Nickelodeon's parent company / TUE 8-31-10 / Cremona craftsman / Flier with 10-foot wingspan / Start of either syllable in ginger

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Constructor: Paula Gamache and Ed Stein

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Crossing Twins* — words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently intersect at five different points in the grid*

*unless I'm wrong, pronunciation is not at issue, and they're really just words that are spelled the same but mean different things — central crossing is the big question mark

*now I'm told it's just noun/verb pairs, with pronunciation being a non-issue. That seems correct. Not exciting, or interesting, but correct.

Word of the Day: VIGGO Mortensen (51D: "The Road" star Mortensen) —

Viggo Peter Mortensen, Jr. (born October 20, 1958) is a Danish actor, poet, musician, photographer and painter. He is best known for his roles as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Tom Stall in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, and his Academy Award-nominated role as Nikolai Luzhin in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. He also starred in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, as "The Man". (wikipedia)
• • •

I am simply assuming that the golf meaning of ADDRESS is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. I don't play, and can't imagine someone's saying the word. [first reply from a friend re: the two ADDRESSes: "No, they're pronounced the same. Addressing the ball is like addressing the audience. Stress on the second syllable." I hope s/he is wrong, because if this is so, the theme is *&^ed] The other crosses all feature different pronunciations, so I assume that central one does too. Can't say I cared for this one much. Like it more once I caught on to the different pronunciation angle, but still — once you get the gimmick (right away, likely), that's a lot of real estate you can fill in with very little effort. The easiness was offset for me today by a couple of missteps — DROPS for DRAMS (40D: Small amounts) and VEEGO for VIGGO (51D: "The Road" star Mortensen). But still, the only interest here is the theme — the rest is dull to dreadful. Look at the north. I have never seen so many abbrev. crammed in such a tiny section. ESTH., PFCS, TLC, and HOSP. That's a train wreck. The rest of the grid—except NCAAS (48A: Big tournaments for university teams, informally), yuck—is OK, if loaded with a lot of short and overly familiar fill. Hard to generate much sizzle when your longest entry is seven letters (and five of your answers are simply duplicated).

Theme answers:
  • EXPLOIT (20A: Bit of derring-do + 4D: Take advantage of)
  • ADDRESS (25D: Prepare to drive, as a golf ball + 39A: Lincoln's famous one was just 272 words)
  • PRESENT (10D: Show, in a show-and-tell + 22A: Here and now)
  • INCENSE (56A: Aromatic sticks + 44D: Make boiling mad)
  • CONSOLE (47D: Say "There, there" to, say + 58A: Home entertainment centerpiece)

Write-ups might get a little shorter, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as school starts up for me again this week. Luckily, I don't have much else to say today, except that ODETTE (26A: "Swan Lake" swan) seems an oddly esoteric word for a Tuesday—but I've seen it in puzzles enough that it didn't present a problem at all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Collins on Op-Ed page / MON 8-30-10 / Video game maker owns Seattle Mariners / Actress/director May / 1960s world chess champion Mikhail *

Monday, August 30, 2010

Constructor: Richard Chisholm

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TWO HANDS (59A: Things a clock has ... or, literally, what 17-, 25-, 35- and 50-Across are) — theme answers are two-word phrases where both words can precede HAND in a familiar phrase or word

Word of the Day: GAIL Collins (39D: Collins on the Op-Ed page) —

Gail Gleason Collins (born November 25, 1945) is an American journalist, op-ed columnist and author, most recognized for her work with the New York Times. Joining the Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board, from 2001 to 2007 she served as the paper's Editorial Page Editor – the first woman to attain that position. Collins presently authors a semi-weekly op-ed column for the Times, published Thursdays and Saturdays. (wikipedia)
• • •
This one was not terribly exciting. First, TWO HANDS ... is not really a zippy phrase. At all. The best revealers can stand alone — phrases that have been adapted in some surprising way. Today, TWO HANDS—and the clue isn't accurate: "literally?" OFF is not "literally" a HAND. STAGE is not "literally" a HAND. They aren't even *types* of hands. They are *only* words that can *precede* hand in a familiar word/phrase (actually, HAND can come before or after OFF). Bigger problem, though: the theme answers just ... lie there. They are adequate as phrases go, and certainly fulfill their duty, but there is zero wow factor. In cases like this, it is crucial for the overall fill to be smooth, if not brilliant. Today, neither. So much tired short stuff. I mean, we start with two abbrevs. (PJS, SFPD) and end up getting a bunch more, including the dire TREAS. (51D: Club finance officer: Abbr.). Then there's the dreaded E-CASH (32D: Online money) crossing odd partial A SORE, the now "facetious" (read: mildly racist) "AH SO" crossing foreign UNIS on top of foreign ESTO. That SW corner is a mess—is that really the best fill that could go in that chunk of space. In addition to TREAS, there's the lowly TSETSE and the loathsome INANER. AGLARE's clue made both me and wife go "???" (45D: Blazing). Plus the unlovely AGAS up top there. It all feels just a little ... lazy. Once we get to 6+ letters, things perk up a bit (love FISHEYE, for example; 26D: Kind of lens with a wide angle). But [deep breath] WOOER CPO ENIAC APER ETH OTOS AGAS ILIE SITU SROS TAL NIA SOL etc. just dominate the grid to too great an extent today, smothering the interesting but not terribly lively theme.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Where Claudius is during Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy (OFF STAGE)
  • 25A: Any time now (BEFORE LONG)
  • 35A: Extra plateful (SECOND HELPING)
  • 50A: Position for Babe Ruth (RIGHT FIELD)
Interesting set of people in the grid today. Never heard of GAIL Collins. This pretty much tells you that I subscribe to the NYT puzzle, but not the dead-tree paper itself. I'm vaguely aware of a host of names from the NYT Op-Ed page. Hers is not one of them. Not complaining at all, just noting that sometimes, even on Mondays, the puzzle can introduce you to something new. I always forget which spelling of ELAINE (12D: Actress/director May) goes with which ELAYNE (May vs. Boosler), so I had to double-check that cross. I know Mikhail TAL (53A: 1960s chess champion Mikhail ___) only from crosswords, and even then, only barely. Still, he's likely the most famous TAL in existence, though I know one-hit wonder TAL Bachmann better:

  • 38D: Video game maker that owns the Seattle Mariners (NINTENDO) — weird to think of an owner as non-human. Surely there is a human being who functions in that role. Or maybe not. Maybe that's why the Mariners are perennial superunderachievers (Free Ichiro!)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Middleton who sang with Louis Armstrong / SUN 8-29-10 / Title dog in Inge play / Egyptian god of universe / Newswoman Logan / Gee in Glasgow

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Constructor: Derek Bowman

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "GOING FOR A RUN" — thirteen two-word phrases, creating 26 words that start with the consecutive letters of the alphabet, i.e. AB (ARMY BRAT), CD (CARBON DATING), EF (EXHAUST FANS), etc.

Word of the Day: VELMA Middleton (6A: Middleton who sang with Louis Armstrong) —

Velma Middleton spent most of her career as Louis Armstrong's singer. She was originally a dancer and, although overweight, she often did splits on stage including during the Armstrong years. Middleton had an average but reasonably pleasing and good-humored voice. After freelancing -- including visiting South America in 1938 with Connie McLean's Orchestra and working as a solo act -- she joined Louis Armstrong's big band in 1942, appearing on some Soundies with Satch). After Armstrong broke up the orchestra in 1947, Middleton joined his All-Stars. She was often used for comedy relief (such as for duets with Satch on "That's My Desire" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside") and occasional features. Jazz critics rarely thought highly of Middleton's singing, but Armstrong considered her part of his family, and she was a constant part of his show. Middleton, who recorded eight selections as a leader for the Dootone label in 1948 and 1951, died in Africa while touring with Satch in 1961. (

• • •

This was two struggles in one. First, the struggle to finish in a reasonable time—the puzzle felt decidedly crunchier than most Sunday offerings, with the west coast in particular proving a real bear for me today (crunchy bear!); and second, the struggle to figure out what the theme was—it was a good minute or so after I'd finished the puzzle that I figured out what was going on. Normally, when you "*" the theme clues, there's a clue somewhere giving you a hint as to what the starred clues have in common. Not so today. The title is the only clue. INSIDE and OUTER seemed related ... but no, dead end. Same with SPEED and QUICK (esp. with "RUN" in the title), but again, no. Finally just went to the beginning and took them one by one, and saw the ABCD string instantly. Very clever. I'm impressed by the construction. Thankfully, I didn't have to know the theme to solve the puzzle, though it sure would have helped there in the west, yeesh. Couldn't see either INSIDE or OUTER, and only INA and SHEBA (89A: Title dog in an Inge play) and OCH (or ACH, I couldn't remember which was Scottish and which German—39A: "Gee," in Glasgow) were providing any help in the crosses. All the Downs were a mystery. Finally decided 85A: Isthmus had to be NECK :( and that got me CONTINUES (40D: Carries on) and things began to fall from there. But I really had to work, and briefly despaired of getting any real toehold. Rest of the grid was toughish but ultimately pretty tractable. NEALE (53A: "Conversations With God" author ___ Donald Walsch) and VELMA were the only real bafflers for me. The rest were just clued in vague, indirect, or otherwise tough ways. So all in all, I call this a 'win.' Good workout, clever theme, solid grid.

Theme answers:
  • 22A: *Kid constantly switching schools, maybe (ARMY BRAT)
  • 23A: *Age-revealing method (CARBON DATING)
  • 29A: *Stale air removers (EXHAUST FANS)
  • 33A: *Supposed results of stress (GRAY HAIRS)
  • 58A: *Embezzlement, e.g. (INSIDE JOB)
  • 60A: *Pet shop purchase (KITTY LITTER)
  • 68A: *Party bowlful (MIXED NUTS)
  • 78A: *Pluto, e.g., before it was plutoed (OUTER PLANET)
  • 81A: *Harlequin romance, e.g. (QUICK READ)
  • 101A: *Leadfoot's downfall (SPEED TRAP)
  • 106A: *It's got some miles on it (USED VEHICLE)
  • 117A: *Annual sports event since 1997 (WINTER X-GAMES)
  • 120A: *Beginning of time? (YEAR ZERO)
Learned more than I ever need to know about AKRON today — both that it is the 71A: Highest point on the Ohio & Erie Canal and that Sojourner Truth delivered her speech "AIN'T I a Woman" there in 1851. Never heard of the Danielle Steel novel "H.R.H.," but the clue made it easy enough (35A: Danielle Steel novel about a European princess). Wanted some spelling of "Dianne" for the 111D: Von Furstenberg of fashion clue, but then some vague memory of EGON clicked into place. Don't know any version of DARTS besides DARTS, so 126A: Around the Clock is a version of this mean zip to me. Only a couple of answers seemed really clunky today: PADDY FIELD (11D: Rice source) and DARK SHADE (5D: Navy, e.g.). The latter feels as arbitrary as TALL BUILDING or RED FRUIT, and the former just seems redundant. How is a RICE PADDY (very familiar term) different from a PADDY FIELD (a term I've never seen or heard of in my life)?

  • 56A: British American tobacco brand (KENT) — "British American" completely threw me. I don't know what it means. Why isn't it hyphenated? Anyway, that clue told me nothing. Got the answer from crosses, then recognized it, vaguely, as a cigarette brand.
  • 67A: Words a house burglar doesn't want to hear ("SIC 'EM") — this one was brutal. A house burglar doesn't want to get shot. Or bitten. Or generally discovered at all. A house burglar also Doesn't Want To Hear Any Words. If he hears words, there are people about, and for a burglar, that is always Bad. My guesses here: "I AM IN" "IT IS I" "I AM UP" and other stuff I can't remember now.
  • 115A: Flair of pro wrestling (RIC) — Only other RIC I know is OCASEK.
  • 8D: Newswoman Logan (LARA) — learned her from xwords a while back, and have now seen her twice in the past week. Useful.
  • 9D: "Sex and the City" character also known as John (MR. BIG) — words can't express my non-interest in this show, or its movie spin-offs. Saw a couple episodes and found them repugnant, and Particularly insulting to women. "Kill yourselves, all of you!" I'd shout at the screen, to no avail. If I ever have to put MR. BIG in a puzzle, you can Bet that it'll be clued via these guys—I mean, they're not, uh, great, but I would willingly listen to them for hours if my only other option were watching a single episode of "Sex and the City":

  • 14D: 900 years before Queen Elizabeth was crowned (MLIII) — wow, the "900 years before" part just makes the bad worse here.
  • 82D: Locale of an 1805 Napoleon victory (ULM) — wrote in URI. If you did yesterday's puzzle, you know why.
  • 10D: Egyptian god of the universe (AMON-RA) — spelled it AMEN-RA, which I believe is what you say if you agree with RA. Nope, my spelling was valid, just not correct for today's puzzle.
  • 84D: Low-cost, lightweight autos of the 1910s-'20s (CYCLECARS) — definitely learned this from xwords too, but remembered it as CYCLOCARS, which I think a far superior name.
  • 90D: Gymgoer's pride (BOD) — the longer you stare at the word "Gymgoer's" the crazier it looks.
  • 104D: "Dónde ___ los Ladrones?" (1998 platinum album by Shakira) ("ESTAN") — total guess. I can picture her, and I probably could recognize a couple of her songs, but that album title is brand new to me.

And now your Tweets of the Week, puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:
  • @DrOssie90 I was doing a crossword earlier when I came across "Twilight (4)" Apparently "shit" wasn't what I was looking for...
  • @amyskababy My aunty is using the 'just keep saying words until they fit' method of crossword solving.
  • @chelseashell My heart melts a bit when I see an attractive guy doing a crossword. Nerdy? Absolutely.
  • @outofsequences Stupid things: trying to surreptitiously watch a girl do crossword puzzles.
  • @SkyBlueThru Woman in front of me on train is reading crossword clues to her bloke. I am typing answers on phone and holding them above her head for him.
  • @jonvox Lack of a free daily New York Times sure took its toll on my crossword abilities.
  • @Renee70 @JargArmani there's something u should know about me. I don't do crosswords. I was going to tell you sooner but everything was going so well

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Ancient Athenian magistrates —SAT 8-28-10— Angel player 1970s / Ruffian on Stair playwright / Literary character always good tempered not very clever

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Constructor: Xan Vongsathorn

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ARCHONS (15D: Ancient Athenian magistrates) —

Archon (Gr. ἄρχων, pl. ἄρχοντες) is a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem ἀρχ-, meaning "to rule", derived from the same root as monarch, hierarchy and anarchy. [...] In Athens a system of nine concurrent Archons evolved, led by three respective remits over the civic, military, and religious affairs of the state: the three office holders being known as the Eponymous archon (Ἐπώνυμος ἄρχων; the "name" ruler, who gave his name to the year in which he held office), the Polemarch ("war ruler"), and the Archon Basileus ("king ruler"). Originally these offices were filled from the aristocracy by elections every ten years. During this period the eponymous Archon was the chief magistrate, the Polemarch was the head of the armed forces, and the Archon Basileus was responsible for the civic religious arrangements, including many of the law courts. After 683 BC the offices were held for only a single year, and the year was named after the Archōn Epōnymos. (Many ancient calendar systems did not number their years consecutively.) After 487 BC the archonships were assigned by lot to any citizen and the Polemarch's military duties were taken over by new class of generals known as stratēgoí. The ten stratēgoí (one per tribe) were elected, and the office of Polemarch was rotated among them on a daily basis. The Polemarch thereafter had only minor religious duties, and the titular headship over the strategoi. The Archon Eponymous remained the titular head of state under democracy, though of much reduced political importance. The Archons were assisted by "junior" archons, called Thesmothétai (Θεσμοθέται "Institutors"). After 457 BC ex-archons were automatically enrolled as life members of the Areopagus, though that assembly was no longer extremely important politically at that time. (See Archons of Athens.) (wikipedia)
• • •

This guy! This guy is always on my wavelength. Maybe it's because we attended the same college (btw constructor Joel Fagliano begins classes there next week (see article here)—good luck, buddy), I don't know. But I always like his stuff, and I always *get* his stuff. For what seems like the billionth week in a row, Saturday was easier than Friday for me. Did this one in under 10: highly respectable time for me. What was weird was: I started out superfast in the NW, and that changed my expectations for the puzzle as a whole (i.e. I started thinking "I'm going to set a new Saturday record"), which *then* made the rest of the puzzle seem tough! "What? Resistance? How dare you!?" So, no record, but a decent time, and, more importantly, an entertaining time.

Started out waaaaay too easy. MISO = gimme (1A: ___ soup), which created a string of gimmes: MEGS (1D: Drive units, briefly) and IHOP (2D: Chain with many links —btw, please, constructors, kill this clue, OK? Just kill it) and EHUD (13A: Former Israeli P.M. Olmert) and ODOREATER (4D: Product associated with the annual Rotten Sneakers Contest) went into the grid in a matter of seconds. 10 seconds, tops. Made quick work of the NW as a whole, but got ... blocked at ARCHONS (didn't know it) and APERTURE (39A: Light limiter), and so had trouble moving as quickly through the rest of the grid. Problem seeing APERTURE arose from having CLAM instead of COOP (27D: Shut (up)). So I squeaked out of the NW via the center, where I grokked the FAWCETT clue quickly (24D: Angel player of the 1970s) and knew ZAK from crosswords gone by (28D: Drummer Starkey). Made my way steadily through rest of puzzle, with biggest problems (by far) coming in the little NE and SW corners. Even with YAKOV as a gimme (9D: Comedian Smirnoff), I had trouble seeing what the four-letter words up there were. Doable, but only with some fumbling. Things were worse in the SW, where I was saved only by BOSN (61A: Rigging handler, briefly), of all words. Couldn't get anything west of TSAR until BOSN gave me the terminal "O" in RHINO (46D: Record label named after an animal — an animal with a HORN! (22D: Feature of Africa ... and some of its denizens)) and the terminal "B" in MCJOB (45D: Not the most stimulating work). Needed Every Single Cross to get CHIRRUP (50A: Twitter), which I think wants to be CHIRP. That, or CHERRY SYRUP.

Other misfires:
  • ULM (?) for URI (37D: It's between Bern and Graubünden)
  • DUMMIES for DUMDUMS (36D: Yo-yos)
  • LEANS for TILTS (47D: Has a list)
  • ADVERTIZE for ADVERTISE (31D: Throw out pitches?), and thus
  • ZENO (!?!?) for ST. LO (60A: Historic town on the Vire)
  • BASE SIXES (!?) for BASE SIXTY (32D: Number system used by the Babylonians)
  • and lastly SUN, and then SPA, for SEA (57D: Source of rays)
Grid shape is wacky for a late-week puzzle. Comparatively few long answers and not a lot of imposing white space. Two 10s, Two 11s at the top end, and then a lot of 3s and especially 4s at the bottom end. There's a certain hulking quality to the NW and SE corners, but then, oddly, the difficulty (for me, at least) wasn't there, but was in the throwaway-looking NE and SW corners. All in all, a curious experience.


  • 14A: Beast on Botswana's coat of arms (ZEBRA) — GNU!? GNO.
  • 16A: Running gear component (AXLE) — yeesh. Really not apparent to me. An automotive term I didn't know. says "running gear" is "The working parts of an automobile, locomotive, or other vehicle." Not sure what parts are *not* working, but OK.
  • 45A: Literary character who's "always good-tempered" and "not very clever" (MR. TOAD) — had the -OAD, and thought "TOM JOAD!? Dang, doesn't fit."
  • 56A: Kind of line symbolizing a cultural boundary (MASON-DIXON) — I guess it *is* used symbolically. Got it easily, but never thought of it that way.
  • 3D: Alternative to a cup (SUGAR CONE) — a truly fantastic clue. Did not see the ice cream angle until I had SUGAR C-N-
  • 5D: Range near Wal-Mart's headquarters (OZARKS) — Got it from the "K." Made getting ZEBRA reeeeally easy.
  • 43D: Features in many Fra Angelico paintings (HALOES) — Got it from the "H." Helped that clue had "Angel" in it.
  • 48D: "The Ruffian on the Stair" playwright (ORTON) — Joe. One of many playwrights I know only from crosswords. ODETS. ALBEE. INGE. OK, I probably know those guys from being an English major, but I *remember* them because of crosswords.
  • 51D: Three-time grid champs of the 2000s (PATS) — Yes, you (fellow) dorks, there is another, non-crossword meaning of "grid." Usually, it's followed by "iron," but whatever.
CHIRRUP, CHIRRUP (that's for Xan and Joel)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Massachusetts city called Tool Town / FRI 8-27-10 / Actress Chandler / Deep-sea exploration pioneer / Site of Vulcan's smithy

Friday, August 27, 2010

Constructor: Corey Rubin

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: not really

Word of the Day: ATHOL (2D: Massachusetts city called Tool Town) —

Athol (pronounced /ˈæθɒl/) is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 11,299 at the 2000 census. (wikipedia)
• • •
I think we have a new record low population for a puzzle city ("city," really? At under 12K?), edging out ELMA, NY by 5 whole people. I had no hope with that "L," as I've never heard of ATHOL (though it sounds like something I might have mocked as unworthy years ago, and then forgotten), and DOSE sounded like a great answer to 21A: Get blitzed. I'm fairly sure "DOSE" is drug slang for taking a hit, shooting up, whatever ... though "official" dictionaries are returning only transitive verb defs. of DOSE. Whatever. Hard to care about this puzzle after that one. I mean, I get that you have to toughen it up, since the 2 sets of double-15 answers (nice, by the way), are Soooo easy to get, but make it tough by making it tough, not by making a horrible cross. Maybe ATHOL is super well known to all y'all, but Bah. It took me many, many seconds to understand how LOSE could be the answer to [Get blitzed]. TONUS? NO-nus (18A: Normal muscle tension). Come on. Boo to that corner. And INFUSE WITH (4D: Give the flavor of). Awkward. But again, the sets of 15s are gold—the only reason for this puzzle to exist.

  • 14A: With 17-Across, encouragement for a trailing team ("IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL / THE FAT LADY SINGS")
  • 57A: With 60-Across, risky "Jeopardy!" declaration ("LET'S MAKE IT A TRUE / DAILY DOUBLE, ALEX")

Never heard of: BEEBE (9A: Deep-sea exploration pioneer) or ESTEES (24A: Actress Chandler and others — she was in, uh, "Teen Wolf Too" and ... a single episode of "Who's the Boss?"; sure, that's puzzleworthy) or TONI (25D: Lydman of the N.H.L.) or EARLE (48D: 1960s Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Wheeler), so despite the ease with which I brought down the big stuff, this one actually took me slightly longer than my average Friday. Doesn't seem possible, as I don't recall having serious trouble anywhere, but the time is what the time is. Maybe I was slow out of the box, trying to decide between OAHU and MAUI at 1A: Lanai's county and FINS and ABES at 5A: Five-spots and OVEN and MITT at 1D: A baker might have a hand in it). I know the ATHOL / LOSE / TONUS miasma gave me fits. Ditto ESTEES (who?) / TONI (who?). But crosswordese came to the rescue with ENID (a guess—never liked "Scrubs": 1D: Often-referenced but never-seen wife on "Scrubs") and ETNA (11D: Site of Vulcan's smithy) and BIGD and ELSA (13D: The bride in Wagner's "Bridal Chorus") (it's like a crosswordese museum up there), and DRAY (first guess!) (23D: Transporter of heavy loads) and ODEA and TBAR and SST (another wing in the museum).

Wanted MUTT for IAMS (31D: Pedigree alternative) and IRON for LEAD (46D: With 34-Across, slag furnace input). Else, very doable, with the above-noted exceptions.

  • 20A: It originated at Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire in the 1910s (DADA) — so that's where the 80s group Cabaret Voltaire got their name!

  • 40A: Golfer who turned pro at age 15 (WIE) — as in Michelle. With that name, I'd expect to see her in the grid more often—though she really should win more if she wants to cement her crossword immortality.
  • 42A: Newswoman Lesley (STAHL) — Gimme. One of my favorite big-name newspeople.
  • 16D: Slugger Sandberg (RYNE) — would not have thought of him as a big crossword name, but that's twice in the past couple weeks for this former Cub and Hall-of-Fame 2nd baseman.
  • 27D: Like many laid-up Brits (IN HOSPITAL) — They like to leave out definite article over there, apparently.
  • 56D: Send explicit come-ons by cell phone (SEXT) — I love that this is a word, and that the NYT puzzle is cool with it. SPAM fits here, (in)conveniently.

[59D: R&B group with the hit "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (TLC)]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

PS Thanks to Andrea Michaels (via Michael Blake) for pointing out that I was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal blog ("Deal Journal") on Wednesday — re: the word POTASH (!?). Click here to read.


Angelique composer / THU 8-26-10 / Period of Cenozoic Era / Bing Crosby hit your branches speak to me of love

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Constructor: Henry Hook

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [Where to see X's and O's] — that's the clue for three grid-spanning *16*-letter theme entries:


Word of the Day: IBERT (25A: "Angélique" composer) —
Jacques François Antoine Ibert (15 August 1890 – 5 February 1962) was a French composer of classical music. [...] Ibert's music is considered to be typically quite "light" in character, often witty, colourfully orchestrated with attractive melodies. Although he was not a member of Les Six, his music shares some characteristics with theirs. His best known work is probably the orchestral Divertissement (1930), based on his incidental music for Eugène Labiche's play, Un chapeau de paille d'Italie (The Italian Straw Hat). In the course of the work he comically quotes many pieces, including Mendelssohn's Wedding March. Other prominent pieces include Escales (1924) for orchestra, the symphonic poem La ballade de la geôle de Reading (based on the poem by Oscar Wilde), his concerto for flute and Concertino da Camera for saxophone and Histoires for solo piano. He composed a number of operas, such as L'aiglon (The Eaglet), and the operetta Les petites cardinal, some together with Arthur Honegger. His ballet Le chevalier errant (épopée choréographique, 1951) was premiered by Georges Tzipine with the ORTF. Among his film scores is the one for Orson Welles' version of Macbeth (1948). In 1956 he wrote the work Bacchanale to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the BBC Third Programme. Its premiere was given by Sir Eugene Goossens.

• • •

Wow, that was easy. So easy, I thought I must be missing something. I mean, this is Henry Hook we're talking about here—his puzzles can be wicked hard; in fact, just this past weekend, there was a crossing at 1A/1D in one of his Boston Globe puzzles that was pure impossibility. I just shut the puzzle down in frustration. More than tough, however, he's good, and this is a nicely filled grid. Doesn't feel like it belongs on a Thursday — extremely straightforward, themewise — but with a superwide grid and at least two low-familiarity proper nouns, the puzzle is sufficiently interesting. In addition to the 16-wide grid, there are cheater squares galore. I don't know that I've ever seen this many in a weekday Times puzzle (these are black squares that don't change the word count — two in the east, two in the west, and then one each in the NW and SE). Gives the grid an unusual look, and likely makes the fill smoother. What's weird to me: IBERT is not an unfortunate obscurity necessitated by the surrounding fill. That's choice. Just change the "B" to "N" and you've got common words all around. Sometimes, constructors actually enjoy sending you into dark corners, I guess. Also, INERT / NUDGE is boringer.

Was actually taken aback with how fast I was doing the puzzle. Kept waiting for the axe of horror to fall, and it never did — POINCIANA (51A: Bing Crosby hit in which "your branches speak to me of love") felt like some kind of ax, in that I had to get literally Every letter from crosses — but I got it. TERTIARY (38D: Period of the Cenozoic Era) isn't a period I'm familiar with, but it's a word I recognize. Otherwise, the only place that gave me any trouble was the NE. I plopped down FOOTBALL DIAGRAMS quickly, but then doubted DIAGRAMS when I couldn't get the NE to work. All those little Downs — 11D: Big section of Bartlett's: Abbr. (SHAK.); 12D: "___ Strange Loop," 2007 Douglas Hofstadter book ("I AM A"); and 13D: Symbol of revolutionary power (FIST) — failed to roll over for me at first. Wanted ANON. for the Bartlett's clue, never heard of the Hofstadter book, and FIST (while perfectly clued) wasn't anywhere near the front of my mind. Managed to push back up into that section with momentum from the (easy) center of the puzzle.

  • 44D: V as in Versailles (CINQ) — big help knowing French. "V" is Roman numeral for "five," and French for "five" is CINQ. That "Q" made HOLLYWOOD SQUARES a cinch to uncover.
  • 48D: Captain with a "regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe" (AHAB) — a great quote, but you don't really need it. Captain + four letters = AHAB. On Monday, On Saturday, On Any Day. Unless it's KIRK, I guess. [or NEMO, of course; another crosswordesey captain who might be described through a literary quotation — I think I had the initial "A" in place before I ever saw the clue, and that made AHAB certain.]
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Capital of former Belgian Congo / WED 8-25-10 / Locale of Britain's first Christian martyr / * City Tampa neighborhood / Rowdies in British slang

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Constructor: Clive Probert

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Bs — Note on the puzzle reads: "In this crossword, every answer and every clue contains at least one letter B."

Word of the Day: BOMA (3D: Capital of the former Belgian Congo) —

The port town of Boma in Kongo Central Province was the capital city of the Belgian Congo (the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo) from 1 May 1886 to 1926, when it was moved to Léopoldville (since renamed Kinshasa). It exports tropical timber, bananas, cacao, and palm products. As of 2009 it had an estimated population of 527,725. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not being up on my turn-of-the-last-century African capitals, I found that this one hurt a little. By which I mean, a lot. I knew that the trick had something to do with the fill in general, not any set of "theme" answers, but I kept thinking, as I filled in creaker after clunker, "this better be good." Then the punchline was: Bs. That is not a very good punchline. Seriously, if you're throwing BOMA (!) and YBOR (!?!) (23D: ___ City (Tampa neighborhood)) at me, there better be some sweet sweet payoff, somewhere. Everything I dislike about stunt puzzles is on display here—we can, if we choose, marvel at the constructor's ingenuity and prowess, When We're Done, but getting from A to B is a slog. Not that there was a complete absence of pleasure—I oddly liked BELLLABS, for instance (triple-L!) (56A: Research group associated with many Nobel Prizes in Physics). But with only two 8s and two 7s and the rest 6 or shorter, there is almost nothing that is genuinely interesting. Overly common fill, interrupted every once in a while by a genuine WTF!? Repeated letter strings all Over the place (ALBA, BELL, ABBA, REBE). Aside from the ragtag ye olde concert going on in the middle of the grid (the long-awaited reunion of TABOR & REBEC!) (40A: Its beat may accompany a fife & 45A: Old stringed instrument with a narrow body), there's not much joy in solveville today.

  • 20A: Locale of Britain's first Christian martyr (ST. ALBANS) — when I saw this (which I'd somehow heard of) crossing BOMA (not so lucky), I knew something was deeply wrong. Not surprisingly, ST. ALBANS has an ABBEY (29D: Setting for Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose"). Appears to have no relationship (besides sharing four consecutive letters) to ALBA Longa (64A: ___ Longa, where Romulus and Remus were born).
  • 8D: Citadel, in Arabic (CASBAH) — Interesting. I honestly considered writing in CASTLE here. Didn't quite seem "Arabic" enough.
  • 11D: P.L.O. bigwig Mahmoud (ABBAS) — "Bigwig" being a concession to the theme.
  • 28D: Sitcom with the character B.J. ("REBA") — really wanted this to have something to do with "B.J. and the Bear" (the romantic story of a man and his ... chimp?)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Peaceful race in Avatar / TUE 8-24-10 / Self-proclaimed astronaut of boxing / Huge poetically / Sport with shells

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Constructor: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TAXI CABANA — "-ANA" is added to the ends of familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: "My Friend IRMA" (24D: "My Friend ___" of 1950s TV) —

My Friend Irma, created by writer-director-producer Cy Howard, was a top-rated, long-run radio situation comedy, so popular in the late 1940s that its success escalated to films, television, a comic strip and a comic book, while Howard scored with another radio comedy hit, Life with Luigi. Marie Wilson portrayed the title character, Irma Peterson, on radio, in two films and a television series. The radio series was broadcast on CBS Radio from April 11, 1947 to August 23, 1954. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ah, Professor Madison. At it again. Still got another year left in high school, and here he is, doing his second (at least, right?) stint as a teacher of crossword construction. J.A.S.A. stands for "Jewish Association for Services for the Aged," and they offer a range of continuing education courses for older people. Here's the blurb on the class from the Fall 2010 catalog:
  • Get A Clue!
  • A Comprehensive Course on Crossword Construction
  • Instructor: CALEB MADISON
  • This class will outline the basic principles of crossword puzzle construction. It will begin with some basic crossword history, but focus mainly on how to come up with a theme, a useable grid, and create the fill. Building puzzles will improve our solving skills. At the end of the semester, the class will come up with one final puzzle to be submitted for publication in The New York Times.
I've taught a similar course to a similar audience here where I live (mine geared more toward solving puzzles, as well as navigating the world of puzzles online), and had a blast. A really smart, engaged audience. Maybe Caleb will chime in in the comments and say a little something about how this puzzle came together. No, scratch that. Not "maybe." Caleb will. You hear me, Caleb!?

Right off the bat this puzzle felt livelier than your average early-week fare. ZOWIE! Pretty simple theme concept — add three letters — but as I've said before, simple is great if the resulting phrases have pop, and these mostly do. MR. NICE GUYANA, while being kind of a funny phrase, isn't really cluable in a way that makes any sense, even wackily, but the others work just fine. BANDANA and BANANA are a little close to one another. Greater variety would have been nice, but ... these are minor points. Two long Downs are wonderful, and the whole grid is pretty neatly filled. For a group effort from a largely inexperienced lot, this is really high-quality work.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Title for a South American mensch? (MR. NICE GUYANA)
  • 34A: Result of heating a certain fruit too long? (SMOKING BANANA)
  • 42A: Informal headwear that can't be shared? (ONE-MAN BANDANA)
  • 56A: Secretive singer Baez? (JOAN OF ARCANA)
Interesting that there's no theme-revealer today. No ANAGRAM or ANAPEST or ... ANACONDA (none of those would have been any good). Nothing to explain the gimmick. It's pretty self-evident. CLEAR, even (62A: Transparent). I stubbed my toe on "IRMA" (either never heard of it or heard of it and then forgot it—only "Friend" I know is FLICKA) and MAUS (my German is not very ... what's the German word for "good?") (66A: What a Katze catches). Self-inflicted slowness occurred in the NE, where I completely botched the spelling of MUHAMMAD ALI (11D: Self-proclaimed "astronaut of boxing") despite having his signature hanging not three feet from where I'm typing. MOHAMMED was what I had. The "O" was the bigger problem. Ended up with COBA for 16A: Destination of many 1960s-'70s hijackings) and then though it must be CABO (as in San Lucas???). Thankfully CABO was manifestly wrong, and CUBA leapt to mind. Nothing else to throw me off today. Want to make sure I give Caleb et al. props for crossing the letter "T" with the letter "T" in "TO A T" and "T-BONE." Nicely done. Also liked the sequential Acrosses NAPS (6A: Siestas) and "I'M UP!" (10A: "No need to wake me!").

  • 6D: Peaceful race in "Avatar" (NAVI) — proud that this answer has become a gimme for me without my ever having had to see the damned movie.
  • 33D: Sir Geraint's faithful wife (ENID) — Countdown to my Arthurian Literature class: 7 days. I'm sure the students will get a good dose of ENID in there somewhere.
  • 44D: Final movie of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, with "The" ("MISFITS") — tried to watch it once. Failed.
  • 59D: Sport with shells (CREW) — this is pretty wicked cluing for a Tuesday. Could think only of three-card monte, which I assumed (rightly) was not a "sport."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Crustacean seven pairs of legs / MON 8-23-10 / Muckraker Jacob / Funnywoman Silverman / 1987 flop Warren Beatty Dustin Hoffman

Monday, August 23, 2010

Constructor: Oliver Hill

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Street signs — theme answers start with words or phrases commonly found on street signs

Word of the Day: ISOPOD (6D: Crustacean with seven pairs of legs) —

Isopods are an order of peracarid crustaceans, including familiar animals such as woodlice and pill bugs. The name Isopoda derives from the Greek iso meaning "same" and pod meaning "foot". The fossil record of isopods dates back to the Carboniferous period (in the US Pennsylvanian epoch), at least 300 million years ago. (wikipedia)
• • •

Set a new speed record on this one, so really I should have rated it "Easy," even for a Monday, but a quick glance over the grid (as well as a quick glance at times at the NYT site) makes me think it was probably an average Monday that I just got extraordinarily lucky on. I have no idea how I did this in 2:40 when there were not one, not two, but three big ??? clues. I'm sure I've seen the word ISOPOD before, but the seven legs clue did nothing for me. I don't associate WANNABEs with star-struckedness at all. I guess all those Madonna WANNABEs in the '80s were "starstruck" with Madonna, but that word now just has a general association of aspiration combined with inauthenticity. "Starstruck" = AGOG to me. So that clue didn't do anything for me. And then there was YIELD CURVE, the clue for which was annoyingly complicated, so I abandoned it in despair. Must have got it entirely from crosses, because I don't even remember an AHA moment. Everything else in the grid went in almost instantly—I was lucky enough to know all the proper nouns well: Duke ORSINO, SARAH Silverman, Jacob RIIS, etc. Wish the fill, in general, were livelier. STOP DROP AND ROLL is the most interesting thing in the grid, and I've seen that 15 before.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: By any means necessary (ONE WAY OR ANOTHER) — really really would have loved the Blondie song here

  • 26A: Work that offers no chance for advancement (DEAD END JOB)
  • 46A: Line showing the relationship between an interest rate and maturity date (YIELD CURVE)
  • 57A: Instruction to someone who's on fire (STOP DROP AND ROLL)

This is a 78-worder despite having two grid-spanning 15s (my unscientific observation is that 15s tend to put the word count, in themed puzzles, down in the 74-76 range), and so there is a Lot of short fill, a lot of it partial and/or abbrev. and/or blah. INOW ASTO ORSO IPSO OHO IMON OLA ZOLA OHO CHOC IFS AER etc. Actually, I like ZOLA. I just wanted to run OLA and ZOLA together for effect.

My mother's first and last names cross in this puzzle. That's right; my mother's name is ULAN ADMAN.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hybrid farm animal / SUN 8-22-10 / Lake Erie city west Cleveland / Mount * volcano in Mordor / Founder Oahu plantation / Electronic game fad 1980s

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "FILM NO-R" — famous films have their "R"s removed, creating wacky fake film titles, clued wackily ...

Word of the Day: SEI (40A: Finback whale) —

The Sei Whale (pronounced /ˈseɪ/ or /ˈsaɪ/), Balaenoptera borealis, is a baleen whale, the third-largest rorqual after the Blue Whale and the Fin Whale. It inhabits most oceans and adjoining seas, and prefers deep off-shore waters. It avoids polar and tropical waters and semi-enclosed bodies of water. The Sei Whale migrates annually from cool and subpolar waters in summer to winter in temperate and subtropical waters. // Reaching 20 meters (66 ft) long and weighing as much as 45 tonnes (44 LT; 50 ST), the Sei Whale daily consumes an average of 900 kilograms (1,984 lb) of food, primarily copepods, krill, and other zooplankton. It is among the fastest of all cetaceans, and can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph), 27 knots) over short distances. The whale's name comes from the Norwegian word for pollock, a fish that appears off the coast of Norway at the same time of the year as the Sei Whale. // Following large-scale commercial whaling during the late-nineteenth and late-twentieth centuries when over 238,000 whales were taken, the Sei Whale is now internationally protected, although limited hunting occurs under controversial research programmes conducted by Iceland and Japan. As of 2006, its worldwide population was about 54,000, about a fifth of its pre-whaling population.

• • •

OK, so here's what's surprising me today. The last Patrick Berry puzzle I did had the ASPHODEL / SIMNEL cross, which was just Brutal to me (and scads of others). I haven't called "Natick" on a crossing in a while, but that was pretty damned close. As many people said, there are at least half a dozen other letters that felt plausible in that "S" spot. This ... I'll call it an infelicity ... surprised me, as Patrick Berry is the acknowledged greatest constructor since sliced bread. So today I'm cruising along, oddly enjoying his simple remove-a-letter theme (the titles are in many cases legitimately clever or funny, which will make even the simplest theme seem genius), and then — in almost exactly the same part of the grid where ASPHODEL / SIMNEL had been, I run into LORAIN (25A: Lake Erie city west of Cleveland) / NEROLI (15D: ___ oil (perfumery ingredient)). Or, rather, LO-AIN / NE-OLI. As with the earlier "bad" crossing, I had no sure way to judge exactly how rough that cross would be for a general audience, but it felt Rough to me. I think I had seen one or the other of LORAIN or NEROLI before, somewhere, but the "R" was a flat-out guess. An informed one, but a guess nonetheless. LORAIN is the new ELMA. Or maybe ELMA was the new LORAIN. At any rate, they are small towns, is what I'm saying. To be fair, though, LORAIN is bigger, population-wise, than ELMA and NATICK put together. LORAIN is also bigger than EDINA, which I know well—but EDINA benefits from being a first-ring suburb of a major city (Minneapolis), whereas LORAIN ... isn't. Cleveland's close-ish. But ... look, long story short, LORAIN and NEROLI are not words I would cross. I have this strange sense that at least a few others will be perplexed here, though perhaps the number of seriously viable letters is lower here than in the case of A-PHODEL / -IMNEL. Stuff like this Really stands out to me. I mean, SEI and CATTALO (!?!?!) (31D: Hybrid farm animal) stood out to me too, but in those cases, the crosses were all quite gettable.

One interesting thing about this grid is the layout of the theme answers. You rarely get two stacked right on top of each other, let alone three semi-stacked (as they are in the NW and SE). This makes the puzzle astonishingly thematically dense up top and down low, and thematically sparse throughout the middle. Also, there are really long (11) Downs in the NE and SW, which I like and don't, respectively. In general, the fill in this one is far livelier than your average Sunday puzzle, but anything less from Mr. Berry would be surprising. More pleasure than pain, but that crossing ... yeesh, I say!

I should probably mention that I thought the puzzle's title was the stupidest thing ever until I got the pun. "What film is rated NO-R? That makes no sense at all!... Wait. FILM NO-R ... FILM NOIR. Oh. Right. OK. That's pretty good."

Theme answers:
  • 19A: Film about a corrida participant put to pasture? ("AGING BULL")
  • 23A: ... a candy-sharing confederate? ("THE GUMBALL ALLY")
  • 28A: ... a small-minded lady? ("PETTY WOMAN")
  • 44A: ... an embarrassingly one-sided tennis match? ("A THOUSAND ACES") [NOTE: the real movie is titled "A THOUSAND ACRES," not "A THOUSAND RACES"]
  • 67A: ... decorative furniture elements being blown off with dynamite? ("BEDKNOBS AND BOOMSTICKS")
  • 93A: ... a demonic horse? ("MY FIEND FLICKA")
  • 112A: ... drink garnishes? ("OLIVE TWIST")
  • 121A: ... a seedy Hollywood bar? ("MULHOLLAND DIVE")
  • 126A: ... skinned knuckles? ("FIST BLOOD")
Note that not only has an "R" been removed from the actual movie titles, but there are *no* other "R"s anywhere in the theme answers. Consistency!

  • 13A: "La Resurrezione" composer (HANDEL) — took longer than it might have, as I was looking for an Italian name.
  • 21A: Mount ___ (volcano in Mordor) (DOOM) — Is this LOTR trivia? Aargh. Yes.
  • 38A: The mythical tree Yggdrasil, for one (ASH) — this also feels LOTR-esque, but is simply from Norse mythology.
  • 51A: Political theorist Hannah (ARENDT) — a familiar name from my grad school days, though I never had to read her.
  • 59A: Geometric shape whose perimeter has infinite length (FRACTAL) — I liked this. Took me a while, but when I got it, it made sense. I feel like FRACTAL art was big some time in the '90s. Right around the time that 3D art where you had to cross your eyes to make it work was popular. This may or may not have something to do with the popularity of paisley.
  • 63A: Paramecium's propellers (CILIA) — not, as you suspected, OARS.

  • 9D: 1969 literary heroine who says "I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love when you kiss my elongated white hand" (ADA) — Nabokov. This may be my favorite clue of all time. Or at least my favorite clue since yesterday's YMA SUMAC clue.
  • 11D: Founder of an Oahu plantation (DOLE) — took far longer than it should have. This whole little DOLE/DOOM patch of land was weirdly tough.
  • 18D: Country singer Shelby (LYNNE) — Gimme. I own her (quite impressive) Dusty Springfield cover album. Hence "country" didn't really ring true. But her other work fits the bill a little better.
  • 29D: Bygone Toyota (TERCEL) — it's really an unattractive little car name. Sounds like an awkward, gangly bird, esp. if you stress the first syllable. Wait, it turns out a TERCEL *is* a bird—a hawk. Not gangly at all. Whatever. My ugly verdict stands.
  • 36D: Count ___ (2004 Jim Carrey role) (OLAF) — from "A Series of Unfortunate Events"
  • 79D: Carlisle Cullen's wife in "Twilight" (ESME) — you should commit this new ESME to memory right now. Move over Salinger...
  • 107D: Electronic game fad of the 1980s (SIMON) — I literally laughed when I got this. I'd forgotten all about SIMON. Beeping colored panels. It would play increasingly longer sequences of beeps and you had to play them back until ... you just couldn't, I guess. It was popular around the time these photos were taken (1981 and 1984, respectively):

  • 111D: Web site for cinephiles (imdb) — or for people who cheat on the pop culture clues in crosswords...
And now your Tweets of the Week, crossword chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @Genosworld #FF @JoshGroban is a great dresser, good at crossword puzzles, bakes a great cake and sings like a God.
  • @TerryStapes Friday's Crossword is proving to be rather difficult. Arent things supposed to be easier on Fridays?
  • @roRObabee -- only my father would endanger both of our lives to do a crossword puzzle while driving
  • @milesdoyle I dueled a woman on the train this afternoon, NYT crossword-style. Before West 4th Street, she was mine. 39-Down, rooftop.
  • @Benandthebuses Just tried to help the barmaid with her crossword. She does not say thanks and looks at me like I'm a sex pest
  • @luckmachine My memory of this job will be one of uncomfortable chairs, crossword puzzles, and uneasy relationships.
  • @jcwordslinger To the woman who fell three times while trying to do a crossword puzzle while standing on the train: Your moxie was annoying.
  • @jarrodcooper Was @VenuseSWilliams wearing an oversized crossword puzzle at the AT&T party? @SerenaJWilliams (via @soulsummer)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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