Madame of 1960s Vietnam / TUE 10-31-17 / Practice condemned in Ninety-Five ThesesSelf-title #1 pop album of 2001

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Reformation Day 2017—500th anniversary of the "Ninety-Five Theses" 

Theme answers:
  • PROTESTANT (17A: With 24-Across, movement resulting from the "Ninety-Five Theses")
  • REFORMATION (24A: See 17-Across)
  • ALL SAINTS CHURCH (36A: Building where the "Ninety-Five Theses" were posted)
  • INDULGENCES (47A: Practice condemned in the "Ninety-Five Theses")
  • WITTENBERG (58A: City where the "Ninety-Five Theses" were written)
Word of the Day: Madame NHU (59D: Madame ___ of 1960s Vietnam) —
Trần Lệ Xuân (22 August 1924 – 24 April 2011), more popularly known as Madame Nhu, was the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. She was the wife of Ngô Đình Nhu, who was the brother and chief-advisor to President Ngô Đình Diệm. As Diệm was a lifelong bachelor and because she and her family lived in Independence Palace together with him, she was considered to be the first lady. // Known for her harsh and incendiary comments that attacked and severely denounced the Buddhist community of South Vietnam and the strong American influence and presence in the country, she had to live in exile in France after her husband and her brother-in-law, Diệm, were assassinated in 1963.
• • •
I waited 500 years for *this*? The world's most boring tribute puzzle? Man, I'm gonna go work up my own 95 crossword theses and nail them to the door of the NYT.

A bunch of related words arranged symmetrically. No playfulness, no cleverness, no thoughtfulness. Just a cynical attempt to exploit an anniversary. I am currently teaching English literature of Renaissance / Reformation, so the themers were all pretty dang easy (except for ALL SAINTS CHURCH, which I blanked on). The rest of the grid seemed easy, too. I have no idea how my time ended up perfectly average. I'm guessing the slowdown had something to do with the only answer in the grid I had to pay any attention to (not coincidentally, the ugliest thing in the grid): NHU (59D: Madame ___ of 1960s Vietnam). Wow, NHU? Who NHU!? Between that and the adjacent CEREAL, with its jaunty / befuddling "Post" clue (46D: Post production?), I kept putting in and tearing out the first two letters of 62A: "It's all clear to me now!"). NHU even had me unsure about the [City where the "Ninety-Five Theses" were written]. Who the hell is Madame NHU? Please don't tell me I should be "happy to learn something." No, you should be sad that your constructor had to resort to such junk fill, because I assure you, he didn't put NHU in here so he could teach the world about her. Desperation, man. That's the only reason you're ever gonna see NHU. I thought "I've never seen that before," but apparently she appeared in a puzzle during the first month of my blog's existence (Oct. 2006). I'd like to thank the NYT for giving me 11 NHU-free years. I will always remember those years fondly.

Gotta run. Happy Halloween.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. it occurs to me that many solvers may not know what INDULGENCES are, so here:
In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins". It may reduce the "temporal punishment for sin" after death (as opposed to the eternal punishment merited by mortal sin), in the state or process of purification called Purgatory. [...] By the late Middle Ages, the abuse of indulgences, mainly through commercialization, had become a serious problem which the Church recognized but was unable to restrain effectively. Indulgences were from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation a target of attacks by Martin Luther and all other Protestant theologians. Eventually the Catholic Counter-Reformation curbed the excesses, but indulgences continue to play a role in modern Catholic religious life. Reforms in the 20th century largely abolished the quantification of indulgences, which had been expressed in terms of days or years. These days or years were meant to represent the equivalent of time spent in penance, although it was widely taken to mean time spent in Purgatory. The reforms also greatly reduced the number of indulgences granted for visiting particular churches and other locations. (wikipedia)

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Vanzetti's partner in 1920s crime / MON 10-30-17 / Chickens for roasting

Monday, October 30, 2017

Constructor: Jay Kaskel

Relative difficulty: Medium* (actually, no idea ... see below)

THEME: witches' brew — ordinary phrases are clued as if they related to witches, because it's October 30, which is of course Hallo ... wait a minute ..

Theme answers:
  • SPELLCHECK (18A: Computer help for a witch?)
  • CHARM SCHOOL (26A: Educational institution for witches?)
  • WARTS AND ALL (41A: How one might be forced to accept a witch?)
  • CURSE WORDS (53A: Utterances from witches?)
Word of the Day: INCUS (12D: Ear bone) —
noun: incus; plural noun: incudes
  1. a small anvil-shaped bone in the middle ear, transmitting vibrations between the malleus and stapes. (google)
• • •
The plural of INCUS is "incudes"!? WHERE DID THE "D" COME FROM!!?!?!?! Now *that* is EERIE.

 [SCHELL game]

This is actually fine. It's a cute-ish little pun puzzle about witches, and though it's not actually Halloween, it is Halloween-adjacent, so ... fine. The fill is very very very very average (i.e. not great), but it wasn't dreadful. This one is a "C"—average, OK, fine, you pass. You shouldn't have to go to either SCHELL (!) or INCUS on a Monday, but you pass. I thought SCHNELL, as so tried all Kinds of spellings. My main gripe today is not with the puzzle itself, but with the NYT crossword website, which would not not not cough up a .puz version of the puzzle for me to solve on my desktop with AcrossLite software; that is, it wouldn't give me the damned puzzle in my preferred format. Instead it gave me this stupid error message:

And so I had to solve on the NYT website itself. The "applet," I think it's called. And that was dreadful, because I'm used to how the keyboard behaves with AcrossLite, which is slightly, eerily, but significantly different from how it behaves on the applet. At high speeds, that difference is amplified, i.e. I move through the grid like a drunk person moves through an obstacle course, i.e. humorously badly. My time was slow, but I can't lay that all on the puzzle. Hence my default (i.e. "I don't know") "Medium" difficulty rating.

Had CLOT for CLOD (26D: Dirt clump). Both seem right, and OTS looks OK in the cross ... this is why you check your damned crosses. Now that I look at CLOT and CLOD, CLOD is obviously the better choice. CLOT = blood, CLOD = dirt, or some dumbass, I suppose. Can we all agree that [U.K. award]s are among the lowest forms of crossword answers. A notch below [Schoolyard taunt]s. I had the most trouble with WURSTS, because I wanted only BRATS and then no other words would form in my head. It was very frustrating. I like the little bonus themers of HAGS and EERIE, and also CRIES and PAINS crossing in the center. Very Halloweeny. All in all, a tolerable amuse-bouche of a Halloweenesque puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Eponymous Israeli gun designer / SUN 10-29-17 / Defib locales / Some looping online animations / Where Samson slew Philistines / Daring thing to wear with polka dots / Harry's wizarding foe

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Going Off Script" — four lines from movies are clued simply by their movie title, and then corresponding answers are ordinary two-word phrases ending in LINE where the first word is also the name of the actor who said the LINE from the movie. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • "HAKUNA MATATA!" (22A: "The Lion King") is a LANE LINE (24A: Pool divider, or a further hint to 22-Across) because Nathan *Lane* is the "Lion King" actor who says it
  • "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" (42A: "Jerry Maguire") is a (Tom) CRUISE LINE
  • "WHY SO SERIOUS?" (101A: "The Dark Knight") is a (Heath) LEDGER LINE
  •  "CHEWIE, WE'RE HOME" (76A: "The Force Awakens") is a (Harrison) FORD LINE
Word of the Day: Ad VALOREM tax (10D: Ad ___ tax) —
An ad valorem tax (Latin for "according to value") is a tax whose amount is based on the value of a transaction or of property. It is typically imposed at the time of a transaction, as in the case of a sales tax or value-added tax (VAT). An ad valorem tax may also be imposed annually, as in the case of a real or personal property tax, or in connection with another significant event (e.g. inheritance tax, expatriation tax, or tariff). In some countries a stamp duty is imposed as an ad valorem tax. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did you know Harrison Ford was Joan Didion's carpenter? That Didion documentary on Netflix is wild...

This is one of those themes that probably sounded good in the constructor's head (probably originated with noting the possible dual meaning of CRUISE LINE), but then ... oof. Where to start? How about with the fact that "SHOW ME THE MONEY!?" isn't really a Cruise line. I mean, he says it, sure, but he's just repeating the line that Cuba Gooding, Jr. already said (and made famous). Then there's the unbelievable inclusion of "CHEWIE, WE'RE HOME," which ... what? Since when is that a famous line? The others are very, very famous. Iconic, even. "CHEWIE, WE'RE HOME?" OK, I saw "Force Awakens" only once, so maybe the importance of that line got by me somehow, but ... no. Not even close. You can't throw that dumb, utterly non-iconic line out there as the fourth in a set where the other three are classics. Absurd. If you want to pull off a theme like this, wait til you have collected a suitable set of themers. That is the Merl Reagle rule of themes: don't take it out of the damned oven before it's done. Don't force it. Just because you can work up *a* list of themers that fit doesn't mean you're there yet. Stunned that this passed muster. "CHEWIE, WE'RE HOME," dear lord. "Laugh it up, Fuzzball" is a more famous FORD LINE by far than "CHEWIE, WE'RE HOME," and even that line isn't that famous. I feel like the whole world of ____ LINE options has not been fully explored / exploited, and so we get ... this—this tepid expression of what might've been a reasonably interesting theme.

[a looping online animation]
(see 6A)

The fill in this one is more forgettable than bad, but it's definitely got more than enough KER ESE ADA ADES to go around. I winced dramatically when I threw down SENESCE ... and then immediately crossed it with BANC. It was a SENESCE/BANC kind of puzzle. Couple of names that were new(ish) to me; McCoy TYNER and UZI GAL, the latter of which sounds more like an arms-loving woman's Twitter handle than a human name. I knew GOTYE, but there's really no reason why most of humanity should (6D: Singer with the 2012 #1 hit "Somebody That I Used to Know"). I'm guessing he gave many people more than a little trouble. Luckily, the crosses seem fair. Also, luckily, this puzzle was Super-Easy, so there wasn't a lot of time to build up a good head of grumpy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I enjoyed remembering "Friday I'm in Love" and THE CURE (106A) is easily the best answer in this grid

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Crosswise on a ship / SAT 10-28-17 / 1950s politico Kefauver / Architectural features of Greco-Roman temples

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Constructor: Roland Huget

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PAPETERIE (13D: Container for writing materials, such as fancy stationery) —
a box for holding stationery, especially an ornamental one.
• • •

Took one look at the grid and thought "ugh." Ultra-low word count puzzles are rarely any fun. They're often very hard, and the payoff slight or non-existent. This one ... I've seen uglier, but it still wasn't anywhere near enjoyable. At least it was easy—I finished in under 8 without really trying. How? Well, you know, you hack. Put the RE- in at the beginning of 2D: Prepare for a purchase return, perhaps; put the -IC at the end of 3D: Containing element #56; write in AFATE because it's a gimme (4D: ___ worse than death). That last one was crucial. I put in MOVIE for 5D: "M," e.g. (NASAL) (why is "M" capitalized there?), which could've hurt me, but once I had all those little answers / prefixes / suffixes in place, I saw 21A: New York's state motto. Hey, I live in New York state. I know that one. "EXCELSIOR!," I exclaimed, as I proceeded to destroy the NW corner.

But the thing about this kind of grid is that getting one corner is largely meaningless, in that you can't build on it. The tiny little escape hatches mean that every corner is essentially a new puzzle. Yet somehow all of them went down. AMO MOONIE SALTERS REAWAKENS COURSED CAT BALLOU went in without much effort. COARSEN dropped right down into the SE off just the "C" (37D: Make rough). I felt slightly bad about knowing crosswordesey crap like UGO (39A: Actor Tognazzi of "La Cage aux Folles")—feels like cheating—but you take what you can get, and I did, and the SE went down without a fight (in fact, I trounced it so bad that I'm only just now seeing the word ANTAE, dear lord, what? (46D: Architectural features of Greco-Roman temples). That make UGO look (u)good.

So all was left with was the SW corner, but I was not at all hopeful. I was gonna have to back into that corner off of just the very last letters in a couple answers. Unlikely. But then I had another dumb-luck moment: I had been reading about ESTES Kefauver just this morning, specifically about his role on the United States Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1953. So boom, ESTES goes in, boom INANE goes in, I infer the "S" at the end of MERCS, I infer the "N" before the "ESS" at the end of TRITENESS, that "N" gives me TITAN, and I fill that corner from the bottom up without much hassle. And thus, despite a daunting-looking grid, as well as a &^$%ing *euchre* clue (20A: Jack of the trump suit, in euchre) that I still don't understand and don't care enough about to look up, I tore this thing apart. Feels good. The success, that is. The puzzle itself didn't feel good at all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. ridiculously bad to have PAPERY and PAPETERIE in the same puzzle

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Samuel of English history / FRI 10-27-17 / Facepalm inducer / Letters for the detail-averse / Titaness in Greek myth / English car with winged logo / 1960s pop trie in Rock Roll Hall of Fame / Allen onetime US poet laureate

Friday, October 27, 2017

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Bob IGER (11A: Disney exec Bob) —
Robert Allen Iger (/ˈɡər/; born February 10, 1951) is an American businessman who is chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Walt Disney Company. Before Disney, Iger served as the president of ABC Television from 1994 to 1995 and the president and chief operating officer (COO) of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. from 1995 until Disney's acquisition of the company in 1996. He was named president and COO of Disney in 2000, and later succeeded Michael Eisner as CEO in 2005, after a successful effort by Roy E. Disney to shake up the management of the company. (wikipedia)
• • •

A fine Friday effort. I had no idea there was a PINK VIAGRA (17A: Sex drive enhancer introduced in 2015), but everything else was reasonably familiar, and the grid was solid, balanced, and entertaining. LINKEDIN PROFILE (3D: It might list your accomplishments) is an original answer, but somehow also a depressing one. I associate LinkedIn with people who want to connect with me and I don't know why. With desperate self-promotion and "networking." With sadness. I'm sure it's nice, but the LINKEDIN PROFILE is a dystopian thing to me.  There were no answers I Loved and there were no real trouble spots, so it's hard to know what exactly to write about. The main thing I learned is that ILER and IGER are both crosswordese and apparently I don't know the difference. Actually, as I wrote in ILER, I sorta knew that was the "Sopranos" actor, but honestly I completely forgot IGER existed, so I just waited for GET AN A FOR EFFORT to take care of things. Oh, and I learned that [Evidence of disuse] fits not one not two but three different answers that fit the pattern _UST. Weird (24D).

  • 27D: Wonderful, in old slang (ACES) — I use this expression all the time. Finally, I am old. Will the crossword start to feel like a comfy cardigan now? I can't wait.
  • 1D: Samuel of English history (PEPYS) — had trouble with this one despite the fact that I *teach* PEPYS every year. I am an English *literature* teacher. Therein lay the problem, I think. I know I rag on cross-referenced clues all the time, but I have no idea how you can have PEPYS in the same grid as DIARY ENTRY and *not* link them. PEPYS's incredibly important diary is the only reason anyone knows him at all.
  • 21A: Steal (PIRATE) — had the "PI-", went with PILFER
  • 49D: TV clown name (KRUSTY) — was looking for a live-action clown like BOZO or BOBO or something like that; so yet again, as with PEPYS, I get held up on an answer that is *very* familiar to me.
  • 53A: French Christian (DIOR) — nice (non-DIRTY) TRICK clue. I had the "DI-" and wanted ... something related to DIEU.
  • 1A: Line judge? (PALM READER) — this is the best clue of the day, appropriately positioned in the 1-Across position. That's what you do with your best stuff: showcase it!
  • 51D: Quidditch position (SEEKER) — I wrote in KEEPER. Please tell me that is also correct.
  • 18A: Heaps (A TON) — always fun to play the "ATON v. ALOT" game. At least this time, this annoying little phrase had an opposing counterpart in AFEW (54A: Not many)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Southernmost active volcano in world / THU 10-26-17 / Lily Tomlin's one ringy dingy character on old TV / Opera that takes place in 1800 premiered in 1900

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for me, anyway ... probably actually Medium)

THEME: MT. EREBUS (59A: Southernmost active volcano in the world ... or a cryptic hint to certain squares in this puzzle) — an "MTE" rebus puzzle

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Larry ELGART (46A: "Bandstand Boogie" bandleader Larry) —
Lawrence Joseph Elgart (March 20, 1922 – August 29, 2017) was an American jazz bandleader. With his brother Les, he recorded "Bandstand Boogie", the theme to the long-running dance show American Bandstand. (wikipedia)
• • •

Filled in the NW corner super fast and then just died. Next section over, I had OAFS (4A: Klutzes) and then ... nothing. Actually jumped down to the bottom via the cross-referenced AREA, picking up REST and starting again from there (60D: With 23-Across, picnic table locale). So I ended up getting MT. EREBUS pretty early, but didn't really *get* it, and then when I *did* get it, my brain processed it as "MT" REBUS. I mean, you would rebus MT because a MT is a thing (abbr. for Montana, abbr. for mountain), whereas an "MTE" rebus ... WHAT THE &$^% is an MTE!?!?!?!?! Is this seriously a "three-random letter" rebus? My brain was right to reject that &$^%. I've never seen a more meaningless rebus square. Unbelievable. I understand seeing "REBUS" inside "MT. EREBUS" and thinking "Ooh, tempting!" But I do Not understand thinking it would be fun to make your repeated rebus square "MTE." That, I do not understand.

I finished with an error, namely ELZART / ZAMBIA. There is so much wrong with this cross. First of all, who the &$^% is Larry ELGART?! What the ... why ... I'm just staring at his name, and even his wikipedia entry, dumbfounded that his name is a thing that is considered common knowledge. EL-ART coulda been so many letters. And then you give me -AMBIA, when ZAMBIA is an actual African country yet somehow *not* the actual answer (47D: Its capital is an Atlantic port). But then the actual answer is GAMBIA!? And I'm like "Why ... don't I know about this country?" Well, two reasons. One, do you know how small it is? They need an inset even to find it on the map they use on its own wikipedia page:

Further, do you know what the country is *actually* called (per its wikipedia page)? Here:
The Gambia (/ˈɡæmbi.ə/ (About this sound listen)), officially the Republic of The Gambia,[3] is a country in West Africa that is entirely surrounded by Senegal except for its coastline on the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. It is the smallest country in mainland Africa.
What the hell!? Straight-up GAMBIA isn't even an option here. How are you gonna perpetrate like GAMBIA is a country without the damned definite article!? Come on, man? This ELGART / GAMBIA crossing is a hellscape. It's so bad, it made me forget how dumb the rebus was. And now all I can think of are the non-entity-ness of "MTE" and the fact that ZAMBIA is landlocked and like 5500 miles away from *THE* GAMBIA. You wanna talk about other elements of this puzzle, go right ahead. I haven't got time for the pain. It's all too much. Besides, I gotta start getting ready for the Malaysia Technology Expo 2018! See you all there!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if that answer was originally Ansel ELGORT and the editor changed it I Swear To God ... !

P.P.S. I definitely had two of these same mistakes at first (RIFT, HAKE):

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Take an Ax to / WED 10-25-17 / Like good farm soil / Eggs on / Source of protein in veggie burgers

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Constructor: Jules P. Markey

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BREAK UP THE BANKS (62A: Wall Street reformer's urging ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled squares) —Two geological banks, RIVER and SNOW, and two storage banks, SPERM and DATA are "broken" across phrases.

Theme answers:
  • D(RIVE R)ECKLESSLY (17A: Weave or tailgate, say)
  • "IT'(S NO W)ONDER" (25A "I'm not at all surprised")
  • GIVE(S PERM)ISSION (41A: Allows)
  • SOL(D AT A) LOSS (52A: Bailed out on some stock, say)
Word of the Day: LOAMY (39D: Like good farm soil) —From Merriam-Webster:

1 a :a mixture (as for plastering) composed chiefly of moistened clay

b :a coarse molding sand used in founding (see 5found)

2 :soil; specifically :a soil consisting of a friable mixture of varying proportions of clay, silt, and sand

(Bonus Word of the Day: FRIABLE)

• • •
Hi, it's Lena. I think I would like this puzzle even if I wasn't eating honey-peanut butter-banana crackers and drinking neat gin like I am now. For a Wednesday, this is fine by me. The theme is solid-- there is a diverse sampling of bank types and they're broken in a pleasingly symmetrical way: once in RIVE R and S PERM and thrice in S NO W and D AT A. Also I like the finger wag at those who DRIVE RECKLESSLY but it would be much more au courant if the clue mentioned behind-the-wheel smart phone usage. Please don't use your phone while driving <-- PSA

The fill is not bad but I was definitely aware of OAS TSA NEA SST and KAN. The longer fill was lively, active, rhythmic with CRIME WAVE (3D: Reason to summon Batman) and FIRE DANCE (38D: Burning Man performance). I don't want to do any research regarding the actuality of a "fire dance" at Burning Man so I'm just going to trust Jules and Will.

The clues were straight-forward. In fact, I don't think I can find a single question mark clue. 

Those teeth! God I love this song. Alright time for bed-- the song is done, the puzzle is done, the gin is done, and the honey-peanut butter-banana crackers are done and one of them had a bird face:

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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One-named Spanish-born actress / TUE 10-24-17 / Japanese eel-and-rice dish / Mustachioed character on Simpsons / Loamy soil / Horses that could be hounds badgers / 2006 cult classic action film

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Medium (I was slow, but the puzzle is a plus-size 16 squares wide)

THEME: ANOTHER DIMENSION (59A: What a sci-fi portal might lead to ... or what's added successively to the ends of the answers to the starred clues) — each step in the sequence POINT LINE PLANE SPACE represents an incremental jump of one dimension

Theme answers:
  • "THAT'S NOT THE POINT" (18A: *"You fail to understand what I'm saying")
  • PICK-UP LINE (24A: *Cheesy fare served at a bar?)
  • "SNAKES ON A PLANE" (38A: *2006 cult-classic action film)
  • "I NEED SPACE" (53A: *"This relationship is smothering me)
Word of the Day: Jerome KERN (57D: Jerome who composed "Ol' Man River") —
Jerome David Kern (January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music. One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Long Ago (and Far Away)" and "Who?". He collaborated with many of the leading librettists and lyricists of his era, including George Grossmith Jr., Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and E. Y. Harburg. // A native New Yorker, Kern created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films in a career that lasted for more than four decades. His musical innovations, such as 4/4 dance rhythms and the employment of syncopation and jazz progressions, built on, rather than rejected, earlier musical theatre tradition. He and his collaborators also employed his melodies to further the action or develop characterization to a greater extent than in the other musicals of his day, creating the model for later musicals. Although dozens of Kern's musicals and musical films were hits, only Show Boat is now regularly revived. Songs from his other shows, however, are still frequently performed and adapted. Many of Kern's songs have been adapted by jazz musicians to become standard tunes. (wikipedia)
• • •

Again with the renegade "?" theme clue! (24A: *Cheesy fare served at a bar?). Ugh. If your theme is not entirely "?"-based, save your "?" for the rest of the fill, man. It's just common courtesy. This theme is interesting to contemplate upon completion (kudos to you if you noticed the theme before getting the revealer). No D — One D — Two D — Three D. Alrighty then. But again we run headlong into the stubborn fact that the NYT doesn't give a *******$&%&$*# what happens beyond the theme. The fill is a cavalcade of last-century laffers, STET ACAI! LEI OONA! MOLE OLE! AERO CHARO! ELSA LECAR! (best stripper name ever!) What is the ETA on better fill? Maybe we'll see some INDO near future? I'm SOU upset—why does the puzzle keep PAREE-tending this is acceptable? EWE know what I mean? KERN you believe it? Ugh, I'm at a LOESS.

I spent at least two full seconds wondering what an IPAD DRESS was (37D: Certain network ID). I got the IPAD part quickly, and, well, it's hard to unsee that IPAD once you've seen it. I once again wrote in OOMA instead of OONA for 32A: Chaplin of "Game of Thrones" because once again, no matter how many times I get the Chaplin clue (and it's A Lot by now), I freeze up and pick the wrong letter. Is OOMA even a name??? UMA, OONA. That should be so easy to remember. I thought 5A: Shakespeare, informally was BARD, and then, I thought, "Oh, *informally*...," and wrote in BILL. This left me wondering what BIND POWER was (5D: Energy source from a "farm"). Hardest clue for me was, in retrospect, the cleverest—70A: Horses that could be hounds or badgers? (NAGS). I kept wondering what kind of weird equine slang I was dealing with; only after finishing did I see that NAGS is a synonym of "hounds" and "badgers" (the verbs, not the animals). OK, I gotta get some sleep now. Later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Stepped tower of ancient Sumer / MON 10-23-17 / Online source of film trivia / Campus sanctuary in modern parlance / Kerchief worn as headgear

Monday, October 23, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Challenging for a Monday (3:38) (that's 40-ish seconds longer than average, an eternity on a Monday)

THEME: Periods — ordinary words ending in -AGE are imagined as phrases where the second word is AGE:

Theme answers:
  • ANCHORAGE (17A: Period dominated by the likes of Dan Rather and Peter Jennings?)
  • WRECKAGE (26A: Period when every car was a junker?)
  • BONDAGE (39A: Period known for its 007 movies?)
  • PILLAGE (41A: Period of fuzzy sweaters?)
  • COVERAGE (50A: Period when tribute bands thrived?)
  • SHRINKAGE (64A: Period when psychiatrists ruled?)
Word of the Day: MOUE (34A: Sour expression) —
noun: moue; plural noun: moues
  1. a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste. (Google)
• • •

This puzzle has a few things going for it. Sadly, none of those things have to do with the theme, which is kind of [Period associated with clothing?]. There are lots of words that end in -AGE. You can do this dumb theme all day long and then some. The clues are corny, and the gag wears out quickly. A "?" theme on a Monday is unusual, and unusually tough, though all the -AGEs made up for that somewhat, but then much of the rest of the grid was harder than usual to solve, so the overall result was a Challenging puzzle. Not off-the-charts hard for a Monday, but definitely on the hard side. But I don't mind that. I mind AGE AGE AGE AGE etc ad infinitum ad astra forever and ever. I also mind the tame clues. [Period of fuzzy sweaters?] for PILL AGE!? Wow. Lots better options on the table, there.

Oh, but back to the few things this puzzle has going for it: all the flashy long Downs. On a Monday, those are pretty nifty. Abutting long answers like that definitely opens things up (and generally adds to difficulty). Nice to have so much colorful fill early in the week. In general, the fill is decent. Not sure how we're getting OWIE *yet again*, but here we are. Actually, the more I look at the shorter stuff, the less decent it becomes, so let's just look at DUCK BLIND and BEHEADED and ZIGGURAT et all. Major hangups for me today:
  • Totally forgot IMDB existed. I just blanked. I never go there any more, so it went totally off my mental radar
  • IMAC, IPOD, IDUNNO (at 1-Down)
  • AMEN for AS IF (15A: "Yeah, right!") (note: "AS IF!" and "PHAT!" are both in "Clueless" (1995), which I just rewatched yesterday.)
  • TEENAGER for TEENIDOL (22D: Elvis in the 1950s or Justin Bieber in the 2010s)
  • I spelled ZIGGURAT all kinds of ways before the crosses helped me out with the vowels (25D: Stepped tower of ancient Sumer)
See you Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Praying figure in Christian art / SUN 10-22-17 / Challenge to prove you're human / Prime setter informally

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Selfies" — clues are all imagined "Facebook status"es one might post to accompany a selfie; the answers are selfie-worthy locations, all of which have "ME" in them:

Theme answers:
  • CHRIST THE REDEEMER (23A: Facebook status: "2016 Summer Olympics and a day trip to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!")
  • RIVER THAMES (31A: Facebook status: "Across the pond! And front-row seats to the Henley Royal Regatta!")
  • MALL OF AMERICA (51A: Facebook status: "Yes! Retail therapy at the largest shopping spot in the U.S.!")
  • CLUB MED (70A: Facebook status: "Ahhhh ... Sun and surf in Cancún, Mexico! Bring on the unlimited piña coloadas!")
  • LITTLE MERMAID (86A: Facebook status: "Hej from København! This statue turned 100 years old in 2013 but is still a beauty!")
  • TIMES SQUARE (106A: Facebook status: ""10-9-8-7 ... Ringing in the New year with 1,000,000 of my newest, closest friends!")
  • JEFFERSON MEMORIAL (116A: Facebook status: "History abounds! Neo-Classical architecture surrounded by gorgeous cherry blossom trees. Next stop ... the White House!")
  • MADAME TUSSAUD'S (16D: Facebook status: "Vegas, baby! And who would believe I'm standing next to Beyoncé and Katy Perry!")
  • METLIFE STADIUM (50D: Facebook status: "Nosebleed seats—but home-field advantage! GO GIANTS!!!")
Word of the Day: ORANT (104A: Praying figure in Christian art) —
Orans, a loanword from Medieval Latin ōrāns translated as one who is praying or pleading, also orant or orante, is a posture or bodily attitude of prayer, usually standing, with the elbows close to the sides of the body and with the hands outstretched sideways, palms up. It was common in early Christianity and can frequently be seen in early Christian art. In modern times, the orans position is still preserved within parts of the Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran and Catholic liturgies, Pentecostal and charismatic worship, and the ascetical practices of some religious groups. (wikipedia)
• • •

ORANG > ORANT (and I should note that ORANG > very few crossword answers)

I'll give this one some credit for its currency and conceptual clarity. These answers all definitely feature ME at some famous place or landmark, and so the title is apt and the theme is consistent. I don't think the theme is that *interesting* (there must be tons more places, landmarks, etc. with the simple two-letter string "ME" in them) and the clues ... well, they're about as banal as a typical FB post, I'll give them that. They are contrived to include trivia that will allow you to get the answer, which makes sense from a puzzle standpoint, but which sometimes strains the plausibility of the clues as actual FB statuses. This theme is definitely better than average Sunday puzzles of late, and yet still definitely not as splashy and entertaining as a Sunday should be. But I'll take "not knee-bucklingly terrible" at this point, and this puzzle certainly fits the bill.

The "humor" here is pretty minimal. Would've been nice to see some more thought and pizzazz put into the clues. Cluing is particularly important in a puzzle like this, where there's no real wordplay or other engaging gimmick going on—just a bunch of unrelated stuff. I was somewhat confused at the outset, because I thought the various landmarks were the ones taking the selfies, i.e. I thought maybe CHRIST THE REDEEMER had a Facebook page that he was updating. Careful reading of the clue would've made it clear that that wasn't what was going on, but careful reading of the clue also would not have made anything clear at that point, so ... who cares? Got the landmark, moving on. I did get confused when I thought the next imaginary FB poster was MADAME TUSSAUD, but she didn't fit without the apostrophe S. Then I realized these weren't supposed to be from famous people / places, but from some imagined ME that had visited these places. The rest of the puzzle was very easy after that, with only METLIFE STADIUM giving me any trouble. Is that where the *New York* Giants play? Football is garbage and I don't watch (anymore).

AGEWORN feels (aptly?) antiquated (48D: Damaged over time) and ARTWARE is ... hey, what *is* ARTWARE? (29A: Valuable china, e.g.) Hang on... it appears to just be stuff you eat with or on or drink out of that can be collected as art. Huh. Too fancy for me. I had trouble spelling MORTICIA (MORTITIA) (15D: Wife on "The Addams Family") and KAHLIL (KHALIL) (2D: "The Prophet" author Gibran). The hardest answers for me to get was CAPTCHA (70D: Challenge to prove you're human). I thought it was some kind of TEST, like a Turing Test. Without context, that one was really tough to come up with. Also hard: HINT (92D: This answer ends in "T," e.g.). If that clue is a HINT, well, it ain't much of one. Ironically, an actual *clue* would've been much more helpful. In fact, the more that I think of it, a clue *is* a hint, so this whole cluing concept for HINT is ridiculous. Lastly, my favorite ultimatum now is "MORELS! OR ELSE!" (96D + 97D).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Open one-seated horse-drawn carriage / SAT 10-21-17 / Duke legend to fans / Mideast's city of jasmine / Toon who often congratulated himself with you've done it again / Dweller between zambezi limpopo rivers / Locale of Dostoyevsky's exile

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SEGNO (25A: Score mark indicating a passage to be repeated) —
In music notation, Dal segno (/ˌdæl ˈsnj/ or /ˈsɛɡn/; Italian pronunciation: [dal ˈseɲɲo]), often abbreviated D.S., is used as a navigation marker. From Italian for "from the sign," D.S. appears in sheet music and instructs a musician to repeat a passage starting from the sign shown at right, sometimes called the "segno" in English. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one had a raft of borderline obscurities (SEGNO, MASSIF, ANSELM, bleepin' STANHOPE!), but I'd seen them all before (actually ANSELM I just straight-up knew, yay medievalism). The answer that ended up giving me the most trouble was, weirdly, HOT PEPPER EMOJIS (55A: Sext symbols). Do people really do that? Send sexts w/ HOT PEPPER EMOJIS in them? I know that emoji as an indication of someone's relative attractiveness, but if you're sexting someone, presumably that symbol is unnecessary. Unless it's being used for its roughly phallic shape, in which case ...?! I am saying that I have trouble believing that said emojis are related to sexting. Related to indicating that you find someone hot, yes. But you'd use it more in a public declaration—like if you find a celebrity hot, maybe (?). I just have trouble believing that in an actual sexting situation, you'd crack out the hot pepper emoji. Too easily confused with a burning sensation. As I'm typing all this, I am realizing that though the NYT has grown fond of the term "sext," I'm not sure it knows what one actually looks like. Hell, I'm not sure I do. Oh, hey, it looks like Bustle specifically identifies the hot pepper as a sexting emoji. But it also thinks taco is a sexting emoji, so ... I dunno.

While stuff like SYSTOLES and IN A TIE and SET MENU doesn't really float my boat, I appreciated some of the unusual shorter stuff like COACH K and "I'M LIKE..." I'm unfamiliar with the JOB JAR. I have seen the chore wheel before, but not the JOB JAR. Do you just, like, draw "jobs" out of the "jar"? According to Martha Stewart, apparently so. Back-to-back "Star Wars" answers in the crossword, both with the word ONE in the title. I have had "ROGUE ONE" on my Netflix watch list forever, and yet I somehow can never quite bring myself to ... watch it. Always something else that wants my attention more. Sorta surprised to see "lame" used the way it is in 26D: Lame (but eco-friendly) birthday gift (E-CARD). It's perfectly common colloquial usage, but definitely seen as ableist language in some corners. I don't think using "lame" in this way is blatantly offensive ... and yet I find that I've completely stopped using it, the way I completely stopped using "retarded" to mean generically "stupid" many, many years ago. Also, if you think an E-CARD is "lame" in real life, you should see it in a crossword grid ... :(

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


From New World Encyclopedia: "One of the main meanings of the term "Lapp" is "a patch of cloth for mending" and suggests that the Sami wear patched clothes out of poverty, making "Lapp" a derogatory and offensive term. This is particularly problematic since the Sami have historically had to deal with stereotyped ideas of being vagabonds and drunks. Sami institutions, notably the parliaments, the radio and television stations, and theaters, all use the term Sami, as do academic references."
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1999 prequel that grossed over billion dollars familiarly / FRI 10-20-17 / Symbol for member of Anonymous / Arabic name that sounds like reply of agreement / Frequent locale in comic strip Andy Capp / Big name in digital security

Friday, October 20, 2017

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: HODA KOTB (56A: "Today" co-host beginning in 2007) —
Hoda Kotb (/ˈhdə ˈkɒtb/ HOH-də KOT-bee; Arabic: هدى قطب‎‎ Hudā Quṭb Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [ˈhodæ ˈʔotˤb], born August 9, 1964) is an American television news anchor and TV host known as the co-host of NBC's Today Show's fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford. An Egyptian American, she won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2010 as part of the Today Show team. Kotb is also a correspondent for Dateline NBC. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty nice work. I have a few ... issues (see below ... and every day, I guess) but overall it was satisfying: wide-ranging, currentish, and amply tough. That SE corner in particular really made me work. I am very aware of who HODA is, but I know her only as ... HODA. "HODA & Kathie Lee..." That last name ... I don't even know how to pronounce it. Now that I look at it, I've definitely seen it before, but I'm all of a sudden very aware of how I *know* the last names of the all the other one-named talk-show celebrities (I think), but have never even heard hers said out loud. Why don't people say her name? Have they been saying it all along and I've just been mishearing it as something else? Say her name! Anyway, she is famous and I am not sufficiently attuned to daytime television, so the KOTB part took Work. That corner had a lot of names, including a non-specifically-clued YASIR (49A: Arabic name that sounds like a reply of agreement)  (I considered YEMEN .... like "yeah, man"? ...) and our good old friend LAO-TSE, who somehow remained completely inscrutable to me until the very last cross (which was the "T" in KOTB). I also misread "service" as "device" in 42D: Digital storage service (iCLOUD), so that was semi-baffling. Oh, and lastly, I confused my Bucks and went with OWENS over O'NEIL at first (41A: Buck ___, first African-American coach in Major League Baseball). Good thing LOU Gramm was a gimme. That is one name-y corner!

  • 15A: 1999 prequel that grossed over a billion dollars, familiarly (EPISODE I) — yeeeeesh no. I mean, OK, in some contexts, sure, but no. "Familiarly" would be "PHANTOM MENACE." So weird to put forth this answer as the actual title, even "familiarly." Or maybe there's some Latin-speaking "Star Wars" subculture and this answer is EPISO DEI, i.e. the ... something ... of God.
  • 3D: Chucklehead (DIMWIT) — ah, the super-dated slang clue. Fittingly, I had NITWIT.
  • 40D: ___ ape (gibbon) (LESSER) — I thought this was going to be someone's name. Like, maybe someone named LEVIN discovered the ape and it's now known as a LEVIN'S APE. Something like that.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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French network / THU 10-19-17 / One of billions in puffball / Sch backer

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: HEAD OVER HEELS (39A: **One way to fall in love ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — Two stacks of [Honcho] (i.e. a "head") over [Louse] (i.e. a "heel"), and then a [Honcho] over HEELS and a HEAD over [Louse] toward the middle of the grid (hence the "**" on the revealer ... I think)

Theme answers:
  • BIG WHEEL over "HEELS" 
  • "HEAD" over DIRTY RAT 
Word of the Day: LUSAKA (50D: Zambia's capital) —
Lusaka is the capital and largest city of Zambia. One of the fastest developing cities in southern Africa, Lusaka is in the southern part of the central plateau at an elevation of about 1,279 metres (4,196 ft). As of 2010, the city's population was about 1.7 million, while the urban population is 2.4 million. Lusaka is the centre of both commerce and government in Zambia and connects to the country's four main highways heading north, south, east and west. English is the official language of the city, but Nyanja and Bemba are also common. (wikipedia)
• • •

Getting a late start tonight, and have to get up early tomorrow, so I'll keep this brief. The theme is cute—the center is weird because the HEAD and HEELS are literal there, whereas up top and down below they are a [Honcho] or a [Louse], respectively. The two asterisks on the revealer clue are more bizarre than helpful. Also, aren't the stacks in the NW and SE really "HEAD OVER HEEL," singular? If this theme were done perfectly, then the various [Louse]s would be in plural form, giving you actual singular "head"s over plural "heels." The more I look at this thing, the wobblier it gets, so maybe I'll just stop looking.

The fill is really pretty bad. I've scrawled a list of the crosswordese on my printed-out copy of the finished grid, and I stopped at about twenty entries—the scrawl starts in the margin above SASHA and then continues unbroken, clockwise, all the way down to the margin outside OBLIGES. I started with RUDI and stopped at O-TYPE and you're just going to have to take my word for it that there are lots of answers in between. Speaking of O-TYPE, yuck. Here's a tweet about it, from a pediatrician.

RUES x/w VUE is NOTOK. I didn't have much trouble with this, except for a little bit in the SW, where I didn't know LUSAKA (my bad) and the whole STOPGO / SHOT thing was hard for me to figure out. I was lucky enough to pull NOGOODNIK out of thin air—no crosses; just tried it and it worked. I can see someone getting destroyed by the TOPOL / LUSAKA crossing. I certainly wouldn't have any idea about TOPOL if it weren't for crosswords, and we've already established that I didn't know LUSAKA, and if you don't know either, then that "L," well ... good luck! OK, I'm done. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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