Mesh (with) / TUES 7-31-18 / Hollywood and such / Oddball

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Hi, everyone!

It's Clare again, because it's the end of the month as we know it. It's almost the end of the summer as we know it, too, so I hope people are soaking up every last little bit of sunshine they can find. I'm currently trying to do that in Lake Tahoe, where I'll keep enjoying my time as a server for another couple of weeks before I move to D.C. and start my next big adventure: law school!

Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOT DOT DOT (55A: Indication of more to come ... or what 17-, 28- and 43- Across all contain) — Three people who have dots in their names because they go by their initials.

Theme answers:
  • WEBDUBOIS (17A: Contemporary of Booker T. Washington)
  • JRRTOLKIEN (28A: Best-selling author who invented multiple languages)
  • FAOSCHWARZ (43A: Classic toy store founder)
Word of the Day: BOBBIES (3D: British officers)
In creating London’s Metropolitan Police (headquartered on a short street called Scotland Yard), Robert Peel sought to create a professionalized law enforcement corps that was as accountable to everyday citizens as to the ruling classes. Instead of the resented red coats, Peel’s patrolmen wore black jackets and tall wool hats with shiny badges. They went out armed only with a short club and a whistle for summoning backup, walking regular beats and working to gain the trust of the local citizens. Robert Peel’s system was a success, and by the mid-19th century large American cities had created similar police forces. In London, the policemen were so identified with the politician who created them that they were referred to as “Peelers” or—more memorably—“Bobbies,” after the popular nickname for Robert. (
• • •
Maybe I'm in a grumpy mood — I'm SORE from riding 50 hilly miles today as part of training to ride the full 72 miles around the lake — but I found the dot dot dot puzzle meh meh meh. A lot of the fill was uninspiring, and it felt at times like the entire puzzle was fill. It was kind of weird to have DABS and DAUB and also ANYA and ANNA in the same puzzle. Though, I did like some of the long downs in the corners — they felt elegant somehow. The theme was kind of clever, but it didn't particularly help me solve any of the puzzle. There is a slight problem with the theme, too, because the Wikipedia page for FAO SCHWARZ doesn't have any dots in the name, and websites referring to the company don't have any dots, either. Also a problem: 43A: Classic toy store founder refers to the person, not the company, and from my Google search it doesn't seem like Frederick August Otto Schwarz ever went by his initials. I got J.R.R. TOKIEN very quickly because I'm a huge "Lord of the Rings" fan, and I had a conversation the other day with someone about how Tolkien spent about 30 years perfecting the Elvish language for the series. I also learned a lot about W.E.B. DUBOIS in college, so it's nice to think my history degree can be used for something!

There just wasn't much of anything remarkable about the puzzle — or even much of anything for me to write about! There were a lot of words and abbreviations that frequent crossword puzzles, like: ENE, ENO, ANO, and SNO (a veritable word ladder of junk fill), as well as NIL, TBAR, ARTY, IDO, EDAM. i also had some nits with a handful of clues. Having two clues about cheese seemed kind of lazy. I'm not sure I've ever heard the word BOSH used in the context of "nonsense" before (then again, I just turned 22...). I also know that it's not possible to put accents in a puzzle, but it still always feels weird to me writing ANO for 6D: Year in Spain instead of año, like it should be. For 44D: Informal question of identification, I've never heard anyone actually say WHO DAT outside of the context of the New Orleans Saints. 

Only one or two of the clues/answers seemed particularly clever. My favorite was 39A: Professionals who put on coats for work as PAINTERS. When I first completed the puzzle, I just couldn't understand 51A: Dog unlikely to have a solid coat. After way too long, I finally got why it was SPOT and was quite amused. Maybe it's because I really enjoy math, but I also thought that 51D: Function associated with oscillation as SINE was a fun answer.


  • I watched probably every episode of CSI when I was younger, but it still took me a little while to come up with GIL because I honestly can't remember anyone ever calling him by his first name on the show.
  • With 4D: Setting in "Return of the Jedi," I tried to put "space" instead of ENDOR but quickly realized that was off.
  • I don't know why, but I really like the word JIBE.
  • It may not be worth noting, but I will note it anyway because there isn't much else to say about this puzzle: CEST was used in both yesterday's and today's puzzle — in different contexts, but it feels weird to see that answer back-to-back.
  • That the Scottish coat of arms has a unicorn on it is fun information.
  • There were a few pop culture clues in here. I got MINAJ and ANNA with no trouble, but I had absolutely no idea who TYE Sheridan is. He's apparently only 21, so maybe I'm getting too old for these crossword puzzles.
Signed, Clare Carroll, an Eli about to become a 1L

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Children's author Asquith / MON 7-30-18 / spilling drink eating all guacamole say / Roulette playing piece / Nonstick cookware brand / Middle-aged women with eyes for younger men

Monday, July 30, 2018

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:58)

THEME: CLOSE CALL (63A: Narrow escape ... or what the end of the answer to each starred clue is?) — second word (or word part) in each theme answer is a CALL that an ump might make in baseball. No idea how CLOSE is involved...

Theme answers:
  • STATE FAIR (17A: *Annual event displaying agricultural products)
  • SPACED OUT (3D: *In a daze)
  • PARTY FOUL (25A: *Spilling a drink or eating all the guacamole, say)
  • GUMBALL (39A: *Candy from a candy machine)
  • AIRSTRIKE (51A: *Attack from the sky)
  • HOTEL SAFE (35D: *Vacationer's container for valuables)
Word of the Day: TFAL (68A: Nonstick cookware brand) —
Tefal is a French cookware and small appliance manufacturer owned by Groupe SEB. Its name is a portmanteau of the words TEFlon and ALuminium. The company is known for creating the non-stick cookware category and for frying products such as French fries more healthily with far less fat than is standard.
In some countries like the United States, Tefal is also marketed as T-Fal. (wikipedia) (emph mine)
• • •

Hey everyone. I weirdly missed you, and all [gestures to screen and untidy home office] this! I spent the last week in Sun Valley, Idaho, catching up with my family and biking and eating and reading and what not. My mom grew up in Idaho and my grandma still lives there, so it feels like home even though I've only been there a handful of times. The whole NW feels that way. I got off the plane in freakin' Spokane once, stood on the tarmac, took one deep breath, and thought, "Yep, this is where I belong." And if I felt that about Spokane, I more than felt it about Idaho (despite most of the state, particularly in the south, being unfathomably, near-literally empty). Rivers and mountains and very temperate summers and hiking and biking and all of it. The state is obviously about 20x more conservative than I am, but it's also so beautiful that I'm willing to risk it. We're putting Boise on the short list of Places We Might Live Next Now That Our Daughter Is Going To College (which happens in four weeks ... which is some family drama I'll deal with when it gets here).

I didn't do any NYT puzzles while I was gone. Didn't look at the blog once, or reply to email, or nuthin'. I did do some crosswords—a stack I put on my clipboard a looooong time ago. Which is why clipboards are awesome. Just load 'em up, carry 'em around with you, and eventually, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day, those puzzles get Done. But today's puzzle was the first NYT I'd done, on the clock, in about ten days, and I'm surprised how fast I was. I mean, my time was about normal, but I felt rusty and clumsy and still came in with a respectable time. I'm noticing now that I really need to trim my fingernails. This may have contributed to the clumsiness (I solve on a laptop). I mostly enjoyed this grid but the theme seems inherently flawed. How is CLOSE involved? If CLOSE is in your revealer, then CLOSE should have something to do with the expression of the theme, and while an ump might need to make a call when the correct determination is borderline, most calls are pretty clear. Not close. Ump calls a BALL if it's one inch off the plate or if it beans the mascot. Still a call. Calls are not inherently close. So this theme ... I call foul, or out, or strike, or balk, or some such negative determination. Also, "eating all the guacamole" is just normal behavior. There might not be more guacamole, so you eat what's there, you snooze you lose, everyone knows this, foul shmoul.

Slowish parts:
  • 56A: Roulette playing piece (CHIP) — I saw a wheel and a little ball and maybe James Bond and nothing else. "CHIPs are for poker," my brain insisted. Also, "I HOPE" was toughly clued (52D: "If there's any justice!")
  • 10D: Add some style to (SPIFF UP) — Parsing turbulence ahead! Fasten seat belts! SPICE UP was on the table. As was, however briefly, SPIFFEN. 
  • 29D: Middle-aged women with eyes for younger men (COUGARS) — I dunno, man. Not into this. The whole "cougar" thing is at least semi-derogatory. And there's no equivalent term for men, presumably because *that* desire is unremarkable. Boo. 
  • 21A: Children's author ___ Asquith (ROS) — never seen this name outside crosswords. There were perhaps a few too many crosswordesey things like this oh well C'EST la TFAL.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I'm off again tomorrow (it's a regularly scheduled Clare Tuesday!), but then I'm back ... but then next Monday is Annabel Monday, but then I'm back ... and in mid-August there's Lollapuzzoola and then taking my daughter to college ... whatever, I'll mostly be here, with little bursts of not being here. You understand. Forget it, Jake. It's August-town.

P.P.S. Big thanks to Laura Braunstein for filling in all week. And congratulations to her on becoming the newest regular member of the crossword constructor team at American Values Club Crossword!

P.P.P.S. I had someone suggest to me that CLOSE (in the revealer for today's puzzle) refers (possibly) to the fact that the CALLs "CLOSE" out the answer (i.e. are the final word / word parts of the answer). That ... is grammatically awful. But if you wanna hang your hat on that, go right ahead. LAST CALL mighta worked. But CLOSE CALL? Yerp.

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Cleveland Browns’ defense / SUN 7-29-18 / Lévesque of Quebec / Pelvis-related / Reza shrine / Big Baird / Funny Fey / Singer Morissette / Macbeth tomorrow / Muhammad’s daughter

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: 20:52 (Sunday average: 23:01; Sunday best: 6:47 [my own puzzle])

THEME: Three in One — Single words are reparsed as three words, then clued as if the three words together make a wacky phrase.

Word of the Day: SHUTE (75D: “On the Beach” novelist Nevil) —

Nevil Shute Norway (17 January 1899 – 12 January 1960) was an English novelist and aeronautical engineer who spent his later years in Australia. He used his full name in his engineering career and Nevil Shute as his pen name to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels, which included On the Beach and A Town Like Alice.
On the Beach is a 1957 post-apocalyptic novel written by British-Australian author Nevil Shute after he emigrated to Australia. The novel details the experiences of a mixed group of people in Melbourne as they await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the Northern Hemisphere following a nuclear war a year previously.
• • •

I solved this puzzle while out on the town at a purveyor of beverages in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the night before Boswords. Puzzle friends Jesse Lansner, Bruce Ryan, and Ben Smith (a fellow Diary of a Crossword Fiend blogger and also a Eurovision Song Contest podcaster) were my companions. We solved together, and let me tell you, for all of us, YOINK! it was over our usual times. There were some exclamations of frustration, and universal agreement that [44A: Sound of something rushing by]: WOOSH needed an extra H after the W. But: It was in the context of respect for the constructor's skill in finding seven candidates for themers for this gimmick. The frustration was generated from an understanding of the theme's mechanism, coupled with an inability to predict exactly what form that mechanism would take. YOINK! If you catch my drift, which may be explained by an explication of the ...

Theme answers:
  • [24A: Former supporter of seabirds]: EXTERNALLY. Ex tern ally
  • [38A: Spray the monarch to keep him cool]: MISTAKING. Mist a king
  • [40A: Prosecutor who's sympathetic to the defendants in a witch trial]: PROPAGANDA. Pro pagan DA
  • [58A: Bridle strap utilized only on sidewalk surfaces]: REINFORCEMENT. Rein for cement
  • [84A: What a dog groomer might charge]: PERPETRATE. Per pet rate
  • [86A: Result of wearing a fedora at the beach]: MANHATTAN. Man hat tan
  • [100A: Result of accidentally throwing a Frisbee into a campground]: DISCONTENT. Disc on tent
ITEM ONE [50A: Agenda starter]: while I and my drinking buddies social companions understood the mechanism of the gimmick right away, it was tough to predict what the successive themer entries might be -- which, when you're solving, is a crucial step in filling in the rest of the grid: being able to predict future themers, or possibilities for the set, once you've sussed out the way the puzzle's main entries work. So it took more time, and YOINK! I ended up getting almost all of the themers from the crosses, and then went back and parsed the themers to fit the clues, upon which I thought, "ah, clever!" Re-parsing is a fun linguistic trick; pro pagan DA is probably my favorite. But reparsing, if that's all you're doing (and the constraint here is only that each entry is split into three), is not formulaically predictable from the solving perspective.

Fill thoughts: Some opportunities in the long downs in all four corners: ARMANI SUIT, ON A SAD NOTE, TABLE D'HOTE, and ROMA TOMATO are all phrases that made me sit up a little straighter. My social companions drinking buddies suggested SHUTE (Word of the Day, above) and [49D: Carol Ann ___, U.K. poet laureate starting in 2009]: DUFFY as entries that might be out of the purview of the average solver. Stuff that seemed fresh: SEXYTIME, YOINK!, THANX.

  • [53A: Liqueur akin to sambuca]: ANISETTE — This almost feels like a portmanteau of [45A: Singer Morissette]: ALANIS
  • [73A: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with "the"]: PRAIRIES — I see you, Canadian constructor.
  • [91A: Item smashed by the original Luddites]: LOOM — Ned Ludd, who ostensibly smashed a loom in the 1770s and became a legend among textile workers and labor activists for an ensuing century, was likely fictional. But now we invoke him to disparage anyone who appears skeptical about technological progress. 
And that's all I've got. It's been a lovely week standing in for Rex, and I hope that he's had a lovely vacation, away from public puzzling discourse. If you've liked what I've written here, you can find me blathering about crossword puzzles on a regular basis at Diary of a Crossword Fiend. Please say "hello" or whatever greeting is appropriate at Boswords if you'll be there today, or at Lollapuzzoola, Saturday, August 18, in New York City. The puzzle community rocks, folks -- fun, smart, kind people. Keep that going. THANX!
Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Astaire with steps / SAT 7-27-18 / Virginia senator Jim / "My Two" 80s sitcom / Cheryl "Curb Your Enthusiasm" / "Punk Rock, Teenagers, and" / Giants GM Al / Korean statesman Syngman

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Constructor: Natan Last, Andy Kravis, and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: 8:03 (Saturday average: 18:26; Saturday best 6:03)

THEME: Themeless

Word of the Day: PHISHER (18D: "Nigerian prince," often) —
Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. The word is a neologism created as a homophone of fishing due to the similarity of using a bait in an attempt to catch a victim. According to the 2013 Microsoft Computing Safety Index, released in February 2014, the annual worldwide impact of phishing could be as high as US$5 billion. Phishing is typically carried out by email spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter personal information at a fake website, the look and feel of which are identical to the legitimate site, the only difference being the URL of the website in concern. Communications purporting to be from social web sites, auction sites, banks, online payment processors or IT administrators are often used to lure victims. Phishing emails may contain links to websites that distribute malware. (Wikipedia)
• • •

I always like the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class puzzles; even if the grid and execution aren't perfect, the effort, enthusiasm, and [17A: Camaraderie]: TEAM SPIRIT are evident. I wish there were more opportunities for people to learn crossword construction in groups and have some outlet for publication -- it's a fairly solitary pursuit, except for the occasional collaboration. Certainly the crossword blogs and social media have opened things up a bit. (Hey, if you like crossword blogs -- and you do, if you're here -- check out Life in the E-League, a new daily blog.) 

The center-triple stagger-stack felt reasonably fresh; as someone whose day job is in academia I can attest that the [37A: Modern college major]: GENDER STUDIES is likely a few decades old at most institutions, so it certainly qualifies as "modern." Some interesting choices for proper names: [1A: Astaire with steps]: ADELE is a nice punny clue for Fred's older sister (instead of, say, the British blue-eyed soul singer). We've also got WEBB the ex-senator, Cheryl HINES of "cringe comedy," ROSEN of baseball, arty ERTE, activist DIX, and international politician RHEE (instead of American educational reformer RHEE). I mean [48D: "Gimme a break!"]: YEESH, props to the team for that many propers.
[10A: "My Two ___" (1980s sitcom)]: DADS -- a modern family

Do we really need Bullets, since a themeless write-up is pretty much all Bullets? Ok, fine:
  • [36A: Some detox diets]: JUICE CLEANSES — Your liver and kidneys do a fine job of cleansing the "toxins" in your body. The whole cleanse thing is pure woo-woo goop and quackery.
  • [12D: Distributor of Penguin classics]: DC COMICS — Namely, classic comics featuring supervillain The Penguin, adversary of Batman. The Penguin was not bitten by a radioactive penguin; however, if you are not apprised of the origin story of a particular comic book superhero/villain, "bitten by a radioactive [animal]" is always a reasonable guess.
  • [36D: Show that once had an April Fools' Day episode hosted by Pat Sajak]: JEOPARDY — The CrossWorld/Jeopardy crossover is legion: many, many top competitors at the ACPT and other tournaments have appeared (and become champions) on Jeopardy.
  • [32D: One who sucks the joy out of the room]: FUN SPONGE — New one to me. I was all, DEBBIE DOWNER? I'm going to start using this all the time.
A plug: The American Values Club Crossword is offering free trial subscriptions. Just send an email to editor [at] (replace the [at] with the @ sign, as you know, we do that on the interwebz to prevent PHISHERS) with FREE PUZZLES in the subject line to get your samples. (Note: AV Club is not a PHISHER.) The AV Club also offers subsidized subscriptions for anyone who can't afford the yearly fee. If that's you, just let the editor know at that same email address, no explanation needed.

Another plug: Tomorrow (Sunday, July 29) is Boswords, the Boston Crossword Tournament, held at the Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, MA (only a few miles from Natick!). If you're in the region, there's still room for competitors (register online at the link or in person at the venue), or you can order the puzzles to solve at home. We have an awesome team of Boston and Boston-adjacent constructors: Brendan Emmett Quigley, Joon Pahk, Lena Webb, Finn Vigeland, John Lieb, Andrew Kingsley, David Quarfoot, and Laura Braunstein (that's me).

See you tomorrow, then Rex will be back to cover Monday's puzzle.

Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Sadie Hawkins dances / FRI 7-27-18 / First night of Hannukah / Egyptian deity / Actress "That '70s Show" / Mountain nymph / Singer K.T. / Singer k.d.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: 8:39 (Friday average: 14:30; Friday best: 5:50)

THEME: Themeless — But with a minitheme if you try hard enough.

Word of the Day: ETHELRED [53A: English king nicknamed "the Unready" (ooh, that hurts!)] —
Æthelred II (Old English: Æþelræd, pronounced [æðelræːd]; c. 966 – 23 April 1016), known as the Unready, was King of the English from 978 to 1013 and again from 1014 until his death. His epithet does not derive from the modern word "unready", but rather from the Old English unræd (meaning "poorly advised"); it is a pun on his name, which means "well advised". (Wikipedia)
Note: Why the dig at Æthelred? [57A: "I dunno"]: YOU GOT ME
• • •

Sooo... CAPTAIN OBVIOUS [35A: He might say "A day without sunshine is like, you know, night"] is decently fresh. But ugh PRINCE CHARMING [30A: He might say "A day without you is like a day without sunshine"] makes me tired, and it crosses [15D: Star-crossed, say]: TRAGIC and [26D: Whose last words are "Thus with a kiss I die"]: ROMEO (Romeo and Juliet, Prologue, lines 5-6: "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/ A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life"). Yep, he was a [29A: Lost cause]: GONER, although his [spoiler alert] death did not take place in [58A: One of two in "Hamlet" or three in "Macbeth"]: SCENE V. Nor was there a [8A: Sequel]: PART II

As another minitheme, we also have two country music singers who go by their initials: [42A: Singer K. T.]: OSLIN and [45A: Singer k. d.]: LANG. The latter has earned multiple awards for her music and activism, and continues to perform, while the former hasn't had a hit in 30 years. We're supposed to remember her because why? Oslin is best known for a synth-country ballad entitled "80s Ladies," which so perfectly exemplifies its time period that I'm pretty sure everyone in it is actually an undercover KGB agent.

This grid is -- to my surprise -- not the NYT debut of [51A: Trendy male hairstyle]: MANBUN; neither that nor [29D: ___ pull]: GROIN invoke pleasant reflections. Not that I'm eating breakfast -- quite the contrary -- [2D: "Cheers!"]: DRINK UP! I feel like there's some [44D: Shower problem]: MILDEW on some entries, like the roll-your-own [59A: "Nature" or "Frontline"]: PBS SHOW and [17A: From which Sadie Hawkins dances come]: LIL ABNER. All fine when warranted, or as fill to pull a theme together, but in a themeless I want every entry to have some spark or it's all just [16A: "Blah, blah, blah"]: ETCETC.

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  • [41A: Mountain nymph]: OREAD — Not a dryad or a naiad, nay nor a maenad, but their least popular sister, the oread. O, read about the oread.
  • [10D: Memorable demonstrator at the 1939 World's Fair]: RCA — of the first black-and-white television.
  • [21D: BuzzFeed competitor]: MASHABLE —Doesn't run as many listicles as BuzzFeed, nor does it have a crossword, like other competitor Vice.
Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Popular newspaper puzzle / THU 7-26-18 / "It wasn't me" / Cirque du Soleil performers / Mystery novelist Cross / Singers Nina and Lisa / R&B singer Khan

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Constructor: Nate Cardin

Relative difficulty: 7:36 (Thursday average: 13:39; Thursday best: 5:14)

THEME: # — What kids today call a [70A: With 71-Across, symbol used four times in this puzzle with four different meanings; 71A: See 71-Across]: HASH TAG

Word of the Day: OCTOTHORPE (54A: Numerical prefix ... or, with 62-Across, another name for this puzzle's key symbol; 62A: Olympian Jim or Ian) —
Most scholars believe the word was invented by workers at the Bell Telephone Laboratories by 1968, who needed a word for the symbol on the telephone keypad. Don MacPherson is said to have created the word by combining octo and the last name of Jim Thorpe, an Olympic medalist. Howard Eby and Lauren Asplund claim to have invented the word as a joke in 1964, combining octo with the syllable therp which, because of the "th" digraph, was hard to pronounce in different languages. The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, 1991, has a long article that is consistent with Doug Kerr's essay, which says "octotherp" was the original spelling, and that the word arose in the 1960s among telephone engineers as a joke. Other hypotheses for the origin of the word include the last name of James Oglethorpe, or using the Old English word for village, thorp, because the symbol looks like a village surrounded by eight fields. The word was popularized within and outside Bell Labs. The first appearance of "octothorp" in a US patent is in a 1973 filing. This patent also refers to the six-pointed asterisk (✻) used on telephone buttons as a "sextile." (Wikipedia)
• • •

I am so happy to blog the New York Times crossword debut of my dear friend Nate Cardin! Nate has had puzzles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the AV Club (with Paolo Pasco), and as a guest constructor for Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. He is also the editor of Queer Qrosswords -- which, if you don't have yet, follow the link to make a donation of $10 or more and get 22 puzzles by awesome constructors, many of whom debuted in the collection. Full disclosure: Nate had shared this theme idea with me some time ago. It's very common for constructors to share ideas and early drafts of puzzles with friends (and I have found the crossword community to be enormously generous with time and support). Though I hadn't seen this puzzle since it was submitted (and edited), with that advance knowledge my time is likely faster than a Thursday average.

Theme answers:
  • [1D: A.T.M. necessity]/[20A: Accountant]: PIN #/# CRUNCHER (# = number)
  • [26D: Place to get a rescue animal]/[41A: Dessert made primarily of flour, butter, eggs and sugar]: DOG #/# CAKE (# = pound)
  • [27D: Far parts of the universe]/[48A: Astronauts' workplace]: DEEP #/# STATION (# = space)
  • [36D: Finely honed]/[57A: Deadeyes]: RAZOR #/# SHOOTERS (# = sharp)
This is a very Thursday theme, in that is has a gimmick: solvers are expected to intuit that they should enter a symbol rather than rebus the letters (i.e. cram more than one into a square) for the shared words in the themers. I suppose I knew, but hadn't really reflected upon the potential of, the fact that # can stand for four different words in different contexts. It has only come to be referred to as a hashtag since its widespread use on Twitter starting about a decade ago (for a library-science lecture about the hashtag as metadata in social networking folksonomies, slide into my DMs). As we expect on a Thursday, the fill has strengths and weaknesses to accommodate some trickery; I'm not entirely sure that [66A: Plow and plant again]: REFARM is a thing, and ESTE EMIT ETON ETATS EATER. AMGEN? I don't know that I would've been able to make this grid any cleaner, but the theme concept is so strong that frankly, dear readers, I don't give A DAMN [31D: What Rhett Butler didn't give].

Brandi Carlisle sings about [27A: "It wasn't me," for one]: DENIAL

  • [5D: Stone-capturing board game]: MANCALA — I remember playing this at my open-classroom hippie/alternative elementary school. Apparently it has been played for millennia, across dozens of cultures.
  • [46D: Mother-and-daughter singers Nina and Lisa]: SIMONES — Lisa has sung on Broadway, originating the title role in the crossword-friendly musical Aida, as well as roles in Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar.
  • [53D: R&B singer Khan]: CHAKA — Chaka Khan sang for a decade with Rufus, had a number of hits, broke into disco with "I'm Every Woman," then scored a crossover pop hit in 1984 with "I Feel for You," a cover of a 1979 song by the artist formerly and futurely known as Prince.  
  • [61D: Make out, in Manchester]: SNOG — This may be utter shite, but some Brit once told me in a pub that in the UK they had to change the name of the second Austin Powers film to The Spy Who Snogged Me because shag is a far dirtier word over there than it is here.
  • [8A: Popular newspaper puzzle]: JUMBLE — What, you thought it would be CROSSWORD? Crossword puzzles are not popular. I mean, this post will probably get barely 10,000 hits.
Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Garden pest / WED 7-25-18 / Letter before Omega / Vietnamese festival / Triple Crown of Surfing / Ancient Anatolian region / Disney villain Jeremy Irons

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: 6:28 (Wednesday average: 7:59; Wednesday best: 2:17)

THEME: Flipped the Bird — The names of three species of birds are "flipped" and embedded in three long theme entries.

Word of the Day: ICE-T (57D: One of the first musicians to have an "explicit content" sticker on an album) —
Tracy Lauren Marrow (born February 16, 1958), better known by his stage name Ice-T, is an American musician, rapper, songwriter, actor, record executive, record producer, and author. He began his career as an underground rapper in the 1980s and was signed to Sire Records in 1987, when he released his debut album Rhyme Pays; the second hip-hop album to carry an explicit content sticker after Slick Rick’s La Di Da Di. The following year, he founded the record label Rhyme $yndicate Records (named after his collective of fellow hip-hop artists called the "Rhyme $yndicate") and released another album, Power.
     He co-founded the heavy metal band Body Count, which he introduced on his 1991 rap album O.G.: Original Gangster, on the track titled "Body Count." The band released their self-titled debut album in 1992. Ice-T encountered controversy over his track "Cop Killer," which glamorized killing police officers. Ice-T asked to be released from his contract with Warner Bros. Records, and his next solo album, Home Invasion, was released later in February 1993 through Priority Records. Body Count's next album was released in 1994, and Ice-T released two more albums in the late-1990s. Since 2000, he has portrayed NYPD Detective/Sergeant Odafin Tutuola on the NBC police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. (Wikipedia)
• • •

There was a comment earlier this week that just giving my time doesn't provide readers with enough information regarding how difficult the puzzle was, so above I've also given my average and best times, as recorded on the iPad app (after solving a total of 1,444 puzzles in this iteration of the app). I hope that gives a little more context. Note, however, that my Wednesday best was for solving my own puzzle, so take that as you may. Looking back over the week so far, this Sunday was 16:19 (Sunday average: 23:02; Sunday best 6:47 [again, best time was for my own puzzle!]), Monday was 4:03 (Monday average: 4:59; Monday best: 3:16), and Tuesday was 6:12 (Tuesday average: 6:29; Tuesday best 3:50). This week, so far, is running just under average difficulty -- for me. I'm required by the Crossword Blogger's Code of Ethics to state that your mileage may vary.

Theme answers:
  • [20A: Grand preparations?]: PIANO REHEARSAL (HERON)
  • [27A: Things that go bump in the night]: POLTERGEISTS (EGRET)
  • [47A: Iconic logo since 1962]: GOLDEN ARCHES (CRANE)
  • [56A: Gestured rudely ... or what this puzzle's circles have done?]: FLIPPED THE BIRD
We've got a solid Wednesday, which in my playbook is kinda like a Monday, but a little tougher and/or more off-beat themewise. (If you gotta have a gimmick, save it for Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday.) I generally like themes that take a common idiom (i.e. flipped the bird) and interpret it literally as the basis of wordplay. In a puzzle venue that allows for titles (Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Higher Ed, Puzzle Society, etc), a puzzle like this might have additional entries and a title -- say "Flipping the Bird" -- instead of a revealer entry. (Having both a title and revealer is kinda like wearing both a belt and suspenders; overkill in most situations but occasionally appropriate.) Flipping the bird, as a hand gesture, has both its own Wikipedia entry -- The Finger -- and its own emoji, which Emojipedia glosses as "reversed hand with middle finger extended."

The fill in the NE corner was last to fall in this grid; somehow I couldn't see COCKY (had BOSSY) over APHID, though my raised bed garden is crawling with the buggers. Interestingly not too many proper names today (other than Word of the Day ICE-T and [54D: TV host Van Susteren]: GRETA); those are usually where I can get a decent foothold; nor did the fill-in-the-blanks help me get much speed. I didn't find the longer down entries to be too exciting, but overall the experience was [33D: Scoring 100]: ERROR FREE.

  • [30D: "Oklahoma!" aunt]: ELLER — Unusual to get this character from Oklahoma Exclamation Point! (note: not an error; this is how I say the title of all musicals that have an Exclamation Point!) in a grid; far more common is ADO Annie, who cain't say no.
  • [5D: Disney villain voiced by Jeremy Irons]: SCAR — In The Lion King, Scar/Claudius [spoiler alert] murders his brother Mufasa/Hamlet Sr. (James Earl Jones). His nephew Simba/Hamlet (Matthew Broderick) dallies a bit with his pals Rosencrantz/Timon (Nathan Lane) and Guildenstern/Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), before driving his girlfriend Nala/Ophelia (Moira Kelly) to suicide, avenging his father's death, and dying in a duel. At least that's how I remember it.
  • [58D: Rosencrantz or Guildenstern]: DANE — Or meerkat/warthog, what have you.
Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Sanity Clause / TUE 7-24-18 / Caesar's assassins / Thick Japanese noodle / Friday 13th New Beginning / Cuisine tom yum soup / McCarthy aide Roy / Need You Tonight

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Constructor: Jonathan Kaye

Relative difficulty: 6:12

THEME: DNA — If you solve in the app (iOS or web), there's an animated [58A: Shape of 7-Down]: DOUBLE HELIX at [7D: When the ends of each of its letters are connected to those above and below, a simplified schematic of a famous structure]: {see screenshot above, which doesn't do it justice, and I can't figure out how to embed a gif in a Blogger post}

Word of the Day: DORA (58D: Picasso muse ___ Maar) —
Maar, whose real name was Theodora Markovic, was born in Tours, France, on Nov. 22, 1907, and spent her childhood in Argentina, where her father, a foreign-born architect, was working. Arriving in Paris around 1925, the beautiful dark-haired young woman was drawn into the world of photography, first as a model for Man Ray and others and then as a photographer.
     In the 1930's, with Andre Breton and Georges Bataille urging her into the Surrealist movement and encouraging her to paint, she joined the Union of Intellectuals Against Fascism and was active in other anti-Fascist groups. After meeting Picasso, she helped him set up his studio at 7 Rue des Grands-Augustins, where in 1937 he painted ''Guernica,'' a process she recorded in photographs. [New York Times obituary, 26 July 1997]
• • •
As I'm writing this, the animated DOUBLE HELIX at 7D is twisting gently in the grid on my iPad. This is a fantastic use of technology to enhance the solving experience, and I'm curious if this was something that the constructor had in mind when he constructed the puzzle, or if that feature was developed later. [Update: A twitter exchange just confirmed that he did not, and the feature was added to the web- and app-based solving interfaces by the tech team.] We've seen other gimmick-y puzzles from this constructor before (I remember liking a "hook" puzzle that used the letter J a couple years ago), all on Thursdays -- so it's interesting to find this one on a Tuesday; it had a Thursday "feel" (though I didn't solve in a Thursday time).

Theme answers:
  • [20A: What 7-Down is]: BIOCHEMICAL
  • [58A: Shape of 7-Down]: DOUBLE HELIX
  • [11D: Creatures with 23 pairs of 25-Down]: HUMAN BEINGS
  • [25D: Genetic bundles]: CHROMOSOMES
  • [66D: Subject of this puzzle]: DNA
One would expect the fill to suffer in order to get that 15-letter center entry of Hs and Xs -- but I don't think the entries that intersect 7-Down are out of the ordinary for a Tuesday. Maybe [62A: McCarthy aide Roy]: COHN is not so well known if you haven't seen Angels in America eleventy-billion times. Elsewhere, Word of the Day [58D: Picasso muse ___ Maar]: DORA is some varsity-level art history trivia. (I keep looking back at that rotating DOUBLE HELIX. That is just so cool.) I'm not crazy about [5D: Lucy Ricardo, to Ricky]: TV WIFE; do we think of TV HUSBANDs? Maybe I've seen TVDAD or TVMOM. Also, there is an abundance (and by abundance I mean more than one) of acronyms for government and other agencies: CDC, OSHA, NLRB, AFLCIO. Ugh, DITS. I diss DITS. And you've got your common fill beginning with E: your EPEES and your EONS and your ELAL and your EOS and your EXPO and, hey, [54D: Jazzman Blake]: EUBIE! We don't see him as much in grids, so why don't we have him sing us out:

Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld
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Host with a microphone / MON 7-23-18 / Egyptian goddess repetitive name / Three blind creatures / West Coast NFL / California Nevada border lake / Singer 19 21 25 / Rice Burroughs / I Still Believe Vince Gill

Monday, July 23, 2018

Constructor: Todd Gross

Relative difficulty: 4:03

THEME: "OF THE" — Four expressions that have the prepositional construction "[noun] of the [time period]" in increasing order of time-period length.

Word of the Day: NAT (63D: Turner who led a slave rebellion) —
In August of 1831, seven enslaved men turned the South and the nation upside down when they engaged in a violent and historic bid to gain their freedom. Beginning before dawn on a Monday morning, a band of slaves led by Nat Turner made their way across Southampton County in southeastern Virginia. As they traveled from farm to farm, they killed every white person they encountered and picked up recruits from among the slave population. Within twenty-four hours, fifty-five white men, women, and children lay dead. By Monday afternoon, whites launched a successful attack against the rebels, capturing or killing most of them that same day. Nat Turner remained at large, and rumors spread that the rebellion had been part of a much more widespread conspiracy of slaves in Virginia and North Carolina. Over the next four months, dozens of slaves were put on trial, and more than twenty were executed, including Turner, who was captured after hiding in the area under a pile of wood for more than two months. (The Nat Turner Project)
• • •

Theme answers:
  • [17A: Unplanned]: SPUR OF THE MOMENT
  • [28A: Parliamentary agenda]: ORDERS OF THE DAY
  • [48A: Literary club feature]: BOOK OF THE MONTH
  • 62A: Annual Time issue]: PERSON OF THE YEAR
This is a nice Monday theme which does no more and no less than it needs to. I'm not super-sold on ORDERS OF THE DAY as plural, but Wikipedia confirms its use as a phrase used in the business meetings of a deliberative assembly. Apparently the Book of the Month Club is still going strong! You can get five hardcover books delivered to your door in a "fun to open box." I don't know about you, but what I find discouraging about reading is that the books are generally in a container that is such a drag to open. PERSON OF THE YEAR used to be Man (or far less often Woman) of the Year until 1999, when Time went gender-neutral. Inanimate objects have twice been Thing of the Year: The Computer in 1982 and the Endangered Earth in 1988. You were Person of the Year in 2006. Guess who was Man of the Year in 1938?

Fill-wise, we're good for a Monday with entry-level, standard stuff like ANTE ISIS MEME MAUI AFTA -- all on the NOSE, LIKE SO.

  • [26D: TV broadcast band]: VHF — That's quite a throwback, to when there was VHF and UHF, and the channels were on a little dial that you had to turn manually, and you taped a wire hanger to the rabbit ears on top of your little tube TV. And sometimes you could get that other channel that showed Monty Python if you stood near the antenna just so. Do we even say broadcast anymore?
  • [40D: N.R.A. members]: GUN USERS — I'm not convinced, from rhetoric of late, that the NRA is an organization for GUN USERS anymore, or if they just exist to intimidate people who disagree with them.
  • [6D: Possibly, but unlikely]: IN THEORY — I think of IN THEORY as more, yeah, it's good on paper, but will it play in Peoria? That doesn't mean it's unlikely to happen though -- just that it might not go over as planned.
See you tomorrow.
Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Festival of Colors celebrant / SUN 7-22-18 / Former QB Tony / Big Ten anthropomorphic nut / Rockettes motions / Bikini blast / Marshal Dillon / City Missouri Council Bluffs / Golden calf Exodus / Frederick Forsyth File / Villagers victimized Grinch

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: 16:19 (Note: This week, I'm going to share my times, instead of rating the puzzles, and you can infer from there)

THEME: "Movie 'M*A*S*H' 'Up'" — Two one-word movie titles are stuck together to make a wacky plot description of a third movie.

Word of the Day: GESTALT (27A: The forest, as opposed to the trees) —
Gestalt psychology or gestaltism (/ɡəˈʃtɑːlt, -ˈʃtɔːlt, -ˈstɑːlt, -ˈstɔːlt/; from German: Gestalt [ɡəˈʃtalt] "shape, form") is a philosophy of mind of the Berlin School of experimental psychology. Gestalt psychology is an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world. The central principle of gestalt psychology is that the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Rex is away on a well-deserved vacation; I (Laura) will be here through next Saturday. Think of me as Rex's MALEFICENT PERSONA or GHOST AVATAR or CLUELESS SHARKNADO.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: "Anchorman" = ? (1976) + (1980): NETWORK FAME
  • 28A: "Rear Window" = ? (2004) + ? (2014): SAW NEIGHBORS
  • 44A: "Silence of the Lambs" = ? (1946) + ? (1960): NOTORIOUS PSYCHO
  • 68A: "Transformers" = ? (2000) + ? (1992): TRAFFIC TOYS
  • 77A: "Jurassic Park" = ? (1997) + ? (1975): TITANIC JAWS
  • 98A: "Twister" = ? (2004) + ? (2013): SIDEWAYS GRAVITY
  • 115A: "Dumb and Dumber" = ? (2007) + ? (1979): SUPERBAD HAIR
  • 125A: "The Poseidon Adventure" = ? (1956) + ? (1984): GIANT SPLASH
I enjoyed this very much, and even though I solved it on my phone during the set break at a concert (Guster with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra; they were awesome!), it flowed pretty quickly, because a) movie names/trivia are my thing; b) I very much like (and like to make) theme-types where you take a category and stick the names of things in that category together to make new, funny things. My primary beef with this set is that the theme entries could apply to many other movies; it's almost arbitrary which movies the constructor or editor(s) decided to clue for each M*A*S*H (1970) Up (2009). Like ... okay, SAW NEIGHBORS is a pretty succinct plot summary for Rear Window, I'll grant you that, but how many movies have a NOTORIOUS PSYCHO in them? Many movies. At the very least, all the Fridays the 13th. (Also, plenty of Hitchcock in this grid, not that I'm complaining). And GIANT SPLASH could summarize pretty much any movie in which something unpleasant happens to a cruise ship. Does a tornado (subject of the 1996 film Twister) really have SIDEWAYS GRAVITY? Because that would be cool (in the sense of interesting; not that I'd want to experience it personally).

2008 + 2015 + 1944 + 1996 = July 22-28, 2018
Fill-wise, not much gave me trouble, though the NE was the last to fall; somehow I wanted [34A: Best in mental competition]: OUTWIT to be an adjective (i.e. ___EST rather than a verb). Funny story about [106A: Frederick Forsyth's "The ___ File"]: ODESSA. I tried to put IPCRESS here -- though The Ipcress File is a spy novel by Len Deighton published ten years earlier; many spy novels are entitled The Something File, or The Whatever Conundrum, or The [insert European city here] Connection. The spy novel is a genre I have tried repeatedly and failed to get into; some years ago I was reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John LeCarre, 1974). I complained to a friend that even though I could absorb fantasy sagas that ran to thousands of pages and took up entire endcap displays at Borders, and remember who all the different dynasties were, and which alien lifeform was feuding with which magic school fraternity, I tried to read one spy novel and got utterly confused trying to remember who all the characters were and whether they were the mole. "So you're saying," responded my friend, "That you'd've liked that book better had it been titled Hobbit Wookiee Direwolf Borg?" Yes. Yes, I would.

  • [1A: Festival of Colors celebrant]: HINDU — The Festival of Colors, or Holi, happens every spring (in 2018 it was on March 1 & 2) and celebrates not only the return of spring, but the repair of broken relationships.
  • [17D: Silents star whose name is an anagram of 112-Down]: Pola NEGRI began appearing in films in Berlin in the 1920s; she moved to Hollywood and specialized in femme fatale roles. She returned to Germany in the 1930s and starred in a few sound films, and was rumored to be a favorite of a certain dictator. She came back to Hollywood as the Nazis rose to power and had a few cameos, but mostly retired from film after the 1940s.  
  • [45D: Without a contract]: ON SPEC — Most crossword puzzles are submitted to editors ON SPEC. There are probably fewer than ten constructors who work full-time, on contract, only making puzzles (and not, say, also as editors of other folks' puzzles).
Thanks folks! I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.

Signed, Laura, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Common perfume oil / SAT 7-21-18 / Pioneering infomercial company / Sports org. since 1916 / Noted Obama portrayer / Marsh Bird / French waves / Performers taking bows onstage?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (8:17)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: NEROLI (Common perfume oil) —
Neroli oil is an essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara or Bigaradia). Its scent is sweet, honeyed and somewhat metallic with green and spicy facets. Orange blossom is also extracted from the same blossom and both extracts are extensively used in perfumery. 
• • •
Substitute blogger alert! While for the bulk of Rex's coming vacation you'll be in the capable (much more so than my own) hands of Laura Braunstein, today OFL let me take the wheel. I'm Matt and while it's easy to find me talking crosswords on Twitter, today is my first time on the blog. On to the puzzle.

Grid-spanning quadruple stacks. Bleh. With grids like this, you're opening up two cans of worms: is the long stuff snappy enough to help with compromises in the necessary short downs, and how much glue are you going to find, especially in the crummy middle? I think the constructor did about as well as you can do with quadruple stacks. The long stuff felt fresh while still feeling in the language instead of forced: THERE'S NO I IN TEAM, ORDERED A LA CARTE, TELLS IT LIKE IT IS, PEER ASSESSMENTS are all full of constructor-friendly letters while feeling accessible to solvers, and STRING ORCHESTRAS (1A: Performers taking bows onstage?) threw me much longer than I'd like to admit, even with the ? raising my hackles. 

But the rest became a test of your crosswordese knowledge, and on the whole, uninspiring. I definitely (for now) am A Young Person, and a mixed bag on the short stuff cost me significant time. KTEL, XKE, ELAM, LUI, EDO, ELO, LSD, came quick. And short fill-wise, we've got to accept some stuff in this grid design. But I hit real roadblocks in other places, especially the Maleska-esque NEROLI (only one other appearance in the Shortz-era), a bird I've never encountered in SORA (only one NYT appearance in the 15 years I've been doing the puzzle), and ONDES (7D: French waves). If you're of a different generation, I can see trouble with Comedy Central star-cum-Oscar-winning director Jordan PEELE (46D: Noted Obama portrayer), and that's not to say anything of FALSER, which is just crummy. ENCAGE and REDEPOSIT a little less so, but a trade-off I'm willing to make given how un-awkward the long stuff was. In the end, for a Saturday that time-wise I found a bit tougher than normal, I'm remembering the "blah" much more than the misdirection in the top half, which is a shame. 

  • 37D: DARLINGS (angels) and 38D: STINKERS (No-goodniks) — A fun little juxtaposition. Maybe I'd've rolled my eyes if the clues were "angels" and "devils," but as it is it feels like an easter egg in a themeless.
  • 1D: STOGY (Low-end smoke) — Just reminded me of the all-ways bad EL CHEAPOS of a bit ago, but you can do a lot staler at 1D.
Until next time, assuming I'm welcomed back.

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Title character of 2006 mockumentary / FRI 7-20-18 / Dreamhouse resident / Food portmanteau / Hydroxyl-bearing compound / Catwoman portrayer Meriwether / Colorful seasoning that originated near Himalayas / Five-letter capitol written as two words in its native language

Friday, July 20, 2018

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:58)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAN characters (35A: ___ characters (Chinese script)) —
Chinese characters (simplified Chinese汉字traditional Chinese漢字pinyinhànzì; literally: "Han characters") are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write a number of other Asian languages. They remain a key component of the Japanese writing system, where they are known as Kanji. They were formerly used in the writing of Korean (where they are known as Hanja), Vietnamese (in a system known as Chữ Nôm) and Zhuang (in a system known as Sawndip). Collectively, they are known as CJK charactersVietnamese is sometimes also included, making the abbreviation CJKV. (wikipedia) (emph mine)
• • •

This is a very solid and smooth offering, for sure. Polished within an inch of its life. Near zero on the GarbageMeter. There's nothing terribly grabby in the way of fill, but when All Of It works, I am not about to complain. PINK SALT, that's pretty original, although I mainly think of it as "salt rich people will pay a lot for based on erroneous beliefs about its health benefits" salt. I also think we have some in the cupboard somewhere. Or did. We definitely use a salt mill, so that's pretty ridiculous. Where was I? Oh, this puzzle is good. NOSE-TO-TAIL is probably the most original thing here, and also the thing that gave me the most trouble. I did not realize this was a cuisine trend ... where you eat All Of The [Insert Animal Here]. I guess it's ecological or something, like farm-to-table. I am trying to eat (far) less animal. NOSE TO TAIL sounds like a kind of formation you would not want to be in. That answer was hardest for me, and helped make the SE corner the toughest corner. Not too tough. Just tougher than the rest.

Started out hot with BARBIE—my sister probably had a Dreamhouse, or wanted one; she definitely had the Corvette—but weirdly couldn't think of what the final four letters could be. Sincerely thought: "What was Barbie's last name?" DOLL. Her last name was DOLL. But just BARBIE was enough to get me going on the Downs. Went straight from there over into the NE via ERITREA. Tried to go into the SW, but somehow FIXTURES and UP NEXT just weren't going to reveal themselves from just their back ends, and so I worked the NE instead. Very fast there, with just a START SLOW hiccup before STARTS SMALL (11D: Not bite off more than one can chew). Biggest problem was figuring out what word I could make out of -ORKMA-- (31A: One might be by the water cooler). "... PORKMAIL?" Seriously, the -ORK was just so weird-looking.

Jumped over to RUBS, which quickly got me BORAT and RAISINS. Only problem in that quadrant was the HEFTS error I always make with the stupid sword handles (HAFTS). Getting into the SE was the only real problem this grid presented. I had HALF- and no idea what followed at 35D: Divided barrier. Eventually just guessed the DOOR part. Short Downs just weren't that quick in coming down there. Blanked on NRC (53D: Government org. concerned with radioactive waste). Also really struggled with both GAIN (49D: Appreciation) and LINE (50D: A cameo might have one). Had -AIN and -INE and still no idea, right at the end. Had to close them out by getting OGLE from O---E (48A: Check out, in a way). Today I was grateful to have "RUR" (24D: Play from which the word "robot" comes) and SABRA (36A: Israeli-born Jew) and ENOL (52A: Hydroxyl-bearing compound) in my big bag of crossword vocabulary (SABRA is the rarest of those, but common enough that it's worth remembering). A stupid lazy fly is buzzing in my office so I'm going to quit before I go insane like Walter in that one "Breaking Bad" episode. Bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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