Finance reporter Ron / SAT 9-26-20 / Atoms that have same number of neutrons / Click the X when vexed maybe / HSN alternative / Classic makeshift solution / Rachel seven-season TV role for Meghan Markle

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Medium (8 to 9, somewhere in there, solving slowly, early in the a.m.)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: KIRI Te Kanawa (9D: Soprano ___ Te Kanawa) —

Dame Kiri Jeanette Claire Te Kanawa ONZ CH DBE AC (/ˈkɪri təˈkɑːnəwə/; born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron, 6 March 1944) is a New Zealand former opera singer. She had a full lyric soprano voice, which has been described as "mellow yet vibrant, warm, ample and unforced".

Te Kanawa has received accolades in many countries, singing a wide array of works in many languages dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries. She is particularly associated with the works of MozartStraussVerdiHandel and Puccini, and found considerable success in portraying princesses, nobility, and other similar characters on stage.

Though she rarely sang opera later in her career, Te Kanawa frequently performed in concert and recital, gave masterclasses, and supported young opera singers in launching their careers. Her final performance was in Ballarat, Australia, in October 2016, but she did not reveal her retirement until September 2017. (wikipedia)

• • •

Proper names made this one a real minefield, or potential minefield, I guess. I'm not real big on using marginal names to achieve difficulty, and I don't know what INSANA and (as clued) ZANE are here if not marginal. Seven seasons on a TV show that the clue doesn't even name ... doesn't strike me as a thing. Did anyone really watch "Suits"? That "Z" took me a weird lot of time, as I scrolled the alphabet (all the way to "Z"!) to figure out how WI- could be [Virtuoso, informally]. Of course when I got it, it was a 'duh,' so maybe if I'd just been quicker i.e. more awake I would've blown past the ZANE thing too quick to be irked by it, who knows? INSANA was way more of a problem. No way I'm guessing any of those letters, and in terms of a "field from which names come," you couldn't pick one farther from my realm of caring than "hedge fund manager." Again, not even a show or a network to go on with INSANA (not that it would've helped). RAPINOE is very (recently) famous. LUCINDA ... well, she's very famous to me (saw her at the Beacon in '05) but even if you somehow don't know her, and least LUCINDA is ultimately a recognizable name (unlike, say, INSANA). It just seemed like there were a lot of places in the grid where solvers could into Name Trouble, which honestly is not the most enjoyable kind of trouble. KIRI / ROMERO? Gimmes for me, but I can imagine possibly not for others. 

On the other hand, there are some delightful moments, like CHEERIOS sticking together (never saw that coming, really looking for something science-y there), or the simple backyard pleasures of CORNHOLE (it's my understanding that you can watch competitive CORNHOLE on one of the ESPNs, during CORNHOLE season, whenever that is—the guys on my favorite baseball podcast talked about getting weirdly into it during the early pandemic, when all normal traditional sports had been effectively brought to a halt). And if you're gonna cross proper names at a vowel, then RAPINOE crossing LUCINDA in the dead center of your grid is probably the most glorious way to do that. Some of the relative current fill today actually felt weirdly ... well, kinda old already. That may be because I've already seen it in grids and therefore its novelty isn't as striking to me. Stuff like GLAMPING and RAGEQUIT (perfectly good fill, just lacking the zing it likely once had). NERD CRED ... is just an odd phrase to say (67A: Something you might earn by having a long crossword-solving streak, informally). Say it. NERD CRED. It's like much in your mouth. Reminds me of the "30 Rock" episode where everyone kept having to say the ridiculous movie title "The Rural Juror" over and over. Awkward. 

Biggest struggle was in the SW. I blame INSANA, though I also blame my inexplicable failure to come up with the BIKE part of ROAD BIKE (35D: Transport not meant for trails). Oh, and worst of all down there, I had PLIÉ instead of KNEE (56D: It's a real bender). Really really wanted EARS right from the jump, but I guess PLIÉ must've prevented me from going for it. Oh, sorry, there's another worst of all, which is, worst of all, PLIÉ baited me into putting RAISIN (!!!) in KAISER's place (64A: Kind of roll). When four letters "confirm" your answer, your answer is *usually* safe. Usually. No other real issues today. PENCIL before PENCAP, that's about it (7D: Ink saver). Have a lovely Saturday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lowest rating in showbiz's Ulmer Scale / FRI 9-25-20 / Sister channel of HGTV / Basketball highlight informally / Kind of paste in East Asian cuisine / Half bird half woman creature / Subject of J.J. Thomson's "plum pudding" model / Star Wars spinoff set five years after Emperor Palpatine's fall / Fantasy Focus podcast airer

Friday, September 25, 2020

Constructor: Rachel Fabi

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:39)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Stanley TUCCI (34D: Actor Stanley) —

Stanley Tucci (/ˈti/; born November 11, 1960) is an American actor, writer, producer, film director and former fashion model. Involved in acting from a young age, he made his film debut in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor (1985), and continued to play a wide variety of supporting roles in films such as Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997), Sam MendesRoad to Perdition (2002) and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal (2004). In 1996, he made his directorial debut with the cult comedy Big Night which he also wrote and starred in alongside Tony Shalhoub. He also played Stanley Kubrick in the television film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Tucci is also known for his collaborations with Meryl Streep in films such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), and Julie & Julia (2009). Tucci gained further acclaim and success with such films as Easy A (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger(2011), Margin Call (2011), The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015), Spotlight (2015), and Beauty and the Beast (2017).

He has won three Emmy Awards. One for Winchell (1998); one for a guest appearance on the USA Network comedy series Monk; and one for being a producer of the web series Park Bench with Steve Buscemi. (wikipedia)

• • •

I could not have asked for a better blog anniversary present! Today, my blog turns 14, the big one four, and, as if favored personally by the crossword gods, I am blessed with a puzzle by one of the best friends I have in all of Crossworddom (you may remember Rachel from the video of her and me co-solving a Saturday puzzle that I posted here recently). Also, this puzzle is really clearly obviously a good puzzle, so I can mostly just celebrate. I'm looking around for Things That Normally Irritate Rex and honestly there are only a few and they're all three letters long, so pfffffffffft, don't care. And so many things I like ... like POSTERIORS and PRIDE PARADES, OCEANOGRAPHERS and TURING TESTS, Elvis Costello lyrics ("DON'T GET CUTE...") and cheesy Gino Vanelli songs ("INTO THE NIGHT") and mythological metamorphoses (ACTAEON) and olde-timey ways of saying numbers (THREE SCORE), it's all here! I don't give a damn about that "Star Wars" show, but it seems popular, and it's certainly current, so throw that in the Good column too. In short, I was rarely stuck and rarely unhappy while solving this baby. The thing that held me up the most was actually a stupid typo—I wrote in LATES for LATEX and then kept wondering what this fantastic word could be that's 12 letters long, means "Avant-garde," and starts ESPER-... ESPERANTOISH! That would be pretty avant-garde. 

["DON'T GET CUTE ..."]

Rachel just sent me this screen shot, which I found pretty funny. It's xwordinfo data about her puzzle. Apparently she and this "Michael Sharp" guy think a lot alike, huh, weird:

This is a max word-count themeless (72), which I find often leads to maximum awesomeness precisely because you can get a lot of marquee stuff in there and still have wiggle room to make sure that your fill comes out squeaky clean. No stacks here, just a lot of interlocking gorgeousness—six 10+ answers crossing four 10+ answers, for a total of ten 10+ answers, none of which are weak. The only places I had trouble were RED BEAN (just couldn't come up with it, not sure why) (23A: Kind of paste in East Asian cuisine) and OOP (I get that this is a shortening of "alley-oop," but I can't recall hearing anyone say this ... then again, my basketball fandom is mildly out of date, so what do I know?) (31A: Basketball highlight, informally). Oh, and I wanted a few other things before INTO THE NIGHT. INTO THIN ... something? INTO THE ... MISTS? I don't know, don't remember. But THE NIGHT required crosses. Other than that, this puzzle ran mostly resistance-free. So congratulations to Rachel, and congratulations to me on writing this dang blog for 14 years, and congratulations to you ... for I don't know what, but surely you can think of something. Have a great day, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Altiplano locale / THU 9-24-20 / Supermodel born Melissa Miller / Enthusiastic flamenco cry

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:43, first thing in the a.m.) (grid is oversized, 16x)

THEME: SPELLED OUT (63A: Explained in great detail ... or what four of this puzzle's clues are?) — if you *sound* out the the clue, it spells a word ... and *that* is your clue. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Kay, e.g. = K, E, G = [Keg] = BEER BARREL
  • 22A: Elle, e.g. = L, E, G = [Leg] = DRUMSTICK
  • 38A: Pea, e.g. = P, E, G = [Peg] = CRIBBAGE MARKER
  • 57A: Bee, e.g. = B, E, G = [Beg] = PANHANDLE
Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (66A: Roger ___, second-longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), ruling that African-Americans could not be considered citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories of the United States. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Taney served as the United States Attorney General and United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

We really got the Dred Scott guy (TANEY) in the puzzle the day after the Breonna Taylor decision? I mean, on any day he's unwelcome, but today, especially, yikes. 

This is a perfectly acceptable Thursday puzzle that left me perfectly cold. Well, not cold, exactly. Just unmoved. Unexcited. Felt like work. Not much to fault in the concept though. Gotta do some word / letter-play to reimagine the clue, and then it's just straightforward from there. The whole set-up has a very familiar, very traditional "punny" vibe to it. I definitely had an "aha" moment at some point, though I don't remember when it came. I could see that the clue words sounded like letters very early on, but I didn't put it all together until ... actually, probably CRIBBAGE MARKER. I reasoned backward to [Peg] and then saw what was going on with all the theme clues. By that point I had most of three themers filled in. And then I got PANHANDLE without really thinking about the clue (crosses took care of things). Something about the revealer seems off to me. The clues are only SPELLED OUT if you *sound* them out. You have to say them. There's just ... a step left off. I see that there's a "?" on all the themers, so maybe that's the "we left a step off" indicator today, and it's not too hard to figure out what you had to do to make the clues work, but something about sound / speaking being left out of the explanation made it seem inadequate. Definitely contributed to a feeling of anticlimax. But, again, this is very much in keeping, quality-wise and excitement-wise, with the long history of NYTXW Thursdays that have come before it. Right over the plate.

Had a bunch of missteps today. Blanked completely on GAUSS, even with -USS in place (53D: Magnetic induction unit). I knew I'd seen it, but it was getting mixed up in my head with, I don't know, GNEISS, maybe? SCHUSS? Just couldn't find the handle (ironic, as the answer literally crosses "-HANDLE"). Wrote O'BRIEN before O'BRIAN (35D: Novelist Patrick who wrote "Master and Commander"). Spelled LOUIE like that (15A: One whose charges are sarges). No idea who DEB Fischer is (25A: Nebraska senator Fischer). Probably some horrible (R) ... oh yeah, a Kavanaugh-supporting woman, super. Most of the other names were pretty crosswordesey, so I didn't have as much trouble. EDIE, EMME, EVA ... even PROKEDS and LESPAUL felt straight out of crossword central casting. That TANEY / LEN cross was potentially Natick territory for people. I couldn't be less interested in "Dancing with the Stars" if I tried (64D: "Dancing With the Stars" judge Goodman), and that's probably true of lots of NYTXW solvers, and then TANEY ... he's not exactly current. I think "E" is the only good guess there, but still, crossing non-household names at vowel, not normally advised. Embarrassed it took me as long as it did to get MARS (4D: Land of Opportunity?), CHASE (9D: Go after) (I had ENSUE!?), and ADIEU (62A: Closing bid?), which, weirdly, is probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. The misdirection phrase is perfect, and the wordplay all seems exactly right (you "bid" someone ADIEU when you "close" the conversation with them. Nice. The rest, as I say, was just OK for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Series of documents that trace a path / WED 9-23-20 / Immunity-boosting element / Old-fashioned newsboy's assignment / Kitchen item on a roll / Flavor imparter to chardonnay / Toy with tabs and interchangeable outfits

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Constructor: Margit Christenson

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:34)

THEME: PAPER TRAIL (56A: Series of documents that trace a path, as suggested by this puzzle) — circled-square answers contain words that can follow "paper" in a familiar phrase, and those answers form a kind of winding "trail" across the grid

Paper "trail":
  • TOWEL (1A: Kitchen item on a roll)
  • BACK (15D: Lower-priced edition of a book)
  • CUT (25A: Minor injury for an office clerk)
  • CLIP (31D: Alternative to a staple)
  • TIGER (45A: One making empty threats)
  • ROUTE (27D: Old-fashioned newsboy's assignment)
  • PLANE (23A: Classroom missile that might be grounds for detention)
  • DOLL (28D: Toy with tabs and interchangeable outfits)
  • BAG (44A: Lunch carrier, often)
  • WORK (47D: Forms to process)
Word of the Day: MEZE (48D: Mediterranean appetizer) —
Meze, mezze, or mazza (/ˈmɛz/) is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers in parts of the Middle East, the BalkansGreece, and North Africa. In some Middle Eastern and African regions where it is present, especially predominantly Muslim regions where alcohol is less common, meze is often served as a part of multi-course meals, while in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, they function more as snacks while drinking or talking.
• • •

The concept is cute: an actual "trail" made out of "paper" (answers). Solving it was somewhat less than pleasing, though, as a. once you grok the theme you can fill in every theme answer without much thinking, bam bam bam bam etc., and b. the fill (in places), yikes. But then the longer answers are kinda nice overall (INK-STAINED LOW CEILING CAT-SITTING SLACK LINES etc.), so in the end, I think the puzzle probably comes out ahead of your average Wednesday. Wednesday was never my favorite day to begin with, but whatever, ahead is ahead. If I liked Wednesday this well every Wednesday, that would be an improvement, is what I'm saying. Just, you know, spare me garbage like -IANA (about the worst suffix answer imaginable), and maybe tone down the crosswordesey / overfamiliar short stuff (ISAK and EWOK and OCCAM, OH NO!). But I'll take a cute concept, solidly executed, with good long fill for days. Yes I will.

And now a word on Scrabble-f***ing (i.e. trying to cram a higher-value Scrabble tile into the grid just 'cause, regardless of consequences): Carolyn KEENE might be a slightly better choice than Geoffrey BEENE, but KOO is a better choice than absolutely nothing. KOO is nonsense. So the better cross here is BEENE / BOO. I mean ... KOO, come on. You could also flag the "Z" in the SW as Scrabble-f***ing, I suppose, but ... well, a few things. First, MEZE, though entirely new to me and completely new to the NYTXW, is actually a legitimate food thing. Expect to see MEZE a lot more now that someone has broken the seal on it. It seems to have pretty widespread currency, and if we can let TAPA(S) in the puzzle on a regular basis (and we do), then there's probably room for MEZE as well. Also, the "Z" from ZINC feels pretty natural in that position—certainly the best letter to fill the _INC hole. So I'm not blowing the Scrabble-f***ing whistle there. I reviewed the play. No foul. 

Weird that this one turned out to be Medium in difficulty considering how easy the theme stuff was to get. I attribute this to how hard it was to get started in the NW. For 1A: Kitchen item on a roll ([paper] TOWEL), I had SARAN, as (probably) many longtime solvers did, as the clue writer probably suspected we would. Then I "confirmed" SARAN with SIMP at 1D: Ninny (TWIT). My answers there are absolutely solid and plausible, the highest likelihood guesses, to be honest. I also used SARAN to lock in REAR at 3D: What's aft a ship's aft (WAKE), which I'll admit is less plausible than SARAN and SIMP, but once you've got things fixed in the grid, it can be a little hard to unfix them. Anyway, after some fussing about, I got unstuck, got the theme, and then filled in every themer with almost no thought. I also struggled at LADY'S / DYE LOT (not the prettiest part of the grid). Misspelled SKAT (I think of SCAT as animal droppings) (30A: Musical riffing from Ella Fitzgerald). Also struggled with BOTTLE (up) (44D: Hide, with "up"), which I guess kinda means "hide" (your feelings), but the action there feels more like one of forcing or cramming rather than merely "hiding." My brain just wasn't processing the clue right. That's it for the difficulty though: hard up front, mostly easy the rest of the way. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Comic book character with title role in blockbuster 2018 film / TUE 9-22-20 / Captors of Frodo Baggins / Will Smith Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi hit for short

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Easy (or Challenging, if superhero movies aren't really your thing) (3:11)

THEME: CHADWICK BOSEMAN (7D: Late portrayer of 40-Across) — I'd say it's a tribute puzzle to the late actor, but honestly it's just a rather boring THE BLACK PANTHER PUZZLE with the actor as just one element ... :( 

Theme answers:
  • HEART-SHAPED HERB (17A: Source of 40-Across's 63-Across)
  • SUPERHUMAN POWER (63A: See 17-Across)
  • T'CHALLA (24D: Alter ego of 40-Across)
  • WAKANDA (25D: Home of 40-Across)
Word of the Day: Carli LLOYD (48A: U.S. women's soccer star Carli) —
Carli Anne Hollins (née Lloyd; born July 16, 1982), known as Carli Lloyd, is an American soccer player for the Sky Blue FC in the National Women's Soccer League and the United States women's national soccer team as a midfielder. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2008 and 2012), two-time FIFA Women's World Cup champion (2015 and 2019), two-time FIFA Player of the Year (2015 and 2016), and a three-time Olympian (2008, 2012, and 2016). Lloyd scored the gold medal-winning goals in the finals of the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lloyd also helped the United States win their titles at the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cups and she played for the team at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup where the U.S. finished in second place. Lloyd has made over 290 appearances for the U.S. national team, placing her third in caps, and has the fourth-most goals and seventh-most assists for the team. (wikipedia)
• • •

I know this looks like a tribute, but I have misgivings about tribute puzzles in general, and this one in particular feels thin, opportunistic, and just generally vulture-y. It's a rather ordinary, straightforward, pure trivia puzzle about a movie masquerading as a tribute puzzle. Feels like it was made before Boseman's death and was hastily trotted out in order to ... what, capitalize on some post mortem newsworthiness? Or else it was actually composed as a tribute, in which case it is a very weak example of the kind. Boseman was an accomplished actor who played many noteworthy roles, but this puzzle just defines him by one. An actual *Boseman* tribute might have dwelt on the actor's career in some way; even if it was just one of these typical plug-in-the-data-type tributes, it could have showcased the breadth of his career in some way. But no, what we get is a puzzle composed solely because the central Across and Down are 15s that cross perfectly at the center "K." However well-intentioned this was, it does a disservice to Boseman, and it's just not a great puzzle, conceptually. And the fill, yikes. Way below average. Then you've got FRENCH OPEN and "AMEN TO THAT!" out there looking weirdly like theme answers (longer than both the actual Down themers), but they're not. The whole thing plays real awkward. I was (morbidly, sadly, slightly drunkenly) joking with friends immediately after RBG's death about how long it would take [constructor's name redacted] to get a tribute puzzle into the NYTXW, but then one of my friends reminded me that there was already an RBG-themed puzzle very recently, so we would be spared that particular worst-case death-puzzle scenario. You don't "honor" anyone by churning out a mediocre puzzle. Or by pretending that your mediocre movie puzzle is actually a tribute puzzle. 

And SUPERHUMAN POWER is a clunker. The word is SUPERPOWER. That is the word. When required word length forces you into bad or off answers, rethink things, please! And fillwise, rethink virtually everything here today. I mean, OSHA SLOE as ASDOI before I even got out of the gate? Red flag. And then MSS SOHOT DDE ALB AMFM ATAD OWIE FEMA (*and* OSHA!?) NOS and on and on. Plus an unfortunate and cringey "YO MAMA" (49D: Playground joke intro). In different hands, I can imagine a Boseman tribute (or a "Black Panther"-inspired puzzle) coming off quite well. But tributes actually have to be *better* than average to do what they're supposed to do, i.e. truly honor the deceased. Don't think just because you deign to build a puzzle around someone that you are perforce honoring them. You honor by doing good work. Period.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tony who played 15 seasons with Minnesota Twins / MON 9-21-20 / Foamy drink invented in Taiwan / Horse developed in desert / Hawaiian kind of porch

Monday, September 21, 2020

Constructor: Daniel Larsen and The Wave Learning Festival Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium (2:59)

THEME: two-word phrases where both words are "-ITE" rhymes 

Theme answers:
  • FIGHT NIGHT (17A: Time to watch boxing on TV)
  • WHITE KNIGHT (30A: One rushing in to save the day)
  • BRIGHT LIGHT (47A: It makes your pupils constrict)
  • QUITE RIGHT (64A: "Precisely!")
Word of the Day: BUBBLE TEA (33D: Foamy drink invented in Taiwan) —

Bubble tea (also known as pearl milk teabubble milk tea, or boba) (Chinese珍珠奶茶pinyinzhēn zhū nǎi chá波霸奶茶bō bà nǎi chá or 泡泡茶pào pào chá) is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan in the 1980s that includes chewy tapioca balls ("boba" or "pearls") or a wide range of other toppings.

Ice-blended versions are frozen and put into a blender, resulting in a slushy consistency.[3]There are many varieties of the drink with a wide range of flavors. The two most popular varieties are black pearl milk tea and green pearl milk tea. (wikipedia)

• • •

Look, I don't know what the backstory is here, but this isn't a NYTXW-worthy theme. It's way, way, way too basic. Maybe, *maybe*, if the theme answers were, on their own, really vibrant phrases, you could get away with this, but as is, this isn't playful or interesting enough for *any* major daily crossword, let alone the "best puzzle in the world" or whatever. And the fill is oddly old and cruddy for a Monday. As I've said before, you can often gauge the overall quality of the puzzle before you're out of the NW corner, and that corner today, yeesh. I love baseball and knew OLIVA (2D: Tony who played for 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins), but that is dated baseball crosswordese (esp. for a Monday), and LIGER and EVERSO had me worried that the fill was not headed anywhere good. It's certainly not much worse than average, I guess, but I expect much cleaner on a Monday. I mean, every Across from LANAI on down in the SW is just straight out of crossword central casting. The puzzle is also clumsily built, with giant Friday/Saturday-like corners in the NE and SW, as if the puzzle were trying to be a themeless and an easy Monday themed puzzle simultaneously, but succeeding at neither. Actually, the big corners are far better done than the themed portion of the puzzle. No idea how you can have that much wide open space and still end up at the maximum word count (78), but this puzzle did it. It just didn't feel like an experienced or careful hand was at the helm. I don't get it. If somehow a bunch of fourth-graders made this, then sure, I'll feel a little bad. But I never read constructor's notes at the Times' site and I'm not going to start today. This just isn't up to (what should be) NYTXW standards, theme-wise. 

Are we still expected to know things about "Desperate Housewives"? When will that show's "currency" run out? I outlived the "Ally McBeal" era (when you would occasionally be asked to know tertiary characters on that show for some reason), but sadly it seems the "Desperate Housewives" era is still upon us. Anyway, I didn't know BREE (38A: One of the housewives on "Desperate Housewives"). Beyond that, and OLIVA, there's not much here that's going to throw anyone off their game. I weirdly don't like NIGHT and KNIGHT being successive last words in theme phrases. Feels like cheating. They're homophones. After I got them, I was like, "How many other homophones are there??" But then that wasn't the theme after all. I also think that there should be *no* other "-ight"-sounding words in the grid, outside of the themers, for the sake of elegance. So I'm finding EVITE slightly annoying. In short: keep the NE / SW corners, tear out everything else, and make a themeless. Thank you, goodbye. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Childcare expert LeShan / SUN 9-20-20 / Jazz composer Beiderbecke / Yellow variety of quartz / 14th-century king of Aragon / Unpopular legislation of 1773 / Internet meme with grammatically incorrect captions / Philosopher who tutored Nero / Tokyo before it was Tokyo / Game in which each player starts with score of 501 / Norse troublemaker

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (mid-11s)

THEME: "Word Ladders" — the words in the word ladder (succession of four-letter answers where one letter is changed with each iteration) are actually "ladders," in the sense that they act as paths along which a couple of Across answers drop or rise three levels respectively:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: LESTOIL (99A: Clorox cleanser) —

Lestoil is a registered trade name of Clorox for a heavy-duty multipurpose cleanser product, used to remove extremely difficult laundry stains, dissolve water-based and oil-based paints, and clean grease, oil, paint, and adhesives from floors and surfaces.

It was introduced as a dry cleaning fluid for laundry in 1933. (wikipedia)

• • •

Not sure how to describe my feelings here. As an architectural feat, it's pretty impressive. Takes the (awful, shopworn) theme concept of the word ladder (which here goes from RISE to FALL) and soups it up by making the rungs of the "ladder" into actual ladders by which themers "rise" and "fall" (three rows in either direction). Conceptually it is tight and interesting. And yet I found solving it tedious. Once I got the gist of the theme, I just had to remember that there was going to be rising and falling, so nothing interesting really happened except the fussiness of keeping the rising and falling straight, and then, further, there was so much jarring fill that it just ate into any of the whimsical pleasure the theme might have provided. LESTOIL ... ??? ... never heard of it. Never seen it. Hasn't appeared in the NYTXW since I started blogging (fourteen years ago this week!). CITRINE? (71A: Yellow variety of quartz) I'm sure it is what the puzzle says it is, but again, I got the answer and just had no way of knowing if what I had was right (though CITRINE at least sounded plausible—LESTOIL looked wrong as hell). And what year is "I Love It" even from? You could've at least included that in the clue, because ICONA (!?!?!?!), yeeow, no (36D: "I Love It" duo ___ Pop). One hit, eight years ago. I mean, even if ICONA Pop were somehow ABBA-famous, ICONA on its own is never, ever, ever gonna be good fill. There's also lots of crosswordesey stuff that made me make faces (PETERIV ATEIN USRDA ADREP EDO ETTU NEE EES (ugh) CINES EDA NOE LGS AOL ESAU ELL ESO ETC. etc.). So I acknowledge the architectural feat, but as frequently happens with architectural feats, the payoff at the level of solving pleasure just wasn't there. Maybe if the fill had been stronger, the thematic workmanship could've carried the day, I don't know.

Really hate the idea that asterisks are somehow stars. Also *, *** and ***** are not MIXED REVIEWS (66D. Each is its own review. REVIEWS, maybe, maybe, but you'd need something like "collectively" to make this clue work, though even then it wouldn't work because, as I say, an asterisk is not a star. I read Jane Eyre but not in school so wow I really missed the fact that fire is somehow a MOTIF. Not among the first five or ten things I think of when I think of Jane Eyre but OK. Is LOLCAT still a thing? (105D: Internet meme with grammatically incorrect captions). Is BRODATE? (43A: Occasion for male bonding, in modern lingo). If it's a thing, it's an awful thing. "Modern lingo," my eye. Stop bro-ing everything. The NYTXW is enough of a brofest as it is. It's a date. Just say "date." Also not a thing, for future reference: MANCRUSH. Like, you have a crush on a dude. Accept it. Embrace it. It's a CRUSH. It's OK. You can still be straight or whatever. Yeesh. Twice today I had to wait for the cross to see what gender some word was gonna be—never fun. So it was CARA not CARO, and OTRO not OTRA. I think my favorite part of the puzzle was actually "I CALL DIBS!" (123A: "That one's mine!") though again, I do acknowledge that the theme is thoughtful and reasonably well executed. Just not as fun to solve as I'd like. OK bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Russian letter in spelling of tsar / SAT 9-19-20 / Symbols of hope during American French revolutions / Georgia who played Georgette on 1970s TV / Historic sites in Hot Springs Ark / Classic couples retreat / Treatment during sandal season informally

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy (over 9 minutes lol but I was co-solving over zoom and chatting the whole time, so ... probably, realistically, more of a six-minute solve (fast)—this felt very much like a Friday puzzle)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Hot Springs, Ark. (20D: Historic sites in Hot Springs, Ark. => BATH HOUSES) —

Hot Springs is a resort city in the state of Arkansas and the county seat of Garland County. The city is located in the Ouachita Mountains among the U.S. Interior Highlands, and is set among several natural hot springs for which the city is named. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a population of 35,193. In 2019 the estimated population was 38,797.

The center of Hot Springs is the oldest federal reserve in the United States, today preserved as Hot Springs National Park. The hot spring water has been popularly believed for centuries to possess healing properties, and was a subject of legend among several Native American tribes. Following federal protection in 1832, the city developed into a successful spa town. Incorporated January 10, 1851, the city has been home to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, the Army and Navy Hospital, and 42nd President Bill Clinton. One of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States, the Assemblies of God, traces its beginnings to Hot Springs.

Today, much of Hot Springs's history is preserved by various government entities. Hot Springs National Park is maintained by the National Park Service, including Bathhouse Row, which preserves the eight historic bathhouse buildings and gardens along Central Avenue. Downtown Hot Springs is preserved as the Central Avenue Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city also contains dozens of historic hotels and motor courts, built during the Great Depression in the Art Deco style. Due to the popularity of the thermal waters, Hot Springs benefited from rapid growth during a period when many cities saw a sharp decline in building; much like Miami's art deco districts. As a result, Hot Springs's architecture is a key part of the city's blend of cultures, including a reputation as a tourist town and a Southern city. Also a destination for the arts, Hot Springs features the Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival annually. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)

• • •

[NOTE: YouTube videos seem to not be showing up for people on mobile devices (???). I hope this is a temporary problem that just fixes itself. I'm on my laptop and the videos play just fine. Apologies for the mobile weirdness]

Well I've had two drinks, which is one hundred percent more drinks than I typically have on a weekend night. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg just kinda pushed me into two-drink land, what can I say, I'm human? Also, I had a 9pm Zoom meet-up with my professor / crossword friends and it's the closest thing I'm going to have to "drinks with friends" for a long time, so I drank. Bourbon. Rocks. Annnnnnyway, I was in no mood to solve / blog, but then I found out that the Saturday puzzle was going to be by my favorite *Friday* constructor, Robyn Weintraub, and so my will to solve returned. I'm always incredibly happy to see her byline because I know there's a high likelihood that the puzzle will be delightful. And once again, it was. Even her Saturdays feel like Fridays. That is, even when they're on the tougher side, they're joyful. Entertaining. Fun. 

I co-solved this one on Zoom with my friend Rachel Fabi, so I'm just gonna post that video, but I'll give you some of the highlights here:

  • ICEES — we were really unsure what product the clue was referring to. ICEES are Slurpee-like drinks. I think ice pops come in (long thin plastic) "pouches," but ICEES? Not familiar. So we looked it up. And lo + behold, the ICEES (drink) brand also comes in pouches that you can buy? Weird.
  • TSE / HEME / KOA / HEP — this is just about the only stuff in the grid that I / we didn't like. There's a Russian letter called TSE?? Wow. OK. You can bet I double-checked every cross on that one.
  • Every Long Answer — LOL there are fifteen (15!!?!?!) 8+-letter answers in this puzzle, and none (0) of them are bad. I balked at RARE BOOK STORE just because something about an entire brick & mortar establishment dedicated to *rare* books seemed ... unlikely? (as you can hear me say in the video: "Rare book *room*, *used* book store!"). But everything else about the longer fill was fantastic. Highlights: HALF ASLEEP, NEVER FEAR, DON'T BE SO HASTY, DARK MONEY, DROP THE BALL. But honestly, they're all good, even the quaint WOEBEGONE. This thing is just crammed with marquee answers. Insane.
  • HEP (48D: Like the latest, in the past) — I can't quite tell what "Like" is doing here. Like, is it doing the normal thing where it means "akin to" or is it some kind of beatnik colloquialism where it's "Like, the latest, man!"? Not crazy about HEP, or about ENGEL, whom I loved on "MTM," but she's a very niche (and crosswordesey) proper name answer that lots of (younger) people will need every cross for.
Had DASHED before DARTED (23A: Ran rapidly) and AAA before KOA (47D: Roadside initials), but if you want to know what the solve was really like, you can just watch, here (side note: I say that it's the "Friday" puzzle—obviously, it's not):

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Typographer's gap / FRI 9-18-20 / Fortification-breaching bomb / Vacation locale for President Gerald Ford / Lucky thing to hit in ping-pong / Member of South Asian diaspora

Friday, September 18, 2020

Constructor: Anne and Daniel Larsen

Relative difficulty: Easy (very, 4:46, first thing in the morning)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EM SPACE (40D: Typographer's gap) —

An em is a unit in the field of typography, equal to the currently specified point size. For example, one em in a 16-point typeface is 16 points. Therefore, this unit is the same for all typefaces at a given point size.

The em dash (—) and em space ( ) are each one em wide

Typographic measurements using this unit are frequently expressed in decimal notation (e.g., 0.7 em) or as fractions of 100 or 1000 (e.g., 70/100 em or 700/1000 em). The name em was originally a reference to the width of the capital M in the typeface and size being used, which was often the same as the point size. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)

• • •

Totally acceptable if not terribly exciting offering today. A few nice, fresh phrases in a sea of tolerable if frequently overfamiliar stuff. There's something about certain phrases like NOT A HOPE and I DARE SAY and YOU BET I CAN that seem stiff and dated, and therefore seem as if they are arising from the graveyard of crosswords past (or a very extensive wordlist, which can amount to the same thing, since those are typically based on what's been in the puzzles before). Even IN A PANIC, which is a solid enough phrase, has an oddly crosswordy vibe to it—it's appeared eight times in the past decade, which doesn't sound like a lot, but for an eight-letter phrase, it's kind of a lot.. The grid shape here isn't helping. There aren't enough free-standing marquee answers; by "free-standing," I mean, "not tethered to another long answer of similar length" (see the pairs of long Downs in the NE and SW, which are noticeably less zingy than the best stuff, which in every case today (imho) is a longer answer that pops against the shorter fill surrounding it: DREAM ACT, BEYOND MEAT, NET NEUTRALITY. There was just something about this grid that felt closed in, like it couldn't quite breathe properly: too segmented, not built for the fill to really sing. But still, as I say, it holds up fine. I winced almost no times. You can send ATTA and ORANG back where they came from, but otherwise the grid is quite clean. And maybe I'm not giving enough credit to CHE GUEVARA / HOME PLANET as a colorful pair of answers, which I like more now than I did mid-solve. Anyway, good work. Just not as fresh and fun as the best Fridays.

TOE CAP ... I can't put my finger on it, or articulate it very well this morning, but this is another answer that feels squirmy to me—one of those "sure, whatever" phrases that I wouldn't use and haven't heard used. RICE BELT is interesting, but if I'd had to pick a belt to describe that area, I'd've gone with BIBLE. Honestly, needed crosses to get RICE. I've heard of em dashes but not EM SPACEs, though that wasn't hard to infer. Not thrilled about the dupe of "ACT" (DREAM ACT, ACTS ON), but at least today those answers are on opposite sides of the grids, i.e. the "ACT"s don't *intersect* the way those "OUT"s did earlier in the week, yeesh. I misread "South Asian" as "South African" so getting DESI was a real "D'oh!" moment (49D: Member of the South Asian diaspora). I had TOWED before TOTED (36A: Hauled), but that was the only mistake of the day, which may explain the sizzling fast time. Oh, no, sorry, one other mistake, of the utterly mundane and predictable variety: SODA before COLA (4D: Fountain option). Honestly, coming out of that NW corner, I was not terribly hopeful about where this puzzle was going, but it definitely wound up more enjoyable than not.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP