Swing wildly back and forth / TUES 3-31-20 / Tiki bar cocktail / Some future Girl Scouts / Earned in the end

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Hi, everyone! It's Clare for the last Tuesday — and also the last day — of March. What a very, very long year this last month has been. I hope everyone and their friends and family are staying safe and also sane while staying at home. I've been cooped up in my apartment for a while now, as my law school class were moved online. I've been stress baking, reading more, having Zoom birthday parties with my extended family, getting obsessed with BTS (they're seriously the best), etc... Plus, lots of time in lockdown means even more time to do crossword puzzles!

Constructors: Christina Iverson and Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: CLAP BACK (63A: Respond quickly and sharply to criticism ... or a hint to 17-, 28- and 46-Across) — The word CLAP can be added to the BACK of each of the theme answers to be a type of clap

Theme answers:
  • DISC GOLF (17A: Frisbee sport)
  • ROLLING THUNDER (28A: Name of a celebrated 1970s concert tour with Bob Dylan)
  • LETS TAKE IT SLOW (46A: "We shouldn't rush this")
Word of the Day: MENSCH (8D: Good-hearted sort)
Mensch means "a person of integrity and honor." According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, a "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual's qualities. (Wiki)
• • •

I wanted to give the puzzle a hearty clap, but instead it gets more of a golf clap from me. The general approach to the theme of the puzzle seems standard — add a word to the back end of the theme answers — but the revealer didn't really work for me. When I saw it, I expected the work CLAP to appear backward in the theme answers or something like that. And, it would be much more natural to say that CLAP should appear at the end of the word rather than at the BACK of the word, right? It seems significant that one of the constructors noted on Twitter:
Not sure what to make of that — but I do love the clapping emojis! One other nit about the theme: From what I can tell, that Bob Dylan tour was actually called "Rolling Thunder Revue," so...

My biggest complaint was that northeast corner. Having NETTED and EXITED on top of each other and crossing DEEP and ODDS gave me a headache. How many T's, D's, and E's can you fit in 18 letters? (11, if you must know. Yes, I counted.)

The best part of the puzzle for me was the long downs. The construction of the puzzle really seemed geared around those words — BROWNIES; KITTEN HEEL; HATE MAIL; INTIMATE; ONLOOKER; and LEAP SECOND. I found INTIMATE to be the least interesting, and KITTEN HEEL did give me some pause because I think all of my heels are at *least* three inches high. I think because of the construction, we did get a lot of small fill words (RIO; UNO; IRA; AIL; ADDS; ODDS; etc...). But overall, I liked what the long downs added to the puzzle.

We also got a mini theme of drinks in the southeast corner with MAITAI, ICEE, and SODA. We've also got a small Mexican theme in the southwest corner with GUAC and the Mexican flag. Now I'm craving a margarita — seeing that we're in quarantine rules where, as with airport rules, anything goes (at any time).

  • I still can't believe that ABBA got their start on Eurovision. Here was their winning performance:  
  • EGOS (45A: Problems that a group project might face) — More often than not in group projects, I feel like it's more that one or two people take charge while the others are content to just let it happen. At least, that's how every group project I've ever been a part of has gone.
  • The best clue/answer for me was 41A: Means justifiers, perhaps, as ENDS.
  • I got confused in the southwest corner with 65A: Like the middle band of the flag of México. I had "blanco" instead of BLANCA, and it took me a while to catch that hiccup.
  • My Cal-grad sister texted me to tell me she literally grimaced when she was forced to type UCLA into the puzzle. She wants me to tell you that UCLA is merely the No. 2 public school in the country. Can you guess what No. 1 is? GO, BEARS!!
  • It blew my mind when someone pointed out to me that "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and the "ABCs" are to the same tune. Wild.
  • One of the constructors is named ROSS.... and that's the Friends character who made it in. Coincidence? Well, if I ever construct a puzzle, watch out for "County Clare."
Anyway, hope you all stay safe! Have a great week.

Signed, Clare Carroll, social distancer extraordinaire

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Sandwich that might spill onto your hands / MON 3-30-20 / Many a marathon winner / Typographic flourish / Conveyance preceding Uber and Lyft

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hey everyone, it's Jordan Siff, live from day (week?) 18 of coronavirus-induced quarantine. This is my second write-up for Rex, so nice to "meet" you if you didn't catch my first one on February 24th. Certainly feels like a long month since then.

My commute, once a subway ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan, has been reduced to a walk downstairs into the dining room at my mom's house in Connecticut. In the off hours, I've been playing a lot of Scrabble, trying to up my cooking game, and just started Ozark on Netflix. Latest kitchen endeavor was these peanut-butter-oatmeal-chocolate-chippers from last night:

While socially distanced life certainly has its challenges, I'm very lucky to still have my health and my job, and I feel for everyone out there who has been impacted every which way by our chaotic new world. Hopefully the NYT Crossword and this blog provide some semblance of routine as the days increasingly seem to blend together.

Anyway, onto the puzzle...

Constructor: Lee Taylor

Relative difficulty: Medium (typical Monday)

THEME: PHRASES WITH NAMES — theme answers are all two-word terms or idiomatic expressions, where the second word is a common first name:

Theme answers:
  • BLOODY MARY (18A: Cocktail often served with a celery stick)
  • EVEN STEVEN (60A: All settled up)
  • SLOPPY JOE (4D: Sandwich that might spill onto your hands)
  • JOLLY ROGER (6D: Pirate flag)
  • SNEAKY PETE (31D: Very cheap wine, in slang)
  • LAZY SUSAN (37D: Revolving tray on a dinner table)
Word of the Day: AWNS (1D: Grain bristles)

  1. a stiff bristle, especially one of those growing from the ear or flower of barley, rye, and many grasses.

• • •

For the most part, I enjoyed this one! It played pretty easy, as Mondays should, and while the theme was by no means groundbreaking or ingenious, it was still a well-rounded sampler of phrases that all share a common thread. It was refreshing to see the majority of the theme answers running down rather than across, and I'm glad there wasn't a revealer because they can come off super cheesy when forced. Noticing the pattern over the course of the solve was enough of a revealer for me.

My one little complaint is that EVEN STEVEN was the only themer that didn't get an adjective ending with "y," and also the only one that rhymed, which made it feel slightly inconsistent with the rest. I never knew that SNEAKY PETE meant cheap wine, but highly recommend the Amazon Prime crime drama series of the same name. (When I first saw that clue, my mind went straight to TWO BUCK CHUCK, though I knew that wasn't actually the answer.)

If there are any Curb Your Enthusiasm fans reading, you'll know that this past season had a funny bit exploring LAZY SUSAN etiquette as well as the potential offensiveness of the term itself (starts about 30 seconds in):

As for the rest of the puzzle, I thought it held up pretty well considering that there were six theme answers packed in. There wasn't too much overly objectionable fill, though ONE G made me groan. It also could have been clued like the blood type O NEG, but that string of letters ideally shouldn't be showing up period - pick your poison I guess. RAY GUNS almost felt like a bonus themer, though Ray of course was the first word in the phrase.  For "Largest city in Switzerland" (25A), did anyone else put GENEVA first? Even if it's not as big, it might just be more top-of-mind for Americans than ZURICH. Finally, STRATA makes me think more about clouds than rocks, though I suppose it means "layers," so it could refer to a lot of things. Now I'm picturing Shrek saying "onions, they have strata..."

Four things:
  • REACT (9A: DO something) — Initially, I thought it was a typo that "DO" was spelled in all caps. It's still a weird clue because doing something is acting, and nothing here is really suggesting "do something in response to something else." Overall, it just makes me think of being yelled at: "Don't just stand there, DO something!"
  • SKYPE (20A: Alternative to FaceTime or Google Hangouts) — This clue feels very apropos for our current times, but Skype is so five-years-ago. It's all about ZOOM these days!
  • HADJ (33A: Pilgrimmage to Mecca) — I think this is usually spelled HAJJ, which threw me off solving for EDGIER at the cross. Also, mini-Muslim theme going since we get ALLAH at 16A.
  • RITA (66A: Actress Moreno or Hayworth) — Coincidentally, I saw Groundhog Day yesterday, and the female lead is Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). In other "Rita" news, Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, who had both tested positive for COVID-19 and self-quarantined in Australia for a few weeks, recently returned to LA and apparently are feeling better.
Signed, Jordan Siff, Social Distancing Extraordinaire

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Danish tourist attraction since 1968 / SUN 3-29-20 / Title for many a W.H. aspirant / Nintendo character with green cap / Whistle-blower in 2013 news / Mount much hiked peak in Yosemite / Golden Flashes of Mid-American Conference

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Constructor: Ricky Cruz

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (the clues just seemed hard a lot of the time, not sure why) (11:39)

Ugh, this puzzle has notes that are so complicated, but if you do it in app / on paper, you maybe don't need notes because your grid looks like this:

image courtesy of Jake Goldstein
THEME: "Keep the Change" — looks like the idea is that there are two nearly identical 5x5 blocks in the middle of the grid, with the only difference being five squares that spell out BLACK in the left block v. five squares that spell out WHITE in the right block. What "black" and "white" have to do with anything, or why the words BLACK and WHITE are unchecked on either side of the grid, I have zero idea. There are two theme-related answers:

Theme answers:
  • TELL LEFT FROM RIGHT (26A: Make heads or tails of a situation ... or an alternative title for this puzzle)
  • SPOT THE DIFFERENCE (110A: Kind of visual puzzle ... or what to do with each line in this puzzle's two shaded areas)
Word of the Day: DISTURBIA (3D: 2007 Shia LaBeouf thriller or a 2008 #1 hit by Rihanna) —
Disturbia is a 2007 American thriller film directed by D. J. Caruso, written by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth and stars Shia LaBeoufDavid MorseSarah Roemer and Carrie-Anne Moss. The film follows a teenager who is placed on house arrest for assault and begins to spy on his neighbors, believing one of them is a possible serial killer. (wikipedia) // "Disturbia" is a song recorded by Barbadian singer Rihanna for Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded (2008), a re-release of her third studio album Good Girl Gone Bad (2007). It was written by Andre Merritt, Chris Brown, Brian Kennedy and Rob. A!, with production of the song helmed by Kennedy. The song was released as the third single from the reloaded edition of the album, and seventh overall. "Disturbia" was sent to US Contemporary hit radio on June 17, 2008, and was released as a CD single in the United Kingdom on July 22, 2008. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was a drag from the second I opened the file. There were puzzle notes, and I thought fine, I'll read them, but they were soooo long and tedious that I just ignored them and solved without understanding what I was supposed to be seeing. This is because in my software, there were no shaded squares. Black Ink (which I love) still can do only black or white squares, I guess, so that's how I solved this thing. Eventually the circles that spelled BLACK and WHITE filled themselves in, and so it was easy enough to write BLACK and WHITE in the spaces along the edge of the grid, but ... why? I read the two long themers and their clues: still no idea. I looked at the circles and thought, "well, yes, the one on the left is different from the one on the right, and yes, I can SPOT THE DIFFERENCE ... what is the point of any of this?" Finally I went back and read the puzzle notes and painstakingly recreated the two sets of 5x5 shaded squares and noticed that both shaded areas are exactly identical, throughout the whole 5x5 region, *except* for the letters that make up BLACK and WHITE, respectively. Ok, but, so ... why? There's just a huge W H Y? hovering over this whole enterprise. I kept thinking "what is the metaphor? Chess? Backgammon? Surely I'm supposed to see ... something. The whole kids' placemat puzzle conceit ... that can't be it—those are never BLACK and WHITE, have nothing to do with BLACK and WHITE ... [exasperated sigh]." And it's all so condescending: can I SPOT THE DIFFERENCE? Well, yeah, you Circled The Letters That Are Different, so ... I do indeed "spot" that, yes. Yes. I have no idea what any of that has to do with telling my left from my right (which, in its phrasing here, feels awkward—without the personal pronouns, i.e. my left, my right, or her left, her right, etc., the phrase feels strange). And, as I've said, the isolation of BLACK and WHITE on the grid's edges also makes no sense to me. It's a fussy gimmicky puzzle with no payoff. Please don't make these.

If I just ignore the theme, then there are some nice parts to this. BONESAW is slightly gruesome, but SPONGEBOB is cute, CUTTING EDGE is edgy (cliché in real life, but somehow nifty in the grid). REAL DEAL and LEGOLAND are pretty flash as well (though LEGOLAND took me So Long to get, as there are LEGOLANDs all over, including the one I went to near San Diego, so if the "Danish" part was supposed to tip me off, well, it did not). I think of AWS as cries of cuteness, not [Cries of disappointment]. GET OFF A SHOT ... get a shot off ... not sure where I fall on the phrasing there. I guess it's fine. It's an unusual answer, at any rate, so that's good. I had some trouble in the area between the two shaded areas, especially with LEXEMES (65A: Units in linguistics). I came at that answer from the back and it just seemed like there were a Lot of potential [Units in linguistics] that end with -EMES. Graphemes? Phonemes? Morphemes? I guess none of those fit, but the fact that I could think of three very quickly made me not at all confident of anything I might put in there. Also, instead of NIX and ACE I wanted AXE and PRO, so things were quite messy through the middle for a bit. I like the expression NO DICE. I use it. Feels slightly olde-timey, but not in an overly quaint or affected way. Or maybe I am quite quaint and affected and just living in denial. That's fine. Denial is truly my preferred residence at the moment.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. some users have been getting "this site might be dangerous" warnings from their browsers when trying to access my site. My site is definitely not dangerous; I'm working to see if there's anything to be done on my end, but in the meantime, if you use are a Comcast/Xfinity user, try turning your "Safe Browse" setting to "Off"—here's how. This is the one thing that I know worked for at least one user. Anyway, there are no safety issues, only miscommunication issues between browsers and my site. If the problem is on my end (in part or in full), it will get fixed shortly. Turns out I have some helpful readers who know how to do computer things! Anyway, thank you for your patience!

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Native name for Iroquois Confederacy / SAT 3-28-20 / Kind of wind across Aegean / 1980s disco hit that became gay anthem / Section often symbolized by speech bubble / Kevlar developer

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium (untimed)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ETESIAN (57A: Kind of wind across the Aegean) —
The etesians (/ɪˈtʒənz/ or /ɪˈtziənz/Ancient Greekἐτησίαιromanizedetēsiailit. 'periodic winds'; sometimes found in the Latin form etesiae), meltemia(Greekετησίες,μελτέμια; pl. of μελτέμι meltemi), or meltem (Turkish) are the strong, dry north winds of the Aegean Sea, which blow from about mid-May to mid-September. The Etesian winds are a dominant weather influence in the Aegean Basin. [...] The word etesian ultimately derives from the Greek word ἔτος etos "year", connotating the yearly fluctuation in frequency of appearance of these winds. Etesians have been described since ancient times; their Turkish and the Modern Greek names are probably a loan from Italian mal tempo 'bad weather'. Though it is sometimes called a monsoon wind, the meltemi is dry and does not correspond to an opposite wind in the winter. However, the etesians are distantly correlated with the summer monsoons of the Indian subcontinent, as it is a trough of low pressure into the Eastern Mediterranean region that enforces, if not causes, the etesians to blow in summer. A Mediterranean climate is sometimes called an etesian climate. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well that was mostly delightful. There was not a single letter in HAUDENOSAUNEE that I knew or had any hope of inferring (37A: Native name for the Iroquois Confederacy). Not a one. But, hey, fair crosses work wonders. Outside of that, only ETESIAN gave me any proper name trouble. The rest of the grid was just regular Saturday-hard, and it was full of interesting fill and clues. "IT'S RAINING MEN" is of course great (and a huge gimme—sometimes the puzzle gives you HAUDENOSAUNEE, sometimes it gives you "IT'S RAINING MEN"; you lose some, you win some, that's life) (35A: 1980s disco hit that became a gay anthem). BOO HISS, TRAVEL MUG, and PAIN MED (esp. with that clue) (52A: Number in a pharmacy, informally): all winners. I have trouble believing in the reality or validity of HAIRSPA, but I think that's just me wishing people didn't invent stupid names for things (18A: Salon, fancily). The clue did say "fancily," but I'd say "pretentiously" or "preposterously" is probably more accurate. Unless we're actually talking about a spa facility that is also a hair salon, in which case ... the clue [Salon] isn't really accurate. Looks like HAIRSPAs are just fancy (expensive?) places to have your hair not only washed and styled but "massaged" in some fashion. Your hair gets pampered as if it were an independent being or a pet.  Did I mention I have no hair?

[THE WEATHER GIRLS (15) — put 'em in a puzzle, people!]

HOP A CAB was such a nice way to start things out. So bouncy and colloquial. And nostalgic. Reminds me of a bygone time when people left their homes and went somewhere. To the HAIRSPA, perhaps. [Person on horseback?] (CENTAUR) was one of those clues that annoy you initially, but then grow on you; once I got the answer, I went from making a dubious, pained face to shrugging and eventually nodding "OK," all in the space of about three seconds. "Oh come on, that's ... well ... yeah, that's pretty good, I guess." The toughest thing in the puzzle for me (outside the Iroquois Confederacy dealie) was AEON (21A: Timeline swath). Had it down to A-ON and still had no idea. In retrospect, this seems impossible. But I think of timelines as being filled with meaningful events, named periods. I have a hard time imagining one with a segment ("swath," if you must) labeled simply "AEON." Vast period of time, sure, that's an AEON. It's the word "timeline" that really messed me up.

Coulda done without the whole INT/EXT intersection/crossreference (47A: Kind of shot that's the opposite of a 38-Down in a screenplay / 38D: Kind of shot that's the opposite of a 47-Across in a screenplay), which is just bad fill joining together and calling attention to itself, noisily. And yet I did have a weird jolt of delight when I figured it out, so I guess it wasn't all bad. ERUCT is close to all bad, as only a 19th-century osteopath would say such a thing. Not a big fan of cluing plural TEEPEES with singular "lodging." You can line up your lawyers to explain to me how "lodging" is a singular noun that might refer to a plural entity (see, say, "fare" or "equipment"), but ... bah I don't really have the energy to argue with this clue. It just seems like one of those "watch me try to trick you" clues, which I never like. I like tough clues, but I don't like when the toughness seems cheaply come by, as it does here. BOO HISS. I also am not a fan of PALEOLITHIC DIET, both because everyone everywhere shortens it to just PALEO and also because the clue doesn't distinguish between the fad diet and the actual diet of paleolithic-era people (3D: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots and meat, classically). I need something in this clue that indicates that we're dealing with the diet for people who want to cosplay cavemen. "Classically"?? LOL. That's a pretty fancy word to use in conjunction with a phenomenon that is younger than Miley Cyrus. Again, maybe the clue is trying to point us to the actual dietary patterns of paleolithic-era people, but the phrase PALEOLITHIC DIET really only has legs in our culture as a modern fad diet. A marketing term. And, again, it's usually just PALEO DIET. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. if you are mad about MENS crossing "IT'S RAINING MEN," well, the fact that I didn't notice doesn't mean you're not right—duping the word "MEN" in a grid isn't *so* bad, but crossing MEN answers is probably not the best look.

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Jazz great who took his name from Egyptian mythology / FRI 3-27-20 / Playwright of midwest / Deck hall octet / Supersmall futuristic medical device / Device found between gutters / Four-wheeled transports that developed out of surf culture

Friday, March 27, 2020

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (clock gave a Medium time, but I was not trying to speed at all)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: RAOUL Wallenberg (28A: Humanitarian Wallenberg)
Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg (4 August 1912 – disappeared 17 January 1945) was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian. He is remembered for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists during the later stages of World War II. While serving as Sweden's special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory.
On 17 January 1945, during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained by SMERSH on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared. He was later reported to have died on 17 July 1947 while imprisoned by the KGB secret police in the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters and affiliated prison in Moscow. The motives behind Wallenberg's arrest and imprisonment by the Soviet government, along with questions surrounding the circumstances of his death and his ties to US intelligence, remain mysterious and are the subject of continued speculation. (wikipedia)
• • •

There's nothing wrong with this, but I found it dull. Like, if you want to paint the room ecru, that is a perfectly acceptable choice, probably, but it's probably not gonna wow me. There are a couple answers here that let you know it's the 21st century (NANOBOT, POP-UP STORE), but mostly this is full of ordinary stuff. Right over the plate. SHEET GLASS. Yes, that is a thing. The longer answers are where themeless puzzles should really shine, and ... yeah, today, I wouldn't say shine. There's more of a matte finish on this one. Again, there is nothing objectively wrong with it (though CANEM ALLA and SEUL are lowish points, and I feel like there's been some INGE creep of late that I would like to beat back). It just felt like something one fills out dutifully before getting on with one's life. Something to check off your list of daily activities. No oohs or aahs or "nice one!"s. Just stuff like ACTION ITEM, which ... if you could see my stare right now, I assure you it is glassy.

Are mermaids technically "NUDES"? (36A: Statues of mermaids, typically). This now seems an important ontological question (note: I only half-know what "ontological" means). Mermaids aren't ... human. Not below the waist, anyway. So does the mere fact of a bare breast make a statue a "nude"? It's OK if the answer's "yes," but it doesn't seem like that answer is a given. Also, "typically"? What is the "typical" mermaid statue? Is there data on this? All's I know is there are plenty of mermaids who seem to have access to some kind of bikini shop, or who know how to craft bras out of shells. Maybe there's something about the medium of statuary that makes the artist more prone to leave mermaid breasts uncovered; as I say, I don't know. I don't have the data. But this clue seems to know. It seems to know a lot. About mermaids. About statues. About what the definition of "nude" is. I'm asking for a footnote, is all. Let us in on your vast mermaid statue research!

Five things:
  • 13A: Seller of Halloween costumes, perhaps (POP-UP STORE) — I wrote in PARTY STORE. I think of POP-UP STOREs as ... well, the ones I've been to have been food-related. And smaller than the ginormous seasonal stores I see around town. I also had trouble with this answer because of having SNITS for SNIPS (1A: Saucy ones) and then TIP for PUP (4D: Little pointer). 
  • 6D: When "S.N.L." ends on the East Coast (AT ONE) — I will never understand cluing an perfectly good English word in way that turns it into a dumb phrase. ATONE > AT space ONE every single day of the week. 
  • 24D: Transportation option in Philadelphia and Seattle (TROLLEY BUS) — I have ridden a trolley. I have ridden a bus. I have never ridden a TROLLEY BUS. Not sure I even know what one is. Runs like a trolley, shaped like a bus? (ah, they're the buses that "draw power from dual overhead wires" per wikipedia. Gotcha). Anyway, I needed a few crosses to get this one.
  • 32D: Aqua ___ (PURA) — oof, left this off the "bad" list. What is this, even? [looks it up] "pure water"!? Well I know it means that. But surely it has some specialty meaning. If you mean "pure water" just say "pure water." Who is saying this in Latin??? Here is the least helpful dictionary note in history (thanks, Collins!):
  • 49A: Device found between gutters (BALL RETURN) — had the BALL and then no idea. Wrote in ROLLER, which ... you know, is the right idea, as the BALL RETURN does, in fact, "roll" the ball back to you. Sigh. Oh, since I'm down in the SE corner, I'm noticing that I had one other misstep in this puzzle: EGOS for EROS (46D: Freudian concept). 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bronze Age fertility deity / THU 3-26-20 / Liquid absorbed by surrounding soil / Late Surrealist Turner / Only performer with speaking part in 1976's Silent Movie

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed, clipboard solve)

THEME: Mercury and friends — clues are all [Mercury or ___, e.g.] where blanks are filled by the elements of the solar system, moving in order from the "Sun" outward to "Saturn" (skipping "Mercury" obviously):

Theme answers:
  • WNBA TEAM (Mercury or Sun, e.g.)
  • ROMAN GOD (Mercury or Venus, e.g.)
  • INNER PLANET (35A: Mercury or Earth, e.g.)
  • MUSICIAN (48A: Mercury or Mars, e.g.)
  • AUTOMAKE (58A: Mercury or Saturn, e.g.)
Alice PEARCE, left out again
Word of the Day: Carly PEARCE (16A: Country singer Carly)
Carly Pearce (born Carly Cristyne Slusser; April 24, 1990) is an American country music singer and songwriter. Her material contains elements of both traditional and contemporary country-pop music. Pearce began performing professionally in her teens, appearing on several albums of bluegrass material in the 2000's. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, she began gaining more widespread notice. 
Pearce first gained major recognition in 2017 when her self-penned "Every Little Thing" found acclaim on satellite radio. The song helped Pearce secure a major label recording contract and became a major hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Country Airplaychart. Her debut album of the same name debuted in the top five of the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Pearce has since released new material, including the 2019 single, "I Hope You're Happy Now". (wikipedia)
• • •

Not a lot of time this morning, so this will be brief. (Update: this post is actually a pretty normal length—nevermind)

This puzzle is disqualified on two counts. First, the sun is not a planet. I know that you probably know this, but it's not. Anyway, because it's not a planet, and though I like the answer WNBA TEAM just fine, the single appearance of [Sun] in the clues, when every single other clue word is a planet, really clanks. But nothing clanks as hard as having The Actual Word 'Planet' In One Of The Themers. The only thing holding this clue-word set together is its solar systemness—that's the gimmick—so ... you can't just clue the planets *as planets*. That is Awful. INNER PLANET is *Awful*. Nevermind that I've never heard of the term INNER PLANET and would never group them that way, that's not the point. The point is ... PLANET, really?? That is ... just throwing up your hands. "Hey, let's just use these planets to clue ... planets? You think the rubes will notice or care?" Ugh. Also, planets are *all* (save Earth) named after gods, so the ROMAN GOD answer feels like cheating as well. This theme actually works precisely twice: with MUSICIAN and AUTOMAKE (I would've added WNBA TEAM, but ... you know ... "Sun"!?). It works for those answers because the answers steer *away* from planet names. The answers are unexpected. MUSICIAN actually elicited a vague "aha" feeling! You know, that feeling you're *supposed* to get when a themer or revealer really lands. "Aha, Freddie Mercury! Oho, Bruno Mars!" But bottom line, the theme just feels broken.

The fill was adequate, although ASTARTE (31A: Bronze Age fertility deity) and SOAKAGE (41A: Liquid absorbed by surrounding soil) = [frowny face]. ASTARTE is 7-letter crosswordese that I routinely forget (until I get a few crosses); I get it confused with AMEN RA (which is 6-letter crosswordese, and an Egyptian god whose name can be spelled with roughly a million different vowel combos). SOAKAGE, who knows? I wanted SINKAGE and then LEAKAGE (?). I guess you can tell I had the back end of that word in place first; after a while, it felt like those first four letters could be *anything*. But SOAKAGE. Great. Never heard of Carly PEARCE, which I don't feel too bad about, as she is very young and doesn't have much of a song catalogue yet. Her name was definitely the hardest thing about the grid for me. I like the three-wordness of GOALLIN (22D: Not hold back). That is, I enjoyed discovering that I was dealing with not one not two but three words. I very much enjoy both the book and the movie "TRUE GRIT" (both the John Wayne and the Jeff Bridges versions) (11D: Only movie for which John Wayne won an Oscar). Cool of HOUDINI to make an appearance (39D: Subject of the 2006 biography "Escape!"). So yeah, it's not all bad, for sure. It's just, well, the theme doesn't work. As I've said. See paragraph 1. Good day.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. OPIUMS? Some things you just don't pluralize. OCELOTS, yes. OPIUMS, uh no.

    P.P.S. some of you seem to think that 72 is an accurate count of the CLUES in this puzzle. It's accurate. Here's how you count the number of clues in a standard (rotational symmetry) puzzle:
    Take the number of the last Across clue (today, 65), then add to it the total number of squares that are first squares both an Across and a Down (today, there are seven of these: the "L" of LESS / LAWFUL, the "E" of ERR / EYE, the "O" of ORATOR / OPIUMS, etc.). 65 + 7 = 72. (Thanks to Byron Walden for teaching me that trick)

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Mexican root vegetable popular in salads / WED 3-25-20 / Energy snack marketed to women / Mother Bethel Church Philadelphia congregation since 1794

    Wednesday, March 25, 2020

    Constructor: Laura Taylor Kinnel

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (due solely to two extremely *non*-iconic "rolls")

    THEME: SPRING ROLLS (59A: Chinese appetizers ... or a punny description of 17-, 28-, 35- and 45-Across) — tv and movie roles (there's the pun!) where part of the name is a spring (!) month:

    Theme answers:
    • MARMEE MARCH (17A: Laura Dern, in "Little Women")
    • APRIL KEPNER (28A: Sarah Drew, on "Grey's Anatomy")
    • MELINDA MAY (35A: Ming-Na Wen, on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.")
    • JUNE CLEAVER (45A: Barbara Billingsley, on "Leave It to Beaver")
    Word of the Day: JICAMA (45D: Mexican root vegetable popular in salads) —
    Pachyrhizus erosus, commonly known as jicama (/ˈhɪkəmə/ or /ɪˈkɑːmə/ [...] from Nahuatl xīcamatl[ʃiːˈkamatɬ]), Mexican yam bean, or Mexican turnip, is the name of a native Mexican vine, although the name most commonly refers to the plant's edible tuberous root. Jícama is a species in the genus Pachyrhizus in the bean family (Fabaceae). Plants in this genus are commonly referred to as yam bean, although the term "yam bean" can be another name for jícama. The other major species of yam beans are also indigenous within the AmericasPachyrhizus tuberosus and Pachyrhizus ahipa are the other two cultivated species. The naming of this group of edible plants seems confused, with much overlap of similar or the same common names.
    Flowers, either blue or white, and pods similar to lima beans, are produced on fully developed plants. Several species of jicama occur, but the one found in many markets is P. erosus. The two cultivated forms of P. erosus are jicama de agua and jicama de leche, both named for the consistency of their juice. The leche form has an elongated root and milky juice, while the aguaform has a top-shaped to oblate root and a more watery, translucent juice, and is the preferred form for market. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Back-to-back solo women constructors! In the regular flow of puzzles, and not part of some "let's publish women for a change" gimmick! Huzzah. I thought this was very clever, though two of these names were completely unknown to me. I somehow exist in an ecosystem where noone I know seems to watch, let alone talk about, "Grey's Anatomy," despite its being a long-running popular show, so the actress, the role ... zero idea. None. I think there's a doctor on it who was in that teen movie "Can't Buy Me Love" in the '80s ... and I'm almost certain it was created by Shonda Rimes, whom I *definitely* know. But aside from the fact that "Grey's Anatomy" is a medical show that takes place in Seattle, I got nothing to tell you about "Grey's Anatomy." I know that I was *startled* to find, recently, that it was still on the air. I have much better reason to watch "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," since it's a Marvel property and I teach a class on comics, and yet ... nope. Not one episode. Ever. Marvel properties—not really my thing. I am aware of their existence, but do I have a complete knowledge of all of their casts lists and roles? I do not. This is all to say that I got the "spring" thing early (w/ MARMEE MARCH), so I could infer the month parts of the unknown names fine, but the other name parts were a total crapshoot, which slowed me down considerably. Not terribly hard to put together MELINDA (it's a common name), slightly harder to get KEPNER (familiar, but ... last names can be bleepin' anything).

    This jarring contrast between the iconic "roles" of MARMEE MARCH and JUNE CLEAVER, on the one hand, and the more recent TV roles, on the other, took some of the joy and delight out of the solve. Slogging through marginal names, never a great feeling. This is not just a generational thing. It's not that "old" answers are OK and "modern" ones aren't. It's that there are so many ways for people of all generations to know MARMEE MARCH and JUNE CLEAVER (whose TV show is now old, yes, but who is an iconic TV mom on an TV show that's practically synonymous with a cultural phenomenon, namely white suburban conformity)—whereas you pretty much have to watch the TV shows in question to have any idea who APRIL KEPNER and MELINDA MAY are. But again, the concept is sound and the reveal is cute. The rest of the grid is more than good enough. Thumbs up.

    Five things:
    • 45D: Mexican root vegetable popular in salads (JICAMA) — I don't know why I love this answer so much, but I do. Maybe because it seems like a food item that is super familiar in my real life, but that I can't remember seeing in crosswords much, if at all. I like that it sits next to LUNA BAR (another good answer—is there a JICAMA LUNA BAR? There is not ... but it looks like you can get JICAMA slaw at Luna's Tacos in Greeley, CO. Just a suggestion.
    • 49A: Santa's helper? (UPS) — boo. This is cynical and dumb. Seems like it could be pretty tricky, esp. if you are unfamiliar with the OPI nail polish brand (which provides the "P" cross here). But from here on out, you should not remain unfamiliar with OPI, because it's a genuinely popular brand and ... well, think how often you see OBI. Yeah. Brace yourself for the OPI wave, esp. if you start seeing more puzzles made by women.
    • 3D: Gets cozy (CURLS UP) — possibly the hardest part of the puzzle for me. I got to this answer very early, got the "CU-," wanted only CUDDLES (UP), and figured that there must be some kind of rebus going on. Usually don't see rebuses on Wednesdays, but sometimes you do. But no. Not today. CUDDLES UP just seems cozier to me than CURLS UP, which is a phrase I can imagine preceding the words "and dies." Nobody CUDDLES UP and dies, is what I'm saying.
    • 64A: Academic's "and others" (ET ALIA) — nah, we use the "et al." shortening like the rest of y'all, trust me
    • 52D: Team head: Abbr. (MGR.) — tomorrow was supposed to be Opening Day ... sigh.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Telecom of old / TUE 3-24-20 / Palindromic bird

    Tuesday, March 24, 2020

    Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

    Relative difficulty: Easy (3:15)

    THEME: imagined meetings — themers are familiar two-word phrases clued as if they referred to some kind of gathering:

    Theme answers:
    • TV RECEPTION (17A: The sitcom writers met at a ...)
    • TRIG FUNCTION (28A: The mathematicians met at a ...)
    • MEDICINE BALL (46A: The pharmacists met at a ...)
    • SEARCH PARTY (58A: The Google employees met at a ...)
    Word of the Day: MARC Jacobs (68A: Designer Jacobs) —
    Marc Jacobs (born April 9, 1963) is an American fashion designer. He is the head designer for his own fashion label, Marc Jacobs, and formerly Marc by Marc Jacobs, a diffusion line, which was produced for approximately 15 years having been discontinued after the 2015 fall/winter collection. At one point there were over 200 retail stores in 80 countries. He was the creative director of the French design house Louis Vuitton from 1997 to 2014. Jacobs was on Time magazine's "2010 Time 100" list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and was #14 on Out magazine's 2012 list of "50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America". He got married on 7 April 2019, to his long time boyfriend Charly Defrancesco. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Another puzzle about which there is very little to say. Words that can mean "gathering" appear in phrases where they don't actually mean "gathering," but then those phrases are clued as if they *do* have something to do with a gathering. Or so I gather, gather ye rosebuds, etc. The ellipsis-style theme clues are slightly unusual, but basically you've got a wacky last-words-type puzzle, and today, the wackiness just wasn't big enough. Very bland, very straightforward. The whole thing felt ... workmanlike. Pro forma. Programmatic. This feels like a kind of sample puzzle, one that would've been just at home in the NYTXW in 1995 as in 2020. GENDER GAP is a highlight, obviously (34D: Male-female pay differential, e.g.) ... and maybe it's the obviousness that's the problem—literally nothing else stands out or seems the least bit noteworthy. Meanwhile, there's this low-level hum of sub-optimal crosswordese running through the grid, from EEG to ENT to ETH INE INGE TOI IMO GTE REL RRR and esp. ENTR. This phenomenon is probably not much more on display here than it is in your average easy crossword, but I'm not sure that should be a source of consolation. Even the clues don't offer much in the way of cleverness of funniness. It's all very serviceable. The one actual criticism I have is that the clues are phrased weirdly, in a way that doesn't really convey the party-ness of it all. That is, "met" just doesn't describe what happens at fetes or bashes. You "meet" for tea, or coffee, or maybe a ... let's say, meeting. But there's a huge gap between the ordinary word "met" and the fancy event that is a BALL. Something's just off or discordant about the clue phrasing.

    I like the clue on WINE. I actually never saw the clue on WINE when I was solving, but I like that, in looking at the clue just now, without looking up at the grid, I guessed that the answer was WINE (37D: "A constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy," per Benjamin Franklin).  For a puzzle with BRO in it, it's decidedly less BRO-y than your average NYTXW puzzle, with women (and women's concerns and women's clothing) in prominent places. And now, in conclusion, here are some thoughts on OTTERs (51D: River frolicker):

    Enjoy your social distance as much as humanly possible, people! Mwah!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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