Silently bids adieu / TUES 12-31-19 / Many an adopted pet / Diving gear / Elsa's sister in "Frozen"

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hi, everyone! It's Clare back for the last Tuesday (and last puzzle) of 2019! Hope you all had happy holidays. I've been spending my holiday break out in sunny California and also got to see my sister's Cal Bears win their Bowl game yesterday. So, going back to DC may be a bit of a rude awakening; the weather will likely be much worse, and I'll also have to start law school classes back up in less than a week... Oh, well! On to the puzzle...

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: Easy-medium 

THEME: LOSE WEIGHT (61A: Common New Year's resolution -- as hinted by the answers to the four starred clues) — Each theme answers drop a letter (or "weight") from the word "pound":

Theme answers:
  • IRISH POUND (17A: Currency replaced by the Euro)
  • KOI POND (31A: Decorative garden feature with a fish)
  • TWO PEAS IN A POD (37A: Almost-identical pair, figuratively)
  • RIVER PO (43A: It flows through Turin)
Word of the Day: SOUSA (7D: Composer whose work might be appropriate during March Madness?)

John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 – March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era known primarily for American military marches. He is known as "The March King" or the "American March King… Among his best-known marches are "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (National March of the United States of America), "Semper Fidelis" (official march of the United States Marine Corps), "The Liberty Bell", "The Thunderer", and "The Washington Post". (Wiki)
• • •

Overall, I quite enjoyed this puzzle. While I didn't especially love the theme, I thought the strength of the fill — the long downs, especially — was a highlight. First, with the theme, the best word I have to describe it is a favorite of mine: Meh. The dropping a letter has been done before and will be done again. I guess some points do go to the constructor for tying it into a New Year's theme? And, architecturally, each of the "pound" words is its own word, which makes the theme consistent. I did like TWO PEAS IN A POD as an answer. But, IRISH POUND is nothing special — lots of currencies have been replaced, and this definitely was not even the first currency I thought of. RIVER PO is also not a great answer. You should be able to call it just "Po." You don't say "River Thames" or "River Mississippi," necessarily. So, why not just "Po"?

On the whole, I thought the long downs were the best part of the puzzle. The fill were words that you usually don't see in many crosswords, which made the solve quite refreshing. A few particular favorites of mine: MAROONED; TEAM COCO (even if I had no idea Conan O'Brian had such loyal fans that they get their own nickname!); ARIGATO; TRICOLOR; BOOGIE. I also particularly love the words NARY (19A) and SHIRKS (1D). They're just fun words that I'd love to incorporate more into my day-to-day vocab. The award for weirdest but maybe most inventive clue ever goes to 45D: Like some teeth, pork and punches for PULLED.

If I had to nitpick a little, I thought NEAL (16A: Actress Patricia of "Hud") was a tad obscure for a Tuesday, and I didn't love the clue for ERRS (21A: Makes a boo-boo). But, overall, I'd say this was a pretty good final puzzle for the year!

  • Oops. I was even with my dad as I did this crossword puzzle, and I still initially guessed that 68A: Common first word would be "mama" instead of DADA. My bad!
  • "SEE ME after class" (69A)... Words that no student ever wants to hear!
  • 25D: Sentence shortener for PAROLE —It's only a sentence shortener if someone is actually granted parole, which is really, really hard to get!
  • Not gonna lie — I either never knew or just forgot that NESTLE (49D) was also a bottled water company; I only think of it as being all about the chocolate.
  • I particularly love seeing ELENA Kagan (53D) in crossword puzzles. From hearing many people talk about her in law school, it seems like she's incredibly smart. Someone who argues often in front of the Supreme Court told my class that you always have to prepare for her questions in particular because she consistently asks the best, most probing questions that are the hardest to answer.
  • Maybe watching Godfather for the first time over break helped me get 34D: Mafia bosses as CAPOS! I've just gotta watch the second Godfather now (which I hear is even better).
Happy New Year's!!

Signing off for 2019,
Clare Carroll

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Illustrator Wilson famous for his macabre cartoons / MON 12-30-19 / 1940s-'60s singer Frankie / Standard Windows typeface

Monday, December 30, 2019

Constructor: Gary Larson

Relative difficulty: Easy (though my time was normal—I blame drink and (related?) constant typos) (3:04)

THEME: ON A ROLL (40A: Winning time after time ... or where you might find 17-, 23-, 51- or 62-Across) — things you might find on a roll:
Theme answers:
  • MARGARINE (a dinner roll)
  • HONOR STUDENT (honor roll)
  • ALUMINUM FOIL (uh ... usually it comes *in* a roll, but is that cardboard bit in the middle called 'a roll'? OK, then ...)
  • MONEY CLIP (on a money ... roll ... though normally if you have in fact made a 'roll' of your money, a clip would not in fact hold it; you'd need a rubber band, like *literally* all the pictures that come up when I search [money roll], here look:

Word of the Day: GAHAN Wilson (18D: Illustrator Wilson famous for his macabre cartoons) —
Gahan Allen Wilson (February 18, 1930 – November 21, 2019) was an American author, cartoonist and illustrator known for his cartoons depicting horror-fantasy situations. // Wilson was born in Evanston, Illinois, and was inspired by the work of the satiric Mad and Punchcartoonists, and 1950s science fiction films. His cartoons and prose fiction appeared regularly in PlayboyCollier's and The New Yorker for nearly 50 years. He published cartoons and film reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. From 1992 through end of publication, he prepared all the front covers for the annual book Passport to World Band Radio. Wilson was a movie review columnist for The Twilight Zone Magazine and a book critic for Realms of Fantasy magazine. [...] In 2005, Wilson was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the World Fantasy Awards. He received the World Fantasy Convention Award (in the form of the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that he had designed as the award trophy in 1975) in 1981. He also received the National Cartoonists Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Wilson is the subject of a feature-length documentary film, Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird, directed by Steven-Charles Jaffe.
He was an influence on later alternative cartoonists, including Gary Larson [!!!!!!!?], John Callahan and Bill Plympton. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle feels about as timely as MONEY CLIP, which is to say it feels like it came from ca. 1985 (the last time I actually owned a MONEY CLIP. It's so generic, so plain, so ... I mean Mel OTT Frankie LAINE Davy Crockett ... it's not even trying to be anything close to current. And it's not like Shortz works that hard to make the clues current. So it feels mothbally. Same with the theme concept. I'm stunned it hasn't been done before. Or maybe I'm not, since ALUMINUM FOIL and MONEY CLIP don't *really* work. Foil comes *in* a roll, or ... just come in rolls, I guess ... and a MONEY CLIP isn't made to hold a literal cash roll. I holds bills folded over once, I think. Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, I guess, but pretty weak sauce compared to most good, tight, sparkly Mondays. I guarantee you one of the other dailies (USA Today, LAT, Newsday, Universal, or WSJ) has a nicer theme than this one today. Too much competition out there right now. NYT should be B+ or better every single day. There are no excuses for this kind of just okay-ness.

Felt like I didn't have to struggle at all, but the timer came out with a very average time, which means I had more trouble (either interpreting clues or just plain typing) than I thought I did. I really did struggle to comprehend the clue on HERE (3D: On earth), which I really despise. The Taj Mahal is "on earth," but it is not [... looks around room ...] HERE, by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe the clue means simply "in existence," but still. Blecch. Every part of me resisted HERE, which meant I lost valuable seconds. I also saw the clue at 15A: 1940s-'60s singer Frankie (LAINE) and could think only of VALLI. I had the "A" from TAR and the "I" from WII, but wanting VALLI made me doubt WII, and so, yeah, I must've flailed for a few seconds there as well. Wrote in ALUMINUM WRAP at first, which, given that "wrap" is in the clue, was a bad idea; and then I wrote in MONEY BELT instead of CLIP, which ... is that more or less archaic than MONEY CLIP? I don't know. Anyway, those erasures certainly cost me time. And then I had a bit of an issue parsing DOORDIE (which always happens with that answer, whenever I encounter it) and INORDER. But in the end, it was a textbook Monday puzzle. Not an up-to-date textbook, but textbook, in its solidly 20th-century way, nonetheless. One big treat was seeing GAHAN Wilson—a great cartoonist who passed away just last month (11/21). I don't think GAHAN is exactly a Monday answer, but the crosses are fair, and since he's one of the greats, I have no problem seeing his name in any puzzle, no matter the day of the week.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Get lost of stolen in British lingo / SUN 12-29-19 / Locale of 10 Winter Olympics / Hit 1980s-90s show with TV's first lesbian kiss

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Constructor: Andrew Chaikin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:17)

THEME: New Year's Resolutions — themers are just ... New Year's resolutions, but in the clues, they've been assigned to specific kinds of people based on some punny wacky reimagining of the meaning of words in the resolutions:

Theme answers:
  • CLEAN OUT THE HOUSE (23A: Casino gambler's resolution?)
  • SEE FRIENDS MORE OFTEN (32A: Sitcom lover's resolution?) (so, the sitcom "Friends" ... is the joke)
  • GROW MY NEST EGG (51A: Hen's resolution?)
  • GIVE UP OLD HABITS (65A: Nun's resolution?)
  • WATCH WHAT I EAT (80A: Stalking tiger's resolution?)
  • PLAN A PERFECT GETAWAY (97A: Bank robber's resolution?)
  • ORGANIZE MY OFFICE (110A: Union activist's resolution?)
Word of the Day: MARCI Klein (37A: Emmy-winning TV producer Klein) —
Marci Klein is an American television producer best known for her work on Saturday Night Liveand 30 Rock. She has won four Emmy Awards. [...]  In 1989, Klein began a 20-year career at Saturday Night Live. As a producer and head of the show's talent department, Klein discovered a number of future comedy superstars, including: Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Will Ferrell, Fred Armisen, Chris Kattan, Darrell Hammond, Sarah Silverman, Kevin James, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Ana Gasteyer. She is frequently talked about as a successor to SNL creator and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels.
Klein has been nominated for 14 Emmys, winning four times, once for Saturday Night Live's 25th Anniversary Special and three times for 30 Rock. She has also been nominated for nine Producers Guild Awards, winning three. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is one of those themes where the clues are *everything*—without pitch-perfect clues, you just have a truly boring list of generic resolutions. Sadly, the clues were, as PUNNY clues go, exceedingly straightforward and never funny. At best, maybe you might grin. Mostly, you're just gonna be emitting low, small groans periodically. Do gamblers really ever CLEAN OUT THE HOUSE. A reform-minded U.S. representative might want to do this, but I don't think it's really possible to "clean out" a damn casino. And why would you GIVE UP OLD HABITS. I have many habits that are old that are quite good and I would never resolve to give them up. That's idiocy. You give up bad habits. Making the subject of WATCH WHAT I EAT a "stalking tiger" was just ...weird. Over and over the clues were just, I dunno, fine, or they missed slightly. It's like the NYTXW is afraid to go all in with their dad jokes. When you've got nothing else to sell but your wacky "?" clue, you need to be nuts. Otherwise, we're just methodically filling in boxes and hoping Monday brings more joy.

Tough going early, as I could not figure out ALPS (27A: Locale of 10 Winter Olympics) (I wanted A...SIA?), had no idea who MARCI was, thought SEE 'N' SAY had an ampersand in it (so wanted a rebused "AND" where the "N" was supposed to go), and thought ["Auld Lang Syne" time] was YULE (it's YORE ... is "YORE" in the lyrics? ... huh). But getting started on a puzzle is often the hardest part, and once I got out of there, I didn't experience much resistance until the very end, at the opposite end of the grid (SE), where I did truly (if relatively briefly) struggle with the very hard clues on SIRIUS (90A: Standout star) and LOTTO (96A: Ball game), as well with the overall concept of BEAUTY ICON (which is a rather limited way to see Beyoncé, imho) (74D: Marilyn Monroe or Beyoncé). I was weirdly put off by WINE TASTERS; of course WINE TASTING is a thing, but something about imagining TASTERS as a category seemed strange to me. But then I realized that of course there are people whose actual job is tasting wine, sommeliers and others whose professions require them to purchase and understand wine, and so, sure, that is in fact a category (as opposed to just calling anyone engaged in wine-tasting a "wine taster"). Sometimes I do overthink these things.

Five things:
  • 21A: The eyes have it (LASH) — absolutely not. If your eyes have a single LASH between them, ask your physician if Emplyzialash™ is right for you
  • 43D: Get lost or stolen, in British lingo (GO WALKIES) — huh. OK. If you say so. 
  • 6D: Actress Metcalf who was nominated for an Oscar for "Lady Bird" (LAURIE) — she has Tonys (two) and Emmys (three). Getting nominated for an Oscar is definitely clue-worthy, and yet the clue makes her seem somewhat less Legendary than she actually is.
  • 93D: Title heroine of classic 60-Across books (RAMONA(60-Across = Beverly CLEARY) — now this is my kind of cross-reference. These were very much my sister's jam when she was a kid. My sister currently owns a three-legged cat named RAMONA (after the CLEARY heroine) and here she is:
  • 63D: "Same here!" ("SO AM I!") — It should always be SOAMI but since it's sometimes ASAMI I sometimes guess ASAMI and when I'm wrong it makes me dislike SOAMI even more than I would if there weren't an annoying doppelganger answer
Hey, if you want to do a really challenging and clever New Year's-themed puzzle, check out "Vision Quest," a cryptic crossword from Emily Cox / Henry Rathvon at the Wall Street Journal puzzle site (you can print out a .PDF here). Excellent clipboard fun!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Baking entrepreneur Wally / SAT 12-28-19 / Where hands go in Time Warp / Bronze Age chronicle / Number of sides on PARE road sign / Ingredient in John Daly cocktail / Annexed land of 2014

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (6:03, just after a two-hour nap)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: LETHE (39A: One of the five rivers of HADES) —
Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, is one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld; the other four are Acheron (the river of sorrow), Cocytus (the river of lamentation), Phlegethon (the river of fire) and Styx (the river that separates Earth and the Underworld). According to Statius, it bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous. Ovid wrote that the river flowed through the cave of Hypnos, god of sleep, where its murmuring would induce drowsiness.
The shades of the dead were required to drink the waters of the Lethe in order to forget their earthly life. In the AeneidVirgil (VI.703-751) writes that it is only when the dead have had their memories erased by the Lethe that they may be reincarnated. (wikipedia)
• • •

What a lovely way to end the Themeless Year—with a sparkling, smooth Saturday by Robyn Weintraub, who ... well, I don't give an "NYTXW Constructor of the Year" award, but if I did, it would be hard to beat her. This year she became one of a small handful of names I most look forward to seeing on the byline. Her themelesses are generally chock full of lively expressions, and mercifully free of obscurities and junk, and today's was no exception. Always helps my disposition toward a puzzle when 1-Across is a gimme, but it's especially nice when that answer is also delightful. I had "Let's! Do! the Time! Warp! Agaaaaain" in my head the entire solve. Maybe it helped my speed, I don't know. It definitely helped my mood. So fun to figure out OCHO (off of SO-SO) and then drop I CAN RELATE and PHONED IT IN right next to each other, bam bam. Great phrases! Colloquial, in-the-language, right on the money. RED HOT answers that HIT THE SPOT! Speaking of HIT THE SPOT, that's where I hit my first (and only) wall: I threw that answer Across, figuring I'd be off to the races, doing a quick clockwise lap around the grid, when ... nothing. Well, IMPS, and then nothing. My passage to the NE and other points E, blocked! With hands figuratively in prayer position, I returned the abundance of answers I had in the far west and tried to work from there, and once again, whoosh, off I went.

No idea how I got HASN'T A CLUE (with its ... quaintish phrasing?) off of just HAS-, but I did (27D: Is thick). Thought 38D: Speeds through the Downs, say had something to do with crosswords (nice clue, whoever's responsible!)*, but after a cross or two, I got GALLOPS. And here is where I both hurt and helped myself. I saw the HADES clue, which was a cross-reference, and when I saw the cross-referenced clue (39A: One of the five rivers of 56-Across), I knew I was dealing with the Underworld. Sadly, though, my brain hiccuped and instead of thinking the river was the 5-letter answer at 39-Across, I imagined it was the 4-letter answer at 36-Across ... and so I wrote in STYX (!??!!) in ET TU's place while leaving the LETHE place blank. *River of Forgetfulness Indeed!* Oy. Such a stupid self-inflicted wound. Quickly fixed, but still, ugh. And the wildly wrong and wrongly-placed STYX had me wanting something like "EXTRA EXTRA" at 33D: Juicy news alert ("GUESS WHAT?"), which wouldn't fit, but that "X" from STYX was still Very convincing. Anyway, I left STYX just sitting there, and once I came crashing back across the grid from the SW to the SE, STYX got washed away quickly. Approaching the NE from the bottom (as opposed to from the west) made All the difference. Went right through it like it was the easiest thing in the world. Weird how your approach angle can drastically affect the relative difficulty of a section. Wrapped things up with LOSES SLEEP, the clue for which I weirdly ... never looked at? Sometimes when you're racing, weird things happen. I finished it off, safely and happily, which is all that matters. Loads of fun.

Five things:
  • 34A: Some framing supplies (MATS) — somehow always thought this was spelled MATTES, but that's a different art term, it seems
  • 50A: Less efficient washers (TOP LOADERS) — well now I feel inadequate. Honey, we need to go appliance shopping...
  • 55A: "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" singer, 1959 (ANKA) — not too far off the mark to say that ANKA was the difference between an average and a fast solve. That "K" was incredibly valuable, allowing me to see ON THE ROCKS, which was pretty effectively hidden behind the vague [Not neat] clue.
  • 54A: Last word in the first verse of "Old Mother Hubbard" (NONE) — I wrote in BONE. Apparently I don't know where the "verse" breaks are.
  • 42A: Form of relief (ALMS) — had the "A," wrote in ALOE ... and the "L" was right, too! CRIMEA really saved my skin, there (35D: Annexed land of 2014)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*"Downs" is just archaic for "hills," and for some reason (perhaps following Epsom Downs in England), it became conventional in the U.S. to put the term into racetrack names (e.g. Churchill Downs) whether there were any hills around or not. There are "___ Downs" racing venues all over the country, including Presque Isle Downs in the crossword capital of America: ERIE, PA.

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Golfer Carol who won 1965 US Women's Open / FRI 12-27-19 / Establishment with 12 cabins in classic 1960 film / Smith player of doctor on doctor who / Co-creator of Watchmen comic books / Historic speaker at Israel's Knesset on 11/20/1977 / Mountebanks less formally

Friday, December 27, 2019

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for me) (6:24)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BOTNETS (21A: Malicious creations of hackers)
botnet is a number of Internet-connected devices, each of which is running one or more bots. Botnets can be used to perform distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack), steal data, send spam, and allows the attacker to access the device and its connection. The owner can control the botnet using command and control (C&C) software. The word "botnet" is a combination of the words "robot" and "network". The term is usually used with a negative or malicious connotation. (wikipedia)
• • •

I had no strong positive or negative feelings about this one. It's fine. I do think the Friday NYTXW has an obligation to be somewhat better than fine, but there's nothing particularly *wrong* with this grid. It just doesn't have much sparkle or personality. It's fine. It's full of ... things. Real things. Maybe it's the editing / cluing that's the problem—the voice. It just doesn't have one, or not an interesting one, anyway. It all just feels very pro forma and workmanlike. I just can't see being excited to put any of these answers in the grid, and with themelesses, exciting answers should be the seeds—the things you build your grid out from. Always excited to see ALANMOORE, but I've seen him before. Same with BATESMOTEL. FROZEN MARGARITA is probably the snazziest thing here, and it occupies its rightful place of centrality. I just didn't experience any "ooh, good one!" moments, which, on a Friday (the best day) is a bit disappointing. I also found the puzzle frustrating to solve not just because of the clue difficulty but because of names I didn't know. A MATT here, a MANN there. The answers ... don't seem like terribly important people. I dunno. At least if you're teaching me a new name, give me someone it seems like it might be worth knowing. There have been a million "Doctor Who" doctors, Who cares? And a golfer who won a tournament 55 years ago??? There are so many great MANNs you could've gone with: a barely consequential golfer of yore just didn't do anything fo r me. Of course the relative delightfulness of names varies from solver to solver, so you may feel differently. But take GOTYE. I got(yed) it easily, but I don't think it's *good*. A single hit 7 years ago, and a name that is utterly uninferrable at every letter ... is not great fill. You really gotta be careful with names.

I struggled to get any real flow going with this one (though the NW and especially the SE went much faster than the rest of it). Made a ton of mistakes. Here are some of them:

  • IVORY for EBONY (4D: Key material) — the fact that the "O" and the "Y" worked in the crosses made this one pretty tenacious. I was very lucky that SAT (25A: Rested) and HUH? (31A: "You said what?") were both correct guesses, and that I was (thus) able to see FELT AT HOME with only three letters in place.
  • SAGS for SETS (13D: Goes down) — thank god ALAN MOORE set me straight, 'cause I felt pretty good about SAGS.
  • SODA for COLA (49D: Mixer option) — I mean, of course I made this error; it's a classic error, and I'm always going to make it: SODA for COLA, COLA for SODA ... I'm just doomed that way.
  • OBE for DSO (54D: Brit. military honor) — a. I think you mean "honour" and b. uggggggh of all the bygone clues of yore, the Brit. military honor is the one I would like to be the bygoneiest.
  • GEEK for KOOK (39A: Weirdo) — I did think the clue was a *little* harsh for GEEK, but I had that terminal "K" and just ran with the first thing that came to mind.
  • STEN (!?) for ICBM (48D: Cold War weapon, for short) — I knew pretty much as I was writing in STEN that it was wrong and that ICBM was another, probably stronger possibility. But still, for the record, I definitely wrote in STEN. 

Other struggles included: wanting FROST or FROSTED or FROSTY something at 34A: It's icy and coated with salt (FROZEN MARGARITA); wanting OH MY something for the (to me, Very difficulty) "OH, LORDY!" (45A: "Heavens!"); wanting absolutely nothing for ELON, which, crossing the absolutely unknown MANN, was brutal (50D: Southern university or the town it's in); having ZERO and then zero idea what could follow (35D: Favorable loan term); figuring the [Malicious creations of hackers] were some kind of BOTS (i.e. I wanted BOTS at the end of the word); and forgetting Stormy Daniels was a PORN STAR (for some reason, I just thought she was a stripper—look, I try really hard not to pay attention to the most of the more lurid *&$^ associated with the current administration, I really do, it's just too much soul-crushing sludge for a decent human mind to bear) (10D: Stormy Daniels, e.g.). Glad to see ALAN MOORE clued as *co-*creator of "Watchmen"—was half-hoping the answer to that clue was going to be DAVE GIBBONS. Comics artists are often creators of worlds, not just secondary illustrators, and nowhere is that more true than in "Watchmen." I hope the next ALAN MOORE clue recognizes his vast and influential post-DC output ("League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "From Hell," "Tom Strong," "Promethea," etc.). But, you know, baby steps.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Transitional zone between two biomes / THU 12-26-19 / Secret headquarters for Bruce Wayne / Comic strip title character who is Beetle Bailey's sister / Classic tune often played by ice cream trucks

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging?? (untimed)

THEME: BOWLING (62A: Sport that is the key to interpreting the answers to 21-, 40- and 56-Across) — you must read "/" and "X"s as bowling symbols in order to make sense of the long theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • "/ ME THE DETAILS" ("/" is the symbol for "spare" in BOWLING) (21A: "I've heard everything I need to hear")
  • X THE RIGHT BALANCE (40A: Find an ideal compromise)
  • XXX IN THE STRAW (56A: Classic tune often played by ice cream trucks)
Word of the Day: SKEG (34D: Surfboard stabilizer) —

1the stern of the keel of a ship near the sternpostespecially the part connecting the keel with the bottom of the rudderpost in a single-screw ship

2a fin situated on the rear bottom of a surfboard that is used for steering and stability (
• • •

Truly viscerally did not like this one, so not gonna spend a lot of time on it. Took one look at the grid and thought "ugh, why is it so choppy? why are there all these stupid short words everywhere? this is going to be ugly" and it was. Bad enough to have so many 3-letter words, but then when you try to clue those three-letter words (none of which are or can be good fill) at a Saturday level much of the time ... the result is fussy and annoying. And at 16-wide there was just ... more of it. More JAMERGSHYDOW and YOWFLOYESNEO and on and on. I can't even get to the theme because the rest of this thing is so painful. And then just the dumbness of RIVERSEINE, what, are you writing a poem? (5D: Subject of several Georges Seurat paintings) It's just the SEINE, we call it the SEINE. I hated that ansswer So Much, even more than when I see RIVERPO, which, yes, I have seen, and which is also bad bad bad. Is the theme cute? I don't think so, but maybe you like BOWLING? I don't like that "/" is a symbol that has to be weirdly added to the grid (i.e. you would normally just write ACDC) whereas the "X"s are just those letters (i.e. writing in EXEC here was no different than writing in EXEC any other time). I resented the revealer, because a. things would've gone faster if I'd just started there, and (related) b. by the time I got there, it was a redundant dud of an answer. Also, it's a revealer with no symmetrical theme answer (unless BATCAVE factors in somehow in a way I haven't yet figured out). But the theme isn't what's truly objectionable—the crosswordese-laden trash pile of short fill is. Oh, and ECOTONE (43A: Transitional zone between two biomes), ack, blecch, no ... and it crosses RIVERSEINE too, my god I need coffee to get the taste of this thing out of my mouth.

The only place anyone says "TGIF" is in crosswords, so much so that I now truly hate the expression (58D: "What a long week!"). Why do we pretend people say this? They do not. Do they even say it ironically. Does the restaurant chain TGIFriday's even exist anymore?? At least this grid didn't have TGI, which I have definitely seen (twice this year ... so apparently the restaurant chain *does* still exist, because that is virtually the only clue the NYTX has used for it, [___ Friday's]). What the hell is a XEROphyte? (57D: Prefix with -phyte) Maybe don't just do the dumb twin clue thing (see 72A: Prefix with -phyte) when the word you are imagining is so far out of common usage (unlike "neophyte"). Incorporate the meaning into the clue somehow, so at least the solver can learn something. A XEROphyte is a species of plant that has adapted to live in environments with very little water, which makes sense, as the only XERO- prefixed word I know is XEROscaping, where you replace your stupid thirsty lawn with plants that don't require supplemental irrigation. And LOL it's not XERO-scaping but XERIscaping, oh well. My bad. ELAL AGER NNE GTO OLE ERG (!) ENGR (!!) ERSE (!!!) ELLER (!?!) it truly is relentless, this grid. There are only three real themers here, why is this grid such a black square-ridden, short fill-infested disaster??

May this post-YULE period bring us the joyous grids we deserve! Cheers!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Verde desert tree / WED 12-25-19 / Nebraska county named for indigenous people / Weather map lines relating to temperature / Rhyming question of attractiveness

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:15)

THEME: Santa chortling all over the place — phrases with "HO" sound in them have that sound tripled to "HOHOHO," and phrase is given a wacky "things Santa might say"-type clue:

Theme answers:
  • "LAND HO HO HO!" (17A: What Santa said when his sleigh touched down?)
  • "PLEASE HO- HO- HOLD" (23A: What Santa might say on his North Pole hotline?)
  • "IT'S HO- HO- HOPELESS!" (38A: What Santa said when the reindeer went on strike on Christmas Eve?)
  • "HO- HO- HOLY SMOKES!" (50A: What Santa said when going down a chimney that had a lit fireplace?)
  • "I'M HO- HO- HOME!" (61A: What Santa says around dawn on Christmas Day?)
Word of the Day: ISOTHERMS (31D: Weather map lines relating to temperature) —

1a line on a map or chart of the earth's surface connecting points having the same temperature at a given time or the same mean temperature for a given period

2a line on a chart representing changes of volume or pressure under conditions of constant temperature (
• • •

If I may quote several early reviews I saw of this puzzle: "No no no." The theme is conceptually fine (though not that well executed—more on that in a moment). But the fill is so grim that I can't believe you'd want to run this puzzle *any* day of the year, let alone Christmas Day. I mean, Bashar al-ASSAD? Really? Really?? You want to put that ****ing murderous dictator, commiter of war crimes, user of chemical weapons, that guy, you want to put *him* in your light-hearted Santa-themed puzzle? And NOOSE!? Yeesh, that's grim: genocide *and* lynchings. Quite a day. And then you throw in the leering HOT OR NOT (39D: Rhyming question of attractiveness)an answer that recalls the creepy early days of Facebook, when it was called FaceMash and was set up as "a type of "hot or not" game for Harvard students. The website allowed visitors to compare two female student pictures side by side and let them decide who was more attractive" (wikipedia). Ugh. So many bad vibes in this puzzle. The misery even works its way into the theme a little, with the reindeer going on strike and Santa just going, "Oh, it's ho- ho- hopeless." Hey, Santa, pay your ****ing reindeer, you creep!

As I said, I don't mind the basic theme concept, though I wish the answers had more oomph to them. Also, LAND HO HO HO is awful, first because ... wow, there are so many things wrong. You say "land ho" when you see land, not when you "touch down." Also, that's just not a very Christmasy image. It's like you tried to make an utterly unChristmas thing into a Christmas thing just because it had "HO" in it. And about that: that answer is terrible because it's the only one where "HO" is not the first syllable of a larger word. That repeated "HO" syllable at the front end of words gives the puzzle its quirkiness and charm. But when you're just repeating "HO" on its own? That's just sad. Ho-ho-horrible first themer. The others are fine. 

Screwed up a few times along the way. Wrote in AGE instead of BIO (5D: Part of a dating profile, for short). Had PASO, I think, before PALO (1D: ___ verde (desert tree)). Wanted YOKEL before YAHOO (53D: Country bumpkin). And then just couldn't think what the hell kind of scent an air freshener might have. I hate those things. Artificial aromas give me headaches. I don't think I'd've guessed LEMON if I'd had ten guesses. So I just got that one from crosses. Hey, did you know you can get rid of NOOSE (ugh) super duper easy. NO ONE / ONO, and ... that's it. There are other remedies too, as any half-experienced constructor could tell you. I just don't get putting NOOSE in your puzzle if you don't absolutely have to. Especially on Christmas. Bizarre. OK, gotta get to bed before Santa comes. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old cornball variety show with Buck Owens / TUE 12-24-19 / Ghostbusters character Spengler / Carpenter's decorative molding / Director of 2000s Charlie's Angels to film fans / Black-purple fruit from palm tree

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Easyish (timer didn't start, so I don't know how easy, but ... somewhere on the Easy side)

THEME: BARBERSHOP / QUARTET (54A: With 63-Across, singing group .... or a hint to the ends of the answers to the four starred clues) — there are four (a quartet!) themers, each of which ends with a word for what barbers do to hair:

Theme answers:
  • COLD CUT (15A: *Bologna, e.g.)
  • BINDER CLIP (18A: *Device for holding papers together)
  • WINDOW TRIM (32A: *Carpenter's decorative molding)
  • BUMPER CROP (43A: *Abundant harvest)
Word of the Day: McG (13D: Director of 2000's "Charlie's Angels," to film fans) —
Joseph McGinty Nichol (born August 9, 1968), known professionally as McG, is an American director, producer, and former record producer.
He began his career in the music industry, directing music videos and producing various albums. He later rose to prominence with his first film, Charlie's Angels (2000), which had the highest-grossing opening weekend for a directorial debut at the time. Since then, he has directed several other films, including Charlie's Angels sequel Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation, co-created the television series Fastlane and has executive produced numerous television programs, such as The O.C.Chuck, and Supernatural.
McG also owns a production company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, founded in 2001, which has overseen the production of the films and television shows he has worked on since Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. (wikipedia)
• • •

Finished this quickly, with no idea of what the theme was. Looking it over after the fact, I think it works fine. Very old-fashioned at its core (a "last words"-type theme, where final words of themers all belong to the same category or otherwise have something in common), but with a revealer that gives it a little spice (with both parts of the revealer being relevant to the expression of the theme, i.e. cutting takes place in a BARBERSHOP, and there are a QUARTET of themers that end in cutting verbs). Solid. The fill is a little ... well, oddly adjectival, for one. EPOCHAL is one thing, but AREOLAR!? I'm sure it's real, but yikes. There were some other mildly cringey moments. UNWEAVE? I guess Penelope kinda does this in The Odyssey, but it's not exactly an everyday activity. EKED BY? That one feels off somehow. You'd say you "got by." You'd say you "eked out ... a living." EKED BY feels again like something that's defensible, but not exactly crisp and in-the-language. The grid was also pretty namey, in potentially treacherous ways. EGON probably isn't known to everyone. Ditto Spud WEBB. And those answers abut one another. Hopefully you know STIEG, or else you're in real trouble. EGON / NEA should obviously be EGOS / SEA, but since you've already got AT SEA in the grid, you can't use SEA again. I probably would've gone with EGOT / TEA (EGOT = Emmy Grammy Oscar Tony, a quartet that very few people possess). But I think the crosses are ultimately fair here.

Mistakes, I made a few. And, lucky for you, not too few to mention. First, forgot MCG was a thing, so that was weird. That's another one where fair crosses are essential, because that name doesn't have the currency it once did and is utterly uninferrable. I thought maybe you'd rent a CABIN by the lake, but no, it's another five-letter word starting CA- (CANOE) (30D: Lakeside rental). Lastly, I wanted POSH for BOSH (54D: Brit's "Baloney!"). Pretty sure they are synonyms. . . oh, man, looks like I was thinking of "pish posh!" I say, I'm hopeless with Briticisms!

Five things:
  • 22A: Alternative to café (THÉ) — gotta supply that accent aigu or else you've just got a definite article on your hands ("thé" = "tea" in French)
  • 21D: "Ghostbusters" character ___ Spengler (EGON) — I know only one other EGON: the artist EGON Schiele. He's very famous as 20th-century artists go. He's got this wiry, anxious line to his figures. I really like it.
  • 62A: Ballplayers with birds on their caps (ORIOLES) — and Blue Jays. and Cardinals. 
  • 10D: "Monster's Ball" Oscar winner (HALLE BERRY) — spelled it BARRY, which was right next to the CANOE snafu, so yeah, to the extent that I slowed down at all, I slowed down in that eastern area
  • 28D: Hook's sidekick (SMEE) — good old SMEE. Don't see him around much anymore. Just twice a year for the past four years (incl. this one). Victim of the decline in crosswordesey names. Speaking of which ... has anyone seen EERO Saarinen!? Someone should really check in on him.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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