Nickname of Haiti's Duvalier ousted in 1986 / TUE 4-30-13 / Huckster's pitch / First capital of California / Stimpy's TV pal / Itchy dog's woe

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: NO TWO SOUND ALIKE (40A: What's odd about the ends of the answers to the four starred clues) — last words of the theme answers all have the last same three letters, yet are all pronounced differently:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *Triumphs, but barely (WINS BY A NOSE)
  • 21A: *First capital of California (SAN JOSE)
  • 54A: *Nonfatal amount of radiation, say (LOW DOSE)
  • 64A: *Huckster's pitch ("YOU CAN'T LOSE")

Word of the Day: BABY DOC Duvalier (18D: Nickname of Haiti's Duvalier, ousted in 1986) —
Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed "Bébé Doc" or "Baby Doc" (born July 3, 1951) was the President of Haiti from 1971 until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986. He succeeded his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, as the ruler of Haiti upon his father's death in 1971. After assuming power, he introduced cosmetic changes to his father's regime and delegated much authority to his advisors, though thousands of Haitians were killed or tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled the country. He maintained a notoriously lavish lifestyle (including a state-sponsored US$3 million wedding in 1980), and made millions from involvement in the drug trade and from selling body parts from dead Haitians while poverty among his people remained the most widespread for any country in the Americas. (wikipedia)
• • •

An interesting observation turned into a puzzle. Why not? This puzzle is solid. So solid it's almost dull. Last two theme answers are interesting, and PEJORATIVE is a nifty-looking word (11D: Disparaging), but not much excitement elsewhere. But on the plus side—no dreck either. Fill is so real and unforced that there's hardly anything to talk about. There were hardly any candidates for "Word of the Day." The whole thing reeks of competence. Actually, the fill isn't entirely without interest—there's a big shot of TEQUILA (24D: Margarita need) right in the middle. I'll take it.

What is there to say about this one? No rough spots, no tough spots, all familiar answers. The only remarkable thing I see here is the clue on SAN JOSE. I grew up in California and had no idea it ever had any capital but Sacramento. Wait wait. Wait. So dogs have LICE (which I suppose is true, though I associate LICE much more with people). And then you LOUSE UP or [Botch] something? Those words are, uh, related, aren't they? If not identical? (singular vs. plural). Yes, one is figurative. Still.

OK, that's all I got. Goodbye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Architect Jones / MON 4-29-13 / Much-advertised vacuum cleaner / Frontiersman Carson / Pioneers' convoy / Treelike creature in Lord of Rings / Grounded trans-Atlantic fliers for short

    Monday, April 29, 2013

    Constructor: C.W. Stewart

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: actors' favorite foods — possessive phrases that rhyme

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: Actor Charlie's favorite food? (SHEEN'S BEANS)
    • 24A: Actress Hilary's favorite food? (SWANK'S FRANKS)
    • 31A: Actress Veronica's favorite food? (LAKE'S CAKES)
    • 45A: Actor Brad's favorite food? (PITT'S GRITS)
    • 50A: Actor Dudley's favorite food? (MOORE'S S'MORES)
    • 63A: Actress Goldie's favorite food? (HAWN'S PRAWNS) 
    Word of the Day: EROSE (22A: Jagged, as a leaf's edge) —
    Irregularly notched, toothed, or indented: erose leaves.

    [From Latin ērōsus, past participle of ērōdere, to gnaw off. See erode.]
    • • •

    Theme is thin and also odd, phrasing-wise. If actor John Hamm's favorite food were yams, under no circumstances would anyone anywhere ever use the phrase HAMM'S YAMS. I like pies, but PARKER'S PIES makes no sense. Possessive does not indicate "favorite." It just makes no sense. Theme also seems like it could be extended forever—actors and foods seem arbitrary. I'd've gone with KITT over PITT, but that's a matter of taste (specifically, my taste for Ks). Oh, I guess you couldn't do KITT'S with this grid as it is since KIT (34D: Frontiersman Carson) intersects it. Still, I probably would've reworked the grid to get KITT. But PITT is fine. Nothing wrong with PITT. Why am I still talking about this? OK, moving on—then there's the fill, which is subpar today. When you have an easy-to-fill grid like this, there shouldn't be so much short / dull / awkward stuff. I could enumerate it, but why? EROSE is bad fill whenever it appears, but on a Monday? No. ANO ANI API OVI. It's a lot to take. The muckiest part is the SE—TNUT and SSTS (61D: Grounded trans-Atlantic fliers, for short) are just tired, but cross them with the unforgivable PSSTS (plural!?), and you have one hell of a mess. The one big bright spot today is I KID YOU NOT. Wonderful. Wish there was more colorful, playful stuff like that.

    MOORE and S'MORE do not rhyme in my world. So that's another thing.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Blood of Greek gods / SUN 4-28-13 / Bygone Chevy van / 1976 album with palindromic title / Sci-fi author del Rey / Author media observer Michael / One-named singing star with surname Adkins / Historic multistory dwellings / Cowpoke moniker

    Sunday, April 28, 2013

    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "Soft T's" — "T" sound changed to "TH" sound in familiar phrases, resulting in wacky phrases, clued "?"-wise.

    Theme answers:
    • 23A: What faking a stomachache might entail? (CREATIVE WRITHING)
    • 30A: Gun belts, holsters and nightstick straps? (THE LEATHER OF THE LAW)
    • 45A: Dismounts like an expert gymnast? (GETS OFF LITHELY)
    • 66A: Women's pants with pictures of woodshop tools (LATHE BLOOMERS) — winner of Most Preposterous Theme Answer Concept award ... not necessarily a bad award to win.
    • 86A: Become a new person by washing up? (BATHE AND SWITCH)
    • 95A: Unpopular ophthalmologist's implement (A SCYTHE FOR SORE EYES)
    • 108A: What the giggling supporter of the Salem witch trials was told? ("NO LAUGHING, MATHER") 
    Word of the Day: LESTER del Rey (71A: Sci-fi author ___ del Rey) —
    Lester del Rey (June 2, 1915 – May 10, 1993) was an American science fiction author and editor. He was the author of many books in the juvenile Winston Science Fiction series, and the editor at Del Rey Books, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey. [...] In 1957, del Rey and Damon Knight co-edited a small amateur magazine named Science Fiction Forum. During a debate about symbolism within the magazine, del Rey accepted Knight's challenge to write an analysis of the James Blish story "Common Time" that showed the story was about a man eating a ham sandwich. // Del Rey was most successful editing with his fourth wife, Judy-Lynn del Rey, at Ballantine Books (as a Random House property, post-Ballantine) where they established the fantasy and science fiction imprint Del Rey Books in 1977. After science fiction gained respectability and began to be taught in classrooms, del Rey stated that academics interested in the genre should "get out of my Ghetto." Del Rey stated that "to develop science fiction had to remove itself from the usual critics who viewed it from the perspective of [the] mainstream, and who judged its worth largely on its mainstream values. As part of that mainstream, it would never have had the freedom to make the choices it did – many of them quite possibly wrong, but necessary for its development." (wikipedia)
    • • •
    Galaxy.Jan56While I don't really understand the title of this puzzle (a play on the word "softies?"), I enjoyed it well enough. One of my editor / proofreader friends suggested to me that the puzzle should not have WRITE in it when it has a play on the word "writing" in the first theme answer, and that may be true, but I didn't notice, and I doubt most others will either, so no harm no foul as far as I'm concerned. Theme answers are all solid and mostly funny. I especially love A SCYTHE FOR SORE EYES, esp. as (understatedly) clued ("unpopular," haha). Caleb and I did a Sunday puzzle last year that used a very similar theme concept, though ours had nothing to do with "T" per se. Just the addition of a "TH" sound to the ends of words (sigh => scythe, Rye => writhe, etc.). Not sure why we didn't use bay => bathe. BATHE LEAVES might've worked. But I digress. This is a well built grid—though the theme is fairly light, there's lots of opportunity for interesting fill throughout the grid because it's been built with so many different banks of 7+-letter answers. This also made it hard to fly around the grid. I kept getting stuck trying to move out of one section and into another, and kept having to reboot. But in the end, there was only one place that threatened to derail me—the very last squares I filled in at the bottom of the grid. Never heard of Bond villain ERNST Stavro Blofeld, never heard of Thomas BERGER (94D: Thomas who wrote "Little Big Man"), and never seen the word TRIOXIDE (to my knowledge) (120A: Arsenic ___ (ratsbane)). Luckily for me TRIOXIDE was totally inferrable, and so the scary unknown proper nouns became plausible-looking names, and bam, Mr. Happy Pencil showed up, and I was done.

    Bunch of names I didn't know today. In addition to ERNST and BERGER, I was baffled by WOLFF (80A: Author/media observer Michael), and (to a lesser extent) HESS (34D: Physiology Nobelist Walter Rudolf ___). On the other hand, I was able to uncover TESH pretty easily (72D: "Music in the Key of Love" composer), aADELE (8D: One-named singing star with the surname Adkins), MITCH Gaylord (68D: Gymnast Gaylord), and LESTER del Rey were all gimmes. Had real issues with CAP'N JESU there in the center-left part of the grid (54A: "___ Andy's Ballyhoo" ("Show Boat" song) + 62A: Bach's "___, meine Freude"). Not at all familiar with the "Show Boat" soundtrack, or with any Bach track that begins "JESU" and does not end "Joy of Man's Desiring." Sorted it all out once I got PUEBLOS (55D: Historic multistory dwellings). I always thought Maya LIN was an architect (43A: Architectural designer Maya). What's the difference between an architect and an architectural designer? Is it that you can't actually dwell inside the stuff she builds? She's probably most famous for the Vietnam War Memorial. Last thing I saw that she did involved massive designs called "earthworks"; hey, there's one in Ann Arbor. Installed while I was there. I had no idea.

    My HONKS were HORNS at first (31D: Rush-hour din). Otherwise, no real gaffes. I liked the clue at 79D: Bygone Chevy van (ASTRO), both because I knew it, and because the phrase "Chevy van" always makes me think of this enjoyably silly '70s song.

    Have a Chevy-van Sunday.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Beefy Provencal stew / 4-27-13 / Character in Unforgiven / Old-time actress Bennett / Ed whose entire 18-season career was with Mets / Biblically named Michigan college / Producers sex kitten / Blouse with sailor collar / Great Seal word

    Saturday, April 27, 2013

    Constructor: Chris A. McGlothlin

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none 

    Word of the Day: DAUBE (7D: Beefy Provençal stew) —
    (Cookery) a braised meat stew
    [from French]
    • • •

    Half easy, a quarter medium, and a quarter brutal. I have to give credit to CAPITAL U (28A: Character in "Unforgiven")—it completely fooled me, down to the Very last letter I entered in the grid (OLIVET / CAPITAL U crossing). It's a cheap trick, but it worked. That's the one answer that really kept me held up in the NE. That and OLIVET (11D: Biblically named Michigan college)—I went to grad school in Michigan and OLIVET, even now that I see it, only vaguely rings a bell. Also, ALEXA Chung? Hosts ... what? (16A: TV host Chung) Seriously, read this and tell me which of those (all British?) shows I'm supposed to know her from. Overreliance on odd names (ULLA?) (8D: "The Producers" sex kitten) mars this puzzle a bit, though overall I think it's reasonably solid. Nowhere near my wheelhouse, and a bit old-skewing, but interesting here and there. Never heard of DAUBE or NOSY PARKER (I had NELLIE) (25D: Snoop) or MIDDY (42D: Blouse with a sailor collar) or ORDER ARMS (51A: Drill command involving a rifle) or ENID Bennett (4D: Old-time actress Bennett). 'EM ALL (36A: "Bless ___" (1941 hit song)) is up there with the most ridiculous fill of all time. KRANEPOOL / KEVIN krossing might very well kill non-baseball fans (30D: Ed whose entire 18-season career was with the Mets + 30A: 2011 All-Star pitcher Correia). Cross-referenced clues normally annoy me, but today both sets helped. Got EMU from the "E" and then picked up EXTRA LARGE rather easily after that. And CEE-LO / GREEN came together with just one or two letters in place (28D: With 33-Across, "The Voice" vocal coach). I think he's a former coach now. I don't watch, but I think that's right. Anyway, I really hope you knew who CEE-LO GREEN was, because his names' crossing in the dead center of the grid could make things very tricky otherwise. West half of the grid was easy, NE (as I said) was hard, and then the SE was somewhere in between. I luckily got LANI, EROS, and SSTS all on the first pass. ORDO (45D: Great Seal word) and MIDDY and the odd DEXTRAL (37D: Right-handed) kept things tough, though. Eventually found my way out and up to the NE. Had to change CENSOR to CENSER, and, later, DAM to TAP, before doing battle with CAPITAL U / OLIVET and eventually finishing the puzzle.

    Very much enjoyed the clue on CINEMA (40D: Its patrons are usually kept in the dark).

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Lee of silent films / FRI 4-26-13 / No-handed skateboarding trick / Marshal Dillon portrayer / Band leader of 1960s / 1985 Dennis Quaid sci-fi film

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Constructor: Michael Ashley

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: LILA Lee (11D: Lee of silent films) —
    Lila Lee (July 25, 1901 – November 13, 1973) was a prominent screen actress of the early silent film era. [...] In 1918, she was chosen for a film contract by Hollywood film mogul Jesse Lasky for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which later became Paramount Pictures. Her first feature The Cruise of the Make-Believes garnered the seventeen-year-old starlet much public acclaim and Lasky quickly sent Lee on an arduous publicity campaign. Critics lauded Lila for her wholesome persona and sympathetic character parts. Lee quickly rose to the ranks of leading lady and often starred opposite such matinee heavies as Conrad NagelGloria SwansonWallace ReidRoscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, and Rudolph Valentino.

    In 1922 Lee was cast as Carmen in the enormously popular film Blood and Sand, opposite matinee idol Rudolph Valentino and silent screen vamp Nita Naldi; Lee subsequently won the first WAMPAS Baby Stars award that year. Lee continued to be a highly popular leading lady throughout the 1920s and made scores of critically praised and widely watched films. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Jumped all over this one. The pop culture was mostly in my sweet spot, and the stuff that wasn't (e.g. LILA Lee) I somehow managed to work around. Weirdly, unlike every other time I've encountered him in my solving history, James ARNESS *helped* me today (3D: Marshal Dillon portrayer). I remembered this name, and he solved my E/A problem at RIELS (19A: Cash in Cambodia). Never saw "The Book of Eli," but know very well who MILA KUNIS is (51A: "The Book of Eli" actress). Don't remember much about "Enemy Mine" except that Louis Gossett Jr. is in it. But I did remember it. Thought of about half a dozen names that could go in 1A: Onetime co-host of "The View," but it turns out I'd completely forgotten about STAR JONES. Seems like a decade since I've heard her name. But, once again, her name was in the database (i.e. my brain), and so the "J" from JAMS alone was enough to get her out onto the grid. Only had two moments of struggle in the puzzle, and they were both brief. Got worried that I wouldn't get into the SW corner—having first two letters of those longer Acrosses didn't dislodge anything. Had to reboot deeper in that corner with SKYE and SRTAS, but then it all came together. Had another brief scare up in the NE, where I finished. Did not know ASH CAKES (though I eventually guessed it once I got the "K") (20A: Some cornbreads), and initially botched two of those three longer Downs. Specifically, went with FLIED OUT and READ ONLY instead of the correct SKIED OUT (?) and EYES ONLY. But the "K" from ALL KINDS gave me ASH CAKES gave me BMOCS (10D: Quad standouts). Then OLLIE was kind of a gimme (18A: No-handed skateboarding trick), and I pieced things together from there. All told, just over 6 minutes of work. As I say, Easy.

    This is a very clean grid, as it should be—it's the maximum word count for themelesses (72), and generally, the higher the word count, the easier the grid is to fill cleanly. There's nothing here that really blows me away or makes me laugh or otherwise stands out as fantastic, but the net effect is good—bouncy answers from a wide variety of knowledge bases, a contemporary feel, and a bare minimum of junk. My one big stupid error of the day was dropping TASMANIA off the TA- at 33D: Land on the Indian Ocean (TANZANIA). For the record, TASMANIA is not "on the India Ocean," but in the heat of the moment, after having dropped the other two long Downs in that corner off just *their* first two letters, TASMANIA felt right. Ballparkish. Wrong, ultimately. But very fixable.

    • 30A: "Forever Your Girl" singer, 1989 (ABDUL) — as in Paula. You may know her only as a former judge on "American Idol." I know her as the singer whose songs *dominated* the charts when I was in college. I have a soft spot for the "Forever Your Girl" album. 
    • 46A: It might be spun around a campfire (TALE) — just finished (re-)reading Charles Burns' "Black Hole," which is a dark comic about adolescence and isolation and contagion. Anyway, there are kids and campfires and an overall slasher-film vibe in many parts of the comic. It is very much worth reading. 
    • 57A: "Band" leader of the 1960s (SGT. PEPPER) — should've gotten this much more quickly (given that I had the SG- beginning), but I was thinking the "Band" was in quotes because it wasn't a musical band, but some other metaphorical kind of band. SGT. SNORKEL came to mind. I think that's from "Beetle Bailey." And doesn't fit. 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Child actress Patten of Song of South / THU 4-25-13 / Spring on African grasslands / Trap in Penobscot Bay / Org meting out justice at Hague / Yukon XL maker for short / When said three times frequent line on Odd Couple / Primitive farming equipment / talks offerers of ideas worth spreading

    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: PRESTO CHANGEO (50A: Magician's phrase ... or a hint to part of 18-, 25-, 34- and 41-Across) — letters in word "PRESTO" appear, mixed-up, inside four theme answers:

    Theme answers:
    • 18A: Classic cartoon in which "Kill da wabbit" is sung to a Wagner tune ("WHAT'S OPERA DOC?")
    • 25A: Onetime presidential candidate on the Forbes 400 list (H. ROSS PEROT)
    • 34A: Travel hassle (AIRPORT SECURITY)
    • 41A: Trap in Penobscot (LOBSTER POT)

    Word of the Day: "WHAT'S OPERA, DOC?"

    What's Opera, Doc? is a 1957 American animated cartoon short in the Merrie Melodies series, directed by Chuck Jones for Warner Bros. Cartoons. TheMichael Maltese story features Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny through a parody of 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularlyDer Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) and Tannhäuser. It is sometimes characterized as a condensed version of Wagner's Ring Cycle, and its music borrows heavily from the second opera Die Walküre, woven around the standard Bugs-Elmer conflict.
    Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What's Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as Bugs and Elmer respectively. The short is also sometimes informally referred to as ''Kill the Wabbit'' after the line sung by Fudd to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", the opening passage from Act Three of Die Walküre (which is also the leitmotif of the Valkyries).
    In 1994, What's Opera, Doc? was voted #1 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by 1000 members of the animation field. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    Sorry, no time to blog this fully this morning. Short review—liked it. Great reveal, and decent-to-great theme answers. Felt much more like a Wednesday than a Thursday, but I'll take a good Wednesday over an awkward, contrived, or weak Thursday any day. I was going to say that there is nothing in this grid that is all obscure or in need of explanation, but then I noticed LUANA (33A: Child actress Patten of "Song of the South"). Wow, that really stands out against the rest of the fill, which is all ordinary words / concepts / names. Except maybe ICC (56D: Org. meting out justice at The Hague). What is that? International Criminal Courts? Yes, but Court. Just Court. Can't remember ever seeing that initialism in a puzzle before. My biggest trouble with this grid was in the little area underneath H.ROSS. Specifically, I had no idea what was in a compote, which I think I was confusing with compost. My first answer was FEAR, which I loved as an answer, but seemed indisputably wrong (FEAR was the result of my having FORT at 32D: Guarded place (POST)). This didn't take that long to clear up, but stands out for requiring any struggle at all. No, wait. I had several different answers at 1D: Squirrel's nuts, maybe (STORE ... STASH ...) before I hit on CACHE.

    OK, I gotta run. See you tomorrow.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Spotted rodent / WED 4-24-13 / Tourist town of Salerno / Jared of Mr Nobody / Ken Olin series about baby boomers / Comedian with 1972 album Class Clown / Astronomical red giant / Belgian city sometimes mispronounced wipers

    Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    Constructor: Clive Probert

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: Tennis — first words of theme answers progress through tennis scores in order:

    • LOVE BOATS (18A: Some cruise ships, informally)
    • FIFTEEN MEN (23A: Start of a song with the cry "Yo-ho-ho")
    • "THIRTYSOMETHING" (34A: Ken Olin series about baby boomers)
    • FORTY-NINER (50A: One who hoped things would pan out?)
    • GAME'S OVER (57A: "You lose!")

    Word of the Day: hooley (36D: Partiers at a hooley => IRISHMEN) —
    hooley, hoolie [ˈhuːlɪ]
    n pl -leys-lies
    Chiefly Irish and NZ a lively party
    [of unknown origin] (
    • • •

    Well the fill is somewhat better today than yesterday, but not by much, and the theme, while conceptually adequate, is broken at the level of execution. First, there is one Love Boat. It is captained by Merrill Stubing and bartended by Isaac Washington. Plural LOVE BOATS is an absurdity. I'm sure there's some attestation for that usage, somewhere, but theme answers should be dead-on in-the-language, and this one just isn't. Further, and more jarringly, "GAME'S OVER" is not an expression. The expression is "GAME OVER!" It comes from video game screens in the '80s, which would give you that message when your last Pac-Man got eaten or whatever. Or maybe it has earlier origins. At any rate, it is a very common expression now, where "GAME'S OVER" .. isn't. Here's the maddening thing: LOVE BOATS and GAME'S OVER are *symmetrical* answers, i.e. if you take the ridiculous "S" out of both of them, they remain the same length and thus still Totally usable as symmetrical theme answers. I have no idea why this clearly superior (and obvious) plan was not pursued (or recommended). I've sent out an inquiry to my constructor friends asking them "why?" I'll let you know what they say, assuming someone replies in the next 20 minutes or so.

    Looks like the upcoming Olympics means that SOCHI is here to stay (30A: Russian city, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics). A couple years back, I would've considered that super-obscure. Now, it's just a word you need to know. Olympics sites = valid. Still, many won't know it, and that will make the "C" virtually impossible to get (31D: Astronomical red giant = C-STAR). AMALFI, on the other hand, is in fact pretty obscure. I know a play called "The Duchess of Malfi," but I've never heard of AMALFI. Or ... I probably have, because it doesn't seem completely alien. I've probably heard or seen it, but I don't think of it as a well-known place (2D: Tourist town of Salerno). It's not bad fill. It's actually kind of unusual and interesting, as opposed to most of the rest of the fill, which is pretty dull. Next to AMALFI is PACA, which is a rodent I know about only from crosswords (1D: Spotted rodent). It's not common, but it's common enough that it's worth knowing (see also ELENI, which is not a rodent—just feels like one) (38D: Nicholas Gage memoir). Nothing else in the puzzle seems terribly problematic. I got "FIFTEEN MEN" confused with "Fifteen Tons," which is actually "Sixteen Tons" (sigh). I had no idea what "Mr. Nobody" was, so it took many crosses before I remembered that there was an actor named Jared LETO (16A: Jared of "Mr. Nobody"). Clue on -STAN was unexpected and kind of nifty. Don't normally stand up for a suffix clue when a perfectly good non-suffix one is available, but there was something cleverish about this clue that I liked. I also like the words THRUM (53A: Dull tapping sound) and EPICURES (55A: Food critics, often). So it's not all bad today.

      ALLO ALLO is ridiculous but made me laugh (20A: Repetitive French greeting). CARLIN very frequently makes me laugh (3D: Comedian with the 1972 album "Class Clown"). I had not idea bolo ties were *legitimately* popular anywhere—my understanding of ARIZONA is now richer than ever. I've heard YPRES pronounced a number of ways: "wipers" (!?) is not one of them (52D: Belgian city sometimes mispronounced as "wipers").
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        City south of Kyiv / TUE 4-23-12 / Nicolas who painted Four Seasons / Bill who co-owns Four Seasons hotel company / Dweller along Mekong

        Tuesday, April 23, 2013

        Constructor: Severin T. Nelson

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

        THEME: Four Seasons — grid includes all of the seasons (each clued as [One of the four seasons]), as well as four different answers related to the phrase "four seasons":

        • 7D: Bill who co-owns the Four Seasons hotel company (GATES)
        • 32A: Nicolas who painted "The Four Seasons" (POUSSIN)
        • 48A: Antonio who composed "The Four Seasons" (VIVALDI)
        • 57D: Frankie of the Four Seasons (VALLI)

        Word of the Day: Nicolas POUSSIN  —

        Nicolas Poussin (French: [nikɔlɑ pusɛ̃]; 15 June 1594 – 19 November 1665) was the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style, although he spent most of his working life in Rome. His work is characterized by clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color. Until the 20th century he remained a major inspiration for such classically oriented artists as Jacques-Louis DavidJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Paul Cézanne.
        He worked in Rome for a circle of leading collectors there and elsewhere, except for a short period when Cardinal Richelieu ordered him back to France to serve as First Painter to the King. Most of his works are history paintings of religious or mythological subjects that very often have a large landscape element.
        • • •

        So, this is a tale of two puzzle elements: the theme and the fill. The theme ... grew on me. I mean, it's half just seasons, so that's dull, but the addition of all the different Four Seasons-related people gave the theme an enjoyably loopy twist. So, good. The fill, on the other hand ... it's just not ready for prime time. This puzzle should've been rejected pending a. a complete overhaul of the non-theme-related fill and b. a refigured grid that is within legal limits (this one is 80 words and the max is 78 ... I'm willing to bend the rules for greatness, but Ho Ly Moly the fill is so bad that there is no excuse for going to 80. The *only* way you ever get to go to 80 is to accommodate some incredibly oddly-demanding theme *while also* making sure the fill is very smooth). I can't enumerate everything that's wrong with the fill, but it's considerable. I'd say something close to half the grid qualifies as crosswordese and/or suboptimal fill. There's suffixes (-ITE, -ENNE, and of course -OON, which always ENDUES me with LOL) and prefixes and partials and more French than I care to shake a stick at. The coup de grace, the piece de resistance, the joie de vivre, is of course the one-essed ODESA (44A: City south of Kyiv). I'm laughing even as I'm typing it. Maybe that can be fill at some point: ONEESS. I mean, if ONE HORSE, why not ONE ESS? Here's the thing—anyone who constructs knows there is No Excuse for how needlessly bad the fill is. The standard for fill now appears to be "someone used it somewhere at some time" or "it's in some database so good enough!" But an editor simply should not allow a poorly filled grid like this one to go out into the world. Take the time to encourage polish, esp. with less experienced constructors. For the love of all that is good and pure in the world. Please. I mean, the theme is cute—the fill should let us appreciate that, not suffocate us in a miasma of mediocrity.

        I like the clue for ITO, mainly because it sounds like a drink order (20A: Midori on the ice).

        Glancing over the dull-as-dishwater clues, I realize I have nothing more to say about this puzzle. Again, there's a spark of imagination in the theme, but you've Gotta set the bar higher where fill is concerned.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          Hole-positioning gadget / MON 4-22-13 / Ugandan site of 1976 Israeli rescue / Automated Web program

          Monday, April 22, 2013

          Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

          Relative difficulty: Medium

          THEME: Bat-to-But vowel progression puzzle —

          • 18A: Louisville Slugger, e.g. (BASEBALL BAT)
          • 24A: Wager that's not made at the site of the race (OFF-TRACK BET)
          • 37A: Hole-positioning gadget (CENTER BIT)
          • 56A: Automated Web program (INTERNET BOT)
          • 62A: By no means (ANYTHING BUT)

          Word of the Day: CENTER BIT —
          A drill bit having a sharp center point, used in carpentry for boring holes.
          • • •

          Found this one pretty dull. Vowel progression puzzles are common, and need to have some damned spicy answers in order to be at all interesting / not reek of antiquity. Today, theme answers are adequate, and they actually get better as the puzzle progresses, but the cluing is ultra-snoozy—perhaps because it's Monday and the cluing needed to be as transparent as possible. Clues are just so literal. [Not made at the site of the race] => OFF-TRACK. [Web] => INTERNET. Plodding and unimaginative cluing combined with just OK theme answers = not much joy in Rexville. Doesn't help that the non-theme fill is from some dusty crossword attic. Perversely, my favorite part of this grid is AAA over RRR. That's some daring stacking. I wonder how far someone could take that idea—stacking triple-letter answers. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

            Puzzle would've been Easy if not for CENTER BIT, which I've never heard of. Needed literally every cross. I know what a bit is, and a drill bit, but not a CENTER BIT. I also briefly blanked on the old-school crosswordese AMAHL (41A: Menotti's "___ and the Night Visitors"). Hate when that happens. That stuff's supposed to be right at my fingertips, but I fumbled it. No big time loss—just 10 seconds or so, probably. Just a loss of pride.

            OK, that's it. Brace yourself for tomorrow's puzzle. The early chatter is ... insane (it was one of the puzzles at the Marbles crossword tournament that took place this past weekend; my friends were ... let's say 'impressed'; yes, that's non-commital enough).
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              Harry Potter librarian Pince / SUN 4-21-13 / Affiliate of AFL CIO / Dinosaur pioneering cartoon short / 1989 John Cusack romantic comedy / Site of Cyclops smithy / Lover of Cesario in Twelfth Night / Puerto Rican city that shares name with explorer

              Sunday, April 21, 2013

              Constructor: Jonah Kagan

              Relative difficulty: Easy

              THEME: "Front Flips" — familiar phrases have their "front" word "flipped," creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

              Word of the Day: UMW (14D: Affiliate of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.) —
              The United Mine Workers of America (UMW or UMWA) is a North American labor union best known for representing coal miners and coal technicians. Today, the Union also represents health care workers, truck drivers, manufacturing workers and public employees in the United States and Canada. Although its main focus has always been on workers and their rights, the UMW of today also advocates for better roads, schools, and universal health care.
              The UMW was founded in Columbus, Ohio, on January 22, 1890, with the merger of two old labor groups, the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union. Adopting the model of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the union was initially established as a three-pronged labor tool: to develop mine safety; to improve mine workers' independence from the mine owners and the company store; and to provide miners with collective bargaining power. After passage of the National Recovery Act in 1933, organizers spread throughout the United States to organize all coal miners into labor unions. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              This is a pretty old theme concept. Seen it many times. Did one myself once, though in my case the theme answers were all actually thematically related as well as word-flipped. Anyway, maybe it's a two-parter and next week's is "Back Flips" because ... why not? If you can do front flips, you can do back flips, flippety flip flip. Flip. Like a dead fish. The fill is OK. I always like when a constructor makes good use of his long non-thematic answers, and this puzzle has a bunch that are quite good: FIRST KISS, PROMISE RING, and "SAY ANYTHING" (an iconic movie from back when movies still had the capacity to be iconic). I need to coin a term for the answer / clue that is so distracting / annoying / irritating / jarring that it takes your head out of the game. Makes you stop and wonder WTF?, possibly aloud. They yank your attention, so ... "Yankers" maybe. Two yankers today. First: UMW. It yanked me for two reasons. One, I've never seen it, that I can recall. When I google [umw], the first hit I get is University of Mary Washington, which sounds made up, and yet, as I say, beats United Mine Workers in a google search. Second, UMW is a perverse answer given the clue. UAW seemed faaaaar more likely, for many reasons, not least because I've actually seen it in grids before. I'm not even sure what "affiliate" means, union-wise. So ... UMW is legit fill, but yankety yank. Yankier still was DISTRO. Are we just making up "words" now. I am inferring that it has something to do with DISTRObution, but ... yikes. Never heard it, never seen it, no-wise. Total yanker. Everything else seems perfectly adequate.

              Theme answers:
              • 24A: Tammany Hall corruption, e.g.? (EVIL FROM NEW YORK)
              • 34A: Try to see what you're getting for Christmas? (PEEK UNDER WRAPS)
              • 45A: Academy for criminals? (PERP SCHOOL)
              • 51A: Journey from the nest to the kitchen, say? (RAT'S TREK)
              • 64A: Hidden drug habit, maybe? (POT SECRET)
              • 76A: Drink greedily? (GULP IT IN)
              • 81A: Playground apparatus of the Apocalypse? (DOOM SWINGS) 
              • 91A: Be a lenient judge? (DIAL DOWN THE LAW)
              • 105A: Maligned merchandise? (REVILED THE GOODS) 

              • 6A: Coolidge's vice president (DAWES) — I can never remember this. There's a newish biography of Coolidge by the very crossworthy Amity SHLAES.
              • 53A: "Arrested Development" character Fünke (TOBIAS) — First, when I got sick I didn't shave, and still haven't, and so look disturbingly like David Cross, who plays TOBIAS Fünke (though he plays him beardless ...). Second, new "Arrested Development" is coming soon to Netflix and I am very excited about this. May 26, 2013. Gonna binge-watch the whole season.
              • 54A: "Harry Potter" librarian Pince (IRMA) — really wanted this to be NEZ.
              • 70A: Psychologist Jean known for his theory of cognitive development (PIAGET) — Pretty sure I know him only because I put him in my own Sunday puzzle last fall. His name sounds fancy, like a car or a time piece.
              • 17D: "___ the Dinosaur" (pioneering cartoon short) ("GERTIE")Winsor McKay! My hero. One of them, anyway.
              • 35D: Site of Cyclops' smithy (ETNA) — bobbled this one, thinking of the name of a classical smithy (i.e. Vulcan???), before realizing "oh, right, *site* ... four letters, starts with "E" ... there we go."
              • 45D: Puerto Rico city that shares its name with an explorer (PONCE) — I know this as pejorative British slang. But this clue is probably better for polite company.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              Kudlow Report airer / SAT 4-20-13 / Naturalist who coined term invertebrate / Its highest rank is Wonsu / Battle with Slum writer / Small meat-stuffed pastries / Thief star 1981

              Saturday, April 20, 2013

              Constructor: David Steinberg

              Relative difficulty: Medium

              THEME: none 

              Word of the Day: PIROZHKI (35D: Small meat-stuffed pastries) —
              Pirozhki (plural form of pirozhok, Russian: пирожок, пирожки, which means a little pirog), sometimes transliterated as pyrizhky from Ukrainian: пиріжки, is a generic word for individual-sized baked or fried buns stuffed with a variety of fillings. The stress in pirozhki is properly placed on the last syllable: [pʲiroʂˈkʲi]. Pirozhok (Russian: пирожок, singular) is the diminutive form of the Russian cognate pirog (Russian: пирог), which refers to a full-sized pie. The Russian plural of this word, pirogi (Russian: пироги, with the stress on the last syllable [pʲiroˈɡʲi][dubious ]), is not to be confused with pierogi (stress on "o" in English and Polish) in Polish cuisine, which are similar to the Russian pelmeni or Ukrainian vareniki. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              An enjoyable struggle. I felt guilty, though, that I was using my vast store of crosswordese to unlock the puzzle. Kind of feels like cheating when stuff like SARD (48D: Reddish-brown quartz) and AH ME (34A: Wistful plaint) and BARI (50D: Adriatic seaport) and RIIS (29D: "The Battle With the Slum" writer) and RETE gets me so much leverage. GOIN' and RETE were enough to get me NEEDLENOSE (19A: Like some pliers), which started me rolling in the NW. I  have "Thief" in my Netflix  queue, so CAAN was a sweet gift from the gods today (24D: "Thief" star, 1981). CAAN got me CAJUNS, which instantly got me JAMBA JUICE (26D: California-based smoothie chain). Once the NW and SW were polished off—grinding halt. Total guess at CNBC (11A: "The Kudlow Report" airer). Tried XENO at 18A: Prefix with phobia before semi-stumbling onto RIAL (16A: Currency whose name can become its counry's name by changing its last letter to an N and scrambling). Then realized that 12D: Singer with the platinum album "Pink Friday" (NICKI MINAJ) was a gimme—a big, fat gimme. But I still couldn't get into the SE. Not from the west (I had no idea about LAMARCK (40A: Naturalist who coined the term "invertebrate") and I couldn't spell PIROZHKI to save my life) and not from the north (RANTAN is not in my vocabulary, and ... well I have no excuse for not getting CALZONE; I had the CA- and the -E. Should've been enough [39D: Trattoria selection]). ETAS and BARI, and then eventually RIMA, were *huge* in my being able to finish this thing off. Finished with the awkward HEAD TO TAIL (the gamut I know goes to the TOE, not the TAIL). I think the kids' book would be more likely to have the phrasing Z IS FOR ZEBRA. Z AS IN ZEBRA (46A: Children's book ending) doesn't make much sense in a children's book context—you're not trying to spell something else, you're showing a zebra. But anyway, that's a minor issue. I mostly really liked this. Perfect Saturday difficulty, lots of interesting longer answers, fine work.

              Perhaps the biggest gimme in the whole puzzle was INDONESIAN (58A: Like Barack Obama's early schoolmates). Many of you were surely able to throw that down without any crosses, as I was. Still took me a lot of work to put that SE corner together, but INDONESIAN definitely helped. Much tougher to uncover KOREAN ARMY (56A: Its highest rank is Wonsu), which I wanted to be some kind of martial art. When BARNEY started to come into view at 13D: Five-time Emmy-winning role, my only thought was MILLER. Which didn't fit. Which puzzled me. I don't think I think of the Emmys as existing back during "The Andy Griffith Show." Odd. NICKI MINAJ and BARNEY FIFE make *awesome* grid companions. That's a couple I'd like to see on the red carpet.

              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              1935-37 home for Hemingway / FRI 4-19-13 / Waitress at fictional Lobo Lounge / New York home of painter Edward Hopper / Giverny's most famous resident / A bientot across the Channel

              Friday, April 19, 2013

              Constructor: Ned White

              Relative difficulty: Medium

              THEME: none 

              Word of the Day: ROY(S) Harris (47A: Composer Harris and others) —
              Roy Ellsworth Harris (February 12, 1898 – October 1, 1979) was an American composer. He wrote much music on American subjects, becoming best known for his Symphony No. 3. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              Nothing very eye-catching or racy here—I don't know why you make a themeless at all if you're not gonna cram it with at least a handful of marquee answers—but solid and sufficiently thorny for a Friday. Short fill definitely lists toward the crappy side (ISL over NTEST over ISTO? The dreaded triple-"S" PSSST?), but there's nothing so objectionable that it took my head out of the game. Not sure why but I think you should get to go to the British well only once per puzzle—for this reason, did not enjoy NOT A RISE (which is how my brain continues to process it) after already suffering through CHEERIO (7D: "A bientôt," across the Channel) (and ROT is kind of pushing its luck, frankly). Though no one part of this puzzle gave me too much trouble, I ran a tad slow today.

              Started off fast with BRATPACKER as a gimme (1A: Rob Lowe was one), and then got the top half of the puzzle done fairly quickly, but could not make any headway down into the south. Total stoppage. Really bummed at myself for not getting 'STRO straight off. For some reason I thought the Giants played in Minute Maid Park (absurd—they play at AT&T Park), and couldn't think of any team member that started with "S." Had no idea about FRASER (34A: British Columbia's longest river). But the biggest obstacle to my progress down the grid was at the bottom of the NE, where I had FAINTING and thus could do Nothing with 37A: It might elicit a shrug (APATHY), as it ended, apparently, -TGY. Second "N" in FAINTING seemed fine, because "Love In A Ball," "Love Is A Ball" ... never heard of either. Eventually figured out my problem, but not before rebooting down below with RACE, MEETS, and MONET (53A: Giverny's most famous resident). Found the SW the hardest to get into. Even with ANGEL in place, I had no idea what the clue was after (51A: Spouse's entreaty starter, perhaps). I considered DEAR ANGEL... at some point. I think the "B" in BEAN ANGEL (which is how my brain continues to process it) was the last letter I put into the grid. Is FRABJOUS from "Jabberwocky" (34D: Splendid, humorously)? I'm not generally a fan of whimsical fake words, though FRABJOUS might have a claim to the "Most Interesting Answer In the Grid" title today. I enjoyed remembering ROSEANNE as the [Waitress at the fictional Lobo Lounge]. That might've been the highlight of my solve.

              • 15A: It reflects radio waves (IONOSPHERE) — entertained NANO- and MONO- before realizing my ridiculousness. 
              • 18A: She said "Don't be humble. You're not that great" (MEIR) — this clue would be So much better with context.
              • 46A: Classic publisher of paperbacks (AVON) — damn straight. I own scores of them. See my other blog, "Pop Sensation," where so far I've written about over 600 of the 2500+ books in my vintage paperback collection.
              • 1D: 1935-37 home for Hemingway (BIMINI) — not even sure where this is. Near Florida? Hey, I'm right
              • 43D: Sponsor of baseball's Relief Man Award (ROLAIDS) — the biggest gimme in the puzzle. I still remember the ads with handlebar-mustachioed Rollie Fingers (who won the award four times). 
              • 52D: New York home of the painter Edward Hopper (NYACK) — I went through a big Hopper phase. I didn't know that I knew NYACK, but got it easily off the -ACK.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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