Cannon ammo in sci-fi / THU 4-30-20 / Easiest rating for ski slope / Video game series since 1989

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Constructor: Caitlin Reid

Relative difficulty: Medium (6-something)

THEME: CORNER KICKS (35A: Goal-scoring opportunities in soccer ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — a rebus with different "kicks" (slang for "shoes") in every "corner":

Theme answers:
  • [BOOT] LEGS (1A: Pirates, say) / [BOOT] CAMPS (1D: Rigorous training courses)
  • GAS [PUMP] (10A: Refilling site) / [PUMP] FAKES (13D: Deceptive basketball moves)
  • FALLS [FLAT] (39D: Doesn't land, as a joke) / [FLAT] TOP (60A: Type of short haircut)
  • SAND [WEDGE] (62A: Bunker need) / LEMON [WEDGE] (44D: Common seafood garnish)
Word of the Day: EIN (30A: Fig. on some I.R.S. forms) —
The Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as the Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or the Federal Tax Identification Number, is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to business entities operating in the United States for the purposes of identification. When the number is used for identification rather than employment tax reporting, it is usually referred to as a  Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and when used for the purposes of reporting employment taxes, it is usually referred to as an EIN. These numbers are used for tax administration and must be not used for any other purpose. For example, the EIN should not be used in tax lien auction or sales, lotteries, etc. (wikipedia)
• • •

This theme was cool. I had a little trouble getting started (unsurprising with rebuses) and a *lot* of trouble figuring out the "kick" in the NE corner (could think only of "gas station" and then "head fakes" or "ball fakes"), but overall the whole thing played smooth and very mediumish for a Thursday. Whatever difficulty came from the inherent difficulty of sussing out a rebus and the occasionally weirdly difficult clues was offset by the fact that we know exactly where the rebus squares are going to be. That was a huge help. I'm looking in the corners, and I'm looking for a type of shoe. Got it. No problem. No problem with difficulty. Some problem with the fill, however. I winced at ESKIMO KISS, which just has this feel of "white people cutesily describing and appropriating a meaningful Inuit greeting" (30D: Affectionate nose-rubbing). Honestly, I just steer very, very clear of the word "Eskimo" in general. It's got a complicated history and is not *inherently* derogatory, but in Canada it is generally understood as pejorative and has been replaced, in official documents, by "Inuit," as I understand it. The [Affectionate nose-rubbing] is a traditional Inuit greeting called a KUNIK, which seems like a word that would really, really like to be in a crossword grid. I also winced at MAN UP, which is just bullshit gender stereotyping of the worst variety. Any language reinforcing "tough guy" behavior or designed to sort the "real men" from the "sissies" can honestly **** off. Also, the toughest people I know are women, so the whole "MAN UP!" thing just doesn't translate for me.

There was some pretty awful fill here and there today. I have no idea ... no, scratch that, I do have some idea who thought it would be a good idea to make EIN an I.R.S. abbr. (!!???!), but wow that is horrible. If you have to put EIN in your grid in the first place just go with the well-known German word and move on. Don't do ... whatever you did here, because now you're not only subjecting us to EIN (not great to begin with) but you subjecting us to an abbr. that ... well, first, who cares? Can there be anything less interesting than an I.R.S. form abbr. And second I have a hard time believing that abbr. is universally known, because I did not know it. I was like "Earned Income ... something?" Whether you knew it or not, this is just an awful thing to do with cluing. Use your words, not your abbrs., and esp. not your dreary financial abbrs. of dubious fame. I OR is pretty awful too (29D: "Should ___ shouldn't ..."). CHOO, same (as clued). I misspelled LEIF (flipped the vowels) (16A: First name of an early explorer of Vinland). I did not misspell ERMA, but only because I already had the "E" from GLENS. I will always make the ERMA/IRMA and ILSA/ELSA errors. Al. Ways.

IONS! IOS! IOR! Farewell.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dwarf friend of Bilbo in Hobbit / WED 4-29-20 / Box office smash in slang / Rolling textual coverage of event / Imparter of flavor to Cabernet sauvignon wines

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (high-4s)

THEME: HALF OFF (24D: Discounted 50% ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — themers are two identical four-letter words, but you only have to put in one of them (thus, HALF of the answer is OFF (the grid)):

Theme answers:
  • WELL (5A: *"Whaddya know ...")
  • BANG (16A: *In rapid succession, in slang)
  • CRAY (18A: *Bonkers)
  • CHIN (35A: *"Cheers!")
  • POOH (37A: *Dismiss lightly)
  • SING (59A: *Storied New York prison)
  • CHOP (62A: *"On the double!")
  • HEAR (67A: *"Amen to that!")
Word of the Day: "CHIN-CHIN!" (35A) —
Chin chin is a fried snack in NigeriaWest Africa.
It is similar to the Scandinavian snack klenat, a crunchy, donut-like baked or fried dough of wheat flour, and other customary baking items. Chin chin may contain cowpeas. Many people bake it with ground nutmeg for flavor. 
The dough is usually kneaded and cut into small one-inch (or so) squares, about a quarter of an inch thick, before frying. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one never really got off the ground. The theme just doesn't have enough juice. Feels like something I've seen a million times before—perhaps not with this revealer, but with this same whole "when doubled" concept. Super easy to pick up the theme because of the asterisks on the themers. Got BANG no problem ... but the next themer I encountered was CHIN, which ... wow. I have no idea what that is. Have literally never heard anyone say "CHIN CHIN!" in my life, to mean anything, let alone "Cheers!" This is the only thing that happens in my head when I look at this alleged expression:

Because CHIN (seriously, what?) crosses DAH (ugh, the lowest of all fill is the Morse Code fille), which crosses a down-the-marquee "Hobbit" name (BALIN), I felt like I was in real trouble here. I honestly was not (and am never) sure if DAH was the right term. I want it to be DOT and DASH, but ... no, DAH. I probably would've swapped out COLIN for BALIN, but then I never would've had CHIN in my puzzle, either? Well, one thing I know is that this section was yucky for me. Slightly surprised to find out that my answers were correct, in the end.

I guess CRAY (CRAY) has a slightly modern feel to it, and maybe LIVEBLOG too, but for every one of those there were three ye olden things like AD EXEC and PLATEN and yeesh, BOFF??? Not even BOFFO, just BOFF? Oh, and what the hell is GLOOPS? (33A: Thick, liquidy servings). That would be very rough in the singular; in the plural, it's nonsense. I thought the Swiss used Euros, which shows you how poorly traveled I am (I'm currently using the Lockdown as an excuse, which should be good for a while ... but the truth is I haven't been to Europe since I was 18) (note: the Brits will be happy to know that I'm not counting them as "Europe"). A DAY AGO feels very roll-your-own; not a strong stand-aloner. TRUTV is a real thing, but "Sister channel of HBO..." is big news to me. Does anyone call a driver a ONE WOOD? Don't answer, as I don't care about golf and never will. But I think I've only ever heard that club called a "driver." I got thrown by SLO-PITCH (36D: Softball designation), which doesn't have the (to me, expected) "W" and so ends up in the grid looking like SLOP ITCH, which ... sounds contagious. "Stay back! I've got the SLOP ITCH!" Was Kipling very quotable, because that is one weak-ass quote re: WORDS (5D: "The most powerful drug used by mankind": Rudyard Kipling). I literally can't see anyone nodding their head knowing and rubbing their chin (chin) in response to that banal a quip. IT'S SAD! See you tomorrow.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Measure of gold purity / TUES 4-28-20 / Number with all its letters in alphabetical order / Hodgepodge / Soundly defeats, colloquially

    Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    Hello! It's Clare today for the last Tuesday of April. At least, I think it's Tuesday? The shelter-in-place has been going on so long that all the days are starting to blur together. The only thing orienting me right now is that I have a final on May 1 — don't ask me what day of the week that is, though. I hope you all are staying healthy and safe! I've been back home in California for a bit, and I'm taking my law school finals online and trying to stay motivated. It's not easy! Especially because my love for BTS has only grown (for those who read my write-up last month, I was indeed talking about the K-pop group known for their amazing lyrics/music and dance routines). My YouTube recommendations are now just entirely their videos, which has kept me pretty distracted.

    Yes, I might be going a little stir-crazy. So, on that note, let's get to the puzzle!

    Constructor: Joel Fagliano

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

    THEME: Replacing the "TR" sound in the final word of each of the theme answers with "TW"

    Theme answers:
    • COMPANY RETWEET (19A: Endorsement from a brand's account?)
    • OLD BAG OF TWIX (24A: Some Halloween candy discovered in February?)
    • FAMILY TWEEZE (40A: When the whole clan gets their eyebrows done?)
    • HIGH SPEED TWAIN (46A: CliffsNotes version of "Huckleberry Finn"?)
    Word of the Day: SAM SPADE (35D: "The Maltese Falcon" detective) —

    Sam Spade is a fictional character and the protagonist of Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel, The Maltese Falcon. Spade also appeared in four lesser-known short stories by Hammett. The Maltese Falcon, first published as a serial in the pulp magazine Black Mask, is the only full-length novel in which Spade appears. The character, however, is widely cited as a crystallizing figure in the development of hard-boiled private detective fiction—Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Spade. (Wiki)
    • • •
    Maybe I've been staring at the walls (and textbooks) too long, but, for me, the puzzle today mostly fell flat. The theme didn't feel clever enough to take up so much space in the puzzle, and theme just sort of sat there — it was fine, but it didn't even get an ironic "hah" from me. I know there doesn't always need to be a revealer in a puzzle, but I do think this particular puzzle could have benefitted from something to tie the puzzle together — maybe a clue involving Elmer Fudd, as he is known for having a speech impediment that changes an r-sound to a w-sound (fact I learned from Google: This is known as rhotacism). The pun I found the funniest was HIGH SPEED TWAIN, but this also feels like the biggest reach — I'm not sure that this answer makes sense for the clue. Then, the rest of the puzzle didn't do much for me, either, with some very literal clues and answers and some truly odd words to see in a puzzle as fill. I mean, BLAMABLE? That's just an ugly word. And, TOENAILS? When the most interesting down in the puzzle is TOENAILS — and they always get an "ew" reaction from me — I think there's a problem.

    In general, I felt like I wasn't on the same wavelength as the constructor for most of the puzzle and kept putting in wrong answers. I got off to a bad start in the puzzle pretty quickly with 1A: Honey bunch? It took me a while to figure out it was COMB rather than "bees" or "hive" or something like that. I also just generally disliked the clue for EMTS59A: Some volunteers at music festivals, for short. There are so many other ways to clue this that aren't bizarre, including making the puzzle more current and mentioning how awesome and integral and heroic EMTS are on the front line of the pandemic and how important their work is. And, why clue in relation to music festivals, which aren't even happening right now (I know because I'd been planning to see BTS in concert yesterday!).

    I did like some of the good literature references we've got in the puzzle with WOOLF for "Mrs. Dalloway," DAISY from "The Great Gatsby," and SAM SPADE from "The Maltese Falcon." Those are some great book choices. Dashiell Hammett's Brigid O'Shaughnessy was the first femme-fatale character I read, and I'll never tire of reading anything F. Scott Fitzgerald writes. I mean, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," Like, come one!

    • 21D: Complete fool as TWIT made me weirdly happy, because it reminded me of the book "The Twits" by Roald Dahl, which is one of his strangest books, but I loved it. According to Wikipedia, Dahl wrote this book because of his hatred of beards. The first line of the book is, "What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays!"
    • The puzzle was a tad "current" today with DISS track (49D) and FACE SWAP (8D: Popular app feature that generates funny photos). Though the puzzle also had FWIW, and I can guarantee you that nobody under the age of 30 actually uses this. 
    • I went on a rant last time about UCLA in honor of my sister, who went to Cal, and the constructor today had the audacity to make me type out this school again!
    • Anyone else being trendy right now and making a LOAF (or loaves) of bread? With the run on banana bread, do stores even have any bananas left? My sister won't stop talking about how we need to make a sourdough starter.
    Signed, Clare Carroll, a twitchy twenty-something

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Outer layer of eyeball / MON 4-27-20 / Rolls's partner in auotdom / Brand with redundant slogan kills bugs dead / Muppet with falsetto / Talk show host who won season of celebrity apprentice / Spiritual leader often picture sitting cross-legged

    Monday, April 27, 2020

    Constructor: Ed Sessa

    Relative difficulty: Easyish (timer didn't start, so I don't really know)

    THEME: AHA MOMENT (64A: Sudden insight ... with a hint to 17-, 24-, 40- and 50-Across) — two-word phrases / names where first word starts A- and second starts HA-:

    Theme answers:
    • ANGEL HAIR (17A: Thin variety of pasta)
    • ACE HARDWARE (24A: Competitor of Home Depot and Lowe's)
    • ACCIDENTS HAPPEN (40A: "Don't worry, it's not your fault")
    • ARSENIO HALL (50A: Talk show host who won a season of "Celebrity Apprentice")
    Word of the Day: Sir Frederick Henry ROYCE (43A: Rolls's partner in autodom) —
    Sir Frederick Henry Royce, 1st BaronetOBE (27 March 1863 – 22 April 1933) was an English engineer famous for his designs of car and aeroplane engines with a reputation for reliability and longevity. With Charles Rolls (1877 – 1910) and Claude Johnson (1864 – 1926), he founded Rolls-Royce
    Rolls-Royce initially focused on large 40-50 horsepower motor cars, the Silver Ghost and its successors. Royce produced his first aero engine shortly after the outbreak of the First World War and aircraft engines became Rolls-Royce's principal product.
    Royce's health broke down in 1911 and he was persuaded to leave his factory in the Midlands at Derby and, taking a team of designers, move to the south of England spending winters in the south of France. He died at his home in Sussex in the spring of 1933. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Started out kinda rough, with a cutesy-quaint clue for an alcoholic (WINO) and an evocation of lynching (NOOSE), but once I got out of that NW corner, I was surprised to find that things smoothed out and settled down, and by the end of the solve, damned if I didn't think this was a pretty solid Monday puzzle. It's got all the makings of a very dull grid—ultra-conventional shape means we are "treated" to (roughly) nine (roughly) 4x4 or 4x5 sections, which is never conducive to good fill, and usually invites a kind of crosswordese creep that is never pleasant. But, though the fill is typical and familiar throughout, it's never irksomely weak—like, never, not once—and the revealer, when it comes, provides a genuine, if gentle, AHA MOMENT. Nice little self-reflexive touch, with the AHA MOMENT coming with the answer AHA MOMENT. Are there a ton of potential A- + HA- answers? Is this theme too loose? I don't know, and since the answers that I *get* are solid, varied, and interesting, I don't much care. This Monday puzzle did its Monday job. It didn't dazzle, but it most certainly didn't flop. It Mondayed.

    Not a lot to say about the finer points of the grid. Four long Downs provide color (and help offset the ordinariness of the bulk of the fill). Every one of those Four adds interest to the grid. It's a vivid and varied set. I'm seeing trapeze artists dressed as Odysseus and Achilles throwing open their arms to catch one another during a circus act ... and the circus is in ANCHORAGE, I guess. I always have trouble with ISIAH, or, I at least have to think about it, since the more common spelling (I think) is ISAIAH ... which honestly looks wrong if you stare at it too long. That -AIA- vowel string is like "you can't be serious." But no, that *is* how you spell it most of the time. Interestingly, when I try to google "Isaiah," the predictive text feature believes I'm looking for ISIAH Thomas, so people must misspell his name constantly. I hesitated at LEAR thinking it might be LEER (?!) (18D: Big name in jets). I thought maybe DESI before getting LUCY (29D: Ethel's neighbor/pal, on 1950s TV), which, now that I read the whole clue, and now that I think about the fact that DESI was the actor, not the character, is absurd. Though I was very fast with this one, I had to steer around ANN'S (39D: St. ___ (common church name)) (clue too vague for me) and SHINE (52D: What stars and bootblacks both do) (clue too thinky for me). Everything else fell in easily. Really wish the ARSENIO HALL clue (50A: Talk show host who won a season of "Celebrity Apprentice") had done him and everyone else the favor of remembering his historic run as a late-night talk show host instead of remembering him as having once been on the reality show of the world's vilest and stupidest person (it's really the whitest clue I can imagine), but otherwise, as I say, this one held up well.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    1969 hit for Neil Diamond / SUN 4-26-20 / Ad label in red white / 1990s Nickelodeon show about preteen boy / Early king of Athens in Greek myth / German city on Wesser / Like entire 290-page Georges Perec novel A Void curiously enough

    Sunday, April 26, 2020

    Constructor: Royce Ferguson

    Relative difficulty: Challenging (15-something, though I kept stopping because I just hated it so much, so it might be easier than the clock suggests)

    THEME: "Turn, Turn, Turn" — the word "CAR" goes through a "tunnel" eight times, turning each time (the tunnels are L-shaped black-square formations). Technically, the visible parts of the answer (i.e. the non-CAR parts) look like standalone answers, though ... woof, ELESS, really? But I'm getting ahead of myself ... there's also a revealer for some reason: 47A: With 86-Across, fixation problem suggested by this puzzle's theme (TUNNEL / VISION); oh, and, again, redundantly and unnecessarily ... the word CAR (58D: The driving force behind this puzzle?):

    Theme answers:
    • "SWEET (CAR) OLINE" (1A: 1969 hit for Neil Diamond) (O-LINE = 23D: QB-protecting group, for short)
    • MAS (CAR) PONE (25D: Cousin of cream cheese) (PONE = 13A: Southern bread)
    • REIN (CAR) NATION (44A: Belief in Buddhism and Hinduism) (NATION = 54D: State)
    • FLYING (CAR) PETS (48D: Magical rides) (PETS = 88A: Beloved members of the family)
    • TAKE (CAR) EOF (59A: Deal with) (EOF = FOE = 36D: Adversary)
    • DIS (CAR) DING (83D: Throwing away) (DING = 70A: Demerit)
    • META(CAR)PAL (116A: Bone connected to the wrist) (PAL = LAP = 96D: ___ dog)
    • COULD (CAR) ELESS (89D: Doesn't give a hoot, colloquially) (E-LESS = 119A: Like the entire 290-page Georges Perec novel "A Void," curiously enough)
    Word of the Day: ASADO (90A: South American barbecue) —
    Asado (Spanish: [aˈsaðo]) is the techniques and the social event of having or attending a barbecue in various South American countries, where it is also a traditional event. An asado usually consists of beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, and morcilla which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or an open fire. Generally the meats are accompanied by red wine and salads. This meat is prepared by a person who is the assigned asador or parrillero. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Dreary and dismal and painful and everything I've come to not like about Sunday puzzles, but also somehow worse. All the awful things are here. A puzzle that is superduper full of its own cleverness, despite being one-note—just CAR over and over and over. Fill that is pure garbage *posing* as inventive / fun stuff. XLSHIRT? Get the hell out of here. RADIOSHACKS, plural!?!? What's next, CHILISES? Rarely have I seen hotter garbage. MAKES A LIST!? ROLL A CIGAR!? It's like the puzzle is inching ever-closer to my Platonic ideal of that kind of answer: EAT(S) A SANDWICH. There are multiple XMASES now? This puzzle even made me hate a *baseball* answer, which ... do you know how hard you have to try to do that? And yet EX-MARINER, ugh. ___ A ___, EX-anyteam, XLwhatever. It's bad. It's not as bad as STEREOTYPIC, which, in recollecting it, makes me want to drop my computer on the floor, so offensive is that word's nonwordness. I seriously had STEREOTYP-- and no idea. Wrote in STEROTYPED, because that at least seemed like a word. There is no STEREOTYPIC without AL. Or there shouldn't be. In short, there was about as much GAYETY here as there is in that absolutely stupid non-word, which no one in the history of humanity has ever spelled that way, ever. Awful. Awful. Awful.

    And the thing where a short three-letter *Down* is actually supposed to be read *backward* so you can go through the "tunnel"—more awfulness. I am going in the direction of the answer, i.e. Down. You cannot expect me to read the answer in an *upward* direction. Well, you can, 'cause you did. But it's bad. I ran the alphabet at SI_ only to realize that I was supposed to "drive" that answer up into the "tunnel" what fun!? So it's not SID, it's DIS(CAR)DING. GAYETY!  The nerve of this puzzle, not only trying to convince me that E-LESS (uuuuggggghhh) is a "word," but doing so with a stupid Georges Perec clue, which, so much ugh, is the guy whom I've only ever seen in crosswords and is such an insidery "we all love puzzley stuff right?" garbage garbage reference. The puzzle is only allowed to wink at me and commiserate with me in our shared puzzle fandom when the puzzle behaves and is actually good. When the puzzle is doing something cruddy, the winky nudge of a clue is Not welcome. BILOXIMS!? AnycityAnystatecode?! There's something to hate at every turn, and so much *long* hateful stuff, too. I picked this theme up early, and the revealer was transparent. See:

    TUNNEL / VISION, early
    And still the puzzle was hard and miserable to solve. Joyless. Smugly sure that it is chock full o' cleverness. Which makes the whole experience so much worse. ROLLACIGAR, I mean, really ... And ONARAIL, to boot!?!?! Yeesh. DEIS! ENLAI! STAID...NESS??? (52D: Sedate state). Good night.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Christian bracelet letters / SAT 4-25-20 / Relief pitcher of old / Parenting term popularized by Amy Chua in 2011 nonfiction bestseller / Big-pocketed character on old show / Regional specialty of southern Ohio

    Saturday, April 25, 2020

    Constructor: Andrew Ries

    Relative difficulty: Medium (7:46, first thing in the morning)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: DOTS (1D: Simple pencil-and-paper game) —
    Dots and Boxes is a pencil-and-paper game for two players (sometimes more). It was first published in the 19th century by French mathematician Édouard Lucas, who called it la pipopipette. It has gone by many other names, including the game of dotsdot to dot gridboxes, and pigs in a pen.
    The game starts with an empty grid of dots. Usually two players take turns adding a single horizontal or vertical line between two unjoined adjacent dots. A player who completes the fourth side of a 1×1 box earns one point and takes another turn. (A point is typically recorded by placing a mark that identifies the player in the box, such as an initial.) The game ends when no more lines can be placed. The winner is the player with the most points. The board may be of any size grid. When short on time, or to learn the game, a 2×2 board (3×3 dots) is suitable. A 5×5 board, on the other hand, is good for experts. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    Ordinary. Solid, with a smattering of newish / flashy answers, but heavy on the short stuff and thick with a crust of yore. AIKEN OREL OLAV TSLOT ULTIMO MOLTO ECO ILIE MERC ACERB CPO EKES ARNIE TIT ESTD ... and the clues skewed oldenish as well. Quaint and corny and bygone. In short, as I say, ordinary. This is what tickles somebody, clearly, but not me. Not much. But this is not to say that it's bad or poorly made; well, certainly not the latter. If I, or you, think it's bad, today that is much more a matter of taste than demonstrable structural deficiencies. But a puzzle loaded with short fill on a Saturday is bound to be dire. Making four-letter words Saturday-worthy usually involves doing sadistic / bizarre stuff to the clues. Who wants to slog through a small 6x4 section. The grid isn't really built for fun. The middle stack almost gets lost in the noise and chaos of the much-less-entertaining short stuff. Also, I just can't get excited about CINCINNATI CHILI, largely because I don't know what that is (10D: Regional specialty of southern Ohio). But even if I did, meh. Lots of real estate on something that, sure, exists, but has very little else to recommend it.

    for after the chili
    Even the newish stuff today felt stale. JUKEBOX MUSICALS and TIGER MOTHER and even STAIRMASTER would've been fresh close to a decade ago. They're fine now, but have about as much currency as CAPTAIN KANGAROO, which ... pockets? You're defining him by his pocket size? Weird. (3D: Big-pocketed character on an old show). I watched that dude when I was a kid and his pockets were nothing I took note of. I guess WEIRDBOWLCUT isn't really a strong standalone answer. I wouldn't mind seeing MRGREENJEANS in a puzzle. Anyway, my overall reaction to this puzzle is best exemplified by my reaction to 50A: Model company (CAR MAKER), which was "uh ... sure, I guess." That is, the fill wasn't terribly strong to begin with, and the clues were *trying* to jazz it up but in the end the ahas mostly ended up being ohs.

    DOTS / DA CAPO / OREL made the NW a very tough start for me. I sadly got my first big boost from EKES (ugh), because the "K" helped me see DRAKE (35A: Spotify's most-streamed artist of the 2010s), which helped me clean up the mess I'd created in the west, where I'd gone IOTA / INRI / NET instead of WHIT / WWJD / WON. Oh, I should say that WWJD is interesting 4-letter fill (23D: Christian bracelet letters). I like it. What Would Jesus Do? Anyway, it beats the hell out of INRI, which I still don't really know the meaning of. Not many other real snags, once I got going. Had ASIS for PAID (26D: Red stamp word). Oh, and VAC / VOLTO (?) instead of MIC / MOLTO for a tiny bit (44A: Bit of A/V equipment / 44D: Very, musically). Speaking of MOLTO, you already exhausted your Italian musical notation at 1A. Going back to the well here is blecch. Honestly, I think the worst thing in this puzzle or any puzzle is ULTIMO, which has never been said by anyone anywhere ever ever and exists only to be in dictionaries and crossword puzzles. Not sure there's a greater gap between grid frequency of real-word frequency, considering real-world frequency is ~0. "Oh, hi Betty, I haven't seen you since ULTIMO, how are you?" [Betty pretends not to see you, scurries away to ogle lettuce]. /Scene

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Homer with one RBI in baseball lingo / FRI 4-24-20 / Destructive 2017 hurricane / Historic destination in County Kerry Ireland

    Friday, April 24, 2020

    Constructor: John Guzzetta

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (6:16)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: ISLA Fisher (25A: Actress Fisher) —
    Isla Lang Fisher (/ˈlə/; born February 3, 1976) is an Australian actress and author who began her career on Australian television. Born to Scottish parents in Oman, she moved to Australia at age six. After appearing in television commercials at a young age, Fisher came to prominence for her portrayal of Shannon Reed on the soap opera Home and Away from 1994 to 1997, garnering two Logie Award nominations.
    Fisher made a successful transition to Hollywood in the live-action film adaptation of Scooby-Doo (2002), and has since achieved fame for her roles in Wedding Crashers (2005), Hot Rod (2007), Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009), The Great Gatsby (2013), and Now You See Me (2013). Her other notable film credits include I Heart Huckabees (2004), The Lookout (2007), Definitely, Maybe (2008), Burke & Hare (2010), Bachelorette (2012), Visions (2015), GrimsbyNocturnal AnimalsKeeping Up with the Joneses (all 2016), and Tag (2018). In addition, she has voiced characters in animated films such as Horton Hears a Who! (2008), Rango (2011), and Rise of the Guardians (2012). On television, she was cast in a recurring role on the fourth and fifth seasons of Arrested Development (2013, 2018). (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Rough. Before I was half done, I had exclaimed "what?" or else audibly groaned something like half a dozen times. This thing was stale the second I bit into it (i.e. at TIETACK), and though parts of it are decent, the overall taste was unpleasant, for sure. Fitting that it has ARCHAISM in it, because it felt old and ... old. In a bad way. In the way where ... like in the olden days, when you just had to know random biological trivia or you were ****ed. BRISTLECONE PINE? SHAGBARK? News to me and *real* news to me, respectively. Take your botanical fetish back to the Maleskan era, thank you kindly. While you're at it, take back your colonialism (BRITISH RAJ) and your TSAR and ABBA and poor old Will GEER and NCO and TRALEE and UPI and SSN and  ELLS and IDED and everything else that is in one way or another crusty. What is with the pile-up of plurals!?!?! GIRTHS over IDAHOS! STELAE (ugh, with the -AE spelling). PESTOS!? This puzzle was heavily reliant on plurals, but those, ouch. And they came in such quick succession. And my god the painful bombardment of four-letter "I" names. You get one of those in crosswords. We all accept that you're probably gonna need, like, an ILSA or INGA or something to get you through. But IOLA (clued via a Hardy Boy's girlfriend!!??!?!) *and* ISLA *and* IRMA. This is comical, or would be if it weren't joy-sucking.

    [I only know one kind of pine...]

    What does BERTHA have to do with THE BAR (33D: Name that's an anagram of THE BAR). It's like you're shouting at us, "I have no idea what this name is!!!!! It means nothing to me! It was in my wordlist! Just deal!" I mean, if there was a great legal mind named BERTHA, I'd be happy to learn this, if only because it would help me learn what the hell was going on with this clue.  I will never not hate GIBE and I feel the same about JIBE. I'm not going anywhere near either of those. Unwelcome, always. I ... BEDAMN (!?) them (18A: Swear at). You know what's an ARCHAISM, besides "Thou"? BEDAMN. BEDAMN is an ARCHAISM. Is TOMBOYS and ARCHAISM? It feels like one. Did the MINOTAUR really just sit in the "center" of the maze? I have to reread my mythology. Seems like he might've, I dunno, moved around (54A: Center of a maze). This has been the weirdest puzzle week. I did not enjoy the two days that are usually my favorites (Fri, Mon) and thought the mid-week themed stuff (often dire) was pretty dang good overall. The Quarantine is messing Everything up. See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Mythical matchmaker / THU 4-23-20 / Tapered piece of sports equipment / Mexican tequila brand familiarly / Staple of Disney live-action remakes briefly

    Thursday, April 23, 2020

    Constructor: Yacob Yonas and Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (6:00, moving very very just-woke-up slowly)

    THEME: RELOCATIONS (or "RE" LOCATIONS) (53A: Changes made to the answers to 16-, 24-, 33- and 47-Across, whether interpreted as one word or two?)  — relocate the "RE" in familiar words/phrases, so that the answers appear in the grid as different (unclued) words/phrases

    Theme answers:
    • BAKING BREAD (16A: Acclaimed TV show concerning a science teacher-turned-drug dealer) (move the "re" in "Breaking Bad")
    • IN THREE D (!?) (24A: Financially behind) (move the "re" in "in the red")
    • CATERED (33A: Brought into existence) (move the "re" in "created")
    • COMPARED (47A: Amigo) (move the "re" in "compadre")
    Word of the Day: Mireille ENOS (59A: Emmy- and Tony-nominated actress Mireille) —
    Marie Mireille Enos (/mɪəˈr ˈnəs/; born September 22, 1975) is an American actress. Drawn to acting from a young age, she graduated in performing arts from Brigham Young University, where she was awarded the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Having made her acting debut in the 1994 television film Without Consent, she has since received nominations for a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an Emmy Award.
    Early in her career, Enos appeared variously as a guest star on such television shows as Sex and the City and The Education of Max Bickford among others. She made her feature film debut with a minor part in the 2001 romantic comedy Someone Like You, but garnered wider attention for her role as Honey in the 2005 Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Her performance in the latter earned her a nomination for Best Featured Actress at the Tony Awards. She again ventured into television roles and landed the role of twins Kathy and JoDean Marquart in the HBO drama series Big Love.
    Enos' breakout role was on the AMC crime drama series The Killing; she played Sarah Linden, a Seattle-based police officer for the show's four seasons from 2011 to 2014. Her performance garnered her critical acclaim and earned her nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Primetime Emmy Award and the Golden Globe Award. Enos starred as Karin Lane in the 2013 disaster film World War Z and Kathleen Hall in the 2014 romantic drama If I Stay; both of the films were blockbuster productions. She continued to draw praise for her work in independent films like Never Here (2017). Enos starred as the lead character in the short-lived ABC legal thriller The Catch. In 2019, she appeared in the Amazon/BBC co-production of Good Omens as Carmine "Red" Zuigiber, a war correspondent who is actually War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Happy Shakespeare's Presumed Birthday!

    "Huh ... so they're simple anagrams, then." This was me while solving this puzzle, which I found mostly easy and which I mostly enjoyed, though I mostly enjoyed it as a themeless that contained some random anagrams For Some Reason. The revealer (not only the highlight of the theme, but the only thing enjoyable about the theme) eventually made sense of those anagrams, which ... on their own, are quite limp. Turns out relocating the "RE" doesn't do much for you except get you the preposterously spelled, seriously-no-one-spells-it-like-that "IN THREE D" (in case you're still looking at those letters going "what is it!?," it's "IN 3-D," like a movie). It's always slightly weird to have unclued things in the grid. It's weirder today because they are unmarked (i.e. not asterisked or anything) and short (easy to sort out BAKING BREAD because that answer looked like a themer, but I thrashed around with IN THREE D in part because it was so short-looking, I didn't think it was a themer). The theme is thin, in that only one of the involved answers is over eight letters long, and there are only four themers total. That's 34 squares involved, total (outside the revealer, obviously. Felt scant. Maybe if the same number had been involved over *three* answers, it would have felt more substantial because the answers themselves would've been more substantial overall (and thus possibly more interesting). But in the end the theme works fine, the revealer is clever, and the rest of the grid is quite entertaining. In a bizarre turn of events, the theme has not compromised the fill—rather, the fill has thrived in spite of the theme.


    All my trouble came on proper nouns. Well, that and IN THREE D, as I've said. I have circled the trouble words: GILES, TILSIT, DELHI, and ENOS. I'm sure I've heard of St. GILES, but faced with just [St. ___ (district in London)] and having just the "G"—nothing. I have heard of TILSIT, but still had some trouble recalling it (and backing into it from the -SIT) (50A: Mild Swiss cheese). DELHI, LOL, yeah, I've heard of it, it's common, but I think of it as a city, and Uttar Pradesh is a state, so I was stumped (58A: Neighbor of Uttar Pradesh). Turns out DELHI is "a city and a union territory of India containing the city of New DELHI, the capital of India." The real slower-downer answer was ENOS, whom I thought I had never heard of, but I absolutely watched "The Killing," it's just been a while and I totally forgot the main actress's name. No other slow-downs for me. Really liked TAKESIGN (about to go watch some overseas baseball as soon as I post this!). LEMONY WAGNER TACTILE CLOSE ONE YE GODS! CUERVO OOPSIE ... this one had a lot of bounce, I thought. Not the flash of a good themeless, but far far more sparkle than fill tends to have in a themed puzzle. OK it's coffee / Taiwanese baseball time. See you.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Young hare / WED 4-22-20 / Greatest Snow on Earth sloganeer / Location where Italy's capital is said to have been founded / Location in New World until 1776 / Kind of order on Wall Street / Head of government between Eshkol Rabin

    Wednesday, April 22, 2020

    Constructor: Jules Markey

    Relative difficulty: Medium (4:44, sleepily)

    THEME: PRIME REAL ESTATE (54A: Asset that's all about "location, location, location" ... with a hint to the starts of 21-, 26- and 49-Across) — places that start with a prime number:

    Theme answers:
    • THREE MILE ISLAND (21A: Location of 1979 accident)
    • SEVEN HILLS OF ROME (26A: Location where Italy's capital is said to have been founded)
    • THIRTEEN COLONIES (49A: Location in the New World until 1776)
    Word of the Day: Geico (52A: The "G" of Geico: Abbr.) —
    The Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO /ˈɡk/) is an American auto insurance company with headquarters in Maryland. It is the second largest auto insurer in the United States, after State Farm. GEICO is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway that provides coverage for more than 24 million motor vehicles owned by more than 15 million policy holders as of 2017. GEICO writes private passenger automobile insurance in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The insurance agency sells policies through local agents, called GEICO Field Representatives, over the phone directly to the consumer via licensed insurance agents, and through their website. Its mascot is a gold dust day gecko with a Cockney accent, voiced by English actor Jake Wood from 2005 until his termination due to a pay dispute in 2015. GEICO is well known in popular culture for its advertising, having made numerous commercials intended to entertain viewers. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Not sure I think much of these "locations"—a nuclear disaster site (thanks, I'm all set for apocalyptic scenarios right now), a place that's more famous because *another* place was founded there, and then a place that doesn't exist anymore. Wish this were a tighter and more solid collection of "location"s. But I do like that the revealer not only unites all the themers by the "prime" in its answer but by the "location, location, location" in its clue. That is, all the numbers are PRIME, yes, but the themers also act out the expression "location, location, location" (there are three locations, each of their clues starts with "Location"). So that's cute. Oh, look, yet another oversized grid. Huh. Interesting. You gotta find some use for those 16-letter phrases. Seems kinda unfair that they don't fit in regular grids. I wonder what kind of enormous 16-letter phrase stockpile someone's sitting on out there... the Strategic 16 Reserves. I'm sure there's all kinds of great stuff that's 16 letters long, though I don't think either SEVEN HILLS OF ROME or THIRTEEN COLONIES is particularly great. But they'll do. Just like this puzzle, they'll do.

    The only thing I remember about this solve was the part where I got exceedingly stuck. The center of the mess was GOVT, which ... what??? I know Geico as the gecko insurance company and that is it. I have no other frame of reference. I assumed it was a private insurance company and that the name was just a name, like any dumb corporate name. I had *no* idea it was an acronym, and the way the NYT style guide works, with long acronyms written out with lower-case letters like that (i.e. Geico instead of GEICO), the clue made the acronym thing even harder to see (on its website and its wikipedia page, it's ALL CAPS). So I wrote in LOGO, thinking the actual "G" didn't stand for a word. What a horrible, bizarre clue for GOVT. Always horrible to clue an abbr. as an acronym part, so that one shortening ends up cluing yet another shortening. This is that thing I talk about a lot that you absolutely should Not do, which is get fancy and complicated with your Not-Good fill. Anyway, I had no idea it was common knowledge that "Geico" was an acronym. Without the "G" or "V," I was really hurting. Also *really* hurting because I had ACT- and wrote in ACTING at 42A: De facto (ACTUAL). That was a brutal mistake. ACTING plus mystery-Geico clue = total shutdown. Could not see SURGICAL at all. Still don't really get the clue on ATOM (43D: Little wonder?). Am I supposed to find the ATOM "wondrous"? Do I "wonder" what it is? Yeesh. And then LEVERET, hoo boy (44D: Young hare). Weirdly, I have seen that word and know what it is (from medieval literature, primarily, I think), but with the first letter wrong and no help from GOVT's "V," I was in the dark. This puzzle is probably actually Easy if not for this section (for me).

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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