — I wrote in IRIS SIZE ... I figured it was something like ... measuring pupil dilation? ... maybe? ... anyway, I was looking for a specific measurable, not a reading *type*.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Traditional time to start work /.WED 7-17-19 / File box filler / Sped up part of contest commercial / Surname of national security advisers under both Bush 43 Obama / Green branch for short

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Constructor: Adam Nicolle

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (??) (not sure, solved in leisurely fashion on paper, untimed) (looks like lots of people set personal Wednesday records, so ... let's say Easy, then)


THEME: verb appears inside object of said verb — clues are written with "[circled letters]" replacing one of the words; that word appears in the circled letters inside the answers:

Theme answers:
  • CHOCOLATE (17A: Candy that the lovers [circled letters] on Valentine's Day)
  • REPRESENTATIVE (24A: Politician that the voters [circled letters] to Congress)
  • ERRANDS (35A: Quick trips that the busy person [circled letters] around town)
  • PENNY DREADFULS (45A: Book that Victorians [circled letters] for cheap)
  • LAND ROVER (54A: Luxury vehicle that the motorist [circled letters] on the highway)
Word of the Day: PENNY DREADFULS (45A) —
Penny dreadfuls were cheap popular serial literature produced during the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. The pejorative term is roughly interchangeable with penny horriblepenny awful, and penny blood. The term typically referred to a story published in weekly parts, each costing one penny. The subject matter of these stories was typically sensational, focusing on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities. First published in the 1830s, penny dreadfuls featured characters such as Sweeney ToddDick Turpin and Varney the VampireThe Guardian described penny dreadfuls as “Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young.”
While the term "penny dreadful" was originally used in reference to a specific type of literature circulating in mid-Victorian Britain, it came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries". The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and were aimed at young working class men. More than a million boys’ periodicals were sold a week, but the popularity of penny dreadfuls was challenged in the 1890s by the rise of competing literature, especially the half-penny periodicals published by Alfred Harmsworth. (wikipedia)
• • •

I weirdly don't have any strong opinions about this crossword. It's plain. The theme cluing is both clever and awkward. The fill is generic but clean. So the theme ... is there. And it works. And the fill is there. And it doesn't grate. So whatever this is, it's not a negative review. I do expect the NYT to be producing puzzles that move me more than the list of ingredients on a cereal box, buuuuuut how badly the NYT has missed the mark recently, I'll take this as a little Wednesday wake-up exercise. The theme cluing is only truly irksome on LAND ROVER ... I mean, what else does one do with a vehicle but drive it "on the highway"? The other theme clues had somewhat tighter, more specific contexts for their verbs. LAND ROVER is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so the clue could've at least indulged the pretension that people who own them go on, like, expeditions or safaris or ... well, off-road at all. Yeah, most of them are just status symbols, but give me a little more color than a mere "motorist" driving "on the highway." The best thing about this puzzle, by far, was the answer PENNY DREADFULS. Like the reading material itself, this was eye-grabbing and exciting to see. It's also one of two themers that I no-looked toward the end of my solve. I had enough material from crosses that PENNY DREADFULS and LAND ROVER both went in without my having to move my eyes over to the clues. This also happened with EYE LEVEL and ALIBIS. I can see how, if I'd been timing myself, I might've flown through this one.


I did, however, have one semi-catastrophic error at the outset of my solve, as I sat there, pencil in hand, puzzle on clipboard, waiting for the tea water to boil.

actual finished puzzle, actual pencil
The ultra-generic, didn't-conjure-any-image clue at 4D: File box filler (honestly, is there a duller clue anywhere?) took me from REC- (which I had) to ... RECORDS! Files, RECORDS, I dunno, it made sense to me. The horrible result of this error, though, was that 27A: Traditional time to start work looked like this: --NDA-. So yeah, of course I wrote in MONDAY. Then couldn't get NAB or RICE (I try to think about Bush 43 as little as possible and actually forgot that Susan RICE was also a RICE). Anyway, RECORDS to MONDAY to disaster. Especially disastrous as I had not yet fully woken up or imbibed warm liquid yet. By the time I warmed up, though (in the bottom half of the grid especially), I was flying. Maybe if I'd started this puzzle at NINEAM, with a fresh brain, I wouldn't have fallen into the stupid RECORDS/MONDAY trap. But this post has to be up by NINEAM *at the very latest* (it's actually never that late), so ... morning mistakes are made.

Five things:
  • 46D: Sped-up part of a contest commercial (RULES) — Hurray for imaginative cluing!
  • 35D: Slippery (EELY) — was just relistening to a podcast I did with my friend Lena a couple years back where we dove into the crossword's weird eel obsession and the eel vocabulary that it's helpful to know if you're a solver. EELY definitely came up.
  • 1D: Org. that regulates I.S.P.s (FCC) — I am so bad w/ agencies. I got this one right, but honestly feel like I'm frantically rifling through my file box of initialisms every time. "FCC! FAA! HUD! OSHA! DNA! Uh... pass!"
  • 28A: Occur, as complications (ARISE) — nothing particularly interesting here; I'm just fascinated by the stuff my brain gets instantly and the stuff it just can't computer. Today, I had AR- here, looked at the clue, and ... nothing. Speed-solving me would've moved on, quickly, but pencil-solving me just stared at the blank spaces in disbelief, wondering how I could have 40% of such a basic-seeming answer filled in and *not* know the answer. Sigh.
  • 62A: "Buona ___" (Italian greeting) (SERA) — I know the following isn't Italian (it's ungrammatical Spanish), but ... I just miss Doris Day (1922-2019).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Country singer James Decker / TUE 7-16-19 / Oakland's Oracle for one / Demo material for Wile E Coyote / Speedy Amtrak option / Smallest state in India / Glassworker at times

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:31)


THEME: A-FRAME BUILDINGS (52A: 52A: Structures illustrated twice in this puzzle through both black squares and letters) — I have no idea how "black squares" illustrate anything "twice," but there are clearly two sets of "A"s forming something that looks like an inverted "V" in the center of the grid: AMERICA forms the base of one, and ANTENNA forms the base of the other

Word of the Day: JESSIE James Decker (46A: Country singer ___ James Decker) —
Jessica Rose James Decker (born April 12, 1988) is an American country pop singer-songwriterreality television personalityfashion designer, and entrepreneur. At age 15, after auditioning for and being rejected by most of the country labels in Nashville, Tennessee, Decker began working with Carla Wallace of Big Yellow Dog Music. One of her songs attracted the attention of Mercury Records, which offered her a recording contract. She released her debut album, Jessie James, in 2009. A few years later in 2013, she starred with her husband Eric Decker, a wide receiver in the National Football League, in the E! reality show Eric & Jessie: Game On. On April 18, 2014, Decker released an EP through iTunes entitled Comin' Home. On Epic in 2017, she released a five-track EP, Gold, and released a surprise live EP on June 9, 2017 titled Blackbird Sessions. On October 13, 2017, she released her second full-length album and first for Epic Records, Southern Girl City Lights. On This Holiday, her first full-length Christmas album, was released on October 26, 2018. Decker was scheduled to release a full-length studio album in mid-March 2019. (wikipedia)
• • •

Two things make this a miss. They are obvious things, so ... I can't imagine that either the constructor or editor didn't notice; I'm sure they simply didn't care. Good Enough!™ So the two things in question are, 1. the revealer is not a phrase. It's just ... not a solid, stick-the-landing phrase. Here's what happens when you type "a-frame" into google:


This was predictable, because, as I said, the revealer is not a phrase. Not a phrase anyone uses. "House," yes. "Cabin," OK, yeah, I see those often enough. But "Building(s)"? Pfft. What you have there is someone thinking "well, it's 15 across, so it's perfect," instead of thinking, as one ought to, "it's the perfect phrase to describe the thing I am illustrating, so it's perfect." Then there's the A's. There is a problem with the A's. Where am I supposed to imagine that they start and end, in terms of their forming the "frame" in question. Because I don't know. The top "frame" has A's going down *three rows farther* on the left side than on the right, resulting in an asymmetrical "frame" that actually completely negates the whole concept of the "A-frame." Honestly, this stuff is so basic, I don't know why it doesn't rankle people who should know better. The concept of this puzzle is Just Fine. Make your A-frames actually symmetrical, at a minimum. Eliminate *all* non-frame A's from the grid—that would be a pretty baller move. Make your revealer something actual (AFRAMES, AFRAMEHOUSES). Anyway, this could've been executed well. Wasn't. The end.


Not there's not some nice stuff here. I admire the attempt to add some sizzle to the grid as a whole with the pairs of very long Downs in the NW and NE, and FACE PLANT is a very good and lively answer. But the those highs are very much undermined by the abundance of dreck (you can blame the A's for a lot of it (ASIAM, AMAT, ALIA) but not all of it (EENSIE, ABRA, ANDI, AS FAST). And ANNEALER is one of the more awkward and improbably -ER-suffixed words I've seen. JANDJ is a pretty awkward ampersandwich. Further, that whole eastern section, toward the bottom of the long Downs, is just a mess(i), a moraine of E's and S's, a dumping ground for common letters.


Five things:
  • 37A: Diez minus siete (TRES) — me: "ok so twelve minus seven is five, so ... wait, what?" (confused "diez" w/ French "douze," [sad trombone sound]!)
  • 12D: Et ___ (ALIA) — the literal worst solver guessing game in the world is this clue. A: both possibilities are terrrrrrible crosswordese, and B: you can't know if it's ALIA or ALII except by the crosses, fun!* (*not fun)
  • 35D: Predate (ANTECEDE) — me: "ANTE ... DATE? No, that can't be right ... I got nothin'"
  • 46A: Country singer ___ James Decker (JESSIE) — needed every cross there. Not the most famous JESSIE, I don't think, but that's OK. Actually, let's check w/ google again:
[well, at least she makes the list]
  • 32A: ___ Amidala, "Star Wars" queen (PADME) — honestly stumbled all over this one. I still haven't fully digested anything after the initial "Star Wars" trilogy. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Venerable monk of Middle Ages / MON 7-15-19 / Magical powder in Peter Pan / Style of collarless shirt / Aquarium accessory

Monday, July 15, 2019

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:45)


THEME: SHORT CUTS (61A: Timesavers ... or the starts of 17-, 26-, 36- and 51-Across?) — first words are short haircuts, each of which can precede the word "cut" (even BOB, apparently...)

Theme answers:
  • BUZZ WORDS (17A: Trendy terms)
  • BOB SAGET (26A: First host of "America's Funniest Home Videos")
  • PIXIE DUST (36A: Magical powder in "Peter Pan")
  • CREW NECK (51A: Style of collarless shirt)
Word of the Day: India.ARIE (14A: Singer India.___) —
India Arie Simpson (born October 3, 1975), also known as India.Arie (sometimes styled as india.arie), is an American singer and songwriter. She has sold over 3.3 million records in the US and 10 million worldwide. She has won four Grammy Awards from her 21 nominations, including Best R&B Album. [...] Arie released her debut album Acoustic Soul on March 27, 2001. The album was met with positive reviews and commercial success. "Acoustic Soul" debuted at number ten on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Within months, without the concentrated radio airplay that typically powers pop and rap albums, Acoustic Soul was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA), selling 2,180,000 copies in the U.S. and 3,000,000 copies worldwide. The album was also certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry and platinum by Music Canada. The album was promoted with the release of the lead single "Video". "Video" attained commercial success peaking at forty seven on the US Billboard Hot 100 and becoming her highest charting song in the region to date. The album's second single "Brown Skin" failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, but it became her highest charting single in the United Kingdom, peaking at number 29. (wikipedia)
• • •

I finished this very quickly, then went back and looked at what was going on: crew CUT, pixie CUT, bob ... CUT??? That's where I balked a bit. You wear your hair in a bob (well, probably not *you* you, but one, one does ... at least one of you ... does). I'm used to the hairstyle being called simply a "bob," not a "bob cut"—unlike all the other words in this theme set, which actually *require* the word "cut" in order to be recognized as haircuts at all. I guess you could say "I got a BUZZ," which ... I'm not sure how different that is from a CREW (cut), but anyway, "bob" feels like the odd man out today. I will say, though, that I googled it (!) and "bob cut" googles just fine, so even though I think it feels off, it's clearly not Wildly off, if it's off at all. The other things that felt off were the bits affixed to the beginnings of BEDE and MAGI. I have a Ph.D. in English literature—medieval English literature, to be specific—and while I heard BEDE referred to frequently as "the Venerable Bede," I never Ever heard "the Venerable ST. BEDE." I mean, he is ST. BEDE, but using "Venerable" there is deceptive. Moreover, absolutely nothing about the clue suggests there will be an abbr. in the answer, which is pretty messed up, esp. on a Monday. As for *THE* MAGI ... the THE feels pretty showy, and also midly off. Like, they're the MAGI. If you wanna get all formal, they're "the three MAGI" or "three wise men." Maybe if you're doing the O. Henry story "The Gift of THE MAGI," you can sneak THE in there, but then it's a partial, and yuck. The definite article feels wobbly to me (whereas in, say, THE MOB, or THE FED, it doesn't).


But overall I thought the theme held up pretty well, and the grid was certainly adequate. It's chock-a-block with names from the Crosswordese Pantheon—everyone from India.ARIE to OPIE is there, including both parts of ANG LEE's name. But with only a stray FUM or ABU mucking things up, I didn't really mind the ELSA ELIE REA onslaught. I got slowed down by 4D: Some Moroccan headwear, as I had FEZ and then wanted ... FEZHAT (!?). Also got thrown by the clue on LIZARDS (3D: Chameleons, e.g.), as I was thinking more ... metaphorically, I guess. Went looking for things / people that change appearance, blend in, etc. I never know which [Atlanta-based channel] the puzzle is going to want. I think today I went with TNT? TNN? I forget. Not TBS, at any rate. And I always have trouble between "A" and "L" at the end of YENT_ (21A: Busybody, from the Yiddish). I really should only go with YENTL when the clue specifically refers to the play or movie. Maybe I learned something today. Probably not, but ... maybe.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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In the Underworld Offenbach opera / SUN 7-14-19 / Trendy superfood / Numerical prefix from Grek for monster / Gloria in Madagascar films / Bygone monitor for short / Classical personification of ideal human beauty / Overlord for battle of Normandy / Computer guru informally / Old dentist's supply

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Constructor: Caitlin Reid

Relative difficulty: Easy (9:02)


THEME: "Are We Finished?" — "R" is added to the end ("finish") of familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily:

Theme answers:
  • "IS THIS A BAD TIMER?" (23A: "Should I not use my oven clock?"?)
  • WORKS FROM HOMER (35A: The "Iliad" and the "Odyssey"?)
  • PICK UP THE PACER (52A: Give a ride to an Indiana hoopster?)
  • WATCH YOUR TONER (75A: Printer's low-ink alert?)
  • TOOK THE PLUNGER (89A: What a plumber did for a clogged drain?)
  • FIVE-SECOND RULER (105A: World's shortest-reigning monarch?)
Word of the Day: APPLET (48D: Mini-program)
noun
COMPUTING
  1. a very small application, especially a utility program performing one or a few simple functions. (google)

    "there's a useful control applet which can be used to center the picture"
• • •

Hello. It is I, the Rex Parker of "Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle," newly returned from the hinterlands of the U.S. southwest, tired but rejuvenated and ready to resume blogging duties, sir. Was supposed to be back yesterday (i.e. Friday) afternoon, but got a text early Friday morning saying "sorry, your flight was canceled, no, we have no explanation, we've rebooked you for tomorrow, enjoy your extra day in Colorado, no we won't reimburse you the cost for another day of rental car, have a nice day" (paraphrasing). So we went on a long walk in Longmont, CO (home of my sister) and saw blue herons and killdeer and literally hundreds of prairie dogs, most of whom just stared us down with a "keep moving, pardner" kind of gaze. Then we watched three episodes of "Stranger Things 3" and read our respective books and later bought my whole family pan-Asian takeout for dinner, then got up at 3:45 a.m. today (Saturday) to catch a plane back to NY. And that's just the last 36 hours of unplanned vacation—there were 10 days of planned vacation before that: Boulder! Santa Fe! Flagstaff! MOAB! (4) I solved the puzzle most days, and was happy to see the guest bloggers had it all pretty well covered—I didn't have to deal with a technical emergency once! Though one writer did worry that their write-up was "too short" (!?). I just laughed and ignored that concern. People will write and complain about allllllll kinds of stuff, but "too short"—nah, haven't heard that one yet. Anyway, I really enjoyed hearing so many different voices (especially since they were by and large judicious, i.e. in agreement with me). I'm back to blogging for two weeks, then away again for an other-side-of-the-family trip to Montreal, then home for good after that. I'll tell you about my trip out west here and there, as it occurs to me, over the coming week or so, as it seems relevant. But for now, back to puzzle-blogging.


Yes, we are finished, and not a second too soon, as this one wore out its thematic welcome pretty quickly. Hard to think of a simpler theme concept (it's just an add-a-letter), and the parameters aren't narrow at all, i.e. there are way more potential themers than one could ever use in one puzzle, e.g. phrases ending in BONE/R, STONE/R, LIFE/R, GAME/R, etc.). Because the theme is so simple and loose, I expect the theme answers to *kill* every single time, but the only one that really struck me as  funny and original is FIVE-SECOND RULER. Everything else is more of a shrug. Yeah, it works, but so what. The wackiness just isn't wacky enough. You can't carry a Sunday-size wacky-phrase theme with so little in the way of wacky. On the plus side, the grid is very clean, and the longer non-theme stuff is often quite good (see, for example, PET PROJECT, PHOTO BOMBS, COMBO MEALS, "OH, GROW UP!"). So I didn't groan and ugh the way I often do when puzzles are poorly filled. But I never got over my initial theme-inspired ENNUI (38D: It makes you yawn) (btw I think of ENNUI as somewhat deeper and more existential than mere boredom, but we'll leave that hair to split for another time).


Not much in the way of difficulty here. Most of my trouble, such as it was, came in the middle of the grid, specifically at the end of PICK UP THE PACER (which I initially thought ended in "HOOSIER"). I didn't know that ISLAM's calendar began in A.D. 622 (maybe 622 CE is more appropriate for this clue) and so APPLET, CLOTHE (oh, a verb!) (54D: Attire), and esp. MAU (49D: Egyptian ___ (cat)) gave me mini-fits. I also had BETTER and RICHER before POORER (64D: Comparative in a wedding vow).


Five things:
  • 114A: Sign of a packed house (SRO) — Sold Right Out!*
  • 66D: Computer guru, informally (IT PRO) — not great, but sooo much better than ITGUY
  • 35D: Got taken for a ride (WAS HAD) — me, for what felt like hours: "WASH AD ... WASH AD ... what is a WASH AD? ... wait, is it WASHED? ... no, it's definitely LAMA (57A: Teacher of the dharma), so ... WASH AD? ... what is a WASH AD?"
  • 79D: Old dentist's supply (ETHER) — yeesh, how old *is* this dentist?
  • 85D: Powerpoints? (OUTLETS) — I had OUTAGES. Speaking of OUTAGES, hope my NYC readers are surviving today's. Stay cool and safe, Gothamites!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*I know this isn't technically "correct," please, no letters

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