Crushed-ice dessert with a reduplicative name / TUE 1-31-23 / Luke Cage's title in his first comics appearance / Tree whose pods contain a sweet-tasting pulp / Pre-cable TV appurtenance / Establishment that serves "purr"-over coffee / Chanteuse with chart-topping hits

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday)

THEME: MARIAH CAREY (24D: Chanteuse with chart-topping hits found at the tops of 4-, 14-, 16- and 19-Down) — Her #1 songs "Someday," "Hero," "Honey" and "Fantasy" all "top" the answers in which they appear (i.e. they're the first words in answers that run Down):

Theme answers:
  • SOMEDAY SOON (4D: Not too long from now) (1990)
  • HERO FOR HIRE (19D: Luke Cage's title in his first comics appearance) (1993)
  • HONEY LOCUST (16D: Tree whose pods contain a sweet-tasting pulp) (1997)
  • FANTASY SAGA (14D: Giant narrative that may be about giants (and elves as well)) (1995)
Word of the Day: HALO HALO (16A: Crushed-ice dessert with a reduplicative name) —
, correctly spelled haluhaloTagalog for "mixed" (the more common spelling instead literally equating to "mix-mix") is a popular cold dessert in the Philippines made up of crushed iceevaporated milk or coconut milk, and various ingredients including ube jam (ube halaya), sweetened kidney or garbanzo beanscoconut stripssagogulaman (agar), pinipig, boiled taro or soft yams in cubes, flan, slices or portions of fruit preserves and other root crop preserves. The dessert is topped with a scoop of ube ice cream. It is usually prepared in a tall clear glass and served with a long spoon. Halo-halo is considered to be the unofficial national dessert of the Philippines. The term "halo-halo" is supposed to mean "mixed" in English because the dessert is meant to be mixed before being consumed. Although strictly grammatically incorrect, this spelling has come to describe any object or situation composed of a similar, colorful combination of ingredients. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, two exemplary early-week puzzles, back to back. The theme concept and execution on both yesterday's NOSE puzzle and today's MARIAH CAREY puzzle are really impressive. Probably not a coincidence that both puzzles were made by young-but-veteran constructors who are also editors of mainstream daily crossword puzzles (David Steinberg of Universal, Erik Agard of USA Today). Both puzzles were harder than usual, by about a day or maybe even more on the weekly difficulty scale. That is, yesterday's felt (to many) like a Tuesday or Wednesday, and today ... well, this definitely felt at least Wednesday to me, primarily because of proper nouns (Alyssa THOMAS (15A: W.N.B.A. All-Star Alyssa), YVETTE Lee Bowser (61A: "Living Single" creator ___ Lee Bowser)) and terms I'd never heard of (HONEY LOCUST (16D: Tree whose pods contain a sweet-tasting pulp), HALO-HALO ... though HALO-HALO feels like something that I've laid my eyes on but failed to store in my memory banks). The elegance of today's theme is in making all these one-word #1 songs fit into symmetrically arranged answers *and* making them run Down, so that those song titles "top" their respective answers the way the songs themselves "topped" the charts. It helps that the theme answers themselves are original and lively, and the cherry on top of the whole thing is that center stack—those are all themers. I don't know that I've ever seen anyone triple-stack long themers, especially on a damn Tuesday. I don't know why we're commemorating MARIAH CAREY today (as opposed to any other day of the year), but I also don't particularly care. I wish that *actual* tribute puzzles (the ones that sometimes get pushed out quickly after a celebrity's death, or that commemorate anniversaries of one kind or another) were typically this thoughtful and carefully made. The execution here is what really makes this theme artful.

But then you get the overall fill, and there again, it's a stunner. What stands out most to me is ... well, let's just say I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't Feb. 1 because this really felt like a puzzle that was ushering in Black History Month. From the theme subject to Alyssa THOMAS to YVETTE Lee Bowser to SHUG from The Color Purple to Luke Cage: HERO FOR HIRE to "Deliver Us from EVA" to Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's My Monticello (in the clue for UVA) to ETHIOPIA to the Delta Sigma Theta SORORITY to ... well, sorry if I missed one, but honestly this is one of the Blackest puzzles I've ever solved that didn't have Blackness itself as a theme. Black women in particular take center stage. The puzzle may be a little name-heavy, but probably not any more than average, and ... well, solving this puzzle really makes me aware how much puzzles have historically skewed white. Erik's out here showing how breadth of perspective and general inclusion can be done easily, elegantly, if you really wanna do it. 

I know three of the four MARIAH CAREY songs. Tellingly, everything before 1995 is right up my alley, but "Honey" (1997) ... I just missed. My connection to pop culture fades out a bit in the five-year period when I'm transitioning from grad student to professor. It's a real blur and in that time, MARIAH CAREY goes off radar. Whereas I actually owned a CD Single of "Someday" and "Fantasy," and "Hero" feels like "All I Want for Christmas Is You" in that it seems like it has always been there and I couldn't place it in time if my life depended on it (it's 1993, btw). I had a leg up with the Luke Cage clue, since I own the first Luke Cage comic. HERO FOR HIRE is probably gonna be tough if '70s comic books aren't your thing. OK, now I have to look up "All HAT no cattle" because I feel like I saw that expression for the first time *yesterday* and I've already forgotten the context. Ah, right, it's when your look is out of step with your reality, i.e. you wear a cowboy hat but are definitely not a cowboy. It's used metaphorically for being a phony—all talk and no action. Hate to blog and run but the bus is not going to wait for me. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bespectacled cartoon aardvark / MON 1-30-23 / Activist who co-founded Black Lives Matter / Nonnegotiable salary limit / French word that sounds like an English pronoun / Smallest poodle variety / Duh in modern slang

Monday, January 30, 2023

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Uh ... some? Some difficulty? Harder than usual, but still easy? I solved Downs-only and nearly didn't make it ... until I did!

THEME: RIGHT BETWEEN THE / EYES (56A: With 67-Across, in a sudden and completely apparent way ... or a punny description of this puzzle's circled letters) — the letters N, O, S, and E appear between two "I"s in their respective answers; so they spell the word "NOSE" (which is RIGHT BETWEEN THE / EYES, face-wise), and the letters in "NOSE" all appear "right between the 'I's" ... and if you connect the letters in "NOSE," it depicts a funny cartoon nose (if this is not an intended feature of this theme, I Don't Want To Hear About It ... let me live in my delightful world of imagination):

Theme answers:
  • SKATED ON THIN ICE (17A: Engaged in some risky behavior)
  • AUDIO INPUT (22A: Microphone jack, for one)
  • "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!" (36A: "I'm appalled!")
  • LIE IN STATE (48A: Be honored before burial)
Word of the Day: ALICIA GARZA (11D: Activist who co-founded Black Lives Matter) —
Alicia Garza (born January 4, 1981) is an American civil rights activist and writer known for co-founding the international Black Lives Matter movement. She has organized around the issues of healthstudent services and rights, rights for domestic workers, ending police brutalityanti-racism, and violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. Her editorial writing has been published by The GuardianThe NationRolling Stone, and Truthout. She currently directs Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and is the Principal at the Black Futures Lab. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this is one of the best Monday puzzles I've ever done, and I only did the Downs, LOL. The theme just ... kept coming. I was struggling a little solving Downs-only, but I could see, via some pretty easy Downs, that the circled letters were going to spell out "NOSE." And I could see that if you connected those letters, you'd get (vaguely) a nose shape. All that was left was the revealer, which was fine, if a little funnily laid out (with just the EYES part dropping down to the bottom line). Yes, the nose is RIGHT BETWEEN THE / EYES, I thought. That makes sense. Interesting. But at that point, I was still struggling with various patches of the grid, trying to make them come together using only the Downs. The point is that I sort of forgot about the theme once I had it sorted, and it was only later, when it all finally ended (triumphantly, with a literal hands-in-the-air moment) that I noticed that the "N" and the "O" and the "S" and the "E" were all situated ... between two "I"s. A nose profile, a snappy revealer, and a visual pun to boot. It's not my birthday, but I will take it! 

It's possible, quite possible, that I am predisposed to love this puzzle because I am still basking in my hard-won Downs-only success. I was dying there for a while. The long Downs were not coming, nor were a few key short Downs, and I couldn't parse several of the themers (only SKATED ON THIN ICE was in solid for a long while), so I was staring down the barrel of failure for sure (eventually I will fail a Downs-only Monday. It's inevitable. I'll just get ... stuck, and with no help from the Acrosses, I'll be doomed. But Not Today!). First, the stupidity. I had HOT written in at 19D: Word before trick or tip. "HOT tip" makes sense. "HOT trick" ... well, less so, probably. I can imagine a context in which one might say "HOT trick," but it's not really a likely context for a Monday puzzle. So I had to (eventually) change that to HAT. Had OBVS before OBVI for a bit, that was rough (38D: "Duh!," in modern slang). I also had a hard time initially with DEVILED EGGS (24D: Appetizers sprinkled with paprika). I wanted something Hungarian, because of the paprika, so ... I don't know, some kind of PIEROGIS!? Sigh. Also, "USE with caution" is not a phrase that rang bells. "Proceed with caution," sure. But USE was not coming quickly. But the worst sticking points were, not surprisingly, proper nouns. Specifically, the proper nouns at 25D: "Awkwafina Is ___ From Queens" (Comedy Central series) and 11D: Activist who co-founded Black Lives Matter. Just ... blanks. The one thing I had to hold on to was that I was fairly sure I had *seen* both names before, so I was hoping (praying) that maybe if I could scrape together some of the crosses in their names from inference, that would help me remember. And that worked great for "Awkwafina Is NORA From Queens. Eventually got the "N" and "A" from the themers and bam, yes, NORA, cool. That left the Black Lives Matter co-founder, and holy cow, where to start? Getting her was especially tough at first because I couldn't figure out her neighbor either: 12D: Disavow (RECANT). I just could not think of a synonym. I wanted RECUSE, but knew it was wrong. Stuck stuck stuck. No idea how RECANT finally popped into my head, but thank god. And still, the Black Lives Matter activist was just a smattering of letters (almost all from themers) and little more.

But RECANT gave me HARD CAP, which really made the activist's name look like it started ALICE. I wrote in ALICE and tried to make a last name out of the rest, to no avail. I actually wanted something Hispanic, a name of Spanish origin (correct!), like ORTEGA (incorrect!), but I didn't know why. I didn't trust my instincts. Then I was looking at BE-T and thought "what if that's BEAT? ... oh, what if her name is actually ALICIA!?" So I tried it. "And BER- ... well that's probably a "T" or "G" ... ALICIA ... TANZA ... GANZA ... omg GARZA, that sounds right! OK, gonna try it... here we go: ALICIA GARZA!" And bam, the "Congratulations!" message popped up and I soft-shouted "Yes!" Honestly, I feel immortal. Like I could solve anything. From absolutely nothing to complete name—inch by inch, scratching and clawing ... and then winning. The fact that the puzzle was conceptually brilliant just made the whole experience even sweeter. Good night, everybody!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I just learned that GARZA is the Spanish word for "heron" 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Component of some high-tech dog collars / SUN 1-29-23 / Crew supervisor on a merchant ship / Lotta money / Hindu embodiment of virtue / Modern-day groundskeeper / Fast line at the airport, informally / Office PC set-up / Fish with a long snout / NFL positions that sound like a fast-food chain / Byproduct of composting / Portmanteau invitations / Website overseers in brief / Parent who's fluent in emojis and slang maybe

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Constructor: Rich Katz

Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging

THEME: "The Final Frontier" — oh, I just got this. The "Final Frontier" is SPACE. I thought that maybe the way the phrases were reparsed, the idea was that the final (part of the first word) had been made "frontier" (as in, uh, "more fronty," i.e. part of the front of the next word) ... but then I got the revealer, SPACE TRAVEL (65A: Voyage by rocket ... or a feature of the answers to the 12 starred clues?), and ... yeah, the title is definitely a "Star Trek" riff ("Space ... the final frontier ...") and not the thing I said. Anyway, familiar two-word phrases are clued as if the "space" between the two words had "traveled" to somewhere else in the phrase:

[update: some solvers seem not to understand that the *clued* phrases are wacky / nonsensical—so, for instance, there is no such thing as a DUAL IPA ... but there *is* such a thing as DUA LIPA. As clued, the answers are nonsense, but if you *move the space* to its proper place, you get a real thing, which I have put in parentheses after each themer, below; sorry for not being a better explainer]

Theme answers:
  • LOO MOVER (24A: *Shipper of British toilets?) (loom over)
  • MOANA BOUT (44A: *Big fight for a Disney heroine from Polynesia?) (moan about)
  • SEAT RIP (18A: *Embarrassing pants mishap?) (sea trip) 
  • STARCH ART (7D: *Painting of potatoes, e.g.?) (star chart)
  • ASP ENTREE (11D: *Main course featuring Egyptian snake meat?) (why couldn't the asp be the one eating the entree? That's nicer / goofier) (aspen tree)
  • GOO DEARTH (88A: *Shortage of slime?) (... is this supposed to be the Pearl S. Buck novel "The Good Earth"?)
  • PARKA VENUE (38D: *Iditarod, for one?) (Park Avenue)
  • SUPERB OWL (77D: *Terrific messenger at Hogwarts?) (this didn't have to be a Harry Potter clue, it really really didn't ...) (Super Bowl)
  • DEA THEATER (43D: *Staging of a narc sting?) (Death-Eater is, sadly, yet another Harry Potter thing, sigh)
  • EVENT ALLY (79D: *Friend in a competition?) (even tally)
  • DUAL IPA (116A: *Brew that's both bitter and fruity?) (Dua Lipa is a pop singer)
  • CAT CHAIR (109A: *Rest spot for a tabby?) (catch air)
[Rest spot for a tabby named Alfie?]

Word of the Day:
DUA LIPA (116A) —
Dua Lipa (/ˈdə ˈlpə/ (listen) DOO-ə LEE-pəAlbanian: [ˈdua ˈlipa]; born 22 August 1995) is a British and Albanian singer and songwriter. Possessing a mezzo-soprano vocal range, she is known for her signature disco-pop sound. Lipa has received numerous accolades, including six Brit Awards, three Grammy Awards, two MTV Europe Music Awards, an MTV Video Music Award, two Billboard Music Awards, an American Music Award, and two Guinness World Records. "No Lie" and "New Rules", each have over 1 billion views on YouTube, with "New Rules" having reached over 2.8 billion views. [...]  In 2019, she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, as well as the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording for her Silk City collaboration "Electricity". (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, there are certainly a lot of them. This was definitely hit or miss for me, with the hits only kinda hitting and misses really missing. The concept is super-basic, so the resulting wackiness needs to be absolutely loony and super-inventive, or else all you've got is corniness and groaning. Here are the reparsings I really liked: GOO DEARTH, ASP ENTREE, PARKA VENUE. The rest of them, I was various degrees of lukewarm on, and ... well, as I say, there were a lot of them, so that's a lot of lukewarmth. Most of the respaced answers involve drastic repronunciations (e.g. D.E.A. THEATER, DUAL I.P.A.), but there's stuff like STARCH ART and SEAT RIP that don't really do anything along those lines. Not surprisingly, I like those listless ones less. I lost a lot of my good will toward this puzzle with the utterly gratuitous Harry Potter clue on SUPERB OWL (which is a tiresome, tiresome bit of wordplay to begin with, esp. this time of year, did we really need to bring the work of the Word Ambassador of Virulent Transphobia into the mix? I submit we did not). And then the puzzle lost *all* of my good will when it bafflingly went to the Harry Potter well Yet Again (actually, this time it had to go to that well ... Death-Eaters exist only in the HPU, afaik). I know many (most?) solvers aren't as put off by the author of those YA wizarding books as I am, but what I do here is talk about exactly what it was like to solve this, and what it felt like, exactly, when I hit HP ref no. 2 was "**** you" (pretty sure I said this aloud). I'm just tired. I'm tired of bigotry and bad-faith arguments and I'm tired of my friends' kids being the targets of hatred. I'm just tired. So ... yes, my [Extreme vexation] was real. But again, the theme concept itself has some potential, and that potential is occasionally realized. And, as I say, once again, there is a lot of it.

EVEN TALLY and SEA TRIP don't feel so ... much like things. I mean, I can imagine both, but their standaloneness feels mildly weak, at least. Actually, SEA TRIP, fine, it's a thing. It's just meh. EVEN TALLY, less of a thing. The puzzle was tougher than many Sundays have been of late, for me, and part of that difficulty was definitely related to the theme. Despite understanding the conceit quite well, I still had trouble parsing some of the answers, and in the south, where two themers cross, in a very small and sequestered section that also involves yet another "?" clue and Diane Sawyer's "real first name" (!?!?!), I felt like I was in real trouble for a bit. Didn't help that the near-nonsense EVEN TALLY was in this exact section. Unsure about RAMA (99D: Hindu embodiment of virtue), thought STYLE was SHAVE (119A: Do some barbering on), no idea about MIL til I had a couple crosses (113D: Lotta money), and then COOL MOM!?!? (113A: Parent who's fluent in emojis and modern slang, maybe). She's cool ... Because of ... emojis? And slang? What year is it and who is saying this in anything but the most ironic fashion??? I got through this, but I know who DUA LIPA is. Lord help you if you didn't. 

The KARMA joke is awful, why use it? (114A: "Your ___ ran over my dogma" (classic dad joke)—hey, it's your joke, own it, don't blame it on some generic "dad"). MISDO hurts my eyes, as does BIOGAS, as does the awkward olde French crosswordese EN AMI. I think KCUP POD (29A: Modern-day groundskeeper?) and TSA PRE (37A: Fast line at the airport, informally) are supposed to be "cool" because they are "new" but they made me screw up my face in distaste. "New" doesn't necessarily mean appealing. Take RFID TAG (99A: Component of some high-tech dog collars). Please, take it. No way am I getting this if I didn't stumble on RFID just a couple days ago in a different puzzle. I didn't like it then, and I don't like it today, mainly because ... again, just because it hasn't been used before doesn't mean it's good. A jumble of letters in an acronym where most people can't actually tell you what the letters are for? (yes, congrats, you know what the letters are for, pat yourself on the back, but look, RFID is no DEA, it's not IPA, no EPA ... it's not even OAS, which ... why would you aspire to create new fill that is like OAS in any way? No one's ever excited to see OAS) (RFID stands for "radio frequency identification," btw ... see, BTW, *that's* an acronym where people know the parts!). Shoving a bunch of abbrs. into longer phrases does make for somewhat hard-to-parse answers, but it doesn't necessarily make for elegant or entertaining fill. I think my favorite answer was PROMPOSALS (3D: Portmanteau invitations). It's a good portmanteau, and if you have known any teens in recent years, then you know PROMPOSALS are very real. Didn't exist when I was young, but my (now former) high-school-teacher wife has been witness to many of them (to be clear, she's a former high-school teacher, not my former wife; I'd write a more elegant sentence, but what fun would that be?).

If you don't know BTS by now, I don't know what to tell you. You'll be seeing this K-Pop supergroup in puzzles for a long, long time to come so just store the info away now (98A: Seoul singers?). I had "OH, NICE" before "OH, NEAT" (a totally arbitrary phrase that I somehow don't hate) (42D: "Wow, super!"). If you are waiting for me to explain the AEIOU clue (2D: Series of trade discounts?), here goes: AEIOU is a "series" of letters (namely, the vowels) that appear, in order, in the phrase "trade discounts" (you are welcome). The End.
Well, not the end, one announcement: it's time once again for the very popular Boswords online crossword tournament. Go on, try it. You know you're curious. Here's the deets from tourney organizer John Lieb:
Registration is now open for the Boswords 2023 Winter Wondersolve, an online crossword tournament which will be held on Sunday, February 5 from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Solvers can compete individually or in pairs and will complete four puzzles (three themed and one themeless) edited by Brad Wilber. To register, to see the constructors, and for more details, go to
If you're good enough to solve a Sunday puzzle, you're good enough to participate in this tournament. Have faith in yourself! Rope your mom / son / daughter / dad / friend into competing with you in the pairs division! You'll have a good time.

Last thing: for people who contributed via snail mail to my fundraising earlier this month, the first batch of thank-you cards (pictured above) have gone out this week, so look for those. The cards were a little delayed at the printers, so we were about a week or so behind, but the first week's worth of cards and letters have been replied to, and the rest will be coming shortly. It's been a joy, as usual, to get your cards and letters, which (predictably, sweetly) have been rather cat-heavy this year. Here's a small sample of stuff I've received:

That last pun is so baldly, blatantly bad that I laughed out loud. That's the way you do it. Anyway, you are all very kind. Note: a few of you have written things like "sorry this is late ..." and I'm here to tell you There Is No Such Thing As Late. Anything you send me, any time you send it, is exactly on time. That is all. Goodbye for real now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. New Kitty, aka Ida, is healing up and settling in to her life as super-lowkey floof queen:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Bluish-gray pet / SAT 1-28-23 / Self-driving car company that started as a Google project / Cousin of Spanish chirimía or Italian piffero / Horror movie franchise known for both its action and slapstick humor / First NPR reporter promoted to correspondent before age 30 / TV bar with frequent health code violations overlooked by the city's mayor

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Constructor: Kevin Christian

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (much, much harder if those longer proper nouns are out of your wheelhouse)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALPHAVILLE (27D: "Forever Young" band, 1984) —
Alphaville is a German synth-pop band formed in Münster in 1982. They gained popularity in the 1980s. The group was founded by singer Marian GoldBernhard Lloyd, and Frank Mertens. They achieved chart success with the singles "Forever Young", "Big in Japan", "Sounds Like a Melody", "The Jet Set" and "Dance with Me". Gold remains the only continuous member of Alphaville. [...] Alphaville's song "Forever Young" was featured in the movie Listen to Me (1989) featuring Kirk Cameron in one of his first film roles. (wikipedia) (emphasis—and movie-going low point—mine)

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) is a 1965 French New Wave science fiction neo-noir film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It stars Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Howard Vernon and Akim Tamiroff. The film won the Golden Bear award of the 15th Berlin International Film Festival in 1965.

Alphaville combines the genres of dystopian science fiction and film noir. There are no special props or futuristic sets; instead, the film was shot in real locations in Paris, the night-time streets of the capital becoming the streets of Alphaville, while modernist glass and concrete buildings (that in 1965 were new and strange architectural designs) represent the city's interiors. The film is set in the future but the characters also refer to twentieth-century events; for example, the hero describes himself as a Guadalcanal veteran.

Expatriate American actor Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a trenchcoat-wearing secret agent. Constantine had already played this or similar roles in dozens of previous films; the character was originally created by British crime novelist Peter Cheyney. However, in Alphaville, director Jean-Luc Godard moves Caution away from his usual twentieth-century setting and places him in a futuristic sci-fi dystopia, the technocratic dictatorship of Alphaville. [...] German synthpop band Alphaville took their name from the film. (wikipedia)

• • •

This puzzle had its moments but all I could think of was the rather large segment of the solving population that is going to be brutalized by the proper nouns. I wrote in ALPHAVILLE no problem because holy cow is that in my particular generational wheelhouse but I would never, ever expect anyone not solidly Gen-X to know who the hell ALPHAVILLE are. I'd've expected to go to the Godard film of the same name, but even that is pretty obscure. Wow, "Forever Young" ... a semi-iconic melancholy anthem if you were a suburban 80s teen. The song was almost wholly ruined for me when, in my first semester of college (at POMONA, in fact), I went to a test-screening of Listen to Me, a college debate drama (!?) starring Jami Gertz and Kirk Cameron (back when he was famous for starring on the TV show Growing Pains, not for being a religious and zealot and bigot like he is today). I guess the college thought they were doing something "fun" by giving us these free test-screening tickets. We saw it at a mall, I remember that—the Montclair mall ... Montclair Place, was it? Maybe. Anyway, the movie was not just bad, it also featured a clumsy climactic debate between whatever fictional college the movie's stars went to and (of course) Harvard. The subject: abortion. Yes, the hot topic all the kids are talking about, the topic that can *definitely* be done justice in a Kirk Cameron vehicle. So I had to watch these allegedly sympathetic characters wax poetic about the merits of making abortion illegal or whatever and even at 17 I was like "this is bad, right?" And *then* "Forever Young" by Alphaville started playing. I was like "But ... but ... I like this song ... I LIKE THIS SONG, STOP THE MOVIE!" We filled out comment cards at the end. I like to believe I just wrote "No" in big letters. I also have a traumatic memory of Kirk Cameron hosting some kind of wacky Ice Capades TV special in the late '80s, with, like, skating Smurfs and random musical acts ... that can't be real, can it? CAN IT!?

Then there's POST MALONE, which ... sigh (13D: His 2016 debut album unseated "Thriller" for the most weeks spent in the top 10 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart (77)). Yes, he's somehow tremendously popular and yet if you are over 50 it's entirely possible you have literally never heard of him. Pop culture is weird these days. Heavily sectored, segmented, silo'd. Between ALPHAVILLE and POST MALONE I could practically hear many older and/or pop-culture-challenged solvers tearing their hair out (if they still have hair) (I sure don't). My own personal proper noun struggle came with WAYMO (40A: Self-driving car company that started as a Google project), which I hated not because I didn't know it, but because ugh, cars, self-driving cars, Google ... it's a dystopic tech bro nightmare. Build efficient public transportation! It's doable! And it's so much better than this apocalyptic vision of hyper-individualism they're trying to sell you. "Oooh, robot cars." Bah. Pffffft. WAYMO, because you'll get "way mo'" pedestrian deaths and way less human accountability for those deaths. Google will not be satisfied until you have Google Brain Implants. At some point you have to stop worshiping your tech overlords, who hate people except insofar as they can be hooked up to machines (literally or figuratively) and drained of their resources and volition. Gonna stop before I write a manifesto and Google tells the feds on me. 

I think that ultimately the proper nouns in the puzzle are crossed fairly, but I'm kinda giving side-eye to a couple of those ALPHAVILLE crosses, the proper noun crosses: CHE and "EVIL DEAD" (another longer proper noun that I suspect is unknown to many solvers) (46A: Horror movie franchise known for both its action and slapstick humor). Puzzles should not get *all* their difficulty from proper nouns, because for those who know the nouns, it's not difficult at all, and for those who don't, there's rarely a feeling of satisfaction waiting for you once you get the answer. I like proper nouns, I think they can give a puzzle personality and life, but I wish constructors/editors were more careful about how they used them. Oh well, at least this one started with a gimme. Too easy, perhaps, but it's nice to start out with a little success:

That WAYMO section was tough not just because I didn't know WTF WAYMO was, but because it gets really tight in there, and there are only a few clues to help you out with WAYMO, and those are either cross-referenced or vague. Two of my three initially wrong answers today went straight through WAYMO (STUN for SLAY, WIN for AIM) (29D: Knock dead, 33D: Hoped-for result). Figuring out that CROC / LACED pairing was the key to finally fixing all that mess, but that really was the only Saturday-hard part of the grid for me today. There was one other clue that wicked + clever quality I like in a Saturday: 12D: Props for some plays (OBIE AWARDS). Just a fantastic example of clue misdirection with "Props" there (it's common slang for "credit," short for "proper dues"). I had SOD before ALE (35A: Product that may be sold by the yard), but no other troubles. Tougher than yesterday's, but not by much. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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