Golf handicap of zero / FRI 9-30-16 / Like some garages / Forrest Gump college football / Funky Cold Medina rapper / Test pattern? / Chalk Garden playwright / Vigoda Godfather / Shire Godfather / River of forgetfulness / Figures in ribald Greek plays / Stochastic / Collaborative computer coding event / Everyone's private driver sloganeer

Friday, September 30, 2016

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Relatively easy for a Friday


Word of the Day: LEBRON JAMES (35A: N.B.A. M.V.P. who has hosted "Saturday Night Live") —
LeBron Raymone James (/ləˈbrɒn/; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). James has won three NBA championships (2012, 2013, 2016), four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), three NBA Finals MVP Awards (2012, 2013, 2016), two Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012), an NBA scoring title (2008), and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award (2004). He has also been selected to 12 NBA All-Star teams (named the game's MVP twice), 12 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams, and is the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer. (Wikipedia)
• • •
HERE GOES Laura, your STAND IN for Rex, about to TAP INTO today's ESOTERY.

ANTEATER (12D: Creature that Dalí walked on a leash in public)
This was a pretty snappy themeless that felt like it was made for my first FORAY into crossword blogging. Grid name-checked pop culture phenomena from every decade of my life. Some may know ABE (4D: Vigoda of "The Godfather") as Salvatore Tessio but, CMON, as a kid in the 1970s, I remember him from Barney Miller and its spinoff, Fish. Speaking of 22A: 1970s TV spinoffs, I originally had MAUDE, which was was spun off from All in the Family, instead of RHODA, which was spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moving on to my teen years, we have TONE LOC (16A: "Funky Cold Medina" rapper), a recent name-that-tune answer for my pub trivia team, and Randy Newman's I LOVE LA (50A: 1983 hit song that mentions Santa Monica Boulevard). Then a writer I first read in my late 20s: 56A: Playwright Eve ENSLER (author of The Vagina Monologues). Something I wore constantly while lugging kids around in my 30s was a BABY BJORN (20D: Swedish-based maker of infant carriers). Many geeky librarians like me have attended a HACKATHON (7D: Collaborative computer coding event). Then, of course, there's 23D: Seedy place to drink (DIVE BAR), where I TRY to go as often as possible. The only NATICK for me was Enid BAGNOLD (35D: "The Chalk Garden" playwright, 1955) -- I knew her only as the author of National Velvet.

  • GHETTO BLASTER (33A: Source of break-dancing beats) — Look, we've had this discussion before. I won't rehash the points that Rex and others have made, but even Wikipedia calls it "a pejorative nickname which was soon used as part of a backlash against the boombox and hip hop culture." My heart sank a little when I realized it was the marquee answer (is that the term in crossword-ese? That's what I'm calling it). People still breakdance. Their source for beats now is likely IPHONE SPEAKERS.
  • LETHE (45A: River of forgetfulness) — This is one where having a graduate degree in nineteenth-century British literature helped. It's in the first line of Keats's "Ode on Melancholy": "Oh do not go to Lethe, neither twist Wolf's bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous vine."
  • VICHYSSOISE (29A: Creamy chilled soup) — Here's my favorite recipe.
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Abu Bakr others / THU 9-29-16 / Staples of Indiana Jones films / Designer Mode of Incredibles / Numero of Disney Caballeros / Onetime Venetian leaders / Sullivan who taught Helen Keller / Uber calculation briefly / Noted exile of 1979 / Spanish provincial capital / Like Aramaic language

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Constructor: Jonathan M. Kaye

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DIVIDED [BY] (61A: ÷ — word "BY" in theme answers reads as [DD] (for "B") in one Down and [VI] (for "Y") in the other because


See, it's like someone took the word "BY" and "DIVIDED" it in two, horizontally.

Theme answers:
  • BYPRODUCT (17A: Carbon dioxide or water vis-à-vis cellular respiration)
  • MADE BY HAND (29A: Artisinal, maybe)
  • BOOBY TRAPS (46A: Staples of Indiana Jones films) (I just remember the one, but if you say "staples," I'm gonna trust you...)
Word of the Day: GSA (44A: Fed. property overseer) —
The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks. (wikipedia)
• • •

Clever theme (I've seen the bifurcated letter gimmick before, but not like this, I don't think). Fill was ecru-boring—exceedingly unremarkable and stale—but not, it is worth noting, Bad. Not ugh-laden. Just boring. Not a clever, interesting, remarkable, noteworthy answer In The Bunch. That in itself might be a feat. A terrible feat, but a feat. But (as is not atypical) the theme carries all the interest, and it is interesting. There's only one issue with this puzzle—grasping the gimmick. After that, ho hum. In fact, the puzzle gets considerably easier after that. So the issue is, how / when did you grasp it. I got the "DD" / "VI" thing pretty early, after I could tell in the NW that IN VITRO was gonna have to be the answer at 2D: Kind of fertilization. Thought at first there'd be a state rebus ("NV"), but no, it was the "VI." After a "DD" pulled up right alongside it, my first thought (not surprisingly) was "Oh, a Roman numeral ... something. So, what is that ... hmm ... carry the 2 ... 1006 PRODUCT? What the!?" Sometime a little bit later, as I was working on another part of the grid, the fact the answer had to be BYPRODUCT occurred to me, and there was my aha moment. After that—fill in the blanks.

NE might've been the hardest section to get into, largely because I didn't know who Abu Bakr was (10D: Abu Bakr and others => CALIPHS), but SHAH was a gimme (9D: Noted exile of 1979) and OVERLAID wasn't too hard (I had -LAID in place) (11D: Like veneer), so that corner wasn't actually hard at all. None of it was. I'd've rated this Easy, but the time spent figuring out the gimmick, plus the slightly time-inflating trick-square-hunting put this one overall in average difficulty territory. I wish the fill had any life to it, so that I felt like commenting on it, but it doesn't, and I don't, so I'm off to watch Sam Bee. Good night. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bird with forcepslike bill / WED 9-28-16 / Vashem Israel's Holocaust memorial / Bunt villainess in On Her Majesty's Secret Service / Specialty skillet / Murder crows turkeys

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Constructor: Morton J. Mendelson

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: Across/Down answers that share a first letter also share a clue

Theme answers:
  • ZEST / ZILCH [Zip]
  • STERN / SPONSOR [Back]
  • BEAK / BANK NOTE [Bill]
  • GRIN / GIRDER [Beam]
  • STY / SELL [Dump]
  • SEVER / SHARE [Cut]
  • AFRESH / AT AN END [Over]
  • SCREEN / SKIN [Hide]
  • TAKE FIVE / TAME [Break]
Word of the Day: PORTO (15A: City north of Lisboa) —
Porto (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈpoɾtu]; also known as Oporto in English) is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and one of the major urban areas of the Iberian Peninsula. The urban area of Porto, which extends beyond the administrative limits of the city, has a population of 1.4 million (2011) in an area of 389 km2 (150 sq mi), making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. Porto Metropolitan Area, on the other hand, includes an estimated 1.8 million people. It is recognized as a gamma-level global city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group, the only Portuguese city besides Lisbon to be recognised as a global city. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this was bad. Worse than yesterday. This is as bad a two-day stretch as I can remember. Not just bad. Old. Like, really stale, written 20+ years ago old. Yesterday, a word ladder with not a lot of sense and a grid with awful fill. Today, a theme ... that has even less internal logic, and a grid with fill that's nearly as YAD. Sorry, bad. Bad. This is a cry for help. The best constructors in America simply aren't giving their best work to the NYT any more. In some cases, those constructors aren't giving Any of their work. Think of constructors you used to love whose names you rarely if ever see any more. Good chance they have, for various reasons (at least some of which has to do w/ slow production schedule and insultingly low pay) moved on. So we're getting hack work. Not always. But way too often. So what if every time an Across and Down share a first letter, they get the same clue? Who cares? Nine times this happens. What is the pattern? Do the clues spell out a message? Why Am I Suffering Through This Stupid Exercise?

Because there are so many one-word clues doing double-duty, the puzzle plays way harder than normal. Just seeing BANK NOTE (a phrase I never use) took a Lot of crosses. So Many of the clues are lame one-worders—all the themers, but also a substantial number of others. This added to the overall tedious and dull feel of the puzzle. PORTO APSE KETT EPEE ISLET ENE etc. Yet another grid that makes me want to just list the junk. Not even any good longer answers today. None. NAMER? Come on. Do people really call groups of turkeys RAFTERs? Ever. Wife, answering my bewilderment from next room: "Those [animal collective names] were all made up by some lady in the 19th century." I'm not going to bother fact-checking that, 'cause it *feels* true and I'm American and that's enough "evidence" for us. ADES?! Are sources of vitamin C. Literally no one has ever thought or claimed that in the history of humankind. I barely know what an ADE is. Juice you add sugar to? In which case, uh, it's the juice that provides the C. No one uses ADE as anything but a suffix anyway. Crosswords are the only place where people pretend this isn't true. Dear NYT, please double the pay rate for constructors so some of the talent comes back. Pretty please. The crossword is your one true cash cow. You can afford it. Thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Start of recuperative word ladder / TUE 9-27-16 / Taiwan-based computer maker / Orbital high points / Service symbolized by blue white eagle / brand of bubbly familiarly / Andrea ill-fated ship / Morsel for aardvark

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Constructor: Robert Cirillo

Relative difficulty: Challenging (For. A. Tuesday.)

THEME: SICK to WELL word ladder — clue on SICK = 1A: Start of a "recuperative" word ladder ending at 73-Across; Word ladder = SICK SILK SILT WILT WELT WELL

Theme answers:
  • AN APPLE A DAY (30A: How to avoid becoming 1-Across, so they say)
  • CHICKEN SOUP (49A: Aid for getting 73-Across, so they say)
Word of the Day: DAKAR (53A: Capital of Senegal) —
Dakar (English pronunciation: /dɑːˈkɑːr, ˈdækər/;[5][6] French: [da.kaʁ]) is the capital and largest city of Senegal. // It is located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula on the Atlantic coast and is the westernmost city in the Old World and on the African mainland. Its position, on the western edge of Africa, is an advantageous departure point for trans-Atlantic and European trade; this fact aided its growth into a major regional port. // According to 31 December 2005 official estimates, the city of Dakar proper has a population of 1,030,594, whereas the population of the Dakar metropolitan area is estimated at 2.45 million people. // Dakar is a major administrative center, home to the Senegal National Assembly and the Presidential Palace. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello darkness I mean Tuesday, my old friend. You've come to be terrible again. Was really hoping for a pleasant diversion (I am current solving / writing in the middle of a self-imposed news blackout 'cause I just can't deal with the debate stuff right now), but this was painful. First, word ladder? What year is it? Always a terrible, boring, old, played-out idea—unless you do something truly remarkable with it, I suppose. That's the thing about Great puzzles: they can sometimes take an old idea and make it new. This ... is not one of those puzzles. Unremarkable word ladder that simply takes up space—and with unclued words (this largely accounts for the "Challenging" rating). Also, AN APPLE A DAY does not fit the word ladder. At all. Sorry. No. Give me another "cure" or give me nothing. And the non-theme stuff, just dreary. Old and stale. KOP THOS ONS. BONA MORA ORA DORIA. LESE AER ECRU ELLA ERIE ELI ERLE. TSETSE TSO OREOS OLIO oh oh oh please dear god send help. The two longer Downs, fine. The rest, scrap.

I fell into one very dark hole, which is the *other* reason (besides the unclued words in the word ladder) that this played harder-than-average for me. With --LEAS- in place, I wrote in RELEASE at 22D: Let loose (UNLEASH). What are the odds you're going to have four letters in place, come up with an answer that fits perfectly, and botch it. Low, I'd say. But today, I botched it. Not an easy pit to climb out of. OUT TO WIN was vicious to parse (21A: Seeking victory). [Socially unacceptable] and NON-PC are not the same. In fact, I don't think NON-PC is a thing. Most "socially unacceptable" things have Zero to do with whatever PC is (and usually "PC" is just what bigots call it when their bigotry gets pointed out). Farting in an elevator—socially unacceptable, nothing to do with "PC." On the flip side, in plenty of social contexts, being so-called "NON-PC" is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged. I hate UNPC and NONPC as answers, generally. Would never ever use them. Bad fill in every way. Delete them from your word lists, please.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


P.P.S. my wife is SICK and I wish she were WELL, not least because today is our anniversary.

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Iron Man's love interest / MON 9-26-16 / Protein rich vegan staple / Old-fashioned address organizer / Chips popcorn in commercialese / Classic comedy set at fictional Faber College

Monday, September 26, 2016

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

THEME: STUFF IT (38A: "Shut up already!" ... or what you can do to the start of the answer to each starred clue) — things you stuff:

Theme answers:
  • PEPPER POTTS (17A: *Iron Man's love interest)
  • PILLOW TALK (26A: *Intimate chitchat)
  • TURKEY TROT (52A: *Annual Thanksgiving Day run)
  • STOCKING CAP (60A: *Knit headwear that may have a tufted ball at its end)
  • ANIMAL HOUSE (11D: *Classic comedy set at the fictional Faber College)
  • OLIVE BRANCH (25D: *Offer of reconciliation)
Word of the Day: PEPPER POTTS
Virginia "Pepper" Potts is a fictional supporting character and romantic love interest appearing in books published by Marvel Comics, in particular those featuring Iron Man. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Don Heck, she first appeared in Tales of Suspense #45 (September 1963). // In 2007, she joined the Fifty State Initiative under the codename Hera. In 2009, after being given her own suit of armor by Tony Stark, she assumes the identity of Rescue, which lasted until the 2012 storyline "The Future". // The character is portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in the films Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Iron Man 3. (wikipedia)
• • •

Today has been surreal (I'm writing this on Sunday). It's my blog's 10-year anniversary, so, you know, there's that. Then I wake to find out that one of the most vibrant young players in the Majors, Miami's Jose Fernandez, died in boating accident. Big, exuberant, off-the-charts talented, headed for a Hall-of-Fame career. Refugee, immigrant, Cuban-American hero. Dead. So I cried and walked in the woods and saw a massive hawk just sitting on the power line over my car, which somehow helped. Then I decided to sit and watch an entire baseball game (which I haven't done but once or twice all season). It was the Phillies / Mets, and the last home game of the season for the Mets, who are in a tight race with the Cardinals and Giants for one of the two wildcard playoff spots, and thus need every win they can get. And they win. Boy do they win. They win so bad, the commentators start making football score jokes. "And with that field goal by Reyes, the Mets go up 15-0," etc. Ends up a 17-0 shutout—the most lopsided shutout in franchise history. Elsewhere in the majors, the Astros' Yuri Gurriel becomes the first player in over 40 years to hit into four double-plays in a single game (last was Joe Torre in '75). Then the Red Sox pitchers combined to strike out 23 (!!!) Rays in 10 innings, including, at one point, an MLB record 11 straight. And then lastly, but not leastly, the baseball yin to the morning's baseball yang—Vin Scully calls his final game from Dodger Stadium, after sixty-&%*^ing-seven years of calling games. And the Dodgers win in an extra-innings walk-off. Unreal. What does this have to do with crosswords? I don't know. Nothing, I guess, except for MY LOVE for what I do and my deep respect for people who love what they do and do it brilliantly, enthusiastically, passionately.

This was a nice way to start my second puzzle-blogging decade. A fine revealer, a grid crammed with solid themers and totally reasonable fill. Not sure how I feel about SNAX (the spelling, I mean ... I love snacks)—not sure that "X" was worth it, especially considering you've already got one in the grid—but overall, not too much gunk. I am almost (but not quite) embarrassed to say that despite the fact that I teach a course on Comics, I had *no idea* about PEPPER POTTS. Marvel ... not really my thing. Well, I like the new Ms. Marvel OK, and Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel was good too. Hawkeye is usually decent. Oh, and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther is definitely worth checking out. But most of the mainstream Marvel universe, which includes its movies, hasn't held any interest for me. So PEPPER POTTS slowed me down pretty bad. So did my CRUDE-for-CRASS mistake (23D: Lacking refinement). Had me all flummoxed, wondering if 32A: Unsettle feeling was ANGST (it's AGITA). Yikes. Lots of sliding around in the WNW. And yet somehow I still broke 3 minutes, which is normal Monday time. (For perspective: Ten years ago, my goal was to break 5 on a Monday) So ... onward, I guess. And goodbye Vin Scully. And R.I.P Jose Fernandez.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. apparently Arnold Palmer just died. This day, I swear...

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Hoopster observing Ramadan / Ankle-exposing pants / Baked with breadcrumbs cheese / Narrow arm of sea / Dangerous backyard projectile / Pluto flyby org

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Constructor: Jim Holland and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Adding On" — you add "-ING" on to the ends of one of the words in a familiar phrase, yielding wackiness:

Theme answers:
  • FASTING FORWARD (29A: Hoopster observing Ramadan?)
  • LUCKY STREAKING (46A: Gangster Luciano performing a risqué prank?)
  • BUM STEERING (68A: Hobo at the wheel?)
  • STOCKING MARKET (88A: Where to buy certain Christmas decorations?)
  • LIGHT SWITCHING (105A: Mild form of corporal punishment?)
  • SQUARE ROOTING (15D: Cheering done in a plaza?)
  • GOLDING DIGGER (57D: Big fan of the "Lord of the Flies" author?)
Word of the Day: CYGNET (55A: Young swan) —
noun: cygnet; plural noun: cygnets
  1. a young swan. (google)
• • •

Oh well. I was hoping for a much nicer puzzle on this, my blog's 10-year anniversary. But you get what you get, and I get an add-ING puzzle, somehow. Perhaps because I was terrible to animals in a past life, I don't know. And I thought add-a-*letter* puzzles were stale. This add-ING thing, yeesh. I mean, it yields an interesting answer or two (see FASTING FORWARD and the amusingly kinky LIGHT SWITCHING), but the rest is tepid cornball.  SQUARE ROOTING is just [Cheering done in a plaza?]? That is boring af. At least make the SQUARE a nerd or something. Something! With ultra-basic, throwback-basic themes like this, you gotta bring the wacky. Tepid wacky is unbearable wacky. [Hobo at the wheel?] for BUM STEERING? Try [Driving with your ass?]. See? 100% better. Possibly 200%. Even the title is half-hearted and bland. "Adding ... On." Which is really just add-ing. You add "ing." Title may as well be "Adding." But it's "Adding On." Because that's a phrase. Of sorts. Why not something ridiculous, like, I don't know. "Tacking Liberties"? 'Cause you're taking liberties with the original answers as well as tacking "ing" onto words in those answers. Or make your theme answers wackier. CHARLIE BROWNING! HYDE PARKING! LOWING ON THE TOTEM POLE! Come on! Some. Thing. Something!

I emphasize passion and commitment because even (especially?) when I have not enjoyed a puzzle, I have tried, day in, day out, for 10 *&$^&ing years, to bring not just cogent analysis, but genuine, heartfelt, occasionally absurdly emotional engagement with the damned crossword (fittingly, Sia's "Cheap Thrills" is blaring as I type this). I'm currently watching my sportswriter friend Adesina Koiki live-tweet the BYU/WVU football game like his life depended on it—like it was the most important, most amazing thing happening on planet earth right now. He's ALLCAPS into it. And I know that I'm not ALLCAPS into the puzzle every day. But lord knows I try to bring something of my passion for puzzles, something of my personal, idiosyncratic insight, something of my gosh-darn soul to every write-up, in however small a way. I am so grateful for your readership and for the crossword community and for the many genuinely brilliant, warm, and funny people I've met and become friends with as a result of this blog. I know sometimes it seems like the puzzle is trying to suck my soul out of me through my, uh, let's say, eye sockets. But I still care about crosswords. I care about good crosswords. And more than that, I enjoy the company of people who share this care with me. Thank you a gazillion or a bajillion, your choice. 10 years!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. a little history for you. Here's the very first comment I ever got on my blog:

And the second:

Moral: Don't be a grandpamike. Or do. Maybe you'll inspire someone to adopt the same "*$&% you" spirit grandpamike inspired in me.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Indian-born maestro / SAT 9-24-16 / Electron's area around atom / Capital of French department of Loiret / smokeless explosive / like safeties vis a vis field goals / Italian food named after queen

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo

Relative difficulty: Medium (probably Easy if you knew Malala's last name)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Stanislaw LEM (44A: Science fiction author Stanislaw) —
Stanisław Herman Lem (Polish pronunciation: [staˈɲiswaf ˈlɛm]; 12 September 1921 – 27 March 2006) was a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy, and satire, and a trained physician. Lem's books have been translated into forty-one languages and have sold over forty-five million copies.  From the 1950s to 2000s, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological. He is best known as the author of the 1961 novel Solaris, which has been made into a feature film three times. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon wrote that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world. // Lem's works explore philosophical themes through speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations, and humanity's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books // Translations of his works are difficult due to passages with elaborate word formation, alien or robotic poetry, and puns. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hey all. First I want to thank Lena for filling in for me yesterday—cable was out, internet was out, my life reverted to some kind of weird 1970s state because all I could do was read and watch "The Bob Newhart Show" (which I happen to have on DVD). Wait, no, it wasn't quite 1970s, because home *phone* was out too, so my only lifeline was my cell. I did the crossword puzzle in the actual newsPaper. It would all have been just fine if not for the fact that I do this thing with the "internet" every single night. Soooo, Lena to the rescue. Fully intended to blog today's puzzle last night, right when it came out, but cocktail + "King Kong" (1933) put me right to sleep at some ridiculously early hour (actually "King Kong" was remarkably good, if unintentionally funny—but I was fighting sleep the whole time, and when it was over, Good Night). And so to puzzle. Morning solving is always slower solving, but even though I didn't get 1-Across off the bat (surest sign of an easy puzzle), I got the NW without too much trouble, sent ALL KIDDING ASIDE sliding down the western part of the grid, and felt pretty good about my chances:

ANAIS (6D: Writer Nin) and "PSYCHO" (7D: Classic film whose soundtrack is famously composed entirely of strings) were flat-out gimmes, so that helped get me going. But you can see where trouble lies ahead for me. With apologies to MALALA, every letter of her last name was a mystery to me. I'm quite sure I've seen and heard it multiple times, but since she's known almost exclusively as MALALA (see, for instance, the title of her book, "I Am MALALA"), that last name never sank in. And sure enough, the NE ended up taking me longer than all other parts put together. But there were problems much further south than YOUSAFZAI. For instance, my inability to spell MARGHERITA (I came at that answer from the back, with -RITA, and thought maybe it was the pizza but only wanted to spell MARGARITA thusly; as in "The Mistress and the ___" or "I'll have another ___"). So the simple 50A: Hold (DEEM) was in no way possible. Oh, and after guessing MEHTA correctly (46A: Indian-born Maestro), I took that "M" and made VROOM (29D: Engine sound => THRUM). Big problem.

Never heard of "Love is Strange" so ultra-common TOMEI had no shot. The worst problem in all this, though, was SCULPTOR (8D: One going around the block?). That clue is clever but hyper-oblique. I had ---LPT-- and could not see it as one word. Seriously considered that in the morgue sometimes they instead of a toe tag they used a SCALP TAG. Yikes. eventually I figured out the PIZZA problem, confirming the "Z" with ZIN (21A: Cab alternative), and that section started to come together (though SCULPTOR held out til the bitter end).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kitchen drawers? / FRI 9-23-16 / Give a raise? / Film setting / Openings in the computer field?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Easy

Yup that's supposed to be a D but I'm not re-filling in this grid and taking another screen shot


Word of the Day: BOETHIUS (11D: "The Consulation of Philosophy" author) —

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius,[1][2] commonly called Boethius[3] (English: /bˈθiəs/; also Boetius /bˈʃəs/; c. 480–524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born four years after Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself King of Italy, and entered public service under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great, who later imprisoned and executed him in 524 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow him.[4] While jailed, Boethius composed his Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, and other issues, which became one of the most popular and influential works of the Middle Ages. (Wikipedia)
• • •

It seems Rex found himself staring into the inky void of a technological blackout last night (no, he didn't pass out and spill whiskey on his computer, into his USBPORT-- it's a cable outage), so it's Lena here to wish you a happy Friday.

And so it is. This was a fun solve for me, and a quick one too.  I scooted through the North and thought "hey hey slow down, puzzle, quit being so easy and intuitive." Remember my last sub-in post? So fun. But yeah that was also an Andrew Zhou puzzle! Maybe there are cosmic Crossworld forces afoot.

SHOCK JOCK (1A: One making waves over the waves) went in first, although I entertained SURF-something for a few seconds. SURFCELEB? "Shock jocks" were mentioned in a clue in Chris King's latest puzzle, so it was fresh in my brain on some level. WOMANIZING towering over INANIMATE OBJECT is pretty great, and the clue on the latter is both straightforward and clever: (17A: It has no life).

Lots and lots of good fill, which always makes a soupçon of classic crosswordese more obvious-- ERNE ZEES UTE IBAR. Now that that's out of the way, let's pack up the car and take a trip to Natick.

BOETHIUS (11D: "The Consolation of Philosophy" author) crossing ROCHE (23A: Company that makes Tamiflu) must have tripped some folks up. Speed-sovling darling Austin Burns wasn't sure of that H in their crossing but ultimately guessed correctly:

I knew ROCHE but that's because I ordered thousands of dollars worth of antibodies from them in grad school. My problem was entirely BOETHIUS. I ordered antibodies from ROCHE and in my spare time didn't read philosophy. I know the heavy-hitters well enough, but BOETHIUS seems awfully underground, awfully "indie," as Philosophers go. And if you're clueless like me, there's no real indication that "The Consulation of Philosophy might be the work of ANCIENTS like (12A: Aeschylus, Sophoclese and Aristophanes) so that you don't start getting nervous when a funky ancient name starts to appear. 

But the rest of the long fill really is very good: YOUVE BEEN SERVED, SCREENTIME, USB PORTS, AUTOTUNE

Oh, and FOAMCORE may be (34D: Material for mounting photos), but it is also now my new favorite rock genre.  

And speaking of music, enjoy some Joe Jackson-- this one goes out to Rex!

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Batman villain known as queen of cossacks / THU 9-22-16 / Palazzo architectural gem of Renaissance / Summit on Crete where Zeus was born

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: puns involving foreign numbers

Theme answers:
  • SEPT PIECES (17A: A number of stage items in a French play?)
  • DREI MARTINIS (23A: A number of cocktails in Berlin?)
  • SECHS THERAPISTS (37A: A number of Freudians in Freiburg) 
  • TRES ELEMENTS (46A: A number of chemical rarities in Madrid?)
  • HUIT FIELDS (57A: A number of grain-producing sites in Normandy?)
Word of the Day: Palazzo FARNESE (31A: Palazzo ___, architectural gem of the Renaissance) —
Palazzo Farnese (Italian pronunciation: [paˈladdso farˈneːze; -eːse]) is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian Republic, it was given to the French government in 1936 for a period of 99 years, and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy. // First designed in 1517 for the Farnese family, the building expanded in size and conception when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534, to designs by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Its building history involved some of the most prominent Italian architects of the 16th century, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta. // At the end of the 16th century, the important fresco cycle of The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese Gallery was carried out by the Bolognese painter Annibale Carracci, marking the beginning of two divergent trends in painting during the 17th century, the Roman High Baroque and Classicism. The famous Farnese sculpture collection, now in the National Archeological Museum of Naples, as well as other Farnese collections, now mostly in Capodimonte Museum in Naples, were accommodated in the palace. (wikipedia)
• • •

The basic idea here is promising, but the execution is a gangly mess. If you're gonna do a theme, Do It Right, not just Good Enough. The numbers and languages are without logic—2 German, 2 French, 1 Spanish, who knows why. The bigger problem, though, is the cluing, which is just ... dumb. Boring and dumb. The phrases are in no way what someone "in a French play" or "in Madrid" etc. would say. They are ridiculous hybrids. "A number" could not be a more boring, inexact, and unfunny way to set up these clues. Man, I miss Merl. He could've made something magical out of a concept like this, because he would've been patient, found the Right answers, nailed the comical cluing, had a logical answer progression. I miss artistry. Further, I don't think the constructor or editor knows what sex therapists are. That clue is ridiculously inexact. There is literally no mention of "Freud" on the wikipedia "sex therapy" page. For a reason. There seems to have been some confusion of Freud's concern with sex and the more pragmatic, functional work that sex therapists do. Calling sex therapy "Freudian" is cheap and lazy. Also, again, inexact and unfunny. YOU HAVE A SEX PUN, FFS! DO SOMETHING WITH IT!

FARNESE is terrible fill. Foreign, partial, not exactly super-famous. Ugh. Sore Thumb City. And clue on ODES is just ridiculous. What the hell are ODES of Solomon? You know what else fits there and googles a bajillion times better? Yeah, you do. I know you do. "Oooh, what a clever trap," somebody thought. No, I have have heard of the damn trap for it to register as "clever" when I fall into it. ODES of Solomon, my eye. Rest of the fill is just fine. Ordinary. Decent. How in the world, though—How In The World—do you think it's OK to put *another* foreign number in the grid. Just ... randomly. Shoved in there. "Hey, maybe no one will notice if I shove a non-theme foreign number in my foreign-number pun puzzle!?" C'mon, man. I'll allow EIN, but DIECI I will not allow under any circumstances (6D: Italian ten). Again, where is the elegance? The attention to detail? Oh well. So much promise, so little payoff.

In superior puzzle news—big announcement from the American Values Club Crossword:
We have a big announcement [see?]. Nearly four years after leaving the pages of the Onion A.V. Club, later this month the AVCX will move under the auspices of Specifically, the weekly puzzle will be offered as part of the site's premium "Slate Plus" platform. We couldn't be prouder and more enthusiastic about this partnership! We'll kick it off in the coming weeks with a free puzzle by AVCX superfriend Angela Halsted. It's a big moment in our history, and we're grateful to all of our subscribers for your support.
You can (and should) still subscribe to AVCX directly—archives, bonus puzzles, etc.—but this is a cool extension of their media footprint, or whatever bizspeak is appropriate here. Hurray!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Albanian coin / WED 9-21-16 / Flying furry friend from Frostbite Falls formally / Uhura portrayer zoe / Unit for lorry / French quencher / Pony Express's Missouri terminus informally / Jewelry worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: SCRAMBLE THE JETS (57A: Spring into action ... or an apt directive for 17-, 23-, 36- and 49-Across) — letters "JETS" are "SCRAMBLEd" across two words in different two-word phrases:

Theme answers:
  • ROCKET J. SQUIRREL (17A: Flying furry friend from Frostbite Falls, formally)
  • METS JERSEY (23A: New York sports fan's purchase)
  • COURT JESTER (36A: Rigoletto, for one)
  • "JULES ET JIM" (49A: 1962 François Truffaut film classique)
Word of the Day: PERORATE (10D: Give a long, grandiloquent speech) —
verb: perorate; 3rd person present: perorates; past tense: perorated; past participle: perorated; gerund or present participle: perorating
  1. speak at length.

    "he reportedly would perorate against his colleague"
    • archaic
      sum up and conclude a speech.

      "the following innocent conclusion with which she perorates"
• • •

This theme type is old. I've never ever heard of the revealer. The fill is frequently godawful. Not sure if this is just another (in a series?) of puzzles that just live on a different planet from me, or if it's empirically bad. Scratch that. It's *definitely* not from my planet. And it's *definitely*, at the fill level, bad. "Subpar" is the most generous way you could describe any puzzle that would have either ASIM (!?!) *or* LEK (my most hated crosswordese currency). Having both is *&%^ing ridiculous. Careless. There is absolutely no reason for LEK. You can de-LEK the grid in 10 seconds if you're a halfway decent constructor. Garbage. Honestly, though, even if I had heard of the revealer, the theme is stale, and the theme answers at best OK. METS JERSEY is total b.s. Green paint, for sure. It opens the floodgate of [Any Team's] JERSEY. I actually really like "JULES ET JIM" and its adorable Frenchness. And sure, ROCKET J. SQUIRREL is a nice answer. They are nice answers on their own. But the other answers are less impressive and again, conceptually, this thing is kind of tired.

PERORATE I barely know and LARKSPUR (11D: Buttercup family member with irregularly shaped blossoms) I don't know At All. This had something to do with my slowish time today. Having TDS instead of YDS also hurt, considering that gave me the wrong final letter in the already-stupid-and-messed-up METS JERSEY. METS JACKET!? Seems about as "good." ROOMIE is slang and clue should reflect it, but doesn't (2D: One sharing a Wi-Fi password, maybe). There's an IRENE Curie now? (32D: Nobel Prize-winning daughter of the Curies). Wow. A TONNE (TUNS?) of things in this puzzle that were just A DRAG. But the LEK decision is the one that's beyond belief. I mean ... you have to really believe in "OK, SO," which ... is bad judgment. "OK, SO" is not worth LEK. Nothing is worth LEK. LEK, be a lady ... somewhere else. I guess we can be grateful it wasn't LEU, which is Also Somehow A Currency Unit— "the basic monetary unit of Romania, equal to 100 bani." If I ever see BANI in a puzzle, I quit.

I will give a standing ovation to the ANKLET clue, though. "That's a honey of an ANKLET you're wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson..."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Kardashian matriarch / TUE 9-20-16 / Blade in pen / Strip of fabric used for trimming / J Lo's daughter with palindromic name / Set traditionally handed down to eldest daughter

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Constructor: Tracy Bennett

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

THEME: NO PIECE OF CAKE (59A: What a chef might call each dessert featured in this puzzle, literally or figuratively) — desserts that are not cakes and are not (I guess) easy to make (?):

Theme answers:
  • ENGLISH TRIFLE (20A: Layers of sherry-soaked torte, homemade custard and fruit served chilled in a giant stem glass)
  • BAKED ALASKA (35A: Ice cream and sponge topped with meringue and placed in a very hot oven for a few minutes)
  • PLUM PUDDING (42A: Steamed-for-hours, aged-for-months concoction of treacle, brandy, fruit and spices, set afire and served at Christmas)
Word of the Day: RUCHE (15A: Strip of fabric used for trimming) —
noun: ruche; plural noun: ruches
  1. a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or home furnishing. (google)
• • •

I see the wordplay here, but since I don't associate these desserts with difficulty (or with much of anything), the joke didn't really land, for me. I spent at least a few seconds trying to make A PIECE OF CAKE work in the revealer, if that tells you anything about how much the joke missed me. I think this is a good puzzle that just feels alien to me—me personally. I can appreciate that it would be a satisfying solve for someone even though that someone wasn't me. I've never had any of these desserts. I had no idea there was any dessert on the planet that was "aged-for-months." The fill also played out of my wheelhouse, and somewhat old, and what wasn't old ... was also alien to me (god save me from another Kardashian klue, or from having to know J-Lo's kid's name !?!?!). Sam Cooke is my kind of old. "DARE WE SAY" isn't. This is certainly cleverer and cleaner than most Tuesdays. Just not to my taste. Like Victorian furnishings—they might be as nice as can be, my eye is never gonna be happy.

Clues were tough for me today, at least in several places they were. 14A: Blade in the pen (SHIV) totally baffled me. Tried to make sense of both "blade" and "pen" and just couldn't. I had ice skates and writing implements in my head. I've heard of ruching, I think, but not a single RUCHE, so that was rough. Very hard to pick up "DARE WE SAY" from the back end (which is how I came at it), though I imagine it would've caused me some trouble from the front as well. How is an ® a sign for ™? They are different keys on my keyboard and must mean different things, right? I had ERIN for EIRE (68A: Land of Blarney) and DEALS for MEALS (53D: "Square" things, ideally) and even getting SIMP from just 66A: Fool was tough. And, as I say, EMME shmemme (61D: J.Lo's daughter with a palindromic name).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Cub scout leader named after character in Jungle Book / MON 9-19-16 / 1981 Alan Alda/Carol Burnett comedy / Bite-size Krispy Kreme offering / Long-armed banana lovers

Monday, September 19, 2016

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy (close to record time, and on a 16-wide grid!)

THEME: HOLLYWOOD SQUARES (41A: Classic TV game show ... or what 18-, 25-, 55- and 66-Across are, in a way) — theme answers are movie titles that contain square numbers:

Theme answers:
  • "NINE MONTHS" (18A: 1995 Hugh Grant/Julianne Moore romantic comedy)
  • "THE FOUR SEASONS" (25A: 1981 Alan Alda/Carol Burnett comedy)
  • "SIXTEEN CANDLES" (55A: 1984 Molly Ringwald coming-of-age comedy)
  • "ONE FINE DAY" (66A: 1996 Michelle Pfeiffer/Goerge Clooney romantic comedy)
Word of the Day: Adolph RUPP (21A: ___ Arena, home to the Kentucky Wildcats) —
Adolph Frederick Rupp (September 2, 1901 – December 10, 1977) was one of the most successful coaches in the history of American college basketball. Rupp is ranked fourth (behind Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, and Dean Smith) in total victories by a men's NCAA Division I college coach, winning 876 games in 41 years of coaching. Rupp is also second among all men's college coaches in all-time winning percentage (.822), trailing only Clair Bee. Rupp was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 13, 1969.
• • •

Hey, this is cute. I mean, thematically, conceptually—a great use of HOLLYWOOD SQUARES as a revealer. There are a couple of issues with the execution. First, there's the relative iconic-ness of the movies, which ranges from solid ("SIXTEEN CANDLES") to non-existent ("ONE FINE DAY"? What is that?). Is there really not a better / more familiar ONE movie out there. I mean, it's bad enough you have to subject us to the fairly execrable "NINE MONTHS"—"Nine" movies are pretty hard to come by. "District 9" uses the numeral. So I'll give you "NINE MONTHS." But you gotta give me something better in the "ONE" department. There's no reason the "ONE" has to come first. Who cares? Just get the "ONE" in there and we're good to go. If you want to do this theme Right, as opposed to just Do it, then you need the movies to be good non-marginal, and you need to move things around until you get it right. Also, ideally, the movies go in numerical order ... but that's a higher bar, for sure. Perhaps impossible. The fill was subpar today, for sure; surprisingly so. Well beneath what I expect at this point from this constructor. That west section is pretty emblematic. Total BAH-fest. BAHA-fest. AKELA-fest. AMOK/AMOI-city. Too much junk, too much mustiness.

I finished so fast that I'm just gonna focus on those places where I tripped—where I added seconds to my solve. Even at high speeds (for this one, 2:36), there's always time to be shaved. 

  • MDT (7D: Summer hrs. in Colorado) — wrote in CDT. My family lives there; I should know better.
  • MPEG (19D: Digital video file format) — wrote in JPEG. Dumb.
  • MENDS (14D: Gives a darn?) — had the -S and just blanked. Wanted only ... DARNS. Tough day with the "M" words.
  • AKELA (46A: Cub Scout leader named after a character in "The Jungle Book") — one of those words I know *exclusively* from crosswords, and one that I always remember as AKETA :(
  • "I RULE!" (56D: "Go me!") — that's not punctuated right. There must be a comma between "Go" and "me." Must. Ugh and BAH. Couldn't parse it, slowed me down.
  • "CAN IT!" (58D: "Zip your lip!") — had "---IT" and just had to wait on crosses. 
That's it. The only other hold-up was having zero clue what the hell "ONE FINE DAY" was (movie-wise). Overall good puzzle, with some significant but not fatal wobbliness.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Onward in Italy / SUN 9-18-16 / Reef-dwelling snapper / Sage swamp-dweller of film / Start of legalese paragraph / Handy take-along / Guy into hip-hop

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Make a Dash For It" —dashes in the Downs, wacky dashes in the Acrosses (7 times)

Theme answers:
  • PUSH-UP BRA / B-LISTER PACK (32A: Troupe of lesser-known actors?)
  • UH-OH / PHOENIX A-Z (24A: Actor Joaquin's complete bio?)
  • THE PO-PO / G-RATED CHEESE (44A: Schmaltz in kids' films?)
  • FREE WI-FI / AMERICAN GOT HI-C (65A: An airline now serves a Minute Maid beverage?)
  • B-BOY / CHICKEN CO-OPS (87A: Some apartments for scaredy-cats?)
  • TO-DOS / MOVING A-SIDE (100A: Record half that stirs emotions?)
  • HA-HA / LO-CAL HERO (109A: Sandwich for a dieter?)
Word of the Day: REDFISH (35A: Reef-dwelling snapper)
Redfish is a common name for several species of fish. It is most commonly applied to certain deep-sea rockfish in the genus Sebastes, or the reef dwelling snappers in the genus Lutjanus. It is also applied to the slimeheads or roughies (family Trachichthyidae), and the alfonsinos (Berycidae). (wikipedia) (my emphasis)
• • •

This is really quite clever. It's everything the average Sunday puzzle should be. It's got a clever, original gimmick, and it's genuinely funny, especially as the "wacky-clue"-type themes go. It's also got an elegant simplicity: real dash in the Down, fake one in the Across. Some of the wacky theme answers seem like very reasonable, plausible phrases (esp. LO-CAL HERO, G-RATED CHEESE, and MOVING A-SIDE), and then some ... well, some are AMERICAN GOT HI-C, which is as absurd as they get. Something about its having a phrasing similar to "America's Got Talent" really seals the deal for me. This puzzle is proof that the Sunday puzzle doesn't have to be overly complicated, difficult, or fussy to work. You can have relatively standard 7-answer wackiness and pull it off with aplomb. Also, with a few exceptions, this grid is fairly clean and lively. Not a lot of wincing. TO YOU ISMS is kind of wincey, and, you know, there's EEN and TOPED and ESS, but it's all so minor, especially in a grid this theme-dense and enjoyable.

Got the theme—or the idea of the dash-square, anyway—early, very early, with PUSH-UP BRA. Took me a little while longer to figure out what the hell was going on with the wacky-dash Acrosses. I did not get, for far too long, that the Acrosses were real, viable answers if you remove the dash. So I was looking at B-LIST ... and then B-LISTER ... and not really understanding what had to come next. Also, seeing THE PO-PO was *really* hard. Easy to see where the wacky Acrosses are, not so easy to see where the dash-having Downs are. So 18D: Cops, in slang were THE -O---. All I could think of was THE FUZZ. Had to get one or more of those P's before I had that D'oh! moment where you remember the theme after having let it temporarily slip from your mind. STEEL GRAYS is a truly painful plural, but it's made up for, at least partially, by its symmetrical counterpart, CROP CIRCLE. Well, not the answer so much (which is fine), but the clue: 74D: Work of extraterrestrials? —not! No one says "not" like that anymore (not for 20 years), so that was a bit awkward, but I love the light-hearted vibe there. Also, I love anything that mocks magical thinking / conspiracy-theory mind-set, which is destroying civilization.

Hey, NJ residents, there is a crossword tournament in your state very soon and you should check it out. It is part of the Collingswood Book Festival, and it is being hosted by Washington Post crossword writer/editor Evan Birnholz (puzzles will be upcoming NYTs). Here's the flyer (click on it if you want to embiggen it).

I have no idea where Collingswood is, but I assume a bunch of my readers live relatively nearby. So dare to attend a low-stakes tourney. You may find you like them. You'll meet other dorks like you. It's fun. Seriously.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

P.S. Peter Gordon made a Fireball puzzle with a very similar theme a few years back, but today's is fundamentally different and more ambitious in important ways. Go see for yourself.


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