Rules maven Edmond / FRI 10-18-19 / 2016 film about 1967 Supreme Court case / Hired one is called moirologist / Ulan Siberian capital / Epithet for uninformed / Giant in health beauty products

Friday, October 18, 2019

Constructor: Jamey Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (7:17)


THEME: none

Word of the Day: VOILE (16A: Fabric for a wedding dress) —
a fine soft sheer fabric used especially for women's summer clothing or curtains (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

This was grim. All the things that make a Friday undelightful—not a lot of sparkle, off cluing, weak fill, and (not the puzzle's fault, exactly) just way off my wavelength, both content-wise and just ... voice-wise. Not for me, at all. Hell of a lot of trouble with the top part, from referring to ITEN (bad fill, don't call attention to bad fill!) as a "lower artery" to horrid legal Latin at 1D (IDEM) to TERABIT (not -byte??) to IVORY as an artist's medium (!) to AVOCADO clued in relation to yellow (?) to AMWAY clued via health and beauty (I didn't know it had a focus ... I had ALMAY ... is that something?) to whatever that word for professional MOURNER was (not even gonna look at that clue again) to WINED (ugh) to the weak assertion that rom-coms are "typically" DATE MOVIEs—what does that even mean? I'd venture to say that the "typical" attendee of any movie, rom-com included, is not, in fact, on a date, so the cluing is ... awkward, off, weird, wrong. You mean that a rom-com is a common type of DATE MOVIE; so say that. Yeesh. This whole thing is yeesh. By EMONEY (woof! dear lord, bring back ENOTE if it means I'll never have to see the ridiculous EMONEY again ... that's not a word, that's a recently departed rock star's signature)


I don't believe anyone really says ILLITERATI, and if you do, you're probably the kind of smug I'd rather not know. I misspelled TURNSTYLE thusly, and then imagined that the minor offender was a HOPPER. That clue there, again, woof, no, that pun is awful (54A: One committing a fare-ly minor offense?). There is no such thing as a C-TEAM, truly there is not, any more than there's a Y-TEAM, please stop at the letter B and go no farther. Had SAND for SURF (50A: It's a shore thing). Haven't read Vonnegut since I was a teenager so clue on ELIOT mean jack to me (27D: ___ Rosewater, recurring character in Kurt Vonnegut novels). Elaine CHAO is yet another ghoulish member of this ghoulish administration who probably belongs in jail. And UDE ... what is there even to say about that atrocity? (55D: Ulan-___, Siberian capital). Nothing. Good bye.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Outdated postal abbr / THU 10-17-19 / Grimalkin / Rowdy concertgoer maybe / Big name in small planes / Cybermemo / 1980s Pontiac sports car

Thursday, October 17, 2019

WARNING / ALERT / IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you are solving in the newspaper, then your puzzle is different from everyone else's. Please go back in time and enjoy the write-up I did for your puzzle LAST MONTH, thank you. (Everyone who downloads the puzzle or solves in the app, keep reading)

***

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: untimed, on paper, but I'm gonna say "Easy-Medium"



THEME: joined at the hip — clues are ALLCAPS words or names that have something in common and have been run together, overlapping at last letter of first word and first letter of last word. Each word; these clues visually represent familiar two-word phrases where the first word means (roughly) "joined" and the second word is whatever kind of thing the clue words are. So:

Theme answers:
  • SPLICED GENES (20A: WILDERAYBURN) (Gene WILDER + Gene RAYBURN (an old talk show host))
  • ATTACHED HOUSES (22: HACIENDADOBE) (can a hacienda not be made out of adobe? These "houses" don't seem distinct enough from one another)
  • COMBINED FORCES (43A: MILITIARMY) (militia + army)
  • UNITED STATES (48A: UTAHAWAII) (state of Utah, state of Hawaii)
Word of the Day: MARLENA (27A: "Days of Our Lives" role for more than four decades)
Marlena Evans is a fictional character on the NBC daytime drama, Days of Our Lives, a long-running serial about working life in the fictional town of Salem. She has been played by actress Deidre Hall since 1976, but the character was absent from the show from 1987 to March 1991 and again from January 2009 to September 2011. Marlena was created by scriptwriter Pat Falken Smith and executive producer Betty Corday, and has become one of Days of our Lives' most well-known characters. Hall made her debut on the soap on June 21, 1976, currently making her the second longest running actress on the serial, surpassed only by Suzanne Rogers (Maggie). (wikipedia)
• • •

ALAN HALE
An interesting theme completely wrecked by atrocious fill. The theme concept here isn't bad—kind of obvious, but clever in its way. But I feel like I could've guessed most of them without any help, or with little help, from the crosses (the only one I had issues with was COMBINED FORCES, as I wanted a lot of other different first words like JOINED or UNITED or ALLIED or something ... COMBINED actually took a bit). The themers were not tricky. Once you get the gist of the theme, there it is, you see it, cute, great. Now you've got to fill in the rest of the grid, and oof. Ouch. Yipes. I have "ugh" "no" and "ouch" written alllll over my puzzle print-out. Let's start with the name parade in the NE—so much real estate on old TV actor a physicist a soap role (?????) and GAL GADOT (whose name I can never spell (I'm always Waiting for Gal GODOT), but that's on me). And that little corner in the NE, why ... just why? Why the terrible ONTV (16A: Where "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible!" originated) and more terrible KTS (12D: Gold standards: Abbr.)? You can do annnnnnything up there, and you do that? Astonishingly poor judgment. And then, let's take a look around, shall we? It won't be pleasant, but here we go: AFUSS. Sigh. Lord. Come on. A terrible partial? Crossing an old ("old" is a theme today) Pontiac model (29D: 1980s Pontiac sports car)? Next to the woeful UNARM (it will always be "disarm" and only "disarm"). And then ENOTE? ENOTE!? Stop, [Cybermemo]!?!? Ugh. Only someone who thinks "COSMIC!" is an actual exclamation could like this fill, my goodness (42D: "Far out, man!"). And then D'ESTE!? Not ESTE, which is common/irksome enough, but D'ESTE!? And RFD, which I know only from old (there's that word again) TV, i.e. "Mayberry R.F.D."? It's all so rough. So Rough. Oh well, I liked LEADFOOT (37A: Highway speedster) and QUARTETS, and there *is* a nice shout-out to yesterday's puzzle (34D: Like the worst dad joke = CORNIEST).


Five things:
  • 3D: Ticket category (ADULT) — I got PAYS then PLACID then ran the Downs coming off of PLACID and got them all right ... except this one. I wrote in AISLE.
  • 34A: Grimalkin (CRONE) — Grim what now? If I've seen this word before, I forgot it ("this word" = "grimalkin" — I *have* heard of CRONE!). Cool word. Storing it away.
  • 54A: Locker room shower? (ESPN) — old cluing trick, where "shower" means "entity that shows something" (as opposed to "descending moisture") (P.S. congrats to the Washington Nationals on their first trip to the World Series—I assume their locker room was showered with champagne after Game 4 of the NLCS)
  • 7A: Deg. for an animator (BFA) — kinda hate "degree" clues because who knows? I always have to leave the first square blank on this one, as it could easily be MFA (the deg. I'm actually more familiar with). 
  • 58A: K'ung Fu ___ (Confucius) (TSE) — really enjoying* the "anagrams of EST" mini theme going on there at the bottom of the grid: quartETS over SET over TSE (crossing D'ESTE!). Really... something (*not actually enjoying)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Galactic Empire superweapon / WED 10-16-19 / Push-button bankers / Modern replacement for cash register / Classic story in which Paris figures prominently

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Who knows? Normal level? Dumb quips are harder than regular themers because they are dumb, so ... I was a little on the slow side, but the rest of the puzzle was easy


THEME: a "quip" — specifically, a quip about "a hobbying group": "WE HEARD THE / ORIGAMI CLUB HAD / FOLDED BUT IN FACT / INTEREST IN IT IS / INCREASING" (get it, "in [space] creasing"?)

Word of the Day: LENI Riefenstahl (26D: Filmmaker Riefenstahl) —
Helene Bertha Amalie "LeniRiefenstahl (German: [ˈʁiːfn̩ʃtaːl]; 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director and actress. [...] In the 1930s, she directed the Nazi propaganda films Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will") and Olympia, resulting in worldwide attention and acclaim. The movies are widely considered two of the most effective, and technically innovative, Nazi propaganda films ever made. Her involvement in Triumph des Willens, however, significantly damaged her career and reputation after the war. The exact nature of her relationship with Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler remains a matter of debate. However, Hitler was in close collaboration with Riefenstahl during the production of at least three important Nazi films, and a closer friendship is claimed to have existed. When in 2000 Jodie Foster was planning a biographical drama on Riefenstahl, war-crime documenters warned against a revisionist view that glorified the director. They stated that publicly Riefenstahl seemed "quite infatuated" with Hitler and was, in fact, the last surviving member of his "inner circle". Others go further, arguing that Riefenstahl's visions were essential to the success of the Holocaust. After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested, but classified as being a "fellow traveler" or "Nazi sympathizer" only and was not associated with war crimes. Throughout her life, she denied having known about the Holocaust. (wikipedia)
• • •

6D: Family name of Morticia
and Gomez
A quip puzzle? In 2019? Did y'all not get the memo that people actually hate these. Well, "hate" is strong. But quip puzzles are almost always objectively bad. They are usually terrible dad jokes (like today's), and they are not fun to uncover. Solving ends up being like going on a treasure hunt or through a corn maze or something but at the end is just a pile of garbage. You do it, because, I mean, what else are you going to do, but there's no joy, because you know you're going nowhere good. Usually you don't see an Actual Nazi along the way, but today is special, I guess. How do you all still support the editor of this here puzzle? These editorial decisions are bad. Dude brags about how many submissions the NYTXW gets a month (~500, I hear), but then continues to serve up fairly mediocre puzzles, and then whatever this is. Did you know LENI Riefenstahl not only directed one of the most famous (Nazi) propaganda films of all time, she directed another movie called Tiefland where "she utilized [Romani] from internment camps for extras, who were severely mistreated on set, and when the filming completed they were sent to Auschwitz" (wikipedia)? Did you know that? Well now you do. Maybe LENI is  here to make ORRIN Hatch look human. At any rate, this puzzle has no redeeming features. Except, perhaps ironically, DEATH STAR (11D: Galactic Empire superweapon)



Thank god for Crossword Twitter. I woke up, solved the puzzle, shook my head in disbelief, and then went over to find virtual unanimity:











I would like to apologize to filmmaker LINA Wertmüller for (briefly) confusing her with LENI Riefenstahl. L + vowel + N + vowel + three-syllable German name got me all mixed up. As for the rest of the puzzle, there's not much to say. This puzzle is all quip/Nazi, and not much else. I have never heard of a single HEAD GAME, so that one took me a bit (5D: Instance of psychological trickery). I had HEAD FAKE, which is not "psychological," I guess.


ONE / OUT threw me, as I tried to put OUT in the first position after getting that initial "O" (41A: With 42-Across, usual result of a leadoff batter getting three strikes), and then decided to change Stones guitarist RON Wood to STU or maybe LOU Wood (!?). I had REVIEW for REPLAY (45D: Opportunity to determine if the referee blew it), and still have no idea what [Back-comb] means (TEASE). I assume it has to do with hair, but hair that is combed back is not teased. I guess you comb against the ... grain? Does hair have grain? Throwing this puzzle in the garbage now, bye.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Walled city on coast of France / TUE 10-15-19 / Spouter in Moby-Dick / Old rocket stage / Late 1990s must have toy

    Tuesday, October 15, 2019

    Constructor: Julie Bérubé

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (my time was over average, but it's 16 wide, and I totally misread the second themer clue, both of which inflated my time in ways that had zero to do with pure difficulty) (4:03)


    THEME: ARK (13D: Holder of the contents of the circled squares?) — themers all contain an animal name twice, so ... you know, two by two, Noah's ARK, etc. . . .

    Theme answers:
    • MAN-TO-MAN TALK (18A: Frank discussion, perhaps)
    • PASS/FAIL CLASSES (24A: Courses without letter grades)
    • BEEP BEEP! (40A: Road Runner's call)
    • CATCH-AS-CATCH-CAN (53A: By whatever means)
    • "TORA! TORA! TORA!" (63A: 1970 W.W. II drama with a repetitive name)
    Word of the Day: ST. MALO (49D: Walled city on the coast of France) —
    Saint-Malo (UK/sæ̃ ˈmɑːl/US/ˌsæ̃ məˈl/French: [sɛ̃ malo] (About this soundlisten)GalloSaent-MalôBretonSant-Maloù) is a historic French port in Brittany on the Channel coast. 
    The walled city had a long history of piracy, earning much wealth from local extortion and overseas adventures. In 1944, the Allies heavily bombarded Saint-Malo, which was garrisoned by German troops. The city changed into a popular tourist centre, with a ferry terminal serving PortsmouthJerseyGuernsey and Poole. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    The theme idea is not bad but the execution is very rough. I'm going to say that if 80% of your themers use repeat words to get the desired two-animal effect, you haven't tried very hard with your themers. Or, you haven't tried hard enough. Simply repeating words seems a very cheap way to double the animal count. It's fine to do it once, maybe, but four times out of five? You might also have taken care to keep the animal count in the grid down. This things is ostentatiously plastered with animals, but only some of them are plural. Maybe there are two BISON and two SHEEP, but if the NEWT and the COW are trying to pretend to be a true pair over there in the east, they're not fooling anybody. (NEWT: "... moo?"). Also, there are pretty much four cats on this ARK: the two in CATCH-AS-CATCH-CAN, and then the other two clinging desperately to the edge of CATCH-AS-CATCH-CAN (see CATAN, SCATHE). There's also an extra ANT clinging to the underside of MAN-TO-MAN TALK. Ooh, and another, appropriately, in your PANTS (9D). Further, doesn't the Road Runner go MEEP MEEP??


    I zoomed Road Runner-like through most of this, but several significant hang-ups (at least one self-inflicted) led me to a higher-than-average time. The oversized grid probably had a little to do with that as well. The non-gendered clue really really kept me from seeing the very-much-gendered MAN-TO-MAN TALK, which means that I couldn't see the last letter in the damne revealer—I thought maybe the grid was filled with ART? I could see that ANT and ASS were already in circled squares at that point, but I thought, "yeah, sure, you could see an ANT in ART ... and you can *definitely* see ASS"



    I then misread the clue on PASS/FAIL CLASSES as "Courses *with* letter grades..." So, since that was the Opposite of what the clue actually said, that didn't help. Also, for no good reason, I couldn't figure out GUARANTEE (5D: Something you should get in writing). So despite filling in most answers very quickly, I had to do some grouting patchwork on these longer mysteries, and that slowed me down. The "must-have" in the FURBY clue did zero for me—hadn't thought about those since the '90s (25D: Late 1990s "must-have" toy). ST. MALO is a ridiculously non-Tuesday answer. It was big in Margaret Farrar's day, probably because of its place in W.W. II history, but it's only been in the NYTXW one other time in the past two decades. For a reason. I spell YECCH thusly, so YECH I was not sure about (45A: "Ugh!"). Other than that, pretty easy going. So, to sum up, the theme was a nice idea but cheaply executed; a more elegant version of this theme wouldn't have had any other animals anywhere; the Road Runner says MEEP MEEP. As for the fill, it is a little heavy on the crosswordese. I am going to renominate AGENA (4A: Old rocket stage) for elimination from your wordlist (or at least your early-week grid wordlist) (you can take AKELA too if you want—or at least use it very sparingly) (58D: Wolf in "The Jungle Book"). Good morning.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Southeast Asian housemaid / MON 10-14-19 / Root in Polynesian culture / Stackable cookie / Specialized military group

    Monday, October 14, 2019

    Constructor: Gary Cee

    Relative difficulty: Medium (3:21)


    THEME: MAKE THE CUT (65A: Survive elimination ... or what one may do to the ends of 17-, 31-, 38- and 50-Across) — the "ends" are all things you can cut :/

    Theme answers:
    • PERSIAN RUG (17A: Carpet woven in Iran)
    • HOT MUSTARD (31A: Tangy condiment)
    • VOCAL CORD (38A: One of two in the larynx)
    • FLIGHT DECK (50A: Where planes land on an aircraft carrier)
    Word of the Day: VESTRY (23D: Clergy's changing room) —

    1aSACRISTY
    ba room used for church meetings and classes

    2athe business meeting of an English parish
    ban elective body in an Episcopal parish composed of the rector and a group of elected parishioners administering the temporal affairs of the parish (merriam-webster)
    • • •

    I heard that the NYTXW gets something like 500 submissions a month. Impressive. Also, depressing. How bad *are* those submissions, exactly? If you're getting that many submissions, why is the quality of the puzzle so mediocre (relative to indie outlets). It's astonishing. This puzzle is a case in point. It's an oldish style theme that doesn't even work properly. It's fine. Familiar. It's something we're all used to seeing. But it doesn't really work, and it certainly isn't fresh, fun, current, or anything that makes crossword puzzles delightful. MAKE *THE* CUT? Ok, but you cut THE mustard, THE cord, THE deck, but you do not cut THE rug. No, you don't. You cut A rug (assuming this answer is referring to the idiom regarding dancing). You cut THE cheese. You cut THE crap (ideally!). You cut A deal. Sigh. Why isn't this group consistent? Also, all the cuts are idiomatic *except* deck, which is literal. It's just so ... ticky tack and low rent. The fill is also adequate, hyper-familiar, not terribly interesting. The NYT should be much better than this. They NYT should be much better than this. The NYT should be much better than this.


    Always, always going to botch SLIER, which looks horrible (5D: More crafty). SLYER should be the proper spelling, it just should (5D: More crafty). I think most of the slowness I encountered on this solve was due to VESTRY, which ... sounds like it means "entryway" or something like that, but apparently means [Clergy's changing room]!? I guess I was thinking of "vestibule"?? Anyway, another word for VESTRY is "sacristy." Sigh. None of this is Monday-level knowledge, but whatever, now you know new things (or I do, at any rate). That is a horrible clue for AIN'T (36A: "You ___ kiddin'!"). Was the "n" -apostrophe supposed to cue the ungrammaticalness? "You ___ seen nothin' yet" wins. "___ Misbehavin'" wins. This clue loses. I somehow thought the FLIGHT DECK was where the pilot and co-pilot sit, like the "cockpit" or something? And I see that I'm correct ("the forward compartment on some airplanes," per Merriam-Webster) but that doesn't matter, because the clue is correct, technically, even if it's not the context in which most people are going to hear that term. Oh well. Not much else to say about this one.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. there's no reason for the oldest of old-skool crosswordese AMAH to appear on a Monday (18D: Southeast Asian housemaid). Maybe if you're desperate in a late-week themeless, or a theme-dense Thursday, you can go back to that answer, but otherwise, ugh. Mothballs.

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    2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner who founded the Green Belt movement / SUN 10-13-19 / Half-frozen Italian dessert / Swedish name akin to Lawrence / One honored March 8 per a 1977 United Nations resolution / Airport named for two Washington cities / Arthropod appendages

    Sunday, October 13, 2019

    Constructor: Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (the "Challenging" part due almost entirely to 15-Down)


    THEME: "Lines of Work" — Clues all start "Professional whose favorite movie lines might be..." and then there's a famous movie line, which you have to interpret wackily (i.e. as a pun):

    Theme answers:
    • SOFTBALL PLAYER (21A: Professional whose favorite movie line might be "There's no place like home") (from "The Wizard of Oz")
    • GOATHERD (35A: ... "Here's looking at you, kid") (from "Casablanca")
    • I.T. SPECIALIST (40A: ... "I wish I knew how to quit you") (from "Brokeback Mountain")
    • SCHEDULING COORDINATOR (61A: ... "Go ahead, make my day") (from "Dirty Harry")
    • ORTHODONTIST (81A: ... "Get to the chopper!") (from ??????????) [looks it up] (huh, "Predator")
    • MAGICIAN (87A: " ... "Is this your king?!") (from "Black Panther")
    • EPIDEMIOLOGIST (102A: ... "I'll have what she's having") (from "When Harry Met Sally")
    Word of the Day: WANGARI MAATHAI (15D: 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner who founded the Green Belt Movement) —
    Wangarĩ Muta Maathai (wàŋɡàˈɹɛ |m|ɑː|ˈ|t|aɪ; 1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica (Benedictine College) and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
    In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. In 1984, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award. Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural resources in the government of President Mwai Kibakibetween January 2003 and November 2005. She was an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council. She was affiliated to professional bodies and received several awards. On Sunday, 25 September 2011, Maathai died of complications from ovarian cancer. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This puzzle is funny. A little bit haha funny, but a lot curious funny. Take WANGARI MAATHAI (15-Down), whose life's work was truly impressive, but whom I learned about for the first time literally just now. Famewise, I'm pretty sure her name is going to be familiar only to a very small percentage of solvers, and since it's a non-western name and there are no other famous WANGARIs or MAATHAIs, you can't even infer it, or even parts of it. Is she worth knowing about? Absolutely. But it is weird to put someone this non-household-namey in such a long answer. I've definitely encountered longish names I've never heard of before, but usually it's because of some glaring ignorance on my part. Whereas in the case of Peace Nobelists, well, I doubt most people can name most Peace Nobelists from this century (or the last century, for that matter).




    So the puzzle has made a very conscious choice to teach us about this woman, for which, I have to say, I commend it. It just makes the solve unusual, in that I spent what felt like half my time just in the NE section of the grid, trying to hash things out because that name was basically random letters to me. I sincerely forgot the theme by the time I was done sorting out the NE. So perhaps this is a roundabout way of saying the theme wasn't any great shakes. I'm far far far more likely to remember WANGARI MAATHAI than I am this theme ... which ... maybe Mission Accomplished? If not *the* mission, then *a* mission. But seriously, read more about her. She's fascinating.


    My problem with the theme, aside from its basic corniness, is that some of these aren't really "lines of work" and some of the "lines" don't reeeeally go with the "work." Are there professional SOFTBALL PLAYERs? I get that it makes the clue about women, which is great, but women play BASEBALL too.


    But at least with SOFTBALL PLAYER, the line ("There's no place like home") fits the job. Presumably, a SOFTBALL PLAYER wants to get home (to score a run). Whereas the line "I'll have what she's having" makes nooooo sense for an EPIDEMIOLOGIST, unless said EPIDEMIOLOGIST was really into *contracting* diseases (as opposed to studying them). And is a SCHEDULING COORDINATOR really a job title? I guess I could say the same about GOATHERD, but I know that that job at least existed at some point—maybe still, but definitely in the past. Whereas SCHEDULING COORDINATOR... ? Finally, is "Get to the chopper!" famous? It's the only line I didn't recognize. Apparently it's from "Predator" ... [cough] ... OK. I mean, how you have a puzzle like this and *don't'* have the exceedingly famous line from that other Schwarzenegger movie but *do* have the line from this Schwarzenegger movie, I do not know. I really do not. And wouldn't an I.T. SPECIALIST absolutely very much know how to quit (you)????


    HEROIZED, LOL, what? I had HERALDED, which has the virtue of being a word one might use (12D: Placed on a pedestal). To the puzzle's enormous credit, HEROIZED was really the only non-theme fill that made me go "huhhh?" Not keen on cluing HOUSECAT via its pooping locale (STANK indeed!) but HOUSECAT is a fine answer, as are virtually all the other answers (75D: What goes in a box). A very well-made grid, but the theme was kind of hit-or-miss, and a bit of a SNOOZE, for me.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Batman portrayer of TV film / SAT 10-12-19 / Request softener / NyQuil alternative / Bongo president of Gabon for 42 years

    Saturday, October 12, 2019

    Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

    Relative difficulty: Easy (6:19 on a weirdly oversized grid (15x16))


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: ILENE Chaiken (6D: "The L Word" creator Chaiken) —
    Ilene Chaiken (born June 30, 1957) is an American television producer, director, writer, and founder of Little Chicken Productions. Chaiken is best known as being the co-creator, writer and executive producer of the television series The L Word and is currently an executive producer on the hit television series Empire. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Bizarre solving experience. Ridiculously easy from the NW thru the center and (eventually) down into the SE (with ELLEN instead of ELLIE being my only hiccup on that entire cross-grid journey) (37D: Woman's name that sounds like two letters of the alphabet). But then I tried to go into the N/NE part of the grid and ... well, it was mainly the N that was the issue, and I forgot ILENE's name and had no idea what kind of -ODUCER was the [One who runs the show]—I thought INTRODUCER, at one point; also, I thought the "show runner" ran the show. ANYhoo, add in the uselessly clued WIDTHS (5A: Halves of some measurements), and that section was a minor timesuck. Things were somewhat worse in the SW, where [Sound around a cradle] made no sense to me (it's an awful, awful stretch to say the DIAL TONE happens "around a (telephone) cradle"; it has nothing to do with the cradle, and cradles don't even exist any more, what the hell). Further, ADVILPM, yikes (40D: NyQuil alternative). I think I tried to make this UNISOM at one point, but it came out UNIISOM (?). I forgot the Big Ten even had "east" and "west" divisions, so I kept reading the clue as having to do with the Big East ... instead of the Big Ten, which I'm very familiar with. I got my Ph.D. from a big Big Ten school. Ugh. DATE NUT, whatever (42D: Kind of bread with chopped fruit). Had to hack at that (spent a good 5-10 seconds trying to think of the answer I wanted, only to have that answer be FRUITCAKE :( Lastly, I had ___ FILTER and while I initially went with LENS, failure to get any of those letters (except the "S") to work made me reconsider. I honest-to-god had SANS FILTER in there at one point (59A: Screen for a shooter). Still, even with all that nonsense, and with an oversized grid, I still came in under average.


    Loved the clue on COMMAS (28A: Characters in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"). I had CAMEOS at first! I did not get the clue on NO PRESSURE when I first solved it (33A: Request softener). I was reading it as a verb phrase—the equivalent of "Ask for Downy" (i.e. request a (fabric) softener). But it's a phrase that softens a request—makes it less urgent. Cool. Forgot Brandon TEENA's name, so I had to steer around that, but as I said, not much trouble getting coast to coast through the middle of this grid. No idea who the Bongo guy is, but OMAR is a name, and it worked, and sometimes that's good enough (67A: ___ Bongo, president of Gabon for 42 years). Nothing in this grid is exactly eye-popping (except SERENA SLAM! 34D: Tennis feat named for the athlete who achieved it in 2003 and 2015), but it's heavy with solid phrases and very low on dreck. I'll take it.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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    1870 tax evasion scandal / FRI OCT-11-19 / Parvenues with a certain je ne sais quoi / Coca-Cola offering from 1974 to 2001 / Kidspeak animal mentioned in first line of Portrait of Artist as Young Man / Toyota sedan since 1994 / 1944 Gene Tierney classic

    Friday, October 11, 2019

    Constructor: Andy Kravis

    Relative difficulty: Apparently easy for others, but on the harder side for me (untimed clipboard solve at 4:30am)


    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: WHISKEY RING (34A: 1870s tax evasion scandal) —
    In the United States, the Whiskey Ring was a scandal, exposed in 1875. The Whiskey Ring began in St. LouisMissouri but was also organized in ChicagoIllinoisMilwaukeeWisconsinCincinnatiOhioNew OrleansLouisiana and PeoriaIllinois. The Whiskey Ring involved diversion of tax revenues in a conspiracy among government agents, politicians, whiskey distillers, and distributors. //  The scheme involved an extensive network of bribes involving distillers, government officials, rectifiers, gaugers, storekeepers, and internal revenue agents. Essentially, distillers bribed government officials, and those officials helped the distillers evade federal taxes on the whiskey they produced and sold. Due to the increase of liquor taxes after the Civil War, whiskey was supposed to be taxed at 70 cents per gallon, however distillers would instead pay the officials 35 cents per gallon and the illicit whiskey was stamped as having the tax paid. Before they were caught, a group of politicians were able to siphon off millions of dollars in federal taxes. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This one veered wildly between total gimmes (like "TAINTED LOVE" and EMMYLOU Harris) and ????! (WHISKEY RING and MULETA and KYLE and HOLT). The grid is quite beautiful, with hardly any yuck in it. The cluing missed for me a bunch of times, but NYT cluing often does ... I don't know. NYT house cluing style is stiff and dull much of the time, largely because the resale market determines cluing (i.e. clues have to be "evergreen," i.e. viable not just now but years from now—if you ever wondered why the clues in the NYT feel noticeably less fresh than those in indie markets, now you know). By "missed" I mean mostly that it was over-literal. Felt like a trivia quiz. And the one "look at me!" clue, 41A: Not be oneself, but rather be one's elf? (ROLE PLAY) was corny, and also annoying because it looked more like WORD PLAY was what was happening (i.e. I went looking for something having to do with reparsing / repunctuating). But the good here was very good. The middle stack is lovely, with "WHO ASKED YOU!?" being a real standout. I'd never heard of WHISKEY RING, but it's obviously a real thing and a nice-looking answer to boot. Nice symmetrical pairing of EMILY POST and EROTIC ART. Have you ever seen the EROTIC ART of EMILY POST? ROLE PLAY, PUMPS, IT GIRLS, ECSTASY—it's all in there!


    Speaking of IT GIRLS (20A: Parvenues with a certain je ne sais quoi), I'm not sure I like it in the plural, just as I *know* I don't like COOTIE in the singular. No one ever got a single COOTIE, never, not once. Not being a real estate aficionado, PRE-WAR eluded me (54A: Like apartment buildings with fireplaces and hardwood floors, typically). I basically inferred it after getting WAR, as it sounded like something I'd heard someone say before about an apartment. My house has hardwood floors and a fireplace, and it is exactly WAR (built in '40s), so those specs didn't speak to me. Also, I've never lived in a densely populated urban area, so there's that.


    Bullets:
    • 15A: Kidspeak animal mentioned in the first line of "A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man" (MOO COW— the other English class, the AP Lit class, read this. We didn't. What did we read? Shakespeare, for sure, maybe Donne? I definitely read a sh*t-ton of Hardy for my final paper. Anyway, missed "Portrait of the Artist..." Still, this was a fun answer to uncover. (And still never read Joyce)
    • 26A: Queen ___ (nickname in pop music) (BEY) — I actually went with BEE and then BEA or BAE ... I knew the pop star in question, obviously, but I was like "what is that abbr. again?" Fun fact: BEY used to be horrible crosswordese—a regional governor of the Ottoman Empire. Anyway, I like Queen BEY's sister's music a lot.
    • 1D: Coca-Cola offering from 1974 to 2001 (MR. PIBB) — wow I really forgot this existed. Had M----B and thought "... some kind of TAB?"
    • 55A: Otter's lair (HOLT) — got HOL-, wrote in HOLE, and thought "well that's a terrible clue for HOLE."
    • 50A: Matador's cape (MULETA) — crosswords are entirely too obsessed with and reliant on the truly horrific cruelty-fest that is bullfighting. TORERO, TOREADOR, EL TORO, and now (apparently) MULETA? I'd be happy never to see a bullfighting clue again. cc: SPCA (27A: Persian defense org.?)
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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