Performer's grand slam in modern parlance / THU 9-30-21 / Calif school that's about 20 miles from the Mexican border / Major Chinese internet company / Pregnancy hormone / Acqua cause of annual flooding in Venice

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Constructor: Rich Proulx

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SOUND MIXING (57A: Academy Awards category eliminated in 2021 ... or a hint to interpreting four clues in this puzzle) — familiar two-word (or two-part) phrases clued as the "mixing" of two "sounds," i.e. as equations following this pattern: [sound] + [sound] = [regular clue]:

Theme answers:
  • TWITTER BUZZ (17A: [Birds] + [Bees] = P.R. campaign goal)
  • HUMDRUM (26A: [Lightsaber] + [Impatient fingers] = Boring)
  • RING POP (36A: [Cellphone] + [Bubble] = Edible accessory)
  • LOW ROLL (48A: [Cow] + [Thunder] = Snake eyes, e.g.)
Word of the Day: RELAXIN (44D: Pregnancy hormone) —

Relaxin is a protein hormone of about 6000 Da first described in 1926 by Frederick Hisaw. ["Da" = Dalton, "a unit used in expressing the molecular weight of proteins, equivalent to atomic mass unit."]

The relaxin-like peptide family belongs in the insulin superfamily and consists of 7 peptides of high structural but low sequence similarity; relaxin-1 (RLN1), 2 (RLN2) and 3 (RLN3), and the insulin-like (INSL) peptides, INSL3INSL4INSL5 and INSL6. The functions of relaxin-3, INSL4, INSL5, and INSL6 remain uncharacterised. [...] In the female, it is produced by the corpus luteum of the ovary, the breast and, during pregnancy, also by the placentachorion, and decidua.

In the male, it is produced in the prostate and is present in human semen. (wikipedia)

• • •

So you're telling me MOOROLL is not a thing?

I didn't know SOUND MIXING was an Academy Award to begin with, so the MIXING part was weirdly hard for me to get at the end. I had DESIGN in there at first. Then tried to cram in EDITING. But MIXING much better expresses the whole sound equation thing happening in the theme clues today, which I think basically works—that is, these themers are all phrases made out of the combination ("mixing") of two sounds. The equation gimmick is clever, even if the themers do end up essentially double-clued. I can imagine the theme clues being written with the first part dropped entirely, such that the revealer would cause you to look back and notice, "oh, right, those are indeed two sounds mixed together," but I think it's more fun to have the weird sound equation thing going on. It puts the theme into the mix, allowing it to be visible and relevant to the solve throughout the puzzle instead of just something you notice at the end. It makes the theme a lot easier to crack than usual, but the difficult-ish cluing overall, as well as two terms I've never seen in my life, made the overall solving experience reasonably Thursday-ish in the end. 

Not only had I never heard of BAIDU (12D: Major Chinese internet company) or RELAXIN, I had no way of inferring any part of those answers, any single letter, and so working the crosses was really harrowing. If even one went wrong, or was at all ambiguous, I was going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble. As for the BAIDU crosses, the only one that seems at all potentially problematic is ABE—maybe you aren't familiar with old NYC mayors—but I don't know what else the name could be with an A_E pattern. Doubtful any mayor was ever named ACE or AXE. As for RELAXIN, the weak link there is SNERT—a familiar bit of crosswordese to anyone who's been solving the puzzle since the 20th century, but not exactly a name that is current or *at all* inferrable. I can definitely see the Hagar the Horrible-ignorant among us going for some different letter in the "N"'s place ... though I can't really imagine what that letter would be. Looks like -IN is the most common hormone name ending, so maybe the "N" was more inferrable than I thought. Anyway, I got everything right. BAIDU and RELAXIN were just completely new to me, and particularly hard to get (not surprisingly, neither one has ever been an entry in the NYTXW before).

The fill is a little rough in places. The whole NW and N is kind of a wreck (ALTA ADMIN ANNO + ASSOC USBS LSU all abbrev-clustered together there). OXES is a pretty awful stretch (34D: Dumb ___ (buffoons)). AS A PIN is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, even (especially?) with the cutesy "?" clue (24A: Neat analogy?). I have heard of data mining, but never thought of a single DATA MINER as a thing (I'm imagining someone at their keyboard with overalls and a little lamp helmet on). My only complaint there is that I think of data mining as much more nefarious / surveillance-y than simply "searching for patterns in the statistical noise," so the answer itself bums me out a little. I would normally be very bummed out by LIZ Cheney as well, but since she's vociferously anti-Trump (and anti-Trumpist), I'm gonna let her pass. I wrote her in first as LYN, but that's her mom (spelled "Lynne"). I guess "DO" is duped in "YES I DO" and UPDO, but I really DO not care. Really liked COZY UP TO and "I'M ALL OUT" . This feels like the first puzzle I've (mostly) liked in a while. A harbinger of a good weekend ahead (I'm choosing to believe).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Unfiltered and unpasteurized brew / WED 9-29-21 / Mane character of classic TV / Mammal with prehensile proboscis / Like background of Wicked poster / Assistant with goofy beatboxing routine just ask / K-pop star whose hit 2012 song refrain made The Yale Book of Quotations (whatever that is)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "SECRET" ??? (66A: When revealed in this puzzle, it reverses the meanings of answers to the starred clues) — for the relevant Across clues to be correct, the circled squares have to be empty, but for the Downs, they have to be filled—and filling them turns the Across clue into its opposite. Also, the circled squares themselves spell out SECRET:

Theme answers:
  • REIGN (RESIGN) (13A: *Stay in power)
  • HAVE (HEAVE) (23A: *Hold on to)
  • OVERT (COVERT) (26A: *Done openly)
  • EVOLUTIONARY (REVOLUTIONARY) (37A: *Changing gradually)
  • FASTS (FEASTS) (50A: *Doesn't eat)
  • HERE (THERE) (54A: *On this spot)
Word of the Day: ASMARA (10D: Capital of Eritrea) —
Asmara (/æsˈmɑːrə/ əs-MAHR), or Asmera, is the capital and most populous city of Eritrea, in the country's Central Region. It sits at an elevation of 2,325 metres (7,628 ft), making it the sixth highest capital in the world by altitude. The city is located at the tip of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge of the Eritrean Highlands and the Great Rift Valley in neighbouring Ethiopia. In 2017, the city was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved modernist architecture. The site of Asmera was first settled in 800 BC with a population ranging from 100 to 1000. The city was then founded in the 12th century AD after four separate villages unified to live together peacefully after long periods of conflict. Under Italian rule the city of Asmara was made capital of Eritrea in the last years of the 19th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

SECRET has nothing to do with "opposite," so ... I'm just stunned by the irrelevance of SECRET. The main idea of the puzzle isn't SECRET. The main idea is that the circled squares reverse (*reverse*) the meaning of the Across term, turning it into its *opposite* ... so if you're going to have a revealer, it should be something that conveys that. SECRET conveys nothing. It's overgeneral and ridiculous and honestly completely useless. Extraneous. You don't need it at all. I finished this puzzle never even noticing that there *was* a revealer. I saw that the circled letters spelled out SECRET, and I thought, "well, that's interesting, but it has Nothing to do with the actual gimmick, weird." And *then* I saw that there was a revealer, which just seemed goofy and unnecessary. I mean, you must have seen what was going on with the theme before you got down there, so SECRET, at that point, would be a. wrong and b. completely anti-climactic. There is no punch in the revealer, and there's especially no punch in the *repeated* SECRET in the circled squares. In fact, there was never much of a SECRET at all, since the Down crosses give you those squares. You can see the gimmick pretty quickly. I'm genuinely astonished at how weak a revealer / spelled-out thingie SECRET is. If REVERSE had been the revealer ... maybe you've got something. Or ANTONYM. I dunno. Something. SECRET ... what a waste. Another example of a technical / architectural feat done for its own sake, with no concern for whether the concept underneath it all really makes any sense. SECRET ... wow ... still shaking my head over the fact that I saw the revealer so late and that all it did was repeat the world I could already see inside the circled letters, and that that word was (still) in no way specifically related to the actual theme concept (which, again, is meaning reversal, not SECRETs). 

Do people use DHL? I believe it exists because I do crosswords, but I want to call it DSL every time (oh, also: do people use DSL?). YODELLED with two "L"s looks nutts. If LEVELER has one "L" then YODELED should be spelled thusly, and yes, my spellcheck likes the one-L version and hates the two-L so what is even happening there? Are we yodel(l)ing on a peak in Britain? Yodel(l)ing while British. Isn't the two-L spelling typically a British thing? The extra "L makes me want to pronounce it with three syllables, the same way "learned" can be pronounced with two.

I know the title "Heather Has Two Mommies" but LESLEA, nope, that slipped out of my brain (44A: Newman who wrote "Heather Has Two Mommies"). Talk about a wordlist name—all those vowels! Speaking of wordlist names: REAL ALE (29A: Unfiltered and unpasteurized brew). That entry is just an excuse to get lots of 1-point Scrabble letters into the grid to act like glue and help you hold the grid together. I've never heard of REAL ALE, the same way I've never heard of SHAM ALE. SHAM ALE for my real friends, REAL ALE ale for my sham friends! (and LESLEA, probably). I reforgot ASMARA today, but reremembered it after a couple of crosses, so I give myself a "C" on my ASMARA-remembering test. Big "D'oh!" moment with CAROLE King. You got me there, clue (26D: King of pop). Nice one. I also wrote in TIRE (off the "E") for 49A: It's in heavy rotation on the highway (AXLE). Probably not a great idea to put USER (NAME) and USED (CDS) *and* (!!?) DISUSE in the same puzzle. That's just lazy / negligent. I need coffee now. Looking forward to tomorrow's puzzle! See you (T)HERE! Mwah!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Derby cocktail / TUES 9-28-21 / Like many bridal veils / Actress Sohn of "The Wire" / Romeo and Juiliet had one

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Hey, everyone, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of September! Weirdly enough, for whatever reason, this month absolutely seemed to fly by for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t have law school classes every day, or maybe because my milestones these days seem to be sports-related (go, Giants!). Speaking of sports, my sister and I decided to start learning to play tennis after watching the U.S. Open. It may be too soon to call us the next Williams sisters or the next Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, but maybe we’ll get there eventually. 

On to the puzzle... 

Constructor: Meghan Morris

Relative difficulty: Difficult for a Tuesday
THEME: ANGLE (31D: Relationship of the circled letters to the apt words they connect to in this puzzle) — the three theme answers intersect the letters A-N-G-L-E and form an angle

Theme answers: 
  • BEING OBTUSE (17A: Refusing to understand) 
  • DO THE RIGHT THING (40A: 1989 Spike Lee title offering good, if vague, advice) 
  • ACUTE ACCENT (63A: One of a résumé pair)
Word of the Day: NAURU (8D: Island nation that’s the world’s smallest republic) —
Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country and microstate in Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 km (190 mi) to the east. Nauru is the third-smallest country in the world behind Vatican City and Monaco, making it the smallest republic. Its population of about 10,000 is the world’s second smallest, after Vatican City. (Wiki)
• • •

Overall, I thought this puzzle was very impressive architecturally. There were circled letters, a theme revealer, angles formed, and even a pangram! This whole puzzle felt quite ambitious, especially for a first-time NYT Crossword constructor like Meghan Morris. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen LIFE-GIVING (11D: Animating) or SETS ABLAZE (29D: Fires up?) used in a NYTimes crossword, so it’s fun that they were worked into the puzzle. I also liked having W.E.B. DU BOIS (6D: Cofounder of the N.A.A.C.P. and author of "The Souls of Black Folk") as another long down, as he’s an oft-overlooked historical figure whose achievements deserve a lot more attention than they get. TRYST (70A: Romeo and Juliet had one) is always a fun word to see in a puzzle, and I also liked the way it was clued. The way the ANGLEs intersected the themers was also clever; I especially liked that the word formed four right ANGLEs by intersecting with the “g” smack in the middle of DO THE RIGHT THING (40A)

Overall, though, I just didn’t find the puzzle that much fun to solve. The fill somehow felt quite clunky. There were so many clues with “abbr.” in them — 66A: To wit, abbr.; 26A: Abbr. on a wrapper; 58D: Much mail: Abbr.; 61D: Periods in the N.B.A.: Abbr.; 65: Forensic abbr. And then the answers for 58D and 61D were almost identical — LTRS and QTRS, respectively. 

I really noticed the clunkiness in the southwest corner. I didn’t like the use of JAVA (55D) and UNIX (56D), let alone the cross-referencing. JAVA is designed to not be dependent on the operating system, so linking it to a specific one doesn’t make much sense: 55D: Language that may be used in [UNIX]. It just felt like this was an attempt to use these words together and trick the solver into thinking the clue was about a spoken language. For another, VIZ (66A: To wit, abbr.) seems obscure for a Tuesday (and it’s another abbreviation), and VIZ, VIA (39A), and the clue for 22A: Like Prince William vis-à-vis Prince Harry are all very similar. 

Still, I like the idea of trying to go big and bold with a puzzle, and I think this one was quite well-constructed, especially for a first-timer. I hope to see more from her! 

Apparently I have more miscellaneous thoughts than cohesive ones about the puzzle, so bear with me and buckle in!

  • I feel like I should channel my inner Rex and complain about a GRN (an abbreviation for ya) — gratuitous roman numeral — at 23D: Year in the reign of Nero)
  • I particularly disliked seeing BRAGG (51A: Fort __, N.C.) in the puzzle. BRAGG was a Confederate general — and a horrible one, at that. Like, really bad. I went down a hole on his Wikipedia page and found a goldmine — for one, his own men apparently tried to assassinate him twice, once with a 12-pound explosive under his cot. Having him, a slave owner, in the puzzle alongside W.E.B. DU BOIS is even worse. Look, BRAGG Apple Cider Vinegar is right there (and it’s my secret to great pie crusts.) 
  • This puzzle took me back to my geometry class in 8th grade, which was absolutely my least favorite math class (well, at least until I got to calculus in high school). Doing proofs for things was the absolute worst — who cares about why A = B? I know it does, so why should I have to explain it? 
  • Seeing ELI (48: One of football's Mannings) in the puzzle made me chuckle, because I’m solving this puzzle while watching Monday Night Football with the new ManningCast on ESPN2. Peyton and ELI’s chemistry and commentary and guests are just superb, and it’s delightful to watch. (More Pat McAfee, please!) I’m a little bummed they’re not going to be doing a broadcast for the next three weeks, but I’m simultaneously overjoyed that I won’t have to watch them destroy my Steelers, who are definitely NOT at their best right now. 
  • I love a good trip to IKEA (49A). Gotta say the best part is the $1 ice cream that you can buy after check-out. 
  • I tried to find a tie-in to the puzzle to talk about my latest obsession — the Korean show “Squid Game” —, but, alas, I could not. I recently binged it on Netflix after seeing a ton of people talking about... and whoa! It’s so, so dark but so, so well done. It certainly gave me some weird dreams after I watched six or seven episodes back to back. If you’re looking for The Hunger Games on steroids, this is right up your alley! Here’s the trailer (be warned: it’s quite creepy).
Signed, Clare Carroll, J.D. (to use my favorite abbr.) 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mexican poet Juana de la Cruz / MON 9-27-21 / River of forgetfulness in myth / One of Haiti's two official languages / Each as in the price of balloons

Monday, September 27, 2021

Constructor: Zachary David Levy

Relative difficulty: No idea (I solved this one ... well, see below)

THEME: IN THE BANK (61A: Guaranteed ... or where you can find the ends of 17-, 23, 37- and 50-Across) — Things you'd find ... in a bank

Theme answers:
  • POLE VAULT (17A: Olympic event which the world record stands at a little over 20 feet)
  • PENN AND TELLER (23A: Magic duo with a 20+ year act in Las Vegas)
  • DAYLIGHT SAVINGS (37A: "Spring forward" and "fall back" plan)
  • BOTTLE DEPOSIT (50A: Added cost of buying a soda)
Word of the Day: Juana INÉS de la Cruz (47A: Mexican poet Juana ___ de la Cruz) —
Doña Inés de Asuaje y Ramírez de Santillana, better known as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz[a]OSH (12 November 1648 – 17 April 1695) was a Mexican writerphilosophercomposer and poet of the Baroque period, and Hieronymite nun. Her merit as a true master of the Spanish Golden Age gained her the nicknames of "The Tenth Muse" or "The Phoenix of America",[2] for she was probably the most accomplished author of the entire history of the Spanish Americas, and a flame that rose from the ashes of "religious authoritarianism". (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello there. Sorry for the late post today. The NYTXW website was down down down all morning, and since I canceled my dead-tree subscription this summer because delivery was so unreliable, and since I don't use the "app," I had no real recourse. I'm very grateful to Colin Fowler for sending me a photograph (JPEG) of the puzzle, because it enabled me to solve the puzzle and put up a makeshift grid. I just had to get real creative about how I put letters in boxes. I used a text function and then got the font size and spacing right and just dragged Across answers into their proper place. MacGyver! MacGyver! MacGyver! 

This is why I have no idea what the actual (relative) difficulty of the puzzle was—I had to solve and enter answers in this very bizarro way. Felt like it would've been easy under normal solving conditions, but that's just a guess. This is what I get for having *two* drinks (after running 8.5 miles earlier in the day) and then telling myself, "it's fine, I can solve and blog the Monday puzzle in the morning." Bah. Whatever, if the puzzle site is gonna go out on any day, Monday is the day for it to happen, so I've decided to count myself lucky, actually. 

This is a very decent Monday theme concept. Colloquial phrase semi-repurposed as a revealer in a last words-type theme. IN THE BANK is a figurative phrase, but the theme literalizes it. Great. And the theme answers are vibrant and interesting, esp. PENN AND TELLER. I want to quibble slightly with DAYLIGHT SAVINGS ... because of the "S" ... but maybe when you aren't putting "TIME" on the end, the "S" stands!? Because it's "Daylight Saving (not "-ings") Time," which I learned the hard way, having said the "S" version my whole life until, I dunno, some time in my 40s, probably. The main issue I have with the theme is that the bank things get increasingly abstract. I like the actual physical things (VAULT, TELLER) but SAVINGS is something I have to take on faith is in there, somewhere, and is likely not physically in there, and DEPOSIT, well, that's even more abstract and not sufficiently distinct from SAVINGS for my taste. The puzzle is making me think of "Dog Day Afternoon," which is possibly my favorite bank heist movie of all time, so the puzzle has done its job of making me happy, in at least one way.

The fill is a little creaky (ANKA EMUS ESSO OVO EFILE APOP LEER OCHRE DYS etc.), with only SELF-PITY providing any real zing (3D: "Woe is me" feeling). But you go so fast on Monday that you're probably not likely to care too much about the non-fresh fill, given that the theme basically works and the theme answers are sufficiently grabby. I gotta get to work now. Bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy 18th anniversary to my wife, Penelope, without whom etc. 

It was the girl's birthday last week, so let's
just throw her into the picture too

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


MONDAY 9/27: Puzzle site currently down

Hello, the NYTXW website is down (all morning and still as of 6:45am).

I'll solve / post when I get home from the gym (between 9am and 10am, assuming the site is better by then). Just didn't want you to think I'd forgotten about y'all.


P.S. Here this should tide you over ... it took so long LOL


Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer / SUN 9-26-21 / Hyphenated beverage brand / First openly lesbian anchor to host a major prime-time news program / Kind of syrup that's an alternative to honey / Homeland of many Paiute and Shoshone / Kind of data distribution with two peaks / Traditional attire for some martial artists

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Constructor: Priyanka Sethy and Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging 

THEME: "Study Breaks" — the letters to CUT CLASS appear in circled squares in the grid, in order from top to bottom, one in each theme answer; in each case, the letter "cuts" a "class," i.e. it interrupts (or "breaks") some common class name (or course of "study"), which explains the title:

Theme answers:
  • ARCTANGENT ("C" cutting/breaking "Art") (21A: Function whose output is 45º when applied to 1)
  • ELITE STATU("U" cutting/breaking "Stats") (26A: Premium membership designation)
  • INTERNET CONNECTION ("T" cutting/breaking "Econ") (42A: It lets you see the sites) 
  • DUACITIZENS (60A: "C" cutting/breaking "Lit") (60A: Holders of multiple passports)
  • RACHEL MADDOW ("L" cutting/breaking "Chem") (74A: First openly lesbian anchor to host a major prime-time news program)
  • POLITICAL ACTIVISTS ("A" cutting/breaking "Calc") (92A: Ones fighting for change)
  • CANNABIS OIL ("S" cutting/breaking "Bio") (108A: Hempseed product)
  • LAST IN LINE ("S" cutting/breaking "Latin") (119A: Bringing up the rear)
Word of the Day: SALAT (19A: Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer) —

Salah (Arabic: صَلاة, pl salawatromanized: Arabic pronunciation: [sˤa'laː(h)]([sˤaˈlaːt] in construct state) lit.'prayer'), also known as namāz (Persianنماز‎) and also spelled salat, are prayers performed by Muslims. Facing the qibla, the direction of the Kaaba with respect to those praying, Muslims pray first standing and later kneeling or sitting on the ground, reciting from the Quran and glorifying and praising Allah as they bow and prostrate themselves in between. Salah is composed of prescribed repetitive cycles of bows and prostrations, called rakat (sing. rak'ah). The number of rak'ahs, also known as units of prayer, varies from prayer to prayer. Ritual purity and wudu are prerequisites for performing the prayers.

The daily obligatory prayers collectively form the second of the five pillars in Islam, observed five times every day at prescribed times. These are Fajr (observed at dawn), Zuhr prayer (observed at noon), Asr (observed late in the afternoon), Maghrib (observed at dusk), and Isha (observed after sunset). Salah can be performed either in solitude, or collectively (known as jama'ah). When performed in jama'ah, worshippers line up in parallel rows behind a leader, known as the imam. Special prayers are exclusively performed in congregation, such as the Friday prayer and the Eid prayers, and are coupled with two sermons each, delivered by the imam. (wikipedia)

• • •

Just feels like there's not much here. Did the whole thing as if it were a themeless, because it basically is. I could see that some kind of "DRINK MORE OVALTINE" message was going to come into view eventually, but it had no real connection to the answers. After I was done, I looked at them all and thought "OK, some kind of class is being cut, what's going on?" and then I saw all the "classes" embedded in the theme answers and how the letters in "cut class" sort of "cut" through each "class" and ... OK. The class names are often so short (BIO, ART) that you can barely see them, and so ... it just doesn't feel like a very high bar, themewise, to put letters inside classes *inside* long theme answers. The essential unrelatedness of the answers, and the unrelatedness of their cluing, and the lack of any SURFACE thematic content whatsoever, made the puzzle kind of a drag. I don't really like it when the NYTXW runs themelesses on Sunday, but at least those, the ones that are designed as proper themelesses, make a point of having loads of scintillating, original fill. This one, instead, has just boatloads of 3, 4, and 5-letter answers, a tidal wave of short stuff, and then tries to get some difficulty by making that short stuff odd / hard / unusual. The main result is an overall feeling of fussiness. Spent most of the solving time mired in the short stuff. The long stuff just didn't seem important; it was all solid enough, but none of it was particularly vivid. So you have a grid that mostly lacks any real theme or real points of interest in the fill (there are some, which I'll get to, but not a ton). Felt like a wash-out. Also, did you know that ROBIN ROBERTS and RACHEL MADDOW have the same number of letters in their names. And both (OBVI) start with "R." Yeah, that was a fun mistake :)

Lots and lots and lots of names—admirably inclusive, but a flood of names is a flood of names and for the second day in a row I felt like I was playing a trivia game (though this one felt a hell of a lot less self-consciously erudite ... more pub trivia, which is actually a nicer vibe). Many many of the names were names I "knew," which is to say I did not know them straight off, but then I'd get a cross or two and go "oh, right, that person." Like with TESSA Thompson and Katie NOLAN. There's no necessary reason why you should know the "first female president" of a country, but in Taiwan's case she is also the *current* president, so that makes her very much worth knowing (63D: ___ Ing-wen, first female president of Taiwan = TSAI). I was not at all familiar with the "T" spelling on SALAT, so when I wrote in STASH (finally) I was ... well, I was definitely praying. SALAT reminds me of a sweet moment I witnessed in JFK this past summer, where a Muslim man had laid out his prayer mat in an emptyish part of the terminal near where we were sitting, and as he was preparing to pray, a woman in his party, maybe his wife, went "psst" and then pointed in the opposite direction from which he was facing, so the man was all "whoops" and did a 180 so he could pray in the right direction. 

OPAL Tometi is going to be the BLM co-founder that gets the most xword love because, well, OPAL will always be with us, but TOMETI looks good, and what about the other co-founders: Alicia GARZA and especially PATRISSE CULLORS—doubt you've ever seen PATRISSE or CULLORS in a grid before. Just, you know, putting that out there. JUDOGI was the baffler of the day (66D: Traditional attire for some martial artists). JUDO, OK, I recognize that, but when I see JUDOGI all I see is a JUDO G.I., like a soldier just throwing dudes on the battlefield. But no, it's the name for the traditional Judo uniform. And now you know. Or maybe you knew. In which case, now *I* know. Weirdly, I think my favorite answer of the day was "IT WAS ME!" (45D: Words of admission). I thought it was going to be a different sense of "admission," something like "COME IN," something along those lines. I had "WHAT ONE?" before "THAT ONE" (20D: Choice words?) (my logic, to the extent that I had any: "WHAT ONE do you want? Make a choice!"). No big struggles, but as I suggested earlier, there were lots of little struggles in the short stuff that just added up to a slightly harder than usual solve. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Hear ye, hear ye, a message from Boswords Crossword Tournament organizer John Lieb; the Fall Themeless League kicks off with a Preseason puzzle *tomorrow* so get in there and get in on the hot puzzle action before it's too late. Here's more:
Registration for the Boswords 2021 Fall Themeless League is now open! This 10-week event starts with a Preseason puzzle on Monday, September 27 and features weekly themeless puzzles -- clued at three levels of difficulty -- from an all-star roster of constructors and edited by Brad Wilber. To register, to solve a practice puzzle, to view the constructor line-up, and to learn more, go to
P.P.S. for the Sunday crowd: yesterday was this blog's 15th anniversary. Just wanted to make sure the Sunday-only solvers also knew how thankful I was for their readership and support. Here are the first three tweets of a 15 (!)-tweet thread I posted in honor of the occasion. Thanks again, everyone.
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Campaign catchphrase of 1988 / SAT 9-25-21 / Site of the impact of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago / Rhetorical inversion device seen in Champagne for my real friends real pain for my sham friends /Greek goddess of memory / Flower that's also the name of a Downton Abbey character / Drug known by its German initials / Palindromic number in Italy / County that's split in two by the Grand Canyon

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Constructor: Adam Simon Levine

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CHIASM (27D: Rhetorical device seen in "Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends") —

In rhetoricchiasmus (/kˈæzməs/ ky-AZ-məs) or, less commonly, chiasm (Latin term from Greek χίασμα, "crossing", from the Greek χιάζωchiázō, "to shape like the letter Χ"), is a "reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses – but no repetition of words".

A similar device, antimetabole, also involves a reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses, but unlike chiasmus, presents a repetition of words in an A-B-B-A configuration. // Chiasmus balances words or phrases with similar, though not identical, meanings:

But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves.

— ShakespeareOthello 3.3

"Dotes" and "strongly loves" share the same meaning and bracket, as do "doubts" and "suspects".

Additional examples of chiasmus:

By day the frolic, and the dance by night.

Despised, if ugly; if she's fair, betrayed.

— Mary Leapor, "Essay on Woman" (1751)

For comparison, the following are considered antimetabole, in which the reversal in structure involves the same words:

Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure.

— Lord Byron, in Don Juan, (1824) (wikipedia)

• • •

This one started out very easy (in the NW), but then got much tougher, much more Saturday. I'm really not a fan of puzzles that get all their difficulty from obscure trivia, and this one is a pretty fair example of the type. I know the Crater in question is famous. I've undoubtedly had its name in front of my eyeballs at some point. But the fact is that CHICXULUB is nine random letters to me (thankfully, I could infer CRATER). It's a valid answer, but it's no fun to solve because even when you "get" it all ... I mean, is it right? How would you know? You just have to trust the crosses and hope for the best. And all the crosses were pretty solid today, no guessing involved, so that's good. But still, this is one of those bits of trivia that essentially hands the puzzle to the minority of people who just know it, and absolutely blocks the puzzle for those who don't, and there's not a lot of middle ground. Meh. But if it were just one answer that went obscurantist on me, I wouldn't have minded. But then CHIASM? (pronounced KYE'-as-m). I teach English and have even used the term "chiastic structure" to talk about lines of poetry but I've never seen the term CHIASM in my life (or its apparently more common (?) form, "chiasmus"). It's vaguely from my field and I still thought it obscure. It's familiar to a narrow group of people. Basically professional argot. Shrug. Then throw in MNEMOSYNE and honestly it feels like I'm taking a test now, or playing some kind of trivia game. I knew the MNEM- part of the goddess of memory (thank god, because otherwise I definitely would've thought the sports agent was ARI), but the -OSYNE part I got, eventually, only because there is literally a MNEMOSYNE brand spiral-bound notebook on my desk right now (such great paper, so sleek and beautiful, accept no substitutes). If you want some lesser-known term or mythological figure in your grid, OK, but maybe limit yourself to one. This one had a ... tendency, a bent, an attitude that suggested it was more interested in testing you, and stumping you, than in entertaining you. Some people like that, maybe. Makes them feel like the puzzle's being sufficiently intellectually rigorous. Me, I'll take my Saturday challenge with a little less of this brand of "rigor" and a little more cleverness. 

There were also two very bad clues in the puzzle that kind of wrecked things for me. You never want the correct answer to leave the solver feeling like "that was cheap" and I definitely felt that a couple times today, first and most especially with the clue on "NO NEW TAXES" (5D: Campaign catchphrase of 1988). Now, part of my problem is that my brain wasn't really taking in the "campaign" part of the clue, so I was looking for a general catchphrase, like, I dunno, "WHERE'S THE BEEF?" or something like that. But even when I had it down to NO NEW TA--S, I had no idea, despite being very much alive for the 1988 presidential election (the first one I voted in). You know why I had no idea? Because the "catchphrase" isn't "NO NEW TAXES." No, no it isn't. You know what the catchphrase is. You do. You know how it starts—and it's How It Starts that makes it memorable, i.e. Makes It A Catchphrase. The "catchphrase" is (ahem), "READ MY LIPS: NO NEW TAXES." This is what got said and repeated and parodied etc. This *entire* phrase. Dude was trying to play some kind of Dirty Harry and ended up just eating his words, breaking his promise, and then getting destroyed in 1992 despite having huge approval ratings just one year earlier, after invading Iraq (the first time we did that). If you don't have the "Read my lips" part, you do not not not have the "catchphrase." You have a phrase. Also, DUNGAREE is the fabric, so DUNGAREE *is* your jeans. It's not "in" them. Boo. I know you wanted to do a little winky naughty sexually suggestive thing here with the clue (13D: It may be in your jeans), but if your clever clue doesn't ultimately work for the answer, pffft. 

The rest of the puzzle seemed fine. Perfectly smooth and solid and Saturdayesque. And I did appreciate the crossing of "NO NEW TAXES" with WUSSES, that's a sly bit of genius right there (the more common term for Bush I was "wimp," but "wuss" will do). Good workout, just wish it had been less reliant on lesser-known terms and terminology for its difficulty. Does anything else need explaining? LEANDER (16D: Tragic lover of myth) is from the story of Hero and LEANDER. My man swam the Hellespont every night just to be with Her(o). But then, you know, inevitably there's a storm, he drowns, she drowns herself, the usual Tradge. I know the story of the two lovers primarily as a poem by Christopher Marlowe. It was unfinished at the time of his death, and "completed" by at least two other poets over the years, most notably George Chapman—he of the Keats poem, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (1816):
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Today is the 15th anniversary of this blog. I did a 15-tweet thank-you thread on Twitter already, but I'll thank you all here too, on the blog itself, for reading and supporting this blog over the years. I'll leave you with the first three tweets, since they're the ones about you :) 

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Black hairstyle with square-shaped sections / FRI 9-24-21 / Find satisfaction slangily / Sibilant sobriquet for Summertime singer Sarah / Galaxy array / What genes do biologically / Component of many sandstone features in the Southwest / Nickname in Israeli politics

Friday, September 24, 2021

Constructor: Stella Zawistowski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MONOPLANE (58A: Aircraft with low drag) —

monoplane is a fixed-wing aircraft configuration with a single main wing plane, in contrast to a biplane or other multiplane, which have multiple wings.

A monoplane has inherently the highest efficiency and lowest drag of any wing configuration and is the simplest to build. However, during the early years of flight, these advantages were offset by its greater weight and lower manoeuvrability, making it relatively rare until the 1930s. Since then, the monoplane has been the most common form for a fixed-wing aircraft. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is fine, though only BOX BRAIDS (17A: Black hairstyle with square-shaped sections) and GET SOME (41D: Find satisfaction, slangily) seem really original and snappy. Something about the boxy build of this grid makes it feel restricted somehow. The 9 stacks ... I'm just not sure how interesting those can be. I'd rather have longer answers lacing through the grid all over the place than these just-OK short stacks in the corners, with little else of interest in the grid. In fact, the bulk of the rest of the grid is 4s and 5s. All four other sections are just 5x5 or 4x5, and they're adequate, but there's no real interest there. "IMAGINE THAT" livens things up a bit, but overall this felt a little listless to me. But it was super duper easy. I had a lot of little missteps, but nothing that held me up for any real length of time. Not terribly happy to start with the awful and corrupt Israeli prime minister nickname, but thankfully, the overall vibe of the puzzle improved considerably from there. Björk > BIBI. BÊTE NOIRE > BIBI. BOX BRAIDS > BIBI (actually, BOX BRAIDS *is* (aurally) BIBI, in that it is a "B. + B." answer ... yes, my brain is indeed a HOTBED of bad puns and other dumb thoughts, you are correct).

Had trouble with BÊTE NOIRE because of the "?" clue (a pretty decent "?" clue, I think) (1A: What's not to like?). Also had trouble with ORDER—something about the clue phrasing made it hard to get my head around (13D: Get to eat). I managed to tell my EPSON from my EPSOM today, so that was nice (10A: Big ink purveyor). Wrote DIVIDE before ENCODE before realizing that was dumb (10D: What genes do, biologically). Wrote SWAY before SELL and felt less bad about that one (23D: Successfully convince). No idea what a MONOPLANE was. Turns out it's just ... a plane. Literally every plane I've ever flown on in my entire life. You wouldn't bother to use the term today because it's not usefully distinctive. Had a weird lot of trouble with both PLAN and SEED, needing the first three letters of each one before I knew what the hell they were. With PLAN, I just wasn't sure of the context the clue was going for (53D: Not just live in the present), whereas with SEED, I think I just had an entirely different idea of "pip" in mind (two ideas, actually: a. a oner, a lulu, a scream, really something, "she's a real pip," that kind of pip; and b. a dot on a domino or die). Happy to learn that Sarah Vaughan was known as SASSY. I thought maybe SUNNY, but SASSY is hands-down the better nickname. I keep looking at LEMONDE and wondering why "lemonade" has been misspelled, which probably means I'm tired (blogging at night like some kind of overcaffeinated beatnik!). See you Saturday (he said, sibilantly).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Casino next to the Venetian in Vegas / THU 9-23-21 / Titular vampire in Anne Rice novels / Proto-smart phones in brief / Companion in Arabic / Feinted on the ice / Type of socialite officially discontinued in the UK in 1958 / 2018 sci-fi prequel

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Constructor: Simeon Seigel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BLACKS OUT (67A: Redacts, as sensitive information (suggested by three of this puzzle's answers)) — three Across answers have "sensitive information" blacked out; that is, black squares appear where letter strings representing "sensitive information" should be. The theme answers redact SSN, PIN, and DOB, respectively:

Theme answers:
  • SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (19A: Insomniacs have them) (redacted Social Security Number (SSN))
  • GOING UP IN FLAMES (38A: Failing spectacularly) (redacted Personal Information Number (PIN))
  • GROUND OBSERVERS (59A: Members of a wartime skywatching corps) (redacted Date Of Birth (DOB))
Word of the Day: en BANC (37D: Like Supreme Court hearings, with "en") —

In law, an en banc session (pronounced [ɑ̃ bɑ̃]French for "in bench") is a session in which a case is heard before all the judges of a court(before the entire bench) rather than by one judge or a panel of judges selected from them. The equivalent terms in bancin banco or in bank are also sometimes seen. 

En banc review is used for unusually complex or important cases or when the court feels there is a particularly significant issue at stake. (wikipedia)

• • •

The concept is clever and not at all hard to pick up ... assuming you start at the top. If I'd started at the bottom, I don't know how long I'd've been flailing around, because GROUND OBSERVERS?? An entirely meaningless term to me. I had the puzzle completed and still had no idea what info was supposed to be "redacted" inside that answer for I'm gonna say a good minute or so. GROUN---SERVERS suggested absolutely nothing to me. I had the back end of the answer as SERVICE for a bit because that sounded more war-related. The only way I worked out what was hidden was by assuming the first letter was "D" and kind of fumbling through three-letter abbrs. in my mental rolodex from there. Let me tell you, having your final experience of a puzzle be a meaningless pursuit of three-letter abbr. embedded in a longer answer that barely qualifies as an answer, that will really kill any nice feelings you had about the puzzle. GROUND OBSERVERS: that was my "aha." More "a-huh." Lowest-quality themer should probably not come last. No, change "probably" to "definitely." So I like the idea, but the execution kind of undermined my happiness there at the end, plus the whole thing had this military vibe that I don't particularly enjoy, with the GROUND OBSERVERS and the Blue Angels and the U.S. Space Force in there somewhere. Plus the right-wing billionaire finance chair of the RNC (and casino eponym, apparently) who "resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct including harassment, assault, and coercion" (wikipedia), whose name really brought the mood way (way) down for me. Once again, F*** all Tr*mpists, now and forever, seriously. Not even gonna write that guy's name out.

I got the theme early, as the insomniacs question was obviously missing elements after SLEEP, and then those missing elements ended up being in the first place I looked. I wanted SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, saw that SSN would run on the black squares, wrote in IGHTS on the other side, and then confirmed it with SARI etc. Done and done. Oh, looks like I took the screenshot before I'd even bothered to confirm the crosses on "-IGHTS"... cocky!

I think of the phrase as "going down in flames," but yes, you can go up as well, so I guess that's fine. I had trouble with PHYS.ED. since we called it either "gym" or "P.E." and PHYSED just looks weird in the grid and [Gym] doesn't exactly scream "abbr.!" Also had SAFE before SALE (like my answer much much better) (4D: Something that's no good unless it's closed) and RED before RYE (24D: Alternative to white). Surprised to see just one HIGH BEAM (11D: Flashy car feature?). Is one of your headlights out? I don't think I knew that ATREUS was Helen's father-in-law. I know that for a time she's with Paris, in Troy, and Paris's father is Priam, but whatever, he didn't fit. I know Agamemnon and Menelaus as the "Atreides," meaning sons of ATREUS, so ... I guess I did, technically, now that I think of it, know Helen's father-in-law. Weird how you can not know something you know. I guess POT LEAVES is supposed to be edgy, but that's one phrase where I don't think I'd say "pot." I don't know why every time the NYTXW mentions "POT" it makes me laugh and think "narc." It's like you're trying to get with the time, only the times are 50 years ago. Anyway, I'm a square when it comes to all drugs besides alcohol, so I'm probably not the best judge of this answer. I think I'm done now. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. "In May 2021, the Department of Justice ordered [the casino guy] to register as a foreign agent of China." (wikipedia).

I think I'm done falling down this particular rabbit hole now.

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