Tie in tic-tac-toe / MON 5-31-21 / German industrial valley / Quaint shoppe descriptor / Bicolor cookies also called half-moons

Monday, May 31, 2021

Constructor: Michael Lieberman

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. Easy + 4D and to a lesser extent 38D = Medium) (3:00)

THEME: COCO CHANEL (57A: Fashion designer associated with the item spelled out by the starts of 17-, 26- and 42-Across) —she's associated with the LITTLE, BLACK, DRESS:

Theme answers:
  • LITTLE ROCK (17A: Arkansas's capital)
  • BLACK-AND-WHITES (26A: Bicolor cookies also called half-moons)
  • DRESS REHEARSAL (42A: Final practice before the big show)
Word of the Day: CAT'S GAME (4D: Tie in tic-tac-toe) —

[Can anyone explain why a tie game of Tic-Tac-Toe called "Cat's game"?]

There seems to be no one theory so take your pick from the ones listed below.
Since I need to get back to work now I have not cleaned up the spelling and usage mistakes--good luck.

Why is a tie in Tic-Tac-Toe called a Cat's Game?:

I think a tie in Tic Tac Toe is a Cat's Game because Tac spelled backwards is Cat.

Olive, Alfie, cat games
I believe this comes from a tie being considered a "scratch game". Call
it a "Cat's Game" if you will.
Cats scratch.

Tic Tac Toe ties are called cats game because no matter how hard a cat tries
to win against its tale it never wins and yet has fun

I believe that it is a cat-mouse game.if not one of the two players gets
the point making it a tie game. Therefore, cat gets mouse(point).

It's a game of skills the cat goes one way and the mouse goes another. So
when it's a tie that's what it means cat's game. A cat and mouse
chase. When mouse gets away the cat looses. And the mouse gets away. A game
that goes in any direction just like a cat and mouse.

There was a tic on a tac on a cats toe.

Because cats scratch (https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/44/messages/373.html)

• • •

The theme is a bit of a zero. I'd like LITTLE BLACK DRESS as fill (even if it would require an oversized grid), but just having themers that start with each of those words?? That is no kind of accomplishment. At all. Plain White T, Big Yellow Taxi, Other 3-word Thing, where does it end? Just no zing to the execution here. And the fill is deeply ordinary, i.e. kind of boring ... *except* for CAT'S GAME, what in the world is that? I want to say it's old-fashioned, but I'm old-fashioned, so ... it's OLDE-fashioned, I guess. Why would you give a name to a tie tic-tac-toe game? Also, why are you playing tic-tac-toe, what are you, in a 19th-century prison or something? I played tic-tac-toe with my daughter when she was little, mostly on the backs of paper menus while we waited for food to arrive. Tie games were abundant. Neither of us ever thought to call them CAT'S GAMEs. As you can see from the "definition" posted above ... it's not even clear why CAT'S GAMEs are called that (if, in fact, they are called that, which ... again, never in real life heard the term used). It's a tie. Baffled by the idea that a term needed to be invented to describe a tie in This Particular Game. Anyway, that is off-the-charts the most obscure thing in the grid, and single-handedly took this puzzle from very easy to a little easy. The inscrutable-to-me clue on ABSTRACT took it the rest of the way to straight-up Medium ordinary Monday (38D: Existing in the mind only). I just don't think of ABSTRACT as the opposite of "actual." I mean, imaginary friends exist "in the mind only," but you wouldn't call them ABSTRACT. I had A-, and then AB-, and I kept trying to think of Latin phrases that fit, like, uh, A PRIORI or AB OVO or something actually makes sense in this context. So those two (symmetrical) answers alone were responsible for literally all of the difficulty in the puzzle. Unless you hadn't heard of JORTS (36A: Portmanteau for denim cutoffs), which ... honestly, you were better off, weren't you? Go back to not knowing, it's nicer.

"regional thing" would explain my ignorance of CAT'S GAME, assuming that "region" 
is not "California" (where I grew up)

If you go to a crossword tournament, a general rule of thumb is that roughly half of the people there have been on "Jeopardy!" and maybe a third of those (law of averages!) have been Champions. Rachel Fabi, my constructing / blogging / Central NY friend who solves on Zoom with me once a month, she's a former champion. I know at least a dozen more, personally. This is not an accomplishment. Just go to a crossword tournament and there they are, common as pigeons. Anyway, I don't like "Jeopardy!" I don't dislike it, either. I just don't watch it. Haven't watched it since high school, when I'd sometimes watch it with my mom (with whom I also remember watching "Murder, She Wrote," I think ... definitely "At the Movies" w/ Siskel & Ebert ... she was a big Robert Urich fan, so there was probably some "Spenser: For Hire" in there too, for sure). So though I am dimly aware of some of the "famous" "Jeopardy!" winners, this BRAD guy was not on my radar, and will likely, after today, remain not there (32D: ___ Rutter, "Jeopardy!" contestant with the all-time highest winnings ($4.9+ million)). But the crosses just filled him in, so that's fine. 

Today I turn my Spring 2021 grades in and ... sleep, I think. Then maybe drink. Then definitely sleep again. Thrilled to be done done done w/ Zoom teaching, forever (seriously, I will quit before I do that again). Happy June Eve, i.e. Memorial Day, everyone!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Good fashion sense in modern slang / SUN 5-30-21 / Potato cultivar that was developed in Ontario despite its name / Nintendo dino / Site of lighthouse that was one of Seven Wonders / Smaller alternative to Quarter Pounder / Beach Boys song set to the tune of Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen / Mowry who starred alongside her twin Tia in 90s sitcom Sister Sister / Breakout 1993 single for Counting Crows / Rob British comedian and TV personality

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Game Over" — it's a chess theme ... so CHECKMATE is one ending of a chess game (47D: One ending for a classic board game — another of which (when a player resigns) is represented visually six times in this puzzle); the other ending (referred to in the CHECKMATE clue) is when a player concedes by tipping over their king ... so the puzzle has six tipped over kings, i.e. six kings that are just regular Acrosses, but that also represent the middle parts of six Downs ... so it's like the "king" portions of the Downs have been tipped over, and then the answer has sort of fallen down on itself ... it mostly looks like there's a king just sticking out of the side of the Downs, rather than actually lying down, but whatever:

Theme answers:
  • NAR COLE PTIC (4D: Quick to fall asleep, in a way)
  • DESMOND TUT U (28D: Nobel Peace Prize recipient who wrote "No Future Without Forgiveness")
  • FIDD LEAR OUND (76D: Tinker (with))
  • TI MIDAS A MOUSE (67D: Quintessentially cowardly)
  • WATCHE DAVID EO (22D: Spent some time on YouTube, say)
  • YU KONG OLD (106D: Potato cultivar that was developed in Ontario, despite its name)
Word of the Day: Rob BRYDON (83D: Rob ___, British comedian and TV personality) —

Robert Brydon Jones MBE (born 3 May 1965) is a Welsh actor, comedian, impressionist, presenter, singer and writer. He played Dr Paul Hamilton in the Australian/British comedy series SupernovaBryn West in the sitcom Gavin & Stacey and Keith Barret in the BBCcomedy series Marion and Geoff and its spin-off The Keith Barret Show.

He has appeared in a number of shows for the BBC with Steve Coogan, including The Trip series in 2010, released as a feature film later that year; and The Trip to Italy in 2014 and The Trip to Spain in 2017 and The Trip to Greece in 2020, also edited and released as feature films. (wikipedia)

• • •

Some problems. First, CHECKMATE is not a great revealer, since (by the clue's own admission) that's not actually what's being represented in the puzzle. Second, as well-meaning as the king-lying-on-its-side gimmick is, it just doesn't come off visually very well. As I say in the description (above), the letters in the king name are more jutting out of their Down answers than they are lying on their sides, really. The whole idea of resting on the surface of the board just isn't conveyed by the positionality of the various kings. I'm also not sure why they all tip out of their Down answers in the same direction (to the solver's left) but at least the tipping is consistent, I guess. I really don't tend to have the same sensibilities as dudes (and it's almost always dudes) who play chess. Except Matt Gaffney. I love his work, and he's really into chess. He is the exception that proves the rule, for sure. You should check out his crosswords for New York magazine (now playable online!) as well as the Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest (now Patreon-only). But back to this puzzle: not really my cup. It does what it does, and it does it methodically, but the whole visual effect just doesn't come together the way it should.

The fill was good and bad. Something about OCTOMOM (8D: Tabloid nickname for mother Nadia Suleman) is so deeply off-putting, so demeaning, so ... dehumanizing, that I can't enjoy it at all, and I especially can't enjoy it when it's crossing SOTS (the mockery of alcoholics continues unabated ...). Also, UNSTOW made my eyes roll so far back in my head I passed out for a little there (70D: Remove from under the seat in front of you, say). I'll give you UNREEL, I guess, but UNSTOW? Um, no. IT'S (not) OK. And I was so looking forward to a really killer grid when, very early on, I encountered that truly fantastic clue for DRIP (31A: Good fashion sense, in modern slang). I know, if you haven't heard it, it's hard to see it as "fantastic," but I've been seeing it a lot lately (as well as hearing it in various rap hits), so I was beaming. I wrote it in off of the "D" in RAP CDS (fitting!), but honestly didn't trust it at all. Felt like a pretty daring clue for the NYTXW, so I carefully checked the crosses and ... whaddyaknow? DRIP was correct! I got a clue that required knowing modern lingo! Me! At 51! High-fiving myself for coolness, which is definitely what cool people do. TOP JOB is depressing in its barely-a-thingness (29D: Sought-after position). Not UNSTOW-depressing, but close. Also depressing: WATCHED A VIDEO. Truly the ATE A SANDWICH of theme answers (it's sooooo close to ATE A SANDWICH, I almost admire its moxie). SAT IN A CHAIR! ROLLED SOME OATS! GAVE ROSES TO ONE'S GIRLFRIEND! You see how these aren't answers, right? I might have given WATCHED VIDEOS some leeway, but WATCHED A VIDEO? Leeway denied!

I see LTE on my phone all the time, I think, but still don't really know those letters (80A: 4G letters). Not a fan of LTE as fill. RTE > LTE. Also BRYDON. I guess I've seen one of those Trip to Wherever movies he was in, but I sure didn't know his name, and every letter was a painful adventure to fill in. Super duper glad I knew what a MYERS-Briggs test was, or yipes, I might still be staring at BR-DON. Only other real mystery was PHAROS, but I guess if it was the site of one of the Ancient Wonders, then it's ... phair (23A: Site of a lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Protection of a protagonist for narrative purposes in slang / SAT 5-29-21 / Rum-soaked treats / Source of Vibranium in the Marvel universe / Exclamation popularized by Die Hard / Four-time Emmy winner from Coney Island

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Constructor: Adam Aaronson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GARI (49A: Ginger at sushi bar) —
A type of Japanese pickle (tsukemono) made from thinly sliced ginger. The ginger strips are pickled in salt and are then pickled again in sweet vinegar. Gari has a natural pink color from the ginger root itself. It is available in Asian markets and it is most often served between sushi dishes. Gari should not be confused with beni shoga, which is another type of pickled ginger and is one that is not served with sushi. (recipetips.com)
• • •

This was grueling at first, but at first it was 5 am and I'd been awake all of 15 minutes, so ... on a Saturday, probably not so unusual to feel this way at the start of the puzzle, given the circumstances. NW wasn't falling because PRIDE didn't have any "abbr." indication in the clue (1D: Annual June celebration). So annoying. PRIDE is decidedly a shortening, and clues should indicate that or else they are cheap and stupid. Also, here's the thing ... is this referring to the entirety of PRIDE month (June), or the annual PRIDE march in NYC (June 27), or what? Dunno. I think the clue is referring specifically to the NYC march, or maybe any PRIDE march, and not to the month as a whole (though at first I thought the month itself was the "celebration"). but exactly when and how long and in what context something called PRIDE occurs probably varies a lot from place to place. PRIDE events happen all month long, all over the world. I love the LBGT+ clue on PRIDE—just write a clue that indicates that we're dealing w/ a colloquial shortening and we're good. It's not hard! Here: [Annual June celebration in NYC]. That's it. Done. Perfect. By adding "in NYC," you've a. clearly indicated that it's a specific event that you are referring to, and b. clearly indicated that the answer is an abbr. And it only took five extra letters. Magic. (It's not magic)

Never heard of PLOT ARMOR so what was probably enjoyable to some was just a shrug to me (1A: Protection of a protagonist for narrative purposes, in slang). Stupid grad school, awarded me a Ph.D. in literature but never taught me the term PLOT ARMOR. Thanks a lot, UM! So yeah, waffled around up there, with little success. Then somehow glommed onto the "A" in MEA and got ATLANTA and started working on the SE, but again, nowhere. Speaking of the SE, that's the site of my one major problem with this puzzle: GARI crossing "YIPPEE-KI-YAY!" (24D: Exclamation popularized by "Die Hard"). About GARI: this is the first I'm hearing of it. Now, that's fine. New-to-me term, cool. But you have to understand that as sushi-related terms go, this one is much less well known than the others, so much so that it isn't even in the merriam-webster.com dictionary. NORI, that's there. WASABI, there. GARI, nope. And the wikipedia page for GARI is such a hot mess of bad writing and improper citation that I couldn't even use it in the Word of the Day definition, above. Go ahead and use GARI if you like—I'm actually happy to learn the term for the thing I've been eating all this time—but Every Cross Must Be Unassailable when you're dealing with new / uncommon / foreign words like this. And the "I" in "YIPPEE-KI-YAY!"!? That is not something I'd want anywhere near GARI. I've never had occasion to have to spell that stupid exclamation, and this spelling seems counterintuitive in many ways. "KI" makes what sound now? I would pronounce "KI" like the common English word "key." Also, when I hear the Bruce Willis exclamation in my head, I hear the end as "chi" (like the Greek letter) and "a" (like ... the letter). "KI-YAY" just doesn't reflect what's going on in my ears. In the end, "I" was the only good guess there, but the stupid spelling of that exclamation coupled with the unknownness of GARI really made that part awful to experience. Whereas if you'd decoupled these answers, there's a good chance that neither one would've bothered me at all. 

After the struggles in the NW and SE, I used the "Y" from YIPPEE to start working on the NE, and that fell much more easily. SW went down without much struggle either. So the puzzle was Hard-Easy in real time, but overall that makes it Medium, I guess. Mistakes: URGE before SPUR, EXES before SECT, STEADYCAM before STEAD-I-CAM or however it's punctuated (it's actually just one word). Hot Chelle RAE is a step up from the ridiculous Canadian ambassador to the U.N. RAE we got yesterday, but only a step (27A: Hot Chelle ___, rock group with the 2011 hit "Tonight Tonight"). 2011 was a while ago now (they haven't charted since). Again, RAE is crosswordese. It just is. No clue will fix that. Stick to familiar cluing byways and Move It Along. No one wants to struggle with your RAE clue. Crosswordese isn't always bad, though. Not sure where I'd be if ASP ERR ABET MEA ACAI and PSI hadn't been there to give me a boost. Slightly proud that I got PSI instantly from that clue, since I think it's designed to make you think of ECON, not air (45A: Inflation stat, for short) (I actually think the "for short" is redundant here, since "stat" is already an abbr.). Only thing I really love today is "AND YOU ARE ...?" But aside from the GARI / KI bit, nothing was terribly irksome. Overall, an OK Saturday experience.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. MANBUN = [Bunch of hipsters?] because if a "hipster" (???) wears his hair in a "bunch" on top of his head, that's what it's called. Not a fan of the derisive "hipster" here. 

P.P.S. PASYSTEMS = P.A. SYSTEMS, as in Public Address Systems (57A: Lines of communication in schools?). That one was hard to parse.

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Renowned football club founded in 1899 / FRI 5-28-21 / Jazz trumpeter Jones / Bob Canadian ambassador to the U.N. / Resort with no snowboarders policy / Fabric made from cellulose / Space between ribs of insect wing / Heavenly dessert with lemony filling / Gay rights pioneer Marsha P Johnson for one

Friday, May 28, 2021

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Marsha P. Johnson (27A: Gay rights pioneer Marsha P. Johnson, for one: TRANS ICON) —
Marsha P. Johnson
 (August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992), born and also known as Malcolm Michaels Jr., was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen. Known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the  Stonewall uprising of 1969. Johnson was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), alongside close friend Sylvia RiveraJohnson was also a popular figure in New York City's gay and art scene, modeling for Andy Warhol, and performing onstage with the drag performance troupe Hot PeachesJohnson was known as the "mayor of Christopher Street" due to being a welcoming presence in the streets of Greenwich Village. From 1987 through 1992, Johnson was an AIDS activist with ACT UP. [...] Johnson initially used the moniker "Black Marsha" but later decided on the drag queen name "Marsha P. Johnson", getting Johnson from the restaurant Howard Johnson's on 42nd Street, stating that the P stood for "pay it no mind" and used the phrase sarcastically when questioned about gender, saying "it stands for pay it no mind". Johnson said the phrase once to a judge, who was amused by it, leading to Johnson's release. Johnson variably identified as gay, as a transvestite, and as a queen (referring to drag queen). According to Susan Stryker, a professor of human gender and sexuality studies at the University of Arizona, Johnson's gender expression could perhaps most accurately be called gender non-conforming; Johnson never self-identified with the term transgender, but the term was also not in broad use while Johnson was alive. (wikipedia)
• • •

Daughter is in town for just a few days so ... the write-ups might be a little light today and tomorrow. Sorry about that. As for the puzzle: TRANS ICON was cool, but the rest of it didn't do much of anything for me. I guess "WEIRD, HUH?" has a quirky, colloquial vibe that's kinda nice, but stuff like SCROLL SAW leaves me cold and HONOR ROLLS is absurd in the plural and THAD and REFI and ALTA and RIPA and ELENA and AREOLA and SMEE are all threatening to take the whole train to Crosswordese Town. Plus, TORT REFORM and DICK CHENEY, man, talk about bringing the room down. Yuck. TEASER AD is really just long crosswordese. I dunno, there just wasn't much delight to be had here for me. Worse, the puzzle really really thought it was being delightful, with almost a dozen "?" clues elbowing and nudge-nudging you and begging you to laugh at their cleverness. I only just now figured out how to make sense out of the DICK CHENEY clue. I forgot that there was a movie called "Vice" that was about him. It may surprise you to learn that I spend as little of my life thinking about DICK CHENEY as possible. 

Blank ROOM and Blank TIME in the SE made that section a little tougher than the others, and also, ultimately, blander, or more of a letdown. EAST ROOM? FREE TIME? OK, those are things, but it's Friday and I'm looking for a good time. I actually might've liked FREE TIME if it hadn't been burdened with yet another cutesy wink of a "?" clue (62A: What's not working?). Isn't a BEER BAR just a "bar." (1A: Building with many drafts). I have heard of cocktail bars but not BEER BARs. I also have heard of Angel food cake but not ANGEL PIE (14A: "Heavenly" dessert with a lemony filling). Again, I'm sure these things exist, I just don't care about them, so there's just nothing to warm the blood here. KARACHI is cool, keep that. But a single TEA LEAF? That's almost as dumb as the plural HONOR ROLLS it sits beside. Lastly, the clue on RAE is truly awful (43A: Bob ___, Canadian ambassador to the U.N.). Maybe it's some Canadian in-joke (since ALBERTA's in here, I figure maybe...). But I know you don't know Bob RAE, because I know you don't know any ambassadors to the U.N. Even ours (it's Linda Thomas-Greenfield, by the way). You can love Canada all you want, but you've already subjected us to RAE (again w/ the crosswordese), you don't have to pretend you invented some new crossworthy RAE. It's Issa, Charlotte, that explorer guy ... RAE Dawn Chong, maybe. I dunno. I just know this Bob guy ain't it. I had ELLEN before ESSIE (19A: Woman's name that sounds like two letters of the alphabet) and thus ABEL before ENOS (2D: 905-year-old in Genesis), but otherwise no other mistakes or big struggles. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Super Monkey Ball company / THU 5-27-21 / Minnie's promise / Madama Butterfly has four / Movement associated with crystal healing / Peppery salad ingredient / 17-time host of the Academy of Country Music Awards

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Constructor: Barbara Lin

Relative difficulty: Easy to Easy-Medium

THEME: "... as SYLVESTER would say" — familiar phrases clued as is they were wacky phrases being lisped by the Looney Tunes cartoon character SYLVESTER the Cat (58A: Animated character who's the subject of this puzzle's theme):

Theme answers:
  • URBAN MYTH (17A: Young woman living in a city, as 58-Across would say) (wacky answer to the clue is "urban miss," which gets lisped into ... URBAN MYTH)
  • WORD OF MOUTH (24A: Minnie's promise, as 58-Across would say) (wacky prelisp version: "word of mouse")
  • MOMENT OF TRUTH (35A: When an armistice is signed, as 58-Across would say) (wacky prelisp version: "moment of truce")
  • IN GOOD FAITH (50A: Looking pretty, as 58-Across would say) (wacky prelisp version: "in good face")
Word of the Day: SYLVESTER (58-Across) —
Sylvester James Pussycat, Sr. is a fictional character, an anthropomorphic tuxedo cat in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Most of his appearances have him often chasing TweetySpeedy Gonzales, or Hippety Hopper. He appeared in 103 cartoons in the golden age of American animation, lagging only behind superstars Bugs BunnyPorky Pig, and Daffy Duck. Three of his cartoons won Academy Awards, the most for any starring Looney Tunes character: they are Tweetie PieSpeedy Gonzales, and Birds Anonymous. [...] In many cartoons, Sylvester is shown intentionally sticking out his tongue while speaking, putting on emphasis that the lisp is intentional. He is also known for spraying people he is talking to with the saliva from his lisping, which is a trait rarely shared by Daffy. A common gag used for both Sylvester and Daffy is a tendency to go on a long rant, complaining about a subject and then ending it by saying "Sakes". (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, first of all, DAFFY DUCK fits at 58-Across, which was either a dumb coincidence or part of the "gotcha" Thursdayness of the puzzle or both. Since DAFFY DUCK is the much more iconic / popular lisping toon, in my toon-watching experience, he's the only name I considered at first. So I wrote him early, leaping down to write his name in as soon as the lisping thing became clear, well before I had actually worked my way down to that bottom portion of the grid. Lucky for me, once I did work my way down there, RESHOE was undeniable (39D: Do some farrier's work on), and it annihilated Daffy, so that screw-up didn't cost me badly. Even with -ESTER in the grid I couldn't think of SYLVESTER. He just disappears into a cartoon Uncanny Valley in my head somewhere between Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn. Tweety Bird flies around freely in my head, but SYLVESTER ... he's sleeping somewhere, I guess. That is, I know he's there, somewhere, but I can't find him when I need him, apparently. The theme itself is very clever, though it's a bit weird to serve the bland part and hide the joke. The grid gets the plain phrase and the wacky phrase exists only in your mind. So the grid looks ordinary, but your brain does have to go through the lisping hoops in order to get you to ordinary, so you wackiness is still involved. It's just invisible. Invisible wackiness. Before my brain had fully grokked the way the theme worked, I wrote in WORD OF MOUSE at 24A: Minnie's promise [etc.] and thought it was cuteish. Then when crosses forced me back to WORD OF MOUTH, I thought, "huh, well that's too bad. Wait, what's going on?" Then I got it. All the lisped parts are at the ends of the answers, which made this one of those rare puzzles where solving from the back ends of the long answers was actually helpful, even if my brain was still misfiring on the theme and offering up potential answers like FAIR OF FAITH for 50A: Looking pretty, as 58-Across would say. In the end, I felt something like mild appreciation for this theme. It did some weird, original things reasonably well.

Outside the theme, it was verrrrrrrry easy. Writing in ACTAS instead of ARIAS created by far my greatest struggle (61A: "Madama Butterfly" has four), but eventually Reba MCENTIRE bailed me out there, so no big deal (35D: 17-time host of the Academy of Country Music Awards). My logic on the ACTAS screw-up was that in the clue, the title was written "Madama [instead of "Madame"] Butterfly," so I figured the answer was supposed to be an Italian word, and then I just guessed that ACTAS was Italian for "acts" (it's not; it's ATTI, if Google Translate can be trusted) (also, FYI, there are only two ATTI in "Madama Butterfly"). I don't know what else there is that could cause trouble in the grid. Proper nouns are few, and the vocabulary is pretty basic. I had that weird hesitation moment you get when you think "ugh, they don't want OCTAD, do they?" (7D: Eightsome). And WIRES took me a few beats because the clue looked like it was asking for a kind of poem (41A: Lines of power). But that's it. Extrathematic material was Tuesday-easy. I wasn't timing myself, so it's possible that this puzzle was very Very easy, especially when you put this Thursday gimmick alongside more typical, much-more-difficult-to-discern Thursday gimmicks. But I'm not complaining. This one came out smooth and I'll take it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Surname of father-and-son Latin pop singers / WED 5-26-21 / Inventor Boykin who helped develop the pacemaker / Pacific nation composed of 250+ islands / Goddess sister of Nephthys / Rock powder used as an abrasive

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "SEE ME AFTER CLASS" (58A: Ominous request from a teacher ... or a hint to the first words (and following letters!) of 17-, 26- and 43-Across) — familiar phrases in which "ME" appears directly after a kind of class:

Theme answers:
  • BUSINESS MEETING (17A: Event with minutes that might last hours)
  • GYM MEMBERSHIP (26A: Purchase inspired by a New Year's resolution, often)
  • GERMAN MEASLES (43A: Rubella, by another name)
Word of the Day: SANTIAGO (38D: Major pilgrimage destination in Spain) —

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, in northwestern Spain. The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century. In 1985, the city's Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Santiago de Compostela has a very mild climate for its latitude with heavy winter rainfall courtesy of its relative proximity to the prevailing winds from Atlantic low-pressure systems. (wikipedia)

• • •

Really, really liked this theme. It is slightly thin, and I still don't think "business" is a real H.S. class on the level of traditionality with "gym" and "German" (or "English" or "biology" or "history" etc.). Also, BUSINESS MEETING is about the most boring 15 you're ever likely to see. Still, this one unspooled perfectly for me, with the revealer really doing its job of both making me see something I hadn't and (crucial) making me "oh, wow, cool." The "ME" aspect of the theme probably severely limits the number of plausible answers you could generate here, so maybe the theme isn't "thin" at all, but exactly as thick as it needs to be. And then to get your plausible answers to fit symmetrically in your grid? Yeah, this is probably just what it needs to be to come off properly. Restraint! I'm grateful for it. I was stunned at how easy this seemed for a Wednesday. I had the timer off but barely hesitated at any point in the solve. Felt like yesterday's "guess the expression-of-disbelief phrase!" theme, coupled with harder than usual cluing, took me twice as long as today's. I would expect people's times to be very fast today. LAIT was the only thing I didn't know, and that was because I misread the clue (14A: Brest milk). Me: "Why ... did we make the technical name for breast milk ... French??" Later me: "Oh ... Brest. I see, now, what you did there."

Oh, I also didn't know that OTIS guy who helped develop the pacemaker (4D: Inventor Boykin who helped develop the pacemaker). That answer is the only real speed bump, a total outlier relative to the familiarity of the rest of the answers in the grid, but it's just four letters and wasn't hard to work around. I guessed OTTO at one point but then fixed it. Wasn't sure what shape a bacillus was, but at three letters it didn't take long to figure out. Got to -RED at 41A: Made a peeling? and briefly thought it could be PARED *or* CORED, but then I chose the word that actually referred to peeling, and that solved that (what is [Made a peeling?] even a pun on? "Made appealing?" Looks like it's trying to ape "make a killing" and doing a bad job of it). I remember the IGLESIASes from days gone by. I think Julio sang with Willie Nelson once, and Enrique became a pop star right at the low point of my pop music literacy (the '00s, or, as I heard someone call them the other day, the naughties!). Their name is very familiar to me, so no trouble there. Some trouble with SANTIAGO, which I know only as a place in Chile (the capital!). I don't know that the fill is terribly flashy today, but it's solid. UBERNERD (9D: Tech-obsessed sort, perhaps) is (ironically) supposed to be a cool answer, I think, but it doesn't do anything for me, as the concept "nerd" appears to have lost all meaning in recent years, and UBER just evokes the economic insecurity of the gig economy. I'd rather walk. Or take public transportation. Or a VESPA. Or HAIL A TAXI. Still, despite the non-flashiness, I rarely cringed at the fill today, partially because it was easy (no time to cringe!) but mostly because the fill just did its job and stayed out of the way so we could clearly see and admire the theme. Nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Comedian Margaret / TUES 5-25-21 / Handicraft website / Court cutups / First noble gas to be discovered

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hi, everyone, it’s Clare back for this last Tuesday in May. I’m writing this now as a law school graduate, which is quite exciting! The last three years were a bit of a slog, but now that part is over. Next up is the Bar Exam (save me)! I’m trying to study despite my desire to just sit around and watch sports all day — seriously, with the end of the Premier League (my Liverpool finished off the season strong!), the NBA playoffs, the WNBA getting started, the PGA Championship, NHL playoffs (go, Penguins), and now the French Open starting, there's always something on. Now, I’m procrastinating by doing this write-up rather than relearning contracts. 

Anywho, on to the puzzle...

Constructors: Kristian House and Mike Dockins 

Relative difficulty: Fairly hard
THEME: Colloquial expressions showing disbelief

Theme answers:
  • I DON’T BELIEVE IT (20A: “Really?!” 
  • NO FRIGGIN’ WAY (24A: “Impo-o-sible!”) 
  • GET OUTTA HERE (45A: “Oh, come on now!”) 
  • THAT’S CRAZY TALK (53A: “How ridiculous!”)
Word of the Day: STEIG (1D: Cartoonist William who created Shrek) —
William Steig (November 14, 1907 – October 3, 2003) was an American cartoonist, sculptor, and, in his later life, an illustrator and writer of children's books. Best known for the picture books Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Abel's Island, and Doctor De Soto, he was also the creator of Shrek!, which inspired the film series of the same name. He was the U.S. nominee for both of the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Awards, as a children's book illustrator in 1982 and a writer in 1988. (Wiki)
• • •

I don’t have a ton to say about this puzzle, other than I didn’t really enjoy it. For the theme, yes, these answers are all sort of colloquial expressions that some people might say. But, there was no real payoff — nothing major tied the theme answers together, and there could be so many different sets of possible answers for each clue. My least favorite of the themers by far was NO FRIGGIN WAY (20A), as I think that “no freaking way” or “no freakin’ way” or even “no frickin’ way” are much more common ways of expressing disbelief. 

I got off to a somewhat challenging start with STEIG at 1D. It’s nice to get him in the puzzle, as Shrek just passed its 20th anniversary (and it’s an all-time classic). I only vaguely knew his name and ended up misspelling it. Then, what started off as one proper noun in that northwest corner multiplied seemingly exponentially throughout the rest of the puzzle. It definitely felt like there were more proper nouns than normal in this puzzle (TARA; BONN; ASTRO; EDIE; STEIG; TONI; ABEL; THE VOICE; ELIZA; ZEKE; OREOS; ETSY; INSTA; THOR; CHO; SYR; WNBA; etc…) 

The thing that sat with me probably the most after I finished the solve was 59A: Hot seasoning made with peppers because I’m still so mad at that clue. A seasoning is made up of crushed herbs and/or spices that you put on chicken to get invited back to the BBQ. A seasoning is not a sauce! CHILI SAUCE is a condiment, so this clue doesn’t work at all. On another note, I’m sure it’s a great school and all, but I think I’ve seen enough of RPI (37A) (and then also ENGR at 17A) to last a lifetime. 

Maybe it was the two constructors on the puzzle, or maybe I was just in a bad mood because the Penguins lost in overtime, but I found the puzzle somewhat disjointed and overall hard to get a foothold in. Then, it felt like the theme offered no spark, and a lot of the fill was overused.

  • It was nice to see the WNBA Liberty (29D) get some love in this puzzle! It was especially timely, as they had a great win tonight, and are currently 5-1 on the season, and Sabrina Ionescu has taken the world by storm. 
  • Even though I grew up watching Disney Channel, I somehow missed “ZEKE and Luther” (58D) completely. I’ve literally never heard of that show before. 
  • If you’re going to have two actresses play the lead role of ELIZA (51D: Doolittle of “Pygmalion”), having Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn do so has got to be one of the best combinations in entertainment history. 
  • And, lastly, what would this write-up be without me mentioning that BTS has released a new song called “Butter” that everyone should listen to!! If you can listen to it without 1) wanting to dance or 2) having it stuck in your head for days, you’re not human.  
Signed, Clare Carroll, law school graduate

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pointy-leaved desert plants / MON 5-24-21 / Roughly 71% of the earth's surface / Three-ingredient lunchbox staple familiarly

Monday, May 24, 2021

Constructor: Adrienne Atkins

Relative difficulty: Medium+ (a tad slower than my usual Monday) (3:17)

THEME: BODY DOUBLE (61A: Stand-in during a film shoot ... or a hint to 17-, 25-, 38- and 51-Across) — common two-word phrases where both words are body parts:

Theme answers:
  • MOUTH ORGAN (17A: Harmonica)
  • RIB JOINT (25A: Place to get some barbecue)
  • KNUCKLEHEAD (38A: Dummy)
  • BACKLASH (51A: Negative repercussions)
Word of the Day: YUCCAS (31A: Pointy-leaved desert plants) —

Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. Its 40–50 species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry (arid) parts of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Early reports of the species were confused with the cassava (Manihot esculenta). Consequently, Linnaeus mistakenly derived the generic name from the Taíno word for the latter, yuca. (wikipedia)

• • •

Riding high on a beautiful summer day, complete with a 5-mile hike on the Rim Trail at Treman State Park outside Ithaca, and then book shopping and a vanilla malt, and then a fancy benefit dinner at our local vegan restaurant (first time we'd eaten in a restaurant in 15 months). An exceedingly good day. Maybe I'm a little tired or full or sun-addled or something because I kinda stumbled through this puzzle. Wasn't as tight and methodical in my solving approach as I normally am, especially on early-week puzzles, and so kind of meandered through the middle of the grid and ended up trying to back my way into the center of the grid and let's just say that there's a reason that NW-to-SE flow makes the most sense: the more you take that route, the more apt you are to fill in the *front* ends of answers first. Much easier to get stuff, generally, when you've got a piece of the front end than when you've got a piece of the back end. For instance, I had -HEAD today at 38A: Dummy and honestly -HEAD was zero help. DUNDERHEAD? CHOWDERHEAD? STUPIDHEAD? Bah. Whereas if I'd come down into the answer from the NW, I would've had some of the front end—easier to figure out what follows KNUCKLE than what precedes HEAD. I also just didn't know MOUTH ORGAN. I guess I've heard that term, but "harmonica" and maybe "mouth harp" (??) seem like more familiar things to me (actually, the harmonica is also known as a "French harp"). So the ORGAN part took work. As did the JOINT part of RIB JOINT. All told I was only about 20 seconds slower than usual, but on a Monday, that's kind of a long time.

As for the quality of the theme: it works OK. It's a pretty damn broad array of body parts here, and I'm not sure ORGAN is specific enough to qualify (any more than, say, LIMB would qualify). But each theme answer has two parts that are also, technically, body parts, so BODY DOUBLE is apt enough, and it's a nice revealer (a nice term in its own right). Outside the theme answers, the only trouble I had came when I typo'd SPA instead of SPF (29A: Tanning lotion fig.), and wrote in SPY instead of SLY at 35D: Apt letters missing from "_tea_th_". Clearly my brain knew SPY was apt, but that means my brain must have known the word in the clue was "stealthy," in which case my brain should've known that "P" was not an option. But my brain ... try telling it anything. Hope you had a lovely weekend. This puzzle seems a reasonably good start to the puzzling week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chef Waters who pioneered the organic food movement / SUN 5-23-21 / First work read in Columbia's Literature Humanities course / Mild light-colored cigars / Naturally occurring hexagonal crystals / PC platform popular in the '80s / Moore antipoverty entrepreneur of the Robin Hood Foundation / 2019 box-office flop described by one critic as Les Meowserables / Oscar-winning actress born Mary Louise

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Constructor: Jennifer Nebergall

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "You Do The Math" — familiar phrases are clued as if they had something to do with math:

Theme answers:
  • DIFFERENCE OF OPINIONS (27A: "That was great!" - "No, it stunk!") (anything minus anything else results in a "difference")
  • HIGHWAY MEDIAN (42A: Route 70 in {Route 10, Route 95, Route 101, Route 70, Route 25}) (if you sort the numbers in value order, 70 is in the middle, ergo it's the "median")
  • STOCK DIVIDEND (66A: Cattle in [cattle / pigs]) (with pigs being the stock divisor)
  • ANIMAL PRODUCT (95A: Bear x tiger) (anything times anything results in a "product")
  • MODE OF TRANSPORTATION (106A: Car in {plane, car, train, horse, car, car, train}) ("car" is the most frequently appearing term in the set, i.e. the "mode")
Word of the Day: "CATS" (6A: 2019 box-office flop described by one critic as "Les Meowsérables") —

Cats is a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 Tony Award-winning stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which in turn was based on the poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot. The film is directed by Tom Hooper, in his second feature musical following Les Misérables (2012), from a screenplay by Lee Hall and Hooper. The film features an ensemble cast, including James CordenJudi DenchJason DeruloIdris ElbaJennifer HudsonIan McKellenTaylor SwiftRebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward.

Cats was theatrically released in the United Kingdom and the United States on 20 December 2019, by Universal Pictures, and was panned by critics, who criticized the visual effects, editing, and performances. It is often considered one of the worst films ever made. The film was also a box-office bomb, grossing $75 million on a budget of $80-100 million, and is estimated to have lost Universal Pictures approximately $114 million. (wikipedia)

• • •

It's the 23rd of the month, which means it's time once again for my Zoom solve with crossword blogger and friend of the show, Rachel Fabi (video below). We really struggled to find things to say about this puzzle, beyond a few very general observations. First, the theme is very light. Very very light for a Sunday. I've seen Mondays with more themers than this (the themers are longer here than they would be in a weekday puzzle, obviously, but still, five is light). In a theme this light, you might expect more of a wide-open grid, some fancy longer fill, perhaps; but you don't get anything like that. Not really. The NW and SE corners offer you a little flourish, a 10 alongside an 8 in both cases, but mostly what you get is a very choppy, very short fill-heavy grid, awash in 3-4-5s. It is true that the fill is largely clean, which is good—better to come in clean than to force some long answers into the grid at the expense of overall smoothness. But still, the end result is a little dull, a little lackluster. As for the theme, it's a nice set (no pun intended ... I don't think ... "set" is a math thing, right?). All of the themers feature ordinary words that have been repurposed into math contexts. Great. The clues were maybe not as tight or precise or colorful as they could be. The clue on MODE OF TRANSPORTATION is very tight: "car" is in fact the "mode" in that set (i.e. the most frequently appearing term). But the clue on DIFFERENCE OF OPINION ... those could've been any opinions, about anything. Plus, the clues on MODE OF TRANSPORTATION and HIGHWAY MEDIAN take almost exactly the same form, so there's less cluing pizzazz, i.e. less cluing variation, than there might have been. I dunno. It all just kinda ... sits there. Being vaguely math-y. The theme could've been tighter and more entertaining, and the grid could've been sparklier, for sure. Very few cringey parts, but equally few highs. Kind of a wash.

SELF-SOWN is both original and ridiculous. Doesn't the wind sow those seeds? Or gravity? It is probably the most original thing in the grid, but not exactly in a good way. There is good stuff, though. I really like VIGNETTE and CRY FOR HELP and TRADE WINDS and MEMPHIS and HOT SAUCE and maybe even SPARE ROOM. Both Rachel and I balked at WINOS, which continues this long-standing and ugly crossword tradition of trafficking heavily in slang for alcoholics. Even the clue seems to suggest "come on, solvers, dig deep into your vast reservoir of derogatory terms for addicts." There's got to be a way to get WINOS out of there. Rachel also objects to all forms of O.D. (today, OD'ED). I have to say I largely agree with her, even if it can be used in slangy, non-drug ways. If you don't want to get rid of ODED for its insensitivity to drug users, how about you just get rid of it because it's ugly fill that no one actually wants in their grid. Whatever gets you from A to B. Just chuck it. 

We didn't struggle with much of anything in this puzzle. OVERLAP took some squinting and pondering. We (that is, I) had REDID (?) before REDUX before AMEXES came to the rescue. My first guess was SNIFF at 11D: Sound of disdain, but Rachel was right to suspect SCOFF. I think SCOFF is also a "sound." Neither of us really got the "?" humor of the clue on IMP (39A: Recurring pain?). Is the idea that you're supposed to think of bodily pain but instead it ends up being a metaphorical pain (in your metaphorical ass)? Whatever play on words was supposed to be happening there didn't really land solidly for either of us. OK, That'll do it for today. See you tomorrow. 

Here's the video of me and Rachel co-solving today's puzzle via Zoom:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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