Cyclical paradox discussed in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" / MON 4-12-21 / Sports metaphor used to describe esoteric knowledge / Hypothetical musings / Modern pet name

Monday, April 12, 2021

Constructor: Aimee Lucido and Ella Dershowitz

Relative difficulty: Challenging (LOL, slow Tuesday time for me)

THEME: INSIDE BASEBALL (62A: Sports metaphor used to describe esoteric knowledge ... with a hint to the circled letters) — circled letters contain the names for single members of three completely random MLB teams:

Theme answers:
  • BREAKFAST ROLLS (16A: Cinnamon buns and such)
  • STRANGE LOOP (29A: Cyclical paradox discussed in "Gödel, Escher, Bach")
  • "THE WEST WING" (48A: Onetime TV political drama set in Washington)
Word of the Day: STRANGE LOOP (29A) —

strange loop is a cyclic structure that goes through several levels in a  hierarchical system. It arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards through the system, one finds oneself back where one started. Strange loops may involve self-reference and paradox. The concept of a strange loop was proposed and extensively discussed by Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and is further elaborated in Hofstadter's book I Am a Strange Loop, published in 2007.

tangled hierarchy is a hierarchical consciousness system in which a strange loop appears. (wikipedia)

• • •

So many problems today. Let's start with the stuff that's intrinsically wrong, and then we can move on to the stuff that's not really the puzzle's fault. The theme just doesn't work. I say this as a fairly serious baseball fan. Multiple-podcast-listening serious. Watch-my-Tigers-even-though-they're-awful serious. 43-years-of-fandom serious. First, INSIDE BASEBALL means what it says; it doesn't mean BASEBALL INSIDE. Second, what is "inside" is not ... "baseball." It is three totally arbitrary team names, and not even team names, but the name that you would call a single player on that team. So "a single baseball player inside" is what is happening. And the teams involved have nothing in common except that they're all in the American League, which ... I don't think is relevant to how the theme works. No MET, no RED, no idea why. So the group isn't even tight. The themer set is just way, way too loose an expression of the revealer phrase. Further ... BREAKFAST ROLLS are not a category that exists in my head, and since only one type of "roll" was in the clue, I thought the answer was going to be way broader. Had BREAKFAST and then ... nothing. FOODS? Who knows. Also STRANGE LOOP, LOL, what. Nothing about the answer, nothing about the clue, Nothing About The Wikipedia Definition Posted Above has me any closer to understanding what that is. I mean, BRANGELINA is sitting right there and you just leave it? So what if it's not the same length as "THE WEST WING," find a new themer with RED or MET in it ... something. STRANGE LOOP is bizarro, and it's especially bizarro *on a Monday*. Wow. OK.

This was definitely not a Monday puzzle. My time said more T or even W. The weird themer set alone should've bumped it to Tuesday. Are we still all required to have a Ph.D. in Yale trivia? It's exhausting. I have no idea what the damn BULLDOG's name is (11D: Yale's Handsome Dan mascot, for one). I guess I knew that was their team name / mascot, but ugh. I had BU-L--- and no idea. Wrote in BUILDER. Dan the BUILDER, Bob's incompetent brother. A [Slight coloring] is a TINGE, but a TINT is just a ... coloring? Totally forgot that right-wing goon Mike ROWE's name (54A: Mike of TV's "Dirty Jobs" and "Somebody's Gotta Do It"). For a reason. Ugh. All I could come up with was REES. Had GET TO IT before GET ON IT (42D: "Now, work!"). Had AL- crossing R-NT at the end and honestly just stared for a second or two before realizing it was ALE / RENT. I go to bars to drink cocktails, so having [Bar serving] be both BEER *and* ALE today was ... let's say, not on my wavelength. The "?" on RENT just made no sense to me (39D: Figure in home economics?). Fine clue, but again, not Monday stuff. Loved WHAT-IFS, but again, next to GETONIT, not Mondayish. Now, I typo'd IMP somehow, and it went in as MIP, so the fact that it took me a seeming eternity to pick up the revealer phrase, that's totally on me. In fact, you can put this entire second paragraph on me. But the busted / tenuous nature of the theme, that's not my fault. If you're gonna do baseball themes, do them well. I love crosswords. I love baseball. This puzzle ... I wish I loved more. Really hate when Mondays are off. They usually hit more than they miss.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1981 hit Genesis album whose name resembles a rhyme scheme / SUN 4-11-21 / Italian poet Cavalcanti who influenced Dante / Birkin stock / Oscar-winning lyricist Washington / Lower-cost option on a popular rideshare app / Waldorf the so-called Queen B or Gossip Girl / Iraqi city on the Tigris

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Constructor: Dick Shlakman and Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Merger Mania" — familiar phrases are clued as if they were "mergers" between two companies, the first word in the phrase being a thing that one company makes, and the second word being something the other company makes. Wackiness all around:

Theme answers:
  • LIFE COACHES (23A: Result of a merger between Quaker Oats and Greyhound?)
  • SINGLES BARS (46A: Result of a merger between Kraft and Hershey's?)
  • DRIVE NUTS (51A: Result of a merger between Google and Planters?)
  • TROUBLESHOOTERS (68A: Result of a merger between Hasbro and Nikon?)
  • TIDE POOLS (91A: Result of a merger between Procter & Gamble and Jacuzzi?)
  • SPAM FILTERS (94A: Result of a merger between Hormel and Instagram?)
  • POLO GROUNDS (120A: Result of a merger between Ralph Lauren and Starbucks?)
Word of the Day: JABOUKIE Young-White (13D: ___ Young-White, comedian/correspondent for "The Daily Show") —
Jaboukie Young-White (born 1994) is an American stand-up comedian and writer. [...] In 2017, he was featured on Rolling Stone's "25 Under 25: Meet the Young Musicians, Actors, Activists Changing the World" list. The following year, he was included in Vulture's "20 Comedians You Should and Will Know" list. In 2020, Young-White was placed on BET's "Future 40" list, which is a list of "40 of the most inspiring and innovative vanguards who are redefining what it means to be unapologetically young, gifted & black". Since 2017, he has performed stand-up twice on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. // As of 2018, he writes for the Netflix television shows Big Mouth and American Vandal. In October of that year, he was hired as a correspondent on The Daily Show; he made his first appearance opposite Trevor Noah on October 11, 2018.
• • •

Typical Sunday, i.e. long, full of corny humor, and decidedly not for me. The concept seems decent in theory, maybe, but in practice it's ragged and groan-some. Some of the answer parts are brands (LIFE cereal), some are generic words for a type of product (NUTS), some are features of a product (Instagram FILTERS) ... I mean, what the hell is up with GROUNDS? Starbucks doesn't sell GROUNDS. It sells ground coffee, but that ... that's not GROUNDS. GROUNDS are what are *left over* after you have made the coffee.  SHOOTERS and COACHES aren't even words people really use. It's all so sub-dadjoke. And then the cluing was clearly toughened up above normal, with the huge corners (NE, SW) making the puzzle feel Friday-Saturdayish at times, which, in a big puzzle where the theme is weak, just makes an unpleasant experience longer, ergo worse. Is Jacuzzi known for making POOLS? Whirlpools, yeah, but if they're in the general pool business, that news got by me. This one just clunks and SPUTTERs all over the place. 

The NE section was by far the toughest for me. JABOUKIE is a great name, but not anyone I've ever heard of (I stopped watching "The Daily Show" and *all* late-night comedy after the Last Guy got elected, as none of it was funny any more, and it all just seemed impotent and sad). And if you don't know JABOUKIE, wow is that a tough name to get a handle on. Thank god for CELESTE Ng! Without her, the only thing I'd've had in that entire corner that I was at all certain about was OBI (11D: Kimono accessory). I had UHOH for OHNO (17D: "Oops!"), and TEAM instead of RACE (because I didn't read the RELAY / RACE clue correctly) (30A: With 18-Down, what has four legs and sprints?) (I was counting human legs ... maybe ... and not thinking of "legs" as race segments). Wanted STEM but wasn't sure at 19D: Part of a musical note). Wasn't sure what letters preceded Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan (34A: U.S.S.). Total mess up there. Though it has the same dimensions, the SW ended up being a lot easier. I did not know a PEASANT did the "lord's work" (92D). I had no idea what Birkin was (still don't) (109D: Birkin stock?). Looks like they are a line of tote BAGS by Hermès. Huh. OK. "Stop your foolishness outside!" is one of the most awkward imagined clue phrases I've ever seen (123A: "GET IN HERE"). I can't imagine those words coming out of anyone's mouth in any context. The attempt to get cutesy with identical sequential cluing at 69- and 70-Down (both [A head]) is awful, as the indefinite article ruins the clue when it's applied to LOO. You just never use "A" like that in cluing. Head = LOO. The "A" is superfluous garbage.

I know that some birds are migrating birds, but I didn't know you referred to them as MIGRANTs (!?) (72A: Bird like the Canada goose or arctic tern). Had SAILS before MASTS (72D: Clipper parts). Had MEET and GEO before MESH and ISO (55D: Come together / 66A: Prefix with thermal) (note: MEET and GEO are both obviously better answers). DEM before REP at 49D: A.O.C., e.g. Just slog slog slog. The only real bright spot was IDA B. WELLS (83D: Co-founder of the N.A.A.C.P.) and the aforementioned CELESTE Ng, my personal puzzle savior today. On to the next. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Reposting this for the Sunday crowd!

"These Puzzles Fund Abortion" is a pack of 14 puzzles edited by Rachel Fabi and featuring an all-star list of constructors to benefit the Baltimore Abortion Fund (BAF). BAF provides financial assistance to people who live in or travel to Maryland for abortion care. The puzzles are currently available for preorder through a donation to BAF here. Donors who choose to donate anonymously can forward their receipt to the email address listed on the fundraiser page in order to receive the puzzles (they will not be sent automatically).   

The constructor slate really is top-notch (Erik Agard! Robyn Weintraub!), and having been a test-solver, I can say that the puzzle quality is really quite high—far more polished and entertaining than your average daily crossword. Do yourself and others a favor and go get these puzzles. The fundraising goal for this puzzle collection has gone from $5000 to $10,000 to now $20,000. I expect supporters to crash right through that $20,000 mark by Monday morning. Please help make that happen. And if you could spread the word, that would be great. Thank you. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Vegetable whose name is Japanese big root / SAT 4-10-21 / Figure to left of Clinton in famous 1993 photo-op handshake / Classic ballad set to the tune of Londonderry Air / Cook's handle maybe / Harry and Lloyd's road trip destination in Dumb and Dumber

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Constructor: Evans Clinchy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: DINKS (28D: Little shots) —
plural noun: dinks
  1. a partner in a well-off working couple with no children. (google) [acronym: Dual Income, No Kids]
n. Sports
drop shot.

[From dink, sound of a weakly hit or dropped ball.] ( 

• • •
First of all, DINK is a racial slur. It's one I hadn't heard of before, but when you look up definitions of words, you learn things, and some version of the following definition of DINK is in a bunch of online dictionaries:

So if you didn't know, as I didn't know, *now* you know. I think the other defs. of DINK are so much more in-the-language that it's probably OK to use ... and yet it's a rare enough word in general that I (now) wouldn't use it unless I absolutely had to. I bring it up largely because it is conspicuous today in its relative toughness, smack in the middle of the only touch section of the grid—the section that stretches, semi-predictably, from one proper noun (SANDRO) to another (TYRA). So, roughly the mideast. When a word is in the thick of a tough patch, people are gonna notice it more. The fact that it's clue [*Little* shots] as opposed to the clearer [Soft shots] makes it tougher than it might have been. Anyway, it's a word I know, but couldn't really get at, and wouldn't really miss if I never saw it again. 

So let's review the troublesome mideast. First: SANDRO (35D: Painter Botticelli). I know artists' last names, but often not their first, and such was the case here. Had -ANDRO and still wasn't confident. The cross was SOCKS, which had a "?" clue I wasn't sure about (35A: Matchmaking targets?). We've already covered the DINKS trouble. Took me a while to understand REBUS (in the sense of a picture puzzle) (26D: LE VEL, for one). In this case, the REBUS represents "split-level," a phrase that relates to the puzzle ... in no way. Bizarre. No idea about RABIN, or that the Clinton handshake was some kind of Elvis-meets-Nixon iconic photo op. Never heard of TYRA. Thought I didn't know the "Classic ballad" at 12D: Classic ballad set to the tune of "Londonderry Air" ("DANNY BOY") but that's because I had written in TARA for the actress and so had DAN NA-something. Spent half my time in this little section; the rest of the grid was *very* easy and largely unremarkable.

Five things:
  • "MY GOD!" (25A: "Heavens to Murgatroyd!") — wow these are not equivalents, as one is a normal expression and the other is exclusively a Pink Panther expression. I had "BY GOD!" here for a short bit.
  • AU JUS (27D: French menu phrase)— LOL I see now that it's the phrase that's French, not the menu, because the clue makes it sound like the phrase can be found on the menu of a fine dining establishment, whereas AU JUS can be found next to the roast beef sandwich on virtually any diner in America.
  • CLOGS (44A: "Träskor" in Sweden and "geta" in Japan, to name two) — what a ridiculous, useless clue. You can write this kind of clue for any word. Any English word. And every such clue would be equally arbitrary and unmemorable. The foreign words aren't evocative of anything. There's no revelation or humor or insight. It's just two random languages. Why? Who knows!? Cluing!
  • ADAGE (4D: "Opposites attract," for one) — PAULA ABDUL TRACK (15) wouldn't fit
  • DECOCT (28A: Boil down) — just as I have an irrational hatred for the word SAPOR (see yesterday's write-up), so ... this word. It's ugly. I'd never use it. I see it only in crosswords. DECOCT is CONCOCT's useless cousin, coming around to borrow money and stink up the house with cigars again. I could do without him.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Harold Manhattan project scientist / FRI 4-9-21 / Hit 1991 film starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss / Superpower of Cyclops in the X-Men films / When doubled a 2010s dance

Friday, April 9, 2021

Constructor: Jamey Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Niecy NASH (62A: Actress Niecy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) —

Carol Denise Betts (née Ensley; born February 23, 1970) is an American comedian, actress, and television host, best known for her performances on television.

Nash hosted the Style Network show Clean House from 2003 to 2010, for which she won an Emmy Award in 2010. As an actress, she played the role of Deputy Raineesha Williams in the Comedy Central comedy series Reno 911! (2003–2009) The series was relaunched on Quibi In April 2020. Nash received two nominations for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nominations for her performance as nurse Denise "DiDi" Ortley in the HBO comedy Getting On (2013–2015). She also starred as Lolli Ballantine on the TV Land sitcom The Soul Man (2012–2016), and played Denise Hemphill in the Fox horror-comedy anthology series, Scream Queens (2015–2016). In 2017, she began starring as Desna Simms, a leading character, in the TNT crime comedy-drama Claws.

Nash has also played a number of roles in films and has made many guest appearances on television shows. In 2014, Nash played the role of civil rights activist Richie Jean Jackson in the historical drama film Selma directed by Ava DuVernay. In 2019, she starred as Delores Wise in the Ava DuVernay' miniseries When They See Us, for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. In 2018, Nash received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (wikipedia)

• • •

I'm trying to figure out why this was so unpleasant to solve. I like the longer answers OK—some of them (LAND GRAB, GROUP THERAPY, "WHAT ABOUT BOB?," PHONE TAG) are even quite good—but the grid was so choppy, so fussy, so full of nooks and crannies and therefore Short Fill (scads of 4- and 5-letter stuff), that it felt like I was having to use a machete to hack through thick, annoying undergrowth to get from long answer to long answer. There were answers I liked, but no *sections* that felt well put together or that ever felt good to be in. Also, perhaps because so much of the puzzle was short stuff, there seemed to be some attempt to amp up the cluing difficulty on it (as short stuff is often the easiest stuff to get), and when every other clue seems to be Trying So Hard to be cutesy / tricky, wow it gets exhausting, mostly because attempts to get cute tend to miss a lot of the time. Like, what the hell is going on with the clue on TERA (41A: Precursor to a big flop?)!? TERA- is a prefix meaning "a hell of a lot" (actually, it denotes multiplication by one trillion). So I've got the "Precursor" part (it's a prefix) and the "big" part (one trillion), but "flop" has me baffled. The only thing I can conceive of is a " disc," a digital storage system that I thought was not just outmoded, but primitive, and certainly not capable of carrying anything one TERAbyte of *anything*. So it can't be that. [...] ugh it looks like there is a term called "teraflop," wow, fun. Fun. "A unit of computing speed equal to one million million (10¹²) floating-point operations per second." Love to discover a word I've never heard of in a "?" clue (ugh) for a cruddy bit of fill (ugh) on what is supposed to be the most fun puzzle day of the week (triple ugh). TERA is regular old less-than-good fill; you use it if you have to, but you don't set out to use it. So again, I ask, why would you call attention to your not-strong short fill with weird-ass "?" clues like this?

46D: "___ Winter Sundays" (Robert Hayden poem) ("THOSE")

EYEBEAM feels very weak, although I don't know what else you'd call that thing coming out of Cyclops' head (19A: Superpower of Cyclops in the "X-Men" films) ("films"!? You know he's a comic book character, right?). Trouble with PATE (1D: Dome) and especially FLAY (2D: Severely criticize), which I had down to FLA- and still could only see FLAK, which I wrote in as FLAC at one point because I thought Cyclops might be wielding an ICE BEAM. Ugh, ALAI is up here (again? didn't we just see ALAI? oh maybe that was AÇAI) and I'm ashamed that it's the first thing I put in the grid (13A: Second word of a game name that rhymes with the first). Hate relying on my crosswordese knowledge for traction. Just a ton of scrambling around in these little corners. Worst was the TERA section in the east, because I also didn't really get the clue on PEEPER, as no one but no one would ever refer to a singular PEEPER (30A: Eye, slangily). I thought "Eye" in that clue was a verb, so PEEP AT. Clue on NASH feels disrespectful, as she has been in a ton of major stuff, on the small and big screen, and the only thing you can think to put in her clue is that she's on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. *Be Specific* about your people! Soupy Sales has a star on the Walk of Fame. Tons of people do. So what? Also, YO, DOG seems so off. If you're going to go with this phrase, I think the DAWG spelling is required. I offer this as my proof.

SAPOR is always yuck. I just have a beef with SAPOR. It's one of those "technically-a-word"s that also never shows up anywhere except crossword puzzles. Not as bad as SAPID, the related, adjectival version of SAPOR, but unpleasant nonetheless. And oof, UREY (58A: Harold ___, Manhattan Project scientist). There's a rough name. Despite having decent longer answers, this one just didn't have any flair or style or grid-craft or a sensibility that I could groove with. Some good long answers in search of a decent grid environment. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Galactic conquerors of film / THU 4-8-21 / Second staff in many an orchestral score / Emerald is a variant of it / 2003 #1 Outkast hit / Drink originally called blanc-cassis / Futuristic delivery device / Physics Nobelist who developed an early model of the atom

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Constructor: Jake Halperin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: boating puns — yes, you read that correctly; actually, it's "place to store your boat" puns:

Theme answers:
  • A PIER ON THE SCENE (17A: Weary boater's welcome sight?) (from "appear on the scene")
  • WHAT'S UP, DOCK! (27A: Cry on arriving for a boating trip?) (from "What's up, Doc?")
  • FOREVER MOOR (49A: Completely retire from boating?) (from "forever more")
  • QUAY DEMOGRAPHIC (63A: Boaters, collectively?) (from "key (!) demographic")
Word of the Day: ROSA Klebb (51D: ___ Klebb, bond villain in "From Russia With Love") —
Colonel Rosa Klebb is a fictional character, the main antagonist in the James Bond1957 novel and 1963 film From Russia with Love, in which she is played by Lotte Lenya. Her name is a pun on the popular Soviet phrase for women's rightskhleb i rozy (Cyrillic: хлеб и розы), which in turn was a direct Russian translation of the internationally used labour union slogan "bread and roses". (wikipedia) (my emph.)
• • •

Grim. The fact that all the boating words are actually *boat storage* words gives the theme set a sort of consistency, but that is really all I can say in praise of this theme, which combines a super-corny, super-old-fashioned theme type with a topic I don't care about at all. The latter issue isn't really relevant, but really are we still just using bad puns as the basis for themes. And on a Thursday—the day when the puzzle is supposed to be its sassiest and most innovative? Profound disappointment. The puns aren't even that, uh, splashy. "WHAT'S UP, DOCK!" and FOREVER MOOR are particularly weak, with hardly any change involved in that first one, and with the base phrase ("forever more???") being so tenuous in the second. And speaking of FOREVER MOOR, I had serious pronunciation issues with this puzzle. I think I say "MOOR" with a long "U," not a long "O" sound. For me "MOOR" rhymes with "tandoor" or "Roger Moore." The pronunciation is still close enough to work for the pun to work reasonably well for me, but it's a little off. As opposed to the QUAY in QUAY DEMOGRAPHIC, which was way way off for me. I've apparently been hearing a regional variant my whole life, because *that* word, as I've known it, is pronounced "kay"! Here, read this, from "Grammarphobia":

So, since there are recognized standard variant pronunciations, that means that the great climax to this boating pun puzzle was a pun I absolutely didn't understand. That is, I didn't know what phrase was being punned on. Looked up "K demographic" and "Kay demographic" (lotta Kay Jewelers fans out there...) before somehow realizing that the base phrase I was looking for was "key demographic." Pfft. I would not be surprised if I'm in the minority here, pronunciation-wise, but I will be gobsmacked if I'm the only one who looked at "QUAY DEMOGRAPHIC" and thought "I'm sorry, what?" So that was a less than ideal way to complete the theme, which, as I've said, I didn't care much for to start with. Oh well. Well at least they didn't try to pull off "STAR WHARF" or "RETURN OF THE JETTY."

I liked "YOU GOT THIS!" (31D: Encouraging words), both because it feels fresh and in-the-language, and because it genuinely threw me for a bit: I figured the phrase of encouragement started, "YOU GO, ... someone!" Alas "GIRL" wasn't long enough to complete the answer, so I was briefly left wondering who was being cheered on, but then I was forced to reparse the answer (YOU GOT, not YOU GO) and boom, there it was. I don't mind being fooled when the resulting answer is strong (and, in retrospect, aptly clued). Most of this grid felt laded (!) with oldish familiarish fill. I won't list it all, but there really is a lot. A lot a lot. I mean, just start at the AÇAI / ICE-T crossing in the NE and work your way out from there, you'll see. It's a lot. I really only accept CAP'N if it's followed by Crunch, and the ART I clue just takes weak fill and makes it weird (7D: Beginning of the Constitution: Abbr.). Enough about this puzzle, I think.

One important puzzle event to promote today:

"These Puzzles Fund Abortion" is a pack of 14 puzzles edited by Rachel Fabi and featuring an all-star list of constructors to benefit the Baltimore Abortion Fund (BAF). BAF provides financial assistance to people who live in or travel to Maryland for abortion care. The puzzles are currently available for preorder through a donation to BAF here. Donors who choose to donate anonymously can forward their receipt to the email address listed on the fundraiser page in order to receive the puzzles (they will not be sent automatically). Puzzles will be sent this weekend, and everyone who preorders by Friday, April 9 will be guaranteed to receive them first.  

The constructor slate really is top-notch (Erik Agard! Robyn Weintraub!), and having been a test-solver, I can say that the puzzle quality is really quite high—far more polished and entertaining than your average daily crossword. Do yourself and others a favor and go get these puzzles. And if you could spread the word, that would be great. Thank you. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. big thanks to Will Shortz for the glowing recommendation in his NYT interview yesterday:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


South African plant whose leaves are used for a popular herbal tea / WED 4-7-21 / Native Caribbean plant whose fruit grows in clusters / Alec Baldwin on more than 15 occasions / Singer nicknamed Prince of Motown / Leader namechecked in Beatles revolution

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Constructor: Adrian Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MARIO BROS. (34A: Video game franchise with characters found at the ends of 17-, 20-, 53- and 58-Across) — pretty self-explanatory:

Theme answers:
  • HORNED TOAD (17A: Small, spiny lizard)
  • GEORGIA PEACH (20A: Fruit appearing on a Southern license plate)
  • MURIEL BOWSER (53A: D.C. mayor first elected in 2014)
  • OOPSY-DAISY (58A: "Clumsy me!")
Word of the Day: SEA GRAPE (37D: Native Caribbean plant whose fruit grows in clusters) —

Coccoloba uvifera is a species of flowering plant in the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae, that is native to coastal beaches throughout tropical America and the Caribbean, including southern Floridathe Bahamas, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, and Bermuda. Common names include seagrape and baygrape.

In late summer, it bears green fruit, about 2 cm (0.79 in) diameter, in large, grape-like clusters. The fruit gradually ripens to a purplish color. Each contains a large pit that constitutes most of the volume of the fruit. (wikipedia)

• • •
***Reminder—please bookmark this site or use Google (specifically) to search for it. Other search engines appear to have unlisted me, no idea why yet. Figuring it out this week. Thanks!***
• • •

This is a puzzle that wants you to think it's cool / hip / young, but it's also a puzzle that thinks sipping an IPA is "hip" (wtf?), and its bones are creaky, to put it kindly. Let's start with the fact that a huge segment of the solving population will never have played MARIO BROS., and so the theme ... these solvers are just gonna have to take your word for it that these are "characters" in this "franchise." I think I played one incarnation of MARIO BROS. ... maybe some version of MARIO KART (my first answer, btw) ... in the early '90s when I visited my sister and her boyfriend in California. I remember a beanbag chair and, yeah, some kind of car-racing game. I've known about the franchise forever, of course, but somehow just putting PEACH and TOAD at the ends of some answers does absolutely nothing for me. This puzzle seems to exist because MURIEL BOWSER exists. I can't imagine anyone even being inspired to make this kind of old-fashioned, last-words-type theme about MARIO BROS. unless they first see MURIEL BOWSER's name and think "hmmm... should I?" (Answer: probably not). Well, MURIEL BOWSER is easily the most interesting thing in the grid, so there's one plus, but the theme concept is a. too boringly basic, and b. really is going to be meaningless to untold legions of solvers. And normally I'd say "so what, you learn something, blah blah blah," but what do you learn? TOAD? DAISY? Shrug.

[Warning: Profanity and sexual content]

Worse than the blah theme concept, by far, is the fill, which, as I said above—creaky. Big thumbs-up for LOU REED, but most of the rest, yikes. The way you know that things were not great from the jump is that I stopped before I even got out of the NW and took a picture. Five answers in and I was already thinking, "oof, this is gonna be grim":

Maybe you (mistakenly) think "Well, J's are cool, right?" but the only way HAJJI* is cool is if you squint real hard and ignore literally everything else in that corner. Just clogged with the kind of crossword dreck you learn to tolerate fine in small doses, but ... that's a dreck speedball right there, although a "speedball" is technically a mixture of cocaine and heroin, which at least makes you feel good, maybe? Temporarily? Anyway, I did not feel good coming out of this corner, and though JINGOISM is decent, once I moved over to the adjacent section and found only TVAD, ELLA, DADA, ALAI (ugh), I gave myself a little pep talk and settled in for a slog. This one even manages to make the longer answers kind of tedious. AIR ACES, ugh, it's not 1918, why is this kind of stuff still in the puzzle? SEA GRAPE is just some plant that your wordlist told you was valid. ECOTONE is a word I've (still!) only ever seen in crosswords, and I was quite proud of myself that I remembered that it was "TONE" and not "ZONE," which honestly makes much more sense. I mean, it's a "region" so ... "ZONE." Come on. Anyway, on and on the fill went, displeasing at every turn (YER REAIR EDAMIPASLRYEA, etc.). So you get your video game franchise, which is going to make some people think "oh, cool, how youthful! I played that!" but the concept is super duper basic and bland (just a last-words dealie), and the fill is oldish and unpleasant to work through. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*In my neck of the woods, and so presumably other necks of other woods, HAJJI is used as a ethnic slur—a catchall, at least mildly derogatory term for literally anyone perceived to be Arab or otherwise from the Near East. It's the only racial slur I've ever heard someone say in public here (in reference to a gas station / mini-mart, "one of these HA(J)JI stores"). It's a complicated word because it's honorific in its specific, originally-intended usage, but in general use in the U.S. ... it's not great: Here's
Since the Iraq War began in 2003, haji has been used as an ethnic slur, much like gook was during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Some sources suggest haji is not always meant derogatorily and may be intended more as a colloquialism among U.S. soldiers. However, considering the sacredness of the pilgrimage among Muslims, such use of the term by non-Muslims is widely considered offensive.
You can find stories of cops and politicians and others getting in trouble for using the term an ethnic catch-all. I recognize that HAJJI is clued respectfully and correctly here, but the word really, really hits my ears wrong. I wouldn't let it anywhere near my puzzles if I were constructing.

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Demi with 2017 hit Sorry Not Sorry / TUE 4-6-21 / Specifics in slang / One who takes a bow before success rather than after / Hand grenade in slang / New York theater on the National Register of Historic Places

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Constructor: Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: ... girl! — exclamations containing "girl"'s names, clued, as if they were being said to a specific girl of that name:

Theme answers:
  • "HEAVENS TO BETSY" (16A: "Omigosh, girl!")
  • "GEEZ, LOUISE" (23A: "Dang, girl!")
  • "GOOD GOLLY, / MISS MOLLY" (35D: With 37-Down, "Wow, girl!")
Word of the Day: Demi LOVATO (14A: Demi with the 2017 hit "Sorry Not Sorry") —
Demetria Devonne Lovato
 (/ləˈvɑːt/ lə-VAH-toh; born August 20, 1992) is an American singer and actress. After appearing on the television series Barney & Friends(2002–2004), she rose to prominence for her role as Mitchie Torres in the musical television film Camp Rock (2008) and its sequel Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010); the former film's soundtrack contained "This Is Me", Lovato's debut single and duet with Joe Jonas, which peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. [...] Lovato has sold over 24 million records in the United States, and has also received numerous accolades, including an MTV Video Music Award, 14 Teen Choice Awards, five People's Choice Awards, two Latin American Music Awards, a Guinness World Record, and was included on the Time 100 annual list in 2017. An activist for several social causes, Lovato's personal issues received significant media attention in the 2010s, in response to which she published a book, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year (2013), and released the documentaries Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated (2017) and Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (2021). [...] A four-part documentary series following Lovato's life premiered on YouTube in March 2021. The series, titled Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, was directed by Michael D. Ratner and showcased her personal and musical journey over the past three years. It was later announced that Lovato's seventh studio album, titled Dancing with the Devil... the Art of Starting Over, would be released on April 2, 2021. Lovato defined it [as] "the non-official soundtrack to the documentary". The album features collaborations with Ariana GrandeNoah Cyrus and Saweetie, as well as the previously released "What Other People Say", a collaboration between Lovato and Australian singer-songwriter Sam Fischer, initially released on February 4, 2021. Lovato released the title track "Dancing with the Devil" on March 26, 2021. (wikipedia)
• • •

Omigosh. I really liked this. I thought, "huh, interesting" when I got "HEAVENS TO BETSY!" and then I think I said "o my god" out loud when I got "GEEZ, LOUISE!" I then wondered what the hell other exclamation was out there and let me tell you, "GOOD GOLLY / MISS MOLLY!" really delivered the one-two knockout punch. Such a cute idea for a theme, and such an interesting grid to accommodate it — 14x16, w/ mirror symmetry instead of the much more common rotational symmetry. The lack of rotational symmetry actually briefly threw me off, as I wondered why GOOD GOLLY was symmetrical to ESTATE SALE (it isn't ... it just looked that way at a superficial glance). But back to the theme—it's everything a Tuesday should be and never is, bouncy and sassy and weird and still easy. A whimsical lark with a really clever idea at its core. The theme does have one flaw, imho, which is really really bugging me only because I really really like the core concept so much: the 2nd and 3rd themers are clued as exclamations directed at specific "girls" (Louise and Molly). "GOOD GOLLY, MISS MOLLY" has a comma in it naturally, and you can at least imagine one in "GEEZ, LOUISE" even though the exclamation's not really said that way in real life. But in "HEAVENS TO BETSY!" ... the implied direct address is entirely absent, so the specifically direct-address clue (with the appended "girl!") feels off. If it were "HEAVENS, BETSY!" then boom, perfect. But it isn't, so ... imperfect. The "girl!" conceit really only works 2/3 of the time. But the freshness and inventiveness of the core concept carried me through the puzzle happily. They are all exclamations with women's names in them. That's enough.

I cannot deal with trickiness on Tuesdays, and so alllll of the "difficulty" in this puzzle came from "?" clues or, in the case of BAR CAR, a clue that might as well have been a "?" clue (4A: Place for meals on wheels). Trains! How quaint! I haven't been in a proper BAR CAR in I have no idea how long. I see them all the time in movies, though. But in my puzzle ... I had BAR and still wasn't entirely sure. Bring trains back! If only for the BAR CARs! (I know, trains already exist, but the commuter trains I've been on in the Northeast Corridor don't have BAR CARs that I've seen). Not thrilled with the EROS clue because I don't want my clues to be paragraph length, especially on Tuesday, and especially if they aim to be funny (18D: One who takes a bow before success rather than after?). 2,000 words, all for a "bow" pun? No thanks. Don't really like the ABA clue either (61D: Defense org.?), though I'll give you the TAYLOR Swift one (65A: Swift to soar to the top of the charts?). Only other thing to give me trouble was 17D: Get out the ___ (VOTE). I just stared at it. Then worked around it. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but my brain was like, "uh ... clear out the cobwebs? Kick out the jams? Get out the ... way??" Just blankness. Oh, and I wrote in NARC before NESS (33D: "Untouchable" agent), which gunked things up there in the east for a bit. That's all. Good theme. Fun time. Next!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I imagine most all of a bloodhound's "parts" are "important," to a bloodhound (36A: Important part of a bloodhound) (NOSE). "But what about my eyes!?" "Get sniffin'!" People can be so cruel. Please gaze deeply and appreciatively into a bloodhounds eyes today, won't you? XO

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