Two-masted vessel / TUE 2-28-17 / Infamous prison featured in 1969 best seller Papillon / Breakfast food with rhyming slogan / Setting for much of movie Lion / Quaint inn informally

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for Tuesday—time just over 4)

THEME: STAND-UP GUYS (28D: Honest sorts ... or what the circled squares contain?) — circled squares contains synonyms for "guy" running "up"...

Theme answers:
  • NET NEGATIVE (4D: Outcome that's overall unfavorable)
  • RADICAL LEFT (26D: Socialist Workers Party's ideology)
  • ILE DU DIABLE (9D: Infamous prison featured in the 1969 best seller "Papillon") 
Word of the Day: ILE DU DIABLE
île du Diable ("Devil's Island") is the third-largest island of the Îles du Salut island group in the Atlantic Ocean. It is located approximately 14 km (9 mi) off the coast of French Guiana in South America just north of the town of Kourou. It has an area of 14 ha (34.6 acres). The island was a part of a controversial French penal colony located in French Guiana for 101 years, from 1852 to 1953. Although it was the smallest part of the penal colony, it is notorious for being used for internal exile of French political prisoners during that period. The most famous political prisoner on Devil's Island was Captain Alfred Dreyfus. (wikipedia)
• • •

Why do I feel like I've seen this exact theme before, but done with stand-up comics (e.g. LENO) instead of words for "guy"? Dunno. I do a lot of puzzles. Anyway, this seems a fine idea. Not one that really helps you solve the puzzle, or one that you even really notice as you're solving, but ... there it is! It played much harder than average for me, largely because of the beyond-Tuesday themer ILE DU DIABLE (real outlier, familiarity-wise), but also because of ugh-ish cluing on ERRED (25A: Muffed one), which I read as "adj. noun" and thus had as ERROR. This meant that with BANDB in place, I went with AT WAR for 7D: Not on good terms (with) (IN BAD). I also did not know a BRIG was a ship (I actually wanted BRIG, but talked myself out of it: "That's a ship's *prison*" I said to myself) (23D: Two-masted vessel). Had "Ready, SET" not "Ready, AIM" at 24A. Finally, couldn't figure out 44A: Things ghosts lack (BODIES). They have BODIES. They're just not ... solid? I don't know; something about that clue seems wrong / dumb. Oh, and I started with ELSE instead of ALSO at 3D: In addition. If you draw a line across the grid from NW to SE corners, virtually all of my trouble was on the upper (NE) side. That was like a Wed./Thur. puzzle for me. Rest was normal Tuesday.

How come VALE is just, like, an ordinary word today, and not all "poetic" or whatever it was a couple days ago? (54D: Area between mountains). It was not at all clear to me that 57D: Breakfast food with a rhyming slogan (EGGO) wanted a commercial product. "Slogan" didn't tip me off. After all, milk and eggs have councils that produce ads with slogans (e.g. "Got Milk") so ... yeah, went with EGGS at first. What is the movie "Lion"? (36A: Setting for much of the movie "Lion"). Is that famous? Ah, I see it was nominated for a bunch of Oscars this year. I literally have never heard of it until just this second. Meanwhile, I watched my 60th (!) movie on TCM since Christmas today. "Mildred Pierce" (1945). I am rapidly becoming not just old (i.e. stuck in my own past), but hyper-old (stuck in my grandparents' past). I'm hoping it at least pays some crossword dividends.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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2016 Dsiney film set in Polynesia / MON 2-27-16 / Understand slangily / Jean father of Dadaism / Cross-reference for further information

Monday, February 27, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Normal / Medium

THEME: two-word answers and reversals — Four 2-part answers, and then four more answers where each of those three answers has their 2 parts flipped (w/ respelling of one part):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: "MOANA" (55D: 2016 Disney film set in Polynesia) —
Moana (/mˈɑːnə/) is a 2016 American 3D computer-animated musical fantasy comedy adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 56th Disney animated feature film. The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams.  The film features music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not that exciting. Feels like it was lifted from a list of such phrases on the back of a kids' placemat at some chain restaurant. Half of the trouble I had with this puzzle consisted in my balking repeatedly at writing words into the grid that I *knew* I had already seen (e.g. PAPER). The other half, ironically, consisted in my muffing the freshest, most contemporary answers in the grid, i.e. "FEEL ME?" (24D: "Understand?," slangily) and "MOANA" (55D: 2016 Disney film set in Polynesia) The former just floored me. I had the "F" but that was useless. Needed most of the crosses to find the answer, partly because I couldn't believe the NYT would go for such a phrase (good for it), and partly because I'm used to hearing the question start with a "Ya" ...

The fact that I totally blanked on "MOANA" is many times more hilarious. First, it's a Maori word. My wife is from New Zealand. I'm usually on top of all pop culture NZ things. Second, it involves the musical talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and after The Year Of Hamilton, you'd think that anything he's involved with would've stuck in my head (I know he's developing Patrick Rothfuss's work for film, for instance ... and yet I blanked on "MOANA"?!). I had the "M" and my brain went "... [shrug] ... don't look at us; all we got's 'MULAN'." I have nothing else to say about any of this puzzle. See you on the morrow, good sirs/madams.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Flower named for Swedish botanist / SUN 2-26-17 / One-named singer once married to Xavier Cugat / French region around Strasbourg / Christian school in Okla / Potent sushi bar cocktail / Rapper with most-viewed YouTube video of all time / Stop insisting Ra doesn't exist

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Constructor: Josh Knapp

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Mixed Feelings" — wacky theme answers created by anagramming (or "mixing") a "feeling" in a familiar phrase:

Theme answers:
  • TINY AXE ATTACK (25A: Assault involve a hatchet?)
  • STRUT-WORTHY (23A: Fashionable enough for a runway model?)
  • CURB YOUR SUN ATHEISM (44A: "Stop insisting Ra doesn't exist!"?)
  • TALES OF OWE (64A: Stories from bankruptcy court?)
  • HAVE NO FARE (68A: Be too broke to take the bus?)
  • MY SIRE LOVES COMPANY (82A: "The king really wants to be around people right now"?)
  • UPRISERS' PARTY (109A: Celebration after a coup?)
  • DOWNER WOMAN (112A: Negative Nancy?)
Word of the Day: ALEATORY (6D: Dependent on chance) —
adjective: aleatory; adjective: aleatoric
  1. depending on the throw of a dice or on chance; random.
    • relating to or denoting music or other forms of art involving elements of random choice (sometimes using statistical or computer techniques) during their composition, production, or performance. (google)
• • •

As cornball themes go, this is fine. TALES OF OWE is godawful, and HAVEN OF ARE is not much better (please don't correct me and tell me it's HAVE NO FARE ... my brain has tried to parse it that way and just keeps giving up). But then CURB YOUR SUN ATHEISM is so godawful that it's actually kind of impressive. If you're gonna be godawful, be Epically godawful. The rest of the theme answers are good enough, but the clue writing is really tepid. Funny / adventuresome clues are kind of important in wacko themes, and these clues are awfully, painfully literal most of the time. There were some enjoyable non-theme answers today, most notably MOM JEANS, SAKE BOMB, and WAIT FOR IT ... (that last one strikes me as the most inventive ... though you never know about "invention" these days, what with word lists being sold for hundreds of dollars to constructors too lazy to build their own—to be clear, I don't think *today*'s constructor is lazy; he's a competent, reliable regular. But the mediocre constructor buying a word list in hopes of getting "better" is *definitely* a thing).

This played a notch harder than normal, largely because of the nature of the theme (who knows what "feeling" is going to be "mixed," and in what way?), but also (for me) because of clues I just couldn't grasp easily. You fire a MORTAR straight into the air? 90 degrees? Doesn't it ... come back ... to earth ... presumably on top of you? (1D: Weapon usually fired between a 45˚ and 90˚ angle) (As with AIRSOFT yesterday, I don't know from weaponry. My stupidest mistake today was reflexively writing in ASHE at 4D: With 41-Down, first tennis player to win two Olympic singles gold medals. Tennis, starts "A," four letters—good luck stopping my fingers from typing ASHE. Wanted VALE to be DALE (after I wanted it to be GLEN), and didn't know it was particularly "poetic" (18A: Land between hills, poetically). Forgot who Edmund BURKE was (10D: Philosopher who said "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion") and totally forgot what WOOLITE was (24D: Detergent brand with fabric in its name). Not a huge fan of RISES being in same grid as UPRISERS, and even less a fan of SERIF being not only in same grid as, but practically right next to, SHERIF. Blargh. But overall, this was OK. Occasionally, if infrequently, enjoyable.

If you have 38 minutes lying around today, please consider checking out the latest episode of "On the Grid," my crossword podcast (with my friend Lena Webb). Episode 002 deals with SLOE gin fizzes and EELS ... among other things. Get it here (and find it on iTunes).

 [I concur with this analysis]

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Sport similar to paintball / SAT 2-25-17 / Corrupt in British slang / Number of bacteria living on surface that has not been sterilized / Sociopathic role for Alain Delon Matt Damon John Malkovich / Vegas hotel with name from English legend / Giovanni Verrazano discovery of 1524

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: AIRSOFT (26D: Sport similar to paintball) —
Airsoft is a sport in which participants eliminate opponents by hitting each other with spherical non-metallic pellets launched via replica weapons called airsoft guns. //  Airsoft guns are replica weapons used in airsoft sports. They are essentially a special type of low-power smoothbore air guns designed to pressurize air within an internal chamber to shoot non-metallic spherical projectiles (often incorrectly referred to as BBs) typically made of (but not limited to) plastic or biodegradable resin materials. Airsoft guns and pellets have significantly less penetrative and stopping powers than conventional air guns, and are generally safe for competitive sporting and recreational purposes if proper protective gear is worn. // Depending on the mechanism for propelling the pellet, an airsoft gun can be operated manually with a spring-loaded air pump, or on an automatic cycling basis which is implemented either pneumatically with prefilled bottled gas (such as compressed green gas or CO2), or mechanically driven by an electric motor gearbox. // As toy weapons, airsoft guns can often be designed to realistically resemble genuine firearms in appearance, and it can be very difficult to distinguish from one. It is notable that despite their appearance, airsoft guns cannot be adapted to use deadly ammunitions. (wikipedia)
• • •

Took me almost twice as long as yesterday, but since it's Saturday, and yesterday was very easy for a Friday, we're just talking about a regular old Saturday, difficulty-wise. Puzzle is fine. Way out of my wheelhouse, and a bit crusty for my tastes (despite the bold bid for contemporary relevance at 1A: Reject someone, in a way (SWIPE LEFT). I just didn't know a bunch of this stuff. Like ... half a dozen answers, I'd either flat-out never heard of (AIRSOFT? ALMADEN?), or only sort of barely know exist (CAPE COD BAY ... I know the cape, but the bay ... is not something I ever think about). BIOBURDEN was totally unknown to me, but I kind of liked figuring it out. The same cannot be said of REDBONE. I used to obsess over dog-breed books (I love dogs, of all and no breeds), so I was slightly stunned to have no recollection of ever seeing that particular [Hunting dog breed]. The NW corner was pretty tight, but after that, the puzzle was just OK. Nothing special. Adequate. Friday's puzzle was clearly the big winner this week, with Thursday a close second.

How did you get into this thing? I did what I typically do—go straight to the short answers and hope they give me enough information to net one of the longer crosses. Good strategy for biggish corners like NW and SE. Today, I started at COE (28A: Iowa college) and ITSY (25A: Wee, informally) (both gimmes). That led me to IMMERSE and TOM RIPLEY (which was also a gimme, but, as I say, I never look at clues to longer answers until I have had at the short stuff). Despite the gruesomeness of the faux-quaint clue and answer at 22A: "Cheese and rice!" ("NERTS!"), I thought that corner came together pretty nicely. But coming out of there proved both tough and less interesting. Couldn't spell Linda ELLERBEE's name (last letter was "Y" for a while). And then AIRSOFT (total mystery) kept me from having any hope of getting into SW. NE was fairly tractable, despite REDBONE. Needed APED / CAPISCE to get started again in the SW. Finished in the SE. Didn't know BIOBURDEN, as I said, and had a few seconds of bewilderment trying to figure out what answer could possibly start DST- at 55A: 60s sorts (D STUDENTS). Finished at CAMPS, which gave me my final letter—the "M" in ALMADEN. I was born and raised in California. Never heard of ALMADEN. I'll have to try some. Perhaps one of their chardonnays would pair nicely with some DEWED NERTS. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Title mankini wearer in 2006 film / FRI 2-24-17 / It is never too late to mend novelist 1856 / Celebrity astrologer Sydney / Bavaria per part of its official name / It's between Navarre and Catalonia / Once-ler's opponent in children's literature / Where Linear A script was unearthed

Friday, February 24, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Charles READE (16A: "It Is Never Too Late to Mend" novelist, 1856) —
Charles Reade (8 June 1814 – 11 April 1884) was an English novelist and dramatist, best known for The Cloister and the Hearth.
• • •

Very short write-up this morning, as I have to drive family members hither and yon, and *then* drive myself to the gym at 7:30am. Third day in a row of 60+-degree temperatures in the middle of winter, though, so I can't complain. I just gotta type kinda fast.


I loved this from (literally) square one. Part of that love was from a good first guess at 1A: Take a while to wear off (LAST), which I was able to confirm with the great and (today) heartening and defiant-seeming answer, LGBTQ (1D: Orientation letters?). And then, well, give me the "Q" in the pole position on a 15 and odds are I'm going to take off at good clip. Which is what happened. I had just woken up and was sitting here at my desk, creaky and still bleary-eyed, and still: zing bam pow. Done in under 5. Hummed along so easily I didn't even have to look at clue for DESI ARNAZ (10D: Co-star of a #1 TV show for four seasons in the 1950s); and (as with the "Q," above), plunking that "Z" down did wonders for helping me whip into and through the middle of the grid. I'm just gonna do some bullet points containing the only parts of the puzzle that even tried to block me.


  • WENDY (8D: Darling of literature) — this is "Peter Pan," right. Because baseball season is *right* around the corner, my only thought upon seeing "Darling" was "Ron" (he solves crosswords, look him up).
  • "DIG IN" (20A: What often follows grace) — had the "DI-" and couldn't come up with anything but "DI ... NER?" The gluttonous colloquialism "DIG IN" doesn't seem quite in the same register as the proper-sounding "grace," but the clue's accurate enough.
  • READE (16A: "It Is Never Too Late to Mend" novelist, 1856) — one of the crosswordesiest novelists there is. Get to know him. Or his name, at any rate; I've never read his stuff.
  • DODOS (25D: Pinheads) — as usual, I dropped the wrong DO- answer here at first (DOLTS). I also can never remember if the supplement store in the mall is GMC or GNC (40D: Co. with the longtime slogan "Live well").
  • OBESE (29D: Like cartoondom's Peter Griffin or Chief Wiggum) — Got the "O" and wrote in OVATE and was quite happy with that answer for a few seconds.
  • STIFF (45D: Joe Blow) — this was harder than any other answer by far. I think we get here by way of "working STIFF," but .... I don't know. "Joe Blow" makes me think of Snoopy, even though Snoopy's alter ego was, in fact, Joe Cool.
  • EXERCISE SCIENCE (44A: Workout area?) — Needed the LORAX (30D: Once-ler's opponent, in children's literature) to convince me that this was a thing. This means that almost all the high-value Scrabble letters contributed significantly to my speed-solving today. For that, I thank them.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Episode 002 of "On the Grid," my crossword podcast w/ Lena Webb, out now.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Actor Turner of Hobbit / THU 2-23-17 / rose English heraldic emblem / Cohen who cofounded ice cream companyDomain of Horus / Home of all-vowel-named town Aiea / Toiletry brand whose TV ads once featured Supremes /

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Eeeeeeeasy

THEME: Number madness — asterisked clues have answers that don't seem right—they're actual phrases, but the first word (a number in every case) doesn't fit the clue, and stands where the "correct" word should be. Turns out that the number corresponds to the numbered square in the grid where you will find the "correct" word.

Theme answers:
  • THIRTY ROCK (3D: *1970s fad item) (30D = PET)
  • TEN PINS (28A: *Bulletin board fasteners) (10D = PUSH)
  • FORTY WINKS (9D: *Pulls a fast one on) (40A = HOOD)
  • TWENTY QUESTIONS (62A: *"Which weighs more — a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?" and others) (20A = TRICK)  
Word of the Day: porte cochère (43A: Establishments that often have porte cochères => INNS) —
noun: porte cochère; plural noun: portes cochères
  1. a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through, typically opening into a courtyard.
    • North American
      a porch where vehicles stop to discharge passengers.
• • •

Hey, this is a nifty theme. I just wish it had been about 3x harder—maybe then I'd've been forced to figure out what the hell the theme even was. This thing was so easy that despite my having no idea what, exactly, was going on with the numbers-replacing-words gimmick, I finished in the low 4s, which is a sizzling Thursday time for me. There's just no resistance anywhere, and there needs to be for the theme to have any real in-game implications. Discovering the theme after all is said and done does not make for a great aha moment. But again, from a conceptual standpoint, as well as a purely architectural standpoint, this crossword is good. Clever and ambitious, with a grid that is very clean, especially considering the constraints of the theme (which are considerable). It must've been interesting to construct. Before the grid is constructed, the long themers all have lots of possibilities where the replaced word is concerned; that is, the THIRTY in THIRTY ROCK could in theory have pointed to any answer at 30D (or 30A, depending on how you made the grid) that fit the "___ rock" pattern. Here, it's PET, but in some alternate universe puzzle it could've been KID or ACID or whatever. Lots of options also for "___ pins." Fewer for "___winks" and "___ questions." Anyway, looks like it would've been challenging (and fun) to make.

OK, well, um, I don't remember anything about solving this, honestly. Hardest part for me to get into, and the place where I wrapped things up, was the west. Just couldn't back into ARRID from the clue (35A: Toiletry brand whose TV ads once featured the Supremes), and SKY was not at all what I had in mind for Horus (I kept thinking "TIME" ... but ... I guess not) (26A: Domain of Horus, in Egyptian myth). If I hadn't had the "Z" from ZELDA, ITZA might've been tough. If I hadn't had the "Q" from QUESTIONS, NIQAB might've been tough. But in both cases, I did and they weren't. PAEAN was hard. I kept wanting PSALM (52D: Song that might have hosannas). But virtually everything else was wicked easy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Episode 002 of "On the Grid," the crossword podcast I do with Lena Webb, is now available. And we're on iTunes now! Check it out.

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Actress form mixed martial arts champion Carano / WED 2-22-27 / Puccini title heroine / Portmanteau in 2016 world news

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: familiar phrases clued as word ladders — clues are "rungs" on a word ladder leading from first word in themer TO final word in themer:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: GINA Carano (1A: Actress and former mixed martial arts champion Carano) —
Gina Joy Carano (born April 16, 1982) is an American actress, television personality, fitness model, and former mixed martial artist. [...] Outside the ring, Carano performed as Crush in the revamped 2008 television series American Gladiators. Carano has pursued a career in acting since she retired from competition. Her film debut was in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action film Haywire, and she is currently best known for her roles in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Deadpool (2016). (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so word ladders are the last refuge of a crossword scoundrel. Just a terrible idea, in general. But I will give this puzzle credit for taking the typical, tired crossword word ladder (where 1A changes to a new word, over the course of many subsequent Across answers, one letter at a time, until you get to the destination word at the final Across, ugh) and doing something new with it, i.e. putting it in the clues and not in the damn grid (where all it does is take up space and reek of awfulness). And though the theme is not scintillating, the grid is not bad, and the clues put up a reasonable fight in several places, so this one gets a marginal pass from me (though it may be benefiting by comparison to the recent string of subpar puzzles). There are probably a lot of other phrases that one might've used in a puzzle like this. "LIVE TO TELL." ROAD TO HELL. CALL TO ARMS. GONE TO SEED. Etc. But these are the ones that were used. Arbitrary, but such is life. Can't you go straight through TMEN to get from AMEN TO THAT? If you're gonna allow OPED (I assume that's OP-ED and not OPED as in some "poetic" form of "opened") then you should allow TMEN, and then it's just three steps: AMEN ... TMEN THEN THAN ... THAT.

I finished in a pretty normal Wednesday time (low 4s), but felt like I struggled a lot. Always hurts when 1A is a total mystery, and I blanked on GINA Carano. Turns out (after googling her) I know (vaguely) who she is. But between not knowing her and the vagueness of 4D: Hordes (ARMIES), I flailed a bit up there. Flailed again in the east with both LIMBO (tenuously clued as 33D: Gray area) and FLINT (I can see why it would be useful to *some* campers ... but not most) (34D: Camper's tool). Worst struggles came at the end, though, all along the mysterious REPORT CARD (30D: Progress indicator, of a sort). [___ department] and it's REC!? A cellphone replaces a CLOCK!?!?! Are you sure you don't mean "watch"? CLOCK? I don't carry a CLOCK around with me. And then I couldn't remember where Matt Damon was stranded in a 2015 film. Oh, and CEO as the answer to 44D: Board hiree, for short, was never coming. I had no idea what kind of "board" was at issue (condo board?) so CEO never occurred to me until it was filled in from crosses. Nothing stood out as great today (I feel like I've already seen BREXIT too much for it to be special anymore). But it was OK. Fine. Tolerable. That is, better than most every puzzle from the past week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Relating to songbirds / TUE 2-21-17 / Explanatory Latin phrase / Physicist Alessandro inventor of electric battery / Flying insect with prominent eyespots

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: AP TEST (69A: Exam for an ambitious H.S. student ... or what this puzzle has been?) — eight theme answers are all two-word phrases where first word starts "A" and second word starts "P"...

Theme answers:
  • APPLE PIE (20A: Classic American dessert)
  • AMY POEHLER (3D: "Parks and Recreation" star)
  • AT PRESENT (10D: Currently)
  • AFRO PICK (18A: Grooming accessory that may be stuck in the hair)
  • AIR PIRATE (35D: Plane hijacker)
  • AL PACINO (61A: Michael Corleone player in "The Godfather")
  • ART PAPER (57A: Material to sketch on)
  • ATOMIC PILE (31D: Nuclear reactor)
Word of the Day: OSCINE (63A: Relating to songbirds) —
A songbird is a bird belonging to the clade Passeri of the perching birds (Passeriformes). Another name that is sometimes seen as a scientific or vernacular name is Oscines, from Latin oscen, "a songbird". This group contains some 4,000 species found all over the world, in which the vocal organ typically is developed in such a way as to produce a diverse and elaborate bird song. // Songbirds form one of the two major lineages of extant perching birds, the other being the Tyranni which are most diverse in the Neotropics and absent from many parts of the world. These have a simpler syrinx musculature, and while their vocalizations are often just as complex and striking as those of songbirds, they are altogether more mechanical sounding. There is a third perching bird lineage, the Acanthisitti from New Zealand, of which only two species remain alive today. There is evidence to suggest that songbirds evolved 50 million years ago in the part of Gondwana that later became Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Antarctica, before spreading around the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

The crustiness continues with this overly simple theme of no delight. A bunch of AP phrases. The teensiest bit of wordplay in the revealer, but that's it for concept. Otherwise, just a mass of unrelated, often awkward / dated phrases that have one non-interesting characteristic in common. There was a time an adequate but totally unremarkable puzzle like this wouldn't have been accepted because there were just too many good puzzle crowding it out. Every longtime constructor has had a puzzle better than this rejected before. But the bar is low—when you have no real competition (at the daily level), I guess you get complacent and you start turning out "Just OK" and "Good enough." For a while in the '00s, the NY Sun crossword (a superior daily) was keeping the NYT honest. No more. I guess if you see puzzles as simply providing a diversion from life's ILLS, then, sure, this'll do. It's familiar. It's comfortable. It looks like puzzles have looked like in the past (20, 30 years ago). It meets all the minimum requirements. LESSEE ETCETC SEAEELS PTUI. Sure. Print it.

My only problems today involved figuring out the tail ends of longer phrases (that I never hear in real life). The PILE in ATOMIC PILE (we just call them "nuclear reactors" now ... and have for my entire life). The PIRATE in AIR PIRATE (we just call them "hijackers" now ... and have for my entire life). Even the OIL in TUNA OIL gave me pause (43D: Source of healthful fatty acids in a StarKist can). Otherwise, I just filled in the answers easily, as they came. I'd seen IO MOTH before, so that didn't throw me as it might've (14A: Flying insect with prominent eyespots). Ditto PTUI (42A: Spitting sound). Oh, I tripped all over 33D: Recasts damaging information in a favorable light, say (SPINS), needing 80% of it from crosses before I saw the correct answer. I had SKEWS at first, and even when I knew it was wrong, it was hard to shake, or to see anything else. Strange, considering that clue / answer pairing seems very straightforward in retrospect. Sometimes loooonnng clues make me impatient and I don't take them in fully. This is of course my problem, not the puzzle's.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Vegas casino developer Steve / MON 2-20-17 / Tourist destination in county kerry ireland / Fine thin cotton fabric

Monday, February 20, 2017

Constructor: Ed Stein and Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Normal, Medium Monday

THEME: Presidents Day — presidents' names, arranged symmetrically ... [cough] ... and then clues! All beginning "Only president...":

Theme answers:
  • ROOSEVELT (Teddy, I assume) (17A: Only president to scale the Matterhorn)
  • HARRISON (Benjamin, I assume) (27A: Only president whose grandfather was also president)
  • OBAMA (37A: Only president born outside the continental United States)
  • TYLER (39A: Only president to have 15 children)
  • BUCHANAN (44A: Only president to be a lifelong bachelor)
  • CLEVELAND (58A: Only president to be married in the White House)
  • TAFT (53D: Only president to administer the oath of office to two other presidents)
  • FORD (12D: Only president to serve as both vice president and president without being elected)
Word of the Day: ORGANDY (21A: Fine, thin cotton fabric) —
noun: organdie; plural noun: organdies; noun: organdy
  1. a fine translucent cotton or silk fabric that is usually stiffened and used for women's clothing.
early 19th century: from French organdi, of unknown origin. (google)
• • •

These are just president names. So apparently we're just giving up on having actual themes now? I can't think of a lazier Presidents Day-themed puzzle than this one. "Oooh, symmetrical presidents!" Is that the reaction you're supposed to have? Or is it just "Oh, what a curious bit of trivia!" I don't understand the kind of person who is delighted by learning some meaningless and forgettable "Only president to scale the Matterhorn"-type fact. Or, rather, I can see finding that sort of trivia delightful, but I can't see anyone's thinking "oh my, yes, this is a totally sufficient basis for a crossword puzzle." The puzzle is in a really terrible rut of mediocrity right now. They've been dull or ripped-off or just bad for days and days now. I feel like I'm just sitting here waiting for another Patrick Berry or Lynn Lempel or other competent loyalist to show up in the byline; everything else, I'm mostly just enduring.

Obviously the fill here is subpar. When you end on the sterling combo of LTD and LLCS (....?) in the Downs and ADDN (...) SMEW (!) in the Acrosses, well, you know things are dire. Only trouble today involved more fabric nonsense and some casino owner. I wrote in (Eugene?) ORMANDY at one point for the fabric, before Catherine of ARAMON showed up and I was like "Uh, I don't know you." As for [Vegas casino developer Steve] WYNN, well, I wouldn't know he existed if it weren't for crosswords (I didn't remember him today, but I think I've probably seen his name a handful of times over the years). Other than those two answers, only a brief ERRORS-for-ERRATA error slowed me down at all. Oh, and some minor hesitation over TRALEE (a very crosswordesey 6-letter answer). I can't believe JUNO is in this puzzle and AENEID is in this puzzle and there's no cross-reference. She's the primary antagonist! Gonna go have some whiskey and try to forget this puzzle happened.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Greek city mentioned in Acts of Apostles / SUN 2-19-17 / Bloblike Star Wars character / Nickname for Miami 12-time NBA All-Star / Number of French kings named Charles / Backs anatomically / Theme for annual city-magazine issue

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Uh-Oh!" — familiar phrases, "uh" sound changed to "oh" sound, wackiness

Theme answers:
  • NOTE CRACKER SUITE (23A: Office for decoding messages?)
  • STONED SILENCE (33A: What one might sit in at a Cheech & Chong movie?)
  • NO GOATS NO GLORY (46A: Herder's mantra?)
  • HOT DOG BONE (61A: Quality control problem at Oscar Mayer?)
  • DIXIE COPES (63A: Title of a book about Southern Reconstruction?)
  • BREAD AND BOATER (75A: Two sights in a yacht's galley?)
  • PHONE AND GAMES (86A: Helpful things for killing time nowadays?)
  • HOMING BIRD FEEDER (100A: Pigeon trainer, at times?)
Word of the Day: HAVOLINE (74D: Motor oil brand) —
Havoline is a motor oil brand of Texaco, a former major oil company based in the United States that is now merged with the Chevron Corporation.
• • •

A single sound change. I am semi-stunned that this puzzle concept is still a thing at all, let alone a Sunday-sized thing. There is no older theme in all puzzledom. Well, there probably is, but the sound-change is ancient. And this one in particular is wafer thin. There are hardly any limitations on this thing, which means the answers should've been One Hundred Percent Killer. If you're gonna have this basic, this wide-open, this simple a theme, then those answers need to land and land and land. I'd say two of these landed (STONED SILENCE, NO GOATS NO GLORY). The rest range from mediocre to downright pathetic. HOMING BIRD FEEDER!? That doesn't even change the basic concept of the base answer. You just changed one bird into another ... bird. It's not funny. It's not clever. It's ... the first thing you thought of that was the right length to match the almost equally flat-footed NOTE CRACKER SUITE? And look at how off these clues are. [Helpful things for killing time nowadays?] What? This works for "phone," not for "games," which have nothing to do with "nowadays." Further, "nowadays," "games" are on your "phone" much of the time, so ... clunk. More clunk: [Two sights in a yacht's galley?]. I barely know what this means. So ... you see another human in the galley ... and that person is a "boater?" Or is he wearing a "boater" hat? There. Are. Other. Butter. Terms/Phrases. In the world. If you can't come up with a themer that's aces, find another. There are infinite ones available, since your theme is barely there. DIXIE COPES? Maybe you should take another look at "Reconstruction" history. Dixie didn't "cope" so well. "AYE, THERE'S THE ROBE." See? That's a themer. Come on come on come on. The NYT must really, desperately need Sunday submissions. This is ... scraping. 

They still make NEOPETs??? (48A: Virtual dog or cat, maybe). They still say DUDED up??? (92D: Dressed to the nines, with "up"). There were *five hundred and nine* kings named Charles!??? (92A: Number of French kings named Charles) (I honestly read the answer that way until well after the puzzle was finished, when I realized DIX was not Roman numerals, but rather French for "ten") (Maybe put something in the clue indicating the answer will be in a foreign language—this puzzle can't do anything right). 

"Reader Mail"!

Hey, I got reader mail! Let's take a look:
The Onion IS NOT fake news [51A: Fake news site, with "The"]. Both Wikipedia and The Onion itself refer to it as News Satire. Fake news is "completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit". News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. (both definitions per Wikipedia)
Fake news one of the real problems in our society today. The NYT should not make it worse by misrepresenting it. 
Minister Craig Trueblood
Philadelphia, PA

If you want to appear in future installments of "Reader Mail," just send your message to rexparker at icloud dot com and write "OK to publish" somewhere therein.

Also, an announcement: I will be at the Fifth Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition on March 18 (see info below), giving some preliminary talk but mainly just hanging out and talking to people about crosswords. Probably going to be taping some stuff for a future "On the Grid" podcast (Episode 2 up very soon, maybe later today). My podcast co-host Lena Webb will be there too. If you're in the area (central NY), you should come.

Tompkins Learning Partners (TLP) of Ithaca announces Central New York’s premier crossword event, the Fifth Annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition on Saturday, March 18th, 2017 from 1-4:00pm. This event is an important fundraiser for TLP, a LiteracyNY affiliated non-profit organization, which provides literacy tutoring, free of charge, for over 100 adults in our community. Puzzlemaster Adam Perl will once again create three original crosswords for the event. Individuals, or teams of up to four, are invited to compete for prizes in one of three levels of difficulty.

For the first time, rather than a set entry fee, players may choose to pay what they can comfortably afford.

To see individual and team pricing, rules, schedule and online registration forms please go to our website at
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Cousin of Manx / SAT 2-18-17 / Cold wine and nutmeg drink / Prison in which Timothy Leary was housed next to Charles Manson / Rennin results in them

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Constructor: Steve Overton

Relative difficulty: Medium, leaning Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SANGAREE (36D: Cold wine-and-nutmeg drink) —
sangaree (countable and uncountable, plural sangarees)
  1. A mixed drink common in the West Indies, similar to sangria and usually featuring wine or fortified wine and spices. (wiktionary)
• • •

There is one interesting answer in this whole grid—EAR-TO-EAR (7D: Beam's path?). I should say "interesting clue"—the answer itself isn't that interesting, but that clue! Clever, but brutal. I had EAR-O-AR and still had no idea what I was dealing with. That clue wasn't just the most interesting thing; it was the most difficult thing. I spent 75% of my time in and around that answer. The rest of the grid was mildly toughish, but whatever struggles there were didn't last long. I usually proceed through the grid via crosses; that is, I never hop around unless I absolutely have to. I had to today, a few times, but I was always able to recover quickly. Flamed out in the middle, then rebooted with CLINK / ALEVE / KATE. Misspelled FOLSOM (first "O" as "U") and so couldn't make my way into the SW ... but then TENOR / REDO bailed me out quickly down there. End of SANGAREE (!?) was a total mystery to me—tried to extend "sangria" to SANGARIA. So, again, stuck. But then RAN got me SWEATSUIT, then MANSE, and that corner was done quickly too.

There's not much to talk about here. It was really adequate, really dull. I don't understand why this grid was remarkable enough to publish. Nothing stands out. None of the fill feels particularly original. Yesterday's puzzle had dull clues, sure, but at least the fill was lively. Today, nothing is lively. It's all slightly oldish, with stuff like DERRING-DO and a decidedly non-current cultural frame of reference. But that's not its problem. Its problem is blandness. All I will remember about this puzzle, if I remember anything, is how bad EAR-TO-EAR kicked my ass. The rest? Yawn. LET US PRAY that things improve in the near future.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Constructors: resist the urge to write yourself into the puzzle (12D). Good fill first, vanity second (or never).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Vocalist for Black Eyed Peas / FRI 2-17-17 / Button hit everything at once in gamer lingo / First Chinese-American cabinet member / Owner of horse Sleipnir / Occasional SNL host to SNL / Hippie-influenced fashion trend / Grace servant in Jane Eyre

Friday, February 17, 2017

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: STICKY RICE (13D: Staple of Thai cuisine) —
Glutinous rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa; also called sticky rice, sweet rice or waxy rice) is a type of rice grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia and parts of South Asia, which has opaque grains, very low amylose content, and is especially sticky when cooked. It is called glutinous (< Latin glūtinōsus) in the sense of being glue-like or sticky, and not in the sense of containing gluten. While often called "sticky rice", it differs from non-glutinous strains of japonica rice which also become sticky to some degree when cooked. There are numerous cultivars of glutinous rice, which include japonica, indica, and tropical japonica strains. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not sure how a grid with so many decent entries ended up being so boring, but here we are. The cluing was unimaginative and dull. Lots of vague one- or two-word clues, which added toughness but not zazz or sass. The "?" clues were all duds except 51A: Colosseum crowd? (TRE) (i.e. three is a crowd and the Colosseum is in Rome and the Italian word for "three" is TRE). The one answer that really undid all the good will that other answers had built up was ONESALL. God that is terrible. I mean, terrible. Please, constructors, delete it from your word list now. ONE'S answers are Always bad, but this one feels like King Bad. My brain keeps parsing it ONE SALL and pronouncing it to rhyme with "gunsel." Not only is it terrible, it was at the heart of the section that was most difficult to solve. I needed every cross, but WAIVE and ENABLES were not coming to me due to clue shortness/vagueness, and SGT was even worse because of the TGI trap (20A: Abbr. before Friday). I knew FERGIE so I had only the "G"; I sort of knew that LCD had to be followed by "T," and so TGI couldn't be right, but ... the "G" ... the "G" ... So ONESALL really gunked up everything.

I resent SHADES and HADES' coappearance. Too much shared real estate. [Suffix with magne-] has to be up there with the most ill-conceived clues ever. Completely inelegant and ugh-ly. PISH POOLE! Not to my liking. It's one thing to be able to put together a nice grid, and another thing completely to *write* the puzzle well. With the exception of ONESALL, this grid actually looks pretty good; but it was a drag to solve. No ear for cleverness. Some show-offy gamer and math stuff, and then [Bug] [Tuna type] [Omen] etc. Kinda CREAKY cluing.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Ill in Lille / THU 2-16-17 / Religion with public shrines / Five-time grammy-winning duo from the 2010s / Civil war locale beginning in 2011

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Constructor: Keith Redwine

Relative difficulty: Easy (probably more like Medium, but I've seen this exact gimmick before ...)

THEME: ASYMMETRY (35A: Feature of this puzzle that's "fixed" by a literal reading of four squares) — four squares contain word black and, if made literally black, give the grid the customary rotational symmetry it apparently lacks

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: THE [BLACK] KEYS (37D: Five-time Grammy-winning duo from the 2010s) —
The Black Keys are an American rock band formed in Akron, Ohio, in 2001. The group consists of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums). The duo began as an independent act, recording music in basements and self-producing their records, before they eventually emerged as one of the most popular garage rock artists during a second wave of the genre's revival in the 2010s. The band's raw blues rock sound draws heavily from Auerbach's blues influences, including Junior Kimbrough, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. (wikipedia)
• • •

I can't say anything bad about this puzzle—it seems pretty well made. But solving it made me a little sad because I'd seen it before. The identical gimmick. And that puzzle is one of the few puzzles that has stuck in my mind forever: an example of one of the truly killer themes. It was a New York Sun crossword (ed. Peter Gordon) from (I canNOT believe it's this old) January 11, 2008, entitled "Squares Away" and constructed by Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer (read about it here).

Solving that puzzle was a revelation. "Oh, crosswords can do This? Wow." And it was hard—really hard. It never gave you a revealer (like ASYMMETRY here) to *explain* to you that what looks like simply a hard "black"-square rebus puzzle actually uses the "black" squares to bring symmetry back to the grid. And it had *five* "black" squares (one more than today's). Heaney and Blindauer are top-notch constructors and solving their puzzle was formative for me, so this puzzle had no chance. It just seemed like an easier, paler imitation of the one I did nine years ago. I imagine if you've never seen such a thing, it probably looks pretty cool. It did to me once. When the New York Sun had a daily puzzle, it was very often better than the NYT (don't believe me? Ask around). I miss having a daily puzzle so consistently well edited and daring. Peter Gordon is now the editor of Fireball Crosswords (a tough weekly that's well worth your time). I can't believe Will didn't know the Blindauer/Heaney puzzle existed. I guess he didn't care. It's been nine years after all. And the ASYMMETRY revealer is new.

Started in the NW. I knew the Maine mascot was a BEAR and I immediately thought of a sidewalk BOARD for 1A: Menu holder at many a cafe (though clearly a non-sidewalk [BLACK]BOARD was what the clue intended). Since I was sure of BEAR, but the answer was five letters, I thought that one of the squares was to be left blank or skipped for some reason, and started working crosses with that in mine. Turned out the blank/skipped square was square one, and bam, there's the "black" rebus gimmick. About a minute later I hit the ASYMMETRY clue and experienced that sinking deja-vu feeling. Clue on ASYMMETRY made things easy, since it essentially told you where the "black" squares were—find the ASYMMETRY, fix it. Nothing else about this puzzle was terribly memorable to me, although I will say that the grid is admirably clean and sturdy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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