Woodchuck of the western U.S. / THU 12-31-20 / vivre ability to live elegantly / James Merritt pioneer in American lithography

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Easy (untimed) (didn't struggle anywhere)

THEME: SMALL BUSINESSES (7D: Local economy makeup ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — a rebus puzzle with different "business" abbrevs. made "small" (i.e. shoved into a single box):

Theme answers:
  • MARGIN CALL / TRAIN CAR (19A: Broker's request for funds / 4D: Diner or sleeper)
  • BITCOIN / EMOTICONS (26A: Digital currency / 8D: Faces of the digital age?)
  • MELTDOWN / WALT DISNEY (38A: Epic collapse / 31D: Winner of a record 26 Oscars)
  • SPELLCHECK / HELLCATS (46A: Highlighter of this clue? / 40D: Violently temperamental sorts)
Word of the Day: MARMOT (38D: Woodchuck of the western U.S.) —
any of a genus (Marmota) of stout-bodied short-legged chiefly herbivorous burrowing rodents of the squirrel family that have coarse fur, a short bushy tail, and very small ears and that hibernate during the winter (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

As with yesterday's puzzle, I can't complain about the concept too much. This is standard NYTXW rebus fare: a rebus puzzle cued by a punny revealer that contains "small" or "little" or else "boxes" or something. Here, very literal: types of businesses (specifically, the abbrevs. that might follow a company name) are made "small" and put into individual boxes. Honey, I shrunk the companies. And there it is. Pretty plain, as rebuses go. Of course, if you've never seen a rebus before, this isn't going to seem plain at all, but trust me, this is about as plain as a rebus gets. For me, the theme was dreary, because in general, all things bizness and biznessssspeak make me want to leave the room. Drains the life out of, well, everything. Maybe if our economic system were more fair and transparent, my feelings about the wonderful world of modern business would be different. But nothing is more boring to me than news about BITCOIN BARONs or whatever. And these abbrevs—are you ever excited to see INC in your puzzle? LLC? It's the slag heap of crosswordese showing up at your house trying to get you to come out and play some rebus games. No thanks. And then the puzzle got it in its head that I might enjoy *bonus* theme material like BARON DIP POOLED NESTEGGS. . . SIGH. This is a topic I care about not at all. As I say, conceptually, it works ... well, mostly. It's a little ugly to have the rebus squares be actually business-related at first (MARGIN CALL, BITCOIN), but then not so much (MELTDOWN) and then not at all (SPELLCHECK). Feels like the puzzle went off the rails. Fizzled out. Also, the rebus elements, besides being a mass of dullness, also involve repetition, which is normally (as I've said recently) a huge no-no. This is what the abbrevs. stand for:
INC = Incorporated
CO = Company
LTD = Limited (UK)
LLC = Limited Liability Company :( 
First of all, "Company" is so generic that it doesn't really go with the others. The others are all abbrevs. that follow a comma in a company name, whereas CO. ... does not do that. And it's just two letters. *And* as you can see it's duped in LLC, i.e. the "C" there stands for "company." Notice that the "Limited" of LLC is also a dupe (of LTD, which stands for "limited"). There's not enough variety, and not nearly enough joy, to make this kind of thing fun. 

I liked WALT DISNEY, in that I was able to get it off the rebus square alone, without looking at the clue. It's a solid answer, too, but I just like when my brain groks the pattern quick like that. I don't actually care too much for the Disney corporation or the man himself. Here, I'll let his niece, Abigail Disney, talk about him (from The Hollywood Reporter, Jan. 25, 2014) (she's responding to the fact that Meryl Streep had said some unfavorable things about her uncle):

I also like the WINGED IT / ART SCENE section, i.e. the SE. Very lively and interesting. Except SPUME. SPUME is one of those words that I would be happy never to see again. Big "moist" energy on SPUME. The fill overall on this one seemed quite solid, with short junk appearing only rarely. Probably wouldn't have clued ELS and DEE both as letters. DEE is a name, ELS are urban transport, mix it up. No idea who EMILIA is, but the puzzle's so easy that it hardly mattered (15A: Actress Clarke of "Game of Thrones"). Just needed enough crosses to make a plausible woman's name; only issue was whether she was gonna be an EMILIA or an AMELIA. I briefly got SUVA confused with APIA (another South Pacific capital), which created a mild delay in the south (49A: Capital of Fiji). Other than that, the only bit that slowed me down at all was at the very beginning, when I wrote in PCT at 1A: N.B.A. stat (PPG, which stands for "points per game"). Knew the next two short Acrosses in that section cold, and so had CLE- at the beginning of 2D: District attorney's offering, maybe (PLEA DEAL), and so I thought, "ooh, CLEMENCY, that's a cool word." And it is. It was just wrong.

Have a happy New Year's Eve (even if that means you're out by 10pm)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chubby mouse in Disney's Cinderella / WED 12-30-20 / Ocher-like hue / corridor Northeast transportation route / Alternative to Lowe's

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easyish (untimed)

THEME: BILLY CLUB (66A: Nightstick ... or what might form if the beginnings of 14-, 20-, 37- and 58-Across started paying dues?) — first part of each theme answer is also the last name of a famous BILLY: 

Theme answers:
  • OCEAN VIEW (14A: It might cost extra at a beach resort)
  • CRYSTAL BALL (20A: Clairvoyant's accessory)
  • GRAHAM CRACKER (37A: Key lime pie crust ingredient)
  • PORTERHOUSE (58A: Cut above the rest?)
Word of the Day: Billy Porter (see final theme answer at 58A) —

Billy Porter
 (born September 21, 1969) is an American actor and singer. He attended the Musical Theater program at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School's School of Drama, graduated from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, and achieved fame performing on Broadway before starting a solo career as a singer and actor.

Porter won the 2013 Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots at the 67th Tony Awards. He credits the part for "cracking open" his feminine side to confront toxic masculinity. For the role, Porter also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical and Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical. In 2014 Porter won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for Kinky Boots. He currently stars in the television series Pose for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won the 2019 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, becoming the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys.

Porter is included in Time magazine 's 100 Most Influential People of 2020. (wikipedia)

• • •

Can't quibble with the core idea here. It works. Take a [blank] CLUB phrase, then make your themers' first words (or word parts) all types of [blank]. It's cookie-cutter, but cookie cutters make very neat shapes, so conceptually, this is fine. What made this puzzle completely off-putting for me was the revealer. I'll be blunt: I wring an enthusiastic "aha!" from an instrument of police brutality, especially not at the end of a year dominated by said brutality and the vocal, world-changing resistance thereto. I wouldn't want to see BILLY CLUB in any puzzle, in any position, and I especially don't want it posing for cute pictures in the revealer position. Themes are hard, so if you find one that works, I applaud you, but with some themes ... just because you can doesn't mean you should. 

My other substantial objection to the puzzle has nothing to do with the theme; it's the PINYON (?) / ESO crossing. That is a horrendous crossing. If you have never heard of the PINYON tree (raises hand) then that vowel in ESO is a complete and utter guess. Hell, even if you *have* heard of the PINYON tree, there's a reasonable chance that you're not certain how to spell it. The only way I guessed "O" correctly there was by "knowing" (erroneously, it turns out) that PINYAN was already a thing—the romanization system for Chinese. Turns out that's PINYIN, but whatever, I made the right choice, which is what counts, and yet ... that is not how anyone should have to make a choice on the final letter. 23A: That: Sp. can be ESO or ESA, so the cross for that last letter has to be crystal (!) clear and undeniable. I submit that the last vowel in a regional tree, in this case, is not clear and undeniable. I mean, if you tried to analogize from other trees that end -Y-blank-N, you probably *would* have gone with the "A," since the BANYAN tree exists (and is the national tree of India, in fact). All the editor had to do here is clue ESO in a way where grammatical gender was a given (I've never prayed for "ESO Beso" before, but Oh, Lord Anka, hear my plea!). But no. We get ambigu-clue. :/

Not a lot else to say here. The fill seems fine. I forgot that MAISIE was the title character in those detective novels, but I'm happy to be reminded. They're very popular (24A: ___ Dobbs, title detective in Jacqueline Winspear books). I don't think AFTRA is particularly great fill (9A: SAG-___ (media labor union)). If you wanna clue SAG as a union, that's fine, any time: the SAG Awards make that particular acronym well known and thus fair game. But AFTRA is just the butt-end of a hyphenated name. Not great stand-alone material. It sounds like an off-brand aftershave. Oh my god, "Afta"  ... "after" ... is AFTA aftershave an aural pun? Wow, I just got that. Sorry I have no similar revelations about ATRA or AFLAC at this time. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. just found out AFTA makes something called a "pre-shave" lotion, and now I don't know what to think

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tandoor bread / TUES 12-28-20 / Locales of wasps and spies / Xena, notably / Cantankerous

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Once upon a time, there lived a 20-something-year-old named Clare who was so freaking done with 2020 and was counting down the minutes until the clock struck midnight on the new year. She, of course, wishes the stupid pandemic would be over already and the world could get back to normal. In the meantime, she’ll settle for more of the second-half Steelers she saw in their game against the Colts last weekend. She also hopes for another Liverpool title this year and, of course, a BTS Grammy win. Oh, yeah, and a successful final semester of law school. 

Now on to the puzzle!

Matthew Trout

Relative difficulty: A normal Tuesday

THEME: FAIRY TALE ENDING — (“Happily ever after” ... or what 17-, 27-, 39- or 47-Across has?) — The theme answers all end with words often associated with fairy tales

Theme answers:
  • WARRIOR PRINCESS (17A: Xena, notably
  • KOMODO DRAGON (27A: Largest lizard on earth (up to 10 feet long)
  • CN TOWER (39A: Toronto landmark that’s the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere
  • GLADYS KNIGHT (47A: Who sang the 1973 #1 hit “Midnight Train to Georgia”)
Word of the Day: NYALA (52D: Spiral-horned African antelope) —
The Nyala is a spiral-horned antelope native to southern Africa. The body length is 53–77 in, and it weighs 121–309 lb. The coat is maroon or rufous brown in females and juveniles, but grows a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue, in adult males. Females and young males have ten or more white stripes on their sides. Only males have horns, 24–33 in long and yellow-tipped. As an herbivore, the nyala feeds upon foliage, fruits and grasses, with sufficient fresh water. A shy animal, it prefers water holes rather than open spaces. (Wiki)

• • •
I quite enjoyed the theme! I thought it was cute and clever and was done in a neat way. For what it’s worth, in my world, the order here would’ve been changed a bit so that it’s the princess vanquishing the dragon and saving the prince locked away in the tower. Still, who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? 

The theme didn’t help me with the solve at all, but that didn’t detract from the puzzle for me in any way. The fill, however, did detract some from my enjoyment of the puzzle. I didn’t particularly enjoy the southeast corner, as pretty much all of that was just crosswordese (VIA, OTOE, SYNE, IN ON, AGEE). Also, I know my elands and goas and oribis and okapis, but I’ve never come across the word NYALA (52D) before. NYALA crossing ELLIE (66A: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” actress Kemper), who some people might not know, felt a bit mean. It took me forever to get OWN for 29D: Cable channel named for a talk show host — I figured it must be Oprah, but I just couldn’t think of what the acronym for the network would be (I sometimes forget that she even has a last name). That then crossing CN TOWER (39A), which I didn’t know, was a bit hard for me, as well. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard hipsters say I DIG (19D: Hipsters “gotcha”)? My dad tells me that hippies were known for saying that, but, well, he’s ooolllddd. 

All that being said, I do think the cute theme and otherwise nice puzzle trump any of those complaints. Plus, there were some nice downs — I liked LONGEVITY (35D: What the biblical Methuselah was known for) and WORLD MAPS (3D: Some classroom wall hangings), in particular. 

I don’t have much else to say other than that — I simply liked the puzzle!

  • All I could think of when I got to the revealer and saw “ever after” (63A) was the movie “Enchanted,” which I just rewatched with my family, and Carrie Underwood’s “Ever Ever After” that plays during the credits. What a great movie. (Ooh, and *spoiler alert,* it ends with the princess saving her one true love!)  
  • It took me forever to get RIME (15A: Frosty coating). The only thing I saw when I looked at the clue was something about frosting. I tried to come up with an answer related to icing. 
  • Okay, I hated, hated, hated 39A: The Golden State, familiarly. I’ve lived here most of my life. Trust me when I say that no one calls it CALI. Literally no one. That’s almost as bad as calling San Francisco “Frisco.” NorCal is fine. SoCal is fine. But never CALI.
Hope everyone gets off to a great start in the new year!

Signed, Clare Carroll, looking for a prince to save

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wile E. Coyote's supplier / MON 12-28-20 / UK medal accepted then returned by John Lennon in brief / Like Satan and some owls /

Monday, December 28, 2020

Constructor: Alan Massengill and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Medium (3 flat, I've had a drink)

 apex — themers are all vertical and their first words, i.e. the word at the uppermost part of the grid, all mean "uppermost":

Theme answers:
  • ACME CORPORATION (3D: Wile E. Coyote's supplier)
  • PEAK PERFORMANCE (5D: Athlete's goal in competition)
  • HEIGHT OF FASHION (9D: Absolute chicness)
  • TOP OF THE MORNING (11D: Quaint greeting)
Word of the Day: MBE (66D: U.K. medal accepted and then returned by John Lennon, in brief)
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of the order. [...] The five classes of appointment to the Order are, in descending order of precedence:
  1. GBE – Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire[b]
  2. KBE or DBE – Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  3. CBE – Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  4. OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  5. MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (wikipedia)

• • •

Like many recent puzzles, this one feels like it was made 25 years ago, but at least this one is solid, as 1995 puzzles go. ACME, PEAK, HEIGHT (metaphorically), TOP, yep, those all mean the same thing, and they all appear at the "top" or their answer, *and* they are all a grid-spanning 15 letters long. Simple, tight theme, elegantly expressed. The fill is ... well, it's from 1995. It's there. It's largely inoffensive. Don't look too hard. Just look at the theme. The theme is fine. 

This one took me in the neighborhood of ten seconds longer than usual, but I'm attributing those seconds to my Manhattan (delicious), because looking over this grid, I don't really see any places that I got significantly hung up. I had ACME but no idea what followed. I had no idea re: PEAK PERFORMANCE because it doesn't sound like what the clue suggests. "What's your goal in this competition, athlete?" "PEAK PERFORMANCE!" No, you want to win. Are you competing? Then you want to win. You want victory. PEAK PERFORMANCE, what kind of mumbo jumbo is that. You're trying to win or what are you even doing. HEIGHT OF FASHION I got off the "H," and TOP OF THE MORNING didn't take me that many crosses either (shouldn't it be "Top O' the morning"— I feel like past crosswords have insisted that that is the expression). Really thought having all the themers being 15s, and not struggling That much with any of them, would put me in a faster-than-average solving situation. But no. Had STAY before STUD (10A: Tuxedo shirt fastener) (You can tell I wear tuxedos a Lot). PDF before GIF (46A: Internet image file, familiarly). Honestly had no idea about WAX until I got all the crosses. Honeycomb stuff is honey. WAX? Sure, but come on—"stuff" should mean what the honeycomb contains, not what it's made of. Bah. The answer that took me longest, and was the last thing I filled in, was INTERACT (58A: Be sociable), perhaps because I haven't INTERACTed with anyone but my wife and cats for, oh, (looks at watch) 8 months. 

British Empire medal abbrevs. (today, MBE) are the absolute lowest form of fill (after plural suffixes), a staple of a bygone era when constructors desperately needed *any* three-letter answers they could get their hands on because they didn't have access to software to make their lives easier and thus make solvers' lives more pleasurable. Such abbrevs. really have no place in an easy puzzle any more. If you're in a real tight spot, OK, fine, but ... well, I see how you've got two themers running through that section, so maybe that counts as a "tight spot" (you've got the awful ACAB in the symmetrical section up top). Still, though, if you're a constructor, consider banishing UK medals from your wordlist, or (better) just making them fill of last resort. Goodbye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


First dynasty of imperial China / SUN 12-27-20 / Cocktail with rum curaçao fruit juice / Debut album for Etta James / Snapchatter's request / Small hole-drilling tool / Extinct flightless bird that once grew up to 12 feet / Workplace of the Cyclopes in Greek myth

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Constructor: Daniel Grinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium ? (untimed)

THEME: "Partnerships" — ___ AND ___ phrases, clued (punnily) as some kind of "partners":

Theme answers:
  • JUDGE AND JURY (Law partners)
  • PEACE AND QUIET (Silent partners)
  • PEN AND PAPER (Writing partners)
  • BREAKING AND ENTERING (Partners in crime)
  • BOOM AND BUST (Business partners)
  • HUGS AND KISSES (Romantic partners)
  • ROOM AND BOARD (110A: Domestic partners)
Word of the Day: GRENACHE (29D: Sweet red dessert wine) —
a widely cultivated sweet red grape used especially in wine makingalso a varietal wine made from this grape (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Hello, all. Can't spend long on this because I'm watching "Christmas in Connecticut" with friends in about an hour, and thank god, because I need something to gladden me after the dreariness of this puzzle. I remain baffled by how corny dull and dated the Sunday puzzle is, almost every week. Today, all the ... interest? cleverness? ... is in the clues. I guess you think of a bunch of types of "partners" (i.e. phrases that run "___ partners" or "partners in ___") and then you think of ___ AND ___ phrases that fall in the general category of whatever type of partners you're dealing with. So [Restaurant partners] could be SOUP AND SALAD or SALT AND PEPPER or HAM AND EGGS, [Dance partners] could be BUMP AND GRIND, etc. Yes, there is a coherent concept here, but the results are very tepid. Like dad jokes on simmer. And the fill is a real millstone; I can deal with a slightly ho-hum theme if there's lots of non-theme things to enjoy about the puzzle. But there aren't. The fill is frequently painful, with stuff like BIENNIA (?!) and SPECIE really stinking up the joint. QIN ISSO NTHS. ONO ONEG ROES. ADES + OGEES. Etc. IN REPAIR (?) and IN BETA :( ... It's no worse than your average Sunday, I guess, but the average Sunday is so much worse than it oughta be. This is the puzzle billing itself as the Best Puzzle in the World, and this is the marquee puzzle, the biggie, the one with the most cachet: the Sunday. And week after week, it's thud after thud. If I sound like a broken record, I'm just echoing the puzzle itself. It's stuck. Stuck. Stuck.

There's not really much to say about this. Things I didn't know: GRENACHE. I guess I don't really drink dessert wines, red or otherwise. I had YTD before QTR (41D: Fiscal year div.), which means I didn't really read the clue very closely. Wanted ATTENDANCE but got ATTENDEES (14D: Event organizer's count). Am never going to know allllll the Chinese dynasties. Thought the clue on AFAR was pretty bad (100A: How Phileas Fogg traveled). Love GIMLETs, but only the kind you drink (91D: Small hole-drilling tool). Best thing in the grid is GOON SQUAD (1D: Group of heavies). That's all. Maybe you have other things you'd like to talk about, but I SOURed ON this puzzle pretty early on, and nothing in the puzzle did much to change that. Will never understand why Sundays are such throwaway days. Seems a waste.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Creators of quipus / SAT 12-26-20 / Italian sculptor Lorenzo Bernini / Keogh alternative / No-nos at racetrack

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Medium (untimed)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: NEC (62A: Major chip maker) —

NEC Corporation (日本電気株式会社Nippon Denki Kabushiki-gaisha) is a Japanese multinational information technology and electronics company, headquartered in Minato, Tokyo. The company was known as the Nippon Electric Company, Limited, before rebranding in 1983 as NEC. It provides IT and network solutions, including cloud computingAIIoT platform, and 5G network products, to business enterprises, communications services providers and to government agencies, and has also been the biggest PC vendor in Japan since the 1980s, when it launched the PC-8000 series.

NEC was the world's fourth largest PC manufacturer by 1990. Its semiconductors business unit was the world's largest semiconductor company by annual revenue from 1985 to 1992, the second largest in 1995, one of the top three in 2000, and one of the top 10 in 2006. NEC spun off its semiconductor business to Renesas Electronics and Elpida Memory. Once Japan's major electronics company, NEC has largely withdrawn from manufacturing since the beginning of the 21st century.

NEC was #463 on the 2017 Fortune 500 list. NEC is a member of the Sumitomo Group. (wikipedia)

• • •

Happy Boxing Day. This one was DRAB. There's not a single answer here that I was really excited to see. Maybe people think SELF-DRIVING CAR is pretty showy, but my feelings about cars in general, and these pedestrian-maiming data-collecting Matrix-serving cars in particular, are pretty negative, so no joy there. From tech bros to sports bros (LEFT TACKLE crossing AIKMAN) to poker bros (CARD SHARKS*), to political bros (ELDER STATESMAN), this puzzle bros its way through brosville. There's just one woman mentioned in the whole puzzle (also the puzzle's lone Black person) (22A: Singer India.___), and she's only there because she's crosswordese, i.e. short answer, favorable letters. You do get ANN, but the clue makes that a city name part, not a woman (42A: One "A" in the Michigan nickname). Please don't ask me to count DAMSEL, since that word evokes only distress. Compare this puzzle with yesterday's, and (I hope) you really see a difference in vision. Not only did yesterday's have more plain-old winners, but it deliberately included All Kinds of stuff, All Kinds of people. You could really feel the conscious inclusivity. This one, on the other hand, feels like not much thought was given to diversifying the fill or the cluing. Very traditional, in the sense that puzzles "traditionally" oriented themselves to an older, white audience. There's nothing terrible about this puzzle. It just has no sizzle and feels like it belongs to a bygone (more exclusionary) era. I think SPARKS was probably my favorite thing in the puzzle, mostly because I got a little jolt (!) of Aha. Nothing else in the puzzle gave me much of a jolt.

Found the west much easier than the east, mainly because the clue on SELF-DRIVING CAR is so contrived (10D: Something for which a dealer might tell customers "Hands off!"). It's trying so hard to be clever and misdirective that it ends up creating a completely implausible scenario on a literal level. Imagine any salesperson shouting "Hands off!" at customers. It's too harshly admonitory and too infantilizing to be realistic. The clue needed a "?" because it's doing a wordplay thing that distorts the literal plausibility of the clue too much. Again, if you're gonna get winky and clever with your clues, They Must Land. Bah. Anyway, the first time I felt stuck was here:

The NE was the real problem. Just after I took this screenshot, I looked at the clue for LEFT TACKLE and got it instantly (52A: Protector of a quarterback's blind side, often), so despite my having almost completely forgotten that Troy AIKMAN once existed, I managed to piece that corner together. But even with -INGCAR at the end of 10D, I couldn't understand what the clue wanted. So the NE looked bad for a little bit. It's possible I would've gotten DO-OVERS (not DOES OVER) eventually (36A: Retries; a noun!), and even possible that PICOT would've leapt into my brain (32A: Embroidery loop), but what weirdly saved me up there, what did actually leap into my head after I thought about it for two or three seconds, was POLAR ICE (11D: Cap material). Brain just rolodexed through cap types, hit ice cap, and bam, with just the "O" in place: POLAR ICE. And then all of a sudden, seemingly in a flash, a daunting, wide-open empty space was filled and the puzzle was done. Wish I'd liked it more. 

Any tricky stuff that needs explaining? FAUX AMIS means "false friends," in case that was unclear (57A: Words in a foreign language that bear a deceptive resemblance to those in another, like the French "décevoir" ("disappoint") and the English "deceive"). I know the term "false cognates," but if I ever knew FAUX AMIS, I forgot it. Alas and alack. There are two "N"s in "pennies," so that's what that clue is about (56D: Couple of pennies? = ENS). I don't like it either, but it's an unfortunately common little gimmick for cluing double letters (ENS EMS PEES etc.). I think that's it. Enjoy your day. Good luck with all your boxing!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*I'm well aware that women *can* be CARD SHARKS, but every single one I've ever seen on screen or anywhere has been a dude, and the card-playing word is an absolute sausagefest so please don't "well, actually" me on this one, thx. Well, actually, you can "well, actually" me on this one, but only if it's to say, "well, actually, the term is CARD SHARPS"

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sorting header in music app / FRI 12-25-20 / Fictional hero whose name is Spanish for fox / Supreme Egyptian god / Popular fantasy film franchise for short / Fishing gear left underwater / Toy associated with France

Friday, December 25, 2020

Constructor: Erik Agard and Wendy L. Brandes

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (5:25)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Madame NOIRE (57A: madame ___ (online lifestyle magazine)) —

MadameNoire is an international online magazine that is geared toward the lifestyles of African American women as well as popular culture.

In 2015, MadameNoire had 7,116,000 unique visitors monthly, making it the most trafficked site oriented to African Americans--ahead of The RootBET.com, and Bossip.com. (wikipedia)

• • •

A very Friday Friday. Friday done right. A bouncy, easyish themeless, with interesting longer answers and mostly decent fill and some clever cluing. If I get this on Friday, I'm good. There were maybe a few more brief frowny moments than I expected from constructors of this caliber. AMEN RA and EELPOT are, of course, actual things, but they're the kind of old-school crosswordese I usually only see these days in grids that are struggling for one reason or another to keep their heads above water. The EELPOT section is actually conspicuous for how glutted it is with "E"s and "R"s. On my printed-out grid, I've drawn a boomerang shape with green pen encompassing I'M FREE over REFEREE and then turning south to pick up EELPOT and EERIE. I'd throw ÉTÉS in there too, as it is plural foreign crossordese abutting boomerang in question. That SW section isn't bad, it just has ... a little wobble. Not as tight as it might be, esp. in a highish-word-count themeless grid. I have trouble with GALOSH in the singular, although I guess if they come in pairs, there must be a singular, technically. Still, you hear "sock" and "shoe" but GALOSH ... not so much. But honestly, I don't hear the plural that much either. That's pretty much it for dings, and none of the dings really mitigated my overall enjoyment all that much. In the end, NOT BAD AT ALL.

As often happens, my experience with 1-Across set the tone for the whole puzzle. Today, got it right away, or, rather, thought I had it, and then tested the crosses to make sure. So RABBI AMEN RA BONE-IN (nice) and off I went. Got CZAR off the "R" and guessed the correct spelling because the rule is: actual former Russian leader = TSAR, honcho of some sort = CZAR. Use this rule for first guesses, with the understanding that the rule is not actually a rule, more a guideline (but a pretty reliable one). Struggled with both of the four-letter movie franchises in the middle of the grid, LOTR (i.e. "Lord of the Rings") because I just didn't have enough to go on (28D: Popular fantasy film franchise, for short), and HULK because I got GRETA THUNBERG confused (I think) with American movie producer Irving THALBERG, which gave me HA-K for 32D: "The Avengers" role, which made me think maybe someone named ... HAWK? ... was in "The Avengers." Hawkman is a superhero, but he's DC. Oh, yeah, I didn't have the "L" for HULK because 38A: Command after a crash (RELOAD) was not all clear to me. I have never had occasion to use said command. Reboot restart helpme ... but not RELOAD. Slowed me down considerably, that little snarl-up, but it was all ultimately very sortoutable. "Rent-to-own" is a familiar phrase to me, LEASE-TO-OWN isn't, but it wasn't hard to figure out the gist of that one. No idea about Madame NOIRE. Seems like the "most trafficked site oriented to African-Americans" might be worth knowing. And now I know. 

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lover of Giorgetta in Puccini's Il Tabarro / THU 12-24-20 / What benchwarmers ride with the / High-quality French vineyard / Poker slang for three of a kind / Tract of low-growing vegetation

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Constructor: Billy Ouska

Relative difficulty: Medium (untimed)

THEME: CAN'T FIND THE TIME (52A: Is unable to get away, say ... or a hint to 17-, 24- and 40-Across?) — familiar phrases with "TIME" in them have "TIME" pulled out of them, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily (i.e. "?"-style):

Theme answers:
  • LET THE GOODS ROLL (17A: Spill a shipment of bowling balls?)
  • WAITS FOR NO ONE (24A: Works during a slow day at the restaurant?)
  • TAKE ONE'S SWEET (40A: Go on a date with a honeybun?)
Word of the Day: "Il Tabarro" (56A: French setting for Puccini's "Il Tabarro") —
Il tabarro (The Cloak) is an opera in one act by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami, based on Didier Gold [nl]'s play La houppelande. It is the first of the trio of operas known as Il trittico. The first performance was given on 14 December 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. (wikipedia) 
The scene is Michele's barge on the Seine, in a corner of Paris. Giorgetta, Michele's young wife, is in love with Luigi, a longshoreman hired by her husband during the loading of the barge. Michele, by mere accident, guesses the truth. Having overheard his wife giving a rendezvous to Luigi by night, Michele waits for the man, surprises him as he jumps on the barge, seizes him by the neck, compels him to admit he is his wife's lover and strangles him. Then he hides the body under his cloak, and when Giorgetta, in mortal fear, comes on deck and asks Michele if he does not wish her to come and rest near him under his cloak—for, according to the text, “every man carries a cloak, hiding sometimes a great joy, sometimes a terrible sorrow”—her wronged husband throws it open and Giorgetta utters a shriek of horror as her lover's body rolls at her feet. (opera.stanford.edu
• • •

Not for me at all. This is the kind of theme where the wackiness really has to land perfectly, and this one only does that once (WAITS FOR NO ONE, that's good). And with only two other examples of the theme, there's no way to recover. It's an OK concept, but the execution was a let-down. The grid overall was pretty dull, and the cluing was just my bad luck, i.e. nothing that seemed very interesting to me, and a lot that didn't. I do want to single out the clue on HAT TRICK as particularly good (4D: Series of goals). A HAT TRICK is when you score three goals in a game (typically in hockey ... at least that's the context in which I've heard the term). But the clue is worded in such a way that makes you think of tasks or life goals, so when I couldn't make BUCKET LIST fit, I was stumped. Always nice to be mad at a clue only to have it turn out to be clever in an undeniable way. But most of this grid is just filler. Short dull stuff. Hard even to find a suitable Word of the Day today. AMBER / ALERTS was way too grim for me, to be honest. Something about the playfulness of the whole split-answer thing ([With 5-Down, etc.]) is really really really at odds with the answer itself. If you clued AMBER as [___ Alerts] or ALERTS as [Amber ___] I would wonder why, why in the world you were dragging child abduction into the grid for absolutely no reason. And in a grid with PREDATOR? Yeesh. 

Some of the clues just seemed obnoxious to me. The one on BRIDES, for instance (23D: There are more of these in the U.S. in October than any other month, surprisingly). First, ugh, trivia. Second, what's "surprising" is that "October" gives you absolutely zero information. I was expecting something ironic due to the Octoberness of it all. That wouldn't made sense, just as it would've made sense if the clue had actually included "not June"—then yes, that would've been surprising, and there would've been *some* hint (but not too obvious a hint) as to what the clue was getting at. You need the "surprising" part, the part that touches the point of it all, in the clue. Without "not June," this clue flops. I am terrible at [Word with X or Y]-type clues. Just awful. Today, no different. SLIDE?? LOL sure. Couldn't think of a single word that would go with "tackle," but SLIDE, sure, soccer, OK. I honestly thought SLIDE rule here referred to the rule in baseball about what defines a legal slide (nothing that could seriously harm a fielder, essentially). But of course a SLIDE rule is a ye olden measurement thing I've actually never seen. Like an abacus, as I understand it.

One last thing re: yesterday's puzzle. I have heard from a couple people that the DQS clue (26A: Blizzards are produced in them, familiarly) was OK because the theme was "weather." I cannot stress enough how wrong this is. The point is, you can't have an initial in your answer that stands for a word that appears elsewhere in the grid, and you *especially* can't do that when the initial *crosses* said word (as DQS, meaning Dairy QUEENs, was crossing QUEEN yesterday). The weatherness of the DQS clue is totally beside the point. First of all, DQS wasn't a themer. Second, sure, you can weather up all the non-theme clues you like in your weather puzzle, go to town, but you can't dupe a word like that. Cannot. I'm not making this up. I've seen editors scrub far less obvious dupes than this one. If they are careful, they pay close attention to these things. The idea that "Q" can't both stand for "queen" and *cross* QUEEN, that is not some random opinion. Here's a random opinion: poker clues suck (see 39A: Poker slang for three of a kind = TRIPS). That one's all mine. Precisely zero editors are gonna care about that opinion. But the duping thing, that's careless / bad editing. If you watched the solving video, you saw how fast Rachel reacted to the DQS / QUEEN crossing. No hesitation. Because everyone who works in the world of crosswords knows you can't do that. The fact that the theme was weather-related couldn't be less relevant. Doesn't justify the dupe at all. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Merry Christmas Eve.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lawless figure with legendary fighting skills / WED 12-23-20 / Blizzards are produced in them familiarly / Overindulger of the grape / Locale of 1974's Rumble in the Jungle / Roebuck's onetime partner / Enemy of Antony in ancient Rome

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Constructor: Juliana Tringali Golden

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (?????) (I co-solved on Zoom ten minutes after waking up so I have no idea)

THEME: WEATHER BALLOONS (40A: Carriers of meteorological instruments ... as suggested by this puzzle's theme) — types of WEATHER are rebused inside four little BALLOONS (or circles):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: SENNA (34D: Ingredient in some medicinal teas) —
1any of a genus (Cassia synonym Senna) of leguminous herbs, shrubs, and trees native to warm regions CASSIAsense 2especially one used medicinally
2the dried leaflets or pods of various sennas (especially Cassia angustifolia synonym Senna alexandrina) used as a purgative (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Good morning. It's getting late so I'm just gonna sketch the highlights and then refer you to the VIDEO SOLVE I did just now (sooooo early in the morning) with my friend and fellow crossword blogger (and fellow Central New Yorker) Rachel Fabi. I'll post the video at the end of the write-up. Aw, heck, I'll just post it here:

My main thoughts were that the theme was cute and well executed but the fill could've used some cleaning up. Weird (though not unheard of) to see a rebus on a Wednesday, but in this case the rebus squares are clearly flagged by the circles, which have been integrated into the theme *as circles*. Usually circles don't have any intrinsic value, puzzlewise; they just indicate letters that we are meant to notice for some reason. But here, the actual circle itself becomes part of the theme: clever. WEATHER BALLOONS is a perfect revealer and a perfect grid-spanner and so conceptually, this works. The one issue I have with the theme (and I didn't mention this in the video) is that with an embedded word (like the weather words today), the elegant thing to do is have that word touching both elements in the theme answer, the way RAIN, for instances, touches both EXTRA (RA-) and INNINGS (-IN). You break the word across the two elements of the theme answer. Today, that happened only once. Hiding WIND inside WINDOW ... meh. Not hard. There should be a reason you've hidden these inside flashy longer themers instead of just any old place on the grid. But here, LAUNCH and TEAR and BREAD are just hanging out with nothing to do—not touching the "weather" at all. Part of what makes themers in puzzles like this special is that the hidden word is hidden in this particular way, touching all the answer elements. To have one themer do this and the other three ... not ... makes this seem less polished, less carefully made. 

Fillwise, the puzzle is actually pretty rough, but there are some reasons for that, most notably that the theme is pretty dense and puts pretty severe restrictions on the grid. You have the five themers plus the rebus element, which means the crosses of those rebus squares are all fixed parts of the theme as well. I still think the fill should've been a lot smoother, but it's definitely passable. The one huge no-no is the fault of the editor (yet again). You can't (canNOT) cross DQS and QUEEN at the "Q" if you are going to clue DQS as "Dairy Queens" plural. You can't even have DQS and QUEEN in the same puzzle if that is how you're going to clue DQS. That is a dupe. A duplication. An editing mistake. Incredibly shoddy. DQS can be an abbr. for "disqualifications," esp. in sports, so either a different clue should've been used for DQS or that whole section should've been redone. Again, you absolutely cannot have "Q" meaning "queen" in an answer and then have the actual word QUEEN as an entirely different answer, and you *especially* can't do this if the answers cross at the "Q" LOL who's steering the ship over there!? Somebody mutiny, please!

Today's constructor, Juliana Tringali Golden, is an editor at the The Inkubator Crossword, a 3x/month independent crossword made entirely by women ("cis women, trans women, and women-allied constructors"). You can subscribe here!

OK, bye. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. looks like some things need extra explaining: ANAG is short for ANAGram, yes, awful. And EGOT = all the awards (Emmy Grammy Oscar Tony). Thank you, bye again!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP