New Hampshire's Gate City / SAT 10-24-20 / Engage in rodomontade / HAL's earthbound twin in 2010 Odyssey Two / Muralla de Spanish landmark / Going from petticoats to pants once / Certain liberal of 21st century

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Medium (8:08, first thing in the morning) (felt way faster, ??)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Sazerac (21A: Sazerac cocktail ingredient => RYE) —
The Sazerac is a local New Orleans variation of a cognac or whiskey cocktail, named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac brandy that served as its original main ingredient. The drink is most traditionally a combination of cognac or rye whiskeyabsinthePeychaud's Bitters, and sugar, although bourbon whiskey is sometimes substituted for the rye and Herbsaint is sometimes substituted for the absinthe. Some claim it is the oldest known American cocktail, with origins in pre-Civil War New Orleans, although drink historian David Wondrich is among those who dispute this, and American instances of published usage of the word cocktail to describe a mixture of spirits, bitters, and sugar can be traced to the dawn of the 19th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this was an adventure. A little menacing, at first, when I couldn't get anything going very easily in the NW, and then harrowing, briefly, in the SW, when BREECHING (?) (52A: Going from petticoats to pants, once) and AGE TO AGE (??) (57A: Eternally, in religious parlance) crossing a word (BRAG) clued via "rodomontade" (???) got me stuck in a hole for a bit. But despite the many challenges, there were enough GIMMEs lying around that I managed to make really steady and consistent progress overall, and ended up with a very normal time. I'm actually surprised, given how many GIMMEs there were, that my time wasn't faster. The thing with GIMMEs, though, I find, is that you have to, uh, see them. So often, I find that I'm flailing around, and that if I just looked, you know, up ... or over ... I'd see a nice juicy handout that would break the section I'm struggling in wide open. Usually I have this revelation in "D'oh!" retrospect, after much time has been wasted. Good to be methodical about looking at all the clues in your stuck area, even when you are in the midst of frustration. Still, in a puzzle that just handed me RYE CREME RARE ABBA GOLDA KSU TREF SOUCI TRON and EDU, I shoulda been faster. I'll blame it on the early-morning solving time, but I won't feel good about it.

Some observations:
  • 16A: Categorized by district / 5D: HAL's earthbound "twin," in Arthur C. Clarke's "2010: Odyssey Two" (ZONAL / SAL) — the first things I wrote in the grid. Unfortunately, when I wrote them in the grid, they were ZONED and SID
  • 15D: Tesla, for one (UNIT) — had the "-IT" and thought, "he ... he wasn't a BRIT! ... wait, was he?" (A: no, no he was not)
  • 8D: The Hokies of the A.C.C. for short (VA TECH) — briefly mad at this answer, as a written-out thing, as it just looked weird, but then immediately thereafter heard in in my head (pronounced "Vah tech") and recognized that it was totally common in the college sports world as a said-out-loud thing. Kinda cruel to the "don't care about college sports" folks to put two college sports abbrs. in the same grid (see also KSU). Good for me, though. I don't care at all about college sports any more, but younger me sure did, and all that info is still there, woo hoo. And you get EDU in the bargain (its clue refers to KSU) (33D: Extension for 54-Down).
  • 11D: "This is prophetic" in "Nixon in China," e.g. (ARIA) — yikes, the non-capital title words were a real curveball. I should've recognized "Nixon in China" as an opera, but in my head I think it was just "some kind of staged production, like maybe a play or a movie..." so I needed crosses to see ARIA for sure. 
  • 18A: Function with no limits? (ORGY) — OK, I'm going to shock you all when I tell you I've never been to an ORGY, but ... I imagine that "no limits" is an exaggeration. I get that the clue is a math pun, but still. Surely there are ORGY no-nos. Ground rules. Something. Feel free to weigh in here. OR NOT.
Overall, toughish, solid, and fun. Good "?" clues (rare) are always a plus, and we got at least two today: 2D: Intellectual property? (IVORY TOWER) and 37A: Takes a ride? (REPOS). I don't know how original the latter is, but it's kind of perfect in its misdirective simplicity. Hope you had good success with this one. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Highland slope / FRI 10-23-20 / Pieces of pomegranate / Former Bulgarian monarch / Fairy tale patriarch / Singer actor who narrated 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Friday, October 23, 2020

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Medium (slow, for me, for a R.W. puzzle, but still right around 6)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CPI (35A: Cost-of-living fig.)

consumer price index measures changes in the price level of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households.

A CPI is a statistical estimate constructed using the prices of a sample of representative items whose prices are collected periodically. Sub-indices and sub-sub-indices can be computed for different categories and sub-categories of goods and services, being combined to produce the overall index with weights reflecting their shares in the total of the consumer expenditures covered by the index. It is one of several price indices calculated by most national statistical agencies. The annual percentage change in a CPI is used as a measure of inflation. A CPI can be used to index (i.e. adjust for the effect of inflation) the real value of wagessalaries, and pensions; to regulate prices; and to deflate monetary magnitudes to show changes in real values. In most countries, the CPI, along with the population census, is one of the most closely watched national economic statistics. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was one of the toughest Robyn Weintraub puzzles I've ever done, and that still put me in totally normal Friday time territory, which tells you (me) that her puzzles are always very much on my wavelength, which is at least part of why I enjoy them so much. Today's effort looks really good, for the most part. She gets a lot of colorful longer answers into a grid that does not look at all daunting—no big blocks of white space, no gaping and largely cut-off-corners. Instead, there's shorter stuff crossing pairs of longer answers (in every corner), which lets you get a number of toeholds and make progress (relatively) easily. The puzzle felt harder than usual today, for me, first because, again, I'm solving straight out of bed in the morning, which always slows things down. But beyond that, there's the convergence of a lot of longer answers toward the middle of the grid—fewer short crosses = fewer toeholds = harder to pick things up. There also seemed to be a lot more vague / trick cluing. Lots of ambiguity. Take 1D: Mark (PATSY), which I couldn't make anything out of even after I got the "Y." Or 9D: Put out (IRK). I had wrong ideas about the meanings of both those clues at first, and without enough gimmes to really make headway in those early sections (N, and NW), I sputtered a lot in the beginning. Tough getting started. The BLOOD TYPEs (18D: B+ or A-) look like grade types, and I had -OOD- in there and thought briefly the answer was gonna be A GOOD MARK. I had to go clear over to the NE to get on solid initial footing (STE LSAT LONE ALLOT and off we go).

But two answers killed me more than any others, and I'm mad at the puzzle in one case and myself in the other. Let's start with the puzzle—I really don't like the clue on SHORT LIST (20A: Most promising slate of candidates). The problem for me is "slate," which is the word for the list of candidates *voters* have to choose from, whereas a SHORT LIST is something (most famously) a presidential candidate chooses his veep from. Now I *know* that you can read the clue totally apolitically, i.e. to mean "most promising set of choices, so the prez/veep context is not a given, but when you run a clue with not one but two political terms in it, and the answer itself is very much a political term, it's galling that those political terms don't match up. "SHORT LIST" and "slate" just clank. Without the "S" from PATSY, I couldn't see this answer for a long time. But the more upsetting D'oh moment was a failure that was all mine. Just as yesterday I couldn't think of any words that began DUVE-, today I could not think of any words that began ANCE- (24D: Tree toppers = ANCESTORS). This is likely because I was thinking of fir trees and not family trees. and my brain was probably only scanning botanical terms. Still! Ugh! I felt like such a PATSY

There was slightly weaker short fill than I'm used to seeing in R.W. puzzles, but when I say that I'm really only talking about CPI, BRAE, and EDER (blanked on, got immediately, wasn't sure about the first letter, respectively). All the other short stuff failed to IRK, and was in every case propping up the very nice longer stuff, which is all you're likely to remember. Hope you enjoyed it, and fell on your face somewhat less often than I did. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Founder of the Sikh religion / THU 10-22-20 / Woos outside one's league so to speak / Many a 4WD ride

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Constructor: Sid Sivakumar

Relative difficulty: Challenging


THEME: RUNS ON EMPTY (61A: Keeps going despite fatigue ... or a hint to three features of this puzzle) — letter string "RUN" appears three times, and each time the squares underneath it are EMPTY

Theme answers:
  • 17A: They put in long hours to get better hours (LABOR UNIONS)
  • 21A: What's theorized to have preceded the Big Bang ([nothing])
  • 30A: Telephone when all lit up? (DRUNK DIAL)
  • 36A: What polar opposites have in common ([nothing])
  • 46A: Founder of the Sikh religion (GURU NANAK)
  • 50A: What's uttered by a mime ([nothing])
Word of the Day: GURU NANAK (46A) —

Guru Nanak (Punjabiਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ (Gurmukhi)گرو نانک (Shahmukhi)Gurū Nānak[gʊɾuː naːnəkᵊ]About this soundpronunciation; born as Nanak on 15 April 1469 – 22 September 1539), also referred to as Baba Nanak ('father Nanak'), was the founder of Sikhism and is the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. His birth is celebrated worldwide as Guru Nanak Gurpurab on Katak Pooranmashi('full-moon of the Katak'), i.e. October–November.

Nanak is said to have travelled far and wide across Asia teaching people the message of ik onkar (, 'one God'), who dwells in every one of his creations and constitutes the eternal Truth. With this concept, he would set up a unique spiritual, social, and political platform based on equality, fraternal love, goodness, and virtue.

Nanak's words are registered in the form of 974 poetic hymns, or shabda, in the holy text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, with some of the major prayers being the Japji Sahib (jap, 'to recite'; ji and sahib are suffixes signifying respect); the Asa di Var ('ballad of hope'); and the Sidh Gohst ('discussion with the Siddhas'). It is part of Sikh religious belief that the spirit of Nanak's sanctity, divinity, and religious authority had descended upon each of the nine subsequent Gurus when the Guruship was devolved on to them. (wikipedia)

• • •

Ha ha, yeah, not a puzzle I should've been doing at 4:30am, straight out of bed, probably. All the non-theme parts were easy, but literally everything between the first EMPTY and the last EMPTY (so, everything in the center and center-west) was a mess. Spent tons of time just flat-out stuck, which virtually never happens. I'd even jumped ahead to the revealer clue to see if I could get some help and, well, not really. Even with the RUNS part in place, I couldn't figure out the rest of the phrase (RUNS ON AND ON came to me before RUNS ON EMPTY); and then, even after I completely understood the theme ... still stuck. Three major contributing factors to this. One, I needed literally every cross for GURU NANAK. Most of those letters could have been anything from my perspective (although I was able to put together the "RUN" part from knowing the theme). Two, ATONE, wow (39A: When some people break for lunch). I have to say that cluing a perfectly good English word as a phrase is a generally awful choice, and here it was really irksome because it came right in the heart of theme-impacted country, and so after I put in what seemed like the obvious ONEPM, I had no way of getting rid of that wrong answer with any certainty (not for a while, anyway). Which brings me to three: I just completely forgot the word DUVETS (24A: Down-hearted softies?). The "?" clue didn't help, but there was honestly one point at which I was staring at DUVE- and thinking, "well, no words start that way so I must have an error." Oof. Throw in, in that same center section, a non-S-ending plural in DATA (35D: Figures, e.g.) and a really hard clue on theme-affected TROJAN (25D: Misleading malware), and it meant total catastrophe for me, solving-speed-wise. 

The west was also rough, as I forgot there were ever WHIGs in the U.S., and because of that could not come up with the very basic WANTED (34A: Word seen above a mug shot). And before I got HYPE (which took time) (38A: It may lead up to a letdown), I had no real hope of seeing BAYOU (28D: Place to catch shrimp)—that clue was not quite geographically specific enough for me (in that it was not geographically specific at all). So, tale of two puzzles today, as far as difficulty goes—that left/center chunk (yikes), and then everything else (fine). The only issues I had outside the Danger Zone was in the JUG / UTAH area. Hard clue on UTAH, no chance there (58D: Its name is said to mean "people of the mountains"), and I wrote in "ALL ears" before "JUG ears" (?) (57A: ___ ears). I know jugs have ears, but I don't know about the phrase "JUG ears" as a stand-alone thing. I've heard "JUG-eared" to describe someone with ears that stick out, but just "JUG ears," I dunno. 

Really liked the clue on DRUNK DIAL (30A: Telephone when all lit up?). Really didn't like the clue on KILO, which lacked any indication that the answer was an abbr. (48D: Approximate weight of a liter of water). Always feels like cheating on the cluer's part when abbrs. are not signaled some way in the clue. OK, that's all, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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American pop-rock band composed of three sisters / WED 10-21-20 / Brew with hipster cred / Some derivative stories colloquially

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Constructor: Dory Mintz

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (high 4s)

THEME: city puns — familiar phrases where first word is swapped out for a homophone that is also the name of a city; clues are wacky, of course:

Theme answers:
  • BERN BRIDGES (17A: Ways to cross a river in Switzerland?)
  • CANNES OPENER (28A: First showing at a film festival in France?)
  • DELHI COUNTER (44A: Census taker in India?)
  • SEOUL SEARCH (58A: Police dragnet in South Korea)
Word of the Day: BABU (1D: Hindu title of respect) —
The title babu, also spelled baboo, is used in the Indian subcontinent as a sign of respect towards men. In some cultures, the term 'Babu' is a term of endearment for a loved one as well. The honorific "ji" is sometimes added as a suffix to create the double honorific "babuji" which, in northern and eastern parts of India, is a term of respect for one's father. (wikipedia)
• • •

When I finished this, I assumed it had been written by an older person. By "older" I mean significantly older than me, and I'm 50. I also assumed "Dory" was a woman. Wrong on both counts! This theme is so slight and so stale that I'm genuinely stunned the puzzle was accepted. This feels like something straight out of the pre-Shortzian era. City puns? Some version of this theme has to have been done roughly 2000 times in the past half century. What's worse, the puns don't even result in funny or even genuinely wacky clues. They're leaden. Obvious. Plain. Boring. The only evidence I have that a bot programmed to think like a Baby Boomer who stopped solving puzzles in 1985 didn't make this puzzle was the clue on HAIM (6D: American pop-rock band composed of three sisters) and the freakishly (for this puzzle) current phrase, "I CAN'T EVEN ..." The whole frame of reference in this puzzle is largely bygone. I guess SOCHI wouldn't have been crossword-famous before 2014, but still, in fill and especially in concept, this puzzle seems like something straight out of the IMUS era (not sure exactly when that was, but most of it was not in this century, that I know). 

It was also maddeningly hard ... or ... futzy, I guess ... to get through. Does PBR still have "hipster cred" (5D: Brew with hipster cred)? That clue feels like it's from the '00s. I wrote in IPA there, which felt ... not dead on, but close. So that messed things up. I don't remember GTE at all (31A: Co. that merged into Verizon); don't think I ever dealt with them in any way. So that initialism was a mystery (I had ATT I think, even though they're obviously still around and haven't merged with Verizon). I wrote in LARSON, thinking of 2015 Best Actress Oscar winner Brie LARSON, instead of actress ALISON Brie, which is weird because I watched and loved "Mad Men" and know very well who ALISON Brie is (she played Pete's wife; she was also in the sitcom "Community"). So that error is very much on me. Ugh, really wanted RAMP before RAIL (30D: Skate park feature), and that one nearly killed me (because RA- was correct, I almost didn't notice the errors in the crosses). But the area that really slowed me down the most was the SE—total train wreck, starting with SCADS for SLEWS (49A: Loads). Later, BENCH for STOOP (55A: Urban sitting spot). Later still, MEALY for WORMY (50D: Like a bad apple). Jeez, WORMY? That's really, really bad. I've never had a WORMY apple. Yikes. Also could not make any sense of PHON-, which is easily the yuckiest bit of fill in the whole grid (56D: Sound: Prefix)

Still mad that CANNES and CAEN are in the same puzzle. Two French cities? With names that are ... well, not identical in pronunciation, but PRETTY damn close? And those two answers *cross* each other? And one of them (CAEN) is hardcore crosswordese? That's a lot of "no." BABU is interesting in that it's a real term that also definitely belongs to times of yore where crossword frequency is concerned. It appeared just last year, actually, but before that, only twice since 1997 (!). Whereas from 1948-88 it appeared some twenty-one times. It baffled me, for sure. But it didn't irk me the way, say, AU LAIT on its own did. Hey, somebody do an AU LAIT / OLÉ! / OLAY theme, quick! There's gotta be a way. Yes, it's a terrible idea, but better to be a spectacular failure than the lukewarm (re)hash that is this puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I forgot to credit FANFIC as curent-ish (4D: Some derivative stories, colloquially). My apologies.

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Guitarist Joe with 15 Grammy nominations / TUE 10-20-20 / Autonomous cleaner / Marijuana cigarette informally / Dangerous plant to have around / Punk rock offshoot

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (skewing slightly harder than normal?) (3:45)

THEME: BACKORDERED (38A: Like goods that are temporarily out of stock ... or a hint, alphabetically, to the answers to the starred clues) — answers to starred clues have letters that appear in reverse alphabetical order:

Theme answers:
  • TOOK HEED (17A: *Followed warnings)
  • YUPPIE (18A: *Materialistic sort, stereotypically)
  • SPLIFF (23A: *Marijuana cigarette, informally)
  • TROLLED (25A: *Posted inflammatory blog comments, e.g.)
  • WOOKIEE (50A: *Chewbacca, e.g.)
  • ROOMBA (52A: *Autonomous cleaner)
  • "TO LIFE!" (59A: *"L'chaim!")
  • SPOON-FED (62A: *Like toddlers in high chairs, often) 
Word of the Day: Joe SATRIANI (65A: Guitarist Joe with 15 Grammy nominations) —

Joseph Satriani
 (born July 15, 1956) is an American rock musician, composer, songwriter, and guitar teacher. Early in his career, Satriani worked as a guitar instructor, with many of his former students achieving fame, such as Steve VaiLarry LaLondeRick HunoltKirk HammettAndy TimmonsCharlie HunterKevin Cadogan, and Alex Skolnick; he then went on to have a successful solo music career. He is a 15-time Grammy Award nominee and has sold over 10 million albums, making him the best-selling instrumental rock guitarist of all time.

In 1988, Satriani was recruited by Mick Jagger as lead guitarist for his first solo tour. Satriani briefly toured with Deep Purple as the guitarist, joining shortly after the departure of Ritchie Blackmore in November 1993. He has worked with a range of guitarists during the G3 tour, which he founded in 1995. Satriani has been the guitarist for the supergroupChickenfoot since joining the band in 2008. (wikipedia)

• • •

Cool, a Tuesday themeless! Trust me, this is the best way to think about this puzzle. Because if you're like me and you waste a good minute (which felt like a good half hour) trying to figure out what the theme was supposed to mean, and then you finally get it, your only response is likely to be, as mine was, "OMG WHO CARES!?" (well, it was more of an in-my-head "WHO CARES!?," as it's 5am and my wife and the cat are still asleep). Who has ever been thrilled, charmed, titillated, or amused by the fact that a word's letters are in reverse alphabetical order? Am I charmed by STU because his letters are in *alphabetical* order!? The answer is no, I'm charmed by STU because of the whole disco thing, and that alone.

I don't understand why people build puzzle themes around concepts that are both (largely) invisible and of no real inherent interest. This is a stunt puzzle, the kind you have to *explain* and then when you do explain ... again, who cares? It's all about the "feat of construction," which only the constructor himself is gonna be truly impressed by. "Feats of construction" are fine, great, impressive even, when they deliver ... interest. But here, I gotta point out the things that are impressive—that there are nine theme answers (including the revealer) and the fill still manages to be remarkably smooth for all that, that literally no other answers *besides* the answers to the starred clues have letters that appear in reverse alphabetical order, even the three-letter ones—and ... well, if a puzzle feature falls in the woods ... you get the idea. So as I say, best to consider this a Tuesday themeless. It's got some nifty fill, there are plenty of 7+-letter answers, and best of all, the short, overfamiliar fill is completely inoffensive and mostly stays out of the way. You can do RELET OPART TRU NIA USDO (!?) and even MPAA x/w AAS when there is so much longer fill to maintain solver interest.

Started slow because ugh the clue on 1A was a ****ing paragraph and it was trying to make me think about letters and it's too early in the morning for that (1A: Multi-Emmy-winning actor whose first and last names start with the same two letters). And then 1D: Exam for some smart H.S. students (AP TEST) got on my nerves because they are literally officially called AP *EXAM*s, so I figured the answer couldn't be AP anything. Then I forgot there was a LOOMPA Land. And I can never do those "Word with / after / before"-type clues very well, so SHELF shmelf (5D: Word after ice or book). But, as usual, once I made some headway, got my feet under me, I took off, and the bottom half of the grid was much much faster than the top. Overall, enjoyable enough to solve. I just wish I could've walked away from the puzzle as soon as I was done and remained blissfully unaware of the theme pointlessness. Ah well. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Portrait painter Rembrandt / MON 10-19-20 / Catkin-producing tree / Percussion instrument made from gourd / White-plumed wader

Monday, October 19, 2020

Constructor: Fred Piscop

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:47)

THEME: "... in the comics" — clues refer to visual representations of (mostly) invisible phenomena "in the comics":

Theme answers:
  • STORM CLOUD (16A: Anger, in the comics)
  • WAVY LINES (15D: Odor, in the comics)
  • LIGHT BULB (26D: Idea, in the comics)
  • SWEAT DROPS (59A: Nervousness, in the comics)
Word of the Day: Rembrandt PEALE (48D: Portrait painter Rembrandt ___) —
Rembrandt Peale (February 22, 1778 – October 3, 1860) was an American artist and museum keeper. A prolific portrait painter, he was especially acclaimed for his likenesses of presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Peale's style was influenced by French Neoclassicism after a stay in Paris in his early thirties. (wikipedia)
• • •

I love comics. I teach comics. I'm teaching a course on comics now, and I will teach another one in the spring. Thematically, this should be right up my alley. And it was, in the sense that the answers were all pretty easy to get. But there's a listlessness to the execution here. You know what would've been super cool? Well, it's likely impossible for the NYT to do this easily, but this puzzle is just screaming for visual clues. Like, work with the Charles Schulz estate and just use a series of single panels for your theme clues ... somehow. 

That would be really innovative. As it is, "in the comics" just doesn't cut it. I mean, it's accurate enough, but all this puzzle does is make me wish I was reading comics. Also, it really feels like STORM CLOUDs are more commonly used to represent depression, sadness, or general sadsackery than anger. 

Did you know that the unpronounceable symbols used to represent swearing in comics are called GRAWLIX? Why hasn't *that* been in a crossword puzzle!? I mean, besides its relative obscurity. It's a truly great word. 

I mostly filled this one in as fast as I could read the clues / type. Hesitations for long-ass clues (e.g. 10D: In answer to request "Talk dirty to me," she sometimes says "The carpet needs vacuuming") (SIRI), slight forgetfulness (e.g. needing a bunch of crosses to remember MARACA (17D: Percussion instrument made from a gourd)), inexplicable blanking (e.g. couldn't remember EGRET??? Even after getting the "E"??? Actually considered EIDER for a half-second????) (65A: White-plumed wader), and, finally, in a single instance, absolutely positively not knowing something—namely, the portrait painter Rembrandt PEALE, who looks an awful lot like Hume Cronyn in "Shadow of a Doubt"

Anyway, Rembrandt PEALE seems pretty Saturdayish for a Monday (or any day, I guess). I know only one Rembrandt—the actually famous one. The actual Monday one. So I needed every cross there. But that's it for trouble. Hope it's a lovely autumn day where you are, and that you are able to enjoy it. Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Share a workspace in modern lingo / SUN 10-18-20 / Titular film character opposite Harold / Place for a shvitz / Lead role on Parks and Recreation / Subject of Rick Steves's travel guides / Brit's term of affection

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Constructor: Miriam Estrin

Relative difficulty: Medium (10:17)

THEME: "Title Basin" — book titles made wacky by changing last word in the title into a homophone of the original word:

Theme answers:
  • "LIFE OF PIE" (23A: Yann Martel's baking memoir?)
  • "TENDER IS THE KNIGHT" (30A: F. Scott Fitzgerald's chivalric tale?)
  • "CANDIED" (46A: Voltaire's sweet novel?)
  • "IN SEARCH OF LOST THYME" (63A: Marcel Proust's kitchen mystery?)
  • "THE LITTLE PRINTS" (90A: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's pet story?)
  • "JULIUS SEES HER" (112A: William Shakespeare's historical romance?)
Word of the Day: TOE PICK (44A: What a figure skate has that a hockey skate lacks)


one of the sharp teeth in the front part of a figure-skating blade. (
• • •

Jane Air. Huckleberry Fin. Cannery Roe. Native Sun. I could keep going, but why? Why? Why? This is the operative question today. Unless I'm missing some very sneaky hidden element to this theme, I don't see how this very weak theme, with very few elements, passes muster on a Sunday, especially when there is almost nothing to recommend the non-theme parts of the grid. A couple answers here and there are sort of nice (ABOUT TIME, SLUGFESTS), but most of it is just filler, and a lot of filler. The grid is constructed in such a way that it's very choppy, with a surfeit of short fill—3s, 4s, and 5s as far as the eye can see. That doesn't leave much in the way of potential interest, especially when the theme is so one-note, so weak. There's absolutely nothing clever or surprising about the pi / pie pun. It's exceedingly familiar by now (from Pi(e) Day, for one). Same with (k)night. Same with thyme / time. The prints pun is a little better, and the best one of all is probably "JULIUS SEES HER," though it was also the most annoying in some ways because it broke pattern (the pun going to two words instead of just one). CANDIED should not even be here, as it's not actually a pun. it's "Can-DIDE" (pronounced "can-DEED"), accent on the second syllable, whereas CANDIED has the accent on the first. Also, CANDIED really really breaks form by not being a multiple-word title where the pun is in the last word. And by being just a paltry seven letters long (not really theme territory). There are so few answers here ... you can't sneak a 7-letter one in there and expect it to have any impact. My friend Austin had to point out to me that there were six, not five themers, because I totally forgot to count it the first time through. In short, the theme is overly simple, with almost no comedic value, and the fill is bland (ECRU ... FLAX (???))—overwhelmingly short and (consequently) with almost no zip to it. 

Not much to say about this one, actually. There were no real tough spots, no posers, no hot spots, no traps. I just plodded to the end. Oh, OK, there was one sticking point / trap. I wrote in KUMAR for 6A: Titular film character opposite Harold (MAUDE). That was very clearly obviously deliberately a trap. I didn't even consider MAUDE, despite the fact that I love (and own) that movie, and don't even remember "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (or whatever it is they did). In that same section, though far less of a trap and far more of a personal screw-up, 17D: Goes undercover? (SLEEPSreally flummoxed me til the very last cross. I actually had BLEEPS (because if you "bleep" something ... you ... cover it up??). That was leaving me with something like BLOGFESTS at 17A: Knock-down-drag-out fights, which *almost* seemed plausible, but not quite. MUFFIN ended up being very clarifying, in the end. After I got out of that section, I had no trouble to speak of. So I will speak no more. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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French dessert of fruit encased in sweet batter / SAT 10-17-20 / Pattern of five shapes arranged like this puzzle's central black squares / Roman's foe in Gallic Wars / Whence a memorable emperor's fall / Morocco's next-largest city after Casablanca / Language from which peyote comes

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Constructor: Victor Barocas and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:40)

THEME: QUINCUNX / PLUS SIGN (1A: Pattern of five shapes arranged like this puzzle's central black squares / 62A: One of five depicted in this puzzle) — two answers refer to the five black-square formations seen in the grid (the rest of the grid is mercifully themeless)

Word of the Day: CLAFOUTI (36D: French dessert of fruit encased in sweet batter) —

Clafoutis (French pronunciation: ​[klafuti]Occitanclafotís [klafuˈtis] or [kʎafuˈtiː]), sometimes spelled clafouti in Anglophone countries, is a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm, sometimes with cream.

A traditional Limousin clafoutis contains not only the flesh of the cherries used, but also the nut-like kernels in the stones. Cherry kernels contain benzaldehyde, the compound responsible for the dominant flavour in almond extract. They also contain a small amount of amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside - a compound potentially capable of releasing cyanide if consumed, but non-toxic in small quantities. (wikipedia)

• • •

I saw Brad Wilber's name on the byline and thought it would be on the tougher side for me, since he will inevitably throw some fancy / exotic / foreign vocabulary I've never heard of before in there because he reads more than you and me put together and he's just smart that way. And sure enough, there it was, bam, QUINCUNX (!?!?), bam, CLAFOUTI ... and yet my time was totally normal for a Saturday, so I learned a couple new words without too much aggravation, which is just fine with me. I was much more aggravated by AES and HOBS and ENE and a little bit by FES (mostly because I thought it was spelled FEZ) (58D: Morocco's next-largest city after Casablanca). But I very much liked "I DON'T LIKE TO BRAG" and "RETURN OF THE JEDI," and NAHUATL (40D: Language from which peyote comes) and XANADU (8D: Site of Coleridge's "stately pleasure-dome") and SPIT TAKE (14D: Reaction to an unexpected joke) were pretty snazzy as well (for the record, this is the only way in which I will accept "SPIT" in my puzzle). I'm very much not a fan of themes on Saturday (or Friday), as they tend to be themed enough to restrict the quality of the fill but not themed enough to really be worth it. Today's theme was kind of a shrug for me. A push. A wash. I didn't care about it. It's fine. 

QUINCUNX nearly broke me up front. First of all, I wanted PENT-... something. Then I really wanted the latter part of the word to be -CRUX (because the black-square formations looked like crosses). I wasn't quite sure if the "Pattern of five shapes" was the five PLUS SIGNs or the five black squares arranged to look like a PLUS SIGN in each instance. Anyhoo, -CRUX was wrong. But knowing my Coleridge really helped because XANADU gave me not only the "X" but the "A" I needed to see UNDERSEA, and I was able to slowly piece things together from there. Found BANS very hard to get (19A: Some last a lifetime); had -ANS and still no idea, but luckily QUÉBEC fell into place and gave me that last letter I needed. Whole NE was a piece of cake. Zero problems there. Watched all of "Veep" earlier this year and still had no idea re: ANNA Chlumsky, but now that I see her face of course I know who she is. I did not realize she was the (child) star of the 1991 movie "My Girl" (opposite Macaulay Culkin) until just now. That's quite a career. 

Never saw "My Girl," but I did see "RETURN OF THE JEDI"—probably several times—and yet that didn't keep me from failing to understand the clue and initially writing in RETURN OF THE KING (12D: Whence a memorable emperor's fall). I think of Darth Vader as "Lord Vader," so "emperor" weirdly threw me off (I also, it seems, completely forgot that the Emperor was actually Palpatine, who I don't remember being in *any* of the first three "Star Wars" movies ... time for a rewatch, I guess). CLAFOUTI gave me trouble in the SW, but otherwise, smooth sailing. So overall, tough going around the two longer words I didn't know and couldn't hope to infer, and easy going everywhere else. Thus, Medium. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Showboaty home run celebrations / FRI 10-16-20 / Latin Lo / Belligerent in British slang / Half of jazz duo / Number often seen before plus sign

Friday, October 16, 2020

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Medium (5:56)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: JENA Malone (53D: Actress Malone of the "Hunger Games" films) —

Jena Malone is an American actress who has appeared in over 40 feature films since beginning her career as a child actor in 1996. She gained critical acclaim for her film debut in Anjelica Huston's  Bastard Out of Carolina (1996), followed by supporting parts in major studio films such as Contact and Stepmom (1998). She subsequently had roles in the cult film Donnie Darko, and the drama Life as a House (both 2001), before having starring roles in the independent American Girl (2002), the dark comedy Saved! (2004), and the drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005).

She co-starred as Lydia Bennet in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice before making her Broadway theater debut as Sister James in Doubt, in 2006. Subsequent film roles include supporting parts in the arthouse drama Lying, the biographical drama Into the Wild (2007), and the supernatural horror film The Ruins (2008). In 2011, she appeared in the action film Sucker Punch before being cast as Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games film series, appearing in a total of three films between 2013 and 2015. She also had roles in Nicolas Winding Refn's controversial horror film The Neon Demon, and Tom Ford's thriller Nocturnal Animals (both 2016). (wikipedia)

• • •

Felt like I struggled a lot, but I finished in under 6, so it can't have been *that* difficult. I think falling asleep for two hours (!) on the couch immediately after dinner may have disoriented me a bit, though it doesn't seem to have affected my solving time too much. I liked this one pretty well up top, but then slightly less as I went along, for various not-terribly-serious reasons. I am always here for BAT FLIPS, in whatever form they take, and today they take crossword-answer form, which pleases me greatly (15A: Showboaty home run celebrations). "THEM'S THE BREAKS" is olde-timey in a way I actually quite like. Seems like something Daffy or Bugs would say. "OZYMANDIAS" looks great in the grid, and that poem is always timely, even if I can't reliably spell it ("... dias? ... dius?"), so exiting the upper third of the grid, I felt pretty good about the direction this whole enterprise was headed. The middle of the grid was way less ... way more ... it was just wobbly to my ear. I keep looking at ACCIDENTS HAPPEN and thinking both that it looks like a real expression and that I never hear that sentiment expressed quite that way. I feel like shit happens. Mistakes ... also happen. Or ... were made. I think my biggest problem with hearing this expression correctly is that the phrase that I've actually heard, over and over and over again, is "Accidents *will* happen." And I have heard it so often for the following reason:

I also just couldn't get a grip on the other two longer Acrosses in the middle of the grid. I had ___ TRIP and ___ TEST and in neither case was I sure what the first part was supposed to be. I think I put ROAD TEST in at first, and I know I wanted ACID TRIP at first (which I'm only just now realizing is hilarious and bizarre—wanting ACID to be the front end of one answer and having it turn out to be the front end of the other). I think I just don't use the term ACID TEST, even though I recognize it and would understand it in context (41A: Conclusive proof provider). And as for HEAD TRIP ... I think we just call them "trips" (31A: Mentally exhilarating experience). "That was a trip!" "She's a trip!" "Trippy!" The "head" part, while I'm quite certain it has colloquial validity, feels redundant to my ears. Like, where else is your "trip" going to happen, your leg? So, with none of the longer Acrosses really landing for me, the experience was less pleasurable in the middle section. 

Things picked up again down below, though that SW corner (where I finished up) was oddly hard for me. I completely forgot the term CASING (45D: Door or window frame) and then had no idea in what context AGE would appear before a plus sign. I still don't. Is this to indicate "[some age] and up" (as in "people 50 and older")? I can hear someone saying "there were 50 plus people there," indicating "in excess of," but in that case you wouldn't write it out with a "+" so I just don't know. I'm going to ask someone on Twitter now, hang on ... people are shouting all kinds of things at me, like "jigsaw puzzle box" and "movie ratings" and "amusement park rides" and "board games," but the jigsaw / board game thing is more "ages ___ *and up*" (not "+") and the movie ratings I can think of with age are PG-13 (no "+") and I'll just have to take your word for it on amusement park rides ... this just seems an awkward clue since there's no definitive context here. Meh. And then the clue on SPOT was hard (55D: Word before check ... or a pattern), as I don't think "SPOT" is a pattern ("leopard spot," maybe ... but otherwise it's polka dot that's the pattern) and then I have never heard of JENA Malone despite her very long filmography. Bizarre that I watch as many movies as I do and have seen literally none of the dozens she's been in (she was not in the first "Hunger Games" movie, which I did see). The ZEE clue, ugh, totally got me (58D: Half of a jazz duo) (there are two "z"s in "jazz" so they're a duo, get it!?!?). Seems like it should have a "?" on it, but I'm not too mad about it. Thankfully I got ZEPPELIN without too many crosses, and then I rode the ZEPPELIN to victory (not all ZEPPELIN rides have such happy endings). 

Notable mistakes I haven't yet mentioned: STOAT for SHREW (51D: Cousin of a mole); STERN and STEIN for STEEN (52D: Dutch painter Jan); ISLET for ISLES (22A: Key chain?); ETA for ETD (24D: A few minutes after your Lyft arrives, say) (had no idea what was supposed to be happening in those minutes ... I just assumed you were making a short trip). Oh, and OAFS before APES (12D: Brutes). The last thing I will say is that DISK always looks wrong to me (I think I use "disc" every time). There's something very uncircular about the letter "K." Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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