Heavy chorus instrument in Il Trovatore / TUE 5-31-22 / Group targeted for destruction in Independence Day / Classical queen who cursed a Trojan fleet / Request to someone dressing your submarine sandwich / Brand with flavor Cookie Cobblestone / Competition favoring flexible contestants / Powder-based beverage

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Constructor: Sam Buchbinder and Brad Wilber

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Tuesday)


THEME: LET'S PUT A PIN IN IT (38A: Suggestion to defer discussion ... and what might be said of 17-, 25-, 46- and 60-Across) — places where one might put a "pin" (of one kind or another):

Theme answers:
  • VOODOO DOLL (17A: Figure in many hexes)
  • CLOTH DIAPER (25A: Alternative to Huggies or Luvs)
  • BOWLING LANE (46A: Place for splits and spares)
  • ATM MACHINE (60A: $$$ dispenser)
Word of the Day: "I LOST It at the Movies" (7D: "___ It at the Movies" (collection of Pauline Kael reviews) —

I Lost It at the Movies is a 1965 book that serves as a compendium of movie reviews written by Pauline Kael, later a film critic from The New Yorker, from 1954 to 1965. The book was published prior to Kael's long stint at The New Yorker; as a result, the pieces in the book are culled from radio broadcasts that she did while she was at KPFA, as well as numerous periodicals, including Moviegoer, the Massachusetts ReviewSight and SoundFilm CultureFilm Quarterly and Partisan Review. It contains her negative review of the then widely acclaimed West Side Story, glowing reviews of other movies such as The Golden Coach and Seven Samurai, as well as longer polemical essays such as her largely negative critical responses to Siegfried Kracauer's Theory of Film and Andrew Sarris's Film Culture essay Notes on the Auteur Theory, 1962. The book was a bestseller upon its first release, and is now published by Marion Boyars Publishers.

Kael's first book is characterized by an approach where she would often quote contemporary critics such as Bosley Crowther and Dwight Macdonald as a springboard to debunk their assertions while advancing her own ideas. This approach was later abandoned in her subsequent reviews, but is notably referred to in Macdonald's book, Dwight Macdonald On Movies (1969).

When an interviewer asked her in later years as to what she had "lost", as indicated in the title, Kael averred: "There are so many kinds of innocence to be lost at the movies." It is the first in a series of titles of books that would have a deliberately erotic connotation, typifying the sensual relation Kael perceived herself as having with the movies, as opposed to the theoretical bent that some among her colleagues had. (wikipedia)

• • •

The fill in this one is pretty plain, so everything is really riding on that revealer, and thankfully it delivers. It's one of those idioms I've never used and am only aware of from representations of business or other types of meetings on television or in the movies. Maybe I've heard it a jillion times at meetings I've been in and, like most business-speak, I've tuned it out. Is putting a pin in "it" different from tabling "it"? Nope, "Table" means "postpone consideration of," so I guess someone somewhere just decided the idiom needed livening up. Anyway, it should be a familiar enough expression to most people, and the set of themers covers the "pin" bases very nicely, with VOODOO DOLL expressing the theme most literally or precisely, and the meaning of "pin" getting slightly, uh, bendier from there on: safety pin, bowling pin, PIN number, which is by far my favorite context for "pin" here, mostly because I envisioned the literalists going nuts over the phrase ATM MACHINE ("redundant!," they cried, "the 'M' already stands for 'machine'!"), without realizing that the brilliance of ATM MACHINE as a famously redundant expression here is that the PIN that is relevant here is involved in *yet another* famously redundant expression, namely PIN NUMBER ("redun-... [chokes, sputters] ... -dant! The 'N' .... the ... 'N'!"). So either you're double-mad or you see it as a kind of redundancy joke. I choose option B.


Lots of 3s 4s and 5s today so not much room to get any pizazz into the grid. POOL PARTY sounds fun right about now, but I'm gonna need more than just one ONION RING if we're gonna really get things hopping. I don't love I LOST as fill, but I love the clue. It's a genuinely famous collection of reviews, and I like the New York(er)-ness of the answer. There are good and bad ways for the NYTXW to be obsessed with its home city. This is a good way (Kael wrote for The New Yorker for decades, those decades being primarily the '70s and '80s). There were one too many crossreference clues in this puzzle for my taste, which is to say there were two. PIE / PAN I didn't mind, as those answers intersect, so I didn't have to go looking all over hell and gone to find the other part. The two parts of ICE / CUBE are also relatively close to each other, but having had one crossreference already by the time I got there, I was full. Could've been worse. Could've gone with ARM / REST for the crossreference trifecta. Speaking of ARM, feels like ART or ARC would be better there, which is to say I would never go with a SIM (narrow, old video game-related singular suitable only for xword emergencies, IMHO), when I could get an ordinary word like SIT or SIC in there and clue it All Kinds of Ways. Ordinary words with broad cluing potential > narrowly specific proper nouns if those narrowly specific proper nouns are, themselves, crosswordese of a sort. The reason I'm spending time on this largely unimportant corner is that the SIM clue had "Member of ... family" in it, and so having SI-, I wrote in SIS (and could just as easily have written in SIB). Not real thrilled about cluing ambiguity around an answer that should have, and could have easily, been a different answer. 


More things:
  • 2D: $$$ (MOOLA) — wrote in MONEY. I like that "$$$" appears in this grid twice (see the ATM MACHINE clue). I feel like the puzzle is low-key winking at us a bunch, and today I somehow don't mind.
  • 9D: Clumsy (MALADROIT) — pretty high-falutin' word for a Tuesday. Had the MAL- and still needed a bunch of crosses to remember that MALADROIT (a fine word, actually) existed. 
  • 37D: Wreck room? (STY) — didn't really get this at all ("the pigs just live there ... it's not a 'wreck' to them!") until I realized that STY here is just a metaphor for a messy room, of course.
  • 47D: Shade of some turning leaves (OCHER) — my least favorite fall color, first because it just sounds / looks bad ... like a disease that okra would have ... and second because I can never spell it confidently, probably because it can be spelled two ways: OCHRE / OCHER. The OCHRE spelling is preferred in Britain and other non-US places, but while the NYTXW indicates Britishness for many -RE-spelled words (LITRE, for instance), it never does so for OCHRE, so you just have to guess.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. important updates:





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Nutty candy offering / MON 5-30-22 / Sansa's father on Game of Thrones / Web company with an exclamation mark in its name / Wizard's weapon / Avenger played by Paul Rudd / Suni Team USA gymnastics medalist

Monday, May 30, 2022

Constructor: Alexander Liebeskind

Relative difficulty: Harder than the usual Monday, for sure


THEME: NEW BEGINNINGS (37A: Fresh starts .. or, when said aloud, what 18-, 23-, 53- and 58-Across all have?) — each themer begins with the sound "new" (or Greek letter "Nu," if that's more helpful):

Theme answers:
  • NOUGAT BAR (18A: Nutty candy offering)
  • NEUTRON STAR (23A: Ultradense galactic body)
  • NOODLE BOWLS (53A: Soba servings, for instance)
  • NUMERO UNO (58A: Top dog)
Word of the Day: ANT-MAN (47D: Avenger played by Paul Rudd) —
Ant-Man is the name of several superheroes appearing in books published by Marvel Comics. Created by Stan LeeLarry Lieber and Jack Kirby, Ant-Man's first appearance was in Tales to Astonish #35 (September 1962). The persona was originally the brilliant scientist Hank Pym's superhero alias after inventing a substance that can change size, but reformed thieves Scott Lang and Eric O'Grady also took on the mantle after the original changed his superhero identity to various other aliases, such as Giant-ManGoliath, and Yellowjacket. Pym's Ant-Man is also a founding member of the super hero team known as the Avengers. The character has appeared in several films based on the Marvel character, such as Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) and upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. (wikipedia)
• • •


I think this is a great theme idea. The execution, however ... I dunno. And by "I dunno," I mean I've never heard of half the themers. Let's just say that my never having heard of the term NEUTRON STAR is on me, that I'm a dummy, etc. It's Monday, the answer seems very un-Monday, but again, let's stipulate "dummy" and move on ... move on to NOUGAT BAR, what the hell? I can conceive of such a thing, kind of, but as someone who has consumed a number of nougat-containing bars in my lifetime, I can tell you in all sincerity that I have no recollection of ever having encountered the phrase NOUGAT BAR before in my life. The only reason I know that nougat even exists is because Snickers told me that it exists. It's some kind of nutty concoction, right? Peanuty, maybe? Anyway, wikipedia tells me that nougat "is used in a variety of candy bars," but not that it is, itself, the bar. 
The nougat that appears in many candy bars in the United States and United Kingdom differs from traditional recipes and consists of sucrose and corn syrup aerated with a whipping agent (such as egg whitehydrolyzed soya protein or gelatine); it may also include vegetable fats and milk powder. Typically, it is combined with nuts, caramel, or chocolate. Some American confections feature this type of nougat as the primary component, rather than combined with other elements. Varieties of nougat are found in Milky WayReese's Fast BreakSnickers, Double DeckerZERO bars, and Baby Ruth bars. "Fluffy nougat" is the featured ingredient in the 3 Musketeers bar. (wikipedia)
So I am familiar with all of the above-mentioned nougat-containing candy bars, but I wouldn't call any of them NOUGAT BARs. There are apparently "traditional recipes" of nougat that I guess come in bar form? All I can say is that it's Monday and NOUGAT BAR feels X-tremely made-up. NOODLE BOWLS and NUMERO UNO are right on the Monday money, good job there. I guess getting that fourth "Nu-" sound was probably pretty difficult. But I don't know if NOUGAT BAR was worth it. I had NOUG- and thought "well, it's NOUGAT ... something? Is there an alt-spelling? NOUGATTE? Nope, still too short. NOUGATELE?" The answer just hits my ears wrong.


Other things felt not quite Monday. The clue on STAFF, for instance (1A: Wizard's weapon). SPELL seemed more likely, and anyway how deep into the D&D rules am I supposed to get for a Monday 1-Across anyway? SPY had a "?" clue (1D: Intel employee?) which kept that NW corner briefly mysterious, and then TEA ... people I know who drink TEA drink it all the time. Doesn't scream "breakfast" to me, so yeah, slow going to start this one. Also had PAPAYA before BANANA (6D: Yellow fruit)—the "A"s are all in the same place!! And then I couldn't figure out what the hell the "!" was doing on the SPOILED clue (26D: This is not good!). I thought it was one of those clues like "Step on it!" and the answer would be, say, STAIR. But the "This" in [This is not good!] wasn't a thing—it was the meaning of "not good." Pretty screwy cluing (again, esp. for a Monday). In the end, because the puzzle was otherwise pretty Monday, these weirdnesses were easily overcomeable. But still, this felt more Too-Teu-Tu-Tew-Tuesday to me. Last thing about the theme: there is no need for the "when said aloud" part of the revealer clue. You've got a "?" on the clue, you're covered. It's clear. The "when said aloud" is just redundant. Or else the "?" is. 


Notes:
  • 50D: Suni ___, Team U.S.A. gymnastics medalist (LEE) — this also seems pretty un-Monday (just ... "medalist?"), but there's nothing wrong with giving a common name a new / current twist like this. Crosses make it easy to sort. 
  • 31A: Spot for a mic clip (LAPEL) — the puzzle is weirdly fixated on LAPEL mics this past week (LAPEL MIC was an answer ... I don't know, very recently).
  • 57A: Pollen gatherers (BEES) — this puzzle contains three plural letters ("when said aloud"): BEES, GEES, and SEAS. It's also got two more letters ("when said aloud") in ESSO. And then another ("when said aloud") with TEA. So all in all, that's B G C S O T, and if you anagram those, you get ... well, basically nonsense. Really wanted there to be a secret code.
  • 8D: Australian bird that's a vowel change from 7-Down (EMU) — everything after "bird" here is gratuitous. Not that I don't like the idea of an EMO EMU, but the latter part of this clue adds no important information. It's not like I was unsure which "Australian bird" it might be. "Huh, do you think they want KOOKABURRA here?," I did not wonder.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kind of spider commonly found near train tracks / SUN 5-29-22 / Subject of the seven-letter mnemonic PALE GAS / Slacks say in slang / He played Ferris Bueller's droning economics teacher / Rivendell resident in Lord of the Rings / Offroad Fury 2000s video game / Eponymous physicist Mach / Govt aid for a mom and pop store / Earful in an elevator / Cousin of a bittern / Symbols of rebirth in ancient Egypt

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Constructor: Daniel Bodily and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

"He looks like a leprechaun"—my wife

THEME: "A Monumental Celebration" — a puzzle commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial

The black-square designs:
  • LINCOLN MEMORIAL (27A: Landmark dedicated on 5/30/1922)
  • STOVEPIPE HAT (63D: Accessory in which this puzzle's subject stashed important documents)
  • BEARD (76A: Feature first recommended to this puzzle's subject by an 11-year-old girl)
Other theme answers:
  • A NEW BIRTH / OF FREEDOM (21A: With 23-Across, what this puzzle's subject promised in his most famous address) (you can say "Gettysburg Address" here—we can all see that the puzzle is about Lincoln)
  • SAVIOR OF THE UNION (35D: One epithet for this puzzle's subject)
  • GREAT EMANCIPATOR (38D: Another epithet for this puzzle's subject)
  • HONEST ABE (85A: Nickname for this puzzle's subject)
  • RAILSPLITTER (59D: Campaign nickname that reflected the rustic upbringing of this puzzle's subject)
  • PRE / SID / ENT (unclued as a complete word; clued only in 3-letter parts)
Word of the Day: Jon M. CHU (99A: "Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. ___) —


Jonathan Murray Chu
 (born November 2, 1979) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is best known as the director of 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority cast of Asian descent in a modern setting since The Joy Luck Club in 1993.

The films that he has directed often include musical elements, including the dance films Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) and Step Up 3D (2010), musicals Jem and the Holograms(2015) and In the Heights (2021), and the live concert films Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011) and Justin Bieber's Believe (2013). Chu is an alumnus of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. (wikipedia)

• • •

I wish I had something nice to say about this puzzle, but I cannot tell a lie ... aw, dang, wrong president ... but seriously, I cannot tell a lie—this was over the second I looked at it. It's 100% about the black squares. "Look at me!" OK, I looked at you. Anything else? Oh ... arbitrary trivia, symmetrically placed? Greaaaaat. [Dutifully and listlessly fills grid]. 

Are the STOVEPIPE HAT and BEARD and LINCOLN MEMORIAL designs cute? I guess. But this thing still has to be a crossword puzzle. It has to have crossword ... wordiness. Something. Anything besides random trivia. And, I mean, you didn't even go very deep into the trivia. You actually put STOVEPIPE HAT and LINCOLN MEMORIAL and BEARD in the grid!? But ... they're already in the grid. We Can See Them. Such a weird waste of space. Such bizarre redundancy. And the clue on BEARD is ... shrug. I don't even know what to do with that. It needs some kind of context to be at all interesting. And why do the theme clues keep calling Lincoln "this puzzle's subject" when "this puzzle's subject" is manifestly the Memorial, not the man himself (as the clue on LINCOLN MEMORIAL clearly indicates, it's the Memorial's birthday, not his). The only really interesting aspect of this theme is the way the Memorial design is handled, with three "unchecked" Down answers (answers which are actually "checked," in a way, but the fact that together they spell "PRESIDENT"). That is literally the totality of solving interest in this puzzle. The rest is just fill-in-the-blanks.


Weird to just throw MASSEY in there asymmetrically (33A: Raymond ___, Best Actor nominee for portraying this puzzle's subject (1940)). I can think of at least two other actors who portrayed Lincoln more iconically, and their last names actually have the same number of letters (FONDA, LEWIS), so, you know, go for the actor thing or don't go for the actor thing, but randomly throwing MASSEY in as a kind of afterthought was weird. The clue on EGOTISM was so confusing because I just had no idea what it was pointing to. Who is "me?" Is it you? Me? I wrote in EGOTRIP, which seemed great. Then EGOTIST (is "me" the EGOTIST himself, I wondered). Then finally EGOTISM. Wearisome. I just don't think "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" is ... a SCAT? One unit of SCAT? It's the title of a song. It is not improvised, it is not filling in for lyrics, it is integral to the rhyme and rhythm of the song. Yes, the "words" are meaningless, so it has that in common with scatting, I guess, but oof, it's a reach. Also, still don't get how SCAT is functioning here. I know it only as a verb. But the clue is not a verb. If it were [Sing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," say], maybe SCAT might work. The clue and answer just feel wrong here on multiple levels. 


And then there's the stuff that I just found personally unpleasant. There's a 20+-year-old PlayStation 2 game clue for the absolutely ordinary and crosswordesey ATV (I went with GTA, i.e. Grand Theft Auto). There's Nixon speechwriter BEN STEIN who once called Obama "the most racist president there has ever been in America" (and that's not even in the top ten of dumbest shit that guy has said). There's the ultra-boring and hard-to-parse SBALOAN. I'm not seeing where the pleasure is in any of this. I swore off the entire wearisome MCU a few years back, just before "Avengers: Endgame" came out, but even if I'd seen it, I couldn't have told you who directed it, the same way I can't tell you who directed any of the roughly six hundred and forty-three MCU movies. SKINNYDIP! I liked that (5D: Barely get wet?). And BOOMMIC (that was hard, but worth it) (77A: Extendable recording device). But beyond the superficial showiness of the black-square designs, there's really not a lot here.  


MAIL CALL!

I got a bunch of mail in response to last week's Letter to the Editor (i.e. to me) from Gene Weingarten, on the question of what limits there should be, if any, on potentially off-putting or even outright repugnant fill (e.g. body parts, bodily functions, awful people, gruesome tragedies, racial slurs, etc.). Gene's basic take was that anything you might find mentioned in the paper itself is fair game for the crossword, and that my often vocal objections to things / people I found distasteful were a form of prudery. I ... well, didn't agree. You can read the exchange here. The letters I got were thoughtful (and occasionally very funny). Here are some highlights:

Gary Greenberg seconds Gene's sentiments. He writes that while he understands and appreciates the criteria by which I judge the things I like, my dislikes...
... seem much more personal and petty, and if they are rooted in any larger discourse, it is the one he mentions: Victorianism. I don't think you are a Victorian or really any kind of prude, but of course I don't know. More to the point, to the extent that prudishness is born of disgust about the visceral, this is how it reads, and one wonders where that revulsion is rooted. It's easy to see why clit works and phlegm doesn't--one bothers you, and the other one doesn't. The same is true of your objections to mentions of the NRA or Elon Musk. It is as if you are horrified to be confronted with people or ideas that disgust you, offended to see them as you solve a crossword. 

Which in itself is fine, free country and all that, but, and I mean this question seriously, if you're going to be a critic, don't you have to be more than some random fulminator? If so, then maybe you should figure out what role disgust plays in your aesthetic, and why it is a reliable criterion.  Why do you give it free reign? Why should it be a lodestar of crossword critique? And why should we take your disgust seriously?
Pedar Benson Bate (Director of Operations, NYC Trivia League) offers an interesting look at the issue from the perspective of trivia contests:
The act of including — AND choosing to exclude — certain topics in our trivia content is *always* an act of politics and can be construed or misconstrued as an act of endorsement. (This reminds me of the baffling decision Martin Scorcese made to cast the real Jordan Belfort as a cameo role in The Wolf of Wall Street, and then say that it wasn’t meant to be an approval of the repulsive actions we just saw fictionalized the previous three hours of the movie.) 

Living in this liberal city, we do try to make our questions as even keel as possible, but also with the understanding that there is no such thing as an “objective” trivia night. We know that even TRYING to be objective, our Politics will skew slightly left. Are you going to see a question about Kamala being the first Black woman vice president? Hell yeah! …But don’t ever expect to see questions about [redacted former president], the NRA, or other nasties. 

Whether or not we view ourselves as influencers, we must always at least keep in the back of our mind what kind of energy we are putting out into the world, and I think that your balking at [redacted former president], MUSK, or the RNA is the exact kind of positive energy that the world needs.
Some writers felt more strongly than even I do about keeping certain kinds of ugliness out of the puzzle. Connie Hestand writes:

Yes, those things are the reality of today’s world. It’s all out there and I’m forced to acknowledge it whether I want to or not. And if I should have the audacity to say - “Come on people, we can do better. Let’s clean things up a little bit.” - I’m labeled as a fusty, harrumphing old prude who has no interest in staying in step with modernity. If only I’d just stop with the swooning and go along and never say a word to object.  Well I do object! 
My point is that those who labor to entertain the masses of cruciverbalists are under no obligation to include the “muck, mayhem, malodor, crudeness, crassness and cruelty” we are already suffocated by in order to keep the puzzle socially current. There are plenty of other ways to keep the crossword modern and vibrant without ever dipping into those sewers of humanity. 
Tobias Baskin sees an important distinction between the "ick" related to, say, racial slurs or horrible human beings, and the "ick" related to body parts and functions:
Clearly newspapers do write stories about Elon Musk and we are going to get Musked in puzzles.  I agree with you, I cringe every time I see him or his ilk in a puzzle and good for you for complaining about it. Still, the other day, a puzzle hit me with Kcup, not in reference to some enormous bra but to the one-shot coffee thing; well those are an ecological catastrophe and I hate seeing them in a puzzle.  I think we are going to be gritting our teeth over these kinds of answers for a while. 

    But I am curious about body parts. A few of them are 'curse' words. But most are not. I get how piss and pus and barf are immediately disgusting. But I get no gag reaction from phlegm. Nor any from blood, rheum, lymph, or say, synovial fluid. I don't see those kinds of words in a puzzle often (ever?) but are they banned (like 'piss') or just obscure? Newspapers would run them in a story (I think). Blood is not obscure but it doesn't seem common in puzzles. What about solid body parts? Kidney? Liver? Intestines? Carcinoma? Appendix? Those don't cause me any ick trouble either and again they don't seem too common.

    I don't want to go all moralistic but the same kind of impulse telling us that we should not insult people with slurs, even obliquely in a puzzle, also might tell us that we should get more comfortable with our bodies and their parts. 
Ben Kirby's eminently sensible letter made me laugh out loud:
If my name were ever to appear in the NYTXW, I would be overjoyed. I would say something like “I made it!” and I would call my friends and family to share the good news. My mom would cut out the puzzle and frame it. It would be a feather in my cap, to say the least. But! Let’s say you had to figure out my obscure name via crosses. And let’s say that the crosses were HITLER and DIARRHEA. I would no longer feel good and would want my mom to burn the puzzle. My place of honor would have been tarnished by things worthy only of scorn and disgust.

I don’t want to see ROBERT E. LEE in a puzzle any more than I want to see him on a pedestal in a public square. Removing a statue of him is not erasing him from history- Wikipedia still exists. It is removing him from a place of honor so that that space can be used to honor those whom we collectively agree ought to be emulated. You can put LEE and HITLER and COCKANDBALLS in the NYTXW all you want, as they are indeed part of the lexicon. But to the extent that the NYTXW is a pedestal, you are cheapening that space and handicapping your own ability to honor someone who is truly worthy of it. 
But the letter that was perhaps closest to my own heart was this humdinger from Sally Sullivan, who knows what she likes and what she doesn't like and isn't shy about saying so:
Dear Mr. Parker,

In response to Mr. Weingartetn's letter to you and your response, I offer the following thoughts on those words I wish to see in crosswords.  And those words I do not wish to see.  I am a 78 year old married woman (not quite the 20's dowager), retired social worker and lawyer.  I solve crosswords, and other puzzles, purely for pleasure.  Each morning I tackle some of the NYT puzzles (Spelling Bee, Wordle, and Letter Boxed) with great anticipation and alacrity, if not with constant success.  I then move on to the NYT crossword and the WSJ (which I consider by far the most fun).  I don't do themeless.  I don't enjoy them.  There is no point in doing something that is no fun when one does not have to.

And there lies my point.  I divide those words (and others) that you and Mr. Weingarten discuss into two categories. There are those that give me pleasure because they remind me of pleasurable experiences.  And there are those that are not merely tasteless but downright offensive, because they evoke all that is hateful and evil in our world.  I want crosswords to entertain, to gladden, to give me pleasure.  I am happy to see "penis," "vagina," "clitoris," "orgasm," all of which have given me great pleasure over the years.  I am sure there are others in a similar vein.  I also have no objection to "fuck" and "shit," not only because both acts are enormously pleasurable, but also because nothing satisfies like screaming "You fucking piece of shit" to someone (hopefully without a lethal weapon) who offends.  

 "Hitler," the president who shall not be named, Elon Musk, and others evoke evil, malevolence, misery, disaster, arrogance, and corruption.  And so on.  I don't want to be assaulted by these feelings when I puzzle. I get enough in the news.  Therefore I stand, at least partially, with you Mr. Parker.  I am not a prude.  I simply like pleasure, where and when I can get it.  

I realize much of this is up to each individual's sensitivities, and many words fall somewhere in the middle.  For example, I have wiped kids' snotty noses enough times not to be bothered by "phlegmy" while drinking my coffee.  Others may differ. 

With best wishes and hopes for pleasurable puzzliing,

Sally Sullivan
You heard Sally. Get your pleasure where you can get it, folks. I'll see you tomorrow. And if you have any crossword thoughts you'd like to see in the Letter(s) to the Editor next Sunday, drop me a line: rexparker at icloud dot com.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. my wife just noticed that "ace" is in the clue for SKY (55A: Place for an ace), even though ACED is already in the grid, and very nearby (43D: Nailed). I think she's correct that this is an editing flaw, albeit a minor one.

P.P.S. Holy cow, that MALT / MELT trap is unfair (33D: Diner order). No idea how I knew that EVA Green was an EVA and not an AVA (41A: Actress Green of "Casino Royale"). Just lucky. MALT is so much better than MELT as an answer to 33D: Diner order that I can totally see how many of you (like my wife, it turns out) would've fallen into the MALT trap. Absolutely awful editing there—the clue on MELT should've been crystal clear, since it's crossing a not-that-famous proper noun at a highly ambiguous vowel.

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England's first poet laureate 1668 / SAT 5-28-22 / Mortimer famed ventriloquy dummy of old / Longevous / Order with four periods / Relative of mustard / Nickname in 1950s-'60s TV / 1980 black-and-white film that was nominated for Best Picture / Where zardozi embroidery is prevalent / Oafish outburst / disco European music genre

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Constructor: Joseph Greenbaum

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: JOHN DRYDEN (11D: England's first poet laureate (1668)) —

John Dryden (/ˈdrdən/; 19 August [O.S. 9 August] 1631 – 12 May  [O.S. 1 May] 1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was appointed England's first Poet Laureate in 1668.

He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. Romanticist writer Sir Walter Scott called him "Glorious John". [...] 

With the reopening of the theatres in 1660 after the Puritan ban, Dryden began writing plays. His first play The Wild Gallant appeared in 1663, and was not successful, but was still promising, and from 1668 on he was contracted to produce three plays a year for the King's Company in which he became a shareholder. During the 1660s and 1670s, theatrical writing was his main source of income. He led the way in Restoration comedy, his best-known work being Marriage à la Mode (1673), as well as heroic tragedy and regular tragedy, in which his greatest success was All for Love (1678). Dryden was never satisfied with his theatrical writings and frequently suggested that his talents were wasted on unworthy audiences. He thus was making a bid for poetic fame off-stage. In 1667, around the same time his dramatic career began, he published Annus Mirabilis, a lengthy historical poem which described the English defeat of the Dutch naval fleet and the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was a modern epic in pentameter quatrains that established him as the preeminent poet of his generation, and was crucial in his attaining the posts of Poet Laureate (1668) and historiographer royal (1670). (wikipedia)
• • •

The Easy puzzle onslaught continues. I thought this was a lovely puzzle, but decidedly more Friday than Thursday. Now, I love Friday puzzles. Best day! But I mostly like them on Friday. If you give me one on Saturday, I'm not going to complain too much, but still, I wonder why the puzzle is being defanged across the board (certainly Tues.-Sat.).  I entered the first dozen or so answers in this puzzle without any hesitation. In fact, the first four came so fast that I thought something must be wrong ... I also worried that maybe there was some terrible theme afoot ... some kind of "AP" theme:


ASAP APP APSE in quick succession ... yes, that was briefly worrisome. But then the long answers got in on the act and I worried less. I could see the triple stack waiting for me there in the center of the grid, and my relationship to triple (and quad) stacks has, historically, been, let's say, fraught, so I approached with caution (that is, I tried to throw as much down into that stack section as I could before I even looked at the stack clues). Answers that are parts of stacks sometimes have the tendency to feel forced: awkward verb tenses or otherwise clunky phrasings. I figured the best way to deal with the potential disappointment of that center stack was to enjoy the top half of the puzzle as much as possible and see how many of those long Downs I could throw down into there. Answer: All Of The Long Downs. I got all six before ever really entering the middle of the puzzle in earnest. Better yet: those Long Downs were great! Well, for me they were. 


This puzzle felt like it was built with my particular niche tastes in mind, from David Lynch films ("ELEPHANT MAN") to old westerns (SIX-SHOOTERS) to 17th-century poet laureates (JOHN DRYDEN), though with that last one ... I have a confession. A professor-of-17th-century-literature confession. I screwed it up at first pass. See, I got JOHN, saw the date in the clue (one year after the publication of Paradise Lost), and instinctively dropped in JOHN MILTON. Now, if you did that, well, of course you did, Milton is much more famous (and, ahem, better). That's a trap *you* are supposed to fall into. It's not one that *I* am supposed to fall into. But then I guess I knew well enough to yank MILTON quickly and install DRYDEN. Like, I knew DRYDEN was an option, at least. Still, that brief mistake felt like a personal failure. I teach MILTON all the time, whereas DRYDEN ... let's just say, I want my students to actually like 17th-century literature, so ... yeah, little if any DRYDEN on the British Literature I syllabus, I'm afraid. I do teach APHRA (5) BEHN (4) a whole bunch. She's an exceedingly important playwright and early novelist and I can't believe she hasn't benefited at all from the "we should put more women in the puzzles!" phenomenon, especially since her name parts are so short. BEHN has never been (!) in the NTYXW at all, whereas APHRA has ... but only back in Maleskan Times (and not since 1983).


Anyway, by the time I looked at the stack clues, I was able to knock them all off 1-2-3, bam bam bam. They all seem fine. You do get that verb tense tinkering that I was talking about (past tense in the first one, third-person in the second), but that's just normal crossword stuff, and none of that tinkering makes these phrases feel clunky. The only real trouble spot I had in the whole puzzle was the far SW, where I couldn't come up with whatever word was supposed to follow MARVEL at 27D: Look at with awe (MARVEL OVER). I wrote in MARVEL UPON. But eventually I was able to back WORSHIPS into that space and everything became clear from there. Splashed down happily at the end of the WATER SLIDE and that was that. A fun day at the crossword water park.


Notes:
  • 19A: Nickname in 1950s-'60s TV (BEAV) — from BEAV to SNERD via SIX-SHOOTERS, the pop culture in this one did skew a little old, I'll admit
  • 41A: Terence ___, Fields Medal-winning mathematician (TAO) — that's two times for this guy just this year. I feel like this clue is just an attempt to hide the fact that all you've done really is put a very very common three-letter answer in the grid again. [UPDATE: well, it looks like my comment about the ridiculousness of cluing this as a name was prescient, as lots and lots of solvers, including my wife, absolutely foundered at the "T" crossing, going with WINEMASTER / MAO instead. That seems like a genuine Natick to me, as TAO is not well known outside math circles, and both WINEMASTER and MAO seem plausible for their clues. WINEMASTER actually kinda seems *better* for its clue than WINETASTER (29D: Port authority?). Let me just add that if no one has DJED under the name WINEMASTER MAO by the end of the summer, I'll be very disappointed]
  • 60A: Longevous (AGED) — that clue hurts even to look at. What in the world?
  • 30A: Tease, with "on" (RAG) — I wrote in RIP. My favorite thing about RAG is that it completes an Across row that reads like the bold declaration of a bizarrely named supervillain: "I AM RAT WAX RAG! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" You might say "but a RAT WAX RAG is not a real thing," to which I say, clearly you've never tried to get wax off a rat. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kind of cake with layers of coffee and chocolate / FRI 5-27-22 / Film technique that accommodates wide- and full-screen display / Lures into a relationship by using a fictional online persona / Occasion for a high flute / The one in Layla lasts 3 minutes 48 seconds / Home of the largest street fair in North America / Improbable orders for oenophiles

Friday, May 27, 2022

Constructor: David Distenfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: OPEN MATTE (66A: Film technique that accommodates wide- and full-screen display) —

Open matte is a filming technique that involves matting out the top and bottom of the film frame in the movie projector (known as a soft matte) for the widescreen theatrical release and then scanning the film without a matte (at Academy ratio) for a full screen home video release.

Open matte can be used with non-anamorphic films presented in 2.20:1 or 2.39:1, but it isn't used as often, mainly because it adds too much additional headroom, depending upon how well the framing was protected or if the director chooses to create a certain visual aesthetic. Instead, those films will employ either pan and scan or reframing using either the well-protected areas or the areas of interest. Films shot anamorphically use the entire 35 mm frame (except for the soundtrack area), so they must use pan and scan as a result. [...] 

With high-definition television now in common usage (with its standardized 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio), the need to reformat 1.85:1 movies for television viewing has virtually evaporated, although television broadcasts still reformat 2.39:1 movies by means of using open matte or pan and scan. For films with wider aspect ratios (2.39:1, for example) the matting bars will appear on the top and bottom of the screen of the broadcast image, thus preserving each director's framing intent. (wikipedia)
• • •

This week has been ridiculously easy. I wonder if there's some kind of long-term plan to lower the difficulty bar across the board, so as to make the puzzle more generally accessible. All I know is that I would like the puzzles to have a little more teeth than they've had of late. The good kind of teeth, though. Not obscurity teeth or awful forced "?"-clue teeth. Clever misdirection teeth. Sneaky ambiguity teeth. It would be nice to meet some pleasant resistance. I dropped today's 1-Across in immediately, with no crosses in place (1A: Lures into a relationship by using a fictional online persona). Extremely literal clue on well-established slang. Whatever feeling of currency that answer might have had (and it's not exactly new anymore) is undermined by the dull, straightforward, obvious clue. The puzzle does a better job with the ALL THE FEELS clue (12D: Mixed emotions, so to speak), though in that case the answer is an expression so personally off-putting that it didn't add to my solving enjoyment at all. ALL THE FEELS is like ADULTING, a cutesy phrase that flattens the diversity and complex reality of human experience into meme-able onlinespeak. You don't have "mixed emotions," you have very specific feelings that you could probably express if you wanted to, but no, ALL THE FEELS, which basically says Nothing but wants to be seen as adorable. Pfft. That expression is, as they also say online, cringe. It's important to say here, because people seem to get confused, that when I don't like a phrase, like ALL THE FEELS, I'm writing as an ordinary solver who has Feelings about words, phrases, etc. I like some, don't like others. This is (mostly) a personal solving diary, not a rule book. If I really think an answer Has No Place In All Of Crosswords, I'll tell you. ALL THE FEELS is extremely valid. And I hate it. So that's where we've landed with that.


I love the expression IN THE WEEDS, though I don't think the clue here adequately conveys the lost-ness implied by the phrase (42A: Dealing with technical difficulties, say). Dealing with technical difficulties is a neutral activity—people who deal with technical things do it all the time, and when they do it, they're not IN THE WEEDS, a phrase which implies being over your head or talking over someone else's (i.e. immersed in details of a technical nature to the point where you've lost your audience). Looks like the phrase has some prominence as restaurant slang for when a server is totally overwhelmed by orders ... now that is interesting to me. Here's a good overview of this multivalent phrase (none of the valences seem properly represented by today's clue). The cluing was suspect in several other places today. Some HOUSE WINES are good, and there's no reason an oenophile might not drink one (7D: Improbable orders for oenophiles). It's hard to believe they chose the clue [Like households with stay-at-home spouses, typically] for ONE-INCOME, especially in a post-pandemic age when sooooooooo many more people are working from home. I don't like the weird assumptions this clue is making ("typically"). 


The only slow-down I experienced today came in the eastern section, where both EDU and SEEPS had bizarro clues that made it (briefly) difficult to get both ADAPTER (28D: Item to pack for a trip abroad) and the more toughly-clued SUNSETS (29D: Down times?). That is one highly metaphorical clue on SEEPS (41A: Infiltrates). Seems to be attributing a lot of nefarious agency to whatever moisture is SEEPing through your basement windows or improperly sealed food container or whatever. I think that's it—"Infiltrates" feels active and "SEEPS" feels passive and I wouldn't put them in the same universe, though I'm sure the clue is defensible. As for state names appearing before EDU (33A: Follower of many state names) ... sigh, OK, in the few cases where the school is a flagship state school, maybe, but I got my Ph.D. from a flagship state school and the domain name was "umich.edu," not "michigan.edu," and Cal is "berkeley.edu," so ... I dunno, man. This clue seems pretty forced. Then there were two things I simply didn't know, right on top of each other, in the SE. I read the OPEN MATTE wikipedia entry several times and still don't quite get it. Modern TVs don't require conversion to "full-screen" (4:3) aspect ratio anymore, so I guess OPEN MATTE was more important in yesteryear. Anyway, this answer felt pretty IN THE WEEDS to me. RADIO DIAL is a familiar enough phrase but what "55" might have to do with it, I had no idea. Been a long (long) time since I stared at an AM dial (!). Apparently 540 Khz is the low end of the AM spectrum, and radio dials often represented this as a 54 or (why!?!) a 55:

55

54

I'm guessing that of all the clues that might befuddle people today, this RADIO DIAL clue will be the befuddlingest. I don't think there's much else that requires explanation. [Act crabby?] is SIDLE because crabs SIDLE. RONA Barrett was a gossip columnist in times of yore (52A: First name in gossip). The "flute" in 10A: Occasion for a high flute? (TOAST) is a glass and it's "high" presumably because you have raised it ... for a TOAST. I had "Is that ALL?" before "Is that A NO?" and I won't have been alone there, but I don't think I made any other errors or initial missteps, which is super-odd for a Friday (or any day). I either knew the answer, or I didn't and I waited for crosses to help, but no face-planting, no whoops I fell in a hole. It's a solid puzzle, but it didn't offer much in the way of adventure.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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