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.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mel Torme 12:03 AM  

Zzzz-some theme. Data loss is not the casualty of a crash. It's the result. Data is the casualty I think.

Joe Dipinto 12:25 AM  

Sigh. The less said about this puzzle, the better, imo. I didn't know KILT was a verb. Oh, apparently it isn't.

While I'm complaining, I may as well opine that the Cryptic puzzle clues were way too unchallenging. I don't think Cox & Rathvon have a proper feel for the Cryptic, though their Acrostics are typically excellent.

Cory Calhoun 12:36 AM  

FWIW, our daughter loves the book Rosie Revere, Engineer.

That said, it didn't get a lot of play in the news, and it's so very specifically a kid's book that unless you're a parent, or someone who bought it from a kid, you're not gonna know it.

clk 12:45 AM  

I guess I’m easy to please because I thoroughly enjoyed this one. My favorite in a long time. All the theme answers made me at least crack a smile.

Unknown 12:55 AM  

Liked all the old movie references: TAXIDRIVER, THEBIGCHILL, BEVERLYHILLSCOP, THECOLOROFMONEY....and as an added bonus we get a TERMINATORS reference in one of the downs. ENOLA, AVA Gardner...this puzzle definitely skews old. But I don't mind that. Kind of enjoy the nostalgia of it all.

pcardout 1:11 AM  

License to kilt and Taxi drivel were cute. Avocet is a "woody" word that Eric Idle would appreciate. I miss Brent Spiner as Data. Enjoyed seeing him as the pianist in Blunt Talk.

paulsfo 1:18 AM  

just boring.

malechicken 1:35 AM  

Nothing is more guaranteed to make me not LOL than bellowing cheesy punchlines at me in caps lock, like an ageing family resort comedian in front of all my ageing relatives.

Trombone Tom 1:55 AM  

TAXI DRIVEL pretty much says it. Light-hearted, but nothing really memorable. I want more!

chefwen 1:57 AM  

Didn’t love it, didn’t disliked it, just kinda slogged my way through it. (Damn squares are so little on Sunday) Got a little bogged down in the lower left cuz I REALLY wanted oniON on top of my burger. BACON seems to be a little overpowering for a burger.

SWAMP THINS did make me laugh and TAXI DRIVEL was pretty funny too, have ridden in a few of those where the driver never did stop chattering away. Eyes on the road buddy!

Robin 2:17 AM  

Theme not so bad and not so great. But THECOLOROFMONET. Hah! I'm just all a giggle about Harvey Norman in the History of the World Part I.

Hung up a bit in a couple spots, but still finished this in under 20 minutes.

‘mericans in Paris 2:31 AM  

Rex: you need to get out into the woods more.

Scat: noun: droppings, especially those of carnivorous mammals. From Greek skōr, skat-‘dung’.

Otherwise, I agree with OFL’s overall assessment. Felt like a slog to us. Mirthless theme. Too many three-letter forgettables, like ATT, ARS, PDA, OJS, ENO, PCP, and of course the ubiquitous ASP and LEI (Hey @chefwen!).

Cluing was frequently off. I disagree, for example, with calling Bitcoin “E-CASH”, which is not the same as “E-Currency”. A better clue would have been “PayPal, e.g.”

The answer I did appreciate, however, was 114D: SKIL (“Brand of tools”). Finally, for a change: an answer that demanded familiarity with more than TV shows, rap music, or films.

Goochie Ice 2:32 AM  

Speaking as a pimp even I was offended by this puzzle.

Stanley Hudson 2:37 AM  

Large swaths in the South and the Midwest use the term “pop” for “soda.” Indeed the term “soda pop” isn’t unknown in parts of the country.

Oldfatbasterd 2:43 AM  

And I told the sumbich to shove it.

Moly Shu 2:46 AM  

@Rex not liking an @JeffChen puzzle, now there’s something I thought I’d never see (#sarcasm). OFL continually carps about puzzles not being current, but today’s bitcoin reference gets a “ridiculous” comment. Dude, your bias is showing. I liked it just fine, but then again, I like ERICIDLE.

Screaming Blue Messiah 3:12 AM  

Once again, Sharp is niggardly with his praise.

Thomaso808 3:23 AM  

Welcome back, evening Rex. Just what you like, a Jeff Chen collaboration on a platter.

Fun puzzle for me, with the wacky movie twists. A lot of 3 and 4 letter answers, but really no dreck. Though I must say I did not like AMOUR crossing AMIE, just on principle.

I was outraged by the exclusion exhibited by 99D, SML - are X, XL, and 2X not worthy to be considered t-shirt choices?

Loved LICENCEDTOKILT. That alone made the puzzle.

Uncle Alvarez 3:35 AM  

Does anyone remember loose bowels?

Pop Will Eat Itself 3:44 AM  

Martin Gore knows the score.

Lewis 6:27 AM  
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Lewis 6:29 AM  

I did like the loony out-of-the-box feel of the theme. I took the theme answers more as puzzlers -- trying to figure out the answers with few letters filled in -- than as laugh inducers. I liked the gritty areas, especially the success of cracking them open. I learned that "license" in Britain is "licence". I was impressed with the PLOT TWIST letters-in-a-circle sub theme.

I think a nice theme answer would have been RAIN MAT. And a breakfast tester for sure: THE GREEN MILK.

Hungry Mother 7:38 AM  
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BarbieBarbie 7:42 AM  

Yep, @Thomas808, exactly what I was thinking. And I have a theory: only this week, Rex told us that at night he solves for time, but in the morning he generally does not, unless it’s going well anyway. So evening-Rex is the one who gets mad at not knowing what everyone else knows, e.g. the amazing number of different names for bubbly sweet drinks. (Where/when I grew up everything was a Coke, even though not everything was made of phosphoric acid and caramel coloring. Now/ here it’s all soda) I like this theory, because I had been starting to think of OFL as one of those people who gets nasty when they drink beer. It’s more likely just a leftover testosterone cloud with nowhere to go. That’s understandable.

TAXIDRIVEL was hilarious. And Rex, the commie learned to LOVE MAO, not be MAO. Yes, he’s just “a commie.”

I really enjoyed this puzzle and the fact that someone else did a similar one is interesting but not relevant to my enjoyment. Thanks JC and PC.

chefbea 7:44 AM  

too tough for me!!!

Hungry Mother 7:46 AM  

Very fast solve for me today. I was trying to drag it out before my 11 mile run, but it just flowed out of me. I ignored the circles.

Edwords 8:01 AM  

Thumbs up for me. Medium hard but funny and fun. Can’t go too far wrong with Jeff Chen.

mmorgan 8:23 AM  

I enjoyed this a lot, didn't realize the changed last letters ended up spelling the revealer -- cute. I thought Rex might, just might have enjoyed the wacky answers, but also wasn't surprised that he was so negative.

Winklevoss twins 8:31 AM  

This puzzle was almost as easy as the ridiculous $8 billion dollars we made in bitcoin last year.

QuasiMojo 8:36 AM  

I haven't heard of half of the original films on which these tedious puns are based. I quit early on out of boredom and a sense of futility. I've got better things to do with my time (such as come here and read all of your funny comments.)

Anonymous 8:38 AM  

Oh how I wonder what @Nancy will whine about today.

kitshef 8:45 AM  

I was enormously and irrationally irritated by the capital letters and exclamation marks in the clues – even more so than I am by the overuse of same in comics.

Second hardest part for me was the EVIE (WoE)/BRENT(WoE)/SYNERGY(tough clue) crosses with I LOVE YOU MAN.

Hardest was CAL crossing ADS. I had no clue what the big game was (wanted to squeeze Army or Navy in there), and that clue for ADS was vague to the point of uselessness. Had to run the alphabet 1.04 times, as I had rejected ‘A’ the first time around.

Aketi 8:57 AM  

A nice little I LOVE YOU tribute to M&A with USURP underneath creating a triangle of U’s in the northeast.

If the I and the T hadn’t USURPED a couple of L’s and the brand name hadn’t suffered from the DATA LOSS of another L, the puzzle would have contained a double LLfest of CHILl, KILl, and SKILl to go along with HILL and SWILL. Two sets of EE and SS and only set of CC, DD, PP and TT. And a PEPPY and PEPE combo. 21 actual Ls in the puzzle.

Teedmn 9:03 AM  

This was a great Sunday-sized theme. I thought "THE BIG CHILI” and “LICENCE TO KILT” were the best though, not having read the whole clue for 118A, I thought it was going to have a pottery ending with a licence to KILn.

Some clues were great; I got a chuckle out of getting SYNERGY out of an arithmetic error. Two high points in a row, today’s being the TILDE. The most puzzling for me was 32D's “Gift on a string. I had LE_ for the longest time and could not figure out why a meadow would be a gift or on a string. (On my one and only trip to Hawaii, I did not get LEI-ed though I envied the people who were being greeted thusly.)

Nice puzzle, nothing DRAB, thanks PC and JC.

Unknown 9:08 AM  

Feel like there were multiple missed opportunities here. When I got the theme early on I was hoping to see a “Friends make fat baby” clue with THEBIGCHILD as an answer but nope.

puzzlehoarder 9:19 AM  

This was a good Sunday solve because I finished it quickly. After I finished I checked the circled letters to see if they spelled anything and this lead me to change TAXIDRIVES to TAXIDRIVEL. I hadn't fully caught the theme while filling the top tier and changing the noun DRIVER to the verb DRIVES seemed to agree with the verb "saves" in the clue. SEI made no sense but I left it to fix later which I did.

ColoradoCog 9:20 AM  

Super, super easy. Only a shade over my personal best Sunday. Didn’t hit any of the snags @Rex talks about. Breezed through. Enjoyed it, too.

I bet I only doubled @Rex’s time.

Anonymous 9:20 AM  

Stale! I mean ms, not the puzzle.
Maybe he came off as the enfant-terrible, the young Turk, the outspoken crit ten years ago. Now, just trite and repetitive.
Nonetheless, an amusing blog, as the,Times calls it, for other reasons.

Nancy 9:28 AM  

Putting the cart before the horse, I want to say at the outset that this is collectively the best puzzle week I can remember. While there weren't any absolutely outstanding and memorable puzzles, every single one from Monday through today was enjoyable, ranged from somewhat to very challenging, and was good for its day of the week.

So, yes, I enjoyed this one too, though a quick skim of the comments leads me to believe that many did not. I loved TAXI DRIVEL, THE COLOR OF MONET, and THE BIG CHILI. I was lucky to know all the original titles; had they picked films that were obscure to me, this would have been frustrating and much less enjoyable. Not that I saw "Swamp Things" or "I Love You Man", but I'd heard of them. And, best of all things in a theme puzzle, I needed the theme to solve. I was struggling until I got ABOUT A BOT, saw the trick, and then solved the rest quickly. But solving quickly was not a bad thing; I have a men's tennis final to watch. So off I go. Back later.

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

Not to mention that rex spent some schooling years in Michigan, which is "pop" central.

pmdm 9:30 AM  

Really tough crowd here today. I thought the themed answers were cute and funny while the puzzle itself in general was to the right of just so-so. But I would praise Clark on what is only her second published puzzle and encourage her to continue constructing.

Did anyone notice that (according to Mr. Chen) the last letters of the themed answers are supposed to resemble the DNA atom? I sure didn't.

Cyclist227 9:31 AM  

This one was pretty easy for me. The only slog was the northeast corner, but even so, finished it off quickly. I agree with Rex that Sunday's have gotten pretty boring and uninpiring. Lots of faux cleverness.

Anonymous 9:31 AM  

Ah, Michael's dislike of all things Jeff Chen prompts scathing remarks reminiscent of the sticky deadliness of Boston's Great Molasses Flood.

Give it up, Michael, you're an open book.

Cyclist227 9:33 AM  


Amy 9:33 AM  

wow glad I checked back. Rex’s Post scripts are a true plot twist!

Unknown 9:49 AM  

Ha ha, the caps and exclamation points were by far my favorite parts of this puzzle. Because I took them is ironic. Which I think is fair… No one would believe any of these were great twist endings. The faux excitement carried the day for me.

Anonymous 10:03 AM  

Lady Bird was only ok. I might have liked it more if it was so hyped. I loved Frances Ha and really wanted to love Lady Bird. But really: it's not that good. Go see I, Tonya.

Churlish Nabob 10:05 AM  

@pmdm 9:30,WTF is a “DNA atom”?

GILL I. 10:07 AM  

Holy COW. This was probably the worst Sunday puzzle I've done in a long time. I tried to gauge my mood thinking that was leading me to the total meh but no, we're going to my favorite place for brunch so that can't be it. I LOVE puns. Why didn't I at least smile at TAXI DRIVEL. Well, to begin, I was trying to figure out the clue. Prostitute? = DRIVEL? Man, I kept thinking whore or maybe the X in TAXI had something to do with sex. I get the HUSSLE as a pimp although he's missing is ER, but what in the name of JOHN does a prosti have to do with a TAXI? Gaaaaah....
BEVERLY HILLS COW???? Again, the cluing was so off and not the least bit puny. Why West Coast officers.? ADD another meh.
I guess if I had a favorite it would be SWAMP THINS. But say it out loud....It's not funny - I promise. Ask anyone if SWAMP THINS would make you laugh.
So now we have that damn KALE in our smoothies? Feed KALE to the little piggies - make my BACON green.
Bon SOIRE AMOUR Je tAIME makes me EYED UP every time I say it.
SPEED DATE? That's done now? I'm trying to imagine how you do that. Do the prostitutes and the pimps arrange that?....just kidding.
I liked Evans a lot more. Thanks for showing it @Rex. AND yes, do watch "Lady Bird." My hometown! You'll see The Raven bar it the movies. Use to be a hangout for me.
Off to order some Eggs Benedict.

DavidL 10:10 AM  

Timely (also obscure) clue for ROSIE would have been "___ the Riveter," the World War II era cartoon whose real life model died earlier in the week.

Anonymous 10:11 AM  

Red letter day: Nancy didn’t whine in her first post today. But she still has 3 or 4 posts left.

Birchbark 10:13 AM  

The all-caps/exclamations generated a sort of strobe-light false urgency, which threw me out of the usual solve pattern and into lots of little patches around the puzzle. Then SWAMP THINS at the very end was the first themer to fall. After that, steadied the ship and more or less cruised back up via all the patchwork pre-work. THE BIG CHILI = good one. And so is the British "C" in LICENCE TO KILL.

Along with the bonus TERMINATORS, cluing MUSCLE CAR as "Gran Torino" is likely a tip of the hat to the fairly recent, excellent Clint Eastwood film.

Still bent out of shape about hdSTEREO from yesterday -- so hdTV sat there in the north longer than it should have. Someday hd will become HD. It just has to.

Eric Blair 10:14 AM  

I suggest you start reviewing the Washington Post puzzle. You are embarrassing yourself.Two plus two equals five, indeed.

Uncle Alvarez 10:16 AM  

“This is the greatest Sunday ever. It's like Christmas all over again.” Tha’s what your mother said a week ago

Winston Smith 10:19 AM  

@Eric Blair, good point. Why doesn’t the pantywaist snowflake review the WaPo puzzle if he loves it so damn much??

Pauline Kael’s Ghost 10:31 AM  

Best picture 2018 Academy Award nominees ranked best to worst:
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Darkest Hour
4. Call Me by Your Name
5. The Post
6. Get Out
7.Lady Bird
8. The Shape of Water
9. Phantom Thread
Right now oddsmakers favor The Sjape of Water, Three Billboards and Lady Bird. Among the three it’s not even close —-Three Billboards is by far the best, which is why it will probably lose.

ColoradoCog 10:32 AM  

@Gill I. It looks like you might be unfamiliar with the source movies. “Cabbie saves prostitute” is key to the plot of Taxi Driver. But there was no blathering in the movie. In Beverly Hills Cop, a wisecracking Detroit cop (Eddie Murphy) heads to Beverly Hills to solve a murder off duty, and two straightlaced detectives are assigned to keep tabs on him. Hilarity ensues, but no cows appear in the movie.

OK, these aren’t belly laughs, they are at best grins, but you did get that all the themers are movies, with their real plots twisted, right? I don’t think I would call these puns. I would call them “reimaginations.”

Siberian Khatru 10:32 AM  

Loved Taxi Drivel. Hardest for me was northeast, I've never heard of Hustle and Flow, and I wanted beer___ or blue___ for Labatts.

Loved to see Gordian, I always think of that first whenever there's a clue about knots.

Unknown 10:42 AM  

I don't think the clues were off. I think you and OFL are missing the point when you try to make the clue equate Word for Word to the final answer. The first half of the clue is literally describing the plot of the movie being referenced. The second, over-the-top, portion of the clue relates strictly to the awesome twist ending. Granted, that may put people at a disadvantage that are unfamiliar with the cited movies, but I think that's what's going on. I liked it, because it allowed you, once you know the theme, to try to get the others strictly from the clues.

John Child 10:57 AM  

Per @Rex’s note on Evan Birnholz's puzzle, you can see more examples of movie title twists in the Sunday October 30, 2011 NYT puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels and Patrick Blindauer.

Anonymous 11:00 AM  

I agree with @Dan. Furthermore, the all-caps on the cheesy “twist” is the way it would have appeared on a cheesy B-movie poster if the twisted version had actually been made. It’s clever, not clumsy.

BarbieBarbie 11:01 AM  

Oops, sorry, that anon at 11am was me

Timothy Smith 11:08 AM  

70A—Go Bears!!!

jberg 11:10 AM  

I, too, started off trying to make sense of the theme clues -- but with THE COLOR OF MONET I saw what was going on, and the rest of it was pretty fun. Hardest part was trying to fit "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" in at 107A (showing my age here); second hardest was putting in estatE CAR out of nostalgia for yesterday, or whenever it was.

Malapop OPT at 15A before 38D; and I was glad to see that the old-fashioned pasts continue at 85D.

I've seen only one of these movies. I have to get out more.

Eponymous 11:23 AM  

No time for the crossword today, the cryptic has perfectly bisected the usual horns of trivial and impossible, oh puzzling igniter of old heaps.

Virginia 11:25 AM  

My favorite Sunday puzzle in a long time! Loved the cheesy clues and thought the puns were funny. And I was able to get all the movies even though I’d only seen a few of them. Pretty good fill overall, too, although I agree that “DATA LOSS” is the result, not the casualty, of a crash. But that’s still better than using ANJOU alone as the name of a fruit.

TubaDon 11:41 AM  

Plunked down AVOCET and zoomed through the North. Didn't know some of the movies, but ERIC saved me from IDLING my time away in the South.

Andrew Heinegg 11:45 AM  

I need to discipline myself to the point where I go to the puzzle and not look at the author until I finish the solve. But, of course, I didn't do it today. Because I have never cared for Jeff Chen puzzles, I anticipate being disappointed and I am.

I have a limited tolerance for themed/punny puzzles. My standard is that the puns need to be absolute groaners and this one fails.

My other, more important to me, consideration, is the presence of multiple crossword words that have been used so often in crosswords that they need to be retired: ads, opts, Obies, aloha etc.;

I recognize with the size of a Sunday grid that there needs to be some easy answers that are well-known in order to make the solve a less than a running a marathon time effort. But, I find that Mr. Chen and his collaborators seem to have a unnecessarily large number of them giving a kind of tired and trite feel to the puzzle

I have a certain amount of guilt in panning Mr. Chen's efforts because I sense that he is an intelligent and very pleasant person who is diligent in his composing efforts. The end product just feels to me like it doesn't have very much oomph to it.

The final part I don't like about Mr. Chen's puzzles is that I know when I come to the blog that there will be multiple broadsides aimed at Rex for not liking the puzzle because, as regular readers know, he doesn't care much for Mr. Chen's efforts and, when Rex criticizes a puzzle, his criticisms are rarely mild.

That harshness, in turn, brings on a number of personal attacks on him that seem to be an integral part of online communications nowadays. C'est la vie.

Z 11:48 AM  

First - STOP SHOUTING AT ME. I’m pretty sure this is the rudest puzzle I ever solved.

Second - Circles? Seriously? HEY SOLVER! MAKE SURE YOU CHECK OUT WHAT THE LETTERS SPELL! (I think I’m getting a headache from all this shouting).

Third - Isn’t LICENCE TO KILT the plot summary of Phantom Thread? (BTW @P.K’s Ghost - The Shape of Water is the best and Billboards is getting some significant pushback which suggests it has little chance of winning)

Fourth - Are the WaPo puzzles in Chen’s database? Because it sure seems as if not copying a recent theme from a major crossword should be a thing.

Finally, “the” big game? Michigan/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn, Army/Navy... hell, USC/UCLA in the same state, all have a reasonable case for being a bigger game than Cal/Stanford. Calling it “The Big Game” is right there with calling OSU, “The Ohio State University” for laughable hubris. Yes, really, everyone else is just being polite by not laughing aloud every time you utter the phrase.

Z 11:56 AM  

How Three Billboards went from film fest darling to awards-season controversy

Banana Diaquiri 11:57 AM  

being from New England, but not Boston proper, that was a gimme. one of the few ever. so, yes, such beverages go by: soda, pop, tonic depending on where you are. and, yes, sometimes soda pop. and, even some places (in the Red Neck South, of course), coke; yes, all such beverages by the lower cased brand name. now you know.

Two Ponies 12:04 PM  

I'm really wondering about Will's sense of humor.

Anonymous 12:22 PM  

Lady Burd is fine. The Florida Project is divine.

The variety of movies here was cool.

Anonymous 12:26 PM  

IMHO, Three Billboards was nothing but trite tropes. Oh, the racust cop is lovable. Whoopie!

RooMonster 12:32 PM  

Hey All !
At least it wasn't TITTY TWIST. 😋😎

Not knowing it was done previously, I had a couple chuckles with the resulting wacky movie titles. Didn't catch the PLOT TWIST, was going to see if the end letters spelled something, but then got lazy! Funny to think of HUSTLE AND FLOP - In a World where you work hard to make things better, comes a tale of a toilet who failed! Har.

Liked puz overall, but an excessive block count. 88 of them! SNEER.

Who spells LUCENCE with the C's??
A Gran Torino is a nice car, but not the first car that leaps to mind as a MUSCLE CAR. Maybe a regular late 60's-early-70's Torino, but not when they became Gran. Just babbling.

OK, back to work!


RooMonster 1:03 PM  

ARGH! Auto-corrupt! Not a "toilet", a "toiler"!


Adam 1:09 PM  

@Joe Dipinto - wait, what? HEX doesn't have a proper feel for the cryptic?! You should check out the WSJ cryptic from yesterday (which I'm still working on), and come back and then we can talk. As far as I'm concerned, HEX *owns* the cryptic space.

As far as today's puzzle goes, meh. Not particularly difficult. I thought the theme was cute and I enjoyed most of the answers. Even if it wasn't the most scintillating, there wasn't a lot that was offensive or particularly crosswordese-y in the grid. CELTIC cross and then knots before HARPS, and I thought Bob SAGET spelled his name with two As, but otherwise this didn't give me much trouble. And I laughed at TAXI DRIVEL.

Kamala Harris 1:11 PM  

@anon 12:26. I agree. Only positive role models should be used in all literature and film in the future. No racists, murderers, rapists, climate deniers or homophobes should be allowed to be portrayed.

Sawyerpoet 1:11 PM  


old timer 1:21 PM  

Entertaining and not too much of a slog, and that's all I ask of a Sunday puzzle. My favorite pun was LICENCETOKILT.

Have to go back now and look at those circles.

Oh, there is only one Big Game, Stanford/Cal. It was a huge deal when I was in college decades ago. Plenty of other rivalry games that produce some great football. But only one called Big Game.

Aphid Larue 1:22 PM  

Puzzle was fun once I was sure that 90 across wasn't buried child/i

Anonymous 1:30 PM  


Anne Frazier 1:35 PM  

Appropriate = usurp?

CDilly52 1:47 PM  

My burger always has oniON and that prejudice slowed me down too! Took forever to put on the BACON.

Carola 1:55 PM  

@Rex, thank you for pointing out PLOT TWIST; I never would have noticed.
I thought HUSTLE AND FLOP and SWAMP THINS were worth a smile. I wouldn't be too surprised to see the latter appearing at Whole Foods, given the proliferation of kale chips and seaweed snacks on the shelves.

@Siberian Khatru - Me, too, on GORDIAN, my favorite entry. With the AN in place, I decided to write it in without checking any of the other crosses, just for the satisfaction.

Aketi 2:59 PM  

@Old timer, my sister actually watched the Big Game. I still get a kick out of watching the last play.

Anonymous 3:16 PM  

*Licence* the normal UK-English spelling, appropriate for Bond, and the movie released with that spelling. Such spelling also appropriate for Scottish kilt.
Anon. i.e. Poggius

MetroGnome 3:26 PM  

Sorry, but . . . What does "2+2=5" have to do with "SYNERGY"???

‘mericans in paris 3:31 PM  

@MetroGnome: Think, “the total is greater than the sum of its parts.” Business-speak, in other words.

EdFromHackensack 3:32 PM  

Hustle and Flow is not worthy a film to be included with the others. Good puzzle though. Took me one cup of coffee, so on the easyish side for me.

Barry Frain 3:42 PM  

Here come the film critics, batten down the hatches.

Barry Frain
East Biggs, CA

Anonymous 4:17 PM  

Because Bitcoin is not cash at all. It's incorrectly clued.

Ben 4:19 PM  

To each their own, but found it fantastic.

BarbieBarbie 4:38 PM  

@Anne, it’s not “appropri-uht” as in “correct for the occasion,” but “appropri-8” as in “take for oneself.” So, yes, usurp.

GILL I. 4:53 PM  

@ColoradoCog. If you're still here, Thank you.
Yeah, I sorta got that the themes were movies but it completely went over my head.
This was trying to be ambitious, at best. Design a Sunday puzzle and hope that everyone has watched the movie. Even if you haven't, please give me a heh heh heh?
I thought I knew SWAMP THIN[s] but I got it mixed up with Creature from the Black Lagoon. Now THAT was a movie!

sanfranman59 5:02 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 1/2/2018 post for an explanation of my method. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio & percentage, the higher my solve time was relative to my norm for that day of the week.

(Day, Solve time, 26-wk Median, Ratio, %, Rating)

Mon 4:14 4:08 1.02 60.7% Medium-Challenging
Tue 6:00 5:33 1.08 65.7% Medium-Challenging
Wed 6:34 5:54 1.11 70.0% Medium-Challenging
Thu 24:27 10:16 2.38 100.0% Very Challenging
Fri 11:02 11:37 0.95 44.6% Medium
Sat 20:11 17:21 1.16 76.5% Medium-Challenging
Sun 20:07 21:46 0.92 41.4% Medium

It took me about 3:30 to suss out that little NY/NJ at the end of I LOVE YOU MAO that Rex mentions, partly because I had axe for CAN at 63A and partly because I had no clue about ROSIE Revere. Had that section taken the approximately 45 seconds it took me to fill in the mirror opposite section, my solve time would have been about 17:30, which is in my Easy-Medium Sunday range.

Kimberly 5:09 PM  

I’m sure others have already said it, but I’m too lazy to check, so... SCAT is another name for wild animal poop. A common one, so don’t go saying it’s too obscure. You knew it at one point, I’m sure. Trackers look for scat.

It was a cute puzzle, just not terribly clever. Nothing to get panty twisted over, either.

Anonymous 6:07 PM  

To the folks chastising Rex for SCAT: go back and read what he said. This time flip on the reading comprehension switch. Jeez

Anonymous 7:08 PM  

a puzzle you don't like is what constitutes your best saturday ever? you sound like a delightful person.

thefogman 7:55 PM  

I loved this puzzle, especially LICENCETOKILT.

Andy 8:18 PM  

Yet again, just awful. Just when you think it just can't get any worse the NYT proves you wrong! Hello?!?! Is anyone minding the shop?

Aketi 8:22 PM  

@metrognome, in epidemiology you can have risk factors for two different conditions. One might increase your risk of death 2 fold and another might also increase your risk of death 2 fold. BUT if the two risk factors are synergistic your risk of death when you have both risk factors might increase 5 fold. Smoking and asbestos are two conditions that cause death rates to increase synergistically.

Joe Dipinto 8:23 PM  

@Adam Frank -- you didn't think "my Thai" was overly obvious? Plus, too much reliance on anagrams, plus, other cutesy cluing, at least in this puzzle. It was just too easy for my taste.

Hungry Mother 9:26 PM  

Although I was born near the Meadowlands in NJ, I spent my years from 0.5 - 12 in the Bay Area just north of Stanford’s campus. I went to all of Stanford’s home games with the Cub Scouts, so I saw some of the Big Games. Bob Mathias of Olympic Decathalon fame was in the backfield for some of those years.

Trillian 10:00 PM  

I was surprised it was POP, too. I live in POP country, but given that terminology is considered so foreign to much of the US, I wasn't expecting it here and it threw me for a loop.

Oldfatbasterd 10:04 PM  

Does anyone remember Michael Sharp SCAT? Oh I forgot, he posts his sh*t every day on this blog.

semioticus (shelbyl) 11:23 PM  

Not a smooth grid (way too many short words), and the reward is not big enough. That being said, good enough for a Sunday.

NW and E were the most unpleasant spots. CARP-AVOCETS-PRIAM was a tough troika, and the section with ILOVEYOUMAO took me a while. Yet that was the best aha moment for me because it finally unlocked that part.

I like the theme idea. WaPo might have run a better version, sure, but I don't have the extensive historical knowledge to make such comparisons, and I don't want to raise the bar that high because I wouldn't be able to hold it. Was it fun? Yeah, it was OK.

Oh, and I like it when the constructors try hard with the clues. They definitely put an effort into that. "Something coming off the shelf?" Brilliant. Except for Bitcoin = ECASH. They are definitely not called that. ecash is something else altogether.

GRADE: B, 3.45 stars.

Anonymous 4:08 AM  

Leave the construtors - they are doing fine! CHANGE the editor! Rapidly!

bob mills 9:14 AM  

"LICENCE TO KILT"????? The word is spelled LICENSE. There's no alternate spelling. How did this get by?

thefogman 9:33 AM  

LICENCE is the actual spelling of the word in the movie title and it is also the correct way to spell the word in the UK and other countries that do not recognize US English.

Dan M 11:22 AM  

I enjoyed this; not a stunner or anything but I had fun with it. Only real bone I have to pick is that I’ve lived in Boston for almost 15 years and have literally never once heard anyone refer to soda as “tonic”. When I lived in Chicago, I heard lots of people use POP... and it irritated me to no end. Of all the midwestern regional terms, POP is the only one that bugs me. Oh, actually, also “putt-putt” for mini golf. But anyway using POP as the canonical term, and implying “tonic” is the term typically used in Boston.... double whammy of nope.

jb129 3:43 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
John 5:46 PM  

Doesn’t “T-shirt choiceS” suggest a plural answer? So I had the awkward SMS rather than better (but singular) SML.

Joseph 5:47 PM  

In no way am I trying to defend the NYT Sunday puzzle's poor quality of late, but I'm certain that if the latest Washington Post Sunday puzzle ("Downsizing") turned up in the NYT, Rex would poop all over it.

It's theme - dropping one letter to form wacky answers - isn't any cleverer than today's NYT puzzle's mechanics, and look at these terrible theme entries. (Spoilers below.)

Private equity firm that, after downsizing, becomes a supplier of recycling containers? BINCAPITAL
Film studio that, after downsizing, becomes a paper mill? REAMWORKS
Financial services giant that, after downsizing, becomes an auto dealership for chess experts? MASTERCAR
Electronics and lifestyle products retailer that, after downsizing, becomes a retailer of more intelligent sorcery products? SHARPERMAGE
Movie-themed restaurant that, after downsizing, becomes a manufacturer of movie aircraft? PLANEHOLLYWOOD
Classified ads website that, after downsizing, becomes a website about rugged cliffs? CRAGSLIST
Plumbing repair company that, after downsizing, becomes a company whose employees cheer for decay? ROTROOTER
Atlas publisher that, after downsizing, becomes basically the same company but way cool? RADMCNALLY

Even ignoring a clue whose length reaches 125 characters, is there anything NOT terrible about this theme?

Also, there's NAILUP crossing TOTALSUP at the P! Plus, plenty of cheap fill: UMA, EATAT, MAE, ENTS, LSD, ELS, ASL, EKG, CSI, ITT, ANDS.

Overall, blech!

thaw 10:13 PM  

Wowz'ugh. I think I will check out the WAPO puzzle. I can't recall a puzzle this uninspired in recent memory.

Unknown 6:15 PM  

True! It was fun.

Unknown 6:16 PM  

Not now James, we’re busy.

Unknown 1:09 AM  

This was a delightful puzzle and Rex Parker is, perpetually, an asshat.

Unknown 1:14 AM  

Folks, too many of you are so vehemently against wordplay, puns, delighting in language, Britishisms...I could go on...I wonder why on Earth you do crossword puzzles. It's supposed to be fun. I enjoyed this puzzle greatly. Rex Parker is a killjoy and I log on here once in a while for pure Schadenfreude. I don't know why this blog exists, considering its host's hatred of fun.

Anonymous 11:13 AM  

I'm sorry- what happened to the sunday puzzle being challenging and interesting. This was just too easy and lame. Not worth my time. Just ho hum clues and stock cw answers. I did like eric idle of course but my first thought was Monty python which of course wouldnt fit. sigh. Now that would be a good theme for a puzzle. Huge disappointment. I hate easy puzzles. Come on will - step it up!!This puzzle was drivel and a flop. Loved the movie hustle and flow- now I get to watch these 2 great actors on empire. How about a puzzle with that theme. Mix it up!!!

Diana, LIW 12:05 PM  

I found yesterday's @Rex comments (Saturday's) to be kinda spot on, but today was truly a flop. I don't mind his rants - I think they're kinda funny - but today he just sounded like someone who never left his own back yard. So his comments come off as pointless.

And I haven't read all comments, but what's with nan 11:13 - too easy? Read your local daily for easy, then come back here.

I enjoyed the twisted movie titles. Love, love, love "About a Boy," and was thrilled to see it in the puz. IPSO FACTO.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords, and Syndie reviews

Burma Shave 12:45 PM  


(NOLIE, the PLOTTWIST is great)
to HUSTLEANDFLOP down in EDEN'S clover:


rondo 1:25 PM  

Worked the NW down into themer TAXIDRIVEL and that was an omen for an unfunny slog. TENDS to get that way when the only w/o is Dull before getting DRAB. Not my kind of humor; about as funny as Bob SAGET. THEBIGCHILI may have been the best themer, but I really disliked that PIC, so no bonus point there.

I think ONEG may have a double use, gravity and blood type.

Love ACTOR/writer ERICIDLE. The Galaxy Song is EARCANDY.

AVA's bee DEAD for 30 years so I GLANCED over the puz and found unclued yeah babies ERIN Andrews and ROSIE Perez.

Not in AWE of this puz, but I won't have a BEVERLYHILLSCOW over it.

rainforest 2:22 PM  

This was 3 puzzles in one for me. I found the North zippy and entertaining, especially HUSTLE AND FLOP, the centre section was approaching slog territory in these little E and W sections, but then the entire South was dandy.

The theme was fine in my book, but I found it annoying that the title "surprise endings" gave the game away, and the all-caps punchlines were overkill, as though we didn't know what was going on. Strange.

Nevertheless, overall medium and fun, and what more can you ask of a Sunday when you are bed-ridden with the WORLD'S WORST COLD (cough).

I really wanted the Vikings to make the Super Bowl, but as it is, Go Pats!

AnonymousPVX 3:06 PM  

No a bad puzzle I guess, but more of a grinder than a joy. Happy to get the solve in any case. I do agree the 55A area was tough, it was the last to fall.

Teedmn 8:43 PM  

@rondo, I thought I was the only person who hated The Big Chill. Glad to know it wasn’t just me.

spacecraft 12:51 AM  

Really late to this one; I had a SUPER BOWL GAME to watch: E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!!! Sorry, @rainy.

I liked this one more than most, including OFL. Dismayed for a moment at the use of pimps and prosties in the cluing, I soon recognized them as real plot features, so they get a pass. The fact that the final letters spelled out PLOTTWIST was totally missed by me till coming here. That is an AWESOME extra! I'm confused about the definition for SYNERGY, but the rest seems fine, and less of a slog than we have come to expect of a Sunday. No trouble at all with MUSCLECAR; in fact that was a gimme.

ROSIE Perez wins honorable mention, but DOD has to be SOFIA Vergara. Bird--no, forget it. EAGLE! How could I not?

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