Cheese from Wales not southeastern Pennsylvania / SAT 10-31-20 / Disney villain based on King Claudius / Battle of the Hedgerows locale / Titular children's song lyric after et la tete / European city where the first carbonated beverage was invented

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Constructor: Stella Zawistowski

Relative difficulty: Medium (wireless keyboard stopped working mid-solve, so I didn't get a precise time, but I'd say 7-8 minutes? maybe? it's early, forgive me ...)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CAERPHILLY (56A: Cheese from Wales, not southeastern Pennsylvania) —

Caerphilly is a hard, crumbly white cheese that originated in the area around the town of CaerphillyWales. It is thought to have been created to provide food for the local coal miners. The Caerphilly of that period had a greater moisture content, and was made in local farms. At the start of the 20th century, competition for milk in the local area saw production decline, and Caerphilly production was gradually relocated to England.

During the Second World War, production was stopped and diverted to Cheddar in English factories. After the war, those factories began to produce Caerphilly as it was quicker to make than Cheddar, and therefore more profitable. The majority of Caerphilly is now produced in Somerset and WiltshireArtisan cheesemakers still make Caerphilly in the pre-war style, and these have been successful at the British Cheese Awards. (wikipedia)

• • •

First, a clue explanation: 51A: A to B, say, Abbr. is VOL. because it is an imagined volume of a dictionary or encyclopedia or something where contents are arranged alphabetically. It's possible most of you got this immediately, but it's probably that some of you were like me and had no idea what it was supposed to mean at first. And perhaps you stayed in that place of not knowing. No shame in that. I, sadly, had to figure out what the hell it meant, as it's kinda my job. And after a minute, my brain toggled off of sound volume and over to book volume. How often do clues that try to get cute by being ECHOERs (!?) of other clues (see 53A: A to B, say (STEP)) just feel forced and off? A: a lot. This ECHOER clue for VOL. is defensible, and that is the best I can say about it.

Otherwise, the only answer in this grid may as well be CAERPHILLY, because I don't remember much of anything else. Oh, except ACCENT AIGU, which looks amazing written out like that (15A: ´, in French). Big thumbs-up there. The rest just existed. All of the interest was in the clues, I guess. Anyway, the only part of the puzzle I spent any time thinking about, the only part that gave me real trouble, was CAERPHILLY, a super-outlier where general familiarity is concerned. (I don't care if you personally knew the cheese, that's Fantastic, I'm saying that fewer people by far will have heard of the cheese than will have heard of the next least familiar thing in the grid) The -PHILLY part they sort of hand to you with the "southeastern Pennsylvania" part of the clue, so that was nice. But the CAER- part ... no way to infer any of that. All crosses needed. And when you need SCUD ... well, that's an ugly word to need. Main issue here was not at all trusting the "AE" sequence. I was so doubtful of it that at one point early on I pulled LEEDS (50D: European city where the first carbonated beverage was invented) and put in LINDT, because it gave me a more plausible-looking letter sequence there (CAN- as opposed to CAE-). But then SAT PREP came in with it's "R"  and gave me CANR- and everything looked stupid again. Oh, also, LINDT is not actually a city, so there's that. (Me: "That's where the chocolate comes from ... right?"). Eventually I just had to trust that CAER- was right. And it was. And that was the memorable thing that happened during this solve.

Other things:
  • 28A: Post-marathon treatment, maybe (ICE BATH) — started with an ICE PACK
  • 25D: Crispy order at a Japanese restaurant (TEMPURA) — easy, and yet ... I had the "U" and "A" first and was dead certain I was going to be dealing with some kind of TUNA. Not smart.
  • 39A: Protective wear around shellfish (BIB) — had the first "B" and reflexively, confidently wrote in BRA. My head had a picture of a BIB in it, but my fingers went "nah, it's BRA, trust us." Anyway, handle shellfish braless at your peril!
  • 42A: Route for pulling a boat (TOW PATH) — wanted SEA LANE or SEA something, which made getting into that SW corner slightly tricky. Luckily that section had ALOUETTE, which was a gimme (34D: Titular children's song lyric after "Et la tête!"). Wait, did I say "luckily"? Because...
  • 59A: Battle of the Hedgerows locale (ST. LO) — well, ALOUETTE gave me the "T" and so my brain went "four letters, "T" in second position, sounds British ... ETON!" Who knows what they do at ETON! It seems like a fictional place to me. A wizarding school, 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


10-year-old boy of comics with glasses and blond hair / FRI 10-30-20 / Two bells nautically / Acts like a quidnunc / Rhyming descriptor for Obama / Midwest city in title of 1942 Glenn Miller #1 hit / Plants whose name derives from Greek for dry

Friday, October 30, 2020

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (half-asleep, still finished just under 6)


Word of the Day: WORD (CLUE) —
• • •

Happy Halloween Eve. I wish the world could just be Halloween-scary, quaint-scary, instead of your-malevolent-leaders-want-you-to-just-get-sick-and-die-already scary, but you get the world you get and make the most of it. This puzzle wasn't scary, just boring. It was the sudoku of crosswords, in that I had to spend some time filling in boxes ... yeah, that's it. That's exactly how much pleasure it brought. To its, let's say, credit, it didn't bring any pain, either. It was easy enough, and there wasn't much in the grid to make me DEEP SIGH (36A: [Ho-o-o boy, here we go again ...]) (a pretty good answer slightly marred by the fact that it crossed a stupid nautical-time answer where I initially guessed ONEAM instead of ONEPM, oh the bos'n's gonna be so mad at me...) (28D: Two bells, nautically). There is one answer I probably would've resented a lot more if I hadn't managed to suss it out pretty quickly, and that is JASON FOX. LOL, who? I teach a course on Comics. Two, actually. I am one of the few people who still reads the funny pages, in the newspaper *and* online (my paper doesn't carry the new "Nancy" or the new "Mark Trail," so I go digital for those). And yet. And yet I had no idea about this answer. Had the JASON and ... nothing. "Foxtrot" is one of those strips whose name I have seen ... on book collections, maybe ... here and there. I'm aware of its existence, but familiarity with its character roster, uh, no. Yipes. This seems awfully obscure. Not an iconic character. The idea that you can describe him and still have me draw a total blank—where comics characters are concerned, that's a problem. The legit famous ones are iconic, and thus visually instantly identifiable. DEEP SIGH! Worse, this alleged character kept an "X" hidden from me, when SILEX was already keeping yet another "X" hidden from me (41A: Heat-resistant glass), so all I can say is, thank god XEROXES (44D: Copies, in a way) just *came* to me, out of the blue, because otherwise it would've been Stuckville for me, for sure.

So once again, a marginal proper name gums up everything. It really is the least pleasant way to get stuck, working out some name that means nothing to you. That same section also had Margaret KEANE, which... I have no idea how I pulled her name out of my brain (after I got the "K") (46A: Margaret ___, artist known for painting subjects with big eyes). I misspelled it at first (KEENE), and honestly I'm not sure if I knew it knew it, or just "knew it" in the sense that my crossword brain rolodexed through likely "K" names very quickly and the mostly likely one just happened to be correct. But that puts JASON FOX and KEANE in the same corner—slightly rough. I was lucky to "know" KEANE, and also lucky to know ELEANOR Smeal (who seems much more legit famous than the others) and Pablo NERUDA, so the SW corner went down easier (I had more trouble with KAPLAN, and thus KALAMAZOO, than anything else over there). Not much else to say. Started easy with NO-DRAMA Obama and didn't get much harder until that little JASON FOX bit there at the end. I wanted to object to plural ROOT BEERS until I remembered my kitchen cabinet, which typically contains anywhere from three to six different varieties of ROOT BEERS at any given time, so ... plural accepted! (29A: Floats are often made with them). Enjoy your day. Vote, maybe? OK bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. forgot about Mitch HEDBERG (13D: Comedian Mitch who said "I haven't slept for 10 days, because that would be too long"). Seems like a name that might've thrown a lot of you. He was funny. He died young, of a drug overdose, in 2005

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Serfs of olden days / THU 10-29-20 / Large urban area in Normandy France / Biblical companion of Moses / Bug's sensory appendage / Wariest animal

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Constructor: Kurt Weller

Relative difficulty: Medium (6-ish, first thing in the morning)

THEME: NOT NOW (71A: "I'm busy!" ... or, if read in four pieces, an aid in solving several clues here) — several clues need to be read as if they contain NO "T" and NO "W":

Theme answers:
  • FREEZE (1A: Twice over) (so, Ice over)
  • AMALGAMATE (17A: Tallowy) (so, Alloy)
  • NO MATTER WHICH (37A: Tawny) (so, Any)
  • FAST ASLEEP (62A: Twin bed, perhaps) (so, In bed, perhaps)
  • RAM (2D: Wariest animal) (so, Aries animal)
  • COARSE (12D: Wrought) (so, Rough)
  • CAVIAR (47D: Wrote) (so, Roe)
  • EGO (64D: Freudian "wit") (so, Freudian "I")
Word of the Day: "SUPERCOP" (56A: Jackie Chan police film) —
Supercop (Chinese警察故事3超級警察Cantonese Yalegíng chaat gu sih sāam: Chīu kāp gíng chaat), also known as Police Story 3: Super Cop, is a 1992 Hong Kong action film starring Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. Jackie reprises his "Kevin" Chan Ka-Kui character, a Hong Kong cop from Police Story and Police Story 2. It is the first in the Police Story series not to be directed by Jackie, with Stanley Tong taking over the helm. It is also the last appearance in the series for Maggie Cheung as Jackie's girlfriend, May. (wikipedia)
• • •

An easy puzzle with these weird, occasional clues that made no sense. Got a bunch of the mystery answers fairly easily, from crosses, and eventually stumbled upon the revealer, also easy, and then that made figuring out the mystery clues much easier. So this is basically a very easy, very boring puzzle, with a theme element that causes some delays up front ... unless you did the smartish thing, which is look for the revealer first, and work backward. I always find this much easier to do on paper, where I can just move my eyes to the final Across clues, where I'll usually find something that looks like a revealer clue (look for a longish clue with an ellipsis, or just look at the last long Across clue ... though today I did that and missed the revealer, which is weirdly in the Very last Across clue). I get tunnel vision when I solve on screen, and only look at the clue that is directly above the grid, i.e. the one that my cursor is on. This is great for avoiding eye movement time loss (a real thing in speed-solving), but on Thursdays, I should probably be slightly more disciplined about taking at least a few seconds to try to find the revealer. I didn't really enjoy the puzzle, because there wasn't much in the way of good fill, nothing interesting happening at all outside of the theme, and the theme was invisible for most of the solve. Just answers I got without knowing why. Getting NOT NOW made me go single-O "Oh," not double-O "Ooh!" I also didn't like how the arrangement of the theme material meant that the NW was by far the hardest part of the puzzle to get, simply because of the theme density, i.e. the *three* theme answers up there. While I could work out the isolated themers from crosses, I couldn't work out FREEZE / RAM / AMALGAMATE at all, and had to wait til the end to get those. Had -ALGAMATE and honestly wasn't sure I had all the letters right. I don't really know from alloys, and wasn't gonna risk anything until I knew what was going on. I also thought the CDC was the [Federal vaccine agcy.]. That didn't help.

OSMO- is some kind of terrible, as prefixes go (59D: Odor: Prefix). Not sure I've seen it standing alone like this—not a look I'd recommend to it. I *know* I had no idea it meant "odor." Luckily I'd seen CAEN very recently (58D: Large urban area in Normandy, France), so I had no trouble with it, or APPLET, or PEW, and thus the SE was much much easier than the NW (that's probably due in part to the fact that the revealer clue was pleasantly literal). The real issue today isn't that the theme isn't clever (it is), but that that cleverness doesn't translate to much of a solving experience. Also, the way the grid is constructed, there's virtually no interesting fill, no longer answers to add color to the grid. There's "SUPERCOP" and ROADHOG (21D: Driving nuisance) and that's about it. Consequently ... or coincidentally ... there's a preponderance of short overfamiliar stuff. Was glad to remember HELOTS today (13D: Serfs of olden days), a word I know best from a very memorable scene in one of my favorite movies, "Meet John Doe" ("a lotta heels!"):

See you tomorrow, everyone. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Palindromist Jon of Sit on a potato pan Otis / WED 10-28-20 / Whispered name in The Raven / Frequent SNL role for Beck Bennett / US Navy builder / What members of the Church of the SubGenius parody religion claim to be descended from / Rare weather phenomenon that's white unlike its cousin

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Challenging (like, hilariously off-the-mark for a Wednesday ... high 5s, i.e. my average Friday time) (it is oversized, but still, yikes)

THEME: a quote from Carrie Bradshaw (of the TV show "Sex and the City," which, bizarrely, the puzzle never indicates) about men ("Men!") in their 40s and crossword puzzles — "Men in their 40s are like the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle ... TRICKY, COMPLICATED, AND / YOU'RE NEVER / REALLY SURE / YOU GOT THE RIGHT / ANSWER"

Word of the Day: IMARET (18A: Turkish inn) —
Imaret is one of a few names used to identify the public soup kitchens built throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 14th to the 19th centuries. These public kitchens were often part of a larger complex known as a külliye, which could include hospicesmosquescaravanserais and colleges. The imarets gave out food that was free of charge to specific types of people and unfortunate individuals. Imarets were not invented by the Ottomans but developed under them as highly structured groups of buildings. Nonetheless, imarets indicate an appreciation of Muslim religious teachings about charity found in the Qur'an. (wikipedia)
• • •

I knew I was in for ... something ... when I rolled out of bed, picked up my phone, and saw this thread in my Twitter mentions:

Good morning!


Carrie Bradshaw*
If you crowdsourced ideas about how to make a crossword theme that's completely unpalatable to me, I'm not sure you could, in your collective wisdom, come up with a "better" theme than this. Let's start with "quote puzzle." We could end there, but today, we start. Next, make it a quote from "Sex and the City," a show ... well, look, different people enjoy different things, and surely many of you enjoy(ed) that particular television program, which is fine, but nothing smacks of a certain kind of smug NYC provincialism more than that show, and, for a variety of reasons, it has, uh, never been to my taste. Speaking of smug NYC provincialism, the NYTXW is so certain of the centrality of Carrie Bradshaw to everyone's everyday life that they don't even indicate, in the clue or anywhere, that she's a fictional character from a TV show. I knew who she was, but it's a weird assumption that everyone will. Also, "men are like ___" or "women are like ___" or "life is like a box of chocolates" or "men are from Mars" or whatever little aphorism you're putting down, yeah that's not likely to sit too great with me. But if you are going to lay down an analogy, dear lord, let it be somewhere near the mark. Where to begin with this quotation? I can't speak to "men in their 40s," but crosswords, I know. First, the Thursday puzzle is the "TRICKY, COMPLICATED" one. Can Sunday be like that? Sure, but if you're going to run a crossword quote in a crossword, for crossword solvers, best not to propagate myths about crossword difficulty (do you know how widespread the idea is that the Sunday is the hardest? do you!?). Next, what "right answer"? The puzzle is not *an* answer? Do you mean that you're never really sure you got the right overall solution? I thought it was gonna end with something like "you're never really sure if you're through," because maybe guys in their 40s leave things ambiguous a lot (?) and certainly you might *think* you've finished a puzzle, but you could have wrong answers somewhere. That's ... plausible. But "the right answer" is just the wrong phrasing here. Also, the internet exists (even in Carrie Bradshaw's day) and the solution key exists, so you do, in fact, know if you have the right answer, if you just wait. But to explain the thematic grief, again, we can just go back to "quote puzzle." It's a quote puzzle. 

Then there's the fill, by which I mean mostly the ridiculously hard (for a Wednesday) cluing. Clues on YETIS CORP DDAY HURT ICEAX etc. were more Friday/Saturday level, but the real problem was the dump truck full of proper names, my god. Peter is a huge trivia fan, creator of an app called Celebrity, which involves knowing famous names, but you know my feelings about proper names, especially in abundance and especially when they're, er, marginal, and especially especially when they're crossing or abutting. I'm not concerned about the total number of names today (though there are a lot), I'm concerned about the relative marginality of the names. Any one of these might be worthy individually, but all at once, yeesh, it's a lot: GABE AGEE (those ones cross) MAUREEN TESLA (fine answer, but as clued, yikes), LEVI KIDD IRA LENORE. I guess you could throw in Lil UZI Vert (the current go-to UZI clue for those who want to pretend they didn't put a murdering machine in the grid). Now, I knew roughly half those names, so I'm not pleading obscurity on every front. But when your names aren't of the household variety, things can and do get dicey. 

Filling this puzzle out was a chore on every front. Puzzle couldn't decide what it was, and ended up being a trivia-heavy Friday mashed up with a Tuesday-type theme, and the result was ... well, it's Halloween week, so maybe the horror was intentional, I don't know. But FOGBOW (!?) is not a Wednesday answer (54D: Rare weather phenomenon that's white, unlike its colorful cousin), and MIKE PENCE ... (19A: Frequent "S.N.L." role for Beck Bennett) what are you even doing here, NYTXW? The Mini included the horrible new Supreme Court justice yesterday, and today the actual grown-up crossword gives us ... this guy. This disgusting lickspittle. This walking embodiment of fraud and moral decay. This abetter of incompetence and, frankly, where the COVID response is concerned, murder. Fuck him. Pardon my French. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*yeah, I know, just roll with it

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Link letters / TUES 10-27-20 / Candy heart sentiment / Hershey's foiled collection / Madre's hermana

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Hi, all!

Hope everyone has been doing well and staying healthy, as we seem to be getting a third (fourth? fifth?) wave of COVID right now. I've been just staying cooped up in my apartment still, dealing with online classes and work and distracting myself with sports. But sports have been so weird during the pandemic that it's hard to know how seriously to take them or how much credence to give the season. Obviously, football counts on every front — my Steelers are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. Soccer counts, too — Liverpool is currently tied at the top of the English Premier League table and seems to be in pretty good form. But baseball? The Dodgers look like they may very well win the World Series; so, as a SF Giants fan, I decree that this 2020 season is null and void.

Now on to the puzzle!

Constructor: Luci Bresette and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: Phrases that are aptly clued by using the same letters from certain words and phrases

Theme answers:
  • POLITICS AS USUAL (15A: Apt phrase that uses just the letters of U.S. CAPITOL)
  • TREASURE HUNTER (25A: Apt phrase that uses just the letters of UNEARTHS)
  • GETTING MARRIED (42A: Apt phrase that uses just the letters of GRAND TIME)
  • TRAINING SEMINAR (56A: Apt phrase that uses just the letters of MASTERING)
Word of the Day: ESME (32A: "__ & Roy" (children's TV series)) —

Esme & Roy is an American/Canadian animated children's television series created by Dustin Ferrer and Amy Steinberg… The show follows a little girl named Esme and her best friend, a monster named Roy, who take care of all kinds of creatures when their regular guardians need aid. Esme and Roy was broadcast simultaneously on HBO in the United States and Treehouse TV in Canada on August 18, 2018… (Wiki)

• • •
Overall, this puzzle was just fine, The fill was almost all classic crosswordese, and the theme was a bit of a poor man's anagram. But, the theme did at least have some pop to it. POLITICS AS USUAL was definitely my favorite of the theme answers — it felt different and interesting (even though things are decidedly not politics as usual right now...). But then it's like the theme answers just got less and less interesting as they went down. TREASURE HUNTER had a bit of flair. GETTING MARRIED didn't entirely work — that seems like a very specific way of having the "grand time" specified in the clue. And then it's hard to get excited about a TRAINING SEMINAR.

As meh as the three-letter fill was, I did like some of the four-letter fill. I loved: 12A: Chaotic way to run as AMOK; 36D: Safe space? as BANK (even if I did try to put in "base" first); 51D: Link letters as HTTP; 62A: Things you might open with a click as PENS; and 64A: Hitch, say as KNOT. But my favorite word of the puzzle was the five-letter word: KAPUT (1D). How great a word is that?

There was some repetition in the clues/answers with PLUS (5A: Grade upgrade) and MINUS (13D: Grade downgrade) and with RAT (30D: 2020 Chinese zodiac animal) and PIG (34D: 2019 Chinese zodiac animal), but it didn't really bother me, even though I know it bothers some people. In this case, playing the clues off each other was pretty harmless. And, if you have to find a way to clue some ugly-ish words, you might as well have a bit of fun with it.

Some other nits... I generally don't like answers like I'M ON IT (2D: "Consider that done!") or ALL SET (44D: "Ready!") that could really be any number of things. I thought TABLE LINEN (28D) should have been plural as "table linens" — and it seems Google generally agrees with me. Also, TIDAL pools (16D) don't really seem to be what they're called at all (again, according to my very reliable source called Google) — they're "tide" pools. For 6D: Mascara target as LASH... You don't put mascara on just one LASH — you put it on lashes! Seriously — try putting mascara on just a single lash... you can't! SOLO ARTISTS (3D: Ones who play alone) don't always play alone... You can be a soloist, but you're usually still going to need a band to back you up or dancers or something! And, finally, I didn't know ESME & Roy (32A). It's apparently an American/Canadian animated kids TV show that's been around for just two seasons, so that feels pretty obscure, no?

  • I clearly remember finishing JODI Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” — I decided to read the final 20 pages or so during science class in 8th grade, and *slight spoiler alert* the ending is verrryy sad. So I was on the verge of bawling in class while my teacher went on and on about how the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell or something like that! (If you can’t tell, I wasn’t exactly paying attention.) 
  • I figured out EGGO was the answer for 54D: Pop-up breakfast brand and immediately thought, “L’eggo my eggo,” despite not having heard that phrase in years, so I’d say that was some successful marketing on EGGO’s part! 
  • TILT at windmills (60A) is just a lovely phrase! 
  • PICCHU in the puzzle (5D) reminded me of this heart-warming story where Peru opened up Machu PICCHU for just one day so a 26-year-old Japanese tourist who’d waited for seven months in Peru could finally go in and see it! 
  • I dunno if anyone here does the mini crossword puzzle, as well… but this feels wayyy too soon. There are so many other Amys out there — pick literally any of them to clue to!!
Have a great week!

Signed, Clare Carroll, fan of the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hombre-to-be perhaps / MON 10-26-20 / Yellow flowers in primrose family / 1980s gaming console in brief / Title woman in song by Beatles Spinners / Health professional who has your back

Monday, October 26, 2020

Constructor: Eric Bornstein

Relative difficulty: Medium (2:59)

THEME: "GET CRACKING!" (62A: Apt command to an 18-, 28- or 47-Across) — all the themers are occupations in which cracking (in one form or another) is involved:

Theme answers:
  • CODEBREAKER cracks codes (18A: One reading secret messages)
  • STAND-UP COMIC cracks jokes (28A: Professional joke teller)
  • CHIROPRACTOR cracks spines (47A: Health professional who has your back?)
Word of the Day: MUCHACHO (39D: Hombre-to-be, perhaps) —
1chiefly Southwest a male servant
2chiefly Southwest a young man ( (in Spanish, it's just a word for "boy")
• • •

If corny puns are your thing, then this puzzle works just fine. It's consistent, and the revealer has a certain spark, so ... yeah, there you go. It holds up. I have no complaints about the theme except that I continue to resent when "?" clues are used on themers when the theme itself is not "?"-clue dependent (see 47A: Health professional who has your back?). If your theme wackiness necessitates "?" clues all around, then by all means, go to town. But a randomly thrown-in "?" clue in a puzzle that doesn't specifically call for them, that's just confusing to me. Inelegant. Get your cleverness on somewhere else. Save it for the non-theme fill. Also, is there a difference between a STAND-UP COMIC and a stand-up comedian (the term I hear much more frequently)? Not faulting the answer, as it's certainly in-the-language, just wondering if there's even a subtle difference between the two. My initial inquiries indicate not. Maybe people just want to save two syllables because their time is valuable? I think I prefer "comedian" because it's a word with only one valence (whereas a "comic" can be a form of graphic storytelling). Actually I probably prefer it for totally unconscious reasons that have more to do with habit and experience. I think the first themer is a teensy-weensy bit of an outlier, in the sense that it's got a synonym for "cracking" built in ("breaker" meaning, essentially, "cracker"). But that's an issue that's too teensy-weensy to care too much about.

I felt really slow today, largely due to my not reading the clues correctly (this sometimes happens if I'm speeding through a Monday). I also roamed allllll over the grid in a real haphazard fashion (not a strategy that's conducive to speed). Read [Numbers for sports analysts] as [A number of sports analysts] and wrote in PANEL, lol. Had the "T" at 27D: Target of a camper's scalp-to-toe inspection and wrote in TENT (I associate campers with tents, and I do not associate TICKs with camping, since we have to do inspections like this any time we take so much as a long walk on a trail in the woods). [A physicist or a fashion designer might work with one] is a fine clue for MODEL, but it required many crosses and definitely slowed me down a bit. Wrote in CANDO (?!) before CREDO (30D: Words to live by). Wanted HOOLIGAN before HOODLUM (HOOLIGAN being a much better answer for 5D: Ruffian, too bad it didn't fit). And the clue on MUCHACHO just didn't register anything very clear to me at all. With all that sloshing around, I'm actually surprised I still came in under 3. That's all. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Scarecrow portrayer / SUN 10-25-20 / Citrus fruit with portmanteau name /No-go area in brief / Indiana city that's 100 miles west of Lima Ohio / Capone contemporary

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Challenging (north of 13 minutes???)

THEME: "At the Halloween play ..." — I don't even know ... themers are completions of sentences that are allegedly related to a Halloween play, whatever that is:

Theme answers:
  • AUDIENCE HISSED (23A: At the Halloween play, when the black cat appeared, the ___)
  • BAREBONES RENDITION (36A: ... the skeleton gave a ___)
  • A VARIETY OF PARTS (48A: ... Frankenstein had ___)
  • WARTS AND ALL (68A: ... the critics loved the witch's performance, ___)
  • NOBODY TO ACT WITH (85A: ... the ghost had ___)
  • REFLECTED ON HIS ROLE (92A: ... the vampire never ___)
  • AT THE WRAP PARTY (117A: ... the mummy was a hit ___)
Word of the Day: TORO (80D: Fatty tuna, in Japanese cuisine) —

Toro (toh-roh) is the term for the fatty part of the tuna, found in the belly portion of the fish. Toro is further broken up into two distinct subtypes, and they are more expensive due to their relative scarcity as a proportion of the entire fish. The two types of toro are:

Chutoro (choo-toh-roh), which is sometimes labeled chu-toro, is the belly area of the tuna along the side of the fish between the akami and the otoro. It is often preferred because it is fatty but not as fatty as otoro. 

Otoro (oh-toh-roh), which is sometimes labeled o-toro, is the fattiest portion of the tuna, found on the very underside of the fish. This cut is fatty almost to the point of falling apart and can literally melt in your mouth. (
• • •

What the hell is a "Halloween play"? The very premise is ridiculous, and most of the answer are torture. Painful, forced puns, phrases that aren't even stand-alone phrases. Genuinely awful. There was not one moment during this solve when I was having fun. The theme is garbage, and there are no (zero) really good answers outside the theme. Stunningly awful, all the way around. I love Halloween, but this ... what is this? What a horrible way to end an otherwise lovely day—first day of early voting in New York. I stood on line for what is, for me, a ridiculous amount of time (something over an hour), just to make sure that my vote would be counted—not a given. My wife is currently in quarantine, which she learned about only yesterday, and even though it only lasts until Tuesday (and she's in no real danger, honestly, don't worry), it seems quite possible, with community transmission as high as it currently is in my county, that she could get quarantined again, for longer, through election day, and all of a sudden I'm thinking "what if I'm quarantined? And I am not allowed to leave the house? Is that possible? Because that is not acceptable." So I panicked today and just went and stood in line and did the thing. And I'm picking up an absentee ballot for my wife on Monday, Just In Case. She'll probably emerge from quarantine on Wednesday and be able to vote just fine, but neither of us is willing to take any chances. We both have a visceral need to be part of the event that puts a stake through the heart of the current administration. So please vote. Unless you're a f***ing Trumpist, in which case, please go jump in a lake. Where was I? Oh, yeah, riding high on my feeling of community and civic responsibility ... until this stupid puzzle came along. 

The worst, the absolute worst thing about this puzzle is ASHOE (21D: Apt thing to wear during allergy season?). Whose idea was that clue? The fill is bad, enough, but fine, you need a partial like that, give me the Old Woman Who Lives In ___ and fine, it's done, moving on. But no, you gotta get cute with this awful, awful, inaccurate joke clue. It's apt to wear ... A SHOE? During allergy season? Let's start with the literal level here, as clearly nearly everyone wears A SHOE (two, even) every day, in every season. It's not an unusual, seasonal, or even very optional article of clothing, so the whole "apt thing to wear" is dumb on its face. Second, the "A" part ... is so awful. Why would anyone be looking for an indefinite article here? Why? I had --HOE and literally no idea. Thought I had an error (because I also couldn't get MY HERO! and had some other stupid name where stupid ancient crosswordese ANSE was supposed to be (9D: "As I Lay Dying" father), and thus also couldn't see MYLANTA, a brand I haven't even thought about in decades) (20A: Heartburn relief brand). But the very very worst thing about this whole A SHOE business is that It Doesn't Even Sound Like A Sneeze. It's "achoo," not "ashoo." This single clue / answer just makes me desperately wish for new leadership at the editorship position. Please. My kingdom for a different sensibility, with a decent sense of humor. Someone not living in Corny Punville circa 1975. 

There was a host of stuff that made it hard, stuff I just didn't know. TORO, for instance (as clued). and LIVE OAKS (108A: Southern shade trees). But mostly the reason it was hard was that so many of the themers were impossible for me to figure out because they weren't really plays on familiar phrases. For ever WARTS AND ALL (fine), there was a BAREBONES RENDITION (the "RENDITION" part, brutal ... what?). Or REFLECTED ON HIS ROLE (dear lord, the ON HIS ROLE part, just gibberish to me). One of your themers is AUDIENCE HISSED. Please, I know it's a cliché statement, but please let that sink in. AUDIENCE HISSED. How in the world is NOBODY TO ACT WITH a phrase ... anywhere ... at all ... ever? I gotta quit. Can someone who is actually funny or clever please, I beg you, submit a Sunday puzzle? Because it has been a *Painful* last few weeks. Phew. Monday can't come soon enough. Good day. And vote!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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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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