Realm of Queen Lucy the Valiant / SAT 3-31-18 / Myrmica rubra / Food flavorer that's not supposed to be eaten / Start of some futuristic toy names / Hang time to snowboarder / Johnny nicknamed godfater of rhythm blues / Lady first female member British parliament

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: TOTAL GRIDLOCK (52A: Nightmarish Manhattan traffic situation ... or a possible title for this puzzle) — Across and Down lines (i.e. rows and columns in the grid) alternate directions, e.g. first row runs east-to-west (i.e. backwards), second row runs west-to-east (i.e. the normal direction), third row runs back east-to-west again, etc. (and same for the Downs columns)

Theme answers:
  • ONE-WAY STREETS (19A: Most crosstown thoroughfares in Manhattan ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme)
  • SNOITCERID / LLA NI GNIOG (35A: With 41-Across, proceeding willy-nilly)
Word of the Day: Johnny OTIS (1D: Johnny nicknamed "The Godfater of Rhythm and Blues") —
Johnny Otis (born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes; December 28, 1921 – January 17, 2012) was an American singer, musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, talent scout, disc jockey, record producer, television show host, artist, author, journalist, minister, and impresario. He was a seminal influence on American R&B and rock and roll. He discovered numerous artists early in their careers who went on to become highly successful in their own right, including Little Esther PhillipsEtta JamesBig Mama ThorntonJohnny AceJackie WilsonLittle Willie JohnHank Ballard, and The Robins (who eventually changed their name to The Coasters), among many others. Otis has become widely synonymous with being known as the original "King of Rock and Roll" and the "Godfather of Rhythm and Blues". (wikipedia)
• • •

A themed Saturday. Oy. I mean, this puzzle's hard, but what made it most hard, for me, was that it was themed, and I never look for (and also hate) themes on Saturdays. This should've been a Thursday puzzle. It's much harder, sure, but type-wise, it's a Thursday. Actually, on a Thursday, I'd've finished it much faster, because I'd've thought "what's the theme?" and would've then looked at those longer Acrosses. In tough themelesses, I generally ignore the longer answers until I've worked a lot of the smaller crosses. Smaller answers are easier to get (generally), and once I've picked a bunch of them up, then I look to the crosses to confirm. My problem was I just never looked at 19A (i.e. the first theme clue). If I had, bam, there's the tip that it's themed / tricky, so I at least know I'm striking out because Something is Up and not just because the cluing is hard. Solving in software hurts here too—if you can't see all the clues at once laid out in front of you, your eye can't pick up the ellipses in those theme clues, which is the tip that something themey is going on. So just the fact of running this on a Saturday and not a Thursday added to its difficulty, which feels mildly cheap, frankly. Also, I have seen the "street" thing before; it's been a NYT theme before, though never TOTAL GRIDLOCK the way this one is. The one I remember had answers doing this back and forth thing, but just for Acrosses, I believe. This construction is indeed impressive, but it's a stunt puzzle, par excellence. And the theme is one that, once you pick it up, has no pleasures or revelations left for you. It's just a slog, as your brain struggles to keep up with which way which row / column is going. Lastly, GOING IN ALL / DIRECTIONS simply does not fit the theme. Grids do not go in all directions; they go in two directions. This is ... I mean, this is what defines a grid. The two-direction thing pretty much defines gridness. What the hell?

So since I was not looking at the theme clues, it took me way longer than it should have to grok the theme. I knew RED ANTS was correct (1A: Insects of the species Myrmica rubra) (let it never be said I'm *totally* science-ignorant...), right from the start, but I also knew (or thought I did) that the actor was EWAN McGregor, and both things couldn't be true (or so it seemed). So I flailed there a bunch and moved on. Also wanted 14D: Provisos to be IFS, but it seemed to *start* with "S" so that didn't work. Finally, I wrote in SPAS at 22A: Employers of masseurs and then checked the cross at 23D: Holden's younger sister in "The Catcher in the Rye"—well I absolutely positively knew that was PHOEBE. My sister and I used to make fun of this kid in one of her classes who had to read out loud from the book and kept calling her "Fobe," so that particularly literary name has Stuck Like Glue. I still mentally say "Fobe" every time I see PHOEBE written out. Anyway, SPAS couldn't work with PHOEBE ... unless ... I turned SPAS around. At *that* moment, minutes into my solve, I thought, "Wait, this isn't *$&%&ing themed, is it?" And bam. There's DEMITASSES (12D: Small coffee cups) and THO (33A: Short while?) and I'm off—creepingly off. After that, there's just the awkward work of entering half the answers backwards. Beyond the gimmick, the puzzle is totally ordinary. I mean, do you even remember any of the clues or answers? The only ones I remember are the crossing "?" clues at 37D: Turkey club? (NATO) and 43A: Back on the job? (TEBA, i.e. ABET), where I had to run the alphabet. Totally baffling, and probably the only time today when, after getting the right answer, I thought "OK, yeah, that's good. Fair play." Turkey club? Man. Both those clues are brutal and perfect (Turkey is a country in the "club" that is NATO, in case that wasn't clear) (and if you "back" or support someone in a crime, like a bank "job," then you ABET that person).

OK, it looks like Johnny Cueto is currently pitching a perfect game through six, so I have to go. I am very impressed by this puzzle, architecturally, but I can't pretend to like themed Saturdays, and I can't pretend I haven't seen a (admittedly less ambitious) version of the back-and-forth street thing before, and I especially can't pretend GOING IN ALL / DIRECTIONS makes any sense whatsoever for this particular theme.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Welp, looks like someone got a hit off Cueto as I was writing that last paragraph. Oh well. Still gonna go watch baseball. Because baseball is on. It's baseball season. Baseball. Bye.

P.P.S. And while I was typing the first P.S. the UConn women ... lost??? Whoa. Now I really gotta go see what's up.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Terror in Arthur Canon Doyole's Lost World / FRI 3-30-18 / Ubiquitous Chinese character / Like three-pitch inning / Italian poetic form

Friday, March 30, 2018

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ZEROTH (33D: Preceder of first) —
  1. immediately preceding what is regarded as first in a series. (google)
• • •

All pleasure from the longer stuff was drained away by displeasure with the less-long stuff, but honestly there was really only one answer in this puzzle that I'm going to remember tomorrow, and that's ZEROTH (a word that has never appeared in a NYT crossword before, he said, surprising no one). I needed every single cross and was still not convinced it was a word. I honestly couldn't even see that it was an ordinal. I flat-out didn't know what I was looking at, and was certain I had an error. Sincerely, at one point I thought the answer was ZERO TO ... like, maybe there was a phrase like "zero to sixty" only ... it's "to first"??? I went on to complete the puzzle, and the little Happy Pencil came up, so ... hurray, but still baffled by ZEROTH. Even after figuring out it was the thing that precedes first the way first is the thing that precedes second, I still had no idea in what context one would use it. I've since looked it up, and honestly nothing I read made me care. It was all technical. Blargh. ZEROTH looks like the name of a scifi character. What's worse is that "Z" from ZIP-ON, which is not a thing. Hoods are ZIP-*OFF* if they're anything. Both "zip away" and "zip off" get more hits than "ZIP ON." Because ZEROTH was a non-thing to me, I questioned every cross, and the "Z" was the most questionable. So, you see, all the NEVER FAILS and WELCOME TO MY LIFE and I'M A FAN and WELL, DAMN! and other fine answers honestly didn't mean jack to me, because ZEROTH.

Hated clue on NO-RUN too (39A: Like a three-pitch inning). A three-pitch inning would indeed, by definition***, be NO-RUN, but a. a three-pitch inning is an amazing, very very rare thing, whereas a NO-RUN inning is Like Most Innings, and b. no one says "NO-RUN inning." Google ["no run inning"]. Look at number of hits. Now just change "no" to "one" ... and watch the number of hits go up 10-fold. Being off with your phrasing and jargon is so bad. Do you really say "*I* CHECK" ... it's not just "check"? I hate poker so I wouldn't know, but it felt overly formal and wrong. The phrase is "DON'T WAIT UP!" The "FOR ME" part takes it into the realm (again) of the improbably formal.

Even ENEMY SPY felt slightly wonky. What is the non-enemy spy? I mean, our allies spy on us, and they are "plants from other countries," so ... ?? ENEMY SPY, I admit, is a thing, but it also just doesn't google well—there's this volume in a kids' book series, some weird band ... no surprise that this, too (like ZEROTH) has never been in a grid before. I dunno. Stuff just did not land for me today. Time was pretty normal, and some of the longer and more colloquial stuff was OK, but off-ness is just like a broken REAR AXLE—you end up with a puzzle that might look nice in places, but it just doesn't ... work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

***actually, you could, under current rules, have a three-pitch inning where a run scored.

Intentional walks no longer involve throwing a pitch. So ... pffffffft.

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Powdered ingredient in sweet teas smoothies / THU 3-29-18 / French astronomer mathematician who wrote Traite de Mecanique Celeste / One with serious acne pejoratively / Facebook Messenger precursor / lion mythical hunter

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Constructor: Claire Muscat and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: NUTs — theme answers contain different nuts (in circled squares); the nut names are interrupted by a single letter in each case—those letters: N, U, T (respectively)  

Theme answers:
  • LEAN CORNED BEEF (20A: Light deli offering)
  • BURIAL MOUND (35A: Traditional grave)
  • LIFE EXPECTANCY (50A: It's longer for women than it is for men)
Word of the Day: Pierre-Simon LAPLACE (38D: French astronomer / mathematician who wrote "Traité d Mécanique Céleste") —
Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (/ləˈplɑːs/French: [pjɛʁ simɔ̃ laplas]; 23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was a French scholar whose work was important to the development of mathematics, statistics, physics and astronomy. He summarised and extended the work of his predecessors in his five-volume Mécanique Céleste (Celestial Mechanics) (1799–1825). This work translated the geometric study of classical mechanics to one based on calculus, opening up a broader range of problems. In statistics, the Bayesian interpretation of probability was developed mainly by Laplace.
• • •

But the acorn *is* the nut. The almond *is* the nut. The pecan *is* the nut. Why do they contain the letters N, U, T, respectively. What is being ... imagined / pictured / represented? A nut in its shell? Because ... that's simply not what's on the page. Without any title, without any wordplay, any clever revealer, this theme just dies. You have to work even to figure it out (or at least I did), and then the discovery feels like it's not quite right. I was like "Oh ... N, U, T ... alright then ... what else? What am I missing?" Cracked nuts? Split nuts? I figured there must be more. But I don't think there is.

This puzzle was probably easier than usual, but yeeeeeeet again I maimed myself with wrong answers. Stupid, innocuous stuff that I didn't see was wrong because it was so stupid and innocuous (actually, it wasn't "stupid" at all, I'm just mad). Got GOLF PRO and off the "P" put in ... RPM (24A: Dashletters (MPH)). Lethal. This meant I could not see 11D: Way some movies are seen (ON DEMAND) at all, even with a bunch of letters in place, because it looked like this ON-ER--D. Only way I ended up sorting that out was by eventually getting HBO NOW, which also took some work, since the only HBO-related app I know is HBOGO (that still exists, right?). I also had BRAIDS for PLAITS (37A: Twisted locks), which, as you can see, is a totally understandable error on a number of levels. Same number of letters, three letters in the same position, both answers fit the clue. Ugh. I "finished" the puzzle with BRAIDS in there, but the crosses just didn't check out. BBS is not a TV station, RAPLACE is not a French astronomer, and ARD is not any thing that I know of. Don't like [Bust, maybe] for ART. If it's a bust, it's art. If "maybe" here is supposed to mean "this is a word that can mean multiple things," then that is bogus because words mean multiple things all the time, and we know that, so what's with the "maybe" nonsense? [Bust, e.g.] = yes. [Bust, maybe] = no.  [Intuit] feels not-at-all right for plain old SEE, either.

Kinda winced at SEXPOT (42D: Vamp) and definitely winced at PIZZA FACE (56A: One with serious acne, pejoratively). The one is at least vaguely sexist and objectifying, while the other is explicitly cruel and stupid. You gonna do TUB OF LARD next? I'll pass on the bullying bullshit. Oh, and a cutesy "?" clue on a terrorist organization? Hard pass (31A: An end to terrorism? => QAEDA). I did, however, like BAR FIGHT, GIANT SQUIDS, and DO SHOTS, to name a few (I also liked TO NAME A FEW). The grid mostly holds up just fine. I just wish the theme had amounted to something.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. A.D.A. today refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act (I had to look it up—ADA is a dental org. to me) (28D: Law with bldg. requirements)

    P.P.S. Whooole lotta nuttiness in the DELTA clue today, across platforms. I had [It's triangle-shaped] for my clue (using Across Lite solving software). My wife printed her puzzle directly from the website and got simply [.]. Just a single dot. In the paper, there's an actual [Δ]. And just now she read online that people were getting tildes (!!!!) [~] in iOS. So that's four (4) different clues (only two of which make sense), and counting...

    P.P.S. the theme appears in somewhat more presentable fashion in the paper, where shaded squares are used for the nut name and then circled squares are used to house the N, U, and T

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Rabbi Meir who served in Knesset / WED 3-28-18 / Red snapper at sushi restaurant / Ballplayer Rich who started ended his 15-year career as Giant / Soprano Licia who performed hundreds of times at Met / Figs on Stanford-Binet test / Leopold's 1924 co-defendant

    Wednesday, March 28, 2018

    Constructor: Peter Gordon

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: TEE (59D: End of each word in 17-, 27-, 43- and 54-Across — as well as every clue (and that's a fact!)) — just what it says

    Theme answers:
    • GREAT SALT DESERT (17A: Part of Iran that can get quite hot)
    • SAT BOLT UPRIGHT (27A: Sudenly showed interest)
    • KEPT QUIET ABOUT (43A: Didn't speak of, as a touchy subject)
    • LAST BUT NOT LEAST (54A: "Finally, though as important ...")
    Word of the Day: Meir KAHANE  (43D: Rabbi Meir who served in the Knesset) —
    Meir David HaKohen Kahane (Hebrewמאיר דוד כהנא‬) (/kəˈhɑːnə/; August 1, 1932 – November 5, 1990) was an American-Israeli ordained Orthodox rabbi, writer, and ultra-nationalist politician who served one term in the Israeli Knesset. His work is influential on most modern Jewish militant and far right-wing political groups. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Two issues here. One, I don't really get the appeal of the TEE thing. The themers all ending in TEE is mildly interesting, but ... making all the clues end in TEE just results in tortured cluing. No one is humming along with their solving going "wow, look at how all these clues end in TEE—nice!" It's not even an amazing revelation at the end. More, "Oh *that's* why I had so much trouble interpreting the clues." There needed to be a better way to make this one Extra—to take it from the not-terribly-interesting all-words-in-themers-end-in-TEE thing to the Next Level. The clue gimmick doesn't really do it. Seems like an afterthought to make the puzzle seem (rather than actually be) layered and complex.

    [Such are the cluing pleasures of the final TEE gimmick]

    So the blahness of the "T" thing is one issue. The next is the proper noun assault. Peter sells an app called Celebrity (see here), a guess-the-name game that he will 100% without a doubt all the time try to rope people into playing at every crossword tournament he attends. He probably does this in real life, in random places, like the dentist's office or subway platforms, for all I know. The game is fun, but that's not the point. The point is: The Dude Knows His Famous Names. And his Sorta Famous Names. Famousish Names. I wonder if this is why he doesn't blink at putting so many marginally famous names in a Wednesday grid. I absolutely did not know three of these names—complete blank stare territory. And two other names (SLOAN Wilson, Rich AURILIA) I knew only because of my particular hobbies / passions (collecting vintage paperbacks and watching baseball, respectively). ADELEH (which I only *just* learned is actually ADELE space H.!), ALBANESE, and especially KAHANE were painful, letter-by-letter, cross-by-cross pick-ups. Brutal. Ugh. I've watched two Truffaut films just this month, but "The Story of ADELE H." ... Adele Ouch, not on my radar. There are a lot more proper nouns in the grid, but most of them seem pretty mainstream. I have never heard of the GREAT SALT DESERT (lake yes, desert no), but at least that was inferrable, unlike KAHANE, dear lord. OMG, I totally forgot about LIL MO, another laughable "???" (20A: Popular early 2000s R&B artist). The TEE gimmick also seems to have forced a NED I didn't know (9D: Nascar Hall-of-Famer Jarrett). So the theme was just there and the spate of iffily "famous" names made this kind of an unpleasant solve.

    Maybe a snappy revealer or title (which I really wish weekday puzzles had) could've salvaged the theme; that meager TEE there at the end thuds more than it pops. I don't know. I'm just gonna try to file ADELEH KAHANE and ALBANESE away for future recognition purposes and move on.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    In a mischievous manner / TUES 3-27-18 / Wine server / Ancient civilization around Susa / Hoarfrost

    Tuesday, March 27, 2018

    Hi, everyone! I'm Clare, and I'm back since it is indeed the last Tuesday of March. I'm just getting back from spring break, where I spent time with my family and, umm, curating my Netflix account. My brain has definitely been on vacation, meaning this was the most thinking I've had to do in a couple of weeks.

    Constructor: Peter Koetters

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Difficult for a Tuesday

    THEME: Puns involving U.S. state capitals

    Theme answers:
    • MORETHANJUNEAU (20A: "Explore Alaska! It's ___!")
    • FREELANSING (33A: "Writers and photographers will find Michigan a great place for ___!")
    • AUGUSTAWIND (39A: "Blow into Maine on ___!")
    • CONCORDMYFEARS (50A: "I was afraid to ski, but in New Hampshire I ___!")
    Word of the Day: NEGRI (60A: Pola ___ of the silents)

    Pola Negri (born Barbara Apolonia Chałupec; 3 January 1897 – 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. Negri signed with Paramount in 1922, making her the first European actor in history to be contracted in Hollywood. (Wikipedia)
    • • •

    The theme was clever. It's a good thing I was paying attention in fifth grade when we learned all the state capitals. I might have only memorized them because I wanted to get a higher score than a fellow classmate (looking at you, Jeff Howard), but I haven't forgotten them to this day! I can't decide which answer I like more: FREELANSING or AUGUSTAWIND. Both are fun.

    I found the rest of the puzzle pretty hard, though; a lot of the fill was a bit off my wavelength. LAV could have been "loo"; ENTO could easily have been "endo"; IRANIAN could have been a more generic term for an oppressed subject; and LOT should probably have been "lots." Has anyone ever drawn one lot? There were also some just ugly answers, like: HOERS (seriously ugly), ALTI, and EDAMS as a plural. And, (I promise I'm done harping on the puzzle soon) there were a lot of clues/answers that felt hard for a Tuesday. ELAM was a word I'd never seen before, and I had never heard of "hoarfrost" (54D) or the answer for that clue, RIME. ELAM crossing LOT crossing ALTI is an ugly middle. It actually took me a while to come up with CLEANS (47D: What a janitor does) because I convinced myself that would be way too obvious for this puzzle.

    Moving on, I did actually like some of the fill:
    • There were a lot of clever puns outside the theme answers. 57A: Belted out of this world? as ORION and 11A: Fixer at a horse race as VET were particularly nice; I laughed when I figured out the answers.
    • It took me a long time to get SNOCONE because I was convinced that "treat" in the clue was being used as a verb instead of a noun. Then I wanted to hit myself on the head when I realized how obvious it was.
    • A crossword puzzle finally got common slang right with ACES (though that may be by accident; apparently the term is so old that it's current again)!
    • CRAM is something I'm definitely familiar with as a college student sitting in my DORM.
    • The ABC sitcom Black-ISH is a show that everyone should watch.
    • I got VIJAYSINGH really quickly and am mystified. I have this vivid recollection of when he was playing in a tournament that a female golfer, Annika Sörenstam, entered and said he'd withdraw rather than play with her. But that was in 2003, so I was six. He apparently really made an impression, and not a good one.
    • AGONY means that I'll have the song from "Into the Woods stuck in my head. Here it is so I'm not the only one (best part from 1:05-1:07. If you watch, you'll understand why):
    Signed, Clare Carroll, an Eli with senioritis (Here's hoping my brain starts working before classes start for me mañana — cheers to having no classes on Mondays!)

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Ooky tv family name / MON 3-26-18 / Popularizer of Chinese tunic suit / investigator in old noir film / Site of postrace celebration

    Monday, March 26, 2018

    Constructor: Andy Kravis

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (my time was a tad north of normal)

    THEME: vowel progression, with the last word in each themer going from LANE to LUNE through all the other long vowel sounds

    Theme answers:
    • VICTORY LANE (17A: Site of a postrace celebration)
    • DAVID LEAN (26A: Director of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago")
    • TOE THE PARTY LINE (38A: Follow one's political group)
    • MICROLOAN (48A: Helping hand for a low-income entrepreneur)
    • CLAIR DE LUNE (60A: Classic Debussy work that translates as "Light of the Moon")
    Word of the Day: ROCK CAVES (3D: Things spelunkers explore) —
    [definition unfound]
    • • •

    I guess every constructor makes at least one of these vowel progression puzzles in their career. I know I did (STALE STEEL STYLE STOLE STOOL). Anyway, it's as good a reason as any for a (Monday) theme, as long as the theme answers are interesting in their own right (check) and the fill holds up (double check), so thumbs up. I had trouble with several of the longer answers, starting with ROCK CAVES. Are there other ... caves? Besides the Batcave? Spelunkers explore caves, that I knew, but ROCK CAVES added a level of specificity that I did not know existed. I also know of the concept of a VICTORY LAP, but VICTORY LANE ... is that the specific area where the winner pulls up his car and jumps on top of his car and like ... makes it rain milk on his crew, or something. You can see I'm a Huge racing fan. Got TOE THE and wanted LINE but had to delve into the crosses to know what the missing part was (PARTY, of course, makes sense). Front end of MICROLOAN was not clear to me. Again, needed several crosses to pick it up. Also had ICES for OFFS (45A: Does in, in mob slang), which really muffed things up (was relying on that answer to help pull me up from the south and into that SW corner, but instead of having F--CES (which would've given me FORCES immediately at 46D: Troops) I had C--CES, which gave me only CIRCES and CROCES and possibly Las CRUCES (all wrong).

    Oh, and then there was ONRUSH, which I didn't understand for the Longest time, even after the puzzle was done. I look at that and see two words, e.g. "I ordered it next-day delivery ... you know, ON RUSH." But it's a noun. A deluge, an ONRUSH. The definition is apt. My familiarity with that word (in the sense of how often I actually see or hear it) is pretty low. And then there's THE NFL—I had THE, but somehow thought the clue was asking about the investigators or doctors or scientists or whatever, not the org. that actually caused the concussions (31D: Org. featured in 2015's "Concussion"). Looking at all my mistakes and misunderstandings, it's a wonder I came in as fast as I did. Played more like a Tuesday for me, but no matter. I had a good time. The puzzle is clean. Hurray.

    Congratulations to my friend, a great constructor, and now, officially, the fastest crossword solver on the planet—Erik Agard! Yesterday, he became the newest American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion, *smoking* the finals puzzle in under 5 minutes.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Ancient undeciphered writing system / SUN 3-25-18 / Legal vowelless Scrabble play / Outlay that cannot be recovered / Anthropomorphic king of Celesteville / International conglomerate whose name means three stars

    Sunday, March 25, 2018

    Constructor: Finn Vigeland

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "Follow the Sun" — theme answers have SUN in them, and when the answers get to SUN, the SUN goes down (sets?) in the west (!) and goes up (rises?) in the east ... just like the actual ball of sky fire!

    Theme answers:
    • MEGATSUNAMI (26A: Catastrophic event that can be caused by a gigantic earthquake)
    • ACTORS' UNIONS (56A: Hollywood labor groups)
    • ETATS UNIS (98A: Amérique)
    • E PLURIBUS UNUM (102A: Only words on the front of the Great Seal of the United States)
    • MONKEY'S UNCLE (68A: How someone in awe might describe himself)
    • GOES UNDER (29A: Folds, as a business)
    Word of the Day: PEDUNCLE (60A: Plant stalk) —
    1. the stalk bearing a flower or fruit, or the main stalk of an inflorescence.
      • ZOOLOGY
        a stalklike part by which an organ is attached to an animal's body, or by which a barnacle or other sedentary animal is attached to a substrate. (google)
    • • •

    The theme was very easy to figure out—circling the SUNs gave (probably) far too much information away. Once I realized (at second themer?) that the circles were just gonna be SUNs, the difficulty level of the puzzle dropped considerably. I guess you sort of had to wait to figure out that the SUNs went the other direction in the eastern portion of the grid, but ... not really. That was pretty self-evident—themer heads east, hits a circled square, then heads ... in whatever the direction the circled squares go ... then heads east again. Mostly very intuitive, though occasionally my brain forgot that once you reach the "N" in the SUN, the answer zags back east again; I spent at least a little time wondering what a MEGATSUNG and a ETATSUNNI were. I've never heard of a MEGATSUNAMI (aren't regular ones pretty, uh, devastating), and I don't really believe that there are ACTORS' UNIONS, plural, in Hollywood (there's SAG, and then .... ?). Not too jazzed about PEDUNCLE at all (?) let alone the fact that it pretty much doubles the UNCLE content in that exact portion of the grid. Also the clue on MONKEY'S UNCLE is weird—it really needs some reference to the "I'll be" part of the phrase for it to make real sense. The clue (68A: How someone in awe might describe himself) almost sounds like it's asking for an adverb (?). It's awkward all around there. And yet I don't really care. I mean, the SUN thing is cute-ish, but mainly it's just A Theme, and the enjoyment resides in the rest of the grid, which is really pretty lovely. SUN up, SUN down, fine, but, REAL TALK, the rest of the grid was mostly a joy to move through.

    The grid provided lots of happy moments, fill-wise, and how often do I say that? (A: not very). Even the ridiculous stuff (i.e. plural EARTHS) was making me laugh (87A: Planets like ours, in sci-fi). Creative cluing! Make it work! I HEART KUSHNER and AS SEEN ON TV and IT'S ON ME and T MINUS ZERO (!) and I think NERF WAR is fantastically made-up but sure, go ahead. At least it's made up in a way I can imagine. DON'T TELL! PROM DATES! MIC DROP! The grid was working, everywhere. Sun, shmun, this grid was fun. Shout-out to the great clues on ARMHOLE (21A: Sometimes hard-to-find shirt opening) (we've all been there...) and UNWED (103D: Not taken seriously?). I realize that last one is pretty gam-o-centric (or marriage-biased, if you're less lexically adventurous). I'm sure there are people who are taken (seriously) who are not married. Still, throw in that "?" clue, and the clever word play, and I'll allow the normativity at work here. PEDUNCLE seems like something you'd call a dangerous-to-children ... uncle. I really, really don't like any part of that word. Just trying saying it out loud. Is it peDUNCle? PEEduncle? Podunk + uncle, it sounds like.  Let's burn it and bury it and then not mark its grave and never speak of it again.

    My greatest Defy-My-Age moment was plunking down NEYO at 49D: R&B singer with the hits "So Sick" and "Mad" ... but then my Nah-You're-Old moment came when I realized I didn't know how to punctuate his name. I knew there was a hyphen, but was not sure where it went (dead center, it turns out: NE-YO). I don't think KPMG is "good" fill (73A: One of the Big Four accounting firms). Totally uninferrable letters. I didn't even know the concept of a Big Four existed among accounting firms. That sounds like some accountants got a little drunk and full of themselves and said "you guys ... you guys ... you guys let's form a club, you guys!" Can you name the other three of the Big Four? I bet over half of you can't name even one without looking it up. Price Waterhouse, is that one? ... holy Krap, I'm right! Woo hoo, wild guessing FTW! Here, read about how it used to be the Big Five. And the Big Six. And before that, the Big Eight. Oh the exciting times you will have reading about this illustrious history of self-important naming!

    PS Thanks to everyone who got into the streets yesterday to protest gun violence and lax gun laws. Here are some pics from the Binghamton march (photos courtesy of my wife)

     [moment of silence at the memorial for the 13 people shot and killed at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY, in 2009]

    And here's a pic of my daughter and her friends in D.C.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Avian epithet fo Napoleon II / SAT 3-24-18 / Rhyming nickname for wrestling Hall of Famer Okerlund / Oper historic concert hall in Frankfurt Germany / Oldl Tv show set on Pacific Princess / Sitcom mother portrayer 1987-97 different show 2002-05

    Saturday, March 24, 2018

    Constructor: Byron Walden

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (except SW corner, which was kind of harrowing)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Ferdinand de LESSEPS (37D: Ferdinand de ___, developer of the Suez Canal) —
    Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de Lesseps GCSI (French: [də lesɛps]; 19 November 1805 – 7 December 1894) was a French diplomat and later developer of the Suez Canal, which in 1869 joined the Mediterranean and Red Seas, substantially reducing sailing distances and times between Europe and East Asia.
    He attempted to repeat this success with an effort to build a Panama Canal at sea level during the 1880s, but the project was devastated by epidemics of malaria and yellow fever in the area, as well as beset by financial problems, and the planned de Lesseps Panama Canal was never completed. Eventually, the project was bought out by the United States, which solved the medical problems and changed the design to a non-sea level canal with locks. It was completed in 1914. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Usually love Byron puzzles, but this one was a little wobbly, a little too full of stuff that seemed odd, indulgent, and just not interesting to me. EPICISTS? GOPER? The NW corner didn't do much to endear me to this one. I have read Homer. I have taught Homer. I was reading the beginning of the Odyssey just this morning. Literally never heard anyone ever refer to him as an EPICIST. It is barely a word—this kind of esoterica makes me make faces when I solve. GOPER is slightly better, but not much. I guess people say that. Dunno. CLEVER DICK does nothing for me. I have never heard it and likely never will again. British slang that hasn't crossed over in any way? Shrug, not into it. MOTTLERS? Again, a specialty thing outside my ken. Then there's ALTE Oper (??), SIR SPEEDY (??), and LESSEPS (???), none of which I have ever seen before. So mainly the issue was that I just didn't know a lot of stuff. Lots of trivia. Trivia is not what I love about crosswords. There is some other good stuff in here, both answer- and clue-wise, but overall, this one didn't delight as much as I expected it would, other than the fact that it's always at least a little delightful to take a Saturday down in under 8 minutes.

    I was so proud of myself that I got ALERT first thing (though I did have to think about it for a few seconds). TRADES RETILES EVITA and off we go. First real test came when I plunked down SLEIGHS at 11D: Haulers on runners (SLEDGES). I don't really know what SLEDGES are. I think they're like SLEIGHS. Hang on ... well, yeah, it's just a sled, and a sleigh is sled drawn by horses (or reindeer, I guess). Anyway, brief moment of chaos there while that answer sorted itself out. The only real Real resistance I got from this one came in the SW, where ALTE / SIR SPEEDY / LESSEPS / GMOS had me frozen. Oh, and ANGLOS for 39D: Whites didn't come easily either. Everything but LESSEPS had inferrable letters, though, which saved me, ultimately. KATEY SAGAL and CASSIS got me traction in the SE, and after a MAB-for-MUM mistake (34A: Queen ___), I was able to muddle my way through MOTTLERS and on to the end of the puzzle.


    I feel bad for Napoleon II, as EAGLET does not exactly convey ... power (23A: Avian epithet for Napoleon II, with "the"). Maybe he was just Adorable and never grew taller than 4'2"? Wouldn't you say "HEY, Y'ALL" before "HI, Y'ALL"? I'm way out of my depth with southernisms, but something about "HI, Y'ALL" feels weird. I loved MEAN GENE even though I have no idea who the "wrestling Hall-of-Famer" (really?) Okerlund is. I just like rhyming nicknames. Like Mean Joe Green. The Round Mound of Rebound. Hakeem the Dream. Etc.

    Best of luck to everyone at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this weekend. Also, love and respect to all the kids (including my own daughter) who are participating in the #MarchForOurLives in D.C. and all over the country today.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Island nation with a cross on its flag / FRI 3-23-18 / Alternative music subgenre / Agricultural commune / Beauty lesson

    Friday, March 23, 2018

    Constructor: Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Honeybee (see below)

    THEME: nope

    Word of the Day: POLICE BOX (18A: Cop's station in England)
    The Police Box was introduced in the United States in 1877 and was used in the United Kingdom throughout the 20th century from the early 1920s. It is a public telephone kiosk or callbox for the use of members of the police, or for members of the public to contact the police. Unlike an ordinary callbox, its telephone was located behind a hinged door so it could be used from the outside, and the interior of the box was, in effect, a miniature police station for use by police officers to read and fill in reports, take meal breaks and even temporarily hold prisoners until the arrival of transport. (wikipedia)  
    Doctor Who has become so much a part of British popular culture that the shape of the police box has become associated with the TARDIS rather than with its real-world inspiration the original police box. (wikipedia)
    • • •
    Hey there. It's your long-lost friend Amy filling in for Rex tonight. Sometimes I think about the daily puzzle and how it would fall on the Schmidt Insect Pain Index, hence the difficulty rating above. The puzzle was Friday-level mean in spots, but the pain subsided quickly enough and didn't linger or itch unnecessarily.  

    Erik Agard is a rising star in CrossWorld and this puzzle is a fine example of his work. He rarely falls back on formula answers and throws in some interesting phrases without being show-offy.

    I dig the mixture of old and new in this puzzle. You need some old-school knowledge to enjoy an Edwin STARR (17A: Edwin of 1960s-'70s R&B) reference, but even the youngest among us should enjoy him this classic video:

    It was great to see JANET MOCK (29D: Transgender rights activist and best-selling author of “Redefining Realness”) in a puzzle and I especially loved the KIBBUTZ/ZAMBONIS cross. That's some hot "Z" action, dude. 

    I didn’t love the “Scene + Roman numeral” obviousness of SCENE XIV (25A: Part of Act 4 of “Antony and Cleopatra in which Antony attempts suicide) or “the abbreviation nobody ever uses” EPS (6A: Series installments, for short), but those tiny clunks don't take away from the general resonance of this puzzle. 

    Nicely done, sir.
    Signed, Amy Seidenwurm, Undersecretary of CrossWorld

    [Amy is the Executive Producer of Oculus' VR for Good Creators Lab Program]


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