"Toodle-oo!" / TUES 2-28-23 / Y's in roads / Psychedelic fungus, slangily / Calc. for many an engineering major

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Hello, everyone, it’s Clare for the last Tuesday — and last day — of February! Hope that everyone had a good month and that your weather wasn’t too wonky. In DC, it was 80 degrees one day — and then snowing two days later. I’m a bit more settled in my new place now, have (mostly) gotten rid of the endless amounts of cardboard that piled up, and have become a pro at using a drill and hanging curtains. I’ve been staying pretty busy with work and watching sports and biking and climbing and hoping that the weather turns just a biiiit nicer here soon! (More 80-degree days with no humidity, please!) 

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

 Gia Bosko

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: GREEN EGGS AND HAM (38A: Colorful meal in a Dr. Seuss story) — Four of the theme answers are lines from the children’s book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss about where one might eat this dish, and one theme answer is the name of the protagonist in the story

Theme answers:
  • IN THE RAIN (17A: One way 38-Across is offered) 
  • ON A BOAT (26A: Another way 38-Across is offered) 
  • IN A TREE (53A: Another way 38-Across is offered) 
  • WITH A GOAT (66A: Another way 38-Across is offered) 
  • SAM I AM (48D: One who won't take no for an answer regarding 38-Across)
Word of the Day: SLOE (1A: Gin-flavoring fruit)
Prunus spinosa, called blackthorn or sloe, is a species of flowering plant in the rose family Rosaceae. The species is native to Europe, western Asia, and regionally in northwest Africa. It is locally naturalized in New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Pacific Northwest and New England regions of the United States. The fruits are used to make sloe gin in Britain and patxaran in Spain. The wood is used to make walking sticks, including the Irish shillelagh. (Wiki)
• • •

This was a pretty decent puzzle, especially for a debut (from Gia Bosko). I smiled when I saw the theme and had fun reminiscing about the book — while simultaneously trying to solve the puzzle. It was just cute and light. I will say the lines chosen — and in this particular order — felt a tad random, and their placement in the puzzle made me feel like I was jumping around a lot and didn’t quite flow. 

I liked a lot of the words and clues in the puzzle. Aside from the crosswordese three-letter words in the east and west of the puzzle (bookended by RBG and MLK), there wasn’t too much we see often in the way of clues/answers. That made the puzzle slightly more challenging at times but also made it more intriguing. FORSAKEN (9D: Abandoned) was a good, long down. SHROOM (5D: Psychedelic fungus, slangily) was likewise a fun word for the puzzle. SLAIN (68A: Like the dragon at the end of a hero's tale) was a cute clue/answer combo. I liked 27D: Swallows, e.g. as BIRDS once I finally figured out the clue was referring to birds and not the act of swallowing. The clue for ROGET (32D: Name that's practically synonymous with synonyms) was fun, amusing, diverting, and pleasing. And you didn’t think I’d forget to bring up KOREAN pop (12D: The "K" of K-pop), did you?! K-pop is an amazing genre, and everyone on the planet should check out (and ultimately fall in love with) BTS. [Here’s one of my favorite songs by them, just for kicks.] 

I felt like I should’ve been faster at solving, but I kept having to jump around and also got tripped up on a few key sections. I actually watched some of the Popeye cartoons, but I’ve never heard the name of the creator Elzie SEGAR (48D) before. (He died in 1938.) I similarly got tripped up by MUD EEL (44A: Swamp-dwelling salamander), which I’d never heard of; I couldn’t wrap my head around that being two words and finished the puzzle thinking, “What the heck is a mudeel?” How would you even pronounce “mudeel”? 

I have a bone to pick with the word KEMPT (71A: Neat and tidy). I know it’s technically a word, but I really don’t think it’s used much, and it’s a pretty ugly word. Sure, things are “unkempt,” but KEMPT? That feels very wrong. I felt the same about REPRO (19A: Not an original) and hated RONA (61D: Covid-19) as a nickname for COVID. I can’t quite explain it, but I had a visceral reaction to seeing that in the puzzle. 

I didn’t mean to end on a dour note there. But, overall, I did still enjoy the puzzle!

  • Absolutely loved seeing Carey ELWES (64D), star of maybe my favorite movie of all time (“The Princess Bride”) and also an amazing guest star of one of my favorite shows of all time (“Psych”), among many other roles. 
  • Anyone else have an annoying gold banner at the top of their webpage advertising an all access sale? It kept messing with my screen and how I’d view the puzzle. 
  • I had a hard time getting 59D: Knucklehead as SIMP, because my most-known definition of SIMP is closer to the Urban Dictionary one, and I completely forgot that a SIMP could also be a knucklehead/foolish person. 
  • I was chopping an ONION (16A: Producer of tears in the kitchen) last night for dinner, and it definitely made me cry. I’ve never been good at dealing with onions, and my eyes will legitimately always tear up and feel like they’re burning. I’ve tried so many tricks for cutting them, too, but none of them work consistently for me, although my sister swears by having a wet paper towel on the cutting board near the onion. 
  • Fun fact of the day… As we know, TMI (67D: "Eww! I didn't need to know that!") stands for “too much information” and is often something that’s overly personal/gross. I learned from watching Korean media, though, that people in Korea seem to use TMI differently — it’s used more to just share random facts about their day rather than anything overly personal. I figured that out when someone said their TMI was what they had for breakfast, and I was very confused.
  • Another fun fact for today from the GREEN EGGS AND HAM Wikipedia page: "The vocabulary of the text consists of just 50 words and was the result of a bet between Seuss and Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss's publisher, that Seuss (after completing “The Cat in the Hat” using 236 words) could not complete an entire book without exceeding that limit. The 50 words are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you. "Anywhere" is the only word used that has more than one syllable."
And that's all from me. See you in March!

Signed, Clare, a rare bear sitting over there in a chair playing solitaire, with wet hair. So there.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Italian painter Guido / MON 2-27-23 / Viewer-supported TV network / Maker of instant pictures since 1948 / Surrealist with a trademark mustache / 1815 novel on which Clueless was based / Classic toy with the jingle lyric a spring a spring a marvelous thing

Monday, February 27, 2023

Constructor: David Rockow

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BEAR WITH ME (32A: "Please be patient" ... or a literal description of 15-, 28-, 39- and 52-Across?) — the letters "ME" and also letters spelling out a type of "bear" are found in the circled squares inside the theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • POLAROID CAMERA (15A: Maker of instant pictures since 1948)
  • "MEN IN BLACK" (28A: 1997 Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones blockbuster)
  • JAMEBROWN (39A: "The Godfather of Soul")
  • MOMENT IN THE SUN (52A: Brief time to shine)
Word of the Day: Sun bear (see 52A) —

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is a species in the family Ursidae (the only species in the genus Helarctos) occurring in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. It is the smallest bear, standing nearly 70 centimetres (28 inches) at the shoulder and weighing 25–65 kilograms (55–143 pounds). It is stockily built, with large paws, strongly curved claws, small rounded ears and a short snout. The fur is generally jet-black, but can vary from grey to red. Sun bears get their name from the characteristic orange to cream coloured chest patch. Its unique morphology—inward-turned front feet, flattened chest, powerful forelimbs with large claws—suggests adaptations for climbing.

The most arboreal (tree-living) of all bears, the sun bear is an excellent climber and sunbathes or sleeps in trees 2 to 7 metres (7 to 23 feet) above the ground. It is mainly active during the day, though nocturnality might be more common in areas frequented by humans. Sun bears tend to remain solitary but sometimes occur in pairs (such as a mother and her cub). They do not seem to hibernate, possibly because food resources are available the whole year throughout the range. Being omnivores, sun bears have a broad diet including ants, bees, beetles, honey, termites and plant material such as seeds and several kinds of fruits; vertebrates such as birds and deer are also eaten occasionally. They breed throughout the year; individuals become sexually mature at two to four years of age. Litters comprise one or two cubs that remain with their mother for around three years.

The range of the sun bear is bound by northeastern India to the north and extends south to southeast through Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in mainland Asia to Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia to the south. These bears are threatened by heavy deforestation and illegal hunting for food and the wildlife trade; they are also harmed in conflicts with humans when they enter farmlands, plantations and orchards. The global population is estimated to have declined by 35% over the past three decades. The IUCN has listed this species as vulnerable. (wikipedia)

• • •

I feel like the NYTXW is in a bit of a struggle rut right now. The themed stuff just isn't landing. I like the spirit of this one ... that is, I want to like it, and I do like the revealer, but the actual execution of the theme leaves ME a little cold. I guess the "bears" are "with" "ME" in the sense that the letters strings do in fact appear in the same phrase ... so that's something. But I think I want / expect something tighter and/or more surprising. I think the thing that bothers me most is the inconsistency in the execution—specifically, that fact that POLAR is (properly, IMO) buried/hidden in its answer (POLAROID CAMERA), whereas BLACK and BROWN and SUN are just sitting there out in the open, as standalone words. I can see how it would be very hard if not impossible to pull this theme off, given its current parameters, while also burying/hiding BLACK and BROWN and SUN. Probably hard to bury/hide those words under any circumstances. Still, it's grating to my brain to see one answer do the better / harder / more elegant thing and then see the others just bail out. Also, the narrow size of the grid is making me sad, especially since there still seem to be a lot of black squares. It's like I'm doing NYTXW Lite. But the main issue is that the theme is just OK. It's not bad. It's not. But it's not delightful either. If one of the bears had been COCAINE ... it's possible I'd feel different. 

MOMENT IN THE SUN isn't as common as DAY IN THE SUN (to say nothing of PLACE IN THE SUN), but it's a legit phrase. Its greatest virtue is that it's 14 letters long, and thus balances out POLAROID CAMERA; sometimes you just gotta go with what fits. The fill today added to my overall feeling of disappointment. It's pretty tepid and bland. The grid structure means there's lots and lots of short stuff, and it's tough to make short stuff really sing. It's also tough to get excited about an answer like LOANCAP (23A: Borrower's limit). I can't imagine burning one of my few longer answers on something as snore-y as LOANCAP. I also would've redone my entire grid just to get rid of RENI, which is the kind of non-Monday ye-olde short fill that really grates on my brain (42D: Italian painter Guido). The last time RENI appeared in the NYTXW on a day that wasn't Fri / Sat / Sun was in 2002 (!), and even then it was on Thursday. The last time it appeared on Monday was in 1994 (!!). It's tough when you back yourself into a corner by setting up your themers in such a way that you have to make R--I work. That is not a letter combination that wants to work. You can't do much of anything with that, and so you end up with artists you'd never put in a puzzle unless you Absolutely had to ... and on a Monday. Sigh. Nothing else seems outright objectionable, but there's a lot of SMEE-level stuff in there, and not enough longer or stronger fill to mitigate it. In short, this is an OK puzzle, but I haven't done a better-than-OK themed puzzle in the past week and it's getting me down. 

From a Downs-only perspective (which is how I solve all Mondays now), this was very easy. RENI was the one real killer, since I have no idea who that is *and* STANLE- really looked like it wanted to be STANLEY. But then RYNI seemed completely wrong, and was, so I just tore out the middle letters, tried to make other letters work with the Acrosses, and finally saw the possibility of STAN LEE / RENI. Beyond that, the NW and SE corners were a little tough (as banks of 6+-letter answers tend to be when solving Downs-only), but the themers eventually helped me work it all out. I had INN before BAR (4D: Tavern), but I think that's it as far as initially wrong answers go. I like PKS (penalty kicks) as an abbr. (26D: Tie-breaking soccer shots: Abbr.). At least, I like it as much as I can like a 3-letter abbr. MLS season just started, and I've recently decided to start following it, so football stuff is  gonna excite maybe a little more than it used to. Go Loons!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Western settlement area led by Brigham Young / SUN 2-26-23 / Ceramic stewpot / Screenwriter/actress Michaela / Flagella relatives / Adjust the spacing between in typography / Pancake served with sambar / Simple graphics editor informally / Onetime Yves Saint Laurent employer / Condiment drizzled on a taco / Yiddish for pancake

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Double-Doubles" — wacky phrases made by doubling two different letters in a familiar phrase:

Theme answers:
  • CHRISTMAS CAR ROLL (23A: Slow-driving holiday parade in December?) (from "Christmas carol")
  • ADD MITT'S DEFEAT (37A: Update Wikipedia after the 2012 election?) (from "admits defeat")
  • BEE ATTITUDES (52A: Subject of study for an insect psychologist?) (from "Beatitudes")
  • "WE'LL COME, MATT" (76A: Promise from actor Damon's friends regarding his movie premiere?) (from "welcome mat")
  • "FOR THEE, ASS KING!" (88A: Words accompanying an offering to the ruler of the donkeys?) (from "for the asking")
  • MISS INN FORMATION (104A: Arrive too late to see a hotel being built?) (from "misinformation")
Word of the Day: ETRURIA (10D: Ancient Italian region) —
Etruria (/əˈtrʊəriə/) was a region of Central Italy, located in an area that covered part of what are now most of Tuscany, northern Lazio, and northern and western Umbria. [...] Rome was influenced strongly by the Etruscans even though it was separated from the early boundary of Etruria by the Silva Ciminia, the Ciminian Forest. A series of Etruscan kings ruled Rome until 509 BC, when the last Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was removed from power and the Roman Republic was established. The Etruscans are credited with influencing Roman architecture and ritual practice; it was under the Etruscan kings that important structures such as the Capitolium, Cloaca Maxima, and Via Sacra were realized. // The Etruscan civilization was responsible for much of the Greek culture imported into early Republican Rome, including the twelve Olympian deities, the growing of olives and grapes, the Latin alphabet (adapted from the Greek alphabet), architecture (such as the arch), and engineering elements such as sewers and drainage systems.

• • •

Gonna make this a fairly short write-up today, partly because I've got teaching work to get to, but mostly because this puzzle was depressing. It felt phoned-in. MEH doesn't even begin to cover it. It was almost CYNICal. The core concept is so listless, and yields such mediocre results, that I don't fully understand why it was accepted. You add two letters ... for wackiness ... but why though? I mean, this concept is so basic that the themers really Really need to sizzle, and they barely flicker. MISS INN FORMATION? Where is the chuckle? I see you are doing things with letters, but if that's the end result, what is the point? I will give you "FOR THEE, ASS KING!" (a nice imaginary toast), and there's a kind of cleverness to ADD MITT'S DEFEAT that I kind of like, but CHRISTMAS CAR ROLL ... CAR ROLL? Really? What is that? That's not even a thing. Is it? I mean, even among wacky things, it's barely imaginable. "Hop in, we're going to a CAR ROLL!" Woof. The theme is just ... limp. Anemic. Startlingly anemic, if that's even possible. I guess those triple 9-stacks on the sides are supposed to provide some kind of distraction, some interesting non-thematic entertainment, but ... well, they're not bad, but they don't do nearly enough to make up for this non-theme. I'm gonna play STEELY DAN now, in an effort to revive my spirits.

TAHOMA!?!?! Yipes. That's a known thing? Thank god "OH, HI" was undeniable, because if you're talking about geographical stuff in the state of Washington, and you give me TA-OMA, well there's only one letter that's going in that space, and it AIN'T "H" (16D: Mount Rainier's ___ Glacier). That was the one "WTF!?" scary moment in a puzzle that was otherwise ploddingly easy. FORELIMB???  (74D: Body part that a dog uses to shake). I guess that's a technical term. I wanted paw, or maybe FOREPAW, but "limb" ... I rarely think of dogs in terms of their "limbs." Dogs shake with their paws, the way humans shake with their hands (Not Their Limbs!!). So weird. As for MSPAINT (85D: Simple graphics editor, informally) ... sigh, I get that people want to be "original" and "debut" answers because ... well, I don't know, maybe there's some feeling of satisfaction there, but it would be great if those "debut" answers were not sad garbage. To be fair, I wouldn't like MACPAINT either, but it's never appeared appeared in the NYTXW before, in case you're a constructor who's really desperate to "debut" something (Please don't)

[Hasn't been used yet!]

I've seen typographically-minded people talk about "kerning" a lot, but I don't think I've ever seen KERN as a verb, so that was interesting (92D: Adjust the spacing between, in typography). The one thing this grid really had going for it was food. Yes, let's DO LUNCH. Let's go. FRIED OKRA, yes, tacos with CREMA, yes, and then, I dunno, how about every kind of pancake you can think of, or ... maybe just DOSA and BLINI and, sure, LATKE too, since that's (apparently) Yiddish for "pancake." We can attack the rest of the pancake family some other day. The other thing this puzzle has a lot of, besides pancakes, is ass. Lots of ass. First there's PATOOT (5D: Tuchus). Then there's the ASS KING crossing the double-ASS of ASSASSIN. There were a few proper nouns I can see giving people a little trouble (REMINI, ETRURIA, COEL), but the crosses are all fair, so I can't see any of those names holding anyone up for too long. Really hope you enjoyed the "humor" involved in this whole double-doubling adventure. This was a sad week for themed puzzles overall. Monday's FUSEBOXES puzzle has looked better and better with every passing day this week. Hope tomorrow's Monday puzzle has the same tight concept, light touch, and rejuvenating energy. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. looks like it's time for another incarnation of the Boswords online crossword puzzle tournament. This time, it's the Boswords 2023 Spring Themeless League! Here's League organizer John Lieb with the details:
Registration for the Boswords 2023 Spring Themeless League is now open! This 10-week event starts with a Preseason puzzle on Monday, February 27 and features weekly themeless puzzles -- clued at three levels of difficulty -- from an all-star roster of constructors and are edited by Brad Wilber. To register, to solve a practice puzzle, to view the constructor line-up, and to learn more, go to www.boswords.org
Looks like I am going to be "competing" this time, especially since I am told you can solve each week's puzzle any time during that week. Hard to say I "don't have time" when it's just one puzzle a week and I can solve it whenever I want! Boswords puzzles are always top-notch, so this is definitely worth adding to your puzzle-solving schedule, if you are the kind of person who has a puzzle-solving schedule (you know who you are, I see you). Give it a shot.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Turn follower in Texas Hold Em / SAT 2-25-23 / Slangy catchphrase of encouragement / Dessert portmanteau / Fictional student of the Lowood School / Nickname that's an alternative to Pat

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Constructor: Trent H. Evans

Relative difficulty: Easy (seemed like it should've been hard and yet I never got stuck even a little)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Jennie GARTH (41D: Jennie ___, co-star of "Beverly Hills, 90210") —
Jennifer Eve Garth (born April 3, 1972) is an American actress. She is known for starring as Kelly Taylorthroughout the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise and Val Tyler on the sitcom What I Like About You (2002–06). In 2012, she starred in her own reality show, Jennie Garth: A Little Bit Country on CMT. Her memoir titled Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde was published by New American Library on April 1, 2014. (wikipedia)
• • •

[the canonical spelling]
I liked this puzzle fine even though it was actively trying to make me not like it. And I thought *yesterday's* puzzle was not my vibe! Turns out that, as far as "out of my wheelhouse" goes, Millennial/Gen-Z Woman (i.e. Friday's puzzle) is way way Way closer to where I live (or want to live) than Conservative Middle-Aged White Man (today's puzzle). I mean, this puzzle's throwing all the "Things Guys Like That I Do Not Care About" stuff at me—stocks & bonds (YIELDS, RATE), welding (ARCING), poker (RIVER CARD), cars (CAR ENGINE), right-wing white-guy catchphrases ("GET 'ER DONE!"). It's a puzzle for the FRAT BOY-turned-suburban DAD. It's even got cruelty (MEANEST) and denial of responsibility ("IT WASN'T ME!"). And the LOL cherry on top: ROGAINE. Yes. This puzzle would use ROGAINE. I do believe that. Me, I just shaved my head. Anyway, this was a CERTAIN kind of man's puzzle and that man was not me. Plus, it has the grid structure I typically hate, i.e. highly segmented, deeply quadranted, such that it feels like you're doing four separate puzzles (five if you count the middle), and you can easily get well and truly stuck in every corner. Whatever the opposite of flow is, that is what grids like this have. It's dead end after dead end and good luck to you... 

And yet! Despite the "not my vibe" content, despite the deliberately unfun grid structure, I enjoyed the solve, largely because it felt like the puzzle was really trying to fight me but I was knocking down everything it could throw at me—all the junk I don't really care for, all the potential traps and dead-ends, and *alllll* of the "look at my tricky clue"s! I felt immortal walking through this one. Like Keanu at the end of "The Matrix"—nothing could touch me. I could feel that it was probably a "hard" puzzle—lots of tricky clues, lots (and lots and lots and lots) of names—but there was just no stopping me. And—the most important part—the fill was actually strong and clean. Not my thing, but not groan- or cringe-inducing either. Nothing forced or ugly (well, "GET 'ER DONE" is ugly, but it's unfortunately a very real thing). So this was a rare experience where I thought like the puzzle hated me, like it was saying "OH, IT'S ON!" the way some dumb fake tough guy might, but I managed not only to defeat it, but to make friends with it as well. This puzzle definitely voted for Trump, but we're still gonna have a beer later. It's fine.

My first thought for 1A: Dessert portmanteau was FRO-YO, but I discarded the thought because ... well because I somehow reasoned that a "portmanteau" needed to have the tail end of one of the words as part of its ... manteau? Skirt + shorts = SKORT. Turkey + Duck + Chicken = TURDUCKEN. But with FRO-YO ... where's the -zen!? Where's the -gurt, man!? Apparently my understanding of "portmanteau" was way too limited. But that corner was still easy to get into from ON TOE + ROBIN + AGLET + OBLIGES etc.

This was the part where I thought things were going to toughen up considerably, but I actually got one of those Downs to dip into the middle of the grid and whaddyaknow, I hooked something. RAN OVER went in, and then I kind of reasoned out the LOW (of LOW END) and the HOW (of "HOW ARE YOU?"), and then HIRE and bam, one of the long Acrosses bit:

[not pictured: GOAD before PROD (25D: Spur)]

The center came together from there. The path into the NE was easy because of THOREAU (not that I knew it, but there are only so many writer names ending in -EAU), and the SE was easy because I had GS- already in place and didn't even need to look at the clue (42A: Bit of attire that shares its name with part of a musical instrument) to know that it was G-STRING. SW looked like it might be harder to get into, but I knew GERE and GARTH, and we just had the word GENERA in the puzzle some time in the past couple weeks, so no problems there either:

[“Digital” refers to fingers here]

Mistakes? Well, I had SIDE before WIDE (8D: Far left or far right, maybe), of course, and GOAD before PROD (25D: Spur), but that's really it. Nothing I loved about this puzzle, but nothing I hated either, and it definitely provided that antagonistic Saturday energy, even if it didn't put up much resistance in the end. I think the NE and SW corners are probably the nicest parts of the grid—solid, bright stacks, without a cringey short cross in sight. Sometimes you can actually enjoy things that weren't meant for you at all. If the craftsmanship is there. Which it was. Time for coffee. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Spirit of Oaxaca / FRI 2-24-23 / What musicians pluck on an mbira / Metaphor for fitting items into a moving van / Sources of psilocybin informally / Transport in the film Roman Holiday / Green cappuccino alternative / Question from a friendly interviewer / One of two penguin species endemic to Antarctica / Lizard with a third eye / Emphatic confirmation about oneself

Friday, February 24, 2023

Constructor: Margaret Seikel and Sophia Maymudes

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: LEAD climbing (2D: ___ climbing (discipline that debuted at the 2020 Olympics)) —
Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest.
• • •

[8D: One of two penguin species
endemic to Antarctica
This is a solid puzzle, though it didn't provide the whooshy flow that I love to see on Friday. I think this may be due to the fact that there just aren't that many flow corridors (or "flow-idors" ... just kidding, that's not a term). That is, there are only four (!) answers of eight letters or longer, and they all run Across, in what is conventionally a themed-puzzle pattern. This had me thinking that the puzzle was themed at first, especially since the first two long Acrosses both get "?" clues, the way wacky theme clues might. I had a momentary "no, not a theme, not on my precious themeless Friday!" panic attack and so quickly jumped to the next long Across, saw it had a regular, non-"?" clue, and breathed a sigh of relief. Those long Acrosses just look theme-ish. But they aren't. I hope. If they are, hoo boy did I miss the theme. Let's just say there's no theme. "There's no theme." There, that's better. But back to my original point—the fill runs short today, with very few marquee answers, and the only marquee answer I really loved was SNEAKERHEAD (22A: One who collects just for kicks?) ("kicks" are another word for "shoes"). I want to love NO-MAKEUP MAKEUP, but I don't know what it is (13A: Discreet look?). Is it make-up that is supposed to make you look like you aren't wearing any? If so, that ... I just ... I don't get it. It's make-up still, right? Is it just that you don't look like a clown? Or are there just no obvious non-face elements (like blue, or glitter)? I've never dated / married people who wore much make-up, so you got me here. OK, google tells me:
“No-makeup makeup is makeup that you wear that just slightly enhances your features in a very natural and minimal way,” says makeup artist Lindsay Katsuk.
I wrote in NO MAKE-UP MONDAY. Seemed legit. "I didn't know that was a thing. Cool!" Alas, no. To be very clear, I'm not mad at this answer at all. It seems original and others will recognize it and enjoy it. It's just one of those answers that missed me. I do like its fearless repetition of MAKE-UP. Bold. 

["Put on a little make-up, make-up..."]

Wish I could like anything about CONTENT CREATOR, but it just reminds me of the reduction of everything online to the undifferentiated sludge of "content." Gotta fill that feed, get those posts up, go go go. Distraction arms race leading god knows where. "Content" has a dystopian corporate vagueness that makes my skin crawl. But there's no doubting that CONTENT CREATOR is a type of ... person. And it's an original answer. It's just that seeing it doesn't make me feel good feelings. But again, not all puzzles are for me, and that's good. Probably.

Never heard of LEAD climbing and wasn't sure if it was the "lead" as in "leader" or "lead" as in "lead balloon." "Why are they climbing [the element] LEAD?" I kind of briefly wondered. I also balked and rebalked at TINE (20A: What musicians pluck on an mbira). I think VINE and TONE were in there before TINE, which I stared at, thinking it must be wrong. I'm really Really glad I have seen ADÉLIE penguins before, because that "I" ... if I were a more novice solver, I might believe TONE or TUNE there. I mean, they're both musical—more (apparently) musical than TINE, that's for sure. Mbira are a "family" of Zimbabwean musical instruments, and each instrument consists of a "wooden board (often fitted with a resonator) with attached staggered metal TINEs" (wikipedia). Looking forward to seeing MBIRA in some future, let's say, Saturday grid. 

I didn't encounter much difficulty beyond the difficulties already mentioned. I could not get ROBYN from that particular clue (33D: One-named singer with the 1997 hit "Show Me Love") both because I don't know that song (I didn't discover ROBYN til sometime around 2010, I wanna say), and because if you say "hey, do you know that song from the '90s called "Show Me Love?" my response is gonna be "hell yes I do ... and it goes a little something like this":

[How is this "Show Me Love" also by a ROB(I)N!?!?!]

GAY ICON and POP STAR are fine answers, but I've seen them an awful lot now, and since they are the longest fill the grid has outside of the Big Four, their lack of freshness costs the puzzle some much-needed sizzle. Ooh, forgot to mention that I do love "I SURE AM!" (5D: Emphatic confirmation about oneself). I like the brash confidence, as well as the genuine originality.  And I like BALL HOG (31D: One unlikely to make a pass). And I really love MEZCAL (37D: Spirit of Oaxaca). Maybe too much. But we may be talking about my life and not the grid now, so let's wrap things up. Good puzzle, out of my wheelhouse, that's OK! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Navy vessel in 2000 headlines / THU 2-23-23 / Danny of the NBA / Holiday marking the Exodus from Egypt / Providers of assistance after a crash informally

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Constructor: Joe Deeney

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Odes — Words and phrases that begin "TO..." are clued as if they were the titles of odes (poem titles in which the "TO" is dedicative, e.g. "TO a Mouse"). The clues are imagined ... lines from the imagined ode, I guess:

Theme answers:
  • TOP RANKS (3D: "It is such fun to fool the folks / And make them butts of harmless jokes ...") ("To Pranks")
  • TOGAS (18A: "Whene'er I need to get a bump / I find it right there at the pump ...") ("To Gas")
  • TOASTERS (11D: "An avid flower lover sees / A fall bouquet that's full of these ...") ("To Asters")
  • TOADS (32A: "For me, the Super Bowl's a bore / But watching these is fun galore ...") ("To Ads")
  • TOMCATS (44A: "Exams a must for future docs / Make sure your answers fill the box ...") ("To MCATS")
  • TOWARDS (47A: "A hospital has many specialized places / Where patients recover in bright, cheerful spaces...") ("To Wards")
  • TORONTO BLUEJAYS (60A: "I don't have the words / That rightly commend / Cerulean birds / And Harry's best friend ...") ("To Ron, To Bluejays")
Word of the Day: U.S.S. COLE (42D: Navy vessel in 2000 headlines) —

The USS Cole bombing was a suicide attack by the terrorist group al-Qaeda against USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer of the United States Navy, on 12 October 2000, while she was being refueled in Yemen's Aden harbor.

Seventeen U.S. Navy sailors were killed and thirty-seven injured in the deadliest attack against a United States naval vessel since the USS Stark incident in 1987. (wikipedia)

• • •

I thought these were supposed to be TOASTS at first; since the clue is in quotation marks, I assumed the answer would be equivalent spoken words. I thought this for most of the solve. I wondered, "Do you say poems when you toast? ... that's weird." When I actually hit the word TOASTERS, I thought, "well, that's kind of clever, turning the speakers of all the theme answers into a theme answer itself." Only later ... honestly, only after reading the clue for ANON. (63A: Source of many an ode, in brief) ... did I realize, "wait, these aren't toasts ... they're odes. Or ... parts of odes? Anyway, the rhyming thing is because they're poems, not toasts after all." Since I already didn't care for the puzzle at all, and the potentially clever "TOASTERS" element was no longer clever, the "ode" revelation functioned as kind of a reverse "aha" ... more an "oh ... no." If the clues are odes and not toasts, then the clues and answers are now not really equivalent, unless we're to believe that the (extremely corny) poetry clues are actually *complete* odes (the ellipsis at the end of each clue strongly suggests otherwise). The idea seems to be that the clue is the opening lines (?) of an ode. Odd. Worse, though, is the corny poetry. It's just too much to take at 4:30am on a Thursday, or any day. It hurt so much I just stopped reading it and decided to just try to make a "TO-" word as quickly as I could from the crosses (the puzzle was so easy, this was not difficult at all). The puzzle does one thing right: double the gag for extreme wackiness at 60A: "I don't have the words / That rightly commend / Cerulean birds / And Harry's best friend ..." ("TO RON, TO BLUEJAYS"). Of course that clue is undermined by Yet Another Gratuitous Harry Potter Reference, but the answer at least is ambitious and funny, unlike the other themers, which are just regular "To"-starting terms with grim poetry attached.

A little terrorism with your morning puzzle, did you enjoy that? It's weird to make your toughest answer, the proper noun that people are likely to spend the most time on (U.S.S. COLE) ... it's weird to make that answer a ship famous only for the murder of 17 sailors on board. That is ... a choice. Sometimes, you have to ask yourself whether your "original" fill ... is worth it. The clue could've at least acknowledged *why* the "Navy vessel" was "in 2000 headlines." Here, the terrorism is hidden, so discovering it becomes ... part of the game? If you want to point to a terrorist attack, point to it—tell people *why* the ship is famous. Don't be all coy about it. It's like you're trying to leave unpleasantness out of the surface level of the puzzle, but ... the answer is inherently unpleasant, so the clue seems not just vague but intentionally coy. Weird way to handle terrorism. Overall, the fill was rickety and often off-putting. That NW corner, with OTOH OPPO SHORTE into ASTI AINGE etc. Rough. Even rougher: the utter misspelling of GRANDAD (8D: Family man) ... crossing a random Italian aria word (GIA!?)!??? If you're going to misspell a word, it should at least result in a cleaner, more interesting grid overall, but you can turn GRANDAD into a real word and make the grid cleaner just by turning GRANDAD to GRANTED. Try it! Change to TIA to SEA! Or ARA! Or whatever. Anything but what we've got. Again, the choices today, they are beyond my understanding.


How many I.T.- variations are we supposed to accept? I.T. PEOPLE may be the worst of the bunch, since it dodges the gender issue in the longest and most ungainly way possible (2D: Providers of assistance after a crash, informally). Again, not all "originality" is good. Despite its apparent redundancy, I like "I.T. TECH(S)" best. Short, to the point, and very very much in-the-language. Nothing was particularly hard today. I didn't know drumsticks had CONEs, so that slowed me down slightly (56D: Drumstick part), but otherwise, aside from that awful GRANDAD / GIA patch, not many speed impediments today. As far as good fill ... I liked DASHIKI (52A: Colorful garment). Adds, well, color to the grid. As for the rest of it ... well, if you like a certain kind of elaborate dad-humor, you're in luck. There's a cleverness to the the concept (parsing the "to-" words as ode titles), but the execution, particularly the cluing, just didn't work for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. 40D: Wanders around an airport, in brief? = TSA because TSA agents use "wands" to scan your body ... sometimes.

P.P.S. only just realized that the "Drumstick" in question today (at 56D: Drumstick part) is the ice cream ... CONE:
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TV producer Chaiken / WED 2-22-23 / Southeast Asian noodle dish invented in a nationalist recipe contest / Region in South America that's technically part of Europe / Greek city renowned for its olives / African country with its own 13-month calendar / Eminem song with a Guinness world record for "most words in a hit single" (1, 560 in six minutes) / Pronounced features of American Craftsman-style houses

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Constructor: Adam Wagner

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: ONOMATOPOEIA (52A: Word sounded out by the ends of 20-, 35- and 40-Across) — 

  • CHEEP (1A: Bird's sound)
  • ROAR (6A: Lion's sound)
  • BARK (10A: Dog's sound)
  • HISS (63A: Snake's sound)
  • PURR (64A: Cat's sound)
  • SNORT (65A: Pig's sound)
Other theme answers:
  • FRENCH GUIANA (20A: Region in South America that's technically part of Europe)
  • KALAMATA (35A: Greek city renowned for its olives)
  • ETHIOPIA (40A: African country with its own 13-month calendar)
Word of the Day: ONOMATOPOEIA (52A) —
the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoosizzle ).
"a relatively large number of bird names arise by onomatopoeia"
• • •

Finished this one without having any idea what the theme was. First step: notice that you can sound out the word "ONOMATOPOEIA" from the endings of the longer theme answers ... but that ... is not ... an example of ONOMATOPOEIA. That's just sounding things out. So I was, naturally, confused. Eventually I noticed the rather innocuous-looking animal sounds on the top and bottom edges of the grid and thought "oh ... no ... that's not it ... IS IT?" Because ... sigh ... those are just animal sounds. I mean some, yes, are definitely solid examples of the word in question (HISS, PURR), but BARK? SNORT? First of all, WOOF and OINK would like a word ... Second, BARK and SNORT just seem like ... normal words. I can definitely say these words and make them sound like animal noises, but is that their actual derivation? I mean, were the Anglo-Saxons really imitating their domesticated canines when they used the term beorcan? ARF, YIP, YAP, these are [Dog's sound]s that are written like they sound. I don't usually think of ROAR, BARK or SNORT as onomatopoetic, and even if there's some defense of categorizing them as such, this themer set seems arbitrary and odd. Why animals? Lots of ONOMATOPOEIA have nothing to do with animals? If animals, why does the theme stuff, the longer answers, have Nothing To Do With Animals? Are there other examples of ONOMATOPOEIA in the grid that I'm missing? If BARK is an example, then for all I know any of these words might be examples. Is WELP? Is SWILL? Is WAH!?!? ALO!? Is PETS part of the theme? Is there a BEAR noise in here somewhere? I see the vague association of the different theme elements with sound, but that's all I'm really seeing. The whole thing just doesn't seem clear or coherent enough. It's got animal sounds up top and below, and it's got a little sound-y out-y game in the middle, but those two parts don't have much if anything to do with one another. It's like two separate elements that want to come together and make sense, but don't.

The grid seemed clean enough, if not particularly interesting. BREAST MILK was probably the most surprising and therefore best thing in there (10D: Liquid that may be pumped). "Surprising" because I had trouble parsing it from the middle-to-late letters. This was in part due to having IRENE instead of ILENE in there at 42A: TV producer Chaiken. It's also (slightly) surprising because it's the kind of answer the NYTXW would've BALKed at not that long ago, when they were much more squeamish about bodily fluids, much more committed to the "breakfast test." BREAST MILK *is* breakfast for some! So anyway, liked it, glad it's here. I also liked KIDS MENU. It makes a funny little counterpart to BREAST MILK.

The puzzle was, overall, astonishingly easy. Close to Monday in its easiness. Beyond the ILENE/IRENE thing, I don't know where I had any trouble. I guess it took me a few crosses to get the "?" clue at 1D: Ones who will give you a mouthful? (CHEFS), but "?" clues frequently slow me down, no matter what day of the week they appear on. All the proper nouns were familiar to me. I know lots of Eminem songs, but I know "RAP GOD" only from crosswords. This is because I was paying attention to pop-rap in the late '90s / early '00s, but in 2013 (when "RAP GOD" came out), not so much. But the point is I do know it now, having seen it at least once before in the grid, so I was able to put RAP over GOD there, no problem (6D: Eminem song with a Guinness world record for "most words in a hit single" (1, 560 in six minutes)). Oh, and I had trouble with WAXER, which I did not know was a stand-alone job title. I was really looking for something to do with hair, and ... well, I guess that's what I ultimately found, just ... not the kind of hair I was looking for. I hope you find what you're looking for today. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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