Muhammad's resting place / WED 7-31-13 / Sleuth played by Lorre / Bathroom fixtures slangily / Bow-toting god / Madeline who played Lili Von Shtupp

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Constructor: H. David Goering

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: City/State combos that can be produced through ONE-HANDED TYPING (52A: See 20- and 34-Across) —

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Southern town whose name is the longest example of 52-Across [on the left] (SWEETWATER, TEXAS)
  • 34A: Midwest town whose name is the longest example of 52-Across [on the right] (UNION, OHIO)

Word of the Day: MASSIFS (1D: Mountainous expanses) —
  1. A large mountain mass or compact group of connected mountains forming an independent portion of a range.
  2. A large section or block of the earth's crust that is more rigid than the surrounding rock and has been moved or displaced as a unit.
[French, massive, massif, from Old French. See massive.]

Read more:
• • •

While this is an interesting bit of trivia, it's not much of a puzzle. Also, the wording on the theme answers feels incomplete. These aren't "the longest/shortest example(s) of ONE-HANDED TYPING";  they're the longest/shortest examples of American towns whose names can be rendered through one-handed typing. Grammatically, this is important. I mean, is SWEETWATER, TEXAS the longest "town" name that can be so formed? Longest *U.S.* town? Or longest "Southern town," as it says, in which case ... ??? The other theme clue features a town that isn't "Southern" at all; it's "Midwest." So parallelism and clarity are lacking. Cluing should be precise; this is sloppy. But even if it were precise, again, the puzzle is weak as a puzzle. Fill is pretty bland and creaky. Feels like it was made on graph paper, and not worked on enough. DARER and ASPIRER? One I could tolerate. Two is absurd. There's also a sense of repetitiveness—SENSATE and SEAGATE are 5/7 identical. ARSENAL is just ARSE without the last three letters. There are OOHS but just one AAH. Lots of R, E, A, S, N, T. SKIRMISH is cool, and the quaint ATHWART has a nice thwacky sound to it. I'm actually happy to learn MASSIF(S) (1D: Mountainous expanses), which I can't remember seeing before.

My "pigs" in blankets were always sausages (not WIENERS, which I think of as hot dogs). But I've only ever experienced them at IHOP, which, as we know, is classier than everywhere else.

  • 19A: Madeline who played Lili Von Shtupp (KAHN) — love her; Lili Von Shtupp was her character in "Blazing Saddles."
  • 25A: Muhammad's resting place (MEDINA) — sounds sort of familiar, but the only MEDINA I know is funky and cold.
  • 32D: Sleuth played by Lorre (MOTO) — That's *Mr.* MOTO, to you. Mr. MOTO is Japanese. Peter Lorre ... isn't.
  • 37D: Bathroom fixtures, slangily (THRONES) — I'm torn. I love slang, but I also love not thinking about someone sitting on the toilet, so ... torn.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Site of Missouri State Fair / TUE 7-30-13 / Martial arts actor Steven / Upholstery materials / Glossy cloth

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Top five greatest songs per "ROLLING STONE" — Just ... famous songs, clued as if they weren't songs + ellipsis + "and #whatever on the list." Magazine title just happens to be embedded within one of the song titles:

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Honor ... and #5 on a list by 40-/46-Across of the 500 greatest songs of all time ("RESPECT")
  • 22A: Fulfillment ... and #2 on the list ("SATISFACTION")
  • 34A: With 40- and 46-Across, mossless? ... and #1 on the list ("LIKE A / ROLLING / STONE")
  • 54A: Casual greeting ... and #4 on the list ("WHAT'S GOING ON?")
  • 61A: Pretend ... and #3 on the list ("IMAGINE")

Word of the Day: SEDALIA (70A: Site of the Missouri State Fair) —
Sedalia is a city located about 30 miles (48 km) south of the Missouri River in Pettis County, MissouriU.S. Highway 50 and U.S. Highway 65 intersect in the city. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 21,387. It is the county seat of Pettis County. The Sedalia Micropolitan Statistical Area consists of Pettis County. Sedalia is the location of the Missouri State Fair and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. On May 25, 2011, a tornado ripped through Sedalia, causing significant damage to much of the southern side of the city. (wikipedia)
• • •

Yep, those songs sure do line up symmetrically. Now that we've all observed this coincidence ... on to Wednesday's puzzle.

As for fill—couple of odd plurals right out of the box in DAMASKS (1A: Upholstery materials) and SLOES, but ICE BLUE KUNG FU is a style I would want to practice if I practiced KUNG FU, so I was in a better mood heading toward the middle. OCCULTIST, I like. Most of the rest of the fill is just OK. I still don't think SEDALIA is a place that has any genuine crossworthiness, but now that I've seen it once (or twice ... maybe), it doesn't give me too much trouble. Still, though, come on, 21K inhabitants. You know, you could've made SEDARIS work there, easily. He's got a best-selling book and everything. He even once wrote a fantastic piece once for The New Yorker called "Turbulence," which was in part about solving a crossword puzzle on an airplane. Here's a taste:
It’s pathetic how much significance I attach to the Times puzzle, which is easy on Monday and gets progressively harder as the week advances. I’ll spend fourteen hours finishing the Friday, and then I’ll wave it in someone’s face and demand that they acknowledge my superior intelligence. I think it means that I’m smarter than the next guy, but all it really means is that I don’t have a life.
As for this puzzle, there's really not much else to say. Five songs. There they are. I enjoy the songs. I enjoy thinking about them, a little. Imagine all the ERASERS / Livin' for SED-AAAAAAA-LI-IIII-I-IA. And good night.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Drag queen in La Cage aux Folles / MON 7-29-13 / Two-character David Mamet play / White House grp that meets in Situation Room / Nightstick carrier / Dizzying designs / Bikini blast briefly / Magazine whose cover has red border

    Monday, July 29, 2013

    Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: [Body part + verb-ING] — compound adjectives formed by body part + present participle of a verb, all clued [Like [some kind of] story]:

    Theme answers:
    • 20A: Like a sweet story (HEART-WARMING)
    • 33A: Like an unbelievable story (EYE-ROLLING)
    • 44A: Like a hilarious story (GUT-BUSTING)
    • 56A: Like a hilarious story (KNEE-SLAPPING)

    Word of the Day: "OLEANNA" (41A: Two-character David Mamet play) —
    Oleanna (1992), a play by David Mamet. [Orpheum Theatre, 513 perf.] Carol (Rebecca Pidgeon), a college student having difficulty in a particular course, goes to John (William H. Macy), her pedantic and somewhat distracted professor, in his office. Their conversation is perfunctory yet Carol, encouraged by a feminist group on campus, later claims sexual harassment charges against John. The twosome's next meeting, in which he tries to get her to drop the charges, goes badly, and by their third conversation the embittered John (who has been denied tenure because of the scandal) lashes out and makes the claims come true. Was John the victim or was Carol? The insightful drama led to stimulating discussion Off Broadway for nearly two years.

    Read more:
    • • •

    The problems with this one should be obvious to you all by now. First, the theme—it's simple and kind of cute, though slightly stale-seeming. But the biggest problem is that the last two theme clues are the same. Either they're all "hilarious" or only one is. Arbitrarily having *two* be "hilarious" while the others aren't just seems sloppy. Make it word with four different kinds of "stories" or don't do it. Also, I'm having trouble imagining calling a story "EYE-ROLLING." I see that folks have done so, but it doesn't Google strongly at all, that phrase, "eye-rolling story." But that's a nit. Let's allow that that is a great entry, or an adequate one, at least. Points still stand: theme is a bit tepid, fourth story should've been something besides "hilarious." But the bigger problem here is how startlingly unclean the fill is. On a Monday? From a very practiced and accomplished Monday constructor who practically signed the puzzle (see 1A)? Semi-inexplicable.

    I practically choked on IGLU (32D: Eskimo home: Var.). That particular spelling should be reserved for moments of sheer desperation, when something great can be salvaged no other way. On a Monday!?!? No way we should be subjected to that. Also, so many partials. Again, this is a Monday, and this is a pro constructor, so what is with the laziness? ABOW? ACAN? ORME? Then there's crossing abbrevs. like DIAM. / INITS and NSC / N-TEST. ABABA can be clued only one boring fill-in-the-blank way (15A: Addis ___, Ethiopia). Putting a not-very-famous fictional drag queen in your puzzle is fine—who doesn't like drag queens?—but here, it's kind of a cheap way to get "Z"s in the puzzle. They're like dazzle camouflage—intended to draw your eye away from the various messes. ZAZA isn't really right for a Monday. This whole puzzle just doesn't have the polish that Andrea usually prides herself on and demands of other early-week puzzles.

    Now that I think of it, I don't care about ZAZA (9D: Drag queen in "La Cage aux Folles"), and I don't care much about the theme or its inconsistencies (my theme expectations on Monday are somewhat low, I think). But I do care about the fill. The theme just isn't demanding or sparkling enough to justify the mediocrity. I do love PAD THAI (7D: Asian noodle dish with peanuts) and TORPEDO, though. Just wish there were more interesting answers, less crosswordese, less short junk.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Garfield waitress / SUN 7-28-13 / Business titan born July 30 1863 / Texas athletic site / Feeling Good chanteuse / NFL owner who moved Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 / He wrote I exits that is all I find it nauseating

      Sunday, July 28, 2013

      Constructor: Andrew Reynolds

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: "Fast Work" — puzzle celebrating HENRY FORD's 150th birthday (5D: Business titan born July 30, 1863) with a tribute to his innovations in mass production, specifically, the ASSEMBLY LINE (57D: 5-Down innovation). Circled letters are added one at a time as you descend the puzzle, going from "M" at the top to, finally, "MODEL T" at the bottom (116A: 5-Down unit). Other assorted theme answers include:
      • 16D: Feature of a 57-Down (CONVEYOR BELT)
      • 62A: Like the 116-Across (MASS-PRODUCED)
      • 78D: 116-Across, colloquially (TIN LIZZIE)

      Word of the Day: Chuck LORRE (94D: "The Big Bang Theory" co-creator Chuck) —
      Chuck Lorre (born Charles Michael Levine; October 18, 1952) is an American television writer, director, producer and composer. Lorre has created many of America's hit sitcoms including Grace Under FireCybillDharma & GregTwo and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory. Lorre also served as an executive producer of Roseanne and Mike & Molly. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Celebrating American capitalism's most notorious anti-semite! Huzzah! Happy birthday, buddy.

      I've been reading a lot of 1923 newspapers lately and speculation about a possible Ford presidential run is rampant. But then Harding dies and Coolidge takes over and there goes 1924. Anyway ... Ford!

      This puzzle was very easy and very loose. There's no real revealer, just a lot of theme entries that are confusingly cross-referenced. I guess HENRY FORD is the closest thing to an anchor in this puzzle, along with the finished MODEL T. Anyway, it's pretty clever, the whole "literally building a MODEL T" aspect of the puzzle. Fill is solid. Clue on LORRE is super-weird—a total outlier, familiarity-wise, compared with every other answer in the grid. You can clue Peter LORRE hard, you know? Not that this LORRE isn't worth inclusion. Those are big shows he's created. It's just nutty to have a name that unfamous in an otherwise phenomenally easy puzzle.

        Really like the pairing of HOMELAND (3D: 2012 Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama Series) and TIMESLOT (83D: Bit of TV real estate)—good answers with both rotational and TV-related symmetry. Also like ART MODELL—the fact of the name in the grid, not the human. I could not care less about the human, ART MODELL. He moved the Browns, so he's usually seen as a kind of villain, except to people who care about the Ravens (the geographically limited few). I suppose he's a hero to them. If they can embrace Ray Lewis, they can embrace anyone (95A: N.F.L. owner who moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996).

        I wrote in METEORITE instead of METEOROID, just like you (or most of you, anyway) (76D: Space rock, maybe). I loved and was a bit flummoxed by the clue on SLEEP MODE (73A: A computer may be in it). Otherwise, this puzzle offered almost no resistance. I finished in under 10—Very Fast for me on a Sunday.

        • 52A: Texas athletic site (ALAMO DOME) — nice answer. This answer helped me change OUTER to the more confrontational OUTED (34D: Exposed).
        • 114A: "Feeling Good" chanteuse (SIMONE) — got this easily, though this is not a song I associate readily with her. I listen to her a lot. Maybe this once just escaped my particular record collection.
        • 47D: He wrote "I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating" (SARTRE) — lots of great, bitchy stuff about SARTRE (and a hell of a lot of other people) in the new book "My Lunches With Orson." Highly recommended.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        P.S. SYNDICATS! Listen up. A message from Brian Cimmet:

        Lollapuzzoola 6 is happening in New York City on Saturday, August 10. A day of all-original puzzles designed just for the tournament, bonus games, great fun and friends, and all for just $25 (optional pizza party not included). Or, if NYC isn't in your travel plans, sign up for the At-Home version for just $10. For more on Lollapuzzoola, visit, find us on Facebook, or contact tournament co-director Brian Cimmet at
        P.S. Rex Parker once described this crossword competition as "easily the best tournament experience I've had to date," if that sort of thing holds any sway.


        - Brian


        British running great Steve / SAT 7-27-13 / Fictional amnesiac portrayer / Election-related nonprofit since 1990 / Tynan player in Seduction of Joe Tynan / Severn Meadows poet Gurney / Presentation by Bill Clinton in 2007 or Bill Gates in 2010

        Saturday, July 27, 2013

        Constructor: John Lieb and David Quarfoot

        Relative difficulty: Easy

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: IVOR Gurney (35D: "Severn Meadows" poet Gurney) —
        Ivor Bertie Gurney (28 August 1890 – 26 December 1937) was an English composer and poet. [...] Gurney wrote hundreds of poems and more than 300 songs as well as instrumental music. He set only a handful of his own poems, the best known being Severn Meadows. His best-known compositions include his Five Elizabethan Songs (or 'The Elizas' as he called them) and the song-cycles Ludlow and Teme and The Western Playland, both settings of poetry by A. E. Housman. [...] Gurney is known both as a poet and composer and his reputation in both arts has continued to rise. Edmund Blunden, at the urging of composer Gerald Finzi, assembled the first collection of Gurney's poetry which was published in 1954. This was followed by P. J. Kavanagh's Collected Poems, first published in 1982 and reissued in 2004. It remains the best edition of Gurney's poetry. Gurney is regarded as one of the great World War I poets, and like the others of them, such as Edward Thomas whom he admired, he often contrasted the horrors of the front line with the beauty and tranquillity of his native English landscape - these themes were explored in the 2012 musical play A Soldier and a Maker. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Well this was a pleasure. Started out a bit tepid in the NW (some good stuff held together with junk), but once I threw down ROCK THE VOTE (22D: Election-related non-profit since 1990) and then got HUG IT OUT (40A: Resolve a bromance spat, say), the puzzle seemed to open up and become much more interesting. I hate the expression 'NUFF SAID (as it's usually said by morons who have not, in fact, said enough), but I love it in the grid (32A: "No need to go on"). Feels fresh and colloquial. SEXTED is, uh, timely (23A: Turned on a friend, maybe?). PIECE OF WORK is fantastic (10D: Difficult sort).

        I have two complaints: one, plural suffixes should never be allowed ever ever ever—they are the most not-a-thing thing in crosswords and should crawl off somewhere to die (see, today, -EERS); two, I finished the puzzle much too quickly. Could've used some thornier cluing. If I got even a little bit stymied, there seemed to be a gimme just waiting for me. APER / TELE / DDT were gimmes right off the bat, which made the NW easy even though I couldn't think of MATT DAMON for a while (I was looking for character, not, as clue instructed me, "portrayer") (1A: Fictional amnesiac portrayer). ROCK THE VOTE I got off just the "R" and I don't think I would've needed even that. Annabeth GISH (24D: "Mystic Pizza" actress Annabeth) and EL CID (14D: Title role for Charlton Heston) were simple—the latter's in the grid all the time, and the former ... well, I was the right age for "Mystic Pizza" and that actress's name stuck, for some reason. The IMPS and TERSE clues were transparent. Got TED TALK off the "T" (and, again, don't think I would've needed even that) (41D: Presentation by Bill Clinton in 2007 or Bill Gates in 2010). B-TWELVE easy once you've got the "B" (39A: Vitamin in meat, milk and eggs). I need a little hurt in my Saturdays. It's the day I turn mildly masochistic. Make Mine Thorny!

          My one big "Wha?" moment came in the NW, where I was sure the [Big Indonesian export] was TEAS and so had PRES. for 19A: Head Start program service, briefly, which I could not comprehend. For good reason, it turns out. The answers were TEAK and PRE-K. What's weird is that I didn't want TEAS because I had TEA- and couldn't think of anything else; I actually wanted TEAS before I had any letters, which is why I was so certain it was right once the T, E and A fell into place. Danger Zone! Loved the clue on MALE NURSE (59A: Member of a medical minority), and "PLEASE, SIR" made me smile (it's a much parodied line—I've aped it myself from time to time) (62A: Start of a Dickensian request). Took a few beats for me to figure out what NSC stood for (and also to remember what the "Abbottabad raid" was) (60D: Grp. involved in the Abbottabad raid). Made me wonder if I had an error there at first, but the crosses checked out (and I eventually remembered that NSC meant National Security Council). Not much else to say, as the puzzle seemed like it was over before I'd begun. A fun brief time was had by all (of me).

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


            Kyrgyzstan's second largest city / FRI 7-26-13 / 1955 Pulitzer-winning poet / Annual with deep-pink flowers / Literally cottonwoods / Diplomat who wrote Tide of Nationalism / Construction project that began in Rome / Guys and Dolls composer/lyricist

            Friday, July 26, 2013

            Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

            Relative difficulty: Easy

            THEME: none

            Word of the Day: BANKSY (58A: Noted graffiti artist) —
            Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter. // His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti done in a distinctive stencillingtechnique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            I'm spoiled by Brendan's great twice-weekly crossword at his own website. This is a very nice 68-worded, with big open spaces in the NE and SW, and some very fresh entries, like BANKSY and "... SO THAT HAPPENED." But it's middle-of-the-roadish and kind of tame compared to the stuff you can get from him directly twice a week. Some of the fill seems a little flat—TESTATORS and ESS and IDEATE and ERODENT and RENAIL and ALO and OSH. I did like this puzzle quite a bit—solving in under 6 minutes helped with the good feelings—but by BEQ standards (which are High), it's just OK. Better than most puzzles, just OK for BEQ. Clear? Clear.

            POGS. Ha ha. The very word makes me laugh (49A: Game discs).

            I have a hard time believing 44A: Abba's genre was BEQ's clue for EUROPOP. I mean, ABBA is in the grid (ABBA EBAN) (9D: Diplomat who wrote "The Tide of Nationalism"). He's usually pretty careful about such things. He probably had someone like Blur or Lily Allen in there instead. But Abba's an easy default—which would be fine if ABBA weren't Already In The Grid.

            I have no idea what COWHERB is (25A: Annual with deep-pink flowers), so that took every cross. Nice to see "Guys and Dolls" back for a curtain call after yesterday's fine performance (35A: Guys and Dolls composer/lyricist => LOESSER). WALLACE STEVENS looks great in the grid (4D: 1955 Pulitzer-winning poet)—never mind that I (ridiculously) wrote in WALLACE STEGNER at first. Love the fake-out clue on ERIE CANAL (12D: Construction project that began in Rome) (there's a Rome, NY). Never saw the clue on LOS ALAMOS (31D: Literally, "the cottonwoods"). Weird how sometimes even very long answers just seems to fill themselves in without my really noticing.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              Beverage introduced as Brad's Drink / THU 7-25-13 / Pirate portrayer of film / Pro bono promo for short / Brew whose name is article of clothing when read backward / Mary of early Hollywood

              Thursday, July 25, 2013

              Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

              Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

              THEME: DOUBLE FEATURE (14D: Drive-in theater draw ... with a literal hint to 4- and 21-Down) — the double-feature answers are movie titles of identical lengths that must be written in side-by-side, in the same single answer, for the Acrosses to make any sense:

              Theme answers:
              • 4D: 14-Down starring Jack Lemmon (first feature: "GRUMPY OLD MEN"; second feature: "THE APARTMENT")
              • 21D: 14-Down starring Frank Sinatra (first feature: "OCEAN'S ELEVEN"; second feature: "GUYS AND DOLLS")

              Word of the Day: Mary AST[OR] (32A: Mary of early Hollywood) —
              Mary Astor (born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke; May 3, 1906 – September 25, 1987) was an American actress. Most remembered for her role as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941) with Humphrey Bogart, Astor began her long motion picture career as a teenager in the silent movies of the early 1920s. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              Astonishing. I don't think I've solved a better puzzle this year. Imaginative concept, perfect execution. Any infelicities in the fill (ITAGO, for instance) are minimal and can easily be excused given how perfectly, neatly, delicately this puzzle comes together in the theme material. Like two perfectly functioning zippers, those DOUBLE FEATURE answers are. This Thursday puzzle did what a Thursday puzzle should do, at its best—go off book, make me work to figure out what's up, and then make me go "whoa..." when I figure it out. It helps that this puzzle was not exceedingly difficult. My time was above average, but that's just because I had to keep mentally re-entering the second feature (since I was solving online, against the clock, and thus could enter only one of the movies). Not surprisingly, I got the entire middle section of the puzzle first, and then couldn't move outward. Entire middle done, but I couldn't build off of it. Wanted both OB[EY] and OR[EO], but ... not enough room. Managed to get into that NE corner w/ ABYSS and then began to get a sense of what was going on with [OG]RES. I typed in "OCEAN'S ELEVEN" and then realized shortly thereafter that it would have to be running alongside "GUYS AND DOLLS." At that moment, I was Just So Impressed. One real challenged with that Sinatra DOUBLE FEATURE is the "VL" sequence—not at all common in English. So I loved the very tricky "?" clue on HOV LANE (63A: Perk for a pool party?). It highlighted both the awkward letter sequence and the creative escape therefrom.

              Jack Lemmon DOUBLE FEATURE was slightly harder for me to come up with. I'd been wanting "THE APARTMENT" from the second I saw the clue, but (early on) I chucked it when crosses didn't work. The fact that WIDTH fits in 1A: One of the three dimensions (LEN[GT]His exquisite torture, or at least a very effective little trap. Once I had the theme, I knew LEN[GT]H had to be right, and the dominoes started to topple from there. I don't think of "GRUMPY OLD MEN" as classic Lemmon, but no matter. That's not the point. Someone pointed out to me that "THE ODD COUPLE" fits in there as well. I didn't fall into that particular hole, luckily. Finished up in the SW and then gave the puzzle a mental standing ovation.

              OK, wait. I have one problem with the puzzle. I don't understand why APR wasn't changed to ... something else. First, that's a three-abbr. little section (PSA, APR, OPER). Seems unnecessary. But the bigger issue, for me, is that APR. is an abbr. for APRIL, which is also in the grid (55D: You may be fooled at its beginning). The fact that APR is given loan cluing (8D: Loan letters) doesn't matter much to me. It's still a distraction (*esp.* in such a sterling puzzle). There are probably half a dozen ways to change that section—to lose APR and maintain or improve fill quality. Without doing anything else, you could make APR into UPN or ATL. I would love to see TON there, because DEPO is a very common shortening of "deposition," but ... whatever. The point is, I hate APR. Again, I hate it because this puzzle is a masterpiece and so APR is bugging me in ways it might not otherwise.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                Bond Girl Green of Casino Royale / WED 7-24-13 / One of two characters in Fox in Socks / Porphyria's love poet / Charlotte's Web actress / Symbol after I on many bumper sticker / Tropical food that is poisonous if eaten raw / Scooter Plame affair figure

                Wednesday, July 24, 2013

                Constructor: Erik Wennstrom

                Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                THEME: Famous people clued as if their last names were present participles

                Theme answers:
                • 20A: "Charlotte's Web" actress on a hot day? (DAKOTA FANNING)
                • 28A: "A Brief History of Time" author doing sales? (STEPHEN HAWKING)
                • 46A: "Porphyria's Lover" poet with a pan of ground beef on the stove? (ROBERT BROWNING)
                • 55A: "Tom Jones" novelist playing baseball? (HENRY FIELDING)

                Word of the Day: "NCIS: LA" (49D: CBS drama featuring LL Cool J) —

                NCIS: Los Angeles (Naval Criminal Investigative Service: Los Angeles) is an American television seriescombining elements of the military drama and police procedural genres, which premiered on the CBS network on September 22, 2009. In the USA, the series airs following NCIS on Tuesdays.
                NCIS: Los Angeles is the first spin-off of the successful NCIS, which itself was a spinoff of another CBS series, JAG. On October 7, 2009, CBS gave the series a full-season pickup, extending the first season to 22 episodes. The season was extended again on November 4, 2009, when CBS announced its order for an additional two episodes. [...] On March 27, 2013, CBS renewed NCIS: Los Angeles for a fifth season. (wikipedia)
                • • •

                Liked it. Seems like an old concept, but it's executed pretty nicely here. Weirdly, all the difficulty in this puzzle came from how unexpectedly straightforward it was. That is: it's Wednesday, and there are "?" clues, so I expect wordplay. So even after I get DAKOTA I expect that the second half of the answer will be a play on the word "fanning"—not the Actual Word FANNING. That's just how my brain works, given lots and lots and lots of experience with these kinds of puzzles. Also, "doing sales" in the STEPHEN HAWKING clue somehow didn't create any kind of immediate association. I can see how they are defensibly equivalent, but you'd never substitute one for the other. The phrasing's just weird. Anyway, this is all just to say that I looked for the curve and got a fastball over the plate. Once I caught the theme, the rest was super-easy (didn't even look at the clues for the second two theme answers). But that off-balance part at the beginning put things in plausibly Wednesdayish territory, overall difficulty-wise.

                Here's something odd—I don't like BIZKIT (3D: Rock's Limp ___). And I don't just mean "the sound of that band's music makes me sad." I mean that, as much as I love Zs and Ks, this answer can only ever be a partial and can only ever have one clue, one frame of reference. That makes it limited, doomed to forever be a know-it-or-you-don't bit of (partial) trivia. And with every passing year, the frame of reference just gets sadder and dimmer. Also, "Rock" called, and it would like to deny the association. On the other hand, I kind of love "NCIS: LA," partly because it has the virtue of being a *complete* answer, and partly because it just looks nuts in the grid. Hot initialism-on-initialism action. Also, I learned that it's a spin-off of a spin-off that is Going To Spawn Its Own Spin-off this fall. This raises many questions, one of which is "what is the record length of a spin-off chain?" The "NCIS: LA" spin-off would put the chain length at four, which I've just Never heard of. But then again I've never seen a single ep of "JAG" or "NCIS" or "NCIS: LA," either, so what do I know?

                • 42A: Bond girl Green of "Casino Royale" (EVA) — Bond Girls just aren't as name-famous as they once were. I can name ... Ursula Andress. I think that's it. Wait, who played Pussy Galore? Ah, Honor Blackman. I knew there was an "Avengers" connection in there somewhere.
                • 51A: One of the two characters in Dr. Seuss' "Fox in Socks" (KNOX) — did not know that. Don't think I know this story at all. Pretty sure I was limited to "One Fish, Two Fish...," "Green Eggs and Ham," and the Dr. Seuss Dictionary. No Lorax, no Yertle ... I have weird, big Seuss gaps.
                • 62A: One-volume works of Shakespeare, e.g. (TOME) — I misread and continue to misread this clue. There are many one-volume works of Shakespeare. I have tons on my shelves at school. "The Tempest," that's one volume. "Hamlet," that's another. Etc. I see what the clue is trying to say (i.e. one-volume *complete* works of Shakespeare), but it did Not compute. 
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                Singer Julius of early TV / TUE 7-23-13 / Bygone Ford van / NBC newsman Richard / Styptic pencil targets

                Tuesday, July 23, 2013

                Constructor: Jean O'Conor

                Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

                THEME: BEACHGOER (59A: One packing up the answers to the seven starred clues, maybe) — all beach items have non-beach clues

                Theme answers:
                • 17A: *Abrupt reversals of opinion (FLIP-FLOPS)
                • 23A: *Uninjured, after "in" (ONE PIECE)
                • 26A: *Hoosegow (COOLER)
                • 36A: *Scandal damage control (COVER-UP)
                • 39A: *Across-the-board (BLANKET)
                • 49A: *Ghostly figures (SHADES)
                • 51A: *Kind of insurance policy (UMBRELLA)

                Word of the Day: Richard ENGEL (53D: NBC newsman Richard) —
                Richard Engel (born September 16, 1973) is an American journalist and author who is NBC News's chief foreign correspondent. He was assigned to that position on April 18, 2008 after being the network's Middle East correspondentand Beirut Bureau chief. Engel was the first broadcast journalist recipient of the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for his report "War Zone Diary".
                Prior to joining NBC News in May 2003, he covered the start of the 2003 war in Iraq from Baghdad for ABC News as afreelance journalist. He speaks and reads Arabic fluently and is also fluent in Italian and Spanish. Engel wrote the book A Fist in the Hornet's Nest, published in 2004, about his experience covering the Iraq War from Baghdad. His newest book,War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq, published in June 2008, picks up where his last book left off.
                Engel is known for having covered the Iraq War, the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war.
                • • •

                Hrm. I found this one deeply unpleasant to solve. It was clued too hard for a Tuesday, but more than too hard, it was just annoying. Too choppy, too many abbrevs, a stupid partial for a theme answer, and in the end just a bunch of beach stuff. The grid isn't terrible, really. Long Downs are nice. But with eight theme answers (that's a ton), the fill creaks a little in spots. Perhaps it's remarkable that it's as good as it is, given the theme constraints. Long way to go, a lot of fuss, for a very little pay-off, theme-wise.

                How is OHO "jolly"? In what universe? You know it's fundamentally different from "HO HO HO," right? If Santa caught you masturbating, he might say "OHO!" I don't know if his tone would be "jolly," though. Never happy to see Julius LAROSA—I know him, now, but I still don't like him (as an answer; I never met the man, obviously) (33A: Singer Julius of early TV). A pretty obscure piece of high-end crosswordese. Could not get from "furniture protection" to PRIMER to save my life. I was like "Uh ... ScotchGuard? WTF?" ECASH is ECASH, i.e. E-terrible. I have only ever seen the phrase "styptic pencil" in crosswords. Do people use those? Don't we put Band-aids on "NICKS"? I had -ICKS and still didn't know (35A: Styptic pencil targets). TICKS? And ["Daughters" rapper]?? That is some Saturday cluing for NAS. Crazy. I mean, it's a rapper in three letters, so not *hard*, exactly, but I'd never heard of it. Turns out it's the third single from his 2012 (!!?) album. He is not famous for that. Guaranteed. Song *was* nominated for a Grammy, but my point stands. Not famous. Peaked at #78. Not famous. Fine clue. Just not for Tuesday.

                Lastly, I think I'd've clued SOPUP as [Beginning of heart-to-heart with small dog].

                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                Self-referential in modern lingo / MON 7-22-13 / Trick-taking game played with 32 cards / Expensive neighborhood in BOSTON / Co-creator of Spider-Man / Belgrade native

                Monday, July 22, 2013

                Constructor: Ian Livengood

                Relative difficulty: Medium

                THEME: BOSTON (43A: Theme of this puzzle) [scintillating clue!]

                Theme answers:
                • 17A: Expensive neighborhood in 43-Across (BEACON HILL)
                • 11D: 43-Across patriot who went on a "midnight ride" (PAUL REVERE)
                • 34A: Nickname for 43-Across (THE HUB)
                • 29D: Popular food in 43-Across (BAKED BEANS)
                • 61A: 43-Across stadium (FENWAY PARK)

                Word of the Day: HEEL TAP (25D: Shoe lift) —

                noun /ˈhēlˌtap/ 
                heeltaps, plural
                1. One of the layers of leather or other material of which a shoe heel is made

                  • An amount of liquor left at the bottom of a glass after drinking
                  • • •

                  RE: the definition of "HEELTAP"—What is this mythical "amount of liquor left at the bottom of a glass after drinking"? Who is leaving liquor at the bottom of their glass after drinking, and what is wrong with them?

                  This puzzle was too straightforward for my tastes. Bunch of stuff related to (a boringly clued) BOSTON. Then the gratuitous and mildly irrelevant circled-letter MA. It's not like getting an "M" or an "A" into those places would've been tough. Grid is professional-grade—Ian (newly married, btw—congratulations) knows what he's doing. But just ho-hum for me. Never ever heard of HEELTAP. Neither had wife. Real outlier in this puzzle. But a fine word to know, I suppose.

                  My favorite part of solving this (which I did on paper, as I now have a strict "no electronics" sabbath from Sat. night to Sun. night, i.e. between blog posts) was seeing PAUL RE- in the grid at 11D and deciding I would no-look it—thus, casually and confidently, I wrote in what I was sure to be the one true answer: PAUL REISER. Felled by hubris! It's kind of fun on a Monday, when the stakes are ankle-high at best.

                  Off to contribute to my on-line reading group's discussion of "Moby-Dick" (22D: Fictional captain who said "Thou damned whale!" => AHAB). See you tomorrow.
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                    Defrocked villain on Buffy Vampire Slayer / SUN 7-21-13 / Tatooine race in Star Wars saga / Atlantean Superhero of DC Comics / River that sweats oil tar T.S. Eliot / Capone's top henchman / J Carrol Oscar nominee Sahara / Dairy consumer's enzyme

                    Sunday, July 21, 2013

                    Constructor: Tracy Bennett

                    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                    THEME: "Artful Thinking" — puns on artists' names. All clues are "?" clues and have "artist" in them somewhere.

                    Word of the Day: BOODLES (62A: Monetary bribes) —
                    n. Slang
                      1. Money, especially counterfeit money.
                      2. Money accepted as a bribe.
                    1. Stolen goods; swag.
                    2. A crowd of people; caboodle.
                    [Dutch boedel, estate, from Middle Dutch bōdel.]

                    Read more:
                    • • •

                    If I'm going to solve a pun puzzle (and I'd rather not, but if ...), then artists' names is a topic I can definitely live with. I didn't think these puns quite landed though. They seemed forced and awkward in many places. You gotta really be rooting for the puzzle ... I mean, you gotta be the puzzle's mom or something ... to be proud of the KAHLOS = "colors" pun. And what's with the artist plurals? That seems pretty cheap. Obviously if you are referring to multiple paintings by an artist, then a plural of the artist's name is perfectly fine, but in the context of this puzzle, it seems inconsistent and weak. Surely are a billion phrases (give or take) that have "color" (singular) in them. Slightly less than a billion containing "mirror," but still. You gotta be a perfectionist about these things. Another thing—this puzzle would've been 100 times better if the pun phrases were at least plausibly grammatical and had clues that made them funny. ["What's up, Salvador!"] is a way better clue for "HELLO, DALI!" than 68A: Artist's favorite musical? I realize that you are using "artist" in every clue to provide continuity and signal the theme, but that's what the title's for? Or maybe a revealer. But a phrase like ONE TOO MANET is just wrong on many levels. First, MANET doesn't sound like "many" at all (accent on wrong syllable, For One). Second, the phrase makes no sense. You couldn't even invent a funny clue to make it make sense. In short, this puzzle is conceptually under-developed. There are many things that could've taken it in the direction of inventive, entertaining, funny, but instead it's just mildly amusing and kind of awkward.

                    Theme answers:
                    • 23A: Artist's favorite spiritual? (WADE IN THE WATTEAU)
                    • 15D: Artist's line of weary recognition? (HERE WE GAUGUIN)
                    • 41D: What the tipsy artist had at the bar? (ONE TOO MANET)
                    • 68A: Artist's favorite Broadway musical? ("HELLO, DALI!")
                    • 56D: What the artist confused people with? (SMOKE AND MIROS)
                    • 89A: Artist's expression for "Such is life"? (QUE SERA SEURAT)
                    • 112A: How the expert artist passed her exam? (WITH FLYING KAHLOS)
                    Haven't seen the dated, semi-sexist COEDS in a long, long time. You'd think clue would at least mentioned its bygoneness. But no (34D: What Morehouse College lacks). Never heard of BOODLES or this NAISH person (though I am nearly certain that I have said that about NAISH before—he shall have a special, gilded chair in the Crosswordese Hall of Fame) (98D: J. Carrol ___, Oscar nominee for "Sahara"). Because I can't spell sometimes, I wrote in GAUGHIN and so had a bunch of trouble figuring out what was up with 70A: Revival meeting miracles (CURES). I had CHRES. At least it was *clearly* wrong, so I caught my mistake. Also screwed up a few other things. With with QAT at 89D: Holy city of Iran (QUM). QAT is a chewed stimulant popular in the Middle East (possibly in QUM—I read about it a story about Yemen). I fixed it. Biggest hole I fell into was EGG / GANGES instead of HAM / THAMES (113D: Easter purchase / 121A: River that "sweats oil and tar" in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land").

                    I enjoyed the urban transportation pairing of HOP A CAB and CATCH A BUS right next to each other. Also enjoyed remember that the JAWA existed. I went with JEDI at first, knowing as I wrote it in that JEDI are not a "race" (1D: Tatooine race in the "Star Wars" saga). No idea about CALEB (75A: Defrocked villain on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and I got AKEEM 80% from crosses (97D: Arabic name meaning "wise"). Otherwise, nothing too tough. Finished somewhere in the 11s. Pretty normal for Sunday. A bit on the fast side.
                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                      Fashion designer behind fragrance Rock Me / SAT 7-20-13 / Famed kicker born with clubfoot / 1993 hit with lyric Keep plain that song all night / 1957 Dell Vikings hit / Audi model retired in 2005 / Orfeo composer Luigi / He hit more home runs than Barry Bonds / Successor to Gibson on ABC World News

                      Saturday, July 20, 2013

                      Constructor: Tim Croce

                      Relative difficulty: Challenging

                      THEME: none

                      Word of the Day: ANNA SUI (61A: Fashion designer behind the fragrance Rock Me!) —
                      Anna Sui (born August 4, 1964) is an American fashion designer. Sui is one of the most celebrated names in fashion history, known for her timeless designs and ability to transcend eras with historical and culturally inspired collections. She was named one of the "Top 5 Fashion Icons of the Decade"  and earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), joining the ranks of Yves St LaurentGiorgio ArmaniRalph Lauren, and Diane von Furstenberg. Her worldwide luxury fashion brand includes clothing, shoes, cosmetics, eye-wear, and accessories, as well as her renowned line of signature fragrances. Anna Sui products are sold through her free-standing stores and distributors around the world in over 50 countries.  In 2006, Fortune estimated the collective value of Sui's fashion empire at over $400 million. (wikipedia)
                      • • •

                      I should like this a lot more than I do. The grid is certainly interesting, and mostly clean. It's just that I found the cluing really, really irksome. Again and again. If a puzzle is challenging (as this was), I like it best when the struggle seems worth it; I don't like struggling, getting an answer, then finding that I'm making a face and thinking, "yeah ... I guess." Good tough cluing is stuff like [Big spinning effort] for PR BLITZ. Had me mystified til the very end, but when I got it, I could not deny the aptness and cleverness of the clue. Now, that answer did run through what is probably the crappiest part of the grid (ONER + NEB) (57D: Standout + 62D: Tortoise's beak), so I don't like that ugly crosses were part of the problem, but still, that clue is undeniably wonderful. But too many of the clues were just deliberately obtuse in this way that I thought was more faux-impish (or dickish) than truly clever. "Setting" in [Setting of "Love Me Do": Abbr.] (G MAJ.) represents an absurd use of that word. [Ends up short, maybe] is slightly torturous for ERRS (and we have to endure it why? so that, what, we get to experience the vastly over-rated "identical successive Across clues" trick? Pass.). ADRENAL is no longer an adjective, apparently (63A: Hydrocortisone producer). Not sure how that works. An EGO is "feedable"? Only by ridiculous contortions. 42D: Gets hot led to an obvious (in retrospect) and thus probably deliberate and thus definitely annoying trap—if you have the first letters, SEE-, the obvious move is SEES RED. But no, it's SEETHES. MIA HAMM is a "kicker" only because other sports have "kickers," not because anyone would ever call her that ever (plus, she's intersecting another soccer clue and you *don't* exploit that?) (59A: Famed kicker born with a clubfoot).

                      As I say, the grid is good—I just thought the cluing obtuse and kinda lousy. Not enough P.R. BLITZ-type payoff. I do love "HEY MR. DJ" (1A: 1993 hit with the lyric "Keep playin' that song all night") and RIGHT HAND MAN and "COME GO WITH ME" (46A: 1957 Dell-Vikings hit). I even love SADAHARU OH (9D: He hit 106 more home runs than Barry Bonds), despite my frustration at not knowing how to spell it (took a while to convince myself that that first name did indeed end in "U"). I fell into two terrible holes (in addition to the SEETHES one). The first was LYCÉE for ÉCOLE (2D: Place for une faculté). If I were ignoranter of French, I'd've been fine. But no. The worst mistake I made though, was a twofer—Had [SO TO speak] and so went right to MISTS UP for 37A: Shows some emotion (TEARS UP). When you confirm one mistake with another mistake, bad times follow. Hard to go anywhere S or W of that region with MISTS UP in place, primarily because GRECO-ROMAN was occluded (28D: Some-holds-barred sport).

                      This is a good grid, but I didn't enjoy solving the puzzle. This rarely happens. My dissatisfaction is not due to toughness, but to the way toughness was achieved. But I realize that this is largely a subjective matter.

                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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