Gossiping types / MON 9-20-21 / One-named R&B singer with the 1999 6x platinum album Unleash the Dragon / Classic arcade game set in outer space

Monday, September 20, 2021

Constructor: Pao Roy

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Volcano parts, sort of — themers end with words for layers of earth, which have some tangential relationship to volcanoes ... then there are weird extra five-letter theme answers concerning what lava *is* (before and after, or rather after and before, an eruption) ... oh, and then ASHES, for some reason:

Theme answers:
  • GLUTEN-FREE CRUST (17A: Pizza feature for a specialized diet)
  • ASSUME THE MANTLE (34A: Take on a position, along with its responsibilities)
  • ROTTEN TO THE CORE (52A: Lacking any moral compass)
  • ROCKS (1A: What lava becomes after an eruption)
  • MAGMA (60A: What lava is before an eruption)
  • ASHES (27D: Volcanic emissions)
Word of the Day: J. COLE (48D: Rapper J. ___) —

Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) known professionally as J. Cole, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. Cole is regarded as one of the most influential rappers of his generation. Born on a military base in Germany and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a musical career, he went on to release two additional mixtapes, The Warm Up (2009) and Friday Night Lights (2010) both to critical acclaim, after signing to Jay-Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009.

Cole released his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. His next album, Born Sinner (2013), also topped the Billboard 200. Moving into more conscious themes, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014) topped the Billboard 200 and earned Cole a Best Rap Album nomination at the 2015 Grammy Awards. His jazz influenced fourth album, 4 Your Eyez Only (2016), debuted at number one on the Billboard200. Cole's fifth album, KOD (2018), became his fifth number-one album on the Billboard 200 and featured a then-record six simultaneous top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, tying The Beatles. His sixth studio album, The Off-Season, was released on May 14, 2021. (wikipedia)

• • •

I'm confused. The *earth* has a core, and a mantle, and a crust, and volcanos ... are part of the earth ... but in allllll the cross sections of volcanoes that I am currently looking at online, not one of them includes CRUST, MANTLE, or CORE. See, here's one:

And here's one:

No CRUST, no MANTLE, no CORE. Again, those are parts of the earth, for sure, and volcanoes are, technically, parts of the earth, so ... OK, but this MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES stuff ... I don't know, the words all seem only loosely associated with volcanoes, and the MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES part feels super tacked-on. Also, starting with ROCKS and ending with MAGMA feels (no, is) backwards. There's just a sloppiness here to the execution that really needs unsloppifying. Further, while I really like THEY/THEM and EGOMANIA, the fill on this is a bit on the old-fashioned / crosswordesey side. ATTA and NENE!? You're bringing back both, in the same grid? But seriously, what happened in the SW corner. Surely an editor could've spruced that thing up pretty quickly. If you wanted to the very least possible, you could change PRAY / ANO to PREY / ENO, which, currently, 72.3% of solvers agree is the better pairing.

But if you just change PAGODA to something like ONEIDA you get much more favorable letter patterns in the Downs and the whole corner gets a lot easier to make clean. ANO GTOS AONE is a lot of not-great for one little section. You gotta mind the small stuff, because if it gets ugly, then all of a sudden it isn't small stuff any more. 

I should be fair to the themers, which I think are actually quite good as stand-alone answers. Still, the theme just didn't work for me. Hope you were more into it than I was. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Major exporter of nutmeg / SUN 9-19-21 / Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor / Like the Mideast exclave of Madha / Rude Boy singer to fans / Obie-winning playwright Will / Figure on Italy's 2000-lira note

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "New Look"Two "I"s are added to the last word (or word part) in familiar phrases; the gimmick is explained by the punning phrase, a "FRESH PAIR OF EYES" (116A: New look provider ... or a homophonic hint to this puzzle's theme):

Theme answers:
  • THOROUGH FAIRIES (from "thoroughfares") (23A: Meticulous magical beings?)
  • PANAMA-HAITI (from "Panama hat") (32A: Like some cross-Caribbean flights?)
  • DOUBLE DIARIES (from "double dares") (50A: Journals of a certain stunt performer?)
  • SHOULDER HAIRINESS (from "shoulder harness") (68A: Possible reason for refusing to wear a tank top?)
  • BOOKS ON TAIPEI (from "books on tape") (85A: Means of learning about Chiang Kai-shek?)
  • POLKA IDIOTS (from "polka dots") (99A: Inept dancers at Oktoberfest?)
Word of the Day: AL TOON (34A: Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor) —
Albert Lee Toon Jr. (born April 30, 1963) is a former professional American football wide receiver who played for the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) for eight seasons. A two-time First Team All-Big Ten pick at the University of Wisconsin, Toon set several school football records for the Wisconsin Badgers. The three-time Pro Bowl selectee played his entire NFL career with the Jets (1985-1992), leading his team and the league in receptions during the late 1980s. He is considered to be among the Jets' all-time greatest wide receivers and overall players in franchise history. (wikipedia)
• • •

Is the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" supposed to be a meaningful entity? What the hell is that? AL TOON is a three-time Pro Bowler, that's good enough. Saying he's in the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" is just an awkward way of shouting "he's absolutely not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame!" There is absolutely no crossword reason for using "New York Jets Ring of Honor" except, perhaps, to signal that AL TOON was a Jet. "I fell into a burning ring of honor!" That's all I can hear in my head. Also, Ring of Honor has big "weird ritual" vibes, like maybe the induction ceremony involves human sacrifice at the mouth of a volcano. In short: I have no idea who AL TOON is (wasn't even sure if that was one name or two), and the clue didn't help. There's an American artist, John Altoon, who was married to actress Fay Spain, whom I know from supporting roles in a couple of Mamie van Doren films, the poster for one of which hangs framed in my living room. Fay Spain did her first screen test with James Garner, whose 1997 HBO hostage film "Dead Silence" I watched earlier today. Wikipedia is really full of the most incredible rabbit holes. Annnnnnyway, this theme was fine. You add two "I"s to answers, thus giving those answers a FRESH PAIR OF EYES, with a homophonic pun on "eyes," yes, I see, very nice. It's vintage Sunday wackiness, and as vintage Sunday wackiness goes, it's pretty clever. The resulting themers are mostly suitably nuts. I didn't love this, but I definitely liked it more than I've been liking most Sunday puzzles this month year decade.

The BEEFIER clue is insane (Like the Rock vis-à-vis any of the Stones). Why, why would you do that? I know you really (really!) wanted to do some kind of Rock / Stones mash-up, but a BEEFIER clue seems an odd venue in which to showcase that bit of wit. Do people really watch "Two Broke Girls"? Actually, bigger question, is that still on the air? I feel like if something gets on CBS and does OK it just runs forever and ever and ever by inertia and no one really notices. Or, millions of people notice, but somehow, culturally, no noise is made, despite the falling trees (er, episodes). CSI is also in this puzzle, in case you're wondering who's paying for promotional puzzle consideration (probably not, but it's a good conspiracy theory). "Two Broke Girls" ran for six seasons, I am told (again, by Wikipedia). The point is, I know BETH Behrs about as well as I know AL TOON (if BETH Behrs is famous, then maybe you should be seeing about getting her *last* name into the puzzle—*that* would be original). Yesterday I thought the NRA was the IRA and today I thought the NBA was the NRA (79D: Org. that bestows the Community Assist Award). I also thought DAHS were DOTS because a. who the hell knows Morse Code, seriously, and b. DAHS is the dah-umbest looking non-word, I just can't accept it despite knowing it (exclusively from crosswords) for decades. Btw, Morse Code is made up of "dots and dashes" which are also known as "dits and DAHS" (because "dots and dashes" was such a mouthful?). Other things I didn't know: that people ate CAMEL (115A: Dish at a traditional Bedouin wedding), or that Missy Elliott was ever in an R&B group before her solo success—these last two ignorances made the SW corner a little harrowing, but only a little. 

Despite being an ENG professor, I did not suspect ENG at all as the answer to 81D: Liberal arts sch. major. What an oddly phrased clue. First, "sch.", yuck. Second, you can major in ENG practically anywhere. I did, in fact, go to a liberal arts college, but they have that major at big universities, it turns out. You could just say [Liberal arts deg.] or [... maj.] or whatever abbr. you need to clue the abbr. that is ENG. Hey, we all know ENG is short for ENGlish, right? Just checking I assume we're all on the same page, but you never know. Speaking of explanations, "doodles" are (I'm assuming) labradoodles, though I think of those as bigger dogs, not LAPDOGS (8A: Small doodles, perhaps). Maybe there are mini versions. Oops, nope, looks like *any* dog crossed with a poodle immediately becomes some kind of "-doodle" (or a "-poo"). Woof. Stop doodling dogs! Just adopt a mutt. Or get a PULI, they at least look awesome (32D: Hungarian herding breed). A STETSON is (I guess) made of felt, which is what that clue's all about (124A: Felt on the head?). The 'Hoos are UVA (a back formation of the school's yell—so dumb, esp. when you are already the Cavaliers, just be the Cavs, so much less Seussian than the 'Hoos). The TERPS are of course the Maryland Terpsichores. That's enough trivia for today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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