Robot maid on the Jetsons / FRI 9-30-22 / Stretches for the rest of us / Hawaiian crop threatened by the apple snail / Something to be filed in brief / Food pronounced in three syllables / Colorado NHL team casually / Martian day

Friday, September 30, 2022

Constructor: David Karp

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: BAHAIS (46D: Religious adherents governed by the Universal House of Justice) —
The Baháʼí Faith is a relatively new religion teaching the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. Established by Baháʼu'lláh in the 19th century, it initially developed in Iran and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. The religion is estimated to have 5–8 million adherents, known as Baháʼís, spread throughout most of the world's countries and territories. [...] According to Baháʼí teachings, religion is revealed in an orderly and progressive way by a single God through Manifestations of God, who are the founders of major world religions throughout history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are noted as the most recent of these before the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh. Baháʼís regard the world's major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, though varied in social practices and interpretations. The Baháʼí Faith stresses the unity of all people, explicitly rejecting racismsexism, and nationalism. At the heart of Baháʼí teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes. (wikipedia)
• • •

I've seen this exact grid structure before, with the latticework 15s, and it works pretty well if you can fill it right. You get a bunch of marquee answers (at least six!), and 15s are actually very easy to work with when you're building a grid because they don't add to the black squares that you have to manage. The *one* black square that a 14 gets you (in a 15x15 grid) sets off a cavalcade of grid challenges involving the crosses adjacent to that black square ... I'd draw you a picture, but trust me, 12s 13s and esp 14s are harder to build a clean grid around than 15s. So this grid locks down its 15s and then it's mostly just got easy little sections to fill, 4x4s, 4x5s. You got a couple of stray 9s (in the Downs), a couple of stray 8s (in the Acrosses), but *if* you can make the lattice 15s happen, the rest of the grid should be a relative walk in the park to fill cleanly. And today, yeah, mission mostly accomplished. I definitely got that zoom-zoom whoosh-whoosh feeling coming out of the NW. Had to apply a little pressure to make sense of CLAM (1A: Zip it, with "up") and LIBEL (2D: Run down illegally) and especially PLACATED (23A: Happy, now) (do *not* love that clue), but IBEX alone got me ...

... and then CRISP + ALEXA got me ...

Such is the power of the "X"! And so very early on, I had answers running from coast to coast, and coast to coast again. After this, there weren't many trouble spots, which may explain why the clues were trying so so hard, torturously hard, to be cutesy and misdirective. "?" clues abounding. If those things miss, they're jarring, and a bunch of them just missed for me today. The worst section for me, by far, was the POKER part of HIGH STAKES POKER, which I couldn't get for a comparatively long time, even with the "P"! HIGH STAKES ... WAGER? That's an "activity," maybe. I wanted only HIGH STAKES GAME but "game" was in the clue and also that answer didn't fit. (Sidenote: gambling / casino clues, as always, of zero interest to me ... and we already had the horrid ACETEN, come on ...). That clue on HIGH STAKES POKER is so horribly convoluted (37A: Activity for some big game hunters?). Are high rollers known as "big game"? I've heard fat-pocketed gamblers called "whales." Are whales the "big game?" Is the poker game itself the "big game"? But ... POKER is the "activity," presumably. Never considered POKER, mostly because I was looking (as the clue told me to) for an "activity," and did not think that "activity" was a "game" because "game" was Also In The Clue, Presumably Referring To Something Else. And then that section ... OK, a CORSET *has* ties that bind, but it itself is not "the ties that bind," "?" or no "?" (42A: The ties that bind?). Woof. And OAKS don't "throw" shade, literally no one would say that (28D: They may throw shade). Trees cast shadows, but they do not throw shade, so put a "?" on that (yes, I'm begging for a "?") or find another clue.  I thought it was Hold the LINE at 30D: Hold the ___, not Hold the FORT, and I "confirmed" LINE with AÇAI (only to have AÇAI appear later in the solve, up top!). Finally, turns out the number of five-letter "S"-words that are plausible answers for 27A: Show disdain, in a way are manifold. Legion. I had, let's see ... first SNEER, then SNORT, then SCOWL, and only after figuring out FREE did I finally get SCOFF. Just a horrible, clunky way to end an otherwise fine puzzle. 

I've never closed a (browser) window with an ESCAPE KEY ever, so that was weird (35D: Tool for closing a window). The clue on NAPTIMES is the epitome of "trying too hard" (49A: Stretches for the rest of us?).  It can't lay off the (admittedly) clever "rest of us" misdirection even though "us" makes nooooooo sense here. Why are "we" taking a tap? I don't even take naps. Also, NAPTIMES has a scheduled, kindergarteny vibe, so "us" (that is, we solvers, mostly not in kindergarten, I'm guessing) doesn't work well here at all. I see what you're doing (using "rest of us" to mean "our rest"), and it's definitely ingenious wordplay, but it just comes across as forced here, as a clue for this particular answer. But as I said early on, the fill here is mostly clean and enjoyable. You can take ACETEN and HEN'S TEETH and put them ... somewhere else, but the 15s all sing. Well, the non-poker ones, anyway. And all the small nooks and crannies of this grid appear to have been reasonably well polished, so even if I thought the cluing was in the weeds a bit today, I still think the grid itself is admirable. Happy last day of September. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


So many layers here or a hint to the circled squares / THU 9-29-22 / How many salsa dancers dance / God-knows-where casually / Tweeter's that said / Group putting out electronic music / Like a blocked penalty kick in soccer / Homeland of monsters Mothra and Gamera / Setting for operation Red Dawn

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Constructor: Jeremy Newton

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: IT'S A LOT TO UNPACK (62A: "So many layers here" ... or a hint to the circled squares) — the letters "ALOT" start out inside one square, and then with each successive themer, those letters get "unpacked." That is, one letter at a time is moved to its own square as you descend the grid, until all the letters are "unpacked" (into their own squares) in the final themer / revealer: 

Theme answers:
  • "AND THAT'S SAYING [ALOT]" (16A: "Which is a big deal, considering!")
  • CALIFORNI[A LO][T]TO (26A: Contest for millions on the West Coast)
  • ALOE VER[A L][O][T]ION (47A: Popular skin moisturizer)
  • "IT'S [A] [L][O][T] TO UNPACK" (62A)
Word of the Day: King Harald (44A: Father of Norway's King Harald = OLAV) —

Harald V (NorwegianHarald den femteNorwegian pronunciation: [ˈhɑ̂rːɑɫ dɛn ˈfɛ̂mtə]; born 21 February 1937) is King of Norway. He acceded to the throne on 17 January 1991.

Harald was the third child and only son of King Olav V of Norway and Princess Märtha of Sweden. He was second in the line of succession at the time of his birth, behind his father. In 1940, as a result of the German occupation during World War II, the royal family went into exile. Harald spent part of his childhood in Sweden and the United States. He returned to Norway in 1945, and subsequently studied for periods at the University of Oslo, the Norwegian Military Academy, and Balliol College, Oxford.

Following the death of his grandfather Haakon VII in 1957, Harald became crown prince as his father became king. A keen sportsman, he represented Norway in sailing at the 19641968, and 1972 Olympic Games, and later became patron of World Sailing. Harald married Sonja Haraldsen in 1968, their relationship having initially been controversial due to her status as a commoner. They have two children, Märtha Louise and Haakon. Harald became king following his father's death in 1991, with Haakon becoming his heir apparent. (wikipedia)

• • •

I will confess that I did not know Norway still had a king. Not sure why reasonably functional western democracies still keep these monarchical relics around, but my country's got its own problems, so ... I'll move on. This is a very clever theme. Take a common (if unappealing) buzzphrase and reimagine it in grid form! The main challenge for me, beyond figuring out the gimmick in the first place, was figuring out how the "unpacking" was going to play itself out, exactly. I wanted [ALOT] (one square) to go to [AL] and [OT] (two squares) in that second themer, but then I was looking at that third themer and thinking "well they can't divide the letters evenly there, so ..." Anyway, this one-at-a-time unpacking makes the most sense. The execution of the theme here is very neat. The unpacking goes 1-2-3-4, all on a straight line (seriously, you can run a straight edge through the "ALOT" parts, no problem), and then ends with the revealer doubling as the final theme answer (themers typically stand outside the theme and point at the theme). All the themers are solid, unforced phrases ... there's not much to fault here, thematically. This one gives you ALOT without being "ALOT" (i.e. overwhelming, hard to take, difficult). 

Trouble getting started consisted mainly in having the front ends of things and not seeing how to get to the back ends of things. Had MADEA- at 3D: Appeared briefly and wanted only MADEANAPPEARANCE (impossible for many reasons) (MADE A CAMEO). With the first themer, I wanted the answer to be "AND THAT'S SAYING [SOMETHING]!" At first I didn't know where CALIFORNIA was leading either, but that ended up providing my initial insight into the theme. I must have gone around and gotten ORBS and TEAM and seen that the answer had to be LOTTO. But I wasn't quite sure what to do with the letters in LOTTO vis-a-vis the circles so I just "cheated" and went down to look at what I assumed (correctly) would be the revealer clue. And that, I got instantly.

As you can see, I got it, confirmed it with TECHNO BAND (nice answer), and then sorted out the circles up top. After this, the puzzle got much, much easier. As for the fill, it holds up fine. Lots and lots of short fill, but it all runs very clean. Even though SNAZZ looks kinda weird on its own, it might be my favorite thing in the grid—and it was also super-helpful, as "Z"s often are. Helped me sort out the answers in that NE corner, particularly ZEALOTS (12D: Extremist group), which I wanted to be something benign like SECT before I'd gotten the theme sorted. The only things I truly didn't like were the clues on SCAN (34A: It's a good look) and WOKE (59D: Socially "with it"). It's such an O(W)N GOAL when you give your answer a terrible clue just to make a successive-clue trick happen, as is the case today with the clue on SCAN. The puzzle wants to do its little [It's a good look] [It's a bad look] thing with SCAN and SNEER, but ugh the clue only works for one of those (SNEER). A SCAN is neutral. All SCANs are neutral. What's this "good look" nonsense? Is the idea that if you give something a good (as in "lengthy") look, you've "SCANned" it. If anything, SCAN suggests a *less* than good look. So many times, when a clue just clunks, it's because the puzzlemakers tried to make some kind of clue pairing happen. Such a bad idea, since even good clue pairings rarely pay off the way you want them too (solvers mostly don't solve Across clues successively, so what is the point!?). As for the WOKE clue, yeesh, don't do this. It's horrible and dismissive and plays right into the furiously racist and diseased right-wing use of "WOKE" that dominates the discourse these days. Not wanting women to go to jail for getting an abortion? WOKE. Thinking migrants should be treated humanely and not physically and psychologically tortured? WOKE. Hiring a Black person for literally anything? WOKE. The cutesy quotation marks, the quaint "with it" ... nah. Either clue it as part of the Black political discourse it came out of, or just clue it as a straight verb, no politics. Today's clue is, at best, condescending—the one big miss in a puzzle that's otherwise full of hits.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pioneering journalist who helped expose McCarthyism / WED 9-28-22 / Margarine whose ads once featured a talking tub / Team that signed to join the Big Ten in 2024 / BTS's V Suga and RM e.g. / Clergy house / Word that commentators may extend to five or more seconds

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: INITIAL HERE (38A: Contract directive ... or a hint to what's missing from 17-, 20-, 58- and 62-Across) — The "initials" H, E, R, and E are (respectively) omitted in four names

Theme answers:
  • WILLIAM [H.] MACY (17A: "Fargo" actor)
  • ALFRED [E.] NEUMAN (20A: Mad magazine symbol)
  • EDWARD [R.] MURROW (58A: Pioneering journalist who helped expose McCarthyism)
  • CHUCK [E.] CHEESE (62A: Rodent with a restaurant chain)
Word of the Day: EDWARD R. MURROW (58A: Pioneering journalist who helped expose McCarthyism) —

Edward Roscoe Murrow (born Egbert Roscoe Murrow; April 25, 1908 – April 27, 1965) was an American broadcast journalist and war correspondent. He first gained prominence during World War II with a series of live radio broadcasts from Europe for the news division of CBS. During the war he recruited and worked closely with a team of war correspondents who came to be known as the Murrow Boys.

A pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of reports on his television program See It Now which helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fellow journalists Eric SevareidEd BlissBill DownsDan Rather, and Alexander Kendrick consider Murrow one of journalism's greatest figures. (wikipedia)

• • •

Many moods for this puzzle. First, annoyance that WILLIAM MACY was in the grid without the damned "H," what the hell? Then, relief upon finding, with ALFRED NEUMAN, that the missing initial was actually a bit the puzzle was doing. Then, excitement upon wondering what these missing initials might spell, and what the revealer might be. Then (and mostly finally), disappointment at finding the revealer phrase so dull and bureaucratic, as well as ever-so-slightly ... off. I think part of the reason my brain is resisting this revealer is the fact that "initial" also means "coming first," which of course none of the "initials" do. I admit that this is not entirely fair—it's my brain refusing to let things just mean what they mean. But when I look at that revealer, all I can do is imagine an entirely different theme where the *first letters* H, E, R, E are missing, for some reason. Mostly the revealer just doesn't snap, both because it's inherently boring (as initially paperwork is boring), and because it doesn't quite describe what's going on, at least not in a perfect, dead-on way. I understand what the revealer wants me to think, but because it's INITIAL HERE and not (the nonsensical) INITIALS HERE, you keep having to back up and repeat the phrase in order to make it make sense: the initial "H" is missing, the initial "E" is missing, etc. So there's a very clever idea here somewhere (spelling something with the middle initials of famous people / spokesrodents), but that idea only gets so-so realization here. 

The bigger, much bigger, problem is the fill, which is consistently weak despite two pairs of cheater squares (these are the black squares that do not change the answer count, the ones added to a grid solely to make filling easier—today, see the black squares after STAR and CARB, before CLAY and ROMP). It's a fairly dense theme, so I give the puzzle a little leeway where shorter junk is concerned, but there's an awful lot. Cheater squares should be used if they get you from iffy to smooth, but these appear only to have gotten the grid to iffy. Not sure why I'm seeing AHME and ALII and UPC CNET SSE, then AHS (when we Already Have an AH in AHME!? Such an easy fix, too ... baffling); then ISAY DAW SYS in one unfortunate clump, then that INLA LAALAA stack, my god, and then NRC YOHO (you use a cheater square and all it gets you is ... YOHO!?). Working my way through this grid was kind of a chore, with very few interesting or even smooth patches to brighten the journey.

I'm not sure about this COMMON SENSE clue (9D: Not standing in an open field during a lightning storm, say). I mean, yeah, that sounds like a bad idea, but I think COMMON SENSE would tell you to seek shelter under a tree and that is *definitely* the wrong thing to do. People died in DC this summer for that very reason. I distrust people's ideas of what COMMON SENSE is. But I suppose on a literal level, yes, COMMON SENSE does say come in (into a building) out of the storm, you weirdo / golfer. Not finding it easy to make LET and [Gave the OK] mean the same thing. That is, I'm trying to find the sentence where I can swap them out. I LET her = I gave the OK *to* her ... hmmm ... "Gave the OK" can just stand on its own, where LET is a transitive verb ... I'm sure there's a way to get them to line up perfectly, but the clue just feels off to me right now. Possibly coffee will help. To that end ... see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Bonus Content: here's the first page of the MAD paperback pictured above:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chain of Polynesian islands? / TUES 9-27-22 / Rolling contest roller / Like at least two angles of every triangle / Candy from a "head"

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday in September. Hope everyone has had a great month and has been staying healthy. I spent this past weekend crying because Roger Federer played his final professional tennis match on Friday (a doubles match with Rafa Nadal — Team Fedal forever). Federer will forever and always be the GOAT in the men’s game. I’ve been keeping busy doing a lot of rock climbing and bouldering these days, and I’ve got the bruises and sore arms to prove it. “Climbing gym” was actually in the puzzle yesterday, and Rex said he didn’t know what it was?! I’ll have to take him to mine if he’s ever in D.C. 

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Peter Koetters

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: MONTH (69A: Any of 12 represented in this puzzle's shaded squares) — The first three letters of each of the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar are presented in sequential order

Theme answers:
  • JANet (1D: Treasury secretary Yellen
  • FEBreze (5D: Air freshener brand) 
  • MARianas (9D: ___ Trench, deepest place in the 10-Down
  • APRes (24D: French for "after"
  • MAYan (25D: Chichén Itzá builder
  • JUNta (26D: Postcoup group
  • JULes (32D: Verne of sci-fi
  • AUGie (36D: Hanna-Barbera's ___ Doggie
  • SEPia (38D: Photo filter for a retro look
  • OCTet (53D: Duo times four
  • NOVel (54D: New and unusual
  • DECor (55D: Interior designer's concern)
Word of the Day: ULEE’S GOLD (39A: With 70-Across, 1997 film in which Peter Fonda plays a beekeeper)  —
Ulee's Gold is a 1997 American drama film written and directed by Victor Nuñez and starring Peter Fonda in the title role. It was released by Orion Pictures.The film was the "Centerpiece Premiere" at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. Fonda won a Golden Globe Award for his performance and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The film's title refers most concretely to the honey Ulee produces as a beekeeper, particularly that made from the nectar of the tupelo tree. Van Morrison sings "Tupelo Honey" (the title song of his 1971 album) over the end credits. (Wiki)
• • •

Was this the crossword puzzle of the year? Technically, yes. Otherwise, not really. The puzzle was well-constructed and kind of fun, but once you realize while solving that the shaded squares are months, there’s not much left that’s interesting about the solve and you can just put the start of some answers in without there needing to be any thought. The revealer of just MONTH (69A) also left a bit to be desired. 

I figured out what was happening with the theme after three months (JAN, FEB, and MAR), which made the puzzle generally flow nicely for me. I did actually find the top half of the puzzle much easier (when I didn’t know the theme) than I found the bottom half of the puzzle (when I’d filled in all of the shaded boxes). I really was just blasting through the puzzle until I hit a snag somewhere around ULEES (39A) and CSPOT (30D). 

That this puzzle was released today is a bit interesting. Today at sundown is the end of the Jewish New Year, which is maybe why a puzzle relating to a calendar was released on September 27. Wikipedia tells me that Rosh Hashanah is the “first of the Jewish High Holy Days, as specified by Leviticus 23:23-25,” and LEVITICUS (64A: Exodus follower) was in the puzzle, which suggests that the timing is probably not a coincidence. I wish, then, that the payoff was something about the Jewish New Year, even though the names of the months in the puzzle are obviously English and from the Gregorian calendar. Yes, I know the tie-in would have been complicated, but, without it, I think this puzzle would have been more apt toward the end of December or in early January. 

The construction was impressive, as the constructor worked in 12 theme answers plus a revealer, but some of the fill definitely suffered as a result. I compiled just a miscellaneous list of answers that felt usual/boring to me, and I could’ve written down a lot more if I’d wanted to — ALDA; EDEN; VIA; UNA; CFO; EMU; RUN; ATE; VERY; EMIT; AGO; INN; IPA; UPA; ENS; and LOTSA. There was so much crosswordese, and I don’t think the clues were all that spectacular, either. I really dislike I MUST (56D: Possible answer to "Do you have to?"), because no one talks like that (tell me you can’t imagine a scene in a Shakespearean play where someone says “I must go posthaste”). Anagram clues feel boring to me (27D: Surname that's an anagram of NO LIE with ONEIL), though I do understand this one might’ve been there to help people who didn’t know MEAN JOE (25A: Nickname for N.F.L. Hall-of-Famer Greene) or ASNER (37A: Ed of "Up"). Oh, look, there’s JANET Yellen (1D) in another puzzle. And, if we really want to get nitpick-y, don’t jelly doughnuts technically have a hole in them where the jelly is inserted? I know that’s not the type of hole the clue is referring to, but my point stands. (I am a lawyer, after all.) 

I didn’t know or understand the clue/answer with CSPOT (30D: Bill worth 100 bones) at all. Apparently, it’s slang where the “c” is for hundred and spot means bill? I’m still a little confused. I didn’t know STOOLIE (52A: Informal informant), which is more old slang. I’ve never seen (or heard of) the movie ULEE’S GOLD (39A/70A). Apparently, Peter Fonda was nominated for an Oscar for it, and constructors like the double “e” in there (e.g., OGEE (67A: Curved molding, in architecture)), but not knowing the film caused me some serious problems with 40D: Marine swimmer with a tall dorsal fin. I didn’t know if it was a jailfish, bailfish, SAILFISH, etc. 

I did think there were some fun and fresh clues/answers. I loved NEIGHBORS (17A: Fencing partners?). ACUTE (16A: Like at least two angles of every triangle) was another fun one. I like thinking of a LEGO as a plastic brick (59D). TAMALES (23A: Dishes steamed in cornhusks), NOMADIC (54A: Like a wanderer), SAILFISH (40D), and MEAN JOE (25A) made the puzzle a tad bit more interesting. MEAN JOE Greene, especially, as I’m a huuuge Steelers fan and just generally a fan of Pittsburgh sports teams. So, seeing him and longtime Penguin JAGR (32A: Hockey great Jaromir _) in the puzzle was nice!

  • As long as I’m on the topic of the greatest sports city in the country… MEAN JOE Greene (25A) is one of the greatest football players ever. I grew up hearing stories about him and how he changed the trajectory of the franchise — my Dad grew up a Yinzer (and a diehard sports fan, at that). Before Greene was drafted by the Steelers in 1969, the team had the worst cumulative record in professional football. Since he was drafted, the Steelers have the best cumulative record. Also, Jaromir JAGR (32A) spent the most productive part of his career with the Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups. He’s maybe a top-10 player of all time, and he’ll go down in history as the third-best Penguin ever (behind Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby). He went on to play for a lot of teams after the Pens and is actually still playing at 50 years old in the Czech Republic! 
  • Fun fact of the day: The official term in kpop for big celebrities is IDOLS (6D: Paparazzi targets). So, for example, all seven members of BTS are IDOLS. Now, we don’t love them (or anyone) being targeted by paparazzi, but some companies will allow official photographers at events, so I’ll just put these photos here. (Have a safe flight, Yoongi!). 
  • I have a friend from law school named ALEXA (2D: Whom you might ask to turn off the lights, nowadays), who told me that the number of jokes she’s gotten in the last few years, like, “ALEXA, play me a song,” or whatnot is incalculable. There were times I’d say her name while on the phone with someone, and the ALEXA in my apartment would light up and start talking to me. 
  • “Up” (37A) is the single greatest movie ever created. That is all. 
  • ALOFT (33D: High in the sky) makes me think of how, yesterday, NASA collided a spaceship with an asteroid to see if it could knock it off its course, which is crazy and cool. Also, this tweet sums up how I felt watching the Cowboys-Giants Monday Night Football game:
And that's it from me! Have a ~spooky~ October.

Signed, Clare Carroll, forever a Federer fan

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Indoor bouldering locale / MON 9-26-22 / Cosmetic reapplication / Cassette submitted to a record label / Male equivalent of a she-shed / Room by the foyer, often

Monday, September 26, 2022

Constructor: Margaret Seikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (***for a Monday***)

THEME: HANG IN THERE (58A: "Stick with it!" ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — places about which you might say, "yeah, you can (literally) hang in there":
Theme answers:
  • CLIMBING GYM (17A: *Indoor bouldering locale)
  • COAT CLOSET (11D: *Room by the foyer, often)
  • ART GALLERY (27D: *Place to buy a painting)
  • MAN CAVE (37A: *Male equivalent of a she-shed)
Word of the Day: RAGLAN (40A: Kind of sleeve that extends to the collar) —


raglan sleeve is a sleeve that extends in one piece fully to the collar, leaving a diagonal seam from underarm to collarbone.

It is named after Lord Raglan, the 1st Baron Raglan, who is said to have worn a coat with this style of sleeve after the loss of his arm in the Battle of Waterloo.

The raglan mid-length sleeve is a popular undergarment (worn under the jersey) for baseball teams in MLB. (wikipedia) 

• • •

Is a closet a "room"???? How big are y'all's closets, anyway? Never in my life would've thought to call a closet a "room," but I guess it's got four walls and a door, so maybe you can lawyer your way into a justification. Anyway, "room" definitions aside, I thought this was a remarkably clever theme. Take a familiar phrase, do some wordplay, shazam! If you can pull it off, it's golden. Gotta get a themer set that works *and* that fits symmetrically, but if you can tick all those boxes, you're good to go. You're not done though. You still gotta build a grid that you can fill cleanly, and then, you know, fill it cleanly. And this one's as clean as a whistle. That's two exceptional Monday puzzles in a row. Good stuff. True, I tend to blow through the Monday too quickly to notice whatever the heck is going on with the theme, and that was true today as well, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the gimmick once I'm done and properly paying attention. I've never heard of a CLIMBING GYM. Really really wanted CLIMBING WALL, which I've definitely heard of. But apparently they have whole "gyms" filled with things to "climb," who knew? Well, besides a bunch of you, I mean. The COAT part of COAT CLOSET feels arbitrary, but you gotta make your answers symmetrical somehow, and if COAT works, it works. HALL CLOSET feels like more of a thing to me, but maybe the idea is that a COAT CLOSET really brings home the idea of "hanging." Whereas who knows what you've got in your HALL CLOSET!? Shoes, board games, yoga mats, bowling balls ... you can't hang those! 

remains one of those gendered things that makes my skin crawl a little. Like, what does your little playroom have to do with your manhood, exactly? And she-shed is somehow worse? Like, did you really need an equivalent concept? Women should have caves and men should have sheds and people should have their own rooms if they want, whatever, gendering rooms is bizarre. Not sure I'd've gone with INS when "IN" is already "IN" the revealer, but two-letter prepositions are pretty innocuous, as dupes go. It was just BISCUIT Week on "The Great British Bake-Off," so the British word for "cookie" was fresh on my mind. I was just watching "The Rockford Files" before I came upstairs to solve, so that's probably how I would've clued (James) GARNER if I'd been given the chance. There's not much room for stand-out non-theme fill today, but as I say, the grid is so smooth it hardly matters, and anyway BOLSTER and DEMOTAPE and DOGSAT are plenty nice. No real sticking points today besides the theme answer stuff I already mentioned. Oh, "PINCH ME!," forgot to mention that answer—also a good one. I would say a PEAR is very-much-not round, so that clue was weird (56D: Not-quite-round fruit), but I still got the answer easy enough. OK, PEACE out, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Congrats to constructor and wonderful human being Brooke Husic on completing the Berlin MARATHON yesterday! 

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Modern reproductive tech inits / SUN 9-25-22 / Sir Isaac Newton work on the fundamentals of light / Odd-numbered page typically / Opera whose title character is a singer / Rapper with the 2011 hit album Ambition / Weekend destination for an NYC getaway maybe / Opera that aptly premiered in Egypt

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Constructor: Meghan Morris

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Take Two" — you have to "take two" letters out of the theme clues to make theme make sense: specifically, the letters "ET," as articulated in the puzzle's revealer: WORKS WITHOUT A NET (121A: Has no plan B ... or, when parsed differently, what each of the starred clues does vis-à-vis its answer?) (i.e. "works without an 'et'"):

Theme answers:
  • ELECTRICAL OUTLET (23A: *What's in your wallet) (i.e. [What's in your wall])
  • FAKE NEWS (32A: *Press junket) (i.e. [Press junk], etc.)
  • SHAVING CREAM (43A: *Barbershop quartet)
  • GEOLOGIST (49A: *Rocket scientist)
  • USERNAME AND PASSWORD (68A: *Security blankets)
  • INFLATION (92A: *A drop in the bucket)
  • EXTERMINATOR (95A: *Ticketmaster)
  • DRIBBLES (106A: *Ballet movements)
Word of the Day: TSWANA (105D: One of South Africa's official languages) —

Tswana, also known by its native name Setswana, and previously spelled Sechuana in English, is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa by about 8.2 million people. It belongs to the Bantu language family within the Sotho-Tswanabranch of Zone S (S.30), and is closely related to the Northern Sotho and Southern Sotho languages, as well as the Kgalagadi language and the Lozi language.

Setswana is an official language of Botswana and South Africa. It is a lingua franca in Botswana and parts of South Africa, particularly North West Province. Tswana tribes are found in more than two provinces of South Africa, primarily in the North West, where about four million people speak the language. An urbanised variety, which is part slang and not the formal Setswana, is known as Pretoria Sotho, and is the principal unique language of the city of Pretoria. (wikipedia)

• • •

This played very hard for me. I had nothing in the NW at first past, as there was "?" clue after "?" clue and then WALE clued as the rapper ... I mean, I'm pretty sure that album is in my actual iTunes library and I *still* couldn't retrieve the dude's name (2D: Rapper with the 2011 hit album "Ambition"). 2011 is a long time ago now, and it's not like we're talking about NAS- or ICET-level fame here. Just brutal first pass at that corner. Honestly couldn't get much of Anything until somewhere in the NE ... "CATS," I think (14A: Musical whose name is an anagram of the members of a musical). Lots and Lots of musicals / operas today. "CATS," "TOSCA," "AIDA," maybe others, I don't really wanna go looking right now. Anyway, once I did get some traction, I never really could get going because the theme remained inscrutable for a long Long time. I eventually just went down and looked at the revealer clue, but since I had nothing down there, merely looking at the clue didn't help. I think I worked my way down the whole east side of the grid, getting answers like SHAVING CREAM and INFLATION and having no idea why they were "right," until finally WORKS WITHOUT A NET went in, and I could (mostly) see what was going on. At first I was like "I don't see any 'net' to take out" ... then I remembered I was supposed to parse the answer differently, i.e not "A NET," but "AN 'ET'." 

The gimmick works brilliantly in places. [Security blanks] just cruuuuuushed me. Didn't help that I was coming at nearly every themer from the back end (because I did the east first—not the wisest move). My main problem with the execution is that the "ET"-less clues really really Really need "?"s on them ... most of the time. Clue on GEOLOGIST ends up working perfectly—yes, a GEOLOGIST is in fact a "Rock scientist." But the rest of the "ET"-less clues end up being punny and/or really ... forced, in a way that would normally earn the clue a terminal "?" ... but no such luck. I guess we were just supposed to take the whole gimmick as one giant "?" Anyway, the "ET"-less clues range from weak (e.g. [Barbershop quart]) to perfect (e.g. the aforementioned USERNAME AND PASSWORD clue). Didn't love that there was a conspicuous "-ET" in one of the themers (ELECTRICAL OUTLET). I know the theme is clue-related, so there's technically no foul there, but I'd get all "ET"s the hell out of the way if I really wanted my theme to pop. Also, NET gets duped (see 65A: NET GAIN), which seems really bad, since NET is the key word in your revealer. And the title isn't great. Doesn't seem to really capture what's going on except in the vaguest of ways (i.e. you do in fact take two ... letters out of the clue). So all in all this is really ambitious and imaginative. I just found the execution a little wobbly.

Cute ATARI clue you got there...
(70D: Maker of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game)

So much hardness for me today. Even after the disastrous opening (NW) corner, with its "?" TWERK clue (1A: Do some backup dancing?) and its "?" EVES clue (3D: The before-times?) (YORE!?) etc., I kept falling into ditches. So hard to seem STOMACHS coming from the bottom up, with such a vague clue (9D: Stands). So so hard to even grasp the meaning of READER (7D: Circulation unit). Both clues are fine, just very tough. Wanted EONS for ERAS in that same area (31A: Stretches of time). Wanted HEAPS ON for DUMPS ON in that same area (28A: Burdens with). No idea about John Legend song titles, so "ALL OF" was tough, esp. alongside BUENA, which I want to come before "Vista," not "Park" (12D: ___ Park, city west of Anaheim). Couldn't grasp meaning of "chain" in 50D: Tool chain (LOWES). Thought OZARK was OSAGE (51D: Missouri county on the Arkansas border). No idea who this non-Tharp TWYLA is (66D: "Schitt's Creek" role for Sarah Levy). Continue to be repulsed by NON-PC, as I am by UN-PC, both of which have been deleted from my wordlists. The very idea of "PC" is a right-wing shibboleth, so I won't go near it. What is an ETON shirt? I collar, mess, rifles, I've seen all these preceded by ETON, but "Global (?) brand of men's dress shirts," that's a new one on me, a mostly non-wearer of "dress shirts." That said, I generally found the bottom of this puzzle easier than the top, but that may just be because the more grid you have filled in, the easier things get, as a rule, and also I understood the theme by the time I was finishing up, which helped enormously. 

Struggled to come up with that "K" in "OPTICKS" (81D: Sir Isaac Newton work on the fundamentals of light). Thought maybe OPTICES was a word. We already got a "tick"-based theme clue (EXTERMINATOR), so more "ticks" felt unwelcome. I live in "tick" country, which is also Lyme country, so "ticks" are always unwelcome. Luckily the grid felt otherwise mostly clean and largely pest-free. Loved GOT WISE and "OFF WE GO!" Very zippy. That's all I've got for today. Gonna take the day off and go see "Don't Worry, Darling." Looks like it's going to be either legit good or campy good, and I'm down for either. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy birthday to this blog, which turns 16 today

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Cocktail of tequila lime juice and grapefruit soda / SAT 9-24-22 / Singing sisters on the Lawrence Welk show / Accomplishment for the 1970s Oakland A's / Gordon co-star of 1955's Oklahoma! / There is one each in French Spanish Italian Greek Hawaiian and Chinook / American jazz pianist 1904-84 / It once earned the nickname poudre de succession inheritance powder / Spirits company with a bat in its logo / Tip of a geographic horn / James of 1974's the Gambler

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: AMEDEO Modigliani (40A: Painter Modigliani) —

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (US/ˌmdlˈjɑːni/Italian: [ameˈdɛːo modiʎˈʎaːni]; 12 July 1884 – 24 January 1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by a surreal elongation of faces, necks, and figures that were not received well during his lifetime, but later became much sought-after. Modigliani spent his youth in Italy, where he studied the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. In 1906, he moved to Paris, where he came into contact with such artists as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. By 1912, Modigliani was exhibiting highly stylized sculptures with Cubists of the Section d'Or group at the Salon d'Automne.

Modigliani's oeuvre includes paintings and drawings. From 1909 to 1914, he devoted himself mainly to sculpture. His main subject was portraits and full figures, both in the images and in the sculptures. Modigliani had little success while alive, but after his death achieved great popularity. He died of tubercular meningitis, at the age of 35, in Paris.

• • •

Lots to do today—including participate in an online round-table discussion at the opening of the Finger Lakes Crossword Competition (enrollment still open)—so I'm going to *try* to keep this fairly brief. This puzzle felt like the antithesis of yesterday's puzzle in many ways, by which I don't mean that it was bad, just that it played very traditional and very old (to be clear, I count myself among the olds now—lots of this grid was right in my wheelhouse). It was reliant on names of yore maybe once too often. I love COUNT BASIE and AMEDEO Modigliani, so no problem there, but it would be great if you balanced them by moving the needle a little forward in time, but that is decidedly not where the needle goes (p.s. don't ask me re: needle, I don't know what the metaphor is exactly, but it feels right, just go with it). I don't think we ever make it out of the '70s (god bless the late great James CAAN) (25D: James of 1974's "The Gambler"). I had to deal with Matthew ARNOLD at the beginning (not exactly what the kids, or anyone, is reading these days), and then I went headlong into Gordon MACRAE, whoever that is (24A: Gordon ___, co-star of 1955's "Oklahoma!"). And later, just as I was thinking the puzzle was feeling pretty dated, who decides to show up and prove me right? The LENNON Sisters. On the "Lawrence Welk Show" no less. The grid is very sturdy and professionally made, so basic craft is not really at issue. But this puzzle feels much narrower in its socio-cultural bent than yesterday's did. It's one for the old-schoolers, of which I am one. But I could feel how limited this puzzle's imagined audience seemed to be. For me, with a crossword's cultural center of gravity, it's not a matter of old v. new. It's a matter of genuine variety.

It was a properly tough Saturday, though, I'll give it that. And I did enjoy solving it. Got started by working the short answers in the NW. Was very lucky that even though I only picked up a couple on my first pass, that was enough to get me going:

That nail polish brand is *everywhere* these days, so if you haven't memorized it by now, what are you waiting for?! It's not going anywhere soon, I promise you. And it was a real help today, for sure. I blanked on who wrote "Dover Beach"—even with the "A" in place. Couldn't get my brain off AUDEN, who wouldn't fit. I threw STORM CENTER down into the middle of the grid, to no effect. Then I threw PIÑATA down into the middle of the grid. This also had no effect, initially, but was right *enough* that it actually helped me pick up some of those central Acrosses later on. But at first, I was stuck, and had to go down to SAND and AMEDEO and build back up from the SW:

As you can see, PIÑATA (wrong) helped me get COUNT BASIE (right). It also helped me get SERATONIN, which is for real how I thought you spelled it (32A: Neurotransmitter targeted by Prozac) (SEROTONIN). Only later was I forced to change the cocktail from PIÑATA to PANAMA ... and then, a bit later, PALOMA. By far the hardest thing in the grid for me (and I love cocktails!). Oh, STATE MOTTO was also brutally hard for me (33A: There is one each in French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Hawaiian and Chinook). I don't want to tell you how much of that answer I had in place before I actually saw the answer, but it was a lot (and PIÑATA *definitely* hurt me there). It's so weird how much of a gimme, how completely Monday the SCOTIA is, given the otherwise tough quality of this center (29D: Nova ___). Very out of place. But I suppose it was supposed to be a kind of life preserver thrown to the desperate and floundering, which is thoughtful. Overall, it's a very drunk puzzle (a PALOMA and TITO'S and BACARDI!?), and a very sturdy, clean puzzle. There weren't many thrills, but it gave me an enjoyable workout nonetheless. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. for your "Don't Believe Everything You Read Online" files, I offer you this gem, an apparently bot-written bio of me that gets several things wrong. Among other things, it briefly but jarringly confuses me with Will Shortz.

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