Orioles hurler 1966 champs / THU 3-31-11 / Solo crooner Oh My Pa-Pa #1 1954 / 140 pounds in Britain / 1970s sitcom ended with title character Congress

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Constructors: Jeremy Horwitz and Tyler Hinman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: PERFECT PITCH (19D: Something the eight people at 3-, 9-, 28- and 30-Down have all strived for?) — theme answers are all names shared by World-Series-winning Major League baseball pitchers and #1-charting singers / musicians

Word of the Day: TAI CHI CHUAN (62A: Dojo discipline) —

Tai chi chuan (simplified Chinese: 太极拳; traditional Chinese: 太極拳; pinyin: tàijíquán; Wade–Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) (literal translation "Supreme Ultimate Fist") is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity. As a consequence, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of tai chi chuan's training forms are especially known for being practiced at what most people categorize as slow movement. // Today, tai chi has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of tai chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. (wikipedia)

• • •

As much as yesterday's puzzle was outside my wheelhouse, this one is in it. Right in it. I just clobbered this one. Minute and a half faster than yesterday, and a good minute faster than last Thursday. Seven of the eight men involved in the theme answers are well known to me—the only one I'd never heard of was the pitcher EDDIE FISHER, but I was able to get singer EDDIE FISHER off just the EDD-, so no sweat. Even TAI CHI CHUAN was in my back pocket—I'm guessing most folks know the TAI CHI part, but not the CHUAN. Annoyed to see that the same damn stupid clue for TAI CHI (CHUAN) is still being used — "Dojo" is from a different language and refers to different martial arts from a different country. Come on. Have some respect—China and Japan are different. Their martial arts are different. Terminology is different. Practiced TAI CHI for years and never saw or heard the word "Dojo" (for good reason). I see that there are a few places out there using the word "dojo" to describe their TAI CHI studios, but that's probably for commercial purposes, i.e. people are familiar with the term from pop culture. Please keep "dojo" away from TAI CHI clues. I'm sure "Dojo" is, in some rigmarolish way, defensible, but I don't care. It's not right. Thank you. End rant.

Only places I struggled were in a couple of corners—a little bit in the NE (where PEDICAB took its sweet time showing up (7A: Way around Shanghai), and where I had DORA for CORA (11D: Mrs. Dithers of the comics)), and a lot in the SE, where SIC for SUE (65A: Go after) and NAB for NET (71A: Capture) made a hash of things down there until MAUDE (55D: 1970s sitcom that ended with the title character in Congress)! And then there's MAUDE! She saved the day (god bless you, Bea Arthur). The only weird thing about the theme is that DAVE STEWART of the Eurythmics is *not* a singer, which makes PERFECT PITCH slightly odd, since that's a phrase I've only ever heard in relation to the voice. But instruments have pitches too, obviously, so ... it'll stretch. I especially like that all the pitchers won World Series and all the music folk hit #1. That's oddly serendipitous, theme coherence-wise. KENNY ROGERS actually once pitched a PERFECT game. DAVE STEWART didn't, but he did throw a no-hitter.

Theme answers:
  • 3D: Yankees hurler (1996 champs) / Solo singer of "Lady" (#1 in 1980) (KENNY ROGERS)
  • 28D: Orioles hurler (1966 champs) / Solo crooner of "Oh! My Pa-Pa" (#1 in 1954) (EDDIE FISHER) — father of Princess LEIA
  • 9D: A's hurler (1989 champs) / Eurythmics musician on "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" (#1 in 1983) (DAVE STEWART)
  • 30D: Giants hurler (2010 champs) / Beach Boys vocalist on "Help Me, Rhonda" (#1 in 1965) (BRIAN WILSON)
  • 20A: 140 pounds, in Britain (TEN STONE) — had ...-TON- part and really wanted something-TONS, despite the fact that 140 pounds isn't anywhere near a ton.
  • 24A: Distant sign of affection? (AIR KISS) — nice clue, nice answer.
  • 47A: 1994 Costner title role (EARP) — Wow, there was a movie called "EARP?" That one got by me.

  • 57DA: "Less Than Zero" (ELLIS) — more wheelhouseness. "Less Than Zero" was a Big movie when I was younger. ELLIS's "American Psycho" was big (controversial) news when I was in college.
  • 67A: Car co-created and named by John DeLorean (GTO) — well that's some odd trivia that I am sure to forget right ... now.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dolly matchmaker / WED 3-30-11 / Foreman portrayer House / Illness caused eating Cheetos / Newspapers read by royalty

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Constructor: Erik Wennstrom

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: RED-SHIFTED (47A: Lie light from stars moving away from us ... or like the answer to this puzzle's starred clues?) — familiar two-word phrases where first word is a color that is re-colored by the addition of red, i.e. BLUEPRINT becomes BLUE+red PRINT, or PURPLEPRINT

Word of the Day: Atacama (69A: Like the Atacama=SERE) —

The Atacama Desert is one of the few deserts on Earth that does not receive any rain. It is a plateau in South America, covering a 600-mile (1,000 km) strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes mountains. The Atacama desert is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest desert in the world, due to the rain shadow on the leeward side of the Chilean Coast Range, as well as a coastal inversion layer created by the cold offshore Humboldt Current. The Atacama occupies 40,600 square miles (105,000 km2) in northern Chile, composed mostly of salt basins (salares), sand, and felsic lava flows towards the Andes. (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme and much of the fill here was simply way, way outside my wheelhouse. Never heard of ... ugh, so much of this stuff. Never seen or heard the phrase RED-SHIFTED before, first of all. Never. And since I didn't know if 30D: ___-Grain cereal bars was NUTRA or NUTRI, and since "SHAFTED" seemed (possibly) related to light, I was kind of screwed there for a bit. The theme phrases just did not feel natural or funny or ... anything. PINK WASHED? (29A: *Like a baby girls' laundry?) I got that and thought "I don't get it." Had PURPLE and wrote in PURPLE PROSE. It really seemed to fit the clue (11D: *Newspapers read by royalty?=>PURPLE PRINT). And then ORANGE FEVER—that just killed me. First, I misread "Cheetos" as "Cheerios" in the clue (25D: *Illness caused by eating Cheetos?), so I was never going to get ORANGE, though Cheerios box is yellow, so ... thought that was related somehow. But that whole section was brutal to me. Didn't see how [Done for] = GONE. If you're done for, you're a goner, but the clue/answer pair here didn't work for me. Never heard of Atacama (or I have and just couldn't place it), and even if I had, it would've taken some time/thought to get SERE. Never heard of Dolly LEVI (apparently the protagonist of "Hello, Dolly"!?!?) (60A: Dolly the matchmaker). Nooooo idea what kind of "Vista" AMER. could be a part of. Apparently Vista is an acronym (lack of capital letters notwithstanding—what the hell!?), standing for "Volunteers in Service to AMERica." Pfft. OK. Painful all around. Theme concept seems interesting, actually, but with the revealer meaning nothing to me, with the theme answers being not really funny or clever, and with so many answers bafflingly clued, I didn't enjoy the puzzle at all. I mean, even DVORAK flummoxed me (23A: Typewriter keyboard format). I know one keyboard. QWERTY. Just not my day, I guess.

Started out pretty easy as I moved diagonally through the grid, but the theme stuff just didn't make any sense to me for the longest time. Also, let me tell you that when you are looking at an answer that reads ---TNT, you are bound to doubt the accuracy of your answers. MUSTN'T, ugh. Clue did nothing for me, yet again (a theme!) (52A: "___ touch!"). I only hope that others liked this more than I did. My distaste is much more a matter of, well, taste than it is a matter of truly poor construction.

  • 22A: Foreman portrayer on "House" (EPPS) — "How am I supposed to know the characters on ... oh, right, that's the one with Omar EPPS. Nevermind." He's the ESAI Morales of the 21st century (which will probably be news to ESAI himself, who is still working, as far as I know).
  • 43A: Often-mocked cars of the past (YUGOS) — another clue that took me way too long to solve. My mocked car list had one model on it: EDSEL.
  • 51A: Opportunities for discussion (FORA) — another toughie. Unusual plural.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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West-coasters should consider coming out and supporting the Crosswords L.A. Tournament on Sunday, May 1, 2011, at Loyola-Marymount University. It's a charity tournament that benefits "Reading to Kids." This year the tournament will feature all original puzzles commissioned specifically for the tournament by some amazing constructors (I know—I've seen/tested the puzzles). You can compete as an individual or as part of a pair, and those who would rather not compete can register as a spectator. But really, you should compete. Don't worry if you don't think of yourself as "competitive." Most people will be there to have fun, solve good puzzles, and socialize. The vibe is very laid-back (it's practically on the beach, after all). For more information, and to register, go here. Better yet, go here, to the "Frequently Asked Questions" page. Very thorough. And spread the word.


Naturalist John / TUE 3-29-11 / Barrel supports / Early Indian invader / Feminizing suffix / Protagonists in Star Wars / PC screen type

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ELIZABETH / TAYLOR (55A: With 17-Across, late Hollywood star)—several different roles and movie titles populate the grid

Word of the Day: METAZOAN (37D: Multicellular animal) —

(zoology) The multicellular animals that make up the major portion of the animal kingdom; cells are organized in layers or groups as specialized tissues or organ systems. (answers.com)
• • •

Not great as tribute puzzles go. This one feels hastily thrown together, with roles and partial titles and titles all cobbled together into a dense but arbitrary arrangement. "THE SANDPIPER?!" What the heck is that. It's certainly not a definitive Liz Taylor role, that's for sure. SUMMER feels like a pretty weak way to get a symmetrical answer for TAYLOR (it's also a bit weird to have her name divided up the way it is, with last name coming first ...). The best part about the grid was the numeral "8" in "BUTTERFIELD 8" / 8 TIMES. Otherwise, straightforward and kind of dull. Weak in theme answers as well as overall fill (though ACUTE PAIN next to WOMANIZE is nice, especially in a grid with this kind of theme density).

Theme answers:
  • 4D: 1944 title role for 55-/17-Across (VELVET)
  • 21A: 1963 title role for 55-/17-Across (CLEOPATRA)
  • 27A: 1965 film starring 55-/17-Across (THE SANDPIPER)
  • 45A: 1960 film for which 55-/17-Across won a Best Actress Oscar (BUTTERFIELD 8)
  • 49D: How often 55-/17-Across was married (8 TIMES)
  • 61A: "Suddenly, Last ___" (1959 film starring 55-/17-Across) ("SUMMER")

  • 3D: Early Indian invader (ARYAN) — baffled by this one, which made the NW a bit harder than normal (esp. true give the intersecting theme answers—difficult to pick up if you don't know the theme yet).
  • 29D: Feminizing suffix (-ENNE) — hate this clue, generally. First, I know it'll be a suffix (suboptimal fill). Second, it could be at least four different things. No way to know except from crosses.
  • 47D: Protagonists in "Star Wars" (REBELS) — hmmm. I guess so, though "protagonists" doesn't sit quite right with me. HAN Solo is a protagonist. REBELS are a group he generally belongs to (by the end). Don't think of the collective as "protagonists."
That's all for today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Spanish discoverer of the Pacific 1513 / MON 3-28-11 / English pirate captain / Diplomat Annan / Food thrown to lions / Fawn's father

Monday, March 28, 2011

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: CHIPS (69A: Things that 18-, 27-, 46- and 60-Across may have)

Word of the Day: BALBOA (48A: Spanish discoverer of the Pacific, 1513) —

Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c. 1475 – January 15, 1519) was a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador. He is best known for having crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean in 1513, becoming the first European to lead an expedition to have seen or reached the Pacific from the New World. // He traveled to the New World in 1500 and, after some exploration, settled on the island of Hispaniola. He founded the settlement of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in present-day Colombia in 1510, which was the first permanent European settlement on the mainland of the Americas (a settlement by Alonso de Ojeda the previous year at San Sebastián de Urabá had already been abandoned). (wikipedia)

• • •

Solving on paper now, so I'm far less certain of how difficult puzzles are. Today's felt very easy from the NW straight through to the SE, but the NE and (esp.) SW corners really thwarted my speedy forward progress today. At high speeds, it doesn't take much (for me) to get derailed. In the NE, I simply couldn't come up with DIVERGE (22A: Branch off), even with D-, then DI-, DIV-, and DIVE- in place; brain wanted only DIVERT. Bah. Crosses finally forced me to see the (now) obvious. Stutter-stepping so much cost me valuable seconds. But the real tripping took place in the SW, where neither BALBOA nor AT RANDOM (39D: Haphazardly) would come, and so I just couldn't sweep straight into that corner at all. Had to reboot—Always a dicey proposition, and a time thief. First few clues I looked at were too vague to be gimmes. Finally saw KOFI (64A: Diplomat Annan) and worked that corner from there. BALBOA just isn't in my first (Monday) tier of explorer names. No idea why ATR- didn't trigger AT RANDOM. It just didn't. Dangerously wrote in some answers without looking at clues. Worked fine for BRITISH PUBS and RED MEAT. Didn't work so fine at BRUIN (had BR-IN, wrote in BRAIN) (51D: Boston N.H.L.'er). Had SORT instead of SCAN (67A: Copiers do it). Wrote in SIRE (!?) instead of STAG (34A: Fawn's father). I have a Lot of work to do to become an effective speed solver on Easy puzzles. I'm just a mess.

To recap: The puzzle was not hard by any means, but speeding caused much tripping.

The theme is fine. Don't like OLD DISHES as a theme answer (not a thing), but the variety of CHIPS is impressive.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Much-used dinnerware (OLD DISHES)
  • 27A: Centers of casino action (POKER TABLES)
  • 46A: Places to drink and play darts (BRITISH PUBS)
  • 60A: They're shrugged (SHOULDERS)
  • 29D: English pirate captain (KIDD) — along with BALBOA, another proper noun that just wouldn't jump out of my brain and onto the paper (brain wanted KIDD, actually, but then vetoed it when the only KIDD it could identify accurately was Jason KIDD)
  • 5D: Like living with Mom and Dad, perhaps (RENT-FREE) — like this answer. Can't recall having seen it before.
  • 38A: Food thrown to lions (RED MEAT) — I'd have thought RAW, but ... yeah, probably also RED.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Soap opera creator Phillips / SUN 3-27-11 / Bally enthusiasts / make.believe sloganeer / Pixar robot female voice / Citrusy cocktail mixer

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Get Ready to Roll" — A bowling rebus puzzle, with PIN and BALL squares and circles that spell out the word GUTTER along both sides of the grid... plus three theme-related answers:

  • UP ONE'S ALLEY (101D: Suited to a person's strengths)
  • SPLIT DECISION (49D: 5-4 ruling, e.g.)
  • SPARE MOMENTS (9D: Bit of free time)
BALL squares appear to represent a trajectory suggesting a bowler attempting to pick up a SPLIT / SPARE...

Word of the Day: IRNA Phillips (30D: Soap opera creator Phillips) —
Irna Phillips (July 1, 1901 – December 22, 1973) was an American actress and most notably writer who created and scripted many of the first American soap operas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Getting a late start on this one, as I was over at friends' for most of the night, so write-up will have to be shorter than I'd normally like. I was a big fan of Kevin Der's last Sunday architectural marvel: the Chinese Zodiac puzzle. This one ... I'm less thrilled by, first because the exact thing being represented in the grid isn't entirely clear (and there's no key phrase uniting at all), and second because of the loopy fill that I had to wade through in order to finish. I know you have to make allowances for cruddy / strange / forced fill in a grid with so many architectural demands, but ... well, I picked up the theme at T-[BALL] GLOVE and immediately thought, "that's a thing? They have special gloves designed for T-BALL? Isn't the act of catching the ball exactly the same as in baseball?" [FYI they appear to be simply smallish baseball gloves] I then went on to fight off CREAMWARE and LIMECORDIAL (83A: Citrusy cocktail mixer) and NEOGENE (!) (53A: Period of the Cenozoic Era) and a ton of odd abbrevs. and IRNA and CA[BALL]ED and ALEMAN. Lack of a tight theme / clear visual made the awkward stuff more distracting than it ought to have been. I expect I'll be in the minority today. So be it. I was dutifully impressed by the construction, and I did have a genuine little AHA moment when the first "BALL" made me notice that the "U" and "T" in the circles were part of "GUTTER," but in the end this strikes (!) me more as an interesting oddity or curiosity than a brilliantly executed puzzle.

  • 19A: Century in Amer. politics (U.S. SENATE) — "Century? Oh, *that* century ... ugh."
  • 24A: Bally enthusiasts (PINBALLERS) — the marquee answer, in some ways. Two rebus squares + enigmatic clue (which Bally? The bra people? The fitness people? ...)
  • 94A: Drink with tempura, maybe (ASAHI) — SAKE! Oh. No. OK.
  • 144A: Pixar robot with a female voice (EVE) — I think this is from "Wall-E." Never saw it.
  • 115A: "make.believe" sloganeer (SONY) — again, not on my radar, but easy to pick up.
  • 77A: Red-haired film princess (FIONA) — from "Shrek." You get the feeling Mr. Der likes his animated movies ... (see also ASNER, 8D: Ed heard in "Up")
  • 35D: Ambulance, slangily (MEAT WAGON) — nice answer, though surprisingly gruesome for a Sunday NYT...
  • 993D: Highlands daggers (DIRKS) — considered SNEES. Reconsidered.
  • 120D: Engage in a 1920s fad (POLESIT) — I liked this answer, and the entire bottom portion of the grid, actually.

  • 134D: W. or Bam (PREZ) — I confess I have no idea what "Bam" means here ... huh. Obama. I have literally Never seen / heard him called that, though I can find all kinds of examples when I google. It's a stupid nickname, if only because (I presume) it's pronounced differently than the "bam" part of Obama's name. Like the sound effect "Bam!" Not at all equivalent to "W.," which is a widely known nickname, the title of a movie about Bush, etc.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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French actress Saint-Cyr / SAT 3-26-11 / Constellation next to Pavo / Creature revered by Mayans / Quarry boss of cartoons / Film villain sings Daisy

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Constructor: Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: QUETZAL (42D: Creature revered by the Mayans) —

Quetzals are strikingly colored birds in the trogon family (Trogonidae). They are found in forests and woodlands, especially in humid highlands, with the five species from the genus Pharomachrus being exclusively Neotropical, while the single Euptilotis species is almost entirely restricted to western Mexico (marginally also in adjacent U.S. states). They are fairly large (all over 32 cm or 13 inches), slightly bigger than other trogon species. Trogons have iridescent green or golden-green wing coverts, back, chest and head, and a red belly. They are strongly sexually dimorphic, and parts of the females' plumage is brown or grey. These largely solitary birds feed on fruits, berries, insects and small vertebrates (e.g. frogs), and can, despite the bright plumage, be surprisingly difficult to see in their wooded habitats. (wikipedia)
• • •

Too lazy to get off the couch, go upstairs, print out puzzle, and solve it on paper, so I just grabbed my laptop and solved while lying on the couch, with college basketball blaring nearby and with various bedtime preparations happening around me. Even with the distractions, and the utter lack of speed urgency on my part, I still finished in just a shade over 9—fast for me, for a Saturday, and wicked fast for me for a Brad Wilber Saturday. If only I'd remembered stupid CHÈVRE more quickly (1A: Goat cheese), I'd have been even faster. Very little resistance today. Biggest issues—figuring out what [Gone con] was after ("oh ... a con who has gone ... gotcha") (ESCAPEE); trying to remember which HENRY I was after (IV) (2D: John of Gaunt's son); convincing myself QUETZAL could stand on its own, without COATL; getting to HOGTIE from HOBBLE (65A: Render helpless) ... and that's pretty much it. Really like this grid—lots of Scrabbly letters and interesting words/phrases, not a lot of dreck. You can keep your stunt grids with the stacked 15s and big white spaces and what not. I'll take a modest-looking 70-72-word grid with tough clues and bouncy, in-the-language, original fill (BYE WEEK!) (45D: Idle stretch for an N.F.L. team) any day.

There were a few things I just didn't know—RENEE Saint-Cyr, for instance (36D: French actress Saint-Cyr). I know Lili St. Cyr (grrr...), but not RENEE. Knew QUEEN MAB and HESIOD, but their clues didn't make them easy to pick up (42A: She "gallops o'er a courtier's nose," in Shakespeare + 15A: Ancient "Works and Days" poet). Know SHREK, of course, but not as a musical (13D: 2009 Best Musical nominee). No idea that ARA was next to Pavo, but constellation in three letters = ARA until I'm shown otherwise. Prince HAL was the son of HENRY IV, but today the clue on HAL is much more modern and creepy (32A: Film villain who sings "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do!"). The "Daisy" scene in "2001" is amazingly sad, almost touching. I've never thought of HAL as a proper "villain." I sort of like him.

  • 23A: Cagney's employer (NYPD) — I'm assuming this is the Cagney of "Cagney & Lacey," a show any disco-era kid (or 80s teenager) (or X'ER) would have at least a passing familiarity with.
  • 38A: First man featured on the cover of the U.S. edition of Vogue (GERE) — apparently it's "Mildly Obscure Clues for Richard GERE" week at the NYT (see 46A, yesterday)
  • 49A: Biden's successor on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (KERRY) — that clue, like KERRY, makes me want to sleep.
  • 64A: So-called "wand of heaven" (ALOE VERA) — anyone so-calling it that has never been anywhere around me. Luckily, this answer was easy to pick up from crosses.
  • 8D: They may evoke tristesse (ADIEUX)GERE twice in two days, not that weird. ADIEUX *and* GERE twice in two days, a little weird.
  • 26D: Brave protector (TEPEE) — I can see how this clue might have been misleading, but I had all the Es in place before I ever saw the clue.
  • 43D: Quarry boss of cartoons (MRS. LATE) — really mean lady. Also, kind of a night owl.
  • 56D: Beatle George studied under him (RAVI) — Shankar. "Beatle George" sounds really weird. Like Beetlejuice meets Curious George.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rush drummer/lyricist Neil / FRI 3-25-11 / Blue-backed Dr. Seuss character / One-named rock star 1990s-2000s / Wild flowers in Sara Teasdale poem

Friday, March 25, 2011

Constructor: Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: The TYMES (47A: Group with the 1963 #1 hit "So Much in Love") —

The Tymes are an American soul vocal group, who enjoyed equal success in the United Kingdom as their homeland. They share the distinction of being one of the few acts to have one and only one chart-topper in both the U.S. and UK with different titles [...] Their song "So Much in Love" was elected to the Songs of the Century in 2001. In 2005 The Tymes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. As of 2006, they are still performing, with three of the original five group members; they appeared on the PBS special, My Music: Love Songs of the 50s and 60s. (wikipedia)

• • •

Very, very slow start for me. Couldn't get a foothold anywhere. Had a *very* tentative ARE WE in the NW (4D: "___ ready?"), a somewhat less tentative but still not rock solid ORECK in the SW (37A: Hoover rival), and not much else. Kept circling the grid, looking at short stuff, trying to get in, when I finally made some headway in the unlikeliest of places: ILA (42A: Pier grp.). I can barely tell ILA apart from ILO, and the only reason I know either is because of crosswords, but for some reason, that initialism felt Right, and I plunked LEANER (43D: "Almost" in horseshoes) and I'M DONE (42D: "All finished!") down shortly thereafter. Used those and gimmes LANG (52D: Filmmaker Fritz) and ATEE (53D: Exactly, after "to") to wrangle the SE, and I was off, building continuously (though sometimes slowly) on what I had until I finished the puzzle.

Lots of this stuff ended up falling into my wheelhouse (ironic, given the Ugly start I had): ALEPPO (39D: Largest city in Syria) is in "Othello" and a Nabokov short story whose title cites "Othello" ("That in ALEPPO Once..."). GEN X'ER ... well, I am one (41D: Millennial's parent). That was easy. NSF I know from having academic scientist friends (36D: Univ. research grantor). Neil PEART (31A: Rush drummer/lyricist Neil) ... well, see GEN X'ER, above. That guy was legendary, esp. among a certain kind of boy in the 80s (not me, but kids I knew, for sure). I quite enjoy BECK (30D: One-named rock star of the 1990s-2000s). As a onetime medievalist, I'm amused by the presence of JOUSTS at a "Renaissance" fair (8A: Renaissance fair sights). TREF is one of my most memorable of all crossword words (22A: Not allowed on certain diets), as I thought I had made it up during my first tournament puzzle experience—come to find out, it's a very common word in some sets (not to this California GEN X'ER, that's for sure). With the exception of ECK (45A: Opponent of Luther during the Protestant Reformation), PEART, and TYMES, this puzzle had little in the way obscurities, getting all its difficulty from rough cluing (that ION clue, yikes—25A: ___ drive (engine in "Star Wars")). Hard for me to dislike a puzzle with TIME WARP (12D: Dance in which "you bring your knees in tight"), ERIC IDLE (33D: "And Now for Something Completely Different" co-star) and STEAMY SLEAZE (18A: R-rated, maybe + 56A: Schlock). All in all, a suitably tough and entertaining romp from Mr. Nothnagel (constructor of the Finals puzzle at this year's ACPT)

  • 59A: Where some jets originate (GEYSERS) — this was *not* one of yesterday's options!
  • 30A: She "espied their tails side by side / All hung on a tree to dry" (BO-PEEP) — not a part of the rhyme I know, but I had that terminal "P" and figured it out almost immediately by context.
  • 55A: Onetime General Motors spokesman (PAT BOONE) — Had forgotten or else never knew this.

  • 10D: Uintah and Ouray Reservation tribe (UTES) — UINTA mts. (a must-know bit of crossword fill) are in Utah, so ... that was a clue, though it doesn't take much prodding for a solver to get from nothing to UTES. Tribe in four = UTES or OTOS / OTOE and then a host of other less common possibilities like, say, CREE.
  • 13D: Those involved in cutting class at school? (STYLISTS) — well this one gave me fits. Had ST--ISTS and still needed help from the crosses (another beanball of a clue at 20A: Digs for peanuts? => HOSTEL).
  • 15D: Blue-backed Dr. Seuss character (YERTLE) — the Turtle. I was at a loss until eventually I had the -TLE. Not on heavy rotation when I was a child. (Dr. Seuss Dictionary and "Green Eggs and Ham" and "One Fish, Two Fish" were the Seuss books of my childhood)
  • "Wild" flowers in a Sara Teasdale poem (ASTERS) — not a poem I know. A very tough ASTERS clue (though as with UTES, it's not hard for a constant solver to get to ASTERS with minimal clue prodding: "Flower ... starts with "A" ... sure."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. nice (loooong) write-up of the ACPT over at PuzzleGirl's "L.A. Crossword Confidential"


Rock bassist Weymouth / THU 3-24-11 / Muckraker Tarbell / Camp historic Mormon expedition / Ruth chaser 1961 / TMZ twosome

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: JETS — single circle opens each of 4 long theme answers; these four circles spell out JETS, which, in turn, is the clue for every long theme answer (all of which are clued [See circles])

Word of the Day: TINA Weymouth (55D: Rock bassist Weymouth) —
Martina Michèle "Tina" Weymouth (born November 22, 1950, Coronado, California) is an American musician, best known as a founding member and bassist of the New Wave group Talking Heads and its side project Tom Tom Club (co-founded with husband and Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz). (wikipedia)

• • •

Circles, clueless answers, and answers that are really clues (here, with the "answer" in every case being JETS) are all things I tend Not to like in my puzzles. The last category especially bugs me, as the resulting fill is usually somewhat forced and not totally natural-sounding. That said, this puzzle was executed about as well as a puzzle of this type can be. Circles actually add an interesting twist (and an interesting limitation on the theme answers). All theme answers are exactly 15 letters long, and, with the slight exception of ENGINES ON A PLANE, feel like very believable crossword clues for JETS. DANO was a mystery to me (36A: Paul of "There Will Be Blood"), but everything else felt very familiar, with only the clues providing difficulty (this is a good thing). So, despite moments of exasperation, I liked it fine.

Had no idea how to get to YEAGER from the clue: 48D: Flier of the X-1—no idea what an "-1" is. Also no idea (until I had just one letter left) what [Keen] could possibly be if not SHARP (my first answer). SWELL? So it's dated slang, like NEATO. Argh. That little region roughed me up a bit. Clue on TRAPS was good but vicious (19D: Green surroundings?). I had no idea. TRACT? TRAIL? Weirdly, I wanted SAHIB (35A: Title of respect) from the get-go, but wouldn't put it in because TRA-S didn't seem plausible as a potential answer for 19D. Thought clues on LUTE (16A: Subject of a lesson for Katharina in "The Taming of the Shrew"), SHAW (65A: The 1999 comedy "She's All That" is based on his work), and ZION'S (18D: ___ Camp, historic Mormon expedition led by Joseph Smith) were all pretty hard. On the other hand, I had good luck with ATELIERS and PIE PLATE (39D: Makeshift frisbee), putting both of them in right away (once I got a cross or two to confirm them). West gave me perhaps most trouble of all. END AT just sounded wrong as answer for [Finish on], and ALOHA shirt (41A: ___ shirt (colorful short-sleeved attire))??? In America, we call them "Hawaiian shirts" (I feel as if I've written that exact sentence before). And DANO, as I say, is no one to me.

I almost made a stupid mistake at 66A: Unveiled, writing in BORE as if it were the past tense of "bare," when of course it's the past tense of "bear." Luckily, I love Talking Heads and knew TINA Weymouth, who gave me the "A" that showed me that [Unveiled] was an adjective, not a verb=>BARE.

  • 23A: Muckraker Tarbell (IDA) — pretty much the top of the IDA list.
  • 43A: Ruth chaser in 1961 (MARIS) — one of the few very easy clues in the puzzle.
  • 32D: Kindle download (E-BOOK) — got slightly confused here, as I thought that EBOOK was a specific format that Kindle did not, in fact, handle. . . but E-BOOK is just a general term for electronic book, and in that sense, this clue is fine. I mostly use my Kindle to read the NYT (I pay for the privilege, so all this new paywall stuff is just noise to me right now). Read a bit more of "Count of Monte Cristo" on my Kindle today, in fact. It was a snow day (lousy Smarch!) and family was home, so not a lot of work happened. Mainly, this happened:

And a little bit of this:

Could've been worse.

See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. though she won't see this today, probably, all my love and best wishes to my good friend (and fellow crossword junkie) who underwent major surgery yesterday. Just got notified that all went well. Can't wait to have you back, sweetheart.


Bandmate of Johnny Rotten / WED 3-23-11 / Ancient land in modern Jordan / Onetime exam in British schools / Home to Da Vinci's L'Ultima Cena

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: JULIUS CAESAR (54A: Speaker of the Latin quote hidden in the answers to the starred clues ... and the English language-quote hidden in the answers to the double-starred clues) — "VENI VIDI VICI" and "THE DIE IS CAST," respectively

Word of the Day: AKIO Morita (57D: Sony co-founder Morita) —

Akio Morita KBE (盛田 昭夫 Morita Akio, January 26, 1921, Tokoname, Aichi – October 3, 1999, Tokyo) was a Japanese businessman and co-founder of Sony Corporation along with Masaru Ibuka. (wikipedia)
• • •

Solved on paper, in preparation for my run at next year's B Finals (ACPT 2012) (all puzzles are done on paper at the ACPT). I tend to solve on-screen because it's so much more convenient, but the mechanics of on-paper solving are completely different, and something I need to get much more used to. I learned to solve crosswords on paper, but that was long before I got very good, and well before I'd even heard of software that allowed for on-screen solving. At any rate, I'm moving back to paper for my NYT-solving now, for the most part, which means having to get used to a whole new set of difficulty norms (on-paper times are inevitably slower). This is all to say that I don't really know how difficult this was. I had moments of sputtering, but overall it felt very doable—perhaps even a bit moreso than an average Wednesday. Hardest part was figuring out the second part of the theme, i.e. seeing THE DIE IS CAST "hidden" in the answers to those four double-starred clues (I'd have been more impressed with a hidden ALEA IACTA EST). I'm ambivalent about the theme—the double-star, double-language aspect is interesting, but those words aren't exactly hard to "hide," and the quotes are unrelated, and only one of the "hidden" words actually touches more than one word in its answer. So ... I'm on the fence. Neither up nor down for me. I came, I saw, I shrugged.

Theme answers:
  • EVENINGDRESS VIVIDIMAGE SIDVICIOUS (Soiree attire / Indelible picture in the mind / Bandmate of Johnny Rotten)
  • THEIR ADIEU VISIT CASTE ("His/her" alternative / Parting word / Sojourn / Social grouping)

Pencil-solving allows me to see quite vividly where I struggled. I rarely take the time to erase, choosing instead to scrawl new letters on top of old, leaving a strange palimpsest for the judges/computers to interpret (no problems so far). Today, the place de resistance was the NE, where failure to come up with the RX-8 carmaker (HONDA? ACURA? No, MAZDA) and failure to guess quickly what followed EVENING (DRESS, it turns out), meant that that corner gave me minor fits. I think I got TEES (12D: Concert souvenirs), and then DRESS, and then tried HONDA, and when that didn't work, MAZDA, and it went down from there. Tournament experience has taught me that in speed-solving, you are in your own world where time runs differently—what feels like epic struggle might only be 10-15 seconds. I thought I was really getting beaten up by Puzzle 5 as I was solving it at the tourney ... but I ended up with the 11th best score on that puzzle (out of 650 or so solvers). Of course on the easiest puzzle (Puzzle 1), I got so caught up in speed that I left a square blank—a horribly costly error (I'd have been close to the Top 20 overall if I'd simply filled that stupid little square in—it's not like the cross was tough; I just missed it).

Two other hiccups today: LIMO for SEMI (7D: Hard-to-park vehicle) and E'ER for O'ER (63D: Poetic contraction). Otherwise, pretty smooth sailing.

  • 34A: Onetime exam in British schools (O LEVEL) — did not know the O LEVELs were "onetime." I've seen A LEVEL and O LEVEL several times in recent puzzles, after (or so it seems) never having seen them before. Weird.
  • 50A: Ancient land in modern Jordan (EDOM) — one of many four-letter Mediterraneanish geographical clues I can't keep straight. See also ELEA, which I also confuse with ALEA, which, given today's theme, is interestingly coincidental.
  • 11D: y= 3x + 5 representation, e.g. (LINE) — true enough, though I couldn't see it. Technically, y = x is a LINE, right?
  • 23D: Home to da Vinci's "L'Ultima Cena" (MILANO) — I was just wondering what it was about this clue that indicated the Italian spelling, when I realized that the "L'Ultima Cena" is Italian for "The Last Supper." Aha.
  • 33D: Danish city where Hans Christian Andersen was born (ODENSE) — vaguely rings a bell. Got most if not all of it from crosses.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Jazz trombonist Kid / TUE 3-22-11 / English theologian Watts / Emu's extinct cousin / Greg's sitcom mate / Considered good by Moody's

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Constructor: Albert R. Picallo

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: TWIST OF FATE (35A: Unexpected development ... or what the answer to each starred clue contains?) — eight different arrangements of the letters F, E, A, and T appear in symmetrical answers in the grid.

Word of the Day: Kid ORY (42A: Jazz trombonist Kid ___) —

Edward "Kid" Ory (December 25, 1886 – January 23, 1973) was a jazz trombonist and bandleader.[...] Ory was a banjo player during his youth and it is said that his ability to play the banjo helped him develop "tailgate," a particular style of playing the trombone. In "tailgate" style the trombone plays a rhythmic line underneath the trumpets and cornets. // He had one of the best-known bands in New Orleans in the 1910s, hiring many of the great jazz musicians of the city, including, cornetists Joe "King" Oliver, Mutt Carey, and Louis Armstrong; and clarinetists Johnny Dodds and Jimmie Noone. [...] The Ory band was an important force in reviving interest in New Orleans jazz, making popular radio broadcasts—among them a number of slots on the Orson Welles Almanac broadcast and a jazz history series sponsored by Standard Oil—as well as by making recordings. Ory retired from music in 1966 and spent his last years in Hawaii ... (wikipedia)
• • •

First reaction: FEAT? Just ... different letter arrangements? Why? Then I went to type in all the standard info (above), such as Constructor, Difficulty Level, and Theme. What should I call it? I know: TWIST OF FATE ... wait. That really, really should have been this puzzle's title. WAIT! It's the answer smack in the middle of the grid! Wow, way to not pay attention, Rex. Anyway, TWIST OF FATE makes all the damned circles and random letter arrangements somewhat more tolerable. Annoyed at the doubling up of theme clues about musicals, as it detracts / distracts from the actual theme (also, musicals schmusicals). Also annoyed at ORY, a terrible bit of crosswordese, as well as ITRY, which is somewhat less terrible, but somehow still irksome to me (32D: Modest response to praise). Rest of the grid seems pretty solid—impressive for a puzzle with such theme density. Hmmm, on second look, there is a little more not-so-nice stuff than I like to see in an easy puzzle: OST, OID, EXEL, MVI, ORY, EEC, EFOR = none of it great. Nice modern clue on SLIDER (47D: Small burger) (at least I assume it's modern, as I'd never heard of a SLIDER in my life until I started seeing them appear on menus about 3-5 years ago).

[One of the 80s-est videos / songs you'll ever see]

Theme answers:
  • 4D: *Song from "No, No, Nanette" ("TEA FOR TWO")

  • 18A: *Dining area (CAFETERIA)
  • 21A: *Result of collapsed arches (FLAT FEET)
  • 21D: *Daredevils' doings (FEATS)
  • 36D: *Kind of position (FETAL)
  • 34D: *"It Might as Well Be Spring" musical ("STATE FAIR")
  • 53A: *Nevertheless (AFTER ALL)
  • 56A: *Didn't disturb (LEFT ALONE)
NW and SE corners went down Very fast — except for the musicals clues, which required some crosses — and the rest felt like an ordinary Tuesday, with the ORY-ish middle being probably the most trying part of the grid.

  • 27A: Greg's sitcom mate (DHARMA) — Mmm, bygone sitcom characters. I guess a literal (or Kerouac) clue for DHARMA wouldn't be as Tuesdayey.
  • 31A: Period following homework completion, perhaps (TV TIME) — sounds original, though originality credit belongs to a 2003 Liz Gorski puzzle (the only other puzzle to use this answer)
  • 40A: Considered good by Moody's (RATED A) — they rate bonds. Speaking of which, the trial of Barry Bonds began today. No idea what Moody's would rate him.
  • 7D: English theologian Watts (ISAAC) — weird. Don't think I've even heard of this guy. Wikipedia say he was "recognized as the "Father of English Hymnody"" ... yep, sounds like something I wouldn't know.
  • 51D: Bob Cratchit, for one (CLERK) — ugh, slowed way down here because I was thinking Scrooge, not Cratchit.
  • 48A: Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey or Johnny of punk (RAMONE) — now there's an answer I can get behind.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. here are a handful of photos from this past weekend's ACPT ...

[From right, commenters Bob Kerfuffle, Mac, and imsdave]

[Me, gazing intently at ... I have no idea]

[Me, Andrea Michaels, and Patrick Blindauer]

[Sandy—patiently explaining to me how a "camera" works]

[Constructors Caleb Madison, Tony Orbach, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, solving Tony's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" puzzle—I think Brendan has just spotted ITUNE (singular) ...]

[Me, Caleb, and, a trophy that, as my sister put it, makes me look like I "took 5th at a regional speech & debate tournament."]

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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