Cry of triumph / MON 12-31-2018 / Quarry / Spirited horse / Make a goof

Monday, December 31, 2018

Hello! Happy almost New Year! It's Clare again, switching it up this month by doing the last Monday of the month instead of the last Tuesday. Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season. I'm spending my break chilling at home spending endless amounts of time doing jigsaw puzzles and sleeping, while still recovering from all that studying for finals!

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: Another name for O3 (as appropriate to 17-, 25-, 44- and 55-Across?) — The theme answers were all phrases that have three O's in a row.

Theme answers:
  • IM TOO OLD FOR THIS (17A: "You young people go ahead!")
  • HAVE NO OOMPH (25A: Lack in energy)
  • BOO OFF STAGE (44A: Force to exit, as a performer)
  • ITS A ZOO OUT THERE (58A: Traffic reporter's comment)
Word of the Day: ST ELMO (16D: Patron of sailors)—
Saint Erasmus of Formia, also known as Saint Elmo, was a Christian saint and martyr, who died c. 303. He is venerated as the patron saint of Sailors and abdominal pain. St Erasmus or Elmo is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, saintly figures of Christian tradition who were venerated especially as intercessorsSt. Elmo's fire is a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere (such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption). The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for the name. Sailors may have considered St. Elmo's fire as a good omen (as a sign of the presence of their patron saint). (Wikipedia)
• • •

Overall, I thought the puzzle was good. It had some fun theme answers, with parts like OOMPH (25A) and ITS A ZOO (58A). I jumped around the puzzle some and, after getting the first theme answer, knew right away the theme was three O's, which helped me get some answers. I also liked the longer answers; they gave the puzzle a slightly odd shape, though, and there were a lot of crossword-y fill words as a result, like LOL, OMG, ERR, EMO, ERS, IPA, IDO... (I could go on). It seemed like the rest of the puzzle might have suffered some as a result of the constructor trying to make the theme work. I was also not a fan of SISI (51D: Enthusiastic assent in Mexico) and HIHO (11D: Cheery greeting) (this sounds like it would have been at home in 18th century London! — HI HO, cheerio).

I got a bit slowed down by 39A: "Don't leave this spot" because I wanted to make "stay here" work instead of WAIT HERE. I also paused for a bit at 61A because I thought it definitely would have to be stegosaurus and not STEGOSAUR. I googled it afterward, and, while the dictionary definitions do refer to stegosaur, I felt slightly vindicated by my belief, because Google did ask me, "Did you mean Stegosaurus?"

I had no idea what SINN was (54A: __ Fein (Irish Political Party)) but didn't even see it until after I finished the puzzle, because the downs there were quite easy. I've also never seen Ahmed (2D: Man's name related to the name of Islam's founder) in a puzzle before, so that might be slightly odd, especially for a Monday puzzle. LEAF, GENE, and LOPE elicited a chuckle from me. I also don't know why, but I really love the word TOE RAG and the expression GEE WHIZ.

  • I knew that it was EUGENE O'Neill Theater because I got to see "Book of Mormon" there (which was hilarious and fantastic).
  • 6D as ALLEGE — You would not believe how much we use this word in law school.
  • Definitely because of the movie "Frozen," I originally tried to put Olaf instead of OLAV at 18D.
  • This is off-topic, but what kind of sound does a poodle actually make? I imagine poodles as more dainty, and ARF doesn't quite fit. I think of poodles as yipping or something.
Signed, Clare Carroll, a relaxed 1L

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Zoroastrianism's sacred text / SUN 12-30-18 / Mesopotamian mother goddess / Stealth bomber familiarly / 2003 Economoics Nobelist Robert / Hybrid tourney style

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Constructor: Luke Vaughn

Relative difficulty: Medium (felt easier, but there are some patches ...)

THEME: "No Duh!" — so ... phrases with "the" have "no *the*" in them, creating ... honestly, calling these "wacky" seems generous, but OK ... wacky phrases, which are wackily clued:

Theme answers:
  • BEHIND SCENES (36A: Reason for an R rating?) (does mere naked rear end really earn an R?)
  • BEYOND PALE (6D: Really, really needing some sun?)
  • WELL-OFF MARK (45A: Cuban or Zuckerberg?)
  • SEAL DEAL (16D: Buy one circus animal, get one circus animal free?)
  • OUT OF BLUE (69A: Needing certain ink for a color printer?)
  • POP QUESTION (90A: Impetus behind a paternity test?)
  • SPARE ROD (85D: Something up for grabs on a fishing boat?)
  • SKIRT ISSUE (77D: Installment of a women's clothing catalog?)
  • AGAINST GRAIN (97A: On a paleo diet, say?)
Word of the Day: LARISSA (115A: Capital of Thessaly) —
Larissa (GreekΛάρισα [ˈlarisa]) is the capital and largest city of the Thessaly region, the fourth-most populous in Greece according to the population results of municipal units of 2011 census and capital of the Larissa regional unit. It is a principal agricultural centre and a national transport hub, linked by road and rail with the port of Volos, the cities of Thessaloniki and Athens. Larissa, within its municipality, has 162,591 inhabitants, while the regional unit of Larissa reached a population of 284,325 (in 2011).[1] The urban area of the city, although mostly contained within the Larissa municipality, also includes the communities of GiannouliPlatykamposNikaia, Terpsithea and several other suburban settlements, bringing the wider urban area population of the city to about 174,012 inhabitants and extends over an area of 572.3 km2 (221.0 sq mi).
Legend has it that Achilles was born here. Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine", died here. Today, Larissa is an important commercial, agricultural and industrial centre of Greece. (wikipedia)
• • •

What hell? You just take out a central THE? And ... it's not even central every time, just penultimate, and ... then you want me to believe that "duh" rhymes with "THE," and then ... since the whole concept is so manifestly thin and yields very little in the way of real humor or entertainment, you want to ... really cram the grid with themers. Crossing Acrosses and Downs, whoosh and whee and what not? IESTerday ... love was such an iesy game to play ... now I (definitely) need a place to hide awaie. Good news is: if your big thing is Incredibly Obscure World Capitals (Including Regional Capitals, Dear Lord), then this is your puzzle. Or at least part of it is your puzzle. Namely the BISSAU part and the LARISSA part. BISSAU, LOL. I was like "What?" and then I was like "[West African capital]? Why not just say the country name??!" And Then ... I looked up the country. Any guess? Oh shut up, you don't know it unless you actively train for trivia contests / game shows and have memorized all world capitals. Anyway, BISSAU is the capital of [drum roll] Guinea-BISSAU, a country I am just now learning exists. I mean, cool, it's real, why not know it, I guess, but then you wanna go and throw LARISSA at me? What on god's green?! That was my last word in the grid, and it contains the very rarely seen Double Natick*.

I am not kidding when I say that I guessed at not one but two letters in LARISSA. I have no idea what a RUE is, in plant terms. I feel like it's in some "Hamlet" quote, but ... yikes. But the real Naticky cross here is with AVESTA. What Is AVESTA? I've been solving going on 30 years and .... ???????!?!?!?!?!?! And it crosses LARISSA? Everyone, from the constructor, to the editors (plural) to the proofreaders to the janitor should've flagged that crossing *immediately* as Bad. Unthinkably bad. And then taking RUE into plant (?!) territory, to boot? (116D: Medicinal plant) Bizarre. And for many solvers, absolutely harrowing. I guessed both crosses correctly, based solely on experience, but, again, yikes. See you later, puzzle. I've had enoughFOVEA nonsense! (is that how you pronounce that? I've Never Seen That Word Either ... 🎶IESTerday🎶 ...).


I suppose LARI-SA / AVE-TA is a guessable cross. I mean, I guessed it. But you have to understand that no solver wants to have a cross where they're not sure how or if either answer makes sense. This is why Obscure Proper Nouns Should Not Cross, especially when neither is a recognizable / common name. Like, you could clue BRIAN via some barely-known rock climber or something, but if I get BRIAN, at least I can go "Oh, BRIAN, that is a name I have seen that humans sometimes have, cool." With AVESTA ... you cannot do that.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. A.M.A. in the ASK clue (113D: Part of A.M.A.) is Ask Me Anything, a Reddit phenomenon (originally) where people can ask celebrities or other people prominent in their fields ... well, anything.

*Natick = blind crossing, usually of two not-well-known proper nouns (see sidebar for more details)

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African tree with hanging fruit / SAT 12-29-18 / Natchez Delta Queen for two / Counterpart to Roman god Sol

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (7:01, should've been Way faster)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BAOBAB (28A: African tree with hanging fruit) —
Adansonia is a genus of deciduous trees known as baobabs. They are found in arid regions of Madagascar, mainland AfricaArabia, and Australia. The generic name honours Michel Adanson, the French naturalist and explorer who described Adansonia digitata.
In the early 21st century, baobabs in southern Africa began to die off rapidly from a cause yet to be determined. Scientists believe it is unlikely that disease or pests were able to kill many trees so rapidly, while some estimated that the die-off was a result of dehydration from global warming. (wikipedia)
• • •

Lots of personal best times will be achieved today. I could feel it as I soared through the first half of the puzzle. Thought for sure I was gonna come close to my own personal best time, certainly a personal best for the time I've been keeping track of times (since April), but then ... fate intervened. And by "fate" I mean "my dumb mistakes." Let's start with BAOBAB, which was my first foray into the east (where the wheels came off). Had the BA- and correctly guessed BAOBA- and then incorrectly guessed O. BAOBAO. Got POPPYCOCK just fine, so woo hoo, here we go! But oh my things got so bad because of my having the -BY in 21D: Pair that clicked in film. My brain: "--BY = BABY, try a "B" at 21A!" And what was 21A? [Flinch, e.g.]. And what did brain do: "Uh ... BLINK! Sure, that's ... yeah, BLINK!" So I went looking for BABY something for the "pair that clicked in film." Just death. I also couldn't get CAPE to save my life (43A: Ranch alternative). That's a kind of ... house? Ugh. We call them CAPE Cods, I think? I don't really know. Anyway, I should've gotten TIME MACHINE w/ literally no crosses, so no idea what happened there (10D: Fantastic means of travel). Had the -CH- and thought maybe some kind of CHAIR was involved. I told you the wheels came off! Found DJS very hard (52D: Plays at work?). No idea the dinosaur was named ARLO. Try very very hard not to think about the current administration, despite the puzzle's best efforts to force the issue, so honestly PENCE never occurred to me. How is he a "shadow president"? He doesn't do jack. He's an ungodly stuffed animal. Ugh, why am I even talking about this answer—WS loves this administration for reasons I'll never get, so a perfectly good word like PENCE gets this monstrous/dumb clue. Whatever—the main point is ... well, there are two main points. One is, one small mistake can totally destroy your solving time. And two is, this puzzle was delightful, even when I was flailing in the east, and despite the undead slug that is Mike PENCE lurking in the corner.

Five things:
  • 53D: Meas. for a steno (WPM) — Saw "Meas.," had -PM, wrote in RPM. Good to read all of the clue.
  • 43D: Ark unit (CUBIT) — you know that feeling when you know a word but you cannot retrieve the word? That. I had -BIT and was like "Oh, right ... AMBIT! No ... ugh, it's not ORBIT! What Is IT?"
  • 46A: Fine dining no-no (SLURP) — what is "fine dining"? Seriously. Also, people SLURP wherever. This clue assumes a weird class-based dining situation from like the last century ... remember how "fine dining" used to be like big tables and French terms and maitre d's and snootiness? This is a sitcom / movie phenomenon that I've noticed. "Fine dining" in older tv / movies looks stuffy and terrible and is phenomenally class-aspirational. Anyway, there are "fine" ramen places where people SLURP the f*** out of their food, is what I'm saying. I SLURP my coffee for sure sometimes. SLURPing helps you taste. It's a ... surface area thing, I think. That's my slurping theory, at any rate, and I'm slupring to it. Speaking of fine dining ...
    [17A: "The job's not great, but I can pay my bills"]
  • 7D: Man's nickname that sounds like two letters of the alphabet (ABIE) — are we pretending this is an actual nickname. This is crosswordese. You can find it in the play "ABIE's Irish Rose" and the "Hair" song "ABIE Baby" and nowhere else. Isn't ABE already the nickname? Why is your "nickname" longer!?
  • 54A: John, abroad (EVAN) — I see this clue a lot and always hate it. It's meant to make you think "bathroom," but then the answer is like EVAN or IAN or I don't care. Actually, I had no idea EVAN was John "abroad." We have EVAN here. The writer/editor of the Washington Post Sunday crossword (frequently superior to the NYT, btw) is an EVAN. Where is EVAN "John"? Wales? Pffft. So many EVANs in the world, why are you doing this clue?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Host Bert of old games shows / FRI 12-28-18 / 1997 Notorious BIG hit whose title lyric precedes strictly for weather / Car that went defunct in 1936 / County east of Devon / Instrument whose name comes from Latin for heavenly / 12 points typographically

Friday, December 28, 2018

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (though w/ some potentially deadly Naticks* if your Name Game is not *tight*) (5:44)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ALAIN RENÉ LESAGE (54A: "Gil Blas" author) —
Alain-René Lesage (French pronunciation: ​[alɛ̃ ʁəne ləsaʒ]; 6 May 1668 – 17 November 1747; older spelling Le Sage) was a French novelist and playwright. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks (1707, Le Diable boiteux), his comedy Turcaret (1709), and his picaresque novel Gil Blas (1715–1735). (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was just way too reliant on proper nouns, which can have the effect of either thrilling you ("woo hoo, I know it, look at me go!") or destroying you ("what... letter... who...?). Sometimes you get to experience both outcomes multiple times in the same puzzle, as I did today. I mean, my first solid answer (after LAG) was LUIS Severino, whom I know a large chunk of the solving population will never have heard of (a large chunk of the solving population is somewhat-to-very sports averse). So LUIS, and later RUY and NOTH and COTY were all on TeamRex and the top half was mostly joy and laughter (though what the hell with the clue on "GOING BACK TO CALI"!?!? If you say those four words to me, there is only one song I am going to start singing, and it ain't by Biggie...):

[I grew up in "CALI" and lived in "CALI" when this came out—clue shoulda been [1988 LL Cool J hit whose title lyric precedes "hmph, I don't think so"]

So yeah I'm doing all right. Master of Names! And then I hit that bottom stack and whoosh and whomp, there go the wheels. I know what Russian nesting dolls are, and now that I see it, I've definitely encountered MATRYOSHKA before, but man, while solving, I was like DOLLS and ... prayer. BABUSHKA DOLLS? No? Oh well. But those dolls are not criminal. Tough, but a fair thing to ask people to come up with on a Friday if crosses are fair. No, the real crime down there is ALAIN RENÉ LESAGE. The clue itself is a bleeping insult: 54A: "Gil Blas" author. Me: "Oh ... right ... he used to be crosswordese back when crossword fill was actually much more terrible because people didn't have databases to help them and they thought that just because a name had been used before you could use it again and so it proliferated like kudzu or MATRYOSHKA DOLLS or whatever ... that guy. What was his name?" No idea. None. I have a Ph.D. in literature—never encountered this guy. I took French for 7 years—never encountered this guy. I cannot overstate how singularly unimportant this guy is. He is reanimated crosswordese. Even knowing that I had seen his name before, I needed almost every single cross. Luckily for me, Bert CONVY was an old TV friend (47D: Host Bert of old game shows), so parsing the stupid French guy's name took less time than it might have. I don't know why you make a relatively lovely grid and then put in a section that is kind of gross, that will almost surely be the only thing anyone remembers. For its grossness.

Five things:
  • 26D: "Je vous en ___" (French for "You're welcome") (PRIE) — speaking of "I took French for 7 years" ... totally forgot which PRIX went here :(
  • 4D: Many employees of the Lego company (DANES) — this was absurdly hard. Makes sense now, but not while solving
  • 23D: Highish bridge holding (TENACE) — I know absolutely nothing about bridge except the crosswordese. I felt guilty throwing this down so fast. 
  • 9D: Event of 1964 and 2020 (TOKYO GAMES) — This is some pretty serious green paint**. Any Olympic site + GAMES? RIOGAMES? LAGAMES? No. SUMMER GAMES, sure. SOCHIGAMES, uh uh
  • 51A: New toy? (PUP) — tfw you get the "?" misdirection ... and still guess the wrong answer (PET)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*Natick = unfair crossing, usually of proper nouns (see sidebar for more info)
**Green paint = makeshift answer made up of words that one might say, but that don't really constitute a solid, stand-alone phrase

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Song sung by Elvis in "Blue Hawaii" / THU 12-27-18 / Brooklyn attraction / Rival of Cassio / Former Yankees manager Joe

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Challenging (feels like it shouldn't have been this tough, but it took 5:30 over my fairly bloated Thursday average) (17:24)

THEME: THEMEContrails — Grid has the shape of a jet flying from the SW to the NE, with contrails behind it. The letters CON are rebused in five squares, leaving a trail behind the plane. The black squares may also be a part of the contrail?
Theme answers:
  • AERIAL RE(CON) - (30A: Drone's job)
  • (CON)ES - (35A: Rods' partners)
  • EMOTI(CON) - (38A: One might have a wink or a smile)
  • (CON)TAINER - (44A: Tin or glass)
  • TELE(CON) - (46A: Business meeting that participants dial into, informally)
  • STYLE I(CON) - (20D: One frequently pictured in GQ or Vogue)
  • DE(CON) - (28D: Radiation cleanup, briefly)
  • (CON)EY ISLAND - (32D: Brooklyn attraction)
  • (CON)TRAIL - (40D: Follower of a plane ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme)
  • (CON)TROL - (47D: Dominate)
These two are also theme-ish, so I'm counting them:
  • SKY WRITER - (17A: Flier with a message)
  • JET STREAM - (10D: It's indicated by arrows on a map)
Word of the Day: ALAIN (50D: Author Locke of the Harlem Renaissance, the first African-American Rhodes Scholar (1907))
• • •
Hey-o, puzzlers. It's Morgan here, filling in again for Rex (third time's a charm). This is a *fabulous* way for me to kill an evening while visiting my husband's family in East Texas, so thanks for the opportunity. (UPDATE: because it's Texas, of course there was crazy weather (in this case a tornado warning) shortly after this post went live.)

As a general rule, I love a rebus. And I usually think I have a good eye for spotting them. Not this time! This one was *brutal* for me - clocking in substantially over my average time. The theme took me forever to get, but more than that I just never got any momentum at any point in the entire solving process. I slogged my way from the NE down the east coast, then finally grokked the theme with CONTRAIL (which, honestly, was the first thing I thought when I saw the grid, so I'm not sure what my problem was).

I wouldn't say there was anything I especially liked about this puzzle, but neither did I hate it. I think the grid strained a bit under the heavy theme density (10-12 themers, depending how you count), so there was more crosswordese and/or junk than I would usually prefer (e.g., NOWI, ARA, BASSI, TOALL, ITALO, EYED). And there really wasn't anything exciting in the whole puzzle - maybe SKYWRITER crossing JET STREAM, but honestly aside from this there wasn't anything very new.

A couple of the themers strike me as questionable. As a professor, I'm on a LOT of teleconferences/conference call/Webexes/video conferences, and I can't recall having heard someone call it a TELECON. I also don't love DECON for decontaminate. I do at least appreciate that the CON is short for something different in each answer (UPDATE: a commenter points out EMOTICON and STYLE ICON are of the same root, but I think they're different enough (one refers to computer ICON and one to the more celebrity-style ICON)).

  • ETNA — (5A: Mount whose name means, literally, "I burn"). Nice to have a new clue for a VERY old crossword standby.
  • WATCH TV — (21A: View remotely?). This is what I have been doing, without break, for approaching 72 hours. Because Mount Pleasant, Texas, y'all. 
  • NAILS IT — (62A: Does something to a T). Have you watched Nailed It on Netflix yet? It's really a delightful and hilarious way to kill a half hour. Highly recommended.  
  • CATAWBA — (1D: Carolina tribe that allied with the colonists in the American Revolution). I imagine a LOT of people struggled up here - the NW took me forever to break into.
  • MONTY — (51D: Hall of fame). This is probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. Shrug.  
Signed, Morgan Polikoff, a Jew in Texas at Christmastime

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Greek-born New Age musician / WED 12-26-18 / 1950s Project Blue Book subject for short / Opening of classic Langston Hughes poem

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Constructor: Howard Barkin

Relative difficulty: Easy (Easy-Medium by the clock, but I have Holiday Hangover—mostly non-alcoholic, but still... it's clearly affecting my brain and hand agility) (3:52)

THEME: Actors who *should've* been in movies...  — all clues start [Movie that really should have featured...] followed by an actor's name, which seems fitting given the movie's title:

Theme answers:
  • "ROBIN HOOD" (Movie that really should have featured Anne Archer?)
  • "ANIMAL HOUSE" (Movie that really should have featured Nicolas Cage?)
  • "FANTASTIC VOYAGE" (Movie that really should have featured Tom Cruise?)
  • "BEETLEJUICE" (Movie that really should have featured Vin Diesel?)
  • "SPIDER-MAN" (Movie that really should have featured Sigourney Weaver?)
Word of the Day: JESSE Williams (53D: Williams of "Grey's Anatomy") —
Jesse Wesley Williams (born August 5, 1981) is an American actor, director, producer and activist, best known for his role as Jackson Avery on the ABC series Grey's Anatomy. He has also appeared in the films The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008), Brooklyn's Finest (2009), The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and as James Lawson in The Butler (2013). He provided voice acting and motion capture for the character Markus in the video game Detroit: Become Human (2018). (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, this was the first time I've ever had a puzzle spoiled for me because the constructor sent me a letter of apology. I've known Howard for a long time, so it was not (I hope) an earnest apology. But since I lit into ADULTING several days ago, saying it was the world's worst word and needed to crawl away and die (or words to that effect), Howard wanted to get out ahead of my inevitable gripe-storm. I actually think the reADULTINGening of the puzzle is more funny than anything else. The thing is ... it remains a valid term. I despise it, but I can't very well say it's pejorative, or offensive (except to my sensibilities). Grown-ups wanna use language to infantilize themselves, I can't stop them (sadly). So now y'all know my Kryptonite. It's ADULTING. Put it in all your puzzles if you want to irritate me. I'm powerless to stop you.

As for the theme, I think this is awfully clever. Do Beetles run on diesel? I did not know that. But I think all the themers work well, ROBIN HOOD is in fact an "archer," a "cage" is a kind of ANIMAL HOUSE, and if you're lucky, your "cruise" will end up being a FANTASTIC VOYAGE. It's a good theme concept with a fine execution. Is Anne Archer as famous to others as she is to me? I know precisely who she is, but I feel like maybe she's slightly-to-a-lot less well known than the others. I always think of her as the "why would you sleep with the insane bunny-killer lady when your actual wife is so gorgeous and wonderful" character in "Fatal Attraction." Whereas I don't know if I've ever seen a Vin Diesel movie. No, seriously. He's been in like 38 "Fast and Furious" movies, right? He's just out of my cinematic area code is all. But then so is JESSE Williams. Never heard of him. Looked him up and was like "oh he's very familiar." But I've never seen a second of "Grey's Anatomy," so ... I'm vaguely aware of a handful of actors who have been on that show. But his name didn't register. And yet YANNI, tick, TOMEI, tick, REESE, tick ... even NAOMI Osaka somehow came back to me (she beat Serena in that U.S. Open victory, which was the main reason I was paying attention). OK I have to go drink coffee and stare at my beautiful Christmas tree. I enjoyed this puzzle. Happy Boxing Day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Film buff's channel in brief / TUE 12-25-18 / Range for yodelers / Deteriorated or started out like Santa on December 24 / Supporters of England's King William III

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Tuesday) (3:57)

THEME: "O TANNENBAUM" (57A: Seasonal song with a hint to the last words in 178-, 25-, 37- and 45-Across) — all the last words are things you would use to decorate a Christmas tree ... because "tannenbaum" means "Christmas tree" ... ?

Theme answers:
  • JUDY GARLAND (17A: First female recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award in film)
  • SUGAR CANE (25A: Major crop of Brazil)
  • LOS ANGELES ANGEL (just one?) (37A: California baseball pro)
  • MOVIE STAR (45A: Washington, Jackson or Ford)
Word of the Day: SAMMY Cahn (32A: Lyricist Cahn who wrote "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!") —
Sammy Cahn (June 18, 1913 – January 15, 1993) was an American lyricist, songwriter and musician. He is best known for his romantic lyrics to films and Broadway songs, as well as stand-alone songs premiered by recording companies in the Greater Los Angeles Area. He and his collaborators had a series of hit recordings with Frank Sinatraduring the singer's tenure at Capitol Records, but also enjoyed hits with Dean MartinDoris Day and many others. He played the piano and violin. He won the Academy Award four times for his songs, including the popular song "Three Coins in the Fountain".
Among his most enduring songs is "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", cowritten with Jule Styne in 1945. (wikipedia)
• • •

Here's all you need to know about why this theme is a total failure: there is literally nothing in "O TANNENBAUM" about trimming the tree. It's all about the tree. But there are no garlands (????? I have never seen that word used in conjunction with tree decoration), no canes (just ... canes???), no angels or stars. There seems to be something in there about candles, but ... I just don't understand. I don't understand how anyone makes this, and I definitely don't understand how anyone decides to publish it. It's genuinely miserable, at the theme level, and at the fill level. Who is getting joy from AGAR PLATE? (34D: Lab culture site) Could there be a clumsier, awkwarder, whiter, more "hello, fellow youths!" clue than [Here, as derived from hip-hop slang] for IN DA HOUSE? I choke-laughed on that one. I think you have to read that clue with your nerdiest voice while also pushing your glasses back up your nose. All I wanted (for XMAS) was a nice little puzzle. Didn't need to be stellar. Didn't need to burn da (!) house down. Just something sweet and tidy, with lights and maybe some presents underneath. But AH, OK, I get ROUES and ATTA and HEHS (plural!? On XMAS? I know I haven't been perfect but HEHS is worse than coal) and so much other abuse. Also, "film buffs" watch TCM, not not not not not not not not TMC. Stop cluing TMC this way. No one watches TMC.

ERMA ERTE ALA ARLO, EDNA? ISPOSE!!!! This puzzle is a crime. This puzzle called a 7-year-old kid on the phone and told her Santa doesn't exist. The "best puzzle in the world" has no business being this bad on any day, let alone XMAS day. BAH, for sure. Took me way longer than it should have because of the truly terrible clue on LOANS (42A: Prerequisites for some college students). No one but no one has ever referred to a loan as a prerequisite. Just junk. Also, I dumbly wrote in ALTO off the AL- at 50A: Range for yodelers (ALPS). And I wrote in VERVE instead of VIGOR (47D: Pep). Also didn't really get what the clue was going for at ARMS (26D: Navy and Air Force vis-à-vis the military). An unnecessarily awkward clue. And somehow, almost 30 years into my solving career, I balked at the correct spelling of ERMA (43A: Funny Bombeck). Did an IRMA / ICH thing there for a second before correcting to ERMA / EIN.

May your day be merrier and brighter than this puzzle. I'm gonna go watch "Meet John Doe"—the original (1941), w/ Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. On TCM!
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

    P.S. we've now seen OYS (57D: Yiddish laments) three times in eight days!!! I ... that's ... why? It appeared just once in all of 2017.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Taboo alternative to beef / MON 12-24-18 / Dry region covering most of Botswana / Alternative to YouTube

    Monday, December 24, 2018

    Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:54)

    THEME: HITCHING A RIDE (55A: Getting picked up by the side of the road ... or what 20-, 30- and 39-Across are literally doing?) — the letter string "RIDE" is ... hitching together two words, i.e. it's spread across the words in a two-word phrase:

    Theme answers:
    • HYBRID ENGINES (20A: Features of some eco-friendly vehicles)
    • KALAHARI DESERT (30A: Dry region covering most of Botswana)
    • GENDER IDENTITY (39A: It may or may not correspond with one's birth sex)
    Word of the Day: VIMEO (52D: Alternative to YouTube) —
    Vimeo (/ˈvɪmi/) is a video-sharing website in which users can upload, share and view videos. It was the first video sharing site to support high-definition videoVimeo was founded in November 2004 by Jake Lodwick and Zach Klein. It focuses on short films and movies sold with Vimeo On Demand. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Nice grid overall, despite the HORSEMEAT (WHY?!? Why would you give That much real estate to That answer?). I don't think the revealer really works, though. You hitch one thing to another thing, but here, RIDE *is* the hitch, so saying that the answers are "literally" HITCHING A RIDE seems off. Wobbly at best. Also—and this is admittedly irrational—something is bugging me about ALI and IKE running through ALIKE. Like ... (!) ... both three-letter answers precisely intersect their identical three-letter strings inside of ALIKE. I mean, it's not bugging me as much as HORSEMEAT (dear lord, why?), but it's weird. It's distracting me. It looks like some kind of theme trick. But it's ... not. Another thing, about VIMEO—so, I am aware of this site and thus did not trip over it at all. Still, it feels weirdly marginal and gratuitous to me. Gratuitous VIMEO. It's a B-team video-sharing site, and a proper noun of no great fame, and it's not like this corner Needed it in order to be good. I mean, you've got ADMEN in there. No one likes ADMEN. I think you get more mileage out of VIDEO (or any actual word). Tear that corner out. I get you want to be Now and Hip or whatever, but no puzzle is improved by VIMEO. Fine when you need it, but if you absolutely don't, no point to it. Go with a more interestingly clueable word, every time.

    Oh, hey, did I mention I love the clue on GENDER IDENTITY (39A: It may or may not correspond with one's birth sex). NYT often fumbles this kind of thing, but this is pretty spot-on.

    I might've been ten seconds or so faster, but I ran into issues in the south. Sometimes, problems are entirely a function of the direction from which you come at a section. In this case, I came into the southern section from the east, dropped GREY down (56D: ___ Poupon mustard), and then tried to get 65A: In a pouty mood off just the terminal "Y." I wrote in MOPEY. That's pretty much the story of that section. Between that error and all the semi-odd five-letter Downs (who is NICOL Williamson? No, really...), and BY CAR :( :( :( I had a minor mess on my hands. But it's Monday and I got upright again pretty quickly. Managed to come in under three for the first time in almost two months. I expect my speed skills to slip as I age, but not so fast.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I looked up NICOL Williamson and nope. Been solving nearly 28 years and never heard of him, never seen him. And here he (he!) is. On a Monday. Bizarre.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Philosophical argument for belief in God / SUN 12-23-18 / Arabic name that sounds like polite affirmative / Lee singer with 2011 #1 album Mission Bell / Alcorn creator of Pong / Modern prefix with tag

    Sunday, December 23, 2018

    Constructor: David Alfred Bywaters

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:23)

    THEME: "Labor Contract(ion)s" — familiar phrases have the letter string "ion" either added or taken away, i.e. they are either ion-ized or UNIONIZED (70A: Like some factories ... or, in a different sense, like 90-, 109- and 119-Across (but not 24-, 32- and 53-Across)?)

    Theme answers:
    • WITH ONE ACCORDION (24A: How polka bands get their start?)
    • PAPAL BULLION (32A: Pontiff's gold treasure?)
    • IS THAT A FACTION? (53A: Query about the Freedom Caucus or Berniecrats?)
    • MISS IMPOSSIBLE (90A: Nickname for a hard-to-please girl?)
    • FILLING STATS (109A: Data maintained by competitive dentists?)
    • RHETORICAL QUEST (119A: Speakers' searches for just the right words?)
    Word of the Day: PASCAL'S WAGER (4D: Philosophical argument for belief in God) —
    unpunctuated: Pascals wager
    1. the argument that it is in one's own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise. (google)
    • • •

    So weird. First, extremely weird to give away the theme in the title. You'd think "Labor Contractions" would be fine, but to go ahead and parenthesize the "ion," what the hell? This isn't preschool. Let the people figure stuff out on their own. Second, this theme doesn't know what it's doing. It's trying to do two things and it ends up doing nothing very interesting. IONIZED is really the operative word. Certain words are IONIZED, in that they have "ION" added to them—a gimmick that is not at all interesting, but is at least consistent. But this revealer adds a new bit of wordplay to the mix by giving us UNIONIZED, a real word that is also, now, the fake (is it fake?) word UN-IONIZED, or de-ionized (if that's a word, which, who knows?). So the UNIONIZED words are the ones that ... (does the double negative math) ... don't ... have the ION. And then the others are the others. And after all of that, you're left with wacky phrases that aren't very funny, and a mostly run-of-the-mill grid that is rather heavy on the old-skool crosswordese (Et tu, ATTU!?). Can you do something with multiple accords? That base phrase seemed off. It seems like such a basic theme should've yielded tons and tons of possible answers, some of which surely must be funnier, or have funnier cluing possibilities, than any of these. Really like CLICKBAIT, and (even though I've never heard of it) PASCAL'S WAGER, but even something interesting like STAGE MOTHERS seems fumbled ("stage moms" is the phrase I know). It's not that the answer is invalid, it just doesn't ... pop. It's OK. It DIDOK. Unlike DRACONIC, which didn't do anywhere near OK (the word is DRACONIAN— it's IANIZED) (38D: Unduly harsh)!

    Jeez louise in what world am I supposed to know the first name of the guy who invented Pong!? This one, apparently, but what a hellaciously stupid clue for Edgar Poe's middle name. The puzzle was mostly very easy, but I got slowed right down there toward the end, in the SW, when I couldn't get COMELIER to save my life, despite knowing very well what "pulchritudinous" means. Starts with "C" ... no idea. None. Perhaps because, like many things in this grid, No One Says This. I also botched the AMIE answer because ... the grid was already so crosswordesey that my brain somehow thought this clue was to do with "ABIE's Irish Rose," which ... look, I'm not going to go in to it, for fear of waking that answer from the dead, but it was a thing that used to appear in crosswords. Maybe my brain thought "ABIE's Irish Beau"? Dunno. Also, the SAMANTHA clue is garbage (91D: Bee, e.g.), in that you would never clue KANYE [West, e.g.] or WILL [Smith, e.g.]. Write a damn clue, for bee's sake!

    On a technical level, you can see how theme answer placement gets the constructor into trouble in the south, where themers end up requiring a four-letter word that both starts and ends with "I"—unlikely. Choices are exceedingly limited right off the bat. So we get crosswordese, INRI, and also crosswordese STENO and crosswordese ASTI, and then this weird answer DOSO.

    Let's see, what else? I had MARROW before YARROW, probably because my brain thought I was writing MALLOW (that's a plant, right?) (105D: Flowering herb also known as devil's nettle). In case you didn't know, HERA lost a beauty contest in which there were two other contestants: Athena and Aphrodite. Paris was the judge and he chose Aphrodite, for which he was "rewarded" with Helen, and the rest is ancient history (namely, the Trojan War). OK, enough with the mythology lessons—Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Ahura Mazda worshiper / SAT 12-22-18 / Court great Goolagong / Pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders / Giant brain of 1940s headlines / Title city of film whose mayor is Leodore Lionheart

    Saturday, December 22, 2018

    Constructor: Joon Pahk

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (felt like I was gonna be in record territory, but then I got stupidly stuck and refused to look at other clues, which a smart person would've done, and which would've sped things up tremendously ... anyway, 7:16)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: TACONIC State Parkway (20A: New York's ___ State Parkway) —
    The Taconic State Parkway (often called the Taconic or the TSP and known administratively as New York State Route 987G or NY 987G) is a 104.12-mile (167.56 km) divided highway between Kensico Dam and Chatham, the longest parkway in the U.S. state of New York. It follows a generally northward route midway between the Hudson River and the Connecticut and Massachusetts state lines, along the Taconic Mountains. Its southernmost three miles (4.8 km) are a surface road; from the junction with the Sprain Brook Parkway northward it is a limited-access highway. It has grade-separated interchanges from that point to its northern terminus; in the three northern counties, there are also at-grade intersections, many with closed medians, allowing only right-in/right-out turns. It is open only to passenger vehicles, as with other parkways in New York, and maintained by the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the fourth agency to have that responsibility.
    Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had long envisioned a scenic road through the eastern Hudson Valley, was instrumental in making it a reality as a way to provide access to existing and planned state parks in the region. Its winding, hilly route was designed by landscape architect Gilmore Clarke to offer scenic vistas of the Hudson HighlandsCatskills, and Taconic regions. The bridges and now-closed service areas were designed to be aesthetically pleasing. It has been praised for the beauty of not only the surrounding landscape and views it offers, but the way the road itself integrates with and presents them. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    So easy to start (in the NW), and then I went right through the middle of the grid with GOING STEADY and finished off the SE with no problems either. From there, things went much more slowly. The middle was an annoying stack where 2/3 were "?" clues, and the top answer in the stack ... is just a gross concept in general. I'm sure that in theory the term isn't specifically gendered, but my experience is that dudes this term when trying to explain why they hooked up with an "unattractive" woman. It's objectifying and stupid and evokes a whole repulsive male culture that I've spent my whole life avoiding. So that's fun. Far worse, though, for me, is the completely asinine term ADULTING, one of my most hated of all 21st-century refuse-to-grow-up millennial-speak bullshit term (16A: Taking care of responsibilities like an actual grown-up). Yeah, being a grown-up sucks, but stop acting like it's cosplay. You're a grown-up. Shut up and grow up. It's so self-consciously infantilizing. Makes my skin crawl.

    LOL to PERRY, in that ... she is absolutely unrecognizable (to me) without her first name (28D: First female artist with five Billboard #1's from the same album). She is first and last name. I had P-R-Y and zero idea what I was dealing with. Ended up getting it all from crosses, and then being like "Oh, right ... her." MILEY is at least known as MILEY (43D: 2000s female teen idol, to fans). On a related note: when was this puzzle made? Feels like 2005, but it would have to be after 2016, which is when "ZOOTOPIA" came out (never seen it, no idea what it's about). Proper nouns, man. Speaking of: TACONIC is some provincial nonsense. Lotsa letters strung together, none of them meaningful to me. Further: PEIRCE. I very vaguely know the name, but a. that is obscure, and b. that really looks like a typo. I didn't get too much joy from this. Lots of proper names I didn't know or (more likely) didn't care about, and a couple of answers I actively dislike. It's a well-made enough puzzle (despite your ARNESS and your EVONNE and your YSER), but not really for me.

    Five things:
    • 24D: Induces to commit a crime (SUBORNS— Had SU- and wrote in SUCKERS at first. Then ... just had nothing. 
    • 36D: Receive as a member (INCEPT) — uhrerufewhrhfghgherrrrrr ... I guess? No one uses that word. I wrote in INDUCT, forgetting that the clue to 24D (see above) exists. PS also no one says ESPIAL (50A: Act of noticing)
    • 26A: Growth medium (SOIL) — wanted AGAR. 
    • 26D: Ostentatious (SPLASHY) — wanted FLASHY. Really wanted FLASHY. Wrote in FLASHY, not even noticing that it came out FLASSHY.
    • 32D: Want ad abbr. (EOE) — sorry, make that *three* answers I actively dislike. EEO, EOE, EIEIO, let's call the whole thing off
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    Actual PS: Who, just noticed that 9D: SOB stands for "son of a bitch," which ... was totally unnecessary, considering SOB is a real word, but OK ... (9D: So-and-so)

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