Fake name given by Odysseus to the Cyclops / MON 1-31-22 / Unleavened flatbread in Indian cuisine / Makeup of some bunnies

Monday, January 31, 2022

Constructor: Eric Bornstein

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (***for a Monday***) (3:10)

THEME: PARTING / WORDS (56A: With 58-Across, what this puzzle's circled letters are .... or what they're doing) — words meaning "goodbye" (i.e. words said upon "parting") are in circled squares, and are found inside two-word phrases, which are themselves split into two successive Across answers, so those circled-square "parting" words are ... I guess they are supposed to be "parting" in the sense of "opening up" ... so "parting" is an intransitive verb ... like clouds "parting" ... huh ... OK:

Theme answers:
  • ADIOS straddles RADIO / STATION (20A: With 21-Across, broadcast unit that may operate with 50,000, watts)
  • TATA straddles DATA / TABLE (27A: With 30-Across, numbers displayed in rows and columns)
  • LATER straddles SLATE / ROOF (49A: With 51-Across, long-lasting cover for a house)
Word of the Day: LOAM (1A: Fertile soil) —
1aa mixture (as for plastering) composed chiefly of moistened clay
ba coarse molding sand used in founding (see FOUNDentry 5)
specifically  a soil consisting of a friable mixture of varying proportions of clay, silt, and sand (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

a better ERNST
This one is conceptually dubious to start with, and the inept cluing language really louses things up irretrievably. You part the PARTING / WORDS ... so there's something there. But the idea that those words are themselves "parting," I dunno, it's not quite working for me. A black square *parts* those words ... they aren't just opening up; something (namely the black square) is intervening. Doing the parting. Also, since the two-word theme answers break naturally at the black square, there's no real sense that the circled squares are actively doing anything. They have no agency. Basically this is just a typical hidden-words theme, where the hidden word is broken across two parts of a longer answer, but here you're actually showing the break, pulling the two words apart, creating a split in the hidden words. You can lawyer your way to a defense of "parting" as a word describing what the circled-square words are doing, but you shouldn't need a lawyer on Monday. The revealer should just *snap*. Those words have been parted. They aren't convincingly "parting." But more importantly, the main theme phrases are all terribly dull, and the repeated "With 21-Across...," "With 30-Across," "With with with" cross-referencing makes the solving experience tedious and somewhat slower than usual, and with no great payoff. Slowish and dullish, with a revealer (and revealer clue) that just doesn't quite land. And then there's just not enough colorful non-theme stuff in the grid to make up for the thematic wobbliness. 

[a better ERNST]

Always unpleasant to see PALIN but especially unpleasant to see her crossed with fellow Tr*mpist Joni ERNST. There's absolutely no reason to clue ERNST that way. Even if we leave her disgusting politics out of it, you don't cross two answers from such narrow subject realms if you have other options, and with ERNST you definitely have other options. At a minimum, you've got famed surrealist Max ERNST and famed movie director ERNST Lubitsch. Mix it up. I don't know what this puzzle was trying to get at with the PALIN / ERNST cross, or with the GUANTANAMO / OBAMA cross either, but it's making me a little queasy. Speaking of making me queasy, that shouty CNBC hedge-fund guy ... his name ... I spelled it like the "Seinfeld" guy's name, i.e. with a "K," so that set me back (46A: "Mad Money" host Jim). I also had trouble coming up with DUST for 60D: Makeup of some "bunnies" because I was looking for a plural. Further, my eyes read "basketball" instead of "baseball" at 29D: Impressive feat in baseball, which made TRIPLE PLAY hard to come up with. I kept wondering why TRIPLE-DOUBLE wouldn't fit! Oh, and I wrote in MEDICARE before MEDICAID. The clue would seem to fit both (4D: Federal program for health care coverage). After all, MEDICARE is a "national health insurance program," so ... hard to know which one I was supposed to go for there. But that's why god invented crosses. Anyway, with all the cross-referencing in the themers and a handful of ambiguous non-theme clues to boot, this one definitely came in on the slow side for a Monday, for me. Not tremendously slow. But slowish.  Hoping for a tighter, snappier, funner theme tomorrow. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Rock subgenre named for its vocal aesthetic / SUN 1-30-22 / Heavy metal's prince of darkness / Frothy coffee invented in Greece / Still da Trina title track of 2008 / Kitty stunt performer once known as the "fastest woman in the world" / Maliciously reveal personal info about online / Goddess in a peacock-drawn chariot / Suffering from a losing streak in poker slang

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Watch Your Step!" — there are TRAP DOORS throughout the puzzle (122A: Secret exits represented five times in this puzzle's grid); these are rebus squares that contain the letters "TRAP." With the Across answers, "TRAP" just functions as a letter string, but in the Downs, it functions as a letter string *and* a "trap door," i.e. the answer falls through the black square (where an answer would normally terminate), concluding in the Down answer directly underneath. So, for example, with 4D: Scores for placekickers = EX(TRAP) ... you have to look at the answer directly beneath it, which has no proper clue (i.e. 32D: -), to find the remainder of the 4D answer (OINTS). So EX(TRAP) + OINTS = EXTRA POINTS. And so:

Theme answers:
  • BES(TRAP)ALBUM / EX(TRAP) + OINTS (22A: Grammy for Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN." or Cardi B's "Invasion of Privacy" / 4D: Scores for placekickers)
  • (TRAP)PISTS / TE(TRAP) + ODS (51A: Brewing brothers / 39D: Four-limbed animals)
  • ORCHES(TRAP)ITS / FLYING (TRAP) + EZE (46A: Sources of music in musicals / 14D: Circus apparatus)
  • S(TRAP)LESS GOWN / CON(TRAP) + TIONS (96A: Marilyn Monroe wore a fuchsia one while singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" / 75D: Rube Goldberg machines, e.g.)
  • VON (TRAP)P FAMILY / UL(TRAP) + URE (102A: "The Sound of Music" household / 93D: Lacking any adulteration)
Word of the Day: Kitty O'NEIL (38D: Kitty ___, stunt performer once known as the "fastest woman in the world") —
Kitty Linn O'Neil (March 24, 1946 – November 2, 2018) was an American stuntwoman and racer, known as "the fastest woman in the world". An illness in early childhood left her deaf, and more illnesses in early adulthood cut short a career in diving. O'Neil's career as a stuntwoman and race driver led to her depiction in a television movie and as an action figure. Her women's absolute land speed record stood until 2019. (wikipedia)
• • •

A really interesting concept and complicated architectural feat that results in a really fussy awkward solving experience with some contrived answers and a revealer that absolutely falls flat. I mean, by the time I get to TRAP DOORS, it's very obvious that I've been dealing with TRAP DOORS. TRAP TRAP TRAP TRAP TRAP ... and you "fall through" them ... so yeah, the revealer was anticlimactic. But maybe that was inevitable, so let's leave that and go back to the theme answers themselves. I feel like I squeezed all the joy out of the solving experience the moment I got the first set of themers, i.e. the moment I got what was going on with the TRAP and the answer falling through and all that. Ooh, a trap door, Ok interesting ... don't like that little -OINTS bit standing alone, gibberish always looks stupid in the grid, but still, the concept is decent. Great ... but then it was just more of the same, and somehow those trap doors were less entertaining, more annoying to unearth as the solve went on. It's a one-note concept, and subsequent iterations of the note just don't have any joy in them. I also have to sit through technical gunk like TETRAPODS and semi-made-up stuff like ULTRAPURE (it's pure or it's not, come on). The TRAPPISTS one was by far the hardest to uncover, because that "TRAP" rebus is not inside a long Across answer, the way all the others are, and the TRAPPISTS clue is hard (51A: Brewing brothers) if you can't see the TRAP yet, and ditto the TETRAPODS clue. The other trap doors were easy enough to find, but unfortunately on top of this already complicated theme, the puzzle decided to make all the non-theme cluing weirdly harder than usual, and then you've got this ultra-choppy grid, so the experience ended up being something of a slog and a drag. Poker slang, a partial name of a Soviet-era spacecraft (?!), a misspelled DORAG (we've been over this), a PACK TENT, whatever that is ... a RAISE HAVOC when the term is obviously WREAK HAVOC (just remember the old adage, which I just made up: RAISE CAIN, WREAK HAVOC, starve a cold). And to top it all off, I finished with a stupid error at 1D / 18A. I had UNEXPERT / SUBS  instead of INEXPERT / SIBS (18A: Amateur / 1D: Twins, e.g., for short) ... since INAPT and UNAPT are both words, I honestly didn't even blink at UNEXPERT, and then thought "huh, Twins ... SUBS ... maybe it's a baseball thing I'm not quite getting..." (SUBS, like SIBS, fits the "for short" description in the clue). And then I abandoned that section and never looked back. Ah well. 

Lots of stuff I just didn't know today. Beyond the aforementioned ON TILT (ugh) and VOSTOK, I had no idea who Kitty O'NEIL was—I assumed she was a fast runner, not a fast driver. You'd never call the fastest male driver the "fastest man in the world." Bizarre. No idea who Trina is or what "Still da BADDEST" sounds like (70A: "Still da ___" (Trina title track of 2008)). She seems to be a really reputable rapper, but she hasn't had any mainstream chart success to speak of. "Still da BADDEST" wasn't even a single, why is it clued as a "title track" and not just as [Trina album of 2008]? Again, bizarre. I knew Bob FOSSE but did not recognize him from that clue (37D: Only person to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony in the same year (1973)). I have watched every season of "The Great British Bake Off" and still managed to forget NOEL Fielding's name (118A: ___ Fielding, co-host of "The Great British Bake Off" beginning in 2017). I thought DOX was spelled with two "X"s, but apparently one is acceptable (though you'd definitely use two in words like "doxxed" and "doxxing"). I had SEEDY before SEAMY (82D: Disreputable) and GOURD (?) before ACORN (74A: Kind of squash). I have no idea what SPICER is supposed to mean here (77A: One using cloves or garlic). Is a SPICER ... someone ... who adds "spice" ... to whatever they're cooking!?!? So, pretty much any cook of anything more elaborate than PB&J? Is garlic even a "spice"??? For the third time, I say: bizarre. Do people really cry multiple OWS in a tattoo parlor?? (103D: Crises in a tattoo parlor). I don't have any tattoos, and I've never been in a tattoo parlor, but somehow a chorus of OWS is not really the soundscape I imagined. 

There's an article out this week about culturally contentious issues in crossword puzzles. Featuring quotes from Will Shortz, Ben Tausig, Patrick Berry and others (I'm one of the "others"). Just ignore the part where they mysteriously claim that HITLER is "five letters" long ... see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. 46D: Heavy metal's "Prince of Darkness" (OSBOURNE) may be much more familiar to you by his first name, which is what most people call him: Ozzy. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ciudad official / SAT 1-29-22 / Bygone Japanese coin / Kid-lit authors Margret and H.A. / Nonhuman host of a talk show on HBO Max / Gambling venues with portmanteau name / Habitat for the addax antelope

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Constructor: Andrew Ries and Caitlin Reid

Relative difficulty: Medium (mostly on the easier side, but with a few terms I didn't know that held me up)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day:  ALCALDE (12D: Ciudad official) —

Alcalde (/ælˈkældi/Spanish: [alˈkalde]) is the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions. An alcalde was, in the absence of a corregidor, the presiding officer of the Castilian cabildo (the municipal council) and judge of first instance of a town.  Alcaldes were elected annually, without the right to reelection for two or three years, by the regidores (council members) of the municipal council. The office of the alcalde was signified by a staff of office, which they were to take with them when doing their business. A woman who holds the office is termed an Alcaldesa.

In New Spain (Mexico), alcaldes mayores were chief administrators in colonial-era administrative territories termed alcaldías mayores; in colonial-era Peru the units were called corregimientos.

Alcalde was also a title given to Indian officials inside the Spanish missions, who performed a large variety of duties for the Franciscan missionaries. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is a very nice grid, though the only challenges it presented came entirely from words / names I'd never seen—three, to be exact: ALCALDE, REYS, and HELISTOP. These things happen, of course, when you're solving a Saturday puzzle (or even a Monday puzzle, sometimes, if we're being honest), but I much prefer the kind of difficulty that comes with tricky clues to the kind that comes from words / names / term not commonly known (I won't get in an argument about how well known ALCALDE or the REYS are, but let's just say far far far far far less universally known than, well, look at almost all the other answers: GOLD MEDALS? Everyone knows that term. LOADED DICE, same. ELMO, ROLL, etc. ... you see how "hard" grids aren't really filled with "hard" answers—it's primarily the cluing that makes the puzzle hard, or it should be). It's the unevenness of the difficulty that really highlights how much this puzzle is offering up only one kind of difficulty. It took a little time to think my way through some reasonably toughish stuff in the NW—[Power forward] made me think basketball, rowing, and that clue on APB was a wacky (and tough) delight (19A: Catchy communication, for short?) (get it? ... "catchy" ... 'cause an APB is a "communication" they send out when they're trying to "catch" a criminal)—but after I got out of the NW, I went whoosh over the top, whoosh down the west side. The only struggles: every letter of ALCALDE (hard to see the RIDE part of FREE RIDE because of this), and then the STOP part of HELISTOP and the "Y" part of REYS. My blogging software is underlining HELISTOP in red, and I feel its pain. Woof. I of course wrote in HELIPORT, which is a word. HELISTOP is one of those words that makes me think "maybe there's such a thing as wordlist that's *too* big." The upshot of all this is that it was really hard for me to see NANCY PELOSI until I got the whole pre-"Y" part of her name. POOH Bear before PAPA Bear messed me up in there too, but even after I figured that problem out, I had trouble with the congresswoman. I spelled REES thusly at one point. It was all a bit of a mess. But not too much of a mess. I don't have a problem with ALCALDE or REYS as answers; I'm just hyper-aware of how "being unknown to me" is a far less satisfying form of difficulty than "being cleverly hidden from me," and there just wasn't enough of the latter for me today. But again, that's a cluing problem. The grid itself looks OK (though not nearly as snazzy as grids I've seen from both of these constructors before). [LOL I'm only realizing *just* now, after finishing the write-up and starting to put all the formatting in place, that the REYS (plural) are the authors of the "Curious George" books, so ... yeah, I know them, though clearly without the monkey, they're nothing]

It's not that there's not some trickiness in the cluing, here and there—it's just that it's fairly transparent. A "kite" is a bird (39D: Cousin of a kite = OSPREY)—maybe you're supposed to think it's a flying toy, but I never did. A "curler" is a winter athlete (38D: Curlers' equipment)—it's possible it could be a hairstylist, say, but again, even if I didn't know what use these clues were going for right away, I was well aware of the *potential* trickiness, and so neither clue slowed me down. I wanted more tricky clues, like the one on APB, or even more puzzlingly vague clues like [Growth from stagnation] for ALGAE. I just feel like people are mainly going to be stumped by unknown stuff rather than clever stuff. It's possible you knew the things I didn't, but maybe RIN was unknown to you (old crosswordese, nearly a gimme for me), or ALAN Ruck (I know him from "Ferris Bueller," not "Succession," but the point is I know him). Or maybe ROME, NY is unknown to you, or the Karate Kid kid's name (DRE). Hell, I didn't remember DRE, and I saw that movie many times in the theater and on cable as a kid. But crosses were a cinch. I wish the longer answers were more colorful. The only answers that made me really think "Nice!" were "I CAN RELATE" (48A: "We've all been there") and "SO YOU SAY" (35A: "A likely story"). This is not surprising, as I like a living human voice wherever I can find it in a crossword. 

What else?:
  • 17A: Vuvuzela, for one (HORN) — my memory is that these were common noise makers at a recentish Men's World Cup ... maybe in South Africa? (Yes). I just remember that "vuvuzela" really seemed to burst into my consciousness all at once. Now that I look, that World Cup was in 2010, which ... wow, I have no idea what's "recentish" any more. 2010 feels like it just happened and also like it happened a million years ago and also like it never happened. What was 2010, even? Aging is a trip.
  • 45D: Local borders? (ELS) — textbook "letteral" clue, where the "?" is an indication to treat one of the clue words in terms of its physical make-up rather than its meaning. Today, we are supposed to look at the "borders" (i.e. the edges, i.e. the first and last letters) of the word "local," which means we're looking at an "L" and another "L," so ... ELS. This is a cluing convention borrowed from cryptic crosswords.
  • 27D: ___ artist (film professional) (FOLEY) — these are the sound people, the people who create the non-dialogue sounds in movies (the "reproduction of everyday sound effects" added to film in post-production, according to wikipedia). I don't know how I know this. I can imagine this answer tripping up some solvers quite badly.
  • 29D: Nonhuman host of a talk show on HBO Max (ELMO)
     — my first thought was ALIG (who is, in fact, human) and my next thought was MAX HEADROOM (who wouldn't fit). I can't imagine watching even a single second of an ELMO-hosted talk show without wanting to tear my face off, but maybe it's for kids? I hope? Anyway, I remembered that the show existed, eventually, thankfully.
  • 52A: Court feat of 2003 and 2015 (SERENA SLAM) — this is where you win (she wins) all four major tournaments in a row, but not in the same calendar year.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Egyptian sun deity / FRI 1-28-22 / Islands autonomous part of Denmark / Extreme athletes with parachutes / Chopped liver so to speak / Endemic flora and fauna

Friday, January 28, 2022

Constructor: Jem Burch

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: John JAKES (16A: "North and South" writer John) —
John William Jakes (born March 31, 1932) is an American writer, best known for American historical & speculative fiction. His Civil War trilogy, North and South, has sold millions of copies worldwide. He is also the author of The Kent Family Chronicles. He has used the pen name Jay Scotland. (wikipedia)

[I didn't recognize John JAKES from today's clue, but it turns out my
vintage paperback collection is absolutely loaded with his
early fantasy / sword & sorcery / crime fiction / scifi stuff, some of it written
under the pseudonym "Jay Scotland!" Dude was *prolific*]

• • •

Lots of ups and downs in this one. Speaking of UPs, right away we get UP crossing UP (HIT UP, UPEND), which is less than great form, and later on, when JAZZ UP shows ... up, well, it's too much. A couple of UPs in different parts of the grid, fine, but two UPs crossing, no, and a third UP, no no. no. The NW really put this puzzle in a hole, between the UPs and ATEN, which ... yeesh, what? I want to say that it's crosswordese, and it might be, but if it is, it's crosswordese from another era that you just don't see much any more. I had AM-N (AMON, AMUN?) here because I was thinking of AMON (AMUN)-RA. Looks like ATEN actually shows up with reasonable frequency, but typically as an innocuous partial ("Do you have two fives for ___?"), or as a UMass athletic conf. (the Atlantic 10), not as this Egyptian answer. It's less-than-great fill however it's clued, but somehow the Egyptian deity clue highlights that fact rather than mutes it. TAKE A CAB as always gave off some real EAT A SANDWICH vibes, and today IN A TRAP was his unwelcome wing man. So I emerged from the NW corner with not a lot of good will for this puzzle, but then zing, it took off in a much happier direction:
BASEJUMPERS (32A: Extreme athletes with parachutes) takes on some of the daredevil quality of base-jumping itself, as it flings itself recklessly into the void, i.e. the at-this-point empty center of the grid.  The thrill of adventure continues with ZERO GRAVITY below and PAJAMA PARTY above, resulting in an indisputably worthy central stagger-stack (this is what I call stacks where the answers are are arranged like steps instead of one being directly on top of the other). Definitely JAZZes UP the grid. SO SPICY! (I had real trouble with "SO SPICY!" and am not sure I actually like it, but it definitely describes the middle of this puzzle). Some of the longer Downs that shoot through the stack are also nice, particularly SOLD FOR PARTS (8D: Like many a lemon, eventually). The smaller corners of this puzzle are often clunky, which is bizarre, as you'd think making that center part come out right would be far harder than filling a bunch of small sections cleanly. Maybe there's something going on with the constructor being overly enamored with "J"s and "Z"s and "Q"s—that NW section, which had so many problems, has a "J" in it, and the "Q" in the NE section isn't doing the grid quality any favors either. A Chinese dynasty name (there are so many!) isn't worth the "Q," especially when that section also gives us INASEC, the distant but no-more-likeable cousin of INATRAP and TAKEACAB. Oh, ANO is over there too—hmm, did you know that, unlike with Spanish, the Portuguese ANO ("year") doesn't have a tilde? It's true. I can't believe they have the same word for "year" and "anus," that can't be right, hang on ... oh look, it's just "ânus," with a circumflex over the "a." Using Portuguese really sidesteps the problem created by the proximity of "year" and "anus" in Spanish—just one tilde apart. And yet I'm still thinking about the year-anus connection—which, let me tell you, is much less pleasant than, say, the Rainbow or even the French connection. But hurray for learning things!

I had INAMESS before INATRAP (2D: Caught), UPSET before UPEND (4D: Flip), ART MAJOR (?) before LIT MAJOR (17D: Student of the classics), and DEEMS (???) before DOOMS (46A: Sentences). I also wasn't entirely sure if the RITZ were BITS or BITZ, or whether the [Endemic flora and fauna] were BIOME or BIOTA, so I just waited for the crosses to tell me. I could really Really have done without the reminder that the Bush II administration ever existed, but in the end I think this puzzle came out ahead. More good than bad. The center is very strong, and the rest of it ... well, it's there, and it mostly holds up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1965 Shirley Ellis hit full of wordplay / THU 1-27-22 / German physicist after whom a unit of magnetism is named / Republican politico Michael / Garden produce named for an Italian city / Rodomontade / Foofaraw / What two sets of dots within double lines indicate in musical scores / Setting for 2009 film Precious / London district named for its botanic garden

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Constructor: Lewis Rothlein and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging

THEME: REPEAT (47D: What two sets of dots within double lines indicate, in musical scores) — the clue somehow declines to add the ". . . or a hint to what's happening in [all the themers]," but that's what's going on: those answers have the musical notation in them, and you just REPEAT the letters in those sections to get the correct phrase:

Theme answers: 
  • NOWWH:EREW:E (17A: Question after a digression)
  • :GEOR:WELL (30A: Who wrote "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past")
  • NOM:ANIS:LAND (35A: Classic John Donne line)
  • R:OMAT:OES (41A: Garden produce named for an Italian city)
  • R:IDES:ADDLE (57A: Go on horseback à la Lady Godiva)
Word of the Day: GAUSS (5A: German physicist after whom a unit of magnetism is named) —
Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (/ɡs/GermanGauß [kaʁl ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈɡaʊs]; LatinCarolus Fridericus Gauss; 30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855) was a German mathematician and physicist who made significant contributions to many fields in mathematics and science. Sometimes referred to as the Princeps mathematicorum[ (Latin for '"the foremost of mathematicians"') and "the greatest mathematician since antiquity", Gauss had an exceptional influence in many fields of mathematics and science, and is ranked among history's most influential mathematicians. // The gauss, symbol G (sometimes Gs), is a unit of measurement of magnetic induction, also known as magnetic flux density. The unit is part of the Gaussian system of units, which inherited it from the older CGS-EMUsystem. It was named after the German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1936. One gauss is defined as one maxwell per square centimetre. // As the cgs system has been superseded by the International System of Units (SI), the use of the gauss has been deprecated by the standards bodies, but is still regularly used in various subfields of science. The SI unit for magnetic flux density is the tesla (symbol T), which corresponds to 10,000gauss. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, I had to solve this on the app because of its "special feature," which turned out just to be two dots and two lines (I couldn't even really see the lines), so I had to put up with the grid telling me "you're halfway done!" and then the stupid music at the end ... but if we strip away that those annoying experiential frills, and just focus on the puzzle per se, then it's not nearly so annoying. It's also not that exciting. It's just phrases with four repeated letters, and the answer kind of doubles back on itself. Not a hard concept to grasp, and if you've had any music education then you probably got the concept before you even hit the revealer. The problem is that once you get it ... it's not like it's particularly fun to get. Maybe it makes the puzzle a little easier. It definitely made the theme answers easy to get, now that I think of it. I had a bit of trouble at first sorting out "NOW WH:EREW:E...," mostly because it looks like an *incomplete* phrase, not a doubled-back phrase (I thought maybe the answer veered off in some direction or other, but if I followed STEREO Down, that only took me to "NOW WHERE WERE O ..." so after that dead end, I remembered the musical meaning of the dots and saw what the answer was doing. A couple of times I still had trouble parsing the answers. I wrote in SIDESADDLE for the Lady Godiva one and then wondered how [Something well-placed?] could end in -SIG (it's -RIG because it's R:IDE:SADDLE, i.e. "ride sidesaddle"). The whole thing felt a little INERT to me, and the revealer was a giant let-down (just ... the word ... indicating ... what was obviously going on). But the puzzle sets out to do a thing and it does that thing, so there you go.

There were a bunch of (unintentionally?) paired answers that messed with my brainwaves. Having had KEW Gardens early in the puzzle meant that when I saw the word "Garden" at the beginning of the R:OMAT:OES clue, I kept seeing it as a noun, not an adjective, and so I was looking at first for a place, not a food. My knowledge of German things is apparently very shaky, because I faltered badly with GAUSS and then HESSE, despite having seen both before. And then there were the oil wells, the OIL RIG and the GUSHER. I probably wouldn't have had any trouble with OIL RIG if I hadn't had that whole aforementioned SIDESADDLE error. I guess the paired clues continue with that pair of famous mathematicians, NEWTON and GAUSS. So GAUSS is part of two pairs and an answer I didn't know and it sits at the very tip-top of the grid, so this is now The GAUSS Puzzle, nevermind that he has nothing to do with the theme. 

The hardest part of the puzzle, the one that took it out of the normal / Medium range a bit for me, was the NE, where UNDOSEND was an absolute ???? I didn't know you could actually undo a send, and so parsing that word was a nightmare, down (almost) to the last letter. And that trouble came on top of a brutal (if clever) clue for REMOTE (22A: It can be a show-stopper), which made that section hard to get into in the first place, and a clue on BIG TALK that I had seen before but completely forgot (12D: Rodomontade). I had the -ALK and thought "well, it's probably some kind of WALK." It really sounds like a WALK. Either a walk you do during some segment of some fancy dance, or a WALKway ... perhaps through a garden. "Have you seen Chester?" "Yes, I believe he's taking his morning constitutional on the rodomontade." "Did he have his top hat, monocle, and cane with him?" "Of course he did, he's not a barbarian! Do you think he'd risk causing a foofaraw on the rodomontade? I should think not!" I blame the word "promenade," at least a little, for my "rodomontade" = WALK confusion. 
Other things:
  • The ERMA in 60A: "Forever, ___" (1996 humor book) is ERMA Bombeck
  • ISOLDE is from Wagner's "Tristan und ISOLDE"
  • PUBS are [Round houses?] because you order rounds ... of drinks in them
  • An OIL RIG is "well-placed" because it's placed ... by a well (an oil well)
  • "THE NAME GAME" is ... well, if you don't know if, or if you do, it's a fine way to round out this write-up:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Old Toyota coupe / WED 1-26-22 / Sacred Indian plant also called the strangler fig / Minecraft block made from gunpowder and sand

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Constructor: Michael Schlossberg

Relative difficulty: Medium (only because of the made-up, completely improbable "message"; otherwise, Easy)

THEME: "CONGRATULATIONS / ON PASSING YOUR / EYE TEST" (17A / 28A / 47A: "a message suggested by this puzzle's circled letters") — circled squares contain and are arranged like the letters found on a standard eye exam chart. That's it, that's the theme.

Word of the Day: OLAF Scholz (5D: German chancellor Scholz) —
Olaf Scholz (German: [ˈoːlaf ˈʃɔlts] [...] ; born 14 June 1958) is a German politician serving as chancellor of Germany since 8 December 2021. A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), he previously served as Vice Chancellor of Germany under Angela Merkel and as Federal Minister of Finance from 2018 to 2021. He was also First Mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018 and deputy leader of the SPD from 2009 to 2019. Following the 2021 German federal election, Scholz's federal government is a traffic light coalition composed of his SPD, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't understand making a puzzle like this, mainly because once you conceive of making the eye chart pattern with the letters ... well, there's nowhere to go. You can't use wordplay to get to those letters—they don't function as letters, they spell nothing, they just sit in a fairly arbitrary (if widely standardized) pattern. So what you're left with is this completely absurd message that neither your optometrist nor the person working at the DMV nor anyone would ever say. At an actual eye exam, you don't "pass," so that's out. At the DMV they just make you read a line on the chart, and trust me, they are not so excited about it that they would bother to congratulate you. In any case, solving this puzzle doesn't feel like passing anything, let alone an EYE TEST. I didn't pass that. I just solved a puzzle and some of its letters happened to be arranged in the pattern of an EYE TEST, a pattern that helped me precisely zero because who the hell knows the letters of the EYE TEST chart after that top "E"?! Now, PASSING YOUR / EYE TEST / UNADORNED (as in "naked"), that, that would be something worthy of congratulations! [this is another way of saying putting a long non-theme Across answer directly under your final theme answer is really visually distracting; it overwhelms the shorter answer and takes some of the punch out of it. Better to turn UNADORNED into a 4 and a 4, with the central square made black—if the theme is everything (and in this case, sadly, it is) then design the grid in a way that really sets off the theme. UNADORNED visually smothers the "punchline" of the "message"]

[14A: Blend of black tea, honey, spices and milk]

The puzzle feels a little bit like it was designed for anyone old enough to have driven a PASEO (36A: Old Toyota coupe) or seen "Bedtime for BONZO" in the theater (27D: "Bedtime for ___"). Except for ALTPOP, it stays in pretty familiar, slightly olden crossword territory, though some of the cluing keeps us reasonably up to date: e.g. OLAF Scholz only just took office, and TOBY Keith is ... still alive, presumably. Speaking of OLAF, I made a specific note to remember that there was a new OLAF on the crossword clue horizon and I *still* forgot his name today. Or, rather, I thought, "well it can't be OLAF, that's a Scandinavian name..." Wrong. Well, right, it is a Norwegian name, but apparently it's a name in lots of countries, so ... welcome, New OLAF. I'm guessing you'll be with us for a Very long time. Aside from the hesitation around OLAF, the only other slower-downer I hit today was BANYAN TREE, and only because I figured I didn't know what it was (3D: Sacred Indian plant also called the strangler fig)—I thought "plant" was going to refer to some kind of herb or spice. I don't usually think of trees as plants, though, of course, they are. I left that side of the grid alone, but while I was solving the *other* side of the grid, some background program running in my brain went "psst, buddy—it's BANYAN TREE." And *that*, I've heard of. Seen BANYAN in crosswords. May actually have *learned* BANYAN from crosswords. After that, the only challenge was piecing together the ridiculous theme "message," and that was not, ultimately, that difficult. 

I realized I'm never going to like SPITS clued as a verb (25D: Barely rains). Give me the roasting sticks or give me ... well, nothing. Cluing it in reference to rain doesn't de-salivate the answer, so, no, pass. Not sure why the PROM QUEENS clue (11D: These women "rule" the dance) wasn't something more playful and question-marky like [Women who rule the dance floor?] (that way, the phrasing is more natural and there's no need for the glaring quotation marks around "rule") Also, I think a. increasingly you are seeing PROM QUEENS who are not women (nonbinary and genderfluid people have "won" these "titles" in recent years), and b. schools are starting to do away with the heterosexist king/queen paradigm entirely. Still, I think PROM QUEENS is a good answer. It's a bright, original phrase, and it brings much needed pop to this otherwise fairly plain grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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