Resort in Salt Lake County / THU 11-20-18 / Title character of Dora Explorer spinoff / Website for tech whizzes / Overprotective government so to speak

Friday, November 30, 2018

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easyish (5:02)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: RAISA Smetanina, first woman to win 10 Winter Olympic medals (45A) —
Raisa Petrovna Smetanina (RussianРаиса Петровна Сметанина; born 29 February 1952) is a former Soviet/Russian cross-country skiing champion. Smetanina is an ethnic Komi. She is the first woman in history to win ten Winter Olympic medals (Stefania Belmondo being the second, Marit Bjørgen the third, and Ireen Wüst the fourth). Smetanina took part in five Olympics, representing the USSR team four times and the Unified Team once. In particular, Smetanina won two gold and one silver medals at the 1976 Winter Olympics, becoming the most successful athlete there, along with Rosi Mittermaier of West Germany. (wikipedia)
• • •

OK it's hard not to love an easy Friday but even as lovable easy Fridays go, this one is particularly lovable. Jim CROCE was a staple of my childhood, so right away we're off to a good start, and once I cracked open "HOLD MY BEER," I was *in*. EPIC POETRY is my jam—if you think you care about the Aeneid more than I do, well ... I challenge. In fact, here, HOLD MY BEER... I did not blow through this in record time, the way I thought I might when I started. This was largely because I needed many passes to get LETO (apparently my love of EPIC POETRY is not strong enough to make me commit that name to memory—LEDA, sure; LETO, unless you're Jared, no. And then I wrote YOUTH (!?) for YOUNG at 14D: Fawns, e.g., and therefore couldn't drop down into the west the way I wanted. Instead I took this weird winding and ultimately choppy route through the grid, down via TERRAPINS and then down again via ABBEY ROAD, then back up to the NE via NANNY STATE (so many good answers in this grid!), and then finally a leap back to the west and SW, where I managed to sort out the YOUTH thing, which made SYNS and DEFANG finally come into view, and then whoosh, down EMPTY NESTERS, down SAVE THE DATE, and finished at OHMS. This was a pleasure to solve from start to finish. Delightful. Friday is the day I most look forward precisely because that is when *this* kind of solving experience is most likely to happen.

Trouble spots for me, aside from the aforementioned, occurred in only a few places. RAISA was probably the toughest answer in the puzzle—the one people are least likely to know. Obscure proper nouns can really trip you up. Clearly a decision was made by someone somewhere along the line to make this a non-Gorbachev RAISA, which takes it from near-universally gettable to almost completely ungettable without many crosses. There are no mid-range RAISAs, I don't think. There's Gorbachev ... and the rest! But in a super-easy puzzle, she was a speed bump at best. I can't keep track of which schools are in which athletic conf. anymore, so faced with __U at 51D: Big 12 sch. (TCU), I initially wrote in _SU, and thought maybe that first letter would be "K". Not getting the "C" held back CANINE UNIT for a bit (again, I say: so many great answers in this grid!). ACOLYTE is a fancyish word for [Follower], so I had a little trouble there, as well as with STYE. Nice clue, but a makeup clue, so I was without ideas, figuring the answer was ... makeupish. But as I say, none of these trouble spots were really much trouble.

Crosswordese it helped to know:
  • 6A: Resort in Salt Lake County (ALTA) — if it's a resort in Utah and it's four letters: ALTA
  • 35A: County in a Pulitzer-winning play title (OSAGE) had the "O" and the "G" and wanted OSAGE before ever looking at the clue. That is the thing that constant solving teaches your brain to do: see patterns and anticipate possible answers. Quickly. Basically your brain just gets better at scrolling through all the possibilities really quickly.
  • 31D: Bigwigs may have big ones (EGOS) — off just the "S"; very obvious; very common
  • 26D: Fashion designer ___ Saab (ELIE) — *finally* I remember this designer's dang name! This was a milestone. I've been running into this non-Wiesel ELIE for years now, but I know him exclusively from crosswords and (normally) can never remember anything about his name except that it's crosswordesey, like AYLA or AUEL or ARIE or something...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

P.S. OK ARY is not a good answer, but really, that is the only negative thing I can say about this beautiful grid

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Seaonal migrant worker from Mexico / THU 11-29-18 / Fourth US state capital alphabetically / Minerals also known as egg stones / Old channel that showed Hee Haw / President in 2009 film Invictus / Become angelic figuratively / Something found in rush / Hand name used for some prank calls / Command following countdown

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Constructor: Herre Schouwerwou

Relative difficulty: Challenging (well, for me, because I use AcrossLite, so there was a "Note" with mine, and I never ever read "Notes" because I think it's cheating, but this one (which I read after finishing) was like "certain visual elements could not be reproduced blah blah blah" so ugh—they should stop offering the puzzle in AcrossLite format if this is gonna keep happening ... anyway, I don't know what "visual elements" you all had, but I did not have them) (11-something minutes!?!?)

THEME: IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY (28D: Indirectly ... or how some of this puzzle's answers should be entered?) — the middle of the grid is supposed to be a traffic (?) "roundabout" ... so answers enter it and then kinda go around and then head out in a different direction, at a ninety degree angle to where they entered:

Theme answers:
  • RALLYING CRY (14D: *"Vive la France!" or "Free Tibet!")
  • POWER OUTAGE (37A: *Reason for resetting a digital clock)
  • I NEED A BREAK (46D: *"Whew, that's enough for now!")
  • SPROUT WINGS (33A: *Become angelic, figuratively)
Word of the Day: BRACERO (54A: Seasonal migrant worker from Mexico) —
  1. a Mexican laborer allowed into the US for a limited time as a seasonal agricultural worker. (google)
• • •

Holy cow, you all got arrows and circles and *&%$!????

Wow. Must've been nice. Solving without it was a nightmare. Even when I was done, I didn't know exactly what was going on. I thought the black square in the center (which you'll see, in my grid, is an actual black square—no circle) was where the connecting "roundabout" letters disappeared ... but then eventually I noticed that no, they're right there in the corners (?) of the so-called roundabout, which, honestly, makes the whole thing even *less* like an actual roundabout somehow. The Whole Point of a roundabout is smooth, rounded transitions—no sharp angles. A crossword grid is perhaps the worst possible medium for representing a roundabout. The idea that you enter and then do three quick 90-degree jogs—absurd. I have to say, though, that the arrows on the grid from the app are very stupid and have nothing to do with a roundabout. They are extra, confusing information. I see that they indicate the direction in which the "theme" answer is headed, but still ... those arrows have no traffic meaning, and so ... well, you tell me, but they seem confusing rather than elucidating. Great ambition here, but it just doesn't work as well as it thinks it does.

If I've seen BRACERO before, I totally forgot it, and that was a rough answer to forget, because TYE (?) was a total unknown (51A: Actor Sheridan of "X-Men: Apocalypse"), and so I had to work that area right down to NYC in order to make any sense of it. Also hard: ANITA Hand. Also hard: SALADS, which ... I guess I eat some pretty substantial salads, because the clue was not at all resonant for me (42D: Some light bites). I had NOSHES (and NAPA Valley instead of SIMI). LACKWIT made me laugh (23D: Blockhead). Do you all have that word? And by "you all" I mean "you people who don't teach Early English Literature for a living." Actually, I'm not sure I've ever seen the word in the stuff I teach. It just sounds very 17th/18th-century to me. Sounds like a character in an allegory, like a morality play or Pilgrim's Progress or something. ABREEZE also kneed me pretty hard. Not looking for that indefinite article, no siree. And TEA LADY ... I'll just take your word for it that that is a thing. Thought maybe TEA LAD(LE) and ... the puzzle was some kind of rebus? Dunno. OOLITES was also a mystery but the egg thing made "OO" gettable.

NATASHA Lyonne solves crosswords so she'll undoubtedly be delighted to see her name here (60A: Actress Lyonne of "Orange Is the New Black"). LYONNE seems like it could be useful fill as well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Noted Hungarian puzzle / WED 11-28-18 / Govt watchdog until 1996 / Contemporary of Pizarro / Historical event suggested by each of six groups of circled letters / Betting game popular with Wyatt Earp Doc Holliday / Contents of football shower /

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Challenging (6:10, which is LOL slow ... it's an oversized grid, but still)

THEME: FRENCH REVOLUTION (7D: Historical event suggested by each of the six groups of circled letters) — circled letters form rings, of sorts (so, "revolutions"), that spell out words that follow the word "French": HORN, PASTRY, CUFF, DOOR, POODLE, KISS

Word of the Day: BENNY Andersson of Abba (57D) —
Göran Bror Benny Andersson (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈbɛnːʏ ²anːdɛˌʂɔn]; born 16 December 1946) is a Swedish musician, composer, member of the Swedish music group ABBA, and co-composer of the musicals ChessKristina från Duvemåla, and Mamma Mia!. For the 2008 film version of Mamma Mia! and its 2018 sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, he worked also as an executive producer. Since 2001, he has been active with his own band Benny Anderssons orkester. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was a mess. So terribly unpleasant to solve that I kept wanting to quit. It's a ridiculously fussy grid, with way way way more words (85!?) than a daily puzzle is supposed to have (even an oversized one). This means there were tons of short words and the grid was very choppy, which means slog city. Further, the entire grid, every inch of it, is compromised by the demands of the fill, and you can feel it. All over. Everywhere. Strain. All of it made infinitely worse by the cluing, which was dated and awkward and vague. What is KICK UP A ROW??? (I had DUST being kicked up) (36D: Start some trouble). [Roast a bit] is such a horrible clue for RIB, and it's doubly horrible when you realize it was someone's idea of a good cluing gambit, since the answer right under it is clued virtually identically (14A: Roast bit). In fact, I don't know what 1A wasn't just [Roast bit], since a rib roast is way easier to imagine than the idea that merely ribbing someone is akin to "roasting" them. I finished this puzzle having no idea what the circles were doing. They were just massive distractions. And when, in the rubble of my finished solve, I saw the French revolutions... I did not care.

Snoopy has a brother besides Spike? Wow. OK. I missed a whole chunk of "Peanuts" in there somewhere. And I love "Peanuts" and own many collections. I just don't know where OLAF is in there. The "Hunger Games" is no longer current or relevant, please cease all clues, thanks, ALMA. A friend of mine is on a mission to eliminate DR. T (67D: Richard Gere title role) from all crossword grids, and I support this mission. I also now laugh every time I see the good doctor. Also, predictably, I saw the clue and thought "is he a Mr. or a Dr." and before I did the visualizing thing, I wrote in MR. :(

Five things:
  • 1D: Good-for-nothing (ROGUE) — a good example of how the cluing on this puzzle just lost me. This is not what I think of when I think of ROGUE. Something about "good-for-nothing" makes him seem like a layabout or a loser, which is not how I think of ROGUE as all. Also, I think of ROGUE more often as an adjective for something that's gone off-pack or off-script. Or I think of ROGUE as an X-Person. I know this clue is dictionary-defensible, but ugh. And on a Wednesday. ("On a Wednesday?" was a thing I was thinking a lot today)
  • 43A: Strawberry, e.g. (FLAVOR) — by far the hardest thing for me to get today, largely because of TULLE, which I had only as TUILE or TOILE. Ugh, TULLE. Like, a million times ugh at that crosswordese fabric. Anyway, for [Strawberry, e.g.], at one point I had FIELDS.
  • 30D: Attempt, informally (WHIRL) — another one I just couldn't see for the longest time. My brain: "Is it STAB?" Me: "No" My brain: [shrug]
  • 18A: Echelons (STRATA) — got the ST- quickly (yay!); wrote in STAGES (boo!)
  • 21D: Abbr. in help-wanted ads (EEO) — OK, look, is EOE a thing? Because I wrote in EOE which I thought stood for "equal opportunity employer" so ... what is this EEO thing?* Also, can you please never use either ever in your grids again ever ever because they're both bad? Great.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*Equal Employment Opportunity

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Solar deity / TUES 11-27-18 / Kindergarten instruction / 2018's "A Star Is Born," e.g. / Oscar hopeful

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hello! It's Clare, back for another Tuesday. Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I had my first "friendsgiving" this year, because I didn't get enough time off law school in DC to head home to California. The weather has been getting gloomy over the past few days, but maybe that's me projecting, because I've got a lot of finals coming up... Anywho, on to the puzzle.

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy

THEME: GOTTA RUN (59A: Parting words from 18-, 23-, 36-, and 54-Across?) — The theme answers are all things that "run."

Theme answers:
  • FRIED EGG (18A: It might accompany bacon and toast)
  • CANDIDATE (23A: Political hopeful)
  • COMPUTER PROGRAM (36A: You might learn a new language to write one)
  • EDITORIAL (54A: Opinion piece)
Word of the Day: WOMANISM (3D: Social theory popularized by Alice Walker)
Womanism is a social theory based on the history and everyday experiences of women of color. It seeks, according to womanist scholar Layli Maparyan (Phillips), to "restore the balance between people and the environment/nature and reconcile human life with the spiritual dimension." The writer Alice Walker coined the term womanist in a short story, "Coming ----Apart." Womanist theory, while diverse, holds at its core that both femininity and culture are equally important to the woman's existence. In this conception one's femininity cannot be stripped from the culture within which it exists. (Wikipedia)
• • •
I'd never heard of womanism before, but I like the idea! Alice Walker was famously quoted as saying about it, "Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."

Overall, I quite enjoyed this puzzle! The puzzle had a lot of nice words in it; even the fairly standard answers were clued differently (adding a little spice and variety); and there weren't many crossword-y words. The whole thing just felt really smooth (especially for a Tuesday). The only real nit I had is about the theme. It felt a bit meh. I got the theme revealer (GOTTA RUN) very early in solving, but it didn't help me at all with the theme answers. I knew they had something to do with things that "run," but there are so many possibilities (fridge, dryer, people, etc...) that the revealer wasn't all that helpful. Also, I felt like COMPUTER PROGRAM was kind of bland for being the puzzle's marquee answer.

I got confused in some places, but that was mostly my own doing. When I saw cl-o, my mind immediately jumped to cleo (like Cleopatra), and I had that for a while instead of CLIO (8D: Muse of history), so I was very confused about what a freed egg might be at 18A. I also took a while to figure out that 37D: Rodent companion wasn't asking for a companion for a rodent and was instead referring to someone owning a pet.

I thought ORE (2D: Asset in the game The Settlers of Catan) and ETA (42A: Sixth letter after alpha) were especially refreshing in the puzzle. Those two words are always clued in some way having to do with mining and arrival time. It was nice to see them clued differently. There was some repetition in the puzzle clues that may have been a little heavy-handed but that, I thought, flowed nicely, like: 22A: Oscar hopeful and 23A: Political hopeful; 21D Fashion sense and 23D: Fashion-forward. The only repetition I didn't like was 42A as ETA and then 44A as ERA (along with 16A: Before, to poets as ERE).

A few other nits: I've never heard of using AUNTIE (47D) as a sign of respect for someone. Maybe we just don't use that where I'm from. OATY (32A: Like Cheerios) is, I guess, pretty standard but is still a very weird word. I always use the spelling "dialogue" and not DIALOG for a conversation (I'd argue that "dialogue" is the correct way...), so it took me a little bit longer to realize what the answer was. 34A: Homophone of "row" as RHO wasn't necessarily a gimme (I initially tried to put "roe"), but it still seems kind of weird to me to ask for a homophone in a crossword puzzle. And, HOTEL (50A: Hilton or Marriott) and SHOE (28A: Nike product) felt like answers that were just kind of there and served no real purpose.

Overall, though, I loved so many of the words in the puzzle, like: CROCUS, HEIST, GHOULS, SOLEIL, RETINUE, PUPIL, etc... I also loved DUKE IT OUT and HOT HOT HOT, even though I've never heard of that song or singer before. Side note: It's a very fun song and reminds me of summer (and the music video includes a cameo from Bill Murray).

  • A Star Is Born is in the puzzle! I just saw that movie the other day and thought it was absolutely beautiful, even if I didn't love the ending. (I'm definitely on board the train to get Lady Gaga an Oscar — and Bradley Cooper is amazing, too.) There are lots of movies coming out soon that I want to see, too. Guess that's what I'll be doing over Christmas break...
  • 56A: Unfamous sorts are NONAMES. Apparently I'm a no-name. That's too bad.
  • My college motto was in LATIN — Lux et Veritas (light and truth); that's what it says on my diploma.
  • I realized I had no idea how to spell SOLEIL, as I was trying to write what I knew the answer should be.
  • VCR. What's that? (Just kidding! Even this millennial used VCRs a lot. It was especially sad because all of our Disney movies were on VCR and were then rendered obsolete).
  • My sister, who works in Berkeley and takes Bay AREA Rapid Transit has had to train me not to say "the BART" and instead to just say "BART."
  • For 41A: Segway cop's workplace, maybe as MALL — I've never even seen the movie, but I can't see Segways without immediately thinking of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
  • NTH: Please don't make me think about my calculus days again.
Signed, Clare Carroll, womanist

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Idris Sexiest Man Alive / MON 11-26-18 / Social Contract philosopher John / Dress in Delhi / Mazel / Levin or Gershwin / Sing like Dean Martin

Monday, November 26, 2018

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: 4:10 (Monday average 4:56; Monday best 3:16)

THEME: INNER NERD — The word NERD is hidden in five across entries.

Word of the Day: Able was I, ere I saw ELBA (5A: Idris ___, People's 2018 Sexiest Man Alive) —
No argument from me
• • •
Hi everyone! It's Rex's birthday today (Monday), so I, Laura, am here with the traditional gift of a guest-post to give Rex the night off (on Sunday).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Dachshund: WIENER DOG
  • 23A: Copies of movies submitted to critics prior to release: SCREENER DVDS
  • 32A: Partner at a table for two: DINNER DATE
  • 42A: Times when everything goes perfectly: BANNER DAYS
  • 49A: Genetically engineered, highly selective medical treatment: DESIGNER DRUG
  • 60A: The secret geeky part of you ... or a hint to 17-, 23-, 32-, 42- and 49-Across: INNER NERD
This was a very nice Monday, well-executed, and the puzzle as a whole is one that I'd recommend for anyone starting out in solving, in that it exemplifies the "hidden term" theme-type. I'm not so sure that the geeky part of me, or of you, is very secret, given that I am writing for a crossword puzzle blog, for pete's sake, and you are reading one. And really, is there anything to be ashamed of, in one's nerdery? If you like a thing, and it makes you happy to learn about it, and read about it, and talk about it, and share with like-minded people who also like a thing, own it! Wear your nerdery proudly.

I feel like I've heard inner geek in the language more often that inner nerd, but there's a negligible difference in how many google hits each phrase gets (1.8 million to 1.7 million, respectively), and nerd is likely an easier term to embed in two-word base phrases. In fact, I did a quick search in several crossword constructor tools, and could not find a phrase where geek was embedded. So, yeah, here for your inner, and outer, nerd.

Hey! While I have you here, I wanted to thank all of Rex's readers and fans who backed The Inkubator. We wrapped up the campaign at 307% of our goal, and we're looking forward to publishing kickass puzzles by women -- cis women, trans women, and woman-aligned constructors -- starting in January. If you missed the Kickstarter, check back at our website for information on how to subscribe.

  • 1A: Aware, in a modern way: WOKE — This term is now used with some irony, and perhaps disparagement, but I think it's still pretty helpful. "I was apprehensive about sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my uncle, but it turned out that he was really woke."
  • 16A: "Social contract" philosopher John: LOCKE — Locke posited that people in a state of nature acted reasonably, and the purpose of society was to resolve conflicts and ensure peoples' rights to life, liberty, and property.
  • 34D: Nickname for a 12-time N.B.A. All-Star: DWADE — Dwyane Wade has played for the Miami Heat for most of his 15-year career.
  • 46D: Olympic gold-medal gymnast Simone: BILES — One of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Biles just won the 2018 World Championship. And she's the only woman represented in this grid.
  • 18D: Artist M.C. ___: ESCHER — I wanted to post a clip of that episode of The Simpsons with an Escher-inspired couch gag, but found this animation instead:
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

[Follow Laura on Twitter]

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Big female role on HBO's Westworld / SUN 11-25-18 / 1994 tripartite treaty / Nail polish brand with colors Teal Cows Come Home Berry Fairy Fun / Procedural spinoff starring LL Cool J / Los Angeles neighborhood next to Beverly Grove / European stratovolcano

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Constructor: Joooooooooooon Pahk

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium to Medium (10:10)

THEME: "Silent Finales" — actually "Silent Final 'E's": familiar phrases where one word in the phrase has a silent "E" added, creating wacky phrases clued wackily:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: LETHEAN (88A: Inducing forgetfulness) —
(chiefly poetic, Greek mythology) Of or relating to the river Lethe, one of the four rivers of Hades. Those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. (wiktionary)
• • •

This is about as basic a theme concept as you can get. Super duper minimalist. It's a simple add-a-letter, with the one restriction being that the letter must always be silent. "Silent finales" isn't really a phrase, *but* you get a title word that is both literally accurate (the silent letter is added to the end, or finale, of its word) and punny (FINALES => final 'e's). Clever. In a puzzle like this, everything depends on how funny you can make the answers and clues, and I thought this one did alright on that front. Clue on "A STAR IS BORNE" was a bit (very) contrived, but most of the rest were pretty funny. I think I liked "BYE, ALL RIGHTS!" the best—though that was also one of the very hardest for me to grok. The whole middle part of that answer was a bleeping mess. I mark up my grids after I've finished and printed them out, and there is so much orange ink around the center of "BYE, ALL RIGHTS!" The problem: I dropped SWEAR TO down at 11D: Make official? (SWEAR IN), and then crossed it with ANNOY at 47A: Torment (AGONY). You wouldn't think there'd be a clue that could work for both ANNOY and AGONY but You Would Be Wrong Ha Ha Ha, ugh. [Spike] for LACE was also very hard, as was the vague [Human Rights Campaign inits.] for LGBT (turns out Human Rights Campaign is very much LGBT-specific, but you wouldn't know that from their Very General Name). And holy moly did I have trouble with 33A: Rey, to Luke, in "The Last Jedi" (PROTEGÉE). Lots of words and phrases came to mind, none of them correct. Cool new clue on ELSIE, though (15D: Big female role on HBO's "Westworld"). Much, much better than the usual ELSIE clue.

[Shannon Woodward plays ELSIE Hughes on "Westworld"]

I teach Dante every year and yet even I was like "... uh, what's the adjectival form of Lethe??? LETHEIC? LETHISH? LETHE-AL?" Never seen LETHEAN, ever. More trouble: [Small bother] for GNAT! I mean, accurate, but yikes. A NIT is a "small bother." A GNAT is a dang insect! And a BRIG is a ship (??) as well as a *part of a ship that functions as a jail*! (the only meaning of BRIG I know)? Again I say 'dang!' And also again I say I have no idea how I finished this in just 10:10. Other super-tough part was everything in and around SHELF (107A: Area near the shore). This is what happens when you try to get cute with the "let's repeat a clue we used elsewhere in the grid" shtick—you get a clue that doesn't reeeeally fit, but that's defensible, and ends up resulting in massive difficulty for the solver. Not a fan. So many possible clues for SHELF out there. Pfft. Anyhoo, had real trouble with 4 of the 5 crosses on SHELF: SAFEST, PILL, HARE, and SCAB (that last one because I misspelled SHARI as SHERI (119A: Actress Belafonte)).

Pretty cool / unusual that there were nearly an equal number of Across and Down themers—usually they're exclusively one direction, or else there maybe just an extra pair running counter to the majority, but here: 5 Across, 4 Down. Nifty.

Four things:
  • 50A: Capital of Albania (TIRANE) — really really thought it was TIRANA. Thank you, Brian ENO, for saving my bacon there.
  • 80A: Coined money (SPECIE) — not sure how I knew this, but I (mostly) did. It is a silly word.
  • 75A: "Casey at the Bat" poet Ernst (THAYER) — I must've known this at some point, but darned if I could remember it today. To me, THAYER will always just be a street in Ann Arbor that a former girlfriend of mine used to live on.
  • 68D: Shirking work, maybe, for short (MIA) — this one little answer really wreaked havoc with my flow in the center of the grid. This is a highly modern and colloquial use of this term, which I think of primarily in military contexts. In fact, I wanted it to be four letter so I could write in AWOL. MIA never occurred to me: that "M" was the last thing I wrote in, which is super-weird, as I almost never finish in the middle of the grid.
It's my birthday tomorrow so I will be off, but Laura Librarian (i.e. Laura Braunstein) will be here filling in. Ooh, and I get Tuesday off too (last Tuesday of every month is a Clare Tuesday, just as first Monday of every month is an Annabel Monday!). So see you Wednesday, then!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Japanese room divider / SAT 11-23-18 / Dora the Explorer catchphrase / Drink that competes with Monster / Actor who says it takes smart guy to play dumb

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:10, fastest Saturday time since I started recording in April)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BOFA (55A: U.S. financial giant, for short) —
So, apparently this "bofa deez nuts" thing just became a thing and I can't figure out why. From what I remember, almost the entire internet hated the "deez nuts" vine, but now for some reason it's relevant again? Every time I see it introduced out of context, "BOFA" is in all caps but no one seems to know what it is the acronym for. Google keeps giving me results for "Bank of America" whenever I search with "bofa" as a term but I can't see how that would make sense considering the proper way to abbreviate those types of terms would be "BoA" I have no idea why the F would need to be there, or why it is also capitalized. Urban dictionary says that it is slang for "both of" but that doesn't clear up anything about the origins of the recent meme, if one can even call it a meme. I shouldn't be looking this far into it, but this is just driving me crazy. (reddit) (emph. mine)
• • •

Well, having had a young daughter in the early '00s really paid off today. I don't remember her being a huge "Dora" fan, but "SWIPER, NO SWIPING!" was a total gimme (1A: "Dora the Explorer" catchphrase). First thing in the grid. I couldn't believe it. Like a gift from heaven. I wrote it in while saying "No way..." Sometimes the breaks just go your way. I have a feeling that today is either going to be Very easy for people, or Very hard, based almost entirely on this answer, which is surely nonsensical if you don't have the context from the show (Swiper is a character ... he, uh, swipes things, and Dora, or someone, repeatedly tells him not to ... if I have this wrong, someone will correct me). It took me longer (much longer) to get the short Dora clue (SRTA) than it did to get "SWIPER, NO SWIPING!" Bizarre. But with all those first letters in place—and I mean, *all* the first letters in place for the Downs at the top of the grid—the Saturday puzzle instantly got much easier. GENE PAT INAHOLE STUNS RAPSHEET NIETZSCHE PHEW EMS IGLOO and WIDER, all with no or little help. Held back a bit on INAHOLE, but it ended up being right. Also held back, 'cause I had to, on ONCE (coulda been ONLY) (8D: Part of YOLO). So, knowing 1A meant Obliterating the top third of the grid. Weirdly, it didn't get much tougher from there.


The stacks are solid and there's very little junk in this grid. The middle has all of the black squares and none of the interest; weird. The answers I struggled over most were:

Five issues:
  • 23A: Japanese room divider (SHOJI) — wanted SCRIM at first, but that doesn't sound very Japanese. Not sure why SHOJI eventually felt right. For the "J" cross, I was lucky to have at least have heard of JESSIE J (24D: ___ J, singer with the 2014 hit "Bang Bang")
  • 13D: Spark provider (INITIATOR) — just couldn't get a grip on what form of "initial"-something was going to go here. INITIATION? "Spark" sounds like it's related to an idea, and INITIATOR sounds more like a person, so I just fumbled a bit here
  • 50D: ___ Tatin (upside-down pastry) (TARTE) — well, I didn't know BOFA so the "A" in TARTE was a Total guess. Coulda been "O" as far as I knew
  • 29D: ___ big (YEA) — Me, figuratively and literally: "YAY!" :(
  • 34A: Angel's antithesis (BRAT) — had the "T" and wanted GOAT. . . I didn't say it was a good guess
[this video has over 1.2 billion views, yes billion]

I was lucky to be able to spell NIETZSCHE instantly and with no errors—one of those names I got obsessed with spelling correctly at some point, and it just stuck. Memorizing the spelling of weird names is kind of a NI(etzs)CHE hobby, I'll admit. Oh, and if you thought the philosopher who said "What does not kill me makes me stronger" was K CLARKSON, you are forgiven.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. At least a few people seem to think I don't know, so, to be very clear: BOFA is "B of A," a very common way of referring to Bank of America

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Old World blackbird / FRI 11-23-18 / Relative of malt shop / Important item for '50s greaser / 1970 title lyric after Simple as do re mi

Friday, November 23, 2018

Constructor: Temple Brown

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4:48)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: MERL (58A: Old World blackbird) —
The common blackbird was described by Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Turdus merula (characterised as T. ater, rostro palpebrisque fulvis). The binomial name derives from two Latin words, turdus, "thrush", and merula, "blackbird", the latter giving rise to its French name, merle, and its Scots name, merl. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello, fellow eaters! I had a solid postprandial nap this afternoon, so I was well awake and rarin' to go for this puzzle. And for the most part, I torched it. Was headed to a Very Easy time, but the SE made me trip all over myself, starting with SABERS (43A: Things drawn during the Napoleonic Era), and then SPURS (46A: Urges), both of which proved effective blocks to my entry into that corner. Luckily, "ANIMANIACS" was a gimme, so I got some help down there, but even so: I really only knew the -MA part of PADMA (47D: Lakshmi of "Top Chef") and had no idea about ELSE (first guess there was NOTS) or AWE, which has a great clue—just baffled me (wanted ASL at one point) (51A: State without words?). Still, that corner wasn't exactly arduous, and the rest of the grid fell into place pretty easily. I will admit that I straight lucked-out with a few answers. Knew BBC AMERICA right off the bat (used to watch "Orphan Black" before it got confusing and tiresome). Got TIME TRAVEL off just the T-M. Also (and here's where I feel mildly guilty) I knew MERL. First response to [Old World blackbird]: "aw, crap, who knows this stuff?!" Second response: "Hey, wait ... is it MERL? It is! OMG *I* know this stuff!" MERL is some super-duper crosswordese, y'all. Store it away for future use, you will most certainly need it when it is scheduled to appear again in [checks calendar] February 2021. If you knew MERL, high-five yourself. (And if you knew MERL Reagle, well you are a lucky human being indeed.)

[MERL is the cool-looking dude and I am the idiot making a face]

I have to guffaw and scoff and other disdain-related verbs at SQUILLIONS, a "word" I'm seeing for the first time right now. JILLIONS and GAJILLIONS and BAJILLIONS and ZILLIONS and GAZILLIONS ... all fine by me. SQUILLIONS is bleepin' stupid (17A: Ginormous quantities). Unauthorized. Baloney and balogna, simultaneously. I know of a specific place called MILK BAR, and maybe, possibly, I've seen one shop somewhere between here and Ithaca that calls itself a MILK BAR, but the disparity between MILK BAR and "malt shop," name recognition-wise, is vaaaaast (5D: Relative of a malt shop). [Word before sign...] is a truly terrible way to clue CENT. If you're gonna go the [Word before this or after that] route, there should be excellent reason to do so. Had the -OMB part of 26D: Important item for a '50s greaser and assumed some kind of BOMB would be involved. PICKLE BOMB? POMADE BOMB? But POCKET COMB, that's good. Also good: [It covers the floor] for C-SPAN. Also good: BOYO! The whole NE corner was Monday easy. I never even saw some of the short Acrosses, which ... thank god, because seeing NRA once a-f***ing-gain would've really harshed my vibe. I will never not complain when you put this white supremacy- and terrorism-abetting org. in your puzzle. Good puzzle otherwise, though.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

(Twitter: @rexparker / #NYTXW)

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Home planet of TV's ALF / THU 11-22-18 / Jewish holiday with costumes / Letter that appears twice in the Schrödinger equation / Bygone orchard spray / Neighbor of Moldova

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:29 ... but felt like the kind of puzzle I should've solved in 3)

THEME: ___-LESS words — clues are words with letters missing; answers are synonyms for the word, plus a ___-LESS word referring to whichever letter of the word is missing, resulting in "___-LESS ___" phrases:

Theme answers:
  • HEADLESS CHICKEN (17A: OWARD) — i.e. "coward" = "chicken," "OWARD" = "chicken" without its head (first letter), thus: HEADLESS CHICKEN
  • BOTTOMLESS PIT (25A: QUARR) — "Y" -less "quarry"
  • ENDLESS SUMMER (42A: SEASO)— "N" -less "season"
  • TOPLESS SWIMSUIT (57A: IKINI)— "B"-less "bikini"
Word of the Day: Ravel's "Gaspard de la NUIT" (54A) —
Gaspard de la nuit (subtitled Trois poèmes pour piano d'après Aloysius Bertrand), M. 55 is a suiteof piano pieces by Maurice Ravel, written in 1908. It has three movements, each based on a poem or fantaisie from the collection Gaspard de la Nuit — Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot completed in 1836 by Aloysius Bertrand. The work was premiered in Paris, on January 9, 1909, by Ricardo Viñes.
The piece is famous for its difficulty, partly because Ravel intended the Scarbo movement to be more difficult than Balakirev's Islamey. Because of its technical challenges and profound musical structure, Scarbo is considered one of the most difficult solo piano pieces in the standard repertoire. (wikipedia)
• • •

No thanks. The theme concept is OK (though once you get the -LESS phrases arranged symmetrically, the cluing is completely arbitrary and potentially infinite). But HEADLESS CHICKEN is not a thing. "A chicken with its head cut/chopped off" is very much a thing. But HEADLESS CHICKEN, while it googles tremendously well, primarily results in ... well, the first hit is the wikipedia page for "Mike the Headless Chicken" (or "Miracle Mike!"):
Mike the Headless Chicken (April 20, 1945 – March 17, 1947), also known as Miracle Mike, was a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. Although the story was thought by many to be a hoax, the bird's owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts. (wikipedia)
Then there's a bunch of stuff about the "headless chicken monster" (!?!). So what is this clue referring to. I assume it's not referring to Mike or the monster, because I have never ever heard of those. And if it's referring to the proverbial phrase, then the proverbial phrase does not not not not contain the phrase HEADLESS CHICKEN. It is, very specifically, "chicken with its head cut (or chopped) off." BONELESS CHICKEN is a thing. HEADLESS, not. The end. Themer discarded. Next. Please don't let "kinda in the ballpark" garbage themers into your grids. It's deflating and disappointing.

When I started this, I thought I was going to finish in something like Monday time. EMERALD, then all of the first four Downs, without even thinking. 10 seconds in, and the NW is done. But then the little section in the middle, just under the first themer, really really slowed me down. I still don't get (or, if I do get, really really don't like) the clue on ACHE (20A: Distress signal?). Your body has been "distressed" and so it ACHEs? I ...pfft. I guess. But that crossing SCALE, the clue for which I also hated (one of those [___ it] clues, like [Hit it!] for GONG or something) Today: 18D: Step on it). Could've been so many things (wanted STAIR). But it's just SCALE. Blah. Dumb old tired ambiguous-"worker" clue had me at HOE and ANT, but never BEE (32: Worker in a garden). Rough all through there.

Then super-easy again until the SE, where I totally forgot about "Alf," so couldn't use MELMAC to get into that corner, and even when I was in that corner, ESTH and NUIT and DIME were all somehow impossible for me to get, as was (oddly) ATATIME. Brain blanked out after it wasn't AT ONCE. So those two patches put me more at a normal Thursday time, despite the rest of the grid's being easy. Very, very uneven. The real problem, though, was the horrendous fill. Started with ELHI and ended with -STER. Bleepin' -STER. In between, junk city. Even the longer answers were somehow yuck: "IT'S A LIE" is terrible ("THAT'S A LIE!" is the phrase you want, and you should be ashamed of using the phrase "Fake news!" at all, anywhere). PRO RATA fully written out, ugh. ONE UNIT? Come on! Longer answers are supposed to be the *good* stuff.

I can't give much thanks for this puzzle. But I give thanks for you all, for your readership and letters and support and all of it. Even when I don't like the puzzle, I like writing this blog and engaging with all (or most :) of you. Enjoy your (probably headless) turkeys!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if you use Twitter, join the discussion of the puzzle using hashtag #NYTXW—great way to see what other solvers are thinking and feeling. People start posting their times and first impressions pretty quickly after the puzzle comes out (10pm the night before, 6pm the night before for the Sun and Mon puzzles). You can also follow me @rexparker ...

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Popular battle royale video game / WED 11-21-18 / Ninth month of Hebrew calendar / Stock for Wile E Coyote / Half of 1990s cartoon duo / Applesauce eponym / Save America popular downloadable political show / Role for Helen Mirren informally

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Constructor: Brandon Koppy

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:58)

THEME: FLIP-FLOPS (63A: Questionable political moves suggested by the answers to the nine starred clues) — phrases or compound words where the first part and last part are switched, forming a different (unclued) phrase or word ...

Theme answers:
  • HEADBUTT (3D: *Half of a 1990s cartoon duo)
  • TAKES OUT (36D: *Bloopers, typically)
  • OVERPASS (25D: *Spring festival)
  • GLASS EYE (22D: *Mr. Peanut accessory)
  • HOUSE CAT (10D: (*Informal term for a brothel)
  • HOME TOWN (40D: *Residence in a row)
  • TRADE FAIR (17A: *Principle of international economic pacts)
  • MAN CAVE (30A: *Neanderthal)
  • PACK RAT (48A: *Noted Vegas entertainers of the 1960s)
Word of the Day: FORTNITE (38D: Popular battle royale video game) —
Fortnite is an online video game first released in 2017 and developed by Epic Games. It is available as separate software packages having different game modes that otherwise share the same general gameplay and game engine. The game modes include Fortnite: Save the World, a cooperative shooter-survival game for up to four players to fight off zombie-like creatures and defend objects with fortifications they can build, and Fortnite Battle Royale, a free-to-play battle royale game where up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing. Both game modes were released in 2017 as early access titles; Save the World is available only for WindowsmacOSPlayStation 4, and Xbox One, while Battle Royale has been released for those platforms in addition for Nintendo SwitchiOS and Android devices.
While both games have been successful for Epic Games, Fortnite Battle Royale became a resounding success, drawing in more than 125 million players in less than a year, and earning hundreds of millions of dollars per month, and since has been a cultural phenomenon. (wikipedia)
• • •

I think this drive to cram the grid with as many themers as possible is more common in younger / novice constructors, and I want to beg aspiring constructors to reconsider. Here we have a pretty decent concept, but the solving experience was rough and choppy and there's some fill here that never should've left the STA(tion). The fill problems could likely have been cleared up if the grid weren't just glutted with themers—a full complement, in both directions, often intersecting. I can tolerate your run-of-the-mill crosswordese like OTT and ITSY and ANYA and ESTO and PTAS and SRA and ASP and STA and OGEE and SOLI and OED and QEII and even the awkward plural ESQS, but KISLEV is way too obscure to appear in any grid, especially a Wednesday, and especially crossing DURST, whose name *I* remember well... but not everyone will (19A: Fred ___, lead vocalist for Limp Bizkit). And then there's SIEG (21A: Victory, in German). This is just a puzzle-killer. There is no way you can include that word in an American crossword puzzle and not evoke Nazis. It's the first word in the Nazi salute. That is the only context in which the Overwhelming majority of Americans know that word. You can wish it were otherwise, but it's not. So, if you don't want solvers think of Hitler while solving your puzzle (and you probably don't), never put SIEG in your puzzle. Or HEIL, for that matter.

I didn't think the revealer quite captured what was going on with the themers. I really, really wanted it to be a word that *also* flip-flopped, but FLOP FLIPS ... is not a thing, sadly. So the revealer was kind of a let-down. Not a let-down: some really fabulous current fill, like FORTNITE (!), APPLE PAY and ANTIFA, as well as some ultra-current cluing on POD (64D: "___ Save America" (popular downloadable political show)) ("downloadable," LOL, nice avoidance of "podcast"). This business about Mr. Peanut having a ... oh, fudge, I just realized my error. I was like, "Mr. Peanut has a monocle! Since when does he have a GLASS EYE!? How would we know!?" But of course that's a flip-flopped answer, so I guess he has an EYEGLASS (?). Is that another word for "monocle"? Yes. Yes it is. OK, I'm glad I cleared that up for myself. Safe travels if you're traveling. I'll see you back here on Thanksgiving Day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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