Twins Phil Steve who won gold silver in Sarajevo / SUN 1-20-19 / Spanish pastries often dipped in chocolate / Sartorial choice for Columbo / One of fish in Italy's Feast of Seven Fishes / Banking org since 1933 / Stock valuation phrase / Duke basketball legend informally / Occasional aid in crossword solving / Bridge historic span across Mississippi / Title film character with catchphrase very nice / Moistened finger in another's ear

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Constructor: Richard Crowe

Relative difficulty: Medium (11:16)


THEME: "Question of Responsibility" — so I guess the idea is that the theme answers are familiar interrogative sentences clued (based on the reorienting of key words in the answers) via the profession that might be (wackily) saying them:

Theme answers:
  • "IS THAT A FACT?" (23A: Copy editor)
  • "WHERE'S THE PARTY?" (33A: Political strategist)
  • "HOW'S IT HANGING?" (45A: Museum curator)
  • "WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?" (63A: Football line judge)
  • "WHO'S CRYING NOW?" (80A: Maternity room nurse)
  • "WHAT'S EATING HIM?" (96A: Parasitologist)
  • "ANYBODY HOME?" (108A: Baseball scorekeeper)
Word of the Day: EADS Bridge (64D: ___ Bridge (historic span across the Mississippi)) —
Eads Bridge is a combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi Riverconnecting the cities of St. LouisMissouri and East St. Louis, Illinois. It is located on the St. Louis riverfront between Laclede's Landing, to the north, and the grounds of the Gateway Arch, to the south. The bridge is named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads.
Opened in 1874, Eads Bridge was the first bridge erected across the Mississippi south of the Missouri River. Earlier bridges were located north of the Missouri, where the Mississippi is smaller. None of the earlier bridges survive, Eads Bridge is the oldest bridge on the river. (wikipedia)

• • •

Kept trying, and failing, to find the joy in this one. Took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on with the theme, and even then, it felt hit-or-miss. Not very coherent. You just need a bunch of questions? You could've kept this theme going for a long, long time. "WHERE'S THE BEEF?" [Rancher] or [Mediator]. "AIN'T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD?" [Soccer referee] Etc. Also, the title "Question of Responsibility" seems only to fit for the "Who" questions. Not sure how "responsibility" fits in with most of the themers. Is it that the clue professional in the clue is the one "responsible" for asking the question? That is ... tenuous, and rough.


EEW is always eww (as in it's gross and also I never know how to spell it). Ditto the tilde-less ANOS. ASASON is bleeping ridiculous, especially crossing TOAMAN which is crossing NOPAR (???). That SE corner needs lots of help. INKA? There's no call for stuff like that. What does ADA-compliant even mean? Compliant ... with the American Dental Association? Oh, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Wow. OK, if you say so. CLAMS and CHI-CHI had me wondering what year it was. GLI x/w GARY is some nonsense. Tertiary SpongeBob character and Italian def. article? GOAS is awkward. SSR RRS ENNE SYNS. . . There's just nothing very pleasing about this. It's a puzzle to be endured, not savored. It's not that there's zero charm in the theme, it's just not very tight, and the answers are more polite-nod or maybe light-chuckle. Not wacky enough to carry the day. Also, I could really have done without cat poop in my puzzle (40D: Where to get the latest poop?). And "the latest"? Like you're just hanging out by your cat's LITTER BOX waiting for the fresh stuff? We've done cat feces, like, well, at least twice in the past couple months (remember that "litter box" puzzle a while back?). I wonder what new and glorious types of feces we have to look forward to in the new year. I mean, the seal's broken on feces-land, so why not go nuts?


Five things:
  • 57A: Sartorial choice for Lieutenant Columbo (RAINCOAT) — that's not a TRENCHCOAT he's wearing? RAINCOAT just sounds way too pedestrian. He's a detective. Detectives wear TRENCHCOATs. Which are a type of RAINCOAT, it's true ... still.
  • 33D: Year of the ___ (2018) (WOMAN) — yeah, no, that was 1992. You can look it up. There's zero consensus that 2018 was the Year of the WOMAN. Why isn't this even attributed? It seems dumb and condescending, like "here's your one year, enjoy it, ladies, see you in another quarter century! [burp!!]." I wanted this to be MONKEY but it wouldn't fit and also that was 2016. 
  • 37D: Thrilled cries (OOHS) — oof. I had OLES
  • 39A: Make toast? (DOOM) — this stumped me and is also a good clue
  • 5D: Fab Four name (STARR) — so bad did I want RINGO that I literally just now wrote in RINGO as the correct answer in this bullet point
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

P.S. 2019 constructor count—Men: 19 / Women: 1

P.P.S. the NYT eds. really have to stop tripping over themselves with their race / gender / sexuality cluing. Check out this gem from a recent mini:


You could've just Stopped The Clue after "pronoun." Just stopped. There, it's accurate. After that, it is fundamentally inaccurate. Fuddy-duddy prescriptivist sticklers are not "grammarians." Actual grammarians have no problem with THEY as a singular pronoun. No problem. No "chagrin." None. Zero. The American Dialect Organization MADE SINGULAR "THEY" THEIR GOSH DANG WORD OF THE YEAR in 2015. This clue has not only gone and made something normal look like it's "controversial," it has gone and done it with a stupid, inaccurate clue. Total own goal. Mysteriously incompetent cluing. Baffling.


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Film with tagline Nightmare isn't over / SAT 1-19-19 / Three-syllable woman's name meaning gift / Persian word from which chess comes / Traditional drink with sedative euphoriant properties

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard and Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:58) (over a minute faster than yesterday) (shoulda been faster)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: KATIE Ledecky (3D: Olympic swimming gold medalist Ledecky) —
Kathleen Genevieve Ledecky (/ləˈdɛki/Czech pronunciation: [ˈlɛdɛtskiː]; born March 17, 1997) is an American competitive swimmer. She has won five Olympic gold medals and 14 world championship gold medals, the most in history for a female swimmer. She is the current world record holder in the women's 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter freestyle (long course). She also holds the fastest-ever times in the women's 500-, 1000-, and 1650-yard freestyle events. (wikipedia)
• • •

Inexplicably terrible start had me feeling like I was pretty slow, but apparently everything outside the NW of the grid went very well for me, and I finished with my 4th best Saturday time of the Modern Era (i.e. since I started keeping official records in April '18). I think the longer answers in the NE were easy off just the first few letters, and unlike many central stagger-stacks (those 13s in the middle of the grid), this one presented no problem at all. I feel like I did another puzzle just yesterday with MICHELLE OBAMA clued in relation to "Becoming," so that answer went in easily. Had the -TIVE so CASE SENSITIVE, also easy. PERSONAL SPACE took a tad longer, but not much. Some slight slowing in the SE, but otherwise, this one was very pliant—that is, once I finally got out of the NW and started going. I'm pretty mad at myself about the NW because, in retrospect, I should not have been floundering. I have this dumb habit of not looking at the clues for longer answers until I've gotten a bunch of the shorter crosses. This is a pretty good habit to get into—you're much more likely to know a short answer than a long one, so why not look there first?—but sometimes, like today, I get stuck fighting the short stuff when, if I'd just looked at a longer Across, I'd be able to crack things open. I had ELBA TEE ISLET and SHIA, but for some reason I got bogged down getting made at myself for not remembering Ledecky's name. Then I put in ANION (!?) instead of ANODE (2D: One of two poles). This made me want the bizarre ANO for 22A: Third of a dozen? (ZEE), my logic being that the third letter of "a dozen" was AN O. If I'd just looked at 15A: Under tight control, then ON A LEASH would've gone in easy. Or maybe I actually did do that and it didn't help at all. I really should record my solves for better recall.


Is ERMINES / LEAR / MMA better than ENGINES / LEAN / GMA? I feel like ENGINES and LEAN are both better, in that there are broader, better cluing possibilities for both. MMA / GMA is kind of a push. I love that MMA is in here, though. True story: I tried to include MMA in a NYT puzzle once and it got Edited Out! See 11-Down here:
grid via xwordinfo
SMA, ugh. Anyway, just thinking out loud here about choices. I don't think the choices here were bad at all. Just wondering why these choices over others. Only thing I didn't really like was the Latin plural on UVULAE (I never like Latin plurals on words that are fully English words, looking at you ULNAE). Overall, I really enjoyed this one. No idea about "HALLOWEEN II" (6D: Film with the tagline "The nightmare isn't over!"). Wasn't even sure about the Roman numeral. Thought maybe IV? Couldn't get logic on 40A: Start of a cry that ends "bah!" ... until I did (SIS ... as in "SIS, boom, bah!" which I guess is an olde timey cheer). So SIS got me the II of "HALLOWEEN II." Had PAC for RNC for a bit. GIT for OUT (11D: "Scram!"). DONA for ADIA (19A: Three-syllable woman's name meaning "gift") (me: "is it three syllables because it's DOÑA ... doh-nee-ya!?") (Your brain can sell you on terrrrrible ideas when you're stuck). That's it for wrong initial answers.


Loved the clue on PERSONAL SPACE (35A: Mine field?), and generally loved this puzzle. These are two of the best in the business right now. I'm not sure I've ever disliked a Paolo Pasco puzzle in my life, and Erik's batting something close to 1.000 as well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old Asian capital / FRI 1-18-19 / D4 dice in role-playing games / Nickname of subzero 1967 N.F.L. Championship Game / California title locale of 1950s-'60s TV series / Figure in Plato's Parmenides / Hack's modern-day rival

Friday, January 18, 2019

Constructor: Andrew Ries 

Relative difficulty: Challenging (7:03)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: PAPAWS (1A: Relatives of custard apples) —
noun
plural noun: papaws
  1. 1. 
    another term for papaya.
  2. 2. 
    a North American tree of the custard apple family, with purple flowers and edible oblong yellow fruit with sweet pulp. (google)
CUSTARD APPLE (noun)
  1. 1. 
    a large fleshy tropical fruit with a sweet yellow pulp.
  2. 2. 
    the tree which bears the custard apple, native to Central and South America. (google)

• • •

Always disappointed when my favorite day of the solving week doesn't really deliver the goods. There's nothing particularly wrong with this grid, but solving it was a chore rather than a joy. Very few "ooh" or "aha" moments (except, ironically, LEAD BALLOON). Mostly just shrugs and "oh"s. Many answers where I had all but one letter and still wasn't too sure. Needed -ILE to get PILE (1D: Laundry room accumulation). Needed -DS and still kinda guessed at MDS (50A: "Code Black" figures, for short). Had to get to -AGS before I got HAGS (47D: Storied pot stirrers). Had PAPER-OSS and thought "well, T, I guess, but ?" (41A: Time-killing office game involving a trash can). Still not really sure how briefs are "delivered in" the American Bar Association (4D). And PAPAWS ... ? ... I barely know what those are, and the clue was zero help. Other times I'd just get handed an answer, like LISA LOEB, but there was just no joy or interest in the cluing. Attempts at joy or interest, though, often fell flat. Took a while to get BLOOD VESSEL (17D: Needle point?) but even after getting it I had to kinda think about how the clue worked: "So ... it's the 'point' where the needle enters your body?" If you just step back and look at the grid, without even considering the cluing, it's pretty lifeless. The cluing just made it worse for me, as what the puzzle thought was interesting, I did not. No idea why you boringly techify answers like ADS (7D: Google ___) and HOSTING (45A: Web service), or why you turn a perfectly good word like VAT into a foreign abbr. (37A: Price add-on in Eur.) Bizarre. You know the puzzle is not really going to sizzle when the clue the puzzle decides to double up on is ... [1040 abbr.]??? I just don't share this puzzle's idea of a good time.


Five things:
  • 33D: Rental unit, often (MONTH) — First, this is a Saturday clue, and it's too clever by 3/4. There's a bunch of this in the grid (see the BOX clue at 56D: Work on hooks, say), but this "ooh, what do I mean by 'unit,' you'll never guess" just thuds when the meaning of "unit" is so badly stretched. This was probably the roughest answer in the grid for me, weirdly, as I had 39A: Norton Sound and such as ISLETS (that's my bad), and this answer crossed PAPER TOSS (?) and HOSTING, which I had trouble with as clued.
  • 27D: "D4" dice in role-playing games, e.g. (TETRAHEDRA) — had the TETRA- early and easily but the rest was weirdly eluding me. Wanted only TETRAHYDRA, which sounded like a plausible D&D monster, but ... this clue was about dice, so ...
  • 24: Time of one's life (TEENS) — it's hard to think of a more boring way to clue this
  • 23A: Post, e.g. (SEND OUT) — again, the difficulty here is just enormous ambiguity about the meaning of the clue word, and then when the actual answer comes, it's really mundane and anticlimactic. Also, I had to play the not-at-all-enjoyable "is it SENDOUT or SENDOFF" game.
  • 50D: ___ point (MOOT) — oh, sorry, [1040 abbr.] wasn't the only repeated clue. We've also got this one, repeated with a capital P at 32A: ___ Point (WEST). This pair is hair's breadth more exciting than the IRS one. At least the "P" changes case. You take your excitement where you can find it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

P.S. NYT constructor count for 2019: Men: 17 / Women: 1

P.P.S. The Inkubator is a brand-new crossword edited and constructed entirely by women. The first Inkubator crossword came out just last night and it is a very good Easy (Monday/Tuesday-level) puzzle (difficulty levels will vary). As you can see by my first P.S., and (if you look it up) by the Very Dismal record the NYT has of publishing women in the last decade+  of the Shortz era, the Inkubator is filling a giant hole in the puzzling world. They're recruiting and mentoring new constructors and creating a cool, inclusive crossword culture, while also trying to turn out innovative and entertaining puzzles. The puzzle I solved last night was definitely women-centric, and I learned a thing or two, but mainly it was just a good, solid, fun, breezy puzzle. One that had a grid and cluing where women's lives and perspectives and achievements were prominently represented. If you're not already a subscriber, check it out. And congrats to editors Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett on the successful launch!

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Yugoslav-American tennis great / THU 1-17-19 / What Alice goes through to find Jabberwocky printed backward / Movie franchise that set record opening weekend gross in 2018

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:12—the only thing keeping me from being even faster was the weirdness of trying to spell answers backward)


THEME: THE LOOKING GLASS (7D: What Alice goes through to find "Jabberwocky" printed backward) — when you go through THE LOOKING GLASS (from W to E) you find the *grid* "printed backward").

Word of the Day: Bay of YACSIB (25A: Bay of ___, body separating Spain and France)
The Bay of Biscay (/ˈbɪsk-ki/FrenchGolfe de GascogneSpanishGolfo de VizcayaOccitanGolf de GasconhaBretonPleg-mor GwaskognBasqueBizkaiko Golkoa) is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Point Penmarc'h to the Spanishborder, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal.
The south area of the Bay of Biscay washes over the northern coast of Spain and is known as the Cantabrian Sea.
The average depth is 1,744 metres (5,722 ft) and the greatest depth is 4,735 metres (15,535 ft). (wikipedia)
• • •

I've been handling Alice in Wonderland thank-you postcards all week, so seeing Alice in a puzzle today was a nice bit of coincidence. This theme works because the clue works. Without the clue, this is a puzzle that doesn't know how a mirror works (east would have to be the *west* in reverse, not its own thing in reverse). So this is a good example of how theme cluing can make a puzzle. Please see yesterday's puzzle for how theme cluing can ruin a puzzle. Today's puzzle is whimsical and super duper triple-scooper easy, so it is bound to be a crowd-pleaser (people Lovvvve puzzles they can crush, esp. self-styled "tricky" ones, in my experience—take a note of that, you constructors who are in love with difficulty porn). My main problem with this one was how rudimentary it was. I solved straight out of bed in the morning (slowest mode I have) and I couldn't write in the answers (especially the backward answers) fast enough. Sincerely, there was just a single answer that I had to work for even a little, and that was 1A: Made jokes (JESTED). Wanted KIDDED. Wrote in JOSHED. But my trouble there didn't last long, as ECO DANSE ALPACA MELLON PAIL all fell without my trying. And then the key: wrote in SOLOS ANTIHERO SOS, then WACO, then tried 7A: Slim amphibian, which read "blank W blank blank." Nothing. No idea. Huh. Weird. And *then* I looked at the long Down clue. With LOO- in place, that answer was impossible not to get. I'd've gotten it with nothing in place. Then I looked back at the slim amphibian answer: TW--. And that was that. Wrote in NEWT backward, and then wrote in *literally* every other Across answer on the east side that I looked at, As Soon As I Looked At It. The easiest east half of a grid I've Ever worked on, Despite every answer's being backward.


I loooove crushing puzzles and coming near record times, but today's success felt very much unearned. I tied my Wednesday and beat my Tuesday time. And honestly there's nothing to this grid but backwardsness. As word-redirecting themes go (and I've seen a lot), this is very simple. The element I actually really like is the palindromification of the central Acrosses (the ones that cross the "glass"). These *kind* of violate the spirit of the puzzle (i.e. they're operating on the (apt) principle of reflection when no other answers in the grid are). But whatever. It's a neat way of handling the problem of mirror-straddling words.  The concept may be simple, it definitely works, and has nothing irksome about it. So hurray.


The fill isn't really commentary-worthy. Pretty plain. ESCORTEE is certainly weird (39D: One taken by the arm), as is OXES, which ... has only this context, which is not even a good / common one (65A: Dumb ___ (oafs)). I know "X"s are cool and all, but better to go German city ESSEN and ONES here, I think. Real thing x/w real thing. But this is a tiny thing. This puzzle isn't really about the fill at all (again, except those central Acrosses, which is why I appreciate them).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

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Loud subgenre of punk / WED 1-16-19 / Dubious Tibetan sighting / Bakery-cafe chain

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:12)


THEME: double puns — so ... imagined spoken phrases where the first part is left blank, and instead of a familiar two-word phrase, there is a phrase made up of homophones of both words, i.e. a wacky phrase, which is suggested by the rest of the imagined spoken phrase in the theme clue (note: any theme that takes this long to accurately describe is almost certainly a hot mess):

Theme answers:
  • "BUTT WEIGHT" (17A: "___, do these jeans make me look fat?")
  • "AISLE BEE" (25A: "___! The flight attendant just swatted a bug!")
  • "BUY CHANTS" (36A: "___, would you like to purchase some religious music?")
  • "EWE GUISE" (53A: "___ and those crazy sheep costumes!")
  • "CZECH PLEAS" (62A: "___! Petr, I'm begging you again to let me get this!")
Word of the Day: SCREAMO (46D: Loud subgenre of punk) —
Screamo (also referred to as skramz) is an aggressive subgenre of emo that emerged in the early 1990s, emphasizing "willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics."[2] It was pioneered by San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow and developed in the late 1990s mainly by bands from the East Coast of the United Statessuch as OrchidSaetia, and Pg. 99. Screamo is strongly influenced by hardcore punkand characterized by the use of screamed vocals. Lyrical themes usually include emotional pain, romantic interest, politics, and human rights. "Screamo" has often been mistakenly used as an umbrella term for any music that features screamed vocals. (wikipedia)
• • •

Painful from start to finish, but particularly painful in the themers. There is no concept here. There is nothing clever holding this together, giving it definition, making it ... in any way meaningful. The homophonic phrases are totally random, have nothing in common, are not the same part of speech even ... make no sense on a grammatical level ... The cluing concept is atrocious. This is the editor's job. Doesn't matter if the constructor doesn't know what he's doing, the editor has to make this thing work, and its "working" depends *entirely* on the clues. And what do we get? Horrendously forced and awkward sounding quotes. The answers appear to want to be plays on words *and* work within the context of the imagined quote, but they just can't do both. And the relationship between the answer and the rest of the quotation is all over the map. What is the rest of the quotation supposed to be doing? It's providing a context, but what kind and how much? "Do these jeans make me look fat?" is a question about BUTT WEIGHT, but "Petr, I'm begging you again to let me get this" appears to be the CZECH PLEAS themselves. The worst and most confusing of these is the "by chance" / BUY CHANTS substitutions, since it's asking you to imagine an imperative (BUY CHANTS!) followed by an interrogative ??? ("would you like to purchase some religious music?"). It's all just so sloppy. There has to be some better way to tie all this double-homophone stuff together. Ugh, EWE GUISE is off too. "Those crazy sheep costumes!"? The wording just makes no sense. It's all torture. Any wordplay fun is completed drained out by the incompetent cluing. These kinds of clues have to work TOAT (ugh, one of my least fav crossword answers), and they have to be Funny; these failed on both counts.

This kind of cornball clunker should not be seeing the light of day in 2019. Also the fill is all over the map. THE? EELY? ITTY? SOAMI? TOAT? But then SCREAMO? (46D: Loud subgenre of punk) A genre literally none of you (OK, maybe like 6 of you) know anything about? Why put that in a puzzle? Because it's "new?" New is not inherently good. It should resonate with someone, somewhere. I might buy it in a different puzzle with a different vibe, but here it just looks like "Hello, fellow youths! What dope sounds are you listening to? SCREAMO, right?" Don't just throw something in because you think it looks hip and cool. A robust wordlist is not a substitute for a good eye and a good ear. Again: discernment. Where is the discernment? The personality? The craft? The Everything Good About Puzzles??? I want to challenge someone to take this *exact* set of theme answers and make an actually good puzzle. I believe it can be done. But this ain't it. 


Difficulty-wise, it was a little rough up top for me, esp. in the NW. The clue at 1D: Research assistant, informally was not nearly specific enough to get me LAB TECH and I know nothing about Billy the Kid's ALIAS and the clue on HAT didn't mean much to me etc. But once I got out of there, it got a lot easier, themers aside. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

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Caesar's first stabber / TUE 1-15-19 / Women's clothing chain since 1983 / 1982 film inspired by Pong / 1701 USS Enterprise registry / Eponymous scale inventor

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday) (4:19) 


THEME: welcome comments at a bar — phrases indicating that someone else is paying for your drink:

Theme answers:
  • "IT'S MY TREAT"
  • "DRINKS ON ME"
  • "I'LL GET THE BILL"
  • "YOUR MONEY'S / NO GOOD HERE"
Word of the Day: CHICO'S (1D: Women's clothing chain since 1983) —
Chico's is a retail women's clothing chain founded in 1983 by a three-person operation on Sanibel Island, Florida. Chico's FAS, Inc. is an American women’s clothing and accessories retailer. The company was founded by Marvin and Helene Gralnick and is headquartered in Fort Myers, Florida. Chico's FAS operates three brands: its namesake Chico's, White House Black Market and Soma. As of November 1, 2014, Chico's FAS operated 1,557 women's clothing stores in the US and Canada and sold merchandise through franchise locations in Mexico. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ouch. Very rough Tuesday. Rough as in "difficult," rough as in "ouch, I am wincing at this fill and these answers." Let's start with the theme, which is completely colloquial, and so when the phrasing isn't just right, it's grating. Feels like an alien life form has learned our language and is trying awkwardly to fit in. Actually, these aren't *that* off, but they veer sharply from the complete-sentence formal of "IT'S MY TREAT" to the where's-the-verb awkward of "DRINKS ON ME." Then there's "I'LL GET THE BILL," which ... ok one might say that, but it's not very bar-y, and like "IT'S MY TREAT" it's got that weird complete-sentence thing going on that you probably wouldn't actually here. "I GOT IT." "IT'S ON ME." "MY TREAT." I can hear these. The others have a weird formalism. Then there's the last one, YOUR MONEY'S / NO GOOD HERE, which is also the best one ... and the one total outlier, since it's the only themer that a bartender / owner would say. The other phrases are things your friends or colleagues might say. So it's all over the map as a theme. Not very tight, not very bar-specific. Also, how is the most common "welcome comment" of all not even in this grid? No ON THE HOUSE? No IT'S ON THE HOUSE? No IT IS ON THE HOUSE? The puzzle needed another answer with something drinky in it, like ROUND, and an answer with ON THE HOUSE in it. The theme as it is just clunks and lurches all over the place.


Then there's the fill / clues, which were super-hard for me, for a Tuesday. I have somehow lived almost half a century and never heard of CHICO'S. There has never been a CHICO'S anywhere I've lived. I have a sister and a mother and a wife and a daughter, so women's clothing chains aren't *entirely* unfamiliar to me, but yeah we found the giant hole in my knowledge base today, for sure. The NW was a disaster for that reason, and also because I misspelled HENNE and also because UNSNAG wtf!?!?! *And* with a "?" clue (3D: Let off the hook?). "CAN I SEE?" is a question and ["Ooh, ooh, let me look!"] is *not*, so that's fun (i.e. terrible). Don't watch that sitcom but guessed SEGAL buuuut the crosses were so weird to me that I kept taking him out when I couldn't get things to work. Pure disaster. And then when I'd go to other parts of the grid, I also couldn't get traction. Ask me about NETH, LOL, wow that is the Worst abbr., and I had NET- and still couldn't get it. My brain wouldn't allow it to exist. Up there with ICEL as Worst Euro Abbr. Wanted an *actual* wood for 28D: Wood in a fireplace, not the hilariously anticlimactic LOG. Cassius and Brutus are on my mind a lot (they figure prominently in Dante's "Inferno") but CASCA??? Totally forgot him (45A: Caesar's first stabber). Again. Just ... ugh. ATOY is horrendous fill and the clue did nothing for me (39A: "This is not ___" (warning to kids)). I have no idea what NCC even is (42A: ___-1701 (U.S.S. Enterprise registry). Seriously?? An abbr. that's cluable only in relation to an *adjacent* abbr.???? It stands for Naval Construction Contract and no, you did not know that.


Then there's ORIENTAL (11D: Avenue between Reading Railroad and Chance) ... I guess nothing says "hey, guys, sorry for BEANER" like ORIENTAL! Which is painfully dated, at best. It's a term that rubs a lot of Asian people the wrong way for reasons I Do Not Have Space or Time or Energy To Get Into. Here is an interview on NPR from ten years ago that puts things in non-inflammatory terms. My favorite part of the interview is when Linda Wertheimer asks Jeff Yang if anyone really *uses* the term ORIENTAL any more (in 2009) and he just laughs. People Still Use It To Describe Asian Things And People In This the Year of Our Lord Twenty Nineteen. ORIENTAL is not BEANER-level jarring, but I wouldn't put it in a puzzle. I mean, you can point to a Monopoly board and yup, there it is. But why are you including terms that need defense? It's common sense. You know it's a racially-loaded term, a term that has been used in racist ways, so why include it at all. Drive Around It. Take a different ... avenue, as it were. Thank you and good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

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Architect I.M. ___ / MON 1-14-19 / "___ ad Eurydice" (Greek opera) / Tippler's favorite radio station? / Peter Fonda title character

Monday, January 14, 2019

Constructor: Craig Stowe

Relative difficulty: Easy-medium



THEME: DISGUSTING— Theme answers contain words you'd say when you find something gross (highlighted by the bubbles).

Theme answers:

  • DOUBLECHIN (17A: Facial feature that could be eliminated by cosmetic surgery)
  • MAGICKINGDOM (23A: Disney World attraction)
  • JUGHEAD (36A: Friend of Archie and Betty in the comics)
  • SAYAFEWWORDS (48A: Speak briefly)
  • DISGUSTING (57A: "Gross" title for this puzzle)

Word of the Day: PECTIN (6D: Marmalade ingredient) —
Pectin (from Ancient Greekπηκτικός pēktikós, "congealed, curdled"[1]) is a structural heteropolysaccharide contained in the primary cell walls of terrestrial plants. It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braconnot.[2][3] It is produced commercially as a white to light brown powder, mainly extracted from citrus fruits, and is used in food as a gelling agent, particularly in jams and jellies. It is also used in dessert fillings, medicines, sweets, as a stabilizer in fruit juices and milk drinks, and as a source of dietary fiber.

• • •
It's a surprise Annabel Monday! I had to look up why Rex wanted me to write this week instead of last week and was reminded that that was because last week was his donation pitch. I hope he's ok with me thanking everyone that donated! You're the ones who keep Annabel Mondays financially viable at all!!!! Also thanks to everyone else too for just looking at the days when I blog, even the ones who only come complain that I missed something Rex would've gotten, because hey you're usually 100% right and I appreciate constructive criticism. For real, I don't want to get sappy but I love doing this. I love words.

Anyway, today's puzzle left me with...mixed feelings? I didn't even know whether to call it easy or medium, because while there weren't any quadrants that left me staring blankly at the screen for ages, it took me way more go-throughs and wrong guesses than it usually takes to really get into the groove. I found myself scratching my head at vague clues like "__ put it another way..." and "Come to __" (I was so sure that was MAMA!) and "Metropolitan ___." I guess the puzzle suffered from Blank Overload a little bit. The cluing for ESTA also hit one of my pet peeves; just say the language you're referring to, you don't need to name a region or city to try and be clever, honestly. But I did like parts of the setup, like ABCS on top of SINE. And although I had issues with some clues there were some clues I really liked--the one for WINO was funny! One time my local radio station changed their name to WOMB for a day as a prank, I think it was for Mother's Day? It was funny.

The theme was, y'know, a Monday theme. I don't like when letters are circled but you're not going to really do anything with them--write a phrase, do some unscrambling, what have you--but it did help me with SAY A FEW WORDS and MAGIC KINGDOM (I was so sure the latter was going to be one of the rides), and I've always had sort of a weakness for gross stuff. The word choices kind of reminded me of Garbage Pail Kids, which I never had but always eagerly pored over the ads for in my comic books. I guess I'm a grown-up now and can buy them for myself, but they don't hold quite the same appeal as they did when I was ten and thought anything slimy was the coolest thing on earth.
Related image
this is actually the only Garbage Pail Kid I could find on Google Images that didn't make me a little nauseous

Bullets:
  • JUGHEAD (36A: Friend of Archie and Betty in the comics) — Speaking of things I loved when I was ten I used to absolutely devour Archie comics! I feel like I've discussed this before on this blog but I never really "got" Jughead until I became a teenager and truly discovered the appeal of food and naps. I can't find it now, but there was this comic where Jughead discovered a crawlspace and made it into a little secret hideaway where he could stash snacks and hide out from his responsibilities to take naps in privacy, and I really admire that. I think we all deserve secret nap rooms.
  • ELLE (41A: Fashion monthly founded in France) — Hey! See? This is how I would clue a word that also means something in a foreign language! Not just "Her, in Paris." >:P 
  • SETA (31A: ___ good example) — I had thought for sure this looked familiar, like I had seen it as a word in other contexts, but when I did some digging I found out it meant "in biology...any of a number of different bristle- or hair-like structures on living organisms," according to Wikipedia. Apparently geckos have them on the pads of their feet to keep them sticky. So I guess that's a bonus Word Of The Day because I already picked out the first Word of the Day.
  • OGRE (55D: Menacing fairy tale figure) — Actually these days I think most people's first thoughts when they think of ogres are a little more...layered. (Unrelated to Shrek, but the same goes for orcs, because I feel like 99% of my friends are playing half-orcs in at least one Dungeons and Dragons campaign.)
Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired college student. For one more semester. Gulp.

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Supermodel Lima / SUN 1-13-19 / Frequent co-star of Mastroianni / Arthur who composed Yeoman of Guard / Eponym of Courage Award given at ESPYs / Females whose gender identities match their gender assignments at birth / Wine from Central Tuscany / Vegas establishment with giant guitar sign

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Constructor: Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Medium (10:33)


THEME: "Parlor Tricks" — familiar phrases clued as if they were orders at an ice cream parlor:

Theme answers:
  • PARADE FLOAT (23A: At the ice cream parlor, the grand marshal ordered a ...)
  • SINGLE MALT (39A: The confirmed bachelor ordered a ...)
  • TRAFFIC CONE (42A: The crossing guard ordered a ...)
  • KARAOKE BAR (67A: The amateur singer ordered a ...)
  • SUCTION CUP (70A: The dental hygienist ordered a ...)
  • HARLEM SHAKE (92A: The Apollo Theater usher ordered a ...)
  • BAKING SODA (97A: The pastry chef ordered a ...)
  • INSIDE SCOOP (115A: And the homebody ordered an ...)
Word of the Day: EYEPIT (101A: Ocular socket) —
(now rare) The eye socket; the concave area of the face around each eye. (wiktionary)
• • •

THANK YOU to all who contributed to my blog this past week. It's been lovely to hear from so many different people from around the country (the world, even). I really appreciate the support, as well as the warm words, not-so-warm words, encouragement, comments, suggestions, memories, and the occasional cartoon!


I have no good way of gauging how many readers I have or where they are, so it's nice to have a week where people check in from all over. You are of course free to contribute at any time during the year—you can always find the PayPal button and snail mail address in the sidebar of this blog. But this is the last time I'll put this info in the body of my write-up until 2020 (!):


Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

Here's to a challenging, entertaining, representative, and inclusive NYT crossword experience in 2019! (Hey, I can hope!). Now on to the puzzle!

• • •


I love this type of theme—it's the good kind of whimsy—but this one in particular got very confusing to me because ... well, there are not one not two but three valences for ever themer. There's the ice cream order word, the final word (1), which is repurposed in the context of the overall phrase (2), but then there's the repurposing of the *first* word in the phrase, which often took things into yet another context. At first, I thought it was gonna be a simple two-context deal, because a float is an ice cream parlor order as well as something in a parade. A grand marshal might also ride a PARADE FLOAT. So, two contexts—ice cream shop, and parade. But then the others. A malt is an ice cream parlor order, and a SINGLE MALT is a kind of scotch, but then there's this bachelor ... he's just single. No necessary connection to the scotch. So ice cream, scotch, unmarried dude: three contexts. I kept getting turned around, wondering what, for instance, a dental hygienist had to do with SUCTION CUPs (nothing, of course—the hygienist provides suction; nothing in the clue relates to the plain meaning of the answer in the grid). So this is all misperception on my part; since the first themer had a clear connection between the person ordering at the parlor and the *complete* answer in the grid, I kept wanting subsequent answers to do the same, and they just wouldn't. It was weird.


Also there were names that were just beyond me. All supermodels? Beyond me. Don't care. Do not follow, do not care. Don't even like the dumb term "supermodel." I guess I know some classic supermodels, like say IMAN or GISELE, but the rest, pfft, pass. So ADRIANA? No way. Also no way (for a bit): ASHLEE Simpson. How long has it been since she had a hit. I barely remember. 2004 hit? Wasn't really paying attention back then. Also, didn't know SULLIVAN at all. Is that the SULLIVAN of "Gilbert and Sullivan?" Yup, it is. "Yeomen of the Guard" = meaningless to me. I assume it's from "HMS Pinafore" or some such musical. COHIBA totally eluded me (weirdly, I know ELROPO much better). There's a HARD ROCK *HOTEL*? LOL, I was like "Cafe.... nope." And that was the end of that. No idea. What is an EYEPIT? What (I mean *whaaaat*) is a BOATLIFT? Oof, that was the worst. I had BOATLINE (I mean, why not, makes as much sense) and thus TRANSIT CONE (!@?!?!?!0) for a while. Rough. It's not that the puzzle was hard; it wasn't. It just felt bumpy and odd to me. Not bad by any means. I just didn't groove on it the way I wish I had.


Five things:
  • 28A: Weak-minded type (DOTARD) — had the D- and wrote in .... DIMWIT! I really really didn't want to let that one go.
  • 92A: The Apollo Theater usher ordered a ... (HARLEM SHAKE) — LOL six-year-old memes that were popular for a nanosecond (i.e less than two months). Nice. I'm all for being "current," but this ... we need a name for this. Something that's current but then becomes decidedly dated almost before you can finish putting it into a puzzle...
  • 56D: Writing of W.S. Gilbert (LIBRETTO) — Oh, hey, look ... a little hidden Gilbert & SULLIVAN dealie. (I struggled a bit with this one, too, shocker)
  • 22A: I.S.P. option (AOL) — I get ISP and IPO confused. I would like to think that is why (having the "L" in place) I wrote in URL here, but ... honestly URL doesn't make sense either way
  • 78A: Home planet of TV's Alf (MELMAC) — again? Again with MELMAC? That is two times in less than two months. And ... I mean ... that last time (in November) was 27 years (!!!!) after its last appearance (a 1991 debut—Gene Maleska at his wildest!). Let's put it back in the time capsule. ORK is more than enough 80s-sitcom-home-planet knowledge for one solver to have to carry around.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

P.S. here are some ballerinas backstage at the NYC ballet solving the recent NYT Super Mega Crossword (photo via Brendan Emmett Quigley)


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Roman magistrate's attendants / SAT 1-12-19 / Onetime California fort / Nickname for Adrianus / Grammy-winning group whose name is an homage to the Monkees / Reader's Encyclopedia classic literary reference

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:01) (personal record by over a minute)*


THEME: TEAM! — just kidding, there's no theme, but there are two TEAMs ... and lots and lots of sports, generally ...

Word of the Day: LICTORS (44A: Roman magistrate's attendants) —
noun
  1. (in ancient Rome) an officer attending the consul or other magistrate, bearing the fasces, and executing sentences on offenders. (google)
• • •

Hello! It's the first full week after New Year's Day and that means it's time for my annual pitch for financial contributions to the blog, during which I ask regular readers to consider what the blog is worth to them on an annual basis and give accordingly. As you know, I write this blog every. Single. Day. OK, two days a month I pay young people to write it, but every other day, all me. OK sometimes I take vacations and generous friends of mine sit in, but otherwise, I'm a non-stop blogging machine. Seriously, it's a lot of work. It's at least as much work as my day job, and unlike my day job, the hours *kinda* suck—I typically solve and write between 10pm and midnight, or in the early hours of the morning, so that the blog can be up and ready for you to read with your breakfast or on the train or in a forest or wherever it is you enjoy the internet. I have no major expenses, just my time. As I've said before, I have no interest in "monetizing" the blog in any way beyond simply asking for money once a year. I hate ads in real life, so why would I subject you all to them. I actually considered redesigning the site earlier this year, making it slicker or fancier somehow. I even got the process partly underway, but then when I let slip that I was considering it, feedback was brisk and clear: don't change. Turns out people don't really want whistles and bells. Just the plain, internet-retro style of a blogger blog. So that's what you're getting. No amount of technical tinkering is gonna change the blog, which is essentially just my voice. My ridiculous opinionated voice yelling at you, cheerfully and angrily, about how much I love / hate crosswords. I hope that this site has made you laugh or taught you things or given you a feeling of shared joy, or anger, or failure, or even given you someone to yell at. I'm fine with that. I also hope I've introduced some of you to the Wider World of Crosswords, beyond the NYT. I am passionate about puzzles and I (mostly) adore the people who solve them—so many of my friends, and the thousands of you I've never met. I can't stop, and I won't stop, and I hope you find that effort worth supporting.

Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions (I. Love. Snail mail!) will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. This year's cards are illustrations from "Alice in Wonderland"—all kinds of illustrations from throughout the book's publication history. Who will get the coveted, crosswordesey "EATME!" card!? Someone, I'm sure. You, I hope. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say NO CARD.  As ever, I'm so grateful for your readership and support.

Now on to the puzzle!
• • •

Wow this was easy. For me. Beyond easy. This was that-dude-playing-golf-in-the-rain-storm-in-"Caddyshack" easy for me—everything was just going in. I could do no wrong. Every clue I looked at turned into an answer. It's like it was written especially for me. I mean, The City I Live In Is In The Dang Clues. I wasn't even focused on going particularly fast, and I nearly broke 4 minutes. My Saturday record (since April '18) is now faster than my Friday record, that's how fast I went. I was within 11 seconds of my *Tuesday* time, that's how fast I went. I'M SPEECHLESS! Figuratively! It definitely helped to have some basic sports knowledge, and this puzzle will break hard along sports knowledge lines. Between two TEAMs (SKI and NFC, what the hell?) and THE ESPYS, and PUT ON A CLINIC and MIRACLE ON ICE, yeah, yikes, it's sports-tastic. But all those things were solidly in my sporty lexicon, and only PUT ON A CLINIC caused me even a moment's hesitation. Just when I was thinking I was getting slower and slower and would never approach a personal record again ... this happens. Completely unexpected and weird. I have many Tuesday times that are slower than this. But I know that we are all only one or two proper nouns or slang phrases away from total destruction on any puzzle, so your experience may be very, very different.


Got POGS and EVOKE right away, which meant ESP and SKITEAM and NOLA and ABLE and most of the NW very quickly followed. I had OVERRODE at first instead of OVERBORE (13A: Domineered). Other than that, fast work up there. If you didn't know GORILLAZ ... that's a generational thing, for sure (15A: Grammy-winning group whose name is an homage to the Monkees). I think of them as a fictional / animated band because of their first famous video from circa 2001, "Clint Eastwood." Maybe they are less fictional and animated now. I really haven't been paying close enough attention.


I went diagonally thru this thing to the SE, where "Y" in THEESPYS gave me SYSTOLE which game me TEAM, MATS, CCUP etc. Shot up through MIRACLE ON ICE (very easy when you've got ON ICE in place). Then PUT ON A CLINIC to VANILLI (way too easy) (9D: Music's Milli ___) and from there the rest of the NE went down, despite BENETS being (to me) not familiar (16A: ___ Reader's Encyclopedia (classic literary reference)). That just left the SW, where LICTORS was the only true "???" in the whole grid, and briefly prevented me from storming the corner. But then God sat in my lap with 50A: New York city west of Binghamton (!!) (ELMIRA), and that whole corner went down fast. Looked at timer. 4:01. Bonkers.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

*personal record since I started keeping consistent records, April '18

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