Diamond stat / WED 3-31-21 / Soccer great with a statue in Buenos Aires / Japanese salad herb / Potpourri pieces

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Hello! It’s Clare for the last Wednesday of the month (my law school professors seem determined to give me as much work as possible right before I’m scheduled to do the write-up for the puzzle on Tuesdays). Hope everyone has had a great March. Mine’s been suitably “mad,” with a lovely helping of the NCAA tournaments. Growing up in the Bay Area means I’ve been a longtime fan of the Stanford women (and Tara VanDerveer), so I’m hoping they can pull out the win. On the men’s side, Gonzaga has seemed so close for so long that I’d love to see them win the title. (But let’s hope that Drew Timme’s mustache doesn’t catch on.) Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Constructor:
Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: BUILDING BLOCKS (41A: Smaller parts making up a larger whole … with a hint to the six groups of shaded squares in this puzzle) — Each of the shaded squares is a “block” that is a type of building

Theme answers:
  • PAL-ACE (1A and 15A)
  • PAG-ODA (6A and 16A) 
  • SCH-OOL (10A and 17A) 
  • CAS-TLE (71A and 74A) 
  • TEM-PLE (72A and 75A) 
  • CHA-LET (73A and 76A)
Word of the Day: ACACIA (2D: Tree that’s a favorite of giraffes)
“Acacias are thorny trees with foliage that is bright green or bluish-green and has small blooms that may be creamy white, pale yellow or bright yellow… The acacia trees are able to tolerate extreme drought conditions due to their long sturdy root system that access deep ground water. They are an important food source for many large herbivores – especially giraffes. Giraffes are herbivores, which means they eat plant material like leaves high in the trees, and they can eat up to 29 kilograms of acacia leaves and twigs daily.” (areenaresort.com)
• • •

I’m generally not a huge fan of shaded squares in puzzles, but I thought the constructor did a nice job with this one. To me, the most impressive thing was how different the buildings in the puzzle are and how worldly it all is. PAGODA and TEMPLE are predominantly Asian. CHALET, CASTLE, and PALACE are broadly European. The only real outlier to me was SCHOOL. All the others conjured up lovely pictures, and then there’s… SCHOOL. Lots of schools aren’t even a single building. My law school has more than I can count. 

As a whole, I liked the long downs a lot. The clues/answers were varied and fresh, and the words themselves felt interesting for a crossword. For example: BIBLICAL (41D: Like Sodom and Gomorrah) and GRIMACE (45D: Not a happy face). COMMODES (13D: Going places?) is pretty old-fashioned, but it was still different and had enough pop that I liked it. SLAM DUNK (12D: Emphatic two-pointer) was my favorite answer. It might have helped with my solving that I had the tournament in the background, or it could be that I can’t stop thinking about 5-foot-11 UConn freshman Paige Bueckers. WNBA legend Diana Taurasi said Bueckers is the “best player in basketball already,” so, yeah, she’s pretty good. 

One thing I found odd was how many times Hercules appeared in some form in the clues. It seemed intentional — but to what end? The clue for 55D is a “Herculean” undertaking. For 74A, we have: Singer John whose middle name is “Hercules.” Then the clue for 51A is “Heracles” to Zeus, and “Heracles” is the Greek name for Hercules, which is the Roman name. 

I had some trouble getting GINSU (45A: Brand of knives touted in classic infomercials). I’d guess some others might not have known these, either, unless you were watching late-night television around 40 years ago and remember knives cutting through cans. Fun fact I learned from some post-puzzle googling: Ads for GINSU knives helped launch infomercials.

Misc.:
  • Garden of Earthly Delights by BOSCH (10A) is a painting I’ve always loved and just been fascinated by. It’s so weird, but that just makes it more wonderfully delightful in its strange way. I got the chance to see it in-person, and I think I just stood there staring at it for 20 minutes.
  • I simply think that OATEN (11D) is a very ugly word and does not belong in a crossword puzzle — or anywhere!.
  • Thank you, “Dancing with the Stars” for teaching me years ago what the LINDY hop (44D) is. I’ve been just waiting to use this knowledge in a crossword puzzle. 
  • I would like a pet rock (even if it was a FAD, 65A). I think I’d take really good care of it. I’m trying to become a plant Mom, and I think I might have more success taking care of a rock. (Plant parent warning: Don’t buy a Calathea unless you’re aware that this plant has a death wish!) 
  • LILO (52A) and Stitch!! This movie and TV show was my childhood. It’s seriously underrated. I can’t tell you how many times I tried saying “blue punch buggy” like Stitch as a kid.
And that's it! Have a great April.

Signed, Clare Carroll, Paige Bueckers fangirl

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Mystery writer Blyton / TUE 3-30-21 / Mortal lover of Aphrodite / Compensating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions / Fourth word of a Star Wars prologue / Swivel on an axis / Leading female role in Pulp Fiction

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Constructor: Alex Rosen and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: MONONYM (38A: Person known by a single name, as found in 20-, 29-, 47- and 55-Across) — one-named *musical* performers all found inside longer theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • CARBON OFFSET (20A: Compensating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions)
  • SPIN KICK (29A: 360º martial arts maneuver)
  • TEN YARDS (47A: Distance for a first down)
  • "MINE, MINE, MINE!" (55A: Greedy person's cry)
Word of the Day: ENID Blyton (35D: Mystery writer Blyton) —
Enid Mary Blyton
 (11 August 1897 – 28 November 1968) was an English children's writer whose books have been among the world's best-sellers since the 1930s, selling more than 600 million copies. Blyton's books are still enormously popular, and have been translated into 90 languages. As of June 2018, Blyton is in the 4th place for the most translated author. She wrote on a wide range of topics including education, natural history, fantasy, mystery, and biblical narratives and is best remembered today for her NoddyFamous FiveSecret Seven, and Malory Towers. [...] Blyton's work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books, particularly the Noddy series. Some libraries and schools banned her works, which the BBC had refused to broadcast from the 1930s until the 1950s, because they were perceived to lack literary merit. Her books have been criticised as being elitistsexistracistxenophobic and at odds with the more progressive environment emerging in post-Second World War Britain, but they have continued to be best-sellers since her death in 1968. [...] Accusations of racism in Blyton's books were first made by Lena Jeger in a Guardian article published in 1966. In the context of discussing possible moves to restrict publications inciting racial hatred, Jeger was critical of Blyton's The Little Black Doll, published a few months earlier. Sambo, the black doll of the title, is hated by his owner and other toys owing to his "ugly black face", and runs away. A shower of "magic rain" washes his face clean, after which he is welcomed back home with his now pink face. Jamaica Kincaid also considers the Noddy books to be "deeply racist" because of the blonde children and the black golliwogs. In Blyton's 1944 novel The Island of Adventure, a black servant named Jo-Jo is very intelligent, but is particularly cruel to the children. // Accusations of xenophobia were also made. As George Greenfield observed, "Enid was very much part of that between the wars middle class which believed that foreigners were untrustworthy or funny or sometimes both". The publisher Macmillan conducted an internal assessment of Blyton's The Mystery That Never Was, submitted to them at the height of her fame in 1960. The review was carried out by the author and books editor Phyllis Hartnoll, in whose view "There is a faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia in the author's attitude to the thieves; they are 'foreign' ... and this seems to be regarded as sufficient to explain their criminality." Macmillan rejected the manuscript, but it was published by William Collinsin 1961, and then again in 1965 and 1983. [...] In December 2016 the Royal Mint discussed featuring Blyton on a commemorative 50p coin but dismissed the idea because she was "known to have been a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer". (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

This is a concept looking for a hook. As it is, it's not much different from a puzzle where ELM and FIG and OAK are "hidden" inside longer theme answers and then the revealer is just TREE. Where is the ... Where is the Why? Why these names? Why musical names? Nothing but nothing about the revealer suggests music. A tight grouping is nice, but it's not tied to ... anything. No wordplay, no zingy revealer, nothing. Just, "here are four MONONYMs, they are all related to music For Some Reason" (?). It's not that the answers on their own aren't nice. Really seems like "MINE, MINE, MINE!" was probably the impetus for this thing (easy to hide four-letter names, a lot tougher to hide a six-letter). And CARBON OFFSET has a nice modern feel, while SPIN KICK is entertainingly dynamic (TEN YARDS is blah, but you get one blah per theme set if you want it, that's the rules). I just wish the puzzle could've done something, anything, with the mononyms as a group—highlighted some kind of logic. MONONYM is such a technical, anticlimactic revealer. What about "The Masked Singer," isn't that something? Yes, the TV show ... and it's a grid-spanning 15-letters long, too. I'm not saying that that would be a top-notch revealer here. I'm just saying that it's at least Trying. MONONYM isn't trying. P.S. I think mononyms who are also singers should be called BONONYMS. All in favor? Great, it's done. P.P.S. SADE and CHER and ADELE have Got to be calling their agents right about now.


The short fill on this is quite creaky, but it's offset (!) somewhat by the nicer longer stuff. Not just the themers, but HOT TAKE and SIT BACK and BAD MOVE and EYE MASK, all give a certain life to the grid that it desperately needed. It's actually a pleasant enough puzzle to solve overall. The HUGO Boss clue even made me laugh (10A: Who's the Boss?). One thing, though: I have no idea why ENID Blyton was the ENID of choice today. First of all, she's bygone—very bygone. Second, she's British, so actually most Americans, and certainly most Americans under 60, aren't going to have a clue who she is (unless they do a lot of crosswords) (never encountered one of her books in my life; know about her only because my wife grew up in the British Empire). Third, it's slightly weird to call her a "mystery writer"—although she was that, she was far far more famous (and infamous) as a children's writer. I get her confused with ENID Bagnold (who was also a British writer—National Velvet). As I wrote in ENID I thought "Wait, is this the children's writer? The racist caricature lady? With the golliwogsThat ENID!?!" And so I looked her up and yup. It's that ENID. Maybe let's not bring her back, and look, if you can't think of any good ENIDs, just stick to Oklahoma, OK? 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

UPDATE: I just learned that HUGO Boss was an actual Nazi, so while I still think the HUGO clue is clever, I'm never gonna be able to unsee the Naziness now. (Thank you to the thoughtful reader who filled me in)

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Hamlet's dilemma / MON 3-29-21 / Theatergoer's break / Equestrian outfit

Monday, March 29, 2021

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:35)


THEME: TO BE OR NOT TO BE (36A: Hamlet's dilemma ... with a phonetic hint for the last words of 17- and 29-Across and the first words of 45- and 63-Across) — so ... the first two themers end with single-B and double-B words that rhyme, and then the third and fourth themers do the same thing, only with first words ... I think that's it:

Theme answers:
  • RIDING HABIT (17A: Equestrian outfit)
  • BRER RABBIT (29A: Children's character who lives in a briar patch)
  • TREBLE CLEF (45A: "E-G-B-D-F" musical symbol)
  • PEBBLE BEACH (63A: California golf resort that has hosted six U.S. Opens)
Word of the Day: THIN MINT (2D: Popular Girl Scout cookie) —
Thin, mint-flavored chocolate wafers dipped in a chocolatey coating. One of five vegan offered Girl Scout cookies. [...] Thin Mints are the most popular Girl Scout Cookies, with Samoas/Caramel deLites the second most popular. About 50 million boxes of Thin Mints were sold in 2013 compared with 38 million boxes of Samoas. Thin Mints averages about 32 cookies per box and Samoas 15 cookies per box.  (wikipedia)
• • •

Really didn't get what the theme was going for, either during the solve or immediately after. It's a bit fussy and loose. A single-B word and a double-B word and then ... again, a single-B word and a double-B word. But ... why? The words have nothing else to do with each other. They're very different words. It's not like one is just like the other except for an extra "B." Totally different words, they just happen to ... rhyme? But the Hamlet phrase doesn't really have anything in it about rhyme, so ... I don't exactly get it. Thankfully I tore through this so quickly that I didn't have time to feel much of anything about this puzzle, one way or the other. It was weird, thematically, which I guess is better than dull or corny. But it doesn't really snap, and so doesn't feel as clever as it seems to think it is. Also, the fill is quite dull. Very competent, in a late-20th-century sort of way, but lots and lots and lots of repeaters and nothing much of interest. It filled a Monday slot and didn't contain any real gunk. That is what I have to say about this puzzle.


By far the "hardest" part of the grid (relatively speaking) was the NW, where lots of Girl Scout cookies seemed like they could qualify as "popular," and WADE INTO had a clue that didn't strongly suggest its answer (3D: Undertake with gusto). WADE INTO always seems non-gusto-y to me, no matter what crossword clues tell me. DIVE INTO seems gusto-y. Wading is literally slow walking. Plodding. So WADE INTO did not seem intuitive from its clue. Also, REHEAR is easily the ugliest thing in the grid, so why (why, again?) would you decide to put a tricksy little clue on it, thereby calling attention to the ugliest thing in the grid? (6D: Try, try again?). I guess the "try" there refers to legal cases, but the clue isn't even good because try, try again implies multiple tries, whereas REHEAR only indicates the one ... the one retry. APLOMB is an unusualish word, so that might've caused a wee slow-down (11D: Self-assurance). ENTR'ACTE was mildly unexpected as well (41D: Theatergoer's break), so maybe there was a little puzzle pushback there, but 2:35 is the fastest I've done a Monday in a long, long time, so if there's anything close to genuine Trouble in this grid, I'm not seeing it. That's all, folks. Until tomorrow ... 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hit movie released as Vaselina in Mexico / SUN 3-28-21 / One feature of a perfect nanny in a Mary Poppins song / Candy featured in classic MythBusters episode / World of Warcraft spellcaster / Color effect in graphic design

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke

Relative difficulty: Easy or Easy-Medium, depending on your moon knowledge (9:03 with a drink in me!)


THEME: "Over the Moon" — themers contain words meaning "elated" (i.e. "over the moon"); those words appear *directly over the name of a moon (of some other planet in our solar system)*:

Theme answers:
  • JOLLY RANCHER (21A: Brand of fruity hard candy) / ARIEL (24A: URANUS)
  • BLISSFUL IGNORANCE (40A: Comfort in not knowing, say) / GANYMEDE (50A: JUPITER)
  • "HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN" (66A: Song standard on "Barbra Streisand's Greatest Hits") / TITAN (71A: SATURN)
  • CHEERY DISPOSITION (86A: One feature of a perfect nanny, in a "Marry Poppins" song) / DEIMOS (91A: MARS)
  • MERRY-GO-ROUND (113A: Classic carnival ride) / NAIAD (117A: NEPTUNE)
Word of the Day: PAI gow (Chinese domino game) (79D) —
Pai gow (Chinese牌九pinyinpái jiǔJyutpingpaai4 gau2) is a Chinese gambling game, played with a set of 32 Chinese dominoes. It is played in major casinos in China (including Macau); the United States (including Boston, MassachusettsLas Vegas, NevadaReno, NevadaConnecticutAtlantic City, New JerseyPennsylvaniaMississippi; and card rooms in California); Canada (including Edmonton, Alberta and Calgary, Alberta); Australia; and, New Zealand.
• • •

Well, what do you know? A good Sunday puzzle. Second of the year, by my count. Nice. This one actually got better as it rolled along. Not sure why that should be, but that's how it felt. Maybe it just took some time to sink in that I was actually kind of enjoying a Sunday, that I was finding very little to be irritated about, and that the themers were fun answers in their own right, as well as being part of a very interestingly executed concept. I don't think the full significance of the theme really dawned on me until I was done, because the puzzle was remarkably easy. I was just having fun slaloming through the grid, and then having a Lot of fun realizing exactly how many moon names I know. It was like all that crossword moon knowledge I'd picked up over years and years of solving finally paid off in one big moon rush. I found my fingers just typing out stuff like DEIMOS and TITAN without my brain really feeling like it was involved. My fingers were just like, "trust us." And they were right. I don't think I knew ARIEL and NAIAD were moons, but they filled themselves in easily enough through crosses. And the rest of the grid was overwhelmingly clean and even a little bouncy. There are "only" five themers, but actually there are ten, with the moons, and the immediate proximity of the moon names to the theme answers means that theme is actually quite dense in places; and yet the grid does not feel terribly compromised. The worst thing in the grid, FESTAL, comes at the most thematically dense part of the grid (it runs through three theme-related answers), so I can forgive it. That is how it should be—ugly fill should only appear where you are really boxed in. By that rationale, though, there should be no NFLER in this grid. There is no excuse for NFLER. There is never an excuse for NFLER. I was so mad at NFLER, I redid that portion of the grid (on the spot, no software help!):


Oh, I also really didn't like TYS, because I don't believe that abbr. has every been written out that way ever, ever. [Grateful sentiments] are THX, maybe, but not TYS ("thank-yous"??). Still, if that's all there is to complain about, then that's a Win for the puzzle. It's a bit on-the-nose, but yes, I was over the moon about this puzzle. 


Only a couple of mistakes today. Wrote in MANDMS (!?) instead of MENTOS (64D: Candy featured in a classic "MythBusters" episode). The word "classic" has meaning, and I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as a "classic" "MythBusters" episode. I barely know what that show is. Somehow MENTOS cause a Diet Coke geyser ??? Anyway, I thought maybe the show was going to bust the myth that green MANDMS make you horny (I would watch that). I also wrote in OUTSIDER instead of OUTCASTS, failing to pick up on the obvious (!) Latin plural in the clue (23A: Personae non gratae). I also just couldn't / wouldn't stop to figure out what the hell the clue on "ERAGON" thought it was doing (70D: 2003 best seller whose title is one letter different from a fantasy creature). That creature? The fabled 'EXAGON of 'ellenic 'istory (jk it's a "dragon"). I know "ERAGON" well, as my daughter went through a "read all the fantasy series esp. ones with dragons" phase circa 2010—she's got a signed photo of the "ERAGON" author in her room, no foolin'. But the whole "change this letter to a different letter and then scramble the letters and add salt to get a mythical creature"-type of cluing just makes my eyes blur, and so I inevitably move on and try to get the answer from crosses. 


Have a lovely Sunday. Good look booking your vaccine appointment (I'm in the long between-shot Moderna waiting period). Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Entry point in the walls of Babylon / SAT 3-27-21 / Singer with supporting role in 2019's Hustlers / Carrier based near Kuala Lumpur / Onetime name in weight-loss supplements / Divisor in the golden ratio / Six-time WNBA All-Star Moore / Eponym of an NYC cathedral

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: "Caligula" by CAMUS (35A: "Caligula" writer) —
Caligula is a play written by Albert Camus, begun in 1938 (the date of the first manuscript 1939) and published for the first time in May 1944 by Éditions Gallimard. The play was later the subject of numerous revisions. It was part of what the author called the "Cycle of the Absurd", with the novel The Stranger (1942) and the essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). A number of critics have reported the piece to be existentialist; however, Camus always denied belonging to this philosophy.[3] Its plot revolves around the historical figure of Caligula, a Roman Emperor famed for his cruelty and seemingly insane behavior.
• • •

A slight step up from yesterday's puzzle. The grid is just a shade more interesting overall, and there are somewhat more top-notch answers (for me, BIG ASK, FAR FROM IT, "THAT'S ON YOU," and BACK FOR MORE ... though now that I look at those, they don't exactly sizzle, but I do think they're very good). It was very Saturdayish and I moved through it in very Saturdayish fashion, i.e. somewhat more ploddingly than Friday, but steadily and without significant slow-down. Very much not a fan of Marvel movies or weight-loss supplements, so at least a couple of the puzzle's marquee answers left me cold and somewhat squinch-faced, but overall, it worked fine. The one truly unusual answer (to me) was ISHTAR GATE (53A: Entry point in the walls of Babylon), which I've never heard of, and which really truly sounds like it wants to be ISHTAR'S something. ISHTAR wants to be possessive. ISHTAR GATE sounds like a scifi TV series, a probably very ill-advised space-opera mash-up of Elaine May's most notorious movie flop and the TV show "Stargate." Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman flying on spaceships and going through wormholes and, I dunno, solving space crimes or something. Luckily the short answers in the SE were well known to me, so I worked the ISHTAR answer out, but there were a harrowing few seconds there. Probably the worst "mistake" I made in the puzzle was beating myself for not knowing the Roman author CAMUS (pronounced, in my head, CAY'-mus) :( Did not dawn on me until I went to look his name up that CAMUS was the very famous 20th-century French writer Albert CAMUS (pronounced ka-MOO'). Caligula was Roman, CAMUS looks Roman, I had no idea the playwright wrote such a play ... and there you are: literary humiliation.


Had SUPPOSE before SURMISE (24D: Reckon). Managed to scrounge up PICAROS despite not being at all sure that it was a word. I know that there is a literary genre called the "picaresque" which involves dudes going on a series of adventures, so I thought, "hey, maybe those dudes are [Rogues]?" And there it was, PICAROS. While ISHTAR GATE was the answer I was least familiar with, the answer I struggled *most* with was actually CAMERA SHY. I did not have the "A" from CAMUS (because I still thought that the Roman (!?) author might at that point be someone named COMUS), so I looked at the obviously tricky clue, 31D: Out of the picture, say, and I looked at the answer boxes, C-MER-SHY, and wow I have no idea how I didn't see CAMERA SHY at that point, but I didn't. I sincerely believe I was unconsciously slotting an "O" in that second position, and so kept seeing COME as the first word in the phrase. Also probably wanted to make one word out of that answer, but COMERISHY ... not a word. OK, that's all, good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Animator Klasky who co-created "Rugrats" / FRI 3-26-21 / Phil Silvers character of 1950s TV / Amazon comedy drama set in a New Jersey country club in the 1980s / Group with a member-centric acronym / River through the Carolinas

Friday, March 26, 2021

Constructor: Daniel Larsen

Relative difficulty: Medium 


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TENUTO (41D: "Hold it," in music) —
in a manner so as to hold a tone or chord firmly to its full value used as a direction in music (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

It's not that this is bad. It's that I can't believe that with all the submissions they're allegedly getting, this is the best that's out there. There are a couple wonderful answers, but the rest of it hums along at a "merely OK" level. A Friday puzzle should pop All Over the Place, and maybe it's just my professorial profession, but THESIS STATEMENT does not set off any fireworks—a long, grid-spanning entry that is honestly a little dreary. I did TAKE A DEEP BREATH before writing this, but that somehow hasn't improved my feeling about the overall quality, which, again, is fine, in the sense of adequate, but only just. Things were unpromising enough after the first minute or two that I stopped to take a screenshot so that I could have a record of why the puzzle felt mediocre early on:


I guess SECRET FILES is fine, but then when it's used as a cross-reference for crosswordese surveillance orgs. (CIA, NSA), I start thinking it is less than fine. As you can see in the screenshot, lots is happening, none of it particularly interesting. But the marquee answers were still to come, and I will admit that when I got those two long Acrosses under SECRET FILES (i.e. STAY-AT-HOME DAD and "WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA!?"), I thought "OK, cool, we're back in business!" But then nothing much happened for the entire rest of the solve. Somehow SERGEANT BILKO didn't really excite me. Is the "date" at the DESERT OASIS supposed to be a fruit? (62A: Place for a hot date?). When I solved it, I thought it was a calendar date, like ... the day you happened to be at the oasis (?) ... and the fruit angle is better, but not better enough to improve the puzzle much. This just gave me a case of the blahs, which is the last place I want to be on a Friday (well, maybe not The Last place, but you get the idea). 


There were some real off-putting moments in this one, for me, both of them comic book-related. First of all, the STAN LEE clue made me "ugh" and sigh and roll my eyes and etc. (1D: Provenance of many superheroes). First, the answer promises to be something exciting like SPIDER BITE or COSMIC RADIATION but is instead just the guy who co-created a bunch of superheroes. And second, let's talk about that "co-" in co-created. I hate that the general public persists in forgetting Jack Kirby. Lee was so good at self-promotion that he has come to be seen as the sole creator of all those early Marvel heroes, but he was not the *sole* creator of any of them. There is no Thor or Fantastic Four or X-Men or Iron Man without Jack Kirby, whose dynamic art *defined* the early Marvel era and influenced generations of cartoonists after him, up to the present. He also co-created Captain America (with Joe Simon). Steve Ditko was the co-creator of "Spider-Man." I know Lee has the more favorable crossword name, but stop giving him more credit than he deserves. And speaking of comic-book heroes, what in the world are you doing with that Bat-Man clue on EAR!? (59D: Distinctive part of a Batman costume). Seriously, the one ear? Singular? "Part" = EARS. You would never say or think "Look at the single EAR on that Bat-Man costume, no, don't look at the other EAR!? I said EAR, singular! Why can't you follow instructions!?" Probably.


My arm is Very sore this morning, so I'm going to go take it easy today, and celebrate my vaccine heroism with hot coffee now and a cocktail tonight. It was so delightful to see all the eager 50-somethings at the vaccination site yesterday. Humans of disparate backgrounds can collaborate on worthwhile endeavors if they try. Take care, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. ABBA is a "member-centric acronym" because the letters stand for the names of the four members of the group: Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid.

P.P.S. "RED OAKS" is a good show. Worth your time, especially if the only Paul Reiser work you've ever seen is "Mad About You." He's fantastic.

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Area named for gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg / THU 3-25-21 / China North Korea border river / Supercomputing pioneer Seymour / Five-point rugby play / Grocery product with orange packaging / Nick who voices Kuiil on The Mandalorian

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Challenging (but I got *very* stuck, so it might actually be more like Medium-Challenging)


THEME: Opposite of [circled letters] — that's the clue for six themers, each of which are words that contain their putative "opposites" inside them, in the circled letters. So:

Theme answers:
  • WONDERFUL contains WOEFUL
  • EFFECTIVE contains EFFETE (?)
  • FEASTING contains FASTING 
  • PRURIENT contains PURE
  • ANIMOSITY contains AMITY
Word of the Day: Seymour CRAY (35D: Supercomputing pioneer Seymour) —
Seymour Roger Cray (September 28, 1925 – October 5, 1996) was an American electrical engineer and supercomputer architect who designed a series of computers that were the fastest in the world for decades, and founded Cray Research which built many of these machines. Called "the father of supercomputing", Cray has been credited with creating the supercomputer industry. Joel S. Birnbaum, then chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard, said of him: "It seems impossible to exaggerate the effect he had on the industry; many of the things that high performance computers now do routinely were at the farthest edge of credibility when Seymour envisioned them." Larry Smarr, then director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois said that Cray is "the Thomas Edison of the supercomputing industry." (wikipedia)
• • •

Just a chore. Whatever the opposite of "word-related fun" is, that's what this was. The thing that makes it deathly is the cluing—it's like being hit with a hammer, but more tiresome, if somewhat less violent. Same clue, over and over. And a clue that tells you nothing specific, that involves no wordplay, no cleverness, nothing. Just thud thud thud thud thud thud. You know exactly what you have to do from the very beginning, and then begins the extreme chore of doing it. Is my life improved by knowing that the letters in WOEFUL can be found sequentially inside of WONDERFUL? It is not. Did any of these bring even a glimmer of that "aha" feeling that makes solving tough clues so satisfying? No, not a one was able to do this. And EFFETE? We all use EFFECTIVE in our ordinary, daily lives. I doubt anyone uses EFFETE even 1/1000th as much. What a dismal pair of alleged "opposites." And hiding FASTING inside of FEASTING is not exactly what you'd call amazing. Thematically, this was dreary, and the drear permeated all other aspects of the solving experience.


The toughness lies mainly in sussing out the themers with nothing specific to go on from the clues. But I managed to add difficulty, and a lot of it, by making one tiny, plausible error, which resulted in an astonishing cascade of negative implications for my solving success. Once I got into the NE corner, I thought I made pretty quick work of the short Downs (10- through 13-Down). The crosses that I had seemed to work: ON ICE and NOLTE worked, EFFECTIVE and NED worked, so I thought everything was OK. But one letter was off. SNORT OCTAVE and TEEMED were fine, but I had FILE IN instead of PILE IN (11D: Enter all together), and as Robert Frost didn't exactly say, that made all the difference. I couldn't get rid of FILE IN because it seemed very right. All the correct crosses confirmed its rightness for me. So ... the gynecologist clue... I had -SFOT ... and I had no idea, truly, that "Area" was anatomical. So I thought maybe a geographical region, a cape or a peninsula, maybe (?), had been named for this guy. I don't know. I was like "Is U.S. FOT an 'area' ...?" This was all made infinitely worse by my struggles with *two* nearby longer phrases, each of which was missing only *one* letter, but *neither* of which I could parse. Here was the grid:


You see how 9D: Escalate to the extreme has a complete English word there at the end, the word CLEAR? Well let me tell you, when you see a complete English word like that at the end of your answer, it is very (very) hard to shake the idea that it is a stand-alone word in the answer that it is in. So I just kept wanting phrases ending in "CLEAR" (GONE CLEAR!?) instead of GO NUCLEAR. This is a very, very unfortunate thing to have happen around what is far and away the best answer in the grid. Further, the only possibility I could see at 21A: "You betcha!" ("I SURE AM!") was "I SCREAM." So there, I had the opposite of my CLEAR problem, which is that I *couldn't* see that there was a stand-alone word already in view at the end of that phrase. the word "AM." So, to recap, FILE IN => no idea about the gynecologist => a seemingly impossible double parsing catastrophe with GO NUCLEAR and "I SURE AM." I don't even remember how I finally came out of it. 


Bullets:
  • 61A: Cry made while removing a jacket ("IT'S ON!") — is this supposed to be the prelude to a fight? People say "IT'S ON!" all the time but usually there's no actual physical fighting and only rarely (I imagine) removing of jackets. The phrasing on the clue is so bizarre (why not "one's jacket"?) that I thought maybe there was supposed to be jacket ambiguity. Seriously considered what one might cry upon removing a book's dust jacket. 
  • 63A: Dispatch, in a way (SLAY) — Had the "S," wrote SEND. That corner was toughish, because, once again, parsing a longish phrase (SET A GOAL) was a slog.
  • 45D: ___ conservative (FISCAL) — misread the clue, which is to say I ignored the blank and thought the clue was just [Conservative]. Brain was just all over the place this morning.
  • 35D: Supercomputing pioneer Seymour (CRAY) — no idea, though I weirdly wanted CRAY pretty early on ... so maybe I knew without knowing I knew. That sometimes happens.
I get my first dose of the vaccine today, which is honestly thrilling. Hope you all have been doing your level best to get yours ASAP. Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bear in a 2012 comedy / WED 3-24-21 / Kim 7-year-old star of the Golden Globe-winning "Minari" / Comic strip antagonist with massive arms / Semihard Dutch cheese

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Constructor: Amanda Rafkin and Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "WHO WORE IT BETTER?" (38A: Question asked regarding two red-carpet photos of those named in the starred clues?) — articles of clothing associated with two ... cartoon characters (?)

Theme answers:
  • SAILOR SUIT (17A: *Donald Duck or Popeye?)
  • DENIM OVERALLS (24A: *Minions or Mario?)
  • FOOTIE PAJAMAS (50A: *Michael Darling or Baby Smurf?)
  • TRENCHCOAT (61A: *Inspector Gadget or McGruff the Crime Dog?)
Word of the Day: ALAN Kim (2D: ___ Kim, 7-year-old star of the Golden Globe-winning "Minari") —
• • •

Sorry, I think I'm just too tired to understand this one fully. I don't know why the figures named in the starred clues are cartoon characters. I don't understand the hook—like, what is cartoony about the cluing, or the phrase "WHO WORE IT BETTER?" I keep looking for the pun or the wordplay. Does "red carpet" evoke animation or cartooning somehow? I don't know. I don't get it. I don't have any problem with the fact that cartoon characters are not real and thus can't physically walk down a red carpet. I just don't know why cartoon characters, specifically, are being used. I figure there has to be an angle. But as far as I can tell, no, it's just that the cartoon characters named in the clues both wear the articles of clothing in question. And that is that. I guess people will enjoy remembering toons, or having the clothing similarities pointed out, and maybe that's enough. I just kept waiting for the punchline that never came. Or maybe it came, in the form of the revealer, and I just didn't get it. Other theme things I didn't get: why BLUTO is up there turning the red carpet into a SAILOR-SUIT threesome (7D: Comic strip antagonist with massive arms); why DENIM OVERALLS (it's true, but you would just say OVERALLS); how you spell FOOTIE (considered FOOTEE and FOOTSY); and who "Michael Darling" is (had to look him up—he's a little kid in "Peter Pan," a movie I don't think I've ever seen).


The fill is weirdly weak in this one. Crosswordese-ish fill splattered all over the place. Starting in the north, there's SAO SAABS ASSAM SEI STIEG NRA AREEL ARIA GAL GADOT (even in long form, I think of her as crosswordese now—she's absolutely outpacing a lot of the old-school crossword names in terms of frequency of appearances; she's not at ASHE levels yet, but she's trying) (deep breath) EGAD OSLO LEIS ORCA RIC LAMESA EDAM SOSAD RIO AESOP IFSO ... and those were all *contiguous*. You can then hop to NOLO and ASP ASHE and ADELE ONDVD you get the idea. It's wearying. And it's really, truly wearying to see NRA this week of all weeks, even with the clue that signals opposition to the group. You would never put KKK in the puzzle at all, no matter how you clued it, right? So ... extend the logic, please. Some orgs. are beyond clue redemption. Thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Neurotic condition for short / TUE 3-23-21 / dye chemical coloring / Letter-shaped girder / Cosmetician Lauder / One side in a college football rivalry since 1890

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: No idea (co-solved it on Zoom in a pretty leisurely fashion)


THEME: EXTRA CHARGE (60A: Unwelcome sight on a bill ... or a clue to 16-, 34- and 41-Across) — themers are ordinary phrases that have had ION added to the end, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily (i.e. "?"-style):

Theme answers:
  • IRS AUDITION (16A: Job interview for a wannabe tax collector?)
  • BOARDING PASSION (34A: What the surfing enthusiast has?)
  • RUN OF THE MILLION (41A: Name for a huge marathon?)
Word of the Day: ION —
1an atom or group of atoms that carries a positive or negative electric charge as a result of having lost or gained one or more electrons
2a charged subatomic particle (such as a free electron) (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Quick write-up today because I'm unusually pressed for time and also there's a Zoom recording and if you really want to know my thoughts In Depth you can always watch that. Long story short: it's fine. Certainly the idea is ambitious, or well-meaning, or ... you know, it's trying, and there's definitely a cleverness there. The execution felt mildly clunky to me as I was solving, as it seemed like an add-a-sound puzzle (which is often depressing, and on the heels of Sunday, potentially Very depressing—too soon!). I thought "hmmm ... something about ... shunning." After getting the second themer, Rachel and I tried to guess what the revealer phrase would be, and I jokingly suggested IONIZING, which obviously doesn't fit, but which in the end was basically right, or in the ballpark of right. But EXTRA CHARGE is better. There's no charge to start with, so it doesn't Quite quite work, but there is an "extra" bunch of letters that spell out a thing that carries a "charge," so, fine. Didn't like that two of the sounds were "shun" and the third wasn't. Didn't like that two themers steered you way away from the meaning of the base phrase, but the IRS one didn't / couldn't (hard to have IRS in your answer and not have it be tax-related). But there is a solid concept here, consistently executed at the most elemental level (it doesn't promise to do anything more than add the letters "ION" and it delivers on that promise). So there you go. A Tuesday that isn't a terrible disappointment. You should always be happy to take that.


Fill-wise, it's just OK. The worst part by far was the Scrabble-f***ing in the SW. If you can put a "Z" (or "J" or "X" or whatever rarer letter you want) in a corner and have it come out clean, great, but AZO is not not Not clean (64A: ___ dye (chemical coloring)). It's absolute crosswordese, and makes your "Z" utterly unworth it. And in such a small corner, you could've done ... literally anything. You could probably get a "Q" and a "J" in there and still have it come out better than this current corner if you tried hard enough. Here:


Also, the clue on OCD is gross. "Neurotic" has strongly negative connotations. You'd never tell someone with OCD that they're "neurotic." Connotation matters and "neurotic" just doesn't work for what can be a genuinely debilitating condition. Also, re: TYE—are people really named that? With an "E"? OK. But re: the TYE clue (43D: Actor Sheridan who co-starred in "Ready Player One"): having been conned into reading "Ready Player One" the book, I have no interest in "Ready Player One" the movie or any future Ready Player incarnations. Apologies to all who are named TYE, but consider TY. It's nicer. Good day. Oh, right, here's the ZOOM solve. Peace!


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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