Color of the Owl and the Pussy-cat's boat / SUN 7-3-22 / Last name of the Boxcar Children in children's literature / Rathskeller decoration / Demeter's mother in myth / Anthropologist's adjective / Cocktail made with ginger beer / Brand that comes in short sleeves

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "Expansion Pack" — theme answers don't appear to fit the clue; they're all two-word answers, where you have to read the first letter of the first word as *its own word*, and then take the second word normally (e.g. BOTTOM LINE = "B" LINE = BEELINE for 23A: Direct path) (there were "Puzzle Notes" that offered standard clues for the actual answers that appeared in the grid ...


... but those were an annoying distraction so I ignored them):

Theme answers:
  • BOTTOM LINE = "B" LINE = "beeline" for 23A: Direct path
  • OLDER BROTHER = "O" BROTHER = "Oh, brother!" for 29A: "Sheesh!"
  • PUTTING GREEN = "P" GREEN = "pea green" for 41A: Color of the Owl and Pussy-cat's boat
  • IN CONTACT = "I" CONTACT = "eye contact" for 63A: Something avoided during awkward situations
  • CHARLEY HORSE = "C" HORSE = "seahorse" for 84A: Fish with a prehensile tail
  • GIVING THANKS = "G" THANKS = "Gee, thanks" for 97A: "Oh, that's so nice of you to say!"
  • THIRD PARTY = "T" PARTY = "tea party" for 105A: Mad Hatter's social event
Word of the Day: CLANGOR (84D: Cacophony) —
a resounding clang or medley of clangsthe clangor of hammers (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

There's gotta be a better way to execute this concept. I kind of enjoyed figuring out what the hell was going on with the theme, but being confronted with the horrible "Puzzle Notes" ahead of time really mucked everything up. Just put a lot of wordy and dull and unnecessary blather between me and the puzzle experience. It's not That unusual for tricky puzzles to contain what are essentially unclued answers, so I don't know what the Notes were necessary. The first part of the "Notes" is actually fine—the part that says, essentially, "yo, a bunch of these answers aren't gonna match their clues, you gotta figure out why." That seems like plenty of help for any solver who might wonder what the hell they've stumbled into here. But the part where "standard clues" are offered up, in no particular order (???) as if they were somehow a feature and not a bug ... I don't get. The unclued answers remain a bug. You can embrace the bug-ness and just let them be, or you can try to eliminate the bug but end up smushing the bug and making an awful mess, which is essentially what happens here. Without the "Puzzle Notes" ... I think I like this concept fine. I definitely enjoyed not having any idea what was going on for a little bit. I like tricky themes that don't reveal themselves so easily, and this one definitely delivered on that count. Didn't put the trick together until right ... here:


Before that, I was under the impression that the first word of the themers was simply ballast, and its existence would be explained at some later point in the solve. That is, I assumed the literal answer to 23A: Direct path was LINE, that the color of the Owl / Pussy-cat boat was GREEN. Both answers seemed to work fine, so the whole first-letter concept didn't register. Then, as you can see (in the incomplete grid I just posted above), I had no idea how to spell GALL-VANTS, and while the only phrase that made sense at 63A was IN CONTACT, I wasn't about to commit to that answer until I had a grasp of what the hell was going on. Then I got to OLDER BROTHER, and saw the "Oh, brother!" connection immediately. Then I looked back on those earlier three themers and they all suddenly and clearly came into focus: beeline, pea green, and eye contact. True aha moment there. That was definitely where the puzzle peaked. The rest was easier and less exciting because the mystery was gone, but conceptually I think this one holds up pretty well. The unclued answers were always going to be a problem, and I just didn't like the clumsy attempt at handling them. Otherwise, thematically, thumbs up.


I also enjoyed the long Downs, particularly the fact that 3/4 of them were bouncy colloquial phrases. "LET'S GET ON WITH IT!" "WHAT'S YOUR SECRET?" and especially "ON THAT NOTE ..." were all winners. There were a few times when the fill felt a little anemic or downright ugly. That ATARUN (?) / TERCE corner (SW) is very unpretty (except for PRINCE, who is very pretty), and the "WAH!" "AH, ME" AMIGO cluster in the mideast was no looker either. "AH, ME" is always awful, and ... well, AMIGO is fine as an answer, but man do I hate that clue (46D: Broseph). Do people really talk that way? It's like a caricature of a caricature of how a "bro" talks. AMIGO is such a decent, all-purpose word, so why go and muck it up with fauxbrospeak, why? Sigh, ah me, etc. But beyond those two little sections, the weak spots appear only sporadically. My ALECTO (the one in every translation of the Aeneid I've ever read) has two "L"s, so that was weird (88A: One of the Furies of Greek myth). But I guess Virgil's spelling is anomalous. Or just a Latin variation. Dunno. No idea re: "A TO Z Mysteries" or ALDEN. I assumed the Boxcar Children were strictly a recent phenomenon, but it looks like they date back to the 1920s. Ah, I see the book series died out in the mid-70s but then got rebooted in the '90s. I missed both incarnations. The "A TO Z Mysteries" started in '97, way way past my time (they somehow missed my born-in-2000 daughter as well—weird). 


Mistakes? Sure, some. I had UNAPT at 5A: Not suited (for) (UNFIT) and that was oddly consequential for a while, since that answer contained the first letters of two Downs I didn't know (7D: The yolk's on them and 8D: ___ Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum's role in "Jurassic Park"). How is the yolk "on" FRIED EGGS any more than it's "on" any eggs? I get the pun, but it's UNAPT for the FRIED part of FRIED EGGS. I had BLAST before BEAST at 14A: Wild thing. I like that mistake. LOATHE before SCATHE at 94A: Excoriate. I like that mistake less. And CLANGOR, yeeeeesh. I wanted to write in CLAMOUR (British spelling?) and now the more I look at CLANGOR the less wordlike it looks (84D: Cacophony). It's like ... it wants to be CLAMOR, but also wants to be from BANGOR. It also sounds like an obscure "Star Trek" race, maybe one that got mentioned once, in a single episode of "TNG" in 1992, and then was never spoken of again. "Klingon" + "Borg" = CLANGOR


Taking a week off from Letters to the Editor this week. More next week. Any crossword or blog-related questions can be sent to me at rexparker at icloud dot com. Have a lovely rest of your 4th o' July weekend.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. RITZ crackers come in "sleeves" (something like OREOs) (33D: Brand that comes in short sleeves) and I guess STARs "heat" ... outer "space"? (113A: Space heater?). Oh and the [Big Bird?] is LARRY Bird because he was a big basketball star and also just big (6'9").

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South Asian toddy cats / SAT 7-2-22 / Saya for a katana / Decorative painting on an airplane fuselage / Painting that inspired an iconic "Home Alone" movie poster / Locale for a power wash / Bathing suit portmanteau / Verbal equivalent of picking up the gauntlet / Plant that symbolized purity in ancient Egypt

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Prix de Lausanne (57A: Competitor in the Prix de Lausanne (BALLERINA)) —
The 
Prix de Lausanne is an international dance competition held annually in LausanneSwitzerland. The competition is for young dancers seeking to pursue a professional career in classical ballet, and many former prize winners of the competition are now leading stars with major ballet companies around the world. The competition is managed by a non-profit foundation organised by the Fondation en faveur de l'Art chorégraphique and is maintained by various sponsors, patrons and donors. [...] Entry is reserved for young student-dancers, aged 15 through 18, who have not yet been in professional employment and open to candidates of all nationalities. // Currently, participants are required to submit a 15–20 min digital file recording showing them performing a combination of barre and centre-work exercises in a studio environment and pay a non-refundable registration fee of CHF 120. Those candidates selected to participate in the competition pay a second fee of CHF 120. // Around 80 candidates from 30 or so countries compete each year, in the hope of being selected for the final, reserved for the best 20 among them. The final of the competition is broadcast live on television. (wikipedia)
• • •

Once again (I think this is a couple weeks in a row now) the Saturday is easier than the Friday for me. I mean, if you're just going to hand me 1-Across, and a long 1-Across at that, then I'll take it, but all those free first letters (for the Downs) are probably going to turn even an otherwise Saturday corner into a Tuesday or Wednesday corner. 


Sure enough, following the Munch painting, CHANT EDIT ARE got me moving, and then I could see that 15A: Sugar cubes, e.g. ended in -HEDRA, and NUT and REBUS, and with KANGAROOS off the table (probably intended as a trap answer at 17A: Certain Australian boomers (male) and flyers (female)), WALLABIES made the next most natural guess there, and so before I knew it, whoosh, that corner was done. And at that point I had the front ends of both long exit answers all cued up and reading to rocket into the center of the grid. Sadly, one of those potential rocket answers was GREAT RECESSION, an answer I don't understand wanting to build a puzzle around ever, let alone when the country is on the cusp of ... another GREAT RECESSION. It's not a "bad" answer, per se, but you make choices with your marquee answers, and I do not understand why, tonally, you'd want this one right at the heart of your puzzle. I had GREAT and wanted it to be ... something more specific, actually. More bygone. Instead it feels like when people called WWI the "Great War" or the "War to End All Wars." There's this assumption that that was *it*. That *that* was the "great" one. I feel like any minute now, God or Fate or whatever is gonna be like, "hold my beer." I tend to remember that time as "the subprime mortgage crisis," but I guess the global repercussions ballooned out from there. There's no joy in reflecting on any of this, so why is it one of your handful of marquee answers? Dunno. 


I like TRIX RABBIT, but again, as with THE SCREAM, you just hand that one over like it's Monday (29D: Commercial mascot with floppy ears). And then NETFLIX SPECIAL becomes obvious and you're well set up to get into the remaining corners and finish them off. There was a brief period in there where I had SERB and KURD (LOL) before TURK (29A: Bosporus resident), and (thus) couldn't quite get a grip on ALKENE (22D: Certain hydrocarbon), but that was more or a Wednesday struggle than a Saturday struggle. And it was the only struggle this puzzle really offered. I mean, ASTRIDE LACONIC SHEATH, bam bam bam, off their first one or two letters. The SE corner never stood a chance. And if it weren't for the "???" quality of NOSE ART, or my apparent preference for the MANKINI over the TANKINI (12D: Bathing suit portmanteau), the other corners would've been just as easy. As it was, still pretty easy.


As usual, the names were the things I didn't know, but there weren't that many of them. SAL (4D: Comedian Vulcano of "Impractical Jokers") and ALI (11D: Tony-winning actress Stroker) were unknowns, but the crosses were just plowed right through them, so I didn't have to spend any time piecing them together. And I knew Rachel DRATCH (49A: "S.N.L." alum Rachel) and DELLA Reese (49D: "And That Reminds Me" singer Reese), so no trouble there. I saw Rachel DRATCH in the market at Grand Central one time, with a child that I assume was hers. That is my Rachel DRATCH story. Oh, and one of my colleagues was at Dartmouth at the same time as her. I think I got that right. So two Rachel DRATCH stories, neither of which qualifies as a story. This is me at my raconteuriest. I'm here every night.

A few more things:
  • 53A: Taken charge (FEE) — a FEE is a "charge" that is "taken" (from you)
  • 6D: Image problem? (REBUS) — I'm so used to thinking of REBUS in crossword terms (multiple letters, sometimes representing an image, in one square) that this kind of REBUS (the picture puzzle kind) always surprises me. A very "children's placemat" kind of puzzle. Here, see if you can figure out this one:
  • 34D: Tick or tock (SEC) — Hmmm, I guess this is, literally, true. That is what the ticking (or tocking) of the clock represents: the passing of one second. I feel like I was *just* watching a documentary of some kind ... or a video online ... about how "tock" is not actually a different sound from "tick," but we talk about it as if it were ... I can't remember why this fact warranted attention. The end.
TOCK!

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Religious exodus / FRI 7-1-22 / By all means in old parlance / It's kneaded to make naan and roti / Song featuring up to 176 verses / Classic sketch comedy show from the '60s and '70s / Modern-day Brava! / Bygone Supreme Court inits / Quit slangily

Friday, July 1, 2022

Constructor: Christina Iverson and Caitlin Reid

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (though I made some awful dumb mistakes)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ATTA (1A: It's kneaded to make naan and roti) —
Atta/Ata (UrduآٹاHindiआटाBengali: আটা, romanized: Āṭā) or chakki atta is a wholemeal wheat flour, originating from the Indian subcontinent, used to make flatbreads such as chapatirotinaanparatha and puri. It is the most widespread flour in the Indian subcontinent. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was slowish for me. At first, it was the puzzle's fault. Later on, it was most definitely (mostly) my fault. Let's start with the puzzle's own, built-in difficulty, and for me, it came right away, first clue: 1A: It's kneaded to make naan and roti (ATTA). Four letters, Indian food, mental rolodex [whirrrrrrrr] well, two of those four-letter words are in the damn clue, so they're out. DAAL can be four letters, but it's usually three and anyway involves lentils ... what about DOSA?! But no, that's a finished food, not a dough or FLOUR. And that was that. Stumped. No hope for 1-Across. And I could not get a grip on anything in the NW without it. No idea which 3-letter tribe I was dealing with at 22A: Tribe known for ranching and oil and gas operations (UTE). Never use the term REFI or see it much out of crosswords, so I couldn't come up with anything much there besides ... I don't know, RENT? (26A: Take advantage of low A.P.R., perhaps). It was bad. Oh, worst of all, I had SAW IN instead of LED IN (16A: Brought through the door). Not sure how I can tell the difference without crosses. Nobel Prize winner, also a mystery for a bit (4D: Nobel Peace Prize winner from Ghana => ANNAN). And then there's TODIEFOR, which was always going to be hell to parse, but with everything else up there not working, it was nearly impossible (I wanted GOD-something (2D: Absolutely divine). I think I managed to claw my way toward clarity with the IN from the incorrect SAW IN, and then TWIG FLOWN ANNAN. In the end, ORIGAMI helped a lot, but FLOUR, yeesh, that clue—super hard (14D: Grocery bagful). Anyway, looks like if you knew ATTA right away, that corner was probably easy, but if not, uh, not. I'm not thrilled that the mystery answer ended up just being old-school crosswordese in new clothing, but if A(T)TA is indeed "the most widespread FLOUR in the Indian subcontinent" (as the wikipedia definition, above, claims), then I, and any of you who also didn't know that answer today, would be well advised to learn this definition of ATTA immediately. Hard to question the validity of a term with that kind of clout. 


My problems rolled on even after I got out of that section. I wanted GRAN for 28A: Many a nanny (GOAT), which had to be an intentional trap. That mistake made APRICOTS really hard to see, and this is where the puzzle started to annoy me. APRICOTS are just ... a fruit. You can find them in the produce section. Why are they being clued as a brand? [Sun-Maid snack]!? I'm sure they ... make them? Process them? Are these dried APRICOTS? Let APRICOTS just be APRICOTS. Sun-Maid, shmun-maid. Once I got into the NE, the puzzle finally got fun for a bit. ATE FOR TWO / POLAR BEAR / ROLL AGAIN is a nice stack, as is its counterpart in the SW—just lovely. But in the SW, I had a hell of a time because one little mistake of mine ended up snowballing and creating enormous havoc. Weird that in the beginning it was a four-letter word that did me in (ATTA), and the later on, the same thing happened. Only with ATTA, that was just pure ignorance, whereas with the next four-letter mistake, I just didn't read the clue right. See, at 42A: One of the six reaction buttons for a text on an iPhone, my brain just saw [blah blah blah blah iPhone], and the letter pattern -A-A. And so my brain went "DATA!" and I wrote that in and wow you would not think a tiny word like that could cause so much damage, but parsing "OH HELL NO!"?? Completely impossible ("OH TELL ... ME? ... TELL IT?") (34D: "Not on your life!"). And the [Religious exodus], HAHA, no. I had DE-I--. Incomprehensible. And then I went and spoiled it more by doing something stupid like completely misreading the clue at 50A: Give a little (SAG), which my brain (really off his game today) read as [Give a title], and so in went DUB (!?!?!). This meant that at 46D: Quit, slangily (BAG IT) I had BUG-- and I actually wrote in "BUGGA" (figuring ... I don't know ... it was some kind of Brit-inflected version of "bugger off" which somehow also meant "quit," I guess). So, HAHA, face-plant number two was self-inflicted. Clumsiness upon clumsiness. I did like those NE and SW corners, as I say, and RIDE SHOTGUN is sweet too. Those parts made bearable an otherwise painful gruesome solving experience.



[wikipedia: "Hijrah or Hijra (Arabicالهجرة) was the journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. The year in which the Hijrah took place is also identified as the epoch of the Lunar Hijri and Solar Hijri calendars; its date equates to 16 July, 622 in the Julian calendar. The Arabic word hijra means "departure" or "migration", among other definitions. It has been also transliterated as Hegira in medieval Latin, a term still in occasional use in English." (my emph.)]

Bullets:
  • 25D: Nowheresville (PODUNK) — I think of the clue as a noun and the answer as an adjective, although I guess the clue *can* be an adjective or the answer a noun if you slang hard enough.
  • 54D: Org. whose history is profiled in the 2015 best seller "To Make Men Free" (GOP) — the book sounds great, actually, but at this fascist moment in time, turns out there are No circumstances, no clues that are going to make me happy to see GOP in the puzzle, or anywhere. It's largely a white supremacist death cult now. No values but "liberal tears." If you still have an "R" after your name ... I don't know what to say. You don't have to have a "D," that's for damn sure, but ... yeesh. Get out.
  • 39D: "By all means," in old parlance ("PRAY DO") — Wow they weren't kidding about "old parlance." I like that PRAY crosses PSALM (39A: Song featuring up to 176 verses). I also think that  PRAY-DOH would be a good name for a religious-themed Play-Doh. You could use it to sculpt cathedrals and Bible scenes and stuff. Surely someone has already beaten me to this idea. Ah, look. Urban dictionary, comin' through:

  • 40D: Sedan : U.S. :: ___ : U.K. (SALOON) — absolutely floored by this. Not sure how I got to be this old without ever learning this bit of Britishness. I guess when I've been in the U.K., I've hardly ever been in a car, let alone thought about purchasing one, so it hasn't come up, but still. Boot, lorry, lift, flat ... you absorb a lot of these over time. But I did not absorb SALOON. We drink in our SALOONs. I hope that Brits don't in theirs.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Warning before a gory movie scene / THU 6-30-22 / Fictional Christian of books and films / Some cryobank deposits / American home or a royal palace / Obsolescent music holder / P.M. preceded and succeeded by Churchill / Vampiric in appearance / Playmate of Fido and Rover

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (more one or the other depending on how long it takes you to figure out the gimmick)


THEME: "COVER YOUR EYES!" (40A: Warning before a gory movie scene ... or a phonetic hint to answering four rows in this puzzle) —four 15-letter theme answers are impossible to see at first because their "I"s have been "covered" by black squares. That is: four Across answers that start on the far left-hand side of the grid (17A, 24A, 53A, and 62A) appear to be mere 3- or 4- letter answers but are actually 15-letter grid-spanning answers that continue onto subsequent squares in their respective rows. The rows that they are in look like they contain three Across answers, but the row is all one answer once you put "I"s in the black squares on those rows. Each of the three regular-seeming "answers" in the affected rows appears to be clued separately, but those clues are just clue parts—you need to read all three Across clues in that row in succession in order to get the clue for the full, "I"-containing, grid-spanning answer (the "covered" "I"s have no effect on Down answers). And so:

Theme answers:
  • VENDING MACHINES (17A: Mechanical + 18A: Snack + 19A: Dispensers)
  • MARIE ANTOINETTE (24A: French + 27A: Cake + 30A: Advocate?)
  • DETROIT RED WINGS (53A: Atlantic + 55A: Division + 57A: Skaters)
  • ALL-IN-ONE PRINTER (62A: Home + 63A: Office + 66A: Convenience)
Word of the Day: NAVARRE (32D: Pamplona's province) —

Navarre (English: /nəˈvɑːr/SpanishNavarra [naˈβara]BasqueNafarroa [nafaro.a]), officially the Chartered Community of Navarre (Spanish: Comunidad Foral de Navarra [komuniˈðað foˈɾal de naˈβara]; Basque: Nafarroako Foru Komunitatea [nafaro.ako foɾu komunitate.a]), is a foral autonomous community and province in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Autonomous CommunityLa Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France. The capital city is Pamplona (BasqueIruña). The present-day province makes up the majority of the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Navarre, a long-standing Pyrenean kingdom that occupied lands on both sides of the western Pyrenees, with its northernmost part, Lower Navarre, located in the southwest corner of France.

Navarre is in the transition zone between Green Spain and semi-arid interior areas, and thus its landscapes vary widely across the region. Being in a transition zone also produces a highly variable climate, with summers that are a mix of cooler spells and heat waves, and winters that are mild for the latitude. Navarre is one of the historic Basque districts: its Basque features are conspicuous in the north, but virtually absent on the southern fringes. The best-known event in Navarre is the annual festival of San Fermín held in Pamplona in July. (wikipedia)

• • •

OK, a proper Thursday then, let's do this! Floundering was the name of the game for the first part of this solve, that's for sure. Just that first little bit, the tiny NW corner, left me a little queasy, as I didn't understand how [Mechanical] could mean VEND. Was DEV wrong? (1D: Part of R & D: Abbr.). Was TEN wrong? (3D: Face value?). The latter seemed quite possible, as it had a "?" clue and who the hell knows what's going on with "?" clues half the time! I left VEND in place and floated down into the middle of the puzzle where things were still eerily off. I noticed there were no clear *theme* answers in this thing, no longer answers except for that middle Across. I'm not even sure I really noticed the middle Across answer, I just noticed that there was a creepy lack of apparent themers, so it was like, I don't know, being in a ghost town where zombies or some faster creatures were going to jump out and maul me any second. After solving a bunch of answers but also getting weirdly mildly stuck all over, I just went looking for a revealer to see if I could get a grip on what was going on. Scanned the clues and found 40-Across, with its soothing post-elliptical indication that yes, some weird stuff was afoot. So I just went after the [Warning before a gory movie] answer. The problem was, whose "warning?" I figured it would be some kind of pre-movie advisory from the movie itself, but apparently it's a warning from a friend of yours who has already seen the gory movie and has dragged you to the gory movie even though you are apparently squeamish about gory movies (you two have a weird dynamic). Or it's a parent's warning to a child, which raises the question "why is your child watching this movie at all, have you not heard of 'The Little Mermaid'?" The more I think about this admonition, the less I understand it. I didn't come to a movie to Not watch, presumably. But the warning appears to have lots of currency in horror-related contexts, and I figured it out without too much trouble, so it's fine. But even after getting it, I didn't *get it*—that is, I didn't know how it applied to the grid. I looked at VEND and thought ... "are there "I"s under there ... somewhere?" It was right ... here that the penny finally dropped:


I must have seen all the Across clues lined up in a row in the clues list—Mechanical / Snack / Dispensers are stacked one atop the other in the Across clue list. I never read the clue lists in order like that—I'm always toggling between Across and Down, working on whatever seems likeliest to give me my next answer success. Or, because I knew the "I" thing affected "rows," not just individual entries, maybe I just pulled back and looked at the row as a whole and saw VENDING MACHINES there. At any rate, I saw it. The most impressive thing about this theme, to me, is the way the theme answer clues are parceled out over three apparently separate clues. Totally devilish. You absolutely have to get that revealer answer; until then, you're going to be stuck solving partial clues as if they were full clues and getting gibberish as your answers. I don't know what to make of the "I"s not "working" in the Downs. I think I'm OK with it. They're ghost "I"s. I enjoyed working for and (finally) getting this theme, and I think the cluing trick is really ingenious. I am always happy when Thursday decides to be Thursday! I hope there aren't too many howls of "unfair!" today, but then again ... I don't mind the sound of howling. It's soothing sometimes. 


There was so much theme business to take care of that the rest of the grid didn't make much of an impression on me. It must've held up just fine. I see a lot of short repeaters, but they're not particularly ugly or bygone, and they're mostly just doing their job of holding the elaborate theme framework in place. DEBARK hurts my ears a little. I would say DISEMBARK, wouldn't you? Isn't that a word? DEBARK sounds like you're saying "depart" or "the bark" ("which bark?" "dat bark over dere!"). I had a hilarious hard time with the clue ["Blown" seal] because I thought for sure there was a movie called "Blown" starring some trained seal, like an ocean-Lassie or something, and I'll be damned if I know the names of any famous seals. I enjoyed seeing ENO and then finding out he was just the OPENER for ELO. Wait, no: looks like AC/DC was the real opener back at 4D: "Thunderstruck" band. Would not have minded having ONO show up for a song or two. There are worse directions for crosswordese to go. I know PETARD only from Shakespeare, but I do know that it is explosive, so that was easy enough. Christian GREY is the "50 Shades" guy. Way way outside my area of interest, but big (uh, famous) enough to have made an impression in my brain somewhere. ELON *University* is welcome in my grid any time. Anything else? Are the "?" clues clear? "Face" cards count as "ten" in Blackjack (and maybe other games) (3D: Face value?). PARK is the [Top gear?] because it's presumably at the (literal) top of the gear selector in your (automatic transmission) vehicle. The "relief" in 24D: Guide showing relief, maybe just refers to a relief map (you know, a map with 3D representation of elevation). I'm overexplaining. I'll stop. Good, challenging puzzle! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Spiral-horned antelope / WED 6-29-22 / Relative of a cor anglais / NYC venue for the Ramones and the Cramps / Cardamom-infused tea / Legendary Himalayan humanoid / Amber quaff / Troop troupe for short / Cartoonist Goldberg who drew contraptions like the Self-Operating Napkin

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Constructor: Jared Goudsmit

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (the "challenging" part is mostly for the extra effort it takes to locate / fill in all the rebus squares)



THEME: AB CRUNCHES (61A: Core exercises .. or a hint to eight squares in this puzzle) — letter sequence "AB" gets "crunched" into one square, eight times (four theme answers, two "AB" squares apiece):

Theme answers:
  • GRABBED A BITE (17A: Ate and ran, say)
  • INHABITABLE (21A: Fit to live in)
  • ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (37A: Legendary Himalayan humanoid)
  • ABRACADABRA (52A: The magic word?)
Word of the Day: NYALA (39D: Spiral-horned antelope) —
sexual dimorphism!
The 
lowland nyala or simply nyala (Tragelaphus angasii), is a spiral-horned antelopenative to southern Africa (not to be confused with the endangered Mountain nyala living in the Bale region of Ethiopia). It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Nyala, also considered to be in the genus Tragelaphus. It was first described in 1849 by George French Angas. The body length is 135–195 cm (53–77 in), and it weighs 55–140 kg (121–309 lb). The coat is maroon or rufous brown in females and juveniles, but grows a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue, in adult males. Females and young males have ten or more white stripes on their sides. Only males have horns, 60–83 cm (24–33 in) long and yellow-tipped. It exhibits the highest sexual dimorphism among the spiral-horned antelopes. [...] The nyala's range includes MalawiMozambiqueSouth AfricaEswatiniZambia, and Zimbabwe. It has been introduced to Botswana and Namibia, and reintroduced to Eswatini, where it had been extinct since the 1950s. Its population is stable and it has been listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The principal threats to the species are poaching and habitat loss resulting from human settlement. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

first Premier of China
1949-1976
Big gap here between quality of theme idea (great!) and quality of overall puzzle (less great). As with the Monday puzzle, I felt my confidence flag very quickly after I ran into a lot of short fill that felt very yesteryear, most notably the name partial ENLAI, which used to appear all the time in grids, back when people didn't have software to help them and also didn't have to try as hard for clean grids because competition wasn't nearly as fierce as it is today. You used to see CHOU (or ZHOU) a lot more too. Anyway, either one of that guy's name parts are potential red flags, warnings of "rough fill ahead." Neither name part is inherently bad, and if your overall puzzle were killer, you wouldn't blink at a stray CHOU or ENLAI. But in this grid, with so much other overfamiliar short stuff (e.g. EDAM AVAST NENE NOTA ATON ALOE SYSCO ERIN HUTT (another name part), ENLAI felt not like a necessary compromise, but like a bad omen of what the overall fill quality was going to be like. And what do you call stuff that *used* to be crosswordese but that you almost never see anymore? Asking for a friend. That friend's name is NYALA. I (eventually) remembered NYALA from my various expeditions into the wilds of ... crosswords of yore. The only reason I know most antelopes is from crosswords. I remember ORIBI very, very well from one of my first write-ups. But though the actual NYALA is not endangered, crossword NYALAs have all but gone extinct. So it's crosswordese ... but resurrected crosswordese. Ghost crosswordese. So is it even crosswordese anymore? If crosswordese has been pretty well buried in the past, maybe it's not stale any more. Maybe it's "retro." Can ASTA come back and play now? Anyway, my point ... wow, what was my point? Oh, EN-LAI had me fearing the worst. I didn't get the worst, but I didn't get much of anything good, either. *Except* the revealer, which, as I say, really truly works and is cute. So it's an extremely one-note puzzle, despite having 8 x "AB" = sixteen (musical) notes. If the rebus squares are, in fact, musically playable, and especially if what they play is the theme from "Jaws," which opened 47 years ago this past week, well then, this puzzle is genius. Otherwise, this puzzle is thematically clever but a bit tiresome to work through.


The rebus came swiftly. I wanted ARABS, ARABS wouldn't fit, but the surrounding fill meant that ARABS absolutely had to fit ... therefore "AB" rebus. Didn't get the 2-per-answer dealie with the rebus squares immediately because I had no idea what that first themer was going for, based on its clue. I had GRABBED and figured that since the familiar phrase is "grab and go" and the clue was "eat and run," the answer would be, what, GRABBED AND WENT (!?!). But no, not verb and verb but verbed A BITE. Puzzle is really pushing its luck with the "___ A ___" levels in this part of the grid. GRABBED A BITE x/w IN A BIT and *also* x/w TIE A BOW. None of these reaches EAT A SANDWICH levels of absurdity, but en masse, they're still a lot to take. I find things like INBETA and ADSPACE really dreary, maybe because once an answer gets 6 letters or longer I really expect it to brighten up the place a little. Something about the technicality and ho-hum adequacy of these answers is dispiriting, moreso when the grid is kind of anemic to begin with. I wish the "AB" answers themselves had had more sparkle, but just finding 2x"AB" answers that you can arrange symmetrically at all was probably a challenge. Maybe I'd be more happy about ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN as an answer if a. it had its initial "THE" (it's really awkward to pretend that he's just ... ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN), or b. I didn't see YETI in the grid all the damn time, thus making ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN feel (ironically) like a common sight. I did like "WHAT'S NEW!?" It has this quaint quality, having largely been surpassed in recent years by the more colloquial and somehow less genuinely curious-sounding "WHAT'S UP?" "WHAT'S NEW?" sounds like you really want to hear how a person's been. "WHAT'S UP?" is more formulaic, more of a "hey!" Like "How ya doin?" You ask that, you don't really wanna know. You're just being polite. But "WHAT'S NEW?" actually seems to invite a response. Also, "WHAT'S UP?" can have kind of a "why are you bothering me right now?" that "WHAT'S NEW?" is simply never going to have.  "WHAT'S NEW?" is the cry of someone who cares about you and wants to hear how you've been. Whereas "AVAST, NENE!" is the cry of someone who's been at sea way, way too long. 


No mistakes today except NIQAB for HIJAB (11D: Muslim headscarf) (NIQAB is a veil, which some women wear as an extension / interpretation of HIJAB). I also got "cor anglais" confused with a French horn and so tried HORN at first for 63A: Relative to a cor anglais (OBOE). I know, you must be thinking, "What a RUBE." But if I'm being *really* honest, my first thought was that "cor anglais" was some type of pastry. And now I'm hungry. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Tantalizing film preview / TUES 6-28-22 / Thames-side art gallery / Thieves' stash, maybe / Telenovela, e.g. / Thematically presented

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Hi, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of June (how is it almost July already?!). Last time, I did my write-up while in Prague at 7 a.m.; this time, I’m doing it at a much more normal time and from a much more boring place, back in D.C. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take this opportunity to say: The Warriors are NBA champs! I’ll say that again: The Warriors are NBA champs!! Their run was just phenomenal, and they’re the best. The Night Night celebration is iconic. And the Dubs core managed to win again despite being dismissed by the media for the past two years. Now, with basketball and hockey over, I’ll rely on tennis to keep me entertained (go, Carlito and Serena!), maybe with some baseball, too, depending on how my Giants do. Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Constructor:
Scott Graham

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy

THEME: TEE TIME There seem to be parts to the theme: 1) Six of the answers are two-word phrases where each word starts with “T”; 2) There are T’s constructed from black squares in the puzzle; and 3) Each clue starts with the letter “T.”

Theme answers:
  • TOP THIS (13A: "Try and do better!"
  • TEA TREE (15A: Traditional medicine uses its oil) 
  • TEASER TRAILER (29A: Tantalizing film preview) 
  • TREASURE TROVE (35A: Thieves' stash, maybe) 
  • TAKE TEN (56A: Table the rehearsal for a bit, say) 
  • TEE TIME (57A: Tiger's slot on the schedule, e.g.)
Word of the Day: SHEMP (39A: Three Stooges member, for a time) —
Samuel Horwitz (March 11, 1895 – November 22, 1955), known professionally as Shemp Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was called "Shemp" because "Sam" came out that way in his mother's thick Litvak accent. He is best known as the third Stooge in the Three Stooges, a role he played when the act began in the early 1920s (1923–1932), while it was still associated with Ted Healy and known as "Ted Healy and his Stooges"; and again from 1946 until his death in 1955. During the fourteen years between his times with the Stooges, he had a successful solo career as a film comedian, including series of shorts by himself and with partners, and reluctantly returned to the Stooges as a favor to his brothers Moe and Curly. (Wiki)
• • •
What a Tuesday puzzle! T is indeed for Tuesday. In what I think is his debut, Scott Graham gave solvers a meticulously constructed puzzle that was themed on many different levels relating to “T.” There are six words placed symmetrically in the puzzle that are two-word phrases where each word starts with “T.” All of the black squares in the puzzle are in the shape of a “T.” And, finally, all the clues start with the letter “T” (that one took me a while to realize). I originally didn’t notice the theme, but, looking back, I started to appreciate the puzzle more and more. And it’s obviously very fitting to appear in the Times on a Tuesday. 

The theme answers themselves were alright. I find it clever (if intentional) how there’s TEA TREE and TEE TIME and then the center of the puzzle is HOT COFFEE (34A: Tipplers drink this in the belief it helps sober them up). I also did like TREASURE TROVE and TEASER TRAILER because they’re just fun, long phrases. The others seem a bit basic, but I guess you can’t be too picky when working within the limit of all those T’s. 

The placement of some answers in the puzzle was clever, too. There’s 20D: Tailoring related (SARTORIAL), and then right next to it there’s 15A: This is what a tailor seeks to provide, which is also tailoring related (THE PERFECT FIT). There’s ALFA (50A: Turin-based automaker ___ Romeo) and FERRARI (52A: Testarossa or Portofino) near each other, which are both related to Italian cars. The answer TOP THIS (13A: "Try and do better!") is on top of ACE HIGH (16A: Two pair beats it in poker). 

SUSSED (56A) is a great word. YES AND (12: Two-word tenet of improv comedy) is one of my favorite answers in a crossword in recent memory. 57A: Tiger's slot on the schedule, e.g. (TEE TIME) is an amazing clue. 

There wasn’t a ton of crosswordese, and the many seven-letter downs were mostly different from the norm. 

I know I’m sort of waxing poetic about the puzzle, but I did find some oddities. While it’s objectively very clever and impressive that the constructor managed to start all the clues with a “T,” that led to some weirdly phrased clues, which really confused me (until I realized why they were like that). Case in point: For ACE HIGH (16A), the clue is: Two pair beats it in poker. It’s oddly specific about two pair, as so many hands in poker will beat an ACE HIGH. 43A: To what effect as HOW seems just kind of lazy. I also didn’t love 53D: Tomato shade with RED because it’s pretty boring (and tomatoes come in different shades, anyway; “Typical tomato shade” would’ve worked better). The clue for SWEDEN (59A: Third-largest country in the European Union, after France and Spain) also felt like useless trivia. (Though maybe someone finds the country’s relative size super fascinating.) 

I really, really hated the clue/answer VOTER ID (37D: Thing checked at a polling station). First off, it’s not required to vote in California (and about 15 other states). These laws are also incredibly controversial — a number of them have been overturned because they were clearly implemented to suppress voters in predominantly minority communities. I hated seeing this phrase tossed in so casually in the puzzle. 

Having SHOWER CURTAIN as a sort of marquee answer at 14D: Tub accessory was a bit disappointing. It’s just so random to give that much space to. Also, not all tubs have shower curtains around them. If I ever achieve my dream of owning a clawfoot tub, there’s no way I’m hiding it behind a piece of flimsy PVC. THE PERFECT FIT (15A) is a good phrase, but I just don’t like seeing THE in the puzzle, especially when it’s just there to take up space. (Now, if you want to mock Ohio State University for getting a trademark on “the,” I’m here for that.) There was a slightly strange number of violent words in the puzzle. You’ve got SHAFTS (39D), TROUNCE (10D), HARM (8D), SMOTE (46D), and ARES (48D) (the God of War). They’re also all downs. How odd. 

Anyway, there were some odd bits to the puzzle, but most of them seem to have been in service of what was a very impressively constructed theme.

Misc.:
  • Today, I learned that there was a Three Stooges member not named Larry, Curly, or Moe! In fact, there seem to have been six Stooges, and they performed for a bit as the Six Stooges. The things you learn while solving crosswords! I had the h, m, and p of SHEMP and for some reason decided that the right answer was “chimp.” That answer is plausible, right? 
  • I had a BIER (27D: Tall one or cold one, in German) or two while in Berlin — where the lagers are far superior to the offerings here in the States. While there, to be different, I also went to an Irish pub and had a margarita. (The ones in California are better.) 
  • I filled in TEASER TRAILER (29A) immediately. As in the TEASER TRAILER for "Thor: Love and Thunder," which I shall be seeing in the theater on opening night in a bit more than a week. Color me excited! 
  • AFT (33D: Toward the stern) being ship-related made me think of the show I just started (and, yes, also finished) called “Our Flag Means Death.” It’s a delightful and quirky comedy about a wealthy aristocrat who gets bored of his life and decides to become a pirate. His moniker is then the “Gentleman Pirate.” Highly recommend.
And that's all! Have a great July.

Signed, Clare Carroll, ta-ta til the (next) Tuesday

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