Late marathoner Waitz / TUE 5-31-11 / Paparazzo's target briefly / Holy Roman emperor dubbed Great / Potter pal Weasley

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Constructor: Nina Rulon-Miller

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TWENTY-ONE (65A: Number associated with 17-, 25-, 41- and 51-Across) — four definitions of TWENTY-ONE

  • BLACKJACK (17A: Something to play at a casino)
  • SPOTS ON A DIE (25A: Pips)
  • FIFTIES GAME SHOW (41A: Jack Barry once hosted a rigged one)
  • NEW YORK CLUB (51A: Place for Manhattanites to drink and dance)
Word of the Day: GRETE Waitz (58D: Late marathoner Waitz) —
Grete Waitz (1 October 1953 – 19 April 2011) was a Norwegian marathon runner, who won nine New York City Marathons between 1978 and 1988, more than any other runner in history. She also won a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a gold medal at the 1983 World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, Finland. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not a fan of this one at all. Never have liked definition-answers, which is essentially what these are, and this set felt both wobbly and awkwardly clued. Pointlessly vague clue on BLACKJACK (17A: Something to play at a casino). Oddly general FIFTIES GAME SHOW (only sensible answer to that clue—41A: Jack Barry once hosted a rigged one—is GAME SHOW; "Hey," said Jack Barry, "I host a FIFTIES GAME SHOW." Uh, no). Depressingly anticlimactic (and also oddly general) NEW YORK CLUB ("Hey, Manhattanites, let's go out to that NEW YORK CLUB everyone is talking about!" Uh, no). The reason I say that NEW YORK CLUB is "depressingly anticlimactic" is because I really Really wanted the answer to be THE STORK CLUB, both because it's a perfect answer for the clue—51A: Place for Manhattanites to drink and dance (*much* better than the baloney we end up with)—and because it's just a great answer, period, one that would make any grid proud. But alas, not today. Non-theme fill was fair to middling—a nice answer here and there, but mostly ordinary or gunky stuff (ODIST, OTTOI, NACHT, etc.) (27D: Keats or Wordsworth; 20A: Holy Roman emperor dubbed "the Great"; 7D: After-dark time in Germany).

Only part that gave me any trouble was THREEFOLD, again because the cluing felt clunky (38D: Like a $6 return on a $2 bet). Also took me a few passes to get IDIOT BOX, though that struggle was at least worth it (42D: Boob tube). Also enjoyed "THAT'S LIFE" (3D: "Win some, lose some").

  • 39D: Potter pal Weasley (RON) — This has become a favorite RON clue of late. RON Jeremy you somehow see far less often. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing RON Swanson in the grid.
  • 14A: Nobelist Niels (BOHR) — I always want to spell his name BOER. He's Danish. The Boers were Danish. It makes a kind of sense. [I was trying to tweak a Dutch person I know by pretending not to know the difference betw. Danes and Dutch; too insidery; sorry; carry on]
  • 63A: Paparazzo's target, briefly (CELEB) — I like that this answer bends 90 degrees south to make CELEB OX, since [Celebes ox] is a klassic klue for the klassic krosswordese answer ANOA. That may be the nerdiest, most insidery crossword thing I've ever said out loud.
Happy birthday to Mr. Brian Grosz, who is one of my coolest, funniest, and drinkingest readers, and almost certainly the most tattooed (see his profile in the latest "Skin & Ink" magazine, here).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1959 Spanish-language Top 40 hit / MON 5-30-11 / Pitchfork-shaped letters / Maker Rodeo Trooper / Bonding material bathroom floors

Monday, May 30, 2011

Constructor: Michael Barnhart

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BREAK A LEG (63A: "Good luck!" .. and a hint to 17-, 25-, 39- and 51-Across) — word "LEG" is "broken" across two words in the theme answers

Word of the Day: AGHA (28D: Turkish title) —

Socio-political title of authority. Agha ("chief," "master") was associated with certain administrators in the Ottoman empire. It is also used in other settings, such as among Kurds. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not too thorny as Mondays go, but I never really got a good rhythm going, and so my time was slightly north of normal. I think the somewhat odd theme answers, particularly TILE GROUT (which I've always just called "GROUT") and CHARITABLE GIFTS (which I've always called "charity"), coupled with a decent amount of ambiguity in some of the clues kept this one from being a flat-out romp for me. Is the "Rat" of 1D a verb or a noun? Is 5A: Seethe BOIL or BURN? Etc. These weren't *hard* to figure out, but they required figuring out, which is what passes for "difficulty" on most Mondays. The theme seems like one that would have been done before. Several times before, in fact. And yet I find no evidence for that. I see that BREAKALEG has been used as a theme answer several times in the past, but it's never been a theme-revealer. A theme so obvious that no one ever thought of it. Kinda like the purloined letter hiding in plain sight. I call dibs on "BREAKING BAD." Let's see ... RUB-A-DUB ... GRAB A DRINK ... uh, SAMBA DANCE? Hmm, I'll get back to you. [Correction: someone has done this theme before—Patrick Blindauer, CrosSynergy puzzle, 6/26/08; it shares one theme answer with this puzzle: JUNGLE GYM]

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Bonding material for bathroom floors (TILE GROUT)
  • 25A: Playground fixture (JUNGLE GYM)
  • 39A: Donations (CHARITABLE GIFTS)
  • 51A: Upholsterer's need (STAPLE GUN)
Enjoyed JUNGLE GYM, DODGY (whose clue I never saw, actually) (59A: Not to be believed), and especially INFLUXES (41D: Streams of arrivals), which (like a few answers in the grid) I was not able to uncover quickly.

  • 27A: 1959 Spanish-language Top 40 hit ("LA BAMBA") — second time in the puzzle for this answer in the past week or so.
  • 43A: One of the Carpenters, in 1970s pop (KAREN) — Every time I hear her voice, I think how impossibly pure it is.

  • 7D: Maker of the Rodeo and Trooper (ISUZU) — tied to JAPAN. My first thought was that SEDANS would've made a more natural cross-reference, but then I couldn't name an Isuzu sedan...
  • 34D: Entertainer at a kid's birthday party (CLOWN) — scary. Here's a video I've played before—so weird and creepy that it's worth playing again:

  • 38D: Pitchfork-shaped letters (PSIS) — PSI/PHI (which is a homonym of "scifi," I just realized) always confuses me.
  • 55D: Bit of light that's harmful to the skin (UV RAY) — always looks good in the grid. Appropriate for what feels like the start of summer—it's finally gotten well and truly Warm here. Mint julep helped ease the discomfort. Gonna bike around the neighborhood while there's still sunlight. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Burrowing arthropods / SUN 5-29-11 / Involuntary extension troop tours / Italian appetizer little toasts / Hilton Westin welcomer / Chair toted poles

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Constructor: Jeremy Newton and Tony Orbach

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "You'll Get Through This" — Puzzle note: "The grid represents a maze. Enter the room at the upper left and exit at the lower right, following a path that will become apparent as you solve the crossword. When the puzzle is done, read the circled letters in the order in which the rooms are visited to spell a quote by 153-Across." The "path" is a series of DOORways, where DOOR is represented in certain answers by a black square separating one section of the answer from the next. Circles spell out, "EVERY WALL IS A DOOR," an enigmatic quotation from Ralph Waldo EMERSON.

[I cannot find a source for the quotation. There are a billion quotations sites out there that attribute the quotation to him. Google Books turns up many instances of Camus (and others) *saying* that Emerson said it. At one point I found someone who wrote that Emerson "reputedly" said it. But the big drag of the internet is that I cannot quickly find the actual source of the quotation; instead, I'm drowning in a flood of quote sites and self-help and "leadership" books, all of which quote him without clear attribution. Help me out, please]

[UPDATE: Big thanks to E. Hamori for finding an attribution for the quotation at this site (The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society site, not surprisingly): "(Journal, 15 October 1844)"]

Word of the Day: Emilio PUCCI (19D: Emilio of fashion) —

Emilio Pucci [...], Marchese di Barsento, (20 November 1914 – 29 November 1992) was a Florentine Italian fashion designer and politician. He and his eponymous company are synonymous with geometric prints in a kaleidoscope of colours. (wikipedia)

• • •
This is a wonderful architectural feat and a lot of fun to solve despite the fact that I didn't need to (or bother to) actually complete the maze before (or during) solving the puzzle. I did a little post-solve drawing to see how it all worked out. The quotation seems banal and self-helpy, something you'd find on a motivational poster, which is why I went in (fruitless) search of its source. Admittedly, I didn't search long, so I remain reasonably confident a valid source is out there somewhere. But back to the grid—it's very cool-looking, with all the little white-square islands. At first I thought I was dealing with some kind of board game. Clue, perhaps. But the grid wasn't quite right so I just plowed ahead, with the understanding that DOORs were somehow involved. Once you pick up the DOOR thing, the puzzle's not that hard, except for the SE, which I found rough—partly because of the basically unclued nature of EMERSON, partly because of the difficult-to-see HARD HIT (149A: Walloped), and partly because I just blanked completely on the Alfa Romeo model (142A: Classic Alfa Romeo roadsters=>SPIDERS). Oh, and I'd never call Ireland EIRE (133D: Home to the sport of hurling). That was a crazy guess based solely on the initial "E."

DOOR answers:
  • 25A: Done for, finito, kaput (DEAD AS A * NAIL)
  • 8A: Go canvassing, say (RING * BELLS)
  • 27A: Auto security feature (POWER * LOCK)
  • 18D: UPS drop-off site, often (FRONT * STEP)
  • 53D: Seinfeld vis-a-vis Kramer (NEXT * NEIGHBOR)
  • 86A: Show a bit of courtesy (for) (HOLD THE * OPEN)
  • 39D: Hush-hush powwow (CLOSED * MEETING)
  • 57A: Some fun in the sun (OUT * GAMES)
  • 75A: Teaser on party fliers (WIN A * PRIZE)
  • 34D: All-weather resort amenity (HEATED IN * POOL)
  • 89D: Involuntary extension of troop tours (BACK * DRAFT) — never heard of this phrase before. I have heard of the Ron Howard movie "BACKDRAFT," though...
  • 146A: Chrysler 300, e.g. (FOUR * SEDAN)
  • 96D: Colosseum entrance, e.g. (ARCHED * WAY)
  • 115A: Hilton or Westin welcomer (HOTEL * MAN)
  • 141A: Burrowing arthropods (TRAP * SPIDERS)

There were a number of little things I liked about this puzzle. Like the clues on AHS (110A: Pre-sneeze sounds) and (especially) CLOSED * MEETING (39D: Hush-hush powwows), or the answers CROSTINI (33D: Italian appetizer, literally "little toasts"), RED STAR (44D: Macy's logo feature), and NYC TAXI (45D: One in a line at J.F.K. or La Guardia). MARTHA Stewart is just *on TV* in my head, so I had no idea there was anything particularly new going on in her TV life as of 2005 (116D: Daily talk show beginning in 2005). I did, however, know that Seiji OZAWA was a turtleneck-wearer (seen him clued that way before) (136A: Conductor in a white turtleneck). Speaking of AMYS (54D: Author Tan and others), I picked up Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" today at the public library. One thing I love about it, and the thing that got completely drowned out by the din of outrage, is that it's really well written and really funny. I mean, so far. I'm like 10 pages in. Anyway, I saw her on Colbert and liked her and saw the book sitting there and thought "why not?" Also got something called "The Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade," which looks super-awesome and which had me at "gay pulp fiction" (p. 1!).

  • 17A: Cop squad in "Monk": Abbr. (SFPD) — Had SFGD at first because of an understandable (I think) GUCCI-for-PUCCI error. The former mayor of my city is named BUCCI. He is also the new principal at the local Catholic high school. He's *got* to be an improvement over the interim principal, who (according to ... sources) told the student body that sex was not necessary in marriage (yes, that's "in," not "before") because "Jesus wants to be your passionate lover." The principal before that guy was a shoplifter. Sometimes I love this city.

  • 73A: Shrub used in dyeing (ANIL) — a crossword word if ever there was one. I have to be careful not to confuse it with another crossword dye (AZO) or a seed casing (ARIL).
  • 147A: Chair toted on poles (SEDAN) — Weird that this piece of transportation gives its name to my Honda Accord.
  • 12D: Repeating heart monitor sound (BIP) — Really?! I wanted PIT. Or PAT.
  • 70D: Gossipy Smith (LIZ) — a very familiar name and face from my youth, but I have no idea from where, since I'm not a native New Yorker. I assume she was on national TV somehow. Or maybe I'm confusing her with Dr. Joyce Brothers (they live next to each other in my brain; don't ask).
  • 93D: Bygone missile with a tribal name (NAVAHO) — I grew up with the "J," spelling, but the puzzle likes this variant.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1973 Jim Croce album / SAT 5-28-11 / C ration replacer / Counterpart of Selene / Issuer of 1986 report on pornography / Funicular alternative

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Constructor: David Quarfoot

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: CHARRO (7D: Cousin of a vaquero) —

Charro is a term referring to a traditional horseman from Mexico, originating in the central-western regions primarily in the state of Jalisco including: Zacatecas, Durango, Guanajuato, Morelos, Puebla. The terms Vaquero and Ranchero (Cowboy and Rancher) are similar to the Charro but different in culture, etiquette, mannerism, clothing, tradition and social status. // The traditional Mexican charro is known for colorful clothing and participating in coleadero y charreada, a specific type of Mexican rodeo. The charreada, or corrida, is the national sport in Mexico, and is regulated by the Federación Mexicana de Charrería. (wikipedia)

• • •

What a strange week. This puzzle was easier than yesterday's, which was way easier than Thursday's. My times are not supposed to get *better* as the week goes on. It's true that I have always had a bit of a wavelength thing going on with David Quarfoot (who seems to be back in regular rotation after a way-too-long-hiatus), but still, under 7 is pretty ridiculous for me on a Saturday. Might be my fastest Saturday ever. It's certainly close. It's not the sexiest DQ puzzle I've ever done, but it's definitely solid, with a batch of fresh, contemporary answers (GUITAR HERO, RED BULL, LASER MOUSE) (15A: Hit video game series featuring "hammer-ons"; 8D: Drink containing taurine; 61A: Optical tool for a computer user) and only a stray EDE (40A: Central Dutch city) or ORALES (45D: Mass attire) here and there to bring things down (FYI: I zoned on EDE, but managed to get ORALES off the "O").

I experienced no significant hold-ups. Plugged "I" into the beginning of 1A: "Shhhh!" follower, figuring it would be some variant on "I'm workin' here!" or "I'm trying to sleep!" I was wrong, but that "I" immediately got me "I GOT A NAME" (1D: 1973 Jim Croce album => tip of the hat to my dad on that one), and that gave me a Lot of first letters in the crosses. Struggled a teeny bit with LE HAVRE (27D: City on the Seine), but followed ED MEESE (42D: Issuer of a 1986 report on pornography) easily into that SE corner and then back up around to the NW, which was the toughest part of the grid for me. Thought 18A: "The Eighth Wonder of the World," informally was K-TWO. Then I thought it was K-ONE (there's a K-ONE, right?), which is *very* close to KONG. So I had -NEER at 14D: Inflame and thought "SNEER? That's terrible." Indeed. Tried LUNA at 11A: Counterpart of Selene (correct), and got ANEER. Bah. Not right. Finally pulled the "E" in K-ONE and there was ANGER, and that was that, except for the little SW corner, which I somehow drove right past on my first lap around the grid. UTTER for ULTRA (49D: Extremely) slowed me down a bit, but not much.

Found a couple parts of the puzzle, er, puzzling. Shouldn't the clue for ABE LINCOLN in some way signal that you're going for the familiar, abbreviated form of his name? (58A: Political leader who patented a system to alter the buoyancy of steamboats). All the crosses said "LINCOLN," but I hesitated for a bit because of this cluing issue. I was going to ask what a SIT-BESIDE was (!?), but then I realized that "neighbor" in the clue 3D: Neighbor in the bleachers, say was being used as a verb. Glad that's sorted out.

  • 20A: Dwellers in the Southern Carpathians (SERBS) — did my typical "Slavs or SERBS?" teetering before making the right choice.
  • 25A: Longtime Disney name (EISNER) — might have proven tough if I hadn't had the first three letters in place before I saw the clue.
  • 50A: C ration replacer (MR. E) — people think the phrase is "mystery meat." They are mistaken.

  • 25D: Home to a famous geodesic sphere (EPCOT) — crossing EISNER, nice.
  • 54D: Funicular alternative (T-BAR) — seems I have no idea what a "funicular" is. I thought it was something to do with interior decoration, like a newel post or curtain rod or something. But no. It's a sort of inclined railway.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Meiji prime minister / FRI 5-27-11 / Player stoic crew member / Currency dropped during French Revolution / Trump jack e.g. / Bygone European capital

Friday, May 27, 2011

Constructor: Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Carlo PONTI (14A: "Doctor Zhivago" producer) —

Carlo Ponti (11 December 1912 – 10 January 2007) was an Italian film producer with over 140 production credits, and the husband of Italian movie star Sophia Loren. [...] Ponti accepted an offer from Lux Film in Rome in 1941, where he produced a series of commercially successful films featuring the comedian Totò. In 1954 he had his greatest artistic success with the production of Federico Fellini's La strada. However, Fellini denied Ponti's role in its success and said that "La Strada was made in spite of Ponti and De Laurentiis". He produced Visconti's Boccaccio '70 in 1962, Marriage Italian Style in 1964, and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in 1965. He produced his most popular and financially successful film, David Lean's Doctor Zhivago in 1965. He subsequently produced three notable films with Michelangelo Antonioni, Blowup in 1966, Zabriskie Point in 1970 and The Passenger in 1974. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very fast solve today, well under what it took me to complete yesterday's puzzle. I have nothing particularly bad or particularly good to say about this one. It's a bit "plain vanilla" (a phrase I saw in the NYT today and wondered about ... felt redundant). I don't really understand what the inspiration for this grid was. In a themeless puzzle, I expect to see at least a few "wow" answers, ones that the grid was clearly built around. I don't know what those are today. QUICK STUDY (27D: Fast learner) crossing AL QAEDA (25A: Fundamentalist group) is about the only part that stands out. I like SPOONERISM OK, but I'm not sure I like it as a marquee answer. The fill is reasonable, and nothing stands out as glaringly bad or even mildly annoying. But better to have greatness and badness side-by-side than to settle for mediocrity. Bonus points for interesting grid shape. In the end, though, mostly forgettable.

Got off to a quick start with 1D: Religious recession? (APSE), which was fooling no one. Flat-out gimme. One of the least tricky "?" clues I've ever seen. Slower up there than I'd like to have been because I didn't know PONTI (before my time), but I got ENDLESS easily (20A: Never wrapping up), and that made the whole NW fall rather quickly. "-AE-A" pattern clued me in pretty quickly to AL QAEDA, and the Q gave me QUICK STUDY almost instantly. Puzzled over SOUS v. ECUS for a bit (54A: Currency dropped during the French Revolution), but otherwise that corner wasn't too tough. Rode TATTLE TALE (55A: Scorned kid brother, maybe) across and then encountered my greatest challenge of the day, moving back up the east side of the grid from there. Damn Curious George people were the DEYS? BEYS? Urgh! (53D: Curious George's creators=>REYS). Between that issue and having EMINENT for EXIGENT (42D: Pressing), I couldn't see REGULAR for a while (50A: Bar fixture—nice clue). But after some stumbling I finally got up out of there. Thought "malapropism" before SPOONERISM, but that mistake didn't last (11D: Trump the jack, e.g.). Last real challenge was getting RSVP, which I had (reasonably, I thought) as ASAP at first (10A: Decision-prompting request). Calvin PEETE was a gimme (13D: Most successful U.S. black golfer before Woods), which made finishing up the puzzle a snap.

  • 34A: Meiji prime minister (ITO) — did not know this. Guessed ETO, which I think I got to by going Japan—WWII—ETO (nevermind that the "E" in ETO stands for "European"). I might also have been thinking of EDO, the ancient name for Tokyo.
  • 59A: Player of a stoic crew member (NIMOY) — Mr. Spock!
  • 2D: Bygone European capital (BONN) — you never know which direction the clue's going in with a clue word like "capital." Guessed BONN off the final "N," though I did have to consider and rule out BERN first (I always got those two confused in 7th grade Geography).
  • 18D: Obiter dictum (ASIDE) — soooo annoyed to have "learned" this word in a recent crossword and then promptly forgotten it. Boo, me.
  • 25D: Hostile to, in the hills (AGIN) — Ha ha, "the hills." Not just any hills; just them that are teemin' with billies. AGIN' is also a nice way of describin' Baby Boomers (or any livin' thing, I guess).

  • 36D: Instrument for Cannonball Adderley (ALTO SAX) — completely blanked on who this guy was. Not til I go the "X" did I piece the instrument together. Speaking of instruments, tonight was my daughter's spring concert and in jazz band she got to do the first solo (flute). Improvised solo! You have not lived til you've heard fifth-graders improvise! It's pure awesome. Always the best part of these concerts (which can be kind of staid and tepid at times). Anyway, daughter did great. The ALTO SAX kid (an adorable giant) was pretty great too.

  • 37D: Opposite of spring, tidewise (NEAP) — before today, I did not know "tidewise" could be a word.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Conrad of old films / THU 5-26-11 / Looped vase handles / Newsmakers of 1903 / Seaquake sequel / SARS monitor / Williams paint partner

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Constructor: Ashish Vengsarkar

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: XY AND XX (i.e. HIS AND HERS) (38A: Matching towel set ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — four theme answers either begin or end with letter string "HIS" or "HERS" ("HIS" up top, "HERS" on the bottom, as god intended); these letter strings are represented in the grid by the letters XY and XX, respectively, in accordance with the chromosomes of the sex associated with each possessive pronoun

Word of the Day: Conrad NAGEL (43A: Conrad of old films) —

Conrad Nagel (March 16, 1897(1897-03-16) – February 24, 1970(1970-02-24)) was an American screen actor and matinee idol of the silent film era and beyond. He was also a well-known television actor and radio performer. [...] In 1927, Nagel starred alongside Lon Chaney, Sr., Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the now lost Tod Browning directed horror classic, London After Midnight. The film is quite possibly the most famous and talked about lost film ever. // Unlike so many silent films stars of the Roaring Twenties, Conrad Nagel had little difficulty transitioning to talkies and spent the next several decades being very well received in high profile films as a character actor. He was also frequently heard on radio and made many notable appearances on television. From 1937 to 1947 he hosted and directed the radio program Silver Theater. Later on, from 1949 to 1952 he hosted the popular TV game show, Celebrity Time. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well that was an adventure. I was going to put this at "Medium-Challenging" because, while 9:27 is definitely high for me, for a Thursday, it isn't *outrageous*. But then I checked the NYT puzzle site and saw that my time would've placed me third on the leader board, which is ridiculously high for me. The times are pretty abysmal, generally, so this one must really be tough. Strange, because after some initial floundering (of the fairly typical variety), I caught onto the theme (mostly), which actually made solving the bottom half of the grid easier: knowing there are going to be Xs, and generally where they're going to be located, tends to help one along. But even knowing the theme, I found the puzzle slow-going. Middle gave me fits, as UHRY is one of those nightmare names that I see every six months or so but can never remember (despite its looking Nuts) (22D: Alfred who wrote "Driving Miss Daisy"), and Conrad NAGEL means nothing ("nada" + "bagel" = NAGEL) to me.

Most of my solving time must have been spent up top, early on, as I was struggling to figure out the exact nature of the theme. I should say that I really liked the theme, but I have three minor quibbles. First, I saw the central clue, referring to the matching towel set, before I had any theme answers in place, and knew instantly that the puzzle would be dealing with HIS and HER. Note HER, not HERS. I "knew" this because I already had the HER in place in the first theme answer—the first part of HERITAGE. So theme answers would be two-word phrases where first word starts HIS- and second starts HER- (I rationalized this by deciding that the central answer was probably HIS 'N' HER, though to my credit, I decided to hold off on writing that in). I would say HIS AND HER towels, or HIS AND HER anything, though of course the towels would have "HERS" not "HER" written on them. Anyway, that false "HER" in HERITAGE irked me. Next, there's the fact that chromosomes don't exactly suggest possessive pronouns. The equivalence feels tenuous. Close enough, but not spot on. Lastly, and here I'm really nitpicking, I didn't like that there was an XX in a theme answer with KISSES, since normally / conventionally / epistolarily, the KISSES are what should be represented by Xs, not the letter string "HERS." So the whole structure had a wobbly feel to me. But it held up, and with that many Xs, the grid was far from boring (though the "AX" sound probably shows up one too many times), and remarkably crap-free.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: It's celebrated for 30 days each year beginning September 15 (XYPANIC HERITAGE)
  • 21A: "Take my word for it" ("TRUST ME ON TXY")
  • 48A: Foiled bites? (XXHEY'S KISSES)
  • 58A: Newsmakers of 1903 (THE WRIGHT BROTXX)
Got a little out of my depth at the AMINO / AMIDOL crossing but pieced it together (9D: part of PABA / 16A: Developing agent in photography). Loved the inclusion of the reasonably recent and controversial phrase "WISE / LATINA" (28A: With 8-Across, Sonia Sotomayor, self-professedly). Only just now realized that the seaquake in 24D: Seaquake sequel was not a movie, but an actual earthquake centered in the ocean. Seems entirely reasonable to me that there would have been disaster films called "Seaquake!" and "TSUNAMI!" I didn't know SHERWIN-Williams was named after actual people, let alone partners (42D: Williams's paint partner). I did, however, know that Thom's last name was YORKE (49D: Radiohead frontman Thom). He sings on one of my favorite albums: PJ Harvey's "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea[quake]."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

P.S. a message from the future (6/30/11)

P.S. Thanks to everyone who visited the new Facebook page for this website yesterday. I did not expect all the nice comments posted there. Much appreciated. I'll have a "Like" button up on the website soon (or, rather, PuzzleGirl will help me put one up ... she laughs at me when I try to do tech stuff on my own. Literally, laughs). Til then, you can check out the page here. It's a nice place to interact with readers and distribute information and generally goof around.


TV monologist / WED 5-25-11 / Gilbert Sullivan's follow-up to Mikado / Drug taken in Rent / Biopic about Ritchie Valens / Duck Hunt gaming console

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Constructor: Jeff Dubner

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: ITALIAN / SONNET (2D: With 49-Down, its form follows the pattern of the circled letters) — rhyme scheme appears in circles: ABBA / ABBA / CDE / CDE

Word of the Day: "RUDDIGORE" (34A: Gilbert and Sullivan's follow-up to "The Mikado") —

Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse, originally called Ruddygore, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the Savoy Operas and the tenth of fourteen comic operas written together by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was first performed by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre in London on 22 January 1887. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this one was rough. Rough to solve, and rough to look at. Theme is unambitious and strange. Most people couldn't tell you the rhyme scheme of an ITALIAN SONNET. I could barely tell you, and I teach the damned thing every year. Rhyme schemes, yeesh (there's actually another possibility for the sestet besides CDECDE: CDCCDC. Wikipedia says that there was eventually also a CDCDCD version). Then there's the odd embedding of the circles—all of it to the left, for some reason, and only half of it split across words in the answer. Only MANIC DEPRESSION (57A: "An Unquiet Mind" subject) demonstrates the classic embedding style, with embedded word touching every word in the theme answer. I had no idea SABBATH BLESSING (27A: Friday night ritual, in Judaism) was a thing, any more than ... any other kind of BLESSING might be a thing. Never heard the phrase. Also never Ever heard of EN BANC DECISIONS (plural ... or singular, for that matter) (45A: Some Court of Appeals work). Jeff is a lawyer (I know because I gave him feedback on a grid of his back in early 2010), so this answer probably felt very natural to him. I guess the weakish theme was supposed to be bolstered and bulked up by the grid-spanning answers. Instead, the whole set-up feels awkward and teetery, with the second and third answers really feeling like reaches. CABBAGE PATCH KID was the only theme answer anywhere near my wheelhouse (17A: Adoptable doll of the '80s). So let's just say the puzzle is adequate, but (despite the poetry) not really my cup of matcha (a word I'd love to see in the puzzle).

As for the rest of the grid—touch and go. Never Ever seen anyone, "gridder" or otherwise, say "HI, DAD" on TV (28D: Gridder's on-air greeting, maybe). Had "HI, MOM" and then "HI, MAN!" (!?). Had SETS AT for LETS AT (26A: Sics on), which made the "monologist" (ugh, come on, LENO's bad enough; now I have to think him as a weird word no one would ever use to describe him?) impossible to see for a while ("SEN-???"). These two issues made the central answer, "RUDDIGORE," even more laughable (to me) than it would have been with no problems in the crosses. Never heard of "RUDDIGORE." Don't even know how to pronounce it. A third-string G&S opera? Right across the center??? Wow. I'm pronouncing it "Rudiger," if only because that's one of Bart Simpson's fake names (episode 1F05, "Bart's Inner Child").

[38D: Car tower, maybe => REPO MAN]

Didn't know what Carnaby Street was, but pieced together MOD easily enough (11A: Like Carnaby Street fashions). Figured the drug taken in "Rent" was HEROIN (it was about A.I.D.S., after all), so went looking for 3-letter slang ... only to find that the drug is the A.I.D.S. drug AZT. Never played Duck Hunt, but I know my gaming consoles pretty well from seeing them so often in crosswords. Knew it was too old to be WII, so NES was the next LOGICal choice (64A: Duck Hunt gaming console, briefly). "LA BAMBA" was the only gimme among the long Downs for me (3D: Biopic about Ritchie Valens). Very big when I was in high school. Made Lou Diamond Phillips a star. I know ANTIOCH better as a college (located ... I don't know where ... oh, Ohio, it turns out; Horace Mann was its first president) (44D: Ancient capital of Syria).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. A Message From The Future ... (6/29/11) ...

This website now has a Facebook page. I wanted to install a "Like" button here on the site, but, well, I'm wrestling with installing the code properly, i.e. I'm a technologically incompetent old man. Ugh. I expect I'll get it done in the next few days somehow. In the meantime, the page is here. I'll figure out ways to use it to complement this site. I have a biggish project I'm embarking on, one that will require some, let's say, audience participation ... so I'll probably use the FB page to help me with that ... but more on that later. Right now, if you're on FB, just go Like the page, dammit. I mean, please.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]


Jazz saxophonist Gordon familiarly / TUE 5-24-11 / Julius Dithers wife Blondie / Raja Serpent Rope novelist / Chief Whitehorse tribesmen

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Constructor: Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: ["clue word"] partners? — two words that can each be paired with the clue word in a "___ AND ___" phrase paired are instead paired, awkwardly / strangely / unexpectedly, with each other in their own "___ AND ___" phrase

Word of the Day: TIT willow (65A: Lead-in for mouse or willow) —

The Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is a widespread and common resident breeder throughout temperate and subarctic Europe and northern Asia. It is more of a conifer specialist than the closely related Marsh Tit, which explains it breeding much further north. It is resident, and most birds do not migrate. [...] The Willow Tit is referenced in one of the musical numbers in the comedic opera "The Mikado" written by Gilbert and Sullivan, (On a Tree By a River). [that song is apparently listed officially as "Tit-Willow," the only instance I can find of that "tit"-in-front formulation] (wikipedia)
• • •

The awkwardness of this theme is neatly exemplified by the awkwardness of my explanation. There's something slightly cute and charming about the concept, but DRY AND MIGHTY is the only answer that really zings. The rest are just ... pairs. Not exciting. Not nearly as exciting as the brilliant HATCHET JOB (11D: Malicious attack) and only slightly less brilliant ARE YOU NUTS? (30D: Question after some 26-Down), two of the greatest long (non-theme) Downs I've seen in a while. The rest of the grid ... is the rest of the grid. Never (or barely) heard of Raja RAO (9D: Raja ___, "The Serpent and the Rope" novelist). Probably should've made that the "Word of the Day," but ... no, TIT-willow needed figuring out.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Tell partners? (KISS AND SHOW)
  • 24A: High partners? (DRY AND MIGHTY)
  • 38A: Pride partners? (PREJUDICE AND JOY)
  • 49A: Go partners? (TOUCH AND STOP)
  • 60A: Shine partners? (RISE AND SPIT)

Sometimes the clue word is the first word in the familiar phrases, sometimes it's the second. This is fine, but ideally answers that feature first words are symmetrical with answers that feature first words and answers that feature second words are symmetrical with answers that feature second words. ORTHO- (long prefix) crossing THERMO- (long prefix) = not great. Also not buying the extra "X" in XOXOX (70A: Complimentary close). Nice clue at 56-Down, Andrea [wink].

Is Hirschfeld the guy who does the NINAs (56A: Artist Hirschfeld and namesakes=>ALS)? Didn't know he was an AL, nor did I know Chief Whitehorse and his tribesmen were OTOS, but I got those plurals easily enough from crosses. I was baffled by 63D: Jazz saxophonist Gordon, familiarly for a few seconds, until I realized I owned a DEXter Gordon album. I just wondered what I'd call him if I were speaking to him familiarly. "DAD? DEXY!? No, probably just DEX. But that would mean a five-letter answer starting with "X" at 70-Across. Complimentary close, again? XANAX? XEROX?" I could go on.

  • 26D: Motivations for some bungee jumps (DARES) — if that is your motivation, you are a weak-willed idiot.
  • 50D: Friend of Kukla (OLLIE) — like a Friend of Dorothy, only *way* gayer.

["Sorry, Fran, I'm a madcap..."]

  • 29D: Julius Dithers's wife in "Blondie" (CORA) — a crossword staple whose name I always botch, though today I CAME gave me the "C," which made it easy ("I CAME" also an important revelation in the tell-all autobiography "I, FIDO").
  • 58D: "Come Sail Away" band, 1977 (STYX) — this song reminds me of the final scene of the pilot episode of the (great) TV series "Freaks & Geeks." Then of course there's Cartman's version.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

P.S. "Mighty" is in the clue for MIRA (27D)... which is a pretty mighty oversight (see 24A).


Irish-born Tony winner Patrick / MON 5-23-11 / Bridge hand assessment / Online chat components / Much-kissed rock

Monday, May 23, 2011

Constructor: Steve Salitan

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (significantly above my avg. time—still well under 4 min.)

THEME: GOOD / LUCK (28D: With 37-Down, what 17-, 24-, 47- and 58-Across are all said to bring) — self-explanatory

Word of the Day: Patrick MAGEE (42A: Irish-born Tony winner Patrick) —

Patrick Magee (31 March 1922 – 14 August 1982) was a Northern Irish actor best known for his collaborations with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, as well as his appearances in horror films and in Stanley Kubrick's films A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon. // Born Patrick McGee in Armagh, Northern Ireland, he changed his name to Magee for the stage. His first stage experience in Ireland was with Anew McMaster's touring company, performing the works of Shakespeare. It was here that he first worked with Pinter. // He was then brought to London by Tyrone Guthrie for a series of Irish plays. In 1957 he met Beckett and recorded some of his prose for BBC radio. Beckett was so excited with his voice that he wrote Krapp's Last Tape especially for him (it was recorded by the BBC in 1972). Beckett's biographer Anthony Cronin wrote that "there was a sense in which, as an actor, he had been waiting for Beckett as Beckett had been waiting for him." // In 1964, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, after Pinter, directing his own play The Birthday Party, specifically requested him for the role of McCann, and stated he was the strongest in the cast. In 1965 he appeared in Marat/Sade, and when the play transferred to Broadway it won him a Tony Award. He also appeared in the 1966 RSC production of Staircase opposite Paul Scofield. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not care for this one so much. Overly straightforward theme combined with a very clunky solving experience combined with my complete ignorance of bridge (ugh) made this one less than thoroughly enjoyable. Was disenchanted right away with NUMBER SEVEN—even though people talk about "lucky NUMBER SEVEN" all the time, still the "number" part felt redundant and weird. Top two theme answers have clues that steer you away from GOOD LUCK (no one ever wished upon an "overnight success," for instance), while the bottom two theme answers do not allow for any such clue reimagining. There's only one BLARNEY STONE, and a RABBIT'S FOOT is a RABBIT'S FOOT is a RABBIT'S FOOT. This lack of cluing cohesion gives the puzzle a wobbly feel. Cross-referenced revealer was mildly annoying, though not what you'd call a flaw. General frame of reference in this puzzle is olde-timey (bridge-playing, old mayors, old actors, an extremely awkward clue on the only modern thing in the grid — 21A: Online chat components, for short (IMS); etc.). Double stack of bad plurals on top of a cruddy EuroRiver in the west didn't help matters. I enjoyed MASS MARKET (30D: Not a niche audience; reminds me of my vintage paperback collection) and FINAGLE (10D: Achieve through trickery) and very little else.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Mickey Mantle wore it (NUMBER SEVEN)
  • 24A: One who's an overnight success (SHOOTING STAR)
  • 47A: Much-kissed rock (BLARNEY STONE)
  • 58A: Common key chain adornment (RABBIT'S FOOT)

  • 1A: Foamy coffee order (LATTE)Do Not Like this clue. Yes, there is a small amount of foam on top of a LATTE, but I would not call a LATTE "foamy." A cappuccino, yes. A LATTE, no. P.S. RAPPERs do not drink LATTEs, but middle-aged white guys do. I had two just this past weekend. P.P.S. some RAPPERs probably do drink LATTEs. DJs too.
  • 57A: Common breast-pocket stain (INK) — I think this clue means "chest pocket." The ink stain happens on chest pockets, stereoptyically (i.e. nerdically). A "breast pocket" is "a pocket inside of a man's coat." I mean ... I'm sure there are INK stains in there too, but that inside pocket is *not* the one associate with INK stains.
  • 47D: Sudden charge in football (BLITZ) — that's *American* football. A sudden charge in the *other* football is called a "Messi":

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. Thanks to jesser and treedweller for covering for me this weekend while I attended the wedding of my good friend / former student / part-time assistant Donna in Bucks County, PA. In case you were wondering what all those photos were about (1. the cake we had made, based on the design on the invitation; 2. the ceremony itself; 3. Best Dog). Here are wife and post-playing-in-the-rain daughter:

See you tomorrow

PPPPPPS: I lost my phone this weekend in the wilderness of PA. Well, turns out I just left it in a cab. The company has my phone but "the boss doesn't like us" to mail phones to people even w/ promise of full remuneration, so I am looking for someone *very close* to Lansdale, PA to go get my damned phone from the taxi people. E-mail me at the rexparker at mac dot com address if this person is you. Reward: undying gratitude. [UPDATE: Nancy in PA to the rescue! Problem solved! Woohoo!]


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