John of pro wrestling / FRI 3-31-17 / Alphabetically rhyming river name / Mammasl using echolocation / 1980s big city mayor / Ff Sumter battler / Good practice for show it's academic

Friday, March 31, 2017

Constructor: David C. Duncan Dekker

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: John CENA (23A: John of pro wrestling) —
John Felix Anthony Cena Jr. (/ˈsnə/; born April 23, 1977) is an American professional wrestler, rapper, actor, and reality television show host. He is signed to WWE, where he performs on the SmackDown brand. Cena started his professional wrestling career in 1999 with Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW) and won the UPW Heavyweight Championship the following year.[8] Cena signed a developmental contract with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, later renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment, or simply WWE) in 2001, debuting on the WWE main roster in 2002. [...] Outside of wrestling, Cena has released the rap album You Can't See Me, which debuted at No. 15 on the US Billboard 200 chart, and starred in the feature films The Marine (2006), 12 Rounds (2009), Legendary (2010), The Reunion (2011), Trainwreck (2015), and Sisters (2015).  Cena has also made appearances on television shows including Manhunt, Deal or No Deal, MADtv, Saturday Night Live, Punk'd, Psych, and Parks and Recreation. He was also a contestant on Fast Cars and Superstars: The Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race, where he made it to the final round before being eliminated, placing third in the overall competition. Cena is also the host of American Grit on Fox. Cena is involved in numerous philanthropic causes; most notably with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He has granted the most wishes in Make-A-Wish history (wikipedia).
• • •

The virtues of a 72-word themeless are *supposed* to be clean, fresh, interesting fill (72 is the highest word count allowed for themelesses, and a high word count means the grid is easier to fill well). But this grid is constructed in the way least likely to make the clean, fresh, interesting stuff happen. You still have these giant corners, which will only ever top out at OK, even if you are a pretty good constructor. The result is a grid that is mostly dull, with some ugly (short fill) patches, which is then bedecked with Qs and Zs in a rather cynical attempt to distract the solver with shininess. ODETS CENA and EDKOCH start us with a glut of names and then PEEDEE gets a hyper-dumb (and to me, indecipherable) clue (2D: Alphabetically rhyming river name). Not even a geographic location. And "alphabetically" means "in alphabetical order" to me, so I just had to rely on crosses and knowing the PEEDEE river exists. A trivial sum is TWO *PENCE*? Cor Blimey! Here in America, I give my two cents, not my two pence. How did that not have a "to Brits" tag like ENQUIRY? GUIDE crossing GUIDO? Ouch. There was not a lot of joy here. Is a BSC a Bachelor of ... SCience? How "common" is a BSC? Is it different from a B.S.? I teach in a degree-granting place and I have no idea. I google BSC and the first hit that comes up is "Boston Sports Clubs." That was the last answer I got.

Two major errors held me up today. First BUTT OUT for BUZZ OFF (24D: "Go away!"). And then, much worse, OKRAS for ORCAS (11D: Things in a pod). I thought the clue on SWIMMEET was pretty decent (13D: What has different strokes for different folks?). But there wasn't much else that was entertaining. I mean, PIZZA (amazing, delicious!) and the best clue you can come up with is [___ topping]?? That's criminal. Overall, this is not terrible, but it's highly blah, and makes me miss the days when killer themeless constructors roamed the Friday and Saturday puzzles. [Redacted nostalgic passage] [Redacted remark about talent depletion] [Decision to go drink BOOZE].

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Disrobing of Christ painter 1579 / Most-nominated woman ever in Grammys / Famed deli seen in Woody Allen's Manhattan / Green Hornet's masked driver / Dramatic ending to performance

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Constructor: Lewis Rothlein

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MIC DROP (42D: Dramatic ending to a performance ... or a hint to answering the six starred clues) —answers are real words but don't fit ... until you drop the "MIC":

Theme answers:
  • BALSA(MIC) (19A: *What may keep a model's weight down?)
  • (MIC)RON (15A: *Onetime White House nickname)
  • POLE(MIC) (11D: *Word after North or South)
  • CO(MIC)AL (36D: *Shade of black)
  • (MIC)KEY (51A: *Anthem writer)
  • FOR(MIC)A (39D:*Discussion venues)
Word of the Day: Frances Moore LAPPÉ (8A: Frances Moore ___, author of the best-selling "Diet for a Small Planet") —
Frances Moore Lappé (born February 10, 1944) is the author of 18 books including the three-million copy, 1971 Diet for a Small Planet that The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History describes as “one of the most influential political tracts of the times." She is the co-founder of three national organizations that explore the roots of hunger, poverty and environmental crises, as well as solutions now emerging worldwide through what she calls Living Democracy. Her most recent books include EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want[1] and World Hunger: 10 Myths.
• • •

I've seen this concept executed better elsewhere, and honestly I've been subjected to that MIC DROP twit on the Verizon commercial so many times now that the whole concept of mic dropping feels as old as "phat" and "bling" to me already. The NYT is just ... belated. Here's a BEQ version of this theme from two years ago. And here's a David Kwong version from last year (from the best daily you're not doing, and possibly the best daily puzzle period, at the moment: the WSJ). This wasn't terrible fun to solve. I am not (at all) a big fan of randomly question-marked themers? I mean, if they're all "?"'d, great, but 19A: *What may keep a model's weight down? (BALSA(MIC)) was just awful, esp. as the first themer anyone's likely to encounter (in the NW). I was like "is this a fad diet? Is the vinegar making the model barf?" But then I saw the "balsa" in there and thought "pffft, I guess something's happening... I'll just keep going." Theme became obvious at POLE(MIC), and after that, there wasn't much more to do but slog through clues and enjoy/endure the fill (more the latter, though "GONE GIRL" was alright) (27D: 2014 psychological thriller based on a Gillian Flynn novel).

Do people know MBABANE? (1D: Capital of Swaziland). It's a world capital, so it's fair game, but I'll confess it was just a string of letters to me. Another string of letters (more familiar, far less pleasant) was OBLA, the kind of answer that makes me want to quit crosswords and take up, I don't know, whittling or something.

The LAPPÉ (who?) / ACHS crossing is truly atrocious, a. because LAPPÉ is the kind of name you should only use if your grid is literally on fire (i.e. in an emergency), and b. because the ACHS crossing is one of those terrible "ugh, which one is the Scottish exclamation and which one is the German?" "words" that makes the vowel a kind of a guess. I guessed right, but still: bad. KOED is also, even more, bad. Like, bad. Like, I keep looking at it, expecting it to suddenly look like a word to me, but so far no dice. Strangest moment of the solve for me was nailing MULEDEER with just -LED- in place (15D: Rocky Mountain forager). Ugh, INDC. I fought with my podcast cohost about this horrible answer recently. She's strangely enamored of it, whereas I wish it would (OBLA) die. It is absolutely ridiculous that ALKALINE was not clued as AL KALINE, especially with Opening Day of the baseball season just days away. As a Tigers fan, I reject this puzzle on the basis of that snub alone (though I also stand by everything else I said).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Camera named for goddess / WED 3-29-17 / Crisis time / 1974 hit with Spanish lyrics / Leather often treated to look like Morocco / Aromatic additive to natural gas

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MIDDLE AGE (34A: Crisis time, for some ... or a hint to each of the circled words) — circled letters in the "middle" of four answers are all words that can precede "age" ...

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: ODORANT (38D: Aromatic additive to natural gas) —
noun: odorant; plural noun: odorants
  1. a substance giving off a smell, especially one used to give a particular scent or odor to a product. (google)
• • •

This is poor on several levels. The basic theme conceit isn't stunning (circled squares in the middle of theme answers spell a bunch of things that have something in common, revealer does something hamfistedly punny, tada!—) but it's the kind of familiar, been-done-before, salvageable concept that should be able to get you to Average if you work at it—that is, if your themers are great and your hidden words make a tight set and are properly "hidden." And while you could argue that the themers themselves are perfectly fine answers (all 15s), beyond that, things fall apart. As I've said more, good craftsmanship standards in a "hidden words" puzzle like this dictate that the "hidden" word should touch all elements in the theme answers, i.e. normally, stretch across two words (the way ICE stretches across ELECTRIC and ENGINES in the first themer). But here, not one but *two* of these damned things fail here, and one fails terribly. At least STONE is "hidden" somewhere (between LOST and ONE'S), even if it does have MARBLES just hanging out there in the wind; IRON isn't even trying. It just sits inside ADIRONDACK, cleverness nil, CHAIR just waving from the sidelines. Further, and worse, the set of "hidden" words goes yes yes yes *clunk*, i.e. three actual "ages" and then stupid figurative crystal-wearing bad-music-suffused NEW. No. No to NEW.

The fill is the repulsively rich icing on this lopsided cake. I circled all the tired-to-bad fill and my puzzle printout has a nearly unbroken swath of ink all the way from the SW to the NE corner. Grid is very choppy, esp. toward the middle, and the three- and four-word onslaught gets pretty dire. Once again, I could tell before exiting the NW that things were going to be bad. It was slightly sad how easily I was able to put in the dreadful IREFUL / RELEE crossing. Puzzle's can't even sneak up on me with its blecchness any more. You can just say some of the lines straight across to get a feel for how bad the fill is. OBE EOS MCML!! POS POO RAS CEO! POO on top of "ERES TU," indeed. So, to sum up, workable concept, poorly worked, filled like a landfill.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Illegal pitching motion / TUE 3-28-17 / 18th-century mathetmatician who introduced function / Inspiring 1993 movie about Notre Dame football team / Tom who coached Dallas Cowboys for 29 years

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Constructor: Ryan Milligan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: adjective --> adverb: relatively famous people have their adjective last names turned into adverbs, as they are imagined saying things in a manner befitting their last names

Theme answers:
  • 20A: "Sorry I'm in your space, it's a n actress thing," said GLENN CLOSELY
  • 28A: "Don't interrupt me on my radio show," said HOWARD STERNLY
  • 46A: "Gotta run, pop concert calls," said TAYLOR SWIFTLY
  • 54A: "Right to the point: You're beautiful, it's true," said JAMES BLUNTLY 
Word of the Day: ALDO Gucci (17A: Designer Gucci) —
Aldo Gucci (26 May 1905 – 19 January 1990) was the chairman of Gucci Shops Inc. from 1953 to 1986. He was the eldest son of Guccio Gucci, who founded the company bearing his name in 1921. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is out of a can. The Tom Swifty, one of the oldest and lowest forms of wordplay, has been used A Lot as the basis for crossword themes, both NYT and otherwise. I rarely like such puzzles at all, but I have seen them done with a certain degree of thoughtfulness and polish—where all the theme answers are thematically linked somehow, for instance (here's a WSJ one that Sam Donaldson did where all the answers are imagined as things a tailor might say). But this one just seems lazy—find (relatively) famous people with adjectives as last names; turn last names into adverbs; write wacky clue. You could do a lot of these. Judith Lightly, Martin Shortly, Jean Smartly, Barney Frankly, Christopher Crossly, Michael Sharply (wink), etc. Today's themers have nothing in common and the clues aren't that funny and The End. Also, the fill is middling to less-than-middling. It's a bust all around. In short, it's a Tuesday.

I saw people (well, person) on Twitter saying the puzzle was extremely easy. My time was totally normal. Theme felt mostly easy, but I had a bunch of little things slow me down slightly. DNA for RNA (31D: Material in strands), for one. Then somehow cluing DRAMA as a "class" made no sense to me and I needed every cross (9A: Class with masks?). Then I rediscovered that I can't spell SPORADIC (I used a "T" !?) (38D: Occasional). Do people really remember who James Blunt is? He strikes me as a one-hit wonder who is not at all on the level of the other theme answers, fame-wise. Also, his one hit is nothing I care to remember—like nails on the chalkboard of my soul. Wincingly cloying. It was massive, for sure. But that clue did not clearly point to a person when I first looked at it (54A: Right to the point: You're beautiful, it's true," said ___), and I imagine it will be the least familiar themer of the day for most folks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old-fashioned wine holder / MON 3-27-17 / What Google's Ngram program tracks for word usage / Labourite's opponent in British politics / Group of books that educated person is supposed to be familiar with

Monday, March 27, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slowish for Monday, though maybe that's 'cause the grid is extra-wide today)

THEME: STAKE OUT (39A: Police operation ... or, when read another way, what a grammarian would like to do to 18-, 24-, 52- and 65-Across) — ungrammatical expressions involving extra esses...

Theme answers:
  • ALL'S I KNOW... (18A: "The one thing that's clear to me ...")
  • A LONG WAYS OFF (24A: Distant)
  • AND THEN I SAYS ... (52A: Narrative conncector) [that is One Hell of a vague clue]
  • HOW'S ABOUT ...? (65A: "What do you think of ...?")
Word of the Day: TROIKA (30D: Group of three) —
noun: troika; plural noun: troikas
  1. 1.
    a Russian vehicle pulled by a team of three horses abreast.
    • a team of three horses for a troika.
  2. 2.
    a group of three people working together, especially in an administrative or managerial capacity. (google)
• • •

Can't tell if this was slightly harder than the average Monday, or just took slightly longer because of the extra-wide (16) grid. All's I know is I was about 15-20 seconds slower than normal (significant on a Monday). At first, I wasn't sure why the 16-square width was necessary, but if you're gonna put an even-number-lettered revealer in the center, then yeah, your grid has to be an even number of squares wide. I didn't think the revealer worked very well as clued; that is, "a grammarian would like to 'S' take out" sounds totally ridiculous, but that's the formulation the clue specifically asks for. S TAKE-OUT is better as a noun—something a grammarian would like to perform on the relevant theme entries. Clued as a verb phrase, it's nonsense. Further, A LONG WAYS OFF seems like an outlier here in at least a couple way(s). It's the only truly stand-alone phrase, all the other being sentence lead-ins. It's the only one that is not definitively colloquial, i.e. a commonly if not exclusively *spoken* formulation. It's also the least grammar-violating, ALL'S and HOW'S being grammatically nonsensical, and I SAYS being a matter of overt subj/verb disagreement. Changing WAY to WAYS (or vice versa) just doesn't seem in the same universe as the other grammarian-offending phrases.

The non-theme stuff, on the other hand, is quite nice, with six Downs of 7+ letters in length giving the grid a lot more character than you typically see on a Monday. Plus, there's very little in the way of junk. This has all been nicely polished, with only AAHED and maybe GLO getting me even the slightest bit RILEd. I love the words FLAGON (27D: Old-fashioned wine holder) and TROIKA, for purely aesthetic reasons.

[sorry this song was in the background of the trailer for the movie "STAKEOUT" and so I looked it up and it is pretty evocative of a pretty terrible time in pop music videos so I thought 'sure, throw it in...']

Congrats to Dan Feyer, who won his 7th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament championship yesterday, beating out fellow killer-solvers Tyler Hinman and Joon Pahk. I HOPE to see you tomorrow. Au revoir.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS NOT SO'S YOU'D NOTICE woulda made a nice central 15 in a normal-sized grid ... maybe change the revealer to SLOP and shove it in a corner ... I'm just spitballin' here ...

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Bandleader Eubanks familiarly / SUN 3-26-17 / Monastery head's jurisdiction / Title creature in 1958 #1 Sheb Wooley hit / Onetime acquisition of G.E. / Lyre-plucking muse / zen master's query / Biggest employer in Moline Ill / Dystopian film of 1971

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Constructor: Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Mixed Results" — colors replaced by crossing colors (in circled letters) that, when combined, create the original color:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KOHLRABI (8D: Cabbage variety) —
Kohlrabi (German turnip or turnip cabbage; Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group) is an Biennial vegetable, and is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Edible preparations are made with both the stem and the leaves. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was oddly joyless. Not terrible, but without any moments of genuine pleasure, either in the fill or in the clues. Concept is blah, and oddly executed—YELLOW + BLUE = GREEN is a far far far far far (etc.) more iconic color equation than the utterly-new-to-me RED + GREEN = BROWN (???). And then there are really only four colors, and once you know the color gimmick, the themers are way too easy to pick up. Plus the fill has few highlights and the clues just sit there. Nothing clever or interesting. RAZOR WIT has a kind of charm, but otherwise, there's nothing much here of interest.

1A: Martin Van Buren was the first president who wasn't one (WASP) completely killed the puzzle for me, right off the bat. What a no-good, terrible, confusing, stupid clue for a perfectly good insect. Does WASP mean "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" here? If so ... WTF? No one used that term in the 19th century, so ... I mean, "inapt" doesn't even begin to cut it. I can only guess that this is the information at play in the non-WASP designation here:
Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the village of Kinderhook, New York about 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany on the Hudson River. Van Buren was the first President not born a British subject, or even of British ancestry. He was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen of the village of Buurmalsen, near the town of Buren in the Netherlands, who had come to North America in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island; his son Martin Cornelisen took the surname Van Buren. (wikipedia)
Who the hell knows or cares about this? No, wait, forget who knows or cares—even if you knew and cared, in what universe do you take your knowing and caring and turn it into a clue for, of all things, WASP, which is a pretty generic, and in my experience, at least mildly pejorative, term? Baffling. That was at 1-Across ... and the sourness never went away. A good puzzle might've made me forget that WASP nonsense, but this puzzle did not make me forget. Instead it gave me SATNAV crossing KEV and TANK UP instead of PACK UP (5A: Get ready for a long drive)—in short, a handful of nuisance moments strewn about a field of blandness. Is this the second ABBACY of the month? That can't be a good sign. Better luck next time; this thing clunked.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Literary waiter / SAT 3-25-17 / Coffee in miltary slang / Locale in two James Bond films / Media inits since 1922 / Subject of 1942 film musical Yankee Doodle Dandy / Joey of children's literature

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Constructor: Sam Ezersky and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: COHAN (51D: Subject of the 1942 film musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy") —
George Michael Cohan (July 3, 1878 – November 5, 1942), known professionally as George M. Cohan, was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and producer. // Cohan began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans." Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including the standards "Over There", "Give My Regards to Broadway", "The Yankee Doodle Boy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag". As a composer, he was one of the early members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s, and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940. // Known in the decade before World War I as "the man who owned Broadway", he is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M!. A statue of Cohan in Times Square in New York City commemorates his contributions to American musical theatre. (wikipedia)
• • •

I had FATHOMS for FETCHES (3D: Gets), and then didn't know two proper nouns that were placed like sentries right at the western entryways to the SE corner (COHAN, ENID). Other than that, there was literally nothing in this puzzle that presented a problem, nothing that took more than a little bit of puzzling, a little bit of cross-working. This was a very nook-and-crannyed 72-worder, so getting footholds was never ever a problem. The whole thing is footholds. Once again, a 1-Across gimme signaled smooth sailing ahead. I filled in "LIFE OF PABLO" without hesitation—it was one of the most talked-about albums of last year (1A: 2016 #1 Kanye West album, with "The"). There was this whole controversy involving some lyrics about Taylor Swift (to which she publicly took offense), and whether Swift did or did not know about them, and even OK them, ahead of time. I know you all are pop junkies ... read about it here and here if you like. Anyway, regardless of the Swift nonsense, the album was critically successful and I knew it. From there, I put down *seven* Downs in the NW corner, six of which were right (just that aforementioned FATHOMS error...). Grid opened right up.

Somewhat weird that I blanked on COHAN—I could see Cagney in my head very clearly, but I just couldn't for the life of me remember who he was playing. I don't remember who ENID is waiting for (47A: Literary waiter). Geraint? I think it's the Arthurian ENID, but I didn't know she was famous for waiting. That clue was hard. YEA (54A: ___ big) and GILT (30A: Finished elegantly) both slowed me down a bit, but whatever time they cost me was more than made up for when I no-looked *all* the short Acrosses in the NE corner. Just threw all the Downs up—and they all worked. With the exception of SEEPY :( I really liked this grid. Cluing was just OK—more trivia-ish, less clever than yesterday's—but it was good enough. Not sure I woulda gone with the cutesy "?" clue on an abortion-related answer (33A: Classic case of making life choices?). Struck me as slightly yucky and tone deaf. Plus you've got LIFE in the grid (1A) and in another clue besides (16A: Time of one's life, maybe), so maybe ... do something different here. But the ROE V. WADE clue is a minor ding on an otherwise appealing puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Jazz Trumpeter Hargrove with two Grammys / FRI 3-24-17 / Novelist Hammond / Bronx Zoo has 265 of them / Bad occasion for anchor to drag / Hybrid business entity / In Luxury Beware painter 1663

Friday, March 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins and John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Hammond INNES (61A: Novelist Hammond ___) —
Ralph Hammond Innes (15 July 1913 – 10 June 1998) was a British novelist who wrote over 30 novels, as well as children's and travel books. He was married to fellow author and actress Dorothy Mary Lang in 1937 who died before him, in 1989. He was awarded a C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire) in 1978. [...] The Doppelganger, his first novel, was published in 1937. In WWII he served in the Royal Artillery, eventually rising to the rank of Major. During the war, a number of his books were published, including Wreckers Must Breathe (1940), The Trojan Horse (1941) and Attack Alarm (1941), the last of which was based on his experiences as an anti-aircraft gunner during the Battle of Britain at RAF Kenley. After being demobilized in 1946, he worked full-time as a writer, achieving a number of early successes. His novels are notable for a fine attention to accurate detail in descriptions of places, such as in Air Bridge (1951), set partially at RAF Gatow, RAF Membury after its closure and RAF Wunstorf during the Berlin Airlift. // Innes went on to produce books in a regular sequence, with six months of travel and research followed by six months of writing. Many of his works featured events at sea. His output decreased in the 1960s, but was still substantial. He became interested in ecological themes. He continued writing until just before his death. His last novel was Delta Connection (1996).
• • •

Hey, solver solver. I have to be brief this morning because of early appointments, so I'll just say yes, I liked this. I've seen both constructor names before, but neither has left a very strong impression (ETCH!), so I had to go back to check out their earlier work, just to remind myself. I think it's fair to say that this is my favorite work from either of them. Solid grid, not much weak fill, and question-mark clues (which can be grating when off) really land. Often I just want to slap those punny little things ("Ooh, look at me, I'm a question-mark clue, aren't I just so coy and naughty?" [slap]). But if they land, then OK, question-mark clues, we're good. OK [Metal finish?] for WARE isn't much, but [Indications of one's qualifications?] for ASTERISKS is head-scratchingly wonderful (needed tons of crosses), as is [What'll give someone a bleeping chance?] for TAPE DELAY (same). For the latter, it came down to that last letter—my brain wanted it to be TAPED LAG (?). And then [Clip art?] for BONSAI? That's just good. Common phrase, completely (and validly) repurposed by the "?". This is definitely a puzzle where the fill, while good, isn't where the main entertainment value lies. Clue writing is crucial, and I'm told (... glares through the computer at someone ...) I don't talk about it enough. So I'm talking about it!

Daryl ISSA is gross, but his name is so crossword-friendly that I'll overrule my own objection and allow it (24D: California congressman Darrell). HEY, BATTER BATTER is glorious because it is baseball, and baseball is right around the corner, and I need something more than just TCM to take my mind off The World. The names might throw people a bit today, in that they all seem a bit old / obscure. I remembered there was a Judith besides Light somehow (IVEY), but I had no idea who this ROY was (5D: Jazz trumpeter Hargrove with two Grammys) (he's really good!), and while I know Sam RAIMI (I swear I just saw something about "Evil Dead" floating around Twitter in the last couple days), Hammond INNES seems like specialized knowledge. He was a mid-century thriller writer, and I know his name only because I have a massive vintage paperback collection in which his books appear a number of times. RAIMI over INNES might rough some people up, I don't know. Otherwise, while I thought the cluing kind of tricky, this played like a Friday. And look at that, it *is* Friday.

Good luck to all competing in this weekend's ACPT. I won't be there :( but I think I'm gonna "play from home," so ... we'll see how that goes.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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One-horse carriage / THU 3-23-17 / Distinctive filmmakers / Old typesetting machine informally / Certain bourdeaux informally

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Constructor: Sandy Ganzell

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: straitened circumstances — three Down columns are less wide than the others; words meaning "the opposite of wide" must precede all the answers in those columns in order for them to make sense (i.e. you have to mentally supply the initial word)

Theme answers:
  • [Thin] MINTS (14D: Girl Scout cookie offering)
  • [Slim] CHANCE (42D: What a long shot has) (ironically, "Fat" also works as the initial word here)
  • [Lean] CUISINE (22D: Brand for weight-watchers)
  • [Narrow] ESCAPE (16D: Barely successful avoidance of calamity)
  • [Skinny] JEANS (49D: Form-fitting casual wear)
Word of the Day: CARIOLE (17A: One-horse carriage) —
noun: cariole
  1. 1.
    a small open horse-drawn carriage for one person.
    • a light covered cart.
  2. 2.
    (in Canada) a kind of sled pulled by a horse or dogs and with space for one or more passengers. (google)
• • •

It's annoying when I have to read a "Note" to understand the theme because AcrossLite can't display it (apparently the "app" can't either), but tech problems aside, I think this is a wonderful little theme. Really uses *all* the viable synonyms for "the opposite of wide. I want to say the theme is thin ... because it is ... I mean it is, and it is ... sparse, I mean. You know what I mean—there aren't many theme squares. That kind of thin. Just 29 squares involved. Even a lightly themed puzzle will have a minimum of 40 or so. And yet this one feels complete as is. Seems possible that one could have added some THIN-related elements somewhere else in the grid, but it seems just as likely that that would've bogged the grid down and resulted in less clean fill. As it is, this grid is mostly very cleanly filled. CARIOLE, though (ugggggh) nearly destroyed me (17A: One-horse carriage). How on god's green am I supposed to keep all the carriage terminology straight, crossword gods! We've been on to the automobile for a century now, come on. Brougham, landau, phaeton, surrey, stanhope, sulky, fiacre ... I've seen most if not all of those in crosswords before. Well, landau for sure.  Maybe I dreamed the others. My point is that CARIOLE was one where I needed every cross and because it crossed a quotation word (TACT) and a vaguely clued clothing item (SARI), and *those* crossed a [random TV station], I was staring down the barrel of Fail for a bit. Had CAMI for 3D: Article of apparel that often leaves one arm bare, and that gave me _BC for 1A: Cable channel owned by Time Warner, which seemed *very* plausible. Ended up figuring out that it had to be TACT at 1D, which gave me TBS, and then SARI. But none of that trouble would've been real trouble without nutso time-traveling archaic CARIOLE. Blargh.

["Should I bring the brougham around, Dad?" "No! CARIOLE, my wayward son!"]

But as I say, nothing else rankled in the slightest. This appears to be a debut from this constructor, and it's a promising one. I like this better than the entire oeuvre of at least a couple oft-published NYT regulars. I mean, that bar's not terribly high, because those guys' puzzles are super-ugh, but still—nice to have a solid hit your first time out. Oh, wait. COSM is terrible. Very terrible. My general good feeling, though, is undiminished.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Early historian of ancient Rome / WED 3-22-17 / Fresh air's opposite / Kid's transport literally / Present location when visiting boondocks / Figure of underground economy / like n r phonetics / brief period in nuclear physics / big brand of kitchen knives

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Constructor: Jeffrey Wechsler

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (theme easy, fill ... ?)

THEME: "literal" depictions of TRI- QUAD- and PENTA- words 

Theme answers:
  • CYCLECYCLECYCLE (3x cycle = tricycle)
  • RANTRANTRANTRANT (4x rant = quadrant)
  • GONGONGONGONGON (5x gon =pentagon) 
Word of the Day: CUTCO (4D: Big brand of kitchen knives) —
Cutco Corporation, formerly Alcas Corporation, is a multi-level marketing company that sells knives. It is the parent company of CUTCO Cutlery Corp., Vector Marketing, KA-BAR Knives and Schilling Forge. Its primary brand is the name Cutco. // The company was founded in 1949 by Alcoa and Case Cutlery (hence "Al-cas") to manufacture knives. The management purchased the company from Alcoa in 1982, and the company acquired Vector Marketing Corporation in 1985. (wikipedia)
• • •

Joyless. Almost literally painful. The theme concept is not clever—I've seen it before. Also, it was transparent. So, nothing fun in figuring out the themers (note that the grid has been made larger to accommodate the central 16-letter answer). So all there is here really is the fill—and extra fill because of the wide grid. And there was not one place on this grid where I was enjoying myself. It's as if the puzzle knew its theme was thin-to-nonexistent, and so it tried to make the clues harder to compensate, but since the fill itself was mostly tiresome, the "hard" (often just awkward) clues just made the whole experience a chore. The offness and vagueness of the clues was what made the solve so unpleasant. [Cold War threat] for RED CHINA, for instance. A. that's incredibly vague, B. that sounds like a slang term and I see no slang indication in the clue, C. I don't remember this being a "threat." Soooo many more "threats" more closely associated with the Cold War. Further, what is CUTCO? I can tell you it's never been in the NYT before. So ... introduce a marginal knife brand on a Wednesday? Sigh. You should be able to handle your not-hard-to-fill grid better than that.

Hardest part for me was OUT HERE (!??!) (36A: Present location, when visiting the boondocks). Seems much more likely that a *resident* of the "boondocks" would use that phrase when explaining something about the "boondocks" to a condescending asshole visitor she heard using the term "boondocks." "OUT HERE, we value politeness, jerkface." I had NOWHERE in there for a while. Stupid "British" clue on RUMP (28A: ___ steak (British term for a sirloin cut)) meant I could do nothing with RU__ (I know "RUMP steak," but had No idea it was "British"—and there are so many non-British ways to clue RUMP, ugh), so that middle got bogged down. Mainly this thing was just a drag. Just an avalanche of stale fill, AVER SETTO ANO ALI REA ITRY OVA ESL UNIS APACE ADO etc.

Finally, I think there is a really bad editing error at the 10A/10D crossing (10A: Figure of the underground economy? (MINER) / 10D: Brief period in nuclear physics: Abbr. (MSEC). If I get a "brief period" in a science clue, that answer is going to be NSEC. Always. I accept that there are other SECs, but you're gonna have to prove it to me in the crosses. Only here ... NINER works perfectly (esp. in a "?" clue). I figured a NINER was slang for a Forty-Niner (because, in football, *it is*). And the Forty-Niners were ... miners, so ... NSEC / NINER. I do not accept that that's wrong. So the editing here is ugh. Just ugh. Not as bad as the horrible editing involved in the E-CLASS / E.C. SEGAR crossing a few days ago, but bad. Bad. Negligent.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dude Jamaica style / TUE 3-21-17 / Onetimei telecommunications conglomerate for short / Native of southern India or norther Sri Lanka /

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Constructor: George Barany and John D. Child

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (felt easy enough, but my time was on the high side)

THEME: TASTE (54D: It's often unaccounted for ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — circled letters spell out each of the five basic tastes detectable by the human tongue

Theme answers:
*apparently when the puzzle came out online last night, the circled squares in the last themer spelled out not UMAMI but UMMAI

Word of the Day: ITT (12D: Onetime telecommunications conglomerate, for short) —
ITT Corporation (ITT) is an American worldwide manufacturing company based in White Plains, New York, producing specialty components for the aerospace, transportation, energy and industrial markets. // The company was founded in 1920 as International Telephone & Telegraph. During the 1960s and 1970s, under the leadership of CEO Harold Geneen, the company rose to prominence as the archetypal conglomerate, deriving its growth from hundreds of acquisitions in diversified industries. ITT divested its telecommunications assets in 1986, and in 1995 spun off its non-manufacturing divisions, later to be purchased by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. // In 1996, the current company was founded as a spinoff of ITT as ITT Industries, Inc. and changed its name to ITT Corporation in 2006. // In 2011, ITT spun off its defense businesses into a company named Exelis, and its water technology business into a company named Xylem Inc. (wikipedia)
• • •

Puzzle has one thing going for it, and that is five solid 15s as themers. Beyond that, though, there's not much here to enjoy. Nonconsecutive squares spelling things out is the opposite of delightful, 100% of the time (plus or minus a percent). There's nothing particularly clever or amazing about answers that have words "hidden" in them in this way. The themers have nothing to do with the theme itself, so it plays like a very easy themeless. Further, the revealer just lies there. There is no twist, no word play, no nothing that makes this theme snap into place. The tastes *are*, in fact, accounted for, as they are clearly marked by the circled squares. If you're going to go the "no accounting for..." angle, then that should have something to do with how the theme expresses itself. That doesn't happen here.

["I got kicked off Noah's Ark. / I turn my cheek to unkind remarks. / There was TWO (61D: Noah count?) of everything, / But one of meeeeeeeeee..."]

The grid is super choppy and segmented, which means it's overwhelmed by short (3- to 5-letter) stuff, which means a lot of stale fill. That said, stale does not mean particularly terrible. It's crossword-normal; it's just unalleviated by longer, more interesting fill. The one unusual answer it does have ("I'M MEAN!") is completely preposterous (19D: Bully's boast). In what universe does a bully boast "I'M MEAN!"? Seriously. I can't imagine *any* plausible context in which a bully might boast that, and here we're asked to believe it's somehow iconic—a common thing associated with the verbal repertoire of bullies. Ridiculous. It's very, very clear that the constructors had real problems managing their themers there. They designed the grid in such a way that "I'M MEAN!" has to cut through *three* themers—that means this was one of the *first* answers they put in the grid (you gotta lock down those multiple theme crosses before you proceed, because very often there simply aren't very many answers that work). Not sure why they greenlighted "I'M MEAN!" I'd've moved my themers around like crazy to find different letter pattern options before I went with a phrase that for all intents and purposes doesn't actually exist.

[Washington Post Sunday crossword writer/editor, on "I'M MEAN!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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New Mexican pueblo dwellers / MON 3-20-17 / Computer program glitch / Jurassic Park insect casing

Monday, March 20, 2017

Constructor: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (on the easy side for a Monday, slightly)

THEME: astronowordplay — familiar astronomical terms clued as if they were not astronomical terms, i.e. clued wackily, i.e. "?"-style:

Theme answers:
  • LITTLE DIPPER (20A: Toe testing the waters?)
  • GAS GIANT (24A: ExxonMobil?)
  • STAR CLUSTER (37A: Oscar nominees' gathering?)
  • RED DWARF (52A: Bashful?)
  • HEAVENLY BODY (57A: Total hottie?)
Word of the Day: RED DWARF
A red dwarf is a small and relatively cool star on the main sequence, of either K or M spectral type. Red dwarfs range in mass from a low of 0.075 to about 0.50 solar mass and have a surface temperature of less than 4,000 K. // Red dwarfs are by far the most common type of star in the Milky Way, at least in the neighborhood of the Sun, but because of their low luminosity, individual red dwarfs cannot be easily observed. From Earth, not one is visible to the naked eye. Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, is a red dwarf (Type M5, apparent magnitude 11.05), as are fifty of the sixty nearest stars. According to some estimates, red dwarfs make up three-quarters of the stars in the Milky Way. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a solid Monday puzzle—simple concept, nicely executed. True, you can do it with any field with a specialized language: politics, baseball, spelunking (I mean ... probably). But so what? If you can find a set of (symmetrical!) terms that can be plausibly wackily reclued, more power to you. Bring on the wacky spelunking puzzles! As I was solving this, I was expecting to come in in slower-than-normal time because of the nature of the theme: "?"-clue themes add a layer (however small) of difficulty to themers. And I certainly didn't nail LITTLE DIPPER right off the bat; even with LITTLE in place, I wasn't sure what was going on, and ended up spilling down into the middle part of the grid and then circling back up to get DIPPER. But despite the tricksiness of the themers and the awkward solving path, I finished in 2:46, which is actually a good 10 seconds or so *under* my Monday average. The non-theme answers were *very* straightforward, and much of the fill was quite short, which tends to make a grid easy to blow through. It's a black-square-heavy grid, too (44 squares), so there were simply fewer squares to fill in than normal. Overall, a breezy, pleasing experience. Classic Monday fare.

My only issue with the theme involved the last answer: HEAVENLY BODY. It's too general, I think. All the others are very specific phenomenon, and then you get this general term for ... what? *Any* planet or star or other celestial body? Not the greatest way to end the theme answer sequence. Also, the clue was kind of icky in its slangy ogliness (57A: Total hottie?). To give you a sense of how cheesy the clue struck me, here: please watch this trailer for the 1985 movie "Heavenly Bodies." All will be clear.

Today's constructors, Dr. Tyson and Ms. Michaels, went to college together back in the day (HAH-vard, I believe, circa the 20th century). My knowing Andrea and Andrea's knowing Neil led to one of the greatest moments of my science-loving daughter's young life 5 years ago, when she got to meet Dr. Tyson following a lecture he gave in Binghamton. Hard to overestimate how important "NOVA ScienceNow" was to her early education. She brought her autographed copy of "The Pluto Files" in to show her 6th-grade science teacher the next day and kind of blew his mind.

 [April, 2012—my daughter is the one on the left]

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Metal band around pencil eraser / SUN 3-19-17 / Interest for limnologist / Basil who designed England's Coventry Cathedral / Computer controlled players in gaming lingo / Plant that's source of caffeine-free tea / Major John Benedict Arnold's co-conspirator / Brightest star in Aquila

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Constructor: Grant Thackray

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "111-Across!"111A: Warning for solvers of this puzzle (SPOILER ALERT!)—theme answers are plot twists in famous movies, revealed via crossreferenced clues:

Theme answers:
  • SOYLENT GREEN (22A: It's actually made of PEOPLE)
  • LUKE'S FATHER (30A: Who VADER was all along)
  • PLANET OF THE APES (45A: It turns out to be EARTH)
  • ROSEBUD (66A: It really is a SLED)
  • KILLS DUMBLEDORE (83A: What SNAPE does, shockingly)
  • NORMAN BATES (100A: To whom the title "PSYCHO" refers)
Word of the Day: HOYDEN (2D: Tomboy) —
a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior (m-w)
• • •

Hey there. My friends Lena and Brayden are in town to record another "On the Grid" crossword podcast, and we spent all day at the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition, so ... I'm pretty beat *and* I have podcast work to do. Thus, this write-up will be shortish. I do want to tell you all, however, that the tourney in Ithaca was a ton of fun: I met lots of readers (and the children of readers, and the friends of children of readers...) and got to give a little talk about solving under tournament conditions and I ran into my friend (and co-organizer of the Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament) Brian Cimmet *but* ... the best thing by far about the tourney was finding out that one of the solving teams had given themselves the team name "Annabel Thompson Fans"! [note: Annabel Thompson has been doing the first-Monday-of-the-month write-up for me for a couple years now, in case you somehow didn't know]. During my talk, I made the group identify themselves, and they were three college students who were somewhat embarrassed at being pointed out, but who were lovely people and sincere fans of Annabel and also *excellent* solvers—their team won 1st place in the Easy team division. Here they are:

This team also ended up winning a ping-pong ball signed by Will Shortz ... long story. More coverage of the Finger Lakes tourney tomorrow—and much more coverage in our upcoming "On the Grid" podcast (Episode 003). But now to this puzzle...

["... from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z!"]

As a matter of purely personal taste, I *hate* crosswords that are laden with cross-references. My general feeling when told by a crossword clue to [See 88-Across] (or the like) is "No. I will not see that. I refuse." I tend to just plow on and get such answers from crosses. When the theme is sooooo cross-reference dependent, however, you can't really do that. So my feelings toward this weren't great from the jump—too much "see this" "see that." But then I got to solving and ... there's something decent here, theme-wise. I don't associate all these movie twists with "spoilers," as so many of them are well known / iconic. But SPOILER ALERT is a good revealer and most of the time, the cross-referenced shorter answer (the Down) is indeed the spoiler.

["Hey! / Remember when / You took me to the movies / To see "SOYLENT GREEN"!]

The one answer that really throws everything off quite a bit is KILLS DUMBLEDORE. First ... awkward verb-phrase answer. Second ... well, verb-phrase period. That is, none of the other themers are connected by verbs. There are implied linking verbs, e.g. SOYLENT GREEN (is) PEOPLE, LUKE'S FATHER (is) VADER (or vice versa, I guess). If it had been, say, DUMBLEDORE'S KILLER or THE DEATH OF DUMBLEDORE and then SNAPE in the cross-reference, it would've been more consistent with the other answers. Above all, though, I don't think of that plot point as a spoiler. You wonder for the whole movie what ROSEBUD is, and then bam! SLED! You think you're on some weird planet for the whole movie and then bam! EARTH! But SNAPE ... just KILLS DUMBLEDORE. There's a lot of wondering "is SNAPE good or bad?" in those books, but his killing Dumbledore doesn't feel like it rises to *spoiler* the way all the other answers do. We don't spend the whole series wondering who killed DUMBLEDORE. It's not a mystery; it's a plot point. The "PSYCHO" one is also a little weak, in that you learn that NORMAN BATES is his *mother* (or has been dressing up like her and murdering people). *That's* the whoa! No one watching is thinking "I wonder who the PSYCHO is." I don't think that term is used anywhere in the film.

[the 1998 remake of "PSYCHO" was pointless, but this song ... amazing]

I had major trouble right underneath KILLS DUMBLEDORE. HELIACAL is nutso and DAD (as a treehouse-builder) was totally unguessable to me, and I think of limn as something having to do with outlines and shadows, not LAKEs, so that was rough rough rough for me. Everything else played pretty normal.

Gotta run. Talk to you tomorrow.

[Taping "On the Grid" at the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition—L to R: Brian Cimmet, me, tournament puzzle constructor Adam Perl, Lena Webb; also pictured, our YETI microphone w/ jaunty new blue hat] [Note: the gentleman in the background watching us (whose name I have shamefully forgotten) won the individual Challenging division and is headed to his first-ever ACPT next week]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [State quarters?] = DORM because "State" is short for [any] State University. "I go to State." 

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