Edmonton six / TUE 3-31-15 / Broadway compose Jule / California county east of Sonoma / Picasso's "Lady With ___" / Singer Bareilles / Source of the line "The Lord is thy keeper" / California county east of Sonoma

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Just About Right

THEME: VERBAL GYMNASTICS (38A: Fancy, evasive language) — Theme answers are common phrases the second word of which can also be a word for a piece of gymnastics apparatus

Theme answers:
  • 18A: ONION RINGS (Deep-fried side dish)
  • 26A: LASER BEAM (Metaphor for straightness)
  • 54A: HIGH HORSE (Snootiness)
  • 65A: COFFEE BARS (Java joints)
Hey you. Yeah, you! What's up? I haven't seen you in a while. Unless you were in Stamford this weekend and then I probably did. Yep, that's right. It's me, PuzzleGirl, filling in for Rex today while he is traveling. I'm going to tell you right upfront that this is not going to be a long, involved blog post. I did not get much sleep over the last few days because I was participating in the best weekend of the year, otherwise known as the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Had a blast, as usual.

Finn Vigeland, Elizabeth Olson White
(PuzzleSister), Sam Donaldson, Vega
Subramaniam, and Doug Peterson
getting froyo in Stamford
I was actually nervous about it moving back to Stamford because I didn't start attending until it was in Brooklyn and I don't like change. Also I'm a pessimist by nature. So I was just sure there were going to be all kinds of things wrong with the whole set-up. But I was pleasantly surprised. The hotel was nice (and way cheaper than Brooklyn), the neighborhood was nice, and it was actually quite a bit easier for me to get to (which I know was not true for everybody). Really the only complaint I have about the weekend is that the room was waaaaay too crowded. 
Me and a couple of weirdos
(Doug Peterson and Jeff Chen)

My thought is that if you're committed to having the event in Stamford then you should set it up so that it can be accommodated in Stamford, which I guess would mean capping the registration or (as I've heard they've done in the past) using two ballrooms. No one I talked to seemed all that excited about the two-ballroom idea (although, frankly, I don't see any particular downside), so why not only accept the number of people that can actually fit in the room? Just a thought.

Me and the champ, Dan Feyer
But hey, we're not here to talk about my desire to be in charge of every damn thing. We're here to talk about the puzzle. What did you think? I thought it was not bad. Two of the theme clues didn't really work for me but that happens sometimes. I can accept that someone somewhere has used the phrase "straight as a laser beam" even though I personally have never heard it. And I guess HIGH HORSE might be the actual snootiness itself even though I think the "metaphor for ..." construction would have worked better here. The phrase us "up on your HIGH HORSE," right? So you're up on your ... snootiness? No, you're up on your HIGH HORSE and that means you're snooty. I don't know. It's not working for me is what I'm saying.

Last meal in Stamford: Kristian House,
Gabe Gonzalez, Vega Subramaniam, Mala
Nagarajan, Alex Jeffrey, Ollie Roeder,
Mike Nothnagel, Doug Peterson, Sam
Donaldson, PuzzleSister
So, as I said, I'm really tired and I think what I'll do here is leave the rest to you all. If you came here looking for answers, I posted the grid for you. If you have questions about a specific clue or answer, go ahead and comment. It'll get answered. Probably several times! I'll see you all back here next time. With any luck, Rex will be back tomorrow.

Love, PuzzleGirl


Cleopatra biter / MON 3-30-15 / Paint company whose name sounds like animal / Chicago airport code / Stone key to deciphering hieroglyphics / Literary Jane who says No net ensnares me I am free human being with independent will

Monday, March 30, 2015

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Monday*) (time: 3:36)

THEME: GOOSE (18A: Flier in a V formation) — black squares form little geese, I think, though they aren't exactly flying in "V" formation. Three theme answers sort of relate to the GOOSE theme.

Theme answers:
  • BIRDS OF A FEATHER (13A: Ones that are alike)
  • FLOCK TOGETHER (30A: Gather as a group)
  • CLEAR FOR TAKE-OFF (49A: Give the go-ahead from the control tower)
Word of the Day: CECE Winans (46A: Gospel singer Winans) —
Priscilla "CeCe" Marie Winans Love /ˈwnænz/ (born October 8, 1964) is an American gospel singer, who has won numerous awards, including ten Grammy Awards and seven Stellar Awards. She has sold twelve million records world wide. Cece is also the best selling female gospel artist of all time. (wikipedia)
• • •

I want to start by giving this a "V" for effort. I like the weirdness of it, particularly the axial-symmetry grid and the rough visual approximation of a flock of geese. Again, that is not a "V" formation, and geese do not fly in the formation pictured by the black squares, but … horseshoes and hand grenades, close enough, I think. Those long (non-theme) Downs are lovely. A nice added bonus on an early-week puzzle. The puzzle is misplaced on a Monday (it's a solid Tuesday), but that's also not a big deal. Two things that are kind of big deals. Or at least medium-sized deals. Deals of some sort. First, the theme answers … it is highly weird to split BIRDS OF A FEATHER / FLOCK TOGETHER and treat them, clue-wise, as if each were a stand-alone phrase. Neither stands alone that well, particularly FLOCK TOGETHER. If you google that phrase, you get mostly hits referring to the whole saying. When would you ever use FLOCK TOGETHER on its own? And the third themer … is related to flying, I see, but I don't see anything else about it that makes it appropriate to the whole bird formation thing.

The second deal is, of course, the fill, which is ouchy. IRED is possibly the worst crossword answer of all time. You never see it any more, because it is terrible and virtually indefensible. EASEFUL, you never see, but for good reason. And on and on. Actually those are the worst, and there's just a lot of blah stuff otherwise. So I admire the spirit of this puzzle, but once again (I want to say "for the third time in the last week…"), a decent idea is not given the execution it deserves.

Congratulations to Dan Feyer on winning his sixth straight American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He beat five-time winner Tyler Hinman in a genuine nail-biter. As close a one-two finish as you're likely to see in any competition. Here's the video:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Whale constellation / SUN 3-29-15 / High tech surveillance acronym / Fist bump in slang / Ancient Assyrian foe / Delphine author Madame de / Pub fixture / First name on America's Got Talent panel / Quaint letter opener / British racetrack site / Egyptian king overthrown in 1952 revolution

    Sunday, March 29, 2015

    Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: "California, Here I Come" — CA added to familiar (-ish) phrases, resulting in wacky phrases:

    Theme answers:
    • STREAMING INCA (23A: Ancient Peruvian using Netflix?) 
    • CAST ELSEWHERE (33A: "No fishing here!"?)
    • DEEP SPACE CANINE (51A: Dog whose rocket went off course?) 
    • YOU MAKE ME WANNA CASH OUT (65A: Comment to an annoying blackjack dealer?)
    • REALLY BIG CASHEW (82A: Part of a jumbo trail mix?) (for you youngsters out there, that … is an Ed Sullivan pun … here, this should make it clear:)

    • BACALL HANDLER (97A: Agent for Bogart's partner?) (for you non-sports fans, this is primarily a basketball term, used of whoever's, uh, handling the ball)
    • THE LIFE OF PICA (111A: "12-Point Type: A History"?) (there is no "The" in the title "Life of Pi," so this is an astonishing screw-up)
    Word of the Day: NYALAS (59D: Spiral-horned antelopes)
    The nyala (Nyala angasii or Tragelaphus angasii), also called inyala, is a spiral-horned antelope native to southern Africa. It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Nyala, also considered to be in the genus Tragelaphus. It was first described in 1849 by George French Angas. The body length is 135–195 cm (53–77 in), and it weighs 55–140 kg (121–309 lb). The coat is rusty or rufous brown in females and juveniles, but grows a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue, in adult males. Females and young males have ten or more white stripes on their sides. Only males have horns, 60–83 cm (24–33 in) long and yellow-tipped. It exhibits the highest sexual dimorphism among the spiral-horned antelopes. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I checked out early with this one. How early? This early.

    I'm not kidding. I didn't have good feelings about this one even before starting (title telegraphed the theme, for one thing…) and then, yeah, 1-Across. It's so … something. It's a word. It's a non-terrible word. It's just … dusty, crosswordwise. Today, it's a tone-setter. It made me worry about what this solving experience was going to be like, and my worry was not unjustified. I was not wrong about how I would ultimately feel about the puzzle. Prediction was: humor would be groan-worthy, and fill would be crusty. And I was right and right. I can't even take the time to enumerate all the issues. Too depressing. But the main ones are: theme ridiculously basic and obvious and infinitely replicable, with mostly flat or bizarre theme answers; lots of stale fill; and a cultural center of gravity way way before my time (the last issue being a matter of taste more than quality, admittedly).

    Add-a-letter? Really? Again? Man. I mean, yeah, technically it's two letters, but still. The "Funny" bar has to be Very High if the theme's going to be this slight, and today's "Funny" bar doesn't even clear my knees.

    Grimace fill:
    • EOLITH
    • TIRO—Wow. Just wow. I literally LOL'd at 26A: Newbie: Var. Putting "Var." on "Newbie" is like putting a gray wig and mustache on a baby, only much less funny
    • SAD CASE—Ugh x a million. I had SAD SACK, which is an actual, better, phrase. 
    • LETITIA—A spelling adventure!
    • ETYPE
    • AWACS (34D: High-tech surveillance acronym)
    • INB
    • EPSOM
    • AREEL
    • ETNAS
    • NYALAS
    • STAEL
    • BALTO
    • CETUS
    That's not even *close* to a full accounting of the mediocre / subpar stuff. Just the "high" lights. CORNIER puzzles, I've rarely seen. Is the Sunday submission pile this shallow? My kingdom for an EDITOR. Etc. Last night, I asked my Twitter followers to tell me what to say about this puzzle, but apparently not everyone does their puzzle at 6:30pm on Saturday night, so I got only a few responses.
    "[H]ad to put it away because I was bored silly. Unlike me, but jeez." 
    "I am starting to wonder if I am having a stroke while trying to do the puzzle today." 
    "Non-slog Sundays are a dying breed." 
    "It stopped being interesting, so I stopped solving it."
    "Four unforgivable answers in top two rows, including lame themer based on random phrase. Never got better. What's not to like?" 
    "Who says BALTO?"
    Then Erik Agard told me to play this:

    Couple more things:

    Brendan Emmett Quigley (named "Constructor of the Year" for 2014 over at "Diary of a Crossword Fiend") is now offering up a subscription to his "Marching Bands" puzzles. 26 puzzles over the course of a year, all fresh, hot and new. To read more about this (awesome) puzzle type and support the project, Go Here.

    Lastly, here's a letter to the editor that the NYT didn't publish. I told its author I'd run it, since it's about language use in puzzles (specifically, an acrostic puzzle from a couple weeks back). (Note: my printing the letter does not necessarily indicate my endorsement of the ideas contained therein)
    Dear Sir,

    I was disappointed to see the offensive acrostic puzzle clues “Kook, Psycho, Lunatic” and answer “Nutcase” in the March 8, 2015, Sunday Magazine. These words are no different than using a similarly demeaning epithet to describe a racial or cultural characteristic. Why then is it acceptable to use such derogatory language to describe a spectrum of brain disorders? Mental illness is a disease, not a joke.

    The words we use to describe things inform our perception of them. Even in the seemingly benign guise of a word puzzle they are powerful tools. Will Shortz has devoted his career to using them with flair and style but unfortunately last week his editing missed the mark.
    As the mother of someone with schizophrenia I am sensitive to the stigma embedded in the language used to describe it. People suffering from mental illness deserve our compassion and respect, not being reduced to pejorative stereotypes. You can do better. It is time for a more enlightened approach to idle entertainment.

    Creighton Taylor
    National Alliance on Mental Illness – Maine chapter member
    Maine Behavioral Healthcare Board of Trustee
    Chairperson of Maine Behavioral Healthcare Advisory Committee
    Member of Spring Harbor Hospital “Linking Families” Committee 
      That's all. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. This:
      "Coining a term: Nor'wester: n., a Sunday NYT xword where you solve the NW corner, see the lame gimmick, sadly go away. Today's, for example."—Gene Weingarten


      Hyperrealist sculptor Hanson / SAT 3-28-15 / composer of opera fiesque / He worked with illustrator phiz / Jeweler of kings king of jewelers / Spring-blooming bush / Musandam Peninsula populace / Modern lead-in to cat

      Saturday, March 28, 2015

      Constructor: David Steinberg

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: SNAPCHAT (34D: Disappearing communication system?) —
      Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan SpiegelBobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of April 2014, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds), after which they will be hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.
      According to Snapchat in May 2014, the app's users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. The company has a valuation of $10–$20 billion depending on various sources. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Wow, this is just ridiculously good. I think Steinberg is quickly turning himself into one of the great themeless constructors. Heir apparent to Patrick Berry. This puzzle doesn't have many weak spots at all, and its strong spots are everywhere. All over. All the stacks. All the columns. They are chock full of life and wit and (LEMON) ZEST. Let's see ... SCARUM—that, I don't like. But holy moly you'd need like six more SCARUMs (scara?) to make this thing less than good. I want to scream to all themeless constructs and would-be themeless constructors: aim for This. It's not just good in places; it's good Everywhere. The NYT has become somewhat schizophrenic of late, serving up mediocre fare better than half the time, but then dropping GEMs here and there by the great constructors who still regularly submit to them. I've said it before, and I'm saying it again now: Steinberg is one of a handful of constructors keeping the NYT's overall quality passable. A lot of talent has been syphoned off to other places. Speaking of, you should really check out David Steinberg's *other* current puzzle—the latest American Values Club Crossword. It's called "Inside Dope," which, as I told editor Ben Tausig, is the Same Title as a crossword puzzle I once made, and with a very similar theme. But, as I also told him, David's is better. Get it here for a $1, or just become a AVCX subscriber already: they're thick with constructing talent over there.

      I knew I was in for a fun ride pretty quickly when NOH IMSET WITSEND and XER gave me BIKINI WAX. That was the first answer in a killer 3-stack: BIKINI WAX / ECONOMIZE / DEATH STAR. Conjures images of Vader having some personal grooming done, because, well, he had a coupon, so why not? Calling a BIKINI WAX "hair-raising" seems a bit tenuous, but it allows for a clever misdirection, so I'll allow it.

      [Kid who had an original Rubik's cube, e.g.] => REXPARKER

      The cluing was pretty tough throughout, with lots of initially annoying but ultimately mostly pretty good "?" clues. Also, some clues were vague enough to throw me off, at least for a bit. NE was pretty tough, with two not-terribly-famous names one over the other (DUANE Hanson / ERICA Hill). Luckily, after getting ODEON, I pulled the trigger on both names, with just their first letters in place. I figured that starting "E" in five letters, that name was gonna be ERICA (or ERIKA). Also, I know the name DIANE Hanson, so I just went with that. Fortuitous! Turns out Dian Hanson spells her name without an "E." She's a porn editor and historian. She's done a lot of Taschen books on pin-up / girly mag art. She was interviewed in the (great) film "Crumb." So of course her name was in my head. Anyway, DIANE to DUANE, not a big leap. As you can see here, I got into that corner and down YEAR ZERO, with just a little error there are the top (later fixed, obviously):

      As someone with a vendetta against the Charmin Bears (they're the only animal I want hunted to extinction), I wasn't exactly excited about 57A: They're taken to go (LAXATIVES), but it's nice to see the NYT … I'm gonna say "loosen up" a little. Yes, I'm gonna say it, alright. The exclamation point on this thing, for me, was SNAPCHAT. Gives the grid a nice, youthful glow. Nobody who uses SNAPCHAT would say "CRIPES!" but that's what I love about crosswords—words that normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other get to hang out, mix it up. Diversity! It's a legitimate value.

      OK then, see you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Greek township / FRI 3-27-15 / Temple square group founded in 1847 / Quite ill in Lille / Biao Mao Zedong confederate / Title religious school in classic Crosby/Bergman film / Prairie transport / First wife of Julius Caesar / Theater reproof / Big source of blueberries

      Friday, March 27, 2015

      Constructor: David Kwong

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: UTAH (STATE) (31A: University suggested by this puzzle's black squares) — all the grid's black square blocks form, roughly, the shape of Utah. Two other theme answers relate to Utah:

      Theme answers:
      • TABERNACLE CHOIR (19A: Temple Square group founded in 1847) [shouldn't this have "MORMON" in front of it?]
      • LATTER DAY SAINTS (47A: Young followers) [this clue is probably my favorite thing about the puzzle]
      Word of the Day: ION BEAM (53A: Ray gun ray) —
      [Wait, ray guns are real now? Cool.]

      • • •

      Take out everything but the theme answers, refill the entire grid competently, and release this on a day where somehow Utah matters, and you've got something. As is, it's yet another decent, cute idea made painful by the less-than-polished fill. I knew things would be GRIM before I made it out of the NW, with its absurd non-phrase IN LATIN and its absurd recherché Frenchism A LA MORT (16A: How zombies like their apple pie?). I was pretty well checked out by the time I got to the NEBO ITES shortly thereafter. Just … done. There's no delight, no play, no craft. There's just fill. The theme, when I got it, felt like an afterthought. I couldn't appreciate it on any level because ISS ISA ATMS SHH OAS HOI IPODS GRIM ASP etc. Worse, though, was the fact that the longer stuff (mostly) had no pop. Short junk can be overlooked when the longer answers pop. Popless, I say, was this. Not to mention the fact that the clues on this puzzle were a huge downer. All the joy of being held HOSTAGE in an ASSISTED living facility. ENCAGEd.

      Remember: If you aren't up to filling a low word-count puzzle cleanly, then just don't do it. Please. The bar is just too high today. I mean … Only 62 words, *And* it's themed? No. No way. Unless you are Patrick Berry, stop. Please. I'd say "add black squares to make filling the grid easier," but I see that would ruin your whole (mysterious) Utah vibe. The theme answers aren't interesting enough to hold the puzzle together, and the theme has no topicality, and too much of the fill just doesn't work. It's either bad or dull. Editors have to help shape this stuff. Too often a good idea is DEMEd to be all that's important, and clunky execution is just given a pass. [Is that how you pronounce "DEME"? I have no idea] (49D: Greek township)

      I'll give you HIPSTER and SHANKAR and HOSTAGE and PEACH PIT and BEATS ME. Maybe even CONESTOGA and TABITHA. But I will not give you TWEEDLE (one of the least "enticing" words I know) (55A: Entice with music) and I most certainly won't give you the ridiculous, enormous partial, END HOUSE (10D: Agatha Christie's "Peril at ___"). That answer is neck and neck with IN LATIN for Biggest Head-Shaker. Again, there's a clever state pride angle here, but in order for that cleverness to shine, the non-theme fill (which, today, is an enormous part of the grid) has to be, at a minimum, clean. It wasn't.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Swimmer Matt who won eight olympic gold medals / THU 3-26-15 / 1971 rock classic inspired by 12th-century Persian poem / Ziff Simpsons character voiced by Jon Lovitz / Haaretz readers / Early Pierre Cardin employer / Draco Malfoy's housemates

        Thursday, March 26, 2015

        Constructor: Byron Walden

        Relative difficulty: Easy

        THEME: RINSE CYCLE (57A: Part of washing … or what's exhibited by the circled letters from top to bottom) — letters in "RINSE" "cycle" (perfectly) through all their sequential permutations (i.e. ERINS, then move "S" to the beginning and you get SERIN, then move "N" to the beginning and you get NSERI, etc., until you get RINSE at the bottom)

        Theme answers:
        • SLYTHERINS (19A: Draco Malfoy's housemates in the Harry Potter books)
        • NOSE RINGS (27A: Some punk accessories)
        • INTENSE RIVALS (36A: Red Sox and Yankees, e.g.)
        • SPIN SERVE (43A: Tricky way to put a ball in play)
        • RINSE CYCLE 
        Word of the Day: Haaretz (39D: Haaretz readers => ISRAELIS) —
        Haaretz (Hebrewהארץ‎) (lit. "The Land [of Israel]", originally Ḥadashot Ha'aretz – Hebrewחדשות הארץ‎, IPA: [χadaˈʃot haˈʔaʁets] – "News [of] the Land [of Israel]") is Israel's oldest daily newspaper. It was founded in 1918 and is now published in both Hebrew and English in Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International New York Times. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet. In North America, it comes out as a weekly newspaper, combining articles from the Friday edition with a roundup from the rest of the week. An independent newspaper of record, some commentators state that it plays the role in Israel that The New York Times plays in the United States. It is known for its staunch left-liberal stance on domestic and foreign issues. (wikipedia)
        • • •
        My initial reactions to this weren't great. Mixing up letters over and over seemed trite, and though SLYTHERINS is of course a welcome answer, the fill in general seemed decidedly sub-Walden. I don't think I even believe that INTENSE RIVALS is a thing. Like, a stand-alone thing. So while the puzzle didn't seem terrible, it also didn't excite me, at all. Then two things happened. First, I realized that the theme wasn't just "mix up the letters in RINSE"—it was all those letters *cycling*, in order, through their various permutations, and, also, doing so in a way where all permutations are perfectly aligned, one above the next, resulting in a perfect column of circled in answers in the middle of the grid. Those two things demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship, and gave me a somewhat elevated appreciation for the puzzle as a whole. But then … then my feelings went from tepid admiration to something much more positive and much more intense … after I entered … the SW corner!

        For the fantastic / alarming visual alone, I'm going to give that SW corner the "Best SW Corner Of All Time" award. If you weren't imagining a MALE (NUDE) engaged in PHONE SEX while wearing a SANTA HAT, well… you are now, and you're welcome. The only thing I'd change about that corner is the "G" in GIMPS. I get that it's supposed to add (I think) to the overall mildly perverted feel of that corner (insofar as "GIMPS" reminds me of "The Gimp" from "Pulp Fiction"), but it's a borderline offensive word (making it a verb doesn't really change that). I'd actually prefer PIMPS there, though I somehow doubt that would fly in the NYT. LIMPS or SIMPS works too. But this is hardly that important. What's important is MALE NUDE PHONE SEX SANTA HAT. *That* is a jolly good time. It's like the rest of the puzzle barely exists...

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Brazilian people / WED 3-25-15 / Food additive banned in 1976 / Eight days after nones in ancient Rome / Thou aloft full dazzling Whitman / Film whose sequel is subtitled Sequel / So-called Giant Brain unveiled in 1946

        Wednesday, March 25, 2015

        Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging

        THEME: NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE NO. 2 — circled letters "descend" the grid, spelling out that title, and then two other random themers are thrown in:

        Theme answers:
        • 28D: Like the work spelled out by the circled letters (AVANT-GARDE)
        • 12D: Event at which the work spelled out by the circled letters was first exhibited in America (ARMORY SHOW)
        Word of the Day: DELAWARE / BAY (7A: With 31-Across, Cape May's locale) —
        Delaware Bay is the estuary outlet of the Delaware River on the Northeast seaboard of the United States. Approximately 782 square miles (2,030 km2) in area, the bay's fresh water mixes for many miles with the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean.
        The bay is bordered inland by the States of New Jersey and Delaware, and the Delaware Capes, Cape Henlopen and Cape May, on the Atlantic. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry crosses the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey, to Lewes, Delaware. Management of ports along the bay is the responsibility of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

        Delaware Bay
        The shores of the bay are largely composed of salt marshes and mudflats, with only small communities inhabiting the shore of the lower bay. Besides the Delaware, it is fed by numerous smaller rivers and streams, including (from north to south) the Christina RiverAppoquinimink RiverLeipsic RiverSmyrna RiverSt. Jones River, and Murderkill Rivers on the Delaware side, and the Salem RiverCohansey River, and Maurice Rivers on the New Jersey side. Several of the rivers hold protected status for their unique salt marsh wetlands bordering the bay, which serves as a breeding ground for many aquatic species, including horseshoe crabs. The bay is also a prime oystering ground.
        The Delaware Bay was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance on May 20, 1992. It was the first site classified in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        This thing gets points for effort and originality. But it gets almost no other points. This is a picture-perfect example of a fine idea botched all to hell. So many problems, but I'll start with the first: the circled letters fill themselves in, especially if you start in the NW (as humans often do) and have even a passing familiarity with major artworks of the 20th century. Here is my grid, very early in the solve:

        Now at this point, I can go either way on this puzzle. I love the idea of basing a puzzle around a painting, I love this Duchamp painting in particular (though I confess to not knowing there was a "NO. 2" on the end). But I can already see that the fill on this is heading toward terrible (ANO was my first thing in the grid :( and then TUPI!?!?!), so I'm basically waiting for this puzzle to wow me in the corners—to become something less straightforward and less easy and a bit more clean. Sadly, none of those things happened. No, I take that back—it did get less easy. I foundered in the SW because the ultra-vague 49D: Utterly yielded nothing even though I had ST-. I wanted STONE, as in "STONE fox" or "STONE drunk." But no. Even with STA- I had no idea. Then there's the 62D: Amount to be divided up … starting with a "P" … three letters … so clearly it's POT! (Not!). [Little nothing] was super-ambiguous as well. I had TWEET. Yeah. I know, pretty sad. But that corner's not bad, fill-wise. In fact, it's the best part of the grid, fill-wise. Problems were more in those EENSY little W and E sections. The 3x3s.

        The fill in the far west section has a problem that much of the fill in and around the circled squares has: it's bad. AHA ASA ALA all jammed together like that? Individually, those are suboptimal but forgettable. Together, they're a blight. True, fill toward the middle of the grid is worse—*far* worse. ONEON, AST, ASIM (!?!?!?) and CRS (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?$#@). Those last two shouldn't be allowed to play in any puzzle, ever. But western section has no good excuses. At least fill on the staircase can argue it was coerced. AHA ASA ALA … well, the themer placement isn't doing them any favors, but still. But minor point, probably. At least that section was easily gettable. Unlike its eastern counterpart. This is what my grid looked like at the end:

        Looking at it retrospect, I don't know what I didn't guess SHOW. Oh, no, I do. Because 40A: Prepare for planting, say looks like SOW. So I wrote that in. Then I also wrote in ART at 45A: "Thou ___ aloft full-dazzling!": Whitman. And then I was just stuck. In a stupid little 3x3 section. Here's what I resent most about that—"NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE" is a widely known title. AVANT-GARDE is a widely known style. ARMORY SHOW … I guess if you are an aficionado, you know what that is, but general recognizability plummets with that answer. That answer screams "I Am Desperate For Symmetrical Answers Related To This Painting Because MARCEL DUCHAMP and DADA and FUTURISM Just Aren't Working!" So, design-wise, ARMORY SHOW gives you a painful outlier in your theme set. Overall: Good idea, terrible fill, ill-considered execution.

        The fact that some solvers will, in fact, know ARMORY SHOW doesn't change the fact that most solvers will never have heard of it. Whereas all will have heard of AVANT-GARDE and most will have head of the painting in question (which is at least inferable with the help of crosses).
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          Queen of Chicago / TUE 3-24-15 / Newspaper publisher Adolph / Drenched with sudden flow / Vampire role for Tom Cruise / Mischievous Norse god / Country with kibbutzim / Downloaded video format / Xmas poem opener

          Tuesday, March 24, 2015

          Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

          Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Tuesday***) (time = roughly 4 minutes)

          THEME: NIGHT (71A: Word that can precede either part of 17-, 25-, 38-, 54- and 63-Across)

          Theme answers:
          • SCHOOL CLUB (17A: Debate team or Model United Nations)
          • LIFELINE (25A: Aid on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire")
          • TIMETABLE (38A: Commuter's reference guide)
          • SKYLIGHT (54A: Atrium feature)
          • STICK SHIFT (63A: It's not an automatic feature)
          Word of the Day: PARAPET (48A: Shooter's position in a fort) —
          1. a low protective wall along the edge of a roof, bridge, or balcony. 
            "Marian leaned over the parapet"
          • • •

          I really thought the "word that can precede" theme-type had been retired, at least semi-officially. I realize that here we get the "both words!" variant of that theme, but even that is now a quite hackneyed concept, one that usually results in not terribly interesting theme answers, and a revealer that's more of a shrug than a revelation. This is a completely satisfactory example of this theme type. Biggish corners, with longish Downs, give the grid at least a little character. Fill is of average quality, and what junk there is (PIS, IAL, DELA, ADDL, etc.) is largely inoffensive. I think if you can somehow add a new twist to this theme type, it might become something more than just an old-fashioned place holder. When the revealer is just [the word in question], whatever that word is, the air kind of goes out of the whole thing.

          Not sure why I was so slow today. SCHOOL CLUB (the least tight of the themers) required all the crosses before CLUB came into view. Couldn't remember how to spell PISTIL, or if PISTIL was even the right word (1D: Pollination part). Brain gave me "stamen and p- p- p- something." I don't think I know that definition of SLUICED (32A: Drenched with a sudden flow). For some reason I associate "sluicing" with a change of direction, not a soaking. My confusion could be the result of a deep aversion to the word "sluice" (it's in the same category as "moist" and "teats" for me…). I never remember that BAHAI is a religion (57D: Mideast religion), mostly because I know nothing about it, so that, combined with the TAX / SSN cross-referenced clues, combined with the somewhat tricky clue on STICK SHIFT (63A: It's not an automatic feature), managed to slow me down some more in the SE. Then the big sticking point was having SUNLIGHT instead of SKYLIGHT at 54A: Atrium feature. Started doubting PARAPET, which I'd been so proud to throw across the grid moments earlier (48A: Shooter's position in a fort). Anyway it wasn't difficult, just slower going (for me) than Tuesdays usually are.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

            [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter / Facebook]


            French WWI general Ferdinand / MON 3-23-15 / Old Russian autocrat / Hit TV drama starring Gary Sinise / Egyptian cobra / Boat with double-bladed paddle / 1977 hard-rock hit by Ted Nugent / Hajj destination / What bracketologist is caught up in

            Monday, March 23, 2015

            Constructor: Michael Dewey

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (for a Monday)

            THEME: All The Rage — two-word phrases (mostly) where second word is a kind of public uproar:

            Theme answers:
            • KLEPTOMANIA (17A: Compulsion to steal)
            • MARCH MADNESS (23A: What a bracketologist is caught up in)
            • "CAT SCRATCH FEVER" (37A: 1977 hard-rock hit by Ted Nugent)
            • FASHION CRAZE (48A: Miniskirts or oversize sunglasses, once)
            • MEDIA FRENZY (59A: What a major scandal results in)
            Word of the Day: Ferdinand FOCH (26D: French W.W. I general Ferdinand ___) —
            Marshal Ferdinand Foch (French pronunciation: ​[fɔʃ]), (2 October 1851 – 20 March 1929) was a French soldier, military theorist and the Allied Généralissime during the First World War. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            This theme is somewhat timely, given that it's currently the season for MARCH MADNESS, and it's also (coincidentally) the day after I rewatched this 1980 classic for the first time in probably thirty years:

            [This movie came out in 1980. MIT Mystery Hunt started in 1981. Coincidence? Ha.]

            It's pretty straightforward, as themes go. Far more straightforward than most NYT themes. But Monday can be a good stepping-on point for tyros, so if the theme is excessively graspable, no big deal. The grid as a whole is sufficiently lively, so "easy" does not mean "dull" today. I really disliked FOCH in this grid, largely because he seems like a massive outlier, familiarity-wise (in that he lies outside my familiarity entirely, and is probably the least recognizable / generally known answer in this grid by a long shot … though ANYA Seton's fame is sustained almost entirely by crosswords, I think). But I ran my "FOCH sochs!" theory by constructor friends and no one had a problem with it, so it now seems entirely possible that I'm the one who's the outlier. Hmm. The tables are turned. Not sure I like this.

            I flailed (!) a lot around the tail-end of FASHION CRAZE. FASHION didn't trigger any familiar phrases in my brain. I guess FASHION CRAZE is a thing. You gotta get to the "A" in "CRAZE" before google actually recommends the phrase FASHION CRAZE, but it seems familiar enough. Fill is a little crusty around the edges (EEK IBEAM ABATH ONA OKIE ETE USOFA CSINY MGT ANYA CZAR), but it holds up.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


            Whitesmith's medium / SUN 3-22-15 / Martin's wife on 1990s sitcom Martin / Facilities overseen by CDC / Captain America portrayer Chris / 2007 film featuring Raphael Leonardo Donatello Michelangelo / Old-fashioned fraternity activity / Down Under marsupial

            Sunday, March 22, 2015

            Constructor: Jeremy Newton

            Relative difficulty: Medium

            THEME: "Upsides" — cute, clever title. Why? Because the Across answers at the east and west edges of the grid are CLIMBING / THE WALLS (38A: With 91-Across, super-antsy … or like 24 Across answers in this puzzle?)

            Theme CLIMBERS:
            Word of the Day: ST LEO II (26A: Pope during the rule of Emperor Constantine IV) —
            Pope Leo II (611 – 28 June 683) reigned from 17 August 682 to his death in 683. / 
            He was a Sicilian by birth (the son of a man named Paulus). He may have ended up being among the many Sicilian clergy in Rome, at that time, due to the Islamic Caliphate attacks on Sicily in the mid-7th century. Though elected pope a few days after the death of Pope St. Agatho (10 January 681), he was not consecrated till after the lapse of a year and seven months (17 August 682). Leo was known as an eloquent preacher who was interested in music, and noted for his charity to the poor. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            This is neatly executed, but purely architectural themes leave me cold. This is, I realize, a matter of taste, and, as I say, I think this one is quite solid. Does what it says it does. Fill is well above average compared to much of what we've seen of late. So I can see how some might find this enjoyable, even though I got bored directly after figuring out the theme. It's just that once you get the theme, then you know what's going to happen. Everywhere. There are no theme answers except the revealer, so no wordplay, no cleverness, no The Reason I Do Crosswords. No fun. But for those of you who admire a good construction stunt, this one seems like it might float your boat, ring your bell, or the like. The analogy I just used (on Twitter) is flavored coffee. I don't drink the stuff. Don't like it. But I know some do, and I assume they enjoy it. So I think of this puzzle as good flavored coffee—if you like that kind of thing, this is a good version of that thing.

            [Underrated album]

            The there was some fill that seemed a little forced, but I assume it was tough to get all those adjacent answers to climb the damn wall. YOUTUBED is just wrong. I am on YouTube every day, and I assure you I have never YOUTUBED. At a bare minimum, it's a transitive verb. You can't just YOUTUBE. Hey, you wanna come over and YOUTUBE? Hot Tub, sure. YOUTUBE, no. TV DAD is iffy, and the Cosby angle (13A: Cliff Huxtable and Ward Cleaver) makes it slightly icky. SHARE ONE'S BED is ridiculous. EAT ONE'S LUNCH! (that's me saying something equally ridiculous, something similarly Not a stand-alone phrase). But overall, I think the fill is quite strong—very light on the Klunkers. I don't think I would've gone with [Ghetto blaster?] for GAT, no matter how clever I thought the wordplay. The ethnic / racial implications are gross. "You know how those poor ethnics are with their loud music (and now, guns)." Ugh. Also, when I google [gat ghetto] I mostly get hits that suggest google thought I meant [gay ghetto]. So the GAT-ghetto connection: not strong. GAT is slang for revolver or pistol. No class / race implications. Crime implications, sure. But why drag the "ghetto" into this? I think I'm balking at what looks like the NYT's indulgence in white racial fantasies. Look, many dictionaries will tell you the phrase "ghetto blaster" ("a large radio and tape recorder that can be carried around, and is often played very loudly in public places") is sometimes considered offensive, so I don't know why you touch it as your base phrase. It's not like the NYT crossword is the most racially inclusive thing in the world. Maybe have less of a tin (and white, and privileged) ear next time.

            Got theme in the NW, when I realized that STRAINED and STRAW both started STRA- (at this point I hadn't even noticed WARTS). Then I looked at theme title, went with my original guess WARTS, and saw exactly what was going on. Shortly there after, I got the whole revealer without much help:

            But after that, the "walls" became just too easy to get. If you could get the "wall" Down, you could nail all the related Acrosses very, very easily. See here:

            After this, I went up into the NE and then just circled back down to SW corner. Pretty uneventful.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

              PS "TMNT" (45A: 2007 film featuring Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo) stands for "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I *know* some of y'all were like "?????"


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