Classic brand of candy wafers / SUN 5-31-20 / Opposite of une adversaire / Myth propagated to promote social harmony in Plato's Republic / Magical teen of Archie Comics / 2017 hit movie about an Olympic skater / Songbird with dark iridescent plumage

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Constructor: Lewis Rothlein and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (time in the 12s, but I stopped a bunch for screen shots, so I'd say at least a minute less than that) (oh and I've had a margarita, so probably need a difficulty adjustment there, too)

THEME: "What Goes Up Must Come Down" — themers have internal palindromes and those are represented in the grid by letters that literally go up (i.e. you read them up) and then down (i.e. you read the same letters back down) before continuing on with the non-palindromic rest of the answer:

Theme answers:
  • MOBILE LIBRARIES (32A: Providers of books to remote locations)
  • JUVENILE DELINQUENCY (34A: Unlawful activity by a minor)
  • MEDICINAL PLANTS (66A: Some natural remedies)
  • COMMERCE SECRETARY (69A: Cabinet position once held by Herbert Hoover)
  • INOPPORTUNE MOMENT (104A: Untimely time)
  • ELABORATE DETAIL (107A: Great depth)

Word of the Day: LENA (43D: Long river of Siberia) —
The Lena (Russian: Ле́наIPA: [ˈlʲɛnə]EvenkiЕлюенэEljuneYakutӨлүөнэÖlüöneBuryatЗүлхэZülkheMongolianЗүлгэZülge) is the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean (the other two being the Ob' and the Yenisey). Permafrost underlies most of the catchment, 77% of which is continuous. The Lena is the eleventh-longest river in the world. [...] The Lena massacre was the name given to the 1912 shooting-down of striking goldminers and local citizens who protested at the working conditions in the mine near Bodaybo in northern Irkutsk. The incident was reported in the Duma (parliament) by Kerensky and is credited with stimulating revolutionary feeling in Russia.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov may have taken his alias, Lenin, from the river Lena, when he was exiled to the Central Siberian Plateau. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello! Or should I say, HELLO! (19A: Word whose rise in popularity coincided with the spread of the telephone). I have been realizing, slowly, as this pandemic wears on, that what I want most from crosswords isn't technical proficiency or theme pyrotechnics. It's fun. Joy. Yes, there's always some inherent joy in filling in boxes, getting the right answers, etc. But I will take a simple silly gimmick if it's genuinely ridiculous and warm-hearted and entertaining. Are you having fun or just going through the motions? Does the puzzle exist in order to fill space or does it seem designed to amuse? Has it been slapped together with all the usual old fill / clues, or has it been crafted with care and wit. Does it have at least a little currency? A little now-ness? A smile to offer? A wink? A slight "'sup?" of a head nod? I'm trying to figure out why this puzzle, which seems competent enough, just left me cold. I think that, once I saw what the themers were going to do, I thought, "well ... I guess they're just gonna do that ... some more." And they did. And then the puzzle was over. There was nothing more to it than the up and the down gimmick. And look, it's structurally at least interesting, and probably technically at least a little hard to pull off while also maintaining passable fill. But the overall effect was about as fun as tossing and catching a ball lightly in one hand, over and over. The tosses aren't remarkable in themselves. They don't connect to one another, or have anything in common. There's no revealer, no "here's why we did this!" Just the metronomic up and down of the bouncing ball. Just 'cause. And the fill was, with a few exceptions, industry standard. Shrug. I expect much more than a shrug. These days, I *need* much more than a shrug.

Here was my opening gambit:

ENIAC sets off mild alarms. Stalesness alarms. But I press on.

At this point, still not feeling great about things, but then I haven't gotten any answer over 5 letters, so let's keep going and see what happens? This is just after I "get" the theme:

Thought JUVENILE went through, then couldn't get the "I" to work, eventually got EQUIP and bingo, there was the theme. I thought maybe the up/down part would spell something or have some meaning or ... something. But that never panned out. Just a whole lot more up/down.

The clue on CELIBATE is just wrong, or at least wildly inappropriate. A "virgin" is someone who has not had sex. A CELIBATE person has made a deliberate choice to abstain from sex, usually for religious reasons. This answer makes my bile rise (not really, I just wanted to say that because BILE is literally "rising" inside this answer). Let's see, what else? I wrote in EUGENE instead of HELENA, so that was fun (14D: State capital in Lewis and Clark county). You'd think I'd've remembered that the capital of Oregon is SALEM, but no. I also wrote in ELLS and LIGHT (!?) before ERAS (111D: Museum sections, perhaps) and ANGLE (122A: Selfie taker's concern). I liked IMPOUND LOT better than anything in this grid, I think. I also appreciated the genderless I.T. PEOPLE (51A: Bug experts, informally). I would've spelled MEANY with an -IE (71D: Villain). NOBLE LIE seems like a really dumb answer you'd never use if it hadn't been in some wordlist somewhere (109A: Myth propagated to promote social harmony, in Plato's "Republic"). GET A FLAT has big EAT A SANDWICH energy (84A: Pop a wheelie?). Mostly the fill is just flat. MATTE. Dull.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I love you, Minneapolis

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Rotund archenemy of Sonic the Hedgehog / SAT 5-30-20 / Asian city on Yamuna River / Tower of classic math puzzle / Autumnal salad ingredients / Notable feature of opening clarinet solo in Rhapsody in Blue / Automotive debut of 1964

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Easy (6:17, first thing in the a.m.)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Tower of HANOI (37A: Tower of ___ (classic math puzzle)) —
The Tower of Hanoi (also called the Tower of Brahma or Lucas' Tower and sometimes pluralized as Towers) is a mathematical game or puzzle. It consists of three rods and a number of disks of different sizes, which can slide onto any rod. The puzzle starts with the disks in a neat stack in ascending order of size on one rod, the smallest at the top, thus making a conical shape.
The objective of the puzzle is to move the entire stack to another rod, obeying the following simple rules:
  1. Only one disk can be moved at a time.
  2. Each move consists of taking the upper disk from one of the stacks and placing it on top of another stack or on an empty rod.
  3. No larger disk may be placed on top of a smaller disk.
With 3 disks, the puzzle can be solved in 7 moves. The minimal number of moves required to solve a Tower of Hanoi puzzle is 2n − 1, where n is the number of disks.

• • •

I enjoyed this one reasonably well, though much of that enjoyment probably came from the merciful ease with which I flew through it. Early-morning Saturday solves can be brutal, and there's a feeling of both relief and exhilaration that comes with knocking them out quickly. That feeling, however, can really color your (my) opinions about a puzzle. That is, as I've said before, people tend to be warmly disposed to puzzles they crush and poorly disposed to those that you don't. I try to correct for this feeling, perhaps not always successfully. Am I pleased with the puzzle, or my own mastery? Does it matter? In my case, it probably matters, since I'm supposed to be talking about these things, at least in part, in terms of their technical specs and craftsmanship. This one seems quite solid, if somewhat workmanlike, somewhat over-conventional (in the short stuff, mostly). There's not a lot of zing, but there are also no glaring weaknesses, and there was no point where I genuinely winced or found anything more than a stray answer or too very unpalatable. It felt like it was catering to an older audience (Sonic the Hedgehog reference aside), but that's not bad. It didn't feel exclusionary. Just very much over-the-plate for X'ers boomers and up. SPRING CHICKEN itself is a phrase that would probably only be used by someone who was No SPRING CHICKEN (I think I am familiar with this phrase exclusively in the negative) (31A: No oldster). CHOO-CHOO-TRAIN is cute (36A: Something a toddler might chug?). Do toddlers still "chug" these though? Does Thomas still exist? Train sets feel very middle of last century. I love this answer, I'm just explaining why the vibe of the puzzle felt (in a nice way) older. Not a lot of slang or fresh fill, but entertaining nonetheless, and well put together.

I don't have much to say about this one, though. It's weird how fast I solved it, considering its frame of reference often isn't mine. All the "game" stuff that (I guess) puzzle solvers are supposed to know / appreciate, I didn't. Tower of HANOI was totally new to me—guessed it off the -OI. I had SPIT as SCAT (or maybe SKAT) at first—that feels like the name of a card game, but I could very easily be wrong there (as I was, literally, wrong, obviously, since the answer is SPIT) (42A: Two-player card game). I can't stand Scrabble so though I know the basic rules and format, I don't think that much about it, and I had THIRTEEN before NINETEEN there (13D: Number that can be spelled with only one-point Scrabble tiles). Can't imagine wanting to clue NINETEEN that way, just as I can't imagine wanting to clue TERMS via algebra. But your cluing brain goes where it goes, I guess.  No one section of this grid gave me any particular trouble. I was fittingly slow getting SLOWS (1D: Prepares to enter a work zone, perhaps), but SEAT HENIE ATRIA got me started up there, and then ON RETAINER blew it open (reading a lot of Perry Mason lately, and a lot of the book I'm currently reading (The Case of the Curious Bride) involves Perry doing a lot of work for a client he hasn't even officially taken on—one who in fact stormed out of his office—because he finds out after that initial meeting that the woman has already put him ON RETAINER by leaving $$$ with Della before the meeting ever started. So he's like "well, she left the money, so ... guess I better work even though she has given me nothing specific to do." Seems like you'd just return the retainer, but Perry's gonna Perry, whaddyagonnado? Anyway, after I got out of the NW, I had only occasional trouble—nothing terribly noteworthy.

[so. excited.]

Minor Trouble:
  • 26A: Calm (SEDATE) — I had SERENE. Costly.
  • 8D: "Roots" surname (KINTE) — easy, but I misspelled it KENTE.
  • 21D: Autumnal salad ingredients (PEPITAS) — hardest answer for me to get, despite the fact that I like to eat them. These are pumpkin seeds.
  • 27D: Lancaster and Cornwall, for two (DUCHIES) — I take it back; this was the hardest for me to get. And right alongside PEPITAS, too. Good thing crosses were all so gettable.
  • 43D: Stomach soother, for short (PEPTO) — was looking for a generic term, like BROMO (?) here. But it's short for the brand PEPTO-Bismol.
  • 44D: Summertime coolers (ICEES) — since I had SCAT for SPIT and I had ECO in place, this answer looked like it started AC ... and I ended up with ACEES thinking "that canNOT be an acceptable spelling of the abbr. for 'air conditioners'!" Thankfully, I was right.
  • 36D: Low-cost version, informally (CHEAPIE) — This term feels ... dated? Seems like maybe you'd use it adjectivally, but then ... why not just use 'cheap.' 'Cheapo?' The primary way I know CHEAPIE is as the thing that gangster Mendy Menendez calls Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye: this, and "Tarzan on a big red scooter":

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Explanation for existence of evil in God's presence / FRI 5-29-20 / Evans who was 2009-10 Rookie of the Year / Thrombus more familiarly / Sister brand of 7Up / Sail-hoisting device / Corn or bean plant perhaps / Relative of histogram

Friday, May 29, 2020

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Not sure ... mostly easy ... I don't really know what a just-rolled-out-of-bed 6:43 time means on a Friday any more. Easy but with a chunk in and around CANNERY that was hard ... 

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TYREKE Evans (57A: Evans who was the 2009-10 N.B.A. Rookie of the Year) —
Tyreke Jamir Evans (born September 19, 1989) is an American professional basketball player. After playing college basketball for the Memphis Tigers, he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.[1] Evans went on to win the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013 before being traded back to the Kings in 2017. After successive stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers, Evans, who would have become a free agent at the end of the 2019 season, was dismissed and disqualified from the NBA in May for violating the terms of the league's anti-drug program. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was perfectly fine, though the only part that really sparkled was NIGHTY-NIGHT (4D: "Sweet dreams!"). Most of this was solid, but a little flat. Green-paintish* stuff like RUNS A LAP and ATE LUNCH didn't help. AT THE HEART felt kinda longish for an incomplete phrase. AT HEEL does not feel like a current phrase. Can't imagine using it. TO HEEL I can hear. You can bring a dog TO HEEL. Something might be at *one's* heels. Dunno. The word THEODICY looks and sounds like something I've seen, but I'd be lying if I said I actually knew it (18A: Explanation for the existence of evil in God's presence). ON A kick? Never heard this phrase without some descriptive word following ON A. RCCOLA ... exists still? (Also: 7Up exists still?) (13D: Sister brand of 7Up). Multiple ... THYMES? This just felt a teensy bit stale—the feeling was actually made worse by the *attempts* at contemporary colloquial flash that actually felt like ... well, they would've been much flashier in the '00s (EPIC FAIL, "WHAT THE ...," CYBERanything). Ooh, I enjoyed seeing BATGIRL in a non-gendered clue, that was cool (7D: Enemy of the Joker).

Never a fan of cluing a perfectly good English word (PANE) as if it were foreign (30D: Bread, in Bologna). TYREKE Evans is superobscure if you are not an NBA fan. I follow the major sports loosely, and his name definitely rings a bell, but after that ROTY award (note: I would, in fact, accept ROTY in a puzzle), he didn't do anything exceptional. I mean, he was a pro, so he was obviously very good, but he never made an All-Star team or won a championship or did anything that would make him particularly crossworthy. In fact, I'm looking at a list of NBA Rookies of the Year and TYREKE Evans is one of the only names I *don't* really know from the past 40 years. I'm a little hazy on Michael Carter-Williams (2013-14) and Mike Miller (2000-01), but beyond that you gotta go back to '81-82 to find a name I can't place (that name: Buck Williams ... I just forgot him: he was active during the time I was most pro sports-crazy). My point here is TYREKE looks cool but is more a personal indulgence than a great answer.

Made some costly mistakes today, most notably BOLT for VOLT (23D: Lightning unit). Nice trick, I guess. Feels cheap, since obviously lightning comes in BOLTs, and no one says "ooh, did you see those howevermany VOLTs of lightning," but sure, technically, that clue works for that answer. Lost most time on one of my most hated clue types—the "Name that becomes this thing if you do these things to it"-type clue. Like, find a MYRA to use in your clue or **** ***! Had the "M" and then the "R" and still wasn't sure what was going on. And that answer was adjacent to CANNERY, which took me several seconds to get Even After I Had -ANNERY in place (37D: Corn or bean plant, perhaps). See, it's the factory meaning of "plant," not the plant meaning of "plant." Cute. I also wrote in READ instead of SCAN (got the stupid "A" first and ... d'oh!) (48A: Pore over). I think of "scanning" as reading quickly and "poring over" as reading thoroughly, but whatever, this puzzle has its own ideas. Oh, and off the READ error I wrote in ROOF at 48D: Flat part of a flat. That is the wrong answer I'm most proud of (real answer: SOLE).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I associate the term PAIN PILL not with "relief" but with addiction (29A: What a relief!). :(

*green paint => an arbitrary phrase that, sure, one might say, but that doesn't really work as a stand-alone crossword answer

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Confucian scholar Chu / THU 5-28-20 / Yellow creature in series of hit animated films / Moor's foe in early eighth century / Flagship sch. with famed serpentine garden walls

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Constructor: Tracy Bennett

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4:40)

THEME: wacky phrases made up of two TV show titles —

Theme answers:
  • GET SMART FRIENDS (19A: What to do if you want to win bar trivia?)
  • DOCTOR WHO CHEERS (37A: Medical professional with a passion for pep rallies?)
  • THE SOPRANOS LOST (52A: Predictable result of a choir's Barry White singing contest?)
Word of the Day: Chu HSI (46A: Confucian scholar Chu ___) —
Zhu Xi ([ʈʂú ɕí]Chinese朱熹; October 18, 1130 – April 23, 1200), also known by his courtesy name Yuanhui (or Zhonghui), and self-titled Hui'an, was a Chinese calligrapher, historian, philosopher, politician, and writer of the Song dynasty. He was a Confucian scholar who founded what later became known as the "learning of principle" or "rationalist" school (lixue 理學) and was the most influential Neo-Confucian in China. His contributions to Chinese philosophy including his editing of and commentaries to the Four Books, which later formed the curriculum of the civil service exam in Imperial China from 1313 to 1905; and his emphasis on the process of the "investigation of things" (gewu 格物) and meditation as a method for self cultivation.
Zhu has been described [as] the second most influential thinker in Chinese history, after Confucius himself. He was a scholar with a wide learning in the classics, commentaries, histories and other writings of his predecessors. In his lifetime he was able to serve multiple times as an government official, although he avoided public office for most of his adult life.[1] He also wrote, compiled and edited almost a hundred books and corresponded with dozens of other scholars. He acted as a teacher to groups of students, many who chose to study under him for years. He built upon the teachings of the Cheng brothers and others; and further developed their metaphysical theories in regards to principle (li 理) and vital force (qi 氣). His followers recorded thousands of his conversations in writing.
• • •

This felt like a Wednesday theme living in a Friday grid. I guess that averages out to a Thursday, but still this lacked the usual Thursday sass / trickery. It's just ... two TV shows pushed together and imagined as wacky phrases. Seems like something you could do and do and do and do, i.e. the themer set is pretty arbitrary. They're all 15s, so that's ... something. But one's an imperative sentence, one's a noun phrase, and one's a declarative sentence. The types (genres) of shows involved are all over the map. It all just didn't feel coherent enough. And the low word-count grid is odd. Feels like a weird way to build in some added difficulty, since the theme doesn't really offer any. But you can get difficulty just from cluing so ... not sure why the word count is way down at themeless levels (72). It doesn't allow for much exceptional fill—if anything, the grid feels strained in parts; low word counts are good for themelesses because themelesses don't have ... themes ... putting pressure on the grid. I liked BAD KARMA and the clue on MOTH (which really tricked me) (33D: Bulb circler) and not a lot else. Didn't strongly dislike much either. Just think it missed the Thursday sweet spot.

[famously deep-voiced, thus ... sopranos are gonna struggle, I guess]

Grid was more crosswordesey than I'd like (NESS ENNE ESOS EDEMA EBRO AMES ENTS RAH DAW OVO HSI NALA ADOS). Had trouble with HSI HALIDE and OSMAN, and because HSI and HALIDE were in the same corner (SW), and that corner also had the ridiculously clued ORTHODOX in it (38D: Keenly observant), that was definitely the roughest part of the grid for me. I get that "Keenly" is supposed to mean "very" here, but you'd never use "keenly observant" to describe someone's religiosity. The only reason "keenly" is there is to make you think a different type of "observant" is intended. I have no problem with that kind of head fake if the clue you offer is in fact plausible. "Keenly" is just a clunk of an adverb to use in this context. The clue feels like cheap trickery, as opposed to the good trickery of, SAY, the clue on MOTH (33D: Bulb circler). There's ambiguity as to what type of bulb is meant, as to what "circling" might mean in this context, etc. I went from "what the hell...?" to "Oh! Oh, that's good." And that is the trajectory you want on a tough / tricky clue. ASNEAT is truly gruesome fill—no AS[adjective] is ever going to be good. Ever. Ever. I've seen lots of them (ASRED, ASBAD, etc.) and ASNEAT is up there with the worst. Just not a stand-alone phrase. FREE AT LAST, on the other hand, stands alone reasonably well, despite being just a fragment—MLK repeats that phrase to great dramatic effect, so it has suitable heft.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Title dance in 1999 #3 hit / WED 5-27-20 / Tree of the custard apple family / U.N. workers grp / Frasier's producer on Frasier / Big-bottomed fruit / Early 2000s sitcom set near Houston / Bikini blasts informally / Natty neckwear

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Constructor: Chris A. McGlothlin

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:00)

THEME: FORGONE (40A: Relinquished ... or a hint to 17-, 23-, 51- and 62-Across) — phrases that normally have "for" in them ... don't. "For"-less phrases are clued wackily ("?"-style):

Theme answers:
  • FISH COMPLIMENTS (17A: "Your fins are nice" and "You're a graceful swimmer"?)
  • THROWN A LOOP (23A: Done some lassoing?)
  • CAN'T SAY SURE (51A: Is unable to pronounce the name of a deodorant brand?)
  • OH CRYING OUT LOUD (62A: Actress Sandra emoting?)
Word of the Day: Sammy CAHN (18D: Lyricist Sammy) —
Sammy Cahn (June 18, 1913 – January 15, 1993) was an American lyricist, songwriter and musician. He is best known for his romantic lyrics to films and Broadway songs, as well as stand-alone songs premiered by recording companies in the Greater Los Angeles Area. He and his collaborators had a series of hit recordings with Frank Sinatra during the singer's tenure at Capitol Records, but also enjoyed hits with Dean MartinDoris Day and many others. He played the piano and violin. He won an Oscar four times for his songs, including the popular song "Three Coins in the Fountain".
Among his most enduring songs is "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", cowritten with Jule Styne in 1945. (wikipedia)
• • •

I just wanted to write "AWK" all over this thing when I was done with it. There is no joy to be had in this particular bit of word ... I hesitate to call it "play." "Muckery" is maybe better. Look, you take "FOR" out, fine. But before you go ahead with this idea, you need to ask yourself some questions. First, are the results going to yield the requisite fun, joy, pleasure, or are the results going to be largely clunky phrases that are hard to clue in any kind of sane way? That is, is the feeling of the solver going to be "ooh" or "huh?" or "yuck"? Second, is your revealer good? If it's just a boring word like FORGONE, can you do anything interesting with the clue? No? And no? Then no. I didn't even know FORGONE meant "Relinquished," since literally the only time I or you or anyone uses that word is in front of "conclusion," where it means (I think) something like "already arrived at"—"relinquished" doesn't really swap out in that phrase. I'm not sure I even kn— ... oh, damn. Wait. No wonder I want to spell it FOREGONE—that's the word I'm thinking of. Ugh, wow, your revealer is actually the past participle (!?) of the verb "forgo"!?!?!?!? OK, I'm adding yet another AWK to the margins of this puzzle (and docking myself a few points for not realizing more quickly that I had the wrong FOR(E)GONE in mind). I'm looking at these themers and ... yeah, you can do something with FISH COMPLIMENTS, but the others are pretty strained. I didn't even register that something was missing from THROWN A LOOP. I thought it was some weird variation on THROWN A CURVE. Also, what is it with this puzzle and past participles, yeesh. Between the unfun theme an the ye olde fill, this one didn't do much (for) me.

This puzzle played superweird, in that it was very easy for me *except* for the theme. I flew through most of the grid, but when I got toward the end (in that mess of a SW corner), I realized I was 80-90% done but also still had two themers unfinished. And I only got FORGONE because of crosses, the clue having made no sense to me. The front ends of the last two themers were not at all clear to me, and then the fill around that area, yikes. Semi-forgot Colin JOST's name (56D: Che's "Weekend Update" co-host on "S.N.L."), was unsure as always about COHAN's name, had no idea re: BONER (what year is it?) (44D: Slip-up). And not knowing that the "Actress Sandra" was Sandra Oh, I got super stuck in there. Well, not empirically super stuck, just super stuck relative to the rest of the grid. Did I like any fill. Well, there's nothing longer than 6 letters, so the puzzle's making it kinda hard. I do like the emergence of SWOLE as a regular 5-letter answer (55D: Bulging with muscles, in modern lingo). Otherwise, no. The fill isn't even trying to be lovable. It's just there.


There are definitely different branches and styles of yoga, but somehow YOGAS isn't sitting that well with me (54D: Hatha and Bikram, for two). COHAN *and* CAHN? In the same puzzle? You are dating yourself *and* not trying hard enough to diversify your fill. There was a time (let's call it, "the 20th century") when Broadway lyricists and composers were like half the fill of any given puzzle and you just had to learn the names or crash and burn. Then, time passed. Things got better. People from different professions were deemed worthy of inclusion in the grid. These days, you get one of those old Broadway guys per grid, tops. That's the rule. It's unwritten, or I made it up, but it's real. Oh, also, you can have OLIO or you can have OLEO, but you cannot have both OLIO and OLEO, and you *definitely* can't have them crossing (!?). And also oh (oh!), you cannot have "oh" in your grid twice. OH, STOP. Seriously, stop with the OHs. I don't care if one of those is a name. Sorry. Rules are rules. Please do better in the future.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. fun fact, if you change MIATA to TIARA, you don't have to deal with LAME, which is a downer of a word, however you clue it.

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Liable to snoop / TUES 5-26-20 / In scoring position, say / "Straight Outta Compton" group / Bamboozles

    Tuesday, May 26, 2020

    Hi, everyone! It's Clare, back again for this last Tuesday in May. I hope you're all doing well! I've been mostly just trying to relax these last few weeks since my law school finals ended. Quarantine for me has basically been: 12 million card games, 17 loaves of bread, nine hikes (including a fun 14.5-miler with some rock climbing involved!), and three animals driving me up the wall. I was looking forward to some mental stimulation from this puzzle, but...

    Constructor: Neville Fogarty

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: BODIES OF WATER (35A: What the ends of 17-, 21-, 55- and 60-Across end in) — the end word of each of the four theme answers is a body of water.

    Theme answers:
    • COLIN FIRTH (17A: Best actor winner for "The King's Speech")
    • ARTHUR LAKE (21A: Actor who played Dagwood Bumstead in film, radio and TV)
    • BILLY OCEAN (55A: Singer with the 1984 #1 hit "Caribbean Queen")
    • MICHAEL BAY (60A: Pearl Harbor director, 2001)

    Word of the Day: ARTHUR LAKE 
    Arthur Lake (born Arthur Silverlake Jr.) was an American actor known best for bringing Dagwood Bumstead, the bumbling husband of Blondie, to life in film, radio and television. He portrayed the Blondie comic strip character in twenty-eight Blondie films produced by Columbia Pictures from 1938 to 1950. He was also the voice of Dagwood on the radio series, which ran from 1938 to 1950, earning a star for him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Wiki)
    • • •

    I can think of almost nothing to say about this puzzle — the theme was run-of-the-mill, the fill was mostly boring, and there were a lot of obscure names. That's all I need to say, right? Cool.

    OK, I guess I can say a bit more. This puzzle felt like it came from someone with quarantine-brain, even though it's probably been in the backlog for a while — it just had no real pizzazz to it. I think my feelings about the puzzle as a whole are best summarized by the way I felt when I saw the clue for 61D: Letter after kay. Seriously? That simple? Give me something more interesting, please, I beg of you!

    Anyway... the puzzle as a whole felt quite boring and also fairly hard, mostly because of the names used in the theme. While I knew COLIN FIRTH and MICHAEL BAY, the two other themers just don't feel particularly relevant in today's world. The first thing that slowed me down with the theme was that I didn't know a "firth" was a body of water. Then, I didn't know who ARTHUR LAKE was (he went off the air on radio in 1950...), so I had to piece his name together from the downs; and, I didn't know BILLY OCEAN. So... that was pretty hard. I also feel like we've seen this kind of theme a million times before — and will see it a million times again: A group of celebrities with names that can be grouped into a vague category.

    I finished this puzzle and looked back through to find something — anything — that I found remotely interesting. I've concluded that some of the longer downs in the puzzle (BRASILIA; OUTCLASS; NECKWEAR) were just fine. And, I think the best thing about the whole puzzle was 47D: Doll that ran for president for the first time in 1992 as BARBIE. That's at least a fun tidbit. Other than that, the fill was just sort of there and taking up space.

    • KRIS Jenner (20A) in a crossword puzzle? No, thank you!
    • I had no idea that an average HAT SIZE was 7 1/4 (42A) — I'm not sure I ever needed to know this but I suppose it's useful information. Bruce Bochy (former manager of my San Francisco Giants) has a hat size of 8 1/8. Dude has a noggin.
    • Here's BALOO singing "The Bare Necessities" to liven things up a bit:
    • And, because COLIN FIRTH is on the brain, here's an amazing scene of him in the "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries:
    (And, if you like that scene, I'd highly recommend the life-changing 2005 movie version of "Pride and Prejudice," as well)

    With that, I'm signing off. Hope you all stay safe and happy (and six feet apart!)

    Signed, Clare Carroll — Barbie 2020

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Title house owner in 2000 Martin Lawrence comedy / MON 5-25-20 / Sugar-free lemon-lime soda / Suffix with period class / Word after monkey handle / App introduced in 2010 to locate missing Apple product / Ancient land that lent its name to an order of architecture

    Monday, May 25, 2020

    Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels and Victor Barocas

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (3:20) (the slight slowness is due primarily to the first themer, which I forgot existed, and to SPRITE ZERO, which I did not know existed until just now)

    THEME: CHANGED ONE'S MIND (60A: Decided otherwise ... or a hint to the four sets of circled letters) — letters "MIND" appear in different orders in four themers:

    Theme answers:
    • "MIDNIGHT IN PARIS" (17A: 2011 film co-starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams)
    • FIND MY IPHONE (26A: App introduced in 2010 to locate a missing Apple product)
    • ADMIN (37A: Business operations, informally)
    • LEONARD NIMOY (46A: Mr. Spock player)
    Word of the Day: Acetic (which was somehow *not* the answer to 48D: Like vinegar (ACIDIC)) —


    pertaining to, derived from, or producing vinegar or acetic acid. ( (my emph.)
    • • •

    Man they are shilling for Apple an awful lot these days. I mean, IMAC SIRI etc are always gonna pop up because of their favorable letter combos, but between yesterday's whole APPLE SWEATSHIRT (!?!?!) fiasco, and today's FIND MY IPHONE, the product placement has gone next-level. But to the puzzle ... the theme is pretty yesteryear, and is rather poorly executed. There's no method to the mind changes; these are just four possible combos (of 24, I think, though my math skills are poor). Why these four? Also, why move the "MIND" changes so herkily-jerkily across the grid. There's the superficial appearance of a neat progression (with "MIND" changes moving left-to-right as you descend the grid), but it's off / irregular. Then there's ADMIN, which is such a horrid disappointment as theme answers go. A five-letter nothing. Then there's the revealer with the always irksome ONE'S in it. Also, that phrase is weirdly in the past tense just so that the answer will come out to a clean fifteen. The whole thing feels hastily conceived and not entirely thought through. Certainly not carefully crafted. The fill, yeesh. I knew things were gonna be rough at ILEDE. Then there's that horrid suffix (-ICAL) and lots and lots of abbrs. and the awkwardness of MISMARK and on and on ANON. Antiquated and clunky. Theme needs some other level to feel special enough. Maybe break the "MIND" changes neatly across two words in two-word answers (the stray non-MIND-involved words in the themers (iPhone, "in Paris") are kind of annoying and sloppy-looking). I dunno. The theme just needs Something. Some level of elegance to elevate it from where it is now.

    I think I saw "MIDNIGHT IN PARIS," but the clue did nothing for me so I needed "MIDNIGHT IN P-" to actually get it. Found clue on (again, awful) suffix -ICAL to be toughish, actually. Had to get most of SPRITE ZERO from crosses too, as its existence is news to me (11D: Sugar-free lemon-lime soda). The part that slowed me down the most by far, however, was having ACETIC at 48D: Like vinegar (ACIDIC). ACETIC isn't even a word I like knowing. It's just one of those words I acquired from doing crosswords. It is frequently clued as [Vinegary] or [Like vinegar]. Whereas this is only the second time ever (in the Shortz era) that ACIDIC has had a vinegar-related clue. It's not that the clue is wrong. I'm just trying to explain how easy it is for a constant solver to lose a chunk of time on that particular answer—not a particularly enjoyable kind of added difficulty, but added difficulty (for me) nonetheless.

     Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Mystery of McGuffin Manor / SUN 5-24-20 / Sprint competitor / Tech debut of 1998 / Hungry game characters / Style for Edward Hopper George Bellows / Music to hitchhiker's ears / Big launch of 1957 / Leader whose name means literally commander

    Sunday, May 24, 2020

    Constructor: Andrew Chaikin

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9-something to fill grid in correctly ... then 5 minutes to read the novel-length notes that were way way way way way less interesting than any novel I've ever read (and I read a *lot* of mysteries) ... then 10 minutes to grumble about how there's no way I'm gonna take the time to figure this stupid thing out ... then about two minutes to figure it out (once I actually sat down with the "Notes" and the grid, ugh)

    Puzzle Notes: 
    "This crossword contains a whodunit: "Thank you for coming, Inspector," said Lady McGuffin. "The famed McGuffin Diamond has been stolen from my study! The eight members of the staff had a costume party tonight--it has to be one of them: the butler, driver, cook, baker, page, porter, barber or carpenter. They have all been confined to their respective rooms around the parlor [center of the grid]." Can you determine who stole the diamond ... and where it is now? // In the print version of this puzzle, nine sections of the grid are shaded: most of the central area, and eight large regions surrounding the center--the upper left, upper middle, upper right, middle left, middle right, lower left, lower middle and lower right."
    THEME: "The Mystery of McGuffin Manor" — a mystery puzzle involving the theft of a diamond ... read the above "Notes" and then follow the weird-ass "clues" in the grid and then solve the mystery, I guess:

    Theme answers:
    • As you inspect each room, you find staff members dressed as APTLY NAMED CELEBRITIES (25A)
    • They're all WEARING NAME TAGS, so you can easily identify them (39A)
    • In the study, you find that the thief accidentally left behind an APPLE SWEATSHIRT (85A)
    • "You caught me!," says the thief, who then admits: "The diamond isn't here in my room, but it's hidden in THE ONE TO THE WEST OF HERE" (102A)
    Soooooo..... the "staff members" / suspects described in the Puzzle Notes (i.e. the butler, driver, cook, baker, page, porter, barber or carpenter) are all actually last names of celebrities, who are clued as [Suspect #1] thru [Suspect #8]. So [Suspect #1] (28A) is COLE so that's COLE "porter," [Suspect #2] (50A) is GERARD so that's GERARD Butler, etc. Annnnnnyway, the "cook" is Apple CEO TIM Cook (65A: Suspect #3), and since the thief left behind an APPLE SWEATSHIRT (sidenote: I cannot get over how dumb a theme answer that is), we can assume that TIM Cook is the thief, and since he left the diamond not in his own "room," but in THE ONE TO THE WEST OF HERE (sidenote: seriously, wtf with these themers...), we should look not in the section where TIM is (the east) but to the "room" west of there (i.e. the "parlor," or middle section), and there you will find the McGuffin Diamond, in that you will find MCGUFFIN spelled out in diamond shape, starting with the "M" at the end of SUM (63A) and proceeding clockwise through all the letters adjacent to the little black "+" sign at the center of the grid:

    Full list of suspects:
    • ELLEN Page (10D)
    • TIKI Barber (13D)
    • TIM Cook (guilty!) (65A)
    • CHET Baker (101A)
    • KAREN Carpenter (115A)
    • MINNIE Driver (114A)
    • GERARD Butler (50A)
    • COLE Porter (28A)
    Word of the Day: SEA ROOM (81D: Space to maneuver a ship)
    Unobstructed space at sea adequate for maneuvering a ship.
    • • •

    NOTE: THERE WAS A PRINTING ERROR in the Sunday Magazine version of this puzzle (digital versions unaffected):


    OK, so, see, the thing about mysteries is that there is a narrative. Characters are developed. Their identities, jobs, behavior, all that matters. If they're well written, you get invested, even when you know the plot is contrived. There's ... story. A reason to care. There's ... something. As opposed to this puzzle, where there is nothing. This is a nothing. It's not even a good parody, in that it doesn't seem to understand the terms of what it's parodying. First of all, here's the wikipedia definition of McGuffin: "In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself." But here the alleged McGuffin is all that there is. It is the central visual motif. It is the opposite of a McGuffin. In a real mystery, the McGuffin is the thing everyone's chasing so that The Story Can Be Propelled Forward And We Can Learn Things About The Characters. The "characters" here ... are totally irrelevant. TIKI Barber ... sits there. In ... what room is that? Oh, that's the other thing: does this puzzle think it's modeled on the board game "Clue"???! Because the whole "room" thing is totally "Clue" ... and yet in "Clue" there is a murder ("so and so, with the such and such weapon, in the something room," you might guess). Here', there's just a dumb theft. And a .... sweatshirt, was it? Sweatshirt!?!? What in the godawful arbitrary hell is that? It could have been APPLE [anything] but we get ... sweatshirt? And what does WEARING NAME TAGS even mean? Is that just a reference to the fact that the *first* names of the "celebrities" are what appear in the grid? But you already told us that with APTLY NAMED CELEBRITIES, so this WEARING NAME TAGS thing is a ridiculous redundancy. This puzzle manages to ruin crosswords and mysteries, two things I love, simultaneously. I guess that after four (4!) good puzzles in a row, we were due for a regression toward the mean. A hard regression.

    It would be cool if the SEA ROOM were just a room in your house that was filled with sea water and like a kelp forest. "What's behind this door?" "NOOOoo don't open that!" But instead it's this dumb thing about room for ship maneuvering. Somehow SEA ROOM got in with SEAWEED already present (44D: Major source of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere). Weird. The grid itself ... I mean, there it is! Not much to like or dislike. The only thing I particularly like is the HYMN / FUNK juxtaposition, mostly because it sounds like a cool new genre of religious music. That's SUM FAR out HYMN FUNK, man" "It's actually ASIAN HYMN FUNK, man" "Whoa ... well turn it up, man." See, I'm inventing dialogue for this damn novel because it hasn't got any. With THE USA, I believe we have had definite article answers in roughly 93.2% of May puzzles (93D: Springsteen's birthplace, in song). The hardest I laughed was when I had CUN- and had not yet looked at the clue, and the most I was confused was by RACER, until finally I realized Sprint was an actual race, not the telecom (7A: Sprint competitor). Here's a good name for a mystery: "ENTER O for 'Omicide" (16D: Intestinal: Prefix). It's like "Dial M for Murder" but dumber. OK bye.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Peter preceder in phonetic alphabet / SAT 5-23-20 / Timor UN member since 2002 / Gitano Spanish language hit for Beyoncé and Alijandro Fernanández / Name derived from Greek for holy / First name in Springfield Elementary

    Saturday, May 23, 2020

    Constructor: Wyna Liu and Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Mediumish (8-ish + find-the-vowel-error-in-the-foreign-word!)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Tyr (40A: It's named for the Norse god of war: Abbr. => TUE.) —
    Týr (/tɪər/;[1] Old NorseTýrpronounced [tyːr]), Tíw (Old English), and Ziu (Old High German) is a god in Germanic mythology. Stemming from the Proto-Germanic deity *Tīwaz and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European chief deity *Dyeus, little information about the god survives beyond Old Norse sources. Due to the etymology of the god's name and the shadowy presence of the god in the extant Germanic corpus, some scholars propose that Týr may have once held a more central place among the deities of early Germanic mythology.
    Týr is the namesake of the Tiwaz rune (), a letter of the runic alphabet corresponding to the Latin letter T. By way of the process of interpretatio germanica, the deity is the namesake of Tuesday ('Týr's day') in Germanic languages, including English. Interpretatio romana, in which Romans interpreted other gods as forms of their own, generally renders the god as Mars, the ancient Roman war god, and it is through that lens that most Latin references to the god occur. [...] 
    The modern English weekday name Tuesday means 'Tíw's day', referring to the Old English extension of the deity. Tuesday derives from Old English tisdæi (before 1200), which develops from an earlier tywesdæi (1122), which itself extends from Old English Tīwesdæg (before 1050). The word has cognates in numerous other Germanic languages, including Old Norse týsdagr, Frisian tīesdi, Old High German zīostag, Middle High German zīestac, and Alemannic zīstac. All of these forms derive from a Proto-Germanic weekday name meaning 'day of Tīwaz', itself a result of interpretatio germanica of Latin dies Martis (meaning 'day of Mars'). This attests to an early Germanic identification of *Tīwaz with Mars.
    • • •

    Really nice grid. I struggled some with the cluing, which seemed to me, at times, too clever for its own good—so clever, that is, that I still wasn't sure I quite understood it after I got the answer. Super "thinky" clues are one way to add difficulty to a puzzle, but those really have to land for me or else I get irked. Take O'ER (31D: Shortened again), which I couldn't get at all except through crosses, and only after having it all in place did I see "oh ... so it is a 'shortened' form of a word that means 'again' ... well, ok then," which, as you might guess, is a somewhat less electrifying response than "wow" or "aha!"  And the clue on LEGAL LIMIT still has me slightly puzzled where grammar is concerned (8D: Bound to follow). "Bound" is a noun here? And I have to "follow" it in the sense of "observe" or "obey" it? Who am I in this scenario? What is the context? You wouldn't really say you have to "follow" a LEGAL LIMIT. The wording is really iffy, and all just so you can get this "haha you think it's a verb phrase but it's a noun phrase" effect. Again, if you pull this trick (a time-honored trick that, in theory, is just fine), make sure it *lands*. Not a big fan of "we made this hard by making the cluing preposterously awkward." That said, there wasn't too too much of this. This is a very snazzy grid with a lot of sparkly colloquial phrases ("ROGER THAT," "IT'S NOT A RACE," "CHECK, PLEASE, MADE IT WEIRD, etc.), and though I had a few bad experiences with clues, my dominant feelings were positive.

    ["They call it instant justice when it's past the LEGAL LIMIT..."]

    I had the bad fortune of coming to the very end and having two bad squares—one an error, the other a giant question mark. Let's take the error first—I was super-psyched to know the answer to 36A: Festival observed every October 31 to November 2 right off the bat. I was far less psyched to spell the first word of the answer wrong. I wrote in DIO DE LOS MUERTOS because, not being a Spanish speaker, I get the gender of words all confused in my head, so DIA looks feminine to me, but it's really masculine, and sadly today that meant that my brain just decided to make the word look more masucline to my eye by taking away the "A" and replacing it with an "O" (please do not ask for logic from my brain, it will rarely oblige). This meant I had CLOSE SHOVES at 3D: Narrow escapes (CLOSE SHAVES), and while I definitely squinted at that, I figured it was some colloquial expression I just wasn't aware of (I would use "close call" a million times before I'd use "close shave," so even though I know the phrase "close shave," it just didn't shout at me). Then there was the MILL / LESTE crossing. Well, LESTE ... every letter a guess. Never heard of it. Timor, yes, East Timor, for sure, Timor-LESTE, yipes. I managed to get the -ESTE done but MILL ... you could not write a worse clue *for me* for MILL if you tried (28A: Machine shop essential). I'm not *entirely* sure even what a "machine shop" is. I get the idea that it is industrial and people use machines to make ... things ... for ... industry? But to me a MILL is where you grind grain. Or pepper. Or maybe you cut logs into lumber. The "machine shop" idea of "MILLing," totally foreign to me. So I wrote in the "L" there only because literally nothing else made sense. And so because of foreign vowel troubles and an obscure-place-name / something-way-out-of-my-wheelhouse crossing, I almost didn't finish. Phew. It was a very close shove.

    Is there a paradigmatic KALE SALAD? (6A: Dish often topped with goat cheese and cranberries) I've had a bunch of them, and eat them at home on a reasonably regular basis, but goat cheese and cranberries? I mean, I might put those on any salad, but ... they don't scream KALE SALAD to me. What else? Had RURAL before RHODE (45D: R, in a postal abbreviation), and GEAR UP before SUIT UP (27D: Get ready for action). No additional problems.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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