Red giant in constellation Cetus / THU 11-30-17 / Pope before Leo VI / 1984 Schwarzenegger sequel / Round floor cleaner / Chrysler model discontinued in 2010

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BATTLESHIP (60A: It's four units long in a popular board game (with the game's other pieces hinted at by the circled letters)) — The theme is the game "BATTLESHIP," and themers contain different sea vessel types that are Xd out by Xs in the answers ... the Xs signifying HITs (62D: Success in the game 60-Across ... or a hint to interpreting the circled squares)

Theme answers:
  • 17A: 1984 Schwarzenegger sequel (CONAN THE xx) ("Destroyer")
  • 25A:  Early form of airmail? (xxxxx PIGEON) ("Carrier")
  • 37A: Chrysler model discontinued in 2010 (PT xxx) ("Cruiser")
  • 50A: Grinder (xxx SANDWICH) ("Sub(marine)") 
Word of the Day: JOHN X (6D: Pope before Leo VI) —
Pope John X (Latin: Ioannes X; d. 28 May 928) was Pope from March 914 to his death in 928. A candidate of the Counts of Tusculum, he attempted to unify Italy under the leadership of Berengar of Friuli, and was instrumental in the defeat of the Saracens at the Battle of Garigliano. He eventually fell out with Marozia, who had him deposed, imprisoned, and finally murdered. John’s pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum. (wikipedia)
• • •

LOL at anyone knowing a. who JOHN X is, b. who Leo VI is. I Was a Twenty-Something Medievalist and I had no clue. I thought there was a major problem with the theme at first, because I assumed that the Xs in PTXXX represented a "boat." You know: PT BOAT. And so I thought "wait, why are all the other sea vessels used in non-sea vessel contexts in the theme answers *except this one*?" But it turns out that the Xs represent not BOAT but CRUISER, so ... yeah, nevermind. I obviously didn't see the actual clue. This happens (not infrequently). I guess the theme is fine, then. I didn't think much of it, as I couldn't remember the sequel to "Conan the Barbarian" and so had no idea what the Xs were doing for a very long time. The reveal was ... OK. CUL and ABO and ALBA and EEO are yuck and too much of the fill is dull, but I love "JUKEBOX HERO" and LOOSE CANNON. They are nice. I do admire that (I think) the sea vessels in question in the answer are actually as big in the game as they are in the grid, i.e. the carrier is 5 places long, the destroyer 2, etc. I am not looking this up. I am taking it on faith that the constructor got this right. If I am wrong, please just leave me to my wrongness.

More wrongness:
  • 65A: Red giant in the constellation Cetus (MIRA) — I had LYRA. I believe that that is ... a constellation, at least. Oh look, it is. I find its being a constellation a consolation.
  • 6D: Pope before Leo VI (JOHN X) — Yeah, no. I had all kinds of crap here at first, including a JOAN. 
  • 29D: Actress Headey (LENA) — I have no idea who this is, so I naturally assumed I was just misremembering the name of actress Glenne Headly.
  • 55A: Org. whose symbol is an eagle atop a key (NSA) — NRA. Then BSA. Oh well...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Japenese drum / WED 11-29-17 / Coconutty girl scout cookie / two-tone apex predator / Gnocchi topper / Gospel star Winans

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MOTOWN (74A: Record label for the singers starting 18-, 40-, 45- and 66-Across) — a Supreme, a Contour, a Miracle, and a Temptation walk into a bar...

Theme answers:
  • SUPREME COURT CASE (18A: 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges, for example)
  • CONTOUR KIT (40A: Product of assorted tones of makeup)
  • MIRACLE MOP (45A: So-called "self-wringing" cleaning implement)
  • "TEMPTATION ISLAND" (66A: Early 2000s Fox reality show) 
Word of the Day: TAIKO (44A: Japanese drum) —
noun: taiko; plural noun: taiko; plural noun: taikos
  1. a Japanese barrel-shaped drum. (google)
• • •

Who are the Contours and what is a CONTOUR KIT? That answer was a double WTF for me. I can sing my way deep, deep into the catalogue of the Supremes, the Temptations, and (Smokey Robinson and the) the Miracles, but I couldn't pick a Contour out of a line-up. I believe they exist, I just see no way in which they belong as the fourth themer in a MOTOWN theme that includes those other, absolutely iconic groups. The drop from their fame to Contour fame is verrrrrrrtiginous. They sang "Do You Love Me?," a #3 hit from the early '60s. Literally nothing else they sang cracked the Top 10, or even the Top 40, except ... the rerelease of "Do You Love Me?" in 1988 (thanks, "Dirty Dancing"!).

  • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had 6 Top 10 hits! 
  • The Temptations had 15 Top 10 hits!!
  • The Supremes had 20 Top 10 hits!!!
There's no way a Contour deserves to share the theme stage with the others. The fact that I don't know some make-up term is less noteworthy, but never to have heard of the term? Ever? That's at least a little odd. Granted, the women I know and love aren't terribly into make-up, but ... I actually do know lots of terms that have little or nothing to do with me or my loved ones. Just not that one. So, yeah, that answer was doubly weird for me. The rest of this seemed fine. I like the oddness of having the "singers" be singular elements from groups better known as plurals. Wacky.

No way on earth that TAIKO (!?) is a Wednesday answer. I thought I had learned all the exotic four- and five-letter instruments (SAROD! TABLA! KOTO!), but apparently not. It's a very Erik thing to do—throw some never-seen non-Anglo-American term at you like a pitcher throwing a fastball at your head. I don't mind it. I actually think it's OK, assuming the term is not some bullshit obscurity but actually just a word / term that's reasonably common ... elsewhere. Constructor's gotta be competent, gotta cross things fairly, but ... yeah, folding in some should-be-known terms from outside the conventional crossword lexicon: fine by me. If you are a skilled constructor, knock yourself out. 

Felt a little slow, but the puzzle is extra-wide, so it was probably perfectly normal, difficulty-wise. I had trouble in the middle, when I had MIRACLE and added DRY to the end (!), and *then* dropped PENDS down at 31D: Is in the offing (LOOMS). Yikes. I also didn't want to believe that MILA was in the puzzle on back-to-back days, so I imagined that the Uris title was "URSA 18" (27A: Leon Uris's "___ 18"). Needed every cross for TAIKO, obviously. Very impressed with INNIT, for some reason (28D: "Don't you agree"," in British lingo). "TEMPTATION ISLAND" is some pretty old / forgettable reality TV. It was pretty low-rent and sleazy, and it only ran from 2001 to 2003, which is a long time ago now. I've been married as long as that show has been *off* the air. So I'm not thrilled with it as a theme answer choice, but ... again, the crosses are fair, so I'll allow a little reality TV dumpster diving, I guess.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Obergefell v. Hodges => the marriage equality case, in case you didn't know

P.P.S. this is very accurate:

Yes. I had *no idea* what the 1A: What you see when you look up? (ACROSS) was going for. Presumably, ACROSS refers to the word "ACROSS" above the ACROSS clues in the crossword. Sadly, this clue makes zero sense if you're not solving in the newspaper. Here, I'll show you:

A gigantic portion of your solving audience isn't solving on paper, guys. Editing!

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German state or novelist / TUE 11-28-17 / Receptacle carried to crime scene / Wallace's partner in claymation

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: U-TURN (29D: Often-forbidden maneuver ... as hinted at four times in this puzzle) — names of four U-niversities make literal U-TURNs four times in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • PRINCETON (north)
  • CAL TECH (east)
  • NOTRE DAME (south)
  • CLEMSON (west) 
Word of the Day: MILA Kunis (32D: Kunis of "Friends With Benefits") —
Milena Markovna "Mila" Kunis (/ˈmlə ˈknɪs/; Ukrainian: Міле́на Ма́рківна "Мі́ла" Ку́ніс; Russian: Миле́на Ма́рковна "Ми́ла" Ку́нис; івр: מילה קוניס‎); born August 14, 1983) is an American actress. In 1991, at the age of seven, she moved from the USSR to the United States with her family. After being enrolled in acting classes as an after-school activity, she was soon discovered by an agent. She appeared in several television series and commercials, before acquiring her first significant role prior to her 15th birthday, playing Jackie Burkhart on the television series That '70s Show (1998–2006). Since 1999, she has voiced Meg Griffin on the animated series Family Guy. (wikipedia)
• • •

I think I just achieved my best wrong answer of the year. It occurred in the only part of the grid that offered any resistance—the SE.  For some reason, after absolutely torching the rest of the grid, I got bogged down on the entire area fenced in by (and including) the answers RULE and ESE (RULE was way more general than 41A: "No shoes, no shirt, no service," e.g. (which is actually a couple of rules...) implied, and degrees-on-a-compass clues are never going to mean anything specific to me). Then, because I went with "N" instead of "S" in the damn compass clue, and couldn't see SPEECH (52A: Crowd chant to an award honoree). I eventually had to build that corner from the bottom up (I was lucky enough to know all the names down there). But before I did that, when the far SE was empty I tried—and failed—to drop that long Down (31D: Substance that decreases purity) into that corner. After slashing some Across answers through the top of it, I had the ADULT part and decided that the [Substance that decreases purity] must be ... an ADULT MOVIE. Me: "Well, 'substance' is weird, but ... maybe?" No, maybe not, but three cheers for epic wrongness. SPEECH! SPEECH!

The worst moment was RULE crossing RISE, mainly because I just did not understand how RISE fit the clue (41D: Opposite of set). And only Just Now did I get it. Literally, as I was typing that last sentence, I got the sun rise / sun set opposition, which is hilariously obvious. I went from not understanding it at all, to imagining it had something to do with baking. Wow, yeah, that SE corner was an entirely different experience than the rest of the puzzle, which I don't remember at all, so fast did I cruise through it.

  • 51D: Costume that might involve two people (MOOSE) — so ... a costume literally nobody has ever worn except maybe parts of Maine and rural Canada? That "costume"? What a horrible, not-at-all real-world clue. I've seen two-person horses, I've seen two-person cows. MOOSE, no. I had GHOST for a few seconds.
  • 70A: Singer of the 2012 #1 hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" (GOTYE) — it is very weird to me that, five years after his 15 minutes, this guy seems to be showing up in crosswords more than ever. Definitely worth retiring, especially on early-week puzzles, until his fame is more ADELE- or ANKA- or even Irene CARA-esque.
  • 9D: Paid part of a magazine (PRINT AD) — fair enough, but it's a "magazine," so my first thought is just AD. Then I was thinking something specific in a magazine ... something like WANT AD but not WANT AD. Anyway, it wasn't hard to come up with, but it reminded me how ubiquitous and annoying the entire language of AD-vertising is in crosswords. ADMAN. ADREP. Blargh.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Handmade products website / MON 11-27-17 / Cover image on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of Moon / Trip inducer in brief

Monday, November 27, 2017

Constructor: Kevin Christian

Relative difficulty: Normal easy Monday, maybe slightly on the Easier side (2:51)

THEME: MULLET (68A: Much-derided hairstyle seen in 1-, 17-, 24-, 39-, 47- and 58-Across) — I guess there were people in those movies who had that hairstyle...

Theme answers:
  • 1A: 1997 Nicolas Cage film (CON AIR)
  • 17A: 1987 Kiefer Sutherland film (THE LOST BOYS)
  • 24A: 1987 Patric Swayze film (DIRTY DANCING)
  • 39A: 1982, 1985, 1988 and 2008 Sylvester Stallone film franchise (RAMBO)
  • 47A: 1987 Mel Gibson film (LETHAL WEAPON)
  • 58A: 1994 John Travolta film (PULP FICTION) 
Word of the Day: LOESS (46A: Fertile soil) —
Loess ( /ˈl.əs/, /ˈlʌs/, /ˈlɛs/, or UK: /ˈlɜːrs/; from German Löss [lœs]) is a clastic, predominantly silt-sized sediment that is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust. 10% of the Earth's land area is covered by loess or similar deposits. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is the strangest theme. Some movies with mullets in them? [Shrug] Sure, why not? I don't hate it. I've seen far, far worse excuses for themes. One issue, though: I really wouldn't call what Travolta's sporting in "Pulp Fiction" a "MULLET." He just has long hair, not the classic "business in the front, party in the back." Here, look:

I mean, it's *somewhat* shorter in the front, so ... MULLETish, maybe. But it's a stretch. Also, is this really a MULLET?

This is what I think of when I think MULLET:



I dunno if these movie MULLETs are true MULLETs. Gibson's just looks like a spectacular mane. 

Ooh, Kiefer's is pretty spot-on:

And ... well, what the hell, let's check in on RAMBO and Nic Cage:

Yeah, OK, respect. So on the MULLET scale of MULLETness, it's
  • Cage: 10
  • Kiefer: 9
  • Swayze: 3
  • Stallone: 7
  • Gibson: 6
  • Travolta: 1
It appears the print version of the puzzle has photo clues (?!). So everyone can see that Travolta doesn't have a MULLET? Interesting choice.

I don't remember anything else about this puzzle now. Happy MULLETs.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Cured salmon / SUN 11-26-17 / Jazzy Anita / 1970s-90s chess champion / Figure skater Sonja / ammoniac / Carne taco option / Principal deities Hinuism / Capital of the world's happiest country / John of Harold & Kumar / Pimp My Ride network

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (would've been sub-16 if not for 32D)

THEME: INSIDE OUT — Two-word phrases are clued as if they were one word inside of another, like so:
  • [22A: Lists about a port on the Black Sea]: ROYAL TASTERS
  • [28A: Neighborhoods surrounded by crime]: THE FAR EAST
  • [43A: Metal pin stuck in parts of sinks]: DRIVE TRAINS
  • [68A: Flourishes around monsoon events]: BRAIN SURGEONS
  • [92A: Fear among underground workers]: MIND READERS
  • [109A: Coming up in vetoes]: NIXON TAPES
  • [116A: Crew found inside again and again]: THROWING RICE

Word of the Day: DULCINEA (84D: Don Quixote's unseen beloved) —
"Dulcinea del Toboso" is a fictional character who is unseen in Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote. Don Quixote describes her appearance in the following terms: "... her name is Dulcinea, her country El Toboso, a village of La Mancha, her rank must be at least that of a princess, since she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hairs are gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hands ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare." (Wikipedia)
• • •
It's Rex's birthday today, so I (Laura) am here to blog for you, giving him a night off and some chocolate cake. I thought this was a perfectly decent theme, though for consistency's sake I would've liked to see all of the "inside" words span the two-word base phrases, whereas our last entry, THROWING RICE, has ROWING only as part of the first word.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Rexident

Some good stuff in the fill; [18A: Cured salmon]: GRAVLAX is supertasty on rye bread with a sprig of dill, just like its cousin Nova lox is supertasty on an everything bagel with a shmear (not a SMEAR [81D: Besmirch]). Sometimes through the MOONROOF [61A: Sliding item on a car], you can SEE STARS [75A: React to a haymaker]. I also particularly liked [30A: 1970s-'90s chess champion]: KARPOV crossing [3D: Does his name ring a bell?]: IVAN PAVLOV. The other day, a patron came into the library looking for a book about Pavlov's dog and Schrödinger's cat; I said that it rang a bell, but I didn't know whether it was there or not.

I'm feeling somewhat FERVID [63D: Ardent] at the moment, like someone has ROUSED [69D: Lit a fire under] me, given that the parent publisher of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, a newspaper called The New York Times (perhaps you've heard of it), has just published an astonishingly positive profile of a Nazi asshole, making him seem like just a normal dude who goes grocery shopping and watches Seinfeld (WTeverlovingF?). I'm glad, for once, that the crossword makes enough independent income that one could presumably keep a subscription to the puzzle without one's hard-earned virtual dollars supporting what journalism has apparently become. However we decide to fight fascism, can we at least agree that "Nazis: They're Just Like Us!" is an ICKY [56A: Unpleasant] take? If the point is to remind us all of the banality of evil, Hannah Arendt already had it covered. [94D: "You shouldn't have done that"]: NOT COOL, New York Times.

[19A: Jazzy Anita]: O'DAY

  • [48D: Another name for Dido]: ELISSA — Classical epic/myth trivia is the best trivia, though still trivial.
  • [86D: Award won by "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"]: BEST PLAY — Nice misdirect. The clue is referring to the stage adaptation, which won the Tony in 2015, as opposed to the novel, which won the Whitbread Award, among others, in 2003.
  • [32D: Climbing plant in the pea family]: VETCH — This is a series of letters that I usually see only with a K in front of them. 
Happiest of birthdays to my dear friend Rex! May he have many many more.

Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Cavalleria Rusticana baritone / SAT 11-25-17 / Devil Hatfield Kevin Costner / Musician with 1963 gold-selling album Honey in the Horn / Portraitist with Baltimore museum named after him / Beverage brand whose logo depicts three claw marks / Siempre much covered 1965 song about Che Guevara

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PAMPAS CAT (27D: Striped or spotted animal named for its habitat) —
The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) is a small wild cat native to South America that is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List as habitat conversion and destruction may cause the population to decline in the future. It is also known as the colocolo or Pantanal cat over parts of its range. It is named after the Pampas, but occurs in grassland, shrubland, and dry forest at elevations up to 5,000 m (16,000 ft). [...] The Pampas cat is a small, but heavy-set cat. (wikipedia)
• • •
Low word count. Hard for the sake of hard. Not my favorite puzzle type. This Is Why I Need Fridays to Be Fridays—Bouncy, lively themelesses! Tough, but doable. Pleasurable. I would be happy if Saturdays were like this too, but Fridays are my most-liked day because they tend (more than other days) to be in that sweet spot, that Goldilocks Zone: tough but not unpleasantly tough. And free from the restraints of themes that often don't pay off. Today, 60 words, and clues (as well as fill) that were designed to be not clever but brutal. Dealing in vagueness and obscurity. The worst of this came in the NW, where ANSE and ALFIO made me want to quit right there. Never heard of either. I had FEEL -A-E staring at me for 3D: Have peace of mind and I just shook my head and prayed that something would come to me. Didn't take long for SAFE to drop in there, but ugh, ANSE, ALFIO, that's just horrible. Going this low in the word count just isn't worth it most of the time. The stacks in the NW and SE are pretty good—the Acrosses, at least. Well, they're solid, anyway. The NW > the SE, which holds up, but doesn't shine. SPILL BLOOD over TEAR INTO adds some vivid, brutal energy to the puzzle, which is nice. But mainly this felt like a slog. Trivia about LAREDO, ridiculous clues for common stuff like OTTER (?!) ("known to chase its tail?"—my parents live near Monterey, I've seen lots and lots of OTTER activity ... never that). I felt like I only finished in reasonable time because I just happened to know dumb **** like what the MONSTER logo looks like (37D: Beverage brand whose logo depicts three claw marks). Things started out very promising ...

... but then frequently ground to a halt. I have no idea what a PAMPAS CAT is, and I'm guessing you haven't either. Also, I still don't think I understand how the clue for TABLET PC works (38A: Consumers want to get their hands on it). Far and away the roughest answer for me, even after I had TABLET--. I thought it was TABLE TOP, for a bit, to be honest. I get that a TABLET PC has a touch screen, so you use your hands on it ... but you use your hands on all computers. I'm using my hands on this ordinary laptop right now (OK, I'm actually using a wireless keyboard, but I could *easily* be using the laptop's own keyboard). I spaced on John MCCLANE's last name, despite having rewatched "Die Hard" just a few months ago. Wanted that second letter to be "C," but TABLE T-C made no sense. TABLE TIC!? Again, if PAMPAS CAT had been an actual animal anyone knew anything about, my problems here might've been avoided. Anyway, the lesson is, don't get cute with your clues unless the solver's gonna get a solid "aha" out of it.

My great coup was getting LAREDO off just the "D" and BATALI off just the "L" (despite knowing nothing about jalapeño contests or "Iron Chef"). The only PEALE I know is Norman Vincent, so this [Portraitist...] guy was rough. I put in LALO off the initial "L," but kept doubting it, thinking I'd confused the [Contemporary of Sain-Saëns] with a modern film composer (turns out I was thinking of LALO Schifrin ... so the confusion was merited). Lots of proper nouns today, which meant the puzzle was heavy on trivia, light on cleverness / wordplay. I resent 40D: Opportunity for people to act badly? as B-MOVIE refers to lower-budget films, not bad acting, and bad acting in high-budget films abounds. Some of my best friends are B-MOVIEs, is what I'm saying. [Producer of loose leaf notes?] was about as close as any clue got to cleverness. Why do lines form quickly for SLAM POETS? Is "quickness" an essential part of slam poetry? Can a slam poet not recite at a normal, non-quick pace? Clearly these clues just aren't working for me. Maybe they made more intuitive sense to the rest of you all. I hope so.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. In case you missed it earlier this week, I made you this:
Off-Season Baseball Crossword 01 

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Dish whose name means pierce flesh / Scifi series before DS9 / Brave person typically / Fitbit had one in 2015 / Attraction on bank of Yamuna River / Literary orphan who lived for while in cupboard

Friday, November 24, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: three hats, or one hat falling through space in one way or another...FLIPPING ONE'S LID (17A: Snapping ... as suggested by some black squares in this puzzle) / AT THE DROP OF A HAT (58A: With only slight provocation ... as suggested by some black squares in this puzzle), and there is a black square pattern through the middle of the grid that suggests a "flipping" or "dropping" hat, allegedly...

Word of the Day: The AGATHA Awards (46D: Name on an annual literary award) —
The Agatha Awards, named for Agatha Christie, are literary awards for mystery and crime writers who write in the cozy mystery subgenre (i.e. closed setting, no sex or violence, amateur detective). At an annual convention in Washington, D.C., the Agatha Awards are handed out by Malice Domestic Ltd, in six categories: Best Novel; Best First Mystery; Best Historical Novel; Best Short Story; Best Non-Fiction; Best Children's/Young Adult Mystery. Additionally, in some years the Poirot Award is presented to honor individuals other than writers who have made outstanding contributions to the mystery genre, but it is not an annual award. (wikipedia)
• • •
  • A. themed Fridays are almost always unwelcome—it's the Best Chance for a good and crunchy puzzle I'm going to get all week, and themes just spike the likelihood of corny cruddiness
  • B. that "hat" thing with the black squares might be a "flip," but is IN NO WAY a "drop" 
  • C. that "flip" is rotating in what feels to me like the wrong direction
  • D. that is barely a "hat"
And just now, I figured out what was bugging me. I *knew* something was off. It's the damned center hat—it's Not Centered. That is some nails-on-my-mental-chalkboard stuff. See how MAIN SQUEEZE (6D: Steady) comes all the way through, but there's no equivalent long answer in the eastern half? That was the first thing that made me wonder what was up. Why not make this 16 wide? I mean, maybe there are things I haven't considered, but centering that damned hat feels crucial. The damned puzzle has the word CENTER in it ... and yet that damned middle hat is like "screw you guys, I'ma do what I wanna do!" ALD, NONPROS, and esp. ENPLANE (which is one of my evil nemesis words) can take a hike, but otherwise the fill is totally reasonable. Steinberg is an old pro (despite being the far younger constructor here), so you get some fill discipline, which is nice. But give me a Steinberg themeless any day over this. Or put this on a Thursday and for god's sake *center the hat*!

There was nothing particularly hard about this, and no genuine sticking points that I can see. I think MTA and CENTER, weirdly, gave me more trouble than anything else. I've been to NYC enough and been an public transport enough that you'd think MTA woulda sunk in pretty far by now, but I thought there was something Staten Island-specific about the answers, so MTA actually never occurred to me (52A: Staten Island Railway inits.). But otherwise, this was easy to zip through. Not sure why my time wasn't closer to a record (I was somewhere in the mid-5s). HOP IMPS SNOOT GOAT QATAR, in that order, all fairly quickly. And once you've got a "Q," you know you're on your way. Then that "Q" led to a "Z." And so forth. Normally, crushing a puzzle gives me at least a mild predisposition to like it. But today, no such outcome. Not badly made, just thematically off (and off-center).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Group with five #1 R&B hits in 1990s / THU 11-23-17 / Bringer of light in myth / Declaration at end of chess game / Smallpox victims of 1500s / Higher priced burger meat / 1971 double-platinum album for Doors / Bit of doctoral graduation regalia

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Constructor: Howard Barkin

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: familiar phrases related to numbers (?) are clued as if those numbers functioned mathematically, resulting in unexpected, wacky answers... 

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Halftime show? ("THIRTY MINUTES") ("half" of the "minutes" in the "show" "Sixty Minutes")
  • 30A: Double feature? ("SIX AMIGOS") ("double" the "amigos" in the movie "Three Amigos")
  • 38A: Triple play? ("RICHARD IX") ("triple" the number of the "play" "Richard III")
  • 50A: Fourth estate? (THREE OAKS) (one "fourth" the number of "oaks" in the estate "Twelve Oaks" (see Word of the Day, below)
  •  59A: Fifth act? (THE JACKSON ONE) (one "fifth" of the musical "act" "The Jackson Five")
Word of the Day: Twelve Oaks (50A) —
In Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind, Twelve Oaks is the plantation home of the Wilkes family in Clayton County, Georgia named for the twelve great oak trees that surround the family mansion in an almost perfect circle. Twelve Oaks was described as a "beautiful white-columned house that crowned the hill like a Greek Temple," having true southern charm and whimsy. Margaret Mitchell came up with the idea for The Twelve Oaks, and modeled the home after an actual antebellum mansion located in the historic area of Covington, Georgia. The home that was portrayed as Margaret Mitchell's Twelve Oaks in the film Gone with the Wind has been renovated and is now open as a bed and breakfast and event facility in Covington, Georgia, thirty minutes east of Atlanta. (wikipedia)
• • •

I like the whole weird, wacky math thing, but switching from fractions to multiples back to fractions seems not just inconsistent but super-awkward. No problem with the "half" part and never even saw the "fifth" clue (because I inferred THE JACKSON ONE easily from crosses), but that [Fourth estate?] clue, yeeeeesh. First, because "fourth" is *an ordinal* (and only a fraction if preceded by "a" or "one"), I had no idea what was going on. I thought there was some kind of series ... of OAKS? ... and I couldn't figure out how "Fourth" got you to THREE ... OAKS. Second, I just had no idea what Twelve Oaks was. None. Tara, I know. Twelve Oaks, hoo boy no. So when I wrote in that "O" in OCTO (not at all clear, as OCTA is also a legit [Numerical prefix]), I just hoped for the best: and bam, Mr. Happy Pencil. But I just stared at THREE OAKS going "whaaaaa .... t?" Then I looked at the [Fifth act?] clue and saw that ONE is a "fifth" of five and then I realized that the original estate must be Twelve Oaks. Then I googled it and voila. By the way, what's a fifth act? Is it just ... the fifth act ... of a play? The other theme clues seem so much tighter / more specific. Halftime is a thing. The fourth estate is a thing. Fifth act ... is about as much a thing as fourth act, i.e. not much of a thing.

["One-fifth of the Jackson 5 ..."—Charlton Heston]

But again, as I say, the whole "do some wacky math" thing was reasonably pleasing to me. If it hadn't been for the whole fourth estate debacle, I think this would've played Easy for me. I certainly blew through most of the top part. TAM weirded me out (not a word I associate with regalia) (22D: Bit of doctoral graduation regalia) and ACIDY took many crosses. I haven't thought about JODECI in twenty years, but their name came flying up from the back of my brain (10D: Group with five #1 R&B hits in the 1990s). I had a MAC (intosh, i.e. raincoat) in my closet before I had a VAC (12D: Closet item, for short). The first Shakespeare play I read (after the requisite 9th-grade encounter with "Romeo & Juliet" was actually, weirdly, "Richard II," so (and I'm not kidding here), I wrote in RICHARD VI at first for [Triple play?]. Wanted AS DO I before AS AM I (54A: "Me too," more formally). I don't think SO KIND stands well on its own at all, so I hesitated there for sure. Wrote in BRITISH at first for 44D: "The Office," originally (BRITCOM), so that took some undoing. So there were some struggles, but most of them minor. Mixed bag, this one. I SMILED a little at the math stuff, but found the mash-up of fractions and multiples slightly off-putting and a little confusing.

So hey, maybe you've got a spare five minutes to half an hour today 'cause it's Thanksgiving and all, and how much "togetherness" can any one person stand, am I right? Anyway, please enjoy this baseball crossword that I made, just for you. It's called "Fan Duel." Here's the PDF. Here's the .PUZ. Share it with your baseballier friends. And have a lovely day. Thank you!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chess-playing movie villain / WED 11-22-17 / Eurus in Greek mythology / Affluent Connecticut town / Novelist Charles with appropriate surname / Minnesota NHL team from 1967 to 1993 / 1986 rock autobiography / Pea with thick rounded pod

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium (despite all the—eventual—giveaways)

THEME: world map — answers along north side of grid start with NORTH (which you must mentally supply), along west side start with WEST, etc. grid also has the tropics (CAN / CER, CAPRI / CORN) and EQUATOR (38A: Dividing line) in their more or less correct positions

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: ALOIS Alzheimer (61A: Eponymous Dr. Alzheimer) —
Aloysius Alzheimer (/ˈɑːltshmər, ˈælts-, ˈɔːlts-/; German: [ˈaːloˌis ˈalts.haɪmɐ]; 14 June 1864 – 19 December 1915), known as Alois Alzheimer, was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist and a colleague of Emil Kraepelin. Alzheimer is credited with identifying the first published case of "presenile dementia", which Kraepelin would later identify as Alzheimer's disease. (wikipedia)
• • •

Kinda straightforward, kinda workmanlike. I've seen versions of this theme before, but not with the tropics and EQUATOR, I don't think. Of course those elements further stress the grid, making an already dense theme even denser and resulting in fill that is, let's say, less than ideal. In parts, brutal. There's a semi-interesting gimmick here, but once you get it, there's not much delight in getting the theme answers, and there is plenty of non-delight in the rest of the answers. We still doing "I, TINA"? And ENOW? And ANOS without the REQ'D tilde on the "N"? Alrighty. Roughest part for me was ALOIS (?!!?) over N-TILE (i.e. sommmmme letter-TILE) (64A: Scrabble 1-pointer (but a Words With Friends 2-pointer)). I love how the clue thinks parenthetically adding the Words With Friends bit to the clue is going to help me, or anyone. Talk about your useless qualifying information. With a very non-specific clue on (West) BANK (53D: Area of longtime contention), it took quite a bit of effort to get things to work out down there. Had similar, if slightly lesser, trouble in the NE, where that damned novelist nobody read(e)s was up there with a defunct hockey team. This puzzle is maplike. It has the proper specifications, everything checks out, but as a puzzle, it scores pretty low on the Delight meter.

Having (West)PORT at the 1-Down was pretty damn provincial. That's easily the least well-known theme answers, well beneath even the Minnesota (North) STARS. I have only ever heard SUGAR SNAP with the word "pea" actually following it. Didn't know the phrase could stand on its own. Only just learning now that Eurus is the (East) Wind. I'm just glad Eurus didn't decide to blow into the grid itself. I had A BAG of rocks before I had A BOX, not sure why. Maybe because of that time Charlie Brown went trick-or-treating ...

See you tomorrow. Safe travels if you're traveling! Hope you survive your family!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Religious recluse / TUE 11-21-17 / Hook's henchman / Wife in Oaxaca / Rare grandfather clock numeral

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: some kind of car race in eastern Europe? — theme clues are fill-in-the-blank quotes from an imagined car race commentator (?); the answers are all puns on ... ugh, looks like both adjectives related to countries in (roughly) eastern Europe and nouns describing inhabitants of those countries...

Theme answers:
  • 19A: "The race has just begun, and it looks like the car from Warsaw will POLE INTO FIRST!" (this pun made Super-awkward by the fact that "pole" is, in fact, a racing term—and one related specifically to the *start* of a race (i.e. pole position))
  • 30A: "Listen! You can hear the thundering roar as the car from Moscow goes RUSSIAN PAST!" (oh yeah, race commentators say stuff like this *all* the time ...)
  • 39A: "We're getting close to the end as the car from Helsinki leads the way to the FINNISH LINE!"
  • 52: "Wow! The car from Prague ekes out the victory by a nose and takes the CZECHERED FLAG!") 
Word of the Day: EREMITE (22A: Religious recluse) —
noun: eremite; plural noun: eremites
  1. a Christian hermit or recluse. (google)
• • •

This is brutal. This is a cry for help. This is a regression to times of yore when weak-ass awkward cornball pun puzzles were all the rage. LETT MY PEOPLE GO! The theme is an outright disaster. Why am I listening to a race announcer? Why is this race in eastern Europe? Why are the puns so bad? Why aren't the punning words *&$^%ing consistent in terms of being the same parts of speech?! A POLE is an inhabitant of Poland. The adjective is "Polish." A "Finn" is an inhabitant of Finland. The adjective is "FINNISH"? Your puns are all inhabitants or all adjectives—they are not *&$^ing mix-and-match. I can't believe I'm actually trying to fix this dismal excuse for a theme, but lord in heaven if you're going to commit atrocities, at least show some respect for your craft.

Then of course there was the fill, which just took this from a Tuezday (your typical trainwreck of a Tuesday theme) to a Sooper Tuezday. Once I hit EREMITE crossing IIII (!!!!), I knew I was in for whatever the opposite of "a treat" is. MONTE on its own is dumb (5D: Hustler's game). A [Wound on a dueler] is a SCAR or SCAB—STAB is an action, or should be, esp. on a Tuesday. I think of a single person as a RASTAFARI*AN*, not a RASTAFARI (which is the movement / religion itself) (10D: Person with dreads). Actually, looking over the fill now, it's not so much terrible as it is choked with overfamiliar stuff (SMEE, AVAST, SLOMO, ADIN, OMEN, ESAY, IMAC, etc). But seriously, this puzzle should've been rejected. It doesn't feel sound enough to fly in one of the lesser dailies, let alone the daily with the self-described "Best Puzzle in the World." Why not reject with advice on improvement? Why not wait til the puzzle comes back to you in acceptable shape? Sigh. FLIPFLOP (37D: Switch positions) and SCRUNCHIE (32D: Ponytail holder) are fine answers and don't deserve to be associated with this mess. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Three-syllable foot as in bada bing / MON 11-20-17 / Nickname of Gen Burgoyne in American Revolution / Coiner of phrase alternative facts / Indian character on Big Bang Theory / Henry British officer who invented exploding shell

Monday, November 20, 2017

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Challenging (like, off-the-charts, not-even-close-to-normal-Monday Challenging)

THEME: ALLITERATION (18D: What 17-, 33-, 47- and 66-Across exhibit, despite appearances to the contrary) — two-word phrases that alliterate despite starting with different letters:

Theme answers:
  • GENTLEMAN JOHNNY (17A: Nickname of Gen. Burgoyne in the American Revolution)
  • PHOTO FINISH (33A: End of a close race)
  • CAESAR SALAD (47A: Dish made with romaine lettuce, croutons and Parmesan cheese)
  • KELLYANNE CONWAY (66A: Coiner of the phrase "alternative facts") 
Word of the Day: GENTLEMAN JOHNNY (John Burgoyne, 17-Across) —
General John Burgoyne (24 February 1722 – 4 August 1792) was a British army officer, politician and dramatist. He first saw action during the Seven Years' War when he participated in several battles, most notably during the Portugal Campaign of 1762.
John Burgoyne is best known for his role in the American Revolutionary War. He designed an invasion scheme and was appointed to command a force moving south from Canada to split away New England and end the rebellion. Burgoyne advanced from Canada but his slow movement allowed the Americans to concentrate their forces. Instead of coming to his aid according to the overall plan, the British Army in New York City moved south to capture Philadelphia. Surrounded, Burgoyne fought two small battles near Saratoga to break out. Trapped by superior American forces, with no relief in sight, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army of 6,200 men on 17 October 1777. His surrender, says historian Edmund Morgan, "was a great turning point of the war, because it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory". He and his officers returned to England; the enlisted men became prisoners of war. Burgoyne came under sharp criticism when he returned to London, and never held another active command.
Burgoyne was also an accomplished playwright known for his works such as The Maid of the Oaks and The Heiress, but his plays never reached the fame of his military career. He served as a member of the House of Commons for a number of years, sitting for the seats of Midhurst and Preston. (wikipedia)
• • •

Good editing is the difference between a great experience and an annoying one. So ... how did this puzzle get slotted on Monday? It's absurd. It's at least a Tuesday, possibly a Wednesday. Like, it's not close to Monday. I was over a minute slower than my average Monday time. Since I finish a typical Monday in roughly 2:50, you can see how one minute in this case is a ****ing chasm. Yes, the puzzle is oversized, which accounts for some of the extra time, but dear lord, come on. GENTLEMAN JOHNNY!? What the hell was that? (A: not a Monday theme answer). And your 1-Across is a. 7 letters (?) and b. a highly specialized poetic term? (ANAPEST) I'm cool with all of this, but, you know, Later In The Week. This theme is far too dense and intricate (a revealer intersecting every themer!), and has too many odd words and obscurities, to be a Monday. Dude's been editing for decades and couldn't see this? Mind-blowing. The puzzle is actually well made. But not a Monday not a Monday not even close to a Monday. GENTLEMAN JOHNNY, dear lord...

And even familiar stuff like SHRAPNEL had a nightmarish non-Monday clue (16D: Henry ___, British Army officer who invented the exploding shell). I wasn't even a minute into the puzzle and already—some Revolutionary general I'd never heard of and then a British Army officer? Oof. Mix up the frame of reference a little, please. What the **** is TETCHY? (52A: Irritable). Man that was rough. I think I've seen the word before, but I don't know anyone who uses it ever in any context ever. Wanted HIVES for HONEY (57D: Bees' production). IONA for IONE (I know better than that, dang it!) (64A: Actress Skye). I forgot the horrid lying racist sexual assailant president-enabling (did I leave anything out?) person's name, so that also slowed me down. Experienced the predictable NOVAS v. NOVAE hesitation (29D: Suddenly bright stars). Cute theme, good puzzle—but fatally misplaced on a Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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The Land Shark's show, for short / SUN 11-19-17 / Staple of Southern cuisine / Rising concerns in modern times? / Certain high school clique / Ones stationed at home

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy-ish

THEME: “Counterproductive" — Theme answers are defined by the number of letters they contain.

Theme answers:
  • MIDNIGHT HOUR (22A: This clue’s 110-Across, timewise) 
  • DIVER’S GOAL (28A: This clue’s 110-Across, at the Olympics)
  • VOTING AGE IN AMERICA (49A: This clue’s 110-Across, as is relevant each November) 
  • BAD LUCK SYMBOL (64A: This clue’s 110-Across, to the superstitious) 
  • ARGON’S ATOMIC NUMBER (81A: This clue’s 110-Across, in chemistry) 
  • REAL LOOKER (102A: This clue’s 110-Across, in terms of attractiveness) 
and then:
  • ANSWER LENGTH (110A: Something to count to understand 22-, 28-, 49-, 64-, 81-, and 102-Across)

Word of the Day: TOUCAN SAM (77D: One with a large bill at breakfast?)
Toucan Sam is the cartoon toucan mascot for Froot Loops breakfast cereal. The character has been featured in advertising since the 1960s. He exhibits the ability to smell Froot Loops from great distances and invariably locates a concealed bowl of the cereal while intoning, "Follow your nose! It always knows!", sometimes followed by "The flavor of fruit! Wherever it grows!" Another version of this phrase in a string of commercials in the late-2000s presents the character at the end of the commercials saying "Just follow your nose!", followed by a group of children retorting, "For the fruity taste that shows!"
• • •
Alex Eylar here -- I bumped into Rex on the subway; I said “Excuse me”; he said “Hey do you want to cover the puzzle today”; I said “Yeah why not”, and here I am.

This puzzle seems... expository, I guess is the word. Take ARGON’S ATOMIC NUMBER, for example: it contains 18 letters, and argon is atomic number 18, and, well, that’s it. It’s definitely accurate, but it’s not really an Aha! moment.

It doesn’t help as you’re solving it, either. I run across 22A first and I see it references a later clue, and I think to myself, “Welp, guess I’m not filling that in, tra la la la la” And then I think those same thoughts for the next five theme answers. So it’s not as if I’m working out the trick -- I’m just waiting until I get enough crosses that I can maybe figure out what the F these phrases are.

Except, they're not phrases (with the exception of MIDNIGHT HOUR and REAL LOOKER) -- they’re just descriptions of the connotations of a number. And the sentence “descriptions of the connotations of a number” doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement.

It reminds me of this puzzle from April: self-reflexive, but not really in an astounding way. It doesn’t elicit a “Wow!” or an “Oh, I get it!” -- it’s more of a “Huh, all-righty then.” That feeling, combined with the inescapably-fuzzy language of the clues (“Something to count to understand...”) makes the puzzle a bit flat, in my opinion. An interesting idea on paper, but there’s some oomph missing in practice.

I also don’t quite see the point in including the circled FOUR, which has four letters, and yeah. It’s a number describing itself (the only number to do so, fun fact!), but it feels like an afterthought. I appreciate the symmetry and the cascading arrangement of the letters, but what does it add to the puzzle?

That said, this puzzle was definitely on the easier side; finished just two minutes over my best time.

Words of note:
  • TO ARMS! (115A: Dramatic battle cry) — I had CHARGE! at first, which I yell every time I pull onto the 405.
  • HOP IN (6A: Words said through a car window) — For some reason, I pictured the window to be rolled-up, and was searching for a phrase you’d yell through a closed window, all of which are profane. (Perhaps you’re sensing a theme here)
  • EVITABLE (24A: Not definitely going to happen) — I mean... I guess it’s a word, but the opposite is far more friendly.
  • NEVERMORE (12D: Old-fashioned “That’s absolutely the last time”) — The lack of a Poe reference is a gross failure in my book; I love that poem.
  • HOME MOVIE (76D: Family Night entertainment) — I grew up in a boring family too.

Losers: PEELE and PEELER, GOLAN (looks like five random letters to my uncultured eyes), ON MARS (helluva partial), NBAERS (‘ae’ is the ugliest thing ever, trust me, they’re my initials).

Signed, Alex Eylar, Serf of Crossworld

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