Battler of Hector in Iliad / WED 10-31-18 / CIA infiltrator during Cold War / Groups that typically meet weekly for lunch / Image on ancient mariner's map

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy to Easy-Medium (3:44)

THEME: CRYPT (67A: Resting place hinted at by 28-, 5-, 45-, 9- and 31-Across) — circled squares in themers are homophones of letters that, together, spell CRYPT, i.e. SEA (C), ARE (R), WHY (Y), PEA (P), TEA (T)

Theme answers:
  • SEA SERPENT (28D: Image on an ancient mariner's map)
  • ARE WE GOOD? (5D: "Do you still like me?")
  • WHY ME? (45D: "What did I do to deserve this?")
  • PEA GRAVEL (9D: Walkway option in lieu of paving)
  • TEA BISCUIT (13D: Serving at a 4:00 social)
Word of the Day: PEA GRAVEL (9D) —
gravel that consists of small, rounded stones used in concrete surfaces. Also used for walkways, driveways and as a substrate in home aquariums. (wikipedia)
• • •

Here's a good example of trying to do too much. What might have been a reasonable Halloween-type thing goes all to hell with the mixed-message Jesus stuff. Is the cross supposed to be just ... a gravestone? A tombstone? Is this a graveyard? Why is it Christian? If I'm not supposed to take it as Christian, then why is is ARAMAIC dead center, right above THEME and CRYPT, and why is "WHY ME?" there, when that's basically just a condensed version of Jesus's words on the cross: "My God, My God, WHY hast thou forsaken ME?" OK, that last one is piling on, but seriously, though, I finished and didn't know what the theme was supposed to evoke, and I *sincerely* thought it had something to do with Jesus. The black-square cross + ARAMAIC sealed the deal. Now Jesus was buried in a tomb, not a CRYPT, per se, but still. The theme evokes Christ far more than it evokes, I don't know, spooky Halloween situation? Also, what is BURY doing there, all coy, like "am I part of the THEME, or am I not, who can say?" (63A: Place underground) You gotta exert better control over your theme material. You want the meaning, the desired effect, to Land. This thing has a cute concept at its core (though I've seen stuff "buried" in grids before, sometimes actually beneath (i.e. off-) grid), but I think the Christ imagery is muddying things. Also, the clue on THEME is bad (62A: Discovering the word at 67-Across, for this puzzle). My "discovering" the CRYPT is the THEME? That's awkward. The CRYPT is the theme. My "discovering" it is neither here nor there. Phrasing!

Five things:
  • 1A: ___ rug (SHAG) — Me: "CUT A!"
  • 27D: Worker in a trauma ward, for short (ER DOC) — sounds more like [Hesitant comment preceding a sensitive question for one's physician]
  • 54D: ___ John (PAPA) — f*** this right-wing pizza guy. Terrible clue. Also, the franchise is "John's," not John. But either way, hell no. 
  • 12D: Truckload at a garbage dump (FILL) — probably not the way I'd clue FILL if I were constructing a puzzle, but ... OK. (note: there was a lot of non-garbage FILL today, particularly "ARE WE GOOD?" and KGB MOLE)
  • 30A: Not self-parked (VALETED) — it's a ... what? What part of speech is this? Use it in a sentence. A non-contrived, normal human sentence. "I had my car VALETED?" Doesn't swap out with the clue very well. "Self-parked" is very strange, since it can suggest both that the driver parked it him/herself, or that the car parked itself. Self-parking cars exist, or so dumb car ads tell me. Anyway, VALETED looks and is weird.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Halloween cry / TUES 10-30-18 / "Get lost!" / It's prologue, they say / JFK Alternative

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Happy almost Halloween, everyone! Most people celebrate by dressing up or doing something festive, while law school professors seem to celebrate by giving us even more work than usual. Yay! I've been getting into the Halloween spirit by watching The Haunting of Hill House (a new Netflix show that's pretty great). Kinda creepy, not too scary. Except for when I watched an episode this weekend and literally screamed. Did I just say that out loud?

Constructor: Jules Markey

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: GRAVEYARD SHIFT (34A: Late night for a working stiff ... or a hint to the shaded squares) — RIP shifts across the puzzle from top to bottom.

Theme answers:
  • RIPOSTES (13A: Witty comebacks)
  • TRIPTYCH (16A: Picture often used as an altarpiece)
  • MRRIPLEY (27A: "Talented" title character played by Matt Damon)
  • SUNRIPEN (42A: Put on a windowsill to mature, say)
  • EGOTRIPS (57A: Narcissists' excursions?)
  • GIVEARIP (60A: Care about something, in slang)

Word of the Day: TRIPTYCH (16A: Picture often used as an altarpiece)
Triptych: A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. The middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works… From the Gothic period onward, both in Europe and elsewhere, altarpieces in churches and cathedrals were often in triptych form. Although strongly identified as an altarpiece form, triptychs outside that context have been created, some of the best-known examples being works by Hieronymus Bosch, Max Beckmann, and Francis Bacon. (Wikipedia)
• • •
The theme was clever, obviously given that Halloween is this week. It might have been even more on the nose if the New York Times waited until it was actually Halloween for this puzzle (though this might have been a bit too easy for a Wednesday puzzle). The shift aspect of RIP was fun, even if I'm not a huge fan of the grey squares aspect. The shift was symmetrical, and I thought that the theme answers were all pretty good/clever.

Overall, the puzzle wasn't too hard, but I definitely got tripped up in a few places. Is SEEPY even a word? I tried to make "seeps" work there, which messed me up for STYLIZED coming down. BOO (55D: Halloween cry) was on-theme, albeit quite easy, but the clue for PLURALS (44D: like ghosts and goblins?) seemed to just be a way to throw some more theme in there; it didn't make a whole lot of sense as the answer. AOKAY is a pretty odd form of "aok." And, who ever saw OPIE clued based on Sons of Anarchy? I've seen maybe two episodes of Sons of Anarchy and had no idea of the names of any of the characters.

I liked the rest of the fill, though. Maybe my favorite was PAST for 41A: It's prologue, they say. That was just a perfectly clever clue and answer. I also loved GO FLY A KITE (10D: "Get lost!") and EGOTRIPS. The way the constructor used 29D: JFK Alternative and 36D: J.F.K. Alternative in 1960 to clue to an airport (LGA) and a president (RMN), respectively, was also fun. I tried to make LBJ work for 29A at first but soon realized that it was meant to be an airport. But then for 36D I tried to think of another airport that could work before realizing that this one meant a politician. I can't decide if AYE for 31A: Assent at sea is clever or just annoying.

  • I really liked TRIPTYCH. I studied those a lot in art history classes, which I always enjoyed. The photo above is of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. I saw that in a museum with my sister and have been weirdly fascinated with it ever since.
  • I got SRA easily for 42D: Lady of Spain: Abbr. but DAMA (30A: Lady of Spain) took me longer; I wanted to make "doña" work instead.
  • Matt Damon was amazing as MR RIPLEY. Matt Damon is amazing in every movie. 
  • I liked SPIN for 53D: What a pool shark puts on a ball. I wanted to put "chalk" there, but SPIN definitely makes more sense for the clue — as well as being the right number of letters. I once thought I might have a future as a pool shark, but then my dad sold our table. He opposed having anyone break my hands.
  • Although there weren't too many crossword-y words, some did jump out: like ERL, LENAPE, and EGIS.
  • Ah, the age-old problem of ENT vs. "orc." It feels like constructors just flip a coin or something to decide whether they want to use one or the other in the puzzle for a "Lord of the Rings" creature.
Signed, Clare Carroll, a torts-happy 1L

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Foul-smelling swamp plant / MON 10-29-18 / Britcom of 1990s informally / Allahu Muislim cry / when doubled dolphinfish

Monday, October 29, 2018

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:20, which would be slightly on the slow side, but it's an oversized grid)

THEME: "black-and-white animal" — every theme answer has a black-and-white animal in it:

Theme answers:
  • PUFFIN BOOKS (19A: Children's publisher whose name includes and black-and-white animal)
  • SKUNK CABBAGE (25A: Foul-smelling swamp plant whose name includes and black-and-white animal)
  • ZEBRA CROSSINGS (38A: Areas for pedestrians whose name includes and black-and-white animal)
  • PANDA EXPRESS (54A: Restaurant chain whose name includes and black-and-white animal
  • PENGUIN SUIT (62A: Men's fancy duds whose name includes and black-and-white animal)
Word of the Day: SKUNK CABBAGE (25A: Foul-smelling swamp plant whose name includes and black-and-white animal) —
Symplocarpus foetidus, commonly known as skunk cabbage or eastern skunk cabbage (also swamp cabbageclumpfoot cabbage, or meadow cabbagefoetid pothos or polecat weed), is a low growing plant that grows in wetlands and moist hill slopes of eastern North America. Bruised leaves present a fragrance reminiscent of skunk. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle is a good example of why Puzzles Should Have Titles. It really needed a title or revealer or some kind of clever phrase to pull it all together. Instead, every theme clue is laden with the same cumbersome phrase: "whose name includes and black-and-white animal." It's not clear why you even make a puzzle like this if you don't have a zinger in your back pocket. I like the themers where the B&W animals describe attributes of the answer (i.e. the skunk smells foul like the plant, the zebra is striped like the crossing, the penguin is black & white like the suit); PUFFIN BOOKS and PANDA EXPRESS are just companies with the actual animal in their name in logo. Far less interesting, as themers go. But the main issue here is the lack of revealer or title or wordplay or something. The grid was pretty clean, and I enjoyed the solve. The theme just didn't crackle the way (hypothetically) it might have. I wondered aloud, once I was done, why this needed to be 16 wide—you could've made ZEBRA CROSSING singular and set it right in the middle of a regular 15-wide grid. But the grid would've been badly crammed in that scenario, as the 12s (SKUNK CABBAGE, PANDA EXPRESS) wouldn't have had room to share their rows with other answers, which would've had a cascading, grid-strangling effect. Opening the grid up that one extra column lets things breathe a little. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, lots right with that.

I thought I was flying pretty swiftly on this one, but I did hit a few snags. Sometimes when I'm speeding, I misread clues, or don't completely read them. For instance, I don't think I ever once saw that any of the theme clues had the phrase "whose name includes and black-and-white animal" in them. That is, I missed the basic premise of the theme because I couldn't be bothered to read all that qualifying material. I already had the SKUNK part before I saw that clue, but I had no idea about the CABBAGE part, and since I wrote in ALLAH at first for 22D: "Allahu ___" (Muslim cry) (AKBAR), moving from the NW into the rest of the grid was a little awkward. I then had trouble with the ZEBRA part of  ZEBRA CROSSINGS, because, again, I never really saw the B&W animal part. ONE LUMP was slightly hard to come up with, as that phrase seems very quaint—like, for when you are served tea or coffee on a formal tea or coffee set in some rich person's parlor. I was looking for some more precise measurement (though HALF CUP did not seem sufficiently "small," as "serving"s go). I also wanted UPTICK before UPTURN (47D: Economic improvement). Otherwise, pretty smooth sailing.

Five things:
  • 53A: Sharpshooter's asset (AIM) — no idea why brain insisted on processing this as a photography clue. Anyway, I wanted EYE
  • 8D: E.M.T. procedure with electric paddles, for short (DEFIB) — as five-letter words go, this one is prime cut. Love it
  • 62D: Poet who wrote "Once upon a midnight dreary ..." (POE) — Hey, his name's *in* the clue! :) Also, seasonal reminder: It's Edgar ALLAN (with an "A" not an "E") Poe
  • 13D: Accept a bet (TAKE ODDS) — what's the difference between TAKE ODDS and LAY ODDS. No, wait, nevermind, I don't really care...
  • GRAB ACADS TESTY (1A, 5A, 10A) — sounds almost like something you should do to a cad if he comes on too strong...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Popular Dominican dance / SUN 10-28-18 / Farthest point in an orbit around the moon / Arizona capital of the Navajo nation / Hills with gentle slopes on one side and steep slopes on the other / Quaint demographic grouping

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:37, but with an error that it took me another 1:19 to find)

THEME: "Match Play" — the theme is MIXED DOUBLES (119A: Game suggested by this puzzle's theme); themers are simply familiar phrases following the pattern "___ AND ___," with clues that are anagrams of the words on either side of AND. So the clue is "mixed" and ... doubled (?) (i.e. split in two, with one part on one side of AND and the second part on the other):

Theme answers:
  • SWEET AND SOUR (23A: Sou'wester) ("sou'wester" anagrams to "sweet" and "sour")
  • HEART AND SOUL (28A: Late hours)
  • PEACHES AND CREAM (45A: Peace marches)
  • TAR AND FEATHER (62A: "After Earth")
  • RIGHT AND WRONG (77A: Growth ring)
  • STAND UP AND CHEER (97A: Trade punches)
  • STOP AND STARE (11A: Prostates)
Word of the Day: BACHATA (18A: Popular Dominican dance) —
• • •

This theme did very little for me as I was solving. It's an anagram-based theme, but with a twist that I just couldn't fully appreciate. The tennis title / revealer didn't give any oomph or punch—felt like a "best we could come up with" sort of effort. I think it's one of those themes that constructors might appreciate more, because it's actually fairly tough to do well, i.e. to get ___ AND ___ phrases both to anagram (on either side of the AND) to words / phrases that look like plausible crossword clues, *and* to get that set of answers to come out as a symmetrical set. But from a solving perspective, the theme wasn't engaging. It didn't require thought, and didn't have any apt humor, or anything that really makes a crossword enjoyable. I didn't even look at the clues much of the time. Got some crosses, found where the AND was and just wrote it in (which helped make this puzzle Easy) and then looked to see what kind of ___ AND ___ phrase might fit. I didn't even see the clue ["After Earth"], for instance, until after I was done and copying the theme clues into this write-up. Just wasn't necessary to pay attention. The grid was very lively and innovative, with a mess of words I'd never seen before (BACHATA, APOLUNE, WINDOW ROCK, HEADSPRING), so solving was by no means a drag. But the theme was somewhat flavorless to me.

Did anyone else in the whole wide world write in YIPPIES for 96D: Quaint demographic grouping both because you would never in a million years associate the word "quaint" with YUPPIES and because you didn't know the at-least-slightly esoteric word CUESTAS (100A: Hills with gentle slopes on one side and steep slopes on the other) and thought CIESTAS sounded verrrry plausible (like "siestas," only ... in hill form)? No, just me? Man, that was annoying. I don't mind CUESTAS so much as I mind the ridiculous clue on YUPPIES. Actually, I just hate the word "quaint" here, as well as the fact that there is nothing in the clue to point directly at YUPPIES. Just "a grouping." Boring and boooo. CUESTAS compounds the problem, but the origin of the problem is in the exquisitely bad YUPPIES clue. Super annoying. When I realized I had an error (but had no idea where) I put the prime suspects into a line-up. BACHATA checked out. WINDOW ROCK (79D: Arizona capital of the Navajo nation) and HEADSPRING (78D: Gymnastics flip) seemed pretty unimpeachable. APOLUNE looked like a very strong candidate for puzzle-ruiner, because that word looks ridiculous the more I look at it (80A: Farthest point in an orbit around the moon), but the crosses looked like they worked. I was not entirely sure about ENE (76D: Suffix with methyl), but with "moon" in the clue the "LUNE" part of APOLUNE had to be right. So that left CIESTAS. And ... guilty! J'accuse, CIESTAS!

Five things:
  • 11D: "C'mon, be serious" ("DON'T PLAY") — I was mildly unsure about this one, as it seemed almost too colloquial, but I've heard it some (primarily in rap / hip-hop contexts), so I just went with it
  • 40D: Japanese dogs with turned-up tails (SHIBA INUS) — I know the breed, but spelled it SHIBU at first. This answer makes me worry that constructors will think INUS is a viable stand-alone answer. Please never put INUS in your puzzle, thanks.
  • 15D: Dulles designer (EERO SAARINEN) — Full-name! EERO, gettin' the DeeLuxe treatment today. Really thought he had an umlaut somewhere in his name, but apparently not. Some Finnish design guy does, doesn't he? Well ... it's not Alvar Aalto, so I don't know who the hell I'm thinking öf.
  • 22A: Get a ___ on someone (READ) — went with BEAD, a wrong answer that is actually plausible
  • 47D: 47D: Part of a Mario costume (RED HAT) — so there's this concept in crossword construction called GREEN PAINT ... which could just as easily have been named RED HAT: a phrase you can imagine someone saying that lacks the coherence to stand alone. Like, say, ENTER A ROOM ... a recognizable English phrase that one might use, but as a crossword answer, errrr no. Green paint. Red hat. No dice. Oh, actually, RED HAT is a pretty prominent software company, so ... if that were the clue, that might take RED HAT out of the realm of GREEN PAINT. If you follow ...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1973 Best Actor winner for Save the Tiger / SAT 10-27-18 / City on Douro River / Knotty tree growth / Happy Days hangout informally / Tarzan's realm / Belgium's longest-reigning monarch / Some disguised fishing trawlers

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Challenging (10:39 ... though roughly 3:00 of that for me was just being flat-out stuck in the NW)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: POTASH (9A: Fertilizer ingredient) —
Potash (/ˈpɒtæʃ/) is some of various mined and manufactured salts that contain potassium in water-solubleform. The name derives from pot ash, which refers to plant ashes soaked in water in a pot, the primary means of manufacturing the product before the industrial era. The word potassium is derived from potash.
Potash is produced worldwide at amounts exceeding 90 million tonnes (40 million tonnes K2O equivalent) per year, mostly for use in manufacturing. Various types of fertilizer-potash thus constitute the single largest industrial use of the element potassium in the world. Potassium was first derived in 1807 by electrolysis of caustic potash (potassium hydroxide). (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a truly excellent grid, especially given how low the word count is (64), but man oh man did it smack me around. Well, the NW corner did. The rest of it was pretty normal for a Saturday, and if I'd been able to proceed through the NW at a relatively normal pace, I'd've finished in a mid-7s (i.e. normal) time, normally, like normal. But that didn't happen. I'm staring at my marked-up puzzle, where I've used a red marker to highlight the trouble areas, and basically it just looks like someone bled all over the NW. Yes, SITCOMMY (great) was tough to see (34D: Formulaically humorous), and since I had DONA at 38D: Woman's name meaning "gift" (DORA), I struggled to get CROWE (48A: "Say Anything ..." director), which should've been a gimme given my solidly Gen-X credentials, oh well. But outside of that little bottom-center area, the rest of the grid didn't present any real trouble ... until I (re-)arrived at the NW, where I had ... virtually nothing. This is what my grid looked like at roughly the 7 or 8 minute mark:

Please note my brilliant error, GNAR, which ... is not the word I actually wanted. The word I actually wanted was KNAR (so close!), which means "a knot or BURL on wood." Sigh. I not only had a wrong answer, I had the wrong wrong answer. I couldn't even get the wrong answer right. Etc. To my credit, I knew that of all the things I had in place, that was the one that needed removing. Oh, I also had EVE in there earlier at 5D: Today preceder (USA). But that was also very dicey, so I pulled it too. I just couldn't make this section move. I could tell that 2D: Nebulous ended in -LIKE, but ... lots of things are nebulous. Eventually got BOATS at the end of 1D: Some disguised fishing trawlers but ... SPY BOATS? Never in a million years would I have guessed that SPY BOATS were for fishing. They sound like they're ... for spying. HEURISTIC would've been hard on a good day, but this was not a good day (3D: Method of solving). YEN SIGN (!?!?!) (8D: "Y" with a bar). No way. BRAINED? Oh, *that* meaning of [Clocked]. Oof. Nope. the *only* reason I'm not still trying to solve this thing is that I finally decided to think for a few seconds about 1A: Overweight and untidy, and I sort of cocked my head and made a face and asked myself: "SHLUBBY ... nope. SCHLUBBY? Is that how you spell it?" And bam bam bam everything fell into place. Several minutes of dead air, and then a lucky guess. Hail Mary! Lord have mercy those are the corners I have nightmares about.

Five things:
  • 4D: Transferrer of stock? (LADLE— I literally made chicken stock today and still thought this clue was about livestock
  • 15A: Sybaritic pursuit (PLEASURE) — so so mad at myself for completely forgetting what "sybaritic" means. It's one thing to be befuddled by clues, and quite another, more miserable thing to be done in by one's own impoverished, fraying vocabulary
  • 16A: City on the Douro River (OPORTO) — this is hard, and yet in retrospect, I read all about Portuguese wine and the Douro Valley terroir (!) this past summer, so I feel like I should've been quicker here
  • 13D: One with a frog in its throat? (STORK) — so ... STORKs literally eat frogs? I've seen them fish (really spectacular). I have not seen them frog, I don't think
  • 37A: Like oil spills and clearing of rain forests (ECOCIDAL) — I feel like this word is largely made-up for the sole purpose of being in this crossword, but it was at least, eventually, inferrable.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Arrives 1967 soul album / FRI 10-26-18 / Funny Martha / Hilton alternative / Trendy salad type / Cable inits popular with female viewers

Friday, October 26, 2018

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:19)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Kansas' Fort HAYS (22D) —
Fort Hays, originally named Fort Fletcher, was a United States Army fort near Hays, Kansas. Active from 1865 to 1889, it was an important frontier post during the American Indian Wars of the late 19th century. Reopened as a historical park in 1929, it is now operated by the Kansas Historical Society as the Fort Hays State Historic Site. [...] 
Fort Hays became a key Army installation in the Indian Wars, serving as a base of operations for combat forces and a supply point for Fort Dodgeand Camp Supply to the south. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, supported by Lt. Col. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment, used it as his headquarters during his 1868-1869 campaign against the Cheyenne and the Kiowa. Both Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok served as Army scouts at Fort Hays at points during this period. (wikipedia)

• • •

So normally when I solve just after waking up, the results are semi-disastrous. There's usually some residual brain fog, even if I've gotten up and splashed water on my face and had a drink of water etc. I'm definitely faster at night. So tonight was particularly weird, because I (accidentally) fell asleep on the couch for like three hours this evening and then woke up ... but it was still nighttime. So "just woke up" (slower) + "nighttime solving" (faster) = somehow astonishingly fast. A few seconds off my record for this year. Now I'll never know if the marathon nap helped or hurt. Would I have smashed my record if I'd solved it at night without the nap? Or did the nap actually propel me, helping me to a faster time than I would've had without it? Also, who cares!? I loved this puzzle. I know, I know, it's easy to love a puzzle that you Krush, but this one is really fantastic, everywhere you turn. BWAHAHA made me laugh (apt!) and PHTEST has that insane consant-heavy opening, which is cool, and SIDEARMED is a nice verbing of baseball term, and PERPWALK and BIG PHARMA and I'VE CHANGED are all just great, in-the-language terms and phrases. I do think it could've been toughened up a little, especially in the NE, which I took down like it was a Monday (ARETHA, then all the four-letter Acrosses, then all the long Downs, without hesitation). And the crossreferenced clue at 33A: See 47-Down (SKUNK), which I cracked just by getting a few crosses, pretty much handed me PEPE in the SE, making that corner much easier than it might've been. But when "too easy" is your sole complaint, you know you've got a good puzzle on your hands.

Update: apparently everyone is setting personal records on the Friday puzzle today, so I'm gonna say my nap actually *hurt* me, and I would've solved this in sub-4 time without it, so now I'm officially mad. Mad at sleep!

I struggled a tiny bit getting into the SW, which is probably what kept me from a record time. The hardest clue in the whole puzzle, for me, was 28A: Selection ___ (BIAS). I am notoriously bad at fill-in-the-blank clues like this, and I honestly had no idea what could follow "Selection." Couldn't come up with a single idea, of any letter length, let alone four. Maybe Selection Sunday (when they reveal the NCAA Men's Basketball brackets)!? I'm not even sure I know what "Selection BIAS" means. I know what "Confirmation BIAS" is. Selection BIAS appears to be a problem in the gathering of evidence in a study, where "selection" of samples is not proper randomized, thus invalidating or calling into question the findings of your study. Anyway, tripped on that, and then had a bunch of trouble with LINT, because the clue made it look like the answer was a plural, when it wasn't (32A: Fluff pieces). Since BIAS and LINT were doorway answers (i.e. I had to go through them to get into the next big section of the grid), solving the SW took a little work. Always dicey backing in from the east, which is what I had to do via SPARE SET. Very proud that I also was able to back in SAMOSA off just the final "A" (I eat SAMOSA at least once a week, at the campus branch of a restaurant called MOG(h)UL!), so that helped). So the SW was comparatively tough to get into, but the toughness didn't last. Love to close the work week out with a huge win. Now I'm gonna try to sleep sleep ... if the 3+-hour nap hasn't made that impossible. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rabbit's Tail / THU 10-25-18 / Dutch Artist Jan van der ___ / Stage name of rapper Sandra Denton / Muslim ascetic

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Constructor: Neville Fogarty

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:38)

THEME: "SEE"  — the "See" of a cross-referenced clue is combined with the relevant fill to provide a clue for the corresponding longer theme material

Theme answers:
  • LOST LIQUID (18A: See 17-Across / "See PAGE" [17A: Footnote info])  
  • DO A SLOW BURN (16A: See 29-Across / "See THE" [29A: Common article])
  • GO UP AND DOWN (46A: See 45-Across / "See SAW" [45A: Oft-repeated words])
  • IN SEARCH OF (59A: See 61-Across / "See KING" [61A: Bed selection])
Word of the Day: MEER (4D: Dutch artist Jan van der ___) —
Jan Vermeer van Haarlem, or Jan van der Meer II (1656 – May 28, 1705[1]) was a Dutch Golden Age painter from Haarlem. A landscape painter primarily, he ... signed his works "J v der meer de jonge" (Jan van der Meer the Younger). (Wikipedia)
• • •
Guest blogger Matt (of the triple-stack Saturday back in July) back today, as Rex is grading papers.

I had a feeling we'd have a feistier Thursday when I saw the byline; Neville is one of the organizers and constructors of the excellent Indie 500 tournament, held in June in Washington, DC. What we've got here is a fun subversion of cross-referencing conventions, as the "See" part of theme clues isn't setting up a two-part answer, but a combination of "see" with the answer to generate a new clue. Without rehashing each, I'll highlight GO UP AND DOWN, which we get from see-SAW (45A: Oft-repeated words).

All that explained, I didn't get the theme at all while solving, and just decided to brute-force through it. LIAM (though I couldn't remember all three Hemsworths and worried I was picking the wrong non-Chris brother) TETES FRAT FAQIR were quick entries across the top, and I had to chuckle at ROULETTE (11D: Rigged game in "Casablanca"), which would have stumped me for a while had it not come up with the same reference at either the Indie 500 or Lollapuzzoola this summer. At that time, I tried to piece together a card game from about half the letters for a while. Casablanca is one of those movies I know I should see, but in my life it only comes up in crosswords and by now I've ironed out the difference between Casablanca's ILSA and Young Frankenstein's INGA so I keep kicking the can down the road.

Everything is pretty straightforward (upon review, dare I say 'bland'?) through the top half or so -- I enjoyed TELECOM and ECOLAW (6D: Anti-fracking legislation, e.g.) because I dropped them in off their initial letters, but they're not terribly snappy, and MEER feels like a stretch, relevance-wise -- but I needed NUDGED, MORITA, and NOCARBS (42D: One dieting strategy) to get me into the short stuff and make sense of the bottom two themers, where I ended.

The more I look at this, the more I see rough fill, but figuring out the theme after the fact was a great AHA moment that I figure would have been even better mid-solve, literally every down entry intersects with theme material, and I'd rather have more creativity on Thursdays than less. The clear highlight for me is 40A: What may blossom from buds? for BROMANCE. A little twisted without being tortured, a little corny, but gettable without too much pause and it brought me a smirk in a puzzle that had a good amount of straightforward cluing for the back half of the week.

  • SCUT (38D: Rabbit's tail) — You can see above that this is where I finished, having never seen the word before. Of course, I had no sense of the theme to lean on the crossing until near the end. 
  • SNARFED (43D: Gobbled up) — SNARFED seems to be much more common than SCARFED in puzzles, but that doesn't stop me from putting the -C- in every dang time. 
  • ANGOLA (3D: African country that's a member of OPEC) — Just once or twice I'd like to see this clued as the notorious Louisiana prison built on a former plantation, its attached museum and yearly rodeo inches away from creating exhibits out of people in cages, but I'll save my energy and look for that in some other outlet's puzzle.   
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Fictional African kingdom in Coming to America / WED 10-24-18 / Noted piranha habitat / Ring around watch face

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Constructor: Michael Paleos

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (4:42)

THEME: POP-UP AD (8A: Internet nuisance ... or a hint to four answers in this puzzle) — letters "AD" "pop up" (i.e. go up to the next line, leaping over two black squares) as part of longer theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • ROPE-AD-OPE (19A: Classic strategy in the boxing ring)
  • DEC-AD-ENT (28A: Hedonistic)
  • CAN-AD-IAN (42A: Like seven teams in the N.H.L.)
  • TRE-AD-MILL (54A: Where you may be going nowhere fast)
Word of the Day: BEZEL (48D: Ring around a watch face) —
  1. a grooved ring holding the glass or plastic cover of a watch face or other instrument in position.
    • a groove holding the crystal of a watch or the stone of a gem in its setting. (google)
• • •

This theme feels very familiar—maybe I've seen it in some other venue?—but no matter; it's a decent one. Enjoyable to solve. Not like "OOH ah!" enjoyable, but, I don't know, at least interesting. The main effect of it was that it kept making me trip because I kept forgetting about it, and so something like 54A: Where you may be going nowhere fast comes along and the answer appears to be TR- and I'm like "huh?" and then later "D'oh! Right. The theme!" The revealer is in a super dumb place. Was there really no way to get it into the 64-Across position, where it belongs. I mean, it's gonna be difficult with 48-Down starting with "B" and ending in "P," in five letters, but presumably you'd've tried to put POP-UP AD in the correct / final position **before** building the rest of your grid. I don't really understand. I double-don't understand putting ZAMUNDA in here. That is ... not a famous thing. At all. My eyes just picked up "Fictional African kingdom" and I already had -NDA so I just wrote in WAKANDA (actually famous). But instead I got this other kingdom, from a movie that I have seen more than once, and yet ... the name of the kingdom: nowhere to be found. I feel really, truly, terribly bad for people who aren't familiar with the word BEZEL, 'cause no way in hell you're getting that "Z" otherwise. Betting a bunch of people try BEVEL. It's essentially an uncrossed letter, as (I repeat) ZAMUNDA is not famous, and none of its letters are inferrable. Not great.

EDA and TES, also bad. ORA EKE ALO ATEN, not helping. "I HAVE IT" is at least odd, as I know it as "I've got it!" or something like that. I HAVE IT sounds archaic / stilted. I do like POWERED ON and LED ASTRAY, and the clue on BATCAVE is kinda cute, with it "DC" misdirection (38A: Secret DC headquarters). I found this puzzle a bit tough up top, as neither ADDRESS (1A: Discuss, as an issue) nor PERIDOT (15A: Birthstone for most Leos) came to me very easily (for different reasons), and then the same was true for ORINOCO (16A: Noted piranha habitat) and WANDERS (18A: Rambles) on the other side of the grid (I wanted NATTERS and probably had NADDERS (!) in there at some point). The clue on POEM is absurd, as you could argue that any song is a POEM (12D: "The Star-Spangled Banner," basically). So: theme good, but overall solving experience, less so. Oh well, at least Erik (Agard) won again on "Jeopardy" tonight and the World Series game looks like it's gonna be a thriller, so I'm gonna go round off my night by watching that. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kid-lit character who travels via envelope /TUE 10-23-18 / Western ravines

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Constructor: Kathy Wienberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday) (4:07)

THEME: ATHLETIC CUP (60A: Protective sportswear ... or a hint to the ends of 17-, 24-, 36- and 51-Across) — ends of themers are all words that can proceed "Cup," each cup being a sports championship of some kind:

Theme answers:
  • FLAT STANLEY (17A: Kid-lit characgter who travels via envelope)
  • GEENA DAVIS (24A: Thelma's portrayer in "Thelma & Louise")
  • WINONA RYDER (36A: Co-star of "Stranger Things")
  • SMALL WORLD (51A: "I can't believe we both know him")
Word of the Day: FLAT STANLEY (17A) —
Flat Stanley is an American children's book series written by Jeff Brown (January 1, 1926 – December 3, 2003). // Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures is an American children's book series written by different authors such as Sara Pennypacker, Josh Greenhut, and David Ross. The summary is about Stanley traveling the world in some places. // The [original] book recounts the adventures of Stanley Lambchop after surviving being crushed while sleeping by a falling bulletin board. He survives and makes the best of his altered state, and soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, being rolled up to go out to the park and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. One special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends in California by being mailed in an envelope. Stanley even helps catch some art museumthieves by posing as a painting on the wall. Eventually, Stanley wearies of flatness and Arthur restores his proper shape with a bicycle pump. (wikipedia)
• • •

"Beetlejuice" coulda gotten you GEENA DAVIS *and* WINONA RYDER.

Wow, nowhere near my wheelhouse, despite having a couple of '80s movie stars in it. I do not mind the theme at all, despite its groin-oriented revealer, but the fill and clues, oof. So many issues, both with my ignorance and the puzzle's own awkwardness / ugliness. So I don't really know FLAT STANLEY. At all. Maybe I've seen it referred to somewhere, but ??? So I had FLAT STEPHEN. Which fit perfectly with RTE for 6D: GPS display. ETA!? OK, but ugh. Ugh for a Tuesday. [Band at a royal wedding] is a TIARA!? Oh, *that* kind of band. Not musical. Not a sash or a ring. I can't really connect "band" and TIARA. At all. And I own a TIARA that I got once as a Worst Handwriting award in a crossword tournament. Not seeing how it's a "band." And then RAYED!?!?! Jeez (thelma &) louise! What a dumb word and dumber clue. If I'd had all day to come up with words to describe Lady Liberty's crown, I'd never hit RAYED. And what is with the simplistic and stupid clue on ENEMIES (21A: Communists and capitalists, e.g.). There is No Necessary Reason those two groups should be ENEMIES. That's a war term. We (nominally "capitalist" USA) are often friendly with countries that have very different economic and political systems from our own. Take the SAUDIS, for instance (seriously, please take them, far far away—super bad timing on that clue, man):

And we normalized relations with Vietnam decades ago, and they're still technically a communist country, right? ENEMIES is some jingoistic bullshit.

More trouble in the SW, where I couldn't get RED despite having one and then two letters (59A: What might bring you to a screeching halt). Letting RED stand on its own, with no mention of "light," is not inaccurate (we certainly use it as a substantive adjective all the time), but also Not Tuesday. See also COULEES, yikes. WE TRY is ridiculously contrived—not hard, as it was my first guess, but absurd, which caused me not to trust it. Then there was [Tops] for ACMES, when [Tops] can mean roughly a million things and ACMES is a plural you'd only ever see in crosswords. Very rough.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Amino acid vis a vis protein eg / MON 10-22-18 / Big name in elevators / 1982 movie inspired by pong / gas brand whose logo has blue oval

    Monday, October 22, 2018

    Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

    Relative difficulty: Medium (3:02) (it felt harder, but ... I guess not?)

    THEME: PLANETS (45D: Etymological origins of the answers to the five starred clues) — just what it says:

    Theme answers:
    • MERCURIAL (17A: *Capricious)
    • VENIAL (22A: *Forgivable)
    • MARTIAL (36A: *Warlike)
    • JOVIAL (55A: *Jolly)
    • SATURNINE (61A: *Gloomy)
    Word of the Day: MONOMER (39D: Amino acid vis-à-vis a protein, e.g.) —
    1. a molecule that can be bonded to other identical molecules to form a polymer. (google)
    • • •

    Etymology trivia. OK, I guess. JOVIAL seems a stretch, since that's from Jove, not Jupiter, but since they're the same god ... I'll allow it? Shrug. Biggish corners lent some interest to this Monday puzzle, but it was all a little by-the-book. Also, USENET? I'm sure it still exists in some form, but to just clue it [Online discussion forum] like we're all on it all the time ... is a little weird.

    Also weird: VOLGA. I mean, it's not a weird river. It's clearly a prominent river in the continent that is Europe. But I rarely see it in puzzles and honestly know nothing about it except that it's *in Russia*; so off my radar is that river that, faced with -O-G-, my brain was like "... OK ... don't laugh ... but is it CONGO? I Said Don't Laugh!" Weirder: I blanked on Lin-Manuel MIRANDA's last name. Which is like blanking on J.K. ROWLING's last name, honestly. Just stupid. I also blanked on ZOE KAZAN's name last week despite knowing very well what her damn name is. I swear, sometimes I can retrieve the dumbest bulls**t but not stuff that's right in front of me, all the time.

    Back to the theme for a sec. The PLANETS are not the "Etymological origins" of these words. The god names are. It's not the same thing. Here, listen to Samantha:

    My main hang-ups today were MONOMER (a word I honestly don't know), MPH (I had MPG, which is ridiculous), and VENIAL, which I always want to be VENAL. Wow, turns out they are both words and I never bothered to learn the distinction. I blurred them together in my head to mean "susceptible to bribery, which is forgivable if you, like, pray to God for forgiveness or something." Yikes. Anyway, hope you PLOUGHed through this. See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Squared building stone / SUN 10-21-18 / Rapper with 2017 #1 hit Bodak Yellow / First African American sorority / Manhattan neighborhood next to lower east side / Seventh-year exam in Harry Potter

    Sunday, October 21, 2018

    Constructor: Finn Vigeland

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:06, which is Easy, but ... there were some crosses ...)

    THEME: "You're Going Down" — theme answers are all Downs and are all familiar phrases; clues are wacky and make sense only if you take the answer "literally," i.e. mentally supply the word DOWN after the answer in the grid:

    Theme answers:
    • BABY STEPS (3D: Headline after a toddler C.E.O. resigns, literally?) (get it: "BABY STEPS *DOWN*")
    • ELEGANTLY PUT (62D: Dissed with flowery language, literally?)
    • LUCKY BREAK (7D: Car failure only a block from the mechanic, literally?)
    • CUTE AS A BUTTON (34D: Like the dress shirt that's just adorable, literally?)
    • PUPPET SHOW (73D: Punch vs. Judy, literally?)
    • THERE'S THE RUB (14D: "For a massage, go that way!," literally?)
    • JAZZ HANDS (77D: One answer to the question "What's your favorite music genre," literally?)
    Word of the Day: ASHLAR (55A: Squared building stone)
    1. masonry made of large square-cut stones, typically used as a facing on walls of brick or stone. (google)
    • • •

    I did not get this. At least not while solving. Tore through it, thinking I was getting the joke, at least a little, because, well, with BABY STEPS, "steps" can mean "leaves" or "takes off" (colloquially), so I was like "ah, repurposed phrase ... for some reason." Same thing with LUCKY BREAK. Your car "breaks" near a garage—that's lucky! OK ... THERE'S THE RUB, again, reimagining the meaning of the word, got it ... still not sure why I'm doing it, but I got it. Then I got to CUTE AS A BUTTON and I honestly didn't get it. But also didn't care. Kept going. Got to PUPPET SHOW and thought "that is ... literally ... what Punch & Judy is ... I do not understand." Only as I was writing in the final themer (which, for me, was ELEGANTLY PUT) did I realize you needed to supply DOWN for the clues to make sense. Only, as I say, several of them "make sense" without the mentally supplied DOWN, so this one felt off and weird. The DOWN just didn't reorient several of the answers enough to be interesting. Also, what is ASHLAR? I mean, it's my Word of the Day, so now I sort of know, but ... Yikes.

    [WARNING: PROFANITY, right off the bat and throughout]

    Was all set to tell you exactly where this grid's problems were, but then I saw this tweet, and ... it gets right to the point, so I don't have to:

    AMARNA (18A: Where cuneiform was discovered) and ASHLAR are easily among the toughest answers in this grid, but that's fine. Crosses are fair, and I actually knew AMARNA from ... well, crosswords, duh. Nothing wrong with tough. There is, however, something wrong with VADUZ (48D: Capital of Liechtenstein). Now you can go on all you want about how "everyone should know every world capital how could you not know blah blah blah?" and that's fine, that's you, you're who you are and god probably loves you, but unless you are a list memorizer (you know who you are, you trivia folks, I see you) then you almost certainly don't know VADUZ. I don't even know how you pronounce that. I can't remember ever seeing it. And its letters are entirely uninferrable. Sooooo the crosses really should be fair. But you've got not one but two proper noun crosses ... and one of them is a rapper, which, you know, she had a #1 hit, and she is legit famous, but only recently so, which means millions of solvers still don't know who the hell she is.

    Also, why would anyone know BRATZ is spelled with a "Z" (67A: Popular line of dolls with "Kidz" and "Babyz" spinoffs); I did, for some reason, but it's entirely plausible that a solver would not. I guess the clue is supposed to tip you to the spelling. Not sure how well that's gonna work. So VADUZ is really cruddy because, well, you know going in, if you're the constructor / editor, that you are going to screw some people (a bunch of people) on the crosses. You shouldn't feel that way About Any Of Your Crosses. And I know the constructor knows the rapper cross is dicey 'cause he did a little smiley-face social media post about it. So if you tanked it, just know he's smiling and winking at you.

    Saw "Psycho" tonight with live orchestra and it was Great, except ... well, the movie is so phenomenal (I've seen it roughly 845 times) that by the end I totally forgot there was a live orchestra. I was just engrossed in the movie. And then the end came and I was like, "oh, right ... you guys! Right underneath the screen! Good job!" Anyway, film w/ live musical accompaniment is the stuff! Highly recommended.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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