Weezer's music genre / TUE 11-30-10 / Toper slangily / Toper's back-pocket item / Climate-change protocol city / Corleone who broke Michael's heart

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: OPTS OUT — theme answers begin with OPTS and every possible anagram of OPTS

Word of the Day: DIPSO (26D: Toper, slangily) —

n. Slang, pl., -sos.
A person who has a compulsion to drink alcohol; a dipsomaniac.
• • •
Didn't care much for this one, mainly because the theme answers just aren't that interesting. I run through these anagrams in my head virtually every day as I depart the woods where I walk my dogs. For some reason, in that context, the little STOP sign at the exit of the parking lot really stands out, and I often think of all the words that can be made out of it. Never thought to make a theme out of them. Here's the one thing I really, truly don't understand: POTS OF MONEY? That's your theme answer for POTS? I've never heard that expression in my life. Is it even an expression? Wow, I see that it is an idiom. It's perhaps the stupidest idiom I've seen in a good long while. It appears to mean LOTS of money. But instead of LOTS, you get ... POTS. This theme answers clearly should have been POTS AND PANS. The fill seemed mostly OK, though there were a few weak spots (SSTAR x/w EER? ([Astronomical red giant] + [Suffix with slogan]) FUM?). No trouble SPOTs for me except at 51D: Wrap around, where I wanted many different answers before I finally settled on ENFOLD (ENROBE ... ENCASE ...)

I think my favorite part of the grid is ROSSINI (46D: "William Tell" composer) alongside VIOLIN (50D: Isaac Stern's instrument). I also like the ridiculous orgy of "toper" clues — FLASK (4D: Toper's back-pocket item), DIPSO, and BARTAB (9D: Toper's expense). As with much boozing slang, I learned TOPER from xwords.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Is ranked #1 (TOPS THE LIST)
  • 30A: Sign on a construction fence (POST NO BILLS)
  • 39A: Brief visit along the way (STOP OFF)
  • 42A: Declines to participate (OPTS OUT)
  • 48A: Dry cleaner's fluid (SPOT REMOVER)
  • 59A: Megabucks (POTS OF MONEY)
  • 5A: Yankees' "$275 million man," informally (A-ROD) — I used to hate him a lot more than I do now. Back when he slapped at Bronson Arroyo, or when Varitek hit him in the face. Good times. Mostly I just try not think about him now. No one can say he's not a great player.
  • 24A: Climate-change protocol city (KYOTO) — "The most notable non-party to the Protocol is the United States..." (wikipedia)
  • 2D: Folkie who sang of Alice (ARLO) — Really dislike the word "Folkie," though I'm sure it was common, once. Still, it sounds like a derogatory word. Like "Commie" or "Bushie."
  • 43D: Rhythmic humming sound (THRUM) — what a cool word. I never see or hear it, but it's at least vaguely familiar. The word even sounds like what it means. Rhythmic + Hum = THRUM. Cool.
  • 40D: Corleone who broke Michael's heart (FREDO) — "Godfather II"

  • 10D: Weezer's music genre (EMO) — Me: "That's not right." Googled [weezer emo]. Top results are mostly denials that the band is EMO. Which means clearly it's out there as an idea, but I have one of their albums, and EMO doesn't fit. But acc. to wikipedia: "A cornerstone of mid-1990s emo was Weezer's 1996 album Pinkerton." Seems their music changed to a more power-pop sound around 2000, which is roughly when this song's from:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Comic actor Dom / MON 11-29-10 / Bouquets-to-order co / Wildflower from which cultivated carrot originated / 1950s Ford flop

Monday, November 29, 2010

Constructor: Elizabeth A. Long

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: HEAD / BAND (35A: With 37-Across, hair accessory ... or a literal hint to 19-, 27-, 47- and 56-Across) — First (HEAD) words of four theme answers are all BAND names: QUEEN, KISS, TRAFFIC, CREAM

Word of the Day: Dom DELUISE (2D: Comic actor Dom) —

Dominick "Dom" DeLuise (August 1, 1933 – May 4, 2009) was an American actor, comedian, film director, television producer, chef, and author. He was the husband of actress Carol Arthur from 1965 until his death, and the father of actor, writer, pianist, director Peter DeLuise, actor David DeLuise, and actor Michael DeLuise. He had starred in various Universal Animated Studios films, such as All Dogs Go to Heaven and An American Tail. (wikipedia)

• • •

Felt a bit harder than normal, but I came in at a hair over three, which seems pretty normal after all. Times being registered at the NYT site seem slightly higher than average, so who knows. If it's tougher, it's barely tougher, so Medium. Love the concept, though it took me a while to understand—I had finished the puzzle and was looking over the theme answers to try to make sense of them. "A QUEEN band, A KISS band ... I don't get it ... Oh. OH! Hey, that's pretty good." SHAFTED BY seems a terrible answer to me, but most everything else seems at least acceptable (I don't want to revisit how I feel about PFUI—you can read about it here; I have begun reading Rex Stout, and allegedly this will make me change my mind...). There are lots and lots and LOTS of one-named bands, which makes me wonder "Why these?" But they are all famous and all likely to be heard on Classic Rock stations, so why not these? Still, this could easily be a Sunday theme. BREAD BASKET? RUSH LIMBAUGH? TRAIN WRECK? CHICAGO BEARS? Stop me when you've heard enough ... HEARTACHE? POISON IVY? BOSTON CREAM PIE? JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH ...

Theme answers:
  • 19A: Wildflower from which the cultivated carrot originated (QUEEN ANNE'S LACE)
  • 27A: Something that is ultimately ruinous (KISS OF DEATH) — struggled with this until I uncovered the "K"
  • 47A: Orange item set out by a highway crew (TRAFFIC CONE)
  • 56A: Very best (CREAM OF THE CROP)
Getting IRAQ WAR (1D: It started in 2003 with the bombing of Baghdad) straight off made QUEEN ANNE'S LACE easy in a way that it really should not have been for me, the botanically challenged one. KISS OF DEATH took a bit of work. Blew through all the big corners *except* the SW, where I couldn't drop either ORACLES (40D: Magic 8 Balls, e.g.) or CARRERA (41D: Classic Porsche model) off their initial letters, and SHAFTED BY (32D: Handed a raw deal from) ... well, it was my first thought, but I couldn't really believe it was real. Finished in one of the least sightly places in the grid (PFUI / HIED). Still, all told, I liked this one.

  • 57D: Long-eared equine (ASS) — ooh, that's a good euphemism. "Long-eared equine." I'm gonna use that.
  • 39D: Bouquets-to-order co. (FTD) — which I will only ever associate with the late great Merlin Olsen (who died in March of this year)
  • 5A: "Nonsense!" (BOSH) — this clue should've read [One of an overhyped Miami triad]
  • 64A: German river where American and Soviet forces met in 1945 (ELBE) — I did not know that.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Butter knife of golf / SUN 11-28-10 / R&B funk trio with 1990 hit Feels Good / Chu legendary Confucian sage / Cry of self-pride / NBAer Smits

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: THE TREE-LIGHTING CEREMONY at ROCKEFELLER CENTER — theme answers related to the ceremony, plus a rebus using "ON" squares to create the outline of a tree

Word of the Day: RAJIV Gandhi (96A: One of the Gandhis) —

Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (Kashmiri/Hindi: राजीव गांधी; 20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991) was the 7th Prime Minister of India, serving from October 1984 to December 1989. He took office after his mother's assassination on Oct-31-1984, later he himself was assassinated in May-1991. He became the youngest Prime Minister of India when he took office at the age of 40. He was the elder son of Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi. (wikipedia)
• • •

I loved this puzzle. Yes, there were a lot of wobbly answers — ASSESS AS, ON THE ICE, REMOP, etc. — but the bulk of the fill was really inventive and imaginative, and it was all in the service of a truly beautiful rebus + draw a picture + holiday theme. The lights on the tree come ON! That is pretty sweet. I don't know why there's a light on the trunk, but whatever — this oversized grid is a real piece of work. Haven't admired a Sunday puzzle this much in a while. Reminds me of Liz Gorski's good stuff. A+.

As you can see if you look at your grid — especially if you have, as I have, marked all the ONs with yellow Hi-liter — the entire NW is devoid of rebus squares, so I was deeeeep into the puzzle before I realized there was a rebus component. I mean, I had THE WEDNESDAY / AFTER THANKSGIVING without having any idea what the hell was so important about that day. The Wednesday after Black Friday? Pink Wednesday? What the hell? Still blind to the rebus, I went poking around the north, trying to figure out what someone might call Judge Judy, when the AV(ON) (10D: Cosmetics giant) / ALL (ON) RED (24A: Roulette bet) intersection revealed the trick to me. Moved down a little and I was in some very dense ON territory. Noticed quickly that the rebus squares were forming some kind of triangle, and that the "ON" squares had mirror symmetry (which helped a lot). Took me a while to get TREE-LIGHTING CEREMONY, only because I'm not familiar with it (I know only the ceremony related to the tree at the White House) and I didn't know if it had specific name. Once I got the rebus trick, the puzzle wasn't *that* hard, but locating and writing in the ONs slowed me down enough that my time was well above average (true of the top solvers at the NYT site, too). Thus, "Challenging."

By far my favorite part of the grid was the bottom of the tree. I literally said "wow," stopped solving and drew a big circle around it with a smiley face inside. I think the answer that did it for me was T[ON]Y T[ON]I T[ON]É (R&B funk trio with the 1990 hit "Feels Good") — this is surely the best use to which their name has ever been put. Brilliant. Throw in the recently relaunched CONAN (110A: Big name in late-night), whom I love, and the very fresh and spot-on colloquialism "YAY ME!" (116A: Cry of self-pride) and this section just glows. Former TONY TONI TONÉ member Raphael Saadiq is an accomplished solo artist now. Love his album. Also, his name is crossword awesome. Hope he becomes more famous.

Theme answers:
  • 3D: With 5-Down, when 148-Across traditionally takes place (THE WEDNESDAY / AFTER THANKSGIVING)
  • 15D: Where 148-Across takes place (ROCKEFELLER CENTER)
  • 17D: Traditional centerpiece of 148-Across (NORWAY SPRUCE)
  • 148A: Annual Manhattan event (represented symbolically in this puzzle) (TREE-LIGHTING CEREMONY)
  • 8A: Home of Hells Gate State Park (IDAHO) — Wow, that place must really suck.
  • 31A: N.B.A.'er Smits, a k a the Dunkin' Dutchman (RIK) — I watched basketball when RIK was in his heyday, so this was a piece of cake. He has one of those funny "K" names, like DIK Browne or ZAK whatshisname ... Ringo's son ... Starkey!
  • 46A: Snack food with a Harvest Cheddar flavor (SUN CHIPS) — famous for having a biodegradable bag that was discontinued because it was "too loud." SUN CHIPS are packaged to make you feel that you are not doing what you are in fact doing: eating junk food.
  • 50A: "Butter knife" of golf (ONE IRON) — I assumed this was some dude. Some dude nicknamed "Butter knife." John Daly?
  • 59A: Escapee from a witch in a Grimm tale (GRETEL) — HANSEL also fits, so you're lucky if you solve this from the front instead of the back.
  • 62A: It may be put down on a roll (ABSENCE) — a great, tough clue.
  • 82A: Mythological triad (GRACES) — there are several such triads, or at least one other (FATES), but they didn't fit.
  • 84A: Creatures known to lick their own eyeballs (GECKOS) — How do you not love a clue like that?
  • 115A: When repeated, an old sitcom farewell (NANU) — always hard to see TV from my formative years called "old."
  • 127A: Trattoria topper (PESTO) — wanted PASTA, but then realized that would be what's being topped, not the topper.
  • 18D: "Diary of a Madman" author (GOGOL) — Me: ".... ? .... ? .... OZZY?"

  • 48D: Movie co. behind "Wordplay" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (IFC) — Independent Film Channel. Nice semi-self-referential clue there...
  • 58D: Magnetic disruption in space (ION STORM) — surprised at how quickly I got this and how confidently I entered it, considering my dearth of knowledge about astrology. [wink]
  • 60D: 1960s girl group, with "the" (RONETTES) — Ronnie Spector! Wall of Sound! Cool...

  • 80D: Chu ___ (legendary Confucian sage) (HSI) — Uh ... OK, if Chu say so ...
  • 92D: Echo producer (CANYON) — Right in the heart of that beautiful bottom-of-the-tree section. Had an aha moment with this one.
And now your Tweets of the Week(s), puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:
  • @ I'm killing the sunday nyt crossword. KILLIN IT. however if I finish soon the rest of my work day is going to be really boring.
  • @ There's alwyz somethin poppin off on the 196! This old lady KNOWS she should be holdin on to the bar instead she wants to do crosswords!
  • @ Damn. No pen. Will Shortz you're being rescheduled and I'm sorry.
  • @ NYT Xword might be the saving grace of my afternoon. #Saturdaylibrarian
  • @ @MySecretLife01 If you arm wrestle, can beat me and then do the Times crossword quickly I am in
  • @ So entranced by the crossword that I missed my stop and ended up in Brixton. Damn you, 12-down.
  • @ One of my commenters just called me sweetie. #TheCreepyOne
  • @ Its not #Thanksgiving unless Dad asks me to spell answers to #NYTimes crossword puzzle. Justifies my entire college career to spell "parade"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Folk rock singer Straw / SAT 11-27-10 / Moose Drool Trout Slayer / Old China essayist / Old dirk / Bond girl player Green / Tony winner Caldwell

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Constructor: Xan Vongsathorn

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: WELTER (15A: Confusion) —

  1. A confused mass; a jumble: a welter of papers and magazines.
  2. Confusion; turmoil.
intr.v., -tered, -ter·ing, -ters.
  1. To wallow, roll, or toss about, as in mud or high seas.
  2. To lie soaked in a liquid.
  3. To roll and surge, as the sea.

[From Middle English welteren, to toss about, as in high seas, from Middle Low German or Middle Dutch, to roll.] (wikipedia)

• • •
This started out very rough, but it turns out I was just looking at bad starting answers. Once I finally stumbled into a couple little easy pockets, this thing opened right up and I was done in better-than-average time. Today's puzzle feels balanced—not overly contemporary, not overly old-fashioned. This is possibly because Mr. Vongsathorn is quite young, but more likely because Mr. Vongsathorn is just good. Feels very up-to-date, language-wise, in a way that most people of all ages can appreciate. While I don't care for the show itself, "THE BIGGEST LOSER" is a fresh answer (32A: Show in which many pots disappear?), and though the intersecting 15 doesn't do much for me (FIRST ONE TO BLINK feels slightly jury-rigged—7D: Defeated contestant in a face-off), I really like the Acrosses in the NE and SW, plus SENIORITIS (22A: High-class affliction?) and BOBBLEHEAD (47A: Bounce in a sports stadium?). STEEL JAWS is too gruesome for me (31D: Features of some bear traps), but I kind of like how animal cruelty is offset symmetrically by the more animal-friendly FREE-RANGE (6D: Like some chickens).

Started with SLUES (9D: Turns sharply) / SNEE. Anyone else? Anyone? [Old dirk] just screamed SNEE, and terminal -ES on 9D screamed SLUES. Please note that you can hear these screams *only* if you do a *lot* of crosswords. Other screams: four-letter Nabokov title (PNIN). Four-letter British institution (ETON; 26A: Historic institution near Slough). Four-letter District in southern Kazakhstan (ARAL). Three-letter constellation (ARA; 53D: Neighbor of Scorpius). Four-letter essayist (ELIA; 36D: "Old China" essayist). These are all answers that a constant solver is going to be able to suss out fairly readily. I had some other gimmes, but they were accidents of knowledge (e.g. JERI Ryan (51A: Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager"), SYD Straw). Had some name trouble with and ZOE (21A: Tony winner Caldwell) and EVA (49A: Bond girl player Green) (whom I now realize I've seen before), as well as DRE (whom I *know* I've never seen before), but I worked it out via crosses. Got my first real bit of traction from ETON / SEPT / ETCH. From there I eventually got SENIORITIS, and the grid opened up in all directions from there.

  • 40A: Moose Drool or Trout Slayer (ALE) — never heard of either, but educatedly guessed it once I had the "L" from ELIA in there.
  • 4D: "Quickest way to Harlem," in song (A-TRAIN) — Ella's version is the one I know best.

  • 12D: Alternatives to Triscuits (RITZES) — I submit that no one calls them this. "Do you want some Triscuits? Do you want some Ritz? ... somehow, colloquially, that "Z" does double duty as a plural ending (grammar be damned)
  • 34D: Dinar earner (SERB) — I think there are many countries that have the dinar as currency, yet somehow I got this quickly, off just the "S"
  • 42D: Adjective-less language (NAVAHO) — Very easy to get when you have -AHO already in place before you even see the clue.
  • 50D: Setting of Mozart's only clarinet concerto: Abbr. (A MAJ.) — I listened to Mozart's Clarinet Quintet only yesterday—a birthday treat.

  • 56D: Folk rock singer Straw (SYD) — far less famous than she should be. I own two of her albums. Love her style. Here's a cut from an album I played all throughout my college years.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Conrad who wrote Ushant 1952 / FRI 11-26-10 / Ezio composer / Dressing Rich author Feldon / 1935 Pulitzer-winning biography / Aida chorus subject

Friday, November 26, 2010

Constructor: Gary Steinmehl

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Ancient movies with Z-words as the final word in their titles

Word of the Day: TERNATE (12D: Like a clover leaf) —

Arranged in or consisting of sets or groups of three, as a compound leaf with three leaflets.

[New Latin ternātus, from Medieval Latin, past participle of ternāre, treble, from Latin ternī, three each.[...]] (answers.com)
• • •

Very shortly into this puzzle, I realized I would need to be about twice as old as I currently am for this puzzle to be in my wheelhouse (which is to say, I'd need to be 82—today is my 41st birthday). In the end, I like the look of the theme answers in the grid, but dear lord, all of them, as well as several other clues, felt like something from a Very bygone era, or from some parallel universe where I don't live (somewhere where people enjoy the adult contemporary stylings of BETTE Midler (27A: "___ of Roses" (1995 adult contemporary album)) and say "PENNYwise" (8D: Wise leader?) and read LEAH Feldon (24A: "Dressing Rich" author Feldon), whoever that is). Clue that sums up this puzzle best for me is 52D: Conrad who wrote "Ushant," 1952 (AIKEN). There's literally no part of that I understand. "Ushant"?!—it's like textspeak from the 19th century, e.g. "U SHANT ride in brougham unless pa sez OK." I know a Claude AIKEN. I think he was on "Bonanza" or something like that ... no, dammit, I'm thinking of Claude AKINS, who was in "Sheriff Lobo." Clay AIKEN. That's an AIKEN I know.

A flurry of "?" clues was irking me today too, mainly because I just couldn't find their wavelength—so between clues out of my age-range and "?" clues, I felt like I was being bludgeoned (though I did end up loving the clue on POOLS, 15D: Crawl spaces?, which I couldn't see even with -OOLS in place...). Sometimes these things happen. Always good to know that I can fight my way through a puzzle so outside my frame of reference. I think I've at least *heard* of all three theme movies, although I know ZORRO from pulps and ZENDA from my old paperback collection. I had the Hudson movie as ICE SKATING-something for a while, which led to the stupidest moment of the solve: trying to convince myself that HAKS might be something (5D: They have crowns=>HATS)

"Bug A BOO" (23D: "Bug ___" (1999 Destiny's Child hit)) is about as contemporary as this puzzle gets, which is pretty pathetic, as that song was a "hit" in only the most generous sense of the word—it peaked at #33 (!) 11 years ago, and I assure you that virtually no one solving this puzzle could even hum it for you.

Theme answers:
  • 16A: 1968 Rock Hudson action film (ICE STATION ZEBRA)
  • 30A: 1940 Tyrone Power adventure film, with "The" (MARK OF ZORRO)
  • 46A: 1937 Ronald Colman adventure film, with "The" (PRISONER OF ZENDA)
Don't particularly like that two films are "adventure" and one is "action." Don't particularly like that two of them have their initial "THE"s removed. But the Zs are nice.

Last major complaint—that NE corner. The POULTS / UDE (10D: Ulan-___, Russia) / TERNATE triad should have gotten laughed out of the building for awkwardness and obscurity. You can let one of those guys in there, but to have them all holding hands? Come on. POULTS, dear lord (8A: Turkey tots?). And as if the word itselfa isn't bad enough, a cutesy clue to boot. It's all very tough to love for this BOSOX-loving PHD (28A: Green Monster's squad + 37A: Many a prof).

I do like that there's an INDEX FINGER (17D: Telephone dialer?) in the DIKE (44A: Big bank investment?). Very "Little Dutch Boy."

  • 14A: Lamont Library locale (HARVARD) — guessed off the -RD (ERA and DDT were the first things in the grid)
  • 34A: Dweller along the Skunk River (IOWAN) — wanted this to be a tribe member of some sort, but it appears to be simply somebody living in Iowa.
  • 35A: 1935 Pulitzer-winning biography (R.E. LEE) — pure crossword muscle. Didn't know it, but last two letters were -EE and that (grid-friendly) spelling of the general's name just leapt right to mind.
  • 40A: "Aida" chorus subject (ISIS) — I can't be the only one who has ASPS here at first. Can I?
  • 41A: Where Hausa and Djerma are spoken (NIGER) — No idea. Just figured it out from crosses. I hope I never see "Hausa" or "Djerma" in a grid.
  • 45A: "She's Got You" singer, 1962 (CLINE) — lest you think I dislike everything pre-1970 ... this one was a gimme because I Love Patsy.

[Why is she dressed like ISIS?]

  • 28D: Katharine Lee ___, writer of "America the Beautiful" (BATES) — do people really know this stuff?? Norman and Kathy want their damned crossword name rights back.
  • 38D: "Ezio" composer (HANDEL) — after "Water Music" and "Messiah," it's all hazy to me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Ligurian capital / THU 11-25-10 / Mexican silver center / 1955 Platters hit / Hayes portrayer Mod Squad / Bygone science/sci-fi magazine

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Constructor: Bill Thompson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Rare Scrabble tiles65A: Number of tiles per Scrabble set for the letter at the end of the answer to each starred clue (ONE); five theme answers end in X, Z, J, Q, and K, respectively

Word of the Day: TAXCO (7D: Mexican silver center) —

Taxco de Alarcón (usually referred to as simply “Taxco”) is a small city and municipality located in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The name Taxco is most likely derived from the Nahuatl word tlacheco, which means “place of the ballgame.” However, one interpretation has the name coming from the word tatzco which means “where the father of the water is,” due to the high waterfall near the town center on Atatzin Mountain. “De Alarcón” is in honor of writer Juan Ruiz de Alarcón who was a native of the town. Like many municipalities in central Mexico, the municipality’s coat-of-arms is an Aztec glyph. This glyph is in the shape of a Mesoamerican ballcourt with rings, players and skulls, derived from the most likely source of Taxco’s name. // The city is heavily associated with silver, both with the mining of it and other metals and for the crafting of it into jewelry, silverware and other items. This reputation, along with the city’s picturesque homes and surrounding landscapes have made tourism the main economic activity as the only large-scale mining operation here is coming to a close. (wikipedia)
• • •
Happy Thanksgiving! My favorite food day of the year. I have no idea how I'll do the write-up tomorrow night ... I'm going to have to plan my eating and naps very strategically; otherwise I will wake up late and disoriented on Friday morning (not the greatest conditions for blogging). This puzzle felt Easy, but the clock says it's just like any other Thursday, difficulty-wise, so there. My main reaction to this puzzle is: There's only one "K" tile in Scrabble!? Yet another reason for me to hate that game. "K" is the best letter in the alphabet ... when I think of all those -NK and -RK and -SK and -CK (not to mention K-starting) words NOT getting made in Scrabble games across the world, it just makes me sad. One "Q," I get, but one "K." Ridiculous.

The only place in the grid that gave me any real trouble was the NE. The phrases GO TO IT (8A: Get started) and TORE AT (18A: Mauled), while solid enough, felt iffy for some reason. THRO' I didn't know at all (10D: "And ___ the field the road runs by": Tennyson), though I ended up inferring it in the end. ETHYNE? With a "Y?" (16A: Simple hydrocarbon) I'm guessing that ETHANE and ETHENE are also real things. Invent some new word formations, chemists. Your language is tedious! I know, I know, there are perfectly sane, rational reasons for these names. But this set is pretty dull and non-descript, you have to admit. Anyhoo, I had to fuss around a bit to make that corner work out. But even that wasn't too taxing. I had a little trouble getting started in the NW, as I had DEFACE for DAMAGE (1D: Split or crack), and ANGELINA looks like it means "little angel," not "messenger of God" (14A: Woman's name that means "messenger of God"), and I've never heard MALCOLM X referred to as a "human rights activist." Not that you couldn't make that claim, or that it isn't valid. I've just never heard it. Saw "Ghostbusters" in the theater when it came out, but did not remember the name of the vehicle ECTO-1 (15D: ___-1 ("Ghostbusters" vehicle). After I got out of there, it was smooth sailing all the way til the wobbly ending in the NE.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *Omaha-born human rights activist (MALCOLM X)
  • 36A: *Today's kids, demographically speaking (GENERATION Z)
  • 59A: *Brand with the challenge to lose one inch from your waist in two weeks (SPECIAL K)
  • 24D: *"What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" musical ("AVENUE Q")
  • 27D: *Performer born James Todd Smith (LL COOL J)

There were a few inventive and interesting clues in this puzzle. I balked at 40A: Gate opener for Apollo the first go round. Couldn't figure out what it could mean, and briefly considered the possibility that the Apollo in question was Apollo Creed from the "Rocky" movies. Only after the grid was completed did I notice the answer, EOS, and remember that she was goddess of the dawn, and would open the gate so that Apollo could go on his daily chariot ride across the sky. Another interesting clue: 56A: How some gym instructors stand (AKIMBO). This seems so random and arbitrary, and yet rings true at the same time. I have no idea where this mental image is coming from ...

  • 22A: Baum princess (OZMA) — Had the "Z," so not too hard. I picked up this princess's name either from a comic book adaptation of a Baum book or just from solving puzzles.
  • 23A: Ligurian capital (GENOA) — Double trouble: no idea what "Ligurian" means and no idea which meaning of "capital" the clue wants. Liguria = region of Italy, but you probably figured that out by now.
  • 32A: 1955 Platters hit ("ONLY YOU") — Now this song, and this group, I know. Much more familiar than those damned FOUR ACES from a couple days ago.

  • 46A: Approximately 946 of these make a qt. (MLS.) — got it entirely from crosses. No idea why I couldn't solve it straight off. I was probably looking for some much more obscure abbr.
  • 47A: Bouquet : pheasants :: covey : ___ (QUAIL) — State bird of California. We had them in our backyard from time to time. Gimme.
  • 64A: Hayes portrayer in "The Mod Squad" (EPPS) — Omar. I think he's in "House" now (despite my general admiration for Hugh Laurie, I like "House" about as much as I like Scrabble).
  • 3D: Viewing with elevator eyes (OGLING) — Really? That's a phrase? "Elevator eyes?" It's vivid, and just imagining what it might mean helped me get the answers, so ... thumbs up.
  • 9D: Chiwere-speaking tribe (OTO) — considered UTE at first. Turns out the UTE language is UTE.
  • 35D: Japanese surname follower (-SAN) — Like Cho-Cho-SAN in "Madame Butterfly" or Daniel-SAN in "Karate Kid"
  • 52D: Bygone science/sci-fi magazine (OMNI) — as I believe I've said before, it's also a bygone sports arena in Atlanta.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Folk singer Griffith / WED 11-24-10 / Performer dubbed Great Dane / Tampa Bay gridders / Infomercial host Gibbons

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SHUTTLES — names of six space shuttles are clued only by their # (i.e. #1, #2, etc.), which represents the chronological order of their first launches. Circles, forming what I imagine to be some kind of elliptical orbit, spell out the word SHUTTLES.

[Puzzle note reads: "When this puzzle is done, read the eight circled letters clockwise, starting with square #24, to identify this puzzle's theme"]

Word of the Day: CAT'S PAW (52A: Tool) —

n., pl., cat's-paws, also cats·paws.
  1. A person used by another as a dupe or tool.
  2. A light breeze that ruffles small areas of a water surface.
  3. Nautical. A knot made by twisting a section of rope to form two adjacent eyes through which a hook is passed, used in hoisting.

[From a fable about a monkey that used a cat's paw to pull chestnuts out of a fire.] (answers.com)

• • •
Interesting puzzle, built solely because of the neat coincidence of the possibility for symmetrical grid arrangement. I don't think the circles do much for the puzzle—they add another theme element (good), but look a mess (bad). Maybe there is some rationale for their arrangement that I am missing. At any rate, it's a solid puzzle with an interesting, widely divergent array of pop culture clues scattered throughout the grid. Songs from the '60s (11A: Car that was the subject of a 1964 top 10 hit), '70s (11D: Andy with the #1 hit "Shadow Dancing"), and '80s (44A), TV shows from the '70s/'80s (12D) and '00s (39A), movies from the '90s (33A: Co-star of Hanks in "Forrest Gump"), and ... Victor BORGE (46A: Performer dubbed "The Great Dane").

Theme wasn't too hard to pick up. Took a good deal of clawing away at short answers, but once I got COLUMBIA, options narrowed down pretty quickly (Ivy League schools?). Once I noticed CHALL- and DISCO- hanging out there, I knew what I was dealing with. I had no idea that ENDEAVOUR had British spelling. That seems ... weird. Unamerican, even. According to wikipedia, "Endeavour was named through a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools. Entries included an essay about the name, the story behind it and why it was appropriate for a NASA shuttle, and the project that supported the name." Did they think the "U" made it ... fancy? Worse than spelling Americans writing "theatre," I think. CAT'S PAW has shown up several times in recent years in clues, but never as the answer. That answer took me longer to get than probably any other in the grid. Misspelled BANZAI (as BONZAI) (55A: W.W. II battle cry), never heard of this version of THOR (65A: Old space-launched rocket), couldn't remember if Mrs. Bush was née WELSH or WELCH (9D: Laura Bush's maiden name), and thought CRABBY (23A: Cantankerous) was ORNERY at first. Otherwise, nothing too troubling.

Theme answers:
  • 30D: #1 (ENTERPRISE)
  • 18A: #2 (COLUMBIA)
  • 3D: #3 (CHALLENGER)
  • 6D: #4 (DISCOVERY)
  • 60A: #5 (ATLANTIS)
  • 36D: #6 (ENDEAVOUR)
  • 14A: Sesame seed-based sauce (TAHINI) — tasty, and an important component of hummus.
  • 2D: Folk singer Griffith (NANCI) — saw her twice during my grad student days in Michigan. Super-talented, with an impossibly sweet voice.

  • 69A: Team with a big B on its helmets (RAVENS) — "B" stands for Baltimore. They have a pretty good team this year. Playoff quality. Tied with the Steelers atop the AFC North.7-3 record, same as the other football team in the grid—the BUCS (7D: Tampa Bay gridders, for short)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Group with 1951 hit Tell Me Why / TUE 11-23-10 / Broadway singer/actress Verdon / Upscale London district / Indy quick-change artists

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Constructor: Richard Chisholm

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: POKER HAND (65A: What the answer to each starred clue is) — POKER HANDs are clued in punny / wacky ways ... actually, no, one is clued that way, the others are clued literally, just not in reference to POKER ...

Word of the Day: MAYFAIR (38D: Upscale London district) —

Mayfair is an area of central London, England, within the City of Westminster. // Mayfair is named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site that is Shepherd Market today (from 1686 until it was banned in that location in 1764). Until 1686, the May Fair was held in Haymarket, and after 1764, it moved to Fair Field in Bow because the well-to-do residents of the area felt the fair 'lowered the tone' of the neighbourhood. [...] The district is now mainly commercial, with many offices in converted houses and new buildings, including major corporate headquarters, a concentration of hedge funds,real estate businesses and many different embassy offices, namely the U.S.'s large office taking up all the west side of of Grosvenor Square. Rents are among the highest in London and the world. There remains a substantial quantity of residential property as well as some exclusive shopping and London's largest concentration of luxury hotels and many restaurants. Buildings in Mayfair include the United States embassy in Grosvenor Square, the Royal Academy of Arts, The Handel House Museum, the Grosvenor House Hotel, Claridge's and The Dorchester. // The renown and prestige of Mayfair has grown in the popular mind due to its designation as the most expensive property on the British Monopoly set. (wikipedia)
• • •

Write-up will be delayed 'til late morning, EST. Feel free to comment on the puzzle now, if you like.


OK, I'm back from early a.m. appt. No time to write last night, no time to write this a.m., hence the (highly unusual) delay. I didn't really have much (nice) to say about this puzzle anyway, so no real loss (to you, to me, to the world at large). HOW ELSE? (18D: "Do you have a better idea?") bugged me so much that I sort of gave up on the puzzle halfway through. Fill is generally ordinary to trite. Never heard of the FOUR ACES, so that was weird. SMEARY is (as commenters have said) less than desirable. IRED always sucks. I always admire dense themes, esp. with intersecting theme answers, but did Not like the clue on ROYAL FLUSH (*Sound from a palace bathroom?) — they should all be punny or all not be punny. The other clues are simply literal, so ... boo. Best part about the puzzle is bonus theme answer "IT'S A DEAL" (56A: "Agreed!").

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *What SRO indicates (FULL HOUSE)
  • 27A: *The Magi, e.g. (THREE KINGS)
  • 50A: *Sound from a palace bathroom? (ROYAL FLUSH)
  • 10D: *Group with the 1951 hit "Tell Me Why," with "The" (FOUR ACES)
  • 40D: *Makeup of a double date (TWO PAIRS)

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


French painter of Le Pont de Mantes / MON 11-22-10 / Daytona 500 acronym / Pioneering razor pivoting head / Sprite alternative

Monday, November 22, 2010

Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Food clued as money — Geographical place / adjective + food that is also slang for money; clued as if it were about money ("?"-style)

Word of the Day: ELEA (6D: Home of Zeno) —

Velia is the Italian (and Latin) name of the ancient town of Elea located on the territory of the comune of Ascea, Salerno, Campania, Italy in a geographical sub-area named Cilento. Originally founded by the Greeks as Hyele in ancient Magna Graecia around 538–535 BC, it is best known as the home of the philosophers Parmenides and Zeno of Elea, as well as the Eleatic school of which they were a part. The site of the Acropolis of ancient Elea, once a promontory (castello a mare meaning castle on the sea) and now inland, was renamed in the Middle Ages Castellammare della Bruca. (wikipedia)
• • •

Superfast! And I didn't even pick up the theme until I was about halfway through the grid. Here's the thing about Mondays: don't stop. I do not stop to ponder a clue. I know it or I don't, and if I don't, I move. So I sliced clear through the center of the grid, from NW to SE, without getting a single theme answer. Eventually, in course of building other corners, stumbled into CANADIAN BACON and kind of sort of got the theme. CANADIAN and ITALIAN are adjectives, and are related to countries, where MONTEREY and BOSTON are nouns, and are cities, and something about this discrepancy bugs me a bit, but only a bit. Started with MATS (1A: Wrestling surfaces) and got every Down cross instantly (including SANAA! Thanks, xwords of times gone by!—4D: Yemen's capital). SANAA and ELEA and OTERO (68A: New Mexico county whose seat is Alamogordo) all come to me very easily now in a way that they would not have even a couple of years ago.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Meal money in Manitoba? (CANADIAN BACON)
  • 34A: Meal money in California? (MONTEREY JACK)
  • 41A: Meal money in Tuscany? (ITALIAN BREAD)
  • 56A: Meal money in Massachusetts? (BOSTON LETTUCE)
No real sore spots today. Trouble getting the theme, but "trouble" is an exaggeration. I just decided to ignore the theme and plow ahead, which worked well. GOING FAR did not come easily. It's an odd phrase that I don't hear used much, though I'm sure I've heard it somewhere. Anyway, the GOING FAR (11D: On the path to great success) / GADFLY (32A: Persistent, irritating critic) nexus was about the only place I even had to think at all. Don't know if I remembered ERNESTO straight off (44D: Che Guevara's given name), but I had enough letters to make an educated guess. Was staring at daughter's sheet music yesterday noticing all the Italian tempo cues, among which was almost certainly AGITATO, so that was a nice coincidence (43D: Energetically, in music). Not sure there's anything else of note ...

  • 14A: Pioneering razor with a pivoting head (ATRA) — common razor brand in crossworld, but I didn't know it was "pioneering." La-di-da.
  • 54A: Daytona 500 acronym (NASCAR) — wasn't there some big deal NASCAR race yesterday? Yup, Jimmie Johnson won his fifth straight NASCAR championship.
  • 53D: French painter of "Le Pont de Mantes" (COROT) — I recognize the name, but wouldn't have gotten it so quickly if -OROT hadn't already been in place the first time I saw the clue.
  • 50D: Sprite alternative (FRESCA) — this drink exists almost exclusively in the late '70s, as far as I'm concerned. Like Tab. I honestly haven't seen any since 1981, I don't think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


1976 rescue site / SUN 11-21-10 / View from Catania / German-born tennis star Tommy / Portuguese speaking island off African coast / 1930s film pooch

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Constructor: Clive Probert

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Having Aspirations" — familiar phrases have "H" added to beginning of some word in the phrase, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily

Word of the Day: CLANGOR (9D: Loud ringing) —

  1. A clang or repeated clanging.
  2. A loud racket; a din.
intr.v., -gored, -gor·ing, -gors.
To make a clangor.

[Latin, from clangere, to clang.]

• • •

Any time I come in under 10 on a Sunday, it's gotta be easy. Despite the simple premise and dearth of theme answers (just 6), I sort of liked this one. With the exception of HERRING ON THE RIGHT SIDE (whose "H"-less version I've never heard of), the theme answers were all pretty cute, and SET ONE'S TEETH ON HEDGE was legitimately funny. I wanted the HERRING to be ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION, but too long. At any rate, the rest of the grid seems mostly neatly filled, especially considering how glutted it is with four-letter words (which are hard to make interesting and easy to make horrible). I didn't catch on to the theme with the first theme answers. Just wondered why REAL MEN DON'T EAT QUICHE wouldn't fit. Truthfully, my first thought was REAL MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, but it didn't really (at all) fit the clue. I THINK THEREFORE I HAM was the answer that revealed the gist of the theme to me, and the rest of the theme answers were remarkably easy to get (even HERRING ON THE RIGHT SIDE, the latter part of which I inferred easily enough).

The other day there were complaints about OBOLI, a Greek coin given a Latin plural. Greek words often go through Latin to get to English, hence the hybridity. See also, today, SYLLABI, a plural I refuse to use because it's not Latin in origin (4D: Course outlines). Doesn't mean SYLLABI isn't legit. Just means that I hate it. One word I don't hate is CLANGOR, which sounds both onomatopoetic and Klingon. When a bell ("CLANG") creates a CLAMOR, you get a CLANGOR. And of course a small CLANGOR is a CLANGORLING (34D: Diminutive suffix=LING). I wanted my whales to be SPRAYERS (not SPOUTERS, 72A: Whales, at times) and my lock-out league to be NBA or NFL (not NHL, 90D: Org. with a 2004-05 lockout). Also wanted KNOBBY to be KNOTTY (42D: Not smooth) and OOOH to be ... well, something else, preferably (44D: Cry of delight). My cries of delight came from very, very different answers: COKED up (5D: Out of one's mind, in a way, with "up"), which took me many crosses to get, and CHURCHY (21D: Very religious). "COKED Up and CHURCHY" is a tell-all autobiography just waiting to be written, e.g. "COKED Up and CHURCHY: The Mother Teresa Story!"

Theme answers:
  • 26A: Macho guys like their pie cold? (REAL MEN DON'T HEAT QUICHE)
  • 41A: Bad actor's philosophy? (I THINK THEREFORE I HAM)
  • 63A: Concerns of middle-aged guys in lower Louisiana? (DELTA HAIRLINES)
  • 73A: Lengthy military sign-up? (SEVEN-YEAR HITCH)
  • 92A: Put the dentures aside while gardening? (SET ONE'S TEETH ON HEDGE)
  • 108A: Starboard food fish? (HERRING ON THE RIGHT SIDE
  • 10A: German-born tennis star Tommy (HAAS) — like the ILSA he sits on, I know his name instinctively from crosswords.
  • 24A: Signal for a programmer's jump (GOTO) — I remember this command from learning Basic in ninth grade.
  • 47A: "___ doubt but they were fain o' ither": Burns ("NAE") — from "The Twa Dogs," a poem I'd never heard of until just this second.
  • 48A: Org. with the motto "For the benefit of all" (NASA) — that's a pretty vague and un-spacey motto for those guys.
  • 56A: Carrier with a frequent flier program called EuroBonus (SAS) — airline I know only from xwords.
  • 106A: View from Catania (ETNA) — feels like I've seen this exact clue before. Oh, I have.
  • 8D: "Were I the Moor, I would not be ___" (IAGO) — big week for IAGO, an olde skool piece of crosswordese whose grown less common in recent years ... until this week.
  • 12D: 1930s film pooch (ASTA)ETNA, IAGO, ASTA ... crossword vets, every one.
  • 13D: Portuguese-speaking island off the African coast (SÃO TOMÉ) — Pres. Obama just returned from Portugal today (or yesterday, I forget). That, and the fact that the capital is Lisbon, is about all I know about Portugal (OK, I know more, but I always feel as if Portugal is the European country that time forgot—from major colonial power to ... whatever it is now. No offense! I'm sure it's wonderful)
  • 95D: 1976 rescue site (ENTEBBE) — Had only the vaguest sense of what this was until I ran into it in a grid a while back and looked it up. Israeli rescue mission in Uganda. More here.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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