Early Sony recorder / TUE 6-30-15 / 1990s Indian PM / Singer Josh whose self-titled 2001 debut album went 4x platinum

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Constructor: Susan Gelfand

Relative difficulty: Tuesdayish, maybe a tad harder than normal

THEME: famous person does something — noun phrases are reimagined as verb phrases involving famous people of various sorts:

Theme answers:
  • ROCK GARDENS (17A: Comedian cultivates flowers?)
  • POUND SIGNS (23A: Poet inks a contract?)
  • PRICE TAGS (33A: Opera singer scrawls graffiti?)
  • FIELD TRIPS (48A: Actress stumbles?)
  • BACON STRIPS (53A: Philosopher removes his clothes?)
Word of the Day: BETACAM (38D: Early Sony recorder) —
Betacam is a family of half-inch professional videocassette products developed by Sony in 1982. In colloquial use, "Betacam" singly is often used to refer to a Betacam camcorder, a Betacam tape, a Betacam video recorder or the format itself. (wikipedia)
• • •

This felt a bit hack-y, the noun-to-celebrity-name gimmick. ROCK GARDENS in particular seemed really, really familiar. So I did a little archive digging. Actually ROCK GARDEN(S), though it has been used many times, has never been used in a Chris Rock switcheroo theme answer, the way I had imagined. But I knew this basic concept had been done before, possibly to death, so I went after a few more of the theme answers. Then I just searched *POUND* in the cruciverb database and, well, bingo, of sorts. A Monday NYT puzzle from seven years back with the following themers:
  • 18A: Poet Ezra's favorite desserts? (Pound cakes)
  • 4D: Writer Anne's favorite dessert? (Rice pudding)
  • 27D: Writer Jack's favorite entree? (London broil)
  • 62A: Essayist Charles's favorite entree? (Lamb shanks)
Now, it's been seven years, and the theme this time around has a different slant (verb phrases intstead of food types), so, probably no harm done. It's just ... two things. One, I'm quite sure this one example of the theme type is not the only one out there. With more digging, I'd certainly find more. And two ... this earlier puzzle, this food one ... is by the same constructor. She seems to have semi-plagiarized herself, or at least recycled a basic (very basic) wordplay concept that she had used before. I think as a constructor, if you have only one guiding principle, let it be that you don't make lame Ezra Pound jokes twice in your career. Pound me once, shame on me, etc.

In terms of difficulty, it's interesting that this puzzle didn't provide the famous person's first name, the way that 2008 puzzle did. Definitely adds a modicum of difficulty, withholding that name. But providing it, esp. in the case of someone with a name like Leontyne (!), would perhaps have rendered the puzzle too easy. Who knows? My time came out Tuesday-normal, so this cluing seemed fine to me. Fill is OK today—more junk than you want to see, but lots of interesting longer answers in the Downs. I had trouble coming up with both LOSER and POSER, which is probably telling, hopefully to my credit but maybe not from where you're sitting. My only real struggle, though, was in the SW, where I went with BRAVERY and BETAMAX, side by side. Luckily, the wrongness thereof was readily apparent. Finished with the "G" in Josh GROBAN, whom I once saw on the streets of Carmel, CA. This was peak GROBAN (so, like, a decade ago), and man the middle-aged ladies were happy to see him. He wasn't mobbed (Carmel's too sleepy for mobs), but he was, let's say, surrounded. Politely and lovingly surrounded.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bot that systematically browses internet / MON 6-29-15 / French city historically known for silk / Liesl's love in Sound of Music / Capital of Bangladesh old-style / Boo follower in triumphant shout / 1982 Harrison Ford sci-fi film

Monday, June 29, 2015

Constructor: Todd Gross and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (FOR A MONDAY) (3:11)

THEME: evolutionary succession of some kind

Theme answers:
  • WEB CRAWLER (17A: Bot that systematically browses the Internet)
  • ALICE WALKER (28A: "The Color Purple" novelist)
  • BLADE RUNNER (48A: 1982 Harrison Ford sci-fi film)
  • RADIO FLYER (64A: Classic red wagon)
Word of the Day: LYON (30D: French city historically known for silk) —
Lyon or Lyons [...] is a city in east-central France, in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located approximately 470 kilometres (292 miles) from Paris, 320 km (199 mi) from Marseille, 420 km (261 mi) from Strasbourg, 160 km (99 mi) from Geneva, 280 km (174 mi) from Turin. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais. // The small municipality (commune) of Lyon proper has a population of 491,268 (January 2011), and as such is France's third largest city after Paris and Marseille, but together with its suburbs and satellite towns Lyon forms the 2nd-largest metropolitan area in France with a population of 2,188,759 at the January 2011 census. Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region, as well as the capital of the smaller Rhône département. // The city is known for its historical and architectural landmarks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lyon was historically known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk. Since the late 20th century, it has developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France and in the world. // It has a significant role in the history of cinema due to Auguste and Louis Lumière, who invented the cinematographe in Lyon. The city is also known for its famous light festival, 'Fête des Lumières,' which occurs every 8 December and lasts for four days, earning Lyon the title of Capital of Lights. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK I guess. I don't really understand the progression. That is, I see that it goes from earth to sky, but I don't know why—what is being suggested or imitated in that progression? Some vague evolutionary idea, I guess. I don't know. It's a 76-worder and felt a little heavier, a little slower than your average Monday. Fill's not great, but it's also not terrible. I mean besides XCI and YAH and ONEG and DACCA (Mondays should not have to resort to "old-style" anything). Mostly I found this one dull. Not much to say about it. What to say? YAH is not detachable from BOO, no way no how. LYON, in my mind (and in reality, too) has an "S" at the end, so that was tougher than it should've been. ROLF was unknown to me. I know about "The Sound of Music" largely by rumor. I think of "Requisite" as an adjective, so NEED was odd. This dull accretion of solving details is precisely how exciting this puzzle was to me. Adequate. That's what the puzzle is. It's adequate.

I just finished watching "From Here to Eternity" (1953), which features several of today's answers, most notably SERGEANTs and LEIs (it's set in Hawaii in late 1941, and concludes with the attack on Pearl Harbor and its immediate aftermath). The rolling-in-the-surf bit with Deborah KERR and Burt Lancaster takes all of 5 seconds, and it comes early in the movie. Given how iconic that scene is, I expected more. A lot more. More surf-rolling! Instead it was a lot of drinking and men punching each other. I liked it a lot, it's just ... my surf-rolling expectations went unmet. It did cause me to look up Jack Warden because he has one of those "wait I know that guy from everywhere!" faces. Turns out he was the president in "Being There," which I saw earlier this year, and also had Matthau's coach role in the TV version of "The Bad News Bears" (this is *surely* how his face was imprinted onto my brain). Warden used to be a boxer, and "From Here to Eternity" was a lot about boxing. Also, Lancaster's character in "From Here to Eternity" was named Warden. Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine and Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed and Claude AKINS were in it too.

Maybe this theme was supposed to evoke a speech given by MLK (27A: "I have a dream" monogram) at a high school in Cleveland, OH on April 26, 1967 (text and audio here). It is, as usual, eloquent and moving, and it ends like this: "Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving. We must keep going. And so, if you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Green dwarf / SUN 6-28-15 / Actress Birch of "American Beauty" / Admiral Zumwalt / The City of a Thousand Minarets / Physics Nobelist Martin, discoverer of the tauon / Mountain, in Hawaiian

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Big

THEME: "Getting in the Final Word" — Theme answers are familiar phrases containing the word "in." The phrases are situated so that the first part crosses (goes "in") the second part.

Hi, everyone! PuzzleGirl with you for your Sunday puzzle. Not sure how I always seem to get stuck with Sundays when I fill in. I find Sunday puzzles really ... big. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It's just my preference to have my puzzles a little smaller. I guess what I'm saying is size does matter, people. Anyway.
I got an emergency call from Rex tonight because his power went out and so here we are. Unfortunately, I was pretty busy today and I've got an early start tomorrow, so I don't have a lot of time to be hanging out with you. Or maybe that's fortunate. Depends on who you are, I guess. Let's just make the best of it, shall we? Here are your theme answers.

Theme answers:
  • WHAT HAPPENS [IN] VEGAS (30A/13D: Shorthand pact for a wild trip)
  • YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND [IN] ME (52A/49D: 1995 Oscar-nominated Pixar theme song)
  • COULD YOU PUT THAT [IN] WRITING (80A/58D: Request for an official document)
  • DOUBLED OVER [IN] PAIN (101A/90D: Reacting to a gut punch, perhaps)
  • JUST [IN] CASE (3D/18A: "To be on the safe side...")
  • KEEPING [IN] MIND (16D/21A: Remembering)
  • CALLING [IN] SICK (67D/104A: Talking with a fake rasp, perhaps)
  • CAME [IN] LAST (109D/125A: Got the booby prize)
I rather enjoyed this puzzle. The theme was pretty easy to figure out and then it was just a matter of coming up with the phrases. Not too much junk in the fill either. For a Sunday anyway. "YO, DOG" (6A: "Sup, homie") tripped me up a little. Shouldn't that be DAWG? But my only erasure was RANTS for VENTS (103D: Lets it all out), so I guess it was overall easy? I don't know. So hard to judge difficulty.
"NAG NAG NAG!" (23A: "Geez, get off my back already!"), TOWN DRUNK (114A: Stock character like Mayberry's Otis), and OPIUM DEN (36D: Smoke-filled establishment) are all fantastic entries. And I loved the clues on ST. PETER (89A: Guard at a gated community?) and TATTOO (70D: Something you can't get off your chest?). Other than that, well, I thought it was just a big old Sunday-sized puzzle that was pretty fun to slog my way through. Let me know what do you think! And with any luck, Rex will be back tomorrow.

Love, PuzzleGirl

[Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]
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Dinosaur in many Nintendo games / SAT 6-27-15 / Godfather of gangsta rap / Twain's Tom Canty / US built route that's mostly outside US / Bluegill crappie / Rice variety used in rice pudding / Handsome surgeon's nickname on Grey's Anatomy / Relatives of recitatives

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Constructor: Tim Croce

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PONY CAR (62A: Mustang, e.g.) —
Pony car is an American class of automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. The term describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image. (wikipedia) 
• • •

I was a bit worried when I started, as fat corners can be hard to fill well, but I think my eyes were playing tricks on me—the corners aren't that fat. In fact, this is a 72-worder (maximum for a Fri/Sat themeless), and those higher word-count puzzles usually yield pretty tasty results. And I did indeed end up enjoying the taste of this one, mostly. Didn't look like there were going to be many (any?) marquee answers—nothing longer than 8 in the grid, and only four of those—but puzzle gets a Lot of mileage out of those 8s, and the 7-laden corners come in pretty clean and occasionally sparkly. I definitely had to struggle a little with this one; with only narrow passageways in, those corners can go south on you real quick. But I was able to whack my way through the often tough cluing and finish in normal Saturday time. Satisfying work, overall.


Despite needing lots of help with both PAN FISH (?) and PAR FIVE, I got my claws into that NW corner pretty readily. Here's the opening gambit:

IRAS first (5D: They can roll over, briefly), and then, when TAPIOCA didn't work, somehow ARBORIO leapt right to mind. (I know TAPIOCA is not "rice"—why do you still insist on logic from me?) NBCNEWS followed shortly, and that was enough traction to get through the NW. Entire center felt very easy. Blew right through it. But the path into the NE was a little ... fraught. Wasn't sure the JOKE part of SICK JOKE was right. And I totally botched 8D: Leave an online game in a huff. Not a gamer, so when presented with -QUIT, I went with HATEQUIT, which I quite like. And since the "A" was right and gave me ARAL SEA, I got stuck for a bit. Luckily I knew ALCAN MATTY and NANO, so I worked RAGE QUIT out without too much trouble. Moved into SE where I forgot the SOUL part of KIA SOUL, but somehow remembered YOSHI, or at least the latter 3/5 of him (trust me, that "-SHI" mattered). Another corner down:

That left the SW, where I for sure had the most trouble. First, as I have never watched "Grey's Anatomy," I misremembered the guy's nickname as DR. DREAMY (38A: Handsome surgeon's nickname on "Grey's Anatomy"). Weirdly, ILE got me out of that ("CL-" yes, "RL-" no at 39D: Born Blonde brand). But this corner was tougher. MISHAPS just didn't come, even with MIS---S. Cluing ARIZONA as simply a "Brand name" was borderline cruel. HIT AT is always awkward to me. Didn't know if it was TICK or TOCK. Wrote in PONY CAR then felt like I'd just made it up, so took it out. Took some self-convincing to put it back. Got EASY-E but spelled it thusly. So between TICK and EASY-E, I "finished" with the "Brand name" as ARISINA:

Getting from there to the end didn't take much mental effort.

Have a nice day. Probably won't be as nice as Friday was, but we can always hope.

[grid courtesy of Matt Jones]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


City south of Kyiv / FRI 6-26-15 / Metadata collector for short / Patronizingly point out in modern lingo / Famous stutterer / Patron saint of chastity / Cherry plum relatives

Friday, June 26, 2015

Constructor: Erin Rhode

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ODESA (46A: City south of Kyiv) —
Odessa or Odesa (UkrainianОде́са[oˈdɛsɐ]RussianОде́ссаIPA: [ɐˈdʲesə]) is the third largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,003,705. The city is a major seaport and transportation hub located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. Odessa is also an administrative center of the Odessa Oblast and a multiethnic major cultural center. [So … just ODESSA … in Russianish … like Kyiv is "Kiev" in Russianish? … ugh]
• • •

This was a jarring mix of great and horrible. Thought the stacks in the NW and SE were mostly wonderful, even though I have no idea what SALT SPRAY is (55A: Product that puts waves in the hair)—I assume it's a thing. A thing I don't use, not least because I don't really have hair—certainly not hair you could put waves in. Elsewhere, though, things get a bit more wobbly. Don't love the 15s. Well, NASAL CONSONANTS is fine—not exciting, but certainly a real thing. "IS IT GOING TO RAIN?", on the other hand, is a question one might ask, but so is "DID YOU LEAVE THE STOVE ON?" or "WHEN IS DINNER?" and I don't think either of those (or most random questions) fly as crossword answers. It's a "green paint" question—i.e. it's something an English-speaking human might say, but it's Not A Thing. Then there's SORRY I'M NOT SORRY, which struck me as the Worst thing in the grid. Just derailed the puzzle for me. The expression … everyone who knows the expression (a fairly recent meme, in fact) knows it thusly: SORRYNOTSORRY. It's a damned hashtag. The formal "I'M" there just makes things ridiculous and odd and strange and weird. When something is so common in the real world as one thing, and then the NYT tries to get in on the act (belatedly) and steps all over it, man, that's irksome. Maybe most NYT solvers live in a world where ubiquitous memes never reach, and where all expressions must be grammatical or else. But the expression is "sorry not sorry." #sorrynotsorry. I ain't even the first sorry for pointing this out.

[WARNING: Profane as f***!]

Then there's the fill, which goes to hell in places. Seriously, constructors, take ALER(S) out of your damned databases. NLER(S) too, while you're at it. And one-S ODESA too. Just … delete it. I'll wait here. . . . OK, good. OYER, painful. ALTE, not much better. Most of the rest of it is tolerable. Certainly adequate. This is promising work, but you can't whiff on two out of three 15s. And your gutter fill, esp. in a themeless, has got to be RARE to non-existent. 

[I apologize for party rocking]

Loved MANSPLAIN, and the LUSITANIA / UBOAT cross-reference was pretty cool, if a bit morbid. But I faceplanted pretty badly right out of the gate when, presented with IM-T- at 15A: "You got me" ("I'M AT A LOSS") I went with I'M STUMPED. It fit. It was apt. It was wrong. Luckily I fixed it quick because NASAL CONSONANTS are my jam. First real hold-up came in the SW, where I couldn't make any sense of the divisible leap year clue (icky and forced way to get to the rather non-specific RARE—if we leap year every four years … wait, when do we *not* leap every fourth year? I can't remember ever not leaping on a divisible-by-four year … anyway, RARE seems like an understatement here). Real problems, though, were a. OLSON or OLSEN, and b. TACOS—which was the answer I knew had to be right for 48A: Food items in shells (TARTS). That is a deliberate and Not Very Apt trick clue. Don't TARTS have crusts? Do you ever call them "shells" w/o "pie" preceding? Blech. This was the issue I was having with the puzzle—it was just queasily off in places, both fill-wise and cluing-wise, so that many answers don't *land*. They just kind of … shuffle in and shrug at you.

As you can see in that screen grab, my brain could not accept ALERS (as all healthy brains cannot), so I had TEAMS in there. You can also see where I had AMID at 45A: About before PROTEAN forced the change. After I pushed through there, though, it was pretty much just a diagonal shot across the grid from SW to NE…

And then ran the terrible SORRY *I'M* [ugh] NOT SORRY down into the SE for the big finish.

The takeaway: know your memes, and get the phrasing right. Also, ALER and NLER got TO GO. Far away. To ODESA if need be.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


High heel of Italy's boot / THU 6-25-15 / Org sponsoring literary fair / One-named musician with hit albums 18 Hotel / Death of 1793 David painting / Tinseltown terrier

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: LEADBELLY (61A: Legendary guitarist … or a hint to eight answers in this puzzle) — rebus with "PB" (atomic symbol for lead) in the "belly" (very loosely defined) of eight answers (i.e. shoved into four total boxes):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: APULIA (24D: The "high heel" of Italy's "boot") —
Apulia (/əˈpliə/ ə-poo-lee-əItalianPuglia) is a region of Italy in Southern Italybordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its southernmost portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises 19,345 square kilometers (7,469 sq mi), and its population is about 4.1 million. It is bordered by the other Italian regions of Molise to the north, Campania to the west, and Basilicata to the southwest. It neighbors AlbaniaBosnia-HerzegovinaCroatiaGreece, and Montenegro, across the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The region extends as far north as Monte Gargano. Its capital city is Bari. (wikipedia)
• • •

A rudimentary rebus that I didn't care for much at all. Conceptually it's OK—"belly" seems a slight stretch when you are implicating just one little square in sometimes very long answers, and when that square is more near the edge than in the "belly" of the answer, but fine: take famous name, literalize it (in a way) in the grid. But it's a one-note trick. Same "belly" every time. It's just a "PB" rebus. Four "PB"s. Not that exciting. I thought I'd get to a peanut butter answer eventually, so LEADBELLY was better than what I was expecting. But still, once you figure out the rebus (took some effort for me), you just hunt the same two-letter square a few more times. Challenging, for sure, given the overall cluing and the odd rebus-square placement. And I do like a challenge. But terrible fill plus one-dimensional trick = shrug. Just OK, at best.

ATTN BELG CRESC is a junk bloc. ETTES is the worst form of fill, i.e. The Plural Suffix. Inexcusable. PSIS APBS USS ASSN, another junk bloc. ESTAB, ouch. Fill is a C-, and that's a gentleman's C-. Also, POP BOTTLES is a horrendous answer. Or, rather, it's got a horrendously misleading and inapt clue. What kind of bottles did Andy Warhol paint? Answer that question honestly. Write it down. OK, did you write down COKE BOTTLES? Because That's The Only Correct Answer. POP BOTTLES, come on. Junk junk junk. Here's me trying to see how many letters I have to type before Google suggests [Andy Warhol pop bottles]:

I got only a couple letters further and then google just gave up trying to figures out what I meant. Out of desperation, it started guessing in Spanish:

Clue accurately. Not *defensibly*. *Accurately*. "APT!" I should want to shout.

Lastly, what is up with the APULIA (?) / PALMA (??) crossing. Only the fact that -ALMA looked like it desperately needed a "P" made me guess correctly. Two northern Mediterranean geographical clues? Crossing at a barely guessable letter? That's no good. If I hadn't heard of an ancient novel called "The APULIAn Ass" or something like that, I wouldn't have trusted APULIA at all. Oh, now that I look it up, it's actually "The *Golden* Ass" by a Roman guy *named* "Apuleius." He was north African. Well. So much for my knowing anything about APULIA. Bad cross. Almost all the makings of a true "Natick" (obscure proper nouns crossing at an uninferable letter) except I guessed the "P," so it must, on some level, have been inferable.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]

    PS I assume ABA = American Book Association??? Nope. American Booksellers' Association (35D: Org. sponsoring a literary fair) Odd. Very odd. Not well known. Giving it a more obscure clue than the obvious legal clue does not improve it. It's still the same crummy little 3-letter abbr. we've been getting for years. Don't get cute w/ your crap fill. It will still be crappy, but now also annoying.


    Popular sheepskin boots / WED 6-24-15 / Region known for its black tea / Monch Eiger for two / BC animal that goes ZOT / Classic Langston Hughes poem

    Wednesday, June 24, 2015

    Constructor: Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: FIVE STARS (56A: What 17-, 23-, 33- and 47-Across each have) — five-star things, each answer having a somewhat different sense of what "five-star" means:

    Theme answers:
    • THE PIERRE (17A: Luxury hotel overlooking Central Park)
    • OMAR BRADLEY (23A: First chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1949)
    • SOUTHERN CROSS (33A: Constellation visible in Melbourne and Sydney)
    • CHINESE FLAG (47A: Flier over Tiananmen Square)
    Word of the Day: THE PIERRE 
    The Pierre is a luxury hotel located at 2 East 61st Street at the intersection of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, facing Central Park. The hotel, which was designed by Schultze & Weaver, opened in 1930, and was later acquired by Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces of India. Standing 525.01 feet (160.02 m) tall, it is located within the Upper East Side Historic District as designated in 1981 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I've quite liked puzzle co-constructed by J.A.S.A. in the past (J.A.S.A. stands for Jewish Association Serving the Aging), but this one seemed a bit weak. The core concept just isn't that interesting or entertaining. And it doesn't cohere that great either. I've heard of a five-star general and a five-star hotel, but not a five-star constellation or a five-star flag. SOUTHERN CROSS and CHINESE FLAG are associated with stars, sure, but the number "five," not so much. Also, if, like me, you get your sense of the SOUTHERN CROSS from the flag of New Zealand, then you were under the (apparently mistaken) impression that the constellation actually had four stars. So that was weird. Also, do people who don't live in NYC know THE PIERRE? I'd never heard of it. I get that the class (like the puzzle) is NY-based, so there's nothing *wrong* with a parochial answer like that, but I don't think that answer's going to resonate much in the sticks (i.e. outside the five boroughs). Ian and his class have certainly polished the puzzle well—I hope you can see the difference between puzzles made by experienced, conscientious constructors (Joel on Monday, Ian today) and run-of-the-mill, under-edited puzzles that the NYT runs. No wincing! All answers real and (mostly) interesting! OK, ARMLET is weird, but I'm pretty sure it's real. Anyway, this wasn't terribly exciting. Acceptable, for sure, but too basic, conceptually, and too wobbly in the execution for my tastes.

    Biggest troubles were in and around THE PIERRE, just because I'd never heard of it. Wanted SCHEMATA for SCENARIO (3D: Plot outline). Wanted TO-DO for STIR (29A: Hubbub). Wanted STALLS for STABLE (11D: 35-Down [i.e. HORSE] quarters). Oh, I also had trouble around RODGERS, because I also don't really know who Richard RODGERS is. Is he RODGERS and Hammerstein RODGERS? Ah, yes, look at that—so he is. Not knowing him made FRIED and LOVED and SKI TRAIL all weirdly tougher than they should've been. I somehow thought the AMA  was the ["Protecting and promoting your health" org.]—that's a mistake I can understand and live with. I still think the expression is TRUE DAT but there's plenty of evidence that, at least on paper, I'm wrong. Or, rather, TRUE THAT is more popular. Crossword mainstay Michael CERA recently released an album entitled "TRUE THAT," so put that in your crossword trivia pipe and smoke it.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


    Deep blue dye / TUE 6-23-15 / Spanish liqueur / Wisconsin v landmark 1972 Supreme Court case on religious freedom / Stark Game of Thrones protagonist

    Tuesday, June 23, 2015

    Constructor: Jules P. Markey

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "ROAD to BALI" — word ladder going from ROAD to BALI. Also, four theme answer related to the movie:

    Word Ladder: ROAD (1A) TOAD TOLD BOLD BALD BALI (60A)

    Theme answers:
    • BROMANTIC COMEDY (16A: Modern-day genre for the 1952 film whose title is suggested by a word ladder starting at 1-Across)
    • HOPE AND CROSBY (24A: The film's headliners)
    • DOROTHY LAMOUR (40A: The film's co-star)
    • SONG AND DANCE MEN (52A: Occupations of 24-Across in the film)
    Word of the Day: Wisconsin v. YODER (29D: Wisconsin v. ___ (landmark 1972 Supreme Court case on religious freedom)) —
    Wisconsin v. Yoder406 U.S. 205 (1972), is the case in which the United States Supreme Court found that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade. The parents' fundamental right to freedom of religionoutweighed the state's interest in educating its children. The case is often cited as a basis for parents' right to educate their children outside of traditional private or public schools. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Er … no. This is loaded with problems. I don't care if you love the movie—that's not the point (I'm going to bet that most solvers have barely heard of and likely never seen the movie … I mean, not you, of course—you're quite the movie buff. But most.). The point is 1. word ladder, yuck. The worst of ladders. A hackneyed puzzle conceit if there ever was one. 2. BROMANTIC COMEDY is not a thing. Sorry, but no. Check out its wikipedia page—front-loaded w/ warning flags. I see that a few publications have used the term, but it's simply not common enough to qualify as a "modern-day genre" (which is already a deeply awkward way to refer to the genre of a *1952* film—how can a film be in a genre that didn't exist? Confusing.). Google "bromantic comedy" => 108K hits (also, for the record, autocorrect made it "romantic" just now). Now google "bromance," an *actual* "modern-day genre," and you get 9 million hits. There's the difference: fake portmanteau v. real portmanteau. So …. yuck to the whole awkward mess of that answer and its clue. 3. theme answers are just trivia, who cares? 4. OMG the fill is superbad. Not the good kind of "superbad." The bad kind. OPES! ALINED! ANIS APER A ON! A tent full of TAMERS! How many TAMERS!? MMCCC TAMERS! Can I get MMCCC AMENS? Thank you.

    Further, ill-conceived grid construction leaves you with YODER, which is an Absurdity on a Tuesday. But the way the grid's built, you're locked into that Y---R sequence, and making an actual, viable, reasonably early-week answer out of Y---R is nigh on impossible. In fact, the whole thing is clearly too theme dense (what w/ the word ladder and all) for the constructor to smoothly handle. So it's a hot, rough mess. This thing just tries to do too much, and gets too cute, with a not-important old film, and so I didn't care. Killed it (just north of 3 minutes), but didn't care.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


      Internet photo company named after insect / MON 6-22-15 / Former name for Congo / Peanuts boy with blanket

      Monday, June 22, 2015

      Constructor: Joel Fagliano

      Relative difficulty: Mondayish

      THEME: @rexparker — imaginary Twitter handles (that is, actual words reimagined as Twitter handles)

      Theme answers:
      • @TEMPTING (17A: Good Twitter handle for a seductress?)
      • @TESTING (21A: … for a teacher?)
      • @TUNES (37A: … for a musician?)
      • @TIRED (39A: … for a sleepyhead?)
      • @TRIBUTE (53A: … for a eulogist?)
      • @TRACTION (59A: … for a tire company?) 

      Word of the Day: SHUTTERFLY (27D: Internet photo company named after an insect) —
      Shutterfly is an Internet-based image publishing service based in Redwood City, California. Shutterfly's flagship product is its photo book line. The company was founded in 1999 and is currently led by Jeffrey Housenbold, who joined the company in 2005.[2]The company went public in 2006. The customer base is heavily skewed toward women, who accounted for 80% of customers as reported in 2013.
      Shutterfly's revenue derives from "turning digital snapshots into tangible things". (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Smart, funny, modern, clean. Hurray. Mondays rarely have this kind of life, and rarely have grids that are both this theme-dense *and* this interesting. All those themers and he got STATE FAIRS and TAXIDERMY and SHUTTERFLY and CATACLYSM in there too. Pretty sweet. I wish beginning constructors would study this grid as an example of what an easy puzzle should be. Note especially the dearth of terrible short fill. And in a grid loaded w/ 3- and 4-letter words, that is some kind of accomplishment. I think I'd send back the partials GRATA and CRUE, and maybe AAA and NENE and SANTO, if I could, but if that's the worst stuff you're throwing out there, and you've got six good themers and six (6!) good 9+-letter answers in the Downs, that's something. People are happy to put up with The Usual Stuff in the short fill as long as the theme + longer fill entertains. That is today's lesson.

      Plays fast and loose with the ends / tenses of the "handles" to make them work: present participles here, third-person present verb there, past tense verb there, noun there. And I might've gone with something other than "tire company" for @TRACTION, since @TIRED is already in the grid. But the lack of part-of-speech consistency in the handles is a non-issue—it certainly doesn't detract from the sense of the clues or the fun of figuring them out. And the "tire" thing is just a little thing. A note. A suggestion. Puzzle is still a winner. Winning Mondays are hard to make, and this one is clearly a cut above NYT-normal (i.e. about where I'd like the self-described "best puzzle in the world" to be every week).

      Check out these kids, tearing up the crossword on the subway:

      This photo made me terribly happy. If you see anyone solving "in the wild" feel free to snap a pic and send it to me. Love it. (photo courtesy of reader Shandra Dykman)

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


      English monarch called magnificent / SUN 6-21-15 / Relative of halberd / Peace to Pushkin / Shark girl in west side story / North-flowing English river / Former Houston athlete / Opposites of fantasts / Bath-loving TV character / 100 Iranian dinars

      Sunday, June 21, 2015

      Constructor: Timothy Polin

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: "Climbing the Corporate Ladder" — theme answers are familiar phrases that start on one level and then climb up and finish on another level. The "climbing" part, read downwards, is the name of a corporation, and is clued by the product that corporation makes [in brackets]:

      Theme answers:
      • TRUEFALSETESTS (34A: Exams that students get F's on?) — TESLA makes [Automobiles]
      • POSTAGESTAMP (31A: What may be forever?) — SEGA makes [Video games]
      • THREEKINGSDAY (62A: Annual celebration on January 6) — NIKE makes [Sportswear]
      • INTHATRESPECT (75A: When viewed one way) — SERTA makes [Mattresses]
      • HOWWASITOKNOW (82A: Response deflecting blame) — OTIS makes [Elevators]
      • SETSINMOTION (116A: Initiates) — OMNI … makes? are? … [Hotels]
      • LOGICALFALLACY (118A: Part of an unsound argument) — AFLAC … deals in … [Insurance]
      Word of the Day: SUGARLOAF (2D: Rio de Janeiro peak) —
      Sugarloaf Mountain (PortuguesePão de Açúcar) is a peak situated in Rio de JaneiroBrazil, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 396 meters (1,299 ft) above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. It is known worldwide for its cableway and panoramic views of the city. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This one started out Grim. ISIS (1A: Sunni jihadist grp.) crossed with SEALERS (4D: Some arctic hunters)!? Yeesh. way to lead with the carnage. But things lightened up considerably after that. My first thought upon discovering the theme was "we just had a Sunday puzzle with this theme, didn't we?" I'm pretty sure I've seen the basic conceit (here it is in reverse). But the rationale here strikes me as a very good one—the "climbing" isn't gratuitous, but fits right in with and neatly visually exemplifies the title phrase, "Climbing the Corporate Ladder." Take familiar phrase, turn it into wordplay. That's a pretty common crossword-maker gambit, and I thought it worked well here. It took me a while to understand the bracketed Down parts of the theme answers. My gut reaction was "How is [Mattreses] SERTA, singular? Shouldn't it be SERTAS?" But then I saw that those clues weren't ordinary—they indicated the product dealt in by whatever business was being spelled out by the riser part of the theme answer. And since the fill didn't bug me much at all, I have to declare this one a reasonable success.

      Today I remembered AGFA, which almost never happens. Do they still make film? Even when they did, I was never familiar with AGFA, and learned it (and repeatedly forgot it) through crosswords. But today, victory. I've been seeing a lot of good press for "Masters of Sex" recently, so 9D: Study for a Masters? (SEXOLOGY) didn't fool me at all. I had a bunch of initially wrong answers—not uncommon on a Sunday. My [Bank deposit] was SILT before it was SNOW. Had a double screw-up at 108A: Whole essence crossing 103D: Some madrigal singers. Instead of the correct BE ALL / ALTI, I had BEING / ANIS … they're blackbirds … it's a crossword thing. What can I say, it felt right, for like three seconds. My best error, though, came when I had -OL-WATER for 35A: Liquid harmful to vampires and I went with … [drum roll] … COLD WATER. So basically I would be the guy in the movie who throws cold water on the vampire, resulting only in a cold, wet vampire. Then I'd get bitten or just destroyed. Speaking of vampires, there's a Christopher Lee marathon on TCM on Monday, so look for that.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


        Feminist author Millett / SAT 6-20-15 / Chicago-born choreographer / Service begun in 1947 for short / Country created by Treaty of Sevres 1920 / Social media debut of 2010

        Saturday, June 20, 2015

        Constructor: Kyle T. Dolan

        Relative difficulty: Easy

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: Brienne of TARTH (10A: Brienne of ___, "Game of Thrones" protagonist) —
        Brienne of Tarth is a fictional character in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fireseries of fantasy novels. She is a prominent point of view character in the fourth novel, A Feast for Crows, and a main character in the television adaptation. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Need to wrap this up quickly, as I'm kind of at Peak Summer Cold right now, and also it's "Summer of Noir" on TCM so Friday nights are Always Something Good On nights, all summer. Nice to have illness dovetail with film noir marathon (and that is literally the only "nice" thing about this summer cold). I didn't love this one. Its marquee answers seemed not marquee enough—straining to be hip and relevant, but landing somehow just off the "Wow" mark. WIN AT LIFE is a phrase, I guess, but it left me cold, as did the '90s-era-Bud-ad "WASSUP!" and whatever SPANDRELS are (got that answer entirely from crosses).

        [phase 1—tried "WHAT UP?" initially]

        Really started to sour on this puzzle when I hit the truly hackneyed, seen-only-in-crosswords ICEAXE.

        I've seen that answer a million times, and I doubt I've ever complained about it, and it's an actual thing, but it's … well, with SOG already in the books, it seemed to herald mediocrity. AMINO ACID, too, felt limp. Not bad. Just so-so. Didn't help that I immediately followed ICE AXE up with ENDO. ENDO is slang for pot. Just FYI, in case that ever shows up in a clue, which, in the NYT, it probably won't, but such a clue would almost make ENDO interesting. EMONEY will never be interesting unless someday there is a rapper called E MONEY. Or unless you clue that answer [How "Two Tickets to Paradise" singer signs his checks"]. The NE didn't liven things up much.

        TARTH wants you to think it's fresh, contemporary fill, but it's not. It would be fine if it were necessary to hold something good together, but as a gratuitous "hey I watch GOT" reference, in a corner where we have to suffer through EASEIN and HENNAED, no, TARTH isn't good. Rest of the puzzle was too easy to be terribly remarkable.

        [I have a crossword friend who *hates* seeing any reference to David Ortiz, aka BIG PAPI, in puzzles, so all such clues/answers make me laugh imagine his ire]

        I almost like HAVE A BEER, in that I like having beer, but the clue (60A: Kick back while watching the ball game, say) struck me as odd. First, you HAVE A BEER as a possible addition to kicking back. You'd kick back *and* HAVE A BEER. You can certainly kick back without one, and I have been in plenty of baseball-watching, beer-drinking situations where I was not at all kicked back (if it's a tense game, I'm often standing and "talking" to the screen, decidedly unkicked back, possibly frightening my dogs and causing them to leave the room). Also, if that's your clue, then apparently any clue will do, e.g. [Relax after work], [Celebrate the end of the work week], [React to thirst], etc. It's weird that I find myself disappointed by beer, but here we are. Maybe STEAK RUB was supposed to be an exciting answer? It's acceptable, for sure, but like most of the rest of the grid's "highlights," it just didn't do much for me. Not a bad puzzle overall, but I'll forget about it as soon as I post this.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


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