Situ's love in Hindu lore / THU 6-17-21 / Vedic religious text / Accouchement / Frontal or lateral speaking features / Mary whose short story The Wisdom of Eve was the basis for 1950's All About Eve / Whence the Portuguese creole language Patuá / Historical lead-in to evna or evich / Finishing touch on the first transcontinental railroad

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Constructor: Blake Slonecker

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: FISH / HOOK (1D: With 11-Down, what each of this puzzle's groups of circles represents — four theme answers end in a FISH HOOK shape—the hook is represented by circled squares, and each "hook" contains the name of a four-letter fish (so, answers shaped like a FISH HOOK, last four letters are a literal FISH (name) HOOK):

Theme answers:
  • GAME CONSOLE (4D: Xbox or PlayStation)
  • GOLDEN SPIKE (8D: Finishing touch on the first transcontinental railroad)
  • MILKSHAKE (37D: Drink that might be served with a metal cup)
  • UPANISHAD (38D: Vedic religious text)
Word of the Day: Accouchement (25A: Accouchement = LABOR) —
the time or act of giving birth (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

I didn't enjoy this one all that much. This probably has something to do with the fact that I didn't see the fish-name gimmick until after I was done, so for most of the solve, I had this dragging "so what?" feeling. You figure out the deal with the theme answers themselves very early, with FISH / HOOK giving it all away at the top of the grid there. Since I got FISH / HOOK very easily, I figured, well, the answers hook, that's what the circled squares represent, ta da, the end. I didn't really top to think "wait, why *these* answers?" until I was finished, and finishing mostly meant dealing with a ton of overfamiliar short stuff (SSNS and AROD and INSTA ESTES ASADA KEA SNL etc. and somehow QUA *and* ERAT?), or short stuff with deliberately toughened clues, like the clues on ORR, say (28A: Mary whose short story "The Wisdom of Eve" was the basis for 1950's "All About Eve"), or LABOR (25A: Accouchement)I figured "Accouchement" had something to do with sleep ... but then it was LABOR, and I was like "huh, that's work, work's not sleep," and *then* (when I finally looked it up) I was like "ohhhh ... that LABOR"). I liked DIASPORA (5D: Group migration), and the theme answers themselves are pretty colorful, but there was just too much 3-4-5 stuff for me to get much of a joyful rhythm going, and it's hard to get terribly excited about something like INK STANDS. I see now that the FISH / HOOK theme has its two layers, and I think it's reasonably clever. But the actual solve was kind of plodding and by-the-numbers. 
Beyond "accouchement," I only had a few other trouble spots. The first was actually right up top, with the clue on FROG (1A: Animal symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt). I've been doing crosswords so long that I I thought for sure I was familiar with all the ancient Egypt-related animals. Your ASPs and your ibises and scarab beetles and what not. But don't ever remember FROG being clued this way. Even after getting -RO- I could think only of CROC, which seemed wrong on several levels. So I had to hack a lot to make FROG show up. But by far the biggest obstacle for me today was MILKSHAKE, or, rather, MINT JULEP, which is what I wrote in there after getting that initial MI-. Was that a planned trap, because wow it felt perfect. MINT JULEPs are, in fact, served in metal cups sometimes, and MINT JULEP fit perfectly. I felt so powerful dropping MINT JULEP down off the MI-. I like MINT JULEPs, I like figuring out long answers from just a few letters, it was a huge win-win. Until it wasn't. Now, I also like MILKSHAKEs, but, as with the order in which they appeared in my puzzle today, MILKSHAKEs finish second to MINT JULEPs in the 9-letter MI-drink category, for sure. Last obstacle today was spelling UPANISHAD correctly. First of all, I'm used to hearing them referred to collectively: the UPANISHADs. So having just one here was slightly disorienting. But more disorienting was the "I," which I had as an "A"—very glad I eventually caught STYLA there at 55A: Accessories for tablets and changed it (to STYLI). 

Five more things:
  • CAT PEOPLE
    (23A: Ailurophiles)
     — "CAT PEOPLE" is a classic Val Lewton horror movie; you can clue CAT LOVERS as [Ailurophiles], but you cannot pass up a Val Lewton horror movie title when you have your shot at one, because, I mean, when is "I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE" ever going to appear in a grid, realistically? Also, clue VAL as Val Lewton. Also, LEWTON, VALLEWTON, all VALid answers. 
  • TSAR (56A: Historical lead-in to -evna or -evich) — I had IVAN :(
  • MALLORCA (7D: One of las Islas Baleares) — the biggest of the Balearic Islands, which are spelled "las Islas Baleares" here because the answer has the Spanish spelling of the island (two L's) and not the English (a J)
  • LISPS (25D: "Frontal" or "lateral" speaking features — well at least the puzzle isn't mocking speech disorders today, as it so often has
  • KALE (48D: Trendy ingredient in a healthy smoothie) — stop treating KALE like it's some hipster fad. The "trendy" bit here is *$%&ing annoying and completely embarrassing. [Ingredient in a healthy smoothie]—you see how that works just fine, right? KALE is a really healthy leafy green vegetable and it's everywhere, in all kinds of things, all the time. Eat it, don't eat it, whatever, but this weird thing where people treat a simple green leaf like a "lifestyle choice" is beyond me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Indigenous people of Easter Island / WED 6-16-21 / Jim Sheridan gives Daniel Day-Lewis nothing to work with in this Irish dramedy / Gossip in slang

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy (unless you are very unfamiliar with movie titles, possibly) 


THEME: MISDIRECTED (65A: Led astray ... or like the films at 19-, 25-, 40- and 57-Across?) — theme answers are film titles in which "direction"-related words have been changed to their opposites (so the titles are "MIS-DIRECTED"); these titles are then clued as if the films were made poorly (i.e. MISDIRECTED) :

Theme answers:
  • "MY RIGHT FOOT" (19A: Jim Sheridan gives Daniel Day-Lewis nothing to work with in this Irish dramedy (1989)) (from "My Left Foot")
  • "KNIVES IN" (25A: Rian Johnson helms this snoozer of a whodunit starring Daniel Craig (2019)) (from "Knives Out")
  • "WEST OF EDEN" (40A: Elia Kazan bungles this John Steinbeck novel adaptation (1955)) (from "East of Eden")
  • "STEP DOWN" (57A: Anne Fletcher misses the mark with this first film in a dance franchise (2006)) (from "Step Up")
Word of the Day: HANGUL (55A: Korean alphabet system) —


The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul/Hangeul in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is a writing system for the Korean language created by King Sejong the Great in 1443. The letters for the five basic consonants reflect the shape of the speech organs used to pronounce them, and they are systematically modified to indicate phonetic features; similarly, the vowel letters are systematically modified for related sounds, making Hangul a featural writing system.

Modern Hangul orthography uses 24 basic letters: 14 consonant letters (            ) and 10 vowel letters (         ). There are also 27 complex letters formed by combining the basic letters: 5 tense consonant letters (ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ), 11 complex consonant letters (ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ) and 11 complex vowel letters (ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅢ). Four basic letters in the original alphabet are no longer used: 1 vowel letter (ㆍ) and 3 consonant letters (ㅿ ㆁ ㆆ).

The Korean letters are written in syllabic blocks with the alphabetic letters arranged in two dimensions. For example, Hangeul in Korean is spelled 한글, not ㅎㅏㄴㄱㅡㄹ. [...] 

As it combines the features of alphabetic and syllabic writing systems, it has been described as an "alphabetic syllabary". As in traditional Chinese and Japanese writing, Korean texts were traditionally written top to bottom, right to left, and are occasionally still written this way for stylistic purposes. Today, it is typically written from left to right with spaces between words and western-style punctuation. (wikipedia)
• • •

speaking of 
MISDIRECTED...
This was one that got better upon further reflection. Or more impressive, anyway. Noticing things after you finish doesn't exactly change the solving experience, but can make you appreciate what you experienced a bit more. In this case, I actually had a good time solving the puzzle, but the concept seemed slightly thin to me—I thought movie titles were being changed simply by turning one word in the title into its opposite. So when I was done I thought, "Cute, but it's not a very tight themer set. What about all the other opposites out there: day/night, good/bad, right/wrong... this group feels pretty arbitrary." At this point, I thought MISDIRECTED referred solely to the fact that titles were merely wrong/changed. Sometimes, though, thinking about why something is weak can lead you to realizing it's actually strong and you (me) just missed the trick. When I realized that all the title changes related specifically to direction—that all the changed words were specifically direction-related words—well, then I was like "Ohhhhhh ... sorry, puzzle. My bad. That actually is pretty tight." I kinda want a North/South answer now. But not enough to be mad about it. Good theme!


It's an oversized grid today (16x15), so if you thought your time was fast, well, it was faster than you know. Grid had to be an even number of squares wide in order to situate the 10-letter "WEST OF EDEN" directly in the center. Seemed like the puzzle was trying to add bonus movie answers all over the place, with actors HUGH Jackman and O'SHEA Jackson forming a little JackPack there at 9- and 10-Down, and then there's DR.EVIL, and, looks, even some BIOPICS for your VIEWING pleasure. I didn't struggle very much, though there were a bunch of answers that for some reason did not leap out at me. STYMIE required many crosses. ONE just would not come. Wanted ANON. and then, weirdly, ONO (33D: Unnamed person)—I think my brain decided to process the clue as "One-named person," but even that makes no sense for ONO, so who knows. Did not know the Shak. clue for VIOLENT (and am generally hugely opposed to fill-in-the-blank Shak. quotes, as they are fussy and dull and rarely give you enough context for you to appreciate them—at least tell me the play this is from!) (47D: Word that fills both parts of the Shakespeare quote "These ___ delights have ___ ends") (it's "Romeo & Juliet," Friar Lawrence talking about R & J's teenage feelings). I had never heard (I don't think) of the movie "Step Up," but it wasn't hard to infer my way to "STEP DOWN." The one word that was totally new to me was HANGUL. Did not know the Korean alphabet had a name. Good to know! All the crosses were fair there, so even that answer didn't slow me down much. 


Only things I didn't really like today were D.I.Y.-ERS (I have aesthetic aversion to most abbr. + -ERS formulations, e.g. NHLERS, NBAERS, ATFers ... OK, that last one's not a thing. Yet. The other icky one is CRIT. Read a ton of literary criticism in grad school. Wrote some too. "Lit CRIT" is just not a term I ever heard ever. It just sounds awful. Like you're trying to say something sexual and just garbling it. Lastly, why would you ever clue ABBA as a rhyme scheme? Do you hate joy?


That's it! Fun puzz! Bye!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Set of legendary objects from the Harry Potter series / TUE 6-15-21 / Where something unpleasant may stick

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Constructor: Owen Travis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Tuesday**)


THEME: DEATHLY HALLOWS (51A: Set of legendary objects from the Harry Potter series found at the ends of 20-, 24- and 41-Across) — that's a pretty literal description of the theme...

Theme answers:
  • WRITTEN IN STONE (20A: Unchangeable)
  • OPERA CLOAK (34A: Dressy floor-length garment)
  • BUBBLE WAND (41A: Something a kid might blow right through)
Word of the Day: DEATHLY HALLOWS (51A) —

The Deathly Hallows are three highly powerful magical objects supposedly created by Death and given to each of three brothers in the Peverell family. They consisted of the Elder Wand, an immensely powerful wand that was considered unbeatable; the Resurrection Stone, a stone which could summon the spirits of the dead, and the Cloak of Invisibility, which, as its name suggests, renders the user completely invisible. According to the story, both Antioch Peverell(owner of the Wand) and Cadmus Peverell (owner of the Stone) came to bad ends. However, Ignotus Peverell's wisdom in requesting the Cloak was rewarded.

According to legend, he who possesses these three artefacts would become the Master of Death. Dumbledore told Harry that he and another wizard, Gellert Grindelwald took this to mean that the uniter of the Deathly Hallows would be invincible. The story of the Deathly Hallows was originally told by Beedle the Bard and subsequently passed from family to family as a wizard fairytale. Few wizards ever realised that the Deathly Hallows were genuine items. Most people thought that there were things that Beedle had made up to entertain young wizards and witches.

No one but Harry Potter has been known to have been in command of all three at the same time, though he was never in possession of them all at once (he dropped the stone in the Forbidden Forest just before gaining the wand that he had won the alliance of in a previous scuffle at Malfoy Manor). Albus Dumbledore had also possessed all three, but not all at once, much like Harry, as he was never the true owner of the Cloak. (harrypotter.fandom.com)

• • •

This puzzle belongs on a fan site. I read all the Harry Potter books as they came out and honestly I barely remember what a deathly hallow is, and I certainly don't care anymore. It's one thing to use the Potterverse as a constant, some might say annoyingly regular, source of fill for your puzzles, but it's quite another to build an entire theme around details of a novel this old now. When's the last time the NYT published a crossword that revolves around the details of a novel, such that you'd need to have read it to have any idea what it's talking about? Ooh, maybe we had the March sisters as the basis of a puzzle? Did we? But even there, those are the main characters of an undisputed classic, not some weird plot points from the seventh installment of the "Little Women" series. I'm just exhausted by Potterness. But I have to be honest, the main source of my exhaustion is the author of the books. I've made a conscious decision to ignore everything J.K. Rowling does. My formerly Harry Potter-loving (-devouring!) daughter has done the same. This is because Rowling, as you probably know, has decided to become, in her post-Potter years, perhaps the most prominent purveyor of transphobia on the planet. I'm not going to rehash her stupid, hateful, and frankly audience-betraying beliefs here. You can read about them all over. But a J.K. Rowling-based puzzle? During PRIDE Month? Absolutely not. This puzzle can go ... review itself.


See you tomorrow

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chinese dissident artist / MON 6-14-21 / Breakup song by Fleetwood Mac / Queen pop nickname / Batch of beer / Freebies at a corporate event / 1960s dance craze

Monday, June 14, 2021

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Medium (3 flat, with a very strong julep in me)


THEME: give it away — ends of themers sound like "way"

Theme answers:
  • CURDS AND WHEY (20A: Food for Little Miss Muffet)
  • AI WEIWEI (31A: Chinese dissident artist)
  • "ANCHORS AWEIGH" (36A: U.S. Naval Academy anthem)
  • ZIMBABWE (43A: Neighbor of Botswana)
  • "GO YOUR OWN WAY" (54A: Break-up song by Fleetwood Mac)
Word of the Day: AI WEIWEI (31A: Chinese dissident artist) —

Ai Weiwei (Chinese艾未未pinyinÀi Wèiwèi, English pronunciation (help·info); born 28 August 1957) is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. Ai grew up in the far north-west of China, where he lived under harsh conditions due to his father's exile.[1] As an activist, he has been openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, for "economic crimes". He was detained for 81 days without charge. Ai Weiwei emerged as a vital instigator in Chinese cultural development, an architect of Chinese modernism, and one of the nation's most vocal political commentators.

Ai Weiwei encapsulates political conviction and his personal poetry in his many sculptures, photographs and public works. In doing this, he makes use of Chinese art forms to display the Chinese political and social issues.

After being allowed to leave China in 2015, he has lived in Berlin, Germany, in Cambridge, UK, with his family, and, since 2021 in Montemor-o-Novo, in Portugal. (wikipedia)

• • •

All the final sounds are the same. Yes, that is a theme type. I have seen that. A tried-and-true, apparently infinitely renewable theme type. This one is largely successful because several of the theme answers are genuinely interesting answers in their own right, particularly AI WEIWEI. Funny story—Will Shortz made me (and my co-constructor, Caleb Madison) take AI WEIWEI out of a Sunday grid we made in 2012 because "He's not so well-known yet, and his name is crazily spelled and not inferable" quote unquote. Two years later, he came around on AI WEIWEI. This same thing happened (to a different constructor ... hey, I think it was actually today's co-constructor, Andrea Carla Michaels) with HELLO KITTY, which is a thousand times more hilarious because HELLO KITTY is roughly a million times more famous that AI WEIWEI. Ah, editorial dictatorship. It's fun. Anyway, looks like they pretty much exhausted the "way" rhymes here, so that's cool. Although, I really do not think that WHEY sounds like all the others. I really do blow that "H" out, precisely to distinguish it from "way," though, let's be honest, when do I actually have occasion to say WHEY? When I'm in the protein shake AISLE, maybe. It's a good "way" set. The Fleetwood Mac gave me strong happy summery childhood vibes and reminded me of my dad, so that is also cool, happy father's day (is that today? hey, I'm a father ... dammit! All I got was a delicious mint julep from my beautiful life! Life is unfair!!!! ... oh, OK, no, Fathers Day is next weekend ... phew).
Two things I did not like about this puzzle were clue-related—the two clues that slowed me down and made this puzzle Medium instead of Easy or Easy-Medium. First, that clue on GREW (8D: Increased, as the pot). Wanted "upped" or "anted" or "raised" or "bet" or something, but none of them fit. Needed every single cross to get GREW, and yeah, I can see how it's defensible, but the reason it's icky is that the *only* reason it has this awkward clue instead of a more routine clue is so that the puzzle can get its dumb little "watch me double the clue" gimmick in: see 25A: Increases, as the pot (ADDS TO). That answer slowed me down too. Why, why? Neither of those words want to be related to poker, and yet you pokered them. Awkwardly. Boo. Also, the clue on BREW is similarly weird (34D: Batch of beer). It's a very normal verb, or a normalish noun for a variety of coffee or beer, but a "batch"? "Batch" is for iced tea or cookies. I was looking for, like, a keg, or a vat, or a growler, or a six-pack, or some amount. The nebulous correspondence between BREW and "batch" just didn't compute for me at all. Feels more like a Fri/Sat-type BREW clue. It's a normal verb. Verb it! Why do weird dumb stuff, come on. 
My other mistake was thinking it was Queen BAE at 46D: Queen ___ (pop nickname) (BEY). I was picturing BEYoncé, but my fingers went with the other slangy BAE. Oh, and I put REC'D where PAID was supposed to go (7D: Stamp on an invoice). The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Seasonal destination near Quebec City / SUN 6-13-21 / Alberta city named for an eagle-feather headdress / Space-scanning org. / Berliner pioneer in phonograph records / Conflicts of 1839-42 and 1856-60 / Two-player game invented in Toronto / Classical Icelandic literary work

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Constructor: Stephen McCarthy

Relative difficulty: E asyis H


THEME: "Maple Leaf" — black squares are supposed to form a maple leaf pattern; theme answers are all Canadian things in which you can find "EH" in circled squares because ha ha you know how Canadians talk, eh? ... revealer has an "EH" pun in it: MEHD (!?) IN CANADA (76A: Like all the answers with pairs of circled letters, punnily):

Theme answers:
  • WINTER ICE HOTEL (16D: Seasonal destination near Quebec City)
  • MEDICINE HAT (4D: Alberta city named for an eagle-feather headdress)
  • GORDIE HOWE (104A: Six-time winner of the N.H.L.'s Art Ross Trophy, born in Saskatchewan)
  • TABLE HOCKEY (10D: Two-player game invented in Toronto)
  • FREE HEALTH CARE (19D: Program introduced by the Trudeau government in 1984, colloquially)
  • LESLIE HOPE (108A: "24" and "Suits" actress, born in Halifax)
Word of the Day: LESLIE HOPE (108A) —
Leslie Ann Hope (born May 6, 1965) is a Canadian actress and director, best known for her role as Teri Bauer on the Fox television series 24 and prosecutor Anita Gibbs on Suits. [entirety of the clue (except the "born in Halifax" part) taken from the first sentence of her wikipedia page ... nice (i.e. lazy)]
• • •

How in the *world* was
this not a theme answer!?
I feel like we just had a Canada-themed puzzle, but I may just be remembering the insanely esoteric [Canadian ambassador to the U.N.] clue for RAE from a few weeks back. Anyway, what is this? Why is this? It's such a sad day for Canada. This huge, beautiful, diverse country reduced to six totally arbitrary answers and a single cliché linguistic tic. And the maple leaf, I guess. Still, this made me sad. Made me feel bad for our lovely neighbors ("n-EH-bors?") to the north. I went to Montreal for the first time in the summer of '19 and it instantly became my second-favorite city (after Edinburgh, the undisputed eternal No. 1 city of my heart). I miss Montreal every day. I was missing the croissants just this morning. I've been to Vancouver, Toronto ... lovely, lovely. This is all to say that I am more than open to Canadian shenanigans in my crosswourd (that's how you spell it in Canada, right?). But the "EH" thing here is so corny, and it forces the themer set to be semi-ridiculous. Is LESLIE HOPE really 1/6 of your All-Canada theme team? Is WINTER ICE HOTEL really a thing? I've heard of an ice hotel, but only in Iceland (or maybe Norway? Sweden?). And anyway, wherever the ice hotel is located, surely "winter" is redundant. Where exactly is the summer ice hotel? (A: nowhere because it melted). TABLE HOCKEY? LOL if you say so. Why is FREE HEALTH CARE "colloquial"? Sounds pretty straightforward. Is it just that the actual law has some other name and you're just using FREE HEALTH CARE as a stand-in? Because there's nothing slangy about FREE HEALTH CARE. Just a normal phrase. The worst thing about the puzzle isn't just that the revealer pun is corny, it's that it looks so awfully dumb on the page. MEHD IN CANADA? MEHD? .... MEHD? ... Just keep looking at it. Why? No reason. It's not going to magically look good all of a sudden. And you don't say the "EH"s as "eh"s in the themers but you *do* say it that way in the revealer? And the EH's don't even, I don't know, make a shape or form a map or something? No? And yet that candelabra-looking black-square formation is supposed to be a maple leaf? Eh, Not SO HOT.
ARCHFOE is hilariously not a thing. What dark corner of what dark word list did that come from. It's "archenemy" or gtfo. I actually really like the middle of this grid (the part that doesn't involve the revealer, that is). That column of long Downs looks great, and all crossing the flashy QUINCEAÑERA! Sweet. Beyond that, it's PERLENGETEMOBOENS and AIGISLEELMUG and OPELHAHCOONETATRA as far as the eye can see. Well, not that far, but pretty far. Nothing much else to talk about. Don't really get why the clue on MAIN ST. was [Central route thru town] as opposed to [Central rte. through town]. I guess the former is shorter. Anyway, didn't pick up that "thru" was an abbr. signal, so was surprised to get an abbr. in the answer. But there's nothing technically wrong there. As you can see, I have nothing important left to talk about and am resorting to musings on the philosophy of crossword clues, just to fill space. So with that, I say adieu ('cause, you know ... Canada ... with the French and all...)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Peter Gordon's Kickstarter for "A-to-Z Crosswords 2021" is wrapping up today. These are daily easy 9x11 puzzles, each of which contains every letter of the alphabet at least once (pangrams!). Here are the specs:
Every day (including weekends) for 13 weeks you’ll get a 9×11 easy-to-medium crossword whose answer contains all 26 letters. They will be written by Peter Gordon and Frank Longo. The puzzles will be delivered to your email inbox in two forms: Across Lite, which can be solved on your computer, smartphone, or tablet; and pdf, which can be printed and solved on paper. All this for less than 11¢ a puzzle.
Would make a nice little addition to your solving routine. Might be great for someone who's just getting into crosswords (or someone you want to encourage to get into crosswords). There are sample puzzles at the Kickstarter site if you're curious. Get in on the action here. Yes, now.

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Asexual informally / SAT 6-12-21 / Obelix's friend in comics / Orchestra that performs an annual fireworks spectacular / Cause of an uptick in Scottish tourism beginning in 1995 / "Star Trek" catchphrase

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Constructor: Brooke Husic and Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: OMAR Benson Miller (44D: Actor ___ Benson Miller) —
Omar Benson Miller (born October 7, 1978) is an American actor. He is known for his work as Walter Simmons on CSI: Miami (2009–2012), as Charles Greane on Ballers (2015–2019), as the voice of Raphael on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and on the CBS comedy series The Unicorn (2019–2021). [...] Miller is almost 6 ft 6 in (1,97 m) tall. (wikipedia)

• • •

I am so happy this puzzle came out today. Well, I'm happy it came out at all, because it's so good (one of my favorite Saturdays of recent memory), but I'm happy it came out today because it does what yesterday's puzzle was Trying to do so much better than yesterday's puzzle actually did it. That is, it is very deliberately inclusive of a younger demographic. It's very inclusive in general. But it's also incredibly well balanced with its pop references, swooping and darting All Over The Cultural Landscape (BOSTON POPS! "BRAVEHEART"!! ASTERIX!!!). It's also just loaded with great fill, and the clues are frequently clever, and these are the most elemental considerations in puzzle-making, after all. I felt like bouncy, delightful, sometimes zany stuff was coming at me around every corner, so solving felt like opening a bunch of presents, as opposed to trekking through mud (bad) or, I don't know, just riding the conveyor belt to the end (boring) (This has been How Not To Metaphor, with your host Rex Parker). Even when I got caught out by a name I absolutely did not know, I felt like the puzzle was rooting for me, recognizing my struggle and trying to make it worthwhile. I am speaking specifically now about Rihanna's real name, my lord! I'm sure this is commonplace knowledge to many, but honestly I still haven't gotten the spelling of RIHANNA down yet (still keep wanting to spell it with the "h" before the "i" like Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon"). And it's not like she's just a name to me. I was just thinking yesterday how "ANTI" is one of the greatest albums of the last ten years. Anyway, ROBYN FENTY just about took my head off (28D: First and last name of Rihanna). And yet! As I walked on eggshells (FRAGILE!) through the SE corner, struggling to get every letter of ROBYN FENTY, just waiting for the one bad cross that would do me in, what I found was just ... entertainment. Fun and gettable answer after fun and gettable answer. By the time I had ROBYN FENTY completely filled in, I was AMPED and ready to dive back into the remaining empty space. I liked this one so much I kept stopping and taking screenshots. I'm not sure I ever exclaimed "I'M AMAZED," but that was the overall vibe. The puzzle did IMPRESS ME (much).
Yes, the puzzle opened with some corniness :) ...
But then, very shortly thereafter, the puzzle really put the pedal down. I could feel the roller coaster car start to pick up speed, and then, whooosh, this happened:
And we were off like a shot. I may even have actually said "Oh, here we Go!" That is a statement answer. That is a "buckle up, friends" answer. And the puzzle did not disappoint. The roller coaster analogy is apt because, as you've seen, I experienced stomach-dropping terror in the ROBYN FENTY portion, but before that I think I actually squealed with delight at ASTERIX
That is one of the best "X" crossings of all time. The clue on PRESSBOX was so good (53A: It covers the field). And the thing is, the puzzle kept on like this. Relentlessly entertaining, front to back. That clue on ACE! I was just thinking this past week (because of Pride-related stuff) "When's the asexual clue for ACE coming?" and bam, here it is! 
And I finished it all off with SPARKLERs (and another great clue). 
Such a good time. Along the way, I learned a new actor name (OMAR), waved at the now-McDonalds-famous K-Pop group BTS, and smugly wrote in the "correct" spelling of JURY-RIG (I grew up hearing, and thus thinking it was spelled, "jerry-rig," which is actually an accepted variant but which technically (I just read) arises from a conflation of JURY-RIG with "jerry-built"). No significant mistakes. Wrote in EPI-graph before TRI-graph (22A: Prefix with -graph). Wrote in ALY at 29D: ___ Raisman, second-most-decorated Olympic gymnast in U.S. history but in struggling to get POOL (31A: Compile) started to second-guess that "L" ... considered ARY (?) for a bit, but then it was ALY after all. ALMOND flour, MACARONI, PERSIMMON, BASMATI! Now I'm hungry. Good day!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Sobriquet for international hip-hop star Pitbull / FRI 6-11-21 / Blossom of snow in song / Rabbits in a race / Jokey response to an overly technical explanation / Goddess whose Roman counterpart is Victoria

Friday, June 11, 2021

Constructor: Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (lots of names, so who knows how that went for you?)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MEDINA Spirit, winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby (13D) —

Medina Spirit (foaled April 5, 2018) is an American Thoroughbred racehorse who won the 2021 Kentucky Derby under suspicious circumstances. He qualified for the race by winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and finishing second in both the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. He also came third in the 2021 Preakness Stakes.

He was ridden by jockey John Velazquez in his fourth Kentucky Derby triumph and trained by Bob Baffert in his record seventh Derby victory. The horse was a long shot with post-time odds of 12–1.

Medina Spirit's Derby win was called into question after the horse tested positive for the anti-inflammatory steroid betamethasone after the race. A few days after finishing third in the 2021 Preakness Stakes, New York racing officials banned Medina Spirit and Baffert from participating in the 2021 Belmont Stakes. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well, this puzzle certainly is *trying*. Very strong "Hello, fellow youths!" vibe. I guess it's better than not trying. Still, I think it's wise not to confuse "crammed with references to contemporary pop culture" with, uh, "good." I was hit and miss with the names, which slowed things down a bit. Nobody cares about horse racing anymore, least of all me, so MEDINA was just a bunch of letters to me. I forgot Pitbull's "sobriquet" and that "-RW-" near the front of the answer made the answer so hard to parse that I actually took out PAWNED (whence the "W") at one point. No idea about the racing term "rabbit" so PACESETTERS was ??? (30A: "Rabbits" in a race) (this is a reference to long-distance racing by humans, not horses or dogs, in case you were wondering). I could see Johnny WEIR (alongside Tara Lipinski) in my brain but needed a couple crosses to remember his name (46A: Olympic figure skating commentator Johnny). Very familiar with "Minari" but apparently much less so with the precise name of the director (37A: "Minari" director ___ Isaac Chung) (still waiting for Chloé ZHAO to show up in my puzzle). Completely forgot about the goddess NIKE, largely because I've literally never heard of the goddess Victoria (49A: Goddess whose Roman counterpart is Victoria). This was all enough to slow me down considerably. Everything else was not too troubling. Not too exciting either, except MEAN STREETS, which is so good (35A: Scorsese film added to the National Film Registry in 1997). Rewatched it last month and made me think Keitel should've been a much, much bigger star, even than he already is. Everyone remembers De Niro's obnoxious Johnny Boy, but Keitel's Charlie (the protagonist) is the only reason you care about anything that's happening on screen. He is the complex emotional heart of that movie, as he is with many of the movies he's in. In particular, I recommend seeking out Bertrand Tavernier's "Death Watch" (1980), a prescient near-future sci-fi take on the dehumanizing effects of reality TV.


I opened the puzzle bam bam bam, like this:
Then ran into the bizarrely clued IN AREA (isn't that more for cell service? I think of the insurance phrase as IN NETWORK) (2D: Covered, as by insurance), and the exceedingly dull DATA FORMAT (17A: Computer file arrangement). So not the greatest start.
The middle perks up a bit, for sure. It also toughens up a bit, as I say. Plural TACOS as single "dish" threw me for a bit (23D: Dish that can be prepared al pastor). NE corner was roughish not only because of MEDINA but also because I had LENS for CONE (stupid "N" ... you were supposed to help me!) (16A: Part of the eye). I think of INSTA as the app itself, or an individual account ("posted it on my INSTA"), not a single pic, so that was strange (43D: Pic that may have millions of likes). No other issues except for the hugely dumb error I made at 45D: "African unicorn" (OKAPI). You have a to be a real senile crossword old-timer to see that clue, look at your grid, see O---I sitting there, and write in ... ORIBI. I think I'm still SCARred from the very first comment this blog ever received, some fifteen years ago now, from the infamous (to me) "grandpamike" (you couldn't have scripted a better name). It was my fourth post or so, and I encountered ORIBI, which at that point was a total mystery to me, and I suggested as much, and, well, this was my introduction to the wonderful world of blog comments sections:
Sep. 28, 2006

R.I.P. (I assume) "grandpamike"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Model Miranda / THU 6-10-21 / Biological cavity / Most expensive spice in the world by weight / Professor Moriarty's first name / Legendary queen once depicted on Tunisian currency

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Constructor: Sheldon Polonsky

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: A to O — familiar phrases have long 'A' sound changed to long 'O' sound, with wacky results:

Theme answers:
  • RENAISSANCE FOUR (17A: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael?) (from Renaissance fair(e))
  • MUSICAL CHORES (25A: Polishing the chandelier in "Phantom of the Opera" and laundering uniforms in "Hamilton"?) (from "musical chairs")
  • NO TIME TO SPORE (44A: Result of a poorly planned invasion of the Body Snatchers?) (from "no time to spare")
  • THE BAD NEWS BORES (58A: "I'm tired of all this negative media coverage"?) (from "The Bad News Bears")

Word of the Day:
ANDY Richter (64A: Comedian Richter) —
Paul Andrew Richter (born October 28, 1966) is an American actor, comedian, writer, and late night talk show announcer. He appears as the sidekick for Conan O'Brien on each of the host's programs: Late NightThe Tonight Show on NBC, and Conan on TBS. He voiced Mort in the Madagascar film franchise and Ben Higgenbottom in the Nickelodeon animated television series The Mighty B!. [...] Since June 2019, Richter has his own podcast on the Earwolf network. [...] Richter currently holds the record for all-time highest one-day score on Celebrity Jeopardy!, winning $68,000 during a first round game of the 2009–10 season's "Jeopardy! Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational". His earnings were donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. (wikipedia)
• • •

After totally failing to understand what RENAISSANCE FOUR was trying to do, I eventually hacked through MUSICAL CHORES and then literally, disappointedly exclaimed "it's just a sound-change puzzle!?" And it is. That's what it is. It's way too simple a concept for a Thursday, and worse, the wackiness just doesn't land. None of this is funny. The closest to funny is NO TIME TO SPORE, but only because it's so bizarre, not because it's particularly great. It's at least trying, is what I'm saying, where the others are just "hello, we are reporting for duty and following the theme to the letter, sir." This should've run yesterday, with somewhat easier clues, if it was going to run at all. On a more technical level, changing the part of speech of the wacky word in the last themer is really awkward. Luckily I didn't really read the clue—just waited for some kind of "bears"-related phrase to become visible, but making BORES a verb results in a clunky spoken phrase that is both implausible and banal, and it's especially incomprehensible considering none of the other wacky words have their parts of speech changed (n, n, v, respectively). BORES can be a noun, clue it as a noun. It's not going to improve the overall enjoyability of the puzzle much, but at least it's one less rough spot. 

Next, we need to talk about the NE corner, specifically this truly terrible crossing:
[Model Miranda]? No. I know the puzzle wants me to know ~two thousand model names, but there's a limit, apparently, and I have reached it. But *that* is not the problem. Maybe she's famous and I don't know her, fine. But (as I've said a million times): crosses crosses crosses. With proper nouns of non-universal fame, you have to watch the crosses, particularly the vowels! So ALLE is a very bad choice here (16A: Everybody: Ger.). In the end, I figured since ALLA was definitely Italian, it *probably* wasn't also the answer here in German, but KARR is definitely a real last name (ask Mary). And since ALLA is a real word from another European language, this whole set-up is just unnecessarily precarious. And for what? It's not like ALLE is good fill. It's lowest-quintile stuff, for sure. Just redo the whole corner. Betcha I can do it in a minute or so. Bet you can too. I did this in roughly zero seconds:
Which means there must be a ton of ways to fill this corner better than it's currently filled. Even if you think my REDO is a lateral move where quality is concerned (you're wrong, but entitled to your opinion), still, there's now a much more famous proper noun there, and no foreign word in the vowel crossing, so much less possibility for confusion. Now that I think about it, the BARR cluing possibilities are all kind of repulsive to me, so I would probably go with Johnny MARR of The Smiths, who maybe you know and maybe you don't, but, again: Fair Crosses! 

Had STILTS before SNIPES (5D: Marsh birds) and SCANTY before SPARSE (42D: Meager), the latter of which definitely cost me, time-wise (made it look like that third themer was going to end in SCORE, which had me looking for phrases that ended in "scare"...). I remembered Port-SALUT cheese today after absolutely not knowing it at all in some earlier puzzle (last year? last decade? what is time?) (34A: Port-___ (French cheese)). The puzzle did give me three four-letter answers I like quite a lot to finish things off: ANDY Richter, DIDO, and PHIL Hartman. So I was grateful that things ended on a high note. But mostly this was a misplaced and pedestrian theme, with insufficient wackiness and a really bad cross in one corner. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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