Tec group in old France / THU 1-31-13 / Trumpet blares / Turkey chicken dish served cold / Threaded across down / Trademarked Intel chip / Toon/live action film of 1996 / Titan booster

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Constructor: Mike Buckley

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: T-SHAPES (23D: This puzzle's theme)— black squares form a bunch of Ts. Also (and I assume this is part of the "theme," even though this is in no way related to "shapes"), the homophones TEAS, TEASE, and TEES are running across the center of the grid. Also, all clues start with "T."

Word of the Day: GALANTINE (27D: Turkey or chicken dish served cold) —
galantine is a French dish of de-boned stuffed meat, most commonly poultry or fish, that is poached and served cold, coated withaspic. Galantines are often stuffed with forcemeat, and pressed into a cylindrical shape. Since deboning poultry is thought of as difficult and time-consuming, this is a rather elaborate dish, which is often lavishly decorated, hence its name, connoting a presentation at table that is galant, or urbane and sophisticated. In the later nineteenth century the technique's origin was already attributed to the chef of the marquis de Brancas. The preparation is not always luxurious: Evelyn Waugh in his novel Men at Arms mentions "a kind of drab galantine which Guy seemed to remember, but without relish, from his school-days during the First World War". (wikipedia)
• • •

Yikes. This week has been pretty dire. First, black squares are not a "theme." They are a curiosity, at best. So, we have essentially one line, 13 squares, of true theme material here. Beyond that, we have a painful themeless. Painful, and also comical, since it Perfectly illustrates the folly of the pangram. Multiple ENEROS! Multiple SINES! Something called a FARON (21A: "This Little Girl of Mine" country singer ___ Young) and a GALANTINE (27D: Turkey or chicken dish served cold) and an OUTGO (one word?) (45A: Tide's ebb, e.g.). That OUTGO section was nearly a complete deal-breaker for me. HSN? I barely know it exists. TANTARAS? I ... don't even ... know (34D: Trumpet blares). SURETÉ!? If I weren't a longtime solver with a somewhat decent memory, then uh uh, no way (43D: Tec group in old France). Terri GIBBS? Same thing. I know her only from clues for TERRI (46D: Terri with the 1980 country hit "Somebody's Knockin'"). Partial O SOLE! Brilliant! (I'm actually grateful for that one, as I needed the gimme pretty bad). WAHR! (28A: True: Ger.) And what is all this [fill-in-the-blank] fill in service of? Nothing. Buncha black squares and a single line of true "theme" material. Making every clue start with "T"—a late attempt to deepen the "theme," I'm guessing—really only makes matter worse. With great fill, that gimmick works. Without ... now you're just torturing folks. NETLIKE! (48A: Threaded across and down) It's like a net, only ... not? Who knows? I give up.

  • 1A: Toon/live action film of 1996 ("SPACE JAM") — starring Michael Jordan. I forgot this existed. Not an original answer, but a nice one.
  • 17A: "Three Sisters" playwright Chekhov (ANTON) — made things much harder on myself by misreading this clue as asking for a sister's name.
  • 19A: Trademarked Intel chip (CELERON) — no idea. Or, rather, no idea until I had -ELERON. Then something clicked. Little Late!
  • 3D: Titan booster (AGENA) — never heard of it or seen it outside crosswords. Crosswordese of a pretty high order.
The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


2002 sequel starring Wesley Snipes / WED 1-30-13 / Hades river of forgetfulness / New York site of Mark Twain's grave / Cyberspace zine / Deny membership to skater Starbuck / Shul attendees

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DON HO HO [Wear snack cake?] — familiar words and phrases ending in "O" have final syllable doubled, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style (note: wackiness may or may not require reparsing of base phrase)

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Coming on to a patient, perhaps? (DOCTOR NO-NO)
  • 21A: Deny membership to skater Starbuck? (BAN JO JO)
  • 36A: Dictator's directive at a dance club? (LET MY PEOPLE GO-GO)
  • 55A: Bad-mouth designer Chanel? (DIS COCO)
  • 59A: "Strive for medium quality on this one"? ("MAKE IT SO-SO)

Word of the Day: LILA Kedrova (26A: Kedrova of "Zorba the Greek") —
Lila Kedrova (9 October, c. 1918 – 16 February 2000) was a Russian-born French actress. [...] In 1932, Lila Kedrova joined the Moscow Art Theatre touring company. Then her film career began, mostly in French films, until her first English appearance in 1964 as Mme Hortense in Zorba the Greek. Her performance won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She then went on to play a series of eccentric or batty ladies in several Hollywood films. In 1983, she reprised her role as Mme Hortense on Broadway in the musical version of Zorba the Greek, winning both aTony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award in the process. (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme is cute, and the grid is pretty snappy (5 Js!?). My only issue with it is theme consistency—I have to break BANJO and DISCO apart to make the Wackiness work in those theme answers, where with the others, I don't have to break any words in the base phrase. There's nothing in this inconsistency to really diminish enjoyment of the puzzle, but it's bugging me nonetheless. Now, the theme would be pretty hard to flesh out if you had to rely solely on base phrases that ended in two-letter / second-letter-O words. GO, NO, and SO work, but after that ... it's slim pickins. You could use DON HO HO, but you'd still need another 7. Anyway, no big deal, theme's inconsistent, it happens. Oh, I guess I kind of hate the written out "DOCTOR" in DOCTOR NO-NO, since it's only ever DR. NO (I mean ... that's what the novel / movie is called). The solving process was not unpleasant. I mostly tore through this one, except in the NE, where I got slowed down both by having *no* idea what a JOJO Starbuck was (at that point, I didn't have the theme, so I was Really at a loss), and by having CARAT instead of COMMA at 31A: Less-than sign's keymate. That last mistake was really stupid. I think I was thinking of the shape of the CARET (with an E), since the less-than sign is essentially a CARET on its side. Who knows?. As for JO JO Starbuck (again, !?!?!), she was a figure skater of some (but not much) renown in the '70s. She was, however, Terry Bradshaw's second wife, so that's ... something. I'd've gone with 7-time NBA All-Star JO JO White, but ... it is what it is. Anyway, that corner messed me up, but everything else was fast and so my time was pretty normal.

BLADEII (35D: 2002 sequel starring Wesley Snipe) is a terrrrrible answer, and yet I have a strange affection for it (as an answer, not as a film ... though I did enjoy BLADEI). DO THE MAMBO, however colorful, is ridiculous (4D: Dance to Tito Puente, say). It's like WIN THE GAME or EAT THE SANDWICH, or DO THE [insert dance here]. But again, as with BLADEII, it's at least amusing in its outlandishness, so I'm having trouble getting really outraged.

  • 29A: Cyberspace 'zine (E-MAG) — among the crosswordese I least enjoy. No. One. Uses. This. "Term."
  • 66A: Muslim woman's veil (HIJAB) — a sweet little 5-letter answer. You rarely see it, perhaps because of its odd letter combinations, but I think it's about as fabulous as 5-letter fill gets.
  • 32D: Sunday hymn accompaniment (ORGAN MUSIC) — got it easily, and it's definitely a real phrase, but so is CLARINET MUSIC or [any instrument] MUSIC, so there's a GREEN PAINTish feeling to it.
  • 46D: City of northern Spain (OVIEDO) — a pretty crosswordy city. I misremembered it as OVIDEO. Which is not getting underlined in red by my computer ... why? Is OVIDEO something? Not that I can see. Well ... there's this ... which I have now watched and cannot unwatch. WTF?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Lohengrin heroine / TUE 1-29-13 / 1968 Mark Lester film / 1972 Jack Lemmon film / Silent film effect / Like some fails in modern slang / Seiji longtime Boston Symphony maestro

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (just over 4:00)

THEME: EXCLAMATION MARK (40A: It follows the answer to each starred clue) — theme answers are all films that end with said mark

Theme answers:
  • "VIVA ZAPATA!" (17A: *1952 Marlon Brando film)
  • "MAMMA MIA!" (21A: *2008 Meryl Streep film)
  • "OLIVER!" (30A: *1968 Mark Lester film) [uh, who?]
  • "AVANTI!" (46A: *1972 Jack Lemmon film)
  • "AIRPLANE!" (54A: *1980 Robert Hays film)
  • "HELLO, DOLLY!" (64A: *1969 Barbra Streisand film)

Word of the Day: IRIS IN (32D: Silent film effect) —
iris-iniris-out - this transition almost never appears in contemporary films and was used much more commonly in early cinema.  Here, the shot goes from a full frame to focusing a small circle around a certain part of the shot, with everything else blacked out (the iris-in), or the reverse occurs (the iris-out).  You may have seen this transition at the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon, when the cartoon character will sometimes poke his or her head out of the iris as it closes in and crack one last joke (e.g when Porky Pig says, “Tha-tha-tha, that’s all folks”). ("A Short List of Film Terms..." by David T. Johnson)
• • •

Didn't enjoy this one very much. The concept is one that is somewhat interesting, in retrospect, but not that much fun to solve (random year / actor pairings are hard to pick up—a lot of work for not much thematic payoff). Further, the grid is just choked with crosswordese:

ERNE, etc.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the grid seems to be suboptimally constructed. It is really, really hard to get even one Down answer to go through three answers cleanly (i.e. with clean fill in the whole surrounding area). Theme answers go in the grid first, and they really lock you in. You generally try to build a grid that will give you some flexibility, fill-wise. This grid doesn't do that. That central section of the grid is so terrible For A Reason: three consecutive Downs get driven through three theme answers (24D, 31D, 32D). That's nuts. No wonder you've got junk like the P-less VSO and plural MERS and LETAT and (esp!!!!) IRIS IN, whatever that is. Doesn't help that "AVANTI!" is in no way a famous movie. The crosswordese infestation is probably related to this grid rigidity as well. Sometimes having a grid that is chock full o' theme answers (as this one is) comes back to bite you in the ass. The grid just can't take it. Buckles. Cries "Uncle!" Etc.


  • 49A: Harvard Law Review editor who went on to become president (OBAMA) — embarrassed by how long it too me to get this (probably took me only several seconds, but it should've been instant). Note: OBAMA is just OZAWA (5D: Seiji ___, longtime Boston Symphony maestro) with different consonants.
  • 67A: Lensman Adams (ANSEL) — easy, but man I hate the term "lensman." 
  • 71A: Former New York archbishop (EGAN) — also, former (and first) governor of Alaska.
  • 60D: Many a YouTube upload (VLOG) — I know these exist, but I never see this "word" these days. Most people just say "video blog," because most people, upon hearing "vlog," are just going to ask, "I'm sorry, did you say 'blog?'"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Biblical name for Syria / MON 1-28-13 / Big name in art glass / Against property to judge / Countryside Sp / Deathtrap playwright Ira /

Monday, January 28, 2013

Constructor: Jaime Hutchison and Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Challenging (3:58)

THEME: "WHAT A TOOL!" — last words of two-word phrases are tools (used in non-tool contexts)

  • FUEL LEVEL (17A: Info on a dashboard gauge)
  • MIKE HAMMER (21A: "I, the Jury" detective)
  • MODEL PLANE (53A: Flier made from a do-it-yourself kit)
  • FIRE DRILL (58A: Safety exercise prompted by an alarm)

Word of the Day: ARAM (10D: Biblical name for Syria) —
Aram is a region mentioned in the Bible located in central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo (aka Halab) now stands. Aram stretched from the Lebanon mountains eastward across the Euphrates, including the Khabur River valley in northwestern Mesopotamia on the border of Assyria. (wikipedia)
• • •

72 words!? On a Monday?! That is ... unusual. That is a very low word count for an "Easy" puzzle. It's a low word count for *any* themed puzzle (it's the max number of clues for a themeless). Unsurprisingly, my time was a full minute higher than I'm used to on a Monday, which is to say 33% higher. Lots of white space, answers are harder to get ahold of. Fill is also not nearly as clean as it is usually is in early-week puzzles (terrible stuff like OB-LA and IN REM and ENTO- and EZEK. and REBOXES as well as unwelcome crosswordese like NOL. I can't remember the last time I saw anything like the ARAM / CAMPO crossing in an early-week puzzle. Nuts. I totally approve of the theme concept and the revealer, which is startling, actually. I think of "TOOL" as being, roughly, a synonym for DICK. It has anatomical implications, is what I'm saying. But FUEL LEVEL isn't exactly snappy (however legitimate it is) and "model airplane" is a far more familiar phrase than MODEL PLANE (however legitimate it is). So there's this great answer in the center, and mostly just adequate theme answers, all drowning in a grid that isn't really appropriate to this theme type. It's a Monday kind of theme in a Thursday / Friday-style grid. The net effect is just odd. Awkward. Weird. I actually didn't mind the added challenge (in fact, it didn't *feel* that hard—I was stunned when I looked at the clock and saw how long it took me). And big corners at least tend to get more interesting non-theme answers than one typically finds in an early-week puzzle. But despite my affection for stuff like LOU RAWLS and ROLL OVER and DUMMY UP (11D: Produce, as page layouts for a printer), this one felt clunky overall. Cute idea, inexpertly executed.

  • 23A: Big name in art glass (STEUBEN) — the *only* reason this answer was easy for me was because I watch "Archer." Otherwise, I'd've had real trouble there. 
  • 6D: "Deathtrap" playwright Ira (LEVIN) — I know that Ira LEVIN is a writer's name, but I'm far more familiar with MI Senator Carl. 
  • 24D: Top 10 Kiss hit with backing by the New York Philharmonic ("BETH") — love this clue, but again, it is comical how un-Monday this is. Outlier city, this puzzle.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Screwball character on Simpsons / SUN 1-27-13 / Precocious Roald Dahl heroine / Egg-sorting device / Old barnstorming needs / Dramatist Sean / Paparazzi payer / Author who wrote about frontier life

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (roughly 14:00, on paper)

THEME: "Black Cats" — 9 theme answers have (apparently) missing CAT, which is represented in the grid by black squares (specifically, the four crosses and the central black bar)

  • COPY [CAT] CRIME (30A: Offense that's provoked by lurid news)
  • RAT [CAT]CHER (6D: The Pied Piper of Hamelin, e.g.)
  • CRAZY [CAT] LADY (14D: Screwball character on "The Simpsons")

  • WILL [CAT]HER (43A: Author who wrote about frontier life)
  • TOM[CAT]TED (63A: Sowed one's wild oats)
  • DELI[CAT]ESSEN (58D: Hero's spot)
  • MUS[CAT] GRAPE (88A: Base of Asti wine)
  • STAY[CAT]ION (76D: Modern R&R option)
  • LATEX [CAT]SUIT (102A: Dominatrix's wear)
Word of the Day: WAUL (43D: Cry like a feline) —
(intr) to cry or wail plaintively like a cat
[of imitative origin] (freedictionary.com)
• • •

I have a dinner party to go to tonight, so I tried to hand the blog off to a constructor friend of mine, but he had a dinner party to go to as well, so I just hollered at Jeff Chen and he sent me a .PDF of the puzzle immediately. Security breach!

I solved a puzzle with this same concept just last night. It was in the latest collection of Fireball puzzles (which you should totally get, mostly because the lead blurb on the back was written by yours truly). Even though I have a subscription to Fireball, I don't always get to all of them, so having the book is nice. Even when I find myself solving a puzzle I've solved before, I usually don't remember it that well and still struggle mightily to finish. Where was I? Oh, right, so ... I've not only seen this concept before, I *just* saw it. This allowed me to pick up the theme almost instantly (at COPYCAT CRIME), though at first I didn't realize the answers extended clean through the black squares. Thought the answer to 30A: Offense that's provoked by lurid news was COPYCAT. Then I noticed all those "—" clues throughout the grid, and figured out what was going on. Even though the puzzle was pretty easy, I found it very enjoyable. Theme answers were often playful and surprising, and the grid is built around some nice longer non-theme answers like SPARE TIRES (10D: Middle weights?) and PROP PLANES (72D: Old barnstorming needs). The one minor issue I had with the theme was, a couple of times, I didn't even notice an answer *was* a theme answer because the pre-CAT part seemed complete in itself. This was especially true of DELI[CAT]ESSEN, where DELI is a perfectly good answer to 58D: Hero's spot, and also true at LATEX [CAT]SUIT (102A: Dominatrix's wear). LATEX works great. CATSUIT was a bonus. STAY[CAT]ION and CRAZY [CAT] LADY were especially bright, modern answers. An easyish, clever romp; some roughness around the edges, fill-wise, but only around the edges.

Started strong with an instant gimme at 1A: Break in poetry (CAESURA). I teach the concept all the time (it's especially common in Old English poetry), so no problem. I enjoyed the other literary answers in this puzzle as well, such as O. HENRY (90D: Master of literary twists) and MATILDA (51D: Precocious Roald Dahl heroine). I thought the [Egg-sorting device] was a SEXER, but that's a chick-sorting person, so ... SIZER. No better or worse than SEXER as an answer, I guess. I have definitely heard of the BARENTS Sea, but that doesn't mean I didn't need virtually every cross (106A: ___ Sea, body of water north of Norway). "It's that sea ... that sounds like that other sea ... BERING? ... BALTIC? ..." First instinct for 1D: It may be spotted in a pet store was OCELOT. Pretty high-end, la-di-da pet store, I guess. WAUL was a new one on me. Wanted WAIL. Managed to remember VALENCE from the last time I studied Chemistry (circa 1986) (32D: Bonding measurement).

I think that's it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Given orally at law / SAT 1-26-13 / Maxwell rival / 1919-33 in German history / Repeated cry from Mercutio / Butler who played Grace Kelly / Standard sudoku groupings / It's between Laredo Nuevo Laredo / Monkey launched into space 1958 / Pianist Gilels / Butler who played Grace Kelly /

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Constructor: Raymond C. Young

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: KANSA (57A: American tribe that lent its name to a state) —

The Kaw Nation (or Kanza) are a federally recognized American Indian tribe in Oklahoma. They come from the central Midwestern United States. The tribe known as Kaw have also been known as the "People of the South wind", "People of water", KansaKazaKosa, and Kasa. Their tribal language is Kansa, classified as a Siouan language.
The toponym "Kansas" was derived from the name of this tribe. The name of Topeka, capital city of Kansas, is said to be the Kaw word Tó Ppí Kˀémeaning "a good place to grow potatoes." The Kaw are closely related to the Osage Nation, with whom members often intermarried. (wikipedia)
• • •

Crash and burn, first because the SE was just brutal for me, and second because of a technical issue—Safari browser, for whatever reason, makes the letters in the NYT applet all wispy thin (see grid). Really annoying. But especially annoying today, when I kept reading the "Q" (from QUIVERY) as an "O" ... I spent forever trying to figure out what kind of [Military hut] started OU- ... I did not notice my misreading until I'd spent a good ten minutes just staring at (mostly) blankness in the SW. Oh, I also had RIGHT ON and not (the absurd) RIGHT OH (is that really the spelling? Not RIGHTO?) (36A: "Indeed, mate"), so the Mae West quote was never ever gonna come (37D: Mae West reputedly said this "is good to find" => HARD MAN ... not a thing!). Wanted SEARLE, but couldn't confirm a thing and so didn't trust it. MRS. TEE VEE? (54A: She told Willy Wonka "Loompaland? There's no such place") Talk about your tertiary ... or whatever's below tertiary ... characters. Ridiculous. SAD AS is an idiotic partial that doesn't even make sense in the poem it's from. I read poetry all the time and can't even figure out what is *literally* meant by the Wordsworth quote, "The strain seemed doubly dear, / Yet SAD AS sweet"; I wanted, I don't know, HALF AS, TWICE AS, JUST AS ... tried WAS AS. I have no idea what CTRL-C is. I'm guessing it's a computer key sequence. If that's true, why not CTRL-anything? Horrible clue. So I hated that corner, but mainly hated myself for reading "Q" as "O"—I would've got QUONSET instantly, and that *probably* would've made the SE corner doable. Ugh, ALERT MIND. That's Not A Thing. SOUND MIND, yes. ALERT MIND, no. Also no—>plural AHEMS. Dear lord (46D: Sounds that make frogs disappear?). What is this Maxwell whose rival is REO? I have no idea what that's about. I thought it was tape and the rival was TDK. But ... It's a car? Yes. Ugh. Yes. This car.

GAY PARADE? Come on. It's called a "Pride Parade," or maybe a "Gay Pride Parade" (both of which significantly out-google GAY PARADE). GORDO? (1D: Monkey launched into space in 1958) "A SAIL" (!?!?!?!) (2D: Repeated cry from Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet"). Criminy. That corner's not much prettier than the SE (though I did it about ten times faster). PAROL?? (10A: Given orally, at law) Yuck. IRINA, yuck (16A: Russian princess who was Nicholas II's only niece). The SW is probably the most solid. If RIGHT OH had been RIGHT ON, then I'd be very happy with that corner. But when you go for a low word count (and lots of white space), fill tends to suffer. Most people shouldn't be down at 64. Just too hard to fill well. As 64s go, this is passable, but not very likable. 3/4 Easy-Medium, 1/4 Total Mess.

I refuse to spend any more time thinking about this puzzle. From now on, if I solve against the clock, it's in Firefox (which produces nice, fat, black letters in the applet).

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Cartoonist Foster / FRI 1-25-13 / Game with forks pins / Mid 13th-century pope / Dynasty after Qin / Cote call

Friday, January 25, 2013

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SEVE Trophy (44A: ___ Trophy (golf tourney)) —
The Seve Trophy is a biennial golf tournament between teams of professional male golfers representing Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe. It is named after five times major winner Seve Ballesteros, the most successful golfer ever from Continental Europe who was one of the key instigators of the tournament. He made an exceptional contribution to the European Ryder Cup successes of the 1980s and 1990s, and came to be regarded as an exceptionally keen team man in a usually individualistic sport. A sponsorship deal with the French media conglomerate Vivendi meant that the 2009 was known as The Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros and the 2011 event was the Vivendi Seve Trophy.
• • •

Had one of a seemingly unending but hopefully now ended series of dental appointments today, and while I didn't feel that stressed about it all, my body is now acting like I ran a marathon earlier today, i.e. I'm exhausted. I took the puzzle to bed with me and solved on paper, so I have no idea what my time was, but it all felt quite normal. Tough but doable. I'd say it leaned a little tough, maybe, but who knows? I keep wrestling with Fridays and breezing through Saturdays, so I'm loath to trust my judgment on Fridays at the moment. I like the shape of this grid—makes for an interesting distribution of long answers—but I thought the fill just so-so. Stuff like STEALS BASES and THREE-FOR-ONE, while valid, just doesn't pop. Also not a big ONESELF fan. STRUCK A NOTE? Where I'm from, we usually strike the whole chord, not just a note. Loved MORTAL SIN across the middle, and POWER OUTAGE and RAINBOW ROOM (17A: Former New York City attraction with a revolving dance floor) are awesomely dark and bright, respectively. Overall, SORTA liked it, SORTA didn't.

First answer: SCOT (1A: Automaker David Dunbar Buick, by birth)Last answer: THERAPY. I initially thought THERAPY was TOURNEY (35D: Couples may be in it), because I was thinking of Fred Couples, who is a golfer. But then I noticed that "tourney" was actually in the clue for SEVE, and while clue / fill dupes sometimes occur in the NYX, "tourney" seemed rather unlikely to have escaped notice. Speaking of SEVE, that SEVE / URBAN IV crossing is at least mildly brutal, in that the only way I got it was by knowing that SEVE Ballesteros was a golfer. Never heard of the eponymous trophy. Also, SEIE Trophy and (especially) SEXE Trophy seemed highly unlikely. I'm guessing < 5  percent of solvers could've told you when URBAN IV (24D: Mid 13th-century pope) was pope (even +/- 50 years). I have a Ph.D. in medieval literature, and I sure couldn't.

Had no idea CHESS had forks and pins (40A: Game with forks and pins). I don't even care enough to look up what those are. Part of my slowness on trigger with URBAN IV was I thought he was something like OTHO III because I had first letter "O" with ROSS instead of RUSS at 23A: Football Hall-of-Famer Grimm. I managed to guess dead on with HAN, though (50A: Dynasty after the Qin). Sadly had to think a bit to remember which animal went in a cote (7D: Cote call). Had the "C" and thought "...CAW?...no, crows aren't domesticated ... wait, are they? ... noooo..." Doves are, or can be, and they COO. I went through a P.J. O'ROURKE phase in college—encountered his essay "Among the Euro-Weenies" while I was studying in Europe, and it resonated. My college yearbook quote is from O'ROURKE. This is to say, I got 11D: "Parliament of Whores" humorist easily. Didn't get HAL Foster fast, which is embarrassing, as he is responsible for one of the crosswordiest of comic strips: "Prince Valiant."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Gulf of Finland feeder / THU 1-24-13 / Madness put to good uses per George Santayana / Several Boris Gudonov parts / Decorative melody added above simple musical theme / Title boy in Humperdinck opera / Small image displayed in browser's address bar

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Constructor: Michael Shteyman

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:25)

THEME: -TRA — I think.

Word of the Day: DESCANT (66A: Decorative melody added above a simple musical theme) —
  1. also dis·cant (dĭs'-Music.
    1. An ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme.
    2. The highest part sung in part music.
  2. A discussion or discourse on a theme.

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/descant#ixzz2IrLrLx5l
• • •

Unless there's something I'm missing, I'd hardly call this a theme. It's essentially a (pretty decent) themeless w/ a bunch of symmetrically arranged answers that end in -TRA. Shteyman brings the Russian yet again, but this time in a more subtle, less obscure kind of way (via NEVA, TSARS, and Mussorgsky (50A: Several "Boris Gudonov" parts => BASSI). You've got at least three stray TRAs in this grid, which I find mildly distracting (though not abhorrent). Couple of partials right off the bat (A PAR, AN IN), some awkward plurals (ERICS, AFTS). Some interesting fill here and there, like FAVICON (17A: Small image displayed in a browser's address bar) and the Porsche CARERRA (65A: Line of Porsches whose name is Spanish for "race"). Not much to say about this one. I did it. My time was normal. Nothing really held me back. The end. (But I'll go on for a bit anyway, just ... 'cause).

Theme answers:
  • 19A: Subject of a 2010 biography subtitled "The Voice" (FRANK SINATRA)
  • 11D: Dangerous family (COSA NOSTRA)
  • 20D: Colorful fish (NEON TETRA)
  • 39A: Tabloid TV show co-hosted by Mario Lopez ("EXTRA")
  • 29D: Affair of the 1980s (IRAN-CONTRA)
  • 55A: Compact since 1982 (NISSAN SENTRA)

Got totally stumped (unsurprisingly) by the somewhat high-end musical clues (in this case BASSI — I had -ASSI and still had no idea what was up — and DESCANT). Somewhat slow going early on—even though BANANAS was a gimme (1A: Chiquita import), it was so much of a gimme that I didn't trust it, and when I could only make a couple of the crosses work, I abandoned that corner to work elsewhere. Had BASH for BOFF (1D: Sockeroo). Did not connect the NEVA with the Gulf of Finland (3D: Gulf of Finland feeder). Needed the majority of the crosses to get SANITY (7D: "Madness put to good uses," per George Santayana). REAMER also required nearly every cross to come into view (26D: Metalworker's tool). Basically, if the fill came from a highly specialized vocabulary, it eluded me for a while. ADSORBS I somehow remembered, at least partially (a cross or two triggered it) (16A: Gathers on the surface, as a layer of molecules). I don't quite get how 9D: First lady of the 1910s is just a first name. Usually the clue needs a clear signal that the name will be first and not last. Whose wife is EDITH, anyway? Wilson? Yes, though clue could've read [First lady of the 1900s] and been equally true (T.R.'s second wife was also named EDITH).

OK, now I'm really done.

Today's L.A. Times puzzle is one of mine. I'll link to it as soon as it becomes available. (Try this)

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Rush Hour director Ratner / WED 1-23-13 / Teen heartthrob Zac / 2003 OutKast hit that was #1 for nine weeks / Balkan native

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:21)

THEME: Initializing... — all clues are familiar two-word phrases where first word is two letters. To solve the clue, you must imagine those two letters as initials (or as initials with different meanings than expected). Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 19A: Po boy? (PETER O'TOOLE)
  • 29A: L.A. woman? (LAILA ALI)
  • 35A: In person? (ISAAC NEWTON)
  • 42A: P.R. man? (PAUL RYAN)
  • 52A: It girl? (IVANKA TRUMP)

Word of the Day: BRETT Ratner (5D: "Rush Hour" director Ratner) —
Brett Ratner (born March 28, 1969) is an American film directorfilm producer, and music video director. He is known for directing the Rush Hour film series,The Family ManRed DragonX-Men: The Last Stand, and Tower Heist. He was also a producer on the Fox drama series, Prison Break. (wikipedia)
• • •

Back on track today, for the most part, though I still felt a little off my game. I struggled early—far more than is normal for a Wednesday—but then got my footing and ripped through it pretty easily. The theme is very cute but also very ragged. Some of the two-letter parts of the clues are already initials, some aren't. One in particular feels like a completely different animal than the others. I first read [In person?] as "someone who is in," i.e. someone who is part of the in-crowd. I did this because that is the pattern followed by Every Other Theme Clue—two-letter part of the clue functions adjectivally. The boy is po', the woman is from L.A., the man works in P.R., the woman has "it." But "In person" (the way I'd imagined it) is not really a phrase that exists. Instead, "in person" in this case must be playing on the phrase as it's most commonly used, i.e. to indicate literal physical presence. Actually there, in person, not on video or on the phone or whatever. That "in person." But *that* in person doesn't fit the pattern, because that makes the two-letter "in" function as a preposition, not an adjective. And yes, it does matter, and boo. You stress every other two-letter word in the theme clues. You do not stress the "in" in "in person." You practically eat it.

Fill is very nice overall. Simple but solid. BRETT Ratner felt way out of place. That's a Saturday BRETT clue. Ratner's directed some hits, but I've Never heard of him and he is far, far from a household name. He's part of the reason my start was so slow. CROAT (14A: Balkan native) and BY ME (5A: "Fine ___") were also tough to turn up. Hated BY ME, mainly because I hate when partials (which are by def. not great fill) have really hard clues. Struggling to get a partial leaves a queasy feeling in my gut. Getting to OATS via Lucky Charms is like getting to Akron by way of Manila. You can *do* it, I guess, but it's a highly unlikely (one might even say tortured) route (61A: Lucky Charms ingredients). Took me a while to get AVEENO (2D: Johnson & Johnson skin-care brand) and ONE / ACT (23A: With 24-Across, like Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story") and INMATE (again, a Saturday clue with 46D: Cell body). Had to change CHOCOLATE to CHOCOLATY (I wonder if anyone got careless and ended up with PAUL REAN at 42A—because CHOCOLATE is a more-than-plausible answer for 14D: Like many éclairs).

  • 17A: 2003 OutKast hit that was #1 for nine weeks ("HEY YA") — One of my first gets. I'm stunned, bordering on alarmed, that this song is nearly a decade old already. I still think of it as relatively new. OutKast is from the ATL (32A: N.L. team with a tomahawk in its logo).
  • 25A: Teen heartthrob Zac (EFRON) — Zac EFRON, a name I know, but the spelling of which I often confuse with that of EFREM Zimbalist Jr. 
  • 21D: Pickled delicacy (EEL) — I wrote in ROE. Is that a thing? Pickled ROE? Yes, looks like it is. At least it's a thing. At least I have that to comfort me in my wrongness.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Alternative to ASCAP / TUE 1-23-13 / Kohl's competitor / Old Carl Sagan series / Whiskey distillery supply / Metal between osmium platinum on periodic table

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Constructor: Jay Kaskel

Relative difficulty: Challenging (a comical 8:17)

THEME: Byproducts of fat and moody dairy cows — ordinary dairy products (all two-word phrases, where first word is an adjective) are clued as if the adjectives in the products' names were indicative of the kinds of cows used to produce them, thus

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Byproduct of a sad dairy cow? (BLUE CHEESE)
  • 25A: Byproduct of a homely dairy cow? (PLAIN YOGURT)
  • 37A: Byproduct of an exhausted dairy cow? (WHIPPED BUTTER)
  • 52A: Byproduct of an irate dairy cow? (STEAMED MILK)
  • 61A: Byproduct of a portly dairy cow? (HEAVY CREAM)

Word of the Day: Willy LEY (54D: Science writer Willy) —
Willy Ley (October 2, 1906 - June 24, 1969) was a German-American science writer, spaceflight advocate, and historian of science who helped popularize rocketry, spaceflight, and natural history in both Germany and the United States. The crater Ley on the far side of the Moon is named in his honor. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a cute theme, though STEAMED MILK is a bit of an outlier (all the others you purchase at the grocery store, whereas steaming is something you or a barista do to milk). Fill is solid, if mostly unremarkable (SOUR MASH is the big winner of the day—3D: Whiskey distillery supplier). But the only thing I will remember about this puzzle, if I remember anything, is the E-OD / TA-I crossing (38D: Gen. follower + 42A: Cry often made after a whistle), because it absolutely froze me. At first, I thought "oh you just have an answer wrong somewhere, keep moving," but then I got All the surrounding answers and nothing changed: still E-OD / TA-I. I kept checking the surrounding answers. Early on, I wasn't sure of IRIDIUM (how in the world do I know where it falls on the periodic table?) (26D: Metal between osmium and platinum on the periodic table), so I took out the -IU- only to have to put them back again. The Kia is an OPTIMA (33D: Kia model), the facial place is a SPA (34D: Place to get a facial), the suffix is clearly -OUS (49A: Suffix with cavern ... or gorge?), but Nothing Goes in the E-OD slot. That's just nonsense. And what kind of cry follows a whistle? TAVI? TAMI? I Ran The Alphabet In My Head. T.W.I.C.E. But I must've been doing it in that way where you know the end of the alphabet is going to be a bust so you don't really go all the way ... that's the only way I can explain not seeing TAXI. Eventually, I just though of all the possible words/answers that could possibly result from TA-I, and I hit it. And oh, yeah, good ole EXOD. Ugh. It's Really unfortunate that this failure on my part happened at precisely the ugliest part of the grid (EXOD. crossing -OUS = nobody's idea of a good time). But I can't blame the puzzle too much. I should've seen it, and didn't. And I mean *really* didn't. Faceplant City.

I'm not sure the times are going to come in "Challenging," but I'd bet they'll come in at least "Medium-Challenging," because this grid felt somewhat slow-going for a Tuesday even before I tanked it (a quick glance at some of the times at the NYT site seems to bear this out). I wrote in IRANI where FARSI belonged (45A: Tehran tongue). [Mercy!] could've meant a million things. Or at least two. GASP did not occur to me ... ever. Thought start of a cheer was HIP (it's SIS). Had SETS AT for GOES AT. DUMB for NUMB. But then there are other parts of the grid that I blew right through. Never even saw the clues for stuff like AIN'T and AGAS. Overall, just a weird, weird solve. EXOD. Dear lord, I'll be dreaming about that horrible abbrev. tonight.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Rock with glittery inside / MON 1-21-13 / Territory that became two states / Roulette centerpiece / Soccer star Mia's meats / Potato protuberances

Monday, January 21, 2013

Constructor: Susan Gelfand

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:49)

THEME: Possessive rhymes — two-part phrases where the first part rhymes with the second, following the pattern [somebody's somethings]

  • LOCKE'S LOCKS (17A: Philosopher John's tresses?)
  • PENN'S PENS (25A: Actor Sean's writing implements?)
  • WRIGHT'S RIGHTS (Aviator Wilbur's entitlements?)
  • HAMM'S HAMS (50A: Soccer star Mia's meats?)
  • LISZT'S LISTS (59A: Composer Franz's rosters?)

Word of the Day: DSL (32D: It's faster than dial-up, in brief) —
Digital subscriber line (DSL, originally digital subscriber loop) is a family of technologies that provide Internet access by transmitting digital data over the wires of a local telephone network. In telecommunications marketing, the term DSL is widely understood to mean asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), the most commonly installed DSL technology. DSL service is delivered simultaneously withwired telephone service on the same telephone line. This is possible because DSL uses higher frequency bands for data. On the customer premises, a DSL filter on each non-DSL outlet blocks any high frequency interference, to enable simultaneous use of the voice and DSL services. (wikipedia)
• • •

A simple, old-fashioned kind of theme that surely must've been done many times before. Not much to say there. The rest of the grid is quite solid—above average, I'd say. Very clean throughout, with some genuinely polished and lively places. I especially like the NE corner. High-value Scrabble letters make for some vivid and interesting words—i.e. they're not just thrown in there for show. JINXED (11D: Brought bad luck) and WOODSY (13D: Filled with trees) would look good in any puzzle. All over the grid, you'll notice that there's very little that is off-putting or irksome. It's very clean. It would be nice if the theme had some pop to it, but you can't have it all, and I'll take an expertly filled grid over a poorly filled grid any time. It's pretty hard to get all your 5s and 6s to work in concert, but in the corners, and in the due N and due S, that's exactly what's going on. Competent, careful fill, esp. in the non-showy medium-length range (i.e. the 5s and 6s of which I speak), is deeply under-rated, and often goes unnoticed. So ... I hereby notice it.

Only two sticking points today. The answer with which I had the most trouble was actually the first one I encountered: 1A: Gross growth (MOLD). I had not idea what could be meant. I wasn't even sure what definition of "gross" was in play. After getting first two letters, I considered MOSS, but that didn't seem ... gross enough. Later on, I had an odd lot of trouble WHEEL (44A: Roulette centerpiece). I came at it from the back end (-EL) and thought a. it was a two-syllable word and b. it was some technical term. Wrong on both counts. After that, the only issue I had was the eternal "A-Neal or I-Neil?" question at 48D: Singer Young or Sedaka (NEIL). I guessed right.

Back to my Satyajit Ray movie ("Mahanagar," 1963), then football.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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