Rocker Hitchcock / THU 6-30-11 / Snack cake since 1961 / Whitman's dooryard bloomer / Intermediate at law / 1966 gold album Herb Alpert

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: ACRONYM (50D: Basis of the answer to each starred clue, commonly) — answers are silly sentences that are also homophones of common acronyms (initialisms, actually, but why split hairs?)

Word of the Day: MESNE (10D: Intermediate, at law) —


[Cf. Mean intermediate.]
(Law) Middle; intervening; as, a mesne lord, that is, a lord who holds land of a superior, but grants a part of it to another person, in which case he is a tenant to the superior, but lord or superior to the second grantee, and hence is called the mesne lord. // Mesne process, intermediate process; process intervening between the beginning and end of a suit, sometimes understood to be the whole process preceding the execution. Blackstone. Burrill. -- Mesne profits, profits of premises during the time the owner has been wrongfully kept out of the possession of his estate. Burrill. (Read more:

• • •

This puzzle is ingenious, even if the fill is a little rough around the edges in parts. ROBYN Hitchcock (57D: Rocker Hitchcock) crossing ALAN BALL!? (64A: "Six Feet Under" creator) Yikes. I knew both, but only because a. I was in college when ROBYN Hitchcock was a well known "college rock" (it was a thing) artist, and b. I do puzzles and have stumbled on ALAN BALL before. Lots of names, and with every theme answer relying on your knowing famous names, this seems like an easy puzzle to get stuck in (name-y puzzles tend to be landmines). But the theme is great, even if, as I say, ACRONYMs, technically, can be said as a word, e.g. NOW (the National Organization for Women) or OSHA (the Organization of Senior Hat Artists). These are all initialisms, but I think dictionaries have tired of people screwing up and decided that any initialism can be called an ACRONYM now, so ... here we are.

Theme answers:
  • 16A: *"Got it! You want me to play Dorothy's aunt!" ("I SEE! BE EM!")
  • 25A: *"Get in line, Ms. Gorme!" ("QUEUE, EYDIE!")
  • 40A: *"Ms. Myers, shall I pour?" ("DEE DEE ... TEA?") — this was the first theme answers I stumbled across and I somehow couldn't get the name DOROTHEA out of my head (I had the last two letters). Even later, when I'd filled in ACRONYM, I couldn't figure out what the deal was. Only when I got "QUEUE, EYDIE!" and went "huh?" did it dawn on me what was going on. After that, things were a little easier.
  • 56A: *"Supermodel Macpherson, I presume?" ("YOU ARE ELLE?")
  • 71A: *"Sly insect!" ("CAGEY BEE!")
Got Nothing in the NW and so ended up starting at BALD (33A: Unlocked?) and sliding right down into the SE corner, where I ended up piecing together ACRONYM pretty early, well before I had any theme answer in place. Man, there are Really a lot of names in this puzzle. But I've said that. I also said the fill was a little rough around the edges, but truthfully the only outright ugly thing in the grid is MESNE (which I have seen only once before: when it was running through a stack of four 15s back in March) (10D: Intermediate, at law). Otherwise the puzzle is hampered only by an excessive reliance on odd names. Weird to have FDA and SRO (60A: 1966 gold album by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass) and GMT and PSA in this puzzle, if only because I really want to turn them into theme answers. *"Gosh, it's all gone!" => "GEE, EMPTY!" *"Urinate, my fellow Mexican!" => "PEE, ESE!" I think I've got the hang of it.

  • 15A: Horse-drawn vehicle (LANDAU) — like ALAN BALL, I know LANDAU Only from crosswords.
  • 34A: Cub #21 of 1990s-2000s (SOSA) — "of the Steroid Era" is more like it.
  • 35A: "The Rules of the Game" filmmaker, 1939 (RENOIR) — Jean. Know the name, but have not (to my knowledge) seen any of his films.
  • 53A: Peeler's target, informally (SPUD) — a befuddling clue. "Target" makes potato-peeling sound awfully violent / personal.
  • 55A: Whitman's dooryard bloomer (LILAC) — just finished "To Kill a Mockingbird" today. I'd never read it before. Hey, guess what else I've never read. Go on.
  • 73A: Surfer's handle (USER NAME) — that use of "surf" shouldn't fool anyone at this point.
  • 2D: Newman of early "S.N.L." (LARAINE) — know her name by sound. Written out, it looks Nuts.
  • 6D: Snack cake since 1961 (SUZY Q) — ooh, rough. I haven't seen one of these ... well, since I don't when. Not sure I could pick one out of a snack cake line-up.

  • 58D: Horror movie locale, for short (ELM ST.) — again, pretty hard. I was thinking "locale" in the general sense (i.e. cabin in the woods).
  • 67D: Old NASA vehicle (LEM) — A common enough ACRONYM. I was reminded of it the other day when someone, somewhere mentioned a one-hit wonder band that I'd completely forgotten about. OK, so their name's LEN, not LEM. Just go with it:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

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.


Pequod co-owner / WED 6-29-11 / Kapellmeister's charge / Bygone Las Vegas casino / Argentine soccer hero Maradona

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Constructor: Tony Orbach

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Short U => Long O — sound change in first (or last) word of familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: ALI Abdullah Saleh (20A: Yemeni leader ___ Abdullah Saleh) —

Ali Abdullah Saleh (Arabic: علي عبدالله صالح‎; born 21 March 1942) is the first President of the Republic of Yemen. Saleh previously served as President of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) from 1978 until 1990, at which time he assumed the office of chairman of the Presidential Council of the Republic of Yemen (unified Yemen). He is the longest-serving president of Yemen, ruling since 1978. // On 2 February 2011, facing a major national uprising, Saleh announced that he would step down in 2013. On 23 April 2011, he announced that he would be willing to step down in return for immunity from criminal prosecution. On 18 May 2011, he agreed to sign a deal with opposition groups, stipulating that he would resign within a month; however, he later reneged on this commitment. // On June 3, Saleh was injured in an RPG attack on his presidential compound. The following day, he was taken to a military hospital in Saudi Arabia for treatment, and vice president Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi was appointed as acting President of Yemen.

• • •

I had a real wavelength problem with this one, as I often do with Tony's puzzles, for some inexplicable reason. Full disclosure: I know and like and have dined several times with Tony, who is the loveliest man you're likely to meet. He's a wonderful constructor, and yet for some reason, I often stumble through his puzzles—clues I can't quite make sense of, trivia I just don't know, etc., some combination of incidental stuff adds up to me flailing around and feeling lost much of the time. The theme concept here is simple, and yet I didn't pick it up until the Very end. So many -MB words involved in the theme answers that I thought there was some kind of letter switch—specfically, a B-for-E switch. Or a B-for-E switch up top and an E-for-B switch below ... I didn't really stop to think about it for long, since it's Wednesday and I'm busy tearing through the grid. But when I got to JAMAICAN ROAM my brain went from mildly confused to completely jammed. Finished that last bit in the NE and then looked over the theme answers to figure out what I'd missed. Grrr.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Balding person's directive to a barber? (COMB ON OVER)
  • 27A: Meandering trip from Kingston to Montego Bay? (JAMAICAN ROAM)
  • 43A: Covered stadium that's off-limits to bands? (DON'T-PLAY DOME)
  • 57A: Protection for a fairy-tale dwarf's brain? (GNOME SKULL) — the only one of the theme answers I really like
There were some proper noun crossings in the NW and SE that were pretty rough, if not exactly lethal. I've seen ENOLA clued in this "Waterworld" fashion before (2D: "Waterworld" girl), I'm sure, but that doesn't mean I remembered this character from a 15-year-old *horrible* movie. And I knew Saleh, but I did not know ALI. DIEGO (65A: Argentine soccer hero Maradona) crossing PELEG (50D: Pequod co-owner) was a bit easier for me (heard of both), but that cross will probably prove tough for some. People under 30 probably don't know Boz SCAGGS, whom I first heard of when my mom told me that the crazy 5-ft-tall, 3-in. thin hi-tech speakers she bought for her stereo in 1982 were the same ones Boz SCAGGS had (some salesman was doing his job that day) (22A: "Lido Shuffle" singer Boz).

I knew the Kapellmeister had something to do with a singing group, but I thought maybe his "charge" was a TENOR at first (nope, CHOIR). Wife got confused and thought Cassini was an OLGA instead of an OLEG. I think in some publications a TWO-STAR rating is quite good, actually (5D: Somewhere between excellent and poor, as a restaurant). Finally, I like the clue 44D: "Tommy" rockers (THE WHO) because it sounds like "(The) Tommyknockers" (the Stephen King novel). That's as good a reason to like a clue as any, I say.

And in case you didn't get it, 6D: January 2nd? refers to the "2nd" letter in "January," i.e. a SHORT A.

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.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Military aviators collectively / TUE 6-28-11 / Moonmate of Buzz / 6.022 x 10ˆ23 / Pollster's worry / Explorer of kiddie TV / Former NFL great Junior

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Constructor: Tom Baring

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Famous Numbers — you heard me

Word of the Day: AIR ARM (31A: Military aviators, collectively) —

The aviation section of a national military force, including aircraft, base and support facilities, and personnel ( [hardly any sources online for this term–lots of sources for FLEET AIR ARM, though: "the aviation branch of the Royal Navy"]
• • •

I'm indifferent to the theme, which is just a set of famous numbers, literally clued. Actually, a set of famous numbers that are very familiar terms/phrases, and then whatever PI APPROXIMATION is. However literally correct it is, it's not a familiar or particularly in-the-language phrase. A bit weird to have your actual number take up two letters in your fifteen-letter answer (?). But I guess you had to get a symmetrical partner for (the stellar!) AVOGADRO'S NUMBER, so no harm, no foul. Filled in SPEED OF LIGHT without ever bothering to look at the clue. Only real hold-up was trying to figure out how to spell AVOGADRO'S. I let crosses do the heavy lifting. Aside from a sluggish start, this one played very easy, even with the mysterious AIR ARM in there (31A: Military aviators, collectively), and a more-than-understandable SOILS-for-ROILS mix-up (38A: Muddies).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: 3.14159 (PI APPROXIMATION)
  • 26A: -273.15˚C (ABSOLUTE ZERO)
  • 42A: 299,792,458 meters/second (SPEED OF LIGHT)
  • 55A: 6.022 x 10ˆ23 (AVOGADRO'S NUMBER)

Apparently PI APPROXIMATION does have a life in the phrase PI APPROXIMATION Day, "celebrated" every 22/7 (that's July 22 to you non-Brits). I know the word EXTANT (43D: Not extinct) from studying MSS in grad school. In Middle English studies, the number of EXTANT MSS for most surviving works is 1 or 2, Canterbury Tales and (esp.) Piers Plowman notwithstanding. You know what was popular back then (if EXTANT MSS are any indication)? Saints' lives. Exciting! I should probably note that there's a lot of less-than-gorgeous fill here: REORG, AIRARM, XXI, AGIN, LIAISE (a legit word, I just hate the sight of it), MNO, AIRE, MEDI. Strangely, I love SHORTU (6D: There's one in "puzzle"). It reminds me of a name that some rotund character from a Miyazaki film would have.

  • 5D: It's first on the leaderboard (TOP SCORE) — froze on this one for some reason. Could think only of "TOP SEED(S)"
  • 59A: Ararat lander (ARK) — Like a Mars Lander, only biblical. Ironically, the Mars Lander was named Phoenix—no phoenixes on the Ararat lander. Hard to enter two-by-two when there's just one of you. (If you know what a phoenix is only from "Harry Potter," then back to middle school with you!)
  • 3D: Pollster's worry (BIAS) — I wrote in SKEW.
  • 35D: Cool ___ cucumber (ASA) — who is this ASA Cucumber and what makes him so cool?
  • 53D: Moonmate of Buzz (NEIL) — "Moonmate?" Really? That is the non-wordiest non-word I've ever seen in the puzzle.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


1990s runnings of the Bulls / MON 6-27-11 / Homemade music compilation / Allan Robin Hood compadre / Excellent in dated slang

Monday, June 27, 2011

Constructor: Joseph Samulak

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Monday*)

THEME: MIX TAPE (37A: Homemade music compilation) — four contiguous circles inside four theme answers feature rearrangements of the letters T-A-P-E

Word of the Day: SHERE Khan (13D: ___ Khan ("The Jungle Book" tiger))

Shere Khan is a fictional tiger of the Indian jungle, named after an Afghan Prince (Sher Shah Suri, The Lion King or The Tiger King) Kipling encountered on his trips to Afghanistan. The word Shere translates to "Tiger" in Urdu/Hindi/Punjabi, and "khan" translates as "sovereign," "king" or "military leader" and so forth in a number of languages influenced by the Mongols, including Pashto. Shere Khan is the chief antagonist in two of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories featuring Mowgli. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was pretty rough. Didn't like the theme—those are easy letters to mix up and find inside other words and phrases, and the resulting phrases aren't that interesting. Circled letter strings should break across different words, or at least different word parts, so THREEPEATS is an outlier here—also an outlier because, for non-sports people, that clue + that answer will equal ???. (THREEPEAT = string of three championships; a play on the word "REPEAT"). That's a fine clue-answer pairing, but not on a Monday. Also not Monday-like: that NE corner. Ugly partial foreign weirdness. SHERE crossing "A-DALE" is flat-out terrible. Something out of last century's crosswordese torture box. There's absolutely no reason for a corner that small, with anchor / theme letters that unchallenging, should have fill that unappealing. Should've been sent back to the drawing board there. A 78-worder on a Monday should be much, much smoother than this.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: 1990s runnings of the Bulls? (THREEPEATS)
  • 11D: Groups battling big government (TEA PARTIES)
  • 29D: Watch (KEEP TABS ON)
  • 53A: Some gymwear (SWEATPANTS)
People complain all the time about the NYT's liberal bias—not today. Sure, there's a Kennedy (ROSE) and a gay married couple (MUPPETs), as well as a Che/Gaga mash-up (ICON), but the memorable political answers here are TEA PARTIES (which I hate in the plural, but whatever) and "Sarah Palin's ALASKA" (46D: Sarah Palin's ___" of 2010-11 TV). Really like that last clue. Very fresh. Also, I did (really) appreciate the fact that the puzzle itself acknowledged that PHAT is "dated" (32A: Excellent, in dated slang). It really is, though so is most of the slang that finds its way into crosswords: NEATO, EGAD, uh ... NERTS, etc. On the whole, though, the puzzle is not polished enough. No reason for A LOON and A-DALE or weak partials in general when your grid is this undemanding. Just because you're done doesn't mean you're Done. Monday grids should be scrubbed within an inch of their lives, esp. when the theme isn't exactly sparkling.

Not sure how long I took to do this one (did it on paper, away from a clock), but it felt much, much longer than my avg. Monday. Same thing for wife, who is decidedly non-sports and so had trouble not only with THREEPEATS but with RGS as well :( And like me, she found that NE corner rough going. My wife would also like you to know that a TACOS are not "sandwiches" and PIES and cobblers are different from one another in many substantial ways.

Oddly enough, I've never (or barely) heard of the Kipling character SHERE. SHERE Hite, on the other hand, would've been a gimme. Wouldn't have minded this SHERE if he hadn't been cruelly caged in small, dirty confines with Alan and the ARTES liberales. Fittingly, I was slowed down in the SE corner by 61A: "Hold your horses!". Had the "W" and so my brain went easily, effortlessly from "horses" to WHOA, as in "Whoa, it's not WHOA?"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Filmmaker Allen / SUN 6-26-11 / Locale for cattail / Game whose name derived Swahili / It landed Pacific Ocean 3/23/01 / Bygone hand weapon

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Constructor: David Levinson Wilk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "T Mobile" — Familiar phrases in which "T" switches places with letter next to it, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: GANEF (18D: Thief, in Yiddish) —

n US slang
an unscrupulous opportunist who stoops to sharp practice
[from Yiddish, from Hebrew gannābh thief, from gānnabh he stole]
• • •

I generally like David Levinson Wilk puzzles, and I like much of this. Well, some of it. The theme is Extraordinarily loose, though. I don't like themes with infinite possible answers—the bar is just too low. The only consistency is that a T moves. One space. In every theme answer that movement takes place in the last two letters of a word ... except in PRE-MARTIAL SEX. So no consistency there. T and *any* letter adjacent to it? Whether on its left or its right? Not the kind of theme I'd expect from the Nation's Premier Crossword. Too simplistic. The theme answers are cute in parts, but brief amusement couldn't overcome the overall bummer created by the looseness of the theme. That said, the grid is mostly decent, and it actually took me an above-average amount of time to finish, for reasons I don't quite understand—a nice Sunday challenge. There's a handful of entries I could do without (KLMN, EVENI, GANEF, ETRES), but most of the fill is bouncy, and many of the clues felt fresh and interesting. K.D. LANG will be playing here on July 4 (Q: why would she want to be in Binghamton (of all places) on the Fourth of July!? A: She's Canadian, what does she care?) (1A: 1988 Grammy winner for "Crying"). Nobody loves a FASCIST (pace Sylvia Plath), but I love FASCIST as a crossword entry (68D: Like Mussolini). And Bowie is Bowie is Bowie, and is always welcome:

[79A: 1983 #1 hit with the lyric "Put on your red shoes"]

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Dance seen in a Lincoln Center performance of "Don Giovanni"? (NEW YORK MINUET) — "Dance" in clue, DANCE in "LET'S DANCE" ... but I doubt anyone noticed
  • 33A: "None of the leading sales people came in today"? ("ALL BEST ARE OFF")
  • 40A: Celebration after a 1964 heavyweight championship? (FETE OF CLAY) — maybe my favorite answer
  • 55A: Stirrup? (COWBOY BOOST)
  • 71A: Decide to sleep in the nude? (CAST PAJAMAS)
  • 81A: What whitewashers apply? (IVORY COATS)
  • 88A: Response to the query "Does Ms. Garbo fist-bump?" ("NO, GRETA SHAKES") — wow, that is one forced clue. I guess it beats a clue about Ms. Garbo's not having the dt's.
  • 102A: Love before war? (PRE-MARTIAL SEX)
Most troublesome of the trouble spots, for me, was the area around the KATIE / IRWIN intersection (59A: Scarlett O'Hara's real first name + 42D: Filmmaker Allen). Had no clue about either name—never a great feeling to run into an unknown proper noun collision like that. Couldn't figure out ASCRIBE (had ACCLAIM at one point) (29D: Credit) and would never have gotten to TAE BO from the clue (35D: Judo-like exercises) without significant crosses. The plural "exercises" feels wrong. TAE BO is an exercise routine. Singular. I guess if you take each movement as a discrete exercise, then voila, but I don't like it. I had TOTES in there but took it out (forget why) (49D: Lugs). Had TRIB in there but then took it out and tried TROP ("The TROP" is the name of the Tampa Bay Rays ballpark) (49A: Tampa paper, briefly, with "the"). Throw in the fact that I REMEMBER is kind of an arbitrary phrase (42A: "You don't need to remind me") and OIL PALM is not high on my Familiar Tree list (14D: Tree whose two-word name, when switched around, identifies its product), and you (or rather I) have a pretty thorny section on your (my) hands.

  • 20A: Cry from a balcony ("O ROMEO...") — Nice clue. Sounds general, ends up being (very) specific.

  • 32A: Locale for a cattail (FEN) — Considering I have no first-hand experience with FENs or cattails, I got this remarkably quickly.
  • 68A: Shriners' headwear: Var. (FEZES) — points off for "Var." Bonus points for a "Z."
  • 95A: "Rock 'n' Roll is King" band, 1983 (ELO) — it's a 1983 music kind of day, I guess. First "LET'S DANCE," now this:

  • 1D: Former German chancellor Adenauer (KONRAD) — started with "C," and then adjusted to accommodate K.D.
  • 11D: Country star ___ Lynne (SHELBY) — she did a very fine album of Dusty Springfield covers called "Just a Little Lovin'":

  • 16D: Plane over Yemen, maybe (DRONE) — Great clue. Very contemporary.
  • 17D: College town just off Interstate 95 (ORONO) — the crosswordiest of college towns. Just as MIR is the crosswordiest of space stations (103D: It landed in the Pacific Ocean on 3/23/01).
  • 45D: Bygone hand weapon (BROAD AX) — several years of D&D experience as a kid and I still couldn't come up with this (easily), even with AX in place.
  • 59D: Director of the major film debuts of James Dean and Warren Beatty (KAZAN) — really want to read Schickel's bio of KAZAN. Of course I really want to read a LOT of things. It's overwhelming. I probably shouldn't let it stress me out. My wife and daughter just *read*. Me, I always want to be reading the *right* thing, in the *right* order, at the *right* time. I think I'd enjoy reading more if I just did it instead of thinking about it so much.
  • 72D: Game whose name is derived from Swahili (JENGA!) — I have literally never played this game. It was created in the '80s, but became really popular (as I remember it) in the '90s, when I was not playing games of any kind at all. Not my favorite decade.
  • 85D: Alex of "Webster" (KARRAS) — also [Alex of the Detroit Lions].
  • 88D: Southwest Africa's ___ Desert (NAMIB) — just dawned on me that this is probably related somehow to NAMIBIA. Never heard of the desert before.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Telecom giant headquartered Denver / SAT 6-25-11 / Practice with Wheel of Year / Chief Sassacus led one side / Where to get citation while surfing

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Mediumish

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PIELS (22A: Pabst brand) —

Piels Beer, aka Piel Bros. Beer and Piel's Beer, is a regional lager beer, originally brewed in Brooklyn, New York. Located in the East New York section of Brooklyn at 315 Liberty Avenue, it was founded in 1883 by the Piel brothers: Gottfried, Michael and Wilhelm Piel. The soft water from Long Island was preferred by German brewers and Breweries in Brooklyn proliferated at this time. Piels union employees are reputed to have been guaranteed ice cold beer on tap 24 hours a day in their union contract. Piels, in its present incarnation, is generally regarded as an inexpensive beer. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, that's a lot of Qs. Impressive. A flamboyant grid with lots to love, chock full o' original, contemporary entries. Hard, but not brutally so. A little heavy on the proper nouns, but I've never been one to complain much about that. The one proper noun that really held me down was one I knew, but sadly couldn't spell correctly: GAUGUIN (7D: Van Gogh threatened him with a a razor blade). I plunked down GAUGHIN, which even now looks strangely right to me. But that "H," lord! Really kept both EMBANK and UNPEGGED (24A: Like some exchange rates) from coming into view. Thank god I'd heard of the PEQUOT WAR (from earlier puzzle experience) (22D: Chief Sassacus led one side in it), or that NE could've been Brutal. That's the answer that forced me to change WIKIPEDIA (which seemed certain) to WIKIQUOTE (27A: Where to get a citation while surfing). PIELS!? (22A: Pabst brand) I accepted that only because it looked vaguely like PILSNER. QUANTA looks like a Latin word I made up (30A: Portions). Still, I think that corner is rough in a wacky, and not a terrible way. There's a difference. Weird, unfamiliar stuff vs. ugly / forced / abbreviated / archaic stuff.

Clue that threw me the most was 43A: Practice with the Wheel of the Year (WICCA). "Wheel of the Year" sounds like an award. Maybe a racing award or something? And "Practice" could be virtually anything. But CLAUDE Rains was a gimme, and the rest of the answers in that section were easy, so WICCA showed up eventually. Significant errors included TUNDRA for AURORA (2D: Polar region phenomenon). Bafflement occurred at CHI SQUARE (which I've heard of but couldn't tell you anything about) (41A: Kind of test associated with the null hypothesis), but *not* at ISOMERS, which I threw down off just the "I" (38D: Atomically related compounds). Two UN-words, you say? A DUE and a DUO, you complain? Don't be such a CALLOW EEL. This grid is nice.

The proper nouns are nicely spread out amongst a broad range of topics, from film to music to literature to commerce. These proper nouns have it all!:
  • 16A: Queen with a degree from Princeton (NOOR)—higher education!
  • 50A: City where "Smokey and the Bandit" begins (TEXARKANA)—cinema vérité!
  • 54A: Pap's son, in literature (HUCK)—rafting!
  • 58A: Brand that has Dibs (EDY'S)—dairy products!
  • 59A: Telecom giant headquartered in Denver (QWEST)—toothpaste!
  • 10D: St. John's is its capital (ANTIGUA)—travel!
  • 29D: Pianist Schnabel (ARTUR)—music!
  • 35D: Producer for 50 Cent, familiarly (DRE)—doctors!
And then there's CLAUDE!

Plus, the return of AFTA! (10A: English Leather alternative). "AFTA II: The AFTA-party."

  • 20A: "Gnarly waves, dude!" ("COWABUNGA!") — fantastic. Reminds me simultaneously of Bart Simpsons and Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High":

  • 26A: Less like nuts? (SANER) — first answer in the grid. It got me TUNDRA, which, while being wrong, got me DUHS (14A: Interjections from the obtuse).
  • 34A: Watt-hour fraction (ERG) — Physics question in three letters? ERG's a good bet.
  • 40D: Part of morning dress (SILK HAT) — Nice vanity answer, Barry.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. And you though *my* critiques of crosswords were sometimes extreme ... I mean, I've said a lot of things, but I don't think I've ever called for the NYT to be shut down: "Kazakh Newspaper in Hot Water over Crossword Clue" (6/25/11)


Composer known as Red Priest / FRI 6-24-11 / Old Go from flat to fluffy sloganeer / Rapid descent on skis / Beatles song complaining title

Friday, June 24, 2011

Constructor: Milo Beckman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ITUNES PLUS (24A: Where purchases cost 69c, 99c, or $1.29) —

iTunes Plus - iTunes Plus is the name for the option in iTunes that allows customers to buy music at the iTunes Store that is free from digital rights management, or DRM. (
• • •

My first response on hearing that we would have yet another debut from yet another teenage boy going to yet another Ivy League School = yawn. Yes, it's impressive, but the NYT has a young smart boy fetish that I find a little creepy. It's cool to see young people getting into constructing, in that it gives a glimmer of hope that the craft might survive another generation (despite the fact that the main vehicle for the visibility / promotion of the crossword, the dead-tree newspaper, will be extinct in ... 3, 2, 1 ...). But I don't care if you are 15 and making your NYT crossword debut and going to Harvard in the fall (as this kid is, according to a tweet from Will Shortz that I read yesterday—yes, he's tweeting now, @Will_Shortz). I care only if your puzzle is good. And guess what. This puzzle isn't good. . . (wait for it) ... it's great.

Here's what I didn't like: the clue on ITUNESPLUS. It's a format, not a place, so the "Where" doesn't make any sense to me. The "Where" is still the ITUNESSTORE, which I tried to squeeze into the space provided—not hard if you imagine that ITUNES and STORE share an "S" in the official corporate name. I mean, they don't, but you can imagine they do. Anyway, aside from that, I haven't got a single complaint about this thing. I think I literally said "Wow" upon piecing together the NW. Such great, fresh, colloquial phrases ... and a track off the White Album (17A: Beatles song with a complaining title=>"I'M SO TIRED"). The SE corner is almost as good. I CALLED IT! (63A: "Told you so!") This puzzle just has a great SENSE of the language, as it's used, by human beings, many of them (gasp) under 40. And yet the puzzle didn't feel unduly teeny. Teen-y. Wow, I tried to invent an adjective there and instead just duplicated a word that already existed and means something irrelevant. OK, then. What I'm saying is that with perhaps the exception of CHILL PILL (65A: Remedy for a tizzy), everything in here should be at least vaguely familiar to someone who follows the news and gets out from time to time.

I would complain about two forms of the word SEX being in the same puzzle, but I can't bring myself to complain about getting SEX twice. I just can't. (8D: Type of reproduction + 21D: Titillating transmissions) Besides, the words that share SEX are totally unrelated. At least I assume they are. Are there such things as ASEXUAL SEXTS? "What r u wearing? I'm wearing tunic & cowl. Chastity is hawt."

The NE was hardest for me, mostly because of ITUNESPLUS but somewhat because of WINER (total unknown to me, even though he's an executive producer of one of my favorite TV shows, "Modern Family") (16A: Jason who directed 2011's "Arthur") crossing AWACS (which I know *only* because of crossword experience) (10D: ___ plane). That crossing is going to take at least one person down today. Otherwise, this one didn't give me too much trouble. Had some reservations about LADED (wanted LADEN) (26A: Burdened), and wasn't sure what the article was at 27D: "Der Ring ___ Nibelungen" ("DES") (I think of "DES" as French), but DES beat NES and I moved on. Don't particularly like the clue on UNRATED (7D: Like a first-time tournament player, usually). Tourney players are UNRANKED or UNSEEDED. DVD releases of movies with certain naughty bits restored are UNRATED.

  • 21A: Rapid descent on skis (SCHUSS) — thought this was just a word for ski. Didn't know "rapid" had anything to do with it.
  • 31A: Honorary deg. for many a writer (D.LIT.) — Hmm... sounds vaguely familiar, but I mostly had to infer it. Honorary degrees seem silly to me. Gotta be another way to honor people besides giving them fake degrees.
  • 51A: Words accompanying an arrow ("THIS SIDE UP") — Great, though my brain wanted only "THIS END UP" and (initially) gave up when it wouldn't fit.
  • 4D: $ $ $ head (CFO) — first answer in the grid.
  • 53D: Old "Go from flat to fluffy" sloganeer (PRELL) — Got it off the "R" in 'ENRY. No idea how I knew it. I can't remember if this slogan is from my time or not. . . yep. No wonder it's familiar: it's from that late '70s sweet spot when I was soaking in pop culture like a sponge.

  • 5D: Old Spice rival (AFTA) — When AXE BODY SPRAY wouldn't fit, I moved on. Somehow I think of AFTA as bygone. Apparently not.
  • 45D: Composer known as the Red Priest (VIVALDI) — No fair. How am I supposed to know VIVALDI's pro wrestling name?

  • Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


    Eponymous associate Stalin / THU 6-23-11 / Early French settler North America / City home to US Brig Niagara / Stone-cold truths / Seine feeder

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Constructor: Ian Livengood

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: CLEAN UP (70A: Response to 40-Across ... or what can be done to 12 answers in this puzzle without affecting their clues?) — an OIL rebus. When you CLEAN UP the OIL SPILLS (40A: Environmental woes)—i.e. remove the OIL from the answer—the clue still makes sense.

    Word of the Day: Vyacheslav MOLOTOV (63A: Eponymous associate of Stalin) —

    Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (Russian: Вячесла́в Миха́йлович Мо́лотов; 9 March, [O.S. 25 February] 1890 – 8 November 1986) was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium (Politburo) of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev. He served as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars from 1930 to 1941, and as Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1939 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1957. Molotov served for several years as First Deputy Premier of Joseph Stalin's cabinet. He retired in 1961 after several years of obscurity. [...] On 30 November 1939, after a futile year-and-a-half campaign to persuade the Finnish government to cede territory to the Soviet Union and give up some sovereignty by conceding specific military and political favors, the Soviet Union launched an offensive against Finland, starting what came to be known as the Winter War. The Finnish Army faced large numbers of Red Army tanks. Being short on anti-tank guns, they borrowed the design of an improvised incendiary device used in the just-concluded Spanish Civil War. // During the Winter War, the Soviet air force made extensive use of incendiaries and cluster bombs against Finnish troops and fortifications. When Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov claimed in radio broadcasts that they were not bombing, but rather delivering food to the starving Finns, the Finns started to call the air bombs Molotov bread baskets. Soon they responded by attacking advancing tanks with "Molotov cocktails" which were "a drink to go with the food". At first, the term was used to describe only the burning mixture itself, but in practical use the term was soon applied to the combination of both the bottle and its contents. This Finnish use of the hand- or sling-thrown explosive against Soviet tanks was repeated in the subsequent Continuation War between the two countries. (wikipedia)

    [How I learned the term "Molotov cocktail"]

    • • •

    There are some nice touches here that take this puzzle beyond your run-of-the-mill rebus: a central answer that is both a rebus-containing answer and a clue to the theme, plus a final, exclamation-point Across answer that adds an interesting now-you-see-it, now-you-don't dimension to the puzzle. That said, I don't think the puzzle works very well, mainly because the gimmick—that the theme clues work with or without OIL—is not very shocking. The OIL TANKER without the OIL is a TANKER, but what else is it carrying besides OIL? It's still an OIL TANKER. Same thing with FISH OIL. You can take the OIL out, but the part of the FISH that contains the "fatty acid" is nonetheless still the OIL. The OLIVE and SESAME crossing adds an interesting culinary dimension, and in those cases the disappearing OIL actually *does* make a difference, but overall, the disappearing act just didn't make much of an impact on me. Also, the fill is icky in a lot of places, most notably in the area of the last square I filled in: the "L" in LEK (42A: Albanian money) / SILAS (33D: Albino in "The Da Vinci Code"). Whoa. No, no, scratch that. The absolute worst area is the west. RESEE (28D: Take in again) next to UNHAT (29D: Take a 31-Down off, in a way) is up there with the ugliest juxtapositions in puzzle history, esp. considering they both run through USH (a much-hated abbrev.) (39A: Do some theater work, informally) and Briticized MEAGRE (43A: Scanty, in Salisbury). UGH indeed. Throw in (deep breath) NOT ON, ABAT, IS ONE, OONA, ESA, OISE, ULAN, plural OLES, and, well, yeah. I've seen prettier grids.

    I think instead of saying UGH all the time, I going to switch to LEK. "LEK!" I think it works.

    Theme answers:
    • OIL TANKER (1A: Persian gulf sight) / OIL CAN (1D: Garage container)
    • OIL TYCOON / OIL PAINT (8D: Canvas coat) (best thing about this intersection is that Getty gave his name to a famous museum in L.A., which has more than its fair share of OIL PAINTings)
    • OIL RUB (27A: Day spa offering) / OIL PUMP (27D: Crankcase part)
    • FISH OIL (32A: Fatty acid source) / OIL SKIN (35D: Outer-layer protection)
    • OIL SPILLS / OIL RIG (40D: Gulf of Mexico sight) — essentially same clue as 1-Across. :(
    • SESAME OIL (69A: Asian cooking staple) / OLIVE OIL (48D: Greek salad ingredient)
    • 17A: Early French settler in North America (ACADIAN) — Until this very second, I was reading the phrase as "North Africa"; the French had a more recent presence there, which is what I'm using as my excuse.
    • 20A: City that's home to the U.S. Brig Niagara (ERIE) — Did anyone else try ENID (despite the fact that it's nowhere near a sizable body of water and nowhere near Niagara)?
    • 46A: Country where Bambara is the main spoken language (MALI) — Cool trivia. I would've guessed FRENCH (see Bullet #1, above)
    • 7D: ___ Furterer, line of French hair products (RENÉ) — Wow, really? I just went with "common French man's name" here and trusted it to be right.
    • 5D: Leveling in a ring (KO'ING) — That's not a word, that's a sound effect (see also LEK).
    • 11D: Add a bit of support during a conversation (CHIME IN) — really like this. Common colloquial phrase, but I don't recall seeing it much, if ever, in the grid.
    • 21D: Stone-cold truths (REALITIES) — I'm not sure why they're "stone-cold," unless they belong to Steve Austin or ... Keith Stone (whose face is All Over billboards where I live—we thought he was a real person we just didn't know, maybe a country music star or something. Then we saw the TV ads).

    • 26D: Astounding Stories subjects (UFOS) — an old scifi pulp magazine, which eventually morphed into Analog Science Fact & Fiction and then (1992) Analog Science Fiction and Fact (wikipedia).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]


    Ruminant's third stomach / WED 6-22-11 / YM or Us output / Yount had 1406 of them / Online option since 1998 / Moo makers / Unit for chairmaker

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Constructor: Tim Croce

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: THE FIRST LETTERS / OF EACH / CLUE GO / FROM A TO Z IN ORDER (21A: Including 38-, 41- and 60-Across, a description of this puzzle's theme) — just what it says, only the clues do that A TO Z cycle three times ...

    Word of the Day: OMASUM (6D: Ruminant's third stomach) —

    The omasum, also known as the bible, the fardel, the manyplies and the psalterium, is the third compartment of the stomach in ruminants. Though its functions have not been well-studied, it appears to primarily aid in the absorption of water, magnesium, and the volatile fatty acids produced by rumen fermentation, that have not been absorbed into the bloodstream yet. The numerous folds of its mucosa are thought to trap digesta particles so that the maximum amount of nutrients may be absorbed. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Feels like something I've done and not liked before. Theme answers = instructions. Puzzle hook is found is first letters of clues (instead of grid itself). Fill is not terribly interesting, and clunky in parts, due in part to the fact that a stunt grid like this imposes certain limits. For example, this puzzle, in addition to accommodating the "description," *had* to be 78 words, i.e. a multiple of 26, to accommodate the A TO Z pattern in the clues. Puzzle felt a bit harder than normal, probably (again) because of pressures of the theme (I mean, why would you go to Robin Yount for an RBIS clue (64D: Yount had 1,406 of them)?? Oh, you require a "Y" clue. Well all right). As a solver, I don't get any pleasure from marveling at the *cluing*. I guess there might be some joy in breaking the code (... DRINK MORE OVALTINE ...), but that part wasn't terribly difficult, or terribly revelatory ... or rather it *was* revelatory, just of something I didn't care about ("huh ... OK ... back to filling in this mediocre grid, then ...").

    ["... from chimpan A to chimpanzee ..."]

    OMASUM is what I'd call a "sore thumb."

    EDA and ESA and ERTE all in the same grid! An embarrassment of riches! (42D: LeShan who wrote child-care books) (26D: Conductor ___-Pekka Salonen) (68A: Harper's Bazaar illustrator of the 1910s-'30s). My favorite part of the puzzle was the symmetrical and virtually synonymous END LATE (8D: Take too long) and RUN OVER (45D: Not stay within the allotted time). Considering I ran over my normal Wednesday time, these answers seem appropriate. Hold-ups included OMASUM (the second "M" in particular, since "No Love (But Your Love)" is not in my brain's catalogue of Johnny MATHIS songs (29A: "No Love (But Your Love)" singer, 1958)); RBIS (I had HITS and then RUNS); CREATE (the clue works, but it's hard to see how at first) (53D: Result in); NETZERO (forgot they existed) (46D: Online option since 1998); SEURAT (French artist, German-sounding clue) (24A: Kröller-Müller Museum artist); and ... I think that's it.

    • 15A: Domitian's "you love" (AMAS) — here's where I figured out something was fishy. Clue was easy to figure out, but ... Domitian!?
    • 20A: Historical region of France (ARTOIS) — now probably best known to Americans as part of the Stella-ARTOIS beer name.
    • 48A: Xavier Cugat film "___ Were Never Lovelier" ("YOU") — I kind of want to clap for this clue. Xavier Cugat wins the "Best X Clue" category today.
    • 49A: YM or Us output (ISSUES) — Love this clue. Looks like gibberish until you realize you're looking at magazine titles.
    • 70A: John McCain ranch locale (SEDONA) — a beautiful place, I'm told. SEDONA, I mean. No one I know has been on McCain's ranch ... I don't think.
    • 4D: "Pshaw!," to a Valley girl ("AS IF!") — Another good clue, mostly because it has me imagining Valley girls actually saying "Pshaw!"
    • 9D: Unit for a chairmaker (SLAT) — OK, I will give this puzzle one thing—the limits it puts on cluing really encourages some decent inventive thinking. Clues aren't boring, even if the grid kind of is.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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