Noted Apple release of 1968 to fans / SUN 10-31-21 / Alveolar trill as it's commonly known / Match-ending rugby call / Southern region of Mesopotamia / Northern curiously named apple variety

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium ("Medium" is for the time it takes to figure out the theme, "Easy" is for the rest)

THEME: "Choice Words" —five  ___ OR ___ phrases appear in the grid; the "choices" they illustrate determine the "words" you write in the rebus squares that appear on the same lines as the ___ OR ___ phrases (the first option works for the Across, the second for the Down):

Theme answers:
  • THE WHITE ALBUM (21A: Noted Apple release of 1968, to fans) / REMISS (4D: Negligent) = (HIT OR MISS) (23A: Haphazard)
  • LIVER AND ONIONS (45A: Traditional British entree) / TIDIEST (35D: Least messy) = (DO OR DIE) (43A: Desperate)
  • MOUNT RUSHMORE (68A: Noted U.S. rock group?) / BLESSES (64D: Consecrates) = (MORE OR LESS) (70A: Approximately)
  • MARCHING ORDERS (90A: Military dismissal) / SHOUT AT (79D: Berate blisteringly) =  (IN OR OUT) (96A: "You game?")
  • WHIRLWIND TOUR (118A: Hectic trip abroad) / CLOSETS (114D: Places hangers hang) = (WIN OR LOSE) (116A: Regardless of the outcome)
Word of the Day: Northern SPY (126A: Northern ___ (curiously named apple variety)) —

The Northern Spy, also called 'Spy' and 'King', is a cultivar of domesticated apple that originated on the farm of Oliver Chapin in East Bloomfield, New York in about 1840. It is popular in upstate New York.

The Northern Spy was one of four apples honored by the United States Postal Service in a 2013 set of four 33¢ stamps commemorating historic strains, joined by BaldwinGolden Delicious, and Granny Smith. [...] 

Northern Spy produces fairly late in the season (late October and beyond). Skin color is a green ground, flushed with red stripes where not shaded. The white flesh is juicy, crisp and mildly sweet with a rich, aromatic subacid flavor, noted for high vitamin C content. Its characteristic flavor is tarter than most popular varieties, and its flesh is harder/crunchier than most, with a thin skin. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a perfectly serviceable Sunday. Weirdly, I don't think the grid needed the actual ___ OR ___ phrases at all. They seem entirely superfluous. The whole deal with rebuses is that you have to find them / work them out. Sometimes you've got a revealer to give you a clue, if you aren't able to just work it out from context, but today you don't need the revealer because you've got the title, so it's easy (-ish) to figure out what's going on with the rebus squares (once you realize there *are* rebus squares) by just inferring the concept from the title: "Choice Words," HIT / MISS ... "hit or miss," I get it. I really get it. I don't need HIT OR MISS to also be another answer on the same line as that rebus square. I want to say it feels remedial, but it's not even that, because it's not like having HIT OR MISS in the grid really helps that much. It's just ... well, as I said, superfluous. Decorative. A structural element that makes sense, but that is not a necessary factor in theme comprehension or puzzle enjoyment. I thought the ___ OR ___ phrases were going to be scattered around the grid at first, because the first rebus square I got was HIT/MISS, but the first ___ OR ___ phrase I got was DO OR DIE

Getting the HIT/MISS square made me notice DO OR DIE, and made me suspect that there'd be a DO/DIE square somewhere in the grid. Seriously, I was totally finished with the puzzle before I realized that the ___ OR ___ phrases were on the same lines as their corresponding rebus squares. The way I solve (primarily from working crosses), successive Across answers never seem to have anything to do with one another. I got THE WHITE ALBUM, and even though HIT OR MISS is technically the "next" Across answer, since it's in an entirely different section of the grid, I didn't see it until significantly later, and didn't bother to think about its positionality relative to the HIT/MISS square. 

The fill here wavers from solid to cringey. More solid than cringey, I'd say—I particularly liked most everything about the SE corner, for instance, from ICE BLUE east and ROLLED R south (57D: Alveolar trill, as it's commonly known). But there's a wet and dirty patch of short gunk in the middle, from ROUÉ across through EASELS HSN NSA THON (!!) HRH NOSIDE (81A: Match-ending rugby call) and ending at ORIANA (71D: Journalist Fallaci who wrote "Interview With history"), that brought no joy whatsoever. I also think REMEET and ODEA are rough, US ROUTE is not deserving of stand-alone status, and TONNES *and* METRES is one too many britishisms. Also, how in the world are we still doing "AH, SO," facetiously or otherwise (112D: Semiserious "Got it!"). Nevvvver not gonna sound like someone doing a racist caricature of Asian-speak. But on to tastier things: I was just thinking today about how much cluing ambiguity leads to difficulty, and the example I was using in my mind was "Apple," which, even in musical clues, could have a bunch of different angles—at least three: iPods, Fiona Apple, and the Beatles' Apple record label. Then I solve this puzzle, which gives me not only the Beatles' label, but an actual, edible Northern SPY apple. My wife and I, in addition to having a farm share (which provides us >80% of the produce we eat through the summer and fall), bought into an *apple* share this year. We toured the orchard, and every two weeks we get a big box of apples, with different varieties (varietals?) as they come into season, complete with a little explainer leaflet, and sometimes pears! There's no point to this story except I love apples. I don't think we've gotten any Northern SPYs (spies?) yet this year. They're upstate apples, though, so ... maybe. Fingers crossed. Enjoy your Halloween.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Titular Menotti opera character / SAT 10-30-21 / Princess Martell on Game of Thrones / Suffix with carboxyl / Together punny name for hardware store

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (or just Easy, not sure)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: LA LIGA (32A: What Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona play in) —
Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División, commonly known simply as Primera División (Spanish Premier League) in Spain, and as La Liga in English-speaking countries and officially as LaLiga Santander for sponsorship reasons, stylized as LaLiga, is the men's top professional football division of the Spanish football league system. Administered by the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, is contested by 20 teams, with the three lowest-placed teams at the end of each season relegated to the Segunda División and replaced by the top two teams and a play-off winner in that division. [...] According to UEFA's league coefficient rankings, La Liga has been the top league in Europe in each of the seven years from 2013 to 2019 (calculated using accumulated figures from five preceding seasons) and has led Europe for 22 of the 60 ranked years up to 2019, more than any other country. It has also produced the continent's top-rated club more times (22) than any other league in that period, more than double that of second-placed Serie A (Italy), including the top club in 10 of the 11 seasons between 2009 and 2019; each of these pinnacles was achieved by either Barcelona or Real Madrid. La Liga clubs have won the most UEFA Champions League (18), UEFA Europa League (13), UEFA Super Cup (15), and FIFA Club World Cup (7) titles, and its players have accumulated the highest number of Ballon d'Or awards (23), The Best FIFA Men's Player awards including FIFA World Player of the Year (19), and UEFA Men's Player of the Year awards including UEFA Club Footballer of the Year (11). (wikipedia)
• • •

I wish I hadn't finished up in the worst section (the greater SW), because the majority of this puzzle was a treat (not a trick; happy Halloween Eve, aka Devil's Night, everyone). Wrote in VOCAB straight away, and once again, nailing the 1-Across answer at first look was a harbinger of the puzzle's overall easiness. Then the longer fill started to come in up there and I could tell the puzzle was going to be not only easy, but entertaining. The longer fill really works up there: sometimes I feel like a sizable number of my students are just IVORY TOWER SEAT FILLERs (jk, kids, love ya), so I really liked that stack, and then the longer answers just flow out of there into the heart of the puzzle, which I HEARTED as well (nice bit of contemporary fill there, for sure). "DON'T WAIT UP" alongside DATE NIGHTS is genuinely exquisite. As good a pair of adjacent 10s as you're ever likely to see. Also, I've never been so happy to see a SOLECISM in all my life (6D: Grammatical mistake). I don't use that word in my teaching life, but I certainly encounter that phenomenon, and it was very nice to get a "hey, I know that word!" free pass in the middle of a Saturday puzzle. Speaking of my teaching life, not sure about the clue on "'TIS A PITY" (15D: "Alas!"). "Alas" is only semi-archaic, whereas "'TIS A PITY" is ultra-archaic, in the sense that no one would say that unironically now, whereas I can at least imagine an unironic "Alas!"). I think "Alas!" could just as easily clue "PITY..." as just a kind of stand-alone sighing expression. The 'TIS part of the answer needs something more strongly and specifically archaic to clue it. "Forsooth, how lamentable" or [Quaint expression of regret] or something like that. I think I'm just mad that the clue wasn't ["She's a Whore" preceder], but that ... probably wouldn't have played well, as most people have very likely never heard of that Caroline-era play (also, the title of that play is actually "'Tis Pity (not ''TIS *A* PITY') She's a Whore" so my dream clue wouldn't have worked at all, alas): 

Where I ended up was not so pleasant. Sadly, I did not know LUMPFISH. Also, it's not exactly the most ... mellifluous name for a foodstuff, so LUMP really landed in my lap like a LUMP of oatmeal (or ... fish, I guess), so bah (30A: Source of cheap caviar). ALB was a ghost of crosswordese past, for sure (33A: Clerical garment), joining -ASE and, eventually, ELIA in a mercifully small group of bygone blecch. Speaking of ELIA, what did I say (literally, just yesterday) about lazily trawling the waters of "G.O.T." fandom for absurd names to stick in your grid? (52A: Princess ___ Martell on "Game of Thrones"). It's "prestige TV," and now bygone prestige TV at that. More people watched a random 6th-season episode of "The Big Bang Theory" than watched any full season of "G.O.T." There's something ickily exclusionary about imagining that that show's character slate can be mined as deeply as it's currently being mined. You can (probably) do better than this, constructors. Also, SANSA (from yesterday) at least has the virtue of being original. ELIA is just the oldest of old-school crosswordese dressed up in a bad and probably highly flammable pseudo-medieval get-up from Spirit Halloween. ELIA is the pen name of Charles Lamb, or it's a Kazan, and that's all that it is. Just embrace the crosswordese you need to make the grid work, give it an unimposing familiar clue, so as Not To Call Attention To It, and move on. Sometimes, you need crosswordese; we all know and accept that. Like, AMAHL. I know AMAHL exclusively, solely, in no other way but from crosswords. I'd never have heard of "AMAHL and the Night Visitors" if not for crosswords. So the puzzle and I have an unspoken agreement that it will just hand me AMAHL with a gimme clue and I, in return, won't complain about it. It's nice that way. If AMAHL ever tries to come at me dressed up as [Dothraki hairstylist beheaded by Daenerys for getting her bangs wrong in Season 3 of "Game of Thrones"] or whatever, we're gonna have words.

Six more things:
  • 26D: Walking (AMBULATION) — pfffffft. Another reason I wasn't too fond of the SW. I had AMBULATORY, a word that means you are up and [Walking], and (bonus!) a word that a person might actually use.
  • 44A: You can't leave home with it (BASEBALL BAT) — oh, can't you? Bartolo Colón has some thoughts:

Also, more successfully, two years ago: Bregman / Soto:
  • 3D: Outer layer (COAT) — simple enough, but initially I wanted IVORY TOWER to be IVY-something, so I had a "Y" where an "O" should be, so I wrote in CYST here (?!).
  • 8D: Snickers piece? (TEE-HEE) — OH LOOK, THEY *DO* KNOW HOW TO SPELL IT!. All TEHEEs are hereby banned from Crossworld in perpetuity, the once and future laugh syllables having taken their rightful place in the grid.
  • 32D: Loser to "The Shape of Water" for Best Picture ("LADY BIRD") — had the "LA-," wrote in "LA LA LAND" (which a. won, not lost***, and b. won in an earlier year from "The Shape of Water"; the clue phrasing here is awkward, and, as a "LADY BIRD" fan, I would argue, disrespectful—better to mention Laurie Metcalf's Oscar nomination than to clue the film as a "Loser," come on)
  • 7D: ___ Together (punny name for a hardware store) (AWL) — OK, you got me. I legit laughed out loud at this one. Now, I was laughing while thinking "I cannot believe how ****ing stupid that is," but a laugh is a laugh, This clue is super dumb, which is precisely what all crossword clue puns should be: *super* dumb. Mere groaners can get lost. I require pure idiocy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

***this is wrong. "LA LA LAND" la la lost (to "Moonlight"), though it was *announced* as the winner at the awards ceremony

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ulta competitor / FRI 10-29-21 / Rhyming ice cream treat / Shield adorned with Medusa's head / NBA team coached in the '70s by Bill Russell / Virtuosa's display

Friday, October 29, 2021

Constructor: Aimee Lucido

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: "DOUBLE DARE" (51A: Nickelodeon's longest-running game show) —

Double Dare is an American television game show in which two teams compete to win cash and prizes by answering trivia questions and completing messy stunts known as physical challenges. It originally ran from 1986 to 1993. A revival ran in 2000, and the most recent revival ran from 2018 to 2019.

Hosted by Marc Summers, the program originally premiered on Nickelodeon on October 6, 1986, as its first game show. The series saw many adjustments in scheduling and titling throughout its run. Almost immediately after its debut, Double Dare had more than tripled viewership for Nickelodeon's afternoon lineup, becoming the most-watched original daily program on cable television. The program was a major success for Nickelodeon, helping to establish the network as a major player in cable television and to revitalize the genre of game shows for children. Double Dare remains Nickelodeon's longest-running game show. In January 2001, TV Guide ranked the show number 29 on its list of 50 Greatest Game Shows. [...] 

As Double Dare grew messier, a green slime substance became more commonly used in physical challenges and obstacles. Slime was originally introduced on another Nickelodeon program, You Can't Do That on TelevisionDouble Dare's high viewership led to greater visibility for Nickelodeon's association with slime and saw it featured in promotions for the network in the late 1980s. The substance proliferated further, including annual slimings on the Kids' Choice Awards, a slime geyser at Nickelodeon Studios, and slime-based segments on other game shows including Wild & Crazy Kids and Figure It Out. The relationship between Nickelodeon and slime still lasts on the network. (wikipedia)
• • •

Delightful Friday work. Huge Friday vibe. Tons of bouncy, original answers, very little that was obscure or gruelingly hard. From CHOCOTACO to MADHATTER ... that's a pretty good gamut. This is how I like OLDTIME—as an answer, not a descriptor for the fill. This is also how I like CHUCKLE—as an answer, not as the highest aspiration of a corny pun theme. There was one weakish section, starting near the middle of the grid, around RIAL/EMIRS (super common short fill), and bleeding down to the eastern edge of the puzzle, through GOA to ASNAP (50A: Easy-peasy), which I got easily enough, but only because I've seen this sort of wonky thing before, where a phrase (with indefinite article up front) stands in for an adjective. The real screamingly outlier part of this weaker section is SANSA. It's the only niche proper noun in the whole puzzle. All the other proper nouns, from HENDRIX to ANKA to "DOUBLE DARE," are well in the mainstream consciousness and accessible even by people who don't listen / watch / etc. It's always so depressing to see constructors go to the "Game of Thrones" well for names. That show was so rape-y I couldn't keep watching past the first few episodes, but now I'm expected to know every damned made-up pseudo-medieval name in the entire Stark clan and whatever other characters were on that show? Look, it was a famous show, so if you want me to know "GAME OF THRONES" or even "G.O.T." (which is weirdly in today's puzzle as a regular word) or STARK or NED or, I don't know ... is WESTEROS a thing? Yes. See, these are all things that non-HBO-havers might know. SANSA is not, Emmy nomination notwithstanding. I actually had to run the alphabet at _ANSA / _ASS because SASS is bizarrely misclued (33A: Ask "Why should I?," say). There is absolutely nothing SASSy about the question "Why should I?". It's an ordinary, if skeptical and somewhat oppositional, question. Still, just a question. I can see some petulant kid saying it defiantly, with a SNEER, but that kid knows nothing of real SASS, which is an art form and should contain at least a modicum of humor or cleverness. So I was slightly bummed that one square ("S") consumed so much of my attention / energy, because, as I say, almost everything about the rest of the grid ruled.

Had to wait on my vowel at the end of OTR_, but ONE G gave the "O" to me pretty quickly. I don't think DIPPY can ever be truly "endearing," but if you say so (18A: Foolish in an endearing way). I honestly don't know why bachelorette party-goers would be wearing SASHES (21A: Bachelorette party accessories), which tells you how many such parties I have been two (actually, maybe a couple—my friends, historically not Big on gender exclusivity). I just accept that SASHES is correct for some subsection of the population and move on. The stacks in the SE and esp. the NW are really really good. None of the longer answers are wasted in this one, and even a bunch of the sevens in the NE and SW are doing much more than just taking up space (SEPHORA and SNUGGIE both made me nod appreciatively). I found BRAVURA hardish, which is funny because I wrote it in immediately, off the BR-, but then I couldn't get the short cross VENA (56A: Certain blood vessel, to a physician) from the "V"  so I pulled BRAVURA and wrote in BRAVADO (!?), which not only didn't work but didn't even change the "V," so I just went elsewhere and came back to this part, eventually discovering that BRAVURA was right all along (42D: Virtuosa's display). For VENA, I thought the "certain" in "certain blood vessel" referred to "vein" (as opposed to "artery"), but maybe VENA is being clued as doc slang for "VENA cava" specifically (it's the only VENA I've ever heard of). So maybe "certain" means a very specific blood vessel, as opposed to a more general category of blood vessel? That seems plausible. I just googled VENA and learned from the first search result that "Vena transforms Microsoft Excel into your ultimate financial planning and analysis software" so I have to go take a shower now. Remember: Google doesn't want you to find what you're looking for. It wants to generate money from ad sales. That is its sole purpose. The internet is warped. Ask ALEXA. Actually, don't. But do have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Picturesque town on the Gulf of Salerno / THU 10-28-21 / Behind nautically / Spanish equivalent of basta / Worshiper at the ancient Qorikancha / Old Apple Store offerings / Black-and-white movie effect / World capital with traditgional water puppet shows for tourists

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Constructor: Alan Massengill

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: things a zombie might say... — ordinary phrases clued as if they related to zombies

Word of the Day: "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (34A: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" poet = KEATS) —
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." (1819)(
• • •

If this is your thing, fantastic. As you can probably guess, it isn't mine. Groany, corny, and not that funny, though as groany, corny, and not that funny wacky wordplay goes, these themers aren't bad. BE RIGHT BACK doesn't have a lot to recommend it—pretty tepid, kinda gotta think about it—but the others are much more vivid, as well as more zombie-specific. I assume this puzzle is runny because it's the Halloween season, which feels like a season that did not used to exist, but I feel like we need discernible festive seasons more than ever, with much of the country still COVID-hampered and all of the country awash in so many godawful things. Maybe that's always been true but you just see it / feel it more now. Whatever it is, bring on the month-long Halloween season ("spooky season," I think they call it) and the two-month-long Christmas season, I give in, let it roll, just make sure I get my week-long Thanksgiving/birthday celebration in late November and I Am Good. 

The fill is mainly short stuff, but it's noticeably cleaner than yesterday's, so I'm grateful for that. That bottom line, KIR NANOS STYES, definitely has a haunting "We Who Have Roamed the Grid Forever" feel, or, in the case of NANOS, I guess it's "We Who Have Roamed the Grid Since 2005," but overall there was not an excessive amount of tired fill making me wince as I solved. ABAFT and ICEES are shouting "What about us?" Yes yes I see you, you're harmless today. My only struggles today were around the first themer—this is true with what feels like a large majority of themed puzzles. You encounter the first themer early, when you don't have a ton of other answers in yet that can help you out; and if the theme involves trickiness, well then of course the *first* themer is going to be the one you (probably) struggle with most; you don't have the gimmick in hand yet. For me, today, the issue was parsing: I had BERIG- up front and could not make a word out of it. Then I got the BACK part and really Really wanted the answer to be a play on "Baby Got Back," only that would've give me "BERI GOT BACK," which left me wondering if maybe there was an archaic word for "zombie" that I just hadn't heard of before. Or maybe BERI is a famous zombie's name. Maybe he was named "Barry" when he was alive, but when he zombified, he decided to start writing it more sassily. Well, sadly, none of this fanciful stuff was relevant. It was just BE RIGHT BACK

Stuff and things:
  • 7D: Classic clown name (BOBO) — it's BOZO. It will never not be BOZO.
  • 40D: "Spare" item (RIB) — had the "R," wrote in ROD ... you get it.
  • 11D: "I really appreciate it!" ("THANKS A TON!") — oof, this answer. Like you (maybe?), I wrote in the much more common "THANKS A LOT!" and then just stared and stared at SLAT, trying to make make it make sense for 42A: Tackles, say (STAT) (an American football STATistic)
  • 29D: Something that may be pulled in college (ALL-NIGHTER) — I did this precisely once in college. The physical consequences were brutal. As someone who now goes to bed at 9 and gets up at 4, I think if I tried to do it today it would literally kill me. Then with my luck I would come back as a zombie. Well, at least maybe then I'd get to meet BERI. And BOBO, who I think we can all agree is just an undead BOZO.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Classic line from the Superfans sketch on SNL / WED 10-27-21 / Overseer of Hamlet's duel with Laertes / Portable structure that's pitched / Wabbit pursuer Elmer

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Constructor: Johanna Fenimore

Relative difficulty: Easy (esp. if you are a Gen-Xer who used to watch SNL in the '90s and early '00s)

THEME: "LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." (38A: Classic opening line from an NBC sketch show)— old SNL catchphrases ... that's honestly it:

Theme answers:
  • "DAAAAA BEARS!" (17A: Classic line from the Superfans sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "SCHWEDDY BALLS" (24A: Classic line from the Delicious Dish sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "WE'RE NOT WORTHY!" (49A: Classic line from the Wayne's World sketch on "S.N.L.")
  • "MORE COWBELL!" (60A: Classic line from the Blue Öyster Cult sketch on "S.N.L.")
Word of the Day: Mirin (32D: Mirin and sake => RICE WINES) —
Mirin (味醂 or みりんJapanese: [miɾiɴ]) is a type of rice wine and a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content and higher sugar content. The sugar content is a complex carbohydrate that forms naturally during the fermentation process; no sugars are added. The alcohol content is further lowered when the liquid is heated.
• • •

"LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." is a cool 15, but this is not what you do with it. I'm baffled by how this counts as a passable theme, as they're just ... "lines." It's basically an ad for the show. Worse, it's an ad for the show's ghost—the most recent of these "lines" is 21 years old. Yes, "MORE COWBELL!" can legally drink now. Does Gen X not think that its pop culture can be "bygone"? Some bygone is fine, but this is entirely bygone, which may speak to the waning real-world impact of that show (what "classic" lines are there from the 2010s on?), but still this puzzle feels exclusionary, age-wise, and also feels like a grave. Further, "LIVE FROM NEW YORK..." line doesn't go with the others, as it's not part of a sketch. They still open the show with that line (I think). Even further, SCHWEDDY BALLS isn't really a "line"—it's a product. Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, and Alec Baldwin do say it over and over, to comical effect, but ... that's what actors do. They say words and phrases. Not all of those words and phrases count as "lines." The other themers in this puzzle are all decidedly "lines." SCHWEDDY BALLS, isn't. I think the number of "A"s in "DAAAAA BEARS" is absolutely fudged to get the symmetry with "MORE COWBELL" to work out. I know this because it has always appeared as merely "DA BEARS" in ... [checks notes] ... the New York Times Crossword Puzzle ([Chicago team in old "S.N.L." sketches], just this past May). Remembering olden catchphrases isn't unpleasant, if you're of a certain age (I am), but I'm not sure that, as a theme, it's ... worthy.

But at least it's possible to enjoy the theme. The fill ... wow, it is truly bygone and in desperate need of clean-up (I don't really get why the team of experienced editors doesn't provide more fill polishing in cases like this, but oh well). When I put in ANAÏS, very early, a little warning light went off. Obviously ANAÏS Nin is crossworthy, but she's also old-school crosswordese, and as constructing programs have gotten more common over the years, and fill has consequently improved (somewhat), ANAÏS has drifted from puzzle prominence, to the point where you hardly see her anymore. [UPDATE: bizarrely, this is untrue; it *feels* true, but there are more 2021 appearances of ANAÏS so far (four) than there were total appearances of ANAÏS in 2001 (grand total: two). How is the era of constructing software making crosswordese reliance worse?? Annnnnnyway...] I worried that a bevy of old names and terms were going to come barreling into the grid ... and I wasn't wrong. "Bevy" may be an understatement. OLA EST (both suffixes??) IIS (grim), IWO ORR OSRIC (OSRIC is the real tell ... if ANAÏS hadn't set off the alarm, OSRIC would have), SRIS plural, ININK ANO FEU INA. The SE corner is truly baffling. EENIE BAAED YALIE ... all in the same tiny corner. It's like some "how many YALIEs can we stuff in a phone booth" college stunt, only in this case YALIEs (fittingly) are moribund repeating crossword terms. No, seriously, how do you go with EENIE / BEA over ERNIE / BRA?!?! How do you *choose* EENIE? Even that tiny, effortless change immediately improves the overall quality of the section. It's like no one really thought any of this through, or cared enough to try. There's just a "well, these answers have all been in grids before, so ... we're good!" attitude here. Very disheartening. 

Very grateful to @hazelnym for this meme
based on my Monday puzzle write-up

And IMPULSION, wtf?! I had the first part of the word and thought "Well they clearly mean IMPULSE ... don't they? This can't be ... IMPULSION ... is it? That's not a word. It must be IMPULSSSE ... like DAAAAA BEARS but with esses..." COMPULSION is a word, IMPULSE is a word, I have no idea what IMPULSION thinks it's doing, please don't wave dictionaries at me, it's rotten. On the other hand, I loved WRAP SKIRTS and RICE WINES. I'm surprised we don't see MIRIN in the puzzle way more often. Wait ... [again, checks notes] ... we've *never* seen MIRIN in the puzzle!?!?!?! How is that even possible? MIRIN is a staple in this household. Hi there, hey, hello, constructors!? Yeah, here's a never-used (5) just waiting for you to invite it into your grid(s)! I promised you, it's good. "MIRIN: Better than EENIE!"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


"Star Wars" princess / TUES 10-25-21 / Shrek's companion in "Shrek" / Spike or Gypsy Rose / Connery who played 007 seven times

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Hi, everyone, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of October! Happy fall — finally — or, as my sister has been trying to get me to say: Happy spooky season! I’ve been trying to get into the season (my favorite time of the year) by baking pies and reading some ~spooky~ books like “Rebecca,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” and, coincidentally, “Frankenstein,” all of which I loved. The weather has also helped — we just had a massive rainstorm in Northern California (five and half inches of rain!), which was desperately needed but which uprooted trees and caused flooding, giving everything an otherworldly vibe. 

Anywho, on to the puzzle! 

Constructor: Michael Schlossberg

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy
THEME: FRANKENSTEIN (58A: Doctor whose shopping list might include 20-, 34- and 42- Across?) — Each theme answer is something Dr. Frankenstein might use to make his monster. 

Theme answers:
  • NUTS AND BOLTS (20A: Basic, practical details
  • AN ARM AND A LEG (34A: What expensive things cost
  • LIGHTNING ROD (42A: Magnet for criticism
Word of the Day: BEE BALM (7D: Flowering plant also known as horsemint) —
Bee Balm (also commonly known by its scientific name, Monard, or bergamot, horsemint, and owego tea. It is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. The plant is endemic to North America. The genus was named for the Spanish botanist Nicolás Monardes, who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants of the New World. (Wiki)

• • •

I found the theme quite fun and amusing. It was also certainly timely with Halloween coming up this weekend. For some reason, I had a hard time getting going at the top of the puzzle, so I actually solved this puzzle from bottom-to-top in a sort of piecemeal approach. That meant I got FRANKENSTEIN before I got any of the theme answers, which took a bit of the huzzah out of the reveal for me. Still, I appreciated the clever theme. 

The rest of the puzzle was a different story. It felt like the puzzle was made up of mostly three- and four-letter words that were crosswordese or just plain annoying (III, anyone?). For example… CHEF, HOGS, ALB, BLAB, ENGRTGIF, BBC, ARS, LIE, EEO, OHO, PLO, ALDO (why do so many end in O?!). I’ve also never heard of EGO SURFS (18A: Looks for web content about oneself) before, and did we really need plural AMANAS (1D)? I will always hate words like E-CHECK (65A), where there’s just an “e” thrown in front of a word to make it “virtual.” Then, having it cross SNERT (56D: Hägar the Horrible's dog) was particularly irksome for me, because I wasn’t familiar with it. 

I suppose some of the long downs were nice enough (BEGONIA, DEMURE, ELICIT, LAOTSE)? But that’s about it! 

  • I remember reading FRANKENSTEIN for the first time in my 11th grade English class and being very surprised by the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor — not the name of the monster. 
  • OREOs (16A: Treat with a 71%-to-29% cookie-to-cream ratio) are pretty good, but the Double Stuf OREOs — even though they apparently only have 1.86 times the cream of a regular OREO — are most definitely the best. 
  • Whenever I think of SEERS (28A: Crystal ball gazers, e.g.), I can only think of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter and all of her shenanigans. Guess this is a perfect season for a Harry Potter movie marathon! 
  • Did I finally lose the battle I’ve been fighting with my sister over whether it’s called bubble tea or BOBA (5D: Word before tea or Fett)? Maybe you can all be the judge. I still proclaim that it’s called bubble tea and will die on this hill, while she claims that everyone instead calls it BOBA (tea). (We’ve since learned that it’s mainly called BOBA on the West Coast, where she went to school, and bubble tea on the East Coast, where I attended.) 
And that’s all! Hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween and a great November! 

Signed, Clare Carroll, a Hocus Pocus devotee

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


It's hoisted on a brig in high winds / MON 10-25-21 / the Jet Walker Basketball Hall of Famer / World of ___ Wong / Former CNN anchor with true-crime series on the Investigation Discovery channel / Obsolescent TV hookup / Classic Nintendo character named after F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife / Hoppy quaff in brief / Long-haired pot-smoking 1960s stereotype

Monday, October 25, 2021

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Monday***)

THEME: EASY PEASY (64A: So simple ... like 17-, 24-, 40- and 52-Across?) — theme answers are all two words, first word starting "P," second word starting "Z":

Theme answers:
  • PAULA ZAHN (17A: Former CNN anchor with a true-crime series on the Investigation Discovery channel)
  • PETTING ZOOS (24A: Places where kids can feed goats and sheep) (how was this not "... where kids can feed kids"???)
  • PRINCESS ZELDA (40A: Classic Nintendo character named after F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife)
  • POLISH ZLOTY (52A: Warsaw currency)
Word of the Day:
CHET (the Jet) Walker, Basketball Hall-of-Famer (58A) —

Chester Walker (born February 22, 1940) is an American former professional basketball player.

Born in Bethlehem, Mississippi, Walker played high school basketball for the Benton Harbor High School boys basketball team. He graduated from Bradley University in 1962 as the school's all-time leading scorer. The Bradley Braves won the NIT Championship in 1957 and 1960. Walker's speed and agility on the court earned him the nickname "Chet the Jet." He probably is best remembered as a starting forward on the 1966–67 Philadelphia 76ers team, which some consider the best NBA team of all time. [...] 

A seven-time participant in the NBA All-Star Game, Walker averaged over 19 points and eight rebounds a game for the 1966–67 76ers, who won 68 games and lost just 13—the best record in NBA history at the time. [...] On February 24, 2012 (two days after Walker's 72nd birthday) it was announced that Chet Walker was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee. He was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 7, 2012. (wikipedia)
• • •

There's nothing particularly "easy" about this theme, or the themers themselves, so I don't really get it, but I guess the idea is that it's Monday, and a Monday puzzle is the easiest puzzle of the week (usually), so ... close enough. That would be fine, except that this puzzle is manifestly tougher than most Mondays. Monday puzzles don't usually contain things / people I've never heard of before, and there are several such answers today, including CHET Walker (a Friday / Saturday answer, maybe) and TRYSAIL, which I just keep laughing at every time I look at it. What? What in the world is a TRYSAIL? Seems like even for nautical terminology, that's ... not a commonly known thing. Hasn't appeared in a NYTXW grid for 24 years, and *that* was on a Saturday, so ... on a Monday? ... yeah, that seems like a stretch. Again, whatever, put it in your puzzle, but the whole premise of the puzzle is "Easy," and since the themers aren't inherently easy, the puzzle should be ... but it's not. Not comparatively. Not compared to most Mondays, that is. Still laughing at TRYSAIL, by the way, what in the world? Also, the THYME clue is really hard (who's going to think of the *bygone* pronoun "thy"??), and what in the world is "The World of SUZIE Wong"??? It rings the faintest of bells. Bygone bells. But it's just clued here in quotes like it's a thing everyone knows—not even a parenthetical explanation. That's like cluing CHET as [___ (the Jet) Walker] and not giving us the "Basketball Hall-of-Famer" part. I like the theme concept fine, but the "Easy" part seems ... unaccounted for. Also, the fill is weirdly bad. That is harder to excuse. Grid just seemed glutted with weak sauce like OCTA REI STLO SEGO EIN IPADS LEB CFL POPO (always cringey) ENT ACACIA URSA ASEA ORSO etc. And there's no relief, no non-theme longer answers to turn to for entertainment, amusement, diversion. Except TRYSAIL, that is. Sigh. 

I will remember this puzzle TRYSAIL, primarily, but also for POLISH ZLOTY, which is an admirably nutty way to fill out this themer set. Most original thing in the grid by far. Weirdest moment for me was getting ZELDA and then, without looking at the clue (not recommended) writing in LEGEND OF ZELDA. It fit! It ... was wrong. Ah well. It was an admirable attempt at a no-look answer. Sometimes risks don't pay off. I love vanilla malts but a. I've never called them "malteds" and b. I've never ever thought of the malt as a subspecies of SHAKE, though ... yeah, I guess it is (54D: Malted, e.g.). They are totally separate categories on most soda fountain or ice cream parlor or Chock'lit Shoppe menus, but they're basically made the same way (+ or - the malt), so OK. Spelled SAGO the wrong way (that way, with the "A"), pfffft, that's some crosswordese I'm doomed to mix up for the rest of my life (48A: Western lily). So, to sum up: good idea, not noticeably "easy"-er than other Mondays (in fact, probably harder), with fill that seems pretty anemic. Oh, and TRYSAIL. Can't forget TRYSAIL.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. To answer my own question from earlier in the write-up: "The World of SUZIE Wong" is a 1957 novel / 1960 movie of some fame. The movie in particular is not always fondly remembered, since (according to some) it perpetuates Western ideas about Asian women that are "stereotypical and demeaning."

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