MONDAY, Sep. 1, 2008 - Andrea Carla Michaels (Hersey’s “A Bell for ______” /Actor Sal of “Exodus” / Herb who played “Tijuana Taxi”)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hi! Andrea Carla Michaels here as a guest blogger with the technical, emotional, and moral support of PuzzleGirl who is giving up part of Labor Day weekend, because:

  1. It’s Labor Day, so Rex shouldn’t have to Labor
  2. Hey! Then why are we laboring? Oh yes, women labor, that’s what we do … we even go thru labor (well some of us, personally I have cats)
  3. No one reads the paper on Labor Day. My little puzzle will never even see the light of day, much less this blog! Seriously, why are you reading this once you saw it wasn’t Rex?!
  4. But the real reason is because it’s a puzzle I wrote, so Rex thought it would be fun to have a constructor deconstruct … or self-destruct … sort of like “Deconstructing Harry” (obligatory Woody reference, I’m still under his spell!).
If only I read, and wasn’t such a pseudo-intellectual, I could insert a Jacques Derrida joke here! (Yes, the Rosenbaum article still rankles … mostly because he got it so wrong!!!)

  • 17A: “Shhhh!” prompter (Silence is golden)
  • 37A: “Shhhh!” (Mum’s the word)
  • 59A: “Shhhh!” response (My lips are sealed)
My first idea was to simply solve this as I normally do and then go on either a rant about how much was changed or go on and on about how fabulous this puzzle was, the perfect Monday, etc. etc. and pretend not to notice it was mine! But because Rex has generously honored me by allowing me to lift the cover on the process a bit, I will play it straight (despite a nod to my fabulous gay friends with LATENT (22A: Present but not visible) and CAMP (29A: Kitschy)).

So, I solved it as I would solve it and only stumbled on the spelling of PSIS (5A: Greek letters that resemble pitchforks). I wrote in PSYS … and then later when I looked up the original puzzle submission, I discovered that that was the only word changed in the whole puzzle!!!!!!!! Literally one letter. I originally had ASIS/AEC, which was changed to PSIS/PEC (5D: Chest muscles, for short). [RP~ what the hell is "AEC?" And what is with you and the exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?]

This was amazing to me, because last week’s puzzle (PACK, PECK, PICK, etc.) went thru nine grid versions with my co-writer Michael Blake and Will still changed 43 letters in the grid!!!!!!! So to have one letter changed seems like a miracle to me. That said, it was my third version of the puzzle. More than a year ago, in August 2007, I submitted a puzzle with the following theme:

  • MUM’S THE WORD (11)
  • TALK IS CHEAP (11)
I defined them each simply as “SHHHHHHHH!” Will, rightly, rejected it, feeling that TALK IS CHEAP didn’t really match the other two. And since I have trouble taking no for an answer, I tried to come up with another phrase .… But it had to be either 11 letters or 15 letters long, be a catchy phrase and have the same feel as the other two. It really isn’t as easy as it looks, and some people don’t even realize Mondays have a theme! (I mean, I ain’t no Kevin Der, but feel free to fold up today’s puzzle and make an airplane out of it! Or perhaps an origami sculpture of a swan.)

Luckily at some point (around Feb. 2, 2008, according to my files) I had an epiphany and thought of MY LIPS ARE SEALED which is even better because it’s 15 letters. SO I drew up a grid … and sent it in.

Here is where things got tricky. I do not know how to make grids. Crossword programs do them in about three seconds but I’m a total Luddite. So I have two choices: beg my saintly pals Michael or Patrick or Myles to whip up a grid for me if I supply the theme, or take an already existing one and alter it with a square here and a square there to suit my needs.

The problem was, I made a brand new puzzle from scratch, but it had 80 words instead of 78 because, god forbid, I had added two previous squares that hadn’t been there before! Busted! I swear, I didn’t know there were black square limits or word limits. But apparently there are. There are even boys out there that are determined to break records over them. My feeling is if you have a great theme, who cares? Who notices if it’s 80 words or 74? Well, um, I guess that’s why I’ll never be a real constructor. I’m a solver who occasionally writes puzzles … and that’s why I’m no Paula Gamache or Lynn Lempel or whoever the true Queen of Mondays is. I am a pretender to the throne. A Lady-in-Waiting. And (if I may mix metaphors) that blonde chick from “All About Eve.” [RP~ Marilyn!!? You're Marilyn Monroe!?" You are blond, I'll give you that.]

Speaking of which, my favorite clue, “Woman of Honor?,” was changed to “Bride’s ____ of honor” (40A: MAID). Yuck. I agree with 99% of Will’s changes, and this puzzle was left pretty much untouched, but it’s frustrating with Mondays to have to be so straightforward that even little attempts at wit are bled out. (Just like this blog! Trust me, my original draft was hysterical! I blame PuzzleGirl and her backstabbing ways!) [RP~ What is a "Woman of Honor?" Is that a pun, a play on ... something?]

SO the long and short of it is I had to/chose to write a third version, from scratch, on spec, to maybe/maybe not be published, a year later, on a holiday where no one reads the paper! (And don’t get me started on no reprint rights!)

Ok. I feel better.

May I comment on the actual puzzle now as a solver?

MIA (25A: Actress Farrow). (Okay, second obligatory Woody Allen reference, so shoot me.) Total coincidence, synchronicity, malapop, whatever you want to call it, I swear I wrote this puzzle a year ago!

As some of you have detected on this blog, I occasionally try and slip in something self-referential, like ACME. This is a holdover from my TV Guide construction days (as is GINA (19D: Actress Lollobrigida) and AVA (41D: Actress Gardner)) where they would not give us a byline and paid $75 despite a 70 million readership … or was it 17 million? … whatever. So every puzzle I would slip in “The Streets of ___ Francisco” so friends would at least know it was mine.

On this puzzle, the secret shout out/kiss up word was, you guessed it, WILL (38D: Not just might). I originally clued it as “NYT crossword puzzle editor Shortz.” I have no idea why he changed it. Probably too hard for a Monday.

I also slipped in BERG (65A: Ice in the sea) as a nod to my birth name, Eisenberg, because my dad used to complain when I changed it that if I was published, no one would know I was his daughter. So much for that … when I told him I was having my first puzzle published in the NY Times, he asked what day. I said “Monday.” He said “Let me know when it’s a Friday” and hung up. And one asks why I plugged my therapist in the last blog!

By the way, my therapist Nanette Gartrell’s book, “My Answer Is No, If That’s OK With You,” is clearly working as I had NO SALE (1D: Key on an old register), NO RUSH (34A: “Take your time”), and NONCOM (18D: Sarge, for one) in the puzzle!

I’m such a Beatles fan, I had clued GOT TO as “____ Get You Into My Life” and it was changed to (63A) “What’s Love ___ Do With It” (Tina Turner #1 hit) which is fine by me, I love that song! My friend Johnnie even dressed as her for Halloween that year (where is THAT picture!??!!)

What’s love got to do with it, indeed. Speaking of which, I would end on a third obligatory reference to Woody, and our correspondence with me as a 14-year-old … but MY LIPS ARE SEALED. (Which is going to make it awfully hard to say thank you properly to Rex and PuzzleGirl … it will be more like “MMMANKU … ANKU … OILCAN.”) [RP~ o my god I so don't understand whatever you are doing there ... it's a bit scary. Otherwise, thanks for the insider's view, Andrea. RP is back tomorrow. See you then]

PS here's a drawing you'll like, Andrea - Emily's drawing based on last Saturday's puzzle. Enjoy.

[drawing by Emily Cureton]

PPS - testing testing. I'm experimenting. You should see a "Toughie" cryptic from the Telegraph below ...

Read this document on Scribd: Telegraph Toughie


"Extra Play" - SUNDAY, Aug. 31, 2008 - Alan Arbesfeld (World capital said to have been founded by Midas / Stopping place in a Carlo Levi title)

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Extra Play" - "OT" (short for "overtime") is added to familiar phrase to get wacky phrases, which are clued ... wackily

My first thought on solving this puzzle was "Oh boy ... add two letters to a phrase ... this'll be fun" - my thought was being sarcastic. This is one of the oldest puzzle "themes" in the book. We saw it recently when yet another sports-related letter string was involved - "LT" or "RT," I forget which. Anyway, the thing about such a theme is that, for it to pay off, the resulting wacky answers really have to zing. They have to be stunning (in the main) for the solver (i.e. me) to feel like the theme really merits the name of "theme." Today, I thought the answers were simply adequate, with two Major exceptions: the great LOOT AND BEHOLD and the super great SCHOOL MARMOT. I wish my school had had a marmot. They're adorable.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Plea made to a chimney sweep? ("Say it ain't soot!")
  • 38A: Distribute equal amounts? (allot the same) - see, this clue/answer just Dies
  • 56A: Vote involved in a 15th wedding anniversary? (crystal ballot)
  • 76A: Narrow-minded affairs? (bigot business)
  • 95A: Teacher's pet? (school marmot) - the banality of the clue is the best part, because you can't see the brilliance of SCHOOL MARMOT coming
  • 112A: Stop to admire one's pillaging? (loot and behold)
  • 17D: Sexiest bell ringer? (Bardot of Avon) - that's kind of great too, though for no good reason not having the "The" before "Bard of Avon" just feels off to me
  • 62D: Part of a Beckett play? (an act of Godot)

How about the LA BREA TAROT PITS!? - I guess that's longer than any of the others, but I like it.

Here is the part of the puzzle that made me squawk the loudest: the JESSEL / INHUME corner (93D: Toastmaster of old comedy / 94D: Bury). O man, that bugged me no end. I'm told by oldsters that JESSEL is a generational thing. I take that to mean that JESSEL was INHUMEd many years ago. INHUME! Words can't explain how terrible this word is, how much it insults all wordkind by its very existence. Is it from gardening? The only way I got it was from inference - i.e. I know what EXHUME means. I even know what the root "HUM" means. And yet, if you're going to go all pretentious in your choice of synonyms for "Bury," wouldn't you go for INTER, the word people actually use? I am willing to let INHUME slide if it turns out to be a technical gardening word. Otherwise, not.

I had two scores as a test-solver for this puzzle. First, I got the clue for 65A, UNSAVED, changed. It was originally [Lost on a laptop], but I suggested that not all UNSAVED material is "Lost." I like the new [Subject to loss on a laptop] a Lot better. But I'm much prouder of having worked Lamar ODOM into the puzzle! Woo hoo! The original clue for ODOM was [Blue Moon of baseball], and though I'd seen that clue before, or one like it, I suggested that Lamar might be a nice alternative. Tough enough for many solvers (I mean, I know many of you all suck at sports ... am I right? Yes, I am), but very very contemporary. ODOM is the second-best player on the L.A. Lakers after Kobe Bryant, who is arguably the best player in the N.B.A. The Lakers were just in the N.B.A. Finals (this summer) against the Boston Celtics, in a rematch of the two great powerhouses of the 1980s. Anyway ... I was psyched to see that Will went with [N.B.A. star Lamar _____]. Bold ... risky ... daring ... but, because it was suggested by me, Brilliant. This video will show you Lamar ODOM at work, and perhaps introduce you to the word "posterize":

OK, so I forced ODOM into my wheelhouse. What else was there? Well, there was TEY (41A: "The Daughter of Time" novelist, 1951), not because I've read it (I haven't), but because, via my adventures in vintage paperback collecting, I've seen her name a lot a lot a lot. There's also the brilliant AMY Sedaris (47A: Humorist Sedaris), whose show "Strangers With Candy" was one of the best satirical shows I've ever seen (and it starred a youthfulish Stephen Colbert). I was also highly familiar with ATARI (60A: Missile Command maker), NANU (82A: When doubled, an old sitcom sign-off), BYRON (102A: Poet who wrote "She walks in beauty like the night"), UNO (14D: Game with Wild Draw Four cards - we have "Barbie" "Red Sox" "Simpsons" and "Harry Potter" versions of this game), and AESIR (105A: Race of Norse deities). And what else?

What else:

  • 22A: Single advancement (one base) - I would have gone with [What a walk gets you?] or something, but this is technically correct.
  • 27A: Pancho's pal (Cisco) - reminds me only of "The Frisco Kid," starring Gene Wilder, which I'm sure I've said before, but here it is again. Gene Wilder was a comic staple of my childhood.
  • 37A: Jobs for some underwriters, for short (IPOs) - surely accurate, but "underwriters" is not one of the first dozen words I think of when I think IPOs (which, admittedly, is nearly never)
  • 44A: "_____ Mucho" (1944 #1 hit) ("Besame") - Looked at finished grid and thought "BE SAME ... that's a Terrible answer. What was the clue?"
  • 59A: Recipient of a lettera amorosa (caro) - just did a Google Image search of this and Whoa! Wall of Nudity!
  • 72A: Three times a day, on an Rx (TID) - BID, TID, QID - handy letter combos. TID is Latin, "Ter in die," or THRICE (43D: Again and again?) daily.
  • 93A: Peter Pan rival (Jif) - Choosy mothers think Peter Pan is a freak.
  • 99A: Commercial prefix with jet (aero-) - AERO-Jet just sounds like an olde-fashionede name for the airplane. As autogyro is to helicopter, so ...
  • 118A: World capital said to have been founded by King Midas (Ankara) - wow, cool trivia. I had no idea.
  • 3D: Movie with the repeated line "To infinity, and beyond!" ("Toy Story") - biggest gimme in the whole damned puzzle. If you have been anywhere near a child (esp. a boy) between the ages of 4 and 8 in the past decade or so, you should have heard this phrase shouted (probably immediately prior to some child's leaping from some piece of furniture) a billion times by now.
  • 5D: Site of many kisses (altar) - what are you doing up there, making out!? Kiss her once and then head down the aisle.
  • 6D: Sound from a dungeon (moan) - a bit too gruesome for my Sunday morning, frankly.
  • 8D: Around 1,000, e.g.: Abbr. (est.) - this is either brilliant or clunky, I can't decide
  • 9D: Word repeated in Emily Dickinson's "_____ so much joy! _____ so much joy!" ("'Tis") - not sure I've ever seen the double-blank clue. Interesting.
  • 13D: State in the Sierra Madre (Sonora) - I'm going to Costa Rica next year, which has nothing to do with this clue, really, but since I just found out yesterday, I thought this clue was about the closest thing to a prompt I was going to get today.
  • 16D: Stopping place in a Carlo Levi title (Eboli) - "Carl who?" and "Sounds like a disease" and "ugh, crosswordese."
  • 18D: Ancient Jewish ascetic (Essene) - few six-letter words are more custom-built for crosswords. This words appears multiple times per year.
  • 121A: Theater annoyance (beeper) - people still carry these? So 80s.
  • 24D: Home of the world's northernmost capital: Abbr. (Icel.) - wow that's an ugly abbr. Almost as bad as yesterday's INCR.
  • 28D: "I Never Played the Game" writer (Cosell) - He was The Man when I was a kid. It's his voice I hear whenever I see the name "Muhammed Ali."
  • 30D: Sanyo competitor (Aiwa) - AIWA always looks horribly made-up to me, like Panaphonic or Sorny.
  • 40D: Oscar winner Jannings and others (Remys ... I mean EMILS)
  • 50D: Bygone muscle cars (GTOs) - see also [Bygone non-muscle car => NEON] (actual clue: 86D: Bygone Dodge)
  • 72D: "Pagliacci" clown (Tonio) - learned from xwords
  • 90D: What turned-out pockets may signify ("I'm broke") - or "I'm sloppy" or "Look at my lint" or etc.
  • 92D: Slicker accessory (rain hat) - again, do people still wear these? Most rain coats have hoods. The only RAIN HAT I ever see on a regular basis belongs to that Morton's salt girl, I think.
  • 97D: Hungarian playwright known for "Liliom" (Molnar) - sounds like the Emperor of the planet XoTron.
  • 103D: Partner in a French firm, maybe (frère) - as in "Sanford and Frère" [uh, no, 'frère' means 'brother,' not 'son' - I don't remember if Fred Sanford had a brother. Let's see ... no, but according to multiple web sources, Redd Foxx modeled Fred Sanford on his own brother, who was named ... Fred Sanford; if only this clue had Anything to do with "Sanford and Son"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. whoops, forgot to mention that I had NO idea who [Colonial John] was (answer = ALDEN). Insert toilet joke here.


SATURDAY, Aug. 30, 2008 - Michael Shteyman (Florist's container / Bakery item folded in half / Brass guardian of Crete, in myth)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This puzzle smacked me around but good - probably just what a Saturday puzzle is supposed to do. On my original test-solving paper, I have a LONG list of words that I thought were tough (either in and of themselves, or because of their cluing). The deep irony of the day is that I had never, ever, before doing this puzzle, heard of a PARKER HOUSE ROLL (12D: Bakery item folded in half). If I ever have a blog-related party, we are clearly serving these. When I told Will I'd never heard of this, he said that yeah, it turned out it wasn't as common as he'd thought but ... it's Saturday, that's life. And I agree. Not that the food-types who read and comment on this blog need any encouragement, but if you've got any good ideas about how to make and what to do with a PARKER HOUSE ROLL, let me know.

OK, so here's that list of words. In addition to the roll that bears my name, there's

  • CACHE POT (7A: Florist's container) - the NE was the last part of the puzzle to fall (where CACHE POT meets PARKER HOUSE ROLL, there's bound to be trouble). Actually, I got the POT part of this answer early, but the CACHE? Let's just say that in the end, it's a good thing I know some French ... although I guess CACHE is a perfectly good English word too, now.
  • EMEER (11D: Arab commander) - just when I think I have the rules on spelling this thing down ... I don't. Figured AMEER was more common when it goes to five letters.
  • EEK (21A: Cartoon cat with an exclamation mark in his name) - this one bugged me no end because how in the world do I not know it? I saw "cartoon cat" and figured "I got it I got it!" "EEK! The Cat" ran '92-'97, and I can honestly say I've never seen a single episode. I was doing ... other things during those years.
  • REDD (26A: 2004 N.B.A. All-Star Michael) - I got this no problem, but then I watch a lot of ESPN.
  • NED(4D: Songwriter Washington) - Forget your Washingtons and Beattys and Rorems and give me Flanders(es)!
  • PENNI (50D: Old Finnish coin) - I love that this is only one letter off from a [Contemporary American coin]
  • FTLB (38D: Work unit abbr.) - original clue was [Brit. work unit], which I liked better, in that it made me think the answer would be some queer thing I'd never heard of (true).
  • ALLELE (45D: Mutated gene) - it will surprise no one that I had no clue about this
  • C-STAR (37D: Cool red giant) - ah, the [insert letter here]-STAR answer. Second in unwelcomeness only to the [insert one of three letters here]-TEST answer.
  • TALOS (25D: Brass guardian of Crete, in myth) - never even heard of it, which is embarrassing, as I'm teaching classical mythology (well, the Aeneid) right now.
  • DORP (28D: Hamlet) - one of the funniest-sounding words in the language. Got it easily, but I can see how others might not have.
  • ALEGAR (8D: Sour condiment) - a word I learned from xwords. Seen it once before. I hear it goes nicely with ELGAR (51A: Knighted English composer)
  • INCR. (5D: Elevation: Abbr.) - oh man I squawked at this: both the abbr. itself, which looks horrible, and the clue, which is technically in the ballpark, but ouch.
  • TOL (14D: "My mama done _____ me") - OK, this was a gimme. The spelling is ridiculous, but technically correct.

I can't decide if my favorite trans-grid accidental phrase is EASTER LECHER (34A: _____ Island, discovery of Sunday, April 5, 1722 + 36A: Rake) or PAINPILL HURLER (63A: Anodyne + 64A: Ace, say). The original clue for EASTER specified that "Europeans" "discovered" the island, which seems more accurate, specific, honest (as, presumably, other human beings had already been there).

There were a host of gimmes today to help me get traction is this tough puzzle. First thing in the grid: THESE (35D: "_____ Dreams," 1986 #1 hit). I [heart] Heart. BAR was pretty easy to turn up too (60D: Setting of many jokes), as was ZIT (61D: Accutane target, slangily). Oh, and the big, showy, 15-letter Down going right through the middle of the puzzle - also a gimme, though I had to hum the Beatles' song to myself in order to remember it: "CALIFORNIA GIRLS" (7D: 1965 hit parodied by the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R.").


  • 16A: Former senator with the memoir "Power, Pasta and Politics" (Al D'Amato) - Not sure how I feel about "AL" here. I guess if that's the name on the book jacket, then fine.
  • 17A: Carrier of fatty acids (good cholesterol) - is "good" its scientific name. For things fatty, see also LIPID (56A: Oil, e.g.).
  • 38A: Common restaurant offering that was Julia Child's last meal (French onion soup) - after that, she was given last rites and the warden led her away to the gallows.
  • 46A: Like "m" or "n," to linguists (nasal) - my meager amount of linguistics knowledge got me this one easily.
  • 66A: "Ratatouille" rat and namesakes (Emiles) - good to have an animated rat in the puzzle with the animated cat, though I don't gather that EEK! is much of a mouser (or ratter, I guess, in this case).
  • 1D: 1970s-'80s prime-time soap star (Hagman) - I want a tshirt with his cowboy-hatted mug on it, and a single-word caption: STUD.
  • 2D: Symphony inspired by Napoleon (Eroica) - for some reason, brain was making "symphony" into "opera" in my head, and so EROICA, which should have been a gimme, wasn't.
  • 3D: Unenthusiastic response to an offer ("I don't feel like it") - "Unenthusiastic" doesn't quite capture it. "Eh, I guess so" - that's unenthusiastic. This is more like a "no."
  • 27D: Word in many French family mottoes (Dieu) - BRIE didn't work, so DIEU was my next best guess.
  • 32D: "What Is To Be Done?" writer (Lenin) - seen it before, this clue, so the answer didn't startle me the way it did the first time.

OK, I'm out of steam

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel ("Step the meek fowls where ..." / _____ Bulba (literary Cossack) / Annual college event since 1935)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Mike Nothnagel generally does fantastic, lively late-week themeless puzzles, and this one is no exception. Despite some cluing that left me a little queasy, I loved this puzzle. The highlights for me were the two long Downs, both highly colloquial: PUT A SOCK IN IT (19D: "That's enough out of you!") and ONE TRICK PONY (9D: Person who's talented but not versatile), which is also a great Paul Simon album and song (and yet ... no performances on youtube; how can that be? He's Paul @#$ing Simon). Oh well, here's "Late in the Evening," a song off the album in question. It'll have to do ... although he's singing it here with Art, which makes it sound weird.

I thought the NW was tough, as I'd never heard of SERI (14A: Bandar _____ Begawan (capital of Brunei)), and what the hell is "morning dress?" (1D: Component of morning dress - ASCOT). British? Do you take your ASCOT off for "evening dress?" I'll never know, as the only people who ever wore ASCOTs are Don Knotts circa. "Three's Company" and Fred from "Scooby-Doo." I do like the band My Morning Jacket, though. A lot. My very very favorite album of the summer was / is "Evil Urges." Superfantastic.

Then there was some trouble in the SW, where ALOT instead of A TON (49D: Swarms) really tripped me up good. How could 51A: "No way, no how!" start with "NO!?" (A: it couldn't - really started with NOT, but I couldn't see that - NOT ON A DARE). Lastly, there was trickness in the NW, where the cluing on ORANGE BOWL threw me (17A: Annual college event since 1935). This demonstrates how little I associate College Football with actual "college." A "college event" to me is, like, a gold-fish-swallowing contest or something. Pledge week. Toga parties. OK, so all my ideas about college come from "Animal House," despite the fact that I've lived / worked at colleges every day of my life since 1987. Oh, and the BAT MOBILE would like you to know that it's offended by the pedestrian cluing (5A: Way around in comic books). "Way around?" "Way around?" Have you seen the thing? First of all it's only a "way around" for Batman, and maybe Commissioner Gordon if you believe "Batman Begins." Second, it's a pretty sweet ride. "Way around," indeed. A cab is a "way around." The metro, a bus, a pogo stick, fine. All apt. The BATMOBILE deserves better. I will say that I applaud the puzzle's recent obsession with Batman. Yesterday, WAYNE. Today, his ride. Keep that up.

Assorted otherness:

  • 15A: Succumbs to interrogation, perhaps (names names) - seen it, and recently. It's still good. I believe the killer clue in its last incarnation was [When doubled, sings], where the answer was just NAMES. That clue was awesome.
  • 16A: "Varsity Blues" actor Scott (Caan) - I'll tell you what I told Will: "Who?" Google image search reveals him to be a young man who works on his abs.
  • 18A: Exceedingly rare infant (octuplet) - tell that to Apu.
  • 21A: S. E. Hinton classic ("The Outsiders") - do you have to be of a certain age to know this? The movie of this book featured many teen heart throbs of the 80s, including Matt Dillon.
  • 30A: Third-degree, in math (cubic) - I was so slow to understand this. So ... if you raise a number to the third degree, you are cubing it ... am I in the ballpark?
  • 34A: Looking forward to being docked? (seasick) - great clue
  • 36A: Nail holder (toe) - I have griped about this use of "holder" before
  • 42A: Org. at the center of the 2007 memoir "At the Center of the Storm" (CIA) - I only just noticed that the phrase "at the center" is doubled in the clue. Mmm, wordiness.
  • 43A: Like Ibsen, to his countrymen (Norsk) - oh I like this. The world needs more "K"s.
  • 48A: Director and star of the 1958 Best Foreign Language Film (Tati) - this puzzle has a lot of Long clues. I know because I am having to type them. I like clues that are 2 or 3 words, at least one of which is odd and the combination of which is borderline absurd. Like 7D: Real good-looker (ten) or 46D: _____ Bulba (literary Cossack) (Taras), the latter of which makes absolutely no sense to me on any level. I can barely define "Cossack," for god's sake. And maybe she's "good-looking," or a real "looker," but a "good-looker?" Hey, good-looker / Whatcha got ... cooker?
  • 44D: Brand with Ohranj and Razberi varieties, briefly (Stoli) - This was highly intuitable.
  • 50A: One whose motto is "The only easy day was yesterday" (Navy Seal) - again with the long clues! I think NAVY SEALs should not have a "motto." If you're such badasses, why do you need a motto? Plus, as mottos go, it's too long. It sounds like the motto for a mom's group.
  • 55A: Like some nonvoters (apolitical) - Are there political nonvoters? Can you really call yourself "political" if you don't even vote?
  • 56A: Ancient dweller in present-day Kurdistan (Mede) - first, easy. Second, "dweller!" Kwintessential Klue word.
  • 58A: "Step the meek fowls where _____ they ranged": Emerson ("erst") - if this made you wince, and it should, just be glad you didn't get the original clue here: [Root for a while?]
  • 2D: They're blown up and thrown up (beach balls) - true enough, though "thrown up" does nothing to beautify this puzzle.
  • 3D: Image on Oregon's state quarter (Crater Lake) - I did not know that.
  • 4D: Making waves? (sinuous) - I objected to this, but was Overruled.
  • 6D: Treasured instrument (Amati) - one letter off from Amata, the wife of King Latinus in the Aeneid. Amata goes on crazy midnight howling spree after Juno sends the Fury Allecto to rile her up and get her to oppose the proposed marriage between Aeneas and Lavinia (Amata's daughter). FYI.
  • 26D: Protest music pioneer (Pete Seeger) - requisite musical clip follows

  • 35D: With 30-Down, locale of lots of locks (Erie / Canal) - L, L, L. I feel bad for the clue that it gets upstaged and drowned out by the [With 30-Down] intro.
  • 43D: Rice product (novel) - objected to this too, and again overruled - though I appreciate the cleverness and the (largely successful) attempt at misdirection.
  • 48D: Go for a few rounds? (tope) - of all the words used to describe drunkenness and its attendant activities, this is the one I like the least. It sounds exactly like TAUPE. When has being like TAUPE ever been a good thing?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Aug. 28, 2008 - Sheldon Bernardo (Historical 1976 miniseries / Classic 1947 detective novel / Sinbad's avian attacker)

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "AN EYE FOR AN I" - 53A: Punny hint to answering 20-Across, 11-Down and 29-Down

I have no idea if this is truly a "Medium-Challenging" puzzle, but it just now took me 7 minutes to fill it in properly ... and I test-solved it just two weeks ago. Weird. Must be early in the morning. Yes, my clock says it is. I thought the theme clues should have been funny or clever or something, until I got to the theme-revealing clue and realized that the other clues sort of had to be straight in order for the theme-revealer to pop. 53A may in fact be "punny," as the the clue states, but it's really quite literal. Take "I" out, put "EYE" in. An EYE for an I.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Historical 1976 miniseries ("EYE, Claudius")
  • 11D: Classic 1947 detective novel ("EYE, the Jury") - mmmm, Spillane. I'm teaching "The Big Kill" this semester.
  • 29D: Bygone political slogan ("EYE Like Ike")

Hey look, you've got both spellings of RANEE over in the east - as a complete word (RANEE - 31D: Eastern royal) and as the tail end of 53A: AN EYE FO RANI. You also have LEAN (64A: Scraggy) intersecting an anagram of itself, NEAL (56D: "Hud" Oscar winner); three European locales - The HAGUE (6D: Global legal venue, with "The"), LODZ (43A: Poland's second-largest city), and BERN (66A: European capital); and two fatty words with the same root: OLEO (63A: Stick on a dish) and OLEIN (38D: Liquid fat). The "I" in that last answer was the last letter I put in the grid, and when I first saw the KLEIG clue, it did Not have "Var." in it (49A: _____ light: Var.) - in fact, the clue was (the actually much cooler) [Opening light?]; so that "I" was a mini-prayer.

There are trouble spots all over the puzzle. Mine were primarily in the NW and NE. I think I had CADS (1A: Poor dating prospects) but then had CENT for 1D: Part of a pound (cage). And AWAY for 2D: Out was weirdly elusive too. Hmmm. The NE was a cinch the first time I did this, I think, because, then, I already had the theme in mind and came at the whole thing from underneath, via EYE, THE JURY. This time, not really paying attention to the theme yet, I started up in the NE and screwed things up. Wanted ROLLS for ROYCE (16A: Early British automaker Henry). CREST is not a word I use / see a lot (though it's a perfectly good word), so I considered untold alternatives before writing it in for 9A: Place for a motto. The rest of the puzzle was just thorny. Nothing back-breaking, I don't think - but there seemed to be speed bumps everywhere.


  • 25A: Close, old-style (anigh) - today, I knew I hated whatever the answer was and I typed in ANEAR. Just now, just this second, I did it again. ANEAR is probably not a word, but that doesn't make it much different from ANIGH. ANIGH for ANIGH! (original clue - [Close, in verse])
  • 32A: Big name in Gotham City (Wayne) - wanted BRUCE at first.
  • 34A: California's _____ Music Festival, since 1947 (Ojai) - usu. just gets clued as [City west of Santa Barbara]
  • 37A: Juliet, e.g., in Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" (soprano) - like I have any idea ... had the -ANO and that was enough.
  • 41A: Only player to be part of three World Cup-winning teams (Pele) - easy, though I didn't know he won THREE World Cups; that's a lot, considering they're played only once every four years.
  • 67A: "Do the Right Thing" pizzeria (Sal's) - In the world of fictional eateries, this is right up there with MEL'S.
  • 7D: Yankee nickname starting in 2004 (A-Rod) - it's that time of the year again ... but I'll leave the trash-talking alone for now, as it's a little too easy. And I'm going to end up eating my words if the Rays (god, I choke just saying the word) get in and the Sox don't.
  • 8D: 1940s-'50s film/TV star with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Desi Arnaz) - full name, nice.
  • 9D: Cause for using a hot line (crisis) - better than the original clue. Since I had ANEAR this go around, I had CRISES here, and was none too happy about it.
  • 10D: Sinbad's avian attacker (Roc) - also a 90s sitcom starring Charles Dutton
  • 26D: Delivery notation: Abbr. (GPO) - General Post Office, I'm guessing. Never seen this "notation"
  • 33D: Title TV character in Bikini Bottom (Spongebob) - yay! A nice long, bright yellow gimme. Too bad his full name won't fit in the grid.
  • 59D: Writer who wrote "I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity" (Poe) - jeez, he's everywhere. This clue complements 33A: "Mens sana in corpore _____" (sano) nicely. Or horribly, I can't decide.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Aug. 27, 2008 - Donna Hoke Kahwaty (Comical Boosler / Capulet murdered by Romeo / Suffix with buoy)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Eeeeeeeasy

THEME: Stuttering - familiar phrases have their first word repeated, creating comically improbably phrases, which are clued in comical "?" style

My only comment on the entire puzzle when I test-solved it was "EZ," which I had underlined a million times. I thought Will had said that he was going to toy with the clues to make it harder, but the clues are virtually identical to the ones I saw first, and the only clue change that could possibly have led to an increase in difficulty was the removal of "(informed)" from the tail end of 6D: In the _____ (know). Otherwise, it remains a shockingly easy puzzle. I suppose if you don't know what a PAWPAW is, you might struggle, but otherwise, I don't see the difficulty here. I struggled a tiny bit in the far west, where something about the non-"ing" ending on NITPICKY (4D: Sweating the small stuff), the non-ANCE answer to 35A: Suffix with buoy, and the (to me) mildly weird ESKIMO clue (22A: Parka wearer, maybe), caused a slight slowdown. But otherwise, a cakewalk.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Some fruit still lifes? (pawpaw prints) - this theme is pretty clever, I'll give it that
  • 26A: Showy dance intro? (can-can opener)
  • 41A: Gobbler in a powwow musical group? (tom tom turkey)
  • 47A: Chocolate's journey? (bonbon voyage)

The eeriest word in the puzzle, to my eye, is YARE (50D: Easy to maneuver, at sea), which I assume is pronounced "YAR," but I could be wrong. I think a pirate might say "YAR," and a ship might "YAW." "YARE" just looks like a typo for "YEAR." The clue for UNION (19A: Shop group) was mildly tricky, but I blew right through the Down crosses and thus barely noticed it. 25A: Orbital extreme (apogee) could easily have created trouble, but APOGEE came very quickly for some reason. I handed out copies of DANTE's "Inferno" to all my TAs today, so 59A: Writer who went to hell? (Dante), despite its little trickiness-indicating question mark, read like a straight clue to me (and in the original draft, it was - [As a writer he went to hell]).

OK, off to watch "The Situation Room" - I mean "The Colbert Report." More in the morning.

54D: "The Situation Room" airer (CNN)


[the next morning...]

OK, the first issue is that I made an error in transcribing the grid from paper to computer, and it's one I should have recognized as a possible error for LOTS of people. ELAYNE Boosler (43A: Comical Boosler) is virtually crosswordese to me, so often have I seen her "Y"-ish name in the grid, so I never considered that the crossing of her name (proper noun) with TYBALT (proper noun) (41D: Capulet murdered by Romeo) at the "Y" would cause any trouble. But of course it would - "I" spellings seem reasonable, certainly no less outrageous than "Y" spellings. So my sympathies if you tripped here. Would have been super annoying for one to torch a puzzle in one's best time ever only to find out that one had a mistake (those "one"s are for you, Seth).

Anything else?

  • 39A: Actor Rutger _____ (Hauer) - someone in the comments section said he didn't know who this was. You're in good company; neither did Will.
  • 2D: Jersey sound (moo) - was "lament," which I like better.
  • 37D: Dungeons & Dragons character (sorcerer) - I remember them as "wizards," but that could be Harry Potter running interference in my brain.

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Aug. 26, 2008 - Nancy Salomon (Angler's accessory / Most trusted knight of King Arthur / Natural alarms)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Rose" - "Rose" is the clue for each of the three theme answers

A solid Tuesday offering from an old pro. I've had my issues with Tuesday puzzles in the past, and I've had my quibbles ("PFUI") with earlier Salomon puzzles, but this one seems just fine. The only trouble I had was in the middle of the puzzle, where CHARLIE became clear early on, but since CHARLIE "Rose" is such a prominent interviewer, I figured the clue was referencing him and the rest of the answer would be, I don't know, "... OF PBS" or something (that won't fit, but you get the idea).

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Rose (American Beauty)
  • 36A: Rose (Charlie Hustle) - this is Pete Rose, for all of the baseball-impaired out there; if he hadn't gambled on baseball, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. Has more hits than anyone in the history of baseball (4,256).
  • 57A: Rose (took to one's feet) - the "TOOK" part of this did not want to come at all...

This may be the first puzzle I've ever done where I actually remembered the right letters involved in 30D: D-Day carriers: Abbr. (LSTs). I have been to Hamilton, BERMUDA, but because I have more recently been to Hamilton, Ontario, I could not get "Ontario" out of my head as the answer for 22D: Its capital is Hamilton. Doesn't help that it fits. One clue I initially balked at, but for no good reason, was 38D: What 1938's "The War of the Worlds" set off (hysteria). I suppose that is the word for it. But I realize now what my objection was: subconsciously, I wanted the clue to be [Smash hit 1987 album by 50-Down].

I would like you all to offer up your respect and admiration for my contribution to this puzzle: I got Will to change "locale" to "site" in 58D: Common arthritis site (knee). Yes, I am truly making my mark. Developing a signature style if you will. Oh it's subtle, but it's there.

More and more:

  • 1A: Smidgens (dabs) - even now, I want to write TADS, just as I did the first, and second time I solved this
  • 15A: The New Yorker cartoonist Peter (Arno) - had ARNE. That's somebody, right? A composer?
  • 24A: Angler's accessory (creel) - I love this word, for no good reason.
  • 25A: Lionel Richie's "You _____" ("Are") - I LOVE this clue for ARE. Of all the possible clues ... rich. RICHIE RICH. Soak it up.

  • 27A: Nebraska native (Oto) - reflexively wrote in "UTE"
  • 41A: Co. in a 2001 merger with Time Warner (AOL) - as clues for AOL go, I sort of like this one. There is no clue that can rescue AOLER, though, I'm afraid.
  • 6D: Some spears (broccoli) - I enjoy this vegetable regularly, and yet ... nothing. I had most of the crosses before I had any idea what I was dealing with.
  • 8D: One begins "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (sonnet) - just finished my syllabus for Brit Lit I, and this is on it.
  • 9D: Symptom of hypothermia (blue lips) - OK, reason 456 why I do not yet have the eye needed to be a good xword editor: I didn't blink at this clue when it was in its far more gruesome incarnation, [Symptom of asphyxiation]. Somehow, "hypothermia" passes the breakfast test and "asphyxiation" ... really doesn't. Perhaps because in this jaded, "I've - heard - about - too - much - bad - @#!$#" world, my brain can't help but insert "auto-erotic" before "asphyxiation." And yet two weeks ago, I clearly didn't think this was a problem.
  • 45D: They're relayed in relays (batons) - or, you know, not. Twice.
  • 37D: Natural alarms (roosters) - another clue that made me go "???" And I was born in the year of the Rooster.
  • 56D: "I want in" or "I want out" indicators, maybe (meows) - OK, the original clue for this makes me laugh (and yet, again, I didn't object) - [Signals meaning "I want in" or "I want out," e.g.]; even though the answer is MEOWS, I'm still imagining cats motioning with their paws or using semaphore or something.

Back to School (sadly, not the kind starring Rodney Dangerfield)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Happy Birthday, Will Shortz (who will be on "The Colbert Report" tonight, if I read his most recent message correctly)


MONDAY, Aug. 25, 2008 - Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake (Ed with the 1967 hit "My Cup Runneth Over" / Kind of scheme that's fraudulent)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: P-CK - each theme answer begins with "P-CK" letter string, where the blank is filled by a different vowel each time, with the vowels appearing in alphabetical order

Andrea was going to write the blog tonight (I've never had a constructor blog his/her own puzzle, and I thought it might be fun, and provide interesting insights), but then she got cold feet, fearing she was wearing out her welcome (what with two guest appearances last week). We decided she would blog next Monday's puzzle, which is also hers (and hers exclusively, unlike today's). So I'm doing the write-up after all ... but with a twist. I test-solved this puzzle a couple of weeks ago. In fact, the puzzles appearing over the next two weeks are all ones that I have done and commented on in their original drafts. I loooooooove test-solving, though no one should expect that I'm going to have a significant impact on the final outcome, or that all puzzles are now going to receive my stamp of approval. Sometimes I have criticisms of entries that simply can't be changed this late in the game (two weeks before publication), and sometimes Will and I simply disagree. Plus, there is a very, very experienced team of people who test-solve for him whose impact is undoubtedly far more substantial than mine. Anyway, I'm not going to turn the blog into a "here's how the puzzle changed from first to final draft" sort of comparison every day, but where I think the changes (or lack thereof) are particularly interesting, I'll let you know.

To give you an idea of how minimal my influence is at this point: the original clue for 9D, ALBERT, was Vice President Gore. What I said to Will was "that is undoubtedly true, and yet no one calls him that." So along comes Einstein - making an easy clue even easier, which isn't necessarily good, but I stand by my reasoning. Beyond that suggestion, I had zero impact on this puzzle (which didn't need much help, frankly). I missed a flat-out typo in the original clue for AARONS (43A: Burr and Copland) - the original version was missing Copland's "L." I groaned about 64A: Ed with the 1967 hit "My Cup Runneth Over" (Ames) on the basis that ... really, "hit?" But I knew that complaint was dead in the water, and I was right. The best change, I think, was the recluing of PACK A PUNCH from [Be ready to clobber] to its current [Be very potent]. Other very minor changes included putting quotation marks around "Pet" in 21A: "Pet" annoyance (peeve), changing [Pig pen] to 39A: Pig's place (sty) on account of the appearance of PEN in the grid (57D: Quill, sometimes), and the paring down of [Reeked to high heaven] to simply 5D: Reeked (stunk).

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Be very potent (PACK a punch)
  • 22A: Social hierarchy (PECKing order) - originally [Chain of command]; seems a lateral move to me
  • 35A: Very best puppy or kitten (PICK of the litter) - the very idea of "best" here makes me queasy. My puppy rules, but I have no idea if she's "better" than her brothers / sisters. My aversion to this answer is my own problem, and not a fault of the answer, clue, editor, or constructors.
  • 45A: Miscellaneous coins (POCKet change) - I thought the more common phrase was POCKET MONEY, until I Googled and found out I was wrong
  • 57A: Got ready to kiss (PUCKered up)

More comments:

  • 24A: Shout before "Open up!" ("Police!") - as I told Will on the phone, this was by far my favorite clue in the puzzle. Really livens up a very ordinary word.
  • 12D: Consumer Reports employee (rater) - oh, it's true, and yet it can't stop me hating this word
  • 21D: Kind of scheme that's fraudulent (ponzi) - if 24A was my favorite clue in the puzzle, then this is my favorite answer. Rhymes with "Fonzie." "Ayyyyyy!" My wife wondered about the etymology of this word. It's a man's name: Charles PONZI. Here's his story.
  • 26D: Like some delicate lingerie (lacy) - way better than that damned cobwebs clue we had for LACY a while back. Way way better.
  • 44D: Ripening agent (ager) - was [Wine ripener] in the original draft; here, the vagueness of the final clue actually works better.
  • 49D: "Men in Trees" actress Anne (Heche) - if you have to have her in your puzzle, I guess this is the way to go. I preferred her in "Walking and Talking," back before she was (semi-) famous.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS new article about this blog just came out in the September issue of "The Voice," which sadly is not "The Village Voice" - instead, it's the organ (!) of my union, United University Professions. The only way you can read it is to download the pdf file (see sidebar, under "Rex Parker in the 'News'")


"COME FLY WITH ME" - SUNDAY, Aug. 24, 2008 - Kevin Der (Old actresses Claire and Balin / Blackthorn pickings / Galilee's locale)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Come Fly With Me" - 30A, 48A, 67A, 97A, 138A explain what to do with the puzzle once you've finished:


AC/DC! (Another Clever Der Creation) - again, Kevin has gone the "High Level of Difficulty" route with his puzzle, but this time, the puzzle itself is actually enjoyable. In general, I Do Not Like puzzles with post-solution instructions. When I'm done, I'm done. Don't make me draw, cut, fold, etc. The post-solution phase had nothing to do with the content of the grid - I mean content on a substantive level, at the level of the answers. Nothing particularly plane-y about the puzzle. But that said, man, I don't know how he got the grid to work, got all the right numbers in the right places ... it's truly amazing. He should get some kind of award for 5 AGAINST 4 alone (127A: Common hockey power play) - that's the real stunner. Now, the SW corner could have used some, (d)er, help. POOR IDEA indeed (145A: Something you later might think better of). And SPREADER (148A: Machine used to maneuver manure)? It's like the corner is commenting on itself. Still, as a feat of construction, it's something.

Number-containing answers:

  • 5A: U.K. counterespionage agcy. (MI-5)
  • 7D: Costing a nickel (5-cent) - see, here's the trouble; there are a few of these number answers that feel way too straightforward / obvious, bordering on cheap (i.e. "5-CENT?")
  • 8A: Belonging to (as 1 of) - ack
  • 10D: Cyclops' feature (1 eye) - true enough
  • 13A: July holiday, with "the" (4th) - this is where the theme started to come into view
  • 13D: Structure of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" (4 acts)
  • 78A: Need for the winner of a Wimbledon men's match (3 sets)
  • 66D: File on an iPod (MP3) - nice
  • 73D: 1940s conflict: Abbr. (WW2)
  • 83A: It follows the initial part of a procedure (step 2) - uh, er, ok
  • 109A: Staples of early education (3 R's) - I had RRR, HA ha.
  • 109D: N.Y.C. time when it's midnight in L.A. (3 a.m.) - uh ... hmm ... it's true, and yet ... why not a Hillary Clinton "3AM phone call" reference!? Something!
  • 113A: How one must win in Ping-Pong (by 2) - again, factual enough ...
  • 114D: Like a team that's ahead by a safety (2 up) - OK, no, I don't like intersecting clues that essentially mean the same thing. Ahead BY 2, 2 UP (though I have to say I can't see any good alternative clues)
  • 127A: Common hockey power play (5 against 4)
  • 127D: Highest-rated, as a hotel (5-star)
  • 128D: Like the majority of Interstate highways (4-lane) - I don't think I knew this.
I finished this just shy of the 17-minute mark, which, considering it's an over-sized grid, is pretty good. Or, rather, not bad. OK. About right. Had a lot of trouble early on, just getting traction up top, and then again in the SE, where COWPEA (124D: Black-eyed legume) was mostly unknown to me (though it's been in puzzle before) and I couldn't remember the term for short novel (NOVELET?) and so NOVELLAS took longer than it should have (147A: "Death in Venice" and "Of Mice and Men"). NOVELLA has always struck me as a stupid term. When does a story jump from NOVELLA to NOVEL. Seems arbitrary. Did NOT know INAS (137D: Old actresses Claire and Balin), and really really tripped on WIKI (135A: Collaborative Web document) - I had ZINE (!?). Argh. I would trot out a POE picture (129A: Author mentioned in the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus") , but you can just go back to Friday's write-up to see my "POE's grave" photo essay.

El Resto:

  • 34A: Galilee's locale (Israel) - sorry if this sounds blasphemous, but I can't see "Galilee" without thinking of Puff the Magic Dragon
  • 43A: Something to go in ... or on (auto) - hmmm, don't you usually go on AUTO-pilot?
  • 60A: Victim of Hercules' second labor (Hydra) - I have a very minor obsession with Hercules. I think his is about the most fascinating life story in all Greek/Roman mythology.
  • 64A: Little squirt, maybe (oil) - see also 81A: Young 'un (tad); they are related in that I thought both answers would/should be TOT.
  • 66A: "_____ et manus" (M.I.T.'s motto) ("mens") - Kevin likes to sneak the M.I.T. stuff into his puzzles. See his "golden beaver" puzzle of a while back ... oh, sorry, I mean BRASS RAT.
  • 106A: Blackthorn pickings (sloes) - a very xwordy fruit; coincidentally, I did an old NY Sun puzzle just yesterday that had GIN FIZZ as an answer.
  • 123A: Rock candy, essentially (sucrose) - well, it was some kind of -OSE, so why not SUCR-?
  • 4D: QB Favre and others (Bretts) - I can't stand this guy anymore. I know I'm in the distinct minority when I say: Good for Green Bay for getting rid of him. You know who likes a retirement tease? No One. All the theater, and drama ... pitiful. I hope the Jets (an otherwise likeable team) get Pounded this year.
  • 49D: Safari sight (okapi) - my favorite crossword animal, by far (non-avian category)
  • 19D: Subgenre of punk rock (emo) - really the worst-named subgenre in history. Who would want to claim it?
  • 26D: 1990s P.M. (Rao) - I enjoy the PEI / POE / PAO / RAO thing this puzzle has going on. Nice. You have to say PEI like the architect, though, not like the province, P.E.I. (142D: Eastern Canadian prov.).
  • 31D: Commerce treaty starting 1947 (Gatt) - first of all, where's the "in" before "1947?" Second, I have only vaguely heard of this. NAFTA is more My Generation. I prefer the single-T GAT, preferably somewhere near GAM and/or MOLL.
  • 36D: "Stupidest thing I ever heard!" ("Puh-lease!") - what I love is that I got this almost instantly, correct spelling and all. Fabulous answer.
  • 41D: Assume the fetal position (curl up) - very nice clue/answer combo
  • 80D: Punjabi believers (Sikhs) - I think I had HINDI here at first.
  • 107D: "_____ Cried" (1962 hit) ("She") - had "SO I," Ha ha. Very EMO.
  • 117D: Trick-taking game (euchre) - I don't play any of said games, but I had the EU- and so this was easy.
  • 84D: Internet forum rabble-rouser (troll) - I'm familiar...
  • 125D: Comic Charles Nelson (Reilly) - LOVE(d) him. "Match Game" is my favorite game show of all time (though I'm aware he had a musical theater career before that).
  • 90D: Greeting to Gaius ("Ave!") - pronounced "Ah'-way"; I liked to use this greeting, and its close kin "Salve!", back when I was learning Latin. Pretentious, yes, but more ridiculous than anything.
  • 42D: Ottoman big shot (Aga) - more Turkish poobah fun. I wonder if a week goes by without a Turkish poobah of some sort. I'm going to start keeping track.
  • 132D: Bide-_____ (a-wee) - OK, what on god's green earth is this? Sounds like something that helps you hold it when you can't find a toilet. Just Googled it. NO HELP. Is it an animal shelter. A golf course? A motel? Half the hits don't have hyphens, half do. This must be ... regional?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Friday, August 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none (or "Trouble at Thanksgiving")

This puzzle was supposed to be hard. Ellen Ripstein said it was hard (she deleted said comment on Friday's write-up after I indicated to her that I prefer to know NOTHING about a puzzle before I solve it). Natan Last himself said it was hard (like Kevin Der, Natan is one of my "Friends" at Facebook - I'm up to 20, I think, some of whom I've actually met in person!). Anyway, this puzzle was not hard. It packed an average Saturday wallop - maybe even a below-average wallop. Not sure how to measure that. My time was pretty average, so ... "Medium."

It was not average, however, in its delightfulness. There, it exceeded expectations. I loved this puzzle. Great pop culture stuff, a nice balance of sci/math and literary stuff and general knowledge clues. Lots of cross-grid connections among answers (i.e. consecutive [Thanksgiving dishes] clues, IN A being able to precede three different answers, AVIATE (3D: Play an ace?) + AIRWOMAN (33D: Her idea may be taking off), the existential reverse progression of WHY AM I HERE? (57A: Existential musing), IT'S LATE (35A: Lead-in to "I really should get going"), and OBITUARIES (17A: Late news?), etc.). You could even MOSEY (48D: Moves with no urgency) over to a HOOTENANNY (60A: Folkies' do) where someone (if you're lucky) might be playing "JOLENE" (46D: #1 country hit for Dolly Parton) (though probably not "THE WHO" - 43D: Preceder of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock). Good stuff all around. And I knew or had heard of every term in the grid, and nothing struck me as horrible. I mean, LOHAN's terrible (51D: Star of "Herbie: Fully Loaded"), but in the grid, with That Clue (!), she's simply, I don't know, campy. Kitschy. Love that she intersects LOCO (51A: Bats).

Began the puzzle oddly, with two unconnected Downs just hanging there in outer space: IDIOM (8D: Translator's challenge) and SETTEES (21D: Parlor pieces). Stalled for a few seconds after that, but then I got ESTONIA (28A: Hiiumaa Island belongs to it) because I thought "hmmm, that looks Finnish," and then remembered my Finnish friend Eric telling me that ESTONIAn and Finnish were closely related (actually, I think his family is in fact ESTONIAn). Anyway, knowing Finns came in handy today.

Mess o' stuff:

  • 1A: Oil-based paste mentioned in the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" (plasticine) - no idea where this came from, but once I had -CINE, I knew. I am not terribly familiar with the lyrics to that song. I remember the chorus, and little else.
  • 11A: Script meaning "God is great" appears on its flag (Iraq) - didn't see it until the only letter I had left as the "Q" - which I got from the super cross, QB SNEAKS (14D: Plays after some snaps, in brief)
  • 23A: "_____ say, Rise up and walk?": Luke 5:23 ("or to") - possibly my least favorite part of this puzzle. Awkward partial that you have to go deep into the Bible to get. Actually, there's a more famous "OR TO" in "Hamlet"... I think.
  • 24A: Headmaster of literature (Dumbledore) - super easy, though I had to change JOE to DOW to get it (25D: Average guy?)
  • 27A: "Tais-_____!" (French "Shut up!") ("toi") - gimme gimme gimme. Thanks, Mr. Cardella.
  • 32A: "Dick Tracy" character Catchem (Sam) - I'm teaching "Dick Tracy" in my Crime Fiction course starting next week, and I couldn't retrieve this answer. I don't think I've read far enough through the (awesome!) recent reprints yet.
  • 38A: Inits. associated with Hyde (RLS) - I seriously had DDS here for a bit, thinking "was he a dentist? But it's Dr. Jekyll..."
  • 39A: Turkey tender? (liras) - taking the Thanksgiving theme even deeper...
  • 42A: Small, narrow bays (armlets) - had the -LETS, "IN" wouldn't fit, "OUT" seemed wrong, "ARM" was the next thing I thought of.
  • 45A: 1999 best-selling memoir ("'Tis") - piece o' cake. Never read it, but I see it all over the place.
  • 49A: Underhanded change, slangily (switcheroo) - got it off the final "O" alone
  • 53A: Soldier's 1000 (ten a.m.) - this took much longer than it should have
  • 54A: Bars without other people? (solos) - wanted SOAPS
  • 12D: Human as opposed to an animal, notably (reasoner) - really really want this clue to start with the indefinite article "A". Really.
  • 32D: Cutting-edge cinema? (slashers) - you know, it was the first answer I considered, but the plural just felt wrong, so I took it out. Like that it intersects RAGE (59A: Burning state)
  • 34D: Film character who says "I promise teach karate. That my part. You promise learn" (Mr. Miyagi) - oh man, right over the plate for me. I was 14 when this came out, I think. Elisabeth Shue = instant crush.
  • 36D: They work by themselves (automata) - I don't think I've ever seen this pluralized. I had AUTOMATS for a bit
  • 37D: The Ghostbusters, e.g. (trio) - more mid-80s cinema, woo hoo. Great clue for this common answer.

Off to bed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Must hurry today. Driving family hither and yon this morning (work, gymnastics, doctor's appointment, etc.).

Kevin Der is a great young constructor - and, according to Facebook (yes, I have a Facebook page now, dear god), he is also my friend (of which, according to Facebook, I have exactly 15, which weirdly sounds about right). So he will presumably still like me at the end of the day when I say that I really didn't like this puzzle. Well, first, there's the fact that I failed to solve it correctly, due to one of TWO places that violate the original "Natick Principle" - which involves the crossing of uncommon proper nouns. I guessed correctly at the ALICANTE (13D: Spanish city and province on the Mediterranean) / SENTA (26A: Actress Berger) crossing (having maybe possibly once heard of the former and never heard of the latter), but I never saw the mistake I had at the RIC (29A: Four-year sch. of higher learning in Providence) / COLOSSAE (31D: Ancient city to which Paul wrote an Epistle) crossing. Never heard of either. I had RIT / TOLOSSAE, the latter being hilariously wrong, but the former being a well known institution of higher learning (sadly, just not in Providence).

[Gratuitous puppy picture]

This puzzle is what can happen when you go for the showiness of stacked 15's. You pull it off ... but to what end? Forget the super rough crosses for a moment. Check this out: FOUR PLURAL NAMES and THREE SUPER-ODD JOBS (an "Odd Job" being a word ending in "-er" that you would rarely if ever use)

  • 26D: Some Rockerfeller Center murals (Serts)
  • 10D: Ex-senator Sam of Georgia and others (Nunns)
  • 19A: "Lucia di Lammermoor" lord and namesakes (Enricos)
  • 43D: Baseball's Joe and others (Torres) - hey, next time I recommend [Chocolatier Jacques] ... well, I'm not entirely serious, I just love visiting his store when I'm in Brooklyn
  • 49A: Ham, e.g. (radioer)
  • 30D: Idea person (imaginer)
  • 3D: Burlesque-goer, typically (starer)

There are the stacks of 15, which are good, and then everything else, which ranges from merely inoffensive to bad. This is why I rarely if ever mention physical feats of construction - I don't care. I want an enjoyable puzzle. "Look at how few black squares there are!" The fact that a grid is super difficult to pull off does not make the end result pleasing.

Other things:

  • 1A: It has 33 letters (Russian language) - really wanted ALPHABET to be in this answer
  • 20A: Oscar nominee for "My Man Godfrey" (Auer) - Mischa AUER is fast becoming one of my favorite bits of crossword fill. He likes to sneak into the corners of late week puzzles.
  • 32A: Condomless vis-a-vis protected (unsafer) - I spent many minutes staring at "condomless" wondering how it got in the puzzle (not that I mind, just surprised). I spent many more minutes staring at UNSAFER (I minded).
  • 37A: Rio _____, multinational coal-mining giant (Tinto) - never ever ever etc. heard of it.
  • 40A: Chaotic place (mare's nest) - I love this expression for its apparent silliness
  • 47A: Gun, to Guillermo (pistola) - Used my minimal Spanish skills to guess this one
  • 53A: Health form field (nearest relative) - could not, for the life of me, understand the clue at first. Then when I did, it still took me forever to piece the answer together from what I had.
  • 1D: Neck ties? (riatas) - I had NOOSES
  • 4D: Mantilla wearers (senoras) - spent much time believing "mantilla" meant "yellow" (I was thinking of "amarillo")
  • 5D: Setting of the 2007 animated film "Persepolis" (Iran) - one of my few flat-out gimmes. Why this wasn't clued in relation to the graphic novel, I don't know. This may be one of those movies where more people (still) have actually read the book. Just a guess.
  • 8D: New Guinea port (Lae) - no way. Needed all crosses.
  • 15D: Freebie on some airplane flights (eye shade) - this is a nice answer. I was not offered one of these on my way to or from New Zealand.
  • 33D: Angels are sometimes seen over them (fir trees) - really rough. I would have said "on" or "atop them," as that would have been more accurate.
  • 36D: "Love is reciprocal _____": Marcel Proust ("torture") - oh boo hoo. Is remembering things past so hard?
  • 42D: Pack in a ship's hold (steeve) - a great verb
  • 48D: _____ Ishii, character in "Kill Bill" (Oren) - yikes. Hard. I knew it, but it's hard. At least the answer here isn't UMA (again).
  • 52D: High-quality vineyard (cru) - later in the day, I will post the picture of the chocolate bar I bought solely because it featured the phrase "premier CRU" on the label. [here it is]

I've only ever seen the phrase "Premier CRU" used for wine. I am a sucker ... SUCKER ... for superdark (>80% cocoa content) chocolate, and a double sucker for a well designed or interesting label. Now that you know that, go out and buy me presents. My birthday is in four months. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS here are a few photos of my recent trip to Baltimore

Me at Poe's grave

Dead rat at Poe's grave

My friends Kim and Matt at ballgame (Matt is short, but it should be noted that he's also standing one step down from Kim)

Me rocking the personalized Rex Parker / Red Sox gear while contemplating the M&T Bank building from the upper tier of Camden Yards (thanks, Matt!)

PPS Woo hoo, I'm "Blog of the Week" at a pretty little site called "Readerville Journal" (note to Ron Rosenbaum: that's "READERville" ...) - The write-up makes it seem like I have guest bloggers a lot, which has been true over the past month, but which is not the norm. Before I went to NZ, I hadn't had a guest blogger in ... forever. So if you've only recently discovered this blog, like it or lump it, it's (mostly) all Rex from here on out. Wonderful surrogates will step in only when I a. leave town, or b. clearly need a time-out. Thanks, "Readerville Journal."


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