Spills the beans / TUES 9-26-23 / Home of the palace Hanaiakamalama / First-year law student, for short / Cub Scout units

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Hi, everyone, it’s a Clare Tuesday! Hope you all have had a good month and are staying safe and healthy while it seems like everyone is getting sick. I’ve been enjoying work and also enjoy all the biking I do with my commute and otherwise — and it’s getting even better now that the weather is becoming a bit cooler as we head into fall. Fall also means that football is back. (Go, Steelers!)! My Steelers had a rough opening game but have been looking better. And Liverpool has been doing great so far this season, with some new players on our team, so I’ve been pretty happy. We’ll see if any of this changes by next month, though… Anywho, on to the puzzle.

Shannon Rapp and Rebecca Goldstein

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy (one of my faster Tuesday times)

THEME: FOOD WEB (38A: Dietary network in an ecosystem … or a punny hint to the answers to the starred clues) — All theme answers related to both food and computer terms  

Theme answers:
  • SPAM FILTER (17A: Program that detects junk emails) 
  • SPAGHETTI CODE (23A: Slang term for convoluted and unstructured computer programming) 
  • HAMBURGER MENU (49A: Online icon comprised of three parallel horizontal lines, familiarly) 
  • JAVA UPDATE (60A: Download that may improve streaming lags)
Word of the Day: CHLOE Zhao (6D: "Nomadland" director Zhao) —
ChloƩ Zhao (born Zhao Ting, 31 March 1982) is a Chinese-born filmmaker. She is known primarily for her work on independent films. Her debut feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), premiered at Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and earned a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Zhao garnered international recognition with the western film Nomadland (2020), which won numerous accolades. Earning four Academy Award nominations for the film, Zhao won Best Picture and Best Director. Throughout her filmography, Zhao carries relatively the same styles and techniques. The main actress in her film Nomadland, Frances McDormand, told Rolling Stone about Zhao's process, saying "she's basically like a journalist... she gets to know your story, and she creates a character from that" and that she "draws a razor-sharp line between sentiment and sentimentality". A Filmmaker Magazine article quoted Zhao saying "I want to find new ways to place the camera to evoke more of a feeling. My goal is to put the camera inside of [the character]". (Wiki)
• • •
This was a rather enjoyable puzzle! The theme was pretty cute and fun — it was nice that all of the theme answers were not only food items but were tied to computers. FOOD WEB (like the World Wide Web) worked really well as a revealer. I also liked that it was smack dab in the center of the puzzle. That’s a standard place for a revealer, but I thought the placement added extra meaning because the term functions as the center of a sort of WEB that’s reaching out to the theme answers. I love the visual that I get with SPAGHETTI CODE and am happy I’ve now learned the term. I also learned what a HAMBURGER MENU is. I will say that I’m not sure how a JAVA UPDATE relates to a streaming lag, but maybe my lack of data/computer knowledge is showing. 

To extend the food theme, there were some other answers in the puzzle that related back (whether intentionally or not). CHOP (6A: Hack (off)), which could be a pork chop; ALLA (19A: Penne ___ vodka); JAM (60D: Toast topping); FAT (48A: Major component of a ketogenic diet), that one gets from meat or nuts in the diet; ACME (63A: Tiptop), a supermarket chain where they sell food; and MOLE (67A: Beauty mark), which is a Mexican sauce. I liked how those were woven in there. 

Other than the theme, I really liked the long downs in the NE and SW corners. I especially loved SALAD BARS (11D: Places to see the romaines of the day?) because it made me chuckle, and I for some reason really like the word HUNCH, so 32D was fun. I’LL BE FINE (12D: "Don't worry about me") was the only long down that I thought was just fine. For another long-ish down, I liked RAMPART (4D: Fortification in "The Star-Spangled Banner"), which isn’t a word you often see. And the clue/answer for 45D: Parent in a blended family as STEPDAD is nice. 

There were a lot of clues with quotation marks, which I don’t always enjoy but didn’t mind too much in this puzzle (see: 10A, 12D, 18D, 33D, and 53D). Except I would like to never ever see the word NEATO (53D: “Cool beans!”) again. 

While the solve was pretty smooth and easy for me, I did have a few hang-ups. I had SPAM “folder” instead of FILTER for a while, which threw me off from the start. I could not wrap my head around 22D: Pre-year 1, in brief (BCE) and understand that it wasn’t referring to a specific year but rather an era. I was thinking the answer related to a kid being in pre-k or pre-school or something along those lines. I also had a hard time getting HIT IT (7D: Bandleader's direction) because I had no idea this is something a band leader ever says/said – no band I follow has ever uttered the phrase. My dad tells me HIT IT is actually a thing, but even Google doesn’t give me much information about it. When I think of HIT IT, I think of going water skiing or being in a tube on a lake and telling the driver of the boat to HIT IT (and then go faster). I also couldn’t get PHOTO (31A: Camera output) for a bit because that was just so obvious that it didn’t even cross my mind it would be the answer. 

I found GAVEL (51D: Courtroom banger) to be amusing. And then it tied in with ONE L (59A: First-year law student, for short) for a mini legal theme. HOE (28A: Groundbreaker?) also got a laugh out of me, which I think is more a sign that I need sleep than anything else.

  • With LOVER (34D: 2019 Taylor Swift album with a romantic theme), we have to talk about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce and their (completely PR, methinks) relationship. She went to his game yesterday and was in a box with his mom and seemed invested in the game. The Chiefs blew out the Bears, and then he rented out a restaurant for the Chiefs and Taylor Swift, fueling talk that maybe Kelce is Swift’s new LOVER
  • When I see the topic of the mercator MAP (46A: Mercator projection, e.g.), I will always think of this clip from The West Wing where C. J. Cregg (the press secretary) meets with cartographers who argue for a different map. It’s absolutely incredible (and mind-blowing to realize just how distorted the sizes of some countries and continents are on the mercator MAP!) 
  • I loved seeing CHLOE Zao (6D) and AVA Duvernay (56A) in the puzzle. They’re both incredible directors. If you haven’t seen Zhao’s movie “Nomadland” or Duvernay’s show “When They See Us,” do yourself a favor and go watch them now. 
  • My family of professional writers has shaped me (warped me?) enough that a grammatical mistake in the clue at 49A (Online icon comprised of three parallel horizontal lines, familiarly) jumped up and bit me on the nose. It should be “composed,” not “comprised.” As my dad has drilled into me, the whole comprises its parts, but the whole is composed of, or made up of, those parts. 
  • For 13D, I was thinking about what a steeped drink was and had a kind of brain freeze. And then I took a sip from my mug… of TEA
And that’s it from me! Stay safe and have a great and ~spooky~ October.

Signed, Clare Carroll, your resident INTERNET COOKIE

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Slender tower of a mosque / MON 9-25-23 / Math diagram with an array of dots / Colombia/Venezuela border river / Alif ba ta or hamza / Temporary as a position of leadership / Monkeys with long snouts

Monday, September 25, 2023

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for me, solving Downs-only)

THEME: "SO WHAT'S THE STORY?" (62A: "Care to fill me in?" ... or a hint to 17-, 23-, 37- and 55-Across's final words) — last words of themers are components of stories:

Theme answers:
  • ARABIC CHARACTER (17A: Alif, ba, ta or hamza)
  • SCATTER PLOT (23A: Math diagram with an array of dots)
  • EARTH TONE (37A: Color such as khaki or ocher)
  • GOAL-SETTING (55A: Preplanning activity)
Word of the Day: BABOONS (41D: Monkeys with long snouts) —

Baboons are primates comprising the genus Papio, one of the 23 genera of Old World monkeys, in the family Cercopithecidae. There are six species of baboon: the hamadryas baboon, the Guinea baboon, the olive baboon, the yellow baboon, the Kinda baboon and the chacma baboon. Each species is native to one of six areas of Africa and the hamadryas baboon is also native to part of the Arabian Peninsula. Baboons are among the largest non-hominoid primates and have existed for at least two million years.

Baboons vary in size and weight depending on the species. The smallest, the Kinda baboon, is 50 cm (20 in) in length and weighs only 14 kg (31 lb), while the largest, the chacma baboon, is up to 120 cm (47 in) in length and weighs 40 kg (88 lb). All baboons have long, dog-like muzzles, heavy, powerful jaws with sharp canine teeth, close-set eyes, thick fur except on their muzzles, short tails, and nerveless, hairless pads of skin on their protruding buttocks called ischial callosities that provide for sitting comfort. Male hamadryas baboons have large white manes. Baboons exhibit sexual dimorphism in size, colour and/or canine teeth development.

Baboons are diurnal and terrestrial, but sleep in trees, or on high cliffs or rocks at night, away from predators. They are found in open savannas and woodlands across Africa. They are omnivorous and their diet consists of a variety of plants and animals. Their principal predators are Nile crocodilesleopardslions and hyenas. Most baboons live in hierarchical troops containing harems. Baboons can determine from vocal exchanges what the dominance relations are between individuals. (wikipedia)

• • •

[GIBBONS (not pictured: BABOONS)]
Oof. That was rough. Those 7s (the longish Downs in the corners) really roughed me up, particularly in the NW, where neither PORSCHE nor ATAHALT would come. At all. Plus, never heard of a SCATTER PLOT, so I just stared at S--TTERPLOT like "???" Maybe I have heard of SCATTER PLOT, because eventually that's what I (tentatively) guessed, and that helped me see PORSCHE, but yeesh and yikes. PORSCHE is so far down my mental list of German automakers. Me: "BMW, AUDI, VOLKSWAGEN, MERCEDES ... OPEL? ... man, I am out of ideas." And ATAHALT, so ugly. That section was the toughest overall, but it was not the section that really did me in. That honor belonged to the southwest, but in that case, the problem was All Mine. See, I had -ONS at the end of 41D: Monkeys with long snouts, and while my brain definitely pictured BABOONS, my brain wrote GIBBONS. And the "G" worked and the "I" worked and the "B" (!) worked and the second "B" ... didn't. It gave me MBAT at 58A. And I knew that was wrong. I prayed that was wrong, anyway ... and it was. So I just kept pulling GIBBONS out and then ... putting it in ... and then ... trying to think of other monkeys, and then ... wondering if anything else might be wrong (it wasn't). I kept thinking "OK, what if that cross is MCAT? MEAT?" Only after a bit did I decided to run More of the alphabet, hit the "O," and go "O .......... d'oh! It's BABOONS!" It's BABOONS. (And MOAT)

As for the theme, it feels a little off to me, somehow, starting with the revealer. I found it really hard to parse, and even when I got it I wasn't sure I had it. I can definitely hear someone saying it, exactly as written, but the "SO" part also feels a little extraneous. Beyond that, it's just a "last words"-type theme. CHARACTER, PLOT, and SETTING make sense. TONE ... less so. I mean, yes, stories have tone, but all writing has tone, whereas the other words are all associated much more strongly with fiction in particular. Also, as I say, no idea what SCATTER PLOT. That's on me, for sure; it just seems very non-Monday, as theme answers go. But while that answer is merely somewhat harder than normal, I think GOAL-SETTING is actively not good. I had it correct but could not conceive how it would be clued. I just looked at the phrase like "what ... is that?" Turns out it's the setting ... of goals. PLACE SETTING and JET-SETTING are much much better SETTING answers. TREND-SETTING too. GOAL-SETTING feels forced somehow. BURIAL PLOT & JET-SETTING are the same length and seem like better themer options than their counterparts here.

["Me and Rex took the car, ha ha! Stay home ... Stay."]

Other than the [German automaker] and GIBBONS debacles, my only issue was how to spell NASSER (50D: Egypt's Lake ___, near Aswan Dam). I had NASSAR at first, which gave me ATON in the cross, which is a totally plausible answer. But NASSER ended up feeling more right. Or, rather, NASSAR started feeling wrong. Started looking like a typo of NASCAR. And since ETON > ATON (barely), I decided to gamble on ETON, and it paid off. That's enough for today. See you tomorrow

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy 17th birthday to ... this blog :) Thanks to everyone for reading and hate-reading me all these years. I really appreciate it.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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