Alberto hair care brand / WED 5-12-21 / Specialized lab equipment for drying / Short-brimmed hat known as a bunnet in Scotland / Colorful flower with a face / Provincial schoolteacher stereotype / Singing animated snowman

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy to Easy-Medium 


THEME: VO5 (67A: Alberto ___ (hair care brand) ... and a hint to 16-, 27-, 38-, 46- and 61-Across) — first word "V," second word "O," "5" times:

Theme answers:
  • VITAL ORGAN (16A: Kidney or heart)
  • VIDALIA ONION (27A: Georgia's official vegetable)
  • VEER OFF (38A: Suddenly change course)
  • VIN ORDINAIRE (46A: Inexpensive table wine)
  • VACUUM OVEN (61A: Specialized lab equipment for drying)

Word of the Day:
FLAT CAP (51A: Short-brimmed hat known as a bunnet in Scotland) —
flat cap (sometimes scally cap) is a rounded cap with a small stiff brim in front, originating in the British Isles. The hat is known in Ireland as a paddy cap, in Scotland as a bunnet, in Wales as a Dai cap, in New Zealand as a cheese-cutter, and in the United States as a driving cap. Cloths used to make the cap include wool, tweed (most common), and cotton. Less common materials may include leather, linen, or corduroy. The inside of the cap is commonly lined for comfort and warmth. (wikipedia) (my emph.)
• • •

I haven't heard the name "Alberto VO5" since the '80s. It's still a thing!? Wow. I know the name only from TV ads of yore. The same era as the Vidal Sassoon shampoo commercials. You know, the "and so on, and so on, and so on" ones? Oh no, wait! I've misremembered my cheesy '80s hair product commercials. The "and so on" ads were for Fabergé—Vidal Sassoon was "if you don't look good, we don't look good!" Let's see if I can find an Alberto VO5 ad to round out the trio ... oh yeah, there we go. 




It's possible that VO5 is still all the rage and I just don't know anything about contemporary women's hair products. In fact, that latter part is Very possible. Still, the revealer felt like a blast from the past, which is OK. I'm just unsure about the currency of this product name, is what I'm saying. The theme here works, though it is pretty programmatic and straightforward (yes, those are V.O.s, yes, there are five of them), and the themer set feels a little forced, by which I mean those last two themers are a lot less common and familiar than the first three. I've heard of VIN ORDINAIRE, I guess, but I don't know how or when, and VACUUM OVEN, well, I'm sure that exists, it sounds like a thing that exists, but it's not exactly a household gadget (or term). But as a set, the themers are fairly interesting answers, I guess. The rest of the grid is pretty plain, tending to dull. I really don't like the NE and SW corners, from an aesthetic standpoint. The fill in those corners is fine (how could it not be? they're so tiny anyone could fill them). They're just so small, and so sequestered, that I was semi-annoyed that I had to go in there and finish them off. They felt awfully detached. I guess they're built that way to accommodate the tiny 3-box revealer (VO5). Still, not a big fan of crannies that small. 


Had to suffer through NOVA- and ETALI-; I genuinely "ugh" at these crossword moments, because you just don't know which way this crosswordese is going to VEER OFF at the end. Are we getting NOVAS or NOVAE? (1D: Massive pop stars?) Are we getting ET ALIA or ET ALII? (8D: And others, in Latin) It's like the worst suspense movie ever. I don't believe that SESAMES is a legit plural (22A: Seeds on hamburger buns). They are sesame seeds and that is all that they are. If you take the clue at its word, and go the hamburger bun route, even there, the paradigmatic description of said buns uses the word "seed": 


No idea what a FLAT CAP was (51A: Short-brimmed hat known as a bunnet in Scotland). Sounds like a mushroom type. Now that I see it, I know exactly what a FLAT CAP is, I just didn't know it's name. Linus wears one of these in the "Peanuts" strip that taught me the word "jaunty":
Aug. 4, 1953

I would've gone with FLATTEN or FLATTER or FLATTOP there, as they all feel more familiar, and like they would give you much more interesting cluing possibilities than the clue you've got going here, but if FLAT CAPs are good enough for Idris Elba (pictured up top) and Linus, who am I to complain? 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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One-named singer with 2019 hit Without Me / TUE 5-11-21 / Twitter thumbs-up informally / Vehicles in some tabloid photos / Dew Drop historic New Orleans nightclub / 2012 Grammy winner for Channel Orange

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Constructor: Kevin Patterson

Relative difficulty: Medium (or harder, depending on how good your knowledge of contemporary pop music is)


THEME: LOW-KEY (66A: Casual ... or a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — five long two-words Downs have a keyboard "key" as their second (or, spatially, "low") word:

Theme answers:
  • FIRE ESCAPE (3D: *Steps taken in an emergency?)
  • BIRTH CONTROL (21D: *The pill, e.g.)
  • OPEN TAB (25D: *Running bill at a bar)
  • STORAGE SPACE (10D: *What closets and attics provide)
  • FIRST SHIFT (30D: *Nine to five, at a factory)
Word of the Day: HALSEY (47D: One-named singer with the 2019 #1 hit "Without Me") —

Ashley Nicolette Frangipane (/ˌfrænɪˈpɑːni/; born September 29, 1994), known professionally as Halsey (IPA/ˈhɔːlzi//ˈhɑːlzi/), is an American singer and songwriter. Gaining attention from self-released music on social media platforms, she was signed by Astralwerks in 2014 and released her debut EPRoom 93, later that year.

Halsey's debut studio album Badlands (2015) reached no. 2 on the US Billboard 200. Her second album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017) topped the chart, and her third album Manic (2020) peaked at number two. She has had two no. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, "Closer", a collaboration with The Chainsmokers, and "Without Me". The single "Bad at Love" reached the top-five. 

Halsey has sold over one million albums. She is noted for her distinctive singing voice. Her awards and nominations include four Billboard Music Awards, one American Music Award, one GLAAD Media Award, an MTV Video Music Award, and two Grammy Award nominations. She was included on Time magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020. (wikipedia)

• • •


My path to the revealer here was so weird and unexpected, and I think it really added to my overall solving pleasure today. I almost always start in the NW and then solve in a wave, working crosses from answers I already have (instead of jumping around the grid). This is especially true with early-week puzzles, which tend to be easy, which means I don't get stuck, which means I don't *have* to go jumping around the grid to regain traction. Usually this work-the-crosses habit keeps me pretty tightly contained in one section of the grid at a time, but today, because the themers are vertical, I went zooming to the bottom of the grid very early on, and what do you think I found there? That's right, the "key" to the whole thing. Just sitting there at the bottom of the grid. 


Not sure why I decided to check the "L" cross on BIRTH CONTROL instead of heading back to the NW, but I'm really glad I did. Stumbling into the revealer like this absolutely maximized my delight. First of all, I just like LOW-KEY, all on its own, having nothing to do with the theme. It is a common enough adjective, but it feels fresh because the term has had something of a colloquial surge lately, both as an adjective and (more novelly) as an adverb (e.g. "I LOW-KEY hate him!"). "LOW-KEY" is featured in this incredibly stupidly-titled article, "24 phrases millennials use all the time but no one else gets." So I regular-key liked it. But then to look over, see ESCAPE and CONTROL, and not only grasp the theme immediately, but notice that LOW-KEY was crossing one of the very "keys" it was talking about—that the CONTROL "key" was in fact the key to my seeing LOW-KEY in the first place—all of this meant that the revealer landed in a way that very few revealers land: with a genuine, multi-layered aha moment: "oh ... Oh! ... OK, wow, cool." Thankfully, the rest of the puzzle was strong enough that I never lost the very good vibe created by my early LOW-KEY discovery.


The only let-down for me was FIRST SHIFT, which obviously, screamingly, should've been NIGHT SHIFT. The ghost of NIGHT SHIFT haunts this puzzle. It is the much much better, more vivid, more familiar phrase, and it is very angry that it got killed off. But if you try to swap FIRST for NIGHT, you will discover very quickly *why* it got killed off. If you tear everything out, back to STORAGE SPACE (which is a themer and thus can't be torn out), and then try to refill the grid with NIGHT SHIFT in place ... you can't. Well, you'd have to keep tearing, past BLACK SEA and all the way to god knows where. Because PESCI would become P-H-- and only PSHAW fits that pattern. And aside from being bad fill, PSHAW leaves you with -S-K where PERK now stands, and you can see how limited you are there, and so on and so on. Basically, FIRST SHIFT is disappointing relative to NIGHT SHIFT, but not half as disappointing as the grid itself would be had you tried to force NIGHT SHIFT to work. So you just make your peace with FIRST SHIFT and hope that NIGHT SHIFT doesn't seek revenge somehow.


The one problem I can see here, from an ordinary older-solver perspective, is the proper-noun crossing of HART and HALSEY. It's HALSEY who's gonna flummox a lot of people today. The majority of older solvers (a huge segment of the solving population) will not have heard of her. I don't know what I mean by "older" exactly, but let's just say I'm Gen X and barely know her. Or, rather, I know her name well enough, but only as a name. No context. No specifics. She's a popular singer. That's all I got. I can guarantee you that the majority of solvers older than I are going to have far less of a clue. Which is not a big deal, she's clearly famous enough to be in the puzzle, it's just that you've got to watch all of the crosses on her name. Now Kevin HART is much more famous (I think?) than HALSEY, so he's probably a fair cross for HALSEY's not-guessable "H"—but of the HALSEY crosses, HART is definitely the diciest, especially with a pretty bare-bones clue (47A: Stand-up comic Kevin). Crossing proper names is just dangerous. And when you cross two pop-culture names at a largely unguessable letter, you're definitely ruining someone's day somewhere. 


Again, both HALSEY and HART are plenty famous, and "H" is probably the best guess there if you are totally in the dark. Still, even though I knew both performers, that cross set off an alarm. You have to be careful when crossing names, especially when those names come from the same general ecosystem (here, contemporary popular entertainment). You don't want to leave *any* solvers hanging on a Tuesday. I haven't even mentioned FRANK OCEAN, who, like HALSEY, will be new to a sizable section of older-than-millennial solvers. His crosses all look fine, but if you've never heard of him before, you have my sympathy, especially since, if you don't know him, you almost certainly don't know HALSEY, which leaves you struggling for names twice. And on a Tuesday. Oh well. There have been tons of puzzles aimed at older solvers. Most of them, one might argue. A little correction is probably overdue.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Salad base similar to Swiss chard / MON 5-10-21 / NASCAR champion Hamlin / TV journalist Hill / Sherri's twin sister on the simpsons / Angsty music genre

Monday, May 10, 2021

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium (normalish Monday time) (3:05)


THEME: food coloring — last words of four themes are all plural noun colors:

Theme answers:
  • MANDARIN ORANGES (17A: Easy-to-peel citrus fruits)
  • EGG WHITES (22A: Main ingredients in meringue)
  • HASH BROWNS (28D: Crispy breakfast side dish)
  • BEET GREENS (30D: Salad base similar to Swiss chard)
Word of the Day: DENNY Hamlin (42A: NASCAR champion Hamlin) —
James Dennis Alan "DennyHamlin (born November 18, 1980) is an American professional stock car racing driver. He competes full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series, driving the No. 11 Toyota Camry and part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving the No. 54 Toyota Supra, both for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has won 44 NASCAR Cup Series races, including the Daytona 500 in 20162019, and 2020. In 2020, he became the fourth person to win the race in back-to-back seasons, joining Richard PettyCale Yarborough, and Sterling Marlin. (wikipedia)
• • •

Nice to see Zhouqin Burnikel's name back on the byline again. Feels like it's been a while, and her work is always solid, often dazzling. I really like the mirror-symmetry grid here (feels unusual for a Monday), and the theme is simple but also deceptively tight—I didn't really notice the consistent food angle in the theme answers until I was going over them post-solve. A lesser puzzle would've been content to give you a bunch of plural noun colors, but this one gives you a much more focused grouping. This is low-key fancy, and I dig it. No bells and whistles—just a tight theme, clean fill, cool-looking grid. It's a model Monday in that regard. I found the puzzle very easy except (predictably) in and around the two proper nouns I didn't know. I try not to know *any* "TV journalists" if I can help it, so I needed most of the crosses to get ERICA (27D: TV journalist), she only slowed me down a little. The real slower-downer today was DENNY Hamlin, who, now that I mull his name over, I have probably heard or seen mentioned here and there on some ESPN-showing TV screen in the gym. DENNY Hamlin really sounds like a baseball pitcher ... who am I thinking of? I think I'm conflating DENNY McClain (Tigers pitcher who won absolutely every award imaginable in the late '60s) and Harry Hamlin, who did not play baseball that I am aware of (unless there was a friendly game among lawyers in "L.A. Law" that I missed). I had -ENN- and since the clue involved racing, I went straight to PENNA ... which is how I remembered the name of Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton SENNA. Anyway, NASCAR and Formula One are very different. Not knowing the first or last letters of DENNY cost me a ton, since each of those letters was the primary means of descending into the bottom portion of the grid (The "D" is the front of DID LAPS (42D: Worked out in a pool) and the "Y" is the front of "YES, LET'S (43D: "We should do that!"), both of which I struggled with). In the end, still a pretty normal Monday time. 


I thought VISAGES was just a fancy word for faces, not the expressions *on* faces (46A: Facial expressions). "She made weird VISAGES at me" does not sound right. "Her face ran through a gamut of VISAGES." Can't make it work. I think it needs qualifiers like "sad visage" or "visage of cheerfulness." Oh well, it's not like I struggled there. Just kind of head-tilted and squinted at the clue. I also mis-Latined the plural of "stratus" at 9D: Low-altitude clouds (STRATI). I went with STRATA (plural of "stratum"), which still feels right. "Stratum" is a sheet or layer, whereas "stratus" is a sheet or layer ... of clouds. Roughly speaking. Let's see ... CABAL before CADRE (4D: Close-knit group) ... and that's it for trouble spots. Very nice amuse-bouche of a puzzle to start the week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Please allow me to extend my sympathies to all the LEN's out there who were really disappointed by the answer to 6D: Man's name hidden in "reliableness" (ELI)

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Country singer McKenna / SUN 5-8-21 / Went sniggling / Actress in eight Bond films / Shout at a Greek wedding

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Constructor: Brad Wiegmann

Relative difficulty: Easy (very) (7:42 ... if that's not my record Sunday time, it's close)


THEME: "Mother's Day Concert" — songs clued as if they had to do with giving birth. Looks like they are in some kind of order, ending with birth (?):

Theme answers:
  • "I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU" (24A: Mom's comment to her child during prenatal bonding? [Frank Sinatra, 1954])
  • "CARRY THAT WEIGHT" (30A: What Mom is obligated to do as her due date approaches? [The Beatles, 1969])
  • "HURTS SO GOOD" (49A: Mom's reaction to her first mild contractions? [John Cougar, 1982])
  • "PUSH IT" (54A: Midwife's advice to Mom in the delivery room? [Salt-N-Pepa, 1987])
  • "SCREAM" (83A: Mom's reaction as delivery draws closer? [Usher, 2012])
  • "I'M COMING OUT" (85A: Child's response to Mom's actions? [Diana Ross, 1980])
  • "BABY ONE MORE TIME" (103A: Nurse's remark after Mom delivers the first twin? [Britney Spears, 1998])
  • "THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT" (112A: Doctor's comment after Mom delivers the second twin? [The Who, 1965])
Word of the Day: LORI McKenna (19A: Country singer McKenna) —
Lorraine "Lori" McKenna (née Giroux; born December 22, 1968) is an American folk, Americana, and country music singer, songwriter, and performer. In 2016, she was nominated for the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and won Best Country Song for co-writing the hit single "Girl Crush" performed by Little Big Town. In 2017, she again won Best Country Song at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards for writing "Humble and Kind" performed by Tim McGraw. McKenna along with Lady GagaNatalie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey wrote the second single off the soundtrack to the 2018 film A Star Is Born called "Always Remember Us This Way.” McKenna performed backing vocals along with Lindsey and Hemby, and the song received a nomination for Song of the Year at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. (wikipedia)
• • •

Let me preface my initial remarks by saying that I am sure that they are at least a little unfair. But it's a gut-level feeling that I had solving this thing, right from the first themer that I got ("HURTS SO GOOD"), and that is: I found it all a little creepy. There's just something about a man making a puzzle and turning these very ... physical, embodied, often painful experiences into haha music jokes. I think it was the aggressive focus on the actual fact of giving birth that weirded me out. I mean, giving birth, fantastic, no issues with all kinds of specifics related to the act. It's the weird cutesiness of it all. I really do think that having "HURTS SO GOOD" being the first themer I encountered really just ruined the whole experience. The idea of contractions being a kind of sadomasochistic experience... it just made my skin crawl a little. The rest of the themers aren't nearly as off-putting to me. And I am 100% certain that if the constructor had been a woman, I wouldn't have been *as* put off as I was. But I probably still would've been. A little. When I think of Mother's Day, I don't really think of the actual act of giving birth. I mean, it's clearly important, but it's hardly at the heart of what makes a mother a mother. Anyway, I absolutely admit that my aversion to this whole theme is very possibly highly idiosyncratic and personal. Some of these themers are kind of cute, I guess. But you know what mom really wants for Mother's Day? A woman constructor. 


One other thing is that the songs are all very old. The most recent song is 23 years old. I mean, right in my wheelhouse, thank you very much, but if I'm under 40 (and seriously, lots and lots of solvers are), this is gonna feel a little musty. I'm happy for the puzzle to go old, but maybe widen the range a little. Oh, whoops, I didn't even see that 2012 Usher song there ("SCREAM"). I have no idea what song that is. I know the Michael / Janet Jackson song "SCREAM," but not the Usher one. I guess Usher makes things a little more contemporary. But only just.


I really thought I was sputtering my way through this, so was completely shocked to see my extremely fast (for me) time at the end. There were So Many "?" clues that I actually yelled at the puzzle mid-solve. "Stop!" or "Uggggh!" or something like that is probably what I yelled. But my reaction on looking at what seemed like the 5th "?" clue in a row was visceral. Excluding themers (which have "?" clues by design, so no foul there), I count thirteen (!?) "?" clues. Maybe there are more—I just did a quick scan and sometimes my eyes fail me. But that seems like a lot. And there are a lot in a short space. 60- 66- 70- 72- 79- and 84-Down are *all* "?" clues. And sure enough, the only two places I got discernibly stuck today had "?" clues right in the middle of them. First, PUPAE, oof (56A: Wanna-bees, e.g.?). Because ... they wanna be ... bees? Do they, though? Wannabes are decidedly Not the thing they are pretending / aspiring to be(e). Whereas PUPAE do, in fact, become bees, so ... I dunno about the wordplay there. And that answer crossed TOETAPS, which just wasn't registering as a thing in my brain (43D: Keeps the beat with one's foot). The other rough spot involved 66D: Site of offshore banks? (ISLETS). What shore are they "off" of? The mainland? Because "banks" *are* shores. Also, "banks" are used for rivers and lakes usually, not seas or oceans. The "?" is doing a Lot of work in this clue. So ISLETS, next to PARA (72D: Olympic athlete category) (isn't that a shortening? why doesn't the clue indicate shortening?) crossing the execrable AT A TROT really bogged me down. But, again, apparently didn't bog me down too much, because I really flew through this one. I liked the long Downs in the NW and SE corners. Those are solid. And I liked how fast I went. Everything else was OK. Your taste may vary (considerably). 


Not much needs explaining today, does it? 5D: Beginning that leads to sum? (COGITO) refers to the phrase "COGITO ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"). ERS are [Places to take breaks, for short?] because you take breaks (i.e. broken body parts) there. The other "?" clues all seem pretty transparent.

Happy Mothers Day to all who mother.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. my mom rules :)

P.P.S. from social media ... I'm apparently not the only one who recoiled from this theme, at least a little:



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Celebrity portmanteau beginning in 2012 / SAT 5-8-21 / Irish name that's a Slavic name backward / Wall Street catchphrase / Grocery store found in Michigan

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: no, but ...

Word of the Day: BONHOMIE (36D: Easy friendliness) —
good-natured easy friendliness an undying bonhomie radiated from her— Jean Stafford
English speakers borrowed bonhomie from the French, where the word was created from bonhomme, which means "good-natured man" and is itself a composite of two other French words: bon, meaning "good," and homme, meaning "man." That French compound traces to two Latin terms, bonus (meaning "good") and homo (meaning either "man" or "human being"). English speakers have warmly embraced bonhomie and its meaning, but we have also anglicized the pronunciation in a way that may make native French speakers cringe. (We hope they will be good-natured about it!) (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Hello and welcome to another 23rd-of-the-month Zoom solve featuring my friend Rachel Fabi. "But it's not the 23rd of the month!" you say indignantly. Good point. I forget why we had to miss April 23rd. Oh! Right! My second Covid shot was April 21st and I knew I was probably gonna sleep for allllll of April 22nd, which meant no April 23rd Zoom solve (we do the puzzle the night before, right when the puzzle comes out at 10pm). So this is a make-up. Since I already spent a lot of time solving and talking to Rachel, and I'm going to have to spend some more time doing the technical mumbo-jumbo to prepare the video for posting, I'm just gonna hit the highlights here in the write-up. Thankfully, they are almost all highlights (as opposed to lights of the lower variety). The best thing about the grid is a little symmetrical shenanigans with two of the longer answers, which don't seem to have anything to do with each other, until you either say them out loud or look at them really closely. I'm talking, of course, about EIGHTY-EIGHT and NIGHTY-NIGHT, which not only have the same singsongy cadence, but which are actually identical in every way except the first letters of each word part (i.e. EIGHTY-EIGHT is just NIGHTY-NIGHT with the N's swapped out for E's). It is a very cute little wink of an answer pair. Not so cute that I exclaimed "AW, SO CUTE!" but cute nonetheless.

[This song is about the Greensboro Massacre]

We sailed through this puzzle with almost no hang-ups. AIDAN was by far the hardest thing for us to come up with, but it wasn't that hard; when we couldn't get it from the AI-, we just swung around and came at it from the back end. I guess there are no famous AIDANs. Oh, nope, looks like AIDAN Quinn *is* spelled that way. I thought he was an AIDEN? Is anyone an AIDEN? Anyway, that was our one trouble spot. We went back and forth over whether 23A: Day to post a throwback picture on social media: Abbr. was THU or TBT (TBT is the hashtag associated with this social media phenomenon, but as Rachel eventually pointed out, the "TB" in TBT actually stands for "throwback," and since that word is in the clue, TBT was never an option. We both think TBT is decent fill to use in a pinch, though. Speaking of pinches, Rachel's first guess for 33D: They may be used in a pinch was HANDS, which I was very willing to believe (but it's HERBS). When Rachel told me 40A: Cheap cab, perhaps was HOUSE RED, I had a split-second of thinking, "Wait, I've heard of Yellow Cabs, but HOUSE REDs!? What the—!?" but as soon as I formed that thought I realized that "cab" here referred to a Cabernet. Rachel also caught the fact that IGA, a familiar supermarket chain, was embedded in the word "Michigan," which is why that clue has a "?" on it (61D: Grocery store found in Michigan?). Whereas I just thought "Well, I know the grocery chain IGA, I guess they're based in Michigan, huh, ok, moving on!" 


More stuff:
  • 13D: Grade-A (TOP TIER) — thought this was one word all the way to the bitter end. Actually said "TOPTIER?!" out loud
  • 35D: Composition test (ASSAY) — this clue is particularly tricky, as the clue works perfectly for ESSAY as well
  • 26D: Pumbaa's friend in "The Lion King" (TIMON) — I have never seen this movie, which Rachel cannot believe. Rachel is concerned that TIMON crossing TERI might cause trouble for some people, since this particular TERI isn't that well known (30A: Actress Shields, mother of Brooke). But I reassure her that TERA is nobody's name and there really aren't any other options there but the "I"
  • 60D: Archery need (AIM) — Got the "A" and wanted ARM, which, come on, definitely makes sense. I would argue that you need an ARM more than you "need" AIM (clue doesn't say you have to be *good* at archery), but fine, yes, AIM
OK, here's the video of our solve. 


Good night / morning!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Activist Copeny known as Little Miss Flint / FRI 5-7-21 / Caleb represents him in East of Eden / Liquor brand that inspired the name of a Grammy-winning rapper / Best-selling video game that takes place in space / Banned refrigerant for short / Roman god of beginnings and endings / Nonkosher deli order

Friday, May 7, 2021

Constructor: Brooke Husic

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MARI Copeny (14A: Activist Copeny known as "Little Miss Flint") —
Amariyanna "Mari" Copeny (born July 6, 2007), also known as Little Miss Flint, is a youth activist from Flint, Michigan. She is best known for raising awareness about Flint's ongoing water crisis and fundraising to support underprivileged children in her community and across the country. // When Copeny was eight years old, she wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in order to draw attention to the water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Her letter prompted a response from the president where he shared that "letters from kids like you are what make me so optimistic about the future". On May 4, 2016 he visited Flint to see first-hand the devastation to the lives of Flint's citizens as a result of their lead-poisoned water supply. That visit resulted in the declaration of a federal state of emergency in January 2016 and contributed to a nationwide awareness of the city's critical situation. [...] Media coverage of Copeny's work has made reference to her as "Little Miss Flint", a nickname that was coined following her win at a beauty contest in 2015. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was hit and miss for me. Let's start with the good stuff. Crossing OUT OF LEFT FIELD (20A: Unexpected) with INSIDE BASEBALL (10D: Esoterica) is a beautiful move. I don't like when someone tries to foist a theme on me on Friday or Saturday, but I do not mind it all if someone makes a couple thematically-related answers dance around one another like this. You don't have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this kind of wink. In fact, the thing that relates both answers isn't just baseball, it's also the fact that both phrases are idiomatic expressions used outside of baseball. That's how they're clued, in fact, via their idiomatic meaning—nothing in the clues suggests baseball—which means that the baseballness of it all sneaks up on you and surprises you, in a good way. And thus we satisfy both the sports and the non-sports solvers. Win-win. I also loved the clue on BACARDI—here, the answer really snuck up on me. My first thought was "Who the hell is this rapper named BAC-something? Is BACURAU a liquor brand?" (I just saw the movie "Bacurau" last week, which is why that, and not the much more obvious BACARDI, leapt into my brain at BAC-). Then a few seconds later: "Oh, it's BACARDI. But who ... ohhhhhhhhhh ... OK, yeah, I hear it now." People say "fun fact" a lot, but for me, the fact that Cardi B's name was inspired by BACARDI is, indeed, fun. 


There are some issues with the fill today—ASPURE REDOS and INAT all caused some wincing, and stand-alone RICAN and oddly-adjectivized CADENT weren't helping. But the bigger problem for me was the cluing, which just missed big a couple of times. I was semi-mad about the clue on TOTE BAGS (37D: Common items at merchandise stands), since it's one of those "let's repeat the clue from that other answer (41D) where it was a much better fit"-type moments that allllllllways bug me (I have never understood the appeal of the repeated-clue gimmick; it usually just means that in one case the clue is far less apt). Merch stands def have SHIRTS (usually of the T-variety) but TOTE BAGS? There are many many TOTE BAGS lying around my house in various closets, and not one of them came from "merchandise stands." But ... like I said, semi-mad. The clue's not wrong, exactly, so ... not a major issue. The clue on PROUDEST rankled somewhat more (3D: ___ moment (crowning achievement)). When you put a parenthetical explainer after your fill-in-the-blank clue, it really implies that you're going after a very specific, tight phrase, one that actually needs parenthetical explanation. But our answer is just an ordinary superlative adjective. It was so anticlimactic to work cross after cross on that answer, only to end up with ... just ... PROUDEST. There is no necessary connection between "crowning achievement" and "PROUDEST moment." Henry Aaron's "crowning achievement" was breaking Ruth's home run record, but was it his "PROUDEST moment?" Maybe it was, I don't know. But pride deals with how *you* feel, where "crowning achievement" implies stature in the eyes of *others*. Also, I feel like "PROUDEST moment" is used more often in the self-deprecating phrase "... not my PROUDEST moment" than it is to refer to, say, breaking the four-minute mile or climbing Mount Everest. I am talking about this clue more than it warrants, but its slight offness is grating. Not, however, as grating as the clue on "IT'S SO YOU!," which is simply inaccurate (29A: "That fits perfectly!"). "IT'S SO YOU" expresses so much more than mere fit. Something might fit perfectly and not be YOU at all. It has to fit *and* look great on you *and* really express something about your particular style or personality. I could put on a leotard that fit perfectly and literally no one would say to me "IT'S SO YOU!" The botched clue here is a total unforced error. And it's so disappointing, because as fill, "IT'S SO YOU!" is amazing. Really great stuff. I just wish it had a clue worthy of its greatness.


No real missteps today except for YEARNSFOR before YEARNINGS (30D: Wishes). Oh, and no idea what "STARCRAFT" is, so that took a little work (41A: Best-selling video game that takes place in space). Had "MINECRAFT" in there for a bit. "MINECRAFT" takes place in space, right? I mean, we're all "in space," if you think about it. Well, that's all. Gonna go drink a pot of coffee and sit on the front steps and listen to the birds and go for a run and hold virtual office hours and then watch TCM Film Festival movies all day long. Hope your day is full and joyful as well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Traffic go-ahead that should be followed four times in this puzzle / THU 5-6-21 / Certain Miller beers / Persistently demanded payment from / Nickname for tap-dancing legend Bill Robinson / French river in W.W. I fighting / Nail polish brand with Bubble Bath shade

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: RIGHT ON RED (63A: Traffic go-ahead that should be followed four times in this puzzle) — four "RED" rebus squares, at each of which the answer veers off to your "right":

Theme answers:
  • ALTERED STATE (2D: Drunkenness or hypnosis)
  • PUREBRED DOGS (9D: Poodles, but not schnoodles or doodles)
  • CURED MEAT (31D: Pancetta or prosciutto)
  • CHECKERED FLAG (18D: Something waved when a race is won)
Straight-Across answers inside the theme answers:
  • RED STATE (23A: Kansas or Kentucky, politically)
  • RED DOGS (29A: Certain Miller beers)
  • RED MEAT (43A: Rhetoric for the political base, figuratively)
  • RED FLAG (45A: Warning sign)
Word of the Day:
NATE Bargatze (60A: Stand-up comedian Bargatze) —

Nathanael “Nate” Bargatze (born March 25, 1979) is an American comedian and actor from Old Hickory, Tennessee. He started at "The Boston" in New York City. He's known for his special on Comedy Central Presents, has appeared multiple times on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Bargatze was part of Jimmy Fallon’s "Clean Cut Comedy Tour" in 2013. He won New York’s Comedy Festival and the Boston Comedy Festival in the same year. He wrote for the Spike TV Video Game Awards, and has performed multiple times for Coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait. He was mentioned in Rolling Stone by Marc Maron as a "comic who should be big" and in Esquire by Jim Gaffigan as one of the top up-and-coming comics. [...] 

His most recent standup special, "The Greatest Average American", was released on Netflix on March 18, 2021. It was filmed outdoors at Universal Studios Hollywood. (wikipedia)
• • •

I laughed so hard right here:

1A: "How to Be an Anti-___" (best-selling book of 2020)

It's like the grid just comes stumbling into the party like "Hey, I'm RACIST!" and the clue is over there desperately waving its hands like "No no no no, not RACIST, not RACIST, I swear, here, look, look at the clue! 'Anti-'! 'Anti-'! SEE! ... Please don't write us letters!" Using RACIST for your 1-Across ... that is some kind of choice, that is. Quite the opening gambit. Where do we go from there? Well, straight into the theme, actually, which I picked up about as quick as I've ever picked up a trick theme—a two-trick theme, I guess, since you've got the rebus square ("RED") and the turn. Had the first themer filled in and the concept largely locked down before I ever left the above-screengrabbed section of the grid:


So, aside from the fact that it's easy to get and plays out rather monotonously, there are a couple of noteworthy problems with the RIGHT ON RED theme. One is little-ish. The other ... less so. So the little-ish problem is that the clue on RIGHT ON RED isn't a thing. That is, there's no such "Traffic go-ahead." No signs say that, exactly, and you are certainly never "directed" to make a RIGHT ON RED. You sometimes see signs saying that such an action is permitted, of course. RIGHT ON RED is a thing one may do under certain circumstances, but it's not a "directive" in any meaningful sense of the word. And in the puzzle, you *must* go RIGHT ON RED. Again, the clue is the problem here. It could easily have been rewritten. Something along the lines of [Permitted action blah blah blah ... or required action four times in this grid], something like that. Phrase it how you will (e.g. "... or what you must do four times blah blah"), you get the idea. 


The bigger, much bigger problem with the RIGHT ON RED theme is that the answers actually go left. They go left. Yes they do. They go to *your* right, but the answers. Turn. Left. And hey, don't take my word for it—here's the New York Times Crossword Puzzle from January 21, 2021. Let's see what it has to say:


The gimmick here was that the answer was to turn either Left or Right depending on whether an "L" or "R" appeared in the circled square. You can see that Every Single One of the circled themers above disproves today's puzzle's idea of what direction "Right" is. Upper left is BOREDOM ... see how it turns right at the "R," but goes to our left!? See how CHARGED does the same in the SW. And then EVIL ONE turns left at the "L," but goes to our right!? Yes, that's how directions work. Our right is not the answer's right. Quite the opposite, in fact. Thank you for coming to my extremely remedial Ted Talk.


Not much else to say about the puzzle. No idea what RED DOGS are or who NATE Bargatze is, but these things happen ("these things" being "my not knowing stuff"). They're fine answers. I forgot the MARNE, which is the precise opposite of what you're supposed to do ... oh, dang, I'm thinking of the MAINE:

And the ALAMO, of course. DUNNED is an old-fashioned word that a bunch of people won't know, but I've seen DUN enough in (old) crosswords, and probably (old) literature, that it feels like an everyday word to me (51D: Persistently demanded payment from). DUN is also a color, I think (yes, a "dull grayish-brown color," per google). I have this vague memory of a book from my childhood called The Dun Cow or something like that ... wow, yes, The Book of the Dun Cow

1978

Just seeing the cover gives me strong flashbacks. I think my mom read this to us, or tried to, when I was 8 or 9 years old. I remember nothing about it. And yet ... it's based on Chaucer's "Nun's Priest's Tale" ... and I went on (20 years later) to write much of my dissertation on Chaucer. Coincidence!? Well, yes, surely. Still, interesting. To me, if no one else.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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