Filler for une pipe / THU 5-31-18 / Broad-leaved endive / Rum-drinking buddy / First sub-saharan country to obtain independence from colonial rule / One millionth of meter along spiritual path / null number of natural numbers

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Constructor: Dominick Talvacchio

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:25) (morning solve)

THEME: IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME (39A: What you might say upon seeing 17-, 23-, 51- and 62-Across) — Wacky clues ask for wacky phrases that also happen to be (when parsed differently) a series of Greek letters:

Theme answers:
  • BET A PIÉTA (17A: Wager one's sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus?) [beta, pi, eta]
  • CHIP-SIZE TAXI (23A: Hired vehicle that's only as big as a potato crisp?) [chi, psi, zeta, xi]
  • THE TAO MICRON (51A: One-millionth of a meter along a spiritual path?) [theta, omicron]
  • LAMB DATA U. (62A: Inst. of higher learning dedicated to the statistical analysis of young sheep?) [lambda, tau]
Word of the Day: Ally SHEEDY (47D: Ally of the Brat Pack) —
Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy (born June 13, 1962) is an American actress and author. Following her film debut in 1983's Bad Boys, she became known as one of the Brat Pack group of actors in the films The Breakfast Club (1985) and St. Elmo's Fire (1985). She also acted in WarGames (1983) and Short Circuit (1986). For her performance in Lisa Cholodenko's High Art(1998), Sheedy won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead. According to IMDB, High Art was nominated for a number of awards, and won the GLAAD Media Awards 1999 Outstanding Film (Limited Release). (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, very mixed feelings about this one. They were not mixed at the outset, when I entered the first few answers and thought, "o, lord, it's gonna be one of *these* days..." TABAC ALEPH APTS ASPS ... I wanted to issue a slew of fill violations right off the bat. Excessive Crud, with a penalty for Excessive Crud In The NW (i.e. Right Off The Bat Crud). If you can't get out of the NW corner without making a face, it's usually gonna be a long day. Or a long 5-ish minutes, as was the case today. I mean, TABAC? That is some "Break Only In Case of Emergency"-type fill, but the only emergency was "you didn't figure out a way to handle the crosses of your themers and so you ended up with very unfavorable letter patterns like --B-C (see also Z--G- at 26D). I got BET A PIÉTA pretty easily (because the clue was pretty literal) but had no idea why it was interesting, and so kept moving. Mostly I was wincing my way through this. I went from TABAC (!) to ICAL (!??!) pretty early on, so every answer felt like stepping in a minefield after that. What fresh hell was coming next. But mostly what was coming was bland old stuff. ESTEE ARNO SECY etc. So all I could think as "this better be in the service of ... something." I.e. the theme better be good. Because the non-theme stuff was not. Not good.

And then I hit the revealer and didn't really process it. Something about Greek letters, great, I'll figure it out when I'm done. But then I hit THE TAO MICRON and had the OMICRON bit and couldn't figure out the rest. I could see OMICRON was a Greek letter, but ... huh, nothing. It was then I looked back and saw that all the wacky themers were built entirely out of greek letter strings. This knowledge actually helped me get the remaining themers quicker (hurray). It also was a very nice and genuine aha moment. And credit to the puzzle for going nuts with the themers. If you're going to go loopy, go very loopy, I always say. And LAMB DATA U. is truly, extraordinarly loopy. That's like some sub-sub-sub-set of's research department. "You're doing great with the sheep data, kid, but we need you to get more specialized. We're sending you to ... the EWE" ('cause that is definitely what they would call it). Anyway, I like that the puzzle is all in for wackiness. And so I'm left admiring the theme, but sad that the overall experience of solving the puzzle was mostly dreary. This "the theme is Everything, fill schmill" approach is NYT standard, and awfully depressing. Treat the *whole* grid like it matters. Beause it does.

  • 5D: Cher, e.g. (AMI) — I know "cher" as an adj. and AMI as a noun so this was a little odd. But I guess "cher" can be a substantive adj., as in "mon cher(i)." But it still felt awkward; see also DDS clued as a "One" (?) instead of a degree (65D: One whose office has an opening to fill?: Abbr.), and NOEL clued as a "time" (?) (12D: Time of good cheer). It's a song. I'm sure it's technically a *time* by someone's definition, but not by anyone's current usage. Why make your forgettable fill more intolerable by giving them awk clues. I don't get it.
  • 28A: "So long" ("BYE NOW") — Wrote in BYE BYE, and then YIPE! at 30D: "Goodness sakes!" ("OH MY!"). But bad fill (which was also, for me, local fill) helped get me out of the jam: 45A: Locale of Rome and Syracuse: Abbr. (NYS). New York State. Total gimme. There should be a word for this feeling when fill you really don't like really helps you out. "Ugh, you again ... well, thanks, I guess."
  • 1A: Kitchen drawer? (TAP) — one of many ordinary answers where the clues forced me to get everything or nearly everything from crosses. Saw right through this one, I thought, because I have seen this clue before. For AROMA. So my brain just butted its head against AROMA and its synonyms until I freed it by moving on to crosses. Interesting move: using a common "tricky" crossword to play a new and different "trick."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Big name in nail polish / WED 5-30-18 / 1953 Leslie Caron title role / Message system superseded by fax / Transparent sheet used for overlays / Gooey vegetable /

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Constructor: Sande Milton and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:28)

THEME: MIXED BAG (35D: Assortment ... or a description of 32-, 39 and 42-Across?) — I guess in Scrabble™ you keep your TILES in a bag ... where they are mixed ... up. So TILES and STILE and ISLET are anagrams of each other ... because "bag" means "bag of tiles" and so TILES gets anagrammed twice ... this actually makes zero sense from a Scrabble perspective, but whatever, it's a kind of play on words. Then there are various Scrabble-related words around the grid, including SCRABBLE (31D: Game described by this puzzle's four racks), all of which are clued [Rack #_: (scrambled answer)]—actually, these seven-letter words form a sentence when taken in order: PLAYERS ARRANGE JUMBLED LETTERS.

Theme answers:
  • PLAYERS (20A: Rack #1: AELPRSY)
  • ARRANGE (25D: Rack #2: AAEGNRR)
  • JUMBLED (56A: Rack #3: BDEJLMU)
  • LETTERS (23D: Rack #4: EELRSTT)
Word of the Day: ÁVILA (40A: Historic walled city of Spain) —
Ávila (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈaβila]LatinAbula) is a Spanish town located in the autonomous community of Castile and León, and is the capital of the Province of Ávila.
It is sometimes called the Town of Stones and Saints, and it claims that it is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. It has complete and prominent medieval town walls, built in the Romanesque style. The town is also known as Ávila de los CaballerosÁvila del Reyand Ávila de los Leales (Ávila of the Knights, the King and the Loyalists), each of these epithets being present in the town standard.
Orson Welles once named Ávila as the place in which he would most desire to live, calling it a "strange, tragic place", while writer José Martínez Ruiz, in his book El alma castellana (The Castilian Soul), described it as "perhaps the most 16th-century town in Spain".
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did you know 17x13 grids have four fewer squares than 15x15 grids? I figured this out through multiplication. Congratulate me. But it's kinda sorta interesting, in that the weird over/under-sized grid ends up being almost exactly the same number of squares as the standard one. I was trying to account for my fast time. I think the primary issue is a. it's just easy, and b. the [Rack] clues are non-clues. Far, far harder to get from a real clue to an answer than to anagram 7 letters. I do the damn Jumble™ every day. I anagram every dang sign I see. [Rack blah blah blah] is not a clue. It's a gimme. Also, those Rack clues make no sense. How are you getting from [Rack...] to whatever it's called when you use all your letters. Bingo? I don't know, man, I hate Scrabble™something fierce. Anyway, I figured out that the clue wanted me to use all the letters on the [Rack]s, but ... just saying [Rack] seems inadequate. This thing is conceptually a total mess. It's trying to do too much, and doing none of it particularly well. You've got the one core gag (MIXED BAG = bag of tiles, ergo The tiles in TILES are "MIXED" up thrice in the middle of the grid. But obviously that is a very slight theme, so the grid gets this radical segmentation, and then super-boring Scrabble-related words get their own section of the grid and their own [Rack...] clue, which, as I've said, both makes the puzzle super-easy *and* doesn't make a ton of sense, conceptually. I am sad I didn't get to blog yesterday's puzzle now. And you know things are bad when I am regretting the opportunity to blog a Tuesday.

The fill is kind of a MIASMA of oldenness. I haven't seen ALB in a dog's age. The OKRA ORCA I see much more often. SAS DST AGEE INCA ABIE ugh I'm bored already. Trust me, there's more of it. And USROUTE??? Oy. SABOTEURS is a cool word (4D: Some counterintelligence targets), and much of the rest of the longer fill is tolerable, but between the all-over-the-map theme and the crushing olde-timey routineness of much of the fill, there just wasn't much for me to enjoy today. And yet I do want to give some points for trying. This theme was at least unusual, as was the grid shape. If you're gonna screw up, better to screw up going big than going safe.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. UNCUT BARRE made me laugh. Not a great day for UNCUT BARR(E).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Idiosyncratic sorts / TUES 5-28-18 / Knight's steed / Piquancy / Lopsided game

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Hi, everyone, it's Clare! So I have now graduated from college and am back on the West Coast (meaning I'm solving this puzzle at a much nicer time than when I was on the East Coast). I'm working as a waitress for the summer to save up money because a little birdy told me that law school costs a chunk of change. I'm also spending a lot of my free time as a sports fan (Go, Warriors!!) and got to cheer on the Yale men's lacrosse team this afternoon as they won the national championship!

Constructor: John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Quite hard for a Tuesday

THEME: Five answers that repeat three times the letters D, E, N, T, and S, leading to the revealer TRIDENTS

Theme answers:

  • ODDDUCKS (1A: Idiosyncratic sorts)
  • FREEEMAIL (20A: Google or Yahoo offering)
  • SUEANNNEVINS (26A: Betty White's role on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show")
  • PITTTHEELDER (45A: Moniker of an 18th century British statesman)
  • DRESSSIZE (53A: Sorting criterion at the women's department)

  • Word of the Day:
     BOHEMIA (10D: European region that lent its name to a nonconforming lifestyle)
    Bohemia is the westernmost and largest historical region of the Czech lands in the present-day Czech Republic. In a broader meaning, Bohemia sometimes refers to the entire Czech territory, including Moravia and Czech Silesia, especially in a historical context, such as the Lands of the Bohemian Crown ruled by Bohemian kings. (Wikipedia)
    • • •
    I found the puzzle quite hard. It might have been because I was trying to solve the puzzle while also watching the Warriors basketball game (while praying for a ROUT), but I still think it played hard. Monday's puzzle felt like a Tuesday, and this Tuesday puzzle felt like it could have been a Wednesday. When I was done with the puzzle, I thought the theme looked clever and elegant, but it wasn't helpful for solving, and the answers DRESSSIZE and FREEEMAIL seemed pretty bland. Some of the acrosses, though, had fun answers like ODDDUCKS, NOOGIE, DHARMA, and PARANOIA. In general, the acrosses felt more elegant than the downs.

    There were a few places I got stuck. I thought that 39D: Snow may push them back, for short would be etas instead of ETDS. 37A: Many a word ending in -gon seemed like a weird way to clue for SHAPE. I had no idea what a UNI code was, and it also seems odd to have both UNI and UNA in the same puzzle. And, I found it very hard having SUEANNNEVINS (26A: Betty White's role on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show") as such a major answer. Betty White was maybe the fifth main character on that show, which went off the air more than 40 years ago. I also didn't know about KIDFLASH (7D: Speedy DC comics sidekick). I really wanted to make "The Flash" work, even though I knew that wouldn't be right. Watching DC comic shows on the CW apparently didn't help me very much.

    There was some nice pop culture in the northeast. Idina Menzel, a Broadway star, played alongside MIMI in "Rent," where "La Vie Boheme" (which sounds like the answer BOHEMIA) was a major song, and she was the voice of ELSA in "Frozen." J.J. Abrams, with Star Trek, Star Wars, etc... is always nice to see. You can even see DHARMA as a play off the TV show Dharma and Greg. I went back and listened to "La Vie Boheme," and it's a pretty fun song!

    I also liked some of the clues/answers...
    • 41A: Place for a sweater was quite funny. I originally put down "torso," but SAUNA is much better.
    • 65A: Indulges in too much Netflix as BINGES was nice (I may or may not have partaken in this — after I graduated).
    • The 63A Monopoly clue to get to AVENUE was clever. I got that one quickly, as I have played many, many games of Monopoly (I always have to be the banker).
    • I absolutely love Zora NEALE Hurston. I read part of a book of hers (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and completely fell in love with it, and I've remembered her ever since.
    Hope everyone has a great Tuesday! I'll be up for a while indulging in Sports Center coverage of my Warriors — then up early to watch more coverage!

    Signed, Clare Carroll, a retired Eli

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Paneer Indian dish made with spinach / MON 5-28-18 / Hinged part of airplane wing / Washington image seen on back of $50 bill / Corporate hustle bustle / Elizabethan neck decorations

    Monday, May 28, 2018

    Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

    Relative difficulty: Challenging (3:36)

    THEME: some damned psychotic smiley mouse or something — long answers about smiling and then black squares that approximate a "happy face"

    Theme answers:
    • PUT ON A HAPPY FACE (16A: "Bye Bye Birdie" song)
    • BREAK INTO A SMILE (37A: What you might do if you sing 16-Across)
    • FULL OF GOOD CHEER (54A: How you might feel if you sing 16-Across)
    Word of the Day: PALAK paneer (22D: ___ paneer (Indian dish made with spinach)) —
    Palak paneer (pronounced [paːlək pəniːr]) is a vegetarian dish from the Indian Subcontinentconsisting of paneer in a thick paste made from puréed spinach and seasoned with garlicgaram masala, and other spices. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Once more, the editorial decisions are incomprehensible. How're you gonna run this puzzle on a Monday. First of all, it's 72 words—a ridiculously low word count for a Monday. To be clear, 72 is Fri/Sat territory. If it seemed like there was a lot more white space, There Was. Long Acrosses to start, and then themers that cross-referenced. Leaving aside whether the puzzle was "good" or not, this is a damn midweek puzzle. Not Monday. Nope. I mean, on its face Not a Monday. The fill, also very non-Monday, PALAK being the most obvious example. That's gonna hurt a lot of people. I think it's a fine food phrase part, but a. It's A Food Phrase Part (i.e. inherently not great fill), and b. it's not gonna be known by a good chunk of solvers. I've eaten the damn thing and I was still like "DANG, what's that word...?" TRUE DAT is also gonna puzzle some folk. It's definitely ... a thing ... but to my mind, of late, it's a thing white people say when they are trying semi-ironically to sound black, so I'm not the Biggest fan. Plus a whole chunk of solvers are just gonna stare blankly at it. Again, I refer you to my "Not A Monday" assertion, above.

    Then there's the manic mouse face. What the hell kind of drugs is that mouse on. Must be good. His pupils are Big. FULL OF GOOD CHEER is bad—bad in that it's not a verb phrase like the others, bad in that BE OF GOOD CHEER is the damned phrase (and hey, look, it's a verb phrase). The thing is, you severely increase the likelihood of solver discontent when you serve up an overly challenging, non-Monday style, strange-fill-having puzzle on a Monday. Monday is typically the day when solvers have a good chance of smiling. It's the most tolerable theme day of the week (along with Thursdays—which are often challenging, but we Expect them to be challenging). And so today we get a Monday puzzle that's all about smiling, but that, ironically, is far less likely to make the solver smile than your average Monday puzzle. TTH. Trying Too Hard. It's a problem. No when to say when.

    First, you're assuming "Bye Bye Birdie" song will be a meaningful clue to people. I've seen the movie, and I don't remember that song. That is not a song I associate with that musical. Again, it's Monday. What are you doing? And if I'm singing, I'm telling you to put the damn face on. Cluing it in reference to the singer's smiling is odd. See also the last themer. The song is supposed to have an effect On The Listener. What is happening? ALY, ugh. I had AGA, and both are barfy crosswordese. ESS ESP EPI, ugh. OCALA, DSL, MOT, IDA, LAO, GOA, ABASE—this puzzle may have a few snazzy longer answers, but the cost, man, the cost ... And HAD A MEAL??? That is some super duper green paint. That is sub-ATE A SANDWICH. OK, not sub-, but definitely on a similar level. HAD A BITE is a thing. HAD LUNCH, mostly a thing. DEAL-A-MEAL, definitely a thing. But HAD A MEAL is just weak as a standalone phrase.

    Lastly, but importantly, this:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. yesterday's Washington Post Sunday puzzle (by Evan Birnholz) was much better than the NYT (as it often is). If you're not doing it, get on board (esp. when the NYT lets you down).

    P.P.S. My friend Lena and I will now be writing up the New Yorker crossword (in dialogue form) every Thursday, on our now-no-longer-defunct blog "New Grids on the Block." New New Yorker crossword drops every Monday, Lena and I chat Monday night, then formatting etc. happens, and voila, Thursday post. We'll also be discussing ... well, whatever the hell else we wanna talk about from the world of crosswords. Oh, and Lena is obsessed with / perpetually mad at the NYT's new Spelling Bee puzzle, so we'll probably have a few words about that too. Here's the inaugural post, which is about all four New Yorker puzzles published to date.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Guardian Angel Curtis / SUN 5-27-18 / Bygone Cambodian leader with palindromic name / Query from Judas / Shape of every Baha'i temple / Alias of rapper Sean Combs / Former Nebraska senator James

    Sunday, May 27, 2018

    Constructor: Andrew Chaikin

    Relative difficulty: Easy or Easy-Medium

    THEME: "21" — "21" = definition for all themers / all themers are 21 letters long (standard Sunday grid width) (there are also assorted incidental clues containing the number "21" throughout the grid)

    [21] answers:
    Word of the Day: Curtis SLIWA (69D: Guardian Angel Curtis ___) —
    Curtis Sliwa (born March 26, 1954) is an American anti-crime activist, founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels, radio talk show host, media personality, and chairman of the Reform Party of New York State. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Grueling. I finished very quickly, but like all painful experiences, it felt eternal. There are several reasons why a puzzle like this is never gonna be a CROWD PLEASER (to borrow a term from Saturday's lovely puzzle). First, definitions as answers ... always dicey. At best, dull. At worst tortured. *Especially* tortured when you have to make those answers fit into 21 squares exactly. Thus the phrasing on precisely None of these seems just right. AGE FOR DRINKING LEGALLY is something ALIENS would say when trying to pass as humans. "We should consume alcoholic beverages now, perhaps from one of the more popular TAVERNS in this urban area. Everyone here is the AGE FOR DRINKING LEGALLY, correct? Splendid!" That, or the never-released sequel to "The Year of Living Dangerously." GUNS IN A MILITARY SALUTE is probably the tightest of the bunch, while SPOTS ON ALL SIDES OF A DIE is like having your pinky sawed off with a butter knife. WINNING BLACKJACK *TOTAL*??? Torturing the English language, you are. Further ... there's nowhere for this puzzle to go. It's just a relentless death march of [21]s. The final themer is kind of a revealer, or a twist, but even it kind of whiffs. "THESE" hardly seems specific enough. Theme answers, longer answers, long Acrosses ... say what you mean. THESE? Everything about the themers is just ... off, phrasing-wise. My only serious probably came in trying to parse SPOTS ON ALL SIDES OF A DIE, and that was largely due to my writing in NECCA instead of NECCO (53D: Brand of wafers).

    Then there's the fill. The grid ... it's trying to have a low word count, I think, which is not a great idea. I mean, hurray for ONE TOO MANY and MALEFICENT, but man, overall the fill suffers pretty bad. ELRIO? SNCC? TERNI??? SLIWA!?!?!?! That SLIWA SNCC area in the middle is just dire. And then there's ON A STAR (??), a phrase that should never stand alone. See also Friday-less TGI. And CASE OF, dear lord (73D: Start for every Perry Mason title, wiht "The"). And many more. Too many. CLEA! ITA! GUVS!?!? It's ALOAD, it's ATRAIN, it's ABLAST, it's ... ADLAI! I did this at high speed, but it felt like HI-SPEED (80D: Unlike dial-up internet service, informally), i.e. something ungainly and faux whimsical and sad. QUESTIONS IN A BASIC GAME (21)? NUMBER OF TV'S JUMP STREET (21)? Is it theme? Did I theme? 

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Patronize off-track betting say / SAT 5-26-18 / 2014 Facebook acquisition / Portrayer of Warren Buffet in HBO's too big to fail / Intimate practice done at distance / War-torn mideast city

    Saturday, May 26, 2018

    Constructor: Peter Wentz

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (7:02) (honestly thought I was like a minute faster, oh well...)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: LARGO (8D: Slow and dignified) —
    adverb & adjective
    1. 1. 
      (especially as a direction) in a slow tempo and dignified in style.
    1. 1. 
      a passage, movement, or composition marked to be performed in this way. (google)
    • • •
    Thought I was going to go to sleep and solve this one in the morning, but then I couldn't fall asleep right away (I blame my afternoon nap) and then my wife began solving the puzzle Right Next To Me,   which made sleep impossible ("what's she writing? she's writing fast, is it easy? why can't I turn this part of my brain off?"), so I had to just get up and solve the thing. I don't think I was as affected by near-sleep as I am when I try to solve immediately after actual sleep, but some kind of slo-mo effect did seem to be in place. I thought I torched this, but my time was just Pretty Good (by my standards). My fingers apparently weren't moving as quickly as I thought they were. I expect the puzzle to be a CROWD PLEASER, both because it's on the easy side (for Saturday) and because the marquee answers are both bright and familiar. Nothing very obscure in this grid (except Thatcher's husband's name, wth!?). My only gripe is that the SE is just a little too overladen with techy stuff. Two 8-letter apps *and* HTTP in the same little corner = overkill. Spread it oouutt. Oh, and no way the clue for THE CURE should refer to the song "Friday, I'm in Love" when IN LOVE is also in your grid. That is an editing error. THE CURE's catalogue is pretty sizable. No reason for that to happen.

    The vast majority of this grid felt quite easy for a Saturday, but there were a few answers in key positions that I struggled to come up with. Slowish start in the NW where I dumbly passed up the chance to write in AZT (4D: Drug marketed as Retrovir), because even though it was my first guess, I thought, "that can't be right ... 'retrovir' sounds more like some kind of Viagra-type pill—Retrovir: Returns Your Manhood!" But the three-letter pill was Of Course AZT, so boo hiss to my instincts. I also opted for LENTO over LARGO, because I will forever get those two confused. But after that initial awkwardness, I settled in. Still, here are the handful of answers that noticeably stopped my flow:

    Flow stoppers:
    • 32D: Margaret Thatcher's husband (DENIS) — again, I ask, wth? (who the hell?). That's a French St.'s name and that's really all that that name is. 
    • 41A: Heat (ESTRUS) — as this answer crosses DENIS, you can see how things got a little mucked up there in the middle east of this puzzle. Talk about your vague-cluing. [Heat]! That could go a ton of ways. I had EST- and never once considered ESTRUS. That's not a word I've thoguht of or seen in a long long time. [Heat] has so many literal and slang meanings. Argh. So, yes, the DENIS-in-ESTRUS portion of our puzzle was rough going.
    • 36D: Certain voter ID (DEM) — I am booing this answer so hard. This is an answer where the constructor high-fives himself and the solver just stares at him, eyes half-lidded.
    • 47D: "Never stop improving" sloganeer (LOWES) — I am truly terrible at all slogans. Even the ones I know (from TV advertising) I think, "Oh, right that ... slogan ... what was that advertising again?" So now of course I can hear the LOWES guy's voice sloganeering this slogan, but while solving, nope.
    • 58D: Some shelter volunteers, briefly (RNS) —that danged first letter! I should've just left it and it would've filled itself in easily enough from the cross, eventually, but of course I had to sit there and *think* about the stupid letter. Costly, time-wise. 
    But again, mostly this thing was not a struggle at all. Had a ton of trouble parsing "THE LEGO MOVIE" (39A: Blockbuster 2014 animated film), but parsing problems are part of the package. That's just Saturday being Saturday. All in all, a solid production, with a HOT PHONE SEX bonus. How lucky we are to be alive right now.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Fictional work that eschews literary conventions / FRI 5-25-18 / Sister chain of applebee's / Rocker nicknamed Motor City Madman / Time-killing plays for quarterbacks / 12x platinum compilation album by Rolling Stones / Reality show whose contestants must be good with numbers

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    Constructor: Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium? I slept from 8:30pm to 2:00am, then solved, so ... I feel like I'm out of space and time right now, as I type this at 2:39am. I think my time is a Medium time, maybe tilting Easy (5:52)

    THEME: none, except there's a field goal shape and the long answer is NUCLEAR FOOTBALL ... do you kick ... that? Does TED NUGENT kick it? USA USA?

    Word of the Day: HOT ROCKS (37D: 12x platinum compilation album by the Rolling Stones, familiarly) —
    Hot Rocks 1964–1971 is the first compilation album of Rolling Stones music released by former manager Allen Klein's ABKCO Records (who gained control of the band's Decca/London material in 1970) after the band's departure from Decca and Klein. Released in late 1971, it proved to be The Rolling Stones' biggest-selling release of their career and an enduring and popular retrospective.
    After reportedly having been duped by Klein to unknowingly sign over the recording copyrights to all of their material from 1963 to 1970, The Rolling Stones left Decca and formed their own label, Rolling Stones Records, with a new distributor. They recorded Sticky Fingers throughout 1970, releasing it the following spring. Although Klein—and now ABKCO—no longer had The Rolling Stones as clients, their fruitful catalogue was ripe for the picking and, thus, Hot Rocks 1964–1971 was quickly compiled as a double album greatest hits package. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    KNEELS (7D)
    Ironically, or aptly, couldn't get 1A: Frustrated solver's cry ("I"M STUCK!") and so the NW ended up being a total bust at first past. I managed to get IHOP / PORN in there (which I'm fairly sure is the name of somebody's tumblr feed, somewhere ... just sexy music and slo-mo syrup etc. ...) but nothing followed, so I had to roam the grid in search of a gimme to get me started. Thank you, Bobby SEALE (20A: Co-founder of the Black Panther party). SEALE ADA ELDER ENDER'S EDU got me started, but then I stalled and had to roam some more. Picked things back up with TASE ERIE SSN EATS* EAVE, but I pulled EATS because I was least sure of it, and could think of lots of other things that could go there (most notably, FOOD) (28A: Grub). Pulling it let me see the SCENT in PINE SCENT and the NOVEL in ANTI-NOVEL, and that's all I needed. Back-filled the NE and then devoured the rest of the puzzle in methodical clockwise fashion. Seriously, just did a lap around the puzzle, finishing up a the "T" in STARBURST (3D: Fireworks effect). Had a brief scare when I couldn't make continuous progress coming down into the SE—had THE but couldn't see VOICE, had HOT and couldn't remember ROCKS—so I restarted in SE and bang, DLINE (another football answer!) (51D: Gridiron group that tries to sack the QB, collectively) got me going again. Second half of the puzzle (south and west) went much, much faster.

    For novice or still-struggling-with-Friday/Saturday solvers out there, maybe it's worth saying that when I say I got IHOP / PORN right away, I did this not because I actually *know* that IHOP is the [Sister chain of Applebee's], but because I know that IHOP is a chain restaurant that's four letters long. That is how crossword brain works—clue narrows it down to a category, brain rolodexes through known items in that category that fit whatever pattern the grid is presenting. I actually wanted SMUT at first for 19A: Steamy fare, but checking the restaurant cross, I thought "hmmm, IHOP?" Which gave me the "P" and that stands for PORN and also stands for "pool" (it stands for "pool"!), 76 trombones! "Gary, INDIANA, Gary INDIANA"! (consider yourselves THANKED for indulging me in this "Music Man" digression")

    Is DEEP FAT real? I mean, it's not a thing, is it? How is it "deep"? How deep is your fat!? I really need to learn. Seriously, though, I thought it was "deep" only insofar as you had to put enough of it in the fryer to submerge stuff. It's a weird thing to see stand on its own, without "fried" or "fryer" after it. AD UNITS is so phenomenally dreary as an answer, it makes me hate comprehensive crossword compiler word lists, and I have been in English departments in one way or another for three decades and have literally never come across the term ANTI-NOVEL (I'm sure they exist, they just ... don't, for practical purposes, is what I'm saying). But I mostly enjoyed solving this. Solid grid, whimsical grid shape, snazzy fill here and there (FAIR SHAKE, HOT ROCKS, LET'S ROLL, HATES ON). OK, so no one actually says AH, BLISS, and VROOMED is super-weird in the perfect tense, but those are at least colorful answers. It's fine.

    PS LOL OBAMA crossing NUCLEAR FOOTBALL. You *wish* he still had the football. Congrats on your well-considered choices, USA. How'd that North Korea summit thing work out for you? Good? Well, you'll always have the coin.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Seinfeld's stringed instrument / THU 5-24-18 / output of spinning jenny / Portable music player brand / City center of 1890s Klondike Gold Rush

    Thursday, May 24, 2018

    Constructor: Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (hard to say, though, since I have to adjust for a. morning solving and b. oversized grid) (6:59)

    THEME: SPOON-ERISMS (61A: What 18-, 25-, 37- and 52-Across all are (whose circled letters name something used with the base phrases)) — spoonerisms of things that can be eaten (or served?) with a spoon...

    Theme answers:
    • WHINNY MEETS (18A: Horse races?)
    • JERRY CELLO (25A: Seinfeld's stringed instrument?)
    • PASTY HOODING (37A: Particularly pale Ph.D. ceremony?)
    • PAY GROUPON (52A: Pony up for a certain online deal?)
    Word of the Day: DAWSON City (1D: ___ City, center of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush) —
    The Town of the City of Dawson, commonly known as Dawson City or Dawson, is a town in Yukon, Canada. It is inseparably linked to the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99). Its population was 1,375 as of the 2016 census. [...] Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town's population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000. St. Paul's Anglican Church built that same year is a National Historic Site. [...] In 1978, another kind of buried treasure was discovered when a construction excavation inadvertently uncovered a forgotten collection of more than 500 discarded films on flammable nitrate film stock from the early 20th century that were buried in (and preserved by) the permafrost. These silent-era film reels, dating from "between 1903 and 1929, were uncovered in the rubble beneath [an] old hockey rink". Owing to its dangerous chemical volatility, the historical find was moved by military transport to Library and Archives Canada and the U.S. Library of Congress for both transfer to safety film and storage. A documentary about the find, Dawson City: Frozen Time was released in 2016.
    The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Other writers who lived in and wrote of Dawson City include Pierre Berton and the poet Robert Service. The childhood home of the former is now used as a retreat for professional writers. [...]
    The city was home to the Dawson City Nuggets hockey team, which in 1905 challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Travelling to Ottawa by dog sled, ship, and train, the team lost the most lopsided series in Stanley Cup history, losing two games by the combined score of 32 to 4. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This shouldn't have been so hard, but getting spoonerisms from wacky clues (what other kind could you use?) turns out to be hellishly difficulty. Even when I got WHINNY, I had no idea what kind of "races" I was dealing with, and since at that point I had no idea spoonerisms were even in play ... that whole area was a disaster. I forgot about Imelda MARCOS and could think only of Corazon Aquino, who refused to fit (5A: Onetime big name in Filipino politics). I had -AYS and still couldn't get 5D: Parts of springs (MAYS). Brutal. ARM (6D: Inlet)? Brutal (wanted RIA?). SRSLY? (10D: "Are you kidding me?," in texts)? Brutal (I wanted some version of ORLY?)

    It felt like forever before I got the theme, I had the better part of three themers and still nothing. Then I wrote in JOEYS but typoed LOEYS, which mean I kept seeing the *wrong starting letter* for JERRY CELLO (awkward in the non-possessive, but I'll allow it, I guess). Wrote in PASTY HOODIES at first because, as you can see, I had no idea what the theme idea was. "Oh, they're calling Ph.D. hoods "hoodies?" What fresh joke is this!?" Considering the grid is oversized and I was trying to solve upon waking, I have nooooo idea how I squeaked in under 7 minutes. Even reviewing it now, the puzzle feels hard hard hard. I love spoonerisms, and this one has a nice little twist with the whole spoon angle. The spooniness of the themers kind of falls apart as the themers progress. I definitely eat cereal with a spoon, and jello, well, I don't eat that, but sure, I would use a spooon. Hasty pudding???? I don't know what it is, besides a Harvard humor org. of some kind. But assuming it is anything like other kinds of puddings of which I'm aware, spoon seems like the reasonable implement. Grey Poupon, though? I mean, if you're just straight eating Grey Poupon with a spoon, I'm sorry, man. Things must be pretty bad.

    Cluing just seemed harder than normal all over. Check out the undercluing at 45D: Some "me" time (SPA DAY) and 30D: Best Buy buy (HDTV). It was like getting [Food item] as a clue for PIZZA or something. You could narrow it down A Little. And then the short vague stuff like 56D: Out for ALIBI, yipes. And then 50A: Doctor or engineer for RIG. Good clues, but hard. Felt like they were trying to compensate for a theme they didn't think was too tricky, but then the theme was plenty tricky, so the overall result played quite hard. But again, my time says it wasn't That hard. Some good fill and clues in here. I especially enjoyed 62D: Opposite of a poetry slam? (ODE), which I wrote in thinking, "yes, ODEs are much more formal and stately than slam poetry," and only later figured out that an ODE praises something instead of "slamming" it. Nice. F*** the NRA, though. Surprised these particular constructors are still using it in puzzles (42A: Grp. with a firearms museum).

    [11D: R&B singer who had a 2015 #1 hit with "Can't Feel My Face"]

    • 31A: Literary character with a powerful face (HELEN) — because it launched a thousand ships, per Marlowe. I am obsessed with the Trojan War and I teach Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and I still had trouble getting this one from the clue!
    • 44D: Portable music player brand (DISCMAN) — ... of yore
    • 12D: Mulligan in a dice game (REROLL) — "Mulligan" = do-over. Term from golf (I mean, I think—I've never played golf in my life)
    • 36D: What queso de bola is another name for (EDAM) — learned this recently in another puzzle. Sadly, did not remember it today.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Superman-like stance / WED 5-23-18 / Island that's world's third-smallest country after Vatican City Monaco / Quarter barrel of beer /

    Wednesday, May 23, 2018

    Constructor: David Steinberg

    Relative difficulty: Challenging (laughably challenging—a full minute over my slowest recorded Wednesday time since I started keeping track in mid-April) (6:17)

    THEME: "expanded" (??) — clues are followed by "... expanded?" and that apparently means that the answer can be found by joining elements on either end of the theme answer ... so the stuff in the middle, which appears to be gobbledygook, has "expanded" the real answer to make a newer, longer answer that is the answer to ... nothing? I think? [updated: fuller explanation below, in italics]

    Theme answers:
    • 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREET ART)
    • 22A: Forming a crust, expanded? (CALIFORNIA KING)
    • 47A: Choose in advance, expanded? (PRESIDENT-ELECT)
    • 57A: Inspiration for something, expanded? (SOUTH PARK)
    Word of the Day: NAURU (49D: Island that's the world's third-smalles country, after Vatican City and Monaco) —
    Nauru (NauruanNaoero/nɑːˈr/ nah-OO-roo or /ˈnɑːr/ NAH-roo), officially the Republic of Nauru (NauruanRepubrikin Naoero) and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia, a subregion of Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, north of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With 11,347 residents in a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific, smallest republic and third smallest state by area in the world, behind only Vatican City and Monaco. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    What is this? I don't understand the theme. I get the "expanded" part, but ... why? What are the middle letters? What does the "expansion" mean or represent or anything? Why? It's entirely baffling to me why this puzzle got made, published, etc. Don't a lot of longer phrases have letters on either end that could also make ... a word? Is there even a concept here, something that's being enacted or demonstrated? I mean, honestly, anything? It's such a bad theme I cannot explain its existence. The constructor is prolific, so it's not like some new constructor just had a weak idea. And anyway, that's hardly the issue, since the editor had to accept this thing. And it's got a dumb shape AND it's ridiculously hard for a Wednesday. I routinely do Friday puzzles much faster than I did this thing. Not having Any Idea what the answers to the themers were (since they're utterly unclued), and having literally never heard of a CALIFORNIA KING (born and raised in California, btw), AND staring down giant NE and SW corners that had Fri/Sat-level clues in them, I was floundering. God, what an awful combination—terrible, inexplicable theme AND difficulty pitched way above average. I had to go to Twitter to make sure I wasn't missing something. Thankfully (for my sanity), other late-night solving stalwarts had no clue either.

    [update: someone from crossword twitter read the "constructor's notes" and explained: apparently if you abbr. the first words in the themers, you get the answer to the clue. Well, that's better than I thought, but since it missed me, and loads of other people, I'm gonna stand by the idea that this was a design failure ... I mean ST and CA, alright, but PRES? And S??? Those are some weakass abbrevs. and the "expanded" answers remain entirely unclued]

    The raisin on this terrible sundae was the stupid "Man up!" bullshit at 6D: "Grow ___!" ("Man up!") ("A PAIR"). You know what the NYT could use? More people without A PAIR. Lots and lots and lots more constructors and editors etc. who possess precisely no pairs. That whole place is such a sausagefest—I'm sure this "tickles" them no end, but honestly, this is an institution that not only inadequately represents women, but that just shrugs ignorantly at the very problem. Here's the preposterously naive recent editorial statement on gender imbalance in the ranks of NYT crossword constructors (posted to a semi-popular constructing listserv by the most famous person in all of crosswords):

    Why don't more women wanna be part of this dickfest? I'm sure the problem is not at all cultural. Nope. Chicks just aren't interested man. Stop whining. Grow A PAIR. Etc. 

    Also, **** that GHETTO clue, man (27A: Poor area). The puzzle is so white and affluent at every level that I'm not really up for this terse, reductive characterization of GHETTO. Keep it out of your puzzle or (last resort) clue it via music, preferably hip-hop (though Elvis is probably the most widely known referent for the puzzle-solving crowd). "Poor area"? Come on. The only "poor area" I see right now is the editorial office that exercised exceedingly "poor" judgment in publishing this thing. I'm too tired to even go into why the NE and SW were hard. They just were. And I totally forgot NAURU, possibly because it's impossibly small. Possibly because my brain couldn't think past PALAU. 

    THUD THUD THUD THUD (either the sound of the puzzle falling flat or the sound of my head hitting my desk in frustration at the multiple levels of badness on display here—take your pick)

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


      © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

    Back to TOP