Confused situations / MON 5-31-10 / It protects tympanic cavity / Perennial presidential candidate Ralph / Ordinary fellow

Monday, May 31, 2010

Constructor: Oliver Hill

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium [amended ... 3:08 appears to be somewhat on the fast side after all. Hard to tell when the margins are so small]

THEME: DEEJAYS (25D: Record spinners ... or a hint to 17-, 25-, 38-, 48- and 61-Across) — five theme answers are two-word phrases where first word starts with "D" and second word starts with "J"

Word of the Day: IMBROGLIOS (11D: Confused situations) —

n., pl., -glios.
    1. A difficult or intricate situation; an entanglement.
    2. A confused or complicated disagreement.
  1. A confused heap; a tangle.

[Italian, from Old Italian, from imbrogliare, to tangle, confuse : in-, in (from Latin; see in-2) + brogliare, to mix, stir (probably from Old French brooiller, brouiller; see broil2).]

• • •

Pretty basic theme, but one that is executed in a visually interesting way. Theme square coverage is pretty sparse, despite the presence of SIX theme answers (five + the revealer). Actually, the issue isn't sparseness, it's shortness — specifically, the shortness of the central three theme answers (8, 7, 8). The shortness of these answers leaves TONS of room left over in the middle of the grid, which is filled by the Massive extension of the NE and SW corners, both of which contain two 10-letter Downs. These Downs are as long as the two longest theme answers and longer than the other three, and take up almost as much real estate in total as the theme answers combined (not including the revealer). Normally, you don't see non-theme answers longer than theme answers and you certainly don't see an Army of said giants. Makes for an unusual grid shape, and much more interesting fill, solving-wise than you tend to see in a more typical Monday grid (where shorter fill predominates). So, long story short, it's unconventional and a bit ungainly, but I liked it anyway.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Blue things that make some people turn red? (DIRTY JOKES) — this clue threw me, bec. normally you don't have "?" clues in theme answers unless they are ALL "?" clues (i.e. signifying wacky answers). So I went looking for wackines and got none. Other theme clues are straight. Which does not make this clue GAY. Necessarily.
  • 25A: Nine-to-five gigs, often (DESK JOBS) — see also 18D: Ordinary fellow (JOE BLOW) and then titter when you realize that "BLOW" and "JOBS" are both in the grid.
  • 38A: Womanizer (DON JUAN)
  • 48A: Company with an industrial average (DOW JONES)
  • 61A: Wrangler product (DENIM JEANS)

My wife thought the whole puzzle felt old-fashioned — "the whole thing seems like it was written in 1920." By an AGING person, perhaps (1A: Growing older). I think it was the phrase DENIM JEANS, which feels a bit like the phrase WORLD WIDE WEB, i.e. legit, but kind of dated. We call DENIM JEANS "jeans" now. I see the phrase is still in use in various commercial contexts, but ... I can't really imagine "jeans" that are *not* denim. There appears to be some support for "corduroy jeans," though I'd call those "pants." Or "cords." OFT, O'ER, CADS, ERST, IN RE, and GAYER (5D: More festive) also aged up the feel of the fill a bit. GAYER appears to be (chiefly British, chiefly derogatory) slang for a gay person. Non-sexual GAY is, like DENIM JEANS, correct, but quaint. Did I tell you the story about my little sister happily traipsing around our apartment complex telling everyone she met that "my mom and Agatha (her doll) and I are gay!" She meant "happy." Adorable. There's a better story about my sister's hilarious big mouth, but it involves the word "vagina," so I'll just hold onto that one.

  • 35A: As one (EN BLOC) — interesting phrase. Wife hadn't heard it before. We mostly use EN MASSE, I think, but this phrase looks much cooler. GAYER, even.
  • 35D: It protects the tympanic cavity (EAR DRUM) — Nice clue. I was writing in EAR DRUM before I ever looked at the clue (the magic of crosses), and it's a good thing, because, despite the tympani's being a familiar variety of "DRUM," I'm not sure I could have identified the location of the "tympanic cavity" before today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. Happy birthday, Clint Eastwood, you 80-year-old badass.


Small-time tyrants / SUN 5-30-10 / Opponent of Pericles / Cumberland Gap explorer / Supermax resident / Latte topper

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: FULL CIRCLE — Theme clues apply both to the theme answer in question and the subsequent theme answer, creating a kind of cluing chain, with the last theme clue applying back to the first theme answer.

Word of the Day: TOCCATA (64D: Improvisatory piece of classical music) —

Toccata (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera Orfeo being a notable example). (wikipedia)
• • •
I really liked the theme, though the interlinkedness helped me not at all. I just liked (loved) that, with so many clues that start [With X-Across...], I never ever ran into the typical cross-referenced clue at X-Across: [See The Clue That Sent You Here]. Instead, each theme clue just passed the buck down the line, which never required me to look back at other clues to remember what the hell was going on. Because of this, the theme answers were Super easy to get. The puzzle seems to have known this would be the case, and made the rest of the grid more difficult than usual in order to make up for it. Nothing particularly brutal, but a lot of stuff designed to slow you down. I got ANAPESTS fine (51A: Some poetic feet), but everything between there and, let's say, MURALIST, was a fight. Never heard of TIN GODS (53D: Small-time tyrants), and the "small" part of that clue had me really wanting TINY in the answer. I over thought MT ETNA (63A: Sicilian tourist attraction) and tried MT ENNA (ENNA being a city in Sicily that occasionally shows up in the grid). Cluing on OLEG is wholly new to me (71A: ___ Kalugin, former K.G.B. general with the 1994 book "Spymaster"). TOCCATA is a word I've heard of ... it must be on some recording of someone I have somewhere ... but I wasn't sure of it for a while. And then CLEON — I had CREON in my head (76A: Opponent of Pericles). That's somebody, right? CREON? Yes, he is the non-small-time tyrant in Antigone. Throw in NITRATE (83D: Fertilizer ingredient), which I was none too sure about, and that whole section ended up being a battle. There were other hang-ups along the way too, but none where my ignorance was so concentrated.

Theme answers:
  • 22A: With 24-Across, two things that are stuffed (ROAST TURKEY)
  • 24A: With 36-Across, two things on a farm (SCARECROW)
  • 36A: With 38-Across, two things associated with needles (HAYSTACK)
  • 38A: With 55-Across, two things that spin (RECORD PLAYER)
  • 55A: With 82-Across, two things at an amusement park (FERRIS WHEEL)
  • 82A: With 95-Across, two things that are sticky (COTTON CANDY)
  • 95A: With 99-Across, two things with brushes (RUBBER CEMENT)
  • 99A: With 115-Across, two things with ladders (MURALIST)
  • 115A: With 117-Across, two things that are red (FIRE TRUCK)
  • 117A: With 24-Across, two things associated with Thanksgiving (CRANBERRIES)
My wife pointed out to me that all the theme answers are two-word phrases except two: MURALIST and CRANBERRIES. Clearly, this didn't bother me at all. Wife also shared my understandable distaste for ISTS (58A: Believers), my strange affection for OLDISH (26A: Getting up there in years), and my surprise that the word GLADLY (2D: With a smile) had never appeared in a (post-mid-'90s) crossword puzzle. Not in the NYT, and not in any puzzle in the database. Weeeeeird. It's not exactly obscure.

  • 1A: City SE of Delhi (AGRA) — In India, four letters — gimme.
  • 10A: Cumberland Gap explorer (BOONE) — I have no idea where the Cumberland Gap is, HA ha. I still got this easily (it's a passageway through the Appalachians, btw).
  • 18A: Supermax resident (FELON) — I taught for a while in a (mere) maximum security prison in Elmira. The supermax is a couple of miles away from that, in Southport, NY.
  • 44A: Balloonist's baskets (GONDOLAS) — I'd forgotten that's what those are called.
  • 59A: "Hair" song with the lyric "Hello, carbon monoxide" ("AIR") — something unsettling about "Hair" cluing "AIR" — too close. And yet I really like the clue (despite never having seen "Hair").
  • 90A: Second track on "Beatles '65" ("I'M A LOSER") — I think I've seen this title in crosswords (in whole or in part) more than I've actually heard the song.

  • 106A: 1922 Physics Nobelist (BOHR) — wife very happy with the crossword muscle she's developing: gimme!
  • 113A: Adjective for a bikini, in a 1960 song (TEENIE) — I think it's a compound adjective, "TEENIE-weenie."
  • 120A: Drug company behind Valium (ROCHE) — not on my radar. Needed crosses.
  • 121A: "Pearls Before Swine," e.g. (COMIC) — by which the puzzle means COMIC strip. Really not on my radar. Needed crosses.
  • 1D: Region in ancient Asia Minor (AEOLIA) — know this term only from Coleridge and the AEOLIAN harp, which is some kind of contraption you put in your window (memory ... foggy ...) so it can be "played" by the wind. Yes, that's right. This is a toughish ancient Greek answer, as is IONIAN, potentially (100D: Sea between Italy and Greece).
  • 18D: Latte topper (FROTH) — wanted FOAM. FROTH sounds sooo much less appetizing.
  • 69D: "Southland" airer (TNT) — never heard of "Southland." Maybe because I don't watch any TNT.
  • 77D: Scientist with multiple Emmys (NYE) — Bill NYE the Science Guy. Never really watched him, but still a gimme.
  • 85D: Biochemical sugar (RIBOSE) — only very vaguely familiar. Looks like a word meaning "funny" — a hybrid of RIBALD and JOCOSE.
Will bring the "Tweets of the Week" feature back next week. Til then, enjoy your long weekend (if you've got one).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Surly TV bartender / SAT 5-29-10 / Classic 1978 punk song / Powder used in lasers / Creator bronze en songe / Actress Mary musician Midge

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Midge URE (25D: Actress Mary and musician Midge=>URES) —

James "Midge" Ure, OBE (born 10 October 1953) is a Scottish guitarist, singer, keyboard player, and songwriter. He enjoyed particular success in the 1970s and 1980s in bands including Slik, Thin Lizzy, The Rich Kids, Visage, and most notably as frontman of Ultravox. Ure co-wrote and produced the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and co-organised Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. He twice received an Ivor Novello Award with Geldof for co-writing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Ure acts as trustee for the charity, and serves as ambassador for Save The Children. His stage name, Midge, is a phonetic reversal of Jim, the diminutive form of his real name. (wikipedia) [I picked him because there are two awesome crossword words in this description — OBE! and IVOR! If URE were more famous (here) he'd be in the crossword sooo much more often]

• • •

Easy and excellent. I solved this at a leisurely pace, on the computer, mostly with one hand (I was drinking tea!) and still came in at close to the fastest-Saturday pace I set last week. It helps to know Caleb. And like Caleb. And think a lot like Caleb, despite being (ugh) old enough to be his father. Still a junior, folks, still a !@$^ing junior. In high school. Especially loved the 10-stacks. Clean, crisp, real phrases/names. Despite being a devoted "Simpsons" fan, I apparently don't know how to spell SZYSLAK yet, because I went from excited for the gimme to annoyed at my spelling incompetence, quickly (1A: Surly TV bartender). Downs eventually sorted things out. MOE's name is one of at least four *complete* names in the grid — see also AYN RAND (28A: Author who wrote "Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today"), AVA GARDNER (61A: "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" co-star), and P. DIDDY (20A: "Bad Boy for Life" performer at the 2004 Super Bowl). My only real hesitation in solving came near the EZEK (26A: Dan. preceder) / KIN (27D: Branches of some trees) crossing (couldn't figure out what "Dan." was an abbrev. for, though the [Branches] clue ended in an "S," etc.). But the fantastic punk anthem "I WANNA BE SEDATED" took care of that mess, and I was off and running again (36A: Classic 1978 punk song). Though THORO was about the ickiest thing in the grid, especially next to the none-too-attractive (however legit) DISTAL (45D: Situated away from the point of origin). Otherwise, AS GOOD AS it gets (37D: Virtually). Left me BUG-EYED (43A: Agog). Etc. etc. etc.

Had to think a bit in the NE, where I had a moment's trepidation about even getting into that little corner. Problem was at 13D: Outback relative, which I assumed was referring to the Subaru model. Or the steakhouse. Brain searching for 4-wheel-drive non-SUV equivalents ... nothing. Instead, took REWIND (11D: Go back to the start, in a way) up into that corner, then threw WILD (18A: Like some pitches) across and finally picked up VELDT! So ... *literal* Outback. Not the Subaru. Not the steakhouse. OK. Way to trick me by being non-tricky, Saturday.

["Reap the WILD Wind"]

  • 32A: Reggae artist ___ -Mouse (EEK-A) — strangely, a gimme for me. I couldn't pick him out of a line-up, but once you hear that name, you don't forget it.

  • 42A: Alcove-hiding hanging (ARRAS) — question: if you had a toughish proper noun in a puzzle, and you wanted to make sure it was crossed "fairly," could ARRAS be one of the crosses? I mean, could ARRAS be one of those words that you assume the good majority of solvers will be familiar with? Why do I ask? Uh ... no reason.
  • 46A: Camposanto Monumentale locale (PISA) — wrote in PERU quickly and early.

  • 52A: 1950s-'60s left fielder selected for nine All-Star Games (MIÑOSO) — The non-mouse, male MINNIE.
  • 5D: "2001" characters (ZEROS) — I completely forget these folks (Oh ... the ZEROS in the number "2001"? ... OK). Movie's as old as I am. I should rewatch it.
  • 6D: Powder used in lasers (YTTRIA) — without serious crossword experience, I'm dead in the water on YTTRIA. As it was, no problem.
  • 23D: 1976 Emmy winner for "Evening at Symphony" (OZAWA) — a crossword favorite. Up there, conductor-wise, with SOLTI and the 15-letter ARTURO TOSCANINI. I figured this was a conductor, so I just waited around for a cross or two.
  • 33D: First of three to be put out (STRIKE ONE) — not sure I like "put out" here. Not really baseball language. Maybe someone's holding "out" his/her hand and counting another person's bad behavior/mistakes.
  • 39D: Creator of the bronze "En Songe" (ARP) — saw the "A," wrote in ARP, moved on. Never seen or heard of "En Songe" ... in case you thought you actually had to "know things" to solve a Saturday.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


European black thrush / FRI 5-28-10 / Blocker of 1960s TV / Seminal mystery of 1887 / One of 13 religious leaders

Friday, May 28, 2010

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: DAN Blocker (26A: Blocker of 1960s TV) —

Dan Blocker (December 10, 1928 – May 13, 1972) was an American actor best remembered for his role as Eric "Hoss" Cartwright in the NBC western television blockbuster Bonanza. (wikipedia)
• • •

I mostly enjoyed solving this, though looking back over the puzzle, it's hard to see why, exactly. None of the answers are particularly scintillating, but some of the cluing is fantastic. Really enjoyed the struggle involved in getting TEAR GAS (60A: Demonstrating control?), PIRATE (25D: Take the wrong way?), and NATALIE (23D: Merchant selling records). NATALIE Merchant is a singer and songwriter who was a huge pop star in the '90s — former singer of the band 10,000 Maniacs, a band I enjoyed (and saw in concert, in Edinburgh) in college. I teach Crime Fiction, so even though I'm not a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, it was fun to run into "A STUDY IN SCARLET" (3D: Seminal mystery of 1887). Anna Karenina is possibly my favorite novel of all time (neck and neck with The Long Goodbye), so I was happy to see ALEXEI. But these are all pretty idiosyncratic reasons for liking a puzzle, I'll admit.

If I look at the grid somewhat more objectively, there are problems. Two answers contain the word SET, and they intersect (?) — NULL SET (39D: It has zero measure, in math) and SET SHOT (61A: Alternative to jumper). Two answer contain ONE, and they intersect ... that is, the ONEs themselves intersect (!?!) — PART ONE (38D: Succession starter) and ONE LANE (59A: Narrow, in a way) — in the same section that the SET answers intersect. How these doublings weren't noticed, and why they weren't eliminated, I have no idea. You aren't supposed to double up words at all, but especially when repeated instances of a word are right on top of each other. Mystifying. Further, the grid is not (as advertised) an OPTICAL ILLUSION (17A: Thing that may appear to be symmetrical but isn't ... like this puzzle's grid). If you're going to wink and do a little showing off, your cluing should at least be exact. The grid simply *isn't* symmetrical. Optically, I can see that it's not symmetrical. The issue here is whether you're looking for it or not. Something has to genuinely appear to be something that it's not in order to be an optical illusion. This grid doesn't cut it. THESE are optical illusions. If you part your hair on the other side of your head, and I don't notice, this does not mean that you have created an OPTICAL ILLUSION.

ONION RINGS are always FRIED, in my experience, so that answer seems redundant (12D: Burger accompaniment). That answer originates in what is, by far, the weakest quadrant in the puzzle. From (gag) INDORSE to EDUCE to CHELA down to the multiple ARLENES (33A: TV's Francis and others) and the exceedingly vowely prefix AERI-, there's a lot not to like up there. Luckily for this puzzle, that quadrant was where I started — with a random guess at KILAUEA (8D: World's most active volcano) that was immediately backed up by KEEP FIT (8A: Stay in shape) — so my clockwise trajectory took me on a journey from bad to good, leaving me feeling pretty good about the puzzle in the end, despite its problems.

  • 30A: 19th-century women's rights advocate (MOTT) — I wonder if this MOTT / MERL (30D: European black thrush) crossing will flatten anyone today. Lucretia MOTT is pretty famous, but I'm pretty sure MERL Reagle is more famous than this avian MERL (which I somehow knew — from crosswords, of course).
  • 56A: Considered financially (DOLLARS AND CENTS) — I'm sure this clue works, but my brain can't yet figure out how. Is it adjectival?

  • 2D: One of 13 religious leaders (POPE LEO) — On the one hand, I like this variation on the crossword stalwart LEO (LEOI, LEOIX, etc). On the other hand, the use of the title feels a bit awkward without the Roman numeral following.
  • 14D: Flat population (TENANTS) — transparent, but still clever.
  • 34D: Results of "Unsolved Mysteries" airings (LEADS) — another very good clue. "America's Most Wanted" would have worked here too, I think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


1942 Philippines fighting locale / THU 5-27-10 / Japanimation character with line school supplies / Bar mitzvah party staple

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Constructor: Josh Knapp

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOUBLE-SPACED — the compound adjective "DOUBLE-SPACED" can be found, literally double-spaced, in the fifth and eleventh columns of the grid

Word of the Day: MASADA (1A: Israeli tourist attraction on the Dead Sea) —

Masada (Hebrew מצדה, pronounced Metzada , from מצודה, metzuda, "fortress") is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. After the First Jewish-Roman War a siege of the fortress by troops of the Roman Empire led to the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels, who preferred death to surrender. (wikipedia)
• • •

Email exchange between myself and fellow blogger Amy Reynaldo at about 10:30 pm last night:

  • Me: "uh ... I liked tomorrow's puz, but what exactly does the last word in 6D [i.e. LINES] refer to?"
  • Amy: "I asked the same thing in my post. Which ones? Where?"

When my wife finished the puzzle, her first words were, "What am I missing?" She didn't understand what "BETWEEN THE LINES" meant either (6D: Where to look for hidden words in this puzzle's fifth and eleventh columns?). The letters in DOUBLE-SPACED are no more "BETWEEN THE LINES" than any other letters in the grid, unless by "LINES" you mean "black squares" (which are not, technically or otherwise, LINES — maybe some math person can help me out here). I really enjoyed solving the puzzle, and love the grid shape, but don't think "BETWEEN THE LINES" is a defensible, or even comprehensible, entry. Epic fail as a theme-revealer.

Good thing those (apparently) unchecked squares ended up spelling out a phrase, because otherwise I'd have been a dead man at MASADA [addendum / coincidence—just watched an episode of "The Simpsons" that I've had sitting on my DVR for months. In it, the Simpsons visit the Holy Land. Tour guide refers to MASADA almost immediately]. Now that I look at it, I know I've seen it somewhere, but I'd have had to guess at that "D." Also needed all my crosses to get BATAAN (7D: 1942 Philippines fighting locale), which, like MASADA, has a vague look of familiarity, but also looks like RATTAN and BHUTAN and BANTAM all got together for a party. Had a lot of trouble coming up with stupid WIS. (sorry, cheeseheads) (15D: Mich. neighbor). Thought I'd exhausted all the neighbors of Michigan, where I lived for eight years — IND, OHIO, ONT — but I clearly forgot about the Upper Peninsula ("The Michigan of Canada").

Thought the fill, in general, was smoking hot on this one. Huge grin at HELLO KITTY (17A: Japanimation character with a line of school supplies) — I'll let Andrea Carla Michaels tell you the details. As I understand it, she had a puzzle rejected not too many years ago, in part because it contained HELLO KITTY, which Will had never heard of. After Andrea told me that, I put HELLO KITTY in a puzzle, which was rejected by Patrick Berry (at the Chronicle of Higher Ed) for non-HELLO KITTY reasons (side note—best rejection letter ever), but before I could turn around and send it somewhere else, a puzzle with the same theme, with HELLO KITTY also as a theme entry, showed up in the (then non-defunct) New York Sun (to this day, I consider constructor Joon Pahk my mortal enemy). These things happen.

  • 29A: 1927 Upton Sinclair novel ("OIL") — until this very second, I was reading the clue as [1927 Sinclair Lewis novel]. How far can I take that name string? Upton Sinclair Lewis Carroll O'Connor. Not very far.
  • 31A: Neat (SPRUCE) — Shouldn't this clue be [Neaten]? Hmmm, apparently it can stand on its own as an adjective, but I've never heard the word unfollowed by "up."
  • 42A Handout from an aspiring musician (DEMO) — speaking of aspiring musicians, went to my daughter's elementary school's Spring Concert last night. For some reason, daughter insists on being in Everything: chorus, orchestra, band. First highlight of night was band's "Theme from Rocky," if only because it was one of the first pieces that wasn't sappy, insipid, cutesy, or childish. Huge applause. Later, the jazz band played, and their (awesome) conductor had many of those kids doing improvised solos! Crazy noise! It was both hilarious and inspiring. Each kid got huge applause. Later, they dusted off the long unused school theme song (written 1916) and brought up a couple of guys who went to the school in the '30s to sing it with the kids. Even the most jaded, disaffected, talk-through-the-whole-performance parents were singing along (lyrics were projected on a big screen up front). Easily the best school-related event I've ever been to.
  • 51A: Bar mitzvah party staple (HORA) — I was really looking for food here.
  • 1D: Sighting at a punk rock concert, maybe (MOHAWK) — This guy Puck on "Glee" has a MOHAWK. I was finding it mesmerizing last night, for reasons I don't quite understand. I mean, it's been there all season, but for some reason I was fixated on the texture ("Is that fake?") and then trying to imagine what he'd look like if his whole head were covered with hair. MOHAWKs are better than FAUXHAWKs (a word that has also been in the puzzle).
  • 4D: Communication system for the gorilla Koko: Abbr. (ASL) — I learned KOKO from crosswords. Once put KOKO in a grid that also contained "OK, OK!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Johnston in 2008-09 news / WED 5-26-10 / Modern educational phenomenon / Pronounced rhythm / Fearsome wooden roller coaster Six Flags Great Adventure

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Constructor: Anna Shechtman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: GRADE INFLATION (56A: Modern educational phenomenon ... or a hint to 20-, 29-, 38- and 45-Across) — Bs are changed to As in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: LEVI Johnston (67A: Johnston in 2008-09 news) —

Levi Keith Johnston (born May 3, 1990) is the former fiancé of Bristol Palin. He first received media attention in August 2008 upon Sarah Palin's announcement that Bristol was five months pregnant and that Johnston was the father. Plans for a wedding were cancelled after the couple broke off their engagement in March 2009. // Johnston has since pursued a career in the entertainment industry as an aspiring actor and model, and has engaged in several public feuds with the Palin family. (wikipedia)

• • •

Love the concept. Less enthusiastic about the execution. Specifically, did Not like the central theme answer, which is all kinds of out-of-whack. Every other B-to-A change in the puzzle changes a four-letter -MB word to a four-letter -MA word, and then VERA comes along and wrecks the consistency. Either make them all the same, or mix them up completely. Don't give me three perfectly consistent answers and then a big, fat clunker, right in the middle. Further, both "verb endings" and "VERA ENDINGS" are weak — weak base phrase, weak "funny" phrase. This answer is especially glaring given that the rest of the puzzle comes off so well. Really like the other phrases, though GOES OUT ON A LIMA is very poorly clued (20A: Chokes after bean eating?) — "GOES OUT" = "chokes" in what universe? You could pass out, or die, from choking, but choking is synonymous with neither of those things. [Chokes to death], maybe. But just "chokes," no.

Otherwise, this puzzle was fine. Mostly uneventful. Very smoothly filled. Also very easy. Enjoyed BAD MOODS (11D: Peevish states) and really loved WET ONE (2D: Sloppy kiss). Did not like VINE RIPE (38D: Like some tomatoes), despite getting it off the "V," because, as my wife said when I asked her about that answer: "Well, I've heard of VINE-RIPENED..." Exactly. Only trouble spots I can see might be in and around the center, esp. if you don't know who VERA Miles is. Also, you might be like me, and have trouble getting to LAMA from "monk," despite the validity of that association. Everything else: piece of cake.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Chokes after bean eating? (GOES OUT ON A LIMA)
  • 29A: Monk's karate blows? (LAMA CHOPS)
  • 38A: Movie finales featuring actress Miles? (VERA ENDINGS)
  • 45A: Result of a sweetener overload? (HONEY COMA)
Very nice, new (to me) clue on EL TORO today (63A: Fearsome wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure). Easily the most obscure answer in the puzzle, but also an answer that's easily gettable from crosses and inference. Very ungroovy clue on GROOVE (50D: Pronounced rhythm, in music). Sounds like some guy in thick glasses and a lab coat explaining the phenomenon known as "boogeying" or "getting down."

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Crosswise on deck —TUE 5-25-10— Turkish title of old / Came into base horizontally / Pattern named for Scottish county / Lecherous figure Greek myth

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Constructor: Sarah Keller

Relative difficulty: Super Easy

THEME: SOAPS (39A: Afternoon fare ... or a hint to the ends of 20-, 33-, 41- and 52-Across) — theme answers are two-word phrases where second word is a brand of soap

Word of the Day: BIOME (43A: Community of plant and animal life) —

Biomes are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, and are often referred to as ecosystems. Biomes are defined by factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation (quasi-equilibrium state of the local ecosystem). An ecosystem has many biotopes and a biome is a major habitat type. A major habitat type, however, is a compromise, as it has an intrinsic inhomogeneity. (wikipedia)

• • •
Something is amiss today. This is the easiest NYT puzzle I've ever done. My time was faster than any recorded *Monday* time I have on record this year. I know I've never been under 3 on a Tuesday, and I was at 2:44 today. 2 minutes, 44 seconds. Obscene. Further, this puzzle is frighteningly dull (is that possible?). The theme is very basic, and the fill is a complete snooze. I visibly winced several times, mid-solve, at proximate garbage like ESAI next to ASTA, OBIT next to ALOE, etc. Ooxteplernon is well pleased. Even the "tough" stuff was crosswordese I've already mastered, i.e. BIOME, UELE (53D: River to the Ubangi), YEGG, and ABEAM (5A: Crosswise, on deck). One last problem: this same theme was in the NYT six years ago (June 22, 2004). ROTARY DIAL was even a theme answer in it. So were MOLTEN LAVA, JAMES IVORY, and MUSCLE TONE, as well as a short revealer (SOAP). In addition, it had TRADE / NAMES. Always good to check your theme answers against the database to see if what you're doing's been done (well) before. Sarah Keller is a reliable early-week pro, which only adds to the mysterious oddballness of this puzzle.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Keypad forerunner (ROTARY DIAL)
  • 33A: Ghana, once (GOLD COAST)
  • 41A: Body suit shade, perhaps (FLESH TONE)
  • 52A: One of two in a Christmas song (TURTLEDOVE)
Only place I hesitated even a little was in getting into the NE. Didn't get EARTHY right off the bat (24A: Coarse, as humor), and so had to go inside the section and work my way back out. This proved no problem at all. Changed my original GMC to AMC and I was on my way (25D: Onetime Jeep mfr.).

I think that's it for today. Not enough interesting material to do a "Bullets" section. I liked the ARGYLE STUNTMAN column (5D: Pattern named for a Scottish county + 39D: Movie double, often), but not much beyond that. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Ancient Athenian sculptor / MON 5-24-10 / Skilled entertainer / Sci-fi hero in 25th century / Football alignment named for its shape

Monday, May 24, 2010

Constructor: Bob Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CHEESE BURGER — circled squares spell out the various levels in a basic cheeseburger: BUN, TOMATO, PICKLE, CHEESE, BURGER, BUN

Word of the Day: JERKIN (47D: Sleeveless jacket) —

Jerkin' or Jerk is a Los Angeles dance movement. The Jerk movement started in 2008 in Los Angeles and spread across Southern California. Since 2009, jerkin' has gained fans along the West Coast and is gaining popularity on the East Coast. // The dance itself consists of moving your legs in and out called the "jerk", and doing other moves such as the "reject", "dip", and "pindrop". (wikipedia)

• • •

Well I don't think much of the theme type, as you know (scattered circles "spelling" out words, ugh), but it's timely (grilling season is upon us) and the fill seemed more interesting than the typical Monday fare. Nice. SASSY, even (20A: Impertinent). Felt very easy, but those big corners, my bad typing, and JERKIN kept me from a truly sizzling time ("sizzling" ... see, I'm trying to keep up the whole burger / grilling vibe ... because that's the kind of ARTISTE I am (39D: Skilled entertainer)). A shade over 3 puts me at a pretty normal Monday time. It's a lazy Sunday evening as I write this. I'm full of the risotto I cooked — thank you Cook's Illustrated — and a couple beers and a half bowl of blue- and strawberries (the other half bowl is sitting here, waiting for me). New Black Keys album is playing downstairs (fantastic). Lettuce and kale and potatoes are starting to come up in the garden. I love spring more and more and more with every year. This has nothing to do with the GRID (40D: Where to enter this puzzle's answers). It's just what's happening now. In my heart. And even RETINT can't bring bring me down (6D: Color again, as the hair) ("the" hair?!).

MYRON (18D: Ancient Athenian sculptor) was the "Word of the Day" less than three weeks ago, so you're welcome for that. He's by far the most obscure thing in this grid, and crosses were all very easy, so no problem. I will say, about the circles, that they are at least quite dense in TFORMATION and BUCKROGERS. And CRIME SCENE is a killer answer (28D: It might be marked off with police tape).

Theme answers:
  • 5A: U.C.L.A. player (BRUIN)
  • 17A: Football alignment named for its shaped (T FORMATION)
  • 26A: Top choice (PICK OF THE LITTER)
  • 45A: "Light" dessert? (CHERRIES JUBILEE) — cute clue
  • 58A: Sci-fi hero in the 25th century (BUCK ROGERS)
  • 64A: To the point, ironically (BLUNT)
  • 33A: Good "Wheel of Fortune" purchase for STRING BIKINI (AN "I") — way to liven up the typical ["Wheel of Fortune" purchase] clue!
  • 38A: Heckle and Jeckle of cartoons (MAGPIE) — damn these birds! I can never remember what they are. "They're black ... crows? ... daws? ... caws? ... what the hell?!" MAGPIE just sound smaller, cuter, and more colorful than H&J look to me.
  • 62D: Puccini's "Nessun dorma," for one (ARIA) — not that you have to know the first thing about "Nessun dorma" to get this. Hundreds of ARIAs out there that could have taken this one's place. First time I ever heard the word ARIA was as the title of some indie film I saw and didn't understand in the '80s.

  • 63A: Captain Hook's henchman (SMEE) — I have never read "Peter Pan." I have never (to my knowledge) seen "Peter Pan" (any version). I wouldn't know SMEE if he bit me. But his name is, of course, common currency in crossword grids.
[Random picture of constructors Patrick Blindauer and Rebecca Young that I pulled down off Facebook because I liked it so much]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Pacific atoll in 1943 fighting / SUN 5-23-10 / Wine city north of Lisbon / Job legislation estab 1973 / Husband of Pompeia

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Constructor: Yaakov Bendavid

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "FLIP-FLOPS" — Familiar phrases wherein a compound word has its component parts inverted, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: TARAWA (57A: Pacific atoll in 1943 fighting) —

Tarawa is an atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, previously the capital of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. It is the location of the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, South Tarawa. The island is best known by outsiders as the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II. (wikipedia)
• • •
Loved the theme, though the fact that the word inversion came at the fronts of theme answers 3 and 4 and the backs of the rest threw me, and detracted a bit from the puzzle's structural elegance. I think the grid plays a little fast and loose with exotica today. I say this only *in part* because I was done in by TARAWA — before I *knew* I'd been done in, I thought to myself, "That MT. APO (34D: Philippines' highest peak: Abbr.)/ OPORTO (56A: Wine city north of Lisbon) crossing is gonna kick someone in the groin today ..." I don't think of either of those places as very well known (in the U.S.) outside of crosswords. Longtime readers of this blog will know MT. APO as "The Answer Rex Screwed Up at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament a Couple Years Back" — I wrote in MOAPO. Long story. Anyhoo, I'm not sure how inferrable that "P" is here. Maybe very. Still, it struck me as potentially unfair. I had no way of knowing that TORAWA was wrong until I decided to make it the Word of the Day and Google said "Do you mean tarawa?" Yes, dammit, apparently I do. But HEMO is so so so so right, and way better than stupid HEMA as an answer to 38D: Blood: Prefix. Yuck. I also wasn't that thrilled with the SERO / RHEOSTAT / HEMA / STET mash-up. Aesthetically displeasing.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Where ETs do knitting and art? (ALIEN CRAFT SPACE)
  • 34A: Thug living next to humorist Will? (MR. ROGERS HOOD NEIGHBOR) — big thumbs up for that one
  • 46A: "Get that first down ... and don't fumble"? (HANDOFF REMARK)
  • 67A: Watching over Warsaw's national emblem? (POLE FLAG SITTING)
  • 88A: Waiting in line for hooch? (AT A STILL STAND)
  • 97A: Competition among shrinks? (PSYCHOLOGICAL FARE WAR)
  • 119A: Visitors' fair warning? (WE SHALL COME OVER)
My main struggle points were the above-mentioned OPORTO and TARAWA areas near the puzzle center, and then the CETA area down south (101D: Job legislation estab. in 1973). Yeesh, that is one ugly (and, to me, completely unheard of) acronym. Dullards like me will be happy (or not) to find out that CETA stands for "Comprehensive Employment and Training Act," which is "a United States federal law enacted in 1973 to train workers and provide them with jobs in the public service" (wikipedia). Happily, the area immediately adjacent to CETA is lovely, with GOOSES (99D: Spurs) and IT'S HOT (100D: "Boy, am I shvitzing!") descending into WIZ ZEST (119D: Guru + 126A: Relish). Love it.

  • 1A: Frozen dessert in France (GLACE) — Wasn't sure, but GLACE came tentatively to mind, and the crosses all confirmed it, bang bang bang.
  • 75A: Biennial golf competition (RYDER CUP) — that's a nice longer answer. Team competition, Europe vs. U.S.
  • 124A: Start of the French Lord's Prayer (NOTRE) — "NOTRE père qui es aux cieux" ... used to be "qui êtes aux cieux," but I guess folks have gotten chummier with God since then.
  • 4D: Husband of Pompeia (CAESAR) — by which I assume they mean *Julius* CAESAR. There are many, many CAESARs.
  • 10D: Plato's "tenth Muse" (SAPPHO) — poet of Lesbos.
  • 16D: "___ No Woman," 1973 hit for the Four Tops ("AIN'T") — Ooh, is this "AIN'T No Woman like the one I got!?" I know that song — but I needed most of the crosses to get this answer.

  • 40D: Colleague of Lane and Kent (OLSEN) — always the OLSEN/OLSON issue, but SORBET made that choice clear.
  • 47D: Clothier, in Cambridge (DRAPER) — My favorite is Don DRAPER. God I love that man. Almost as much as I love Ron Swanson.

  • 68D: Pumice source (LAVA) — I had MICA.
  • 78D: Sci-fi escape vehicles (PODS) — Mr. Burns had one of these built in case of nuclear meltdown. He had to use it once, but I think it just shot him into the power plant parking lot.
  • 83D: Small-runway aircraft, briefly (STOL) — "Short Takeoff and Landing" — learned this one the hard way (in a crossword).
  • 98D: Dr. Seuss title animal (HORTON) — He's a title elephant. Come on, just say "elephant."
  • 109D: Kiev-born Israeli P.M. (MEIR) — Kiev, eh? I did not know that. I had fantastic Chicken Kiev at the Russian Tea Room once when I was 13. Have I mentioned that experience? Changed my life. "How ... how did the butter get in there...?" Then, on the way out of the restaurant, my mom said "there's the potted plant your father threw up in once." Then there was this crazy guy in the street out front, slamming the handle of a small axe into his palm while yelling at passers-by. No one paid him any mind. 1983!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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