Sandy tract by sea to a brit / SAT 12-31-11 / Novelist whose character Adah speaks in palindromes / Curly-furred cats / Old Testament man of field / Thoughtful soul to solitude retires poet

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: DENE (29A: Sandy tract by the sea, to a Brit) —
n. Chiefly British
A sandy tract or dune by the seashore.
n (Earth Sciences / Physical Geography) Brit a valley, esp one that is narrow and wooded (

• • •

High point: KINGSOLVER
Low point: DENE (?)
Crucial gimmes: NODS, SCION, SSW, SAGA

Took one look at that four-stack and thought "ugh, this is not going to be good." Such stunts rarely are. But I must say, as four-stacks go, this one was not terrible. Solid all the way across, and with only slightly rickety crosses here and there. Actually, only SENG seemed particularly out-of-the-ordinary (38D: Hong Kong's Hang ___ index). As RRNs (random Roman numerals) go, I actually don't mind XIII, and every other cross is decent. Nicely done. Mind you, the fill you get on a four-stack is rarely scintillating, and today is no exception. Hard to get excited about REAL ESTATE TAXEzzzzzzzzz (31A: They're often placed on parcels). But still, the whole thing comes off clean, which is about as good a result as I could have hoped for. 

Started with NODS (22A: Approvals), then guessed SCION (1D: Offshoot) and immediately got its anagramming cross, ICONS (17A: Computer screenful). NW, done. KINGSOLVER (4D: Novelist whose character Adah speaks in palindromes) and MOISTEST (20D: Like the best chicken or turkey, say) went down easily into that middle section. Off of MISS (6A: What a 61-Across will be called for only a little while longer), I guessed BRIDE-something in the SW, which got me into that section, which ended up being the easiest of all. Threw HEART SHAPE up into the middle section and thus had a very nice block of crosses to get me started (28D: Feature of many a box of chocolates). I don't remember much else, except having to change AT THIS RATE (which feels familiar) to AT THAT RATE (which feels ... something else). And I finished up in the NW—not for any particular reason; that's just how it worked out. Nothing tough up there. 

  • 23A: "The thoughtful soul to solitude retires" poet (OMAR) — had the "O" and got it instantly. I assume this is OMAR Khayyam. Yes. I guess "Khayyam" is not his last name (?) (though wikipedia sure seems to think it is). 
  • 47A: Old Testament "man of the field" (ESAU) — might have gotten this even without the "ES-" already in place. Seems pretty easy stuff for a Saturday (maybe we're supposed to end the year with an easy puzzle so everyone can feel like a winner!)
  • 34D: Red Sox anthem ("TESSIE") — I've liked the Red Sox for decades and have been to a couple games at Fenway and still didn't know this. Wanted "Sweet Caroline" or "Dirty Water."
  • 52D: Curly-furred cats (REXES) — ironically, I had absolutely no clue about this one 'til I got that "X" in there.  
Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


1957 Cy Young Award winner / FRI 12-30-11 / Site of 1815 escape / Russain chemist with law of thermodynamics / Show for which Jim Dale won Tony 1980

Friday, December 30, 2011

Constructor: Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Germain Henri HESS (5D: Russian chemist with a law of thermodynamics) —
Germain Henri Hess (Russian: Герман Иванович Гесс German Ivanovich Gess, August 7, 1802–November 30, 1850) was a Swiss-born Russian chemist and doctor who formulated Hess's Law, an early principle of thermochemistry. (wikipedia)
• • •

High Point: UP THE WAZOO
Low Point: HAIL TO
Crucial gimmes: SMOOT, SPAHN

Really liked this one—played tough at first but then opened up beautifully. I like having to struggle for results that do not then make me resent the struggle. Beginning was rough, with nothing going in in the NW until I just took a flyer on SPAHN (25D: 1957 Cy Young Award winner) and the crosses Worked (hurrah!). I guessed HOSTAS (38A: Landscaping plants) off the (at that point imagined) "H." I repeat, *I* guessed HOSTAS. Me. My knowledge of flora is ... I would say "lacking," but that's hardly strong enough. Crosswords taught me that HOSTAS was a word at all, and now today, bam, I just throw it down and off I go. Didn't go off so fast on HESS, though. Still science deficient. Needed Every Single Cross (HESS is a gas / toy truck company to me). I tanked at least one other sciencey clue ... oh yeah, I went with PETROchemical over NEUROchemical. Seemed reasonable. Just watched some awesome animated versions of PLATO's "Allegory of the Cave," and yet still needed virtually every cross to get the answer to 32D: Academy head. Had PLAT- and thought "how is a PLATE an 'academy head'?" Because of the PETRO error I had 45A: Most chic as TOPIEST (which I believe is the correct answer to [Most like a 33-Downed person]). Was annoyed at myself for not coming up with the director of "Good Will Hunting," until I realized I had No Idea Gus VAN SANT directed that. The only names I associate with that movie are Matt Damon and that other guy ... played O'Bannion in "Dazed and Confused" ... come on, what's his name? Affleck! Ha. Brain only partially decayed. Just like two of my teeth, it turns out. Stupid dental X-rays and their diagnostic abilities! I've got an appointment with Dr. Novocaine next Thursday ...

  • 17A: What you might reach for after hearing "Don't go anywhere!" (RADIO DIAL) — I don't really get this. Why are people so defiant of the admonition?
  • 16A: Holder of legends (ATLAS) — first two answers that leapt to mind : ARK, ERIC.
  • 33A: Show for which Jim Dale won the 1980 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical ("BARNUM") — this clue couldn't have been more meaningless to me if it tried. Jim Dale? Yeah, I'm gonna need a *little* more information than that.

  • 41A: Shout with cupped hands, maybe (BOO) — Not computing. Are you shouting it across an open field?
  • 48A: Drug sold under the brand name Retrovir (AZT) — Did not know this, but I had the "Z," so no sweat. I'm guessing "Retrovir" refers to retrovirus and not, as I originally thought, a Roman who wears bell bottoms.
  • 51A: Site of an 1815 escape (ELBA) — I had ERIE. That's a big miss.
  • 15D: How Simon Cowell often critiques (CRUELLY) — "The X-Factor" (or the first and only episode I watched, at any rate) was dull and terrible. And "American Idol" has gotten soft and keeps generating irrelevant winners. So I'm out of the reality singing competition game, I'm afraid. More time for watching and rewatching "Downton Abbey."
  • 10D: ___-X (septic treatment brand) (RID) — kind of a cruel way to clue a perfectly ordinary word, but somehow I managed to pull this answer out of my X.
  • 52D: Humorist who wrote "Progress might have been all rigiht once, but it has gone on too long" (NASH) — As in Ogden. I had SAHL. As in Mort. Humorist, four letters—SAUL is the knee-jerk reaction.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Rudy with megaphone / THU 12-29-11 / g2g follower / Muckracker Tarbell / Spanish muralist / Old bus maker / Zoological wings

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: PIZZAZZ17A: Start of a brainteaser whose answer appears in order, from top to bottom, in this puzzle's circled squares (NAME THE ONE / SEVEN-LETTER WORD / IN ENGLISH THAT / CANNOT BE PUT DOWN / IN SCRABBLE)

Word of the Day: Rudy VALLÉE (2D: Rudy with a megaphone) —
Rudy Vallée (July 28, 1901 – July 3, 1986) was an American singer, actor, bandleader, and entertainer. [...] Vallée became the most prominent and, arguably, the first of a new style of popular singer, the crooner. Previously, popular singers needed strong projecting voices to fill theaters in the days before the electric microphone. Crooners had soft voices that were well suited to the intimacy of the new medium of the radio. Vallée's trombone-like vocal phrasing on "Deep Night" would inspire later crooners such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como to model their voices on jazz instruments. // Vallée also became what was perhaps the first complete example of the 20th century mass media pop star. Flappers mobbed him wherever he went. His live appearances were usually sold out, and even if his singing could hardly be heard in those venues not yet equipped with the new electronic microphones, his screaming female fans went home happy if they had caught sight of his lips through the opening of the trademark megaphone he sang through. A brief caricature of him in the Fleischer Brothers' color Betty Boop theatrical short cartoon from 1934 Poor Cinderella depicts him singing through a megaphone. (wikipedia)
• • •

Before I even saw this puzzle I got an email about the puzzle from a fellow solver that consisted entirely of anguished exclamations. This is probably the only reason I wasn't unduly pained by the puzzle. I was pained. Just not unduly. Never did like the instructions-as-answers gimmick, and this is 63 squares worth of instructions. PIZZAZZ letters go in order from top to bottom, but they're a bit of a mess. And then there's the fill—I should be happy at the preponderance of crosswordese, because I destroyed this grid. ODAS, bam! SERT, bam! (60D: Spanish muralist) SDS, bam! Take that, SE corner. ALAE?! (4D: Zoological wings) Pfft, child's play. HOER!? I barely knoer! And yet instead of feeling happy at my success, I have that sickly feeling I imagine one has when one shoots a deer in one of those deer parks where they're essentially tame and you know you're gonna get one. No joy. I HEART is very inventive stuff (6D: Start of many a bumper sticker), but I don't have much to say about the rest of it. That NW corner, man ... nah, I'll just stop here. You get the idea.

  • 1A: Wagner heroine (EVA) — needed every cross and just guessed at the "V" (at that point, I may have been thinking that Rudy VALLÉE was Frankie Valli, or else a Notre Dame cheerleader (I never saw the movie "Rudy," so I don't really know the details)
  • 19A: City in the San Gabriel Valley (EL MONTE) — I lived in said Valley for four years. Have no recollection of a place called EL MONTE, even though it *is* the 51st largest city in California.
  • 22A: John XI's successor (LEO VII) — a random LEO! Who doesn't like those!?
  • 39A: 10th- to 12th-century Chinese dynasty (LIAO) — Yiao! Did not know.
  • 50A: 1944 Sartre play ("NO EXIT") — one of the first works I ever read entirely in French. Most memorable quote: "L'enfer, c'est les autres."
  • 48A: Muckraker Tarbell (IDA) — another crosswordese Hero. Sometimes I get "muckraker" and "Moonraker" confused in my head. Sometimes. A little.

  • 46D: Person with a conical hat, maybe (WIZARD) — took me several stabs, despite the fact that I'm currently in the middle of reading "The Hobbit" 
  • 56D: "g2g" follower (BYE) — apparently I do not text nearly enough, or with the right people. Had to ask what "g2g" meant after I was done. "Got to go" (or "gotta go").  BYE? Not C YA or something equally pithy? And why waste the keystroke on the "E." BY or BB (for bye-bye) would work just as well, I'd think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Romain de Tirtoff's alias / WED 12-28-11 / Wroclaw's river to Poles / Grounded avian / Y sporter

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Constructor: Louis Zulli

Relative difficulty: Medium

 THEME: ID THEFT (54A: Modern crime, briefly ... or a hint to 17-, 36- and 59-Across) — familiar phrases have "ID" removed, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: SEWANEE (22A: The University of the South, familiarly) —
The University of the South is a private, coeducational liberal arts college located in Sewanee, Tennessee. It is owned by twenty-eight southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church and its School of Theology is an official seminary of the church. The university's School of Letters offers graduate degrees in American Literature and Creative Writing. The campus (officially called "The Domain" or, affectionately, "The Mountain") consists of 13,000 acres (53 km2) of scenic mountain property atop the Cumberland Plateau in southeastern Tennessee, although the developed portion occupies only about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2). // Often known simply as Sewanee, the school has produced 26 Rhodes Scholars and was ranked 32nd in the annual US News & World Report list of liberal arts colleges. In 2009, Forbes ranked it 94th of America's Best Colleges.[6] Sewanee is a member of the Associated Colleges of the South. (wikipedia)
• • •

First, there was this (just 3.5 years ago). Will has said (somewhere ...) that he doesn't mind repeating themes. Apparently, he means it. Lately, it's the late 00's all over again.

With only three real theme answers, this puzzle felt thin. Seems like the kind of theme that could go on forever, to Sunday-sized proportions at least, so getting three just-OK answers wasn't very satisfying. Also, I rarely if ever hear "ID THEFT." If someone stole my drivers' license, I'd say that's ID THEFT. I see that the abbrev. is used to refer to "identity theft" here and there, but still, the phrase doesn't resonate the way it should. Still further, ID THEFT is just hanging there, in this weird slot, with no corresponding symmetrical answer. Dislike.  So, thematically, it's pleasant, but more miss than hit.

Theme answers: 
  • 17A: Gift to an outgoing member of Congress? (LAME DUCK PRESENT)
  • 36A: Dialect coach's slogan? (ACCENTS HAPPEN) — easily the best of the three
  • 59A: European gin mill? (CONTINENTAL DIVE)

As for fill, again, it's hit and miss. It's mostly decent, but BAD ANSWER is just that. Actually, it's worse than that. It's terrible. About as coherent as "OLD TABLE" or "TALL PLANT." I can much sooner imagine someone saying "WRONG ANSWER" than BAD ANSWER as an equivalent for ["You shouldn't have said that!"]. I'd have sent this grid back to the constructor on the basis of that answer alone. And if I was at all wavering on that decision, ODRA would've sealed the deal (49D: Wroclaw's river to Poles). Wretched. Never heard anyone called a COHAB, either (1A: Roommate, informally). Blecch.

Wrote in INGE for 16A: James who won a posthumous Pulitzer, which is, of course, wrong. It's AGEE. But surprise, there's INGE after all down there at the bottom of the grid (58D: "Bus Stop"). Pure malapop (i.e. writing in a wrong answer, only to find out later that it's a *correct* answer somewhere else in the grid). Didn't trust SEWANEE / ADELA, though in the end SEWENEE just looked too stupid to be correct. Biggest problem for me was writing in EDGES instead of EASES (28D: Moves carefully). That one hurt, because EDGES is just as good answer. As a result of my mistake, those damned ASIAN elephants were hard to see.

  • 26A: Y sporter (ELI)ELI Manning also sports an "N" — "NY" — it's on his helmet. [Yes I know this clue is about Yale.]
  • 64A: Romain de Tirtoff's alias (ERTE)ERTE is how his initials ("RT") sound when you pronounce them in French.
  • 6D: Cyber-nuisance (HACKER) — I'd have pluralized this and put it where SEWANEE is. But that's just me.
  • 19D: Grounded avian (EMU) — Also good as steaks, I'm told.
  • 48D: Poet who wrote "They also serve who only stand and wait" (MILTON) — I teach this sonnet every year. Very famous last line. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) says a variation of this line at the beginning of "Psycho": "They also pay who meet in hotel rooms."
When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


1948 John Wayne western / TUE 12-27-11 / 1954 monster film setting / Linda Ronstadt hit co-written by Roy Orbison

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Constructor: John Dunn

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: WATER COLORS (61A: Some Winslow Homer art ... or what five answers in this puzzle are?) — all theme answers follow the model [color + body of water]

Word of the Day: James LEVINE (17D: James of the Met) —
James Lawrence Levine (play /lɨˈvn/; born June 23, 1943) is an American conductor and pianist. He is currently the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Levine's first performance conducting the Metropolitan Opera was on June 5, 1971, and as of May 2011 he has conducted 2,512 Met performances. In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another very easy puzzle, and another puzzle saved by a great revealer. As I was doing this, I was like "oh, great ... colors." Then realized that they were attached to bodies of water. OK, mildly more interesting. Strangely, I *never* saw the answer WATER COLORS while I was solving. My eyes must have glided over the clue, but when it failed to register anything, I must have gone on and solved the entire answer via crosses. A good revealer is really valuable—it's an emphatic expression of the puzzle's organizing principle, and is successful to the extent that it is both accurate as a statement of what the puzzle's about and clever in its wordplay. Outside the theme, the grid is solid—vivid and interesting and light on junk. Very Scrabbly without feeling forced.

Theme answers:
  • 16A: 1954 monster film setting (BLACK LAGOON)
  • 22A: 1948 John Wayne western (RED RIVER) 
  • 50A: City that's home to the winner of the first two Super Bowls (GREEN BAY)
  • 10D: It's between Korea and China (YELLOW SEA)
  • 32D: Linda Ronstadt hit co-written by Roy Orbison ("BLUE BAYOU")

I confess to having no idea who James LEVINE is (17D: James of the Met). I was not even sure if "James" was a first or last name. That answer, and the entire southern region, caused the only hold-ups in the entire solve. In the south, I had GO FOR instead of GUESS (50D: Take a stab), and that took some undoing. Took a while to get to GAPS from 67A: Reasons for braces. CREATOR took a few crosses to see (45A: Brahma, in Hinduism). Otherwise, everything else just fell into place quickly (hence my never seeing the most important theme answer of the lot).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Albino rocker with 1973 #1 hit / MON 12-26-11 / Furrowed fruit / Letters before xis / Physician with daily talk show

Monday, December 26, 2011

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SEASON FINALE (39A: With 41-Across, good time for a cliffhanger ... or what each of 17-, 24-, 50- and 63-Across) — theme answers are two-word phrases where second word is a season

Word of the Day: EDGAR WINTER (50A: Albino rocker with a 1973 #1 hit) —
Edgar Holland Winter (born December 28, 1946) is an American musician. He is famous for being a multi-instrumentalist. He is a highly skilled keyboardist, saxophonist and percussionist. He often plays an instrument while singing. He was most successful in the 1970s with his band, The Edgar Winter Group, notably with their popular song, "Free Ride". He has albinism. (wikipedia)
• • •

A very tired theme with a very cool revealer—actually, I'm not sure I've seen this theme done quite this way; typically the seasons are in the plural, largely because JONATHAN WINTERS is a grid-spanning 15 letters long and far more famous than EDGAR WINTER. Once I saw the theme (after getting FALL, then SUMMER), I physically deflated a little, but after hitting the nice little revealer, I recovered a bit. Grid is very interesting—it's got the maximum 78 answers, but doesn't feel segmented and choppy the way some high word-count puzzles can. This is largely because of two lovely long Downs (IN NAME ONLY, MOSEY ALONG), and two pairs of 7s (also Downs) in the N and S, respectively. Seasons aren't in order, but that's a small matter. I like the seasonal YEAR END directly over WINTER in the grid. Nice work.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: What a slippery sidewalk might cause (NASTY FALL)
  • 24A: "Last Dance" singer, 1978 (DONNA SUMMER)
  • 50A: Albino rocker with a 1973 #1 hit (EDGAR WINTER) — I have no idea why the clue doesn't tell you the name of the song; if "Albino" didn't give the answer away, then sure "Frankenstein" wouldn't have either:

  • 63A: Spa locale (HOT SPRING)
Found this puzzle remarkably easy. Fumbled around a bit with the typos, but still managed to come in well under 3 (which I hadn't done in a while). For some reason, I seem to be a good deal faster solving a downloaded puzzle on my desktop than I am solving on the NYT applet itself. Perhaps the navigation system is more intuitive for me, or perhaps the software's slightly more responsive than the web-based applet, or perhaps knowing that I'm not being timed by Big Brother loosens me up a bit. Anyway, none of this will matter come tournament time (just under 3 months away now), when all solving is done with pencil and paper. Nothing slowed me down much today besides my own typing clumsiness. Didn't know NUS, but crosses took care of that (26D: Letters before xis). Didn't know an UGLI was "furrowed" (27D: Furrowed fruit). I was just looking at the DR. OZ logo the other day and wondering why I hadn't seen that answer in puzzles more often (57D: Physician with a daily talk show). Other than that, my only tiny struggle was figuring out 2D: Wheedle (COAX). Ironic, given that I'd been watching "Downton Abbey" earlier in the evening, and one of the characters had suggested that another was "flanneling" her. This sent me to my dictionary to look up the verb "flannel"; from
Collins' Dictionary of Slang says that the noun "flannel" has been used to mean "rubbish, albeit plausible rubbish" since the 1920s, and the verb "to flannel" has meant "to talk nonsense in a soothing, plausible manner, esp for the purposes of charming a woman one wishes to seduce" since the 1940s. I imagine the original metaphor was flannel's function as wrapping, padding or muffling material.
 So, yes, wheedle, indeed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Tunisian seaport / SUN 12-25-11 / Journalist Joseph / Japanese stringed instrument / Video game island / Eponymic town of Cambridgeshire / Honey in Horn trumpeter

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Ain't He Sweet" — circles form a GINGERBREAD MAN (91A: With 100-Across, image revealed by connecting the circle letters alphabetically); assorted other answers relate to the theme

Word of the Day: Max REGER (67D: Composer Max) —
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger (19 March 1873 – 11 May 1916) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, organist, and academic teacher. [...] Reger produced an enormous output over little more than 25 years, nearly always in abstract forms. Few of his compositions are well known in the 21st century. (wikipedia)
• • •

An impressive construction that left me a little cold, mostly because of how much the quality of the fill was strained. Also, the theme answers weren't very coherent. All over the map. ELIZABETH? Random. "SHREK" has no symmetrical counterpart. Look, the A to Z thing is very cool, no doubt. But once you get the revealer then the whole thing is ... uh ... revealed. Theme itself is pretty thin, so there's nothing more to do but deal with the fill, and That was the problem. SFAX (102D: Tunisian seaport)!? REGER (67D: Composer Max)!? SIXTE (44A: Fencing position)!? I ended up with an error and it took Forever to find, first because the grid is enormous (oversized 23x23) and second because I had So many places to look (i.e. lots and lots of words I'd never heard of before that I thought could be wrong). Of course the error was in the last place I looked: at the intersection of the nonword AGAZE (8A: Staring intently) and the never-seen-before "mineral" ZINCITE (11D: Mineral in healing crystals). What the hell is a "healing crystal?" I had AGAPE (a word). PINCITE is, of course, ridiculous, but not much more ridiculous than AGAZE. And who the hell is GRIMSBY? (9D: "The Little Mermaid" fellow) I've heard of drinking *warm* milk, but HOT MILK (117D: Relaxer for Santa)!? Ouch / gross. I had the front end and thought "HOT ... MAMA? That *would* be relaxing, but ..."

Theme answers:
  • 76A: Decoration on a 91-/100-Across (ICING)
  • 102A: 2001 film in which 91-/100-Across is a character ("SHREK")
  • 4D: 91-/100-Across, often (TREE ORNAMENT)  
  • 16D: Aid for making a 91-/100-Across (COOKIE CUTTER)
  • 105D: 16th-century monarch credited with presenting 91-/100-Acrosses to guests (ELIZABETH)
  • 110D: "The 91-/100-Across," for one (FAIRY TALE) — I thought for sure this was going to refer to that movie I never saw ... based on a Grisham novel, maybe ... hang on ... oh, I'm sorry: "based on a discarded John Grisham manuscript" (!).

  • 33A: Japanese stringed instrument (KOTO) — another relatively obscure answer, though this one I remembered from crosswords gone by.
  • 112A: "Honey in the Horn" trumpeter (HIRT) — Al HIRT. Here's something of his I didn't know existed:

  • 136A: Fictional planet in "Flash Gordon" (MONGO) — no idea why I know this. Is that Ming the Merciless's planet? Hey, it is. My memory is strangely accurate today. 
  • 141A: Crudités platter centerpiece (CHEESE DIP) — I went with the more traditional CHEESE LOG (not sure what "tradition" I'm referring to, but ...).
  • 154A: Eponymic town of Cambridgeshire (STILTON) — this was oddly easy. My first thought was "how should I know?" Then I took one look at the answer, with a couple crosses in place, and I knew: cheese!
  • 13D: Video game island (MYST) — a very big game from a time right when I was starting to not pay attention to video games any more.
  • 41D: Mao contemporary (CHIANG) — as in Kai-Shek. This took some thought.
  • 47D: Bulbous plant part (CORM) — one of those supremely ugly words I "know" only from crosswords.
Merry Merry,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Onetime Soyuz destination / SAT 12-24-11 / Annual Jalapeno Festival site / Destructive 2008 blaze in LA / Magnate who wrote How to Be Rich / Drainer of most of Switzerland

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SKIBOBS (37D: Winter sport vehicles) —
Skibobbing is a winter sport involving a bicycle-type frame attached to skis instead of wheels. Although the original idea for a bicycle with skis was patented as early as 1892, and skibobbing had been a form of transportation in the Alps, it wasn't until 1954 that the first international race was held. Seven years later, the FISB (Fédération Internationale de Skibob) was formed, which since 1967 has held an annual Skibobbing World Championship. Although skibobs are often called Ski Bikes and Snow Bikes, the sport should not be confused with snowbiking, which is the sport or recreation of cycling on snow. // Originally, skibobbing was one of the very few methods by which people without strength in their knees could alpine ski, but it soon became a popular sport amongst the physically able, too. The main attractions are said to be the speeds attained (in some skibob giant slalom races, speeds can be reached of up to 120 mph or more) and the feeling of jet skiing on snow. (wikipedia)
• • •
[FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

• • •
A very uneven puzzle, difficulty-wise. As I was solving it, I was thinking "I know it's the season of giving, but this is ridiculous—feels like a Wednesday." [What hawks do]? Gimme. [Neurologist]? Come on. Over and over, the grid just filled itself in. Then, in two different spots, bad luck and bad cluing (respectively) stopped me cold. Did not know those names in the middle of the grid (VERAS, SOFIA) (31A: Tennis's Zvonareva and others + 37A: Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi), so when I got -E-UE for 31D: Where the show must go on? I wrote in REVUE and it felt Rock Solid. Only it gave me very weird names (RERA? SOVIA?); and yet my solution to that was not to question REVUE (again, felt Solid), but to question TORTA. I was not at all sure the cake was a TORTA (kept sticking it in, pulling it out ... ! ... etc.). Had it as a TONTA, because at least RENA is a name. Anyway, REVUE for VENUE was a stroke of magnificent bad luck. Lesson—take out the answer that feels Most wrong, even if that answer seems indisputable. Then there was the cluing on BAGS (35D: First, second, and third, but not fourth). There is no first bag, or second bag, or third bag. Those are bases. I wrote in BASE. Now I realize the clue has "and" and not "or" and so the answer "had to be" plural. But with that clue, "BAGS" was just not an option. I can see the seriously attenuated connection by which one gets from "first" to "BAG"—a "BAG" is certainly another word for a "base" in baseball. But yuck. Also yuck: LURED ON (38D: Tempted). That is not a thing. LURED is a thing. LURED = [Tempted]. LURED ON is something you say when you set out to say LURED and then change your mind to LED ON halfway through. Also, SAYRE???? WHAYRE???? (46D: ___ fire (destructive 2008 blaze in Los Angeles)).

  • 15A: What may be visualized via a bumper sticker (WHIRLED PEAS) — cute and Phenomenally easy.
  • 18A: "When 2 ___ Love" (1988 Prince song) ("R IN") — The "2" gave this away. Prince likes to do this letter / number / word swap thing.

  • 26A: 2006 Newbery winner Lynne ___ Perkins (RAE) — no idea, but guessed it off the "R" (was thinking MAE before that).
  • 34A: Magnate who wrote "How to Be Rich" (GETTY) — "Magnate" helped. Couple crosses made it obvious.
  • 27A: It replaced Apple's Quadra line (POWERMAC) — thank god the answer wasn't "Quadra"—never heard of it.  

  • 36A: Shouts in the 'hood (YOS) — these are shouts in lots of places.
  • 48A: Drainer of most of Switzerland (AARE) — sounds exotic. But Swiss river is AARE. It just is.
  • 3D: "My Philosofy" poet (RILEY) — my brain just refuses to remember who this person (James Whitcomb RILEY) is.
  • 24D: Foes of Frodo (ORCS) — as I said, gimme after gimme after gimme. I mean, 22D: Onetime Soyuz destination?? Three letters?? Hmmm....
  • 12D: He "spoke" with horns and whistles (HARPO MARX) — had -POM- right away and thought "... POM POM GUY?"
  • 44D: Modern-day locale of the place where the Santa Maria ran aground in 1492 (HAITI) — long, long way to go for HAITI.
  • 13D: The Seneca Chief was the first to travel its full length (ERIE CANAL) — until just a few seconds ago, I thought the Seneca Chief was a person.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Visitor at beginning of Hobbit / FRI 12-23-11 / Albert's love in Bye Bye Birdie / Flower named for resemblance to turban / Blood shed on Mount Olympus / Murderer in PDQ Bach's spoof opera

Friday, December 23, 2011

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

 Word of the Day: MANDARIN COLLARS (14A: Nehru jackets have them) —
A mandarin collar is a short unfolded stand-up collar style on a shirt or jacket. Mandarin collars start at the neckline and typically rise vertically two to five centimeters. The style originated from Western interpretation of dresses worn by Mandarins in Imperial China. // The length along a mandarin collar is straight, with either straight or rounded edges at top of the centre front. The edges of the collar either barely meet at the centre front or overlap slightly. Overlapping mandarin collars are often a continuation of a shirt's placket and have a button on the collar to secure the two sides of the shirt together. (wikipedia)
• • •
[FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

• • •
Fairly typical Berry puzzle—solid and smooth. Tiny passageways between puzzle segments made moving through the grid a bit difficult. Top section played pretty easy, but I couldn't get into the middle at all at first—no way PAGINATE was coming, and though I had POLLIWOG (9D: It grows older and then croaks), I also had ANDREO (!?), which I realized afterward was due to stupid ANDREA *Bocelli*. Botticelli's first name was SANDRO? I had no idea. That middle section was the last to fall. I had to reboot in the bottom section with AVER / VALETED (36D: Did Jeeves's job), but had a harder time down there than I did up top, in part because I had OLE instead of RAH at 50D: Stadium shout, in part because I misspelled the answer to 31D: Blood shed on Mount Olympus (ICHOR) at first (I merged it with the autumnal hue OCHRE to get ICHRE), and in part because I thought 46D: Cross (SORE) was ROOD. Once I finally *saw* the clue for MAURA (44D: Actress Tierney)—a gimme—I got MAPLES (44A: Trees sought by leaf peepers) and started to make good headway. Eventually swung back up into the middle via AMEND / SCHMO / SACRILEGE. The "G" in PAGINATE / GORES was the last thing to go in the grid.

Great morbid clue on RUSSIAN ROULETTE (47A: Game you can't lose twice). Horrible, unnecessarily morbid clue on RHESUS (32D: Popular test animal in medical research). Also a poor clue on SEXISTS (33D: They put half the world down)—a pretty simplistic representation of how sexism works. It's not some guy shouting "All women in the world are stupidheads." You can be sexist and not actively "put down" half the world. I get the idea, but the wording stinks. A few interesting trivia clues today, particularly 22A: Flower named for its resemblance to a turban (TULIP). Both P.D.Q. Bach and "Bye Bye Birdie" are generally outside my sphere of knowledge, so neither of those answers came easily (46A: Murderer in P.D.Q. Bach's spoof opera "A Little Nightmare Music" + 38D: Albert's love in "Bye Bye Birdie"). I did not know ANTs had castes, though I guessed the answer easily enough.

SACRILEGE strikes me as something much stronger than simply lifting a fiver (28A: Stealing from the collection plate, e.g.). OSIER (45A: Twig used in wickerwork) and ORLON (10D: Woollike acrylic fiber) are common crossword materials, and I got them both pretty easily (OSIER helped with the whole ICHRE / ICHOR thing). NCR went from being a stumper when I started this blog to a gimme today (49D: Manufacturer of bar code scanners). Thought [Seller of supplements] would have some trick to it, but no—it's just GNC, a store you can find in any mall, USA. Got a couple lucky breaks up top—I teach Virgil every year, so the obscurish MANTUA was not obscurish to me, and my wife and I just started reading "The Hobbit" aloud to one another in the evenings, so the GANDALF visitation is fresh in my mind (1D: Visitor at the beginning of "The Hobbit"). My nephew is going to be an extra in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" (filming in NZ, out next December). Excitingish!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Chief of medicine on Scrubs / 12-22-11 / Red-haired ogress of film / 1951 historical role for Peter Ustinov / Sponsor of ads famous for nudity

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SHAPE SHIFTER (55A: Werewolf, e.g. ... or the one responsible for 20-, 34- and 41-Across— shape names are changed to other shape names inside familiar phrases

Word of the Day: ALY Khan (33A: Khan married to Rita Hayworth) —
Prince Ali Solomone Aga Khan (June 13, 1911 – May 12, 1960), known as Aly Khan was a son of Aga Khan III, the head of the Ismaili Muslims, and the father of Aga Khan IV. A socialite, racehorse owner and jockey, he was the third husband of actress Rita Hayworth. After being passed over for succession as Aga Khan, he served as Pakistan's representative to the United Nations, where he became a vice president of the General Assembly. // His first name was typically spelled Aly in the press. The titles of prince and princess, which are claimed by children of the Aga Khan by virtue of their descent from Shah Fath Ali Shah of the Persian Qajar dynasty, were recognized as courtesy titles by the British government in 1938. (wikipedia)
• • •
[FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

• • •
Simple theme with a nice revealer. Very tidy, in that all the shapes are kept in the family—that is, they just shift (as in move) around the grid. Nobody morphs into a RHOMBUS or anything. Grid is mostly very nice—smooth and Scrabbly. But why didn't you go for the pangram, Kristian!? Why!?!? Just a Z and a J away. So close. Sarcasm.

The strangest thing about this puzzle was that for most of the time it played like a Tuesday. Started with DODD-Frank and was down at FIONA (64A: Red-haired ogress of film) before I knew it. Of course getting to the back ends of those theme answers was a little tougher than getting at their front ends, but it didn't take much. My main area of struggle was in the Great Lakes-to-Northeast part of the grid. Could Not retrieve SEAM as [31A: Part of a baseball] and then (the killer), after getting the -VIN part of 25A: Title cartoon boy (CALVIN), I wrote in ... MARVIN! Talk about missing wide. The quality gap there is tremendous. I don't think I'd have even remembered that "Marvin" was a comic if I hadn't run across this comic strip while reading "The Comics Curmudgeon" a couple weeks ago:

Hilarious, I know. Anyway, MARVIN really $&^%ed me. Also slowed down by NO WAY, which I had in the space that was supposed to be filled by IXNAY (16A: "Nope!"). Also puzzled by 11D: The Wildcats of the America East Conf. (UNH) (my university is in this same conference; didn't help) and the clue on ILLS (27D: Drugs and crime), e.g. I had VICE. So that whole region was noticeably harder than the rest, and yet "hard" is a relative term. When I finish a Thursday under 5, nothing can really be said to be "hard."

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Uncool Eskimo? (ARCTIC SQUARE)
  • 34A: Percussion instrument owned by a New York newspaper? (TIMES TRIANGLE)
  • 41A: Close-knit group at a popular island destination? (BERMUDA CIRCLE
  • 15A: 1951 historical role for Peter Ustinov (NERO) — I didn't Know this, exactly, but with even one cross, or perhaps none, it's a pretty easy guess.
  • 23A: Original Beatles bassist Sutcliffe (STU) — I like the Beatles but I'm no aficionado, so I learned STU from crosswords. He comes up so often that you should commit him to memory if he isn't there already. The other STU is Disco.

  • 52D: Hit TV series starring Gary Sinise ("CSI: NY") — this helped me change LOWFAT to LOWCAL (51A: Lite). To my knowledge, I have never in my life seen a single episode of any flavor of "CSI". I've watched the opening, but as soon as that non-descript guy utters his stupid, cutesy / portentous tagline, right before The Who or whoever start playing, I'm out of there.
  • 56D: Sponsor of ads famous for nudity (PETA) — here you go—a crossword twofer: a PETA ad featuring EVA Mendes. 

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Surfer wannabe / WED 12-21-11 / Bygone Toyota sedan / Texas/Louisiana border river / William Tell's canton / Musical with Mungojerrie Jennyanydots

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Constructor: Ron and Nancy Byron

    Relative difficulty: Medium

     THEME: NOEL (69A: Seasonal song ... or a phonetic hint to 18-, 23-, 37-, 52- and 59-Across) — DESCRIPTION

    Word of the Day: Saint Philip NERI (63A) —
    Saint Philip Romolo Neri (Italian: Filippo Neri) (July 21, 1515 – May 25, 1595), also known as Apostle of Rome, was an Italian priest, noted for founding a society of secular priests called the "Congregation of the Oratory". (wikipedia)
    • • •
    [FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

    • • •
    If you'd like to know what I think of this theme, I refer you to the last time this theme (this EXACT theme) appeared in the NYT—Christmastime, just four years ago, in a puzzle constructed by David J. and Steve Kahn.

    Cruciverb database search for PUP FICTION turns up two recent puzzles with the missing "L" concept. I'll say it again. Check your theme answers check your theme answers check your theme answers. I must say, however, that Will is far more to blame for this replication of a very recent theme than the constructors are. This theme is so screamingly obvious that you'd think he'd at least have run the tiniest background check. I knew I'd done puzzles like this before as soon as I hit "NOEL," and I'm not paid to keep track of such things.

    The puzzle's theme could also be "Bygone"—as in 11D: Bygone Toyota sedan (CRESSIDA) and 28D: Bygone Fords (LTDS) and this puzzle has been done before and it reeks of yesterday's crosswordese ([William Tell's canton] etc. etc.).

    [Speaking of bygone ...]

    Theme answers:
    • 18A: Movie about La Brea Tar Pits' formation? ("THE BIG SEEP")
    • 23A: Movie about a Nobel-winning chemist? ("THE ION KING")
    • 37A: Movie about Wall Streeters' excesses? ("CASH OF THE TITANS")
    • 52A: Movie about the early life of Lassie? ("PUP FICTION")
    • 59A: Movie about the memoirs of the Duke? ("WAYNE'S WORD")
    • 58A: Nonsense word said while pointing a finger (J'ACCUSE!) 
    • 8D: Texas/Louisiana border river (SABINE) — rings a faint, crossword bell, but I needed every cross.
    • 36A: Surfer wannabe (HODAD) — er ... uh ... OK. Again, the crossword bell is faint. I wanted HAOLE.
    • 37D: Musical with Mungojerrie and Jennyanydots ("CATS") — musical in four letters with some dumbass character names? Sure, I got that.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Word on biblical wall / TUE 12-20-11 / Writer John who won Pulitzer for Annals of Former World / John Constable Camille Pissarro / Shore dinner staple

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Constructor: Julian Lim

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: SPLIT PEA (36D: Kind of soup ... or a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — letter string "PEA" is "split" across two words in familiar phrases

    Word of the Day: John MCPHEE (10D: Writer John who won a Pulitzer for "Annals of the Former World") —
    John Angus McPhee (born 8 March 1931) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, widely considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. // Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the "new journalism" in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, literary style of journalism by incorporating techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity and diversity of his literary output. // Since 1974, McPhee has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. (wikipedia)
    • • •
    [FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

    • • •
    This just didn't work for me. First, I am really prejudiced against these word-splitting themes when the split word does not touch every single word in the theme phrase. So that HOPE hanging out there at the end of the first theme answer and that DOPE hanging out there at the end of the third are really irksome distractions (blame Patrick Berry, who beat it into me that the "touch-every-word" feature was ideal). Then there's the fact that HOPE AGAINST HOPE and ROPE-A-DOPE seem like they could secede and start some other theme. Then there's TYPE-AS, which is clearly a "SPLIT PEA" but is not clued as such and at any rate does not have a symmetrical thematic counterpart. The whole set-up just felt very wonky. Outside the theme, things are mostly decent. I found the puzzle harder than the average Tuesday (by close to a minute)—from the BARK AT / HOWL AT trap at 1A: Serenade, as the moon to the never-ever-heard-it-used-that-way REHABS at 31D: Fixes up, as an old house to the interesting but unusual stuff in the SW corner, most notably ONE LB and ON AUTO (the latter didn't come together until I got every single cross). Even [Shore dinner staple] didn't quite compute for me. I can get CRAB anywhere ... Cool to see John MCPHEE in the grid. He's a good writer.

    Theme answers:
    • 20A: *Wish desperately (HOPE AGAINST HOPE)
    • 28A: *Be worry-free (SLEEP EASY)
    • 43A: *Muhammad Ali ring tactic (ROPE-A-DOPE)
    • 53A: *John Constable or Camille Pissarro (LANDSCAPE ARTIST) 
    • 4D: *Like some bunnies and puppies (LOP-EARED) 
    • 14A: Colored part of the iris (AREOLA) — I associate this more with the breast than the eye.
    • 42A: Facebook competitor (MYSPACE) — yes, the way the Washington Generals are [Globetrotters' competitors]. 
    • 1D: Dinner from previous dinners (HASH) — another example of an answer's just not coming easily. Tried to think of a shortish word for "leftovers."
    • 2D: Modern ice cream flavor (OREO) — as opposed to what, *ancient* ice cream flavor. First, it's not a flavor, it's a brand. Second, "Cookies & Cream" has been around a long time, and that's essentially what OREO ice cream is. So "modern" is an odd term. Is anything besides the five Canonical flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Rocky Road, and ... Butter Brickle??) considered "modern?"

    • 42D: Word on a biblical wall ("MENE") — Grandma got me a book once about phrases in the Bible—the title was "MENE MENE TEKEL." Never read it, but turns out I learned something valuable just by reading the title.
    • 52D: "The ___ is out there" (catchphrase on "The X-Files") (TRUTH) — yet another TV show that everyone around me seemed to love but that I never watched. Never ever cared about the paranormal or the loopy people who believe in it.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Homer Simpson's favorite meat item / MON 12-19-11 / Amazing magician / Tree-lined way in France

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Constructor: Richard Chisholm

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "We" — first words of theme answers are all homophones

    Word of the Day: RANDI (48A: "Amazing" magician) —
    James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge; August 7, 1928) is a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician named The Amazing Randi, but after retiring at age 60, he began investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively calls "woo-woo." (wikipedia)
    • • •
    [FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

    • • •
    Seen it.

    Once, from the back end, here.

    And again, earlier (before WII was invented), in the New York Sun (June '06)—theme answers WEE WILLIE WINKIE, OUI MONSIEUR, and WE SHALL OVERCOME. This is the kind of stuff you're supposed to check before embarking on a puzzle.

    Blew through this like it wasn't there until the very very end when I lost precious seconds in the southwest. Took me a couple beats to get the front end of -CONSOLE (GAME wouldn't fit, then the theme dawned on me). Then I ran into the WIT / WAG issue (54D: Joker). Correctly went with WAG, but then erased it when I saw [Pond swimmers] would then start with "G." Must be WIT / TOADS, I reasoned. So, yeah, I hate the idea of GEESE as "swimmers" (though, of course, they are). I also hate the definition on CONDONE (40D: Overlook, as something that's illegal), a word that strongly implies approval or endorsement, not mere overlooking. I see that "overlook" is listed as a synonym in places, but I still think it sucks as a definition. Anyway, just that little hiccup there kept me from getting under 3 minutes.

    I like "GIVE IT A TRY" (3D: Encouragement after "Go on") and PORK CHOP (39A: Homer Simpson's favorite meat item). You can have the rest of the puzzle back.

    Theme answers:
    • 18A: Young girls in Glasgow (WEE LASSIES)
    • 26A: First words of the Constitution ("WE THE PEOPLE...")
    • 43A: Polite assent in Paris (OUI, MONSIEUR)
    • 54A: Piece of Nintendo game equipment (WII CONSOLE)

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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