Hot tub shindig / THU 8-118-22 / Proverbial assessment of whether or not an idea can be taken seriously / Prefix meaning "10" that's associated with 12 / Fitness class inspired by ballet / Cleric's closetful / 1972 Gilbert O''Sullivan hit with a melancholy title / Small oily fish / Half of the only mother/daughter duo to be nominated for acting Oscars for the same film

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (Easy for a rebus...)

THEME: INBOX ZERO (35D: Ambitious email goal, and a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — a rebus puzzle where some word meaning "zero" can be found "in" its own "box" four times:

Theme answers:
  • HEAVEN ON EARTH / RENO, NEVADA (18A: Paradise / 10D: Home of more than 16,000 slot machines)
  • BIKINI LINES / VANILLA (3D: Targets of some waxing / 22A: Bland)
  • LAUGH TEST / NAUGHTIER (40A: Proverbial assessment of whether or not an idea can be taken seriously / 32D: More likely to get coal, perhaps)
  • JACUZZI PARTY / MARZIPAN  (64A: Hot tub shindig / 49D: Almond confection)
Word of the Day: "poisoned pawn" (68A: Captures a "poisoned pawn" in chess, e.g.) —
The Poisoned Pawn Variation is any of several series of opening moves in chess in which a pawn is said to be "poisoned" because its capture can result in a positional loss of time or a loss of material. [...] The variation was used in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Genius". (wikipedia)


• • •

For a puzzle that started with ALBS (the crosswordesiest of priestly garments) and passed through vomit (EMETIC), this one ended up being surprisingly fresh and delightful to solve. Rebuses are minefields by design—you gotta figure out where the hidden dangers are and defuse them or detonate them safely or whatever they do to mines to keep them from harming people. But sometimes the adventure can feel ... not worth it. Boring, maybe, like you have to dutifully hunt down these boxes that all say the same thing. And sometimes the rebus squares end up making the fill feel tortured, with slightly off phrases or junky fill popping up everywhere you go. But today the rebus squares were surprises, even after I got the revealer, and much of the time they came rising to the surface inside of truly original answers, so that there was pleasure not just in finding the rebus square, but in PARSE-ing the answers that crossed it. LAUGH TEST, JACUZZI PARTY, BIKINI LINES, HEAVEN ON EARTH, one after the other, the rebus squares and the answers that contained them were surprising and enjoyable. This puzzle feels very thoughtful, very polished, and the revealer is both a lively, contemporary phrase and a genuine "aha" surprise. After ALBS, I don't think I winced once while solving this thing. And there was no time at which I was not enjoying myself. Honestly, this is kind of a model rebus puzzle. MARZIPAN JACUZZI PARTY may be my favorite crossing of the year. It's just fun to say. MARZIPAN JACUZZI PARTY! I want to go to one.

If you know ALBS (and boy do I) then this puzzle was likely very easy to open up. ALBS STEELS BAIT ABCTV CUKE all in a row, which made the BIKINI part of BIKINI LINES easy to see. And since the word I wanted to be VANILLA ended up looking like VANLA, I knew pretty quickly a. that there was a problem, and b. what the problem was—rebus alert! (pause to lament this puzzle's VANILLA slander—a good VANILLA ice cream is anything but "bland"; VANILLA malts are my favorite drinks after coffee and Manhattans). 

So I put NIL in its box and off I went, not yet knowing why NIL was in a box, but confident that I'd find out. Every subsequent rebus square involved me tiptoeing up to the square, testing the ground, and then eventually finding the target. HEAVEN... [tap tap tap ... check surrounding areas ...] ah, there it is, the NONE square! And so on. The AUGHT square was probably the hardest, just because I couldn't think of what kind of TEST was in play (I knew there was a TEST, just not which kind, at first). But NAUGHTIER fixed that (proverbially, naughty kids get coal instead of toys at Christmas, in case that clue wasn't clear). I got the revealer about halfway through:

Knowing the premise made getting that AUGHT square much easier than it would've been otherwise. That the puzzle remained interesting even after the revealer did its revealing is a real testament to its overall strength. This one has a strong premise, but more importantly, executes the premise in a way that makes the whole solve interesting and entertaining. The second half of the solve was at least as entertaining as the first half. That ... is something. And then to play me out with the world's most wonderfully depressing song!? Mwah, perfect. Thank you.

Six things:
  • 33D: Prefix meaning "10" that's associated with 12 (DEC) — I didn't fully understand the "12" part as I was solving ... my brain was yelling something about "doDECahedron" at me, but I wasn't really listening. After I was finished, I realized that DEC. could be short for "December," i.e. the 12th month.
  • 56D: Small, oily fish (SPRAT) — weird that the guy who could eat no fat would be named after an "oily fish" but OK.
  • 59D: Stately estate (MANSE) — I had MANOR. I still want MANOR. I associate MANSEs with priests ... why is that? Perhaps because "manse (/ˈmæns/) is a clergy house inhabited by, or formerly inhabited by, a minister, usually used in the context of Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other Christian traditions." (wikipedia). There's a MANSE, Nevada, I just found out. It's in the far southern part of the state, relatively close to Las Vegas and about 400 miles from RENO, NEVADA.
  • 15A: Google's streaming device (CHROMECAST) — weirdly never heard of this. Tried CHROMEBOOK in this space at first.
  • 2D: Half of the only mother/daughter duo to be nominated for acting Oscars for the same film (LAURA DERN) — she and her mom, Diane Ladd, were both nominated for 1991's (fabulous) "Rambling Rose"
  • 65D: Back (AGO) — not AFT!? But it's always AFT! Curses!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Video game franchise featuring Sub-Zero and Sonya Blade / WED 8-17-22 / Hairy cryptids / Aurora's Greek counterpart / Star Wars cantina patrons for short / Buffalo soldier dreadlock Bob Marley / Largish jazz combos

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Constructor: Michael Paleos

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [SIC] (69A: [not my typo]) — Clues for famously misspelled names have "[69-Across]" after them, and 69-Across is [SIC], the notation for when you are indicating that "yes, I know the word appears misspelled, but that's how it appears in the original, don't blame me":

Theme answers:
  • FROOT LOOPS (17A: Breakfast cereal with a toucan mascot [69-Across])
  • BOSTON RED SOX (23A: Team that broke the "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004 [69-Across])
  • AMERICAN PHAROAH (39A: Triple Crown winner of 2015 [69-Across])
  • MORTAL KOMBAT (48A: Video game franchise featuring Sub-Zero and Sonya Blade [69-Across])
  • DEF LEPPARD (61A: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" rockers [69-Across])
Word of the Day: Ray LIOTTA (6D: Ray of "GoodFellas") —

Raymond Allen Liotta
 (Italian: [liˈɔtta]; December 18, 1954 – May 26, 2022) was an American actor and film producer. He was known for his roles as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams (1989) and Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). He was a Primetime Emmy Award winning actor and received nominations for a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild Awards

Liotta first gained attention for his role as Ray Sinclair in the Jonathan Demme film Something Wild (1986), for which he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture nomination. He continued to star in films such as Unlawful Entry (1992), No Escape (1994), Cop Land (1997) Hannibal(2001), Blow (2001), Narc (2002), John Q (2002), Identity (2003), Killing Them Softly (2012), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), Kill the Messenger (2014), Marriage Story (2019), and the Sopranos prequel theatrical film The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

He was also known for his television work in ER for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2004. He starred as Frank Sinatra in the television film The Rat Pack (1998) and Lorca and Tom Mitchell in Texas Rising (2015) for which he earned Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. He starred in the drama series Shades of Blue (2016–2018) with Jennifer Lopez and had a prominent voice acting role as Tommy Vercetti in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002). (wikipedia)

• • •

So this one was weird primarily because no one would write [SIC] after any of these names except maybe AMERICAN PHAROAH, whose fame was very short-lived and whose name really might seem like a typo to an ordinary reader (an ordinary reader who knows how to spell "pharaoh"). Actually, it kinda feels like the only reason people remember AMERICAN PHAROAH at all (outside the ever-decreasing ranks of horse-racing fandom) is precisely because of that misspelling. Whereas with BOSTON RED SOX ... that name is so long-established that I, a fan of baseball for coming up on half a century, never really think of the name as a misspelling of "socks." That is, it doesn't even register as a misspelling, the way that DEF LEPPARD and FROOT LOOPS at least do—I know how to spell the band and the cereal, but those names at least register as wacky intentional misspellings, whereas SOX does not. The idea that you'd write SIC after the horse, I can buy, but after BOSTON RED SOX? Preposterous. I doubt anyone out there is going to think "don't you mean Deaf Leopard?" either. Anyway, these are famously "mis"-spelled names, so that's an interesting theme premise ... I just don't know if the SIC thing is really the best way to go about bringing it all together. I'm sure the use of SIC as a revealer here is supposed to be jokey / facetious, so the fact that you wouldn't *actually* use it for these names is (maybe) supposed to be beside the point. Still, the fact that I might in fact use it for some (horse) but never for others (baseball team) makes the theme set feel weirdly uneven, and the revealer feel like a punch line that doesn't quite land.

["One lump or two!"]

Speaking of misspellings, I was happy to see WHOA spelled correctly, but then I realized that the encroaching WOAH spelling (shudder) is not for this particular meaning of WHOA (3D: "Easy there!"), but for the exclamation you might make if you are surprised or left speechless by something. Today's WHOA is horse WHOA, not omg/wow WHOA. I think the move from WHOA to WOAH for the "omg/wow" exclamation is generational, but I don't know. Surely someone has written on this (... googling ...) yeah, looks like exceedingly-online folks are more apt to use WOAH (a misspelling that started as a message board phenomenon in the '80s, per this article). To me, WOAH is always gonna look like a chemical formula, and my brain is always gonna pronounce it like NOAH, e.g. "Noah's Ark contained a pair of every animal on earth, whereas WOAH's Ark contained only AMERICAN PHAROAH and hasn't been seen or heard from since 2015."

Some more notes:
  • 13D: Big name in shapewear (SPANX) — there's a SPANX store in the relatively small Delta terminal at LAX. Crummy restaurants, a couple of those candy / snack / sad-small-rack-of-books-and-magazines stores, and ... a SPANX store. It seemed odd. But I guess shapewear emergencies might arise anywhere. 
  • 41D: Supermodel Wek (ALEK) — correct on the first guess! This is the first time I've landed ALEK's name with no problem! I am supermodelly challenged, but I'm working on it! I took this picture in one of those aforementioned candy / snack / sad-small-rack-of-books-and-magazines stores at the Delta terminal, just so that I could remember a name I feel sure is coming to a grid near me very soon:
  • 7D: "Not true what you say about me!" ("I DO SO!") — wrote in "I DON'T!" and did Not want to remove it.
  • 14A: "Nasty!" ("UGH!") — wrote in "ICK!" which says "nasty!" to me far more than "UGH!" does.  "UGH!" indicates a kind of resigned / exasperated revulsion, whereas "ICK!" feels more truly grossed out. (This may only apply in writing about crosswords, I don't know.)
  • 59D: Like many of Horace's works (ODIC) — I didn't go on about the weak short fill today because sometimes I just get weary of saying the same thing day after day, but I wanted to say something about ODIC because it is an entirely self-inflicted wound. ODIC is pretty pure crosswordese. Not gonna find a lot of defenders for that never-seen-outside-crosswords, use-only-in-case-of-emergency fill. But today, the constructor has made it so that there aren't really any other options there. When you lock yourself into -D-C with your themers ... well, maybe consider a different solution. Swap FROOT LOOPS and DEF LEPPARD, move SIC ... something. -D-C leaves you with nowhere to go but ODIC. Why build crosswordese into your grid like this if you don't have to?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ten pins in two bowls / TUE 8-16-22 / Classic Camaro model / Element in some food product advertising / Embarrassing sound when bending over / Old-fashioned alternative to Venmo or Zelle / Collection of online musings

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Constructor: Sue Fracker

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: ELBOW ROOM (64A: Adequate space to move around ... as found in this puzzle's circled letters) — circled squares are arranged in elbow shapes (90-degree angles) throughout the grid

Word of the Day: GAZA (6D: Historic mideast city where Samson died) —
Gaza (/ˈɡɑːzə/; Arabicغَزَّة ĠazzahIPA: [ɣaz.zah]), also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 590,481 (in 2017), making it the largest city in the State of Palestine. Inhabited since at least the 15th century BCE, Gaza has been dominated by several different peoples and empires throughout its history. (wikipedia)
• • •
Liked this one. The revealer was a proper revealer, in that I had no idea what was going on until I hit it, and when I hit it I thought "ah.... yes, good, okay." So the revealer ... revealed. And the basic joke is cute and consistent: five different types of room (specifically, words that can precede "room") bend like an elbow joint. One of them is not a real room ("Romper Room" is exclusively a TV show, right?) and one of them is not a room that 99.9% of people have or have ever been in (I imagine) (I know "Panic Room" as a paranoid rich person's house feature, and mostly only as a fictional thing, a la the David Fincher movie of the same name). The other three are very familiar, ordinary types of rooms. Anyway, no matter how common or uncommon or fictional the room types are, the premise holds up. It's a nice Monday/Tuesday-type theme. The fill is pretty dreary overall, relying very heavily on repeaters, e.g. STN ANTE INCAS ARTY PSST SSTS EDYS INGE AORTA OBI AMOR ULNA ... Speaking of ULNA, a constructor friend of mine told me that a popular online crossword puzzle he writes for is so strict about its fill being clean and familiar to ordinary, non-diehard solvers that they won't accept certain very familiar repeaters, and the example he gave me was ULNA. Me: "But that's ... just a regular bone ... in the human body." He just looked at me and shrugged. "Yep." Seems a bit strict, but I really do like the idea of someone policing the gunk and pushing the fill back toward common and familiar terrain, which will always have more and more varied cluing possibilities. There's not much in the way of noteworthy fill today outside the longer Acrosses. Just the two long Downs, as far as 7+-letter fill goes, and they're acceptable, but only acceptable. My favorite answer was STIR CRAZY. My favorite shorter answer was probably JIGSAW, the pleasures of which I refamiliarized myself with on my recent Northern Michigan trip.

Puzzle by "Puzzles of Color"

The puzzle played very easy, except the SW corner, which was comparatively quite slow, largely because I completely forgot the vacuum brand ("ORSON? ORLON? ORKIN? DYSON? Is the "O" wrong?"). Then I looked at the Acrosses down there for help but yikes, 63A: Ten pins in two bowls (SPARE) was inscrutable to me. I didn't know the attempt to knock over pins was called a "bowl." "It took me two bowls to topple all the pins" sounds super weird and stilted to me. But I guess that was the point of the clue—to make it look like the "bowl" in question was a basin and not an act of ball-rolling. Then I had SASH for 56D: Window part (PANE). So it got messy down there. So it got messy down there. But that was the only trouble spot. Other mistakes ... looks like I tried GIZA before GAZA. I should've known that one, since the Milton play about Samson is called "Eyeless in GAZA," not GIZA (sorry, that’s actually a *phrase* from the Milton play—play itself is called “Samson Agonistes”; Huxley wrote a novel called “Eyeless in GAZA”). Ah well. My literature Ph.D. fails me again. Had AMIGO before AMIGA and did the typical kealoa* two-step at 60D: Win easily after getting the initial "R" ("ROUT or ROMP!?") Aside from the overcommonness of the fill my only complaint is that "ON" is used not once not twice but thrice (RUN ON, UP ON, LED ON). Seems like at least one too many "ON"s. "On" too many. 

One last thing:
  • 16A: Backing, or the name of Athena's shield (AEGIS) — this is my starting Wordle word this week (I'm working my way through the dictionary) (yes, really). It's not a bad one. This was yesterday:

Thank you for reading my "online musings" (44D). Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = short, common answer that you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable, Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

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Counterpart of she-shed / MON 8-15-22 / Footwear giant headquartered in Boston Mass / Fast-food pork sandwich / Kind of technology in some modern military aircraft / Global center of Shia Islam / Toy that attaches to a garden hose / Ump's call after a first pitch / Minor hurt in kidspeak

Monday, August 15, 2022

Constructor: Simon Marotte

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Monday ... those big corners were weird / slowish)

THEME: STRIKE ONE (37A: Ump's call after a first pitch ... or a hint to the ends of 17-, 25-, 53- and 63-Across) — each of the endings is a thing you can strike, i.e. you can STRIKE ONE of the following:

Theme answers:

  • a balance (NEW BALANCE) (17A: Footwear giant headquartered in Boston, Mass.)
  • a deal (DONE DEAL) (25A: Fait accompli)
  • a pose (YOGA POSE) (53A: Downward dog, for one)
  • a chord (MINOR CHORD) (63A: Group of notes that often sounds sad)

  • Word of the Day: SELA Ward (40A: Actress Ward) —

    Sela Ann Ward (born July 11, 1956) is an American actress, author, and producer. Her breakthrough TV role was as Teddy Reed in the NBC drama series Sisters (1991–96), for which she received her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1994. She received her second Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for the leading role of Lily Manning in the ABC drama series Once and Again (1999–2002). Ward later had the recurring role of Stacy Warner in the Fox medical drama House, also starred as Jo Danville in the CBSpolice procedural CSI: NY (2010–2013)[3] and starred as Dana Mosier in the CBS police procedural series FBI (2018–2019).

    She also played supporting roles in films, including The Man Who Loved Women (1983), Rustlers' Rhapsody (1985), Nothing in Common (1986), Hello Again (1987), The Fugitive (1993), My Fellow Americans (1996), The Badge(2002), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), The Guardian (2006), The Stepfather(2009), Gone Girl (2014), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). (wikipedia)

    • • •

    Hello, I'm back, no thanks to the good people at Delta, or to my car, which gave out at 70mph on the I-86 today, about ninety miles west of my final destination, i.e. home. We got in to Detroit after midnight, drove a couple hours to a tollbooth rest area plaza dealie, slept in the car for three hours, then drove back through Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York, where the car died, after which we spent hours waiting for a tow truck that was supposed to take half an hour the *first* time we called (we called at least four times), and even then since it's Sunday and we were ninety miles from home there was nothing much to be done so the car is back in Bath, NY waiting to be seen by Some Garage, which will tell us that it's a small thing or a big thing, and it will cost a little money or a lot of money. Anyway, thank god for friends, who came and rescued us and took us home. Now I'm all jet-lagged and obsessed with the fact that my house doesn't smell right. It doesn't smell bad, it just doesn't smell like I've been living in it. Not sure what the missing ingredient is yet. Coffee, probably. And scented candles. So yeah I've had about three hours sleep in the last 36 hours but at least I'm well fed (thawed some soup—magic). And now there's this puzzle, and it's fine, I guess, but it's built weird, I think. Giant corners and a super-choppy, hole-ridden center. Big corners might hold delights, the delights that longer answers often bring, but today they don't, not really. They're pretty shruggy. As for the theme, I didn't like the revealer at first because the ONE part felt awkward, but now I think maybe I like it fine. What might you do with each of the ending words? You might STRIKE ONE. None of the themers is that interesting on its own, but the theme holds up fine. Fine enough for Monday. I am only now learning that there is such a thing as MICROSLEEP (heard of "micronap," but not "-sleep"). I don't think it's clued well, though, since the clue implies that it's something that's intentional and possibly refreshing, whereas it's a no and no on both counts."People who experience microsleeps often remain unaware of them, instead believing themselves to have been awake the whole time, or to have temporarily lost focus" (wikipedia). I liked remembering SLIP 'N' SLIDE—do they still make them? I thought maybe they had been outlawed, like Jarts (lawn darts), since they were the cause of many a backyard injury, for sure. 

    had a great two-week vacation, first in Northern Michigan and then in Los Angeles. I'll discuss it over the coming week. Or I won't. We'll see. I gotta prepare for the start of the Fall semester (a week from tomorrow), and as I say, I gotta deal with my car, and on top of it all I have jury duty starting Tuesday. The highlights of L.A. were the New Beverly Cinema (I saw "Cinderella" (1950) and "Moonraker" (1979)), the Getty (esp. the Cy Twombly exhibit), and the Huntington Library/Museum in Pasadena (finally got to see the most important Chaucer MS on the planet, as well as other beautiful things. 

    at The Huntington

    Not much to say about the fill in today's puzzle except that MANCAVE and "she-shed" are some vomity gender-binary nonsense. "She-shed" is actually physically painful to see and say, I can't believe women let themselves be talked into that bit of tin-eared marketing terminology. You don't even get a place in the actual house? Just ... a shed? Shed? That's the word for the dank cobwebby place you put dirty tools or whatever. And "she-shed" sounds like a hair and/or skin problem. Nah, you got the short end of the stick there, for sure. What else? I had LEGO ___ and no idea what followed, possibly because nothing made out of Legos qualifies as ART. Also, AH is not a sound of "contented pleasure." That's AAH, or possibly AHH. "AH" is a kind of unimpressed "I see," or else what you say at the dentist's office (28A: Sounds of contented pleasure = AHS). I had PUG for POM and SAYS YES instead of SAYS I DO, and I really truly believe it's spelled 'eeny' not EENIE. OK, glad to be back, etc. See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Calculus expert? / SUN 8-14-2022 / Land with an accent over its first letter / "The Chi" channel, familiarly / Food that's a national emblem of Wales / Site acquired by in 2011 / Retired jersey number for the 76ers' Moses Malone

    Sunday, August 14, 2022

    Constructor: Jeff Chen and Jim Horne

    Relative difficulty: medium-ish? idk, I solved on paper and kept making notes on things that annoyed me, which took lots of time and mental effort

    grid lovingly taken from xwordinfo because i solved this puzzle on paper and can't be arsed to type the grid into the new york times website

    THEME: In the Money — theme entries contain world capitals, which are hinted at by parentheticals in the clues, except an extra letter has been inserted, and these spell out (in order) KA-CHING for some reason.

    Theme answers:
    • CASH REGISTER [Sight at a checkout counter] (also this is in no way explicitly identified as theme, which, lmao)
    • MARK O'MEARA [Golfer who won the 1998 Masters (Italy)] (golf content, yay)
    • DO A SLOW BURN [Seethe (Norway)]
    • QUIT COLD TURKEY [Give up all at once (Turkey)] (this is about the point where I wanted to give up on this puzzle)
    • CHAIR OF THE FED [Major player in U.S. economic policy (Egypt)]
    • TIMBER INDUSTRY [Boarding group? (Switzerland)] 
    • MAKING A LIST [Activity for Santa (Rwanda)] (probably my favorite hidden capital here)
    • DOG HANDLER [One who walks to work? (Qatar)] (this one gets a pass because I lived here for a year)
    • CAPITAL GAINS [What this puzzle's circled letters are with respect to the surrounding shaded squares?]
    Word of the Day: ANNA ["Inventing ___" (2022 Netflix hit)] —
    Inventing Anna is an American drama miniseries created and produced by Shonda Rhimes, inspired by the story of Anna Sorokin and the article in New York titled "How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People" by Jessica Pressler. The series was released on Netflix on February 11, 2022. Julia Garner starred as Anna Sorokin, the title character. The series received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the performances (particularly Garner) but criticized the inconsistent tone.
    Under the assumed name Anna Delvey, Russian-born Anna Sorokin is able to con members of New York City's upper crust into believing she is a German heiress with access to a substantial fortune. She uses this persona to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, goods and services while working towards her goal of opening an exclusive art-themed club. 
    • • •
    Once again, it me, indie crossword person Christopher Adams, here to fill in for Rex, and on a Sunday no less. Despite filling in many times before, I always worry a bit⁠—what if the puzzle is absolutely hot garbage, which means I have to spend all this time solving a puzzle I don't like and even more time finding things to say about it, instead of doing what I usually do with puzzles that don't spark joy, which is just throw them away half solved and never look at them again. (Seriously, there's so many good puzzles out there, and so little time to solve them; the daily crossword links newsletter is a good place to start.)

    Anyway, all of the above holds even more true on Sunday, when there's twice as much to slog through, and which usually don't spark joy. Oftentimes, they feel stretched out to fill the extra space, and might have worked better as a 15x15 puzzle instead. And, unfortunately, that's how this one felt to me.

    It very much reminded me of the type of puzzle that Evan Birnholz is fond of doing at the Washington Post, minus all the excellent touches that make the Post (imo) the premier Sunday puzzle. Theme entries contain other words (plus an extra letter), and those extra letters spell something out. When done well, that extra layer elevates the puzzle, but when not, it falls flat.

    DRUM SOLO (Special collection of musical hits?) — i cannot recommend x japan enough; also, yoshiki's been doing this for like four decades now and still kicks ass, and does not look like he's aged one day at all despite *gestures vaguely* everything that's happened in his career.

    Case in point here: the title, "In The Money", hints that the shaded letters are probably currencies, and the circled letters are in the money. I tried LIRA and EURO first at 26A before actually reading the clue, which probably would've helped since I am a certified golf guy™ and found that clue easy and enjoyable (most of you will not, and that's OK; the continued inclusion of golf content in NYT crosswords is probably one of the three things Will Shortz and I actually agree on). Anyway, the title doesn't work, and tbh the reveal (CAPITAL GAINS) would've worked better as a title. No need to put it in the grid; have some faith that the solvers will figure out the theme from the answers / clues (especially since the countries are given in the clues), and let them get the a-ha from figuring out the pun on CAPITAL (meaning both capital cities and also money stuff here) rather than railroading and hand-holding them through it.

    Also: KA-CHING? Is that the best you can come up with for a final touch? The potential is there for a capital pun, but the answer is rather meh. (Compare to, say, the 1/3/2021 NYT by Paolo Pasco, where a bunch of dances are interrupted by letters that spell out MAY I CUT IN?, which actually makes sense and nails the landing.) If you're gonna go for this pun, maybe have the added letters spell out an actual type of monetary capital. Hell, CASH by itself would've been better imo (also, love the way that CASH REGISTER is just wedged into the puzzle without any indication at all that it's part of the theme).

    Which brings me to a third point: if you're not gonna make it worth being a 21x21, then it should be a 15x15. Only two of the theme answers (OK, three if you count MARK O'MEARA, which I recognize most people won't) really stood out as assets to me: QUIT COLD TURKEY and MAKING A LIST. TIMBER INDUSTRY was like, yeah, sure, guess that's a real thing, and stuff like DO A SLOW BURN actively made me frown. (Side note: if you're gonna do a thing where you add extra letters to things, don't make that extra letter a stand-alone word, as happens with DO A SLOW BURN.) Probably should've gone down to four(ish) answers, really made all of them sing, and put it in a 15x15. (Of course, you lose the title when going down in size, but I'd be OK with putting CAPITAL GAINS back in the grid if it meant better theme entries and a better final punchline.)

    more japanese music recommendations: fishmans

    • EOS — Would rather see this as the camera or the lip balm, but we just got both Friday, so we get Greek myth instead.
    • DEE — [World's end?] as in the last letter of the word "world", as opposed to, idk, someone famous with this name.
    • DANA (Queen Latifah's given first name) crossing LAURENTS (Sondheim and Bernstein's collaborator on "West Side Story") — Natick alert here; that vowel could just as well be an E, an I, or an O; A is the most likely option (or at least looks the most right), and is the right letter, but still, more care should be taken on that cross.
    • LIN (Playwright ___-Manuel Miranda) — I am not a fan of a FITB that splits apart a name into two pieces, even if it's at the hyphen. I am also not a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but that's another gripe for another time.
    • TRIDENT (It's good for three points) — my favorite clue here, by far.
    • NATE (Statistician Silver) — :vomit emoji:
    • STU (Nickname that's three consecutive letters of the alphabet) — NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO a thousand times NO. I've said it before, I'll say it again: clue names as actual people with those names. (Especially women; this example happens to be a man's name, but by and large it's mostly women who get underrepresented by (not-so-)cute wordplay angles for names.)
    • EEYORE (Sad ass) — the name derives from the sound of a donkey (hee-haw, but make it British).
    • FRIED EGG (Burger topping that jacks up the cholesterol) — Don't judge me, Will Shortz; it's delicious and I'm gonna keep ordering it. (More preferable here, perhaps: a golf clue about how a ball buried in a bunker looks like...well, you know.)
    • MESCAL (Liquor from Mexico) — hated the S here, both because it's crossing STU (see above) but also because it's generally known as MEZCAL and there's no indication that this is a variant spelling.
    • LONGER (Like em dashes vis-à-vis en dashes) — a clue after my own heart; I'm very very fond of em dashes (and parentheses—look, all these tangential thoughts need to fit into one sentence, and I'm gonna find a way to do it) and will utilize them wherever possible—here, for example.
    • SINTER (Fuse by heading below the melting point) — sure, if you say so; at least all the crossings were fair (MIA Hamm's well-enough known, or should be, to be fair, but if you wanna complain about that crossing, I won't argue with you even if I don't agree with you).
    • NRA — this entry alone would've ruined the puzzle for me if I didn't already dislike it; instead, it's the disgusting cherry on top. Anyway: domestic terrorist organizations do not belong in crosswords, full stop.
    Yours in puzzling, Christopher Adams, Court Jester of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


    Buff, and then some / SAT 8-13-2022 / Pieces of some pies / How couples elope / Leave a small tip / Cameron of Hollywood

    Saturday, August 13, 2022

    Constructor: John Westwig

    Relative difficulty: Easy (13:10, more of a typical Friday time for me)

    THEME: THEME — none

    Word of the Day: ZAXBY'S (Southern fast-food chain with "Zalads" and "Zappetizers") —
    Zaxby's is an American chain of fast casual restaurants offering chicken wings, chicken fingers, sandwiches, and salads. The chain operates primarily in the Southern United States and has more than 900 locations. Most Zaxby's restaurants are owned by franchisees, but 123 locations are owned by Zaxby company.[1]
    • • •

    Hello hello, it's Rafa here again filling in for Rex on another themeless puzzle -- a Saturday this time! As a constructor, solver, and generally somewhat-active member of the Online Crossword Community, I sometimes struggle with talking publicly about puzzles. All my puzzle takes are (obviously) informed by my own very specific biases and opinions and experiences which may or may not reflect other people's tastes. So I was SECRETLY hoping that I would either absolutely love or absolutely hate this puzzle, which would make the write-up easier, but instead it was a journey with valleys and peaks and ... plains? Ok, this metaphor didn't work. Let's get into it.

    First, some zings. (Yes, I'm adopting Malaika's "zings" and "dings" verbiage, in an act of cross-guest-blogger solidarity.) I'm always a fan of conversational entries in my themeless puzzles, so things like GIMME A SEC, I'M AFRAID SO, OH GEEZ, and even HMM, I SEE (somewhat arbitrary? Maybe! But I still liked it!) were highlights. I also enjoyed WIIMOTE and DECAF TEA, but probably my favorite entry was APTONYM. I dropped it in without any crosses, which made me feel cool and smart (95% of the reason I solve crosswords) -- it's always fun to insta-get a lesser-known term in a puzzle.

    I believe this is a "Zalad"

    The short stuff was mostly super solid (maybe EXT is a ding). The middle was a bit proper-heavy -- JIM, JOON, DIAZ, IOLANI, SOMA, PAIGE, EREBUS but all mostly (we'll get into my trouble spot soon) crossed fairly, I thought. My controversial crossword take of the day is that I quite enjoy the name wordplay clues that don't reference a specific person! (e.g. the clue [Good name for a librarian?] for PAIGE.) Many point out that they prefer referencing actual people, especially for predominantly-female names since women are already underrepresented in puzzles. I understand/respect (and even agree with?) this, but I still like these clues!

    I may or may not have accidentally flung this across the room many times back in the day

    The only real trouble for me was that I had AVERAGE joe (a slightly more in-the-language expression, I daresay?) instead of AVERAGE GUY and that caused a *lot* of trouble because OH jEEZ (it's my preferred spelling, I daresay?) works just as well as OH GEEZ and I was hopeless on the volcano and the Yiddish. So spent a solid few minutes thinking of every possible meaning of "pit" (there are many! -- this very fact was even made into a crossword theme earlier this year) until I was able to get myself out of that mess.

    Iolani Palace looks pretty

    In general the clues were fun and tricky, with lots of wordplay. Maybe even too much wordplay? Some of it felt a bit tortured ([Where spring might be just around the corner?] for SPA and [What runs about a meter?] for TAXICAB, e.g.) but there were also some bangers ([Leaves totally drained of energy?] for DECAF TEA and [Buff, and then some] for MEGAFAN). The clue for ANTI-UNION, [Like those who refuse to be organized], felt a bit off to me, too. I feel like it's usually the bosses who retaliate against the workers for organizing, not the workers themselves who are against it! .... did capitalism write this clue?

    Last ding-ish comment is that some of the long and mid-length stuff felt like they could have been a little more fun! Things like SECRETLY and MEATHEADS (this is a bit of a downer for a long slot, maybe?), I LOVE LA (maybe people who were alive in 1983 enjoyed this, but I was -12 years old in 1983), AGAINST, ARIDITY, ACTED ON, etc. All fine entries, but I would have loved a tad more zing!

    • AP GERMAN [H.S. class with ein Lehrer] — This is very specific to me, but I'm not a fan of AP___ type entries. A popular wordlist that many constructors use to make puzzles lists these entries with the highest possible score, so I feel like they're overrepresented in puzzles.
    • EL CHEAPO [Stingy sort] — I have never heard or seen this expression outside of crosswords -- I wonder if it's a regional or generational thing, or if I've just been living under a rock.
    • PATTY [Ground round] — I was gonna say I was a bit iffy on a PATTY being a "round" but Google lists "a circular piece of a particular substance" as a definition for "round" so ... what do I know?
    • PBS ["Antiques Roadshow" airer] — I truly don't think I've ever been able to plop one of these 3-letter networks in immediately
    • SOMA ["Brave New World" drug] — SoMa is also a neighborhood in San Francisco, where I live.
    Signed, Rafa

    [Follow Rafa on Twitter]


    Trumpeter Wynton / FRI 8-12-2022 / Outer: Prefix / No cock-a-doodle-do-ers

    Friday, August 12, 2022

    Constructor: Trent Evans

    Relative difficulty: This felt impossibly hard, but looking at my time (20:27) it was only medium hard

    THEME: Themeless

    Word of the Day: PHASER (Fictional weapon of the 23rd century) —
    Phasers are common and versatile phased array pulsed energy projectile weapons, first seen in the original Star Trek series and later in almost all subsequent films and television spin-offs. Phasers range in size from small arms to starship-mounted weaponry. Though they seem to discharge in a continuous "beam", close observation reveals that phasers actually discharge a stream of pulsed energy projectiles into the target.
    • • •

    Hey pals! This is your last day of Malaika, or as I like to call it, Malaika MWednesday: Part 3. After this you will be free of my "horrible" and "inane" reviews. (For one month. Then I will be back rambling about "systemic sexism" and "I don't know pop culture references from the 60s" and other Gen Z bullshit.) Today's random musical theater YouTube video is Eva. Sigh. I always end up at Eva.

    A Friday! I always prefer a Friday to err on the side of "too easy" and this one did not. (Actually, I always prefer for all puzzles to err on the side of "too easy.") One of my things is that if I'm not enjoying a puzzle, I'll simply stop solving it. (Same with books or movies that I'm not enjoying.) If I were not reviewing this puzzle I would have stopped after five minutes, but I'm glad I stuck it out. I didn't love the overall cluing vibe (which seemed to be "hard and vague") but looking over the fill now that I'm done, there's sooo much good stuff in here.

    Both of the stacks are truly flawless, at least going across. Six stunning answers. (The downs... hmm. ADIA.... PIU.... LEONI.... Hmmm......) I wish they had been clued in a way that was a little more.... Idk, Friday! Lively and light and sparkly and fun! Reducing SPACE CAMP-- such an evocative phrase-- to geography-based trivia is just not my idea of a Friday clue. I would have preferred something as cliche and easy and technically inaccurate as [Summer destination that's out of this world].

    TINCAN is another example of that-- it's a fun phrase that I'm sure conjures up an image in your mind. Lovely consonance as well. And instead we get.... Military trivia. Not my wheelhouse! I would have clued this as [Communication device for Calvin and Hobbes*, occasionally].

    Other high parts were LIVE TWEET (*chef's kiss*) and I WONT ASK, which I literally said tonight at dinner, and FAKE TAN and BESTIES (... which I also said at dinner tonight). Low parts for me were MARSALIS (a name I'm unfamiliar with) and AMSCRAYS and ECT. Can someone explain NAVE for [Basilica section] please?

    Oh, I guess I should say "ACED IT and YOU NAILED IT have IT crossing at the I" so there we go. I said it. It's done.

    • Have you ever had falafel made from FAVA beans? I've only had the chickpea variety.
    • The clue for MORNING RITUAL slowed me down a lot because I shower and solve the crossword at night! I love to be clean when I get into bed, and my curls do better drying overnight.
    • The first answer I put in was [Position in an array, to a computer scientist]. A gimme! I guess my nit is that I would have said "programmer" instead of "computer scientist."
    • I love mathematical PARADOXes. My favorite changes, but right now it's Russell's-- a classic.
    • KNEX was another gimme for me... Did y'all put "Lego" first? (I had the X from above which made it easy.) I had tons of these as a kid.
    xoxo Malaika

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

    *I read enough C&H when I was younger that through early college I had every strip memorized. (This skill is now, alas, rusty.) A friend didn't believe me and I told him to pick a random strip, describe the first panel to me, and I would complete the rest. He picked this one, and indeed, I nailed (heh) it, and he literally was speechless.

    Also, this comic is 10x funnier now that WAP actually means something.


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