Game of Thrones servant / MON 10-31-22 / Michelangelo sculpture whose name means compassion / Friend of Porthos and Aramis in The Three Musketeers / Hired pen or punnily the author / Small child's convenience for reaching a sink

Monday, October 31, 2022

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: GHOST WRITER (59A: Hired pen ... or, punnily, the author of 20-, 36- and 43-Across?) — I don't think I get it, but I'll try: the answers are ordinary phrases reimagined as if they were Spoooky pieces of writing:

Theme answers:
  • SCARE QUOTES (20A: Punctuation marks indicating irony)
  • DOOMSCROLLS (36A: Binges on bad news, in modern slang)
  • DEAD LETTERS (43A: Mail that cannot be delivered or returned)
Word of the Day: ATHOS (18A: Friend of Porthos and Aramis in "The Three Musketeers") —

Athos, Count de la Fère
, is a fictional character in the novels The Three Musketeers (1844), Twenty Years After (1845) and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1847–1850) by Alexandre Dumas, père. He is a highly fictionalised version of the historical musketeer Armand d'Athos (1615–1644). // In The Three Musketeers, Athos and the other two musketeersPorthos and Aramis, are friends of the novel's protagonist, d'Artagnan. Athos has a mysterious past connecting him with the villain of the novel, Milady de Winter. The oldest of the group by some years, Athos is described as noble and handsome but also taciturn and melancholy, drowning his secret sorrows in drink. He is very protective of d'Artagnan, the youngest, whom he eventually treats as his brother. By the end of the novel, it is revealed that he is the Count de la Fère. He was once married to Milady de Winter and attempted to kill her after discovering that she was a criminal on the run, an event which left him bitter and disillusioned. However, during the course of this novel, he is able to get his revenge on Milady. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's Halloween, and it's Monday, so I would love to just keep it lighthearted, say "cute, nice," and move along. And that's mostly what I'm gonna do. But I have to say (as I say above), I don't really get the theme. Or I don't understand how "punnily" is being used. Is the "pun" that "ghost" here is being taken ... what, literally? OK but since when does a ghost bring "doom." SCARE and DEAD I get, but DOOM seems slightly off. Also, LETTERS has not been sufficiently reimagined, the way QUOTES and SCROLLS have. SCARE QUOTES are punctuation, but if you follow the revealer's logic, then they are something a ghost writes ("quotations," I guess). DOOMSCROLLS is a verb, but following the revealer's logic, "scrolls" becomes (again) something a ghost writes. But DEAD LETTERS are ... letters. Not alphabet letters, but actual postal letters ... so the revealer definitely reimagines "dead" but it does Not reimagine "letters." The "punny" meaning is still the same as the clued meaning. The connection between "ghosts" and the themers feels very tenuous, even if you stretch the meaning of "punnily" a whole lot. And DEAD LETTERS just didn't take "punnily" far enough. But again, it's Halloween, it's Monday, just take your very fast time, eat some candy, and be happy, I guess. 

The fill is also a problem. Below average, *especially* for a puzzle with such a light, undemanding theme. I hadn't even finished up the NW corner and I was already getting bad vibes. MEME MENSA NEMO MAMAS ASSAY ... it all felt very stale, very warmed over. ATHOS ADHOC SHAQ, same. And then ... HODOR??? A "Game Of Thrones" ... servant?? Look, maybe if your fill were sparkling, or at least butter-smooth, you could get away with HODOR—a little flourish to show off your "GOT" fandom. A little wink. Whatever. If you cross it fairly (as is the case today) who cares? And yet ... its comparative obscurity (on a Monday, in *this* tired grid) is somehow a little galling. I feel like you gotta earn HODOR, on a Monday, and this grid doesn't. ARIA SPA ALI PIETA IMAM IMAX EXES LASE EROS ATARI SNOOT ONTOE ESTD ELAN ERSE (!) ICARE (crossing IAGREE at the "I"!?). No, the grid just doesn't feel sufficiently polished for a Monday NYTXW with a low-density theme. The theme should be tighter and the fill should be cleaner. That's all. [scans the grid again] Yeah, that really is all. 

Go see TÁR, it's really good. Cate Blanchett is a STÁR! OK, bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Herbert Hoover's middle name / SUN 10-30-22 / Pulitzer Prize-winning W.W. II correspondent / Sci-fi character who was originally a puppet before CGI / Alvin first African-American to be elected Manhattan's district attorney / Frequent victim of Calvin's pranks in Calvin and Hobbes / Longtime media figure suspected of being the inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada / Space-oriented engineering discipline informally / Modern prefix with health / Pacific harbinger of wet west coast weather

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Constructor: Addison Snell

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: coded message — I guess this is supposed to have something to do with ALAN TURING (25A: English computer scientist who pioneered the breaking of ciphers generated by the 98-Across) and the movie "IMITATION GAME" (40A: 2014 movie portraying the work of 25-Across, with "The") in that the grid contains a CRYPTOGRAM (114A: Sort of encoded message found in this puzzle's grid [SEE NOTE]), but if this is what an ENIGMA MACHINE is (98A: W.W. II-era encoding device), I could not be less impressed—basically all you do is a translate the circled squares via a simple letter-substitution code, which is just handed to you in a "note" ... like ... what? This is child's placemat stuff. 

A four-year-old probably couldn't solve this crossword puzzle, but a four-year-old could damn sure "crack" this "code" if you actually just hand said four-year-old the code. Did you ever see "A Christmas Story"? Well I am basically Ralphie after realizing that all that his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring does is tell him "BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE," only in this case the hidden message is "CODES ARE PUZZLES, A GAME JUST LIKE ANY OTHER GAME" (which is nonsense, why would you make your big reveal complete nonsense!?)

The code:
Decoded message:
Word of the Day:
GOITER (7A: Pain in the neck?) —

goitreor goiter, is a swelling in the neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland. A goitre can be associated with a thyroid that is not functioning properly.

Worldwide, over 90% of goitre cases are caused by iodine deficiency. The term is from the Latin gutturia, meaning throat. Most goitres are not cancerous (benign), though they may be potentially harmful. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was grim. Grim. I honestly can't get my head around the idea that anyone thought this would be "fun" to solve. ("OVALTINE!? A crummy commercial!? Son of a b—!") Basically I solved the entire puzzle, easily, with no need to decode anything. If I didn't have to write this here blog, I guarantee you I would not even have bothered to do the letter-by-letter "decoding" to get to the "hidden" message, which is one of the great non-messages in the history of messages. What a banal and also inaccurate observation. "Like any other game!?" Games are different from one another. So many games, all of them with different rules and conventions and everything. "Just like any other game," bah. What an absurd generalization. And what does it reveal to us? What about it is unexpected or insightful or interesting or Anything? I guess I am supposed to be impressed that the "code" was rendered in the form of eight symmetrically arranged 5-letter words. Sure, congrats, but from the solver's perspective, there is zero, nada, nothing intriguing about writing in BYSEX or AVERS. It's just ... fill. Ordinary. Unremarkable. The longer "theme" answers are ... well, there are only four of them, and they are cohesive but mostly they just take up space—the bit we're supposed to ooh and aah at is all the code stuff, and it's hard to imagine a more anti-climactic outcome than solving this particular code. Not even worth doing. I'm told that the app does the code-breaking for you? Like ... maybe once you finish something software-y happens and you're supposed to ooh and aah at that? I'm just baffled at the idea that solving this would be anyone's idea of a good time. Looking at it, admiring its architecture, maybe. But solving it? Grr.

What's worse than the theme is the fill, which stopped me in my tracks multiple times, so unpleasant was it on the whole. INATEXT!? LOL what? That is a terrible prepositional phrase, and esp. bad since you've already got INOIL in the grid, practically right next door. I went INATEXT, INOIL, INRI ... and I had to take a deep breath, because it's like the puzzle was deliberately trying my patience. It gave me nothing in the way of sparkle or pizzazz. RESEATS RENEGE REEXAMINE ... where is the joy? Probably the most fun I had during this solve was figuring out how to spell DUMMKOPF (Two "M"s!? Wow, OK!). I also kinda like ERNIE PYLE, but when your spiciest answer is ERNIE PYLE, it's possible you have a spice problem. Maybe I'll throw ANNA WINTOUR in there too. But OF YORE!? LOL, man, did I BLINK AT that, for sure. It's hard to do a Sunday puzzle well—it's hard to do any themed puzzle well, but to have to do it over that much terrain (21x21) is a tall order. I sympathize. But I have rarely felt like a Sunday puzzle whiffed so bad, on both theme and fill. It's not even that the puzzle was *bad*, exactly. It's like it was very committed to an idea of *good* that I could not fathom. Everything was riding on that code, and ... well, from where I was sitting, that gamble just did not work out. 

  • 87D: Bird of the Baltic (SMEW) — on the one hand, I am always happy to see more bird names in the grid. On the other, more important hand, SMEW is crosswordese OF YORE and so I was not entirely happy to see it return (I needed every cross—I'd actually forgotten it existed—used to get it confused with its crosswordese cousin SMEE all the time).
  • 89A: What a "Wheel of Fortune" contestant might buy when looking for _NSP_RAT_ON (AN "I") — the ANI, like the SMEW, is a crosswordese bird OF YORE. It was so named because its call bears an uncanny resemblance to the voice of singer-songwriter ANI DiFranco. The only thing I want to say about today's ANI clue is, what kind of ... person ... stares at _NSP_RAT_ON and thinks "Uh ... I dunno ... I better buy a vowel"?
  • 74D: Alvin ___, first African American to be elected Manhattan's district attorney (BRAGG) — we need to know *district attorney* names now!? That is a tall, tall order. U.S. Attorneys General, sure, those are national. But municipal DAs!? Pfffff, OK ...
  • 61A: Thin porridges (GRUELS) — when's the last time, or any time, you saw this word in the plural? Aside from right now?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


C. Evans journalist who co-founded All-Negro Comics 1947 / SAT 10-29-22 / Retailer whose logo is written in script / Bubbly bianco / English queen who lent her name to a city of 1.3+ million in the British Commonwealth / Attire one might grapple with / What the instruments erkencho and shofar are made of / Certain gender identity informally

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Constructor: Daniel Okulitch

Relative difficulty: Medium (started Hard, got Easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Queen ADELAIDE (5D: English queen who lent her name to a city of 1.3+ million in the British Commonwealth) —
Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (Adelaide Amelia Louise Theresa Caroline; 13 August 1792 – 2 December 1849) was Queen of the United Kingdom and Hanover from 26 June 1830 to 20 June 1837 as the wife of King William IV. Adelaide was the daughter of Georg I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and Luise Eleonore of Hohenlohe-LangenburgAdelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is named after her. (wikipedia)
• • •

What is that, a phone? A grumpy face? A grumpy phone? It's an odd, blobby-looking grid, is what it is. It's unusual, I'll give it that. Daunting at first glance, but then you realize that actually there are plenty of short answers all over the place, which means lots of potential footholds, and not so much scary white space as there initially seems to be. I began by confidently attacking the short stuff in the NW corner and got precisely nowhere. I teach a class on 20c American Comics, including comics by important Black creators, and *I* couldn't come up with ORRIN, so if you knew that one, hoo boy, I am impressed (2D: ___ C. Evans, journalist who co-founded All-Negro Comics (1947)) (All-Negro Comics ran for exactly one issue). I wanted Jackie ORMES, and was very proud of knowing her name ... until I realized she was not the answer. Better ORRIN C. Evans than ORRIN Hatch, for sure, but YIPES, that's legitimately obscure. Thought Red and White might precede SEA, thought the bygone royal was a TSAR or a SHAH, wrote in FUSS for 3D: What's raised in a ruckus (CAIN) and tried to cross that with ACT AS at 16A: Be part of, as a show. I got INS in that section and that's all I got. Things then went from difficult to ugly as I crossed to the other side of the grid, where the going was easier but not exactly pretty. First answer: TASE (15D: Stun, in a way). Oof. Never happy to see this (brand-name) instrument of police brutality or the verb that derives from it. It was especially ... police-y today, appearing as it does right next to MIRANDA RIGHTS. I went TASE OOPS GEE SHMOO ... I told you, not pretty. And the unprettiest part came next: STENOG (11D: Court figure, informally) ... STENOG... STENOG. I thought the days of STENOG, with a "G," where behind us. I mean, the days of STENOG are, literally, behind us, but the "G," woof, been a long time (actually it appeared once in 2020, but before that it had been eleven years). Anyway, here was me:

And so I got started, but the NE continued to be impenetrable because getting the back ends of the long Acrosses didn't help me get the fronts. I forgot the name of the environmental MOVEMENT. I thought the [Silence notifications?] might be LIGHTS. And [Bourgeoisie and proletariat] sounded so specifically Marxist that I figured something much more particular than SOCIAL preceded CLASS at 1A. Then I tried to dip into the middle of the grid with an entirely made-up bread product called CROSETES! (7D: "Little toasts," in Italian). Very wrong, and yet ... somehow I managed to get into the middle of the grid anyway, and finally ended up with some fill I could enjoy: a SEX SCENE (30D: When you might see a star's moon?):

Things got way easier from here on out, as, unlike up top, I was able to get those middle answers from their back ends. I was especially able to see the horrid wrongness that was CROSETES and change it to a word I actually know reasonably well, it turns out: CROSTINI. After that, whooshed back west across the middle, then whooshed down around the SW corner into the south (where all the long answers went in very, very easily). But before that I must've taken a detour back into the pesky NW via ADELAIDE, a queen I've never heard of but a city I know of, and a song I know very well.

SAKS SOX SINTAX, all the things I failed to see at first fell into place. Then it was down to the Monday-easy bottom to finish things off. Ended with SINGLET, which I didn't understand at first (45A: Attire one might grapple with). I've never worn a SINGLET. Are they so hard to put on that you have to "grapple" with them, I wondered. But sometime during this write-up, it struck me that wrestlers wear SINGLETs, and that's probably what the "grapple" business is all about. In the end, this felt like three puzzles, difficulty-wise: the NW (hard), the middle and NE (easyish), and the bottom (extremely easy). Outside of the NW (and CROSETES!), I had no errors to speak of, except TAMPA before TEMPE (42D: Home of one of the country's largest state universities), and (much less explicably) RINGLET before SINGLET. A pretty average Saturday overall, but bonus points for the creepy, rotten pumpkin-like, ghost-like, sad-telephone-esque grid. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Symbolic hand gesture in Hinduism / FRI 10-28-22 / Ecologist Leopold who advocated thinking like a mountain / Means of making untraceable social media posts / Aristocratic type in British slang / Carl who pioneered modern taxonomy

Friday, October 28, 2022

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MUDRA (16A: Symbolic hand gesture in Hinduism) —

mudra [...]; Sanskritमुद्राIASTmudrā, "seal", "mark", or "gesture"; Tibetanཕྱག་རྒྱ་THLchakgya,) is a symbolic or ritual gesture or pose in HinduismJainism and Buddhism. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers.

As well as being spiritual gestures employed in the iconography and spiritual practice of Indian religions, mudras have meaning in many forms of Indian dance, and yoga. The range of mudras used in each field (and religion) differs, but with some overlap. In addition, many of the Buddhist mudras are used outside South Asia, and have developed different local forms elsewhere. (wikipedia)

• • •

Yes, FUN. This was very nearly a textbook Friday, if by "textbook" we mean "my ideal." It's possible that it was a little too easy—the only thing that gave me any real pause was trivia, mainly that ALDO guy. Could've endured (and might've appreciated) a bit more resistance, but I'll just count myself lucky that I got to experience the zoom and the zoom and the cascade of long bright answers and the all-over section-to-section flow that makes Fridays ... well, FUN. And this puzzle started with AT SEA, which is, let's say, not auspicious. "Crosswordese at 1-Across! OH GOD!" But then whoosh went "I CAN'T LOOK" and whoosh went AMATEUR NIGHT and off I went. Actually, if I'm being honest, I didn't nail both those answers at first blush. I had "I CAN'T..." and all I could think of was "... WATCH? I CAN'T WATCH! That's what I'd say! ... what's another word for 'watch?" Sigh. Then I got AMATEUR easy but thought ... the second part would have some more specific meaning, some poetry meaning, like SLAM or something. So maybe the puzzle wasn't *too* easy after all. There was some struggle. Just not much, and certainly not a lot after I got my teeth into that creamy middle. Mmm, CINNAMON TOAST (though, again, I had some ??? about what the second part of the answer would be: ROLLS? BUNS? Gah). BURNER ACCOUNT was the one answer that really did fly across the grid (29A: Means of making untraceable social media posts). Brain wanted BURNER PHONE for a split second, but it wouldn't fit so bam, BURNER ACCOUNT. Best answer of the day, imho, although it might be more accurate to say it was the first half of the best one-two combo: I went BURNER ACCOUNT / DISCO ANTHEMS. Hard not to love. I hate the term LIFE HACKS (the way I hate the term "adulting"), but it's not bad as crossword fill (44A: Using frozen grapes as ice cubes and binder clips as cable organizers, e.g.). So I basically mowed a diagonal through the grid, NW to SE. I then pieced together the SW and, after a small wrestling match with ALDO, put the NE to bed as well. Good times. Fast times, but good times.

Remarkable moments along the way ... Well, I actually remembered LINNAEUS's name, which was a high point for me, a (historically) scientifically-challenged individual. I'm not so much surprised that Courtney Cox didn't win an EMMY as I am surprised that all the others did. I always thought of "Friends" as a show that did huge numbers, audience-wise, but didn't get much respect as far as awards were concerned. 2022 me thinks Joey was the best Friend; 1995 me is like "that guy!? No way." That show ran a long time and, yeah, basically Joey won. Improbable, but true. Speaking of friends (things you might shout at them), I liked the clue on "GUYS!" a lot. Very creative but also accurate. I didn't even see TOFF until just now (must've got it entirely from crosses) (48A: Aristocratic type, in British slang). Never saw DUCT TAPE's clue because I had the middle letters and I could just tell what it was (dangerous no-look move, but it worked out today). As for 51A: Subject of a houseguest's query, this will tell you what kind of "houseguest" I am:

Other things:
  • 33A: Something a veteran won't make (ROOKIE MISTAKE) — well this is absolutely wrong. Veteran's definitely do make ROOKIE MISTAKEs. In fact, they audibly beat themselves up about having made ROOKIE MISTAKE. The whole point is "how did I do something so fundamentally stupid, something only a person with no experience would do." Sports blooper reels are full of veterans making ROOKIE MISTAKEs. [Something veterans hate to make], [Something veterans rarely make], either of those might've been better.
  • 37A: Stocks (BROTHS) — renewing my confusion as to the difference between these two words...
  • 53A: Gender-affirming treatment, in brief (HRT) — hormone-replacement therapy. I don't know that I love this abbr. more than I like any other abbr., but I do like gender-affirming-affirming clues, so I'll take this. The very mention of the phrase "gender-affirming" means I'm gonna hear from a BIGOT or two today, by email or in the comments section. Worth it.
  • 55A: Broods (STEWS) — I had SULKS. In the same section, I also wrote in and tore out and then wrote in again ELENA. I don't really ... Disney. I pick stuff up as it floats around the culture. Which is why I "knew" ELENA but then doubted that I "knew" ELENA only to discover that I did, in fact, "know" ELENA
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. looks like the "Friends" clue is wrong. Courtney Cox is the only one of the "Friends" not to get an EMMY *nomination*! From the "Friends" cast, only Kudrow and Aniston have actually taken home acting EMMYs.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Item of feline furniture / THU 10-27-22 / Direction for snowbirds / Complains donkey-style / Tiny pedestals of a sort / Prosecco o Chianti

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Constructor: Barbara Lin

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: one letter off ...  — six Across answers must be read twice, i.e. they are actually two-part answers, with the second part being just one letter off from the first part in each case; where the letter changes, you must put both letters in the square they share in order to make sense of the Down answer, so, for instance, BREAK / BREAD goes in the grid as BREA(KD) so that SOC(KD)RAWER can work in the Down:

Theme answers:
  • BREAK BREAD (20A: Eat, quaintly)
  • FACE FACTS (28A: Confronts reality)
  • "DON'T DO IT" (32A: "That's a bad idea!")
  • TALL TALE (46A: Wildly outlandish story)
  • POWER MOWER (53A: Lawn equipment with an engine)
  • GO TOE-TO-TOE (58A: Be in direct competition)
Word of the Day: Cynthia ERIVO (37A: Cynthia who played Harriet Tubman in 2019's "Harriet") —

Cynthia Erivo (/əˈrv/; born 8 January 1987) is an English actress, singer, and songwriter. She is the recipient of many prestigious accolades, including a Daytime Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, and a Tony Award, in addition to nominations for two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Erivo began acting in a 2011 stage production of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. She gained recognition for starring in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple from 2015 to 2017, for which she won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. Erivo ventured into films in 2018, playing roles in the heist film Widows and the thriller Bad Times at the El Royale. For her portrayal of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the biopic Harriet (2019), Erivo received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress; she also wrote and performed the song "Stand Up" on its soundtrack, which garnered her a nomination in the Best Original Song category. She played The Blue Fairy in Disney's live-action remake of Pinocchio (2022).

On television, Erivo had her first role in the British series Chewing Gum(2015). She went on to star in the crime drama miniseries The Outsider(2020), and received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for her portrayal of American singer Aretha Franklin in National Geographic's anthology series Genius: Aretha (2021). (wikipedia)

• • •

Well this started out weird...

But then I figured it out it must be "It's a DEAL" at 4D: "It's a ___!" and so changed SUCK to VOID ... and *then* (eventually) changed DEAL to DATE. Sigh. Stumble stumble. Once I got back on my feet after tripping over my laces there at the starting line, I got up a pretty good head of steam and then ran right into the wall that I was supposed to run into, i.e. the theme. Wanted BREAK BREAD but couldn't figure out where the BREAD part had gone or was supposed to go. Off at a diagonal? Into a black square? Shrug. Worse, DON'T looked Perfectly Good as the answer to 32A: "That's a bad idea!" and since *my* theme clues were not (helpfully!) italicized, but instead appeared (unhelpfully, confusingly) inside quotation marks,  I had nothing (except *double* quotation marks, which I didn't notice) to indicate I was dealing with theme material. Finally, SOCK DRAWER came to the rescue. "Well, this has to be SOCK DRAWER ... but ... wait, why does "KD" go in one square here, but with INORGANIC there's just that weird missing letter ... what do I do with INORGANC ... I don't g- ... oh":

"DON'T DO IT!" Not "DON'T!" That changed everything. After that, the predictably hard part (grokking the theme) was over. There were some regular, less predictably hard parts to come (trying to work out every single letter in ERIVO from crosses, trying to learn the term CAT CONDO mid-solve, etc.), but overall it played just a shade tougher than your usual Thursday. 

The theme is very clever and interestingly executed, and I thought GO TOE-TO-TOE was an incredibly inventive example of the theme concept. The grid's got a decent amount of non-thematic spice, and the Down answers running through the themers were kinda fun to work out (struggled most with LOSING TIME (largely because it ran through that ERIVO section)). The very end of my solve was a brutal dead stop in the SE corner, where I wanted only CAT COUCH at 40D: Item of feline furniture, and I couldn't figure out what the [Tiny pedestals] were (that should've been easy) and I couldn't get [D.C. address?] to save my life (S.O.T.U. = State of the Union). Great, but brutal clue. A "?" clue sitting *directly underneath* another "?" clue (68A: Make amends?), in a very small section. Seems kinda cruel. I wanted split / loose ENDS, but CAT COUCH was making it impossible. Finally I got EDIT and then TEES and was finally forced to confront the fact that something called a CAT CONDO apparently exists. Is that what you call the multi-tiered climbing posts? Wow. This is the second time this month that some piece of pet furniture has been an absolute wrench in the gears. Not a fun way to end. Overall ... well, "I LOVED IT" is probably too strong, but I definitely liked it a whole lot.

See you tomorrow. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wretched hive of scum and villainy per Obi-Wan Kenobi / WED 10-26-22 / James who plays Professor X in film / Greiner so-called Queen of QVC / Quaff of gruit and wort in days of yore / Sound emitted by methane emitters / Leopold's partner in 1920s crime / Autonomous household helper since 2002

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Constructor: Simeon Seigel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (a bit poky ... might be the oversizedness ...)

THEME: ALL FOURS (38A: What you're on when you're crawling ... or a hint to parsing 18-, 27, 46- and 61-Across) — 16-letter answers are made up of four component words, each four letters long (4x4 = 16):

Theme answers:
  • MARK / ET RE / SEAR / CHER (18A: Patsy + French "to be" + Singe + Pop queen = Sales wonk)
  • MAST / ER ST / RATE / GIST (27A: Boat pole + Old "once" + Pace + Essence = Chief planner)
  • BRAN / FORD / MARS / ALIS (46A: Fiber source + Auto make + Red planet + Boxing family = Noted jazz saxophonist)
  • READ / ILY A / VAIL / ABLE (61A: Interpret + Hockey's Kovalchuk + Colorado ski town + Fit = On hand)
Word of the Day: MOS EISLEY (68A: "Wretched hive of scum and villainy" per Obi-Wan Kenobi) —

Mos Eisley is a spaceport town in the fictional Star Wars universe. Located on the planet Tatooine, it first appeared in the 1977 film Star Wars, described by the character Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Alec Guinness) as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy".

A notable scene set in a seedy Mos Eisley cantina crowded with numerous alien races made a particular impact on audiences. Location filming for the spaceport took place from 1975–76 in Tunisia, with interiors filmed at Elstree Studios near London. (wikipedia)

• • •

I really wish I had anything positive to say about this puzzle. About solving this puzzle, I mean. I think the theme is ... interesting. Like, those words do in fact do that (break into four fours). But outside of BRANFORD MARSALIS, those words are not at all interesting in their own right, and less interesting, by far, are the component parts. I mean, what was the idea: "We know you love short fill (!?), so we're going to break Even Our Longer Answers into ... short fill. Like ERST! You guys like ERST, right!" I felt all my hopes for an entertaining solve completely bleed out of me the second I took a look at that first theme clue. I don't think I even tried to make sense of it. My attitude was more like "oh well, just run some crosses through it, I guess." And that's what I did. I quickly noticed [French "to be"] (ETRE) inside the first themer and just like that knew what the basic premise was. As I was filling in the absolute mountain of ordinary short fill in this puzzle, I was thinking, "man, this revealer better offer a hell of a payoff." Then, unexpectedly early, I hit the revealer: "ALL FOURS." OK, so this made the theme a little tighter than I'd imagined (up to then, I thought it was just a string of random words—wasn't really paying attention to their length). But again, this is the thing that you look at from the outside, or when you're done, and say "huh, curious." But when you're on the inside ... woof. (side note: kinda seems like cheating to count ABLE as one of the "fours" ([Fit]) when that's basically what the suffix -ABLE in READILY AVAILABLE means ... at least the other component parts are well hidden and completely etymologically separate from the longer theme answers they're found inside; whereas ABLE is just ... -ABLE).

There's only one interesting themer, and the only long answers in the puzzle at all are themers, and even those you've demanded we see as fragments, i.e. more ordinary short fill. Wait, I take it back, there are longish answers in the NE and SW corners. "THAT SUCKS" is probably supposed to be a highlight, and if that's how you felt, great. I have nothing against it, and in this grid it looks positively radiant, but it didn't AMUSE me the way I think it was probably supposed to. The least amusing longer answer, though, was MOS EISLEY, which I parsed as MOSE EISLEY, mostly because I thought it was a person. I saw "Star Wars" in the theater seven times as a kid. I remember the cantina scene very, very well. MOS EISLEY? That name left no trace. I guess it's part of the (gag) extended "Star Wars" universe, "Mandalorian" and what not. Sigh. This feels like way, way too deep a cut for a Wednesday. But again, as with THAT SUCKS, at least it's trying. The rest of the puzzle ... if it was trying, it wasn't trying to be fun to solve.

... do you not look at those banks on either end and think "I gotta do better"? I know from experience that trying to put 5s in those positions (connecting one grid-spanning themer to another grid-spanning themer) is very, very difficult. Your initial and terminal letters for those 5s are all fixed in place. So maybe just getting out alive is the best you can do. But it's rough through there. And as I say, it's not like there's a ton of great stuff waiting for your elsewhere. I thought this played a little tough in places. Three kealoas* slowed me right down (SOAMI (not SODOI) and NOODLE (not NOGGIN) and RHONE (not RHINE)—I realize that I should probably know my RHONE from my RHINE but ... oh well). I have no idea who this "so-called" LORI is. Feels like a "Shark Tank" thing which means I will remain forever ignorant. Memo to all cluers of LEO(S): the Obama angle has been done To Death. He's the only president whose sign I can tell you off the top of my head. I'm actually stunned to see all these other presidents in the clue, because Obama is the only pres. I've seen clued this way (OK, not the only—looks like you've got about three Clintons in the database ... against eight or so Obamas). Took me every cross to get / understand MAR (45D: Tag, key or chip, say). Great clue ... for a Friday or Saturday. :) I leave you today with this (great) song about James MCAVOY, whom I know only from this song. Enjoy!

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.

P.S. I'm getting a lot of mail asking me to explain the clue on MAR (45D: Tag, key or chip, say), so here goes: the words in the clue are all verbs; if you tag something (a wall, say, w/ graffiti) or key something (a car, say) or chip something (a cup, say), you MAR it.

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Wining and dining, say / TUES 10-25-22 / Inner ear? / Borden Dairy cow / Snack item that might be twisted or dunked

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday of October, which has seriously flown by. I was solving this puzzle while watching the ManningCast on ESPN2, which was rather fun (if a little distracting, especially when President Obama was a guest). In general, right now is the golden time for sports, with the Premier League, the MLB playoffs, the NBA and NHL starting back up, NFL games on all the time, and the NWSL championship and the MLS Cup playoffs wrapping up. I’ve basically just had the TV on in the background 24/7 trying to keep up with everything! Too bad my Steelers look awful, and my Liverpudlians aren’t killing it like they usually do. 

Anywho… on to the puzzle!

Constructor: Ashleigh Silveira and Nick Shephard

Relative difficulty: Easy-medium
THEME: STEPS UP ONE’S GAME The circled letters in the puzzle each ascend diagonally to name a board game

Theme answers:
  • SCRABBLE (ascending diagonally from the first letter of 42A) 
  • RISK (ascending diagonally from the first letter of 62A) 
  • CHESS (ascending diagonally from the fourth letter of 24A) 
  • MONOPOLY (ascending diagonally from the second letter of 60A)
Word of the Day: INXS (64A: "Need You Tonight" band, 1987)  —
INXS (a phonetic play on "in excess") were an Australian rock band, formed as The Farriss Brothers in 1977 in Sydney, New South Wales. The band's founding members were bassist Garry Gary Beers, main composer and keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, lead singer and main lyricist Michael Hutchence, and guitarist and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly. For 20 years, INXS was fronted by Hutchence, whose magnetic stage presence made him the focal point of the band. Initially known for their new wave/pop style, the band later developed a harder pub rock style that included funk and dance elements… In September 1988, the band swept the MTV Video Music Awards with the video for "Need You Tonight/Mediate" winning in 5 categories. (Wiki)
• • •

This puzzle was kinda nice? The grid itself is visually appealing, with so few black squares in it. The construction of the grid is impressive, with how the creators worked two eight-letter board games into the theme. Using the board games in the puzzle worked well and tied tightly to the revealer. There were also other answers that sort of related to the gaming theme throughout the puzzle, with DISC (1A: It's black on one side and white on the other, in Othello), ANTE (14A: Casino buy-in), PURSE (15A: Holder of keys, phone and IDs) (though clued differently, a purse can be the prize for winning a game), PIECE (15D: Jigsaw item), and even MUD HEN (9D: Toledo minor-leaguer, named for a marsh bird) (a member of a team that plays a game; yes, I know I’m reaching here). 

The only piece of the theme that really irked me was the revealer: STEPS UP ONE’S GAME (7D). Does anybody talk that way? One needs to step up one’s game? People say, “step up your game” or “step up my game” but not that “one should step up one’s game.” I know I’m being a bit of a stickler, but that was a big piece of the puzzle to not be the common usage. Granted, I didn’t use the theme or the revealer at all in my solve, but I was annoyed when I looked back. 

Hello, Natick at 58D/64A with VMI (Keydets' sch.) and INXS ("Need You Tonight" band, 1987) crossing each other. I’ve never heard of VMI (and the name of the obscure mascot in the clue surely didn’t help). I didn’t know the name INXS, either (though I’ve definitely heard “Need You Tonight” before), so getting the “I” there was tough and was the last letter I put into the puzzle. I thought it might be a “U” for “university” or maybe a “C” for “college” or maybe… or maybe…. An “I” for “institute” was pretty much the last thing on my radar. I put “char” instead of SEAR for 50D: Scorch on a grill, which caused me some trouble in the southwest corner, too. 

The puzzle seemed to skew a tad older, which made some parts of the puzzle challenging for me. See: ELSIE (56A), the clue for POPO at 38D: The fuzz, INXS (64A), Lisa LOEB (16A), and SEE SPOT RUN (3D). My dad told me that the beginner books in first grade featured Dick, Jane, and Spot, but an interesting tidbit is that, when I was googling to figure out what SEE SPOT RUN was a reference to, I came across someone who said the line SEE SPOT RUN actually never appears in the books but is constantly referenced. It seems like one of those Berenstein vs. Berenstain bear paradoxes (see: the Mandela effect). Also, for whatever reason, I read the answer as “sees pot run,” which makes no sense and is quite funny to me looking back. 

I really disliked the double use of “tab” at 22A: Soda can opener with POP TAB and 31A: Key above Caps Lock as TAB. I know working around “Scrabble” must’ve been tough, but it’s pretty ugly to repeat like that. Those are both alongside TBAR (23D) and TERRA (34A), which makes that section have way too many T’s, B’s, A’s, and R’s. Then, in the opposite section around “monopoly,” you’ve got WOOING (49A), OOPSIE (45A), AFOOT (37D), and FOO (41A), which is a whole lot of double “oo”s. 

Overall, I enjoyed most of the clues used in the puzzle. My favorite clue/answer in a long time was 55A: Road gunk … or, when doubled, tooth gunk as TAR. I legitimately laughed out loud at that one. 4D: Inner ear? as COB is also pretty cute. Then, in other places, you’ve got words clued in kinda different ways, such as for TERRA (34A: Word before firma or incognita), EONS (54D: Periods longer than eras), and SAUCE (24A: Chimichurri or hollandaise). I always appreciate novelty.

  • The crossword is apparently the debut for both constructors, so congrats to them! 
  • I was just part of a DEPOSITION (28D: Testimony under oath) last week and will be in probably many more in my legal future. I just hope that I don’t become MOOT (61A: Not worth having, as an argument). 
  • My uncle was once the national Scrabble champion. No one will play Monopoly with my dad again because he gets maaad at the game (and his angry eyebrows come out). I can’t play chess with my much younger cousin because she’s way too good. The only real memory I have of Risk is when I was given the game as a birthday present as a kid, and it was the “Lord of the Rings” version; we never actually played the game, but I took the ring that was part of the game and wore that around for a while. I should’ve kept that ring in my pocket for when the new “Rings of Power” premiered. 
  • 44D: Belief system as CREED makes me think of the trailer that recently dropped for “Creed III,” which will be Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut and will also star Jonathan Majors. He’s in the new trailer that just dropped for Ant-Man 3, too, and appears poised to be the big bad in Marvel for the foreseeable future. He seems wonderful, and I’m very much here for him taking over Hollywood. 
And that’s it from me! Hope everyone has a great November.

Signed, Clare Carroll, possessor of the one ring to rule them all

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Chilean American actor of The Mandalorian and Narcos / MON 10-24-22 / Parasite co-star Woo-shik / Spanish painter of The Third of May 1808

Monday, October 24, 2022

Constructor: Joe Rodini

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SANS / SANS (1A: French for "without" / 70A: After 1-Across, what the first names at 20-, 36-, 43- and 57-Across all are?) — so ... I guess the idea is that the first names of the theme answers can all follow "San" (to form a city name) ... so somehow those first names are "lacking" ("without," SANS) the "San" part of their name ... only they're not ... those are just their names ... I don't understand the logic here at all:

Theme answers:
  • FRANCISCO GOYA (20A: Spanish painter of "The Third of May 1808")
  • DIEGO RIVERA (36A: Mexican muralist twice married to Frida Kahlo)
  • PEDRO PASCAL (43A: Chilean American actor of "The Mandalorian" and "Narcos")
  • JOSE FELICIANO (57A: Puerto rican singer with more than 50 albums, including "Feliz Navidad")
Word of the Day: "The Third of May 1808" (20A) —

The Third of May 1808 (also known as El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madridor Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Príncipe Pío, or Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo) is a painting completed in 1814 by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya, now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. In the work, Goya sought to commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon's armies during the occupation of 1808 in the Peninsular War. Along with its companion piece of the same size, The Second of May 1808 (or The Charge of the Mamelukes), it was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya's suggestion.

The painting's content, presentation, and emotional force secure its status as a ground-breaking, archetypal image of the horrors of war. Although it draws on many sources from both high and popular art, The Third of May 1808marks a clear break from convention. Diverging from the traditions of Christian art and traditional depictions of war, it has no distinct precedent, and is acknowledged as one of the first paintings of the modern era. According to the art historian Kenneth ClarkThe Third of May 1808 is "the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention". (wikipedia)

• • •

This was grim, on many levels. I expect many people won't care—they'll be too distracted by the speed records they're setting—but the theme makes very little sense, and the fill is about as poor as I've seen in a Monday in a long, long time. I kept stopping and wondering if *this* was the best place to demonstrate how bad the fill was, and then I'd solve a few more answers and hit some new low point. It wasn't so much one bad answer as an absolute slew of repeaters. Just an avalanche. It was like the grid hadn't been polished much at all. The whole NW corner just shrieked "yesteryear," fill-wise. The theme is not demanding, so there is no reason that the solver should have to endure So Much SERFS AMORE SETTO NIPAT STENTS COED LEDS ODEON ELEC and on and on and on. AGASP PALAU LAIC and on and On and on and on and on. Just abusive. Outside the themers, there are zero interesting answers in the grid. In fact, there are only two (2!) answers of 8 letters and nothing (seriously, nothing) else over 6. And only two of those!! The rest is just short stuff and it's just ... rough. As for the theme, how are those names "SANS" "SANS"? They are not "without" the "SANS." They do not "lack" "SANS." "San" can precede each of those names in a famous (or, in the case of San Pedro, not-so-famous) city name. But there's no question of being "without." There is nothing in the way the theme is executed that justifies the French "SANS" bit. I get that you want the cutesy SANS / SANS joke, but ... you gotta at least make the first "SANS" make sense. 

[San Pedro's fame peaked in 1986 with this song]

Almost laughable that PEDRO is here among the far, far, far more famous San cities. PEDRO is also by far, far, far the least famous of the SAN-less people—Goya and Rivera are legendary, and Feliciano has at least been famous for decades, whereas this is the first I'm hearing of this "Mandalorian" actor guy. So that answer is a double-outlier. I just don't get this at all. At all. Overall, it was very easy, despite my not knowing (or not remembering) that FRANCISCO was GOYA's first name, and not knowing PEDRO PASCAL's name at all, and not knowing (for the second time in a week) a "Parasite" actor's name (today, CHOI Woo-shik). It was maybe playing a little slow for me, but for the last third of the puzzle I switched to Downs-only and rattled off like twelve in a row, without hesitation, to close it out. If this wordplay worked for you, I'm very happy for you. The theme missed me completely, and the fill was almost unendurably dull / overly familiar. 

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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