Warning before a gory movie scene / THU 6-30-22 / Fictional Christian of books and films / Some cryobank deposits / American home or a royal palace / Obsolescent music holder / P.M. preceded and succeeded by Churchill / Vampiric in appearance / Playmate of Fido and Rover

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (more one or the other depending on how long it takes you to figure out the gimmick)

THEME: "COVER YOUR EYES!" (40A: Warning before a gory movie scene ... or a phonetic hint to answering four rows in this puzzle) —four 15-letter theme answers are impossible to see at first because their "I"s have been "covered" by black squares. That is: four Across answers that start on the far left-hand side of the grid (17A, 24A, 53A, and 62A) appear to be mere 3- or 4- letter answers but are actually 15-letter grid-spanning answers that continue onto subsequent squares in their respective rows. The rows that they are in look like they contain three Across answers, but the row is all one answer once you put "I"s in the black squares on those rows. Each of the three regular-seeming "answers" in the affected rows appears to be clued separately, but those clues are just clue parts—you need to read all three Across clues in that row in succession in order to get the clue for the full, "I"-containing, grid-spanning answer (the "covered" "I"s have no effect on Down answers). And so:

Theme answers:
  • VENDING MACHINES (17A: Mechanical + 18A: Snack + 19A: Dispensers)
  • MARIE ANTOINETTE (24A: French + 27A: Cake + 30A: Advocate?)
  • DETROIT RED WINGS (53A: Atlantic + 55A: Division + 57A: Skaters)
  • ALL-IN-ONE PRINTER (62A: Home + 63A: Office + 66A: Convenience)
Word of the Day: NAVARRE (32D: Pamplona's province) —

Navarre (English: /nəˈvɑːr/SpanishNavarra [naˈβara]BasqueNafarroa [nafaro.a]), officially the Chartered Community of Navarre (Spanish: Comunidad Foral de Navarra [komuniˈðað foˈɾal de naˈβara]; Basque: Nafarroako Foru Komunitatea [nafaro.ako foɾu komunitate.a]), is a foral autonomous community and province in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Autonomous CommunityLa Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France. The capital city is Pamplona (BasqueIruña). The present-day province makes up the majority of the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Navarre, a long-standing Pyrenean kingdom that occupied lands on both sides of the western Pyrenees, with its northernmost part, Lower Navarre, located in the southwest corner of France.

Navarre is in the transition zone between Green Spain and semi-arid interior areas, and thus its landscapes vary widely across the region. Being in a transition zone also produces a highly variable climate, with summers that are a mix of cooler spells and heat waves, and winters that are mild for the latitude. Navarre is one of the historic Basque districts: its Basque features are conspicuous in the north, but virtually absent on the southern fringes. The best-known event in Navarre is the annual festival of San Fermín held in Pamplona in July. (wikipedia)

• • •

OK, a proper Thursday then, let's do this! Floundering was the name of the game for the first part of this solve, that's for sure. Just that first little bit, the tiny NW corner, left me a little queasy, as I didn't understand how [Mechanical] could mean VEND. Was DEV wrong? (1D: Part of R & D: Abbr.). Was TEN wrong? (3D: Face value?). The latter seemed quite possible, as it had a "?" clue and who the hell knows what's going on with "?" clues half the time! I left VEND in place and floated down into the middle of the puzzle where things were still eerily off. I noticed there were no clear *theme* answers in this thing, no longer answers except for that middle Across. I'm not even sure I really noticed the middle Across answer, I just noticed that there was a creepy lack of apparent themers, so it was like, I don't know, being in a ghost town where zombies or some faster creatures were going to jump out and maul me any second. After solving a bunch of answers but also getting weirdly mildly stuck all over, I just went looking for a revealer to see if I could get a grip on what was going on. Scanned the clues and found 40-Across, with its soothing post-elliptical indication that yes, some weird stuff was afoot. So I just went after the [Warning before a gory movie] answer. The problem was, whose "warning?" I figured it would be some kind of pre-movie advisory from the movie itself, but apparently it's a warning from a friend of yours who has already seen the gory movie and has dragged you to the gory movie even though you are apparently squeamish about gory movies (you two have a weird dynamic). Or it's a parent's warning to a child, which raises the question "why is your child watching this movie at all, have you not heard of 'The Little Mermaid'?" The more I think about this admonition, the less I understand it. I didn't come to a movie to Not watch, presumably. But the warning appears to have lots of currency in horror-related contexts, and I figured it out without too much trouble, so it's fine. But even after getting it, I didn't *get it*—that is, I didn't know how it applied to the grid. I looked at VEND and thought ... "are there "I"s under there ... somewhere?" It was right ... here that the penny finally dropped:

I must have seen all the Across clues lined up in a row in the clues list—Mechanical / Snack / Dispensers are stacked one atop the other in the Across clue list. I never read the clue lists in order like that—I'm always toggling between Across and Down, working on whatever seems likeliest to give me my next answer success. Or, because I knew the "I" thing affected "rows," not just individual entries, maybe I just pulled back and looked at the row as a whole and saw VENDING MACHINES there. At any rate, I saw it. The most impressive thing about this theme, to me, is the way the theme answer clues are parceled out over three apparently separate clues. Totally devilish. You absolutely have to get that revealer answer; until then, you're going to be stuck solving partial clues as if they were full clues and getting gibberish as your answers. I don't know what to make of the "I"s not "working" in the Downs. I think I'm OK with it. They're ghost "I"s. I enjoyed working for and (finally) getting this theme, and I think the cluing trick is really ingenious. I am always happy when Thursday decides to be Thursday! I hope there aren't too many howls of "unfair!" today, but then again ... I don't mind the sound of howling. It's soothing sometimes. 

There was so much theme business to take care of that the rest of the grid didn't make much of an impression on me. It must've held up just fine. I see a lot of short repeaters, but they're not particularly ugly or bygone, and they're mostly just doing their job of holding the elaborate theme framework in place. DEBARK hurts my ears a little. I would say DISEMBARK, wouldn't you? Isn't that a word? DEBARK sounds like you're saying "depart" or "the bark" ("which bark?" "dat bark over dere!"). I had a hilarious hard time with the clue ["Blown" seal] because I thought for sure there was a movie called "Blown" starring some trained seal, like an ocean-Lassie or something, and I'll be damned if I know the names of any famous seals. I enjoyed seeing ENO and then finding out he was just the OPENER for ELO. Wait, no: looks like AC/DC was the real opener back at 4D: "Thunderstruck" band. Would not have minded having ONO show up for a song or two. There are worse directions for crosswordese to go. I know PETARD only from Shakespeare, but I do know that it is explosive, so that was easy enough. Christian GREY is the "50 Shades" guy. Way way outside my area of interest, but big (uh, famous) enough to have made an impression in my brain somewhere. ELON *University* is welcome in my grid any time. Anything else? Are the "?" clues clear? "Face" cards count as "ten" in Blackjack (and maybe other games) (3D: Face value?). PARK is the [Top gear?] because it's presumably at the (literal) top of the gear selector in your (automatic transmission) vehicle. The "relief" in 24D: Guide showing relief, maybe just refers to a relief map (you know, a map with 3D representation of elevation). I'm overexplaining. I'll stop. Good, challenging puzzle! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Spiral-horned antelope / WED 6-29-22 / Relative of a cor anglais / NYC venue for the Ramones and the Cramps / Cardamom-infused tea / Legendary Himalayan humanoid / Amber quaff / Troop troupe for short / Cartoonist Goldberg who drew contraptions like the Self-Operating Napkin

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Constructor: Jared Goudsmit

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (the "challenging" part is mostly for the extra effort it takes to locate / fill in all the rebus squares)

THEME: AB CRUNCHES (61A: Core exercises .. or a hint to eight squares in this puzzle) — letter sequence "AB" gets "crunched" into one square, eight times (four theme answers, two "AB" squares apiece):

Theme answers:
  • GRABBED A BITE (17A: Ate and ran, say)
  • INHABITABLE (21A: Fit to live in)
  • ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (37A: Legendary Himalayan humanoid)
  • ABRACADABRA (52A: The magic word?)
Word of the Day: NYALA (39D: Spiral-horned antelope) —
sexual dimorphism!
lowland nyala or simply nyala (Tragelaphus angasii), is a spiral-horned antelopenative to southern Africa (not to be confused with the endangered Mountain nyala living in the Bale region of Ethiopia). It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Nyala, also considered to be in the genus Tragelaphus. It was first described in 1849 by George French Angas. The body length is 135–195 cm (53–77 in), and it weighs 55–140 kg (121–309 lb). The coat is maroon or rufous brown in females and juveniles, but grows a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue, in adult males. Females and young males have ten or more white stripes on their sides. Only males have horns, 60–83 cm (24–33 in) long and yellow-tipped. It exhibits the highest sexual dimorphism among the spiral-horned antelopes. [...] The nyala's range includes MalawiMozambiqueSouth AfricaEswatiniZambia, and Zimbabwe. It has been introduced to Botswana and Namibia, and reintroduced to Eswatini, where it had been extinct since the 1950s. Its population is stable and it has been listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The principal threats to the species are poaching and habitat loss resulting from human settlement. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

first Premier of China
Big gap here between quality of theme idea (great!) and quality of overall puzzle (less great). As with the Monday puzzle, I felt my confidence flag very quickly after I ran into a lot of short fill that felt very yesteryear, most notably the name partial ENLAI, which used to appear all the time in grids, back when people didn't have software to help them and also didn't have to try as hard for clean grids because competition wasn't nearly as fierce as it is today. You used to see CHOU (or ZHOU) a lot more too. Anyway, either one of that guy's name parts are potential red flags, warnings of "rough fill ahead." Neither name part is inherently bad, and if your overall puzzle were killer, you wouldn't blink at a stray CHOU or ENLAI. But in this grid, with so much other overfamiliar short stuff (e.g. EDAM AVAST NENE NOTA ATON ALOE SYSCO ERIN HUTT (another name part), ENLAI felt not like a necessary compromise, but like a bad omen of what the overall fill quality was going to be like. And what do you call stuff that *used* to be crosswordese but that you almost never see anymore? Asking for a friend. That friend's name is NYALA. I (eventually) remembered NYALA from my various expeditions into the wilds of ... crosswords of yore. The only reason I know most antelopes is from crosswords. I remember ORIBI very, very well from one of my first write-ups. But though the actual NYALA is not endangered, crossword NYALAs have all but gone extinct. So it's crosswordese ... but resurrected crosswordese. Ghost crosswordese. So is it even crosswordese anymore? If crosswordese has been pretty well buried in the past, maybe it's not stale any more. Maybe it's "retro." Can ASTA come back and play now? Anyway, my point ... wow, what was my point? Oh, EN-LAI had me fearing the worst. I didn't get the worst, but I didn't get much of anything good, either. *Except* the revealer, which, as I say, really truly works and is cute. So it's an extremely one-note puzzle, despite having 8 x "AB" = sixteen (musical) notes. If the rebus squares are, in fact, musically playable, and especially if what they play is the theme from "Jaws," which opened 47 years ago this past week, well then, this puzzle is genius. Otherwise, this puzzle is thematically clever but a bit tiresome to work through.

The rebus came swiftly. I wanted ARABS, ARABS wouldn't fit, but the surrounding fill meant that ARABS absolutely had to fit ... therefore "AB" rebus. Didn't get the 2-per-answer dealie with the rebus squares immediately because I had no idea what that first themer was going for, based on its clue. I had GRABBED and figured that since the familiar phrase is "grab and go" and the clue was "eat and run," the answer would be, what, GRABBED AND WENT (!?!). But no, not verb and verb but verbed A BITE. Puzzle is really pushing its luck with the "___ A ___" levels in this part of the grid. GRABBED A BITE x/w IN A BIT and *also* x/w TIE A BOW. None of these reaches EAT A SANDWICH levels of absurdity, but en masse, they're still a lot to take. I find things like INBETA and ADSPACE really dreary, maybe because once an answer gets 6 letters or longer I really expect it to brighten up the place a little. Something about the technicality and ho-hum adequacy of these answers is dispiriting, moreso when the grid is kind of anemic to begin with. I wish the "AB" answers themselves had had more sparkle, but just finding 2x"AB" answers that you can arrange symmetrically at all was probably a challenge. Maybe I'd be more happy about ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN as an answer if a. it had its initial "THE" (it's really awkward to pretend that he's just ... ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN), or b. I didn't see YETI in the grid all the damn time, thus making ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN feel (ironically) like a common sight. I did like "WHAT'S NEW!?" It has this quaint quality, having largely been surpassed in recent years by the more colloquial and somehow less genuinely curious-sounding "WHAT'S UP?" "WHAT'S NEW?" sounds like you really want to hear how a person's been. "WHAT'S UP?" is more formulaic, more of a "hey!" Like "How ya doin?" You ask that, you don't really wanna know. You're just being polite. But "WHAT'S NEW?" actually seems to invite a response. Also, "WHAT'S UP?" can have kind of a "why are you bothering me right now?" that "WHAT'S NEW?" is simply never going to have.  "WHAT'S NEW?" is the cry of someone who cares about you and wants to hear how you've been. Whereas "AVAST, NENE!" is the cry of someone who's been at sea way, way too long. 

No mistakes today except NIQAB for HIJAB (11D: Muslim headscarf) (NIQAB is a veil, which some women wear as an extension / interpretation of HIJAB). I also got "cor anglais" confused with a French horn and so tried HORN at first for 63A: Relative to a cor anglais (OBOE). I know, you must be thinking, "What a RUBE." But if I'm being *really* honest, my first thought was that "cor anglais" was some type of pastry. And now I'm hungry. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tantalizing film preview / TUES 6-28-22 / Thames-side art gallery / Thieves' stash, maybe / Telenovela, e.g. / Thematically presented

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Hi, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday of June (how is it almost July already?!). Last time, I did my write-up while in Prague at 7 a.m.; this time, I’m doing it at a much more normal time and from a much more boring place, back in D.C. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take this opportunity to say: The Warriors are NBA champs! I’ll say that again: The Warriors are NBA champs!! Their run was just phenomenal, and they’re the best. The Night Night celebration is iconic. And the Dubs core managed to win again despite being dismissed by the media for the past two years. Now, with basketball and hockey over, I’ll rely on tennis to keep me entertained (go, Carlito and Serena!), maybe with some baseball, too, depending on how my Giants do. Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Scott Graham

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy

THEME: TEE TIME There seem to be parts to the theme: 1) Six of the answers are two-word phrases where each word starts with “T”; 2) There are T’s constructed from black squares in the puzzle; and 3) Each clue starts with the letter “T.”

Theme answers:
  • TOP THIS (13A: "Try and do better!"
  • TEA TREE (15A: Traditional medicine uses its oil) 
  • TEASER TRAILER (29A: Tantalizing film preview) 
  • TREASURE TROVE (35A: Thieves' stash, maybe) 
  • TAKE TEN (56A: Table the rehearsal for a bit, say) 
  • TEE TIME (57A: Tiger's slot on the schedule, e.g.)
Word of the Day: SHEMP (39A: Three Stooges member, for a time) —
Samuel Horwitz (March 11, 1895 – November 22, 1955), known professionally as Shemp Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was called "Shemp" because "Sam" came out that way in his mother's thick Litvak accent. He is best known as the third Stooge in the Three Stooges, a role he played when the act began in the early 1920s (1923–1932), while it was still associated with Ted Healy and known as "Ted Healy and his Stooges"; and again from 1946 until his death in 1955. During the fourteen years between his times with the Stooges, he had a successful solo career as a film comedian, including series of shorts by himself and with partners, and reluctantly returned to the Stooges as a favor to his brothers Moe and Curly. (Wiki)
• • •
What a Tuesday puzzle! T is indeed for Tuesday. In what I think is his debut, Scott Graham gave solvers a meticulously constructed puzzle that was themed on many different levels relating to “T.” There are six words placed symmetrically in the puzzle that are two-word phrases where each word starts with “T.” All of the black squares in the puzzle are in the shape of a “T.” And, finally, all the clues start with the letter “T” (that one took me a while to realize). I originally didn’t notice the theme, but, looking back, I started to appreciate the puzzle more and more. And it’s obviously very fitting to appear in the Times on a Tuesday. 

The theme answers themselves were alright. I find it clever (if intentional) how there’s TEA TREE and TEE TIME and then the center of the puzzle is HOT COFFEE (34A: Tipplers drink this in the belief it helps sober them up). I also did like TREASURE TROVE and TEASER TRAILER because they’re just fun, long phrases. The others seem a bit basic, but I guess you can’t be too picky when working within the limit of all those T’s. 

The placement of some answers in the puzzle was clever, too. There’s 20D: Tailoring related (SARTORIAL), and then right next to it there’s 15A: This is what a tailor seeks to provide, which is also tailoring related (THE PERFECT FIT). There’s ALFA (50A: Turin-based automaker ___ Romeo) and FERRARI (52A: Testarossa or Portofino) near each other, which are both related to Italian cars. The answer TOP THIS (13A: "Try and do better!") is on top of ACE HIGH (16A: Two pair beats it in poker). 

SUSSED (56A) is a great word. YES AND (12: Two-word tenet of improv comedy) is one of my favorite answers in a crossword in recent memory. 57A: Tiger's slot on the schedule, e.g. (TEE TIME) is an amazing clue. 

There wasn’t a ton of crosswordese, and the many seven-letter downs were mostly different from the norm. 

I know I’m sort of waxing poetic about the puzzle, but I did find some oddities. While it’s objectively very clever and impressive that the constructor managed to start all the clues with a “T,” that led to some weirdly phrased clues, which really confused me (until I realized why they were like that). Case in point: For ACE HIGH (16A), the clue is: Two pair beats it in poker. It’s oddly specific about two pair, as so many hands in poker will beat an ACE HIGH. 43A: To what effect as HOW seems just kind of lazy. I also didn’t love 53D: Tomato shade with RED because it’s pretty boring (and tomatoes come in different shades, anyway; “Typical tomato shade” would’ve worked better). The clue for SWEDEN (59A: Third-largest country in the European Union, after France and Spain) also felt like useless trivia. (Though maybe someone finds the country’s relative size super fascinating.) 

I really, really hated the clue/answer VOTER ID (37D: Thing checked at a polling station). First off, it’s not required to vote in California (and about 15 other states). These laws are also incredibly controversial — a number of them have been overturned because they were clearly implemented to suppress voters in predominantly minority communities. I hated seeing this phrase tossed in so casually in the puzzle. 

Having SHOWER CURTAIN as a sort of marquee answer at 14D: Tub accessory was a bit disappointing. It’s just so random to give that much space to. Also, not all tubs have shower curtains around them. If I ever achieve my dream of owning a clawfoot tub, there’s no way I’m hiding it behind a piece of flimsy PVC. THE PERFECT FIT (15A) is a good phrase, but I just don’t like seeing THE in the puzzle, especially when it’s just there to take up space. (Now, if you want to mock Ohio State University for getting a trademark on “the,” I’m here for that.) There was a slightly strange number of violent words in the puzzle. You’ve got SHAFTS (39D), TROUNCE (10D), HARM (8D), SMOTE (46D), and ARES (48D) (the God of War). They’re also all downs. How odd. 

Anyway, there were some odd bits to the puzzle, but most of them seem to have been in service of what was a very impressively constructed theme.

  • Today, I learned that there was a Three Stooges member not named Larry, Curly, or Moe! In fact, there seem to have been six Stooges, and they performed for a bit as the Six Stooges. The things you learn while solving crosswords! I had the h, m, and p of SHEMP and for some reason decided that the right answer was “chimp.” That answer is plausible, right? 
  • I had a BIER (27D: Tall one or cold one, in German) or two while in Berlin — where the lagers are far superior to the offerings here in the States. While there, to be different, I also went to an Irish pub and had a margarita. (The ones in California are better.) 
  • I filled in TEASER TRAILER (29A) immediately. As in the TEASER TRAILER for "Thor: Love and Thunder," which I shall be seeing in the theater on opening night in a bit more than a week. Color me excited! 
  • AFT (33D: Toward the stern) being ship-related made me think of the show I just started (and, yes, also finished) called “Our Flag Means Death.” It’s a delightful and quirky comedy about a wealthy aristocrat who gets bored of his life and decides to become a pirate. His moniker is then the “Gentleman Pirate.” Highly recommend.
And that's all! Have a great July.

Signed, Clare Carroll, ta-ta til the (next) Tuesday

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sound at the start of gentle and giant / MON 6-27-22 / Animal relative an astonished person may claim to be / PC shortcut for copy / Pageant whose hosts have included Bob Barker, Dick Clark and Steve Harvey

Monday, June 27, 2022

Constructor: Drew Schmenner

Relative difficulty: Slightly harder than the usual Monday (still Easy, relax)

THEME: SETTING SUN (31D: What glows in the west at the day's end ... or a hint to this puzzle's sequence of shaded [i.e. circled] squares) — letter string "SUN" appears in long Downs, near the top of the grid in the EAST and then descending with each subsequent themer, if you read the themers backward (i.e. right to left, or EAST to west).

Theme answers:
  • SUNNI ISLAM (11D: Predominant religion of Indonesia and Pakistan)
  • MISS UNIVERSE (9D: Pageant whose hosts have included Bob Barker, Dick Clark and Steve Harvey)
  • GPS UNIT (26D: Dashboard-mounted navigator)
  • MONKEY'S UNCLE (21D: Animal "relative" an astonished person may claim to be)
Word of the Day: "Perry MASON" (9A: "Perry ___" (classic legal drama)) —

Perry Mason is an American legal drama series originally broadcast on CBS television from September 21, 1957, to May 22, 1966. The title character, portrayed by Raymond Burr, is a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who originally appeared in detective fiction by Erle Stanley Gardner. Many episodes are based on stories written by Gardner.

Perry Mason was Hollywood's first weekly one-hour series filmed for television, and remains one of the longest-running and most successful legal-themed television series. During its first season, it received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Dramatic Series, and it became one of the five most popular shows on television. Burr received two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and Barbara Hale received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Seriesfor her portrayal of Mason's confidential secretary Della StreetPerry Mason and Burr were honored as Favorite Series and Favorite Male Performer in the first two TV GuideAward readers' polls. In 1960, the series received the first Silver Gavel Award presented for television drama by the American Bar Association. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was very much not for me, despite a couple of really lovely longer answers (SUNNI ISLAM, MONKEY'S UNCLE). I mentally checked out very quickly, after having a boatload of tired crosswordesey short stuff thrown at me right off the bat. I finished the NW (OLDE DDAY ALPO make it stop!) and by the time I hit SOFT G over NEAP I was like "oh I guess it's like this, then." Tired. I felt tired. Fast. Now, things definitely got better, or at least more interesting, from there, but the theme type is ancient (I swear I've seen this exact theme before), and despite the whole "accuracy" of the EAST to west movement of the SETTING SUN, the whole thing felt bassackwards. Yeah, the direction is OK, but somehow the visual here doesn't convey a *feeling* of accuracy. It doesn't exactly nail the look of a sunset, which means that what it does, mostly, is seem like a puzzle that's been built backwards. And while a few of the themers are sweet, most of the fill is not. And CTRLC made me want to shut everything down. You've got mainly tired fill, and the one bit of "new" short fill ends up being "new" in this wholly unlikeable way. Just a bleecccch of consonants. I don't use PCs, so the "shortcut" didn't register with me at all. CTRL-ALT-DELETE, that is a coherent thing. CTRL + random letter = arbitrary and weird. Plus, doesn't the "C" stand for "copy" ... which is in the clue ... I thought you weren't supposed to do that. Anyway, I fear people will think keyboard shortcuts are Great ideas for "new" short fill, and I'd really like to post- and preemptively register my disagreement with this premise. Also, MISS UNIVERSE, that really killed the vibe. "Which dated objectifying sexist bullshit pageant that no longer has any cultural relevance are we dealing with today!?" How are these shows still real? I would've thought their association with a certain sexual assailant / former president would've put them all safely in the Past Tense, but here we are. A real vibe-killer. I tried "MISS AMERICA" in there but it didn't fit. I do like that the puzzle is *trying* to do something original, though. It's more ambitious than most Mondays, and I'll take that over your typical 3/4-baked chuckle/groanfest. 

"ONEI" was awkward (33A: "That's ___ hadn't heard!"), as was the clue on OUTS (69A: On the ___ (unfriendly)). I guess "we're on the OUTS" = "we're unfriendly (toward one another)"!?!?! but it's not a great substitution. I think of the phrase being longer, i.e. "I'm on the outs with her" or something like that. As usual, I was unsure of ILSA v. ELSA. I was somehow able to teach myself AXLE v. AXEL long ago, but haven't been able to do the same with ILSA v. ELSA, probably because lots of different people (and movie animals) have those names. ELSA is the movie lion and ILSA is the movie love interest, but ILSA just sounds* more lion-y to my ears, so the distinction never takes. I wanted to RUB the lotion ON, not IN (27A: Apply, as lotion). And then the entryway to the SE corner (ELVIS) ended up being unclued, or, rather, ended up being the second part of a cross-reference (so essentially unclued: 52D: See 64-Across) (64A: "___ Las Vegas" (1964 film starring 52-Down) (VIVA)). All these little things, plus CTRLC, made the puzzle move somewhat slower than it usually does. What else? Oh, if MISS UNIVERSE didn't bum you out, then maybe not being able to pay your bills on time will (5D: Charge for an overdue payment = LATE FEE). Somehow it's worse when it's clued in relation to not paying your bills on time than it would be if it were just, like, library fines (which my local library actually did away with during the pandemic and, I assume, in perpetuity, god bless them). 

See you tomorrow.

P.S. please enjoy this crossword kitty photo from reader Jamie. I know I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


One-named singer with the 2016 hit "Crush" / SUN 6-26-22 / City that neighbors Ann Arbor for short / Cry from a boxing coach / Partition between nostrils / South Asian crepes / Tribe whose flag features a circle of tepees on a red background

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Constructor: Matthew Stock and Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Bonus Features" — add a letter to famous titles to get wacky movie titles (clued "?"-style); the added letters, read from top to bottom, spell out "OUTTAKES" ... which are "Bonus Features" one might find on a Blu-ray or DVD ... also, I guess if you "take" the added letters "out" then, by definition, you get the actual movie title:

Theme answers:
  • "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBOS" (19A: What you'll hear after-hours at a sports car sales lot?)
  • "BEVERLY HILLS COUP" (28A: Rodeo Drive uprising?)
  • "PANTS LABYRINTH" (36A: Twisted jeans legs?)
  • "THIGH FIDELITY" (61A: Staunch dedication to one's upper leg exercise routine?)
  • "JURASSIC PARKA" (69A: Winter wear for a stegosaurus?)
  • "BRIDGE OF SPIKES" (94A: Tire-puncturing way across a river?)
  • "THIS IS SPINAL TAPE" (1102A: Introduction to a chiropractor's makeshift toolkit?)
  • "THE BLAIR SWITCH PROJECT" (116A: Campaign to convince British P.M. Tony to change parties?)
Word of the Day: YUNA (30D: One-named singer with the 2016 hit "Crush") —
Yunalis binti Mat Zara'ai (Jawi: يوناليس بنت مد ظراعي; born 14 November 1986), known professionally as Yuna, is a Malaysian singer. Her initial exposure came through the viral success of her music uploaded to Myspace, which received over one million plays. This online success alerted an indie-pop label/management company to her music, and in early 2011 she signed with the Fader Label. She is best known for her collaboration with Usher on her breakout single "Crush", which peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard Adult R&B chart. [...] The 2012 single "Live Your Life", produced by Pharrell Williams, was a preamble to her self-titled full-length debut, which arrived that April. That summer, Yuna appeared at Lollapalooza. In 2013, Yuna returned with the album Nocturnal, featuring the single "Falling". In February 2016, Yuna previewed her third album with the release of "Places to Go", a single produced by hip-hop artist DJ Premier. The full album, Chapters, was released three months later. // In December 2016, Chapters broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard Best R&B Albums of 2016: Critic's Pick; Chapters ranked at number 7. Yuna received an award for the Most Successful Malaysian Singer from the Malaysian Book Of Records. Chapters was also nominated in the Top 20 Best R&B Albums of 2016 by Rolling Stone magazine. Yuna performed as a special guest at the 2016 Soul Train Music Awards. // In May 2017, Yuna became the first singer from Asia to be nominated for a BET Award; Yuna received a nomination for the BET Centric Award for "Crush", her duet single with Usher. (wikipedia)
• • •

Exceedingly easy without enough genuine hilarity to make up for the lack of challenge. I kinda smiled at PANTS LABYRINTH and THE BLAIR SWITCH PROJECT, but otherwise the wackiness was pretty tepid, and there weren't enough non-thematic points of interest to make the puzzle feel like a truly satisfying Sunday. I was also slightly hung up on the fact that the added letters spelled OUTTAKES but I was being asked to put them *in* to the grid, which made them more ... inputs ... but whatever, once you stop and look back, you can make a case that OUTTAKES is just fine as a bonus (meta) answer. It was clear almost instantly what the gimmick was, and after two or three themers, and since the premise was so simple (just ... add a letter), I knew the letters would spell something, and that something was completely obvious after just a couple letters, so ... it felt like it was all over but the shouting after just a few minutes. "The shouting" being "dutifully filling in the rest of the ginormous Sunday grid." Lots of black squares, super choppy, not a lot of longer interesting non-theme fill in this thing ... and what I'm seeing, on going over the grid now, isn't a lot to get excited by. GOLFTAN is probably the most original answer in here (95D: Shade that one might find on the links?), but that's balanced by the dull / odd STEERER, and then the rest of the long stuff is very unsizzly. Stuff like SO MUCH SO and EASE INTO. There really aren't many answers over 6 letters long in this puzzle at all. As for difficulty ... nope, none really. Didn't know YUNA, but, you know, crosses did their thing (30D: One-named singer with the 2016 hit "Crush"). Not sure where else you could possibly get bogged down in this thing. If you don't pay attention to famous movie titles, I can see this being semi-baffling, but if you're even passingly interested in movies, then this was a cinch. The least familiar movie to me was "Bridge of Spies," which came and went and missed me. I wanted "Bridge of Sighs," probably because the movie title is a deliberate pun on said bridge. But even that one I kinda knew, and the "K" I could figure out because the OUTTAKES gimmick was transparent. I do love movies and did not mind being reminded of some of these, but as far as the puzzleness of it all goes, I would've loved something a bit more fearsome and a lot less ho-hum than this.

My path through the grid was a bit odd. I normally chew up the NW and then move on, but I also normally solve short stuff and then use it to get the longer stuff. So today I basically shied away from those long Downs in the NW and followed the short stuff east. The first two themers fell in virtually no time, and the added "O" and "U" basically told me where we were headed:

No idea about U OF A (is that Alabama? ... LOL, no, it's Arkansas—nope, never in a million years would've guessed that U OF A stood for that particular "A" state; I know for a fact that UOFA has been clued specifically in reference to University of Arizona before, so, yeah, confusing) (26A: Fayetteville school, informally). I see "Fayette-" and think Louisiana ("Lafayette") and then, well, that's it. I'm out of "Fayette-" based place names. But again, as with YUNA, this answer added no real resistance to the solve. I had no idea SIMP had some special "modern" meaning. This clue sounds like a pretty regular, normal-ass meaning of SIMP (54D: One offering intense but unrequited affection, in modern usage). EAT ME and IT'S ME have me seeing double ME. Thankfully, SEE ME is not also in the grid (it's not, is it? ... no). Speaking of ME ... a word about backwards "ME," i.e. "'EM," i.e. "HIT 'EM" (23A: Cry from a boxing coach) ... What kind of preposterous answer is this. You're a "boxing coach" and your advice is "HIT 'EM"? It's boxing! That's what you do. What kind of coaching is that? And 'EM? How many people is your guy fighting? I have no idea how this five-letter inanity found its way into wordlists, but unless the clue is a partial and the clue is ["___ where it hurts!"] or (for a baseball angle) ["___ where they ain't"], maybe ditch HIT 'EM entirely. Or at least don't insult boxing coaches like this.

It's time once again for the


I got a few letters this week, but today I'm going with the following one because it echoes something I've been saying for a while now—something that's also relevant to today's extremely easy crossword:
Hello sir!

I'm fairly new to your column, so maybe you've explored this, but the NYT games subscription offers access going back to 93. I've worked my way back to 2006 (skipping M-W and Sunday). 

I get that some material would have been easier solving 16 years ago when events were current; discounting that, the puzzles seem to have a much higher degree of potential difficulty.

For example, I can fill 9/10 Saturdays now in 20 minutes or so, and the one I don't complete I get very close. But a puzzle from, say, 5/20/06, seems more difficult than any Saturday for the past year. There are easier ones from that time, too, but when they're tough, hoo boy.

What do you make of this? Philosophical shift at some point? The Dumbing Down? Maybe I could have solved them all then but I've been intellectually downgraded since. [...]


It's true that evaluating the difficulty of past puzzles can be difficult because so much depends on context. That is, puzzles that are made in, say, 1997, are made to be *solved* in 1997. They have (if you're lucky) a 1997 viewpoint and assume a 1997 solver, someone who is breathing in 1997 air and culture etc. A 1997 constructor is going to assume things are common knowledge (about current events, about the 20th century in general) that a 2022 solver might have either no knowledge of or (in my case) no memory of. You know things, and then time passes and some of those things fall out of your head to make room for other things. So going back in time can make the puzzles feel more difficult than they were. Possibly. But as someone who has been solving for over three decades and solving, uh, let's say, "professionally" for fully half that time, I can definitely feel the NYTXW's slow but inexorable move away from truly difficult puzzles. Have I just gotten better as a solver? Eh, probably not. I was probably at my fastest a full decade ago. But even if I am a more experienced solver, and maybe I know more ... things, now, my sense is that the NYTXW used to have no problem throwing absolute backbreakers at you every once in a while, and now, that almost never happens. It's been a Long time since I felt like I had to work because the puzzle was genuinely hard (as opposed to just out of my wheelhouse a little). I can still remember (with a trauma-induced wince) the 2007 puzzle that taught me the word OCHLOCRACY. I think there was some as-yet-unknown-to-me antelope in that puzzle too (haha, no, it was a "mountain sheep," LOL: ARGALI, wtf!?). Couldn't finish it. Brutal. I literally rated it "Infernal." Man, I miss Bob Klahn. Anyway, I don't necessarily want more of that, but I would like more difficulty than I've been getting. But ... there's probably just more $$$ in keeping a burgeoning app-based solving population happy, and you can't maintain that massive subscriber base if you're absolutely baffling them half the time. Not everyone enjoys being shredded by the puzzle. Most people probably just want something they can do easily in 15. In and out. Nuggets! The Mini! Wordle! So no, Mat, I don't think you're wrong in your general assessment that hard puzzles used to be harder than they are today. They were also for a somewhat smaller group of people back then, and I'm not sure that was exactly ideal. So ... I dunno, things change, you adapt. You want hard, there are places you can get it. Speaking of which (segue!) ... 

Please do yourself a favor and, if you're not already a subscriber to the American Values Club Crossword (AVCX), go and pick up Francis Heaney's latest barnburner of a puzzle—a rainbow-colored variety cryptic in honor of Pride Month, entitled "LGBTQIA+". Then set aside a few hours and maybe get together with some friends and pray to your gods for help because hoo boy, it is an extremely complicated, multi-layered, legitimately arduous adventure. But the reward! The thrill of having fought your way to the end of such a challenging quest! I just don't experience puzzling satisfaction of that kind that very often any more. If you've never solved cryptics, then find someone who does and give the puzzle to them. Maybe they'll teach you. They will definitely thank you. And with that, thank you. And good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. almost forgot, shout-out to YPSI! (That's YPSIlanti, MI, for those of you who didn't happen to attend UOFM or (if you went to school in YPSI proper) EMU!) (27A: City that neighbors Ann Arbor, for short)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pop singer who came out as nonbinary in 2019 / SAT 6-25-22 / Playthings with belly badges / Chains of churches / Texter's preamble / Surname of a star-crossed lover / Classic Vans sneaker model / Poke alternative / Brand name on Cakesters snack cakes / Source of protein in a poke bowl / Kind of loop in programming / Succession co-star Ruck

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Constructor: Adam Aaronson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SAM SMITH (26D: Pop singer who came out as nonbinary in 2019) —
Samuel Frederick Smith (born 19 May 1992) is an English singer and songwriter. After rising to prominence in October 2012 by featuring on Disclosure's breakthrough single "Latch", which peaked at number eleven on the UK Singles Chart, they were subsequently featured on Naughty Boy's "La La La", which became a number one single in May 2013. In December 2013, Smith was nominated for the 2014 Brit Critics' Choice Award and the BBC's Sound of 2014 poll, winning both. // Smith's debut studio album, In the Lonely Hour, was released in May 2014 on Capitol Records UK[...] The album won four awards, at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Vocal AlbumBest New ArtistRecord of the YearSong of the Year, and nominations for Album of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. [...] As of April 2022, Smith has sold over 33 million albums and 227 million singles worldwide. Smith's achievements include four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, three Billboard Music Awards, and an American Music Award, as well as a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. Smith is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle really wants you to know how young it is. I can't decide if all the slang is what a 20-something sounds like, or what a 50-something imagines a 20-something sounds like, or what a 50-something who wants desperately to sound like a 20-something sounds like. Anyway, there's a lot of slang that is not mine but that is Very Familiar to me. Oh, wait: "QUITE SO," that's all mine. I will cop to that. That's the kind of thing I'd say "ironically" but then you'd also have to put the quotation marks in quotation marks because, PSST, [whispers] not so ironic. But "it's a BOP," "I'M SO OVER IT," "KILLED IT!" "THAT!," all of these answers demonstrate a real awareness of how people are using the language "these days," whatever their age, and yeah, that's cool. I think you're kind of pushing your luck on the "look at all the youthfulness!" front when you insist on putting both the MUPPETS *and* the CARE BEARS in your puzzle (I might have shouted "REAL MATURE!" at this puzzle when I hit CARE BEARS ... "ironically" shouted!), but you wanna wallow in your childhood, go off. There are worse things a puzzle could do. I'll take nostalgia for one's lost childhood over stuff like SPACE FORCE, that's for sure (5A: Branch of the U.S. military launched in 2019). This puzzle has wide range and nice bounce, but not a ton of bite. Easier for me than yesterday's puzzle. The top half felt like it was hardly there at all—when you just *hand* me OXY right up front, well, I can do a lot with that (4D: Competitor of Stridex). The second half was somewhat harder, but only because I (not being 20-something) totally blanked on SAM SMITH's name. I was like "ooh, I know this one, that's ... gah, they're mega-famous, British ... delicate, kinda soulful voice ... you get them confused with ED SHEERAN for some reason (sorry to both) ... SAM ... SAM ... ADAMS? No, that's a beer, damn it!" I was so mad at my brain that I wouldn't do the normal human solver thing and just Move On. The SAM SMITH troubles pretty much cascaded into the whole SE (amazing the damage that losing momentum can do), but that just meant that that corner felt like a proper Saturday. The rest, I blew through like it wasn't there.

As I say, OXY had some real slingshot power. I wrote in OTOH for 1A: Texter's preamble, for some reason (IMHO), but OXY fixed that *and* got me COAX, and with the front ends of those long Downs in place, I was in business. For someone who is my age (think Stranger Things kids if we followed them allllll the way to 2022), and for someone who saw all those exceedingly boring Peter Jackson movies, and for someone who actually played D&D for a time as a kid, I remember surprisingly little about "LOTR," so ARAGORN came to me out of the cultural ether rather than any particular part of my knowledge storehouse. Or that's how it felt, anyway. Even if it had given me trouble, everything around it is so easy that it wouldn't have stalled me for long. Entire NE was done in Monday/Tuesday time (not getting PEDANTIC by *me*, that's for sure). But as I say, things stalled a little on the descent to the bottom half of the puzzle. That was mostly SAM SMITH's fault, but also partially Alek WEK's fault. I am doomed to forget her name every time she comes up, no matter how many times she comes up. Not having the "K," I couldn't see SKATER (the phrasing on that clue is preposterous, since it makes it sound like the same person is doing both sports ... also made it sound like the clue wanted a specific athlete, not a kind of athlete ... also, why is "in different sports" on there at all?—Winter and Summer Olympics don't share any sports, so that's a redundant qualification). But I rebooted in the far SW with STY (48A: Where snorting isn't rude), which gave me SCRIM THEME YEAST, bang bang bang, and then I whooshed back into the middle of the grid from there, finishing in the SW, where there was still trouble waiting even after I'd sorted SAM SMITH. I had JUMP / JAM before BAIL / BOP, so that gummed things up (61A: Abandon ship / 61D: Catchy song, in modern slang). And then, more dangerous because less completely wrong, I had SPAT instead of SPAR at 38A: Squabble. This made parsing ROSARIES impossible until the bitter end. "TOSA ... what? Aargh, great, some religious term I know nothing about ..." But no, just ROSARIES hiding behind a completely understandable error.

  • 57A: Classic Vans sneaker model (ERA) — LOL I've been wearing Vans off and on for my whole life and I had no idea about this model or that Vans had model names at all. 
  • 37D: Place where shells are put away (TAQUERIA) — ah, right, the other reason I had trouble getting into the SW. The attempted misdirection here with "shells" didn't work on me at all, and yet ... I couldn't get past TACO ... TACO STAND, TACO BAR, TACO TRUCK ... nothing about the clue suggested I'd be getting the Spanish term, so I just stalled and ended up having to work the answer from the back end later on.
  • 55A: What comes before a bet (ALEPH) — now this misdirection *did* work. This is a very well disguised Hebrew letter clue. Not sure I love the cheap trickery of adding the indefinite article "a" to the clue, but I respect the attempt to at least *try* to make this puzzle a little tougher.
  • 60D: 2020 thriller in which Jessica Chastain plays the title role ("AVA") — I vaguely remember seeing this come across my Netflix menu a couple years back. I wonder if pandemic-era movies ... if anyone's going to remember they happened. 
  • 63A: Brand name on Cakesters snack cakes (OREO) — I had HOHO in here at some point. I'm kind of sad now that the "Is OREO in today's #NYTXW?" Twitter account is gonna have to reset its "Days since last #NYTXW OREO" count to zero. The streak was up to 33! 
See you tomorrow!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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