1994 Denis Leary comedy / FRI 8-31-18 / White Buildings was his first collection of poetry / Country singer who uses her first two initials / Portrayer of Hulk in 2003 / Florid drapery fabrics / Downtown Julie Brown's former employer / Subject of Marie Curie's isolation

Friday, August 31, 2018

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:36)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "THE REF" (55A: 1994 Denis Leary comedy) —
The Ref (Hostile Hostages in some countries) is a 1994 American black comedy film directed by Ted Demme, starring Denis LearyJudy Davis and Kevin Spacey. (wikipedia) 
(a ridiculously underrated movie; one of my favorite movies of the '90s; Christine Baranski can do no wrong; stupid Kevin Spacey had to go and ruin everything)
• • •

Hi there. I'm back from Minnesota, back from moving my daughter into Middlebrook Hall at the University of Minnesota, back from enjoying Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Fair, and back in town for the foreseeable future, finally (this was our fifth trip of the summer). Hadn't solved a puzzle in four days, then sat down to do the latest Liz Gorski Crossword Nation puzzle as a kind of warm-up, and then started in on this one. Felt all kinds of out-of-practice, and got stuck plenty, but still managed to come up with a slightly better-than-average time, so either this is a Medium difficulty puzzle or it was very very easy and I was just rusty. Take your pick. Had the most trouble, by far, with SHOCKS (I only just this second that the "installation" of the clue (1A: Garage installation) refers to the act performed on them by the mechanic (i.e. she *installs* the SHOCKS), not the physical arrangement of them in space inside of the garage (i.e. it's a garage, not a museum) ... OK, yeah, I'm a little rusty) ... and then STAY-AT-HOME DAD, which was shockingly hard for me to parse (12A: He works with kids). I had something like 10 letters in place and still couldn't make sense of it, because the letters I was missing were crucial. I had STA-ATHO-E-AD and my brain couldn't make a name, couldn't make anything out of it. Also, I had HYPED instead of AMPED for a bit at 7D: Jazzed, so that threw an errant "Y" in there. As you can see, the letter I needed was the "Y" from OYEZ, but ... ugh, OYEZ is awful fill *and* it has a "?" clue (3D: Court order?). Cardinal rule: don't give your terrible fill tricksy / hard "?" clues. It's the worst. It's so unsatisfying. It's barfsome. Solver enjoyment!!!!!! Just clue you stupid bad fill straight and move on. The rest of the puzzle is so good, why would you do this??? Anyway, OYEZ. Because bailiffs always say ... that ... I might've had RISE in there at one point, I don't know. Anyway, I did not say "o, yay" to OYEZ.

I was the first person to put TA-NEHISI COATES in a puzzle (3 years ago!), and, with apologies to everyone, I will never not mention this when I see his full name in a puzzle (51A: MacArthur Fellowship-winning author of "Between the World and Me"). It was a Buzzfeed crossword, back when that was a thing, and so only like 200 people saw it, but What Ever. First! My grid even had roughly the same shape as this one (largely because TA-NEHISI COATES is a 14 and they are notoriously difficult to manage, grid-wise—this little stagger maneuver, with stairstep black corners in the NW and SE, is one way to deal). Here was mine:
Look at that. Same. Place. In the grid! Ooh, and they both have END in them! Eeeeerie ... Anyway, coincidences can be kooky.

I thought you "desalinated" water—is DESALT the same thing (are there "DESALTing plants"?). DESALT just felt odd to me. As for OBOE d'amore, Ha, if I ever knew that was a thing, I sure forgot it today. "Slightly larger than the oboe, it has a less assertive and a more tranquil and serene tone, and is considered the alto of the oboe family," says wikipedia. Ok then. Had OUTDID before OUTRAN (19D: Surpassed), and needed every cross to parse FIVE-O (39D: Fuzz). That's slang for "police," btw, in case you didn't know, which you probably did, but you never know. First answer was EWE, last answer was FBI, which has a beautiful symmetry to it.

Glad to be back. See you tomorrow. And, oh yeah, so ... it's *possible* that my wife and I might be kinda sorta thinking about moving to Minneapolis, so ... just puttin' that out there. At least one of us will need a job, probably. OK, bye!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Thanks to Matthew and Rachel for covering for me Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, and thanks as always to Clare for doing her last-Tuesday-of-the-month write-up. Nice to know the blog's in capable hands when I'm away.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Philosophy of Simplicity / THU 8-30-18 / Home of the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere (founded in 1551) / Ancient mother goddess

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Constructor: Grant Thackray

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: ADBLOCK (64A: Popular browser extension... or a literal description of four black squares in this puzzle) —  Puzzle where four BLOCKs (black squares) represent the letters AD

Theme answers:
  • MANSPRE[AD] (5D: Annoyance from a subway seatmate)
  • SAL[AD] (11A: Light lunch choice)
  • BUTTLO[AD] (16D: Whole lot, slangily)
  • [AD]DRESS (17D: Speak to)
  • UNDE[AD] (37A: Like zombies)
  • [AD]OPTARO[AD] (38A: Program for reducing litter on highways)
  • [AD]LIBS (40A: Lines screenwriters didn't write)
  • [AD]ULTING (45D: Doing grown-up things, in modern lingo)
  • [AD]ORKABLE (47D: Endearingly awkward)
  • HOTHE[AD] (48D: Easily angered sort)
  • [AD]AMS (70A: Number 2 or 6)  [as in, the 2nd or 6th president]

Word of the Day: Thomas KYD (Playwright Thomas who predated Shakespeare) —
Thomas Kyd (baptised 6 November 1558; buried 15 August 1594) was an English playwright, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama.
Although well known in his own time, Kyd fell into obscurity until 1773 when Thomas Hawkins, an early editor of The Spanish Tragedy, discovered that Kyd was named as its author by Thomas Heywood in his Apologie for Actors (1612). A hundred years later, scholars in Germany and England began to shed light on his life and work, including the controversial finding that he may have been the author of a Hamlet play pre-dating Shakespeare's, which is now known as the Ur-Hamlet.
• • •
I've seen a lot of crosswordese in my time, but this is my first encounter with Thomas KYD. I suspect it won't be my last. (Also, "Ur-Hamlet"!)

Anyways, hi! I'm Rachel, a new faculty member at a medical school in central New York who somehow managed to twitter my way into covering for Rex while he is, as far as I can tell, eating his weight in Minnesotan baked goods. In case it isn't obvious from the fact that my entire tweet was an emoji, I am a (fully ADULTING) millennial, and therefore (mostly) loved this puzzle.

For the most part this played pretty smoothly for me. I landed on UNDE[AD] almost immediately, and then skipped to the theme clue and worked out the ADBLOCK. Knowing to look out for missing ADs made the rest of the puzzle fall into place pretty seamlessly. I did have a slight speed bumps in the SE, where it took a few painful seconds to wrap my head around what an [AD]AMS was in relation to 70A: Number 2 or 6.

Aside from my new friend Thomas KYD, most of the grid felt fresh and exciting, with MANSPREAD and ADULTING both making their NYT debut. Both of those terms have their detractors, but neither is as bad as ADORKABLE, which should really be sent to a farm upstate. We've also seen it once before, in 2014. Also making its NYT debut is BUTTLOAD, which I'm sure some will find objectionable, but it made me laugh. I appreciate the almost aggressive youthfulness of this puzzle; in addition to the modern young-people-speak, we have SEENSAY, which I understand is a very retro toy, and MEGAMAN, a slightly-less-retro video game.

The fill struggled in some placed under the weight of the 11(!) theme answers (I'm looking at you, ORL AUST RAS IDA ENE BMOC INS). But as with my browser extension, I'm willing to overlook a lot of issues not to have to have to see any ADs. The double-AD BLOCK on ADOPTAROAD is an impressive feat of construction that more than makes up for the occasionally-spotty fill.

  • POPUP (23A: Temporary, as a store) — I wonder if this was originally clued in reference to the theme as a pop-up ad?
  • SKIPIT (26A: "Let's go to the next one") —In light of the youthfulness of this puzzle, I'm also curious whether this was originally clued as the 80's-90's toy that you... skipped?

  • ATONESPEAK (31D: Performing Flawlessly) — Booo. In addition to this being a dumb phrase, my brain parsed it as ATONE SPEAK, like some sort of command to verbally make up for something.
  • NERDSROPE (7D: Crunchy candy with a gummy string center) — Objectively one of the worst candies don't @ me 
Overall, I thought this puzzle was clever and fresh, and I'm glad Rex took a chance on a person he didn't know anything about beyond a single emoji. Thanks for letting me review at you!

Signed, Rachel Fabi, Queen-for-a-Day of CrossWorld

[Follow Rachel on Twitter where she mostly tweets about public health, ethics, and immigration]


Voldemort, to Harry Potter / WED 8-29-18 / Rough spots for teens? / Grp. co-founded by Helen Keller

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Constructor: Alex Bajcz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: City work — Each theme answer is a city name preceded by a "profession" which is an anagram of the city name

Theme answers:
  • DIAGNOSES SAN DIEGO (18a: Work as a metropolitan health official?)
  • COUNTS TUSCON (29a: Works as a metropolitan census taker?)
  • HASTEN ATHENS (44a: Work as a metropolitan traffic engineer?)
  • SALVAGES LAS VEGAS (55a: Works as a metropolitan reclaimant?)
Word of the Day: KENKEN (27d: Numbers game)
KenKen is a trademarked name for a style of arithmetic and logic puzzle invented in 2004 by Japanese math teacher Tetsuya MiyamotoAs in Sudoku, the goal of each puzzle is to fill a grid with digits so that no digit appears more than once in any row or any column (a Latin square). KenKen grids are divided into heavily outlined groups of cells –– often called “cages” –– and the numbers in the cells of each cage must produce a certain “target” number when combined using a specified mathematical operation.

• • •

Hi y'all! It's Matthew, your friendly neighborhood radio producer/baseball fan/whale enthusiast in for Rex on this fine Wednesday. To all of you in the comments who thought I was ~too tough~ on last Monday's puzzle: Don't fret! With very few exceptions, today's puzzle was a joy! But as the winds of the anonymous Internet go, you probably hated it. Oh well.

Anywho: let's puzzle! Got off to a disgruntled start with UNSEAL (1a: Open, as an envelope) — you can reseal an envelope, and you can unseal other things ... but "unseal" an envelope? I'm skeptical. HOWEVER the rest of this puzzle was so darn exciting that before long it didn't matter one bit. I had my share of stumbles here and there along with several double-takes — TANK for REEF (24a: Home for a clown fish) (sorry @Nemo), BEGINS for ONSETS (34a: Starts), and JUMP for LEAP (41a: Jeté, e.g.) — but used my trusty crosses to right those wrongs without incurring any serious damage and came in comfortably under my average Wednesday time. Cracking the theme was really fun working from the bottom up. I cobbled together both SALVAGES LAS VEGAS and HASTEN ATHENS before picking up on the anagram component, at which point the other two themers fell nicely into place amidst a grid chock-full of delightful fill. 

I definitely want to give EAGERNESS, USED CAR LOT and ARCHENEMY their due (4d: Zeal / 31d: Place for junkers / 34d: Voldemort, to Harry Potter)  — but the real prize of this puzzle, in my eye, is the staircase of 6- to 8-letter money words cruising right through the middle, with only NOAA (38a: Operator of weather.gov) feeling more like a tourniquet than a snazzy belt.

Yes, I had a great time on this puzzle. Yes, I think it feels like the ~perfect~ Wednesday difficulty. But I've already proclaimed my baseball obsession on this blog and would be remiss if we didn't talk about that pesky clue for ON BASE (30d: In scoring position, in a way). This wouldn't be a big deal except that "scoring position" is a technical tern in baseball to refer only to runners on either second or third. Most runners who end up ON BASE start at first, which, while closer to scoring than the batter's box, is not in "scoring position." 

End mini rant. Hats off to a great hump day.

(The Chicago Cubs have not lost a baseball game since my CrossWorld debut.)
  • SCRAPE (26d: Pickle) — Synonymous, sure, but "in a pickle" is so much more fun to say.
  • BARISTA (42d: Fitting occupation for a "Joe") — My go-to barista in my hometown is named Magic, and he is cooler than I could ever hope to be.
  • ROYAL (49a: Word before flush or pain) — An exemplary Wednesday clue, in my opinion. Makes you think and perhaps second guess yourself (flush?) but doesn't bust your grid. 
  • OBOE (59a: Item with a bore and a bell) — Link your favorite oboist in the comments below. (Seems safe to assume that the worlds of oboe enthusiasts and crossworders aren't mutually exclusive. Let's find out!) 
Signed, Matthew Stock, CrossWorld utility infielder in for Rex

[Follow Matthew Stock on Twitter]
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Indian flatbread / TUE 8-28-18 / Vittles / Be in a dither / Hockey feints

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It's Clare again for the last Tuesday of the month as August comes to a close (summer, too, unfortunately). I'm currently in DC suffering in hot and humid weather while trying to get the hang of law school. It's just my second week, and there's already tons of reading for each class. I've yet to be cold called in class, but I know that moment is coming.

Constructor: Brian Thomas 

Relative difficulty: Moderately difficult for a Tuesday

THEME: BACKCHANNEL (60A: Covert means of communication ... or what's hiding in the circled letters?) — Circled letters in the puzzle that when read backward are television channels

Theme answers:

  • WAXONWAXOFF (17A: Teaching catchphrase popularized by "The Karate Kid")
  • ZIPLOCBAG (21A: Resealable container for chips or cheese)
  • GLENNCLOSE (32A: Portrayer of Cruella de Vil in 1996's "101 Dalmatians")
  • USBCHARGER (44A: Connection point for a smartphone cable)
  • JOBHUNTER (52A: One using Monster.com)
Word of the day: ANUBIS (47D: Wolf-headed Egyptian god)

Anubis is the Greek name of a god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, usually depicted as a canine or a man with a canine head. Archeologists have identified Anubis's sacred animal as an Egyptian canid, the African golden wolf. (Wikipedia)

• • •
As a theme, the idea of a BACKCHANNEL is clever. But the theme didn't help me to solve any of the puzzle besides giving me the "b" in JOBHUNTER, so I didn't notice the theme until I got to the snappy revealer. A few of those answers felt meh: JOBHUNTER, ZIPLOCBAG, and USBCHARGER aren't very exciting. (I had no idea people used that term, anyway. USB port, USB cable, sure, but a charger?)

None of the fill was too taxing but also didn't feel that exciting. A few answers stood out to me as particularly uninteresting. 38A: Customize, as a video game as MOD seems off and a bit obscure. From a preliminary Wikipedia search, MOD seems to be short for modification, which would make MOD a noun and not a verb, like the clue leads you to believe. 11A: Misbehaving as BAD feels off, too. A parent might say, "My child is misbehaving" but probably wouldn't say, "My child is bad." The parent would say, "My child is being bad." As for 9D: Hilarious, briefly, I can once again assure you all that no one says/writes ROFL anymore. 39A: She reads the signs: SEERESS seems like a forced way to get a lot of e's and s's in there. (The only thing I can think of when I see "seer" is Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter).


  • As a Despicable Me fan, I was happy to see GRU make an appearance at 41A: Animated movie villain with Minions. But the clue isn't quite right. GRU is sometimes villainous but he always ends up saving the day.
  • Mental block: I can never seem to remember whether ORC is spelled with a "c" or a "k."
  • Two of the clues/answers got me to crack a smile: 40D: Makes the cut as SAWS and 3D: Prepares to go on the runway as TAXI (for the sole reason that I couldn't think at first of anything other than a model preparing to go down a runway).
  • 47A: Wolf-headed Egyptian god: ANUBIS and 26A: Jean who wrote "Wide Sargasso Sea": RHYS on a Tuesday felt obscure.
  • When I saw 20A: Spot for a yacht, I immediately thought MARINA, but that obviously isn't four letters long. I was then pleasantly surprised to find that clue again for 27A, this time with enough spaces to fit MARINA.

With that, I leave you! I'm off to reread cases for class for the fourth time like the professors tell us to. That first cold call may be coming tomorrow.

Signed, Clare Carroll, a GW 1L

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Early Indus Valley inhabitant / MON 8-27-18 / Leveling wedge

Monday, August 27, 2018

Constructor: Susan Gelfand

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:58)

THEME: two first names of people in same profession make complete name of someone else in the same profession... —

Theme answers:
  • KIRK DOUGLAS (21A: Actor Cameron + actor Fairbanks = actor ___)
  • STEVE MARTIN (31A: Comedian Carell + comedian Short = comedian ___)
  • JAMES TAYLOR (40A: Singer Brown + singer Swift = singer ___)
  • BILL RUSSELL (50A: Basketball player Walton + basketball player Westbrook = basket ball player ___)
Word of the Day: MONOSKI (9D: Relative of a snowboard) —
monoski is a single wide ski used for skiing on snow. The same bootsbindings, and poles are used as in alpine skiing. Unlike in snowboarding, both feet face forward, rather than sideways to the direction of travel. Similar equipment includes the skwal and the teleboard, with feet in tandem formation (one ahead of the other). (wikipedia)
• • •

Quick write-up tonight. It's a mildly weird concept we've got here. Not a lot holding it together, but which I mean ... the professions represented are totally arbitrary. Also, taking the first name from another person's first name does not strike me as that interesting. You're really just looking for someone whose last name can be a first name. Is this hard? I'm not gonna try, but it seems like you shouldn't have too much trouble coming up with names that fit the bill for, say, authors, or, I don't know actresses (speaking of, this puzzle is Kind of a sausagefest—I guess Taylor Swift is in there as one of the clue names, but all the themers are dudes, and all the other clue names are dudes). Author Miller + author Baldwin = author HENRY JAMES. That took zero time. The theme just feels a little lackluster, is all. Also, the idea that Kirk Cameron (of "Growing Pains" and literally no other fame) is in this puzzle with all these legitimately famous, even legendary people ... doesn't feel right. Fill-wise, it's fine. Mostly clean. I don't get why anyone puts ARYAN in their puzzle when they don't have to (it's a Monday, the grid is not demanding, no need to put in a word that evokes Nazism—don't believe me, just google). Not keen on the idea of "ogling" a HUNK either. I get that you're trying to do a little table-turning here, but [Object of an ogler] is always a gross clue. Why introduce "ogling" into the equation at all? We get LEER and OGLE plenty enough as it is.

I floundered a lot on this one but still ended up under 3, which tells me it must've been pretty easy. As usual, I screwed up right away, in the NW, but putting in LOUT for LUNK (2D: Blockhead) and then REP (!?) for RTE (4D: Traveling salesperson's assignment: Abbr.). So much typing and untyping and retyping. Ugh. Once out of there, things got much easier. Botched the HUNK clue, and first wrote in POKES (?) for PRIES (29D: Gets nosy), but no problems otherwise until the very end, when I tried to get cute and guess the first name based only on RUSSELL. I guessed KURT. Wah WAH. This meant that I considered BITTEN (???) for 44D: Swindled (BILKED) and just generally lost precious seconds on the clock. Oh well. In the end, a pretty average experience on all fronts.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1836 siege setting / SUN 8-26-18 / Standard info on stationery nowadays / Bourbon Street's locale informally / James ___, Belgian painter in the movement Les XX / Italian car informally / Dweller along Bering Sea / Locale for Charlie Chan / City in Iraq's Sunni Triangle

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:50)

THEME: "To The Point" — a puzzle about THE US OPEN Tennis Championship (59A: Annual sporting event that is this puzzle's theme)

Theme answers:
  • ADVANTAGE (23A: Follower of deuce) (it's always AD IN. or AD OUT, never just ADVANTAGE, so ...)
  • LONG RALLY (25A: Lot of back and forth?)
  • HARDCOURT (27A: Alternative to grass)
  • BACKHAND SHOT (43D: One way to answer a server?)
  • GAME SET MATCH (46D: Winning words)
  • ARTHUR ASHE (94A: Stadium name new Citi Field)
  • GRANDSTAND (96A: Spectators' area)
  • QUEENS, NEW YORK (109A: Location of 59-Across)
Word of the Day: EMERSON College (33D: College in Boston) —
Emerson College is a private college in downtown BostonMassachusetts. Founded in 1880 by Charles Wesley Emerson as a "school of oratory," the college offers more than three dozen degree programs in the area of Arts and Communication and is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Located in Boston's Washington Street Theatre District on the edge of the Boston Common, the school also maintains buildings in Los Angeles and the town of Well, The Netherlands. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mixed (doubles?) feelings about this one. On the one hand, it's just a bunch of US Open / tennis answers. Nothing particularly ... special about the content. On the other hand, I mostly really liked the fill, which is saying something, given that there are a lot of throwaway 3-letter answers (never very sexy). EXEMPLAR SHOEHORN DERBYWINNER CALLMELATER, all good. And there are intersecting themers, which is always a tough thing to pull off. And hey, there's sort of a picture there, with the four squares that spell out BALL and then the racquet, which I didn't even see until I was finished, but ... [squints at puzzle] ... yeah, that's definitely a racquet. Or "racket." Frankly, neither spelling feels right, but I think that's all the spellings there are so. Take your choice. I had a horrible time getting started (which appears to be recurring theme in my solving life of late), but eventually I took off—after the whole opening NW / N debacle (about which, more below), the only places that slowed me down at all were the far east (ENJOY instead of EAT UP hurt (53D: Relish), and I couldn't get STONY no matter what I did (54D: Rugged, as a landscape)) and the SW (long Downs were rough ... but I very luckily guessed All the short Acrosses correctly on the first try). Started at DITZY (sorry, I mean WOOZY) and ended at SHUSH.

[98A: James ___, Belgian painter in the movement Les XX]

It's so bizarre that I threw down DITZY at 1A: Lightheaded and then confirmed the "Y" *and the "Z"*, which made me pretty damn certain DITZY was right. So when confronted with 3D: Low soccer score with "T" in the first position, I blithely and semi-confidently wrote in TWOONE. I mean ... it's *pretty* low. But things not surprisingly fell apart from there. I got back on the horse in reasonable time, only to fall right back off in the north, where I had either nothing or SORRY for 6D: "Alas ..." (SADLYand then MARS for 7D: One of a well-known septet (ENVY) (how many planets are there again...?) and then woo hoo a gimme with LEN Cariou but then two big whiffs with ESC (instead of ALT) (10D: Computer key) and DRAB (instead of BLAH) (11D: Utterly uninspiring). This left the north a complete wreck. I kind of tripped my way down the west coast, and ended up finding my way into the racket center, which was very easy, and then whoosh, I flew out of there in all directions, the whole bottom of the grid was a blur. I had to go back eventually and pick up the north (the NE I managed to figure out w/ little trouble). Then it was back for my last stand in the SE, where the main problem was parsing THRIVE ON (81D: Do well with). I just couldn't figure out the context for the clue, so I kept wanting ARRIVE ON (which is a phrase, but one that alas, SADLY, has nothing to do with the clue). And that's it. I had more fun than I normally have on Sunday, that much I can say with confidence.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


First chairman of EEOC familiarly / SAT 8-25-18 / Lamb by another name / Yoko Ono artistically in 1960s / Theme of Cirque de Soleil's O appropriately / renowned pirate captain during golden age piracy / Coiner of words chortle frabjous

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for me—I solved upon waking, Always a bad idea on Saturday) (I had friends find this one very easy; seems likely there's a wide divergence of experience on this one) (9:13)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: NED LOW (9D: Renowned pirate captain during the Golden Age of Piracy) —
Edward "Ned" Low (also spelled Lowe or Loe; 1690–1724) was a notorious English pirate during the latter days of the Golden Age of Piracy, in the early 18th century. Low was born into poverty in WestminsterLondon, and was a thief from an early age. He moved to BostonMassachusetts, as a young man. His wife died in childbirth in late 1719. Two years later, he became a pirate, operating off the coasts of New England and the Azores, and in the Caribbean. (wikipedia) (wiki-cluing, boo!; my emph)
• • •

Mostly enjoyed this one, though I don't particularly enjoy solving the hardest puzzle of the week first thing in the morning. This was in many ways a typical Saturday-morning solve—slow and stumbling. I'm always slower in the morning, and as the week goes on, the difference becomes more noticeable. It's not as if I was slow throughout, though. When things are pretty gettable / roughly in my wheelhouse, I can move, in the mornings, just about as fast as I can at night. It's just getting unstuck that is the real challenge. My brain can get me out of a rut much, much more quickly when I solve at night. Whereas here ... well, here, I stumbled all around the NW, putting in wrong Downs at every turn, and then, finally, I actually looked at the Acrosses, and 15A: Pop group with the 1993 #2 hit "All That She Wants (ACE OF BASS) just looked at me, shaking its head, going "what took you so long?" Yes, embarrassingly, I finally managed to get started in this one because of the kindness of 90s Europop. Sigh.

After that opening disaster, I actually moved fairly well through this one, but then again came to a total halt in the SE, which was totally empty except for the ends of CARROLL and MY FAIR LADY. Some of my struggle was the puzzle's fault (SANDPILE????? There is sand in the sandbox—no one would use SANDPILE in conjunction with a playground; absurd, I say!). But mostly it was my brain's fault. I couldn't get past how wrong FDR-R looked, so I assumed I had an error. Looking at it now, it's hard to believe I couldn't see FDR comma JR. there, but I couldn't. Was never gonna get IVIE or METS or DAH, so ... yipes. I feel like I got very lucky, in the end. I wanted the casino to be THE TAJ, esp. because "J" in the first position of a long Across felt *right*. But when that yielded nothing, I thought, "what are the other 3-letter casinos? (note: I ****ing hate casinos and their denizens and the whole "culture" of whatever that is, so ... Not exactly my strong suit) ... RIO? Is THE RIO something? That means 65A: "Abso-freakin'-lutely!" would start with an O and ... Oh ... OH! OH HELL YES!" One of those rare times where exclaiming the answer literally expresses your feelings. So I managed to finish solely because I was able to remember a second three-letter Vegas casino. You take whatever scrap of an advantage you can get and you Never apologize for it, remember that!

Other struggles: AIDE for PAGE (1D: One running for the Senate?). STAR for ICON (2D: Supercelebrity). MENS for KIDS (13D: Department store section). URL for USB (46D: Modern connection inits.). JAN for WIN (59D: The "1" in 1-9). Did *not* fall into the SHAH-for-AMIN trap; if you take anything away from the blog today, let it be that AMIN and SHAH are both exiles of 1979 so Do Not Be So Sure. Always use crosses as guide. You're welcome. Only ickiness to me, today, was NANKI- (ick to name part, double ick to the whole Orientalist enterprise that is "The Mikado") (64A: ___-Poo, son of the Mikado), and WOMYN (not used by any "feminists" I know in any serious way in forever; also, according to a trans woman friend of mine, sometimes used as a "transphobic dog whistle," indicating spaces where only cis women, i.e. women with wombs, are welcome—exclusion of MEN, implied by the E-to-Y letter change, gets taken to prejudicial extremes) (59A: Group in feminist writing).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1978 Grammy nominee Chris / FRI 8-24-18 / College town east of Greensboro / Caribbean home of Blackbeard's Castle / Futuristic play of 1921 / Real life villain who was antagonist in Robert Ludlum's Bourne Identity

Friday, August 24, 2018

Constructor: Roland Huget

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (6:58)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ERLE C. Kenton (48D: Director ___ C. Kenton) —
Erle C. Kenton (August 1, 1896 – January 28, 1980) was an American film director. He directed 131 films between 1916 and 1957. He was born in Norborne, Missouri and died in Glendale, California from Parkinson's disease.
Kenton and Edward Ludwig were the principal directors of the 1958-1960 CBS television seriesThe Texan, starring Rory Calhoun as Bill Longley, a "Robin Hood of the West", who drifts through the region helping persons in need. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, I don't dislike Fridays very often, but this one was disappointing. Almost painful. Audible ughs several times before I was even half done. A metric ton of wincing. I think my first wince was getting ECHO for [Repercussion]. That is an awful, awkward stretch. Like, the judge would probably rule in your favor, if you had a good lawyer, but we'd all know that that was some letter-of-the-law crap and the clue is actually terrible. RUR and REA are the kind of crosswordese detritus I can kind of tolerate, but shoving RETE up in that section as well ... it was just too much, especially since those long Acrosses weren't all that great to begin with. I can't see any 15 with ONE'S in it without laughing, and CHARLOTTE AMALIE is just crosswordese on steroids. Oh, and then there's AGREERS. [Deep sigh]. And DITS. I haven't even approached the ickiest part of the grid yet: the far west. So many problematic clues and answers all clustered together. ON EARTH should not be allowed to be a thing. AEREO, not great (though mostly I'm mad at myself for knowing it but not being Quite certain how it was spelled). I still don't get the clue on ARCED (26D: Went like a birdie). I assume that's an avian "birdie," as a golf "birdie" shot would not necessarily be ARCED. And if it's avian, then ... what? Birds fly in arcs now? Just a horrible clue. [update: ah, badminton. The very popular sport of badminton. Got it] Then there's SAPOR, site of the error I had that it took me forever to track down (I'd somehow convinced myself that a VACA was a thing, perhaps because SAVOR is so much more of A Word than SAPOR, which is an awful thing no one actually says in the world My God This Puzzle!)

[Like most theater popcorn containers] is just a lie. That clue has no basis in any data or any anything. Only the OVERSIZED containers are OVERSIZED. Over ... what, exactly? How big is just plain old SIZED? The clue on LAD, also amazingly bad (20A: Bucko). Would you call a young boy "Bucko"? I can't hear anyone using LAD as "Bucko" except ... maybe? ... in Britain? Ugh, Why is the cluing in this thing sub-garbage heap!?!?! That "Mad Men" clue is also, literally, a lie. "Mad Men" won Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row. BEST DRAMA is a made-up non-category. Why are you serving me this ERLE, whom no one knows? Why are you serving me not just the normal singular kind but multiple KALES!? I would argue ALL-AMERICAN HERO is not a real thing. It's a vague concept, at best. HERO, real. ALL-AMERICAN, real. AMERICAN HERO, probably real. GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, definitely real. But ALL-AMERICAN HERO, especially as clued (57A: Neil Armstrong or Jesse Owens, say), feels weak. And what the hell was up with that fat joke at Hitchcock's expense?! (50D: Hitchcock double feature?). Worst Friday I've done in ages. I barely EKED this one out. Did I use that right? EKED? I neither know nor care, at this point. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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First wife of Pablo Picasso / THU 8-23-18 / Third base in baseball lingo / Stunning creatures of Amazon / O greeting on many lolcat memes / Chain with pepper in its logo

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (6:57)

THEME: CROP ROTATION (50A: Common farming technique ... or a hint to solving this puzzle) — rebus puzzle where "crops" are found in three different squares; at those squares, the answers that feed into them "rotate" ninety degrees, with Across answers headed Down and Downs Across:

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Title for Prince Charles's Camilla + 7D: Third base, in baseball lingo = DUCHESS OF CORN WALL / HOT CORN ER
  • 28A: General amount of money that something sells for + 3D: Stunning creatures of the Amazon = RICE RANGE / ELECT RICE ELS
  • 46A: Behind-the-scenes worker in TV news + 25D: "Or even ..." = STO RYE DITOR / BETTE RYE T

Word of the Day: ABBA (24A: Biblical "father") —
Ab or Av (related to Akkadian abu[), sometimes Abba, means "father" in most Semitic languages. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hmm. First, I've seen this type of theme before: two answers run into each other and then head off at ninety-degree angles. Not sure how many times, or what the revealers were in those instances, but I've definitely seen this. The repetition of a theme type, though, is less of a big deal than the fact the ninety-degree thing simply doesn't evoke "rotation" very well. I get that you've "rotated" the answer ninety degrees, but rotation makes me think circle, and at any rate the answer isn't "rotated" so much as rerouted. You rotate around an axis, which is not what is happening here. So whatever is happening here is neither like crop rotation nor like spatial rotation, so I don't know what it is. Despite having just three "crops" in it, the puzzle is kind of impressive, architecturally, especially since two of the "rotating" pairs of answers end up overlapping (i.e. ELECTRIC runs through DUCHESS, though they are not part of the same "rotation"). And there's some nice fill in here, particularly IT'S A TRAP, LET LOOSE, and I DECLARE. There's just something off about the theme expression, and off is off is off. Offness casts a pall over everything else. Precision matters.

I had no idea ABBA meant "father," biblically. That little answer caused me a heap of trouble, as did VALE, which has an ugh-ish "?" clue (13A: Setting for a peak viewing?). I can see "peaks" from Lots of places. Lots and lots. I've seen lots of peaks, but I'm not even sure I've ever been in a VALE. Plus "setting" and "viewing" suggested some kind of camera setting. "?" clues are so unsatisfying when they don't stick the landing. I have no problem being fooled if there's eventual payoff. I also thought the "?" on SCABS missed the mark (40A: Ones whose work is strikingly controversial?). "Controversial" doesn't quite get at what SCABS do. Too vague. Whereas [One who goes hog wild?] for BIKER seems just right.

Wanted TIE INTO before TIE ONTO (6D: Hook up with, in a way). Saw BARDO in a puzzle for the first time very recently (this past weekend), so very weird to see it again so soon (31D: "Lincoln in the __" (2017 George Saunders best-selling novel)). OIL was hard for me (35A: "Mona Lisa," e.g.) (I thought maybe the clue meant the Nat King Cole song), as was PLAY UP (32D: Emphasize) and LET LOOSE (wanted LECTURED) (18D: Delivered a rant). Thought Picasso's wife was maybe OONA (53D: First wife of Pablo Picasso => OLGA). Loved the fake plural in the clue for TOUPEE (19A: Alternative to plugs). LOL knowing any of those ghouls on "Shark Tank."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Pharaoh honored near Aswan / WED 8-22-18 / Apple application that's now banned / Tool with tapering blade / hi lois pooch / title of trash collector's memoir

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Constructor: John Lampkin

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:20)

THEME: MB—>MP —wacky letter-change stuff

Theme answers:
  • READY TO RUMPLE (20A: "You think the blanket needs messing up?")
  • RULE OF THUMP (36A: Guideline for testing watermelon ripeness?)
  • SLUMPERLAND (43A: Whence slouches?)
  • DUMP AND DUMPER (58A: Title of a trash collector's memoir?)
Word of the Day: TANIA Mallet (47A: Actress Mallet of "Goldfinger") —
Tania Mallet (born 19 May 1941) is an English model and actress who is best known for her appearance as Tilly Masterson in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). [...] Tania is cousin of actress Helen Mirren. [...] Despite the film's phenomenal success, Goldfinger would be Mallet's only major big screen appearance. (wikipedia)
• • •

The NYT can't be this desperate for wacky Wednesday puzzles. Changing UMP to UMB ... well, it's a thing you can do, but as you can see from this puzzle, it's hard to see the upside. The themers simply don't come together, by and large. This is an example of a letter-change that one *can* do ... but, given the weak results, one probably *shouldn't* do (or, now, I guess, have done). If we accept the basic premise here (i.e. that just changing one letter in a three-letter sequence is sufficient basis for a theme), then I think RULE OF THUMP makes the grade, while the others do not. With RULE OF THUMP, the base phrase is a nice standalone phrase, and the new one evokes a very clear and specific image. It's cute. And that's what you want your wacky themers to be, at a minimum: cute. But READY TO RUMPLE does not have a good standalone base phrase (It needs "Let's get..." in front of it to be truly solid), and the clue evokes ... nothing. I don't even understand the context for the clue quote: "You think the blanket needs messing up?" What situation is happening there. READY TO RUMPLE is a question? Why would you ask about messing up a blanket? Why would there be a good and bad time to do that? It's idiotic, the whole thing. SLUMPERLAND is just absurd—the way SLUMPER is absurd, even before you stick -LAND on the end. DUMP AND DUMPER is about as bad as READY TO RUMPLE in terms of its making zero sense. Why would a "trash collector" (is that like a garbageman?) call his memoir DUMP AND DUMPER? Is it about a specific "dump" that he takes his trash to? And then ... he is the "dumper"? Or is the truck the "dumper"? It's not funny. It's confusing. Wacky Themers Have To Land Perfectly. These are just off and off and off.

Imagine thinking anyone in 2018 is going to know TANIA Mallet. What is even happening with that clue? She was in a single movie 50+ years ago. That is all. At least TANIA Raymonde (of "Lost" (ABC), "Goliath" (Amazon), etc.) is still acting, and has acted in More Than One Thing. I still think she's pretty obscure, but she beats Mallet by a long shot. Apparently there are people who think that "Goldfinger" is still current cinema. Mallet wasn't exactly famous when the movie was in theaters. Come on. The rest of the fill was OK, with the longer non-theme fill being reasonably entertaining. I like NOSE COUNT and PLUNK DOWN. I got -PEACE part of 17A: Topic for one of the Dalai Lama's "Little Book" series first, and so wrote in WORLD PEACE. I also blanked on SHAW (1A: Eliza Doolittle's creator) and had no idea that cement trucks had HOSEs attached (?@!). Thought the windows were PENNA. Thought a HOE had a "tapering blade" (63D: ADZ). Found THE very hard to come up with, given the clue (33D: "What ___?!"). Wrote in DRONE at first for 5A: Many an Amazon "worker" (ROBOT). The quotation marks around "worker" made me briefly wonder whether the puzzle was taking a swipe at their terrible labor practices. SLAVE seemed a bit pointed, though, esp for the NYT. So ... ROBOT. I don't associate ROBOTs with Amazon any more than I associate them with other large industrial operations. But I thought they were experimenting with DRONE deliveries; hence my (wrong) initial answer.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Hey, check 48-Across ... now check the clue on 27-Across. Quality editing, right?

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