Recurring Stephen King antagonist Randall / SUN 3-31-13 / Device Professor X wears over his head in X-men / 1983 film debut of Bill Maher / One-named R&B singer / Noted American writer in Yiddish / Ones who wrote in Ogham alphabet / Mythological figure kithara / Computer used to predict 1952 election / Aconcagua setting

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Special Features" — An Easter puzzle with the revealer EASTER EGGS (115A: Hidden DVD feature ... which can be found, literally, in the answers to the starred clues) — each letter of "EASTER EGGS" (in order) has been added to the first word of movie titles, creating wacky movie titles, clued "?"-style.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: *Movie about ... an intense blinking context? ("STARE WARS")
  • 28A: *... a housecleaner? ("NEAT WORK")
  • 30A: *... a sled racer? ("SNOW VOYAGER")
  • 44A: *... a bee during a downpour? ("STINGIN' IN THE RAIN")
  • 56A: *... actor Jason's fan club? ("BATEMAN FOREVER")
  • 80A: *... Jerry Garcia's band's portraits? ("DRAWN OF THE DEAD") — trying to figure out how grammar on this works ... 
  • 88A: *... a parent's edicts? ("TEEN COMMANDMENTS")
  • 100A: *... a king's brilliance? ("REGAL GENIUS")
  • 108A: *... a harvester? ("GRAIN MAN")

Word of the Day: CEREBRO (72A: Device Professor X wears over his head in "X-Men") —
In the Marvel UniverseCerebro (Portuguese and Spanish for "brain") is a device that the X-Men (in particular, their leader, Professor Charles Xavier) use to detect humans, specifically mutants. It was created by Xavier and Magneto, and was later enhanced by Dr. Hank McCoy. The current version of Cerebro is called Cerebra, to be distinguished from the character of the same name. Cerebro first appeared in X-Men (vol 1) #7 (1964). (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was a lot of fun. There were some weird moments—I don't know how "DRAWN" (or maybe "OF") is being used in "DRAWN OF THE DEAD"; I loved / was mystified by CEREBRO, which seems nerdily arcane; and though the puzzle overall felt *very* easy, the tiny patch in the NNW was absurdly hard. I spent about a quarter of my time on this puzzle trying to figure out what amounts to little more than a 3x5 patch of land. But none of these things (except the "DRAWN" thing) is knock on the puzzle. Just strange moments that stand out in an overall fast and fluid solve. Having worked with Caleb, I know and value how much care he puts into non-theme fill. Many Sundays, what you get is All Theme, and at best the fill is mediocre, at worst it's been compromised to make the theme work. Here, not only is the fill mostly smooth, but there are these great bonuses in the Downs, CAROL KANE and DEATH METAL (13D: Music genre of Possessed and Deicide), CUT CORNERS and CHEWBACCA (such a good clue—78D: Solo companion). LADIES' NIGHT! The only one I didn't like was "LOST WEEKEND," and the only reason I didn't like it was that it felt mildly distracting to have a long movie title in the puzzle that fell *outside* the whole EASTER EGG theme. Also, I don't like when "THE"s and "A"s are omitted on titles, esp. long ones (4D: 1945 Best Picture winner, with "The"). But again, these are minor quibbles. There are a lot of very good constructors under 30 at this moment, and Caleb (who is Way under 30) might just be the best of them. If he's not, he's close.

Now about that patch of trouble up top. I got "STARE WARS" easily enough, but hadn't yet clearly grasped the theme, so "SNOWV-" did not trigger the movie "NOW, VOYAGER" the way it was supposed to. So I didn't have the back end of that answer, and I didn't know HENRY I (20D: English king who was a son of William the Conqueror) (I had HENGST in there... which is wrong on so many levels—five centuries to early, misspelled, legendary ...). I had ROE but absolute didn't know FLAGG (8D: Recurring Stephen King antagonist Randall ___) or ARGONS (27A: Atoms in some light bulbs) and, most importantly, thought SEL was EAU (19A: It's found in la mer). So ... I was just stopped. For I don't know how long. Once I (finally) ditched EAU, ASSAY and TETRA went in pretty quickly, and then I pieced it all together. Wrong answers are The Worst. Lately, all of my disastrous time losses have been due not to ignorance, but to a wrong answer I am sure is right (so sure that I don't even question it).

There was a good deal of pop culture in the grid, beyond the theme itself (not atypical for a Madison grid). I never saw "D.C. CAB," but I do know it exists, so the odd combination of letters in that answer didn't throw me off (13A: 1983 film debut of Bill Maher). I never listened to MYA, but I know her name (this is true for me of almost all pop singers who got famous after 1996) (95A: One-named R&B singer). I know NATASHA Bedingfield from ... something. "Torn?" Nope, that's Natalie Imbruglia. Hmmm ... It's a name I know from people mentioning it on "Idol" (way back when, when I watched "Idol"). Oh, right, "Unwritten." Some girl sang it and promptly got sent home. Anyway, her name has stuck for some reason (74A: Pop singer Bedingfield).

  • 3D: Mythological figure often depicted holding a kithara (ERATO) — looks forbidding. Isn't. Just good ol' ERATO. A "kithara" is a lyre-like instrument. 
  • 29D: Noted American writer in Yiddish (ASCH) — Sholem. Never read him. Just know him.
  • 35D: Computer used to predict the 1952 presidential election (UNIVAC) — ENIAC wouldn't fit. I have heard of UNIVAC (which always sounds like a vacuum brand to me), but had no idea it predicted anything, let alone the '52 election.
  • 102D: Ones who wrote in the Ogham alphabet (GAELS) — got it off the "G"; I don't know ... just sounded Gaelic. And that's how I solved that.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Stock pantomime character / SAT 3-30-13 / Orangish gem / Inti worshipers / Privateer who captained Blessed William / Wall St manipulators / Symbol of elasticity in economics / Mikado weapon / 1968 #2 hit with lyric my love for you is way out of line

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Constructor: Gareth Bain

Relative difficulty: Easy (maybe Easy-Medium)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: MOW (60D: Part of a barn) —
1. The place in a barn where hay, grain, or other feed is stored.
2. A stack of hay or other feed stored in a barn.
• • •

Mostly very easy, with a couple sticky places. The stickiest was the SE, where EYEWASH is [Nonsense] and MOW is [Part of a barn]. Rural + olde-timey = place I do not live. I ran the alphabet to get the "W," and knew it was right only because I had a vague memory of seeing EYEWASH used in this capacity before in crosswords (as with SARD [Orangish gem], I have never seen it anywhere outside puzzles). I'd've gone with EYELASH and actress Gretchen MOL, but that's just because I hate the figurative and literal meanings of EYEWASH so much. Just ... off-putting somehow. But the rest of this grid is pretty nice. I do Not understand building a puzzle around THE AGING PROCESS (37A: Gerontologist's study). The THE makes it weird, and the phrase itself just has no pop. You've got one 15 here: make it count! But I do love the mid-range stuff, like PROM KING (5D: Alpha senior?) and "OH, PLEASE" and the delightfully creepy "YOUNG GIRL" (21D: 1968 #2 hit with the lyric "My love for you is way out of line"). I even like "I HATE MEN," despite never having heard of it—it was easy enough to infer from knowing the plot of "Taming of the Shrew" (38D: "Kiss Me, Kate" song). In a 70-worder, I'd rather not see stuff like STLO and IRT and MIRY and SARD and SNEE and any number of other short dull/common stuff, especially with nothing *terribly* interesting in the corners to offset it. So I liked it, but with a lower-case "L."

[barbed wire ... wait for it ...]

Wrote SCRIPTS in immediately and was surprised it worked out (1A: In-box material for some agents)—a rare obvious Saturday 1A. I don't know where PIERROT lives in my brain, but he's in there somewhere—I'm guessing crosswords put him there. I felt lucky to be able to piece that together pretty quickly. Felt right, then crosses confirmed it. I got MIRY off the "I"—that's how used I am to seeing that absurd word. Once I got "YOUNG GIRL," I was able to fan out in all directions. NE and E were astonishingly easy—probably Tuesday/Wednesday easy. Had some trouble in the SW until "I HATE MEN" broke it open. Then there was the SE, where I finished with that damn MOW / EYEWASH cross. Had a few odd missteps. Wanted to write in OGDEN (?) at 32A: Writer of the lines "Pigeons on the grass alas. / Pigeons on the grass alas" (STEIN). Is that Gertrude STEIN? It must be ... yep. It is.

Not much else to say. Didn't know a few things, like 45D: Annie once played by Ethel Merman (OAKLEY) or 53D: Privateer who captained the Blessed William (KIDD), but crosses took care of them pretty quickly. I don't really know what "Inti" is, but INCAS came readily (28D: Inti worshipers). I thought [XX] was a pretty damned clever clue for FEMALE.

I'm going to go bask in the warm afterglow of Michigan's OT win over Kansas now. It's been a long time since UM was good at basketball—you gotta go back to my first years in grad school—I got there the same year as the Fab Five. Good times. OK, bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Writer Moore Moorehead / FRI 3-29-13 / Isle near Mull / Matsuhisa celebrity chef / My Name Is Earl co-star Suplee / Second-simplest hydrocarbon / Autodom's ZR1 for one / Whom Turkey's Weeping Rock is said to represent / Annie characters / Cackling loon with white coat

    Friday, March 29, 2013

    Constructor: Josh Knapp

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Battle for WORLD DOMINATION (36A: Goal for many a 26- or 43-Across)—

    26A: Cackling loon with a white coat (MAD SCIENTIST)
    43A: Mighty heavy (SUPER-VILLAIN)

    Word of the Day: NOBU Matsuhisa (32D: ___ Matsuhisa, celebrity chef and restaurateur) —
    Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa (松久 信幸 Matsuhisa Nobuyuki; born March 10, 1949) is a celebrity chef and restaurateur known for his fusion cuisineblending traditional Japanese dishes with South American (Peruvian) ingredients. His signature dish is black cod in miso. Nobu Los Angeles ranked 13th in the Elite Traveler World's Top Restaurants Guide 2012. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    We are taking care of a little dog this week—in addition to the two bigger dogs we already own. This is her first night here and she is not at all comfortable being out of her element yet. She also has this "thunder vest," which is just a piece of dog clothing that hugs her body and keeps her calm. She seems like a pretty mellow dog, so I guess the vest really works. Still, she is up and down and up and down (I can hear her upstairs now in my daughter's room, all paws and jangling collar, having trouble getting settled). It's awfully distracting. I tell you all this as a way to try to explain why I spent the first two minutes of my solving time tonight absolutely spinning my wheels. Yes, I blame the dog. Actually, I don't know what kept me from getting my head into the game. The first few minutes were a total train wreck. Or free fall. Or choose your metaphor. And then ... I was done. And I don't really know what happened in between stuck and done. Even when I tried to retrace my steps, I couldn't quite remember how I finished. I drifted aimlessly for what felt like ever, then got some traction, then five minutes later I was done. So how difficult was this? No idea. My time says slightly harder than average. But my experience was "impossible" followed by "piece of cake." So I split the difference.

      After stumbling around for a bit, I finally wrote in AWNS at 31D: Stiff bristles and then figured out THE / NBA very quickly (35A: With 40-Across, "Inside ___" (postgame show)). Somehow, between THE and NBA, I was able to creep into the middle of the grid. Actually, I think finally seeing (and instantly getting—why didn't I see it earlier?) OBOE (7D: Strauss wrote a concerto in D for it) was also instrumental. Got NIOBE off that B (15A: Whom Turkey's Weeping Rock is said to represent), then guessed TNN (4D: "Larry's Country Diner" channel), got THROB (4A: Beat), and then "got" BENEFITING (which I eventually changed to BENEFICIAL) (8D: Doing good). Yes, working from little answers in E, W, and N, I was finally able to get the grip I needed to throttle this thing. Then, strangely, clues that seemed inscrutable suddenly became obvious. Everything except GRAPE SHOT (33D: Small cannon balls) —never heard of that. Overall, this grid looks very nice, and the "theme" (such as it is), is entertaining, and pretty well-hidden. I mean, those theme clues are heavy on the misdirection (the first seems avian, the second adjectival). There's maybe a bit too much contemporary throwaway pop culture here. "Larry's Country Diner" *and* Lindsay LOHAN (57A: "I Know Who Killed Me" star, 2007) *and* ETHAN Suplee (whom I know by sight but not at all by name—if he were solidly xword-famous, we'd've seen SUPLEE in a puzzle by now) (47A: "My Name Is Earl" co-star Suplee)? You want your puzzles to feel modern and fresh, but not cheaply so. But all these answers were gettable via crosses (and LOHAN is legit famous, at any rate), so I didn't find the poppy stuff too distracting. Very disappointed with myself for not getting ALAN straight off (20A: Writer Moore or Moorehead). Never heard of ALAN Moorehead, but I've been reading a huge stack of papers on ALAN Moore's Watchmen, and still his name didn't even occur to me here. I'm so not used to his being referred to as, simply, a writer, though that is certainly what he is.

      Best clue: [One preparing an oil pan?] => ART CRITIC. "Letteral" clues often mean an uptick in email for me, so I'll just explain straight out that ["Annie" characters] => ENS refers to the letter "N," which appears twice in the word "Annie."

      Good day.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Impressionist Frank / THU 3-28-13 / 1974 John Carpenter sci-fi film / Waikiki warbler / Jar of Hearts singer Christina /Best-selling thriller author Daniel

        Thursday, March 28, 2013

        Constructor: Randolph Ross

        Relative difficulty: Challenging

        THEME: THIRTEE(NC)OLONIES — state abbrevs. for the thirteen colonies are hidden in squares throughout the grid. Inhabitants of those colonies (white ones, anyway), became AMERICAN CITIZENS, I guess, after 1776 (35A: Fourth of July celebrants).

        Word of the Day: Christina PERRI (21D: "Jar of Hearts"  singer Christina) —
        Christina Judith Perri (born August 19, 1986) is an American singer-songwriter and musician from Philadelphia. Her song "Jar of Hearts" charted in the United States after it was featured on the Fox television show So You Think You Can Dance in 2010. Rolling Stone named her the "Band of the Week" on October 26, 2010. On May 10, 2011, Perri's "Jar of Hearts" was featured in the "Prom Night" episode of Fox musical series Glee; the following month, it was featured in the episode "Dance Amongst Daggers" of ABC Family drama Switched at Birth. Perri recorded the song "A Thousand Years" for the film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (2011) and it appears on the accompanying soundtrack. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        I've seen state postal code puzzles like this before—more elaborate and more interesting ones. Not that this wasn't somewhat fun to piece together. Lots and lots of "d'oh" moments as I tried and finally succeeded at pushing my way through all the stuck places. Figuring out "NC" was at the heart of the puzzle was a Big breakthrough, as before that I had the group as THIRTEEN ... OLD something? But "old" was in the clue, so ... I had no idea. Wanted "colonies," but it "didn't fit." Until it did. Most of the other state abbrevs. weren't that hard to come up with once I figured out the theme, which actually happened fairly early. But there was a lot WTF-ery in the fill, esp. in the Proper Noun category. Didn't know either CALIENDO (44A: Impressionist Frank) or SILVA (42D: Best-selling thriller author Daniel ___), so luckily that "I" was totally inferrable. "DARK STAR"? (19A: 1974 John Carpenter sci-fi film)?? Never heard of it. But again, pretty easy to guess / get from crosses. Worst section of the puzzle for me, though, involved this PERRI person. Didn't know OSCINE (though I'm pretty sure I've seen it before) and didn't know PERRI, so RECUR (31A: Come and go) was actually the hardest word in the puzzle for me to get. I hadn't gone back and counted yet, but I thought another colony might be involved. I had OSSINE and RESU(ME) and ... I guess that would've made her name PERMEI ... why not? Seems as plausible as PERRI. I was *stunned* to find out PERRI was contemporary. "Jar of Hearts" is a really awkward-sounding song name, and since it was clear she was only in this puzzle because her name was weirdly spelled, I assumed she was going to be of the bygone variety of entertainer. I mean, if your most famous song is "Jar of Hearts," and I've never heard of it, you must be from some other generation. Which is true. Just ... a generation *younger* than me. Not older. It begins.  I guess now if you have one song that went to #17 (?), you can be in the puzzle?  Still, any way you cut it, PERRI is cruddy fill, and proximity to OSCINE was nasty. FORK OVER was pretty nice, though (4D: Pay), and given the severe strictures of the theme, I'd say this came out OK. Mild thumbs-up.

        Wow. Listening to "Jar of Hearts" right now. I have never heard a word or note of this song. I guess this is what happens when a song is famous mainly for being featured on TV shows / movies I have no interest in watching. In fact, if you ever catch me watching "So You Think You Can Dance," you'll know it's time to put me down. You hear that, honey? Down!

        • 13A: Waikiki warbler (DON HO) — "ON HER Majesty's Secret Service" was the thing that tipped me off that something weird was afoot. SCATHE / SCOTTS confirmed it. But back to "NH"—I put in "ON HER" and then thought "what in the world could have an 'NH' in that position?" And here you go. Ho.
        • 22A: Inarticulate comebacks (OHS) — "Inarticulate??" I beg to differ. Oh yes I do. 
        • 42A: Priebus's predecessor as Republican Party chairman (STEELE) — he's now a punching bag at MSNBC. Still, way more likable and far better at that chairman job than Priebus is, that's for sure.
        • 55A: Cheerleader's asset (SPIRIT) — I had 50D: Heed the alarm as RISE (not the correct ARISE) and (thus?) I had this answer as SPLIT. It's *almost* a perfectly good answer.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Pontiac's tribe / WED 3-27-13 / Jungle vines / Ring separator / Hidden water menace / Ole Miss rival / Auto additive with red oval logo / Where some commuter drink

        Wednesday, March 27, 2013

        Constructor: David J. Kahn

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

        THEME: Elevators — circled letters spell out inventor the elevator, OTIS. Two OTISes going down, two OTISes going up, and then a revealer: UPS AND DOWNS (25D: Vicissitudes of life, as for the the inventor named in the circled squares?)

        Word of the Day: LIANES (29D: Jungle vines) —
        [More commonly LIANAS]
        Any of various climbing, woody, usually tropical vines.

        [Alteration of French liane, probably from lier, to bind, from Old French. See liable.]

        Read more:
        • • •

        Er ... didn't like this one much. I can see, in retrospect, that the theme is cute in its way: elevators, up and down, OTIS SITO SITO OTIS, what not. But between the asymmetrical, scattered circles and the ultra-choppy grid and the Olde Schoole fill, it was a bit of a mess to look at, and solve. The circles and chopped-up middle of the grid, with all the segments and black squares, made the whole thing too busy. Made my eyes tired just to look at it. I couldn't get traction anywhere at first, and then when I did, I kept running into UGH-y and/or dull stuff with lots of Es and Rs in it. The TERSER AXER and the TIERED REFEREE, the alt-spelled LIANES, ANI and ASI, UPI and UBI, and the REY of them all, ONERS. This puzzle is all theme—everything else suffers for the visual gag. I admire the theme concept, but ... Not on my wavelength, and not my cup of tea. A very old-feeling puzzle. (I mean, Irving Bacheller? EBEN Holden? That one hasn't been out of mothballs in ages).

        Theme answers:
        • 3D: Cookers for chickens and franks (ROTISSERIES)
        • 34D: Bank customer, at times (DEPOSITOR)
        • 7D: Ignores others' advice (HAS IT ONE'S OWN WAY)
        • 9D: Stocks in great demand (HOT ISSUES)

        Cluing on this is another weakness. It's both dull and vague, most of the time. Or it's imprecise. 35A: What you may call it? (NOUN). You *may* call "it" that, but you're more likely to call it a PRONOUN, because that is what "it" is. Most of the rest of the clues are one or two words, and feel like they were pulled from among the most common clues in a database. No imagination, no sparkle. It would be nice if some effort were put into making the whole grid entertaining, not just the theme parts. When [Ring separator] is by far your most interesting clue, there's a problem. As I look over the clues and the grid ... there just isn't much to say. Uh, let's see ... I thought [Start of school?] was ESS. It was PRE. Nope, that's not interesting ... I've never heard of HOT ISSUES (9D: Stocks in great demand) in the context of stocks, so that's something new ... but still not interesting. I give up. See you tomorrow.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          Thor's archenemy in comics / TUE 3-26-13 / Title Seuss character who speaks for trees / Wow you're regular expert at turning left / Bears legend Walter / Classic video game consoles

          Tuesday, March 26, 2013

          Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Doug Peterson

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

          THEME: WOW! — Idiomatic expressions of surprise, clued literally (i.e. absurdly)

          Word of the Day: GLENDA Jackson (62A: Jackson with two Best Actress Oscars) —

          Glenda May JacksonCBE (born 9 May 1936) is a British Labour Party politician and former actress. She has been a Member of Parliament(MP) since 1992, and currently represents Hampstead and Kilburn. She previously served as MP for Hampstead and Highgate. After constituency changes for the 2010 general election, her majority of 42 votes was one of the closest results of the entire election.[1]
          As an actress, she won two Academy Awards for Best Actress: for Women in Love (1970) and A Touch of Class (1973). (wikipedia)
          • • •

          Hey, I know these guys. Seriously, I know them. We had dinner a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn. So I would recuse myself, but this isn't the damned Supreme Court, so I'm going to say what's obvious, which is this puzzle is fantastic. Everything a Tuesday should be but somehow rarely is—bright, playful, entertaining, interesting, and easyish. And today, also a little bit ridiculous. I mean, some of these theme clues are hilariously absurd. I think my favorite is "Wow, you're a regular expert at turning left!" This fusty, archaic thing I know from crosswords (i.e. GEE = turn-left command to a horse) all of a sudden becomes charming in this ridiculous-clue context. The theme clues are my favorite part, but even if you leave them aside and consider only the grid, the puzzle still rules. All those exclamations look great, as do THE LORAX (14A: Title Seuss character who speaks for trees) and ROADKILL (67A: Animal that's been run over); the long Downs are more than solid; and there's hardly any junky fill anywhere. Plus you've got OMG as a nice little bonus theme answer (44A: Texter's expression of surprise). Great work.

          Theme answers:
          • 17A: "Wow, he survived!" ("MAN ALIVE!")
          • 26A: "Wow, you're a regular expert at turning left!" ("GEE WHIZ!")
          • 38A: "Wow, those reptiles have mad hops!" ("LEAPIN' LIZARDS") — ICYDK: "mad hops" is basketball slang for "amazing jumping ability"
          • 52A: "Wow, look at that bovine idol!" ("HOLY COW!")
          • 64A: "Wow, I'm standing next to Mr. Clooney himself!" ("BY GEORGE!")

          I had three detectable hold-ups during this solve—all Downs, all in the south. First one happened with the drain sound, GURGLE (50D: Sound of draining water). Had the -GLE, and wanted GURGLE, but then second-guessed myself, mainly because I feared I might be making that word up. "GURGLE ... is GURGLE a word?" Your (my) brain does this sometimes at relatively high speeds, and by "does this" I mean "jams." Next problem was with "I READ YOU" (40D: "Understood"), which (like GURGLE) is a great answer, but when you're coming at it from the top, looks like "I REALIZE" or "REASON" or something. I mean, those aren't good / don't fit, but the three-word phrase just wasn't visible to me til I got that terminal "U." Lastly, and worst of all, was NOT ANY (46D: Zero). Again, came at it from the top, and wanted ... NOTHING, but that' wouldn't fit ... then NOBODY (as in "he's a zero, he's a NOBODY), but that gave me nonsensical BEED at 58A. Ended up having to come at it from underneath via SWEATY GLENDA and PAYTON (sexy!).
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


            Rapper in film 21 Jump Street / MON 3-25-13 / Frederick who composed My Fair Lady / Once-in-lifetime pilgrimage / Autobahn auto / Olympian sledder / Father biblically

            Monday, March 25, 2013

            Constructor: Adam Prince

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

            THEME: CAPTAIN (37A: Title that can precede the starts of 17-, 23-, 49- and 59-Across)

            Theme answers:
            • 17A: Recipe holders (COOK BOOKS)
            • 23A: Irregular trial venue (KANGAROO COURT)
            • 49A: "The Shawshank Redemption" actor (MORGAN FREEMAN)
            • 59A: Basketball scoring attempts that are difficult to block (HOOK SHOTS)

            Word of the Day: ICE CUBE (10D: Rapper in the film "21 Jump Street") —

            O'Shea Jackson (born June 15, 1969), better known by his stage name Ice Cube, is an American rapper, record producer, actor, screenwriter, film producer, and director. He began his career as a member of the hip-hop group C.I.A. and later joined N.W.A (Niggas With Attitudes). After leaving N.W.A in December 1989, he built a successful solo career in music, and also as a writer, director, actor and producer in cinema. Additionally, he has served as one of the producers of the Showtime television series Barbershop and the TBS seriesAre We There Yet?, both of which are based upon films in which he portrayed the lead character.
            Cube is noted as a proficient lyricist and storyteller and is regarded as a brutally honest rapper; his lyrics are often political as well as violent, and he is considered one of the founding artists in gangsta rap. He was ranked #8 on MTV's list of the 10 Greatest MCs of All Time, while fellow rapper Snoop Dogg ranked Ice Cube as the greatest MC of all time. ranked him #11 on its list of the "Top 50 Greatest MCs of Our Time." Allmusic has called him one of hip-hop's best and most controversial artists, as well as "one of rap's greatest storytellers." In 2012, The Source ranked him #14 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            Theme is basic and pretty dull, but the grid is wonderful, especially for a Monday (if you ignore EOCENE, which is always terrible—22A: Epoch when mammals arose). There's some mild Scrabble-f***ing going on with that "Q" and that "J", but no harm done. Lots of interesting fill, including, most notably, "SCREW IT!" (42D: "Ugh, who cares?!"). I am mildly stunned that this is now acceptable crossword fare. Pleasantly stunned, but stunned nonetheless. Swear words! KABOOM! It's a whole new world. Pass the GUACAMOLE (33D: Super Bowl bowlful).

            [3D: "Craps player's boast" ("I'M ON A ROLL!")]

            I was done pretty quickly today, but Yet Again lost 10-20 seconds hunting down a stupid typo. I am lucky that tournament solving is done on paper, because I would have errors left right and center if those competitions required keyboard entry of answers. And of course the typo was at the *bottom* of the grid: HHOKSHOTS crossing FRHTH. Sure. That's plausible. Idiot. Besides that self-inflicted wound, my biggest hindrance today was, ironically, ICE CUBE. Usually the rap clue is the thing that gives me traction, the gimme, Old Reliable, but today I saw "21 Jump Street" and (of course) thought TV show ... Johnny Depp was not a rapper. That other big white dude was not a rapper. What's her name ... Holly Robinson Peete? Is that right? Yes, it is. Still, not a rapper. But even if I were thinking of the movie (which I saw), I don't think it would've helped. It's a weird, weird way to clue ICE CUBE, who is legitimately famous for lots of movies and songs and albums. He's not one of the two main stars of "Jump Street." I don't even remember which role he played. Of course I saw the movie on a 13 hour flight from L.A. to Auckland, so I might not have been the most attentive watcher, but still—weird clue. And it held me up. Not a lot. But some. That LOEWE dude held me up slightly too, but that's *much* more understandable (58A: Frederick who composed "My Fair Lady").
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              KNO3 in Britain / SUN 3-24-13 / Baja vacation spot informally / Tolstoy O'Neill heroines / Traditional enemies of Kiowa / Tellico Dam agcy / Two-time ice-skating medalist Brian / 1994 film based on SNL skit / 1804 symphony that includes funeral march

              Sunday, March 24, 2013

              Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

              Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

              THEME: "You'll Know It When You See It" — famous people's answers to the question "WHAT IS ART?" (67A: Classic question answered six times in this puzzle)

              Theme answers:
              • 24A: Answer to 67-Across, per John F. Kennedy ("THE GREAT DEMOCRAT")
              • 32A: Answer to 67-Across, per Yeats ("BUT A VISION OF REALITY")
              • 49A: Answer to 67-Across, per Malraux ("A REVOLT AGAINST FATE")
              • 88A: Answer to 67-Across, per Beethoven ("SELFISH AND PERVERSE")
              • 107A: Answer to 67-Across, per Nietzsche ("THE PROPER TASK OF LIFE")
              • 116A: Answer to 67-Across, per Emerson ("A JEALOUS MISTRESS")

              Word of the Day: HORAE (68D: Greek goddesses of the seasons) —
              Horae ('), in Greek religion and mythology, goddesses of the seasons; daughters of Zeus and Themis. Although they controlled the recurrence of the seasons, they also attended other gods and had no cults of their own. The number and names of the Horae differed from region to region. According to Hesiod, there were three Horae-Eirene or Irene (peace), Dice or Dike (justice), and Eunomia (order).

              Read more:
              • • •

              First, the title of this puzzle refers to porn, not art. Actually, not porn exactly, but obscenity. One of the better known phrases in U.S. Supreme Court history. Anyway, not terribly apt. Second, I wouldn't call "WHAT IS ART?" a "classic question." "IS IT ART?," yes. That is a question. A commonly occurring question you can find all over the place. "WHAT IS ART?" is "classic" only insofar as Tolstoy wrote an essay with that title, I guess. I'm nitpicking a bit, but when you hang your whole puzzle on this stuff, it better hold. My main issue with the puzzle, though, is that the answers are essentially a series of aphorisms or bumper stickers or email sig file quotations or motivational posters. Beethoven's quote is kind of interesting, and Kennedy's has at least a little bit of non-hackneyed flavor to it, but the others are a blur of banality and vagueness posing as wisdom. In short, they're just boring. Now, they were not easy to pick up always, which means that at least at the level of solving, I was not always bored. That is to say, I was sufficiently challenged. And the fill, in general, is really quite solid. Fine, clean work. But the theme just doesn't have any sparkle.

              I had one major (and I mean Major) sticking point in this solve. DISH for FISH, LEO- for UNI- (75D: Lead-in to -tard), and thus SELDO- opening the Beethoven quote. Naturally, I figured the phrase was SELDOM something. And there I sat. When everything else was done, there I sat. And sat. Now it turns out I was misreading the clue at 68D: Greek goddesses of the seasons (HORAE). I kept reading it as singular. Had I processed the damned plural, it is Highly likely H---E would've led me to HORAE. But I saw singular, and thus could do nothing. Also --DUP for 84D: Reach, with "at"? Just nothing. A huge blank. Would not compute. Eventually, I somehow decided 83A: KNO3, in Britain could be NITRO. This did the trick (I mean, it's NITRE, but NITRO got me unjammed). I looked at what I had for the Beethoven: SELDISH AND PERVERSE. Then had my big "d'oh!" moment. FISH does make better sense than DISH for 89D: Menu heading, but I never questioned it. Saw -ISH, wrote in DISH. The end. Almost. Everything else in the grid seemed to be clued at average to slightly above-average difficulty, but the real problem was that the theme answers were the sort you had to hammer out from crosses, which meant that you couldn't move very easily or freely from section to section. I had to keep pulling up stakes and moving to new sections where I had nothing, instead of building on existing answers. This was the source of all my pre-freefall difficulty.

              • 5A: Tolstoy and O'Neill heroines (ANNAS) — familiar with the first (from one of my favorite novels), not so familiar with the second.
              • 19A: Baja vacation spot, familiarly (CABO) — San Lucas. The very name reminds me of Sammy Hagar. Maybe he owns a restaurant there? I don't know. But my brain feels there is some connection. Aha. Yes. Cabo Wabo.
              • 58A: Oranges and lemons (TREES) — an old trick I fell for badly. Needed many crosses to pick up this should've-been-easy answer.
              • 60A: 1994 film based on an "S.N.L." skit ("IT'S PAT") — love Julia Sweeney, but this character was Never my favorite.
              • 70A: Camera shop item, informally (ZOOM) — without the "Z," not the easiest answer to pick up.
              • 122A: Iona College athlete (GAEL) — Go GAELs! Oh, too late, they just got crushed by Ohio State. Better luck next year GAELs!
              • 2D: Mediterranean salad with bulgur wheat, chopped tomatoes and parsley (TABOULI) — no excuse for blanking on this one. Had the T- and terminal -I and could think of nothing but TAHINI, which I knew wasn't it. Ugh. Stupid brain.
              • 13D: Like most Bluetooth headsets (ONE-EAR) — 'Cause STUPID-LOOKING wouldn't fit.
              • 14D: As easy as pie, say (SIMILE) — I can't be the only one who had SIM- and wrote in -PLE. I just can't.
              • 25D: 1804 symphony that includes a funeral march ("EROICA") — one of the first pieces of classical music I ever heard played live. A very common 6-letter answer.
              • 63D: Traditional enemies of the Kiowa (OSAGE) — I had OTAMI, by which I think I meant OTOMI, which I only just learned the other day, and which is All Kinds of Wrong.
              • 72D: Christiansen who founded Lego (OLE) — literally ugh-ed at this one. For some reason I resent having to know this guy's name. I just don't think he's famous. And look, you put OLE in your puzzle, just cop to it. Quit trying to make it Euro-fancy.
              • 108D: Two-time Olympic ice-skating medalist Brian (ORSER) — he was an UNSER for a bit. Sports-wise, that answer was way, way, way off.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

              P.S. an important update on my post from last week about reader Jen CT and her efforts to raise money for her new service dog—readers of this blog were so generous that in less than four days (!?!) her $9500 funding goal had been met. The people at NEADS wrote me to tell me they'd never seen such an overwhelming response to a fundraising drive. They also invited me to visit their facility in central Massachusetts, where I am told there is a "house full of puppies," which means that if I go, I may never return. If this blog goes dark, you'll know why: I am in the puppy house and I am never ever leaving. Anyway, Jen and NEADS and I thank all of you who donated to her cause. Jen wanted me to inform everyone that, unfortunately, her first service dog Ollie was not a good match for her, but a new dog is being trained as we speak, and Ollie will find the human he's meant for, so things are fine. Better than fine. To anyone who meant to contribute but never got around to it, Jen's raising money toward the cost of an accessible van here. Again, your generosity was truly astonishing. Thank you.


              Spiral-horned antelope / SAT 3-23-13 / 1920-24 owner of Metro Pictures / Shogunate capital / View from Biancavilla / One of reality TV's Guidettes / American Scholar speech giver / Creator of heroine Catherine Earnshaw / Name on London Hall / English Channel feeder / 10th century European king

              Saturday, March 23, 2013

              Constructor: David Steinberg

              Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

              THEME: none

              Word of the Day: EXE (36A: English Channel feeder) —
              The River Exe (pron.: /ˈɛks/ eks) in England rises at Exe Head, near the village of Simonsbath, on Exmoor in Somerset, 8.4 kilometres (5 mi) from the Bristol Channel coast, but flows more or less directly due south, so that most of its length lies in Devon. It reaches the sea at a substantial ria, the Exe Estuary, on the south (English Channel) coast of Devon. Historically, its lowest bridging point was atExeter, though there is now a viaduct for the M5 motorway about 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the city centre. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              Hey, I know this kid. I saw him in Brooklyn earlier this month, and he seems busy. He's got a puzzle in "Twenty Under Thirty"—the collection of puzzles by young constructors, for which I was a judge, which just came out (get it here)—he's got a puzzle in "American Red Crosswords"—the Hurricane Sandy benefit collection that I put together (get it here)—and his work on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project (digitizing NYT puzzles going back to 1942) continues apace. In fact, earlier this evening, I was editing a conversation between me and Matt Gaffney (about a Sunday puzzle from 1989) that will appear on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project's website some time in the near future. It's a wide-ranging, occasionally ridiculous conversation about puzzles, then and now. Look for it. But back to David—all this crossword stardom and he's still just a teenager. This puzzle has its strong places and its weak places. The toughest place—the place where I started, flailed, and ended (flailing)—was also the prettiest: the NW corner. That is one nifty stack of 11s. Its symmetrical counterpart is solid, if not quite as stunning. The other corners, I had less love for. URI RES OLAFI and EXE kind of deflated my love for the NE; and while the SW is better, it's a little generic. Plus, I generally try to keep EGG SACS as far away from my MOON PIEs as possible.

              NW was hardest because 1A: "Another Cinderella Story" co-star, 2008 meant *nothing* to me. I know who SELENA GOMEZ is (I have a 12-year-old daughter), but that movie title could've been any movie title. In fact, that whole corner didn't even begin to open up until I got the "Z" from ZEALOUSLY. Then OOZE. Then I saw ARIZONA (though I thought it was YUMA, at first, not MESA). Then MNO (9D: 6 string ). Then, and only then, did I get GOMEZ. After that, completely unknown ABRAM (6D: Norm of "This Old House") and barely known and somehow unforgotten NYALA (5D: Spiral-horned antelope) finally came into view, and the corner resolved itself. Before that, no real struggles—just a steady Saturday stroll. Started with RONA, then ON GOAL and LOEW (34D: 1920-24 owner of Metro Pictures) came together almost simultaneously, and from there the middle opened up. Weird. I don't usually get my first traction in the middle of a grid, but that's what happened. Needed help to remember stupid Euro-rivers (EXE, ORNE [Neighbor or Eure-et-Loir]) and Euro-provinces (on cantons, I guess—URI), and I had a few wrong answers that held me up: many different channels before AMC at 24A: Channel with the tagline "Story matters here"; COS before COT (64D: Trig function); GOES before DOES (35A: Gets along); ULM for URI (16A: It's bisected by the Reuss River); and the only-a-constant-solver-and-idiot-could-make-that-mistake mistake: scenic Sicilian ENNA instead of the much more obvious and common Mt. ETNA (10D: View from Biancavilla).

              NOTE: 9D: 6 string is MNO because that is the "string" of letters on the "6" button on your phone. I get more mail about phone keyboard clues than virtually any other kind of clues, and so I'm hoping, perhaps futilely, to pre-unclog my Inbox with this note. Thank you.

              • 15A: Creator of the heroine Catherine Earnshaw (EMILY BRONTË) — nooooo idea. But got the whole answer off just a few letters on the back end. 
              • 21A: Name on a London hall (ALBERT) — first guess, ended up right. Very useful in Saturday puzzles.
              • 43A: Bearers of bright red anils (YEWS) — I have resigned myself to never remembering being able to keep ANIL and ARIL straight. Such is my lot.
              • 53A: Shogunate capital (EDO) — certified Old Skool crosswordese. Gimme.
              • 57A: One of reality TV's "Guidettes" (SNOOKI) — not "Guid-" as in "TV Guide," but "Guid-" as in "Guido." I've never seen the show, but I put SNOOKI in a puzzle once. I think she got edited out.
              • 66A: Epitome of dedication, in modern usage (REAL TROOPER) — this is cute. 
              • 67A: Either of two cousin Udalls: Abbr. (SEN.) — me: "Are they both named MOE?" No. Neither. One is Mark (CO). One is Tom (NM). 
              • 2D: "The American Scholar" speech giver (EMERSON) — I was desperately trying to remember H.L. MENCKEN's name. Turns out I was thinking of "The American Mercury." That's what's called Knowing Too Much And Too Little Simultaneously.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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