Mentalist Geller / TUE 12-10-19 / Last O.G. network / Dippable snack item / Lizard in insurance ads / Savory quality as from MSG

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:46)

THEME: the big brawl — All theme clues begin, "At the big brawl..." and then, well, the clue and answers basically indulge in boxing puns:

Theme answers:
  • CAME OUT SWINGING (16A: At the big brawl, the jazz musician ...)
  • BOBBED AND WEAVED (36A: At the big brawl, the hairstylist ...)
  • PUT UP THEIR DUKES (55A: At the big brawl, the king and queen ...)
Word of the Day: UPI (58D: News letters) —
United Press International (UPI) is an international news agency whose newswiresphoto, news film, and audio services provided news material to thousands of newspapersmagazinesradio and television stations for most of the 20th century. At its peak, it had more than 6,000 media subscribers. Since the first of several sales and staff cutbacks in 1982, and the 1999 sale of its broadcast client list to its rival, the Associated Press, UPI has concentrated on smaller information-market niches. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was a middle-of-the-road puzzle from the 20th century. The gag is corny and kind of forced—"At the big brawl..."?? You say that like it's a normal kind of event. Like ... what? *The* big brawl? What? When? Where? I can imagine. Big party, big race, big sporting event ... I can imagine hypothetical theme answers taking place at the big a lot of things, but brawl? No. The very premise of this theme is hard for me to imagine. And anyway, these are specifically *boxing* puns. And did the king and queen ... like, get their dukes (their? possessive?) to fight in their stead, is that the joke. I mean, obviously the joke is king and queen are titles of nobility, and so is duke, but again, the situational premise is unclear and/or preposterous. Also old-fashioned (in a not-bad way) is the use of just three themers. That used to be much more common, but themes are usually at least a little denser these days. I have no problem with thinner themes if a. they are fantastic, and b. the fill is great. Thin themes should equal fantastic fill, and this ain't it. A bunch of longer answers, but they're just wasted. I mean, ABREASTOF is nothing anyone's gonna cheer for. NACHOCHIP ... is a different from a tortilla chip how? Everything just felt ... unflavored. Plain.

The thing that really killed it for me, though, was ACNED (29D: Benefiting from benzoyl peroxide say). I'm sure it's a word, it's just ... not a good one. I'm actually stunned to see that it has now appeared seven (7) times since I started blogging. I must've blocked all those others out. I think of that word as a joke because Raymond Chandler went after Ross Macdonald for using it once in a very memorable letter to mystery critic James Sandoe, and then Macdonald found out Chandler was trashing him behind his back and spent the rest of his life seething in resentment. Here's a passage from the letter:
A car is "acned with rust", not spotted [...] "The seconds piled up
precariously like a tower of poker chips", etc. The simile that does
not quite come off because it doesn't understand what the purpose of
the simile is [...] When you say "spotted with rust" (or pitted, and
I'd almost but not quite go for"pimpled") you convey at once a
simple visual image. But when you say "acned with rust" the
attention of the reader is instantly jerked away from the thing
described to the pose of the writer. This is of course a very simple
example of the stylistic misuse of language, and I think that
certain writers are under a compulsion to write in recherche phrases
as a compensation for a lack of some kind of natural animal emotion.
They feel nothing, they are literary eunuchs, and therefore
they fall back on an oblique terminology to prove their
Ever since I read this letter (in the course of writing an article on the Macdonald/Chandler relationship) I've never been able to take the word ACNED seriously, as all it makes me think of is cruddy, amateurish writing. Chandler was undeniably a jerk much of the time. But man he could write. I know Macdonald has his devotees, but ... find me the absolute best sentence in any Macdonald novel, and I'll open to a *random* page of The Long Goodbye and find a better one. People say Chandler couldn't plot to save his life. Knopf himself once wrote of Chandler: "He just can't build a plot: in fact, I don't think he even tries." To which I say, when you write that beautifully, who cares? I don't read Chandler for the intricacies of plot or to find out who "done it." I read him to live in a beautiful sad fallen world, one where I can smell the cigarettes, taste the whiskey, hear the surf, and feel the disillusionment. . . . aaaaaanyway, I didn't care for ACNED, is what I'm saying. The whole thing just was not for me. Again, not bad. I'd call it very competent last-century work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. LOL the clue on DIDO (37D: Aeneas' love). Lavinia's gonna be so mad when she hears ...

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Actor who played Andy Bernard on Office / MON 12-9-19 / Cheap in commercial names / Hit 1980s cop show / Sweet citrus fruits from Southern California / Weather phenomena from Pacific / Like Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris

Monday, December 9, 2019

Constructor: Ellis Hay

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:48)

THEME: plural colors — 15-letter phrases that end with a plural color (if there's more to it, I clearly don't know what it is):

Theme answers:
  • VALENCIA ORANGES (17A: Sweet citrus fruits from Southern California)
  • CLEVELAND BROWNS (26A: Only N.F.L. team that doesn't have a logo on its helmets)
  • RHODE ISLAND REDS (47A: Some chickens)
  • "HILL STREET BLUES" (61A: Hit 1980s cop show)
Word of the Day: Abba EBAN (25A: Abba of Israel) —
Abba Eban ([...] born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban; later adopted Abba Solomon Meir Eban; 2 February 1915 – 17 November 2002) was an Israeli diplomat and politician, and a scholar of the Arabic and Hebrew languages.
In his career, he was Israeli Foreign Affairs MinisterEducation MinisterDeputy Prime Minister, and ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations. He was also Vice President of the United Nations General Assembly and President of the Weizmann Institute of Science. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another day, another "Is that it?" It's hard to imagine why "phrases that end in plural colors" would be an NYT-worthy theme. There is the structural / architectural fact of the answers all being 15 letters long, but so what? I don't see how that is terribly remarkable or how it adds any kind of enjoyment to the solve. I expect a theme like this out of a ... let's say "lesser daily" puzzle. Much lesser, actually. And I'd have to say the same thing about the fill. There's not much in the grid to make you wince, but its over-reliant on the hoary and familiar, for sure. Mainly it's just dull. And two ugly partials? (IASK, ACAR). In a grid this easy to fill? I just don't see how this is up to snuff. And if your theme is going to revolve around colors, you probably shouldn't have any colors anywhere else in the grid. Makes things cleaner and more elegant that way (lookin' at you, WHITE) (30D: "___ Christmas" (holiday song)). Attention to details matters!

There's really nothing to say here. This is the second time I'm seeing NILS Lofgren in a puzzle in the past few days, though the last time I saw him (and I already forget where ... one of those puzzles I solve Downs-Only, like the LAT or Newsday) he appeared in full-name form. I feel like I haven't seen him in forever, and that his fame is maybe not what it was 20-40 years ago. But he's been a crossword MAINSTAY forever, so current fame be damned! Most constant solvers will know him and the youths can just catch up, I guess. See also Abba EBAN, whose name elements I continue to transpose / not know the proper order of. EBAN Abba sounds perfectly fine to me. I tore through this puzzle, for the most part. I hesitated some at 3D: Like Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris (speaking of erstwhile fame) (SOLO), and then dumbly tried to write in EDHARRIS when I saw the EDH- at the front of 43D: Actor who played Andy Bernard on "The Office" (ED HELMS). This is why you should read *all* of the clue and not just the first word before starting to fill in the answer. Still, none of these hesitations set me back much—I'm back in the 2:40s for the second week in a row (after having what felt like months of sluggish-for-me Mondays). But breeziness is not enough. The theme should have a solid hook, something to make it cohere more than just the last words belonging to the same very general category of thing. More than identical lengths. More.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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West Coast brew for short / SUN 12-8-19 / Impossible is Nothing sloganeer / Knights titles in Game of Thrones / Buddy Holly band 1994 / Popular Asian honeymoon destination / Saudi king before Abdullah / World's rarest goose / Hallucinogen sometimes called divine messenger

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Medium (10:04)

THEME: "Lookin' Good!" — "EASY ON THE EYES" is represented literally by the letter pair "EZ" atop the letter pair "II" five times in this grid (110A: Good-looking ... or a phonetic hint to a feature found five times in this puzzle)

THE "II" answers:
  • BALI, INDONESIA (27A: Popular Asian honeymoon destination)
  • BOYZ II MEN (41A: Top musical group of the 1990s, per Billboard)
  • KRISTEN WIIG (62A: "S.N.LL." alum who co-starred in 2016's "Ghostbusters")
  • NINTENDO WII (77A: Game console introduced in 2006)
  • JACOB RIIS (96A: New York social reformer whose name is on a Manhattan housing project)
Word of the Day: AKINETIC (4D: Unable to move well) —
of, relating to, or affected by akinesia [(n.): loss or impairment of voluntary activity (as of a muscle)] (
• • •

This is a Wednesday idea dressed up in Sunday clothes. Like a child wearing dad's coat. This is a one-note joke and would've been better executed on a smaller scale, with three good examples, a *clean grid* (which we're sadly missing today), and a revealer, the end. But to go through this long a puzzle, through no real wordplay or interesting answers, through a grid laden with semi- to very-cringey fill, just to get to that clown-honk of a revealer, well that's just disappointing. Very much a letdown. A lot of work and machete-ing through rough terrain, and for what? Some brackish water. I've lost my metaphor's thread, but I believe my point is clear enough. Wednesday, clean grid—theme might be tolerable, even enjoyable. Sunday, junky grid—theme defenstratable.

I don't really care to list alllll of the fill I found unpleasant, but there really was a good amount of it, from the ordinary dross (RIAL ATTN ASSN DIR SASE NENE ESS DINAR ALEE) to the next-level dross (OLY OLA ODO EZINE SERS XVI), from preposterous near-words (EDIFIER RESEW AGREER NERVED NESTERS STEP A) to Germaniamania (KLEINE EIS) to things you'd never say (NINE TO) (!?) to whatever AKINETIC is. 'TWERE rough, is what I'm saying. Felt like I couldn't get very far without hitting another jarring little bump. Even the sassy stuff seemed off. MYB is a little too cutesy for me (52A: "I messed up," in slang). "MY BAD" so much better (in real life and in the grid). And I thought it was LULZ (65A: Response to a funny meme). Hmm (checks internets), looks like LULZ is the "corruption," which, seriously, LOL. BALIINDONESIA feels redundant (it's BALI). NINTENDOWII feels redundant (it's just WII). Weren't there even a few moments where I was happy? WHY, YES, there were. But not enough. Not nearly enough.

Five things:
  • 58A: Clothing designer Marc (ECKO) — I need some kind of mnemonic to help me tell ECKO from EKCO (the kitchen utensil company). I botched it today.
  • 16D: Colorless gases (ETHENES) — well there's an answer to warm your heart, eh? EH!? Ugh.
  • 20A: Ashton Kutcher's role on "That '70s Show" (KELSO) — first answer I got. I'm not proud... but you take your gimmes where you find them.
  • 55D: Part of a short race (GNOME) — OK that clue is somewhat clever in its misdirection
  • 55A: One shouting "Get off my lawn!" (GEEZER) — I'll have you know I'm only 50! Now git!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. next week I'll do a little Crossword Holiday Gift Guide for you all. If you've got anything that you really think should be on said guide, please give me a holler. Thx.

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Rarest naturally occurring element in earth's crust / SAT 12-7-19 / Nigerian novelist Tutola / Reduplicative girl's name / 2000s rock singer with hit albums Hell-On Middle Cyclone / Yoga pose similar to Upward-Facing Dog / Opera heroine who slays witch / Japanese city on Tokyo Bay / Old-fashioned attire for motorist

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Challenging (11:56)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AMOS Tutuola (10D: Nigerian novelist Tutuola)
Amos Tutuola (20 June 1920 – 8 June 1997) was a Nigerian writer who wrote books based in part on Yoruba folk-tales. [...] Tutuola's most famous novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads' Town, was written in 1946, first published in 1952 in London by Faber and Faber, then translated and published in Paris as L'Ivrogne dans la brousse by Raymond Queneau in 1953. Poet Dylan Thomas brought it to wide attention, calling it "brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching". Although the book was praised in England and the United States, it faced severe criticism in Tutuola's native Nigeria. Part of this criticism was due to his use of "broken English" and primitive style, which supposedly promoted the Western stereotype of "African backwardness". This line of criticism has, however, lost steam. (wikipedia)
• • •

Saw the constructor names and thought "O dang, this is gonna be hard." Then I got a little bit of the way in and ... the NW pretty much just fell. I mean, not Super easy, but very doable. So I thought, "Hey, maybe this isn't gonna be so bad." And I made my way down the west coast, and then ... nothing. Stuck. Tried to move into the NE—nope. Lucked into a good first guess at 34D: "Go ahead, ask" (FIRE AWAY) and got the far SE done, but even then, even with chunks filled in here and there, all over the grid, I was flailing for much of this. I just sort of ... oozed my way to the end. I'd say HEADBANDS, on the one hand, and CLOMP, on the other, were the twin epicenters of my trouble. Had HEADBA--S but couldn't see how clue could work with "S" at end (which, honestly, should've been and probably was ultimately the thing that made me realize [Do loops?] was a noun and not a verb phrase. As for CLOMP, my goodness (28D: Really hit one's stride?) ... I had ELOPE in there at one point, with ERIE (wrong) OGLE (right) and LOW FAT (right) "confirming" it. I didn't understand how that clue could point to ELOPE, but I figured, it's Saturday, I'm sure it's just one of those tricky clues that I'll grasp later. Hoo-whee, wrong. Pretty clear now, in retrospect, that finally figuring out the symmetrical answers HEADBANDS and WRAP PARTY (which ELOPE was blocking) was what turned me from dead-stuck to slowly moving. After WRAP PARTY, the SW wasn't too hard. NE proved much tougher, though it somehow took me a long time to even look at 4A: The "dark" in a Dark and Stormy, perhaps (JAMAICAN RUM), which really would've helped me, as I could've at least guessed the RUM part. Anyway, finally got the Puzzle Solved! signal at the "M" in AMOS (who, along with sounds-like-a-"Star Wars"-villain ASTATINE and not-"SHERRI"-or-"DIANNE"-but "RONNIE," I'd never heard of). (10D: Nigerian novelist Tutuola + 35D: Rarest naturally occurring element in the earth's crust + 12D: Name that's the title of a 1964 4 Seasons hit)

Here's just a list of all the ways things went bad:

The Things:
  • 1A: Shaken thumb, in American Sign Language (TEN) — no idea
  • 18A: How a security guard might say goodbye? (GOTTA BOUNCE) — this is actually terrible corny wordplay, not a proper "?" clue. 42A: Setting for a plastered cast? (WRAP PARTY)—*That* is a proper "?" clue.
  • 24A: Mascot of the W.N.B.A.'s Mystics (PANDA) — wanted the name of some ... wizard or magician or famous ... mystic? But it's just ... PANDA? Does she even have a name?
  • 25A: Most actors don't hold real ones, informally (CIGS) — a. hard!, b. really?? I've seen so many actors smoke on screen I just don't know where the "most" is coming from here.
  • 28A: Language from which "Saskatchewan" comes (CREE) — As I mentioned above, I had ERIE here
  • 33A: Light on packaging (LOW-FAT) — The lack of quotation marks around "Light" feels like a crime
  • 39A: League leader, informally (COMMISH) — ohhhhh, the person in charge of the league. Not the team in first place. Sigh. Gotcha.
  • 40A: E.U. alliance (G-SIX) — me: ".... UNIX? Like ... les états ... unix?"
  • 48A: Opposite of calm (PANIC) — any other MANICs out there? ... anyone? ...
  • 54A: Patchwork? (BETA RELEASE) — I don't even get this one. I thought betas were pre-releases? So what's being ... patched? Exactly? Also, ask me how excited I am by STEM-related jargon ...
  • 44D: Japanese city on Tokyo Bay (CHIBA— I know a martial arts actor named CHIBA, but Japanese city ... no, can't say it rings a bell. I was like "is there really a city named CHINA ... in Japan?")
  • 4D: The tunes "The Blarney Pilgrim" and "The Lark in the Morning," e.g. (JIGS) — I mean ... if you say so ...
  • 9D: Yoga pose similar to Upward-Facing Dog (COBRA) — baffled by this (at first), which is highly amusing for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I was in both updog and COBRA as recently as Tuesday night. Sigh. 
  • 36D: Energy regulators in the body (THYROIDS) — my dumb ass seriously wrote in ADYNOIDS at one point, wow
All that, on top of the previously mentioned trouble with HEADBANDS, CLOMP, AMOS, "RONNIE," ASTATINE, etc. I'm probably most mad at the fact that I got NEKO CASE almost entirely from crosses without ever having looked at the clue—that would've been a gimme for me!! Would've felt great to just throw it down with no help from crosses, bam. But that's one of the weird things about solving—no telling where your eyes are gonna go first. I've got a bad habit of really really holding off on even looking at the longer clues until I've dealt with their shorter crosses. Mostly this works, but sometimes, esp. if I get frustrated with the shorter stuff, I *forget* to just at least *check* the clues on the longer answers. I assume I'll *need* the shorter crosses to make sense of the long stuff. But not always. Anyway, a worthy, hard puzzle that made me feel bad about myself! Which is my problem, not (mostly) the puzzle's.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bishop's gathering / FRI 12-6-19 / Power cord? / Low-carb sandwich / Regular at a fitness center

Friday, December 6, 2019

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Easy-to-Medium

THEME: Themeless

Word of the Day: SYNOD (24D: Bishop's gathering) —
An assembly of the clergy and sometimes also the laity in a diocese or other of a particular Church. Secondarily, a Presbyterian ecclesiastical court above the presbyteries and subject to the General Assembly

• • •
Hello, Crossworld - I am Whit, stepping in to blog for Rex because he's got the Andrew Wyeth blues. I'm a long-time reader of the blog and I started regularly doing the NYT crossword when I stole my wife's log-in information eight years ago. Now we do it together - by which I mean that whichever one of us gets to it first gets to do it. 10 PM Eastern is a battleground in our home, but I won out for Friday. Let's see what Shortz & Co. got up to today.

This is my dog. She's a mutt, and thus, she might very well have some 56A (clue) in her. She definitely has needed 56A (answer) before.
I think this is a welterweight crossword, difficulty-wise. It took me almost twice as long as my best time for Fridays, but far below the overall average. (I always solve on the mobile app.) I blasted through the SE and SW corners before I found myself briefly pickled in the NE. That cost me a lot of time, though I wasn't playing for speed today. (I was playing for you, reader. I put your erudition over my stats. I'm selfless.) I found pockets of cleverness around the grid, and what I found, I liked.

The puzzle is pleasantly light on classic crossword crutches. There's an OVA and an RDA and an ITA, of course, but for small fill, I liked the clues for NUN (31A: One with a habit), SPY (25D: One who bugs another person?), and LOT (19A: Something cast in cleromancy.) I'm not a cleromancer, but this is a far better choice than just rolling the dice on something standard like "Property Unit" or "Crying of ____ 49."

The grid opens up across the middle for some good longer answers. The cluing is very ho-hum, but the grid placement is fun. I'm not a crossword constructor, so I don't know how much this factors into creating a puzzle, but I enjoy patterns and pairings within the grid. I think that's a sign that the constructor, for all their necessary focus on words and letters and word-letter intersections, is attuned to the beauty of letters as objects. I thought the dietary duo of PAREVE and LESSSALT were happy neighbors, plus, look at that pile of Ss. So much fun to see. The answer looks like it's ready to wriggle off the screen. LETTUCEWRAP and LECTURE TOUR have good visual symmetry next to each other - a waterfall of L/E/T/U cascading over crosses like SPORTUTILITYTUCKS and SINEW. When the grid is full, you get a flush of typographical harmony. The same thing happens with SWIMUPSTREAM and MAKEUPARTIST. The clue for the latter, by the way, was charming: (46A: Dressing room attendant.) It could go a number of directions, but it lands right where it wants to be. I also enjoyed PROFIT and LIE IDLE as capitalist contrasts on the same line. It's said you can't have one while doing the other, but I bet whoever said that was in management.

As I said, none of the clues make me swoon, but I also didn't find myself grinding my teeth. Out of the gate, I thought ADWARS (1A: Samsung-versus-Apple and others) was clunky, but I just excused myself from the NW corner and played with the cool clues for answers like HIPPO and MINER. Way more fun to be had there. Who cares about Samsung and Apple's battle for phone supremacy when you can learn about new, exciting avenues for illegal ivory dealing. I didn't know you could get ivory from a hippo! (Don't deal in legal or illegal ivory. It's cruel to animals and you could never grow the kind of mustache necessary to pull it off in style.)

So, yeah: a pleasant little Friday jaunt. When it worked, it really worked, and when it didn't, it passed from my memory without a blip. Thanks to Rex for letting me pitch-in. I love this blog.

Four Things
  • 36A: Power cord? (SINEW) — This was a good clue. I had a few of the downs already so it was obvious when I came to answer it, but I still like it.
  • 15A: Containing neither meat nor dairy (PAREVE) This wasn't a word I knew, but it was a word that I immediately recognized as one I'd forgotten. It would have been my word of the day, but it was the word of the day nearly 10 years ago and I didn't want a repeat. PAREVE had its time in the sun.
  • 7A: Regular at a fitness center (GYMRAT) — This is a curiously pejorative answer for an anodyne clue, but I like it because I think more things should have the -rat appendage. Do you make your living working in technology? You're a KeyboardRat. Do you like to spend Saturday morning buying produce at the farmer's market? You're a TotebagRat. Do you like to do the crossword each day? You're a kinder, smarter, more attractive person with better posture than your slouching and deviant friends, who are all SudokuRats.
  • 56A: Clean, as a lab coat? (DEFLEA) — God-level clue to round out the puzzle. Who cares that it's not a word that anyone ever says. It's a dog thing and I really liked it!
Signed, Whit Vann, Pretender to the Baronage of the Southwest Corner of Crossworld

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Neighbor on TV's Bewitched / THU 12-5-19 / TV show with three stars / Host Tyler of Whose Line Is It Anyway / Media protector introduced in '80s

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Constructor: Neville Fogarty

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:03)

THEME: OVER! — circled squares each contain a letter which, when followed by "OVER," form the front ends of the theme answers (that they are, literally, over, i.e. on top of):

Theme answers:
  • (M) over S AND SHAKERS (20A: Power players)
  • (S) over EIGN STATE (30A: Any member of the United Nations)
  • (C) over ED BRIDGES (49A: Wooden crossings that provide protection from the weather)
  • (G) over NMENT AGENCY (58A: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for one)
Word of the Day: BALTO (64A: Celebrated husky) —
Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) was a Siberian Husky and sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nenana, Alaska, by train and then to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease. Balto was named after the Sami explorer Samuel Balto. Balto rested at the Cleveland Zoo until his death on March 14, 1933, at the age of 14. After he died, his body was stuffed and kept in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it remains today. (wikipedia)
• • •

If there had been any way for to grasp what was going on before I was finished, maybe I would've enjoyed this. The gimmick is certainly clever. But from a solving standpoint, I was just filling in long Across answers with nonsense I didn't get, so that even though I completed it in a regular old Thursday time, the feeling was ... a bad one. I really wish the clues had been even a little more helpful. Usually in a puzzle like this, or in a rebus, I eventually hit an answer that makes me realize "Aha, *this* is what is going on!" That moment just never came today. Clues were all so vague as to be useless, or so bizarrely worded (see that ED BRIDGES clue) that, well, also useless. I started out wondering what SAND SHAKERS were and then things really went to hell. Ending up with EIGN STATE was just demoralizing. I saw the circled squares, but they just seemed randomly strewn about to me. I have no idea how I ended up solving it successfully in a respectable time. I guess that's the sign of a puzzle that, in all other respects, is well made. Fill is not showy, but it'll do. The theme just missed me. I can respect the construction, but I can't rewrite history and say that solving this was fun. ALAS.

Aside from, you know, never grasping the theme concept, there were two major slow-downs for me. First (and this is theme-related), I had E-GN-T--- for [Any member of the United Nations and I genuinely thought it was something (EGG?) NATION, which, now that I look at the clue again, I see was never going to fly. I guess when you get desperate, you forget that clue words can't actually be answer words. ALAS. Honestly, EIGN STATE was sooo rough for me. The other slow-down was HORN for HONK (54A: Traffic signal?). Weird how a little (plausible) thing like that can throw a wrench in things. I honestly broke down halfway through this thing and had to resort to roaming the vast empty areas of the south looking for any kind of toehold (which I finally got thanks to my good old friend John OATES (55D: Hall's singing partner)). Oh, and I just blanked on "ANNABEL LEE," even with ANNA in the grid; in fact, *because* ANNA was in the grid—since it's a complete name in and of itself, my brain didn't consider it might be part of a larger name. If I'd taken a few moments to hum the basic rhythm of the poem to myself, I probably would've hit on the title sooner, but when I'm solving I don't like to stop to do ... anything if I don't have to. No idea who ABNER was on "Bewitched." Can't even picture him. . . oh, looks like ABNER Kravitz was married to Gladys, who would always see the magic happening next door and then tell her husband ABNER to come look, but by then there would be no magic. Wah Waaaah. Even looking at ABNER I don't remember him. Gladys, though, is hard to forget:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Boss of Oompa-Loompas / WED 12-4-19 / Appliance company acquired by Raytheon in 1965 / Head in classic Hasbro toy / Group concerned with things that are NSFW

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Constructor: Evan Mahnken

Relative difficulty: So easy it was obviously misplaced. The whole world is setting personal records. I was groggy and typed *horribly* and still solved faster than most Tuesdays (3:27)

THEME: I think so: these appear to be logical fallacies, clued in the style of the argument that they represent (?), and containing the subject matter that they *appear* to represent, if you take their idiomaticness literally. Sigh. Themes that take this much explaining should maybe rethink their reason for being

Theme answers:
  • STRAW MAN FALLACY (17A: "Scarecrow thinks the only thing one needs is a brain. It's not!") — without context, it's hard to see that this is what it says it is, i.e. that this clue is an example of the the answer it's cluing. This goes for all of these themers, really. Maybe the scarecrow *actually* argued that the only thing one needs is a brain, How Would I Know?
  • SLIPPERY SLOPE (28A: "If we let our kids go sledding, what's next? Extreme skiing?") — this one works
  • CHERRY PICKING (43A: "As you can tell from these few examples, Bings are better than maraschinos") — doesn't work, for so many reasons, not least of which is no one making a CHERRY PICKING argument would tell you that they have cited only a "few examples," and anyway, how many damn cherries Do you have to eat to know that Bings are better!? I mean, those are really really Really different cherries. In fact, maraschinos are a treated cherry, not a variety like Bings. "maraschino cherry [...] is a preserved, sweetened cherry, typically made from light-colored sweet cherries such as the Royal AnnRainier, or Gold varieties." (wikipedia) What's the logical fallacy where you compare apples and oranges called? BOOOOOO!
  • MOVING GOALPOSTS (58A: "Expanding the bleachers isn't enough. We need to relocate the whole stadium") —again, without context, no way to tell this is actually an example of an argumentative fallacy
Word of the Day: DEBRA Winger (9A: Actress Winger) —
Debra Lynn Winger (born May 16, 1955) is an American actress. She starred in the films An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), and Shadowlands (1993), each of which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Terms of Endearment, and the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress for A Dangerous Woman (1993). Her other film roles include Urban Cowboy (1980), Legal Eagles (1986), Black Widow (1987), Betrayed (1988), Forget Paris(1995), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). In 2012, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of the David Mamet play The Anarchist. In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Transilvania International Film Festival.
She currently stars as a series regular in the Netflix original television series The Ranch. (wikipedia)
• • •

Er. Uh. I guess your friends on the debate team might think this is cute? I just found it tiresome. But luckily I didn't really have to find it anything at all, because it was stupid easy. Like, how-is-this-even-Wednesday easy. I had a teeny bit of trouble getting off the ground (wrote in JIBES before JESTS because I don't know my JIBES from my GIBES (1D: Joking remarks); also, took some amount of working to see FALLACY instead of ARGUMENT), but after that, any resistance was created by my terrible early-morning typing and grid navigation. By the time I finished, I had no idea what this puzzle was supposed to be about. Just looked like idioms that someone was taking literally, and imagining it was somehow funny to do so, which is a child's idea of humor. But it turns out the idioms are all from the same world (argumentation), clued as a version of what they are ... which, I'll grant you, is layered, but in this smug aint-I-a-stinker kind of way that is just annoying. Give the solver a revealer. If what you are doing here is any good, it should a. announce itself clearly (it doesn't), or b. be announced clearly by a good revealer (it isn't). The grid is choppy and full of easy 3- to 5-letter answers, i.e. there's just nothing of interest here outside of the themers. Also, MOVING GOALPOSTS sounds weird to my ears. I'm sure that's the technical term for that particular logical fallacy, but I've heard it only with the "THE" in it. People will have good will toward this puzzle because it was ego-boostingly easy. But they shouldn't.

What is there even to say about this? There's nothing particularly remarkable outside the theme. The fill skews bland / stale (LAMAS, ORONO, ENO, ELLE, ODS, ONEND) but nothing you'd really yelp about. I'd call it Newsday-clean. If you've ever solved the daily Newsday puzzle (mine comes in my local paper) you know that 6 days out of 7 it is very easy, and the fill is not exciting but it is also only very rarely repulsive. They're fun to solve Downs-only. Good practice. Anyway ... oh right, OPRY OPERA OPAL OPEC OSHA OTTER ONO OER, just O's ON END, and who cares, O-nestly? 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. here's a huge list of fallacies, if you somehow care (note that here it is indeed MOVING *the* GOALPOSTS)
P.P.S. I do like the clue on OSHA (35D: Group concerned with things that are NSFW?); just thought I'd try to end on a hight note
P.P.P.S. Happy birthday, JAY-Z. You are now my age.

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Seeress of ancient Greece / TUE 12-3-19 / Civil rights leader Williams who was associate of Martin Luther King Jr / Liturgical vestment / Ermine by another name

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:43)

THEME: VOICE / ACTOR (62A: With 64-Across, performer who is like the words sounded out at the starts of the answers to the four starred clues) — "heard but not seen":

Theme answers:
  • HERD INSTINCT (20A: *Inclination to follow the majority)
  • BUTT-DIALS (32A: *Phones inadvertently)
  • KNOT-TYING (43A: *Boy Scout handbook topic)
  • SCENE STEALER (55A: *One upstaging a star, say)
Word of the Day: HOSEA Williams (14A: Civil rights leader Williams, who was an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr.) —
Hosea Lorenzo Williams (January 5, 1926 – November 16, 2000), was an American civil rightsleader, activist, ordained minister, businessman, philanthropist, scientist, and politician. He may be best known as a trusted member of fellow famed civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr.'s inner circle. Under the banner of their flagship organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King depended on Williams to organize and stir masses of people into nonviolent direct action in myriad protest campaigns they waged against racial, political, economic, and social injustice. King alternately referred to Williams, his chief field lieutenant, as his "bull in a china closet" and his "Castro". Vowing to continue King's work for the poor, Williams is well known in his own right as the founding president of one of the largest social services organizations in North America, Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless. His famous motto was "Unbought and Unbossed." (wikipedia)
• • •

This is some cornball stuff. The theme answers themselves are mostly fine on their own, but this kind of awful pun just does nothing for me. It's not even truly, godawfully awful. It's just a bunch of homophones. The most annoying thing is probably the clue on the revealer, which a. tells you nothing about the answer itself, and b. is worded terribly. The performer is not "like the words," they're like the *phrase* made by the words. Plus, stylistically, the revealer is just a pedantic garble of phrases: "... like the ... at the ... of the ... to the ..." Stick the landing on the revealer (and revealer clue) or absolutely do not attempt a "sound out the pun"-type theme. ARF! To make matters slightly worse, there's some truly bad fill in here. Like, retro bad. Mothball bad. ASOU!? (37A: Not worth ___ (valueless) Wow. We're really still doing that one? I feel like it's only there to make you forget about the ordinary tired crosswordese like ONEL, ALB, SRO, and ABES, which is still not a thing, no matter how much the NYTXW tries to push it. "Hey, you got any ABES on you?" asks no one. Fives are "fins" or "fivers." When it comes to bills with political nicknames, it's Benjamins and ... that's it. Collectively, you can call money "Dead Presidents" (even if that does feel a little '90s rappish, i.e. dated). But ABES, no. And crossing ABS!? No no.

The puzzle was reasonably easy but dang if I didn't get wickedly slowed down by SLASHMARK (6D: Punctuation that may mean "or"). Just no idea. I think the main reason is I would just call it a SLASH ... so weirdly even with SLASHM-R-, my brain wouldn't process it. SLASHMORE!? Also, I'm pretty sure I put in HERD INSTINCT immediately after getting the HERD part from crosses, but for Some reason I second-guessed it and removed it. Not sure what precipitated that, but stupid move, for sure. Otherwise, there were only a few other bumps along the way. Didn't know HOSEA. Thought 47A: Soak one's bib (DROOL) was some kind of idiom for drinking. Never considered that "one's" would be from the ... baby's perspective!? Very cool clue on BRIDE (61A: One of two on some wedding cakes)—so cool that I didn't read it as referring to same-sex marriage. I had trouble processing the clue, and then figured that "One of two" meant "one of the two figures, which are, of course, the bride and groom." But I'm pretty sure this one's gay, which is cool. Hooray for KNOT-TYING with whoever you love!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

"EAT ME, LESTER" is a great row. "AWAKE, KEN GOOSE!" is a close second.

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Hurt in the bullring / MON 12-2-2019 / Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie, to Madonna / High point / Many an Eastern European

Monday, December 2, 2019

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: LOWER THE BAR— Theme answers contain the word BAR, which is in a lower spot each time it appears.

Theme answers:

  • BARE MINIMUM (3D: Smallest possible amount)
  • RED BARON (5D: WWI fighter pilot who is Snoopy's fantasy opponent)
  • LIONEL BARRYMORE (7D: Classic actor who played Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life")
  • CABARETS (40D: Businesses like the Kit Kat Klub in a hit musical)
  • LOWER THE BAR (28D: Reduce one's standards, as illustrated, respectively, in 3-, 5-, 7-, 40- and 28-Down)

Word of the Day: AMES (City that's home to Iowa State) —
Ames (/mz/) is a city in central Iowa approximately 30 miles (48 km) north of Des Moines. It is best known as the home of Iowa State University (ISU), with leading Agriculture, Design, Engineering, and Veterinary Medicine colleges. A United States Department of Energy national laboratory, Ames Laboratory, is located on the ISU campus.
In 2017, Ames had a population of 66,498.[7] Iowa State University is home to 36,321 students (Fall 2017),[8] which make up approximately one half of the city's population.
• • •
Annabel Monday! Woohoo! And on time this time, even! I'm still enjoying interning. Capitol Hill is a cool place. But I'm looking to apply to library school next fall! Cross your fingers for me.

I liked this one a lot! And I'm starting to notice that I tend to really like the easy puzzles, which maybe says something about me? But then again, Mondays are supposed to be easy. And at any rate, some really interesting cluing here (amid a couple typical Monday duds like ALPS and ERA).  Had TANGOS for SAMBAS which I guess means I need to go back and redo my musical education (especially with stuff like syncopation). I'm not sure that you can just call sheep's milk EWES milk but eh, I'll let it slide. And I'd like to know who a boll weevil isn't a PEST to. I guess to a spider, it's just lunch?

I can't say enough positive things about the theme! There aren't enough Monday themes that really use the crossword format in an interesting way! And this one also worked for Down-only solvers?! Awesome. Everyone, take clues from Ms. Lempel. She really raised the bar with this one. Even if there's no way on earth I would have gotten LIONEL BARRYMORE without crosses.

  • ECTO (38D: Prefix with plasm) — Did you know I only just saw "Ghostbusters" for the first time a few weeks ago?!?!? Same with "Beetlejuice." I kind of got all my old campy must-see Halloween movies out of the way this year. 
  • OGRE (42A: Fearsome figure of folklore) — Hey, ogres are more than just fearsome! Didn't anyone else have the picture book "Shrek" when they were little? All that dude wanted to do was be gross and be left alone. 
  • POX (59D: Disease that causes a skin rash) — Missed opportunity for a "A pox on both your houses" reference. Just sayin', we had "Moor" (which, is that problematic? I'm not sure), we could have had a very Shakespearean puzzle!
  • EEL (57D: Long-bodied fish) — That's a moray.

Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired.

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Sci-fi character depicted as glowing red dot / SUN 12-1-19 / Flanged structural support / Onetime home of Vikings Twins / Umami enhancer for short / Salt's hip-hop counterpart / Hindu tradition that's two men's names in reverse / Eponym of London insurer

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:50)

THEME: "Actually ..." — themers are terms that are misleading on a literal level:

Theme answers:
  • 25A: ... it abuts water on only one of its four sides (RHODE ISLAND) (not an island)
  • 32A: ... it's an ellipse (ST. PETER'S SQUARE) (not a square)
  • 59A: ... it was predominantly German (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (not really Roman)
  • 83A: ... it's an American name for a German game (CHINESE CHECKERS) (not Chinese)
  • 108A: ... They're of Indian origin (ARABIC NUMERALS) (not Arabic)
  • 118A: ... It's a woodwind from Central Europe (ENGLISH HORN) (not English)
  • 4D: ... It's a rodent native to the Andes (GUINEA PIG) (not ... Guinean?)
  • 16D: ... It's a legume (PEANUT) (not a nut)
  • 85D: ... They're lousy places to sleep (RESTROOMS) (says you!)
  • 100D: ... It usually comes from sheep (CAT GUT) (not made from cat guts)
Word of the Day: Maxim GORKI (sp!?!) (4A: Russian novelist Maxim) —
Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (Russian: Алексе́й Макси́мович Пешко́в or Пе́шков;[1] 28 March [O.S. 16 March] 1868 – 18 June 1936), primarily known as Maxim Gorky (Russian: Макси́м Го́рький), was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the socialist realism literary method, and a political activist. He was also a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[3] Around fifteen years before success as a writer, he frequently changed jobs and roamed across the Russian Empire; these experiences would later influence his writing. Gorky's most famous works were The Lower Depths (1902),  Twenty-six Men and a Girl (1899), The Song of the Stormy Petrel(1901), My Childhood (1913–1914), Mother (1906), Summerfolk (1904) and Children of the Sun(1905). He had an association with fellow Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov; Gorky would later mention them in his memoirs.
Gorky was active with the emerging Marxist social-democratic movement. He publicly opposed the Tsarist regime, and for a time closely associated himself with Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov's Bolshevik wing of the party. For a significant part of his life, he was exiled from Russia and later the Soviet Union. In 1932, he returned to the USSR on Joseph Stalin's personal invitation and lived there until his death in June 1936. (wikipedia)
• • •

GORKI is just wrong. Please don't try to lawyer this one, please don't wave some dumbass reference book at me, just know that no one knows him as GORKI. That spelling isn't even mentioned in his wikipedia write-up. It's GORKY. Just as the novel / movie is "GORKY Park." It appears that maybe the Germans stylize him as GORKI. But playing fast and loose with conventional spellings like this is awful. It will make you no friends. It is the worst of olde-timey crossword gimmicks come to life. Eschew avoid and elude this sort of nonsense, please. Bad enough I gotta remember that ENESCO can alos be ENESCU and vice versa. Stop the madness. As for the theme, it's fine. Mansplaining is bleeping annoying irl, and trivia like this just doesn't interest me much, and some of these aren't very "you don't say"-ish. I mean, I am surprised to learn that the ENGLISH HORN is not English, but I'm not sooooo surprised to learn that RESTROOMS are lousy places to sleep. Unless the constructor or Will has tried to sleep in a restroom, I don't count this clue as valid at all. Pictures or it didn't happen. Still, it's an interesting premise for a theme, and some of the revelations were real revelations, so no problems there. Fill-wise, things could've been much better. ASON ASLAP SSTARS and ENDE are really not good. Maybe you can have two of those, if you're desperate, but four is an awful lot. That's in addition to the GORKI baloni, remember. Still, I'm inclined to give this the mildest of thumbs-up(s). It went by quickly and the theme concept kept my interest.

I had my fastest time in something like five months, which is odd, because I feel like I really flailed around a lot, especially at the end. Hard enough to suss out the awful ENDE and RES, whose clue I don't even really understand (57D: Pixelatedness, for short). I guess if it's Hi-RES it has a hi(gh) number of pixels? OK. Still, though, with junk fill like RES, why do you want to draw attention to it. Really hate EXIT SIGNS, since actually (actually!) I don't see actual EXIT SIGNS at the clover leaf near my house (66A: Things around a cloverleaf). I do, however, see a ton (well, four) of EXIT RAMPS, which fits, and is the superior answer. Got through there only to get totally baffled by BOOT (82D: A rancher might pull one over a calf). Totally bit on the misdirect there. Wrong calf, for sure. But still I soldiered onward down that treacherous-feeling east coast until my worst moment—the SSE, where three abutting Downs (ITCH, DYNAMIC, USEBY) all eluded me, as did the ROOMS in RESTROOMS could've been so many things (I like my first answer REST AREAS, much better, because at least I can imagine someone actually *attempting* to sleep there, unlike a restroom, dear lord). This meant that ARABIC NUMERALS was hard to see. I thought maybe ARABIAN ... something. Couldn't get to STAID from 93A: Serious either. At all. Don't think I've ever used STAID to mean "Serious." So, as I say, flailing. And yet I finished under 9. Might've been something close to a record if not for the flailing. Rest of the puzzle I don't really rememeber, which is better than remembering it for the wrong reasons. Low pass. Good day!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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