Wryly humorous / TUES 8-31-21 / Yard sale caveat / Grassy South American plain / Mocking smiles

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Hey, everyone! It’s Clare for a Tuesday crossword on the last day of August! Hope everyone had a great month and is staying safe. I keep turning on the news and see cars evacuating, and it’s hard figuring out whether it’s in Northern California (where I currently am) or if it’s in the South, where Hurricane Ida hit. All I know is emergency responders are absolute heroes. 

Now, for something a tad more uplifting, on to the puzzle...

Eric Bornstein

Relative difficulty: Average
THEME: Food puns...

Theme answers:
  • WING NUTS (18A: Good snack for a pilot?)
  • TOUGH COOKIES (24A: Good snack for a gangster?)
  • BARGAINING CHIPS (39A: Good snack for a flea market dealer?)
  • FIRECRACKERS (51A: Good snack for an arsonist?)
  • EYE CANDY (62A: Good snack for an optometrist?)
Word of the Day: SENECA (6D: Roman philosopher who said "Life is never incomplete if it is an honorable one. At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is whole") —
Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, usually known as Seneca, was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work, satirist, from the post-Augustan age of Latin literature. As a writer Seneca is known for his philosophical works, and for his plays, which are all tragedies. (Wiki)
• • •

Overall, I thought this was a good, clean Tuesday. The food-related puns for the theme were fine and clever enough. I remember from a young age being told on the soccer field that I was a TOUGH COOKIE; on another note, if someone ever called me EYE CANDY, I’d probably smack them! There wasn’t a real “aha” for me, as we’ve seen this type of theme a fair amount before. But it was well-executed. And it was nice for the sake of making my solve slightly easier that the first part of the theme answers was pretty intuitive based on the identity of the snacker in the clues. 

My favorite part of the puzzle was some of the words that we just don’t see that often in a puzzle. Like: LITHE, DROLL, BRISK, LLANO, VANISH. I thought the best word in the puzzle was PLETHORA — there’s just something about that word that rolls off the tongue and looks pleasing. I also liked both the clue and answer with C-SECTION; I did have some trouble getting the answer because the clue 41D: Delivery option successfully duped me into trying to think of something mail-related like “overnight” or “one day.” So when I got CHIPS at the end of 39A and SASSY (45A) and was confident that they were correct, I was puzzled for a bit longer as I worked out what could start with “cs.” 

I also enjoyed how the puzzle played with proximity by having related answers near each other — i.e. SETH (12D: Brother of Cain) and ABEL (16A: Brother of Cain) crossing each other, along with RADAR (55D: Speeder catcher) and STOPS (56D: Pulls over, as a speeder) being next to each other. With the former, though, I did the downs first and originally put ABEL instead of SETH in at 12D (instead of 16A), which made me spend some unnecessary time working my way out. 

There were a couple things I wasn’t wild about in the puzzle. In particular, I say NO NO NO and not OLE OLE to 22D and 14A. The repetition feels a tad lazy, as you could use as many of each of those words as necessary to fill space. How many OLEs is too many — or not enough? Having AEIOU (3D) crossing OLE OLE cemented my annoyance. I also didn’t like having both I BET (32D) and I BEG (26D) in the puzzle. 

As a whole, I still thought this Tuesday puzzle ended up being a pretty good solve.

  • 60A as DONUT reminds me: Go get your two free Krispy Kreme doughnuts! They’re giving out two donuts (from 8/30 to 9/5) to people who are vaccinated. 
  • The answer TOE TAP (68A) had me standing up to try and see just how much of my tap dance routine to “Singin’ in the Rain” I could remember from when I was six. (The answer is about half of it!) 
  • I remember watching GLEE (19D) when it first aired, and it’s been funny to see old clips and realize how absolutely cringey it truly was. 
  • This is a total side note, but I’ve been bingeing (and loving) “Ted Lasso,” so I have to recommend that everyone immediately go and watch — it’s a phenomenal show!
Stay safe!

Signed, Clare Carroll, OLE!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sarcastic criticism / MON 8-30-21 / Mix of coffee and chocolate / Eggplant __ (cheesy dish, informally)

Monday, August 30, 2021

Constructor: BROOKE HUSIC

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Monday)

 L__CKS VOWEL SHIFT — Each theme answer is a word or phrase that begins with "L—CKS" or "L—X" (alternating). The vowel shifts in descending alphabetical order (AEIOU). So we have:
  • LACKS HEART (18a: "Doesn't have fortitude")
  • LEXINGTON (23a: "Home of the University of Kentucky")
  • LICKS THE SPOON (36a: "Finishes eating ice cream or soup, say")
  • LOCKSMITH (51a: "Rescuer for when you've lost your key")
  • LUXEMBOURG (56a: "Tiny neighbor of France")
Word of the Day: RECTO (Right-hand page of a book) —
Recto is the "right" or "front" side and verso is the "left" or "back" side when text is written or printed on a leaf of paper (folium) in a bound item such as a codexbookbroadsheet, or pamphlet. (Wikipedia)

two body-toes stacked on top of each other

Happy Monday! It's Megan again (the Renaissance poetry grad student from Boston), excited to be filling in for Rex a second time. I'm all set to start teaching again on Thursday, and I'm so ready to be back in the classroom (with masks, but in person) — especially now that the heat in Boston has died down a bit!

So today, we have a classic descending vowel puzzle. The five theme answers all begin with the same consonant sounds (here, a single syllable beginning with an "L" sound and ending with a "CKS" or "X" sound), but the vowel changes for each answer, and it changes in descending alphabetical order. It's a fairly old-fashioned kind of puzzle, which is absolutely fine — except when it LACKS HEART, as this one often DOES. My apologies in advance for the SNARK, but I'll try my best to MAKE NICE.

The theme answers (rather, their clues) just . . . aren't fun? LICKS THE SPOON has so much potential! It's a wonderful answer, but the clue just lays there, dead. "Finishes eating ice cream or soup, say." No joy. No baking cookies with a relative when you were little. None of that. Just an empty bowl. We also have two geographical locations (LEXINGTON and LUXEMBOURG) for the L_X themers, for some reason, and their clues ("Home of the University of Kentucky" and "Tiny neighbor of France") are bland. There have to be some other Lexington/Luxembourg fun facts floating around out there, just begging to be written into clues. When the puzzle format is this traditional, we need a little pizzazz, a little oomph, a little *jazz hand motion.* Just because it's a Monday doesn't mean the clues have to be . . . boring.

Finally — and this is remarkably nit-"picky" (har har), so feel free to disagree — LOCKSMITH stands out from the rest of the pack. It is a compound word: LOCK + SMITH. The "s" sound here belongs to the second part of the word, "smith," whereas in the rest of the theme answers, the "CKS" or "X" sound all comfortably land in the first word or in the first syllable. 

ovules, of course

I found the fill to be rather challenging for a Monday, especially in the NE corner. BILOXI (3d: "Mississippi city on the Gulf of Mexico") was utterly unknown to me. (I looked it up, and it seems to have been hit pretty hard by Hurricane Ida. I hope everyone down there is safe. Take care of yourselves and watch out for one another.)

I was stumped on BILOXI, so I was absolutely confounded by AMORS. It seems obvious in retrospect, especially because those little troublemakers appear frequently in the poetry I study, but I've also rarely encountered it in the plural form. AMOR in the singular? Great. Got it. Standard crossword fare. But plural? I couldn't parse it. I also struggled with A TASTE (6d: "Barely any, as food or drink"). I don't buy the clue. The situation of the clue doesn't seem to really match the situation of the answer. The clue suggests lack; the answer suggests restrained decadence. No one says, "Oh wow, I'm starving, I've only had A TASTE to eat today." 

Two elegant long down answers: INTRICACY and FOOT MODEL. But again, the clues fell a little flat. I feel like you could come up with a fresh, Monday-level clue for FOOT MODEL other than: "One who might have a contract with a sandal manufacturer." I mean, yes, factually, it's true. But you've already gone ahead and made the decision to put FOOT MODEL in your puzzle. Don't give me a "contract"! Give me something fun!

I have never heard the term RECTO (see word of the day), which was pretty embarrassing for me, since I study old books for a living! If you knew it, kudos! And if you didn't, well, neither did I. But now we do, and we can share it with our geeky book friends. 

Otherwise, a LOT of standard, un-flashy crosswordese in the corners: ALOE / OAR / EMT / POL / ELO / ELLE / LAPS / URI / ERIE / DISS / NAAN / ART / NERO. Happy to see two wonderful women, VANNA White and Laura DERN. Icons, both of them. And I got a chuckle from the eastern section: BODY on top of TOE on top of SNAIL. Because what is a SNAIL, except for a hardshell BODY stacked on top of a big, squishy TOE? (Don't @ me, malacologists - I know there's a lot more to snails than that, and y'all are doing great work.)

how I like to imagine myself writing today's blog post

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Signed, Megan Bowman, Crossword ABD

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Adds insult to injury / SUN 8-29-21 / Vinyl collection / Where fruit bat soup is eaten as a delicacy / Largest object in the Kuiper belt

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Constructor: Dory Mintz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (some parts a piece of cake, but the east side....not so much)


THEME: Familiar Phrase +  ə  = (Fill in your own level of enjoyment here)! — Add a schwa somewhere within a familiar phrase to get your theme answers and clue them with wacky ? clues (which are wackily clued literally!). 

Theme answers:

  • FANTASY SUPPORTS (22A: Beams of one's dreams?) from FANTASY SPORTS   
  • GO FOR BAROQUE (33A: Visit a museum to see a Rembrandt exhibit?) from GO FOR BROKE 
  • FALCON CARESSED (49A: Bird of prey that's gently petted?) from FALCON CREST
  • THEROUX IN THE TOWEL (67A: Actor Justin sitting poolside?) from THROW IN THE TOWEL
  • DERIDE APRICOTS (86A: Make fun of small orange fruits?) from DRIED APRICOTS
  • GRAVY TERRAIN (102A: Mashed potatoes, on a Thanksgiving plate?) from GRAVY TRAIN
  • THUNDER COLLAPSE (116A: Fourth-quarter meltdown at an N.B.A game in Oklahoma City?) from THUNDER CLAPS (could be one word or two...)

Word of the Day: OMAKASE (I'm cheating a little -- the answer is SUSHI to the clue 25A: Food served in an OMAKASE meal ) —

The phrase omakase, literally 'I leave it up to you',[3] is most commonly used when dining at Japanese restaurants where the customer leaves it up to the chef to select and serve seasonal specialties.[4] In American English, the expression is used by patrons at sushi restaurants to leave the selection to the chef, as opposed to ordering à la carte.[6] The chef will present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to the heaviest dishes.[7] The phrase is not exclusive to raw fish with rice and can incorporate grilling, simmering and other cooking techniques.

Customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in selecting dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance.[10][11] Ordering omakase can be a gamble, but the customer typically receives the highest-quality fish available at a lower cost than if it had been ordered à la carte.[12] According to Jeffrey Steingarten, recounting in Vogue a 22-course "memorable feast" that required several hours:

In the U.S., omakase usually refers to an extended sushi dinner, ideally eaten at the sushi counter, where the chef prepares one piece of fish at a time, announces its name and origin, answers your questions, and guesses what else you might enjoy and how much more you'd like to eat. You expect to be brought the most perfect seafood available at that time of year, fish that will be handled as carefully as a kidney awaiting transplantation and as respectfully as a still-living thing. You marvel at the endless training of the dedicated staff, the precision of their work, their incredible concentration for hours at a time, their lack of pretense, their quiet. And the beauty of their knives.



• • •

Hi there! It's Colin (NYC classical pianist) back again to fill in for Rex on this late summer Sunday! And what a thrilling and innovative theme for us today! OOPSIE -- I clearly made an error in totspeak (see: 60A). I meant -- What a ho-hum well-worn theme with some serious groaners for us today!


Let me get one thing out of the way. I know many readers of this blog are aware of Rex's general frustration level with the quality of Sunday puzzles. At times, I agree with him on that front -- if this really
is supposed to be the flagship puzzle of the damn Federation, then they better get the equivalent of Jean-Luc Picard to man the Enterprise every time it leaves a Starbase. (I promise no more Star Trek TNG references for the rest of this post. Maybe.) That being said, I do find I enjoy the Sunday puzzles (or tolerate their too often Dad-joke themes) more than Rex does. However, this one.....Uh? Oh.....not so much. 

Let's start with the theme. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a new theme concept -- which does not mean it should never be used again, of course! However, in my opinion, if such a simple theme as 'add a syllable to phrases' is going to headline the Sunday NYTXW, then it better be GOOD. I should be smirking, smiling, and ideally laughing at each (or, at least, some) of the theme answers. But these really fell flat with me. 

The first themer to fall (flat) for me was FALCON CARESSED. I flew though the NW corner, jumped to the NNW because YES WE CAN (30A: See 4A) literally told me to, and then got stuck so couldn't keep plowing eastward. So in looking to the south, I easily got CONN (31D: N.Y. neighbor) and reluctantly got ABACI (32D: Calculators of old). Truth be told, I really hoped I was wrong with that.....uh, oh....I wasn't. Biggest issue was not sure if I was more annoyed with the fact that ABACI was in the puzzle...or that I got it with only the A----. Long story short (too late) I got to FALCON CARESSED and that's when I literally told my wife out loud -- 'I figured it out. And I don't think I'm going to like it.' 

The other themers are just plain rough. No way to sugarcoat it. I have very little patience for using the word BAROQUE as a pun for BROKE (not to mention it required 14D to be the incredibly inelegant visual of ETSEQ). I've just heard it too many times. That looks just a wee ICKY (59A: Gross) to me. I feel like I can say that honestly separating my music background and hearing more BACH/BACK BAROQUE/BROKE HAYDN/HIDING "jokes" than anyone should ever be exposed to. Just stick with viola jokes (which in general are ALWAYS funny)! On that note (ouch....unfortunate pun there), if you want truly entertaining music humor, please enjoy some PDQ Bach (the genius Peter Schickele): 



A few of the other themers FARED better, but only slightly. Biggest problem with a big old Sunday puzzle is that if your theme doesn't work, you have an even larger canvas to expose it's issues. 

One last observation regarding the themers: I think I would have appreciated (maybe not liked, but at least appreciated) if all the theme answers had the added syllable in the same place, or at least in the same location in the sequence. Or if the themers were all somehow wackily related? Again, I fully acknowledge it's easier to point out flaws in the theme than to come up with a tight Sunday-worthy set....but I also don't think I'm wrong. (Right?) We did get three different vowels adding the schwa (A/E/O), which I did notice and appreciate....but I also noticed that we didn't get all five vowels in the set.

I'd like to take a moment and point out some clues in this puzzle that I really did enjoy. In general, my favorite kind of clues are ones that take a regular interesting-ish word OR SO (76D: ...ish) and make it fun/enjoyable/clever/spicy/crossword adjective meaning 'good'. For instance, INTER (11D: Lead-in to com or net, but not org) and MENU (90A: Something rectangular that might have more than four sides). Neither of those words is particularly exciting, and only 4 and 5 letters -- but I liked that those clues made me think for a second in a way that I hadn't thought about those words (or words in the clues) before. I also appreciated the clue for ESCALATOR (47D: Nonstop flight?). What I didn't appreciate was how brutal that section was for me. I am all for crunch, both in my late week crosswords, and in my spicy sushi rolls (ideally served in an OMAKASE meal! (see word of the day, above)), but man that I struggled there in the mideast. RAMAPO, MITER, tough clue on EPIDEMIC (especially now!), I definitely had some DISDAIN for the region. Again -- I don't mind being difficult, but that section felt off-balance with the rest of the puzzle (to me, obviously). I also confidently wrote in OR SO (76D), but then second guessed myself because I already had IF SO locked in at 38D: "In that case...". That only made that region more difficult for me to parse. Surely they wouldn't duplicate the word SO with such similar clues, right? Uh...oh....yup, they did.

Otherwise I found this fairly easy/standard for a Sunday puzzle. A few mistakes along the way, for sure though. I very confidently wrote in OVERSLEPT for (40D: Didn't hear the alarm, say) instead of SLEPT LATE.  I had ADVERT before ADPAGE (8D: Spot for a perfume sample in a magazine, maybe) -- and I'm glad I was initially wrong.


Side note: When I was a kid all the magazines we got had perfume and cologne AD PAGES in them -- did anyone alive ever open that little folded over part of the ADVERT and think -- 'I want to smell like this! It smells like cool water! I must emit this odor from all of my pores!' ?? Just asking. For a friend. 


I also find it very telling to me that in perusing this puzzle after completing it, I found true difficulty in choosing a 'Word of the Day' to post at the top of this blog. I love when the answers teach me something I didn't know, or at least if the clue teaches me something about the actual word that I did not know. Crosswords are about the beauty and fascination of our language. But at the end (or beginning) of the day, this puzzle did not inspire either of those sensations for me. This was definitely not my favorite Sunday effort. I wish that it were, but sadly that's not enough to MAKE IT SO.  


Signed, Colin Fowler, Court Musician of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mag whose first cover featured Michael Jordan and two young fans / SAT 8-28-21 / UK's tallest building named for its look / Symbol for stock volatility in finance / Sarcastic remark to a slowpoke / Western city on the Humboldt River / Title hero of a 2021 Pixar film

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: None 

Word of the Day: Natural numbers (29D: Some are natural: Abbr. => NOS.) —
In mathematics, the natural numbers are those used for counting (as in "there are six coins on the table") and ordering (as in "this is the third largest city in the country").
• • •

Just not my day. Really didn't like the cluing on this one at all and so even though there are several fine entries, the solving experience was rough and unpleasant. Maybe if I had any idea what "Bridge of Spies" was, or who was in it, the experience would've been slightly more tolerable, but probably only slightly. The main problem for me was the middle. Almost all of it. I just had no way in. Never heard of THE SHARD (5D: U.K.'s tallest building, named for its look). Thought ELKO (23D: Western city on the Humboldt River) was RENO, and then ENID. And on and on. I had EDITS and eventually AFTER PARTY and that is all I had in the middle. Bottom finished, top finished, middle ... empty. Wanted an actual animal, not ASLAN, so even with -LAN in place I just kept trying to think of animals. Oh, I guessed THRASHER, so that was in there too, but it wasn't much help. Couldn't bring myself to write in SOUP for 38D: Stock holder because it seemed so stupid. "Holder?" Sigh, whatever. But the real backbreaker in the middle, the thing that, once corrected, helped me finally get traction and work my way to the end, was "GIVE IT A SEC," which was the cool answer I was sure was correct for 12D: "Be patient" ("GIVE IT TIME"). That A SEC just killed me. When I finally decided to take it out, I wrote in TIN at 36A: Spam might be kept in it, and that started everything going in the right direction. TIN gave me LINES and ANGRY and then -THING gave me HOT and then SOLO HOMER and on to the end. But honestly this was just grueling, with almost no ameliorating sparkle or cleverness. And the cluing, I just don't understand...

DARK HUMOR" is not a phrase I've ever associated with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." I have watched that movie a million times and never thought it "dark." Yes, a guy has various limbs chopped off and they spurt blood, but honestly there's no "darkness" to that scene at all. The movie is zany. It's comedy. It's parody. Dark shmark. It's downright light-hearted. Didn't know S.I. FOR KIDS existed. I'm sure that's supposed to be a marquee answer, but if a magazine falls in the woods and I'm not there to hear it ... I can't appreciate it too much. Also, S.I. FOR KIDS. it turns out, simply isn't the title of the "mag" in question. Here's wikipedia's first line: "Sports Illustrated Kids (SI Kids, trademarked Sports Illustrated KIDS, sometimes Sports Illustrated for Kids) is a monthly spin-off of the weekly American sports magazine Sports Illustrated." "Sometimes"????? So we get a "mag" that's "sometimes" this title, and we get it in made-up abbr. form. Pfft. Cluing COURTESY via a random quote was cruel—that's a long answer to give over to a mere fill-in-the-blank clue. No joy there. Haven't been paying much attention to new movies because theaters haven't been open that long so "LUCA" got by me, I'm afraid. Had U.S. POST before U.S. MAIL (I blame this on my actual home mailbox, which says "POST" on it). I haven't heard the term FLAME WAR for what feels like decades, so I had real trouble remembering the kind of "war" I was dealing with. I think "LET'S DO THIS THING!" is valid and good and belongs in the center (37A: "Ready for action!"). And I like AFTER PARTY. Nothing much else here interests me. And there's a lot of AONE TREY YESES OGRE ADT DADAS ANION SOLTI ADHOC NOS LIETO HEE HAW ROM PSHAW STILE ERST going on here. That is, a lot of gunky short crosswordesey and somewhat erstwhile fill. The SE corner was easy, but that's the only part I moved through smoothly... actually, the NE was pretty pliable too. But overall, a slog; a slog that started with me writing in HYPO / OTHER instead of TREY / YESES (1D: Long shot, informally / Column on a survey), and never got much more pleasant. YESES, yeesh. Super glad this is over.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


San Francisco-based candy brand / FRI 8-27-21 / Chef Lewis who wrote The Taste of Country Cooking / Product whose name comes from the French for without caffeine / Bread whose name derives from the Sanskrit for bread / Unit of measure in a tongue twister / Greek goddess who could turn water into wine / Choreographer who posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014

Friday, August 27, 2021

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EDNA Lewis (19A: Chef Lewis who wrote "The Taste of Country Cooking") —

Edna Lewis (April 13, 1916 – February 13, 2006) was a renowned American chef, teacher, and author who helped refine the American view of Southern cooking. She championed the use of fresh, in season ingredients and characterized Southern food as fried chicken (pan-, not deep-fried), pork, and fresh vegetables – most especially greens. She wrote and co-wrote four books which covered Southern cooking and life in a small community of freed slaves and their descendants.

• • •

The longer answers here (gorgeous as always from Ms. Weintraub) end up overcoming what feels like a tidal wave of short fill that inundates the grid. There are only six 3's, but there are roughly [starts counting, gives up, takes a guess] six thousand 4's, and a small wheelbarrowful of 5's, so that for too much of this solve I felt like I was hacking through undergrowth. It's got kind of a boring shape, more like a generic early-week themed grid, and the result is a lot of short answers. Now it's definitely got a themeless answer count (this one's 70—typically, themelesses have to have 72 or fewer entries), which means we still get a sizable number of longer answers—the flashy stuff that generally makes the Friday (and if we're lucky, the Saturday) worth doing. But for some reason this particular 70-answer grid looks and (often) feels more like an early-week grid, which in this case means it's chock full o' the short stuff. Now, the short stuff isn't particularly bad. As usual with this constructor, the grid is very nicely polished. I just felt like I was kind of slogging through a FEN of 4's and 5's to get to the good stuff. And yet I still say: worth it. Because the good stuff is truly vibrant, and the colloquial phrases in particular are original and refreshing ("OH IS THAT SO...?"; "BEFORE I FORGET..."; "ANSWER ME!"). You've also got CAKE TOPPERS and SEX TAPES and RED HERRINGs flying around the grid (propelled by TELEKINESIS, no doubt; everyone knows SEE'S candy gives you TELEKINESIS).

Never thought I'd say this, but Horsefeathers McGee is right
(1A: What takes a licking and keeps on sticking)

I was slower than I ought to have been today because of two perfect yet somehow wrong long answers. First, I wrote in CLEAR NIGHT before CLEAR SKIES (17A: Stargazer's need). I was sad to see my answer go, as it felt more evocative and poetic to me. Also, more directly related to gazing at stars (you do that at night, generally, right?). Then I wrote in ROSE GARDEN instead of ROSE BUSHES (27D: View from the Oval Office), and in that case I definitely think my answer was better. It's literally the ROSE GARDEN that you look out on from the Oval Office, isn't it? I've never been ... but ... I thought that's what it was called. Yes, here ... google seems to think that's right:

Now I can't argue, those roses do come in bush form, but especially if you are cluing it as a "view" (which implies a kind of aesthetic totality), I think the answer has to be ROSE GARDEN. "Bushes" was a hard landing, a very rough return to earth. 

The only other struggle I had was the NE corner, where the TOAD clue meant nothing to me and OENO, same (I know OENO as a very very crosswordesey prefix, not a goddess ... I have read a ton of Greek mythology and yet seem to have missed her entirely). Then I also did not know EDNA and calling GRIT a [Sandpaper specification] just seemed bizarre to me ... is there non-GRIT sandpaper? Does it come in Low-GRIT form? Sandpaper Lite? If you'd said "property" instead of "specification," well then now we're in business. I follow you. But "specification" just threw me. And so I spent most of my stuck-time stuck in a patch of 4's. A bit of unpleasantness. But all in all, this was fun.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bygone Chevrolet division / THU 8-26-21 / Capisce in '70s slang / Jargony rationale for business merger / First space probe to enter Saturn's orbit / Actor Williamson who played Merlin in "Excalibur" / Pink alcoholic drink / Predecessors of Lenovos / Real first name of Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Constructor: Ashish Vengsarkar

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: CROSS-COUNTRY (40A: One way to run ... or a hint to four geographical intersections found in this grid) — four pairs of regularly-clued answers cross at a mystery letter that belongs to neither answer; that letter, when entered, forms the names of countries in both directions. So ... when the answers cross, each one turns into a country. The mystery letters are R, I, N, and A, which can be anagrammed to make IRAN, but ... I have no idea if or why I'm supposed to be anagramming at the end, so maybe I'm just seeing things, or trying to make the puzzle do more than it's doing...

Theme answers (the red letters are the extra letters, where the theme answers cross to form countries):
  • SURINAME / MALI (21A: It comes first in China, but second in the U.S. / 4D: Bad start?)
  • NORWAY / RWANDA (9A: "Not a chance!" / 11D: Title character in a classic John Cleese comedy)
  • NIGER / BENIN (68A: Media exec Robert / 58D: Hippie happening)
  • PANAMA / TONGA (72A: First airline to complete a round-the-world flight / 57D: Grab by pinching, as an ice cube)
Word of the Day: CASSINI (1D: First space probe to enter Saturn's orbit) —

The Cassini–Huygens space-research mission (/kəˈsni ˈhɔɪɡənz/ kə-SEE-nee HOY-gənz), commonly called Cassini, involved a collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to send a space probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. The Flagship-class robotic spacecraft comprised both NASA's Cassini space probe and ESA's Huygenslander, which landed on Saturn's largest moon, TitanCassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit. The two craft took their names from the astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.

Launched aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur on October 15, 1997, Cassini was active in space for nearly 20 years, with 13 years spent orbiting Saturn and studying the planet and its system after entering orbit on July 1, 2004. (wikipedia)

• • •

I really like the underlying idea of this puzzle, but it is really lacking in follow-through. The whole mystery/extra-letter thing just isn't well-explained or coherent enough. These are unclued letters, so what do I do with them? OK, I see a country there ... why? Why this country? Am I even supposed to be rearranging these letters? Because they aren't in any clear grid order (top to bottom or left to right). I guess you can kind of read "IR" across the top and "AN" across the bottom, kinda, sorta, but the puzzle just felt like it fizzled out. Once I got the revealer and figured out what it meant, I enjoyed seeing the countries come into view. But this puzzle kind of lost its identity somewhere. It looks like a meta puzzle (a puzzle that has another puzzle to solve after you've filled in all the squares). If you've done many meta puzzles, then you probably immediately looked to the extra bits (R, I, N, A) to see what you could do with them. You might even have circled them, if you solved on paper (or printed the puzzle out, as I always do). And if you looked at those letters, you probably saw IRAN very quickly. The question was: "Why?" Also, "Is that all?" Metas tend to have titles that hint at what you should be looking for. Also, when you get the meta answer, typically, you *know* got it. There's a tremendous feeling of "Aha!" But here, without a title to point you in the right direction, without puzzle notes, there's no "Aha!" There's just a "huh?" The theme had all these swoops and flourishes but it just couldn't stick the landing. As a solver, I'm just left alone with a bunch of possibly random letters, with no instructions and an eerie sense that either a. I'm missing something or b. that's all there is. Neither a. nor b. is particularly satisfying. 

The only other thing I have to say about this puzzle is: RULY? Truly? (55A: Neat and orderly). I want to say that I am gruntled about ruly, but that's actually the opposite of how I feel ... I think. Is "gruntled" a word without the "dis" in front of it? Because I know RULY is not a word without the "un" in front of it. Come on. Try using it in a sentence today and see if anyone understands what the hell you're saying. "What RULY children you have!" "How dare you!" The grid is oversized today (16x15), in order to allow the revealer to sit securely in the center, so your sluggish time might be partly due to that. I've never heard of CASSINI, a name I am familiar with only when it follows OLEG (a crosswordese legend), so getting started on this one in the NW was a bit of a challenge, despite many of the shorter answers up there coming easily. The MALI / SURINAME crossing wasn't working, obviously, and was made tougher by the fact that MALA- seemed like maybe it was a real prefix ... (?) ... look, you give me four letters, I'm going to assume the answer is four letters long. But I stumbled down to the center, got the revealer, and then the premise was (mostly) clear and everything was easy from there on out. 

the moment I figured things out

Somehow, none of the other country crosses gave me trouble. Nothing else about the grid seems terribly remarkable. Oh, noooooo idea who NICOL Williamson is despite *owning* "Excalibur" on Blu-ray (9D: Actor Williamson who played Merlin in "Excalibur"). I probably do know who he is, at least by sight, but seeing that name come into view was a total surprise. The long Downs in this grid are nice. I need to wrap things up now. Still have work to do before my 8:30am class because it's the first week of school and some big part of me is still in denial. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Singer Mai with the 2018 hit Boo'd Up / WED 8-25-21 / This device makes prepping cherries a breeze / Word that comes from Lakota for dwelling

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Constructor: Adam Vincent

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Say what? — familiar phrases are reimagined as phrases describing a type of utterance, all of them clued as an alleged example of that kind of utterance; the second word in the theme answer is given a different meaning in each case; thus:

Theme answers:
  • MASS APPEAL is clued as an appeal a priest might make at mass (17A: "Please continue your generous support of the church") (
  • PITTER PATTER is clued as patter one might use to hawk cherry pitters (27A: "This device makes prepping cherries a breeze")
  • ASSEMBLY LINE is clued as a line said by a principal or other school official re: school assembly (44A: "Students should report to the gym for a special presentation")
  • FEVER PITCH becomes a pitch made for anti-fever medicine (58A: "This medicine will reduce your temperature in no time")
Word of the Day:
ELLA Mai (41A: Singer Mai with the 2018 hit "Boo'd Up") —

Ella Mai Howell (born 3 November 1994) is an English singer-songwriter. Her musical career began at London's British and Irish Modern Music Institute in 2014, during which time she auditioned as part of a trio on the 11th season of The X Factor. In 2015, she uploaded a four-track solo EP of originals to SoundCloud titled Troubled, and was discovered on social media by American record producer Mustard and signed with his record label, 10 Summers Records.

From 2016 to 2018, she released three EPs on the label, including TimeChange, and Ready. Her self-titled debut studio album was released in October 2018 and featured the singles "Boo'd Up" and "Trip", which were released on 20 February 2018 and 3 August 2018, respectively. In 2019, "Boo'd Up" was nominated for two Grammy AwardsSong of the Year and Best R&B Song, winning for the latter, as well as Mai herself being nominated for British Breakthrough Act at the 2019 Brit Awards. At the 2019 Billboard Music Awards, she won three awards, including the award for Top R&B Artist.

• • •

It's not entirely clear why some very straightforward themes make me go "blah" and others make me go "solid workmanship!" It's an old theme type, this wacky reimagining of familiar phrases, where the second words in the theme phrases all change meaning in the same direction (i.e. from their original-phrase meanings into a shared category of meaning—today, utterances). But the oldness of the theme type doesn't mean the puzzle is bound to feel stale. You can execute this theme type well or poorly, and that's all that really matters. Today's seemed more than sufficiently clever to me. When I got down to FEVER PITCH, I nodded respectfully. "Yeah, OK, that works." Even though FEVER PITCH actually probably works least well of all the themers today—you're pitching anti-fever medicine, so using "fever" adjectivally in relation to "pitch" feels pretty tenuous. And yet FEVER PITCH is probably the most vibrant answer of the set, in terms of sheer grid appeal, so I can make some allowances for it. The most ingenious of these repurposings is probably PITTER PATTER, a fact I found out only after the puzzle was over—I had so much of the answer filled in from crosses that I eventually just wrote it in without ever looking at the clue. It would not surprise me if PITTER PATTER were the whole reason this puzzle came into being—sometime you notice weird things about a single phrase and then bam, an entire theme idea presents itself. At any rate, this theme works fine. I had a fine time. When I say this theme idea is sufficient, for once I am not damning it with faint praise. I liked it. This clears the bar for what NYTXW Wednesday themes should be.

I solved in a giant "U" shape (roughly, from the NW down the west coast along the bottom and then back up the east coast to the NE). This is an odd solving route for me, especially for an easyish themed puzzle—these usually follow a pretty predictable top-to-bottom pattern. I just kept working crosses and falling down down down. This is probably why I never looked at the PITTER PATTER clue. Just went right past it. I also somehow never saw the BLUE STATE clue (11D: It leans to the left). In that case, I didn't even guess the answer. I got it all from crosses without ever once checking in on it. Going over the puzzle just now I was surprised to see it there. Giant answer and I missed it completely. Only two answers gave me any real trouble today, both of them four letters, both of them sending out all their troublesomeness from the third letter position. I got 1D: Smartphone button down to HO-E and I swear to you I had no idea what the answer was. Just stared at it. "Does the new iOS update come with a HOPE button now?" Turns out it's just the button on the front of my phone that I press roughly one million times a day. It doesn't say "HOME" on it and I have never thought of it as a "HOME" button but that's what it's called. In googling just now, I learned that apparently the newest phones don't have HOME buttons anymore. I love how "old" my four-year-old phone is. You say "Planned obsolescence," I say "Instant vintage!" The other four-letter flummoxer was MAYA, a perfectly familiar name but I did not remember that that is the VP's sister's name (we have to know VP sisters now? Try playing that game with veeps of yore and let me know how it goes). So even at MA-A, I was not sure what I was dealing with. MARA is a name. MALA is a name. And the cross was a "?" clue, so I had a brief feeling of "uh oh," but then YEA seemed the only possible answer for [Passing remark?], so it all worked out.

Wanted BRASSIERE at 8D: Support on the shoulder but it wouldn't fit and then it turned out to be just the BRA STRAP, a much much better answer. Had BARD before LORD for Tennyson. I think that's it for missteps. And that's it for this write-up. Shout-out to OXEYE for the early traction (14A: Kind of daisy). In small doses, crosswordese is your friend!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Promise that Aladdin sings to Jasmine / TUE 8-24-21 / Gossip that gets spilled / Vehicle with Vatican City registration plates / A grand slam nets four of these for short / Computer program that blurs out military installations

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Constructor: Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: somewhat harder than the typical Tuesday, but this will vary widely based on your familiarity / non-familiarity with '90s animated movie song lyrics

THEME: "I CAN SHOW / YOU / THE WORLD" (32A: With 39- and 44-Across, promise that Aladdin sings to Jasmine (and a hint to the answers to the starred clues)) — theme answers are things that "show you the world":

Theme answers:
  • POCKET ATLAS (17A: *Miniaturized reference)
  • GOOGLE EARTH (11D: *Computer program that blurs out military installations)
  • PLANETARIUM (23D: *Facility where things are always looking up?)
  • "PALE BLUE DOT" (60A: *Iconic photograph taken by Voyager 1 at the request of Carl Sagan)

Word of the Day:

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU), as part of that day's Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.

In the photograph, Earth's apparent size is less than a pixel; the planet appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight reflected by the camera.

Voyager 1, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and take one last photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of astronomer and author Carl Sagan. The phrase "Pale Blue Dot" was coined by Sagan in his reflections on the photograph's significance, documented in his 1994 book of the same name. (wikipedia)

• • •

Is this what Millennial Nostalgia feels like? I think it's fine, but no more complaints about boomer nostalgia, or puzzles built entirely around Beatles lyrics, OK? "Aladdin" was probably the last animated Disney film I saw in the theater. I remember seeing it with friends early in grad school, just as I remember seeing "Beauty and the Beast" the year earlier and "The Little Mermaid" with my girlfriend in college a few years before that. By the time "Lion King" hit, I was done. The wall-to-wall Elton John-ness of it all just did me in. Animated movie fare is kind of a haze after that. We're so used to ubiquitous animated movies / series now that people forget what a still-unusual thing animated fare that appealed to adults as well as children was in the late '80s / early '90s. "The Little Mermaid" appeared at roughly the same time as "The Simpsons" did on TV, and though they're wildly different, they both exploded into a culture that was not used to seeing animation that wasn't solely for kiddies. "Wait, they make cartoons for grown-ups now?" It was a somewhat joyous time. And now (and for years now), it's adult animation saturation. So yes, "Aladdin" was a huge deal, as that whole first wave of Disney films was, and all of those movies have of course had second lives on Broadway, or in remakes, or what have you. I do think asking for the lyrics (rather than the song title) is a bit specific for a Tuesday puzzle. But otherwise yeah, this theme works. All those themers do, in fact, show you the world. I had no idea what "PALE BLUE DOT" was—that is, I'd heard the term, but had never seen the photograph. It's something else. The point of the picture is we barely exist. You wouldn't know we were there if you didn't have someone out where we are.

[the titular dot is roughly half way up the rightmost color bar]

This is a good puzzle for demonstrating how theme density affects fill quality, in that the very worst (in the sense of most preposterous) answer, TWO TO, occurs *precisely* where the theme is densest. It is the nail in the stack of answers that form the revealer, in the dead center of the puzzle. Faced with -WOT-, yeah, there is not a lot a constructor can do with that letter combination. In fact, I'm not sure there's *anything* a constructor (or two constructors) can do besides put TWO TO in there. It's an absurd answer, in that no one is ever likely to actually say it (TEN TO, sure, TWO TO, come on, just round up). But if the only answer you'd chuck is the one holding the whole theme together, I guess you can look the other way. Besides, the answer does give us the "2" trifecta, so that's fun—the answer reads like an echo of the Across answer just above it ("I DO TOO ... TWO ... TO ...").

The themers were the most challenging part of the grid by far (made slightly more challenging by the fact that one of them, PLANETARIUM, had a "?" clue) I had RED OAK before RED ELM (?) (24A: Tree with durable wood), and AHA before AHH (61D: "I see now"). Gotta go. First day of Fall teaching today, and I am, uh, less prepared than I'd like to be. Also, haven't taught in person since Mar. 2020, so this should be ... interesting. Fun, I hope. Enjoy your day!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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