Distribute cash at the end of a shift in restaurant lingo / TUE 12-7-21 / Some Xmas card attire / Pasta popular on the Sopranos / Sinister fish in the Little Mermaid / Close follower of the horse race / One remedy for a hangover supposedly

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Constructor: Margaret Seikel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: MATCHING PJS (57A: Some Xmas card attire ... or a hint to 18-, 23-, 37- and 48-Across) — four two-word phrases: first word "P," second word "J":

Theme answers:
  • PICKLE JUICE (18A: One remedy for a hangover, supposedly)
  • PIZZA JOINT (23A: Place to pick up a pepperoni pie, perhaps)
  • POLITICAL JUNKIE (37A: Close follower of the "horse race")
  • PRIVATE JET (48A: Aircraft that's 1% full?) [i.e. full of the very wealthy, i.e. "the 1%"]
Word of the Day: ILANA Glazer (29A: Actress Glazer of "Broad City") —
Ilana Glazer (born April 12, 1987) is an American comedian, director, producer, writer, and actress. She co-created and co-starred, with Abbi Jacobson, in the Comedy Central series Broad City, which is based on the web series of the same name. She was twice nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for the series. Glazer also starred in the 2017 film Rough Night and released her debut stand-up comedy special, The Planet Is Burning, in January 2020. (wikipedia)
• • •

Opened the puzzle, saw Margaret Seikel's name on the byline, and actually, or possibly just in mind, exclaimed, "Ooh, I'm Seik'd!" So, two things. One, I assume I'm pronouncing that right (rhymes with "psyched") but for all I know it's SAY-kel and I botched the whole pun. Two, I don't know why her name should've provoked such an ecstatic response in me. I think I've done some of her puzzles and liked them well enough, but I just had this weird feeling of "Yes, this is the one! Come on, Tuesday!" It's like I really needed a win and thought, "Yes, I trust Margaret!" Well, whatever the hell was going on in my brain, I got what I wanted, which is a largely delightful Tuesday puzzle, praise all the crossword gods, even OOXTEPLERNON, the God of Bad Fill, hallowed be his name. Hardly any offerings to OOXTEPLERNON today—you're supposed to throw him at least some kind of sacrifice or he returns to wreak havoc on your grids and your children's grids, as it was told. Today, I guess he was satisfied with, I dunno, KAT? OWS? GNC? There's really nothing particularly crosswordesey here. It's really a very clean grid. And the theme is simple and seasonal and right on the money ... except ... (Sorry, there's one "except," there's always at least one, you know the deal) ... while I love the phrase MATCHING PJS, both on its own and as a revealer *concept*, it seems ... either off or redundant in this case. The "MATCHING" part I mean. The answers are just ... PJs. There's nothing "MATCHING" about them except their "PJ"-ness. That is, if these are MATCHING PJS ... what do un-MATCHING PJS look like? My guess is ... the same. Since the answers themselves are not identical (which ... would be weird ... what would that look like? PIZZA JOINT PIZZA JOINT PIZZA JOINT?), I'm not really getting the "MATCHING" part. Everyone is wearing PJs, yes, but nothing about the PJS says "MATCHING." So ... there. Still had a good time. It just ended with a bit of a headcock / puzzled-face / three question marks in the margin of my puzzle print-out. But it left me wanting to curl up on the couch with my cats and a mug of cocoa and John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas on the hi-fi, so yes, I call that a win.

The joyous feeling was helped along considerably by the first long Down:

And, later, the second long Down:

I don't use NECK PILLOWs when I fly—they're awkward and don't work for me, so I just resign myself to not sleeping—but it's a vivid object with a very specific purpose and I enjoyed recalling it, even if it did remind me of all the dopes who wear theirs around the terminal (sorry if you're one of those dopes, you gotta carry them somewhere, I guess!). As for "MAKE IT WORK," it's such a beautiful low-key signature phrase, and it made me miss that show, which I haven't thought about for a long time, and which is probably the last "reality" show I ever watched (besides "The Great British Bake-Off," which is religion, not "reality TV," how dare you!). When you've got a cute, simple theme *and* you nail the two long Downs, you are cooking. TIP OUT—also wonderfully original (as clued) (63A: Distribute cash at the end of a shift in restaurant lingo).

The only "difficulty" I had was with the latter ends of the themers. I solved straight down the west coast of the puzzle without even trying to throw themers across, and then the first time I looked at them, I could see POLITICAL but had no idea what came next, PIZZA, same, and I wanted PICKLE to end with BRINE. It would help if I could remember JEN *&#$^% Psaki's dang first name (19D: Biden White House press secretary Psaki). Her last name is on lock, but despite seeing her first name in puzzles a bunch, I keep botching it. Today I had her as a DEB (!?). I ended up getting the JUICE part of PICKLE JUICE from crosses in the far NE, and then once I got the JOINT of PIZZA JOINT, I was like "oh, PJs! cool!" and so the other themers fell much more easily. But again, it was never not easy. Just had to work crosses a little on the back ends of the themers. That's all. Light work even for a Tuesday. Beyond that, I went with STOIC before STONY (a kealoa* I hadn't yet come across since coining the term) (41A: Poker-faced), but made no other errors that I can recall. Breezy! Beautiful! Tuesday! Your turn, Wednesday!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*short common fill that you know but can't write in because Even With Certain Letters In Place it could be one of two (or more) options. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1998 Hanks/Ryan rom-com / MON 12-6-21 / Follower of open and pigeon / Peas to some classroom pranksters / Something waved at concerts prior to the age of cellphones / Semihard Dutch cheese

Monday, December 6, 2021

Constructor: Emily Rourke

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "YOU'VE GOT MAIL" (55A: 1998 Hanks/Ryan rom-com ... or a hint to the starts of 20-, 34- and 41-Across) — first words are all things that might come in the mail:

Word of the Day: LETTER PRESS (34A) —

Letterpress printing is a technique of relief printing. Using a printing press, the process allows many copies to be produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. A worker composes and locks movable type into the "bed" or "chase" of a press, inks it, and presses paper against it to transfer the ink from the type, which creates an impression on the paper. // In practice, letterpress also includes other forms of relief printing with printing presses, such as wood engravings, photo-etched zinc "cuts" (plates), and linoleum blocks, which can be used alongside metal type, or wood type in a single operation, as well as stereotypes and electrotypes of type and blocks. With certain letterpress units, it is also possible to join movable type with slugs cast using hot metal typesetting. In theory, anything that is "type high" and so forms a layer exactly 0.918 in. thick between the bed and the paper can be printed using letterpress.  // Letterpress printing was the normal form of printing text from its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century to the 19th century and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century. Letterpress printing remained the primary means of printing and distributing information until the 20th century, when offset printing was developed, which largely supplanted its role in printing books and newspapers. More recently, letterpress printing has seen a revival in an artisanal form. (wikipedia)

Theme answers:
  • BILL OF RIGHTS (20A: Early addendum to the Constitution)
  • LETTERPRESS (34A: Gutenberg invention)
  • PACKAGE DEAL (41A: Sauna plus massage at a spa, perhaps)

• • •

I've got nothing against Hanks/Ryan, but do yourself a favor and watch The Shop Around the Corner, which is not only the best Christmas movie, but one of the best movies ever made. From scene one, the storytelling, acting, character development ... it's stupid how perfect it is. I watch it over and over this time of year, just to admire the craftsmanship and laugh and feel the love vibes. Ernst Lubitsch! THE LUBITSCH TOUCH is 16 letters long, but there's an answer I would mind seeing a grid go oversized for. Or maybe there's a way to use it on a Sunday. Good stuff. Lubitsch is my No. 1 ERNST, followed by ... I guess Max ERNST. Surrealism is fun. My point is, watch The Shop Around the Corner. And if you need more Christmas fare, move on to Christmas in Connecticut, and if you're still yearning for yule, try Holiday Affair, and then if you're bummed out by all the black & white, watch The Ref (the best Christmas movie shot in color). OK, back to the puzzle. The theme is just fine. Aces. Bills and letters and packages do indeed come in the mail (esp., if you are lucky, this time of year), and here they are all found inside answers where they are clued differently from their mail meaning. The bill in the BILL OF RIGHTS is a non-mail bill, the LETTER in LETTERPRESS, same, and so forth. The one briefly toughish part, for me, was LETTERPRESS, since I really wanted Gutenberg to have invented the PRINTING PRESS, because he did invent the PRINTING PRESS, in 1440—LETTERPRESS was the technique (movable type, in a bed, impressed on paper), PRINTING PRESS was the machine. But since I got the front end first, from crosses, I wrote in LETTERPRESS pretty readily and then was happy to find out it was right.

[Christine Baranski!! Mwah!!]
There was one downside, and a big one, to this puzzle, which is a couple of Wince Words. Long ones that just genuinely made me cringe and stop to take screenshots. Here's Wince Word One:

And here's Wince Word Two:

In both cases, I thought "ew, that can't be right, not on a Monday!?" and then slowly felt myself sink as all the crosses checked out. No one uses these adjectives. They just don't. They are arcane and odd and ... like, not *hard* to get, but just not in-the-language. I'm trying to imagine using SORORAL instead of "sisterly." And NATANT instead of "floating." Oof. It's all very olde-tymey professorial, and it's no fun at all. There's no reason an easy Monday grid should be gunked up by this stuff. Let the fill be plain and let the theme shine and there you are, a wonderful Monday. But NATANT SORORAL FARE is literally no one's idea of a good time. You'd have to tear those sections out and redo them, but it would be worth it. I don't understand why certain words don't set off red lights / alarm bells in constructors' / editors' heads. Maybe you let yourself get away with one of these fussy rarely-used adjectives, but definitely not both.

Ran up against yet another kealoa* today when I had the "V" at 52D: Give the slip (EVADE) and wrote in AVOID. That clue can actually kealoa in two different directions: if I'd had the "E" I would've probably written in ELUDE. As for the rest of the fill ... SAFE SPACE is a nice newish answer. SMOLDER is always hot. The rest is just fine. Somewhat better than MEH. That's all. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*short common fill that you know but can't write in because Even With Certain Letters In Place it could be one of two (or more) options. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Napoleon's famed war horse / SUN 12-5-21 / Actor Spall of "Prometheus" / Dennis the Menace's appropriately named dog / Percussion instrument of African origin / Click artificial increasers of website hits / the grand slam of show biz awards in brief / Religion that emphasizes seva or selfless service / Rapper dissed by Jay-Z in Takeover / Adventurous kids in a 1985 film / Literally I bow to you

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Constructor: Chase Dittrich and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Come Again?" — clues are just all-caps words, three times in succession, with ellipses on either end ... and answers are familiar phrases that pun in some way on the idea of a theoretically infinite repetition of the same word:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: MARENGO (16D: Napoleon's famed war horse) —
 is a city in McHenry CountyIllinoisUnited States approximately 60 miles west northwest of Chicago. The population was 7,648 as of the 2010 census. [...] Spinetta Marengo (PiedmonteseMarengh) is a town in Piedmont, Italy located within the municipal boundaries of the comune of Alessandria. The population is 6,417. [...] Chicken Marengo is a French dish consisting of a chicken sautéed in oil with garlic and tomatogarnished with fried eggs and crayfish. The dish is similar to chicken à la Provençale, but with the addition of egg and crayfish, which are traditional to Chicken Marengo but are now often omitted. The original dish was named to celebrate the Battle of Marengo, a Napoleonic victory of June 1800. [...] // [keeps looking, keeps looking] [OK, here we go] Marengo (c. 1793–1831) was the famous war horse of Napoleon I of France. Named after the Battle of Marengo, through which he carried his rider safely, Marengo was imported to France from Egypt following the Battle of Abukir in 1799 as a six-year-old. The grey Arabian was probably bred at the famous El Naseri Stud. Although small (only 14.1 hands (57 inches, 145 cm)) he was a reliable, steady, and courageous mount. (wikipedia)
• • •

"Famed" war horse? When it's not the top google search, or even really discernible on the first page of google search results, then maybe it's time to rethink the appropriateness of the word "famed." If you'd told me MARENGO was a kind of cheese I'd've said, "Yes, I know, it's great ... wait, did you say 'manchego'?" and hopefully the conversation would have ended there. But enough about cheese horses, I guess it's time to talk about this puzzle theme. I guess it is. Yes, it's about that time. OK, well, it's a theme, and it technically "works," I will give it that. Lists ... ellipses ... "repeating," "neverending" ... I see it. I see it, I see it all. I wish it provided even a twinge of delight. It's just that every one of these answers feels like it should be followed by an overeager person attempting to explain the clue: "See!? Because a floor is a *story* of a building ... and the floors, i.e. "stories," just keep going ... without end? Get it!?" Yes, I do. It's just that the only one that seems genuinely clever—which is to say genuine-smile-clever, as opposed to mere nod-in-acknowledgment clever—is AD INFINITUM, probably because it's the loopiest, involving as it does a grammatically iffy language crossover. Plus, that answer's all creepily sequestered inside the bug-eyes at the center of the grid, so it's already kind of freaky. I kinda like it for it's content weirdness as well as its positional weirdness. The rest of it just felt adequate. I wish the Sunday bar were higher than adequate. 

PLEURAL crossing NEURAL is about as pleasant an experience as hearing those words repeated one another AD INFINITUM. That's way too much sound repetition for *any* two answers in a grid, let alone two that cross each other. Also, PLEURAL is just not great fill, period. See also INES (esp. as clued, 75A: Chemical suffixes). Otherwise, like the theme, the fill is adequate. Highly adequate. The RAFE / RUFF crossing was indeed rough, esp. with the ugly ACAP wedging itself into the fray as well. No idea who RAFE is, no idea even what "Prometheus" is, but these things happen (101A: Actor Spall of "Prometheus"). But crosses should be solid, and RUFF? (87D: Dennis the Menace's appropriately named dog) ... well, I inferred him (him?) but it took a while. Also, "appropriately named" was ambiguous. I thought maybe I was supposed to know something specific about Dennis the Menace's dog, and come on, how would I know that? Does the dog actually say "RUFF?" Is that his (his?) thing? Anyway, what's "appropriate" has nothing to do with Dennis's dog per se—it's just a dog thing generally; namely, the barking. Short obscure proper noun crossings! Who doesn't love those? At least this one was ultimately gettable. 

I have a question about 50A: Rapper with more than 20 Grammys (KANYE WEST). This is the second time in recent days that the puzzle has misnamed him. His name is now Ye. I don't really care what you feel about Ye personally, or what you feel about his name change, you can make all the Puff Daddy P. Diddy Diddy Puffy Sean Combs jokes you want, it seems like the crossword should, as a general rule, respect the names that people want to be called. Not to do so sets a bad precedent. You shouldn't get to pick and choose whose name changes are valid and whose aren't. I don't feel terribly strongly about this, because I'm not aware of how much Ye himself cares about the issue. But KANYE WEST is, at the moment, as far as I can tell, a *former* name. Wikipedia still refers to him as "West" throughout the write-up, so maybe in professional contexts, or when discussing the past, it's OK. But I would err on the side of "call people by their chosen names." 

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Blades used in Kill Bill / SAT 12-4-21 / Deadly household appliance according to Korean urban legend / Trousers named for an Asian country / Some transcript omissions / Classical music tradition from Hindustan

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Constructor: Nam Jin Yoon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (will vary highly depending on your knowledge of the proper nouns, or lack thereof)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Scoville scale (53A: They rate very high on the Scoville scale => HABANEROS) —
Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spiciness or "heat") of chili peppers, as recorded in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), based on the concentration of capsaicinoids, among which capsaicinis the predominant component. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, whose 1912 method is known as the Scoville organoleptic test. The Scoville organoleptic test is the most practical method for estimating SHU and is a subjective assessment derived from the capsaicinoid sensitivity by people experienced with eating hot chilis. [...] In the Scoville organoleptic test, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsaicinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsaicinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU. [...] A weakness of the Scoville organoleptic test is its imprecision due to human subjectivity, depending on the taster's palate and number of mouth heat receptors, which vary widely among people. Another weakness is sensory fatigue; the palate is quickly desensitized to capsaicinoids after tasting a few samples within a short time period. Results vary widely (up to ± 50%) between laboratories.
• • •

I like a puzzle that reviews itself at 1-Across. I like the confidence. If I had to nominate a Themeless Constructor of the Year, which thankfully I don't, Nam Jin Yoon would be it. He appeared suddenly, as if from nowhere (which I guess is how most novice constructors appear to most of us), and immediately started laying down perfect puzzles. I don't think I've done anything but rave about everything he has put out. His grids are clever, playful, clean, and ... yes, like I said up front, confident. The level of polish on his grids puts most other constructors to shame. The only thing that made me grumble even briefly was ETS, and that's only because they went with the standardized testing corporation (boo) instead of actual extraterrestrials (always go with the aliens, man). That's it. That was the height of my dissatisfaction. Otherwise, I had no ASKANCE glances for this one. For starters, there's the unusual grid, the unusualness of which maybe you don't notice at first. That giant NW corner, where three 9s run into three other 9s, is not echoed in the SW corner ... that's because you don't have conventional rotational symmetry. Instead, you've got mirror symmetry along the NW-to-SE diagonal, making the NW a kind of fat arrowhead of white space, or the giant head of some odd bird. It's whimsical and I love it, both for its look and for the overall feeling of *flow* that it allows. You can zoom around this grid; even when you get stuck, as I did repeatedly, you never get trapped. Plus, the difficulty comes largely from genuine clever cluing and SLY misdirection as opposed to niche trivia. Now, I say this as someone who knew all the "trivia" cold: HENRI de Toulouse-Lautrec and ANDIE MacDowell and ELLE WOODS and Elena KAGAN and H.G. WELLS. It all felt like general knowledge to me. The one moment where I was very aware of having a slight advantage over certain (non sports-fan) solvers was at ELIAS Sports Bureau, keeper of STATS. I know them from my erstwhile baseball fandom, but they're the official keeper of stats for the NBA, NFL, and other pro leagues as well. So that answer was slightly niche, and knowing it double-helped the same way that not knowing it probably double-hurt. But mostly, this puzzle felt warm and open and welcoming and inclusive. 

My local CYBER CAFE, now no more...

The puzzle just handed me a bunch of answers, which is the one substantial aspect of the solve that I almost want to fault it for. BORN AGAIN was a gimme. ANDIE, HENRI, ELLEWOODS, SADE, all gimmes. The sheer volume of handouts meant that I was never in danger of getting truly stuck. But while it's true that being on the easy side always makes a puzzle a little easier to love, this puzzle has far more to offer than mere doability. Wide-ranging fill, tricky clues, right on-the-money colloquial phrases ("SAY NO MORE" "NOTE TO SELF..."). I don't know what more you want. 

I started this one out with a miss. Wrote in BOIL at 5D: Sterilize, in a way (SPAY). I knew 20A: Overdrawn account? was going to involve some kind of tale or story, but I couldn't get there with BOIL in place. I ended up inferring KISS at the end of 1A: [Perfection!], used that to get KAGAN, then saw BORN AGAIN, and the whole corner just bloomed from there. Wanted SKIMPED before STINTED (8D: Wasn't generous) (lots of shared letters) but that didn't slow me down much. After that, the only part of the grid that had me even semi-stuck came down below, when I wanted NO PET instead of NO FEE at 61A: Like many apartment rentals. I haven't rented an apartment in forever so I don't really understand the concept here. I don't remember paying fees for my rentals. Anyway, the crosses for FEE (where I had PET) were "?" clue followed by "?" clue (53D: Printmaker? followed by 41D: Masked warning?), so I floundered slightly. But only slightly. There are just too many opportunities for toeholds in this one. I had DROLL before DRYLY (47D: Deadpan), but not much else went wrong. Hardest answer for me, weirdly, was SIT-IN (43A: March alternative). I just ... couldn't find the right meaning of "March," and even -ITI- wasn't helping me. At all. I was stuck in the realm of music. Or months. Or "Little Women." Military-type walking occurred to me, but the protest angle just didn't surface at all. Sometimes our struggles seem head-shakingly bizarre in retrospect.

What else?
  • I enjoyed writing in AC/DC, briefly scuttling it for ABBA, and then returning to AC/DC at 23D: Rock group whose name came from letters found on a sewing machine. I think band-themed sewing machines could spawn a sewing revival. I know I'd want an ABBA sewing machine, especially if it played music. "If you change your mind / I'm the first in line / Honey I'm still free / Sew some pants on me"
  • I did not know CHINOS had anything to do with an "Asian country." I think I thought CHINOS had something to do with the fabric (??). Had no idea they were named after Laos.
  • A DÍA is a Spanish day, and there are many Spanish days in a Spanish month (in this case, the moth of May: mayo) (33A: Bit of mayo?)
  • An INDEX "points" you to where you want to go in the book (18A: List of pointers)
  • The BASES are highly unlikely to be "loaded with singles," especially not in today's game, where singles are increasingly rare, but maybe the clue wanted me to think wallets. Or bars. Anyway, it's baseball (45D: They might be loaded with singles)
  • Love the clue on ERS, a bit of unlikeable fill made interesting by an unexpected (and misdirective) clue. I thought the "transcripts" were related to student records, but they're court transcripts, where the uhs and ums and ERS are sometimes omitted I guess.
Enjoy your Saturday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Vertical dimension of a flag / FRI 12-3-21 / Actress Mara of Pose / Longtime newswoman Ifill / One of nine for a traditional Baha'i temple / Pet that's mostly black with a white chest

Friday, December 3, 2021

Constructor: Claire Rimkus

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Quintana ROO (8D: Quintana ___, Mexican state that's home to Cancún) —

Quintana Roo (/kɪnˌtɑːnə ˈr()/ kin-TAH-nə ROH(-oh)Spanish: [kinˈtana ˈro]), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo (SpanishEstado Libre y Soberano de Quintana Roo), is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, constitute the 32 federal entities of Mexico. It is divided into 11 municipalities and its capital city is Chetumal.

Quintana Roo is located on the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula and is bordered by the states of Campeche to the west and Yucatán to the northwest, and by the Orange Walk and Corozal districts of Belize, along with an offshore borderline with Belize District to the south. As Mexico's easternmost state, Quintana Roo has a coastline to the east with the Caribbean Sea and to the north with the Gulf of Mexico. The state previously covered 44,705 square kilometers (17,261 sq mi) and shared a small border with Guatemala in the southwest of the state. (wikipedia)

• • •

Had a hard time getting into this one, but once I did, once I fought through a raft of "???" clues and finally got some of the longer stuff to fall, I began to appreciate how smooth and solid the whole thing is. I was not on the same wavelength as the clues much of the time, which was frustrating, but it was hard to stay frustrated when the grid kept coming up roses. There was nothing really eye-popping today, but the long stuff was uniformly winning, and I had hardly any "yecch" moments (when I see Claire's name on the byline, I know I'm in good grid-building hands). HAS NO IDEA was a great answer to find in the NW, which is where I started, and where, for what seemed like a long time, I truly had no idea. And I liked the fact that at the end of the solve, just when it seemed I might end up similarly stuck in the SE corner, a TUXEDO CAT came to my rescue (31D: Pet that's mostly black with a white chest). 

GAY ICONS ushered me into that corner, but then I just sat there, practically alone at the SE corner party; I just stood there looking around for anyone I recognized and just when I was beginning to despair, after consulting all the short answers and coming up blank each time, I bent down to pick up a stray DIXIE cup and when I stood up, tada! A TUXEDO CAT came bounding into the room bringing all the other SE corner party guests with him. In short, I will never forget TUXEDO CAT, the real hero of this puzzle. TUXEDO CAT: he's a good boy.

But back to HAS NO IDEA corner. I had no idea about BOTH or BRAT or OHIO, all of which were kinda important for getting traction. BOTH seems really poorly clued to me, since "this and that" means a random assortment of things, and even if you highly literalize it, if the set is not clearly limited to two, then "this and that" simply doesn't evoke BOTH-ness. If you italicize *and*, maybe. But as is, meh, bah, etc. I also had STAY for 1D: Challenge while sitting (think dogs). Then when I got BRAT I sincerely thought "Are you sitting ... down ... for a BRAT-eating contest?" But it's an annoying child BRAT, not the sausage BRAT. As for the OHIO "joke," oof, no comment. No comment but oof (2D: Answer to the old riddle "What's round on the ends and high in the middle?"). Not sure how I finally hammered my way out of there—I think I had to go down the west coast and work back up. Yes, the record shows that that is what I did. ONE'S and TONES and IRKS READS IFFIER and off we go:

Still had to grind a bit because the main clue leading into the NE absolutely wouldn't budge. I'm talking specifically about 5D: Out-of-office procedure? (OUSTER). It's a fine "?" clue, but brutal, Saturday-esque stuff for me. Luckily the short stuff in the north wasn't too hard so those long answers flew across the grid fast and OUSTER eventually fell, and once I escaped the grip of that damn NW corner, things got considerably easier, though the cluing stayed pretty thorny throughout. I sort of forgot the meaning of "Coruscates" and so faced with -INTS I wrote in PAINTS. To my slight credit, I was kinda in the ballpark, in that the answer *does* have to do with the play of light, which is also a consideration in painting (oil painting, I mean). To my somewhat larger credit, I realized PAINTS was wrong pretty quickly and then got GLINTS on my own without help from the crosses. I wrote in FAIL before FLOP (44D: Completely bomb). I didn't know the "Pose" actress. I forgot LAPIS was a color and I didn't recognize it untethered from the phrase "lapis lazuli" (27D: Shade akin to royal blue). And as I say, the short answers in the SE all came up blank for me at first. But otherwise, I made steady progress and quite enjoyed myself. And again, let's give it up for TUXEDO CAT!

Not much needs explaining today, I don't think. I do have a couple more clue disputes. First of all, STEADY GIG (37A: Nice position to be in?) ... why is there a "?" clue. I don't really see the wordplay, or the joke. Is it the idea that "position" seems metaphorical in the clue but it's literal in the answer? There's just not enough ... misdirection to qualify for the "?", I don't think. Ill-conceived. The answer (a good one) ended up feeling like a let down. "That's it?" Also, if it was "Made last night," how is it DAY OLD? (41D). The "night" part is really throwing me. You make stuff at night to serve in the morning ... that stuff would not be considered DAY OLD. The stuff still hanging around from the day before, *that's* DAY OLD. I mean, a "day" hasn't even elapsed if the stuff (whatever it is) was made "last night." Why not just take the cross-reference cluing opportunity that is staring you right in the face: DAY-OLD / BAGEL? Sigh. I just wish the clues had hit their marks a little more often in this one. But that's my only real complaint. The grid looks good, and in the main, the clues are just fine. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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German physician who coined the term animal magnetism / THU 12-2-21 / Shoe with decorative patterns / Performance artist portraying male characters / Historic Bay Area neighborhood with a 600-square-foot rainbow flag / Representative Bowman first male member of the squad / Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Constructor: Rebecca Goldstein

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SALT SHAKER (58A: One of a pair at the dinner table ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — chemical symbol for SALT (NACL) gets "shaken" inside three squares in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Circadian rhythm regulator (INTERNALCLOCK) / 5D: Australia, once (PENALCOLONY)
  • 26A: H.S. course that might have a unit on the Harlem Renaissance (AMERICANLIT) / 11D: Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius (VATICANLIBRARY)
  • 55A: Hawaii is famous for them (VOLCANOES) / 25D: Largest French-speaking city in North America (MONTREALCANADA)
Word of the Day: Mezuzah (23D: Place to hang a mezuzah => JAMB) —
mezuzah (Hebrewמְזוּזָה‎ "doorpost"; plural: מְזוּזוֹת‎ mezuzot) is a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21). These verses consist of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael, beginning with the phrase: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord (is) our God, the Lord is One". In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to "write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah in every doorway in the home except bathrooms (which are not a living space), laundry rooms and closets, if they are too small to qualify as rooms. The klaf parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe ("sofer stam") who has undergone training, both in studying the relevant religious laws, and in the more practical parts i.e. carving the quill and practising writing. The verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen made either from a feather or, in what are now rare cases, a reed. The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case. (wikipedia)
• • •

I thought I had seen the chemical symbol for salt exploited every last way in crosswords, but this variation is clever and neatly executed. The rebus was easy to get, or the *fact* that it was a rebus was easy to get, but I didn't see the SALT SHAKER revealer coming until I was right on top of it. I could tell I was dealing with the letters NACL, which definitely made me think "salt," but my brain just instant anagrams scrambled letters into *words* and so I thought the "shaking" inside the rebus squares involved the word CLAN. Something about ... blended families? ... I dunno. I wasn't thinking that hard about it, frankly. Let the revealer be the revealer. Let it reveal. Solve your way down the grid and all will be ... revealed. And that's what happened. By not trying to cram in too many rebus squares, the puzzle is able to make most of the rebus-square answers really good ones, and also allows the rest of the grid to breathe—less thematic pressure makes for a cleaner and more entertaining grid overall. The only themer that I didn't particularly care for was MONTREAL, CANADA, and only because there's only one MONTREAL and so CANADA feels gratuitous. I'm opposed to most city comma country (or state) answers unless there's strong colloquial evidence for saying it that way (e.g. GARY, INDIANA GARY, INDIANA GARY, INDIANA), or unless you really need to differentiate one city from another (PARIS, FRANCE works because PARIS, TEXAS exists). I've never heard anyone say "MONTREAL, CANADA." I have heard the gangster Kristo, who controls wrestling in all of London, warn Harry Fabian, a small-time con-man who is trying to set himself up as a London wrestling promoter, that if he wants to promote wrestling, he should "Go to Montreal, which is in Canada," because London is off limits ... but I only heard that while watching "Night and the City" (1950). Otherwise, I really like the rebus answers; VATICAN LIBRARY (11D: Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius) and INTERNAL CLOCK (17A: Circadian rhythm regulator) are particularly original.

The real star of the grid, however, is the fill, particularly THE CASTRO and DRAG KING—a powerful 1-2 queer qombination. I just watched Barbara Hammer's documentary "Audience" last night, in which she interviews actual audiences at screenings of her movies around the globe to get a sense of their expectations and reactions. The first part of the film takes place in San Francisco, so THE CASTRO was (at least tangentially) on my mind. By the way, the film later moves on to Montreal, which is in Canada.

No real difficulty today. I had no idea "The Squad" had expanded, or was an official thing, so JAMAAL was new to me. I wanted Mendelssohn to write maybe OPERETTAS (?)—I briefly thought that answer (which turned out to be OCTETS) might be part of the rebus. I've never seen MESMER clued in a way that didn't refer concretely to hypnotism (or "mesmerizing"), but I guess the "animal magnetism" concept is part of that—not knowing that, MESMER was weirdly hard for me. I wrote "I READ" (!?) before "NOTED" (69A: "Copy that"), and then, hilariously, I wrote TSAR (?) and BOAR (!?) before BEAR at 68A: Symbol of Russia. I know the term BROGUE but was clearly not clear on what they actually ... are, exactly. Luckily Jennifer EGAN's name is very familiar to me, so I didn't struggle with BROGUE for too long. I did, however, trip over the "how do I spell that sound?" conundrum at AAH (54D: Contented sigh). Also, earlier, I got hung up on and then stopped to document what I consider a paradigmatic kealoa*, which ironically involves not KEA v. LOA but:


What else?
  • Dollar is an alternative to AVIS in the rental car market (10A)
  • The House is the counterpart (or "mate") of the SENATE in Congress
  • L'ora della siesta = siesta time! (TRE = three)
  • "Bestie" (24D: Bestie in Bordeaux) is slang for "best friend" and not, as my brain originally processed it, some kind of dog breed (like a Yorkie ... or a "Westie"!!! That's where my brain was glitching! Glad I figured it out). 
West Highland Terrier, aka "Westie"

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = routine short answer that you can't just write in because there are multiple, equally routine, possibilities

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