R&B/jazz artist Booze who sang See See Rider Blues / FRI 4-30-21 / Uses a crystal ball / Farm animal in farm-speak / BuzzFeed fodder

Friday, April 30, 2021

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ESSIE Davis (7D: Davis of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries") —
Esther Davis (born 19 January 1970) is an Australian actress and singer, best known for her roles as Phryne Fisher in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and its film adaptation, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, along with Amelia Vanek in The Babadook. Other major works include a recurring role as Lady Crane in season six of the television series Game of Thrones, Sister Iphigenia in Lambs of God, and the role of Ellen Kelly in Justin Kurzel's True History of the Kelly Gang. (wikipedia)
• • •

I haven't been solving at night so much lately, but I had a bit of a nap today, so I'm awake and solving at what is probably a normal waking hour for many of you, but for me feels like the middle of the night (11pm). One of my cats is very confused. Heard me on the stairs and came out of our bedroom like it was time for breakfast. Then looked at me like "no, I know this isn't right ... why are you up?" So I toted her around the house on my shoulder for a bit while she purred contentedly then let her go back to bed. The puzzle was easy and refreshing. Something brisk and cleansing about it. Just what I needed after ... yesterday (about which, the less the better). It was so easy and smooth that I noticed every little bump in the road, both the difficulty bumps and the "yuck" bumps (really only one or two of these, I think). I count four places where I had to exert any effort at all to get an answer: 
  • VASE (1A: Mason jar, in a pinch)
  • SITE VISIT (8D: Part of an OSHA inspection)
  • LANE CLOSED (61A: Sign before merging)
  • ERRANT (50D: Off the mark)
The least consequential of these problems was ERRANT—I just put in ASTRAY at first, and so had to dig myself out (HERMAN helped) (53A: Appropriate name for that woman's husband?). LANE CLOSED also didn't hold me up that long. It was really the LANE part that I had to work for, with most of CLOSED being solidly in place before I ever looked at any of the Across clues down there. VASE was tough mostly because it was virtually the only clue I looked at where I didn't have at least one of the letters in place already (that is, it was the first clue I looked at). The really crucial difficult bit was SITE VISIT, because as you can see, it was my only avenue up into the NE from the center. I was here:

... and couldn't come up with a word ending -SIT that made sense. My brain kept saying "TRANSIT" but that was nonsense. So instead of just jumping into the NE corner, I followed letters I already had and tumbled down into the SE, then swung back up the east coast and came at the NE that way. I very nearly got stymied again trying to get up into that corner because the back ends of so many of the Downs were useless to me. But once I got EVENT (25A: Dot on a timeline), I had VISIT at the end of that OSHA clue, so I hazarded a guess on the first four letters: was it SITE? 

It was. Here we get to the only parts of the puzzle that made me wince a little. The first was SCRIES, which I got almost immediately, but is a word I have always given helping heapings of side-eye, as I have only ever seen it in crosswords (it's somehow weirder and worse when it's just SCRY). Then, with "oof, it's not SCRIES, is it?" fresh in my head, I checked the "I" cross and got ... LIE-IN. All of the -IN answers (BE-IN, SIT-IN, LOVE-IN) are vaguely suspect to me in their ancientness, but LIE-IN ... I have seen people do some version of a LIE-IN in recent years, but I think it's more commonly known now as a DIE-IN. Anyway, SCRIES LIE-IN was a rocky 1-2, but everything evened out from there. In fact, my favorite parts of the solve came in that NE section. First, though it isn't my favorite answer, ESSIE delighted me because I tweeted just last week about the astonishing cast you could put together just from five-letter actors whose last name was Davis: I had VIOLA, OSSIE, GEENA. Someone reminded me "hey, you forgot BETTE." And then later on, another person chimed in, "Don't forget ESSIE!" Actually, now that I look, that "other person" was none other than 8-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion Dan Feyer.

So because of this little thought experiment, I actually remembered ESSIE's name today. In fact, as I read the clue, my brain went "It's ESSIE! Wait, who's ESSIE!? Why do we know this?" And now you know why we knew. I don't think ESSIE is necessarily great fill, but I liked ESSIE insofar as my remembering the name at all proves that my brain is still admitting new information, however grudgingly. Finally (!), I liked that I ended my solve at END (22A: Redundant word before "result"). Felt good and fitting, and also very unlikely, in that I do not normally END my solves way up at the top of the grid like that. It was as if END was calling me, drawing me in like a beacon: "END here. . . END here . . ." And so I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Pepper between jalapeño and cayenne on the Scoville heat scale / THU 4-29-21 / Addison high-earning Tik-Tok personality / A group of them is called un archipel

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: it's a "poem"  — "IT WOULD BE A SHAME / IF MY / HAIKU WERE / TO BE / ONE SYLLABLE TOO [LONG]" ... where "LONG" appears in its own square, making it, on the one hand, three letters (*not* one syllable) too long, and, on the other hand, not too long at all (i.e. you fit it in the grid) ... I get that it's "too long" in haiku terms, but what this "LONG" gag is doing at the end, I have no idea

Theme answers:
  • PRO[LONG]ED (47D: Extended the duration of)
Word of the Day: HILDA Solis, Obama-era secretary of labor (27A) —
Hilda Lucia Solis (/sˈls/; born October 20, 1957) is an American politician and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 1st district. Solis previously served as the 25th United States Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2013, as part of the administration of PresidentBarack Obama. She is a member of the Democratic Party and served in the United States House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009, representing the 31st and 32nd congressional districts of California that include East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. (wikipedia)
• • •

Just an awful chore. Super hard, for various reasons, and then with the worst kind of corny humor (i.e. it's not funny and it doesn't quite work). This is the puzzle that wants to do a magic trick for you at parties. This puzzle likes "jokes" that you get out of "1001 Jokes" book. There is nothing charming or amusing about any of this. *And* it was extra-hard. Difficult and completely unentertaining—there's a winning combination. Further, this grid is gruesomely trivia-ridden. Just name after name name. In a puzzle where I'm already struggling to put together your made-up poem, taking a trivia test just added to the pain. The single worst part of this was where the totally unfathomable "word" from a non-famous Queen song title was sitting right next to a "high-earning Tik-Tok personality" (there's not one word of that phrase that isn't glistening with inanity), and then both of those ran straight through The Crucial Word in the damn "poem" (i.e. HAIKU). The very worst fill at the most important point in the puzzle—again, winning. I resent this kind of self-indulgent, no-concern-for-solving-pleasure, make-your-theme-work-at-all-costs construction. I would've been somewhat quicker getting through this section if I could've remembered SERRANO sooner (31A: Pepper between jalapeño and cayenne on the Scoville heat scale), but the real added difficulty whammy came from *two* wrong answers that seemed to fit their clues perfectly: ICE for 28D: Finalize, as a deal (INK) and (worse) SHYER for 38A: Less forward (COYER). Actually that last one just ended up making the SW harder—didn't really have an effect on the RHYE / RAE section. But ICE, wow, that one was stuck there, and really made seeing HAIKU impossible. Had ADIEU in HAIKU's place for a bit. Later considered AEIOU (!?). Just no idea. There is simply no pleasure to be had in working that section out because your "aha" involves RHYE and RAE, meaningless pieces of trivia. A huge HAIRBALL, that part of the grid.

I also had ERUPTS before SPOUTS because of course I did, it's the better answer (20A: What Yellowstone's Old Faithful does about 17 times a day). Here's Old Faithful's official web page, see how long it takes you to find the word "erupt" ... now try "spout" ... the prosecution f***ing rests). And wow did SPOUTS mess up the NW. Had me doubting even KURTZ, which is not a great place for an English professor to be (23A: "Heart of Darkness" character who cries "The horror! The Horror!"). Found every single answer in the NW hard to get (except KURTZ and STS and UTZ). And then SHYER for COYER really made the SW a struggle. This took me way way longer than my average Saturday. Didn't time it, but I could feel it. The fact that the "LONG" bit at the end, with its attempt at bonus humor that totally misses the target, just put a miserable exclamation point on the whole thing. As I say in the theme description, nothing about that rebus square adequately represents the poem's being one syllable too long. It's either three letters too long, or not too long at all (fits neatly in a square, inside the 15x15 grid structure). This puzzle made me yearn for a "quip" theme or a word ladder or any of the AGEOLD themes that I normally don't care for but would have been glad to see today because at least they work. Totally made-up corny poems, please keep them to yourself, especially if you want to also do a final trick but have no ability to stick the landing. Thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Pagliacci baritone / WED 4-28-21 / One greeting others with the shaka sign / Two concentric circles on golf scorecard

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Constructor: Hal Moore

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE (58A: Easy-to-resolve situation ... or a hint to the progression found in 20-, 23- 43-, 46- and 58-Across) — the letter string "CASE" moves, over the course of five theme answers, from the front of the answers to the back of the answer; so "CASE" "opens" the first answer, "shuts" the last answer, and I guess does both (?) in the middle answers:

Theme answers:
  • "CASEY AT THE BAT" (20A: Poem subtitled "A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888")
  • CAST ASID(23A: Discard)
  • CANADA GEESE (43A: Some winter travelers to the U.S.)
  • "CHECK, PLEASE!" (46A: Restaurant request)
Word of the Day: shaka sign (27A: One greeting others with the shaka sign = SURFER) —
shaka sign, sometimes known as "hang loose", is a gesture of friendly intent often associated with Hawaii and surf culture. It consists of extending the thumb and smallest finger while holding the three middle fingers curled, and gesturing in salutation while presenting the front or back of the hand; the hand may be rotated back and forth for emphasis. While the shaka sign has spread internationally from its Hawaiian cultural roots to surf culture and beyond, the hand gesture also bears a variety of meaning in different contexts and regions of the world. [...] The word shaka is also used as an interjection expressing approval, which may predate its use for the shaka sign. According to The Oxford English Dictionary the origin of the word is uncertain, but it may come from Japanese, where it is a byname for the Buddha. (wikipedia)
• • •

I like the grid, with its mirror symmetry, and I like the theme answer arrangement, with one stack of two followed by another stack of two. Reminds me of a Big Mac for some reason, which has nothing to do with the theme, but whatever. It's an interesting design, for sure. I don't think the theme quite works. It seems at odds with itself. When I was done, I thought, "oh, so the letters CASE both 'open' and 'shut' the answers, cool." But then I read the revealer clue and looked at the grid more closely, and that's not what's happening. Instead CASE moves, methodically, from the back to the front of the themers. I think the puzzle thinks this is a bonus feature, but for me, it just confuses matters. Makes the theme conceptually muddy. In one case (!), CASE opens an answer. In one case (!!), CASE shuts an answer ... the others are stuck in between, which ... if *all* the answers had been in-betweeners, that would've made sense to me (this is what I originally thought was happening). CASE "opens and shuts" its answer, great. That's what's happening with CAST ASIDE, CANADA GEESE, and CHECK, PLEASE. Conversely, if the themers were all answer pairs where CASE "opened" (in one case) and "shut" (in the other) the answer, that would've made sense too. But the moving of CASE along, one letter at a time, from the front to the back of themers, that doesn't have anything to do with opening or shutting, unless (and this is a stretch), you imagine the movement of CASE across the themers is some kind of visual representation of a door being shut (i.e. it's open ... and then when you close it, it has to swing across an arc ... and maybe the middle themers are the arc?). Conceptually this would have worked if all the answers had had a split CASE or none of them had. In the end, it's certainly interesting, but it just doesn't Snap!

And the fill, oh my, it's pretty crusty and rough and unpleasant (with the twin pillars NO ACCIDENT and FIRE ESCAPE being notable exceptions). At various points I thought the puzzle was trolling me, so comically crosswordesey were its crosses: E'ER x/w ERR? EKE x/w IKE? AREA x/w ARIA!?!? Gruesome. I mean, almost funny if the constructor ended up winning some kind of bar bet about how much of this garbage crossing stuff he could pull off, but otherwise, not that funny. And then there's TONIO x/w TOE AT (What did the log-splitter say after he missed the log? "Hey, where's my TOE AT!?"). There's no real reason so much of this short fill should be so tedious. The SW corner is a scrapheap of the most common stuff (none of it hugely objectionable, but all in a pile ... it smells of mothballs, for sure). 

Not much difficulty today. At one time, TONIO would've caused trouble, but I managed to memory-bank it at some point after seeing it one too many times in crosswords. I know the "hang ten" sign very well, but had no idea it was called a "shaka sign" (27A). That clue on "CASEY AT THE BAT" was tough (20A: Poem subtitled "A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888"); I'm at least vaguely familiar with every word of that poem, having read it or heard it recited many times, but apparently I never saw or heard the subtitle, which does not appear to have anything to do with baseball. This puzzle could've used a little more of that kind of difficulty, perhaps, but it was still Wednesdayish enough. 

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Kind of torch / TUES 4-27-21 / Queen of the gods, in Roman myth / Tehran native / Like rococo decoration

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Hi, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday of April. I’m in my final week of law school — and, wow, it’s flown by! What are you supposed to do when your life has revolved around school for 20 of your 24 years, and then…? Now I have to be part of the real world? Graduation will be virtual, so I’ll miss out on a bit of that celebration, but I’ll get to be back with my family in California to wear my graduation robe and move my tassel from right to left — for the very last time! I’ve been trying to focus on finals, but I’ve been filling some time watching too many sports — though I won’t be watching the European Super League! RIP, Super League. You weren’t gone soon enough.

Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Jeff McDermott

Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: JULEP (36A: Libation made from the beginnings of 17-, 23-, 49- and 59-Across) — the start of the highlighted clues are ingredients in a julep

Theme answers:
  • ICE ICE BABY (17A: 1990 #1 hit that begins “Yo V.I.P., let’s kick it” 
  • BOURBON STREET (23A: Main drag through New Orleans’s French Quarter)
  • MINT CONDITION (49A: Never-used state) 
  • SUGAR DADDY (59A: Wealthy boyfriend, perhaps)
Word of the Day: ADANO (7D: John Hershey’s “A Bell for __”) —
A Bell for Adano is a 1944 novel by John Hersey, the winner of the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of an Italian-American officer in Sicily during World War II who wins the respect and admiration of the people of the town of Adano by helping them find a replacement for the town bell that the Fascists had melted down for rifle barrels. (Wiki)
• • •
Overall, I quite enjoyed this puzzle! I thought that the theme was clean and fun and that the solve, in general, was very pleasant. The puzzle is particularly timely, as the Kentucky Derby is coming up soon — back to its original date of the first Saturday in May — and the mint julep is the official drink of the Derby. My grandparents absolutely loved the Derby — they were from Kentucky and hosted a party every year. I had an American Girl doll horse they often used as a centerpiece! One year at one of these parties, my sister somehow won the Derby betting pool, and my parents made her share the winnings with me. Perks of being the younger sibling! 

And, hey, I guess I won’t have to look up the recipe for a JULEP on Saturday now that I’ve solved this puzzle. My only gripe with the theme is that I think the drink is really a “mint julep” and not just a JULEP. For the most part, I liked each of the theme answers and the variety of them. Though, I think the clue for SUGAR DADDY (59A) doesn’t quite work, because SUGAR DADDY generally means more than just a rich boyfriend. Still, I liked the theme a lot! And now I feel ready for the Derby on Saturday. 

I liked a lot of the fill of the puzzle — especially OVERBOOK (3D) and RAINY DAY (38D). I thought the clue/answer for 63A was clever, with the answer being the letters missing in a word that means the same thing, which is not something I think I’ve seen in a daily crossword before. There also seemed to be some mini connected themes in the puzzle. There’s SEPIA (22A) and SHOTS (31A), which both relate to photos. There’s PSI (4D) and CHI (38D), both from the Greek alphabet. Then there are the connected CLIP (1D) and CLOP (1A) and HUCK (42D) and FINN (19A). These all tied the puzzle together nicely. 

I did have a few slight problems. First, I mixed up CLIP and CLOP, so I spent some time in that northwest corner wondering what an ingredient for a JULEP could possibly be that started with “oce.” Also, I put “scarf” instead of SNARF for 5A, which caused me trouble, because, sure, “cabob” looked weird, but I didn’t know the word for 6D: Bigwig was NABOB. I had that error when I finished and had to go back through the puzzle to find where I’d made my mistake, which took some time. My dad told me that Spiro Agnew once complained about the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” which is a rather memorable quote, so maybe I’ll remember the word NABOB in the future! My last issue came with 16A, where I immediately typed in “done” so that it would read “what’s done is done,” but instead it was “what’s FAIR is FAIR.” I still think my way works better; my sister said she did the same thing I did, but my dad said he immediately typed in FAIR. So I’ll be conducting an informal poll in the comments — what did other people first put here??

  • 62A: Uber request as RIDE made me think about how I had to get one of these when I was on a bike ride the other day and got a flat tire about seven miles from home and, *oops!* didn’t have a patch kit with me. I had to get a big Uber and take my tires off and get my hands all greasy…. Lesson learned! 
  • I’m pretty sure I know the SEPIA (22A) photo tint because that used to be a filter you could use on the Mac Photo Booth app, which I spent a lot of time on in my junior high years. 
  • Heaven help me, but every time I think of 29A: Once IN A Lifetime, I cannot help but start singing the start of the absolute classic deserving of all the awards, “Everyday,” from “High School Musical 2.” 
  • CHUTES and Ladders (41A) was one of my favorite board games growing up. I remember that game and Candyland and Monopoly (whenever I could convince someone to take the seven hours the game requires to play with me) and Clue were some of my favorites. 
  • I remember playing UNO (47A) with some friends for the first time and realizing that apparently everyone cheats and often makes up their own rules. Once I realized that, I had a great time. If anyone wants to get a big smile on their face, I recommend watching these two playing UNO!
And that's it — hope everyone stays safe and has a great month of May!

Signed, Clare Carroll, an almost law school graduate

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Old rival of MGM / MON 4-26-21 / Locale of many White House photo ops / Only daughter of Elizabeth II / Lady first female member of Parliament

Monday, April 26, 2021

Constructor: Eric and Lori Bornstein

Relative difficulty: Challenging (30+ seconds over my usual Monday time)

THEME: FOOD COURT (35D: Feature of many a mall ... or a place for 20-Across and 26- and 30-Down?) — fast food places that have "court"-related words in their names:

Theme answers:
  • WHITE CASTLE (20A: Figurative site of a 35-Down)
  • BURGER KING (30D: Figurative ruler of a 35-Down)
  • DAIRY QUEEN (26D: Figurative ruler of a 35-Down)
Word of the Day: MSRP (41A: Starting point for a car sale negotiation: Abbr.) —
The list price, also known as the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), or the recommended retail price (RRP), or the suggested retail price (SRP) of a product is the price at which the manufacturer recommends that the retailer sell the product. The intention was to help standardize prices among locations. While some shops/stores always sell at, or below, the suggested retail price, others do so only when items are on sale or closeout/clearance. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's a good theme. I just don't understand why they didn't slot this on Tuesday, or even Wednesday, since it would've fit much better there. So many things make this measurably tougher than a regular Monday puzzle (still easyish in absolute terms, but way way off of Monday-average). The gigantic open spaces, for one. There's almost no way you can have a triple-stack of 9s like that (in the middle, where the revealer is) and still keep things Monday-easy. Open space like that is a hallmark of Fri / Sat puzzles. And you've got similar open space in the SW and SE too, with 10s stacked together in each case (I realize "stack" isn't the right metaphor, but you see what I mean ... they're abutting ... "pillars"?). Big chunks of white space means the difficulty level goes boop boop boop, up. Add in the fact that all the themers are cross-referenced, so there is absolutely no way to get them from their clues alone. You have to hammer away at crosses *or* go solve the revealer and then maybe, possibly, have a chance at understanding how it relates to the theme clue. That is, WHITE CASTLE clue has nothing specific to do with WHITE CASTLE, and ditto BURGER KING and DAIRY QUEEN. Themer clues with absolutely no literal, direct information about the themers themselves, that's practically unheard of on Monday ... For A Reason. It adds a good chunk of difficulty. It slows you down. Now ultimately, it was all doable, but a good Tuesday puzzle should go on a Tuesday. Not sure why that's so hard. Is there a real dearth of decent Mondays? Bah!

Also had no idea who Lady ASTOR was (66A: Lady ___, first female member of Parliament) (I mean, rings a bell, but ... shrug). Same with Chris REDD. Happy to know there's another REDD out there besides FOXX (or former NBAer Michael), but I am semi-exhausted by the idea that I should know every single current and former cast member of SNL. It's bad enough that I have to see SNL in roughly every other grid. I do not f*** with that show. I find it wearisome, and honestly I have never forgiven Lorne Michaels and Joe Pesci for what they did to Sinead O'Connor 30 years ago. Grudges: I hold them. Still, Chris REDD, cool, I'll try to remember that. Had RATES instead of RAGES at 6D: Rants and raves, which made A-GAME so so hard to see (18A: Best possible athletic performance—such a weird and mildly misleading clue; if a player "brings their A-GAME," they are playing at *general* peak ability, yes, but that doesn't mean that individual "performance" is the "best possible" (which is what the clue seems to imply, as written). Had ANYHOW before ANYHOO (4D: Informal segue). I guess "informal" should've tipped me off. ANYHOO, all these little hiccups, combined with a harder-than-usual-Monday theme, put this well outside normal Monday difficulty range. The fill is largely fine, except the SE, which is quite poor (ANGE on a Monday? In a corner that's already desperate for even adequate fill? Blargh). So yeah, if you'd given me this tomorrow or the next day, I would've liked it a lot. As it is, I like it a little. That's not bad. Could be worse. I don't really believe that WHITE CASTLE is a FOOD COURT restaurant. But I'll let it slide. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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765-foot-long water coaster on Disney cruises / SUN 4-25-21 / Racy selfie posted for likes on social media in modern lingo / Onetime MTV reality series filmed near Hollywood / Gaming novice slangily / Fictional pilot with the line You like me because I'm a scoundrel

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Medium

and here's what you see when you complete the version in the app / online:

THEME: "Stretching Exercises" — muscles appear in squares that are "stretched" (i.e. the squares are actually two squares large ... though if you solve on-line (or using solving software, as I do) you are stuck with double-letters instead of stretched letters, which kind of ruins the whole premise:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: "THE HILLS" (9D: Onetime MTV reality series filmed near Hollywood) —
The Hills is an American reality television series that aired for six seasons on MTV from May 31, 2006, until July 13, 2010. Developed as a spin-off of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, the series aired six seasons and focused on the personal and professional lives of several young women and men residing in Los AngelesCalifornia. Its premise was conceived by Adam DiVello, while Liz Gateley and Sean Travis served as executive producers. [...] The Hills received moderately favorable reviews from critics, and has been recognized as a "guilty pleasure" by several media outlets. However, the series was often criticized for tending towards a narrative format more commonly seen in scripted genres including soap operas, and appearing to fabricate much of its storyline. The show has produced several spin-offs, as well as distributed all seasons to DVD. Since its conclusion, the special The Hills: That Was Then, This Is Now starring Conrad was aired on August 2, 2016, and the sequel series The Hills: New Beginnings premiered on June 24, 2019.
• • •

The biggest problem here is technical, i.e. the stretch conceit just didn't register for me. In the app, when you get the final solution correct, little elves do stretch the letters for you, it seems. And in print, the cells are pre-stretched? And then in my software version, I just had to imagine the stretching. So ... three different ways of delivering the sight gag? Sigh. The puzzle notes in my version (which I never ever ever read before I solve because they usually give away too much) basically explain to you that the paired circled squares are supposed to be single cells. Still, telling me this doesn't really change the fact that there's no way to make letters "stretch" when you're solving. You'd think that when you're taking in money hand over fist, when xword subscriptions are exploding, you'd figure out this technical stuff, but apparently not. Not yet. I guess they're trying to draw everyone onto the app with fancy after-effects (which are mostly dazzle camouflage meant to distract you from the actual Puzzle, as far as I can tell). Thursday's James Bond puzzle basically *showed* app users the fact that the "OO"s formed a "7" shape. So increasingly they're making puzzle effects app-exclusive. I don't like it. They're giving different kinds of users different experiences. It looks like solving the print edition was the way to go today, the "stretching" idea works best there. So let's assume we're all pre-Internet solvers: OK, this theme is at least interesting, and ambitious. The fill is very daring, both in ways that work and in ways that don't. But it's trying, at least. I see that ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY is trying hard to be class president, and it's definitely, uh, creative, but I just want to point out that in terms of google search results, the order of popularity goes:
  • [big dropoff]
Something about the "G" strikes my ears wrong. Like, if you're going to be that slangy, it's highly unlikely you're gonna voice the "G." Impressive that you pick up two muscles in this one very original answer, but when the slang doesn't quite land, it doesn't quite land. Further: you can tell me AQUADUCK is a thing, and I have to take your word for it, but the "on Disney cruises" part of the clue tells me this is not a thing humans should be expected to know. ROLL A TWO is a huge pile of garbage. I believe that MODEL TANKs exist ... but I don't believe they make good fill. MODEL TRAIN, hell yes. MODEL TANK? ... meh.  PECORINO CHEESE is redundant (it's just pecorino) as is (kinda) P.E. CLASS (it's usually just P.E.) (see also TEAL GREEN, wtf). But the theme does have one big winner, and that is THIRST TRAP (77A: Racy selfie posted for likes on social media, in modern lingo). It's a loser in a technical sense, which is to say that "TRAP" is not hidden / buried inside the answer (the way every other muscle in the puzzle is buried / hidden). It's a stand-alone word. So, point deduction. *But* wow it is a great fresh modern answer and I can't really believe I lived to see it in a grid. And over VANITY, double wow. I will always remember this as the THIRST TRAP puzzle (to the extent that I remember it at all).

I had HEY, ALL before HI, Y'ALL, and I think I like mine better (55A: "Howdy, everybody!"). There's something both informal and businesslike about it. I don't believe "Me! Whee!" is a POEM (1A: Muhammed Ali's "Me! Whee," e.g.). You have to put the line-break slash in between the words (i.e. "Me! / Whee!"), as George Plimpton does here when referring to Ali's poem. Otherwise, you've just got two rhyming words. Also, Plimpton renders the first word as a question (i.e. "Me? / Whee!"), which does make more sense. With just exclamation marks, it sounds insane. COEDS is sexist, why is it still in your wordlists, people? I thought we'd settled this (87A: New students at Princeton or Yale in 1969). Will I remember that there is a Bollywood megastar named Aishwarya RAI? I will definitely try (didn't even see the clue this time). Will I remember "THE HILLS" was a thing? Likely not. I'm trying hard to forget it already. I really miss PHIL Hartman. OK, gotta get back to the dog we're dog-sitting this weekend. Barkley! 

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I felt a little tired and a little head-achey the day after my second Moderna shot, but I was expecting much, much worse. My advice: hydrate (like crazy) and sleep! 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Vulcan's specialty / SAT 4-24-21 / Co-star of Apple TV+'s "The Morning Show" / Journalist Parker with a 2018 Pulitzer Prize / Lambert airport inits.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Constructor: Kristian House and Mike Dockins

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: PARKER (Journalist Parker with a 2018 Pulitzer Prize) —
Ashley R. Parker[1] is an American journalist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for The Washington Post, and senior political analyst for MSNBC. From 2011 to 2017 she was a Washington-based[2] politics reporter[3] for The New York Times.
• • •
Hi all, Rachel Fabi in for Rex Parker today (and for the early readers, apologies that this is late! That's on me! And because I'm running late, you're getting a Fabi-style writeup instead of a Fabi-imitating-Parker-style writeup-- this format may be familiar to readers of my New Yorker write-ups on Diary of a Crossword Fiend).  I solved this one in a bit of a panic since I knew I was late, so I'm not sure I can give an accurate assessment of its difficulty, but I finished it just slightly above my average time. Whether that's due to the puzzle being slightly more difficult than average or my frantic solve making it harder to see things I otherwise might have seen is unclear. But despite the state in which I solved this puzzle, I still really like it! It's got a cool grid, and some excellent long entries, and a bunch of clues that I really enjoyed. There's some fill I could live without scattered around the puzzle, but in general, I think this is a very solid Saturday offering.

First of all, that grid shape! I love grid designs with long lines of blocks through the the middle, and this one is no exception. I don't really know what else to say about that, other than that I think it looks rad and facilitates a sort of unique way of moving through the grid during the solve. 

The long entries I particularly enjoyed were HARRY STYLES / LADY FRIENDS / POINT OF VIEW / and KRIS KRINGLE. Although HARRY STYLES was clued surprisingly straightforwardly (there's so much you can do with that name, so it seems a wasted opportunity to settle for [19A: Singer who rose to fame on "The X Factor"]!), the other three have either fun or particularly tricky clues that I enjoyed. The clue on LADY FRIENDS in particular [9D: Some boos] likely tripped up some solvers who are unfamiliar with the term "boo" as a modern pet name for one's partner. The POINT OF VIEW clue was also tricky, being one of those one word clues [52A: Take] that could mean just about anything. And [22D: Stocking stuffer] for KRIS KRINGLE is fun because it's just adjacent to what we normally think [Stocking stuffer] means -- this is the guy who *literally* stuffs the stockings. 

Long entries aside, there were a few other clue/entry pairs in this puzzle that made me smile, and one that literally made me laugh out loud for the dad-joke of it all. The dad joke clue [39A: Sticky food?] for KABOB is cute and clever, and I adore it. I also really liked [49A: Coverage of the royal family?] for TIARA, [20D: Real posers?] for YOGIS, and [30D: "Cry me a river!" elicitor, perhaps] for SOB STORY. I got extremely tripped up on [34D: When?] as the clue for NOT IF. Once it clicked, though, I was pretty satisfied by that little bit of wordplay (because the entry fills in the implied blank [___ but when]). 


A few more things:
  • 58A: Yeah, right: I wrote over the first four letters of I'M SO SURE, like, four times. I tried YEAH SURE, SURE SURE, and WELL SURE before finally landing on the correct set. I guess I was not so sure! 
  • 62A: "___ a Pizza" (punnily titled children's book) -- I vaguely remember my little brother reading and enjoying "PETE'S a Pizza" and I like that punny title, so I will forgive the otherwise pet peeve of mine of having what looks like a plural name in the grid. Much better clue than just naming two random PETES!
  • Fill I could live without: HRSALLINITTI (are we supposed to know mafia gangster henchmen by name??)
Well folks, that's all the time we have for today, because it is ACPT weekend and I need to go mentally prepare. Apologies again for the late post-- blame me, not Rex! 

Signed, Rachel Fabi, Queen-for-a-Day of CrossWorld

[Follow Rachel on Twitter]  

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

PS. Thank you to everyone who contributed to These Puzzles Fund Abortion! I know many of you did, and I really appreciate it. We've raised $32,000 so far (!!!), which is just unbelievable. If you still want to pick up a copy of the puzzle pack I edited to benefit the Baltimore Abortion Fund, you can do so here!
PPS. Even if you are not attending the ACPT today, you can pick up some independent puzzles from the "Virtual ACPT Puzzle Table" that Nate Cardin and I coordinated for constructors to show off their work this weekend. Those puzzles are available here (and includes one free BAF puzzle!). 


First and only president of the Republic of Hawaii / FRI 4-23-21 / Oni in Japanese folklore / Scrubland danger / GranTurismo maker / Oleta of soul / Finish to an oenophile

Friday, April 23, 2021

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Oleta ADAMS (1D: Oleta of soul) —
Oleta Adams (born May 4, 1953) is an American singer and pianist. Adams found limited success during the early 1980s, before gaining fame via her contributions to Tears for Fears's international chart-topping album, The Seeds of Love (1989). Her albums Circle of One (1991) and Evolution (1993) were top 10 hits in the UK; the former yielded a Grammy-nominated cover of Brenda Russell's "Get Here", which was a top 5 hit in both the UK and the US. Adams has been nominated for four total Grammy Awards, as well as two Soul Train Music Awards. [...] In 1985, Adams was discovered by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, founders of the English band Tears for Fears, while she was performing in a hotel bar in Kansas City, Missouri, while they were on a US tour. Two years later, they contacted her to invite her to join their band as a singer and pianist on their next album, The Seeds of Love. In 1989, the album was released and the single "Woman in Chains", sung as a duet by Adams and Orzabal and with Phil Collins on drums, became her first hit. Adams embarked on a world tour with Tears For Fears in 1990, performing by herself as the supporting artist at the start of each show, and remaining onstage throughout the Tears For Fears set where she would provide piano and vocals.
• • •

Got my second shot today. My plan was to stay up until 10pm, solve and blog the puzzle as soon as it came out, and then do Nothing for roughly the next 36 hours. I didn't want to get up at 5am to solve (my normal weekday routine of late) because I figured any flu-like effects of the shots that I might have would start hitting me right about then, and it's hard enough writing clearly at 5am when I'm *not* achy and fatigued. Anyway, I came home, ate dinner, and of course promptly fell asleep (this likely had nothing to do with the shot). But then I woke up, mildly disoriented, with everyone (wife, cats) having gone to bed. So since I'm up, I figured I'd sneak my solving / blogging in tonight, as planned, despite having just-got-up-from-a-nap brain. The fact that I'm narrating the most mundane details of my evening to you gives you some idea of my headspace; there's no editor up there right now. So it was very nice to see Robyn Weintraub's name on the byline. Reassuring. And the puzzle turned out to be just what my sore arm and tired mind needed: easy enough to get through without terrible exertion, and entertaining enough (more than entertaining enough) to make the solving experience not just tolerable but truly enjoyable. 

If you're going to make a themeless puzzle, might I suggest one where the long answers shoot the solver out of the NW corner like a rocket? Such a thrill to put a corner together and then just come shooting out of that corner on the wings of answers like EARLY FROST and (especially) SLEEP-OVER PARTY. Zip, zoom! Follow that up with the zing! of HOT APPLE CIDER, and you've got yourself something close to an ideal opening experience:

Things did slow down after that, as "?" clues put up some speed bumps. FRONT ROW SEATS (27A: Ones best in show?) was hard for me to get, and without the word following FRONT, the middle of the grid got a little rough. Couldn't get from "bone" to BEEF at 34A: Bone to pick, had DIP for DIM (37A: Turn down), and while ARBITER occurred to me, my brain kept saying "ARBITERs don't dispute; something must be wrong." The clue says "involved in," not "engaged in," a dispute, and an ARBITER might act as a judge in a dispute, so ... fair. But putting all that together took effort. I *knew* 25D: It's measured in both feet and meters should be POEM, but I had DIP (not DIM), and just wouldn't let it go. This left me with P--P, for 25-Down, and neither PULP nor PUMP seemed like a thing measured in feet or meters. And thus I was, however briefly, in Stuckville.

Outside of that struggle in the center, there weren't many tough spots. FIBER was weirdly hard for me to get (51A: What meat and dairy both lack) (I think of meat as being fibrous, in its way ... so that was odd). Had NBC before CBS because lord I do not understand or care about corporate parent-company content-provider conglomerama drama (57D: Network with shows on Paramount+). Is Paramount+ yet another streaming service? I feel like it is. I cannot keep track of them. I guess Peacock, or whatever it's called, is the one affiliated with NBC. Sigh. Hate to spend any time thinking about random TV initialisms. But I was ultimately placated down there in the SSW by the poetic stack of "I DON'T CARE / TEDDY BEAR," and nothing else irked me after that. Just a lovely grid overall. OK, now I'm off to drink lots of water and watch Jean Arthur movies til I fall asleep (again). Happy Vaccination Day to me! Also Happy Shakespeare's birthday! Hope you are all staying healthy and making it a priority to get those shots in your collective arms. Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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