Shortest Old Testament Book / THU 2-28-19 / Tough-to-win horse racing bet / Unlikely source of a silk purse / Albert Einstein, notably

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Similar two-word phrases?  — Okay, so each theme answer features a clue punning on a specific letter like "honey bees" with the answer then featuring two words that start with said letter, in this case 'B'. So, the crossword answer is Badgers and Wisconsin and Chicago, right? Oh, right, honey badgers and honey bears.

Theme answers:
  • JASMINE AND JEANS = (16A: Blue jays)
  • COMEDY AND CRIMES = (46A: High seas) 
  • PEACE AND PEPPERS = (59A: Green peas) 
  • ICE AND INK = (33A: Dry eyes) 
  • BADGERS AND BEARS = (26A: Honey bees)

Word of the Day: EXACTA (47D: Tough-to-win horse racing bet —
type of bet, especially on horse races, in which the bettor must select the first- and second-place finishers in exact order. -
• • •
Hello, it's Megan and Tristan, the dynamic duo filling in for Rex today (for the second time). We are both almost done with undergraduate life, but found the time to do this crossword puzzle, even though we are not in the same state right now. Said puzzle was not that fun! It was reasonably difficult, very old-school, and a little confusing.

MEGAN: Old school, indeed. Honestly, the only redeeming thing about the puzzle to me is Tegan and SARA (56D), which is the only answer that locates the puzzle in this century. Well, I guess Blue Jasmine is also in the 21st century (16A: Blue jays), but I have never heard of or seen it. Wikipedia says it’s a Woody Allen film (why?!) about a wealthy socialite (Cate Blanchett) whose marriage collapses and who moves in with her sister in San Francisco. Not knowing Blue Jasmine really tripped us both up in the NW corner, which was our last to solve - for a while, we only had OBADIAH (2D: Shortest Old Testament book). While I’m talking about that corner how does the clue for RESANDS? (2D: Smooths over) imply sanding again? Why re-sands? Why is the clue not, “Smooths over, again”?

TRISTAN: The usage of AHSO (30A: "I can see clearly now.") does not sit well with me. While the context in the puzzle makes vague sense, it’s also a derogatory version of a Japanese phrase for that often gets used to make fun of East Asian people. Not great! It’s not the most common derogatory term ever, but it’s the first result on Google searches. It’s also easily changeable. WBO could be World Boxing Organization, and OHSO could fit with any sentence you please. Otherwise, this puzzle felt clunky. I thought the idea behind the theme was clever from a wordplay standpoint, but it was poorly executed. Putting five themed answers, four using the whole grid, led to some crosswordese three-letter clues: ELY (a Nevada town pop. 4,255), PCT, ISS, DEI, PBA, NIP, DES, SOS, HAJ.

MEGAN: Yeah, once we got the theme, things really moved along. But it took wayyy too long to parse out what the theme wanted. I have had many an English teacher say that if you can’t think of a title for your paper, that probably means you don’t have much of an argument in your paper, and that’s kind of how I feel about the theme here. It’s vague and not very interesting. I can’t think of any concise or fun way to describe it or talk about it. It’s just there.


  • 48D: Certain intimate apparel sizes (DCUPS) — Whyyyy are there so many clues about bras?
  • 39D: Unlikely source of a silk purse (SOW’S EAR) — Yup, had no idea what this was. Never heard that idiom so got it entirely from the crosses.
  • 2D: Shortest Old Testament Book (OBADIAH) — As usual with biblical clues, we listed every single book of the Old Testament to find the one that made the most sense. Congrats to Obadiah's editing skills, as he wrote about the downfall of Edom in a succinct 440 words (in Hebrew). 
  • 5D: Albert Einstein, notably (EMIGRE) — Whenever I hear the words emigre, I only think of the French aristocrats who fled the French Revolution. Hearing it in the context of Albert Einstein threw me off slightly. 
Signed, Megan and Tristan, Court Chroniclers of CrossWorld

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Desert in southern Africa / WED 2-27-19 / Job in monastery / Prominent Gorbachev feature / Phishing scheme / Gay anthem of 1978 / With bow in music

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Challenging (5:25) (a just-woke-up solve)

THEME: Pre- — pffffffff OK so theme answers are really pairs of words that sit on the same Across line, with the first word clued as [Pre- [the next clue]], and so the clue for the first word is the prefix "Pre-" added to the second word. So the first word is literally pre-the second word (i.e it comes first, reading left to right, as one does...) and it means the same thing as PRE- + [second word]:

Theme answers:
  • FOREWORD = pre- AMBLE (22A: Go for a stroll)
  • AUGURY = pre- DICTION (29A: Subject in acting school)
  • DICTATE = pre- SCRIBE (44A: Job in a monastery)
  • EARLY = pre- MATURELY (50A: How emotionall developed people handle things)
Word of the Day: SERTS (40A: Some Spanish murals) —
Josep Maria Sert i Badia (Catalan pronunciation: [ʒuˈzɛb məˈɾi.ə ˈsɛɾt]; Barcelona, 21 December 1874 – 27 November 1945, buried in the Vic Cathedral) was a Catalan muralist, the son of an affluent textile industry family, and friend of Salvador Dalí. He was particularly known for his grisaille style, often in gold and black. (wikipedia)

• • •

Found this fussy and dull. I'm not that big a fan of "you have to go somewhere else to figure out what the clue to this answer is"-type puzzles, so this one didn't have much of a chance with me, but it really did feel workmanlike and joyless. Executed fine, but ... shrug. And then the fill is just ... there's just so much of it. An avalanche of 4- and 5-letter words. Just short stuff everywhere you look, as far as the eye can see. This never augurs (!) well for fill quality, and sure enough, much of the shorter fill is tired or outright cringey (see SERTS in the plural, SOU, and OCULI, above all). Go into any corner and it's just ABEL or AGAR EGAD HAHA or OUZO or ASAP or RAGU ALOT or ORCA ARCO or etc. The yuckiest part is probably the double (!) plural names in the middle of the grid (BACHS, SERTS), but it's pretty tedious all over.

Not much else to say, so here are ...

Five things:
  • 31D: Desert in southern Africa (NAMIB) — me: "desert ... that crosswordesey desert ... NEGEV ... no ... NEGEB ... still no ..."
  • 3D: Anise-flavored liqueur (OUZO) — swear to god, I wrote in ANIS.
  • 21D: Extremely, informally (WAY) — had the "A" ... wrote in MAD (which I still like better, much better)
  • 30D: Eyelike openings (OCULI) — I resent this answer. There's no need for this junky crosswordese. There's no need to go with SCRIBE, thus forcing yourself into an O---I situation *and* a N---B situation. Bizarre.
  • 12D: Ferrara who directed "King of New York" (ABEL) — I got this instantly. I have no idea who this is. Huh ... [looks him up] ... Oh, OK, I think I've seen a couple of these ... huh, looks like he directed a pornographic film in the '70s called "9 Lives of a Wet [REDACTED]" ... That, I have not seen.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chess ending / TUES 2-26-18 / Say hello to / Cluster around an acorn / Formally end

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hi, everyone! It's Clare, and I'm back for another Tuesday. Feeling a bit tired from staying up late to watch the Oscars on Sunday night. Anyone watch?? Who loves Olivia Colman as much as I do? (P.S. She's an incredible actress, and everyone should know her name — go watch "Broadchurch" right now. Seriously.)

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: JOINT (40A: What each set of shaded letters in this puzzle represents) — The shaded sections of the puzzle are all joints, which bend in the puzzle like they do in the body.

Theme answers:
  • ELBOW (as part of 1A and 3D)
  • ANKLE (as part of 5A and 8D)
  • HIP (as part of 9A and 13D)
  • KNUCKLE (as part of 35A and 31D)
  • SHOULDER (as part of 37A and 28D)
  • KNEE (as part of 60A and 62D)
  • WRIST (as part of 63A and 41D)
  • NECK (as part of 65A and 59D)

Word of the Day: KNUT (35A: Bronze coin in the Harry Potter books)
The Knut (pronounced ca-nut) is the least valued coin in wizarding currency in Harry Potter. There are 29 Knuts in one silver Sickle, and there are 493 Knuts in one golden Galleon. Around the edge of each coin is a series of numerals which represent a serial number belonging to the Goblin that cast the coin. Witches and wizards are not averse to laborious calculations, as they can do them magically, so they do not find it inconvenient to pay for goods in Knuts, Sickles, and Galleons. One Sickle is equal to about 2 U.S. cents. (Harry Potter Wiki) 
• • •
As I was doing this puzzle on my phone, the app tried to make me quit four times. I should have taken it as a hint. I found the puzzle to be difficult — maybe the hardest since I've started this write-up on Tuesdays — and I just didn't like it. I never really got going, and I got stumped in a whole lot of places. The theme was clever and ambitious, both in the number of theme answers and in the way that they all bent, like joints do, and I appreciate the effort that went into crafting the theme of the puzzle. The theme also helped me with the solve, because, once I saw what one set of shaded boxes represented, it was pretty easy to extrapolate and get the others — helping me fill in a lot of squares. However, the theme might have been the only saving grace of the puzzle as the fill was just bleh and often nonsensical.

A lot of little things bugged me about the puzzle. Why is the clue for SHOULD at 37A, "Is obliged to"? If you're obliged to do something, it's not that you should do it; you have to do it. 36A Flight board posting felt more like it should be "etd" instead of ETA. It feels like it's more common to look at a flight board to see when your plane is leaving than when it's going to land. Also, saying MAKE ME as a response to a bully seems like a pretty good way to get your head bashed in or — at the very least — start a fight. That seems like something I'd say in a snide way to my sister, not to a bully. I asked my dad about KCAR (46A: Classic Chrysler), and he was upset about calling KCAR a classic anything. Yes, the platform made a lot of money for Chrysler, and the cars are decades old, but they went from zero to 60 in 13 to 14 seconds (I could run faster than that).

Then, there were just a whole bunch of words that felt out-of-place on a Tuesday, even weird. Like MEWS (huh?), RAITA (never heard of this before in my life, and I eat a lot of Indian food), SISAL (maybe not right for a Tuesday?), PTL Club (that was a thing?), ENSHEATHE (why isn't this just sheath?); and, UTNE, BOWE, and MINOLTA (words I've never seen on a Tuesday before, which isn't necessarily bad but did contribute to the puzzle feeling harder and the fill being more tedious).

  • I'm thinking about learning French just to be able to do crosswords better (for example, to help me on 32A: Deux + un to get TROIS and 42A: Entr' to get ACTE)
  • Harry Potter reference!! I'm pumped. It also blew my mind when I Googled "KNUT" and found out that it's pronounced ca-nut. I've been saying it wrong my whole life.
  • Thank you, law school, for helping me get WRIT and LIEN. I appreciate it.
  • I'm getting really sick of seeing the NRA in so many puzzles.
Rant over. Hope everyone has a wonderful Tuesday!

Signed, Clare Carroll, who has been watching Olivia Colman's acceptance speech at the Oscars on repeat since Sunday night.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Comedian Love who co-hosts The Real / MON 2-25-18 / Pittsburgh-based NYSE company / Hungarian composer Franz

Monday, February 25, 2019

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:06)

THEME: TRIATHLON (66A: Race suggested by 19-, 39- and 59-Across?) — themers contain SWIMMING, CYCLING, and RUNNING, respectively:

Theme answers:
  • GOING SWIMMINGLY (19A: Proceeding well)
  • RECYCLING CENTER (39A: Place to bring aluminum cans)
  • OUT OF THE RUNNING (59A: No longer in contention)
Word of the Day: LONI Love (3D: Comedian Love who co-hosts "The Real") —
Loni Love (born July 12, 1971) is an Emmy Award-winning, American comedian, television host, actress and author. While working as an electrical engineer in 2003, Love began to pursue a career in music engineering. She was the runner-up on Star Search 2003 and was named among the "Top 10 Comics to Watch" in both Variety and Comedy Central in 2009. She is currently one of the hosts of The Real talk show along with Jeannie MaiTamera Mowry, and Adrienne Bailon, which premiered on July 15, 2013. (wikipedia)
• • •

This theme doesn't work for me, for a few reasons. The TRIATHLON segments are weirdly embedded. CYCLING is only part of the word RECYCLING, which has nothing to do with bicycling, which would be fine, but then RUNNING is a stand-alone word and kind of has Everything to do with, uh, running, even if OUT OF THE RUNNING is, largely, metaphorical now. I have no idea what the origins of GOING SWIMMINGLY are, but I imagine they have more to do with swimming than recycling has to do with cycling. It's all just uneven and strange and thin. The fill is OK but not great—just this side of "clean enough" but not-at-all interesting. Feels like something Peter Gordon just tossed off and threw away. Something he could make in his sleep. I tend to like Mondays best, of all the themed days of the week, but this one missed me. Didn't miss bad. It just missed. Another thing that missed: my fingers, in that they couldn't hit the right keys to save their lives. I guess I have had a drink, and it was kind of strong, but it was just the one, and I'm 6'3" 185 so honestly it should not have affected my fingers the way it did. I think if I'd had a way to record "number of typos and rewrites" I would've been able to declare that today, I set a record. Just a horrendous job of filling in squares and moving the cursor around properly. For all I know, this puzzle is actually wickedly easy, even in comparison to Mondays. But my fat drunk fingers did what they did, and we all have to live with the consequences.

I wrote in VILE for UGLY and thus began my wrong answer/rewrite tragedy (17D: Hideous ... yes, it was hideous). Wrote in STAGE for STAIR (5D: Step between two floors). Wrote in GUY for GUS (41D: Fellow .... I stopped reading at "Fellow," that was my problem). Had the -ATHLON part and immediately, without looking at the clue, wrote in DECATHLON. You can see how impressive I was today, right? Brilliant. Couldn't remember if she was TERRY or KERRY or TERRI or KERRI Strug (56D: Gymnast Strug). Thought maybe [Twilight time] was DAWN (!?). Assorted other things slowed me down, mostly notably my recalcitrant sot-digits. "MY EYE!" can kiss my eye, what is that?! Who says that!? What year is it!? What is "The Real"? Who is this non-Anderson LONI? (3D: Comedian Love who co-hosts "The Real"). Is "The Real" that "The View" look-alike I see on one of the TV screens at the gym sometimes? YES? OK. Well, LONI didn't hold me up too much, so I'm not mad at her. Crosses were easy. And now I know there's more than one LONI in the world. Cool.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Popular Japanese manga series with schoolgirl heroine / SUN 2-24-19 / Scarecrow portrayer Ray / Nettie's sister in Color Purple / Sports rival of Union College / Baby beavers / Fashion model Marcille / HuffPo purchaser in 2011 / Crazy Rich Asians actress whose stage name puns on bottled water brand

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:42)

THEME: "Everything Evens Out In The End" — two-word phrases where second word is just the "odd" letters (e.g. 1st, 3rd, 5th...) of the first word; whole thing is tied together with the revealer, "WHAT ARE THE ODDS!?" (121A: "How lucky was that?" ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues)

Theme answers:
  • SMALL-TOWN SALON (21A: *Likely inexpensive place to get one's hair done)
  • REINDEER RIDE (40A: *Tourist activity in northern Scandinavia)
  • THE FARM TEAM (59A: *Source of call-ups, in baseball lingo)
  • SWINGING SIGN (64A: *Posting that blows in the wind)
  • IS NOT TOO INTO (72A: *Has little excitement for)
  • PROTEST POET (84A: *Allen Ginsberg, e.g.)
  • FOOTNOTE FONT (99A: *Bottom-of-page design choice)
Word of the Day: AWKWAFINA (132A: "Crazy Rich Asians" actress whose stage name puns on a bottled water brand) —
Nora Lum (June 2, 1988), known by the stage name Awkwafina, is an American rapper and actress. She appeared in the films Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. She has released two studio albums, Yellow Ranger and In Fina We Trust. Awkwafina first gained popularity for her song "My Vag", a response to Mickey Avalon's "My Dick". The music video garnered over three million views on YouTube. Notable television appearances include Girl CodeFuture Man, and Saturday Night Live. (wikipedia)
• • •

What a weird solve. I had no clear idea what was going on with the themers, except that there was clearly some kind of anagram or repeat-some-letters thing going on inside the answers. The themers themselves seemed ... contrived, at least slightly. THE FARM TEAM? SMALL-TOWN SALON? Seemed a little iffy. But I was just rolling with it, hoping / praying that there was gonna be a bangin' revealer to make it all worthwhile, and Sure Enough! Erik's last puzzle was the one with the revealer "SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN," which was, frankly, the best and most memorable revealer of the year to that point (see here), and today's is just as good. The revealer should snap—it should crackle and pop, too. It needs to make perfect sense of the themers, and it needs to be a great phrase in its own right. Or, maybe not "needs to," but "should." Perfect revealers should make you go "Oh ... wow." And this one did. I still think the themers are weird and contrived, but they had to be for this (very restrictive) theme to work. As you know, and as the data makes clear, Sunday has recently been my least favorite day of the puzzle week, so this puzzle is especially welcome.

There were little hiccups along the way, but I basically crushed this puzzle—until, that is, the SE corner, where I floundered (but, thankfully, did not founder). I just couldn't get a hold on the revealer. Had to work and work and work at it, and the crosses were really rough (for me) toward the middle and end. YEOW is a sound, TSK is a sound, PRECHEW is ew, what the hell is PRECHEW, dear lord ... and then I misread 125D: Iniquity site (DEN) as [Inquiry site], so that didn't help. Then I misspelled WOOLF ever which way imaginable, and some unimaginable (if you include multiple typos), before getting it right. Then there's the fact that I didn't really know / remember AWKWAFINA and didn't read the whole clue, which, you know, might've been a good idea. Might've jogged my memory a bit. So the area east of DARLA was snarled mess. I might've been very close to a Sunday personal best if I had been able to maintain my pace through the SE. Still, even with the ridiculous pratfall conclusion, a very fast solve.

Five things:
  • 10A: Multidecker sandwich (CLUB) — wanted BLT(S). I actually wrote in BLAT (which is a multidecker sandwich, I think ... well, it's got bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato on it; I count each of those things as a deck(er).
  • 42D: Dreadfully slow (DRAGGY) — had trouble with this, but when I got it, I loved it—and that's the best possible outcome for a crossword struggle: "What the ... why can't I ... oh! Oh yeah, gotta give it up for that answer, that is good..."
  • 49A: Chinese dynasty ended by Kublai Khan (SONG) — that has to be the world's toughest clue for SONG ... but it's not like it slowed me down much.
  • 29A: En ___ (chess move) (PASSANT) — ha ha, OK, sure, if you say so. Luckily I have some familiarity with French, so I was able to make a French phrase out of the few letters that I had, and it ended up being right. 
  • 5D: Tree resin used in fragrances (BALSAM) — well I know BALSA wood, and I know the actor Martin BALSAM ... but this "resin" was not familiar to me. And crossing PASSANT ... that was potentially lethal. But tra la la, I managed to skip right through there without harm.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Evergreens whose leaves are used culinarily / SAT 2-23-19 / Web tv broadcast about celebrities / Dweller in eastern Himalayas

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:08 — faster than Thursday, faster than Friday)

THEME: answers that start with initialisms ... or so I thought, until I realized, no, that's just in the NW, and it's really just a themeless

Word of the Day: BAY TREES (39A: Evergreens whose leaves are used culinarily)
Laurus nobilis is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glabrous (smooth and hairless) leaves, in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is used as bay leaf for seasoning in cooking. Its common names include bay tree (esp. United Kingdom), bay laurelsweet baytrue laurelGrecian laurel, or simply laurelLaurus nobilis figures prominently in classical Greco-Roman culture. (wikipedia)
• • •

Here's how it went: Immediately wanted TMZ NEWS, which was wrong, but not entirely. Then I got LIL (4D: Wee wee?) and VENI (6D: Start of an old boast) easy, and so went in with TMZ LIVE (correct!). Got ZIKAVIRUS off the "Z" and whoosh, off and running. Knowing that ZIKAVIRUS and LIL were indisputable made coming up with WWIIVET much much easier than it probably would have been otherwise. Those "I"s! Had to sort of sound out MWAHAHAHA. Once I got AARPCARD I really did think that there was some weird Saturday theme going on (TMZ ... WWII ... AARP), but then there were no more initial initialisms, and the whole thing just settled into a solid (if very easy) themeless. Fewer sparks and explosions outside the NW, but still a well-made and entertaining puzzle overall. I feel like having known Sam for years helped me a bit with this puzzle, in that I was much more certain about the ultra-current answers like TMZLIVE and the adventurous answers like WWIIVET, and I was also much more confident that whatever answers turned up would be non-junk. When you know you are doing a puzzle by someone who is Very Good, you know you might struggle, but you also know you are highly unlikely to struggle and then find out that you were struggling with crap. Today, turns out I didn't struggle much at all. Very much on Sam's wavelength. Which makes me feel so young! Or else ... Sam, maybe you've gone full middle-aged white guy before your time. Not sure. Either way, good puzzle, I say.

["TWO A.M." ... also, this video features a rebus puzzle (see 47A)]

I did struggle in one place. One weird, tiny place. Basically ... here:

This continues a pattern of my getting stuck on two-word answers where I have the second word and cannot for the life of me get the first (yesterday, had STAR but not CHILD; had SUGAR, but not ADDED, which I'm still mad about ... "ADDED" is not a kind of sugar and its calories are no more "empty" than any other sugar's dagnabbit!!!). So today, I wanted FIR TREES for 39A: Evergreens whose leaves are used culinarily. Yeah yeah, "culinary uses," but what do I know? People might use pine needles in cuisine. I've seen some of these Scandinavian fancy restaurants on "Chef's Table" or whatever, you never know what local flora people will stick on a plate or in your fish. So: FIR TREES, but I knew FIR was wrong. It's just -URL did nothing for me (39D: Bump on a log). I honestly thought "... NURL...?" for a half-second. Is KNURL a thing!? YES IT IS AND IT MEANS "A SMALL PROJECTING KNOB OR RIDGE," DAGNABBIT! Please change the "B" to "KN" ... yes, there are KNAY TREES now, I don't care—KNURL is the official right answer in my kingdom now. Speaking of "sticking out"—SALIENT? Means that? Er ... huh. Because I did not believe that, I had no idea about Uncle SAM, which in retrospect seems so easy (37D: Uncle's name). You don't wanna know the Uncle I was considering. Also three letters. Also ends in "M." Yeah. Seemed like something the NYT might think was a good idea, and later regret. But it's SAM. Ha ha I just got that that's the constructor's name. My own (real) (last) name is in the grid, too. Yes, that's right, my real name is Clarence SEXTAPE. It's MALTAn.

Five things:
  • 17A: Mob rule? (RIOTACT) — RIOTACT: for when you're in Brazil on a sensitive diplomatic mission!
  • 19A: Best-selling compact S.U.V. introduced in 2007 (NISSAN ROGUE) — I got this so fast but it didn't make me feel good; made me feel like "yeah, of course you know the name of the car for older people who want to feel like they're still driving a sporty-ish car but really just want a sensible, reliable vehicle that will allow for easy transport of kids, pets, and groceries. Congrats, buddy."
  • 5D: Man's name that spells a fictional people backward (IVAN) — this answer reminded me that there will be about seventy-four new "Avatar" movies coming out between now and the probable end of my life, so I did not like this answer.
  • 47A: Conjunction in a rebus puzzle (OAR) — you may be surprised to know that *outside* of CrossWorld, "rebus" means a picture puzzle, where addition and subtraction signs are used in conjunction (!) with pictures to lead you to an answer, which you sound out as you go along. OAR = "or."
  • 48A: New contacts, informally (ADDS) — as in, people you "add" to your contacts list. I really thought this was a clue about contact lenses. I still want it to be.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (Twitter @rexparker / #NYTXW)

P.S. here is my favorite Twitter exchange of all time. Enjoy:

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Derby car material / FRI 2-22-19 / Gimmers are young ones / Hawaii landmark featuring four seven-ton clocks / 1981 novel that introduced character Hannibal Lecter / Grand or demi ballet move / Bessemer process output / Ophidian menaces / Biblical cubit was based on its length

Friday, February 22, 2019

Constructor: Daniel Nierenberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (?) (easy for me until I hit the NE, and then I just stared at blank for something well over a minute) (6:20)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Shirley Temple (11D: Temple, for one => CHILD STAR) —
Shirley Temple Black (April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014) was an American actress, singer, dancer, businesswoman, and diplomat who was Hollywood's number one box-office draw as a child actress from 1935 to 1938. As an adult, she was named United States ambassador to Ghana and to Czechoslovakia, and also served as Chief of Protocol of the United States. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty tepid stuff for a Friday. Feels like someone's idea of a snazzy puzzle twenty years ago. The things that (I think) are supposed to feel hip and current feel slightly stale (BAHAMA MAMA and BEER PONG, for instance), and the overall grid is pretty bland, with some clunkers here and there (DEFLEA! DEFLEA! he said, pointing at de flea). My colossal solving failure in the NE didn't exactly help improve my feelings about this puzzle. With the exception of the PLIÉ section, where none of the crosses were any help, I thought the puzzle was actually pretty easy. Everything on the west side and the fat middle of the grid went in without much problem. BAIT (1D: Chum, e.g.) and ALDA (2D: "Manhattan Murder Mystery" actor, 1993) were the first answers I wanted, and BAHAMA MAMA went in shortly thereafter. I even somehow got the execrable EOSIN in the SW without too much trouble (thank you, crosses!) (46D: Dye used in some ballpoint ink). Sidenote: EOSIN is crosswordese and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. How do I know the title "RED DRAGON"? Dunno, just do. So I was in good shape.

Then came the PLIÉ disaster (see first three bullets in "Five Things," below). Then came the NE, where a 4x5 section of the grid just sat empty for what felt like ever. Everything north of STAR and SUGAR. Everything east of BEER PONG. The fact that the long Downs both broke at the same place, right between words in a two-word phrase, giving me no ability to infer my way up the grid, ugh that was annoying. But I'm more annoyed at myself. Even though I'm not a million years old, I should've seen right through that Temple clue. But first I thought Temple University, then ... nothing. Temple Grandin and Temple Bledsoe (whose actual name is Tempest, ugh), were the only Temples I could think of. And I should've gotten PEDDLE from the PE- (24A: Hawk) (I wanted a verb meaning "sell," to, I just ... couldn't get past "sell") and I should've gotten BLEED from the "B" (21A: Run). I finally *did* get STEEL from (finally!) remembering what "Bessemer" was related to (13D: Bessemer process output). I had SMELT in there at one point, so ... ballpark? Ugh. Anyway, overall, very lukewarm grid, very amateurish (on my part) solve. Puzzle disappointing, Rex disappointing.

Five things:
  • 50D: Derby car material (PINE) — I honestly don't know what any of this means. Is this a "soap box derby"???? What year is it?! Is there a Shirley Temple movie playing?
  • 51D: River to the Arctic Ocean (LENA) — I should've just ignored the clue and gone quickly through my 4-letter river Rolodex. LENA is common enough. But I was somehow imagining the Arctic Ocean on the other side of the globe (Antarctic) and thought the river would be some obscure nonsense I'd barely heard of. Early-morning solves can be pretty hit-or-miss, man.
  • 43D: Boot covering (GAITER) — answer one: GALOSH (OH YES, GALOSH); answer two: GARTER. Sigh.
  • 60A: Goal of meditation (INNER PEACE) — As someone who meditates regularly, allow me to say, no. I acknowledge that this is how it is sold, but ... the very word "goal" ruins everything, and there's no such thing as INNER PEACE. This clue is some gift-shop / techbro version of meditation, and you can have it back.
  • 41A: In spite of (FOR ALL) — feels both off and mildly archaic. I keep trying to substitute "in spite of" for FOR ALL in common phrases, and it keeps coming out sounding wrong or meaning something different. Anyway, it's just not good fill. I prefer FOREARM. "One FOREARM and arm FOR ALL!"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Ph-neutral vitamin brand / THU 2-21-19 / Magical basic used to view one's memories in Harry Potter books / Chicago landmark named for its resemblance to legume / Player of V in V for Vendetta / Classic Camaro informally / Online handle for Xbox player

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (with probably wide variation based on your knowledge of movie trivia) (5:09)

THEME: CHARACTER ACTOR (54A: 15-, 26-, 33- or 39-Across, punnily?) — themers are actors who played characters that were literally "characters" (i.e. letters of the alphabet):

Theme answers:
  • PATRICK STEWART (15A: Player of X in "X-Men")
  • JUDI DENCH (26A: Player of M in "GoldenEye")
  • HUGO WEAVING (33A: Player of V in "V for Vendetta")
  • WILL SMITH (39A: Player of J in "Men in Black")
Word of the Day: THE BEAN (37A: Chicago landmark nicknamed for its resemblance to a legume) —
Cloud Gate is a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor, that is the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park in the Loop community area of ChicagoIllinois. The sculpture and AT&T Plaza are located on top of Park Grill, between the Chase Promenade and McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink. Constructed between 2004 and 2006, the sculpture is nicknamed The Bean because of its shape. Made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, its highly polished exterior has no visible seams. It measures 33 by 66 by 42 feet (10 by 20 by 13 m), and weighs 110 short tons (100 t; 98 long tons). (wikipedia) 

• • •

I think the theme idea is pretty good. There's one major problem, though, and that's the clue for PATRICK STEWART (15A: Player of X in "X-Men"). He's "Professor X." He is never not "Professor X." Malcolm X is more "X" than Professor X is "X."

And speaking of ANAL ... why? Why!? It's totally unnecessary. Easily replaceable with totally acceptable fill. Tiny alterations to fill down there would totally obviate the need for ANAL, which is a word you should use only when you have to (I used it once, and still regret it). I'm gonna say that ANAL is the result of Scrabble-f***ing (i.e. he wanted the "J" for some reason ... probably the "X" too, which adds absolutely nothing and probably helps make that whole little area much worse than it could be otherwise). But back to X: no. Your puzzle is kinda D.O.A. after that. Again, fine idea, but he's not X. Also, this is a little trivia-heavy, not just in the theme, but in the preponderance of proper nouns like HOWE, ESTER-C (!?), THE BEAN, ERNEST whoever, etc. I liked PENSIEVE because I like the HP books, but that's yet another bit of trivia. Your theme is already *entirely* trivia-based, maybe tone down that stuff in the rest of the grid. Also eliminate ODIC. And while you're at it, the odious TECHBRO and ... whatever DUDETTE is. Yuck and yuck.

Five things:
  • 5A: "A Farewell to Arms" subj. (WWI)— really, really flailed here because of the crosses. The (good) clue on WICKS was hard (5D: Ones going down in flames?) and the (less good) clue on WAKE was also hard (6D: Shake, maybe).
  • 35D: Online handle for an Xbox player (GAMERTAG) — if you say so. Gaming terminology is never gonna be my thing, just as gratuitous "Game of Thrones" clues are never (ever) gonna be my things. So many JONs in the world ... yet another reason to turn ANAL to ARAL and JON to, say, FOR.
  • 59A: Try to get a good look (PEER) — I had LEER
  • 57A: Answer to the old riddle ... (A TREE — honestly, the clue completely lost me at "old riddle"; I just checked out and waited for crosses to tell me what the answer was (it wasn't, uh, great)
  • 61A: A really long time (AGES) — got fooled by this one (singular clue, plural answer). Had the "A" and wrote in AEON. Sidenote: ERAS are not necessarily [Really long times]. "Really long" in relation to what? The Obama Era was eight years, right? That's not a "really long time."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus / WED 2-20-19 / Rigel Spica by spectral type / Mark longtime game show partner of Bill Todman / Ancient kingdom in modern day Jordan / PM who inspired 1960s jacket

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Easy (like, really easy—oversized grid, and I still set a personal record for a Wednesday) (3:01)

THEME: EDU (7D: URL ending associated with the beginnings of the answers to the six starred clues) — "blank AND blank" phrases where the first word is also the name of a well-known university:

Theme answers:
  • BROWN AND SERVE (12A: *Instructions for premade dinner rolls)
  • DUKE AND DUCHESS (14A: *Noble couple)
  • RICE AND BEANS (31A: *Latin American side dish that combines two food staples)
  • "DRAKE AND JOSH" (34A: *Title pair in a 2004-07 Nickelodeon sitcom)
  • SMITH AND WESSON (53A: *Eponymous founders of a Massachusetts-based firearms manufacturer)
  • PENN AND TELLER (58A: *Duo of magicians who are the longest-running headliners in Las Vegas history)
Word of the Day: "DRAKE AND JOSH" (34A) —
Drake & Josh is an American sitcom created by Dan Schneider for Nickelodeon. The series follows stepbrothers Drake Parker (Drake Bell) and Josh Nichols (Josh Peck) as they live together despite having opposite personalities. The series also stars Miranda CosgroveNancy Sullivan, and Jonathan Goldstein.
After actors Bell and Peck previously appeared in The Amanda Show, Schneider decided to create Drake & Josh with them in starring roles. The series ran from January 11, 2004, to September 16, 2007, totaling 56 episodes in 4 seasons. It also had two TV films: Drake & Josh Go Hollywood(2006), and Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh (2008). (wikipedia)
• • •

I hope you appreciate how loopy this theme is *and* how clean this (very thematically dense!) grid is. Just gorgeous work. I solved it so fast that I actually missed the university aspect of the theme. I thought it was just ___ AND ___ phrases ... for some reason. Some reason I would find out later. And actually I never found out. That is, why ... why the "AND ___" part?! Who knows? Honestly, who cares? Everything about this is so zippy and smooth that the just-because aspect of the theme answer structure doesn't bother me at all. Nor does the weirdness of having EDU (in such an inconspicuous position) as your revealer. When your craftsmanship is so tight, you can get away with all kinds of stuff. The only trouble I had with this grid was getting the front end of "DRAKE & JOSH," a show I am dimly aware of, but clearly not aware of enough to remember its damn name. 2004-07 Nickelodeon show falls smack between my pop culture heyday (which pretty much ends with the 20th century) and my daughter's (she'd have been a bit too young to care about this show). I think the last answer I wrote in was EERIE, which is a very weird location to finish up an easy puzzle. Usually easy puzzles follow a pretty regular top-to-bottom solving path, but my path today was oddly circular: across the top, down the east coast, around and up again. But I had the CAN-DO BANJO MOJO working for me today, and so the unconventional route didn't slow me down at all.

There were a few places I could've gotten held up. I am never quite sure about the second vowel in AMARETTO, and ENDO could've been ENTO (?), maybe, and I can see how GOODSON might've caused a struggle for some people, but I watched way way way way too many 70s-80s-era game shows not to know the phrase "a Mark GOODSON-Bill Todman production." I think the word BURGLE is silly and I probably would've changed it to BUNGLE, but that would give you PEN in the cross, and since PENN is already in the grid ... maybe BURGLE is the better choice. As opposed to the BETTOR choice, which Byron clearly made when he decided to put BETTOR ... into the grid. OK, it's late and 'SCOLD (my newfangled contraction for "it's cold"), so I'm off to bed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Painter of maja both desnuda vestida / TUE 2-19-19 / Heyday of taxis in Beijing / Producer of Jacksons

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Constructor: David Alfred Bywaters

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:57)

THEME: TO BE / OR NOT / TO BE (38A: With 39- and 40-Across, classic Shakespearean question phonetically suggested by 17-, 23-, 47- and 59-Across) — first two themers have "two B"s (when they should have one), and second two themers have one "B" (when they should have two):

Theme answers:
  • 17A: One who's taking a polar vortex pretty hard? (COLD SOBBER)
  • 23A: One who cheats on a weight-reduction plan? (DIETARY FIBBER)
  • 47A: Heyday of taxis in Beijing? (CHINESE CAB AGE)
  • 59A: Defense against a charge of public nudity? ("WE WAS ROBED!") (if the base phrase here, "we was robbed!", is not familiar to you, it's a sports thing you say when your sports team lost because of a "bad" call by the ump / ref) (not sure what the origin of the bad-grammar construction is...)
Word of the Day: IMPECUNIOUS (24D: Lacking money) —
  1. having little or no money.

    "a titled but impecunious family" (google)
• • •

my nephew, playing Hamlet
To like or not to like, that is the question. I think I'm neutral on this puzzle. I didn't exactly enjoy it, but it's ... *trying* to do something that I think ... *kind* of holds up. *Kind* of withstands scrutiny. I think my main problem is that I have to do some gymnastics and lawyering, some gymnastic lawyering, in my head in order to justify the wording of the revealer. I'll give you the non-grammatical "two B" (instead of "two B's"), but something about the Shakespearean phrase doesn't really get at the deliberate wrongness of all the themers. Some part of me wants the "not two B" answers to lack a double-B. Like, say, BLUBBER to BLUER. FLABBY to FLAY.* But that's a much taller order, and is itself weird. In the end, I think this one comes in at Adequate, themewise. The non-theme fill was a chore, but an average chore, not an atrocity (except OLA, which feels inexcusable in a corner that untaxing, esp with that clue) (61D: Rock-___ (classic jukebox brand)).

Cluing on the short stuff was quite off for me today, in that the puzzle was asking me to think of words in ways I normally don't. To [Own up to] something is to ADMIT it; AVOW feels much more oath-y, like you're swearing something, not confessing it. It's the idea that you're saying something embarrassing or admitting guilt, implied by the clue, that did not compute for me. Then there's "OH, OK," which is one of those answer types where I don't have any good way of knowing what the first two letters are going to be (kinda wanted "UH" or "AH") (19A: "Ah, now I see") (Ah, now I see that "Ah" is actually in the clue ... ah). Put in "MOI?" for 30D: "Is that true about me?" and, as I was forced to change it by ADAPT, briefly wondered why, in my seven years of high school / college French, I'd never learned the word "DOI?" ("Dwah!?").** The clue [Cats' catches] just wasn't getting any traction in my brain. Something about the potential ambiguity of "cat" and the verb-to-nounness of "catches" had me needing every cross to get the simple RATS. Had ALONE for ALOOF (not that surprising) (64A: Socially disengaged). People go to REHAB, not houses (11D: Fix up, as a building). Lastly, I had IMPECUNIARY (it fits, and apparently means the same thing!) where IMPECUNIOUS belonged (24D: Lacking money). I use neither word, and no one would use either word these days except facetiously. It's a word, but it's a word the only proper response to which is a laugh or an eyeroll, depending on the seriousness of the user.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*hey you could do the trick twice with chef Bobby Flay (BOY FLABBY), though that would "Not to be or to be?" I guess...

**yes I know it's "DO [space] I?" please no letters thank you

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