"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."

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dry biscuit used as baby food / SUN 10-24-21 / One known as the Alive the Eternal / Greek goddess associated with witchcraft / Who actually lives in Lapland, some say / Chain whose name derives from its founders, the Raffel brothers

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Constructor: Katie Hale

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Sports Nuts" — sports terms clued wackily, i.e. as if they were not sports terms ... I think that's it? 

Theme answers:
  • OFFENSIVE REBOUND (22A: Your ex's new date whom you just can't stand?)
  • FLOOR EXERCISE (34A: Kegels, e.g.?)
  • STARTING BLOCK (51A: First square of a crossword?)
  • SERVICE LINE (68A: "I'll be your waiter tonight," e.g.?)
  • UNPLAYABLE LIE (82A: Conspiracy theory so wild that it can't be aired?) 
  • SEVEN-TEN SPLIT (96A: Plan to leave at a very specific evening time?)
  • DESIGNATED HITTER (114A: Blackjack dealer?)
Word of the Day: TOBIAS Menzies (10D: Actor Menzies who won an Emmy for "The Crown")
Tobias Simpson Menzies (born 7 March 1974)[citation needed] [LOL] is an English stage, television and film actor. He is best known for playing Frank and Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall in STARZ's Outlander, for which he received a Golden Globe Award nomination, in addition to his roles as Brutus in HBO's Rome and Edmure Tully in HBO's Game of Thrones. Menzies also portrayed Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the third and fourth seasons of Netflix's series The Crown, a role which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination and won him the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme is a huge dud, but the fill is frequently top-notch, so I had more fun than I usually have on Sundays, to be quite honest. As for the theme ... if there's a complexity here, I'm missing it. This is a theme type I've mentioned before, a very easy-to-do theme type where you just have a bunch of *terms* from ... well, any field. And then you wackify them with your wacky "?" clues. The end. Not much to it. The clues are supposed to be funny, so if you find them funny, great, but even great clues don't elevate a theme like this enough for me. This version of the theme type is much weaker than most—usually, the "field" in question is much more narrowly defined. You know, like, *one* sport. All baseball terms or all football terms or whatever. I'm almost certain we've seen *exactly* that type of theme before. Golf terms, maybe? I dunno. But the non-narrowness here makes an already semi-tired theme type feel even more loose and lazy. I think the wacky clues are maybe better than most wacky clues. I'm thinking especially of the clues on the reimaginings of SEVEN TEN SPLIT (96A: Plan to leave at a very specific evening time?) and OFFENSIVE REBOUND (22A: Your ex's new date whom you just can't stand?). But overall, the theme just feels drab and olden. The fill, on the other hand, really has a lot of zing to it. PUT A LID ON IT and RAISE HELL make a great tandem in the NE, and DIG SITE and UNION REP look great side by side like that. "ARE WE OK?" and HORN IN also give the puzzle a little quirky personality? I cringed very little and I nodded appreciatively relatively often, and since filling in the fill is the bulk of the solving experience, after all, I can't say I'm entirely displeased with this thing, my feelings about the theme notwithstanding. 

Apparently I've been mispronouncing VIOL (in my head, which is the only way I've ever said "VIOL") all these years (79D: Instrument that's a homophone of 69-Down). I thought it was pronounced like the first part of VIOLA, you know ... "VEE-ole" ... something like that. Now I learn it (allegedly) rhymes with VIAL!? (69D: Vaccine holder). News to me. News I ... can't use, actually, since, as we've stipulated, the word "VIOL" literally never comes up in conversation. Still, fun (-ish) fact! I had forgotten about this third spelling of PALLET (95D: Bed of straw); I always have to stop to think about the PALATE / PALETTE distinction, so now I have a third option to confuse my brain; thanks, puzzle! Once again I forgot what vowel is supposed to go in CAR_MBA, but this time the cross was indisputable (it's an "A"). Do packages still come C.O.D.? (13D: One way for packages to arrive, in brief). That feels like an option from '80s infomercials that no one in my family ever used and I never saw used by anyone I knew ever. Literally, ever. It stands for "cash on delivery," kids. I think I'd've preferred a fish clue here. More timeless. I wrote in TCBY'S for 123A: Chain whose name derives from its founders, the Raffel brothers (ARBY'S). I don't know that reading the clue fully would've helped, and even so, it didn't matter much, as the crosses helped me fix my mistake lickety-split. I was stunned by HEKATE, as I know her as HECATE ... exklusively (41D: Greek goddess associated with witchcraft). I guess the "Greek" part of the clue was supposed to signal "K" to me. It did not. But again, thank god for crosses. Not much more to say here. I had a reasonable amount of fun. I hope you did too. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Drawing of the body without its skin from the French / SAT 10-23-21 / Online marketing giant with primate in its logo / L.A. jazz venue where Thelonious Monk recorded a live album / Manor house attendant / River with second-largest discharge volume in New World after the Amazon / First sch. to win 100 N.C.A.A. titles / Certain native of the Mideast / Chinmoy onetime India spiritual leader

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ÉCORCHÉ (43D: Drawing of the body without its skin, from the French) —

NOUNplural noun écorchés/ˌākôrˈSHā/ /ˌeɪkɔrˈʃeɪ/ 

  • A painting or sculpture of a human figure with the skin removed to display the musculature. (lexico)

• • •

Things were going along pretty nicely there for a while. I mostly enjoyed the top part of this grid. The GROUCHY part of this grid did not make me GROUCHY at all. I would've been very GROUCHY, probably, if I'd encountered 9D: Online marketing giant with a primate in its logo and not been a semi-regular podcast listener, specifically a former "Serial" listener—MAILCHIMP was their big sponsor that first season, and I don't think I've encountered MAILCHIMP anywhere else, ever. If I have, it was totally unremarkable. There's a smug "we're all podcast listeners, right?" quality to the very presence of MAILCHIMP ... but I knew it, so I get to be in on the smugness, which is all any of us really wants, right? [...] Anyway, the point is, I was good up top. I associate Disney with G- rather than PG-rated fare, and dat answer you got DERE at 34D: "Wot's dat over ___?" is truly horrendous, but POP QUIZ, ZYGOTE, the inventive OIL GLUT, all good, fine fine, let's keep going! But then comes the bottom. My descent, much like Dante's—highly unpleasant, though ultimately educational, I guess (?). 

Trying to round the corner from the center into the SE corner was rough. Well, at first, it was impossible, despite the fact that I was able to throw GROK down off just the "G" and then immediately get the often-hard-to-parse ST. KITTS (thank you, GROK, for the high-value "K"!). But even with the first three letters of 42- and 43-Down, I just drew a blank. Two blanks. Blank blank. Actually, I guessed that the trucking charge might be CARTAGE (42D: Charge for some truckers), which I then, as now, am pronouncing as if it were a French word. But I really really felt like I was making that up, and that CARTAGE ... what do trucks do if not cart stuff, and why are you charging ... wait ... does "charge" here mean "responsibility"? Trucks are "charged" with "carting" material from place to place? Oof, woof and yikes. What do you mean, "some truckers"? What else do truckers do but transport things in a vehicle (the definition of CARTAGE)!? It's bad enough your word is a weird obscurity, you then want to go wordplaying around with the meaning of "charge"? And alongside [rechecks grid for the umpteenth time] ÉCORCHÉ?? Look, if I can't call ÉCORCHÉ obscure, then nothing is obscure. I don't understand how CARTAGE ÉCORCHÉ is anything but embarrassing. A double obscurity in your longer answers? What a waste of space. I could've taken either of these words on their own, but alongside one another ... that's just constructorial negligence.

There was worse to come, though. This time, the problem was less a fill obscurity problem and much (much) more a cluing problem. A cluing problem that just happens to occur at one of the toughest parts of the grid. I've never heard of the IT CLUB, and I won't be alone on that, but with crosses, ultimately, it's gettable (50A: L.A. jazz venue where Thelonious Monk recorded a live album, with "the"). But about those crosses ... I was lucky to "know" PIECAKEN, but I wonder if that's really a word in most people's vocabulary. Also, ew, gross, is it a pie inside a cake inside a *chicken*!?! Where is the "-en" coming from!? According the the NYT, it's "three types of pie stuffed into a cake," which sounds OK, but the name suggests nothing about "three" and still has the "chicken" part of it left over from TURDUCKEN (whence the name was borrowed by analogy—wow, just noticed TURDUCKEN has "turd" in it ... and people still eat it?). I'm not opposed to your food neologism, it's whimsical and fun, but like MAILCHIMP, it seems potentially exclusionary. Then there's BREVE, which is a fine term, one I think I've seen before, and I certainly wanted BREVE when I was staring at -EVE, but I was not at all certain. I know BREVE primarily as a coffee drink (latte variation with steamed half-and-half instead of steamed milk). As musical terms go, it's definitely on the lesser-known side, so now we've got two ITCLUB crosses that might lock people out (the two with the highest-value letters, too—PIECAKEN gives the you the "C" and BREVE the "B," which are the key elements in parsing ITCLUB). But still, this seems workable. Potentially. And yet. 

It turns out the worst (in the sense of actually unforgivable) part of this ITCLUB section is not an answer, but a clue—specifically the clue on FUEL UP (47D: Go from E to F). It's actually a great clue ... but not for this answer. I love the misdirection and general weirdness of the clue—the fact that it looks like maybe it's about musical notes. And I would've really enjoyed it if the answer had been FILL UP, because that is what the clue literally says and so that is what I wrote in. If you go to "F," you fill up. By definition. From "E" empty to "F" full. That's it. FILL UP. Nice clue, I thought ... only to discover that the answer is actually FUEL UP, which does not necessarily convey *filling* up your tank. It's a generic term for getting some gas. Go from E to F—that's a FILL UP. Fill, fill, a thousand times, fill. The "F" means "Full," not "Fuel." Respect your own damn clue. Woof x 1000. I cannot tell you how locked-in FILL UP was. And to think I was mentally *applauding* that clue. I don't know what the term is for that: when you have an answer and you think "that's a great clue for that answer!" only to find out through repeated hacking that your answer is actually wrong and the clue stinks. This is new territory for me, terminologically. Difficulty in puzzles is good, achieving it through obscure trivia is less good, botching your clues is outright bad. I need to get coffee now. Mwah. Cheers.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Helicopter traffic reporter on "The Simpsons" / FRI 10-22-21 / One-fourth of KISS / Vegetable also called ladies fingers / Digital color presentation

Friday, October 22, 2021

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: AMY Heckerling (28A: Heckerling who directed "Look Who's Talking" and Clueless") —
Amy Heckerling
 (born May 7, 1954) is an American film director. An alumna of both New York Universityand the American Film Institute, she directed the commercially successful films Fast Times at Ridgemont HighNational Lampoon's European VacationLook Who's Talking, and Clueless. [...] Heckerling's first feature was Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), based on the non-fiction account of a year in the life of California high school students as observed by undercover Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe. When Heckerling first signed on to do a feature for Universal, she read a lot of scripts, but it was Crowe's script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High that really stood out to her in its quality; she has remarked on. Although she loved the script, she felt that it bore the marks of excessive studio interference, so she read the novel, determined which parts were strongest, and sat down with Crowe to rework the script. The film helped launch the careers of numerous stars including Phoebe CatesJudge Reinhold, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In addition, it marks early appearances by several actors who later became stars, including Nicolas Cage, then billing himself as Nicolas Coppola, Forest WhitakerEric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards. Most notable, however, is the appearance of Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, who was launched into stardom by his performance. Heckerling describes casting Penn, whom she first met while he was sitting on the floor outside of the casting office, as a feeling of being overwhelmed by his intensity, even though all he had done was look up at her. She knew that this was her Spicoli, even though they had seen other people who had read better for the role. Penn had to do it. Ally Sheedy, whom Heckerling loved, read for the role of Leigh's character Stacy Hamilton, but Heckerling decided that she wanted someone that seemed younger and more fragile. Heckerling was very discriminating about the film's soundtrack. Originally, the film was supposed to have music in it by bands like the Eagles.(wikipedia)
• • •

A characteristically lovely offering from Robyn Weintraub, whose last name my fingers really hate typing. I make typos 9 out of 10 times. Why? Sorry, Robyn. The puzzle is fine up top but really takes off after you take the EXPRESS TRAIN down to the middle of the grid, with its delicious stagger-stack of 13s, and then the truly original and surprising and cleverly clued EATING FOR TWO. The rest of the grid is solid and clean, but it's the meat of the grid, between and including the twin poles of EXPRESS TRAIN and EATING FOR TWO, that the puzzle really shines. There weren't many parts of this that I didn't like. Crossing ELLA and ELLEN feels ... a little close. Obviously they're different names, but they feel and sound awfully similar, so I'd probably separate those two. TAKES A SIP passes the EATS A SANDWICH test because  ... well, you'd say "take a sip!" but you probably wouldn't say "eat a sandwich!" And though this answer isn't in the imperative voice (it's 3rd person present indicative), I'll just allow that "S" ... it's fine. Stand-alone status: granted. I didn't understand why there were quotation marks around "walk" at 48A: "Walk" (GO ON STRIKE). Yes, it's slang, or figurative speech, but we use unquotation-marked figurative speech in clues all the time. Or you could add "so to speak" or some such qualifier to the clue. The quotation marks make it seem like it's particularly a vocal command, when ... it's just slang. The quotation marks point so firmly toward speech that I had the answer as "LET'S STRIKE!" for a bit, as that is a phrase that might come from a human's mouth. Also, I had the STRIKE part first and with "Walk" in the clue, I though some weird reverse-baseball thing was going on. My brain was briefly spinning through baseball slang, trying (and failing) to find a term for "Walk" that might involve the word "STRIKE" (and not the more expected "ball"). 

The only thing that seems really *wrong* with today's puzzle is the OUZO clue, specifically the pluralizing of "spirits" (50A: Spirits of Greece). I am sure that there is some technicality that "spirits" is getting away with here, where the plural word stands for the singular "liquor," but it's still an awful and weak form of misdirection. [Spirit of Greece] works perfectly, and you would definitely describe OUZO as a Greek spirit, singular. "Spirit" (singular) = "strong distilled liquor such as brandy, whiskey, gin, or rum," and that's what OUZO is, and unless I am supposed to imagine that OUZO is the plural of ... OUZO, then this clue is kind of garbage. I understand the urge to do some plural-seeming / singular-acting trickery, but this ain't it.

The strangest thing about solving this puzzle was how delighted I was by a 3x3 crossing. Apparently if you cross artists I love, then short fill all of a sudden becomes precious to me. I genuinely smiled remembering SYD Hoff and AMY Heckerling, creators of things I have enjoyed looking at over the years. John Hughes is the filmmaker most associated with the teen comedy, but I'd put Fast Times and Clueless up against anything he made, any day. And I grew up on and loved the Hughes movies (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink)—exactly the right age / demographic for his films, dead-center Gen X. Speaking of (Gen X, that is), LOL I could not get that last part of the GENERATION clue (33A: What might be found between X and Z? => GENERATION GAP). I had GENERATION and thought "... OK, it's "Y" ... but ... nope. WHY? YYY? Gah." Then I got "G," then "A," and then sincerely I thought "they're not calling themselves GENERATION GAY now, are they!? That's pretty presumptuous." So congrats on the clue-writing there, folks. You got me. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. You change the dimensions of a photograph by CROPping it (46D: Take to another dimension?). 25D: Problem for a king (MATE) is (presumably) a chess clue. KISS = "Keep It Simple, STUPID"(37A: One-fourth of KISS). And lastly, here's ARNIE Pye with "Arnie in the Sky" (see, you think he'd go for "Pye in the Sky" ... but no) (1D: Helicopter traffic reporter on "The Simpsons"):

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Berry farm eponym / THU 10-21-21 / Clueless about current trends / French city nicknamed the capital of Flanders / Scoreboard numbers when a baseball team puts up a picket fence / Word in a Shakespearean incantation / Type of angular momentum in physics

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Constructor: Michael Lieberman

Relative difficulty: Medium (tough to get that first themer, possibly ... then easy)

THEME: What lies beneath ... — theme answers are all phrases that follow a "___ UNDER ___" pattern, where the "under" is represented literally, i.e. the first part of the phrase is literally found under the second part:

Theme answers (all these answers are Downs, so you're going to have to tilt them using the power of your imagination ... or, you know, just look at the actual grid, above):
  • "living under a rock" becomes AROCKLIVING (3D: "Clueless about current trends")
  • "crack under pressure" becomes PRESSURECRACK (17D: "Choke")
  • "drink under the table" becomes THETABLEDRINK (8D: "Take more shots than")
  • "testify under oath" becomes OATHTESTIFY (24D: "Give a sworn statement in court")
Word of the Day: Jimmy COBB (9A: Jazz drummer Jimmy) —
Wilbur James Cobb (January 20, 1929 – May 24, 2020) was an American jazz drummer. He was part of Miles Davis's First Great Sextet. At the time of his death, he had been the band's last surviving member for nearly thirty years. He was awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2009. (wikipedia)
• • •

Clever theme, though once you crack it, man those themers are easy to get. I spent half my time (probably) on that first themer, particularly the latter part of it, over there in the west. I don't remember exactly what tipped me to the gimmick, but once I did, I was able to fill in all the other themers except the PRESSURE one (seemed like you could do a lot of verbs under pressure ... break, maybe? Anyway, I waited for crosses to help me). Oh, no, now I remember what tipped me. I had A ROCK and no idea what was going on—I thought maybe the puzzle was going to be inventing weird words, and that the A- was a prefix meaning "not" (as in "amoral"), and then, well, god knows what the imaginary word was going to be. But I couldn't get enough of the latter part of the themer for a while because even though HIVE and WIN were right, I couldn't confirm them with crosses. Totally forgot William SHAWN, whom I always picture in my head as Wallace SHAWN (from "Princess Bride," among other things), and there was no way I was going to get PIXIE from 32D: Kind of short cut, so I just flailed a bit. The key, it turns out, was getting 27A: Things you saw while asleep? (LOGS). Didn't get it at first pass, and didn't relook at it for a while, but when I finally did, I had -OGS, which clearly made the answer LOGS, which gave me L-V-N- after A ROCK, and then the theme concept jumped out at me. "Living under a rock." LIVING under A ROCK. Got it. That was pretty much the struggle in its entirety today. 

I know that the puzzle is going to make use of brand names and mostly I don't have a problem with that, but somehow splashing PRIME VIDEO across the top of my grid really put me off. No shilling for awful exploitative monopolies run by narcissistic sociopathic multi-billionaires. So no Facebook either. It's bad enough that the puzzle is basically a full-time Apple advertisement, you don't have to go making depressingly ubiquitous corporations your marquee fill. Also repulsive: PALIN, but I'm somehow not as disgusted by her as I am by someone with actual power. She's a clown, and a bygone one at that. I wouldn't put her in a grid, for any reason, but if you think you need her, go ahead, I guess. I did a puzzle with DJT in it yesterday and that wrecked the solving mood far far more than PALIN did here today. GO FOR A WALK has big EAT A SANDWICH energy, but I think it actually holds up as a stand-alone answer and seems less like a random phrase the more I stare at it. TAKE A WALK works better, but ... It's fine. It's also good advice. GO FOR A WALK

Do people outside California really know KNOTT's Berry Farm? (34D: Berry farm eponym). I know it only (literally, exclusively) as a theme park in southern California that I went to maybe once as a kid. That is all that I know about it. Is it really a farm? Is it really crossword-famous? I have no idea. I just felt bad for millions of solvers as I wrote it in easily. Seems like a pretty regionally niche answer, but maybe I'm wrong. I don't think anyone actually says "AH, ME" (38A: Words said with a sigh) and wish that answer would go away permanently, as ADIT and ESNE and other crosswordese we don't need anymore have done. Speaking of crosswordese, GBS is George Bernard Shaw, kids. Back in the day, literary monograms were all the rage. You'd see TSE and GBS and RLS and EAP riding around the grid in their CIERAs and their ALEROs just whooping it up ... Kind of pushing the outer limits of monogram content today with GBS *and* RBG, but shrug, oh well, small answers, no big deal. My last answers were LOOTS / OAR—Double misdirection! The "sacks" (in 47D: Sacks) weren't paper and the "bank" (in 52A: It may be used to get away from a bank) wasn't full of money. A double aha to end the solve. Happy to finish this one feeling something other than PALE and WEARY. Enjoy your Thursday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. the "Shakespearean incantation" is "Double, double TOIL and trouble / Fire burn and caldron bubble" (from Macbeth). Maybe like me you (mis-)remember it as "Boil, bubble, TOIL and trouble." If it got you the right answer, that's all that matters.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Noted trans activist and actress / WED 10-20-21 / 1962 Paul Anka hit / Novelty brand with slogan Watch it grow / 2018 Pixar short about a dumpling boy / Polynesian crop with medicinal properties / Irene who's central to the scandal of A Scandal in Bohemia

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Constructor: David W. Tuffs

Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe slightly harder)

THEME: ORBITING — Words that start with OR- are clued as if they are multi-word phrases where the first word is "OR." The "OR" phrase is clued as the latter half of an imagined either/or question:

Theme answers:
  • ORLANDO (17A: "Who's your favorite roguish 'Star Wars' character? Han ___?")
  • ORALIST (18A: "How famous is that actress? Is she unknown ___?")
  • ORANGERED (37A: "How do you handle losing? Do you feel calm ___?")
  • ORDEALS (60A: "What's the best way to spend less on shopping? Coupons ___?")
  • ORCHARD (63A: "What kind of greens do you want? Spinach ___?")
Word of the Day: DIURNAL (65A: Active during the day) —

Definition of diurnal

 (Entry 1 of 2) 

1 abiology active chiefly in the daytime diurnal animals
bof, relating to, or occurring in the daytimethe city's diurnal noises
cbotany opening during the day and closing at nightdiurnal flowers
2arecurring every daydiurnal tasks
bhaving a daily cyclediurnal tides (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Or not. The concept seems theoretically interesting, but the execution here is weird and off. ORANGE-RED? That's just two colors. I mean yeah you can have an orangish red or whatever, but I put in "angered" and then kept doubting it because ... ORANGERED barely registers as a thing. And I don't know what an ORALIST is. I thought it was some kind of mouth doctor, but apparently it's a term from deaf education, specifically "a deaf person who uses speech and lip-reading to communicate, rather than sign language" (google). Happy to learn something, but weird to learn it in a wacky jokey Wednesday theme answer, where the "OR" jokes only really land if the answers are in common parlance. ORALIST / -ISM seems like a great word to have in a puzzle (it's been in the grid a couple of times before, apparently), but not so much as the answer in a wacky puzzle where your clue doesn't even indicate what it is. Further: coupons *are* "deals," what the hell?  "Every day we match hundreds of new coupons with sales and promotions to bring you the very best deals," shouts some random online coupon site I just found by searching [coupon deals]. Coupons *are* deals. "Coupons OR DEALS" is a meaningless choice. That clue is just desperate. And that's the problem with a theme like this: the words you have to choose from are very limited, and the wacky cluing gets very forced in order to make the limited number of available themers "work." I got a vaguely hopeful "oh, I see" boost when I went from "ORLANDO?" to "Oh ... OR LANDO?" but the rest of the themer set was less inspiring. The clue on ORCHARD works fine, but there was a repetitiveness and a clunkiness here that made the theme not really work for me.

I was also put off by how isolated the corners of this grid are. I just have this aversion to corners, especially biggish corners, that have only narrow paths in and out. This narrowness of entryways really affects the NE and SW corners (two ways in, each the width of only one letter), but that NW and SE are pretty cut off too. It makes the grid really choppy and makes it harder to get a nice flow going. There's a whole *feel* aspect to solving that is sometimes really hard to describe, but I do know that cut-off corners really kill the vibe for me a lot of the time. Or ... maybe not "kill" it, but bring it down. There's some weird Scrabble f***ing going on with the "X"s here, and honestly TXT and EXT really undermine whatever joy the "X" factor was supposed to bring. The LEX / COX one works fine because you don't have to sacrifice fill quality and you pick up the full name of LAVERNE / COX in the bargain (46D: With 64-Down, noted trans activist and actress). Fine. But the price of TXT and EXT is a little high. If they were the lone rough fill in their sections, fine, but their neighbors (EIS and UAE, respectively) aren't much prettier.  I like OVERDUB a lot (42D: Augment, as a musical track), and ... I don't know if I *like* DIURNAL, but I liked remembering it from some Wordsworth poem I read in college. . . [looks it up] ... OMG I'm right! My memory kinda works! That is *exactly* where I learned it: from the penultimate line of "A Slumber did my Spirit Seal":

A slumber did my spirit seal; 
I had no human fears: 
She seemed a thing that could not feel 
The touch of earthly years. 

No motion has she now, no force; 
She neither hears nor sees; 
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course, 
With rocks, and stones, and trees. 

... and honestly, as far as I know, this is the only place I've ever seen it used. 32 years ago! It's bizarre and seemingly haphazard what my brain chooses to retain and what it forgets entirely. Whole courses I took, I don't remember even one class session, but "DIURNAL" ... bam. Locked in.

  • 55A: Polynesian crop with medicinal properties (KAVA) — this is a fine answer, but seems like a dangerous cross with KAHN (55D: "Blazing Saddles" actress Madeline), since CAHN is definitely a name and definitely sounds right, as does CAVA.
  • 41D: ___ polloi (HOI) / 48A: "Mazel ___!" (TOV) — HOI TOV? There has *got* to be a way to make that teeny tiny 3x3 section cleaner than HOI TOV.
  • 43A: 2018 Pixar short about a dumpling boy ("BAO") — still surprised BAO isn't more common as fill. Heavy on the vowels, delicious to contemplate. Definitely pro-BAO.
  • 53D: Olds of old (CIERA) — not a huge fan of the "car models of old" clues, especially if the models aren't like MODEL-T old. Classic old. CIERA doesn't count. I guess I should just be happy that that other [Olds of old], the ALERO, has been put out to pasture. Man, you used to see ALEROs everywhere. There'd be days when the whole grid was just an ALERO parking lot. "Why are there six ALEROs in this puzzle?" you'd ask, befuddled. Nobody knew...
  • 1A: Museum wings? (EMS) — I hate that I am so good at these "letteral" clues (i.e. clues you have to read the clue literally to arrive at the answer, which is a letter). Here, the "wings" (i.e. ends) of the word "museum" are EMS (the letter "M," in the plural: EMS). To have this answer crossing SILENTD (with yet another jokey "?" letteral clue) is truly perverse (3D: Handsome trait?). 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Since there's a "Star Wars" movie called "Rogue One," I got thrown off a bit by the word "roguish" in the "Star Wars" clue (for ORLANDO) (17A: "Who's your favorite roguish 'Star Wars' character? Han ___?"). I thought there was some kind of play on words there, and I was going to have to know things about the "Rogue One" ... like maybe ORLANDO Bloom was in it ??? ... but no.

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