Leafs-watching time maybe / MON 11-30-20 / Restaurant chain known for its coffee doughnuts / Corporate shuffle for short / Early challenge overcome by Joe Biden

Monday, November 30, 2020

Constructor: Emma Craven-Matthews

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (2:49)

THEME: CANADA (71A: Place associated with the answers to the starred clues) — just what the clue says. Here are the "starred clues":

Theme answers:
  • HOCKEY NIGHT (4D: *Leafs-watching time, maybe) (because the Leafs are short for the hockey team the Toronto Maple Leafs) (also because "HOCKEY NIGHT in CANADA" is "a branding used for Canadian television presentations of the National Hockey League" (wikipedia)
  • TIM HORTONS (18A: *Restaurant chain known for its coffee and doughnuts)
  • SAYING SORRY (27D: *Important step after erring) 
  • MAPLE SYRUP (62A: Pancake topping) (??? I associate this with New York and the U.S. northeast, where I live, and where the MAPLE SYRUP supply is ample)
Word of the Day: "HOCKEY NIGHT in CANADA" (see 4D) —

Hockey Night in Canada
 (often abbreviated Hockey Night or HNIC) is a branding used for Canadian television presentations of the National Hockey League. While the name has been used for all NHL broadcasts on CBC Television (regardless of the time of day), Hockey Night in Canada is primarily associated with its Saturday night NHL broadcasts, a practice originating from Saturday NHL broadcasts that began in 1931 on the CNR Radio network and continued on its successors, and debuting on television beginning in 1952. Initially only airing a single game weekly, the modern incarnation airs a weekly double-header, with game times normally at 7 and 10 p.m. (ET). The broadcast features various segments during the intermissions and between games, as well as pre- and post-game coverage of the night's games, and player interviews. It also shows the hosts' opinions on news and issues occurring in the league.

The Hockey Night in Canada brand is owned by the CBC and was exclusively used by CBC Sports through the end of the 2013–14 NHL season. Beginning in the 2014–15 NHL season, the brand is being licensed to Rogers Communications for Sportsnet-produced Saturday NHL broadcasts airing on CBC Television as well as the Rogers-owned Citytv and Sportsnet networks. Rogers had secured exclusive national multimedia rights to NHL games beginning in 2014–15, and sublicensed Saturday night and playoff games to CBC. This sub-license agreement runs through the end of the Rogers deal with the NHL. (wikipedia)

• • •

This theme seems pretty remedial. "Here are some things people associate with CANADA." OK, so. Why? What is the point? The list could've been longer or shorter or ... tighter, I don't know. The point is, it's completely arbitrary and purposeless (it's not some kind of Canada Day, is it??). I like SAYING SORRY, as it's totally unexpected in a list like this. Perfectly apt, but original. It's the one bright spot in a lackluster, by-the-numbers, old-fashioned theme. I don't think HOCKEY NIGHT stands very well on its own. I've only ever heard the whole phrase "HOCKEY NIGHT in CANADA," but I'm not Canadian, so maybe it's shortened all the time. For a puzzle with a largely US audience, that answer (as it appears in the grid) felt wobbly. Wobblier was MAPLE SYRUP, which I've never associated with CANADA. The maple leaf, sure, but the syrup, yeah, we've got that in abundance, all over the dang place. The only syrups we ever use are NYS syrups. This is what I mean about the themers being arbitrary. Would've been cooler to have another asterisked clue at 8-Across instead of just boring old OTTAWA (8A: Capital of 71-Across). The theme's just not tight enough, and there's not enough oomph to what's there.

Worse, probably, is the fill, which is ultra-throwback stuff. Too often, you see the kind of short fill that used to roam wild across the grids of North America before constructors got more conscientious about this sort of thing (and software helped them bring it down to a bare minimum). SSA DDE ENE EPI ONA HEB TRALA ELEA EROO (oof, EROO), this is the kind of stuff I'm talking about. OCASIO gives you a little frisson of currentness, and the clue on STUTTER is timely and interesting (50A: Early challenge overcome by Joe Biden), but too much of the fill here is a slog. This one ticks all the boxes for your run-of-the-mill crossword, but it's got a long way to go before it's got that Monday Zing that I like so well. Pretty sure this is the constructor's debut, so some rough patches are to be expected, and I do look forward to seeing zingier work in the future. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Nicolas standout player in soccer's Premier League / SUN 11-29-20 / Brand of cologne with literary name / Cloth used in theater backdrops / Compulsive thieves informally / Dancer with glowsticks often / Supporting musician in jazz band

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Easy (9:20)

THEME: "Six-Pack" — wacky phrases where first and second parts of the phrase have 6-letter overlap; in the grid, the overlap is represented literally, with the words entered into the grid as if they were actually overlapping. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • EPHEMERAL EMERALDS => EPHEMERALDS (23A: Very short-lived gemstones?)
  • AIREDALE RED ALERT => AIREDALERT (3D: Emergency situation caused by a terrier?)
  • GILGAMESH GAME SHOW => GILGAMESHOW (34A: TV quiz program about an epic poem?)
  • SUPERMAN PERMANENT => SUPERMANENT (11D: Salon job named after a comic book hero?)
  • FIRST-RATE STRATEGY => FIRSTRATEGY (93A: Magnificent plan of action?)
  • HAMMERING MERINGUE => HAMMERINGUE (63D: Pounding on a pie topping?)
  • OBAMACARE MACARENA => OBAMACARENA (107A: Dance celebrating 2010 legislation?)
  • WISEACRE SEACREST => WISEACREST (74D: Entertainment host Ryan, that smart aleck!?)
Word of the Day: Nicolas PÉPÉ (25A: Nicolas ___, standout player in soccer's Premier League) —

Nicolas Pépé (born 29 May 1995) is a professional footballer who plays as a winger for Premier League club Arsenal and the Ivory Coast national team.

Pépé began his senior club career with Poitiers in the Championnat de France Amateur 2. He signed for Angers in 2013, aged 18, and spent a season on loan at Orléans in 2015. He signed for Lille in 2017, and was named to the UNFP Ligue 1 Team of the Year in the 2018–19 season. That summer, Pépé joined Arsenal for a club-record fee of £72 million, and won the FA Cup in his debut season.

Pépé, who was born in France to parents of Ivorian descent, made his debut for the Ivory Coast on 15 November 2016 in a friendly against France. (wikipedia)

• • •

80D: Mustachioed
Springfield resident
I see what the puzzle is doing, but I don't quite know why it is doing it, considering there's no real humor or wackiness payoff. There's just a kind of grid gibberish. "Ephemeral emeralds" is kinda fun to say, but EPHEMERALDS ... actually, you know what, that's almost fun to say. That one may be the best of the lot. But take SUPERMANENT. There's just no way to make that funny as one word. I get that the way that the answers are entered in the grid is merely a visual representation of the full phrase, but even then ... is FIRST-RATE STRATEGY fun ... on any level? This is an architectural exercise. On that level, I guess it's a success. But as a bit of entertainment, it's something of a thud. You do have to do some fancy thinking to get everything to work out, but ultimately it's pretty easy. In fact, probably much easier than if the theme phrases had appeared in the grid completely. This way, every time you get *one* of those six letters in the overlap, you're actually getting *two* letters of the entire phrase. So, yeah, the theme felt very easy to untangle once you tumbled to the core concept. Beyond that, you've got a solid if fairly old-fashioned grid. When's the last time anyone said PEP PILL? Sounds like some kind of '50s/''60s euphemism for speed. When's the last time someone was STINKO? (aside from in the '40s/'50s movies I watch all the time)? Still, beyond the always-awful INAPILE and the plural suffix -ENES, nothing really grates today. I really liked SIDEMAN on the "side" of the grid with its plus one, PLUS ONE. Quite a pair, those two. Mostly, though, this was a thrill-less task.

I didn't even have interesting struggles or mistakes today. No idea who PÉPÉ was. Seems very very hard as proper nouns go, but in an easy puzzle, why not? Why not teach me about a PÉPÉ who is not LePew? Can't hurt. I actually knew TYLER, The Creator, so that somewhat toughish (depending on your musical knowledge / tastes) clue didn't faze me. Had my usual RHINE v RHONE confusion (24D: River near Rotterdam). Thought the clue on METRONOME was clever (76A: Beat box?). Sorry, really wish there were interesting things to talk about today, but if they're here, I can't see them. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Russ. Hey, Russ. Yeah, you. Your wife Jennifer says "Happy Anniversary!" There's no one she'd rather crossword with than you. Aren't you lucky? The answer is 'yes.' Happy anniversary, you two.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Beer purchase in large bottle informally / SAT 11-28-20 / Liquido vital / '80s work wear with shoulder pads / Fabled beneficiary of nap / Air traveler in early winter

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Constructor: Nam Jin Yoon

Relative difficulty: Easy (untimed, but I'm somehow up at 4am (???) and still solved it with very little trouble, *well* under 10, probably closer to 5)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: FORTY (27D: Beer purchase in a large bottle, informally) —
4or 40,  US,  informal a forty-ounce bottle or other container of an alcoholic beverage (such as beer or malt liquor) Kelvin finished his forty in seven or eight long gulps. Tossed the bottle in the median carpeted with brown grass.— Dave Byrne… smoking weed and drinking 40s while her kids run loose.— Jim Schutze (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Wow, this was excellent. I'm genuinely taken aback by how good this is, especially since I've never seen this constructor's name on a byline before (that I can remember). Talk about making the most of your marquee (8+ answers). Once I hit FAIR'S FAIR I was very much rooting for this puzzle, and then by the time I circled around, through the SW corner, over to PITY PARTY, I was completely won over (with half the puzzle still to go). That is a very nice feeling: to be midway through a puzzle whose quality you are confident of, and to be able to genuinely look forward to finishing off the second half. I struggled a bit more in the SE than I did elsewhere, but that had no effect on how nice I thought that corner was, and then I finished up in the NE, which was just as clean and snappy as the rest of it. A nearly perfect counterclockwise solve, with no anomalously grueling parts and no ugly parts to haunt my memory of the solving experience. If I'm being honest, I think it's the slang clue on FORTY, at the heart of the puzzle, that really let me know I could relax; I was in good hands. This puzzle's sensibility was going to be my kind of thing. 

How to start a Saturday? Well, 1D: Designates looked like it had to end in an "S" so I wrote that in, then saw the clue on 19A: Originator of parody ads for 5-hour Empathy and Tylenol BM, in brief, and honestly all I needed to read was "parody" to know the answer was SNL. Guessed MEWL (3D: Little cry) and IRON (2D: Shellfish have lots of this) off their last letters right away. Then 15A: "Any interest in doing this?" looked like it was going to start "ARE YOU...?" so I tested the "Y," which led me to a cross-referenced clue at 34A: 4-Down, for CBS ... so obviously the "Y" was in the middle of EYE, which is the CBS LOGO. I think I dropped RUSHERS off just the "U" (6D: Running backs and defensive ends). TOE was easy. TORTOISE fell in line after that (5D: Fabled beneficiary of a nap). The short Downs at the end of the longer answers up there were all pretty easy (VAIN EMT LES), and before I knew it, I had a lovely NW corner all sewn up. 

First real challenge came at 29A: Style guide? I had -RESS and figured the answer had something to do with the ... PRESS. I did not take that "P" out for a comparatively looooong time. I was honestly willing to believe there was such a thing as a PRESS CODE. The problem was I had PROPALINE at 29D: Write, and I just couldn't make it make sense. I'm always willing to believe there is a word out there I just haven't heard of, but PROPALINE, yeah, that seemed dubious. Then all at once my one-letter error became clear. Not one-word PROPALINE but three-word DROP A LINE, gah! OK, back to work. SE corner was toughest, as I didn't know what followed SURE at 33D: It can't miss and had trouble getting both GPAS and PRAT. This made getting into that SE corner tricky. I guessed OPT and TRY on those first short Downs with identical clues ([Go (for)]). TRY was wrong, but once I put SHOT after SURE and then wrote in ALA at 51D: Like, the correct "P" from OPT was weirdly enough for me to be able to see PIÑA COLADA, and that pretty much took care of that corner. Finished up in the NE, where there was virtually no resistance. Knowing Donna TARTT very much helped. Made up for not having known Jacky ROSEN in the SW (40D: Nevada senator Jacky). Anyway, done and done and very content. Hurray. Hope you're enjoying your post-Thanksgiving weekend. Cheers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Classic British rock group/FRI 11-27-20/Pioneering Reggae artist whose name is an exclamation/1000 in the military/Spot removers/Discoveries of Michael Faraday/

Friday, November 27, 2020

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: medium 

THEME: nope

Word of the Day: EEK A MOUSE (19A: Pioneering Reggae artist whose name is an exclamation) —
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Eek-A-Mouse began his music career when he was in college, releasing two roots reggae singles under his own name, which were produced by his mathematics tutor, Mr. Dehaney. These early works were influenced by the music of Pablo Moses. He then went on to work for various sound systems over the next few years and also released a few more singles. He adopted the stage name "Eek-A-Mouse" in 1979, taking the name of a racehorse he always bet on; it was a nickname his friends had used for some time. (wikipedia)
• • •
There’s been plenty to criticize in recent NYT crosswords, so I was fired up to start some shit on Rex’s blog while he snoozed away his Thanksgiving feast. But as soon as I saw that it was a Robyn Weintraub puzzle I was pretty certain that I’d be gushing instead. I was not wrong. Robyn is one of my favorite constructors and today’s puzzle is a perfectly enjoyable themeless Friday. If you like this puzzle, be sure to check out The New Yorker’s crosswords. They are a blast to solve and Robyn contributes about once a month. I really, really love those puzzles and wish that they had an app similar to the NYT one. Are you listening, The New Yorker folks? I would pay good money for that subscription!

So, yeah. This puzzle is great. Very little predictable fill with a lot of clever cluing that felt fresh and interesting.

I really wanted to show you an EEK A MOUSE video for “Virgin Girl” because it’s a great song, but all of the YouTube videos I could find for that song are absolute crap. Here's a Spinal Tap video about STONEHENGE (16A) that is one of the funniest scenes ever:

  • 11D: Common character in The Far Side (ALIEN) was a nice, smart comic strip pairing with 53A: “Bloom County” character whose vocabulary consists mostly of “Thbbft!” and “Ack!” (BILL THE CAT)
  • 28D Echo responder (ALEXA). I’m personally sick of all of the Apple references in crosswords this year (IMAC, IPOD, NANO, SIRI, etc), so was happy to see a different FANG product get a little facetime (hehe).
  • 5D: 1984 comedy horror film that contributed to the creation of the PG-13 rating (GREMLINS). I did not know this and will gladly drop this fact sometime in the near future.
  • 30A: Thanksgiving Preference (LEG) was a bit forced, but I will give it a pass because, well, it IS Thanksgiving.
I had a little bit of trouble with the northeast, with the vague-ish SURE WHY NOT and not-certain-why-it was-so-hard THROWN. Maybe the massive amounts of Thanksgiving carbs and wine had something to do with it. I was not on my game. It reminded me a little of the time a few years ago when I was super jetlagged and fell asleep on my iPad. I woke up to this:

MmmmK. Anyway, on this Thanksgiving the world continues to be upside down, and I am thankful that there will be a more decent human in the White House in less than two months. With any luck, we’ll get this virus under control by spring. Please wear a mask and keep social distancing, and understand that these small sacrifices are at least as much about protecting others as about protecting yourself. 

I’m also thankful for the small daily ritual of the NYT crossword and this community.

Thank you Rex for being a voice so many of us love to read (nearly) every day.
Signed, Amy Seidenwurm, Undersecretary of CrossWorld

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Operating system from Bell Labs / THU 11-26-20 / 1992 biopic starring Jack Nicholson / Early TV network that competed with NBC and CBS / Precursor of rocksteady / 2019 voice role for Beyoncé

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Constructor: Neville Fogarty

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (something under 5)

THEME: LONG (71A: Word interpreted literally in completing four of this puzzle's answers) — Across answers are all two-word phrases beginning with "LONG," but instead of appearing in the grid, "LONG" is represented literally; that is, the word following "Long" is actually, physically made long by having each letter stretched over the length of two squares instead of the usual one: 

Theme answers:
  • VVOOWWEELL (18A: Oboe or flute sound) (i.e. "long vowel")
  • IISSLLAANNDD (29A: Home to around eight million Americans) (i.e. "Long Island")
  • WWIINNDDEEDD (47A: Circumlocutory) (i.e. "long-winded")
  • JJOOHHNNSS (61A: Some winter wear) (i.e. "long johns")
Word of the Day: ANNA of Arendelle (Disney heroine) (57D) —

Anna of Arendelle
 (/ˈɑːnə/) is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Animation Studios' 53rd animated film Frozen and its sequel Frozen II. She is voiced by Kristen Bell as an adult. At the beginning of the film, Livvy Stubenrauch and Katie Lopez provide her speaking and singing voice as a young child, respectively. Agatha Lee Monn portrayed her as a nine-year-old (singing). In Frozen II, Hadley Gannaway provided her voice as a young child while Stubenrauch is the archive audio.

Created by co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, Anna is loosely based on Gerda, a character from the Danish fairytale "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen. In the Disney film adaptation, Anna is depicted as the princess of Arendelle, a fictional Scandinavian kingdom, and the younger sister of Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel), who is the heiress to the throne and possesses the elemental ability to create and control ice and snow. When Elsa exiles herself from the kingdom after inadvertently sending Arendelle into an eternal winter on the evening of her coronation, fearless and faithful Anna is determined to set out on a dangerous adventure to bring her sister back and save both her kingdom and her family. (wikipedia)

• • •

Delighted to see this byline today (my birthday), as Neville is one of the loveliest people I know in the entire world of crosswords. This is an absolutely solid little ROMP (17A: Play like a puppy), even if it does have two elements that notoriously annoy the heck out of me, i.e. a [See notes] instruction when I open the puzzle file, and also just the word NATANT, yuck, why does it exist, kill it (32D: Swimming). Anyway, the puzzle notes tell me that:

In the print version of this puzzle, every two squares in 18-, 29-, 47- and 61-Across are joined as one.

So instead of writing in the letters twice, as I've had to, you can just write them in once, and draw them all fun-house mirrory (i.e. "long"). Since I never read puzzle notes before I solve, I was left to piece together why there were repeating letters, why the first themer started VVOO-. After not being able to make anything out of it, I decided to just test the two-letter theory, so when I got a "W" I put in another "W" and so on. That led me to "VOWEL," and that led me to grasping the theme (the "o"s and "u" in the words "oboe" and "flute" are long vowels). The themers were easier thereafter, obviously, and each one easier than the next, it seemed. There wasn't much pizzazz outside the theme itself, but there was also very little garbage (NATANT notwithstanding), and I liked the cute little nod to the actual holiday that it is today, in addition to my birthday. Happy Thanksgiving! (40A: Celebrated Thanksgiving, say = FEASTED). 

Neville tells me that this puzzle is really a secret tribute to actress Shelley LONG of "Troop Beverly Hills" fame. He didn't actually say that, but I want to believe that subconsciously, that is what he was trying to do here. 

Ironically, the one part of this puzzle that was not a ROMP for me was the ROMP section. I wanted GATE at 1A: Info for an air traveler, but then Could Not make the first two Downs happen off the "G" and "A," so figured GATE was wrong. [Mystery writer, for short] is a cute but Brutal clue for ANON. (if the name of a writer is unknown, i.e. a mystery, then the writer is anonymous, or ANON.). I also had --EASY at 20A: Experiencing agita (UNEASY) and wanted only QUEASY. The most unlikely thing to happen today was the first thing I put into the grid was UNIX (14A: Operating system from Bell Labs). LOL I am pretty tech-stupid but somehow my brain was like "it's UNIX, put it in, *do it*!" and my brain was right. Had the usual LAVS v LOOS trouble (7D: Places to go in England), and then some EWE v. SOW confusion (9D: Female on a farm). I have never seen "Frozen" (daughter was too old by then to be overrun by the phenomenon), so the whole ANNA clue was actually baffling to me. I enjoyed remembering "Happy Days," and remembering Potsy in particular (31D: Actor Williams of "Happy Days" = ANSON). In case it's not clear, the first letter in "Gym," the "G," is a SOFT G, unlike the HARD G that starts GATE, GURU, gag order, or Gary Cooper. I hope you have a lovely, feastful day. Mwah!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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1986 celebrity autobiography / WED 11-25-20 / Indian state along the Himalayas / Herbal drink full of antioxidants / Concerns for Cinderella and her stepsisters

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Constructor: John Guzzetta and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed)

THEME: "flipped" — themers are reverse homophones of other themers, where 1st and 2nd words of two-word themers swap places, aurally, in other themers. So:

Theme answers:

  • MALE HEIR / AIR MAIL (16A: Prince, e.g. / 25A: Stamp on an envelope [and 16-Across flipped])
  • TOW PLANE / PLAIN TOE (31A: It takes a glider up to launch altitude / 44A: Basic kind of shoe [and 31-Across flipped])
  • TEE TIME / THYME TEA (50A: Golf reservation / 63A: Herbal drink full of antioxidants [and 50-Across flipped])
Word of the Day: Buck O'NEIL (4D: Buck ___, first African-American coach in Major League Baseball) —

Buck O'Neil (né John Jordan O'Neil Jr.; November 13, 1911 – October 6, 2006) was a first baseman and manager in the Negro American League, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs. After his playing days, he worked as a scout, and became the first African American coach in Major League Baseball. In his later years he became a popular and renowned speaker and interview subject, helping to renew widespread interest in the Negro leagues, and played a major role in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

O'Neil's life was documented in Joe Posnanski's award-winning 2007 book The Soul of Baseball. (wikipedia)

• • •

Not sure how a puzzle manages six themers *and* eight 8+ long Downs *and* still manages to be this dull, but here we are. The theme gimmick is slight and leads to odd fill like TOW PLANE (you'll forgive me if I'm not up on my glider-related terminology), PLAIN TOE (looks like it's used in the shoe world but I can't find a good, solid definition of what it is) and worst of all THYME TEA, what the hell? People can make tea out of any old crap, but just because they can doesn't mean you should deem it puzzle-worthy. Also TEE TIME, while solid, is weird because it's also a very solid thing when you replace TEE with the homophone TEA. So the whole thing came off as both trivial and wobbly. But then there are allllllll those long Downs, and you'd expect to get some kind of juice out of those, right? But no. Something like VARIETY ACT, I pieced it together and thought "uh, OK." Too generic and slightly old-fashioned to be zingy. Worse was the even more generic TEAM MEMBER. I wrote in TEAM MASCOT and was semi-pleased with that. Having to replace MASCOT with the mere MEMBER was pretty disappointing. I guess I'm glad the longer answers were there, as thinking about them is undoubtedly more interesting than thinking about a whole passel of 3-to-5-letter answers ... but, today, not much more interesting. Weird day when SLOUCHED is the most interesting thing in the grid. Or maybe BALL GOWNS is more your speed. There's just an inexplicable lifelessness to this thing.

ECON is not a H.S. class, not consistently at any rate (36D: H.S. class). I have no doubt that some HSs offer it, but not mine (30+ years ago) and not my daughter's (3 years ago). My wife has ECON as a unit in the Social Studies course she teaches seniors, and I can Guarantee you none of them have had an ECON class before. It is very much a Univ. or Coll. course, so why not just clue it that way. ENG is a HS course (taught at all HSs). BIO, CHEM, CALC, all HS courses. Everywhere (or nearly everywhere, probably, in the case of CALC). Not ECON. Cluing accuracy is important. Not much left to talk about. I always enjoy remembering Manhattans, so keep the Manhattan clues coming (26D: Traditional ingredient in a manhattan => RYE). Probably have one tonight. Happy Thanksgiving Eve! Also, Happy MyBirthday Eve! It's a twofer this year!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Turquoise or Topaz / TUES 11-24-20 / Henna and others / Bobs and weaves / Billboard magazine feature

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hello, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday in November! Hope everyone has been staying safe and will be over Thanksgiving. I’m done with classes for the semester (it seriously flew by — even on Zoom U), which means I’ve only got one semester left of law school. That is seriously mind-boggling (and terrifying) to me! Maybe when I graduate I’ll just move to South Korea and become a full-time BTS fan. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m kidding. Mostly.) For your dose of holiday cheer (BTS-related, of course), I recommend this new article from the cover of Esquire about them (and how amazing they are)!

Constructor: Caitlin Reid

Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Sea animal wordplay

Theme answers:
  • WHALE ILL BE DARNED (19A: "An Orca is actually a dolphin?!")
  • OH THE HUGE MANATEE (37A: "Wow, that's a giant sea cow!")
  • GREAT COD ALMIGHTY (55A: "This is the best fish I've ever had!")
Word of the Day: AHAB (7A: Husband of Jezebel in the Bible) —
Ahab was the seventh king of Israel, the son and successor of King Omri and the husband of Jezebel of Sidon, according to the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible presents Ahab as a wicked king, particularly for condoning Jezebel's influence on religious policies and his principal role behind Naboth's arbitrary execution. (Wikipedia)
• • •

I don’t have a ton to say about this puzzle overall. I found the theme to be groan-inducing (literally), though I could appreciate how it might be sort of halfway maybe funny to some? Maybe…? But even if you liked the theme, the middle themer — OH THE HUGE MANATEE — did not really work. Sorry, but that is just too much of a reach to be a play on “Oh, the humanity.” The other two involved a slight change in a word to fit a pun (well → whale and god → cod), but for some reason the theme answer smack dab in the middle of the puzzle involved dropping two letters (the “ge”). That one made me annoyed and may have colored my whole view of the puzzle (or maybe I”m just tired and hangry; yeah, that’s probably it). 

The puzzle took me longer than a usual Tuesday takes me, and I’m not entirely sure why. I thought it was decently challenging but not a ton more than a normal Tuesday, so I was a little surprised when I saw my time. It just somehow felt like things I usually get immediately took way longer to click for me. 

The long downs were nice, for the most part — I especially liked BLIND DATE (10D: It may be a setup) and BAT SIGNAL (36D: Summons in Gotham City), though I’m not sure the clue for AVALANCHE (3D: Deluge) quite works, does it? I think of a deluge as a severe flood, and that doesn't quite match up with AVALANCHE. Overall, my favorite clue/answer was 24A: Column with an angle as OPED. 57A: Light wind? as OBOE was also pretty clever. 

The rest of my thoughts on the puzzle are just a jumbled mess of things I didn’t particularly like (maybe I should go make myself some food or something). 41A as TUDE is pretty ugly and not really something people say. I don’t love split clues, and having SASHA (1D) be so far away from OBAMA (61A) seems random to me. I originally put “grasp” instead of CLASP for 17A: Hold on tight, which threw me for a bit. UHUH (33D) and NYNY (54D) seem kind of lazy to me. Also, I had a weirdly hard time coming up with LAWN for 13D: What a sprinkler may sprinkle, even though, looking back, it seems very obvious now. I also had a hard time coming up with SALADS (47D: Make-it-yourself dishes from bars) for some reason — though maybe it’s because salad bars just don’t exist in a time of COVID. 

  • 5D: CYCLES reminded me of a bike ride the other day where I was feeling so great and fast on the way out, thinking I was just crushing it, and then I turned around to go back and realized I’d been benefitting from a major tailwind… The huge headwind on the way back was not fun at all. 
  • NCIS (25A: Long-running CBS drama) is one show where I feel like the spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, is actually better than the original. 
  • It’s nice that this puzzle mentions a Billboard CHART (5A), because that means I can now return to talking about BTS, who just came out with a new album called “BE” that’s going to debut next week at No. 1 on the chart. BTS also has a song called “Life Goes On” that may debut (fingers crossed!) at No. 1 on the Billboard chart next week, as well — you should listen to it!
And... that's it! Have a great week.

Signed, Clare Carroll, your resident BTS fan

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Spanish resort island to locals / MON 11-23-20 / Pink-flowering shrub / Horror film villain with knife / Locale of Oakland and Alameda

Monday, November 23, 2020

Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Hard to say since I solved it untimed *and* Downs-Only ... seemed like it might play slightly harder than the typical Monday

THEME: IDS (62D: Two forms of them are found in 18-, 38- and 60-Across) — the letter pair "ID" appears twice in each of the longer theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • DIDGERIDOO (18A: Australian wind instrument)
  • MID-OCEAN RIDGE (38A: System of underwater mountains)
  • BRIDESMAID (60A: Wedding attendant)
Word of the Day: PARIETAL lobe (28D: ___ lobe (part of the brain)) —

The parietal lobe is one of the four major lobes of the cerebral cortex in the brain of mammals. The parietal lobe is positioned above the temporal lobe and behind the frontal lobe and central sulcus.

The parietal lobe integrates sensory information among various modalities, including spatial sense and navigation (proprioception), the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch in the somatosensory cortex which is just posterior to the central sulcus in the postcentral gyrus, and the dorsal stream of the visual system. The major sensory inputs from the skin (touchtemperature, and pain receptors), relay through the thalamus to the parietal lobe.

Several areas of the parietal lobe are important in language processing. The somatosensory cortex can be illustrated as a distorted figure – the cortical homunculus (Latin: "little man") in which the body parts are rendered according to how much of the somatosensory cortex is devoted to them. The superior parietal lobule and inferior parietal lobule are the primary areas of body or spatial awareness. A lesion commonly in the right superior or inferior parietal lobule leads to hemineglect.

The name comes from the  parietal bone, which is named from the Latin paries-, meaning "wall". (wikipedia)

• • •

Hello. Very short write-up today because I already went over this puzzle in detail while co-solving it (Downs-Only!) on Zoom with my friend Rachel Fabi, which you can watch here:

Here are the highlights, for the video-averse:

  • The revealer clue is not accurate — There are not "two forms" of ID found in the theme answers. There is one form, found twice. There's just ID ... two times. Not, not, decidedly not "two forms." I get why the "forms of ... " phrasing is there, in terms of trying to evoke a common phrase related to IDs, but when your themers don't have "two forms," best not to say they do.
  • What the heck is a MID-OCEAN RIDGE? — I have no doubt that it's a real thing, but that is not a thing that either Rachel or I had ever heard of. Seems kinda weird that you have to get that technical on a Monday, when the only theme restriction is 2xID. 
  • Some of the fill is less than great — this is true esp. for YALEU, which, when you're solving Downs-only, is particularly gruesome ("What 5-letter answer ends -LEU?" A: nothing good). Lots of very common crosswordy stuff. Solid and inoffensive overall, though, for the most part, and the rather large / open corners kept the fill from being boring. 
  • Neither of us knew PARIETAL — or, in my case, how to pronounce it :(
  • There are so many ways this puzzle could've included more women and it just chose not toCHRIS, DANA, PEARL, OSAKA, OBAMA ... lots of opportunities for cluing these answers as women. It seems like a low-stakes thing to many of you, I know, but just a little attention, a little thoughtfulness, even having the issue (of gender parity) on your radar, would go a long way. Please check out this visual essay from the website The Pudding ("Who's In The Crossword?"), which uses data gleaned from several major daily crosswords to illustrate the tendency of puzzles to underrepresent women and people of color.

That's all. I'll be taping Zoom solves with Rachel on the 23rd of every month from now on, so, yeah, we'll be back with another of these on Christmas Eve Eve, I guess. But I'll be back to regular blogging tomorrow. Wait, nope. It's a Clare Tuesday tomorrow, I'm pretty sure. So Clare will be here. I'll be somewhere–and then back here on Wednesday. Cheers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1943 Pulitzer-winning Thornton Wilder play / SUN 11-22-20 / 1960s sitcom set at Fort Courage / Bygone office group / Best-selling self-help book subtitled Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Hear of Mr. Right / Long-running show whose iconic hourglass is in the Smithsonian / Town near Buffalo that sounds like paradise

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium (9-something)

THEME: "IT ALL ADDS UP" — themers cross at letter strings that spell out numbers, but instead of getting the actual letters of the number (say, "-EIGHT-"), we get one number spelled out in the Across and another spelled out in the Down, and those two *total* the number that's supposed to provide the letter string. Sooooooo....

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: "F-TROOP" (53D: 1960s sitcom set at Fort Courage) —

F Troop is a satirical American television sitcom western about U.S. soldiers and Native Americans in the Wild West during the 1860s that originally aired for two seasons on ABC. It debuted in the United States on September 14, 1965 and concluded its run on April 6, 1967 with a total of 65 episodes. The first season of 34 episodes was broadcast in black-and-white, the second season in color.

The series relied heavily on character-based humor; verbal and visual gags, slapstickphysical comedy and burlesque comedy make up the prime ingredients of F Troop. The series played fast and loose with historical events and persons, and often parodied them for comical effect.[1] There were some indirect references made to the culture of the 1960s such as a "Playbrave Club" (a parody of a Playboy Club) and two rock and roll bands (one which performs songs written in the 1960s). (wikipedia) 

• • •

I have, sadly, come to expect a certain product from this constructor, a product I have never cared for, and this one unfortunately fulfilled all my expectations: architecturally intricate, conceptually ambitious, but in execution, a total mess, and the pleasure factor, near nil. Here's the thing. You are doing addition, right? You've even got a reference to the plus SIGN in the dang grid (108D: + or -). And so when the intersecting numbers in the themers here form an *actual* plus SIGN, well, OK, bam, you nailed it. Nice work (see ONE x/w ONE, TWO x/w TWO). But when the crossing numbers cross off-center, creating one upside-down and two lop-sided crosses that are decided not plus SIGNs, well, then, you've gone and made a mockery of your own concept. Please don't tell me that the formation of a plus SIGN is not the point. You cannot reasonably expect to pull a whole plus gimmick, create two obvious plus SIGNs in the course of executing that gimmick, and then expect me to just ignore that as mere coincidence—a meaningless byproduct of a theme that cares only about crosses and not plus SIGNs. Once you have given me the perfect plus SIGN execution, you have now made all non-plus SIGN instances of the theme look silly and misshapen. So even if you are among the people who believe that gibberish in the grid can be redeemed by math, you are faced with having to explain the awkward, inconsistent mathiness of it all. All the ambition in the world doesn't mean jack if you don't stick the landing. 

Never heard of this allegedly "Pulitzer-winning Thornton Wilder play." There's "Our Town" and then there's "etc." as far as Thornton Wilder is concerned, come on. Actually, for me, there's also The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which I read in 11th grade. It's the novel that taught me the word "gesticulating." I think that was the word used to refer to the bodies as they fell from the bridge. "Gesticulating ants," maybe? Some things stick with you, and "gesticulating" stuck with me (not a lot else did from that novel, though I think it's multi-perspectival ... I really loved that English teacher, anyway, even though he was tough as nails and probably, in retrospect, quite sexist. You take the good, you take the bad, etc. Where was I? Oh, yeah, no one knows that play, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer. But that's not really a problem. The phrase is familiar enough, and gettable here.  

  • 39A: Gave birth (HAD A KID) — if you're a goat, sure. Otherwise, too informal.
  • 53D: 1960s sitcom set at Fort Courage ("F-TROOP") — struggled mightily to recall this because I had to the FT. and kept telling myself the title was "Fort ... something!" Nevermind that "Fort" was in the clue, argh.
  • 11D: Not custom-tailored (PREMADE) — do you mean "off-the-rack?" Food comes PREMADE. Clothes, ugh, what?
  • 84A: Had a heaping helping of humility (ATE CROW) — I ate dirt at first.
  • 100A: Emotive brass sound ("Wah WAH") — how was this not OOM-PAH, how? I guess there's not enough emotion in OOM-PAH for you? Well, I guessed OOM-PAH because the first two crosses I got were the "-AH."
See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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