Twisted person / MON 2-24-20 / Do the honors with the turkey / Jules who wrote "Journey to the Center of the Earth" / Flurry

Monday, February 24, 2020

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: RAISING THE FLAG (15D: Activity depicted in a famous 2/23/1945 photograph ... and in three of this puzzle's answers) — Theme answers, which are all downs, feature the letters "FLAG" rising vertically from bottom to top.

Theme answers:
  • DINING AL FRESCO (4D: Having a meal under the stars, e.g.)
  • KING ALFRED (6D: Ninth-century English monarch known as "the Great")
  • LEGAL FORCE (28D: What a law hasn't been repealed still has)
Word of the Day: SUET (35D: Tallow source) 
  1. the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other animals, used to make foods including puddings, pastry, and mincemeat.
• • •

Hi everyone! Jordan Siff here. I'm a brand strategist by day, but longtime fan of Rex's blog, so here I am to give you my take on today's puzzle. I live in NYC, so if you're reading this on the subway - perhaps refreshing Safari as you glide into a station that has cell service - you are my people!

So, I told myself that I didn't want to come across too jaded or critical in my debut post, but my job is to be honest here - this one missed the mark for me. I found it to be pretty tough for a Monday, more Tuesday-ish in difficulty, which may be due to the theme forcing some fairly obscure and long down answers. I see what RAISING THE FLAG was going for, but it didn't pan out too well as a theme because there wasn't anything unique about how it interacted with each answer. It was more or less "here are three answers that all have GALF somewhere in them." I might not be the biggest history buff, but I've never heard of KING ALFRED, and a somewhat random king from ninth century England feels a bit esoteric for Monday fare. LEGAL FORCE wasn't too exciting either. DINING AL FRESCO was a nice touch, but that's 1 out of 3. Perhaps the revealer helped some people solve the other themers once they knew that "GALF" would show up, but my experience was just finishing the puzzle and then scratching my head over the theme after the fact.

Outside the theme, this puzzle does have a few redeeming qualities. The clue for BARISTAS was clever - and I'll definitely need a nice, strong cup when I get back to my "daily grind" today. The cross between IOTA and ATOM, both clued as "Tiny bit," was cute. I liked the clue for CARVE, but for some reason had BASTE in there first? There wasn't too much hardcore crosswordese (looking at you, APSES), but some less common short fill that may have been a bit much for a Monday (e.g. SHOD AMAIN LOCI ROIL SUET).

  • HINGE (21A: What a door swings on) — Call me a millennial, but referencing the dating app could have been a more modern or fun cluing on this one.
  • MONGREL (25A: Opposite of a purebred) — This word definitely has a "playground insult" vibe, to me. I can't imagine someone matter-of-factly referring to their dog as a "mongrel."
  • AGORA (38A: Ancient Greek meeting place) — For some reason, this is singed into my head as a vocab word from my 6th grade Ancient History class. Shoutout Mrs. Kolodney!
  • AS IF (38D: "Yeah, I'm real sure!") — I'm trying to imagine someone sarcastically saying "Yeah, I'm real sure!" like that's a phrase that would be uttered out of a human mouth. AS IF!
  • GAMY (66A: Like venison that's been sitting awhile) — I thought that venison was gamy in and of itself. If it's been sitting for awhile, that just sounds...rancid!?
Signed, Jordan Siff, New to CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dance craze of early 2010s / SUN 2-23-20 / Color akin to cyan / Pullers of Artemis's chariot / Locke who was called father of Harlem renaissance / Home planet of ming merciless / Southeast Asian ethnic group /

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Constructor: Sophia and David Maymudes

Relative difficulty: Easy to Easy-Medium (9:15)

THEME: "RESOLVED" — you "solve" the puzzle by adding "RE-" to the beginnings of words in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued wackily (i.e. "?"-style)

Theme answers:
  • REPRESS YOUR LUCK (27A: "Stop rolling sevens!"?) (are sevens "lucky"? Is this a craps thing?)
  • RELATE TO THE PARTY (45A: Build rapport like a presidential candidate?)
  • RESENT PACKING (70A: Hate getting ready to move?)
  • RESTOCKS AND BONDS (97A: Makes friends while working retail?)
  • RETURN THE TABLES (115A: Event planner's post-banquet task?)
  • RECOVER GIRL (16D: Young woman to call when your data gets deleted?)
  • RECESS POOLS (69D: Places to swim during school?)
Word of the Day: MONGO (106D: Home planet of Ming the Merciless) —
a monetary subunit of the tugrik ( .... or ....  
Mongo is a fictional planet where the comic strip (and later movie serials) of Flash Gordon takes place. Mongo was created by the comics artist Alex Raymond in 1934, with the assistance of Raymond's ghostwriter Don Moore. Mongo is depicted as being ruled by a usurper named Ming the Merciless, who is shown as ruling Mongo in a harsh and oppressive manner.
The planet is depicted as being inhabited by different cultures, and having a varying ecosystem.The technology of these cultures varies from groups at a Stone Age level, to highly technologically advanced peoples. At the beginning of the comic strip, almost all of these cultures are shown as being under the domination of the tyrant Ming. In all the versions of the Flash Gordon story, Flash Gordon is shown as unifying the peoples of Mongo against Ming, and eventually removes him from power. Later stories often depict Mongo under the rule of its rightful leader, Prince Barin. (wikipedia)
• • •

The one positive thing I can say about this puzzle is that 1-Across (DESPAIR) is apt. Nice touch. Tells you exactly what you will feel about 1/3 of the way through the puzzle when you realize that this is it, it's not getting any better, you're just gonna be putting RE- onto the front of words ad nauseam. And the fill, that also isn't going to improve. It's just gonna tread water, struggling to keep its head above Adequate, for the remainder of the solve (which, thank merciful god, was not that long). ORME, ONYOU, TIRO, UIE, NNE TIRO INLA ANI ORIEL ISE IHAVEENCARTAATPAR! My investment in this puzzle, my care, my serious attention, they all checked out completely at -ONYM (15D: Ending with pseud- or syn-). ALOAF!? ORNITH.!!!!! hahahaha wow, wow. And the single ARREAR returns to haunt the grid once again ... stunning. What is happening today? HOY VEY!

I was forewarned that this would be a very easy puzzle, so of course I didn't come anywhere close to my record time (I have never ever done well on a puzzle I've been told by others is easy, which is why I stay the hell off of social media before I've solved and why you should never ever (please!) send me comments or questions about the puzzle until after I have posted my write-up. I know sometimes you are eager to get your feelings out, but ... courtesy! Still, though, this was pretty much as advertised, i.e. easy. UGLI, but easy. Here are the places I stumbled:

  • 1D: Pullers of Artiemis's chariot (DEER) — really should've gotten this one straight off, but did the sometimes reasonable but today dumb thing of putting "S" at the end of the answer and waiting to see what would happen. My brain had that chariot being pulled by HENS at one point.
  • 53A: Dance craze of the early 2010s (DOUGIE) — sigh, bygone fads. Great! I vaguely remember the phrase "teach me how to DOUGIE!" and that is all I remember.
  • 47D: Brexit exiter (THE U.K.) — ugh, THEUK. Especially ugly when the clue doesn't even bother to signal the abbr. part. Also, the cluing is awkward as heck, as it sounds like the answer should be "one who exits Brexit," not "the party whose exit is signified by the portmanteau 'Brexit'." Awk, I say!
  • 84D: Study of birds: Abbr. (ORNITH.) — I just could not have foreseen a six-letter (!) abbr. I mean, of course ornithology is the study of birds, but ORNITH.!? It's just ... who expects ORNITH.!? (an entry not seen in sixteen years, and hopefully not seen for at least another sixteen)
  • 99D: Rehearsals (DRY RUNS) — I kept wanting it to be TRYOUTS. Over and over. The fact that this answer ran through the very wince-y NNE SOL UIE NINO section didn't help matters
RECAP AND GOWN! REBOUND FOR GLORY! REFORM-FITTING! These aren't hard to come up with, and the funniness ceiling on the whole concept is pretty low. Sorry the news isn't better.

On the Clipboard this week ...

  • It's been a very Berry week, for sure. First of all, Patrick Berry's New Yorker puzzle this week was humblingly smooth and gorgeous. The kind of thing where even as you're solving, you're just shaking your head, marveling at the fact that any one human can be this good at anything. I wish more constructors would study his work and aspire to his level of craft. I mean, you're gonna fall short, but falling short of Patrick Berry can still leave you in a pretty wonderful place. See his puzzle here
  • The other Berry thing that happened this week was his release of "Sweet 16," a puzzle suite (!) consisting of 16 smallish variety puzzles, each one leading to its own meta-answer, and then the whole set leading to some final meta-answer. I just started in on these and they're delightful. Well worth your $10. Buy "Sweet 16" here, for yourself, for a loved one, for America. 
  • My favorite puzzle of the week was probably Amy Goldstein and Joanne Sullivan's WSJ crossword from Tuesday 2/18—and it's a theme type that I normally really don't care for. The puzzle was called "Behind the Scenes," and the theme answers were all two-word (or compound) phrases, where both words (or word parts) could also follow the word "PLAY" in familiar words/phrases. MONEYMAKER, DATEBOOK, etc. No great shakes, really. But the grid! It was so smooth and had such vibrant fill, stuff like HOTCOMB and PHOTOBOMB and FRONT TEETH and POOH CORNER (!!). I just *enjoyed* solving it. This puzzle was proof that you don't have to have a startlingly original theme concept to make a truly *enjoyable* puzzle. It's also proof that the WSJ should publish way way way more women. They're sitting at 6% for 2020 so far. That is embarrassing. The very existence of this puzzle proves that there are women constructors who can make puzzles not just as good, but better than the WSJ average. So why the incessant mediocre old white guy parade!? It's gotta stop, or at least ... abate. Please.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Imagist poet Doolittle / SAT 2-22-20 / Unstable subatomic particle / Creature with eyespots on its wings

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:28)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HILDA Doolittle (36A: Imagist poet Doolittle) —
Hilda Doolittle (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961) was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist, associated with the early 20th century avant-garde Imagist group of poets, including Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington. She published under the pen name H.D. (wikipedia)
• • •

So mad right now because I have absolutely heard of "H.D." but had no idea those initials stood for HILDA Doolittle. Really truly deceptive, to the point of being borderline inaccurate, to say that the poet was anything but "H.D." She published under the name "H.D." Gah! Can't decide if this is a knowing-too-much or knowing-too-little problem. Anyway, it stinks. Still, I can't complain about difficulty very much, since HILDA / CPA provided literally the only difficulty in this whole solve. I somehow knew / "knew" MCCAIN (1A: Senator who wrote "Faith of My Fathers"); it was the first thing that came to mind and I tested it and bingo bango! Five of the six crosses immediately checked out, and CZARINAS followed shortly thereafter. Hard to overestimate how important getting 1-Across is on any day, but today it felt *particularly* fortuitous. With "-ZIC-" in place, QUIZZICAL LOOKS was a gimme. Wrote in QUOTATION MARKS without ever even looking at the clue—that is the kind of solve I was having. I typo'd PAGE GOY for Prince Valiant's haircut, which was the only real mistake I made. I guess the puzzle thinks it's being cute with all the "Q"s... honestly, I don't qare. The grid seems fine, overall, but the puzzle itself was way way way too easy. HOP UP, that was weird. I wanted PEP UP, which would also have been weird. I've heard of someone's being "hopped up on goofballs," but HOP UP as a phrase meaning simply "energize," that's definitely out-of-the-language for me. But nothing else was.

I had CPU for CPA because ... just because. I didn't know why the clue was winking at me (29D: No. brain?). Like, was it flirting with me? Did it have something in its eye? I just didn't get it. The CPU is the computer's "brain," so I just went with that, but then it seemed very unlikely that an imagist poet would be named HINDU Doolittle (which is where that first name was headed), so I tore out that "U" and then the rightness of CPA finally asserted itself to me. I just read about ARSÈNE Lupin and Sherlock Holmes in Alan Moore / Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I'm in the middle of), so that clue felt like it was made special for me (59A: "___ Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes" (1910 story collection)). It's not that I knew all the answers, it's that the answers I got caused other answers to topple by giving me enough letters in the right places to make educated guesses. Felt like watching dominoes fall rather than pushing a boulder up a hill. Exhilarating, in a way, but also sad, because I feel like I barely saw this. Do NOMADs TRAIPSE? Really? Not a very I would've associated with them. BAH. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Palace in Hindi / FRI 2-21-20 / Celebrity with namesake cereal in '80s / Mare might be found in one / Helpful word in solving cryptograms

Friday, February 21, 2020

Constructor: Erik Agard and Anne Flinchbaugh

Relative difficulty: Easy to Easy-Medium (I solved on paper without a timer)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SANTOS (35D: Brazilian soccer team that Pelé played for) —
Santos Futebol Clube (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈsɐ̃tus futʃiˈbɔw ˈklubi]), commonly known simply as Santos, is a Brazilian sports club based in Vila Belmiro, a bairro in the city of Santos. It plays in the Paulistão, the State of São Paulo's premier state league, as well as the Brasileirão, the top tier of the Brazilian football league system.
The club was founded in 1912 by the initiative of three sports enthusiasts from Santos by Raimundo Marques, Mário Ferraz de Campos, and Argemiro de Souza Júnior as a response to the lack of representation the city had in football. Since then, Santos became one of Brazil's most successful clubs, becoming a symbol of Jogo Bonito (English: the Beautiful Game) in football culture, hence the motto "Técnica e Disciplina" (Technique and discipline). The most recognized Santista anthem is the "Leão do Mar" written by Mangeri Neto. This was largely thanks to the Peixe's golden generation of the 1960s which contained players such as GilmarMauro RamosMengálvioCoutinhoPepe and Pelé, named the "Athlete of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee, and widely regarded as the best and most accomplished footballer in the game's history. Os Santásticos, considered by some the best club team of all times, won a total of 24 titles during that decade including five consecutive Brasileirões, a feat that remains unequaled today. Os Santásticos won four competitions in 1962, thus completing a quadruple, comprising the Paulistão, the Brasileirão, the Copa Libertadores and the European/South American Cup. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well OK then, hi, hello there. This is the Friday crossword content I am looking for (and congrats to Anne Flinchbaugh on what appears to be her NYTXW debut). After my initial annoyance at being thrown a "?" clue at 1A: Caseload? (BOTTLES) — not welcoming! — rather than wrestle with it, I just jumped over to the NE corner, got SIDEBET immediately, and settled in for what turned out to be a great, if brief, ride. I just kept filling in the grid and nodding. Yes. Oh sure, I like that. Good one. Oh, CHEAT CODE, huh, wow. It kept on like that. So smooth. So smooth that the rough bits (for me) really stood out. The rough bits are (unsurprisingly) all proper nouns that were "rough" because I didn't know them. Too bad so sad. The only truly rough bit, where "rough" can be understood as "unlovely," was OVULAR, which ... how many damn ways do we need to say egg-shaped in this ridiculous language? Were OVATE and OVOID not enough!? I guess my complaint here is more with the English language than with the puzzle, which, as I say, was mostly gold. The truly impressive thing to me was that it felt poppin' fresh while not really having *that* many long answers. Only six answers go longer than eight letters, and only three go longer than nine. And yet man do they make good use of the 8+ stuff: BADMOUTH, EVIL GRINS, RUNNER'S HIGH, CHEAT CODE, LUNAR CRATER. If you can maximized the wow value of your longer answers, keep your shorter stuff clean, and write occasionally interesting clues, well, that's all there is to it! Easy! (Editor's voice: not easy)

Favorite moments today were actually cluing moments, which I could probably just call "clues," but we're a high-class outfit here at "Rex Parker" and we like to deal in professional-seeming argot when we can. I loved the clue on DRS (what are the odds of That?) (25A: Mount Sinai people: Abbr.). Mostly I'm glad I saw the clue only *after* I'd filled it in from crosses, because wow that would've thrown me. My brain would definitely have gone "Bible" and not "hospital," and then I'd've been in Stuck City until the crosses helped me out (I bypassed Stuck City today, accidentally, by just doing the crosses). The other hurray moment for me with the cluing came at 43A: A mare might be found in one—before I read that clue, I had L--AR in place, so my brain was already thinking LUNAR, but when I saw the clue, I had a great (because brief) moment of "'mare,' what the ...?" and then snap, yes, got it. From the Latin for "sea," mares (actually ... looks like the plural is "maria") are "large, dark, basaltic plains on the moon" that early astronomers mistook for seas (wikipedia). They cover about a sixth of the moon's surface. Anyway, love both the DRS and the LUNAR CRATER clues, though I have to admit it was nice in both cases to be able to admire them without having had to go through that icky period where you're baffled by them. This puzzle was 95%+ good feelings, which is honestly about 30% more than I actually require. Please study the non-flashy parts of the grid to see what "smooth fill" means. Not JOSHING. Do it. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I did not know who EGO Nwodim is because I don't watch "SNL" any more, but she's been on the show since 2018 (11D: Nwodim of "S.N.L."). I like the way Erik (here and in his the puzzles he edits for USA Today) helps me navigate the pop culture names I don't know by making sure crosses are superfair.

P.P.S. I could not process what the "in more ways than one" part of the PREGAME clue was getting at (16A: Time for warm-up shots, in more ways than one). I think the idea is that players take practice shots in PREGAME, and cameras take shots *of* the warm-up in their PREGAME shows? So, basketball shots and camera shots are the "more ways than one" ... if that's wrong, please don't tell me, because I'm honestly content with my explanation.

P.P.P.S. A young person just informed me that PREGAME means “drink before going to a game / party” so “shots” = alcohol. Sigh. Clever clue that I missed because of generational lingo difference.  I hate binge-drinking, which literally kills the kids I teach. I don’t like xword clues that joke about alcoholism (wacky punny clues for SOT or DTS or DIPSO, say). This one isn’t in that category, but it has negative connotations for me solely because of my job. My problem, not yours.

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Pirate plunder / THU 2-20-20 / Sweet and healing medicine of troubles per Horace / Oscar-nominated actor with nearly synonymous first and last names / Where the Ko'olau range is located

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Constructor: Joe Deeney

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (not sure of exact solving time as I had to wrestle with rebus squares in my software)

THEME: PIECES OF EIGHT (53A: Pirate plunder ... or a hint to interpreting an appropriate number of squares in this puzzle) — eight "8" squares, I guess ... so it's "eight" phonetically (i.e. "ATE") in the Acrosses and two "O"s in the Downs ... I guess the numeral "8" represents two "O"s one on top of the other ... [sigh]

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Chicago's EDEN'S Expressway (67A: Chicago's ___ Expressway) —
The William G. Edens Expressway (also known as the Edens Parkway and the Edens Superhighway) is the main major expressway north from the city of Chicago to Northbrook, Illinois. Only the short portion from the spur ramp to the expressway's end in Highland Park does not carry I-94. It was the first expressway in Chicago and was opened on December 20, 1951. It has three lanes in each direction. The original name of the expressway was the Edens Parkway, named after William G. Edens, a banker and early advocate for paved roads. He was a sponsor of Illinois' first highway bond issue in 1918. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was annoying to solve. Why do constructors keep trying to do Soooooo much? I don't mean mere ambition, I mean whistles and bells that just make things a mess. It's "8" in the grid but ATE in the Across and "OO" in the Downs *and* there are 8 theme squares and there's a "pirate" (?) phrase for a revealer?! People will ooh and aah at the "impressive feat of construction," but the solving experience was unpleasant. It was especially unpleasant if, like so many people, you didn't solve it on paper. For me, it was just a dumb "why is ATE crossing OO and really is that the only thing that's happening? and it's just going to *keep* happening!?!?" HATERS GONNA HATE is a fun phrase, and I enjoyed remembering that "SCHOOL DAZE" existed, but the rest of it, no thanks.

Found the ATE/OO thing very early with UPLATE / GOOF UP (two "up" phrases crossing, really? OMG no, SAT UP is right there too, with "UP" crossing the "UP" in GOOF UP— that's all truly horrid). And then it was just a slog, with PIECES OF EIGHT only kinda sorta bringing it all together. I guess the "PIECES" are the 8 squares? I had some trouble seeing PIECES OF EIGHT because I had MOOR instead of COVE at one point (54D: Spot to lay anchor). I had a *lot* of wrong answers. PARKS for POLLS (24A: They close at 9 p.m. in New York); MLS before XFL (59D: Sports org. with the New York Guardians and Seattle Dragons); Nation of ISLES instead of Nation of ISLAM (don't ask, man, I have no idea what my brain was doing there) (30D: Nation of ___). The worst error by far was SLOGS (and then PLODS) for PLOWS (49A: Goes (through) laboriously). What a gangly awkward clue on such a basic word. Because of my wrong answer(s), I couldn't see YIPE (43D: Cry of surprise) (it's YIPES, btw). I also just couldn't get to CLICK (47D: Hit it off), and I really really wasn't expecting a theme square down there, so CRATER and WHOOPI were rough. The rest of the grid wasn't much trouble. It also wasn't much fun.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hungarian horseman / WED 2-19-20 / Reject romantically show interest romantically / Popular game that needs no equipment / Popular video-sharing service / Iron alloy that includes bit of tungsten chromium

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (my typing was alarmingly poor—I think I typo'd ever entry somehow) (4:11)

THEME: SWIPE LEFT / SWIPE RIGHT (60A: Reject romantically ... or a hint to the starts of the answers to 18- and 35-Across, phonetically / 65A: Show interest romantically ... or a hint to the ends of the answers to 20- and 44-Across, phonetically) — language from the Tinder dating app, where you SWIPE RIGHT on people you're interested in and SWIPE LEFT on those you're not. Here, in the puzzle, "swipe" must be interpreted as a word meaning "take illegally"—you will find words that mean "take illegally" (or sound like they do when you say them aloud) on the "LEFT" or "RIGHT" side of their respective answers

Theme answers:
  • LYFT DRIVER (18A: One competing with Uber) (actually lots of LYFT DRIVERs are also Uber drivers, I think) (here, "lift" means "swipe" ... and LYFT is at *front* of its answer, so it's a SWIPE LEFT)
  • BLUE STEEL (20A: Iron alloy that includes a bit of tungsten and chromium) (here, "steal" means "swipe" ... and STEEL is at the *back* of its answer, so it's a SWIPE RIGHT)
  • KNICK KNACKS (35A: Tchotchkes) ("nick" means "swipe"... SWIPE LEFT)
  • KEYSTONE KOP (44A: Incompetent figure of old slapstick) ("cop" means "swipe"... SWIPE RIGHT)
Word of the Day: HUSSAR (4D: Hungarian horseman) —
hussar (/həˈzɑːr/ hə-ZAR/hʊˈzɑːr/) (PolishhuzarHungarianhuszárSerbian LatinhusarSerbian Cyrillicхусар) was a member of a class of light cavalry, originating in Central Europeduring the 15th and 16th centuries. The title and distinctive dress of these horsemen were subsequently widely adopted by light cavalry regiments in European armies in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
A number of armored or ceremonial mounted units in modern armies retain the designation of hussars.
• • •

Well that was a chore to explain. And also a slight chore to figure out in the first place. Didn't take me long, but I did have to think about it, and when I figured it out, well, GROAN, for sure (43A: Response to a computer crash). I'm having trouble getting past the repetition of SWIPE, for starters. I get that in order for the theme to work at all (probably), you've got to repeat the word, but it's just such an ugly solution, somehow. Might've been nice to indicate that the revealers were app-related phrases, as I probably struggled more with the front end of -PERIGHT than I did anywhere else in the grid besides HUSSAR (which I confused with HESSIAN, and which I haven't seen in a puzzle since god knows when). The ostentatious app-iness of this whole puzzle (see also TIKTOK) gives it a very strong "Hello, fellow youths!" feel, as in "Hello, fellow youths! Did you see that KEYSTONE KOPs one-reeler at the Rialto last night!? ROFL, amirite!? Hey, who are your favorite EARPS? Mine's Virgil, duh! Do you like 'KOJAK?' 'Who loves ya, baby?' Ha ha Yeah, he's cool. Oh, hang on, BRB, gotta go TOT up the SODAS for our field trip to Six Flags. I mistotted last time and we DRANK 'em all before we even left the parking lot: epic FAIL! Hey, you guys wanna make an OPERA TIKTOK?! I mean RAP! RAP is what I listen to for sure. Anyway, think about it ..." Etc. This theme is just ... a lot. Extra. Trying real hard. I see the wordplay and the theme density and all of it, and I am sort of nodding at it appreciatively, but it wasn't really for me. Two of the answers get their homonyms from fanciful made-up words (Lyft, Kop). The fill, especially around where the revealers meet (i.e. the south), is really rough. ITSYITISIIIISPY!?!? Yeesh. Oh, wow, I just realized that this puzzle is 16 wide. It really can't follow any of the rules, can it? What a rebel... I can't believe this puzzle doesn't have a hit show on Nickelodeon already.

Five things:
  • 39D: Kiss amorously (SNOG) — I get that they use this word a lot in Harry Potter, but it still needs some indicator that it's foreign slang, imho.
  • 50D: Harry Potter's Quidditch position (SEEKER) — this puzzle has definitely read all the Harry Potter books, multiple times. Or, he's seen all the movies. Probably the latter.
  • 28A: Volunteer for another tour (REUP) — this was the final answer on the first Sunday puzzle I ever successfully completed (in 1991), so even though it is semi-garbage fill, I can't bring myself to hate it the way it needs to be hated.
  • 61A: Legislature V.I.P. (WHIP) — probably the hardest single answer for me, weirdly. It's down in that thicket where the revealers overlap and before I knew what the revealers were doing, it was rough, and even after I had the "W" from SWIPE and and the "P" from I SPY I still couldn't see what was going on. W--P ... my brain wanted only WIMP.
  • 47A: ___ pony (POLO) — yes, very "relatable."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Village of the Prancing Pony inn in Lord of the Rings / TUE 2-18-20 / 1930s boxing champ Max / Storms are brewin in her eyes in a 1986 #1 hit

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:16 first thing in the a.m.—before 5 a.m., to be precise-ish—is very fast for a Tuesday)

THEME: PARALLEL PARKS (36A: Does a driving test task — or an apt description of the five circled diagonals in this puzzle) — U.S. National Parks run parallel to one another in the circled diagonals:

  • DENALI (Alaska)
  • GLACIER (Montana)
  • REDWOOD (California)
  • ACADIA (Maine)
  • ARCHES (Utah)
Word of the Day: Glacier National Park  —
Glacier National Park is an American national park located in northwestern Montana, on the Canada–United States border, adjacent to the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. The park encompasses over 1 million acres (4,000 km2) and includes parts of two mountain ranges (sub-ranges of the Rocky Mountains), over 130 named lakes, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. This vast pristine ecosystem is the centerpiece of what has been referred to as the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem," a region of protected land encompassing 16,000 square miles (41,000 km2). (wikipedia)

• • •

I have surprisingly few feelings about this one. I think the theme idea is very clever. Slightly odd to see a theme based around U.S. National Parks that does *not* feature either YELLOWSTONE or YOSEMITE (what I think of as the two most iconic U.S. National Parks), but these five parks are all very well known; Glacier was the only one whose location I had to look up, though it's probably more famous than ACADIA, which I know about only because it's in the northeast (like me) and I once looked into going there (still never been to Maine, weirdly). So what we have are five parks, which form a slightly arbitrary but still very solid set, and you cannot argue with their parallelness. So the revealer actually involves wordplay, and doesn't just sit there pointing at the themers like the world's most bored and useless tour guide. If you'd simply described the theme to me, I'd say "sounds nifty" (maybe not in those exact words). But the experience of solving this one was rather flat. The main problem was that the puzzle was soooooo easy that I actually never noticed the letters in the circled squares. Didn't have to. I hesitated significantly only once, when trying to navigate the GARDENED / TERRARIA crossing early on (wanted TERRARIA to be a different word I couldn't call to mind, which I realized, after I was finally done, was MENAGERIE). After getting out of the NW corner, I made one error (AIR for ACT at 22D: Something a false person puts on) but otherwise filled in the grid pretty much as fast as I could read the clues. Is my speed / theme-neglect the puzzle's fault? Well, yeah, kinda. Make people have to notice the theme elements! This is especially important in a puzzle that Doesn't Have Any Theme Answers (beyond the revealer). Solving this was like solving a very weak themeless (weak because the fill is constrained by a theme, which does exist, but is simply invisible to me). I actually wouldn't have minded this as a Wednesday or even Thursday puzzle with (much) tougher cluing.

As for that fill, it's passable. There are definitely unattractive moments (GARS OMAHAN UNS SSA) but I know how hard it is to fill a puzzle with fixed diagonal words / phrases shooting through it. Seems like it should be easier than filling a grid with normal fixed Across/Down themers, but it is *not*. It's harder. The way to look at it is, you might have technically the same number of theme *squares* but the number of *answers* you've now conscripted into your theme scheme goes through the roof. Hardly any answers dont have at least one fixed theme letter in them. This makes building the grid very tough. Normally in a corner you can tear it all out and start again if you don't like it, but once you decide on these themers and this grid shape, you're locked in to those diagonals and they are touching evvvvvverything. It's messy and annoying and frustrating. This is not to defend junky fill at all. Only to explain that filling this grid is probably harder than it looks, and the amount of junk in this grid didn't seem any higher than the amount in any other NYTXW grid. Again, the experience of filling it all in was not exactly scintillating, but I'm actually surprised the grid didn't buckle in a much more visible and alarming way. In short, I've done worse. The theme is conceptually strong. I like CERBERUS (notably untouched by theme letters!) (64A: Dog guarding the gates of the underworld). There's more good than bad here.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Former competitor of Southwest / MON 2-17-20 / Argentine partner dances / Prestigious Atlanta university

Monday, February 17, 2020

Constructor: Sally Hoelscher

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:52)

THEME: recent First Ladies, clued via their memoirs for some reason

Theme answers:
  • LAURA BUSH (17A: Author of the memoir "Spoken from the Heart" (2010))
  • ROSALYNN CARTER (23A: Author of the memoir "First Lady from Plains" (1984))
  • MICHELLE OBAMA (36A: Author of the memoir "Becoming" (2018))
  • HILLARY CLINTON (47A: Author of the memoir "Living History" (2003))
  • BETTY FORD (59A: Author of the memoir "The Times of My Life" (1978))
Word of the Day: NUBBLY (5D: Rough and textured, as fabric) —
adj. nub·bli·ernub·bli·est
Rough or irregular; textured: the nubbly surface of raw silk. 
• • •

The word is NUBBY. I spent more time, far and away more time, trying to grasp this answer than I did on anything else (it's an easy puzzle). That damn extra "L," yikes. If you think this is just a straightforward matter, LOL, here is the literal first page of hits when I google [define nubbly]:

Notice that NUBBY (no "L") is the third dang hit, and KNUBBLY (what the!?) is fourth. If this tells you nothing else, it's that none of these are words and they should never be used ever, amen. The fact that NUBBLY is standing alongside GLUEY (?) doesn't help matters. If you want to keep a low profile, don't associate with known felons (I see you, GLUEY). But let's talk about the theme: it is pretty weak. A bunch of First Ladies' names can be arranged symmetrically and so ... here we are. The memoir title thing gives it ... an angle, I guess ... but this was just fill-in-the-First-Lady. Pretty boring. And the fill was definitely subpar throughout, especially in the south. Those corners are pretty inexcusable. A little editing elbow grease woulda gotten the muck right out, but that's not really how this editing team rolls. AGA / AMESS is in fact a mess, and the SE, woof, with MDSE x/w ISS over DEE, it's already weak even before the absolutely baffling and unforgivable OVUM / OVOID crossing. Those words are related. They have the same root. What are you even doing here?! Absolutely not. I wouldn't even put them in the same grid together, let alone *cross* them. Then there's the glut of other GLUEY stuff throughout the grid like EKE ERMAS USAIR RAH ESSEN SITU ATA AME etc. There is indeed A LOT OF it. This one needed the theme to be snappier and the grid to be a lot more polished overall. And that is that.

Had I'M SORRY before OH, SORRY (30A: "I apologize!") but beyond that (and the whole NUBBLY fiasco), no significant errors or hold-ups.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Longtime Eagles QB Donovan / SUN 2-16-20 / Whom Harry Potter frees from serving Draco Malfoy's family / Area the Chinese call Xizang / Fictional creature made from slime / Millennial informally / Facetious response to verbal jab / Beginner in modern lingo

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (10:06)

THEME: "NUMBER THEORY" — on four different lines in the puzzle are numbers in foreign languages and also familiar phrases that contain that same number (only as an English word, not a foreign number). The point is that some foreign numbers look identical to English words. Elsewhere in the grid are the four different languages in question, and then there's a revealer: LOST IN / TRANSLATION (90A: With 92-Across, alternative title for this puzzle)

Theme answers:
  • QUINCE JELLY (24A: Relative of marmalade) / QUINCE (which is FIFTEEN (see 26A) in SPANISH (20A))
  • DOBBY THE HOUSE ELF (46A: Whom Harry Potter frees from serving Draco Malfoy's family) / ELF (which is ELEVEN (see 45A) in GERMAN (34A))
  • SEIZE / POWER (59A: With 60-Across, take control after a coup) / SEIZE (which is SIXTEEN (see 61A) in FRENCH (84A)) 
  • DUE TO THE FACT THAT (71A: Because) / DUE (which is TWO (see 75A) in ITALIAN (104A)
Word of the Day: "DR. I.Q." (1D: Title host of radio's first major quiz show) —
Dr. I.Q. (aka Dr. I.Q., the Mental Banker and Doctor I.Q.) is a radio and television quiz program. Remembered as radio's first major quiz show, it popularized the catch phrase "I have a lady in the balcony, Doctor." 
• • •

I'm actually startled at how poor this is. Aside from the stray interesting answer (say, DOBBY THE HOUSE ELF), this one was a bemusing slog from start to finish. Never cared once about the theme. Never really *got* what the theme thought it was doing, why the theme thought it was interesting. I just filled in a bunch of languages pretty easily (without ever having to check the cross-references) and then wrote in repeated words a bunch of times. Because that's what this is—a weirdly elaborate thematic excuse for having words appear twice. All that space wasted on useless stuff like ITALIAN SPANISH FRENCH etc. who cares? We know what language they're in. The revealer was pathetic, in that LOST IN / TRANSLATION is not catchy or kicky or even very accurate. Yes, there are foreign words for numbers that are also (with different pronunciations) English words: whoopty bleepin' doo! And for that I have to endure stuff like MAESTRI (no one says this) and GENYER (fewer than no one says this—seriously, negative people). Gen Xer, definitely a thing, GENYER, ack, no. Reverse-stacking DETOO / ARTOO, awkward. AMUN (with a "U"?) RA, awkward, EXEQUY, what the hexequy is that?! ABAFT? ODIC? SOMNI-? OOOO? ITTY? ACITY? How does this one pass muster? How? EFFS all around.

DOBBY THE HOUSE ELF is a memorable character, but I always felt bad for his brother, DOOBIE the House Elf. Remember when Harry fired DOOBIE just for being late to work a few times and failing that one drug test? Uncool, Harry, you narc. Moving on to other parts of the puzzle ... AKRONOH is a crutch. It's like if ERIEPA and USOFA had a horrid cursed baby. If you do this with Akron, you can do it with any city in the country, and that slope feels slippery and horrible. USE THIS? I guess someone might say that, sure, but it doesn't feel very tight. I do like WAS A BI PEA, but only because I think it's important to represent the full spectrum of legume sexuality in puzzles. Not all peas are either straight or gay, you know.

Nothing more to say about this one. On The Clipboard this week, I don't have too much to rave about. My favorite themed puzzle of the week was probably Patrick Blindauer's "T Time" (for the American Values Club Crossword (AVCX)), which featured five different crossings that formed the shape of "T"s and crossed at the letter "T." Clean grid, lots of fresh fill, neatly done. Favorite themeless of the week was Natan Last's New Yorker puzzle, which was glutted with great long answers: BECHDEL TEST, SPEED READERS, PROM KINGS, SWEATS IT OUT, OF MICE AND MEN, etc. Those New Yorker puzzles are reliably good, but this one was exceptional.

Until tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I just saw "Parasite" so my mind is still reeling and also my standards for good art are kinda through the roof right now. I feel real bad for the next movie I see.

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