Noted elephant designer / SAT 4-30-11 / Summer of Love prelude / "Grace Before Meat" pen name / Chef Ducasse / Toward der Orient

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Constructor: Frederick J. Healy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: None — It's Saturday, duh.

Word of the Day: EM'LY (66A: Mr. Peggotty's "little" niece) —

Emily (Little Em'ly) – A niece of Mr. Peggotty. She is a childhood friend of David Copperfield, who loves her in his childhood days. She leaves her cousin and fiancé, Ham, for Steerforth, but returns after Steerforth deserts her. She emigrates to Australia with Mr. Peggotty after being rescued from a London brothel. (Wikipedia)
• • •

Hey, everybody. PuzzleGirl here, filling in for Mr. Parker while he's off gallivanting around California. And honestly, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. We just moved into a new house last weekend and I'm living out of boxes. I mean, basically scrounging for clothes every morning. It's pathetic. Still trying to take care of a few last-minute things at the old place (anyone need a huge blue filing cabinet that has to be hauled up a flight of stairs to get out of the house?) and haven't really been sleeping well because, ya know, it's just weird being someplace different. But Rex asked me to fill in and what am I going to say? No? Wait, what? I could have said no? Oh man. Sure wish I had thought of that.

As you might know, my biggest fear when I sub for Rex late in the week is that I won't be able to finish the puzzle. I've gotten a lot better at puzzles since I started solving obsessively diligently a couple years ago, but it's definitely not a given that I can finish a Saturday New York Times puzzle. I'm finishing them a lot more often than I used to, but I'm not at 100% yet, that's for sure. Fortunately, I managed to crank this one out and didn't have all that much heartburn along the way.

The biggest trouble spot for me was in the South Texas area where it was hard for me to let go of HAVE IT DOWN where HAVE IT MADE was supposed to go. And wasn't there a presidential dog named Checkers? So you can see where that D was a problem for me. Add to that the vaguely clued crossing answers at 56D and 62A (ODDS and ENDS), and I thought I was gonna be toast. It all fell together eventually though so here I am with my head held high feeling like maybe I do know a little bit about this here puzzle business.

Oh wait! Before we get to the puzzle! Did you all see the Royal Wedding yesterday?! Yeah, me neither. Here we go ….

  • 14A: Hazzard County deputy (ENOS). First answer in the grid. No crosses. Not sure if I should really be bragging about that.
  • 17A: A cowboy may have a big one (BELT BUCKLE). Heh.
  • 24A: "True, alas" ("AFRAID SO"). I'm going to start saying "True, alas" from now on.
  • 48A: Western master (ZANE GREY). I can never remember if he spells his last name with an E or an A. Is it true that one way of spelling GRAY/GREY is a British spelling and the other is American? Even if that's true, is there any possible way I'll be able to remember which is which? (Answer: no.)
  • 50A: Inn's end (DANUBE). So the Inn is a river — a tributary to the Danube. Who knew?
  • 55A: Poor (NOT SO HOT). I like to see this kind of colloquial phrase in my puzzles.
  • 65A: Noted elephant designer (NAST). Please tell me you were as confused as I was about this one. I'm all, "Elephant designer? What could that even mean?"
  • 9D: Wrangler (BUCKAROO).
  • 11D: Dragon puppet (OLLIE). It's been a long time since I've thought about Kukla, Fran and Ollie. And I'm not sure I ever knew OLLIE was a dragon.
  • 18D: "Desperate Housewives" role (BREE). I've never watched "Desperate Housewives" but I did know the show has (had?) a character named BREE. Of course, when I first entered it into the grid I spelled it BRIE and it didn't even occur to me that I was assuming she had been named after cheese.
  • 25D: Brit's "guv" (DAD). I did not know this. I thought Brit's "guv" was … "guv."
  • 31D: "Grace Before Meat" pen name (ELIA). One indication that it's the end of the week? The clues for crosswordese is ratcheted up a notch.
  • 38D: Singer Barry (LEN). I didn't think I knew this guy, but I do recognize this song.

See you back here tomorrow.

Love, PuzzleGirl

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Movie format of old / FRI 4-29-11 / ___ 2.0, Bill Gates's house / Where I-80 crosses I-35 / Provincial capital NW of Madrid / Alto preceder

Friday, April 29, 2011

Constructor: David Quarfoot

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Anapest (41D: "Au revoir," for example) —

An anapaest (also spelled anapæst or anapest, also called antidactylus) is a metrical foot used in formal poetry. In classical quantitative meters it consists of two short syllables followed by a long one; in accentual stress meters it consists of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. It may be seen as a reversed dactyl. This word comes from the Greek ανάπαιστος, anápaistos, literally "struck back" (a dactyl reversed), from 'ana-' + '-paistos', verbal of παίειν, paíein: to strike. (wikipedia)

• • •

Rex is off in LA, so you get a guest blogger today. Which is me, SethG. Hey, everybody!

I haven't been here for a bit. Did you miss me? David Quarfoot hasn't been around for a much longer bit, and I certainly missed him. And I know why.

So much fun stuff! When you start with SNOOKI (1A: TV star who wrote the novel "A Shore Thing", informally), and you end with SEXTING (63A: Got a little dirty, in a way), you know the puzzle's gonna have a current and informal vibe. And I like both of those things. Sure, you've got your standard old literary term, like ANAPEST, but you've also got a new literary term, like REFUDIATE (35D: 2010 coinage meaning "to reject"). For every dry word like OTIOSE (61A: Indolent), you've got a KERFUFFLE (5D: Tizzy) or a CAVEMEN (40D: Troglodytes). (Hi Bob!)

Some of the short stuff isn't exciting, as most 3- or 4-letter words aren't exciting, but there's nothing too bad. And a grid like this lives and dies by its longer, meatier stuff, and much of that stuff is terrific. The concept of a (39A: Hotel amenity) isn't exciting, but you don't see SHOWER CAP in the puzzle every day. I HEART is a 6-letter partial, but the clue (17A: Start of many a bumper sticker) revives it. And, my favorite, THE POSITION, which would be terrible if it weren't clued with (54A: It may be assumed).

Like I seem to do every time I'm gonna guest-blog, I didn't get to the puzzle until way too late. I started fine in the NW, where KENKEN was a gimme (15A: Diversion also called MathDoku) that gave me NEHRU (2D: P.M. who was father of another P.M.) and ONE AM (3D: What the ringing of two bells might signal on a ship). I HEART followed, and then I was on to the oddly literal PRAY FOR RAIN (19A: Devoutly wish a drought to end) and moving to the east.

My momentum slowed, and then slowed to a trickle, and then eventually stopped, with most of the bottom still unfinished, when I was almost too tired to brush my teeth. I successfully brushed, went to sleep, and woke up early to finish the puzzle and not watch The Wedding. And now I'm writing this for you, but I don't have much time before I've got to publish and go to work.

Short short version, I finished, with not too much trouble.

  • 38A: Game in which all pieces have four components (TETRIS) — this took me way too long to figure out. I think we've shown the Human Tetris here before, but probably not this version.

  • 45A: ___ 2.0, Bill Gates's house (XANADU) — I actually had a Z here for a while, and DR Z seemed just as possible as DR X for (37D. Bogart's only horror film title role, 1939).
  • 53D: Group whose name combines the first letters of its members' names (ABBA) — Of course. Yet my first answer was AC/DC, and I imagined that SECURED was a (57A: Kind of mortgage). I guess my mortgage is secured, but SUB-PRIME makes much more sense here. I wanted some sort of sculptor for (62A: One making a bust, maybe), but it's the straighter-forward DEA AGENT.
  • 54D: Palin boy (TRIG) — I considered TRYG, but then I refudiated it.
Signed, SethG, Royal Vizier of CrossWorld

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Event of 4/29/11 / THU 4-28-11 / Logo of Clemson Tigers / French-speaking land of 12+ million / Mythological sprite / Utah winter vacation spot

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: ROYAL WEDDING (20A: Event of 4/29/11) — answers related to this event

Word of the Day: EURE (24D: French river or department) —

Eure is a department in the north of France named after the river Eure. [...] The main tourist attraction is Giverny (4 km (2.49 mi) from Vernon) where Claude Monet's house and garden can be seen, as well as other places of interest. (wikipedia)
• • •

Here's the Facebook status I posted just a handful of seconds after I started this puzzle:
Sorry, tomorrow's puzzle, but I hate you on principle. Just threw my pencil down in disgust and I've only got about 6 answers in there...
Anglophilia is a disease and this upcoming ROYAL WEDDING ranks in importance somewhere between the rantings of Charlie Sheen and the White House's release of Obama's "Certificate of Live Birth" (Gasp! Really?! He's a citizen!?). Throw in the In Ex Plicable EURE / TEN crossing (as my friend Jeffrey said, "Even I can fix that crossing") and one of my most hated names (DAAE), and, yeah, Big Dislike. Also, way way way too easy. I mean, when I can fill in every theme answer on a Thursday with Absolutely No Help From Crosses, then something is terribly, horribly wrong. If you're going to commemorate this circus, at least do something clever, tricky, interesting. ANYTHING. I don't know what's more shocking: the decision that this event was worth commemorating at all (esp. in an *American* crossword), or the decision to accept a theme so dull and straightforward. Wedding, groom, bride, titles, zzzzzzzzz.

Mark Oppenheimer sums up my ROYAL WEDDING feelings pretty well:
Of all the annoying things about the royal wedding—the crass materialism, the outrageous invasion of a young couple's privacy, the bad TV—none is more troubling than the occasion this event gives for the non-English to transform themselves into besotted Anglophilic wusses. It is one thing for the English to care about the wedding. Paying attention to the royal family, even if only to read sensationalist tabloid articles about them, is one of the proper jobs of English people. But for an American to be excited about the royal wedding is undignified and lame. And, I would add, if you get up at 3 a.m. on Friday to watch the wedding on television, you are a traitor to your country. (Mark Oppenheimer, Slate, Apr. 25, 2011)
Theme answers:
  • 20A: Event of 4/29/11 (ROYAL WEDDING)
  • 30A: Bridegroom of 4/29/11 (PRINCE WILLIAM)
  • 38A: Bride of 4/29/11 (KATE MIDDLETON)
  • 51A: 30- and 38-Across someday, presumably (KING AND QUEEN)
Amy (fellow blogger Crossword Fiend) suggested that EURE might not be (the much more sensible) EURO so as to avoid partial duplication in the EURAIL cross. My response—if that is true, that is an epic fail. First, EUR is EUR is EUR, esp. if you are still in *&^$ing France. Second, EURE is so ugly and obscure that including it so as to avoid EURO is like covering a small blemish with a giant, dirty band-aid. The cure is worse than the disease.

There are tons of other answers that could be passed off as theme answers, at least as clued: OBE and POOL (?) and ALTAR and WALES etc. I just don't care.

  • 16A: Home of the Gardermoen airport (OSLO) — not sure how I've never seen this OSLO clue before. You think the airport name would be a common go-to answer.
  • 45A: "La ___" (traditional Mexican nuptials song) ("BAMBA") — Needed every cross here. No idea that Ritchie Valens was singing a traditional nuptials song.

  • 55A: Violinist Leopold (AUER) — learned his name accidentally when his grandson, actor MISCHA, was mistakenly clued as a violinist, leading to much complaining and even more frantic googling from confused solvers.
  • 60A: Mythological sprite (PERI) — learned from crosswords, just like the answer on top of it (ALTA) (54A: Utah winter vacation spot).
  • 1D: Logo of the Clemson Tigers (PAW) — first answer in the grid. Then UMA, AMEBA, and WALES —that was the point at which I had an inkling about what was going on, theme-wise. Downhill from there.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Four-dimensional realm / WED 4-27-11 / Online newsgroup system / 97.5% of penny / Quattro preceder / Leipzig's state / Rabid dog Stephen King story /

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Constructor: William I. Johnston

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Apparently... — four phrases all begin with synonyms for "apparent"

Word of the Day: HUTU (59D: Rwandan group) —

The Hutu /ˈhuːtuː/, or Abahutu, are a Central African ethnic group, living mainly in Rwanda and Burundi. // The Hutu are the largest of the three ethnic groups in Burundi and Rwanda; according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, 84% of Rwandans and 85% of Burundians are Hutu, although other sources have found statistics that differ by several percent. The division between the Hutu and the Tutsi (the larger of the other two groups) is based more upon social class than ethnicity, as there are no significant linguistic, physical, or cultural differences between them. (The Twa pygmies, the smallest of Rwanda and Burundi's three groups, also share language and culture with the Hutu and Tutsi, but are much shorter and have agreed-upon genetic differences.) (wikipedia)
• • •

Really liked this one, for several reasons. Normally, the "first words (or last words) all mean the same thing"-type theme doesn't do much for me, especially when (as here) those first (or last) words don't appear in phrases that change/hide their shared meaning (today, EXPLICIT and PATENT don't exactly mean "apparent" in their respective phrases, but CLEAR and MANIFEST pretty much do). But the strange arrangement of the theme answers, with the center-Down slicing through all three of the others, and the generally wide-open feel of the grid and interesting fill all made up for the less-than-scintillating theme concept. Those intersecting 15s in the middle of the grid made the puzzle look / feel like a late-week / themeless puzzle, even though its 76 words puts it solidly mid-week (themelesses have a max of 72 words). Given its semi-daunting look, I was surprised at how easily I moved through it—a full 30 seconds faster than yesterday's. I don't mind "easy" too much when the fill is not tired and boring (like today) and there are original-sounding, snazzy long Downs like "TAG, YOU'RE IT!" and "HYPERSPACE." In short, this is my kind of Monday/Tuesday puzzle—I can't hate it just because it appeared on a Wednesday.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Task that stands high on one's list (CLEAR PRIORITY) — my least favorite theme answer. Not a snappy, strong, self-standing phrase, though I'm sure I've heard it before. HIGH PRIORITY seems like a thing. CLEAR PRIORITY, less so.
  • 40A: Words on a parental advisory label (EXPLICIT CONTENT)
  • 56A: Shiny shoe material (PATENT LEATHER)
  • 7D: Expansionist doctrine (MANIFEST DESTINY)
Only bit of resistant I got in today's puzzle came from PLANAR (26D: Flat), which I needed Every Single Cross to see. Well, I needed five. Stared at PLA-AR for a second or so and finally decided "N" must be right. Not only is that an unusual word, it's got a brutally vague clue. I was thinking shoe or apartment. Wrong and wrong. Also didn't get the first part of EXPLICIT CONTENT too easily. Had the back end, but was thinking of "advisory label" as something on a medicine bottle as opposed to an Eminem album. Guessed SAY OK off the "K" and OLLA off the "O" (36D: Ceramic vessel) and was amazingly right on both counts (this is where I knew I was gonna bury this puzzle in near-record time). Nearly all my instincts were just Right today. Only real complaint about the puzzle is that the clues are unusually bland and dull. Very little in the way of cleverness or wit.

  • 24A: Bit of cyberchat shorthand (FWIW) — again, quite vague. Could've been several things. This one means "for what it's worth." I don't think I've ever seen it in the wild.
  • 50A: Quattro preceder (TRE) — here's some Quat(t)ro for you:

  • 52A: Turnarounds, slangily (UIES) — it's that or UEYS. I have only ever seen either of them in xwords.
  • 1A: 97.5% of a penny (ZINC) — first answer in the grid, after balking at 1A: Sum of opposites (ZERO), which, honestly, should've been obvious.
  • 29A: Leipzig's state (SAXONY) — wheeee. More fun fill. Like a symphony for a saxophone, or (with Anglo-) an adjective meaning "kind of white."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Political activist James undercover videos / TUE 4-26-11 / Storied duelist large nose / Golf club similar niblick / Old Curiosity Shop heroine

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: EASY A (69A: No-brainer class, an example of which is named by combining the ends of 20-, 36-, 42- and 55-Across) — those ends form the phrase UNDERWATER BASKET-WEAVING.

Word of the Day: LOFTER (48A: Golf club similar to a niblick) —

n.1.(Golf) An iron club with a sloped face, used in lofting the ball; - called also lofting iron. (
• • •

Nifty, original theme, with a grid that is jam-packed with interesting words and a boatload of Scrabbly letters. Js, Xs, Ks, and Zs everywhere you turn, in every last cranny of the grid. Where does the joke class "UNDERWATER BASKET-WEAVING" come from? I've heard it before, of course, but have no idea if it has a single source or is just one of those mythical phrases that enters public domain as if out of nowhere. As for the theme answers, I really liked KNUCKLE UNDER, didn't care so much for SPELL-WEAVING (not so snappy or familiar), and liked the others just fine. Puzzle was toughish for a Tuesday, with the west and the south proving the biggest obstacles. Never heard of a LOFTER (48A: Golf club similar to a niblick) or the expression "EWE lamb," and only recalled HARROW (29D: Tilling tool) and O'KEEFE (30D: Political activist James known for undercover videos) with some prodding from crosses. Not sure how I feel about BRED over BREAD (despite their etymological unrelatedness), but I love "WHO'S NEXT" (28A: 1971 rock album with the hit "Won't Get Fooled Again"), so problems aside, that section's alright with me. The south actually proved much harder, though fewer problem answers were involved. Couldn't remember if CAHN (64A: "Three Coins in the Fountain" lyricist Sammy) was CAAN or CAHN, so had the mysterious W-I- for 57D: Zoom (eventually, WHIZ) and RA-E for 70A: Knock down, and while RAZE is obvious once you hit on it, it didn't leap to mind and even after I'd chosen CAHN, I had to run the alphabet (long way to "Z"). Still, the whole thing was plausibly Tuesdayish, and largely enjoyable.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Consent reluctantly (KNUCKLE UNDER)
  • 36A: Is active without making progress or falling behind (TREADS WATER)
  • 42A: Main food-supplying region of a country (BREAD BASKET)
  • 55A: Wizardry (SPELL-WEAVING)
Oh, and 17A: "___ pregnant!" ("WE'RE") is for real—Brendan and his wife Liz are expecting their first child, a daughter, in August. So congratulations to them.

  • 41A: Programming language that's also the name of an island (JAVA) — I'm not so hot when it comes to programming languages, but it would've helped if I'd actually read to the end of this clue the first time I saw it. Instead, I saw "programming language," thought "uh uh," and moved on.
  • 67A: Google executive Schmidt (ERIC) — he's back ... and this time, I got him. Lots of contemporary names in this grid.
  • 9D: Dr. Watson player in 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" (JUDE LAW) — here's another contemporary name for you.
  • 26D: On a scale of 1 to 10, what one amp in "This Is Spinal Tap" goes to (ELEVEN) — Rich! I assume everyone knows this classic mockumentary moment, but if not, or if so, here it is.

  • 27D: Storied duelist with a large nose (CYRANO) — got instantly, but still, what a great clue—I just like the phrase "storied duelist." I learned the story of CYRANO from ... "The Brady Bunch."
  • 31D: Title TV character in a brown, skirted, leather outfit (XENA) — a pretty obvious XENA clue. Constant solvers know her well, whether they've seen her show before or (like me) not.
  • 32D: Aster relative (TANSY) — know this flower only from crosswords. PANSY's stupid-looking cousin.
  • 44D: Hill near a loch (BRAE) — Scottish crosswordese 101.
  • 55D: Sch. system with campuses in Albany and 63 other places (SUNY) — I'm headed to one of those places in another hour...
  • 59D: "The Old Curiosity Shop" heroine (NELL) — know NELL better as that Jodie Foster movie where she speaks her own wilderness language or whatever. Also, as Charles II's mistress, NELL Gwyn.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Aptly named sprinter Usain / MON 4-25-11 / Logan Airport luggage letters / Old Spice alternative / Old Testament priest who taught Samuel

Monday, April 25, 2011

Constructor: Joon Pahk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BOS (72A: Logan Airport letters ... and a hint to 17-, 27-, 49- and 64-Across) — theme answers are three-word phrases where the three words start with B, O, and S, respectively

Word of the Day: Usain BOLT (11D: Aptly named sprinter Usain) —

Usain St. Leo Bolt, OJ, C.D. (nicknamed Lightning Bolt, pronounced /ˈjuːseɪn/; born 21 August 1986), is a Jamaican sprinter and a three-time World and Olympic gold medalist. He is the world record and Olympic record holder in the 100 metres, the 200 metres and (along with his teammates) the 4 x 100 metres relay. He is the reigning World and Olympic champion in these three events. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm guessing this is supposed to be some kind of nod to the Boston Crossword Tournament, which took place yesterday. The theme is OK, I guess, though I really Really didn't care for BARACK OBAMA, SR. as an answer (49A: The father in "Dreams From My Father"). It's his name, but "SR." as a "word" is weak, and that answer isn't anywhere close to the others in terms of being a self-standing, common phrase. I was sure I had an error when I saw the answers ended "SR"; thought "what the hell kind of crazy name does that guy have?" Other than that, puzzle is fine. I never saw the theme-revealer and so had LETTING OFF STEAM at 64A: Venting (BLOWING OFF STEAM). This gave me BLTS for 54D: Common lunchbox sandwiches, informally, which seemed (and was) wrong (it's PBJS, which is better, but not by much).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Rossini opera about Figaro, with "The" ("BARBER OF SEVILLE")
  • 27A: Hollywood headliner (BOX OFFICE STAR) — maybe go "BOX OFFICE SMASH" (better, more common phrase) and then ditch the OBAMA answer for another 15? Or just stick with three 15s. Nothing wrong with that.
  • 49A: The father in "Dreams From My Father" (BARACK OBAMA, SR.)
  • 64A: Venting (BLOWING OFF STEAM)

There is something about 51D: Bank no. (ACCT.) I don't like. It's a common clue/answer pair, but I think of the ACCT. has having a number, not being a number. "What's your ACCT. no.?" If the ACCT. was the no., why would the phrase "ACCT. no." exist?

My favorite clue of the day is 18D: Vitamin whose name could be a bingo call. The answer, B SIX, is among my least favorite answers, however. Never that fond of the written-out number that you never see written-out in real life.

  • 10D: Old Testament priest who taught Samuel (ELI) — not used to seeing the biblical clue. Just the semi-biblical clue (Denzel Washington movie "The Book of ELI") and, you know, Wallach and Manning and what not.
  • 11D: Aptly named sprinter Usain (BOLT) — because he likes to eat. A lot.
  • 59D: Old Spice alternative (AFTA) — an after (AFTA) shave, I think. Change "F" to "R," rearrange letters, and get another common shaving-related crossword answer.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Asian gambling mecca / SUN 4-24-11 / Homey's rep / Rocky of song / Nickname for Baryshnikov / Seedcase that inspired Velcro / Intaglio seals

Sunday, April 24, 2011

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

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Use It Or Lose It" — "IT" is added to common phrases in top half of grid, and subtracted from common phrases in the bottom half of the grid, resulting in wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: OBITER dictum (66D: ___ dictum (incidental remark)) —

n., pl., obiter dicta.
  1. Law. An opinion voiced by a judge that has only incidental bearing on the case in question and is therefore not binding. Also called dictum.
  2. An incidental remark or observation; a passing comment.

[Latin, something said in passing : obiter, in passing + dictum, something said, from neuter past participle of dīcere, to say.] (

• • •

Caleb showed me this grid at the ACPT back in March, and I instantly loved it. Wonderful variation on the add-a-letter-type theme—a puzzle where the title is perfect, even essential, instead of forced or awkward. Most impressed with POLITE DANCER (because of the base phrase) and PULPIT FICTION (a beautiful phrase which should already be the title of something by now) and CENTER OF GRAVY (for the sheer existential impossibility of it all). Also loving much of the longer Down fill, especially RED LABEL, "SLEEP TIGHT," STREET CRED (123A: Homey's rep) and the awesomely umlauted MÖTLEY CRÜE (30D: Group with the 6x platinum album Dr. Feelgood). Not so fond of LEARNER'S PERM, if only for the lack of punctuation in the grid, which means I can see only LEARNER SPERM when I look at it. There's some less than ideal stuff around the edges of the grid, but the only answer I'd never seen before was OBITER dictum, and that seems like something I should know, so I don't hate it so much.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Electrical paths in New York City? (BIG APPLE CIRCUITS) — not being a New Yorker, I'm not sure how I've heard of "Big Apple Circus," but I have.
  • 33A: Spill a Cuban drink? (LOSE ONE'S MOJITO)
  • 41A: One who says "Beg your pardon" after stepping on your toes? (POLITE DANCER)
  • 63A: Preachers' lies? (PULPIT FICTION)
  • 73A: What a mashed potato serving may have? (CENTER OF GRAVY)
  • 94A: Hairdresser's first do? (LEARNER'S PERM)
  • 102A: Author Amy's family squabble? (CLASH OF THE TANS)
  • 117A: The Miracles? (SMOKEY AND THE BAND) — this one I didn't like so much, since I know the Miracles as an adjunct entity, separate and back-up; but before 1965 the band was simply known as "The Miracles," so the clue works if you exclude the years '65-'72.

JASA = Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, not, as you might have suspected, the Jane Austen Society of Australia or Jim Abernathy's Scuba Adventures. Caleb has taught a crossword construction course for them for what seems like a few years now (hard to imagine given that Caleb's just 17, but I'm sure this is at least his third go 'round ... it might not be strictly annual). Caleb's off to Yale in the fall, so (I'm told) young (but not So young) Ian Livengood will be taking over as JASA crossword guru in the coming years. Ian will have big, if goofy, shoes to fill—of the three JASA puzzles Caleb has shepherded through thus far, I definitely like this one the best.

Several non-theme answers either impressed me or made me smile. Somehow, the full name of ALI MACGRAW seems magisterial (19A: Steve McQueen's ex-wife and co-star in "The Getaway"). Starts out very crossword-friendly before getting very crinkly in the middle and finally resolving with an "-AW." The clue on GAZEBO is close to perfect (36A: Shelter that's often octagonal)—I couldn't imagine what it was looking for, until I got it, and then thought, "of course." Clue on BIGOT is clever if a bit ... restricted (3D: One who sees everything in black and white?). 8D: Rocky of song made me incredibly happy, in that I thought "who the hell could that be ... [jokingly] RACCOON? ... OMG it *is* RACCOON! Sweet."

  • 10A: Nickname for Baryshnikov (MISHA) — one of many names, almost all of them well known to me. All crossworders should know Mordant Mort by now (SAHL). I own work by both Baker and Loos (ANITA), and while the clue at 82A: Comics character who said "Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life" (LINUS) was not immediately transparent to me, with crosses the answer came easily. One name I didn't know: EDUARDO (38D: Facebook co-founder Saverin). SAVERIN seems like a name that might show up some day...
  • 51A: Seedcase that inspired Velcro (BUR) — BUR always, always looks wrong to me. Like it's missing a letter. Maybe I'm thrown off because I simply see BRR and BURR in the puzzle so much more often.
  • 90A: Cookie first baked in Manhattan's Chelsea district (OREO) — wow. Your move, next person who has to clue OREO.
  • 10D: Asian gambling mecca (MACAO) — I knew this was a Portuguese colony, but had No idea it was known for gambling.
  • 15D: Volcano near Aokigahara forest (MT. FUJI) — good example of a clue that looks much more daunting than it is. In other news, I seem to have this FUJI v. FIJI issue down now.
  • 37D: Whistle-blower, in slang (ZEBRA) — niiiice misdirection here. Take a slang term, then use it literally, in order to clue slang!? Brilliant. In case you are sports-illiterate, the clue refers to a football referee.
  • 77D: Cow, in Cádiz (VACA) — also in Colombia and Caracas.
  • 96D: Intaglio seals (SIGNETS) — [quietly looking up "Intaglio" ... aha, a carved gem. Has different meanings in other contexts, most notably print-making]
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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2011 title role Chris Hemsworth / SAT 4-23-11 / President after Ten-Cent Jimmy / Cultural org with HQ Beverly Hills / Sulker's expression

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Constructor: Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: H.P. LOVECRAFT (31D: "The Call of Cthulhu" writer) —

Howard Phillips "H. P." Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction. // Lovecraft's guiding literary principle was what he termed "cosmicism" or "cosmic horror", the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. As early as the 1940s, Lovecraft's work had developed a cult following for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon of humanity-nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Humanism and Christianity. Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the antithesis of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality and the abyss. // Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. According to Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft — as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century — has exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction". Stephen King called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale." King has even made it clear in his semi-autobiographical non-fiction book Danse Macabre that Lovecraft was responsible for his own fascination with horror and the macabre, and was the single largest figure to influence his fiction writing. (wikipedia)

• • •

A very nice, very easy Saturday offering from Mr. Nothnagel. I plunked down "UP HERE!" and "UPDOS" instantly, which immediately made me think "uh oh ... it's a trap," especially after I figured 3D: President after Ten-Cent Jimmy (HONEST ABE) had to be TEFLON RON (now *that's* a trap, and a good one). But little by little the crosses worked out, which gave me confidence, which then sent me tearing through the grid like it was Wednesday, until I hit the AMPAS section and came to a brief grinding halt. Also couldn't figure out the clue on TARTS (43D: Some shells and their contents). The shell itself is a TART, *and* the contents are a TART? Could this clue work for TACOS? Or SNAILS? Seemed convoluted and inelegant to me, though ultimately gettable (much more easily gettable if it hadn't been going through the mysterious AMPAS, which turns out just to be the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Anyway, that tiny southern section caused a bit of pondering, but the rest just said "yes, sir" and got out of the way.

My comment to a procrastinator (let's say, myself) would never be as encouraging as "IT'S NEVER TOO LATE" (55A: Comment to a procrastinator). It would be something more like "Hey *#&$#$, get off your ass!" But that's just me. Loved STOCKING STUFFER (which I got from -FFER) (58A: Little something in Santa's bag) and "DON'T MOVE A MUSCLE" (which I got from "DON'T M-") (17A: "Freeze!"). Lucked into a few answers. My aunt lives in MARIN County (53A: It's south of Sonoma). I have spent lots of time in comic books stores and around comic book people, many of whom know not just their Marvel superheroes (THOR!) (20A: 2011 title role for Chris Hemsworth) but their weird fiction as well (LOVECRAFT!) (31D: "The Call of Cthulhu" writer). I've got a book by Leigh Brackett called "something something Alpha Centauri," and I know a little Latin, so I pieced together PROXIMA CENTAURI that way (14A: Second-closest start to Earth). I watch a little football, so GIBBS was no problem (he owns a racing team now) (29D: Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Joe). I know and love ENSOR, whose work I once saw at the Getty in L.A. (46D: Expressionist James) The only answer in the puzzle that I had never seen before (besides AMPAS, which I'd probably seen before, somewhere), was ONE-SUITER, and I inferred that from just the ONE-S-, so, as I say, definitely breezy. And enjoyable.

Some of the clues were very clever, without being overly cute or terribly tricky. Had to think a few beats at 49A: A shark may carry one (CUE), and many more beats at 52A: Cubbie, e.g. (NL'ER), which was in that damned AMPAS section. 22D: Inclined to strike out (TESTY) could've gone any number of directions. First thoughts were that the clue was related to baseball or exploring. Wanted III for 33D: What may come after an heir? (-ESS). I don't think of ANVILs as particularly "rural," though I do think of them as pre-modern, so ... from a time when most of the world was "rural," so OK. Interesting clue (48D: Rural block).

Can't believe I only just now noticed the clue on STU (9D: Afro-sporting character on "The Simpsons"). A clue custom-made for me and I don't even see it.

  • 22A: Difficulty increaser in diving (TWIST) — I was thinking deep-sea, not Olympic, so ... SHARK?
  • 41A: Team that has won the World Series three times while based in three different cities (BRAVES) — Boston (1914), Milwaukee (1957), Atlanta (1995)
  • 12D: 1950s sweater material (ORLON) — Congress having outlawed the use of ORLON in sweaters on ENERO 1, 1960
  • 25D: Terra ___ (pulverized gypsum) (ALBA) — this was word of the day earlier this month, I think. Not that I remembered.
  • 26D: Sch. that awarded the first civil engineering degree in the U.S. (RPI) — Do you need to abbreviate "school" in this clue if you've already got "U.S." in it, or is "U.S." simply too common an abbrev. to be a real abbrev.-tipper?
  • 40D: Olympic even since '88 (SUPER G) — Kenny G, Ali G ... (this is what it looks like when brainstorming for a potential puzzle theme goes nowhere — I mean, maybe if you had one more ___ G, you could then make wacky phrases by merging them with phrases that start with "G", i.e. KENNY G FORCE, SUPER G RATED, ALI G-SUIT, etc... still, I'm not convinced that theme's going anywhere. See what you can do).

  • 44D: View espoused in Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason" (DEISM) — God as watchmaker. Lots of meditation on this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen (I told you I spent a lot of time around comics).
  • 53D: Sulker's expression (MOUE) — a truly dumb word. I can barely look at it. It's like a mouse that lost its ESS.
  • 57D: N.H.L. Senators, on scoreboards (OTT.) — any new clue for OTT is good.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Singer/songwriter MacColl / FRI 4-22-11 / 1930 tariff act co-sponsor / 1989 one-man show / Blini go-with / Plant once considered source courage

Friday, April 22, 2011

Constructor: Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Sylvia SYMS (68A: "I Could Have Danced All Night" singer, 1956) —

Sylvia Syms (December 2, 1917 - May 10, 1992) was an American jazz singer. // She was born Sylvia Blagman in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, she had polio. As a teenager, she went to jazz-oriented nightclubs on New York's 52nd Street, and received informal training from Billie Holiday. In 1941 she made her debut at a club called 'Billy's Stable'. // In 1948, performing at the Cinderella Club in Greenwich Village, she was seen by Mae West, who gave her a part in a show she was doing. Among others who observed her in nightclubs was Frank Sinatra who considered her the "world's greatest saloon singer." Sinatra subsequently conducted her 1982 album, Syms by Sinatra. // She was signed to a recording contract by Decca Records, having her major success with a recording of "I Could Have Danced All Night" in 1956. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Syms made regular appearances at the Carlyle in Manhattan. At times, impromptu, while enjoying a cocktail in the bar of the Carlyle, she would walk on stage and perform with the cabaret's other regular, Bobby Short. // She died on stage at the Algonquin Hotel in New York from a heart attack, aged 74. (wikipedia)

• • •

In short: liked it. Long stuff is wonderful, and short stuff is solid enough to keep me from squawking. Much. INTERNEE made me wince (42A: John McCain, e.g., for over five years), and shoving two not-terribly-famous singers (SYMS and EWAN somebody ... 62A: Singer/songwriter MacColl) into one little corner seemed kind of cruel, but that was all more than offset by the SUPEREGO TIRADES (35A: Id checker + 41A: Nail-spitting sessions) and the poetic trinary: "MISTRESS ON THE WAY ... STAY CALM!" (37D: Many a tryst participant + 38D: Not yet born + "Nobody panic") Nice to see another muse besides CLIO and ERATO in the puzzle (43D: Sister of Clio => EUTERPE, muse of music).

For some reason the IN in "IN REAL TIME" seemed superfluous to me, as "REAL-TIME" is a perfectly good (and common) adjectival phrase that fits the clue just fine (63A: Like instant messaging).

I could think only of QUINCY at 28A: Jazzy Jones. Then, when I got NORAH, I thought, "Oh, right, she's his daughter." Only she isn't. Her father is indeed a famous musician—but it's (crossword stalwart) RAVI Shankar. But then, I thought, who's the pretty, talented, not-clearly-African-American woman whose father is Quincy Jones? And then I remembered that that's RASHIDA Jones, whom I had just watched (only one hour earlier) in an episode of "Parks & Recreation" (my favorite show on all of television at the moment). So that is the story of my brain's escapade through the magical world of JONESES. I hope you enjoyed it.

Started this one in the NW and got Nowhere Fast. Considered WORLD ATLAS and WASHER at 1A: Setting for many legends (HALL OF FAME) and 1D: One erasing marks (HIT MAN), but then MME (19A: M.'s counterpart) threw a wrench in those (perfectly good) plans. Fumbled around until I saw the Bee Gees clue, and though I don't know the song, the clue seemed to demand the phrase "HE'S A" (11A: The Bee Gees' "___ Liar") — that, or LIAR, which seemed highly unlikely, though I actually saw that clue / answer combo in a (terrrrrible) puzzle just last week. Confirmed that answer right away with HASPS (11D: Features of some diaries), and then took off, tearing that corner down like it was a Tuesday. Ended up backing into the NW via ANONYMS (which I did not know was a word) (8D: Unidentified people) and ETNA (10D: Blower of giant smoke rings). This was enough to trigger (the great) "I KID YOU NOT" (15A: "Seriously!"), and then I figured out what the deal was with Superman's arms (2D: Like Superman's arms, often => AKIMBO) and sailed smoothly from there.

Hardest part for me (aside from just getting started) was the TAE / HAIR GEL / GENUS section. Man doing light work? is a great clue for EDISON, but (with "abbr.") I don't like it so much for his monogram, which is always an unwelcome bit of fill, the cruddiness is highlighted by the difficult clue. ENNE could've been ENNA, and was, for a bit. The distance from [Do glue?] to HAIR GEL is enormous (though clue is cute — in case you're wondering, you have to understand "Do" as a noun). And GENUS ... well, that was easy enough (46A: Begonia, Geranium or Magnolia), but confusion over other stuff kept it hidden for a bit. But I worked it all out. Hey, aren't GENE (40D: Family hand-me-down?) and GENUS related, etymologically? Through Latin back to Greek? [interlude: Whoa, I just opened my Webster's 3rd Int'l dictionary open to find "Gen-" and the first page I came to had "HORNY CORAL" bold in the upper left corner. The secret lives of coral ... who knew?] Dictionary lists GENE as G. and GENUS as L., but I gotta believe that it's not a coincidence that both end up in words about biological classification. Anyway, I don't think crossing them was a great idea. Just make GENE Hackman.

Mistakes: LUMET for LUCAS (48A: "THX 1138" director, 1971), despite knowing *perfectly well* that "THX 1138" involved "that 'Star Wars' guy" ... brain somehow forgot 'Star Wars' guy's name, and then convinced me that 'Star Wars' guy merely wrote it, while LUMET directed. Wanted RECOIL for RECALL (57A: Defect effect). Made sense at the time, i.e. if your face or personality or smell is defective, it will make me RECOIL. No other serious trips. Oh, wanted EBON for ONYX (25A: Black), but thought that clue for EBON would've been too easy for a Friday. I was right.

  • 30A: 1930 tariff act co-sponsor (SMOOT) — weird (to me) that this name, and the name of the tariff act's other co-sponsor, live in my brain. Sadly, they live there as SWOOT-HARTLEY instead of the correct SMOOT-HAWLEY, but ... whatever. Minor details.
  • 52A: Plant once considered a source of courage (THYME) — then that general fed it to his troops and they still ran screaming from the battlefield, so scientists were like "Hmm, maybe not."
  • 4D: Its HQ are in Temple Square (LDS) — Latter Day Saints. I was thinking maybe KAOS or SMERSH, but no.
  • 49D: Blini go-with (CAVIAR) — so *that's* what blini go with? I keep seeing BLINI in the puzzle and thinking "pancakes? like with syrup? what do Russians put on their pancakes?" And now I know. Fancy.
  • 51D: First African-American Republican National Committee chairman (STEELE) — yeah, that didn't last. They put a white guy in there earlier in the year, and despite his ridiculous name (REINCE PRIEBUS!), he hasn't been heard from since (unlike STEELE, who was deemed "controversial" from the get-go, despite overseeing the Great Republican Resurgence of 2010). Mainly I just miss STEELE's appearances on "The Daily Show".

  • 65D: 1989 one-man show ("TRU") — shows in three letters are pretty hard to hide. This clue has three give-aways: 1989, one-man, and the fact that it's three letters. "TRU" is like the "R.U.R." of the '80s.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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