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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Beats me in textspeak / WED 9-22-21 / Member of the South Asian diaspora / Page NFL Hall of Famer turned justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court / Dweller east of the North Atlantic / Black hole for socks facetiously / Tiramisu topper / Ship built with help of Athena

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Constructor: Grant Boroughs

Relative difficulty: Very Easy

THEME: Crossword add-iCS —  -ICS is tacked to the end of familiar phrases to create wacky phrases, clued wackily ("?"-style!):

Theme answers:
  • DOT COMICS (17A: Much of Roy Lichtenstein's work?)
  • MATH CLASSICS (28A: Euclid's "Elements," Descartes's "La Géométrie," etc.?)
  • CARPENTER ANTICS (38A: Wacky shenanigans of a woodworker?)
  • FRYING PANICS (46A: Frights upon waking up from sunbathing naps?)
  • POP TOPICS (64A: Things that dad likes to discuss?)
Word of the Day: Roy Lichtenstein (17A) —

Roy Fox Lichtenstein (/ˈlɪktənˌstn/; October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was an American pop artist. During the 1960s, along with Andy WarholJasper Johns, and James Rosenquist among others, he became a leading figure in the new art movement. His work defined the premise of pop art through parody. Inspired by the comic strip, Lichtenstein produced precise compositions that documented while they parodied, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner. His work was influenced by popular advertising and the comic book style. His artwork was considered to be "disruptive". He described pop art as "not 'American' painting but actually industrial painting". His paintings were exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City.

Whaam! and Drowning Girl are generally regarded as Lichtenstein's most famous works.]Drowning GirlWhaam!, and Look Mickey are regarded as his most influential works. His most expensive piece is Masterpiece, which was sold for $165 million in January 2017. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well that's two days in a row now that we've had a Very old-fashioned theme concept and very old-fashioned and fairly tired fill. You add -ICS to words to get new words. OK. How does that work out for you? Nothing is particularly hilarious or even funny about the results, and the core concept doesn't even have a real hook. There's no reason for -ICS, no pun on "I SEE" or "ICY" or ... I dunno what you do to get "-ICS" to be special, but whatever it is, this puzzle isn't doing it. The Lichtenstein answer DOTCOMICS has some liveliness and cleverness, but the rest just thud into place, and once you know they all end in -ICS, an already-easy puzzle becomes that much easier. Just an exercise in filling in boxes. The only themer I had any trouble with was MATH CLASSICS, because I was fixated on the Frenchness of the Descartes title and wanted it to be FRENCH CLASSICS, which obv wouldn't fit. Actually, now that I look at the themers in the bottom half of the grid, I'm not sure I looked at their clues at all. There was no need. The short fill was so easy that those longer answers eventually just came into view. This puzzle didn't even have any vibrant or fresh longer fill to at least add some character and interest to the solving experience. AMERICAN ... EUROPEAN ... is there some inside joke there? A continental identity joke? Maybe an immigration theme of some sort? Wait, is this a hidden "Perfect Strangers" theme!? You've got an AMERICAN named Larry APPLETON who now lives in Chicago and gets an unexpected visit from his EUROPEAN cousin, Balki, and then, as with this puzzle, wackiness ensues. Oh this is much better than the surface theme. Much better.

This puzzle was so easy that before I ever got a theme answer I got bored and set myself a challenge to see if I could go corner to corner, NW to SE, in an unbroken string, having to use crosses all the way. And voila!

Now as you can see, I had an error there ("All the SAME" instead of "All the RAGE" at 41D), but whatever, I still got there. Mission accomplished. 

This puzzle had a few OK moments. I enjoyed IDK (don't see that enough ... beats, say, IMHO, imho) and GAMEPLAN. But there's just too much gunk, ATEST and ASIT and ALLOF, and that's just the partials. You've also got an RRN (random Roman numeral) at MIII, and that's right next door to a plural scolding sound, TSKS ... it's rough all over. Some of this is clearly a product of grid design, where the (fixed) themers are forcing some very tough choices in the short crosses (both MIII and TSKS, for instance, run through *two* themers, so there really aren't a ton of great options there). I had no trouble with anything but ALAN Page, who ... yeah, let's just say my knowledge of Minnesota Supreme Court justices is limited. Limited to zero. Zero knowledge. ALAN Page rings a very, very faint bell (it turns out he's a really remarkable guy and kind of a big deal in Minnesota). I guess the "Minnesota Supreme Court" bit was to alert me that he was a Minnesota Viking. Yeah, that didn't help much. But it's a four-letter common name, it did no harm. What did do harm, though, was crossing AVI- with AVIATOR. You can't do that. Same root. AVIATOR already had AVI- in it. Look:
aviator (n.)

"aircraft pilot," 1887, from French aviateur, from Latin avis "bird" (from PIE root *awi- "bird") + -ateur. Also used c. 1891 in a sense of "aircraft, flying-machine." Feminine form aviatrix is from 1927; earlier aviatrice (1910), aviatress (1911). (
So now you're just crossing the prefix with itself. Awful. This puzzle should really get an editor. OK, bye now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy birthday to my dear daughter, who can now drink (legally). Or go to casinos, I guess, though that seems unlikely.

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British pop singer Lewis / TUE 9-21-21 / Subject of a famous 1937 disappearance / Onetime Supreme Court justice Charles ___ Hughes

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Constructor: Daniel Okulitch

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

THEME: wacky law stuff — regular old legal phrases, clued wackily:

Theme answers:
  • PRO BONO ATTORNEY (17A: Advocate for U2's frontman?)
  • MOVE TO STRIKE (27A: Swing of a bowler's arm?)
  • MOTION DENIED (49A: A little tied up at the moment?)
  • CLASS-ACTION SUIT (65A: Attire for gym period?)
Word of the Day: GOJI (35D: Berry touted as a "superfood") —

Gojigoji berry, or wolfberry (Chinese枸杞pinyingǒuqǐ), is the fruit of either Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense, two closely related species of boxthorn in the nightshade familySolanaceaeL. barbarum and L. chinense fruits are similar but can be distinguished by differences in taste and sugar content.

Both species are native to Asia, and have been long used in traditional Asian cuisine.

The fruit has also been an ingredient in traditional ChineseKorean, and Japanese medicine, since at least the 3rd century AD. The plant parts are called by the Latin names  lycii fructus (fruit), herba lycii (leaves), etc., in modern official pharmacopeias.

Since about 2000, goji berry and derived products became common in developed countries as health foods or alternative medicine remedies, extending from exaggerated and unproven claims about their health benefits. (wikipedia)

• • •

Surprised this made the cut. This is some straight-up 20th-century corn. The most basic recipe there is. All you have to do is assemble phrases from literally *any* field in symmetrical fashion in your grid. You know, four or so answers of 8 or more letters in length. Then, just write some wacky "?" clues where you imagine the phrase means something else, something ridiculous. That is all. Done and done. It's the lowest theme bar of all. The theme ends up riding entirely on the theme *clues* (the interestingness of the answers is usually irrelevant), and those are usually groaners at best, tortured monstrosities at worst. Today it's a bunch of legal phrases, so there's no real interest there. I guess they'd be fine answers in a themeless puzzle; they're solid long answers. But it's not like you're exactly happy to see any of them, or like any of them feels particularly original. And then there's the clues ... which are awkward and forced in the case MOVE TO STRIKE and MOTION DENIED, pretty good in the case of CLASS ACTION SUIT, and, in the case of PRO BONO ATTORNEY ... well, that one had no shot, because the answer itself should've disqualified it entirely from this puzzle. One thing you'll notice about the other three themers is that when the clues wackify the answers, they take the alleged meaning of those answers Entirely Outside The Realm Of Law. That is what you're supposed to do with a theme like this—you hide the nature of your underlying theme by making the clues point elsewhere; today, that means no legal frame of reference, and 3/4 of the clues get that right, but the PRO BONO ATTORNEY clue *can't* get that right because it's got ATTORNEY in it and you can not not not redirect the meaning of attorney away from law. It is an impossibility. If PRO BONO had been the entire themer, bang, you're in business. [Wild about U2's frontman?]. Perfect. But here you have to frame the whole thing legally, putting the awkward "Advocate" in the clue. It just doesn't work. Understand the nature of the theme you're dealing with and craft your puzzle carefully rather than just saying "close enough, who's going to notice?"

The fill is also last-century and has nothing to make up for the stale theme concept. IONIA SAYST, AARP SIRI, ABO OBIT, and on and on. Overfamiliar threes and fours OVERRUN the grid. NEWSOM is timely because of that catastrophic and embarrassing attempt to recall the California governor last week or whenever it was (52D: Successor to Brown as California governor), but otherwise there's not much else here to make you sit up and take notice. Also, the worst clues, and hardest clues, for me, were the ones where someone thought it would be a good idea to shoehorn more legal stuff into the puzzle. That's how you know someone's anxious that the theme isn't substantial enough—you get clues like 55D: Onetime Supreme Court justice Charles EVANS Hughes. Died in '48, never heard of him, isn't even the first "Charles Evans" that comes up when you google (that would be a medical facility on Long Island called the Charles Evans Center). Do you need EVANS to be legal this bad? On a Tuesday? And the clue on NEED, oof, so awkward (37D: Lawyer, for a defendant, typically). I had no idea what that clue wanted, or what all those commas were doing, or ... anything. When I got NEED ... eyeroll, sigh, etc. Other sticky spots for me: RETORT and REBUFF before REBUKE (4D: Sharp talking-to); total blankness when confronted with the clue for ALDO (42D: Global shoe retailer) (I know ALDO as the titular proprietor of the pizzeria I went to in my childhood; the shoes remain theoretical to me); AONE before ARCH (5A: Primary). I also "get around town" IN A BUS, so that's what I went with for the (awful prepositional phrase) IN A CAB (51D: How many people get around town). Speaking of the bus, mine will be here in a couple hours, so I gotta go.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy Earth, Wind & Fire Day (and thus happy birthday to my best friend, who doesn't do crosswords :)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Gossiping types / MON 9-20-21 / One-named R&B singer with the 1999 6x platinum album Unleash the Dragon / Classic arcade game set in outer space

Monday, September 20, 2021

Constructor: Pao Roy

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Volcano parts, sort of — themers end with words for layers of earth, which have some tangential relationship to volcanoes ... then there are weird extra five-letter theme answers concerning what lava *is* (before and after, or rather after and before, an eruption) ... oh, and then ASHES, for some reason:

Theme answers:
  • GLUTEN-FREE CRUST (17A: Pizza feature for a specialized diet)
  • ASSUME THE MANTLE (34A: Take on a position, along with its responsibilities)
  • ROTTEN TO THE CORE (52A: Lacking any moral compass)
  • ROCKS (1A: What lava becomes after an eruption)
  • MAGMA (60A: What lava is before an eruption)
  • ASHES (27D: Volcanic emissions)
Word of the Day: J. COLE (48D: Rapper J. ___) —

Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) known professionally as J. Cole, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. Cole is regarded as one of the most influential rappers of his generation. Born on a military base in Germany and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole initially gained recognition as a rapper following the release of his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in early 2007. Intent on further pursuing a musical career, he went on to release two additional mixtapes, The Warm Up (2009) and Friday Night Lights (2010) both to critical acclaim, after signing to Jay-Z's Roc Nation imprint in 2009.

Cole released his debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. His next album, Born Sinner (2013), also topped the Billboard 200. Moving into more conscious themes, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014) topped the Billboard 200 and earned Cole a Best Rap Album nomination at the 2015 Grammy Awards. His jazz influenced fourth album, 4 Your Eyez Only (2016), debuted at number one on the Billboard200. Cole's fifth album, KOD (2018), became his fifth number-one album on the Billboard 200 and featured a then-record six simultaneous top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, tying The Beatles. His sixth studio album, The Off-Season, was released on May 14, 2021. (wikipedia)

• • •

I'm confused. The *earth* has a core, and a mantle, and a crust, and volcanos ... are part of the earth ... but in allllll the cross sections of volcanoes that I am currently looking at online, not one of them includes CRUST, MANTLE, or CORE. See, here's one:

And here's one:

No CRUST, no MANTLE, no CORE. Again, those are parts of the earth, for sure, and volcanoes are, technically, parts of the earth, so ... OK, but this MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES stuff ... I don't know, the words all seem only loosely associated with volcanoes, and the MAGMA / ROCKS / ASHES part feels super tacked-on. Also, starting with ROCKS and ending with MAGMA feels (no, is) backwards. There's just a sloppiness here to the execution that really needs unsloppifying. Further, while I really like THEY/THEM and EGOMANIA, the fill on this is a bit on the old-fashioned / crosswordesey side. ATTA and NENE!? You're bringing back both, in the same grid? But seriously, what happened in the SW corner. Surely an editor could've spruced that thing up pretty quickly. If you wanted to the very least possible, you could change PRAY / ANO to PREY / ENO, which, currently, 72.3% of solvers agree is the better pairing.

But if you just change PAGODA to something like ONEIDA you get much more favorable letter patterns in the Downs and the whole corner gets a lot easier to make clean. ANO GTOS AONE is a lot of not-great for one little section. You gotta mind the small stuff, because if it gets ugly, then all of a sudden it isn't small stuff any more. 

I should be fair to the themers, which I think are actually quite good as stand-alone answers. Still, the theme just didn't work for me. Hope you were more into it than I was. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Major exporter of nutmeg / SUN 9-19-21 / Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor / Like the Mideast exclave of Madha / Rude Boy singer to fans / Obie-winning playwright Will / Figure on Italy's 2000-lira note

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Constructor: Peter Gordon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "New Look"Two "I"s are added to the last word (or word part) in familiar phrases; the gimmick is explained by the punning phrase, a "FRESH PAIR OF EYES" (116A: New look provider ... or a homophonic hint to this puzzle's theme):

Theme answers:
  • THOROUGH FAIRIES (from "thoroughfares") (23A: Meticulous magical beings?)
  • PANAMA-HAITI (from "Panama hat") (32A: Like some cross-Caribbean flights?)
  • DOUBLE DIARIES (from "double dares") (50A: Journals of a certain stunt performer?)
  • SHOULDER HAIRINESS (from "shoulder harness") (68A: Possible reason for refusing to wear a tank top?)
  • BOOKS ON TAIPEI (from "books on tape") (85A: Means of learning about Chiang Kai-shek?)
  • POLKA IDIOTS (from "polka dots") (99A: Inept dancers at Oktoberfest?)
Word of the Day: AL TOON (34A: Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in the New York Jets Ring of Honor) —
Albert Lee Toon Jr. (born April 30, 1963) is a former professional American football wide receiver who played for the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) for eight seasons. A two-time First Team All-Big Ten pick at the University of Wisconsin, Toon set several school football records for the Wisconsin Badgers. The three-time Pro Bowl selectee played his entire NFL career with the Jets (1985-1992), leading his team and the league in receptions during the late 1980s. He is considered to be among the Jets' all-time greatest wide receivers and overall players in franchise history. (wikipedia)
• • •

Is the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" supposed to be a meaningful entity? What the hell is that? AL TOON is a three-time Pro Bowler, that's good enough. Saying he's in the "New York Jets Ring of Honor" is just an awkward way of shouting "he's absolutely not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame!" There is absolutely no crossword reason for using "New York Jets Ring of Honor" except, perhaps, to signal that AL TOON was a Jet. "I fell into a burning ring of honor!" That's all I can hear in my head. Also, Ring of Honor has big "weird ritual" vibes, like maybe the induction ceremony involves human sacrifice at the mouth of a volcano. In short: I have no idea who AL TOON is (wasn't even sure if that was one name or two), and the clue didn't help. There's an American artist, John Altoon, who was married to actress Fay Spain, whom I know from supporting roles in a couple of Mamie van Doren films, the poster for one of which hangs framed in my living room. Fay Spain did her first screen test with James Garner, whose 1997 HBO hostage film "Dead Silence" I watched earlier today. Wikipedia is really full of the most incredible rabbit holes. Annnnnnyway, this theme was fine. You add two "I"s to answers, thus giving those answers a FRESH PAIR OF EYES, with a homophonic pun on "eyes," yes, I see, very nice. It's vintage Sunday wackiness, and as vintage Sunday wackiness goes, it's pretty clever. The resulting themers are mostly suitably nuts. I didn't love this, but I definitely liked it more than I've been liking most Sunday puzzles this month year decade.

The BEEFIER clue is insane (Like the Rock vis-à-vis any of the Stones). Why, why would you do that? I know you really (really!) wanted to do some kind of Rock / Stones mash-up, but a BEEFIER clue seems an odd venue in which to showcase that bit of wit. Do people really watch "Two Broke Girls"? Actually, bigger question, is that still on the air? I feel like if something gets on CBS and does OK it just runs forever and ever and ever by inertia and no one really notices. Or, millions of people notice, but somehow, culturally, no noise is made, despite the falling trees (er, episodes). CSI is also in this puzzle, in case you're wondering who's paying for promotional puzzle consideration (probably not, but it's a good conspiracy theory). "Two Broke Girls" ran for six seasons, I am told (again, by Wikipedia). The point is, I know BETH Behrs about as well as I know AL TOON (if BETH Behrs is famous, then maybe you should be seeing about getting her *last* name into the puzzle—*that* would be original). Yesterday I thought the NRA was the IRA and today I thought the NBA was the NRA (79D: Org. that bestows the Community Assist Award). I also thought DAHS were DOTS because a. who the hell knows Morse Code, seriously, and b. DAHS is the dah-umbest looking non-word, I just can't accept it despite knowing it (exclusively from crosswords) for decades. Btw, Morse Code is made up of "dots and dashes" which are also known as "dits and DAHS" (because "dots and dashes" was such a mouthful?). Other things I didn't know: that people ate CAMEL (115A: Dish at a traditional Bedouin wedding), or that Missy Elliott was ever in an R&B group before her solo success—these last two ignorances made the SW corner a little harrowing, but only a little. 

Despite being an ENG professor, I did not suspect ENG at all as the answer to 81D: Liberal arts sch. major. What an oddly phrased clue. First, "sch.", yuck. Second, you can major in ENG practically anywhere. I did, in fact, go to a liberal arts college, but they have that major at big universities, it turns out. You could just say [Liberal arts deg.] or [... maj.] or whatever abbr. you need to clue the abbr. that is ENG. Hey, we all know ENG is short for ENGlish, right? Just checking I assume we're all on the same page, but you never know. Speaking of explanations, "doodles" are (I'm assuming) labradoodles, though I think of those as bigger dogs, not LAPDOGS (8A: Small doodles, perhaps). Maybe there are mini versions. Oops, nope, looks like *any* dog crossed with a poodle immediately becomes some kind of "-doodle" (or a "-poo"). Woof. Stop doodling dogs! Just adopt a mutt. Or get a PULI, they at least look awesome (32D: Hungarian herding breed). A STETSON is (I guess) made of felt, which is what that clue's all about (124A: Felt on the head?). The 'Hoos are UVA (a back formation of the school's yell—so dumb, esp. when you are already the Cavaliers, just be the Cavs, so much less Seussian than the 'Hoos). The TERPS are of course the Maryland Terpsichores. That's enough trivia for today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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