Captain of 2012 2016 US women's women's Olympic gymnastic teams / MON 8-31-20 / Belgian river to North Sea

Monday, August 31, 2020

Constructor: Anne Marie Crinnion

Relative difficulty: Challenging (FOR A MONDAY) (3:31)

THEME: CHANGE LANES (64A: What you might do to pass on an interstate ... or a phonetic hint to the starts of 18-, 28- and 50-Across) — first words of themers are homophones for types of "lanes," but with different "changed" spelling:

Theme answers:
  • RODE SHOTGUN (18A: Traveled in the front passenger seat) ('road')
  • ALY RAISMAN (28A: Captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics teams) ('alley')
  • WHEY POWDER (50A: Main ingredient in a protein shake, maybe) ('way')
Word of the Day: MASADA (8D: Ancient fortification overlooking the Dead Sea) —

Masada (Hebrewמצדה‎ metsada, "fortress") is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, akin to a mesa. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea 20 km (12 mi) east of Arad.

Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE.

According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by Roman troops from 73 to 74 CE, at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were hiding there.

Masada is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is a cute theme. Is "lane" a perfect synonym for all these words ("road," "alley," and "way")? I don't know, but it's close enough, and the themers themselves are lively and interesting. Good revealer, strong themers. The theme works. My only issue is a pronunciation one—I definitely say WHEY way (way) breathier than I do "way." "Weigh" is a precise homophone for "way," but WHEY just has far more exhale for me in the WH-. But it's fine. Close enough. I did think, though, that this should've been a Tuesday. ALY RAISMAN is totally crossworthy, but even having heard her name many times before, It was very tough for me to remember her last name, and how to spell it. And then that same last name ran right into what was, for me, the hardest part of the grid. If I've heard of MASADA before, man did I forget it. I needed every cross, and sadly one of those crosses was a chemical formula (NAOH), which I'm sure was a breeze for some of you, but for me, unless we're talking about NACL, I'm gonna struggle in the chemical formula, especially on a Monday. Found the clue on CD-ROM really hard. Just ... nothing about it said CD-ROM to me (4A: Something computers cannot write to or erase). I'm sure it's accurate, just not very evocative of its shape or purpose or relative bygoneness. And then there was one more time suck, in the SW, where I had the -GE and confidently wrote in SURGE for 68A: Sudden forward thrust (LUNGE). Even now, SURGE feels like a better answer for that clue. Somehow also couldn't get BAND, possibly because BAND was an actual *class* when I was in middle school, not an "extra-curricular" (58D: Extracurricular activity for a musician). 

I took a bad route in this puzzle, which is to say I took a very haphazard and thoughtless initial route, building off answers that I had, but in a careening way that took me all over the place without really solidly finishing off any particular part. So the latter half of my solve was basically me going back and playing fill-in / clean-up in a lot of sections I had blown through where I had left blanks. It's weird how much your solving route can affect your time. Even solving quickly, moving pell mell about the grid will cost you. Not getting CD-ROM up top really threw me, and I couldn't lock into a good rhythm after that. Here are some other issues / problems / thoughts:

Five things:
  • 69A: "___ could've told you that!" ("EVEN I") — ugh, always bad when your bad fill is also your hard-to-get fill. I wanted "WELL, I"). Actually I just wanted "I" but you can see how that was not going to work.
  • 43A: End of a lasso (NOOSE) — yeah, no, I really don't care how you clue it, I'd really rather not see this word in my crossword ever. Too evocative of lynching. Pass. 
  • 27D: "Hilarious!," in a text (LMAO) — sigh, this one hasn't died yet? Still in use? OK. I had the "L" and only wanted LOLS! or something like that
  • 4D: One tending a house during the owner's absence (CARETAKER) — uh, that's a "housesitter." A CARETAKER takes care of a person. 
  • 71A: Choice words? (AND/OR) — again, no. "OR" is a choice word, but "AND" is decidedly not. If anything, these are words of ambiguity or flexibility, but "choice" is misleading.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wild Asian equines / SUN 8-30-20 / Soleus muscle locale / Pitch Perfect a cappella group / Pop singer known for wearing face-covering wigs / Magical resource in Magic the Gathering

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (9:45)

THEME: "All Aflutter" — a puzzle about the BUTTERFLY EFFECT (81A: Subject of this puzzle, as suggested visually by its central black squares), which is apparently a concept in CHAOS THEORY (24A: Mathematical field that includes the 81-Across); the grid includes a "definition" of the concept (ONE SMALL THING / CAN MAKE ALL THE / DIFFERENCE / IN THE WORLD) (3D: Start of a definition of the 81-Across) and then for some reason you have to add the letter "N" (?) to a "shaded square" (not depicted, but visible in the paper and on the app), which turns TOR and ADO into TORNADO (62A: A.L. East team ... or, using the shaded square, what a little movement by this puzzle's subject might cause), which I guess illustrates the idea of a "small change" making... "all the difference in the world???" I don't know. Black squares near the middle of the grid also kinda depict a butterfly 

Word of the Day: MANA (????) (35A: Magical resource in Magic: The Gathering) —

Magic or mana is an attribute assigned to characters within a role-playing or video game that indicates their power to use special magical abilities or "spells". Magic is usually measured in magic points or mana points, shortened as MP. Different abilities will use up different amounts of MP.[1] When the MP of a character reaches zero, the character will not be able to use special abilities until some of their MP is recovered.

Much like health, magic might be displayed as a numeric value, such as "50/100". Here, the first number indicates the current amount of MP a character has whereas the second number indicates the character's maximum MP. In video games, magic can also be displayed visually, such as with a gauge that empties itself as a character uses their abilities. [...] 

"Mana" is a word that comes from Polynesian languages meaning something along the lines of "supernatural power". The concept of mana was introduced in Europe by missionary Robert Henry Codrington in 1891 and was popularized by Mircea Eliade in the 1950s. It was first introduced as a magical fuel used to cast spells in the 1969 short story, "Not Long Before the End", by Larry Niven, which is part of and later popularized by his The Magic Goes Away setting. It has since become a common staple in both role-playing and video games.
• • •

That "definition" is such an awful cliché. And it's not even a "definition," it's a dumb saying. If you were truly dealing CHAOS THEORY, my guess is you'd provide a proper definition, but instead we get this mushy pop mumbo jumbo, "ONE SMALL THING / CAN MAKE ALL THE / DIFFERENCE / IN THE WORLD"; like, if someone said that to me, I'd slowly or possibly quickly just find somewhere else to be. Also the whole butterfly flapping its wings and causing a TOR(N)ADO ... somewhere, anywhere, is another bit of nonsense. Again, I believe that there is a thing in CHAOS THEORY called the BUTTERFLY EFFECT, but the pop understanding of it flaunted here is just garbage. Weirdly, I think I first understood the BUTTERFLY effect as an effect through *time*, not *weather*, i.e. I thought it was the idea that if you went back in time and killed a single butterfly (why you would do that, I don't know, you cruel bastard) then the "effects" across large amounts of time could be world-alteringly significant. But sure, no, butterfly flaps cause tor(n)ados, that works too. Seriously, the wording on the "definition" is the Main Thing making me not like this puzzle at all. I kept thinking it was going to be something specific or at least snappy, but ... no. Also, why ... what is the rationale for entering the letter "N," specifically, in that "shaded square" (between TOR and ADO)? "Using the shaded square"?? Does "using" mean "putting an 'N' in there for some reason." I hate stuff like this because I feel like "ugh do I have to read every clue again to see if *somewhere* the 'N' rationale is explained!?" But I don't think it is. Just ... arbitrary. Put an 'N' in there. TOR(N)ADO. Whoopee.

Theme is so elaborate (by which I mean space-consuming) that there's not much room for interesting longer fill, though I did enjoy COCOAPUFFS. Baffled by BELLAS and MANA. I feel like I used to see ONAGER(S) a lot but since I haven't in a while, I totally blanked on the name (28D: Wild Asian equines). Had the "O" and wanted only OKAPIS, obviously wrong. Had a lot of trouble with the short Acrosses in the west, where SCHISM had a vague clue (60A: Split), "I'M IN" felt like it really wanted to be "C'MON!" (66A: "Let's do this!"), "CAN DO!" was really really not how I was hearing "You got it!" (72A), and ANNOY seemed just as good as ANGER for 77A: Tick off. I don't seem to have any significant trouble otherwise. I like this puzzle's thematic ambition, but like lots of puzzles that try to do grid artwork *and* have thematic content *and* have some weird (here, extra-square) trick, it felt shaky. Showy, but not precise or elegant. But again, the thing that really turned me off the whole enterprise was the whole "definition"—a forced, trite, made-up, for-symmetry's-sake expression that isn't even a specific quotation. I so badly wanted it to be an actual thing that in the beginning I was mad that ONE SMALL wasn't followed by STEP FOR MAN etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Trading card franchise that's an alternative to Pokémon / SAT 8-29-20 / Muppet song with nonsense lyrics / Outburst from Sneezy / Haydee to Count of Monte Cristo

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:49)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: YU-GI-OH! (8D: Trading card franchise that's an alternative to Pokémon) —

 (Japanese遊☆戯☆王HepburnYū-Gi-Ō!, lit. "King of Games") is a Japanese manga series about gaming written and illustrated by Kazuki Takahashi. It was serialized in Shueisha's Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine between September 1996 and March 2004. The plot follows the story of a boy named Yugi Mutou, who solves the ancient Millennium Puzzle. Yugi awakens a gambling alter-ego within his body that solves his conflicts using various games.

Two anime adaptations were produced; one by Toei Animation, which aired from April to October 1998, and another produced by NAS and animated by Studio Gallop titled Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, which aired between April 2000 and September 2004. The manga series has spawned a media franchise that includes multiple spin-off manga and anime series, a trading card game, and numerous video games. Most of the incarnations of the franchise involve the fictional trading card game known as Duel Monsters, where each player uses cards to "duel" each other in a mock battle of fantasy "monsters". This forms the basis for the real life Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card GameYu-Gi-Oh has become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time. (wikipedia) 

• • •

Sat down to solve this puzzle just as the news was breaking that actor Chadwick Boseman ("Black Panther") had died, very young (mid-40s), after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was a tremendous actor (see "Da 5 Bloods" if you haven't already), and I'm just gutted. Like, the world is a lot to take generally these days, so the loss of someone so talented, someone who played iconic, transformative Black figures (James Brown, Jackie Robinson) as well as the Black superhero, on top of all this mess ... it's truly awful. "Black Panther" was the only movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I really loved, and he had a lot to do with that. He was an important, powerful, inspiring figure in popular culture these past few years, and his death is both surprising and deeply saddening. So please forgive the rather brief write-up today—I'm feeling a little too deflated to do my usual song and dance. 

I enjoyed this puzzle, actually. It's true that some of that enjoyment came from the bizarre mind-meld I had with the puzzle. Most of my initial guesses ended up being right, which, on Saturdays, is rarely the case. So much so that I don't trust most of my initial guesses on Saturday. I am tentative about writing things in. I verify with crosses. But from AMIE to CAV to CHINOOK to CHUM, first guesses were right. I sincerely didn't know CHINOOK were anything but a kind of salmon, but I had the -OK and I know those salmon are from the "Pacific Northwest," so I went with it. Seems a bit ... denigrating? ... that when you google [Chinook] the first hits you get are for a helicopter and a dog breed. Seems like maybe the actual people should be near the top. Anyway, being on this puzzle's wavelength, and then just getting a few choice gimmes handed to me (YU-GI-OH, DIDION, CHOPRA, CINDY), really helped me move through this one quickly. The long answers in this one are generally bright and fun, which is all I ask from my themelesses. I finished this faster and liked it better than yesterday's puzzle. HEADFAKE over USVSTHEM was probably my favorite moment, and it's hard not to be cheered by "MAHNA MAHNA!" (12D: Muppets song with nonsense lyrics)

I did the thing where I drilled down the Downs in the NW as fast as I could, with the first answer I could think of. Did the first six and got three right ... and that was enough. One of my wrong answers was actually right, I just wrote it in the wrong was (CSU instead of CAL), and then I left one blank (5D: Expression of doubt OR NOT) and I wrote in ALOT instead of HEAP, but even with the static from the wrong answers, I could see AFTERYOU, which made me know exactly which answers were wrong, and I sped away from there. Not a fan of the extra (first) "H" in AHCHOO. Hate the *concept* of the SIDEHUSTLE, but I think it's actually pretty good as fill. Last letter in was the "V" in INVADE, which was (strangely) the hardest answer in the puzzle for me. I think of a "blitz" as an invasion, sure, but I don't think I'd ever substitute "blitz" for the *verb* INVADE. But that's a quibble. Overall, I liked this fine. I'm done. Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Marcel Marceau character / FRI 8-28-20 / Plot point in rom-com / Dish that might be garnished with nori negi / Gaelic name for Scotland / Secret admirer of Lily Potter in Harry Potter universe / First #1 hit for Spice Girls

Friday, August 28, 2020

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (low 7s)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ISO (32A: Camera film speed inits.) —

Film speed
 is the measure of a photographic film's sensitivity to light, determined by sensitometry and measured on various numerical scales, the most recent being the ISO system. A closely related ISO system is used to describe the relationship between exposure and output image lightness in digital cameras. [...] The ASA and DIN film speed standards have been combined into the ISO standards since 1974. // The current International Standard for measuring the speed of colour negative film is ISO 5800:2001 (first published in 1979, revised in November 1987) from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Related standards ISO 6:1993 (first published in 1974) and ISO 2240:2003 (first published in July 1982, revised in September 1994 and corrected in October 2003) define scales for speeds of black-and-white negative film and colour reversal film, respectively. // The determination of ISO speeds with digital still-cameras is described in ISO 12232:2019 (first published in August 1998, revised in April 2006, corrected in October 2006 and again revised in February 2019). // The ISO system defines both an arithmetic and a logarithmic scale. The arithmetic ISO scale corresponds to the arithmetic ASA system, where a doubling of film sensitivity is represented by a doubling of the numerical film speed value. In the logarithmic ISO scale, which corresponds to the DIN scale, adding 3° to the numerical value constitutes a doubling of sensitivity. For example, a film rated ISO 200/24° is twice as sensitive as one rated ISO 100/21°. // Commonly, the logarithmic speed is omitted; for example, "ISO 100" denotes "ISO 100/21°", while logarithmic ISO speeds are written as "ISO 21°" as per the standard. (wikipedia)
• • •

If I just look at this grid as a finished object, it seems fine. It's pretty solid, and it's got little moments of currency and up-to-date-ness. It's got no real marquee answers beyond the central PYRAMID SCHEME, so nothing really pops or sizzles, but it's alright. And yet solving it was not that fun. I never know how much the editor's cluing voice is just mucking things up, but it just felt like there was a layer of muck and dust and quaintness over a lot of the cluing. Cluing turned SKINNY into an olde-timey word (13D: Inside dope). Cluing on GOLD TEETH just felt ... hmm ... labored (46A: Pearly whites that aren't white). It's basically saying "teeth that aren't white," which tells me nothing. Why would anyone have GOLD TEETH? Once you've answered that question, maybe incorporate *that* into your clue, instead of leaving us with this overly literal dead weight (also, "pearly whites," another olde-timey expression). Cluing on PARROT was super-technical and bizarre (44D: Oscine : songbird :: psittacine : ___). I'm so tired of hair being clued as MOP. Again, for some reason, it just feels 50 years old (weren't the Beatles known as "mop-tops" or something like that?). But then some of the issues I had were with the fill itself. Like ... BIP?! (21D: Marcel Marceau character) Yeeeeesh. No one has thought of Marcel Marceau in 40+ years, and though I know I've seen BIP in xwords before, I drew a total blank there. Younger solvers will have no clue, none, and no way to have a clue, as mime lore has not been maintained as far as I can tell. And SHOE PRINT ... while I'm sure that that is a thing, even if the print were left "in the dust" by a shoe, most humans would still call it a "footprint," so ... just weird (28A: One might be left in the dust). Grid really does seem solid enough, overall, but this lacked the Zing I love in a good Friday, and then also it was hard in unrewarding ways, so ... so-so, I guess.

Found the NW extremely hard, as TOOT was first HONK then BEEP (again, "TOOT" for a horn honk feels olden). Is the "station update" in 4D: Subject of a station update, for short (ETA) a ... train station? bus station? "Station update" just feels so weird, like it's about TV or something. I actually wanted APSE early but didn't put it in because the "E" felt wrong in the cross. POLISHUP was hard to parse (2D: Make final improvements to). SOBSTORY was very vaguely clued (3D: A play to one's emotions) (Something about the "A" at the front of the clue felt strange). And then the SW got me too, with SPOIL being really hard to get from 43A: Turn, and that clue on PARROT, ugh, and ONEACT, also toughish (I wanted some 6-letter word for "existential" ... or else the actual 6-letter word FRENCH). Having SALESMAN for SALES REP (ugh) really really killed me (36D: Professional pitcher). Had TAN for SUN, which was a very right wrong answer (23A: Go for the bronze?). I hate this clue for SUN. You might SUN yourself with zero intention of getting "Bronze," but TAN—straight line from TAN to bronze. Sigh. I've seen MEETCUTE a few times now so it didn't enchant the way it might have in, say, 2015. Really surprised TENET didn't get the Christopher Nolan movie title treatment (60A: Article of faith). My greatest moment of glory was spelling TA-NEHISI perfectly on the first try—I put his full name in a themeless for Buzzfeed, lo these many (five?) years ago. PYRAMID SCHEME is a nice answer. Seems like the kind of answer you'd build a theme around. You can have that idea for free, constructors of the world. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


One-named Italian male model / THU 8-27-20 / Obstacle-based competition show informally / Term for naval builder that looks like aquatic insect / Generation cohort born in early 2010s / Drink once advertised as twice as much for nickel / Fritz Lang collaborator von Harbou

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Constructor: Nancy Stark and Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium (6ish)

THEME: CHATTERBOX (58A: Windbag, as seen three times in this puzzle?) — words meaning "chatter" appear inside a "box" in this puzzle three times

Theme answers:
  • TALKING ABOUT (17A: Discussing) / BUGABOO (6D: Cause of dread)
  • "WHADDYA KNOW?!" (33A: "Imagine that!") / KAYAK (26D: White-water rental) 
  • "NINJA WARRIOR" (40A: Obstacle-based competition show, informally) / JAWAS (41D: Scavengers on Luke Skywalker's home planet)
Word of the Day: THEA von Harbou (52D: Fritz Lang collaborator ___ von Harbou) —
Thea Gabriele von Harbou (27 December 1888 – 1 July 1954) was a German screenwriternovelistfilm director, and actress. She is especially known as the screenwriter of the science fiction film classic Metropolis and the story on which it was based. Harbou collaborated as a screenwriter with film director Fritz Lang, her husband, during the period of transition from silent to sound films. (wikipedia)
• • •

First of all, a CHATTERBOX is not a "Windbag." The latter has way more negative connotations, the former ... I've only really heard applied to children. Bad cluing. This has been a hallmark of NYTXW puzzles of late, just tin-eared baloney. That said, the theme is fine, conceptually. Words that mean "chatter," cram in a "box," ta da! It's just ... first, there are only three, which feels thin / weak. Second, TALKING OUT really looks like an OK answer for 17A: Discussing, so there's no "whoa, what?" or real "aha" moment there. Just me looking at BUGOO thinking, "well, that's weird." And then "NINJA WARRIOR"? Some reality show's *informal* name? I will grant you that "JAW" is a tough, tough letter string to stretch across the two words of a two-word phrase, but still, not excited about that answer very much (what is the actual name of the show? ... ah "American NINJA WARRIOR." That's ... quite a truncation. But anyway, WHADDYAKNOW is the only one I really like. Fresh clever snappy nice. So the concept is fine, but only one of the themers seemed really well executed. 

Most of the rest of the grid was either dull or irksome. I gotta believe that CACHINNATE is the least well-known word in the grid by a country mile (11D: Laugh uproariously). I've never seen it in my life. I was sure I had something wrong. Kept expecting it to be something about, I don't know, cackling? Yeesh. I'm not apt to use it again, so it's just a very long obscurity. ATHENS, OHIO was a surprise to me as the only U.S. Athens I ever think of is in Georgia (12D: U.S. city named for a European capital). I have never heard of this so-called "Generation ALPHA," ever (46A: Generation ___ (cohort born in the early 2010s)). Never. Generation names are always dicey, and that one ... wow, who's peddling that. They're not even 10, stop. Because of that stupid clue, I had an error, in that I put in SET AT instead of LET AT at 47D: Unleash upon and figured maybe ASPHA ... I dunno, was part of the theme, somehow? The ASPHALT Generation, I dunno. I mean, I sniffed the problem out eventually, but ALPHA, again, dubious clue *posing* as "fresh." PENNE PASTA is an awful redundancy (29D: Food that's cut diagonally). I was happy to learn a couple of new things. Well, I can't say I'm *happy* to learn that hasenpfeffer is made of HARE, but it's at least a curious fact that I might remember. And I am *definitely* happy to learn about THEA von Harbou, screenwriter of "Metropolis" (!) and not just Fritz Lang's collaborator, but his wife as well. Always happy to learn more about the often unheralded work of women in early cinema. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Old-fashioned weapon for hand to hand combat / WED 8-26-20 / Strategic objective soon after D-Day invasion / Dinner preceder on dinner invitation

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Constructor: Carl Larson

Relative difficulty: Challenging (just for me, because I misread a clue and then just stared at a single blank square for what felt like eternity; puzzle is actually probably more Medium)

THEME: WORK PORTFOLIO (34A: Collection that demonstrates job skills ... as suggested by 17-, 24-, 48- and 55-Across) — familiar phrases are all clued as if they are "investments" for various occupations... the latter part of each phrase being something one can invest in:

Theme answers:
  • COMEDY GOLD (17A: Investment for a humorist?)
  • BEEF STOCK (24A: Investment for a butcher?)
  • IONIC BOND (48A: Investment for a physicist?)
  • MENU OPTION (55A: Investment for a restaurateur?)
Word of the Day: Ken OLIN (16A: "Thirtysomething" actor Ken) —
Kenneth Edward Olin (born July 30, 1954) is an American actor, television director and producer. He is known for his role as Michael Steadman in the ABC drama series Thirtysomething (1987-1991), for which he received Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama nomination in 1990. Olin later began working as television director and producer; his producer credits include Alias (2001-2006), Brothers & Sisters (2006–2011), and This Is Us (2016-present). Olin is married to actress Patricia Wettig. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow ... investments. Portfolios. Were y'all out of golf- and chess-themed puzzles to torment me with? The very topic is so dull, and the execution here is so weird and tenuous—reliant entirely on clue phrasing for the revealer to make any sense, which it barely does. The choice of professions in the theme clues is so weird. A humorist, a butcher, a physicist (?), and a restaurateur (??). Why physicist? Aren't IONIC BONDs from chemistry? Why not a chemist? And stocks and bonds I get, great, that works, but after that, it gets real arbitrary-feeling. OPTION made some sense to me, but GOLD!?! The other three are generic terms, but GOLD is quite specific. I was looking for a type of thing, but what I got was just ... thing. That answer was totally horrible for me, both because it's just bad (inconsistent) theme-wise, and because I misread the AIG clue as [Big inits. in France] (as opp. to [Big inits. in finance]). Maybe I scanned the clue once and didn't reread it, I don't know? But I clearly expected that I'd eventually infer the themer ... but no. I had COMEDY -OLD and zero idea what letter went there. At the very end. Even when I had the theme in place. What investment thingie is -OLD? What common phrase is COMEDY -OLD? I mean, it's my fault for misreading the AIG clue, but a. AIG is bad fill b. GOLD is a horrid outlier among the "investment" words, c. the whole concept of the theme feels wobbly, and most importantly d. I just don't care about this topic at all. At all at all. 

Don't put NRA in your puzzle. At all at all. Because now it's just so obvious that you're trying awkwardly to steer around the white supremacist terrorist organization and so we get really dated weird clues like New Deal alphabet soup orgs. (56D: New Deal program with the slogan "We Do Our Part," in brief). A half-experienced constructor could pull NRA and replace it with something as good or better within minutes. The fill on this one is weak all over. The longer stuff works OK, but things get awfully rough / old-fashioned in the short fill: STLO ANE TELS ATT DIRK RANDR ROO etc. Really hate the [Blowout] clue for ROMP because while accurate, it forces you into that "ugh which one is it?" position when you get the RO- (I guessed ROUT, of course). I still can't really make much sense of the COCKTAILS clue. I love COCKTAILS. I would've thought it impossible to make me dislike a COCKTAILS clue. And yet the clue here ... it's so weird and dated and awkward that it just ruins all the joy of the answer. What even is a "dinner invitation"? What kind of formal dinner is this? ["Dinner" preceder ...] is such convoluted nonsense. Is "Dinner" a quote, is it ironic, is the "preceder" part of a phrase? But, no,  a "COCKTAILS Dinner" is not a thing, so I guess somehow the "invitation" says "COCKTAILS, Dinner" on it? COCKTAILS followed by "Dinner" quote unquote? Truly I am not familiar with whatever genre of thing this invitation is. I don't understand the clue-writing / editing on this thing at all. The clue on SPEND too, what the heck? (4D: Lighten one's wallet, so to speak) Why would you actually introduce a "one's" into your clue when you don't need to. Awkward. No idea what that clue was going for. I wrote in STEAL. Goodbye to you, puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Adjective for Caroline / TUE 8-25-20 / Unexciting Yahtzee roll / Las Vegas player

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Constructor: Dave Bardolph

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Shakespearean cookout — famous phrases from Shakespeare, clued as if they referred to a "cookout":

Theme answers:
  • THE POUND OF FLESH (17A: 16-ounce sirloin that Shylock brought to the cookout?)
  • LEND ME YOUR EARS (27A: Mark Antony's request to the farmer when he realized he didn't have enough corn for the cookout?)
  • AY, THERE'S THE RUB (48A: Cry from Hamlet when he spotted his favorite spice mix at the cookout?)
  • WHAT'S DONE IS DONE (64A: Lady Macbeth's declaration upon checking the steaks at the cookout?)
Word of the Day: Las Vegas RAIDERs (51D: Las Vegas player) —

The Las Vegas Raiders are a professional American football team based in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The Raiders compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) West division. In 2020, the Raiders will play their home games at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada.

Founded on January 30, 1960, and originally based in Oakland, California, they played their first regular season game on September 11, 1960, as a charter member of the American Football League (AFL). They moved to the NFL with the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The team departed Oakland to play in Los Angeles from the 1982 season through the 1994 season before returning to Oakland at the start of the 1995 season. On March 27, 2017, NFL team owners voted nearly unanimously to approve the Raiders' application to relocate to Las Vegas. Nearly three years later, on January 22, 2020, the Raiders officially moved to Las Vegas. (wikipedia)

• • •

These are the kinds of corny (!) puns that I expect from the NYTXW on a Tuesday. Dadpuzz, for sure. I appreciate the timely late-summer vibe of the "cookout" premise. The only real objection I have comes from my ears, who do not like the THE in THE POUND OF FLESH. Unlike the other themers, that one exists as a pretty common metaphor in English, and in the context it's "A" pound of flesh, not THE. I'm sure the quotation is accurate, though I don't remember it precisely, hang on ... OK, wait *hang on*!!! Portia literally says, at one point, citing the contract, "The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh'" ... Like ... the play itself is literally telling you exactly how the quote should go. Yes, the phrase "pound of flesh" gets repeated a lot in the play, but I feel like Portia's words are basically the play rendering its ruling on what the proper wording of this phrase should be. I find for the "A," against the "THE," the theme is rendered invalid. Man, you have no idea how happy I am that my ears recoiled *justly*, and not just idiosyncratically or unfairly, as maybe perhaps sometimes occasionally happens. Vindication for my ears! Huzzah! But yeah, The THE is bad, and now that it's been disproved by the text, ruinous.

Puzzle felt easy overall, but my time was actually slightly *above* average. I really do solve more slowly in the early morning, for whatever reason. I feel alert and clear-headed enough, but things ... like, all the things ... just aren't up to full speed yet. My entire body just wants to cchhiillll in the early morning—it's such a glorious, slow time of day—so I think I'm unapt to break any speed records when I do an early-morning solve, and I have to adjust my difficulty rating accordingly. Looking the puzzle over, I actually made a bunch of mistakes, or just blanked out initially at a bunch of answers. I truly could not process RANT (6D: Chew someone out, maybe), since you REAM someone out, not RANT them out, but I get that RANT here doesn't require the object, it's an intransitive verb, yadda yadda. Oh, and I also don't play Yahtzee at all so PAIR was weird to me—sounds like cards, not dice (15A: Unexciting Yahtzee roll), which I guess is sorta the point of Yahtzee, but whatever. PAIR is not a word I know from that game.
Then I got really stuck at RAIDER, as my brain had apparently not processed, or cared in any way, that the Oakland Raiders moved (again). I know that Las Vegas has hockey now (!?), but that's as far as I got, or am apparently willing to go, on my Las Vegas sports knowledge. My brain really only has enough room for UNLV (4), to be honest. Life was better when that city had no major pro sports teams. Slightly stunned that Serbia has the DINAR as its unit of currency, but yes, it's one of two European countries using that denomination (the other being North Macedonia, which I sincerely did not know was a country). Here are the rest:


Not sure how to spell the LEA in LEA & Perrins, so that hurt with RAIDER as well. I sincerely assumed a "Las Vegas player" was a ROLLER for a little bit there. Had STAR before SEAL (59D: Member of an elite team) and, without the Neil Diamond context, or any musical context at all, had no idea what 70A: Adjective for Caroline could possibly want (SWEET). Still came in well under 4. That's all for today. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. this blog got a nice mention in the NYT yesterday (8/24), in a very unexpected place: Wesley Morris's reflections on the 2004 (!) movie season. Specifically, in a discussion of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." 

Showing up in an article about crosswords: expected. Showing up in an article about movies?: priceless.

P.P.S. my wife points out that LEND ME YOUR EARS would make no sense for a cookout, since presumably you are not going to be returning ... the ears

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Stress between you and your former lover / MON 8-24-20 / Undercoat of oil painting / Money to tide you over

Monday, August 24, 2020

Constructor: David Alfred Bywaters

Relative difficulty: slow for me at 3:21 (so "Medium-Challenging," I guess)

THEME: "your former lover" [shudder] — EX- words clued as if they have something to do with your "ex": 

Theme answers:
  • EXTENSION (17A: Stress between you and your former lover?)
  • EXCLAIM (26A: Thing your former lover said about you?)
  • EXCOMMUNICATION (41A: Former lover's text, e.g.?)
  • EXPOSES (51A: Former lovers' stances in photos?)
  • EXPENDING (66A: Current lover who seems suspiciously preoccupied?)
Word of the Day: ESTHER (21A: One of a pair of Old Testament books with female names) —
The Book of Esther (hebrew: מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר, Megillat Esther), also known in Hebrew as "the Scroll" (Megillah), is a book in the third section (Ketuvim, "Writings") of the Jewish Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and in the Christian Old Testament. It is one of the five Scrolls (Megillot) in the Hebrew Bible. It relates the story of a Hebrew woman in Persia, born as Hadassah but known as Esther, who becomes queen of Persia and thwarts a genocide of her people. The story forms the core of the Jewish festival of Purim, during which it is read aloud twice: once in the evening and again the following morning. The books of Esther and Song of Songs are the only books in the Hebrew Bible that do not mention God. (wikipedia)
• • •

The vibe on this one is very '70s, hey baby, have you met my lovvvvvuh hot tub etc. Something about the phrase "lover" has always rubbed me the wrong way—like, we get it, you're f***ing, dial it back. The whole thing felt some kind of weird thematic mash-up of Rupert Holmes' "Escape" and Ambrosia's "How Much I Feel":

You get a bunch of free EX-s (once you grasp the theme), but then the whole weirdness of the "?" clues makes it harder than a usual Monday, so I don't know, maybe difficulty-wise that comes out as a wash. For me, the "?" stuff, and the reparsing it entailed, made it more Tuesday than Monday for me. I don't think I fully grasped any of the themers as I was solving them. I was just dimly aware that they were phrases where an EX was doing something, but the answers themselves were just EX words, so I just got crosses and sort of waited for an EX word to appear that looked like it had something vaguely to do with the content of the theme clue. Found the whole thing repetitive and a little boring. I also got weirdly held up in the north, where 5A: Oaf, ugh, that could be like two thousand things, and the first one thousand I guessed were wrong (LOUT was my main guess). Also had Hop TO IT, not ON IT—"Hop TO IT" feels way way way more idiomatically correct to my ears, especially as a command. Super-annoying to have the clue on the crappy fill be the thing that throws you off. ON IT could be clued so much more clearly and cleanly. And cluing OTOH as merely "transition" slowed me down too (7D: Texter's transition); no hint there that it's an abbr. One more slow-down at COSMOS, where the clue ... just did nothing for me (54A: Absolutely everything). I'm focusing on slow-downs because nothing else about the puzzle (after the "lovvvvvvuh" stuff) seemed remarkable.

[Only Prince may say "lover"]

IN TWO *and* IN TOW? That's ... bold. I teach Shakespeare not infrequently and still canNot keep all the Italian men's names straight to save my life. ANTONIO, sure, sounds right (25D: Villain in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"). Again, just got some crosses and waited for something familiar to arise. Don't think of TEA (like, black tea, normal tea, tea) as a "throat soother"—that's more "herbal tea." Did not expect something as generic as MESS for 42D: Target of a cleanup. "Target your mess with a cleanup, children!" Meh. REUNE will always be an awful word. Wish there were more fun things in this grid to talk about. Alas. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ball of vinegared rice topped with raw fish / SUN 8-23-20 / Basketball player in old slang / Party symbol since 1870 / Lyre player of myth / Non-US MLB team on sports tickers

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Constructor: Barbara Lin

Relative difficulty: Easy (7:57)

THEME: "Musical Interlude" — wacky answers are created by adding the notes of the scale (DO, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA, TI) to familiar phrases:

Theme answers:
  • AMAZING DOG RACE (23A: Iditarod, for one?) ("Amazing Grace")
  • FORESTER PARENT (31A: One driving kids around in a Subaru?) (foster parent)
  • ORGAN DOMINATION (47A: Letting out all the stops to drown out the other instruments?) (organ donation)
  • SCARFACE RESOURCES (62A: Cocaine and guns, in a Pacino movie?) (scarce resources)
  • PARASOL MILITARY (81A: Troops who are worried about sun protection?) (paramilitary)
  • GLARE AT GRANDMA (93A: Give mom's mom the stink eye?) (great grandma)
  • THE PITIED PIPER (109A: "Twelve Days of Christmas" musician who invites sympathy?) (the Pied Piper)
Word of the Day: UAR (77D: Former Mideast grp.) —

The United Arab Republic (UARArabicالجمهورية العربية المتحدة‎ al-Jumhūrīyah al-'Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah) was a sovereign state in the Middle East from 1958 to 1971. It was initially a political union between Egypt (including the occupied Gaza Strip) and Syria from 1958 until Syria seceded from the union after the 1961 Syrian coup d'état -- leaving a rump state. Egypt continued to be known officially as the United Arab Republic until 1971.

The republic was led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The UAR was a member of the United Arab States, a loose confederation with the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which was dissolved in 1961. (wikipedia)

• • •

A very normal 20th-century effort. The wacky add-some-letters stuff and the musical scale stuff, absolutely basic theme material for years and years. Doesn't mean it's inherently bad, just that you better put it to good (novel, fun) use, or else it's going to feel like an exercise in nostalgia. The Way Puzzles Were. And this one just didn't feel snappy or contemporary enough, or wacky enough, for that matter. It was a perfectly serviceable but ultimately tepid effort. And it's a good thing that it went by so fast (i.e. was so easy) because it is not a grid you want to look at too closely. There's a lot, and I mean a lot, of substandard fill here. Or, rather, it's pretty standard, and pretty tired, and pretty wince-inducing. Very short list I've scrawled out quickly here on my printed-out puzzle: MATIC EROO ENTO NUTRI (so ... just prefixes and suffixes) ATPAR ATNINE ACERB ARMEE RICAN MRE UAR (those last two *right next to each other*) ENORM and something called EDATE??? What the hell? Meanwhile over in the Plus column, all I have is SPOTIFY NIGIRI GNOCCHI and KALE SALAD (which sounds like a fun night in during quarantine). WIRETAP and MAHALIA are OK too. But overall, the theme just doesn't produce the fireworks it needs to in order to be successful, and the fill is too often gratingly non-wordy and overfamiliar. I'd give GLARE AT GRANDMA a thumbs-up, and maaaaybe SCARFACE RESOURCES too. Everything else just kinda lies there. 

I had a clunky start to this one, in that I thought there was going to be some reference to the TV show "The Amazing Race" (the existence of this show makes the ultimate answer, AMAZING DOG RACE, very very anticlimactic ... like, you're just adding the word "dog" to a pre-existing TV show title). Then I realized that the base phrase was "Amazing Grace," w/ a "G," which has me wondering now if "The Amazing Race" was *always* a pun on "Amazing Grace" ... somehow? I guess it's pretty typical to start (comparatively) slow, since the start is always when you have the least amount of info to go on, by definition. Picking up speed is probably a pretty normal phenomenon. Still, looking bad, I sputtered up there compared to how blazingly fast I was afterward. Once I cleared the alleged Beatles song ("YES IT IS"!?!?!) (in my head it goes, "Speaking words of wisdom / YES IT IS!") (33A: B-side to the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride"), it was off to the races. This was one of those solves where I could feel, about halfway through, that I was going to be close to record pace. Sometimes you can just feel it. But then I typo'd EDGING (90D: Trim) as EEGING and that completely screwed up the tail end of the GRANDMA themer (-GRANEMA), which meant that the whole SE corner all of a sudden got much much harder. It felt big and empty compared to the areas I'd just been slicing through. So I had to plunk the "LA" in there in the circled squares (so knowing the theme actually helped!) and muscle my way through to the end. Not sure how I never actually saw the ROSIE clue, since that would've been a gimme (dang it!) (96D: Perez of "Do the Right Thing"), but anyway, I still got to the end in under 8, which is very fast for me. I think my record on a Sunday NYTXW is in the 7:40s. The high of nearly breaking my record kept me from having too many bad feelings about this puzzle, but as the high wore off and I reviewed the grid ... things soured quickly. But as I say, it's a very solid late-'90s kind of effort. B+ if it were actually the late-'90s. But for today, a C at best.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP