Lower leg woe, slangily / FRI-7-31-15 / Turn awkward, as a relationship / "reading room"

Friday, July 31, 2015

Constructors: James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy, I bet, but I was getting up and making martinis and drinking them so it took me an hour

(I do my puzzles on a clipboard, issued forth from a printer with chronically low toner)

Word of the Day: KATY (45A: "___ Bell" (Stephen Foster song)) —
             From http://www.3goodcats.com/katybell.htm:
   Stephen Foster wrote many of the popular songs* in 19th-century America.  I didn't know it when we named our cat, but Stephen Foster wrote the music for an 1863 song called "Katy Bell."  You can listen to it, and if you're as interested as I was, even find the lyrics as well.

* - The most famous:  Oh! Susanna; Camptown Races; Old Folks at Home [Swanee River]; My Old Kentucky Home; Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair; Beautiful Dreamer.

• • •
It's like someone rubbed deodorant all over my printer paper because this puzzle is so fresh. AUTOTUNE, GET WEIRD, ONLINE AD and... CANKLES. Look, I know everyone says something like this in their lifetime but I coined the term "cankles." In college. 2005. It was me; I was the first. I am both proud and ashamed because it's really not a nice thing to say at all, but apparently the term has made its way into one of our most prestigious publications. See, there was this girl who was pretty mean and I didn't like her and she had calves that just wouldn't quit in the downward direction. It was before we started Googling everything we think to make sure it's an original thought so I was almost certainly the first person to portmanteau that shit.

Hi, by the way. I'm Lena: the girl who coined cankles. OH HEY LOOK OVER THERE

It's a Hawk! It's a Pelican! No, it's a CAGER. Womp womp. Sports terms, especially ones like that, are not readily within my KEN, as you can see here at the point where both my glass and mental wellspring went dry:
HULA SKIRT was my first entry, leading to DRAG SHOW and all those goodies in the NW. Then onto the NE, where everything made a pleasing KERPLOP when dropped in-- except STAY DRY. Why? Because my brain parsed it as a noun, like a "lean-to" and I thought WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? SOME BRITISH THING? "Let us all have a huddle under the stay-dry and sip Pimm's until this thundershower passes." I was still rankled by the time I got to 28A (a tyre may rub against one) and can only think of one word when it comes to Brits and rubbing and it's not KERB, it's "frot." Look it up, as my mother used to say to me. Still does.

Moving right along, I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed this puzzle. Even the little things, like STAB for (5D: Whack). Not that we served KETEL ONE at the fancypants bar (it was that fancy) I worked at a few years ago, but I should have known that way sooner than I did. It would have prevented me from putting in SEASONAL instead of the correct IN SEASON... wow I am getting boring or what?

 Bad fill that peppers you like... bullets!
  • KEPI (35A: Gendarme's topper) — Nrrrgh
  • TKTS (30A: Times Sq. bargain booth)  — Nrrrrrrrrrgh
  • OONA ( 27A: Donald Duck cartoon princess) -- Nrgh
But that's it in terms of what I consider nrrghable fill! A very good puzzle to ring in the weekend.

BONUS: if there's a SNO BALL that has a strong chance in hell...
    Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld


    Something to meditate on / THU 7-30-15 / Whaling ship that inspired "Moby Dick" / Long vowel indicator / Ones in the closet?

    Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

    Relative difficulty: Pretty quick solve for me

    THEME: + the names of the sisters from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

    Word of the Day: MULLAHS (26D: Muslim V.I.P.s) — as the term is newsworthy today, which compelled me to find a historical definition.
    Muslim title generally denoting “lord”; it is used in various parts of the Islāmic world as an honorific attached to the name of a king, sultan, or other noble (as in Morocco and other parts of North Africa) or of a scholar or religious leader (as in parts of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent). The term appears in the Qurʾān in reference to Allāh, the “Lord” or “Master,” and thus came to be applied to earthly lords to whom religious sanctity was attributed.
    The most common application of the title mullah is to religious leaders, teachers in religious schools, those versed in the canon law, leaders of prayer in the mosques (imams), or reciters of the Qurʾān (qurrāʾ). There are no formal requirements for acquisition of the title, but normally persons called by it have had some training in a madrasah, or religious school. The word is often used to designate the entire class that upholds the traditional interpretation of Islām.


    • • •
    Hello, it's Ben Tausig! I'm editor of the American Values Club xword and am a professor of music so get ready for vids in this review. Nice to meet you.

    So, anyway, caveat, it is very difficult for me to be objective reviewing a Brendan Emmett Quigley puzzle because BEQ is a legend and a friend. And I have little will to try in any case, so prepare for generosity and congratulations towards Brendan.

    Great job, Brendan! Brendan has written and continues to construct a staggering number of puzzles, and self-effacing though he may sometimes be, an extraordinary number of them are inspired.

    Real quick, here is a vid from a band, Parquet Courts, that Brendan turned me on to some years ago:

    "Little Women" has been thematically mined at least once, but afaik never to such effect. It's straightforward; MEG, AMY, BETH, and JO sneak into common phrases to yield silly phrases. To wit:

    Theme answers:
    • TOUGHNUTMEG (17A: Hardy brown spice?)
    Decent entry, workmanlike clue
    • BIGAMYBUSINESS (28A: Company that will get you a second spouse?)
    Great entry
    • MACBETHNCHEESE(44A: Extremely tacky production of a Shakespeare play?)
    Moderate ding for the "n," which feels like an orphan in the silly phrase, but good surface sense
    • TRAVELBANJO (57A: Country instrument played by a migrant?)

    Here's a vid from Kurt Vile, who I know Brendan likes:

    I caught the theme quick, after landing TOUGHNUTMEG and seeing BIGAMY at the beginning of the next theme entry. Adding MEG can't signal too many closed sets, and the presence of AMY suggested BIGsomething as a base phrase.

    That made ALCOTT (45D: Creator of the characters added in 17-, 28-, 44-, and 57-Across) a cinch. I hit some snags, though, including the tough vocab pockets of AGATES (11D) and MACRON (44D), and JAMUPS, which is a word but not one that rolled off my typing fingers. I also had a blind crossing, my fault I'm sure, at the junction of ANNA (62A: Actress Gunn of "Breaking Bad") and VAL (58D: Cartoonist Mayerik who co-created Howard the Duck), neither of whom I know. This was exacerbated by the fact that I'd entered HEED rather than HEEL (65A: "Follow"). Here's what it looked like before I realized that there probably wasn't a person named VAD or VID or VED:

    Here's some stuff that reminded me of Brendan and made me happy:
    • PABST (48D: "The way beer was meant to be" sloganeer, once) — Brendan enjoys beer references.
    • PLUGUGLY (3D: Downright homely) — Classic BEQ; familiar, resonant, cool letter sequence. 
    • ENO (2D: Musician who coined the term "ambient music") — Brendan, as mentioned above, enjoys good music. I'm not strongly confident that Eno actually coined this term, although the attribution is common. I'm finishing Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century and am reminded how long sonic texture and atmosphere had been vital principles in western music before Eno put his spin on the idea.
    • AMP (25A: Booster for a band) 
    Here's ENO's "Music for Airports"; his catalog, remarkably, justifies his ubiquity in crosswords:

    Signed, Ben Tausig, person of puzzles. Say hi on Twitter @datageneral or @avcxwords


    Knuckleballer Wilhelm / WED 7-29-15 / Russell of "Black Widow" / More than half of Israel / Breath mint in a tin / It lacks depth

    Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    Constructor: David J. Lieb

    Relative difficulty: Smooth sailing

    THEME: "DOUBLE DOUBLE" — Each of the theme answers is a two-word phrase (or compound word) where both words (or parts of the word) can be preceded by the word "double" to make a new phrase

    Word of the Day: SPOOKY (34D: Like a haunted house) —

    Not to be confused with "spoopy" or "Shipoopi."
    • • •
    Andy Kravis here, filling in for Rex. Today, David J. Lieb messed* around and got a DOUBLE DOUBLE (65A: Statistical achievement in basketball ... or what the answer to each starred clue is). 

    There are some naughty words in this video. You have been warned.

    In basketball, a double-double is achieving a double-digit number in two positive statistical categories (two of, in order of frequency: points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocked shots). You can't get a double-double in turnovers and number of terrible teammates, but if you could, James Harden would've been NBA MVP last year.

    In this puzzle, though, a DOUBLE DOUBLE is a phrase where both words can be preceded by the word DOUBLE to make two entirely different phrases.

    Theme answers:
    • STANDARD TIME (18A: *It's divided into four zones in the contiguous U.S. states). DOUBLE STANDARD and DOUBLE TIME. Is it just me, or is "U.S. states" a weird construction? Maybe this was just a typo in the online version, and the print edition says something different.
    • TAKEOVER (27A: *Coup d'état, e.g.). DOUBLE TAKE and DOUBLE OVER
    • CROSSTALK (33A: *Incidental chatter). DOUBLE CROSS and DOUBLE-TALK (which according to whatever dictionary Google uses, is "deliberately unintelligible speech combining nonsense syllables and actual words." You might know it better as doublespeak.) 
    • PLAYBILLS (47A: *Handouts to theatergoers). DOUBLE PLAY and DOUBLE BILLS (I had no idea what "double bills" were. It turns out to be a synonym for "double features." Maybe it's a regional/generational thing, but I've never heard the phrase "double bill" before.)
    • BACKDATE (53A: *Make retroactive). DOUBLE BACK and DOUBLE DATE.
    Including the revealer at 65A, there's an impressive amount of theme (6 entries, 58 theme squares)! The base phrases are all very much in-the-language, even if a couple of the "double ___" phrases were beyond my ken. This kind of theme (i.e., this word can precede theme answers X, Y, and Z) has been played out quite a bit, but I really appreciate that (a) the revealer word can precede both parts of every theme entry, (b) that there were five two-part theme entries besides the revealer, and (c) that the revealer does double duty in not only telling you the preceding word but also telling you that both parts of every themer can take the preceding word. Really nice stuff IMHO.

    Given how densely packed this grid was with theme content, the surrounding fill wasn't bad. As in most puzzles, there was some stuff I didn't love: 'UNS, AN OUT, ESTAB., ELLS crossing ESSES. But mostly the fill was reasonable for a Wednesday, and there were a few nice long answers (notably COATROOMS and GOLDEN BOY, but also NOOGIE, SPOOKY, CAJUN, STIGMA, CAR WASH, and "I'M SOLD"). Also, ALTOID singular!

    • 42A: HOYT (Knuckleballer Wilhelm) — Hoyt Wilhelm (not the order you thought those names were gonna go, huh?) was an MLB pitcher in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably with the World Series-winning 1954 New York Baseball Giants. In 1985, Wilhelm became the first relief pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
    • 57A: THERESA (Russell of "Black Widow") — "Black Widow" is one of these late '80s/early '90s films with a femme fatale (see also "Fatal Attraction," "Basic Instinct," "Damage," "The Last Seduction," etc.). In this one, Theresa Russell plays a woman who kills a bunch of wealthy middle-aged white dudes for who-knows-what-reason, and Debra Winger's character has to try to bring her to justice.
    • 12D: NEGEV (More than half of Israel) — The Negev is a desert that covers most of southern Israel. Now you know.
    • 56D: EUBIE (Ragtime pianist) — A true master.

    In conclusion: nice puzzle, good job.

    Now, I'd like to bring your attention to a couple of excellent crossword-related items:

    1) If you're here, you love crosswords. And if you love crosswords, you will love Lollapuzzoola 8: Lollapuzzocho, an upcoming crossword tournament in NYC. It's on August 8th (that's a Saturday in August), and it is absolutely not too late to sign up! It is always the most fun, and the lineup of constructors is terrific (Do the names Anna Shechtman, Mike Nothnagel, Doug Peterson, joon pahk, Patrick Blindauer, and Kevin G. Der do anything for you? Of course they do). Feel free to bring a friend. If you can't make it to the live tournament, you can still sign up for the At-Home Division to get the puzzles by PDF shortly after the tournament ends. 

    2) Friend and frequent collaborator Victor Barocas has just launched an awesome project on Kickstarter! 

    Ada Cross, Crossword Detective will be a series of murder mysteries featuring a detective (Ada) and her colleagues. You'll solve a series of meta-crosswords along with Ada to solve murders. In addition to the text and the puzzles, the stories will have illustrations by Hayley Gold, who writes the Across and Down webcomic. 

    You can read more about (and back) the project on this Kickstarter page. If you like crosswords (and especially if you like metas), you will like this. 

    Signed, Andy Kravis, (H/T)ipster of CrossWorld

    *If you're reading this, Ice Cube, I'm sorry I messed around with your artistic integrity. In spite of the fact that it's a modern classic, "Today Was A Good Day" falls a little below the breakfast Mendoza line.


    Schmooze / TUE 7-28-15 / Berliner's exclamation / Mork's planet / Hand ball?

    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    Constructor: Caleb Emmons

    Relative difficulty: EASY

    THEME: Secret theme! A-E-I-O-U—each row includes only one vowel, in that order: rows 1, 6, and 11 contain only A, rows 2, 7, and 12 contain only E, and so on.

    Word of the Day:  "Poltroon" (20A: "Utter coward") —

    "An utter coward" (Google) [ಠ_ಠ -Ed.]

    "A spiritless coward: craven" (Merriam Webster)

    • • •

    Hello, I'm Adrianne Jeffries, live from New York. I'm sorry I'm not Rex! I'd be disappointed if I were you, too.

    Speaking of disappointment, boy what a not-fun puzzle this was for me! The A-E-I-O-U ploy is super clever, but 1) it doesn't present itself until the end of the downs, and 2) at what cost?

    The puzzle starts off Tuesday-ily enough, as we CHAT and AT BAT and TBA, all normal normal, until we hit POLTROON, which, if anyone organically got this answer, I'll eat my hat.

    But okay, while recovering from POLTROON, we hit a run of mediocrity with SISS ("to make a hissing sound"), FRAS (this will be good for Scrabble), and SSTS ("supersonic transport), plus ELL and RRR and ICI. We have the "Peter, Paul & Mary" clue, which we also had yesterday, except today they're a TRIO.

    RUFUS as in Wainright felt like the freshest clue in the puzzle:

    Speaking of freshness, FRESHETS is a word I learned ("a great rise or overflowing of a stream caused by heavy rains or melted snow," says Merriam Webster).

    I don't think I need to say which answer felt the mustiest:

    Oh look, it's making a comeback! Source: Google's Ngram Viewer, which searches for phrases in books.

    I'm scanning the puzzle for answers I liked and keep spotting more duds, like TKT. I did like THE CREEPS and SNOOT, because they are words for humans.

    The thing with the rows and the vowels was really nifty. My crossword partner and I basically gasped when we realized what that clue was saying. For that kind of acrobatics, Caleb, I'll forgive you PHILIP III, OOO, and AAA MAP. The rest of the fill here looks ham-handed, though—especially when compared to the deftness of the theme trick.


    Adrianne Jeffries, just some blogger, basically (special thanks Sam Thonis)


    Jean-Luc of the U.S.S. Enterprise / MON 7-27-15 / Slapping stooge / Zoo heavyweight, informally / Doofus

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    Constructor: D. Scott Nichols and Zhouqin Burnikel

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (***FOR A MONDAY*** (Rex always does this, so I will, too))

    THEME: "Palindromes" — The last word of theme answers are all palindromes. Easy enough.

    Word of the Day: ATTAR (35A. _____ of roses) —
    Rose oil (rose ottoattar of rose, or attar of roses) is the essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of roseRose ottos are extracted through steam distillation, while rose absolutes are obtained throughsolvent extraction or supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, with the absolute being used more commonly inperfumery. Even with their high price and the advent of organic synthesis, rose oils are still perhaps the most widely used essential oil in perfumery.
    • • •
    Hello, CrossWorld! I'm Eli Selzer, filling in for Rex, today only! Who am I, you ask? I'm a screenwriter in LA (I'll save you the IMDB search: nothing produced. I've had multiple scripts in development over the last 5 years at fairly well-known companies, but still no credits to my name. It's a cruel business). You may have met me at the Crosswords LA Tournament, where I've managed to not embarrass myself on 3 separate occasions. I've not yet attended ACPT. I've never constructed a puzzle, so I don't tend to notice things like cheater squares (or fully understand them, honestly), but I tend to agree with Rex's opinions on puzzle quality. I'm not overly-familiar with most constructors, aside from a few favorites. So how did I get this sweet gig, then? Simple: I asked, and Rex said yes.

    On to the puzzle!

    Theme answers:
    • GEORGE TENET (11D. *C.I.A.'s second-longest serving director)
    • MONICA SELES (17A. *Youngest French Open Champion)
    • DARYL HANNAH (24D. *"Splash" star)
    • YOKO ONO (39A. *"Double Fantasy" singer)
    • PALINDROMES (60A. What the ends of the answers to all the starred clues are)
    This seemed like a straight-over-the-plate Monday. My time was a bit over my average Monday (3:13), but I had a few typos (the danger of only solving on my phone, which is how I solve 95% of the time). Also, I was taking my time because I knew I had to blog about it when I was done. Theme was straight-forward with a revealer to match. Nothing much to tie the answers together other than the fact that they're all people with palindromes for last names.

    Side note: In elementary school, I had an English book with a story called "Hannah is a Palindrome," where a teacher allows her class to mercilessly pick on a girl named Hannah because she is a palindrome until Hannah takes the initiative to look up "palindrome" and turns the tables on a boy named Otto. That story is still what I think of every time palindromes come up. So... good job, story, I guess?

    The themers didn't give me much trouble. I'm a bit embarrassed that I read "Youngest French Open Champion" and immediately thought of men. I'm better than that, both as a solver and a human being. Also, drew a blank on GEORGE TENET, but it didn't really slow me down. Fill overall seemed pretty solid; I'm not drawn to any obvious garbage. The partial INS isn't ideal, especially paired symmetrically with the partial TOS. I guess looking it over again, there's a pretty fair amount of partials throughout, but it didn't stand out while solving, so I'll give it a pass. ATTAR feels like the difficulty outlier to me. It's not inappropriate for a Monday, just stuck out a bit. I felt like I had one error slow me down, but looking over the puzzle, I can't for the life of me remember what it was, so I'll just say that it was a solid, if somewhat unremarkable, puzzle that I largely enjoyed. Not bad for a Monday!

    • NOLTE (29A. Nick of "48 Hrs.") — Makes me think of Rifftrax (the current project of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew), and specifically, of Mike Nelson's impression that comes up in so many of their riffs.

    • NAME (32A. Peter, Paul or Mary) — Or John or Finn or Elliot or Stu or Joe or Thor or Melissa or Ahmed or Geena or Lindsay or Lindsey or...
    • PICARD (5D. Jean-Luc of the U.S.S. Enterprise) — Automatic bullet for TNG references.

    • MOE (34D. Slapping Stooge)— My wife likes the Three Stooges more than I do (I'm more of a Marx Brothers guy). But I'm highlighting this clue because I couldn't write a post for this blog without a Simpsons reference.
    • PAEAN (57A. Song of triumph)— Fun word. But only pointing it out to get in another one:

    So, this has been fun! Thanks to Rex for letting me fill in. I emulated him as best as possible by solving and blogging with a glass of bourbon. I recommend it.

    Signed, Eli Selzer, um... what title hasn't been taken? False Dauphin? I'll go with that.

    Signed, Eli Selzer, False Dauphin of CrossWorld


    Actress Suvari of "American Beauty" / SUN 7-25-15 / Mark's replacement / Scenic drapery fabric / Panama part

    Sunday, July 26, 2015

    Constructor: Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Measium

    THEME: "No Escape" — There's a BLACK HOLE in the middle of the grid.

    Word of the Day: LA TOSCA (41D. French play that inspired and Italian opera) —
    La Tosca is a five-act drama by the 19th-century French playwright Victorien Sardou. It was first performed on 24 November 1887 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martinin Paris, with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Despite negative reviews from the Paris critics at the opening night, it became one of Sardou's most successful plays and was toured by Bernhardt throughout the world in the years following its premiere. The play itself is no longer performed, but its operatic adaptation, Giacomo Puccini'sTosca, has achieved enduring popularity. There have been several other adaptations of the play including two for the Japanese theatre and an English burlesqueTra-La-La Tosca (all of which premiered in the 1890s) as well as several film versions.
    La Tosca is set in Rome on 17 June 1800 following the French victory in the Battle of Marengo. The action takes place over an eighteen-hour period, ending at dawn on 18 June 1800. Its melodramatic plot centers on Floria Tosca, a celebrated opera singer; her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, an artist and Bonapartist sympathiser; and Baron Scarpia, Rome's ruthless Regent of Police. By the end of the play, all three are dead. Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and sentences him to death in the Castel Sant'Angelo. He then offers to spare her lover if Tosca will sleep with him. She appears to acquiesce, but as soon as Scarpia gives the order for the firing squad to use blanks, she stabs him to death. On discovering that Cavaradossi's execution had in fact been a real one, Tosca commits suicide by throwing herself from the castle's parapets. (Wikipedia)
    • • •
    This was a Janus-like puzzle for me. The upper/left half was really straightforward, and the other other half (this puzzle is literally divided into two pieces) was a bit trickier. Not much, but there was a noticeable hiccup in solving for me. Was it the gimmick that made the bottom/right harder? I don't think so. There are just some tricky choices, like ACACIA (93D. Mimosa, for one) and EASY FIX (90D. Simple solution) that bump up the difficulty. Not hard for a Sunday... just a rougher groove than I'd found on the west side.

    So there are two parts to this theme. Number one: long phrases that describe a BLACK HOLE.

    Theme answers:
    • HEART OF DARKNESS (21A. Novella that served as the basis for "Apocalypse Now")
    • DISAPPEARING ACT (14D. Avoidance maneuver)
    • FATAL ATTRACTION (42D. 1987 Michael Douglas/Glenn Close blockbuster)
    • CENTER OF GRAVITY (112A. Tightrope walker's concern)
    And those are cute. All four of them. Zero complaints. A black hole theme that... wait for it... doesn't suck. But there's a second theme. The 3x3 block of black squares dead center represents a BLACK HOLE, and there are 12 short answers being sucked into it. For each of those entries, the word "hole" has to be added on at the end so that the clue/answer pair makes sense. Those answer are: LOOPHOLE, MOUSE HOLE, POTHOLE, PIE HOLE, HIDEY-HOLE (wasn't familiar with this guy), BOREHOLE, PORTHOLE, BLACK HOLE, RAT HOLE, PINHOLE, IN THE HOLE, NAIL HOLE. Due to the attractive nature, the entries beneath and to the right of the hole are sucked up and back into the hole. Instead of writing HIDEY-HOLE in, you just put in YEDIH. Some poor sap's gonna submit a puzzle to The Times in a few years, get rejected for putting YEDIH in the grid, and not know why, because he's just gonna insert this "answer" from a word list. Don't be this guy.

    So this is cute, too. A nice visual effect. I was wondering if the whole second half of the grid would be reversed, with every entry being affected by the black hole, but nope. That's fine. Two black spots on this puzzle, though. First, why is PIE duplicated between MEAT PIE and PIE HOLE (theme answer!)?!? This is clearly a constructor error, but should've been caught and fixed ahead of time. Some might argue "short word, not a dupe, doesn't count, you can never have too much pie, &c." I am set in my ways, and I don't care if it's a short word. It is a very meaningful word, so it certainly counts. The other is certainly and editorial choice: DRAT (108D. "Darn!") and DARN IT. Why not use a different clue? Or link the two together? I don't understand the reasoning behind this at all.

    I praise the constructors for using corner cheater squares in exchange for (what I assume is) cleaner fill. That's an unexpected decision.

    • COIN PURSES (13D. Change places) — Favorite clue of the puzzle. Sure, I saw right through it (wanted REGISTERS, though), but a verb/noun misdirect is a good time.
    • AARP (93A. 50 or more people?) — This would be a "favorite" contender, if I'd not seen some variant of it before. Speaking of "people," no PEEP HOLE in this grid?
    • EPISODE I (29A. "The Phantom Menace" in the "Star Wars" series) — I still haven't seen "Star Wars." But I knew enough to get this right away. Are there any other things that are commonly referred to as "episode one," or is this it? Google suggests that part of the video game Half-Life 2 is "episode one," but the closest I've come to that is playing Portal. Help me out here.
    • AFRESH (45A. From scratch) — "I shall bake this cake afresh!"
    • LEANN RIMES (70D. Singer with the 1997 3x platinum single "How Do I Live") — For about a year in the late '90s, Dad would play his one LeAnn Rimes album anytime we got in the car. It was most noticeable going to and coming home from church. And it would always start from track one, "Blue." And sometimes he'd put it on repeat. Taste the yodeling with me.

    • YES MEN (12D. Rubber stamps) — Hadn't heard the slang usage of the clue before, but it makes sense, metonymically. It's a fun entry, regardless.
    • HATE MAIL 74A. Some written rants) — I hear that one Mr. Parker gets great joy from receiving your missives (as well as ones likely intended for Mr. Shortz), so please, keep the coming. Address is on the sidebar. You know what to do.
    Signed, Neville Fogarty, Prince of CrossWorld


    Derby folks / SAT 7-24-15 / Four-bagger / Music on Radio Disney

    Saturday, July 25, 2015

    Constructor: Kevin Der

    Relative difficulty: Tough enough

    THEME: None

    Word of the Day: NEPAL (43D: Traditional birthplace of Buddhism)
    Wedged between the high wall of the Himalaya and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow peaks and Sherpas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras.
    --Lonely Planet
    • • •
    Thanks to Rex for letting me guest-blog this week, and to his commenters for keeping things more or less under control. There were exceptions, but they know who they are and will do better in the future.

    I never introduced myself, so what more awkward time than now that I'm done here: I'm Matt Gaffney dammit, a professional crossword puzzle writer for the past 17 years. I write a weekly contest crossword here ($26 per year, close to being worth it), a daily mini-puzzle here (free for another week, then it costs $25 per year; definitely worth it now), a weekly current events crossword for The Week which is here, and a monthly 21x21 for Washingtonian Magazine which is here.  My favorite of my books is here. Second favorite is here. Third favorite is here. Best article I've written about crosswords is here.


    The kids know how to make themelesses now, don't they? Had the pleasure of lunch with this puzzle's author (and Shortz protege Joel Fagliano) at the Shake Shack while attending Lollapuzzoola a couple of years ago in Manhattan. Highly recommended tournament which is only a couple of weeks away now -- go if you're in the NYC area.


    Letter grade of A. Thanks, Rex! The Ders (and Faglianos) know what they're doing, do they not?

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 24 more hours


    Biscotto bit / FRI 7-24-15 / Bisque bit / Quadratics, e.g.

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: 9 minutes 20 seconds, average for Friday

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: DARYL HALL (36A: Member of a pop duo whose debut album was titled "Whole Oats"

    Daryl Franklin Hohl, professionally known as Daryl Hall (born October 11, 1946) is an American rock, R&B and soul singer, keyboardist, guitarist, songwriter and producer, best known as the co-founder and lead vocalist of Hall & Oates (with guitarist and songwriter John Oates).
    In the 1970s and early 1980s, Hall scored several Billboard chart hits and is regarded as one of the best soul singers of his generation.Guitarist Robert Fripp, who collaborated with him in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has written, "Daryl's pipes were a wonder. I have never worked with a more able singer." Since late 2007, he has hosted the web television series, Live from Daryl's House. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. -- Wikipedia

     Someone in comments complained I had no bullet points. So today, 20 bullet points:

    1) Patrick Berry, a byline you very much like to see.

    2) Don't expect a vowel in the 1-box in a themeless/a.k.a. freestyle grid, do you? I didn't. Threw me off. INSIDE MAN (1a: Helper in a heist)

    3) MAMET (22A: "The Cryptogram" playwright David). Amusing clue for a crossword puzzle answer, referencing a different puzzle type.

    4) Misdirecting clue at (5D: Bankruptcy declarer of 2013). Not a company but the financially distressed municipality of DETROIT.


    6) DARYLHALL as one word looks like a Norwegian surname.

    7) MINIS (7D: Some M&M's) was misdirecting. I was thinking it would be a plural color.

    8) You're a geography nerd if you had MA??ARA at 10-D and thought the answer would be MARMARA.

    9) If you like variety cryptics, check out this Patrick Berry v.c., which I have not yet solved but which is getting extremely positive reviews in the Crucisphere.

    10) Grid is a little compartmentalized. NW and SE corners only a little outflow. Very minor blot.

    11) Never heard of COMPUWARE but I bet they're one of those companies things would be different without. 

    12) Don't understand how the clue for ONE AND ONLY (24D: Perfect match) makes sense. One and only is a unique individual, like "The one and only Lionel Richie," while a "perfect match" is two compatible people.

    13) Third best clue:  GHOST TOWN (32D: Nobody's home)

    14) Second best clue:  CHASTENED (17A: Newly humble). Precisely and elegantly put.

    15) Best clue: SWAT (3D: Try to beat the buzzer?)

    16) ESPYS  (29D: Awards show since 1993). What, no Caitlyn??

    17) Raise your hand in shame if you had O?AL and put OPAL instead of OVAL at first for (Like some lockets). But I feel that there are enough opal lockets around to make this plausible.

    18) Five worst entries test: SOPS, ANG, GILDA, SACS, ET AL. Squeaky clean.

    19) Unfairly left off the Best Three Clues list: (Wood choppers of old) for FALSE TEETH.

    20) Runner-up for newly revised Best Four Clues list: (Classic pop) for NEHI.

    Letter grade of A.

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for one more day


    Law firm employees / THU 7-23-15 / On tenterhooks / Preternatural

    Thursday, July 23, 2015

    Constructor: Timothy Polin

    Relative difficulty: Pretty tough, maybe like a Friday almost

    THEME: Letters of "Supercalifragilisticexpiolodocious" are Crushworded into the central 13

    Word of the Day: LUNA 
    The Luna programme (from the Russian word Луна "Luna" meaning "Moon"), occasionally called Lunik or Lunnik by western media, was a series of robotic spacecraft missions sent to the Moon by the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. Fifteen were successful, each designed as either an orbiter or lander, and accomplished many firsts in space exploration. They also performed many experiments, studying the Moon's chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation. Twenty-four spacecraft were formally given the Luna designation, although more were launched. Those that failed to reach orbit were not publicly acknowledged at the time, and not assigned a Luna number. Those that failed in low Earth orbit were usually given Cosmos designations.[1] The estimated cost of the Luna programme was about $4.5 billion.
    • • •
    Tough! Almost 13 minutes. Didn't get at all what was happening for a long time, but then it became clear that I had everything around the edges of the grid but nothing at all in the middle. That's a little on the weird side. Got MARY POPPINS (62A: Musical featuring 39-Across) but thought 39-A then had to be CHIM CHIMINY, CHEREE etc. etc., you know the one. But it was that other song, parsed as in the grid: SU-PER-CAL-I-FRAG-I-LIS-TIC-EX-PI-AL-I-DO-CIOUS. Don't make me type the 13 downs! I won't do it.

    Lots of maddening (good maddening) moments here, knowing IMF had to be right for (Global capital inst.) and NORAS for (Comedian Dunn and others) but neither making sense there. Wasn't expecting a Crushword (who ever is, really? -- it's the underhand serve of crossword themes) so it was effective in perplexing me.

    So yeah, I thought this was pretty fun. The clues were tough and it took me long enough to grok the theme idea that I felt slow about it afterwards. That's OK once it a while, infuriating but OK, to get bested a little on a Thursday. Well-played, constructor.

    Upper-left and lower-right of the grid were impressively filled. I had H????VI in the lower-right and thought, "Well, if that entry's clue doesn't reference an English king, I'm screwed." But it did. THE TUXE(DO) is also a nice entry.

    I'll go ahead and give this an A-, which makes it tops of the week so far. Let's see if Friday or Saturday can unseat it.

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for two more days


    Handed-down wisdom / WED 7-22-15 / Airer of the "Not Top Ten" plays / ___ Air (Taiwanese carrier)

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Constructor: Peter A. Collins

    Relative difficulty: Right for a Wednesday

    THEME: What am I, liver that you have chopped? -- the letters LIVER appear consecutively in some order in each theme entry 

    Word of the Day: SHERPA (51D: Everest guide)
    Sherpas are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain. They were immeasurably valuable to early explorers of the Himalayan region, serving as guides at the extreme altitudes of the peaks and passes in the region, particularly for expeditions to climb Mount Everest. Today, the term is often used by foreigners to refer to almost any guide, climbing supporter or porter hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, regardless of their ethnicity. Because of this usage, the term has become a slang byword for a guide or mentor in other situations.[9] Sherpas are renowned in the international climbing and mountaineering community for their hardiness, expertise, and experience at very high altitudes.--Wikipedia

    • • •

    I tried to play the same theme-guessing game today that I did on Monday. Saw that SUPERVILLAIN, SAVILE ROW (nice entry) and NAVEL RING all had a V, but couldn't put it all together without the reveal. As it should be mid-week! Theme guessing is for Mondays. 

    Theme answers:
    • SUPERVILLAIN (20A: Lex Luthor, notably)
    • SAVILE ROW (31A: High-end tailoring area in London)
    • NAVEL RING (38A: Belly dancer's decoration)
    • DEVIL RAYS (49A:Tropicana Field team renamed in 2008) 
    • CHOPPED LIVER (58A: What's found on some canapés (and hiding in the answers to 20-, 31-, 38- and 49-Across?)

    So we're hitting a lot of familiar theme types this week, which isn't a crime. Monday we had an amusing initials reveal, yesterday we had phrases-starting-with-words-that-can-precede-X, and today we've got a shuffled string with an apt reveal. Nothing wrong with this, but to give you an example of what an above-average rendition of this idea looks like, check out Byron Walden's NYT from March 26th of this year.

    There he had the letters RINSE appearing in each of five theme entries, but instead of just being mixed up randomly like here, they cycled around like they were in the washing machine: ERINS, SERIN, NSERI, INSER, and then finally RINSE as part of the reveal answer RINSE CYCLE. And they were stacked one on top of the other so it visually looked like they were in a washing machine.
    Those subtle extras! That's what gets you a Crossword of the Month nomination.

    Now the way it's done here is fine, but it's just LIVER in any order. Those are letters that work well together, so not many constraints: SILVER anything would work, for example. But he chose four good ones and the reveal is good, so don't let me ruin your solve with all this extra information.

    I nominate the fifth row of this puzzle as the most American row in any crossword I've ever seen. You think your crossword row is American? Well this one's got AOL, ASL and then USA baby! Top that. I did not think so.

    Nice long stuff, EXAMPLES of which are: full name tennis legend ROD LAVER (one letter away from 'liver'), YEAR ONE, LIVEN UP ROSSINI, IN TOTO, AS IT IS, and word of the day SHERPA. Note the amusingly symmetrical ZIG and ZAG; worth INT, RETAG, and TRA in the upper-right? Sure, why not...you gotta have a little fun with your roped-off corners once in a while. Of course REX (43D) is gone the week his name's in the grid.

    This is the best puzzle of the week so far, and I'm giving it a B. Theme is solid and reveal is apt and mildly humorous, and the grid is well done, wide-open and with an acceptable amount of subpar fill (especially for five theme entries -- third day in a row we've seen that many). 

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of Crossworld for three more days


    Noggin knocks / TUE 7-21-15 / Toast choice / Brazilian fruit export

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    Constructor: David Phillips

    Relative difficulty: just enough resistance encountered for a Tuesday

    THEME: "It's in the bag" -- things that go in bags. 

    Word of the Day: UNAGI (5D: Eel at a sushi bar) —
    Unagi (うなぎ) is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, especially the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica (nihon unagi 日本鰻 [1]). Unagi is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is not to be confused with saltwater eel, which is known as anago in Japanese.
    • • •
    Not much zip to this theme idea: phrases beginning with things that have a kind of bag named for them:

    Theme answers:
    • BOOK EM, DANNO (16A: *"Hawaii Five-O" catchphrase)
    • TEA PARTIER (22A: *Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck, e.g.)
    • ICE ROAD TRUCKERS (35A: *History channel show frequently set in Canada or Alaska) 
    • SANDCASTLE (45A: *Structure built from the ground up?)
    • IT'S IN THE BAG (56A: "We have this won" ... or what could be said about each of the first words of the answers to the starred clues) 
    Nothing too exciting in this set (although I have seen a couple of ICE ROAD TRUCKERS episodes, gnarly show) and the reveal is a bit dated and not much of a payoff in terms of wordplay. Bookbag, teabag, sandbag -- but what's an icebag? Is that a bag of ice you buy from the store, or a bag you put ice in to keep an injury from swelling? Not as familiar as the others. Also slightly odd that the first one is a verb and the others are nouns.

    Big tradeoff in the fill: five theme entries and just 72 overall entries in the grid, so, as with yesterday's puzzle we have a mixed -- well, a mixed bag. On the plus side:  BURMA, AENEAS, OSTRICHES, AUDACITY, DR. RUTH, AMERICAN (clued to the cheese, nice), ACAI BERRY, DECOUPAGE, REPHRASE and TMZ. I wanted to like JAMES KIRK but with the T. middle initial it Googles 9x better than without. An iconic middle initial like that really wants to be included.

    But then...really too much dreck for a Tuesday: SPOSA at 3D was an eyebrow raiser early in the week. How'm I sposa know that? And there followed a bagful of SAO, orgs. NEA and NRC, the also Italian ORA (which should have been made ERA), foreign plurals ETAS and NEINS, ugly plurals ASSNS and SESS, OOX -- clued incorrectly as (Losing tic-tac-toe row); could be a tie, doesn't have to be a loss -- plus RET, TESSA, OJO and LIS. Makes me want to shout ARG!

    Five theme entries are a lot, so the constructor should probably have gone with a less ambitious grid (76 or 78 words) and gotten a cleaner fill. You're already doing well with five theme entries, so unless you can completely kill it, usually better to play it a little more conservatively when filling the grid.

    • GEOFFREY (20A: Rush experienced during a movie?) -- Excellent use of a "masked capital letter" to hide the fact that "Rush" is a person. Did it fool you? 
    • AARP (63A: Part of AARP: Abbr.) — AARP doesn't stand for anything anymore, so technically this isn't right. I'm only pointing this out so Rex's commenters know I saw it. 
    • Nice mix of classical and contemporary knowledge in this one: AENEAS and TMZ, BACH and Wayne MANOR, The SIOUX and MTV
    Wish I could be giving higher grades this week, but so far it's been a bit lackluster. I'll give this one a C for a dry theme and fill that was ambitious but much too ragged for an early-week puzzle.

    And, check this out: blogmaster Rex totally got dissed by a couple of screenwriters on their podcast. The one guy calls him "not cool at all" (which is partially untrue) but then he walks it back and admits he digs Rex's crankiness. Punks! I dare you to say that to his face. Scroll down to the bottom or search the page for "Rex." 

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for four more days


    Kitchen garment / MON 7-20-15 / Keats wrote one to autumn / Mink or sable

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    Constructor: John Westwig

    Relative difficulty: Easy, but with some tricky names

    THEME: "Morning person," as in a person with A.M. initials

    Word of the Day: CAPRI (14A: Italy's Isle of ___ )

    Capri’s single most famous attraction is the Grotto Azzura, a stunning sea cave illuminated by an other-worldly blue light. The easiest way to visit is to take a tour from Marina Grande. This costs €26.50, comprising the return boat trip, a rowing boat into the cave, and the cave's admission fee. Allow a good hour. -- Lonely Planet

    • • •

    Theme answers:
    • (17A: Sony co-founder) AKIO MORITA
    • (24A: 2013 Wimbledon champion) ANDY MURRAY
    • (50A: Longtime "Monday Night Football" sportscaster) AL MICHAELS
    • (61A: "Love Story" actress) ALI MACGRAW
    • (37A: Early riser ... or what each of 17-, 24-, 50- and 61-Across is? MORNING PERSON
    There are several amusing ways to increase the difficulty level on easy crosswords: using only the down clues is an increasingly popular one, for example.

    Another, which I used here, is to try to guess the theme from just the first theme entry. It took me two here, but when I saw AKIO MORITA and ANDY MURRAY I figured that that 13-letter entry across the middle was going to be MORNING PEOPLE. It was actually MORNING PERSON, which is the better way to do it, since you hear that phrase a lot more often in the singular.

    So that's a decent Monday theme. A little surprise-spoiling when the revealer is in the center of the grid instead of at the end, but if you played the guessing game I described above then it didn't affect your solve.

    A 13-letter entry across the center + four ten-letter theme entries means the constructor had to do some fancy stepping with the fill. Lots of fun stuff in the grid's 6- and 8-letter downs: ED HARRIS (not a morning person), OLD MONEY, AGE GAP, WAKE UP, ROBINSON, SKEWER and also IF I MAY going across.

    But with five theme entries and the always tricky 13-across-the-middle, you're probably going to get some INO CLU PALO BRYN SIM OVA action as well. If you have not heard of ALI MACGRAW then the clue for CLU will not help.  Do the kids these days know who AKIO MORITA was? If not, tough entry.

    Grading time, and this one gets a B-. The theme is on point for a Monday, but the fill gets RATTY (8D) and tricky name-heavy a bit much for the first day of the week. No one wants to get Naticked on Monday! Ruins your confidence for the week! So I would've scheduled this on a Tuesday. 

    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of Crossworld for five more days


    Old frozen dinner brand / SUN 7-19-15 / Rodin sculpture of couple / Physics particles named after Jame Joyce coinage / Staple of fur trade in 1700s-1800sOhio senagtor who was one of JFK's eight Profiles in Courage

    Sunday, July 19, 2015

    Constructor: Tom McCoy

    Relative difficulty: Too hard

    THEME: Abbreviate one word in each theme entry and see what happens

    Word of the Day:
    PAULIE -- Paulie is a 1998 Germany/American adventure fantasy film about a disobedient bird named Paulie, starring Tony Shalhoub, Gena Rowlands, Hallie Eisenberg, and Jay Mohr. Mohr performs the voice of Paulie and also plays a minor on-screen character.

    • • •

    Matt Gaffney here, filling for Rex this week. Apologies right off the bat for the late post; despite Rex checking in with me yesterday, I still managed to forget that my blogging duties began today. But we're rolling now and I'll be punctual with my posts for the rest of the week. But note that I've run into some technical difficulties, too -- Blogger isn't letting me overwrite Rex's original post for some reason, so we've got two posts today. We'll try to merge them at some point. I'm the worst substitute crossword blogger in recorded history thus far.

    Theme answers:

    • FIRST PERSON SING (23A: "Belt it out, Adam!"?)
    • DON'T GIVE AN IN (38A: "I forbid you from providing special access"?)
    • POP DENSITY (42A: Your father's blockheadedneses?)
    • TURN OF THE CENT (66A: Coin flip with a penny?)
    • APT COMPLEX (92A: Emotional problem that is surprisingly fitting?)
    • CUT QUITE A FIG (94A: Prepared some amazing Mediterranean fruit?)
    • LOOK OUT FOR NO ONE (112A: Do a bad job as a watchman?)
      Too subtle for me -- I had to read another crossword blog to understand the theme. Not a good sign! You abbreviate one word in each entry and wackiness ensues, it turns out. 
      Is "cent." the right abbr. for "century"? I think of "cen." or just "c." for that. The others make sense in retrospect, but the theme entries weren't very entertaining and the frustration of not grokking what was going on made for a rather joyless solve.
      The fill sported a lot of nice multiword entries: AND SUCH, TAKE TWO, NAME ONE!, SNEAK OUT, TOO TRUE, PINCH HIT, FAR LEFT, AM I LATE? HANG IN THERE balanced symmetrically by I'M OUTTA HERE, PREY ON, and ALL IS LOST. 
      I do letter grades when I PINCH HIT for Rex, and this one gets a C-. Theme didn't do it for me. The constructor is very talented, though -- he won my Crossword of the Month for another Times puzzle last November.
    Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for six more days

    PS Rex's ultra-brief post from earlier in the a.m. is HERE.


    Old frozen dinner brand / SUN 7-19-15 / Rodin sculpture of couple / Physics particles named after Jame Joyce coinage / Staple of fur trade in 1700s-1800sOhio senagtor who was one of JFK's eight Profiles in Courage

    Constructor: Tom McCoy

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: "The Short Form" — familiar phrases have a single word abbreviated; phrase is clued as if the abbreviation were a stand-alone word:

    Theme answers:
    • FIRST PERSON SING (23A: "Belt it out, Adam!"?)
    • DON'T GIVE AN IN (38A: "I forbid you from providing special access"?)
    • POP DENSITY (42A: Your father's blockheadedneses?)
    • TURN OF THE CENT (66A: Coin flip with a penny?)
    • APT COMPLEX (92A: Emotional problem that is surprisingly fitting?)
    • CUT QUITE A FIG (94A: Prepared some amazing Mediterranean fruit?)
    • LOOK OUT FOR NO ONE (112A: Do a bad job as a watchman?)
    Word of the Day: "PAULIE" (87A: Title parrot in a 1998 film) —
    Paulie is a 1998 Germany/American adventure fantasy film about a disobedient bird named Paulie, starring Tony Shalhoub, Gena Rowlands, Hallie Eisenberg, and Jay Mohr. Mohr performs the voice of Paulie and also plays a minor on-screen character. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    There appears to have been miscommunication with my substitute blogger today. I am leaving town now, so I have no time to do a proper write-up. This puzzle was hard for me. Took me and my wife a long time to grok the theme. Wasn't til I got to the LOOK OUT FOR NO ONE that I saw that the theme wasn't just lopped off letters—it was abbreviations (that could be read as words themselves). Puzzle also clued hard. Not the most satisfying solve, though core idea is clever.

    Gotta go. You may get a fuller write-up from my sub in a few minutes (or hours). Or you may not. I don't know.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


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