1986 hit for Talking Heads / MON 10-31-16 / 1988 #1 hit for UB40 / 1990 hit that samples bass line from Queen/Bowie's Under Pressure / Old boys networkk meeting places

Monday, October 31, 2016

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "SWAN SWAN HUMMINGBIRD" — Hurrah. We're all free now ... what noisy cats are we ...

Theme answers:
  • "ICE, ICE, BABY" 
Word of the Day: "BYE BYE BLACKBIRD" 
"Bye Bye Blackbird" is a song published in 1926 by the American composer Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon. It is considered a popular standard and was first recorded by Sam Lanin's Dance Orchestra in March 1926, followed by Nick Lucas and Gene Austin the same year. (wikipedia)
• • •

Happy Halloween, everyone! This puzzle ... was not scary. It was actually quite delightful, largely because of its recalling several songs that I quite enjoy. I was just talking about Talking Heads "True Stories" earlier today with my wife while narrating the history of my fandom, lamenting that they're never gonna get back together and tour, etc., and bam, here's the single off that album (which is also, with "BYE BYE BLACKBIRD"—never heard of it—probably the least known song-song of the bunch-bunch). Mom game me a "True Stories" movie poster the day she dropped me off at college in 1987 (yes, the album "True Stories" was also a movie "True Stories"). Also related to my freshman year of college: "RED, RED WINE," which could be heard coming out of every other dorm room window in the fall of '87 (along with the rest of their 1983 album "Labour of Love"—not sure why That album should've been So popular on campuses four years on, but it was on mine). Before the college years were over, I would be subjected to the catchy trauma that is "ICE, ICE BABY." And then there's Marvin, who transcends space and time. So, yeah, the theme songs really hit me where I live.

[John Goodman, comin' atcha!]

Fill is OK, not good, not horrible, definitely not terribly MODERN / AGE (lotsa usual suspects: ELOI, ODEONS, ERMA, etc.). FRENETIC and MEN'S CLUB gave the puzzle some nice life, kept it from being too BLAH. I got down into record solving time territory, which I *think* is like 2:26, but I had a few tiny hiccups and ended up at 2:33. I often choke at the very end, when I've destroyed a puzzle and am Well Aware my time is going to be great. My fingers get all clumsy and my eyes don't read the clues right. Not clutch. So at the end I blanked on 71A: Word with finger or America (MIDDLE) and had to toggle around and come at it from crosses. Also had trouble earlier with "BYE BYE BLACKBIRD," which I came at from the back end, via KOPF, which I also didn't know (though I guess I "know" it as the last part of "dumKOPF," which I have heard). Two cross-references also slightly impeded my forward momentum, but only slightly. OK, time for dinner, then possibly the final game of the World Series.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Faction in Twilight fandom / SUN 10-30-16 / 2000s group with three eponymous Disney Channel films / Event code-named Operation Neptune / Angel who visited Joseph Smith / 1998 Faith Hill hit that describes perpetual bliss

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Updates" — first words of themer begin with names of MAC OPERATING SYSTEMS (65A: Things found at the starts of the answers to the six starred clues); the "Updates" appear in real-life order:

Theme answers:
  • CHEETAH GIRLS (28A: *2000s group with three eponymous Disney Channel films, with "the')
  • PUMA SNEAKERS (34A: *Athletic footwear once promoted by Pelé)
  • JAGUAR XKE (58A: *Enzo Ferrari called it "the most beautiful car ever made")
  • TIGERLILY (75A: *Showy orange bloom)
  • LEOPARD PRINT (96A: *Something spotted on a runway?)
  • LION IN WINTER (103A: *1968 Peter O'Toole drama, with "The")
Word of the Day: CHEETAH GIRLS 
The Cheetah Girls were an American girl group consisting of Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, and Sabrina Bryan. The group was created by Disney, and were made famous by the eponymous Disney Channel original film and its sequels, The Cheetah Girls 2 and The Cheetah Girls: One World. The group has released three studio albums, Cheetah-licious Christmas, In Concert: The Party's Just Begun Tour, and TCG and several RIAA certified Platinum albums including, The Cheetah Girls, The Cheetah Girls 2, and The Cheetah Girls: One World. All of their albums and soundtracks have debuted in the Billboard 200. The soundtrack to their first movie sold over 2 million copies. (wikipedia)
• • •

I enjoyed solving this, for the most part, though the theme is semi-blah. I do like that the MAC OPERATING SYSTEMS appear in actual chronological order, so the "Updates" title makes sense, but the cats ... are just cats ... and not even "hidden cats" or "cat names in non-cat contexts." I mean, LEOPARD PRINT is just a print ... of the skin ... of the cat. PUMA SNEAKERS have a very famous logo ... or a cat. Dunno. I'm lukewarm on the concept. And *yet*, the grid itself I found pretty sassy and fun. "Contemporary" and "young" in that way that is going to make the pop-culture haters scream. This pleases me.

Things that I enjoyed seeing include COACHELLA, GENIUS BAR, and BE THAT WAY, which in the grid looks like someone named BETH ATWAY. I never entered the whole "Twilight" world of things, but #TEAMJACOB came oddly easily. Ditto CHEETAH GIRLS, whom I could not pick out of a lineup. That's pretty much it for the youth culture, except possibly LARP, which is one of the most amazingly ugly acronyms known to humankind (stands for Live-Action Role-Playing, FYI). I finished this baby in about eight and a half minutes, which is possibly my Sunday NYT record (I've been around 7 on other Sunday-sized puzzles before), but I did have some trouble spots. Ironically, the answer it took me longest to get was the revealer. Couldn't parse it, and didn't think too much of it, since I was tearing up the grid so bad. I have no idea what ATC is (53D: J.F.K. tower grp.). Oh, Air Traffic Control, duh. Man, you never see that in crosswords. Weird. I kept thinking "tower" was being used in the sense of "one who tows," so, yeah, no hope there. Had BASK for BAKE (56A: Lie on the beach), so that hurt, briefly. ALER (along with its NL counterpart) remains deplorable, even during the World Series, where such a word might almost have a place (16D: 'Stro, e.g.). Speaking of World Series ... gotta go watch. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I'm in US Weekly this week. Yeah, I know. "What?" I also said that.

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Jazzman Montgomery / SAT 10-29-16 / Jugged old British delicacy / Affirmed's rival for triple crown / Air spirit in folklore / Compiler of 1855 reference work / Ticket waster / Winemaking byproduct

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GOANNA (37D: Australian monitor lizard) —
A goanna is any of several Australian monitor lizards of the genus Varanus, as well as certain species from Southeast Asia. // Around 30 species of goanna are known, 25 of which are found in Australia. This varied group of carnivorous reptiles ranges greatly in size and fills several ecological niches. // The goanna features prominently in Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore. // Being predatory lizards, goannas are often quite large, or at least bulky, with sharp teeth and claws. The largest is the perentie (V. giganteus), which can grow over 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in length. // Not all goannas are gargantuan. Pygmy goannas may be smaller than a man's arm. The smallest of these, the short-tailed monitor (Varanus brevicuda) reaches only 20 cm in length. They survive on smaller prey, such as insects and mice. // Goannas combine predatory and scavenging behaviours. A goanna will prey on any animal it can catch and is small enough to eat whole. Goannas have been blamed for the death of sheep by farmers, though most likely erroneously, as goannas are also eaters of carrion and are attracted to rotting meat.
• • •

Haters gonna hate, and GOANNA gonna GOANNA. [Cheer on actress Paquin?] => GOANNA! I love this lizard's name. The punssibilities are endless. Who you GOANNA call? [_____] BUSTERS! (shout-out to Thursday's puzz). I fixate on GOANNA—a fine, upstanding word—because it was the only answer in this whole puzzle that felt a bit recherché. The puzzle otherwise feels phenomenally obscurity-free.* It is also smooth as &$^%. This is one of those increasingly rare NYT puzzles where I wanted to stop and smile and take pictures mid-solve. Pure enjoyment. Delightful answers and clues around every turn—and so many turns! Felt like I was looping and swooshing around the grid. No sad corners to get boxed into. All curves and waves and flourishes. This is the kind of puzzle for which I have the most respect—it's expertly crafted, but hides its artfulness. There's nothing terribly glitzy or showy about it on the surface. There are no stunts. It's not loaded with Xs Qs Zs etc. It just hums. It's fun. It's smart. It's a pleasure to solve. It could've been a bit tougher (felt more like a Friday), but no matter. It was a pleasure to watch the answers come into view. There's an effortlessness to the whole affair that makes it delightful to solve, but makes it unlikely, I think, that a solver's going to go "WOW!" But constructors, I assure you, are going "WOW!"

There's one little crutch I want to point out. Nah, I don't wanna say "crutch," because it implies some kind of laziness or cheapness that I don't think this puzzle possesses. But it's a ... thing ... that allows the constructor to pull the puzzle off so smoothly. Note how often "S" appears as the last letter of both an Across and Down. There are three lines of such "S"s, running NW up from the end of WES, the end of RAMRODS, and the end of CULTS, respectively (though that last line is just two long ... throw in the "S" at the end of BANTERS and you get your third set of three "S"s). You can stick an "S" on the end of most answers and make an acceptable answer, so terminal-S'ing it like this is a way of making filling a grid smoothly easier. To PB's enormous credit, those "S"s are of all different types—plurals, 3rd-person verbs, name endings—so you never really feel a sense of sameness. In fact, I doubt most solvers notice "S"-ending pile-ups at all. But "S"s make it easier. Of course, if that was the only trick to smoothing out themeless puzzles, we'd all be Patrick Berry.

I don't know who "foreign-owned company" immediately made me think NISSAN at 1A: Pickup trucks from a foreign-owned company made and sold only in North America, but it did, and that sent me rocketing into the puzzle (as correctly guessing all or part of 1A often does). Got NO-SHOW (1D: Ticket waster) off the "N" and filled in that NW corner easily.

Which brings me to my first mistake, and my first "Nice clue!" Somehow 6D: "This is ___" took me to NEW. Something you'd say when admiring changes to someone's house or hair ... or an understated response to some shocking change of any kind. I don't know—it felt right. Often when I guess wrong, I groan at the right answer, but "NPR" made me laugh. Seems a really hard clue for NPR, but also a perfect one, as anyone who listens has heard that exact phrase a ton. Anyway, ONCE UPON A TIME made me see the error, and off I went. Had TANNIN for TARTAR (16D: Winemaking byproduct), but otherwise had no problem coming around the far end of the puzzle, clockwise.

This puzzle might've been harder if the crossword itself hadn't taught me the correct spelling of Jack LALANNE's name earlier in the week (34D: "The Jack ___ Show," 1959-85). I had some minor struggles in the remaining parts of the grid. Got ROSEANNE easy but blanked on the family's name (CONNER). And in the west, I wavered between NYMPH and SYLPH for a few seconds, before finally deciding on the correct answer (35A: Air spirit, in folklore). Caught two lucky breaks over there, with proper noun gimmes on both ELOISE (33A: "___ in Moscow" (1959 children's book)) and ALYDAR (30D: Affirmed's rival for the Triple Crown). Finished up with a MOANing GOANNA. Favorite clues include 29A: They're put in barrels for RAMRODS (oh, *those* kinds of barrels...) and 28D: Bready bunch? for CARBS. That's all for tonight. See you Sunday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*OK, jugged HARE is slightly obscure, but HARE isn't.

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Six-time Hugo award winner Ben / FRI 10-28-16 / Speech habits unique to individual / Queen dowager of Jordan / Limb-entangling weapon / Everyday productivity enhancer in modern lingo / First one was delivered in 1984

Friday, October 28, 2016

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Norman MINETA (48A: Norman ___, first Asian-American to hold a cabinet post) —
Norman Yoshio Mineta (born November 12, 1931) is an American politician. A member of the Democratic Party, Mineta most recently served in President George W. Bush's Cabinet as the United States Secretary of Transportation, the only Democratic Cabinet Secretary in the Bush administration. On June 23, 2006, Mineta announced his resignation after more than five years as Secretary of Transportation, effective July 7, 2006, making him the longest-serving Transportation Secretary in the Department's history. On July 10, 2006, Hill & Knowlton, a public relations firm, announced that Mineta would join it as a partner. On August 10, 2010, it was announced that Mineta would join L&L Energy, Inc as Vice Chairman. // Mineta also served as President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Commerce for the last six months of his term (July 2000–January 2001). Save for a span of five days between the end of Clinton's term and Bush's appointments, Mineta spent nearly six full years as a Cabinet member. (wikipedia)
• • •

Saw one of my friends tweet that this puzzle was super-easy, which of course got into my head. I don't like knowing Anything about a puzzle before I solve it (note to self: don't get on Twitter until *after* you solve).  So naturally I start in on the puzzle and Nothing Happens. Like, the NW corner doesn't budge. At all. I must've somehow missed 1D: Singer Twain (SHANIA), which is a gimme, but after my first quick run through that corner, I had ... ONT (18A: London locale: Abbr.). I couldn't even get the damn One Direction member. "Is it ZAYN? Wait, no ... ZAYN Payne, that can't be right ... Can it?!" (Ans: no). But then I found RIEN at 8D: Nothing, in Nantes and ARMPIT at 7A: Axilla, breathed a sigh of relief, and ... took off like a shot. Finished in just over 4, which is a pretty ridiculous time for me, for a Friday. Thought this was pretty solid—more interesting toward the middle than in the corners (esp. that SE corner, with all it's -ERS and also AREA ODE STE SYNE) Weird lot of cheater squares in this one. Gives it a real shot-through look. If you're gonna load up with cheaters, the fill should probably be a *little* smoother / more interesting than this, but like I said, it is a solid effort, esp. in the longer answers that run toward the middle. PIANO BAR alongside IDIOLECT, also not bad.

["Hit me with those 26-Acrosses!"]

I like that MOLTEN and MINETA are in symmetrical positions, only because "MOLTEN MINETA!" sounds like an olde-timey exclamation. "MOLTEN MINETA, Batman! The Batmobile got a ticket!" It's a nice rough equivalent of "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat," I think. LIFEHACK and TEDTALK are nice recent-isms, even though both are things I'm really tired of seeing / hearing about IRL (that's "in real life, not an abbr. for "Ireland"). Weird to see REBEL (29A: Rise up) in the grid just minutes after learning that, if you're white, it's apparently A-OK to literally take up arms against the government. What great news for our upcoming election and its aftermath! Can't wait.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Suffix with hater / THU 10-27-16 / Monster film hit of 1984 / Advice between buy sell / Sister publication of 16 Magazine / Some gold rush remnants / Suriname colonizer

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Constructor: Milo Beckman

Relative difficulty: Not sure ... Easy-Medium? (forgot to watch clock)

THEME: GHOST ___ — themers are phrases/words that start with "GHOST," but instead of "GHOST" being written in the grid, it is imagined as an adjective and then represented literally (i.e. everything following "GHOST" is not there). Downs only work with "ghosted" answer. But if you put the word in, the Downs are still real answers (just ... unclued)

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Like many celebrity memoirs ([ghost] WRITTEN) boo
  • 24A: Some gold rush remnants ([ghost] TOWNS) boo
  • 51A: Campfire entertainment ([ghost] STORIES]) boo!
  • 53A: Monster film hit of 1984 (["ghost]BUSTERS") 
Word of the Day: HaterADE (33D: Suffix with hater) —


Blend of hate or hater and Gatorade (a brand of sports drink)


haterade ‎(uncountable)
  1. (slang, often capitalized) Hatred, as a metaphorical beverage. (wiktionary)
• • •

This was interesting, but didn't really feel like a "crossword," in that the theme answers were not "crossed" at any point. You have to infer the ghostiness by the fact of blanks. There are no Downs to help, is what I'm saying. I guess the fact of blanks is functioning like the additional (i.e. "cross") information you'd get from a Down ... somehow? Also, with ghosts visible, Downs still make sense, but ... the puzzle can't really incorporate this fact in any interesting way, as those Nu-Downs remain unclued. You just have to ... notice that they are also words. In fact, they are almost always More word-like than the Downs that are clued. REGINAL, ugh. THR!? RNDS!? Oy. Good thing "GHOSTBUSTERS" was obvious from its clue (53A: Monster film hit of 1984). I was like "Oh, BUSTERS gets 'ghosted,' OK." Then I got the other "GHOST ___" answers, though GHOST TOWNS took me a few beats (24A: Some gold rush remnants). TOWN-as-"remnant" = pretty hard stretch.

Fill is pretty bad in lots of places, esp near middle, wow, oh wow, ouch. Almost every 3 in there is actively hurtful. Not sure why that had to be. I did like how fresh and current the puzzle felt. The constructor is quite young, so ... that probably has something to do with it. There's nothing in here an older person couldn't / wouldn't have put in his / her puzzle, but the up-to-date cluing and (especially) lack (mostly) of tired arcana was nice. This was creative. I enjoyed it. It was somewhat troubling in places but, I mean, it's HAUNTED, so ... maybe that's OK.

  • 37A: "Now I ain't sayin' ___ a gold digger" (Kanye West lyric) (SHE) — this made me literally LOL. Long way to go for SHE. "SHE" is also in the subsequent line of this song, but that line would never make it into a crossword clue. For ... reasons. Check the rhyme.
  • 58D: Early fifth-century year (CDI) — Ugh, the RRN (random Roman numeral). NOT COOL, man. NOT COOL.
  • 1A: Blu-ray ancestor (VCR) — "ancestor" made me laugh, but that was when I thought the answer was DVD. VCR still funny. Just not as.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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JFK landers until 2003 / WED 10-26-16 / Inner Hebrides isle / Certain pool sites for short / Not dress overmodestly

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Constructor: Scott Yut

Relative difficulty: Easy (ridic-easy)

THEME: SHOW SOME LEG (55A: Not dress overmodestly ... or what 18-, 25- and 43-Across each do?) — leg parts hidden in theme answers (broken across two-word phrases):

Theme answers:
  • BANK LENDING (18A: Source of start-up cash perhaps)
  • TROPICAL FRUIT (25A: Guava or papaya)
  • RIDGEMONT HIGH (43A: "Fast Times" school)
Word of the Day: "Fast Times at RIDGEMONT HIGH"
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a 1982 American coming-of-age teen comedy film written by Cameron Crowe, adapted from his 1981 book of the same name. Crowe went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego, and wrote about his experiences. // The film was directed by Amy Heckerling (in her feature film directorial debut) and chronicles a school year in the lives of sophomores Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), and their respective older friends Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) and Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), both of whom believe themselves wiser in the ways of romance than their younger counterparts. The ensemble cast of characters form two subplots with Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), a junior, carefree stoned surfer, facing off against uptight history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), and Stacy's brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold), a senior who works at a series of entry-level jobs in order to pay off his car, and who is pondering easing out of his relationship with his girlfriend, until she herself dumps him. // In addition to Penn, Reinhold, Cates and Leigh, the film marks early appearances by several actors who later became stars, including Nicolas Cage (then billing himself as Nicolas Coppola), Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards. Among the actors listed, Penn, Cage, and Whitaker would later on in their careers win the Academy Award for Best Actor, with Penn winning twice. // In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
• • •

The theme answers actually HIDE SOME LEG, so there's a little conceptual problem there. But let's interpret "show" somewhat more broadly—I think the revealer is interesting and the theme is fine. BANK LENDING is a painfully dull answer; also, the clue seems to want BANK LOAN(S)—the "source" is a loan, not a lending. But it's tolerable, and the other themers are solid. RIDGEMONT HIGH is my favorite, for generational reasons (i.e. I was an adolescent when that came out and I watched it over and over and over and was just listening to Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" on SiriusFM's "80s on 8" and thinking "man, I should watch 'Fast Times...' again..."). Jennifer Jason Leigh should be in more movies! This is my takeaway from this puzzle. Unforeseen.

Fill is not good. Out of the box. The old box. The box in the rec room that smells faintly of mildew, the one that's got all the old toys and board games in it. Except not as fun. MRE ASA NIL stack! IT'S SO AMNIO ENERO SST etc. And the fill quality is especially troublesome given that it took four cheater squares* to get it to even *this* level of tolerable. Even the long stuff is kinda struggling to get by. AMERICA'S is a partial. PSEUDO is a prefix. Somehow multiple YMCAS *and* multiple LIBIDOS are rolling around together. NAN is never ever ever [Indian bread]. NAAN is [Indian bread]. NAN is a Talese. You shouldn't cross I'Ms like that (5D, 15A). FINAGLE is always a good word. This puzzle was Monday-easy—a full minute faster than yesterday's. Total misplacement. Why? BEATS ME.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*'cheater squares' are black squares that don't increase word count, so-called because they are a cheap / easy way of making the puzzle easier to fill. Today's cheaters are the black squares directly above 28D, below 26D, above 41D, and below 19D

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Device that keeps ship's compass level / TUE 10-25-16 / Big name in bicycle helmets / Tuliplike flower whose name means butterfly in Spanish / Longtime Federer adversary / Hidden symbol between E X in Fedex logo / Coal-rich German region

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Constructor: John E. Bennett

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

THEME: "THE ROUND'S ON ME" (35A: Offer at a pub ... as suggested by this puzzle's circled squares) — types of liquor / beer form a vaguely "round" shape in the grid

Word of the Day: MASTIC (12D: Tile adhesive) —
noun: mastic; plural noun: mastics; noun: mastic tree; plural noun: mastic trees

  1. 1.
    an aromatic gum or resin exuded from the bark of a Mediterranean tree, used in making varnish and chewing gum and as a flavoring.
  2. 2.
    the bushy evergreen Mediterranean tree of the cashew family that yields mastic and has aromatic leaves and fruit, closely related to the pistachio.
  3. 3.
    a puttylike waterproof filler and sealant used in building. (google)
• • •

That revealer is a swing and a miss. Big miss. Terrible miss. THIS ROUND'S ON ME is a phrase. A fine phrase. A grid-spanning 15-letter phrase. THE ROUND'S ON ME is something the alien pretending to be a human might say. Also, it's not an "offer," as the clue seems to think. It's a declaration. Further, the kinds of alcohol are pretty arbitrary, and only a few of them really fit the whole "this round's on me" thing. A round of cognac? Really? Lastly, the shape is not, in fact, round. It's octagonal. An interesting concept, totally botched in the execution. Don't do this.

[from Letterman—OMG that CD longbox!]

This played somewhat harder than normal for me (4:01) first because of the ludicrous revealer, and then because of several words I just didn't know: GIMBAL (48A: Device that keeps a ship's compass level), MASTIC, and GIRO (26D: Big name in bicycle helmets). That last one especially, hoo boy. Really stymied my eastword motion. I think my last letter was the "A" in GIMBAL. Might've been the "B" if I hadn't already changed THE NET to THE WEB (29D: What Wi-Fi can connect you to). Had LAST LAP instead of LAST LEG (25A: Final part of a relay) and zero idea what a [Common name for a cowboy] could be, despite having watched untold number of westerns. DESTRY Rides Again. I have no idea who this DUSTY guy is, to say nothing of his allegedly numerous namesakes. The lower part of the SW corner is a boatload of atrocious fill, and RETESTS abutting EAGEREST (!?) is also not great to look at. UNREAL is pretty good, as clued (2D: "That is SO incredible!"), but the rest doesn't have much going for it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Virginia city known for shipbuilding / MON 10-24-16 / Final stanze of ballad / Molars usually have four of these / Pair of cymbals operated by foot pedal

Monday, October 24, 2016

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: On the easier side of Mondayness

THEME: MORNING SHOW (58A: Breakfast-time TV fare that usually includes the ends of 17-, 28, 36- and 44-Across) — themers end with NEWS, TRAFFIC, WEATHER and SPORTS, respectively

Theme answers:
  • NEWPORT NEWS (17A: Virginia city known for its ship-building)
  • DRUG TRAFFIC (28A: Flow of narcotics)
  • UNDER THE WEATHER (36A: Not feeling so hot)
  • SPOIL SPORTS (44A: Killjoys)
Word of the Day: CUSPS (1A: Molars usually have four of these) —
A cusp is a pointed, projecting, or elevated feature. In animals, it is usually used to refer to raised points on the crowns of teeth. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a perfectly reasonable puzzle ... from 30ish years ago that has somehow found its way to 2016. The NYT is having this problem over and over and over again lately. Problem isn't (only) with the quality of the puzzle, it's with the ambition level. No, "ambition" isn't even the right word, since I don't think a puzzle has to be super-edgy or complicated or avant-garde to be good. A very simple puzzle can be good. But there's no attempt to be current or funny or, for lack of a better word, alive. We're getting a ton of by-the-book puzzles. First words do this. Last words do this. Etc. With fill and clues that are less terrible than stale. Nobody expects That much from a Monday, but I think that's actually a cruddy attitude to have towards Mondays and the people who make them well. A little zing, a little imagination, a little spark. This is all I ask of Mondays. Actually, it's all I ask of most days. I won't list all the tiresome fill here, largely because every puzzle has Some, but just look at the grid and consider how much of this stuff you see over and over and over. Even something like EMOTE or ORATE or SATED—perfectly fine words, but relentless, and today, all in the same section. A puzzle made for people who wear AFTA and watch morning TV fare, i.e. not me. And, increasingly, not a lot of solvers. If it is unreasonable of me to keep asking the NYT to be the best, then maybe they should stop calling themselves the "best." That way no fraud, no unrealistic expectations.

Turns out I don't really know what CUSPS means. I finished this puzzle in under my normal Monday time, but I think I might've set a personal Monday best if I'd had some conception of CUSPS. I know the term "bicuspid," but I think of "cusp" as meaning the edge; like ... you're on the *cusp* of something. Or in astrology, if you're on the *cusp*, you are on the edge or boundary of two different signs. Right? Anyway, the clue [Molars usually have four of these] totally stymied me. Filling in ROT at 4D: Drivel didn't help (it's PAP). Also had lots o' trouble with 5D: One often seen standing just out side a building's entrance (SMOKER), since all I wanted was some version of "doorman." So maybe it's most accurate to say this puzzle had a Challenging (for a Monday) NW corner, and a hyper-easy everything else.

  • 50A: Shoe material (LEATHER) — not that I care, but you don't usually see replicated letter strings as long as the one this answer shares with WEATHER (in UNDER THE WEATHER)
  • 8D: "___ Gotta Be Me" (Sammy Davis Jr.  song) (I'VE) — not sure why I'VE sounds too formal / grammatical to precede "Gotta," but it does. I GOTTA feels more natural. But a title's a title's a title.
  • 11D: Procedure for solving a mathematical problem (ALGORITHM) — not to be confused with the theoretical concept AL GORE RHYTHM. P.S. I have a mathematician friend, who is also a constructor friend, who teaches in NEWPORT NEWS. Here's the exciting proof.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Political columnist Matt / SUN 10-23-16 / Competitor of Sapporo Kirin / Early British actress Nell / Target customer of Yelp / Title fictional character who sprang from his Platonic conception of himself

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Chen and Ellen Leuschner

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Over / Under" — themer clues all begin "Over the" or "Under the," followed by cross-reference to an Across clue that sits directly over or under the themer, respectively. So, figurative phrases using "Over" or "Under" are represented quasi-literally in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • NO SPRING CHICKEN (22A: Over the 27-Across [HILL])
  • FACING A DEADLINE (34A: Under the 29-Across [GUN])
  • BEYOND BELIEF (57A: Over the 62-Across [TOP])
  • ON THE DOWN LOW (76A: Under the 67-Across [TABLE])
  • IN SEVENTH HEAVEN (94A: Over the 104-Across [MOON])
  • AT THE LAST MINUTE (112A: Under the 105-Across [WIRE])
Word of the Day: BHT (69D: Food preservative abbr.) —
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as dibutylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic organic compound, chemically a derivative of phenol, that is useful for its antioxidant properties.[4] European and U.S. regulations allow small amounts to be used as a food additive. In addition to this use, BHT is widely used to prevent oxidation in fluids (e.g. fuel, oil) and other materials where free radicals must be controlled. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme feels very, very familiar. Which is fine. Bound to happen when you've been solving for decades, as I have. The puzzle is cute and competent and reasonable. Pleasant. Just not that much Fun to solve. It all feels pretty DAD-BLASTED, in that it feels like it came from an era when people might use that term unironically. Or from an era when people wore OPERA COATS, if that's more evocative for you. Plus the fill ... again, totally NYT-normal, but that's not saying much any more. HAH HEEHEE TNUTS OSSA etc. It's all a bit by-the-book and backward-looking. There's a few truly bad things like BOR. ONEI ARAIL DANL EDEL etc., but mostly it's just a deluge of dull and defensible. I spent most of my day alternating between previewing a forthcoming crossword project from Erik Agard and solving the alcohol-themed puzzles in Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney's new collection "Drunk Crosswords." It is hard to come back to the NYT after that. Erik and Brendan and Francis are exacting constructors whose work is always current and funny and who put a premium on solver entertainment. Despite the fact that the collections in question are actually quite different from one another (Erik's very hard and conceptually mind-bending, Brendan and Francis's somewhat easier and more conventional), they are both a joy to dip into because of the care, craft, and ambition they evince—things the NYT has too often been lacking. There is nothing really Bad about today's puzzle. But it is backward-looking. It is designed to pass time. To satisfy long-established tastes. There is obviously a reasonably-sized market for such Comfort Puzzles. But the NYT wants to be "the best" (in fact, claims it is "the best"), and you can't be the best by just resting on your laurels and playing the oldies.

My main memory of this puzzle is falling, repeatedly, into pretty deadly traps. I had GO-- at 41D: Silly billy and thought "Silly goat, billy goat ... GOAT!" But no. It's GOOF. Worse (in terms of face-falling) was 95D: Small swigs. I had -IPS so, of course, SIPS. SIPS. Gotta be SIPS. But no. NIPS. Lena says there are no small swigs. Swigs are big. Small swigs are oxymorons. Here is some evidence for her rightness.

Lastly, mistake-wise, I had WA- at 105D: Female W.W. II enlistee and wrote in WAAC, which is literally true for that clue (as much as SIPS was right for [Small swigs]). But no, it's WASP, which is something related to the Air Force, I think. Hang on ... Yep. Women Airforce Service Pilots. So that's a bunch of wrong answers that were very hard to extricate because of being so homologous to the right answers. I just checked with Lena and she said "homologous" is in fact the right word here, so send your complaint letters to her, thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. less than two days left to back Patrick Blindauer's "Piece of Cake Crosswords" project, which I wrote about a couple weeks back. Here's the premise:

"Piece of Cake Crosswords is a proposed yearlong series of easy-but-fun crossword puzzles, one puzzle per week. These will be daily-sized (15×15) crosswords that have fun themes with no sneaky tricks. The grids will be filled with FAMILIAR words, phrases, and names, and they'll be delivered directly to your inbox every Monday morning. Finally: something to look forward to on Monday morning! "

Good easy puzzles are hard to come by. Good for pros and novices. Get on board.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Daughter half sister of Oedipus / SAT 10-22-16 / Four-time NBA scoring champion in 2010s / Maugham's title girl of Lambeth / Rugby rival of Harvard / 1955 R&B hit for Bo Diddley

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Mulhernity

Word of the Day: ISMENE (4D: Daughter and half sister of Oedipus) —
Ismene (/ɪsˈmn/; Ancient Greek: Ἰσμήνη, Ismēnē) is the name of the daughter and half-sister of Oedipus, daughter and granddaughter of Jocasta, and sister of Antigone, Eteocles, and Polynices. She appears in several plays of Sophocles: at the end of Oedipus the King, in Oedipus at Colonus and in Antigone. She also appears at the end of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am in Massachusetts, which I taught myself to spell on the way out here by focusing on the name on license plates, which I had occasion to see a lot of, as traffic frequently just stopped. I'm at the home of my friends Lena and Brayden working on a super secret crossword project. Also drinking. A lot. Oh, and it's raining. A lot. A lot a lot. A lot. We walked home in a storm. Streets deluged. Clothing—head to toe—sodden. Ensoddened. I've never walked for any length of time in anything like it. Heavens opened. Amazing. All of my clothing is in the dryer. I'm now wearing pajamas and drinking an aquavit toddy and sitting at L&B's dining room table, after having solved this perfectly decent Saturday puzzle. We had been drinking, a lot, and so it took a while to get some traction in this thing. ETSY, I think, was first, then GEENA. Gimme and gimme. Later, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW was also a gimme. That is too much of a giveaway. Or ... just enough of a giveaway, I don't know. Anyway, anyone who knows anything about Pynchon knows that title. Nice to have a 15-letter gimme. Hope you enjoyed it.

Hamburger U. is real. It's a real thing. It's 100x more real than Trump U. Here is Hamburger University's website. It has a curriculum and scholarships and everything. "Quality is an excellence all communities recognize and respect." Already you have learned a great deal. Now you can go on to major in Onions. Congratulations. I like MICKEY D'S over IN AND OUT, because it's very hamburgery, though technically it's IN 'N' OUT. Close enough. Here's the thing. YOU'RE is not acceptable as a way into DARN TOOTIN'. It's YER, if it's anything. Otherwise, it's grammaticality becomes oddly hilarious. YOU ARE DARN TOOTING! No. It's YER. Actually, there is a Laurel & Hardy movie called "YOU'RE DARN TOOTIN'," so I guess I'm wrong. But I'm not. YER. Not YOU'RE.

What is an ISMENE? I have never seen that name ever, that I recall. Not in a puzzle, not anywhere. I thought I knew the Oedipus legend. I guess not. What else? Nothing really. BOOZE. Lotsa BOOZE. Good night!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Round openings in domes / FRI 10-21-16 / Perfume named for Baryshnikov / Pre-buffet declaration / Gendered Spanish suffix / Occasion for dragon dances / Fictional title character who declares How puzzling all these changes are

Friday, October 21, 2016

Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SEIDEL (22D: Large beer mug) —
• • •

OK, so, the thing about these stack puzzles (triples, quads, whatever) is that they all feel the same. This is not to say that they are all of the same quality—MAS here does them as well if not better than anyone else (among constructors who bother to make stackers, he mostly has imitators, not equals). It's just that the experience of solving them is the same: hack away at the short Downs and then use pattern recognition (and, uh, your general knowledge base, I guess) to get the long Acrosses. Usually one Across tips things pretty hard your way (esp. in a triple-stack situation; quads might be a little peskier). The grid-spanners often come in dull or forced, or at any rate not scintillating. This is where good separates itself from not-good: the quality of the stack components. Getting a stack to work is one thing. Getting one to work and by majority-cool, that's tougher. Oh, the good also separates itself from the not-good in the tolerability of those short Downs. No one expects gold, but the less cringing, the better. I would put this puzzle on the higher end of stack-based puzzles. That center stack, in particular, is very solid, very nice. I might even be more impressed by the general smoothness of the short Downs. I doubt most solvers note this kind of stuff, but as someone who has a low tolerance for wincing and a huge appreciation for craftsmanship, the exactness of the little details pleases me. Still, solving this type of puzzle always feels like a by-the-numbers exercise. No real sparkle or surprises, and not much room for interesting answers anywhere *besides* the long Acrosses.

Didn't get 1A straight off ([Ones making the rules?]) but figured it had something to do with lines (like ruled paper?), so it wasn't too hard, after my first pass at the Downs, to pick up MEASURING STICKS. Having MESSINA at the back end of an entry had me thinking Loggins, but instead I get STRAIT OF MESSINA—new to me (17A: Passage between Sicily and the toe of Italy). Manage to get out of N without much trouble. Tried to make Shirley BASS(E)Y work at 2D: Shirley of "Goldfinger" (EATON). Didn't she sing one of the Bond theme songs. Yes! In fact, she sang "Goldfinger," just as I suspected. 10 points to Gryffindor!

Hardest part of puzzle for me was SEIDEL (what?) next to ALL UP (who?) two doors down from OCULI (really?) (30D: Round openings in domes). Otherwise, nothing too tough. That middle has a rather ugly east end (ISSET MERS), and also AHAIR, which would've been not so big a deal if it hadn't been followed shortly thereafter by AWIRE. Still, as I say, short fill stays pretty dang clean. Overall, a fine Friday outing.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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14-legged crustacean / THU 10-20-16 / Jesse who lost governor's race to Ronald Reagan in 1970 / 1960s western starring Clint Eastwood

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Medium (despite palindromic giveaways)

THEME: "palindromically"[stares at puzzle in a disbelief he didn't know he could still experience]

Theme answers:
  • EMUS SAIL I ASSUME (17A: "Supposedly, some Australian birds can participate in the America's Cup," palindromically)
  • A TSAR, A NUN, A RASTA (27A: "Peter the Great, Mother Teresa and Bob Marley,
  • TOO BAD I HID A BOOT (47A: "My concealment of that footwear was so unfortunate,"
  • NO WAY A PAPAYA WON (61A: That tropical entry could not have captured first place in the fruit competition, palindromically) (I ASSUME this clue also should've had quotation marks around it, but that's not how it appears in my puzzle file, so that's not how I'm displaying it here)
Word of the Day: Jesse UNRUH (30D: Jesse who lost the governor's race to Ronald Reagan in 1970) —
Jesse Marvin Unruh (September 30, 1922 – August 4, 1987), also known as Big Daddy Unruh, was a well-known American Democratic politician and the California State Treasurer.  // An early endorser of the 1968 Presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, Unruh helped Kennedy win the California primary election during June, but an assassin's bullet that same night ended Kennedy's life. In the confusion that followed, Unruh helped keep suspect Sirhan Sirhan from the reach of angry Kennedy devotees. After an unsuccessful effort, managed by Unruh and Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, to draft Senator Edward M. Kennedy, he finally endorsed Eugene McCarthy at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (wikipedia)
• • •

"MA HANDED EDNA HAM! (15) Hahahahahaha let's keep going!" —Bizarro Me playing this ridiculous game.

All these palindromes are on the internet. Finding 15-letter palindromes is child's play. Lazy, boring child's play. How is this a Thursday puzzle from "The Best Puzzle in the World"? Seriously, how? In 2016, how? How desperate is the NYT for Thursdays (or any days)? If your faith in the future strength of the NYT crossword isn't ERODENT at this point, I don't know what to tell you. The Brain Drain is real.

All the crosswordese. All the crosswordese names. And then also UNRUH . . . . [cough] . . . [tumbleweed] . . . [a wolf howls] ...

I'm out.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bouillon brand name / WED 10-19-16 / Twosome on TMZ / Great Lakes canal name / Dish baked in imu / Cagey debater's tactic / Liberal disiparagingly

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Constructor: Tom Pepper

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: PROVOCATION (36A: Apt title for this puzzle) — words starting with "PRO-" are clued as if "PRO" meant "professional" (i.e. wackily)

Theme answers:
  • PROTESTER (16A: SAT administrator, by trade?)
  • PROCURER (25A: Doctor, by trade?)
  • PROPOSER (48A: Model, by trade?)
  • PROFILERS (57A: Manicurists and tax preparers, by trade?)
Word of the Day: IAN / ANDERSON (41A: With 10-Down, lead vocalist and flutist for rock's Jethro Tull) —
Ian Scott Anderson, MBE (born 10 August 1947) is a Scottish-born musician, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work as the lead vocalist, flautist and acoustic guitarist of British rock band Jethro Tull. Anderson plays several other musical instruments, including keyboards, bass guitar, bouzouki, balalaika, saxophone, harmonica, and a variety of whistles. His solo work began with the 1983 album Walk into Light, and since then he released another five works, including the sequel to the Jethro Tull album Thick as a Brick (1972) in 2012, entitled Thick as a Brick 2. (wikipedia)
• • •

The low end is not nearly as low today—only ORA and LIS, and possibly SOO and HROSS, would I try desperately to eliminate were I the constructor. But the theme remains pretty dang blah. The gimmick is highly repetitive and the comic pay off is highly mild. Theme feels 30+ years old. Quaint, satisfactory, faint grin-inducing. The "by trade?" bit in the themer clues is odd / confusing. I get why it's there—to signal the fact that alleged jobs are involved, to give the clues a uniform look, to signal the wackiness. But with "by trade" in the clues, the PRO- actually becomes redundant. If you are doing something "by trade" you are by definition a PRO. And yet you gotta clue the "PRO" part somehow ... actually you don't. Puzzle might've been a hair's breadth harder, but it played on easy side, so I think you can just have the "?" do all the wacky work and leave the "by trade" bit off entirely. Maybe that takes it to Thursday territory? Dunno. I just found the "by trade" part confusing rather than clarifying.

Only speed bumps in the entire puzzle involved cross-references: EYE clued to POTATO and especially IAN clued to ANDERSON (for me, the toughest answer to get, despite my having vaguely heard of him). Oh, I also really got held up trying to understand 21A: Game one. I took it as "one who is game," i.e. "one who is OPEN to ... anything." So even filling in the first part of the answer didn't disabuse me of this misinterpretation. Turned out to refer to the first game in a series of games, i.e. the OPENER. Of course. I loved YOU'RE ON! This puzzle is in desperate need of more non-moribund stuff like that. I might've turned LUSHES and LEFTY into HUSHES and HEFTY, if only to avoid the needless "disparaging," but half that "disparaging" could've been avoided by just cluing LEFTY a different way (51D: Liberal, disparagingly). I'm not offended. Just seems weird to steer *into* disparaging. But in this election season, maybe not so weird. More typical.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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