#2 hit by Richard Harris / 3-31-14 / Jane Fonda sci-fi / Ars Poetica

Monday, March 31, 2014

Yay! We're back!  Just like the first ray of sunshine after a long, gray, endless winter. For those who don't know us, we're Liz and Jenny, aka Rex's BFFs. Here's a little more about us: Our spirit animal is an ELK (31A - Antlered animal); our celebrity soulmate is Brad (29A-Of "Moneyball") PITT; if we were a snack food, we'd be a (14A-Triangular chip) DORITO; if we could have any hairstyle, we'd have an (40A-Bushy hairdo) AFRO; the place we should live is (53D- Jakarta's Island) JAVA; if we were a constellation, we'd be (51A-The handle of the Big Dipper is its tail) URSA MAJOR. (Rex hasn't begged us to blog in a while, so we've been killing time taking BuzzFeed quizzes. Don't judge...you know you take them too).

Constructor: Robert Cirillo

Relative difficulty: So easy, even we can do it! (Oh right...that's why we're here)

THEME: MA and PA — All starred clues are 2-word (except for one that is 3-word) phrases where the first word starts with "MA" and the last word starts with "PA"

Word of the Day: SEINFELD

Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998. It lasted nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself. Set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, the show features a handful of Jerry's friends and acquaintances, particularly best friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards).

We know, we know, it's not in the puzzle. But, in addition to taking BuzzFeed quizzes, we've been watching a lot of Seinfeld reruns on the the TV. There are so many references to Seinfeld in the answers. Is Mr. Cirillo a fan? All clues point to YES!

Speaking of Seinfeld...last April, Liz went to LA. On the flight out, she told her husband "If I could meet any star in LA, I'd want to meet Larry David."

Look what happened at baggage claim!!
Theme answers:
  • MAsquerade PArty (16-A: *Where Romeo and Juliet meet)
  • MAssage PArlor (24-A *Often-seedy establishment)
  • MAcarthur PArk (42-A *1978 #1 Donna Summer hit that covered a 1968 #2 hit by Richard Harris)
  • MArdi Gras PArade (56-A *New Orleans event with floats)
Ma and Pa reminds us of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer makes Jerry take his shoes to the Ma and Pa shop to be cleaned or re-soled or something. And Kramer gets a nosebleed, puts his head back, and sees wires sticking out of the ceiling. Somehow the fire marshall gets involved and Ma and Pa can't afford to fix the wires and they skip town with all of Jerry's shoes. Oh, and guess what??!! They don't even have kids! So they're totally not even a Ma or a Pa!!

Seinfeld clues:
  • MAandPA (35-A Rural couple...or what the respective halves of the four starred clues start with) — see above
  • MAssage PArlor (24-A *Often-seedy establishment) — George gets a massage from a male masseuse, and he thinks "it" moved
  • MAcarthur PArk (42-A *1978 #1 Donna Summer hit that covered a 1968 #2 hit by Richard Harris) — Jerry has a box of stuff from his grandparents and in it, is a statute that George wants because, when he was a kid, his parents had the same statue, and he used it as a microphone to sing "Macarthur Park" and accidentally threw it during the finale and it broke.
  • PITT (29-A Brad of Moneyball) — Elaine worked for Mr. Pitt!
That's all for now. For those in the Mid-Atlantic area, join Rex's BFF Liz at the 12th annual Annapolis Book Festival on April 5 from 10-4:30. Until next time, just remember, if we were a 1968 Jane Fonda sic-fi film, we'd be (10D) BARBARELLA; if we were a breakfast food, we'd be an (59A-Yolk's place) EGG; if we were a car, we'd be a (60A-famously available in any color, as long as it was black) MODEL T; and if we were a song, we'd be (46D-a 1961 hit) RAMA LAMA DING DONG!


Graz's land: Abbr. / SUN 3-30-14 / Where "hello" is "sveiks" / "Twelfth Night" duke / Ring Lardner's "Alibi ___" / "Eternally nameless" thing, in Eastern religion

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Musical Interpretation — The words of a well-known song are placed in the grid according to other words from the song title that indicate placement. If that makes any sense.

Theme answers:
  • 95D/89D: STAND [BY] YOUR MAN

Good morning, everyone. PuzzleGirl here with you again. This time I have plenty of time to write the blog post, so if it ends up short what the hell is my excuse going to be? Read on to find out.

Cute theme here from Mr. Peter A. Collins who, by the way, is a totally nice guy. Never met him in person, but the few interactions I have had with him have always been pleasant if not delightful. He's a teacher up in Wisconsin or Minnesota -- somewhere up there where it's cold and people are nice. Today he's treating us to some musical wordplay. Cute! I happened to hit SMOKE ON THE WATER early on, so no trouble with the theme.

After I found that lovely clip for you, this is what I saw at the bottom of my Google results:
Um ... no thanks.

I didn't have too many problems in this grid. Trickiest entries for me were:
  • 58A: Former Disney president Michael (OVITZ) - There was a Michael Eisner at Disney too, right? That's the only one I could think of.
  • 96A: Thumbing-the-nose gesture (SNOOK) - Learn something new every day!
  • 99A: Mideast V.I.P. (AMIR) - Not a fan of this spelling.
  • 43D: The "T" of Mr. T (TERO) - Feel like I should have known this, but didn't.
  • 100D: Inspector of crime fiction (MORSE) - Never heard of him but thanks for the excuse to post a picture of Michael Morse. You Giants fans are so lucky to have him! You're gonna love him!
Other Stuff Worth Noting:
  • 20A: Now and Again? (TWICE) — I have to believe this clue has been used before, but I don't recall ever seeing it and it's pretty cute.
  • 25A: Like Neptune among the planets in the solar system (OUTERMOST) — Poor Pluto.
  • 62A: Olympic leap (TOE LOOP) — Once I started thinking about track events, it took me forever to come around to figure skating.
  • 72A: Pond denizen (EFT) — This is one of those little pieces of crosswordese that you just have to know, right? There's nothing cool about it, kinda boring. But now whenever I see it I remember how it was a key part of an answer (or question, I guess) on Jeopardy when Joon Pahk was on the show. I remember seeing it and thinking "Oh he better get this!" and of course he did. (This is the part where I start watching Jeopardy! clips for God knows how long.)
  • 79A: Memorable series in "Psycho" (STABS) — Eww.
  • 101A: Meatless day in W.W. II: Abbr. (TUE) — Random!
  • 2D: Actress Tierney (MAURA) — And this is the part where I get sucked into watching videos of "NewsRadio" on YouTube. I'll be back in a couple hours.
  • 3D: Suffering (IN BAD SHAPE) — I always like seeing colloquial phrases in the grid. (See also 57D: Muff a grounder (BOOT IT)).
  • 67D: Former faddish exercise regimen (TAE BO) — When I was pregnant with my son I saw an ad for TAE BO and thought it looked super super fun. So I bought the tapes and ... well, then I had my son, and then I was a new mom, and then I was a mom of a toddler, and then I was a mother of two young children, and now it's 15 years later and where the hell are those tapes anyway???
  • 76D: Description on many eBay listings (RARE) — My daughter discovered eBay a couple days ago. She bid on some boots and asked if she could have an advance on her allowance for the amount she was short. I agreed. She won the auction (So. Exciting.) but realized that she had forgotten about the shipping cost. So she needed a little bit more money from me. Okay, no big deal, she'll pay me back. But the next thing that happens is she has to admit to me that she also won another auction. She had also bid on another pair of boots and "didn't realize" she couldn't "take her bid back." Part of me believes that she just made a mistake because, hey, it's her first time using eBay. Another part of me thinks I'm being swindled. Ah, the joy of teenagers.
  • 107D: Longing looks (LEERS) — I don't know about this clue. I don't really think of a LEER as "longing." I think of a LEER more as ... rude, crude and creepy. Who's with me?
  • 110D: Didn't stop in time, say (OD'ED) — This made me sad.
Of course there was a little bit of, shall way say, suboptimal fill here and there (you got your ORA, your GMT, your ERA, your ETA, your SYS, and your TSP, just to name a few), but it's Sunday, which means the grid is huge and what are ya gonna do? You do the best you can with a cute theme and some interesting fill here and there and you call it a night. That's what you do.

You'll have a couple other subs tomorrow and Tuesday. With any luck, Rex will be back where he belongs on Wednesday.

Love, PuzzleGirl


1967 Hit by the Hollies / SAT 3-29-14 / Locals call it the Big O / Polar Bear Provinicial Park borders it / Junior in 12 Pro Bowls

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Saturdayish

THEME: None. It's Saturday!

Don't fret, folks. The full write-up will be up soon...

Hey, everybody! We had a little miscommunication here at the Rex Parker blog. Sorry about that. My name is PuzzleGirl and I'll be your host for the next couple days. Seems like you are actually doing just fine in the comments without me, but I will go ahead and ramble a little about this puzzle anyway. I thought it was on the easy side for a Saturday, but I always think that about Saturday puzzles that I actually finish. When I first started reading this blog, I was positive -- POSITIVE -- that people were lying when they said they finished Friday and Saturday puzzles. There was NO WAY that could be true. And yet, just a few years and a couple thousand puzzles later here I am at the point where I can almost always finish the Fridays/Saturdays. It's like that old joke. A guy comes up to me on the street and says "How will I ever finish a late-week NYT puzzle?" and I respond "Practice, practice, practice." Okay, maybe that's not an old joke. Maybe I just made it up and it's not even funny. Whatever! Let's talk about the puzzle!

Those familiar with Barry Silk's ouevre (can you tell I've been using the new Vocabulary.com app?), were not at all surprised to see  a 1967 hit by the Hollies (ON A CAROUSEL) up there in the NW corner. Barry has a thing for oldies and you will almost always find one (or more!) in his puzzles. This is one of those songs that I'm pretty sure I don't know, but I bet I'll recognize it when I hear it. Let's take a listen, shall we?

[If Barry reads the blog, he will enjoy that. I'm not sure if he reads it or not. If you're out there, Barry: Hi! I posted that song for you! Thanks for the puzzle! I'm trying to teach people about the things you like to put in your puzzles! Why no Philadelphia sports references in this one??]

I had the toughest time in the center where I entered DIP where ICE was supposed to be and STATURE for STARDOM (which I just mistyped STARDUM - ha!). OKECHOBEE is just barely hanging out back in the cobwebs of my brain, so even the fact that I was pretty sure it needed to start with an O (duh), I couldn't see it for a while with that R in there. In fact, with the R from STATURE and the P from DIP, I thought the "Big O" reference might have something to do with the Orioles' Cal Ripken. IS IT BASEBALL SEASON YET?

And with that, I'm going to leave you for today because it's already so late. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow with the Sunday puzzle.




First name in '60s radicalism / FRI 3-28-14 / Screw up / English hat similar to a fedora / Superlatively bouncy

Friday, March 28, 2014

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty:  Easy, moderately breezy

THEME: Themeless

Word of the Day: BLUECHIPS (3D: "Relatively low-risk investments") —
"in reference to the high-value poker counter, from 1904 in the figurative sense of "valuable;" stock exchange sense, in reference to "shares considered a reliable investment," is first recorded 1929; especially of stocks that saw spectacular rises in value in the four years or so before the Wall Street crash of that year." (Online Etymology Dictionary, which looks suspiciously like the OED)
• • •
Hello! This is Ben Tausig, editor of the American Values Club xword and person who does other things as well. I'm glad to be back as a guest blogger for my friend Rex.

Big ups to David Kahn generally, but today's puzzle didn't elate me. There's a mini-theme afoot, in which CAPTAINPHILLIPS (38A) crosses SOMALIPIRATES (16D: "Hijackers who captured 38-Across"), and then Tom Hanks returns with a strained wink in the clue for SAG (48A: "Org. of which Tom Hanks is a member"). I checked to see if today was Hanks's birthday. No soap. There is in fact, delightfully, an official Tom Hanks Day, but it's April 12th. Is there some rationale I'm missing? And just like that, I'm halfway down a "Crying of Lot 49" rabbit hole.

[This 2005 film, in which I co-star, certainly won't clear anything up (Hanks is prominent, but you must be patient and maybe crazy enough to watch until the end.)]

The highlight of the puzzle (along with the aforementioned BLUECHIPS) was ALEXANDERCALDER (63A: Mobile creator), which fell quickly and brought big, colorful shapes to mind. None of the other stacked 15s (ORLANDOSENTINEL, SOURCESOFINCOME, and LOSEONESMARBLES) produced the least sensory excitation, in answer or clue -- an unacknowledged part of puzzle construction is evocation. The solver should perform mental gymnastics, sure, but it's nice to give them some imagery, if not some music and scents, in return. LOSEONESMARBLES (64A: "Go mad") has no pungency. ORLANDOSENTINEL (15A: "Central Florida daily") has all the haptic delight of smudged black ink on fingers after finishing a story about the passage of a local levy.

I won't dwell on partials COSA, AROW, ALLOR, KEA, and GEES, obscurities MEHTA, TRILBY and KLEBAN, the redundancy of ALLOR and ALLSET, or the mehness of MTNS, EDENS, MMII, ETAS, EST, ARR, and HRS. This might be a bit too much junk, but that happens in themelesses and can't be judged too harshly.

I will, however, call out ENOTE (12D: Modern message), for which I can't find support of any kind. E-whatever is a scourge and an anachronism retained almost exclusively by crosswords. Perhaps at some point in the past it seemed like "e-" could and would be affixed to anything -- e-mail, e-mag, e-rugby, e-buffet, e-chimpanzee. But now, maybe because the Internet of things, e- feels extremely dated in almost all cases. No one says "Hey guys, I'm going on an e-date! Wish me cyber luck! Winking emoji!" You can e-file or send an email, but that's about all you can e-do without getting actual-laughed at.

Signed, Ben Tausig, acting King of CrossWorld


Celebrity cosmetician Laszlo / THU 3-27-14 / Frog's alter ego, in a fairy tale / Abba not known for singing

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Constructor: Jean O'Conor

Relative difficulty: Slightly tough for a Thursday

THEME: FULL CIRCLE — grid contains the formulas for the area and circumference of a circle, plus the FULL CIRCLE kicker

Word of the Day: TASMANIA (Southernmost state) —
Forever the butt of mainland jokes, Tasmania) has shrugged off the stigma of its isolation – the whole world seems to be discovering the physically dazzling, unique and accessible island. Suitably impressed, and a tad sheepish, the rest of Australia has finally stopped laughing and started visiting. ‘Tassie’ (as it’s affectionately known) has it all: vast, uninhabited slabs of wilderness, swimming at Seven Mile Beach, bountiful wildlife in Narawntapu National Park, gourmet food and wine in the Tamar Valley, a thriving arts scene and new-found urban cool.(www.lonelyplanet.com)
• • •

Matt Gaffney pinch-blogging for Rex for one day, and I got a very nice crossword to write about. It will probably be one of the five puzzles I nominate for Crossword of the Month at my blog next week, and that includes work published anytime in March in any medium in the country. It's a novel and interesting theme idea and, with one point of exception, very nicely executed.

The grid conceals PI R SQUARED and 2 PI R in symmetrically placed down entries, which tell you the measurements around or inside a circle. Then there's a nice-but-not-necessary FULL CIRCLE kicker clued as (10-A: With 66-Across, back to the beginning ... or a description of 21- and 48-Down?), referring back to the formulas. And here are the six entries that cross them:

Theme answers:

LIFE OF (PI) (20-A: Best seller about shipwreck survivors)
R MONTHS (24-A: September through April, in a culinary guideline)
(SQUARED) AWAY (28-A: Settled up)
SIDE 2 (47-A: Where to find "Yesterday" on the album "Help!")
MAGNUM, (P.I). (53-A: Tom Selleck title role)
R MOVIES (58-A: "The Godfather" parts I, II and III, e.g.)

Note some fine points in the execution of this theme: 1) the two formulas are placed symmetrically in the grid; 2) PI is used as one lexical unit in both cases, not just as the letters "PI" in a longer word; 3) the R is used as the letter R itself in both cases, not as part of a word. That is really maximizing this theme's potential; if she had just used the letters PI in longer words and/or just used the R's as part of longer words no one would have complained (or if they had, they would have been plausibly accused of nitpicking), but these two elegant touches  elevate the theme considerably.

Another aspect of the execution I liked was how much information was given to the solver. I knew something was up in the middle of the grid but didn't know quite what; then I thought we might be getting two PI R SQUAREDs or something? But no, two different formulas, with "full circle" describing both. So a nice little mystery to unravel.

Apple Pi 

So what's the exception to this puzzle's execution? It would have been extremely cool if it had run on Friday, March 14th, a.k.a. National Pi Day (3.14 being the date, of course). Maybe it's rare to have a Friday themed puzzle, but I'm pretty sure it's happened before and this would've been a perfect time for an exception. Would've added another nice level of "aha!" for solvers at no extra charge.

The grid was good, with not many Scowl-O-Meter triggers (WAC/DAR might be a tough cross, but not much beyond that) and some nice entries like BIKINI TOP, Word of the Day TASMANIA, ARTEMIS and SEWED UP. The whole NW corner is elegant.

That's it from me. Visit a bunch of cool crossword websites here.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for today only


Eldest Stark child on Game of Thrones / WED 3-26-14 / Holey plastic shoe / Anti-Civil War Northerner / N.B.A. great in Icy Hot commercials

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: ATOMIC / NUMBER (18D: With 38-Down, property of the first part of the answer to each starred clue (appropriately positioned in the grid))— answers to starred clues all start with an element of the Periodic Table, and the number of each clue is the same as the ATOMIC / NUMBER of the element in question.

Theme answers:
  • IRON MAIDEN (26D: *Medieval device with spikes) (Iron = At. No. 26)
  • CARBON COPY (6D: *Typist's duplicate of old) (Carbon = At. No. 6)
  • COPPERHEAD (29D: *Anti-Civil War Northerner) (Copper = At. No. 29)
  • NEON LIGHTS (10D: *They're big on Broadway) (Neon - At. No. 10)

Word of the Day: Port PHILLIP Bay (49A: Australia's Port ___ Bay) —
Port Phillip (also commonly referred to as Port Phillip Bay or (locally) just The Bay), is a large bay in southernVictoria, Australia; it is the location of Melbourne. Geographically, the bay covers 1,930 square kilometres (480,000 acres) and the shore stretches roughly 264 km (164 mi). Although it is extremely shallow for its size, most of the bay is navigable. The deepest portion is only 24 metres (79 ft), and half the region is shallower than 8 m (26 ft). The volume of the water in the bay is around 25 cubic kilometres (6.0 cu mi). (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a clever puzzle, but it left me cold. I've seen all kinds of element-themed puzzles before (I did a pretty interesting one just last week … or maybe the week before that … in the Chronicle of Higher Education), and I think they're fine, generally, but this theme doesn't really add any enjoyment to the solve. It's a grid that's designed to get you to marvel at the constructor's cleverness. But for me … there's just this moment at the end, when I'm done, where I notice that the numbers of the clues and atomic numbers correspond. And then I shrug. Now there are some good answers in here, and the fill is probably better-than-average (ignoring that NES / ESSE / STER nexus up there). So overall it's a decent effort. But I think some solvers (esp. the ones who routinely geek out about anything sciencey) will be far more impressed by this than I was. I think it's clever. Neat. OK.

Puzzle was harder than usual due almost entirely to proper nouns completely unknown to me. Never heard of COPPERHEAD that wasn't a snake; no idea that Sydney's bay was called PHILLIP Bay; and ROBB (47A: Eldest Stark child on "Game of Thrones") … let's just say I knew my complete lack of interest in all things "Game of Thrones" would eventually come back to bite me in the ass, puzzle-wise. And here we are. I also had no idea what 50D: Barbaric sorts (HUNS) was at first. Seemed like it could be a million things. And had IN A moment, instead of AHA moment at 64A: ___ moment. Cluing today felt pretty fresh, which I enjoyed, even if part of that freshness was "GOfT"-related. You got CROCs (36A: Holey plastic shoe), you got Shaquille O'NEAL's Icy Hot commercials (5D: N.B.A. great in Icy Hot commercials), you  got DJS taking REQUESTs at PROM. All in all, not a bad day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Shoe designer Blahnik / TUE 3-25-14 / Swiss peak in Eastwood title / Pleasingly plump / Shakespeare character who says I have set my life upon cast / Film noir weather condition

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*) (3:43)

THEME: "IT AIN'T OVER UNTIL / THE FAT LADY SINGS" (17A: With 57-Across, a die-hard's statement) — two other theme answers claim to "prove" this "statement":

Theme answers:
  • WALK-OFF HOMER (27A: Hit that proves 17-/57-Across)
  • BUZZER BEATER (445A: Shot that proves 17-/57-Across)
Word of the Day: MIRIAM (9D: Moses' sister)
Miriam (HebrewמִרְיָםModern Miryam Tiberian Miryām ; Arabic: مريم (Maryam); see Miriam (given name)) was the sister ofMoses and Aaron, and the daughter of Amram and Yocheved. She appears first in the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. // At her mother Yocheved's request, Miriam hid her baby brother Moses by the side of a river to evade the Pharaoh’s order that newborn Hebrew boys be killed. She watched as the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the infant and decided to adopt him. Miriam then suggested that the princess take on a nurse for the child, and suggested Yocheved; as a result, Moses was raised to be familiar with his background as a Hebrew. (wikipedia)
• • •

I like the phrases involved here, but the theme feels off to me. If you're going with AIN'T, you're definitely going with 'TIL, not the fully, proper, UNTIL. Also, neither a WALK-OFF HOMER or  BUZZER BEATER really proves the fat-lady statement. In a situation where either event could occur, no one in the building really thinks it's "over." Perhaps they did, earlier in the game, when there was a sizable lead. Anyway, the point is that when a single play can swing an entire game, no one is uttering the fat-lady phrase. That's a phrase for when you're down 10 in the fourth inning, or down 10 with a minute to play (in basketball).

Fill here is definitely on the weak side. Mainly tired stuff, your OLEGs and OREMs and SSRs and RATAs and OREOs and OBIEs and AWOLs and ENISLEs and what not (ENISLE is on my 10 Most Not Wanted List). Bit of Scrabble ****ing in the NE doesn't do too much damage. TEM is bad, but XYLEM livens things up a little. The Z-crosses at BUZZER BEATER (i.e. FLOOZY and ZAFTIG) are both very nice, but much of the rest felt creaky. Not sure why it played slightly harder than usual for me, especially given that the second half of the long quote was pure gimme. Took me a few passes to see PRISM, oddly (1A: Rainbow maker). I never know if it's MANOLA or MANOLO (5D: Shoe designer Blahnik). Doubted FLOOZY because the word seemed pejorative and I wasn't sure it applied (never actually seen "Chicago"). Forgot that EIGER was a [Swiss peak in an Eastwood title]; that is, forgot it was a Swiss peak, and forgot that Eastwood was in "The EIGER Sanction." Oh, looks like he directed it, too. SULFA is interesting (42D: Certain bacteria-fighting drug)—don't think I've seen that very much before. Don't think I'd know the word if I hadn't been on that class of antibiotic at some point in my life. At any rate, it's different, and different is (mostly) good.

That's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Belgian treaty city / MON 3-24-14 / Rick's love in Casablanca / Pop Singer Carly Jepsen / Where many digital files are now stored

Monday, March 24, 2014

Constructor: Tom Pepper

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: DIRTY WORDS (60A: Curses … or the starts of 17-, 27- and 44-Across) — First words of the three theme answers are all words that suggest dirtiness

Theme answers:
  • FILTHY RICH (17A: Not just well-off)
  • GREASY SPOON (27A: Low-class diners)
  • STAINED GLASS (44A: Window material in many cathedrals)
Word of the Day: Treaty of GHENT (42A: Belgian treaty city) —
The Treaty of Ghent (8 Stat. 218), signed on December 24, 1814 in the Flemish city of Ghent, was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and theUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum — that is, it restored the borders of the two countries to the line before the commencement of hostilities. The Treaty was ratified by Parliament on December 30, 1814 and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). Because of the era's lack of telecommunications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States. An American army under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 . The Treaty of Ghent was not in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 18, 1815. (wikipedia)
• • •

Torn, once again. Fill is very nice and avoids most of the banality and ugliness that are the real dangers of early-week puzzles. But the theme is kinda soft. Only three answer … must be a million words that somehow suggest "dirty" … one of these is used in a way that actually suggests "dirty" (GREASY SPOONS), where the others aren't (not literally, anyway). At least the first two theme answers are colorful (ironically, STAINED GLASS, which is literally colorful, metaphorically isn't). I think my favorite thing in this grid is actually THE CLOUD. High contemporary quotient. But it's kind of a thin, throwaway theme. Well made, but with a theme that wasn't much to my liking. Still, I'm happy not to be groaning mid-solve, as often happens with easy puzzles and their multitude of short answers.

I flew through this in below-average time, which on a Monday is below about 2:50. 2:38 today. Felt faster, actually, but I am a stumblebum on the keyboard, and I tripped out of the gate on BY FAR, which I just couldn't see until I had all but one cross. Later, balked at both HEDGE (didn't fully read the clue, only registered the "fund" part) and couldn't come up with DIRTY without crosses. Would've liked to see a cleaner east, without the less-than-great ACNED and VAL, but those answers are hardly offensive. I seem to have the ILSA / ELSA thing down … or else I just lucky guessed it this time. Who knows?

Back to basketball. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Pitcher Mike with 270 wins / SUN 3-23-14 / Eponymous German physicist / World capital on slope of active volcano / Resort city in 1945 news / Birthplace of Buddha now / Bootleggers banes / Garden State casino informally / Ex-Fed head Bernanke

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Bright Ideas" — Quotation from THOMAS EDISON (86A), aka THE WIZARD OF MENLO PARK (96A: Nickname for 86-Across), inventor of the INCANDESCENT LIGHTBULB (106A: Development of 86-Across … as depicted in the middle of this grid):
"I HAVE NOT FAILED. I'VE JUST / FOUND TEN THOUSAND WAYS / THAT WON'T WORK." (26A: Start of a motivational comment attributed to 86-Across)
Circled squares form image of lightbulb, and spell out (reading counterclockwise, from the top): "AHA MOMENT"

Word of the Day: Dolph LUNDGREN (116A: Dolph of "Rocky IV") —
Dolph Lundgren (born Hans Lundgren; 3 November 1957) is a Swedish actor, director, and martial artist. He belongs to a generation of film actors who epitomise the action hero stereotype, alongside Sylvester StalloneChuck Norris,Arnold SchwarzeneggerBruce WillisSteven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
He received a degree in chemistry from Washington State University in 1976, a degree in chemical engineering from theRoyal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in the early 1980s, then a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering from theUniversity of Sydney in Sydney in 1982. Lundgren holds a rank of 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate and was European champion in 1980 and 1981. While in Sydney, he became a bodyguard for Jamaican singer Grace Jones and began a relationship with her. They moved together to New York City, where after a short stint as a model and bouncer at the Manhattan nightclub The Limelight, Jones got him a small debut role in the James Bond film A View to a Kill as aKGB henchman.
Lundgren's breakthrough came when he starred in Rocky IV in 1985 as the imposing Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Since then, he has starred in more than 40 movies, almost all of them in the action genre. He portrayed He-Man in the 1987 fantasy/science fiction film Masters of the Universe, and Frank Castle in the 1989 film The Punisher. In the early 1990s, he also appeared in films such Dark Angel (1990), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), alongside Brandon Lee;Universal Soldier (1992) as opposite Jean-Claude Van DammeJoshua Tree (1993), opposite Kristian Alfonso andGeorge SegalJohnny Mnemonic (1995), opposite Keanu Reeves; and Blackjack (1998), directed by John Woo. In 2004, Lundgren directed his first picture, The Defender, and subsequently helmed The Mechanik (2005), Missionary Man (2007), Command Performance (2009), and Icarus (2010), in which he also starred. After a long spell performing indirect-to-video films since 1996, 2010 marked his return to theaters with The Expendables, an on-screen reunion with Stallone, alongside an all-action star cast which included, among others, Jason StathamJet LiStone Cold Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke. He reprised his role as Gunner Jensen in The Expendables 2 in 2012 and the upcomingThe Expendables 3 in 2014. (wikipedia)
• • •

Solid work, but just too easy, with a gimmick that was too transparent. I knew what this puzzle was going to do as soon as I saw the title and read the Note: "When this puzzle is done, the circled letters, reading counterclockwise from the top, will spell a phrase relating to the puzzle's theme." OK, I didn't know the phrase was going to be "AHA MOMENT," but "Bright Ideas" as a title screamed both "Edison" and "Lightbulb," and I honestly predicted the bulb shape before I even opened the puzzle. This does not make me a genius; it just makes me semi-conscious. This would be a nice gateway puzzle for people who think the Sunday is too hard for them. But I was done in under 10, and since the whole theme was essentially already known to me before I started, it just wasn't that gripping. I will say that the long Downs are gold—Ian is a Really top-notch constructor, and there's hardly anything junky in the whole grid (though because the grid is so segmented, there are a *lot* of short answers, and they can't all be winners). He's one of a handful of constructors I know who do truly care about the overall quality of the grid—The Whole Grid, not just the theme. So the puzzle is expertly made, and it's got sports teams and bands and science and SESAME BAGELS (60D: Deli stock with seeds)—a very nice mix of knowledge, with punchy answers abounding. So even if the theme was D.O.A. for me, a. it won't have been for everyone, and b. there is still a decent puzzle framework underneath that theme.

There were few challenging or scary moments for me. Typically, the place that gave me the most trouble was the last place I solved—the "Q" in IQS / QUITO was the last letter in the grid. I may have briefly forgotten that QUITO existed. In fact, I'm definitely sure that briefly happened. But we're not talking about minutes of struggle here. Seconds. Just somewhat more seconds than other parts took me. OPEN CIRCUIT isn't a concept I know a lot about, so there was some initial futzing around in that area (I had Buddha born in NEMEA at one point …) (73A: Birthplace of Buddha, now). I blanked on SHARON, briefly. [Lockup] = CAN just made no sense to me until I had it all. Then I was like "Oh, yeah … I teach a course in crime fiction, so I should Probably know that." Really didn't care for the book "Life of Pi," so when I saw that clue I was like "How the *** should I know that guy's last n—… oh, wait, I know it. It's PATEL" (102D: Pi ___, "Life of Pi" protagonist). Turns out my brain still retains useless information—maybe not as well as it did when I was a teenager, but pretty well.

I'm gonna get back to basketball-watching / exam-grading, but first: Puzzle of the Week!

So if you want to see why, like Whitney Houston, I believe the children are our future, you'll want to tune into some of the work being done by young constructors on their independent puzzle sites. It's like getting a peek inside a test kitchen. Sometimes the stuff comes out a little rough or weird or not to my liking, but more often I am privileged to witness some truly inspired work—boundary-breaking stuff that you aren't likely to see in mainstream outlets. This week I'd like to single out Neville Fogarty's "College Humor," which has a nice, timely theme, but was super tough for me due to the fact that I am old (at least compared to Neville). Great stuff if you're young, great practice for navigating treacherous proper noun waters if you're less than young, and with a solid theme holding it all together. You should also head over and check out Peter Broda's latest themeless offering, "Freestyle #30," at his site, The Cross Nerd. As I mentioned elsewhere this week, this puzzle has a single clue/answer in it of a type that I find cheap and deeply annoying—but a. not everyone agrees with my philosophy on this, and b. more importantly, that answer aside, the puzzle is a pyrotechnic display. This guy has virtuosic tendencies where themelesses are concerned. So fresh, so current, so wow. I laughed in admiration mid-solve—that's about the highest praise I can give a puzzle. But the winner this week is Ben Tausig's Inkwell Puzzle for this week: "Upbeat Mixes," an easyish puzzle with a super-clever, funny, feel-good theme. Professional, polished, entertaining, witty. Good, good work. I won't spoil it—you can get it free here from Ben's Weekly sword Google group. Hope you like it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. neglected to give Andy Kravis's "Themeless #12" the shout-out I'd intended last night when I was doing this write-up. I gotta get more organizized. Anyway, this puzzle leads with a dramatic 1-Across and doesn't let up from there. Sweet stuff. Andy drops grid science every Sunday at Andy Kravis, Cruciverbalist at Law (in fact, there's a new puzzle out Today). Add him to your list.


Rescuer of Princess Peach / SAT 3-22-14 / One of Leakey's Trimates / High rollers in casino lingo / Three Stooges creator Healy / Did entrechat

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Constructor: Greg Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: GREBE (44D: Diving bird) —
grebe /ˈɡrb/ is a member of the order Podicipediformes, a widely distributed order of freshwater diving birds, some of which visit the sea when migrating and in winter. This order contains only a singlefamily, the Podicipedidae, containing 22 species in 6 extant genera. // Grebes are small to medium-large in size, have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, although they can run for a short distance, they are prone to falling over, since they have their feet placed far back on the body. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very smooth but not very snappy. It's admirably clean (as any 70+-worder in the NYT ought to be) but the only real zip is in the answer ZIP DRIVE (18A: Obsolescent storage device). Even with the Scrabble letters, I can't get that excited about a tepid phrase like ZOO EXHIBIT (22A: One often behind bars). I really think themelesses should offer some pizzazz, something fresh and fun, and this puzzle—while expertly made and without obvious defect—is just workmanlike and adequate. Stuff like ALTERANT and RENTABLE just clonk. They're words, but not good ones. Still, there is very little in the way of bad stuff, and some of the clues showed cleverness and thoughtfulness, so while not wowed, I'm something close to satisfied.

Speaking of FLEW BY (1A: Passed in a blur), this puzzle did. I had worked the whole thing down to just the tiny SE corner in just over 6 minutes (!!!). But then, clonk. Derailment. Free fall. Other metaphor signifying stoppage. See if you can guess the problem. Actually, you probably can, because it probably happened to you. I had GRAPE and wrote in JUICE. Then I *confirmed* that answer by crossing the "J" with JUMBO. Then I got UPPED and ABLAZE and OAF … and yet all the 6-letter Downs remained peskily unsolved. I invented a plant part—the CUPOLA—at 39D: Protection for flowers in bud (SEPALS), but that didn't help much. So after a minute or so of this, I did the professional thing and took out JUICE. If the "J" works, I reasoned, then maybe … JELLY. And that was that.

I found the puzzle very easy, even with that SE corner hiccup. But others, clearly, did not. So I'm curious about where people struggled. I felt like I couldn't miss today. Got PLUS / MINUS off just the "P". The NE corner may as well not have existed. Once you get ZOO EXHIBIT and the stuff beneath it, GAZEBOS and ELIXIR are obvious, and every long Across goes in bang bang bang. I kept waiting  for the hammer to drop, and it did, I guess, a little, in the SE, but overall there was very little resistance for me. I'd like to thank crosswords past for teaching me what a GREBE is. I have no doubt that knowledge contributed significantly to my quickness today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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