Greek colonnade / WED 10-31-12 / Macbeth recipe / Eternally nameless Chinese principle / Banned book of 1955 / Australian city named for naturalist / Aleph follower

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: WITCHES' BREW (64A: "Macbeth" recipe) — theme answers are a very incomplete list of ingredients from the WITCHES' BREW in "Macbeth"; each ingredient is clued [64-Across ingredient]:

[Kind of glad the puzzle excluded "liver of blaspheming Jew"...]

Word of the Day: Peter GELB (59D: Peter ___, general manager of the Met) —
Peter Gelb (born 1953[1]) is an American arts administrator. He is currently General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed feelings here. I like the basic idea, I think, and I appreciate a Halloween puzzle on Halloween. But these ingredients are not going to be familiar to anyone but a hardcore "Macbeth" aficionado (just as GELB (really???) is not going to be known as anybody who is not a hardcore NYC opera aficionado). So the solving the puzzle basically involves getting enough crosses to infer an answer creepy enough to sound like a brew ingredient, and those crosses really aren't very pleasing—there's a slew of mediocre short fill in this thing. Plus, these theme answers hardly form a cohesive group. They are merely four of a much, much longer list of ingredients. These four allowed for symmetrical grid placement, I guess. Doesn't seem like a tight enough grouping to justify building a puzzle around. These ingredients just seem too arbitrary. Thumbs up to PROBOSCIS (3D: Notable nose) and BISHOPRIC (37D: Seat of a Catholic official), though. Very worthy long Downs.

Had only one real struggle—the LEG in LIZARD'S LEG. I had HAH instead of HEH at 55D: Villain's chuckle and had noooo idea who GELB was, and since it's not as if LIZARD'S LEG is something very famous, I had to exhaust possible LA- words before I realized the "A" was wrong. Switched to "E" and answer was obvious (despite the fact that GELB looked like a wrong answer).

  • 7A: Billy of "Titanic" (ZANE) — I feel like he was somebody in the '90s (for instance, he was "The Phantom" in 1996), but now ... I don't know. I could picture him clearly, but it took me many seconds to retrieve the name.
  • 19A: "From my cold, dead hands!" sloganeer (NRA) — they adopted that Heston bull*$&% as their *actual* slogan? Oh ... turns out the slogan (not originally the NRA's, but definitely popularized by that org.) preceded Heston's famous anti-Gore speech. Alrighty.
  • 47D: Australian city named after a naturalist (DARWIN) — first thought: "DARWIN was a nudist?" I always get "naturalist" and "naturist" confused. Just an Al away.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


O Henry Award winner for Livvie is Back / TUE 10-30-12 / Mystery writer John Dickson / Spanish liqueur / Double curve / Old welfare measure / 1944 battle site

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium Rare

THEME: Political Spectrum — Circled letters, reading from top to bottom, spell out political positions, from far left to far right.

Word of the Day: SANDY 
"Sandy Leah Lima (born January 28, 1983) is a Brazilian singer-songwriter, producer and actress. She is best known by the mononymous stage name 'Sandy.' ... Sandy Leah Lima's first name, 'Sandy' was chosen because it was the name of the central character in the movie Grease starring Olivia Newton-John. Her parents saw the movie together on the day they started dating ... In a Billboard magazine interview, Sandy said she often practices boxing, she is 'kind of melancholy' and she sees a sad beauty in the world ... According to official data, Sandy had over 60 nominations in awards, and won dozens." For more fascinating facts, read the whole article, Sandy (singer), on Wikipedia.
• • •
"A sad beauty in the world." Isn't that special? Howdy, folks. Doug here, filling in for Rex, who's battened down the hatches and stocked up on Hurricane Chow as he waits for Sandy to land. Here's an early report from Rex Parker HQ: "Still nothing here to speak of. My deep sympathies to NYC, which appears quite messed up." Stay safe, East Coasters!

Interesting theme today. I'm surprised that Will didn't save it for next Tuesday, Election Day. Maybe he has a doozy scheduled for November 6th.

Theme answers:
  • 1D / 26D / 51D : RADS /OBIS / FOCAL - RADICAL
  • 7D / 29D / 56D: MODS / ERI TU / FATE - MODERATE
  • 13D / 36D / 59D: REACH / TIOS / NARY - REACTIONARY
Pretty cool. You've got the left-wingers on the left side of the grid, the right-wingers on the right side of the grid, and the moderates in the middle. The undecided voters are in a diagramless puzzle somewhere, because they haven't figured out where to put the black squares yet.

Now for the bad stuff. Because of the way the theme is structured, there are no entries longer than eight letters in the grid. And that's my main beef. The long entries in a puzzle are usually the most memorable entries, the ones that sparkle. The longest entries in this grid are STERNUMS, E NATURAL, FOURTEEN, and CONSERVE. Not much sparkle there. Was the theme interesting enough to make up for the lack of long answers? I report, you decide.

And that last eight-letter entry, CONSERVE, made me cringe for another reason. CONSERVE and CONSERVATIVE are practically the same word. Look at REACTIONARY. That's the way to disguise an answer. It's split up among three words that have nothing to do with "react" or "reaction." Well done. But using CONSERVE to hide part of CONSERVATIVE is a major flaw.

  • 17A: Competition for 3-year-olds (DERBY) — Did you know that all thoroughbred horses have the same birthday, January 1st? If you're a thoroughbred born during 2012, no matter what day, you're assigned the birthday 1/1/2012. It makes it easier to keep track of which horses are three-year-olds, etc. So if you're a horse with a Facebook account, on January 1st, you get an alert that says "371 of your friends have birthdays today."
  • 22A: Resin in varnish (MASTIC) — That's a tough entry. When I read the clue, I thought it was going to be ELEMI, or maybe ELENI. I always confuse those two. Trust me, one of them is a dreaded "Varnish resin." Other toughies in this grid include OGEE, URANO, ENOL, SENNA, ANIS, and ANZIO.
  • 30A: Roy G. ___ (BIV) — He was my favorite member of Bell Biv Devoe.
  • 49A: "The Hitler Diaries" and others (HOAXES) — That's a nice clue. I was big into WWII when I was in junior high and high school, and I remember reading everything I could find on the diaries and the forgers behind the hoax. And this was before the internet, so it was hard to find stuff! Especially when the Billings Gazette was your local newspaper. 
  • 28D: Like certain odds, paradoxically (EVEN) — Are even odds really a paradox? More of an oxymoron.
  • 34D: Quizmaster Trebek (ALEX) — Aha! The constructor snuck his name into the grid. Nice touch, Alex, but I want to see VRATSANOS in your next one.
Best wishes to all of you in Sandy's path. May your basements stay dry & your blackouts be brief.

Signed, Doug Peterson, Factotum of CrossWorld


Ill-gotten wealth / MON 10-29-12 / Old Soviet naval base site / Porky's porcine sweetie / New York city with name from antiquity / Muhammad Ali strategy / Company that originated Frisbees Boogie Boards / Spy grp dissolved in 1991 / Instrument with metal keys / Imam's holy book

Monday, October 29, 2012

Constructor: Gareth Bain

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: animal business — two-word verb phrases where an animal is the verb

  • WOLF DOWN (17A: Devour)
  • MONKEY AROUND (24A: Waste time playfully)
  • PONY UP (39A: Pay what's due)
  • PIG OUT (41A: Eat, eat, eat)
  • SQUIRREL AWAY (49A: Hoard)
  • BEAR UPON (63A: Pertain to)

Word of the Day: PELF (3D: Ill-gotten wealth) —
Wealth or riches, especially when dishonestly acquired.

[Middle English, from Medieval Latin pelfra, pelfa, probably from Old French pelfre.]

Read more:
• • •

What, no COCK BLOCK!?

This puzzle was splashy. Ever-so-slightly tougher than your average Monday, I think, but not enough so that I'd up the difficulty rating to include the word "Challenging." If, like my wife, you had No Idea what PELF meant, or that it was even a word, you may feel differently. Either way, it's very solvable. The theme is simple and amusing—BEAR UPON was a bit sad, first because BEAR DOWN has more oomph and second because (unlike all the other theme answers, except PONY UP, I think), the verb in this answer has nothing to do with the actual behavior of the animal that bears (!) its name. But this is more observation than criticism. The fill on this puzzle is pretty close to ideal for an easy, high-word-count, early-week puzzle. Zing and zazz all over the place. Grid's got every letter except "J" or "V"; "Oh, so close, why didn't he go for the pangram? They're so *fun*!" A: Because the puzzle would clearly have been WORSE. And I doubt the grid could be any funner than this. Gareth knows what he's doing.

Loved ROPE-A-DOPE most of all (8D: Muhammad Ali strategy). Got stymied by QU'RAN, not 'cause I didn't know it, but 'cause I couldn't spell it (went QARAN at first, which now that I look at it is a horrible guess) (50D: Imam's holy book). CYAN is not a Monday blue, but it's not *so* strange (22D: Blue shade). WHAM-O always looks like it should have one more "M" (else I want to pronounce it WHAY-MO) (52D: Company that originated Frisbees and Boogie Boards). Love the fact that PIG OUT is followed by PETUNIA—recalls the fact that when Porky the "pig" came "out," it was a grave disappointment to his girlfriend (42A: Porky's porcine sweetie).

Stay safe, northeast! (he said, as if Sandy were not going to affect him at all...)

REX out!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Popsicle in Fifty Shades of Grey / SUN 10-28-12 / Psychologist Jean / Prime minister of 1945 / 1978-79 CBS detective drama / Softly exhale cheap sentiment / Hoarders airer

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Constructor: Michael Sharp and Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: ???

THEME: "WHAT THE ..." — familiar phrases have the sound "-THE" added to end of a word in that phrase, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Theme answers:
  • 23A: "Come on, woman, shape that wood!"? ("LATHE, LADY, LATHE")
  • 38A: Cheerful superhero? (CAPTAIN BLITHE)
  • 52A: Take a patient approach to revenge? (WAIT AND SEETHE)
  • 71A: Ones who stop giving to their church? (TITHE BREAKERS)
  • 89A: Softly exhale cheap sentiment? (BREATHE CHEESE)
  • 101A: Mad scientist's sadistic exclamation upon attacking the Empire State? ("WRITHE, NEW YORK!")
  • 119A: What the Grim Reaper's backup carries? (SCYTHE OF RELIEF)
  • 15D: "If you don't like my anger, do something about it!"? ("SO SOOTHE ME!")
  • 76D: Hate coke? (LOATHE BLOW)

Word of the Day: "KAZ" (96A: 1978-79 CBS detective drama) —
Kaz is an American crime drama series that aired on CBS from September 10, 1978 to April 22, 1979. // Ron Leibman starred as Martin "Kaz" Kazinsky, a Polish American former convict who became a criminal defense attorney after he was released from prison. Leibman won anEmmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a drama. Nevertheless, the show failed to capture an audience and was cancelled due to low ratings. In all, 22 episodes aired. (wikipedia)
• • •

Origins (from memory, so I might get a detail wrong here or there): Caleb wrote me with "LATHE LADY LATHE" and asked if I wanted to help build a theme around that answer. We brainstormed a *lot* of words to which you could successfully add "-THE," and then a lot of potential phrases using those words ("LATHE LADY LATHE" is still my favorite, esp. as clued—if you're gonna do wacky, Do Wacky, i.e. Absurd—this is also why I like my second-favorite theme answer, "WRITHE, NEW YORK!"). Once we settled on a symmetrical group of answers, Caleb put together the grid. Fast. One second we were talking about it as a hypothetical, next thing I know, he sends me a fillable grid, with all the theme answers in place, and (impressively) with theme answers even intersecting in the NE and SW. Then we filled it. This is a weird thing to do with two people. I think at first he took the east and I took the west. Then we took passes making things mesh. Back and forth a few times. Done. But ... this is not the grid we initially submitted (dum dum DUM!).

Well, most of it is, but the entire SW corner has been rewritten since we first submitted it. This is because Will liked the theme, wanted to run the puzzle, but balked at including one of our longer answers: Chinese artist and dissident AI WEIWEI. Will wrote:
I like the theme, but ... would you be willing to change the lower-left corner? I'm not crazy about the entry AI WEIWEI. He's not so well-known yet, and his name is crazily spelled and not inferable. IS DONE in the same corner isn't so wonderful either. Maybe the whole area can be improved.
He was certainly right about IS DONE, but I was a bit surprised about the AI WEIWEI rejection. I thought he was pretty famous, or at least NYT-reader famous. Just this week, a video of AI WEIWEI has been making the rounds (via sites like The New Yorker, New York Magazine, etc.). Maybe you've seen it.

Plus, I thought we'd made sure all the crosses were fair, so even people who hadn't heard of him could still solve the puzzle. But Will knows his audience better than we do, so we happily obliged. Since that was "my" corner, I tore it up and started plugging in AI WEI WEI substitutes. Now, both Caleb and I like to make the most of longer answers—to find new, weird, fresh, strange, or otherwise grabby words, names, or phrases to work into the grid. So I started throwing in as many good 8s as I had lying around. I got some of them to work, but there was always something not-quite-right about the resulting fill. Then, perhaps because I was constructing the puzzle at the height of "Fifty Shades" mania, I hit upon SAFE WORD and refused to let go. Hence TROW, which I kinda hate (90D: Suppose, to Shakespeare). But the rest of the adjacent fill works just fine, and I can't tell you how happy I am that SAFE WORD got in, and got in just as I'd clued it (106A: "Popsicle," in "Fifty Shades of Grey," for one).

DAAÉ is one of my least favorite crossword names (55D: Christine ___, "The Phantom of the Opera" girl); it's a name that looks like it was invented by a crossword constructor just to get herself out of a jam. Blecch. But I was intent on marrying Caleb's great SE corner with the fill he had going on up top, and so that middle-right portion of the grid was wicked hard to pull off. I had to invent CABLEMEN (which, thankfully, it turns out, is a real thing; 65A: Some electrical workers), and choke down NHLER and that ugly little LST / ATA crossing, but I was generally happy with the result. There's a Random Roman Numeral in there, so, you know, yuck, but as clues for DLIX go, I like mine (131A: 1,000 years before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I).

  • 19A: Setting for the 2012 film "Argo" (IRAN) — Sometimes Will modernizes the clue. Like here. I certainly didn't know what "Argo" was when C and I were making this puzzle. Other current clues Will added include 95A: San Antonio mayor Julián, keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic convention (CASTRO) (interesting, considering Will took *out* my Republican convention clue for CLINT (16D)... ), and 32D: Replacement refs, maybe? (SCABS).
  • 42A: Oklahoma birthplace of Oral Roberts (ADA) — I'm reasonably certain Oral Roberts did not figure in our original cluing. I just started watching "The United States of Tara" earlier tonight, and in an earlier episode the actor who plays Buster Bluth in "Arrested Development" plays an English teacher named Oral. Or Orel, I guess. It wasn't spelled out.
  • 116A: Canon fodder? (FILM) — nice clue. Not mine. Maybe Caleb's, maybe Will's, can't remember. My wife didn't like the clue until I explained "Canon" referred to the camera. She was thinking of "canon" as a set of great works.
  • 53D: Carnival Cruise Lines stop (ARUBA) — seems pretty vague. I think our original clue had something about the capital, Oranjestad, which now that I think of it would look beautiful in a grid.
Hope you enjoyed the puzzle. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex "Michael Sharp" Parker, King of CrossWorld


Dinah 1958 hit / SAT 10-27-12 / Talking car on Knight Rider / Iconic Broadway role for Cobb / British sci-fi author Reynolds / She outwitted Sherlock / Ephemeral decorative structure / Spinner's spot

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Constructor: Joon Pahk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "DEDE Dinah" (10D: "___ Dinah" (1958 hit)) —

• • •

Another not-up-to-speed day for me, and my residual root canal pain is much diminished, so I don't know what my deal is. Looking back over the puzzle, I don't see anything particularly vexing—except the DE DE / D FLAT cross, which was my very least favorite part of the whole grid. Thank god there were only seven possible letters that could go in that slot, and only the consonants really made sense. DE DE won out only because DECE and DEBE and DEFE and DEGE all looked somewhat less plausible. I feel like most other parts of the puzzle came together reasonably easily, but he clock says I was poky. Ah well.

I put DJ BOOTH in a puzzle once (35A: Spinner's spot), in virtually the same place, but I think that puzzle got rejected. I can't remember what I did with it. Good memories. Anyway, intersecting DJ- answers = impressive. What the hell are OPERA HATS (53A: Some magicians' gear)? That answer was the main reason I had trouble getting into the SW corner. Are they different from TOP HATS? The only other thing that looked weird to me was ICE CASTLE (17A: Ephemeral decorative structure), but only because my only frame of reference for that answer is the 1980 movie "ICE CASTLEs," about the ice skater who has an accident and goes blind and then trains and skates again and there's a big finale where she skates great and no one knows she's blind and they throw roses on the ice and maybe she trips or something and then the crowd realizes what's up and then maybe Robbie Benson is there to help her up and then cue the theme from "ICE CASTLEs" (which charted, and which we had to play in band) and ... triumphant ending??? Speaking of ice skating, Midori ITO (24A: First female skater to land a triple/triple jump combination in competition).

Overall, this is a very impressive 70-word grid. Whatever UGH there is gets dwarfed by larger, eye-catching fill. The two answers that really struck me as fresh were, coincidentally, symmetrical: "LET'S ROCK!" (14D: "It's showtime") and DJOKOVIC (35D: 2011 Wimbledon champion). I made some mistakes here and there, most notably with SLUGS for CHUGS (31A: Gets down quickly) and DEFERENCE for REVERENCE (15A: It may be shown to a superior). But that's a pretty low number of missteps, especially for a Saturday. Maybe I was more methodical, less rash in filling in the grid (and maybe this has something to do with solving it on paper instead of on-screen).

  • 20A: "Out of Sync" autobiographer (LANCE BASS) — assuming you know who he is, this is a nice clue. I had no idea until LANCE came into view; then, all of a sudden, the "Sync" part made sense (he was a member of the boy band N*SYNC). 
  • 33A: ___ Diggory, rival of Harry Potter (CEDRIC) — big fat gimme to start off my solving experience. Other gimmes included ITO and KITT (47A: Talking car on "Knight Rider") (acronym of "Knight Industries Two Thousand"). I'll be showing the movie "Knightriders" to my Arthurian Lit students later this term. No talking cars. Just jousters on motorcycles.
  • 13D: British sci-fi author Reynolds (ALASTAIR) — now that I see the covers of his books, I've definitely heard of him, but the clue didn't ring any bells while I was solving.
  • 52D: Iconic Broadway role for Cobb (LOMAN) — as in Willy. From "Death of a Salesman." Cobb is LEE J. (a 4-letter piece of ancient crosswordese that, thank god, you rarely see any more).
  • 38A: When repeated, a Las Vegas casino (NEW YORK) — baffled, mainly because I never would've expected a solid answer with infinite cluing possibilities to be wasted on a [When doubled] clue. Evil genius cluing.
Tomorrow's puzzle is by me and Caleb Madison, so if you normally skip Sundays, well, don't. Just don't. Please don't. Thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Goliath's master of old TV / FRI 10-26-12 / Actress Hubbard Akeelah Bee / Mahon is its largest city / Dark reddish brown / Competition series with versions in over 30 countries / Two-time Italian prime minister Giuliano / Sitcom mom Cheyenne kyra / Lyre holder of myth

Friday, October 26, 2012

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "DAVEY and Goliath" (18A: Goliath's master of old TV) —

Davey and Goliath is a 1960s stop-motion animated children's Christian television series. The programs, produced by the Lutheran Church in America (now a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), were produced by Art Clokey after the success of his Gumbyseries.
Each 15-minute episode features the adventures of Davey Hansen and his "talking" dogGoliath (although only Davey and the viewer can hear him speak) as they learn the love of God through everyday occurrences. Many of the episodes also feature Davey's parents John and Elaine, his sister Sally, as well as Davey's friends; Jimmy, Teddy, and Nathanial in earlier episodes; Jonathan, Jimmy, Nicky (who looked a lot like Teddy) and Cisco on later ones (all were members of the "Jickets" club). (wikipedia)

• • •

On the tough side for me, but not for the rest of humanity, I think. Just wasn't in sync with it, though I did have my second root canal appointment a few hours ago and my face is still pretty numb, so maybe some of my relative slowness can be attributed the residual effects of the stress / drugs. Who can say? This is a fine-looking grid, though it didn't excite me much. Trying to guess what the seed answers were and not having a very easy time of it: THE X FACTOR, I'd imagine (27D: Competition TV series with versions in over 30 countries)—that's long and fresh; maybe ROBOCALLS—also modern, and, this month, timely. I don't see anything else that would make me say "Man, I gotta put *this* in a puzzle. Maybe TOP KNOTS (40A: Kewpie doll features). I like that, though I apparently don't really know what Kewpie dolls look like, because I didn't know TOP KNOTS were a feature. I think I was imagining Troll dolls. I know TOP KNOTS as a gang in "Watchmen." Wait, no, those were the KNOT-TOPS. Nevermind.

Fill is both smooth and Scrabbly, a nice combination, and one you can pull off when you go toward the high end of the word-count spectrum with your themeless (this one is 70, max is 72). As I've said many times, I prefer the higher word counts and nice fill to the lower word counts and barf. I didn't struggle mightily with this one, but I struggled often—had at least a little trouble getting into every section. Opened very weirdly by kind of traipsing across the middle of the grid. ST. PETE to EIGHTY to HERR to REBA to LATE, jump to RSVP, then VOID, then ODOR. Then OMIT at 37D: Let pass (OKED). Mistake 1. Mistake 2 was CRUX at 28A: One hanging in una iglesia (CRUZ). Mistake 3 was GOLDEN AGE instead of GOLDEN ERA (62A: Heyday). Mistake 4 was HOMER, though, to be fair to me, I doubted it as soon as I put it in, suspecting that HOMER was too obvious and knowing that TATER would also work (63A: Four-bagger). So I just waited for crosses to work their magic. No idea about cities in MINORCA (38D: Mahon is its largest city). No idea about POODLE CUT (though I was able to work out the POODLE part, eventually) (59A: Short, curly hairdo). No idea who ERICA Hubbard is (16A: Actress Hubbard of "Akeelah and the Bee"). I do, however, own a beat up Jerry Rice jersey, and I was the only kid growing up in Fresno in the '70s who was a huge Seattle Seahawks fan, so that EIGHTY clue was up my alley x 2 (25A: Number retired for Steve Largent and Jerry Rice). All in all, a reasonably enjoyable outing.

  • 24A: Santa Maria's chain (AZORES) — did the ship land there? (no). Is Santa Maria an island in the chain? (yes). I thought maybe "chain" meant restaurant. IHOP?
  • 30A: Truncated parlor piece? (TAT) — Interesting, though "?" usually work best if they use a zig phrase for a zag answer. [Parlor piece?] for TATTOO would be a good example. The "Truncated" part here (to get the abbrev. TAT) is just odd.
  • 35A: Sitcom mom of Cheyenne and Kyra (REBA) — educated guess. She's the most common four-letter sitcom mom in crosswords.
  • 38A: "I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it" (MARX) — Little-known fact: Karl MARX was Hi-Larious.
  • 48D: Thing placed during a political campaign (SPOT AD) — this is different from an AD how? I don't know this phrase.
  • 56A: Two-time Italian prime minister Giuliano (AMATO) — puzzle really wants to know my Italian PMs this month. Not gonna happen.
  • 58A: Filler of some cavities (GROUT) — please. Ixnay on the cavity talk. I've had it with tooth talk (or apparent tooth talk) for a while.
  • 11D: Lyre holder of myth (ERATO) — nice fat gimme: the muse of lyric poetry. And also crosswords. (sorry, Melpomene)
  • 41D: Dark reddish brown (OXBLOOD) — it's a color? Wow, apparently it's the "color of the moment" (per this fashion article published just today at HuffPo). News to me. Do oxen have different colored blood from other, uh, ruminants?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Town on Cape Cod / THU 10-25-12 / Big Whig / Opera character sings Largo al factotum / only way to run away without leaving home / Part of Mideast orchard

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Constructor: Caleb Rasmussen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TETRIS — circled letters contain the word "TETRIS"; theme answers are a [basic instruction for TETRIS]: "DO NO LET THE / FALLING BLOCKS / REACH THE TOP"

Word of the Day: STAPES (43D: Smallest human bone) —
n., pl., stapes, or sta·pe·des (stā'pĭ-dēz').
The innermost of the three small bones of the middle ear, shaped somewhat like a stirrup. Also called stirrup.

[New Latin stapēs, stapēd-, from Medieval Latin, stirrup.]

Read more:
• • •

I never played TETRIS. It was huge when I was in college, but the idea of pushing FALLING BLOCKS around faster and faster and faster never held any appeal for me. Perhaps this is why I feel like I'm missing something here. I keep wanting there to be something more. Like, if I shake the paper or push a certain letter pattern the blocks will actually start falling. But I think the mere "basic instruction" (as well as the shapes formed by the black squares) is all there is to the theme. Fill is good and bad. The long Downs are pretty darned good—I especially like OIL RESERVE (28D: The Gulf of Mexico has a big one)—and who doesn't love Millard FILLMORE (34D: Big Whig), am I right? But this grid has one of my least favorite crossword towns in it (TRURO, ugh) (38A: Town on Cape Cod), and I don't think ERE and E'EN should ever be that close to each other (unbearable crosswordese proximity). Clue on GONE DARK is weird (10D: Closed, as a theater). Really should have some kind of spy clue—something about going off the grid. Something Jason Bourne-esque. Overall, though, the fill is fine—not particularly objectionable, occasionally interesting.

I looked at the clues for the NW at first, but didn't get anywhere and so went to where I saw my first gimme: 61A: "Evil Woman" grp. (ELO). With the exception of the "P" in STAPES, the whole bottom / SE section went down pretty easily. I think I moved in a vaguely anticLOCKwise fashion from there; I know I finished in the SW. Wasn't sure about LAY READER (25A: Congregation member authorized by a bishop to conduct part of a service), but the clue sure helped me get the LAY part and the rest just fell into place via crosses. I know squat about opera, but got FIGARO from -RO (37A: Opera character who sings "Largo al factotum"). Wasn't sure it was right, since I know FIGARO only as a repeatedly sung name, not a particularly character. I did, however, know who ORESTES was—right up my alley (40A: Brother of Electra). Got YEOMEN from -MEN because it just ... sounded Englandy (2D: ___ Warders (Tower of London figures)).

Twyla Tharp attended my alma mater. Also, Tharp and Sharp (my real last name) are close. So I feel an affinity with her. She wrote a whole book on the creative process, so I'm not surprised to see a quote of hers used to clue ART (5D: "The only way to run away without leaving home," per Twyla Tharp). Thought 24D: Where police look for matches might have something to do with arson. Then police line-ups. Never think of police actually being *in* DNA LABS, but I guess they do look *to* the labs for answers, so OK (24D: Where police look for matches). FIG TREEs were part of my backyard landscape growing up. Knobby trees with big-ass leaves. Lots of fig orchards in central California. Also in the Mideast (which I assume means "Middle East") as well (37D: Part of a Mideast orchard).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Attendee of fictional Lowood Institution for girls / WED 10-24-12 / Now in Nogales / Shipboard punishment / Western accessory / What tosspot fantasizes clouds would do / Entries in two Oscar categories slangily / Stalactite producer

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: GLOSS (37A: Some makeup ... or a hint to 17-, 26-, 43- and 58-Across) — theme answers are all phrases beginning with "G" where the "G" has been dropped, resulting in wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: BAY (35D: Triple Crown winner Citation or Gallant Fox) —
Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish brown body color with a blackmanetailear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds. (wikipedia)
• • •

Odd solving experience, in that most of it felt very easy, except the the SE, which took me nearly as long as the entire rest of the grid. Big trouble with the longish Downs FRAT ROW (42D: Where many Greeks are found) and BIG TOE (45D: Part that may be pinched). I had almost every letter in FRAT ROW before that one became clear, and BIG TOE was very hard to see because the clue was so vague. "Part" tells me nothing. "Body part" tells me something. Befuddling. IN A STIR (48A: All riled up) is not a phrase I ever hear, though it's crossword-familiar. Clues on BEGOT (54A: Conceived), TONE (64A: Paint swatch choice), and HAT (58D: ___ in hand) were none of them very precise. Tense on the clue for RERAN (51D: Put on again) was ambiguous. Not that I really minded any of this, but it really was out of sync with the rest of the puzzle, which had no tough clue clusters.

I've seen this theme done before, with FLOSS. I remember thinking "oh, you could do that with GLOSS." And now someone has. That should do it for -LOSS puzzles, unless someone is bold enough to try a PANGLOSS puzzle.

I thought FRAT ROW a pretty good answer—original-feeling—and I liked the clue on PAYPHONES (11D: There used to be a lot more of these on corners). Otherwise, this one is well put together but kind of insubstantial. Lots of shortish answers, not a lot of zippy fill, average cluing.

I posted the grid for this past Sunday's puzzle — the contest one — a few hours ago, in a separate post, so if you are still at a loss for answers, check it out.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Actor Norris, after gaining weight? (ROUND CHUCK)
  • 26A: What a tosspot fantasizes the clouds would do? (RAIN ALCOHOL)
  • 43A: Thieves at an all-night dance bash? (RAVE ROBBERS)
  • 58A: Someone responding to a party R.S.V.P.? (HOST WRITER)

  • 19A: Attendee of the fictional Lowood Institution for girls (EYRE) — as in Jane. One of those books I never managed to get around to reading. Some day. Probably. Or not. 
  • 27D: Manhattan Project result, informally (A BOMB) — one of my least favorite crosswordeses, mostly because the first letter can be either A or H. See also [letter]-TEST, where letter can be either H or N. 
  • 8D: Entries in two Oscar categories, slangily (DOCS) — this clue just didn't compute as I was solving, and neither did its neighbor, 7D: Bad fit (AGUE). I think of AGUE as a fever, not a "fit," but it's both, I guess.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


GRID from Sunday's contest puzzle

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Sunday Grid 

Grid is a maze. "You" move through the white (now full of letters) space starting in the NW, avoiding the seven hazards, getting the KEY, then going back to the LOCK (between ANTIC and WISE), inserting KEY, entering central chamber, and getting the GOLD


90s-00s Britcom / TUE 10-23-12 / Menu item often accompanied by wasabi / Biblical land on Arabian peninsula / Roman sun god

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: USPS (5A: Org. suggested by the starts of 17-, 31-, 41- and 62-Across) — beginnings of four theme answers are types of MAIL (70A: 5-Across's business):

  • FIRST-CLASS CABIN (17A: Pricey accommodations on a ship)
  • REGISTERED NURSE (31A: Ward worker)
  • PRIORITY SEATING (41A: What disabled people are entitled to on a subway)
  • EXPRESS CHECKOUT (62A: Quick way to pay)

Word of the Day: ANENT (25D: Regarding) —
Regarding; concerning: "This question remains a vital consideration anent the debate over the possibility of limiting nuclear war to military objectives" (New York Times).

[Middle English, from Old English onefn, near : on, on; see on + efn, even.]

Read more:
• • •

Far too much stuff happening tonight for me to give this puzzle the time it probably deserves. Debate, Game 7 of NLCS, Monday Night Football ... never mind the "work" I allegedly do for a living, which I am way way way behind on due to recent dental happenings. So: this puzzle was fine. Nothing exciting, nothing offensive. I'm not really familiar with all the different echelons or tiers or varieties or whatever of USPS MAIL—are they finite? Are these all of them? These themes tend to work best / feel tightest when the set that appears in the theme answers is complete, or nearly so. I can't think of many other types of MAIL, which is why I ask the question. OVERNIGHT? NEXT-DAY? REGULAR? CHAIN? Anyway, all the answers are 15s, which is cool. Beyond that, I don't have anything interesting (or otherwise) to say about this theme.

I do have something to say about ANENT, though. Man, I hate that word. I am prejudiced against it, as I see it as a pretension, something that only the most faux-scholarly person would say or write. I remember seeing notes one of my grad school advisers had taken on some article, and she had something like "Oh come on" written in the margin next to where the author had used the word ANENT. So, to be clear, a medievalist thought the word was preposterous. If a medievalist thinks you are being preciously archaic with your language, you probably are. If I had to clue ANENT, it'd read something like [Enemy of an orc].

  • 6A: Roman sun god (SOL) — see, this is weird, 'cause I read a bunch of Roman writing, and there were lots of gods in it, and SOL was not one of them. I imagine he is Jove's younger brother and his name is pronounced "Saul" and he owns a garage or something.
  • 4D: Menu item often accompanied by wasabi (SASHIMI) — well now I'm hungry. Thanks, puzzle.
  • 1D: '90s-'00s Britcom ("ABFAB") — No love for this answer, but would love to see BRITCOM in the puzzle.
  • 35D: Hitter's stat (RBI) — Misread this as [Hitler's stat]. Not an answer I really wanted to contemplate.
  • 50D: Biblical land on the Arabian Peninsula (SHEBA) — Isn't this also a girl's name. "Come Back Little SHEBA?" See also SHEENA and SHE-RA, not to mention SHEB Wooley.
  • 55D: Rhône feeder (SAÔNE) — double-screwed up in this section, with SEINE here and EVADE in the adjacent answer, where ELUDE was supposed to go (56D: Avoid). 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Traveler to Cathay / MON 10-22-12 / Frito-Lay product once sold in a 100% compostable bag / Slangy request for a high-five / Conqueror of the Incas

Monday, October 22, 2012

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: UNDERCOVER COP (60A: Sting operative ... or a hint to 20-, 24-, 39- and 55-Across) — "COP" is hidden inside four theme answers:

PUBLIC OPINION (20A: It's measured by polls)
PETCO PARK (24A: Home of the San Diego Padres)
FRANCISCO PIZARRO (39A: Conqueror of the Incas)
MARCO POLO (55A: Traveler to Cathay)

Word of the Day: TANNER (71A: Leather worker) —
One that tans hides. ( 
n. Chiefly British
A sixpenny coin formerly used in Britain; a sixpence.

Read more:
• • •

Nice Monday puzzle from Joel. Revealer is good on its own, and a good idea for a revealer. Clue on MARCO POLO was mildly tough, but then again I never saw the clue on MARCO POLO because when I first looked at that spot I had enough crosses to tell exactly what the answer was. Love when that happens (usually). Theme answers are at least somewhat interesting, with the ever-popular FRANCISCO PIZARRO forcing the grid to go 16 wide, and PETCO PARK tipping its hat in timely fashion to the baseball season (though the Padres are nowhere to be found). There's an NLCS game on right now, but it's at AT&T Park in S.F. Coincidentally, I just called AT&T (not five minutes ago) to pay my mobile phone bill, which is due today. My tooth woes meant that I basically ignored all responsibilities for something close to two weeks. But I'm improving now, so ... bills paid. Wait, where was I?

Right, the puzzle. Here's something I don't like: OUTMODE (63A: Make obsolete). I only ever see that word in its adjectival form, i.e. "outmoded." It's weird as a verb. ALAMODE and COMMODE (can you use that word?) would fit there. I think I would've liked either of them better. This is an admittedly small issue, but it's an interesting constructor challenge—filling a small section that can be filled many, many different ways. I wonder sometimes what different constructors value in such spots.

Here's something I do like: UP TOP (9D: Slangy request for a high-five). Pitch-perfect colloquialism, and one I can't remember seeing in the puzzle before. Nice job. I'm slightly less thrilled with the colloquialism TPED (69A: Festooned with bathroom tissue, informally), not because it's not a real thing, but because the spelling seems contrived to me, as it does with the somewhat more common ODED. Never looks right in print. Fine to say, bad to write out. In fact, if I wrote it out, I'd write TP'd (or OD'd). I like the longish, very up-to-date clue on SUN CHIPS (16D: Frito-Lay product once sold in a 100% compostable bag). I believe that's the bag they discontinued because people complained it was too ... noisy. A SUN CHIPS bag that is "too noisy" is about the best example of "first-world problems" that I've ever heard of.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Elephantine walker in Empire Strikes Back / SUN 10-21-12 / Fictional Miss Jane / Warner who played Charlie Chan / Bambi villain / University in Center Valley Pa / Cash back from online purchase / Persuasive Dr Seuss character / Port from which Amelia Earhart left on her last flight

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Constructor: Caleb Rasmussen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Bypassing Security — puzzle note:

This puzzle's grid represents a sealed vault and its well-guarded surroundings. After completing the crossword, start in the upper-left corner and find a safe path to an important item. Then determine where to use this item to access the vault and its contents.  
To enter the contest, identify the following 10 things: a) the name of the "important item," b) where to use it, c) seven hazards to avoid, and d) the contents of the vault. Each of these things is named by a single word.
When you have found the 10 words, send them in an e-mail to: Twenty-five correct solvers, chosen at random, whose entries are received by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Oct. 23, will receive copies of "The New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles 2013 Weekly Planner Calendar" (Andrews McMeel). Only one entry per person, please. The answer grid will appear next week. The winners' names will appear in the issue of Nov. 4. 

Word of the Day: W. AVERELL Harriman (11D: Diplomat W. ___ Harriman) —
William Averell Harriman (November 15, 1891 – July 26, 1986) was an AmericanDemocratic Party politician, businessman, and diplomat. He was the son of railroad baronE. H. Harriman. He served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Trumanand later as the 48th Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, and again in 1956 when he was endorsed by President Truman but lost to Adlai Stevenson both times. Harriman served President Franklin D. Roosevelt as special envoy to Europe and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and U.S. Ambassador to Britain. He served in numerous U.S. diplomatic assignments in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He was a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men." (wikipedia)
• • •
So, a contest.

Will requested that I not give away any contest-related information about the puzzle, which essentially means not showing the grid or talking about the theme ... so ... how 'bout them Tigers?!

I will publish the completed grid on the website's Facebook page on Tuesday after 6pm—good for the nearly 2000 of you who have LIKED that page (19A: Gave props on Facebook). Also, I will probably go back in and add the completed grid to this write-up, I guess.

Here's what I can say:

I found this much harder than your typical Sunday. Total Hail Mary at TAL / AVERELL (10A: Chess champion Mikhail / 11D: Diplomat W. ___ Harriman) and [that European capital] and AT-AT (100A: Elephantine walker in "The Empire Strikes Back"). Plus, the segment just south of the the NW, with its multiple ... tricky spots ... was virtually impossible for me to get. I had to wait on about four different squares in there for a good long time. Stumped on:

  • 4D: Concludes
  • 35A: Soft scent
  • 35D: Crop holder
  • 51A: BlackBerry features
Can't give you any of those answers, 'cause ... 'cause.

Also, I misspelled AVON LEA (88D: Setting of "Anne of Green Gables") as AVON LEE and was stuck wondering how HES could be the answer to [Boasts]. No idea how I remembered OLAND, but I did (39A: Warner who played Charlie Chan). Well, sort of. Needed a few crosses to jog my memory.

Never heard of ANEROID (75A: Kind of barometer) or the answer to 121A: Predatory insect, but that may be the only complete stumper of the day. The other stuff that "stumped" me, I at least recognized once I got it. Yes, even LAE (60D: Port from which Amelia left on her last flight). Even, very vaguely, ESSIE (38A: Actress Davis of "The Matrix Reloaded").

Overall, I thought the puzzle ... interesting. Clever. Mildly tough / annoying to solve, but conceptually bold. Seems like a very tough puzzle to construct (surely someone will call it "a tour de force!"). As stunt puzzles go, it's alright. Aiight. This is essentially how I felt about this constructor's last puzzle (also a stunt puzzle), and how I will likely feel about his next puzzle (also a stunt puzzle), which comes out Thursday, which I know only because its theme was (stupidly) leaked and published on a website last week. It's a theme that a friend of mine claims to have done already, but I've never seen it done, so it'll be new to me, which is (mostly) all that matters.

I can't give you the correct answers to the contest, but I assume I can give you the wrong answers. So here's one: SLOT. Seems a very, very good answer to me, but I'm 99.99999% sure it is Not Correct.

And now...

  • 13A: Highland fling participants (LASSES) — I assumed this had something to do with stump-throwing or whatever happens at the Highland Games. Caber-toss? Yep, that's what I was thinking of:
  • 53A: Secretary of labor who became a Supreme Court Justice — Oh, didn't know this one either. Infer infer infer.
  • 74A: Gabrielle of volleyball and modeling (REECE) — if I hadn't known her, center would've been Way harder than it already was.
  • 102A: Historical figure in Isabel Allende's novel "Inés of My Soul" (PIZARRO) — at one point I had EL ZORRO. True story.
  • 116A: Persuasive Dr. Seuss character (SAM I AM) — nice clue.
  • 107A: Like a winning X Games trick, maybe (INSANEST) — here's the results of a losing X Games trick. Actually, it's just my nephew's mouth after a nasty skatepark accident. 

  • 44D: New World monkey (MARMOSET) — the hippest, most modern of monkeys.
  • 55D: Cash back from an online purchase (E-BATE) — Hey, look, another E-word to E-hate.
  • 89D: University in Center Valley, Pa. (DESALES) — uh ... really? Wow. Seems obscure. I can name hundreds of universities. This is not one of them. And I live next door to Pa.
  • 80D: Fictional Miss Jane — wanted EYRE or MARPLE or, less explicably, BRODIE.
  • 114D: "Bambi" villain (ENA) — that's right, turns out Bambi's aunt was the killer all along. Also, Bruce Willis is dead and Soylent Green is people. 
Happy ... navigation. 

If you don't want any spoilers ... well, then, really, why are you here? I was gonna say "don't read the Comments section," but anyone who goes that deep has no business complaining about spoilage. Would be sporting of you to keep solution to yourself, but I'm not the boss of you, sadly, so ... do what you will. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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