Sister brand of Mazola / FRI 3-31-23 / Diacritic over the 'r' in Dvorak / Show first performed during 1994's Eurovision Song Contest / Joel who once played Wyatt Earp in film / Blended numbers / Classic cars that rivaled the Ford Maverick and Plymouth Duster

Friday, March 31, 2023

Constructor: Rich Norris

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PART SONGS (9D: Blended numbers) —
Strictly any song written for several vocal parts, but in practice, a comp. for male, female, or mixed vv. (usually but not necessarily unacc.) which is not contrapuntal like the madrigal but has the melody in the highest part with accompanying harmonies in the other vv. Either through‐composed (Durchkomponiert) or strophic (verse‐repeating). Is a particularly Eng. genre, developing in popularity with growth of choral socs. in early 19th cent., so there are many examples by Pearsall, Barnby, Stanford, Elgar, Delius, Warlock, and many others. But examples exist by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, etc. (Oxford Reference)
• • •

This was not for me. In the extreme. Felt like being bludgeoned with olde-tymeiness. I was having flashbacks, seeing fill I hadn't seen in two, four, twenty-four years, and for the life of me I could not find more than a wisp of contemporary ... anything. For real, this could've come out in the late '90s, No Problem. '80s, possibly, were it not for NEVE Campbell. How long has it been since there were CHEVY NOVAS? (Not since the '80s). How long has it been since someone tried to use THEPO in a grid? [Just last year!? Wow, I blocked that out] When's the last time someone used the term POOBAHS unironically? I think I learned that term from "Happy Days," which means it was already old-timey 45 years ago. I learned CANTAB from crosswords and then promptly stopped thinking about it because constructors got better at filling grids and also got slightly less Ivy-centric in their thinking (I think of CANTAB like I think of ELIHU Yale, i.e. really, I have to know this?). I love Joel MCCREA (26D: Joel who once played Wyatt Earp in film), but then I watch more old movies than is probably healthy, and anyway, what a borrrrrrring clue for MCCREA—a charming, dreamy leading man who was the star of some of the greatest movies of the '40s, including Sullivan's Travels and one of my five favorite movies of all time, The More the Merrier (with JEAN ARTHUR, my No. 1 all-time movie crush) (OK, maybe tied with Teri Garr). Laura INNES isn't a contemporary reference any more, not since RIVERDANCE was a thing (seriously, has this puzzle been sitting in a drawer since '97?). I really liked "JUST SAY IT!" as that was the one thing that felt like it had a pulse. Puzzles should have broad frames of reference and the cluing should be alive to the language of today. This one fell short on both counts. The good stuff was not nearly good enough, or widespread enough, to offset the overall musty feel of the grid. 

What is Mazola? (10A: Sister brand of Mazola). Is that also bygone? Oh, no, just corn oil. People use that? It's weird that the puzzle wants to make ARGO and EYRE non-literary. Trying to pretend they're not literary just makes them fussier / weirder, not better. DIET PILLS are awful in real life and so awful in the grid. It's GOLDEN AGE not GOLDEN ERA (12D: Prosperous period). I have no idea what PART SONGS are. Never heard the term. Ever, not once. Is that like a round song, like "Frère Jacques"? Oof, I had PART and then no idea. Eventually I just guessed SONGS because I figured well, that's a word that means "numbers," so OK. I just read the definition of PART SONGS and honestly still don't get it. Here, you read it. I'll stipulate that PART SONGS is a *fantastic* answer and that I'm just ignorant. The puzzle really needs a win so ... sure, PART SONGS, great, congratulations. Musically, I'm more familiar with the SCHROEDER REPERTOIRE, i.e. Beethoven and ... well Beethoven. OK, more than that. Choral music was just never ever (ever) really my thing. I listen to classical music precisely so I don't have to deal with the mental clutter of words (i.e. so I can take a break from words, which I love, but omg so many words, writing and lecturing and reading and what not, sometimes I need them to stop). 

Unsurprisingly, given how before (even) my time this puzzle feels, it was a bit of a struggle for me. No idea on ARGO. Absolutely no idea on HACEK (34A: Diacritic over the "r" in "Dvorák). I thought he was an NHLER ... damn, that was Dominik HASEK, who somehow Also Has A HACEK In His Name (over the "S") ... he was big in the '90s, so he'd've fit right in to this grid. I guess EMBASSY Row is what you call the place where embassies ... are? So that's what that clue means ... I think (40D: Row house?). Apple ... INC? Really, that's your INC clue? Yeesh. PSST and AHEM before "LOOK!" (16A: Attention-getting cry). SST before TNT. SERTA before SEALY (klassic kealoa*) (15D: Company for a king or queen). I hope you all found ways to enjoy this. Maybe on a nostalgia level or something, I don't know. But I'm surprised that, with all the sizzling themeless grids that I know are being submitted and rejected, this one was deemed fit for the NYTXW. But if this was your jam, then ... OKEY-DOKEY. I'm happy for you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = a pair of words (normally short, common answers) that can be clued identically and that share at least one letter in common (in the same position). These are answers you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable, Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

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Hockey goalie's domain / THU 3-30-23 / Two-stringed Chinese instrument / Spaces where people pay to destroy household objects with sledgehammers / Sudden temporary loss of athletic ability / Lax lax option / Word rhymed with Intelligent in TS Eliot's The Waste Land / Shell propellers

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Constructor: Adam Wagner and Brooke Husic

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Double duty — familiar compound words & two-word phrases are clued "___ / ___," with the blank being a potential synonym for both parts of the words / phrases:

Theme answers:
  • RIB ROAST (16A: Tease / Tease)
  • CRAPSHOOT (10A: "Drat!" / "Drat!")
  • POTHEAD (34A: Toilet / Toilet)
  • GOT CAUGHT (30D: Heard / Heard)
  • DROPKICK (54A: Quit / Quit)
Word of the Day: ERHU (28D: Two-stringed Chinese instrument) —

The erhu (Chinese二胡pinyinèrhú[aɻ˥˩xu˧˥]) is a Chinese two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle, and is sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.

It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. As a very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as pop, rock and jazz. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well the theme is really clever and I admire it a whole bunch. I discovered the gimmick early (not hard) and ... well, there it was. Weirdly, ended up being mostly overshadowed by other, tougher parts of the puzzle—by toughness in general, and a toughness that was achieved ... not always in ways I love. Let me talk about toughness I loved, first: that clue on ARM HAIR (22D: Tricep curls?). Completely baffling to me at first. And at second. Maddening. I had the ARM part and still no bleeping idea. But then I worked some crosses and finally got it, and after being so mad at that clue ... I had to admit it was brilliant. Scratch that; "had to admit" sounds like I was grudging, and I wasn't. I sincerely thought "damn, that's good," in the moment, as I was solving. Just a great repurposing of a familiar phrase. When difficulty ends with a revelation like *that*, I'm thrilled. Difficulty that comes from a two-string instrument I don't know and have no hope in hell of spelling ... that kind of difficulty is less thrilling. This is not a knock on the validity of ERHU. It's a real thing alright, and not a bygone one either. But it's never been in the NYTXW before, and my knowledge of Chinese stringed instruments begins and ends with the zither and the KOTO (the first and only thing I wanted, despite its having many more than two strings) [and despite—as one of today's commenters has noted—the KOTO's being *Japanese*]. And ERHU had a cascading ... or at least an amplifying effect, helping to make the SW corner the hardest section By A Longshot, such that it is almost all I remember. Unfortunately, it's also the corner with the most unpleasantness / unlikeable things. So even though I think this theme rules, my experience was more slog than joyride. 

So, the SW corner. There's ERHU, sure, but it crosses HITS AT (37A: Tries to swat). This is one of those ___SAT phrases where I have no idea what's supposed to happen in the blank. I thought maybe PAWSAT? BATSAT? Shrug. See also GAH, which I had as UGH and BAH before getting anywhere near GAH (44A: "Blast!"). It's really hard to get excited when the you are struggling *and* so much of your struggle is coming around answers that are ambiguous in this way—a CRAPSHOOT kind of way. SAW TO before SET TO down there as well (58A: Got busy on). You see how this gets dreary. Also, PC HELP is ... what is that? I mean, I can infer. But as a standalone answer it seems odd. "Tech support" is the service. Maybe IT HELP. PC HELP felt roll-your-own. But this is its third appearance in the NYTXW, so I guess it's a thing. Oh well. It's too bad that the long Downs are tangled in a bunch of ambiguous sludge, because they're fine, particularly GOING ONCE (29D: Presale alert?), which is maybe not the greatest standalone answer, but the "?" clue (again, hard as hell) works really well, and gave me that same "oh nice" feeling I had after getting ARM HAIR. I was subjected to SUH-WEET again (twice this month?!), but fool me once etc. No issues there. 

I resent being stumped by a "?" clue and then having the answer be a damned corporation, so the clue on MICRO, though clever, can go jump in a lake (8A: Soft opening?). Struggled with LUM, even though every part of her damn name(s) has been in the puzzle before (most often cluing NORA, I think) (31A: Nora ___ a.k.a. Awkwafina). Weird to me that SOAP PAD is a thing since I don't think I've ever called it that (20A: Brillo offering). It's definitely the name for those things you wash dishes with, but I think I just call them "dishwashing pads" or I don't call them anything. I wanted SOSPADS there, for sure. I have trouble believing RAGE ROOMS are real because they seem so stupid—seems like a fictional idea from a bad TV show that people started pretending was real—but reality is so often stupid these days, so, sure, RAGE ROOMS, whatever (32D: Spaces where people pay to destroy household objects with sledgehammers). If you say so.  Had EDIE before EVIE (57A: Nickname that sounds like its first two letters), though I did not have EDS before EVS (35D: Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs, for short). I wish I hadn't found the final part of this (the SW) so unpleasantly frustrating, because I really do believe the bones of this puzzle are solid, and there are definitely some brilliant cluing moments in here. I wonder how the rest of you FARED ... see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. The TSA would probably quibble with the idea that TSAPRE is "lax" (24A: Lax LAX option?)—I definitely see what you're doing there with the lax/LAX thing, very clever, but TSAPRE is faster because you have been pre-screened, right? "Lax" strongly implies "not up to snuff" or otherwise "insufficient" and seems inaccurate here. The "?" gives you some creative license, sure, but only some. Expedited screening is not "lax" screening.

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Prelude to bandwidth throttling / WED 3-29-23 / Ernst who studied sonic booms / Thai dish that translates as fried with soy sauce / Yogi's balancing stance with arms overhead / Specialized tableware for serving some Mexican food

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Constructor: Ben Zoon

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: anagrams — I dunno, I think that's it: four answers that are all anagrams of one another?

Theme answers:
  • DOOR LATCHES (17A: Fasteners near hasps ... and an anagram of 11-Down)
  • TRADE SCHOOL (11D: Vocational training provider ... and an anagram of 55-Across)
  • RED HOT COALS (55A: Challenge for a fire-walker ... and an anagram of 25-Down)
  • TACO HOLDERS (25D: Specialized tableware for serving some Mexican food ... and an anagram of 17-Across)
Word of the Day: PAD SEE EW (51A: Thai dish that translates as "fried with soy sauce") —

Pad see ew (phat si-io or pad siewThaiผัดซีอิ๊วRTGSphat si-iopronounced [pʰàt sīːʔíw]) is a stir-fried noodle dish that is commonly eaten in Thailand. It can be found easily among street food vendors and is also quite popular in Thai restaurants around the world. The origins of the dish can be traced to China from where the noodle stir-frying technique was brought.

The dish is prepared in a wok which allows the black soy sauce added at the end of the cooking process to stick to the noodles for an exaggerated caramelizing and charring effect. The dish may look a little burnt, but the charred smoky flavor is the defining feature of the dish.

The name of the dish translates to "fried with soy sauce". (wikipedia)

• • •

Well I have "WHO CARES!?" and "NOT A THEME" written at the top of my printed-out grid, so ... that's where I am this morning. I do not understand the gimmick. Or, rather, it appears that the gimmick is simply "these are all anagrams of each other," which is about the thinnest theme idea I've ever seen. I mean ... why? *Apt* anagrams I could take, or anagrams that had ... literally any purpose. I can't believe this was accepted, honestly. Obviously, if I am missing some key aspect of the theme, then my bad, my bad, but if this is it ... definitely the puzzle's bad. Sorry, there's nothing more to say about the theme because there's nothing there. Four answers, all anagrams, totally unrelated in any other way. I guess the cluing is supposed to be ... clever? Because it's circular, with one answer being clued as an anagram of another, and then that clue being clued as an anagram of the next, until each answer has referred to one other, and omg I'm boring myself to death just typing this. Right back to "WHO CARES!?"

As an easy themeless puzzle, which basically this is, this one is fine. Clean overall with a few nice bright spots. PAD SEE EW is delicious and looks great in the grid (three "E"s in a row! Not sure why that excites me ... FREE ENTERPRISE wouldn't excite me ... but then again, I can't eat FREE ENTERPRISE, so maybe tasty food gets more leeway). I did TREE POSE just yesterday—a staple of many yoga practices (39D: Yogi's balancing stance with arms overhead). It's a good one for not getting too attached to *success* because you can feel yourself wanting to really nail it (i.e. not fall), but then you're all clenched and goal-oriented and if you fall out of the pose you feel like you haven't "done it right," which is counterproductive and NO FUN, so I like to do variations that make it increasingly likely that I *will* fall (start with hands in prayer, then hands overheard, then you can arch back and look up, and then maybe close your eyes if you haven't fallen already ...). Build failure into the practice, it's fun! 

[she looks amazing! you will never look like this! embrace it!]

It's harder to be excited about something like DATACAP, one of those "original" answers that makes me think "but why?" (23A: Prelude to bandwidth throttling).Everyone out here trying to "debut" answers without thinking if they should, sigh (actually, this is the second appearance for DATACAP, which debuted four years ago, so let's all blame Pete Wentz for this one. Boo, Pete! (Pete is a great constructor, btw, which is why I feel comfortable doing my facetious booing here)). Hardly anyone carries FUEL CANs so that Tesla clue is weird (42D: Something a Tesla driver doesn't need to carry). I do get it, but pfft. Screw that Tesla guy, no way I'm using his car in a clue if I don't have to (and this one really didn't have to). I don't really get CHEAPIES as clued (9D: Bargain bin finds). CHEAPIES is a generic term that really only makes sense if you know the specific thing involved. I would say yes you find "cheap things" in bargain bins, and yes, CHEAPIES means cheap versions of things, but somehow ... you wouldn't say that you find CHEAPIES in bargain bins. Just rings wrong. 

No real struggles today. I had MAA for MOO (2D: Ranch sound) and KWS for KWH (note to self: for the billionth time, actually read the clue!) (40A: E.V. battery capacity unit). Didn't know RIDES, but it was easy to infer (32A: Snowboards, in lingo). Is KNELT not a word? I wrote in KNEELED wondering "is this how I say it?" (50A: Prepared to pop the question, say) That's all I got. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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Many a Marvel character / TUES 3-28-23 / Wyatt of the Wild West / Beverages with tasting notes / Bakery unit / Red gemstone

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday of March. Hope everyone is having a good start to your spring. I saw the cherry blossoms here in DC yesterday, and they were stunning — the sky was clear and bright blue, and the blossoms were at about their colorful, fragrant peak. It was just… imagine a lot of people… now multiply that by about tenfold. But, yes, I still got some lovely photos. I'm also enjoying the weather warming up because it means I can ride my bike without having to wear seven layers of clothing. And, of course, I’m staying up-to-date on all the sports happenings in the world, especially the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments. 

Anywho, onto the crossword!

 Daniel Kantor and Jay Kaskel

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy
THEME: Emphatic gestures that use a body part

Theme answers:
  • BROW WIPE (17A: [Phew! That was close!]) 
  • KNEE SLAP (26A: [Har-har-har!]) 
  • EYE ROLL (40A: [Puh-lease!]) 
  • FACEPALM (51A: [D'oh!]) 
  • FIST PUMP (64A: [Woo-hoo!])
Word of the Day: IDIOT (35A: Dostoyevsky novel about a "positively beautiful man," with "The") 
The Idiot is a novel by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was first published serially in the journal The Russian Messenger in 1868–69. The title is an ironic reference to the central character of the novel, Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a young man whose goodness, open-hearted simplicity and guilelessness lead many of the more worldly characters he encounters to mistakenly assume that he lacks intelligence and insight. In the character of Prince Myshkin, Dostoevsky set himself the task of depicting "the positively good and beautiful man." The novel examines the consequences of placing such a singular individual at the centre of the conflicts, desires, passions and egoism of worldly society, both for the man himself and for those with whom he becomes involved. (Wiki)
• • •
So that puzzle… existed. I don’t know. It was straightforward and fairly easy. The theme wasn’t overly special, but it was at least different from some of the usual themes we get. The gestures generally felt solid — except, I didn’t like BROW WIPE (17A); you wipe your brow, but I don’t think a BROW WIPE is a thing, is it? The theme didn’t take me very long to get, and once I got it, the answers came pretty easily. 

I think if you were in the mood for something kind of meh that you could do while listening to music and watching the South Carolina women win again in the NCAA tournament, you probably enjoyed this puzzle. On the other hand, if you wanted some inventive clues/answers with a really invigorating theme, this may not have been your favorite puzzle. 

I fell somewhere in between. There was some good to the puzzle. I don’t usually love bracket clues, but the theme used them well. PIE HOLE (30D: Mouth, slangily), SATCHEL (49A: Bag with a strap), LEMURS (66A: Madagascar's aye-ayes and sifakas), and TREETOP (28A: "Rock-a-Bye Baby" setting) were all fun words you don’t see that often in puzzles. The fill wasn’t too crosswordese-y. 

But, some of the puzzle just felt off. There was some laziness seemingly with ACT UP (46D: Make Mischief), EVENS UP (44D: Ties, as a score), and SHOOT EM UP (3D: Video game genre for Space Invaders) all having the same ending. Also, while I don’t blame the constructors for this, it was really poor timing to have an answer in the puzzle be SHOOT EM UP given Monday’s horrible events in Nashville. Having CRIMEA (8D: Black Sea peninsula) and RUSSIA (62A: Country that seized 8-Down in 2014) there in the puzzle felt somehow off to me, too — maybe it’s the clue for 62A, where “seized” is a pretty tame word for what RUSSIA did. 

I had “in the nude” rather than IN THE BUFF (36D: Not wearing any clothing) for a bit, which confused the SE corner for me before I saw the clue 68A: Douglas __ and knew the answer had to be FIR. I also had no idea what 25D: Chichi was. I’ve since Googled it, and I’m not convinced the definition of “chichi” really aligns with TONY. It seems the definition for TONY (not the award for excellence on Broadway) is aristocratic manner, fashionable, stylish, expensive. Chichi seems to be more about being elegant or trendy or elaborately ornamented in a pretentious way.

  • I was all set to make EMIL (60D: Actor Jannings who won the first Best Actor Oscar) the “word of the day,” but looking through his Wikipedia page, I quickly learned that he was a Swiss-born German actor and starred in a lot of Nazi propaganda films.He even apparently carried his Oscar around to prove he’d been associated with Hollywood. Not sure we needed him in the puzzle… 
  • Quick aside: Can anyone tell me why doornails are DEAD (57A)?! 
  • With 28D: "Rock-a-Bye Baby" setting, if you look at the lyrics for “Rock-a-bye-Baby,” why in the world is this a nursery rhyme? “Down will come baby, cradle and all.” I guess there’s room for interpretation, but I’m pretty sure the baby dies there. Similar vibes as “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” where the woman drowns. 
  • Thanks, but I didn’t really need another reminder about the TAMPA (12D) Bay Buccaneers winning the 2021 Super Bowl. As if Tom Brady really needed that seventh ring. Just rub it in, why don’t you? At least he’s retired — for now. Also, today I learned the city is just TAMPA, not “Tampa Bay.” 
  • SLOPES (69A: They can be slippery) reminded me of the recent Alpine ski racing season that just ended where Mikaela Shiffrin had one of the most phenomenal years of any athlete in any sport ever. Having just turned 28, she now has the most wins of any skier all time (among a whole bunch of other records she set) and also won the overall title and two discipline titles (aka three Globes). Her win percentage in the races she enters is at about 35 percent, which is just insane and is also the highest of any athlete in any sport (higher than Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods). In case you can’t tell, I’m a big Mikaela Shiffrin fan. She’s pretty much the best. Let’s get her into some crosswords, okay?
And that's it from me. Have a great April!

Signed, Clare [Head Scratch] Carroll

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Brazilian actress Sonia / MON 3-27-23 / Stark daughter on Game of Thrones / Cold War contest featuring Sputnik and Apollo / Crude outbuilding

Monday, March 27, 2023

Constructor: Simon Marotte and Trenton Lee Stewart

Relative difficulty: Easy? Sure, easy

THEME: A completely implausible game of 20 Questions where all the answers are bands whose names follow the pattern [verb]ING [noun] —

Theme answers:
  • COUNTING CROWS (19A: "Does the name contain an animal?" YES. "Is it a band fronted by Adam Duritz?" YES!)
  • SMASHING PUMPKINS (31A: With 45-Across, "Does the name contain a vegetable?" YES. "Is it a band fronted by Billy Corgan?" YES!)
  • ROLLING STONES (59A: "Does the name contain a mineral?" YES. "Is it a band fronted by Mick Jagger?" YES!)
Word of the Day: COUNTING CROWS (19A) —

Counting Crows is an American rock band from San Francisco, California. Formed in 1991, the band consists of guitarist David Bryson, drummer Jim Bogios, vocalist Adam Duritz, keyboardist Charlie Gillinghammulti-instrumentalist David Immerglück, bass guitarist Millard Powers, and guitarist Dan Vickrey. Past members include the drummers Steve Bowman (1991–1994) and Ben Mize (1994–2002), and bass guitarist Matt Malley (1991–2005).

Counting Crows gained popularity following the release of its first album, August and Everything After(1993). With the breakthrough hit single "Mr. Jones" (1993), the album sold more than 7 million copies in the United States. The band received two Grammy Awards nominations in 1994, one for "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal" (for "Round Here") and one for "Best New Artist". The follow-up album, Recovering the Satellites, reached number one on the US Billboard 200 album chart and reached number one in several other countries. All but one of their subsequent albums reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200 list.

Their hit singles include the aforementioned "Mr. Jones" as well as "Rain King", "A Long December", "Hanginaround", and a cover version of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi". Counting Crows received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for the single "Accidentally in Love", which was included in the film Shrek 2. The band has sold more than 20 million albums and is known for its dynamic live performances. Billboard has also ranked the band as the 8th greatest Adult Alternative Artist of all time. (wikipedia)

• • •

"Wow, we're really committing to this '90s bands thing, aren't we? Yesterday, THIRD EYE BLIND, and now ... this." That was my main thought after first COUNTING CROWS and then SMASHING PUMPKINS came into view. Then came ROLLING STONES and the apparent thematic consistency went out the window. But OK, "blanking blanks" bands, that's almost a thing. Then, I looked at the actual theme clues (oh, right, so I was solving Downs-only, as per my normal Monday habit, sorry to bury the lede). I don't ... I don't know ... I can hardly begin to describe the number of ways that this theme does not work. First, that is not how you play "20 Questions." That's not even how you play "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral." In the latter, the answerer *tells* the questioner at the start of the game what category (A, V, or M) the object falls under. There is no scenario in which a questioner would ask "Does the name contain an animal?" Also, "Does the name..."??? This implies that somehow the range of answers has already been pre-limited to names, which is also not how "20 Q" or "AVM" works. If you're just playing "20 Q," you might use your first Q to ask "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" but you'd never ask anything remotely resembling these questions. The entire imagined context for the game is bizarre, and the game itself resembles nothing humans actually play. 

The very (impressively) narrow category of the actual themers (i.e. bands with names that follow the [verb]ING [nouns] pattern) loses all its tightness once it's been shoe-horned into this contrived game scenario. Why would such a game play out in a series of "[verb]ING [nouns]" bands??? Two more problems that make this theme D.O.A. First, it's *THE* ROLLING STONES. The other bands are perfect as is, but the name of the band is *THE* ROLLING STONES, so it's technically clued inaccurately. Lastly, pumpkins are not vegetables, they are fruits. Yes, if you were *actually* playing "Animal Vegetable Mineral" (which, as we've established, you definitely aren't), then "PUMPKINS" would fall under "Vegetable" because it fits that category much better than the others. But the question as you have dreamed it up here is "Does the name contain a vegetable?" and since we are dealing with PUMPKINS the answer is "absolutely not." I feel like if you'd just stuck to the "[verb]ING [nouns]" rock band thing and clued ROLLING STONES "with 'The'" and found a different overall cluing gimmick, you might have something here. But the attempt to force this to be a game of "Animal Vegetable Mineral" just doesn't come off on the page. It's like the clues were written by AI and not by humans who had actually played human games before.

The grid is just fine–clean and smooth, and my only objection is to SANSA. My ongoing grudge against all "GOT"-related fill just won't die. Do you know how many damn names we're gonna be dealing with from that show (for god knows how many years)? LANNISTER and STARK and NED, sure, but then not just SANSA but DAENERYS TYRION CERSEI JON SNOW ARYA ROBB BRAN and god help you when they get into the tertiary characters. I'm not a fan of how deep into the "Star Wars" universe I have to crawl to learn all the crossword names, but at least "Star Wars" has some right: it's an institution, a universe that spans almost a half-century of movies, TV shows, products etc. etc. "GOT," big as it was, never had an audience larger than the average audience of "Home Improvement" circa 1993 (36.3 million viewers / week!), and how many of those characters' names do you remember? Uh ... Wilson? Was that someone? Sigh. I cleared out that NE corner and plugged the puzzle into my own construction software and whaddya know, SANSA rose straight to the top of suggestions for me too. It's just ... sometimes you gotta override your machine helper monkeys. 
Maybe SANSA is no worse than BRAGA, I don't know (52D: Brazilian actress Sonia). But Sonia BRAGA is a real person, and I know her, so I'm more favorably inclined toward her. From a Downs-only perspective, SANSA is miserable if you don't know it ("TANSA? TARSA?"), but I managed to pull it from somewhere. No other part of the grid gave me any trouble—about the easiest Downs-only solve I've had to date. I needed to infer a bunch of Acrosses in order to see SLIDESHOW (35D: TED talk accompaniment, often), but that's fairly normal where longer Downs are concerned. I was slowed, but not stymied or flummoxed or otherwise stopped. SPACE RACE was easier to come by (3D: Cold War contest featuring Sputnik and Apollo). That's all, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Gen Zer who might be into faux freckles and anime / SUN 3-26-23 / Nickname for Luigi / Things a plangonologist collects / The museum of social decay per Gary Oldman / Do to do delivery / Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire / It's 2.3 years for the average heterosexual couple / Home to wild Bactrian camels / Spanish resort island to locals / Vegan alternative to gelatin / C-suite members

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Constructor: David Karp

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "I Do, I Do ... Do!" — familiar phrases with three "I"s have the third "I" removed, creating wacky phrases, all of it tied together by oldies band THIRD EYE BLIND (119A: Band with the 1997 hit "Semi-Charmed Life" ... or a phonetic hint to this puzzles' theme):

Theme answers:
  • PIERCING SHREK (23A: Preparing to put earrings in an ogre?) ("shriek")
  • ORIGIN STORES (31A: The Macy's in New York's Herald Square, and others?) (“stories”)
  • FIVE PILLARS OF SLAM (52A: Pentad for a poetry performance?) ("Islam")
  • PICKING ONE'S BRAN (68A: Shopping for some cereal?) ("brain")
  • CERTIFICATE OF CLAM (87A: Prize in a chowder cook-off?) ("claim")
  • SPITTING MAGE (104A: Old-timey wizard who needs to learn some manners?) ("image")
Word of the Day: C-suite (127A: C-suite members => EXECS) —
the group of people with the most important positions in a company, whose job titles usually begin with C meaning "chief" (
• • •

I do, I do ... not. Care for this. At all. I was out very early on, based primarily on the fill (IDEO? SITU? GIGIO!?!?!), but also based on the fact that I got the first themer, looked at the title, saw that this was going to be a 3 x "I" thing where the last eye was removed, and ... knew that I didn't have anything to look forward to. At all. Except some wackiness. And the second themer confirmed what I suspected, which is that the concept doesn't contain nearly enough wackiness to make it worth the squeeze. ORIGIN STORES? That is some put-you-to-sleep wackiness. Even the base phrases are kinda boring. I don't think I even know what a "certificate of claim" is. I'm sure it's *fascinating* but, shrug. I guess the whole point of the puzzle is the revealer, but the title already gave the concept away completely, so when I got to the revealer, it felt more redundant than revelatory. Also, really, you're going to build an entire Sunday grid around a one-hit wonder band from more than a quarter-century ago? I can hear the diehards out there going, "'One-hit wonder!?' What about 'Jumper,' man!? Or 'How's It Gonna Be!?' Or a little song called 'Never Let You Go,' ever heard of it?" No, I haven't, but OK OK,  let's say, three- or four-hit wonder, with no real hits since 2000; happy? I actually don't want to disparage anyone's music or musical tastes. They just seem like a minor band to build a whole-ass Sunday puzzle around, especially this ... belatedly. So the revealer felt odd, on many levels, and it didn't really reveal anything, since the (very awkward) puzzle title already did that, and the thing that was being revealed wasn't that scintillating to start with. Moreover, the fill just wasn't strong enough to make up for the theme's mediocrity. For longer fill, you've got only a handful of 7- and 8-letter answers, plus a couple of 9s, and only REALITY TV and (maybe) TREKKIE rise even to the level of "interesting." I wish there were more here to get excited about. 

HOBBES is a "cartoon character"? (102D: Cartoon character who said "Van Gogh would've sold more than one painting if he'd put tigers in them"). Were there "Calvin & HOBBES" cartoons that I missed? (there were not). HOBBES is a *comics* (or *comic strip*) character. Yes, cartooning is the basic visual language of comic strips, but calling a comic strip character a "cartoon character" feels like misdirection that's bordering on inaccuracy. When you say "cartoon character," you are implying the character appeared in a cartoon, that is, in animated fare of some kind, which HOBBES never did (god bless you, Bill Watterson). The Pink PANTHER? Cartoon character; HOBBES? No. That HOBBES ANIL VESSELS REALITYTV corner was by far the toughest thing for me to put together today, and it wasn't that hard in the end. Slight slow-down around E-GIRL (92A: Gen Zer who might be into faux freckles and anime), since I can never remember what letter is supposed to come before said GIRLs or what it's supposed to stand for (I think it's like EMO? Maybe? Whoops, no, it's "electronic" because it's a phenomenon associated with the ... internet? So ... like every other phenomenon on the planet these days? It's a TikTok thing which is why I know Squat about it. Yet I did know about it ... and yet I forgot about it. Once again, thank god for fair crosses. 

Any other mistakes or write-overs? I had PETSPAS before DOGSPAS, hardly interesting (1A: Businesses that might offer "pawdicures"). I wrote in FREDO before FRODO (which is what happens when you don't read the clue) (84A: Literary character described as "a stout little fellow with red cheeks"). No idea what a plangonologist is, but I knew that collecting DELLS was probably not a thing, so ... DOLLS, then (77D: Things a plangonologist collects). Does being a collector really make you an "-ologist?" Seems pretty high-falutin'. But if the doll people insist, then OK. People should be called what they want to be called. I had SEARS before K-MART (69D: Former retail giant), and PEN and INK before APP (17D: What some people use to solve a New York Times crossword). Ugh, the cutesy winky meta clue. Not a fan. 

[I sorta like this one. Actually, all these THIRD EYE BLIND songs were pretty huge hits. 
The group's fame was just very ... chronologically contained, I guess you could say]

The "do"-to-"do" clue for SCALE was kind of cute (62D: "Do"-to-"do" delivery), though it's slightly amazing that that clue does not have a "?" on it, since a. you would not normally refer to a SCALE as a "delivery," and b. the clue is absolutely punning on a different phrase, i.e."door-to-door." These are basic criteria for a "?" clue and yet ... no. Odd. What else did I like? PAPADAM, those are tasty (72A: Deep-fried appetizer often served with chutney). I'd like to like EARGASM (13A: Feeling of auditory bliss, in a modern coinage), but the coinage isn't that "modern," actually. There's a 1976 album by Johnnie Taylor called "EARGASM," which I know because I own it. Whether you'd call the coinage "modern" or not, it's certainly a standout answer, especially in this grid. I like the EARGASM GROUPIE stack; very suggestive. Not much else here to get your heart rate up, though, I'm afraid. Ah well, as usual, there's always next week. See you when I see you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Dweller on the Musandam Peninsula / SAT 3-25-23 / Traffic sign near a jughandle, maybe / Ancient Nahuatl speaker / Tech for 1970s TV characters Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers / Software surprises named for holiday treats / Musical with a preteen title character / Tech for time travel in Back to the Future

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: jughandle (26D: Traffic sign near a jughandle, maybe => NO LEFT TURN) —

jughandle is a type of ramp or slip road that changes the way traffic turns left at an at-grade intersection (in a country where traffic drives on the right). Instead of a standard left turn being made from the left lane, left-turning traffic uses a ramp on the right side of the road. In a standard forward jughandle or near-side jughandle, the ramp leaves before the intersection, and left-turning traffic turns left off of it rather than the through road; right turns are also made using the jughandle. In a reverse jughandle or far-side jughandle, the ramp leaves after the intersection, and left-turning traffic loops around to the right and merges with the crossroad before the intersection. 

The jughandle is also known as a Jersey left due to its high prevalence within the U.S. state of New Jersey(though this term is also locally used for an abrupt left at the beginning of a green light cycle). The New Jersey Department of Transportation defines three types of jughandles. "Type A" is the standard forward jughandle. "Type B" is a variant with no cross-street intersected by the jughandle; it curves 90 degrees left to meet the main street, and is either used at a "T" intersection or for a U-turn only. "Type C" is the standard reverse jughandle. (wikipedia)

• • •

23A: Tech for 1970s TV characters Steve Austin
and Jaime Sommers
Once again I find that my beloved Friday puzzle has been moved to Saturday. It's a bizarre trend that has been making Fridays kind of miserable but Saturdays delightful, so I can't decide how I feel about it. If both days could be delightful, that would be great. But if Saturday wants to act more like a traditional Friday puzzle ("whoosh-whoosh" "zoom-zoom" etc.), it can be my guest. Today's puzzle has everything I want in a themeless puzzle—no stunt grids, no architectural showing off, just a boatload of fun, including twelve answers of 8+ letters, all of them criss-crossing in a way that gives the grid life and flow, and all of them ... well, at least solid, and frequently vibrant, zingy, colloquial ... just fantastic. Now I will admit that at least some of my enjoyment of this puzzle came from the fact that this is one of the most Gen X puzzles I've ever done. Robyn and I are roughly the same age, and if there is anything I could fault this puzzle for, it's that she really really stays in her (i.e. my) generational lane. How much of my '70s & '80s childhood is on display here? I've got the original Star Wars (1977), which was the most important and transformative movie-going experience of my life (still, to this date; I saw it seven times that summer); I've got "The Six-Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman" (The same way I had the "Six-Million Dollar Man" action figure and my sister had the "Bionic Woman" Jaime Sommers hair-styling toy that melted in front of the fireplace on Christmas Day); I've got ANNIE (1982) and Back to the Future (1985), and then I've got R.E.M. and Nora DUNN-era SNL ... there's hardly a speck of pop culture that's *outside* my specific life experience today, which hardly ever happens. I hope that the puzzle was still accessible and entertaining to those not born between roughly 1965 and 1980. I think there's plenty here for everyone. But boy oh boy was this puzzle Of An Age (namely, mine). 

The puzzle started out tamely enough, but then it dropped "USE THE FORCE" and it was like Robyn was talking to me, encouraging me to dig deep inside, tune out all distractions, and defeat Darth Puzzle. And then she crossed "USE THE FORCE" with "CAN I SEE SOME ID?" and then crossed *that* with "YOU DID WHAT?," which is the puzzle equivalent of hitting warp speed. BONUS POINTS! FLUX CAPACITOR! It was like being in a (stand-up, arcade) video game, in the best way. There were even EASTER EGGS! Basically, this was Weintraub being Weintraub, which is always beautiful to see.

There were a few trouble spots, I suppose. I had no idea what the "Camelot" clue wanted because it seemed to want a musical-specific answer, and I don't know the musical, and having taught Arthurian literature for a number of years I can tell you with some assurance that Camelot is far from IDEAL. If you know what those people get up to when they're not celebrating themselves ... it's not always pretty. Anyway, needed crosses for that. but they weren't hard to come by. Wanted "NO PROBLEMO!" at first for (13A: "Or don't ... whatever works for you"). But then TWEEDLE-DEE got me anchored and once LEDGES went in, and once the LADY descending the staircase became the NUDE descending the staircase, I was able to spring out of that NW corner via The Force. Had trouble with both fast-eating/drinking clues today (DOWN, BELT). Wanted things like BOLT, WOLF, GULP, I dunno, stuff like that. Had a couple of geographic kealoa*-esque moments in the NE where I wasn't completely sure what -ANI and what -EC I was dealing with at 15D: Dweller on the Musandam Peninsula (OMANI, not IRANI) and 11D: Ancient Nahuatl speaker (AZTEC, not OLMEC), respectively, but luckily my first guess in both cases was right. The puzzle was *so* Gen X that after writing in and taking out BOX SEATS at 34D: Superfan's purchase, I wrote in BOX CD SET. I never know if it's "box set" or "BOXED SET." At any rate, BOXED SET can apply to books as well as music; CDs not necessarily involved today, alas. 

  • 37A: Temple buildings (DORMS— So ... Temple University. This clue got me, for a time.
  • 21D: Certain deer (ROES) — I don't think ROES is a very common plural, but roe deer are a common, smaller, largely European species of deer.
  • 9D: Club beginnings? (TEE TIMES) — when you "begin" your round at the (golf) "club."
  • 19A: Midway point? (GATE) — So ... Midway Airport (in Chicago).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = a pair of words (normally short, common answers) that can be clued identically and that share at least one letter in common (in the same position). These are answers you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable, Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

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City whose welcome sign features Mark Twain / FRI 3-24-23 / Dubious addendum to a snide remark / Saltado stir-fried dish with sliced beef / Manhattan thoroughfare named for New York's Dutch roots / R&B trio whose name is an initialism

Friday, March 24, 2023

Constructor: Blake Slonecker

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: NORA Barnacle (48D: ___ Barnacle, on whom Molly Bloom of "Ulysses" was based)) —
Nora Barnacle (21 March 1884 – 10 April 1951) was the muse and wife of Irish author James Joyce. Barnacle and Joyce had their first romantic assignation in 1904 on a date celebrated worldwide as the "Bloomsday" of his modernist novel Ulysses, a book that she did not, however, enjoy. Their sexually explicit letters have aroused much curiosity, especially as Joyce normally disapproved of coarse language, and they fetch high prices at auction. In 2004, an erotic letter from Joyce to Barnacle sold at Sotheby's for £240,800.
Barnacle and Joyce's life together has been the subject of much popular interest. A 1980 play, Nora Barnacle by Maureen Charlton, was made about their relationship. Barnacle was the subject of a 1988 biography, Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce, by Brenda Maddox, which was adapted into a 2000 Irish film, Nora, directed by Pat Murphy, and starring Susan Lynch and Ewan McGregor.(wikipedia)
• • •
I groaned just looking at this grid, before I ever started, and the puzzle never EVER overcame that initial sentiment. I don't understand making a grid like this. I guess you think it looks cool? Or you want an unusual shape or something? But if you thought at all about the solving experience you'd see that two bad things happen when you stick all these black bars all over the place. First, flow just dies. This is the grid where flow goes to die. You can't flow through tight corners and extremely narrow passageways very well, especially when you have to navigate 15s every two rows or so. Second: So Much Short Stuff. Just these dull little banks of 3s and 4s, all over the place. MAIN OSSO ISIT SESH / TACT IBET SIRE TESS / LBS OOP WOE TLC, just an out-and-out bombardment. And all so that we can get a bunch of 15s, none of which is particularly interesting. Am I really supposed to enjoy MOIST TOWELETTES? It's not a *bad* answer, but when you put it at the center of your puzzle because it's your *best* answer, that ... well, that says something about the rest of the grid. Are people really solving going "omg, yes! BOOLEAN OPERATOR! What a great answer!" Or ... ASSESSMENTS!!! 11 letters wasted on ASSESSMENTS!? That's the kind of thing you'd see in puzzles before everyone started using construction software, when the constructor would occasionally get desperate and require an answer with a ton of the most common letters in the alphabet. I mean, really, LOW TIRE PRESSURE!? These answers aren't just dull, they're depressing. I think "NOTHING PERSONAL" may be the one I like the most—the only one I like unreservedly (46A: Dubious addendum to a snide remark). Otherwise, overall, I genuinely don't understand the aesthetic on display here. I can't be very impressed by seven 15s when a. they aren't that vivid, b. they make the grid this choppy, and c. there's only two other answers in the whole grid longer than 7 letters, and one of those is ASSESSMENTS.

Because of the structure of the grid, the choke points really did choke me a couple of times. No idea what LOMO saltado is, or even what cuisine it's from, what LOMO means, etc. (it's Peruvian). And the crosses, yikes, they could've been anything. Never heard of NORA Barnacle (though I've read Ulysses). She was Joyce's wife? LOL this should tell you how little I tend to care about author's bios. I had T-MEN before G-MEN, COPS before the awful POPO. Everything gummed up in there. Also, because of the grid structure again, I couldn't easily turn into the SE corner; I had SAT- for 41A: Went nowhere and wrote in SAT IDLE. That whole SE corner was a bust at first glance. I think I had ELDERS and that's it. Had to sneak in there last. MEADOWS make hay? Uh ... I guess, literally, that is where hay comes from, but whatever "joke" is supposed to be there is pretty weak. (Yes, to "make hay" out of something is to make a big deal out of it, but ... it's not like that misdirection was very effective or interesting). My other slow-down / screw-up came early, when I wanted ELABORATE EXCUSE before ELABORATE DETAIL (12A: Potentially too much information). Oh, and I wrote in EYE before EWE, classic pronoun screw-up that happens any time the crossword asks me about me, i.e. "you" (31D: What could represent you in a rebus puzzle?). But LOMO and the HOME part of SAT HOME were the only serious sticking points. Everything else you can hack through quickly, if not particularly happily. This puzzle is what happens when you focus on looking cool instead of actually being fun. Saturday has been crushing Friday lately, which is sad. Well, sad for Friday. Great for Saturday. Looking forward to tomorrow. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. laughed at the ELMIRA clue (2D: City whose welcome sign features Mark Twain) because, well, ELMIRA is just ... [points out the window] ... over there a ways, and their welcome sign? Well, it's a visual nightmare, a mish-mash of faces and poses featuring ELMIRA's most notable former residents, including two of Twain's most illustrious peers, Brian Williams and Tommy Hilfiger.

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