Gangland rival of Dutch Schultz / WED 8-31-16 / Victims of Morlocks in sci-fi / Mineral used for insulation / Bow-toting deity

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Easy (maybe Easy-Medium)

THEME: MAKE IT LAST (62A: "Use this sparingly" ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — familiar phrases have "IT" tacked on to the end; wacky clues follow:

Theme answers:
  • YES WE CAN IT (17A: Hormel's assurance that Spam is packed safely?)
  • SWING BANDIT (29A: Playground equipment thief?)
  • SHORT STOP IT (38A: "Enough!" as opposed to "You quit that right now!"?)
  • EMILY POST IT (48A: "Miss Dickinson, put your poem on Facebook"?)
Word of the Day: LEGS DIAMOND (25D: Gangland rival of Dutch Schultz) —
Jack "Legs" Diamond (born John Thomas Diamond; July 10, 1897 – December 18, 1931), also known as Gentleman Jack, was an Irish American gangster in Philadelphia and New York City during the Prohibition era. A bootlegger and close associate of gambler Arnold Rothstein, Diamond survived a number of attempts on his life between 1916 and 1931, causing him to be known as the "clay pigeon of the underworld". In 1930, Diamond's nemesis Dutch Schultz remarked to his own gang, "Ain't there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don't bounce back?" (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a conceptual disaster. First, you can put "IT" on the end of seemingly infinite phrases, so who cares? Second, there is Zero consistency to how the "IT" addition, and the cluing, are done today. CAN IT is a phrase meaning STOP IT (?), but it's clued as "put stuff in a can." STOP IT is a phrase meaning STOP IT and it is clued ... as STOP IT. So ... no attempt to clue it differently. But then POST IT, which is only a thing when hyphenated, is (like CAN IT) clued in a way that takes it away from its familiar meaning (here, just "put something on Facebook"). And then there's BANDIT, which is the outlier of outliers, being the only really interesting version of this theme (where "IT" is added To Create An Entirely New Word). So ... I don't understand why the CAN IT and POST-IT answers didn't get clues related to those actual, stand-alone terms (when STOP IT did get such a clue) and I don't understand why BANDIT is so sad and alone when it's the only one that's actually doing its job, i.e. being interesting. Coulda done stuff with, DIGIT, CUBIT, LEGIT, ORBIT, PERMIT (!?! why is that word in this grid!? No "IT"-enders in non-theme words! That's just sloppy), PULPIT ... pfff. Pretty maddening how poorly executed this theme is.

The fill is also subpar today. BEAHERO!? (42D: Come to the rescue) Yipes. If you're going to do something that iffy, go all in and clue it ["Billy, Don't ___"]. Song partial! It shows you don't care ... With Gusto.

APA ADE ELOI ANO INT OTYPE :( Things just aren't working today. I actually really like MERCH (5A: Stuff for sale at concerts), and (even though it slowed me right down) LEGS DIAMOND. Not much else about this was pleasing. Wanted TAX AUDITORS instead of IRS AUDITORS (which is my bad—"tax" is in the clue—but TAX AUDITORS does outgoogle "IRS AUDITORS" 3-to-1). Otherwise, no issues anywhere. Sub-4 minute time on a Wednesday is def. on the fast side for me. I can tell you with some assurance that tomorrow's puzzle is a good one. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bell town in Longfellow poem / TUE 8-30-16 / Vegas resort with musical name / What hath gardener wrought / Electric keyboard heard on I am walrus

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Constructor: Roland Huget

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (on the slow side *for a Tuesday*)

THEME: CHEMICAL SYMBOLS (36A: This puzzle's circled letters, for the words that precede them) — first word chemical, opening letters of second word, that chemical's symbol:

Theme answers:
  • COPPER CUPS (17A: Flower plants from Australia) (?? ..... if you say so)
  • IRON FENCE (26A: What hath the gardener wrought?) (ugh, man, this clue...)
  • SILVER AGE (51A: Second-greatest period in something's history) (comics; that is the only "something" I know where this phrase applies)
  • CARBON COPY (58A: Antiquated office duplicate) (and George Segal / Denzel Washington film of 1981)
Word of the Day: ATRI (42A: Bell town in a Longfellow poem) —
Atri (Greek: Ἀδρία or Ἀτρία; Latin: Adria, Atria, Hadria, or Hatria) is a comune in the Province of Teramo in the Abruzzo region of Italy. In 2001, it had a population of over 11,500. Atri is the setting of the poem, The Bell of Atri, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Its name is the origin of the name of the Emperor Hadrian. (wikipedia)
• • •

Oh my no. So ... revealer is unnecessary / anticlimactic / lacking in any sort of wordplay or cleverness. If I didn't get premise of theme from first themer, I sure as heckfire got it from the second. So revealer = dead / pointless. Theme itself is simply "who cares?" except it's slightly worse than that because COPPER CUPS are fantastically outlier-ish, familiarity-wise. The other themers are, to their credit, things. I'm sure COPPER CUPS are too, but ... just less so. I will say that I think the puzzle squeezed every possible theme answer out of the periodic table. But there remains the question of "to what end?" Surely not entertainment. And what the hell was up with that IRON FENCE clue? It appears to be trying both to pun (?) on the phrase "What hath God wrought?" while also doing some kind of misdirect with the word "wrought" where it is used adjectivally in relation to an IRON FENCE instead of verbally, as it appears on the surface. But the result is a nonsensical disaster. The connection between gardeners and wrought-iron fences is fantastically loose, and the connection between gardeners and God is non-existent. Yikes.

["... and introducing Denzel Washington"]

Then we arrive at the real problem today, which is the fill, much of which REEKS of mothballs. If your (Tuesday!) puzzle has ATRI in it, something has gone very, horribly wrong and you need to fix it immediately (ATLI is worse, but the less spoken about that, the better). ATRI crossing ARIA (a "Vegas resort," really?) will be many people's last letter. Here, look:

But there was also PSEC and BEDECK and RIVE and PIANET (33D: Electric keyboard heard on "I Am the Walrus") and other olde-timey crud as well as new-timey crud like INHD. The clue on ACRES feels like the NYT trying to be inclusive but instead falling on its face yet again (15A: Forty ___ and a mule (post-Civil War allotment)). The clue needs a Lot (!) more context. "Allotment" leaves a lot (!!) out. Like, it was only ever theoretical and never actually got "allotted." Black people never got that allotment, just as they never actually get mentioned in this clue. "False promise" would've at least been closer to reality. Come on, now. [Sigh]. Shred this, start over.

I do credit this puzzle for forcing me to get to the heart of one of my great solving weakenesses: namely, spelling things that rhyme with EBSEN (44A: Buddy who played Jed Clampett in 1960s TV), including EBSEN (but excluding IBSEN, whom I can spell fine):

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Exemplar of masculinity / MON 8-29-16 / CBS spinoff set in SoCal / Clic Stic pen maker / 1990s fitness fad with infomercials

Monday, August 29, 2016

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (triviality of themers was only hold-up)

THEME: WYOMING (39A: Squarest of the 50 states) — uh ... OK. Some Wyoming things:

Theme answers:
  • OLD FAITHFUL (17A: Famous geyser in 39-Across)
  • DEVIL'S TOWER (11D: Noted rock formation in 39-Across)
  • JACKSON HOLE (24D: Skiing mecca in 39-Across)
  • FORT LARAMIE (60A: Historic trading post in 39-Across) 
Word of the Day: DEVIL'S TOWER
Devils Tower (Lakota: Matȟó Thípila or Ptehé Ǧí, which means "Bear Lodge" and "Brown Buffalo Horn", respectively) is an laccolithic butte composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains (part of the Black Hills) near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It rises dramatically 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet (265 m) from summit to base. The summit is 5,112 feet (1,559 m) above sea level. // Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Monument's boundary encloses an area of 1,347 acres (545 ha) // In recent years, about 1% of the Monument's 400,000 annual visitors climbed Devils Tower, mostly using traditional climbing techniques. (wikipedia)
• • •

Really? WYOMING? Because ... it's square (-ish). And crosswords are made of squares (-ish)!?!? That is ... not strong. NO FUN. A thematic FLOP. Grid is filled well enough, but Mars must really need Monday puzzles if this is passing muster, theme-wise. The only pleasure I got from the theme was the odd coincidence of solving it right after I'd (re- re- re-) watched "Shane" earlier on Sunday (part of Jean Arthur day on TCM). Watching the intro by Ben Mankiewicz, I learned that George Stevens was very particular about scouting the location for the movie, which ended up being somewhere around ... JACKSON HOLE. Beautiful (the scenery and the movie). But that's not much as theme pleasure goes. Maybe the bar for themes is super-low on Mondays as long as the fill isn't dreck. And the fill isn't dreck. So here we are.

I think I average somewhere in the 2:50s on Monday, and today was in the 2:40s, hence the relative difficulty of Easy-Medium. Would've been super easy but for FORT LARAMIE and DEVIL'S TOWER, both of which required lots of crosses before I got them. MAN'S MAN (nice answer) was also slightly hard to parse (50A: Exemplar of masculinity). Speaking of MAN'S MAN: Shane! That movie is about nothing if not Being A Man. Removing Stumps! Getting in Barfights! Making Hot But Respectful Eyes at Nice Married Ladies! Making Young Boys Worship You! Van Heflin and all those homesteader ("sodbuster") guys are just limp until Shane rides into town and stands up to that terrible Riker gang! (I'm talking about "Shane" so I don't have to talk about this puzzle, about which I have no more to say) Gonna go admire Jean Arthur some more now. Good night, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Green spirit / SUN 8-28-16 / Taiping Rebellion general / Fastener with ring-shaped head / Mythical father of Harmonia strangely enough / Hit upside the head in slang / Cousin of lemming

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "The First Shall Be Last" — first letter of a word in each themer is moved to the end of the word, creating wackiness galore:

Theme answers:
  • RADAR ANGER (22A: Reason to scream "Why won't this damn thing locate airplanes!"?)
  • DAME CHEESE (23A: Honorary title in Wisconsin?)
  • SENATE IDEA (42A: "Hey, let's gather 100 people to enact laws and ratify treaties"?)
  • HEAR PERLMAN (50A: Listen to violinist Itzhak's music?)
  • SPRITE DE CORPS (65A: Soft drink favored by the Marines?)
  • ASSUMED AMEN (79A: Church response that's taken as a given?)
  • INSIDE OPED (87A: Newspaper essay on why not to go outdoors?)
  • THANE ALLEN (108A: Woody playing a medieval baron?)
  • IM'ED NOVELS (110A: Books written entirely in chat rooms?) 
[UPDATE: I just found out there is an "unofficial" metapuzzle element to this thing. I did the write-up without knowing this (how could I know?) so keep that in mind. If you want to figure out the meta for your self, don't look at the very end of this write-up—I'll add the answer in a P.S.] 

[The meta answer is a nine-letter word] 

[please disregard Everything I say in the write-up about the theme being loose] 

[Again, why on god's green would you keep this hidden from the solving public, WTF?]

Word of the Day: DOPE SLAP (82D: Hit upside the head, in slang) —
A corrective action that consists of the following:
  1. Take open palm.
  2. Deliver slap directly to the back of the skull.
  3. Optional: Ask some variant of "What are you, stupid or something?"
The Dope Slap is a (generally) lighthearted slap (or knuckle tap) to the back of the skull that is intended as a disciplinary move by one character when another character does, says, or even thinks something that is uniformly stupid, or just to shut them up. The slap is almost always in some way played for laughs; think of it as an attempt at Percussive Maintenance on somebody's brain, and thus occasionally overlaps with Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!. Another variation is a "shut up" poke to the ribs with the elbow. Finally, it may also be performed simply by making a slapping motion in the direction of the target, without any actual physical contact occurring. (
• • •

This Pasco kid is everywhere of late—or so it seems. He won two different divisions at the most recent Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament (which I missed because my beloved 14-year-old dog was sick, [frowny face]), and he is the constructor of the most recent American Values Club Crossword—a meta puzzle that kinda puts today's puzzle to shame (both of them Sunday-sized, but the AVCX just far more clever and much more fun to solve). I mean, this puzzle is fine, but it's pretty ordinary NYT fare. This is how I now think of the difference between the NYT (the self-styled "best puzzle in the world") and the AVCX (the actual best puzzle in ... well, the country, let's be reasonable; what do I know from "the world"?): the NYT does what it does and what it's been doing for a quarter century-ish, and it does it, most days, relatively well. At least competently. It's certainly still the best daily (though WSJ makes a run at it many days). But for sheer ingenuity and cleverness and especially for pure solving pleasure, the (once-a-week) AVCX is the best thing around. So this puzzle is a victim of its constructor's own success (seriously, you should do his "Girl, Interrupted" AVCX puzzle—it's pretty sweet; and you still have til the end of today to solve the meta and enter the contest).


This move-a-letter concept feels old, even if the results are occasionally very funny. Sometime first word, sometimes last word ... so conceptually loose as well. Hey, there's a DOPE dupe (sort of ... play on the phrase "inside dope" and then the answer DOPE SLAP, which ... only barely qualifies as a thing, and is certainly not a thing I've ever heard in my increasingly-close-to-half-a-century's existence). Speaking of near dupes, LAO-TSE and General TSO in the same grid? Those two aren't allowed anywhere near each other. The fill on this is very average, and when it's not, it stands out in not-great ways (see DOPE SLAP). EYE BOLT is pretty original, but it's yet another thing I've never heard of. Honestly, sincerely, I thought it was a term for a piercing, like ... a facial piercing of your eye ... lid? brow? Something. At any rate, puzzle was quite easy except for the SW corner, where all the Downs were hard for me, and I thought BAAS (uck) were MOOS and I thought Robert HAYS was Robert something else, possibly RIES (?), and SALES DAYS is blarghy. I do like ABSINTHE though (79D: Green spirit). A lot. But usually just as a rinse in a cocktail like a sazerac. Too much, and it's SANTA HAT time, in that I might literally put on the SANTA HAT that currently resides on one of the three dog sculptures in my living room.

All of you should find the equivalence of [Intellectual] and EGG-HEADED annoying. Uh, you're the Sunday New York Times Crossword, so who are you calling EGG-HEADED, anyway? Clue may as well have said [Like you, probably]. I would've respected it more. Lastly, re: clue on IM'ED NOVELS ... I don't think IM'ing has a very tight connection with "chat rooms"—I'm sure they are technically related, but the association feels thin, in that plenty of kids IM (or used to, when that was more of a thing) completely outside the context of "chat rooms" (a phrase which reeks of 1998). But an online chat is a form of instant messaging, and insofar as such IM'ing might take place in "chat rooms," I guess the clue is at least semi-valid. Feels imprecise, clumsy, and dated, but defensible. (I feel this about NYT clues not infrequently)


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the answer to the meta puzzle is:

REAR-ENDED (a word formed from the moved letters in the theme answers, taken in the order in which they appear in the grid)

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Title princess of comic opera / SAT 8-27-16 / Monogram for Christ / Yasmina two-time Tony winning playwright / Political pundit Perino / Postcard printing process for short / Biblical name meaning exalted father / Set of seven countries informally / Way down in Wayne Manor /

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Constructor: Jim Page

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: IHS (58A: Monogram for Christ) —
In the Latin-speaking Christianity of medieval Western Europe (and so among Catholics and many Protestants today), the most common Christogram became "IHS" or "IHC", denoting the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, IHΣΟΥΣ, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ. (wikipedia)
• • •

Piece O. Cake, that is. My 1-Across Theory of Solving Difficulty continues to pan out, as today's 1A: Where to belt one down and belt one out (KARAOKE BAR) was completely transparent, and I ended up with a time in the low 6s. Saturday average is more in the 8-10 range. Today's puzzle made me miss yesterday's puzzle. I think this one has the slight edge as far as interesting quadrants (I liked the stacks in one quadrant yesterday, I like them in two today (NE, SE)), but the fill is kind of yucky. Like, the yuck is real yuck. Not just the sad, common yuck, but the "ew, no" kind of yuck. KETT yuck. REUNE yuck. SHEB yuck. Triple &%$^ing suffix yuck (-OIS *and* -EAN **and** -ATOR!? That is completely terrible. Massive deduction). Long Acrosses toward the center give this one some added sparkle. But, come on, ESCS are not "keys"; there is an ESC key on my keyboard. One. Singular. It is not pluralizable. See also ALTS and CTRLS and FNS. All the fun answers in the world won't matter if you're using some off-brand pseudo-Elmer's to hold it all together. Way too much junk short fill. Poor craftsmanship. Back to drawing board.

I had a couple moments of struggle, first in trying to get into the NE. No idea on IDA (22D: Title princess of a comic opera), so couldn't swing Acrosses into that quadrant. Had the bottom Acrosses, but it's really really hard to solve long answers from the back end (or can be ... statistically harder than solving them with same amount of information on the front end), so I stalled a bit. But NOV gave me OZONE HOLE, and then I slowly clawed my way into and out of that section. ATOR! [Most of the way through the alphabet?] Ugh. Also had issues with IHS / SQMI. And then I found the long Down clues in the SW all pretty hard. But the Acrosses weren't (I've actually listened to Brian ENO's "The Ship," so that was a surprise ENO-gimme). Done, ho-hum, moving on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Multimedia think piece / FRI 8-26-16 / City with world's largest clock face / Statue outside Boston's TD garden / Only highest-grossing film of year that lost money

Friday, August 26, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: DROP CAP (40D: Large letter in a manuscript) —
In desktop publishing, the first letter of a paragraph that is enlarged to "drop" down two or more lines, as in the next paragraph. Drop caps are often seen at the beginning of novels, where the top of the first letter of the first word lines up with the top of the first sentence and drops down to the four or fifth sentence. (webopedia)
• • •

Just solved this, on Friday morning, after a long sleep after a two-drink meal after my first day of classes, so I was a little ... sluggish. Groggy. Foggy. Boggy. I adjusted the difficulty level accordingly (i.e. this was more in the Medium-Challenging range, solving time-wise). You know that thing I have said a lot about 1-Across gimmes and how they are predictive of the overall easiness of the puzzle? Yeah, well, the opposite is apparently true, too. I had no idea about 1A: Social app with the slogan "the world's catalog of ideas" (PINTEREST), and so after about a minute in the NW, I had (fittingly) nothing but ERR. I know very well what PINTEREST is, but I would never ever have called it a "social app" (largely because my experience of it has only been on my laptop) and I had no idea that site was associated with "ideas" (?!). "The world's catalog of ideas??" Not the world's catalog of gluten-free brownie recipes and babies wearing cute knit caps? "Ideas" makes it sound pretty high-falutin'. Anyway, crash and burn there. Steph Curry got me going, finally, in the NE (MVP), and things flowed from there, however unspeedily. I think starting in the NE is really bad way to proceed: you're basically solving the grid right-to-left, i.e. backwards., i.e. entering all the Acrosses from the back (!). If you're continually front-of-the-word-blind, you aren't going to make great time. Consider: it took me until the very last cross to get BE THERE! When you come at it backwards, GET HERE! seems a very distinct possibility.

There were good parts and not-so-good parts to this puzzle. CLOSE VOTE (12D: Feature of the 1876 or 2000 presidential election) feels very much like Green Paint, and EX-GOV feels even greener (56A: Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, informally) (and both of them involve Bush ... weird). Nobody says ENOUNCE or PAH, LOD is a real place but not really a place you wanna go with your grid, and EARED ... just makes me laugh (11D: Like some seals). I get that there are seals without ears, but EARED is about as ridiculous-looking as NOSED without an adjective-hyphen in front of it. None of the stacks really gleamed. ANTI-TOXIN and TEEN ANGST are a very nice pair, but the rest are ho-hum. I did love some of the cluing, esp. on MOAT (54D: It's water under the bridge) and ATTACK ADS (61A: Spots that might smear). I also loved the clue on "CLEOPATRA" (58A: Only highest-grossing film of the year that lost money), a legendary over-budget and mediocre-to-bad film. Also, coincidentally, the first drink I ordered last night was called an "Elizabeth Taylor"—probably for the color more than anything, although it also smelled good (I'm imagining Elizabeth Taylor did too):

[Shout-out to Lost Dog Cafe]

Most confusing clue was 42A: Bit of bronze (TIN). I get that bronze is an alloy made of TIN and other metals, but "bit" implies something discrete and countable. Also, confronted with [Bit of bronze] and T-N ... well, TAN seemed like a perfectly good answer.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rippled and lustrous / THU 8-25-16 / In a comfortable position / In a state of entanglement / Gymnastics position

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: THE ROAD TO HELL—The road to hell is a PAVED ROAD, paved with GOOD INTENTIONS, and the road spans this crossword grid diagonally.  Hell is a single square rebus. Literally. Also ST BERNARD may be responsible for the saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

 Theme answers:
  • PAVED ROAD (6A: What the circled squares in the puzzle symbolize) 
  • SEAS (HELL)/RAISE (HELL) (66A: Beach souvenir)/(49D: Cause a commotion), with the "Hell" getting rebus'd in the last box in the grid, and becoming the terminus of the PAVED ROAD
  • GOOD INTENTIONS (The circled letters; the pavement) 
  • ST BERNARD (65A: French abbot thought to have originated the saying depicted symbolically in this puzzle) 
Word of the Day: SLEEP SOFA (57A: Something pulled out before turning in)

• • •

Hi-- Lena here for a quick sub-in.  This is an awkward theme. See how awkward my theme description ended up being? Outside of the two longer theme entries being symmetrically placed in the grid, the sum of all the parts feels haphazard/clunky. I barely even realized that ST BERNARD was part of this puzzle's theme because when a clue starts with "French abbot" I immediately look for cross clues to bail me out and be done with it.

I didn't know (9D: Romanian composer George): ENESCU and the clue didn't even make me feel bad about since there's no "most famous/beloved/important" before "composer." In addition to being a great composer his surname is itself composed of great crossword letters. It took me a bit to get GREEN PEAS (18A: Goya or Del Monte product) because I was looking for "can" somewhere in the answer. Those companies don't produce peas, they produce canned/dried/frozen  peas. I had another production issue with (47A: Where many drafts are produced) BAR-- I get it, but "produced" is weird and ultimately doesn't make the clue witty/funny to me. Even if the answer was about cold air coming through a window, I wouldn't say "brrr this window is producing a draft." Why not go with "flow?" Drafts flow through windows and flow into glasses. Windows are made of glass... lots more opportunities for cleverness if you ditch the stuffy "produced." It's Thursday, go nuts.

I liked the conversational SNAP OUT OF IT (30A: "Focus!") right before HERE I GO (38A: Announcement after a deep breath)-- very cinematic. Also BE THERE (42D: "Show up... Or else!").

I got RONCO (15A: Brand with a trademark on the phrase"Set it and forget it") right away, but definitely didn't remember that the phrase referred to an in-home rotisserie! I thought it was an egg timer or something but no, it's a tricked out toaster oven that fits two (TWO!) chickens inside.

Perhaps RONCO is also responsible for the SLEEP SOFA (57A: Something pulled out before turning in)? The answer didn't give me any technical difficulties but I certainly hadn't heard that abbreviated form of sleeper sofa before.

Crossword staple SOD gets a clever clue here (21A: Soccer coverage?) and we get a better-than-average "first letter spelled out" clue for VEE with (8D: Village leader?). GITMO gets a pretty neutral clue, huh (39D: U.S. Base in Cuba, for short). While, sure, it's literally a base in Cuba, it's also a place where people are tortured and detained and *that* is what it's known for. Don't be coy.

<record screech> Oh wow, POGS (6D: 1990's fad)! I was the right age for POGS but the wrong kind of kid (the only time I was bullied to my face by my peers was when I asserted that Vivaldi is more talented than New Kids on the Block-- BAD MOVE, LENA). I definitely side-eyed POGS just like NKOTB-- they're just ugly pieces of cardboard. I was about to specify that I was referring to the POGS but:

The puzzle gets a B from me because it's the first day of college for many and you gotta set the bar high-- at least for the first few weeks. Gotta write a few SEE MEs. I really don't like the single rebus square move, the ST BERNARD trivia adds no fun, and while I do like the visual of seeing a road lead straight to hell the rest just isn't tight enough or challenging enough.

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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Activity for Hobbes / WED 8-24-16 / 1/100 of a Norwegian krone / VCR insert / Bronx nine on scoreboards / PBS documentary series since 1988

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: FANTASY SPORTS (36A: Field of DraftKings and FanDuel ... or 18-, 23-, 52- and 58-Across?) — themers are fictional sports (all from within the genre of "fantasy," broadly defined)

Theme answers:
  • CALVINBALL (18A: Activity for Hobbes)
  • PODRACING (23A: Activity for Anakin Skywalker)
  • QUIDDITCH (52A: Activity for Harry Potter)
  • POOHSTICKS (58A: Activity for Tigger and Eeyore) 

Word of the Day: ØRE (59D: 1/100 of Norwegian krone)
The krone (Danish pronunciation: [ˈkʁoːnə]; plural: kroner; sign: kr.; code: DKK) is the official currency of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, introduced on 1 January 1875. Both the ISO code "DKK" and currency sign "kr." are in common use; the former precedes the value, the latter in some contexts follows it. The currency is sometimes referred to as the Danish crown in English, since krone literally means crown. Historically, krone coins have been minted in Denmark since the 17th century.
One krone is subdivided into 100 øre (Danish pronunciation: [ˈøːɐ]; singular and plural), the name øre possibly deriving from Latin aureus meaning "gold coin". Altogether there are eleven denominations of the krone, with the smallest being the 50 øre coin, which is valued at one half of a krone. Formerly there were more øre coins, but those were discontinued due to inflation // The krone is pegged to the euro via the ERM II, the European Union's exchange rate mechanism. Adoption of the euro is favoured by the major political parties, however a 2000 referendum on joining the Eurozone was defeated with 53.2% voting to maintain the krone and 46.8% voting to join the Eurozone. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a wonderful theme concept, neatly executed. I especially love the alchemy by which it takes something for which I have mostly contempt (FANTASY SPORTS) and turns it into a perfect revealer, turning the phrase away from the corporate synergy of ESPN sportbro culture and toward the world of human creative genius. OK, so "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was not, itself, genius, but I think the "Star Wars" universe on the whole is a remarkable feat of imagination, and the same can easily be said for all the other works from which the theme answers come. Who doesn't love remembering "Calvin & Hobbes" or the work of A.A. Milne? Hell, I couldn't come up with either CALVINBALL or POOHSTICKS (without a lot of crosses), and I still loved discovering them. The fill is pretty good today, too. I have no idea what caused the constructor / editor to go with the perverse krone-related clue for ORE (crossword arcana at its finest), and even after googling I have no idea what "TV TAPE" is (1D: VCR insert) ... but those (and maybe ILO & UNCAS) are the only real rough spots in an otherwise smooth grid. One of my Twitter followers just now questioned the fairness of the UNCAS / ROSEN cross (53D: The last of the Mohicans, in Cooper's novel / 67A: Al who was A.L. M.V.P. in 1953). I sympathize, as I utterly forgot UNCAS (a non-great answer for sure), but even if you don't know ROSEN either, the "S" feels like the only realistic guess. But this is a good time to remind constructors: *Watch* your proper noun crosses.

  • 3D: The albums "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," for two (SOUNDTRACKS) — that's a term I associate with movies, not stage productions, *but* ... since both musicals were turned into movies that did in fact have SOUNDTRACKS, I'll allow it.
  • 15A: Main ingredient in soubise soup (ONION) — "Thinly slice two Spanish onions, and cook ten minutes in one-fourth cup butter, stirring constantly. Add one quart White Stock III, cook slowly thirty minutes, and strain. Dilute three tablespoons flour with enough cold water to pour easily, add to soup, and bring to boiling-point. Then add one cup cream, and one tablespoon chopped green peppers, or one-fourth cup grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper." (The Boston cooking-school cook book, Fannie Farmer, 1918)
  • 64A: Texas landmark that shares its name with a tree (ALAMO) — a tree? That's news to me. After a lot of googling, I *assume* the clue is referring to the Rio Grande Cottonwood, which has "Alamo" as one of its familiar names, though it's very confusing, as the *Fremont* cottonwood is also known as the "Alamo cottonwood" ... Tree experts: have at it. (Well now I see ALAMO's just a *generic* name for "A poplar tree, especially a cottonwood." How disappointing)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Starchy substance found in some plant roots / TUE 8-23-16 / Soda brand introduced in 1924 / Bond player after Brosnan / Duchess of Goya subject / Many flower children these days / Aaron Burr Hamilton song with rhyming title

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium, leaning easy

THEME: SWIRL (60A: Ice cream feature represented four times in this puzzle) — four flavors of ice cream are "swirled" inside nine-letter blocks in the grid; from L to R, top to bottom: CHOCOLATE, RUM RAISIN, BUBBLE GUM, PISTACHIO

Word of the Day: INULIN (32A: Starchy substance found in some plant roots) —
Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants, industrially most often extracted from chicory. The inulins belong to a class of dietary fibers known as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and is typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants that synthesize and store inulin do not store other forms of carbohydrate such as starch. Using inulin to measure renal function is the "gold standard" for comparison with other means of estimating creatinine clearance. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle was Easy + INULIN. That is some outlying outlierness, that is. Otherwise, things stayed on the easy side of Tuesday, which is impressive considering how big those NW / SE corners are. When I see that much white space in a themed puzzle, I expect a tougher-than-average experience. Not so today. I don't particularly like or even fully get the theme. CHOCOLATE swirl is a thing, but the other swirls are not, as far as a I know, so ... I guess it's just nine-letter ice cream flavors that are spinning. With no theme answers (besides SWIRL), this one just felt conceptually wobbly. As an exercise in easy themlessness, though, it was pretty enjoyable, with fill roughly 100x better than yesterday's. Leaving INULIN aside, there are only a smattering of ugly answers—well below my tolerance level. I really wish LOW-ENERGY had gotten the timely political clue it deserves, even if it would've meant mentioning a certain [choose one: a. DUMBO; b. SLUG; c. BEELZEBUB; d. HOSE] by name.

  • 39A: Gift in a relationship that's getting serious, maybe (KEY) — I have no idea what this means. What year is this from? Did you give him / her your house key? As a "gift"? I don't understand people.
  • 10A: Verbally attach (BASH) — had LASH
  • 58D: Seven Dwarfs' workplace (MINE) — recently watched "Snow White" as part of our ongoing "Watch All The Allegedly Great Movies" campaign. Have any of you seen it recently? It is so fantastically insipid, so intolerably boring, that we just shut it off half-way through. I'm sure the animation was a stunning achievement for its time, but as *movie*? Man, it does Not hold up. Her voice alone made me want to shut the whole thing down immediately. As I said elsewhere, it was like listening to Betty Boop's terribly boring cousin. Don't even get me started on the stupid MINE, where fully cut and polished gems just ... lie about. Intolerable. "Overrated" doesn't even begin to describe this movie.
  • 45D: Drug kingpin on "The Wire" (MARLO) — still haven't gotten around to this show. If it's a "Wire" clue and the answer isn't OMAR, I'm out. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Samsung competitor / MON 8-22-16 / Witches director Nicolas / Like stage after larval / Future atty's hurdle

Monday, August 22, 2016

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Monday normal (so, Medium) (2:57)

THEME: TASTE MAKERS (61A: Influential sorts ... or a hint to the starts of 178-, 23-, 39- and 50-Across) — first words of each themer = a taste

Theme answers:
  • BITTER ENEMY (17A: Archfoe)
  • SALTY LANGUAGE (23A: Profanity)
  • SWEETHEART DEALS (39A: Golden parachutes, e.g.) ("Sweet" = word part, not word, but that's permissible)
  • SOUR PATCH KIDS (50A: Popular movie theater candy)

Word of the Day: ANDREI Sakharov (42A: Peace Nobelist Sakharov) —
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (Russian: Андре́й Дми́триевич Са́харов; 21 May 1921 – 14 December 1989) was a Russian nuclear physicist, Soviet dissident, an activist for disarmament, peace and human rights.   // He became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union's Third Idea, a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov later became an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the Soviet Union, for which he faced state persecution; these efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Sakharov Prize, which is awarded annually by the European Parliament for people and organizations dedicated to human rights and freedoms, is named in his honour. (wikipedia)
• • •

Where is UMAMI!? Such a crosswordy word, you'd think you could've snuck it in the grid somewhere.

First-Words theme = right over the plate. Perhaps the most common type of crossword theme. This is neither good nor bad, inherently. But it does mean massive sparkle is required to lift such a puzzle out of the realm of generic. Theme answer today are all winners. Vivid, interesting, lively. All the good adjectives. Fill is something of a disaster, however. Northwest corner—in fact, 1-Across itself—set the tone. Fill never got better after that. Honestly, it never does. It is phenomenally rare that cruddy fill at your starting point (for me, almost always, the NW) proves to be an aberration. The puzzle is what it tells you it is. If you're getting a four-letter partial (?) at 1-A, followed hard by ALBA, AFORE, EELY, and YOO, things are not going to get better. You *will* eventually run into a similar small corner crammed with PUPAL, ARLO, LSAT and ELLA. You're probably see both ELI and ELIA along the way, maybe say 'hey' to Nicolas ROEG. You know, the yooge (that's my shortening of "usual"). Expecting your puzzle to change mid-solve is like expecting your *&%^ boyfriend to change. Not happening.

I tripped hard and repeatedly over 1A: ___ above (better than) (ACUT). 1-Acrosses are important. They don't have to be Gold, but they should not suh-uck. Partials and obscurities and ridiculous abbrevs. or Random Roman Numerals (RRNs) are Right Out. ACUT may as well be IRREG. I enjoyed some of the fill today, especially POP OFF (4A: Run one's mouth), and some of the longer Downs (UP TO SPEED, for instance). I did a dumb thing when, with ALL-ET in the grid, I didn't even look at the clue and wrote in ... an "S" (35A: Completely wrong => ALL WET). Sigh. Terrible, stupid move. But even with the NW corner debacle and the ALLSET misstep, my time came out normal. I don't quite get the "MAKERS" part of the revealer. Don't think it works. Does you tongue make the taste? Or do the tastes "make" themselves known ... in your mouth? Might've gone with BITTER FOES / FIRST TASTE for the symmetrical themer layout there. "First" makes more sense than "Makers" ... unless there's some obvious angle I'm missing, which is always possible.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Subatomic particle named for weak force / SUN 8-21-16 / Enigmatic one in Hobbit / Regimen adopted by Bill Clinton in 2010 / Ring around classical column / Jumps higher than in sports slang / Harry's Hogwarts enemy / France's so-called capital of ruins

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Constructor: Kathy Matheson and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging ?? Or just Medium, maybe

THEME: "Wonder-Ful!" — tribute to the NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE (80A: Federal agency established on August 25, 1916) on its (roughly) 100th anniversary. Features of national parks are spelled out in circled letters that form the shapes of those features. Then there's some other relevant answers like YELLOWSTONE (32A: Home to more than half the world's active geysers) and YOSEMITE (69A: Subject of many Ansel Adams photos).

Theme features:
  • OLD FAITHFUL (spouting upward) (10D: Erupter at 32-Across) 

Word of the Day: Henry W. SLOCUM (14D: Henry W. ___, Union major general during the Civil War) —
Henry Warner Slocum (September 24, 1827 – April 14, 1894), was a Union general during the American Civil War and later served in the United States House of Representatives from New York. During the war, he was one of the youngest major generals in the Army and fought numerous major battles in the Eastern Theater and in Georgia and the Carolinas. While commanding a regiment, a brigade, a division, and a corps in the Army of the Potomac, he saw action at Bull Run, the Peninsula, South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Harpers’ Ferry. At Gettysburg, he was the senior Union General in the Field. During the battle, he held the Union right from Culp’s Hill to across the Baltimore Pike. His successful defense of Culp’s Hill was crucial to the Union victory at Gettysburg. After the fall of Vicksburg, Slocum was appointed military commander of the district. Slocum participated in the Atlanta campaign and was the first commander to enter the city on September 2, 1864. He then served as occupation commander of Atlanta. Slocum was appointed the commander of the left wing of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, commanding the XIV and XX Divisions, comprising the Army of Georgia. During this campaign, he captured the capitol of Georgia, Milledgeville, and the seaport of Savannah. In the Carolinas campaign, Slocum’s army saw victories in the battles of Averasborough and Bentonville, North Carolina. The March to the Sea and the Carolinas campaign were crucial to the overall Union victory in the Civil War. After the surrender of Confederate forces, Slocum was given command of the Department of Mississippi. Slocum declined an appointment in the postwar Army. He was a successful political leader, businessman and railroad developer. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pffffffff ... OK, so ... here's the thing. It's a nice idea. 100th anniversary, sure, tribute puzzle, why not? And I think you've got something there with the names of the parks forming the geographical / topographical features whence they got their names (even though I've definitely seen this done before with hills, mountains, etc.). But there are two main problems. The first is the awkwardness of having to include YOSEMITE and YELLOWSTONE separately. I thought all the geographical features were going to be intersecting their park names in some way ... until I realized DENALI *was* the name of the park. Ditto ARCHES and GRAND CANYON. So there are these two parks just shoved in there and clued pretty straight (albeit with oblique reference to the geographical features in the grid). Something just felt wonky about this whole set-up. But by far the bigger problem here was sheer boringness. There are really only a handful of theme answers, and they're all dreadfully straightforward, and once you see what's going on with the theme, the whole puzzle is just a dull exercise in fill-in-the-parks. The one great moment was spouting OLDFAITHFUL (LUFHTIAFDLO!) shooting right through YELLOWSTONE. Otherwise, none of the wordplay or cleverness that makes crosswords fun.

Between sick pet last week and sick daughter this week, end-of-summer things haven't been so great chez Parker. Don't have the time or energy to go into this puzzle too much. I did appreciate that it was sufficiently hard, for once, although the toughest two sections were a little ... nuts. My tough sections were the NE and dead south. I have never ever heard SKIES as a transitive verb. "I skied you"? I'm sure it's part of the lingo, but I'm not unfamiliar with basketball terminology, so this answer threw me. Also, [Enigmatic one in "The Hobbit"] was bizarre to me. I took "one" as a person, but it's just ... RUNE. One RUNE. I also had TAO for [Life force in Chinese philosophy] and had No Idea who SLOCUM (?) was (14D: Henry W. ___, Union major general during the Civil War), so I actually *needed* the help of the theme / ARCHES to sort all that out. Same thing with GRAND CANYON down below. MIND CANDY? I think I know it as BRAIN CANDY, if I know it at all. SANDP (ampersandwich!) got me (100D: Wall St. "500"). Totally forgot Dick ARMEY existed. Lots of things conspiring to make that section hard for me ... until I realized I could just call in the aid of the theme. GRAND CANYON to the rescue. The rest of this puzzle ... I don't remember at all, and I just solved it. Hope you enjoyed it more than I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the title is no good. Supposed to be a pun, but it's not nearly Parks-specific enough. Oh, and W. BOSON!? (102A: Subatomic particle named for the weak force)  Oof. Just because you have a giant word list doesn't mean you should let it push you around. May the weak force be with ... someone else.

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Land 1954 Kirk Douglas sci-fi role / SAT 8-20-16 / Colorful ornamental with trunk / Dark brown quartz sometimes sold as gemstone / 52rd state quarter locale

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Capriole (53A: Capriole => LEAP)
1. An upward leap made by a trained horse without going forward and with a backward kick of the hind legs at the height of the leap.
2. A playful leap or jump; a caper. (
• • •

This is all very competent and also dull. AZALEA TREE METAL STAMP ADJECTIVE NOUN. There are several longish answers that feel very improvised and iffy: SAY YES TO, ONE IN FORTY, IN THIS WAY. There's virtually nothing current here—not the proper nouns, not the slang. Not many GROANERs, I'll grant you that, but mostly this feels like a very professionally made placeholder of a puzzle, one that could just as easily have been published 10, 15, 20 years ago. The cluing is appropriately tricky—puzzle was on the easy side, but not by much. But ... I just can't get excited over SMOKY TOPAZ. Again, adj / noun, stone I've never heard of, shrug. ART BOARD! (20A: Backing for a cartoonist) It's a thing, but .. not an exciting one. Maybe my failure to be terribly entertained is AGE-RELATED. Maybe if I'd lived in the era of RUMBLE SEATs, with ANSON Williams and Ron Howard and the gang at Arnold's, I might feel differently. (Note: I probably meant Potsie and Richie, not ANSON Williams and Ron Howard) (Note further: RUMBLE SEATs were already dated by Potsie and Richie's time)

24A: ___-on-Thames (regatta site)

Some of the clues are pretty clever (1A: Like a Navy seal => WATER TIGHT), and some seem to be trying a little too hard (30A: Girl's name in which the last three letters are equivalent to the first? => IONE). Some were way too easy (25D: Four-for-four Super Bowl-winning QB) (43D: Edmond ___, the Count of Monte Cristo), but mostly things were just ... OK. Here's how you blow a Saturday corner wide open without even trying: get a high-value letter at the beginning of a long answer (today, "J" from JOTS), and then use that letter to plunk that long answer right down into the middle of the formerly empty quadrant (JOE MONTANA).

From there I got RAHS (wrong, it was YAYS), TMI, STONE AGE, INFANT. Usually it just takes one long answer in a quadrant falling for that area to turn from tough to easy. As you can see from that last screen shot, I had ISSUED for 39A: Came (from), which was easily the thorniest thing in the whole grid. With --SUED in place, ENSUED didn't even occur to me. Those initial two letters were the last things I filled in / changed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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