Mentalist Geller / SUN 7-31-2016 / Leaf / It may require a password

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

Relative difficulty: Not very tough

THEME: MAKE "IT" A DOUBLE — each theme entry contains two IT rebus squares

Word of the Day: ENDGAME (115A: Lead-up to mating)

In chess and chess-like games, the endgame (or end game or ending) is the stage of the game when few pieces are left on the board.
The line between middlegame and endgame is often not clear, and may occur gradually or with the quick exchange of a few pairs of pieces. The endgame, however, tends to have different characteristics from the middlegame, and the players have correspondingly different strategic concerns. In particular, pawns become more important as endgames often revolve around attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the eighth rank. The king, which has to be protected in the middlegame owing to the threat of checkmate, becomes a strong piece in the endgame. It can be brought to the center of the board and act as a useful attacking piece. --Wikipedia

We've reached the endgame of my time here this year -- thanks to Rex for giving me the keys for a week, commenters for their perspicacity and civility, and the constructors and NYT team for putting these things out there.  ICYMI, check out my websites here and here

On to the puzzle. Not the most exciting idea: each theme entry contains a pair of (IT) rebus squares, and then the reveal is KEEP (IT) TOGETHER, clued as (Stay cool ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme).  I guess if you've never seen a rebus theme before you'd be impressed, but otherwise the solve gets sloggy quick.

Theme answers:
  • SW(IT)CH POS(IT)IONS (22A: Flip-Flop)
  • CRED(IT) OR DEB(IT) (31A: Question asked at the cash register)
  • IN(IT)IATION R(IT)E (59A: Occasion to learn a secret handshake)
  • L(IT)TLE WH(IT)E LIE (80A: Fib)
  • PATERN(IT)Y SU(IT) (107A: Way to get to know a father in law?) 
  • SECUR(IT)Y DEPOS(IT) (16D: Landlord's request)
  • (IT)SY-B(IT)SY SPIDER (58D: Climber in a children's rhyme)  

Very slightly offputting to include a pair of downward theme entries in a rebus like this; messes with the optics a little bit, obscuring that each theme entry has two ITs. I do like the symmetric and amusing crossers F(IT)B(IT)S and N(IT)W(IT)S, each of which crosses two theme entries and required some delicate footwork to include.

Big blot, though, at 82D ("It was you," à la Verdi) for ERI TU. Pretty standard in a theme like this not to have any stray rebus pieces laying about, so the unused (IT) in this entry should certainly have been caught and excised. Might seem harsh but that's about .25 of a letter grade right there.

I remember the fill being pretty good, though during a sloggy solve you're always on the lookout for gimmick squares so it's tougher to appreciate it. But points for ALL CAPS, JOCULAR, MEMO PAD, TV HOSTS, BUST A GUT, both ARSENIC and POISON, LOW TECH, and TOM-TOM. Lots of theme entries so tough to keep it both interesting and clean, but she pulled it off well I think.

Hard to rise above a dull theme on a Sunday. Wavering between C+ and C, but that ERI TU thing removes the +. Letter grade of C.



Before I return you to Rex: be aware that the 9th edition of Lollapuzzoola takes place in Manhattan, NYC, USA on Saturday, August 13th, 10AM-6PM. I've been to this very enjoyable crossword tournament three times in the past and can highly recommend it -- casual, fun, one day only so not a big investment of time, very high quality puzzles. Tournament organizers Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer keep things amusing and make sure everyone has a good time. Sometimes people throw food. Check it out here:

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld until midnight tonight

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ladder's counterpart / SAT 7-30-2016 / Writer Sedaris / Pet name meaning "faithful"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Constructor: Lily Silverstein

Relative difficulty: 11:36, slightly tough for Saturday (not a humblebrag, just telling you my time)


Word of the Day: ALSTON (29A: Charles who created murals for Harlem Hospital and the American Museum of Natural History)
Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907 – April 27, 1977) was an African-American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Alston designed and painted murals at the Harlem Hospital and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. In 1990 Alston's bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. became the first image of an African American displayed at the White House. --                   Wikipedia
• • •
Eerily similar to yesterday's puzzle: competently written, very clean, perfectly pleasant to solve...but lacking much punch, noticeably un-Scrabbly, and highly compartmentalized. The clues were more interesting than yesterday's, though, so this is safely a B instead of on the line between B and B-.

The three showcase answers are fine but not more: CHANCE MEETING (32A: Start of many a romantic comedy), A HUNGER ARTIST (34A: 1922 Kafka short story), and PLATELET COUNT (35A: Hematologist's measure).

That 34-A is a nasty trap; raise your hand if you plunked METAMORPHOSIS down there like I aaaaalmost did until I hesitated since my hazy memory was that that's a novella or novel. I vaguely recalled the right answer, but even at ?HUN?ERARTIST I wasn't sure. THUNDER ARTIST? Finally the A fell into place. But not a story I recall reading and 11 of 13 letters are Scrabble 1-pointers, so kinda meh. 11 for 13 also on PLATELET COUNT.

Once you had the center nailed down it was a matter of knocking out the four peripheral sections one by one. As with yesterday, not good grid flow since it plays like a series of mini-puzzles.  All four are pretty snappy, though, and feature pleasantly wicked cluing, especially the SW corner, where FISTS was (Sparring partners?), AMOEBAS are (Slide presentations?) and BIT PART is (It doesn't have much to say). Nice.

To illustrate the cleanliness of the grid let's apply a five-worst-entries test: ITAL, ENG, ALBA, SIM, ABA. So that's good. Best fill was CHALK UP TO (32D: Attribute as the cause of), amusing TINA FEY (18A: "Mean Girls" screenwriter), AEROSOL CAN, RIGHT ANGLE, and PAPER THIN. Which are all good, but as a best-of list in a themeless, a little underwhelming; none is really a marquee answer.

Letter grade of B

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 1 more day and then Rex is coming back and we're all gonna be in trouble! Let's clean the house really fast and nobody tell him about the lawn parties.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Match Makeup / FRI 7-29-2016 / Doughnutlike / Catacomb component

Friday, July 29, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Took me 8:46, so good for a Friday


Word of the Day: SPY KIDS (20A: 2001 fantasy/adventure film with three sequels )
Gregorio and Ingrid are the two greatest secret agents the world has ever known: masters of disguise, mavens of invention, able to stop wars before they even start. Working for separate countries, they are sent to eliminate their most dangerous enemy...each other. But in an exotic corner of the world when they finally come face to face, they fall in love instead and embark on the most dangerous mission they have ever faced: raising a family. Now nine years later, after their retirement, having exchanged the adventure of espionage for parenthood, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back in to action. When their former colleagues, the world's most formidable spies, start disappearing one by one, the Cortez's are forced to take on techno-wizard Fegan Floop and his evil, egg-headed sidekick, Minion. But when the unthinkable happens and they too disappear, unfortunately there are only two people in the world who can rescue them...their kids. -- IMDb
• • •

Not today's constructor's fault, but I've been binge-solving a bunch of old New York Sun themelesses by Byron Walden this week and those things pack a punch. Crazy letter combinations everywhere, unexpected Z's and K's and J's all over, wicked cluing. Just kills it. So while this is a competently written themeless, I didn't get the same kick from it.

The two long 15s are good, TEACHABLE MOMENT (17A: Teen's fender bender, maybe) and BIOLOGICAL CLOCK (54A: Concern in family planning). But then there are a lot of dullish longs like INTERSECTS, ANGLOPHONE, COGITATING, STRENGTHS, and ONE PERCENT. Even the better ones seem a little old-fashioned (GRAY MATTER, CHEST HAIR, THE BEE GEES).

The grid itself is rather compartmentalized, so it felt a bit like solving three different crosswords. If not for the T's in THOUGH and NICEST it would've felt extremely compartmentalized. So not great grid flow. Not very Scrabbly, either -- the Q feels cheap because of QAID (52D: Muslim judge of North Africa) and the only other rare letter is an X tucked away in a corner. Buncha K's and H's, though, at least.

Some good stuff among the middle-length entries: QUICHES, INK BLOT, BAUBLES, CHURCHY, SPY KIDS. But overall this didn't amuse me like the best themelesses do. The only time I had one of those "How can this possibly be right? Do I have an error somewhere?" moment was briefly with SP?KI??. Thought "Nothing fits there, I must have an error," but then the penny dropped (see our Word of the Day). 

Grid was very clean, too, as the three worst entries test shows: TORIC, QAID, and maybe BRASI? So not much there to object to.

Wavering between B and B-; let's go with a letter grade of B since it's not the constructor's fault that I stumbled upon this book earlier in the week in a box in my house (we're moving, so lots of boxes around). 


Before I sign off for the evening, here's a note from puzzle friend Mike Selinker about a charity puzzle project he's created. Very successful so far -- over 4,000 puzzle bundles sold!:

This week, my team at Lone Shark Games and Humble Bundle launched a major feel-good puzzle project: the Humble Puzzle Bundle. It’s a collection of puzzle books by Patrick Berry, Francis Heaney, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Patrick Merrell, and many other legendary puzzle makers—and you can get them for whatever you want to pay, even a dollar. My book The Maze of Games (electronic and hardback) is in there too, with an all-new hint book called The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze. A lot of the books are brand new, never seen before. Best of all, a big chunk of your contribution goes to charities like Worldbuilders, the It Gets Better Project, and Child’s Play. We wanted to do something fun and positive for the puzzle community, which has been through a lot this year. So if you’d like to get about a zillion puzzles and contribute money to cool charities, head on over to the Humble Puzzle Bundle. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 2 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Gloria of Miami Sound Machine / THU 7-28-2016 / Sweetums / Kind of chat

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: On the easy side for Thursday

THEME: LOST ART — Eight grid entries are missing the letters ART as clued, but still form familiar words

Word of the Day: AEROFLOT (42A: One of the carriers in the SkyTeam alliance)
OJSC Aeroflot – Russian Airlines (Russian: ОАО "Аэрофло́т-Росси́йские авиали́нии", OAO Aeroflot-Rossiyskiye avialinii) (MCXAFLT), commonly known as Aeroflot (English pronunciation: /ˈɛərˌflɒt/ or Listeni/ˌɛərˈflɒt/) (Russian: Аэрофлот, English translation: "air fleet", pronounced [ɐɛrɐˈflot]), is the flag carrier[3] and largest airline of the Russian Federation.[4] The carrier operates domestic and international passenger and services, mainly from its hub at Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Aeroflot is one of the oldest airlines in the world, tracing its history back to 1923. During the Soviet era, Aeroflot was the Soviet national airline and the largest airline in the world.[5][6] Following the dissolution of the USSR, the carrier has been transformed from a state-run enterprise into a semi-privatised company which ranked 19th most profitable airline in the world in 2007.[7] Aeroflot is still considered the de facto national airline of Russia.[8] It is 51%-owned by the Russian Government. As of September 2013, the Aeroflot Group had 30,328 employees.
• • •

I knew something was up when I couldn't get that northwest corner to work. Finally puzzled out that 1-Across was CHIEF (Auto booster), which I didn't understand but figured it must be some car slang I didn't know. Turns out it was C(AR T)HIEF, since 39-A (Letter writing, they say ... or a hint to eight answers in this puzzle) was LOST ART.

So these entries lose their ART but leave another (unclued) word. That's mildly amusing. Not a barn-burner of a theme, since it's not really that fun to go searching for the remaining missing ARTs, but it's not unpleasant, either. I would cap this idea at a B+, so it's only a B+ if the constructor did pretty much everything else very well.

Which he in fact did, as follows:

1) He made the ART-less (not "artless") entries symmetrical. This is both elegant and a nice courtesy to the solver, since the post-reveal hunt could be a bit tedious without it.

2) He didn't overstuff the grid with theme. Eight looks like the sweet spot here, especially since you've also got the central LOST ART to contend with; any less would seem thin, but any more wouldn't let the fill breathe.

3) He gave himself the chance for a nice grid with 2), and then knocked it out of the park. Look at all those above-average 6's, 7's, and 8: EAT WELL, MR. TOAD, AEROFLOT, FEEL FREE, TAKE THAT!, ESTEFAN, POLARIS, LET'S GO, EDWARD I. That's some fine word-weaving; every 20 seconds of my solve I kept mentally noting "good entry" over and over. I would have worked obscure SAAR out (just make it SEAR with EDEN crossing) but not much else beyond that. Very good grid.

4) While the theme per se is only moderately interesting, its eight words are well chosen. C(AR) THIEF is a nice find that might have been overlooked, and was interesting to finally parse, And that "The Artist" becomes THEIST is also fun. BENDER/B(ART)ENDER is an interesting pair, since bartenders have seen many drinkers on a bender. M(ART)INIS is another good one. The others are P(ART)ISANS, P(ART)IES, P(ART)ONE, and REST(ART)ED. 

While I don't think this theme is quite snappy enough to put an A on, it's still perfectly good and the constructor maximized the concept and execution nicely. This is a skillfully crafted piece of work.  Letter grade B+.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 3 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


2003 Bennifer Bomb / WED 7-27-2016 / Itemize / Refusal from Putin

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Constructor: Natan Last, Finn Vigeland, and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: A-OK for a Wednesday

THEME: RING CYCLE — Theme entries are things with between 1 and 5 rings

Word of the Day: PATCHOULI (13A: Scent in incense and insect repellents)
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth) is a species of plant from the genus Pogostemon. It is a bushy herb of the mint family, with erect stems, reaching two or three feet (about 0.75 metre) in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers...The word derives from the Tamil patchai (Tamil: பச்சை) (green), ellai (Tamil: இலை) (leaf). -- Wikipedia
• • •

This crossword gets the solver intrigued quickly: you hit 16A and the clue is (Place to find one O) and you say aha! Something is afoot here. Like a book passing the page one test; you want to see what happens next.

The answer there was THE HOBBIT, which does indeed have one O -- but it can't be that simple, of course. Soon you hit the clue for 22A (Place to find two Os) and the answer is VENN DIAGRAM. I got it there, and you probably did, too: these are not the letter O, but rings. The other three are:

CIRCUS TENT (28A: Place to find three Os), AUDI DEALER (40A: Place to find four Os) -- that's the automaker's logo -- and OLYMPIC FLAG (45A: Place to find five Os).

But wait, there's more! A reveal of RING CYCLE (59A: Wagner work ... or a possible title for this puzzle).

That's a nice Wednesday, don't you think? A little mystery, a theme idea you haven't seen before, a wide-ranging theme set, an apt reveal to tie it all together, and a little sense of self-satisfaction that you puzzled it all out.

Not to mention the clues, which are much more vigorous than the past two days. Let's try the best-three-clues test here:  BOOYAH (8D: "How do you like dem apples?!"), SAGELY (19A: In a Yoda-like manner), and ECHO (3D: "Hello ... hello ... hello ..."). Also notice the (Snatched) and (Snatches) pair at 52A and 53A for STOLEN and NABS

A nitpicker might pick the following two nits: 1) Wagner's RING CYCLE contains four works, so having five entries instead of four throws that off a tiny bit. And 2) the number of rings is set for 1, 3, 4, and 5, but a Venn Diagram can have three or four or more rings, so not quite as tight as it could be there. Maybe WEDDING HALL instead? Though perhaps the constructors didn't want to have two wearable rings as 1-2, so a reasonable decision. Very small dings there. And I'm not a nitpicker anyway, so I won't bring these two points up.

The fill is fine in retrospect, but you know what? I didn't even notice it while solving because I was so entertained by unraveling the theme. And incidentally the reveal was at the end, where it was supposed to be, so I got a chance to figure out what was going on before having it made plain.

Trying to decide between B+ and A-, and a final look over the puzzle pushes me to A- because I do dig that little trick with the letter O actually representing a ring. I bet the constructors realized that THE HOBBIT has one O in it, so we'd still go on thinking for a couple more minutes that it was going to have to do with how many O's the theme entries had. Also note the timeliness of the Olympics entry.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 4 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Discombobulate / TUE 7-26-15 / Yodeling locale / Defensive tennis shots

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: About right for Tuesday

THEME: "ESTEE" PHRASES — Phrases with the initials S.T.

Word of the Day: SOUL TRAIN (58A: *Bygone R&B showcase) —
Soul Train is an American musical variety television program which aired in syndication from 1971 until 2006. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul and hip hop artists, although funk, jazz, disco and gospel artists also appeared. The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer.  --Wikipedia

• • •
Let me start by saying that when I filled in for Rex in summer of 2014 the puzzles received grades of A-, C+, A, B, A-, B+, and when I was here last summer they got a C-, B-, C, B, A-, A, and A.  Just want to give you some context for what comes next.

Let me also say that I know this constructor knows what he's doing, since I've seen him do good work before and he's been nominated previously for my Crossword of the Month.

But this is, to be blunt, the least impressive crossword I've seen in a major publication this year. Let's start with the big problem, an automatic DQ, which is that the revealer of ESTEE (68A: Girl's name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers to the asterisked clues) is no good. The only ESTEE that anyone's heard of is Estee Lauder, and that's pronounced "ess-tay," not "ess-tee." This is quite obviously a fatal flaw, and alone should've kept the puzzle from publication. I've never heard the name outside of Ms. Lauder, and there's certainly no one else legit famous with it.

So DQ right off the bat, but let's move on: revealer aside, the theme idea is unexciting but not bad on its own. But for some reason the constructor made the poor decision to pack 12 theme entries into the grid, instead of choosing 5 or 6 of the best ones. So the choices of S.T. were then constrained by what fit in the grid instead of what might be a lively entry. Some are good -- SOUL TRAIN, STAR TREK, SWEET TOOTH, SIT TIGHT -- but then we get awkward plurals SORE THUMBS and SURE THINGS, arbitrary SEASON TWO, dull SIDE TABLE and SONG TITLE, dated SNEAK THIEF, and not-a-thing SEA TRIP. Sea cruise, boat trip, yes -- sea trip, no. So this is like a restaurant whose food isn't the best but they give you so much of it!

And then the fill suffered due to the extreme packing of theme: Tuesday's too early for ENOW, COSI, EMLY, REWED, ESTES and APOLO. And it also relegated the revealer to a random spot in the bottom left of the grid.

And don't get me started on the clues! Musty vibe all over; there's literally nothing in the clues or grid keeping this puzzle from being written 10 years ago. I don't hate the past, but if you're going to clue FAB to the Beatles and BORIS to Rocky & Bullwinkle, you probably don't need to clue SPOT as (Dick and Jane's dog).

Again, let's find the three most interesting/clever/amusing clues: (Ones whose business is picking up?) is CABS, (Irritating subject for an ophthalmologist?) is STYE, and maybe ("Fancy meeting you here!") for OH, HI. There's really no effort put into the clues at all to be interesting. Even evocative phrases get straightforward, dull definitions: SWEET TOOTH is (Craving for desserts), SORE THUMBS are (Things that stick out conspicuously), etc.

Well, I'm looking for something nice to say about this puzzle. How about: there is a lot of theme. I'll give it that.

So we have a dullish theme that also happens to be fatally flawed; fill (and theme entries) compromised due to a grid that emphasized quantity of theme entries over quality; musty, uninspired clues; and a misplaced revealer to the flawed theme.

Before I go, compare this puzzle to the NYT from June 14th of this year. The constructor there used E.Z. words, which are far more restricted than S.T., and had the snappy revealer EASY DOES IT (instead of just the phonetic ESTEE, which even if correct wouldn't be a great reveal). The constructor in that puzzle also limited herself to four theme entries, which allowed the amusing reveal to be placed logically. This is a much better execution of this theme idea.

This puzzle was not ready for publication. Letter grade of F. I take no pleasure in it. Tomorrow is another day. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 5 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Like amoeba reproduction / MON 7-25-16 / Bart Simpson's siter / Harvard rival

Monday, July 25, 2016

Constructor: Kevin Christian

Relative difficulty: Easy like Monday Morning

THEME: HEY JOE — each theme entry begins with a familiar Joe

Word of the Day: CAMELCASE (28A: Style of "iPhone" or "eBay," typographically)
camelCase (also camel caps or medial capitals) is the practice of writing compound words or phrases such that each word or abbreviation begins with a capital letter (and omits hyphens). Camel case may start with a capital letter (called PascalCase or UpperCamelCase) or, especially in programming languages, with a lowercase letter. Common examples include: "PowerPoint" or "MySpace" and "iPhone" or "eCommerce" or in online usernames such as "JohnSmith"  -- Wikipedia

• • •

Theme answers:
  • (20A: 1899-1901 uprising in China) BOXER REBELLION
  • (28A: Style of "iPhone" or "eBay," typographically)  CAMELCASE
  • (45A: "Great!")  COOL BEANS 
  • (50A: Vacillate)  BLOW HOT AND COLD 
  • (1D/63D: With 61-Down, Jimi Hendrix's first single ... or a hint to the starts of 20-, 28-, 45- and 50-Across)  HEY/JOE
If you're like me, you filled HAHA in at 1-A, looked at the clue for 1-D, filled in HEY and then JOE at 63-D, and then once you had BOXER REBELLION you knew the puzzle's theme. This is why the revealer should go as low in the grid as possible. No credit for half of it going in the bottom-right, since "Hey Joe" isn't exactly an obscure song so a lot of people are going to have the reveal as their second and third answers in the grid. So a pretty big ding for solving experience there, like telling everyone who the murderer is on page 4 of the mystery. Only to be done with a good reason, which there isn't here. Granted, HEY JOE isn't an easy entry to fit as the last Across in a puzzle grid, but 1-D can't be the right solution.

The chosen Joes are good: none is a specific, real person, so that's interesting. No actual Joes. Tightens it up in a quirky way. The grid has some nice stuff (BAD LUCK, DUE NORTH, ASEXUAL, STEELERS) but also some unnecessary dreck, like ETUI, APER, and CANER, all of which could've been easily cleaned up.  CAMELCASE is undoubtedly a cool entry; because those capital letters resemble a camel's hump(s), get it? And sneaking those two J's into the lower-right was some fancy footwork as well.

There are 42 black squares in the grid, which is a lot. Normally 38 is considered the upper limit, with 40 only permitted in special circumstances, and anything over that should be rare and with good reason. This grid isn't really challenging enough (52 theme letters) to necessitate that; the two "cheater squares" on either end of the central entry D-PLUS should've at least been worked out, getting us down to 40.

Clues are dryasdust: EMILY is (Poet Dickinson), AIDAN is (Actor Quinn), ALLAN is (Writer Edgar ___ Poe), STEELERS is (Pittsburgh N.F.L. team), and so on. Perhaps I'm being harsh; let's find the three best clues. (Ride to an awards show) for LIMO, (One of 22 for Jon Stewart) is EMMY, and (Handled tunes at a dance, say) is DJED. Not sabotaging here, I really think those are the three best clues.

I'm grading the puzzles this week, and my first two grids have each had D-PLUS as an entry. Somebody trying to tell me something? This one had an OK but misplaced revealer, an unexciting theme per se but with a good set of theme entries, a reasonable grid, and clues that were rather stale. Sounds like a C+ effort in my book.

Not exactly off to a roaring start this week, but we'll see if the NYT squad can get us out of C-ville tomorrow.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 6 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Palindromic elemento / SUN 7-24-16 / Common Coke go-with / Friend of Lucy Ricardo

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SPACE INVADERS — grid is a representation of a screenshot from the video game

Word of the Day: BIG DIG (Boston megaproject completed in 2007, informally) —
The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known unofficially as the Big Dig, was a megaproject in Boston that rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93)—the chief highway through the heart of the city—into the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel...The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests,[2][3] and one death.[4] The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998[5] at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006).[6] However, the project was completed only in December 2007, at a cost of over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars, meaning a cost overrun of about 190%)[6] as of 2006.[7] The Boston Globe estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that it will not be paid off until 2038. -- Wikipedia
• • •

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex for the next eight days, which he'll spend at the baccarat tables in Monte Carlo (I'm guessing). I write a daily crossword here and a weekly crossword contest every Friday here. My latest crossword book is this.

Crossword wunderkind David Steinberg is our constructor today; I think he's the only teenager who's won my Crossword of the Month award (September 2015).

His puzzle is a SPACE INVADERS (91A: 1970s-'80s craze that's the theme of this puzzle ) screenshot in cruciverbal form, and there's a lot going on: a MOTHERSHIP in circled letters up top; nine entries invaded by ETs; SAFE spelled by four unchecked letters in the bottom section of the grid, indicating those boulder-like things you could hide under in the game; a LASER pointing upward in the upper left of the grid, hidden in the downward PRESALE (6D: Event for select customers) indicating the lasers you'd fire; and a cannon-shaped CANNON in the lower-left.

Phew...that's a lot of different ideas tossed into the mix, but I'm afraid this comes off as more of a big, confusing mess than a coherent and pleasant return to childhood. Lots of "well, not quites" as I looked over the grid later: the Space Invaders shot downward at the player, which isn't represented; using ET as your "Space Invaders" conflates two very different early '80s things (E.T. was sweet and ate candy, Space Invaders were trying to destroy your civilization); SAFE seems like an arbitrary word for those shelters down below, since the Space Invaders' missiles ate away at them, and they disappeared altogether when the Invaders got low enough; that thing was called a MOTHERSHIP? And why is it in that loop shape? Part of the problem is that Space Invaders was one of those games that was more popular in its Atari 2600 version than its arcade version, and the two were stylistically not identical. David used the arcade version here, so this didn't hit my nostalgia radar correctly. Are ROCKET FUEL (112A: Mission requirement) and AIRPORT BAR (116A: Place to get drunk before getting high?) supposed to be theme? I don't think so.

With all that going on, the fill took some hits: SSE / OSS / SSR / SSN / EEE / HET / RET / ORO isn't a great worst-of list for 3-letter entries. But the constructor also managed to sneak a lot of nice entries in as well, such as ETHEL MERTZ (41D: Friend of Lucy Ricardo), CHEAP DATE (49A: One not looking for an expensive night on the town), and ELDERBERRY (45D: Fruit used in wines and syrups).

The best part of the theme is the nine "Space Invading" ET's. PREEN, DOH, MINUS, DIED, TAKEN, GAME, DUO, MARKING and ABS became PRETEEN, DOETH, MINUETS, DIETED, TAKE TEN, GAMETE, DUE TO, MARKETING, and ABETS. Maybe this could've been a decent theme by itself, without all the other stuff, and then that "E.T." does not equal "Space Invaders" wouldn't have bothered me since you're just using "Space Invaders" to mean "E.T. was from space, and he's invading these entries". That might've been the way to take this. But with all the other elements in there it becomes a disharmonious mishmash.

It's schoolmarmish, but I assign grades to puzzles when I fill in for Rex, and I'll give this one a C-. When David Steinberg's Greatest Hits is released someday it will be a very nice volume, but I don't think this puzzle will make the cut. No worries, he has plenty of others to choose from. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 7 more days

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Pop singer Goulding / SAT 7-23-16 / WW II landing site in Italy / 24-book classic / Biggest rival of US Foods / Year-end tradition since 1966 / Half of 2000s stoner-film duo / Longtime hair lightener brand / Alternative to Flix / Music genre for Miriam Makeba / Last name in funnies for nearly 50 years / First lady Barbara's Russian counterpart

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Constructor: Debbie Ellerin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: KIT CAR (37A: Do-it-yourself wheels)
Not to be confused with KITT.
For other uses, see Kit (disambiguation).A kit car, also known as a "component car", is an automobile that is available as a set of parts that a manufacturer sells and the buyer himself then assembles into a functioning car. Usually, many of the major mechanical systems such as the engine and transmission are sourced from donor vehicles or purchased new from other vendors. Kits vary in completeness, including as little as a book of plans, or as much as a complete set with all components included. // There is a sub-set of the kit car, commonly referred to as a "re-body", in which a commercially manufactured vehicle has a new (often fiberglass) body put on the running chassis. Most times, the existing drive gear and interior are retained. These kits require less technical knowledge from the builder, and because the chassis and mechanical systems were designed, built, and tested by a major automotive manufacturer, a re-body can also lead to a much higher degree of safety and reliability. // The definition of a kit car usually indicates that a manufacturer constructs multiple kits of the same vehicle, each of which it then sells to a third party to build. A kit car should not be confused with a 'hand built' car or 'special' car, which is typically built from scratch by an individual. (wikipedia)
• • •

I told you. Literally, I told you. The last time this constructor published a puzzle in the NYT, I thought that the theme was perhaps a little trite, but that the *execution* was virtually flawless. I then went on to write: "This puzzle doesn't excite me, but it does give me sincere hope for decent future work." Well keep hope alive, yes we can, etc., because here is the "decent future work" I was talking about. And a *Saturday* puzzle, too–way on the other end of the puzzle week from that last puzzle (a Monday). I just Enjoyed this puzzle. It had that nice mix of hard and doable, pop culture and vocabulary, and cleverly tough (or toughly clever) clues that make for a good Saturday work out. I had the feeling of struggling in many places, but I never got truly bogged down. Those corners are all pretty sequestered, and things can get a little frightening when you are in blind alleys, with no way out. But in the end it was like a delicious small-plate meal—I'm still kind of hungry, but what I ate was really satisfying. Maybe if I just have another drink, I'll be good. I might've lost the metaphor there. Now I'm thirsty. It's Really hot and we have AC in only room and that is not the room I am in. I'm gonna run and get water and then start another paragraph.

This one leans a little heavily on proper nouns, for sure, and while this mostly didn't feel excessive, I can see something like ELLIE (16A: Pop singer Goulding) over LIANE (18A: Actress Balaban of "Supernatural") being a real trouble spot for folks (I knew the former, but definitely not the latter—though I think the crosses are gettable enough that I could've blanked on both and still been OK). Names *definitely* helped me get started, as SEURATS was the first thing I plunked in (after inferring the terminal "S" at 1A: Those falling head over heels?). I then followed that up with AMY (Poehler) and "FAMILY GUY," and while that corner still put up a fight, I had enough of a toe hold to get moving. I had TRIMMED for SLIMMED at 33A: Reduced and then *wrongly* inferred the terminal "S" at 33D: Things that one is good at (SKILL SET), so the SW corner was probably the toughest for me. At first, all I had was IVS. But then 46D: Something to carve out seemed to be screaming NICHE, so I went with it, and things panned out. After that, I misspelled FAGAN (thusly) (41D: Charley Bates's mentor, in literature) and mostly guessed and fumbled at the letters in 38A: W.W. II landing site in Italy (ANZIO) (EZIO and PINZA and ANZAC were all shouting at me in my mind). But everything else went pretty smoothly.

I am outta here til August 2. My replacement knows more about crosswords than I do, so you're in good hands. He'll be taking over from Sunday to Sunday. Then it's an Annabel Monday. Then I'm back. See you back here in 10 days.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Eternal water-pourers in Hades / FRI 7-22-16 / Shakespearean duel overeseer / Enfantines composer / Book film title character surnamed Gatzoyiannis / Abstract expressionist who married Jackson Pollock / Big name in Renaissance patronage / Follower of diet system / Much-photographed mausoleum site

Friday, July 22, 2016

Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith and George Barany

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: DANAIDES (36D: Eternal water-pourers in Hades) —
In Greek mythology, the Daughters of Danaus (/dəˈnɪdz/; Greek: Δαναΐδες), also Danaids, Danaides or Danaïdes, were the fifty daughters of Danaus. They were to marry the fifty sons of Danaus's twin brother Aegyptus, a mythical king of Egypt. In the most common version of the myth, all but one of them killed their husbands on their wedding night, and are condemned to spend eternity carrying water in a sieve or perforated device. In the classical tradition, they come to represent the futility of a repetitive task that can never be completed (see also Sisyphus). (wikipedia)
• • •

The 15s / 16s hold up pretty well; the rest ... doesn't. The top and the bottom are full of gunk that made this puzzle icky to move through. Improbably, the quadstack felt like the smoothest part of the grid. Sure, it has a few predictably less-than-ideal crosses (I see you, ECASH), but there's not nearly as much bad short stuff in the middle as there is everywhere else. This makes almost no sense, as one would expect the reverse to be true. Quadstacks put strain on a grid, so that should be where the strain should show. Instead, ADM REA ELENI (!?) DENTE chunk is up top, in the place where the puzzle should be cleanest. And the bottom is even rougher, with PAREE MERLE AAS AREOLA NO FEES AERO being a cavalcade of blah, and ERY APEAR EAPOE (all up against the very tough DANAIDES) is a flat-out disaster. It's as if two different people made this puzzle. Oh ... look at that. I wonder if that had anything to do with this. I won't speculate. Martin's not usually so careless with the tops and bottoms of his centered quadstacks, is all I'm saying. The three 16-letter Downs do add perhaps somewhat more strain to the grid than one might otherwise see in a quadstack. Still...

JAPAN was wickedly clued (1D: Follower of a diet system), especially crossing JAGS, which for some reason I don't think of as [Sharp projections]. They're cats, for short, or they're crying spells, or maybe some kind of generically handsome TV military lawyers, I'm not sure. What "Gear" does OIL protect? Oh, the actual gear of a car? One of many gears? OK. I had many different answers where AHASH (blargh) is supposed to go. Started with A MESS, then went to A MASH, which worked swimmingly ... for a while. I've read a lot of classical literature, but the DANAIDES somehow got by me. Virtually no part of that answer (except the terminal "S") was inferrable to me—this made the (ugly) southern section by far the hardest. Oh, except for the [___ College] / [Cannery row?] crossing. I wrote in COE College, which is a place, and it worked, except ... CARS? Are there rows of CARS at a cannery? Turns out, there are not. JOE College, 20x ugh, who says that anymore? That's some '50s-era stuff. And again down there with the EGRET and ESTE and ORES—really weak fill where it shouldn't be. I did enjoy the longer stuff. I just don't get the quality discrepancy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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First of minor prophets / THU 7-21-16 / Bitter component of tea / Prominent feature of Bert / 1960s chess champ Mikhail / Advantage for hockey team / Tandoori products

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BAD LUCK (62A: Supposed consequence of any of the three no-nos in this puzzle) — things that are bad luck, represented literally in the puzzle. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 14A: With 1-Across, no-no #1 (WALKING [under] A LADDER)
  • 19D: With 41-Across, no-no #2 (BLACK CAT [crossing] ONE'S PATH)
  • 38D: With 57-Down, no-no #3 (MIR / ROR [i.e. a "broken" mirror]) 
Word of the Day: KARYN White (20A: ___ White, singer of the 1991 #1 hit "Romantic") —
Karyn Layvonne White (born October 14, 1965) is an American singer who was popular during the late 1980s and early 1990s. She is best known for her R&B singles; "Superwoman" (1989), "Secret Rendezvous" (1989), "The Way You Love Me" (1988), and the Billboard Hot 100 number one single "Romantic" (1991). (wikipedia)

• • •

I lit this thing on fire, so it was hard to get a clear picture of this thing while I was solving. I think my minimal groaning indicates that it's pretty strong. The theme is definitely clever—I've seen this kind of literal representation of answers a lot before, but the tightness of the theme here is impressive. The "broken" MIR/ROR is not like the others, in that describing the two answer parts in relation to one another does not result in your literally saying the bad luck phrase (i.e. it's not "MIR [over] ROR" or "MIR [crack] ROR"), but it's still fits the broad parameters of the theme. The puzzle's only real problem is how weak it gets in the short fill. It's a bit of an old-school crosswordese cavalcade, with ILO, TAL, OLLA, SSRS, IDEM, and ENA all making appearances, and NAANS trying to convince us that it's a plural (at least it's the correct two-A spelling).

I lucked out by guessing 1D: Have an eye-opening experience (AWAKEN) right off the bat, which meant the first letters of all NW Acrosses were locked in place. Still took some work to see WALKING under A LADDER, but I just kept filling in crosses without much hesitation until that answer became clear. Blanked on ED O'NEILL (33A: "Modern Family" actor) at first despite knowing his work well. Had no idea Baba Mustafa was a TAILOR in "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," but, again, crosses. Had IBID before IDEM (44A: As above, in citations), and (my favorite mistake) CORN DOGS before CORN MAZE (thanks, IBID!) (29D: Autumn attraction). Nothing else too remarkable here. Solid work overall.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Markka spender / WED 7-20-16 / Creators of artificial lakes / Sushi bar condiment

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Constructor: Gordon Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium (no idea ... tweeted about it while I was solving, so my time was obviously through the roof; it felt normalish)

THEME: STAR-CROSSED LOVE (34A: Relationship doomed from the start ... or asomething found in this puzzle four times?)  —currently or former acting couples, who also appeared in at least one movie together, appear four different times, as crossing answers:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: ENSOUL (27A: Fill with a spirit) —
To sell a Kia Soul to someone (me)
• • •

We had it all ... just like ERIC Bana (10D) and BACALL...

This seems like it will play pretty easy if you know all the Hollywood couple involved, and if not, not. They're all pretty dang famous, so I doubt there will be many who won't know them, but maybe the movies used to clue them aren't so familiar. Actually, they're pretty seminal. "Bugsy" might've gotten by some people, and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" most certainly did, but the couples involved are all iconic, so there shouldn't have been too many proper noun wipe-outs. My main problem with this theme is the revealer. STAR-CROSSED LOVERS is the needed phrase. It's what's in the puzzle, and it's The Actual Famous Phrase. The phrase from "Romeo & Juliet." Google knows this:

"Love" alone is not an option. Also, stupid me, I always thought "star-crossed" meant "fated to be together," despite knowing full well how "Romeo & Juliet" ends (spoiler alert: badly). Not sure how that happened. What else? Well, ENSOUL is flat-out ridiculous, I had no idea the dwarves had known ages (?), and OPEN FIRE next to VENGEFUL *and* ISLAM was very, very grim. Very. Grim. Speaking of grim, gonna go check in on the convention now, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. ADD-INS are for froyo.

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Spherical locks / TUE 7-19-16 / Mythical abductee / McDonald's slogan that replaced Put Smile On / Mind-blowing in modern lingo

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: FULL COUNT (63A: 3-2 ... or what's represented by the answers to this puzzle's starred clues) — DESCRIPTION

Theme answers:
  • BALL JOINT (17A: *Car part that works in a similar manner to the human hip)
  • BALL IN CUP (11D: *Children's toy that tests dexterity)
  • CANNON BALL (29D: *Cry just before hitting the pool)
  • STRIKE BACK (37A: *Retaliate)
  • RENT STRIKE (42A: *Tenants' protest)
Word of the Day: BODACIOUS (38D: Attractive, informally) —
Some of our readers may know "bodacious" as a word that figured prominently in the lingo of the 1989 film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Others may recall the term's frequent use in the long-running "Snuffy Smith" comic strip. Neither the creators of the comic strip nor the movie can claim to have coined "bodacious," which actually first appeared in print in 1832, but both likely contributed to its popularity. The exact origin of the word is uncertain, but it was most likely influenced by "bold" and "audacious," and it may be linked to "boldacious," a term from British dialect. (M-W)
• • •
This puzzle really needed ... something else. Something more. What we have here feels like a first idea, a rough draft version. "Hey, what can I do with FULL COUNT ... well, I could put BALL in the grid three times and STRIKE in it twice ... nah, too straightforward, too many repeating words ... what's the fun in that?" That is how the brainstorming session ought to have gone. Then maybe you'd've considered making 3 *clues* [BALL] and 2 clues [STRIKE], or various rebus options, etc., eventually alighting on the best expression of the FULL COUNT concept. This here is remedial. No one answer in the puzzle is offensive or bad. It's just blah, stem to stern. BODACIOUS is almost good, but it feels pretty dated. And the fill: inoffensive and bland. The one thing that the grid has going for it, which no one is going to notice because the puzzle has no way of indicating it very directly, is that the strikes are (like many strikes in baseball) right down the middle, whereas the balls are high and inside, high and outside, low and outside. The word PLATE might've helped here, not sure. [NOTE: just woke up to find out that you can actually *see* the outline of the strike zone in the print version ... so something *was* missing]

I was faster on this puzzle than on yesterday's. Fastest Tuesday in a long time. It's astonishing how a. familiar and b. easily clued all these answers are. Besides the themers, the only place I had any hesitation was 22D: Ruth, for one (YANKEE), because I was thinking Bible, then pity. Oh, and I somehow had either TIDDLE or TITTLE in there for a while at 32D: Amuse (TICKLE). That was weird. Everything else was read clue / write answer, bam bam, fast as I could go (pretty much). So fast that, until a friend pointed it out just now, I didn't even see 55D: Spherical locks. Let's all just be grateful for that.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bond Girl Shirley / MON 7-18-16 / Ancient Greek theaters / Succulent flowering plants / Seinfeld neighbor whose name is spoken as epithet / Bad record for motoristVessel for slow cooking /

Monday, July 18, 2016

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*: 20+ seconds over normal time)

THEME: OPED COLUMN (29D: Place for airing an opinion ... or what five of the his puzzle's Down answers contain?) — "OPED" can be found inside four down-running themers:

Theme answers:
  • PIANO PEDAL (3D: One of three at the base of a Steinway)
  • SLOPE DOWN (33D: Decline, as a ramp)
  • HOPE DIAMOND (17D: Large gem in the Smithsonian)
  • EUROPE DAY (9D: Annual celebration when a 12-star flag may be flown)
Word of the Day: EUROPE DAY
In Europe, Europe Day is an annual celebration of peace and unity in Europe. There are two separate designations of Europe Day: 5 May for the Council of Europe, and 9 May for the European Union (EU). The latter is the EU's flag day and has a greater visibility.
The Council of Europe's day reflects its own establishment in 1949, while the European Union's day is also known as Schuman Day and celebrates the historical declaration by French foreign minister Robert Schuman in 1950. Europe Day is one of a number of European symbols designed to foster unity among Europeans. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty straightforward, with "OPED" inside of "columns" (i.e. Down answers). The "columns" in question were uniformly tough for me to figure out, first because I could think only of PIANO LEG ... then because SLOPE DOWN is such a Green Paintish-type answer that I had SLANT DOWN at first, and lastly because I've never heard of EUROPE DAY. Not at all. Thus, my Monday solving time spiked up. Which is fine. Cluing / fill seemed on the slightly tougher side overall for a Monday. STEW POT sounded right. STEW PAN still sounds weird, even now. The more I look at it, the more I disbelieve its thingness. STEWPOT definitely googles better, though not by as much as I expected. Between that and EUROPE DAY, the NE played slow. Then there was 19A: Bond girl Shirley (EATON). No clue. Zero, none. There have been roughly ten thousand Bond girls. Come on.

Then there was --MME- at 45A: Pound repeatedly (PUMMEL), which of course sent me to HAMMER. Then there was ROADWAY (62A: Surface to drive on). Had the ROAD, and then ... nothing. ROADWAY is a word I recognize but would never use, ROAD being normally sufficient. Finally, the clue on REVUE told me virtually zero (30D: "Side by Side by Sondheim," e.g.). Could've been OPERA for all I knew. Maybe since Sondheim is a notorious puzzle-lover, that was supposed to be a little wink / nod to him. Fine. Not a Monday clue, but fine. It's all fine. Just fine. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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