Cold War-era group that included Louis Armstrong / "Creature From the Black Lagoon" co-star / Moniker for a noted Boston skyscraper, with "the" / Kafka's unfinished first novel, published posthumously in 1927 / Mount ___, highest peak in the Philippines

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Constructor: Brian Thomas + Brooke Husic

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:30)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BAD ART (The "BA" of the Boston museum MOBA)

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) is a privately owned museum whose stated aim is "to celebrate the labor of artists whose work would be displayed and appreciated in no other forum"...Its permanent collection includes over 700 pieces of "art too bad to be ignored", 25 to 35 of which are on public display at any one time.
...Explaining the reasoning behind the museum's establishment, co-founder Jerry Reilly said in 1995: "While every city in the world has at least one museum dedicated to the best of art, MOBA is the only museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting the worst." To be included in MOBA's collection, works must be original and have serious intent, but they must also have significant flaws without being boring; curators are not interested in displaying deliberate kitsch.
...The museum has been criticized for being anti-art, but the founders deny this, responding that its collection is a tribute to the sincerity of the artists who persevered with their art despite something going horribly wrong in the process. According to co-founder Marie Jackson, "We are here to celebrate an artist's right to fail, gloriously." (Wikipedia)
• • •
It me, occasional indie constructor Christopher Adams, here to kick off ~two weeks of guest blogging while Rex is out on vacation. Lots of fun bloggers (both new and old) to come, and it'll be fun. This puzzle certainly was—my reaction is LOVED IT (3D: "Five stars from me").

I presume JAZZ AMBASSADORS (Cold War-era group that included Louis Armstrong) was the seed, but it was the rest of the puzzle that really made me love it. Don't get me wrong—JAZZ AMBASSADORS is a great entry that I enjoyed and that's very good to know/learn about—but when it comes to puzzles from Brian and/or Brooke (e.g. this recent collab), the cluing is where it's at. And there was a lot to like here, from the intentional vagueness of (Utter) for ABSOLUTE, to the fun, natural language clues for TOP THAT, WHAT A TRIP, AT ANY RATE, and OH NO, to the clues that try to mislead you: (Salon stock) suggesting a plural, for example, and (Window you might want to close quickly) suggesting, uh, something much more risqué than the actual answer. 

There were also a lot of fun facts: some commonly seen in crosswords ("Snow White" having ~250,000 CELS), some not so much (NORWAY having the world's longest road tunnel). And it doesn't hurt that this puzzle has not one but two soccer references in TIM Howard and Megan RAPINOE. Things like that make it much easier to solve the puzzle (at least, in my case) and much easier to love it as well.

I was originally going to say something snarky and sciency about the Coriolis effect, as referenced in the clue for DRAIN, but then realized that probably nobody wanted to read that, so then I was going to link to WRIGGLE and DRAIN from X Japan's album Dahlia, but all the videos were copyright blocked from displaying here, so, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, here's a mashup of Steely Dan and Glenn Danzig.

Another thing that I loved about this puzzle was how well it seemed to flow, and how getting one answer quite often led to another. As per usual, I started with the top row and then quickly switched to downs—having those first letters always helps in getting those downs. Here, DJING gave me GNC, which then yielded AZTEC, and soon enough that whole area was done. Ditto for TIM to MOUSSE to ONO (a gimme with the O) and PRU (which I knew from the clue, but having a letter already there didn't hurt). 

Probably the quickest part of this puzzle was going from POP-UP AD to BAD ART and EARPS to dropping in RAPINOE / PRELIMS / STAYS AT—I didn't even look at the across clues in that corner until writing this up. But I'm glad I did—things like (Word in the name of many candy offshoots) for MINIS are the fun sort of clues (of which there's a few in this puzzle, and which I ought to have listed above) that may not give you the answer right away, but that yield a nice "that makes sense!" moment when you do figure them out.

  • MOD (Operation that yields the remainder from dividing two numbers, in math lingo) — I guess the "in math lingo" part here is to signify that the answer isn't modulo, but given that nobody actually ever says modulo (outside of defining modulo and then immediately switching to mod), this clue could've done without those words
  • ENTRE (13-Across, in French) — This entry is at the bottom middle of the grid. It's referencing an entry in the top left (which is clued without relation to this entry). I'm never a fan of entries that cross-reference all the way across the grid, especially when there's other ways to clue it, and there's no compelling need / really good reason to do so in the first place.
  • AMONG (Devil ___ the tailors (pub game)) — pretty sus to not clue this as Among Us, tbh.
  • RAPINOE (Sports Illustrated's 2019 Sportsperson of the Year) — per the constructors, the original clue here was ["Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties" speaker], which is the sort of clue that could (and should!) appear way more often in all crosswords.
Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Like sun bears and sloth bears / FRI 7-30-21 / Bull mascot of Houston Texans / Peak climbed in the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary "Free Solo" / Southern cocktail made with crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream / Many a demoiselle d'honneur

Friday, July 30, 2021

Constructor: Eric Bornstein

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: RAS the Exhorter (34D: ___ the Exhorter, character in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man") —
One of the most memorable characters in the novel, Ras the Exhorter (later called Ras the Destroyer) is a powerful figure who seems to embody Ellison’s fears for the future of the civil rights battle in America. Ras’s name, which literally means “Prince” in one of the languages of Ethiopia, sounds simultaneously like “race” and “Ra,” the Egyptian sun god. These allusions capture the essence of the character: as a passionate black nationalist, Ras is obsessed with the idea of race; as a magnificently charismatic leader, he has a kind of godlike power in the novel, even if he doesn’t show a deity’s wisdom. Ras’s guiding philosophy, radical at the time the novel was published, states that blacks should cast off oppression and prejudice by destroying the ability of white men to control them. This philosophy leads inevitably to violence, and, as a result, both Ellison and the narrator fear and oppose such notions. Yet, although Ellison objects to the ideology that Ras embodies, he never portrays him as a clear-cut villain. Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses Ras exert a magnetic pull on crowds of black Americans in Harlem. He offers hope and courage to many. By the late 1960s, many black leaders, including Malcolm X, were advocating ideas very similar to those of Ras. (
• • •

This was pretty solid. I struggled a bunch in the center of the grid, but I don't think my struggle will have anything to do with anyone else's struggle because in addition to the everyday comprehension struggles anyone might have on a Friday, I had an error that was, if not entirely my own, surely very rare. I dusted off the top of the puzzle with almost zero problems—NETS for NABS slowed me down a bit (19A: Hauls in), and I absolutely forgot that "LIDA Rose" was a song in "The Music Man" despite watching it earlier this year (2D: "___ Rose" (song from "The Music Man")), but nothing else up there caused any trouble. Then I descended into the center and lost my bearings pretty badly. I just could not get the long Acrosses from their back-end letters. I know very well what the format of "Family Feud" is, but even having -IKE at the end didn't tip me to THIRD STRIKE (31A: Last straw on "Family Feud"). Something about the term "last straw" just didn't resonate for me. I think of that term as someone's breaking point ("That's the last straw!") not as a simple limit. Would [Last straw for a batter] make sense for THIRD STRIKE? I don't know. Maybe. But the phrase just didn't translate. Worse, I had -CAN and no idea what Ivy League city dweller I might be dealing with. In retrospect, this is humiliating, as I live about an hour away from Ithaca and visit it frequently. I know that it's technically Ivy League, but for some reason when I see that term I go to Yale and Harvard first and then ... well, the others, I have to think "what are they? ... where are they? ... Penn? Is Penn Ivy? ... That's in Philadelphia, right? Wait, Brown? ... where is Brown? etc." 

But ITHACAN would've been a cinch if I hadn't made the catastrophic error I mentioned back in the second sentence of this write-up: see, I'd gotten GRASSHOPPER easy from *its* back end (42A: Southern cocktail made with crème de menthe, crème de cacao and cream), and since it was the only thing in the middle of the grid I checked all its crosses and hey, did you know that there are two rainbow (i.e. Roy G. Biv) colors that fit the pattern "____G_"!? Well, there are. And I, I took the one more traveled by (ORANGE!), and that made me fall on my face. All the wrong letters! So THIRD STRIKE and ITHACAN stayed hidden far far longer than they would have otherwise. Oh, I should also mention that I haven't read "The Invisible Man" since college (decades ago), so I had no hope for any of the letters in RAS. I rely so heavily on short fill to give me traction when I'm in trouble, and that was the short fill I needed the most, and it just didn't come through for me. Ah well.

Really loved PORCH SWING and COME AND GO and "HEAR ME OUT!" They gave the grid some pep (an odd thing to say about something as folksy as a PORCH SWING, maybe, but that's how it felt). I had no idea a coxswain STEERed, LOL, I thought they just shouted rowing commands (51D: What coxswains do). I also had no idea the French also had the concept of "maid-of-honor," so I just stared at 47D: Many a demoiselle d'honneur wondering what a "girl of honor" was ... sounded like maybe a euphemism for ... an old profession. So that was weird. Only worked out the wedding context once I got the ordinary French word for "friend" (f.). It seems a bit flippant and dismissive to call PETA's (or anyone's) objection to FURS a "pet peeve" (55A: PETA pet peeves). My "pet peeve" is when people talk loudly on their phones when they're out for a walk (just enjoy the walk—and the quiet—you ghouls), or when people spell it "woah" ... both things nowhere near as serious as torturing and then killing animals solely for fashion. "Pet peeves" is awful here. Something more straightforward, less diminishing is called for. That's all. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Misanthrope of Victorian literature / THU 7-29-21 / School attended by Warren Buffet / Only playwright to have a New york City theater named after him while still alive / Mushroom eaten with Udon / Bow-making choice

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Medium (Hard, then Easy)

THEME: FILL-IN-THE-BLANK (48A: Test format ... or a hint to understanding three of this puzzle's clues) — you have to put "FILL" in the blank parts of the theme clues in order to make sense of them:

Theme answers:
  • DISPOSAL AREA (19A: Land___) (i.e. Landfill)
  • PRESIDENTS (22A: ___more and more) (i.e. Fillmore and more)
  • NEWSCASTER (40A: I___, for one) (i.e. [Gwen] Ifill, for one)
Word of the Day: DEB Haaland (30D: Haaland who became secretary of the interior in 2021) —

Debra Anne Haaland (/ˈhɑːlənd/; born December 2, 1960) is an American politician serving as the 54th United States secretary of the interior. A member of the Democratic Party, she served as chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015 to 2017 and as the U.S. representative for New Mexico's 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021. She is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo.

Haaland's congressional district included most of Albuquerque and most of its suburbs. Along with Sharice Davids, she is one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress. She is a political progressive who supports the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. (wikipedia)

• • •

"Hello, I am in your puzzle"
There are only three theme answers, they are not, on their own, very interesting at all, and in the end you're left with a one-note concept, which is very very anticlimactic, especially if you spent a lot of time struggling up top instead of just abandoning the top and going straight for the revealer phrase on the bottom (as I did after the whole top part got too annoying). DISPOSAL AREA, come on, how is anyone supposed to be excited or energized by that drab and dour a phrase. PRESIDENTS, yawn. NEWSCASTER, more yawn. The entire puzzle = the moment you realize what's going on with the blanks. Then it's over, on every level. The whole thing just turns into a mediocre themeless after that. No interesting answers to uncover (all the "fun" is in the clues), no variation in how the theme plays out, nothing. Just plug in "fill," done. Again, very sorry payoff if you spent any time struggling with those "___" clues. The rest of it ... well, it's curious-looking, with its slim profile (just 14 wide today). I guess this is what happens when your revealer is 14, and when you don't really have a lot of themers to choose from so you just make a grid that will accommodate (symmetrically) the sad little grouping you've put together; there are only three, and none of them are the same length, so traditional rotational symmetry won't do. You gotta make them all even-numbered in length and then go with mirror symmetry by placing them all in the middle of their respective rows. So it's architecturally ... different. I don't think this is either good or bad. It just is. I'm trying to talk about anything but this disappointingly-executed theme.

As for the fill, it's fine, but there's not much there to delight a solver. I see an answer like IRONCLADS (26D: Civil War ships) and I think "now there's an answer only crossword constructing software powered by a very very large wordlist could love." Puzzles sometimes have very distinctive personalities, and then other times they have the personality of an ATM—like, it's talking to me like it's human, but ... I'm doubtful. "Take me to your DISPOSAL AREA, human. There we can find discarded POGO STICKS and ride them like humans, which I definitely am also, a human, for sure." (Seriously, though, POGO STICKS was the bounciest (nailed it!) fill in the puzzle)

I wrote in WHEATON instead of WHARTON because I wrote in ZEE instead of ZED and then (without looking at the clue) EPEE instead of APED, which got me WHE---N for the Buffet school, and in went WHEATON, which is a liberal arts college in MA—it seemed possible (9D: School attended by Warren Buffet). I forgot who the Secretary of the Interior was, which made the east interesting for a bit, since I mysteriously wrote in OLÁ at 35A: Accented approval (OLÉ) and therefore ended up with a secretary named DAB. Worth noting (to my embarrassment) that before that I had DA- and went with DAG ... I guess the erstwhile existence of DAG Hammarskjöld made DAG Haaland seem possible. I do not claim to get how my brain works. There were absolutely no other sticking points in this puzzle for me. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. [Red Rose] = PETE because PETE Rose played for the Cincinnati Reds for much of his (baseball) career

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


For those who think young sloganeer once / WED 7-28-21 / Signal that a reply is coming in a messaging app / Be motto for wikipedia contributors / Noted colonial pamphleteer / Diatribe trigger / Remove from danger informally

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Constructor: Alex Rosen and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe a little tougher)

THEME: DRIBBLE-ing (39A: Make art like 53-/21-Across (as suggested by this puzzle's circled letters?)) with JACKSON / POLLOCK (53A: With 21-Across, artist known to 39-Across pigments back and forth onto canvases) — you can find the letters P, A, I, N, T (in circled squares) DRIBBLEd "back and forth" inside of four answers (well, "back" (reversed) inside one Across and one Down themer, and "forth" (in correct order) in their symmetrical counterparts):

The PAINT answers:
  • PETUNIA PIG (17A: Porky's significant other)
  • PADDINGTON (61A: ___ station, Central London railway terminal)
  • UP TO A POINT (11D: Somewhat)
  • TENNIS CAMP (29D: Where you might find love away from home?)
the back-and-forth "PAINT"

Word of the Day: RED BUD (50A: Oklahoma's state tree) —
Cercis canadensis
, the eastern redbud, is a large deciduous shrub or small treenative to eastern North America from southern Michigan south to central Mexico, east to New Jersey. Species thrive as far west as California and as far north as southern Ontario, roughly corresponding to USDA hardiness zone 6b. It is the state tree of Oklahoma. // The eastern redbud typically grows to 6–9 m (20–30 ft) tall with an 8–10 m (26–33 ft) spread. It generally has a short, often twisted trunk and spreading branches. A 10-year-old tree will generally be around 5 m (16 ft) tall. The bark is dark in color, smooth, later scaly with ridges somewhat apparent, sometimes with maroon patches. The twigs are slender and zigzag, nearly black in color, spotted with lighter lenticels. The winter buds are tiny, rounded and dark red to chestnut in color. The leaves are alternate, simple, and heart shaped with an entire margin, 7–12 cm (3–4.5 in) long and wide, thin and papery, and may be slightly hairy below. // The flowers are showy, light to dark magenta pink in color, 1.5 cm (12 in) long, appearing in clusters from spring to early summer, on bare stems before the leaves, sometimes on the trunk itself. There are cultivars with white flowers. The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees. Short-tongued bees cannot reach the nectaries. The fruit are flattened, dry, brown, pea-like pods, 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long that contain flat, elliptical, brown seeds 6 mm (14 in) long, maturing in August to October.
• • •

Like Sunday's constellation puzzle, this puzzle is trying to do a lot. You've got the artist's name, the alleged technique he uses (DRIBBLE) and then the "PAINT" gimmick, where the letters can be found in forward and reversed order inside the themers (a back-and-forth set of Acrosses, a back-and-forth set of Downs). It was the discovery of the "back-and-forth" thing, the precision of it, that warmed me to this puzzle a little bit at the end. Before that, I wasn't paying too much attention, and it felt like the letters in PAINT were just mixed up / scrambled, i.e. appearing in random order. This is probably because the first themer (PETUNIA PIG) has them backwards and so when I noticed PAINT was involved (inside PADDINGTON), I didn't see PAINT reversed, I just saw "the letter in PAINT out of order." But no, there is a definite "double DRIBBLE" (which ... thank you, puzzle, for laying off the basketball pun). PAINT goes forward, PAINT goes back, etc. Before noticing this little detail, I was put off by a couple of things. First, the very word DRIBBLE, which feels simplistic and reductive. DRIBBLE sounds unskilled or else accidental. You DRIBBLE your drink down the front of your shirt if you're clumsy or inebriated or whatever. A baby DRIBBLEs on its bib. I'm sure it's a word that's been used for his technique, but it looks like his technique is generally called the "drip technique," and splashing is another purposeful verb that's been used. I get that the letters in PAINT represent drops of paint, and that maybe DRIBBLE conveys the idea of droplets well, but the word felt almost condescending to me in its oversimplification. Also, JACKSON / POLLOCK never threw paint in such an orthogonal way. The crossword puzzle grid is maybe not the best medium for imitating POLLOCK—it's all right angles, all orderly and precise. If you look at a POLLOCK ... well, here, just look at a POLLOCK:

"Number 48"

But as I say, the back-and-forth element won me over somewhat by the end. Oh, I also did not at all like all the cross-references in the clues for the artist and DRIBBLE, or the fact that the last name comes first (i.e. POLLOCK is up top while JACKSON is below), so his name is out of order and so you have to go down to the bottom of the grid and hunt for the 53-Across clue if you want to begin to understand 21- or 39-Across (a thing I stubbornly refuse to do). This makes the solve feel a bit fussy, awkward, clumsy. Outside the theme, I had some trouble. Because DRIBBLE was unknown to me for a while, I had trouble with the whole middle, especially SWABBIE (!?), which is a word maybe I've heard, but it feels very slangy / informal (25D: Low-ranking sailor). In fact, it is slang. It should really be clued as slang (I had a similar feeling that BFFS should be clued as an abbr., but BFFS is what people actually say, so maybe it can stand on its own with just a slang word in the clue ("buds") tipping us off to its slanginess) (1A: Buds that are very close). In that same DRIBBLE / SWABBIE area, I also had trouble with BOAR (44A: Male hedgehog) and BOLD too (not a fan of the fill-in-the-blank clues for either BOLD or ONLY, neither of which meant anything to me). 

Had RED ___ and no idea what the rest of the tree was (50A). I know only RED OAK (New Jersey!) and maybe RED FIR (or am I thinking "red fern"?), but BUD, no, that was not on my list of possibilities. See also TENNIS ___, where I was out of ideas after TENNIS COURT (for most of us, the TENNIS COURT is, in fact, "away from home"). Never heard of ROCK COD (just "cod," maybe "Atlantic cod"), but strangely I never even saw the clue for that one, so I can't say it bothered me or held me back. For as dense as the theme was, the fill was alright. I watched EPEE last night (Olympics!) so the "touch" reference in the clue was instantly clear to me (16A: Sports event in which athletes try to avoid being touched). Weird that OIL didn't get folded into the theme somehow (would've preferred that to this punny "strikes?" business) (47A: Industry that encourages strikes?). Overall, an interesting, ambitious, mostly successful endeavor.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Old Apple image-editing software / TUE 7-27-21 / Verdi opera set in Cyprus / B-52s hit named by Rolling Stone as the best single of 1989 / R&B singer with hyphenated stage name / Chinese steamed bun

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Constructor: Jennifer Lee and Victor Galson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (3:16)

THEME: FACE RECOGNITION (36A: Technology used by smartphones nowadays ... or a hint to the ends of 16-, 24-, 44- and 57-Across) — the sounds at the ends of the theme answers are all homophones for parts of the face:

Theme answers:
  • REVITALIZE (eyes) (16A: Inject new life into)
  • ENGINEERS (ears) (24A: Bridge and highway designers)
  • VOLCANOES (nose) (44A: Hawaii ___ National Park)
  • APOCALYPSE (lips) (57A: End of the world)
Word of the Day: ALEX Morgan (2D: Soccer star Morgan) —
Alexandra Morgan Carrasco (born Alexandra Patricia Morgan; July 2, 1989) is an American professional soccer player for the Orlando Pride of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), the highest division of women's professional soccer in the United States, and the United States women's national soccer team. She co-captained the United States women's national soccer team with Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe from 2018 to 2020. (wikipedia)
• • •

Despite the unwelcome return of IPHOTO (what is even happening, why is this bygone i-word haunting my grids!?), I really enjoyed this theme. That is, I had no idea what the theme was, but the solving experience was pretty decent and FACE RECOGNITION was a pretty snazzy answer (despite its dystopian / surveillance state associations), so I was happily along for the ride, waiting to see what I would find when I went back at puzzle's end to figure out the theme. Before figuring out the theme, my impressions were "grid was kinda choppy, kinda fussy to navigate, seemed heavy on short stuff, but the fill was decent, and the longer Downs were fun and original ("LOVE SHACK!"), so let's hope this theme doesn't ruin everything." And then I looked at FACE RECOGNITION, took one look at the themers, and had Nothing. Didn't get it. Then I reread the clue and took another pass, and bam, there it was, plain as the nose (and other elements) on your face. Eyes ears nose lips. My favorite part of the theme was that my figuring out the theme was built into the theme itself; that is, I had to engage in FACE RECOGNITION in order to see the theme at all. My only complaint about the theme is that I think the term is more commonly known as FACIAL RECOGNITION. That is what the term wants to be in my head, what my brain wants the term to be. The wikipedia entry is for "Facial Recognition System." But a quick couple of google searches reveals that FACE and FACIAL are used pretty interchangeably out there, so judges say: no foul.

Looking back over the grid, it does have a lot of overfamiliar short stuff. I think it was less of an annoyance / distraction today because the cluing was decent, the themers were decent, the revealer was bright and original, and the long Downs really popped. As I've said a billion times (in different ways), when your marquee stuff is humming and your clues and fill aren't making solvers actually wince, no one's going to notice or care about the short fill too much, even if you've got an EENY-NE-YO-ASTO pocket or two. There weren't many places that caused significant hesitation on my part, so sometimes you're just going too fast to notice any infelicities, I guess. I knew Kevin NEALON but was not entirely sure of that last vowel in his name, so I left it blank at first (31A: Kevin once of "S.N.L."). I thought ALEX was ABBY (confusing my soccer stars). When I got to TRY TO ___, I wanted that last word to be BREATHE, but, for obvious reasons, it wasn't, so I needed a cross or two to get RELAX (17D: "Take a deep breath ..."). I had METE before DOLE (in part because I came into that section from underneath and had the "E" in place first—the only letter those two words share) (34D: Portion (out)). I am happy the puzzle is continuing to clue RONA as Jaffe and not the damn disease (I saw a puzzle try to get cute with 'RONA, cluing it as slang for the virus, and my response to that is, please, constructors and editors, I am begging you, read the room). I finished in the NW, which is a slightly weird place to finish an easy puzzle—I'm almost always down at the bottom, especially on the fast days. But this one just swung me in a "U" shape, down the west and back up the east. Played myself out with the CORNET, a musical end to a brisk, lively puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


What the trio in this puzzle's clues is trying to promote / MON 7-26-21 / Companion of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings / Devers three-time Olympic track gold medalist / Lead-in to gender

Monday, July 26, 2021

Constructor: Tommy Pauly

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

[Don't mind all the little blue eyeballs—I closed the puzzle before taking a screenshot
and just didn't want to type all the answers in again, so I hit "Reveal All" and the blue
eyeballs are my punishment]

THEME: JAZZ / SHOW (1A: With 68-Across, what the trio in this puzzle's clues is trying to promote) — clues imagine different members of a jazz trio saying different things ... what they are saying is basically idioms involving instruments:

Theme answers:
  • 20A: The first member of the trio said he'd ... TOOT HIS OWN HORN
  • 38A: The second member of the trio said he'd ... PULL SOME STRINGS
  • 53A: The third member of the trio said she'd ... DRUM UP BUSINESS
Word of the Day: GAIL Devers (62A: ___ Devers, three-time Olympic track gold medalist) —
Yolanda Gail Devers (/ˈdvərz/ DEE-vərz; born November 19, 1966) is an American retired track and field athlete. A two-time Olympic champion in the 100 meters for the USA, her 1996 win made her only the second woman (after Wyomia Tyus) to successfully defend an Olympic 100m title. She won a third Olympic gold medal in the 4 × 100 m relay in 1996. She is also the 1993 World champion in the 100m and a three-time World champion in the 100m hurdles. In 2011, she was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
• • •

Somehow, the SHOW part of the reveal feels really anticlimactic. I wanted something snappier. It seemed arbitrary, the SHOW part. Not sure why the revealer wasn't JAZZ / TRIO, since that's the heart of the puzzle. Just rewrite the theme clues to take "trio" out of them, and bam, you're in business. JAZZ / TRIO is a much snappier revealer than JAZZ / SHOW, which is a bit of a thud. Most jazz trios have pianos as part of their makeup. Pianist + double bass + drummer is pretty standard. But horn (sax, in particular) + bass + drums has been the set-up for some notable trios, so the "show" being put on here is perfectly plausible. But the execution of this theme just felt slightly off, in a number of ways. First, the aforementioned weak revealer. Second, the fact that the first two theme answers are idioms, but they literally describe what the jazz musicians do, whereas DRUM UP BUSINESS stays solidly in the idiomatic world. Third, "horn" and "drum(s)" are actual words you'd use to describe jazz instruments, but "strings" is a word more associated with orchestra sections. So no matter how you slice this theme, from whatever angle you look at it, it feels mildly off. I think there's a good core idea here (even if I'm not really the biggest fan of these types of pun puzzles). The execution just doesn't feel as polished as it might be. 

The fill is much more of a problem. Just dead on its feet, for the most part. I really like SEA LEGS (28A: Ability to keep one's balance on a ship), but everything else is just taking up space, and for a puzzle that's this easy to fill, there really shouldn't be so so so much weak short stuff. I mean, when CHEWY looks positively electric compared to the vast majority of your fill, you have a bit of an energy problem on your hands. APSO EPEE SSNS before we even get out of the NW. And then just a slew of overfamiliar repeaters (ELAL ATEAT ESS ISH etc.), none of them terrible, but in bulk, they're really deadening. Beyond the three long themers, the grid has only two 7s, and everything else is 6 letters or fewer. You don't give yourself any room to shine when you build a grid like this, a grid with no non-themers over 7 (and only two of those). 

Today's theme type (punny phrases with very non-specific clueing) made this puzzle slightly tougher to solve than your typical Monday, but then the clueing on the non-theme stuff was so easy that it all pretty much averaged out to a normal Monday difficulty level. Almost all the struggle in this puzzle, for me, came in trying to parse the first themer. Without anything specific to help you in the themer clues, you have to figure out the phrases from crosses, and for that first themer I had TOOTHIS and wow, no idea what I was looking at. Brain wanted "TOO THIS" or "TOOTH IS" and then brain was out of ideas. Such a strange letter string to start the puzzle, given that you can turn it into two words *three different ways*. Eventually, my brain was able to imagine the space between the "T" and the "H" and I was off and running. Had SNEAK (34A: Move stealthily), then changed it to SKULK when I (bizarrely) thought Lou Gehrig's disease was LDS (my apologies to Lou Gehrig and the Mormon church), then had to change SKULK back to SNEAK, so that was awful. Never know if it's ENURE or INURE, so that's awful for different reasons (26D: Accustom). Misspelled LIEGE as "LEIGE," which is ... sad. It's SIEGE ... but SEIZE ... and somewhere in that spelling logic vortex, by analogy, I messed up LIEGE. Luckily, it was a brief snag. Made up a lot of time on the bottom third, where the 6s all went in bam bam bam off their first letters, and everything else down there was very straightforward. Gonna go watch a movie and hang out with my FELINEs now. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Nice that they thought to make the third member of the jazz trio a woman. I see you trying, NYTXW!

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Singer Aguilera's alter ego / SUN 7-25-21 / Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle's grid / Fifth century conqueror defeated in the Battle of Catalaunian Plains / Company that makes recoverable and reusable rocket boosters / Gilbert and ___ Islands former colonial names of Kiribati and Tuvalu / Descriptor of almost a million and a half Californians / Onetime material for tennis racket strings / Executive producer of HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Constructor: Chandi Deitmer

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: DOUBLE DIPPERS (115A: Ones committing a party foul ... or the images depicted in this puzzle's grid?) — Big and Little Dippers (the constellations) are depicted in the grid if you connect all the asterisks (i.e. stars), which are formed by writing both an "I" and an "X" in the circled squares (the "I" in the Across answer, the "X" in the Down). There's also POLARIS (68A: Guiding light), which is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper (represented here by the asterisk that is actually located in the answer POLARIS), and Alpha and Beta Ursae MAJORIS (represented here by the asterisks in IMDB and DOUBLE DIPPERS, respectively), which point toward POLARIS (61A: Alpha and Beta Ursae (pointers to 68-Across)). There are three additional theme answers related to the constellations:

Theme answers:
  • DRINKING GOURD (19D: Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle's grid, in African American folklore)
  • SEVEN OXEN (9D: Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle's grid, in Roman folklore)
  • WAGON OF HEAVEN (22D: Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle's grid, in Babylonian folklore)
Word of the Day: ENATIC (31D: Sharing maternal lines)
descended from the same mother related on the mother's side (
• • •

A complex and admirable architectural feat, which (like most architectural-feat crosswords) I didn't enjoy much at all. I honestly had no idea what was going on even after I had finished the puzzle. Things were made more confusing by the fact that the software didn't accept my "X" answers for the circled squares and, when I hit "Reveal All," rendered those boxes as lower-case "a"s (???). So now I'm looking at a grid with seemingly randomly arranged circled squares with "X"s and "I"s in them, and I've got three long Downs that are, and I cannot stress this enough, literally no help at all. At least DRINKING GOURD seems related to the whole idea of dippers, but SEVEN OXEN? WAGON OF HEAVEN? Not only have I never heard of these, they are useless in terms of understanding what the hell is going on with all the "X" / "I" squares. The revealer, DOUBLE DIPPERS, did in fact reveal what I was supposed to be looking for, but I still didn't see how "X" or "I" was related, how you were supposed to get anything celestial or astral from them. Then I wrote "X" and "I" next to each other and was like "... nine? ... eleven? ... nope, there are way more stars than that (combined) in these constellations .... huh?" Then it hit me: superimpose the "I" on the "X" and you get an asterisk, which is essentially a visual representation of a star. Voila! It's a very neat trick, truly it is, and the dippers (big and little) do indeed (once you connect the stars) look more than vaguely like they look in conventional depictions. It's just that getting to the point where I see any of this wasn't really pleasant. I CAN SEE the big picture now, but only TIREDLY. Those three long Downs, I cannot stress how useless they seemed, how unhelpful they were. How do you get away with cluing SEVEN OXEN (plural) as [Celestial figure...] (singular)!?!?  And if you can see either oxen or a wagon in these star formations, you're a more perceptive person than I am. The fill got understandably rough in places (I say "understandably" because holy cow this dense theme must've put a lot of pressure on the grid). So, the end product is very admirable in its complexity, but getting to the point where I could actually see that complexity was not itself a very pleasurable experience.

There was some tough fill today. ELLICE was tough, for sure (26A: Gilbert and ___ Islands (former colonial names of Kiribati and Tuvalu)). Not a huge fan of recolonizing those islands with subpar / obscure fill. Would love to see KIRIBATI or TUVALU, but Gilbert and ELLICE can get bent. ENATIC made me LOL what the heck. Crosswords made me learn what ENATE was (sigh), but ENATIC!? (which means the same thing!?)!? Yikes. I wrote in ENNATE there, figuring there must be a two-"N" spelling. If I never see the CUOMOS in a puzzle again, I will be grateful. Creeps. The current governor in particular is a fraud who should've been run out of office a long time ago, if only for fudging the COVID data (the multiple sexual harassment charges also seem pretty credible). Yuck. I feel like some solver somewhere is going to think that Christina Aguilera's alter ego is I, TINA (70D: Singer Aguilera's alter ego). If you understand the theme, then you'll at least be able to infer the "X" in XTINA, but since that particular singer's heyday is a little bygone, I would not be surprised if a certain subset of solvers had no idea what was going on with that answer. The singular ARREAR can continue to bite me, as it appears never nowhere noplace but in crossword grids. Otherwise, I think the fill is about as good as could be expected from a grid where the theme is this dense and unyielding. Every asterisked square has to be just so, and that means there are a Lot of theme answers, and then there are the three "bonus" long Downs *and* the star POLARIS actually appearing inside the answer POLARIS ... it's all so impressively intricate. I just wish I'd liked solving it more.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. the CEE-LO Green "hit" was not, I repeat not, "Forget You" (107D: Green with the 2010 hit "Forget You"):

[This sign-language version is pretty great, too]

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Physicist Nathan with an early theory of wormholes / SAT 7-24-21 / The wrinkle in "A Wrinkle in Time" and the Cosmic Cube in Marvel Comics, for two / Auto pioneer Soichiro / Popular brand of alcoholic seltzer / Starting point of annual Spartathlon / Garment that might not be worn around the house

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Constructor: Adam Aaronson and Ricky Cruz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TESSERACTS (4D: The wrinkle in "A Wrinkle in Time" and the Cosmic Cube in Marvel Comics, for two) —

In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analogue of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Just as the surface of the cube consists of six square faces, the hypersurface of the tesseract consists of eight cubical cells. The tesseract is one of the six convex regular 4-polytopes.

The tesseract is also called an eight-cellC8, (regular) octachoronoctahedroidcubic prism, and tetracube. It is the four-dimensional hypercube, or 4-cube as a part of the dimensional family of hypercubes or measure polytopesCoxeter labels it the polytope. The term hypercube without a dimension reference is frequently treated as a synonym for this specific shape.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word tesseract was first used in 1888 by Charles Howard Hinton in his book A New Era of Thought, from the Greek téssara (τέσσαρα'four') and aktís (ἀκτίς 'ray'), referring to the four edges from each vertex to other vertices. In this publication, as well as some of Hinton's later work, the word was occasionally spelled tessaract.

• • •

Seemed a bit trivia-testish at times (a physicist here, a supermodel there, an ethnic minority here, a Roman goddess there, and so on), and only COINKYDINK and OVER/UNDER felt like they really came to play, but it's a solid enough effort overall. WHITE CLAW really put me off the puzzle right away, just from a personal taste standpoint. It was a gimme, first of all, so ... I mean, normally, I guess I'd be thrilled to nail 1-Across on a Saturday like that, but somehow just knowing what WHITE CLAW is doesn't feel like a win. It's ubiquitous. Hugely popular, apparently. If I want seltzer I drink seltzer and if I want alcohol I drink cocktails, or maybe wine, occasionally beer. The whole "let's spike this non-alcoholic thing and see what happens" trend ... never got it. But jillions of people do. What bummed me out wasn't so much that I don't drink the stuff (who cares?) but that it feels so product-placement-y to put a brand like this at 1-Across. I'll be slightly surprised if their social media team doesn't do some jokey tweet or Insta post about this crossword appearance before day's end. Brands have been in grids for a long time, so there's nothing "wrong" with this one at all. Giving your highest-profile answer to a brand—that was just a mild bummer to me today. I also was weirdly distracted by a couple repeated letter patterns, namely TESS /  TESSERACTS and TATTOO INK / TIME SINKS / COINKYDINK). Maybe that latter repetition is a *good* thing, looked at from a certain angle—think of it as deliberate rhyme, or echoing, or singsonginess. But I probably would've found a way to replace TESS if I could've. Repeated four-letter strings don't usually bother me but then again they usually aren't at the front of both words (higher profile). ANIMA / BEANS / BESS, something like that ... though I wouldn't want to deprive the world of the "Sailor Moon" clue, so maybe there are other options) (32D: "Sailor Moon" genre => ANIME)

Only felt old once during this puzzle ("WHIPS, you say!? Bah! Listen, sonny, in my day ... I forget what we called them, but it wasn't WHIPS!") (1D: Fancy cars, in modern slang), but then the puzzle went and actually made me feel young by opting for the fully-spelled BRASSIERE, which ... is not a word I've heard used unironically in my lifetime. They're bras. Of course BRASSIERE is a perfectly good, actual word, but it really feels like clues for BRASSIERE should have to use qualifiers like "quaintly" or "formally" or something when referring to BRASSIERE. I did love the clue, though (31D: Garment that might not be worn around the house). Many women solvers undoubtedly nodding "true" there. Is a NAILER what we usually call a "nail gun"? I will admit to being not a tool person, but a NAILER sounds like someone actually striking the nails. Maybe NAILER is the preferred term now because it doesn't have the word "gun" in it. That seems fine. Are we still going to Palm for our PDA cluing needs? (18A: Palm products, for short). Is Palm even still a thing? Looks like it died but then came back in 2018 as an Android phone of some sort. But not a PDA. That term remains bygone. Like the original Palm products. PDA = kissing in public. If you want to go with "personal digital assistant," you must use "bygone" or "quaintly" in your clue (see discussion of BRASSIERE above ... btw, did you know women used to keep their Palm PDAS in their BRASSIEREs? It's true! [citation needed]). As for THEESPYS, I normally find the gratuitous definitely article slightly annoying, but today it didn't bother me at all, possibly because my brain is reparsing it slightly and applying it to the name of a beloved children's lit character, which is to say I'm amusing myself by imagining a character called "Harriet THEE Spy," à la: 

No real difficulty today (beyond the usual Saturday difficulty). I thought the auto pioneer was Soichiro ACURA at first, so that was pretty funny (2D: Auto pioneer Soichiro => HONDA). Rare that I actually enjoy my mistakes, but I enjoyed that one. Had TIMESUCKS before TIMESINKS (enjoyed that mistake less) (38A: Long, unproductive activities). Didn't know the ROSEN guy (23A: Physicist Nathan with an early theory of wormholes), forgot TESS (though she's been in the puzzle before), but remembered TESSERACTS despite having no idea how to define it; it's just one of those vaguely scifi words you see around and take in and then somehow "know" without knowing (that is, if you're me). This puzzle did a good Saturday job of being a Saturday puzzle that I solved on a Saturday. Definitely better than MEH, despite my various minor carps.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Please enjoy this up-to-the-minute DANK (54A) content:
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G.I. pal of Forrest Gump / FRI 7-23-21 / Crystal gazer's lead-in / Classic hit that begins My friends feel it's their appointed duty / Elusive thing for a popular show / Oversize letter at the beginning of a chapter

Friday, July 23, 2021

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: HOBART (41A: Tasmania's capital) —
 (/ˈhbɑːrt/ [...] is the capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania. Home to almost half of all Tasmanians, it is the least populated Australian state capital city, and second smallest if territories are taken into account, after DarwinNorthern Territory. Hobart is located in Tasmania's south-east on the estuary of the River Derwent, making it the most southern of Australia's capital cities. Its skyline is dominated by the 1,271-metre (4,170 ft) kunanyi/Mount Wellington, and its harbour forms the second-deepest natural port in the world, with much of the city's waterfront consisting of reclaimed land. The metropolitan area is often referred to as Greater Hobart, to differentiate it from the City of Hobart, one of the five local government areas that cover the city. It has a mild maritime climate. [...] Founded in 1804 as a British penal colony, Hobart is Australia's second oldest capital city after SydneyNew South WalesWhaling quickly emerged as a major industry in the area, and for a time Hobart served as the Southern Ocean's main whaling port. Penal transportation ended in the 1850s, after which the city experienced periods of growth and decline. The early 20th century saw an economic boom on the back of mining, agriculture and other primary industries, and the loss of men who served in the world wars was counteracted by an influx of immigration. Despite the rise in migration from Asia and other non-English speaking regions, Hobart's population remains predominantly ethnically Anglo-Celtic, and has the highest percentage of Australian-born residents among Australia's capital cities. (wikipedia)
• • •

Maybe this would've flowed more nicely if I'd been able to mentally process 15A: Country without an official army, navy or air force (COSTA RICA). I thought the clue wanted a general term for such a country ... not an actual country. If the clue had had "Central American" in it or really anything in it to specify that a specific country was in play, I would've gotten it easily. I've been to COSTA RICA, I know it has no army. But I figured there must be a general term. And since the only other things I could conjure up in that NW corner were CCED and DAMUP and ERE (and I was not at all sure of those first two), this thing opened feeling sluggish, Saturdayish, meh. Jumped over to the NE where I read a bunch more clues I didn't know before seeing NOIRE and then getting ERASE TESS ISEE, and I was in business. Still, I never felt like I got a rhythm going in this one, never really felt like I hit a good patch. There was no thrill to this one. Bunch of solid stuff, but no real marquee answers. No wows. And it just didn't have bounce. This is a cluing voice problem that is, I'm sure, largely a matter of taste. Felt like it was trying to be hard in many places, but its idea of clever was rarely mine. That SNL clue, for instance, yeesh (10D: Letters that can fill in the blanks of "_A_D_ER" to make an appropriate surname). Poker slang? There's nothing I'd enjoy less, thanks (43A: TNT, in poker slang) (tbh, I didn't see this clue at all, so that's good). This puzzle wanted to Cliff Clavin me with trivia and tell me riddles and jokes out of a book and honestly I just want light and witty conversation, puzzle. 

[Maze runner] is a pretty good MINOTAUR clue. [Sixers in pro sports?] for TDS, also good. But a clue like the one for STAGE MOM feels like a swing and a miss (21D: One who knows the drama of raising children?)—I think of STAGE MOMs as ones who (***stereotypically***) create the (usually unnecessary) drama. Overbearing, overpresent, hovering, demanding. The term has a negative connotation that the clue doesn't catch. There is a difference between *knowing* the drama and *being* the drama. LAZY RIVER seems like a nice thing, but the water park (???) clue kills it. I got it easily enough, I guess, but LAZY RIVER just doesn't seem iconically water parky (admittedly, water parks are not places I would voluntarily go these days). Too often today (my beloved Friday!), I was either struggling to understand the clue or not really feeling the clue's whole vibe.

I liked RIDESHARE, though the "?" clue on it was deadening (12D: Pool service?). Big fan of DROPCAPs in general, and "NICE CATCH!" is probably the snazziest, most delightful thing in the grid. If it involved books, editing, poetry (METERED!) today, I was generally on board. I don't understand why the NE and SW corners are so weak in their short fill. Actually, what I don't understand is LTDAN and YENTE, the one a secondary character from a movie I've tried really hard to forget for the past quarter century, the other ... honestly, I just don't understand the spelling, I think. It's enough for me to keep YENTL and YENTA straight, but I've got YENTE too? (she's a character in "Fiddler on the Roof"). Looks like YENTA and YENTE are girl's names, YENTL is a girl *or* boy's name (as well as a Barbra Streisand movie), and YENTA is the only one of those that has become a regular English loan word (meaning, roughly, "busybody" or "gossip"). Anyway, if you needed YENTE in your grid, sure, you could use YENTE, but under SIDEA and SLIER, with that ambiguous last vowel, it just doesn't liven things up much. It just felt so anticlimactic to end down there, to have the last thing you fill in be ARE (60D: =) because you were not sure of the last vowel in YENTE, which is itself buried under a pile of overfamiliar stuff. When the highlights of a puzzle are very high, when it crackles and sizzles, swoops and spins, I tend not to notice little problems with the 4s and the 5s. But today, my brain didn't have those highs to enjoy, so it found something else to gnaw on. The Friday bar is So High now that there are close to half a dozen constructors I can name off the top of my head who routinely crush Fridays. Software plus the wordlist arms race means that putting together passable themeless grids isn't so hard any more. You need style, personality, verve. Computer power will get you to "serviceable." You need more. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. REMINDER: the Boswords Crossword Tournament is *this weekend* (July 25). Here's the announcement from tournament organizer John Lieb:
Registration is now open for the Boswords 2021 Summer Tournament, which will be held on Sunday, July 25. This event will be ONLINE only. Solvers can compete individually or in pairs. To register, to see the constructor roster, and for more details, go to, where past tournament puzzles are also available for purchase.
A percentage of the proceeds goes to local Boston charities. There are cool constructors involved, like Malaika Handa and Wyna Liu. You should definitely check it out.

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