Game also called Five in a Row / SAT 4-30-16 / Herbal stress reliever from Polynesia / Bone-boring tool / Alternators in some combustion engines / Royal name in ancient Egypt / Woodworker's device informally / City across border from Eilat

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GO BANG (48A: Game also called Fine in a Row) —
Gomoku is an abstract strategy board game. Also called Gobang or Five in a Row, it is traditionally played with Go pieces (black and white stones) on a go board with 19x19 (15x15) intersections; however, because once placed, pieces are not moved or removed from the board; gomoku may also be played as a paper and pencil game. This game is known in several countries under different names. // Black plays first if white did not just win, and players alternate in placing a stone of their color on an empty intersection. The winner is the first player to get an unbroken row of five stones horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. (wikipedia)
• • •

What was I saying about wanting the puzzles to have teeth? Yikes. This was the hardest puzzle I've done all year, or close to it. Mostly it was just a tough Saturday, but down south things got slightly hairy in the SW (SLAPJACK / JOCKO!?!) and then very, very hairy in the SE. Hirsute, even. Names and technical terms just did me in, or almost did. Let's back up, though, to the NW, where very quickly I could tell it was going to be one of the Those puzzle—a good old-fashioned crocodile-wrestling puzzle. I'm still not sure what 1D: Key that oxymoronic at school? is even supposed to mean. Is it F SHARP because if you get an "F" in school you're not "SHARP"? But ... what? The whole "at school" part feels really forced, like ... you've taken a music clue and shoved it into a non-musical context just so you can make your oxymoron point. Trying too hard (TTH™), I think. But I generally liked that corner once it came together, especially FACE PLANT (1A: Result of a bad trip), which I wanted to be DRUG something something. I've never heard of AMENHOTEP (19A: Royal name in ancient Egypt). IMHOTEP, yes. AMEN-, no. So again, names make things hard. My opening gambit looked super weird:

[auspicious beginnings!]

You'd think that if I could go traipsing across the grid effortlessly like that, I'd be well on my way to success. But not so much. AMENHOTEP, the awkward CAGE IN, and the (for me) elusive TREPAN made that NW truly Saturdayish. NE corner was more like a Wednesday for me (back on familiar name-ground with LL Cool J and "HEY LOVER"), and once I worked the puzzle down to KAREN and LAURYN (the latter of which was a pure gimme), and *especially* once I dropped KNAVERY off just the "K" (39D: Acts of a scalawag), I was sure I had this. But first there was the SLAPJACK / JOCKO thing ... never heard of that game (I'll be saying this again soon...), and didn't know chimps were "common"ly named anything except maybe ENOS or BONZO. I wasn't at all sure that the "J" in that crossing was right, but it felt rightest of all the options, so ... onward. Or not. Couldn't round the corner. 48A: Game also called Five in a Row sounded a lot like GO (or maybe PENTE, which was a variation I feel existed when I was growing up? YES!). GOBANG can go to hell. No hope in hell, and considering it was crossing the equally hope-in-hell-less MAGNETOS (!?!), I was well and truly screwed. Just. Stuck. Oh, and had GONG for GANG (41A: Ring). And DYSPEPTIC for DYSPEPSIA (61A: Upset). Full-on disaster. Looked like this:

Weirdly, once I came to terms with EROSIONAL's being an actual word (ugh), I saw ANGELA (Merkel) immediately, and (go) bang! that corner snapped into place quickly. AQABA got me the very terrible name partial JOHN Q (29D: Public figure?)—putting that junk in a "?" clue is just sadism—and then I changed Dick LUGAR's name from the gun spelling to the actual spelling and done. At least a third of my total time was spent just staring and poking at the SE. Enjoyed the challenge. Can't say the grid was great, but it wasn't bad. And after a string of overly easy themelesses, I'm just grateful for the workout.

Two items you might find interesting:

1. This short (6:41) podcast put together by Tufts University student Julia Press, called "The Future of Crosswords." It contains interviews with me, 6-time ACPT champion Dan Feyer, and several other constructors and solvers. I was really impressed with how it came out. So was Oliver Roeder, who (segue!) wrote...

2. This article, a follow-up to his piece about Timothy Parker's crossword puzzle plagiarism a couple months back. Looks like one of the syndicators of Parker's puzzles, Universal Uclick, has handed down its punishment, and it is *severe*! Just kidding, it's a tiny wrist-slap and he'll be back at work very soon. Read about this pathetic response to serial fraud here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sonnet-ending unit / FRI 4-29-16 / Slangy true no / Questel who voiced Olive Oyl / Onetime motel come-on / Old radio dummy / Result of holding hooking / Shot from behind arc informally

Friday, April 29, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MAE Questel (6D: Questel who voiced Olive Oyl) —
Mae Questel (pronounced ques-TELL; September 13, 1908 – January 4, 1998) was an American actress and vocal artist best known for providing the voices for the animated characters Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She began in vaudeville, and played occasional small roles in films and television later in her career, most notably the role of Aunt Bethany in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. (wikipedia)
• • •

Super easy, a little rough around the edges, but mostly entertaining. Just when it seemed in danger of sinking into tiresome territory, it would zag back to something unexpected or modern, fresh or lively. A real yo-yo rollercoaster elevator, this one. One minute I'm down with EDIE and ACADIA, then up with VALUE MENU and ICY STARES, then down with oldey-timey MAE and SNERD, then up with GOOD TIME SLAM POETRY. Ugsome ARME and ETERNE get made up for with VIRUS SCAN and "THE RAVEN" (58A: 72 of its 108 lines end in "-ore" sounds). Less than great fill like SUP and TREY at least get nice modern clues. Ultimately, I'm FOR this one—but what is with the easiness. The EASE! I broke 5 minutes last week, and I nearly broke it again this week, despite what felt like a very slow start in the NW (FOUR A.M. really loused me up at 1A: Graveyard hour), and despite not really having my speed-solving hat on. Longer answers like JET BLACK, ICY STARES, and LATIN LOVER came together with just one or two letters in place. I got FINLAND off just the "F" (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)). I know I'm asking for trouble when I say this, but More Teeth, please. I need late-week puzzles to put up something of a fight.

OMSK OREL and OREM are all located in the same room in my brain, and I couldn't figure out which one I needed for a while today at 30A: City on the Oka River. OREM is in Utah, so I mostly ruled that out (though I wouldn't have been stunned if it had turned out that Utah had an Oka River). OMSK was contradicted by crosses, so ... OREL. I thought COMER was COMET (13D: Star on the horizon?). I imagined a scenario like this—Person 1: "Is that a star on the horizon?" Person 2: "No, it's a COMET." End scene. Cool that POETRY intersects "THE RAVEN" (*and* contains the letter string "POE"). The toughest clue to parse was 48A: Answering to (UNDER). I'm still not sure I can find a good example of how those can substitute for one another, but I assume ... oh, no, wait, I just got it. Of course. You answer to your boss. You're UNDER your boss. Figuratively. Probably just figuratively. I was thinking it had something to do with going UNDER a different name, answering to a different name. But no, that's absurd. The boss thing is right. LMAO. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Just remembered that my friend Laura wrote me earlier in the week telling me that this Friday's puzzle was going to be a debut by one of her students at Dartmouth. She was like "be kind" and I was like "You're Not The Boss Of Me!" So happy that I totally forgot about that exchange until just this second, as it had no bearing on the write-up whatsoever. Also happy that this crossword debut is so promising.

P.P.S. One of my readers (Amy Gaidis) just reminded me of something that I really really should've remembered (since I'm married to a Kiwi—and one with a Ph.D. in women's history no less). Per wikipedia: "In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world (bar the short-lived 18th century Corsican Republic) to grant universal, male and female adult suffrage." So ... I don't know how that FINLAND clue (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)) isn't wrong.

P.P.P.S. Now another reader tells me that New Zealand was not yet a "country" in 1893. It did not become a "country" (actually, a "dominion"), as opposed to a colony, until 1907. This seems phenomenally nitpicky if it's the alleged factual basis for claiming that FINLAND was first. Hey, wait ... FINLAND doesn't even become independent until 1917 (!?!?). So ... I'm sticking by "This Clue Is Wrong." Point, NZ.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Daughter of Loki / 4-28-16 / Contemporary of Wordsworth Coleridge / Extinct creature with armored spikes on its back / Nascar stat for short / Rappeller's need / Goldfinger's first name

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Constructor: Kurt Krauss

Relative difficulty: Challenging (mainly because of having to remember exactly how the gimmick works, not because of Inherent difficulty)

THEME: compass directions —Downs run North in the North, South in the South; Acrosses run West in the West, East in the East. Words extending from the center (which is supposed to house a compass rose, the note tells me) start with the relevant words:

Theme answers:
  • NORTHER (which has the direction meaning of "north" in it)
  • EASTMAN (which doesn't)
  • WEST END (which has the direction meaning of "west" in it)
  • SOUTHEY (which doesn't) 
Word of the Day: SOUTHEY (43D: Contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge) —
Robert Southey (/ˈsði/ or /ˈsʌði/; August 12, 1774 in Bristol – March 21, 1843 in London) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey's verse still enjoys some popularity. (wikipedia)
• • •

I've seen this type of gimmick before, for sure. I'm quite sure that I've solved a puzzle that had a compass rose at its center before. And I know I've done puzzles were the answers appear to go backwards. The question is... why? What's the hook? Where's the fun? Here, there is none. I mean, yes, there's the NEWS thing (north east south west, I mean), but even that is slightly botched. You should bury your direction words in non-direction answers, or (less good but still acceptable) make them all direction answers. This grid, however, decides to split the difference. I say "decides" as if anyone was even thinking about this issue, which clearly they weren't. Filling this one grid was an unpleasant experience. Gimmick was obvious early, and then there was just this slog... because once you see that the answers run the "wrong" way half the time, all you're left with is a not-very-well-filled grid. There's no reason backwardsness alone should cause you to put PES and SCH and SATRAP and ADE into one little corner of the grid. Baffling. This lack of polish, or, rather, this reliance on Whatever Works without any care to make it Better, pervades the whole grid. It's choked with ARIL ELOI EFT AURIC SENAT HEL (?!) ELEM NOT I, and there's nothing to mitigate that onslaught. There's just this 1/2 backwards gimmick, which is not so much challenging as it is tedious. Even the clues don't look like they're really trying—mostly one-worders or straight trivia. Come on, man.

Do people know SOUTHEY? I have an English Ph.D. and I took a Romantic Poetry course in college and I've never read him and have barely heard of him. He's totally acceptable as a crossword answer, but he seemed very much like a familiarity outlier today. I wish I liked *something* about this grid, but I don't. SALIVATE and ERGONOMIC are fine answers, but they're not scintillating, and this puzzle really really needs some scintillating to pull itself out of the quicksand of crosswordese and tedium that makes up the rest of the grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Five Pillars adherent / WED 4-27-16 / Terrier of old whodunits / Cryophobe's fear / Hotfoots it, old-style

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: THEME — male-sounding pen names for female authors

Theme answers:
  • ELLIS BELL (17A: Pen name of the female author of "Wuthering Heights") (Emily Brontë)
  • ISAK DINESEN ( 39A: Pen name of the female author of "Out of Africa") (Karen Blixen)
  • ROBERT GALBRAITH (39A: Pen name of the female author of "The Cuckoo's Calling") (J.K. Rowling) (Joanne Rowling)
  • GEORGE ELIOT (49A: Pen name of the female author of "Silas Marner") (Mary Ann Evans)
  • ANDY STACK (61A: Pen name of the female author of True Detective stories) (Ann Rule)
Word of the Day: ANDY STACK (61A: Pen name of the female author of True Detective stories) —
Andy Stack is one of the founding members of the band Wye Oak and a touring member of EL VY, as well as a remix artist and a composer and producer for film and television music. He is noted for his technique of performing drums, keyboard, and electronics simultaneously as part of Wye Oak. (seriously, this is the first thing that came up; I still have no idea who this "female author" is ... hang on ... oh, look, it's Ann Rule, whom I've vaguely heard of) Ann Rae Rule (née Stackhouse; October 22, 1931 – July 26, 2015) was an American true crime author of The Stranger Beside Me, about serial killer, and Rule's co-worker, Ted Bundy. Rule was also known for her book Small Sacrifices, about Oregon child murderer Diane Downs. Many of Rule's books center on murder cases that occurred in the Pacific Northwest and her adopted home state of Washington. (wikipedia)

• • •

Surprised this theme was deemed NYT-worthy. There's nothing here. A set of names that fit in a grid. It's like a theme from a very bygone era, or from a very sub-NYT puzzle. No wordplay, no kicker, no zing, nothing. Here Are Some Pen Names That Women Have Taken Over The Years (Only Two Of Which Are Truly Famous). Yes, women have taken male-sounding pen names. They sure have. This isn't a theme; it's a trivia game. With nothing interesting happening in the rest of the puzzle to offset the dull theme, this one just sinks like a stone. ASTA, AGAPE, SAS ... the fill also feels like it belongs to another era. VENETO MINIM ... we've slid back into arcana a little. Foreign words and foreign word parts and arcana. EENIE ECRU ANNUM.  Yesterday's puzzle was too easy, but it least it was entertaining. I guess people who like crosswords to be "tests of knowledge" might enjoy this. I am not one of them.

["ALIVE" (by SIA)]

I didn't know ELLIS BELL or ANDY STACK. I read one of Rowling's ROBERT GALBRAITH novels and thought it was pretty good, though I keep remembering that pen name as Kenneth Galbraith, who I think is an economist.... yes. That's who he is. Does anyone who's not a paleographer ever actually say MINIM? I learned MINIM in graduate school—it's an important word in MS studies. It's just a "short vertical stroke" in handwriting. The trouble for the modern (inept) scholar like me is that so many different letters are made with minims that reading can be exceeding difficult. You keep hitting blocks of MINIMs and trying to figure out where "m"s end and "n"s begin. Nightmare. I've never heard MINIM used in any other context ever. This puzzle seems obsessed with tiny thing (MINIM, WEE, EENIE ... oh, I guess EENIE is a counting word; I got it confused with EENSY). Also obsessed with Roman thing (Via VENETO, ANNUM, MLI). Neither obsession portends a snappily filled grid. Hoping for livelier things tomorrow...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Former Sanyo competitor / TUE 4-26-16 / Canyon Park running spot in Hollywood Hills / Ones helping public prosector / Aggressive manager for child star / Popular strength-training program

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: words made into scandals — familiar words/names ending in -GATE are reimagined (in wacky "?" clues) as unlikely scandal names:

Theme answers:
  • DELEGATE (18A: Scandal surrounding copy editors' proofreading marks?)
  • ELONGATE (19A: Scandal involving Tesla C.E.O. Musk?)
  • APPLEGATE (28A: Scandal affecting iPhone owners?) (Christina! She'll like that...)
  • FLOODGATE (47A: Scandal in the aftermath of a tsunami?)
  • TAILGATE (57A: Scandal that implicates a detective?)
  • NAVIGATE (61A: Scandal depicted in "Avatar"?)
Word of the Day: RUNYON Canyon Park (33A: ___ Canyon Park (running spot in the Hollywood Hills)) —
Runyon Canyon Park is a 160-acre (65 ha) park in Los Angeles, California, at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, managed by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The southern entrance to the park is located at the north end of Fuller Avenue in Hollywood. The northern entrance is off the 7300 block of Mulholland Drive. The Runyon Canyon Road, a fire road that is closed to public motor vehicle access, runs roughly through the center of the park between the northern and southern entrances along Runyon Canyon itself, and there are numerous smaller hiking trails throughout the park. The highest point in the park at an elevation of 1,320 ft (402 m) is known as Indian Rock. Because of its proximity to residential areas of Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills, celebrity sightings are common. The park is also noted for having a fairly liberal dog policy, with dogs allowed off-leash in 90 of the park's 160 acres (0.65 km2). (wikipedia)
• • •

Simple, clever concept, very easy to solve (so many -GATEs to be automatically filled in).  For me, the highlight of the puzzle wasn't the theme, it was the sassy, polished grid. FRENEMY and STAGEMOM before I even got out of the NW? That's impressive. There's current and/or snappy fill all over the place. I particularly liked CROSSFIT, AIR COVER, LOST LOVE, LOW-RISK, and "WORD UP," though I'd've clued that last one via the 1986 Cameo song. People mostly actually just say "Word," if they use that expression at all. This is an incredibly minor point. There is hardly any junk in this puzzle. ADAS, I don't like. Any other problematic short fill is, at worst, overfamiliar, and even that is quite infrequent. No CHAGRIN here. The weirdest answer in the puzzle was RUNYON. Usually I'm giving sideeye to the hyperlocal *NYC* (or overall Northeastern US) fill, accusing the puzzle of its own special brand of provincialism. But a park in L.A.? When I see pictures, the park actually looks familiar, but I lived in Southern California for a while and I've never heard of RUNYON Canyon Park. It is a deeply weird proper noun to put in your *Tuesday* *NYT* puzzle, especially when a much more famous RUNYON is readily available to you (Damon, who wrote "Guys & Dolls" and was a hugely famous sportswriter and short story writer in the early 20th c.). But with this theme that essentially gives away huge chunks of real estate in the grid, maybe the thinking was that you gotta put *something* in there to slow people down. So ... some park! Why not?

My stumbles were not that noteworthy. First thing I wrote in the grid was PEONS, but I instantly knew it was wrong (1A: Medieval drudges). RUNYON slowed me down a bit over there in the west. I hesitated writing in SEAN Bean because even though it felt right, I couldn't picture him in my head. Only Mr. Bean popped up. And SEAN Astin. But no matter. SEAN was right. This one was perhaps over-easy, but highly pleasing for me nonetheless. Nice gridwork.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mumbai titles / MON 4-25-16 / Don't mess with him per old song lyric / Walter who created Woody Woodpecker / James of Gunsmoke

Monday, April 25, 2016

Constructor: Betty Keller

Relative difficulty: North of Medium by a little bit (i.e. Medium-Challenging *for a Monday*)

THEME: MR. IN-BETWEEN (37A: "Don't mess with" him, per an old song lyric ... or a hint to 18-, 20-, 55- and 58-Across) — "MR." is "IN BETWEEN" (i.e. straddling) two words in two-word phrase:

Theme answers:
  • BOTTOM ROW (18A: 64-, 65- and 66-Across, in this puzzle)
  • STEAMROLLER (20A: Heavy vehicle that smooths a road surface)
  • PALM READING (55A: Means of fortunetelling)
  • AM/FM RADIO (58A: Audio feature that comes standard on cars)
Word of the Day: Walter LANTZ (17A: Walter who created Woody Woodpecker) —
Walter Benjamin Lantz (April 27, 1899 – March 22, 1994) was an American cartoonist, animator, film producer, and director, best known for founding Walter Lantz Productions and creating Woody Woodpecker. (wikipedia)
• • •

There's a fairly standard, reasonably solid theme concept here. Not great that it relies on a non-title phrase from a song that the clue doesn't even bother to name, but let's leave that aside for now. You put "MR." as a bridge between words in two-word phrases. OK. Problem one: this theme is infinitely replicable. It's not tight enough, not special enough. DORM ROOMS, ALBUM REVIEWS, FILM REELS, FOAM RUBBER, FARM-RAISED, WARM REGARDS, RUM RAISIN, GRIM REAPER ... I'm not even trying here. If the theme answers that were chosen were particularly fantastic—really scintillating examples of the form—then maybe? But they're not. They are just phrases. So the theme just doesn't cohere enough, and the chosen answers are flat.

Then there is the much much bigger problem of fill quality. It's quite poor. This is a 74-worder—that is low for a Monday. I Do Not understand why this grid wasn't built in a more accommodating, good-fill-friendly manner. Bring it up to 76 or 78 words, pull the themers apart a little, or at least add some corner cheaters in the NW and SE. *Something*. That NW corner is in excusable—and it's where people's first impressions of the puzzle come from. Will or Joel could refill that thing cleanly inside of 10 minutes, guaranteed. So why didn't they? I am baffled. We have to endure a partial, a foreign partial, a Latin phrase word, a single BEATLE, a tired golfer name, and (most improbable of all) *crossing* *old-timey* *names*. That square will Natick more than a few people guaranteed. It nearly got my wife. It got one other person I've heard back from already. This problem is—I can't stress this enough—utterly foreseeable. LANTZ is not and will never be a Monday name, no matter what it crosses, but crossing it with ARNESS.... (3D: James of "Gunsmoke") ... that is baffling. People who have been doing the puzzle forever and ever might not be troubled at all by either of those names, but man, look this puzzle over—from the theme, to every corner (but especially the NW corner), it's basically telling people under 40 to f-off.

The grid is both poorly filled and unacceptably narrow in its cultural frame of reference. Cleaning up that NW corner *alone* would've made this puzzle 2x as good. There are fill problems throughout, but virtually *everything* from ABANG down to MMLI is objectively not good, so a quick clean-up there would've made a huge difference. I do like the NE and SW corners on this one, with all those long Downs alongside one another. But they're not worth the pain we have to endure elsewhere. I mean, MAAMS plural? SRIS plural? You can't let puzzles go out like this—unpolished, unfinished. It's not fair to the constructor, and it's especially not fair to the solvers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Givee / SUN 4-24-16 / Botnaical cover / Biscuits with no sharp edges / Cave deposits / Selfies around 2012-13

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Constructor: Kathy Wienberg

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "'Tee' Time" — 'TEE' sound is added to the end of the first word in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Theme answers:
  • CASUALTY FRIDAY (22A: Nickname for an accident-prone L.A.P.D. sergeant?)
  • PATTY DOWN (27A: Cry from an errant burger flipper?)
  • PANTY HANDLER (44A: Victoria's Secret job?)
  • BATTY MOBILE (66A: Gulf Coast port that's gone bonkers?)
  • REALTY NUMBER (89A: Three houses flipped this week, e.g.?)
  • BUSTY FARE (104A: Hooters menu?)
  • SAFETY CRACKERS (114A: Biscuits with no sharp edges?)
  • PETTY ROCKS (44D: Sign seen at a Heartbreakers concert?)
  • JETTY LINER (40D: Protective covering for a pier?)

Word of the Day: OMAR al-Bashir (86D: Longtime Sudanese president ___ al-Bashir) —
Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir (Arabic: عمر حسن أحمد البشير‎; born 1 January 1944) is the President of Sudan and the head of the National Congress Party. He came to power in 1989 when, as a brigadier in the Sudanese Army, he led a group of officers in a military coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi after it began negotiations with rebels in the south. Since then, he has been elected three times as President in elections that have been under scrutiny for corruption. In March 2009, al-Bashir became the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. (wikipedia)
• • •

This has been the easiest Fri-Sat-Sun stretch that I can remember. Of course, I can't actually *remember* any other Fri-Sat-Sun stretches, but I doubt I've ever had a combined time on two themelesses and a Sunday-sized puzzle come in under 21 minutes, as I have this week. 8:47 on today's puzzle, which probably a Sunday NYT record for me. I've done Sunday-sized puzzles in under 8 before, but those were Newsdays, I think. The theme here was so basic, and the overall cluing so straightforward, that once I got past 1A: Contents of some tubs, which probably threw me more than anything else in the puzzle (I wanted OLEO), I barely stopped entering letters until the end. I don't think this theme is really worthy of the NYT—not in the 21st century. It's just too vanilla, too hackneyed. It's executed well enough, but there's nothing very entertaining going on. I got a dark chuckle out of CASUALTY FRIDAY, but the rest of it was just ho-hum. Fill was also kind of, let's say, retro, with TSAR ALDA ALAR ARIL and ECRU getting the band back together, but it was all quite tolerable. Just old-fashioned and dull, despite the boobs (104A) and panties (44A).

Here are some memorable moments—there were little bits of trickery that might've caused a lot more trouble if the surrounding fill / clues had also been at all difficult. Thought the "band" in 8A: Military band (SASH) was musical. Thought 40A: Bridge (JOIN) was SPAN. I can never remember what AMPAS stands for, so ARTS was tough (71D: Part of AMPAS) (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences).  I had no idea what I was looking at at 103D: "Givee." I thought it was either some weird, possibly racist version of "gimme." Who in the world actually says "givee" to mean "one who has been given something," i.e. TAKER, even ironically? Yipes. I had trouble with but ultimately very much enjoyed the clue on TOKE (107D: It's a drag). Also had trouble with PILE, which I had as PILL, 'cause that's what some sweaters do ... and it gives the fabric a kind of NAPpy texture. It made sense in my mind. But none of these problems were really problems. No trouble. No TRAUMA. Cakewalk.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Give up out of frustration in slang / SAT 4-23-16 / Pericles domain in Shakespeare / Panama paper revelation / Tomb Raider weaponry / Chocolaty treats introduced in 1932 / Intl org that was first to land probe on comet 2014 / Acronym in 1990s news

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (really really easy for me, but I think I lucked into some stuff...)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ESA (47A: Intl. org. that was the first to land a probe on a comet (2014)) —
The European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, with 22 member states. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, France, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,000 and an annual budget of about €5.25 billion / US$5.77 billion (2016). (wikipedia)
• • •

RAGEQUIT was a gimme (1A: Give up out of frustration, in slang). Couldn't get the "Q" cross straight away, but I got EDD and UNWED, so I knew it was right. That jump-started the whole solving experience. For the second day in a row, my time was ridiculously low. I wasn't even speed-solving (I rarely go flat out on Fri or Sat) and I almost broke 7. That's absurd. I broke 5 yesterday (even more absurd). This feels anomalous, as I struggled with both today's Newsday and today's LAT, so ... (OH) I DUNNO what's going on. Paolo Pasco is very very young. 15 or 16, I think. You can't really tell that from this puzzle, though RAGEQUIT does skew a bit young (it's a gaming expression). BROMANCE once felt newish, but now feels quite established (64A: Relationship in many a Seth Rogen film). TUMBLR's been around a while (18A: Blogging site owned by Yahoo). In short, we have a puzzle made by a young person that does not fell young, but that also does not feel tired, old, and dated. It's kind of in the Goldilocks Zone for the NYT. Just right. As with yesterday's puzzle, there's a little bit of cruddy short stuff, but not such that it interferes much with solving pleasure. ESA probably interfered the most, as I've never heard of it. Had no idea what it referred to. Took me several googles to track it down because [Define ESA] doesn't turn it up at all (lots of Spanish-related hits, unsurprisingly). So ESA shmESA SMERSHa. But anything else I might ding is just as small and far more innocuous. Longer stuff isn't mind-blowing, but it's quite solid.

This puzzle seems like it might turn on proper nouns. For me, the following were All gimmes: "LA BAMBA," Hermann HESSE, Portia de ROSSI, Jason SEGEL, and Edward SOREL (though I wasn't *quite* sure about the spelling on that last one). Oh, and despite never really having watched "Seinfeld," I knew ELAINE off just the "N" (65A: Sitcom character whose dancing is described as "a full-body dry heave")—her "I" gave me RABBI (48D: Black hat wearer) and helped me close out the puzzle, which was threatening (there at the end) to not cooperate. Anyway, if the above names or a good chunk of them are beyond you, you might've had slowness issues. I didn't know MARCO Island, Fla. at all, and as far as characters from "A Series of Unfortunate Events" go, I know only OLAF, so ESME took a little work. But nothing else puzzled me. I even somehow knew Pericles was from TYRE, with no help (Happy Shakespeare's birthday, btw) (yes, it's his death day, but by convention, it's also his birthday). Like I said, I got lucky today. I was in the PascoZone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Project Mercury primate / FRI 4-22-16 / Roller on carriageway / Hills counterparts / Title food in children's literature / Relative of Sinhalese

Friday, April 22, 2016

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Very, very easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Ken OLIN (39A: Co-star of TV's "thirthysomething") —
Kenneth Edward "Ken" Olin (born July 30, 1954) is an American actor, director and producer. He is known for his starring role on the television series thirtysomething, and most recently as executive producer, director, and recurring guest star of the television series Brothers & Sisters (2006–2011). (wikipedia)
• • •

"Shoulders" (sides of the road)
"Cells" (boxes that hold data)
"Pacers" (people walking back and forth)

These are the clue words I could not get my head around. Those three words specifically, and the clues they are found in more generally, gave me fits. They were also the Only resistance this puzzle provided. I went through this like the Kool-Aid Man through drywall. I SMOTE it good. The clues were saran-wrap transparent. SMOTE MARIN ENOS ADDTO TITLE and see you later.

It's too bad this was so easy because I think it's a nice grid. I think. Now that I look it over. In retrospect. Hard to appreciate it when you're driving by at 90 mph, but it strikes me as very clean, with any ugliness being both short and uncommon. RARE, even. EES YOO ANOS ANAS. Maybe AGA. Maybe AREST. These are the only answers I'd seriously rue, and they're none of them that bad. Also, they're seriously outnumbered by good stuff. ORDER ONLINE has a slightly wobbly quality, but its counterparts in the NW are great, and the SE looks nice as well. All the Acrosses through the middle are whistle-clean. This was a nice, easy Friday. A gateway themeless for aspiring late-week solvers. All funk, no junk.

[You can skip to 3:20; that's when He takes over]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Failure to sneeze / THU 4-21-16 / Brilliantly blue / Textbook market shorthand / Drunk's woe / Redheads book lovers maybe / Title figures in Gilbert Sullivan opera / Nevada county with part of Death Valley National Monument

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Constructor: Alex Bajcz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SST to SD — ST- goes to D- at the front of the second word in two-word phrases where first word ends in -S, creating wacky near-homophones, clued "?"-style:

Theme answers:
  • BLUEGRASS DATE (19A: Romantic night in Kentucky?) (Bluegrass State)
  • NOSE DUD (4D: Failure to sneeze?) (nose stud)
  • PLEASE DAY (34A: "Come on, Doris"?) (please stay)
  • FALSE DART (41A: Counterfeit Dodge?) (false start)
  • CHILDREN'S DORY (57A: Fishing boat at summer camp?) (children's story)
  • ICE DORM (45D: Student housing in Fairbanks?) (ice storm)
Word of the Day: Harvey MUDD College (8D: Harvey ___ College) —
Harvey Mudd College (HMC) is a private residential liberal arts college of science, engineering, and mathematics, founded in 1955 and located in Claremont, California, United States. It is one of the institutions of the contiguous Claremont Colleges, which share adjoining campus grounds. The college's mission is: "Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities and the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society." (wikipedia)
• • •

I woke up to this in my Twitter feed:

This never happens. That is to say, this kind of immediate collective outcry about a single answer, this kind of anguish, this kind of astonishment that is so keen you have to shout it at someone the second you're finished—people do shout their puzzle displeasure at me from time to time, because they know I'll understand, if not agree, but to wake up to this kind of singular unanimity: weird. So it was with trepidation and an odd excitement that I dug into today's puzzle, wondering if the answer would have the same impact on me. As I saw 25-Down coming together, my only thought was "... no ... it's not ..." but because other people had already BORNE the impact of that one, I laughed instead of some more violent reaction. How can you not have known that putting that answer in your puzzle would render Everything Else You Did In Your Puzzle virtually invisible. I think this is a relatively novice constructor, so I'll forgive the very common new-constructor thing where you overlook really bad fill because Holy @&$%! I actually built a grid that's fillable! But the editor should've been like "Uh, fix that. Please. Now."

Theme is pretty ho-hum. I think it must have been deemed acceptable (or deemed Thursday, at any rate) because of theme density (i.e. you get those extra Down themers in the NW and SE). There is a Bit of a problem with the answers where the "S" is actually more of a "Z" sound—the homophone part works a lot less well in those cases. That is, PLEASE DAY sounds like PLEASE DAY, not "please stay," and NOSE DUD, well, that second "D" was my last letter and I still didn't get it. I just kept saying NOSE DUD over and over to myself until it dawned on me the base phrase was supposed to be "nose stud," which a. is a million times less familiar / common as a phrase than the others, and b. has the "Z" problem mentioned above, which kills the sound gag.

  • HERSHEL (7D: ___ Greene, character on "The Walking Dead") — gave up on that show after season 1. Had HERSHEY there for a bit.
  • POWERED ON (11D: Booted, say) — had POWERED UP. This made the SKYEY section more ... I don't know, SKYEY?
  • ET TU (51A: "I thought you had my back!") / GUN SHY (48SD: Nervous and apprehensive) — "ET TU" is never not facetious in modern parlance, so a "facetiously" would've been appreciated. As for GUN SHY, I needed every cross and then thought it was a one-word adjective pronounced "GUN'-shee"; I mean, you've already got SKYEY, so why not?
  • TYPE (27D: Redheads or book lovers, maybe) — still not sure about this. Is this a dating thing? Like, a kind of woman (man?) you tend to be attracted to? It's a weird, weird clue.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hockey scoring play / WED 4-19-16 / Material that is foreign to body / Loose garb in ancient Rome / Words finger-drawn on dirty car

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: FOURTEEN POINTS (39A: Proposal of Woodrow Wilson ... or what the scoring values of 18-, 27-, 55- and 66-Across total) — yep, add 'em up, and you  get FOURTEEN:

Theme answers:
  • GRAND SLAM (18A: Baseball scoring play) — homerun with bases loaded, 4 runs score
  • HAT TRICK (27A: Hockey scoring play) — 3 goals scored over the course of the game
  • FOUL SHOT (55A: Basketball scoring play) — 1 point for a free throw...
  • TOUCHDOWN (66A: Football scoring play) — 6 points for the TD (maybe you thought 7, but you need the extra point for that)
Word of the Day: SCORIA (12D: Dark volcanic rock) —
Scoria is a highly vesicular, dark colored volcanic rock that may or may not contain crystals (phenocrysts). It is typically dark in color (generally dark brown, black or purplish red), and basaltic or andesitic in composition. Scoria is relatively low in density as a result of its numerous macroscopic ellipsoidal vesicles, but in contrast to pumice, all scoria has a specific gravity greater than 1, and sinks in water. The holes or vesicles form when gases that were dissolved in the magma come out of solution as it erupts, creating bubbles in the molten rock, some of which are frozen in place as the rock cools and solidifies. Scoria may form as part of a lava flow, typically near its surface, or as fragmental ejecta (lapilli, blocks and bombs), for instance in Strombolian eruptions that form steep-sided scoria cones. Most scoria is composed of glassy fragments, and may contain phenocrysts. The word scoria comes from the Greek σκωρία, skōria, rust. An old name for scoria is cinder. (wikipedia)
• • •
Fell asleep over election results last night (yes, they were *that* exciting) so just a brief write-up this morning, as I have things to be and places to do [note: turns out it's a normal-sized write-up, after all]. Here's what I remember from last night's solving ... first, a confession. If I have ever heard of Woodrow Wilson's FOURTEEN POINTS, I *completely* forgot about them. Total U.S. History fail on my part. I finished (quickly, 'cause this one was easy), and then shouted clear across the house to ask my wife if she'd gotten the revealer yet. "Did you know the revealer?!" "Oh, yeah, that was a gimme." Sigh. She teaches social studies, and has a Ph.D. in American History, but still, "gimme" hurt. She started giving a from-across-the-house lecture on the Treaty of Versailles, but I was like "OK, got it, don't rub it in." So, now that we've established that I only got a 3 on my US History AP test, let's look at the puzzle. Nice repurposing of POINTS to scoring in the various sports: in order, baseball, hockey, basketball, football. There's only one (big) problem with the theme: a HAT TRICK is absolutely positively not a "Hockey scoring play." In fact, "play" is much more closely associated with football—a single, set strategy executed as one continuous act following the snap of the ball. You can run a play in basketball too. It might have lots of components, but it's fundamentally *one continuous thing*. Meanwhile ... in hockey, a HAT TRICK is the scoring of three goals ... over the course ... of the whole game. It is not a "play." Not by a long, long, long shot. It is three completely separate events. Unrelated events that might take places seconds, minutes, or even several periods apart. It's the simple fact of having scored three goals in a game. That is not a "play." That is fundamentally not a "play."

Despite never having heard of the revealer, I moved through most of the grid, from the NW to SE, with hardly any trouble at all; in fact, FOURTEEN POINTS itself was about the only resistance. It was those damned isolated corners in the NE and SW that scratched and clawed a little. But only a little. I didn't know what an OIL CUP does (turns out it simply holds and regulates the flow of oil in your car) and I really really didn't know what SCORIA is. So that pretty much explains the NE. In the SW, my brain could not process the kind of conversation that would allow me to make sense of the clue 64A: Question in response to "I am" ("ARE YOU?"). That is a messed up question in response to "I am." She just said she was. WTF? Also, I was not aware anyone ROARed IN to anywhere. Even ___ SHOT from [Basketball scoring play] was not obvious to me. So some slowness there. But I still ended up under normal time, and since this is an extra-wide (16x) grid, difficulty probably slots between Easy and Easy-Medium.

More AFROs and a token DRE ... in a puzzle built entirely around a super-racist president. I'll stop pointing this stuff out when it stops being the norm. This is a fine puzzle on a technical level, and if the puzzle treated black people as something more than an assemblage of hairdos and rap musicians with convenient names, if it were even slightly more inclusive on a regular basis, a puzzle like this wouldn't even make me blink. But this AFRO thing is a now a thing. The puzzle equivalent of "Can I touch your hair?" Again, it wouldn't be, if the puzzle were regularly more inclusive. Then, an AFRO would simply be one hairstyle among many in the world, one with very useful letters that one tends to see in grids. At this point, however, AFRO always feels kind of objectifying, and only highlights the puzzle's general and strong tendency toward an exclusively white POV.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Double in baseball lingo / TUE 4-19-16 / Veil material / North America's largest alpine lake / George ___, longtime maestro of the Cleveland Orchestra / Cleveland cager for short / High-tech 1982 Disney movie

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: HEADS UP (36A: Warning appropriate for this puzzle?) — circled squares are words that can precede "head" in common words/phrases:

Theme answers:
  • NIPS
  • ARIA
Word of the Day: RENATA Tebaldi (54A: Opera's Tebaldi) —
Renata Tebaldi (pronounced [reˈnaːta teˈbaldi]; 1 February 1922 – 19 December 2004) was an Italian lirico-spinto soprano popular in the post-war period. Among the most beloved opera singers, she has been said to have possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century which was focused primarily on the verismo roles of the lyric and dramatic repertoires. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one seems to be trying to get by on sheer density of theme. Seems like a find concept, but wasn't much fun to solve—cultural frame of reference that's a half-century old, and fill that is just too rough around the edges. It's like the good ole (read: bad ol') days today with cameos by I, TINA and SDS, and also names that were likely very familiar once but aren't anymore, like George SZELL (26D: George ___, longtime maestro of the Cleveland Orchestra) (I wanted SOLTI ... that's Georg, not George, and he conducted in Chicago, not Cleveland, stupid me) and RENATA whoever. Again, if you look for *balance* in cultural / historical coverage, you won't find any. Old and white and crosswordesey, with slightly off stuff like SOPPY (not SAPPY!), and painful partials like "I SHOT" and "TO BAT." There are definitely an impressive lot of "HEADS" going "UP" in these answers, and the idea to put two into each of the long Downs in the NE/SW is pretty bold. But there are a million heads in the world (hot, bed, etc.—I'm looking at TAHOE (31D: North America's largest alpine lake) and thinking "hat head" is probably a thing (it is)) and "RED" is so common (or, rather, "DER" is so common) that you've got not only the authorized one in STOP ORDER, but an unintentional one in MURDER ONE, and you could've had another if PROVIDER had been running Down. From AREA to ARIA, from MAES to RIS, I found this one just OK.

Got very hung up in the whole SZELL area, not surprisingly. SAPPY also slowed me down. In all other respects, difficulty felt pretty normal for a Tuesday, but those two patches were enough to put me significantly (say, 20-30 seconds) over my Tuesday average.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Idiot in Canadian lingo / MON 4-18-16 / Flash faddish assembly / Yellow-skinned melon / 1938 horse of year / Athlete/model Gabrielle

Monday, April 18, 2016

Constructor: Janice Luttrell

Relative difficulty: Easy side of normal

THEME: BREAD (37A: Moolah ... or the makeup of the ends of the answers to the starred clues) — ends of starred answers are bread-like:

Theme answers:
  • BANK ROLL (4D: *Provide funds for)
  • SEABISCUIT (18A: *1938 Horse of the Year)
  • STUD MUFFIN (54A: *Hunk)
  • MEAT LOAF (38D: *"Bat Out of Hell" singer)
Word of the Day: LAKE / CHAD (45A: With 24-Across, body of water that's in four African countries) —
Lake Chad (French: Lac Tchad) is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, which has varied in size over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998, but "the 2007 (satellite) image shows significant improvement over previous years." Lake Chad is economically important, providing water to more than 68 million people living in the four countries surrounding it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It is the largest lake in the Chad Basin. (wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is very promising, but the theme feels fundamentally broken. Yes, all the end pieces (!) are BREADy in their way, but LOAF is a shape of BREAD, ROLL is a type of BREAD, and BISCUITs and MUFFINs are merely BREAD-*ish*—BREAD kin, not BREAD. Certainly BREAD is not the "makeup" of a MUFFIN. Flour is in there, but ... no. That's not enough to call the "makeup" "BREAD." The connection among all the answers is far too tenuous, and the wording on the revealer clue feels simply inaccurate. But as I said, the grid is very promising. Yes, many familiar words, but it seemed pretty clean and pretty zippy. Themers are nice answers in and of themselves, and all the other longer answers (GOOD EGG, MYSPACE, KICKBACK, CAPS LOCK) are strong as well. Nothing made me wince, and I got to reexperience the '80s via the WAPNER / HOSER cross, so I was well entertained, if only for 2:45.

The only place I encountered resistance today was in the middle, for a number of reasons. First, the revealer just wasn't coming to me. Don't know why. Possibly because I wasn't sure what part of the toucan was "colorful"—somehow I thought maybe it was his COAT, which is ... not a thing a bird has, right? They have feathers. Dogs have coats. I also couldn't get BELLE without a lot of help from crosses (33A: Scarlett O'Hara, for one). Accurate enough clue, just not obvious to me. Then there was the fact that the whole center was framed by LAKE / CHAD, which caused slow-down both because it was cross-referenced and because its symmetricality made me briefly imagine it was somehow a theme answer. Also, the fact that both parts of LAKE / CHAD act like guards / gatekeepers for the puzzle's middle worked to make that section by far the hardest to get through. Not "hard" in any absolute terms—merely harder than the rest of the (very easy) puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP