62A What "should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy," per Noël Coward - THU 3-31-22 - Marginalia - chess:check::go:_____ - reader's jottings

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Constructor: OLIVER ROEDER

Relative difficulty: MEDIUM

THEME: MARGINALIA (letters are missing at the edges of the puzzle)

Word of the Day: DRY MARTINI (62A What "should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy," per Noël Coward) —
The martini is a cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. Over the years, the martini has become one of the best-known mixed alcoholic beverages. H. L. Mencken called the martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet," and E. B. White called it "the elixir of quietude". (wikipedia)
• • •
Greetings, CrossWorld - my name is Whit and I have the honor of stepping in to blog for Rex today. It's my second time here. I suppose this came about because I was tweeting about the first time I guest-blogged, way back in 2019. When I published that blog, my wife's uncle called her up - I don't think they had ever discussed crosswords or crossword blogs before - to ask if that was her husband writing for Rex Parker. Then, a few days later, I ran into someone who works with my wife, and he also asked if that was me. He said, rather dryly, "Was that you writing on Rex Parker? I don't care for him." A loyal readership, anyway you can get it.

(This is my dog. She's a good dog.)

I'm glad to be back. Let's get to the puzzle.

Theme answers:
  • ATED (1A Beat in chess - MATED)
  • HIMO (10A Classic Jumbotron Shout-out - HIMOM)
  • RTTEACHER (20A Educator in a Smock - ARTTEACHER)
  • MEDUS (22A Figure seen on Athena's shield - MEDUSA)
  • ACEHORSE (32A Thoroughbred, eg. - RACEHORSE)
  • PGATOU (36A FedEx Cup Organizer - PGATOUR)
  • OBLETS (46A Some drinking vessels - GOBLETS)
  • NOPARKIN (48A Kind of zone in a city - NOPARKING)
  • CEMAN (59A Profession in an O'Neill Title - ICEMAN)
  • DRYMARTIN (62A What "should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy," per Noël Coward - DRYMARTINI
  • ERDY (70A Geekish - NERDY)
  • EPSO (72A Big name in printers - EPSON)
This took me 18 minutes, give or take, which is on the high end of my stats for a Thursday. I confess that I don't care for this type of puzzle. The approach - slicing off those first and last letters for the theme answers - usually feels less like a feat and more like a trick. And I get kinda testy with crosswords when I know the answer but I can't make it fit. I like a clean solve, folks. But I will tip my hat, because there's more going on with those missing letters than I first realized. Each clue on the across is missing the same letter, and put together, those missing letters spell: M-A-R-G-I-N. Still a trick, but more on the clever side than I expected. And the theme answers themselves were all pretty good - I liked RACEHORSE and ARTTEACHER (I'm just writing out the actual word here, it looks silly otherwise.) I picked DRYMARTINI as the word of the day because I a) love martinis and b) love to see Coward get a shout-out in the crossword. I read Phillip Hoare's (HOAR - 14A Frost) biography a few years back and very much enjoyed it, though he only addresses the one thing everyone knows about Noël Coward - that funny little diacritic - very obliquely. And, like, that's half the reason you'd pick up that book to start, right? Tell me about how I can get one of those in my name! (Turns out he just decided to do it. Not much of a story.) 

(The man had style!)

Apart from the theme answers, though, answers were very short and kind of clunky. I liked IMAMS (40A Muslim leaders) - Ramadan starts tomorrow, Eid Mubarak - and ISLAS (18A Sorna y Nublar, en "Jurassic Park") because dinosaurs chomping on people is fun to think about, but other than that, the fill didn't have much kick. RATON (43A Get into trouble, in a way) is clunky. TOYOU (53A Two-word tribute) is clunky. CANI (69A "Pretty please?" is clunky. And the way the grid was laid out meant that everything felt tight.

Man, I think I'm kinda down on this puzzle.

But I'm not down on the blog! This was fun to write and it was fun to think about the puzzle this way. I hope Rex will have me back again.

  • 65A: Kid-lit character with a green suit and gold crown (BABAR) — Babar rules. Always happy to see Babar floating around the world. He lives in Celesteville, and his wife is named Celeste, so I like to imagine that there is a complicated matriarchal power structure in Elephantland and Babar is a puppet king.
  • 68A: Chess:check::go:____ (ATARI) — I did not know that was where the word Atari comes from. Apparently Go is one of the hardest games in the world to master. I know that I paid 99 cents for a phone app and then immediately gave up trying to learn.
  • 21D: Reader's jottings, e.g. (ANNOTATION) — I realize I haven't really talked about any of the downs, and I think that's because I mostly solved this on the across clues. There's some meat to the down answers and the puzzle can stretch its legs there. I might have been more pleased if I'd taken the all-downs approach.
  • 44D: Scan options for the claustrophobic (OPENMRIS) — Who isn't claustrophobic in an MRI machine? 
Signed, Whit Vann, Pretender to the Baronage of the Southwest Corner of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

[Do what no one else does and follow Whit on Twitter]


Hugo-winning Hothouse author Brian / WED 3-30-22 / Computer language that sounds like a literary intro / Philosopher Zeno's birthplace / Gotham City supervillain in a cryogenic suit / Old French coin / Sedative in a blow dart gun, informally / Houseplant that some think brings luck and prosperity

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Constructor: Jack Murtagh

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: PUNS — famous people whose first or last names end in -N are clued as if their first or last names actually ended "-IN'" (that's "I" "N" "apostrophe," as if the "G" were yokelishly dropped from an "-ING" ending"):

Theme answers:
  • HOLDIN' CAULFIELD (17A: Cradlin' a Salinger protagonist?)
  • KEVIN BAKIN' (21A: "Footloose" star cookin' a fresh batch of brownies?)
  • ABRAHAM LINKIN' (34A: The Great Emancipator sharin' URLs on his blog?)
  • OWIN' WILSON (51A: Bein' in debt to a "Wedding Crashers" co-star?)
  • ELIZABETH WARRIN' (57A: Massachusetts senator wagin' conflict?)
Word of the Day: Brian ALDISS (13D: Hugo-winning "Hothouse" author Brian) —

Brian Wilson Aldiss OBE (/ˈɔːldɪs/; 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017) was an English writer and anthology editor, best known for science fiction novels and short stories. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss, except for occasional pseudonyms during the mid-1960s.

Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss was a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society. He was (with Harry Harrison) co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. Aldiss was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2000 and inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. He received two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He wrote the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" (1969), the basis for the Stanley Kubrick-developed Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence(2001). Aldiss was associated with the British New Wave of science fiction. (wikipedia)

• • •

What is happening? Like, to crosswords, I mean. This week in particular, what in the world is happening. Yesterday's was a total nonentity (seriously, I'm sitting here now and cannot remember it ... I just remember the feeling that there was no there there). And now this. What is this? The PUNS are so basic and so corny. Soooo corny. And not clever either, just predictable as hell. Truly awful. This is the kind of theme idea you come up with and quickly discard because you realize (if you're self-aware) that only you and like a half a dozen other people are going to "like" these puns, and fewer than that are going to "like" finding them in their crossword. The clues are pure torture, honestly. I wouldn't even let my eyes read them fully after a while. I just glanced over the clue for the literal part and filled the puzzle in accordingly (you can see in one of the screenshots, below, that my brain wouldn't even let me do the dumb -IN' thing at times—I wrote in KEVIN BACON normally because ... my brain just refused to accept this torturous hickspeak pun stuff). The theme set is totally arbitrary. Where are the Karens and Darrens and Barons and Nixons etc.? Actually, don't answer, because even the perfect theme set (whatever that is) wouldn't have made this enjoyable. But it might've made it bearable. I can sometimes at least endure a theme that is well done but is just not to my taste. But this one is so corny that it definitely needed ... more. Not more PUNS, dear god. Just more coherence. More importantly, much much much more importantly, it needed better fill. This is the worst filled grid I've seen in a while. The warning alarms went off early, with INURN, and this time, the bells were Not Wrong. Just one wince-inducing answer after another, all the way down the grid:

That's not all of it, but it's a strong sample. And it's not like the baseline fill quality was high to begin with. I mean, lots of SACRAL ELEA SYSOP ... either "OK, that's kind of a word" or "oh, right, this answer again." I'm still reeling over GOTAC (oh, where have all the GOTADs gone? whither GOTANF?) and NTILE!? I mean, at least QTILE or ZTILE is trying to give you a letter you can have fun with (note: please don't put QTILE or ZTILE in puzzles, tho, please—better than NTILE isn't necessarily "good"). And then we get INURN (ugh) and INTER. Because arcane corpse-handling verbs are fun? And then an absolute juggernaut of ... texting initialisms? Right at the end, BTW, FWIW, IMO, bam bam bam, like a series of wet slaps at the end of an I Don't Know What, I've lost my capacity for metaphor. SAVE ME! For real. I'm clinging to MR. FREEZE the way you'd cling to a rock in a cold, roiling ocean, waiting for someone to rescue you. It's the only thing keeping me from going totally under. Hey look, capacity for metaphor is back. Thanks, MR. FREEZE! (32D: Gotham City supervillain in a cryogenic suit)

What else? It was easy, I'll give it that. I didn't have to spend too long inside it (though I do have to blog about it, so its briefness provides only so much solace). Ugh I just realized that SAVE ME crosses SPARE ME, GAH, are there other "VERB-ME"s lurking around this grid ... no, just a stray NOT I. I had "trouble" exactly once: when I misspelled ELIA and also couldn't readily come up with either VERB (23D: Crow, but not magpie) or TERM (31A: Sentence ... or something found in a sentence). I wanted something like BRAG for the crow/magpie clue, but was rewarded with the much more generic VERB. TERM was invisible only because I had that "I" in ELEA, I think. There were no other trouble spots in this grid. And now it's over. And I'm out. Hope you (and I) get something ... else, tomorrow. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Friend of Forman and Fez on That 70s Show / TUE 3-29-22 / Onetime movie studio rival of MGM / Rocky outcrops / Ancient statesman known as the Censor / Valuable violin informally

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Constructor: Jamey Smith

Relative difficulty: Easy (easiest Tuesday puzzle I've done in a long time, easier than most Mondays)

THEME: toponyms — specifically, toponyms that are also metonyms for industries:

Theme answers:
  • NASHVILLE (18A: "The country music industry")
  • K STREET (20A: "The lobbying industry")
  • SILICON VALLEY (26A: "The high-tech industry")
  • MADISON AVENUE (42A: "The advertising industry")
  • DETROIT (51A: "The automotive industry")
  • HOLLYWOOD (54A: "The film industry")
Word of the Day: toponym / metonym (see ... all the theme answers) —
toponymics, or toponomastics (from Ancient Greekτόπος / tópos, 'place', and ὄνομα / onoma, 'name') is the study of toponyms (proper names of places, also known as place name or geographic name), their origins and meanings, use and typology. Toponym is the general term for a proper name of any geographical feature, and full scope of the term also includes proper names of all cosmographical features.   
Metonymy (/mɛˈtɒnəmi/) is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. [...] A country's capital city or some location within the city is frequently used as a metonym for the country's government, such as Washington, D.C., in the United States; Ottawa in Canada; Tokyo in JapanNew Delhi in IndiaDowning Street or Whitehall in the United Kingdom; and the Kremlin in Russia. Similarly, other important places, such as Wall StreetMadison AvenueSilicon ValleyHollywoodVegas, and Detroit are commonly used to refer to the industries that are located there (financeadvertisinghigh technologyentertainmentgambling, and motor vehicles, respectively). Such usage may persist even when the industries in question have moved elsewhere, for example, Fleet Street continues to be used as a metonymy for the British national press, though many national publications are no longer headquartered on the street of that name. (emph. mine) (wikipedia)
• • •

There's not much to this. It's just a bunch of toponyms that stand for industries. That is literally all that it is. There are six such toponyms. . . and . . . ta da!? This is one of the thinnest themes in recent memory. It's a list. An arbitrary list. The only thing about it that's even slightly playful (i.e. puzzle-worthy) is the way the themers are clued—in quotation marks, as a way of indicating that this is how the industry is known colloquially. Otherwise, list of random toponyms. It's so easy, the solving experience doesn't even last long enough to be irritating. The puzzle feels like it's barely there at all. The very definition of a "placeholder" puzzle. "We gotta put something puzzle-shaped in this space ... so sure, this'll do, why not?" The puzzle doesn't even do you the courtesy of teaching you the word "toponym" (if you didn't already know it), or "metonym" for that matter. Also, 2/3 of its answers appear to have been lifted straight from the list of such answers in wikipedia (see above). We get KSTREET instead of WALLSTREET, but that's only for reasons of symmetry. Otherwise, the themer list is virtually identical. I don't know what there is to say about this theme. Here it is! I wish there were better news about the overall grid, but there's not, really. It's somewhat below-average fare, in large part because it's almost all 3s 4s and 5s. CANOODLE is a fun word (38D: Make out), but that funness isi offset by the much less fun DIETPLAN (4D: Nutritionist's offering), and nothing else in the grid really rises to the level of notice. There's just not a lot of substance, nothing to really engage your mind or satisfy your desire for wordplay or trickery or anything. This is a display-model puzzle. Like the books and stereo equipment in department store furniture displays which, on closer inspection, aren't really books or stereo equipment at all. They just look like those things from a distance.

[Lil Nas X, "Industry Baby"]

I don't expect much resistance from a Tuesday puzzle but with this one I got almost none. I had one moment of hesitation during the entire puzzle, when I couldn't figure out (for a couple seconds) what followed PET at 41D: Gag gift in a ventilated box (PET ROCK). I did not know PET ROCKs were "gag gifts." I thought they were things people knowingly bought for themselves (however ironically). "Gag gift" made me think something juvenile and gross like fake vomit or PET ... POOP. I don't know if I actually wrote PET POOP in or not ... probably not, I probably just waited for crosses to take care of it ... but I definitely thought PET POOP was the right answer for at least a moment or two ... so there's your solving highlight, folks: the incorrect answer, PET POOP. I'm off for some early-morning coffee + cat time. Enjoy your Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Compartmented Japanese lunch / MON 3-28-22 / Classification for the barely famous / Himalayan country that's home to the world's highest unclimbed mountain / Bluish gray hue

Monday, March 28, 2022

Constructor: Leslie Rogers

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (maybe the coded theme clues make it slightly harder than a typical Monday theme, but the rest of it felt easier than typical, actually)

THEME: take the punctuation (and symbols) literally — clues for theme answers are two-word phrases where the second word is clued normally but the first word is clued symbolically. So

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Q.U.E.U.E.S. = a word meaning LINES that has been DOTTED, thus DOTTED LINES
  • 27A: E+X+T+R+A+S = a word meaning BONUSES that has had "+" signs added to it, so I guess it's been "ADDED" (?), thus ADDED BONUSES
  • 44A: W/H/E/E/L/S = a word meaning TIRES that has been SLASHED, thus SLASHED TIRES
  • 58A: D-R-E-A-M-S = a word meaning HOPES that has been "DASHED", thus DASHED HOPES
Word of the Day: BHUTAN (42A: Himalayan country that's home to the world's highest unclimbed mountain) —

Bhutan (/bˈtɑːn/Dzongkhaའབྲུག་ཡུལ་romanizedDruk Yul [ʈuk̚˩.yː˩]), officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan (Dzongkhaའབྲུག་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་romanizedDruk Gyal Khap), is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas, located between China and India. Bhutan is known as "Druk Yul," or "Land of the Thunder Dragon". Nepal and Bangladesh are located near Bhutan but do not share a land border. The country has a population of over 754,000 and territory of 38,394 square kilometers (14,824 sq mi) which ranks 133rd in terms of land area and 160th in population. Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy with Vajrayana Buddhism as the state religion.

The subalpine Himalayan mountains in the north rise from the country's lush subtropical plains in the south. In the Bhutanese Himalayas, there are peaks higher than 7,000 meters (23,000 ft) above sea levelGangkhar Puensum is Bhutan's highest peak and was until recently the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The wildlife of Bhutan is notable for its diversity, including the Himalayan takin. The capital and largest city is Thimphu. (wikipedia)

• • •

This theme is very cute, although if you are forced to describe it concisely, you realized ... it's not so easy. Also, you realize that among the four themers, ADDED BONUSES is a real outlier. Add a dot, it's dotted; add a dash, it's dashed; add a slash, it's slashed; add a ... a ... plus sign? ... it's added. There's something so on-the-nose about dots and dashes and slashes, and thus so off about the "added" answer. You also can't say the clue word has been "added"—its letters appear to be "added" together, yes, but ... well, I guess you can say the letters in EXTRAS have been added ... I dunno. It just doesn't land like the others, even though the concept felt pretty transparent to me as I was solving. What bothered me about ADDED BONUSES had nothing to do with the theme concept and everything to do with the horridness of the phrase itself. Bonuses are, by definition, added, so ADDED BONUSES has an inherent redundancy that makes me wince as one might wince were one to hear fingernails scraped across a board of chalk (ask your parents). So ADDED BONUSES (ironically) had nothing to offer, but I still really like the core concept here. You don't usually see this kind of conceptual complexity in a Monday theme. And yet it still managed to be Monday-easy. Maybe more-than-Monday-easy. I see people already bragging like crazy on Twitter about their new Monday PRs (personal records). So, despite my balking at nearly everything about ADDED BONUSES, I found this one delightful and perfectly Monday-appropriate. 

The grid is also mercifully clean and surprisingly colorful. Big thumbs up for BENTO BOX and SAD TO SAY ... I really want CUSS WORD to be CURSE WORD, so I'm not loving that one as much as maybe I should, but it's at least trying to be interesting. I redid the whole middle of the grid just so I wouldn't have to look at DLIST, which is an answer I don't like and a concept I don't really believe in (what happened to the CLIST? Where is it? No one talks about this!?). But my grid redo was mostly a lateral move, so without digging in for longer than I care to, I can't fault this DLIST version of the grid too much. 

Can we talk for a second about "as" in crossword clues. When "as" follows a comma in a clue, it's most often introducing a qualifying phrase, and seems to be offering an example of an appropriate context for the pre-comma part of the clue—often an appropriate object for a verb. [Inflate, as a tire] could be PUMP UP, say. But in that case, it's at least possible to imagine that other things might also be "pumped up"—an ego, say. The "tire" is offered as a helpful, narrowing example, but not the only example. Cut to—22A: Share, as a Twitter post (RETWEET). There is literally no, none, zero other context in which "Share" = RETWEET. The "as" has a "for example" quality that is belied by the answer. There is only one context where [Share] = RETWEET—on Twitter. [Share on Twitter] is an honest clue. [Share, as a Twitter post] implies there is *any* other context in which [Share] can mean RETWEET. But there is no such context. Why does this bug me when there's no difficulty in getting the answer? I Don't Know, It Just Does. I hate the phoniness of the clue, kind of casually implying that "as a Twitter post" is just an offhand example when in fact it is the *only* example. Seems disingenuous and mildly fraudulent. Also, do you really think St. Nick calls his clothes a SANTA SUIT!? They're probably just ... clothes, to him. "OK, elves, Rudolph, just hang on, I gotta go get my Me Suit from the cleaners," what the hell? [Costume for a mall St. Nick], yes. But for St. Nick himself ... I just don't think that's what he'd call it. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


1990s-2000s Volkswagen seven-seater / SUN 3-27-22 / Bellini opera that takes place in Gaul / High-arcing shots, in basketball lingo / One-act Oscar Wilde play / Most massive dwarf planet in the solar system / Harp-shaped constellation / New York town that's home to Playland amusement park

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Constructor: August Lee-Kovach

Relative difficulty: Easy, mostly

THEME: KHUFU — circled squares form a pyramid shape that spells out "THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA"; then there's a lot of trivia related to that. Further, there is an isolated part of the grid within the "pyramid" (the KING'S CHAMBER) where we find KHUFU ... I have no idea who that is (see Word of the Day, below):

Theme answers:
  • SEVEN WONDERS / OF THE / ANCIENT WORLD (5D: With 51-Across and 15-Down, group in which [see circled letters] is the only one still largely intact)
  • LIMESTONE (41A: Approximately 5.5 million tons of it was used to build [see circled squares])
  • CHEOPS (10D: Greek name for this puzzle's enclosed answer)
  • KING'S CHAMBER (74D: With 101-Across, where this puzzle's enclosed answer is located)
  • THREE (79D: Number of 101-Acrosses in [see circled squares])
Word of the Day: KHUFU (121A in the grid pictured above) —

Khufu (/ˈkf/, full name Khnum Khufu /ˈknm ˈkf/, known to the ancient Greeks as ΧέοψKhéops, and the ancient Romans as CheopsOld Egyptianḫw.f-wjḪawyafwī pronounced [χawˈjafwij]) was an ancient Egyptian monarch who was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, in the first half of the Old Kingdom period (26th century BC). Khufu succeeded his father Sneferu as king. He is generally accepted as having commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but many other aspects of his reign are poorly documented.

The only completely preserved portrait of the king is a three-inch high ivory figurine found in a temple ruin of a later period at Abydos in 1903. All other reliefs and statues were found in fragments, and many buildings of Khufu are lost. Everything known about Khufu comes from inscriptions in his necropolis at Giza and later documents. For example, Khufu is the main character noted in the Westcar Papyrus from the 13th dynasty.

Most documents that mention king Khufu were written by ancient Egyptian and Greek historians around 300 BC. Khufu's obituary is presented there in a conflicting way: while the king enjoyed a long-lasting cultural heritage preservation during the period of the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom, the ancient historians ManethoDiodorus and Herodotus hand down a very negative depiction of Khufu's character. Thanks to these documents, an obscure and critical picture of Khufu's personality persists.

• • •

It's hard to explain how tedious I find puzzles like this. There's a visual gag, so we can admire the architecture of the thing, sure, but solving it was mostly a dry and dull and trivia-laden experience. It is interesting to learn who KHUFU is. I know CHEOPS, as that is what the ancient Romans (apparently) called him, but KHUFU? Is that name exceedingly well known? If so, dear lord why does it not appear in the grid way, way more often. A five-letter answer ending in "U"!? You'd think we'd've seen that a lot (lot) by now. Instead, KHUFU is literally making its NYTXW debut here, today. If the name had made earlier crossword appearances, as I'd expect a name of real historical import to do, then I'd've seen the name before, which, as far as I know, I haven't, or hadn't, until the exact moment of solving this puzzle. Which means KHUFU is just ... more trivia. I can do further research ... but again, at the solving level, even if I know KHUFU's name, the whole "discovery" experience is more of a slog than a revelation. Felt like I was building the damn pyramids instead of admiring them. Filling in squares (or circled squares) in a kind of paint-by-numbers / programmatic way until the whole thing was filled in. THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA, unlike KHUFU, is very familiar to me, and so filling in those squares was a cinch, even though I honestly didn't look to see what the letters were until late. I mostly just tried to solve this like a regular crossword, kind of a themeless. I could see it was about a pyramid and I just took the trivia answers as they came (was happy to remember CHEOPS, though to be honest I wrote in PELOPS in there at first...). Wrong -OPS. Anyway, I'm just never going to be a fan of the puzzle where I'm supposed to ooh and aah at the cleverness of the architecture, but where the pleasure of the solving experience itself seems not to have been given any consideration. Visual pyrotechnics are fine, but this is just a trivia test with two unusual visual elements; no wordplay, no actual trickery, no cleverness (beyond, again, the obvious cleverness of the visual design). Is ENCRYPT supposed to be a bonus theme answer, a kind of wink at the solver? (68A: Make secret, in a way). KHUFU is indeed ENCRYPTed, after all. If so, I think it's my favorite part of the whole puzzle. At least it shows a sense of humor.

I solved the puzzle using my Black Ink solving software, which warned me there would be visual elements that couldn't be reproduced, and suggested maybe I'd like to solve on the website itself. But the last time it gave me that warning was the magnet puzzle (from early last week), and I actually didn't end up liking having the "visual element" (in that case, a literal picture of a "magnet") presented for me. Would've been more fun / more of a challenge without it. So I thought I'd go ahead and solve in my software and just take my chances ... which was fine until the very end, when the only clue I had for KHUFU was 121A: This puzzle's subject. Me: "Uh ... CRYPT? MUMMY? How the hell should I know?!" So I had to go to the website after all, in the end, and there you got it completely spelled out for you, in a child's placement game sort of way: just transfer the letters from the numbered squares in the grid to their corresponding numbers in the KING'S CHAMBER, and you get K, H, U, F, U. No thought involved. Hardly a satisfying conclusion.

[This is the grid numeration as it appears in the newspaper]

There are some interesting non-theme answers in the grid. I especially liked THE BORG (I'm watching my way through "Star Trek: The Next Generation" at the moment) and HALF-READ (like half the books lying around my house at the moment) and WEE BIT, which is charmingly rather than irksomely quaint (58D: Tad). Weird that GERI and GERRY are both in this grid. Not offensive weird, just oddly coincidental weird. Not many trouble areas in the grid today. The EUROVAN (?) GROCERY TRACT area was a bit tough, but starting the puzzle is often the toughest part, so that's not too weird. Other than that, I think I was slowest in and around the KING'S part of KING'S / CHAMBER. Didn't know KING'S, and then the Oscar Wilde play ("SALÔME") took a while to see (100A: One-act Oscar Wilde play), and also I wrote in MUJERES instead of SEÑORAS, which is several levels of bizarre, the first level being that "Mujeres" is actually in the clue (!)  (66D: Mujeres con esposos) (and yes, I did also consider ESPOSAS, thanks for asking). But all other mistakes I made were trivial. FAVA for SOYA, that kind of thing (106A: ___ bean). Quickly fixed, insignificant. The grid is really quite clean, especially considering the demands placed upon it by the complicated architecture. It's also reasonably interesting. Not scintillating, but by no means dull. 

There's not much that needs explaining. I don't think I get the phrasing on the clue for SAP (87A: Frequent victim of an April fool). I thought the SAP was the "April fool." Is "fool" supposed to be a synonym for "trick" or "prank" here? Because the pranker can't possibly be the "fool." Whatever—the clue would make more sense if it were longer: [Frequent victim of an April Fools' joke], something like that. Not that anyone is going to stumble on that. I just like clear, precise phrasing is all. I don't know why a horse should be voting ... I mean, I get the "neigh" / NAY thing, but it's a very weird premise for a "?" clue (63A: Opposing vote from a horse?). Usually "?" have plays on words, but this one's just like "hay ... what if horses voted, what would that be like?" Weird. I think that's it. Hope you enjoyed this more than I did. Happy KHUFU to you. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Alpine folk dress / SAT 3-26-22 / Ostinato provider in Ravel's Bolero / Sight from Maui's west shore / Classic song with the line Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci And lots of wavy hair like Liberace / Repeated voice role for Steve Carell / Horizontal group hug session

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Constructor: Ashton Anderson and James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Charles ALSTON (38D: Charles ___, artist whose bust of M.L.K., Jr. was the first ) —
Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907 – April 27, 1977) was an American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Alston designed and painted murals at the Harlem Hospital and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. In 1990, Alston's bust of Martin Luther King Jr. became the first image of an African American displayed at the White House. (wikipedia)
• • •

The stuff that was supposed to be sassy and flashy just missed me, for the most part. Like, "LATER, MAN" and "REAL ORIGINAL!" both felt ... I mean, they're real expressions, but they just seem a little arbitrary. "LATER, ___" ... MAN, sure, but DUDE, BRO ... GATOR? They all work fine. I don't hate these answers, by any means, but my reaction wasn't "wow, cool." It was more, "yeah, sure, OK." Ideally, you're slangy stuff hits harder than "yeah, sure, OK." I think "CAN I GET AN 'AMEN'!?" is rock solid, the strongest thing in the grid, and therefore perfectly placed in the marquee central position (32A: "Who's with me?"). I really think the clue should have an "!" as well as an "?" since it is a very enthusiastic, rousing question, one that I think of as being shouted or otherwise exclaimed with a loud voice. But still, great answer, nicely placed. I'm also a fan of "SAY NO MORE..." (a perfect little colloquial phrase, first seen last year in a puzzle by, surprise, Nam Jin Yoon, my fav themeless constructor ... or one of them, anyway). I laugh now when I see "MR. SANDMAN" because it appeared in the NYTXW not too long ago and someone, I forget who, one of my readers, I think, told me that they failed to parse the answer correctly and ended up wondering who MRS. ANDMAN was. Oh, yeah, that was the puzzle that had MRS. MAISEL in the symmetrical position (to "MR. SANDMAN"). So that answer amused me. But two other answers did the opposite of amuse me. I find the very idea of a CUDDLE PUDDLE ... I'll try to be tactful and say "off-putting" (34A: Horizontal group hug session). The concept, the cutesy, moist words, just ... yeah, off-putting. And especially off-putting when crossed with the tonally different yet even more off-putting LEPER, which is not a word I would put in any puzzle if I could help it. I had LONER there at first and was very happy with that answer. But the long Acrosses weren't working so I had to pull it and quickly realized it would be LEPER. I'm making a face even as I type LEPER. You can't see it, but you can imagine. I'm also kind of making the face at RES., which I don't think I fully understand. Are "some telephone nos." ... REServed? Ooh, RESidential? That's it, isn't it? Oof. OK. Maybe I'm not going to like RES under any circumstances, then. But I wouldn't have given a thought to so small an answer if it weren't mired in the LEPER CUDDLE PUDDLE (see!? ... off-putting). 

I was lucky to know NONPAREIL and DIRNDL and FIFA, all of which really helped me open up the grid. I did not know ALSTON, even though I feel sure I've heard of him before. His crosses were all fair, though STA. didn't mean anything to me (49A: Bank in London, for example: Abbr.). I'm guessing there's a Bank ... Station? And I'm guessing it's in London. I'm guessing it's a train ... station. Ah, looks like light rail and Underground. Even though I've never heard of Bank STA., there was nothing else that "S" could really be, so that's a fair cross for ALSTON. Also didn't know ILYA—had both IVAN and IGOR in there at some point (47D: Slavic form of Elijah). Hardest thing in the grid for me was probably ASNAP, just because I never expect the "A" (53A: Child's play). Had "LIES!" before "LIAR!" but that seems a perfectly reasonable "error," and it didn't hold me back for more than a few seconds or so. I need ("need") to go watch "All That Jazz" now. Because, well, it's on, and the mere fact of on-ness adds an artificial sense of urgency to which I am succumbing. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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