Woman in a 1982 hit who can be reached using the starts of the answers to the starred clue / WED 6-30-21 / Science fiction writer Ted with four Hugo awards / Former fashion retailer so-named for its 57th Street address in Manhattan / Burger chain named for a father and his sons / Video hosting service since 2009 / Anthem whose French lyrics predate its English lyrics

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Constructor: Christopher Adams and Adam Aaronson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Easy but for some proper nouns that will hold people up to wildly varying degrees)

THEME: "867-5309" aka "JENNY" (57D: Woman in a 1982 hit who can be reached using the starts of the answers to the starred clues) — the phone-number title of this apparently universally famous Tommy Tutone song of 1982 is represented by the numbers at the beginning of the seven themers; the song is about how the singer is gonna call JENNY so he hopes she hasn't changed her number, but it's weirdly also addressed *to* JENNY, so either he's already found her, like, on the street, or else he's doing that apostrophe (noun (2)) thing where you address a person (or object, or abstract concept) who isn't actually there. Either way ... for the price of a dime (1982! Payphones!) he can always turn to JENNY by simply dialing: 

Theme answers:
  • EIGHT BIT (17A: *Like many old video game soundtracks)
  • SIX PACK (19A: *Common purchase for a tailgate)
  • SEVEN SEAS (26A: *Sinbad's milieu)
  • FIVE GUYS (41A: *Burger chain named for a father and his sons)
  • THREEPEAT (54A: *One of two for the 1990s Chicago Bulls)
  • O CANADA (63A: *Anthem whose French lyrics predate its English lyrics)
  • NINE WEST (66A: *Former fashion retailer so-named for its 57th Street address in Manhattan)
Word of the Day: Ted CHIANG (2D: Science fiction writer Ted with four Hugo awards) —
Ted Chiang (born 1967) is an American science fiction writer. His work has won four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and four Locus awards.[1] His short story Story of Your Life was the basis of the film Arrival (2016). [...] Chiang has published seventeen short stories, novelettes, and novellas as of 2019, and has won numerous science fiction awards for his works: a Nebula Award for "Tower of Babylon" (1990); the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992; a Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Award for "Story of Your Life" (1998); a Sidewise Award for "Seventy-Two Letters" (2000); a Nebula Award, Locus Award, and Hugo Award for his novelette "Hell Is the Absence of God" (2002); a Nebula and Hugo Award for his novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (2007); a British Science Fiction Association Award, a Locus Award, and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Exhalation" (2009); and a Hugo Award and Locus Award for his novella "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" (2010). (wikipedia)
• • •

Well I was a TWEENER (still not a word) in 1982, so this was about as up-my-alley as a theme can get, but when things are up my alley, I always wonder how many other people share that alley. Certainly, the song is famous, but I have no perspective on how famous, since I've had it in my head since I was 12. Is it generationally famous? It would seem so. Or not. I don't know. All I know is that when I got to JENNY I JENNY-uinely laughed (if you're going to pun, make it big and bad, like that). It gave me a real aha and then it got me singing the song in my head and *then* it got me thinking about what a weird premise the song has—talking to JENNY about wanting to call ... JENNY, whose number is apparently written on (bathroom?) walls, but Tommy wants her to know he's like the guys who got her number *that* way ... if only he could get her on the phone and tell her ... which shouldn't be hard ... since he has her number memorized (and so do we now, for all eternity). Dude would be giving off major stalker vibes if he weren't giving off such major silly vibes. Still, as a pop rock song it is extremely catchy, and as choruses go, 867-5309 is not one you're likely to forget. Maybe he repeats it over and over because he has nothing to write it down with and so he's just repeating it the way you do when you want to make sure you remember something, like an incantation. He probably did see her name and number on the wall, and now he's half-drunk and lonely and full of dumb ideas. I feel a little bad for JENNY. Still, though, good song, and the puzzle hits on the two things you definitely know about the song even if you've only heard it once: he is calling JENNY ("JENNY, JENNY, I'm gonna say your name twelve times in this song!") and her number is, well, you know:

[See the little letters in the bottom-right corner of this video? ... 
VEVO! (59A: Video hosting service since 2009)]

The themers themselves were often charming or original all on their own, esp. EIGHT BIT, FIVE GUYS, and NINE WEST (which I originally thought was going to be the revealer ... has there been a NINE WEST puzzle? Seems like you could do ... something ... with that as your revealer). I also like how "O" was represented by "O CANADA"—the whole number-as-letter thing is built into the song lyrics, so it's perfect. Not many hold-ups for me today. Never heard of Ted CHIANG (and I still haven't seen "Arrival" somehow either), but all the crosses came quickly. I had both HEM IN and PEN IN before BOX IN (9D: Completely confine). I had real trouble parsing / grasping PUNTED ON, though now that I see it, it seems just fine for its clue (44A: Kicked down the road, as an issue). Did not and still kind of don't give credence to the spelling on HUNH?, which looks more like a grunt than a question (39D: "Say what?"). I weirdly loved US TOO. Seems like a totally ordinary thing that is also very original (as a crossword answer) (37D: "We wanna join!"). I forgot VEVO was a thing even though I see those letters on videos all the time. This is probably because I see those videos at YouTube, which is the only "video hosting service" I ever actually go to. OK, that's all. Gotta go to a cooler part of the house now since the sweats have started and it's not even 6am. Good day!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

Note: the puzzle is 16 wide, so if you weren't as fast as you thought you were, now you know why, or at least you have an excuse.

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Guinness classification / TUES 6-29-21 / Daft Punk or the White Stripes / "Downtown Abbey" title / Sorcerer's concotion

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Hello! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday in June. Hope everyone had a great month and is surviving this insane heat wave. The AC in my apartment was off for a period today, and I thought I might just melt. Although, watching the track and field Olympic trials that just wrapped up put things in perspective and made me feel a tad bad about my complaining. Imagine running 25 laps around a track when it’s 105 degrees. No, thank you! I’ll stick to mainly staying indoors to study for the bar and venturing out into the 100-degree, humid weather only when it’s absolutely, positively necessary.

Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: A word is literally in between “the” and another word, to create a thing or phrase (ex: “jack” is in the middle of “the box,” to give us “Jack in the box”) 

Theme answers:
  • THE JACK (in the) BOX (17A: Toy with a spring, literally) 
  • THE NIP (in the) BUD (24A: Put an early stop to, literally) 
  • THE BE (in the) WAY (31A: Interfere, literally) 
  • THE UP (in the) AIR (40A: Undecided, literally) 
  • THE PIE (in the) SKY (48A: Unrealistic, as wishes, literally) 
  • THE BACK (in the) DAY (55A: “Years ago …,” literally)
Word of the Day: TAMIL (50A: Language from which “curry” and “catamaran” come) 
Tamil is a Dravidian language natively spoken by the Tamil people of South Asia. Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and an official language of the two sovereign nations, Singapore and Sri Lanka. In India, it is also the official language of the Union Territory of Puducherry… One of 22 scheduled languages in the Constitution of India, Tamil was the first to be classified as a classical language of India and is one of the longest-surviving classical languages in the world. (Wiki)
• • •

You know it’s a rough puzzle when you have to sit there for 10 minutes thinking about what the theme was and how to explain it. Besides, it makes for a fairly boring theme when, after you get the trick, you can write in the first word of all the theme answers. And all those words are “the” — I don’t particularly like seeing “the” in the puzzle at all, let alone six times. The only nice thing I can say about that theme is that at least as much as people overuse “literally,” it was refreshing to see “literally” be used in the correct way in the puzzle. 

With 17A, “Jack” is in between “the” and “box” in the sense of the puzzle construction, just like with the toy, where the “Jack” is actually inside of the “box.” But, that’s the only theme answer where this is really the case. An argument could be made that for 46A, the “pie” is actually in “the sky,” but I’d say that’s flimsy. It just seems like there’s no rhyme or reason with the answers that were selected for this theme, and some uniformity could have helped tie everything together. My least favorite of the theme answers by far was 31A. I’m not entirely sure why, but I had a visceral reaction when I saw THEBEWAY in the puzzle — it looks and feels ugly. 

On top of the theme, I found a lot of the fill to also be challenging. It felt like it skewed toward a puzzle later in the week or, at the very least, to an older generation. That’s fine, but it made for a particularly hard solve for me when I didn’t know the JACOB K. Javits Convention Center (18D), STACY Keach (23A), Timothy LEARY (30A), Willy LEY (34A), Norman MINETA (52A), or TOD Browning (63A). I stalled a fair amount in the southeast corner because of MINETA and TOD and the long downs — 43A: "Can we move forward?" as IS IT A GO, in particular. 

With 2D: Release, as a trailer, I never got it out of my head that the clue was referencing a movie “trailer” and not a vehicle, so I got stuck there. I don’t think anyone in history has ever called something an ENOTE (8D: Online memos). They’re “notes” — adding an “e” to the front of something doesn’t make it a real online thing. I really disliked 24D: It goes up during takeoff for TRAY. The TRAY on a plane goes up before takeoff — not during takeoff. (I’m pretty sure everyone has heard those announcements a million and one times from flight attendants.). Also, I don’t think anyone in the last decade — at least — has used the slang REEFERS (38D). 

I guess if I’m looking for something nice to say about the puzzle… I liked the words ELIXIR (32D) and TOXIN (9D) because they felt fresh. The clue/answer for 29A: Greek god whose name sounds like a zodiac sign as ARES (or, “Aries”) seems a bit fun. And, as someone with running-induced ASTHMA, I did get a bit of a chuckle out of 46D: It can take your breath away. (That is, admittedly, some dark humor on my part.) 

Overall, though, this puzzle felt like a slog to me. To put it in perspective, I’d rather go study for the bar for four hours than do this puzzle again.
  • This may be a small gripe, but I think that Kamala HARRIS (36A) could be clued for her own accomplishments, rather than her place next to a man. 
  • I’m not sure what it says about me that my first thought (and one I couldn’t get out of my head for a bit) for 32D: Sorcerer’s concoction was “poison” rather than the much more benign ELIXIR.
  • Well, I really can’t think of anything more to say about this puzzle. So, to get back to the track Olympic trials, everyone should watch Sydney McLaughlin set a world record in the 400m hurdles. Her run was incredibly impressive. [The race starts at 2:31]  
Signed, Clare Carroll, AC lover

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Mexican marinade made with chili pepper / MON 6-28-21 / Popular meal kit company or mother of the food critic featured in this puzzle / Energy giant synonymous with corporate scandal

Monday, June 28, 2021

Constructor: Pamela F. Davis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging to Challenging (***for a Monday***) (about half a minute-ish slower than normal) (3:22)

THEME: HOME CHEF (39D: Popular meal kit company (or the mother of the food critic featured in this puzzle?) — so ... the themers are all food puns, clued (mostly) as things a kid (the "food critic") might say to a theoretical "Mom" who did the cooking:

Theme answers:
  • BEET (not "beat") REPORT (17A: "So, this red thing, Mom? This is not good.")
  • ROLL (not "role") REVERSAL (27A: "The French one is my favorite. Wait, no, the pretzel one."
  • MUSSEL (not "muscle") MEMORY (48A: "Eww, mollusks ... I don't know didn't this make me sick last time?")
  • MOUSSE (not "moose") (!?) CALL (63A: "Wow, Mom, this is like at a restaurant! Dibs on the chocolate pudding!")
Word of the Day: ADOBO (40A: Mexican marinade made with chili pepper) —
1a Philippine dish of fish or meat usually marinated in a sauce containing vinegar and garlic, browned in fat, and simmered in the marinade
2a spicy marinade used in Latin American cuisine and usually containing vinegar, garlic, and chili pepperschipotles in adobo
3a seasoning mixture that typically includes ground dried garlic, ground dried onion, oregano, salt, and pepper (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Did a meal kit company write this? Feels semi-promotional. But the real problem is that it's thematically convoluted. Also, ultra-gendered (why isn't Dad doing the *&$^ing cooking?!). The whole time I was solving, I was wondering why some of these clues directly addressed someone named "Mom" ... but then some of them did not do that ... and then you find out, in the very oddly / awkwardly-positioned revealer, that the clues are all supposed to be things a kid is saying to a "Mom," and ... well, the whole premise just seems preposterous. The clues that don't have "Mom" in them don't really seem like they're in a kid voice, so the whole premise just drops out for half the themers. But even if you put "Mom" in all of the clues, the premise is still weird. It's almost as if making HOME CHEF a revealer was a late call. It just doesn't seem well-integrated into the grid (no symmetrical thematic counterpart except MEGAFLOP (!)). And, well, mainly, you've just got these very, very basic food puns. That's your puzzle. And yeah, it's not much to go on, so all the "Mom" seems like it was thrown in to try to 'zazz it all up, but with very mixed results. Also, two of the base phrases read weird to me. I am familiar with the job of "beat reporter," but does said reporter file a "beat report." I assume so, and yet that phrase is a lot, lot less in-the-language than "beat reporter." And then there's "moose call," which ... as Things go, that is not exactly one I'd put in the Everyday category? Are you hunting the moose? Why? They seem so gentle and big and awkward and lovely. Slightly confused me to have one themer turn a basic phrase ("muscle memory") *into* an animal ("mussel"), while the next themer made the animal disappear ("moose" into "mousse"). It's all just ... all over the place. And again, at its core, it's just elementary food puns. 

Fill is mostly short and ordinary. Not enough snazzy stuff to distract me from having to deal with REFILE *and* RETIE, or to offset the upset from deeply unappealing fill like SPOOR and SPUMES. Some people don't like the word "moist," but I'll take "moist" over SPOOR and SPUMES any day. We've been drinking a lot of tequila and mezcal cocktails lately, so I'm weirdly happy to see AGAVE, even if it isn't exactly new to griddom. Especially heartened to see ADOBO, which is delicious and welcome in my grid any time (even if I did briefly blank on it, and then considered ANCHO). I saw "Hamilton" but I don't know if I saw it with Phillipa SOO, but either way I forgot her name. I also didn't know HOME CHEF was the name of a meal kit company. Blue Apron ... is that something? I know that. And something something Fresh, maybe? Ah, yes: HelloFresh. Those are the ones I know. Between the I-don't-knows and the wacky punniness of the themers, this one played more like a Tuesday than a Monday, but that didn't really bug me at all. There's a potentially interesting core theme idea here, but it just didn't come together very well for me today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Part of a religious title that means ocean / SUN 6-27-21 / 1966 Donovan hit / 1968 self-titled folk album / Cal's game-winning kickoff return against Stanford in 1982, familiarly / It's covered in paint in the Sherwin-Williams logo / Homemade headgear for pretend pirates / Pesach observers

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Constructor: Ross Trudeau and Lindsey Hobbs

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed)

THEME: "Gravity's Rainbow" — colors of the rainbow turn downward (because of gravity?) inside of otherwise Across theme answers. Plus, it's hard to see this the way the colors are situated in the grid, but if you read them from L to R, they do follow the correct rainbow order:

Theme answers:
  • THE RED PLANET (95A: Mars)
  • BLOOD ORANGE (56A: Fruit with crimson-colored flesh)
  • MELLOW YELLOW (39A: 1966 Donovan hit)
  • EVERGREEN TREE (6A: Spruce or fir)
  • OL' BLUE EYES (43A: Sinatra, to fans)
  • INDIGO GIRLS (60: Popular folk rock duo)
  • ULTRA-VIOLET RAYS (100A: Harmful bits of sunlight)
Word of the Day: LYDIA Ko (64D: Golf's ___ Ko, youngest golfer to be ranked #1) —

Lydia Ko MNZM (born 24 April 1997) is a Korean-born New Zealand professional golfer. A former No. 1-ranked woman professional golfer, she achieved the top ranking on 2 February 2015 at 17 years, 9 months and 9 days of age, making her the youngest player of either gender to be ranked No. 1 in professional golf.

Ko has had much success from an early age holding many youngest accolades on the LPGA Tour. She was the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event and youngest person ever to win an LPGA Tour event. In August 2013, she became the only amateur to win two LPGA Tour events. Upon winning The Evian Championship in France on 13 September 2015, she became the youngest woman, at age 18 years, 4 months and 20 days, to win a major championship. Her closing round of 63 was a record lowest final round in the history of women's golf majors, but she lowered that record to 62 at the ANA Inspiration in 2021. She had previously won the ANA Inspiration on 3 April 2016 for her second consecutive major championship, where she also became the youngest player to win two women's major championships. Since turning professional in 2014, Ko has won 15 tournaments. In 2014, Ko was named as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. In both 2014 and 2015, Ko has been named in the EspnW Impact25 list of 25 athletes and influencers who have made the greatest impact for women in sports.

In 2016, Ko was named  Young New Zealander of the Year, and in the 2019 New Year Honours, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to golf.

• • •

There are two interesting features of this theme. One is the title / downward turn of the colors, and the other is the fact that the colors do, in fact, make a rainbow, if you "read" them in order L to R. Beyond that it's pretty paint-by-numbers, a variant of a theme I've seen a thousand times (well, a few times). I got to this point in the puzzle and thought it might be (yet another) rainbow rebus ...

... but it surprised me with the whole downward turn thing, so that's cool. Still, the colors are just colors, and once you get the gimmick (early, easily), there's not much going on here. The themers themselves are straightforward. It's all a bit BLAH, if not a total BORE. I just call EVERGREEN TREEs "evergreens," so the TREE part felt redundant ... and generally the colors were so literal (his eyes are in fact blue, the planet does indeed appear red, etc.) that there just wasn't much flair or surprise here. The rainbow is kind of Pride-ish, though, and since it's Pride Month, I guess that's a nice coincidence. Maybe I'll just enjoy it at that level. Yes, that works.

There were no real tough spots today, though I never really committed the song title "JAI HO" to memory (89A: Oscar-winning song from "Slumdog Millionaire"), so all those crosses were a bit dicey for me, with ON BAIL proving the most tenaciously resistant to completion (72D: Temporarily out). Also didn't know LYDIA Ko's name, but after the LYD- slid in there, the rest was easy to infer. Totally forgot LIT OUT was an actual expression, so I had LI- OUT and still no idea. LIP OUT is something a golf ball does on occasion, but you wouldn't say the golf ball "skedaddled" out of the cup, and anyway, LIP out is in the wrong verb tense. GRADATES is a weird verb (109A: Changes by degrees). Not sure I've ever seen it. "Gradated," sure. A rainbow is gradated! "Gradations," yup. But GRADATES as a verb feels less common. Nothing Wrong With It. Just looks/feels weird to my eyes/ears. Especially under DELIME, which I truly have never seen (105A: Remove calcium deposits from). Was prepared to be mad at RED ONION because it contains a color that does *not* turn down, but then the answer turned out to be RAW ONION, so: madness averted. I wrote in PLATE HATS (?) before PAPER HATS at 21A: Homemade headgear for pretend pirates, as I imagined the hats were somehow made out of ... paper plates, I guess. Not proud of that one. I actually had to think about whether it was CONGO or CONGA (71A: World's deepest river). Also not proud of that. Clue on RICH was good but tough (80D: Laughable). I wrote in "PFFT!" then took out "PFFT!" then finally wrote "PFFT!" back in. In other, completely coincidental news, I just watched the movie "PHFFFT!" for the first time this past week—it's a romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday, who are one of the most underrated movie comedy pairs of all time (probably because they only did two movies together ("PHFFFT!" and "It Should Happen To You," both from 1954). Judy Holliday's movie career didn't last much longer, and she died of throat cancer in 1965. "Born Yesterday" (1950), for which Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar, is my favorite movie, no foolin'. Where was I? Oh, right. "PFFT!" I liked it because it reminded me of Judy and Jack.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Toponym in the dairy aisle / SAT 6-26-21 / Tropical island whose name comes from Spanish for snows / When Ma is gettin kittenish with Pap in Carousel / Ungrammatical title of 1984 Cyndi Lauper hit / Labor-intensive tattoo type /Test that uses radioactive tracers / Literary team playing in front of "ten thousand eyes" / Times when NPR listeners are engrossed enough to linger in their idling cars

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Constructor: John Lieb and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CLU Gulager (5D: Actor Gulager of TV's "The Tall Man") —

William Martin "CluGulager (born November 16, 1928) is an American television and film actor and director. He first became known for his work in television, appearing in the co-starring role of William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid) in the 1960–1962 NBC television series The Tall Man and as Emmett Ryker in another NBC Western series, The Virginian. He later had a second career as a horror film actor, including a lead part in Dan O' Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead (1985). He also was in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2Freddy's Revenge (1985). In 2005 he started acting in his son's horror films -- the Feasts movies and Piranha DD -- in his 80s. 

Gulager's first major film role was in Don Siegel's The Killers (1964) with Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan in his only movie role as a villain, followed by a supporting part in the racing film Winning(1969) opposite Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; in Peter Bogdanovich's drama The Last Picture Show (1971); and opposite John Wayne in McQ (1974). In the 1980s, Gulager appeared in several horror films, such as The Initiation (1984) and the zombie comedy The Return of the Living Dead (1985). In 2005, he appeared in the horror film Feast, as well as its sequels. He also appeared in the independent film Tangerine (2015) and in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). (wikipedia)

• • •

Get a CLU!
This is a wonderful example of how a puzzle can be old-fashioned but In A Good Way. By "old-fashioned" I mean it's not flashing ultra-contemporary colloquial phrases and pop culture names, but its fill still feels thoughtful, polished, fresh, and very much in the (general) language. It feels like the best-constructed stuff used to feel a decade+ ago, but unlike a lot of older puzzles, it is conspicuously lacking in the kind of short repeaters that pros know by heart and novices just stare blankly at (i.e. a certain kind of crosswordese). In short, this didn't feel like it was *for* younger solvers, but it also didn't feel particularly exclusionary of them. And that's all anybody (i.e. me) wants—make the best puzzles you can make, and make them to *your* tastes, but give *everyone* a way to enjoy them. Balance out your cluing so that people outside your particular demographic feel invited in, not ignored. That way, we get a huge variety of puzzle styles and sensibilities, and everyone's mostly happy most days. This is the future liberals (i.e. me) want!* Old and young, content streamers and eremitic cave-dwellers, cats and dogs, all solving contentedly together! It would be weird, yes, but like popping bubble wrap (apparently), it would also be ODDLY SATISFYING.

["Well I spent some time in THE MUDVILLE NINE ..."]

The 15s on this are both solid and stylish. Three of the five are general phrases anyone might say, the other two are narrower in their focus and do suggest a lean toward a certain demographic (i.e. NPR listeners old enough to have "Casey at the Bat" be a seminal part of their elementary school experience), but you wouldn't call either DRIVEWAY MOMENTS or THE MUDVILLE NINE particularly obscure or dusty. In fact, the only answer in this puzzle that made me think "whoa, there's a throwback" was CLU Gulager, a name you used to see a lot but don't see much any more, as his career faded more solidly into the past and constructors began using software that helped them be less reliant on the proper-noun repeaters of yore. But just as I think older (say, my age and older) solvers should come around to learning new pop culture names (within reason! I still have "YouTuber" resistance!), I think it's important for younger solvers to look on old stuff they don't know not always as stuffiness or staleness, but as stuff they just didn't know yet. Also, CLU Gulager is great! Try some! Watch 1964's "The Killers," where Gulager and Lee Marvin just ooze bad-guy cool ... also co-starring Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and Ronald Reagan in his final film role ... as the movie's *real* bad guy. It's fun.). Anyway, though the puzzle feels like its cultural center of gravity is well back in the 20th century, it comes forward a number of times, picking up the magnificent DANA Owens (aka Queen Latifah) and Cyndi Lauper and TARA Westover and trap music (ATL) and a lot of other things that remain current. I enjoyed this a bunch.

I never got very hung up during this puzzle, but I never really got up a racer's pace either. Faster toward the bottom, but that's pretty typical (the more you've got in the grid, the easier the rest of the grid gets, in general). I thought I might race through the grid after I blew the top section open very early:

But THE MUDVILLE NINE took some work, for sure, and difficultish cluing made the short crosses not always easy. I struggled to get stuff like SUM TOTAL (great answer) and to remember stuff like NEVIS and to parse stuff like THE ONE. I also did not understand the clue on TOES (3D: Answer that would be more apt at 10 Down?) since 10-Down was [Romantic's dream] and yeah, *some* people are romantically into TOES, it's true, but I still felt like I was missing something there. Then I noticed there was no "-" in "10 Down," which made me look at that phrase a new way ... and *then* the aha dropped. You have "10" TOES "Down" ... well, down there, where your feet are. Assuming you have both your feet. A fake cross-reference! Turns out I like those better than I like real cross-references! 

Some more things:
  • 26D: Topographical map feature (RIDGE) — had RI-G-, wrote in RINGS :(
  • 23A: When "Ma is gettin' kittenish with Pap," in "Carousel" (JUNE) — I don't think I've seen "Carousel," and the clue gave me strong Ma & Pa Kettle / L'il Abner vibes, so I thought the answer would be more yokelish slang, and I had -UNE, and, well, I am not ashamed to tell you that I sincerely considered SUNE (a backwoods variant of "soon"?!?)
  • 40A: Give away (RAT ON) — had --T ON, wrote in LET ON :(
  • 32A: English football powerhouse, to fans (MAN U.) — short for "Manchester United." I've seen it in puzzles before and every time I look back over a grid that it's in, for a brief moment I think "What the heck is MANU!? I don't remember that clue?" It is bizarre in that it looks like some awful obscure crosswordese but it's actually a right-over-the-plate (to borrow a metaphor from a different sport), perfectly common colloquial term for one of the most famous football clubs in the world. MANU > NANU (NANU)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. omg does the DRIVEWAY MOMENTS clue actually have an NPR pun in it!? 58A: Times when NPR listeners are enGrossed enough to linger in their idling cars ... as in Terry Gross? Host of "Fresh Air"? Well, if it wasn't intentional, I still heard it, so the violation stands! 

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Shadow play genre / FRI 6-25-21 / Quick post-wedding getaway / Group co-founded by Eazy-E / Bassi first woman to earn doctorate in science / Hit HBO series based on Liane Moriarty novel / Beadlike bit on surfer's necklace / World's largest pasta producer

Friday, June 25, 2021

Constructor: Scott Earl

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: LAURA Bassi (7D: ___Bassi, first woman to earn a doctorate in science (University of Bologna, 1732)) —

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi Veratti (29 October 1711 – 20 February 1778) was an Italian physicist and academic. Recognized and depicted as "Minerva" (goddess of wisdom), she was the first woman to have a doctorate in science, and the second woman in the world to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Working at the University of Bologna, she was also the first salaried woman teacher in a university. At one time the highest paid employee of the university, by the end of her life, Bassi held two other professorships.[3] She was also the first woman member of any scientific establishment, when she was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna in 1732 at 21.

Bassi had no formal education and was privately tutored from age five until she was twenty. By then she was well versed in major disciplines including sciences and mathematics. Noticing her ability, Prospero Lambertini, the Archbishop of Bologna (later Pope Benedict XIV), became her patron. With Lambertini's arrangement she publicly defended forty-nine theses before professors of the University of Bologna on 17 April 1732, for which she was awarded a doctoral degree on 12 May. A month later, she was appointed by the university as its first woman teacher, albeit with the restriction that she was not allowed to teach all-male classes. Lambertini, by then the Pope, helped her to receive permission for private classes and experiments, which were granted by the university in 1740.

Bassi became the most important populariser of Newtonian mechanics in Italy. She was inducted by the Pope to the Benedettini (similar to modern Pontifical Academy of Sciences) as an additional member in 1745. She took up the Chair of Experimental Physics in 1776, the position she held until her death. She is interred at the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was good. Like, aggressively good. Like, really coming at you with all the sparkling fill. A totally bedazzled puzzle. Do you remember the Bedazzler? 

So, yeah, like that, but in puzzle form, and slightly less tacky. It's stridently feminist and has a great sense of fun. The colloquial phrases are the real highlight of the day. I was completely sold very early on with "I COULD EAT," and luckily that wasn't just a one-off; we also get "WELL, OK" and "CAN WE TALK?" All the long fill is at least solid—merely solid in the NE, a little livelier in the SW, and then just flat-out fantastic in the NW and SE, to say nothing of the center stack, which is wonderful. Any issues I had with the puzzle (don't worry, I'll get to them! :) were small. Overall, this puzzle is exactly what a Friday should be: playful, polished, and sassy. 

Bridget Riley, "Shadow Play" (1990)

It was also easy to move through, *except* when I tried to move out of that NW corner and into the rest of the grid. I finished off that corner, but as you can see, there are just two teeny tiny exits from that corner, both of them the width of one square. So I threaded PUKA SHELL through one of the exits (after having changed it earlier from PAWA SHELL ... "Pawa" being a misspelling of "Paua," the Maori (and general NZ) word for abalone ... whose shells surfers don't generally wear around their necks ... sometimes being married to a Kiwi can create language confusion). And I guessed that LAUR- was a LAUR*A*, but neither that "A" nor the HELL dangling out of the NW corner down into the center of the grid was any help getting further traction. This is because I couldn't figure out 22A: Partner of day (AGE) from just A- and I really couldn't figure out 25A: Spirals out over the winter holidays? (HAMSfrom just H- (needed every cross for that one and only then remembered that a spiral ham (?) exists ... I don't eat HAMS). So, tiny exits = total stoppage. End of flow. This is why I am not a big fan of the tiny exits. Further aggravation: in trying to get some traction with the short stuff, I ran into not one not two but three "?" clues in a row. That HAMS clue was bad enough, but then to have the next two clues I looked at (26D: Had quite a trip? / 38A: Stub hub?) do that same coy winky "?" thing to me, blargh. Space these "?" clues out, please. Anyway, stuck, here:

But I rebooted fairly easily in the SW with ANI RICA AGATE ANSEL etc., and once I brought that corner up into the cent of the grid and knit it with the "HELL" that was dropping down from above, I was in business, and things really took off from there. Since I had the first letters in place, that center stack fell quickly, bam bam bam. Here was the first bam:

After this, it was all downhill (in the sense that things got easier, not in the sense that things got worse ... it's not the greatest metaphor). Only one other thing about the grid gave me pause, and it's exactly the thing you'd expect would give me pause if you've been reading me for any length of time—it's a potentially problematic crossing. Of not-universally-famous proper nouns. At the vowel. True, DIANA Taurasi is very famous if you follow basketball (I knew her name), and NIALL Horan was a member of an *extremely* famous band (One Direction). But still, for many a solver, crossing their names at that "I" is gonna cause some slightly nervous guessing. Now, DIANA > DEANA and NIALL > NEALL, so the "I" seems like the most reasonable guess by far. So I think the cross is fair, ultimately. This felt like a close call, though, because I can imagine someone guessing "E." When you cross trivia at a vowel like this, no other vowel besides the correct vowel should be truly plausible. So even though I knew "I" was right there, that cross HIT A NERVE. I'm OK now, though. And as I say, this puzzle was overwhelmingly delightful.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Lucy Van Pelt's frequent outburst to Charlie Brown / THU 6-24-21 / Caro who directed 2020's Mulan / Plantlike growth held up by gas-filled bladders / Nickname composed of only Roman numerals

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Constructor: Danny Lawson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (with one potentially lethal crossing)

THEME: "YOU BLOCK[HEAD]!" (55A: Lucy van Pelt's frequent outburst to Charlie Brown ... or how to fill some squares in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle: you have to put "HEAD" into one square four times, so I guess this puzzle is calling that act "blocking" for some reason, so YOU (the solver) BLOCK (put into one square) HEAD (x4):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: NIKI Caro (49A: Caro who directed 2020's "Mulan") —
Nikola Jean Caro MNZM (born 20 September 1966) is a New Zealand film director and screenwriter. Her 2002 film Whale Rider was critically praised and won a number of awards at international film festivals. She directed the 2020 live action version of Disney's Mulan, making her the second female and the second New Zealand director hired by Disney to direct a film budgeted at over $100 million. (wikipedia)
• • •

A very basic rebus, with a revealer that feels more awkward than clever. I've never heard of the act of putting something in a box being called "blocking." Maybe if you think of the box as a "block" that helps a little, but still, asking me to read the revealer as instructions ("how to fill some squares...") is asking a lot. This is a very sad use of "Peanuts," a comic that is beloved to me. Just a bunch of heads in boxes. I wonder if this started out as a "Se7en" puzzle (probably not—far too grisly for the NYTXW). 

Also awkward was the fully written out SHAKING MY HEAD. It's a very common social-media expression, but "common" now only in its abbreviated form, "smh." SMH would be *great* fill. SHAKING MY HEAD feels weirdly formal and impractical and not (in practice) a thing. Lastly, awkwardness-wise, there's a ton of theme-length fill that is doing absolutely no theme work. Those long Acrosses in the NE and SW are just as long as the first and last themers, but ... no [HEAD]s. Those answers do end up being probably the cleanest and most attractive fill, but it's still odd to have theme-length answers in what look like theme positions and then ... no theme. The biggest problem for me, overall, was how basic and plain and easy to untangle the whole [HEAD] rebus was. Got it here:

And then realized that it was just going to be [HEAD] after [HEAD] after [HEAD], with no other rebus answers coming into play, here:

This left nothing very interesting left to discover. The overall fill quality is OK, about average. But that means the theme has to shine, and it certainly tries, with that revealer, but doesn't quite pull it off. So not much excitement to be had, unless you count very nearly getting Naticked* "excitement." I was excited to "know" the [Indian rice dish] today—I've seen it in puzzles before. But when I went to write it in, I realized I was quite sure about one little letter. So I wrote in BIR-YANI (which is basically what it sounds like in my head) and trusted that the cross I was missing would be clear. And let me tell you, it was Not. I think NIKI is a *fine* answer for the crossword. I am pro-all things NZ, and it's cool to get an unusually spelled name, and a woman director's name, into the grid. But ... back to the "unusually spelled" part. If you don't know her name (I did not), then you have to infer things, and inferring that final vowel was, let's say, an adventure. So much of an adventure that I honestly was trying to decide only between "A" and "O" for a bit, before deciding neither looked right in the Indian rice dish, and then running the other vowels. I hit the "I" and thought "that has to be it: NIKI / BIRIYANI." And I was right. But that cross will break lots of people today. I guarantee it. Both answers are good crossword fare, but crossing them at that vowel ... that's rough. 

The only other issue I remember having came right up front, where I wrote in DAVID at 1A: Michelangelo's only signed work, but even as I wrote it in, I was thinking "it could be PIETÀ"—I tend to think of PIETÀ as a *type* of artwork rather than a single artwork, but I guess Michelangelo just did the one? Hmm, no, he seems to have done several works on the same theme (i.e. Mary holding the dead body of Jesus), but apparently the work of art in question is *The* PIETÀ. It looks like this.

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*A "Natick" is essentially a bad cross; there's a full explanation in the sidebar of this website

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