Dissolute man, from the French / TUE 12-6-22 / Bellicose humanoid of Middle Earth / "Girl in Progress" star with a line of cosmetics / Portrayer of the nurse Marta Cabrera in "Knives Out"

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Constructor: Ross Trudeau and Wyna Liu

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Crossword Lady Ladder — it's basically a word ladder, where one letter changes at each "rung", only here the "word" that's changing is a three-letter woman's first name. Because of their vowel-consonant-vowel structure and short length, the first names that make up the ladder tend to appear in crosswords a lot:

Theme answers:
  • INA GARTEN (18A: The Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa")
  • IDA B. WELLS (22A: Civil rights leader who co-founded the N.A.A.C.P.)
  • ADA LOVELACE (29A: Mathematician regarded as the first computer programmer)
  • ANA DE ARMAS (35A: Portrayer of the nurse Marta Cabrera in "Knives Out")
  • AVA DUVERNAY (47A: Director of the miniseries "When They See Us")
  • EVA MENDES (54A: "Girl in Progress" star with a line of cosmetics)
  • EVE ENSLER (59A: "The Vagina Monologues" playwright)
Word of the Day: IDA B. WELLS (22A) —
Ida B. Wells
 (full name: Ida Bell Wells-Barnett) (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wells dedicated her lifetime to combating prejudice and violence, the fight for African-American equality, especially that of women, and became arguably the most famous Black woman in the United States of her time. [...] In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States in articles and through her pamphlets called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, and The Red Record, investigating frequent claims of whites that lynchings were reserved for Black criminals only. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of whites in the South used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition—and a subsequent threat of loss of power—for whites. A white mob destroyed her newspaper office and presses as her investigative reporting was carried nationally in Black-owned newspapers. Subjected to continued threats, Wells left Memphis for Chicago. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895 and had a family while continuing her work writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and the women's movement for the rest of her life. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sam Spade consoles Iva Archer on her
exclusion from this puzzle
On the one hand, there's a weird whimsy to this theme that I kinda like. I mean, it's fun to say their first names in quick succession, and there's a kind of insidery winky thing going on where the puzzle is showing you All The Same Names It Always Shows You, Every Day, but this time the names are in a carefully curated and crafted arrangement. It's a crosswordese parade, or maybe a crosswordese flash mob—same old faces, only suddenly there's a dance routine and everyone is moving in precise order. Plus, they've got fancy dress on (i.e. they appear in full-name, not just the usual three-letter first-name, versions). On the other hand ... well, the puzzle is showing you All The Same Names It Always Shows You. So, I guess your feelings about the puzzle are going to depend on whether you see the theme as a dazzling new dish or reheated leftovers. I thought it was cute, though it wore a bit toward the end. I didn't catch the word ladder angel until the end, when I was trying to make sense of the themer logic, i.e. why these names, why this order, what about UMA Thurman and UTA Hagen, etc. The one thing that didn't work for me was EVE ENSLER, which is a real clunker, especially as the final themer, considering she's the only one out of terminal-A rhythm. I guess you could see her name as putting an emphatic final exclamation point on the name series ("INA IDA ADA ANA AVA EVA EVE!"). And that seems a reasonable reading. But when I was actually solving, my brain made that record needle scratch sound. I wanted them all to be tra-la two-syllable names ending in "A." But instead we get one syllable (the only such answer). And an "E" ending (the only such answer). Again, it's all a matter of taste. That finale is either rhythmically perfect or jarringly out of sync ... or else you didn't even notice. Anyway, there's a basic thoughtfulness and cleverness and creativity here that I mostly enjoyed. It's also at least ... plausible? ... that the puzzle isn't just a word ladder, but one with specific thematic content. I mean, it goes from INA GARTEN ... to EVE ... so ... if it helps to read that progression biblically, why not go ahead and do that?

The fill made me wince maybe a little more than it should. Some of it was because of improbable plurals (AMNIOS but *especially* EASTERS ...), but most of it was from a slight excess of crosswordese (ECOLI and ENEWS and EELIEST *and* EERIE **and** EPEES, etc.), as well as abbrevs. I have just never liked or heard people actually use (specifically CRIT and VID). In a theme this dense (seven long names!), it's probably hard to keep your fill whistle-clean throughout. There are a number of longer Downs, but none of them ELEVATEs the fill quality much. They're mostly solid, though there's a mild dreariness to the sheer number of preposition-ending phrases (SNARL AT, STEAM UP, KNEEL ON), and a definite dreariness to RATLIKE and BEATDOWNS (the latter of which is both the most original bit of non-theme fill and the most violent and depressing). The theme is the thing today, and as I say, it mostly delivered for me. Oh, I almost forgot "WELL, DUH!" Was that a high point for me? Well ... yes. 

No real difficulty today if you solve crosswords regularly (grid is 16 wide, so if it played a little slow, maybe that's why). Name themes are often real dicey for segments of the solving population, depending on what field / era the names are drawn from, but as I say these names should all be super-familiar to the daily gridder. The fill didn't seem tough at all, and the cluing was pretty transparent. The toughest part for me was trying to navigate the vowels in DUVERNAY. I first put it in as DUV-RN-Y. Thank god for fair crosses. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Former moniker of reality TV child star Alana Thompson / MON 12-5-22 / Onetime manufacturer of the Flying Cloud and Royale / Makeup of a muffin top

Monday, December 5, 2022

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "MY BAD!" (62A: "Oopsie!" ... and a hint to the ends of 18-, 25-, 39- and 50-Across) — theme answer ends with words that *can* mean "error" (but don't in the themers themselves):

Theme answers:
  • OLE MISS (18A: 'Bama rival)
  • DEPOSIT SLIP (25A: Bit of banking documentation)
  • SAN ANDREAS FAULT (39A: Cause of many California earthquakes)
  • HONEY BOO-BOO (50A: Former moniker of reality TV child star Alana Thompson)
Word of the Day: CHAPPAQUA (11D: Town in Westchester County, N.Y., where the Clintons live) —

Chappaqua (/ˈæpəkwɑː/ CHAP-ə-kwah) is a hamlet and census-designated place in the town of New Castle, in northern Westchester County, New York, United States. It is approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City. The hamlet is served by the Chappaqua station of the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line. In the New York State Legislature it is within the New York State Assembly's 93rd district and the New York Senate's 40th district. In Congress the village is in New York's 17th District.

Chappaqua was founded by a group of Quakers in the 1730s and was the home of Horace GreeleyNew-York Tribune editor and U.S. congressman. Since the late 1990s, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have lived there. (wikipedia)

• • •

First of all, congrats to the NYTXW on three days in a row with puzzles by solo women. In a just world, this would mean the NYTXW had SHOT PAR (three to four solo women in a week being roughly what one ought to expect), but given their terrible track record, well, good for them. And as for today's puzzle, yeah, OK, this'll do. It's not the most thrilling theme concept, but it's got a cool / unusual mirror symmetry layout, with OLE MISS being in a particularly unexpectedly thematic position, so that was a fun thing to discover. Funny that we just had "MY B!" for an answer on Saturday, and then bam, here it is, in its longer (more "formal?") incarnation, as the Monday revealer. I cringed at HONEY BOO-BOO because that show just seems like the worst kind of exploitation TV, and I'd rather not remember it, but I don't know what other answer is out there that ends with BOO BOO, or some slangy equivalent, so I can tolerate a small cringe in a coherent and interestingly presented themer set. The fill comes in a little on the stale side, but not inedibly so. And though I don't give a damn where the Clintons live, I think CHAPPAQUA is a colorful geographical entry—a very nice use of a longer Down. 

I wouldn't like to find a SALTY LUMP in my food, and I'm a bit concerned that the puzzle has both a LUMP and SPOT (and one on top of the other—you really oughta get that checked out!), but (taking this idea of serendipitously juxtaposed answers further) I like the idea of making up for your mistake by not only saying "MY BAD!" but then telling the people you wronged that "drinks are ON ME."  Oh, and ARROW KEY and AEROSOLS seem to be asking you to clap as well, so go ahead and do that. I also like the SEE SPOT succession. My daughter learned to read, in part, with some very old-fashioned Dick & Jane book that my grandmother got her, so there was a lot of "SEE SPOT this" and "SEE SPOT that" in her early childhood. I wonder when "TÀR" is finally going to get a movie clue. Shouldn't be long now, as that movie is likely to garner a bunch of Oscar nominations in the next month or so (whenever those come out). Speaking of movies, we saw "The Menu" today and while I don't think it's as good as "TÀR" it was nonetheless very entertaining. And it's got Judith Light in it, which is as good a reason to see a movie (or TV show) as any. There's some sudden and fairly graphic violence in "The Menu," but if you can handle that, it's really a very thoughtful and surprisingly funny movie. Nice to see it with a (smallish) crowd that legit laughed, a lot. 

["Please don't say 'mouthfeel'"]

Back to the puzzle for a bit. I tried to get cute and wrote in ADOBE at 20A: Mexican marinade made with chili peppers without (obviously) looking at the clue. I figured "ADOB-, what else could it be?" Touché, puzzle. No other stumbling blocks today. I think I needed a few crosses to finally see LEAKS, but that's the closest thing to "work" I had to do today (46A: Ways reporters get some secret information). A proper Monday, in that sense. That's all, I suppose. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Today I Learned ... that "OLE MISS" is a "nickname with a racist past" (coined in the late 19c by a white student with plantation nostalgia, so ... yeah, for more details, read here, or search for yourself, thanks!)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Savory rice cake of southern India / SUN 12-4-22 / Gotcha more informally / Andy who voiced Gollum in Lord of the Rings / Slangy thing that's dropped in a serious relationship / Syd tha onetime hip-hop moniker / Where Wells Fargo got its start / One-named collaborator with Missy Elliott on "1, 2 Step" and "Lose Control" / Red animal in 2022 Pixar film Turning Red / Questionnaire character assessment that might ask What is your idea of perfect happiness / Denim jacket adornment

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Constructor: Gustie Owens

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Gossip Session" — gossip-related verb phrases clued as if the subjects were engaged different activities / members of different professions:

Theme answers:
  • SHARES AN ACCOUNT (23A: "A lover of gossip, the Netflix user ...")
  • HAS ALL THE JUICY DETAILS (41A: "The smoothie bar worker ...")
  • SPILLS THE TEA (59A: "The Boston Harbor worker ...")
  • STIRS UP DRAMA (72A: "The cooking show contestant ...")
  • AIRS THEIR DIRTY LAUNDRY (89A: "The athlete in the locker room ...")
  • WANTS TO HEAR MORE (114A: "And the up-and-coming trial judge...")
Word of the Day: AMERICANAH (14D: Best-selling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel whose protagonist leaves Nigeria for a U.S. university) —
Americanah is a 2013 novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for which Adichie won the 2013 U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.[1] Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university. The novel traces Ifemelu's life in both countries, threaded by her love story with high school classmate Obinze. It was Adichie's third novel, published on May 14, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf. A television miniseries, starring and produced by Lupita Nyong'o, was in development for HBO Max, but then was later dropped. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's an interesting idea of a theme, but the execution didn't quite work for me. A few of the phrases felt a bit forced in terms of their phrasing. "HAS"!? HAS ALL THE JUICY DETAILS—that's a weak verb compared to the rest of them. SHARES AN ACCOUNT doesn't really convey *gossip* as heavily as the other phrases. And WANTS TO HEAR MORE isn't like the other answers at all. Every other themer subject is dishing, but this trial judge just wants to hear? The answers just don't land as perfectly as they should. The grid feels like it's trying to make up for a fairly straightforward, fairly light theme with a pretty toughly-clued grid, heavy on odd / ambiguous cluing and *especially* heavy on proper nouns. Crossing two figures from the hip-hop / R&B realm is about as good an idea as crossing two figures from any realm, i.e. not a good idea. Crossing names are always a potential problem, but ideally the names at least come from different fields, especially if the fame of at least one is not universal. Now, CARDI B is exceedingly famous, so even if you didn't know CIARA (you're forgiven), you should probably have been able to figure out that "C"—but still, this puzzle is not at all careful with proper nouns. What on god's green earth is going on with the SHAKA SIGN / SERKIS crossing. First of all, SERKIS?! No idea (29A: Andy who voiced Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings"). Also, not a name I've ever known anyone to have, so no part of it is inferable. Second, the SHAKA part of SHAKA SIGN!?!? I have no idea where I pulled the term from. The only SHAKA I really know is from the movie title "SHAKA Zulu" ... wait, is that even a movie? And is that even how it's spelled? Hang on ... looks like it was a mid-'80s TV miniseries. But the Zulu kingdom was in southern Africa, whereas I thought "Hang loose" was associated with Hawaii and surf culture (it is), so I'm very confused. Anyway, SHAKA / SERKIS, yikes and yipes. And with the not-exceedingly-famous AMERICANAH running right through the same area!? Rough stuff. There's no name that shouldn't be here, but you gotta watch how you dole them out. Crowding names together is a recipe for unpleasantness.

I really thought AMERICANAH was AMERICAN (space) AH, like ... maybe the protagonist's family name was AH, or maybe it was about a dentist, or both, I dunno. Surprised we saw this title before we saw the author's name (ADICHIE), which seems like it would be very grid-friendly (i.e. easy to work with if you're a constructor). The only other thing in the grid I flat-out didn't know was IDLI, which was just a series of random letters to me (31D: Savory rice cake of southern India). I have tried so hard to tuck away rafts of short fill related to Indian cuisine (ATTA, ROTI, NA(A)N, LASSI, DOSA, CHAPATI ... the last of which I haven't seen yet, but I'm ready!). But IDLI caught me off-guard. Crosses are fair, so ultimately no problem, but that definitely slowed me down but good. SEED for ARIL also really, really put a wrench in the works. Oh, and RUNS OUT for RUNS DRY, oof (11D: Gets fully depleted). I kinda resent the clue on PROUST. I just looked up this "questionnaire" and I still don't actually understand it. It sounds banal as f***. And yet it comes from PROUST's own notebooks? And is used by interviewers? Yeeeeesh. Would've liked the clue to have been ... PROUSTier. Or mentioned anything even vaguely PROUSTy. Seriously, this "questionnaire" ... why ... is it? "Favorite color"? Sigh. What are we doing here? These look like the questions to the least revealing interview of all time.

Bullet points:
  • 22A: "Gotcha," more informally ("I'M HIP") — Is it? Is it "more informal." I think "more quaintly" or "more bygonely" might work, but "more informally" feels factually untrue. You don't get much more "informal" than "Gotcha!"
  • 63A: Denim jacket adornment (PATCH) — really struggled with this one. No idea what the context is. Is it ... a biker? What year is it? Is this an iron-on PATCH? I guess I just don't see denim jackets much any more, and if I do, they're somehow PATCH-free.
  • 85D: Syd tha ___, onetime hip-hop moniker (KYD) — if it's "onetime," maybe you should respect that and move on to other KYDs ... like Thomas! Everyone loves revenge tragedies, right? Right!?
  • 102D: Nightmarish address, for short (ELM ST.) — "Nightmarish" because of the movie "A Nightmare on ELM ST." ... which you've probably figured out by now.
  • 103D: Slangy thing that may be "dropped" in a serious relationship (L-BOMB) — not everything has to be a "bomb." F-BOMB, L-BOMB ... sigh. I really wanted this to be TROU (literally the only time I have ever wanted the answer to be TROU)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Carpels' counterparts / SAT 12-3-22 / Brain-tingly feeling that may come from hearing whispering or crinkling, in brief / Inefficient confetti-making tool / That's on me slangily / Alternative to a blind in poker

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Constructor: Kate Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ASMR (25A: Brain-tingly feeling that may come from hearing whispering or crinkling, in brief) —

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a tingling sensation that usually begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. A pleasant form of paresthesia, it has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia and may overlap with frisson.

ASMR signifies the subjective experience of "low-grade euphoria" characterized by "a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin." It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control. A genre of videos intended to induce ASMR has emerged, over 25 million of which had been published on YouTube by 2022 and a dedicated category of live ASMR streams on Twitch. (wikipedia)

• • •

I don't know if this was a proper Saturday or if it just feels like a proper Saturday because yesterday's puzzle was a Monday, but either way, I appreciated the fact that it put up a fight. The puzzle is doing its best to skew younger today, with three short answers in (or near) the NW corner that are likely to make a lot of solvers cock their heads questioningly (or some more extreme reaction). The first of these was MOTO, which ... a phone ad campaign from, what, the aughts? (3D: "Hello ___" (classic ringtone)). When was that? I had zero idea that "Hello, MOTO" was actually a "ringtone"—I can remember ads that started "Hello, MOTO" or something like that; I assume they were ads for ... a phone ... maybe a Motorola ... something or other? Razr, is that a phone? Anyway, the "Hello, MOTO" voice always creeped me out because it sounded artificial / put-on, and kinda reminded me of someone evoking the yellowface portrayal of Mr. MOTO in old detective films (he was played by Peter Lorre, doing basically the same voice he uses for Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon ... I thought MOTO was played by Warner Oland, but that was another yellowface detective performance: Charlie Chan ... but I (seriously) digress...). But if you got a cell phone when you were a young person in the aughts, then this "ringtone" is likely Superfamiliar to you (and has zero associations with the Japanese detective). This video has over 3 million views wtf!

So that answer seems aimed at Millennials (who are now actually middle-aged, I guess) and younger folk, as does "MY B" (for "my bad!") and ASMR, which I had never heard of until some time in the last decade. How did the term (an initialism where most people including me don't know what the letters even stand for) go mainstream? Well, I direct your attention to the last sentence of the "Word of the Day" wikipedia quotation, above: "A genre of videos intended to induce ASMR has emerged, over 25 million of which had been published on YouTube by 2022 and a dedicated category of live ASMR streams on Twitch." I'm so out of touch I thought ASMR stood for the actual sounds, not the feeling they induced. Anyway, people soothe themselves with YouTube and Twitch. I will never get it, but there you are. It's very very much a thing. But if those three answers skewed young, it's not like there weren't Golden Oldies to offset them: even in the 20th century, I couldn't accept that anyone had ever TOPEd or been IN A PET, and I certainly can't accept it any more now, but boy are those familiar crossword terms of yore. So overall the puzzle has a nice range, covering lots of topics, varied in its generational familiarity. It's also chock full of vibrant longer answers, the best of which came right up front: 

APOLOGY TOUR over "NO TAKEBACKS" is a beautiful two-stack (14A: Guilt trip? / 17A: "Too late to change your mind now!"), and the other three such pairings in the grid aren't bad either. Not EVEN A LITTLE bad. I like MARASCHINO / OVER THE TOP because you might put a MARASCHINO cherry OVER THE TOP of your sundae, or even your cocktail, but For God's Sake don't use those cheap-ass pinkish garbage cherries you get at most ice cream parlors (or in the sundae fixins' aisle of the supermarket). It's Luxardo or get out!

I also liked HEE HEE over JOLLITY (for hopefully obvious reasons), and, well, there's not a lot I didn't like. I didn't like the metaphorical VIRGINS clue (34A: Newbies), which ... I mean, I don't know that I'd like the literal VIRGINS clue either, but something about snickering about a "newbie" being a "virgin" is ... unnecessarily sexualizing or something. It's just a metaphor that I wouldn't use. It's normal and fine. It just always gives me bad vibes is all.

I had some trouble moving between the N and W half of this puzzle into the S and E half, but I ended up throwing a weird word-rope into the void, and the rope kept going, and it got weirdly long, and I figured some of it must be wrong, but it wasn't (!?).

So I linked JIBS to "COULD IT BE?" and just kept building, and somehow all the answers stuck. Not sure why I got stuck on the back half of HOLE PUNCH (28A: Inefficient confetti-making tool) (funny clue btw). It's a perfectly normal "tool." I have one sitting here within arm's reach, but all I could think was "HOLE ... maker?" Bizarre. MY B! I also had some trouble getting the back end of PHONE CALL (I figured the "phone" itself had a "ring to it," so what else was needed, I didn't know). Also couldn't get TREATY ("Compact" means sooooo many thing), STAMENS (I thought maybe "tunnels"?) (38D: Carpels' counterparts), or IN A PET, so the SE was briefly elusive, but then PATSY Cline came riding to the rescue, bringing the PEP I needed to finish things off. Overall, a delightful romp, this one, with a little youthful flavor here and there ... you know, for kids!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1962 #1 hit that the BBC once deemed "too morbid" to play / FRI 12-2-22 / Banks who coined the term "smizing" / Inclination to prioritize new events over historical ones / What a camera emoji in an Instagram caption often signifies

Friday, December 2, 2022

Constructor: Scott Earl

Relative difficulty: Easy (once again, Very easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MELBA toast (1D: Toast opening?) —

Melba toast is a dry, crisp and thinly sliced toast, often served with soup and salad or topped with either melted cheese or pâté. It is named after Dame Nellie Melba, the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell. Its name is thought to date from 1897, when the singer was very ill and it became a staple of her diet. The toast was created for her by chef and fan Auguste Escoffier, who also created the Peach Melba dessert for her. The hotel proprietor César Ritz supposedly named it in a conversation with Escoffier.

Melba toast is made by lightly toasting slices of bread under a grill, on both sides. The resulting toast is then sliced laterally. These thin slices are then returned to the grill with the untoasted sides towards the heat source, resulting in toast half the normal thickness. Thus, it can be described as a thrice-baked food (see rusk).

Melba toast is also available commercially, and was at one time given to infants who were teething as a hard food substance on which to chew.

In France, it is referred to as croûtes en dentelle. (wikipedia)

• • •

Really loved this grid but once again the puzzle was way too easy. The clues didn't seem to be really trying. There was a name I didn't know (if the TASHA isn't Yar, I'm out) (46A: Actress Smith of "Why Did I Get Married?"), but I steered around that no problem, and everything else went in about as fast as I could read the clues. I am *not* getting better at crosswords, just to put that theory to rest. If anything, I am at the ONSET of my "slowing-down" phase. I gave up speed-solving for the most part and now just walk through the grid ... and yet even at a walking pace I was done in no time. I won't go on about the commercially-driven easing-up of difficulty at the NYTXW today, but it's definitely a thing. Maybe they'll at least reserve Saturday as a Genuinely Tough day (please?). Or else we just continue the slow descent into Everyone Gets a Ribbon—A-ticket rides as far as the eye can see. I took one look at 1A: 1962 #1 hit that the BBC once deemed "too morbid" to play and immediately thought "MONSTER MASH" and almost as immediately thought "well, that's ridiculous, can't be right." But then I decided, "eh, just test it." And sure enough:

After that, the whole NW corner went down with only the NEATO for NIFTY hiccup (not super-thrilled to actually run into NEATO later on—it's like successfully avoiding someone you don't want to see and then rounding a corner and running smack into them: "Oh ... hi there ... I ... bye!"). I tried to make the first live broadcast of the House of Representatives happen on ESPNU, so that was weird (it's CSPAN, of course). Kinda wanted 44ASilly ones (GOOFS) to be GEESE except I already had GOO- in place, so I tried GOONS (?) for maybe a second or two. Hesitated on what word was gonna come after PHOTO at 62A: What a camera emoji in an Instagram caption often signifies (PHOTO CREDIT). I have now covered literally every part of the puzzle that gave me even the slightest problem. Speed-solving me might've set a Friday record with this one, or come close, anyway. 

It's too bad the puzzle didn't make me slow down at least a little, because then I might've gotten to really get that aha feeling of discovery when I got all the good stuff, like that fantastic "I CAN'T WATCH!" / "NO SPOILERS!" pairing in the middle of the grid (30A: Comment made with eyes closed, perhaps / 42A: "Don't tell me what happens yet!"). And with HATES ON as the creamy center in between! That is such a great screen-watching onslaught of terms (I assume the viewer is at the movies with a friend who has already seen the movie, and they're watching a horror movie with a lot of jump scares, and she ends up hating—your internal narrative may vary). There are no weak parts of this grid (well, I never like ETERNE, but that's just one answer). No thrown-away, phoned-in corners. Brightness everywhere you turn, from LIFETIME BAN (17A: Highest bar?)* in the north to RECENCY BIAS (58A: Inclination to prioritize new events over historical ones) in the south, with a lot of lesser but still plenty-bright moments in between. Just tighten up the clues a bit, would you? It should take me more than five minutes to solve a Friday at my normal strolling pace. 

Bullet points:
  • 12A: Supplements supplier (GNC) — I always—always—have a "GMC?" moment with GNC (and vice versa)
  • 20A: Like Chicago, geographically (UPSTATE) — I was not aware that anyone but New York had an UPSTATE. People like to argue which parts of New York are included in the term UPSTATE. It's a very boring argument.
  • 56D: Banks who coined the term "smizing" (TYRA)TYRA Banks is the creator and host of "America's Next Top Model" (although it looks like one recent season was hosted by crossword stalwart Rita Ora!). "Smizing" is ... well, here, I'll let her tell you:
["smiling with the eyes"]

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*I assume [Highest bar?] both because a LIFETIME BAN is the "highest" (or "longest") amount of time that they can "bar" you for, and also probably because the reason you got banned was because you were the "highest" person in the "bar" and ... mistakes were made.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Modern digital asset in brief / THU 12-1-22 / McKenzie of the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords / Giant star in Scorpius / Behave like a certain surface-feeding shark / Chinese American fashion designer with a Dolly Girl line / Joe-___ weed / Source of iridescence in many mollusks

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Constructor: Daniel Mauer

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (very easy theme, with somewhat challenging fill at times)

THEME: ANTICI / PATION (1A: First half of this puzzle's theme ... / 65A: ... and the end of the theme (finally!)) — phrases associated with anticipation:

Theme answers:
  • "ALMOST THERE ..." (24A: ...)
  • "WAIT FOR IT ..." (33A: ...)
  • "NOT QUITE YET ..." (51A: ...)
Word of the Day: BASKing shark (63A: Behave like a certain surface-feeding shark) —

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second-largest living shark and fish, after the whale shark, and one of three plankton-eating shark species, along with the whale shark and megamouth shark. Adults typically reach 7.9 m (26 ft) in length. It is usually greyish-brown, with mottled skin, with the inside of the mouth being white in color. The caudal fin has a strong lateral keel and a crescent shape. Other common names include bone shark, elephant shark, sail-fish, and sun-fish. In Orkney, it is commonly known as hoe-mother (sometimes contracted to homer), meaning "the mother of the pickled dog-fish". (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, ironically ...

The whole premise gets blow apart pretty early if you are able to see what the "first half" of the puzzle's theme is the first half *of*. Turns out not many things begin ANTICI-, so once you've checked all your crosses to make sure that ANTICI- is in fact right ... you're in business. Anyway, all of the anticipatory phrases don't really make sense when the sequential, orderly, top-to-bottom solving that the second revealer clue relies upon does not come to pass. Not only doesn't come to pass, but happens in reverse. The 1-Across "first half" revealer fairly *begs* you to figure out the ending first. Surely someone must have, uh, anticipated this. And yet we PRESS ON with the charade that this is happening in predictable order. I like the creativity here—breaking the revealer is an original idea, and refusing to clue the themers with anything but ellipses adds a nice dimension to the theme. "WAIT FOR IT" is the best of the themers, as it feels the most anticipatory as well as the strongest in its stand-aloneness (the others are fine but might just as easily have been shorter things, i.e. "ALMOST ..." and "NOT YET ..."). "IT'S A NOGO" runs weird interference in this puzzle, appearing to abort whatever process the theme has gotten underway (it seems to be in a theme-like position early on ... and then you get "HOUSTON..." which makes me think "we have a problem" and maybe have to scrub the mission ... But of course I'm just seeing things there. The theme is conceptually very interesting, but it's just not gonna play right for anyone but the most methodical, sequential solver.

All the themers filled themselves in pretty easily via crosses, so despite being essentially unclued (...), they added very little difficulty. Only real difficulty for me came in the SW, where I completely blanked on ANTARES (40D: Giant star in Scorpius), and had no clue initially which NEO- genre they thought Yoko Ono was involved in (39D: One of many genres for Yoko Ono). Seemed like you could throw any number of four-letter words in there and have a shot. Worst of all for me, though, was that I'd somehow never heard of a BASKing shark, and so that BASK clue was bonkers to me (63A: Behave like a certain surface-feeding shark). All the definitions suggest that they "appear to be basking" in the sun / warmer water, but that "appear" is doing a lot of work. The clue says that BASKing is their actual "behavior." I think they're just being sharks, doing normal shark things, and only look like they're BASKing from our perspective. A fine distinction, but, I dunno, respect shark agency, I guess. Not sure why you went to a shark to clue a totally non-shark word—it's a wild stretch. I thought maybe the shark was MASKing at one point. Had to really hack at this whole SW area to get it to fall. Most of the rest of the fill felt normal-to-easy, difficulty-wise.

Bullet points:
  • 10A: Sky: Fr. (CIEL) — kind of a deep cut where foreign words are concerned. I can read French, so no problem here, but I don't think I'd cross this one with Yet Another French Word (LES) if there were any other way to do things (13D: Article in Paris Match). And with NOUS at 31A: Toi et moi. Dial it back, peut-être?
  • 43D: Chinese American fashion designer with a Dolly Girl line (ANNA SUI) — proud to have (finally!) semi-remembered her. Less proud that I wanted to spell her last name like "feng shui" (i.e. ANA SHUI, [sad trombone sound])
  • 48D: Joe-___ weed (PYE) — LOL what? No idea. Less than no idea. Figured it must be JOE-POE since that at least rhymes. 
  • 9D: Hit the road with roadies, perhaps (GO ON TOUR) — cool answer if you parse it right. If not, well, you're on the GOON TOUR, and that could get ugly.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Vertical water conduit / WED 11-30-22 / K on a printer cartridge / Online competitor of US Weekly

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Constructor: Addison Snell

Relative difficulty: If there were a day *before* Monday, that is how easy this was ... bizarre

THEME: 4K? K4? — four examples of what "K" can stand for:

Theme answers:
  • STRIKEOUT (20A: K, in baseball)
  • THOUSAND (27A: K, in a salary listing)
  • BLACK INK (!?) (42A: K, on a printer cartridge)
  • POTASSIUM (53A: K, on the periodic table)
Word of the Day: STANDPIPE (34D: Vertical water conduit) —

In North America, a standpipe is a type of rigid water piping which is built into multi-story buildings in a vertical position, or into bridges in a horizontal position, to which fire hoses can be connected, allowing manual application of water to the fire. Within the context of a building or bridge, a standpipe serves the same purpose as a fire hydrant.

In many other countries, hydrants in streets are below ground level. Fire trucks carry standpipes and key, and there are bars on the truck. The bar is used to lift a cover in the road, exposing the hydrant. The standpipe is then "sunk" into the hydrant, and the hose is connected to the exposed ends of the standpipe. The bar is then combined with the key, and is used to turn the hydrant on and off. (wikipedia)

• • •

This may be one of those days where someone else has to show me some cool thematic element that I missed, because sitting here now, at 4:30am, just after finishing the puzzle, all I see are "four things 'K' can stand for," and that just doesn't seem like much. Worse, the theme is not just thin, it's got one theme answer that feels very, very forced—very "Which of these Four is Not Like The Other"—i.e. BLACK INK. The other three "K"s are iconic ... whereas I have replace BLACK INK in my (two!) printers for *decades* and never noticed that "K" stood for anything. I'm absolutely guessing here, but I bet that if you ask any ordinary person to name four things that "K" can stand for, they can probably name ... three. The three non-BLACK INK answers that are in this puzzle. But BLACK INK, yeesh. OK, if you say so. That is, I'm sure you're right, but ... no. But even that weird version of "K"—hell, even STANDPIPE (no idea)—couldn't get this puzzle up to a respectable level of difficulty. I was stunned at how easily I moved through the grid at first. I got every clue I looked at, without hesitation, from 1A: Target of modern splicing (GENE) all the way to here:

That is, I wrote in SEEKS at 22A: Looks (SEEMS) and quickly found out I was wrong—but even *that* wasn't "hesitation" so much as a brief erasure and correction. I didn't actually completely balk at an answer until I was staring at -STY (48D: Maybe too amorous). My brain went "TASTY?" And then I shrugged and kept going. STANDPIPE was by far the oddest thing in the grid (I wanted both STEAM PIPE and STOVE PIPE before I got it), and even it did very little to stop my hurtling forward momentum. As usual, the "word with / before / after / before and after"-type clue baffled me (43D: Word with spare or sea = CHANGE) so I couldn't flow easily into the SW, but I just jumped in, got OMAN no problem, and was done a few seconds later. I have no idea what was supposed to make this a Wednesday as opposed to a Monday. Maybe BLACK INK? STANDPIPE? BERM!? (I don't know how I even know that term) (38A: Road shoulder). This was a ho-hum, 20th-century grid, at both the thematic and overall fill levels, and it was easier than any NYTXW Wednesday should ever be. I know they're deliberately making the puzzle easier over time (that has become self-evident), probably so that more of their many many subscribers can feel "successful" on a regular basis, and OK, capitalism, whatever ... but it's starting to feel a little shameful.

There's not even any interesting fill to comment on. I liked BUZZSAWS and DIRT CHEAP very much. The rest of it was mostly just there. Clean enough, no strong complaints. Just kind of 3-4-5 Blah, all over.

Happy end of November!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Lots of people weighed in on the alleged technical inaccuracy of yesterday's clue for DNA (6D: Molecule whose structure was discovered by Rosalind Franklin). The most level-headed of such responses came to me via email, and here it is:
Hey Rex,
                Scientist here. The clue for DNA (6 dn) "molecule whose structure was discovered by Rosalind Franklin" is wrong. Besides the sort of pedantic point that structures are not 'discovered', Franklin took an X-ray of DNA that was important and for which she certainly deserved to have been given more credit. But she didn't solve the structure, as far as anyone knows. I suppose you could argue that giving a woman more credit than she deserves is ok karma-wise and that taking some credit away from James Watson is even better. But in the end I think keeping to the historical record as best we can is the right approach. My three cents. ~T.B.
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City in ancient Crete with renowned labyrinth / TUE 11-29-22 / Hit BBC series since 1963 informally / Ratite featured on Uruguayan currency / Goose that might nest on volcanic ash

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Constructor: David Rockow

Relative difficulty: Easy (very)

THEME: FEATHER (37A: Element of plumage ... and a feature shared by every answer crossing this one) — seven BIRDS (1D: Tweeters) form a makeshift FLOCK (51D: Gathering of 1-Down, like that found in the center of this puzzle) at the middle of the grid (as many have noted, the theme is probably meant to be read as "BIRDS of a FEATHER FLOCK" together):

  • FALCON (37D: Its peregrine variety is the world's fastest avian)
  • WREN (28D: Small brown passerine that holds its tail upright)
  • RHEA (24D: Ratite featured on Uruguayan currency)
  • KESTREL (25D: American raptor that's the size of a mourning dove)
  • HAWK (38D: Iconic metaphor for keen-eyed watchfulness)
  • NENE (35D: Goose that might nest on volcanic ash)
  • CONDOR (19D: Its Andean variety has the largest wingspan among all raptors)

Word of the Day:
KNOSSOS (22A: City in ancient Crete with renowned labyrinth) —

Knossos (also Cnossos, both pronounced /(kə)ˈnɒsɒs, -səs/Ancient GreekΚνωσόςromanizedKnōsóspronounced [knɔː.sós]Linear B𐀒𐀜𐀰Ko-no-so) is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and has been called Europe's oldest city.

Settled as early as the Neolithic period, the name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The palace of Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace was abandoned at some unknown time at the end of the Late Bronze Age, c. 1380–1100 BC; the reason is unknown, but one of the many disasters that befell the palace is generally put forward.

In the First Palace Period (around 2000 BC), the urban area reached a size of as many as 18,000 people. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well this is weird, so it's got that going for it. I do love birds—love them—and so I am always going to be generally warmly inclined to a bird-themed puzzle. This one is mainly just ... a bunch of bird names smushed together. And a couple of those bird names (RHEA, NENE) are straight-up crosswordese, such that you'd never really recognize them as thematic elements. I want to say they don't count ... but of course they do. It's just that you're not apt to see them as special, given that you see them all the time. It's weird ... nothing in this theme feels particularly thematic *except* the smushing. I mean, what've you got, fill-wise? BIRDS? FLOCK? FEATHER? And then the birds, of course, but only one of those gets up to even seven letters long (which is also my favorite bird in the grid—KESTREL! Pretty sure we saw one just last week in central Colorado, sitting on top of a leafless tree ... watching ... Raptors!). My point is that none of the thematic stuff really feels thematic except through the process of smushing, which this puzzle is calling a FLOCK, but LOL the KESTREL scoffs at the idea of flying in FLOCKs with these other birds. Hell, the KESTREL would eat a damn WREN (probably). But then I guess you couldn't very well have your FLOCK be WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN now could you? It's a funny idea, this rag-tag FLOCK. I don't like that FLOCK (the last Across answer) comes after BIRDS (the first). Feels backwards. Also, really don't like that BIRDS is clued as [Tweeters]. None of the birds in that FLOCK is a "Tweeter." Again, the KESTREL scoffs, as she will. Don't like SEED thrown in as "bonus" answer (better and more elegant to keep the non-theme parts of your grid bird-free), just as I don't like trying to pass off PEACE CORPS and URBAN AREAS as bird-related (a strettttttttttch). Oh, and your longest answers (grid-spanners!) have *nothing* to do with the theme? Weird. But I do love those answers, so maybe I'll just think of this as an easy themeless with a dense bird center, and for a Tuesday, that's enough.

I did think, about halfway through this puzzle, before I had any idea of the theme, "man this is a birdy puzzle, the constructor must really like birds, cool." Hey, did you know that in "HORSE WITH NO NAME" (10D: Desert wanderer's mount in a 1972 hit by America) the wanderer is in a desert where there are "plants and BIRDS and rocks and things"!? ("things" always makes me laugh, wtf, did you just run out of vocabulary?). Seems like if you really Really wanted, you could've clued that one as a themer as well. It's at least as bird-y as URBAN AREAS, come on. COOL AS A CUCUMBER might've been harder (3D: Unruffled). Hmm. [Kestrel-like]? I don't know. Harder to turn that one birdward. (Unless "Unruffled" already suggests FEATHERs ... hmmm ...)

Didn't hesitate much at all while solving this one. I took a beat or two to remember KNOSSOS. I wrote in IBEX before ORYX (31D: African antelope) and SUET before SEED. CUSP probably gave me more trouble than anything else in the grid, and the kind of trouble I'm talking about there was negligible (52D: Edge). The grid seems very clean, especially considering how thematically dense it is in the middle. CONED was the only thing that made me squint and tilt my head dubiously (43D: Funnel-shaped), but it's word-y enough. Despite the strangeness of theme execution—or maybe because of it—I ended up enjoying this one more than not. I'll take this over a standard punny / corny / weak-laugh Tuesday any day (especially Tuesday).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I forgot to praise "SAY WHEN!," my actual favorite answer in the grid (27A: Words from a pourer). Some good colloquial zing amidst all the bird kerfuffle. 

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