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 someone 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 in 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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Vegetarian spaghetti topper / MON 2-18-19 / Coastal county of England / Material for rock climber's harness

Monday, February 18, 2019

Constructor: Leslie Rogers and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Medium (3:01)

THEME: CAP AND GOWN (59A: Graduation garb ... or what the compound answers to 17-, 28- and 44-Across represent?) — first word can precede "CAP," second word can precede "GOWN," in familiar phrases:

Theme answers:
  • "NIGHT NIGHT!" (17A: "Sleep well!")
  • "WHITE WEDDING" (28A: Billy Idol hit that starts "Hey little sister, what have you done?"
  • MUSHROOM BALL (44A: Vegetarian spaghetti topper)
Word of the Day: ANNE Hathaway (19A: Actress Hathaway of "The Devil Wears Prada")
Anne Jacqueline Hathaway (born November 12, 1982) is an American actress and singer. One of the world's highest-paid actresses in 2015, she has received multiple awards, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a British Academy Film Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award. Her films have earned $6.4 billion worldwide, and she appeared in the Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2009. [...] In 2012, Hathaway starred as Selina Kyle in her highest-grossing film The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in The Dark Knight trilogy. That year, she also played Fantine, a prostitute dying of tuberculosis, in the musical romantic drama Les Misérables, for which she earned multiple accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She went on to play a scientist in the science fiction film Interstellar (2014), the owner of an online fashion site in the comedy film The Intern (2015), the White Queen—a role she first played in Alice in Wonderland (2010)—in Alice Through the Looking Glass(2016) and a haughty actress in the heist film Ocean's 8 (2018). Hathaway has also won an Emmy Award for providing her voice in The Simpsons, sung for soundtracks, appeared on stage, and hosted events. (wikipedia)
• • •

I made every mistake I could make in this one—OHO for OOH, EPSON for EPSOM, EVADE for ELUDE, ALOT for ATON, probably other stuff too—so was mildly annoyed by the end of it all, but then I got to the revealer and proceeded to check it against the theme answers, starting from the bottom of the grid and moving up. First one, MUSHROOM BALL: "Oh, nice, first is a cap, second is a gown ... never heard of a MUSHROOM BALL in my life, and I eat heaps of vegetarian food, but OK, I'm sure it's real, I'll allow it, moving on ... WHITE WEDDING! Oh, nice. Much tighter phrase, and ... yep, "white cap," "wedding ball," totally checks out. Nice ... OK, and last on the list ..." At this point I literally laughed out loud. "NIGHT NIGHT" ... is both an answer that has totally given up ("Screw this two-different-words stuff, let's just use the same word for both answers!"), and the best answer in the grid. Somehow finishing with the revealer, then reading backward through the themers, and ending up at the first themer, seen in this totally new light ... it was the perfect way to experience this puzzle. The rest of the grid ... I don't know, it seems fine. But the theme is where the party's at. Loopy and dead-on—a good combo.

[there's a "WHITE WEDDING Pt. 2???]

Well, it turns out I don't have much else to say about this one. So ... NIGHT NIGHT, I guess!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1962 hit for Ikettes / SUN 2-17-19 / 1966 Donovan hit with rhyming title / Longtime Steelers coach Chuck / Original edition of this puzzle's theme / Spanish ouzo flavoring / Princess seduced by Zeus / Living to Livy

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Constructor: David Kwong

Relative difficulty: Medium (12-something minutes)

THEME: GENUS (.... edition of Trivial Pursuit...) (107D: Original edition of this puzzle's theme) — color rebus where color squares represent wedges in original trivial pursuit game. Oh, also ... there's this whole trivia layer where clues + fill-in-the-blank answers lead you to the answers that contain the colors ... even though crosses also contain colors and they are somehow *not* part of the trivia game ... I don't know, it's all wayyyyy too fussy for me, man:

Theme answers:
  • 22A: What kind of tree ALWAYS HAS FOLIAGE / EVER[GREEN] (33A)
  • 66A: What 1986 HIGH SCHOOL romantic comedy got its title from a song by the Psychedelic Furs? / PRETTY IN [PINK] (85A)
  • 68A: Who wrote a 2003 best seller about a SECRET CODE / DAN [BROWN] (82A)
  • 113A: What DELAWARE NICKNAME comes from a farm bird? / [BLUE]HEN STATE (46A)
  • 13D: Where were battleships sunk in an 1894 JAPANESE VICTORY (!?!?!?) / [YELLOW] SEA (48A)
  • 39D: What annual game have the OKLAHOMA SOONERS won more than any other team? / [ORANGE] BOWL
Word of the Day: DEWITT Clinton (3D: Clinton who once ran for president) —
DeWitt Clinton (March 2, 1769 – February 11, 1828) was an American politician and naturalist who served as a United States SenatorMayor of New York City and sixth Governor of New York. In this last capacity, he was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. Clinton was a major candidate for the American presidency in the election of 1812, challenging incumbent James Madison. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's hard to explain how much I disliked solving this. There were periods of time where I was stuck and didn't care. Didn't want to continue. Look here, look there, this answer is a clue, or part of a clue, now deal with allllllll this short (often painful) fill ... all for a visual surprise (?) that I had to construct for myself. Apparently if you solved on the app some fun colorful thing happened, but suck it, everyone who solves on paper and (like me) AcrossLite, I guess. The only revealer is ... GENUS? That's it? This is a textbook example of the Gimmick-At-All-Costs puzzle. All the cross-referencing was just exhausting, and I was pretty much done with this thing at the first themer (when I finally go it). I just keep looking at ALWAYSHASFOLIAGE ... that's an answer. In a crossword puzzle. I just ... HIGH SCHOOL, sure, SECRET CODE, fine, those can stand alone, but ... ALWAYSHASFOLIAGE!???!?!! I would've ragequit right there if I didn't have this thingie to write. David Kwong is a genius and a lovely man and you should Definitely go see his show, "The Enigmatist," at the High Line Hotel (through March). I feel terrible for really not liking this puzzle but I really did not.

EVAH is basically the same word as EVER, and yet somehow they cross (!???) in this grid (30A/30D). NO USE and USE TO are practically next door to each other (83D & 103D). The proper nouns are weirdly dated, including TOM [GREEN], whom I haven't thought of in ... 15 years? Does he still do things. The RONELY / BORAT / TIMON / TAYE section felt particularly densely dated to me. I get that if you like Trivial Pursuit (I liked it fine as a kid) and you did it on the app and got a zingy colorful effect, you might enjoy this, but for me it was all the things I don't want puzzles to be wrapped into one. I do recognize that the final design, with the colors all in their proper places, is a very nice touch. A great way to end—if you've got the computer doing the coloring for you. If not, not. Extremely not. *ON* RICE? (44D: How chicken teriyaki is usually served). YECCH. Phrasing (it's "over"). People know the song "I'M [BLUE]"??? Not me. Had to run the colors until I remembered to look back at what the HEN answer was an answer to (again, so much fussiness, working backward, etc.), and I actually knew [BLUE]HEN. I definitely had to run the colors for DAN [BROWN], whose work I have never and would never read. Totally forgot his name. The bread clue was oddly totally unhelpful, as virtually every bread I've ever eaten is some shade of brown and I honestly have never heard of the category [BROWN] BREADS. I was prepared to put [WHITE] BREADS in there, which *is* a category I've heard of. But then BROWN came to me.

INESSE NOLO AMAT ANIS SHH. The non-theme stuff provided no entertainment, and was barely keeping its head above water acceptability-wise. Solving pleasure just can can can can *not* be sacrificed for the Big Gimmick. I mean, it can, but I'm never gonna like it. ETAPE!?Sakes alive ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Predecessors of Transformers / SAT 2-16-19 / Fifth-century scourge / Ovary's place botanically / Rebellious Downton Abbey daughter / Another moniker for Empire City of South

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy (5:16)

THEME: kiss types and New Age musicians ... or, none

Word of the Day: "GOBOTS" (20A: Predecessors of Transformers) —
GoBots is a line of transforming robot toys produced by Tonka from 1983 to 1987, similar to Transformers. Although initially a separate and competing franchise, Tonka's Gobots became the intellectual property of Hasbro after their buyout of Tonka in 1991. Subsequently, the universe depicted in the animated series Challenge of the GoBots and follow-up film GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords was established as an alternate universewithin the Transformers franchise. While Hasbro now owns the fictional side of the property (character names, bios, storyline), the actual toys and their likenesses were only licensed from Bandai in the 1980s, were not covered by the Tonka acquisition, and are not available for Hasbro use. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well that was easy. Really easy. Even answers I didn't really know, like "GOBOTS," somehow came to me as if out of a forgotten dream, or perhaps from a GENIE, I don't know. Weirdly, the answers I struggled with most in this grid were both food items. First, CARPACCIO, which I know, but couldn't quite come up with at first. CARAVAGGIO? No, he's a painter. I blame Thursday's "I PAGLIACCI." And then, WORSE than CARPACCIO even, was (somehow!) PICKLE (39A: It may be made into spears). I had P- then PI- the PIC- then PIC--E and still couldn't see even a real word there, let alone a thing that could be spears. But then I got PANSEXUAL (connected to the DOMINATRIX by a PICKLE, interesting), and had a self-hatred-filled "aha" moment. But I'm being overdramatic. I probably spent time obsessing about PICKLE out of pure spite; I was deeply resentful that every other answer was just bowing to my will, and PICKLE was all "No!" and so instead of bypassing it and just killing it with crosses, I got all "Do as I say!" and thus lost precious time. Most of the rest of the time, I was quite enjoying myself. Very much in my wheelhouse, and very clean, this thing was. From HOTLANTA to the "Simpsons" reference to the MINOTAUR, I was all over this.

I have one major bone to pick, though: since when is BRIAN ENO a [New Age composer]. Here's the list of genres that wikipedia has listed for him:

Now here's the list of genres that wikipedia has for YANNI (34A: New Age keyboardist):

You hear that, NYT: disavowed! Even YANNI's like, "no, what, don't call me that!" Anyway, I have never in my ENO life heard ENO referred to as ENO-thing like "New Age." It's a terrible clue, ENO (En Ny Opinion). Didn't know investment banks had anything to do with IPOs (40A: Job for an investment bank, for short), but I don't know anything about finance, so there's that. Didn't know Walter LANG but figured Fritz LANG was a director, so why not Walter? Very proud of myself for seeing right through 35A: Third character to appear in "Macbeth" (CEE) (as in, the letter CEE is the "third character" in the word "Macbeth"). I kinda think CEE crossing C-NOTE is bad. Like, a stand-alone "C" in your puzzle should mean the written-out letter "CEE" should not also appear in your puzzle, and the C(EE)s definitely shouldn't cross.

Puzzle's with X's are easy to solve. Well, easier than puzzles without X's, all other things being equal. I just know that POLEAXE definitely got me PIXIE CUT and OXO definitely got me PANSEXUAL and FLEXTIME definitely got me DOMINATRIX, all much more quickly than I would have otherwise. X's are fun but they give a lot away. You gotta keep your eye on them.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. 2019 NYT crossword constructor count update:

M: 41
W: 6

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Sports Illustrated's "Olympian of the Century" / FRI 2-15-19 / Highest-grossing rom-com of the 2010s / Most popular U.S. baby name for boys, 1999-2012

Friday, February 15, 2019

Constructor: Wyna Liu

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (mostly smooth, but with a few tricky patches)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Khaleda ZIA (50D: Khaleda ___, first female P.M. of Bangladesh (1991-96, 2001-06)) —
Khaleda Zia (IPA: kʰaled̪a dʒia; born Khaleda Khanam Putul [1][2] [3], in 1945) is a Bangladeshi politician who served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006.[4] She was the first woman in the country's history and second in the Muslim majority countries (after Benazir Bhutto) to head a democratic government as prime minister. She was the First Lady of Bangladesh during the presidency of her husband Ziaur Rahman. She is the current chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was founded by Rahman in the late 1970s.
• • •

Oh wow. This is EXACTLY what I am looking for from a Friday. So clean! So crunchy! So made by a non-male constructor! (For those keeping score at home, this brings us to 15% of puzzles in 2019 with at least one woman constructor).

I'm not keeping track of what percent of posts on this blog are written by women, since this is Rex's blog and that would just be unfair, but if anyone IS keeping track, you can add one more to the tally. This is Rachel Fabi, back in the guest-blogger spot and delighted to be here for this puzzle.

I don't even know where to start with the things that made me happy while solving. Ok yes I do, I'm going to start at the beginning with CATFISHES (1A: Misrepresents oneself to on the internet, in a way). This use of the term has only been in the puzzle once before, and never with the -ES on the end, but as a person who has spent many nights watching MTV's Catfish, I was thrilled to see it in such a prominent spot. Here's an SNL sketch about Catfish that is so accurate that it's borderline plagiarism rather than parody.

Another debut in the puzzle is CRAZY RICH ASIANS, which (a) made me cry multiple times when I saw it in theaters and (b) is just a truly excellent film, and if you have not seen it yet, I recommend rectifying that situation. I will admit that I initially filled in CRAZY STUPID LOVE, which I have now verified DID come out in the 2010s, but which grossed about $100 million less than CRAZY RICH ASIANS.

Other things I loved: WIN AT LIFE, OOPS SORRY, MOSTEST, OWN IT. All are things I say in daily life, sometimes facetiously but also sometimes...*not* facetiously.

Gwen Ifill
I slowed down a bit in the southeast because, really, is MELODIZES a word? Google says yes, but my experience says "um, sure, I guess," so crossing MELODIZES with Khaleda ZIA (a name I did not know and am feeling conflicted about knowing now because wow, she was jailed for embezzling money intended for orphans!) was a struggle for me. I knew GWEN IFILL (54A: Late Peabody-winning journalist and newscaster), but couldn't remember how to spell IFILL, which contributed to the challenge. Once I decided that MELODIZES was, indeed, what we were going for there, I still wasn't sure if it would be spelled with a Z or a British S. Don't worry, I figured it out eventually, and the struggle was worth it.

One other observation, which is neither positive nor negative, is that the grid is highly segmented, so the northwest, southeast, and middle southwest-to-northeast strip all played like separate puzzles, with the only thing connecting them being CRAZY RICH ASIANS. It didn't bother me while I was solving, but I could see some people having trouble in one of those regions and getting frustrated by the lack of interconnections to give you a toehold.

Overall, this is a truly excellent puzzle (you might even say it's the MOSTEST in excellence), and I am excited to see more from debut constructor Wyna Liu.

  • 31D: Bits of hardware that can fit inside 32-Downs (TNUT) / 32D: Opening for 31-Down (TSLOT) — having seen both TNUT and TSLOT individually in previous puzzles and always rolled my eyes at them, I just want to point out that THIS is how you use dreck fill. If you must have one of these words in your grid, cross-reference them and put them right next to each other! It's brilliant and doesn't make me cranky at all.
  • A real SPLINE
  • 39D: Shots for dudes? (BROTOX) — I love this and think it's a hilarious neologism, but I can see some solvers finding this off-putting 
  • 21A: Thin strips used in building construction (SPLINES) — In my brief education in biostatistics I learned that a SPLINE is a piecewise function and you cannot convince me otherwise. Here's a picture of a SPLINE I drew in my actual biostats notes about a hundred years ago. 
One last shameless plug, while I have you here: I'm going to be on Jeopardy on Monday (February 18), so tune in if that's your thing! You'll get to see me teach Alex Trebek what bioethics is and also get many things wrong on national tv.

Signed, Rachel Fabi, Queen-for-a-Day of CrossWorld
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Pakistani restaurant owner on Seinfeld / THU 2-14-19 / Opera that famously ends with line La commedia e finita / Can you classic cologne catchprase / Pepper used in mole sauce

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Constructor: John E. Bennett and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:03 ... really thought I was gonna get my recent personal best, but I I forgot, it's early in the morning, when even my fastest solving is pretty putt-putt)

THEME: OUT OF ORDER SIGNS (36A: Some bathroom postings ... or what the clues to 16-, 21-, 46- and 59-Across are?) — themers are just common street-sign phrases, and clues are those same phrases, just OUT OF ORDER (i.e. anagrammed IN ALL CAPS):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: "I PAGLIACCI" (13A: Opera that famously ends witih the line "La commedia è finita!") —
Pagliacci (Italian pronunciation: [paʎˈʎattʃi]; literal translation, "Clowns") is an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It is the only Leoncavallo opera that is still widely performed. Opera companies have frequently staged Pagliacci with Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, a double bill known colloquially as 'Cav and Pag'. // Pagliacci premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on 21 May 1892, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with Adelina Stehle as Nedda, Fiorello Giraud as Canio, Victor Maurel as Tonio, and Mario Ancona as Silvio. Nellie Melba played Nedda in London in 1893, soon after the Italian premiere, and it was given in New York on 15 June 1893, with Agostino Montegriffo as Canio. (wikipedia)
A dramatic tale of love and betrayal, Pagliacci revolves around a commedia del arte troupe. Canio and Nedda are married, and the leads in the troupe along with Tonio and Beppe, however Nedda is secretly having an affair with Silvio. Fearing Canio’s anger, Nedda continues to hide the affair, and even goes as far to attempt to break it off with Silvio. Silvio and Nedda’s love is strong, however, and they plan to run away together. Tonio, also in love with Nedda, confesses his love for her, but she turns him away, shaming him. In an act of revenge, Tonio tells Canio that Nedda is having an affair like he suspected. During a performance, Canio confronts Nedda, and stabs her. Silvio attempts to save Nedda, running up on stage, but gets stabbed by Canio as well. The audience, not realizing it was real, claps until Canio screams at them, “the comedy is ended.” (
• • •

Way too basic for a Thursday. Finished the NW and thought, "Oh ... we're just anagramming, then ... fun." The fact that there was a revealer that tied it all together didn't really matter much. Didn't help, as I didn't really process that the answers were sign phrases. I was just left to anagram, and that's it. The only difficulty in the puzzle was (unsurprisingly) in figuring out the anagrams; so those answers where a bunch of 5-letter Downs ran through *two* themers (up top, down below) ended up being the toughest sections. The one up top wasn't actually tough for me at all because I had the first letters of all the Downs from ASCOTS, whereas below, where I finished up, I really did stumble around a bit. But just a bit. Not much. There's just not much to this theme, or this grid. Also, why put your OUT OF ORDER SIGNS in the bathroom. There are so many other places you might have imagined them. There are better ways to start my day than thinking of broken toilets.

Gotta finish this write-up quickly today, so let's move straight to ...

Five things:
  • 13A: Opera that famously ends with the line "La commedia è finita!" ("I PAGLIACCI" — the principal character, Canio, was originally played by NOTED TENOR Fiorello Giraud (the juxtaposition of this answer with the NOTED TENOR anagram is by far my favorite thing about this puzzle)
  • 6D: "Can you ___?" (classic cologne catchphrase) ("CANOE") — these dumb-ass ads from my high-school years are "classic" now? Wow, you live long enough, man ... 
  • 54A: First car to offer seatbelts (1950) (NASH) — completely forgot this was a car name (once). Had NAS- and was still a little confused
  • 11D: Pakistani restaurant owner on "Seinfeld" (BABU) — I imagine someone thought this was good fill, but it is terrible fill. Secondary ... tertiary ... what's below "tertiary"? ... anyway, such characters from your pet long-bygone shows are not welcome when something more widely known might've been used. I guess the crosses are fair, but I feel slightly bad for anyone who doesn't know who Jessica ALBA is
  • 24D: When repeated, a classic of garage rock ("LOUIE") — easy enough ... except for which spelling of LOUIS (?) I'm supposed to go with ... LOOEY? ... 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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