Armored as horse / SUN 11-30-14 / Singer whose I Get Ideas was on charts for 30 weeks / Julius Wilbrand invention of 1863 / Where Indiana Jones reunites with Marion / Flowering tropical plant / Textile patented in 1894 / English glam-rock band with six #1 hits / Its icon is Spaceship Earth / Digicam component

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Zap!" — the ADs have been "zapped" from familiar phrases. So the "AD"s are visible, but they've been rebused into individual boxes (a visual representation of fast-forwarding?); wacky "?" clues reference the "AD"-less phrases (though you need the "AD"s in the crosses). Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the ADs are not there in the Acrosses, but are there in the Downs … this is, of course, impossible to represent visually … but it explains the "AD"-containing crosses. Anyhoo, here are your long themers:

Theme answers:
  • BRO[AD]-MINDED (19A: Focused on one's fellow fraternity members?)
  • IRISH BALL[AD] (24A: Dublin dance?)
  • CHANGE OF [AD]DRESS (36A: What Clark Kent needs to become Superman?)
  • ON THE SH[AD]Y SIDE (45A: Somewhat bashful?)
  • FIVE O'CLOCK SH[AD]OW (63A: Local afternoon newscast?)
  • [AD]OPTION AGENCY (83A: Business offering the right to buy and sell securities?)
  • FOLLOW THE LE[AD]ER (93A: How to find what a creep is looking at?)
  • L[AD]IES FIRST (109A: Says "I didn't do it!" before fessing up?)
  • LEGAL [AD]VICE (115A: Cigarettes or booze?)
Word of the Day: TONY MARTIN (72D: Singer whose "I Get Ideas" was on the charts for 30 weeks) —
Tony Martin (December 25, 1913 – July 27, 2012), born Alvin Morris, was an Americanactor and singer who was married to performer Cyd Charisse for 60 years. (wikipedia)
• • •

I thought this one worked reasonably well, and the cluing felt well and truly toughened up, making the Sunday something other than the dull walk in the park that it has occasionally become in recent years. I have already gotten mail from people wondering what the hell "Zap!" has to do with ADs, making me wonder if this concept isn't dated already, a hold-over from a time when people recorded shows on VHS tapes. Certainly, the idea of fast-forwarding through ads is still with us (if you use a DVR, you've almost certainly done this), but I don't think I've heard the expression "zap" in this context in ages. I generally associate it with the '90s. I have no explanation or evidence to support my feeling that the phrase is no longer with us in the way it once was. Just a gut feeling. I also thought the current pope was es-shoe-ing the whole RED SHOE thing these days. Clue is still correct, historically, but the first thing RED SHOE made me think of was "uh uh."

While I generally like this theme, there are a couple clunky things. First SHADY and SHADOW are too closely related, etymologically, to both be crucial theme-answer words. They're not exactly dupes, but they're close kin, and a truly well-crafted and elegant construction isn't going to the "shade" well twice in the same puzzle. [Addendum: a second dupe—a friend just pointed out that SH[]OW doesn't just dupe SHOWY, it intersects it] Second problem is also a result of inadequate attention to craft. If you're going to zap ADs, you *zap* ADs or you omit them entirely, i.e. there should be no "AD"s in this thing, *anywhere*. Again, this is a matter of elegance. One could argue "that rule applies only in the theme answers." OK, but in a puzzle called "Zap!", I expect them to be zapped. Everywhere. And I especially don't want the first answer I encounter, 1-A-bleeping-cross, to be ADDS (!?). I see only one other instance of "AD" in the grid (at ADANO), meaning that it wouldn't have been hard At All to zap them. Just do it! Get rid of 'em. Come on. Raise the bar, NYT. A theme idea this good deserves commensurate execution.

Biggest trouble spots for me were the SE and NE. I got into the far SE corner pretty easily, but the rest of that quadrant, yikes. Might've helped if I'd ever heard of CANNA, or knew what West ELM was. Had to infer the S and the S and the Y in MESSY to pick it up and then travel up from there. Harrowing! But I had a much worse time in the NE, where the phrase IRISH BALLAD just … didn't seem like a coherent thing to me, I guess, so much so that I had IRISH --LLAD and thought I must have an error. I had never heard of either of the missing crosses there: IMAGER (OK, maybe I've heard that, but yuck, is that really the term for the viewfinder?) and BARDED (I've read soooooo many works with armored horses in them, and have never ever seen this word). If I didn't know that SLADE was an [English glam-rock band with six #1 hits], I might've had fatal trouble up there. I had GIRDED for BARDED and my first glam-rock answer was T-REX. But I survived. And overall, I enjoyed the challenge.

Puzzle Worth Noting this week goes to Tyler Hinman's seasonal creation for American Values Club crossword, which does some truly stunning things with the black squares. It's titled "Open Up," and you can get it for $1 here, or just subscribe already, what the hell?
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Historic residential hotel in Manhattan / SAT 11-29-14 / But in Bonn / King of old comics / Onetime host of CBS's Morning Show / Boxer who won 1980's Brawl in Montreal / Principal lieutenant of Hector in Iliad / Nickname in Best Picture of 1969 / Masks Confronting death painter 1888

    Saturday, November 29, 2014

    Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: THREE-LETTER WORD (32A: Something not found in this puzzle's answer) — not a theme, really, but since this sits right across the middle of the grid, and refers to an overall quality of the grid, I'm calling it a 'theme.'

    Word of the Day: ANSONIA (51A: Historic residential hotel in Manhattan) —
    The Ansonia is a building on the Upper West Side of New York City, located at 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and West 74th Streets. It was originally built as a hotel by William Earle Dodge Stokes, the Phelps-Dodge copper heir and share holder in the Ansonia Clock Company, and it was named for his grandfather, the industrialist Anson Greene Phelps. In 1899, Stokes commissioned architect Paul E. Duboy (1857–1907) to build the grandest hotel in Manhattan.
    Stokes would list himself as "architect-in-chief" for the project and hired Duboy, a sculptor who designed and made the ornamental sculptures on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, to draw up the plans. New Orleans architect Martin Shepard served as draftsman and assistant superintendent of construction on the project. A contractor sued Stokes in 1907, but he would defend himself, explaining that Duboy was in an insane asylum in Paris and should not have been making commitments in Stokes's name concerning the hotel.
    In what might be the earliest harbinger of the current developments in urban farming, Stokes established a small farm on the roof of the hotel.
    Stokes had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia—that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support—which led to perhaps the strangest New York apartment amenity ever. "The farm on the roof," Weddie Stokes wrote years later, "included about 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear." Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade. Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Fell asleep before the puzzle came out. Then woke up in the middle of the night and solved it. Since I was woozy with sleep and it was Saturday (i.e. the toughest day of the week), I went slowly. Methodically. Poking away. This is all to say that I finished in my normal Saturday time, but the puzzle might've been easier than a "Medium" difficulty rating suggests. I never got significantly hung up, as I sometimes do on Saturdays, though there were a couple of areas that felt threatening for a bit. This is one of those highly segmented jobs that plays more like five mini-puzzles than one large one—these can often be deadly. You get caught in one of these (roughly) 7x6 or 8x7 sections, with no THREE-LETTER WORDs to grab on to, and the white space can just eat you alive. Luckily for me, the grid-spanners were fairly forthcoming, meaning that I was able to get a good decent preliminary toehold in every section. Got I CAN'T SLEEP AT ALL rather easily (it turned out to be I CAN'T SLEEP A WINK, which is why the SW was briefly harrowing). After the west was won, just a little tinkering in the middle allowed me to see THREE-LETTER WORD. Then I got very lucky, and with just the -WD- in place, got WEEKEND WARRIORS. After that, the NW (with HORSE already in place from the 52A cross-reference) played like a Tuesday, and then it was just a matter of fighting through the I/E dilemma at ERMAS, and finally fighting through the NYC provincialism of ANSONIA (!?). And I was done.

    All things considered ("all things" being the relatively low word count and the four big chunks of white space in the corners), this puzzle felt pretty clean. The "theme" is mostly trivial, but that center answer neatly describes a feature of the grid that makes it hard both to fill and to solve, thus giving it a nifty meta-puzzle feel ("meta" in the sense of its being a puzzle about a puzzle, not "meta" in the sense of there being another puzzle to solve after you complete the grid … unless I'm missing something … it's the middle of the night, so who knows …?). No 3-letter words, but (not surprisingly) the four-letter answers do groan a little under the strain of the construction. They are almost always the worst thing in any section of this puzzle. Two long Downs are lovely, and none of the 5+-letter answers made me wince, so overall I'd say that's a victory.

    OBAMANIA feels weird to me. I don't remember seeing it in '08, and I'm finding it hard to say. Awkward. It wants to come out OH'-buh-MAY'-nee-uh or oh-BAH'-muh-NEE'-uh, neither of which sounds like anything you'd use, given the high likelihood that your conversation partner would respond to you with "What?" I don't doubt the validity of the answer—it's one of the more interesting things in the grid. I just can't manage to say it in a way that sounds reasonable. I don't know who EVE BEST is, but then, until last year or so, I didn't know who "Wallis Simpson" was either. I saw Michael DORN on screen earlier in the evening; wife and daughter are working their way through "Star Trek: TNG," and today I sat on the margins and ate leftover birthday cake and occasionally asked dumb questions or offered commentary, "MST3K"-style (especially during the smooth jazz sequence where fake-Picard asks Crusher to dine with him in his chambers…). Anyway, Worf was in today's episode. He eventually agreed to mutiny against the fake captain. Everybody lived.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Gulf of Aqaba resort city / FRI 11-28-14 / Trading insider Boesky / Space blanket material / Italian port on the Tyrrhenian Sea / Theater magnate Marcus / Mother of the Freedom Movement, to friends / Tolkien protagonist

      Friday, November 28, 2014

      Constructor: Tracy Gray

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: BLACK FRIDAY (56A: Time of annual madness … or a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — rebus in which "SALE" appears in four different squares.

      Theme answers:
      Word of the Day: ESALEN (64A: Big Sur institute) —
      The Esalen Institute, commonly just called Esalen, is a retreat center and intentional community in Big Sur, California, which focuses upon humanistic alternative education. Esalen is a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food. The institute offers more than 500 public workshops a year, in addition to conferences, research initiatives, residential work-study programs, and internships.
      Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962. Their goal was to explore work in the humanities and sciences, in order to fully realize what Aldous Huxley had called the "human potentialities".
      Esalen is located about 45 miles (72 km) south of Monterey and nine miles (14 km) north of Lucia. Esalen is situated on 120 acres of Big Sur coast. The grounds were once home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, from which the institute got its name. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      A puzzle to celebrate idiotic consumerism. Great. Fantastic.

      Even if I didn't find the "madness" this puzzle is celebrating slightly repugnant, even if I was a huge love of BLACK FRIDAY shopping, I would still have found this puzzle wanting. There were a couple big reasons for this:

      1. It's just a SALE rebus. I mean, that's it. Straight. Basic. Kind of dull. If you're going to have a revealer like BLACK FRIDAY, it seems like you could exploit black squares or the letters FRI or something, anything interesting. That's certainly what a Fireball or American Values Club or other high-end independent outlet would've done. Something truly creative. This is simply a SALE rebus. Four SALEs. I do not see how this is an adequate way to represent a self-described "Time of annual madness." Four SALEs is not madness. It's barely Presidents' Day weekend.
      2. While the theme does get us a couple nice rebus-containing answers (SALEM'S LOT, and, especially, NEWS ALERT), it also gets us dreadful old crosswordy answers like the ADAM'S ALE / ESALEN crossing, and the improbable and utterly uncrossworthy middle-name version of Rosa Parks's name. Also, SALEM and JERUSALEM are too related to inhabit the same grid. Salem, in the bible, is the "royal city of Melchizedek, traditionally identified with Jerusalem." This is where other SALEMs get their name. I consider JERUSALEM and SALEM dupes. Bad form.

      Fill overall is middling, with EILAT and SHMO being the most irksome stuff (though that ALOHAS MESON SYST bank is pretty rough, too). Most of the rest is solid, but none of the non-theme stuff really shines. The main difficulties in this puzzle were a. figuring out that there was a theme at all (who's looking for it on Friday?), and b. just finding out where those four squares were. I didn't know until quite late that there was a theme. I had almost all the N and NE worked out. But I had SPRINGS A - (crossing NEWS RT, which I didn't blink at). So I thought there was a rebus of some kind, but from where I was sitting, it looked like the rebus was "LEAK." Then I scanned the clues to see if there was a revealer, and found it, and then things got much easier from there. The cluing is really uninspired on this one. I'm looking around for clues to single out for praise, and honestly don't see any. Seems like your big blow-out BLACK FRIDAY puzzle should be bolder and more creative than this. So many people will be working the puzzle today—what the hell else are you gonna do, stuck at home with the family you've already spent so much time with? Why not give solvers something daring, bold, and truly tricky?
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Statistician Silver / THU 11-27-14 / Second-largest moon of Saturn / Highest paid TV star of 2014 / State south of Veracruz / Sister of grand duchess Anastasia / Upwards of 170 beats per minute / Eastern terminus of Erie Canal / Actual first name of Tom Seaver Orson Welles

        Thursday, November 27, 2014

        Constructor: Stanley Newman

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME:  [Thanksgiving phrase] — "Thanks a lot" (roughly) in three different languages

        Theme answers:
        • MILLE GRAZIE 
        Word of the Day: COO (53D: Corp. manager) —
        chief operating officer (COO), also called the chief operations officerdirector of operations, or operations director, is a position that can be one of the highest-ranking executive positions in an organization, comprising part of the "C-Suite". The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company, and routinely reports to the highest ranking executive, usually the chief executive officer (CEO). The COO may also carry the title of President which makes that person the second in command at the firm, especially if the highest ranking executive is the Chairman and CEO. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        This was a reasonably solid themeless—yes, I see the theme there, but … I don't know. Those countries don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so while it's literally true that those are all "thanksgiving phrases" , the whole conceit seems rather thin. Also, the theme is just thin generally—just 35 squares total. So its feel is mostly that of a themeless. The most interesting thing about the theme is the way the clues exploit the first-letter-capitalized cluing convention to get you to think that the clues relate to capital-T Thanksgiving, when really they're related only to lowercase-T thanksgiving. The foreign angle … I don't really get. I guess those three phrases just fit nicely/symmetrically into the grid.

        Solved this one slow-fast-stopped … then done. Got AAH and SCAM but nothing else in the NW. Then PECS and PSI got me going in the NE, though it still took me a while to throw MUCHAS GRACIAS back across the grid and into that NW corner. I had -RACIA- at the end of that answer, and I was like "… how is a [Thanksgiving phrase] going to end in 'RACIAL'???" After that top themer went in, the puzzle went down fast, until I put in MERCI BEAUCOUP. I thought with LAGS, AUEL, and BEAUCOUP going for me down there in the SE, I'd be set, but Nuh-o. Got TSP and PAST … still nothing. I just sat. I put the blame entirely on COO. Nobody expects a perfectly good word to be clued as an abbr. I will add that nobody *wants* it, either. Why you decide to clue a word as an abbr., I will not know. I guess just to f*** with solvers. Mission accomplished. Without GEORGE, I had no hope down there. No way I was getting RETORT from [Counter with a sharp edge] (clever) or SERAPES from [Clothing items with fringes] without much help from crosses, but those just wouldn't come. I just couldn't pick up any of those short Acrosses from their final letters. Somehow, finally, my brain managed to see through T---U-H to THROUGH, and only then did I realize, "Oh … COO." And then I was done.

        I had no idea JUDGE JUDY was still on the air. Seriously. [Highest-paid TV star of 2014, by far]?? Wow.

        Happy capital-T Thanksgiving,
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          1983 sci-fi drama / WED 11-26-14 / Old galley / Willow shoot / Like Toves in Jabberwocky / Sci-fi author Stanislaw / Letterman's favorite activity? / Doo-wop group with 1963 hit Remember Then / Biblical debarkation point

          Wednesday, November 26, 2014

          Constructor: Michael S. Maurer

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: WAR GAMES (58A: 1983 sci-fi drama … or a possible title for this puzzle) — theme answers are terms related to the military and … I guess the clues are playing "games" by being wacky (?):

          Theme answers:
          • M*A*S*H UNIT (17A: Potato?)
          • SHORE LEAVE (24A: Ebb tide?)
          • PRESENT ARMS (34A: Inoculation order?)
          • FIRING LINE (49A: "Clean out your desk!"?)
          Word of the Day: LAVALIERES (9D: Some microphones) —
          lavaliere′ mi`crophone n.
          a small microphone that hangs around the neck of a performer or speaker.

          • • •

          Had my fingers crossed for a decent birthday puzzle, but this one didn't quite come through. I'm not even sure I fully understand the theme. I don't see the "GAMES." I see wacky clues—are those the "GAMES"? I can only guess. Also, "WAR" is inapt in the extreme. Only two of these themers are related to war (M*A*S*H UNIT and, possibly, FIRING LINE). The others are military, but have no necessary connection to war. The whole "possible title" makes very little sense. Seems awfully tenuous. In the revealer clue's defense, though, it just says "possible title," not "appropriate" or "good title." Puzzle played hard for a Wednesday, largely because the themers were not easy to pick up even after you grokked the theme. PRESENT ARMS took me forever. I ended up solving this in very unusual fashion—closing in on the middle from all sides. I think my last letter in the grid was the "R" in PRESENT ARMS / LAVALIERES. I'd never heard of the latter. Not that I could remember. Other crosses for PRESENT ARMS were hard to pick up as well. SALESMAN was not easy to get from 37D: Infomercial figure. I'd never heard of the EARLS (did they wear LAVALIERES? (which I keep wanting to call LEVOLOR, like the blinds, which I only just now found out was spelled that way). STEP INSIDE, also tough to get to from [Words of welcome]. Bit of a toughie, and a bit old-fashioned-feeling, overall. Outside LISTEN UP and STEP INSIDE, the fill is pretty musty/creaky. All DAR and BIREME (43D: Old galley) and ELIA and OSIER and RMN. This puzzle might've felt fresh during the RMN administration.

          From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I don't like the "?" clue on ANAGRAMS. In a puzzle where the themers have "?" clues, you don't give "?" clues to other long answers that run in the same direction. That's just confusing. Getting the "?" clue there, in an answer that's as long as the themer in the NW corner, made me think theme clue. Then when I got ANAGRAMS, I tried to see how it was thematic, only to discover it wasn't. OK, fair game, my fault for not noticing it wasn't precisely in a theme position. But I would've avoided the "?" clue there. The clue itself doesn't really make sense. Is the idea that a "Letterman" is someone who enjoys … letters? But … why would that mean you enjoyed *rearranging* them, specifically? There's just a ton of slack in the logic of this puzzle. IOR IOR IOR. SPLAT. Maybe next year I'll get the birthday puzzle I've always wanted. This year, I'll have to settle for cake.

          I'm also not convinced "WAR GAMES" is a "sci-fi" movie, even though wikipedia says it is. Everything was supposed to be plausible, right? It's not like aliens inhabited the computer. "Joshua" wasn't like Hal—it didn't develop a kind of human sentience. Did it? Maybe I'm misremembering the level of Joshua's anthropomorphosis. Anyway, "Star Wars" was sci-fi. "Blade Runner" was sci-fi. "E.T." was sci-fi. "WAR GAMES"—I'm less sure.

          Travel safe if you're traveling, especially in the NE.

          See you on Thanksgiving.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


            American athlete born 11/25/1914 / TUE 11-25-14 / Early moon lander for short / Conifer with toxic seeds / Conventioneer's ID

            Tuesday, November 25, 2014

            Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

            Relative difficulty: Medium

            THEME: JOE DIMAGGIO's 100th birthday

            Theme answers:
            • CENTERFIELD (17A: Position of 62-Across)
            • HITTING / STREAK (24A: With 27-Across, record-setting achievement of 62-Across)
            • FIFTY-SIX GAMES (38A: Duration of 62-Across's 24-/27-Across)
            • YANKEE / CLIPPER (52A: With 54-Across, moniker of 62-Across)
            • JOE DIMAGGIO (62A: American athlete born 11/25/1914)
            Word of the Day: ALTON Brown, host of "Iron Chef America" (57A) —
            Alton Crawford Brown (born July 30, 1962) is an American television personality, celebrity chef, author, actor, and cinematographer. He is the creator and host of the Food Network television show Good Eats, the mini-series Feasting on Asphalt and Feasting on Waves, and host and main commentator on Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen. Brown is also the author of several books on cookery. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            This is about as dull as you can make a tribute crossword. I don't understand even making this puzzle if all you can do is plug in tired facts as theme answers. The puzzle overall is certainly competently constructed—there's not too much bad fill, and the big NE/SW corners are rather nice. But the theme? It does nothing. It has no twist, no play, no zing, no anything. Just the facts, ma'am. If you are going to pay tribute to a guy (or gal), Pay Tribute (with something genuinely inventive and creative) or stay home. Seriously, though, those big corners are nice. If I ignore the theme and just look at those, then I can work up warm feelings about this puzzle. Although that warmth might also be a. the bourbon I've been drinking tonight, or b. the mild case of rage I have over this whole Ferguson debacle. Just to end on a high note, though, a solid ovation for that NE corner—all the Downs, gold.

            If there were more to say, I'd say more. But there's not, so I won't. Good day.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              French Sudan today / MON 11-24-14 / Longest river wholly in Switzerland / Shopaholic's indulgence / Beermaking knitting

              Monday, November 24, 2014

              Constructor: Robert Seminara

              Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (I mean, yes, easy, but a couple places gave me trouble, which virtually never happens on Monday)

              THEME: ROFL (36A: Texter's expression spelled out by the starts of 18-, 28-, 46- and 59-Across) — ROFL stands for ROLLING / ON the / FLOOR / LAUGHING (hence sometimes styled as "ROTFL")

              • ROLLING PINS
              • ON THE DOWN LOW
              • FLOOR MIRRORS
              • LAUGHING GAS

              Word of the Day: COZEN (16A: Deceive) —
              coz·en  (kzn)
              v.  coz·enedcoz·en·ingcoz·ens
              1. To mislead by means of a petty trick or fraud; deceive.
              2. To persuade or induce to do something by cajoling or wheedling.
              3. To obtain by deceit or persuasion.
              To act deceitfully.

              [Perhaps from Middle English cosinfraud, trickery.] (
              • • •

              My first question was "do people still text that?" though I'm guessing that the answer is someone, somewhere still does. Having a texting expression as the revealer gives this puzzle a patina of up-to-dateness, though nothing else about the grid feels very hip or modern or contemporary at all (nice contemporary clue on SCOTLAND, though) (40D: Site of a 2014 vote for independence). I'm currently having a back-and-forth with another constructor about ROFL vs. ROTFL (the version of this same expression that includes the "T" for "the"). ROFL and ROTFL mean the same thing, essentially, as far as I can tell, so I don't see the big deal, but his/her point is that ROTFL is a better revealer—you've got a "the" in your answer, and you say your revealer "expression" is "spelled out by the starts" of the answers, then you should have the "T" in your revealer (since it's right there in the theme answer). ROTFL is more precise. Here, "O" stands for "On the," which is at least a little odd. In the texting expression ROFL, the "the" is elided, but when you get into claiming that something is "spelled out" in the puzzle, now you're on shakier ground. ROLLING / ON / FLOOR / LAUGHING is spelled, but that's not how you'd translate the expression. THE is in your theme answer, but it's not "spelled out" in your revealer. Still, I think the stakes are pretty low here, and I have no real problem with the theme's execution.

              I don't know what FLOOR MIRRORS are, and don't think I've seen them in dressing rooms. Are they free-standing, just sitting on the floor? Seriously, I've seen lots of mirrors in dressing rooms, but they're always affixed to walls. Anyway, with no hope at the FLOOR part of that answer, that west section all of a sudden got really hard. Had CMI and TAT and *nothing* else west of LEO. Couldn't get any of the Downs from their first and last letters alone. If I hadn't known ROFL, well, LOL. But I knew it, and things fell into place. Got slowed down by weird AGO clue (60D: "Give it A GO!"), and the pretty awkward cross-reference at 59D: See 58-Down (LAB). Rest of puzzle was OK, though it felt safe and old-fashioned. Tepid. Grid is highly segmented, loaded with short fill, and short on interesting stuff (except BEDSORE, which literally made me say EWW…) (24D: Long-term hospital patient's problem). I like the digital spirit of this one, but overall it's just about average.

              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


              Rent character Marquez / SUN 11-23-14 / Headmaster honorific / Five-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner / Poem in our eyes per Emerson / Chinese company whose 2014 IPO was world's largest in history / What Gustave Dore's Confusion of Tongues depicts

              Sunday, November 23, 2014

              Constructor: Patrick Berry

              Relative difficulty: Medium

              THEME: "Surround Sound" — theme answers are wacky two-word phrases where first word is completely aurally subsumed by the tail-end of the second word. First word is disyllabic in every case:

              Theme answers:
              • RANDOM MEMORANDUM (23A: Office missive sent out arbitrarily?)
              • GRANITE POMEGRANATE (30A: Stone fruit?)
              • LUNAR BALLOONER (48A: Aeronaut who's headed for the moon?)
              • ROTC PAPARAZZI (66A: Photographers who stalk future lieutenants?)
              • PEWTER COMPUTER (84A: Desktop machine made of malleable metal?)
              • MENTIONS DIMENSIONS (101A: Provides some idea of an object's size?)
              • COLLIE MELANCHOLY (113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?)
              Word of the Day: ASUNCIÓN (37D: South American capital) —
              Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción (Spanish pronunciation: [asunˈsjon]GuaraniParaguay) is the capital and largest city of Paraguay.
              The Ciudad de Asunción is an autonomous capital district not part of any department. The metropolitan area, called Gran Asunción, includes the cities of San LorenzoFernando de la MoraLambaréLuqueMariano Roque AlonsoÑembySan AntonioLimpioCapiatá and Villa Elisa, which are part of the Central Department. The Asunción metropolitan area has more than 2 million inhabitants. […]
              It is the home of the national government, principal port, and the chief industrial and cultural centre of the country. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              This is a passable theme, but I expect more than "passable" from Patrick Berry. Way, way more. To be blunt, Patrick Berry needs to be, minimally, Very Good, every time out. The overall quality of the NYT is really riding on a handful of stalwarts who are capable of producing puzzles of a very high order. Wentz, McCoy, Gorski, Chen, Steinberg, Berry … these people just can't fall down or even trip on the job. They have too much of other people's mediocrity to make up for. Unfair? Of course. But that's the current reality of the NYT crossword. There are definitely some good moments in this puzzle—the acronymic use of ROTC (i.e. relying on how it sounds, not how it's spelled) is inspired , and the clue on COLLIE MELANCHOLY(113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?) is genuinely hilarious. But MENTIONS DIMENSIONS and RANDOM MEMORANDUM just lie there. Too much real estate to give over to boring answers, especially in a puzzle whose theme is so basic that it really Needs to be great at every turn.

              There were times when this felt like the easiest Sunday I'd done in a while, and other times where I got oddly bogged down by a single word or small handful of them. Turns out I am capable of confidently spelling neither MEMORANDUM (considered -EM ????) nor POMEGRANATE (somehow thought maybe there was another "N" in there just before the "G"; again ????). OXFAM is familiar to me after-the-fact, but during-the-solve, it was nowhere. Needed nearly every cross. I somehow wrote in MOAN at 98D: No longer standing tall? (MOWN), which really stopped me at the end, as I considered TAITTER as an answer to 108A: Feed supplier (good clue for TWITTER, btw). Given a five-letter answer starting with "I" and given the clue [2006 World Cup winner] the only (and I mean *only*) country I could think of was INDIA, which, I was 99.7% sure, was wrong. When I got ITALY, I laughed. Sorry, ITALY. Forgot about you. Also forgot Jessica Simpson's sister's name, mostly because I forgot about Jessica Simpson, who (like her sister) hasn't been relevant for years. Anyway, ASHLEE is spelled thuslee, which caused some minor confusion in the south.

              Had LEAD for LEAK (73D: Boon for an investigative journalist), and then RHYME for 45D: What some dreams and themes do (RECUR). I guess I just ignored the "some" in that clue. My bad. But the worst struggle I had was in the NE, where SALE TAG for NAME TAG (16D: Retail clerk's accessory) really gunked things up. Had LILI for MIMI, EASE for WANE, and thus EOLAN for 14D: George Eliot, but not Marilyn Manson (WOMAN). And then I just sat and wondered what the problem could be. Eventually pulled SALE from SALE TAG. Then NAME TAG leapt forth and all the surrounding right answers popped into view. Happy 195th birthday to George Eliot, by the way. Read Middlemarch for the first time this past summer and Loved it.

                Some quick announcements:

                First, though I haven't done all the puzzles this week, I am going to give a Puzzle of the Week nod anyway, this time to Andrew Ries and his latest Aries XWord puzzle, "Symbol Synonyms." Neat gimmick, where all-caps clues are single words which can be reimagined as a Periodic Table abbr. + clue word, which combine to clue a familiar phrase. Thus, [AUGUST] is the clue for GOLD RUSH (AU = gold, GUST = rush, as of wind). [CURING] => COPPERTONE, [CAPE] => CARBON COPY, and [ALBUM] => ALUMINUM CAN. Andrew Ries's Aries XWord puzzles are available only by subscription, but said subscriptions are ridiculously cheap. You can solve free samples at his site. Definitely check him out.

                Next, I am very happy to plug Patrick Merrell's Kickstarter campaign for his graphic novel / puzzle project, "Zep: A Puzzling Adventure." Here's the pitch: "An action-packed tale of adventure, intrigue, and gadgetry for kids; a baffling, multi-step puzzle for adults hidden in the art." Patrick is a professional cartoonist as well as a professional puzzlemaker, and the project looks genuinely fantastic. Read all about it, see samples, and watch a short (adorable) video at his Kickstarter page. Seriously, do it. It's worth a look. The project is a Kickstarter Staff Pick! His book's got a hidden puzzle! An Evil Dr. SUMAC! What's not to love?

                Lastly, a plug for the country's newest significant crossword tournament, The Indie 500, brought to you be a crew of some of today's best young constructors: Erik Agard, Evan Birnholz, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, and Andy Kravis (all of whom run independent puzzle sites of their own). The tournament will be held for the first time in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2015. But more than plugging the tourney itself, I want to call attention to the fact that they are accepting puzzle submissions from novice constructors (with no more than 10 published puzzles) to fill the last slot on their tournament puzzle slate. Eligibility requirements are right here. So mark it on your calendar and, if you're relatively new to constructing and think you've got a great idea for a tournament puzzle, consider submitting. I know all the people running this show, and their collective skills and professionalism are legit. Go. Solve. Do. Fun.
                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                  Castle town in 1937 film / SAT 11-22-14 / Q preceder / Stowe antislavery novel / Moon named after Greek personification of terror / Fictional locale of John Wayne western / Classic sea adventure of 1846 / Grocery product with a multiply misspelled name

                  Saturday, November 22, 2014

                  Constructor: David Steinberg

                  Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                  THEME: none

                  Word of the Day: "RIO LOBO" (48A: Fictional locale of a John Wayne western) —
                  Rio Lobo is a 1970 American Western film starring John Wayne. The film was the last film directed by Howard Hawks, from a script by Leigh Brackett. The film was shot in Technicolor with a running time of 114 minutes. The musical score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the movie was filmed at Cuernavaca in the Mexican state of Morelosand at Tucson, Arizona.
                  It was the third Howard Hawks film varying the idea of a sheriff defending his office against belligerent outlaw elements in the town, after Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado(1966), both also starring John Wayne. (wikipedia)
                  • • •

                  Oh, well, this is more like it. Hold this up to yesterday's to see the difference between night and day. No, that's no good as a metaphor. First it's cliché and second it doesn't get at the quality gap here. How about "the difference between chocolate and carob." Not perfect, but closer, This grid has the same (high) word count as yesterday's, but the results are electric. This is partly because even though he's just a high school senior, Mr. Steinberg is an old pro, and partly because he didn't try to cram a "Q" into the grid just 'cause. (The second part of that sentence is related to the first part.) Here's what happens when your long answers, all the way around, are fresh and cracking—your less toothsome answers? Nobody cares. I don't like RRR or TARARA or EOSIN any more than you do, but they are *not* what I remember about this puzzle, not what I see when I look at this grid. I see an aggressively contemporary puzzle packed with "Z"s and "X"s and colloquialisms both fresh and "dated" (nice save on FOSHIZZLE there, David and/or Will). This is among my favorite D.S. themelesses, if not the best he's ever done.

                  ["NO SOAP, Mr. Norton!"]

                  The SE felt a little makeshifty, as MIAMI AREA sets an odd "any city + AREA" precedent, and DROID RAZR … oh, that's a thing now, I see. Motorola (the name I normally associate with RAZR) "resurrected the RAZR brand for a line of Android smartphones" (per wikipedia). I see that there is one called the DROID RAZR MAXX—consider that particular gauntlet thrown, constructors.

                  I mostly breezed through this puzzle. You can tell that 1D: "The ___ the words, the better the prayer": Martin Luther was a comparative adjective, so I put in the -ER. Then when I couldn't remember the damn Fashion designer Saab's name, I saw 4D: "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" philosopher. Total gimme (HUME). I once studied in Edinburgh, so that might've helped there, but I think I would've picked up HUME from that title anyway. So then I remembered the Saab was ELIE, then I guessed the "acid" in the 2D "bleach ingredient" ended in -IC, then I easily picked up CECE (26A: Woman's name that sounds like a repeated letter) and RIB. Then SCRIBE. And I was off. One major, nearly fatal hitch. I hit a brick wall at the end, with the following holes:

                  • WIIMO-ES (13D: Handy things in the game world?)
                  • -U-E (29A: Turn off, maybe)
                  • -A-ET (29D: David who wrote the screenplay for "The Verdict")
                  • DEI-OS (37A: Moon named after the Greek personification of terror)

                  This caused me a very, very frustrating 45 seconds or so. WII MOVES? Is that a thing. That seemed the only possible answer, but a. it sounded stupid, and b. -UVE made no sense for [Turn off, maybe]. It makes no sense at all, actually. The moon answer, pfft. And I was never gonna get to MUTE from that clue. It's an oblique clue. I MUTE the TV while it's still on. You can MUTE the sound, I guess, but you'd say you MUTEd the TV. Anyway, no big deal—I just wasn't gonna get it from that clue with those letters in place. That left the screenplay guy. Somehow "David" and "screenplay" eventually triggered MAMET—a name I know well, but Not At All from "The Verdict," an early-'80s Paul Newman film I never saw. So I was in real danger of a triple-proper-noun beatdown there for a little bit. But then David MAMET saved the day.

                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                    Kinkajou's kin / FRI 11-21-14 / Country Girl memoirist O'Brien / Source of delicacy tomalley / Late legend in countdowns / Title woman of 1977 Neil Diamond hit / Novelist Shreve / State bordering Poland

                    Friday, November 21, 2014

                    Constructor: Kevin Christian

                    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                    THEME: none

                    Word of the Day: LOCAVORE (57A: Farmers' market frequenter, maybe) —
                    locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. One common - but not universal - definition of "local" food is food grown within 100 miles of its point of purchase or consumption. The locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned as a result of interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness becoming more prevalent. (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    Trying to pinpoint why this one was slightly dissatisfying, despite the presence of gems like BUTTDIAL and LOCAVORE. I think, with a word count this high (the themeless max of 72), there should simply be more gems, and there should certainly be a greater overall level of fill quality. The puzzle is by no means poor, but it felt adequate rather than carefully crafted. Every corner in a puzzle like this should feature at least one thing that is new and great. Nothing in that NW corner sufficiently offsets the crosswordesiest golfer and the world's worst [Footnote abbr.]. The words leading out of that section, NO CLASS and GNEISS, both made me slump a little in sadness (when I eventually got them, which was Not right away). PANED is a bit icky and I'll never understand the choice of "F" in the 31 square when so many other letters would've put you in a clearly preferable non-FAYS situation. (Wait … I'm being told this puzzle is a pangram … and … whaddya know, there's our only "F" ... [audible sigh] …). ET SEQ makes so much "sense" … now.

                    I can't even continue writing about a mediocre puzzle when I am now aware that the mediocrity is clearly and directly tied to the stupid pangram stunt. Good night.

                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                    Slit made with saw / THU 11-20-14 / Sea urchin at sushi bar / First story to feature ZORRO 1919 / Lacoste competitor / Historical buffalo hunter / Descriptor for olde England / Bygone Chevy subcompact

                    Thursday, November 20, 2014

                    Constructor: Timothy Polin

                    Relative difficulty: Medium (could lean toward "Challenging" for some, given the not-famous story title and not-famous "real name" that take up so much real estate)

                    THEME: ZORRO (44D: Subject of this puzzle) — contains "first story to feature ZORRO" ("THE CURSE OF / CAPISTRANO") and the "real name of ZORRO" (DON DIEGO / DE LA VEGA). Then there's the note:

                    So connect the "Z"s and get a much bigger "Z," it seems.

                    Word of the Day: Skink (54A: Skink, e.g. => LIZARD) —
                    Any of numerous smooth shiny lizards of the family Scincidae, having a cylindrical body and small orrudimentary legs and living chiefly in temperate and tropical regions.

                    [Latin scincus, from Greek skinks.] (
                    • • •

                    This is solid work. It's not the most accessible puzzle, in that the bulk of the theme answers—in fact, all the theme answers besides ZORRO—are bits of trivia that no one but a pulp aficionado is likely to know. I would not call myself a pulp aficionado, but I did read Dynamite's recent run of "ZORRO" comics, so the details here are at least vaguely familiar to me. I didn't know Z's name of his first story off the top of my head, but with some coaxing from crosses, I got both of them quickly enough. I'm not much for drawing on my answer grid, but that connect-the-Zs trick here is neatly done. I'm most impressed that the multitude of "Z"s, each of which must be in a precise position, did not turn the fill to goo. I probably should've made KERF my Word of the Day, because what the hell … but aside from a minor clunk here and there, this grid held up very well, considering the strictures.

                    I finished in 6+ minutes, which is pretty normal for Thursday, but I feel like the first minute was one big free fall. I didn't have a damn thing in the grid after my first pass at the NW. Weirdly, the first thing I up in the grid was DAP (5A: Skip over water, as stones), whose definition here I know only from crosswords. Then there was INKAINKA was ugly, but INKA was easy. But I still didn't make much headway up there. I ended up poking into a bunch of nooks an crannies (first the west, then the NE…) before I ever put any of the bigger answers to gather. LEONINE (28D: Having a sense of pride?) + OOZED (36A: Displayed conspicuously) ended up (finally) bringing a lot of separate sections of the puzzle together. I normally solve in a somewhat more connected, methodical fashion, but I couldn't do that today, for whatever reason. Somehow this didn't affect my time much. Decent theme, cleanish fill, nifty little trick. Totally acceptable Thursday.
                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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