Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Constructor: Dan Caprera

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium - about my average Wednesday

THEME: Pirate Treasure Map — Theme answers spell out directions to find where there is buried treasure in the grid, starting at a skull and crossbones in the first square.  The puzzle's only X marks the spot.

Theme answers:
  • START AT THE SKULL (16A: [Piratey jargon clue])
  • EAST TWELVE PACES (22A: [Piratey jargon clue])
  • SOUTH SEVEN STEPS (49A: [Piratey jargon clue])
  • WEST FIVE THEN DIG (58A: [Piratey jargon clue])
Honorable mentions:
  • PRIZE (53D: Pirate's booty, say)
  • SEIZE (65A: Grab, as booty)

Word of the Day: TRUNCHEON (10D: Officer's Baton)
A baton or truncheon is a roughly cylindrical club made of wood, rubber, plastic or metal carried by law-enforcement officers, correctional staff, security guards, and military personnel.

• • •
David Harris here, filling in for Rex today—and looks like today's puzzle is a debut from Dan Caprera, so congrats, it's a whole day of folks you've never heard of before!

I'm guessing that there will be a mix of opinions on this one, between the "whimsical and different" camp and the "puzzles shouldn't have homework" crew. Personally, I think it works nicely enough—the premise is goofy, and the cluing really leans into that, which gets the puzzle across the line into "cute" territory.  Opening up the grid knowing I was blogging, and seeing a special little icon in the corner, actually gave me a small scare—just my luck if it was going to be something confusing, or a grid that couldn't be expressed in the app.  Once I then started looking at the theme clues, though, which are long and very much not reproduced above, I saw that the themers would be instructions and relaxed a bit.  It's nice that the design team will add little (largely) aesthetic touches for specific puzzles, even for the app solvers.

But on the downside, the clues were so long, and I knew the instructions would be somewhat arbitrary, so I basically decided to start by ignoring the themers until they started to take shape.  Looking back at them afterwards, I see that the themers rhyme as part of clue couplets, and that there are actually some hints to make the answers less arbitrary, like an instruction in 22A to "turn toward the dawn" being a hint about going east.  So the clues absolutely do serve a purpose, and thought went into them, not just goofy pirate speak.  But looking at them initially, they just seemed like a lot of work to parse and deal with.  I was relieved that this didn't end up being a theme with dot-connecting after the solve or other homework, but the theme definitely took a back seat for me until the end, which isn't ideal.  Seems totally fair to not be in love with this one, or to find it kind of charming, your mileage may vary.

And overall, congrats to Dan Caprera for having a memorable puzzle with an unexpected theme and some clever constructionnot too shabby for a constructor's debut.

On the fill, there's a bit of classic glue like suffix ENE (13A: Suffix with acetyl), the perennial IRAE (36A: "Dies ___" (hymn)), the partial NUEVA (63A: ___ York (biggest city in los Estados Unidos)), and the usually-regrettable SSS (67A: Sound from a punctured tire).  But given 60+ theme squares, it didn't feel like a ton.  I can see more of them if I go hunting in the grid, but they were less of a presence during the solve, which is what I care about.  Some of the cluing caught me off-guard, as I wouldn't normally consider ESME (12D: Salinger heroine) to be a "heroine" per se, given the story, and ORB for (30D: Magic 8 Ball, e.g.) makes me nervous that the 8-Ball may actually be magic.  I'd probably give minor-to-moderate sideeye to DISCI (42D: Things hurled at the Olympics) as a plural.  I also resisted putting in TEAL (48A: Pond swimmer), as it took me a minute to remember that it's a term for a duck, so that one's on me.

Balancing out some of the glue, there were definitely enough happy-making entries and clues, including some longer fill, that helped to balance it out.  I was kind of neutral on ENTENTES (38D: Diplomatic arrangements) and MARQUISES (31D: French noblemen or noblewomen), but some other stuff to like:

Clues of the Day:
  • ASPHALT — 26D: It covers a lot of ground.  Nothing you could do about this joke, it just happens to you.
  • TIMEOUT — 23D: Preschool punishment.  My brain immediately wanted this, even though the clue doesn't telegraph it especially hard—just some good fill.
  • DELVES — 47D: Looks closely (into).  A word that you probably either never hear, or hear way too often because that one guy uses it in every meeting. 
  • BETHESDA — 5D: Where the National Institutes of Health is headquartered.  It seemed like random trivia that I'd get from crosses, but Bethesda *does* actually make me think of hospitals, so I ended up appreciating this one.
  • BOT — 35D: Spam generator.  Nice clue, succinct but decidedly modern. 
Finally, as Donald Faison just showed up on my TV while I was solving this, I've got to close with a shout-out to CARLA (14A: "Scrubs" nurse married to Dr. Turk).  Best wishes to the Turkletons!

Signed, David Harris, King for a Day of CrossWorld

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Constructor: Christina Iverson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium - ~2 minutes below my average Tuesday 

THEME: STARTUP CAPITAL (38A: With 40-Across, money required to open a business ... or a hint to 18-, 24-, 47- and 57-Across) — Theme answers each start with capital cities.

Theme answers:
  • RIGAMAROLE (18A: Petty set of procedures)
  • PARISH PRIEST (24A: Local officials in dioceses)
  • BERNIE SANDERS (47A: Longest-serving Independent member of Congress in U.S. history)
  • ROMEO ROMEO (57A: Part of a Juliet soliloquy)
Word of the Day: HORUS (25D: Falcon-headed Egyptian god) —
Horus is one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities. He was worshipped from at least the late prehistoric Egypt until the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Roman Egypt. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists.[2] These various forms may possibly be different manifestations of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncreticrelationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality.[3] He was most often depicted as a falcon, most likely a lanner falcon or peregrine falcon, or as a man with a falcon head.
• • •
Rebecca Falcon here, filling in for Rex today. Thrilled to see a woman constructor - and even more excited to learn that today is Christina Iverson's debut puzzle! On to the puzzle!

This was a solid Tuesday puzzle. I'm always a fan of puzzles that have seemingly unrelated theme answers and a nice AHA moment with the revealer and this one delivered on that. Like many Tuesdays, it wasn't the most exciting, but certainly an enjoyable solve overall. I did spend some time after solving trying to figure out why these specific cities, but it doesn't seem like there was a reason for these choices beyond the grid.

Theme-wise, RIGAMAROLE was my favorite, and also probably the hardest for me to get - I kept trying to parse it as several words and even when the word clicked I was unsure of the spelling, but once it settled in there it was a great start. ROMEO ROMEO feels an O short, but works for the theme, and this proud theater geek will never be mad about a Shakespeare reference. My feelings about BERNIE SANDERS aside, he's a timely entry and a great city selection. PARISH PRIESTS feels a little green paint to me, but it suits the theme perfectly well.

(47A and CARDI B together!? - it would be a crossword crime not to post this)

Non-theme thoughts - some really excellent bonus fill happening in the puzzle, with SNOWSUITS, BABY BUMPS, IT GIRLS, and DREAM ON among my favorites.  These long downs made up for some of the gluey fill in the puzzle which I was never bothered too much by because each section had its bright spots that made me smile. The clue for FOXIER (36A: More cunning) seems wrong to me - I suppose it's definitionally accurate, but I'm not sure I've every heard someone use FOXY that way in real life, so even when I knew that's what the puzzle wanted, I hesitated to enter it. I've also never heard the phrase GIN UP -is this a thing people say?

Fav Clues of the Day:
  • TENNIS — 4D: Something you'll have to go to court for?
  • SNAP — 66A: Lead-in to chat or dragon
  • BDAYS — 9D: They're almost always shared by twins, informally
  • DENT — 42A: Feature of many an old car
And I know I can't be the only one with this stuck in my head thanks to FANTA (36D: Fruity soda brand) - I bet you can hear the song before even pressing the play button.

Congrats to Christina on a great debut!

Signed, Rebecca Falcon

Before I go - some shameless promotion - if you're in California and a fan of crosswords and comedy check out Zach Sherwin's Crossword Show - it is a show like nothing else you've ever seen and the grid is by yours truly.

[Follow Rebecca on Twitter]
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


MON 7-29-2019

Monday, July 29, 2019

Constructor: BRUCE HAIGHT

Relative difficulty: Easy (6:18, below my average by 2:30) 

THEME: ON THE BENCH (59A: Place where 17-, 23-, 37-, and 48-Across might be found)
Theme answers:

  • BALLPLAYER (17A: Athlete with a mitt)
  • PARK VISITOR: (23A: One going for a stroll among urban greenery)
  • TRIAL COURT JUDGE (37A: Official hearing a case)
  • JAZZ PIANIST (48A: Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea)

Word of the Day: OSSA (39A: Peak near Olympus) —
Mount Ossa (GreekΌσσα), alternative Kissavos (Κίσσαβος, from South Slavic kisha "wet weather, rain"[2]), is a mountain in the Larissa regional unit, in ThessalyGreece. It is 1,978 metres (6,490 ft) high and is located between Pelion to the south and Olympus to the north, separated from the latter by the Vale of Tempe.
• • •
Hi All, Jake from State Farm Ann Arbor filling in for Rex today as he continues his vacation in Montreal! I’m not the greatest at crosswords, as my Monday times show, but I have fun doing them.

This was a decent Monday puzzle! The theme was neat, but the fill varied for me.

Starting with the fill, you’ve got fun stuff like BIG IF, QUEST, ÊTRE, and BANTU, which are great fill because they cater to my specific interests: linguistics, French, and the need to make my errands sound that much fancier.

And then you’ve got the classic fill throughout: ALEE, HUH, HEE, I BET, I CARE. One could even say it was a bit EEL-y, wriggling back and forth between fun fill and slop. Okay, yeah, I broke out the EDAM for that one.

The theme was solid, I will give it that, but it wasn’t super exciting, like last week’s surprise!Rumplestiltskin. I will admit to having filled in I BET with I SEE before I got to the actual I SEE, which, when combined with a YEE instead of a HEE lead to a TRIAL CO?RE JUDGE. I think that might be a variant on the TV judge. I also was unfamiliar with both Hancock and Corea, so that took me a couple crosses and the revealer to get. I’m not much of a jazz person in general, but I’m listening to Head Hunters by Hancock while writing this and it’s kinda fun. The revealer was more of a “Yeah, that works” for me after getting most of the theme answers than it was a “Now I understand everything” as they so often can be, but overall it was solid.

  • 30A: Abba of Israel (EBAN) —   This, like the Word of the Day, is one of those things I need to just learn for crosswords, especially considering it's shown up three times since May, most recently two weeks ago. I got it off the crosses then and didn't need to pay attention to the clue, today I was not so lucky, as detailed with my I SEE/I SEE MISHAP. 
  • 46A: Tevye's occupation in "Fiddler on the Roof" (MILKMAN) — "If I were a rich man, Yibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum!" And now, that's stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Bruce and I totally collaborated on this one. You're welcome.  

Anyway, I have a deepened respect for Rex’s depth of knowledge about crosswords and his vast experience doing them from doing this review. But I guess when I’m older than Methuselah like he is, I’ll have done rather more crosswords than I have now.

Anyways, ADIOS, everybody!

Signed, Jake Taylor, Microbiologist of Cross World

[Follow Jake on Twitter]


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Constructor: Christopher Adams

Relative difficulty: Easy (25:22, pretty normal for me for a Sunday)

THEME: MIXED METAPHORS (105A: Some laughable language mistakes - as found literally (in consecutive letters) in 24-, 37-, 55- 75-, and 92-Across)

Theme answers:
  • ATMOSPHERE (24A: Aura) 
  • BLAST FROM THE PAST (37A: Real Nostalgia Trip)
  • FOR THE MOST PART (55A: Generally Speaking)
  • CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE (75A: Sometime Collaborator with William Shakespeare, per the Oxford University Press)
  • PRIMROSE PATH (92A: Easy Way the Might lead to error)
Word of the Day: EPIPHYTE (113A: Organism that grows on another plant nonparasitcially) — An epiphyte is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water (in marine environments) or from debris accumulating around it. Epiphytes take part in nutrient cycles and add to both the diversity and biomass of the ecosystem in which they occur, like any other organism. They are an important source of food for many species. Typically, the older parts of a plant will have more epiphytes growing on them. Epiphytes differ from parasites in that they grow on other plants for physical support and do not necessarily affect the host negatively. An epiphytic organism that is not a plant is sometimes called an epibiont. Epiphytes are usually found in the temperate zone (e.g., many mosses, liverworts, lichens, and algae) or in the tropics (e.g., many ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads). Epiphyte species make good houseplants due to their minimal water and soil requirements. Epiphytes provide a rich and diverse habitat for other organisms including animals, fungi, bacteria, and myxomycetes.
• • •
Hello out there in crossworld! Dan Felsenheld coming to you from Arlington, VA here filling in for Rex so he can take a much needed vacation. I was excited to see Christopher Adams' name when I opened up the NY Times website to download the puzzle this evening. I've done a number of his puzzles and always enjoyed them, they are often challenging and sometimes have math themes. Full disclosure, as a crossword nerd and attendee at various crossword tournaments I have met Mr. Adams a few times and enjoyed chatting with him. It's been a crazy week for me (I was traveling for work and have been unsuccessfully fighting off a cold all week) but it's always nice to sit down with a Sunday puzzle. The grid was extra wide this week I guess because of the theme clues.

My solving experience was actually a bit choppy, I had a few errors along the way that really slowed me down. I can never remember how to spell SEGO (25D: Beehive state bloomer), there is a SAGO palm that also shows up in crosswords but this refers to the cactus instead. I really wanted to put down MOZART for 66A: "A Little Night Music" composer and it took me forever to figure out it was SONDHEIMFor some reason I has put GESTE at 102A instead of GUSTO so that slowed me down a bit. In fact here is what my grid looked like about halfway through my solve:
So I had the top half, mostly (with errors), had a bit of trouble in the middle and was trying to work my way back up. At this point I had figured out that MARTINIS was wrong (I saw Gin and Vermouth and immediately filled in MARTINIS, ignoring the Campari reference) - but didn't yet know that it was supposed to be NEGRONIS instead. I've never had a NEGRONI, but I know Rex is a fan. I "finished" but had at least one error (I use Puzzazz on ipad for solving). Turned out I had several errors, as you can see I had ITALIA instead of IBERIA at 30A, I hadn't yet gotten there but I had PEP instead of PUP which was the last thing I filled in before I finally got the fully correct grid.

Now about the theme - Mixed Metaphors - I have to say I love a good mixed metaphor, they are usually hilarious, "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it", "Now the glove is on the other foot", Barack Obama once said that someone was "Green behind the ears".  George W. Bush was quoted saying "There's an old saying that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again". So while I thought the theme concept was sound, when I think of mixed metaphors I think "they make me laugh when I hear them", and I was trying to figure out what it was about the puzzle that was off to me and it's that there is very little hilarity in this puzzle.  I mean it's cool that you were able to find different phrases that had the letters for METAPHORS consecutively - CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE is an especially great find, but it felt less than elegant when there are letters before and after the METAPHOR string. The themers are all perfectly good fill, in the language phrases that work well on their own, but having the word METAPHORS anagrammed in them,¯\_()_/¯ I'm not a constructor, I don't know what exactly could have been done to improve this puzzle, maybe somehow try to work some actual mixed metaphors into the clues for the themers? Somehow ramp up the humor in the clues? I do have to say, to his credit, I had no idea what these theme answers had in common until I got to the revealer at 105A, which is something that I do like in a puzzle. There were a few partials in the puzzle: ORA, THEA, ISAID, SETA, TAI, but these didn't really bother me much.

There were a number of things that I did like about the puzzle. 83A: Place where musical talent may be wasted (KARAOKE BAR) is fantastic. Nice touch having PAX ROMANA (76A: Stable period from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius) right next to HOMO (77A: Man, to Marcus Aurelius). Had never heard of the song RODEO before (not a big country music fan, but I like it)
Clever way to clue IAMB (68D: One of two in "The Grapes of Wrath")

  • 1D: One-named singer with the 2017 #1 Album "Melodrama" (LORDE) — My teenage daughters got me into listening to Lorde (to their embarrassment, bwahahaha), her music is quite good, go listen to it if you haven't
  • 110A: Cocktails with gin, vermouth and Campari (NEGRONIS) — Saw Gin and Vermouth in the clue and imediately put down MARTINIS, only to change this later based on the crosses. I know Rex is a fan of these, I've never had one.
  • 81D: Russian Rulers of Old (TSARINAS) — I got lucky on this one, whenever I see TSAR(INA), there is always the dilemma, is it going to be CZAR, CSAR, TSAR, or even TZAR. I don't remember seeing TSARINAS too often in the NYT puzzle, I would have to look at that other site that keeps track of these things to know the frequency. Also kudos for having more female representation in the puzzle!
  • 115A: Bening with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (ANNETTE) — I love her as an actress, I feel like I haven't seen her is much lately though her IMDB page seems to indicate that she has been steadily working. Forgot she was in "The Grifters" which is such a great film, go out and find it if you haven't seen it.
  • 104A: Girl's name that's also a state abbreviation (IDA): No. IDA is only a state abbreviation in crossword land not in real life. This couldn't have been clued this as "Muckraker Tarbell" or African-American investigative journalist and early civil rights leader Wells? 
  • 96D: Baby Shark (PUP): I mentioned to my wife (hi Donna!) that the clue was "Baby Shark" and she immediately started singing "do do do do do do" but I won't link to the recently resurgent earworm video, nope, I won't. (but now you all have that song running through your brain don't you?)

You can follow me on twitter @imfromjersey if you want, I rarely tweet but I occasionally respond to others.

Signed, Dan Felsenheld, King (for a day) of CrossWorld.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Siamese fighting fish / SAT 7-28-19 / Tragedy first performed in 431 BC / Roman god invoked by Iago / Believers who practice ahimsa / Manner of speaking in eastern Virginia

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Medium? Maybe Medium-Challenging? (solved it on clipboard, in comfy chair, untimed)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "TARAS Bulba" (18D: Gogol's "___ Bulba") —
Taras Bulba (Russian«Тарас Бульба»Tarás Búl'ba) is a romanticized historical novella by Nikolai Gogol. It describes the life of an old Zaporozhian Cossack, Taras Bulba, and his two sons, Andriy and Ostap. The sons study at the Kiev Academy and then return home, whereupon the three men set out on a journey to the Zaporizhian Sich (the Zaporizhian Cossack headquarters, located in southern Ukraine), where they join other Cossacks and go to war against Poland. [...] The original 1835 edition reflects the Ukrainian context of the story. In response to critics who called his The Government Inspector "anti-Russian", and under pressure from the Russian government that considered Taras Bulba too Ukrainian, Gogol decided to revise the book. The 1842 edition was expanded by three chapters and rewritten to include Russian nationalist themes in keeping with the official tsarist ideology at the time, as well as the author's changing political and aesthetic views (later manifested in Dead Souls and Selected Passages from Correspondence with his Friends). The changes included three new chapters and a new ending (in the 1835 edition, the protagonist is not burned at the stake by the Poles). The little-known original edition was only translated into Ukrainian and made available to the Ukrainian audience in 2005.
• • •

I generally love Byron Walden's puzzle. I *liked* this one—it's tough, fairly smooth, and has a lot of original / unusual entries (all pluses), but for some reason the marquee stuff just didn't grab me. It felt technical. I didn't even know TIDEWATER ACCENT was a thing, so I can't really appreciate it, and LOAN TRANSLATION is fine but dull. In getting both ACCENT and TRANSLATION, I had this feeling of let down, like ... that's it? Part of a professional argot, not springy, bouncy, mainstream stuff. Fine, not at all *bad*, but kind of a waste of prime real estate, imho. As for the rest of it, most of it was a challenging, good time. Only times I really screwed up my face in distaste were 1. FARMPLOW (??). This felt awfully redundant. Where else are we using plows, now? I guess there are snow plows, OK, but I feel like we all agreed to call FARMPLOW just "plow" and I liked it that way. TEEN PEOPLE was basically TEEN + [throw a magazine title in here and pray!]. Actually PEOPLE came to mind reasonably quickly, but since it was in that big open area in the SE, it was tough to confirm. Wait ... Oh, right, sorry, I was listing the times I made faces. So 1. was FARMPLOW and 2. was TARAS (18D: Gogol's "___ Bulba"). Gogol is a reasonably famous writer and so fair game, but my god TARAS feels like hardcore crosswordese. In my entire life, that title has only ever come up in crosswords. I learned it from there, and there it was stayed. So it feels emblematic of the worst kind of crosswordese: old-school gate-keeping. If you've been solving *forever*, it's probably a gimme, but if you've been solving even a Long Time in this century, there's a good chance you've Never seen it, and since it is nowhere near inferrable: tough luck. This is just the third appearance of this clue since I started blogging ('06), and only the second of this decade. By contrast, here's the frequency of "TARAS Bulba" clues in the '70s:

from xwordinfo
I guess I should just be grateful that we don't get the [Tannin-yielding plants] clue anymore, yeesh. Anyway, this Gogol clue splits the solving audience *hard*—it's (likely) a handout to us ancients, and (likely) a bleeping mystery to younger solvers, even those who in recent years have solved a Ton. I'm just saying, I'd go for the plural name over the partial title. Feels more democratic.

Having HIRES and SAPPHIRES in the same grid, so close to each other (practically on top of each other) was a little unfortunate. Repeated letter strings of that length aren't totally taboo, but you'd usually try to keep them apart so as not to draw attention to them. Binge-eating is certainly a real phenomenon, but something about BINGE EATER (22D: Certain obsessive-compulsive) feels bad to me. Cruel somehow. I don't like being excited / entertained by guessing someone's malady. Again, *not* offended. I'm just explaining why I didn't completely love the vibe of this puzzle. Also cruel: the clue on ASHLEE (44A: Simpson who infamously lip-synched a song on "S.N.L."). Not inaccurate. But mean. She has become overdefined by that moment of public humiliation. Again, it feels not great to have my puzzle pleasure REST ON someone else's suffering. I'm probably overfocusing on the negative today; Byron's just so good that my expectations are unreasonably high. Things started out with a fantastic BOING (1A: Spring report), and continued on in a largely impressive, engaging way. There were just fewer wow moments than I would've liked. Probably more SENARY (?) (34D: In base 6) and BETTAS (??) (1D: Siamese fighting fish) moments than I would've liked as well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Trixie's mom in comics / FRI 7-26-19 / Eccentric fashion designer in Incredibles / Either of two highest trump cards in euchre / Small fruit high in pectin / 1939 film banned in the Soviet Union / Starcy-producing palm tree

Friday, July 26, 2019

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Challenging (7:42)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ZEBRA FINCH (5A: Bird named for its black-and-white markings) —
The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is the most common estrildid finch of Central Australia and ranges over most of the continent, avoiding only the cool moist south and some areas of the tropical far north. It can also be found natively in Indonesia and East Timor. The bird has been introduced to Puerto Rico and Portugal. (P.S. its markings are not very Zebraish)

• • •

This grid looks pretty good, but man none of these clues meant anything to me. I'm exaggerating a little, but I haven't struggled to get started this much in a long long time. I feel like a minute or two of my time was just a freefall at the beginning, where I roamed around the grid, dropping in stray answers here in there, but totally unable to put a run together. If I'd looked at the clue for RAZORBACK (a gimme) early on, things might've gone much better (I tend to overlook longer clues when I'm starting out, stupid stupid stupid). But as it was, I put in FELT and LOIS ... and froze. Then AMY and CNET ... and still nothing. RIC was the only thing I could put in the center. Then TIS and THANE, and finally, finally, I surmised EXES and then got TWIX and IWANNASEE, and despite short answers that were completely beyond me (wtf do I know about euchre, ugh (50A)) (and ZEKE??? wtf is that? (58A)) I managed to put that corner together, and then the SW corner, and then I creeped around filling in the rest of the grid. Would've been great if this had been clued a. like a Friday as opposed to a Saturday, or b. in ways that I personally clicked with or found interesting or enjoyable. But again, if we just look at the grid, I think it's good.

[LOL this opens, improbably, with an AGENA rocket, which is some hardcore crosswordese]

My daughter just walked in the door, after 7 weeks of working in New Zealand, so I'm gonna wrap this up quickly if you don't mind (also if you do).

Five things:
  • 23D: Pismire (ANT) — I'm sure I've known that this word means "ANT," but today I got it confused with "quagmire" and wrote in BOG. And then FEN.
  • 3D: Item sold at Burger King but not at most McDonald's (ONION RING) — No. In the plural, sure. In the singular (!?!?!), no. Buger King does not sell a single, stand-alone ONION RING, I guarantee it.
  • 45A: Taboo word (MUST'NT) — oof, what? So it's a word you use when you are defining something *as* a taboo, and also speak like a quaint 19th-century governess? OK.
  • 25D: Rembrandt or Vermeer (OIL) — ugh. Yes, we use artists' names as metonyms for their paintings, and we use "OIL" as a kind of substantive adjective, I guess, for an "OIL painting," I guess, but all the transitive properties in the world can't make this pleasant. 
  • 38A: Your heart may go out to it (ORGAN BANK) — thanks for making me imagine my own untimely death. Good day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. just for fun, here's Garbo in "NINOTCHKA" (33D: 1939 film banned in the Soviet Union)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


2012 time travel thriller / THU 7-25-19 / Los Angeles neighborhood that includes Dodger Stadium / 1990s antidiscrimination law for short / New Hampshire academy locale / Edible algae used to wrap sushi

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:29)

THEME: JUMPERS (25D: Some basketball shots ... and the theme of this puzzle) — theme answers are two-word phrases that "jump" an answer *and* contain (in circled squares) a word that means "jump"; *that* word, the "jump" synonym in the circled squares, is required to make sense of the jumped answer; so:

Theme answers:
  • MOBILE APP (17A: iPhone download) "leaps" over (LEAP) YEAR (18A: 2020, but not 2019 or 20121)
  • ECHO PARK (40A: Los Angeles neighborhood that includes Dodger Stadium) "hops" over (HOP) ON POP (41A: Classic Dr. Seuss book)
  • SKI PATROL "skips" over (SKIP) TOWN (63A: Flee to avoid obligations, say)
Word of the Day: 'AS I AM" (4D: 2007 #1 Alicia Keys album) —
As I Am is the third studio album by American singer and songwriter Alicia Keys. It was released on November 9, 2007, by J Records. Recording sessions for the album took place at various recording studios during 2005 to 2007. Production was handled primarily by Keys, Kerry "Krucial" BrothersJack Splash, and Linda Perry, with a guest contribution from musician John Mayer.
The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, selling 742,000 copies in its first week, highest ever for a female R&B artist and eventually earned a triple platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It became an international commercial success and produced four singles that achieved chart success, including "No One", which became the song most listened to of 2007 in the United States. Despite some criticism towards Keys' songwriting, As I Am received positive reviews from most music critics and earned Keys several accolades, including three Grammy Awards. It has sold over five million copies worldwide. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was nifty. Might've helped me a little if I'd managed to fully process what was going on while I was solving—I saw that the answers were "jumping" other answers, but I kept having to infer what the verb involved was because I Somehow Didn't Notice The Circled Squares Spelled It Out. Sigh. I think my initial impression—that there was some kind of "missing letter" thing going on with those jumped answers (see circled "LE" preceding YEAR, which made me think "AP" were somehow buried in the black square???)—got dispelled but never fully replaced, i.e. I never mentally revisited those circled squares after I figured out "jumping" was involved. It's continually amazing to me what my brain will and won't do. So I probably lost some time trying to figure out what "jump" synonym was in play with the "jumped" answers, but still the puzzle was pretty doable. And enjoyable. There's an impressive complexity to the theme even though it feels and looks so simple. This is highly accomplished and *very* polished work. The fact that they were able to stick a revealer in there, in the damn middle of the grid, going Down *through* a theme answer—well, that's just showing off is what that is.

No major sticking points today. Had DOPA and then SOPA (?) before SOMA at 1D: "Brave New World" drug. Seen it many times, couldn't call it up today. Had trouble with BAY because I forget that's a type of horse *and* I hadn't fully worked out the theme at that point, and YEAR seemed definitely wrong for 18A: 2020, but not 2019 or 2021. Took me a while to put "hotel room" and ARMOIRE together (not that it's wrong, just ... if I had to name ten things in a hotel room, that's not one of them). TARPS has one of those cutesy "?" clues that play way too fast and loose with grammar for my taste, so that took some work (48D: Sheets of rain?) ("of"? sideeye). My biggest holdup, though, was pretty funny in retrospect, in that I ran through all the different plausible *wrong* answers you could get from 23D: Aquarium attractions with a --T--- letter pattern in place. First stop, TETRAS. Then I got the initial "O" from TVMOVIE (22A: Film not seen in theaters), and thought, "Oh, I see now: OTTERS." Eventually the OCTOPI showed up and ate the OTTERS, as often happens in (my very limited understanding of) nature.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Violin virtuoso Niccolo / WED 7-24-19 / Actress comic Kemper / Tank topped ponytailed Futurama character / Circular arrow button in address bar

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Constructor: Jake Halperin

Relative difficulty: Challengingish (this was a 5am wake-up solve, though, and I despised this thing from square one, so that *might* have affected my time...) (5:19)

THEME: colloquial infinitive phrases, clued as if they were "Tasks" :(

Theme answers:
  • TO NAME A COUPLE (20A: Task for new parents of twins?)
  • TO PUT IT MILDLY (38A: Task for a Thai chef cooking for typical Americans?)
  • TO SAY THE LEAST (55A: Task for a Benedictine monk?)
Word of the Day: ERIKA Christensen (59A: Christensen of "Parenthood") —
Erika Jane Christensen (born August 19, 1982) is an American actress and singer whose filmography includes roles in Traffic (2000), Swimfan (2002), The Banger Sisters (2002), The Perfect Score (2004), Flightplan (2005), How to Rob a Bank (2007), The Tortured (2010), and The Case for Christ (2017). For her performance in Traffic, she won the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with her co-stars.
In 2006, she starred on the short-lived drama series Six Degrees on ABC. From 2010 until its ending in 2015, Christensen starred as Julia Braverman-Graham on the NBC family drama series Parenthood. In 2014, she won a Gracie Award for her performance in the role. Christensen portrayed Betty Beaumontaine on ABC's short-lived crime drama series Wicked City. (wikipedia)
• • •

NATASHA's face is my face
This puzzle is a cry for help. Or a middle finger to the solving audience. You decide. All I know is that a theme this thin should not have fill This Bad. Egregious. Painful. Answers starting in the NW quadrant *alone* were bad enough that I would've quit if I didn't have to write this thing up. It is inexcusable to have so much room, so much space, so much leeway (given your very weak, barely-there theme), and still lard the puzzle with garbage like ABITOF INE ONENIL ANACE ALGAL ATPAR ASLOPE (!??!?!?!?!). That right there is enough junk to sink an entire puzzle, but as you'll note, I haven't even made it out of the NW yet. Does it get better? Well, it doesn't get worse, but honestly, how could it? And is the theme worth it? Well, no theme is worth this, and this theme in particular deserves very little in the way of special dispensations. TO NAME A COUPLE is horrible. Horrible. You don't have much to go on with this theme, so All You Themers Have To Land. As every English speaker knows, the phrase is "to name a few." TO NAME A COUPLE is some jury-rigged, kinda/sorta, lawyer-needing baloney. I have no problem struggling with difficult puzzles that are supposed to be difficult because it's late in the week, the clues are clever or tricky, etc. I have tons of problems with difficulty that arises because of constructorial / editorial incompetence. Any self-respecting editor, any editor editor who is not in a sinecure and not too complacent to do his job, should have (if this theme "tickled" him) Sent This Back For A Complete Refill. How do you not make your constructor do better? I've seen rejected puzzles that were So much better than this that just didn't pass the "tickle" test. It's maddening. LOATHE doesn't even begin ...

[deep inside I hope *you* feel it too...]

The whole experience was made worse by the fact that even clues on normal, decent fill meant nothing to me much of the time. MONDO? Shrug (19A: Mario's world). LEVELA? What the hell (41A: Like the most protective hazmat suits). Who knows hazmat suit rating levels?!?!? Further, who knows what key "Isn't She Lovely" is in!? (OK, you hardcore music types might, but yeeeeeesh—that is bad fill made infinitely worse) (and how, How, do you make something Worse by *adding* Stevie Wonder to it? That might be a first in human history) (17A: INE). Your clue for LAW (a fine word) is 41D: Part of LSAT??!? Do you hate clever clues? joy? the English language? Why steer us back *into* an abbr. when you don't have to??? And why oh why steer is *into* some *very old* and *German* song (LOL "hit") for the very simple, you-could-do-anything-with-it answer ARE!?! (43A: What "bist" means in the 1930s hit "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen"). This is Bad Decision Theater at its baddest. And we wrap it up with [checks notes] HOR over ENS ... [chef's kiss]. Sigh. Goodbye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. In case you were wondering, 68A: Non-majority? is ENS because the ENS (the actual letters: the "n"s) make up the "majority" of the prefix "non" ... I'm sorry, but it's true.

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Garden plant also called stonecrop / TUE 7-23-19 / Facial hair for Sam Elliott Wilford Brimley / Nonsense word in Stephen Foster's Camptown Races./ 1981 hit with lyric we can make it if we try / Compound with fruity scent

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium (slightly faster than usual, but it's a narrow (14-wide) grid)

THEME: "JUST THE TWO OF US" (54A: 1981 hit with the lyric "We can make it if we try" ... or a possible title for this puzzle) —the letter pair "US" appears twice in each themer:

Theme answers:
  • "EXCUSES, EXCUSES!" (16A: "Spare me your lame reasons!")
  • MARCUS AURELIUS (26A: Roman emperor who wrote "Meditations")
  • WALRUS MUSTACHE (42A: Facial hair for Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley)
Word of the Day: SEDUM (41A: Garden plant also called stonecrop) —
Sedum is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Crassulaceae, members of which are commonly known as stonecrops. The genus has been described as containing up to 600 species updated to 470. They are leaf succulents found primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, but extending into the southern hemisphere in Africa and South America. The plants vary from annual and creeping herbs to shrubs. The plants have water-storing leaves. The flowers usually have five petals, seldom four or six. There are typically twice as many stamens as petals. (wikipedia)
• • •

first themer I got
The theme works. The phrasing on the revealer is a *bit* of a stretch, in that it's hard to imagine someone using the "two of ___" phrasing (where the blank is just one word). The "of" wants a "the" to follow it. If I were ordering two plain bagels, I might say "two plain" but almost certainly not "two of plain" (or "two of bagel(s)"). There are two items *in* US, not two USes. Anyway, the idea that "two of us" could mean "two appearances of the letter pairing US" is grammatically a stretch, but we're in puzzleland, where wordplay magic is in effect, so sure, whatever, two USes, grammar be damned. Not super thrilling that one of the themers was just the same word twice—seems a cheap way to get your two USes in there, but "EXCUSES, EXCUSES!" is certainly a legitimate stand-alone phrase, so, as with the somewhat awkward grammar implied by the revealer, I'll allow it. Theme: acceptable. Less acceptable is the grid, which is chock-a-block with crosswordese and a few really unfortunate answers. The best place to see what I'm talking about is the mid-Atlantic section of this grid—everything in the east between the central two themers. That is a hellhole of junk, with the noises UHHUH (tolerable) crossing HEHE (completely intolerable, what is that?), abutted by SEEME, all lost in a field of something called SEDUM (!?). How bad is SEDUM? How completely out of place is that little bit of desperation fill? This is only the *second* time it's appeared in the Shortz era. It hasn't been in the puzzle for *sixteen* years. Thus, though it's possibly I've run into it in some other puzzle, I have never encountered, not once, in the 13 years I've been blogging the NYT. And ... it's Tuesday?? I'll give you SEDUM if you really, really need it. But in this morass of crosswordese, in a not-hard-to-fill grid, on a Tuesday? No. No, I will not give you SEDUM.

Clue on "EXCUSES, EXCUSES!" is bad (stop using "lame" this way, please) (it's especially bad here, as the phrase "lame reasons" makes absolutely no sense—the phrase is "lame excuses," which, again, I wouldn't use at all, but if you can't use "excuses" in your clue, then jeez, change the adjective you use in the grid; don't use the adjective that goes *only* with "excuses") ("terrible reasons?" "terrible justifications?") (be creative, just lose "lame"). LOL at the idea that most "book clubs" really get down to THEMES, like it's a college course or something (6D: Topics for book clubs). I teach English *and* have been in book clubs, and was baffled by this clue/answer pairing. Clue on SOCCER BALL was pretty bad, in that you can score "goals" in a lot of sports, so there's nothing very soccery about the clue (3D: Necessity for achieving one's goals?) (ACHIEVEONESGOAL (15)) (please don't put that in your crossword, thanks). Also, the fact that SOCCER BALL had a "?" clue made me think it was a themer. Confusing. I forgot YODELS existed (haven't thought about them since middle school). I forgot Bizet was a GEORGES (thought the only GEORGES I knew was Seurat). My favorite part of the puzzle was when I looked at what turned out to be the revealer and saw that what I had in place was —WOOFUS. My first thought was "what kind of nonsense phrase is this going to be? DOOFUS WOOFUS?" Alas, no. Even more embarrassingly, I didn't write in the last letter of 14A: Nonsense word repeated in Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races" because I thought the answer might be DOODAW (Like GEWGAW? ... which is *not* a nonsense word, somehow!).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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