Wild cards in baseball poker / SAT 1-16-21 / Lead-in to some water-dwelling folk / Visibly dizzy quaintly / Savory snack in England / Disassociate as with a Bluetooth device / River that begins in the Adirondacks / Compound featured in latex / Historic town NW of London where some of the Harry Potter series was filmed / Actor profiled in the biography The Immortal Count

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day:
"SAW V" (34A: 2008 horror film sequel) —
Saw V is a 2008 horror film directed by David Hackl (in his feature directorial debut) from a screenplay by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. It is the fifth installment in the Saw film series. The film stars Tobin BellCostas MandylorScott PattersonBetsy RussellMark RolstonJulie BenzCarlo Rota, and Meagan Good. The plot follows FBI Agent Peter Strahm, who pursues Detective Mark Hoffman after discovering his identity as one of the Jigsaw Killer's apprentices and successor, while Hoffman begins designing his own Jigsaw "games" to test people and tries to frame Strahm to keep his identity secret. The film also explores Hoffman's backstory and explains how he became Jigsaw's apprentice, while continuing several story lines started in Saw IV. [...] The film received generally negative reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 13% based on 76 reviews, with a weighted average of 2.92/10. The site's consensus states "If its plot were as interesting as its torture devices, or its violence less painful than its performances, perhaps Saw V might not feel like it was running on fumes."  Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 20 out of 100, based on 13 reviews. (wikipedia)
• • •

Started this with seven correct guesses in a row: CUTEST APRS LAPUP SPA GAGS GARETH ASIT. Only hesitation there, ironically, was GARETH (ironic because I teach Arthurian literature—had the GA- and thought "GALAH- ... no, GAWAI- ... no. What the ...? Oh, right, GARETH. Deep cut!") (GARETH is one of Gawain's four brothers, killed by his childhood idol Lancelot during the latter's bizarrely heedless rescue of Guinevere near the end of Le Morte D'Arthur). The puzzle opened so easily, I was kind of surprised. Gave me the front end of MERRIAM-WEBSTER (easy), and parts of the front ends of all the top Acrosses. I was having an OK time until I was asked to piece together a hybrid instrument I did not know existed until (checks watch) today. Just now. GUITARLELE is ... and I'm sorry if you're an aficionado ... the dumbest-sounding thing I've ever heard of. Literally awful coming out of your mouth. The sounds don't flow right. The ukulele is already like a mini-guitar, what are you even doing? (I know, string count, whatever.) It just looks so dumb in print. It is not great from a solving standpoint when the letters you have to piece together from crosses are "-LELE." Was that supposed to produce joy? Well, I hope it worked on you. This answer was lethally crossed by LETHALLY, which has the dumbest clue ever written: 3D: Bad way to be poisoned. Me: "... all of the ways?" What are the good ways to be poisoned? So GUITARLELE with that LETHALLY clue chaser, oof. Trying way too hard to be novel in the first place, and then ... was that LETHALLY clue trying to be funny? I don't know. It all just kind of stank. I slowed down in that part of the puzzle, but only from disgust, not from true difficulty.

Also very let down by OBAMA SUPPORTER. The SUPPORTER part, actually, It was easy to get, but it was also so weak-seeming. I got OBAMA and thought, "well, that can't just be SUPPORTER, because then really you could put any politician's name in the grid and follow it with SUPPORTER." So even though SUPPORTER was the first thing that sprang to mind, I didn't write it in. This led to my only (short-lived) experience of being stuck in this puzzle: could not get either M--ON or --DE from their clues. I figured I'd get one of those, and then I'd know if SUPPORTER were right. But neither made any sense to me. So I just abandoned that area and went back to the west and got going again over there. Flew down and around the south, with only CORNISH PASTY holding me up at all (and only because the clue was vague). Finished at perhaps the most disappointing square in the grid: the EASTON (?) / BUSHEY (???) crossing. Two inconsequential place names, crossing each other, fantastic. Luckily I've heard of EASTON. BUSHEY ... is just an excuse for you to gratuitously wedge a Harry Potter clue in here? Why? Why would you do that? If *that* is BUSHEY's claim to "fame," maybe it isn't ... famous? Enough? By the way if you want a good EASTON clue, try ["Morning Train (9 to 5)" singer Sheena ___]. Oh ... wow, I just found out that Sheena EASTON was (hold on to your tams) NÉE ORR. That's some prime crossword DNA. She deserves to be the only EASTON clue. I am now a SHEENA SUPPORTER (where EASTON clues are concerned).

The answers up top are delightful, and I especially enjoyed the clue on MUSEUM EXHIBIT (13A: Remains to be seen, say). TIDEPOD weirdly dates the puzzle (well, the clue does, anyway) (11D: It was once a challenge to eat). UNPAIR is a word that I hate (so ugly) but love (so current and in-the-language). Gratuitous poker reference on my favorite number (NINES) was deeply unwelcome (46D: Wild cards in "baseball" poker). It was all over pretty fast. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Fruits that are the basis of Marillenschnaps / FRI 1-15-21 / Fashion designer's portfolio / Ferrari alternative slangily / Percussion in some folk music that may be improvised / Model Boyd who inspired songs Layla Wonderful Tonight / Topic in property law colloquially / Bottom of an interrobang

Friday, January 15, 2021

Constructor: Josh Knapp

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium ("Medium" only because I had some trouble getting those central Acrosses)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EGO DEATH (48A: Complete loss of self-identity) —

Ego death is a "complete loss of subjective self-identity". The term is used in various intertwined contexts, with related meanings. In Jungian psychology, the synonymous term psychic death is used, which refers to a fundamental transformation of the psyche. In death and rebirth mythology, ego death is a phase of self-surrender and transition, as described by Joseph Campbell in his research on the mythology of the Hero's Journey.It is a recurrent theme in world mythology and is also used as a metaphor in some strands of contemporary western thinking.

In descriptions of psychedelic experiences, the term is used synonymously with ego-loss to refer to (temporary) loss of one's sense of self due to the use of psychedelics. The term was used as such by Timothy Leary et al. to describe the death of the ego in the first phase of an LSD trip, in which a "complete transcendence" of the self occurs. The concept is also used in contemporary spirituality and in the modern understanding of Eastern religions to describe a permanent loss of "attachment to a separate sense of self" and self-centeredness. This conception is an influential part of Eckhart Tolle's teachings, where Ego is presented as an accumulation of thoughts and emotions, continuously identified with, which creates the idea and feeling of being a separate entity from one's self, and only by disidentifying one's consciousness from it can one truly be free from suffering (in the Buddhist meaning). (wikipedia)

• • •

This one got better as I went along, and there were a few genuinely good surprises along the way. It was also mostly easy, with the only thing putting the brakes on my solve being the structure of the grid, i.e. how sequestered the NW corner is. I finished up in the NW fairly quickly, but there's just that little exit at the bottom of that corner, and STO- and ST- were no help to me in getting those first two long Acrosses. Thought STO- was gonna be STOOD ... OUT ... somehow. No idea what ST- could be. First passes at the adjacent short Downs (LAMBO, FERAL) yielded nothing, so I had to jump down to the SW and reboot. Luckily, this wasn't hard. FABLE FORGOT POLO POEMS. Swung around to the middle of the grid and got RIGHTS ... but had no idea what kind of RIGHTS (7D: Topic in property law, colloquially). This was now the second time I was thwarted by the center of the grid. No help, stalled progress. So I took hacks at the shorter Downs in the middle. Got MOSHE and (despite its tricky clue) SHIFTS (27D: Uses a manual, say), and the adjacent "FH" there was on its own enough for me to be able to see MAIDS OF HONOR. Things sped up from there. Once middle came into view, SQUATTERS was easy, and the "Q" made "QUEER EYE" easy (actually, that would've been a gimme without the "Q") (16A: Hit Netflix reboot starring the Fab Five), so the NE didn't put up much of a fight. Finished in the SE, which was the easiest section by far. It's just as sequestered as the NW corner (what w/ grid symmetry and all), but having the first letters on the long Downs *really* helped. Got LOOKBOOK off just the "LO" (34D: Fashion designer's portfolio) and RESORTS off the "R," then all the short Acrosses, one after the other, then JEAN and MCS and done. Finished that corner so FAST I surprised myself. So overall, more easy than hard, but the middle of the grid gave me enough trouble to keep it from being too much of a walk in the park. 

Once again, I tripped right out of the starting gate. Went with UMPIRE / ROOD instead of BATBOY / ONUS. And I thought I was so cute getting ROOD so easily, ugh (5D: Cross to bear). This is the kind of error you make when you teach Old English poetry (see "The Dream of the Rood"). Luckily YEP got me out of that error pretty quickly. Forgot Julie BOWEN's last name, so that was the toughest thing up there by far. In fact, as is fairly typical, it's the proper nouns that provided the most significant barriers along the way. For me, today, BOWEN and LAMBO (30D: Ferrari alternative, slangily) and TYRONE (13D: County in Northern Ireland) were the ones that took a lot of hacking to get at. I forgot that anyone called a Lamborghini ... that. And the only TYRONE I know is Power. But at least it was it was a recognizable (presumably Irish) name. The only answer to make me screw up my face resistantly was SPOONS (31D: Percussion in some folk music that may be improvised). This is one of those clues that takes me farther from the actual answer the more it goes on. Can't any instrument be "improvised"? SPOONS aren't part of any "folk music" I've listened to, but ... yeah they are a percussion instrument. Just couldn't get there from the clue. 

The grid overall is remarkably solid. Really enjoyed seeing THE ROBOT, EGO DEATH, and SQUATTERS' RIGHTS. Nothing particularly tricky in the cluing today. Smiled when I got USED CARS (18A: There's a lot of them for sale). Just a nice-lookin' puzzle, honestly.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Mythical being old-style / THU 1-14-21 / Common impeachment charge / House member with 11+ million Twitter followers informally / Ancient unit of length

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Constructor: Aimee Lucido and Ella Dershowitz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (all of the "Challenging" part came from the theme squares ... which is also where much of the "Easy" came from ... it was a ride)

THEME: SPIN THE BOTTLE — the letters B, O, T, T, L, E appear clockwise in the grid, twice, inside the circled squares; in one position, the letters work for the Downs; in another position (rotated 180 degrees), the letters work for the Acrosses, i.e. you have to start BOTTLE at the top to get the Downs right, and you have to start it at the bottom to get the Acrosses. This means you have double-occupied circled squares, with the one that works for the Across making a plausible-looking (but wrong) ghost answer in the Down, and vice versa, each time. It's a lot:

Theme answers, starting from the top and going clockwise:
  • GATOR / LUBES (with GABOR / LUTES as ghost answers)
  • BLAST / CAMEO (with BOAST / CAMEL as ghost answers)
  • SEEPS / TATER (with EATER / STEPS as ghost answers)
  • CUBIT / LITRE (with CUT IT / LIBRE as ghost answers)
  • DROOL / LASES (with DROLL / OASES as ghost answers)
Word of the Day: ABOUTNESS (23D: Relevance of text, in librarian's lingo) —
The subject of a work contained in a resource, which is translated into controlled subject languages (e.g., classification schemes, subject headings lists); includes topical aspects and also genre and form. (librarianshipstudies.com)
• • •

I adore this idea, and I think it's impressively ambitious in its execution, but it's also a bit of a mess. Expressing "spinning" is hard, and as you can see by my theme description, this puzzle's version of "spinning" isn't easy to describe succinctly, though it's pretty straightforward in the end. BOTTLE works for Acrosses in one configuration, but you've got to "spin" it 180 degrees for it to work for the Downs. And yet you need both letters in the square, which creates chaos, though the chaos comes mainly while solving. I got SPIN THE BOTTLE pretty early, and figured out the spin concept as well, but I never saw exactly how much the BOTTLE had "spun" until I was done with the puzzle. I got the first BOTTLE configuration OK (with the "B" at the top), but as I was solving, I just couldn't get a handle on where the next BOTTLE sequence stopped and finished, or even if it was going in the same direction. So every single BOTTLE square was, in practice, uncrossed, i.e. I didn't have the aid of a crossing letter (which is kind of the heart and soul of cross-words), since the crossing letter was always different. I like that the "wrong" answers also make plausible crossword answers, although it doesn't add much to the puzzle, since a. you can tell the wrong answers are wrong, i.e. they're not fooling anyone, and b. because you have to put two letters in the square, you still have a gibberish-y looking grid. So it's like the elegance of having the "wrong" answers be plausible answers is kind of lost in madness. I appreciate it on an architectural level, but I'm not sure if it was necessary. Still, why not? I don't know if solvers are going to notice / appreciate it, but careful attention to detail is never bad, even if no one sees it. So, HOORAY for this theme even if actually solving (and describing!) it turned out to be a bit of a chore. 

I am friends with many librarians and love them as a rule, but ABOUTNESS feels pretty, uh, niche-y. I don't dislike it, but the wikipedia page for it is so useless, so poorly written, that I had to look elsewhere for a solid definition related specifically to librarianness. This is why it seems pretty niche-y to me—having to go to a specialist website for a clearish definition. It's almost certainly the least heard-of thing in the grid (the only unheard-of thing, for me). It was ultimately inferrable, though ... as with the theme, my instinct is to love it, but I'm also kind of making a questioning face at it. Because it's very gettable, I think I'm pro. Certainly better than the average dreariness you might have had in its stead. Still, someone should clean up that wikipedia page.

The NW (i.e. the start) was my main trouble spot once again, as AWOL had no military indication in the clue (not faulting the clue, just explaining why AWOL didn't occur to me) (1A: Missing), and the clue on ASIA looked very specific but wasn't (17A: Home of Baikal, the world's deepest lake) (ASIA is big!), and that clue on LEAS(E) involved a massive direction using a word ("letter") that is both valid and never used by anyone in actual speech (4D: What a letter needs). What's the difference between a "letter" and a "lessor"??? Aha, turns out, zero. Zero is the difference. Car ads use "lessor" ... sigh, "letter," frowny face. Had STAS before STNS (60D: Listings on a train sched.), which is really the most awful kind of "mistake" you can make—a junky little piece of crosswordese, and you trip on it? Bah. I call my cat Olive "OLIVIA," so I like that answer (she has a tendency to DROOL (51A: Have a Pavlovian response), so more cat relevance there). I liked LOSE FACE and the "FAERIE Queene" spelling of FAERIE (22A: Mythical being, old-style). The grid is quite solid, especially given all the theme shenanigans. I did not have a bad time! Happy Thursday!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. please enjoy this Fire Safety Crossword Puzzle, sent to me by one of my readers. By "enjoy," I mean ... I don't know what I mean. I mostly just marvel at the construction and then imagine horribly wrong answers:

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Flavorers in Italian cookery / WED 1-13-21 / Oof, that was bad / Leader in a kaffiyeh / Make an effort to get swole

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Constructor: Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed)

THEME: NBA movies — movies clued as if they had something to do with NBA players:

Theme answers:
  • "THE KING'S SPEECH" (20A: Address by a Sacramento N.B.A. player?)
  • "THE PELICAN BRIEF" (35A: Game notes for a New Orleans N.B.A. player?)
  • "THE GREEN HORNET" (46A: Charlotte N.B.A. player in charge of recycling?)
Word of the Day: RPGS (49D: Dungeons & Dragons and others, for short) —
role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game; abbreviated RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one feels pretty thin. Not sure what the NBA has to do with movies, but weirder combos have been the basis of puzzles, so fine, let's accept the premise. Still, several problems. Mostly, it's just dull. These aren't terribly funny clues or interesting movie titles, and "THE GREEN HORNET" isn't even best known as a movie (it became well known as a radio show, running for 15+ years, and then spawned a series of movies none of you have seen, as well as an iconic if short-lived TV show, which some of you undoubtedly have seen). The 2011 movie did big business, but it has like zero cultural shelf life. It seems out of place here on many levels. Further, seems really weird to put this theme in a 15x15 with just three answers. If you (I) can instantly think of a better movie and better answer than any of the ones in the grid ("RAGING BULL"), then maybe the theme isn't being expressed ... as well as it might. You really couldn't do anything with SUN? ROCKET? WARRIOR? I mean ... "UNCLE BUCK"? No? The theme ends up feeling anemic and lackluster and just ... not ready for prime time. Doesn't help that it's totally outshone by the long Downs (specifically HIT THE WEIGHTS and CUTE AS A BUTTON). 

ERBE, oof (48D: Flavorers in Italian cookery). That is ... something. I have no idea why ERBE > ERSE here. I'm no ERSE fan, but it's recognizable at least. Why would you try to get cute with the worst little bit of fill in the grid? Just accept that it's bad, keep its badness commonplace, and move on. But ERBE? YEESH. Nothing else in the grid is particularly IRKsome. Only trouble I had was totally self-inflicted. Wanted EXPO at 1A: Fair (JUST), and then when that was clearly wrong ... I don't know, I got turned around. Put in JEST at 1D: Not be serious and then crossed it with JAKE (doesn't JAKE mean "Fair," as in "on the level"? ... looks like it means "all right," "fine"). Anyway, once I had JAKE in there, my brain weirdly switched to thinking the 1D clue was the 1A clue, and so I ended up crossing JEST with ... JEST :( Wasn't til I reviewed the grid that I saw ETAH sitting there and thought, "well that can't be right" (2D: Home of the Anasazi State Park Museum) (UTAH). That's all. There's definitely a theme *concept* here, but the expression is ... a little wide of the mark.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. here's an interesting little article at merriam-webster.com on the meaning of "swole" (18D: Make an effort to get swole), which I expect to see more and more as a five-letter answer in the coming years

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Hard deposit in a bladder / TUE 1-12-21 / Maisie Williams's role on Game of Thrones / Ocean dweller so named for its roundish silvery body

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (it's oversized, 16x15) (4:00)

THEME: THIS TOO SHALL PASS (37A: Adage on the impermanence of suffering  ... or a hint to 18-, 29-, 46- and 61-Across) — things that pass

Theme answers:
  • KIDNEY STONE (18A: Hard deposit in a bladder)
  • BIPARTISAN BILL (LOL, ok) (29A: Legislation often resulting from compromise)
  • PRO QUARTERBACK (46A: N.F.L. signal caller)
  • BRIEF MOMENT (61A: Jiffy)
Word of the Day: MOONFISH (8D: Ocean dweller so named for its roundish, silvery body) —
n. pl. moonfish or moon·fish·es
1. Any of several carangid fishes chiefly of the genus Selene, found in warm coastal waters of North and South America and having a short silvery compressed body.
2. See opah. (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

I am, in fact, going to pass. MILDEWY is an OK kind of icky, though the clue was ickier (and much vaguer) than it needed to be (1A: Fungus-filled, maybe). But it was really KIDNEY STONE that killed the vibe for me, very early on. I have been fortunate enough not to have a KIDNEY STONE yet, but as I understand it, they are (or can be) extremely painful. And then you go and make a punny little joke out of it with your revealer? I dunno. I don't get the impulse to te(e)hee at people's pain like this. I will admit that my tolerance for "laugh at people's pain" is probably at an all-time low this week (i.e. the first week post-violent white supremacist assault on the Capitol). I know, it *seems* totally unrelated to laughing at kidney stones, but trolls laugh at pain, and all those ****ers with their stupid body armor and their zip-tie handcuffs, who were literally planning to murder Nancy Pelosi and hang Mike Pence, well, you saw the smiles. So much smiling while murdering police officers. So happy. So laughing at suffering is low on my list of things to do right now. And speaking of politics, that second themer is a laugher. Since when does any legislation get "passed" anymore, particularly a (genuinely) BIPARTISAN BILL? "Compromise?" What kind of nostalgic "West Wing"-addled Washington, D.C. fanfiction is this? Currently, one part of the "BI-" in "bipartisan" claims the presidential election was invalid (based on literally zero evidence) and actively supports white native terrorism—so BIPARTISAN BILL, ha. Further, the PRO in PRO QUARTERBACK is an unnecessary tack-on, i.e. it's only here to make the symmetry work out. Quarterbacks at any level pass. Nothing special about a pro in that regard (come to think of it, nothing special about the BIPARTISAN part of BIPARTISAN BILL, either—no necessary connection to the "passing").  BRIEF MOMENT ... yeah, OK. I think that where the theme is concerned, KIDNEY STONE is actually the *best* of these answers, but it's also the worst, for reasons I've already covered. 

I had EPALA- and didn't carefully read the clue (11D: Govt. testing site for air and water quality), and so the only answer that seemed plausible was EPA LAW, which resulted in BIPARTISAN WILL, which *really* seemed insane ... but also plausible. Only other trouble spot was "OK, NOW," which ... I'm having trouble understanding the tone in which I'm supposed to read those words. The clue is *not* helping (53A: "Well, alrighty..."). Are these stand-alone expressions, or just ... lead-ins to some unidentified statement? The "alrighty" is really throwing me. Folksy in a way that I can't pin down, ERA-wise. Anyone might say "OK, NOW..." whereas who the heck is saying "alrighty?" Sounds either ironic or passive-aggressive. Lack of clear context and indefinite slanginess are both hampering things here. Anyway, I had the "OK" and needed help from crosses to get the "NOW." Not much else to say. Really liked "IT'S A LOT" (the simple, spot-on colloquialisms are often the best; though, again, I'm not sure the clue quite captures the deadpan, understated beauty of "IT'S A LOT") (68A: Vague comment akin to "More than you might think"). CAROLINA is not an "Area," though, stop. If you use states in your clue, then a state better be your answer. There's a North and there's a South. Only James Taylor's getting away with CAROLINA all on its own.

Still don't know the "GOT" characters yet. Had the "Y" and guessed ANYA at 58D: Maisie Williams's role on "Game of Thrones" (ARYA). That's pretty close. Someday I'll manage to commit to memory more "GOT" names than Ned Stark ... OR NOT

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Jane Pauley is the constructor's mom, so that TV HOSTS clue is slightly adorable (71A: Jane Pauley and Rachel Maddow)

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Flat-topped hill / MON 1-11-21/ Letters between thetas and kappas / Actress Donovan of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" / Hilton alternative / Soccer star Hamm

Monday, January 11, 2021

Constructor: Martha Kimes

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Deli-ghtful — Theme answers begin with sandwiches.

Theme answers:
  • WRAP PARTY (18A: Cast celebration at the end of filming)
  • CUBAN CIGARS (26A: Souvenirs from Havana)
  • CLUB HOPPING (44A: Going from nightspot to nightspot)
  • SUBREDDIT (59A: Certain online board for discussion of a topic)
  • DELI (58D: Where you might find the starts of 18-, 26, 44- and 59-Across)

Word of the Day: STOLI (67A: Popular vodka brand, for short) —

Stolichnaya (RussianСтоличная, also known as Stoli) is a vodka made of wheat and rye grain. A well-known Soviet brand, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union the ownership of Stolichnaya has been disputed between the Russian state-owned company FKP Soyuzplodoimport and SPI Group, a private company founded and owned by Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler.

• • •
I liked this one overall, seemed like just about the right challenge level for a Monday with some interesting fill, but I had a few nitpicks. SUBREDDIT is total crosswordese, I only got it because I'm what the kids call "too online." Good joke on BAR NONE. Weird discrepancy with the foreign language clues; why is CASA "house in Mexico" but OEUF is "Egg: Fr."? I'm not a fan of the whole "in ____" style for foreign language clues anyway, but adding "Fr." is just kinda lazy...there must be another way. I've had enOEUF of this. Oh, and did anyone else have CZAR for TSAR? Took me ages to find and correct that. 

What do you call a sorceress at the beach? A sand witch! As usual, I find very little to say about this Monday theme. My favorite sandwich is a classic grilled cheese. Make it with cheddar and throw some green apple on that bad boy and you've got yourself a gourmet meal. What about you, CrossWorld?  

  • MCRIB (1A: Periodically sold fast-food item) — I'll admit it. I've had one of these recently just to see what the hype was all about. Took one bite and it was like enjoying a fresh wad of wet newspaper with some barbecue sauce. Took another because surely I had to be missing something, and realized that what I was missing was that it was actually more like an old tire slathered in sugary tomato. Seriously, no idea why people like this gross sandwich. At all. 
  • OYL (23A: Olive ___ [Popeye's sweetie]) — Who doesn't love Popeye? Couldn't find very many great cartoon clips, so here's Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. 

  • MORAL (64A: Ethical) — I thought there was some big philosophical difference between ETHICAL and MORAL? Any philosophers out there able to educate me on that one? 
  • PUTS (19D: "Nobody ___ Baby in a corner" [line from "Dirty Dancing"]) — I think I legally have to post this. 

Signed, August Thompson, tired graduate student.  

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Sea urchin at a sushi bar / SUN 1-10-21 / Overnighting option / Classic saying originated by John Donne / Oscar 1987 Peace Nobelist from Costa Rica / First ruler of a united Hawaii / Quack doctor's offering / the Doughnut children's book series

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Constructor: Alex Bajcz

Relative difficulty: Medium (10-something)

THEME: "Oh, Fourpeat's Sake!" — repeating four-letter strings ... yes, that is all:

Theme answers:
  • NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (22A: Classic saying originated by John Donne)
  • BAHAMA MAMA MIX (31A: Aid for making a tiki bar cocktail)
  • "WELCOME HOME, HON" (48A: "Glad to have you back, dear!")
  • PRIMETIME TV (62A: Most expensive block)
  • "WHERE WERE WE?" (72A: Post-interruption question)
  • KING KAMEHAMEHA (87A: First ruler of a united Hawaii)
  • ALUMINUM INGOT (103A: Relatively light foundry product)
  • ROMA TOMATO SAUCE (118A: Potful in some Italian kitchens)
Word of the Day: ARTURO Schomburg, Harlem Renaissance figure (77A) —
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (January 24, 1874 – June 10, 1938), was a historian, writer, and activist. Schomburg was a Puerto Rican of African and German descent who moved to the United States and researched and raised awareness of the great contributions that Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Americans have made to society. He was an important intellectual figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Over the years, he collected literature, art, slave narratives, and other materials of African history, which were purchased to become the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, named in his honor, at the New York Public Library (NYPL) branch in Harlem. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is the last day of my annual week-long fundraising effort for the blog. It's been a weird week, to say the least. An assault on the Capitol—did not see that coming. I spent the week being buffeted back and forth emotionally, with the horrible news out of DC dragging me down, but then the generosity and kind messages from blog readers lifting me up. It's been so nice to hear from readers this week, and to be reminded of what a big, weird, wonderful world crossword solverdom is. People have been particularly complimentary of (and desirous of) the Alfie postcards my daughter designed (see below). Many of you have asked whether they were available for purchase as a complete set. As of now, they are not, but that may change. I'll let you know. Anyway, it's been very gratifying to hear from readers. So often writing the blog feels a bit like shouting into the void, so it's nice to be reminded the void isn't such a void after all. I can't thank you enough for your readership and for seeing the value in what I do here, whether that's explaining the themes, or helping you understand tricky clues, or just giving you a feeling of commiseration when you, too, are disappointed in or furious at or madly in love with the puzzle. It's about community. Feeling less alone in this otherwise (mostly) solitary endeavor. I see you out there. And I'm grateful. 

The PayPal button and snail mail address are always sitting over in the blog sidebar, but otherwise, that's it for fundraising pitches for the next 51 weeks. Really REALLY hope they're better than the past 52. Happy New Puzzling Year, everybody.

Here are the annual contribution options one last time. 

First, Paypal:

Second, a mailing address (checks should be made out to "Rex Parker"):

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

And heck, why don't I throw my Venmo handle in here too, just in case that's your preferred way of moving money around; it's @MichaelDavidSharp (the last four digits of my phone are 4878, in case Venmo asks you, which they did that one time someone contributed that way—but it worked!)

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. I. Love. Snail Mail. I love seeing your gorgeous handwriting and then sending you my awful handwriting. It's all so wonderful. And my thank-you postcards this year are really special. They are portraits of my new cat Alfie (a bright spot of 2020), designed by artist Ella Egan, a.k.a. my daughter. And they look like this:

He's eating kale in that middle one, in case you're wondering. Anyway, these cards are personally meaningful to me, and also, I believe, objectively lovely. I can't wait to share them with the snail-mailers. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just indicate "NO CARD."  Again, as ever, I'm so grateful for your readership and support. Now on to today's puzzle...

* * *

Wow, well, I guess karmically things have to even out eventually. Last Sunday's puzzle was so nice ... and we now return you to our regularly scheduled program of Sunday tedium. This was somehow both way, way too straightforward (you can tell just from the title and looking at the grid how the theme is going to express itself) and confoundingly forced and tortured. Some of these themers are just painful, first among them being BAHAMA MAMA MIX. It's the MIX that really gets me. There's a mix?? I barely know this cocktail exists, and you are telling me there is a mix. You use a mix. A mix? A mix. Margarita mix, hell yeah, I got you. Bloody Mary mix, OK, sure. Daiquiri mix? Yes, we're still friends. BAHAMA MAMA ... MIX? Come on now. I'm not saying there isn't such a thing, but come on. Further, ALUMINUM INGOT!?!?!? Look, these themers should be things, real things, actual things, not some preposterous theoretical thing that you would never ever ever accept in a puzzle as a self-standing answer. "WELCOME HOME, HON!?!?!?!" I had "SON," which at least you can imagine someone saying. Presumably a SON might've been away for a long time. Possibly he doesn't live with you any more. But a HON has maybe just been at work? Or the store? I don't know, but it's not the '50s, what is with this weird formal "WELCOME HOME, HON?" Again, son comes back from, I don't know, war, maybe, it's an Event. The formality of the phrasing makes sense. HON, my word. INGOT, dear gracious everloving wow. What are these themers? And the SAUCE is just sitting out there in that last themer, the only word in alllll the theme answers not touching any of the fourpeated letter strings. Sad. In the end, this is a bland concept, ridiculously executed.

The MIX thing was really gahhhh because I couldn't make sense of the "X"—the cross was FEDEX, and I ... guess I just have a different idea of what "overnighting" means (18D: Overnighting option). See now it refers to shipping, but the "-ing" isn't even strictly necessary, and makes it seem like camping or other kind of sleeping arrangement is the context. What else? I misspelled Hans Christian ANDERSEN of course ("-ON") (90D: Giant in fairy tales?). Had AMEN RA because as I've said before that damn second vowel can go all kinds of ways (40A: Supreme Egyptian deity). "Circular arrow button" doesn't mean anything to me—I don't even know where that is, or what context I'm supposed to be imagining. Very unevocative. So RELOAD, pfft, needed a bunch of crosses (10D: Click the circular arrow button, say). Had HEAT before RIOT (2D: ___ shield) (sidenote: RIOT shield, maybe not a direction I would've taken the puzzle this week). STOMP before STAMP (25A: Really put one's foot down). CAF remains very much not a thing you order. It's regular or decaf, those are the options. You could order a half-CAF. But no one is like "gimme a CAF!" Stop with this tone-deaf nonsense cluing! (80D: Quick pick-me-up?) ("Quick" because it's an abbrev.). Haven't seen "R.U.R." in a very long time. Old school crosswordese. Seeing it again ... honestly, not TERRIF. Still, not as painful as the EMS clue (43D: Mammal's head and heart?) (its "head and heart" because it starts with an "M" and has two "M"s in its middle, GET IT!?!?!). For pete's sake, somebody submit some decent Sunday puzzles to the NYTXW. Your marquee puzzle should not be batting below the Mendoza line

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wolf-headed god of Egyptian myth / SAT 1-9-21 / Plumlike fruits / Southwestern shrub that yields a cosmetic oil / Crawford NBA's all-time leader in four-point plays / Coltrane's rendition of My Favorite Things / Sarcastic response to backpedaling / Biblical character who lived to be 912 / Sea serpent in the night sky

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium? (untimed)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SCUD (20A: Move fast, as clouds) —
1to move or run swiftly especially as if driven forward clouds scudding across the sky
2to run before a gale (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

***HELLO, READERS AND FELLOW SOLVERS!**. The calendar has turned on another year (thank God), and while that might mean a lot of things to a lot of people, for me it means it's time for my annual week-long pitch for financial contributions to the blog. Every year I ask regular readers to consider what the blog is worth to them on an annual basis and give accordingly. Last year at this time, I wrote about what a melancholy year 2019 was; my oldest dog had died and the world was kind of a wreck. And then 2020 happened, and I learned what a real wreck looks like. In February, my other dog died (R.I.P. Gabby). And then, well, COVID. And let's be honest, even with a new president, 2021 is going to be, uh, challenging as well. But I hope that the regular ritual of solving crosswords brought some solace and stability to your lives this past year, and I hope that my blog added to your enjoyment of the solving experience in some way. This year my blog will celebrate its 15th anniversary! I feel so proud! And old! A lot of labor goes into producing this blog every day (Every. Day.) and the hours are, let's say, less than ideal (I'm either solving and writing at night, after 10pm, or in the morning, before 6am). Most days, I really do love the writing, but it is work, and once a year (right now!) I acknowledge that fact. As I've said before, I have no interest in "monetizing" the blog beyond a simple, direct contribution request once a year. No ads, no gimmicks. Just here for you, every day, rain or shine, whether you like it or, perhaps, on occasion, not :) It's just me and my laptop and some free blogging software and, you know, a lot of rage, but hopefully some insight and levity along the way. I do genuinely love this gig, and whether you're an everyday reader or a Sunday-only reader or a flat-out hatereader, I appreciate you more than you'll ever know.

How much should you give? Whatever you think the blog is worth to you on a yearly basis. Whatever that amount is is fantastic. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

Second, a mailing address (checks should be made out to "Rex Parker"):

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

And heck, why don't I throw my Venmo handle in here too, just in case that's your preferred way of moving money around; it's @MichaelDavidSharp (the last four digits of my phone are 4878, in case Venmo asks you, which they did that one time someone contributed that way—but it worked!)

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All snail mail contributions will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. I. Love. Snail Mail. I love seeing your gorgeous handwriting and then sending you my awful handwriting. It's all so wonderful. And my thank-you postcards this year are really special. They are portraits of my new cat Alfie (a bright spot of 2020), designed by artist Ella Egan, a.k.a. my daughter. And they look like this:

He's eating kale in that middle one, in case you're wondering. Anyway, these cards are personally meaningful to me, and also, I believe, objectively lovely. I can't wait to share them with the snail-mailers. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just indicate "NO CARD."  Again, as ever, I'm so grateful for your readership and support. Now on to today's puzzle...

* * *

This grid seems fine, and yet I kept finding the experience of solving it off-putting. I have this reflexive disdain for puzzles where the constructor gets a Scrabble-tile bee in his bonnet. As soon as I sense that it's going to be "watch me put Zs and Qs and Js in as many places as I can!" type of deal, my eyes start to roll and my interest starts to wane. Jamming the grid with high-value Scrabble tiles is some early-aughts puzzboy idea of excellence (it's very much a male constructor move ... though, it's a very male constructor world, still, especially on Saturdays, so maybe the actual data would be less conclusive). As I say, though, the puzzle seems to handle all the Scrabbliness OK. I'd just rather have a grid driven by thoughtfulness and freshness and liveliness than one driven by Scrabbliness, because *most* of the time, JQZ fireworks aren't worth it. Again, this one holds up pretty well. I just can't help my nails-on-a-chalkboard response to unchecked JQZ fervor, which feels like a bad instinct to encourage. The only answer that really made me smile today was "NICE SAVE" (not a rare letter in sight). I'll take genuine freshness over superficial dazzle any day.

Things began weirdly and inauspiciously:

SCUD is the dumbest word, and its dumbness is here compounded by my own dumbness: knowing enough to be in the ballpark, but not enough to get it right. SCUT ... means something else. They're both equally ugly words (this is probably due to their cousin, SCUM, who is both much more popular and iconically ugly). But they all have negative associations. SCUT means "tedious or menial" (in relation to work, usually), and SCUD is probably best known for being a kind of missile used by the Iraqis in the first Gulf War. Anyway, SCUT was wrong, but close enough that I was able to get going. Soon I ended up here:

And then was very much stuck. Stunned that I had the fat back ends of all those answers and no idea what their fronts might be. You can put anything in front of -ESQUE, so no hope there. I thought -RMORE was going to be one word (can't believe I've been solving this long and still forget to shake that one-word impulse out of my brain when I get stuck, ugh). And then there was blank WALTZ. Of course Coltrane plays JAZZ—it's the obviousness of it that kept me from seeing it. I thought a waltz was a waltz was a waltz, 1 2 3 1 2 3, wherever you found it. SAX WALTZ wouldn't fit, FREE WALTZ (which I considered because of association with "free JAZZ!") seemed improbable—contradictory, in fact. I tried the short answers in there, but had this weird balk at OBI because I thought maybe LEI (!?!?!) (19A: Accessory that might have a netsuke attached), and then BIT could also have been TAD (22A: Modicum). Sigh. It was only when my brain finally went "uh, it's not just *JAZZ* WALTZ, is it?" that I had a most deflating "aha" moment. An "oof" moment. It really was the "ha ha, look at us, we're a bunch of valuable Scrabble tiles, TADA!" quality of that moment that made me resent every bit of JQZ glitter that followed.

After that corner, though, things got considerably easier. But then I knew JAMAL, which seems like the kind of answer where if you knew it, wheeeeee, and if you didn't, uh oh (35A: ___ Crawford, the N.B.A.'s all-time leader in four-point plays). Again, the high-value "J" comes into play. I went JAMAL to JOESCHMO with no trouble, and that corner was over quickly. In fact, looking over the grid now, no part of it offered much resistance after I escaped the NW. The cluing was a normal level of toughness for Saturday, I think, but there were no places to get bogged down. But maybe my just happening to know PAMELA Hayden's name very well gave me an unusual advantage down there (46D: ___ Hayden, actress who voices Milhouse on "The Simpsons"). 

If you luck into knowing the proper names in a tough puzzle, you can really fly, and if those names aren't exceedingly well known by the general population, your sense of how easy the puzzle was can really be skewed. So as I say, this felt normal to me, but on a Saturday, just one unknown name can be the difference between success and stuckville. Last letter into the grid was, appropriately (and anticlimactically) the bra size, i.e. the "D" in DCUP (21D: Certain bra spec). No way to know what letter goes there til you get the cross. So I signed the DOTTED line and was done. It's a better-than-SOSO puzzle, I can see that. I just got put off by it early, and the joy never came back—though I guess the ODE TO JOY there at the end did help, a little. Gonna play that now to try to brighten this dark-in-so-many-ways winter day. I wish you all joy as well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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