National monument near Flagstaff / SAT 7-31-10 / Uninked embossed stamp / Catcher Fletcher 1990s Expos / First word Sblood

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TUZIGOOT (37D: National monument near Flagstaff) —

Tuzigoot National Monument preserves a 2 to 3 story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge just east of Clarkdale, Arizona, 120 feet (36 m) above the Verde River floodplain. The National Park Service currently owns 58 acres, within an authorized boundary of 834 acres (3.38 km2) // Tuzigoot is Apache for "crooked water", from nearby Peck's Lake, a cutoff meander of the Verde River. Historically, it was built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400 CE. Tuzigoot is the largest and best-preserved of the many Sinagua pueblo ruins in the Verde Valley.

• • •

This had many different difficulty levels, depending on what section of the grid I happened to be in. Got off to a very fast start by knowing Tim RAINES (18A: 1987 All-Star Game M.V.P.). The fact that he crosses another, much more obscure Montreal Expo is some kind of giant F*^% YOU to all the non-sports-fans out there. Yeesh (9D: Catcher Fletcher of the 1990s Expos=>DARRIN). Anyway, RAINES made that corner very accessible. Dropped OLAY down and SO SORRY across and things got very open very quickly. Went back and did the NE corner, but could only drop WINDCA- down at 12D: National park in South Dakota, as I've never heard of the park *and* did not know JAPAN could be an *adjective* (34A: Like the rarest rhino). I had ASIAN there at first [Ha ha: ERROR—it's JAVAN—oh, the perils of solving late at night, ugh]. In fact, this is the part of the puzzle I finished last. Had to close in on it from the SE (which, once I finally got to it, I finished *very* quickly).

First real thorny part came in NW, where bad guess of REGO at 6D: ___ Park (B'klyn neighborhood) got me the "O" I needed for SO SORRY but screwed me up in every other way. Finally wanted ANAEROBE (15A: Septic tank resident) and figured ANAEREBE was not a real thing, so gave up REGO (real answer is BORO), which allowed me then, finally, to put that corner to bed, but only after waiting out the second part of PIZZA- ... dimensions ended up being *really* important in that clue (1A: It may measure 16" x 16" x 2"). XEROSIS, never heard of it (8D: Possible result of vitamin A deficiency). From WINDCAPE [WRONG: actually WINDCAVE] to XEROSIS to the SW, where the biggest WTF was lying in wait for me. A word that I didn't know, as well as a word that had Not A Single Inferrable Letter. None. TUZIGOOT!? Once I decided RAZE (43A: Word whose antonym is its own homophone) and FIG (53A: Whit) were right, there was nothing left to do but finish the puzzle and then google to see if that nonsense word was, in fact, a thing. And it was. SW was the only corner w/o a complete Unknown, and, not surprisingly, the easiest for me to bring down.

Wait, am I reading this right? "Septic" in the ANAEROBE clue (15A: Septic tank resident) and SEPTIC as an answer at 46D: Infected. Wow, that's a mistake someone should have caught.

  • 16A: Accidentally uninked embossed stamp (ALBINO) — I have no idea what this means. Can't even fathom a context. Oh, a *postage* stamp. This is a term from philately. Who doesn't love those?
  • 9A: It was sung in Rocky Balboa's neighborhood (DOO WOP) — back when I thought DARRIN was JARRED, I had this answer starting JOO-. I was afraid to finish it.
  • 17A: "___ to Power" (Frederick J. Sheehan's exposé of Alan Greenspan) (PANDERER) — don't like fill-in-the-blanks this long. Also, this feels an axe-to-grind clue. Dislike.
  • 30A: Traditional gathering place in old Europe (INN) — ??? "old Europe" is pretty vague and INN is pretty common. This clue is trying too hard.
  • 31A: Literary character whose first word is "'Sblood" (IAGO) — four letter, Shakespearean English, kind of a gimme.
  • 41A: New Age mecca in the Southwest (SEDONA) — didn't know it was a mecca. It looks gorgeous and I want to go to there.
  • 52A: Interior designer Aarnio (EERO) — Finnish, four letters, it's Saturday: Ta Da!
  • 54A: One of his aliases was Theo. LeSieg (DR. SEUSS) — Just yesterday I was staring at that alias on a book in Barnes & Noble. It was the first time I'd seen it. And now here it is. Hurray, coincidence! (LeSieg is, of course, GEISEL backwards)
  • 62A: Philippine port (ILOILO) — Learned this from crosswords. No IDEA what I'd have done at the TUZIGOOT crossing if I hadn't know ILOILO. Geographical cruelty. Surely someone out there got Naticked upside the head by this crossing.
  • 26D: The Plame affair, informally (C.I.A. GATE) — Uh, the Plame affair, informally, is called PLAMEGATE. You can look it up.
  • 29D: Retired runway model (SST) — not Carol ALT? Huh.
  • 35D: Coating of cheese (PARAFFIN) — by which they mean "thing that coats cheese," ugh. Trying Too Hard.
  • 42D: Jabber in a mask (EPEEIST) — not sure I like the word, but I loooove the clue.
  • 47D: Musical work whose name means "valiant" ("EROICA") — one of the most common musical work names in all of crosswords, so even if you didn't know the info in the clue, a cross or two should've been all you needed.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Undersize keyboard / FRI 7-30-10 / Rare equine hybrid / User record-keeping device quipu / Sage exiled planet Dagobah / Amanti maker

Friday, July 30, 2010

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Medium?

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HINNY (41A: Rare equine hybrid) —

A hinny is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey (called a jenny). It is similar to the more common mule, which is the product of a female horse and a male donkey.
• • •

Was on phone with my sister (working out vacation details / gossiping) while solving this puzzle, so I don't know exactly how hard it is. Felt pretty Easy, but initial times at the NYT puzzle site seem more Medium. As is typical for a Friday, I had a few moments of "huh?" followed by a slowish hacking away at a small portion of the grid, and then bam: openness. Here's what my grid looked like after the first few minutes:

I've gotten more and more fascinated by *how* people solve—that is, the route by which they get from blank to done. Just watching the finals at the ACPT, where only three people's work is visible, you can see the incredibly different paths different minds take. Combination of special knowledge and luck (i.e. the luck of getting just the right crosses that will let you see a word you couldn't see before).

What's weird to me is how often my initial guess is correct for certain answers. Like today, I wanted SMASH UP right away at 1D: Bad traffic accident, but wouldn't commit to it. Ditto HIVED, which seems like a made-up word and yet is the word I immediately wanted (21A: Joined the swarm). It's tough when you want an answer but can't get any of the crosses to confirm its rightness. Today, my start was pretty pedestrian and cruddy—wrote in the -ED suffix at 21A and then the RE- prefix at 26A: Convened anew. Then put the "T" at the end of that answer because I knew it was either RESAT or REMET. DREARY came easily from there (22D: Overcast), as did ERRS (27D: Goes off). Got THANE with no crosses (30D: Ross, Lennox or Angus, in Shakespeare), and then PESTERER became the ugly-but-unavoidable solution to 29A: Nag. As you can see from the partial grid above, I was able to stake a cross right in the heart of the grid early on, which was a big help in breaking the puzzle open. HARD CLAMS was easy off the "HAR-" (32A: Quahogs), and then off only the "-ARC" I got GREEN ARCHITECTS (8D: Ones concerned with sustainable design). After that, I was able to move methodically through the rest of the puzzle—those stacks of 15 aren't that hard to blow up if you can get a few crosses through them.

The only trouble came at the very end, in the SW, which seemed to me the very hardest portion of the grid. I had two answers I didn't know crossing two answers I didn't know! Oy. Thankfully, I was able to infer ENFANTS (36D: "Jeux d'___" (42-Across [BIZET] keyboard work)) and PIANINO (35D: Undersize keyboard). "F" from ENFANTS made RAFE a virtual certainty (44A: ___ McCawley, Ben Affleck's role in "Pearl Harbor"), but I had to run the alphabet to see the last letter—the "H" in HINNY / SHRIVEL (kicked myself for not seeing SHRIVEL with S-RIVEL in place, ugh). HINNY made me laugh as just tonight, at the dinner table, I told my family something I learned via Katie Hamill on Facebook—that a rare zebra/donkey hybrid was recently born (in GA), and it is called a ZEDONK! Best Animal Name Ever. No wait ... I'm sorry, correction. The best animal name is HONEY BADGER. HONEY BADGER is the best. I apologize for any offense I might have given any HONEY BADGERs out there. Again, that's HONEY BADGER 1, ZEDONK 2.

  • 1A: Christmas trifle (STOCKING STUFFER) — great answer. My favorite thing in the grid, right after LAZY SLOB, which is virtually unbeatable (33D: Epithet for an annoying roommate).
  • 24A: Actress Edelstein of TV's "House" (LISA) — Do *not* understand popularity of this show. *Do* understand popularity of Hugh Laurie, though. So maybe sentence 2 takes care of sentence 1.
  • 34A: Potential game stoppers (SPEARS) — G-r-r-eat clue. Took me a long time to get it, and the surprising answer was totally worth the wait.
  • 6D: User of a record-keeping device called a quipu (INCA) — had the last "A" and honestly considered "PARA" (as in "PARAlegal").
  • 11D: Japanese salad plants (UDOS) — no idea how I know this; I just do. UDON, UDO, same cuisine.
  • 47D: Masur's New York Philharmonic predecessor (MEHTA) — As conductors go, he is kind of a big deal. Got him off the "M." Zubin! There's a name I could stand to see more of.
  • 50D: Sage exiled on the planet Dagobah (YODA) — someday I want to compile every YODA and EWOK and ENDOR and other "Star Wars" answers; I'm pretty sure I could come close to reconstructing the plots of at least the first (last) three "Star Wars" movies just from crossword clues alone.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Walsh NBA executive / THU 7-29-10 / Chan portrayer in film / Hoopster Mourning / Battle Blue Licks fighter 1782 / Enchanted world in Return of Jedi

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MIDDLE / SCHOOL (3D: With 44-Down, educational stage ... or a hint to the contents of 18-, 22-, 47- and 53-Across) — four "schools" can be found in (roughly) the "middle" of four theme answers:

  • SANDRAKES (18A: Golf groundskeepers' tools)
  • MILEHIGHSTADIUM (22A: Broncos' home, once)
  • CENTERICECIRCLE (47A: Place for an N.H.L. logo)
  • STAYALERT (53A: "Keep your eyes open!")

Word of the Day: DONNIE Walsh (2D: ___ Walsh, N.B.A. executive) —
Joseph Donald Walsh Jr., better known as Donnie Walsh (born March 1, 1941 in New York City) is a former professional basketball coach, and currently the president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks. [...] Walsh's first major signing came on July 8, 2010, when he signed Amar'e Stoudemire to a five-year, $100 million contract. (wikipedia)
• • •

There are a few high points in this puzzle, but they aren't enough to overcome a clunky, awkwardly executed theme. "MIDDLE" is a misnomer, for starts. Absolutely none of the "schools" are truly centered. Second, why these schools? What do they have in common? Were they the only ones that could be fit in the (putative) "middle" of phrases? Who knows? Lastly: CENTER ICE CIRCLE!?!? The term "CENTER (or CENTRE!) ICE" is incredibly common. I've literally never heard "CIRCLE" added to the mix. I have no doubt that there is a circle there in which one might find an NHL logo, but CENTER ICE CIRCLE is such a horrifically tin-eared answer, so outside common usage, that the vibrancy and coolness of the phrase / concept is just lost. Killed. The robots pretending to be humans would call it "CENTER ICE CIRCLE." Reminds me of when Apu tries to make himself seem as "American" as possible to keep from being deported, and so starts up a conversation with Homer about baseball; in a flat, Indian-accent-free, voice, he says: "What do you say we take a relaxed attitude towards work and watch the baseball game? The NY [he pronounces it "nye"] Mets are my favorite squadron."

I wonder if anyone else got MIDDLE SCHOOL and then got MILE HIGH STADIUM and thought "middle" words in theme answers would be kinds of schools, e.g. HIGH schools ...

Clear ambition toward Scrabbly letters today, though many are packed into the threes in the middle of the grid (not terribly impressive). Love QUANDARY (35D: Bind) and YUKS IT UP (11D: Has some laughs) and WENT SOUR (8D: Fell apart, as a deal). Did not know DOMINICA was a place (51A: Roseau is its capital). Is it related to The Dominican Republic? Apparently not—it's a small island in the Caribbean, only 291 sq. miles and a pop. of around 73K. Lots of random people who aren't that famous. Some guy whose middle name is TER!? (5D: Dutch painter Gerard ___ Borch). The guy who played Charlie Chan a million years ago (10D: Chan portrayer in film => OLAND). And then DONNIE Walsh, whoa. Weird to expect most people to know him, or even have heard of him. If I hadn't been following free agency news this summer, I sure wouldn't know him.

  • 17A: Enchanted world in "Return of the Jedi" (ENDOR) — forest moon where Ewoks live. I didn't read clue closely enough at first and wrote in NABOO :(
  • 32A: Rural musical instruments (JUGS) — First (possibly only) time I saw someone play a JUG was in The Country Bears Jamboree at Disneyland.
  • 37A: "The Basement ___" (1975 Dylan album) ("TAPES") — Don't know the album, but that's a really familiar phrase. Perhaps someone else borrowed it ... Whoaaaaaooa. *This* must be how I first heard the phrase. How funny / sad / flashbacky:

  • 40A: Flying Tiger Line hub, for short (LAX) — wrote in LAX only because of "hub," not bec. I have Any idea what Flying Tiger Line is (appears to have been a cargo line bought out by FedEx in the late '80s)
  • 43A: It came out of Cicero's mouth (VOX) — Latin for "voice."
  • 55A: Battle of Blue Licks fighter, 1782 (BOONE) — never want that guy to be anything but 19th-century. I think I'm getting him confused with Davy Crockett. Yes. Yes I am.
  • 9D: Casino chain founder William F. ___ (HARRAH) — no idea. I mean, I've heard of HARRAH's, obviously, but never considered there was an eponym.
  • 31D: Titter in a tweet (LOL) — Read it as [Twitter in a tweet], which makes no sense.
  • 37D: Shout made with a raised arm (TAXI!) — first answer: TADA!

  • 40D: "Mi Vida ___," gritty 1994 drama set in L.A. ("LOCA") — fans / enemies of Ricky Martin could simply intuit this one.
  • 49D: Sorceress on the island of Aeaea (CIRCE) — AEAEA = evidence that some words have too many vowels even for crosswords (i.e. I almost never see AEAEA).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Simple bit of plankton / WED 7-28-10 / MGM motto ender / Speaking machine developer / Beatlesque dos / Flying Cloud automaker

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Constructor: Howard Baker

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MR. IGGINS AND MISS / DOOLITTLE / ATTEMPT TO / SOLVE A CROSSWORD (17A: With 27-, 49- and 63-Across, the story behind 5-, 36-, 39- and 70-Across) — four answers have clues for answers that appear in the grid without their initial "H"s, per Eliza Doolitle's famous pre-transformation H-dropping (hence, for instance, 'IGGINS)

Word of the Day: DIATOM (52A: Simple bit of plankton) —

Diatoms are a major group of algae, and are one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Most diatoms are unicellular, although they can exist as colonies in the shape of filaments or ribbons (e.g. Fragillaria), fans (e.g. Meridion), zigzags (e.g. Tabellaria), or stellate colonies (e.g. Asterionella). Diatoms are producers within the food chain. A characteristic feature of diatom cells is that they are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule. These frustules show a wide diversity in form, but usually consist of two asymmetrical sides with a split between them, hence the group name. Fossil evidence suggests that they originated during, or before, the early Jurassic Period. Diatom communities are a popular tool for monitoring environmental conditions, past and present, and are commonly used in studies of water quality. (wikipedia)
• • •
Weird, whimsical puzzle. Not sure why "H" is dropped in the long, explanatory answer (i.e. at 'IGGINS), as that answer does not appear to be in Eliza's voice, but I guess it's a sly visual tip as to what's going on with the four other theme answers. This puzzle took me longer than normal not so much because it's difficult, but because it has so much cross-reference, and theme cluing that takes some getting used to. Didn't love everything about this, but liked it overall. Ambition and originality earn a puzzle a lot of leeway with me. What's weird to me about this puzzle is how much the built-in title DOMINATES the grid, so that the wordplay game becomes a sort of marginal sideshow instead of a crucial structural element. The four affected answers are arbitrary, and a bit odd in two cases—I mean, HOSIER and HEWER are Terrible words (well, the first is just not great, the second is terrible). Something more plausible as the base answers would have been better, I think. Or maybe if all four of the answers had ended up as solid crosswordese (as EWER and OSIER certainly are), that would have given the theme greater unity as well. But as I say, it's an ambitious idea, and a cute one. And that—in addition to the awesome yin / yang of WEE LASS (34A: Bonny young girl) and CARRION (43A: Buzzard's fare) splashed across the middle of the grid—is good enough for me.

Theme answers:
  • 5A: Professor says "Stocking stocker," pupil suggests ... (OSIER)
  • 36A: Professor says "Qualifying races," pupil suggests ... (EATS)
  • 39A: Professor says "Ax wielder," pupil suggests ... (EWER)
  • 70A: Professor says "Equine restraint," pupil suggests ... (ALTER)
Biggest trouble today came from DIATOM, which frankly looked and felt wrong. First thing I did upon completion was look it up. Also was not at all sure about 23A: Ramirez of "Spamalot" (SARA)—figured that with such a non-mainstream clue (sorry, Broadway buffs, but Tony Shmony), the name would be fancier / weirder (like GERI, for instance). But no, just SARA. Wrote in PEPSI without ever seeing the clue (took a quick glance at it to make sure PEPSI was a plausible answer, and it was—Never heard of the slogan in question: 60A: "Twice as much for a nickel" sloganeer, once). That SE corner is kind of ugly, with suffix crossing Sp. abbrev. crossing Sp. plural pronoun, but PEEWEE is nice (51D: Tiny) and WET SPOTS ... well, that just made me laugh. Nice, reasonably family-friendly clue on that one (40D: Signs of leaks) ("family-friendly" depends on what you imagine is leaking, I guess).

  • 21A: Like much Vegas stagewear (GAUDY) — great word. Was just discussing tonight how I've never, ever been to a casino. Conversation precipitated by wife's recent trip to Atlantic City for a karate tournament.
  • 38A: MGM motto ender (ARTIS) — "Ars Gratia ARTIS" ("Art for art's sake" — I thought it came from Horace, but apparently its origins are a good deal more recent—popularized as a slogan by Théophile Gautier in the 19th c.)
  • 2D: Parisian picnic spot (PARC) — where you might sit on a BANC (another recurring Fr. 4-ltr word)
  • 41D: Jocular suffix with "best" (-EST) — did not understand the clue at all at first, as I was thinking "... how is that suffix jocular?" I was thinking the suffix signified something that was the "best," not that it was supposed to be attached (jocularly!) to the word BEST. Aha. BestEST. Yes, that is a jocular word.

  • 46D: "Speaking machine" developer (EDISON) — took me way longer than it should have, I suppose. I had no idea what a "speaking machine" could be. Turns out it's the damned phonograph.
  • 47D: Paris's "The Simple Life" co-star (NICOLE) — this clue already feels sooooo dated to me.
  • 50D: Beatlesque dos (MOPS) — Really like this clue. It just looks great—simultaneously French- and Spanish-looking, and yet entirely English. Good stuff.
  • 59D: Pentagonal plate (HOME) — Site of many collisions and injuries. Detroit Tigers star slugger Magglio Ordoñez (please put him in a puzzle) broke his ankle just the other day sliding awkwardly into home—out four-six weeks.
  • 65D: Onetime U.A.R. member (SYR.) — United Arab Republic = short-lived union between Egypt and SYR (1958-61). You'll often (or at least sometimes) see "UAR" as fill. I still get it confused with "UAE" (United Arab Emirates, which still exists).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Autodom's Beetle / TUE 7-27-10 / Sighter of pink elephants / Potter's potions professor / Battleship Potemkin port

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Constructor: Mike Torch

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: [The whole ___] — five theme answers have this clue

Word of the Day: Artie SHAW (6D: Clarinetist Artie) —

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky (May 23, 1910 – December 30, 2004), better known as Artie Shaw, was an American jazz clarinetist, composer, and bandleader. He is also the author of both fiction and non-fiction writings. [...] In addition to hiring Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated Southern US. However, after recording "Any Old Time" she left the band due to hostility from audiences in the South, as well as from music company executives who wanted a more "mainstream" singer. His band became enormously successful, and his playing was eventually recognized as equal to that of Benny Goodman: longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard cited Shaw as his favorite clarinet player. In response to Goodman's nickname, the "King of Swing", Shaw's fans dubbed him the "King of the Clarinet." Shaw, however, felt the titles were reversed. "Benny Goodman played clarinet. I played music," he said. (wikipedia)

• • •

Another Tuesday quickie—the only resistance today was provided by theme answers, two of which I've never heard anyone use, and one of which I've never heard or seen before. Had to get most of the crosses before SHOOTING MATCH became clear to me—that's a phrase I know only from ... maybe from crosswords, somehow. Certainly never heard anyone use it. SCHMEAR was the big mystery, though. Must be a City thing. Luckily, I never saw the clue—looked over, saw -CHMEAR, and just wrote in the "S" without looking. I really missed BALL OF WAX. Glaring omission. Otherwise, the grid seemed fine. Acceptable. Reasonably clean (with the exception of, for example -ATIC, SECY, ETS, NEOS, and AAHED, yuck). VEEDUB felt pretty adventurous, and pleasantly colloquial (23A: Autodom's Beetle is one, slangily). Also liked the clue on RED DOT (49D: Mark of a rifle's laser sight), though it results in a puzzle with some pretty violent undertones: assassination here, and then caning at 21A: Mementos of a caning (WELTS). I associate caning almost exclusively with Singapore, probably because of a fairly high-profile case where an American kid convicted of vandalism was caned there some years back (1994).

Theme answers:

  • 15A: Stack-serving chain, for short (IHOP) — helped me confirm that 5D: Salad bar bowlful was, in fact, OIL. Seems odd. Is there just a bowl of oil sitting at the end of the bar? Really? A bowl?
  • 68A: Potter's potions professor (SNAPE) — if you commit one bit of HP lore to your memory, let it be this name. Or Harry's pal RON.
  • 9D: Ninth-inning hurler, often (CLOSER) — This really makes me want to post the "coffee's for closers" clip again ... oh what the hell?

[uh, there's profanity in here, so, you know ... careful]
  • 13D: Sighter of pink elephants (SOT) — glad I never saw this clue, because I'd have had No idea what to do with it. This must be some olde-timey cliché about drunks.
  • 50D: "The Battleship Potemkin" port (ODESSA) — Double dose of marine movies today with this one and "DAS Boot" (42D: "___ Boot").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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County ENE of San Francisco / MON 7-26-10 / Monica player on Friends / Brutes in Gulliver's Travels / Native of eastern South Africa

Monday, July 26, 2010

Constructor: Janet Bender

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (EASY for me, but I beat some speedsters, so I think my time was idiosyncratic)

THEME: COCO — theme answers are two-word phrases where first and second words start with "CO-"

Word of the Day: CONTRA COSTA (17A: County ENE of San Francisco) —

Contra Costa County (Spanish for "opposite coast") is a primarily suburban county in the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2006, the US Census Bureau estimated it had a population of 1,024,319. The county seat is Martinez. (wikipedia)
• • •

A lovely Monday puzzle—theme is a bit simple, but the grid is very splashy overall. A nice array of high-value Scrabble letters and some very lively fill made the puzzle a pleasure to solve. Next to no junk, too, which is usually all I ask of my Mondays. Two big surprises (for me) today. First, that CONTRA COSTA is puzzle-worthy at all, not to mention theme-worthy! Do people outside CA know this place? A county whose biggest city is Concord (the 47th largest city in CA)?! Weird. Second surprise: that COURTENEY COX's first name has that first "E"—is that normal? I wrote in her name and had a space left over. Decided to throw in another "E" in the only place that seemed plausible, and voila! Other than that, nothing surprising, but lots to love, including (to name just a few):

  • ON RECORD (5D: Publicly known)
  • DECAMP (6D: Leave suddenly)
  • ST. CROIX (23D: Largest of the Virgin Islands)
  • GAWK (53D: Get an eyeful)
  • BIG MAC (51A: Alternative to a Quarter Pounder)
  • RED COAT (41D: British soldier in the American Revolution)
  • YAHOOS (45D: Brutes in "Gulliver's Travels")
  • SHORTCUT (39D: Clever travel suggestion)

And not just a JEW, but a JEW TABOO (successive entries!) (60A: Observer of Yom Kippur + 61A: Eating pork, to an observant 60-Across). Nice work. By the way, in case you missed it yesterday, you might want to check out W. Shortz's defense of "JEWFRO" and other recent and somewhat controversial answers, published here this past weekend.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: County ENE of San Francisco (CONTRA COSTA)
  • 27A: What a programmer writes (COMPUTER CODE)
  • 43A: Monica player on "Friends" (COURTENEY COX)
  • 57A: Winter afflictions (COMMON COLDS)

  • 48A: China's Three Gorges project (DAM) — see, now that's an interesting clue for DAM. Not a typical Monday clue (i.e. not transparent), but an interesting clue.
  • 11D: Native of eastern South Africa (ZULU) — was hesitant to write this answer in, as part of me thought that ZULU were somehow bygone, or only existed in movies. I blame "Shaka ZULU"

  • 27D: Vitamin brand promoted as "Complete from A to Zinc" (CENTRUM) — Product Placement! Actually, I don't care about such issues. I only wish the product name were less dull. I take only Vitamin D and Fish Oil.
  • 30D: Missile that might be tipped with curare (DART) — why would you tip your missile with ... oh, "missile" in the general, not-necessarily-rocket-propelled sense. Gotcha.
  • 45D: Brutes in "Gulliver's Travels" (YAHOOS) — A memorable reading experience, for many reasons (not the least of which is that I spelled JONATHAN wrong, repeatedly, in my paper for British Literature II. The fact that JONATHAN was also the professor's child's name (and that the professor bothered to tell me so) made the error particularly ... memorable). Best name in "Gulliver's Travels": Houyhnhnms!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Saudi Arabian province / SUN 7-25-10 / Silas Marner foundling / 1940 Fonda role / WNW Grand Canary Island / Patron saint of goldsmiths

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Up Starts" — theme answers are familiar phrases in which the initial letter has been bumped one space UP the alphabet, creating wacky phrases etc.

Word of the Day: ASIR (56A: Saudi Arabian province) —

ʿAsīr (Arabic: عسير‎) is a province of Saudi Arabia located in the southwest of the country, named after the confederation of clans of the same name. It has an area of 81,000 km² and an estimated population of 1,563,000. It shares a short border with Yemen. Its capital is Abha. Other towns include Khamis Mushayt and Qal'at Bishah. The governor of the province is Faysal ibn Khalid (appointed May 16, 2007), a son of the late king of Saudi Arabia, Khalid ibn Abd al-Aziz. He replaced his cousin, Khalid al Faisal who, on the same date, was made governor of Makkah Province. (wikipedia)
• • •

I think the NYT must be suffering from a dearth of decent Sunday submissions at the moment. This one is pretty lifeless. A weak concept, infinitely reproduceable (i.e. we could come up with possible theme answers All Day Long)—and one that has Been Done, in various forms, for sure. Further, there is only one good play on words in the whole bunch of theme answers — CORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY — and even that one only made me wish that the first word were PORN and the puzzle were ... well, completely different, theme-wise. Meanwhile, quality of fill is apparently not of anyone's concern today. It's a yawnfest, with some creaky ugliness here and there. The ASIR / TENERIFE (33D: It's WNW of Grand Canary Island) area in particular reeks of a "whatever" attitude to the non-theme entries. Almost makes me think a computer filled this grid with little human oversight. EPPIE (1A: "Silas Marner" foundling) and IGER (84D: Media exec Robert) = unwelcome odd names that don't get us anything pretty. LISSOM is an odd, long variant (72D: Willowy: Var.), and ODORED is, well, ODORED alright. I just don't see anything noteworthy or remarkable here today. At All. This puzzle is a good example of why so many puzzle-lovers I know simply don't bother with Sundays—just big, not interesting.

I spoke too soon. Now and forever, I will always love FRED ROGERS (19A: PBS figure from 1968 to 2001). Put him in your grids all you want, I'll never complain.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Cause for Adam to refuse the apple? (FAST OF EDEN)
  • 28A: Precamping preparation? (TENT PACKING)
  • 35A: Christmas, for Christians? (SEASON TO BELIEVE)
  • 51A: Bountiful harvest? (DREAM OF THE CROP)
  • 67A: Independence Day barbecue serving? (CORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY)
  • 86A: Unnecessary part of a jacket? (HOOD FOR NOTHING)
  • 98A: Ultimatum from a spouse who wants nicer digs? (MOVE ME OR LEAVE ME)
  • 106A: Refusing to watch football on New Year's Day (NIXING BOWLS)
  • 119A: Nathan's annual hot-dog contest, e.g.? (EATING GAME)
  • 46A: Locale in a 1968 Beatles song (U.S.S.R.) — had -SS- and actually had to stop and think. Embarrassing. Wore out the White Album when I was in college (20 years after the White Album was released).
  • 49A: British P.M. during the creation of Israel (ATTLEE) — I'll always think of him as "that guy who, after the war, beat Churchill." Also as "that guy with the odd name I learned about from crosswords."
  • 117A: 1970s-'80s horror film franchise, with "The" ("OMEN") — I've said it before, and I'll say it again: late-70s / early-80s period had the Scariest horror films. Less gore, perhaps, but Far more terror. Everyone looks grainy and pallid and nightmarish.

[Actually, parts of this are funny, esp. Damien controlling the baboons and giraffe]

  • 122A: ___ Chaiken, creator and writer of "The L Word" (ILENE) — news to me. Normally, this answer gets [Actress Graff] as its clue, so hooray for the new.
  • 127A: Magnetic induction unit (GAUSS) — learned this word from a puzzle I did almost immediately prior to doing this one. Coincidence!
  • 11A: Self-motivational mantra ("I CAN") — I don't buy this as a "mantra." "I THINK I CAN" or "I CAN DO IT" or "DOGGONE IT PEOPLE LIKE ME," maybe. "I CAN" on repeat just makes you sound loony.

  • 16D: Patron saint of goldsmiths (ELOI) — yeah, this clue doesn't make this answer less gratingly crosswordesey. In fact, the irksomeness is only amplified.
  • 39D: Maker of the trivia-playing computer program Watson (IBM) — Watson = onetime IBM chairman, not Dr. Watson. Big name in these parts. Eponym of Binghamton University's School of Engineering.
  • 70D: 1940 Fonda role (JOAD) — as in Tom. As in "The Grapes of Wrath."

  • 114D: "On&On" singer Erykah (BADU) — Let's listen to something a little more recent and ... revealing:

And now your Tweets Of The Last Several Weeks — puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @Johnedale Pooping with a crossword is like pizza with ranch. Once you have it, it's hard to imagine it without it.
  • @fotobug1900 Woman in car next to me is doing crossword puzzle!
  • @Nerdandahalf1 Why are Tuesday crosswords always the hardest?
  • @rosannecash I got so many emails & tweets about this- Thanks! RT @susanchamplin Congratulations on making an appearance in today's NYT crossword puzzle.
  • @mummyblogger Someone just found my blog by googling 'How to do the crossword sex'. What is crossword sex?? Sounds fun...
  • @JCGiggles In the middle of a pep talk, my mom asked: "What was the song by the village people-- something about a man?" It was for a crossword puzzle
  • @jamesmitchem Girl on the train next to me is totally cheating on her crossword puzzle. She is literally just making up words.
  • @thatgrlmichelle all these kids in my ir class are so smart..they like, read time magazine and do the nyt crossword and drink green tea and perrier. wtf.
  • @HeidiPdot I'm pretty sure Olympia Dukkakis is sitting across from me here at Starbucks on Spring Garden...I think she's doing a crossword puzzle. ;)
  • @r_wolfcastle Die Will Shortz Die for your crossword answer of a never-nominated actress in a 62-yo crap remake that also was not nominated for anything
  • @thatpuzzleguy TOLU crosses MEALIE in today's USA Today crossword. I know it's Thursday, but Christ.
  • @nuttylichee still super bummed that the answer to this crossword clue "Ruins an oboe?" is WRECKS REED instead of my original choice, BREAKS WIND.
  • @CMYKaboom Today's Lesson: AM New York's crossword is far inferior to the Metro's. I think my cat could solve it. And my cat is blind. #crosswords #nyc

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. Shortz defends JEWFRO and other allegedly "offensive" words in his puzzles.


Norwegian violinist Bull / SAT 7-24-10 / Literary character whose name is said to mean laughing water / Hidalgo co-star 2004 / Tennyson hero

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: AHA MOMENT (66A: What you may have while solving this puzzle?) — rebus puzzle with "AHA" crammed into five different squares

Word of the Day: SEALERY (65A: Place for barkers?) —

[SEAL FISHERY]=> 2. a place (as a rookery) where seals are hunted. (Webster's 3rd Int'l)
• • •

References to seal slaughter aside, I liked this puzzle, but it was way-ay-ay too easy for a Saturday [I see now, checking my time against the leaderboard at the NYT site, that I was faster than some of the fastest solvers in the country, which never happens, so now I'm having anxiety about my grid ... must double-check its accuracy ... nope, it's right alright. Weird. OK, back to the write-up]. In fact, it was essentially a Thursday, with a handful of Saturdayed clues. I knew something was slightly out-of-the-ordinary today when 1. I saw David J. Kahn's name (he does fancy puzzles, generally, not straight-up themelesses); and 2. I saw the grid (maximum word count, no really long answers, i.e. not at all a conventional Saturday grid. Got the trick when I had everything in the NW done *except* 13A: Literary character whose name is said to mean "laughing water" (MINNEHAHA). Ended up with MINNEHO, because I had (yuck) SORE at 6D: Hot spot (SAHARA). That first AHA ended up being my literal "AHA moment," so I did not (at all) need the theme-revealing "[AHA] MOMENT" at the end. Redundant by that point. AHA squares were easy to uncover. Know nothing about county seats in Florida, but knowing AHA was in play made TALLAHASSEE easy (20D: Seat of Leon County, Fla.). The only real struggle presented by this puzzle came in the SW, where I had MAHARISHIS, which didn't work, and then nothing ... guessed the RANEES part from Raja / Ranee of xword fame. Never heard of SEDALIA (61A: Missouri site of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival). Never heard of SEALERY. Lucky to have three intersecting Unknowns and still emerge unscathed, and in reasonably good time.

Theme answers:
  • 13A: Literary character whose name is said to mean "laughing water" (MINNEHAHA)
  • 6D: Hot spot (SAHARA)
  • 34A: Raptor 350 and others (YAMAHAS)
  • 12D: Tennyson hero (SIR GALAHAD)
  • 20D: Seat of Leon County, Fla. (TALLAHASSEE)
  • 38A: Founding member of the Washington Freedom (MIA HAMM)
  • 41A: Singer Jackson (MAHALIA)
  • 36D: Old royalty (MAHARANEES)
  • 58D: Some Siouan speakers (OMAHAS)
  • 66A: What you may have while solving this puzzle? (AHA MOMENT)

Thanks to all of you who have wished my daughter well and asked after her health following the accident. As I said initially, she is just fine. Aside from the abrasion on her neck and the three staples in her head (!), it's really as if nothing ever happened. Her main concern is whether she'll be able to swim during our early August vacation. Doctor assured her today that unless she was planning on banging her head into things, there'd be no problem.

  • 7A: Sources of woods used for saunas (ASPENS) — our early August vacation will be in Colorado. Oh, and I wanted APPLES (!?) here at first.
  • 14D: Nonabrasive leather (CHAMOIS) — is leather generally used to abrade things?
  • 18A: Norwegian violinist ___ Bull (OLE) — Norwegian feminist last month, Norwegian violinist this month. Norway appears to be the late-week random-name-generator of choice. I love that his name is OLE Bull. Total coincidence, or bilingual parents with a sense of humor?
  • 21A: Figure depicted in une église (ANGE) — advantage, French-speakers. Got it off the "A" in "EMMA" (10D: Classic novel that ends with two weddings), but I probably could've guessed it with no crosses at all.
  • 43A: English word that comes from Tswana (TSE-TSE) — weird to call this an "English" word, but literally accurate, so ... OK.
  • 57A: 1992 Elton John hit ("THE ONE") — this made me smile; reminded me of a 1992 cross-country road trip I took with my roommate; we listened to and mockingly, stridently sang along to a lot of radio hits on that trip. See also "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" by Don Henley and Patty Smyth.

["Fire flying from your hands!" (???)]

  • 63A: Fellow with no monetary woes (MADE MAN) — hmmm. I did not know this was the primary significance of this term. It *is* a mafia term, right?
  • 8D: "Hidalgo" co-star, 2004 (SHARIF) — Two thoughts: "What the hell is 'Hidalgo?" and "Omar SHARIF is still alive?" Answer to latter question: yes!
  • 28D: Actor who played Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," 1951 (SIM) — weird to see him today and LOM yesterday, as in my head they are essentially the same person, i.e. random three-letter bygone actor known now only for being occasionally useful in a tight crossword spot.
  • 31D: Appeared in, as a TV show (CAME ON) — don't like this clue. "Julio Iglesias CAME ON 'Golden Girls' last night" ... nope, sounds wrong. He WAS ON. He GUEST-STARRED. The show itself CAME ON. [Ran, as a TV show] sits better with me. OK, now trying to come up with different clues for CAME ON has started me laughing out loud, so I'll move on.
  • 49D: Capital midway between Rome and Istanbul (TIRANA) — Albania. Not sure if I learned this from crosswords exclusively, but puzzle work has certainly solidified its place in my brain. Still needed several crosses.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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