1/20 of a ton abbr. / SUN 12-31-17 / County in New Mexico Colorado / Three-foot 1980s sitcom character / Hip-hop's Shakur / Film director C Kenton / Historic Mesopotamian city / Kyrgyz city / Result of French powdered drink shortage

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Constructor: John Lampkin

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New" —themers are wacky phrases where "O"s have been removed (in the top half) or added (in the bottom half) to ordinary phrases ... "Happy" New Year!

Theme answers:
  • LAST TANG IN PARIS (22A: Result of a French powdered drink shortage?)
  • CELL RECITAL (35A: List of things said by Siri?)
  • POL GROUNDS (55A: Washington, D.C.?)
  • I NEED A HUGO (76A: Struggling sci-fi writer's plea for recognition?)
  • URANIUM OREO (96A: Treat that gives a glowing complexion?)
  • SEVEN DAYS IN MAYO (113A: Weeklong Irish vacation?)
  • SUM WRESTLER (15D: One having trouble with basic arithmetic?)
  • FLOPPY DISCO (64D: Some loose dancing?)
  • CAM GEAR (34D: Photog's bagful?)
  • MAD CAPO (65D: Godfather after being double-crossed?)
Word of the Day: CCC (4A: New Deal org.) —
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men. Originally for young men ages 18–25, it was eventually expanded to young men ages 17–28. Robert Fechner was the first director of the agency, succeeded by James McEntee following Fechner's death. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men and to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000. Over the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 (about $547 in 2015[2]) per month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families). (wikipedia)
• • •

I tried, you guys. I really did. I went in to this like, "Damn it, I am going to *like* a Sunday puzzle. This has been a terrible, terrible year for Sunday puzzles, but by gum (!), I'm gonna enjoy this one." And then the puzzle proceeded to hold up its middle finger at me for 11-12 minutes. It's inexplicable, this incredible decline. This grotesque charade. This completely uninventive and unclever and sad thing that the Sunday puzzle—the marquee puzzle of the week!—has become.

Add a letter, drop a letter, wacky wacky wacky, piles of crosswordese ... in 2017, with as much constructing talent as there is out there, it's baffling. The slimmest, frailest of concepts—it's a play on "ring," get it!?—is supposed to carry you through an entire 21x21 grid? Perhaps with a truly talented clue writer, a concept like this might be salvaged, might be carried out over a giant grid without becoming supremely tiresome. But instead: [Some loose dancing?] for FLOPPY DISCO!? That's it? That's your clue? And SEVEN DAYS IN MAYO gets [Weeklong Irish vacation?]? Can you not feeeeeel how boring that clue is. When your theme concept is this thin (add/subtract a single letter), and is entirely reliant on the wackiness really *landing*, then you better step up and make those themers and clues hum. You need to work. Care. Craft. Something! Anything! But no. It's all workmanlike. And then the fill: ERLE, BAIO, SPOSE, NEH, ENS, and on and on and on. Up the pay to $3000 for a Sunday (a tiny drop in the bucket compared to what they make off a single Sunday puzzle), give the puzzle the editorial care it deserves, and maybe some of the talent you've lost in the past few years will start to come back (there are Big Names you haven't seen in forever ... for a reason). Until then, loyalists will continue to create OK puzzles and the rest of the time, we'll get ... this.

Though the theme is weak, the worst part of this puzzle—the memory that so many are going to be left with—is the unforgivably atrocious crossing of 4A and 4D. Never. Ever. Ever cross answers at a letter that is an abbr. In Both Directions. And *especially* don't do it when neither abbr. is a common term. I honestly couldn't tell you what either CCC or CWT stand for, and the *only* reason I guessed the letter there successfully is that I'd seen CWT somewhere in a puzzle before. That's all. That's it. The only reasonable thing to do if you absolutely insist on going to press with a CCC / CWT crossing is to clue CCC as a Roman numeral. It's 300. The idea that people in 2017 should know the Civilian Conservation Corps is absurd. Let me be clear: it's not that it's not "worth knowing." It's that it's generally not at all well known any more. And when you give it the remarkably lazy and vague [New Deal org.] clue ... it's all so contemptuous of solvers who care about (not to mention pay for) the "greatest puzzle in the world." Constructors should sniff out bad crosses like this, and editors *especially* should sniff them out.

Toughest part for me was the NW, where NOSE BLEED (3D: Result of a haymaker, maybe) and STEALTH (19D: Good hunting skill) and TROOP (31D: Batch of Brownies?) (all abutting one another) all were clued in ways I couldn't decipher. And then of course there's the CCC / CWT thing right there. Is "camo gear" a real phrase? That feels phenomenally weak as a self-standing phrase. Also, I was not looking for a theme answer on those seven-letter Downs—not when you've got nine-letter Downs that *aren't* themed. MAD CAPO and CAM GEAR therefore gave me more trouble than all the other themers by far (because I didn't know they were themers). Other major slow-down came, unfortunately but somewhat predictably, at a very weak answer—the partial A HINT (92A: "Give me ___"). I had AH-N- and without hesitation wrote in A HAND. Pfffffft. It's one thing to be fooled into a wrong answer by a clever clue, when the answer itself is at least a real, even if not particularly interesting, word. But to get snagged by a fill-in-the-blank partial? It's just not fun. I'll give A HINT one thing—it's stronger than A LION (!?!) (37D). But still, fool me with cleverness, if you're gonna fool me. I won't bother enumerating all the tired, hackneyed short stuff here. You can see it all over, from ARP to SOLER to OTERO. May the New Year bring you, and me, better Sunday puzzles. This Is My Sincere Wish.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. "Floppy disk" is spelled With a "K" ... it really is. Type "floppy di..." into google and see what predictive text gives you. Go ahead, I'll wait. No, I won't wait—it's all "disks." Therefore FLOPPY DISCO is, to borrow a phrase from yesterday's puzzle, NOT VALID. I have no idea what this puzzle thinks it's doing.

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Elephant rider's seat / SAT 12-30-17 / Pioneering hip-hop trio / Bayou genre / Subject of Durocher's nice guys finish last sentiment / Matchmaking site available in Hebrew

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Leon CZOLGOSZ (34D: McKinley's assassin)
Leon Frank Czolgosz (Polish: Czołgosz [ˈt͡ʂɔwɡɔʂ]; May 5, 1873 – October 29, 1901) was an American anarchist and former steel worker who assassinated U.S. President William McKinley in September 1901. Czolgosz was executed just over seven weeks later.
• • •

If you knew CZOLGOSZ without ever having seen the musical "Assassins," congratulations. To me, that name is just someone slamming their face into the keyboard, so that corner was horrendously tough, in a puzzle that was already pretty tough. Pop culture was all beyond me. AL PACINO was in "Merchant of Venice"? OK. Someone named INI Kamoze exists? If you say so. Didn't know Durocher was talking about OTT. Barely knew that Hemingway's old man was SANTIAGO (needed a bunch of crosses for that to come back to me). No idea what ALNICO is (except basically AL PACINO minus the PA). Would not have spelled FOGY without an "E". Point SUR? Nope. An URN is a "base"? Nope. EMU oil? Really? Wow. Poor EMU. Didn't know ANN meant "grace" (???). And on and on. RUN-DMC and KING JAMES were about the only proper nouns on my wavelength today. Oh, and MC ESCHER wasn't too hard. And J-DATE. But overall this was the bad kind of hard—hard because of proper nouns and tenuous clues.

ALTAR BOYS ring bells??

NOT VALID could've gone so many ways but it goes this dumb math way. NOT VALID is something you say about a license or a coupon. [Cracks] [Range] [Snag] are successive Across clues. This is sadistic. Write a clue. Piling up vague one-word clues is not good cluing. Top-level trivia buffs probably destroyed this, as so much of it is, well, trivial. I want something more from puzzles than just "do you know these names?" On the plus side, because I was so slow overall, I had only one real mistake. Wrote in LEANS / NOLO instead of TENDS / DARE (11D: Inclines / 22A: Option for people who can't handle the truth?).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS [Pioneering rap trio with mathematically inspired works?] = RUN-DMC ESCHER

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Diddy peanut shooting Nintendo character / FRI 12-29-17 / Swirly sweet seller / TV spinoff beginning in 2004 / Letters before Q /

Friday, December 29, 2017

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Erika SLEZAK (46D: Erika with six Daytime Emmys) —
Erika Alma Hermina Slezak (/ˈslzæk/; born August 5, 1946) is an American actress, best known for her role as Victoria Lord on the American daytime soap opera One Life to Live from 1971 through the television finale in 2012 and again in the online revival in 2013. She is one of the longest-serving serial actors in American media.

• • •

Today was a day I got a lot of help from my winter vacation TV-viewing habits. Just yesterday I watched the godawful "Babes in Toyland" (1934) starring Laurel & Hardy (I thought they were supposed to be funny) and one of the main figures in Toyland—the female lead, in fact: BO PEEP (1D: Children's character associated with a crook). Plunked her down without hesitation. Later on, when I was very stuck in the only part of the puzzle that was at all hard, I was able to bail myself out because the TV show I've been devouring for the past couple weeks—the one set primarily at a country club in *New Jersey*—is called "RED OAKs" (44D: New Jersey's state tree). If only I played Nintendo or watched a lot of daytime television, I might've set a Friday record. As it was, pretty average. Puzzle quality, however, was above average for sure. Lots of entertaining and unusual fill, with EVIL GRIN being probably my favorite. I have to say, though, that having OXYCONTIN in the puzzle, in the middle of an opioid epidemic—especially when the NYT's own top-of-the-home-page story today is about how the opioid epidemic has overwhelmed the foster care system—that was depressing. Total downer of a way to start off. Obviously it's a useful prescription medication, a morally neutral term, but the context of the current crisis made it taste pretty bad.

Here's where the wheels came off, or started to wobble, at any rate:

This is after a brief struggle with KONG (??) (34D: Diddy ___ (peanut-shooting Nintendo character)) and DENT (I had WELT) (41A: Bad impression?). Looking back, I regret that a. I put in SLEZAK (must've rung a bell) but then revoked it when nothing happened. I never ever should've put DEN in there at 60D: Leopard spot (ZOO). Wrong guesses kill, folks. The secret to fast solving is uncommitting to wrong answers. ("Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error": CICERO) See how nothing wants to touch DEN? There's a reason! Also, I confused "successor" and "predecessor" in my head and so completely misunderstood 40D: Whigs' successor, briefly. I wanted GOP right away, but a. obviously they did not come before the Whigs, and b. GOP would've conflicted with GLUE, which really felt like the right answer at 43A: Stick it to? (GORE). I also entered and retracted CURD at some point (56D: Bean ___). Pulled DEN and finally got GOP / GORE to work, and thus REPEAT (50A Do over), and then (finally!) a breakthough with TABBY, which made LAMB and OKEY both (eventually) visible. That "Y" in DEARY ME was lethal. I know "DEAR ME!" which seems a pretty good equivalent for ["Heavens to Betsy!"]. I sat there forever with "DEAR ... !?!?!?$@#&%^!" That "Y" was the key to everything. Oh, and that SPORTY clue was brutal, too (48D: Containing a spoiler) (spoilers are those little raised attachments on the back of SPORTY cars that are supposed to decrease drag) (not to be confused with a "wing," which increases drag ... or so I'm told).

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Soviet nuclear-powered submarine / THU 12-28-17 / Affair for bingers / Ancient kingdom east of Dead Sea

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Constructor: Gary Larson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: UP THE ANTE (55A: Increase what is at stake ... or a hint to answering 20-, 30- and 46-Across) — letter string "ANTE" goes up (instead of continuing Across) in the three theme answers:

Theme answers:

WADPOSTER (20A: Where you might see a criminal)

DEBUTABALL (30A: Coming-out party)

DASINFERNO (46A: Account of a hellish trip?) 

Word of the Day: Abe BEAME (1A: 1970s New York City mayor) —
Abraham David "Abe" Beame (March 20, 1906 – February 10, 2001) was the 104th Mayor of New York City from 1974 to 1977. As mayor, he presided over the city during its fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, during which the city was almost forced to declare bankruptcy. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not too hard to uncover this theme, and not too fun to uncover either. Feels like cheating to have one of the upped ANTEs be just ANTE in reverse, i.e. ETNA. I mean, the least you can do is disguise all the damn ANTEs inside other words. Also, very weird to have ACADEMICS and TURNABOUT just sitting there, same length as the adjacent themers but, you know, not themers. Those answers are in theme answer positions ... but aren't. So that was odd and disappointing. Actual theme answers in the grid are gibberish—nothing wacky about them. More disappointment. Fill is average to below average. There are some mildly interesting bits (IN DISARRAY, DRINKATHON), but mostly this is pretty bland fare. The only real inventive part involved finding places to put the upped ANTE. I don't count ETNA as "inventive," but PET NAMES and WETNAP work. "ETNA," it turns out, is not an easy letter string to work with. Still, would've liked this puzzle at least a tiny bit better if VIETNAM could've been worked in somehow (instead of ETNA). 

My NYC mayor knowledge does not go back to BEAME, so even though I've seen his name before, I needed almost every cross (1A: 1970s New York City mayor). Had no idea there was a [Soviet nuclear-powered submarine] called ALFA. I'm assuming Gary Larson is 10-to-20 years older than I am, given his frame of reference (and heavy reliance on old-school crossword answers, e.g. SWIT, ROC, AGAR, ESAU, RAU, etc.) Slowed myself way down with adjacent wrong letter guesses at 37A: J.F.K. posting, for short and 42A: Something a Mississippi cheerleader repeatedly calls for. ETA / ANS instead of ETD / ANI. Yet another thing that did not endear me to this puzzle. Wrong guesses are a part of solving life, but when they pile up, and they are in bad fill, pleasure diminishes. OK, gotta go make sure all the teenagers are out of my house now, i.e be the annoying dad, i.e. be myself. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1972 Oscar refuser / WED 12-27-17 / Dinah 1958 hit for Frankie Avalon / Kind of mass in physics / Saxophonist Cannonball / Fearsome Hindu deity / Shout from coach driver / Media muzzler

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Constructor: David Kwong

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: sawing LADIES / IN HALF (8A: With 63-Acorss, what some performers saw in Las Vegas? ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — get it? "Saw"? So ... famous "Ladies" are split in two, with half their names in circled squares on the far left of the grid and the other half on the far right:

The LADYs:
Word of the Day: "DE DE Dinah" (10D: "___ Dinah" (1958 hit for Frankie Avalon)) —
• • •

Rough but ultimately successful outing here. Theme concept is solid and nicely executed. Themers are all ladies whose names have been *literally* halved, with each half flush to the side of the grid. Hurray consistency. Also, nice little play on the word "saw" in the revealer clue. Not sure why the ladies are sawn/seen in Vegas, but maybe Vegas magically denotes .. magic? Whatever, the theme concept works, and the execution is nice, except ... JANE GREY. She's not really cut at all. Her name already exists in two parts, so putting the one part on one side and the other part on the other side doesn't really created the same "what the!?" effect that sawing a lady in half would—that CHATT / ERLEY does, for instance. JANE and GREY already got space between them. No cut. No saw. One part just wandered off. I'd've maybe tried a different lady, like BIRD or DYNAMITE or something (I'd've said MACBETH, but you can't saw her name in *half*).

The puzzle wasn't too hard, but the few hard bits really cut my legs out from under me. The worst part was "DE DE Dinah." What the hell?! That is one of the worst partials I've ever seen. A 60-year-old #7 (!?) hit, the spelling of which can hardly be determined with one's ears ... and a partial. I had -EDE and wondered why anyone would want to CEDE Dinah, let alone sing about it. That this answer was next to the adjectivally odd INERTIAL (!) made that section doubly rough. The other answer I really struggled with was in the opposite corner of the grid: SHYOF. I had the "Y" and "O" and of course was looking for one word. And yet somehow, despite the fact that my struggles took place all over the revealer, the theme was still easy enough to pick up that my time ended up normal for a Wednesday. The very narrow openings connecting NE to E and SW to W also slowed things down. Without INERTIAL, no getting down from there, and with only SEND at 37D: Message from a short person? ("SEND CASH"), well, no getting down from there, either, for a bit. Oh, and I also made this error:

[4D: Ending with hard or soft]

Yes. Yes I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Military vehicle used for reconnaissance / TUE 12-26-17 / Ja Rule hit that includes lyric wash away your tears / Chalupa alternative

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: a quip — here's the note appended to the puzzle; it's a long quotation that doubles as the theme clue:

So ... A.J. JACOBS, despite having appeared as an answer in a NYT crossword puzzle, is, according to his brother-in-law, STILL A FIVE-LETTER / WORD STARTING WITH / "LOS" AND ENDING IN "ER"

[it is a bit weird to have "1-Down" here be part of the quote, but "1-Across" be an actual clue...]

Word of the Day: PIUS I (36D: Second-century pope) —
Pope Saint Pius I (died c. 155) is said to have been the Bishop of Rome from c. 140 to his death c. 154,[1] according to the Annuario Pontificio. His dates are listed as 142 or 146 to 157 or 161, respectively. [that is *some* opening paragraph ... quite a pope] (wikipedia)
• • •

Let me tell you, when you have a no-blurb-reading policy, 52-Across is a real adventure. I finished the puzzle in pretty normal Tuesday time (despite having no idea what was going on with any of the theme material), and I kept trying to parse LOSANDENDINGINER (taking out "ending," imagining there was something going on involving LOS ANgeles, etc.), to no avail. So I finally read the *long* blurb and ... ah. OK. It's a not-that-funny quip puzzle by someone I've never heard of (which, I guess, is fitting, since that's pretty much the joke). Seems mean to reabuse the guy, although ... I guess if you get this much crossword abuse, it eventually counts as glorification. Of a sort. I cannot say I liked this puzzle, but only because quip puzzles are almost never worth it, and usually involve gags that are at best cute. It's a fine grid, and managed to be Tuesday-easy despite a. being oversizd (16 wide), and b. having four essentially unclued themers in it. If you enjoyed the winky little self-referential thing, wonderful. Then the puzzle worked.

SCOUT CAR feels super made-up, but I'm sure it's not or it wouldn't be in here (62A: Military vehicle used for reconnaissance). ASANAS feels super made-up too, since ASANA is plural all on its own, but dictionaries are telling me that in *English* the plural is ASANAS, so there we are (48D: Yoga positions). PIUSI is almost certainly real, but definitely unfortunate (36D: Second-century pope), as are all random popes (i.e. the vast majority of popes—historically inconsequential but cruciverbally useful because their names can end in Is and Vs and Xs). It's to the NYT's credit that random popes have been down overall of late—or so it feels. NOONS is super-rough as a plural. MENACER is not a word anyone would use ... but since it's crossing CUR, why not cross-reference? Go all in. Commit to your word atrocity!

Today's constructor, Peter Gordon, is one of the two best crossword *editors* I know. Meticulous. Smart. Intolerant of garbage. Edits *in consultation* with the constructor, so the final product is one that everyone's happy with. Doesn't take 1 to 10 years to publish your work after it's been accepted. Ask anyone who's constructed for him. He's wonderful. I say this both because it's true and because a new season of his crossword—Fireball Crosswords—starts up on January 3. These are challenging weekly crosswords, mostly themed, made by the most talented constructors around. Along with American Values Crossword, this is the indie puzzle subscription you should definitely have. 45 puzzles for 27 bucks. Good stuff. Get it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Green precious stone / MON 12-25-17 / Charlotte rich dessert / Columbus campus / Cartoondom's Olive / Govt of the Rebs / Sorvino of "Mighty Aphrodite" / Hairlike projections on cells / "Slumdog Millionaire" setting / Vice president between Gore and Biden

Monday, December 25, 2017

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:08)

THEME: HIT PARADE — (58A: List of popular songs ... or a hint to the ends of the answers to the starred clues), all of which mean "hit," metaphorically.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Game-quickening timer in basketball: SHOT CLOCK
  • 28A: Snowbirds' destination: SUN BELT
  • 47A: Long vegetable with a yellow pod: WAX BEAN
  • 11D: Marinara sauce thickener: TOMATO PASTE
  • 24D: Dispenser of psychiatric advice to Charlie Brown: LUCY VAN PELT
  • plus a bonus related non-themer: 35A: Clobber in the ring: KAYO

Word of the Day: RUSSE (20A: Charlotte ___ (rich dessert)) —
A charlotte is a type of dessert or trifle that can be served hot or cold. It can also be known as an "ice-box cake". Bread, sponge cake or biscuits/cookies are used to line a mold, which is then filled with a fruit puree or custard. It can also be made using layers of breadcrumbs. Classically, stale bread dipped in butter was used as the lining, but sponge cake or ladyfingers may be used today. The filling may be covered with a thin layer of similarly flavoured gelatin. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Glad tidings, crosswordoblogosphere! Rex is taking a day off, and it is I, Laura, filling in for Christmas as Jewish friends have done from time immemorial. We've got ourselves a coherent little puzzle for a Monday, no holiday thematics at present. You have here your classic "bunch of phrases with words at the end that all mean something similar, metaphorically" -- which is standard Theme Type #Whatever in the panoply of theme types. Really, no aspersions cast; if you're learning to construct, this is a good one to practice and know, and Lynn is a pro at execution.

Like a Charlotte RUSSE, our container is filled with standard fare, including not too many difficult proper names -- we have a little Dick (12D: Vice president between Gore and Biden): CHENEY, MIRA (56D: Sorvino of "Mighty Aphrodite"), and (10D: "Jeopardy" host Trebek): ALEX, as well as grid staples ILIE (55D: 1970s tennis champ Nastase) and (51A: Mel honored in Cooperstown): OTT. I'm curious how many solvers might not know that LUCY of the Peanuts comic is a VAN PELT, now that the strip runs only in syndicated "flashbacks" and the TV specials air only intermittently, and then just as Gen-X nostalgia. Oh, right -- I always forget that (5D: Swede who developed a temperature scale): CELSIUS was an actual person.

What's on your HIT PARADE tonight? On mine ... it was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank. I can see a better time, when all our dreams come true.

  • 21A: Lyndon Johnson and George W. BushTEXANS. Or another vice president, plus the president that 12D was Vice for.
  • 27A: Columbus campus, brieflyOSU. Apparently, the official title of this institution is THE Ohio State University. If I omit the THE, will I be pelted with buckeyes? I grew up as a U of M fan, so pardon my (43D: Social gaffe): FAUX PAS.
  • 33A: Tie, as figure skatesLACE UP. I just saw I, Tonya, the Tonya Harding biopic (tinged with satire), just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Think figure skating is about athleticism, about who is the best at the sport? Nah. It's a pretty-girl contest.  
That's likely it for my (25D: Notable achievement): FEAT of guest-posting for Rex in 2017. Best wishes for whatever you celebrate, if anything, as we wind down this year, with hope for peace and justice as we ring in the next one.

Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Branded baby carriers / SUN 12-24-17 / Plot device in Shining / Restaurant chain founded by Raffel brothers / avoid a bogey barely./ 1990s tennis great Huber

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Making a Fast Buck" — the theme is RUDOLPH the red-nosed reindeer, THE MOST FAMOUS / REINDEER OF ALL. If you connect the circled squares, alphabetically, you get the profile of what purports to be a reindeer—RUDOLPH, actually. A rebused "RED" provides the nose (see above). Other theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • GENE AUTRY (44A: Singer with a #1 hit about 123-Across)
  • SHINY NOSE (45D: Feature depicted in the upper left of this puzzle) 
  • NORTH POLE (82D: Starting point for an annual flight) (why would you put this in your puzzle without a corresponding symmetrical answer? Is TOOK A SIDE thematic? Is that something Santa did when he made Rudolph the guider of the sleigh? Also, SANTA is in this grid (94D: Deliverer of Christmas packages), and he also has no symmetrical theme equivalent ... anything goes, I guess)
Word of the Day: DO LOOP (100D: Repetitive bit of computer code) —


do loop (plural do loops)
  1. (computing) A section of computer code in which an instruction or group of instructions is executed repeatedly depending on the value of a Boolean condition. (wiktionary)
• • •

Just did a red-nose themed puzzle like three days ago, so this one ... was anti-climactic. Also, just not as good. The other one was a superior puzzle on every level. This one is a child's placemat game. Once you get that it's RUDOLPH, the theme stuff just fills itself in (mostly), and then it's just ... you know, drawing. And, as you can see in grid image above, I followed that damned alphabetical dot-to-dot puzzle to the letter (!) and got ... some Dr. Moreauvian abomination.  These draw-on-your-puzzles puzzles almost never work out, and the more complicated the drawing, the worse it usually is. Some will find this idea cute. Some who don't solve a ton of puzzles. That's fine. It is cute, in its way. But it's unsatisfying as a *crossword puzzle*, except for that sneaky little single-rebus-square trick. That was kinda neat. But DO LOOP and NOM DE and ECARD *and* ESIGN (!?) and the idiotic ONE-EARED (48D: Like van Gogh, in later life) ... all of that can get lost. Also TAUTOU (114A: Actress Audrey of "Amélie"). Come on. I know you've got a proprietary gigantic wordlist or whatever, but you're not Required to use everything on it. New isn't always good. Knowing the difference between "new" and "good," well, that's the heart of crossword artistry. Don't get enamored with crap just because no one's used it before. That is not, necessarily, a virtue.

What's a DREW / SCOTT? What's "TV's Property Brothers?" ... ??? ... What's a LEFT KEY? Is that like "Back space" or "Delete"? Oh, wait, do you mean "left arrow"? LEFT KEY, pfft. Again, why cram your wordlist full of marginal baloney? I don't get it. GRADEAEGG ... sigh. Does this mean GRADEAAEGG is a better answer? I doubt anyone would agree. The clue is off on this one, too (21D: One of a dozen good things?). Grade A appear to be defined by how *not* good they are, i.e. they have a lower "interior quality" than Grade AA eggs, which are the real "good eggs." There's also a Grade B, but those aren't sold in supermarkets. They're used in egg powders and other products where appearance doesn't matter. So, if nothing else, this puzzle turned into a lesson on egg classification. Which leads me to my primary cluing question today: why would you clue SEXES as a verb related to chicks?! (126A: Sorts, as chicks) I mean, SEXER, yeah, you don't have any other options, but SEXES is a perfectly good noun. I just don't get people sometimes. Interesting trivia on that ARBY'S clue, though (23A: Restaurant chain founded by the Raffel brothers (hence the name)). So "R" for Raffel and "B" for "brothers" = R + B = Arby's. Neat. I won't remember it, but neat.

Probably the hardest part of the puzzle was the rebus RED square, largely because I know very well what's written backward in "The Shining," and I was none too happy to have DRUM in there? Also, weird to call a "word" a "plot device" (22A: Plot device in "The Shining" that has significance when spelled backward) Alright, enough of this. I hope Christmas brings you all a nice puzzle. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [Descartes's conclusion] was SUM. There's a difference between "tricky" and "wrong."

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Meringue-based dessert name for ballerina / SAT 12-23-17 / Bygone can opener / Drug sought by Roy Cohn in Angels in America / Discuss thickness with doctor

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Constructor: Matthew Sewell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PAVLOVA (13D: Meringue-based dessert named for a ballerina) —
Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.[1] It is a meringue dessert with a crisp crust and soft, light inside, usually topped with fruit and whipped cream. The name is pronounced /pævˈlvə/, or like the name of the dancer, which was /ˈpɑːvləvə/. // The dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years. In 2008, Helen Leach published The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History, in which she argued that the earliest known recipe was published in New Zealand. Later research by Andrew Wood and Annabelle Utrecht suggested the dessert originated in the United States and was based on an earlier German dish. The dessert is a popular dish and an important part of the national cuisine of both Australia and New Zealand, and with its simple recipe, is frequently served during celebratory and holiday meals. It is a dessert most identified with the summer time and popularly eaten during that period including at Christmas time, however it is also eaten all year round in many Australian and New Zealand homes. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another one that hangs together fine but is not terribly exciting. This one has some very weak joints and (despite CHANCE THE RAPPER), an oldish frame of reference. Not "oldish" in the sense of "appealing to older solvers" (although that may be true, who know), but "oldish" in the sense of "omg I haven't seen SATRAP(S) or MRE(S) in a puzzle in ages." Basically, the puzzle is totally OK with fill that was mostly totally OK 20 years ago, but now shouts "don't use me!" I have no idea how someone can look at DAR alongside AINU and think "... it's fine. It's fine. My beautiful baby corner is fine." One or the other of those somewhere in the grid (preferably a grid that didn't have much *other* short garbage in it) is fine. But DAR / AINU as a team!? And the only thing they're holding up is ... TENANTS and ON TRUST and (zzz) STUDIO EXECUTIVE. No. Try again. But parts of this grid were delightful. I especially liked the sly wink at Tom Selleck. I'm talking of course about the crossing of SEXIEST MAN ALIVE and MUSTACHE WAX. Those answers form a giant "T" (for Tom!) at the dead center of the grid. What, you thought that was coincidence? Look, you can clue TOM as Tom Riddle all you want, puzzle (24A); I know who you're pining for...

My four trips to New Zealand finally pay off today with PAVLOVA, which I got instantly. PAVLOVA is like a national dish. Practically a requirement of residency. You know they give you a lei when you get off the plane in Hawaii? Well they shove PAVLOVA down your gullet when you deplane in Auckland. It's fun! I was less lucky with the Eric Carmen portion of the grid. That's a pretty smart (and tough) clue on SIMILES (56A: "She's Like the Wind" and others). I had the SI- and wrote in SINGLES (which is accurate enough). I enjoyed the trick more than I might have because I was able to figure it out without.a total solving breakdown. Also escaped SEETHE-for-SEE RED (27D: Come to a boil) and PULL TAB-for-RING TAB (1A: Bygone can opener) without much trouble.

"I HEAR IT" is ridiculous (2D: "Shh, something's coming!"). There's nothing "Shh" about "I HEAR IT". There's nothing "something's coming!" about "I HEAR IT". And there's nothing stand-alone-worthy about "I HEAR IT". Three strikes. Out.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Merchant Samuel who lent name to historic island / FRI 12-22-17 / Abba who was born Aubrey / DC Comics supervillain group / Spongy toy going up in popularity / Something ported at portage

Friday, December 22, 2017

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SWARDS (36D: Grasslands) —
plural noun: swards
  1. an expanse of short grass.
    • Farming
      the upper layer of soil, especially when covered with grass. (google)
• • •
And so I'm back. From outer space. Actually, I just took a couple days off so I could finally and completely put the fall semester to bed. Also, Andrea (Wednesday) and Morgan (Thursday) were really excited to do their first stand-in write-ups, and far be it from me to say 'no.' Which reminds me—I'll be off Christmas Day, as my lovely non-Christmas-celebrating friend Laura Braunstein has graciously agreed to allow me to spend Christmas Eve / morning focused on food and family and possibly "Star Wars" instead of another crossword grid. But then I'll be back bright and early on Boxing Day, which isn't a thing here, but I still like to say it. It's nice when days have names.

[The second-greatest Christmas song, after "O Holy Night"]

I feel like we just saw ESCAPE ROOM, and I also feel like we had this *exact* clue for SHOPS, like, in the past week (24A: Bazaar makeup). . . well, almost: six days ago: [Bazaar parts]. The word "Bazaar" shows up an *awful* lot in SHOPS clues, despite the fact that I go to SHOPS all the time and have no idea when, if ever, I've been to a bazaar. Stop relying on bygone / musty cluing, folks. Whoa, weird: SHOPS has been clued as a verb only *twice* in the Shortz era (out of 16 appearances). And yet five clues have mentioned "bazaars" (???). OK, moving on—I liked this puzzle OK, but I think it gets pretty dull right through the middle, i.e. right through the part that would've been hardest to fill cleanly. I think he succeeded in achieving relative cleanness, but I don't want *just* clean. I'd like exciting, or at least unusual. TECH SCHOOLS feels mildly off (daughter's currently applying to a lot of [Engineer training schools], and we've never used that phrase). Unless TECH SCHOOLS are different from universities that train engineers. Is Caltech a "tech school"? It sure sounds like one. The category's a bit blurry. TALLAHASSEE is just a lot of favorable letters. See also STRESS EATER, which is at least a mildly interesting, if slightly depressing, answer. Middle just felt easy and bland, whereas the top and bottom felt suitably FREAKY (that may be overstating it, but, when compared to the center ... I stand by FREAKY).

Did you know AMPLIFIER and GUITAR AMP have the same number of letters? (1A: Piece of equipment at a rock concert) It is possible that now, you do, if you are like me and confidently plunked down AMPLIFIER. Crosswordese goddess Indie.ARIE got me out of that mistake pretty quickly, though. Who calls table tennis "PONG" (9D: Game with a 40-millimeter ball, informally)? PONG is an early Atari video game. That clue was rough. I did a very weird thing at 5D: "Great" one in Africa (APE). I was thinking "horn" (is the Horn of Africa "great" ... I think not, but ...). But HORN didn't fit, so I thought of some other "great" geographical feature and went with ... RIM (?). Now, there appears to be a Rim of Africa—in the Cape Mountains of South Africa. But I think somehow Pacific Rim / Ring of Fire (which of course has nothing whatsoever to do with Africa) was also dancing around my head. Anyway, FAME / IPASS / TALES / USHAPE got me going up there, and I didn't have many other problems after that except at the very end, where I threw ROOM TO NEGOTIATE across, but then couldn't get the first few Downs I looked at to work, then wrote in UH, SURE" at 44A: "Sure, I guess" (yes, I really did this) and then took out the NEGOTIATE part ... only to have to put it back in a few seconds later. Dumb dumb dumb. But still in under 6, and in the early morning no less, so this must've been a tad on the easy side.

  • GIRL CODE — I've heard of "bro code" but not GIRL CODE. It appears to be an MTV show (?). I tend to be suspicious of the exclusionary conformity imposed by "codes," but I'll leave GIRL CODE for not-men to comment on.
  • SWARDS (36D: Grasslands) — Had SW- and managed to put down not one but two wrong answers before I got SWARDS. Can you guess what they were?*
  • YPRES (41A: W.W. I battle site) — whoa, totally forgot about YPRES. Had the "Y" and was trying to decide between YALTA and YEMEN ... sometimes your Pattern Recognition Brain totally overrides your Reality-Based Brain
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*1. SWAMPS 2. SWALES—both of which are far, far marshier than SWARDS

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


One's Nintendo avatar / THU 12-21-17 / Last name in astronomy / Abbr at bottom of page of text / Prepare for entombment / Kemper who plays Kimmy / Candy Wonder Woman's best friend / First-tier supervisor in USMC

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners 

Relative difficulty: EASY

THEME: THEMEWHAT IS THIS SHAPE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PUZZLE? – Four theme answers spell out different things that might be represented by the Y-shaped black object in the
middle of the grid.

Word of the Day: WHATEVS (13A: “Oh, I don’t care”)
both the best answer in the puzzle and also my reaction to the puzzle when completed.
• • •

Well isn’t it your lucky day? A second guest blogger in a row! Morgan here; like Andrea yesterday, I’m a first-time guest blogger but long-time puzzle-solver and Rex-reader. I would say I solve the puzzle about 40% slower than Rex and I judge it about 30% less cantankerously. I thought I was covering last week’s Thursday, which I found to be a pretty decent example of the day. I had started writing up a lovely post for that day when Rex and I realized our wires had been crossed, so I volunteered to do today instead. Hoooooo boy, was that a mistake.

I really did not enjoy this puzzle, but neither did it put up any resistance. From plunking down CAMARO (7A: Mustang alternative) to the final answer, INURN (38A: Prepare for entombment, say) took me just over 7.5 joyless minutes, a good 2-3 minutes short of my Thursday average these days. I don’t recall any point at which I paused for more than a handful of seconds because of a tough clue. I’d guess some people probably struggled in moving from section to section because the openings are pretty tight (moving from the north to the southeast was the toughest part for me), but other than that this feels closer to a Wednesday.

My first hint that I would not like this puzzle came with the first theme answer I got, THE LETTTER Y (28D: One more thing they might represent). I had THELE and figured it had to be THE LETTER something, so I put that down and waited until FLYINTO fell (65A: Reach  by air). I stopped and, looking at the shape in the center of the puzzle, actually said aloud (I think—you’d have to ask my husband) “Oh no.” That shape can also represent:
That’s it? Four measly, bland theme answers covering 38 squares? Am I missing something? If not, no thank you.

The rest of the puzzle doesn’t have much to commend it, I’m afraid. The big spanner GENERAL HOSPITAL (16A: Winner of 13 Outstanding Drama Series Emmys) is kind of fun, but I wished it were theme-relevant. I had no idea that FIFI was in fact “diminutive of Josephine” (33D) despite sharing the gay world’s unabashed loathing of Phi Phi O’Hara. And I RECKON I always enjoy some colloquialisms (60A: “S’pose so”). But that’s about all I’ve got on the plus side.

The fill here has some definite sore spots, and I’m not sure why given the theme isn’t all that dense.
  • ITE
  • SERA
  • ALPE
  • CONT
  • CRI
  • ERAT
And the absolutely horrendous INURN/GENII stack (to me, that’s where the puzzle probably should have been scrapped)

Finally, there’s two politically tricky entries. First, we get IVANKA (6d: The Trump who wrote “The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life”). I’d prefer something like “The Trump whose husband is totally going to fix the Middle East and not at all going to be indicted jklol.” And then we have AL FRANKEN (35D: “Senator in 2017 news”), a clue that was undoubtedly different when this puzzle was written (as an education policy professor, I’m assuming it was something like “Senator who grilled Betsy DeVos about the difference between proficiency and growth”).

So, not very enjoyable. But writing this entry was fun regardless, so I look forward to doing it again!

  • TSARINA (22D: Winter Palace resident) – a delightful break from the usual
  • PETE (27A: St. ____ (site of a spring vacay)) – sorta wish this was referring to St.
    Petersburg, Russia, but probably that’s a little on the bleak side.
  • SWANN (44A: Elizabeth _____ “Pirates of the Caribbean” protagonist) – as a USC
    Trojan I obviously would prefer this was clued for our current athletic director /
    former graceful wide receiver Lynn Swann.
  • PRAIRIE (62: Badlands National Park feature) – I actually didn’t know this; I
  • thought the Badlands were mostly rock formations. But apparently this park contains the largest undisturbed prairie in the U.S.
Signed, Morgan Polikoff for Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


First name in women's tennis / WED 12-20-2017 / Greta Garbo or Ingrid Bergman / Japanese "yes"

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Relative difficulty: EASY

THEME: CLOUD NINE — Horizontal theme answers are different ways to get nine by way of addition. So if basic arithmetic is your bag, this puzzle will have you on cloud nine.

Word of the Day: SONANT (59A: Voiced) —

soundinghaving sound.
Phonetics. voiced (opposed to surd ).
a speech sound that by itself makes a syllable or subordinates to itselfthe other sounds in the syllable; a syllabic sound (opposed toconsonant ).
a voiced sound (opposed to surd ).
(in Indo-European) a sonorant.
• • •
Hi, crossword friends. Andrea here. Longtime reader, first-time guest-blogger. I will confess more than a little anxiety about guest-blogging for Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld. I've been around this Internet of ours. I know what the comments section can be like (though this is true of any blog or website on any topic, including knitting and butter pecan ice cream ... aaaaand now you know exactly which corners of the Internet I frequent). Back when mousepads were a thing, I used to think my big, million-dollar idea was going to be marketing mousepads that said DON'T READ THE COMMENTS. On to the puzzle!

I thought this puzzle was a snooze. Right off the bat (does everyone start up there in the northwest corner? Or do some people start somewhere else? Like the way some people always read magazines from the back?), I was worried that the biggest surprise in this puzzle was going to be which spelling of TSAR/CZAR (1A: Russian ruler) we were looking at. From there, it was an unexciting jog through standard-issue answers. I paused for a moment on READER (16A: Bibliophile) and permitted myself a philosophical tangent. A bibliophile is someone who loves books, yes. But does that necessarily mean he or she is a reader? Aren't there bibliophiles who love books qua books but don't read them? And more interestingly (to me): people who read--even literature--but using an e-reader. Are those people readers but not bibliophiles? I kept filling the puzzle automatically as I pondered this, because it was more interesting than the fusty answers that make up this puzzle. Like GIN (24A: Game-ending cry at a card table) and RUDE (4D: Like cutting in line) and SASS (41A: Be flippant with) and TORNADO (35D: What transported Dorothy to Oz). These all just feel like they were pulled from a mothball-scented drawer in someone's aunt's house, not a fun aunt but like an aunt you have to stay with for two nights when your mom goes to have a baby and dad can't possibly be asked to "babysit" so you go stay at Aunt Faye's kind of weird-smelling apartment and she teaches you to play gin rummy and warns you not to sass her but she lets you watch The Wizard of Oz on TV before putting you to bed in a trundle bed without even spritzing detangler on your hair for you. Even the inclusion of LENA (28A: Dunham of "Girls") and MARC (25A: Designer Jacobs) felt like when a grown-up tries to dab or fidget-spin her way into the hearts of young people. This is a thing I am sensitive to as a middle-aged teacher of teenagers. All in all, this puzzle feels vintage in a squicky way.

Here is a picture of Lena Dunham wearing Marc Jacobs!

Theme answers, on which I refuse to spend a lot of words: 
  • ONE and EIGHT is NINE
  • FOUR and FIVE is NINE
  • SEVEN and TWO is NINE
NINE, of course, was only half of the "theme." It was CLOUD NINE. When it comes to that idiom, I think the CLOUD part is more interesting than the NINE part. I would have loved to see in this puzzle tastier words like cirrus, cumulus, stratus, nimbus. Even miasma. Nebula. There are all these cool cloud words! Maybe even nine of them! Why are we doing arithmetic? Then again, I live in Phoenix. It was like 70 and sunny today. Of course I want clouds.

But look. There were a couple of neat things in this puzzle, though. Little echoes. We had both OVEST (6D: Sunset's direction, in Sorrento) and ESTE (18A: Sunrise's direction, in Sonora)TORPEDOS (14A: Nixes, as a proposal) calling to mind the aforementioned TORNADOS from elsewhere in the puzzle. These are nice and I guess sort of related to the cloud theme, in a loose way, or at least to the cloud theme I wish had been in this puzzle.

As a logophile (a thing you can be no matter how or where you read), I liked seeing INDIGENE (8D: Person native to an area) and SONANT (59A: Voiced), adjectives that are basically never used in informal spoken language and too infrequently even in writing.

  • SARGE (27A: V.I.P. at boot camp) — can't read this word without thinking of Beetle Bailey, which is a thing the totally fictional Aunt Faye probably likes along with her cigarettes in the morning. 
  • LIAISE (58A: Network (with)) — according to the most cursory Internet research, this is a back-formation from "liaison."  I'm into that. I've been reading John McWhorter's Words on the Move and so I am feeling especially wiggly and descriptivist about language these days. Wheeee! 
  • WEIR (40D: Small dam) — This is a good word to know for Scrabble and crosswords, plus it reminds me of Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, which reminds me of my brother Chris. But then I am also reminded how Bob Weir, like, welcomed John Mayer into the Grateful Dead family over Twitter this year and I am uncomfortable all over again. 
  • SONANT (59A: Voiced) — I picked this as my Word of the Day because it's lovely and sort of rare but totally up-front about what it means (SON- = sound) and also because it looks a bit like the word Sonata, which is--look at that!--the name of my book that came out in May and which Rex Parker nudged me to put in a little plug for. So if you are a logophile or a bibliophile or both, if you like music, maybe you'll consider checking it out here or, better yet, at your local, independent bookstore. 
Signed, Andrea Avery for Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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