Arm-flapping dance of the early 1970s / WED 9-30-20 / Chess whizzes for short / Country whose flag is solid red with emerald pentagram

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Constructor: Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (high 4s) (oversized grid, 16x15)

THEME: FOUL LANGUAGE (62A: Profanity ... or what 17-, 24-, 36- and 52-Across start with?) — phrases where the first word can also be a synonym of "foul" (as in "smelly"):

Theme answers:
  • RANK AMATEURS (17A: They're the opposite of consummate professionals)
  • STINKING RICH (24A: Disgustingly wealthy)
  • RIPE OLD AGE (36A: Wonderfully high number of years to have lived)
  • FUNKY CHICKEN (52A: Arm-flapping dance of the early 1970s)
Word of the Day: "NANETTE" (42D: Hit 2018 Netflix stand-up special for Hannah Gadsby) —
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette is a live comedy performance written and performed by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, which debuted in 2017. The work includes social commentary (especially about LGBTQ and women's perspectives, and mental illness), evocative speech punctuated by comedy and emotive narration of Gadsby's life, learnings and what her story offers to the world. In June 2018, Netflix released a video of Gadsby's performance of the work at the Sydney Opera House. Gadsby's live performances and the video have received critical acclaim for casting light on the realities behind several success stories that are only told from singular perspectives, and reflecting on inequality and oppression. In April 2019, the special won a Peabody Award. In September 2019, Gadsby won Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special for Nanette at the annual Primetime Emmy Awards. (wikipedia)
• • •

Spent much of this solve annoyed that they made a Tuesday puzzle so hard. Only after I was done did I realize it was not a Tuesday puzzle. Still, felt tough, especially the NW, where I absolutely died. I could not get traction, so help me. Starting off a puzzle is often the hardest part (after all, that's the one point at which you truly have nothing to go on), but wow right out of the box I wanted "AND HOW!" instead of "I'LL SAY" (both of them equally hilariously olde-timey "Our Gang"-y expressions that no one really says anymore except in some kind of quaint ironic way) (1A: "You've got THAT right!"). Couldn't decide between AYE or YEA (6D: Congressional approval). Had no zero none no idea what a LUKE Bryan was (3D: ___ Bryan, "American Idol" judge). Couldn't decide WRATH or ANGER (20A: Ire). Needed many crosses to see GRAPPA (14D: Italian brandy). And had no idea how to take the clue at 14A: Band follower (GROUPIE)—I thought it was going to be something like "word that can follow 'band'." Didn't know intended meaning of "band," didn't know intended meaning of "follower." Just a straight-up train wreck up there. NE also stumped me a bit to start. GMS is not an abbr. I know (though I can infer that it stands for "grandmasters") (11A: Chess whizzes, for short). Couldn't get to "OOH!" from 16A: "Intriguing!" Winced after finally getting GOT WIND (which looks kinda awful on its own) (11D: Learned (of)). No idea how to take "buns" in 35A: Some buns (UPDOS). If we're talking hair, then *all* buns are UPDOS. It's a weird clue. So all my green ink* is up top. Down below, the only issues I had were ZAGS for ZIGS (44A: Makes a sharp turn), and ... just a "???" reaction to 70A: What "radio wave," "foregone" and "main event" all hide (STATES). Not a fan of cryptic clues like this. I love cryptic puzzles, but only when I know that they are cryptic puzzles. It's a contractual thing—I did not agree to cryptic clues. So this kinda clue feels cheap to me. Needlessly cutesy. Out of order. 

The theme, though, is fun. I mean, very simple, Monday-type theme, but well done for what it is. Take a common phrase, use it as a revealer in a way that twists the meaning of the phrase. Get together a spot-on set of themers. TADA! Plus I got to remember "SIR DUKE," which is never not a good thing. "Songs in the Key of Life," man. It's the antidote.

Gonna go read in bed so I don't have to hear about how the stupid debate went. I hope you all are well. Happy last day of September.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*After I solve the puzzle, I print it out and mark it up with a green felt-tip pen. I tend to highlight trouble areas, so "green ink" mostly signifies trouble

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Gray in the face / TUES 9-29-20 / Subject of una balada / They do dos / Not be serious

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hello! It's Clare — here for yet another Tuesday crossword! I'm one million weeks into my final year of law school (at least that's how it feels), and things have been mostly running smoothly with online classes after some early problems. I did almost die of secondhand embarrassment the other day in class when a girl started complaining about how boring and useless the class was... and her microphone was turned on! (Now I always triple check my mic is off; and I have this fear that my camera will just randomly turn on, so I bought a lens cover!) Hope everyone is staying safe in these continually weird times...

Now to the puzzle!

Ricky Cruz

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BREAKS CHARACTER (38A: Can't hold back laughter while performing, say ... or a hint to the circled letters) — Each of the theme answers is a symbol whose name is broken up between two answers.

Theme answers:
  • TILDE (18A: unTIL and 19A: DEnse)
  • HYPHEN (24A: asHY and 25A: PHENoms)
  • AMPERSAND (51A: cAMPERS and 53A: ANDy)
  • ASTERISK (61A: hASTE and 62A: RISKy)
Word of the Day: LYDIA (21D) —
Lydia Ko (born 24 April 1997) is a Korean-born New Zealand professional golfer who became the No. 1-ranked woman professional golfer on February 2, 2015 at 17 years, 9 months and 9 days of age, making her the youngest player of either gender to be ranked No. 1 in professional golf. (WIki) 
• • •
Overall, I quite liked this puzzle. The theme was clever; the puzzle was nicely executed; and there was a good revealer. I'm not always a huge fan of puzzles with circles in them, but I think the constructor here made really good use of them. As a whole, I found the puzzle engaging and amusing.

That being said, I didn't find that there were a lot of interesting or clever words/clues in the puzzle. There wasn't much junk in the puzzle, either, but I'm having a much harder time than usual figuring out what to say about this puzzle. There just isn't much of note about the individual words, even those that provide the theme (UNTIL, DENSE, ASHY, PHENOMS, etc...).

Some of the more "punny" answers, like OVENS (2D: Devices relied upon to a high degree?), BASE (12D: It might be stolen in full view), and DARE (27A: Alternative to truth?), livened things up a tad. My favorite clue/answer might have been 8D: They do dos as SALONS. I also liked some of the longer acrosses: COLONIAL, EMULATED, and ROSARIES. I don't think this was intended, but I got a slight mythological theme from the puzzle (maybe it's because I just read the book "A Song of Achilles," which I highly recommend — seriously, everyone should read this!) with SPARTA, OMEN, and HERC. Because I had mythology on the brain, when I got to 60A: A siren's wail, e.g., it took me a while to realize the answer was BLARE and not something else having to do with Odysseus.

As much as I liked the slight mythological feel, it does cue up the first of two nits I had with the puzzle. The clue for 26D: Nickname for a mythological hero as HERC just didn't sit right, because Hercules was only ever called HERC in the Disney movie version; cluing this nickname as being a mythological hero is pretty misleading. The second nit is bigger: Why in the world is the answer for 37A: One of many for baking soda: USE ? Is that the best clue for the word we could find? Why single out baking powder for many uses? It just strikes me as random and slightly bizarre.

  • When I first went through the puzzle, I put "up til" for 18A: No later than rather instead of UNTIL. It took me a bit to find my mistake, as I realized "map" made absolutely no sense for 5D: "Whew!"
  • I remember taking part in Greek Games when I was in elementary school, as we were all assigned different city-states to be in. I remember I was in... actually, I don't remember. I just know it wasn't SPARTA or Athens. I also know my city-state ended up winning, and my toga was epic.
  • Fun fact: "Hercules" is the Roman version of the name, which became more popular with the Disney movie. He's Heracles to the Greeks. As he was the product of one of Zeus' 14 million affairs, the goddess Hera hated him and tried to mess with him on every occasion, She sent snakes to kill him when he was a baby (he strangled the snakes in his crib), and she drove him crazy. He killed his wife and their kids, so he went to an oracle and was told to atone by performing the 12 labors he's famous for. See what Disney doesn't tell you?!
  • And now, as a treat for reading this whole thing, here's your monthly BTS update — my favorite artist, a K-pop group, is going to be on The Tonight Show all week long, so I highly suggest tuning in!! It should be a blast and a half.
Happy almost October! Stay safe.

Signed, Clare Carroll, toga queen

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Criticize Sega's hedgehog design / MON 9-28-20 / Priestly Gaul or Celt / Small lobsterlike crustacean

Monday, September 28, 2020

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:42) 

THEME: "verb A noun" — common words are clued as if they were three-word verb phrases with the second word "A":

Theme answers:
  • PROPAGATE (18A: Support the pasture entrance?)
  • CARDAMOM (24A: Check someone's parent to make sure she's of drinking age?)
  • METAPHYSICIAN (37A: Was introduced to the doctor?)
  • CASTANET (53A: Do some trawling at sea?)
  • PANASONIC (60A: Criticize Sega's hedgehog design?)
Word of the Day: CARDAMOM (24A) —
Cardamom (/ˈkɑːrdəməm/), sometimes cardamon or cardamum, is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. They are recognized by their small seed pods: triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery outer shell and small, black seeds; Elettaria pods are light green and smaller, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown. // Species used for cardamom are native throughout tropical and subtropical Asia. The first references to cardamom are found in Sumer, and in the Ayurvedic literatures of India. Nowadays it is also cultivated in GuatemalaMalaysia, and Tanzania. The German coffee planter Oscar Majus Klöffer introduced Indian cardamom to cultivation in Guatemala before World War I; by 2000, that country had become the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India. // Cardamom is the world's third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron. [...] Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic, resinous fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more smoky, though not bitter, aroma, with a coolness some consider similar to mint. (wikipedia)
• • •

I finished this in "Easy" time, but the themers themselves were probably harder to get than your typical Monday themers. Question-mark clues always involve extra thought, and reparsings can be particularly tricky. Today's weren't exactly tough, but they might've been tough enough to slow you down a little. Luckily (if you enjoy solving quickly), the non-theme stuff was incredibly easy. I blazed through it with only slight hesitations here and there. The theme is solid, the fill anemic but inoffensive. It's a perfectly acceptable Monday effort. But here are the things that kept this theme from really sizzling. They are little things, but cumulatively, they cause a lot of wobble. Let's start with the tiniest thing—I'm really distracted by CAB A RET in what looks almost like a theme position (longer Across answer). CRAWDAD is the same length but doesn't bug me at all. Why? Because CRAWDAD doesn't sound like it follows the theme pattern (three-part phrase with "A" in the middle). Obviously CAB A RET is meaningless as a three-word phrase, but I'd've gutted my grid of all "blank A blank" words *except* the themers, just to ensure that they really pop. Next, the clue on CARDAMOM is really clunky. It's chiefly the "someone's parent" part. There's gotta be a better way to do that. It's clear that you're trying not to have "mom" or a synonym of "mom" in the clue, and that is very hard to do, but still, "someone's parent" feels vague and tortured. Also, all the reimagined verb phrases are in the present tense *except* MET A PHYSICIAN, which is past tense, which makes it a noticeable clanking outlier. Lastly, and worst of all, you can't use an indefinite article ("a") for SONIC. There's just the one. Unless there's a planet of hedgehogs, all named SONIC, that I don't know about. I get that the clue is asking you to imagine one of a bunch of potential designs, but that's pretty contrived. Other than all those things, the theme is fine. Just fine.

Guessed all the top Acrosses correctly on the first go, which (once again) may account for my faster-than-average Monday time. Actually, I didn't just get them immediately, I also got Every Single Down Cross immediately. So first three Acrosses, first thirteen Downs, very little hesitation. I was kind of methodical and slowish with my typing from there on out, and still came within 15 seconds or so of my record. The only answers I can remember not getting immediately and having to come back to are ORCHID, STIGMA, and CHAPEL. Looked at the ORCHID clue with only the "C" in place and nothing registered. Wanted something more Hawthorne-specific for the [Scarlet letter, e.g.] answer. And I guess I never gave the actual *size* of a CHAPEL any thought (45D: Small place of worship). Not much else to say about the fill here. It's very out-of-a-can. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Silver screen actress known as British Bombshell / SAT 9-27-20 / Philippine port with reduplicative name / Bony projection found just behind ear / Father of Anne Frank / So-called Pearl of the Black Sea

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (not sure why, but it played really slow, esp at first) (~12:00?!)

THEME: "Playing with Food" — four themers have circled squares that contain food items; four other themers are actually cryptic clues that explain why the food in the other formers is presented the way that it is:

Theme answers:
  • BANK OF GUYANA (24A: South American financial institution since 1965)
  • T(O LIVE) AND DIE IN L.A. (31A: 1985 thriller with the tagline "A federal agent is dead. A killer is loose, And the City of Angels is about to explode.") 
    • [2D: TV host with two Peabodys (JOHN OLIVER)]
  • BASEBALL CARD (49A: Collectible item with stats)
  • FOOT PATROL (59A: Elements of neighborhood watch programs)
  • -----
  • BANANA SPLIT (72A: Food depicted cryptically at 24-Across)
  • STUFFED OLIVE (78: Food depicted cryptically at 31-Across)
  • CHOPPED SALAD (98A: Food depicted cryptically at 49-Across)
  • MASHED POTATO (106A: Food depicted cryptically at 59-Across)
Word of the Day: MASTOID (67D: Bony projection found just behind the ear) —
1being the process of the temporal bone behind the earalso being any of several bony elements that occupy a similar position in the skull of lower vertebrates
2of, relating to, or occurring in the region of the mastoid process (
• • •

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary. Glad I solved this on Saturday evening so it didn't tarnish this otherwise joyous day with its particular blend of oldness and sadness. I don't understand even accepting this puzzle. This type of (very rudimentary) wordplay is the stuff of last century. The "salad" isn't even "chopped" evenly. And is anagramming really a good example of "mashing"? And all the cryptic-clue themers, once you get to them, are totally anti-climactic. It's just belated groan after belated groan. Not even groan. Groan would imply that the answer was at least surprising enough to merit an eye-roll. But all these punny cryptic-clue themers are more afterthoughts than revelations. "Oh, yeah, I guess that is what is happening in those circled squares. Huh. OK." Just cornball "humor." There are no good, exciting, interesting, current answers in the entirety of this 21x21 grid. What passes for "colloquial" dialogue in some of the fill feels awfully forced ("OH I DUNNO," "I S'POSE," [grimace]). I think I like I.T. BAND, in that it is a real thing, and a real (tight) issue for many people. But I DARE SAY there's nothing else here to really cheer for. And so much wasted real estate. The whole eastern chunk, for instance—three 7s all line up alongside each other ... and all of them mere filler (super-common letters, boring answers). The worst thing about the theme is the idea that anyone should know what the BANK OF GUYANA is. What in the world? Are all the random banks of the world just fair game now? Awful. And on top of all that, the puzzle played hard, which makes me even more resentful. If I gotta work for something, it should be worth it. But this was just a grind. And a letdown. 

Was the "Star Wars" onslaught supposed to be cute. Because it felt abusive. I knew all the answers, but yeesh. Mostly what you're doing there is screaming to the world that you are using all the familiar "Star Wars" crosswordese all at once. REY? REN? Why are you highlighting these by making them all "Star Wars" clues? Bizarre. I mean, YODA, sure, you've only got one frame of reference for that. But just continuing to throw "Star Wars" clues at the solver betrays a lack of imagination. REDOES, REOILS, rethink your grid. Also, REDOES and UNDID ... same base verb, too close. Also "say" is in the clues (23A: "Hmm ... hard to say") and the answers (DARE SAY). ILO ILO and ODESSA are too very crosswordesey place names and They're In The Same Tiny Section (SE). Ooh, though it may seem ... improbable / contradictory / ironic, I like GO LIMP and ORGIES. CIALIS, I like less. My god, FUDDLE? I'm now remembering why I was so slow up top. The JOHN (OLIVE)R clue is totally lacking in specificity ... and FUDDLE. Are FUDDLEs always "drunken"? I don't know this word, unless it's part of the phrase "in a FUDDLE" (?) in which case I would've thought it just meant something like "lost" or "addled" or "at sea." FUDDLE, wow. FUDDLE only means something to me with a "Be-" in front of it. What else? Oh, ANAKIN ... and ANACIN? Really not trying too hard for lexical variety today, I guess. Disappointing.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. Your commiseration makes bad puzzles worthwhile. xo

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Finance reporter Ron / SAT 9-26-20 / Atoms that have same number of neutrons / Click the X when vexed maybe / HSN alternative / Classic makeshift solution / Rachel seven-season TV role for Meghan Markle

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Medium (8 to 9, somewhere in there, solving slowly, early in the a.m.)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: KIRI Te Kanawa (9D: Soprano ___ Te Kanawa) —

Dame Kiri Jeanette Claire Te Kanawa ONZ CH DBE AC (/ˈkɪri təˈkɑːnəwə/; born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron, 6 March 1944) is a New Zealand former opera singer. She had a full lyric soprano voice, which has been described as "mellow yet vibrant, warm, ample and unforced".

Te Kanawa has received accolades in many countries, singing a wide array of works in many languages dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries. She is particularly associated with the works of MozartStraussVerdiHandel and Puccini, and found considerable success in portraying princesses, nobility, and other similar characters on stage.

Though she rarely sang opera later in her career, Te Kanawa frequently performed in concert and recital, gave masterclasses, and supported young opera singers in launching their careers. Her final performance was in Ballarat, Australia, in October 2016, but she did not reveal her retirement until September 2017. (wikipedia)

• • •

Proper names made this one a real minefield, or potential minefield, I guess. I'm not real big on using marginal names to achieve difficulty, and I don't know what INSANA and (as clued) ZANE are here if not marginal. Seven seasons on a TV show that the clue doesn't even name ... doesn't strike me as a thing. Did anyone really watch "Suits"? That "Z" took me a weird lot of time, as I scrolled the alphabet (all the way to "Z"!) to figure out how WI- could be [Virtuoso, informally]. Of course when I got it, it was a 'duh,' so maybe if I'd just been quicker i.e. more awake I would've blown past the ZANE thing too quick to be irked by it, who knows? INSANA was way more of a problem. No way I'm guessing any of those letters, and in terms of a "field from which names come," you couldn't pick one farther from my realm of caring than "hedge fund manager." Again, not even a show or a network to go on with INSANA (not that it would've helped). RAPINOE is very (recently) famous. LUCINDA ... well, she's very famous to me (saw her at the Beacon in '05) but even if you somehow don't know her, and least LUCINDA is ultimately a recognizable name (unlike, say, INSANA). It just seemed like there were a lot of places in the grid where solvers could into Name Trouble, which honestly is not the most enjoyable kind of trouble. KIRI / ROMERO? Gimmes for me, but I can imagine possibly not for others. 

On the other hand, there are some delightful moments, like CHEERIOS sticking together (never saw that coming, really looking for something science-y there), or the simple backyard pleasures of CORNHOLE (it's my understanding that you can watch competitive CORNHOLE on one of the ESPNs, during CORNHOLE season, whenever that is—the guys on my favorite baseball podcast talked about getting weirdly into it during the early pandemic, when all normal traditional sports had been effectively brought to a halt). And if you're gonna cross proper names at a vowel, then RAPINOE crossing LUCINDA in the dead center of your grid is probably the most glorious way to do that. Some of the relative current fill today actually felt weirdly ... well, kinda old already. That may be because I've already seen it in grids and therefore its novelty isn't as striking to me. Stuff like GLAMPING and RAGEQUIT (perfectly good fill, just lacking the zing it likely once had). NERD CRED ... is just an odd phrase to say (67A: Something you might earn by having a long crossword-solving streak, informally). Say it. NERD CRED. It's like much in your mouth. Reminds me of the "30 Rock" episode where everyone kept having to say the ridiculous movie title "The Rural Juror" over and over. Awkward. 

Biggest struggle was in the SW. I blame INSANA, though I also blame my inexplicable failure to come up with the BIKE part of ROAD BIKE (35D: Transport not meant for trails). Oh, and worst of all down there, I had PLIÉ instead of KNEE (56D: It's a real bender). Really really wanted EARS right from the jump, but I guess PLIÉ must've prevented me from going for it. Oh, sorry, there's another worst of all, which is, worst of all, PLIÉ baited me into putting RAISIN (!!!) in KAISER's place (64A: Kind of roll). When four letters "confirm" your answer, your answer is *usually* safe. Usually. No other real issues today. PENCIL before PENCAP, that's about it (7D: Ink saver). Have a lovely Saturday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Lowest rating in showbiz's Ulmer Scale / FRI 9-25-20 / Sister channel of HGTV / Basketball highlight informally / Kind of paste in East Asian cuisine / Half bird half woman creature / Subject of J.J. Thomson's "plum pudding" model / Star Wars spinoff set five years after Emperor Palpatine's fall / Fantasy Focus podcast airer

Friday, September 25, 2020

Constructor: Rachel Fabi

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:39)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Stanley TUCCI (34D: Actor Stanley) —

Stanley Tucci (/ˈti/; born November 11, 1960) is an American actor, writer, producer, film director and former fashion model. Involved in acting from a young age, he made his film debut in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor (1985), and continued to play a wide variety of supporting roles in films such as Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997), Sam MendesRoad to Perdition (2002) and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal (2004). In 1996, he made his directorial debut with the cult comedy Big Night which he also wrote and starred in alongside Tony Shalhoub. He also played Stanley Kubrick in the television film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Tucci is also known for his collaborations with Meryl Streep in films such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), and Julie & Julia (2009). Tucci gained further acclaim and success with such films as Easy A (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger(2011), Margin Call (2011), The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015), Spotlight (2015), and Beauty and the Beast (2017).

He has won three Emmy Awards. One for Winchell (1998); one for a guest appearance on the USA Network comedy series Monk; and one for being a producer of the web series Park Bench with Steve Buscemi. (wikipedia)

• • •

I could not have asked for a better blog anniversary present! Today, my blog turns 14, the big one four, and, as if favored personally by the crossword gods, I am blessed with a puzzle by one of the best friends I have in all of Crossworddom (you may remember Rachel from the video of her and me co-solving a Saturday puzzle that I posted here recently). Also, this puzzle is really clearly obviously a good puzzle, so I can mostly just celebrate. I'm looking around for Things That Normally Irritate Rex and honestly there are only a few and they're all three letters long, so pfffffffffft, don't care. And so many things I like ... like POSTERIORS and PRIDE PARADES, OCEANOGRAPHERS and TURING TESTS, Elvis Costello lyrics ("DON'T GET CUTE...") and cheesy Gino Vanelli songs ("INTO THE NIGHT") and mythological metamorphoses (ACTAEON) and olde-timey ways of saying numbers (THREE SCORE), it's all here! I don't give a damn about that "Star Wars" show, but it seems popular, and it's certainly current, so throw that in the Good column too. In short, I was rarely stuck and rarely unhappy while solving this baby. The thing that held me up the most was actually a stupid typo—I wrote in LATES for LATEX and then kept wondering what this fantastic word could be that's 12 letters long, means "Avant-garde," and starts ESPER-... ESPERANTOISH! That would be pretty avant-garde. 

["DON'T GET CUTE ..."]

Rachel just sent me this screen shot, which I found pretty funny. It's xwordinfo data about her puzzle. Apparently she and this "Michael Sharp" guy think a lot alike, huh, weird:

This is a max word-count themeless (72), which I find often leads to maximum awesomeness precisely because you can get a lot of marquee stuff in there and still have wiggle room to make sure that your fill comes out squeaky clean. No stacks here, just a lot of interlocking gorgeousness—six 10+ answers crossing four 10+ answers, for a total of ten 10+ answers, none of which are weak. The only places I had trouble were RED BEAN (just couldn't come up with it, not sure why) (23A: Kind of paste in East Asian cuisine) and OOP (I get that this is a shortening of "alley-oop," but I can't recall hearing anyone say this ... then again, my basketball fandom is mildly out of date, so what do I know?) (31A: Basketball highlight, informally). Oh, and I wanted a few other things before INTO THE NIGHT. INTO THIN ... something? INTO THE ... MISTS? I don't know, don't remember. But THE NIGHT required crosses. Other than that, this puzzle ran mostly resistance-free. So congratulations to Rachel, and congratulations to me on writing this dang blog for 14 years, and congratulations to you ... for I don't know what, but surely you can think of something. Have a great day, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Altiplano locale / THU 9-24-20 / Supermodel born Melissa Miller / Enthusiastic flamenco cry

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:43, first thing in the a.m.) (grid is oversized, 16x)

THEME: SPELLED OUT (63A: Explained in great detail ... or what four of this puzzle's clues are?) — if you *sound* out the the clue, it spells a word ... and *that* is your clue. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Kay, e.g. = K, E, G = [Keg] = BEER BARREL
  • 22A: Elle, e.g. = L, E, G = [Leg] = DRUMSTICK
  • 38A: Pea, e.g. = P, E, G = [Peg] = CRIBBAGE MARKER
  • 57A: Bee, e.g. = B, E, G = [Beg] = PANHANDLE
Word of the Day: Roger TANEY (66A: Roger ___, second-longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court) —
Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), ruling that African-Americans could not be considered citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories of the United States. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Taney served as the United States Attorney General and United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

We really got the Dred Scott guy (TANEY) in the puzzle the day after the Breonna Taylor decision? I mean, on any day he's unwelcome, but today, especially, yikes. 

This is a perfectly acceptable Thursday puzzle that left me perfectly cold. Well, not cold, exactly. Just unmoved. Unexcited. Felt like work. Not much to fault in the concept though. Gotta do some word / letter-play to reimagine the clue, and then it's just straightforward from there. The whole set-up has a very familiar, very traditional "punny" vibe to it. I definitely had an "aha" moment at some point, though I don't remember when it came. I could see that the clue words sounded like letters very early on, but I didn't put it all together until ... actually, probably CRIBBAGE MARKER. I reasoned backward to [Peg] and then saw what was going on with all the theme clues. By that point I had most of three themers filled in. And then I got PANHANDLE without really thinking about the clue (crosses took care of things). Something about the revealer seems off to me. The clues are only SPELLED OUT if you *sound* them out. You have to say them. There's just ... a step left off. I see that there's a "?" on all the themers, so maybe that's the "we left a step off" indicator today, and it's not too hard to figure out what you had to do to make the clues work, but something about sound / speaking being left out of the explanation made it seem inadequate. Definitely contributed to a feeling of anticlimax. But, again, this is very much in keeping, quality-wise and excitement-wise, with the long history of NYTXW Thursdays that have come before it. Right over the plate.

Had a bunch of missteps today. Blanked completely on GAUSS, even with -USS in place (53D: Magnetic induction unit). I knew I'd seen it, but it was getting mixed up in my head with, I don't know, GNEISS, maybe? SCHUSS? Just couldn't find the handle (ironic, as the answer literally crosses "-HANDLE"). Wrote O'BRIEN before O'BRIAN (35D: Novelist Patrick who wrote "Master and Commander"). Spelled LOUIE like that (15A: One whose charges are sarges). No idea who DEB Fischer is (25A: Nebraska senator Fischer). Probably some horrible (R) ... oh yeah, a Kavanaugh-supporting woman, super. Most of the other names were pretty crosswordesey, so I didn't have as much trouble. EDIE, EMME, EVA ... even PROKEDS and LESPAUL felt straight out of crossword central casting. That TANEY / LEN cross was potentially Natick territory for people. I couldn't be less interested in "Dancing with the Stars" if I tried (64D: "Dancing With the Stars" judge Goodman), and that's probably true of lots of NYTXW solvers, and then TANEY ... he's not exactly current. I think "E" is the only good guess there, but still, crossing non-household names at vowel, not normally advised. Embarrassed it took me as long as it did to get MARS (4D: Land of Opportunity?), CHASE (9D: Go after) (I had ENSUE!?), and ADIEU (62A: Closing bid?), which, weirdly, is probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. The misdirection phrase is perfect, and the wordplay all seems exactly right (you "bid" someone ADIEU when you "close" the conversation with them. Nice. The rest, as I say, was just OK for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Series of documents that trace a path / WED 9-23-20 / Immunity-boosting element / Old-fashioned newsboy's assignment / Kitchen item on a roll / Flavor imparter to chardonnay / Toy with tabs and interchangeable outfits

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Constructor: Margit Christenson

Relative difficulty: Medium (4:34)

THEME: PAPER TRAIL (56A: Series of documents that trace a path, as suggested by this puzzle) — circled-square answers contain words that can follow "paper" in a familiar phrase, and those answers form a kind of winding "trail" across the grid

Paper "trail":
  • TOWEL (1A: Kitchen item on a roll)
  • BACK (15D: Lower-priced edition of a book)
  • CUT (25A: Minor injury for an office clerk)
  • CLIP (31D: Alternative to a staple)
  • TIGER (45A: One making empty threats)
  • ROUTE (27D: Old-fashioned newsboy's assignment)
  • PLANE (23A: Classroom missile that might be grounds for detention)
  • DOLL (28D: Toy with tabs and interchangeable outfits)
  • BAG (44A: Lunch carrier, often)
  • WORK (47D: Forms to process)
Word of the Day: MEZE (48D: Mediterranean appetizer) —
Meze, mezze, or mazza (/ˈmɛz/) is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers in parts of the Middle East, the BalkansGreece, and North Africa. In some Middle Eastern and African regions where it is present, especially predominantly Muslim regions where alcohol is less common, meze is often served as a part of multi-course meals, while in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, they function more as snacks while drinking or talking.
• • •

The concept is cute: an actual "trail" made out of "paper" (answers). Solving it was somewhat less than pleasing, though, as a. once you grok the theme you can fill in every theme answer without much thinking, bam bam bam bam etc., and b. the fill (in places), yikes. But then the longer answers are kinda nice overall (INK-STAINED LOW CEILING CAT-SITTING SLACK LINES etc.), so in the end, I think the puzzle probably comes out ahead of your average Wednesday. Wednesday was never my favorite day to begin with, but whatever, ahead is ahead. If I liked Wednesday this well every Wednesday, that would be an improvement, is what I'm saying. Just, you know, spare me garbage like -IANA (about the worst suffix answer imaginable), and maybe tone down the crosswordesey / overfamiliar short stuff (ISAK and EWOK and OCCAM, OH NO!). But I'll take a cute concept, solidly executed, with good long fill for days. Yes I will.

And now a word on Scrabble-f***ing (i.e. trying to cram a higher-value Scrabble tile into the grid just 'cause, regardless of consequences): Carolyn KEENE might be a slightly better choice than Geoffrey BEENE, but KOO is a better choice than absolutely nothing. KOO is nonsense. So the better cross here is BEENE / BOO. I mean ... KOO, come on. You could also flag the "Z" in the SW as Scrabble-f***ing, I suppose, but ... well, a few things. First, MEZE, though entirely new to me and completely new to the NYTXW, is actually a legitimate food thing. Expect to see MEZE a lot more now that someone has broken the seal on it. It seems to have pretty widespread currency, and if we can let TAPA(S) in the puzzle on a regular basis (and we do), then there's probably room for MEZE as well. Also, the "Z" from ZINC feels pretty natural in that position—certainly the best letter to fill the _INC hole. So I'm not blowing the Scrabble-f***ing whistle there. I reviewed the play. No foul. 

Weird that this one turned out to be Medium in difficulty considering how easy the theme stuff was to get. I attribute this to how hard it was to get started in the NW. For 1A: Kitchen item on a roll ([paper] TOWEL), I had SARAN, as (probably) many longtime solvers did, as the clue writer probably suspected we would. Then I "confirmed" SARAN with SIMP at 1D: Ninny (TWIT). My answers there are absolutely solid and plausible, the highest likelihood guesses, to be honest. I also used SARAN to lock in REAR at 3D: What's aft a ship's aft (WAKE), which I'll admit is less plausible than SARAN and SIMP, but once you've got things fixed in the grid, it can be a little hard to unfix them. Anyway, after some fussing about, I got unstuck, got the theme, and then filled in every themer with almost no thought. I also struggled at LADY'S / DYE LOT (not the prettiest part of the grid). Misspelled SKAT (I think of SCAT as animal droppings) (30A: Musical riffing from Ella Fitzgerald). Also struggled with BOTTLE (up) (44D: Hide, with "up"), which I guess kinda means "hide" (your feelings), but the action there feels more like one of forcing or cramming rather than merely "hiding." My brain just wasn't processing the clue right. That's it for the difficulty though: hard up front, mostly easy the rest of the way. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Comic book character with title role in blockbuster 2018 film / TUE 9-22-20 / Captors of Frodo Baggins / Will Smith Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi hit for short

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Easy (or Challenging, if superhero movies aren't really your thing) (3:11)

THEME: CHADWICK BOSEMAN (7D: Late portrayer of 40-Across) — I'd say it's a tribute puzzle to the late actor, but honestly it's just a rather boring THE BLACK PANTHER PUZZLE with the actor as just one element ... :( 

Theme answers:
  • HEART-SHAPED HERB (17A: Source of 40-Across's 63-Across)
  • SUPERHUMAN POWER (63A: See 17-Across)
  • T'CHALLA (24D: Alter ego of 40-Across)
  • WAKANDA (25D: Home of 40-Across)
Word of the Day: Carli LLOYD (48A: U.S. women's soccer star Carli) —
Carli Anne Hollins (née Lloyd; born July 16, 1982), known as Carli Lloyd, is an American soccer player for the Sky Blue FC in the National Women's Soccer League and the United States women's national soccer team as a midfielder. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2008 and 2012), two-time FIFA Women's World Cup champion (2015 and 2019), two-time FIFA Player of the Year (2015 and 2016), and a three-time Olympian (2008, 2012, and 2016). Lloyd scored the gold medal-winning goals in the finals of the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lloyd also helped the United States win their titles at the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cups and she played for the team at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup where the U.S. finished in second place. Lloyd has made over 290 appearances for the U.S. national team, placing her third in caps, and has the fourth-most goals and seventh-most assists for the team. (wikipedia)
• • •

I know this looks like a tribute, but I have misgivings about tribute puzzles in general, and this one in particular feels thin, opportunistic, and just generally vulture-y. It's a rather ordinary, straightforward, pure trivia puzzle about a movie masquerading as a tribute puzzle. Feels like it was made before Boseman's death and was hastily trotted out in order to ... what, capitalize on some post mortem newsworthiness? Or else it was actually composed as a tribute, in which case it is a very weak example of the kind. Boseman was an accomplished actor who played many noteworthy roles, but this puzzle just defines him by one. An actual *Boseman* tribute might have dwelt on the actor's career in some way; even if it was just one of these typical plug-in-the-data-type tributes, it could have showcased the breadth of his career in some way. But no, what we get is a puzzle composed solely because the central Across and Down are 15s that cross perfectly at the center "K." However well-intentioned this was, it does a disservice to Boseman, and it's just not a great puzzle, conceptually. And the fill, yikes. Way below average. Then you've got FRENCH OPEN and "AMEN TO THAT!" out there looking weirdly like theme answers (longer than both the actual Down themers), but they're not. The whole thing plays real awkward. I was (morbidly, sadly, slightly drunkenly) joking with friends immediately after RBG's death about how long it would take [constructor's name redacted] to get a tribute puzzle into the NYTXW, but then one of my friends reminded me that there was already an RBG-themed puzzle very recently, so we would be spared that particular worst-case death-puzzle scenario. You don't "honor" anyone by churning out a mediocre puzzle. Or by pretending that your mediocre movie puzzle is actually a tribute puzzle. 

And SUPERHUMAN POWER is a clunker. The word is SUPERPOWER. That is the word. When required word length forces you into bad or off answers, rethink things, please! And fillwise, rethink virtually everything here today. I mean, OSHA SLOE as ASDOI before I even got out of the gate? Red flag. And then MSS SOHOT DDE ALB AMFM ATAD OWIE FEMA (*and* OSHA!?) NOS and on and on. Plus an unfortunate and cringey "YO MAMA" (49D: Playground joke intro). In different hands, I can imagine a Boseman tribute (or a "Black Panther"-inspired puzzle) coming off quite well. But tributes actually have to be *better* than average to do what they're supposed to do, i.e. truly honor the deceased. Don't think just because you deign to build a puzzle around someone that you are perforce honoring them. You honor by doing good work. Period.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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