Allen whose #3 was retired by 76ers / MON 8-31-15 / Heroine of Purim

Monday, August 31, 2015

Constructor: Michael Dewey

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: diving stuff, I guess — three idioms related to diving

Theme answers:
  • DIVE IN HEAD FIRST (17A: Attack an endeavor vigorously)
  • TAKE THE PLUNGE (37A: Get hitched)
  • GO OFF THE DEEP END (58A: Lose one's mind)
Word of the Day: Allen IVERSON (20A: Allen whose #3 was retired by the 76ers) —
Allen Ezail Iverson (born June 7, 1975) is an American retired professional basketball player who played for four different teams (Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, and Memphis Grizzlies) during 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played both the shooting guard and point guard positions. Iverson was an eleven-time NBA All-Star, won the All-Star game MVP award in 2001 and 2005, and was the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2001. (wikipedia)
• • •

There's nothing here. There are only three themers, they barely hold together, the fill is from ... well not MEDIEVAL times, but olde tymes for sure. It's a mystery how something this ordinary and unplayful and unambitious is being run in the "greatest puzzle on earth" or whatever it's calling itself this week. The whole thing today is thin to the point of transparency. Pointless. Filler. I don't think there's even anything to say about this puzzle. I asked for help on Twitter and one of my Followers said "I guess the public pool is closing for the winter and the constructor is really sad about it?" Sure. Why not? Who knows? The longer answers are fine, so there's that. But yeesh. It took all my will to go on after I hit this bit, ten seconds in:

A HOER and his OLEOS are soon parted. I need a drink. Good day.

Hey, if you want to remember greatness, listen to me talk about Merl Reagle on the radio. Segment's about 20 min. long, and starts right at the top of the show, around the 1:20 mark.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Steer closer to wind / SUN 8-30-15 / Figure in Jewish folklore / Emoji holder / Comedian Daniel musician Peter / Michael Sheen's character in Twilight / Checked online reviews of modern-style / Ambient music innovator Brian / Emulate Isocrates

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Constructor: Lee Taylor

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Conflicting Advice" — adages that are clued via adages that say the opposite, i.e. ["this adage, but ..."] and then the answer is THIS OTHER ADAGE THAT CONTRADICTS THE ADAGE IN THE CLUE. Yes, I swear this is the theme.

Theme answers:
  • OPPOSITES ATTRACT (3D: "Birds of a feather flock together, but ...")
  • FOOLS SELDOM DIFFER (6D: "Great minds think alike, but ...")
  • TIME WAITS FOR NO MAN (34D: "Slow and steady wins the race, but ...")
  • IGNORANCE IS BLISS (38D: "Knowledge is power, but ...")
  • LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP (24A: "He who hesitates is lost, but ...")
  • CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN (111A: "You can't judge a book by its cover, but ...")
Word of the Day: LOLO Soetoro, stepfather of Barack Obama (51A) —
Lolo Soetoro, also known as Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo or Mangundikardjo (EYD: Lolo Sutoro) (Javanese: [ˈlɒlɒ suːˈtɒrɒː]; January 2, 1935 − March 2, 1987), was the Indonesian step-father of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States . // In his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama described Soetoro as well-mannered, even-tempered, and easy with people; he wrote of the struggles he felt Soetoro had to deal with after his return to Indonesia from Hawaii. He described his stepfather as following "a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths." In a 2007 article, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Kim Barker reported that Soetoro "was much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim, according to former friends and neighbors." (wikipedia)
• • •

This just doesn't work. Not at the theme level, and definitely not at the fill level. It is mildly interesting that there exist this many adages that conflict one another, and that you can arrange them symmetrically in the grid, but I'm not sure the existence of such is a strong enough base on which to build and Entire Sunday Crossword Puzzle. They layout of the themers is probably the most interesting thing about this puzzle—highly unusual majority-Down set-up reverses the standard way of doing things, which I'm all for. Mix it up. But there's just nothing in the grid to overcome the dullness of the theme. No interest. No fun. No humor.

And this is a grid that has clearly been hand-filled without the apparent aid of any software—I am very supportive of the idea of novices hand-filling grids to get a sense of how they work, how they don't work, what the challenges are in filling them, etc., but that's for the learning stage. Not the prime-time stage. Grids *need* to be much, much more polished than this, and the cold truth is that the only people who can completely hand-fill grids to modern standards, with no digital assistance, are super-experienced pros. People who have 15+ years experience doing this stuff. People who learned to make puzzles in the pre-software era and then *upped their game* when the digital age forced their hands. (Most constructors I know work without computer assistance initially, but then rely on software to help them see the variety of what's possible, fill-wise, much faster and more completely than the human brain can; if you're at all confused about this process, I highly recommend Matt Gaffney's book Gridlock). This grid has been segmented like crazy in a way that increases drastically the amount of short stuff, and then the grid is loaded with "I've seen it before so it must be acceptable"-type fill. ADREM and ABO and ARA and SST and two -AE ending words and on and on. Only TOSHES is truly ridiculous, but the cumulative weight of uninteresting fill really causes this thing to drag. Here's the point at which I sighed because I realized I still had a long way to go and just didn't care any more:

Oooh, look, you can see the error that would eventually come back to haunt me. Had CHEF 44D: One on staff? because Barack Obama's stepfather was a giant ???? to me (and because, honestly, LOHO seemed like something that this puzzle would have in it ... I mean, it's got TOSHES, for &$%'s sake!). Also, there is a famous LOLO, which I figured would've been used if the answer was actually going to be LOLO:

But to be clear, I checked out on this puzzle Well before the end (when I realized I had an error). The DIPSO ARCED APORT because the AMAH would FAIN something something ADREM. It's brutal. My favorite part was right here, at 41A: Half-and-half, maybe—because I couldn't fathom any answer except one answer, which was the wrong answer, but it made me laugh anyway:

I mean ... a BUTT is kind of "Half-and-half," especially if you tack "maybe" on the end there. Like, there's one half ... and then there's the other half ... leading to the complete BUTT. Made sense to me. One last thing: If I check Yelp, I'm Yelping? Do I have that right? Just *checking* means I'm Yelping? That seems off. Yelp me out here. (40D: Checked online reviews of, modern-style => YELPED)

I'll be on the radio today (WMNF, Tampa), on the show "Life Elsewhere," talking about the late and also great Merl Reagle. You can catch it live at noon here, or in an archived version, which I'll post whenever it becomes available. (UPDATE: Here's an archived version—Listen Now) (my segment starts near top of the show, around 1:20 mark...)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the theme has been done before, and in the Shortz era. It was Jan. 3, 1999, too long ago for most solvers to notice (or care). Still ...

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Perianth component / SAT 8-29-15 / Microsoft release of 2013 / Big producer of novelty records informally / My Darling Clementine locale / Surveying device with letter-shaped rests / Longtime Washington Post theater critic Richard / Spice mixture in Indian restaurant

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Constructor: Evan Birnholz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: David CAMERON (40D: Brown's follower) —
David William Donald Cameron (/ˈkæmrən/; born 9 October 1966) is a British politician who has served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2010, as Leader of the Conservative Party since 2005 and as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Witney since 2001. (wikipedia)
• • •

This played hard, then easy, then hard, then easy. So "Medium." Couldn't get started, then couldn't understand how I had failed to get started, as I knocked off well over half the puzzle without much effort. Then got badly stuck in the SE. Then figured out what the hell [Brown's follower] meant and went on to finish the puzzle somewhere in the SW, possibly at the "Y" in YLEVEL (59A: Surveying device with letter-shaped rests). Overall it seems pretty decent. It's not a showy grid—looks oddly like a weekday/themed grid in its segmentation. There are no stacks of longer answers—in fact, it doesn't contain any answer more than 11 letters long. But there's a bunch of good stuff in there: OXFORD COMMA (20A: Much-debated grammar subject) and "LAY IT ON ME" and SCARE QUOTES being my favorites. SEX APPEAL's not bad either. Next to no junk. Nice. I found it a little annoying at first (and this may explain the difficulty / frustration I had getting started) because there seems to be sooooo many &%^$ing "?" clues. When I finished the puzzle, I counted—there are only seven (7) "?" clues total. It's just that five (5) (!) of those originate in the NW quadrant, where my solving experience also originated. Anyway, once I figured out XBOXONE, I took off, and the whole "?" issue ceased to matter.

Not sure how I feel about crossing ICBM and IBAR at the "I." I think I'm against it. Something about having to say the "I" out loud (as a letter) in both seems ... like duplication, even though one "I" is an abbr. and the other is just the letter qua letter, the shape of the letter being the issue. I definitely object to the dupe at XBOX *ONE* and SIDE *ONE*. So, to be clear, the "I" thing would never bother me if those "I" s weren't in the same box. Like, if IBAR were way on the other side of the grid from ICBM, I wouldn't even have notice, let alone cared. But the crossing ... not sure why it bugs me, but it does. I don't consider that a dupe, though. A dupe is a duplicate word in the grid. Here's the thing I realized about dupes—if they are fewer than three letters long, I don't care (again, unless they're intersecting). Like, you could have four "ON"s in the grid, and I'm not sure I'd notice. I certainly wouldn't notice two. But once you get into longer words (3+), then I think you shouldn't dupe them. It's just an elegance issue. No one is harmed by the two ONEs. But ideally, you don't do that.

  • 30D: Color (TINCT) — Had TIN-. Guessed TINCT. Worried it could be TINGE. This doubt caused some of the ensuing problems in the SE.
  • 48A: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME) — this caused some more of the problems in the SE. I plunked down ROMA with no hesitation. The title of the movie is in Italian, ROMA is the Italian spelling, parallelism takes over ... ROMA. But no. I also convinced myself that ESTOERA was a word (39D: Things rarely seen), so I didn't get that, or TEXAN (44A: President #36, #41 or #43) for a little while there. That section fell because I finally realized the way "diet" was being used in 41D: Mideast diet (KNESSET)
  • 5D: Unpleasant things to pass around (COLDS) — I had GERMS. So ... I was close. 
  • 23A: Battle of Isengard participant (ENT) — never saw this clue, which is how it should be with short / over-common fill. That stuff should be inconspicuous to the point of invisibility. It should also be scarce, especially in a themeless, which, as I've said, it is today.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Comic strip character surnamed DeGroot / FRI 8-28-31 / Barely communicates on smartphone / Actress Carano of Fast Furious 6 / Maniac Mansion console / 1987 B'way smash / Captain Clutch of baseball /

Friday, August 28, 2015

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Wanda SYKES (39A: Star of the sitcom "Wanda at Large") —
Wanda Sykes (born March 7, 1964) is an American comedian, writer, actress, and voice artist. She earned the 1999 Emmy Award for her writing on The Chris Rock Show. In 2004, Entertainment Weekly named Sykes as one of the 25 funniest people in America.[2] She is well known for her role as Barbara Baran on The New Adventures of Old Christine and for her appearances on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. // In November 2009, The Wanda Sykes Show, her own late-night talkshow, premiered on Fox, airing Saturday nights, until it was cancelled in April 2010.[3][4] Sykes has also had a successful career in film, appearing in Monster-in-Law, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evan Almighty, and License to Wed, and voiced characters in Over the Hedge, Barnyard, Brother Bear 2, Rio, and Ice Age: Continental Drift. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a nice, solid Friday. I'm in the middle of a constructing binge after a several-year hiatus, so I am on Red Alert for unclean fill, and there's not too much of it here. In a high word-count themeless, there shouldn't be. If this were my puzzle, this is the stuff that would gnaw at my conscience: ANOS (I will never ever ever use this ... and I clue ANO as a partial, so bad is my aversion to the whole tilde issue here), ISAO, VAS, PSS. There's other stuff I don't love, but can tolerate (AGORAE for its crosswordesiness and dumb plural, "LUANN" because I don't even know who reads that ...). But honestly it's hard to find weak spots in this grid, and some of the good stuff is Really good. First and last Acrosses are both killer. Sam is a law professor, so LAWYER UP is a little bit of self-referentiality, but not so that it's irksome. "WAIT, WHAT?" is just perfectly colloquial. I love when constructors snatch common spoken expressions out of the air and put them in the grid. On my printed out grid, I've also got stars next to MASS EXODUS (12D: Lots of outgoing people) and FREAK OUT ON (which also has nice misdirection in the clue—looks like an adjective phrase, acts like a verb phrase: 26D: Subject to a hissy fit).

I gotta get some sleep. Been staring at grids on a screen too long. Not much interesting happened during the actual solve. It's a pretty segmented grid, so I just followed it like a maze from the "start' in the NW, down to the SW, up through the center to the NE, and then down to the "finish" in the SE. Once I got going, there were no real hold-ups. I felt guilty about how much I relied on ENBERG to get started (5D: Sportscaster Dick). And I felt ashamed and slightly dirty that the first answer I threw down there was VITALE (shudder).

OK, I need to sleep. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. this:

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Stephen War of 1812 naval hero / THU 8-27-15 / Land bordering Francia / Birthplace of Paddington bear / Educational institution near Plano informally / A Team character played by Mr T

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Constructor: Joon Pahk

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: names that begin with two initials that descend sequentially ... that are reversely sequential ... you know what I'm saying ...—Puzzle note reads:

Theme answers:
  • CB RADIO (8A: Box with handles?)
  • HG WELLS (17A: "The Invisible Man" author) (just too easy)
  • DC UNITED (22A: Washington M.L.S. team)
  • BA BARACRUS (uh ... ?) (35A: "The A-Team" character played by Mr. T)
  • UT DALLAS  (49A: Educational institution near Plano, informally)
  • PO BOXES (60A: Some return addresses)
  • TS ELIOT(64A: "Four Quartets" poet) (again, just too easy)
Word of the Day: E.D. Hirsch
Eric Donald Hirsch, Jr. (/hɜrʃ/; born March 22, 1928) is an American educator and academic literary critic. He is professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. He is best known for writing Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987), and is the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation. (wikipedia)
• • •

E.D. Hirsch is way, way more "common" in my world than B.A. BARACUS (what the actual #$&^?), so that was weird. Also, there's also an E.D. Hill who is an anchor for CNN. Wikipedia tells me she went to UT AUSTIN, which I have to believe was the preferred entry at 49A, but was just too difficult to accommodate while keeping the fill reasonably clean. Aaaaanyway, leaving E.D. Hirsch aside (seriously, "Cultural Literacy" was a big deal book when I was in college), this crossword is more a very interesting curiosity than it is a satisfying / entertaining puzzle. Fill is reasonably clean, but almost completely unremarkable. Joon is an exacting craftsman, but there's nothing here outside the theme that's going to turn your head, and the theme answers themselves really aren't inherently interesting—they just have that initial initial thing going on (yes, I meant to write that word twice). The deep irony is that the most interesting thing in the grid By Far is B.A. BARACUS, which I've never heard of, and which strikes me as, among the theme answers (and, again, By Far), the least in keeping with the Note's stated guidelines, i.e the least "common" (honestly, I thought that answer was one name: BABARACUS (like Barbarossa or Barbarella), or else two names: BABA RACUS) (thank god all the crossings were fair and unambiguous).

Don't have much else to say about this. INKLESS is my least favorite thing going on in the grid, in that I don't buy it as a real thing one might say. Relatedly, the INKLESS region took me the most time, partly because I thought the clue on INKLESS (13D: Empty, as a fountain pen) was a verb, partly because I've never heard of Stephen DECATUR, War of 1812 naval hero. In inferred his name from ... well, from Georgia, I guess. Other than that, only good ol' B.A. gave me any trouble. On to tomorrow...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Onetime Coors alcopop / WED 8-26-15 / Sculptor who pioneered Dadaism / Canadian airline with directional name / Israeli novelist Perfect Peace / Hoops legend with statue in Philadelphia / Religion founded in 19th-century Persia / Image in Timberland logo / Black hues in Shakespeare /

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: HUMP DAY (53A: Middle of the week ... or an appropriate title for this puzzle) — circled squares make form of a "hump" in the grid (four times) and spell out CAMEL

Word of the Day: John OSBORNE (58A: Playwright John who wrote "Look Back in Anger") —
John James Osborne (12 December 1929 – 24 December 1994) was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor, known for his excoriating prose and intense critical stance towards established social and political norms. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre. // In a productive life of more than 40 years, Osborne explored many themes and genres, writing for stage, film and TV. His personal life was extravagant and iconoclastic. He was notorious for the ornate violence of his language, not only on behalf of the political causes he supported but also against his own family, including his wives and children. Osborne was one of the first writers to address Britain's purpose in the post-imperial age. He was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. During his peak (1956–1966), he helped make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit. (wikipedia)
• • •

By far my favorite part of this solve was getting to 26D: They're blown for good luck and then looking at my grid and realizing I had this:

I haven't literally LOL'd mid-solve in a long time. That was fun. But the puzzle itself, let's see... I'm not sure I fully understand it. That is, I feel like I must be missing something. I know Wednesday (today) is commonly known as HUMP DAY, and I know camels have humps, and I see the word "camel" in the form of a hump four times in the grid. So there's some layers here. But the revealer feels a bit anemic, in that the "day" part isn't really relevant to all the camel business. And there are four humps ... just because. Arbitrary number. That's how many would fit, I guess. And there is no other thematic material, so ... it's kind of like a themeless, only with not terribly interesting longer answers. This is an interesting but kind of conceptually ragged puzzle. Fill is also slightly less great than I've come to expect from Ian. But those "camels" cannot have been easy to build a grid around. Not cleanly. And really it's just a few answers that feel off (EBONS, most notably).

Fill is oddest / worst / weirdest in and around the revealer. POL POT, ugh, man, I'd do Anything I could to avoid that guy. HITLER is banned from crossword grid, but *this* guy's OK? I guess POL POT's only responsible for the deaths of 1-3 million people, so maybe he is "better than HITLER," but still, yikes. Not loving OSBORNE (?) or WESTJET (??) either. Middling / obscurish proper nouns taking up a lot of real estate, while also creating the conditions for crud fill like OUSE and ANE. Also I stared at LIMBS as the answer for 47D: Post-storm detritus and thought "damn, that's pretty gruesome." Then I realized the limbs were from TREEs. At least I hope they are.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old color print informally / TUE 8-25-15 / Granny's darn it / Old Mach 2 fliers for short / High-ceilinged courtyards / Demolish British style

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Constructor: John E. Bennett

Relative difficulty: Tuesdayish

THEME: JUST HAVING A BALL (36A: Living it up ... or a hint to the six groups of circled letters) — circled squares spell out words that can precede BALL in a familiar phase / word

Theme answers:
  • SOUR 
  • HAIR 
  • FOOT 
  • BASE 
  • MEAT 
  • POOL
Word of the Day: PARONOMASIA (56A: Art of punning) —

noun, Rhetoric
the use of a word in different senses or the use of words similar in sound to achieve a specific effect, as humor or a dual meaning; punning.
a pun. (
• • •

This should've been rejected on the basis of the revealer alone. The equivalent of [Living it up] is HAVING A BALL. The JUST is absurdly gratuitous. It doesn't fit the clue. It's a qualifier that is nowhere indicated in the clue, and it is *only* here because this grid would've been way way harder to pull off if the appropriate, JUST-less phrase, had been simply centered in the grid (for reasons having to do with where black squares would've had to go). At least I assume this is the reason. Because otherwise Why On God's Green Earth is your revealer not the obvious, indisputable best choice: HAVING A BALL? If you can't do something right, don't do it at all. To be clear, and to repeat. This should've been sent back with a note indicating that it's a no-go without the proper central answer / revealer. I mean, the puzzle is just D.O.A. as is.

[Chromeo > CHROMO (???)]

But the fill is a problem too. Weak all over, except for one preposterous moment where it's not weak but also not even close to Tuesday-level. PARONOMASIA is some kind of weird showing off that is totally out of tune with the general caliber / tenor / fill quality of this this puzzle. I hope to god that there isn't some implication that the connection between the revealer and the little word "balls" is an example of this phenomenon, because a. that stretches credulity, and b. that means FOOL'S ERRAND would also be thematic ... hmmm. Wait ... nah. Could the puzzle be so meta, so self-aware, that it actually knows it's got major issues, and is trying to tell us as much? That would be some pretty Next Level stuff. Also, EELWORM, wtf? That is desperation fill. You can't make up for a snoozefest with random jolts of obscurity like EELWORM and PARONOMASIA. Well, you can, but it's pretty sadistic. See also "OH FOO" (wtf x 1000).

Ultimately, this looks like a potentially promising idea that got wrecked on execution. I JUST can't get over the JUST.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Detroit debut of 1903 / MON 8-24-15 / Wrinkly-faced Chinese dog / Directive to Kate in Cole Porter musical / Preceder of Brown Robinson in 1960s #1 hits / Shape-shifting Norse trickster

Monday, August 24, 2015

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium-ish (maybe *slightly* harder than avg *for a Monday*)

THEME: IT'S UP TO YOU (28D: "I'll defer on this one" ... or a hint for what's found in 3-, 9-, 21- and 24-Down)  — circled (or perhaps shaded) squares in theme answers (all Downs) read USTI, which is "IT'S" running UP TO the letter "U"

Theme answers:
  • EXHAUSTIVE (3D: Leaving no stone unturned)
  • PETER USTINOV (21D: Actor with Oscars for "Spartacus" and "Topkapi")
  • CAUSTIC (24D: Acid, as criticism)
  • CHIEF JUSTICE (9D: John Roberts, for one)
Word of the Day: ROMANESQUE (57A: Architectural style of medieval Europe) —
adjective: Romanesque
  1. 1.
    of or relating to a style of architecture that prevailed in Europe circa 900–1200, although sometimes dated back to the end of the Roman Empire (5th century).
noun: Romanesque
  1. 1.
    Romanesque architecture. (google)
• • •

This is a loopy idea that somehow I'm OK with. It took me a few beats to figure out what was up (so to speak!). I was wondering why the circles, read upwards, said "ITSU" and not "ITSUP," while simultaneously wondering why "UP" would going "up" since, presumably, "UP" was already being represented in the grid by the fact that the letter string was traveling "up." But then my cornball wordplay detector kicked in, and I got that the "U" was a pun on "YOU." Really should've noticed that "?" at the end of the revealer clue. Anyway, once I figured it out, I thought about it a second, and shrugged, and said "sure, why not?" It's Monday—better loopy and clean than boring and stale (which is always an early-week possibility). I came in with a pretty normal Monday time, but I can see PETER USTINOV giving some (esp. younger solvers) trouble, and I can see someone making the mistake of putting in EXHAUSTING instead of EXHAUSTIVE (I can see it because I did it). Also, I was a medievalist once and ROMANESQUE was not a gimme for me, so that could take some work. Monday work. So, "work." You know what I mean.

Would be better if "USTI" spanned two-word phrases/names, but that would be virtually impossible, I think, so these are all non-spanners, which is its own kind of consistency. There were a couple of interesting "Whaaa?" moments, the first being THE DOLE (56A: Government assistance), first because "look out, it's a definite article!" and second because I don't live in the UK. Do people say THE DOLE here, non-twee-ish-ly? It's a fine phrase, but not a US phrase, in my experience. The other "Whaaa?" answer was JUICE for 27A: Apple product. That clue has been used hundreds of times, almost always in computer-related contexts. I had SANE for CALM (29D: Unruffled) and had real trouble coming up with the icky ENGR (13D: One who pulls a train whistle: Abbr.), which I always think of in terms of building, not train-driving, possibly because I'm not a kid any more and honestly when's the last time you actually *saw* your train's ENGR?

OK, that's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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City between Turin Genoa / SUN 8-23-15 / Virginia's Hill Academy alma mater of 20+ NBA players / Unseen winning card in poker lingo / Epitome of desolateness / Saint with alphabet named after him / Pepper Iron Man's love interest

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Musical Remixes" — Music-related anagrams of five "#1 Billboard artists"; anagrams get wacky "?" clues, while artists all get same clue: [#1 Billboard artist that's an anagram of ***-Across]

Theme answers:
  • INDIE CLONE (23A: Alternative band that sounds like every other alternative band?) / CELINE DION
  • USE MY LYRIC (45A: Invitation for musical plagiarism?) / MILEY CYRUS
  • HI, MAESTRO (66A: Greeting to a conductor?) / AEROSMITH
  • GENIAL ROCK (87A: Friendly music genre?) / CAROLE KING
  • NURSE'S SONG (112A: Part of a hospital playlist?) / GUNS 'N' ROSES 
Word of the Day: RUCHE (55A: Frilly trim) —
noun: ruche; plural noun: ruches
  1. a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or home furnishing. (google)
• • •

This feels like a concept that wasn't allowed to ripen. I love that all the artists are "#1 Billboard artists"—gives the puzzle a nice consistency—just as I love that all the anagrams are themselves music-related in some way. But since they're (highly) inaptograms, i.e. anagrams that are not even vaguely related to the names they are rearrangements of, the whole thing left me with a "so what?" feeling. There's no humor. That lack of connection (in clue or in content) between anagram and base word made this one feel more like a mere exercise in letter rearrangement than a coherent and (more importantly) *funny* theme. There are a couple of smaller issues for me too. First, the title has "Remixes" in it, which a. makes the theme obvious, but b. really Really makes the cluing of the "artists" dull and redundant. This is what I mean when I say the concept wasn't ripe. There needs to be a hook in the cluing or anagram relationship or something, something to make the puzzle Pop as opposed to just sit there as an interesting curiosity. I also didn't like that the anagrams came first, i.e. were all on the left. If somehow phrases could've been made out of the anagram/artist phrases, GUNS 'N' ROSES' NURSE'S SONG, or CELINE DION: INDIE CLONE, with clever clues, maybe this would've worked better. But here, the theme is spoonfed to you, and while figuring out anagrams is inherently entertaining (uh, if you're me...), the disconnect between artist and anagram left the puzzle without snap. Or pop. Or crackle.

There's some good stuff in here, though. I love the longer Downs that crash through not one not two but three themers, i.e. SPOILER ALERT and LETTER OPENER. The former beats the latter for freshness (and I had an awful time parsing it), but both are nice. I also liked SAG AWARD, as it was tough and unexpected but perfectly legitimate. I also liked that the puzzle was clued pretty toughly. I got stymied several times, most notably in the west, where an error (TRY MY LYRIC) (?!) combined with tough cluing (and some rough fill) to cause a real problem for me. Don't really know the word RUCHE, so that hurt. Thought the [Till bill] was a ONE. Couldn't parse MERCY ME to save my life (puzzle's oddly heavy on quaint expressions like this. See also MY HAT (!?!?) and DOG IT. Putting in ASSAYS where HAS A GO was supposed to, uh, go, that also caused me some problems in the east, but not nearly as many as I had in that whole area in the west from HAM (fine) down to ANNUIT and ESA (ugh, not fine).

If you read yesterday's write-up some time after mid-morning, you know that crossword legend Merl Reagle died yesterday, quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I spent the first part of the day stunned and wallowing, and then my wife dragged me out of the house and we went up to Ithaca to see "Mr. Holmes" and eat tapas and drink sherry. That helped a little. But then I came back to my house and my computer and my crosswording life (here, now, right now, writing this), and I just feel lost again. Merl was my friend, and had been since 2008, when he wrote me the following email out of the blue—an email that is, in many ways ridiculous:

dear rex,

love your blog, as if you couldn't guess!

there are only so many hours in a week, so i don't expect you to ever solve my sunday puzzle, what with the time and effort you obviously take to make your blog so frigging entertaining! -- but on the occasional sunday when you have an extra minute, i'm hoping you might at least solve it. no need to write about it, but i'm always trying to convince new yorkers that there are some other weekly puzzles in america that might be worth solving! (i'm in the new york observer every week, so at least i do appear in new york.)

but mainly, i wanted to let you know how to remember that "riata" is a lasso -- "la riata" is where we get the word "lariat."

all the best,

Leaving aside the fact that he seems to have been unable to find the [Shift] key, let's consider how ludicrous it is that this man, who is one of the best known and certainly most beloved crossword makers in the country, wrote me, a total nobody who, if he was known at all, was known primarily for being a crankpot with computer access, and *he* asked *me* if I wouldn't mind solving *his* puzzles. Perhaps I'd be interested. It was as if Cézanne had written me and said, "Hey, you know, I think you might enjoy my paintings." You think?

So I wrote back sycophantically, making it very clear who was whose fan, and thereafter he became my regular correspondent and probably my most trusted crossword adviser. Anyone who knew him knows this: the guy lived and breathed crosswords, and wordplay in general. There was no pretension. No showing off. He couldn't help it. It was his way of being in the world, and it was joyous. It was contagious. It was inspirational.  At least a half a dozen times just this year (according to my Inbox) one of us wrote the other some grumpy note of commiseration about some issue in some puzzle or other (Merl particularly hated half-baked themes—he had a great quote on how patient he was when developing themes: "Sometimes an idea will wait 20 years to become a puzzle"). If I was ever really unsure of my reaction to something in a puzzle, I'd shoot Merl a note to ask for a ruling. From a purely egotistical standpoint, it was a huge (and until now, private) thrill to know that this guy respected what I was doing, that this guy wanted to talk to me, that this guy would take my calls. If you want to know where my confidence in writing about crosswords comes from, well, part of it probably comes from a mother who adored me, and part of it is a put-on to mask a fairly massive insecurity, but the Rest of it comes from knowing that Merl, the guy I respected and admired most in the world of crosswords, had my back. That he believed in what I was doing and deigned to have conversations with me as if we were something like peers. And now *that* guy is dead—that guy who made incredible, hilarious, carefully crafted, often wonderfully ridiculous Sunday-sized puzzles every week for years and years and years. Who gave joy to millions. I don't know anyone who disliked him. Scratch that—I don't know anyone who knew him who didn't actively admire him. Most of us loved him to bits. I'll do his memory more justice next week, when I can think straight. Right now, I'm in a selfish pit of mourning. As a crossword writer person, it's like the floor has dropped out from underneath me. As a human being person, it's like I got sucker-punched. Hard. My deepest sympathies go out to his wife and family.

Here are some nice things that have been written about him in just the past 24 hours.
Again, I'll compile more thoughts and pictures and stuff into something more coherent next week. In the mean time, go do / buy his puzzles. Outlandish puns, soaring (and often stacked!) theme answers, pitch perfect clues, etc. You will occasionally see some, uh, let's say "not great" fill, but Merl had special license. He was always working on a higher plane than the rest of us.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


It's Red Magic Time sloganeer once / SAT 8-22-15 / Comedian once called Female Bob Hope / Little Bitty Tear singer 1962 / Female helicopter pilot from Hasbro / Sitcom teacher of Vinnie Boom Boom / To whom prospero says Thou liest malignant thing / Paper with Mansion section for short

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: KERN (31D: Typeface projection) —
verb: kern; 3rd person present: kerns; past tense: kerned; past participle: kerned; gerund or present participle: kerning; noun: kerning
  1. 1.
    adjust the spacing between (letters or characters) in a piece of text to be printed.
    • make (letters) overlap.
  2. 2.
    design (metal type) with a projecting part beyond the body or shank.
noun: kern; plural noun: kerns
the part of a metal type projecting beyond its body or shank
• • •

A fairly typical Silk puzzle—solid, tough, nostalgic. Not as smooth as yesterday's offering, but pretty clean nonetheless. I only have about four frowny-faces written on my printed out puzzle here, and there's certainly nothing abysmal. Longest Downs are the real highlights here, with JAZZ QUARTET and CHANNEL SURF providing contrasting entertainment options (somewhat highbrow vs. somewhat lowbrow, somewhat old vs. somewhat modern). Unfortunately, what stands out most for me in this puzzle is how aggressively non-contemporary it was. The puzzle is essentially a giant F.U. to anyone under 60. It's relentless, really, in its insistence that the center of the cultural universe is circa 1962. In just that damned NW corner alone (for me, the first corner I solved and the toughest corner by far), you've got a 1962 Burl IVES song (?), a [1960s pop idol], and [J.F.K.'s U.N. ambassador]. I have no idea when that "It's red magic time!" slogan is from, but my gut says '60s. Hang on ... HA, bingo: exactly 1962 for this ad right here:

When do you think Martha RAYE was called "the Female Bob Hope"? Actually, that was probably a couple decades earlier, even. My point is the core NYT solver demographic would be squealing with outrage if that many 21st-century clues were shoved in one corner. And that's just that corner. There's also Benny Goodman and LUISE Rainer and "DONALD Gets Drafted," and words like "once" and "Old-fashioned" and "bygone" all over the place. JOANNE KERN (I made that part up) Rowling is the one real nod to this century, and she started getting famous last century. Again (and again and again) no one has a problem with bygone clues per se. There's just no balance here. It is a professionally constructed puzzle, but everything about it is old and white and meh. Please, puzzlemakers. Mix. Things. Up. At least a little. I beg of THEE.

Here's the solving sequence. Just ... flailing in the NW. I've titled this screenshot: "O, RLY?" because I was not at all sure I had the right stuff in there (turns out I did).

This one I call "'60s Much?"; as you could guess, it's just a screenshot of the completed NW:

I was stuck here for a few seconds, spinning my wheels, until I rolodexed through the words that might follow JAZZ and hit QUINTET! Real answer is QUARTET, but that didn't matter, because Q to the res-Q! ETIQUETTE flashed across the grid and I was in business. Puzzle became "Easy" thereafter:

Once the QUINTET issue got fixed, I ran right up into the middle of the grid, expecting to get stonewalled but never encountering real resistance. I knew the puzzle was gonna go down without too much fight after I tested FLINTLOCK and then nailed down CREE and KERN immediately thereafter. That gave me a base camp from which to attack both the NE and the SE, both of which fell without much of a fight.

Had to change PEACH to PEARL (42D: Fine example), but otherwise, no mistakes. Oh, no, wait. I did have LOITERS for LOUNGES (23A: Chills, so to speak). And I had to wait to see if the designated driver was gonna have TOO MUCH or TOO MANY (37D: One drink, to a designated driver).

Did you know there's a place where you can UNREEL a film while sniffing JUNIPER OIL? It's called a BOATEL and you can get there by following the signs for "Stuff That Sounds Made Up." And with that [Bit of snark], I'm off.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Lollapuzzoola 8 puzzles have been made available, for an extremely limited time. Monday. You need to get them by Monday. After that, puzzle rights go back to the constructors themselves. These puzzles are phenomenal. I know, I went to the tournament. I solved them. Please get them and do them and go "wow" and then show your friends. For real.

P.P.S. The legendary crossword constructor (and my friend and mentor) Merl Reagle has died. I'll have more to say about him tomorrow, and in the coming week, and for the rest of my crossword-blogging life, probably. But for now I'll just say he was a wonderful man. And nobody but nobody cared more about crosswords or crafted funnier or more outlandish crosswords than Merl. Knowing him was a privilege and a joy. I'm just gutted right now.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Eponym in frozen food aisle / FRI 8-21-15 / Paid purchaser perhaps / Most-cooked part of prime rib roast / Jerry of Dirty Dancing / Home to Sultan Qaboos University / Perfumery measure

Friday, August 21, 2015

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Eeeeeeeasy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: QUEEN ANNE (34A: English monarch after whom a brickwork building style is named) —
Anne (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain. She continued to reign as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland until her death. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle is noteworthy for its exceptional cleanness and its exceptional easiness. Let's take cleanness first. This puzzle essentially makes my point about *most* NYT crosswords of late, which is to say that this puzzle demonstrates that it is really truly quite possible to polish your grid such that the USS (Unfortunate Short Stuff) stays mostly unnoticed. Also, it's possible for your USS to be completely inoffensive. There's literally nothing in the grid that makes me go "ugh," and only a handful of things I wouldn't be perfectly happy to have in any grid under any circumstances. Like, I don't *love* EDY or SRO or any of the 3s in the SW, and, you know, EKES gonna eke, but everything else, I'll take, anywhere, any time. Now to be fair it is somewhat harder to manage your short stuff in a themed puzzle, where simply by virtue of grid design (i.e. higher word count) there tends to be more of it, and the theme answers put real pressure on surrounding fill (theme answers are fixed, whereas nothing in a themeless is ever fixed—you can rotate out as many different long answers as you want until you get what you like in a themeless; not so much with long theme answers, which are strictly bound by theme criteria). Still, getting a 66-worder to come off this cleanly is a real accomplishment. That center stack is something else. No compromises. This takes care and craftsmanship. David is one of a handful of regular NYT constructors where, when I see his name, I expect to see a puzzle living up to the NYT's own self-description as "the best puzzle in the world."

Now the easiness. This puzzle needed speed bumps, badly. I finished in under 6 minutes, which is fast under any circumstances for me. Today, however, that 6 minutes included not only solving the puzzle, but stopping to take screenshots three different times, and checking my email once. I am almost certain that I would've been under 5 had I been trying, which would've been down near my Friday record. I can't fault the puzzle too much for being too easy, but I'll try to explain where the easiness today comes from, because it's not just the clues. It's also the grid construction. If you get the NW corner (and I did, fairly quickly, from BASE (1A: Place to lead a private life?) and BALLADE (1D: Verse with an envoi) as openers), then the longer Acrosses drop right in and you can just drill the short Downs in order. But the real source of overall easiness is that transition to the middle. You've got APPLE already in place, so dropping CIDER is a no-brainer (5D: Drink sometimes served hot). Then, though perhaps TOM/TSHIRTS might give you some attitude (11A: Daisy's husband in "The Great Gatsby" + 11D: Some cannon projectiles), once you handle that NE corner, you've got the front and back of what turns out (pretty obviously at that point) to be CLAM BROTH (25A: New England stock). And *then* you've got the first letters (i.e. the most crucial letters) of all those Downs in the middle of the grid. And bam bam bam bam everything just falls.

The only time I lost in the middle was with MAGNA, and even there I only lost a few seconds. Once I got DIANA ROSS, nothing in the center stood a chance. Wish I'd encountered more resistance there, if only so I could've appreciated the quality of the construction more. Note the placement of the flashy Scrabbly letters—upper left, at the beginning of answers, is where Js and Qs are most happy:

As you can see there, BRONX CHEER is basically the APPLE CIDER of the bottom half of the grid. Got the first half, drop the second half, enter all-new section with guns blazing. Also, those initial J and Q really made dropping those Downs a cinch. And again, once you figure out the front end of that long Across, it just shoots right to the other side of the grid.

First letters of all the short Downs in the south: locked in. Sitting ducks. Sad to end in the SE, which is the most crowded with Es and Rs and Ss and Ds and your less zippy letters. but prairie companions of GOPHER and COWPOKE are a nice escort into the sunset. Again, would've liked a greater challenge, but was happy I got what I got.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Great Plains tunneler / THU 8-20-15 / Siblinig duo in Lady Be Good 1924 / 1970s TV series set at 165 Eaton Place / German boy's name meaning wealthy / Edgar Bergen's dummy of old radio / Like breeds Kerry Hill English Leicester /

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (for a rebus)

THEME: COMPRESSED [AIR] (29D: Gas station supply ... or what acan be found eight times in this puzzle) — The letter string "AIR" is "COMPRESSED" (i.e. rebusized) into 8 different boxes in the grid.

Word of the Day: Bagatelle (BAUBLE (1A)) —
noun: bagatelle; plural noun: bagatelles
  1. 1.
    a thing of little importance; a very easy task.

    "dealing with these boats was a mere bagatelle for the world's oldest yacht club"
  2. 2.
    a game in which small balls are hit and then allowed to roll down a sloping board on which there are holes, each numbered with the score achieved if a ball goes into it, with pins acting as obstructions. (google)
• • •

Wow. It's been a big week for Adele Astaire. Which says everything about the NYTX's cultural center of gravity of late. (73A: Sibling duo in "Lady, Be Good!," 1924)

The theme concept here is solid. Nice revealer that literally explains what's going on the grid. But once you turn up the trick, the puzzle is a slog—a longer-than-average slog, as this grid is 'roided up to 16x15 (likely to accommodate that central themer with the two rebus squares, "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS", which, at 14 squares long, can't sit squarely in the middle of a standard 15x15 grid). Fill is not horrendous, but it's once again overly familiar, prone to datedness and arcana, full of SCH ENE ERGS-type stuff. ESO NOS. INE crossing the -INE of OVINE. Just lots of little things that add up to a certain joylessness. AIR is sometimes (properly) hidden / buried, sometimes not. I'm looking around for something remarkable or noteworthy. I'd say the most noteworthy thing, besides (but related to) the grid's bigness, is the word count. 83!? That's nutty. Max on a 15x15 is 78. I'll give you a full three extra answers for your additional row, that gives you 81. Max. 83 ... may be part of the reason the puzzle plays so dull. Hard to do much that is interesting when your grid is chopped all to hell and you have mostly 3s, 4s, and 5s to work with. Result: reliance on good ol' reliable tried and true seen-it-seen-it-seen-it stuff.

Anything happening on the clue front? Not really. 17A: Great Plains tunneler is *almost* a good misdirection, in that "Great Plains" is a descriptor I'd associate with people, not animals, but what kind of people tunnel on the plains? No kind, I think, is the kind. There's at least some attempt at cleverness at 27A: They rarely cover more than two feet in one day (PAIR OF SOCKS). I had SHOES, so ... at least my forward progress was stopped for a bit. I weirdly liked the clue for OVINE (32A: Like the breeds Kerry Hill and English Leicester) because I had to think about it. I forget that there are breeds of sheep as there are dogs, cattle, etc. And OVINE usually gets some dumb clue like [Sheepish?]. There's some trivia, if you're in to that. Didn't know OTTO meant "wealthy," didn't know UPTON SINCLAIR wrote anything called "Dragon's Teeth"—seriously, I can name a bunch of his novels ... oh, no, crap. I'm thinking of SINCLAIR LEWIS. OK, no, I know only "The Jungle" by UPTON SINCLAIR. So, "Dragon's Teeth" ... interesting. I wonder if it is about a dragon's teeth. Oh, no, it's about Nazis. Alrighty, then...

A friend of mine just hypothesized on Twitter that one of the crosses in today's puzzle might pose a problem for some solvers: "For tomorrow's NYT crossword: I have a hunch that the cross between 42-Across [DADO] and 23-Down [SNERD] is really gonna stump people." My guess is that he is right, but mainly for under-40s who have no real experience with Mortimer SNERD. Also, DADO is not a common word for most folks (outside the crossword). But the core NYT solving demographic will have no problem: even if they don't know DADO, SNERD will come marching creepily forth, as dummies will. Maybe we can try to make *this* meaning of SNERD happen...

Hey, did you see the great crossword retort to Slate's attack on the NYT's "Mini" crossword yesterday? Joel Fagliano, who makes the Minis, responded to the Slate article "The New York Times 'Mini' Crossword Is an Utter Disgrace to the NYT Crossword Brand" with this neat little custom-made puzzle. See if you can see the hidden message:

The author of the Slate piece, Ruth Graham, to her enormous credit, immediately recognized the brilliance of Joel's reply, tweeting this:

... and then writing this appreciation of Joel's Mini-puzzle rebuttal. I love that both Ruth and Joel are so passionate about puzzles that they took the time to get mad, and get even, respectively. The whole back-and-forth made me irrationally happy. Now I'm gonna do the Mini regularly just to find the hidden messages. Don't Disappoint Me, Joel!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS If you are a fan of Hayley Gold's webcomic about the NYT Crossword Puzzle, "Across & Down," you should know that she is considering stopping, since she will no longer be able to get the puzzles early. She is listening to feedback and suggestions about what she should do going forward. Here's her initial plea for advice, and here's her first post thereafter. Oh, and here's her webcomic (the latest one's about today's puzzle!), which, if you don't know about it yet, you might enjoy.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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