Rapid movement of eye from one point to another / SUN 6-30-19 / Wife in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night / Last Oldsmobile ever produced / Tropical scurrier / Sturdily built friend on Friends

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Easy (8:17, my second-fastest Sunday time)

THEME: "Flip 'phones" — theme answers are imaginary phrases made up of two two-syllable terms. Second term is just the first term with the syllables reversed (i.e. "flipped") (and respelled):

Theme answers:
  • KNEE-HIGH HEINIE (23A: Low end?)
  • TEA TREE TREATY (48A: Agreement for exporting essential oils?)
  • BOW-TIE TAE BO (63A: Exercise program done in formal attire?)
  • BEEFY PHOEBE (77A: Sturdily built friend on "Friends"?)
  • TOUCHY CHEETAH (93A: Spotted animal with a lot of sore spots?)
  • LOAFER FURLOUGH (118A: Cause of a work stoppage at a shoe factory?)
Word of the Day: SACCADE (76D: Rapid movement of the eye from one point to another) —
saccade (/səˈkɑːd/ sə-KAHDFrench for jerk) is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. In contrast, in smooth pursuit movements, the eyes move smoothly instead of in jumps. The phenomenon can be associated with a shift in frequency of an emitted signal or a movement of a body part or device. Controlled cortically by the frontal eye fields (FEF), or subcortically by the superior colliculus, saccades serve as a mechanism for fixationrapid eye movement, and the fast phase of optokinetic nystagmus. The word appears to have been coined in the 1880s by French ophthalmologist Émile Javal, who used a mirror on one side of a page to observe eye movement in silent reading, and found that it involves a succession of discontinuous individual movements. (wikipedia)
• • •

I rarely find myself thinking "this theme could've been denser," but, well, this theme could've been denser. Six answers feels awfully thin for a Sunday of this particular theme type (where surely there were more apt answers out there to be found). That said, I need to be careful what I wish for, because I actually found the grid delightfully smooth, and extra themers could very well have gummed that up, so ... I'll just take the meager portions here and be grateful, I guess. KNEE-HIGH HEINIE makes absolutely no sense on any level (even a joke level), so though I like the sing-songiness of the answer, that's an issue. I can imagine a TOUCHY CHEETAH, I cannot even imagine a KNEE-HIGH HEINIE. Is it someone else's heinie? That only comes up to your knees? So ... like a child's ... heinie. This is an odd way to think about ... children. Or short people? Dolls? I really don't know. But the other absurd answers are absurd in a pleasantly wacky way. I really like that all the reversals in these themers involve respellings, so you're not just switching syllables, but changing their form in every case.

The puzzle was astonishingly easy, though. I don't know if that's such a bad thing on Sundays, which tend to feel like chores to me. But one thing the overall easiness did was make SACCADE stand out. Hard. Perhaps that was a familiar term to you, but for me it may as well have been random letters. The only reason I didn't break my Sunday record was that answer (I mean, probably). I actually had it as SACCADO for a bit (playing off of "staccato"?), which then made NO HELP harder to get than it should've been (112A: Utterly useless). Rest of the grid felt completely free of obscurities. Even if you don't know who YVES Tanguy is (I did) (78D: Surrealist Tanguy) or who NICOLE Diver is (I didn't) (21A: Wife in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night"), you at least know that YVES and NICOLE are names. I don't know what a SACCADE is. Well, I guess I do, now. But you see what I mean.

Let's see ... really annoyed at myself for thinking the Mariners still had an "M" on their caps (19D: Symbol on a Mariners cap). Weird to think of the simple letter "S" (ESS) as a "symbol" but yeah I guess it is. I was thinking of the letter "M" but mainly I was thinking trident (which is what the "M" used to be shaped like):

BAD AREA rubbed me slightly the wrong way, since it sounds like like something gentrifiers call a place before they gentrify it (33A: Part of town that may be dangerous). Baffled by ONEISH when all I had was ONEI-- (52A: Around an hour after noon). "GAG ME" really needs some kind of qualifier like "in the '80s" or "according to Moon Unit Zappa" or something because I don't think anyone's said it in earnest, in a non-ironic, non-deliberately retro kind of way since 1984. Still like the phrase, though. If you google ["GAG ME"] your first hits will all be for "GAG ME with a spoon," which is valspeak (or Valley Girl-speak), a sociolect that reached peak popularity / influence sometime between Frank Zappa & Moon Unit Zappa's "Valley Girl" (1982) and the movie "Valley Girl" (1983), both of which are iconic and excellent.

As for wrong turns, I somehow considered OPED for 82A: Statement often starting "I ..." (OATH), and I was convinced that a good chunk of a sci-film's budget might go to ETS. I guess I was close-ish. They do make ETS with CGI (116D: Part of a sci-fi film's budget). That's it. Happy Sunday.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Soviet workers group / SAT 6-29-19 / Geographical eponym of 1970s-'80s fad diet / Woman who spends money on younger lover in modern lingo / Icon of ambient music

    Saturday, June 29, 2019

    Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

    Relative difficulty: Easy (5:12 without even hitting the gas) (first thing in the morning)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: OURBOROS (11D: Ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail) —
    The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake or serpent eating its own tail, variously signifying infinity and the cycle of birth and death. // Ouroboros derives from a Greek word meaning “tail-devourer.” While the word is not attested in English until the 1940s, the concept of the ouroboros is very ancient, used across many cultures as a symbol of cosmic harmony, eternity, and the cycle of birth and death.
    The earliest known ouroboros symbol comes in a 14th-century BCE Egyptian religious text found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The symbol appears in a passage about the origin of the sun god Ra through a union with the death god Osiris, meant to illustrate creation through destruction. Ancient Egyptians also used the ouroboros to symbolize the flooding of the Nile, which occurred in seasonal cycles and was of great importance to ancient Egyptian agriculture and society. Other ancient cultures also incorporated the ouroboros symbol. Norse legend tells of the great serpent, Jörmungandr, who encircles the earth and bites its own tail. Hindu cosmology features an ouroboros as helping to prop up the Earth.
    The ouroboros was specifically adopted by Gnostic philosophers in the 2nd century BCE. For them, it symbolized the dual nature of existence, marked by life and death, male and female, light and dark, mortality and divinity, or Earth and heaven. Alchemists notably used the ouroboros, too, to represent the element Mercury, believed to permeate and unite all matter. A drawing of the ouroboros can be found in one of the earliest alchemical texts, The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, from the 3rd century CE. (dictionary.com)
    • • •

    First, big round of applause for the CLEO / OUROBOROS juxtaposition ("A drawing of the ouroboros can be found in one of the earliest alchemical texts, The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, from the 3rd century CE."). Surely unintended, but still a nice little easter egg. This puzzle was far too easy overall, with many of the clues coming in at Monday level. See, for instance, ESAI (25D: Morales of "NYPD Blue") and ATTA and DYAN and EXS and ERIN and SELA and MARIA and MAA (tho I did consider BAA there at first) and ARIE (OK, I had ARYA, but it's crosswordese and a total gimme if my crosswordese memory bank had had the light turned on this morning). Gimmes are everywhere. OUROBOROS, long gimme (with an overly literal clue). SUGAR MAMA (great!), gimme. KAZAAM, gimme. ADOSE, AREN'T, UMAMI. The construction of the grid itself is very nice, but this one had no resistance at all *unless* you ran into a proper noun you're unfamiliar with. Or didn't know the French word for "strawberry"—that might've hurt (48A: Crème de ___ (strawberry liqueur)). The only way I got hurt today was by hurting myself (badly) when I blithely threw down HEBREW ALPHABET (!?!?) at 15D: What ends with Adar (HEBREW CALENDAR), "Adar" being another bit of crosswordese that I couldn't place this morning. That one error—the dumb accident of "alphabet" and "calendar" being the same length—probably cost me a full minute. It's the only thing that cost me any time longer than a few seconds today. Didn't like a bunch of the shorter stuff today, but the solid and entertaining longer stuff more than made up for those stray infelicities.

    Today's constructor is film critic for "Vanity Fair," so I was def on the hunt for movie stuff (AFI, ALICIA, CLEO, "KAZAAM," CAAN, AT-AT, DYAN). Just now realizing that I have never heard of RENI (5D: Italian artist Guido). But then I (obviously) never saw it, so gettable were the long crosses. Aside from the whole HEBREW ALPHABET incident, my only missteps were small: SNOMOBILE (!) before SKIMOBILE (12D: Winter transport), SCARSBORO (!?) before SCARSDALE (65A: Geographical eponym of a 1970s-'80s fad diet), and then a bunch of letters I couldn't figure out somewhere in the middle of ZAPAT....A (33D: Mexican revolutionary). I was thinking of the (ELIA Kazan) movie! "Viva ZAPATA!"—the ZAPATISTAs were Emiliano Zapata's followers. I always love seeing GALOP in puzzles because I consider it one of the regrettable things I've ever put in a grid myself, and so every time I see it I feel slightly less bad. Mine was even in the same NW section of the grid. I think it might even have been 3D??? (checking ...). No it was 1-Across, and it was a *plural*. LOL. I'm all by myself in the Shortz era with that one. Anyway, if you didn't know GALOP(S), now you know.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. forgot about ARTEL (51D: Soviet workers' group), which was hardcore crosswordese in the pre-Shortz era (Maleska, Weng, and Farrar all leaned on it heavily), but (to Shortz's credit) it's all but vanished in the Shortz era. It's actually funny to see how fast he turned off the ARTEL spigot—it appears a bunch of times in the mid-'90s, in grids that were likely grandfathered in from the Maleska era, and then poof, gone. Well, not gone. But now it disappears for years at a time (this latest disappearing act lasted three years).

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    Physician on TV's Celebrity Rehab / FRI 6-28-19 / Actress Doborev of Vampire Diaries / Ohio town that was first permanent settlement in state / Eyes slangily / Briskly to equestrians

    Friday, June 28, 2019

    Constructor: Bruce Haight and David Steinberg

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (more Medium) (6:33)

    THEME: ugh don't make me say it — black squares are supposed to be birds or bats or some implausible &^$%

    Theme answers:
    • SPREAD ONE'S WINGS (17A: Become independent ... ... as suggested visually by some of this grid's black squares)
    • BATS IN THE BELFRY (57A: Mental eccentricity ... as suggested visually by some of this grid's black squares)
    Word of the Day: ELROND (30A: Lord of Rivendell in "The Lord of the Rings") —
    Elrond Half-elven is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. He is introduced in The Hobbit, and plays a supporting role in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. [...] In The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, Elrond is portrayed by Hugo Weaving.
    • • •

    It's a 'no' from me. Hard no. Those aren't birds or bats. They're just black squares. Astonishing that you'd hang a half-assed theme on such an unremarkable feature of the grid. Especially astonishing that you would allow one of only two themers to contain "ONE'S," which is like a parody of forced 15-letter answers, echoing ALOTONONESPLATE (which is the paradigmatic bad 15). Themed Fridays are ruined Fridays, and this one was especially ruined because its premise is weak and thin *and* there's nothing remotely interesting in the rest of the grid to make up for the weak thinness. Buncha biggish corners with lots of crossing 7s that yield little in the way of interesting. ISINFOR is horrid. ATATROT is horrid. Almost everything else is dull or obscure or both. ELROND is hilariously inconsequential—it's a debut today For A Reason ('cause it's bad and no one cares) (also I just find Tolkien ponderous and dull and the movies way way way way moreso). Had no idea there was a MARIETTA that was not in Georgia. But my ignorances aside, this simply isn't good in anyway. The "whimsy" on display in the "theme" is underwhelming, and none of the fill sizzles. LILLE? Blecch. I do like the words LISSOME and ANODYNE. That is the extent of positive things I have to say about this one. Oh, and the clue on NAMETAG is not bad (39D: Face-saving aid at a reunion).

    Is "The Vampire Diaries" still a thing? Do people know actor names from that show?? NINA was entirely crosses. NINA notwithstanding, LEW Wallace and OPIE are conspire to give this puzzle a pretty olde-timey feel, as does the clue on LEFT JAB (1A: The "one" in "the old one-two," maybe). I'm looking around the grid that any answer that anyone could plausibly claim to like. CARLOAN!? EMANATE? ESSENCE? It's not that any of these (or their neighbors) is so bad, it's just that ... you want to build your late-week grid around good fill, not adequate filler. This puzzle has opted to build itself around a two-answer "theme" and three "M"s flying across the grid. Literally nothing about this grid's black squares "suggests" BELFRY, so they couldn't even get the clues right. Continues to bum me out that loyalist white guys get published at such a high rate while women I know have their puzzles routinely rejected because they just didn't "tickle" him (by "they" I mean the puzzles, of course ... man, I hope that was clear). Oh, props to the clue on SENECA, though (47D: ___ Falls Convention (early women's rights gathering))—the one moment during the solve where I was like "oh, cool."

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Decorative sewing case / THU 6-27-19 / Famous symbol of Cold War / Monopoly token replaced in 2013 by cat

    Thursday, June 27, 2019

    Constructor: Hoang-Kim Vu

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:26)

    THEME: CHECK ALL / THE BOXES (9D: With 39-Down, fulfill requirements ... or how to fill four of this puzzle's squares?) — a rebus puzzle with four √'d boxes:

    Theme answers:
    • 2D: MIC √ / 20A: √S AND BALANCES
    • 30A: BLANK √ /33D: √ MATE
    • 55A: √POINT CHARLIE / 55D: √ OUT
    • 63A: COAT √ / 64D: √ER
    Word of the Day: √POINT CHARLIE (55A) —
    Checkpoint Charlie (or "Checkpoint C") was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).
    East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration and defection westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.
    After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin. (wikipedia) (emph mine) (don't lift your clues from wikipedia) ([Cold War crossing] see that was easy)
    • • •

    While you all were watching the 1st Democratic debate, I was doing this puzzle. Let's start with the objection people are most likely to have to this puzzle, which is that the solver does not, in fact, CHECK ALL / THE BOXES. Obviously you don't check *all* the boxes—what the hell kind of grid would that even be?—but it is a pretty grand claim to put as your revealer when the number of checks your grid actually provides is far more modest. I don't find objections to the revealer that compelling, though, as the revealer clue is pretty specific ("how to fill *four* of this puzzle's squares" (*emphasis mine* obvs)). So CHECK ALL (four of) THE BOXES (in question). It's a common colloquial phrase, which is why it's being used as a revealer, and I like this repurposing of the phrase just fine. Certainly CHECK *ALL* / THE BOXES is superficially misleading, but it's technical inaccuracy is not bugging me nearly as much as the idea that *any* diet can be NO CARB. That is garbage. Carbohydrates are in virtually everything, so stop. Stop. Even the Keto-est diet has carbs. Ugh. I demand that you delete NO CARB from your word lists. It is guilty of deep fraudulence and needs to be punished, thank you. But back to the theme—it's simple and spare, but it works OK. Really didn't like that last √ in the SE, just tucked in there like an afterthought, with the highly unimpressive √ER as one of the answers. But the longer ones are nice phrases in and of themselves. Grid is very tame, with most non-theme stuff being short and familiar. But kudos for opting for simple and clean over complicated and blecch. Also, kudos for FULL OF IT.

    As usual, NW was my roughest section, despite the fact that I got the theme *immediately*. AMPS to MIC √. Seriously, took me 3 seconds. Now, I wasn't sure that the √ went there, and even when I knew it did, I didn't know why, or what the revealer would be (I wanted something along the lines of THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL), but yeah, I've never spied a rebus faster than I did today. But still had trouble in the NW, as I said, because I thought a "sidebar" was legal and wanted AGS (?!) at 1D: Contents of some sidebars (ADS). Also had babies eating puréed PEAR (3D), and honestly no idea what capital was on the Mississippi that followed the pattern S-P---, despite the fact that my daughter practically lives there (she's in Minneapolis at UMN) (well, she's currently in NZ, but that's a whole other story). Had DEBUG before DEFOG, and man that hurt (21D: Clear, in a way). When I locked down that "G," I thought I was good. Other problem area was the SW—zero idea about the "√" at that point (√POINT CHARLIE had a very non-specific clue and took me a while to uncover). Without √, couldn't get 55D, and then 56D: Summon ... well, yeah, no, I don't think of PAGE as a verb much anymore, though of course the concept still exists (in hotel lobbies? airports?). Weird how two little corners can really slow things down. But since I got the theme quickly and the grid was generally easy, the slowness occasioned by those corners was not devastating.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Oldest golfer to win PGA Tour event / WED 6-26-19 / Shade akin to rust / Two tone beast that sleeps standing up

    Wednesday, June 26, 2019

    Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (4:44)

    THEME: THEYDOSTUFF  — all-caps clues are ordinary words that are meant to be understood as verb phrases (pronoun + verb) and answers are professions those phrases might fit:

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: HEBREWS, i.e. he brews ... BEERMAKER
    • 24A: WEAVER, i.e. we aver ... TRUE BELIEVERS
    • 52A: SHERIFFS, i.e. she riffs ... JAZZ GUITARIST
    • 63A: IRATE, i.e. I rate ... APPRAISER 
    Word of the Day: MARS RED (46D: Shade akin to rust) —

    1any of various red to orange, brown, or violet artist's pigments made by calcining Mars yellow

    2or mars red

    LOL ... so:
    a reddish brown iron oxide left as a residue when ferrous sulfate is highly heated and used formerly in polishing glass and as a pigment
    a moderate reddish brown that is yellower and deeper than roan, yellower, stronger, and slightly darker than mahogany, and yellower, less strong, and slightly darker than oxblood  called also angel red,  Coromandel,  English red,  Mars redPrussian red,  Tuscany 
    Also LOL ... there literally is no "sense 3" of TOTEM at the m-w.com website

    • • •

    I really like the restraint on this one. No clunky revealer stressing the grid means the fill, while not exactly scintillating, is clean, and we're allowed (or forced, depending on your POV) to figure the gimmick out on our own. This is the opposite of yesterday's monstrosity, where a clumsy "note" explained a phenomenon that didn't need explaining (and was dumb to begin with). This is carefully crafted work, mindful of the solver experience in a way that I appreciate. It took me a While to figure out what the hell was up with this theme. I might've been way down on the last themer before putting it all together. Yeah, that feels right, then I worked my way back up the grid figuring out the themers in reverse order. Having only four themers means there's a lot of non-theme space in the middle of the puzzle. You could make a lot of headway in the puzzle without knowing what was going on themewise. NW was by far my roughest spot. Screwed up everything possible in that section, so much so that when I returned late in the solve to clean it up, I was briefly but genuinely worried that I was going to get badly stuck. This is because I just could not make sense of the simple clue at 1D: Short cut (BOB). Had the BO- and still no idea. I was thinking "short cut" as in "a shorter path" and also "short cut" as in "snip," like a cut with scissors. Not thinking of haircut. "Short" seems relative and not such a great way to clue BOB. I have a shaved head, though, so my idea of "short" may be skewed. Also couldn't figure out the [Empathetic comment] at 3D. Wanted "THERE, THERE," but it wouldn't fit. And then clue on APP made no sense to me (5A: Store offering that can be free) (I wanted something like TOTE) and PAK, my god, no way. My brain tried to envision "east of Iran" and it was just a hazy blur. Where have you gone, Se-ri PAK!?

    Noooo idea MARS RED was any kind of color, so ___RED was killing me. Totally blanked on Gore VIDAL (49D: Author of "Burr" and "Lincoln"), which is horribly embarrassing for this English Ph.D. "Ooh, that guy ... so venomous ... wrote crime fiction under the name Edgar Box WHY CAN I REMEMBER THAT BUT NOT HIS FAMOUS ACTUAL NAME!?"
    Totally Travolta'd IDINA Menzel (47D: ___ Menzel, Tony-winning actress for "Wicked"). Well, not totally. IRINA is at least ballpark. Best mistake though was having ___ZGUITARIST and making the first word WHIZ. I am very excellent at solving, in case you didn't know. Sigh. 

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. Today's constructor has played with this kind of theme cluing before—though with a very different set of answers. Check it out (from Feb. 2016)

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    Game cube / TUES 6-25-19 / Beyond the horizon / Tower-building game / Daredevil Knievel

    Tuesday, June 25, 2019

    Hello, and happy Tuesday! Hope everyone is having a great start to the week. My week started off significantly better than it would have if the U.S. women's national soccer team had been upset by Spain yesterday. Phew! What a game. I'm pretty sure my heart is still pounding 10 hours later. (Also, how great is Megan Rapinoe? I picked a pretty good jersey to buy myself!) The World Cup is bringing me back to my youth soccer days, and I love it. But, this go-around, I get to watch from my air-conditioned apartment, which, in this hot and humid D.C. summer, I'm quite thankful for.

    Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte — The title of this painting by Georges Seurat is spelled out across the puzzle, emulating pointillism.

    Theme answers:
    • POINTILLISM (24A: Technique employed in the painting hidden in this puzzle)
    • GEORGES SEURAT (56A: Artist who created the painting hidden in this puzzle)
    Word of the Day: NASL (17A: Org. for the New York Cosmos)
    The North American Soccer League (NASL) is a professional men's soccer league headquartered in New York City. The league has been on hiatus since completing the 2017 season. The modern NASL was founded in 2009, and began play in 2011 with eight teams, following a 2010 season that saw NASL and USL teams play in a combined temporary Division II league. (Wikipedia)
    • • •
    I'm not really sure what to make of this puzzle. It's clever to use the dots in conjunction with pointillism, but I don't think it totally worked. I thought it was a well-intentioned big idea that was new. And, I do like new. But, the dots made things confusing, and I couldn't get it out of my head that the dots made the puzzle look like it had chicken pox. I also couldn't bring myself to care that the title of the painting was hidden in the puzzle. It didn't help with the solve, and it seemed like an afterthought to me.

    I figured out the pointillism piece of the puzzle pretty easily, but it did take me a good minute of staring at my computer before I realized that POINTILLISM is spelled with two "l's" and not just the one. (Even typing this right now, I keep trying to spell it incorrectly. Thank goodness for spell check!)

    (Side note: Did anyone else have problems with the New York Times app when they were solving? I wanted to do the puzzle on my phone at first, but the app wasn't letting me type anything. Weird.)

    Overall, I didn't think the puzzle was that hard. The fill was somewhat basic, and, even with some longer downs than usual, it wasn't too tough to solve. I thought there were a few weird clues/answers that made it significantly harder, though. I have two bones to pick in particular. The first is the cross of 37D and 43A. I definitely feel like 43A: Impart could have been "send" instead of LEND, and I had no idea what the 37D Chess rating system was — apparently ELO. So, I paused there for a while. Also, I don't think the 53D clue: What the French pronounce "Louis" with that the English do not and its answer — LONG E — make sense at all. I know what the clue was trying to do, but it makes no sense because English people still pronounce "Louis" with a LONG E, just like the French do. I mean, Louis Armstrong. Louis Tomlinson (sue me, I like One Direction). Heck, even one of Kate Middleton and Prince William's kids is named Louis, and it's pronounced with a LONG E. So, that didn't work for me.

    I also found NFL STAR for 49A pretty bland. I thought the pun in 27A: What's far from fair as ANI fell a bit flat, and it took me way too long to realize what 54A: First small bit of progress was getting at — ATOB. And, I did have some trouble in the bottom middle section with NUI, TED, and SUET all giving me some pause.

    There were points (so to speak) of the puzzle that I did like. There seemed to be a lot of foreign words/elements in the puzzle, which brought a different flavor to the table. Like, NYET, BINDI, DEJA, FORTE, NUI, CHERIE, STE, JENGA, EINE, and NOOR. The interesting words made things a bit punchier.

    • I can't see TORT (60D) in a puzzle and not acknowledge it — so, thanks, law school! Torts was definitely my favorite class in my first year.
    • I only sort of remember the NASL (17A), and that's mostly because the legend himself, Pele, played for them. Man alive, what I wouldn't give to have had the chance to watch him play.
    • My sister convinced me to read the ANNE of Green Gables series when I was younger, and those books are truly delightful. If you've never read them, do yourself a favor and start reading them ASAP. 
    • I like seeing Willem DAFOE (63A) pop up in a puzzle because I think he's awesome. And also because I'd really love to somehow live in a Wes Anderson movie like "Grand Budapest Hotel." So many colors!
    • I've never had plum pudding, but based on the definition of SUET (58A), I'm not sure that I'm missing all that much...
    Have a great week!

    Signed, Clare Carroll, happy soccer fan

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    Woods who voiced Cinderella / MON 6-24-19 / Tussle between wiki page modifiers / Spewing naughty language as child / Missile aimed at bulls-eye

    Monday, June 24, 2019

    Constructor: Ross Trudeau

    Relative difficulty: EASY for many , but Medium-Challenging (3:26) for me (it's got a themeless word count (72)??? so yeah, just somewhat slower than usual for me to get through)

    THEME: Afflictions — every theme clue starts ["Affliction" suffered by ...] and then the answers are figurative afflictions describing some collective passion:

    Theme answers:
    • BEATLEMANIA (17A: "Affliction" suffered by Fab Four devotees)
    • MARCH MADNESS (27A: "Affliction" suffered by bracketologists)
    • FASHION CRAZE (43A: "Affliction" suffered by clothes lovers)
    • SPRING FEVER (56A: "Affliction" suffered by the winter-weary)
    Word of the Day: ILENE Woods (42A: Woods who voiced Cinderella) —
    Jacqueline Ruth "Ilene" Woods (May 5, 1929 – July 1, 2010) was an American actress and singer. Woods was the original voice of the title character of the Walt Disney animated feature Cinderella, for which she was named a Disney Legend in 2003. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    If your theme is this blah, then yeah, sure, go to town with a wide-open themeless-type grid on a Monday. Makes the solve a little slower, but not so much slower it's irksome (but I just saw someone post his personal best Monday time, so What Do I Know?). This ILENE person is pretty far afield for a Monday, but everything else felt pretty gettable. You probably had to hack at some of the longer Downs to get them to fall, but *that* kind of extra work, I don't mind. I mind slogging through crap, and while there's definitely some ugly parts to this grid, overall, I guess I'll take a simple *but coherent* theme and a grid with a lot of zingy fill over some ambitious but wonky theme that compromises the grid and makes us all suffer. I had a weird solve, where I traipsed right on down the west side of the grid and into the south without once ever getting a theme answer. I didn't even really see that there was a consistency to the theme clues until I was about halfway done. I don't recommend ignoring the themers this long. But that's just how it worked out today. My solves tend to wander where they wander, based on what seems like the most high-percentage answer to look at next, so while I generally start in the upper left and move downward, my route can go any which way depending on what gets thrown at me. It's possible I shouldn't just wander off like that, but as long as I'm having solving success, I'm loath to stop. I wish BIEBERFEVER had replaced SPRINGFEVER. It's dated, yes, but in a way I would really enjoy in 2019. But SPRINGFEVER, though plain, is fine.

    NOISE LAWS (34D: Peace-and-quiet ordinances) and SANTA LETTERS (23D: Mail addressed to the North Pole) both qualify as real things, and yet I balked at both—crinkled my nose at the former and outright disbelieved the phrasing of the latter. "Letters to Santa" feels like the actual phrase, and in fact when I google ["SANTA LETTERS"], the first page of hits gets me several sites that are actually about letters written *by* "Santa." In fact the first seven (7) hits all think SANTA LETTERS come *from* the North Pole. But I see SANTA LETTERS used elsewhere to refer to letters written *to* the North Pole, so OK. Not lovin' it, but OK. As a shaved-headed person, I was not offended by BALDIE, though my sincere reaction was "oh go f*** yourself." Is that "offended"? I dunno. So many guys have shaved heads now, the idea of insulting someone with "chrome dome" or "BALDIE" seems puerile and very mid-20th-century. But whatever, if you're proud that you've debuted this stupid non-word that is also a pejorative, good for you, buddy (two constructors have used BALDY before, which is the actual spelling, but seriously, pat yourself on the back for your word debut!). Playground retorts are the worst kind of fill, and when you shove one (ARE SO) in a corner with stilted crosswordese like ASDOI, you're really not doing your job well. ITISSO, also stilted. ISOUT, just bad. But again, mostly this one was a cut-above the usual NYT Monday, just entertainment-wise. My favorite answer was EDITWAR (9D: Tussle between wiki page. modifiers). OK, bye, have a nice day.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I'm told DARTs aren't actually aimed at bull's-eyes, necessarily, but this is someone else's fight to pick (25D: Missile aimed at a bull's-eye).

    P.P.S. This theme has pretty much been done before, and not too long ago (2015). Half the themers are the same. Minimum due diligence is running your themers thru databases to see if you're repeating someone else's work.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Model for bust at Musei Capitolini / SUN 6-23-19 / Quaint contradiction / Fruit that surprisingly is slightly radioactive / Provincial capital south of lake with same name / Item carried in academic procession / Objects spinning in orrery

    Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Constructor: David Liben-Nowell and Victor Barocas

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:49) (super duper easy "theme," weirdly hard clues in many other places)

    THEME: "Take Two" — nine different times, the same Across answer succeeds itself—in the second appearance, the word "SECOND" must be mentally supplied before the word in order for the answer to make sense:

    Second answers:
    • HAND (19A: Previously owned)
    • PLACE (26A: Silver)
    • STRING (32A: B-team)
    • PERSON (55A: What you will always be (but he or she isn't)?)
    • RATE (64A: Low-quality)
    • BANANA (79A: Supporting role)
    • NATURE (101A: Deeply ingrained habit)
    • CLASS (110A: Not having full rights, as a citizen)
    • BASE (116A: It's halfway around a diamond)
    Word of the Day: CISCO (66A: Major name in network hardware) —
    1. a freshwater whitefish of northern countries. Most species are migratory and are important food fishes.
    • • •

    I need you to see this for what it is: a puzzle where four-to-six letter words of no great interest are duplicated within the grid. That Is It. Look how few longer / interesting answer there are! The puzzle absolutely squanders the one thing Sundays have going for them: size, and then the upshot of the theme is just repeating a word in the grid. Yes, there's a reason (the whole "second ___" thing), but at its core, this is a grid that just has two identical successive short answers nine times. And once you figure out the theme, which I stumbled into relatively early, then the rest of the themers become absurdly easy to get—look for stuff on the mid/right side of the grid (mostly) and then once you hit one of the "second" answers, just move to the previous Across answer and write it in again. I never saw the clues on half the "first" answers because why would I? Didn't need to. The fill was definitely second-RATE for the most part (ATEM ELAL STEN TISNT etc). The whole design of the grid didn't really allow for much in the way of interesting fill. Feels like the NYT is in emergency mode with Sundays. I hear their in-the-pipeline stack is very, very shallow. If this is the caliber of theme being accepted—something I'd expect to find in a lesser daily—then the situation must be pretty bad. But the app is making money hand over fist so who cares!?

    ["The THONGS Song" by CISCO]

    Weirdly, I don't think I've ever had such a hard time starting a Sunday puzzle. I couldn't get anything to work at all in the NW. 1-Across is just such a godawful clue (1A: Word in Facebook and Disney Channel's original names), and then HASIT? (???) and the clue on USDA (23A: Org. concerned with grades) and then two different themers before I had any idea what the theme was, and the rough clue on INCISORS (6D: Things that most people have eight of) and the stupidly clued TDS (7D: Bear necessities?) (you don't "need" TDS to win a football game). I had ORCS and WARN and that's about it (not sure why I didn't have DAVIES, which is a gimme—sometimes when I'm flailing around I don't actually see Every clue in a section). Cream is one of a category of BEIGES???? Blecccch. So bad. BEIGES, plural. Why doesn't anyone at this establishment care about fill? -ENCE next to SSE? It's not like the theme is so demanding. Fill on a theme like this should be Creamy. Beige, even.

    [74A: Introduce oneself]

    I had MEADE before BRAGG (10D: Confederate general with a fort named after him) (MEADE  does have a fort named after him, but he was Union, my bad). Speaking of confederate generals ... you really parking COLIN Kaepernick next to a Confederate general? Is that intentional? Ironic? Performance art? You know he got blackballed from the NFL for protesting systemic racism, right—you know, that thing ... legacy of the Civil War? Anyway, it's an uncomfortable juxtaposition. Maybe there's a MORAL there somePLACE?

    Had ETON before STEN (90A: Product from the Royal Small Arms Factory). I had "T" and "N" and I thought "well, it's British, probably, so ..." No one calls a $1 bill a George and no one calls a $5 bill an ABE seriously what is the editor doing (11D). Had MMM for YUM (60A: Indication of good taste?). Misspelled LARSSON (with an "E") but I forgive myself for that. See you all tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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