31-syllable Japanese poem / SAT 4-30-22 / 1977 Sex Pistols song written after a record-contract termination / Delectable made with grass / Olds that was once in the news / Claudio or Gio father and son players for the US men's national soccer team / String of typographical symbols, like @%$&!, to represent an obscenity

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TANKA (25A: 31-syllable Japanese poem) —
Tanka (短歌, "short poem") is a genre of classical Japanese poetry and one of the major genres of Japanese literature. // Originally, in the time of the Man'yōshū (latter half of the eighth century AD), the term tanka was used to distinguish "short poems" from the longer chōka (長歌, "long poems"). In the ninth and tenth centuries, however, notably with the compilation of the Kokinshū, the short poem became the dominant form of poetry in Japan, and the originally general word waka became the standard name for this form. Japanese poet and critic Masaoka Shiki revived the term tanka in the early twentieth century for his statement that waka should be renewed and modernized. Haiku is also a term of his invention, used for his revision of standalone hokku, with the same idea. // Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of on (often treated as, roughly, the number of syllables per unit or line):

The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (上の句, "upper phrase"), and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (下の句, "lower phrase").

• • •

This was a weird and often unpleasant puzzle. It's got a few surprising bright spots, but mostly it was just hard, and hard for the wrong reasons. The longer answers, the grid-spanning 15s that cross the grid three times, were all a cinch. Just needed a few crosses to get the top and the bottom ones, and wouldn't have needed any to get the middle one: GAME SHOW NETWORK (36A: Its slogan "Get Smarter Now" matches its initials). Those 15s are all good answers, and they make a nice trellis to hang the rest of the grid on ... but the trellis was too often ratty, and what made the solving experience dreary was that the difficulty didn't come with any payoff because it all came around short, gunky stuff. I spent most of my time in two very small areas, unable to come up with 3-, 4-, and 5-letter answers because a. names, of course, or b. deliberately tenuous cluing, but again the real problem wasn't just the difficulty (it's Saturday, after all), it's that when I overcame the difficulty, I was rewarded with ... AVI? The bird prefix? And ACTII? Oof. There was no "ooh" or "aha," just "ugh, well at least that's over." So while there are some definite high points to the grid, it mostly seemed crosswordesey (ABET ERNST STENO the unwelcome return of ALERO etc.), and hard in all the wrong places, for all the wrong reasons. So I'm left not thinking "wow, GRAWLIX, that was cool!" but instead "how ... is OVER ... [During]? ... oh ... like, 'OVER the weekend,' 'OVER Christmas break,' that kind of [During]? ... [sigh], OK." 

It also seemed kinda oldish. The STENO ALERO SKAT-type short stuff was a big part of that, but very few of the longer answers seemed of-this-century either. The GAME SHOW NETWORK is built on nostalgia for the mid-late 20th century. POT BROWNIEs still exist, I assume, but I associate them with a similarly bygone era, for sure (8D: Delectable made with grass). Very 70s / 80s. The cultural center of gravity here is somewhere around when the Sex Pistols were popular. Or when "ALFIE" was popular. ALFIE is my cat's name, so I love ALFIE, but you get my point—the puzzle seemed like it was for someone sitting around eating POT BROWNIEs and watching OATERS on late-night TV. But the retro vibe isn't a problem, exactly, and I might not even have noticed it if the short fill had been stronger, and I might not even have noticed that the short fill wasn't that strong if I hadn't been forced to spend so much time with it. As I said, the bulk of my time was spent trying to figure out tiny sections that ended up containing precisely zero in the way of satisfying payoff. The first such section was the very first section, right at 1A: Certain archaeological site (BOG). Of course I wrote in DIG. This is what I don't get: designing traps so that the solver will have to linger over gunky stuff like AVI- (14A: Flying start?). Anyway, BOG over AVI, just brutal, and much more brutal before I finally got GIVEN NAME, which ... I don't really see what that clue has to do with "Americans" (scores of other countries have first names as GIVEN NAMEs). That "Americans" just felt cheap. Could just as well have been "among the French" or something, what the hell? And of course GIVEN gave me the "G" which "confirmed" DIG, so I wrong in DING (DING!) for 1D: When doubled, attention-grabbing (BANG). I also had WENT DIM before GREW DIM at first, but that was one of the first things about the section I actually managed to fix (20A: Faded). When I finally put in BOG, I didn't feel a whoosh of success; I felt like I'd been conned.

The other small section to absolutely bring me to a halt was at the bottom of the grid. Speaking of last century ... BROWSER WAR? The first one? How many were there??? I lived through that period of tech history and yet had no idea, even with BROWSER in place, what might come after. BROWSER ... W- ... BROWSER WEB? Just no clue on those last three letters (eventually two letters), and unfortunately those letters went right into the very hardest part of the puzzle for me: some soccer name I've never heard of (in fact, a name I've never seen at all, in any context) underneath a [Musical segment] that looks technical and maybe Italian but ends up just being the dumb common answer ACT II. As with "Americans" and GIVEN NAME, here we have a seemingly narrow clue being used to define an exceedingly general thing. There are ACT IIs in lots of works. [Musical segment] is so vague it's stupid. You can't tell it's a stage musical (which is probably the point), but even then ... ugh. It's like having [Part of a 1995 Lamborghini Diablo] and having the answer be TIRE or AXLE. In that same section, I had ARCH before ARTY (53D: Affected), and it took me forever to understand what (or who) the "toaster" was in the STEIN clue (50D: A toaster might hold one) (toaster = one who gives a toast, so the STEIN is ... full of beer ... I guess). So what sticks with me about this puzzle is almost exclusively BOG/AVI and ACTII/REYNA—not the greatest aftertaste. It's not that I didn't know stuff that bothers me. I didn't know TANKA, and felt only too happy to learn about it. Why? Why did TANKA play sweet and REYNA sour? Because the puzzle didn't use TANKA to bog me down in a tiny corner of the puzzle. I got it as part of the puzzle flow. You solve, you hit difficulty, you work around it. Flow! BOG/AVI and ACTII/REYNA, by contrast, made me feel trapped and suffocated. Backed into an airless corner. It was like the puzzle wanted me to learn TANKA, but wanted to make it torture for me to even get close to REYNA.

JETÉ before LUTZ (10D: Leap with a twist) and GOING FAST before GOING ONCE (33D: About to be sold). The rest of the puzzle was (I'm recalling, as I look over it now) pretty decent. I really liked HARD PASS (4D: "That's a big 'no thanks'"). That and GRAWLIX are my favorite answers of the day (GRAWLIX is a debut) (23D: String of typographical symbols like @%$&!, to represent an obscenity). I think I might be an outlier, not only in my love for the word, but in my even knowing what the word means. I teach a course on Comics, so it's right in my wheelhouse, but it's a pretty technical term (or so I thought). I have no idea how well-known it is, generally. I remember being so happy to learn that there was even a term for the swearing symbols in comics! I later learned that expressive lines that emanate from a cartoon character (like wavy stink lines) are called EMANATA, and the "drops of sweat that spray outwards from a cartoon character under emotional distress" are called PLEWDS. I doubt you'll ever see either of those in the grid, but now you know.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Speaking of comics, I wish today's SOREL had been Edward SOREL (13D: Philosopher Georges). You've seen his work a lot, probably. Here's his cover for the 1966 Esquire that contained Gay Talese's famous essay, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold":

He's been astonishingly prolific, over a long career. Lots of political cartoons, lots of New Yorker covers. As for [Philosopher Georges] ... I got nothing. Apparently there is also a French historian named SORELAlbert SOREL. He was the preferred SOREL of the Maleskan era. I also see that there is apparently a Canadian city named SOREL—Maleska liked that clue too. But Maleska wasn't done there. He would like you to know that SOREL is also a type of cement (!?!?) and that Agnès SOREL was a "favorite of Charles VII" (whoever that is). The protagonist of Stendahl's Le Rouge et le Noir (1830) is named Julien SOREL. So those are some SOREL facts for you today. Since 1998, Shortz has made the cartoonist his go-to SOREL clue, but he also brought in today's "philosopher," Georges, and has kept him around as his secondary, tougher SOREL option. Wikipedia tells me that "Sorelianism [!!!] is considered to be a precursor to fascism," so that's fun. Basically I'm saying please give me cartoonists, every chance you get. Thank you.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chen member of the girl group S.H.E. / FRI 4-29-22 / Victor Nobel winner for discovery of cosmic rays / Rhetorical question of self-deprecation / Where Oliver Hazard Perry said We have met the enemy and they are ours / Eerie-sounding instruments that are played without physical contact / An infant's mind according to John Locke

Friday, April 29, 2022

Constructor: Erica Hsiung Wojcik

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: S.H.E. (44A: ___ Chen, member of the girl group S.H.E. => ELLA) —

S.H.E is a Taiwanese girl group whose members are Selina JenHebe Tien, and Ella Chen. They formed in 2001 and are managed by HIM International Music but decided not to renew their contract in 2019 due to having their own management company.

Since releasing their debut album Girls Dorm (2001), S.H.E has recorded 13 albums with sales totaling more than 10 million, and set ticketing records in each of their two concert tours. Widely regarded as the most successful and enduring Mandopop* group, S.H.E has also acted in seven drama series, hosted two variety shows, and contributed ten songs to six drama soundtracks.   

*Mandopop or Mandapop refers to Mandarin popular music. The genre has its origin in the jazz-influenced popular music of 1930s Shanghai known as Shidaiqu; with later influences coming from Japanese enka, Hong Kong's Cantopop, Taiwan's Hokkien pop, and in particular the Campus Song folk movement of the 1970s. 'Mandopop' may be used as a general term to describe popular songs performed in Mandarin. Though Mandopop predates Cantopop, the English term was coined around 1980 after "Cantopop" became a popular term for describing popular songs in Cantonese. "Mandopop" was used to describe Mandarin-language popular songs of that time, some of which were versions of Cantopop songs sung by the same singers with different lyrics to suit the different rhyme and tonal patterns of Mandarin. (wikipedia)
• • •

Is this a debut? The constructor's name isn't showing up in my NYTXW constructor database, but I know her work well (from other venues, apparently!). This is a sturdy grid, with mostly clean fill but perhaps not as much freshness and sass as I like to see on Fridays. The long answers aren't boring, but they're not particular exciting either, the exception being the top 2/3 of that center stack, and then The SHIRELLES, who excite *me*, at any rate, possibly because they were the one girl group in this puzzle that I knew! The other ... well, I don't know what the puzzle was doing there, exactly. I am fairly confident that the vast majority of NYTXW solvers won't know who ELLA Chen is, and that's just fine, but if you're going to introduce someone you know is going to be largely a mystery to the solving audience, at least serve up a clue that tells you ... something. Something specific and informative. Telling me she's part of the "girl group" S.H.E. only had me wondering "What ... is S.H.E.?" Now, because I have a blog and have to write about these puzzles, I looked all of this up. And it really seems like the clue buried the lede—they're a *Taiwanese* girl group whose fame is considerable but not primarily in the English-speaking world. The clue could've at least dropped "Taiwanese" or "C-Pop" or really anything that would help place the answer culturally / geographically. At least then I'd feel like I had context. "Girl group S.H.E." tells me nothing. For all I knew, ELLA Chen was from Brooklyn and S.H.E. was a rap trio. In the world of popular music, I know H.E.R. for sure, but I do not know S.H.E., which is funny, grammatically if not otherwise. The puzzle is already awash in little names, none of which is first-tier famous (HESS ALLEN RAMOS ADEN) (I knew GASOL, but I'll throw his name into the group too, since I know a lot of you didn't). The crosses are fair all around, but today the short names just feel like crosswordese that's being dressed up in somewhat obscure clothing. If the goal is to make new names stick, then the clues have to be better than the ELLA clue.

[lyrics by Gerry Goffin, music by Carole King! first song by a Black girl
group to reach no. 1 in the U.S.!]

But SOLO PARENTING and especially "WHO AM I KIDDING?" are winners, and yes, very very good instinct to put "WHO AM I KIDDING?" dead center, as it is the best thing in the grid, so you may as well shine a spotlight on it!  FLIRTATION / TEENAGERS is a cute pairing, but let's hope the FLIRTATION doesn't lead to an actual Romeo + Juliet situation. That would be, well, TRAGIC ... which both FLIRTATION and TEENAGERS cross! Nice (well, they cross TRAGICOMEDY, but let's just leave the -OMEDY out of this). Aside from the names, there wasn't too much difficulty today—I think this is another thing I didn't particularly love about the puzzle: difficulty coming from trivia and not (for the most part) from clever cluing. I gave Montreal a Côte Saint-LAC, which was dumb, if slightly comprehensible (had the "L" and the "C" and the clue seemed geographical, so I went with the lake and not the, uh, Saint). The THEREMINS clue has "Eerie" in it, which is fine, but ERIE is in the grid, and I definitely noticed the (aural) dupe. I learned the phrase "MAKIN' Whoopee" from "The Newlywed Game," though Bob Eubanks almost certain didn't drop the "g." Lastly, re: OHO!, I'll let this tweet speak for me ...
... though I'll defend OREO with my dying breath. Including OREO in that group is indeed SLANDEROUS. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Titular Disney protagonist of 1942 / THU 4-28-22 / Illinois city that was the first home of the Chicago Bears / Send beyond the baseline of a tennis court, say / Potato-stuffed pastries / Video game with rosebud cheat code that grants free money / Muppet whose self-identified species is Whatever

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Constructor: Pao Roy

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: 4-Down ... — in four long Down answers, the word "DOWN" is replaced with a DOWN-ward facing arrow, represented by an "I" over a "V" ... like so:

Theme answers:
  • [DOWN]WARD-FACING DOG (1D: Part of a sun salutation, in yoga)
  • GOT [DOWN] TO BUSINESS (4D: Cut the small talk)
  • TRICKLE-[DOWN] THEORY (7D: Concept in Reaganomics)
  • KEEPS ON THE [DOWN] LOW (10D: Handles discreetly)
Word of the Day: ANA Lily Amirpour (52D: Filmmaker ___ Lily Amirpour) —
Ana Lily Amirpour (Persianآنا لیلی امیرپور) is an English-born American film director, screenwriter, producer and actress. She is best known for her feature film debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, self-described as "the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western" that made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and which was based on a previous short film that she wrote and directed, which won Best Short Film at the 2012 Noor Iranian Film Festival. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ironic that I ended on ICK because I really liked this puzzle a lot. I like the weird way it unfolded. I was able to make significant progress even without seeing the theme, and then I hit a patch that made me go "whaaaaat?" It was like digging a tunnel and expecting eventually to come to the end but then on the way running into an alien skeleton. What ... is ... this? In this case, "this" was the "IV" above "LOW" in an answer I knew had to be about keeping something on the DOWN LOW. But DOWN wouldn't fit. And what the hell is with the "V" ... can that answer be anything but VIE? (50A: Struggle). The reason this was all so puzzling is that I had made it halfway through the damn puzzle with no obvious sign of a theme and no major trouble, so I thought I'd just fill in some normal-ish-looking answers and then find the connection at the end, or maybe ... my puzzle would do some kind of Thursday trick at the end, like, I don't know, levitate or start spinning in circles or change colors or something. How was I able to get halfway through this damn thing without any idea about the theme? Well, it all comes back to yoga.

Even if you have never practiced yoga in your life, you are likely familiar with the pose called "downward-facing dog" (or "down dog" or "dog pose") (in Sanskrit, "adho mukha svanasana"). Palms on floor, feet on floor, ass in the air, roughly.

And yes, downward-facing dog is part of a sun salutation. But you know what else is part of a sun salutation? Well, yeah, you probably do by now, if you looked at the partially-filled grid I just posted: it's UPWARD-FACING DOG. And UPWARD-FACING DOG fit! So I didn't blink. I just kept right on going down into the SW and counterclockwise around the grid until I ended up running into IVLOW (!?). Then I thought, "wait, what's the theme?" Then I looked at UPWARD-FACING DOG and thought, "OK, that's UP, this is ... DOWN ... somehow ... ooh, it's a DOWN arrow, so UP must actually be an UP arrow!" So I tried that, and that didn't work, and only *then* did I remember "oh yeah, DOWNWARD-FACING DOG is also available." The other two DOWN-arrow answers came pretty swiftly. The theme is simple and elegant and clever and because of the path I took to discovering it, it was genuinely surprising as well. No complaints.

I struggled very badly up front, and in retrospect it's at least a little clear why (the very first Across and Downs are "IV"-impacted). The worst mistake I made was non-theme-related: SEA / NERVE instead of ERS / VALOR. I did think "well that's a weird way to clue SEA ... why would you use the abbr. for "Seattle" when the ordinary word SEA is available?" Yes, why would you? I also had a catastrophic double-error along the west coast, as my dog with ARF (not GRR) and my "attachments" were IDOS, not PDFS (28A: Many attachments). Somehow I knew DECATUR, or could piece it together easily, and that helped me work my way out of that west coast mess. Outside of my initial encounter with the "IV" gimmick, nothing else in the grid gave me real trouble.

  • 33A: Enlightenment, in Buddhism (BODHI) — I know this from knowing something about Buddhism but I *know* it know it because I just watched "Point Break" (1991) for the first time, and the surfer / bank robber / life coach / gang leader played by Patrick Swayze in that movie is named BODHI
  • 41D: Muppet whose self-identified species is "Whatever" (GONZO) — I would've said ANIMAL, but there weren't enough letters. I like this clue. I like remembering the Muppets.
  • 49D: 46-Down, in French (SEPT) — I had the final "T," looked over at 46-Down, saw it had five letters, and figured, "ah, the old ETAT / STATE pairing. Classic! But ... how is Nitrogen a STATE? Oh well, your chemistry knowledge sucks, just trust the puzzle. Nitrogen STATE!"
  • 19A: Hosp. hookups (IVS) — OK, I do have one complaint about the theme, or related to the theme, and it's that this answer really has no place in the grid. You can't (shouldn't) use "IV" to represent DOWN and then also have standalone "IVS" in the grid. It's ... distracting. It evokes the theme, but it's not part of the theme, and it's not in a theme position. Better to scrap it. But this is an exceedingly minor point. An aesthetic blemish of small proportions. If "DOWN" had been in one of the Across answers, I'd've barked (ARF! I mean GRR!) about that too. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Thrill-seeker's acronymic motto / WED 4-27-22 / One inclined to go in and out / County north of Firth of Forth / It may lead to a no catch ruling / Big retailer in camping gear / Tuft & Needle competitor / Hairstyle that sounds edible

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Constructor: Alex Bajcz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: PINBALL — theme answers contain words associated with pinball, circled squares contain letters that spell pinball and (I guess) trace a theoretical pinball trajectory:

Theme answers:
  • COMBO MEALS (18A: Deals with fries and a beverage)
  • INSTANT REPLAY (23A: It may lead to a "no catch" ruling)
  • TILT AT WINDMILLS (36A: Fight a needless fight, metaphorically)
  • BURGER FLIPPER (44A: One with a quintessential McJob)
  • BUMPER CROP (53A: Extra-bountiful harvest)
Word of the Day: BEBE Rexha (57A: Singer Rexha) —

Bleta Rexha (Albanian pronunciation: [ˈblɛta ˈɾɛdʒa]; born August 30, 1989), known professionally as Bebe Rexha (/ˈbbi ˈrɛksə/ BEE-bee REK-sə), is an American singer and songwriter. After signing with Warner Records in 2013, Rexha received songwriting credits on Eminem's single "The Monster" (which later received the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Performance) and has also contributed songwriting to songs recorded by ShineeSelena Gomez, and Nick Jonas. Rexha released her debut extended play in 2015, I Don't Wanna Grow Up, which saw the moderate commercial success of the singles "I Can't Stop Drinking About You" and "I'm Gonna Show You Crazy".

[...] Rexha has also seen success with several collaborations including "Hey Mama" with David GuettaNicki Minaj and Afrojack, "Me, Myself & I" with G-Eazy, "In the Name of Love" with Martin Garrix, and "Meant to Be" with Florida Georgia Line, the latter of which had large success as a country crossover single, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. Rexha's debut studio album, Expectations (2018), reached number 13 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States and saw the success of its lead single, "I'm a Mess", and brought Rexha two nominations for Best New Artist and Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 61st Grammy Awards. Rexha released her second studio album, Better Mistakes, in 2021. (wikipedia)

• • •

Did the newspaper version have "Notes?" My puzzle popped a message up when I opened it, telling me that the circled letters would reveal a hint, but why? That's some remedial nonsense. It's obvious, once you're done, that those letters spell "PINBALL," and once you see that, you can make sense of what the theme answers have in common. Shoving the explanation in my face is the worst kind of dumbing down. Let People Figure Sh*t Out. It's part of how people get good at crosswords, part of how they learn to decipher patterns, find rebuses, etc. Stop the spoon-feeding, especially when (as with today) it's completely unnecessary. Condescending. The problem with the puzzle, though, isn't the notes—the notes are an editorial decision. Rather, the problem with the puzzle is that conceptually it makes very little sense. The circled squares are completely unevocative. They don't read like a pinball trajectory, they read like a wonky rectangle. If you had two FLIPPERs, maybe, and had them on the diagonal, you might be getting somewhere. A Sunday-sized puzzle might be a good place to work out a plausible pinball machine surface. Here, it doesn't even look like the "PINBALL" path is planned. It looks like an afterthought. You can find a very different, equally plausible "PINBALL" letter path in this grid if you really want to. Try it! You'll see. I don't know what a "COMBO" is (in pinball), but that's my problem. The weak execution of the theme? That is very much the puzzle's problem.

Got slowed down a few times by tricky clues, and by my own faulty processing skills. Couldn't make any sense of 1A: One inclined to go in and out (RAMP) until I had almost all the crosses. It's a freeway on / off ramp clue, very literal, very misdirective. I also needed every single cross for LACING (5D: Pretty trim). Had LA-ING and still no idea. Further, couldn't make sense of 23A: It may lead to a "no catch" ruling (INSTANT REPLAY) because there was no context. I guess "catch" was the context, or maybe "ruling," but I had INSTANT and still was lost. I thought maybe "no catch" had something to do with ... fishing? But again, working the crosses yielded results. Things smoothed out after that, though our two-car garage growing up did not have BAYS, unless that is just a word for "empty space where a car will fit." There was no demarcation, no boundaries, nothing separating one car spot from another car spot. The only answer that made actual sense for this clue was CARS, but that couldn't be the answer, for obvious reasons (56A: Two in a two-car garage). Again, with BAYS, as with aforementioned answers in this paragraph, I had all but one of the letters and still no clue. And again, crosses bailed me out. Nothing else in the puzzle presented much difficulty. 

Cringed at BURGER FLIPPER, which has such a sneering, classist ring to it, especially as clued (44A: One with a quintessential McJob). Not here for the largely white upper-middle-class "cultured" audience of the NYTXW looking down on "McJobs" (have never, ever liked that term in my puzzle, in any form). Nobody uses the term BURGER FLIPPER who is not in some way trying to denigrate the position of a fast-food worker. Tone matters, and the tone here sucks. Low point for fill was ASAMI x/w SUER. The former is always wretched (as is its counterpart ASDOI, and its other counterparts, SODOI and SOAMI, ugh, the lot of them can jump in the sea). SUER ... just looks dumb. Luckily, there wasn't much wretchedness in the rest of the grid. Except for CXX, whose idea was that? (55D: Roman numeral equal to 12% of M).  That's the kind of crap you pull when you *need* those "X"s for some theme gimmick. But here ... there is no need. If your consecutive "X" plan involves a RRN (random Roman numeral), abort that plan. Please. Just fill the grid nicely. Spare me the Roman math. Thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Self-confidence / TUES 4-26-22 / "The People's Princess" / Pro golfer Calvin / Freshwater fish with a colorful name / Heavy hardcovers

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday of April. Hope everyone had a good month; I’ve been enjoying the nice weather and have been biking some more. But, now that I work a 9-5 job, I go for a ride when everyone else is out and about, and I don’t like having to dodge people or other bikers!! I recently tried rock climbing for the first time, which was quite fun (though my forearms got so sore). As always, I’ve been rooting on my teams — Liverpool is on quite a run (if only Man City would go away), and the Warriors are up in the playoffs. So, I’ve got hope! 

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Simon Marotte

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy
THEME: ROCK BOTTOM (11D: All-time low ... or a musical hint to the answers to this puzzle's starred clues) — The second/bottom word of each theme answer is the name of a famous rock band

Theme answers:
  • DRAG QUEEN (5D: *Trixie Mattel, e.g.) 
  • AIR KISS (25D: *Contact-free smooch) 
  • CANDY HEART (28D: *Seasonal confection that may say "I Luv U") 
  • SUGAR RUSH (36D: *Sensation after consuming too many Pixy Stix, perhaps)
Word of the Day: MOTET (23D: Sacred choral work) —

In Western classical music, a motet is mainly a vocal musical composition, of highly diverse form and style, from high medieval music to the present. The motet was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music. According to Margaret Bent, "a piece of music in several parts with words" is as precise a definition of the motet as will serve from the 13th to the late 16th century and beyond. (Wiki)

• • •
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Tuesday puzzle where the themers are the downs instead of the acrosses — I liked the change-up. The way I did the puzzle, I figured out the revealer (ROCK BOTTOM) before getting any of the theme answers; then, I found each of the theme answers to be fairly obvious just from the clues. This is a puzzle where I didn’t look back at the theme until after I’d finished solving. 

The theme was fine, maybe even a bit on the good side. In a puzzle like this, you might’ve expected the revealer to be at 38A, which is smack dab in the center of the puzzle. But the revealer obviously wouldn’t work there, and it fit the theme to have it running down. I’d never heard of RUSH, but I see they’re a successful rock band and will have to look up some of their music. 

In general, my solve felt a bit passive. Like, there wasn’t much that really jumped out to me about the puzzle — either good or bad. I will say I think I enjoyed this puzzle more than I have a Tuesday in a while just because I personally found it easier. So, even if the puzzle was meh, I’m looking back at it with a bit of a rosy tint. 

I liked LIBRA (26D: Fair and balanced type, astrologically) and ARIES (27D: Strong and resilient type, astrologically) grouped together in the puzzle. There was also some symmetry with MOTET (23D: Sacred choral work) and HYMNS (33D: Songs that might be accompanied by an organ), which I thought worked. And, possibly some intentional symmetry with ACH (7D: German interjection) being in the same column as CRY (60D: "___ me a river!"), as ACH is a form of German cry (i.e. an exclamation). APLOMB (25A) is a great word. I like seeing Calvin PEETE (51D) in the puzzle — he was quite the golfer and a real pioneer. I liked the kitschy clue for ROBE (16A: Judicial cover-up?). NEST EGG, REMAKES, SEESAWS, and AREA RUG all seem like inoffensive longer acrosses. 

I always thought “bro hug” was a more common term than MAN HUG (18A: Bro’s embrace)? I might be mistaken. I really didn’t like the clue for TOOTH (31A: Filling station?) — since when is a tooth a station?? My hardest section of the puzzle was the eastern middle, mostly because it took a while to get TOOTH, and then I didn’t know MOTET. SLURPS (8D: Impolite sounds from the dinner table) may be impolite in the U.S., but they can actually be a sign of respect/enjoying the meal in other cultures.

  • I know it’s a different context, but I find it amusing that the NETS (65A) just got swept in the playoffs. This might be coming from a slightly bitter Warriors fan who doesn’t mind if Kevin Durant doesn’t look good — or Kyrie Irving, for that matter. 
  • PENS (31D) being White House souvenirs reminded me of something I just read today about how the White House is in need of new glassware because people keep taking their glasses home. 
  • Whenever I see “DREAM ON” (10D), I immediately get the iconic Aerosmith song in my head and start trying to sing the bridge. Problem is, I’m not Steven Tyler and couldn’t even hit those notes in my own dreams. 
  • One of the unintended consequences of studying for the bar exam is that I engrained a lot of miscellaneous elements in my head and, particularly, elements of criminal law. So as soon as I see ARSONS (46D: Fire felonies), the common law definition of arson immediately jumps into my brain, and I start reciting it. (For those who want to know, it’s: The malicious burning of the dwelling of another. So, under common law, if someone burned down a warehouse that wasn’t someone’s dwelling, it wasn’t considered arson.)
Signed, Clare Carroll, ESQ.

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One making a listing on Airbnb / MON 4-25-22 / Cartoon films like Spirited Away and Ninja Scroll / Mom to Jaden and Willow Smith / Military leader who lends his name to a Chinese dish

Monday, April 25, 2022

Constructor: Li Ding

Relative difficulty: Easy (apparently ...)

THEME: FOOD FIGHT (36A: Type of battle that 17-, 26-/49- and 60-Across might be engaged in?) — theme answers are FOOD-associated figured with military (i.e. "FIGHTin'") ranks in their names:

Theme answers:
  • GENERAL TSO (17A: Military leader who lends his name to a Chinese dish)
  • COLONEL / SANDERS (26A: With 49-Across, the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken)
  • CAP'N CRUNCH (60A: Cereal mascot in a naval uniform)
Word of the Day: Lucretia MOTT (7D: Abolitionist Lucretia) —

Lucretia Mott (née Coffin; January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was an American Quakerabolitionistwomen's rights activist, and social reformer. She had formed the idea of reforming the position of women in society when she was amongst the women excluded from the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London in 1840. In 1848 she was invited by Jane Hunt to a meeting that led to the first public gathering about women's rights, the Seneca Falls Convention, during which Mott co-wrote the Declaration of Sentiments.

Her speaking abilities made her an important abolitionist, feminist, and reformer; she had been a Quaker preacher early in her adulthood. When the United States outlawed slavery in 1865, she advocated giving former slaves, both male and female, the right to vote (suffrage). She remained a central figure in reform movements until her death in 1880. The area around her long-time residence in Cheltenham Township is now known as La Mott, in her honor. (wikipedia)

• • •

I don't speed-solve any more. That is, I don't try to go as fast as I can. I don't time myself at all. I solve pretty fast because I have a lot of experience, but my days of clock-watching are pretty much over. I found it was inhibiting my enjoyment of the puzzle's, uh, let's say finer features (on days when it actually had them). But I understand the race and the rush, the obsession with personal records for each day of the week, etc. This is all to say that Paolo Pasco just posted his solving time for this puzzle, and it was 53 seconds, so chew on that for a while, won't you? 

That is the fastest time I've ever seen posted on a NYTXW. Ever. I'm not saying it's a record, because I don't know if there's any way to know, really and truly, but if it's not ... I don't know. There are only a handful of people on earth who can even break two minutes, and only a very very small handful who can even flirt with the one-minute mark. Now, under tournament conditions, you'd have to solve on paper, and breaking one would be well nigh impossible, but that's what they said about two minutes under tournament conditions, and that has now been done, so I don't know man. I just marvel at the greatness, to be honest. And the keyboard skills, my god, don't sleep on those. They have to be perfect for you to come anywhere near one minute. My fat fingers and dull brain only ever got to the low 2:20s on a NYTXW puzzle. I broke four minutes on paper under tournament conditions precisely once. And I am, ahem, a very good solver. So kudos (plural) to Paolo, and my condolences to his aspiring rivals in the speed game.

As for this puzzle: yeah, OK, this will do nicely. The theme is narrowly defined and consistent and kinda funny, insofar as the idea of CAP'N CRUNCH waging war with COLONEL / SANDERS makes me laugh (team CAP'N, for sure). The revealer is a clever way to bring the whole thing together. Not sure what else to say. I tried to think of military ranks that the theme left out and I just can't do it right now, off the top of my head. Are there privates or admirals or corporals or majors who have given their names to foods? You'll let me know. Very lucky that these military foodies happen to fit snugly and symmetrically in the grid. Nice find. 

The fill holds up well. I really thought the puzzle might play slow because of all the long Downs in the corners, but because they were clued very easily, I think those long Downs only made the puzzle play faster. You can knock out lots of territory very, very quickly by working the Downs, bam bam bam (bam) in those corners. My only hesitation came when I came up blank on my first pass at NAIVETÉ (12D: Gullibility based on inexperience). I had the -ETE and with no way to know that it was an -ETÉ and not an "-eet" pronunciation, I had to reach up into the short Acrosses in that NE section to get some help. I also balked slightly at SLUSHY (22D: Like winter roads during a thaw) (I think SLEETY came to mind first), and I definitely had SNIT before SNOT (a word I would not put in a puzzle for any reason ever, gross) (56D: Annoying little squirt). 

  • 51A: Work in clay or marble (SCULPT) — that's twice in two days for this not-terribly-common word. Weird coincidence. There was a period of about 13 years where SCULPT didn't appear even once (2008-21).
  • 42A: Humble reply to "Nice job!" ("I TRY") — once again I am asking you to stop pretending that this comment is actually "humble." The normal response to "Nice job!" is "Thanks." "I TRY" is some passive-aggressive self-martyring / self-aggrandizing. Stop.
  • 41D: Nickname for Las Vegas (SIN CITY) — also the actual name for a multi-volume Frank Miller comic (and subsequent movie franchise)
  • 57A: Really bothered (A TEAT) — I just wanted to write A TEAT, because that is how my brain parses it when I see it in the grid, and if I have to see it, so do you. That's how it works!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Aphid that produces honeydew / SUN 4-24-22 / Brother in the Lemony Snicket books / Jokey remark after missing a modern reference / Male voter stereotype starting in the mid-2010s / King of the gods in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen / Hindi name for India / Old english folklore figure / The Hangover character who wakes up with a missing tooth

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Magazine Racket" — from what I can tell, familiar phrases have "ET" added to their ends (or almost-ends), creating wacky phrases, which are clued wackily (i.e. "?"-style) ... I want to believe there is something else going on here, something that I'm missing, but I just don't see it. I think this is all there is:

Theme answers:
  • APPLE JACKET (23A: Bit of company swag for a Genius Bar?)
  • WHAT MAKES / YOU TICKET? (25A: With 114-Across, exasperated question to parking enforcement?)
  • WATSON AND CRICKET (28A: Elements of a Sherlock Holmes sports mystery?)
  • SITTIN' ON THE DOCKET (48A: Today's plans: watchin' someone's kids?)
  • LIKE A MILLION BUCKETS (65A: How much Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain could score, hyperbolically?)
  • UNDERGROUND ROCKET (86A: Missile silo's holding?)
  • FRONT OF THE PACKET (107A: Where Sweet'N Low displays its logo?)
  • DARN SOCKETS (115A: Cry following an electrical malfunction?)
Word of the Day: ANTCOW (94D: Aphid that produces honeydew) —
  • noun An aphid, plant-louse, or some similar insect, kept and tended by ants for the sake of the sweet fluid which is secreted in its body and used as food by the ants. (wordnik)
• • •

This will be short, because I honestly don't get it. I mean, I get it, I think ... I get the whole "add -ET / make it wacky!" conceit, but why? Why -ET? What do "Magazines" have to do with any of it? Is there an "E.T., phone home!" or some other kind of extraterrestrial meaning that I'm supposed to be able to extract from this thing? Because this alone ... this apparently meaningless add-two-arbitrary-letters ploy ... I don't see how it makes the grade. I don't know how this puzzle gets accepted with a theme this simplistic. There's certainly no genuine humor in the themers. WATSON AND CRICKET kind of gets off the ground, a little, but the rest do absolutely nothing. Huge thuds. APPLE JACKET? UNDERGROUND ROCKET? The "wackiness" is so low-grade, so faint as to be almost imperceptible. And you add -ET at the very end except ... when you don't? BUCKETS and ROCKETS just get to be plural ... why? Lastly, and perhaps most egregiously, SITTIN' ON THE DOCK is a *nothing* phrase. Meaningless. Before you wackify a term (today, by adding -ET), it has to actually be a term, and this just isn't. Couldn't stand on its own if it tried. The song's title is "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," so there is no way you can extract "SITTIN' ON THE DOCK" and perpetrate like it's a standalone thing. It is not a thing. Not in the title, not in the lyrics—no. Nothing but an incomplete thing, a part of a thing. I'm truly stunned. I know it's easy to write these complaints off as "oh, that Rex, he's so grumpy, he never likes blah blah blah," but honestly, the constructors out there, whether they'll say it aloud or not, they know that this theme isn't up to par. This puzzle would be very at home in any number of publications I can think of, but as the marquee puzzle of the highest-profile outlet in the country? Nah. Not even close. But again, it is always possible I have missed something. If so, well, I guess I'll be back here with an addendum.

And then there's the fill, which is also a real head-shaker. There's a kind of desperation for the new here, and you can smell it. Unfortunately, for every BERNIE BRO (very good) there are two things like WOODTAR or ANTCOW or NULLVALUE or PREWEB. There's the insipidness of the single KUDO (telling me it's "jocular" doesn't make it less insipid). I laughed out loud at how bad EATS PALEO is ... day by day, we are inching closer to the Platonic Ideal of Random Phrases: EAT A SANDWICH. Can't eat a sandwich if you're eating PALEO, but oh we're close! I've been in academia my whole adult life and still have never heard anyone refer to a POSTBAC in the wild. Not once, ever. I'm sure whatever that is exists, but usually after your Bachelor's, you get your Master's, what the hell? And the (presumably) hard "C" on BAC ... is that from BACCALAUREATE? POSTDOCs are absolutely positively 100% real things. POSTBACs, as I've said before, are your wordlist lying to you. Further, no matter how you clue CAR BOMB, it's never going to be a fun thing for people to see in their grid. Yes, ha ha, funny drink name, but it's named after terrorist violence, what in the world are you even doing here? 

There was one very, very sticky moment for me, and unfortunately it involved the (to me) arcane WOOD TAR (?) and NO-OUT, which I couldn't parse to save my life despite having been a baseball fan for (checks watch) roughly 45 years. Oh, and BOOS. Couldn't see it. Had BO-S and still no idea how to make it be [Common results of penalties]. As for the baseball clue, after NO-HIT and NO-RUN my brain just gave up (69D: Like a situation at the start of an inning). So, to recap, BO-S, WOOD-A-, and NO-U-. Bots! Woodwax! No fun! I have to concede that the phrase "NO-OUT situation" is very much in-the-language when describing the progression of an inning, especially when runners are on base and strategies become more important. But my brain wanted only consonants to go in the empty spot in BO-S, so it took me a weirdly long time to see NO-OUT. Fun fact, I have been to multiple baseball games with today's constructor. Yankees Stadium. Camden Yards. Post-xword tournament outings of years past. Sam is an O's fan. I am a Tigers fan. Thus we share ... well, pain, mostly. Although today I had great joy, as I got to see Miguel Cabrera get his 3,000th hit (the first Venezuelan player ever to achieve that milestone):

  • 109D: "Bye 4 now!" (TTYL) — "talk to you later." Ever since I heard that someone once saw TTFN in their grid ("tata for now"), I've been paranoid that that variation is going to jump out and bite me. So I let crosses reassure me that TTYL was indeed correct.
  • 88D: Fun plans after work, say (DRINKS) — assuming you go out with friends; otherwise, these plans might be less "fun." Had real trouble with this one. At one point, I wanted DOINGS!
  • 4D: Text back and forth? (LOL) — the clue is merely referring to the fact that LOL (a common "text") is a palindrome. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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