Reggae persona for noted rapper / WED 1-31-18 / Some wonderful times in Nebraska / Sort of person heavily into eyeliner / Lead-in to mensch / Vitamin brand with hypen between its last two letters

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Constructor: Josh Radnor and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (theme pretty challenging / fill pretty easy)

THEME: PREMEDITATED (50A: Calculated ... or a punny hint to 18-, 24-, 32- and 44-Across) — regular phrases have the meditation chant sound "OM" added to the beginning of them, creating wacky phrases:

Theme answers:
  • OMAHA MOMENTS (18A: Some wonderful times in Nebraska?)
  • O'MALLEY CATS (24A: Good name for politico Martin's jazz band?)
  • OMEN VOGUE (32A: Portentous fashion magazine?) 
  • OMITS NO JOKE (44A: Makes an unabridged humor book?)
Word of the Day: En Vogue (See 32A) —
En Vogue is an American R&B/Pop vocal group whose original lineup consisted of singers Terry EllisDawn RobinsonCindy Herron, and Maxine Jones. Formed in Oakland, California in 1989, En Vogue reached number two on the US Hot 100 with the single "Hold On", which was taken from their 1990 debut album Born To Sing. The group's 1992 follow-up album Funky Divas reached the top 10 in both the US and UK, and included their second US number two hit "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)", plus the US top 10 hits "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" and "Free Your Mind". (wikipedia)
• • •

I was really distracted by the little yellow "Note" icon on my puzzle:

These notes often have some extra bit of information about what's happening in the puzzle, what to look for, etc., and I don't read them. I don't want help. I just want to solve the puzzle. But there's always that nagging feeling, as I'm solving, that the note is gonna be *necessary* to comprehending what's going on, so when I get hung up, anywhere, I eye that little yellow rectangle resentfully, like, "this better not be *you*." And I had that feeling several times today, as none of themers would budge. I was cleaning up on the west side of the grid, but I couldn't find my way across to the east because themers were giving me no help *and* the only way to get from west to east is via the themers (those passageways are tiny!). OMAHA [stop]. O'MALLEY ? [stop]. Eventually hopped the center line and did the short Downs that ran through VOGUE, and got OMEN VOGUE (?) but somehow still didn't notice the three "OM"s. In fact, I never saw the pattern until I hit the revealer, and then something weird happened, something good that's supposed to happen all the time but rarely does. Well, two things. A. I had an honest-to-god (non-OM) aha moment at the revealer, and B. it made all my earlier frustration melt away into something like admiration. It's a good theme.

Grid is weirdly crammed with olde-tymey crossword names—LEN, LOM, ERMA, and ... hey, it's ENYA. Haven't seen her yet this year. Welcome back.

But otherwise, the grid is pretty clean. Almost all my struggle with this puzzle came with trying to comprehend the themers. Otherwise, nothing too hard here. Wanted UBER (actually 49A) for AVIS (9A: Company that acquired Zipcar in 2013) and OCTOPUS for OCTOPOD (47A: Multi-armed mollusk). Both O'MALLEY CATS and OMITS NO JOKE were super-hard to parse in part because of the very good but absolutely brutal clue on COVET (28D: Extremely fancy?). I had to get it down to -OVET before I could see what was going on. "Fancy" as a verb! So irritating! But approval must be granted! Grudgingly granted! Good day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Ancient Balkan region / TUE 1-30-18 / Wisconsin city that's home to Lawrence University / Piglet producer / Japanese soup tidbit

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Medium+ (slightly north of normal)

THEME: HOUSEBROKEN (57A: Like most pet dogs ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — circled letters spell out types of "houses" that are "broken" across two answers on different but adjacent rows:

The Houses:
  • A-F/RAME
  • RAN/CH
Word of the Day: MOW (25A: Part of a barn where hay is stored) —
  1. a stack of hay, grain, or other similar crop.

    "the hay mow"
    • a place in a barn where a stack of hay or grain is put. (google)
• • •

Quick write-up today, as Tuesdays are bonkers for me this semester. I like this theme idea. My main question is whether stepping the houses up or down like that really suggests "broken." To me, they are SPLIT-LEVEL houses. The letters are actually contiguous, so they don't look so much "broken" as two-tiered. It's possible that a simple "broken across one black square" concept would've worked better, and then maybe another "house" could've been included. But I also think it works OK as is. The concept is at least coherent, and the execution is unusual—sometimes unusualness alone has merit.

I flailed in many parts of this puzzle. Let's start with AM TOO for AM NOT (god how I hate the "playground retort" variety of crossword answer—has anyone ever used NUH-UH! in a grid; it feels more authentic than some of the stuff passing for playground retorts). And then ADMAN for ADREP (should've seen that coming, what with "Men" in the clue) (34D: "Mad Men" type, informally). Totally forgot there was such a thing as a hay MOW. If you ask me for the [Part of a barn where hay is stored], I'm going to offer LOFT and then when that's wrong I'm going to fold. [Feeling down] is SAD, to me, not ILL. Wrote in I GOT YOU! instead of I GOTCHA (wouldn't you just say GOTCHA!) (10D: "Ha! You fell for my trick!"). Finished up somewhere around KALAMATA, which is crossed by two answers that drove me nuts: THRACE (which drove me nuts 'cause I totally forgot it existed and would never have associated it with the word "Balkan") (33D: Ancient Balkan region), and KEYHOLE (which drove me nuts because I tried EYEHOLE and then after NYY went in I tried SPYHOLE ... clearly looking through a KEYHOLE makes no sense to me because I live in the modern world where every KEYHOLE I know is essentially unlookthroughable ... or are those "slots" and "hole" is something bigger / older?) (43D: Peeper's vantage point). Fill on this one feels a little stale, but the longer answers are nice. Mixed feelings about this one overall, but it comes out in the black, I think.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Asian yogurt drink / MON 1-29-18 / Students simulation of global diplomacy / Dessert topper from can / Contest for areawide seat

Monday, January 29, 2018

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Normal Monday

THEME: DOWNSIZE (62A: Diminish the work force ... or a literal hint to the answers to the four starred clues) — starred clues are long DOWN answers that contain "sizes" ... that actually *increase* as you move across the grid, but that sink lower *in* the grid, so ... yeah OK.

Theme answers:
  • SMALL WORLD (3D: *"Crazy to run into you here!")
  • PRINT MEDIUM (6D: *Newspapers or magazines)
  • AT LARGE RACE (27D: *Contest for an areawide seat)
  • MUMBO JUMBO (31D: *Nonsense)
Word of the Day: BPA (29D: Controversial chemical in plastics, for short) —
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic synthetic compound with the chemical formula(CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2 belonging to the group of diphenylmethane derivatives and bisphenols, with two hydroxyphenyl groups. It is a colorless solid that is soluble in organic solvents, but poorly soluble in water. It has been in commercial use since 1957. [...] The FDA states "BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods" based on extensive research, including two more studies issued by the agency in early 2014. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed new scientific information on BPA in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015: EFSA's experts concluded on each occasion that they could not identify any new evidence which would lead them to revise their opinion that the known level of exposure to BPA is safe; however, the EFSA does recognize some uncertainties, and will continue to investigate them.
In February 2016, France announced that it intends to propose BPA as a REACH Regulationcandidate substance of very high concern (SVHC). The European Chemicals Agencyagreed to the proposal in June 2017. (wikipedia)
• • •

Enjoyed this puzzle despite the fact that it works on only two out of the three possible levels (i.e. the sizes appear in DOWN answers, and the sizes (small, medium, large, jumbo) literally move DOWN (i.e. lower in the grid) with each successive themer, but the sizes do *not* go DOWN (size-wise) as you move across the grid). Also JUMBO isn't anyone's idea of the fourth term in this sequence. If I said "finish this sequence: small, medium, large, ___" you'd probably say "extra large"; you might say a bunch of things, but JUMBO probably isn't one of them. And *still* I was entertained by this grid, mostly because the basic quality of the grid, overall, is just so dang good. MODEL UN! LASSI! Even BPA, which I can't really call "good," but which is at least current. Since Mondays are high-speed affairs anyway, all I want is a moderately coherent theme and then cleanness and bounce, cleanness and bounce! This thing's got only a small handful of answers I'd chuck overboard, and only a couple I really dislike: IDI (old school crosswordese + murderous tyrant = booo), and ET ALII, which is an answer I'd retire right now if I could, along with ET ALIA. No one likes having to guess at the ETALI(?) mystery letter, and no one says or even writes it out like that anyway. We all know that ET AL is the only legit abbr. here, so let's ditch the ET ALI(?) twins for good, OK? Oh, and TGI? Come on, that's horrible. But let's focus on the positive, which is virtually everything else about this grid.

I had only one hiccup: ACRE for SITE (12D: Building lot). I had the "E" in place and ACRE was the first thing that popped in my head. I also struggled a bit to come up with PRINT MEDIUM, since the plural "print media" is by *far* the more common phrase. I saw a giant window display of REDDI-WIP just last night up in Ithaca (15A: Dessert topper from a can). The store had fashioned a giant bottle, and then used some kind of batting or cotton to simulate the "wip"ped cream, but if you looked at it up close it was kind of dingy and had dead bugs in it, so maybe not the greatest way to hock your Valentine's Day wares. I think maybe it was a lingerie store, so, yeah, dead bugs in a fake giant REDDI-WIP display don't really put me in the underwear-buying mood, but maybe ladies are different. Luckily the rest of our Ithaca jaunt ("Lady Bird," the pan-Asian restaurant Mia) was quite nice and dead bug-free. On that note, goodbye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Beverage called tonic in Boston / SUN 1-28-18 / Revere engineer best selling 2013 children's book / Skynet's T-800s e.g. / One side in college football's big game

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Constructor: Priscilla Clark and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Surprise Endings" — movies have their last letters changed, creating wacky titles which are clued as if the wackiness is a PLOT TWIST (which is what the new letters at the end of each themer, taken sequentially, spell out)

Theme answers:
  • "HUSTLE AND FLOP" (23A: Pimp launches career in rap ... BUT HAS AN EPIC FAIL!)
  • "TAXI DRIVEL" (30A: Cabby saves prostitute ... WITH HIS BLATHERING!)
  • "I LOVE YOU, MAO" (43A: "Guy makes new best friend ... WHO TURNS OUT TO BE A COMMUNIST!)
  • "THE COLOR OF MONET" (56A: Retired pool shark returns ... TO WIN FRENCH IMPRESSIONIST PAINTING!)
  • "ABOUT A BOT" (65A: Chap gets life lessons from kid ... WHO'S REALLY AN ANDROID!)
  • "BEVERLY HILLS COW" (81A: West Coast officers track wisecracking detective ... TO A BOVINE!)
  • "THE BIG CHILI" (90A: Friends gather for a funeral ... AND COOK UP AN ENORMOUS STEW!)
  • "SWAMP THINS" (107A: Bog monster emerges ... WITH A NEW LINE OF SNACK CRACKERS!)
  • "LICENCE TO KILT" (118A: 007 gets fired ... AND LANDS A JOB AS A SCOTTISH TAILOR!)
Word of the Day: EVIE Sands (37D: Singer Sands) —
Evie Sands (born July 18, 1946) is an American singer, songwriter and musician.
Sands' music career spans more than 50 years. She began her career as a teenager in the mid-1960s, after a rocky start, she eventually found chart success in 1969, before retiring from performing in 1979 to concentrate on writing and production. She experienced a fashionable, UK-led surge in cult popularity beginning in the 1990s and returned to live performance in mid-1998. Sands continues to write and perform. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sunday continues to sputter along miserably. A single letter changed per themer, and the net result is just PLOT TWISTS? When the title is already "Surprise Endings." It was like the revealer was an alternate title, and precisely nothing was interesting or revelatory or even funny. I think THE BIG CHILI and SWAMP THINS land OK, but the rest involve awkward, clunky grammar or awkward cluing or have some other defect that dampens their already meager wackiness. Turns out to be *a* Communist? He's MAO. That's not just *a* Communist. Since Monet actually works in "colors" (many, many colors), "THE COLOR OF MONET" comes off as nonsense. And you track a detective "to a bovine?" There's gotta be a better way of cluing "BEVERLY HILLS COW?" Maybe the detective turns out to *be* a COW? Something. I don't even know what tracking him "to" a cow means. So there's no big finish here, just a big fizzle, and the answers themselves hold little joy. Rest of the grid is average at best. I'm gonna have to go do Evan Birnholz's WaPo Sunday puzzle to get the taste of this one out of my mouth (WaPo beats NYT almost every Sunday—don't believe me, go see).

Found parts of this oddly hard. Had PO- and still had zero idea what 50A: Beverage called a "tonic" in Boston wanted. Maybe because I don't call soda *either of those things*. The idea that the "beverage" was POP? Not a thing that would ever have occurred to me. Not sure why you would clue SCAT as the animal droppings as opposed to ["Shoo!"] but you do you, I guess. ECASH, like Bitcoin, remains ridiculous. EAR WORMS instead of EAR CANDY (20A: Light, catchy tunes). Since the clue for "I LOVE YOU, MAO" was so vague ("Guy makes a new best friend'???) and I've never ever seen "I Love You, Man," that answer and everything south of its back end was harrowing. Couldn't get USO (46D: Grp. with the motto "Until every one comes home"), couldn't get ARIA (48D: Part of a score, maybe) (I had CODA), zeeeero idea about ROSIE (?) (60A: "___ Revere, Engineer" (best selling 2013 children's book)), totally forgot about the "Big Game" in college football (Stanford / CAL), so basically I had none of the MUSCLE in MUSCLE CAR (47D: Gran Torino, e.g.) and what felt like no prospects of getting it. Also [Appropriate] for USURP is pretty tricky (clue looks like an adj.). So, yikes. Rest of the puzzle was pretty normal / easy. I'm done talking about this one. Gonna drink some tea and hang out with the dogs and then watch "D.O.A." on TCM. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. hilarious update now. You know how I said Evan Birnholz's Sunday WaPo puzzle is better than the Sunday NYT on a regular basis? Well, that's true. But it turns out Evan published a puzzle in 2016 With This Exact Theme. I mean, nearly the same title ("Alternate Endings"), and *exactly* the same concept, including the bit where the final letters spell out PLOT TWIST. As you can see, Evan's grid is better, which probably would've made solving his puzzle more pleasant, but, yeah, this is kind of burn on me for touting a puzzle that had already done the very theme I claimed not to enjoy ... bigger burn on the NYT for publishing a pale, note-for-note version of another outlet's recent work ... but a burn on me, nonetheless.

P.P.S. OMG I missed an element in the Birnholz / WaPo version of this puzzle that today's NYT was totally lacking: the original final letters of the movie titles in his grid actually spelled out "CHINATOWN"!!!!!!! (a movie with an *infamous* PLOT TWIST). Whereas the original final letters of the movie titles in today's NYT spell out ... nothing. Unless "WRNYYPLGL" is a thing. So, as I was saying, WaPo > NYT. I can't stop laughing. This is the greatest Sunday ever. It's like Christmas all over again.

P.P.P.S. Go see "Lady Bird." It's wonderful.

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Trigger to cylinder connection / SAT 1-27-18 / Title girl in 1961 Ricky Nelson hit / Pulpy refuse / Coconuts to maroon on island maybe

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: POMACE (20D: Pulpy refuse) —
  1. (especially in cider making) the pulpy residue remaining after fruit has been crushed in order to extract its juice. (google)
• • •

Wow, this was a lovely, brisk, bracing way to wake up. Usually if I'm up and solving before 6am, my solving brain is not fully warmed up and I stumble and slog through the grid in a most ungainly fashion, but I guess I gave myself a big enough pause between waking and solving—let the dog out, pet the dog, talked to the dog, made tea, read some stupid stuff online—that by the time I dug into the puzzle, I was on full alert. I usually don't try to *speed* on Fri and Sat because there are too many potholes and bad things happen and anyway it stresses me out a bit. But today I was like, "just try to pick up the pace a little." I mean, my walking speed is still pretty fast, but I wanted to try to Move a little today. And this puzzle was amenable to the experiment. Mark Diehl's stuff is usually pretty damn thorny (for me), but this one went down pretty easily. Not too easily—there were still some moments where I had to work for it—but much easier than most Diehls. More importantly, it was a delightful grid, with only a handful of clunkers and a ton of interesting fill, plus good clues. It was the kind of puzzle that was very satisfying to solve: clean, bright, and entertaining, sufficiently difficult but ultimately defeatable. A light, satisfying workout. Thumbs up.

How to start a themeless: for me, I attack the short answers, usually in the NW corner—good to start where you might get the *front* end of both Across and Down answers. Letters at the front of answers tend to be more revealing of the whole answer than letters toward the back (except when you luck into a terminal "V," say, which would sharply narrow all possibilities for the cross). Today, I threw down quickly the following: DINGER, MAC, DENT, CROW. Then I looked at the Acrosses. And despite two of those initial answers being dead wrong, the correct "D" and "C" tipped me to MID-MARCH (1A: When St. Patrick's Day is celebrated). I had looked at that clue with no letters in place and gotten nothing, which is how I know the "D" and the "C" were the key. I could somehow see the pattern through the gunk of the wrong answers. And I took off from there.

I resisted the BLOOD of BLOOD-BORNE because it seemed a little ... like it wouldn't pass the breakfast test (34A: Like the hepatitis B and C pathogens). NYT tends to avoid both bodily fluids and diseases, and this clue/answer has both. But I guess now that I've had to deal with VOMIT in a puzzle, anything goes. Anyway, BLOOD-BORNE is a perfectly fine answer that I can't imagine anyone's objecting to (unlike VOMIT). Two other answers were briefly perplexing, in different ways. I could *not* figure out what the castaway was doing with the damn coconuts (23D: Coconuts, to a maroon on an island, maybe). I kept thinking of how in movies people spell out "SOS" or some other message. I also misremembered Wilson (from "Castaway") as a coconut and so ... if your coconut could be your island companion, maybe it could also be your STEADY DATE?? Seemed kind of a dark, cruel place to go, but again I refer you to yesterday's VOMIT. And I won't be the only one, not by a long shot, to go with TEAM SPORTS instead of TEAM EVENTS at 55A: Curling and rugby, but not boxing, in the Olympics. Throw in URN for TUN (31A: Wine container) and TABU for TREF (46D: Forbidden, in a way) and that pretty much covers my mistakes. Finished with the first "A" in JANEANE, whose name I know well, though JENEANE also looks right (36D: Witty Garofalo). PAWL is not a word I know well at *all* (40A: Trigger-to-cylinder connection), but I at least knew it wasn't PEWL, so, success.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Sobriquet for filmdom's Daniel LaRusso / FRI 1-26-18 / Stud poker variation informally / Ursine sci-fi creature / Atom with electronic imbalance / Verbal outpouring in slang / Life instinct in psychology

Friday, January 26, 2018

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TALIA al Ghul (Batman foe) (44D) —
Talia al Ghul (Arabic: تاليا الغول) is a fictional character appearing in American comic bookspublished by DC Comics, commonly in association with Batman. The character was created by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Bob Brown, and first appeared in Detective Comics #411 (May 1971). Talia is the daughter of the supervillain Ra's al Ghul, the half-sister of Nyssa Raatkoon-and-off romantic interest of the superhero Batman, and the mother of Damian Wayne (the fifth Robin). She has alternately been depicted as an anti-hero.
Talia has appeared in over 200 individual comics issues,[1] and has been featured in various media adaptions. The character was voiced by Helen Slater in Batman: The Animated Series, which became her first appearance in media other than the comic books. Talia was subsequently portrayed by Marion Cotillard in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, and by Lexa Doig in the television series Arrow. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one was OK. Had ups and downs, high points and low points. HILO! (37D: Stud poker variation, informally) It's trying very hard to be contemporary, at least in a couple places, but in other ways (everything south of SISTER WIVES), it's kind of ordinary and dull (though I did like WET KISS and its clue, 40D: Sloppy planting job?). Difficulty-wise, it was very easy *except* for the NW corner, which threatened to stop me completely when I couldn't get Any of the longs Downs to work. I recognized Daniel LaRusso's name, but couldn't place it, and "filmdom" in the clue made me think LaRusso was an actor, not a fictional, titular character (3D: Sobriquet for filmdom's Daniel LaRusso, with "The"). And then 2D: Dead was just too vague for me to even guess at what INAN- could be. I thought maybe a phrase, like IN AN ... COMA? Something like that. Oh, and then there's WORD SALAD, which is what I had (confidently) written in at 1D: Verbal outpouring, in slang. WORD VOMIT is a. far less common than WORD SALAD, b. gross (has "VOMIT" ever appeared in the NYT!?) (A: no), and c. see a. and b. Luckily I didn't end there, because that would truly have been ending ON A DOWNER (15A: How buzzkills end things).

I know SISTER WIVES only because I'm vaguely aware that there was (is?) a TV show of that name. Like VOMIT, this isn't something that excites me. LORDE, though, is great, and I'm surprised she doesn't appear a lot lot lot more in crosswords. Short answer, favorable letters, super famous. Definitely a keeper. Just replace REUNE and all OLAF / OLAVs with LORDE wherever possible, is my suggestion. Outside of the NW, I got slowed down only in the SE, briefly, as WET KISS suddenly seemed wrong when I dropped in the definitely-right III (55D: Jr.'s son). III next to WET KISS gave me consecutive "I"s and everyone knows that's not possi- ... and then eventually I saw the clue for HAWAIIANS. And I put WET KISS back in. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Yachter's itinerary / THU 1-25-18 / Boastful mother of Greek myth / 1950s service site / Music boomlet of mid-90s / Japanese meal in box

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ISLAND HOPPING (33A: Yachter's itinerary, maybe ... or a hint to understanding the answers to the starred clues) — answers to starred clues "hop" island names, creating other answers, which are nowhere clued

Theme answers:
  • SCUBA TANK (16A: *Smelled) ... so STANK "hops" CUBA
  • CONCRETES (24A: *They're not pros) ... and CONS hops CRETE
  • VERBALISE (46A: *Poetry) ... and VERSE hops BALI
  • BALTIMORE (55A: *Hayloft item) ... and finally BALE hops TIMOR
Word of the Day: OTIS College of Art and Design (52D: Los Angeles's ___ College of Art and Design) —
Otis, long considered one of the major art institutions in California, began in 1918, when Los Angeles Times founder Harrison Gray Otis bequeathed his Westlake, Los Angeles, property to start the first public, independent professional school of art in Southern California. The current Otis College main campus (since Spring 1997) is located in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, close to the Los Angeles International Airport. The main building (built in 1963) was designed by architect Eliot Noyes for IBM and is famous for its computer "punched card" style windows. (wikipedia)
• • •

My daughter was just (literally, just ten minutes ago) describing to me her experience seeing "Once On This Island" in NYC at the Circle in the Square Theatre this past weekend, so that was a semi-odd coincidence. Islands! OK, this theme works fine, I think. Yeah. I mean, the resulting answers are super-random and weird and have nothing to do with anything, but the revealer is a nice play on words, and the execution of the theme is consistent, and ... yeah, sure, I"ll take it. I found the cluing off and irksome in some places, but when is that ever not true? I think the thing I object to most in the theme is the British VERBALISE, with the "S" spelling. Feels like cheating to have your final random "real" word be a spelling we don't use here. Also, plural CONCRETES? These "real" words aren't feeling so real to me half the time. But SCUBA TANK is a great discovery. You gotta "hop" to a completely different, second word to make it work, but it's my favorite of the bunch by far. I was more impressed by the overall quality of the grid, which is good, and especially by short answers that I actually liked, like O LINE (18A: Group of football blockers, in brief), BENTO (7D: Japanese meal in a box), and "OH, SNAP!" (though that clue felt very off to me—both inaccurate and not colloquial enough) (1D: "Did you just see that ?!").

I lived through the '90s and sure I remember some SKA-infused stuff but a "boomlet"?? (4D: Music boomlet of the mid-'90s). Do the Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and No Doubt constitute a "boomlet"? And is a MONOCLE an "accessory"? (27D: Accessory on a chain). I guess if it's pure affectation, then OK, but ... do some people really need it to see? Also, does anyone actually carry one at all, ever, anymore? Did they ever? The only MONOCLE-wearer that I have any familiarity with is Col. Mustard in the version of Clue that I played as a child (with the photos of the suspects), so I don't know. I just know that "accessory" never would've led me to MONOCLE if the crosses hadn't made it evident. Oh, crud, it looks like Col. Mustard was actually wearing glasses; its just that one gleamed more and so it looked like a MONOCLE (?). Bizarre. Anyway ...

DESI Arnaz was a man, not a "boy," when married to Lucille Ball, so boo (35D: Ball boy?). [Ugh, please don't tell me this refers to DESI Jr. because you and I both know it does not ... the clue wouldn't need the "?," for one...] Took me forever to get AHEM because that clue is awfully specific (53A: "Um, don't look now, but ..."), and AHEM can signify a jillion things. I forgot that NIOBE was boastful (54A: Boastful mother of Greek myth). I just remember the crying. Hers is yet another "Do not boast to the gods unless you want your ass handed to you" morality tale. See also Arachne, Capaneus, etc.

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Angle between leafstalk stem / WED 1-24-18 / Christian singer Tornquist / Futuristic Volkswagen / Immune response trigger / BBC sci-fi series informally

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Constructor: Kathy Wienberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: at, an end... — phrases have 'AT' added to the end for some reason, creating nonsense phrases

Theme answers:
  • MAMMOTH CAVEAT (20A: Big "but"?)
  • ESTATE CARAT (27A: Small diamond handed down to an heir?)
  • HONEY COMBAT (44A: Fight between two lovers?)
  • FORWARD PASSAT (55A: Futuristic Volkswagen?)
Word of the Day: AXIL (17A: Angle between a leafstalk and a stem) —
  1. the upper angle between a leaf stalk or branch and the stem or trunk from which it is growing. (google)
• • •

Oof. Back-to-back grim offerings. I'm startled that this theme concept passed muster. I honestly don't get it. You just shove "AT" on the end of things? There's not even an attempt at a clever revealer or anything. Completely baffling. I have a hard time imagining the LA Times running this thing, let alone the "best puzzle in the world" or whatever the NY Times calls itself. And the theme answers ... ??? I don't think I even know what an "estate car" is, so ESTATE CARAT was super-meaningless to me, and thus super-hard to get. Didn't help that I had that first letter as a "D" since 21D: Good ___ days did nothing to get me to OLE. [Note: ["good old days"] = 14.6 million hits; ["good ole days"] = 387K] And the crosswordese, dear lord. The only thing worse than RATA on its own is actually cross-referencing the full term, PRO / RATA (59D: With 9-Down, according to share), especially when you put the first part way down at the bottom of the grid and the second part at the top. I haven't seen AXIL in years, for good reason. The "informally" in that DR. WHO clue is killing me (8A: BBC sci-fi series, informally). You don't mean "informally," which implies speech, because "DR. WHO" and the correct "DOCTOR WHO" *sound the same.* You mean "in informal writing, like a text, say." Clues should be precise ... but let's move on. [Christian singer...] You can stop right there, I guarantee you I have no idea. UPENN would be a fine answer because people actually call it that. UTENN, less fine. And then there's the super-choppy grid, which means only tiny passageways between sections. Irksome.

And then of course I wanted the more common terms (what a sucker!) like STAND FIRM instead of STAND FAST (33D: Not budge) and PIANO BENCH instead of PIANO STOOL (59A: Seat for a ragtime player) ... there was literally nothing pleasant about solving this. The best answer is SCREEN TIME, and somehow the puzzle managed to mangle the clue so badly that I could barely understand it (18A: Subject of a parent's restriction for a child). [Something a parent might place limits on], that might work. Something about "subject" and the redundant "for a child" just made that clue ugly.

Wrong answers:
  • 6D: What an oatmeal bath alleviates (ITCH) — ACHE, then RASH
  • 3D: Prettify (PRIMP) — PREEN
  • 1D: "Likewise" ("AS AM I") — "AS DO I"
  • 66A: Fella (LAD) — I didn't mess this up. I just think it's wrong. "Fella" is a grown person, LAD ... isn't.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Coins of ancient Athens / TUE 1-23-18 / Subtext of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit / Strip discussed in Oslo Accords / Elongated heavily armored fish / Film editor's gradual transition

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Constructor: Jim Hilger

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (above average difficulty *for a Tuesday*)

THEME: SPREAD (68A: Apt word to follow each row of circled letters) — nonconsecutive circles in six different rows spell out a kind of "spread":

  • WING ("wingspan" is what humans say ... C'MON)
  • BED (really? really? Three meager letters and you want that to count as some kind of theme feat?)
Word of the Day: Wingspread  —
Wingspread, also known as the Herbert F. Johnson House, is a historic house at 33 East Four Mile Road in Wind Point, Wisconsin. It was built in 1938–39 to a design by Frank Lloyd Wright for Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr., then the president of S.C. Johnson, and was considered by Wright to be one of his most elaborate and expensive house designs to date. The property is now a conference center operated by The Johnson Foundation. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. (wikipedia) 
• • •

Non-consecutive, non-symmetrical, spread-all-over-hell-and-gone circles that spell ... words. These things are never, ever pleasant to solve. Just looking at the grid put me off the puzzle, and then having it be ORANGE RIND and not ORANGE PULP really locked my mood in at "Low." Encountering primo junk like ITEN, ITER, and OBOLI (jeez louise), didn't help matters. With a theme this weak, and especially early in the week, the grid needs to gleam and sparkle, and this didn't even come close.    A vintage Tuezday (i.e. a total bust). I guess Tuesday was getting jealous that Sunday has taken over the "Worst Puzzle of the Week" spot. Well, game on, apparently.

Got slowed down all over by ambiguity / weirdness / badness. First the PULP thing, then the clue on ROWING left me blank (4D: Olympic sport with strokes), then 7D: Elongated, heavily armored fish should've been GAR but that didn't fit ... oh, you mean "fish" as a plural? (GARS) "Clever." I thought GAR *was* a plural, but what(so)ever. Got the WHERE in WHERESOEVER (18A: In any place) and didn't know what came next because the answer to that clue in everyday speech is clearly WHEREVER. There should've been some "quaint" or "bygone" or "in poetry" or something to clue the "SO" part of WHERESOEVER. By far the biggest hurdle, though, was (no surprise) the stupidest, bygonest, olde-tymiest, Maleskiest answer in the grid. At 19D: Coins of ancient Athens, I wrote in OBOLS. Which is by far the preferred plural for that *bygone* coin. But the puzzle wanted funky alt-ending OBOLI. And of course that was the one square that linked the NE to the E. So ... dead stop. Monday: OBLASTS. Tuesday: OBOLI. Been a weird week for OBscurities so far, and it's only Tuesday. Here's hoping for a happier Wednesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Administrative regions in Russia / MON 1-22-18 / Stoic politician of ancient Rome / Wallace co-founder of Reader's Digest / Fish typically split before cooking

Monday, January 22, 2018

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slightly tougher than normal, for a Monday)

THEME: EROSION (46D: Natural process illustrated by the last words of 18-, 24-, 37-, 534- and 61-Across) — Final word of first themer undergoes process of EROSION in successive themers, with one letter disappearing each time, until we go from STONE to O:

Theme answers:
  • EMMA STONE (18A: 2016 Best Actress Oscar winner for "La La Land")
  • QUARTER TONE (24A: Half of a half step in music)
  • METRIC TON (37A: Weight unit equal to about 2,205 pounds)
  • "I MEAN, COME ON!" (54A: "Puh-LEEZE!")
  • STANDING O (61A: Enthusiastic audience response)
Word of the Day: OBLASTS (40D: Administrative regions in Russia) —
plural noun: oblasts
  1. an administrative division or region in Russia and the former Soviet Union, and in some of its former constituent republics. (google)
• • •

Would've liked this better on Tuesday—both because this was more in line with Tuesday difficulty, and because Tuesdays often suh-uck and this did not. I feel like I've done a version of this theme before, somewhere ... but that doesn't diminish the way it's done here, with remarkably fresh and clean answers. Just lose OBLASTS (not really a Monday-level answer) and make the clues *slightly* easier, and you have a perfect Monday puzzle. As it is, you have a very good one. Once again, the puzzle's heavy reliance on colloquialisms made it tough for me to move quickly. Just the simple "OH, FUN" required many crosses, as it really could've been "OH, a lot of things" (GEE, WOW ... RAD?). Same thing with the I MEAN part of "I MEAN, COME ON!" It's a great expression, but I had the "COME ON" part and ... ??? Just wanted "Oh." I was also slowed by not considering CHALUPA a real food (I've never heard of it anywhere but in Taco Bell commercials—I figured they just made it up), and by repeatedly misparsing words. STANDINGO in particular was a disaster, as I solved it from the back end and kept wondering what was going to happen to the DINGO.

S answers that gave me trouble:

  • 28A: Abbr. in an office address (STE) — seems a hardish clue for STE (here, an abbr. for "suite")
  • 35D: Look down on (SCORN) — I just couldn't find the handle here, no idea why. SNORT and SNEER and various condescending faces were coming to mind, but not SCORN.
  • 68A: Fish typically split before cooking (SCROD) — me: "Uh ... all of them?" This seems like kind of a deep cut, SCROD-knowledge-wise. [this answer appears to have a different clue in the app: [Fish often used in fish fingers] — not sure if it was always this way, or if they changed it, or what. Seems to be a lot of last-minute clue tinkering across formats lately...]
  • 45D: Bond film after "Skyfall" ("SPECTRE") — Me: "Uh ... SKYFALL? No wait, that's in the clue. Uh ... SKYFALL?" Total blank.
  • 19D: Sailor's patron ("ST. ELMO") — Had "STEL-" and wanted STELLA ... because it means "stars" ... and sailors ... navigate ... by those? STELLA!!!!!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1941 siege target / SUN 1-21-18 / Old Parlophone parent / Fan publications informally / Trickster of Navajo mythology / Chemical source of fruit flavor / Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies / Make out at Hogwarts / Pagtron of Archdiocese of New York briefly / Shoulderless sleeveless garment

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Constructor: Victor Barocas and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Substitutes" — theme answers up top are ordinary phrases following the pattern [___ FOR ___]; in the bottom half, theme clues ask you to "remember" one of the theme answers from the top half, and then you're supposed to make a substitution in the bottom-half theme clue by taking the "remembered" theme answers literally, i.e. swapping out the first word for the second. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • PLAY FOR TIME (23A: Stall) // ELIZABETHAN ERA (95A: Play Time of Shakespeare (remember 23-Across)) {when you "remember 23-Across," you "remember" to substitute the word PLAY for the word TIME in this clue}
  • NOT SAFE FOR WORK (33A: At risk of being offensive) // TELECOMMUTE (111A: Not safe Work at home (remember 33-Across))
  • CRY FOR HELP (43A: Subtle sign from the distressed) // TEMPORARY EMPLOYEE (73A: Seasonal cry help (remember 43-Across)) 
  • RECIPE FOR DISASTER (56A: Very bad plan) // EARTHQUAKE (87A: Recipe Disaster that entails a lot of shaking (remember 56-Across)) 
Word of the Day: ELIS (45D: Ancient land where the Olympics began) —
Elis /ˈɛlɪs/ or Eleia /ɛˈl.ə/ (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις ĒlisDoricἎλιςAlisEleanϜαλις Walisethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds to the modern Elis regional unit. Elis is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea. Over the course of the archaic and classical periods, the polis of Elis controlled much of the region of Elis, most probably through unequal treaties with other cities, which acquired perioikic status. Thus the city-state of Elis was formed.(wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is lovely, but this theme didn't work for me at all. Any theme that is tough to explain clearly and succinctly has a good likelihood of being problematic. It's not that this one was tough to figure out, it's just that it only really affected four theme answer (i.e. the first four are just straightforward answers to straightforward clues), so it was barely there—so much so that I never bothered to "remember" anything. And who "remembers" clues? That's a weird word choice. There are something like 140 answers in this grid. Asking me to "remember" some number clue is absurd. I just ended up getting those answers from crosses / by inference. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't be bothered to figure out what. Only after I was done did I go back and try to find out what all this "remembering" was about. So it's a half-theme that doesn't even need figuring out. Even the title of the puzzle feels like it's not really trying. "Substitutes"? That's it? As I said, the grid itself is clean and lively, which is always nice. But the theme was super-off to me, and theme is kind of important on a Sunday.

GAYBORHOODS! I knew those were gay areas or districts or ... some word, but I did not see this particular neologism (!) coming. SHEDFUL made me laugh because come on, that is not a meaningful quantity (65D: Quantity of garden tools). Probably the hardest answer for me to get in this puzzle was 1A: Enjoy some rays? (SCUBA). Couldn't decide if the dog was going GRR or ARF (5D: Terrier's warning), so I needed most of the other crosses to see SCUBA (a "?" clue which, it turns out, we are getting only for the "joy" of encountering the repeat clue at 61A: Enjoys some rays (BASKS)). How is a CRY FOR HELP "subtle"? If it's a cry, it's ... by definition ... not subtle. Baffling. I had just a couple of initial mistakes today: TBONDS for TNOTES (man, that's a boring mistake) (93D: They take 2-10 yrs. to mature) and POOH BEARS / SHE-GOAT for CARE BEARS (21A: Colorful toys with symbols on their bellies) / PET (?) GOAT (14D: Nanny around the house?). I wish I had more to say about this puzzle, but I don't. Hope you enjoyed the theme more than I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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