Astronomical event / TUES 11-29-21 / First name in denim / Home of many of the world's alpacas / Wilde or Wilder

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hi, everyone, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of November! The big news in my life is that I got to see BTS in concert this weekend, and they were absolutely phenomenal! Oh, yeah, and I passed the bar. I guess that was cool, too! 

Now, on to the puzzle!

Billy Ouska

Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Punny phrases that relate to how you play the named games

Theme answers:
  • CAPTURE THE FLAG (20A: Sign outside a Stratego tournament?) 
  • SIT FOR A SPELL (25A: Sign outside a Scrabble tournament?) 
  • DON’T SAY A WORD (48A: Sign outside a Taboo tournament?) 
  • CONNECT THE DOTS (56A: Sign outside a dominoes tournament?)
Word of the Day: OLGA (5A: Actress Kurylenko) —
Olga Konstantinovna Kurylenko is a Ukrainian-French actress and model. She was discovered as a model at the age of 13. She moved to Paris to pursue a modelling career at the age of 16 and started her acting career in 2005. She found success as an actress for her role as Nika Boronina in the film adaptation of the video game Hitman (2007), and then mainstream prominence with the role of Bond girl Camille Montes in the 22nd James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008). (Wiki)
• • •
So this puzzle was… fine? I didn’t enjoy it a ton, which I could attribute to solving the puzzle while my sister drove us back from LA from seeing BTS, and we were stuck in traffic, so the mood wasn’t all that great. But, in general, the theme fell a bit flat for me. The plays on words just weren’t that clever, and three of the four answers were literal descriptions of the goal of the game (i.e., in Stratego your goal is to CAPTURE THE FLAG). Only SIT FOR A SPELL, the description for Scrabble, was figurative. 

Nothing seems that bad when I look back on the puzzle, though it did feel like sort of a slog to get through, mostly because I didn’t quite get the theme. The solve also started off ominously when I put in LSAT instead of MCAT for 1A: Exam for some coll. seniors. Little did I know that LSAT would instead be in the puzzle at 30D with the same clue. I don’t usually mind — and sometimes like — when clues repeat, but going astray at 1A threw me bit. 

YACHTS (49D: Sails in style, in a way) as a verb seems egregious to me. I’d be willing to die on this proverbial hill, even if the dumb dictionary tells me that the word actually can be used as a verb. I also didn’t enjoy having YES (38A) be smack dab in the middle of the puzzle. It feels bland, and the clue — “You rang?” — is one of the types I dislike, where the answer could be a whole multitude of things. Another example could be 66A: “Same with me” as AS AM I. And, lastly, the answer for 55D: These, in Madrid annoyed me because, realistically, it could be either “estos” or ESTAS

A fair amount of the puzzle is crosswordese, but looking back there weren’t many three-letter answers in there (I count five, and they’re fairly spread out). I do like that. There are also some particularly nice bits in there, like some of the long downs you don’t usually see in crosswords, such as: TITANIUM, TSUNAMI, MOSH PIT and TAILSPIN

  • For 1A, when I put in LSAT instead of MCAT and then realized my error, I laughed because I thought that I just had law on the brain and was trying to force it into the puzzle. Then LSAT appeared at 30D
  • Some of my favorite clues/answers were 27D: The end of the Greek world? as OMEGA and, similarly, 3D: The beginning of the Hebrew world? as ALEPH, along with 43D: Notoriously fast starter as HARE. They confused me at first, but when I got them I chuckled. I also liked the misdirection with 45D: Where you might bump into a metal fan as MOSH PIT
  • Solving the puzzle, I remembered that the point of dominoes really is to lay the dominoes out and connect the dots. As a kid, I thought the whole point was to just line them up vertically and in a long, long line and see if you can get them to all tip over. 
  • Not sure how to connect this in except for maybe saying the seven BTS members really SHINE[d] (35A) at their concert, and my sister and I had the absolute best time! Here’s a low-quality pic I took up close the first night of the concert and another picture from Twitter to show you that the group really does shine!
And that’s about it! Hope everyone has a happy December and happy holidays! 

Signed, Clare Carroll, actually sort of a lawyer now

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Big name in smoothies / MON 11-29-21 / Diamond author of popular science books / Prez dispenser?

Monday, November 29, 2021

Constructor: Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. normal Monday)

THEME: RUNNING START (54A: Early advantage ... or what 20-, 28- and 45-Across each have?) — [blank OF blank] phrases where the first "blank" (the "start" of the answer) is a word that can be a synonym for "run":

Theme answers:
  • STREAK OF LUCK (20A: Hoped-for experience at a casino)
  • DASH OF PEPPER (45A: Designer Giorgio)
  • BOLT OF FABRIC (45A: Fashion designer's purchase)
Word of the Day: JAMBA Juice (31D: Big name in smoothies) —
Jamba Juice, doing business as Jamba, is an American company that produces blended fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and similar products. The company is co-owned—with Moe's Southwest GrillSchlotzsky'sCarvelCinnabonMcAlister's Deli, and Auntie Anne's brands—by Focus Brands, an affiliate of private equity firm Roark Capital Group, based in Sandy Springs, Georgia, operating over 6,000 stores. Jamba was founded in 1990, with the first store located in San Luis Obispo, California. The company has more than 850 locations operating in 36 U.S. states, as well as Japan, the PhilippinesTaiwanSouth KoreaThailand, and Indonesia. (wikipedia)
• • •

So let's start with the obvious problem, which is—"RUN OF LUCK" and "LUCKY STREAK" are both phrases, whereas STREAK OF LUCK is something you cobble together to make a theme work. Defensible? Yes. On the money? Hardly. Hard clank. Other than that, the theme is clever. I don't know why all the themers have to follow the ___ OF ___ pattern—it's totally unrelated to the revealer. Maybe there was some idea of consistency or higher level of difficulty or something? Hard to approve when the result is that you clank that first themer so hard. But I think the concept is good for a Monday. Concept, good; execution, so-so. Fill, completely unremarkable. Nothing you would call particularly good, nothing you would call particularly bad. I don't get why JARED / JAMBA was appealing, but it does get you a "J," which is about the most exciting non-theme happening in this grid, so maybe it was worth it. I thought JAMBA was a name *part*, but apparently they're just JAMBA now? Or "doing business as JAMBA," at any rate, whatever that means. I'm just telling you what the first paragraph of the wikipedia entry (above) says. That wikipedia entry is also notable for its second sentence, which screams "late-capitalist dystopia" harder than most opening wikipedia paragraphs do. The prominence of "private equity firm Roark Capital Group" in your juice company description really shouts "alive with flavor!" Mmm, conglomericious!

My hatred of E-CARD knows no bounds, but that's really my problem (37A: Digital birthday greeting). An E-CARD is a real thing, however ersatz and sad. The only slow parts of the puzzle for me were "OH, GOSH" (it's not hard, exactly, it just felt like it could be a million quaint euphemistic things and I needed several crosses to figure out which one) (6D: "Goodness gracious!"), and ILL-KEPT (perfectly good phrase, just ... again, quaintish, needed crosses) (10D: Poorly hidden, as a secret). I also wrote in TAHOE before CANOE (62A: Lakeside rental), but that was without actually reading the clue, so that's just a stupid self-inflicted wound is what that is. Everything else is a shrug. A BENIGN shrug. Ooh, except the clue [Prez dispenser?] for ATM. That, I like.* SEE ME tomorrow!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*pun on "Pez dispenser"; and since ATMs dispense money, and most U.S. bills feature pictures of U.S. prezidents, voilà! ATM = Prez dispenser!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Horror director Aster / SUN 11-28-21 / Model featured on many romance novel covers / Banh mi toppings / Name for zinc sulfide that is one letter short of a kitchen appliance / Hebrew letter between kaf and mem

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Constructor: Jeff Kremer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Garage Sale Pitches — sales pitch phrases clued as if they referred literally and specifically to items you might buy at a garage sale:

Theme answers:
  • "CAN'T TURN THAT DOWN!" (23A: "TV, volume knob broken, only $10!") (you can't turn it down because the knob is broken)
  • "DROP EVERYTHING!" (43A: "Baseball mitt, has a small hole, just $1!") (you will drop everything you try to catch with this holey mitt)
  • "NO STRINGS ATTACHED!" (68A: "Guitar, never used, $15!") (this one makes no sense—a never used guitar would still have strings ... but whatever, just roll with it)
  • "LIMITED EDITION!" (91A: "Textbook, a few pages torn out, $2!") (you can't read the whole edition because of the missing pages, so it's a limited edition)
  • "ROCK-BOTTOM PRICES!" (114A: "Two fish tanks, accessories included, $5!") (the rock bottom comes with the tank, as does the deep-sea diver and the grotto with the treasure chest, probably)
  • DOOR-BUSTER DEAL (16D: "Prop ax used in 'The Shining,' a valuable collectors' item, $200") (a deal on a literal door-buster) (that ax sold for £170,000 at auction two years ago, btw)
  • "BUY NOW, PAY LATER"  (51D: "Wallet, in good condition, plenty of card slots, $5!") (er ... uh ... see below)
Word of the Day: ARI Aster (37D: Horror director Aster) —
Ari Aster (born July 15, 1986) is an American film director and screenwriter known for Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019). (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this theme has no idea what it's doing. All over the map. Just spraying bullets. First, well, these are advertised as "pitches" but only some of them are. "DOORBUSTER DEAL" is not a "pitch," it's a concept. You might use it in advertising, but it's not a thing a salesperson would say, and it's especially not something you'd say at a "garage sale," where for starters there is no "door" to speak of except maybe a garage door but ... anyway, it's just wrong. Contextually wrong. Speaking of things you wouldn't say at a garage sale (ever, and I mean ever): "BUY NOW, PAY LATER!" You've solved enough puzzles to know that the only phrase associated with garage sale wares is AS IS. The idea that you could pay on the installment plan, what? Further, the clue on "BUY NOW, PAY LATER!" is so awkward that I honestly didn't understand how it was supposed to "work." I asked Twitter and immediately got two *different* answers, so people are going to be misconstruing (or variously construing) that one all over the world, all day long, clearly. I think the idea is that the wallet has card slots where *credit* cards go, and that by buying this *magical* wallet, you can ... use your credit cards to ... purchase things ... on credit? Why the *number* of card slots would affect this, I don't know. "Buy this wallet and use your credit cards like you normally would!" is a hell of a pitch. What else? Oh, "DROP EVERYTHING!" has absolutely no relation to garage or any other kind of sales. It's just hanging out here like "hey, a phrase party cool," and the other phrases know he wasn't really invited but they really don't want to ask him to leave because then it would be a whole Thing so *here he is*, just lounging around the garage sale, no one knows why. "CAN'T TURN THAT DOWN!" has nowhere near the iconic, stand-alone phrase status that you need for a theme like this. "NO STRINGS ATTACHED!"—that's solid! A phrase we all recognize. Hear it all the time. "CAN'T TURN THAT DOWN!" cannot say the same. They have to be solid, real, plausible sales pitch phrases before you wackify them. Otherwise it's all just nonsense. Chaos. A MESS.

Do you know how awful AGE TEN is? Do you? How about BLENDE? (122A: Name for zinc sulfide that is one letter short of a kitchen appliance). LOL, BLENDE!? It's funny just typing it. Also, who can forget the timeless saying, "NO NEWS is good"? (96D: It's good, in a saying). Mwah. Nailed it. Moving on: LAMED!? (73D: Hebrew letter between kaf and mem) So I have to know the whooooollllle damned Hebrew alphabet now? KAF? MEM? Never seen those, for instance, but LAMED is fine? I get that you are trying to steer away from the yucky verb there, but how about just steer away from that specific 5-letter combination altogether? Yeeeeee-ikes and Yeesh. RESANG, again, hard LOL. Do you really, truly imagine that anyone, even his family, wants to remember the "acting F.B.I. director after James Comey was fired"?? Or any "acting F.B.I. director"? or any "acting" anything? or James Comey at all under any circumstances!?!? There are times when a puzzle is simply not *my* idea of a good time, and then (today, for instance) there are the times where I truly don't understand *whose* idea of a good time this can possibly be. AGE TEN!!? So it's just AGE ANY NUMBER now? Those low digits I was maybe kinda sorta willing to let you have, but double digits!? No. Permission denied. Now I'm laughing again because I re-ESPY'd BLENDE. And Lloyd BENTSEN!? We're just going full-on bygone bizarro politics now, I guess. "Dukakis and Comey, people will love remembering those guys!?" (Me: "GOD, NO"). 

No idea PATÉS were things that went on banh mi. I've had banh mi several times, but that topping option must've just missed me. Also no idea who ARI Aster is, but I think that's it in the Proper Noun Mystery Department today. Oh, "NARCOS," that took some doing (99D: Netflix crime drama starring Pedro Pascal). That whole corner was a little rough for me, since IT'S A PLANE had an awkward and ineffectual "?" clue on it (105A: Super wrong identification?), and I wanted RAZE (or RASE?) for 123A: Demolish (ROUT). Throw in my not watching or knowing the star of "NARCOS," and you've got a bit of a hairy situation, but YEASTY got me out of it OK. Terrible vague clue on IMPORTS (92D: Some beers), doubly terrible because it's doing that thing where it thinks it's being clever by copying the clue for another answer, for which it is actually appropriate (72D: Some beers = ALES). Had ASAMI before ASDOI because yes KEA LOA, ATON ALOT, even some letters in place, who the hell knows? 

I am very happy to announce that the American Values Club Crossword (AVCX), already the best indie subscription puzzle in existence, is now expanding to something close to a DAILY (!), with six or so puzzle offerings a week: themed and themeless crosswords, variety puzzles, cryptics, mini- and midi-puzzles, and a trivia game. This is a big move, a huge flex, involving four (!) new editorial teams. The talent pool is deep and wide, and includes some of my very favorite puzzle-makers, including Francis Heaney, Aimee Lucido, Brooke Husic, Christopher Adams, and more. The puzzles are gonna rule, the different editorial perspectives are gonna allow for all kinds of innovation and experimentation, and puzzle-makers will be paid *fairly*, far more in keeping with the money they generate than at any other outlet I know of. Here's the most relevant paragraph from the Kickstarter page:
AVCX has corralled four new, independently governed editing teams to deliver four new weekly features: one additional regular crossword (with an emphasis on themeless puzzles), one cryptic crossword, one or two midis (between 9x9 and 11x11), and a trivia game each weekend. These features will all be solvable on our new website interface (as well as via emailed files).
Seriously, this is the most ambitious move yet from an indie outlet, and I'm excited to see where it goes. Get on board! And while you're at it, why not give the puzzle-lover in your life not named "you" a subscription too? Go here to get all the details, and then subscribe subscribe subscribe. Take care,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Small boat of East Asia / SAT 11-27-21 / Gardening practice that minimizes the need for water / Low member of a marine ecosystem / Those tending to the fallen warriors called einherjar in myth / Anjou alternative

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy (easiest Saturday in recent memory)

THEME: XYZ — no theme, really, but those longer answers in the middle start with X, Y, and Z, respectively, and I'm guessing that's somebody's idea of whimsy

Word of the Day: SAMPAN (25A: Small boat of East Asia) —
sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese and Malay wooden boat. Some sampans include a small shelter on board and may be used as a permanent habitation on inland waters. Sampans are generally used for transportation in coastal areas or rivers and are often used as traditional fishing boats. It is unusual for a sampan to sail far from land, as they do not have the means to survive rough weather. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm high on leftovers and chocolate cake and the Great British Bake-Off finale so unlike most nights I'm wide awake at 10pm, ready to do the crossword (and write about it) right when it comes out. Either I am much, much faster at night than in the early morning or this puzzle was very, very easy. Or both, I suppose. All I know is it played like a Tuesday or Wednesday for me. I was solving at a leisurely, untimed pace and was still done in under 5. If I'd been *trying*, yikes, I might've gone sub-4, which on Saturday is record territory for me. The grid is so wide-open, with so many ways to come at all the answers, that you can't really get stuck. Well, I'm sure you can, but if you're reasonably experienced, you cannot. Maybe it's just a matter of getting that first toehold. Everything seemed to flow directly and unstoppably off of SCOFF (1A: Act the cynic, maybe). Had trouble confirming it was right at first (that FDR quote did not feel very FDR to me) (5D: Who famously offered this speaking advice: "Be sincere, be brief, be seated," in brief, unlike this clue, which is not brief at all, OK I added this last bit), but then I got CINEMAX and SAUNAS and zing, off we went. Got YELLOW PAGES off the YE- no problem (34A: The book of numbers), and XERISCAPING was in the puzzle not too too long ago, so I got it easily off the "X" (30A: Gardening practice that minimizes the need for water), though as you can see from my initial screenshot, I still haven't worked out the spelling:

I used to spell it ZEROSCAPING, so I'm moving in the right direction, at least. After this, crosses just started falling like crazy, and I never experienced any serious hold-ups. The weirdest thing about the grid was probably the fact that the hardest answer for me to get was a 15. Usually you cut a few crosses through a 15 and you can see what's up, but I had UNDERCOV- and A-ENT before I saw what was going on with 16A: Operative (UNDERCOVER AGENT). That's about as disguised a clue for that answer as I can imagine. I was thinking adjective all the way. Very happy that my first guess at 15D: Rather inclined was correct (STEEP). I had no letters in place and just leapt in there. Luckily, that guess landed, and it gave me the traction I needed to destroy that corner. PUP would've been very hard to see without that terminal "P" (29A: Spot early on?). STALK also panned out as an early stab in the dark (46A: Something out standing in its field), giving me TUTEE, ASIS, and most importantly BANGKOK. Never heard of a ZOOPLANKTON, but it was highly inferrable. Thought maybe the abbr. at 26D: 5-Down, e.g., in brief (PREZ) might be PRES. but SOOPLANKTON ... was not convincing. I don't really get the XYZ stack. That is, I don't know why you think that's good / important / interesting. Your primary concern should be fill quality. As 12-stacks go, I guess this one's OK, but it's not great. I just don't think you should be building your entire grid around something as superficial and ticky-tack as an XYZ succession. Is it meant to echo the ABC in ABCTV? I don't know. I just don't want to encourage themeless constructors to compromise their work like this. Make the best grid possible! That's all that matters!

No idea where I pulled several answers from. PIANOLAS ... sounded like a thing I'd seen before? ARI Lennox ... same. And SAMPAN, again, my brain wanted it, and I just went with it. Pure instinct, zero certainty. But instinct was dead-on today. The TEST part of SOIL TEST took some crossing, but otherwise the bottom half of this puzzle went up in smoke. Down in flames? Out in a BLAZE of glory? Whatever, it was done fast. I probably liked "THE COAST IS CLEAR" over the VALKYRIES best of all. Overall, I had a reasonably good time, though (as usual) not as good a time as I had on Friday.

  • Lists of FEES are called "fee schedules." I don't know why, they just are (4D: Schedule listings)
  • "Head" is slang for "toilet," and in britslang, that's LOO (or LAV, I never know which, but guessed right today) (49A: Head of Hogwarts?)
  • "Spot" is a common dog's name (or so convention would have us believe—I've never met a Spot; see also Fido, Rover). "Early on" in Spot's life, he was a PUP,  presumably (29A: Spot early on?).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Fatty tuna in Japanese cuisine / FRI 11-26-21 / Yaga folklore villain / Bucky in comic strip Get Fuzzy / TV character who said I am so smart I am so smart S-M-R-T / Old worker with pads

Friday, November 26, 2021

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TORO (36D: Fatty tuna in Japanese cuisine) —
In Japan, a blue fin tuna is graded by the quality of the cuts of meat which can be obtained from it, particularly the prized 
toro, the fatty belly of the tuna. Tuna for sushi is carefully handled, to ensure that the flesh is not bruised or damaged. When the tuna arrives at the fish market, core samples of the flesh are taken with a special tool so that the color, texture, and flavor of the meat can be assessed before the tuna is priced. While sushi uses many different types of tuna including yellow fin and big eye, true toro is only taken from blue fin tuna. // Toro comes from the underbelly of the tuna, and is itself divided into grades which are distinguished based on the marbling of the meat, much like in grading beef. The most valuable toro, otoro, is from the underside of the fish close to the head. Chutoro, a lesser grade, comes from the belly in the middle and back of the fish, and is less marbled than otoro. (
• • •

A walk in the park, which is exactly what I needed. Puzzle felt like it was made just for me—my real last name is even a clue!—and since it's my birthday, I will take it, thank you. The construction on this one is very elegant, with long-answer latticework comprising the bulk of the grid. There are a smattering of 6s and 5s, but mostly the answers in this puzzle are long, gorgeous things, 9 letters or longer, or else they are largely (appropriately) nondescript 3s and 4s holding the gorgeous answers in place. FRESH MEAT hooks into the NW corner, STRIKE PAY hooks into the SE corner, and then "DON'T BE A STRANGER" (the real showstopper) drives down through both those answers, connecting the 10-stack at the top to the 10-stack at the bottom. It's striking just how much of this grid is made out of long answers, since the puzzle does not feel like it's drowning in white space. It's an easy-flowing, open grid. Lots of ways to come at answers. Not surprisingly, the hardest part of the puzzle for me was the part that was hardest to get at, most isolated, least accessible—that is, the far corner of the SW. One little mistake in there and you got trouble. My little mistake: SPEEDING UP instead of ROUNDING UP (61A: Going from 99 to 100). I was understandably pretty confident about my (wrong) answer, since it both fit the clue and worked perfectly in the crosses ... at first. But I was pretty sure there was no such thing as the EHL (62D: Senators' org. = NHL), so I knew SPEEDING was probably wrong, but ROUNDING was not something I got til very late. I normally "round" decimals if I "round" anything. Still, it's a good trick clue. I also went with ROTE before AUTO down there (56D: What you might unthinkingly be on), though in the cold light of day "on ROTE" is not a thing. Further, I had ON THE SCENE instead of ON THE SCENT (65A: In hot pursuit), even though that felt wrong, since once you're ON THE SCENE you aren't really "pursuing" any more, are you? If the PTS clue had been clearer to me, maybe I would've been quicker with ON THE SCENT. But no matter. It's good to have a little workout on a Friday, and the rest of the puzzle hadn't put up much of a fight. So there was some struggle at the end, but overall, this was easy, and as I say, delightful.

This one started with PATH, then ARIA (confirmed by SALOME (10D: Strauss work with the "Dance of the Seven Veils")), and then the NW was done in a flash. First real hangup I had was TORO—still haven't stored the fish meaning in my brain properly. The TORO part of my brain is currently occupied by a snow blower and a Spanish bull and that's about it. But just when TORO was threatening to slow my progress through the grid, I connected BRIM to SALOME and all of a sudden, a revelation, a ray of light, pierced through the grid from above:

That lovely simple colloquial phrase opened up everything. NE corner went down almost instantly. The east was a little tougher only because I misspelled SEMPEL (thusly) (29A: Aimee ___ McPherson, evangelist behind America's first megachurch => SEMPLE). Needed the crosses in the SE to get the OWNER part of LEGAL OWNER (32D: Entitled sort). After that came the last part, the SW corner, the mild horrors of which I've already covered. I had BANCO before BANCA down there (51D: Where to get money in Milano), which contributed to the mess. But as messes go, the SW wasn't much of one. I cleaned it up pretty quickly, without losing too many good puzzle vibes in the frustration. 

  • "English" is "hitting the ball to promote sidespin" in pool (67A: Experts in English?)
  • A "trey" is a three-point shot in basketball (63D: Three for a trey: Abbr.)
  • Anne ARCHER is an actress. The wife in "Fatal Attraction," if that helps. (64A: Archer of note)
Off to the gym, followed by much loafing and leftover-eating and not-shopping and cake-snarfing. Hope your day looks similarly blissful. Enjoy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Old Spanish coins / THU 11-25-21 / Nabokov title character / Rapper who had an infamous rivalry with Tupac / Han Solo claims to have made the Kessel Run in less than 12 of these / Pygmalion author's monogram / Backsplash installer

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Constructor: Chase Dittrich

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TRUE / FALSE (71A & 38D: One of two options in five squares in this puzzle) — five rebus squares sit inside ten answers, each of which is clued twice: once to work with "T" in the square and once to work with "F" in the square:

  • TREE SPIRIT / FREE SPIRIT (18A: Wood nymph / Independent person)
  • TAKE GOLD / FAKE GOLD (24A: Win at the Olympics / Cheap jewelry material)
  • TEED OFF / FEED OFF (40A: Drove a golf ball / Gain strength from)
  • TIRE SALE / FIRE SALE (54A: Goodyear blowout / "Everything must go" event)
  • TEAR GLANDS / FEAR GLANDS (60A: Waterworks parts / Amygdalae)
  • ALT / "ALF" (5D: PC key / Sitcom ET) 
  • TRAIL / FRAIL (24D: Lag behind / Weak)
  • TOLD / FOLD (40D: Snitched / Throw in the cards)
  • INTER / INFER (51D: Lay to rest / Deduce)
  • TANGS / FANGS (54D: Zesty flavors / Part of a Dracula costume)
Word of the Day: LESLIE Nielsen (48D: Nielsen of "The Naked Gun") —

Leslie William Nielsen OC (11 February 1926 – 28 November 2010) was a Canadian actor and comedian. With a career spanning 60 years, he appeared in more than 100 films and 150 television programs, portraying more than 220 characters.

Nielsen was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. After high school, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and served until the end of World War II. Upon his discharge, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey before receiving a scholarship to study theatre at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He made his acting debut in 1950, appearing in 46 live television programs a year. Nielsen made his film debut in 1956, with supporting roles in several dramas and western and romance films produced between the 1950s and the 1970s.

Although his notable performances in the films Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure gave him standing as a serious actor, Nielsen later gained enduring recognition for his deadpan comedy roles during the 1980s, after being cast for the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker comedy film Airplane!. In his comedy roles, Nielsen specialized in portraying characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings. Nielsen's performance in Airplane! marked his turning point, which made him "the Olivierof spoofs" according to film critic Roger Ebert, and leading to further success in the genre with The Naked Gun film series, based on the earlier short-lived television series Police Squad!, in which Nielsen also starred. Nielsen received a variety of awards and was inducted into the Canada's Walk of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame. (wikipedia)

• • •

Bad timing on my part, as I got my Moderna booster yesterday, and so now, on Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I feel like death warmed over. Death NUKEd in the microwave for like 20 seconds. Tepid death. I've definitely felt worse, everything is very low-grade, but yeah, achy sorta, fevery sorta, and worst of all: appetite gone. Arm hurts like hell. Slept awfully and just can't get comfortable. Blecch. *But* if it's anything like the last shots, I'll be feeling fine by tomorrow, my birthday, the holiest of days on the Me calendar. For now, I have this puzzle, which I poked through, trying to just take it easy and *really* trying to be generous-minded, since it's not the puzzle's fault I feel cruddy. And what I can say about the puzzle is: it's easy. It's simple. Maybe it's supposed to be a kind of rudimentary rebus—lots of folks are home, or otherwise off work, they got time to kill, so the crossword is gonna get a lot of attention today, a lot of it from people who don't do the crossword every single day like you weirdos. This is a gateway rebus. Nothing to figure out, nothing to INFER. The clues spell everything out, and in case the clues don't clue you in, you've got the revealers, which, for me, were spectacularly anticlimactic and just gave me two more gimmes to write instantly into the grid. But maybe they actually functioned as *revealers* to people who are new to rebus puzzles and so are baffled by the idea of two letters / one square. OK. On that level, I can accept this puzzle. But on every other level, it's not really up to snuff. Concept too basic, answers too easy, and without any real zing or zazz or fun to make the short trip through the grid seem at least a little worthwhile. And the fill, yeesh, this is not the stuff you want to be throwing down if your goal is to get newcomers or part-timers more interested in solving. The fill IS OLDE (51A: Wagner heroine). OLDE, I say (and the puzzle says) (26D: Renaissance Faire adjective). Pray for us, ORA pro nobis, tell EDY and EDNA to hide the REALES and close the ORIEL because GBS (God Blessed Sakes!) the fill in this grid is dangerously OLDE. Really hope no one gets Naticked by the ORA / ORIEL crossing, because that would be the most painfully crosswordese way to go down, truly.

The double cluing really was the thing that took this into remedial-ville. I got TRAIL, thought "why is there's a separate clue that doesn't work?" then got TAKE GOLD and could see plainly what the second clue was referring to (FAKE GOLD), and there, right there, inside three seconds, I had the entire premise worked out. "T and F work? Is this really just a T/F rebus?" And it was. I tripped over a lot of little things, which is not the way you want to experience difficulty in a puzzle. Give me the cleverly worded clue with the big Aha finish, not the deflating experience of "ugh is it LOLL or LOAF?" or "ugh is it DANG or DRAT?" (I guessed wrong both times). Had PAID before TIED (8D: All square) and "GLAD TO" before "GLADLY," which I still very much like better (27A: "I'd be delighted!"). I had trouble with BIGGIE, oddly, since I knew very well the person being asked for, but I had BIG POPPA in my head, as well as Notorious B.I.G., and it's also possible that the sound of "BIGGIE" was in there but my brain imagined his name was rendered BIG + middle initial + E. + SMALLS. I thought at first that the clue for BIGGIE should have "familiarly" in it, since the "Tupac" of the clue did not seem parallel to BIGGIE, but I guess BIGGIE is defensibly parallel in that both are technically first names (even if TUPAC Shakur was a legal name and BIGGIE Smalls was only a stage name—BIGGIE's legal name was Christopher Wallace). 

If I could just keep things focused on BIGGIE and Ida LUPINO, then I could stay in my happy place, but alas there's the rest of the grid that must be accounted for. Oh well, if nothing else, children will be delighted by this grid, as it gives them an excuse to run around the house disrupting the Thanksgiving celebration with cries of "HAS A TIT!" HAS A TIT! Whaaaat, I can say it! It's in the puzzle! Look. HAS! A! TIT! [Runs off for more shouting]" You gotta enjoy yourself somehow. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am indeed grateful for you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. the clue on REDS is just wrong (33D: Traffic lights you can't go through). Or it's misleading. I turn right on red all the time, as do millions of other drivers. I guess if you're being super-strict about the meaning of "through," then maybe there's validity to this clue, but ... also, you can definitely go through a blinking red (after you stop). I just don't think the clue writer thought this one ... through. Also, anyone *can* go through REDS. It's not legal, but can you do it? Well, don't, but yes, you can.

P.P.S. why do you go with the biblical clues on both AMOS *and* ENOS. This is part of what gives the puzzle such a stuffy feeling. Come on, mix it up! It's not great fill, but you can at least move the cluing around to give us some sense of variety. (This is the editor's actual literal job)

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Nonsubmerging WW II menace / WED 11-24-21 / 1990s Indian prime minister / Blacksmith's waste / Original Veronica Mars airer / Self-deprecate then pause to get a reaction squeezed / Id checkers / Boeuf alternative / Vice president between Hubert and Gerald

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Constructor: Brandon Koppy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: PICO DE GALLO (59A: Topping made with this puzzle's chopped and squeezed ingredients) — ONION, PEPPER, and TOMATO appear "chopped" inside the first three themers, and LIME appears "Squeezed" (i.e. rebused) inside a square in the fourth themer:

Theme answers:
  • OMNIPOTENCE (17A: Absolute power [chopped])
  • PRIVATE PROPERTY (23A: Phrase on many No Trespassing signs [chopped])
  • TRASH COMPACTOR (37A: Waste minimizers [chopped])
  • FISH FOR COMP[LIME]NTS (49A: Self-deprecate, then pause to get a reaction [squeezed])
Word of the Day: ELIOT Rosewater (25D: Rosewater of Kurt Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater") —
Eliot Rosewater
 is a recurring character in the novels of American author Kurt Vonnegut. He appears throughout various novels as an alcoholic, and a philanthropist who claims to be a volunteer fireman. He runs the Rosewater Foundation, an organization created to keep the family's money in the family. He is among the few fans of the novels of Kilgore Trout (another of Vonnegut's creations). // God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or, Pearls Before Swine, the first of Vonnegut's novels to feature the character of Eliot Rosewater, is also the one in which he is the most prominent. // The 1965 novel follows much of his life as the liberal son of a rich, conservative Senator from Rosewater County, Indiana who founded the Rosewater Foundation.Eliot Rosewater is convinced that he should spend the family riches to help the poor and uses the Foundation to this end, an idea looked down upon by his father. Norman Mushari, an opportunistic former associate of the Rosewater family lawyer, attempts to have Eliot declared insane so that the family wealth can be inherited by his new client, a distant relative to the east. This and other crises lead to a year-long mental blackout, after which Rosewater's favorite writer, Kilgore Trout, tries to explain to the Senator that Eliot's actions were sane and compassionate. // The New York Times called it "[Vonnegut] at his wildest best" and Conrad Aiken said that it's "a brilliantly funny satire on almost everything". (wikipedia)
• • •

Conceptually this is OK. It's got one real high point—that rebus square that sneaks up on you in the fourth themer. "Sneaks" may not be the right word, though, since the rebusness of that square is telegraphed pretty clearly (the square is marked with a circle *and* the clue tells you to "squeeze"). FISH FOR COMPLIMENTS is also just a lovely stand-alone answer, the best one in the puzzle, so any charm or specialness the puzzle has really rides on this answer alone. It's nice. And it's absolutely necessary, because so much of the rest of the solve was not so nice at all. Even the beautiful LIME square is immediately and tragically undermined by appearing (in the cross) inside the highly unpalatable S(LIME)BALL. Worse, since I solved that rebus square before I'd made my way all the way to the revealer and knew what was going on, I had a couple of other guesses for [Real dirtbag], both of which fit the S_BALL pattern, and one of which ... well, LEAZE was obviously not going to work, but for a few seconds there I was genuinely curious to see what the hell the puzzle was going to do with a CUM rebus. I now see that CUZZ (like LEAZE) would also fit but not really work there. So anyway, there was C, U, M in my salsa, briefly, so ... yeah, that's not ideal. But much much Much worse was the truly abysmal fill in this puzzle, which started early and Just Kept Going. The theme is dense-ish, but not enough to excuse the wince parade that starts with AINTI and then tromps across the length of the grid.  I kept stopping to take new screenshots of the wince moments, but there were too many. I took one at PORC and then *immediately* ran into another photo op at DERM.

I don't know what aspect of the grid forced so many awful fill choices. The theme, as I say, wasn't too dense. Maybe insisting that the puzzle have such a low word count (74 instead of 76 or 78) was the problem. It's nice to have *two* long Downs in the NE and SW, but if the cost is some kind of cascading fill disaster that spreads across the grid, then it's not worth it. All I know is that if the SCUM/SLIMEBALL fiasco didn't sour me on the puzzle at the end, the EBOAT (!?!?!!) surely did. I had "E" and I thought "well it can't be EBOAT, so ... wait ... wait a min- ... oh, no." The EBOAT (again, !?!?!!?) may be "nonsubmerging," but it definitely sank this puzzle to the bottom of the deep blue sea. The revealer at that point came almost as an afterthought: a nice idea while it lasted but SLIMEBALL EBOAT Game Over, Man.

Five things:
  • 15A: Bad record to set (NEW LOW) — I could've used this to describe the fill quality today, but it wouldn't have been entirely true, and anyway, I actually like NEW LOW as an answer.

  • 27A: Including an unlisted number? (ET AL) — yes, this is a good "?" clue. I feel the need to praise them when I see them, as they so often go wrong.
  • 8D: Opposite of radial (ULNAR) — aside from being less-than-lovely fill, I don't quite get "opposite." Is it because the ulna is "opposite" the radius ... in your arm. "Alongside" seems more accurate. There are two bones in your forearm. One is the radius. So the ulna is the "opposite" one? When I search [ulna radius opposite] google tells me the ulna is "opposite" ... to the thumb. This clue wasn't hard. I just don't know about "opposite."
  • 11D: Id checkers (SUPEREGOS) — this one absolutely fooled me. Definitely read that as [ID (as in identification) checkers]. Plus it was hardish to parse with just those middle letters in place. One of the few areas of the puzzle that added some difficulty to the solve.
  • 29A: Comic cry of dismay ("ACK!") — It's from "Cathy" and only "Cathy," just say "Cathy." I get that you're kinda sorta trying to echo 56A: Cartoon cry of dismay but no one else in "comics" says "ACK!" really so just be honest. (I have this weird feeling I have yelled about precisely this issue before. ACK!)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Curving billiards shot / TUE 11-23-21 / Agricultural giant founded in Hawaii in 1851 / Rapper fronting the heavy metal band Body Count

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Constructor: Eric Bornsteing

Relative difficulty: Easy (maybe Easy-Medium if your sports knowledge isn't that great)

THEME: PERSONAL FINANCE (20A: Sort of investment suggested by the ends of 3-, 11- and 29-Down) — the ends of those answers = BONDS, SILVER, and CASH ... I guess those are ... "sorts of investment"? ... it's all a bit nebulous to me; oh wait, I think maybe I just got it—those "sorts of investment" are all the last names of *people*? So they're ... PERSONAL? That's my best guess, anyway:

Theme answers:
  • BARRY BONDS (3D: M.L.B. record-holder for most career home runs)
  • ADAM SILVER (29D: N.B.A. commissioner starting in 2014)
  • JOHNNY CASH (11D: Singer profiled in the biopic "Walk the Line")
Word of the Day: ADAM SILVER (29D) —

Adam Silver (born April 25, 1962) is an American lawyer and sports executive who is the fifth and current commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He joined the NBA in 1992 and has held various positions within the league, becoming chief operating officer and deputy commissioner under his predecessor and mentor David Stern in 2006. When Stern retired in 2014, Silver was named the new commissioner.

As commissioner, the league has continued to grow economically and globally, especially in China. Silver made headlines in 2014 for forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after Sterling made racist remarks, later banning him for life from the game. (wikipedia)

• • •

Can't think of a theme type that's less For Me. PERSONAL FINANCE is a term I recognize, but it's very general in my mind. I don't know the term "PERSONAL FINANCE investment," but the clue says PERSONAL FINANCE an investment *type*, so I assume that's a legit phrase. I also don't see how BONDS, SILVER, and CASH make a sufficiently tight grouping at all. Cash? I admit to being totally out of my depth when it comes to financial instruments and things people invest in (beyond your ordinary everyday IRAs, stocks & bonds, mutual funds, etc.). People invest in ... Cash? I believe you, but I just ... *have* ... cash. Hidden in a lunch box, in case we have to run. Is this ... "investing"? Cosplay? Who knows. Anyway, I think of Cash as uninvested, actually, but maybe you are investing in the "Cash" of other countries? Sigh. You can see how much I care. Look, the revealer is completely unsnappy and the theme set is arbitrary. Also, I will be stunned if the "personal" aspect of the theme doesn't elude a good chunk of solvers. I feel like I only dopily stumbled into it when I had to write all the theme answers out. People's names are used as theme answers All The Time, so it's Bizarre that you expect the "personal" nameness of today's three answers to resonate clearly at all. Truly weird. And of course the "persons" involved are all dudes. It's the financial world, I expect patriarchy. At least the puzzle's not about B!tcoin.

The one good thing about the puzzle is the grid shape, which is bizarre in a good way. Those three long Downs all in a row seemed pretty harrowing for a Tuesday, and one of them is a proper noun, and a themer, that a bunch of solvers aren't going to know ... and yet the short crosses were all very easy, and so I can't see people getting hung up there too long, if at all. LAST IN LINE was a little hard to parse, but again, crosses make things clear (that's their job!). If this puzzle does nothing else, it gives me the opportunity to recommend that you see the movie "TRANSIT" immediately, if not sooner (d. Christian Petzold, 2018) (5D: Kind of visa for just passing through an airport). Watched it with my Monday night Movie Club last month, and it's one of the most beautiful, haunting, mysterious movies I've seen in a long time. A really thoughtful meditation on refugees, the problem of belonging, and the concept of Home. Now that I've done that ... not much more to say about this grid. The fill is weak in the short stuff, but not so weak that it made me wince. Those tiny, cut-off, isolated corners in the SW and SE are aesthetically displeasing, but they're only 4x4 and filling them is just a perfunctory exercise, so again, the harm done is minimal. I do object to the spelling of CZAR here (51A: Nicholas I or II). We all have a TACIT (!) agreement that the Russian ruler is spelled TSAR, whereas a governmental policy director is spelled CZAR ("Drug CZAR"). Otherwise, it's just arbitrary nonsense, spell it this way, spell it that way, cats are marrying dogs and pigs are flying etc. Boundaries are good for us. Please respect the TSAR / CZAR distinction. Thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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