Bass-heavy hybrid music genre / SAT 2-29-20 / Bygone parts of newspapers with local gossip / Self-titled 1961 album / Market built around short term engagements / Former home of Seattle SuperSonics / Titular comic strip character from AD 800s

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed on paper)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Paul LYNDE (43D: Paul of the old "Hollywood Squares") —
Paul Edward Lynde (/lɪnd/; June 13, 1926 – January 10, 1982) was an American comedian, voice artist, game show panelist and actor. A character actor with a distinctively campy and snarky persona that often poked fun at his barely-closeted homosexuality, Lynde was well known for his roles as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, the befuddled father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, and as a regular "center square" panelist on the game show The Hollywood Squares from 1968 to 1981. He also voiced animated characters for four Hanna-Barbera productions.
Lynde regularly topped audience polls of most-liked TV stars, and was routinely admired and recognized by his peers during his lifetime. Mel Brooks once described Lynde as being capable of getting laughs by reading "a phone book, tornado alert, or seed catalogue."[4] Lynde once said that while he would rather be recognized as a serious actor, "We live in a world that needs laughter, and I've decided if I can make people laugh, I'm making an important contribution." (wikipedia)
• • •

JANELLE MONAE is the only thing about this puzzle I really liked (7D: Grammy-nominated singer who made her on-screen film debut in "Moonlight"). Oh, I guess I liked SOCIETY PAGES too (20D: Bygone parts of newspapers with local gossip). Otherwise it's a lot of random trivia like KEY ARENA and CROTON RIVER (is every damn river in America fair game now?) and a lot of cluing that is irksome instead of what I have to believe was the intention, which is merely "difficult." It had this weird old-fashioned vibe, like ... who uses WORST as a verb like this? (29A: Trounce) (I had the "W" and wanted "WHOMP!"). In my experience, only the NYTXW. TAMERS are from some bygone idea of the circus (also circuses with captive animals that need to be "tamed" are gross and horrifying). BOYARDEE looks dumb all naked and alone without the CHEF to proceed it. BATE? (30A: Reduce in intensity) Where do you say that? Besides "bated breath," I guess. Still, it's *a*bate. Be honest, you never use BATE. Is "barber" a verb now? "Please barber my hair, Larry!" Odd (26D: Barber => STYLE). Everything about the cluing, and many things about the fill, just felt off. Getting a tough clue should result in a definitive "Ah, OK, right, yes." Not, "Uh ... I guess." I had a series of "Uh ... I guess"es with BATE and BABES and BEEF HOT DOG. "BABES" is fine but seems oddly ... poetic? ... you'd say there are "babies" in a nursery (30D: Nursery contents). Anyway, the clues were not enjoyable or convincing today. They were all, "You could look at this word ... *this* way!" and I just kept shaking my head "NAH."

I listen to music and follow contemporary music reasonably closely and I was not aware FUNKRAP was a thing. I need to look up examples, hang on ... huh ... weird ... when I google [funk rap] the very first hit I get is for G-FUNK, which I *have* heard of. Sigh. If I search your alleged term, the first hit should not be Some Other Term. Now I'm searching for it in quotation marks and *still* getting G-FUNK as the first hit. I am not hunting this term further because the fact that I *could* find it if I tried real hard isn't a very good defense of the answer. If I go to's list of "top funk rap artists," the first is Digital Underground, but if I look up Digital Underground on wikipedia, the "genres" offered for that group are "alternative hip-hop," "west-coast hip hop," and "funk"." lists KMD second among "top funk rap artists"—weird; I own a KMD album and did not know they were "FUNK-RAP." You can't even find the word "funk" anywhere on KMD's wikipedia page. The term "FUNK-RAP" seems really ill-defined and loose—inferrable, for sure (in that everyone knows "funk" and "rap"), but not a very tight / specific genre.

I know that the letters of the Greek alphabet are all fair game, and I'm used to seeing them in my grid, but that doesn't mean I've ever stopped resenting being asked to know the Greek letter *order.* What I'm saying is that if you have to use Greek letters, go ahead, but cross-referencing them to try to be cute is only ever going to be annoying. Can we just turn Saturdays into Fridays? Or find a way to achieve difficulty that doesn't sap the joy from the whole solving experience? Either or.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I found another thing I liked—the clue on ELISION (10D: Something Cap'n Crunch has). That's some wholesome misdirection.

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2013 disaster film with cult following / FRI 2-28-20 / Celle-la across Pyrenees / Prohibition-era guns / Something Winnie the Pooh lacks

Friday, February 28, 2020

Constructor: Aimee Lucido

Relative difficulty: Easy / Easy-Medium (untimed on paper)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AKON (46D: One-named singer with the 2006 hit "Smack That") —
Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam (/ˈkɒn/; born April 16, 1973) is a Senegalese-American singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and actor. He rose to prominence in 2004 following the release of "Locked Up", the first single from his debut album, Trouble. [...] His second album, Konvicted received three nominations for the Grammy Awards in two categories, Best Contemporary R&B Album for Konvicted album and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Smack That" and "I Wanna Love You". // He is the first solo artist to hold both the number one and two spots simultaneously on the BillboardHot 100 charts twice.[1] Akon has had four songs certified as 3× platinum, three songs certified as 2× platinum, more than ten songs certified as 1× platinum and more than ten songs certified as gold in digital sales. Akon has sung songs in other languages including TamilHindi, and Spanish. He was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the #1 selling artist for master ringtones in the world. [...] Forbes ranked Akon 80th (Power Rank) in Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2010 and 5th in 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa list, in 2011. Billboard ranked Akon No. 6 on the list of Top Digital Songs Artists of the decade.
• • •

So nice to wake up and see Aimee Lucido's name in the byline. She is part of the elite New Yorker crossword team (along with legends like Patrick Berry, Liz Gorski, Erik Agard...) and her puzzles are typically effervescent delights. This one was no exception. Clue after clue, answer after answer had me smiling and (if you can imagine) genuinely enjoying myself! Her puzzles tend to skew contemporary, with lots of fresh turns of phrase and concepts but not (necessarily) a lot of proper nouns. I like proper nouns just fine, but they can be really hostile to people who don't know them and create hard generational lines between solvers. You gotta handle them carefully. Today, AKON's the only real potential proper name stumbling block I see. Mostly I see really in-the-language words and phrases like BINGE WATCH (such a good clue—1A: See the seasons pass quickly?) and ESCAPE ROOM and DEATH TRAPS and COPARENTS and MAKE IT RAIN (again, so good) (52A: Give out cash freely). I guess there is "SHARKNADO"—that's definitely a proper name. But "SHARKNADO" is the "Godfather" of the 2010s, so I just assume everyone knows it. "I'm gonna MAKO him an offer he can't refuse!" Classic.

I love that this puzzle came on the heels of yesterday's puzzle. That puzzle was a technical marvel, in its way, but those puzzles always feel like puzzbros (virtually always guys) showing off for other puzzbros, whereas this ... this just feels like a good time. I know, it's apples and oranges, as Thursdays call for trickiness and Fridays call for a certain open breezy challenge, but still, I have to note that the dearth of women constructors is especially striking when women constructors finally *do* appear and are so clearly above average. The WSJ hardly publishes any women, but when they finally did publish a team of women (Joanne Sullivan and Amy Goldstein) last week ... well, I liked that puzzle more than almost any WSJ puzzle I'd done that year. Erik Agard has the USA Today at something like 70% women constructors right now (!?) and that puzzle is objectively better than it's ever been. The New Yorker crossword team is almost half women, and those puzzles are consistently first-rate. The problem isn't "women aren't interested," the problem is The Culture. And when the most prominent members of The Culture do not care about representation, you have ... our current situation. Anyway, Aimee is great and the NYTXW is lucky she deigned to send them anything.

I made a lot lot lot of mistakes for such an easy puzzle. Let's start with TEAM for BEDS (1D: Twins, e.g.). Shout-out to all my Minnesota readers (there are a weird lot of you)! I am on a social media fast for Lent and what has replaced it is a metric ton of preseason baseball media (news, Grapefruit and Cactus League games, podcasts aplenty, etc.). With friends as well as a daughter in Minneapolis, and baseball on the brain, I could not see "Twins" as anything but a TEAM. I actually had BE_S and still no idea for a few seconds. Brain: ".... is it TEAM?" What else?

  • 46D: One-named singer with the 2006 hit "Smack That" (AKON) — what happens when you are aware of various names but have no idea what songs they go with? NEYO happens!
  • 8D: Its scientific name is Bufo bufo (TOAD) — had the -OA-, went with COAL
  • 41A: Like many Egyptian pyramids (LOOTED) — this is a very good but very tough clue. Had LOO-ED and still no idea. Thought maybe the passages inside were ... LOOPED? Or maybe there are ankhs ... those have loops, right? Kinda? ... 
  • 20A: Something Winnie-the-Pooh lacks (PANTS) — I didn't make a mistake here, I just wanted to point out this answer, which amused me. It's funny 'cause it's true.
  • 45A: About .4% of the weight of the human body (NACL) — OK I object to this clue, as there is nothing in it that indicates to me the answer will be a chemical formula! Boooo! Anyway, I forgive this clue, as it led me to my best wrong answer. I had the "N" and eventually decided that .4% of the weight of the human body must be attributable to the NECK.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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British brew since 1777 / THU 2-27-20 / Ivy seen along Schulylkill River / Fearsome part of Jabberwock

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Constructor: ANDREW (24A) Kingsley and John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (?) (untimed, on paper)

OR some combination of the two...

THEME: SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT (6D: Quantum mechanics thought experiment in which contradictory states exist simultaneously) — two-square answers contain three-letter words where the middle letter can be the second letter in the first square or the first letter in the second square. Theme is obliquely explained by two theme answers, both of which are split into two crossing answers (one in the NE, the other in the SW): CROSS / THE BORDER (14D: With 16-Across, travel internationally) and "I NEED / SOME SPACE" (42D: With 55-Across, breakup line)

Two-square answers:
  • 18A: Mantra chants => OMS (with Downs of WHOM BOOS or WHO BOOMS)
  • 39A: Zenight => TOP (with Downs of NEATO DROP or NEAT DROOP)
  • 33A: Opposite of masc. => FEM (with Downs of FEAST MAIL or FAST EMAIL)
  • 53A: A pair => TWO (with Downs of TWEEN OWS or TEEN WOWS)
Word of the Day: BASS Ale (1A: British brew since 1777) —
The Bass Brewery /ˈbæs/ was founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton-upon-TrentStaffordshire, England. The main brand was Bass Pale Ale, once the highest-selling beer in the UK. By 1877, Bass had become the largest brewery in the world, with an annual output of one million barrels. Its pale ale was exported throughout the British Empire, and the company's distinctive red triangle became the UK's first registered trade mark. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is one of those times where I recognize that the puzzle is good even though I didn't particularly enjoy solving it. I kinda slumped and groaned when I got to SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT because it seems a tired kind of thing for the puzzle to be obsessed with. "Schrödinger"-type puzzles are stock form—these are puzzles where one of two letters can occupy a square—maybe it's one letter in the Down and another in the Across, or maybe it's like the CLINTON / BOBDOLE puzzle of election day 1996, where both answers worked. Anyway, it's a thing. So this felt very "aren't we clever?" / wink-y / insidery / meta from (close to) the start, which I just found grating. I'm fine with the two-letter answers; in fact, the whole concept is indeed very clever, and the addition of this whole other level to the theme—sort of punny references to what's going on with the two-square answers (CROSS / THE BORDER and "I NEED / SOME SPACE")—makes the theme incredibly dense. This extra level is structurally / architecturally impressive, but it didn't do much for my solving experience, since I actually was left wondering what those phrases were doing, and wondering if they weren't doing ... more. More than just commenting cleverly on the two-square action. Realizing they were just there as window dressing made them less fun. This is the second day in a row where I kept waiting for the AHA moment to drop, and it just never did. Kinda cute to "end" with the TWO-square answer TWO, though (53A: A pair).

I think I'm also just bored with the idea of more dudes doing more "architecturally impressive" mathy/sciencey tricky Thursday puzzles when the NYTXW's non-male constructor percentage still languishes at an embarrassing 17% YTD. The all-dude culture up in editing continues to ... well, just continues, I guess. But I was sincerely impressed that the grid didn't collapse under the weight of the theme density here (by which I'm surprised the fill doesn't well and truly suck). This is the kind of theme where just getting the grid out clean is a feat. Non-theme fill isn't earth-shattering or fancy, but it doesn't have to be. It just has to hold. And it does.

I didn't have much trouble with this one. The basic theme concept made itself known early. I had WHOM and BOOS alongside each other, and then when I (quickly) got SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT, I went back and looked and noticed that WHOM/BOOS could also be WHO/BOOMS ... and that was that. It was very very easy to identify where this trick was going to happen again because, well, there are only four two-letter answers. The only real trick was figuring out the descriptive themers in the NE and SW, and that wasn't too hard. One real slow down came when trying to get into the center of the grid from the north and not being able to get the BLOOD part of NEW BLOOD (nice answer, btw), I wanted NEW HIRES (20D: Recent recruits, so to speak).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Toy brand with plastic figures / WED 2-26-20 / Actress O'Hara with Tony for King and I / Anise-flavored aperitif / Gal pal of Dennis the Menace / Old airline with globe in its logo / Peaceful pastoral scene

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Constructor: Francis Heaney

Relative difficulty: Medium (untimed, on paper)

THEME: BILLIE EILISH — tribute puzzle honoring this singer/songwriter, who won a bunch of GRAMMYs at the most recent Grammy Awards (1A: Award notably won in each of the "big four" categories by this puzzle's honoree). The idea here is she won a GRAMMY in each of the "big four" categories, and her name divides into four equal parts (as seen at the ends of this puzzle's theme answers). I think that's it. There's also her biggest hit ("BAD GUY"), which gets the revealer clue (67A: Hit song by the 1-Across winner whose name is spelled out by the final three letters of 21-, 25-, 47- and 52-Across)

Theme answers:
  • PLAYMOBIL (21A: Toy brand with plastic figures)
  • "HIPS DON'T LIE" (25A: 2006 #1 Shakira hit)
  • TROMPE L'OEIL (47A: Art technique that's French for "fools the eye")
  • "AS YOU WISH" (52A: Butler's "Gladly")
Word of the Day: KELLI O'Hara (30D: Actress O'Hara with a Tony for "The King and I") —
Kelli Christine O'Hara (born April 16, 1976) is an American actress and singer. She has appeared on Broadway and Off-Broadway in many musicals since making her Broadway debut as a replacement in Jekyll & Hyde in 2000. She has also acted on television, film and opera, appearing with The Metropolitan Opera. In 2018 she made her West End debut.
O'Hara has received seven Tony Award nominations, first for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the 2005 production of The Light in the Piazza. Her subsequent nominations include The Pajama Game (2006), South Pacific (2008), Nice Work If You Can Get It (2012), The Bridges of Madison County (2014), and Kiss Me, Kate (2019), winning Best Actress in a Musical in 2015 for her performance as Anna Leonowens in The King and I.[2]
She has also played roles in television series, such as Masters of Sex and 13 Reasons Why, receiving a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her starring role in the 2017 web drama series The Accidental Wolf. She has appeared in films, such as Sex and the City 2, and operas, such as The Merry Widow and Così fan tutte. (wikipedia)
• • •

Francis Heaney has made some of my favorite puzzles. He did this candy cane-themed meta-puzzle a handful of years back (around Christmastime, 2013) that remains one of my favorite crosswords of all time—one of the few crosswords that I still think about years later ("Seasonal Staff"—see it here). I encounter his work primarily in the American Values Crossword Club puzzle, and I've been groomed to expect a very clever hook—something that makes the whole puzzle snap into place, some ingenious bit of wordplay, some didn't-see-it-coming gimmick. I make these prefatory remarks to try to explain why today's puzzle was such a disappointment. I never got that feeling of "wow." Worse, I was sure the problem was mine, so I kept scanning and rescanning the finished grid, wondering what the hook was, only to discover, in the end, that it's just ... that her name divides into "four" equal parts (to match (?) the "big four" GRAMMYs that she won earlier this year). Like ... that's it. Since the revealer clue basically holds your hand through the BIL / LIE / EIL / ISH revealer, so there's not really anything to discover (on your own), I figured that, since it's Francis here, there had to be more. Something special. Some extra level. And there just wasn't. It all seemed very flimsy as tribute puzzles go ... though as soon as I write that sentence, I realize that "tribute puzzles" are actually routinely disappointing. At least this one isn't just a bunch of trivia about a dead celebrity crammed hastily into a grid so that the "tribute" can come out in semi-timely fashion. This one at least tries to do something with the whole "big four" thing. It's just ... I didn't even know "big four" was a thing. At all. I couldn't name the "big four" categories. Album song record artist? Is that it? Oh, close. It's Album song record and then Best New Artist. Seems weird to make this "feat" contingent on the artist's being "New." "New" is just a matter of timing, not quality. So you can only win "big four" once in your life? Shrug. ANYway ... I know who Billie Eilish is, I know the hit song, this all should've been very much up my alley. But ... well, it was an alley, but mainly it was dark and I was kind of lost and then it turns out there wasn't anywhere to go because I was really just standing in my backyard the whole time. Or something like that.

Hardest part of the puzzle for me By Far was PLAYMOBIL, which ... what is that? I really (Really) wanted PLAYSKOOL ... that's a thing, right? I feel like I had a lot of PLAYSKOOL toys as a kid, like a barn that made a "moo" sound when the doors opened, does that sound right? Familiar? I don't think they had PLAYMOBIL toys when I was a kid. Wikipedia says the company was founded in '74, which is very much me-as-a-kid time. But I was PLAYSKOOL. So that whole -MOBIL part had me tilting my head. But the crosses checked out.

[the audience!!!! i love this]

The only other real head-scratcher for me was KELLI O'Hara, whose career is so accomplished (see Word of the Day, above) that I'm embarrassed I've never even heard of her. Oh, and I definitely did not know that GINA was Dennis the Menace's "gal pal" (though I do love the use of that phrase in this instance—guys have "gal pal"s too!) (63A: Gal pal of Dennis the Menace). The only girl I can picture in the Dennis-the-Menaceverse is (it turns out) Margaret, a bespectacled redhead who is more nemesis than gal pal. As for the rest of this puzzle, well, it just played like a somewhat disappointing themeless. The west was the wobbliest, fill-wise (ESAI ISEEM SMS), but overall it was solid enough. I just didn't get the aha moment I really truly expected. This puzzle is likely the victim of my having set the bar so incredibly high. Let me phrase that—of *Francis's* having set the bar so incredibly high, with his previous work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. partials are never gonna be *great* fill, but I did enjoy ADOG about as much as I'm ever gonna enjoy a partial (3D: On the internet, nobody knows you're ___" (classic New Yorker cartoon caption)). And "classic" is actually not much of an overstatement. This cartoon's got its own wikipedia page, from which I learned that, "As of 2013, the panel was the most reproduced cartoon from The New Yorker, and Steiner had earned between $200,000 and $250,000 US from its reprinting" (wikipedia)

July 5, 1993 (!!!)
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Liveliness / TUES 2-25-20 / Place for tugboats / Japanese cartoon style / Rave's partner

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Hello, everyone! It's Clare — back for the last Tuesday in February. I swear this month has flown by, and I have no idea where the time went. Here in D.C., it's already starting to feel like spring because the weather has been so warm lately. Though, when I tell my family this, they like to remind me that it's already in the 70s out in California. Anyway, I hope you all have had a great month of February and enjoy the extra day in this leap year! Now on to the puzzle...

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: STATE MOTTO (69A and 70A: What the first word of each long Across answer is vis-a-vis the bracketed place in its clue)

Theme answers:

  • FRIENDSHIP GAMES (21A: International competition for countries that boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics [Texas])
  • HOPE DIAMOND (31A: 45 1/2-carat gem at the National Museum of Natural History [New Hampshire])
  • FORWARD PASS (43A: QB's downfield throw [Wisconsin])
  • INDUSTRY LEADERS (57A: Companies that have big market shares [Utah])
Word of the Day: GILAS (23D: Large lizard of the southwest)

The Gila monster (HEE-lə) is a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. A heavy, typically slow-moving lizard, up to 2 feet long, the Gila monster is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in North America. Although the Gila monster is venomous, its sluggish nature means it represents little threat to humans. However, it has acquired a fearsome reputation, and is sometimes killed despite being protected by state law in Arizona. In 2019, the state of Utah made the Gila monster its official state reptile, despite the very small range of the Gila monster in the state. (Wiki)
• • •
Clue: What I said when I got to the end of the puzzle and realized the theme [California] --> Answer: "Eureka!"

Dumb joke aside, I mostly didn't find much PEP (33A: Liveliness) in the puzzle. I also felt like the theme was an afterthought to my solve — I was mainly confused by the brackets as I did the crossword and only at the very end did I understand why there were there. While I was solving, I kept trying to think how FORWARD PASS might relate to Wisconsin or wondering what relation the HOPE DIAMOND could have to New Hampshire. I guess, on the plus side of all this, I learned some state mottos? ('Cause that's definitely going to help me in the future...)

As I'm trying to write about the puzzle, I'm realizing that not much of the puzzle is sticking with me, as I didn't find really any of the clues to be particularly clever or fun. A lot of the answers seemed like they could be clued in fresher ways, like HYDRA (maybe something with Marvel); LEVY (Schitt's Creek, anyone); ERROR (something maybe baseball-related — like, say, the Astros' past few seasons); etc...  I just get tired of seeing the same answer clued in almost the same way every time. Like in this puzzle, NARC at 61A is in essentially the exact same place as it was for Monday's puzzle (at 58A). This time it was clued as "drug cop." Yesterday, the clue was "antidrug agent, informally." If I never saw another AIDED; ORB; NARC; or APNEA in a puzzle, I would be a happy camper.

I did mostly enjoy the downs, particularly LAVA LAMP, TRIPOLI, AW SHUCKS, and GILAS. Though, from my deep dive into researching these Gila Monsters, I'm now a bit terrified of them.

  • I know LAVA LAMPS were mainly popular in the '60s-'70s, but they definitely had a resurgence sometime in the late '90s/early 2000s. Growing up, I was definitely obsessed with having one.
  • 22D definitely had the potential to be a stumper, but, luckily, I'd read the book, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" as part of a sixth grade project that involved making it into a picture book for little kids. The book was fine, but it's stuck with me because of how much I managed to procrastinate on the assignment. I remember my mom had to stay up very late finishing this assignment with me. I'd love to say it taught me a lesson, but I definitely still put the 'pro' in 'procrastination."
  • All I can think of when I see HEATS (63A: Preliminary races) is how many stupid heats there were in track for the 100m and 200m in high school. Seriously, it seemed like everyone competed in these two events, and they took absolutely forever to get through. It made trying to figure out when to warm up for the mile or 2-mile near impossible.
  • If someone wants to watch a movie about a "Glasgow Gal" (11A), I recommend watching "Wild Rose." She's a LASS but also loves to sing country music and wants to make it to Nashville. I saw it and loved it. And everyone needs to at least hear her sing this song that should've been nominated for (and probably won) an Oscar:

Signed, Clare Carroll, "ad astra per aspera" [Kansas]

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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

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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

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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

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