Aptly named ski town in Utah / THU 5-19-22 / Holy Roman emperor beginning in 973 / Potted ornamental / Fallopian tube traveler / City whose name is Siouan for good place to dig potatoes

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Constructor: Alex Rosen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: phrases of omission — four pairs of answers (each pair appearing on the same line); for each pair, the first answer appears to have letters missing, and the second is a phrase describing (literally) why the letters in the first answer are missing, or "what to do as you enter the answer to the previous clue":

Theme answers:
  • DISCIPL[in]ES (17A: Punishes / CUT IN (19A: Interrupt ... or what to do as you enter the answer to the previous clue)
  • S[up]PORTED (29A: Backed financially) / SCRUB UP (31A: Prep for surgery ... or what to do etc.)
  • HOME [off]ICE (48A: Workplace with no commute / TAKE OFF (50A: Leave ... or what to do etc.)
  • FL[out]ING (64A: Brazenly disregard) / STRIKE OUT (66A: Flail at home plate ... or what to do etc.)
Word of the Day: pound cake (63A: One of the pounds in a pound cake) —
Pound cake is a type of cake traditionally made with a pound of each of four ingredients: flourbuttereggs, and sugar. Pound cakes are generally baked in either a loaf pan or a Bundt mold. They are sometimes served either dusted with powdered sugar, lightly glazed, or with a coat of icing. (wikipedia)
• • •

A very familiar gimmick. Many a puzzle has been built around a single phrase like this, which acts as a revealer with each of the theme answers conforming to the instructions. In today's case, we get a kind of speed version, with four different "revealers" instead of the more typical lone, final revealer. The same act is involved every time—dropping letters—so there's a consistency there. In typical drop-a-letter / add-a-letter (or letters)-type puzzles, though, there's some wackiness, some attempt to at least try to make the "incorrect" answers funny by having the answers be obviously, zanily wrong, and having the clues be of the loopy "?" variety. Here, we just get single words. They don't fit the clue, but that failure to fit yields zero pleasure, which I guess also means zero cringing, but I'd rather a puzzle go for the joke and fail than not go for it at all. I guess the "joke" is in the second answer to each pair, the verb phrase that explains the first answer in the pair. But there wasn't much "aha" there, since I could clearly see that "IN" was missing from what should've been DISCIPLINES. I was just waiting to find out why. Then I hit CUT IN. Pretty straightforward, not at all amusing. I'd say that HOME ICE is the one first answer of the four that has something like sufficient zaniness—the new phrase is really, really new and different and completely reoriented. But DISCIPLES is just a thud (it's etymologically closely related to DISCIPLINES, so it hardly reorients the word at all). And FLING and SPORTED are just ... there. This is like four different ideas for a puzzle all crammed into one puzzle without much thought for how fun it would be to solve. The theme isn't bad, by any means; just flat. 

With the exception, possibly, of the theme answers with omitted letters, there was nothing at all challenging about this puzzle. No Thursday heat. I had one little area of trouble because I didn't realize that SPORTED was a themer. Combine that with a brutal (but brilliant) clue on MIRROR (23A: Compact disc?), and then my only 75% certainty about David CARR, and then, oof, an extremely random Holy Roman emperor with extremely random Holy Roman numerals in his name (easily the worst thing in the grid), and you've got Stucksville, population me. But even then, not so stuck. I just went down from the top through SCRUB UP and then went back and made sense of that whole lower NW area. The other bit of "difficulty" I had was just pure idiocy, a mistake I made that amused me more than anything in the puzzle did. I had -EKA at 36A: City whose name is Siouan for "good place to dig potatoes" (TOPEKAand my brain decided to completely disregard the "Siouan" part of the clue and focus instead on "potatoes" ("hmm ... near Idaho?") and the idea that you'd be thrilled to discover said potatoes; that is, I wrote in EUREKA! (which is a city in Washington). Sadly, the etymological origins of EUREKA have nothing to do with the Sioux, or North America at all:

Eureka (Ancient Greekεὕρηκα) is an interjection used to celebrate a discovery or invention. It is a transliteration of an exclamation attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes. (wikipedia)

The result of this mistake was mostly me being very angry at this alleged "abstract expressionist" who was somehow not ROTHKO but some guy named RUT- ... RUTLIN? RUTHIE? "Who the hell has ever heard of this RUT- guy!?" Well, no one, I made him up (32D: Abstract Expressionist Mark).

Yellow Over Purple (1956)

  • 23A: Compact disc? (MIRROR) — in case the wordplay eludes you, a "compact" is a small circular (or "disc"-shaped) case that flips open to reveal a MIRROR (as well as face powder, commonly).
  • 42D: "And ___ ..." (YET) — Had the YE- and wasn't sure I wasn't dealing with the beginning of some kind of admission. "And YES, technically, I did eat the last six brownies, but in my defense, they were delicious."
  • 63A: One of the pounds in a pound cake (EGGS) — absolutely 100% news to me that the "pound" in "pound cake" had to do with the (equal!) weight of all the ingredients. Seemed like an impossible rationale for a recipe, so I very much hesitated there.
  • 61D: Marty Feldman's role in "Young Frankenstein" (IGOR) — enjoy:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Medicinal rinse / WED 5-18-22 / Cold weather cryptid / Long loose hood / Stop texting after a first date say / Tree that's a source of salicylic acid a precursor to aspirin / Animal that wears red pajamas in a popular children's book

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Constructor: Andy Kravis

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: solving a jigsaw puzzle — familiar phrases are clued as if they were steps in the solving of a jigsaw puzzle:

Theme answers:
  • LAY IT ALL OUT THERE (18A: Confess one's true feelings ... or Step 1 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • PICK UP THE PIECES (28A: Recover after a heartbreak ... or Step 2 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • FIND THE RIGHT FIT (50A: Look for an ideal partner ... or Step 3 for solving a jigsaw puzzle?)
  • SEE THE BIG PICTURE (65A: Get some perspective ... or what you do once you've solved a jigsaw puzzle?)
Word of the Day: "THE WIRE" (47D: TV series named second-best of all time by Rolling Stone, but which never won an Emmy) —

The Wire is an American crime drama television series created and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon. The series was broadcast by the cable network HBO in the United States. The Wire premiered on June 2, 2002, and ended on March 9, 2008, comprising 60 episodes over five seasons. The idea for the show started out as a police drama loosely based on the experiences of his writing partner Ed Burns, a former homicide detective and public school teacher.

Set and produced in BaltimoreMarylandThe Wire introduces a different institution of the city and its relationship to law enforcement in each season, while retaining characters and advancing storylines from previous seasons. The five subjects are, in chronological order: the illegal drug trade, the port system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium. Simon chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his familiarity with the city.

The large cast consists mainly of actors who are little known for their other roles, as well as numerous real-life Baltimore and Maryland figures in guest and recurring roles. Simon has said that despite its framing as a crime drama, the show is "really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals. Whether one is a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, all are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution to which they are committed."

The Wire is lauded for its literary themes, its uncommonly accurate exploration of society and politics, and its realistic portrayal of urban life. During its original run, the series received only average ratings and never won any major television awards, but is now often cited as one of the greatest television series of all time. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is the kind of puzzle that can go very wrong. The potential for forced-corny-pun-haha-get-it!? is always high when you try to force familiar phrases in another direction, and especially when you try to do it in bulk like this. A bunch of puns is one thing, a bunch of puns compelled by brute force to march in the same direction, that is (or can be) another. And YET(I)! And yet somehow this theme works very well. There's an aptness to every "step" in the jigsaw process, and an overall lightness of touch that, because it didn't feel like somebody elbowing in me in the side going "har har, good one, amirite?!," made me appreciate the way the theme answers just ... fit. The whole thing was very smooth and low-key. Subtle. No clowns honking horns. Nothing jarring. Every phrase has a strong non-jigsaw meaning, but with a little push, they all slide right into their respective jigsaw meanings, no problem. The steps are in order, everything's symmetrical (again, without any forcing). It's the kind of puzzle I can feel myself instinctively resisting on some primal level, but it's so well executed, and, again, so unhammy, that it won me over. It also made me remember that I love solving ("solving?") jigsaw puzzles but don't solve them in non-vacation contexts any more for two reasons: cats. Well, just the one cat, really. Alfie cannot lay off. The pieces are all just so many toys for him to run off with. He does the same thing with broccoli florets. He's a weird boy. Olive would probably leave a puzzle alone, but we're never gonna find out because ... Alfie. 


This was a very, very easy puzzle. If you time yourself, you probably didn't break any records, but that's due in part to the fact that the grid is oversized (16 wide, to accommodate the first and last themers). It's one of those puzzles where everything is riding on the theme, so it's a good thing the theme comes together, because the rest of the solve was a bit on the ho-hum side. Lots of overfamiliar, repeater-type stuff. Like, lots and lots. I won't enumerate it all, but the fact that we get LLAMA *and* LLANO should begin to give you some idea. I really don't understand the decision to put DOUCHE in the puzzle. This is literally the first appearance of the word in the NYTXW, ever, a fact which will surprise almost no one. What's most annoying about DOUCHE is that the clue is so coy. Like, you put DOUCHE in the puzzle, you should own that fact by cluing it as the thing that everyone is thinking of when they see DOUCHE. It's a "feminine hygiene product," or else it's an insult for a really annoying man (an insult whose insultingness surely comes from the feminine-hygiene meaning). Trying to hide from these meanings behind a general [Medicinal rinse] clue is, I don't know, a bit bizarre. It's like you're trying to avoid anatomical specificity, and yet the answer is virtually screaming anatomical specificity, whether you like it or not, so ... better to just go with it rather than retreat into vagueness. The wikipedia entry for DOUCHE is 99% about the vagina. If you can put DOUCHE in the grid, you can say "vagina." It won't hurt you. Or at least make the clue more women-specific. You know this answer is going to jar people, so I don't really get the point of including it in the first place, but if you're going to do it, Do It.

  • 41D: Sluggish (LOGY) — you ever have words that you just can't stand the sight/sound of. Well, LOGY is definitely one of mine. LOGY makes MOIST seem positively comforting. LOGY's main problem is it looks/sounds like "loogie." It's truly awful. Top Ten Repulsive Word.
  • 60D: Brand originally called Froffles (EGGO) — two things. First, Froffles is better, please go back to Froffles. And second, I wrote in EDY'S.
  • 35A: Plethora (SLEW) — I wrote in SOME.
  • 20D: Evil clown in a horror film, e.g. (TROPE— I wrote in TROLL. You can see a pattern developing here.
  • 26A: Stop texting after a first date, say (GHOST) — big thumbs-up to this bit of clue modernization. I like the "old" meanings of GHOST just fine, too, but it's nice to see ordinary words get pushed slangward (especially when that slang now feels like a permanent part of the cultural landscape). Don't GHOST people. It's mean. Unless they're awful. Then definitely GHOST them. OK bye.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lute longtime Arizona basketball coach / TUE 5-17-22 / Three coins fountain location / Indented part of an outline / West coast burger chain / Drink that comes with a buzz cut / Just sit around daydreaming

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Constructor: Richard D. Allen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Tuesday)

THEME: SPELLBOUND (63A: Entranced ... or what one can do by reading the starts of 17-, 24-, 34-, 44- and 50-Across) — the starts of the answers in questions "spell" out the word "B-O-U-N-D" when said aloud:

Theme answers:
  • BEEKEEPERS (17A: Hive minders)
  • "O HOLY NIGHT" (24A: Words before "the stars are brightly shining," in a carol)
  • YOUTUBE (34A: Second-most visited website worldwide, after Google)
  • EN FUEGO (44A: Literally, "on fire" ... or, metaphorically, excellent)
  • DECAF LATTE (50A: Drink that comes with a buzz cut?) (no caffeine = no "buzz"; the "buzz" has been "cut"!; puns!)
Word of the Day: OTTAVA rima (30D: ___ rima (eight-line stanza)) —

Ottava rima is a rhyming stanza form of Italian origin. Originally used for long poems on heroic themes, it later came to be popular in the writing of mock-heroic works. Its earliest known use is in the writings of Giovanni Boccaccio.

The ottava rima stanza in English consists of eight iambic lines, usually iambic pentameters. Each stanza consists of three alternate rhymes and one double rhyme, following the ABABABCC rhyme scheme. The form is similar to the older Sicilian octave, but evolved separately and is unrelated. The Sicilian octave is derived from the medieval strambotto and was a crucial step in the development of the sonnet, whereas the ottava rima is related to the canzone, a stanza form. (wikipedia)

• • •

The theme is clever, even if the puzzle ITSELF wasn't too fun to solve. All the joy here is in the revealer, which, thankfully, pays off pretty well. Got a genuine "Oh!" out of me, if not the full "Aha!" (I think the "Oh!" is more curious, interested, whereas the "Aha!" is more wowed, or at least more shook). My only quibble with the theme is that the "dee" answer is pretty weak. Not the answer, exactly, which is fine, but the answer *as an expression of the letter 'D'*.  You could've put any De-prefixed answer there. Feels like the "D" part should be more standalone, the way all the other letter sounds in this puzzle are. DEE GORDON or DEEE-LITE or DEE SNIDER or something like that. Whoa, looks like DEE GORDON DEE GORDON (baseball player) is now "Dee Strange-Gordon," when did that happen? [checks internet] ... ah, looks like he just wanted to go back to his legal last name as a way of honoring his mother (last name Strange). That's nice. Anyway, stand-alone "D" here would've been nicer. DEE WALLACE, she fits. She's an actress—the mom in "E.T." and something of a horror icon, having appeared in a string of '70s and  '80s scare flicks including "The Hills Have Eyes," "The Howling," "Cujo," "Critters," and the possibly unforgettable "Alligator II: The Mutation" (direct-to-video). If your response to my DEE WALLACE suggestion is "that's too obscure for a Tuesday!" I would politely direct your attention to OTTAVA rima and ask you to say that again with a straight face.

As for the non-theme stuff, my main feeling is that the grid structure really choked off the flow there in the middle. There are only these two teeny tiny outlets connecting (roughly) the top and bottom halves of the grid (at the "E" in HOE and the "E" in EMT). Never been a fan of super-segmented grids. Always been a fan of flow. That flow deficit definitely put this into the somewhat-tougher-than-usual category for me. OTTAVA wasn't as hard for me as it probably was for the average solver, but that's only because I teach Dante every year and therefore talk about terza rima every year and therefore have some familiarity with the whole rima scene, as it were. I know Lute OLSON's name, but only if I'm actually watching a college basketball game in the '90s and some announcer says it. Lute OLSON seemed pretty dang un-Tuesday-ish, despite his "longtime"-ness. I guess we should just be glad he wasn't providing the clue for LUTE—OLSON was at least inferrable. I also got a bit slowed down by cutesy misdirective cluing (see GOATS (1A: Kids and their parents)) and vagueness (see "BYENOW!" which I had as "BYEBYE!" (7D: "Ta-ta!"). Ta follows ta, as bye follows bye, thus my answer is better, QED. I think I wouldn't put ENROLLS *and* ENGULFS in a grid where the theme relies on the "EN"-ness of EN FUEGO. Hard enough to make "EN" pop without crowding the field. OPRAHS and ALOHAS are not exactly wonderfuls. SOW is kind of duped in SOWING, even if the SOW does come to us in hog form (41D: Female hog)—easily fixable (STREW/SOW to STREP/SOP). I think that's it. OK, bye bye (or BYE NOW, your call).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Nonclerical at a church / MON 5-16-22 / Pita sandwiches of deep-fried chickpea balls / Roman garment of old / Big bird in Liberty Mutual ads

Monday, May 16, 2022

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: verb like an animal— familiar phrases involving animal similes, all clued [verb adverb]:

Theme answers:
  • DRINK LIKE A FISH (20A: Imbibe copiously)
  • RUN LIKE A DEER (26A: Move speedily)
  • WORK LIKE A DOG (43A: Toil arduously)
  • WATCH LIKE A HAWK (52A: Observe intently)
Word of the Day: SOUR BALLS (33D: Tart hard candies) —
a spherical hard candy having a tart flavor (merriam-webster)
• • •

Very easy, fairly dull. The repeated phrasing made the themers almost ridiculously easy to get, and 4xLIKEA is a lotta LIKEA. The theme is consistent enough, it's just not very playful or interesting. I will also say that RUN LIKE A DEER doesn't seem as strong as the other three. If you said DRINK LIKE, I'd say A FISH. I'd get WORK LIKE and WATCH LIKE pretty quickly as well. But RUN LIKE only makes me think of THE WIND. Further, I only really know the phrase RUN LIKE A DEER from the John Deere ad slogan "Nothing runs like a Deere." Anyway, to get a feel of how unintuitive the DEER answer is compared to the rest of them, consider:

A DEER doesn't even show up on the autocomplete menu, whereas the other options show up first or second in their respective searches. I'm sure RUN LIKE A DEER is a phrase, just not as much of a phrase as the others. Also, zero idea what SOURBALLS are. Had SOUR and no idea what might follow. I know of sour candies (e.g. Sour Patch Kids), but they aren't balls. I know ball candies (e.g. jawbreakers), but they aren't sour. I was just at a loss. SOURBALLS hasn't appeared in the puzzle in twenty years. Maybe they were more of a thing in tymes of yore. (Side note: probably should take "balls" out of the FALAFELS clue if you wanna put BALLS in the grid. It's a conspicuous word. BALLS!) (9D: Pita sandwiches of deep-fried chickpea balls) Everything else in this puzzle was straight over the plate. Very 20th-century familiar, for sure. Skews a little crosswordesey, but not egregiously so.

Wrote in MIATA before MAZDA, which was just stupid (that is, I was stupid) (1D: Japanese carmaker with a CX series). As for the [Noisy scuffle] back-to-backers, once again, as usual, one of the two felt forced and thus tougher than it might've been. ROW was easy, but FRAY ... doesn't really suggest "Noisy" except by inference, so that took multiple crosses to register. The fabric-related meaning of FRAY would've been more welcome today. The same-clue gimmick so rarely works, and I don't really know whom it's supposed to please or impress. But the puzzle was so so easy that no one is likely to complain or even care. Not a lot else to comment on here. We get another long animal answer with GOOSE EGGS, but no simile, alas. Nothing runs like a goose, that's for sure. But GOOSE EGGS is a pretty good answer all on its own. I like LAIT / STAT better than LAIC / SCAT, but I can't say my way's better. LAIC just seems more glaringly crosswordesey, somehow, as does the whole SCAT / SHOO / GIT / SCRAM industrial complex. Also, re: LAIC, what is up with the latter part of the clue? (53D: Nonclerical, at a church). At a church? Where else is something going to be nonclerical? At a 7-11? [Nonclerical] works just fine all on its own. OK, I need to go pet my cat. She really Really didn't want to swallow her pill earlier, and I had to be a little more forceful than I like, and now I feel horrifically guilty (whereas she has probably forgotten). So I'm going to give her a little bonus food and scritch her ears. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TV 6-year-old who attends Little Dipper School / SUN 5-15-22 / Jazz bassist Carter / Component of a bridge truss / 1990s film with a famous wood chipper scene / Graffitied artistic attraction along 114-Across

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Constructor: Daniel Mauer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Way Out West" — a puzzle about ROUTE SIXTY-SIX (114A: Theme of this puzzle, which winds its way nearly 2,500 miles through all the shaded [circled] squares herein); the circled squares contain the abbrs. of the states that Route 66 runs through, arranged in a very rough visual approximation of the route's actual path:

Theme answers:
  • THE MOTHER ROAD (21A: Nickname for 114-Across coined by John Steinbeck)
  • PAINTED DESERT (39A: Colorful natural attraction along 114-Across)
  • GATEWAY ARCH (65A: Tall, curved attraction along 114-Across)
  • CADILLAC RANCH (92A: Graffitied artistic attraction along 114-Across)
  • Grant PARK (34D: Grant ___, northeast terminus of 114-Across)
  • Santa Monica PIER (83D: Santa Monica ___, southwest terminus of 114-Across)
Word of the Day: CADILLAC RANCH (92A) —

Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in AmarilloTexas, US. It was created in 1974 by Chip LordHudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm.

The installation consists of ten Cadillacs (1949-1963) buried nose-first in the ground. Installed in 1974, the cars were either older running, used or junk cars — together spanning the successive generations of the car line — and the defining evolution of their tailfins. (wikipedia)

• • •

Surprised that a trip across America on ROUTE SIXTY-SIX could be this dull. It's basically a bad map with some arbitrary trivia thrown in. Here's what the actual trajectory of ROUTE SIXTY-SIX:

I was in Flagstaff a few summers ago. Nice place. Route 66 goes right through. It goes right through a lot of places. Thousands of miles of places. Shrug. These four trivia answers don't mean much to me, and seem chosen solely for their ability to fit symmetrically in the grid. I'd never even heard of two of them (THE MOTHER ROAD, CADILLAC RANCH). I figured CADILLAC RANCH was a brothel, actually. Which famous "ranch" am I confusing it with? Ah, Mustang Ranch ("Nevada's first licensed brothel," per wikipedia). That is not really anywhere near Route 66. CADILLAC RANCH turns out to be a bunch of cars nose-deep in dirt. Interesting. Almost certainly more interesting than the puzzle. There's not a lot to say. Bad map. Random trivia. End of story. (note: I see that the puzzle wants me to believe there are six Route 66 trivia answers, but PARK and PIER are disqualified based on length—they're just four-letter words playing thematic dress-up).

The grid does not have a lot of interesting fill, in part because it's really not built for it. Not a lot of room for longer answers. Lots of black squares, lots of choppiness, hence lots of shorter fare. And what longer fare there is tends to get wasted on stuff like SEMITONE and ACETONE and ATONED and probably some other "tone" that I'm missing. I mean, ENDPOST? (11D: Component of a bridge truss). Whose idea of a good time is that? That answer, with its FOLKSY and PAOLO crosses, was one of a few unfortunate sticking points in the grid, though the puzzle was no more difficult than your average Sunday. Because I couldn't work my way up into the NE without ENDPOST, I ended up having to restart cold up there, and that was oddly hard: DOT com before ROM com, LODES before GOALS (12D: Positive results of some strikes), ISM before IST (16D: Natural conclusion?). But it was all workoutable. Also had trouble in and around INTRANET, which is about as lovely as ENDPOST. But INTRANET brought an equally dull date, namely DATATYPE, and when ACETONE and CXL got involved, well, that whole SE area just got ugly. I loved "DON'T DO IT!" Puzzle could've used a lot more of that energy today. 

  • 5A: Pertaining to any of five Italian popes (SISTINE) — the popes in question were all named Sixtus, for the record
  • 20A: Hardly a team player? (SOLOIST) — many soloists play with teams, if the team is an orchestra. I wanted EGOIST here ... EGOOIST, I guess. 
  • 24A: Corpse ___ No. 2 (morning-after cocktail) (REVIVER) — love these, though never had one in the morning
  • 58A: Peridot, for one (GEM) — can never remember what this is. I want it to be a color, or a wine. Like a periwinkle merlot or something.
  • 98A: Jazz bassist Carter, who has appeared on more than 2,200 recordings (RON) — legend who appears on my my favorite album of the '90s (A Tribe Called Quest's "The Low End Theory"), and who just won a Grammy (Best Jazz Instrumental Album) for "Skyline." Here's his very recent Tiny Desk Concert:
  • 13D: TV 6-year-old who attend Little Dipper School (ELROY) — This is a "Jetsons" reference, kids
  • 37D: $100 bill, slangily (BEN) — the movie (2002) was called "All About the Benjamins," not "All About the BENs"; this "slang," like much purported "slang" in the NYTXW, feels at least mildly off
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tautological words of resignation / SAT 5-14-22 / Soba alternative / Large mass of swimming fish / Luxury home installation with a vanishing edge / Children's toy that's sprayed from a can / Former Philadelphia mayor Wilson / Part of many a software demo, informally / Codeshare partner of American Airlines

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Constructor: Ada Nicolle

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: NEOpronoun (23A: Prefix with pronoun) —

Neopronouns are a category of neologistic English third-person personal pronouns beyond 'he', 'she', 'they', 'one', and 'it'. Neopronouns are preferred by some non-binary individuals who feel that neopronouns provide options to reflect their gender identity more accurately than conventional pronouns.

Neopronouns may be words created to serve as pronouns such as 'ze/hir' or 'noun-self' pronouns where existing words are turned into personal pronouns such as 'fae/faer' Some neopronouns allude to they/them, such as 'ey/em', a form of Spivak pronoun.

A survey by The Trevor Project in 2020 found that 4% of LGBT+ youth used neopronouns. The 2021 Gender Census of non-binary people reported that the most popular neopronoun was xe/xem, used by 8.5% of those who took the survey. (wikipedia)

• • •

I found it! By "it" I mean "the Friday puzzle," of course. I don't think I've ever seen the Friday / Saturday sequencing get botched so bad as it was this week. It's hard to imagine test-solvers editors *and* test-solvers thinking "Friday" of yesterday's puzzle, and it's equally hard to imagine someone solving today's puzzle and thinking "Saturday." They are nearly perfect examples of their respective (ideal) days, and yet they got switched. Oh well. Thankfully, they're both wonderful puzzles. With today's, I want to start with the things I didn't like because there are so few of them—and they were both really jarring. So, WOKEST (43A: Most alert to social justice issues) ... that's a big thumbs-down from me. The very word evokes the Cult*re W*rs which are the very worst part of being alive today, and while I am all for the inclusion of any and all social justice-related issues or terminology you want to put in the grid, this term ... it's burnt, for me. I can't but hear it in a mocking voice, the voice of The Worst White People You Know. The superlative (i.e. -EST) form only heightens the appearance of jokiness and mockery. The -EST makes it very nearly a nonsense word. So if you don't think "social justice issues" are nonsense, maybe steer clear of this word. It's been taken over by ghouls. It's a tell—the people saying it the most believe in it the least. I feel about it like I feel about its older cousin, "PC." Hard Pass. 

[this has nothing to do with the puzzle—just treat yourself]

I also balked at SPACE WESTERN, not because it's wrong, exactly, but because it feels weird and redundant. The term I know is SPACE OPERA, which has always included indebtedness to the American Western. In fact, if you look up lists of SPACE OPERAs, you will find "Cowboy Bebop" listed under anime examples. Anyway, SPACE OPERA is the more established concept, and SPACE WESTERN feels like an unnecessary subdivision. But I guess Gene Roddenberry referred to "Star Trek"—a paradigmatic SPACE OPERA—as a SPACE WESTERN at least once, so ... OK, maybe the WESTERN is just a subdivision of the OPERA. I think I am too close to the material. I've read and watched a lot of SPACE OPERA and enjoyed the genre's kinship with westerns (aka "oaters," or "horse operas," which I have also enjoyed). I have a huge collection of vintage paperbacks, many of them in the SPACE OPERA genre. I have a "Star Wars" poster hanging over my television—"Star Wars" is definitely SPACE OPERA, and "The Mandalorian" is in the Star Wars universe so ... you can see why OPERA felt like the right direction. I've watched (the original) "Cowboy Bebop"—I even have the soundtrack around here somewhere—and that too has been classified as SPACE OPERA. So the WESTERN subdivision feels like fiddly fine-slicing to my ear. But I'm quibbling with genre distinctions ... this isn't really the puzzle's problem. SPACE WESTERN exists even if I don't particularly have any use for it.

As for the rest of the puzzle, it's close to perfection. "IT IS WHAT IT IS" is one of those non-statements that I love despite (because of?) the fact that it's cliché and annoys the hell out of many people (25A: Tautological words of resignation). Sometimes it just perfectly encapsulates the idea that something just unavoidably is and there's not a hell of a lot you can do about it. I like the weary resignation it implies. Same with "WE'RE DONE HERE," though that's less weary and more exasperated (44A: "Let's move on"). Both of these are wonderful, vibrant colloquialisms. See also "SORRY I ASKED!" Just a great slangy vibe to this whole puzzle. I had EL PASO in one of the cryptics I solved last night, and for some reason it made me think "isn't there a salsa brand called OLD EL PASO?" And once again, bam, the universe manifests itself! (still not sure what I mean here, but it feels right). I wasn't sure where things were going when I started this puzzle, as it was suspiciously easy to get started (ASSAY YALL AWL SCHWA TROLL all in a row, no stopping). I thought, "Wow, I hope this puzzle at least has some pop in it?" And then the puzzle definitely popped:

This is what I mean when I talk about the zoom zoom whoosh whoosh flooooow that, for me, is Peak Friday Experience. Long answers just shooting off like fireworks. INFINITY POOL! SILLY STRING! I was absolutely sold on the puzzle at this point. You had me at HALLOWS (I was gonna say "You had me at INFINITY POOL," but if you're evoking "Jerry Maguire" it's hard to lay off HALLOWS there) (8D: Makes sacred). Great (evocative, accurate) clue on HOME GYM (36A: Room where a Peloton may double as a clothing rack). The only slow parts for me were (duh) names. No idea who Wilson GOODE is (I assume it's not GOODE Wilson ... nope, Wilson GOODE). I see he was that city's first Black mayor (1984-92). Good(e) to know! I've probably seen Phillipa SOO before, but forgot her (47A: Broadway star Phillipa). Crosses took care of both these names pretty easily. I think I thought a SHOAL was like a sandbar or some other kind of shoreline ... entity. And it turns out I'm right. It just also means ... a bunch of fish. Why do we need this word when we have the perfectly good word "school?" I'm Glad You (I) Asked!:
In biology, any group of fish that stay together for social reasons are shoaling, and if the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner, they are schooling. In common usage, the terms are sometimes used rather loosely. About one quarter of fish species shoal all their lives, and about one half shoal for part of their lives. (wikipedia)
Tasty clue on TOM (56D: ___ yum (hot-and-sour Thai soup)). Wife is away for the weekend so the cats and I are sad. Might cheer myself up by ordering some TOM yum tonight (and then not sharing with the cats, who will then be ultra-sad). I have a weird urge to shout "EL AL, Y'ALL!" so I should probably stop writing and get coffee. Wonderful puzzle. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. A SCREENCAP is just a screenshot (short for "screen capture," I believe) (13A: Part of many a software demo, informally

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Jazz great Laine / FRI 5-13-22 / Actress Sink of Stranger Things / Facts-as-fiction work / Costume that might start with a cardboard box / Blue book alternative / Word from the Dutch to talk nonsense / Didn't come through as promised in slang

Friday, May 13, 2022

Constructor: Brooke Husic and Nam Jin Yoon

Relative difficulty: Challenging 

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SADIE Sink (54A: Actress Sink of "Stranger Things") —
Sadie Elizabeth Sink (born April 16, 2002) is an American actress and model. She portrayed Max Mayfield in the Netflix television series Stranger Things and Ziggy Berman in the Netflix horror film trilogy Fear Street. Sink has also worked on Broadway, with credits including Annie and The Audience. She also starred in Taylor Swift's All Too Well: The Short Film. (wikipedia)
• • •

These are two of my favorite constructors, so yes, I liked this puzzle. But I knew, or had a feeling, just from seeing their bylines that it was going to be hard. Brooke in particular has a penchant for making very hard puzzles (try one of her "experimental/challenging" puzzles here, at her puzzle site, if you dare). Anyway, I wasn't wrong—this was a Saturday, for sure. It made me think about what I like in a Friday vs. what I like in a Saturday. I guess it does basically come down to difficulty, but it's also sensation, which is to say, I like the whoosh whoosh feeling, the flow, the feeling of pure delight in zipping from section to section on a Friday. I like the puzzle to be clever, but in a generous way. In short, I'm just not so amenable to the all-over struggle on a Friday. On a Saturday, I expect it, and I enjoy it, especially when the struggle has big payoff (as today's puzzle does, here there and everywhere). But I had no sense of flow today. There were very few places where I was able to pick up any momentum. It felt like  almost Every clue had some element of misdirection. You lay off some of the clues in a Friday. You can hit 'em all on Saturday. This is my deeply personal and highly impressionistic take on the ideal Friday/Saturday distinction, off the top of my head, at 5:17 in the morning. You don't have to say "AMEN TO THAT." Or you can. Your choice.

What's good? Well, it's all good. I don't have all day. Usually, the highlights jump right out, so it's clear to me what's worth writing about. Today? Yeesh, close your eyes and drop your finger anywhere on the grid and you've got something. Here, let me try that exact strategy ... dang, I hit a black square, but it's near the bottom of HORSE RACES and "AMEN TO THAT!"—a fine pairing. I struggled with HORSE RACES even with HORSE in place because I thought the "stakes" were actual, material stakes (the kind of you put in the ground, like ... posts! Dammit, that's what I was thinking of. Posts! But no, "stakes" is just a name for a race, like the Belmont Stakes. I assume. Horse-racing, not my bailiwick. If you scoot one answer over from "AMEN TO THAT!" you get BOOTY CALL, which ... feels weirdly dated to me, now, as a concept, but man, what a clue (27D: Summons before congress?). Best "?" clue in the bunch. And crossing ADULT SITE, LOL, nice (52A: Blue book alternative) ("blue" has the sense of "erotic" here). I loved CRUSH HARD, though mostly I'm just proud I got CRUSH HARD. The HARD was a guess, but it sounded right to my ear, and it was, hurray! I liked PLAY HOOKY, which was one of the few places today where I saw *right* through the clue—being a college professor surely helped (7D: One way to avoid a lecture). The long hits keep coming with WEIRDS OUT, "ANY TAKERS?," etc. The hardest long answer for me was definitely ROMAN À CLEF (13A: Facts-as-fiction work). I was braced for anything there. Thought maybe it would be a specific work, or else some modern coinage dealing with, say, a subset of fanfic or other bit of onlinery that I was unfamiliar with. But no, not modern, old, and French. A very familiar (to me) literary genre. Just very hard to parse. 

More things:
  • 9A: Creatures with asymmetrical ears for accuracy in hunting (OWLS) — me: ORCS
  • 18A: World's best-selling contemporary female artist of all time, per Billboard magazine (DION) — as in "Celine." Bizarrely hard for me. I guess Celine now seems "bygone" to me, not "contemporary."
  • 34A: Trinket (TCHOTCHKE) — huge spelling victory for me
  • 17A: "Join the club!" ("AREN'T WE ALL?") — weirdly, very weirdly, the first thing I wanted here, given the crosses that I had in place, was "AMEN TO THAT!" (see 3D)
  • 43A: Data head? (CIO) — Chief Information Officer (I have to keep reminding myself about the meaning of every C-O that is not a CEO)
  • 55A: Say goodbye to many a 34-Across à la Marie Kondo (DECLUTTER) — the CLUTTER part was easy, but I went with UN-. That SW corner got a little tricky. Not sure it was such a good idea to put "Say" in this clue when the answer sits right on top of SAY (57A: Destiny Child's "___ My Name"). But most people probably didn't notice.
  • 1D: Newmark with an eponymous list (CRAIG) — totally forgot about this guy until someone reminded me of him literally yesterday. And bam, here he is. The universe is manifesting! (I have no idea what I mean, please don't ask)
  • 4D: Word from the Dutch for "talk nonsense" (RANT) — You: "Hmm, is it RANT or RAVE?" Me: "... EDAM?"
  • 5D: "Claws" channel (TNT) — ban all TV channels, especially basic cable channels starting with "T." I just can't any more.  
  • 36D: What a bee may be (CONTEST) — this is oddly phrased. "Bee" can mean "contest." But if you say "a bee" there is some idea that you have already determined what the bee is that you're discussing and that you are therefore looking for some feature *of* that bee. But if you had a (say) spelling bee in mind all along, then that ... is by definition a CONTEST ... so the "may be" feels wrong. Essentially, the clue is saying "Hey ... psst ... bee! ... do you know what kind of bee I'm talking about?" or "What can the word 'bee' mean?" Would've liked this clue better as [Bee, for one]. Less disingenuous. 
  • 53D: Card display? (STL) — sorry to all the non-sportsers out there. This one probably hurt a little (the St. Louis Cardinals (or "Cards," if you like) are repped by the letters STL on scoreboards and on their caps sometimes)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I like the diagonal mirror symmetry on this one. Took me a while to notice it.

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German opera highlight / THU 5-12-22 / Fortune 500 company with heart in its logo / Diacritical mark resembling a dieresis / Tree under which Siddhartha attained enlightenment

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Constructor: Ross Trudeau

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: UMLAUT (58A: Diacritical mark resembling a dieresis, both of which are represented in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle where four double-O squares sit atop four letters that would (in their natural, non-crossword state) be spelled with an UMLAUT

Theme answers:
  • ÜBERMENSCH (18A: Nietzschean ideal) [UMLAUT from OOPS]
  • NAÏVETE (36A: Trait of a babe in the woods) [UMLAUT from SPOOR]
  • BRONTËS (38A: Noted literary sisters) [UMLAUT from IT'S COOL] 
  • HÄAGEN-DAZS (50A: Ice cream brand whose first storefront was in Brooklyn Heights) [UMLAUT from ATWOOD]
Word of the Day: dieresis (see 58A) —
1a mark ¨ placed over a vowel to indicate that the vowel is pronounced in a separate syllable (as in naïve or Brontë— compare UMLAUT (merriam-webster.com)
[UMLAUT: a diacritical mark ¨ placed over a vowel to indicate a more central or front articulation 

— compare DIAERESIS (merriam-webster.com)]

• • •

Well, I have now learned the difference between UMLAUT and dieresis, so that's something. Actually, I didn't just learn the difference—this is my first encounter with "dieresis" at all (that I can remember). I think of everything "over" a letter as a "diacritical mark" and if anyone has tried to press further information on my brain, my brain has apparently responded "nah, it's cool, we'll just leave it there." This puzzle was so easy that I no-looked UMLAUT ... which made understanding what the hell the theme was supposed to be something of a challenge. I eventually went looking for any revealer I might've missed, and there it was. I think the clue on UMLAUT is a convoluted jargony mess, but the concept here is very clever and neatly executed. Genuine aha when I saw that UMLAUT was the key to this otherwise mysterious "OO" puzzle. I guess the first and last "OO"s are UMLAUTs (appearing, as they do, in German words), whereas the middle two are diereses. The former changes pronunciation, the latter syllabic value or weight. It's slightly weird to have a theme centered around a diacritical mark, and then have one of the theme answers contain a different diacritical mark that doesn't get visually represented (the acute accent on the final "E" in NAIVETÉ), especially when that is the diacritical mark in NAIVETÉ more likely to actually get used (the dieresis over the "I" being largely ignored these days). But still, if we focus just on the double-Os in this theme: IT'S COOL.

I wish the solving experience had been more pleasant. ÜBERMENSCH is a highlight, as is SNARFDOWN, but this puzzle lost a lot of goodwill early with the wretched UNPC (1D: Not acceptable, in a way), which I can't believe hasn't been scrapped from all wordlists by now. "PC" has always been a reactionary concept weaponized against people who have wanted pretty modest things like You To Not Be Racist / Sexist / Homophobic. A way of legitimizing longstanding bigoted norms by blaming the target of bigotry for being offended. A dishonest, garbage concept from the get-go. The same people now using "woke" derisively (and haphazardly) were the ones blah blah blahing about PC this and PC that in the '90s. And that's the other wretched thing about UNPC (or NOTPC): it feels dated. Anyway, it's about as pleasant to encounter as SPOOR. Or NOOUTS / APBS / TSELIOT all in a row, or ADE APSO ISH D'OH clustered together, or ACTII OYE LOOIES ELMO MILA EMU AURAS NYE ARIE (!?) (52D: German opera highlight) ... again, some of this avalanche is fine, but there's just a lot. It's true that the theme is dense (pairs of stacked words rather than the usual freestanding words), but still, the fact is the only really fun part of this was the payoff: the revealer. Which is something. But it would be great if the trip were as enjoyable as the destination.

["OYE Como Va" / TITO Puente!]

And ugh, I forgot to mention ONEEAR. I don't know which is worse, the way ONEEAR looks in the grid or the way people look when they wear the bluetooth headsets in question. But hey, look—all you people who got run over (i.e. Naticked) by BODHI last week (or whenever it was) got rewarded today, as your newfound, hard-won knowledge had occasion to be put to use. LOL at clue on HAMPSHIRE (8D: One of the "Five Colleges" of Massachusetts). There are roughly 13 million colleges in Massachusetts. Also, I've never heard of this so-called "Five Colleges," though I've heard of them all individually: Amherst, HAMPSHIRE, Mount Holyoke, Smith, UM-Amherst. Anyway, the real Five Colleges are the Claremont Colleges, and don't let anyone tell you any different.
See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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