Vertical water conduit / WED 11-30-22 / K on a printer cartridge / Online competitor of US Weekly

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Constructor: Addison Snell

Relative difficulty: If there were a day *before* Monday, that is how easy this was ... bizarre

THEME: 4K? K4? — four examples of what "K" can stand for:

Theme answers:
  • STRIKEOUT (20A: K, in baseball)
  • THOUSAND (27A: K, in a salary listing)
  • BLACK INK (!?) (42A: K, on a printer cartridge)
  • POTASSIUM (53A: K, on the periodic table)
Word of the Day: STANDPIPE (34D: Vertical water conduit) —

In North America, a standpipe is a type of rigid water piping which is built into multi-story buildings in a vertical position, or into bridges in a horizontal position, to which fire hoses can be connected, allowing manual application of water to the fire. Within the context of a building or bridge, a standpipe serves the same purpose as a fire hydrant.

In many other countries, hydrants in streets are below ground level. Fire trucks carry standpipes and key, and there are bars on the truck. The bar is used to lift a cover in the road, exposing the hydrant. The standpipe is then "sunk" into the hydrant, and the hose is connected to the exposed ends of the standpipe. The bar is then combined with the key, and is used to turn the hydrant on and off. (wikipedia)

• • •

This may be one of those days where someone else has to show me some cool thematic element that I missed, because sitting here now, at 4:30am, just after finishing the puzzle, all I see are "four things 'K' can stand for," and that just doesn't seem like much. Worse, the theme is not just thin, it's got one theme answer that feels very, very forced—very "Which of these Four is Not Like The Other"—i.e. BLACK INK. The other three "K"s are iconic ... whereas I have replace BLACK INK in my (two!) printers for *decades* and never noticed that "K" stood for anything. I'm absolutely guessing here, but I bet that if you ask any ordinary person to name four things that "K" can stand for, they can probably name ... three. The three non-BLACK INK answers that are in this puzzle. But BLACK INK, yeesh. OK, if you say so. That is, I'm sure you're right, but ... no. But even that weird version of "K"—hell, even STANDPIPE (no idea)—couldn't get this puzzle up to a respectable level of difficulty. I was stunned at how easily I moved through the grid at first. I got every clue I looked at, without hesitation, from 1A: Target of modern splicing (GENE) all the way to here:

That is, I wrote in SEEKS at 22A: Looks (SEEMS) and quickly found out I was wrong—but even *that* wasn't "hesitation" so much as a brief erasure and correction. I didn't actually completely balk at an answer until I was staring at -STY (48D: Maybe too amorous). My brain went "TASTY?" And then I shrugged and kept going. STANDPIPE was by far the oddest thing in the grid (I wanted both STEAM PIPE and STOVE PIPE before I got it), and even it did very little to stop my hurtling forward momentum. As usual, the "word with / before / after / before and after"-type clue baffled me (43D: Word with spare or sea = CHANGE) so I couldn't flow easily into the SW, but I just jumped in, got OMAN no problem, and was done a few seconds later. I have no idea what was supposed to make this a Wednesday as opposed to a Monday. Maybe BLACK INK? STANDPIPE? BERM!? (I don't know how I even know that term) (38A: Road shoulder). This was a ho-hum, 20th-century grid, at both the thematic and overall fill levels, and it was easier than any NYTXW Wednesday should ever be. I know they're deliberately making the puzzle easier over time (that has become self-evident), probably so that more of their many many subscribers can feel "successful" on a regular basis, and OK, capitalism, whatever ... but it's starting to feel a little shameful.

There's not even any interesting fill to comment on. I liked BUZZSAWS and DIRT CHEAP very much. The rest of it was mostly just there. Clean enough, no strong complaints. Just kind of 3-4-5 Blah, all over.

Happy end of November!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Lots of people weighed in on the alleged technical inaccuracy of yesterday's clue for DNA (6D: Molecule whose structure was discovered by Rosalind Franklin). The most level-headed of such responses came to me via email, and here it is:
Hey Rex,
                Scientist here. The clue for DNA (6 dn) "molecule whose structure was discovered by Rosalind Franklin" is wrong. Besides the sort of pedantic point that structures are not 'discovered', Franklin took an X-ray of DNA that was important and for which she certainly deserved to have been given more credit. But she didn't solve the structure, as far as anyone knows. I suppose you could argue that giving a woman more credit than she deserves is ok karma-wise and that taking some credit away from James Watson is even better. But in the end I think keeping to the historical record as best we can is the right approach. My three cents. ~T.B.
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City in ancient Crete with renowned labyrinth / TUE 11-29-22 / Hit BBC series since 1963 informally / Ratite featured on Uruguayan currency / Goose that might nest on volcanic ash

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Constructor: David Rockow

Relative difficulty: Easy (very)

THEME: FEATHER (37A: Element of plumage ... and a feature shared by every answer crossing this one) — seven BIRDS (1D: Tweeters) form a makeshift FLOCK (51D: Gathering of 1-Down, like that found in the center of this puzzle) at the middle of the grid (as many have noted, the theme is probably meant to be read as "BIRDS of a FEATHER FLOCK" together):

  • FALCON (37D: Its peregrine variety is the world's fastest avian)
  • WREN (28D: Small brown passerine that holds its tail upright)
  • RHEA (24D: Ratite featured on Uruguayan currency)
  • KESTREL (25D: American raptor that's the size of a mourning dove)
  • HAWK (38D: Iconic metaphor for keen-eyed watchfulness)
  • NENE (35D: Goose that might nest on volcanic ash)
  • CONDOR (19D: Its Andean variety has the largest wingspan among all raptors)

Word of the Day:
KNOSSOS (22A: City in ancient Crete with renowned labyrinth) —

Knossos (also Cnossos, both pronounced /(kə)ˈnɒsɒs, -səs/Ancient GreekΚνωσόςromanizedKnōsóspronounced [knɔː.sós]Linear B𐀒𐀜𐀰Ko-no-so) is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and has been called Europe's oldest city.

Settled as early as the Neolithic period, the name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The palace of Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace was abandoned at some unknown time at the end of the Late Bronze Age, c. 1380–1100 BC; the reason is unknown, but one of the many disasters that befell the palace is generally put forward.

In the First Palace Period (around 2000 BC), the urban area reached a size of as many as 18,000 people. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well this is weird, so it's got that going for it. I do love birds—love them—and so I am always going to be generally warmly inclined to a bird-themed puzzle. This one is mainly just ... a bunch of bird names smushed together. And a couple of those bird names (RHEA, NENE) are straight-up crosswordese, such that you'd never really recognize them as thematic elements. I want to say they don't count ... but of course they do. It's just that you're not apt to see them as special, given that you see them all the time. It's weird ... nothing in this theme feels particularly thematic *except* the smushing. I mean, what've you got, fill-wise? BIRDS? FLOCK? FEATHER? And then the birds, of course, but only one of those gets up to even seven letters long (which is also my favorite bird in the grid—KESTREL! Pretty sure we saw one just last week in central Colorado, sitting on top of a leafless tree ... watching ... Raptors!). My point is that none of the thematic stuff really feels thematic except through the process of smushing, which this puzzle is calling a FLOCK, but LOL the KESTREL scoffs at the idea of flying in FLOCKs with these other birds. Hell, the KESTREL would eat a damn WREN (probably). But then I guess you couldn't very well have your FLOCK be WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN WREN now could you? It's a funny idea, this rag-tag FLOCK. I don't like that FLOCK (the last Across answer) comes after BIRDS (the first). Feels backwards. Also, really don't like that BIRDS is clued as [Tweeters]. None of the birds in that FLOCK is a "Tweeter." Again, the KESTREL scoffs, as she will. Don't like SEED thrown in as "bonus" answer (better and more elegant to keep the non-theme parts of your grid bird-free), just as I don't like trying to pass off PEACE CORPS and URBAN AREAS as bird-related (a strettttttttttch). Oh, and your longest answers (grid-spanners!) have *nothing* to do with the theme? Weird. But I do love those answers, so maybe I'll just think of this as an easy themeless with a dense bird center, and for a Tuesday, that's enough.

I did think, about halfway through this puzzle, before I had any idea of the theme, "man this is a birdy puzzle, the constructor must really like birds, cool." Hey, did you know that in "HORSE WITH NO NAME" (10D: Desert wanderer's mount in a 1972 hit by America) the wanderer is in a desert where there are "plants and BIRDS and rocks and things"!? ("things" always makes me laugh, wtf, did you just run out of vocabulary?). Seems like if you really Really wanted, you could've clued that one as a themer as well. It's at least as bird-y as URBAN AREAS, come on. COOL AS A CUCUMBER might've been harder (3D: Unruffled). Hmm. [Kestrel-like]? I don't know. Harder to turn that one birdward. (Unless "Unruffled" already suggests FEATHERs ... hmmm ...)

Didn't hesitate much at all while solving this one. I took a beat or two to remember KNOSSOS. I wrote in IBEX before ORYX (31D: African antelope) and SUET before SEED. CUSP probably gave me more trouble than anything else in the grid, and the kind of trouble I'm talking about there was negligible (52D: Edge). The grid seems very clean, especially considering how thematically dense it is in the middle. CONED was the only thing that made me squint and tilt my head dubiously (43D: Funnel-shaped), but it's word-y enough. Despite the strangeness of theme execution—or maybe because of it—I ended up enjoying this one more than not. I'll take this over a standard punny / corny / weak-laugh Tuesday any day (especially Tuesday).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I forgot to praise "SAY WHEN!," my actual favorite answer in the grid (27A: Words from a pourer). Some good colloquial zing amidst all the bird kerfuffle. 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Skull-and-crossbones fraternity for short / MON 11-28-22 / Org. for HIV prevention and study / Pepper measuring over 1 million on the Scoville scale / Like 86% of New York State, contrary to stereotype / Eminem hit that has become slang for a superfan / Wheeled vehicle designed to function in low gravity

Monday, November 28, 2022

Constructor: Chloe Revery

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Monday!)

THEME: HOPPING MAD (62A: Really miffed ... or a hint to the circled letters) — words meaning "mad" (appearing inside circled squares) "hop" over a black square, from the end of one Across answer to the beginning of the successive Across answer:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: AMFAR (5A: Org. for H.I.V. prevention and study) —
amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, known until 2005 as the American Foundation for AIDS Research, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS researchHIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of AIDS-related public policy. (wikipedia)
• • •

Loved this nifty, tight, Monday-type theme, but wow this did not play "Monday" for me at all. The theme, yes, the content, yipes. Trouble all over the top of the grid. I'll start with AMFAR, which I remember, vaguely, from a long time ago, when A.I.D.S. was more regularly in the news, but I have not seen that acronym in what feels like forever. Totally valid answer, but not Monday-easy for me. GHOST CHILI, also tough for me. CHILI, OK, but I never think about the GHOST CHILI ... feels almost mythical. "1 million on the Scoville scale"!? Not an everyday thing, by a long shot. Again, fine answer, but I had to struggle for it. FBI FILE, toughish to parse (7D: Certain collection of criminal evidence and documents). Even AT CAMP (one of the weaker answers) felt tough to come up with without a bunch of crosses (5D: Spending time away from parents for the summer, say). I am way more familiar with the MARS ROVER than the MOON ROVER, so that was also tough (3D: Wheeled vehicle designed to function in low gravity). But the toughest, and ugliest, and absolute worst of all non-Mondayness was SIG EP (1D: Skull-and-crossbones fraternity, for short). Ugh. A frat? An abbreviated frat? At 1-Down!? On a Monday!? So yucky. I wrote in SIGMA and figured that had to be it. Good enough. But *nope*. SIG EP? I'm sure I've seen it before, but fraternities and sororities ... maybe it's my particular aversion, but I just can't keep any of them straight or make myself care at all about my inability to keep them straight. The idea that I should know the slang term for some frat ... something about the very idea sets my teeth on edge (is that the expression? "teeth on edge"?). Truly a terrible answer on any day, but especially off-putting at the beginning of a Monday puzzle. 

The thing is ... you can see how the constructor got trapped into SIG EP. You can't start filling your puzzle with --G-P in place and not feel at least a little trapped. If it had been me, I'd've made it DIG UP and started filling From There (I see that DIG appears elsewhere in the current grid, but that's an easy fix). The entire NW would likely have been different, but it would've been worth it just to make the egregious SIG EP disappear. I did a quick teardown and rebuilt with DIG UP in that same place, but with those two themers locked in, and MOON ROVER pretty well stuck in place, your options up there (short of a complete teardown) are very limited. My version has APHRA Behn in it—she's the most important English woman writer / playwright of the 17th century and in a just world, both her first and last names would appear much, much more often in crosswords ... but I freely admit that APHRA is not Monday-worthy either. Still, I much prefer this.

Anyway, it wasn't the tougher-than-usualness that was annoying, it was specifically SIG EP that I wanted to smash into pieces and throw in the garbage. But the theme, mwah, it's very good. So well conceived (as opposed to WELL AIMED, which I don't really believe is a very strong standalone thing (34D: On the mark, as an insult or a dart)). Beyond SIG EP, the fill is at least average in quality. Nothing much to complain about there. This puzzle appears to be a debut, and at least at the level of theme concept and execution, it's impressive. Those. circled words do mean "mad" and those letters do "hop," so what more do you want?

Seemed like the grid was pushing the French a little hard: PARFUM *and* AU REVOIR in themer positions, plus the French-ish INGENUES. I'll allow it, but that's about as much French as you wanna throw at a solver on a Monday with a not-specifically-French theme. I could do without seeing SNAPE or any Potter stuff ever again, but we've been over this. I thought FIONA was MOANA, my bad. Again, I should really read clues all the way to the end (58A: DreamWorks princess who remains an ogress after true love's kiss). You can't tell me the owl says WHOO one week and then turn around a couple weeks later and tell me it's WHO again, come on (34A: Owl's question?). Not much else to say about this one; the theme was great, and though the NW corner showed some grid strain (from the theme) and felt overly tough for a Monday, the rest of the grid played just fine. Promising work, for sure. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Flat-topped French hat / SUN 11-27-22 / Urban area typically with the tallest buildings / Automotive successor of the Bel Air / Proudly embody informally / Pasta whose name means barley in Italian / Figs. first issued in 1936 / Allow for more high-density housing and mixed-use development in urban planning lingo

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Going Off on a Tangent" — the five theme answers are BENT OUT / OF SHAPE (85D: With 86-Down, very upset ... like the answers to five of this puzzle's clues?). That is: the themers have two elements: the clued element literally goes off on a tangent (i.e. zags diagonally up and to the right at the end); the unclued element continues straight (like a conventional Across answer) *and* spells out a shape (CIRCLE, HEART, TRIANGLE, STAR, SQUARE). So the bent (clued) answer literally gets BENT OUT / OF SHAPE (i.e. appears to emerge from a word that is also a shape ("shape" words are in red below):

Theme answers:
  • INNER CITY (22A: Urban area typically with the tallest buildings) / INNER CIRCLE
  • OPEN HEARING (38A: Public court proceeding) / OPEN HEART
  • RIGHT TRACK (61A: What you're on when you're making progress) / RIGHT TRIANGLE
  • SUPERSTORM (83A: Major concern for a meteorologist) / SUPERSTAR
  • LEMON SQUEEZER (101A: Certain juicing need) / LEMON SQUARE
Word of the Day: KEENAN Allen (43D: Star N.F.L. wide receiver Allen) —
Keenan Alexander Allen (born April 27, 1992) is an American football wide receiver for the Los Angeles Chargers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at California before leaving after his junior year. He was drafted by the Chargers in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Allen won multiple rookie honors after setting Chargers' records for receptions and receiving yards by a rookie. In 2017, he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. [ed: He's also a 5x Pro Bowler] (wikiepdia)
• • •

Maybe there's some kind of letdown that I'm having here at the tail end of Thanksgiving vacation / birthday week, because wow I found this one very, very tedious. There are individual answers here and there, like WHIZBANG and maybe BONG HIT, that offer some entertaining moments along the way, but for the most part this was a slog. The theme was so depressingly void of interest, so impossibly one-note. So ... these Across answers go (per the title) "off on a tangent"—that is, they kick up to the NE, on a diagonal, at their tail ends. But ... why? To what end? Those "tangents" are just ... nothing. They're random letters. The letters do not spell anything. They do not relate to one another. They are completely random and arbitrary letters, as far as I can see (-TY! -ING! -ACK!). If those tangent-going letters do anything ... anything at all, I apologize for being unable to see it. So there's this inherent pointlessness. Or seeming pointlessness. Then there's the unclued answers that just keep heading Across; that is, only the "off on a tangent" answer is clued—the regular only-horizontal answer is just ... a plausible answer. With no clue. None. Zero. This is fun how? I guess the revealer is supposed to tell us how—all of the "bent" answers (the clued answers) arise out of a word that is also a "shape"—that is, the clued answers are bent (got it) "out of (a) shape" (i.e. the bend gives you one answer, but the continuing (unclued!) Across answer turns into a shape (CIRCLE, HEART (!?!), TRIANGLE, STAR (!?!?!), SQUARE ). This concept was totally invisible to me until well after I'd started this write-up. I thought BENT OUT / OF SHAPE was just another (redundant) way of expressing that the clued themers went "off on a tangent." The presence of actual shapes in the (unclued) straight-Across answers ... just didn't register. Probably because, as I've said, many time, parenthetically and unparenthetically, those straight-Across themers are Un Clued! So how *can* they make an impact!?!? If you immediately grasped the "out of shape" bit, you are a more perspicacious solver than I am. Or you're just less full of cocktail / chocolate cake.

That corner with the revealer ... woof. Tough, precisely because of the revealer (a two-part cross-reference in a tightly enclosed space). If you don't know the revealer (and how could you without considerable help from crosses), it's difficult to get traction. PAVED ROAD was way too generically (and boringly) clued (104A: Residential construction project). Then I wanted EATS for SUPS (!?!) (109A: Has a meal) (nothing in that clue quite gets at the quaintness of SUPS). And if the Bruins aren't UCLA, shrug, no idea (I *have* heard of the BOSton Bruins, just ... less so). But the difficulty of the corner is truly beside the point—the point is, this theme (at least the "shape" angle) is a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it. And then when you do hear it, it sounds mostly like a sad trombone. 

DANK memes? Whaaaaat year is it? I haven't heard that expression in what feels like a decade, but is probably just five years or so. But five years may as well be *two* decades in Internet Time. Woof. AGAPE and AGHAST are not only both in the grid, but practically on top of each other. And ugh x 100 to the very concept of "don't yuck my yum," which is for sensitive babies who can't bear the fact that some people don't like what they like. Grow up. And stop talking baby talk. Also, more importantly, YUCKED, in the past tense, is about as ugly a thing as I've ever seen in a grid. Just nonsense. The worst thing about the fill, though, was the EWAN / VAN crossing. Why in the world would you cross names at a vowel like that, when neither of the names is household, and one of the names (VAN) could Easily have been clued in a non-name way!? That square pretty much had to be an "A" since is the only name you can plausibly make out of EW-N, and I can kinda picture VAN Jones, now that I think of it (I LOATHE 24-hr news and stopped watching it completely after the 2016 election). But it's an awful editorial decision to clue VAN as a name there, esp. if your EWAN is of the non-McGregor variety. 

No idea what a "Pitch Perfect" film series is, so I needed every cross for KAY (43A: ___ Cannon, creator of the "Pitch Perfect" film series). Looks like these were exceedingly popular movies of a type I would never ever see. Sometimes I am in touch, but frequently I am out. Ah well. I know ELENA Ochoa (golfer) but this not-quite ELENA (i.e. ELLEN) Ochoa, that name threw me (14D: Discovery astronaut Ochoa) (ha, joke's on me: the golfer is actually LORENA Ochoa). As for UPZONE ...  is "urban planning lingo" actually a lingo that we're supposed to know now? Seems astonishingly, uh, narrow. What is it "up" from? What does "up" mean here? You can't even infer it very easily. Is "more high-density housing and mixed-use development" good? It sounds pretty good? Is it ... up? There are surely answers to these questions, but this is a term that is both too specialized and not immediately clear enough in its meaning. Just because it appears in some wordlist / dictionary doesn't make it good. The first hit I get when I google it says "Upzoning is just what it sounds like: growing a little taller to have more homes and businesses in our communities." But the clue says nothing about height (of buildings). I would never have considered that the UP in UPZONE meant "growing a little taller," i.e. literal height. The clue is no help. If you're going to introduce professional argot of a highly specialized type, the least you could do is clue it in a way that makes the term make sense. This write-up was exhausting. Just explaining the theme, ugh. I need sleep. See you Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Six-time N.B.A. All-Star Kyle / SAT 11-26-22 / Key piece of an overlock sewing machine / "Crazy Rich Asians" actress Gemma / Mountain whose name means I burn / The first Black American sorority in brief

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Constructor: Kanyin Ajayi

Relative difficulty: Very Easy

THEME: maybe? — there are some suggestive symmetries, but theme? I don't think so ...

Word of the Day: Paulo COELHO (35A: Paulo who wrote "The Alchemist") —
Paulo Coelho de Souza (/ˈkwɛl.j, kuˈɛl-, -j/, Portuguese: [ˈpawlu kuˈeʎu]; born 24 August 1947) is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002. His novel The Alchemist became an international best-seller and he has published 28 more books since then. (wikipedia)
• • •

A literary puzzle for me, a literature professor, on my birthday (true story). I absolutely crushed this puzzle, as many of you will have as well, since it is basically a Tuesday / Wednesday-level themeless. Hmmm, perhaps if you are completely unfamiliar with "WIDE SARGASSO SEA" (16A: Jean Rhys novel that's a response to "Jane Eyre") and "THINGS FALL APART" (56A: Chinua Achebe novel that's a response to "Heart of Darkness"), the puzzle might've played more like a Saturday for you, but those titles are CANTERBURY TALES-level familiar to me, so whoosh, I lit them up. I really liked the literary pairing there, one grid-spanning post-colonial novel echoing the other. But that wasn't the only symmetrical echo. HIT OR MISS gets paired with RIDE OR DIE, and then there are the TWOSOMES who TIE A KNOT. I know, technically the term is "tie the knot," but I still choose to see this as a mini matrimonial theme, which gets TIE A KNOT a pass on its EAT A SANDWICH-ness. TIE A KNOT is (k)not good, but as part of a matrimonial twosome with TWOSOMES, it magically becomes good. So you've got yourself a themeless puzzle here, but there's a certain attention to symmetrical pairings that gives it some semi-thematic playfulness. I really liked it, on the whole. 

LOOPER was by far the hardest thing in this grid (45D: Key piece of an overlock sewing machine). I wrote in LOOMER at first because .... uh .... "sewing machine" and LOOM seemed to have something to do with one another, clothing production-wise. Thankfully, I knew that the Chinua Achebe title was not "THINGS FALL ... A MART!" so I was able to change LOOMER to LOOPER—which is a reasonably well-known movie, directed by Rian Johnson, whose "Glass Onion" just opened this weekend (so excited to see it!). I would've loved a movie clue for "LOOPER," but instead we get this somewhat obscure sewing machine terminology ... and it still doesn't really slow me down in any appreciable way. There were some other things I didn't know. Gemma CHAN, for instance (40A: "Crazy Rich Asians" actress Gemma). But crosses made it clear it would be CHEN or CHAN, and then COCOA sealed the deal (it's CHAN!). I had SAN before SAO, but that didn't last long. I had COEHLO before COELHO, but that didn't last long. I forgot Kyle LOWRY existed, but then I remembered (couldn't tell you a thing about him, but I follow basketball enough to know his name) (26A: Six-time N.B.A. All-Star Kyle). If there were other pauses or hesitations in my solving experience, they were minor. Overall, this puzzle was SASSy and I enjoyed it. 

Bullet points:
  • 1A: Influential book sellers? (BLURBS) — this is a very good clue. I hate (most) BLURBS—they're (mostly) embarrassingly similar in their hyperbolic / cliché language. And do they really "sell" books!? Sigh. OK. Anyway, my feelings about the blurb industry aside, this clue is good.
  • 23A: Finish that's rough to the touch (STUCCO) — sincerely tried to make STUBBLE work.
  • 3D: Locale in Dante's "Inferno" (UNDERWORLD) — so ... Inferno, then. "Inferno" means "Hell," which is the UNDERWORLD. So this is like cluing HELL as [Locale in Dante's "Hell"]. Unless Dante's "Inferno" is really a story about the criminal UNDERWORLD and I've been teaching it wrong all these decades ... entirely possible. 
  • 44A: Bugs's archenemy (ELMER) — OK, you're stretching "arch-" pretty thin here. ELMER is a dope who never poses any genuine threat to Bugs. This is like saying The Harlem Globetrotters' "archenemy" is The Washington Generals. Come on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Victoria singer known for her gothic blues style / FRI 11-25-22 / Coffee-brewing portmanteau / Biryani base / Site of 2022's Woman Life Freedom protests / Costumer's measurement / Annual bodybuilding competition won 10 times by Iris Kyle / Title girl of a 1957 Dale Hawkins hit

Friday, November 25, 2022

Constructor: Simon Marotte

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ADIA Victoria (51D: ___ Victoria, singer known or her "gothic blues" style) —


Adia Victoria (born July 22, 1986) is an American singer and songwriter. In addition to playing and writing music, she also writes poetry. She is currently based in Nashville. [...] Victoria is sometimes associated with Americana music, she has distanced herself from the genre, saying, "I’m not an Americana artist. I have no interest in being appropriated by that genre." However, her position seems to have softened as, in 2022, she performed at a nominations event hosted by the Americana Music Association and was nominated for their Emerging Artist of the Year award at their 21st awards ceremony. [...] Rolling Stone describes her as "PJ Harvey covering Loretta Lynn at a haunted debutante ball." (wikipedia) [it's pronounced 'uh-DEE-uh' I believe]
• • •

I am way too full of Thanksgiving to be of much use to anyone, for anything, but I'll give this a (short) shot. It thought it was decent. Just fine. Very easy. All of the difficulty came from a couple of single-letter errors that I made along the way. The first, and worst, of these was writing in PANCHO, as in "PANCHO & Lefty,"  rather than PONCHO, as in raincoat, at 39A: Garment that's pulled over the head. That "A" absolutely killed me, as I took one look at MSA- at 33D: Annual bodybuilding competition won 10 times by Iris Kyle and wrote in MS. AMERICA. Sounded right, felt right, and ALIT (60A: Came down) "confirmed" the last "A," so I was really locked in. Total amount of time spent extricating myself from this whole probably didn't amount to much, but considering how easy the puzzle was otherwise, it felt like a major hold-up. I also wrote in IPAD instead of IPOD (of course) (32A: Touch, for one), so I had 27D: Performer whose face is rarely seen as a BAD-something or other (instead of the correct BODY DOUBLE). Beyond that, the only issues I had were parsing / spelling problems on the slangier answers. I DON'T felt straightforward, so I was a little hesitant with WANNA, but it worked out (6D: Whiner's "You can't make me!"). Later, I couldn't stop reading the answer at 11D: "Beats me" as "I GOT NO ___," and since the blank was four letters, I wanted only CLUE or IDEA, both of which were clearly wrong (the answer was "I GOT NOTHIN'"). I also had some hesitancy / uncertainty in that same corner with  [___ party] (POOL) and the front end of 10D: Enlist (ROPE IN). I think I wrote SIGN IN at first. But these were all really minor frustrations. Mostly I tore through this, even with the Thanksgiving Torpor upon me.

Really hate seeing SCUM at all, ever (45A: Film about fish tanks?). It's just a repulsive word, no matter the clue. A jarring tone shift in an otherwise light and breezy puzzle. Loved seeing PRAIRIE DOG, as I have loved seeing PRAIRIE DOGs all week here in Colorado. We've been walking in various nature preserves and around various lakes and any time there's a large expanse of flat open ground: prairie dogs. Highly social, highly alert, highly adorable, occasionally hilarious. One of them started screaming loudly as I came walking up the path in its direction, but the other PRAIRIE DOG who was with him just looked up from his digging, took one look at me, and went "nah, that's nothing," and went back to digging. So the first guy stopped screaming, but he did not stop staring. Extreme "I'm watching you, mister" stare. There are very large raptors in the area, so those prairie dogs have a lot to watch out for. Speaking of raptors, we saw any number of hawks, not one but two bald eagles, and, best of all, a great horned owl that looked just like part of a tree until its head moved. Eventually we got too close and it took off in silent, gorgeous, probably murderous flight. Spectacular. Anyway, it's back to Binghamton tomorrow, where there are no PRAIRIE DOGs, though there are bald eagles, and probably owls, if I'm just attentive enough to notice. Last word on the puzzle: nothing really Grabbed me, but it was a solid overall effort, and I really admired the clue on NIGHT SHIFT (30D: Late assignment). Perfect clue, perfect misdirection. I don't think anything requires any special explanation, so I'll sign off now. See you tomorrow, assuming all my plane stuff goes OK. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. OK, a few explanations, just in case: "bones" are slang for "dice," hence 14A: Funny bones? = LOADED DICE. And IAN FLEMING created James Bond, hence the [Bond issuer?] clue. Swim and track MEETs have different segments or "heats," which makes a MEET (today) a [Heated competition?]

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Landmass once surrounded by the superocean Panthalassa / THU 11-24-22 / Folk-rock quartet whose name derives from its members' last initials / 2006 Beyoncé album released fittingly on Sept. 4 / Turn of the century financial crisis / Savage X Fenty product / Iconic Voyager 1 photograph taken 3.7 billion miles from Earth / Singer with the debut single My Bologna 1979

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Constructor: Pao Roy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: DOT THE I'S (56A: Pay attention to details ... or a hint to filling in seven of this puzzle's squares) — a "DOT" rebus in which the "DOT" square always appears above the letter "I"; in the Acrosses, the letters "DOT" are part of the answers, but in the Downs, the "DOT" is just supposed to represent an actual dot (i.e. "."):

Theme answers:
  • [DOT][DOT][DOT] (10A: And so on)
  • PALE BLUE [DOT] (20A: Iconic Voyager 1 photograph taken 3.7 billion miles from Earth)
  • POLKA [DOT] DRESSES (26A: They're spotted on Lucille Ball and Minnie Mouse)
  • CONNECTS THE [DOT]S (43A: Begins to see a pattern)
  • [DOT] COM CRASH (Turn-of-the-century financial crisis)
Word of the Day: PANGAEA (9D: Landmass once surrounded by the superocean Panthalassa) —
Pangaea or Pangea(/pænˈ.ə/) was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It assembled from the earlier continental units of GondwanaEuramerica and Siberia during the Carboniferous approximately 335 million years ago, and began to break apart about 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic and beginning of the Jurassic. In contrast to the present Earth and its distribution of continental mass, Pangaea was centred on the equator and surrounded by the superocean Panthalassa and the Paleo-Tethys and subsequent Tethys Oceans. Pangaea is the most recent supercontinent to have existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello once again from Thanksgiving Vacation. My mom is busy in the kitchen roasting pecans for the pie and trying figure out the recipe for cranberry sauce, and since the kitchen is basically adjacent to my writing space, I can see I am going to have some difficulty keeping myself focused on the puzzle. I just heard my mom say to her longtime partner, "I need to keep my mind focused on what I'm doing," and, well, yes, same. I'll do my best. And yet I keep hearing him making "suggestions" to my mom about how to cook things, did he just meet her!? (reader, he did not). I mean, you can talk to my mom about anything, she is very open-minded, but the last thing you wanna do is offer unsolicited advice over her shoulder as she's cooking. Vermouth in the cranberries!? This is no time for improvisation! The woman knows what she is doing and is Not about to take suggestions from the peanut gallery. Now mom is making fun of the "certified biodynamic" label on the cranberry packaging, good for her. OK, sorry, I know, puzzle, puzzle, OK, here we go ... puzzle! Nope, her partner is now singing "Alice's Restaurant," so I'm gonna have to pause for a bit until that subsides. . . OK, here we go. . . now!

The theme was very easy to uncover, and as soon as I uncovered it, I thought "Oh I've definitely seen this theme before. And recently too." Turns out I was both right and not quite right. The DOT THE I'S theme we got earlier this year (Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022) was not i-dentical to this one, but it was close. In that one, the letter "I" turned completely into a "DOT" (so "dotting the i's" meant literally turning i's into "DOT"s). Here, of course, the "DOT"s appear above the i's, which makes more sense on a literal level, but was not nearly so interesting as the weirder, more complicated February version. What both puzzles have in common, admirably, is that the theme applies to literally every "I" in the puzzle, not just the "I"s that appear in specially designated theme answers. But in this one, "DOT" always appears as the word "dot," whereas in the February one, the letters "DOT" were mostly buried inside longer answers (like YOU DO THE MATH and TORPEDO TUBE). Today's puzzle just gave you phrases with the word "DOT" in them. Less interesting, though DOT COM CRASH is pretty snazzy, and DOT DOT DOT is a nice thematic flourish (even if you would never actually do the "I" in IRA (always a capital) (10D: Nest egg option, for short). Overall, this puzzle was fine, but it felt like a pale (blue dot) version of the very very similar puzzle that came out earlier this year.

Speaking of déjà vu, did we not just have this clue for LOLA (14A: Actress Kirke of "Mozart in the Jungle")?? (we did); and HSBC in exactly the same grid position!? (we did). I thought we had PALE BLUE DOT very recently as well, but that was actually well over a year ago now. My favorite thing about today's puzzle was either WEIRD AL, or seeing the word HORNY (13A: Aroused, informally) just one day after I used the word "HORNY" in my discussion of RANDY. I also like that PALE BLUE DOT very nearly T-bones PANGAEA. Those two have a nice whole-wide-world kind of synergy. I also like seeing that it still remains next to impossible for clue writers to lay off the cutesy "?" clues for ELOPE (64A: Not get reception?). Some things never change. Like mom's Thanksgiving dinner. Never changes. Always perfect. I need to go prepare (i.e. sleep / fast). Enjoy your day, whatever you eat.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. CSNY stands for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (52D: Folk-rock quartet whose name derives from its members' last initials)

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TV's Grey and House for short / WED 11-23-22 / TV series with a Time Lord informally / Test taken in a tube in brief

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Constructor: Erica Hsiung Wojcik and Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: colored rings and then more colored rings — first themer is clued as ["Red and yellow circles"] and then each subsequent theme clue adds a colored circle until you end up with five colored circles:

Theme answers:
  • MASTERCARD LOGO ("Red and yellow circles")
  • TRAFFIC LIGHT ("Red, yellow and green circles")
  • TWISTER MAT ("Red, yellow, green and blue circles")
  • OLYMPIC RINGS ("Red, yellow, green, blue and black circles")
Word of the Day: PIRELLI (7D: Italian tire company) —
Pirelli & C. S.p.A. is a multinational tyre manufacturer based in Milan, Italy. The company, which has been listed on the Milan Stock Exchange since 1922, is the 6th-largest tyre manufacturer and is focused on the consumer production of tyres for cars, motorcycles and bicycles. It is present in Europe, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, North America and the Post-Soviet states, operating commercially in over 160 countries. It has 19 manufacturing sites in 13 countries and a network of around 14,600 distributors and retailers. In 2015, China National Chemical Corp. Ltd. (ChemChina) took controlling interest of Pirelli - with the Chinese state-owned company agreeing to maintain the tire company's ownership structure until 2023. (wikipedia)
• • •

I just had a big delicious pricy meal which included cocktails *and* port and while this has put me in a pretty good mood, I think it also has something to do with the fact that this puzzle just didn't do much for me. I could process the concept fine, but it just didn't ... land. I see what's happening. I see that there is a steady progression, new colors added at each phase, etc. It's an ... interesting discovery, I guess. There's definite thematic consistency. My reaction is "huh, curious." But that's about it. It wasn't amusing, and I didn't have much of a feeling of revelation. The TWISTER MAT is not iconic to me at all—I know it has colored circles, but I have no idea what those colors are. I must never have actually played Twister. You could've told me they are any number of colors and I would've believed you. What color are the OLYMPIC RINGS? I might've been able to guess, but I don't know. The rings are iconic, that there are five, that seems iconic, but I don't think of the *colors* as particularly iconic. So when I got the answers, I just thought "oh, is that so?" Not, "aha!" I'm not even sure I could tell what color the Mastercard circles are. I sincerely would've told you that one of them is orange. But red and yellow, you say? OK. I know that the traffic light is red yellow green. *That* is iconic. The others are true enough, so the puzzle is valid enough. But it just didn't have any zing to it. More like an odd kind of trivia test. I do love the grid shape—the unusual mirror symmetry, the unusual 16x14 dimensions. But the only answer that really made me sit up and say "ooh" was DEATH GRIP (33D: Super-tight grasp). The theme is very interesting, but it wasn't funny or exciting to solve. Curious. Interesting. Those are the only words I have for it. 

I had -STER MAT and still no idea. "Is there a ... TOASTER MAT?" But I also had -IC RINGS and no idea, which is less explicable. I blame the port. But honestly the "black" ring was what got me. I just couldn't fathom how "black" fit in. So I was slowish. I was also slowish on a bunch of two-part answers where the first parts seemed like they could've been a lot of things. Like "AW, NUTS" and "WHY, YES" and DART OFF. I also had issues with WAR DRAMA, which ... hmm. I know "war movies," that seems like a genre. But most of those are dramas, right? There really aren't that many war comedies or war horror films. I think the "drama" is kind of implied by the "war," so WAR DRAMA feels slightly off, slightly redundant. "War movie" googles much better. But WAR DRAMA googles reasonably well too. I dunno. I do know that HAHAS remains absurd as a plural, but overall this grid is very clean. The only thing I flat-out didn't know was PIRELLI, which I actually do know, or have at least heard of, but I wrote in BORELLI, which I think is a kind of pasta. It's at least pasta-adjacent. AW, NUTS, it's "Barilla" pasta. Is there a famous *singer* BORELLI? Ah, man, that's Andrea BOCELLI! Which rhymes with "vermicelli," which brings us back to pasta. 

My family is having a voluble conversation about religion and death and glass-blowing so I have to go see how all those things fit together. Sorry I didn't feel the Zing with this one. I hope you did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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