TV alien's word / SUN 2-28-10 / Pact of '94 / Imitation is sincerest form of television quipster / 1990s war locale / Explosive event of 54

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Constructor: Yaakov Bendavid

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "EASE-E DOES IT" — "EA" is changed to "EE" in familiar phrases, creating wackiness. You know the drill...

Word of the Day: CAMELEERS (87A: Desert drivers) —

n. A person who drives or rides a camel.
• • •

The most basic of theme concepts — change-a-letter (and/or -sound). Up there with add-a-letter and drop-a-letter in terms of commonness. I thought this concept worked OK today, with good clues (e.g. 55A: Summer next door to a nudist camp? => PEEK SEASON) making up for lack of consistent sizzle in the answers themselves. Full disclosure: I feel very happy about the publication of this puzzle because over two years ago, Yaakov Bendavid wrote me and asked me to test-solve one of his initial construction efforts. Here's how I responded to that puzzle in February 2008:

You are clearly going to be an accomplished constructor. I look forward to seeing more of your stuff. You'll get in the NYT eventually - I can tell. Everything but the theme felt very, very passable.

Then, just last month, I got the following email:

It's been almost two years since my first e-mail to you, where you gave a fledgling constructor some encouragement. Well, I just had my first two acceptances by the NY Times, both Sundays.

So thanks again for your encouraging words.


And so, as my wife's countrymen would say, I'm pretty chuffed, and am not feeling particularly objective today.

I confess that I have no idea who FRED ALLEN is (40A: "Imitation is the sincerest form of television" quipster). I know STEVE ALLEN. I know, uh, FRED BASSET. But FRED ALLEN, no. I like that his name is symmetrical to CAMELEERS (87A: Desert drivers), which is the other answer in the grid that made me go "Wha?!" CAMELEERS is a very cool word. Much better than (the, I'm guessing, racist) CAMEL JOCKEYS. The grid had a preponderance of "EE" words, even beyond the theme — SEEDILY and USERFEE (26A: Parkgoer's charge) and REELECT and FORESEE, etc. But it also had the stray "Z" and "X" and the "Q," which came in the clear winner of all today's theme answers: REEL MEN DON'T EAT QUICHE!

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Inappropriate on a honeymoon? (NOT FOR THE WEEK OF HEART) — I don't think I get this on a literal level. You're on your honeymoon for a week, and "heart" is some kind of metaphor for "love?"
  • 36A: Item in a golf boutique? (AROMATIC TEE)
  • 55A: Summer next door to the nudist camp? (PEEK SEASON)
  • 71A: What a pursued perp might do? (FLEE COLLAR)
  • 90A: The point when Fido's master starts walking? (A TIME TO HEEL)
  • 103A: Bit of advice when packing anglers' lunches? (REEL MEN DON'T EAT QUICHE)

  • 15D: Buck's candid conversation opener? (FRANKLY, MY DEER)
  • 54D: Dating service in a northern German city? (HAMBURGER MEET)
No real hang-ups today. Oddly, the answer that gave me the most trouble was one that everyone else probably blew right through. I just couldn't see it, and had to circle around and come at it from the back. That answer was OFF-AIR (23D: Like some TV interviewers' questions). I had the OFF- and scrolled through my list of OFF- phrases: OFF-TOPIC, OFFHAND, OFF...ENSIVE? I probably would have clued this in relation to how some callers to radio call-in shows take their answers. Other small issues: NARA (51D: Former Japanese capital)? I am sure this is some kind of crosswordese, but if so, I'd forgotten it entirely. Also, never quite sure how to spell LOOIE (72D: Sarge's superior). Had LOOEY, I think, at first.

  • 13A: Pact of '94 (NAFTA) — gimme. I kind of like the abbreviated year signaling the acronym.
  • 27A: Italian home of the Basilica of San Francesco (Assisi) — St. Francis of ASSISI. Piece of cake.
  • 28A: Mark Harmon action drama ("N.C.I.S.") — neeeeever seen it. I'm slightly tempted to watch the LL Cool J spin-off set in L.A. I like LL, 'cause he's hard as hell, making [bleep!] screw face like Gargamel.

  • 69A: "Falstaff" soprano (ALICE) — uh ... yeah, no idea. I know so many ALICEs, but this is not one of them. No sweat. Crosses made it quite gettable.
  • 78A: Frequent gangster portrayer (BOGART) — this is true enough, though I know him best as detective Sam Spade.
  • 85A: Explosive event of '54 (H-TEST) — the ubiquitous H/A/N-TEST. One of my least-liked bits of crosswordese.
  • 45A: Sperm targets (OVA) — something about the phrasing of this clue ... didn't quite sit right with me. Something about the idea of aiming sperm ...
  • 46A: Camera-ready page (REPRO) — I thought it would be a PROOF.
  • 1D: TV alien's word (NANU) — is that a word? I know it only as part of NANU-NANU, which suggests that it's meaningless unless doubled, ergo not a "word." I know, I'm overthinking it.
  • 7D: Zero-star restaurant review (UGH) — love it. Also a zero-star puzzle review, as any longtime reader will know.
  • 16D: Onetime Toyota model (TERCEL) — it's not a very attractive name. It's a male hawk used in falconry, but somehow the majesty of the bird doesn't really carry over into the name/car. It's just a nondescript little sedan.
  • 56D: Dental hygienists, at times (SCALERS) — I don't know what this is. Are they climbing my teeth? Taking the scales off of my teeth? I had SCRAPERS ... or would have, if it had fit.
  • 61D: 1990s war locale (ZAIRE) — and now it's called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • 68D: Rags-to-riches author Horatio — and author of the awesomely named "RAGGED DICK"
And now a few "Tweets of the Week" — crossword chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • ElijahBrubaker there's a woman outside yelling for help but this crossword puzzle isn't going to do itself
  • arthurra I asked someone the NYTimes crossword question "Capt Nemos final resting place?" he said I don't know I never read Moby Dick #FAIL
  • lotyslove I wonder if I should tell my stepdad that I use google when I'm stumped on a crossword...nah, lmao! I'll continue to smash his ego...
  • kfan Excuse me but me and my new crossword book edited by Will Shortz will be spending the remainder of the weekend in the newlywed suite.
Lastly, congratulations to my daughter (and her team) on cleaning up at the regional Odyssey of the Mind tournament. Awards include: First place in her team's division, some special award with a weird woman's name (given for exceptional creativity), and a trip to States (which, mercifully, take place here in Binghamton). I'm not normally a brag-about-my-kid kind of person, but when she comes home draped in medals ... well, I'm only human. Good job, kid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Big-time kudos / SAT 2-27-10 / Emulate Niobe / Captain Nemo's final resting place / Operation Bikini co-star 1963

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Constructor: Patrick John Duggan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Gnarls Barkley (29A: Grammy-winning Gnarls Barkley, e.g. => DUO) —

Gnarls Barkley is an American musical group collaboration between multi-instrumentalist and producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) from New York, and rapper/vocalist Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Callaway), from Atlanta. Their first album, St. Elsewhere, was released in 2006; it and their first hit, "Crazy", were major commercial successes, and were noted for their large sales by download. The duo released their second album, The Odd Couple, in March 2008. (wikipedia)

Coincidentally, Danger Mouse (half of Gnarls Barkley) will release a new album on March 9 as part of his new group Broken Bells (a collaboration with James Mercer of The Shins)

• • •

72 words is pretty high for a late-week puzzle, but when a grid is this clean, this fresh, it's easy to see the value and upside of a somewhat high word count. Very workable grid leads to astounding smoothness, with all the difficulty located in the (devilish) cluing. In short, not an ELKES in sight, and despite being harder than yesterday's puzzle, this one was much, much more lovable. It's also more daring. MAD PROPS (1A: Big-time kudos) and OH, SNAP (16A: Response to a good dig) in the same grid!? That's a wicked lot of 2006 (i.e. Gnarls Barkley-era) slang to cram into one puzzle. I guess you gotta get that stuff in before it gets too dated. Anyway, I loved it all. A nice, tough, 11+-minute workout for me. Even something as forgettable as T-BALL is enlivened by having its pals C BATTERY (36D: Common toy go-with) and E*TRADE (59A: Dot-com with an asterisk in its name) in the grid. MAD PROPS, for sure.

Couldn't do much with the NW and so went over to the NE, where I flubbed 18A: Preparatory stage (LEAD-UP) by entering PHASE I. The upside of wrongness — it occasionally leads you in the right direction. In this case, the "A" gave me TSA, which gave me PATINA (9A: Film about the Statue of Liberty?) (which I'd just seen in a puzzle immediately prior to starting the NYT), which gave me POLOS (9D: Tops of golf courses?), and I was on my way. Ran down the eastern seaboard until petering out in the far SE, where SURE AM and lack of certainty about how to spell SIEGEL (49D: Film critic Joel) and ENCASE all stopped me cold. Moved slowly but surely up from the front end of MR. PEANUT (34A: Mascot that's a shell of a man) until I got into the NW, then circled back down to the SW, where BRAT PACK (41A: Demi Moore was in it) came easily, but the front end of CATLIKE (36A: Slinky and stealthy) did not. Brain wanted only EELLIKE, which is probably not a legitimate answer, though who's to say anymore? TSO (55A: Eponymous general) broke me through and I came whipping around to the S and SE, where I finally polished things off. "A" in UNSEATED (64A: Moved out?) was the last letter in.

Nine "?" clues today. I've never counted before. Is that a lot? It felt like a lot, but it's Saturday, so such playfulness is expected, and most of the "?" clues were good, or at least inoffensive. I was super annoyed at not being able to get 42D: Dog's coat?, but then when I got it (KETCHUP), I had to give it the MAD PROPS it deserves. Favorite clues of the day — for their fine combination of misdirection, subtlety, and accuracy — were 66A: Opening used before opening a door (PEEPHOLE) and 37D: One being printed at a station (ARRESTEE). The latter clue was so good, it made me completely forget that ARRESTEE is pretty crappy fill.

  • 32A: Disco or swing follower (era) — fine, but if we were talking about the Swing Era, wouldn't the words be capitalized? (I'm looking at you, "swing")
  • 2D: "Operation Bikini" co-star, 1963 (Avalon) — also the place where King Arthur went to die (or not) and a Roxy Music album from 1982.

  • 5D: Means of forced entry (rams) — grrrr ... "means" is singular *and* plural. I didn't consider the latter possibility until ... well, until I looked back and noticed I'd gotten the whole answer from crosses.
  • 13D: Captain Nemo's final resting place (Nautilus) — the name of his ship. "Final?" You never know. Maybe he'll come back. Just like Arthur. From AVALON. Aaaaany day now.
  • 52D: Triumphant song (paean) — I'd like to thank grad school for teaching me this word. This word, and ENCOMIUM, which is its near equivalent. See also PANEGYRIC.
  • 56D: "Laverne & Shirley" landlady (Edna) — I was *addicted* to this show as a kid — every Tuesday was "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," and then bedtime. Still, didn't remember this right away. Charlotte Rae, from "Facts of Life," has taken the only spot my brain has for sitcom EDNAs. Whoops, scratch that. EDNA Krabappel's in there too.
  • 57D: Emulate Niobe (weep) — one of the few flat-out gimmes in the grid.
And I'm done.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Releaser of 1921 in 1969 / FRI 2-26-10 / Tony's consigliere on Sopranos / Sci-fi smuggler / Target of Durocher's nice guys finish last sentiment

Friday, February 26, 2010

Constructor: Josh Knapp

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ELKE Clijsters (3D: Tennis's Clijsters and others) —

Elke Clijsters (born January 18, 1985) is a former professional female tennis player from Belgium. Born in Bilzen, Bree, the daughter of Belgian football player Leo Clijsters (1956-2009) and sister of former World No. 1 Kim Clijsters (born 1983), she retired in 2004 because of health problems. She won the girls' U.S. Open doubles title in 2002 and reached a highest ranking of 389 on 15 September 2003. She played in the Belgium Fed Cup team in 2002, 2003 and 2004, losing all four matches, of which one was a singles match. [my emph.] In 2004, she reached the finals of two ITF singles tournaments, winning the one in Bournemouth. In the same year, she also reached the finals of two ITF doubles tournaments, of which she won one.

She married RSC Anderlecht footballer Jelle Van Damme on 31 May 2008 in Bree. They had they first child in 2009, a boy named Cruz Leo.

• • •

I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of love for this one from people who were excited to finish a Friday so quickly. This was my wife's fastest Friday ever, so I anticipate a certain amount of elation from people who normally struggle with Fridays. But I really, really didn't like this puzzle. I have hesitated using the word "hate" in recent years because it seems far too strong, but I can tell you that I *hated* ELKES so much that the puzzle was completely shot for me from there on out. How many ways did I hate it? Let me count. First, there is one ELKE. Her last name is SOMMER and she is legendary as both a sexy '60s actress and unsexy crosswordese. Nobody wants to see ELKE in a puzzle, but she's tolerable ... in the singular. In the plural? No. Why because (second ...) there aren't two crossworthy ELKES in the world. I invite you to (re-)read the wikipedia bio of ELKE Clijsters, above. Go ahead, I'll wait. . . . I thought that Craig HANSEN guy (relief pitcher from a few weeks back) was the biggest marginal nobody I'd ever seen in a puzzle. "And then along came ELKEEEEEEE!" Which brings me to point the third: You know how I said there's only one ELKE and her last name's SOMMER? Well, there's only one [Clijsters of tennis] and her name is KIM. This clue is ugly crosswordese, it puts someone with zero fame in the grid, *and* (most insulting), it tries to get cute by "tricking" us into thinking it's the (real) Clijsters of tennis fame. That's a big ball of stuff to hate right there.

Further, STANDOFF and [Stalemate] are synonymous. How in the world do you get to MEXICAN from the clue? As my wife asked last night, "What makes a STANDOFF 'MEXICAN?'" I think it involves guns and sombreros and a B-movie. Not sure. But I do know that whatever it is is not in the clue. Add in the absurd names of LAU (uncommon crosswordese) (40A: "The Art of Hitting .300" writer Charley) and SIL (WTF!?!?!) (47A: Tony's consigliere on "The Sopranos"), and you get a lot not to love. I can only guess that the puzzle came back from the test-solvers with Wednesday-type times and so ELKES and SIL and possibly a handful of other answers got the (absurd) clues they got to try to toughen things up, and maybe that gambit succeeded. But the puzzle became ultra-annoying in the process. Nothing about the fill felt fresh or original except MEXICANSTANDOFF, and the impact of that was blunted by a terrible, bland, vague clue. I see from the database that STAGEMANAGER (26A: One concerned with entrances and exits) and BOYMEETSGIRL (35A: Start of a traditional love story) are new too. First one is a bit blah. BOYMEETSGIRL is fantastic, but it's a lone bright spot today.

As for my solving experience — well my time wasn't nearly as fast as it ought to have been because of my MEXICANSTANDOFF with ELKES. Failed to do much in the NW and so went to where my eye seems to go naturally: pop culture, specifically the rather obvious clue for HAN SOLO (53A: Sci-fi smuggler). From there I went up and got BOYMEETSGIRL from the back end. Rode that over to the SW, where HISSYFIT (41A: A diva may throw one) (also original) and FIERY (42D: Very hot) opened things up pretty quickly. Then jumped over to the NE — where I took the (oddly obvious) HARD G (22D: What Greece has that Germany doesn't) up to TANTE (25A: Soeur de la mère) and worked my way in from there. Finished in the NW, which would have been a lovely enough section if ELKES weren't smeared all over it.

  • 1A: Releaser of "1921" in 1969 (The Who) — embarrassingly, I had No idea this was an song title of theirs.
  • 14A: Thing turned while speaking (PHRASE) — sometimes, I guess. A bit too cute.
  • 20A: Diet of Worms concern (HERESY) — "Diet of Worms" = always good for a laugh.
  • 23A: "___ Growing" (Temptations hit) ("IT'S") — Define "hit." Here, I'll give you examples of "hits": "My Girl," "Just My Imagination," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," "Get Ready," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Beauty is Only Skin Deep," "I Can't Get Next to You," "Cloud Nine," "I Wish It Would Rain" ... I'm getting tired, so I'll stop. Those are all "hits." But "It's Growing"!? Maybe this is ELKE Clijsters favorite Temptations song (though, to be fair to "IT'S Growing," IT'S a lot more legitimate as an answer than ELKES could ever hope to be).

  • 52A: Cell assignment (NUMBER) — I thought "cell" referred to prison. Wife thought it referred to a spreadsheet. Then I realized it's probably a phone. A cell phone.
  • 1D: Band member with a bent neck (TENOR SAX) — Wanted VIOLINIST. Don't like the instrument-as-member. The Saxophonist is the "member" of the band.
  • 4D: Cause of fitful sleep (WORRY) — wanted APNEA.
  • 6D: Target of Durocher's "Nice guys finish last" sentiment (OTT) — Durocher was the FIERY manager of (most notably) the Dodgers and Giants of the '40s and '50s. Mel OTT was the guy God invented to go in every other crossword ever made.
  • 9D: It ended in 1806: Abbr. (HRE) — Holy Roman Empire. Wife (historian) was proud to have gotten this off just the "E." I did the same, though only through some kind of crossword reflex and not because I know much about history.
  • 50D: Utah Stars' org. (ABA) — Utah Stars are memorable only (as far as I can tell) for signing Moses Malone as a high school student. They won the ABA title in 1971 under the leadership of the awesomely named Zelmo Beaty (there are no typos in that name, despite appearances).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Senta's suitor in Flying Dutchman / THU 2-25-10 / Literary invalid / 1957 Disney tearjerker / Title role in 1950s TV western

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Constructor: Holden Baker

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Ten TINs — rebus puzzle with ten "TIN" squares, tied together by 44A: Artisan whose work is featured in this puzzle? ([TIN] SMITH)

Word of the Day: UELE River (15A: Ubangi tributary) —

The Uele River is a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a tributary of the Ubangi River, which in turn flows into the Congo. The Uele is the 46th longest river in the world. It is the fifth longest in Africa.
• • •

This was on the Challenging side only because it was a rebus puzzle, and those are always at least a bit of a challenge to ferret out. Once you realize that the rebus is just TIN, and not a bunch of different elements, the rebus squares aren't too difficult to uncover and the puzzle settles into a medium difficulty. Where did you realize you were dealing with a rebus? For me, oddly, it was at GRA[TIN] (6A: Au ___). I had no idea about how good a guess GUINEA was at 6D: Neighbor of Liberia, but that "G" gave me GRA-, which caused me to test the "TIN" in that final square, which allowed me to make sense of 9D: Parts opposite some handles ([TIN]ES). Helped a lot by knowing the surprisingly long-last-named Tom SKERRITT (21D: Emmy-winning Tom of "Picket Fences"). Hurt a bit by being baffled by FT. DODGE (46A: County seat on the Des Moines River). The irrefutable contiguity of "TD" got me to guess FT. DODGE, and it panned out. The cluing felt slightly amped up on this one — deliberately thorny or misdirective, e.g. 64A: Scratch (KALE) (both slang for "money"), 55A: Is too cool (ROCKS), etc. Rebus puzzles are almost always enjoyable to me, and I liked this one, even if it did feel a bit pointless. Just ... TINs everywhere ... and [TIN]SMITH is my payoff answer? ... seems a bit weak, conceptually. I like the pile-up of TINs in the middle, though. That's pretty cool. Otherwise, puzzle's just OK.

Creations of the TINsmith (44A):
  • S[TIN]GER (1A: Antiaircraft missile)
  • [TIN]GLE (2D: "Sleeping" sensation)
  • GRA[TIN] (6A: Au ___)
  • [TIN]ES (9D: Parts opposite some handles)
  • OU[TIN]GS (22A: Picnics, e.g.)
  • MAR[TIN]I (11D: Happy hour order)
  • CRE[TIN] (38A: Clod)
  • "I, [TIN]A" (32D: 1986 showbiz autobiography)
  • "RIN [TIN] [TIN]" (39A: Title role in a 1950s western)
  • AS[TIN] (30D: Actor John)
  • UNS[TIN][TIN]G (24D: In a very generous manner)
  • DIS[TIN]CT (49A: Well-defined)
  • [TIN]KLES (52D: Bell sounds)
  • [TIN]Y TIM (66A: Literary invalid)
  • SELEC[TIN]G (45D: "Eeny-meeny-miney-mo" activity)
  • [TIN] EAR (68A: It's not good for conducting)
  • SI[T-IN] (62D: 1960s event)
As with most demanding themes, compromises have had to be made in the general fill. These include a mind-boggling FIVE partials (A GAME, A SIGN, A LAW, I'M AS, and ALL YE), four of them in the upper third of the grid. I'm not even counting IT'D, which is probably generous of me. TENACITY and OLD YELLER (56A: 1957 Disney tearjerker) and LET IT SNOW (20A: When said three times, a yuletide song) are all fine, but the only noteworthy or memorable thing about the puzzle is the theme — a rather ordinary rebus. Luckily, even rather ordinary rebuses are enjoyable to me.

  • 17A: Inspiration for "Troilus and Cressida" ("ILIAD") — thought sure it would be something like CHAUCER, since he wrote "Troilus and Criseyde" a good two centuries before Shakespeare wrote his play.
  • 53A: Bean pot (OLLA) — knew it was a pot, didn't know it had anything to do with "beans."
  • 61A: One in civvies who maybe shouldn't be (AWOL) — I always confuse "civvies" and "skivvies," so I had to pause a bit. "Someone who *shouldn't* be wearing underwear, eh? ... hmmm."
  • 4D: P.D.A. communiqué (E-MAIL) — pretty swanky, cosmopolitan clue for an ordinary E-MAIL
  • 26A: Figure in Magic: The Gathering (OGRE) — total guess. Figured it would draw from the same pool of monsters as D&D.
  • 27D: Valley ___, redundantly named California community (GLEN) — What? Where? "Community?" Seems to be specifically a community within the city of Los Angeles.
  • 37D: Gary who invented the Pet Rock (DAHL) — this (and the last clue as well) is what I mean about the clues being "amped up" — here, it's a bit absurd. "Who's the most marginal DAHL we can find!? Pet Rock inventor! Brilliant!" Meanwhile, Arlene and Roald wondering "WTF!?"
  • 59D: Senta's suitor in "The Flying Dutchman" (Erik) — Same category as GLEN and DAHL clues. More familiar stuff is foregone for much more marginal stuff. At least I learned something. Too mad it's the type of "learning" I'm bound to forget before I wake up in the morning (it's 11:26 pm EST right now).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


The Square Egg author / WED 2-24-10 / Former Minnesota governor Carlson / Rat race casulaties / German admiral who went down with Scharnhorst

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Constructor: Kenneth J. Berniker

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TRIPLES (36A: 20-, 26-, 46- and 56-Across, homophonically speaking) — wacky three-word phrases where all three words are homophones of one another

Word of the Day: Mobutu SESE Seko (30A: Zaire's Mobutu ___ Seko) —

Mobutu Sésé Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (14 October 1930– 7 September 1997), commonly known as Mobutu or Mobutu Sésé Seko (pronounced /məˈbuːtuː ˈsɛseɪ ˈsɛkoʊ/ in English), born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, became the President of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) after deposing Joseph Kasavubu. He remained in office for 31.5 years. While in office, he formed a totalitarian regime in Zaire which attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence and entered wars to challenge the rise of communism in other African countries.
• • •

Unimpressed with today's fare. The idea seems tired, worn, reheated, etc. I kind of like the first TRIPLE (not the greatest theme-revealer, btw): KNICKS NIX NICKS has a ring of possibility to it. Plus it has the "X." The rest — implausible and kind of bland. Yep, those are homophones. . . OK, so ... yeah. Uh ...

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Hoopsters turn down singer Stevie? (KNICKS NIX NICKS) — just finished listening to some woman butcher Stevie Nicks's "Landslide" on "Idol" this evening. A very, very weak night for the ladies, frankly.

  • 26A: Misplace comic Costello's privies? (LOSE LOU'S LOOS) — yeah, that could happen. Because LOOS are easy to LOSE. So tiny ...
  • 46A: Apportion hamburgers to track runners? (METE MEET MEAT) — I might have gone with the adjectival meaning of "MEET," i.e. "fitting, appropriate."
  • 56A: Compose the appropriate ceremony? (WRITE RIGHT RITE)
This was easy to solve — for the most part. I was better than half a minute faster today than I was yesterday. Still, there were some sticking points. [Bust ___] brings to mind only BUST A GUT, which I'm quite sure I've said before in exactly this context (i.e. the context wherein the puzzle wants A RIB). No idea what to do with 25A: Taxonomic suffix (-OTE), and seeing it now, I know why. . . ??? I guess it's better than [Capri follower] or whatever the standard clue is, but better not to have it in the grid at all. Three short names I didn't know, couldn't see, or didn't know in this particular incarnation today. SESE is a new one on me. Haven't seen SEKO before either, so I guess I should brace for that. The other names in question cross one another in the same thorny little portion of the grid (the far west). I know *of* SAKI (31A: "The Square Egg" author), but I couldn't name anything by him, which is why this clue meant nothing to me. Lastly, I'm supposed to know former governors of Minnesota!? If his name isn't Jesse "The Body" Ventura, I don't know him. ARNE is a famous, crosswordesey composer. This ARNE (32D: Former Minnesota governor Carlson) feels forced, perhaps because the puzzle came back from test-solvers running at a Tuesday time and this clue was some attempt to slow it down. It worked, a little, I guess. Still, this guy doesn't seem crossworthy to me.

  • 53A: Secretary Geithner (TIM) — again, what is going on? He is Secretary of SOMETHING (namely Treasury). Just calling him "Secretary" feels weird. Especially since ... it's not like omitting his proper title is making his name harder to get. Clue just seems incomplete is all.
  • 67A: German admiral who went down with the Scharnhorst (SPEE) — You can stop at "German admiral"; I know my crosswordese pretty well.
  • 9D: Rat race casualties (BURN-OUTS) — now this, I like. I also like the odd, interesting clue on the next Down clue, 10D: Alternative to "Continue" in an online order (CANCEL)
  • 48D: Heckle or Jeckle of cartoons (MAGPIE) — I had no idea. I figured they were just general, generic cartoon birds. I think I get them confused with the Spy Vs. Spy guys for some reason.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Champagne Tony of golf / TUE 2-23-10 / Camera openings / Salsa singer Cruz / Sainted 11th-century pope

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Constructor: Joanne Sullivan

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: LANDFORMS (68A: Geographical features ... or what the circled squares in this puzzle represent) — circled squares spell out — and visually represent — various LANDFORMS

Word of the Day: Tony LEMA (53D: Champagne Tony of golf) —

Anthony David "Champagne Tony" Lema (February 25, 1934 – July 24, 1966) was an American professional golfer, who rose to fame in the beginning of golf's modern era, but had his young life and career cut short in an aircraft accident. // On the eve of his victory in October 1962 at the Orange County Open Invitational in Costa Mesa, California, Lema joked he would serve champagne to the press if he won the next day. From then on he was known as Champagne Tony, and his handsome looks, and vivacious personality added to the legend, such that Johnny Miller has stated that at the time of his death in 1966, Lema was second only to Arnold Palmer in fan popularity. (wikipedia)
• • •

I spent much of the day constructing, so my eyes are tired of staring at grids. I was ripe for puzzle grumpiness — if I'd spent hours trying to polish my grid, and then had to face a published puzzle with subpar swill in it ... well, I wouldn't have been happy. Then I opened the Tuesday puzzle, and my eyes glazed over at the sight of circles splattered in apparent haphazard fashion across the grid. Resolving not to prejudge, I started in. Fast at first, and then a bit slower as I worked clockwise from NW into the NE and E. GLACÉ gave me real trouble (36A: Candied, as fruits), and I mysteriously blanked on Mrs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite knowing exactly who she is and being able to picture her clearly (MARIA). Rounded the corner, into the SE via a great guess at CELIA (51A: Salsa singer Cruz). Botched 61A: References at first by dropping in ALLUSIONS, but fixed it when none of the Downs east of UND would work. Only then did I notice the theme-revealing: LANDFORMS. Only then did I look up and see what the circles were doing — forming the shapes of and spelling out various LANDFORMS. I used knowledge of the theme to put in MOUNTAIN in the S/SW, and ended my geographical journey at the MESA (mysteriously positioned in the Bay Area of the puzzle). Having finished in a slightly slower than normal time, I checked out the completed grid ... and I have to say, I really, really like it. Easily my favorite Tuesday puzzle of the year. I know, Tuesdays frequently suck and so being the best Tuesday sounds a bit like being ... like ... like Anthony Michael Hall's character (Brian? The Geek? Farmer Ted?) in "Sixteen Candles, who calls himself "King of the Dipshits." He's like ... the leader of the social outcasts. Anyway ... he ends up being very likable. And this puzzle is very likable. I'd be surprised if it didn't turn out to be one of the most imaginative and well executed Tuesdays of the year.










I think I was slightly slower than usual for several reasons. First, the circles. They're distracting and have me wondering, in the back of my mind, WTF? Second, the occasional odd fill.I've heard of MESS HALLS but had to infer MESS CALLS (34A: "Come and get it" signals in the Army). Is that "signal" a bell? Is MESS not at a regularly scheduled time? Front end of that answer is in the yuckiest part of the grid, around the area of ET ALIAE (ay ay ay!) (26A: And other women: Lat.). No idea what a PALP is, though I assume it has something to do with PALPating (2D: Sensory appendage). Yes, says PALP = "An elongated, often segmented appendage usually found near the mouth in invertebrate organisms such as mollusks, crustaceans, and insects, the functions of which include sensation, locomotion, and feeding." Biggest snag, however, was 53D: Champagne Tony of golf (LEMA). Before my time, and not seen in the NYT puzzle in 12 years (!?). Appropriate that he abuts OOPS (54D: "Well, that was stupid of me!"), as I dropped the ball here for a bit.


  • 31A: Grappling site (mat) — I'm sure this answer has at least one of my faithful readers all hot and bothered (the same one who was wearing an "Iowa Wrestling" T-shirt on the last day of the tournament)
  • 38A: Org. that approves trailers (MPAA) — remember that seven-part review of "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" I showed a while back. Well, here's a *trailer* (HA ha) for the review of "Episode II: Attack of the Clones":

  • 52A: Song whose title is repeated before and after "gentille" in its first line ("Alouette) — I used to think "gentille" was "jaunty"
  • 21D: Tint (dye) — tried HUE at first
  • 22D: Trader ___ (restaurant eponym) (Vic) — always reminds me of "Werewolves of London"

  • 30D: Brideshead, for one (estate) — aargh. Held me up badly, as my Evelyn Waugh knowledge completely failed me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Lemonlike fruit / MON 2-22-10 / Parts of a bride's attire / Caesar whose forum was TV / Depressed urban area

Monday, February 22, 2010

Constructor: Steve Dobis

Relative difficulty: No idea

THEME: 28A: Parts of a bride's attire for this puzzle — theme answers start with words that can follow SOMETHING (as in the phrase "SOMETHING old, SOMETHING new, SOMETHING borrowed, SOMETHING blue") (36A: Word that can precede the starts of 18-, 20-, 53- and 58-Across)

Word of the Day: NEW CALEDONIA (20A: Island east of Australia) —

New Caledonia (French: officially: Nouvelle-Calédonie; colloquially: (la) Calédonie; popular nicknames: (la) Kanaky, (le) Caillou), is a colonial collectivity of France located in the subregion of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific. It comprises a main island (Grande Terre), the Loyalty Islands, and several smaller islands. Approximately half the size of Taiwan, it has a land area of 18,575.5 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population was estimated in January 2009 to be 249,000. The capital and largest city of the territory is Nouméa. The currency is the CFP franc. // Since 1986 the United Nations Committee on Decolonization has included New Caledonia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. New Caledonia is set to decide whether to remain within the French Republic or become an independent state in a referendum to be held between 2014 and 2019. // Nouméa, the capital, is also the seat of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission), an international organization. (wikipedia) [notice how "Australia" appears no where in this discussion...]
• • •

Welcome back! Wait, you guys didn't go anywhere. I was the one who was away this weekend. The tournament in Brooklyn was a lot of fun, though I did not participate. That last sentence appears to make little sense, but is true nonetheless. I was on the periphery of the tournament all weekend, seeing friends and meeting new people and turning my voice recorder on at various, occasionally inappropriate times to try to capture the wisdom, eloquence, and occasionally drunken ramblings of various constructors, editors, and solvers. While the participants were solving, I went into Manhattan for soba noodles (Saturday), or slept late (Sunday). I also got to see really good friends and their brand new baby. There wasn't nearly enough time to see or talk to everyone I would have liked to. There is a new champion, as most of you know by now: Dan Feyer, a guy who trained for his first tournament by solving every crossword I ever wrote about and reading every write-up I ever wrote. One of the first things he told me two years ago was, "I'm probably the only person besides your mother who's read every word you've ever written." And now he's the champ. The other two finalists, Anne Erdmann and Howard Barkin, would have made excellent champions as well — I don't know Anne, but I do know that she was the only woman besides Ellen Ripstein to be on the stage for the finals in the past quarter century; I do know Howard, whom I met at my very first tournament three years ago and who is possibly the nicest guy in the world of crosswords (populated almost exclusively by very nice people). Tyler Hinman was out of the running because of a tie-breaker rule (he finished the main round of 7 puzzles tied for third). This was disappointing to me and a lot of people, as we would have loved to see him defend, but he was gracious in defeat and generous in his praise for Dan and got a *huge* standing ovation when he was announced as the fourth-place finisher (and, for the last time, champion of the Juniors division). It was actually pretty moving. Everyone was excited for a new champ, but everyone still (rightly) stands in awe of Mr. Hinman's skills (and string of 5 championships in a row). Like the Terminator, he'll be back.

OK, on to this puzzle. I did it on paper, with the grid in the wrong part of the page (upper left is great if you're left-handed; I'm not). I wish I could figure out how to make Black Ink (my software) MOVED THE DAMNED GRID TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PAGE. If anyone has the answers, please hit me up with an email, thanks. Plus I was bus-lagged, despite not changing time zones. Anyway, I was slow, but refuse to believe it was the puzzle's fault. Grid construction is cool / odd / possibly harder to flow through because of that creamy middle that you can only access via narrow passages at E and W. Also, NEW CALEDONIA!? I've heard of it, but had no consciousness of its position vis-a-vis Australia. ALLE is not a German word I ever care to see in the puzzle again, but it was pretty inferrable (6D: It means everyone to Hans). The clue on THEME confused rather than clarified things ... for a bit. Once I hit SOMETHING, the rest of the puzzle went down fast. Bottom half is a breeze when you can put in BORROWED and BLUE without even reading the clues involved. I know I have seen variation(s) of this theme before, but not executed in this cockeyed, interesting way, with a Beatles song in the middle. Generally interesting theme answers and gigantic NW / SE corners also give this puzzle added interest. I want to say "Approved," but fear that is ©Brendan Emmett Quigley. Hell with it; I'll pay him later. Approved!

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Nickname for Andrew Jackson (OLD HICKORY)
  • 20A: Island east of Australia (NEW CALEDONIA)
  • 53A: Dangerous thing to be living on (BORROWED TIME)
  • 58A: First prize at a fair (BLUE RIBBON)
Here's some more crap I messed up on my road to completion. SID Caesar (50D: Caesar whose forum was TV). Easy enough, right? Then why can't I (ever) remember that his is spelled the normalest of all the SIDs. He's not SYD Hoff; he's not (dear god) CYD Charisse. He's just SID. Today, I had him with the HOFF spelling (the nice thing about solving on paper is that I leave visible marks where I screw up, so remembering and writing about them is a breeze). I still have never seen a CITRON in my life (19D: Lemonlike fruit). Isn't that make (or model) of car? Anyway, I had CITRUS there, though knew it had to be wrong — couldn't think of any [Depressed urban area]s that ended in "U" (Unless Elvis was really singing "In the GATEAU!").

I figured the nose picked up SCENT, not SMELL (my answer is much more natural-feeling and in-the-language ... just wrong) (50A: What the nose picks up). I tried AMIDST for AMONGST at 1D: Surrounded by, but petered out at about the fifth letter (how did it take me that long!?) when I realized it wouldn't fit. Otherwise, mostly smooth sailing.

  • 39A: Smart ___ (wise guy) (ASS) — wouldn't put this in because it just seemed too crass for the NYT. Maybe this is the donkey kind of ASS, so permissible.
  • 61A: Force felt on the earth, informally (ONE G) — a great piece of crosswordese that must leave many people baffled the first time they see it. "Are you sure it's not OLEG, honey?" "Yes I'm sure!"
  • 4D: People's worries (CONCERNS) — OK, this I don't get. Why is "People's" in this clue. Whose worries are they gonna be? Woodchucks' worries? That part of the clue was so weird that I figured "People" must refer to the magazine, and so I considered RENEWALS.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Playable character Guitar Hero III / SUN 2-21-10 / Robert Ripley's specialty / Emulates rhabdomantist / Science duplicating nature

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Constructor: Eric "Horse's Ass" Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Words from the White House — word strings that sound like the names of UNITED STATES PRESIDENTs (9D: What you'll get if you read aloud 23-, 44-, 67-, 86- or 113-Across)

Word of the Day: LAWRENCE Summers (99A: Obama economic adviser Summers) —

Lawrence Henry Summers (born November 30, 1954) is an American economist and the Director of the White House's National Economic Council for President Barack Obama. Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He is the 1993 recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal for his work in several fields of economics and was Secretary of the Treasury for the last year and a half of the Clinton Administration.
• • •

Rex Parker here, coming to you live from the lounge adjacent to the bar at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge. The first day of competition at this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is now over — I didn't compete and have no idea what the rankings look like, though you can check them out on-line.

[Hours pass as people come into the bar and talk to me and generally prevent me from being productive ...]

Now I'm back in my room and my wife's asleep so I'm trying to type as quietly as I can, and probably not succeeding. I liked this puzzle a lot. Theme was goofy, but in a way that made it fun to uncover. On the whole, a supremely easy puzzle. No sticking points at all except the theme answers — no, the answers themselves weren't hard, but figuring out which presidents they were supposed to sound like was, at least initially, rough. Part of the reason I like the theme is that the aural resemblance between answers and presidents is soooo tenuous at times. Answers felt like Frankenstein's monsters, unnatural patchworks that resembled human beings only be significant feats of imagination. The rest of the grid was fine — good, actually. Only one painful part — where ENISLE (94A: Strand) meets ALERS (91D: Yanks and others). Otherwise, dandy. Please note the awesomeness of non-Star-Wars OBI (81A: Japanese tie) crossing Star Wars KENOBI (63D: Skywalker's friend). If crosswordese (in this case, OBI) wants to show up to the puzzle, then you should damn well make it earn its keep.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Anatomical pouch / Run on TV / Consume / Feel sick / Oral history (sac air eat ail lore => ZACHARY TAYLOR)
  • 44A: Christmas season / Greet a villain / Speak aloud / Query / Monthly payment (Yule hiss say ask rent => ULYSSES S. GRANT)
  • 67A: Least smart / Kitchen worker / Towel word / ___ Fein (dumbest chef hers Sinn => THOMAS JEFFERSON)
  • 86A: Trash / Victories / "Get it?" / Do some math / Runs smoothly (junk wins see add hums => JOHN QUINCY ADAMS)
  • 113A: Most shaggy / Hotel offering / Actress Goldie (hairiest room Hawn => HARRY S. TRUMAN)
Too late to stay up writing, so let's go straight to bullets —

  • 20A: Its national anthem is "La Dessalinienne" (Haiti) — French anthem, but answer is not FRANCE. Easy.
  • 27A: Appropriately named monthly of the National Puzzler's League, with "The" ("Enigma") — little insider reference for many of the puzzle dorks at the tourney this weekend. I don't belong to the League, but you don't need to to be able to infer this one.
  • 26A: "Big Love" setting (Utah) — cannot work up any desire to see this show.
  • 29A: Mamet play revived on Broadway in 2009 ("Oleanna") — I find most shows about academia unwatchable. Too much caricature, too inaccurate in one way or another. Best college movie ever? "Real Genius" with Val Kilmer (1986). No weighty issues like sexual harassment. Just ... Val Kilmer, unwittingly making a weapon for the government while wise-cracking and skirt-chasing all over the Pomona College campus. Good times.
  • 36A: Robert Ripley's specialty (oddities) — as opposed to Tom Ripley's specialties: stalking, murdering, and identity theft.
  • 41D: Science of duplicating nature (bionics) — good clue; answer was unexpected. Thought genetics might be involved somehow.
  • 59D: Holder of the alphabet (Ouija) — Great clue, though I would have thought "board" would have to follow "OUIJA" here...
  • 77D: Emulates rhabdomantist (dowses) — "rhabdos" = "rod, twig, stick"
  • 92D: Playable character in Guitar Hero III (Slash) — onetime Guns 'N' Roses guitarist.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Chardonnay from Burgundy / SAT 2-20-10 / First Japanese infielder to sign with a major-league team, familiarly / The Pearl of the Orient

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Constructor: Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: ran-tan (riot) —

A person or persons who makes extremely off-the-wall remarks on any subject matter.

(Urban Dictionary)

• • •

I gave this one a medium rating, but I bet we'll have a split of people who found it a cakewalk and people who found it, maybe not impossible, but not a cakewalk. I'd think this one and yesterday's should have been switched.

(By the way, have any of you ever actually been on a cakewalk? When I was a kid, the small town near where I grew up had a little community center that had a cakewalk diagram painted on the floor, and sometimes it would be put to use. It's very exciting when you're seven or eight years old to walk around that circle and see if the number you're standing on when the music stops is the one that wins the cake [more often it was a pie.] I don't know why "cakewalk" began to be equated with something very simple. It's not like everybody wins a cake in a cakewalk, or a pie either. Cakewalks are no cakewalk. Granted, if you're seven or eight and it's a little town where everybody but you is nearly a hundred years old, they usually make sure you get a cake.)

I'm not a good judge of the difficulty of this one. First, I'm tired and getting the flu. I had the bright idea earlier today that I wouldn't do a write-up but would do a little documentary about doing the puzzle--i.e., I would do a video of myself doing the puzzle with real-time commentary, edit it down to three or four minutes, throw in some gratuitous nudity, and call that the write-up. I actually gave it a shot. This is how far I made it:

You were hoping for the nudity, weren't you? You get that with the subscription service.

Second, I gave up sooner than I normally would have, since I don't want to be up til 2:15 like last night, and am not sure whether I'd have cracked this one on my own. (I got all of it done on my own except a chunk of the NW. Googling for KAZ got the rest of it.) I suspect I wouldn't have finished. I like PG's puzzles most of the time, and this one will probably have some big fans. As for me, this one this time is just too sporty and foreign for my tastes.

So yeah, puzzle, it's not you, it's me.

The people who found it a cakewalk will probably be those to whom 18A: First Japanese infielder to sign with a major-league team, familiarly (Kaz Matsui) was a gimme. As for me, it was bad enough when I saw "first Japanese infielder," and it got much worse when I saw "familiarly." "Familiarly" has risen up the charts to become my least favorite type of clue. I am almost never familiar with the way people are familiarly known.

Those same people probably also knew right away how to spell Usain Bolt (50A: 2008 Olympics sensation). I did not and in fact was misled for a long time by the opening "USA." That's probably what she meant to happen. (I'm not so sure, by the way, that that crossing with Irina [33D: ____ Spalko, Indiana Jones villainess] was fair.) I detest the Olympics, though I can stomach the track and field stuff better than I can stomach all the beautiful snow people. I'd like the Olympics better if they let more ugly people compete.

I did get Lebron (44D: James of the court) with little fanfare. I don't know squat about baskeball, but I know the name Lebron James.

The foreign and foreign-esque clues and answers also made the puzzle less interesting to me than perhaps it was to less xenophobic solvers. In that category are 24D: _______ Eireann (Irish legislative assembly) (Dail) [and is that fair to cross timbal (11D: kettledrum) with Dail?]; Nein (46A: ___ doch!" [German reply]) (Are there only about ten words in German? Judging from crosswords, there appear to be only about six letters. And German reply to what?); Stara (48A: ___________ Zagora, Bulgaria); Grazioso (3D: Elegantly, to Brahms); and Pouilly Fuisse (15D: Chardonnay from Burgundy), though I did know that one, having worked at a wine store in Austin back in my grad school days.

I'm going to get to some stuff I like, but first, we would be delinquent in our duties if we did not call our constructor out on the atrocity of 38A: I.M. not sent through AOL? (Pei). It reminds me of a joke my son told me a few days ago:

"Daddy, how do you spell 'i-cup'?"
"I've never heard of an i-cup. Do you mean eggcup?"
"No! How do you spell i-cup?"
"I don't think it's a word--"
"How do you spell it?!"
"All right then, good grief. . . . I-C-U-P."

Ensuing of merriment.

The punchline: My son is seven. He doesn't understand why Paul Simon or any man would divorce Princess Leia. This, however, is the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle.

Here's some stuff I liked:
  • 17A: Like the drummer for rock's Def Leppard, amazingly (one-armed) — That's another one that will cause camp divisions. If you were under forty for any portion of the eighties, you probably entered this one immediately. The town where I was born has a dove hunt for amputees every year, billed as the "One-Arm Dove Hunt." I knew a bunch of one-armed men when I was growing up in the north Texas oil fields. It was rare for any man of my grandfather's generation to have all his digits and limbs. Granted, it was also rare for them to find success with hair metal bands. Most became county commissioners and drove around on road-graders all day drinking Schlitz.

  • 21A: Writer of the 1950 Tony-winning play "The Cocktail Party" (Eliot) — News to me that T.S. Eliot won a Tony. It's worth knowing.

  • 25A: Ran-tan (riot) — I'm putting this in the "stuff I liked" column for lack of a WTF? column. That Urban Dictionary definion is the only one I found, and it doesn't look too sanitary. Kate Bush has a song with "Ran Tan" in the title. There are several others in the WTF? column, if I had one, including ideality (2D: perfection) and the aforementioned timbal.

  • 7D: The Pearl of the Orient (Manila) — Again, something I did not know. I know it now, but upon further research, I don't really know what it is I know. I mean, says who and so what? I didn't know Manila was known for anything but its fine office supplies.

  • 19D: Copenhagen alternative (Skoal) -- My favorite clue/answer pair by a mile. This is the day the New York Times acknowledged that snuff-dippers exist.

  • 47D: Diminutive chthonic figure (gnome) -- Chthonic! If you're going to go to all the trouble of learning to speak, acquiring a vocabulary, and engaging in the dialect of the tribe, hell yes, by all means use a word like "chthonic" before you die.
Thanks to Rex for letting me play in his sandbox again--sorry for screwing up the formatting and getting lazy with the pictures today. I'm not sure who's doing the write-up tomorrow, but it was nice talking to you all again, and good to have met some of the newer folks. Hope everybody makes it home safe and with good stories to tell.

Signed, Wade

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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