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]

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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.

Also

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]

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Family nickname / WED 2-23-21 / 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.

Misc.:
  • 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]

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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

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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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

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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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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Anticonsumerists aiming to help the environment / SAT 2-20-21 / Humorist Leo who wrote Joys of Yiddish / Singer whose name becomes a city if you add an R in the middle / Cold War missile type / Word derived from Greek for age

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Constructor: Ali Gascoigne

Relative difficulty: Medium (again, as with yesterday, the preponderance of proper nouns might make it much tougher)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Leo ROSTEN (26D: Humorist Leo who wrote "The Joys of Yiddish," 1968) —
Leo Calvin Rosten (April 11, 1908 – February 19, 1997) was an American humorist in the fields of scriptwriting, storywriting, journalism, and Yiddish lexicography. He was also a political scientist interested especially in the relationship of politics and the media. [...] Rosten is best remembered for his stories about the night-school "prodigy" Hyman Kaplan, written under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross. They were published in The New Yorker from 1935[1] and collected in two volumes published in 1937 and 1959, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N and The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N. The Education was a "close second" for one U.S. National Book Award in 1938. The second collection was one of eighteen National Book Award for Fiction finalists in 1960.  // He is also well known for his encyclopedic The Joys of Yiddish (1968), a guide to Yiddish and to Jewish culture including anecdotes and Jewish humor. It was followed by O K*A*P*L*A*N! My K*A*P*L*A*N! (1976), a reworking of the two 1930s collections, and  Hooray for Yiddish! (1982), a humorous lexicon of the American language as influenced by Jewish culture. Another Rosten work is Leo Rosten's Treasury of Jewish Quotations.
• • •

This was, for the most part, a nicely varied and sufficiently tough Saturday. The grid's not built to give you too many long answers (these are usually the most colorful), but what it does give you is decent. I especially liked FREEGANS and "GET A ROOM!"Also, this is a puzzle constructed by a man that is properly inclusive of women, so, you know, here's me giving credit instead of yelling criticism. Don't say I never etc. I do want to ask constructors, once again, to consider not just the kinds of names they use, but how well known they are, whom they're well known to, and (this is crucial) how close they all are to each other. Diversity is, for me, a paramount concern, and this puzzle is good on that front: old new, men women, Black white, cool. There were two areas, though, where proximate names created potential difficulty—this is not necessarily a criticism, as Saturdays are *supposed* to be difficult, but ... it's a question of whether you want to be getting your difficulty primarily from tricky clues and wordplay or from names, many of which are culturally / generationally exclusionary by their very nature, leaving some solvers thrilled, or at least satisfied, and others just blinking and baffled. I think it's fine to have both kinds of difficulty, but ROSTEN (used-to-be famous) next to ANYA Taylor-Joy (very recently famous) creates a real knot, and SKEE-LO crossing AKON, while easy for me, seems like a possible nightmare for someone who is less familiar with stylized one-name '90s/'00s rapper/singers from the hip-hop/R&B world. Both names I've seen before, both grid-worthy, but crossing like that, dang. You can tell the puzzle kinda knows it's in dicey territory, as it really Really goes out of its way to help you with AKON (8D: Singer whose name becomes a city if you add an "R" in the middle). Since SKEE-LO is only really famous for one song ... that crossing feels potentially demographically fatal, especially with the already tough ALICANTE up there. Also, staying in that quadrant, people who don't know SKEE-LO or AKON are maybe also less likely to know CRAY? (short for "crazy," sometimes doubled to "CRAY-CRAY"). Just hypothesizing. Anyway, space your names out and make sure your difficulty is coming from a broad array of answer types and cluing strategies. Again, all the names in this puzzle are absolutely acceptable fare. Just watch where you put 'em / how you clue 'em.


I don't watch "Queen's Gambit" and don't plan to, but I did see last year's "Emma," and ANYA Taylor-Joy was great in that. Still, I remembered her as an ANNA. Alas. Turns out that "Y" is a *crucial* letter in parsing the central Across, "IT'S A YES FROM ME" (32A: "You have my vote!"). I had "IT'S AN ..." and wanted something like "IT'S AN EASY YES," but that didn't fit. How I remembered Leo ROSTEN, I have no idea. I looked at the clue, thought "How am I supposed to remember that?," and then found my fingers typing R-O-S-T-E-N almost independently of me. Weird how you can not know something and know it simultaneously. I am certain that "The Joys of Yiddish" was on my mom's bookshelves in my childhood, along with, I don't know, that blue Zelda Fitzgerald biography, maybe? I didn't read anything on those bookshelves, but they left a strong memory imprint. Still, I did not know that I knew who wrote "Joys of Yiddish" ... until I did. So, trouble with ANYA offset by the unexpected lack of trouble with ROSTEN, which meant what could've been a very hard section created only a minor hold-up. Another hold-up: ELLA before ETTA (47D: "___ Is Betta Than Evvah!" (1976 album)) (I see that you're trying to give me ETTA by including the rhyming 'word' 'Betta' but the double-v in 'Evvah' made me think double-letters, not rhymes, were the deal, so ... ELLA). I have maybe heard of ALICANTE, but certainly don't "know" it, so that answer needed almost every cross. Otherwise I didn't really struggle much. Parsing the longest answers (including SECRET SERVICE) provided most of today's difficulty. The puzzle was very much on my cultural wavelength. 


Some more things:
  • 1A: Requirement (MUST-DO) — yeesh, that was tough. And slightly awkward. MUST-SEE feels natural (possibly from NBC's '90s TV slogan, "Must-See TV"), whereas MUST-DO feels clunky. "Have you been to the Louvre? Oh, it's a MUST-DO" ... :( ... not saying it's not a thing, but saying it clanks.
  • 39D: One doing some stitching (SEAMER) — really? Kinda weak. I'd've gone with [Four-___ (fastball type)], but also I'd've gone with something other than SEAMER.
  • 41D: Kind of state (NANNY) — this is right-wing propaganda. Total garbage. There is no such state. NANNY state is what so-called "conservatives" call a functioning government. One with taxes and regulation. And heat and electricity and clean drinking water. You can't include NANNY state in your puzzle like it's an actual, real thing. It bespeaks a fraudulent world view, or at least an extremely politically tendentious world view, and should be clued as such. I mean ... "The term was popularised by the British and American tobacco industry." This clue is cordially invited to *&$% off.
  • 43D: Buddy of "Barnaby Jones" (EBSEN) — there will never be a day when I don't hesitate when spelling EBSEN (or EPSOM, or EPSON). You'd think I could get a mnemonic going like "Buddy has a 'B' ... and the 'E' at the front has a 'buddy' toward the back." Solves the "B" and the "E" dilemma. But I guarantee I won't even remember writing this the next time EBSEN's in the grid.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Complete set in musical comedy / FRI 2-19-21 / Modern lead-in to speak / Short pioneer in West Coast hip-hop / Pal of Seinfeld and Costanza / Parent company of Gerber and Lean Cuisine

Friday, February 19, 2021

Constructor: Amanda Rafkin

Relative difficulty: Medium (skewing slightly harder depending on how rough the proper nouns were for you)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Dorothy LAMOUR (27D: Dorothy of old"Road" films) —

Dorothy Lamour (born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton; December 10, 1914 – September 22, 1996) was an American actress and singer. She is best remembered for having appeared in the Road to...movies, a series of successful comedies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Lamour began her career in the 1930s as a big band singer. In 1936, she moved to Hollywood, where she signed with Paramount Pictures. Her appearance as Ulah in The Jungle Princess (1936) brought her fame and marked the beginning of her image as the "Sarong Queen".

In 1940, Lamour made her first Road series comedy film Road to Singapore. The Road series films were popular during the 1940s. The sixth film in the series, Road to Bali, was released in 1952. (wikipedia)

• • •

Had some trouble in the middle of this one, but otherwise, a pretty normal Friday. A little heavy on names, but maybe that's just the SE, where BADU BENES HEIDI and TOO $hort all cross each other just a little bit over from the RAND / O'NEIL cross. LAMOUR and LASSER are old(er) names that might have caused trouble as well (though LASSER is, or was, reasonably common at one point). All of the names are fine, individually. Perfectly suitable for crosswords. There were just a lot of them piled up, which can make solving dicey, as proper nouns are feast or famine for solvers. The NW was, bizarrely, the easiest part of the puzzle for me. Usually, getting started can involve a lot of sputtering, but I went to the little guy early (FAD), and that terminal "F" got me A BIT OF—and thus the first letters of All the Acrosses in that section. LACUNA is kind of a tough word, but it's one I know, so I made quick work of that NW section. It was only when I hit the center that I ran into problems—total stoppage, in fact. See if you can see where my problem is:


Well, ENO, obviously (30D: Singer/songwriter of 1980's "Kiss Kiss Kiss"). I actually had ONO in there at first, but -YLO- looked wrong at 29-Across so I pulled it. I also have NESTEA instead of NESTLÉ at 25D: Parent company of Gerber and Lean Cuisine. That's the real killer, because that's two wrong letters reaching into the empty part of the grid, giving me false footholds. Bad news. Even with the A-K- at the top of 28D: 13, for many (AWKWARD AGE), I couldn't see it (wanted something like "unlucky number"). The only thing that makes me mad at the *puzzle* and not myself is 27A: Modern lead-in to speak (LOL). I've been on the internet for, well, a while, and I don't know what "LOLspeak" is. LOLcats, yes. LOLspeak, no. Lulz, yes, LOLspeak ... can't even imagine. Hang on. Wow, ok, it seems that LOLspeak is the language of LOLcats. The ungrammatical language of cat memes. OK. 


When I googled "LOLspeak," LOLcat came up. I love cats, but the whole LOLcat thing got very old very fast. It all feels very 15 years ago, i.e. a lot less "modern" than the clue believes. I really hope you knew LOLspeak, or knew Dorothy LAMOUR, because that crossing seems maybe tough otherwise. I briefly thought the actress was Dorothy MALONE (just watched "Written on the Wind"), and was very eager to find out what MOLspeak was. But then I fixed it.


I think MADE BANK is my favorite thing in this grid (13D: Raked in the dough). AWKWARD AGE is also nice, even if the clue did flummox me for a bit. And both CEREAL AISLE and its clue are very nice (53A: Way of Life?). Though I talk about her every time I teach the Aeneid, I never think of Helen as a DEMI-GODDESS, but of course she is, just as (technically) Aeneas is a demi-god (mother = Venus). Helen was the offspring of Leda (a mortal princess) and the Swan (aka noted shapeshifter-rapist Zeus). What else? Oh, lots of women in the grid—very noticeable, largely because the norm is the reverse. In fact, men are better represented in this grid than women are in the typical NYTXW grid. Nice to see the effort here to even things out a bit, though it shouldn't just be women constructors who are fixing this issue.


Lastly, if you don't get the clue on VOWELS (37A: Complete set in musical comedy?), it just means that a complete set of the VOWELS (a e i o u and even y) can be found in the phrase "musical comedy." Until tomorrow...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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