One-named entertainer from Spain / SUN 7-31-22 / Killer of the Night King on Game of Thrones / Author journalist Welteroth / Condiment at a pho shop / Flagship vehicle line for Mercedes-Benz / Smallest country in the E.U. by area / Serving with a meze platter / Hand-held device used by Mr. Spock

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Constructor: Jesse Goldberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Why? Well, Why Not?" — the actual theme is expressed by the answer WISE UP TO (115A: Become aware of ... or a hompohonic description of four letter shifts in this grid). The idea is that "Y"s move "up" "two" rows, four different times. So, an answer that should have a "Y" loses a "Y" because that "Y" (in theory) has jumped up two rows to an answer that *isn't* supposed to have a "Y," but now does. So you get phrases made wacky by either by the addition or subtraction of a "Y," depending:

Theme answers:
  • BELLY BOTTOMS (24A: Places where some belts are tightened?)
  • COMBAT READ (29A: Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage," e.g.?)
  • CAMPY COUNSELOR (51A: Lawyer with absurdly exaggerated humor?)
  • SLUMBER PART (58A: Sleep phase?)
  • GRIMY REAPER (71A: Harvesting machine that needs cleaning?)
  • THREE TIMES A LAD (80A: Doctor's description of the birth of triplet sons?)
  • FAIRY FIGHT (96A: Battle between Tinker Bell and Princess Ozma?)
  • MADISON COUNT (108A: Census-taking of a Midwest capital?)
Word of the Day: CHARO (74D: One-named entertainer from Spain) —

María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, professionally known by her stage name Charo, is a Spanish-American actress, singer, comedian, and flamenco guitarist.

Charo began playing guitar at the age of nine and trained under the famed Andrés Segovia.[6][7] In 1966, she married 65-year-old bandleader Xavier Cugat and moved to the United States with him. In the late 1960s and 1970s, she became a ubiquitous presence on American television, frequently appearing as a guest star on series such as Laugh-InFantasy IslandThe Love Boat, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She is known for her uninhibited and exuberant manner, vague age, heavy Spanish accent and the catchphrase "cuchi-cuchi."

As a musician, Charo has performed and recorded in various styles for five decades. She released a series of disco recordings in the 1970s with Salsoul Records, most notably Dance a Little Bit Closer (1977). In 1995, her flamenco album Guitar Passion(1994) won the Female Pop Album of the Year award at the Billboard International Latin Music Conference and was named best female Latin pop album by Billboard. In an interview, she said, "Around the world I am known as a great musician. But in America I am known as the cuchi-cuchi girl. That’s okay, because cuchi-cuchi has taken me all the way to the bank." (wikipedia)

• • •

Hello. I am on vacation with friends. It is very low-key. Doing virtually nothing for a week. So I have some time to write. Next week, my vacation shifts to Los Angeles, where I will be with my extended family. Then, I will have no time, so you will be visited by many wonderful substitutes. But for now, please enjoy my lakeside write-ups. These will be somewhat shorter than usual, because, well, there's ... a lake ... and my friends ... but I promise they will be no less heartfelt ...

I do not like being away from my normal blogging set-up, which is to say, away from my printer. I like to print the puzzle out when I'm done and write comments on it. It's a pretty important part of the ritual. No printer here at the lake house, so I can't ... really *feel* or *see* the puzzle properly, or that's how it feels anyway. Bah. But the solving experience itself is largely the same, and today ... yeah, largely the same Sunday experience (wading thru wackiness), though of maybe a slightly higher conceptual caliber than usual. I was very weirded out by the revealer—that is, by its very existence, since, as far as I could tell, the title was the revealer. There was a "Why?" (added "Y") and a "Why not?" (subtracted "Y"), in alternating sequence, so ... you know, I had it. I was good. And then the revealer comes along and is like "Here's the punch line! Wait ... did you already tell them the joke?! Damn it, title! We talked about this!" The revealer is more elaborate and precise, changing the "Y" pun (from "why"s to "wise") and then adding the "two" pun. So the themers aren't just alternative between Y and Y-not; rather, the "Y"s are doing this very specific two-line leap "up." Cute. But again, the revealer felt redundant and belated, because of the title's having given everything away already. And the wackiness was your garden-variety add/subtract-a-letter wackiness. So, yeah, a pretty Sunday Sunday.

By far my favorite part of the puzzle was trying to figure out what the hell a THREE TIME(Y) SALAD was. A THREE BEAN SALAD is a very legitimate salad name, and I believe I might have tried to write THREE BEANY SALAD in there, just to make the origin phrase make *any* kind of sense. Never mind that BEANY makes no kind of sense for the actual clue. I was completely flummoxed. It wasn't until I had the whole answer from crosses that my brain finally parsed the base phrase correctly: it's the Commodores song, "Three Times A Lady"!! Never saw the "salad" hidden in there before! Speaking of hidden words, when did this whole "name hidden in this phrase"-type clue become such a big deal? ELI was hidden in a phrase just this week, and now we've got ALEC hiding in "global economy" (31D: Name hidden in "global economy"). I am extremely not a fan of this childish cluing. At least in cryptic crosswords, when they hide words and names like this, they don't just tell you outright that that's what's happening. You have to figure it out. But here, they're just like "Can you find the name in this phrase, Billy? What a good boy! So smart!" Come on. Why not just have the clue read [ALEC, just write in ALEC, it's ALEC]. At least that's not patronizing. Oh and another thing—who/what the hell is this ASTRO of which you speak? I asked everyone in the house just now, "Hey, if I asked you for a [Household robot from Amazon], what would you say?" Everyone: "... ALEXA?" And that was before I told them that yes, it had five letters, and yes, it began with "A." When I told them "no, ASTRO." They, like me, made a "what?" face. And then my friend had to tell ALEXA "shhh, it's OK ALEXA, I wasn't actually talking to you." ASTRO is the dog on "The Jetsons." That is the only non-baseball clue for ASTRO that I recognize. 

Speed round:
  • 1D: Proceeded down a lane, maybe (SWAM) — speaking of "speed," I wrote SPED here at first. No idea about any of the long Acrosses in this NW section at first, so I just threw in the first thing I could think of for all the short Downs, and despite a couple mistakes, the gambit paid off
  • 41A: Medical gloves and N95 masks, for short (PPE) — never can quite remember this initialism or what it stands for. Personal protection ... equipment? Close. "Protective." I don't love it, not just because it reminds me of COVID. I never heard the term before COVID, and I can't see it remaining in public consciousness after COVID (unless deadly pandemics are just the new normal, which, maybe, but even then we mostly only talk about masks). Anyway, just because an abbr. is new doesn't mean that it's good. (Note: PPE has only appeared twice—both appearances were this month; I fear a PPE onslaught ... I hope not)
  • 79A: Mythical weaver (ARACHNE) — ugh, wrote in ARIADNE—same number of letters, same first and last two letters, both of them involved with threads, of a sort (ARIADNE gave Theseus a thread so he could find his way back out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur with a sword, which ARIADNE also provided him. He rewarded her by abandoning her on an island. What a guy.
  • 75D: Hand-held device used by Mr. Spock (TRICORDER) — I asked everyone in the house what a TRICORDER was and without hesitation they started shouting "Star Trek" info at me. Who are these people? (Hint: one of them is my wife). I have heard of TRICORDER but couldn't tell you what it does, or what is "TRI-" about it.
  • 46D: Dancer Charisse of "Singin' in the Rain" (CYD) — SYD, SID, CID ... I think I tried them all, despite knowing exactly who CYD Charisse is. I forgot she was even in "Singin' in the Rain!"
  • 36D: God associated with the moon (APOLLO) — mythologically untrue, but via the space program of that name ... yes, OK.
Note: my friend put on Brian ENO while I was finishing my write-up ... without any crossword intent! He just likes "Music for Airports" (as do I). Anyway, gotta go ENO. Bye bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Literally, "dainty slice" / SAT 7-29-2022 / Hawaiian word for a mackerel / Pennsylvania city where Crayola is headquartered / The N.F.L. mascot Roary, for one / Future-altering decision point, metaphorically / They're bigger and lighter than skeletons

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Constructor: Lance Enfinger

Relative difficulty: medium-ish? corners were easier, center was harder

THEME: none

Word of the Day: FBI (CBS drama from Dick Wolf)
FBI is an American crime drama television series created by Dick Wolf and Craig Turk that airs on CBS, where it premiered on September 25, 2018. ... The series features an ensemble cast including Missy Peregrym, Zeeko Zaki, Jeremy Sisto, Ebonée Noel, Sela Ward, Alana de la Garza, John Boyd and Katherine Renee Turner. ... The series centers on inner workings of the New York office criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This elite unit brings to bear all their talents, intellect, and technical expertise on major cases in order to keep New York and the country safe. [note: raise your hand if, like me, you dropped in CSI off of the I despite knowing damn well that it's not a Dick Wolf thing; force of habit, I guess?]
• • •
Hey hi hello, it me again, occasional indie constructor Christopher Adams, who you may recognize from places like the AVCX+, where I occasionally edit puzzles and even more rarely have them published (though I'm very proud of this very recent collaboration). Filling in today for a puzzle by Lance Enfinger, a constructor whose name I don't recognize, and it's a pretty straightforward puzzle.

I found the NW corner pretty easy to get started in, especially with such a gimme like ENYA (the clue, [Singer who owns Manderley Castle in Killiney], just oozes Irish charm). That led pretty quickly to MOMA despite the vague-ASS ([Word added as an intensifier], and it's a great linguistic usage) clue there ([N.Y.C. cultural landmark], and no, I will not apologize for the convoluted grammar of this sentence). After MOMA was UP TOP (["High-five!"], and who the heck hyphenates that???), which made the letter patterns of all the across answers easy to see, and I was (momentarily) off to the races. (A little side-eye to COSMO, not because it's a bad drink (though I'm not a fan), but because imo "Cape Codder" didn't do enough to signal the short name of the drink as the answer. But it's Saturday, so :shrug:, I guess.)

from the always wonderful xkcd

Anyway, skidded to a halt in the middle of the grid, and bounced around for a bit; found the SE corner about as easy as the NW, but even less help in getting into the middle of the grid—while I had LEAD BALLOON coming down from the top, I only had ___ CASINO coming up, with no idea of what that word could be. (And, to be honest, I don't think that clue is very helpful—my understanding of whales is that they are high rollers, and while they're often enticed by comps that might possibly potentially include a hotel, I don't think the hotel itself is the draw here.)

What did help was getting the SW corner—loved the pairing of HELL NO and FRESNO for the -NO endings (and, similarly, loved LOGES / LUGES, and even wished they were closer together in the grid). Probably my favorite clue in the grid was the one for FILET MIGNON ([Literally, "dainty slice"]), since it makes perfect sense in retrospect and is something that I'm very well acquainted with but never knew; just a wonderful light-bulb moment when I figured that out. 

i couldn't not include a tom scott cooking video here

Coupled with ITCH (whose clue, [Scratch that], seemed to scream for an exclamation mark, but again, it's a Saturday) and SHOO, that was enough to get most of the triple stack. THREE-LEGGED RACE was the highlight for me; a fun entry with a cute repurposing of "tie". COUNT ONE'S LOSSES was, as almost all ONE'S phrases are, decidedly meh, and I STILL DON'T GET IT is a highlight in retrospect, though I definitely went through a few permutations of the last few words before figuring it out (I STILL...DOUBT THAT? DON'T BUY IT? DON'T SEE IT? etc.). Backing into the NE corner wasn't terribly hard, even though SLIDING DOOR could've really been any kind of door as far as I was concerned, given the clue—to me, opportunities (and the points where you make decisions about those opportunities) are just DOORS.

Overall, a fun way to spend a few minutes; I would've liked more fun stuff in the fill, but overall the vibe of this puzzle was "let's piece some things together from the clues and figure out these minipuzzles and maybe learn some things about ONO and FILET MIGNON and EELS and maybe other things that aren't food, like FRESNO" and you know what? That's fine, and I had enough of those "oh, that's a fun fact" or "oh, that's a clever clue" moments to enjoy the puzzle overall, even if there were a few things that didn't land for me.

  • A few clues I really liked that I didn't mention above: FLINT ("lighter" in the clue talking about putting things on fire, not about weight), SWINGS ("tires" as in tire swings, and not getting tired), and the double usage of [Pot holder] for BLUNT and CHEF.
  • CRAIG (Bond between 2006 and 2021) — I am very well aware that Barry Bonds has an S in his last name, and has not played baseball in a long time, and this did not stop me from plunking in GIANT immediately.
  • COT (Trig function, in brief) — Yay for math content; the only way this could be better if it were the inverse tangent, rather than one over tangent (but I'm biased).
  • DORKS (Uncool sorts) — Can we just not with these cluing angles? Like NERDS, this is not necessarily a negative thing, so why do we have to clue it as such?
  • SINEAD (Irish form of Jane) — Once again, the New York Times finds a way to clue a woman's name as anything but an actual famous person with that name. They also do this with MEL(VIN), but in my experience it's far more common for female names.
Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Machete-like knife / FRI 7-29-22 / Ma Belle 1970 #5 hit / Acoustic flourishes during a comic's set / Liquid weapon or a solid one / Dishes served in the final scene of Titus Andronicus / First Hebrew prophet to have a biblical book named for him / Fun times between the sheets

Friday, July 29, 2022

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TAMRON Hall (25A: ___ Hall, former "Today" host with a self-titled daytime talk show) —
Tamron Hall (born September 16, 1970) is an American broadcast journalist and television talk show host. In September 2019, Hall debuted her self-titled syndicated daytime talk show, which earned her a Daytime Emmy Award. Hall was formerly a national news correspondent for NBC News, daytime anchor for MSNBC, host of the program MSNBC Live with Tamron Hall, and a co-host of Today's Take, the third hour of Today. She hosts Deadline: Crime on Investigation Discovery channel. In summer 2016, Investigation Discovery premiered the TV special Guns on Campus: Tamron Hall Investigates, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin.
• • •

My grid screenshots usually feature a highlighted word, which has no significance beyond the fact that it's usually the last answer I got (the software highlights whatever answer you're working on). This is why so often the highlighted word appears at the bottom of the grid—I tend to solve from top to bottom, you know, like normal people. And usually this highlighted word, this last word I got, is a short word. Longer answers may be tough to get a grip on at times, but they also tend to topple with only a few letters in place, and certainly when you've got the vast majority of a long answer, unless it's a proper noun you've never heard of with an uninferrable spelling, that answer typically reveals itself quickly. But today, hoo boy. OK, let me back up and say that I think this is a good puzzle, with amazing marquee answers, all the colloquial, chatty goodness I expect from a Robyn Weintraub puzzle ("IT'S ME AGAIN!" "I SPOKE TOO SOON!" "DRINKS ARE ON ME!" "COME ON DOWN!" "APRIL FOOLS!"). Vibrant, lively stuff. It seemed like there was just ... more short fill today, or maybe the clues on it were just almost-all-over tricky / fussy, or maybe I just missed the cluing wavelength, but the solve felt a little more plodding, a little less whoosh-whoosh than Robyn's puzzles often feel.  But "plodding" is too harsh—I mean plodding by comparison to that fantastic longer stuff. Anyway, highly enjoyable, as usual. Until the end, when I came to a dead stop: two blank squares and no IDEA

Unsurprisingly, the primary problem involved interpreting a "?" clue, sigh. I've got -O-A PARTIES at 25D: Fun times between the sheets? and I cannot for the life of me figure out what word that is up front. Worse, I've got TAMRON as CAMRON (25A: ___ Hall, former "Today" host with a self-titled daytime talk show) and RAGES as RAVES (31A: Blows wildly), so my first answer there ends up being COVA PARTIES, which sounds like, what, parties where your friends come over and intentionally catch COVID from you? Are there "sheets" because you are all in bed sick? I have no idea. At some point I managed to both pull the "C" from CAMRON *and* imagine RAGES as a possibility instead of RAVES, and so finally I saw TOGA, but honestly, before that, I was like, "... SOFA PARTIES? What is happening!?" Do people still have TOGA PARTIES? I feel like that fad peaked 45 years ago, with "Animal House," and has been slowly and/or quickly waning since. TOGA PARTIES are a phenomenon that (apparently) completely dropped off my radar.

Mistakes? Yes. ENOS before AMOS (22D: First Hebrew prophet to have a biblical book named for him). Wait ... that might be the only actual mistake until the TOGA fiasco at the end. I definitely struggled a bit here and there. Didn't comprehend the AKA clue at all (24D: Lead-in to a street name, perhaps) until I realized "street" was metaphorical (i.e. "street name" as in "alias," as opposed to "given name"), and not, like, Elm Street or something. I read "autumn" as "aluminum" in 42D: Candy brand with autumn-colored packaging and still got REESE'S easily, though I did make a "huh? strange..." face, I'm pretty sure. I don't think I knew that BOLO was anything except a string tie, but (unfortunately) I *have* been to a SBARRO or two in my life, so BOLO didn't buh-low up the puzzle up for me. Oh, and I wrote in ABET instead of ASST for some reason. Instinct, probably. My fingers just got ahead of my brain (2D: One who helps out briefly). Something about helping out, starting "A" and ending "T"? No way you're going to keep my hands from trying ABET, even if it isn't even the right part of speech for the clue.

I've seen the [Hall of fame] clue for DARYL (and ARSENIO et al) before, so the [Hall of fame collaborator?] clue was transparent to me, but it's still cute. I don't love the punctuation on it. It seems to be in a kind of grammatical no-man's-land, which explains the "?." I also don't love that "Hall-of-Fame collaborator" doesn't really mean anything, as a base phrase, collaborating not being a thing there is a Hall of Fame for. And yet I love Hall & OATES (who I guess prefer to be called by their official name, Daryl Hall & John OATES?—I learned this from Mark Goodman (probably) on Sirius XM's "80s on 8" channel): "Though they are commonly referred to as Hall & Oates, Hall has been adamant about the duo being called Daryl Hall & John Oates – its official name" (wikipedia). So there you go. Christopher Adams will be with you tomorrow, and then I'll be rejoining you from the shores of Lake Michigan on Sunday. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Breakout was an actual video game, which is the key to (fully) understanding 1A: Breakout company of the 1970s (ATARI).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Fastidious roommate of classic TV / THU 7-28-22 / Rumble in the Jungle promoter / 1985 benefit concert watched by nearly two billion people / Engaged in some amorous behavior

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Constructor: Bill Pipal and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: CUT (CORNERS) (69A: With the circled letters, a hint to solving seven Across clues) — seven Across clues turn (Down) and at the "corner" where they turn is a square that gets "cut" out (or skip); those "cut" letters spell out CORNERS (you pick up the letters in CORNERS from the downward-headed part of the Across answer, which is clued as a regular Down). So for all seven theme answers, there's the cut-corner version (the answer that's clued), then the Down segment of each answer (clued as a regular Down), and then the *uncut* Across segment (which is its own unclued answer, e.g. ANTIC, ADO, HOMER, etc.):

Theme answers:
  • ANTI-(C)AGING (1A: Like some face creams and serums, supposedly)
  • AD(O) RATE (6A: Cost for a commercial) 
  • HOME(R) EC (9A: Class now known as Family and Consumer Sciences, informally) 
  • "HAVE(N) ONE" (28A: "Go ahead, try this!")
  • DON(E) KING (35A: Rumble in the Jungle promoter) 
  • LIVE(R) AID (47A: 1985 benefit concert watched by nearly two billion people) 
  • AS(S) WELL (53A: To boot) 
Word of the Day: LIVE AID (47A) —

Live Aid was a benefit concert held on Saturday 13 July 1985, as well as a music-based fundraising initiative. The original event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise further funds for relief of the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia, a movement that started with the release of the successful charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in December 1984. Billed as the "global jukebox", Live Aid was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, UK, attended by about 72,000 people and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, US, attended by 89,484 people.

On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative were held in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, in 150 nations, watched the live broadcast, nearly 40 percent of the world population. (wikipedia)

• • •

This puzzle lost my love quickly because of the hyphen in ANTI-AGING. I got the whole missing-letter thing fast, but that first missing letter ("C") is sitting Where A Hyphen Should Be, and I assumed this was going to be some clever part of the theme—making use of hyphens, which (like all punctuation) normally don't get represented in crossword grids. Cool, let's do a hyphen-based theme, let's go! Thought for a bit about what having a "C" in the hyphen square might mean. Was excited to find out where this hyphen-replacement concept was gonna go. But then AD RATE ... doesn't have a hyphen. And neither does HOME EC. So the concept I was looking forward to never materialized *and* I was left to contemplate the jarring inconsistency of ANTI-AGING ... if you give me empty space between words, fine, it's empty, but if that space is normally filled with a hyphen I Am Going To Fill Your Empty Space With A Hyphen Or Expect The Hyphen Be Relevant Somehow. But no. This didn't slow me down at all. Just massively disappointed me. And then, with the "C" and "O" in place and without ever looking at the revealer, the "CORNERS" gimmick became immediately obvious, so much so that I could go through and write in every single theme answer, no problem ... well, one problem: I wrote in FARM AID instead of LIVE AID (didn't yet grasp that the uncut Across segment had to make a word ... LIVER is a word, whereas FARMR is not). 

So the theme wasn't as cool as I thought it was going to be *and* the puzzle ended up being depressingly easy (esp. for a Thursday). All the architectural gimmickry here did nothing to create an entertaining solving challenge. Ended up being about as much fun as connect-the-dots (which I loved as a four-year-old, but ... less so as a six-year-old). If you take the whole hyphen shenanigans out of the equation, the idea that I, the solver, "cut corners" to make the themers work is indeed a cute thematic concept, and the fact that those corners *spell* corners is a nice revelation. But it all reveals itself so early and so easily that there's no struggle, no real aha at the end when you hit CUT, no ... just no Thursday fun. Or, there is Thursday fun, but it exhausts itself one meager burst right away, and all that's left to do thereafter is programatically fill in the grid, which has no more surprises or treats.

I had no problem with any part of this puzzle, but there are two name crosses that gave me slight pause. I think they're OK, but ... it's gotten so that proper noun crosses really set off warning signals in my head now, since they are the basis of so many Naticks. ADUBA / DIANA is unlikely to flummox too many people, since even if you routinely misspell ADUBA's name (for me, today, ADUBO, sigh, sorry), DIANA is really the only cross that makes much sense there, though LIANA and TIANA are, in fact, names one might have. ANGUS / UNGER also seems slightly dangerous, especially if you have no idea who the Odd Couple are (as many younger (than me) solvers won't). But again, ANGUS is a familiar Scottish name, and nothing else but the "G" makes sense there. Ooh, but if you don't know SITKA (wasn't I just talking about Alaskan crosswordese recently...) then you won't have the "A" in ANGUS either, and then things might get dicey. It's weird trying to imagine how others might go wrong. Anyway, I think this grid AVOIDs true Naticks today. This has been a test of the Emergency Natick System. This was only a test.

Could not get the HOGS part of BEDHOGS for some reason, because hogging the covers and being a BEDHOG seem like slightly different things. BEDHOGS take up excess space, while cover hogs (like my wife, or, in her opinion, me) do not, necessarily. But I like the word, certainly the most colorful thing in the grid (besides maybe DON KING). What else? SALLOW is a funny word. I'm aware of it, but never use it, which is odd, as [Opposite of ruddy] sure sounds a lot like me. Hmmm, looks like SALLOW means "having an unhealthy yellow or pale brown color"—well that's not me either. I'm just straight up pale. With freckles. If you are SALLOW and experiencing ASS SWELL, consult your doctor. That's all for today. Back here tomorrow, and then, after a travel day (Christopher Adams fills in for me on Saturday), I'll be blogging the puzzle from the blissful shores of Lake Michigan. Sad to leave the kitties, but our house sitter is lovely so they'll be fine. Bye for now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Traditional garment in West Africa / WED 7-27-22 / Scandinavian drinking cry / What Lao-tzu said is hidden but always present / Fictional world entered through a wardrobe / Represent as a designer at a fashion show / Open to the thigh as an evening gown / Clearwater's neighborhood across the bay / Meaty bone for a dog

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Constructor: Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

Relative difficulty: Easy (extremely)

THEME: fashion is critical! — articles of clothing (real or imaginary) that act as negative metaphors for a kind of "person":

Theme answers:
  • SCAREDY PANTS (20A: Cowardly person)
  • BLACK HAT (27A: Villainous person)
  • EMPTY SUIT (35A: Ineffectual person)
  • TURNCOAT (49A: Traitorous person)
  • STUFFED SHIRT (54A: Pompous person)
Word of the Day: TRAPS (1A: Shoulder muscles, in gym lingo) —

The trapezius is a large paired trapezoid-shaped surface muscle that extends longitudinally from the occipital bone to the lower thoracic vertebrae of the spine and laterally to the spine of the scapula. It moves the scapula and supports the arm.

The trapezius has three functional parts: an upper (descending) part which supports the weight of the arm; a middle region (transverse), which retracts the scapula; and a lower (ascending) part which medially rotates and depresses the scapula. (wikipedia)


• • •

OK, when I say "SCAREDY" you say "___"! SCAREDY! ___! SCAREDY! ___!  

If you said "CAT!"—hello, we are of the same ILK.

The whole "wait, it's not CAT?" thing was a fiasco, but it was also the only part of the grid that gave me any difficulty whatsoever. This played like a Tuesday shading into Monday. I kinda wish I were still timing myself, because I wasn't really trying to speed and I still think I would've broken 3 minutes today (extremely, near record-breakingly fast for me on a Wednesday). I wrote in DELTS at 1A: Shoulder muscles, in gym lingo (TRAPS), that slowed me down for a few seconds right out of the gate. DELTS is a perfectly good answer for that clue, it's just ... well, lots of muscles connect to the shoulder, it turns out. But TOT got rid of DELTS and RNA got me TRAPS and then after getting waylaid in PANTSville for a bit, nothing else stood in my way. And even getting waylaid in PANTSville wasn't so bad, as all those long Down PANTS crosses were super easy. Or the Acrosses were super easy, and so the Downs were easy. I wrote in "THERE!" instead of "TRY IT!," that cost me maybe five seconds (29D: "Have some!"). But everything else was transparent. Most of the fill was common, repeater-type stuff (APED and ANAIS and ATIT and the like), but it was clean enough. As for the theme, I think it's pretty lovely. The metaphors got somewhat more familiar to me as the grid went on, with BLACK HAT and EMPTY SUIT being semi-familiar but not terms I'd use, and TURNCOAT and STUFFED SHIRT being familiar terms I wouldn't hesitate to use myself. There's a great consistency to this set, as the phrases don't just *end* with clothing (like endings being a conventional thematic premise), but stand, as a whole, for a kind of person. Clothing metonyms! Actually, only some of these are metonyms (where an attribute of a thing stands for the thing). BLACK HAT, EMPTY SUIT (actually, "SUIT" = "executive" is a paradigmatic example of metonymy). STUFFED SHIRT is more a metaphor, and actual SCAREDY PANTS don't even exist ... anyway, I'm in the weeds now. These are all clothing-based metaphors used to describe kinds of (flawed) people. The end. Nice.

I wish there were more to talk about. I could go off about what a great actress GENA Rowlands is and how much I always enjoy seeing her, even if you could argue her name falls under the general rubric of "Crosswordese." Greatness transcends "Crosswordese," imho. This is why I can never really be that mad at CHER or ADELE, no matter how many times I see them. I was reading about the rise of Tiki culture in California in the mid-20th century and the writer (Kevin Starr) dug back to its 19th century roots, when America's fascination with Polynesia began. Why is this relevant? Because he brought up Melville's classic tales of the South Seas, "OMOO" and "TYPEE,"  and honestly I nearly teared up because I hadn't seen them in so long. Those titles used to be All Over the grid. If you started solving in the last century, then one of the first things you learned, if you didn't know it already, was that Melville wrote "OMOO" and "TYPEE" and they were going to be your constant companions on your journey into griddom. Now ... they've gone the way of the ASTA. And that's good, I guess. It's good that grids got fresher and more diverse, and it's good that I lived long enough to actually get *nostalgic* for "OMOO" and "TYPEE." So "OMOO" and "TYPEE," if you're out there, I miss you guys. Call or write some time. Well, write. You probably don't have phones. MESSAGE in a bottle, maybe? Anyway, think about it.  

Last things:
  • 45D: Put a ring on it (EAR) — I think you'd probably say "in" rather than "on," but you want your Beyoncé reference, I get it. 
  • 6D: Represent, as a designer at a fashion show (WEAR) — I liked this and SLITTED (40D: Open to the thigh, as an evening gown) and CAFTAN (8D: Traditional garment in West Africa), which I saw as nice accompaniments (accessories?) to today's theme. It's warm out, why not WEAR a SLITTED CAFTAN!
  • 30D: Glace after melting (EAU) — I had to scan and rescan this clue because I kept thinking I was misreading the first word. Then I thought "why don't I know that word?" And then a bit later I realized I did know that word—it's just a French word (for "ice"). French crossing French here (ETOILE) is probably not ideal. But not likely to trip many people up, I don't think.
See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. there are good reasons why I write this blog day in and day out, and one of them is that occasionally readers send me beautiful, personal notes, like this one (received just this morning, shortly after I posted today's write-up):
Dear Michael,

Longtime reader, first time writing to you. My daily routine is to solve the puzzle on my commute from Dutchess County into NYC, read your writeup, and then get to work. This morning, however, your mention of Kevin Starr has made me somewhat wistful and nostalgic. Dr. Starr was my favorite professor while a student at the University of Southern California—he would commute from San Francisco to Los Angeles each Monday morning and return home each Friday afternoon. I was a geology major who took one of his classes at the recommendation of a friend, and his impact was so profound that I ended up adding a history minor and eventually dropping geology from my life altogether (I ended up in the rare postage stamp business). 

Dr. Starr’s enthusiasm and charisma was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met in my life—I still keep a copy of Frank Norris’s The Octopus on my desk at all times, which he wrote the introduction to and autographed for me. One of my classmates was Robert Towne’s daughter, which led to many wonderful discussions about Chinatown (which, while technically off-topic, seemed perfectly fitting for a class about the history of California). Dr. Starr passed away while I was saying my own goodbyes to my grandmother in the hospital, and their deaths are forever linked in my mind and my heart. 

I guess the purpose of this email is twofold—first, to express my gratitude for the entertaining write-ups over the last five or so years I’ve been reading, and second to thank you for bringing to mind a truly great man who changed the course of my life.

Best regards,
Charles Epting
I love that puzzles make me think, feel, and remember things, completely unpredictable things, and that my posts might do the same for others. It's so nice to have this community. Thank you.

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Helpful theorem in math / TUE 7-26-22 / Language related to Inupiaq and Yupik / 1982 film inspired by Pong / Certain spousal state / Apple product that's not suitable for kids

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Constructor: Lillian Simpson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: FRIED EGGS (58A: Breakfast order visually suggested three times in this puzzle's grid) — two eggs ("O"s) appear atop ("over") the words HARD, MEDIUM, and EASY ... thus you get your eggs over hard, over medium, or over easy, just like in a diner

Theme answers:
  • HARD CIDER (17A: Apple product that's not suitable for kids)
  • PRINT MEDIUM (29A: Newspapers, books or magazines)
  • EASY TARGETS (45A: Ideal marks for scammers)
Word of the Day: RIFFLE (46D: Leaf (through)) —
verb (used with or without object), rif·fled, rif·fling.
• • •

I liked the way this one unfolded, in that the eggness (egghood?) of the whole thing didn't announce itself to me at all with the first two themers. If I had said what I was seeing, literally, out loud ("two Os over hard, two Os over medium", I might've noticed the theme. But it was all so Tuesday-easy that I didn't bother to stop and process. I like that EASY comes last of the three, since "over EASY" is by far the most common way to order your fried eggs, so that answer functions almost like a pre-revealer ... even though that's not how I actually experienced it (I hit the real revealer first and then backed into EASY TARGETS ... which I had first as SOFT TARGETS, since it seemed to fit the clue (45A: Ideal marks for scammers) and also seemed kinda eggy (over easy yolks are indeed soft). This is a cute theme, simple and neatly executed. I appreciate the OVER HARD representation, since that's how I order my eggs (unless I am eating bibimbap, runny yolks make me gag a little). I also really liked the clue on that theme answer—HARD CIDER (17A: Apple product that's not suitable for kids). It sounds like it's going to be an Apple product that only streams porn, or an Apple sex toy, but instead it's just an alcoholic beverage. Nice use of that initial capital letter, and the phrase "Apple product," to suggest the company and mask the actual fruit, is what I'm saying.

It would be nice never to see LEONA Helmsley or the derogatory term WINO ever again. Both those answers were hard bumps in the road today. The fill is mostly fine, overall, though things get a little rough in the SW, with USONE and ALOU and LEMMA, which ... is a term I would never ever know if my best friend in college hadn't been a mathematician (56A: Helpful theorem, in math). Doesn't seem like a Tuesday-ish answer. It's NYTXW history is weird. It's relatively rare (this is just its sixth appearance since 2004—we actually went 11 years (!!) without seeing it at all (2004-2015)), but when it does appear, it appears on Monday and Tuesday as often as it does on Friday and Saturday. It's always weird to me the math stuff I don't remember learning despite having had math through Calc II. There are lots of math folks in crosswords, which might make it more grid-familiar than real-life familiar. The plural is "lemmata"—how/why did I remember that? My friend's mathiness must've rubbed off in odd, unpredictable, sporadic ways. But back to the fill. Really don't like APRS in the plural (34A: Credit figs.). Hadn't seen ALEUT in so long that I actually had No Idea what 52D: Language related to Inupiaq and Yupik was supposed to be, even with the "A" in place. You used to see ALEUT everywhere. You'd also see ATKA sometimes. Or even ATTU. Alaska was a crosswordese goldmine, is what I'm saying. Anyway, ALEUT frequency has been dialed back considerably, so now it's just a fine, regular term. One I semi-forgot. I also semi-forgot RIFFLE, which just sounds silly. I can't imagine saying it, and yet ... "riffling through a magazine" ... I guess that sounds OK. It sounds like a brand of toilet paper, though I may be crossing Charmin's Mr. WHIPPLE with the potato chip brand RUFFLES ("RIFFLES has ridges!"—that would be quite a slogan for a toilet paper brand). 

[seriously what was wrong with people in '80s TV commercials!? 
The first guy in this ad, yeesh ...]

More things:
  • 9A: Audible response of contempt (SNORT) — I wonder how many times in my life I have tripped all over the SNORT SNEER SNOOT nexus of answers. Luckily, "audible" helped me out today.
  • 47D: Expecting a baby, in slang (PREGGO) — interesting intersection of EGG and EGG here; pregnancy adds a whole new dimension to the "egg" theme (!). I prefer PREGGERS, since it makes me think of neither waffles (Eggos!) nor spaghetti sauce (Prego!). Actually, I think I prefer "pregnant." Just "pregnant" is fine.
  • 25A: Certain spousal state (WIFEHOOD) — got the WIFE part easily enough, but ... WIFEDOM? WIFENESS? WIFERAGE? WIFEIOWA? Thank god for those thematic "O"s. 
  • 36D: Rock-paper-scissors, by another name (ROSHAMBO) — A WHILE (!) back there was a NYTXW puzzle with a ROSHAMBO theme and many people complained that they had never (ever) heard that term used for "rock paper scissors." Well, here you go—your hard-won crossword knowledge finally pays off! If Rambo worked for OSHA ... ROSHAMBO! It's a fun word.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Guofeng successor to Mao / MON 7-25-22 / Early Mongol invader of Europe / 1990s R&B group Hill / Isle national park in Lake Superior / Backside as the Brits call it

Monday, July 25, 2022

Constructor: Michael T. Buerke

Relative difficulty: Normal Monday

THEME: PR- [vowel sound] — vowel (sound) progression where theme answers more through the cycled "pray pree pry pro prue"

Theme answers:
  • BIRDS OF PREY (17A: Eagles, falcons, hawks, etc.)
  • GRAND PRIX (24A: Major Formula 1 race)
  • "I DIDN'T MEAN TO PRY" (39A: "Sorry for being so nosy!")
  • TENNIS PRO (49A: Instructor with a racket)
  • ANNIE PROULX (61A: Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Shipping News" and "Brokeback Mountain")
Word of the Day: Isle ROYALE (58A: Isle ___, national park in Lake Superior) —

Isle Royale National Park is an American national park consisting of Isle Royaleand more than 400 small adjacent islands, as well as the surrounding waters of Lake Superior, in the state of Michigan. Isle Royale is 45 mi (72 km) long and 9 mi (14 km) wide, with an area of 206.73 sq mi (535.4 km2), making it the fourth-largest lake island in the world. In addition, it is the largest natural island in Lake Superior, the second-largest island in the Great Lakes (after Manitoulin Island), the third-largest in the contiguous United States (after Long Island and Padre Island), and the 33rd-largest island in the United States.

Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940, then additionally protected from development by wilderness area designation in 1976, declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1980, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019 as the Minong Traditional Cultural Property. The park covers 894 sq mi (2,320 km2), with 209 sq mi (540 km2) of land and 685 sq mi (1,770 km2) of surrounding waters.

The park's northern boundary lies adjacent to the Canadian Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area along the international border. With 25,798 visitors in 2018, it is the least-visited national park in the contiguous United States.(wikipedia)

• • •

I could tell this was gonna be bumpy before I ever left the NW. When one crosswordesey Disney princess crossed another crosswordesey Disney princess, I had a sense that things were not going to go well, and then when LO-RES (?) showed up in that same section, along with AROAR, well, it was all rough enough that I stopped to take a picture, so I could remember just when I knew for certain that this one was gonna be rough all over.

It's Monday. There is no day where the short fill should be cleaner than on Monday. This is not a demanding theme. Yeah, it's got five themers, which is a little on the dense side, but there's just no reason for things to get this clunky, right out of the gate. It's a completely unremarkable little corner, and it should be easy to fill unremarkably (at a minimum). Of course the fill never got better, because why would it? The longer Downs are OK, but for the most part filling this one in felt like a chore, albeit a brief one. ORIT EEL EON THE RNA EER TATAR DRU LIL NEO ONO BLAH RERUN YETIS etc. ... this stuff is fine, but only in much smaller doses. AT NOON, oof, very rough. Also, it's a BREAD BOX—"is it bigger than a bread box?" Not "BREAD BIN" ... it was a whole thing. BREAD BIN? Bah. BIN shmin. In this household (literally, in *this* household) we have a bread *box*. Also, it's "I DON'T MEAN TO PRY, but..." That's when you hear that phrase. What is up with this strange past-tense version? Yes, people might say it, but it doesn't feel On The Nose. What it feels is "15 letters long," which is what it has to be to make the theme answers work out symmetrically today. With a theme that is this old-fashioned (one of the oldest theme types there is), I expect some serious polish in the fill. Actually, I expect some outright flair. Pray pree pry etc. isn't much. The theme answers are fine, but you aren't winning any friends with TENNIS PRO. When I was done, I thought the theme was "silent X" at first (ANNIE PROULX is the real winner of the bunch, though isn't her name *E.* ANNIE PROULX!? When did she drop the "E"?) (the "E." is for EDNA, I just learned, so ... there's a new EDNA clue for you, folks). Anyway, the theme was just so-so and the fill did not hold up its end of the bargain.

I found the puzzle pretty much normal Monday levels of Easy. I got thrown on the first theme clue by all the birds, which all looked like sports teams. So I used crosses to figure it out, and even though it looked very much like BIRDS OF PREY, I kept expecting there to be some pun or wordplay or something (BIRDS OF PLAY? Because they're sports teams???), so really did use every cross to get that. Once I realized that the clue was just straightforward (not "?"-tricky), then I got back into a Monday groove. Very much slowed down at the end by ONE BY ONE (41D: Individually) crossing Isle ROYALE, which ... how is the "least-visited National Park in the contiguous United States" a Monday answer? Battle ROYALE. ROYALE with Cheese. These are the ROYALEs of Monday. I'm sure Isle ROYALE is gorgeous, but save it for Thursday, Michigan. Could *not* believe the puzzle was trying to get me to choke down AREEL when it had already served me AROAR (*and* ARIEL). I as agog and annoyed. BITTER END and TVDINNER give the grid some much-needed non-thematic personality. I've certainly had worse Monday experiences, but it costs nothing for constructors and especially editors to insist on cleaner fill than this, particularly in early-week grids.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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