1993 Economics co-Nobelist Robert / WED 9-30-15 / US women's soccer star Kelley / Trucker's toll factor / Online game annoyance / Libidinous god / Workout attire that became 1980s fad / Cafe specification

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Constructor: Freddie Cheng

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BREAKABLES (62A: Extra-care items for movers ... or a hint to the starts of 17-, 24-, 28-, 44- and 49-Across) — first words of themers are things that can you can break...

Theme answers:
  • FEVER PITCH (17A: High excitement)
  • RECORD DEAL (24A: Desire of one submitting a demo CD)
  • LEG WARMERS (28A: Workout attire that became a 1980s fad)
  • SWEAT PANTS (44A: Bottom of a gym?)
  • FALL SEASON (49A: Debut time for many TV shows)
Word of the Day: OWLET MOTH (59A: Flying nocturnal insect) —
The Noctuidae or owlet moths are a family of robustly built moths that includes more than 35,000 known species out of possibly 100,000 total, in more than 4,200 genera. They constitute the largest family in the Lepidoptera. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a bit of a wreck. Let's start with the theme, which is a standard FWC (first words can...) type theme, a very very basic and old type of theme that we don't see so much any more, for a reason. It's a bit played out, unless there is some great concept or revealer or theme-binding element of some kind (today, there decidedly is not). But OK, so the theme type is stale—let's just roll with it, see where it takes us. Well the first problem is that the concept is so broad that the answers all seem ridiculously arbitrary. How broad is the concept? Well, several answer parts that *aren't* first words in theme answers would seem to qualify as BREAKABLES. You can break a DEAL as sure as you can break a RECORD. You can also breakDANCE—true FIRE DANCE is not a themer, but it's sure as hell photo-bombing the themers, so since I can't help but notice it, I'm talking about it. I mean, yesterday's puzzle had ICEBREAKERS *in it*. Where's ICE today? Well, nowhere, just like a seemingly endless number of "BREAKABLES" because "break" creates a rubric so vast that it's virtually meaningless. I thought maybe the category was supposed to be narrower—that perhaps the first word of the theme answers had to be able to complete the phrase "break a ___"; even so, if that were the case, then you'd probably put PROMISE and DATE and other things in there before FEVER and FALL. The category simply isn't tight enough, and cramming lots of answers (6 today) into the grid doesn't make it any tighter.

Also, BREAKABLES is limp as revealers go. The more I think about it, it makes sense only if there is supposed be a kind of wordplay where the "BREAK A" part of BREAKABLES is the thing you put in front of the first words of themers to get phrases. That seems awfully iffy, conceptually. Further, those fake-themers (FIRE DANCE and OWLET MOTH) are annoyingly distracting. Grid seems like it could've used a redesign, if only to help iron out some (occasionally) very rough fill. I wish I could unsee virtually every Down in the northern section. RARES is an abomination (24D: Hardest-to-find items for a collector) (I say this as a serious collector of at least one thing). Ditto EMBAR. Not a huge fan of ARECA. The clue (12D: Betel nut-yielding tree) just reeks of the kind of musty ar(e)cana that crosswords have been and should continue to be drifting away from.

I was gonna rag on OWLET MOTH, which seemed like a real Hail Mary answer to me while I was solving (esp. crossing FOGEL) (?). But finding out that they're the largest family of lepidoptera, with 35K known species, forces me to grudgingly accept the thingness of OWLET MOTHs. Speaking of grudgingly accepting thingness. I railed against ECIG recently and several of my friends called me out on it, claiming that it was very much a real thing. Not EMAIL real, but definitely more real than, say, ECASH. Somehow someone ended up sending me google image search proof from some ECIG place in Temecula, CA, and then my friend and ECIG defender, crossword constructor Finn Vigeland, said he was going to be in Temecula for work, and I told him that if he sent me ocular proof (in the form of a selfie) that he had visited these Temecula ECIG establishments, I would publicly apologize to both him and ECIG for every maligning ECIG. And so of course ...

... and ...

Sadly, even before I'd received the pics, I knew I would have to concede. We took this pic just a few blocks from where we were staying this past weekend in Minneapolis:

So look for EJUICE, I guess, coming soon to a crossword near you. And Finn, ECIG, I'm sorry.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS if you want to see a crossword with a similar theme type, but executed with a much greater degree of technical skill, check on the Livengood/Chen production in today's WSJ ("Au Pair").

PPS The Observer's profile of Buzzfeed Crossword editor Caleb Madison just came out. Read it here. The BZFXword starts verrrry soon...

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Like some truths and flames / TUE 9-29-15 / Railroad engine, in old lingo / Minnesota range known for its mining of metal / Sure winner in blackjack

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Constructor: Kurt Krauss

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: AGES of man -- Each theme answer begins with one planetary age

Theme answers:

  • STONEHENGE (17A: *English rock group?)
  • ICE BREAKERS (24A: *Many party games)
  • IRON HORSE (37A: *Railroad engine, in old lingo)
  • SPACE NEEDLE (52A: *Seattle tourist attraction)
  • BRONZE STAR (62A: *Medal for bravery, maybe)
  • AGES (69A: A very long time... or a hint to the starts of the answers to the five starred clues)
Word of the Day: MESABI (Minnesota range known for its mining of metal)
The Mesabi Iron Range is a vast deposit of iron ore and the largest of four major iron ranges in the region collectively known as the Iron Range of Minnesota. Discovered in 1866, it is the chief deposit of iron ore in the United States. The deposit is located in northeast Minnesota, largely in Itasca and Saint Louis counties. It was extensively worked in the earlier part of the 20th century. Extraction operations declined throughout the mid-1970s but rebounded in 2005. China's growing demand for iron, along with the falling value of the U.S. dollar versus other world currencies, have made taconite production profitable again, and some mines that had closed have been reopened, while current mines have been expanded. (wikipedia)
• • •
Hi, my name is Ben Johnston, and I'm your guest blogger today. Unlike the people who have been ably filling in for the past few days, I have zero experience with crossword construction. I'm a high school English teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, and my only crossword connection is that I got hooked on them last year and solve a lot of them. It's EERIE... almost like there weren't a lot of volunteers to blog a Tuesday puzzle, am I right...?

Actually, this isn't bad for a Tuesday puzzle. As has been noted here before, the problem with Tuesdays is that while they're supposed to combine the cleanliness of a Monday puzzle with the higher challenge of a Wednesday puzzle, AS A RULE they tend to be puzzles that aren't clean enough to be Mondays and aren't interesting enough to be Wednesdays. In this case, the theme works well enough... the answers are nicely varied, they're all real things, and I didn't spot the connection until I got to the revealer. It might have been more elegant to have the ages appear in actual chronological order, but otherwise it works nicely.

Unfortunately, while the theme is fine, the fill is weak. This is a very choppy grid -- except for the themers, there's nothing longer than seven letters. I was honestly surprised to discover that there were only 76 words here, because it sure felt like more when I was solving. I guess once you've settled on IRON HORSE as your only nine-letter theme answer, you're pretty much splitting the grid in half across the middle. And the accompanying string of 3-letter downs (IF IENG, SHE, SOOEON) made for a pretty unpleasant midpoint in the solve.

I don't recognize the constructor's name, but there's an assortment of bad fill: random foreign words (CHERE, TRES, MES, NUEVO), abbreviations (SRS, BVD, RDA, OSS, USMA), and iffy partials (KEPT OUT, URGE ON [which I keep wanting to pronounce like STURGEON], COLOR IN). That last one is almost saved by its clue -- 25D: Fill with a Crayola, say. I'm torn on DOOR ONE (3D: "Let's Make a Deal" choice)... somewhat against my better judgment, I think I like it.

  • 48A: Minnesota range known for its mining of metal (MESABI) — By far the most obscure thing in the grid (at least from my Canadian perspective). And it crosses the terrible ACE TEN (49D: Sure winner in blackjack). Side note: I was in Vegas for the first time this summer, did the math wrong on an ACE, and accidentally hit on 21. And I drew a TEN, so I won anyway. What can I say, I'm not used to drinking free screwdrivers...
  • 40D: Mornings, for short (AMS) & 61D: Evenings, for short (PMS) — Yeah, putting these right next to each other doesn't save them. None of the grid is what you would call clean, but that whole SW section is particularly brutal.
  • 30A: ___ Joe's (supermarket chain) (TRADER) — We don't have these in Canada, but we were at one in Vegas and it's great!
  • 66A: Dillon or Damon (MATT) — What a lovely excuse to include this excellent trailer for the upcoming film version of The Martian.

  • 10D: Denali's home (ALASKA— Timely!
  • 54D: Lyric poem (EPODE) — I wanted ELEGY.
  • 1D: One checking you out (CASHIER) — Great clue.
  • 26D: Like some truths and flames (ETERNAL— Another good one. In fact the cluing in this puzzle is solid across the board.
I think that's it. I don't know how to make the right date show up at the top of the post, but hopefully Rex will come along and fix it. Thanks for reading!

Signed, Ben Johnston, Tutor of CrossWorld

[Follow Ben Johnston on Twitter]


"Star Trek" warp drive fuel / MON 9-28-15 / Gershwin composition in United Airlines ads / City south of Utah's Arches National Park / Ascending in economic class

Monday, September 28, 2015

Constructor: Dan Bischof and Jeff Chen 

Relative difficulty: Monday if you're over 40, Tuesday otherwise

THEME: AEIOU AND Y — Theme answers use each of the vowels (including "Y") exactly once. A, E, I, O, and U are symmetrically placed* in circles along the top and bottom rows, with ANDY (68A: Toy Story boy ... or, with the circled letters, a hint to 20-, 39-, and 53-Across) in the final across slot to complete the sequence.

* Symmetrically, that is, except for the one missing in the bottom right. Small nit, but for this reason I would probably have circled the "Y" too. Just seems more elegant that way.

Theme answers:
  • RHAPSODY IN BLUE (20A: Gershwin composition in United Airlines ads)
  • SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (39A: Person about town)
  • UPWARDLY MOBILE (53A: Ascending in economic class)

Word of the Day: FLEA CIRCUS (3D: Sideshow act that features "the smallest performers in the world") —
A flea circus refers to a circus sideshow attraction in which fleas are attached (or appear to be attached) to miniature carts and other items, and encouraged to perform circus acts within a small housing. 
The first records of flea performances were from watchmakers who were demonstrating their metalworking skills. Mark Scaliot in 1578 produced a lock and chain which were attached to a flea. Flea performances were first advertised as early as 1833 in England, and were a major carnival attraction until 1930. Some flea circuses persisted in very small venues in the United States as late as the 1960s. The flea circus at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester, England, was still operating in 1970. At least one genuine flea circus still performs (at the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany) but most flea circuses are a sideline of magicians and clowns, and use electrical or mechanical effects instead of real fleas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Tony Zito here, making my debut spelling for Rex, and mon DIEU — I'm not the only debutant at the ball! This is a NYT debut for constructor Dan Bischof as well, who joins forces with the journeyman  (and collaborator-to-many) Jeff Chen. In my experience, an "and" in the byline is generally a good sign for a crossword; collaborations tend to have a higher bar for fill and theme quality.  (A "but" in the byline is another story altogether.) This puzzle is no exception to that rule — it's got nice, colloquial theme answers that are easy to get but no less pleasing for it, some good longer answers (e.g. ARM CANDY, VIBRANT,  MOLERAT and ANTIMATTER), and hardly any real stinkers. (I'm looking at you, MOAB.) I wish the cultural references could be a little more up-to-date, but that's a criticism of the NYT puzzles in general.

While I liked the theme, it was one of those that you only really see after the puzzle is done. (Which, being a Monday isn't a terribly long wait, but still...) It was only after I finished that I thought "oh right, there were some circles in there" and retroactively figured out how the theme answers fit in. This isn't really a knock, but to many a novice solver — which Mondays are meant to be suited for — it might seem hard to figure out what those themers have in common, and what the circled vowels have to do with it.

That said, those theme answers would be pretty welcome in any puzzle.  Limiting them to three (not counting the words with circled vowels) was probably a wise choice — always better to have a little less theme if it means a lot less garbage fill, IMHO. So we get some stuff like ONELB and APO, but it's mercifully rare.
  • 24A: City south of Utah's Arches National Park (MOAB) — With a population of about 5,000 can you really call this a "city?" I would've gone for the Mother of all Bombs angle ("Bunker buster, briefly") but that's pretty obscure too, so probably best to avoid this one.
  • 17A: Where ships go (ASEA — Normally one of those "fine, I guess" kind of answers, but crossed with AFAR? A no thank you.
  • 62A: Stratford-upon-___ : / 38D: Planet, to Shakespeare (AVON/ORB) Two unforced Shakespeare references. Someone sure likes to "enjoy literature."   (Any others I'm missing? Let us know in the comments.) 
  • 52D: Only U.S. president whose surname is more than 50% vowels (OBAMA) — Cute clue given the theme. 
  • 13D: With 12-Down, "Gimme that!" (IT'S I like this approach to making completely generic short fill like ITS a little more interesting, I'd just prefer it if it scanned better in the grid by putting IT'S before MINE.
  • 8D: "Star Trek" warp drive fuel (ANTIMATTER At first I was all like "wait wasn't the warp drive powered by dilithium crystals?!" But no, bad nerd! It turns out the dilithium crystal was all about *controlling* the matter/ANTIMATTER reaction. Silly me.
  • 48D: Howe'er (THO) — I don't hate this fill, necessarily, given its ubiquity on Twitter and the like. But that clue tho. Has "However" e'er been contracted that way? I think ne'er. Unless this is another Shakespeare reference.
  • 33D: Military initiative that seeks to influence the enemy's mind, informally (PSYOP) — I don't think I've ever seen this in the singular form, just as PSYOPS. But apparently that's just me.
  • 44A:Classic clown name (BOBO) — Seems like a misdirection for BOZO, which is unusual for a Monday. I'd have liked maybe a David Brooks reference, but that's probably because I'm a Bourgeois Bohemian myself. (That'd be tough for a Monday, anyhow.)
  • 34A: ____ of Sandwich (EARL) —  Did you know the current (and 11th) Earl of Sandwich started a fast food chain called (you guessed it) "Earl of Sandwich" that has dozens of locations around the U.S., including ones inside Disney World and Disneyland? While the money and land and everything would be nice,  I'd have guessed that it'd be kind of a pitiful burden to carry that title around, what with all the jokes, but this guy has really owned it. 
The Earl of Sandwich, embracing his legacy
  • 11D: Baseball's Felipe / 47D: Bobby who won three straight N.H.L. M.V.P. awards (ALOU / ORR)— Oh look, two sporty castaways from Xword Isle, where you'll find Moises and Felipe Alou tossing the ball around with Mel OttYma Súmac and Anaïs Nin trading war stories; and Uma Thurman and Ione Skye wishing it were 1992 again. Just head ASEA and go ESE, you can't miss it.
That's it. Fun, thoughtfully-constructed Monday that went down smoothly. I'll look forward to more from Dan Bischof. And many thanks to Rex for inviting me to the party.

Signed, Tony Zito, Flight Attendant on CrossWorld Airlines

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hebrew letter before samekh / SUN 9-27-15 / "I Am Not ___" (1975 show business autobiography) / Site of the "crown of palaces" / Author ___-Rene Lesage / Beezus's sister in children's literature / Charge of the Light Brigade event / Site of the U.S.'s only royal palace / Royale carmaker of old / Wahoos of the A.C.C. / Romanian currency / Tax amount per $1,000 / Greek portico

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (and I imagine it's even tougher if you don't see the Note at the top of the puzzle)

THEME: Mark My Words — A sort-of double-rebus puzzle in which six quotes have quotation marks (" ") at their starts and ends in the Across direction. The quotation marks should be interpreted as ditto marks (″ ″) in the Down direction, which means that the letters in those squares in the Down direction are the same as the squares directly above them. Did you get that? If not, let me try again with the puzzle Note: "When this puzzle is completed, 12 squares will be filled with a certain keyboard symbol — which will have a different signification in the Across answers than it does in the Downs."

Theme answers:
  • 29A: Magical phrase in an old tale ("OPEN SESAME"). First ditto mark represents a D in the Down direction and crosses the double-D in CHEDDAR (4D: Money, in modern slang). Second ditto mark represents an L in the Down direction and crosses the double-L in PULL-TAB (21D: Soda can feature).
  • 50A: Schwarzenegger film catchphrase ("I'LL BE BACK"). Crossing Down answer: 33D: Art critic, stereotypically (SNOOT)
  • 58A: Comment after a betrayal ("ET TU, BRUTE?"). Crossing Down answer: 34D: Not seemly (UNMEET).
  • 74A: Catchphrase for one of the Avengers ("HULK SMASH!"). Crossing Down answer: 70D: How one person might resemble another (EERILY).
  • 84A: Repeated bird call? ("NEVERMORE"). Crossing Down answer: 77D: Wool source (LLAMA).
  • 103A: What the ring in "The Lord of the Rings" is called ("MY PRECIOUS"). Crossing Down answers: 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) and 95D: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date, say (SEE HOME)
  • 31D: Assistant number cruncher (SUBBOOKKEEPER). Runs through all quotes.

Word of the Day: UNMEET (34D: Not seemly) —
Not fitting or proper; unseemly. (The Free Dictionary)
• • •

Hey there, this is Evan Birnholz. I'm holding down the fort here in Philadelphia during Popestravaganza 2015 -- it's supposed to be a madhouse when the Pope holds Mass on Sunday. Francis might not have time to solve one of my Devil Cross puzzles while he's here -- the name of my site probably doesn't do it for him either -- but lately I've been publishing some Sunday-sized crosswords just like today's, so check 'em out on this fine day.

I've been a fan of Tom McCoy's previous puzzles, and I'm all for crosswords that force you to think outside of the box. But unfortunately, this puzzle (ahem) missed the mark with me. It's a bizarre theme, to say the least. I get that each of the six long Across answers are well-known quotes and that quotation marks can sorta approximate ditto marks in appearance, but I can't shake the feeling that the puzzle is missing something. It could be because I've been solving a lot of meta puzzles recently, but I really, really wanted the "trick" letters in the Down direction to spell something relevant when you read them in order -- some phrase that might help unify the theme, like maybe QUOTE UNQUOTE or MIXED DOUBLES. Even another famous 12-letter quotation would be something. Instead, those gimmick letters are just the same letters as the ones right above them and otherwise have no extra layer to them. That felt like a missed opportunity.

There is good stuff in there, to be sure. The six quoted theme answers are all solid -- I love "HULK SMASH!" especially -- but for something this different, it just wasn't a tight enough theme concept to really grab me. It's basically: six relatively random quotes, quote marks look like ditto marks, you get some double letter pairs .... I just wanted more out of it, and the marquee answer in the grid that (literally) ties everything together (SUBBOOKKEEPER) doesn't strike me as a strong enough hook. It's a linguistic curiosity in that it's apparently the only one-word term that has four consecutive repeated letter pairs, and that can help you grok the theme. But if you don't know that, then it just appears like an otherwise dull term that got jammed into the grid for some unknown reason. It doesn't get much play in dictionaries; the sub- prefix makes it look like someone just made that job title up. SUBBOOKKEEPER! INTERPOSTMASTER! MICROSECRETARY! There's a theme in there somewhere.

In addition, something about the puzzle's presentation seems off. The puzzle Note (if you chose to read it beforehand) gives away a major piece of information about the theme in that several squares work differently in both directions. Generally I think it's better to let solvers discover that bit of trickiness on their own, and of course you could ignore the Note while solving. But even with the Note, I still had a tough time making sense of the theme when I was done. I never saw the quotation marks as ditto marks; I just assumed that the trick was that the quote marks could be replaced with whatever letter fit the crossing Down answer, not the same letter as the one in the square directly above it. So it felt like I had to solve the corresponding Down answers with no help from the Across letters (for instance, I had UNME_T at 34D and got completely stuck, not least because UNMEET is a word that no one ever uses). Maybe others had similar confusion? At the very least, that bit of trouble gave me the fun chance to interpret some of the Across theme entries as though the quote/ditto marks were never there, so "OPEN SESAME" and "I'LL BE BACK" became DOPEN SESAMEL and BILL BE BACKO. There's probably not a theme in there anywhere.

I'm also told that, while I solved this one on paper, this puzzle does not work well for solving on a computer or other electronic devices. To get the correct solution, you apparently have to enter the word QUOTE in Across Lite in the relevant squares instead of the appropriate symbols. So for electronic solvers, you may have already lost the two-way quote/ditto mark gimmick, which a few people mentioned to me had been pretty frustrating.

Now, with all that out of the way, let's talk Fill. This puzzle has 132 words -- well below the NYT's generally accepted maximum of 140 for a 21x21 puzzle. That means you can get some nice longer fill answers like OH CRUD, NBA STARHIMALAYASKARAOKENO SERVICE, CUE STICKS, ANGEL HAIR, and FIG LEAVES, the latter of which has a pretty funny clue (27A: Ones doing a decent job in the Bible?). But it also means you might get some rather cringe-worthy answers like:

  • 20A: Got up again (REROSE— I'm fine with RE- answers that you might hear in the wild like REREAD or RESEND or REMIX, but REROSE isn't one of them.
  • 24A: Takes out, as some beer bottles (UNCASES— It makes sense, but do people say this? I think you're more likely to say "Let's take the beer bottles out" than "Let's uncase the beer bottles." There's also UNMAKES at 34A: Takes apart.
  • 38A / 30D / 110A (NT WT / ESTS / SCHS) — Strange abbreviations, all of them. There's really no reason the word "net" in NT WT should be abbreviated. Three letters was too long and so we made it two? Seriously?
  • 52A: Amazon's industry (E-TAIL) — This probably isn't the worst E-something word you'll find in crosswords, but I still rarely see people use it. 
  • 81A: Like some storefronts (TO LEASE) — That's a weird one. FOR LEASE and TO LET are much more common to my ear.
  • 83A: Farmer, in the spring / 121A: Ones making an effort (SOWER / TRYERS) — Those "add -R or -ER to a verb to get a strange noun" answers, where the definition is just "one who [verb]s." Thus a TRYER is one who tries. You can just hear a coach telling his team, C'mon guys, you gotta be tryers out there if you wanna win!
  • 14D: "What ___!" (cry after some spectacular goalie play) / 53D: "Lord, is ___?" (A SAVE / IT I— I've never been a fan of partial phrases, and while IT I is common enough in puzzles, A SAVE sounds pretty arbitrary to me.
  • 17D: @@@ (ATS) — AT SIGNS, yes. ATS, no. It's just not as common.
  • The aforementioned, obscure UNMEET. I wish I could unmeet this word.
  • 69D: One seeking the philosopher's stone (CHEMIC) — Yikes. I want to unmeet this one too. Surely I wasn't the only one who thought this would be a Harry Potter-related answer.
  • 82D: Romanian currency (LEU) — Though it's probably a better currency to use in crosswords than the outdated ECU.
  • 92D: Dictation takers (STENOGS) — Is there some industry standard for the shortening of "stenographer"? I know STENO isn't a whole lot better than STENOG, but can't we just stick with one of them? Are we going to start calling them STENS later on?
  • 97D: Where many shots are taken (IN A BAR) — This feels arbitrary as a phrase, like IN A STORE or IN A CASINO would.
  • 111D: Greek portico (STOA— A classic piece of crossword-ese that I haven't missed much.
  • 112D: 1940s prez (HST) — He's well-known, of course, but Truman's monogram isn't anywhere near as ubiquitous as FDR or JFK.
  • 116D: Stand-___ (INS) — This isn't necessarily a terrible answer per se, but it seems strange to have INS as its own entry when you've already got IN HERE and IN A BAR.

That's quite a few sub- and sub-sub-par entries to swallow in spite of the longer, more sparkly answers. All of this is to say: 140 words in a 21x21 grid is tough enough to handle as it is. 132 words can be downright hazardous. In fact, I'd personally be in favor of raising the NYT's maximum number of words on Sunday puzzles to 142 or 144. If it helps clean up the fill, all to the good, I say.

MORE Bullets:
  • 12A: Cassio's jealous lover in "Othello" (BIANCA) — I got my "Othello" ladies confused; I originally had EMILIA here.
  • 59D: C equivalents (B SHARPS) — Just can't not think of "The Simpsons" here. 
  • 93A: Travel over seas? (PARASAIL) — Nice clue.
  • 95A: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date (SEE HOME) — The clue's a tad awkward for my taste, and the word "gentleman" shares a bit of a duplication with GENTLER at 28A.
  • 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) — I suspect this one could be a stumper for many. I wondered for a while why this word wasn't MILEAGE since that fourth letter was just a quotation mark in the Across direction, but that's where the "ditto mark/letter above it is the same" part of the theme kicks in.
  • 109A: Hebrew letter before samekh (NUN— Uh, alright. Kind of a curveball to throw at us non-Hebrew speakers when many other potential clues are available, but it's fairly crossed.
  • 117D: Monopoly token that replaced the iron in 2013 (CAT— I did not know this. I did, however, know that there was a Cat-Opoly version of the game that one of my friends got for Christmas many years back.
  • 122A: Contraction with two apostrophes ('TWASN'T) — I actually have a certain fondness for this word. I can't really explain why; maybe it's just wacky enough that I'd laugh if someone used it ironically in regular conversation.
• • •

Finally, an announcement: if you live in the Tampa area, there's going to be a memorial on Sunday evening (that's tonight) celebrating the life of the late, great crossword legend Merl Reagle, hosted by his wife Marie. It's from 5-8 pm ET at the University of Tampa's Vaughn Center and it's open to the public. There's more information here, if you're interested in attending.

Signed, Evan Birnholz, Earl of CrossWorld

[Follow Evan on Twitter @devilcrosswords].


Like a wet blanket / SAT 9-26-15 / Frothy drinks with tapioca balls / Excellence, in modern slang / Old-school rapper? / Hirelings of old / Carry before delivering / How Viola dresses in "Twelfth Night"

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium-Tedium

Word of the Day: FERULE (Old-school rapper?)—
noun: ferule; plural noun: ferules
  1. a flat ruler with a widened end, formerly used for punishing children.
• • •
...children and crossword solvers, amirite? Lena Webb here, literally filling in for Rex. It took me a while (an hour) but I filled it in and, well, it was:

I've solved some puzzles lately that make good use of staggerstacks, and the first couple steps down this puzzle's stairway are solid but the ground floor collapsed under the multiple awkwardnesses of VILLAINESSES. Yes, RADIO SILENCE and PUT A RING ON IT are lively, crisp, sparkling, dripping in DOPENESS, etc., but I felt pretty meh about CAMERA LENSES despite the "heroin chic" clue (38A: Shooter's bagful) and then VILLAINESSES. What, ESNES wasn't good enough? CameraLENSES, even! Why not throw in ESSES (?D: What this puzzle does not need more of). Personally, I've moved beyond the tacking on of "-ess" to women who are just doing a normal job... or being a normal villain-- let alone pluralizing them in a crossword. Stewardesses? Flight attendants. Waitresses? Servers. Villainesses? Villains. "Oh, Villainess! Can you grab me a can of whoop-ass from the fridg--" POW! 

LATTE ART and CILANTRO were very nice, PALTRIEST got some side-eye from me, and I didn't like THE MOB or AS A MAN (there is some unspoken crossrule that makes "the" best implied and not seen, and ASAMAN is just another arbitrary source of "gentle letters," as I like to call them).

The LATTE ART is not amused
And was the marquee-- an appropriately French word-- worthy of the additional life-giving square that makes this puzzle 15x16? I'm sorry, but no. The whole time I was thinking "jeez, everything is so vertical! Am I a boring, horizontal kind of lady?" Maybe. I will admit to feeling constrained by the single black square blocking my entry to the "mini-puzzles" in the  NW and SE-- but back to France. I love French. I gleefully pencil in all those French crossword answers you probably hate. But APRES MOI LE DELUGE was too much. Perhaps it is my own naiveté that had me thinking this would be something we might hear tossed around, say, the Republican debates but no. I got Seven Years' War-shamed on this one. Louis XV. Was he huge? I just figured this would have been a phrase that is used in modern political shenanigans. C'est dommage!

Despite what I've said, NO FUN is too harsh. I like that this grid flips the NYTimes' 15x15 table, and I know what it's like to have dynamite seed entries demand some compromises, so please join me in thanking David for constructing a grid for us to solve and discuss.

HUAC! Sorry I had to cough.

  • 27A: Travel mag advertiser (B AND B) — My boyfriend and I know this as the cocktail  "Bénédictine and Brandy," rather than that B&B on the Cape (point is, "and" seems weird with the already abbreviated "B")
  • 20A: Out-of-this-world settlement (MOON BASE) — Is there a moon base? Not yet.
  • 52A: Photographer's support (UNIPOD) — Selfie stick or the pics didn't happen. (Selfie stick in Wikipedia is described as a MONOPOD omg)
Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]
[Follow Lena Webb on Twitter]


Indian Zoroastrian / FRI 9-25-15 / Old newspaper humorist Arthur "Bugs" / Pianist Schnabel conductor Rodzinski / Worker for Walt Disney theme parks

Friday, September 25, 2015

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PARSEE (39D: Indian Zoroastrian) —
Parsi /ˈpɑrs/ (or Parsee) is one of two Zoroastrian communities (the other being Iranis) which are primarily located in India. According to the Qissa-i Sanjan, Parsis originally migrated from Greater Iran to Gujarat and Sindh at some point during the 8th to 10th century to avoid the persecution of Zoroastrians by Muslim invaders who were in the process of conquering Iran. (wikipedia)
• • •

I slept like 11 hours! That was fun/weird. Woke to this crossword, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There were some rough patches—mainly, and not surprisingly, the result of the puzzle's odd fondness for marginally famous proper nouns—but mostly I found it interesting and entertaining. The middle section is most impressive. In fact, the corners seem like afterthoughts; they aren't nearly up to the caliber of the center, which (excluding LEONORE) came out all fluffy and clean and gorgeous. Nice stagger-stack of 12s with a cool new 15 (INTERNET ECONOMY) driven right down through it (8D: Google and Alibaba are parts of it). On top of that, none of the surrounding fill is terribly compromised. If QUOD, LEONORE, and ANODIC are the cost of that center, I'll gladly pay the price. Speaking of QUOD, that is the answer that broke open the whole puzzle for me. Unexpected! I had poked at the NW but couldn't find any of the Acrosses, and then I had solved the NE outright, but couldn't throw any of those 12s across the middle of the grid from their back ends alone. Then I stumbled in the Latin clue (32D: Which, in Latin), and while I wasn't sure which "which" it was, I put my money on "Q" in that initial spot, and bang—there went QUOTE UNQUOTE (32A: So-called (but not really)). And PIQUES (25D: Stimulates). And etc. Weird how a throwaway 4-spot can do that to your solve.

I was less than fond of AMINES / NEVINS (3D: Civil War historian Allan) (who?) in the NW, and BAER (45A: Old newspaper humorist Arthur "Bugs" ___) (who?) / PARSEE in the SE. Also the twin vowelly "heroines" IONE / LEONORE. I can never remember which vowels go where, especially whether I'm dealing with terminal As or Es. There should be a pre-20c. heroine cap. That cap should be one. Make it so. I was also kind of iffy on NY YANKEES (58A: Ones getting a Bronx cheer, for short?). Not sure where they appear that way, but certainly not in my mouth, they don't. The Dodgers are actually referred to as the L.A. DODGERS. The Yankees aren't called the NY YANKEES. It's a somewhat legit abbr (as something someone might see in print somewhere), but it's weak as longer crossword answers go. It actually doesn't make much sense as an abbreviation. I mean, if you're concerned about saving space, why not just ditch the NY? Or go down to YANKS, as folks often do? Further, GAY marriage gave me ambivalence. While I'm happy to see GAY in the puzzle any time, I think GAY marriage is just called "marriage" now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. my blog turns 9 today. Thanks to the 10s of thousands of you who have made the work feel less like work. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Palindromic Dutch city / THU 9-24-15 / Object seen in Seurat's Grande Jatte / Org with red white blue balls once

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: nonsense phrases with lots of repeated two-letter segments in a row; actually, five, to be exact

Theme answers:
  • TONTO TO TOTO TOME (17A: One volume in the Encyclopedia of Movie Pets and Sidekicks?)
  • LEND A DAD A DADA (27A: Let someone's father borrow this Arp or that Duchamp?)
  • I AM A MAMA MAMBA (46A: Statement from the proud snake as its eggs were hatching?)
  • THIS IS ISIS, I SAID (58A: Recounting of the time you introduced the Egyptian goddess of fertility?) 
Word of the Day: EDE (25D: Palindromic Dutch city) —
Ede (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈeːdə]) is a municipality and a city in the center of the Netherlands, in the province of Gelderland. [Note: population 110K...] // The town itself is situated halfway between the larger cities of Arnhem and Utrecht with direct rail and road connections to both cities. There are no connections to any water nearby; however, there also is a direct road connection to the city of Wageningen which hosts a small industrial port on the river Rijn and a direct road and rail connection to the city of Arnhem, which features larger port at a greater distance. The environment is clean and green due to the fact Ede is partly built in a forest and partly on the central Dutch plains in the national park called Nationaal Park "De Hoge Veluwe". (wikipedia)
• • •
Not a big fan of nonsense phrases, or prattle, or whatever is going on here. Babbling. There's a pointlessness I don't get, and a sense of humor I don't share. There was some small enjoyment for me in the struggle to parse the damn phrases, but while I enjoy wacky word Play, I don't enjoy wacky make-a-lot-of-silly-sounds. Why five two-letter strings? No reason. Just 'cause. Why are all the strings of sounds contained *inside* the theme answers *except* one? Who knows? I know that the puzzles that the NYT needs most desperately right now are non-rebus Thursdays and Sundays, but I really hope that non-rebus Thursdays can aspire to something more satisfying than this. It's definitely a passable theme idea, and the grid is reasonably well filled, but the arbitrariness and cutesiness are galling and cloying, respectively. Also, I would reclue TONTOTOTOTOTOME so that it referred to a very unlikely double play. Like Tinker to Evers to Chance, only w/ very different players.

There are pluses and minuses to the grid as a whole. The theme lameness is offset somewhat by a plethora of long non-themers in the Downs. But then *that* is offset by some ... I'll be kind and call it "retro" fill. ONEL. AGRI. ADES. A MOI. SITU. OONA. EDE, jeez, EDE!? That is textbook crossword junk. That place is nowhere. Now that I've looked it up, I'm more convinced than ever that it's just not crossworthy. The MATEO / EINEN corner is pretty unfortunate too. But these are the prices you pay (at least today) for long answers like SANTA MONICA and SMOKE ALARMS and NEXT IN LINE slashing down through your themers. I think the trade-off is mostly worthy it today, but then I've got a vast reservoir of EDE-type answers at my disposal. It would be great if puzzles didn't have to rely on that specialized arcana so much. I get that it kind of defines this little in-club of pro solvers we've got going here, but it's boring even for us, and off-putting for younger folks who might otherwise be drawn to crosswords. There's a difference between "obvious" and "obvious to pro solvers." Constructors should be trying as hard as possible to rely as little as possible on the ELIELs and EEROs and DIKs etc. of the crossword fill world.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Corpus juris contents / WED 9-23-15 / Fast Company profilee / Beauty queen bride quaintly / Miller on town kiss me kate / Only american invention as perfect as sonnet per HL Mencken

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Constructor: Michael S. Maurer

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Wednesday...)

THEME: just ordinary football terms that have been given wacky clues

Theme answers:
  • FIRST DOWN (17A: Appetizer, usually?)
  • KICK OFF (24A: Exile from?) — god, that clue's awkwardness hurts
  • DEFENSIVE LINE (33A: "I am not guilty," e.g.?)
  • RED ZONE (50A: Cuba or North Korea?)
  • FAIR CATCH (57A: Beauty queen bride, quaintly?)
Word of the Day: ANN Miller (8D: Miller of "On the Town" and "Kiss Me Kate") —
Johnnie Lucille Collier (April 12, 1923 – January 22, 2004), known professionally as Ann Miller, was an American dancer, singer and actress. She is best remembered for her work in the Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and 1950s. [...] She appeared in a special 1982 episode of The Love Boat, joined by fellow showbiz legends Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Della Reese, Van Johnson, and Cab Calloway in a storyline that cast them as older relatives of the show's regular characters. (wikipedia)
• • •

I guess I don't consider this much of a theme. You could replicate it over and over and over, with any field. Just put some terminology in there, and then clue it ... wacky. These clues could've been wackier, actually. Or at least more ... lively. Interesting. They're a bit dull. Whatever. Shrug. Pretty hard, though. I know football terms very well (I knew all of these), and I couldn't find the handle much of the time. Just not on my wavelength. Puzzle seems reasonably well constructed. I detest the word ESPECIAL, and w/ ESTOS up there, that section's not much fun. But the puzzle rarely resorts to stupid non-words (though, EMOTER, I see you ...), and there's nothing very cringey at all. It's all OK. Just conceptually weak. Not much fun for me. But I've been testing some pretty special puzzles, so maybe this puzzle is suffering in my eyes by comparison. There's really nothing Wrong with this puzzle. It's just blah. And if you're not into football, god help you.

  • 26A: "The only American invention as perfect as a sonnet," per H. L. Mencken (MARTINI) — Great clue on MARTINI, but Hard As Hell. Needed almost every cross before it dropped.  
  • 21A: Where you might spend dinars for dinners (SERBIA) — first, that pun is truly lousy. Second, I fell like half the world uses dinars. This clue was hard.
  • 52A: Dance class wear (UNITARD) — I wrote LEOTARD, because of course I did.
  • 35D: Ceaselessly (NO END) — I wrote in ON END. This was oddly disastrous.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Italian scooter brand / TUE 9-22-15 / Angels Demons group whose name is Latin for enlightened / Montreal baseballer / Amount subtracted from gross weight / Pesticide banned in 1972

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Constructor: Victor Barocas and Tom Pepper

Relative difficulty: Shade over Medium (over-sized grid, took somewhat more time)

THEME: WIZARD OF AAHS (65A: Alternative name for 18-, 29- or 51-Across) —people who make you say "aah" somehow:

Theme answers:
  • PYROTECHNIST (18A: Fireworks expert)
  • OTOLARYNGOLOGIST (29A: Head and neck physician)
  • MASSAGE THERAPIST (51A: Hard rubber, maybe)
Word of the Day: ILLUMINATI (12D: "Angels & Demons" group whose name is Latin for "enlightened) —
The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, "enlightened") is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usually refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on May 1, 1776. The society's goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power. "The order of the day," they wrote in their general statutes, "is to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them." The Illuminati—along with Freemasonry and other secret societies—were outlawed through edict, by the Bavarian ruler, Charles Theodore, with the encouragement of the Roman Catholic Church, in 1784, 1785, 1787 and 1790. In the several years following, the group was vilified by conservative and religious critics who claimed that they continued underground and were responsible for the French Revolution. // In subsequent use, "Illuminati" refers to various organisations which claim or are purported to have links to the original Bavarian Illuminati or similar secret societies, though these links are unsubstantiated. They are often alleged to conspire to control world affairs, by masterminding events and planting agents in government and corporations, in order to gain political power and influence and to establish a New World Order. Central to some of the most widely known and elaborate conspiracy theories, the Illuminati have been depicted as lurking in the shadows and pulling the strings and levers of power in dozens of novels, movies, television shows, comics, video games, and music videos. (wikipedia)
• • •

Cornball, but that is some people's thing, so if it's yours, sweet. Enjoy the day. I have only one complaint about the puzzle, and that's with the first themer. No way, No no no way anyone calls the pyrotechnics person a PYROTECHNIST. You all know what the real word is because you tried to put it in and it didn't fit. It's PYROTECHNICIAN (which outgoogles the "correct" answer by a considerable margin). That is a major clunk. The good news is that, beyond that issue, there really are no issues. This is a nicely polished grid (huzzah!), and the answers are varied and common and reasonably lively. You can take ITERS out back and kill it, but the rest of these folks are OK by me. Nice grid-building, nice craftsmanship.

Seriously, that is all I have on this one. Sorry it didn't inspire / provoke more. I've had my face in my own puzzle all night, working and reworking two stupid corners that keep coming out Just OK. So I think I'm too tired to have any deep thoughts about this one. But as someone who's been spending a lot of time trying to get his own grid perfect, I want to acknowledge how nicely this one has been put together. Sometimes when a grid isn't flashy, the care and effort can go unnoticed. But it takes a lot of work not to lean on junk. So good for these guys.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. happy 15th birthday to my daughter, who is not (yet) into crossword puzzles

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Uniroyal product / MON 9-21-15 / Layered hairdo / Old Russian autocrats

Monday, September 21, 2015

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. normal Monday difficulty)

THEME: Stupid stuff — two-word phrases where both words start with "S" ... and a lot of them

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: ENOW (2D: Sufficient, to a bard) —
adj. Archaic Enough. (wordnik.com)
• • •

Apparently when you don't have a good idea for a theme, you take a *non* idea and then just shove as many theme answers in as possible. This is mind-hurtingly, befuddlingly, impossibly below what should be NYT standards. First, this isn't a theme. No. Two-word phrases where both words start with "S" ... at best, it's a boring list of things one scratches out on some scrap paper while waiting for a dentist's appointment. If you have to resort to SELL STOCKS, I don't know what to tell you. That's about as tight as SIP SHERRY or *infinite other SS phrases*. I keep looking at this puzzle wondering how it is possible that it came to be published. The theme is not good *and* dense. Who wants dense non-goodness? Further, because of density (I presume...?) the fill is laughably, preposterously, mid-last-century bad—except for CSIS, which is bad in a way that has never been seen before, a kind of bad that could only come out of an age rife with CSIS and (look for it in a puzzle near you soon...) NCISS. All constructors: please add LAWANDORDERS, "plural," to your word lists. You apparently have permission! I want to say "you cannot pluralize a TV show title that way," but I fear I would be stating the obvious. Unfathomably bad. Also, preventable. In that terrible little corner that already has ESAI hiding in it ... man. This is barrel-bottom stuff all around. Head-shaking. CHOO-KOLN bad. OWIE, for real.

What the hell happened with the cluing on SOUL SISTER!?! (32D: Best black female friend) That is so awkwardly and embarrassingly phrased. It's like the clue writer sort of knew it sounded like a black thing but didn't know how to indicate that and so ended up with this clue that sounds like you call your best *black* friend a SOUL SISTER, while you call your best *Asian* friend ... Lisa? I don't know.  I do know that [Best black female friend] is tone deaf, inaccurate, and syntactically botched. Dear lord. Clue it non-racially or ask for some help, because what you've got here induces cringes. Trust me. I've already heard from the cringing.

Phew. I've had ENOW. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


South American rodents / SUN 9-20-15 / Swillbelly / Journalist Flatow / Pioneering Arctic explorer John / Bo's cousin Dukes of Hazzard / Pursuer of Capt Hook / Museo contents / Hip hop name modifier / Modern-day hieroglyph

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Constructor: Jason Mueller and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Put A Lid On It!" —famous people and their hats, with the hat type sitting directly on top of the famous person's name, as a "topper"

Theme answers:
  • INDIANA JONES (23A: Fictional archaeologist) wearing a FEDORA
  • CALAMITY JANE (28A: Famed frontierswoman) wearing a STETSON
  • CHE GUEVARA (40A: Subject of "Guerillero Heroico") wearing a BERET
  • CHARLES DE GAULLE (58A: Leader of the Free French) wearing a KEPI
  • STAN LAUREL (83A: He helped move a piano in "The Music Box") wearing a BOWLER
  • BUSTER KEATON (95A: Star of "Sherlock Jr." and "Steamboat Bill Jr.") wearing a PORKPIE
  • CHEF BOY-AR-DEE (102A: Italian pitchman of note) wearing a TOQUE 
Word of the Day: VENINS (8D: Poison compounds produced by snakes) —
1. (Biochemistry) any of the poisonous constituents of animal venoms
[C20: from French ven(in) poison + -in] (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

This will have to be somewhat brief, as I have a houseful of 15-year-old girls and it's very, let's say, distracting (lovely as they are). My daughter is having her 15th birthday party tonight—really more of a get-together with four of her friends that involves snacks and dinner and hanging out watching "Key & Peele" videos and prank-calling WalMart (we stepped in there) and, ultimately, watching the season premiere of "Doctor Who." Not a sleepover, though, so mercifully I will have my house back before midnight. For the time being, though, it's weirdly loud in this house, and things keep happening that require attention, so ... I'm gonna try to crank this out quickly.


The theme is cute but utterly transparent. I knew it was hat-related just from reading the title, and the way the theme is set up, you get a lot of squares for free if you know the particular famous person you are dealing with. I knew all the people and all the hats, so, piece of cake. Too much of a piece of cake. Like I say, you pretty much get the hats for free, and yet ... those hats (ironically) are oddly costly, in that they really really compromise the fill. If you highlight all the unlovely fill in the grid, you will see that it (unsurprisingly) tends to congregate around the stacked hat-on-person answer sets. TOQUE alone is responsible for a whole weird section of grid design, where a bunch of cheater squares (extra black squares before TOQUE and under QBS) are introduced in order to, uh, handle that "Q." If you don't have a "U" to stack that "Q" on, your options run low very, very quickly. Elsewhere, you get sketchiness in the west with IGOTO alongside COWAN (who?), and in the north with VENINS (?) crossing ANILS (crosswordese plural!). AUER ARTE EEKS haunts the BUSTER KEATON section. And all over the place you have much more subpar fill than you would (probably) have in a less exacting grid. Those "hats" really really lock you in, fill-wise. So, because the theme was ultra easy, and because the fill skewed downward, I wasn't thrilled with this, despite being a fan of many of the people in the grid (esp. BUSTER KEATON) and despite liking the basic thematic premise.

Here's a list of other stuff I would, for varying reasons, keep out of my grid if I could (keep in mind that the point isn't that any *one* of these answers is inherently unacceptable, but that in the aggregate, they become wearying):
  • ANNO
  • ALLA
  • AUER
  • TSR
  • EEKS
  • SBA
  • ESTS
  • RES
  • RAE
  • TUA
  • OSA
  • LETT
  • EMAJ
There wasn't enough on the other side of the ledger (Wonderful Stuff) to balance things out, but I did enjoy SEEN IT! (49A: Nixing phrase on movie night) and EMOJI (69A: Modern-day hieroglyph) and AFRIKANER (79D: Literature Nobelist J. M. Coetzee, by birth), for sure.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP