Balrog's home in Lord of the Rings / SUN 2-28-21 / Big name in windshield wipers /Site of the Minotaur's labyrinth / Liquor with double-headed eagle logo

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Constructor: Brad Wiegmann

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Crossword Buff" — puns related to nudism

Theme answers:
  • BARELY MANAGING (24A: Leadership style of the nudist club president?)
  • MANY MOONS AGO (41A: When the nudist club was founded?)
  • RAW RECRUITS (56A: New members of the nudist club?)
  • COMIC STRIPS (78A: What happens in the stand-up show at the nudist club?)
  • EXPOSURE TIME (92A: Hours spent by the pool at the nudist club?)
  • FULLY RECOVERED (108A: How people returned from a week at the nudist club?)
  • BOTTOMLESS PIT (4D: Where the nudist club orchestra plays its concerts?)
  • WINNING STREAK (59D: Victory in the annual nudist club 1K?)
Word of the Day: CETUS (78D: Whale constellation) —
Cetus (/ˈstəs/) is a constellation. The Cetus was a sea monster in Greek mythology as both Perseus and Heracles needed to slay, sometimes in English called 'the whale'. Cetus is in the region of the sky that contains other water-related constellations: AquariusPisces and Eridanus. (wikipedia)
• • •

No time for this. The era when tehee'ing about nekkidness puns was something that might warrant a hearty chuckle has long passed, folks. This felt like a theme from times of yore. Not even a smile from me, on any of these. Why is the pit merely BOTTOMLESS if they're a "nudist club orchestra?" That's some pretty half-assed (!) nudism there. Some stuff, like FULLY RECOVERED, only connects to nudism in the most tenuous of ways. The theme is juvenile and corny, and even if I thought it was great conceptually, the clues / answers just don't land. The rest of it is just filler. A grid you might've seen decades ago. Fine, unremarkable. I remain completely baffled that the NYTXW not only doesn't turn out a *killer* Sunday puzzle every week, but can't even put a string of passable efforts together. OK, I'm just noticing that LAR (!?!?!) is an answer, so even my estimation of the fill has gone down now (9D: Choreographer Lubovitch). Wow. LAR. OK. This is the marquee puzzle, the Sunday, the Big Show! Howwwwwww do we end up with a pile of disappointment every week!? 

Almost all the difficulty lay in trying to figure out what the hell the themers were trying to do, which meant over and over again, struggle was followed not by aha but by oof. Now I'm seeing MORIA? What is that? (43D: Balrog's home in "The Lord of the Rings"). Also, who / what is BALROG. I saw all those movies, and found them completely dull and forgettable. "LAR MORIA!" That's the devil's toast—roughly translated, it means "here's to your continued crossword suffering!"

Besides the themers, the only other trouble spot I encountered was the SW, generally. This is almost entirely due to the fact that I forgot CETUS, which ended up being in a weirdly crucial position, in terms of movement through the grid. CETUS and EAST gave me fits, and so my way into the SW felt a bit clogged up. I'd also never heard of RAIN-X (?) (69D: Big name in windshield wipers) or LISA Vanderpump (83D: Vanderpump of Bravo's "Vanderpump Rules"), and couldn't get to AUTO from 99D: Thermostat setting at all—needed every cross. Still, as trouble spots go, these are all pretty minor. The big issue today is that very little of any of this was interesting. I wish the news were better, but it is not. I'd really been feeling that the puzzle in general had been creeping up, quality-wise, this year. But Sunday ... bloody Sunday. I think I've liked one this year. The Paolo Pasco one from 1/3. I'm begging the good constructors, submit Sunday puzzles. Save us. Save me. Thank you. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. The Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League starts *MONDAY* Mar. 1, 2021. Get a taste of virtual tournament fun and then when this whole pandemic baloney has subsided, you can maybe venture into the wonderful world of 3-dimensional crossword tournaments! Actual physical space! Actual human bodies! What a concept. In the meantime, this League is very popular and people seem to really enjoy it, so give it a go. Here's a blurb from head tournament guy, John Lieb:
Registration for the Boswords 2021 Spring Themeless League is still open! The 9-week event starts on Monday, March 1 and features themeless puzzles -- clued at three levels of difficulty -- from an all-star roster of constructors and edited by Brad Wilber. To register, to view the constructor line-up, and to learn more, go to
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hoopster's mantra / SAT 2-27-21 / Renato's wife in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera / Actress YouTube star Condor / Trope seen in rom-coms / Pioneer in 35 mm cameras / Material whose name is Scandinavian country in French / Ron who played Tarzan on old TV

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Constructor: Yacob Yonas

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium to Medium (again, the proper nouns—and there are a lot of them—are gonna cause experiences to vary wildly)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MASER (55A: Atomic clock timekeeper) —
maser (/ˈmzər/, an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. TownesJames P. Gordon, and Herbert J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations. (wikipedia)
• • •

Really liked this one. If there were half as many names, I'd probably have liked it more. I have no problems with any of the names, on an individual basis, but, as I've said many times, nothing includes/excludes solvers more sharply than a proper noun. Also, nothing gives less of an "aha" than the completion of a name you don't know. If I have to struggle to get RESENT (and I did, a little), then at least at the end of the struggle, I know what RESENT is. I don't have this same satisfaction upon completing ELY, ARON, or AMELIA, for instance. Names are parts of puzzles, and if they're just a small part, they're great. I just feel for solvers (of all kinds) when the proper nouns pile up. For instance, for me today, I just stared blankly at four different answers when I was done, three of which were names (the fourth was MASER, which I thought was maybe a watch brand, idk). Importantly, the names I blanked on were generations apart, all three of these names. There was a Verdi opera name (AMELIA) (2D: Renato's wife in Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera"), a Beatles song name (MR. KITE) (38A: Title character in a "Sgt. Pepper" song), and a "YouTube star" name (LANA) (61A: Actress/YouTube star ___ Condor). I worked them all out reasonably easily, and none of them actually diminished my enjoyment of the rest of the puzzle. But ... I'm just thinking about people for whom the proper noun experience will be more arduous. 

It's funny, names: I do like seeing them, when I know them. It's like the puzzle is saying, "Hey, there, this one's for you. You belong." Which is important, at a fundamental level. And yet it's not the most *satisfying* level, for me, as a solver. Like, when I get handed something like LOVETT, I feel like I came by it cheap. I did not earn LOVETT or work LOVETT out. LOVETT's just there, tipping his hat at me, letting me past some figurative rope or gate to get further into the puzzle. It's a different level of pleasure. A candy level. I *do* like it. But it's somehow not as satisfying as the answer I have to work for, even if that "work" is just correctly making sense of the cluing. On the flip side, when I work out something like "MR. KITE," I'm left with ... not much of a feeling at all. I don't mean to pick on that answer, which is fine, and which I definitely *should* have known (I know so much of the Beatles catalogue so well, and yet have never listened to Sgt. Pepper (!?)). I'm just trying to think through the ways that names are different from other kinds of answers, at the satisfaction/dissatisfaction level. One last thing that should be said about today's names (HAILE TRACI AMELIA LOVETT HAMM LANA MRKITE ISIDORA SANGER DANIEL ELY ARON): this is a really beautifully diverse slate. I am into the cultural breadth on display here. It's true that names can be exclusionary, but if you offer a genuine variety, then at least they aren't exclusionary along one (racial / generational / gender) line. Anyway, I hope you navigated them successfully, because the puzzle really was bright and delightful overall. 

"BALL IS LIFE!" is quite the opener! (1A: Hoopster's mantra). Hopefully its vibrancy will be pleasing even to people who have never heard it before. I needed crosses to get it, but when I did, I perked right up. Very different energy than the answer I opened with (TEA SERVICE). Quite a bracing experience to believe you're at a rather prim tea party only to have a bunch of ballplayers crash the party and start dribbling, dunking, and raining threes down upon you. And the fresh phrases kept coming: FACEPALM, MEET-CUTE, ASCII ART. The one thing I will say about the glut of names today is that they are from alllllll over the cultural / generational spectrum. There's something for everyone to love / trip on! The only time the names got truly dense was in the SW, where ELY and ARON (old) and LANA (new) crossed MET GALA. The lucky thing about this name pile-up is the names *do* come from different worlds. Old pros are gonna pick up ELY and (maybe?) ARON with little sweat, but trip on LANA, but then vice versa for younger solvers, perhaps. MET GALA seems like a generally known thing, only, if you are like me, and only half paying attention, you went and wrote in MET BALL and got yourself in a little trouble. BALL and GALA have that "AL" core in common, so the wrongness of BALL ("confirmed" by ACAI) was not immediately apparent. A word about LANA Condor. She is indeed a YouTube star, but she's also the main star in a very popular Netflix film series ("To All the Boys I've Loved Before"). She's been in a Marvel movie, she did voicework on "Bojack Horseman" ... what I'm saying is, if you're introducing a person to grid life (GRID IS LIFE!) then it would be cool for the clue to include something specific about that person's accomplishments, so that even if a solver hasn't heard of the person, they have some reason to care. "YouTube star," with no specifics, is not a reason to care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I sorta like the colloquial quality of the clue at 47D: Like, now (AT ONCE), but that clue could just as easily have been, like, [Now]. The "Like" part adds only confusion. I thought I was supposed to come up with a modern word for "Like." Like, we used to say "Like," but "now" we say ... what? What do we say?! ... quite the misdirection hole. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Robinhood competitor / FRI 2-26-21 / Fencing sport with bamboo swords / Flavoring of Cedilla liqueur / and Ole stock characters in Upper Midwest jokes / Equatorial plantation crop / Bring aboard sci-fi style / Follower of McCarthy

Friday, February 26, 2021

Constructor: Chuck Deodene

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (???!) (no idea, solved it on ZOOM whilst chatting)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GIO Ponti (19A: Italian architect Ponti) —

Superleggera chair
Giovanni "Gio" Ponti (18 November 1891 – 16 September 1979) was an Italian architect, industrial designer, furniture designer, artist, teacher, writer and publisher.

During his career, which spanned six decades, Ponti built more than a hundred buildings in Italy and in the rest of the world. He designed a considerable number of decorative art and design objects as well as furniture. Thanks to the magazine Domus, which he founded in 1928 and directed almost all his life, and thanks to his active participation in exhibitions such as the Milan Triennial, he was also an enthusiastic advocate of an Italian-style art of living and a major player in the renewal of Italian design after the Second World War. From 1936 to 1961, he taught at the Milan Polytechnic School and trained several generations of designers. Ponti also contributed to the creation in 1954 of one of the most important design awards: the Compasso d'Oro prize. Ponti died on 16 September 1979.

His most famous works are the Pirelli Tower, built from 1956 to 1960 in Milan in collaboration with the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, the Villa Planchart in Caracas and the Superleggera chair, produced by Cassina in 1957. (wikipedia)

• • •

Hello! It's time for my monthly Zoom-solve with my friend and fellow central New Yorker, crossword constructor Rachel Fabi. Normally we'd do it on the 23rd, but ... you know, circumstances, so here we are, solving a Friday puzzle on the 26th. 

Our overall take was: very nice central stack, decent long Downs, rough everywhere else. Which seemed upside-down, as pulling off a clean 15 stack seems like it would be more challenging than simply filling a relatively small and highly sequestered corner, but, yeah, none of the corners was very good, and one (the NE) was just baffling. You can watch the video and see us solve it in real time, but if you're not so inclined, I can tell you there is a good chunk of time where I just keep changing IMPASTO (!?!?!) to IMPASSE over and over and over again. The IMPASTO / TAW (!?!?!?!?!) cross is extremely likely to cause some subset of solvers to just stare at the grid in befuddlement. I don't think IMPASTO or TAW is particularly good on its own, but I *know* they're awful when they team up to cross at that "T." It's been 60 years since anyone could tell you the different marble types—since anyone played marbles at all, honestly—so what in the hell is that clue even doing? IMPASSE / SAW / ERS ... why did the puzzle not go this direction? I'm all for the road less traveled, but sometimes you don't travel down a road because it's full of potholes or leads off a cliff. It's true that TO SEE is already in the grid, and maybe you don't want SAW and SEE in the same grid, but. you can clue SAW as a noun, a bunch of ways, so that ... really shouldn't be a problem. Honestly, on every level, IMPASTO / TAW is such a terrible choice. To make things worse, someone's gone and parked a GREEN CAR up in that corner as well. I've only just begun to accept ECOCAR, so there is no way I'm accepting GREEN CAR ... unless the car is actually painted GREEN or belongs to singer Al GREEN. The other corners are merely mediocre and mildly tiresome, but that NE corner has me just shaking my head.

But the middle part, as I say, is wonderful, with PUT A FACE TO A NAME occupying its rightful place of glory at center stage (38A: Meet somebody you've heard lots about). This puzzle played hard for me, with a bunch of names I just didn't know (GIO, SVEN??) and cluing I couldn't make sense of very readily. There are many more little details in the video. Enjoy! Or don't! See you tomorrow!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Architect of original Sisyphean task / THU 2-25-21 / Collaborator on 1968's Two Virgins familiarly / Garment whose name comes from Malay for sheath / Surname of two former Chicago mayors / Vintage diner fixture in brief / Psyche's mate in Greek mythology

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Constructor: Dylan Schiff

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: DOUBLE DOWN (32D: Blackjack bet ... or a hint to applying the five circled regions in this puzzle) — wow, "applying" is a weird word here; you just "Double" the circled squares in the long "Down" answers to get your actual answers:

Theme answers:
  • HANGING INDENT (3D: Feature of some bibliographic citations)
  • COVER VERSION (36D: Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," for example)
  • HEART MURMUR (6D: Stethoscope detection)
  • BARBARA BUSH (41D: Former first and second lady)
  • STEAK TARTARE (10D: Dish often topped with raw egg yolk)
Word of the Day: Bill AYERS (22A: Bill ___, noted Vietnam War-era activist) —

William Charles Ayers (/ɛərz/; born December 26, 1944) is an American elementary education theorist. During the 1960s, Ayers was a leader of the Weather Underground that opposed US involvement in the Vietnam War. He is known for his 1960s radical activism and his later work in education reform, curriculum and instruction.

In 1969, Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, a self-described communist revolutionary group that sought to overthrow imperialism. The Weather Underground conducted a campaign of bombing public buildings (including police stations, the United States Capitol, and the Pentagon) during the 1960s and 1970s in response to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Ayers is a retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, formerly holding the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar.[ During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, a controversy arose over his contacts with then-candidate Barack Obama. He is married to lawyer and Clinical Law Professor Bernardine Dohrn, who was also a leader in the Weather Underground.


William Oscar Ayers (September 27, 1919 – September 24, 1980) was an American Major League Baseball pitcher from Newnan, Georgia. He played for the New York Giants during the 1947 season. (wikipedia)

• • •

Interesting concept, but very unevenly developed, and with a high level of thematic density that causes the grid to groan terribly under the pressure. My first thought with the theme was "Why three letters?" and "Why *these* letters?" When the answer ended up being "no reason, totally arbitrary" to both, things got less interesting, and when the final (moving west to east) three themers all ended up having their three letters merely repeated inside of one word instead of strung across two (which is the much much the more interesting / elegant way to do things), well, that was pretty deflating. The revealer felt like kind of an afterthought at that point—not surprising or clever enough to rescue the ho-hum theme execution. At least HANGING INDENT was tough to work out, its three letters doubled across two words and masked by not being doubled in sound. COVER VERSION was likewise an interesting choice here—it's the same sound doubled, but each VER is in a separate word, so the doubleness doesn't announce itself so strongly, and you probably need to get crosses to work it out. Whereas ... MURMUR and BARBARA and TARTARE were all painfully simple to discover because the repeats are such distinctive and obvious parts of these single words/names (esp. MURMUR, the cheapest repeat of them all, and TARTARE, a close second). There's just nothing creative about those last three themers. You'd think a three-letter repeat could've yielded more interesting answers, where the repetition was more disguised and harder to suss out. 

The fill was especially weak today. It was so bad early on that I stopped to take a photo:

Note: I took the photo *before* filling in OCTANT (more unloveliness). ATHOS is an age-old repeater, but if your fill around it is fresh and clean, an age-old repeater can be highly tolerable. And yet ... today ... we got from ATHOS straight into a truly ugly abbr. (ATTS) (I like this better clued as a QB stat, but I like it best when it's not in my grid at all), and then TROU, ugh, a "word" that baffles so many solvers (esp. younger solvers) every time it appears because no one says it except maybe in some olde-tymey jokey way; I have never heard it except in the phrase "drop trou" (i.e. "pull your pants down"), which I have heard only in movies??? Not sure. And yet I see it in crosswords All The Time (or ... far too regularly for my taste). So, ATHOS ATTS TROU. That's your opening gambit. And then TONTO!? LOL, nice save there, I guess, with the clue, but the thing about TONTO, however you clue it, is that people still see the Lone Ranger's sidekick, which evokes all the racial unpleasantness your new clue is trying to avoid. And then there's OCTANT! ATHOS ATTS TROU TONTO OCTANT. Quite a series. At that point, I truly wanted out. And things don't get much better: REWON and REUSE. The vintage crosswordese horror that is ONERS. Some relatively harmless classics like AGORA, ALERO, and the OGEES. Pretty crusty all over. Some obvious Scrabble-f***ing in the NE and SW corners, but those corners are so cut off that there's no way the Q and J and K can really compromise anything. They're actually handled fairly neatly.

The names might prove slightly troubling today, esp. since ALLIE (a toughie) and DALEY cross. DALEY is such a major name in politics that I assume he'll take care of any problems with ALLIE, but still, any letter can cause trouble when you're dealing with an uncommon name like ALLIE, which I couldn't remember at all (Holden, Phoebe ... that's it, that's all I got in the Catcher memory bank). I know AYERS only from all the Obama-era "controversy." AYERS has more commonly been clued as AYERS Rock (Australia), but that's a colonialist term no longer in use. It's officially ULURU now. Put that in your grid and smoke it (seriously, ULURU deserves grid time). 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Family nickname / WED 2-24-21 / Indian musical pattern / Part of a nerve cell / Sticky wicket

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Hello, all! It’s Clare — coming to you this time for the last Wednesday in February rather than Tuesday. This month has mostly flown by for me. People told me that I’d be bored in my final year of law school, but how can I be bored when they’re keeping me so busy with work? I’ve got multiple actual clients and papers to write and exams to study for and jobs to apply for and just… it’s a lot! Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy
THEME: PARADOX (59A: Logical contradiction … or an aural hint to what are found in 20-, 25- and 45-Across)Each theme answer has a “pair of docs” in the circled parts of the answer

Theme answers:
  • DEVILS DOZEN (20A: “Satanic” nickname for the number 13) 
  • THE WHOLE TRUTH (25A: What a witness is sworn to tell) 
  • DREADNOUGHT (45A: W.W I-era battleship)
Word of the Day: DREADNOUGHT (45A: W.W I-era battleship) —

The dreadnought was the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century. The first of the kind, the Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought, had such an impact when launched in 1906 that similar battleships built after her were referred to as "dreadnoughts," and earlier battleships became known as pre-dreadnoughts. Her design had two revolutionary features: an "all-big-gun" armament scheme, with an unprecedented number of heavy-calibre guns, and steam turbine propulsion. (Wiki)

• • •
If this is the type/quality of puzzle I get on a Wednesday, maybe I’ll just switch my official day of the month! I thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle. The theme (though I didn’t completely get it until after I solved the puzzle) was clever and fun.The whole puzzle felt clean and modern; the clues were creative. I’m not sure how else to say it — it was just a nice puzzle all around. 

Each of the theme answers itself was good, and the added bit of having “doctors” within each answer was a really nice touch. My favorite has to be “Doctor” WHO, which is my favorite TV show of all time. (David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, is the absolute best; and the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, is likewise fantastic.) Dr. NO is one of my favorite Bond movies, so I enjoyed seeing this in the puzzle. Dr. OZ? Make that a NO; his pseudo-science strains credulity more often than what I see on the science fiction TV show “Doctor Who.” Still, that’s quite an impressive and diverse array of doctors. 

Having WRAITH (5D: Spooky specter) and HELL (6D: Word spelled with “double hockey sticks”) cross DEVILS DOZEN (20A) was a great start to the puzzle (though I was sort of expecting a Halloween-esque spooky theme with that start). I also really liked the long downs — TWEET STORM (30D: Social media tirade), HOME DESIGN (26D: Subject for House Beautiful Magazine) and the full form of GEN XER (47D: Kid born in the ‘70s, say) are all nice and fresh. 

In a puzzle that was so clean, only two things really stood out to me, neither of which is of much consequence, but I’ve got to put on my Rex hat and critique somewhere in here! First, DEL TACO (37A) isn’t really a competitor of Chipotle, is it? This might just be my take, as someone who is borderline obsessed with Chipotle, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard these two compared before. Second, I disliked having ECG (63A: Heartbeat recording: Abbr.) in the puzzle; there’s no way in this kind of situation to know that it’s not EKG. Google helpfully tells me that ECG is the English abbreviation, while EKG is the German abbreviation, but in the many, many hours of Grey’s Anatomy I’ve watched, I’ve only ever heard EKG, hence my confusion. Luckily, NARCO coming down was pretty easy, so I knew to switch it to ECG

My favorite part of the puzzle was definitely the clues. The constructor managed to clue some very typical crossword words in unusual ways, which I really appreciated. Probably my favorite was seeing 61A: Number of seasons played by baseball’s Seattle Pilots as ONE (61D). That’s just such a random — and interesting — clue. (After one season, the Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970.) Then, having UFO (54D) clued as What Venus is sometimes mistaken for, due to its brightness was different. Same goes for PJS (32D: Togs for sawing logs?), TEETH (43A: Effectiveness of a law, metaphorically), ODIN (56D: Husband of Frigg, in Norse mythology), and ETAL (38D: Abbr. after the third co-author, perhaps). PHONE (32A: What’s answered but never asks a question, in a riddle) was also clued in a fun way.

  • I can confirm we talk a lot in law school about whether something has TEETH (43D). 
  • ZORRO (22D)— I loved watching these movies. I have such a distinct memory of watching the two ZORRO movies on the little portable DVD player I had when I was younger while riding in the car up to Tahoe to go skiing. And who wouldn't fall at least a little bit in love with in-his-prime Antonio Banderas? Or Catherine Zeta Jones, for that matter. 
  • While I’ve never actually had GEL (12D) nails myself, I am a 20-something woman who has opened a copy of Vogue before, so I do know what they are! But I learned they may not have much traction among men of a certain age. (Right, Dad?)
I’m 99% convinced that this was a really great puzzle; the other 1% thinks that I’m just in an amazing mood because BTS just performed on “MTV Unplugged” and killed it beyond belief so everything feels right with the world. Because you need your regular dose of the best group on the entire planet, here is a song for your viewing pleasure:


And if, like me, you’re a big fan of the Coldplay song “Fix You,” here’s an extra-special treat that *gasp* is better than the original!


Signed, Clare Carroll, someone who briefly thought about becoming a doctor but who fainted in the ER on the first day of her internship. (My surgical mask was too tight!!)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Seat for the ruler of the Seen Kingdoms of Westeros / TUE 2-23-21 / One using crude language

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: POTTY MOUTH (57A: One using crude language ... or one saying the last parts of the answers to the  starred clues?) — last words in theme answers are (like "potty") euphemisms for "toilet":

Theme answers:
  • IRON THRONE (18A: *Seat for the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros)
  • DEADHEAD (24A: *Devotee of Jerry Garcia's band)
  • ELTON JOHN (36A: *"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" singer/composer)
  • WATERLOO (52A: *Decisive defeat)
Word of the Day: TIN ROOF (49A: "Hot" place for a cat in theater) —
This sundae features a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and a scoop of chocolate ice cream with creamy white marshmallow sauce, topped with Spanish peanuts. The Tin Roof Sundae was created in 1916, at the Potter Drug Co., in Potter, Nebraska, owned by pharmacist James Earl Thayer. His son, Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer, worked in the soda fountain as a teenager and is credited for inventing the ice cream treat. According to Dr. J.E. Thayer of Sidney, there are two stories of how the sundae got its name. The first is that it was inspired by the tin ceiling in the business; the other is that the stable across the street had a tin roof and that he named it after that. The Tin Roof Sundae can still be enjoyed in Potter, Nebraska, where the Potter Drug Co., now called the Potter Sundry, is still in operation. (wikipedia)

that feeling when a cat ruins your favorite sundae

• • •

Very competent but very staid, very quarter-century-ago feeling, and very not for me. This feels like a puzzle from a bygone time, a time when ... people were ashamed to refer to the toilet and therefore invented a whole bunch of silly euphemisms. Actually, "head" is nautical and "loo" is British, but "john"'s period of peak popularity is before my time (on this earth) and I've only heard people use "throne"-as-toilet in the dumbest of unfunny jokey ways. And the revealer is baby-talk, or, rather, adult baby-talk used to refer to someone who is swearing (you know, like a grown-up, or a precocious kid). There's nothing charming about any of this. Toilet euphemisms, no, the very concept of "POTTY MOUTH," no. Truly, it's such an off-putting expression, combining baby-talking with an astonishingly filthy literal image. And the priggishness implied by the term ... I just can't find any of this fun. It's not offensive, it's just tiresome. Just use profanity, just say "toilet," just grow up and get on with your life. Further, toilets—not my favorite thing to have to meditate on at 5 in the a.m. Again, this theme is right over the plate, conceptually. Utterly conventional. A last-words-type puzzle just like they made in the last century. Unfortunately, the corny chuckle-"humor" comes from the last century as well. When I read the revealer clue, I really thought that [One using crude language...] was going to involve some kind of clever oil business pun (on "crude"). This made discovering the whole "potty" angle that much more disappointing. Worse than the theme subject (which you can like or not like, whatever) is the stale fill. The grid is just drenched in repeaters (of the ASAP EMIR HOC CSI ERE SSR ERIE UKE type). Just ... awash. FLOODed. This repeater onslaught probably has more to do with my failure to warm up to this puzzle than the theme (which is pretty much neutral at a purely technical level, in terms of concept and execution). When you don't have snazzy or eye-catching or even interesting longer answers, all the short stuff really starts to feel like a swarm of gnats. And today's longer answers were perfectly adequate, but that's about all they were. Thus, gnats. Better than BEES, I guess, but only just (32A: Honeybunch?).

[" ... TIN ROOF, rusted ..."]

If you had any trouble with this puzzle at all, it's likely because you aren't a "Game of Thrones" fan. Clue doesn't even bother mentioning that that's where the answer comes from. Annoying that the NYTXW just assumes "we" all know every aspect of this (pay-cable) show, but such is life. We're gonna get "GOT" clues for decades. It's like Harry Potter for grown-ups. Speaking of ... just after having this thought about the "GOT" / HP connection, I surprisingly, yet unsurprisingly, ran into the EMMA clue: 54D: Actress Watson of the "Harry Potter" films—totally gratuitous HP promotion. Mme. Bovary cries out for respect from her fictional grave. This puzzle has two non-word sounds, which is one too many for my tastes (UHS, HMM) (although I guess MEW is also a non-word sound, but it's adorable, so I'll give it a pass). I had UMS before UHS, the kind of "mistake" that really makes a puzzle "fun" (21D: Speech fillers). If there's a highlight today, it's CAL and GARY, my new favorite Canadian crossword-solving couple (47A: Canadian city whose name consists of two consecutive boys' names). I hope an actual Canadian couple named CAL and GARY were solving this puzzle together, got to that clue, and then just slowly turned to look at each other ... AGAPE. (if you *are* that couple, please call me)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Mythical woman after whom element 41 is named / MON 2-22-21 / Key for Debussy's fille aux cheveux de lin

Monday, February 22, 2021

Constructor: Barbara Lin

Relative difficulty: Normal Monday except for KYIV, what the hell was that!?

THEME: POOL (64A: Game suggested by the ends of 20-, 38- and 55-Across and 11- and 34-Down) — themers end in words related to billiards:

Theme answers:
  • GIMME A BREAK (20A: "Jeez, lighten up, will ya!")
  • ON CUE (38A: As expected)
  • OUT OF POCKET (55A: Like medical expenses you pay for yourself)
  • TOWEL RACK (11D: Bar from the bathroom?)
  • ON THE BALL (34D: Alert)
Word of the Day: Niobium (6D: Mythical woman after whom element 41 is named) —
Niobium, also known as columbium, is a chemical element with the symbol Nb (formerly Cb) and atomic number 41. Niobium is a light grey, crystalline, and ductile transition metal. Pure niobium has a Mohs hardness rating similar to that of pure titanium, and it has similar ductility to iron. Niobium oxidizes in the earth's atmosphere very slowly, hence its application in jewelry as a hypoallergenic alternative to nickel. Niobium is often found in the minerals pyrochlore and columbite, hence the former name "columbium". Its name comes from Greek mythology, specifically Niobe, who was the daughter of Tantalus, the namesake of tantalum. The name reflects the great similarity between the two elements in their physical and chemical properties, making them difficult to distinguish. (wikipedia)
• • •

Disappointing on all levels, this one. The theme is a remedial type that feels like it was probably done a hundred times in 90s and 00s puzzles. Last words are all related to [X] ... ok, well, the answers you use should be sizzling and the revealer should probably be colorful and the grid should definitely be whistle-clean ... and none of these things are true. BREAK isn't even like the others, in that it's an act, not a piece of equipment. ON CUE adds nothing and should probably have been ditched. All it does is make the fill in the center of the grid really awful. No one's gonna be begging for a fifth themer that's five letters long. There is no such desire among solvers. Make your themers hot and your grid immaculate and no one's gonna notice if you have four themers or three themers or five themers. ON CUE adds nothing, takes away a ton. That ON CUE section (i.e. the middle) is the worst part of the grid, fill-wise (except perhaps the SW, about which, more below). No good way to clue POCUS, so you get a laughably easy fill-in-the-blank. EAUS!??!!? Wow, really Really thought the plural of EAU was EAUX ('cause it is). EAUS is garbage, though only slightly more garbage-y than OHIOU, which looks ridiculous. It's a Monday puzzle with a simple theme, why is this grid not totally smooth? No excuse. Theme is boring, executed poorly, and the fill is subpar all over.

The clue on "OK, NOW" doesn't make sense to me (50D: "All righty then ..."). Doesn't strike my ear as correct at all, maybe because "All righty then..." has a stand-alone feel, either ironic or conclusive (something you'd say when wrapping things up) rather than introductory. Had the "OK" and still no idea what was supposed to follow. But that's a minor issue. The major issue is KYIV (53D: Ukraine's capital, to Ukrainians). I mean ... KYIV. It's Monday, and you wanna spell KIEV like that? And ... why? It's a regular old 4x5 corner in a Monday puzzle, how in the world can you not fill it in a way that spares us KYIV. I took a very quick, non-software-aided pass at that computer and found two alternatives fairly quickly. A little time and attention, and you'd think you could get out of there without resorting to KYIV. If things were better elsewhere, I could forgive this corner, but things are better nowhere. Monday grids just have to be more polished than this in 2021. They have to. Please.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Seventh avatar of Vishnu / SUN 2-21-21 / Horror film locale in short / Adlon Emmy winner for King of the Hill / Geographical name that comes from the Sioux for sleepy ones / Papal name last taken in 1939 / 2006 film with the tagline Keep it wheel / Mapo spicy sichuan dish

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Constructor: Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (much harder if your knowledge of pop music is bad)

THEME: "Karaoke Bars" — Clues all follow the pattern [___ bars?] followed by a singer or group's name. Here "bars" refers to "bars" of music, i.e. songs. So the answers are songs that are punnily related to whatever the word is that precedes "bars" in the clue:

Theme answers:
  • "FLY ME TO THE MOON" (Space bars? [Frank Sinatra]) (a song about (outer) space)
  • "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" (47A: Wet bars? [Gene Kelly]) (a song about getting wet)
  • "JAILHOUSE ROCK" (69A: Prison bars? [ Elvis Presley]) (a song about prison)
  • "MONEY, MONEY, MONEY" (92A: Cash bars? [Abba]) (a song about cash) 
  • "DANCING ON MY OWN" (116A: Singles bars? [Robyn]) (a song for people with no partners)
  • "POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME" (3D: Candy bars? [Def Leppard]) (a song seemingly related to candy?)
  • "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS" (33D: Gold bars? [Queen]) (a song about winning a "gold" medal)
Word of the Day: PIA (83D: Flag carrier to Karachi and Islamabad) —
Pakistan International Airlines (Urduپاکستان بین الاقوامی ہواپیمائی‎; abbreviated PIAUrduپی‌آئی‌اے‎) is a Pakistani-International Airline and the national flag carrier of Pakistan under the administrative control of the Secretary to the Government of Pakistan for Aviation. Its central hub is Karachi's Jinnah International Airport, while Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, and Islamabad International Airport serve as secondary hubs. (wikipedia)
• • •

Slightly more clever than most of the dad-joke themes we tend to get on Sundays, but only slightly. The bars joke is cute, but in execution the theme gets a little thin. The definition of "bar" just isn't that stretchy, so many of these bars (in the clues) are the same type (i.e. the type that serve liquor: wet, cash, singles). Further, the "?" conceit sometimes ends up quite literal, and other times involves a stretch. The Abba song *is* about cash, so [Cash bars?], dead on, "JAILHOUSE ROCK" is a song about prison, bingo ... but the Def Leppard song is not at all about candy. I don't really get why he wants sugar poured on him (in the name of love), but I'm pretty sure it's a metaphor. "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS" also involves a bit of a stretch, since they aren't singing about the Olympics. So some clues are perfectly apt, others, less so. Feels uneven. Also, huge old white guy energy on these songs. I mean, great songs, mostly, but it's All White, and with the notable exception of Robyn and Abba ... dude city. Plus, Robyn is really the only one providing "bars" that are anywhere near modern (and that song is over a decade old). Robyn also provides (probably) the least well known song (if I imagine a kind of prototypical NYTXW solving audience). Hers will actually be the *best*-known song for some younger folks, but in general we are in solid classic rock / oldies territory here. I know all these songs very well, but I imagine some younger solvers will be less familiar with the 40+-year-old stuff (which is, uh, most of it). Demographic exclusion is the nature of the beast with a theme like this. Would be cool if these weren't all so demographically ... of yore, but at least these are mostly truly classic, as opposed to some Rudy Vallee song about Yuba playing a tuba or whatever the hell that was a few days ago. Anyway, I do like the creativity and ambition of the theme here, but as executed, this one just wasn't for me.

No real resistance in this one for me. Toughest part by far was ELMST crossing NOSEDIN. I assumed that the [Horror film locale, in brief] was going to be a generic horror film site, like, I don't know, summer camp or a sorority house or something. ELMST, yuck. Not your prettiest 5-letter answer there (It's actually "ELM ST.," as in "Nightmare on"). And NOSED IN ... ??? (123A: Was snoopy). I had SPIED ON here for what felt like a good amount of time. SPIED ON is nice, and apt, whereas NOSED IN, pffffft. It's funny that this puzzle thinks I already know not one but two Biden appointees. The whole thing with Biden's election is that I get to take a *break* from paying attention to political *$^% for, like, six months, minimum. I know his dogs and wife, and I know the Vice President, and honestly, I'm maxed out. OK, I do see JEN Psaki's name from time to time, so that's fine (69D: ___ Psaki, Biden press secretary) (also, look out for PSAKI (5), probably!). But it's gonna be a while before I'm up to speed on this currently 1-month-old group of Bidenites. Yeah, even this LLOYD guy, who, as defense secretary, seems *kinda* important (76A: ___ Austin, Biden defense secretary). But I'm exhausted. I voted for Biden so I could breathe again, and check out for a while. Make politics boring again!!!

THE DOW and THE TIDE (?) in THE same puzzle is THE worst. I had no idea how in the world FLUTES could be [High winds] until after I'd finished and went back to think about it (musical instrument winds, not the weather kind of winds). The PAMELA / RAMA cross definitely gave me trouble, even though I've heard of both (59A: ___ Adlon, Emmy winner for "King of the Hill" / 50D: Seventh avatar of Vishnu). Just couldn't recall the names or wasn't certain about them. Before I figured out the theme, I thought for sure that there was something thematic going on in the NE corner, with ETCETC over CHACHA. I thought, "Are all the corners gonna be like this? Six letter answers that are just three letters repeating? What's that about?" Turns out it's about nothing. Coincidence. No pattern. Just a strange one-off thing. Oh well. Until next week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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