Gossiping types / MON 9-20-21 / One-named R&B singer with the 1999 6x platinum album Unleash the Dragon / Classic arcade game set in outer space

Monday, September 20, 2021

Constructor: Pao Roy

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Volcano parts, sort of — themers end with words for layers of earth, which have some tangential relationship to volcanoes ... then there are weird extra five-letter theme answers concerning what lava *is* (before and after, or rather after and before, an eruption) ... oh, and then ASHES, for some reason:

Theme answers:
  • GLUTEN-FREE CRUST (17A: Pizza feature for a specialized diet)
  • ASSUME THE MANTLE (34A: Take on a position, along with its responsibilities)
  • ROTTEN TO THE CORE (52A: Lacking any moral compass)
  • ROCKS (1A: What lava becomes after an eruption)
  • MAGMA (60A: What lava is before an eruption)
  • ASHES (27D: Volcanic emissions)
Word of the Day: J. COLE (48D: Rapper J. ___) —

Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) known professionally as J. Cole, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. Cole is regarded as one of the most influential rappers of his generation. Born on a military base in Germany and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a musical career, he went on to release two additional mixtapes, The Warm Up (2009) and Friday Night Lights (2010) both to critical acclaim, after signing to Jay-Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009.

Cole released his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. His next album, Born Sinner (2013), also topped the Billboard 200. Moving into more conscious themes, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014) topped the Billboard 200 and earned Cole a Best Rap Album nomination at the 2015 Grammy Awards. His jazz influenced fourth album, 4 Your Eyez Only (2016), debuted at number one on the Billboard200. Cole's fifth album, KOD (2018), became his fifth number-one album on the Billboard 200 and featured a then-record six simultaneous top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, tying The Beatles. His sixth studio album, The Off-Season, was released on May 14, 2021. (wikipedia)

• • •

I'm confused. The *earth* has a core, and a mantle, and a crust, and volcanos ... are part of the earth ... but in allllll the cross sections of volcanoes that I am currently looking at online, not one of them includes CRUST, MANTLE, or CORE. See, here's one:

And here's one:

No CRUST, no MANTLE, no CORE. Again, those are parts of the earth, for sure, and volcanoes are, technically, parts of the earth, so ... OK, but this MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES stuff ... I don't know, the words all seem only loosely associated with volcanoes, and the MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES part feels super tacked-on. Also, starting with ROCKS and ending with MAGMA feels (no, is) backwards. There's just a sloppiness here to the execution that really needs unsloppifying. Further, while I really like THEY/THEM and EGOMANIA, the fill on this is a bit on the old-fashioned / crosswordesey side. ATTA and NENE!? You're bringing back both, in the same grid? But seriously, what happened in the SW corner. Surely an editor could've spruced that thing up pretty quickly. If you wanted to the very least possible, you could change PRAY / ANO to PREY / ENO, which, currently, 72.3% of solvers agree is the better pairing.

But if you just change PAGODA to something like ONEIDA you get much more favorable letter patterns in the Downs and the whole corner gets a lot easier to make clean. ANO GTOS AONE is a lot of not-great for one little section. You gotta mind the small stuff, because if it gets ugly, then all of a sudden it isn't small stuff any more. 

I should be fair to the themers, which I think are actually quite good as stand-alone answers. Still, the theme just didn't work for me. Hope you were more into it than I was. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Major exporter of nutmeg / SUN 9-19-21 / Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor / Like the Mideast exclave of Madha / Rude Boy singer to fans / Obie-winning playwright Will / Figure on Italy's 2000-lira note

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "New Look"Two "I"s are added to the last word (or word part) in familiar phrases; the gimmick is explained by the punning phrase, a "FRESH PAIR OF EYES" (116A: New look provider ... or a homophonic hint to this puzzle's theme):

Theme answers:
  • THOROUGH FAIRIES (from "thoroughfares") (23A: Meticulous magical beings?)
  • PANAMA-HAITI (from "Panama hat") (32A: Like some cross-Caribbean flights?)
  • DOUBLE DIARIES (from "double dares") (50A: Journals of a certain stunt performer?)
  • SHOULDER HAIRINESS (from "shoulder harness") (68A: Possible reason for refusing to wear a tank top?)
  • BOOKS ON TAIPEI (from "books on tape") (85A: Means of learning about Chiang Kai-shek?)
  • POLKA IDIOTS (from "polka dots") (99A: Inept dancers at Oktoberfest?)
Word of the Day: AL TOON (34A: Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor) —
Albert Lee Toon Jr. (born April 30, 1963) is a former professional American football wide receiver who played for the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) for eight seasons. A two-time First Team All-Big Ten pick at the University of Wisconsin, Toon set several school football records for the Wisconsin Badgers. The three-time Pro Bowl selectee played his entire NFL career with the Jets (1985-1992), leading his team and the league in receptions during the late 1980s. He is considered to be among the Jets' all-time greatest wide receivers and overall players in franchise history. (wikipedia)
• • •

Is the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" supposed to be a meaningful entity? What the hell is that? AL TOON is a three-time Pro Bowler, that's good enough. Saying he's in the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" is just an awkward way of shouting "he's absolutely not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame!" There is absolutely no crossword reason for using "New York Jets Ring of Honor" except, perhaps, to signal that AL TOON was a Jet. "I fell into a burning ring of honor!" That's all I can hear in my head. Also, Ring of Honor has big "weird ritual" vibes, like maybe the induction ceremony involves human sacrifice at the mouth of a volcano. In short: I have no idea who AL TOON is (wasn't even sure if that was one name or two), and the clue didn't help. There's an American artist, John Altoon, who was married to actress Fay Spain, whom I know from supporting roles in a couple of Mamie van Doren films, the poster for one of which hangs framed in my living room. Fay Spain did her first screen test with James Garner, whose 1997 HBO hostage film "Dead Silence" I watched earlier today. Wikipedia is really full of the most incredible rabbit holes. Annnnnnyway, this theme was fine. You add two "I"s to answers, thus giving those answers a FRESH PAIR OF EYES, with a homophonic pun on "eyes," yes, I see, very nice. It's vintage Sunday wackiness, and as vintage Sunday wackiness goes, it's pretty clever. The resulting themers are mostly suitably nuts. I didn't love this, but I definitely liked it more than I've been liking most Sunday puzzles this month year decade.

The BEEFIER clue is insane (Like the Rock vis-à-vis any of the Stones). Why, why would you do that? I know you really (really!) wanted to do some kind of Rock / Stones mash-up, but a BEEFIER clue seems an odd venue in which to showcase that bit of wit. Do people really watch "Two Broke Girls"? Actually, bigger question, is that still on the air? I feel like if something gets on CBS and does OK it just runs forever and ever and ever by inertia and no one really notices. Or, millions of people notice, but somehow, culturally, no noise is made, despite the falling trees (er, episodes). CSI is also in this puzzle, in case you're wondering who's paying for promotional puzzle consideration (probably not, but it's a good conspiracy theory). "Two Broke Girls" ran for six seasons, I am told (again, by Wikipedia). The point is, I know BETH Behrs about as well as I know AL TOON (if BETH Behrs is famous, then maybe you should be seeing about getting her *last* name into the puzzle—*that* would be original). Yesterday I thought the NRA was the IRA and today I thought the NBA was the NRA (79D: Org. that bestows the Community Assist Award). I also thought DAHS were DOTS because a. who the hell knows Morse Code, seriously, and b. DAHS is the dah-umbest looking non-word, I just can't accept it despite knowing it (exclusively from crosswords) for decades. Btw, Morse Code is made up of "dots and dashes" which are also known as "dits and DAHS" (because "dots and dashes" was such a mouthful?). Other things I didn't know: that people ate CAMEL (115A: Dish at a traditional Bedouin wedding), or that Missy Elliott was ever in an R&B group before her solo success—these last two ignorances made the SW corner a little harrowing, but only a little. 

Despite being an ENG professor, I did not suspect ENG at all as the answer to 81D: Liberal arts sch. major. What an oddly phrased clue. First, "sch.", yuck. Second, you can major in ENG practically anywhere. I did, in fact, go to a liberal arts college, but they have that major at big universities, it turns out. You could just say [Liberal arts deg.] or [... maj.] or whatever abbr. you need to clue the abbr. that is ENG. Hey, we all know ENG is short for ENGlish, right? Just checking I assume we're all on the same page, but you never know. Speaking of explanations, "doodles" are (I'm assuming) labradoodles, though I think of those as bigger dogs, not LAPDOGS (8A: Small doodles, perhaps). Maybe there are mini versions. Oops, nope, looks like *any* dog crossed with a poodle immediately becomes some kind of "-doodle" (or a "-poo"). Woof. Stop doodling dogs! Just adopt a mutt. Or get a PULI, they at least look awesome (32D: Hungarian herding breed). A STETSON is (I guess) made of felt, which is what that clue's all about (124A: Felt on the head?). The 'Hoos are UVA (a back formation of the school's yell—so dumb, esp. when you are already the Cavaliers, just be the Cavs, so much less Seussian than the 'Hoos). The TERPS are of course the Maryland Terpsichores. That's enough trivia for today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Anime genre featuring giant robots / SAT 9-18-21 / Humans in sci-fi slang / Aid in breaching castle walls / E-commerce alternative to Square or Stripe / Metaphor for a 100-degree day / Surname on a "True Grit" poster / Genre popularized by Limp Bizkit and Korn / Upgrade for a train passenger / Org. at center of modern name image likeness legislation

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Constructor: Ryan McCarty

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PETARD (40D: Aid in breaching castle walls) —
petard is a small bomb used for blowing up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. It is of French origin and dates back to the 16th century.[1] A typical petard was a conical or rectangular metal device containing 5–6 pounds (2–3 kg) of gunpowder, with a slow match for a fuse. (wikipedia)
• • •

So good...
This is so good. Just winner after winner. ~10 times the sparkle-fill content as yesterday's puzzle. Sufficiently tough but not grueling, and just bursting with life and personality. Even the one truly dumb entry (LIBATE) made me literally laugh out loud. That is some quaint bygone olde-tymey fill I can use! Ironically? Sure, ironically. I'm using it ironically. That's what I'll say. That's what I'll say after I shout "Let's LIBATE!" and everyone just stares. "It means 'drink'! It's not a sex thing, I swear! I was being quaintly ironic!," I'll say. And then I will drink, because I will need to. You can have one loopy Word of Yore if the rest of your grid sizzles with stuff like MEGACHURCH and GAYPORN (bless you for finally bringing these two crazy kids together, Mr. McCarty!) I made lots of little missteps, but no big ones, and I never got truly bogged down, so the struggle was pleasant. I felt like the puzzle wanted me to have a good time. Some puzzles seem like they want you to suffer and then want to sneer at you for not understanding their evil genius. Better puzzles seem to put you through an obstacle course while shouting encouragement all the way, and then rewarding you for your success with, like, beer or cake whatever it is you like. To drastically change metaphors: I really felt like I got upgraded to the PARLOR CAR today (man I miss the romantic train travel of the mid-20th century that I never got to experience and probably only existed in movies! I live in the "Parlor City" and we have no train service whatsoever—just carousels and spiedies. Put SPIEDIES in a puzzle, you cowards! #Binghamton).

Hardest answer for me was probably BRONZER PALETTE (19A: Makeup kit for a summer look). I didn't know makeup bronzer had anything to do with summer. I know "bronzer" as the stuff that can make your skin look dark, the tanning lotion, but again my not wearing makeup has locked me out of the fact that bronzer is a face makeup thing (which is somehow also for summery looks??). We are not really a makeup-wearing people, this household, alas. And I couldn't get from "kit" to PALETTE too easily. I would've gotten there sooner if I hadn't imagined that it was the *I*RA who filed for bankruptcy in 2021, or if I'd known that AMAZONPAY was a thing (I know only Apple Pay and Google Pay ... Google has a "Pay," right? Or am I confusing it with Google Play? Ugh) (5D: E-commerce alternative to Square or Stripe). With IRA in place, really looked like the "summer look" was going to have something to do with BROILING. But I got around my makeup ignorance pretty easily. The grid is so flowing and interconnected that there aren't many places to get truly stuck. I just went down to the center and then back up in the NE and worked BRONZER PALETTE out from there. After that, no serious hold-ups. Just fun.

[LOL this song, Wow, talk about reactionary rural white myth-making. 
"Leather boots are still in style / For manly footwear" is a great lyric, though!]

I know them as "mommy blogs," not MOM BLOGS, but the difference seems pretty minor (2D: Some parenting websites). Also, I thought I knew them as "meat sacks," not MEAT BAGS, but google returns some pretty definitively testicular answers for "meat sacks" so MEAT BAGS does indeed appear to be the mot préféré (34D: Humans, in sci-fi slang). Riz AHMED's name lives in my head for reasons I don't know. Why hasn't RIZ been in a puzzle? That's clearly the name part that's shouting most loudly for grid inclusion. I forgot that "name, image and likeness" had to do with college athletes getting paid for the use of ... well, those three things (abbreviated "NIL," btw), but it came back to me quickly when I saw NCAA was going to be the answer there (9A: Org. at the center of modern "name, image and likeness" legislation). I had 'TIS for the poetic contraction (29A: 'TIL) before NU METAL set me right (saw a reference to this genre just this week and could not have foreseen it would be crossword-useful). Had slight trouble with the ARMY part of TROLL ARMY, and I thought the FRAT BRO was a FRAT BOY at first (that's what we used to call them ... too infantilizing now, I guess). Super proud of myself for knowing to change BOY to BRO immediately, because of seeing through the HALO clue immediately (54A: Cause of lightheadedness?), and then running APNEAL (!) MECHA and I WISH from there, bam bam bam, 1-2-3. I literally have a huge happy face drawn next to the grid there, so pleased was I with myself. Hope you had similar self esteem-boosting moments, or at least an overall good time. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. if you are a crossword constructor, you might be interested in the following message from Everdeen Mason, the Editorial Director for Games at the NYT:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Monkey head mushroom by another name / FRI 9-17-21 / Group whose name means the people of the waters that are never still / Brand whose logo includes a schoolboy with a ball for a head / Animal associated with Egyptian goddess Hathor / Portmanteau for a messenger bag

Friday, September 17, 2021

Constructor: Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Sebastian STAN (11D: Actor Sebastian ___) —

Sebastian Stan (born August 13, 1982) is a Romanian-American actor. Stan gained wide recognition for his role as Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. He later returned in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and went on to star in Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War(2016), Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021).

On television, he has played Carter Baizen in Gossip GirlPrince Jack Benjamin in KingsJefferson in Once Upon a Time, and T.J. Hammond in Political Animals. The latter earned him a nomination for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries. In films, he co-starred in Jonathan Demme's comedy-drama Ricki and the Flash and Ridley Scott's science fiction film The Martian. In 2017, he portrayed Jeff Gillooly in the biopic I, Tonya. (wikipedia)

• • •

This just wasn't very good. Lost me a little right away with the leering crosswordese OGLED and then lost me a lot with the delusional and frequently racist American myth of the MELTING POT (a utopian fantasy promulgated largely by white people with the unstated but clear goal of erasing the ethnic differences of immigrants). The clue on MELTING POT is dishonest and irresponsible. When you use MELTING POT in this non-culinary way, you are evoking a specific and now very contentious theory of American life (one that there have probably been TEACH-INS about). Just stating that theory as a fact, a reality ... I dunno, it's icky and ignorant and tone-deaf. The idea of America as a MELTING POT papers over the long and enduring history of racism in this country. It's some feel-good white-person how-dare-you-teach-critical-race-theory-whatever-that-is nonsense. And I say this as someone who was raised on and to this day *adores* the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons. 

[From "The Melting Pot is an Outdated Image of America [...]" by Cecilia González-Andreiu]

Beyond that, there's just no sizzle here besides maybe GLITTER BOMBS (which I think I've seen before, but it's still good fill). The puzzle relies way way too heavily on fill-in-the-blank and "?" clues. PRAGENCY is hard enough to parse without the "?" clue, but at least that clue had wordplay that made sense, unlike REEL, which ... well, yes, you do "wind" a fishing-rod reel and if you are out on a boat when fishing, then you "wind on the water," but [Wind on the water?] when you have REE- in place suggests (or suggested, to me) an entirely different word. Can you guess what that is? [... Tick ... tock]. I sincerely wrote REED in here (since REED is another name for a certain kind of "wind" instrument, and REEDs (the plants) are most definitely found "on the water" (around ponds and such)). This left me with GOADS for 38A: Aspirational hashtag (GOALS), which I knew had to be wrong, but which I still couldn't sort out because REED seemed right. Was I parsing GOADS wrong? Was it ... GO ADS! (the "aspirational hashtag" you use when you ... want more ... ads?). Anyway, the only real difficulty in the puzzle came with "?" clues, and with having no idea who Sebastian STAN is (I saw every MCU movie through "Black Panther" and still have no real idea who was in them, for the most part ... and "Gossip Girl," not exactly age-appropriate for me) (he's a famous actor, he's fine, I'm just saying I didn't know him). 

A MURSE remains not a thing—it's a portmanteau joke that surely died almost as soon as the name became public. The idea of multiple TREACLES is a flat-out absurdity. The clue on EON is ... what is that? (41A: S_c__d (time in time)). I've seen this "I'll be cheeky by removing letters from my clue word" clue at least one other time, and I hope it's not a trend, because it's awful, child's-placemat stuff. Fill-in-the-blanks are bad enough, don't make me do the ****ing Jumble. What does "time in time" even mean? I know that a "second" is a unit of time and an EON is a unit of time, but what is the phrase "time in time" supposed to evoke? It's a non-phrase. "Time After Time," that's a phrase (and a great Cyndi Lauper song). I don't know what "time in time" is. This is the *crossword*. Write a *crossword* clue. 

What else? Oh, you call Pentagon bigwigs BRASS. Just BRASS. The "HAT" part feels real old-fashioned (it's a real phrase, but, you know, more quaint than alive) (21A: Pentagon bigwig). Lastly, I had BOWL for BOAR (21D: Big game). That's nobody's fault but my own. Just a misunderstanding of "game." Maybe intentional on the part of the cluer, maybe not. Anyway, it was effective misdirection, whether intentional or not. I think that's it. If the grid had been much hotter, a lot of its issues would've seemed less important, felt less irksome. The Friday bar is high. Gotta come with more heat than this. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Neologism for best ever / THU 9-16-21 / Apt foreign rhyme for moon / Super Mario creature that resembles a turtle / Marvel character with metallic skin / the Saxon Ivanhoe's father in Ivanhoe / Nearly massless subatomic particle / Metonym for movie industry

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Constructor: Kevin Patterson

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SILVER / LINING (33A: With 44-Across, bit of consolation ... or a feature of this puzzle's grid?) — the "lining" of the puzzle (i.e. every edge answer) begins with "silver" (which you have to mentally supply):

  • BELLS (1A: Christmas classic covered by Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan, among others)
  • BACK (6A: Kind of gorilla)
  • AGE (10A: Second-best era)
  • TONGUE (16AD: Gift of persuasiveness)
  • SCREEN (51D: Metonym for the movie industry)
  • SPOON (71A: Symbol of privilege)
  • WARE (70A: Forks and knives, e.g.)
  • FOX (69A: Attractive older fellow)
  • SURFER (42D: Marvel character with metallic skin)
  • BULLET (1D: Simple solution to a big problem)
Word of the Day: (Silver) SURFER (42D) —

The Silver Surfer is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character also appears in a number of movies, television, and video game adaptations. The character was created by Jack Kirby and first appeared in the comic book Fantastic Four #48, published in 1966.

The Silver Surfer is a humanoid alien with metallic skin who can travel through space with the aid of his surfboard-like craft. Originally a young astronomer named Norrin Radd on the planet Zenn-La, he saved his homeworld from the planet devourer, Galactus, by serving as his herald. Imbued in return with some portion of Galactus' Power Cosmic, Radd acquired vast power, a new body and a surfboard-like craft on which he could travel faster than light. Now known as the Silver Surfer, Radd roamed the cosmos searching for planets for Galactus to consume. When his travels took him to Earth, he met the Fantastic Four, who helped him rediscover his nobility of spirit. Betraying Galactus, the Surfer saved Earth but was exiled there as punishment. (wikipedia)

• • •

I can't stop laughing at RONI. Who calls it RONI? I feel like this alleged slang belongs in the same fictional pizza universe where people call it 'ZA. "Hey, I'm gonna order a 'ZA, whaddya want on it?" "RONI!" "OK, a RONI 'ZA, gotcha. I'll call KOOPA's" (which seems as good a name for an imaginary pizzeria as any). Stop inventing slang, esp. slang abbrs.! Or, keep doing it, so I can end every puzzle laughing. Let's see, what else was in this puzzle? Oh, right, SILVER / LINING! This is one of those ideas that seems like it shoulda been done a million jillion years ago. You see the phrase and the puzzle just writes itself. It's a fine idea, but wow does it make solving the puzzle easy. Once you get the gimmick, you've basically got every edge answer handed to you on a ... hey, where's PLATTER? Why isn't PLATTER in this puzzle? PLATTER needs a better agent? Oh, wait, I'm seeing that PLATTER is just too long. Poor PLATTER. A victim of lengthism yet again (probably). I got the theme right away. Well, I should've gotten it here:

But somehow I thought the intersection of the answers was what mattered, so I had no real idea what to expect. Also, I was still singing the "Christmas classic" in my head like this: "Jingle bells ... jingle bells .. it's Christmas tiiiiiiime in the city," so yeah, many facets of the puzzle hadn't quite sunk in yet. But then I got the silverBACK gorilla and:

At this point, I could've gone around and filled in every edge answer, but I resisted and continued to solve normally (i.e. working off crosses until I was done). So I actually forced myself to slow down, which is *not* something I'm accustomed to doing, but it meant the silver answers came in one at a time instead of in a glut, which I think was probably a nicer experience. There's nothing particularly stunning about the fill, but it's clean and it holds up. But then again I was in a good mood from the start, because, well, I have a longstanding, fervent, unwavering crush on Laura LINNEY, so it's always delightful to run into her, in the LONDON AREA or wherever. Speaking of LONDON AREA, that was probably the hardest thing in the puzzle for me to get, honestly, mostly because I was thinking maybe all those Premier League teams played in the same LONDON arena (hey, just add "n" to your AREA and bam, arena!). But no, just the area. 

Five things:
  • 20A: Apt foreign rhyme of "moon" (LUNE)
    — this is actually a non-foreign rhyme. LUNE is a geometrical term. Also, apparently, a pasta-shape term: "a filled pasta case made from a circle of pasta dough folded over" (google)
  • 26D: "Absolutely!" ("YUP!") — this is Absolutely! my least favorite clue (or one of them) because there are a bunch of viable and semi-viable three-letter "Y" answers and you have no idea which one it's gonna be. I went with "YES!" "YEP!" would've been reasonable. "YEA" and "YAH" seem far less likely but you never know.
  • 18D: Like some healthier potato chips (NO-SALT) — ah, I see the Snack Food Council has got its thumb on the scale again. Did a NO-SALT potato chip write this clue? There is no "healthy" (or "healthier") potato chip, please keep the word "healthy" at least six feet away from the word "potato chip" at all times. If you are cramming chips in your mouth, you've left "healthiness" behind (and that's OK!). Eat chips! Or don't! But healthy shmealthy (or healthier shmealthier, I guess)
  • 49A: Some significant others, for short (BFS) — short for boyfriends. Another answer (like "YUP!") where the answer (that first letter, in particular) could've easily been more than one thing. This answer looks like a typo for BFFS.
  • 59D: Pixy ___ (candy brand) (STIX) — I always want this answer to be STYX, which is apt, as this is the only candy they have in hell. Dante uses it to punish the gluttons in Ring 3. Oh, you don't think so? Yeesh, read a book once in a while, why don't you!?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. GOAT = Greatest Of All Time (15A: Neologism for "best ever"). Not the first time we've seen this. Won't be the last.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Alliterative "Doctor" of children's literature / WED 9-15-21 / Collaborative principle in improv comedy / Exclamation of shock spelled in a modern way / Old rug in a courtroom / Garfield's romantic interest in the comics

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Constructor: Sophie Buchmueller and Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: HEAD FAKE (57A: Basketball feint ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, 36- and 46-Across?) — theme answers are fake parts of heads, clued with wacky "?" clues:

Theme answers:
  • GLASS EYE (17A: Socket replacement?)
  • DENTAL CROWN (24A: Canine covering?)
  • FALSE LASHES (36A: Batter's additions?)
  • POWDERED WIG (46A: Old rug in a courtroom?)
Word of the Day: Doctor DE SOTO (62A: Alliterative "Doctor" of children's literature) —

Doctor De Soto is a picture book for children written and illustrated by William Steig and first published in 1982. It features a mouse dentist who must help a fox with a toothache without being eaten.

Steig and his book won the 1983 National Book Award for Children's Books in category Picture Books, Hardcover, as did Barbara Cooney for Miss Rumphius.

Doctor De Soto was also recognized as a Newbery Honor Book. At 32 pages it is one of the shortest to be honored in that awards program. (wikipedia)

• • •

Never warmed up to this one. If you describe the theme, maybe it sounds OK, but solving it was mostly unpleasant. The "?" clues were bizarre to me. There's no rhyme or reason to them. There's no pattern to the wordplay or phrasing. It's just "let's try to mask the answer a little, just to add some other level to the puzzle." Are the clues supposed to be another example of a "fake"? Like a "fake-out"? Like, "haha, you thought we were talking about pancake batter, but really it's an eyelash batter ... say TOUCHÉ now!" I dunno. The whole cluing logic was lost on me. And the DENTAL CROWN clue wasn't even a fake, really. Not sure it even needed a "?". The cluing phrases aren't good misdirection. They don't sound like actual things at all. [Socket replacement?] makes me think of ... nothing. [Old rug in a courtroom?] is just nonsense. It's like you had a potentially great revealer (HEADFAKE) and then didn't know what to do with it exactly and so ended up with this. Constructors, please take my HEADFAKE Revealer Challenge and make a better HEADFAKE-themed puzzle. I believe it's out there, the Platonic Ideal of the HEADFAKE puzzle. But this one just doesn't have the zip and zing and thoughtfulness it should. And the fill was truly grating in many places, from the "just 'cause it's in your enormous wordlist doesn't make it good" PIECEWISE to the "that's not an exclamation, that's a chemical formula, at best" WOAH, to the always unwelcome ETAIL sitting alongside the far more unwelcome NONPC (which somehow manages to be worse than UNPC, which is itself a bogus term used by bigots who mistakenly believe they are free-speech warriors whose truth-telling the libs just can't handle!). AS IF I CARE is original but it's also just not what people say. "SEE IF I CARE!" would be a Great phrase. "LIKE I CARE" is definitely in-the-language. AS IF I CARE ... sigh, sure, maybe some people say that, but when two better phrases come to mind, maybe your phrase isn't really the one you should be going with. 

I had all my trouble in and around the latticework of PIECEWISE / WOAH / FALSE LASHES / LLC / ASIFICARE, which seems like a lot of trouble, but actually there were just pesky patches. Not sure why I can't keep my LTDs and LLCs straight, but here we are in 2021 and sadly I still can't. I think the "cousin" in 33D: Inc. cousin made me think, like, "your cousin overseas ... Ian ... the British cousin," and so I went with LTD ... which is, in fact, British Inc. (or so crossword clues have told me over the years ... so I guess I feel less bad about writing in LTD now. I just misunderstood the way "cousin" was being used. No other difficulties with the puzzle, just questions. Like, what the hell is up with DOOR ONE (38D: "Let's Make a Deal" choice). I really (really) feel like there should be a "number" between those two words. Google thinks same.

"Let's see what's behind DOOR *NUMBER* ONE" is how I remember the phrasing (from back when I occasionally watched that show, which was when I was a child, which feels like the show's intended audience, but what do I know). The most puzzling answer of all, though, was COARSE. How ... how is the answer here not HOARSE (53A: Roughly speaking?)!?!?!?! I don't associate COARSE with "speaking" at all, but HOARSE, wow perfect. The phrase "roughly speaking" suggests approximation, but you turn it around via the "?" clue and give us an answer that means "speaking roughly," great! But that answer should be HOARSE, which literally means "(of a person's voice) sounding rough or harsh" (Google/Oxford Languages) (my emph.). COARSE is wrong here. Bad. Flat-out ... just no.

I was stunned to learn that Doctor DE SOTO was famous enough to warrant crossword inclusion (62A: Alliterative "Doctor" of children's literature).  Pleasantly stunned. When DOOLITTLE obviously wasn't going to fit, I was stuck, but when DE SOTO came into view, I was reminded of reading that book to my daughter a lot when *she* was a child. I'd forgotten that Doctor DE SOTO was a William Steig creation. Man, that guy couldn't miss. Hey, why is "Doctor" in quotation marks in this clue? That mouse is a Doctor of Vulpine Dentistry, show him some respect! Anyway, to sum up, Doctor DE SOTO, D.V.D., good, the rest of this puzzle, pass. Thanks for listening, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kaplan of indie rock's Yo La Tengo / TUE 9-14-21 / Ward old political operative / Intl financial giant headquartered in London / Everlasting candy from Willy Wonka / Bygone M&M color / Lord High Executioner in The Mikado / Choco ice cream treats

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Constructor: Christopher Adams

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (I think ... felt "name"-y and I had more hiccups than usual)

THEME: "KINKY BOOTS" (57A: 2013 Best Musical Tony winner ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — the letter string "boots" appears "kinkily" (i.e. mixed up) inside seven answers:

Theme answers:
  • GOBSTOPPER (15A: "Everlasting" candy from Willy Wonka)
  • BOOSTERS (13D: Some vaccine shots)
  • BOSTON POPS (9D: Orchestra once conducted by John Williams)
  • NANOBOTS (22A: Teeny-tiny futuristic machines)
  • SOB STORY (46A: Tale of woe)
  • GUEST BOOKS (26D: Places to sign in in inns)
  • LOST BOYS (32D: "Peter Pan" group)
Word of the Day: "IGOR" (56A: 2019 #1 album for Tyler, the Creator) —
Igor (stylized in all caps) is the fifth studio album by American rapper and producer Tyler, the Creator. It was released on May 17, 2019, through Columbia Records. [...] Music journalists have noted that Igor continues to build on the hip hop and neo soul sound established in Flower Boy, while also incorporating R&B and funk influences. Critics have noted the album's use of synthesizers and low-mixed vocals. Thematically, Igor follows a narrative of a love triangle between the titular character and his male love interest. The album employs the "Igor" literary archetype to explore themes associated with love, such as heartbreak, loss, and jealousy. // To help market the album, Tyler, the Creator released the single "Earfquake", which reached number 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming his highest charting single. In its first week of release, Igor debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, moving 165,000 album-equivalent units and becoming Tyler, the Creator's first US number-one album. It was a widespread critical success, being named among the best albums of 2019 in many publications' year-end lists, and won Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. (wikipedia)
• • •

The only thing I don't get is why three pairs of boots intersect. They're not supposed to be boot-shaped, are they? No, those pairs all actually form slightly different shapes, and the final pair (including "BOOTS" in the revealer) don't intersect at all, so maybe (probably) intersection has absolutely nothing to do with the theme. A red herring. Are the kinky boots in "KINKY BOOTS" red? I confess I know nothing about it except Cyndi Lauper is involved, and I adore her. Answers that feature the rearranged letters of "boots" may not sound like much—it's a simple concept—but this is a good example of where the *concept* does not have to be mind-blowing for the result to be pretty delightful. The one big plus: all the kinky-boots answers, i.e. all the themers, are entertaining and original answers. Something about that letter combination produces zingy fill. GUEST BOOKS and BOSTON POPS and BOOSTERS are solid and straightforward, not earth-shaking, but it just gets better from there, with SOB STORY, NANOBOTS, and GOBSTOPPER being real winners. I also liked LOST BOYS, but confess I would've liked it better if the clue had taken the 1987 Kiefer Sutherland vampire movie route. Still, overall, those themers really pay off, and the rest of the grid, though heavy on short fill, is smooth enough, and often interesting in its own right. I declare this puzzle not WACK (5A: Bad, slangily).

Perhaps because "KINKY BOOTS" is a musical, today's grid is chock full o' musical answers of a surprising breadth and, I'm guessing, for a good segment of the solving population, "obscurity." Note the quotation marks. The closest thing to a truly obscure musical clue here today is IRA Kaplan. That clue for IRA is a favorite of Ben Tausig over at American Values Club crosswords, but that's a slightly different crowd, that solver base. Ben's puzzles are often hyper-musical (Ben himself is a musician and ethnomusicologist), so I expect lots of music over there. I don't expect the majority of NYTXW solvers even to have heard of Yo La Tengo, frankly. So, easy for me, but maybe harder or unknown to many of you (I actually never saw the clue because the crosses took care of it, but I *would've* known it had I seen it). I feel like we've seen ROBYN before, and she's very popular, but, you know, not ENYA-familiar, gridwise (20D: One-named singer with the 2010 hit "Dancing on My Own"). Despite seeing that the three-letter B-word for the Michael Jackson song was about a rat, my fingers still instinctively wrote in "BAD." Bad! Bad fingers! The worst musical moment for me was forgetting "IGOR," an album I listened to a lot when it came out, and one whose potential crossword value I definitely touted. He has a new album, one whose name I've also forgotten (it's "Call Me If You Get Lost"), and so though I could picture the album cover for "IGOR," I found the name had escaped me. There's also a RAGA in here, and of course the BOSTON POPS, so I think the volume on music clues was definitely turned up today.

I am never going to remember supermodel names, or most of them anyway, so BELLA was a big shrug to me today (13A: Supermodel Hadid). I also don't know much at all about "The Mikado" and would probably steer clear of it entirely were I cluing puzzles. Its white imperialist fantasies of the "exotic East" have been known to rub people the wrong way, not surprisingly. So, yeah, KOKO? No idea. That whole SW corner was a bit tough for me, as I thought a SPIKE was a SMASH and couldn't come up with "OH, GOD," which to me is far more common and decidedly less old-fashioned and prim than its clue, ["Good heavens!"]. Moments like this, and the preponderance of names in the puzzle, probably meant that I was slower than usual for a Tuesday. I don't time myself any more T through Sat because I now solve regularly at 4:30am and I just can't work up concern (or capability) for speed at that hour. The clock is just not something I want to think about. So I don't. But I am guessing this one played somewhat on the hard side, for a Tuesday. If not, good for you! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Longtime Disney chief Bob / MON 9-13-21 / Turkish title of honor / Face app that creates bizarre photos / Title word sung 52 times in a 2000 hit by 'N Sync / Shades of blue used in print cartridges / German city in Ruhr Valley

Monday, September 13, 2021

Constructor: A. Tariq

Relative difficulty: Medium, maybe a little harder than the average Monday

THEME: groups — familiar terms clued (wackily, of course) as if the second word were a term for "group":

Theme answers:
  • HOUSE PARTY (17A: Group of Washington politicians?)
  • ICE PACK (29A: Group of diamond jewelry wearers?)
  • DEEP SET (47A: Group of profoundly insightful people?)
  • SEMI CIRCLE (61A: Group of big rig haulers?)
Word of the Day: AGHA (19A: Turkish title of honor) —
Agha, also Aga (Ottoman Turkishآغا‎; Persianآقا‎, romanizedāghā; "chief, master, lord"), is an honorific title for a civilian or military officer, or often part of such title, and was placed after the name of certain civilian or military functionaries in the Ottoman Empire. At the same time some court functionaries were entitled to the agha title. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ehhhh ... this felt a million years old. Also, because of the "?" nature of the theme, slightly harder than a normal Monday. HEADS-UP was the one zingy answer, but then it duplicated the "UP" from DRAG UP, so ... that kind of undoes a lot of the good of the zinginess. I WIN and I WISH intersect :( Both ESSEN and ODESSA somehow escaped from Ye Olde Booke of Crossworde Place Names holding pen. I think AGHA helped them break out. There is somehow more than one cyan? And, of course, IGER is here again for some reason. He just shows up. No one invites him, and yet no one is surprised to see him. He's just there. Like a lamp. Two of the themers are way too short—I really thought 11D (VEGETABLES) and 28D (HODGEPODGE) were going to be themers. By rights (and length / position) they should've been. They are in the same position vertically that HOUSE PARTY and SEMICIRCLE are in horizontally. And yet, not themers. But the dumb short 7-letter ICE PACK and DEEP SET somehow are themers. It's all so weird. And the clues don't reorient the meanings of the words enough to be really zany. Well, at least the HOUSE PARTY clue doesn't. You've got the "group" meaning of "party" and the "woo hoo!" meaning of "party," but making the HOUSE part Congress means you've also got the political meaning of "party" interfering with whatever wordplay you're trying to get going there. It's clunky.

I guess the theme concept is OK. I mean, it works, technically. But the results aren't exactly hilarious, and as I say, the theme material is pretty dang thin. With a theme this thin, I expect a very clean, very snazzy grid. The grid is neither of these things. Why do we clue INDIE as if it's not mainstream? It's a term that has lost all meaning and lots and lots of self-styled INDIE music is extremely mainstream (37A: Nonmainstream, as music). A pirate's treasure is BOOTY. It just is. Any answer but BOOTY (say, LOOT, for example) is only going to be disappointing (34D: Pirate's treasure). O wow this stylization of NSYNC as apostrophe "N" space "S" lowercase "ync" is so godawful (36A: Title word sung 52 times in a 2000 hit by 'N Sync) ... it's bad enough that I live in a world where NSYNC (or N*SYNC) songs are basically oldies, now you give me this alt-spelling? I am going to stop thinking about this puzzle now. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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