Egyptian ophidian / WED 8-31-22 / Dubious food-eating guideline / Type of meal first sold by C.A. Swanson & Sons / Nickname for Mowgli in the Jungle Book / Flux 1990s MTV series

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Constructor: Joe Deeney

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (though it will probably time out "Easy" because of the undersized grid (14x15))

THEME: FIVE-SECOND RULE (35A: Dubious food-eating guideline ... or a hint to the answers to this puzzle's starred clues) — the "second" letter in all the answers to the starred clues is "V," i.e. Roman numeral "five"; in each instance the letter appears as an initial, pronounced "VEE":

Theme answers:
  • TV DINNER (16A: *Type of meal first sold by C.A. Swanson & Sons)
  • IV FLUID (24A: *Hospital bagful)
  • AV CLUB (26A: *Multimedia-focused school org.)
  • RV PARK (44A: *Camper's place, maybe)
  • JV SQUAD (45A: *Up-and-coming group in high school athletics)
  • EV CREDIT (57A: *Federal tax incentive for buying a Tesla, say)
Word of the Day: IDI Amin (31A: Dictator Amin) —
Idi Amin Dada Oumee (/ˈdi ɑːˈmn, ˈɪdi -/UK also /- æˈmn/c. 1925 – 16 August 2003) was a Ugandan military officer and politician who served as the third president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. He ruled as a military dictator and is considered one of the most brutal despots in modern world history. [...] Amin's rule was characterised by rampant human rights abuses, including political repressionethnic persecution and extrajudicial killings, as well as nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. International observers and human rights groups estimate that between 100,000 and 500,000 people were killed under his regime. (wikipedia) (my emph.)
• • •

You don't see 14-wide grids very much. Seems to me grids are more apt to bulk up than slim down if they're going to go off the standard 15x15 model. There's a good reason for slimming this one down, as the revealer is only 14 letters long, and 14s are really awkward to handle in 15x15 grids; plus you'd need another 14 to balance the revealer out symmetrically if you put it in a 15x15, whereas with a 14-wide grid you can just sit the revealer dead center. Much more elegant that way. As for the theme itself, I breezed through the NW and though I wasn't really paying attention to "starred clues," I figured something was up thematically with the "V"s after getting TV DINNER and AV CLUB. Then I hit the revealer, and got a double dose of delight, in that I loved the phrase itself ... and then several seconds later the thematic import of the phrase hit me, and I liked that too. "Five" in the "second" position of every themer. And it's not just that the second letter is "V," it's that it's pronounced as "VEE" in every case. It would be way, way too thin if the themers merely had "V" as the second letter. Having it as an initial, a stand-alone letter, really tightens the theme considerably ... which brings me to the one thing about the theme that I found truly jarring and inexplicable, namely the stray "V" in DMVS (37D: Real ID issuers, in brief). Why would you let *any* non-thematic stand-alone "V"s into this puzzle?! Your whole premise is FIVE-SECOND, i.e. "V" comes second, but now you've introduced an auxiliary FIVE-THIRD rule!? I'm sure it was tough to handle all those damn "V"s in the grid, but for the sake of sparkle and polish and elegance, not to mention consistency, you can't let a "V" get away from you like that. Nails + chalkboard.

["The stars are gonna spell out the answers to tomorrow's crossword..."]

Outside the theme, there's a little less to love. I like the long Downs OK, though the clue on "I CAN DREAM" feels tenuous (31D: "My lotto ticket might be the winner"). The clue phrase sounds like something a not terribly bright person would say; there's no inflection, no sense that the speaker has any sense of the preposterousness of the odds, which is why it's not a great clue for "I CAN DREAM," which situates lotto triumph securely in Fantasyland, where it belongs. There's also no reason a "busy day" should be a BLUR. I tend to remember busy days better than unbusy ones. The puzzle has always expected me to know a weird lot about "The Jungle Book," and MAN CUB went way beyond my normal store of crossword knowledge (KAA, BALOO, SHERE, etc.), but it was ultimately inferable from crosses (5D: Nickname for Mowgli in "The Jungle Book"). I didn't love the clue on MINUS (41A: -) because I kept wondering why they'd omitted the clue, or what clue this was the second part of ... took a few crosses to see that the dash was a MINUS symbol. I had CEDE before CAVE (28D: Give in) and while I got SCARFS on the first guess, I held that "C" very loosely, knowing that it could very easily be an "N" (8D: Devours, with "down") Thought the pun on ELISE ("a lease") was awful, but I can't yet decide if it's so awful it's good (59A: Good name for a home renter?). My current feeling is no, it's bad. But things change.

The worst thing about the puzzle for me was seeing IDI Amin's stupid face in it again. There are two good reasons to banish the dude forever. First, he was an ethnic-cleansing war criminal of the first order (see "Word of the Day," above). It has never been entirely clear to me why the world's most famous murderous dictator (white) is never* allowed to appear in the grid but IDI AMIN (Black) was a grid staple. Note: not interested in Comparative Atrocity Studies, only noting that war criminals are demonstrably more likely to appear in the grid if they aren't white. Maybe "foreign" names are just more tempting to constructors because of their "unusual" letter combinations. I dunno. The other good reason for IDI banishment is sheer name fatigue. That guy used to be ubiquitous, since both his name parts are incredibly useful, grid-wise. To the puzzle's (and constructors') immense credit, his visibility has radically decreased in recent years. AMIN hasn't appeared in the #NYTXW in almost three years, and today's is the first appearance of IDI in 2022. Here's the last ten years' worth of IDIs; you can see how the flow slows to a trickle in recent years:

source: xwordinfo

It would be great if the guy disappeared from grids entirely. I'm never gonna not notice, not comment on, not disparage the appearance of a murderer of this magnitude. Yes, it's just three letters, but it's an unnecessary distraction and a significant (albeit brief) downer. Puzzle vibes are real! Make them good!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*Did you know?: HITLER used to appear in the grid reasonably regularly, mostly during and immediately after WWII itself. Look at these insane clues!

P.S. in case you somehow have never heard of the FIVE-SECOND RULE, it's the idea that if food falls on the floor and you pick it up before five seconds have elapsed, it's still good to eat. It's a pretty good rule: food I drop on the floor, I still eat. Food I *find* on the floor ... not so much.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Waxy biochemical compound / TUE 8-30-22 / Subtle signal that might accompany a wink / Major let-downs for Rapunzel / Club-wielding bogeywoman / Beginner's downhill challenge / Nonvegan pie crust ingredient

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BUNNY / SLOPE (17A: With 69-Across, beginner's downhill challenge ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — four different "slopes" (downward diagonal answers formed by circled squares) contain types of "bunnies":

The Bunnies:
  • DUST
  • BUGS

Word of the Day:
STEROL (9D: Waxy biochemical compound) —

Sterol is an organic compound with formula C
, whose molecule is derived from that of gonane by replacement of a hydrogen atom in position 3 by a hydroxyl group. It is therefore an alcohol of gonane. More generally, any compounds that contain the gonane structure, additional functional groups, and/or modified ring systems derived from gonane are called steroids. Therefore, sterols are a subgroup of the steroids. They occur naturally in most eukaryotes, including plantsanimals, and fungi, and can also be produced by some bacteria (however likely with different functions). The most familiar type of animal sterol is cholesterol, which is vital to cell membrane structure, and functions as a precursor to fat-soluble vitamins and steroid hormones

While technically alcohols, sterols are classified by biochemists as lipids (fats in the broader sense of the term). (wikipedia)

• • •

No PLAYBOY Bunny today, but that's probably for the best. As Tuesday theme ideas go, I think this one's pretty cute. Hard to be mad at bunnies—cuteness is their greatest defense. I might've enjoyed the puzzle more if I hadn't been a fast solver—I never saw the bunnies. At all. The puzzle is so easy that I just zipped through it and then looked back to see what the SLOPEs said. So at the level of actual solving, for me, it was almost as if there were no theme; the revealer is the only proper theme answer. No Bunny Content! But the concept works well. There's something aesthetically pleasing about the arrangement of the SLOPEs in the grid. They're not symmetrical, exactly, and yet there is  a symmetry of sorts, with the NE and SW SLOPEs both extending from edge to edge, and the middle two SLOPEs both touching the edge on one side and then extending into the middle of the grid. I don't mind asymmetry in zany theme features like this (see also: rebus squares). I mind it more, however, in traditional theme answer alignment. That is, if you want / need to break symmetry, OK, but there had better be good reason. Which brings me to the one odd and somewhat ungainly feature of this theme: the placement of BUNNY. Or the placement of SLOPE, I guess. One of them really should move, so that they can be in sync with one another. Looks like there was no way to move SLOPE in this particular circled-square arrangement, so all I can guess is that the constructor just couldn't make BUNNY work in the 1-Across position, or else could make it work, but got a much cleaner result dropping BUNNY to the third row. There are no circled squares to make grid-filling difficult in that NW corner, so I don't know why BUNNY should've been so hard to put at 1-Across, but I'm also not going to tear down the NW corner and find out right now. Anyway, weird BUNNY placement, but it only detracted slightly from my overall enjoyment.

The fill was a bit rough at times, and this stood out more than it might've on other early-week themed puzzles because there were no proper theme answers or any notable longer answers to speak of at all. Nothing in the grid is longer than 8 letters, and there are only two of those, and they're solid, but neither one is terribly scintillating (ISRAELIS, BOASTFUL).  I think SLY NOD is my favorite thing in the grid (5D: Subtle signal that might accompany a wink). That and SPLURGE, which is remarkably ugly-sounding word that I somehow feel affection for (39A: Spend indulgently). There's something almost grotesque about it. It's great. The toughest bits for me were STEROL (just didn't know it–wanted STERNO) (9D: Waxy biochemical compound); OWNED IT (I wanted OWNED UP ...) (4D: Took responsibility for something); and RUST (with the "T" in place, the only "red" color I could think of was BEET) (31A: Reddish hue). GELID is familiar to me but absolutely exclusively from crosswords (it's crosswordese for "cold") (40D: Freezing). The semi-staleness of some of the fill extended to the clues on occasion as well. Two of the "?" clues are ultra-recycled (6A: Puts away, as the groceries? = EATS and 36D: A couple of bucks? = DEER). The other two are pretty good, though (53D: Ones not inclined to make sweeping gestures? = SLOBS and 43D: Major let-downs for Rapunzel? = TRESSES). I can forgive staler-than usual fill in a puzzle like this–it's incredibly hard to fill a grid with diagonal answers cleanly. I've tried. Those diagonals really really restrict you and gum things up. But that's no reason for your clues, esp. your "?" clues, to be out of a box. Still, overall, I was pretty happy with this (fittingly) easy early-week puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Forgot to mention that I definitely cocked my head and looked quizzically at [Norwegian pie crust ingredient] ... only to realize (much later) that the clue actually read "Nonvegan..." (the answer is of course LARD) (thanks to Loren Muse Smith for making the same mistake and commenting on it and thus jogging my memory)

P.P.S. I am being told that the *E*LANTRA / ADRI*E*N crossing is annihilating some significant subset of solvers today. I know my Hyundai models reasonably well, but there's no reason everyone should. My condolences to those shipwrecked on the shoals of Natick today.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Haircut common in the Marine Corps / MON 8-29-22 / Once-popular device in a den in brief / Precautionary device in a pneumatic machine / Home to more than 350 million vegetarians

Monday, August 29, 2022

Constructor: Chase Dittrich and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. average for a Monday)

THEME: "PIECE OF / MY HEART" (38A: With 41-Across, classic love song suggested by the ends to 18-, 24-, 50- and 60-Across) — theme answers are phrases that end with words that can refer to literal "pieces" of one's "heart":

Theme answers:
  • ECHO CHAMBER (18A: Environment that reinforces one's biases)
  • TRAFFIC ARTERY (24A: Major thoroughfare)
  • IN THE SAME VEIN (50A: "Similarly...")
  • SAFETY VALVE (60A: Precautionary device in a pneumatic machine)

Word of the Day:
FADE (40D: Haircut common in the Marine Corps) —
The "fade" hairstyle is a popular short haircut for men—it actually made Google's "Year in Search" trending data list for 2020—and it's sometimes also called "military reg." It simply means that your hair tapers from the bottom to the top and it can be as close to the skin as you like. // The term "fade" originated in Black-owned barber shops and has become the popular term for an aggressively tight taper in men's hair. Hair at the sides and back is cut as close as possible with clippers and "fades," or tapers, up into almost any length on top. (
• • •

I have some questions about this one. Like, why does the revealer not say who sang the song? I assume this is the Janis Joplin song, unless there are multiple "classic love songs" with this title, so ... why not say so? I don't think it makes the clue any easier. If anything, it just makes things more specific and clearer. It's bizarre to withhold the name, is what I'm saying. Also, are these "pieces" of "heart" really "heart-y" enough? I mean, the chambers have names that we all know, so "chamber" seems awfully broad / vague, and as for "veins" and "arteries," sure you can find them in the heart, but you can find them in every other part of your body too, so ... ??? I guess I'll give you "chamber" and "valve," but "vein" and "artery" seem pretty weak, as heart-specific answers go. And the phrase TRAFFIC ARTERY just feels clunky and off to me. I see that it is a term that exists, but on a technical level the much more popular term is "arterial road" (just google "arterial road" and then "TRAFFIC ARTERY," in quotation marks, and you'll see what I mean), and from a common usage stand point, we just refer to major thoroughfares being "arteries" -- it's a metaphor that doesn't really need the "traffic" in front of it because context alone is going to give you enough information. It's not like you're going to talk about a road being a "major artery" and someone's going to ask "you mean ... for the passage of blood?" No, I don't mean that, your question is ridiculous. Found this theme really conceptually clunky. Arrhythmic, even. 

TRAFFIC ARTERY was the only answer that slowed me down at all today, though the VALVE part of SAFETY VALVE took some crosses because I found the "pneumatic machine" part of the clue distractingly specific. "SAFETY ... ???? ... oh, it's just VALVE? Oh, ok." I was taken aback a little bit by the clue on FADE, mainly because I think of that as a Black haircut, not a military haircut, but I have since learned that the cut is sometimes referred to as "military reg," so OK, there you go. Still, the term "originated in Black-owned barbershops" (see Word of the Day, above), and the "hi-top FADE" in particular was made broadly famous by hip-hop and R&B songs and cultural icons of my youth (late '80s, early '90s). The haircut I associate with marines is the CREW cut. But again, the clue is accurate enough. The only other brief trouble spot was IMOVIE, which I forgot existed, despite its being installed on my own damn computer, the one I am writing on right now (49D: Video editing program from Apple). Sigh. Oh, and I had a little trouble with SPLIT (33A: Skedaddle), mostly because I had the -IT and though it was going to be a two-word phrase ending in "IT," like ... I dunno, BEAT IT (too long) or LAM IT (is that a thing?) or something like that. OK, that's all, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Gaelic garment / SUN 8-28-22 / Second caliph of Sunni Islam / Gray-brown flycatchers / Sapa ancient emperor's title / N Sync member who later became a gay rights activist / Rhizome to a botanist / Natural source of glitter / Creatures described as catarrhine from the Latin for downward-nosed

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Constructor: Ori Brian

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Animal Hybrids" — themers are regular clues with regular answers ... but they are also anagrams of several different kinds of animal [animals given in brackets at end of clues]:

Theme answers:
  • BREAK THE ICE (22A: Get a party started? [bee, hare, tick])
  • WET BLANKET (28A: Buzzkill [bat, elk, newt])
  • PARKING SPACE (34A: A little of a lot? [carp, pig, snake])
  • WATERMELON PATCH (47A: Locale of many vines [cat, elephant, worm])
  • BATHROOM SCALE (62A: Something you might step on by the shower [cobra, moth, seal])
  • "GENERAL HOSPITAL" (78A: Long-running soap opera that debuted in 1963 [ant, gorilla, sheep])
  • GLOBE THEATRE (91A: London landmark [beetle, hog, rat])
  • GOLDEN GATE (98A: Bridge that's painted International Orange [dog, eel, gnat])
Word of the Day: UMAR (52D: Second caliph of Sunni Islam) —

ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (Arabicعمر بن الخطاب, also spelled Omarc. 583/584 – 644) was the second Rashidun caliph, ruling from August 634 until his assassination in 644. He succeeded Abu Bakr (r. 632–634) as the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. Umar was a senior companion and father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was also an expert Muslim jurist known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the epithet al-Faruq ("the one who distinguishes (between right and wrong)").

Umar initially opposed Muhammad, his distant Qurayshite kinsman and later son-in-law. Following his conversion to Islam in 616, he became the first Muslim to openly pray at the Kaaba. Umar participated in almost all battles and expeditions under Muhammad, who bestowed the title al-Faruq ('the Distinguisher') upon Umar, for his judgements. After Muhammad's death in June 632, Umar pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr (r. 632–634) as the first caliph and served as the closest adviser to the latter until August 634, when the dying Abu Bakr nominated Umar as his successor.

Under Umar, the caliphate expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the Sasanian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire. His attacks against the Sasanian Empire resulted in the conquest of Persia in less than two years (642–644). According to Jewish tradition, Umar set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship. Umar was assassinated by the Persian slave Abu Lu'lu'a Firuz in 644. (wikipedia)

• • •

The theme is oddly decorative here, to the point of being, for the most part, genuinely optional. That is, you don't have to know anything about why there are animals in brackets at the ends of your theme clues. The clues are just normal, straightforward clues, and the answers are normal, straightforward, and (sadly) mostly bland answers. Actually, they're fine answers, but because they aren't really doing anything—because their whole "animal hybrid" nature is a completely non-integral part of the solving experience—they're just like any ordinary answers you might encounter anywhere. Nothing special about them. All the "theme" does is kinda give you an extra hint to the answers of the themers. Like "Here, here's a clue, but if you somehow can't get it from the perfectly ordinary clue, psst, here's a little hint ... but you actually have to *work* a little to figure out what that "hint" is ... so it isn't really a "hint" ... you're probably better off just figuring out the answer from crosses, like you normally would ..." You can see, I hope, how the [bracketed] portion of the theme clues doesn't seem to really know what its purpose is, beyond kinda / sorta giving a little extra hint to solvers, assuming the solver has grokked *how* the animal names are a hint. Sigh. Annnnnyway, there's really nothing there. The [bracketed] part is extraneous to the solving experience. Furthermore, the revealer is extraneous, in the sense that it's redundant. I already figured out what the animals were doing in [brackets] from the Title of The Puzzle. When your revealer contributes no information that isn't already largely provided by the title ... then why is the revealer there at all. CROSSBREEDS doesn't even really make sense, since the animals in [brackets] at the ends of the theme clues aren't really "breeds" so much as "different kinds of animals." Conceptually, this one is kind of a mess. Execution-wise ... it's just blah. May as well be themeless. This one actually has me missing last week's *actual* themeless, which was at least built that way by design.

I weirdly had trouble getting started with this one, mostly because I wasn't understanding how the puzzle was using the word "Gaelic" (or TARTAN, for that matter) (1A: Gaelic garment). I had -ARTA- and still no clue. I think of Gaelic primarily as a language, and when I think of it culturally, I think primarily of Ireland, not Scotland, whereas TARTAN is, in my mind, exclusively a Scottish thing. Also, TARTAN makes me think "pattern" far more than it makes me think "garment." But technically both "Gaelic" and "garment" are used correctly here—I just couldn't process it all, and thought maybe there was a garment called a CARTAN (like ... an Irish caftan??). I also found NOT MANY very hard (6D: A handful). The term "a handful" sounds like something very difficult—specifically, someone very difficult, esp. if that someone is, say, a toddler. "He can be a handful." The idea that "a handful" meant "just a few," i.e. NOT MANY ... that did not occur to me until very late. Beyond that, I had just one significant sticking point, and that was everything in and around and especially including UMAR, which ... wow, OK, that's a new name. I don't even think I've seen the *first* "caliph of Sunni Islam" in the grid before, and you expect me to know the second? That's a big ask, considering that in my 30+ years of solving ...

It looks like the constructor got into a real tight spot with theme answer placement. Things get especially restricted once you decide to run RUNS AMOK in there. You can't do much with that area connecting WATERMELON and BATHROOM unless you do a pretty significant grid tear-down. You can feel the desperation in this tight space, and it's not only because of UMAR. I mean, INRE is in there too, and it's not like that is high-quality fill. I think I would've done whatever I could, including rebuilding the surrounding areas, to get rid of the UMAR / INRE unsightliness. But ... maybe UMAR is a very, very important name that crosswords have unfairly neglected over the years. Lord knows I (continue to) feel that way about OZU and VARDA ...

  • 68D: "Beats me" ("I'VE NO IDEA") — so this one is weird because the contraction (unexpectedly?) makes the phrase feel more formal. Like, "beats me" is obviously slangy, but "I HAVE NO IDEA" feels more like what a person who says "beats me" would say, whereas "I'VE NO IDEA" sounds more like what someone who says "Pardon me, have you any Grey Poupon?" would say. 
  • 82D: Strong hold (IRON GRIP) — don't love the clue, which is basically just [synonym for iron + synonym for grip], but the answer is one of my favorite things in the grid, along with OVERCOOK, for reasons I don't quite understand myself (70A: Make dry, as salmon).
  • 80D: ___ Malnati's, Chicago-style pizza chain (LOU) — absolutely no idea. If it's a chain, it's not a chain anywhere I've lived. A very hard-won three-letter name for me today.
  • 54A: Al-___, family of Syrian leaders (ASSAD) — yeah, still war criminals, still in power, still unwelcome in my gridspace
  • 113A: Gets around (EVADES) — total kealoa* train wreck, as I got the "V" first and (predictably) wrote in the wrong guess, AVOIDS. Sigh.
Congratulations to my friend Matt Gritzmacher for winning the Lollapuzzoola Crossword Tournament yesterday (Tyler Hinman, champion of many tournaments, many times over, won the online division, son congrats to him as well). I really wish I could've been there. COVID really decimated in-person tournaments, which means that I haven't seen many of my crossword friends in years now. Fingers crossed for a 2023 return to crossword tournament normalcy. It was great to see pics of Matt and his championship trophy.

[That's Matt with Brooke Husic, who constructed the
tournament's apparently lovely and punishing Final Puzzle]

[Pictures stolen from Matt's Twitter feed]

See you tomorrow.

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.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Religious group affected by the Edict of Nantes / SAT 8-27-22 / Nickname that elides vin / Network onetime HGTV spinoff / Superhero with lightning bolt on his costume / 1890 admission to the Union abbr / Future rap group in which Tyler the Creator got his start / Gum brand with red white blue wrapper

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Constructor: Andrew Linzer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Rhadamanthine (29D: STERN) —
rigorously strict or just [...] In Greek mythology, there were three judges of the underworld: Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus. Minos, a son of Zeus and Europa, had been the king of Crete before becoming supreme judge in the underworld after his death. Aeacus, another son of Zeus, was king of Aegina before joining the underworld triumvirate. Rhadamanthus, brother of Minos and king of the Cyclades Islands, was especially known for being inflexible when administering his judgment - hence, the meaning of "rhadamanthine" as "rigorously strict or just." (
• • •

A solid, proper Saturday. Textbook. Hard but doable. Had some real trouble getting started, but once I did, the puzzle opened up nicely, and I never really lost traction again after I finally got out of the top and into the middle of the grid. The only feature I didn't really care for are the highly isolated NW and SE corners. You've just got these teeny tiny corridors to get through, so your flow is maximally interrupted. The consequences of this segmentation were far more dire for me at the beginning than at the end of the solve. It took some work to flesh out the NW corner—I had ORE before EMO (15A: Rock variety) and DIP before SAG (17A: Temporary decline) (I think "DIP" expresses "temporariness" much better, but that's neither here nor there), but I took a chance on ORAL (!) (26A: Kind of health) and then MELvin came in and confirmed ORAL and then JAMES I was like ""Hey, I'm right here! You teach an entire period of literature named after me, how are you not seeing me!?" so that helped, and shortly thereafter: corner done. And yet ...

I could not get from [Taxes] to TRIES with just the -ES in place, nor could I get to IMAGED (such an odd word) from [Scanned, perhaps] with just the "I." So I had to go fishing for short stuff in the adjacent NE corner just so I could get my footing once again, and let me tell you, things went very, very badly at first. My opening pass at alllll the short Downs in the NE was an 0fer ("O"-fer? ... how do you spell that? Anyway, rhymes with "gopher," means "zero for [however many attempts you made]"). Nothing, Nada. No HEM ALAS TEXT SATÉ ASHE FEEL or IDA. I spell "SATAY" like that, so even though that's the answer I wanted, I never thought to spell it "SATÉ," and I definitely considered "FEEL" at 10D: Vibe but I thought MOOD fit better (technically it does, but again, as with DIP, it's simply wrong *for this puzzle*). Incredibly rare for me to scan an entire bank of short answers and come up with absolutely nothing. Weirdly, the longer Downs up there came much more quickly. I took an educated guess with TAM (22A: Flat topper) and ELMS (25A: Trees that canopy Central Park's Literary Walk), which got me STEAMY and RATTLES. Then I changed MOOD to FEEL, and after that, the tail ends of those long Acrosses started coming into view. Finally, it was time to embark on the big, creamy middle:

Once I correctly guessed EKES for 25D: Squeezes, I had KEY at the end of 27A: Super-useful item?, and MASTER KEY seemed the only possibility (such keys are undoubtedly "super-useful," but they are also "useful to the super ... intendent ... of a building" ... which is what the clue is going for with its "?" today). With MASTER KEY in place, the middle didn't stand much of a chance. Also, I lucked into HUGUENOTS, an answer which, like JAMES I, is a prominent part of the early-modern European political landscape, and thus my early English literature courses (the HUGUENOTS are French protestants who faced a lot of hostility and persecution from the Catholic crown) (35A: Religious group affected by the Edict of Nantes). 

The middle of the puzzle ended up falling very fast, and then the bottom half of the grid played like a Bizarro top half, with JOANNE WADDLED easily opening up the front ends of the long Acrosses down there, and the secluded SE corner being much easier to break into than the NW corner was to break out of. SHAZAM, a gimme, BAZOOKA, a gimme, ALADDIN and KIA, both gimmes, the end. Ultimately, all smiles, no cringe on this one. I especially like the stacks up top and down below, each of which suggests a coherent scene. THAT'S A FIRST! RELEASE DATE! IMAX THEATER! sounds like hype for a big movie's opening weekend, whereas ONLINE POKER ONE MORE TIME MED STUDENTS sounds like a pitch for a movie in which gambling addiction leads to desperate, criminal behavior at a big-city teaching hospital. Whatever the answers in this puzzle suggest to you, I hope you ultimately saw what I saw: a very well put-together piece of work.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bottle of rum go-with / FRI 8-26-22 / Zoom call background effect / Old telecom inits. / A heavy one may want a lighter / Joey who doesn't wear pants / Fruit-bearing shrub known botanically as Prunus spinosa

Friday, August 26, 2022

Constructor: Robert Logan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: EVEN ODDS (64A: A 50/50 chance ... or a description of the lengths of this puzzle's Across and Down answers respectively) — Acrosses have even number of letters in them, Downs have odd

Theme answers:
  • all of them, I guess
Word of the Day: Aidy BRYANT (9A: Aidy of "Saturday Night Live") —
Aidan Mackenzy Bryant (born May 7, 1987) is an American actress and comedian. She was a cast member on the late-night variety series Saturday Night Live (2012–2022), beginning in season 38, and leaving at the end of season 47. For her work on the series, she has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including two nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Her other work includes a voice role in the animated series Danger & Eggs (2017) and a starring role in the sitcom Shrill (2019–2021); for the latter, she also served as writer and executive producer and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. (wikipedia)
• • •

I got bad, eerie vibe off of this one right from the start. The grid has a weird look—boxy and plain, like a generic "crossword grid," with no answers over 10 letters long, so it looked like it was gonna have bad "flow" and few if any real marquee answers. So my gut was telling me something was up, and then I dove in and that gut feeling only got stronger. I finished the NW corner and there was nothing shiny or sparkly about it, nothing that seemed purpose-built—why would you stack 8s in a themeless? What good could come of that? The best you're gonna get is "OK." And the worst you're gonna get is ... well ADP (5D: Big inits in payroll services). That answer alone was like a giant red alert. It's a terrible bit of fill, the kind you'd only trot out if you needed it to hold together an *amazing* corner ... and that NW corner is not amazing. I kept going, of course, and found that the fill wasn't bad so much as blah. Then I got a bit worried a theme was developing when "YOU BETCHA" crossed "YES, INDEEDY." This worry only intensified when I hit "OKEY DOKEY" ... Am I really enduring this bone-dry grid just so I can have a "folksy phrases of agreement" theme? Because that would be bad. But then "HARD TO TELL" interrupted the apparent theme pattern, and I was back to just an inexplicably bland puzzle. But then, at the end, explicability. Tragic explicability. A genuine revealer, one that brings sudden and, in this case, truly horrid illumination. A Bizarro revealer with an upside-down "AHA" (which is "AHA" spelled backward ... see, you can't even tell it's Evil. It looks just like the Good "AHA"! Scary!). The jolting, abrupt ending to all this Uncanny-Valley Friday nonsense was the revelation that the puzzle did, in fact, have a theme. Not "folksy phrases of agreement." No, that theme actually seems reasonable now. No, our theme is a completely invisible, no-enjoyment-added letter-count theme. The Acrosses have even letter counts and the Downs have odd. This would've been disappointing on a *Wednesday* (which is about where the difficulty level was); on a Friday, it's criminal. 

I like themes on Friday (or Saturday) even less than I like themelesses on Sunday, but at least a themed Friday (or Saturday) has a chance with me. The theme just has to be stellar. You took away my favorite puzzle of the week from me (the themeless Friday), so OK, replace it with something better then. But this ... isn't better. It's so far from better that it has left "better"'s gravitational pull entirely and floated off to become basically space junk. There was some incidental fill that I would've liked in a better conceived puzzle that wasn't intruding on my Friday themeless pleasure. I actually like "A WORD..." and "YES, YOU!" They're terse yet colorful. Colorful is hard to do in short fill. But on a Friday I should not be telling you that my favorite fill was 5 or 6 letters long. Why make a less-than-mediocre themeless just so you can make the EVEN ODDS joke!? Which doesn't even really work on a literal level—as a "description of the lengths of this puzzle's Across" answers, EVEN is (adjectivally) correct. As a "description of the lengths of this puzzle's [...] Down answers," ODDS is non-adjectival, and thus not really a "description" at all. Ill-conceived and extremely ill-slotted on a Friday, this puzzle. Baffling, truly. But people will likely be so focused on their personal best Friday times (YES, YOU) that they won't care much that the puzzle was, at best, a shrug. To which I say, great. Take your enjoyment where you can get it!

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy to see the wonderful Aidy BRYANT in the puzzle, but surprised we didn't up seeing her as AIDY first. Seems like a potentially useful four-letter answer. If y'all wanted to make AIDY the next ENYA, I would not be mad.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Deity born from Chaos / THU 8-25-22 / Device for Arachne in Greek myth / Aachen article / Fruity liqueur base / Wine container in a Poe title

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Constructor: Olivia Mitra Framke and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TRI-STATE AREA (54A: U.S. geographical grouping ... or a hint to 20-, 27- and 47-Across) —theme answers are three states all run together (with overlapping letters), clued by the states official self-designations (e.g. Show-Me, Golden, whatever):

Theme answers:
  • OHIOWALABAMA (20A: "Buckeye-Hawkeye-Yellowhammer")
  • MAINEBRASKANSAS (27A: "Pine Tree-Cornhusker-Sunflower")
  • VERMONTANALASKA (47A :"Green Mountain-Treasure-Last Frontier")
Word of the Day: EREBUS (8D: Deity born from Chaos) —
In Greek mythologyErebus (/ˈɛrɪbəs/; Ancient GreekἜρεβοςromanizedÉrebos, "deep darkness, shadow"), or Erebos, is the personification of darkness and one of the primordial deitiesHesiod's Theogony identifies him as one of the first five beings in existence, born of Chaos.(wikipedia)  (my emph.) 
• • •

Tuesdays and Thursdays might get a bit abbreviated for a while, since I solve and write first thing in the morning and then turn around and teach shortly thereafter. And since I have a 7-something AM bus to catch, and I don't like to be rushed getting out the door, I can't linger over these write-ups the way I sometimes do on T and Th. Then again every time I say the write-up is going to be short, I end up going into normal writing mode and doing the same thing I always do, so who knows? I'm already wasting valuable time writing about the fact that I don't have that much time! The point is, if T and/or Th seem clipped in the near future, now you know why (or what my official excuse is). My cat (OLIVE!) woke me up at 3:30am today, so I Have More Time Than I Want Actually. But still, 5:30am finish time is going to be the goal! We'll see how that works out.

[I let her sleep. Anywhere. She is less obliging.]

I was happy the puzzle obliged my schedule today by being easy, but that's one of the few things about it I genuinely liked. I don't quite understand how this rises to NYTXW levels of Thursday trickiness. I've seen some version of this conceit before, I'm fairly sure, but that's not the problem—the dullness of the overall idea is the problem. Yes, you can run state names together, many of them famously share letter strings, so what? TRI-STATE AREA is a fine phrase but I don't think of a crossword answer as an "area" and there's nothing particular lovely or clever or funny about three state names mushed together, so I guess I'm just failing to see the appeal, particularly the *Thursday NYTXW!* appeal. And as for the tri-state Frankenstein's monster answers ... there really should be a higher bar for amount of overlap. Something to make the concept seem unusual and worthwhile. What I'm saying is that the overlaps are much more interesting when they comprise two or more letters—VERMONTANA! That's almost fun. But when the overlap is just one letter (as it is, twice, in this puzzle) ... that hardly seems worth doing. A cheap way to get overlap. There's not even entertaining wackiness to provide some auxiliary enjoyment. VERMONTALASKA is kind of fun to say, but the others, not so much. Hard to know how to say NEBRASKANSAS since whichever way you choose, you butcher one of the state's actual pronunciations, and with OHIOWALABAMA you can't even hear the IOWA part. It's like it's not there. I'm just finding it hard to see the Thursday-worthiness today.

Love the phrase I'M DOWN (as well as the fact that it is, in fact, Down) (4D: "Sounds like a plan!") and I like the clue on SALAD BAR (5D: Place to pick some vegetables?), and I'm never gonna be mad at finding a cocktail in my crossword (60A: Cocktail made with gin, soda, lemon juice and sugar => TOM COLLINS), but that's really it for high points. The fill is just OK, and actually a bit old-fashioned and creaky. EIN and NIE? And then TSO and ABU and ORD and USAUSA and ASTERS and SLOE and ACER and ICAL (!?) and the old sandwich partial ON RYE ... there's just a crustiness that is not adequately balanced out by freshness. DOGROSE is "fresh" in the sense of "never heard of it" and "hasn't been in the NYTXW since 1962," and I don't mind seeing it here, but ... well, there are over 300 species of rose, so finding one I haven't seen or heard of is not going to be hard. If I were more botanically inclined, DOGROSE might've delighted me more. Those are the breaks. But even if I throw DOGROSE on the "Fresh" pile today, it's still not much of a pile.

[I don't love APER, but I really don't love
ICAL / ACER, so I prefer this way ... oh wait,
you could turn APER into AVER if you want!
Yes, I think that's even better.]

Not too many problem areas today. Wanted REND for WEEP (21D: Tear a lot). Wanted MURDER before MOTIVE (27D: Whodunit plot element). Tried to mentally stretch out BAE to make it fit at 41A: Sweetheart before remembering that BEAU was also a word. That's all. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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