Insulating sleeve for a beverage / SUN 4-30-23 / 2020 film starring a cartoon dog / One of cinq in Tartuffe / Curved edges formed by intersecting vaults in architecture / 5 6 or 7 in golf / Bit of vocal fanfare / Pain reliever with oxymoronic name / Title woman who has children at her feet in a 1968 hit / It means waterless place in Mongolian / 2004 Don Cheadle film set in Africa / Popular singer who has recorded in Elvish

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Constructor: Lewis Rothlein and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Name Dropping" — In order to make sense of six Downs at the bottom of the grid, you have to "drop" the "names" that have been embedded in an answers directly above them:

Theme answers:
  • "LADY MADONNA" (90D: Title woman who has children at her feet, in a 1968 hit) ("DONNA" drops down from 28D: Cautious (of) (CHAR(DONNA)Y))
  • TAKE THE L (110D: Accept defeat, in modern slang) ("ETHEL" drops down from 42D: Longtime anchor of "NBC Nightly News" (BROK(ETHEL)AW))
  • FLY FISHERMAN (91D: Person dealing with casting and lines)  ("HERMAN" drops down from (S(HERMAN)TANK))
  • "HOTEL RWANDA" (92D: 2004 Don Cheadle film set in Africa) ("WANDA" drops down from 19D: Check out, as a book (BO(WANDA)RROW))
  • KUBRICK (115D: Director of "The Shining" and "Dr. Strangelove") ("RICK" drops down from 44D: Guarding, as a goal (T(RICK)ENDING))
  • ELIZABETHAN (94D: Like England in the late 16th century) ("ETHAN" drops down from 34D: Informants, informally (FIN(ETHAN)KS))
Word of the Day: DIABOLO (118A: String-and-spool toy) —

The diabolo (/dˈæbəl/ dee-AB-ə-loh; commonly misspelled diablo) is a juggling or circus prop consisting of an axle (British Englishbobbin) and two cups (hourglass/egg timer shaped) or discs derived from the Chinese yo-yo. This object is spun using a string attached to two hand sticks ("batons" or "wands"). A large variety of tricks are possible with the diabolo, including tosses, and various types of interaction with the sticks, string, and various parts of the user's body. Multiple diabolos can be spun on a single string.

Like the Western yo-yo (which has an independent origin), it maintains its spinning motion through a rotating effect based on conservation of angular momentum. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well at least this one is trying. I mean, it's definitely more enjoyable than most Sundays I've done of late. I assume that if you solve on the app, there's some cutesy animation at the end where the "names" "drop" down from above and settle into their "proper" place at the bottom of the grid. But with static answers, the puzzle's title makes no sense. I guess the title is saying that *I*, the solver, have to mentally "drop" the names in order to make sense of the Down answers along the bottom. But the names are represented in the grid as if they have risen. Not dropped. Name Rising. That is what the puzzle should've been called. If you'd done this very same theme but put the partial themers at the *top* of the grid instead of the bottom, then bam, there you are, the names drop ... "Name Dropping." As is, the title feels inapt. Unapt? I can never tell the difference. Wrong. That's what the title feels like. [UPDATE: I slept on this and mostly changed my mind, especially since there’s the double meaning of “drop” here (“take out” and “put lower”)—it’s fine that *I’m* doing the dropping.]  But the basic concept is pretty slick, I think ... not a huge fan of gibberish in the grid (i.e. LADY MA, TAK, HOTELR, etc.), but since the missing letters are actually clearly represented elsewhere in the grid, I don't mind the gibberish that much. There are unclued answers here—a bunch of them. All the name-containing answers, totally unclued (that is, for example, CHARY is clued but CHARDONNAY is not). But every one of those answers a. makes a real word or phrase and b. can be filled in via the missing "name" supplied by those truncated themers at the bottom, so despite the non-cluing, the puzzle remains quite fair. I will say that of all the theme-related stuff, TRICK ENDING feels like the worst. The shakiest by far in terms of its relative "real thing"-ness. When I google ["trick ending"] all I get are crossword sites, and while it's true that google knows who I am and is probably apt to push me toward crossword sites, I google stuff in quotation marks all the time and it never just lines up an array like this:

I guess they mean a "surprise" or "twist" ending? Something "gotcha" that suggests you've been thinking about things wrong all along? The phrase just doesn't land right to my ear. No EARGASM at all. Speaking of ... if I don't see TAKE THE L or EARGASM again for a few years, that would be just fine. Feel like we've worn those babies out in the past few months. Like, one EARGASM a year and I'm good, frankly. But back to the theme: I don't know that it does what it says it does, but what it does is at least clever and structurally ... interesting. As I say, I've had much worse times with Sundays of late. So yeah, sure, I'll take this.

The fill did make me wince in places, though. HEROIZE ... why does that "word" hurt my brain so much? It's awful. I am happy for you to LIONIZE someone, but HEROIZE sounds like the kind of thing that someone with a limited vocabulary just made up and then everybody ran with it? Strangely, I have no problem with the word "villainize." "Villanize?" How the hell do you spell that? My software is red-underlining both my attempts. I guess it thinks I mean "vilify" but I don't. Hmm. Anyway, HEROIZE sounds like something you do to sandwich meat. The "O" into "-IZE" is particularly awkward and unmellifluous. It's like "ghettoize," a somewhat more real term that I also can't stand the sound of. I also balked hard at FLORAE. Multiple ... FLORAE. FLORA already applies to a totality of plant life in a given area. And the way FLORAE is clued here, as "specimens" ... not seeing that definition. FLORA belongs to a region—"specimen" implies a singular example. Hard to believe there weren't other less awkward options there. LOL this is a Shortz-era *debut*—that should tell you how iffy it is. Hasn't appeared in the NYTXW since the mid-'80s. Here's to another 40 years in the vault! And please take GROINS with you! (Looks like GROINS made it into the Shortz era, possibly via an already-accepted Maleska-era puzzle, during Shortz's first full year of editing, in 1994, but hadn't been heard from since ... until today.)

DIABOLO was a huge ??? I feel like maybe I saw some tie dye-wearing, patchouli-smelling, jam band-listening dudes playing with one of these on the quad in the '90s, once, maybe? The same kind of dudes who are still having HEAD TRIPS decades after the '60s ended. Not sure. Not really up on the extended yo-yo family of toys.  SIN BINS sounds too precious for so rough a sport, but looks like it's legit, and across a number of sports, actually (including rugby and roller derby). The golf clue was ??? to me too, in that I understand the concept of numbered irons, but did not know MIDIRON was an actual category (generally, the higher the number, the more loft / less distance). Only thing I truly didn't know in the grid besides DIABOLO was Marian ANDERSON (84A: Singer Marian, the first African American to perform at the Met). Overall, pretty easy without being dull. Answers like KOOZIE and "I JUST ATE" and FRACAS and NO JOKE kept things bouncy and relatively interesting throughout.

  • "SCOOB" (18A: 2020 film starring a cartoon dog) — people tell me movies came out in 2020 and I have no choice but to believe them but there's a real tree falling / woods / sound thing going on with early COVID-era cinema. If you can call "SCOOB" "cinema." Which I invite you to do.
  • RIMS (37A: Pair of glasses?) — in that ... glasses have RIMS. A pair of them? It's awful, yes, I know, not sure why anyone thought this was cute.
  • SATIRE (49A: Cutting part of The Onion?) — The Onion is *entirely* SATIRE, so again, I have no idea whose idea of "humor" this "?" clue was. The phrase is clunky and evokes nothing except ... partially cutting onions? Big miss. 
  • SNOW (45A: Angels can be found in it) — No. They "might" be found in it, in that one "might" make a SNOW angel, but "can" implies a much greater degree of certainty about angels' presence. Like, I could search SNOW forevvvvvvvvver and find no angels. The fact that the angel "might" be there doesn't mean I "can" find it. Boo. Choose the right word. Choose "might."
  • DO IT (32D: Two-thirds of 105-Across — Deeply awful. Cynical, even. It's bad fill to begin with, but it also dupes part of something already in the grid (DIY), so instead of trying harder for better fill, you just ... point to the fact that you couldn't bother?
  • SDSU (24A: Southern California sch.) — San Diego State University. They recently made it to the finals of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, where they were routed by UConn.
It's the last day of April—time to highlight the best NYTXW puzzles I've solved this month (two themed puzzles, and one themeless). So here it is, the Best of April 2023:
  • Themed: Robin Yu, "TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE" (Thu., Apr. 13); Katherine Baicker and Scott Earl, "THERE ARE NO WORDS" (Mon., Apr. 17
  • Themeless: Kameron Austin Collins (UFOLOGISTS / "MEANING WHAT?" / "DO YOU MIND?" / LAURA DERN) (Sat., Apr. 15)
Themeless competition was particularly tough this month. Both themelesses from this weekend (Handa/Agard, Steinberg) were exceedingly worthy. But I had to give the edge to KAC's magisterial grid. Take care, see you later. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Voyage group / SAT 4-29-23 / Target for a certain mallet / Pro whose home stadium features a life-size pirate ship / 2017 Tony-winning play whose main characters are diplomats / Hit 2022 sci-fi horror film / Dwellers at the top of mesas / Philosophy associated with beaches / Subject of a much-anticipated return in 1983 / Words on a Spanish name tag

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PICKLEBALL (28D: Game with paddles) —
Pickleball is an indoor or outdoor racket/paddle sport where two players (singles), or four players (doubles), hit a perforated hollow plastic ball over a 36-inch-high (0.91 m) net using solid-faced paddles. Opponents on either side of the net hit the ball back and forth until one side commits a rule infraction. Pickleball was invented in 1965 as a children's backyard game on Bainbridge IslandWashington, United States. In 2022, pickleball was adopted as the official state sport of Washington. [...] In 2021, 2022 and 2023, the sport was named the fastest-growing sport in the United States by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, with over 4.8 million players. A growing interest in the sport is attributed to several factors, including a short learning curve, appeal to a wide range of ages and fitness levels, and low startup costs. There are now thousands of pickleball tournaments throughout the United States, including the US National Championships and the U.S. Open Tournament, along with two professional tours and one professional league. (wikipedia)
• • •

I love a puzzle that has the confidence to rate itself not once not twice but thrice. "WHAT A TREAT!" "HOW NICE!" "WOWIE ZOWIE!" I don't know if I'm succumbing to the puzzle's subliminal suggestions here or not, but I loved this puzzle from start to finish and everywhere in between. This is the *Friday* puzzle I have so desperately wanted for so long. I don't think the traditional Fri/Sat difficulty levels have ever been swapped so glaringly as they were this weekend. Yesterday's puzzle took me probably twice as long, and absolutely mowed down a good chunk of solvers. This puzzle, on the other hand, is unlikely to hurt anyone (anyone who solves Saturday puzzles regularly, that is). This puzzle was like "Hey, buddy, did you have a rough day yesterday? Well, let's take it easy today. Maybe a few laps around the track and then, I dunno, how about a walk in the park, and maybe ice cream after? Does that sound good?" Yes it does. To be clear, I quite enjoyed yesterday's puzzle. But it worked me like a Saturday, whereas this one was breezy fun for most of the ride. It's amazing to me that with all the personnel and infrastructure they have invested in the NYT Games department, they (routinely) can't gauge something as simple as Friday / Saturday difficulty progression. But even if they came out in the wrong order, I'm very grateful I got the puzzles I got this weekend—the best themeless weekend I've seen in a while. This puzzle ... it's such an endearing way to cap off the week. It even has its own little CHAMPAGNE SHOWER celebration. Adorable.

The marquee answers really Marquee It Up. That is, they are marquee-worthy, and the central Across provides a nice little surprise after giving you a nice little challenge (33A: Line at a luxury boutique?). The "?" clue keeps you at arm's length for a bit, as does (potentially) the letter sequence, which is somewhat challenging to parse, especially if you come at any part of it from the middle, like this:

The "MONEY" part wasn't really helping me, and then the first two letters I plunked down mid-answer were, coincidentally, the last letter of one word and the first letter of another—impossible to see at that point. Weirdly, the phrase "[Your] MONEY IS NO good here" flashed into my head, but I doubt that that is a "line" you would hear at a "luxury boutique." But I got CHAMPAGNE in the long Down (the SHOWER part would come a bit later) and then IFSO (34D: "Assuming you're right ..."), and that "I" suggested the second word was "IS" and so "MONEY IS NOO.... [beat, beat] MONEY IS NOODLES? [beat, beat, beat] ... oh! MONEY IS NO OBJECT! woo-hoo. Nice!" A few seconds later, I had both 15s locked down, which meant I had access to every corner of the grid. I was, as they say, in business.

Toughest part of the grid for me was CRAB CLAW (5A: Target for a certain mallet). Had the "CR-" and then when the answer wasn't CROQUET-something, I was lost. I was especially lost because AVA who? (7D: ___ Raine, W.W. E. wrestler who's the daughter of Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson). No idea if that was EVA or AVA, so ... blank. Then I had -ETON at 8D: Back, in a way and thought maybe GET ON (????) but wasn't sure. I had written in ADRATE at 9D: Bank figure—a crosswordese reflex of some kind, I guess, as ADRATE makes no real sense for that clue. And then there's -ETS at 12D: Sprinkles on, e.g., which had me thinking only of ice cream sundaes (which you might like ... sprinkles on). The breakthrough for me up there came when I ran the alphabet at -ETON. Luckily for me, "B" comes early in the alphabet. BET ON, of course. That "B" gave me CRAB but I was still looking at something like CRABALAG until I saw that the "A" in ADRATE was supposed to be a "C" — CRABCLA ... W! There it is! Sitting on SHAVED ICE. WHAT A TREAT! No, really, CRAB CLAW is sitting on SHAVED ICE and SHAVED ICE is sitting on "WHAT A TREAT!" Seems like an unusual flavor combination, but I'll try most things once. Sweet & Savory Crab Ice for everyone!

PICKLEBALL made me laugh out loud, what a dumb fad, by which I mean, if that's your thing, more power to you, but man it seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly every middle-aged to older person in the world seemed to have taken it up. My doctor (whom I adore)—big enthusiast. Two things she loves to talk about: her kids, and PICKLEBALL. It's like ... half tennis, I guess, with solid paddles and a plastic ball? It was designed as a "children's backyard game" (see Word of the Day, above). Whatever keeps you active! Enjoy! I'm looking this grid over now and it's so pretty. SPEED CHESS! BLURTED OUT alongside "BAD ROMANCE" (I know the song and like the song, so my enthusiasm there may be greater than yours). By the end I was indeed ALL SMILES. That answer was actually the very end of my solve, as I could not parse 47D: F words? to save my life, not until I was all the way down to that last square: SEE_E. Me: "No word fits there." Me one second later: "Oh, but two words fit there." SEE ME—the "words" you (might) see on your test if you get an "F." I have never loved "SEE ME" as fill, but that clue is stupid brilliant. 

Other things:
  • 4D: Social climber? (APE) — I had the "A" and proudly wrote in ANT (famously social, right?). But the "CLAP back" made the answer AP- so I (less proudly) wrote in APP (APPs are ... social ... sometimes ... right?). Third time's the charm! Trolls are RUDE and so APEs are social (and climb!).
  • 41A: ___ -spot (TEN) — another RTA (run the alphabet). Had TE- and no clue. Then I hit "N" and said "D'oh!" A TEN-spot is just a ten dollar bill. Not sure when / if that slang ever died, but it's familiar to me.
  • 62A: 2017 Tony-winning play whose main characters are diplomats ("OSLO") — it's been a very OSLO weekend, though yesterday we got the much showier (and probably unnecessarily specific) OSLO, NORWAY. (What other OSLO would it be. OSLO, KANSAS?)
  • 22A: With 18-Across, colonial-style houses? (ANT / FARMS) — A malapop is when an answer that's wrong for one clue turns up later as the *correct* answer for a different clue (happens, weirdly, a lot). Today, I wanted ANT at 4D: Social climber? (wrong) and then ended up getting not just an ANT but thousands of ants. Farms of them. Went looking for a single ant, found a horror movie's worth. No idea what you call that. Speaking of "horror" movies ...
  • 21D: Hit 2022 sci-fi horror film ("NOPE") — a truly great and deeply underrated movie. I think one of the reasons audiences were puzzled by it is that the genre classifications applied to it don't really work. It took me a few beats to get this answer today because I don't think of "NOPE" as "horror" at all. It's definitely sci-fi, but I think of it as far more "western" than "horror." That movie is very aware of "genre" and ends up blending genres into all kinds of strange and beautiful and funny shapes. It's an art film masquerading as a blockbuster. 
  • 18D: ___ Beauty, brand founded by Rihanna (FENTY) — I knew this. Well, with a couple crosses, I knew this. How do I know this? How has this managed to seep in? So grateful that my brain is still admitting new knowledge at this point.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sitcom joke involving a change in setting / FRI 4-28-23 / Sexy selfie posted on social media, in lingo / Sactown's locale / Literary stand-in for Christ / Buzzkill's response while playing Would You Rather / Gil Scott-Heron poem inspired by 1969 events / Fruit also called a wax gourd

Friday, April 28, 2023

Constructor: Malaika Handa and Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TEMA (3D: Ghanaian city that's an anagram of 27-Down (TEAM)) —
Tema is a city on the Bight of Benin and Atlantic coast of Ghana. It is located 25 kilometres (16 mi) east of the capital city; Accra, in the region of Greater Accra, and is the capital of the Tema Metropolitan District. As of 2013, Tema is the eleventh most populous settlement in Ghana, with a population of approximately 161,612 people – a marked decrease from its 2005 figure of 209,000. The Greenwich Meridian (00 Longitude) passes directly through the city. Tema is locally nicknamed the "Harbour City" because of its status as Ghana's largest seaport. It consists of 25 different communities which are numbered accordingly with each of them having easy access to the basic amenities. (wikipedia)
• • •

I know that this won't be everyone's experience, or even a common experience, but when I (finally) got to 38A: Gil Scott-Heron poem inspired by 1969 events ("WHITEY ON THE MOON") I absolutely LIT up and maybe even cackled. Like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," I think of "WHITEY ON THE MOON" less as a poem and more as a song, since that's the only way I've encountered it (Scott-Heron was a musician as well as a poet). I think about this poem any time there's some dumb new expensive space launch—why is anyone suffering on earth supposed to care, and what the hell good is it going to do to colonize other worlds when you can't even manage this one? Anyway, the poem is defiant and funny as hell, as is "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," and any puzzle that has me thinking about the work of Gil Scott-Heron has a huge advantage over most other puzzles. 

This is all to say that "WHITEY ON THE MOON" earned a Lot of good will from me, though honestly the grid was pretty great even before "WHITEY" showed up. I did have to wade through maybe a few more proper nouns than I would've liked, but most were ultimately familiar and all were ultimately gettable. The joy for me in this puzzle came from having the (considerable) struggle Pay Off. I completely wiped out in the NW corner to start, and then, toward the end, I was a little worried I wasn't even going to be able to force my way in from below (".... ??? ... some kind of MELON? What Kind Of Melon, Lord, Help Me!"). But then I finally broke through and I'll be damned if that corner is not perfectly lovely (TEMA notwithstanding—I should definitely know more African cities, but the *eleventh* largest Ghanaian city? LOL, I dunno, man ...). CUT-AWAY GAG, original answer, real thing, ONE-TIME USE, original answer, real thing, LIMONCELLO, delicious, real thing. I had so many initially wrong answers up there at first that solving that corner felt like clearing my way through jungle with a machete, but when I got there, I felt rewarded. My only real complaint about this one was that it felt very much like a Saturday puzzle in terms of difficulty. I haven't had a breezy Friday in ages. But I haven't had a good Friday in ages either. Until now. So I don't feel much like complaining. Funny how good puzzles will take the Mad right out of you.

The top half of this puzzle was So much harder than the bottom half for me. I have ink All Over my printed-out grid here, marking the struggle points. There's almost no ink on the bottom half, whereas the top half is practically illegible now. This will give you some idea of how it started—I had to get the hell out of the top half of the grid in order get properly started:

I mean, look at that sad, dumb NW corner. GULP, indeed! (8D: [This is looking very bad for me]). The short Downs did Nothing for me up there. I was looking for a poet named "King," not an old "King" with fiddlers three or whatever. Even after I got 1D: King of verse, I thought the answer referred to Nat King COLE, oy. I know that UNIX is an operating "system" but being largely ignorant about such systems, I always associated it with the other PC operating systems, so the "servers" part threw me. Anyway, no UNIX for me. Obviously no TEMA. RKO for AMC; UH-OH for GULP. No idea about the [Literary stand-in for Christ]—was so mad when that turned out to be stupid ASLAN. I was thinking actual literature, and I was also thinking some *common* stand-in, like a lighted candle in some religious paintings, for instance (that's a thing, right? I didn't make that up, did I?). A trope. A symbol. Not a very specific one-work-only fantasy lion. Total train wreck up there. I even had AGATES before GEODES, yeesh (10D: Glam rock pieces?). 

The NE threatened similar disaster. Had -CTIVORE and no idea what that could be (since I was thinking of the eater as human) (I know many humans do eat insects, but they don't really call themselves INSECTIVOREs, do they? I mean, "omni-" would seem to cover it, prefix-wise) (26D: One eating a lot of wings). Without the INSECT- part, getting into the NE corner was a little tough. I had GOB before NUB (44A: Lump), which made both long Downs hard to see. I'm a little annoyed by the "him" in 13D: "I think I can see a future with him"—that gender specificity had me Really looking for a corollary in the answer. Specifically, I wanted the answer to be some version of "HE'S THE ONE," but that wouldn't fit, and "HE IS THE ONE" felt too formal. As for "ANOTHER ONE!?" yeesh, no way. As clued, no hope, not without tons of crosses (12D: "Where do all of these keep coming from?!"). LAIR was hard (11A: Hollow, perhaps). SNEERS was very hard (33A: Bad mouths?). But I got there somehow. Nowhere near as much trouble down below, though as with the clue for "IT'S SERIOUS," I had pronoun issues with 29D: Select words? ("I CHOOSE YOU"). Where the hell is this "YOU" coming from? Nothing in the clue suggests "YOU" or a second party at all. I got the answer easily enough, but *some* kind of context in that clue woulda been nice. But as I said above, good stuff will take the Mad right out of you, and THIRST TRAP, hello, yes, mwah, you're perfect, don't ever change, have you met "WHITEY ON THE MOON"? I think you'd really get along, you look great together ... 

I got pummeled by geography today (three place names had me really looking for my ATLAS...). The names were occasionally tough for me as well, but only SHAY was really out of my sight line (23D: Actress Mitchell of "Pretty Little Liars"). When NADERITE was in the puzzle recently, I made Nader my Word of the Day, which meant I'd recently seen LaDuke's name (Nader/LaDuke 2000) ... but still couldn't remember the WINONA part. But no biggie—the bottom half of this puzzle zipped along the way a Friday should, a breezy counterpart to the brutal north. There's just so much ... joy in this puzzle. So much breadth, so much curiosity about the world and about language. It feels alive. Wish I'd seen it on a Saturday instead of a Friday, but I'm just grateful I got to see it at all. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. AGNÈS Varda! My cinematocruciverbial prayers have finally been answered. Still looking forward to seeing VARDA in the grid, eventually. And then maybe someday we can get around to OZU. He deserves it.

P.P.S. SCAR is a character in The Lion King

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Netflix heroine Holmes / THU 4-27-23 / Some adult nightclub entertainers, literally / Absolute concentration literally / Danish birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen / Characteristic of an interminable slog literally / Endpoint of the Great Wildebeest Migration / Traits that trigger repulsion

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Constructor: Michael Schlossberg

Relative difficulty: Easy

[on paper and on the app, the boxes involved in the theme answers are missing 
various edges; see below]

THEME: TAKES THE EDGE OFF (37A: Alleviates pain a little ... or what this puzzle does to certain squares for literal effect) — one or more letter boxes in the theme answers are literally missing one or more "edges" as a way of representing missing parts of the answers themselves:

Theme answers:
  • DOCTORS (Without Borders) (no edges on any of the cells) (15A: International medical group that won the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, literally)
  • (No end) IN SIGHT (no final edge, after the "T") (16A: Characteristic of an interminable slog, literally)
  • (Undivided) ATTENTION (no edges separating the letters from one another) (23A: Absolute concentration, literally)
  • (Baseless) ACCUSATIONS (no bottom edge for any boxes) (46A: Charges lacking merit, literally)
  • (Topless) DANCERS (no top edge for any boxes) (67A: Some adult nightclub entertainers, literally)
[Here's what the grid is supposed to look like]

Word of the Day: ODENSE (49D: Danish birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen) —
Odense ([...]) is the third largest city in Denmark (behind Copenhagen and Aarhus) and the largest city on the island of Funen. As of 1 January 2022, the city proper had a population of 180,863 while Odense Municipality had a population of 205,978, making it the fourth largest municipality in Denmark (behind CopenhagenAarhus and Aalborg municipalities). Eurostat and OECD have used a definition for the Metropolitan area of Odense (referred to as a Functional urban area), which includes all municipalities in the Province(Danish: landsdel) of Funen (Danish: Fyn), with a total population of 504,066 as of 1 July 2022 [...] Odense is served by Hans Christian Andersen Airport and Odense station, which lies on the line between Copenhagen and the Jutland peninsula. (wikipedia)
• • •

Can't comment on this effectively since my grid (as you can see above) looked like a normal grid, so the visual gag was lost on me entirely. Worse. I actually thought the gag was just "missing parts of phrases," so, uh, yes, the phrase "Doctors Without Borders" was written in the grid, literally, without "borders." Now ... it was also without "without," but I just rolled with it. I was able to make correct sense of three of the five themers, but couldn't find any phrase to go with ATTENTION and had the wrong idea at ACCUSATIONS (I thought they were "unfounded," which they kind of are, even in the intended grid—being without foundation, i.e. "baseless"). All this got from me was a shrug. When I looked up what the grid looked like in the paper / online, I understood what I was supposed to be seeing. If I'd had the intended grid, would that have led me to say "WHAT FUN!" while solving this puzzle? Probably not. The "topless" DANCERS is kinda funny, I guess, but most of the rest maybe merit half a "HAH" at best. And having ACCUSATIONS, INSIGHT, and ATTENTION as themers really flattens the grid excitement out considerably. I guess the grid *is* the excitement. I dunno. As I say, I didn't solve it with the "correct" grid, so, though I have offered some comment, I guess officially it's "no comment" from me on the theme.

That leaves me with the fill, which ... well, there it is. Not much to say. I would love ICKFACTOR in the singular, but in the plural it just seems silly. When, how, why? It just doesn't get used that way. Curate Your Wordlists, People! FOOT SCRUBS is a cool answer, and it's what I wanted initially, but then I thought 53A: Separates from the mother ship was UNMOORS ... mostly because I wasn't reading the clue correctly. My eye just picked up something about a ship separating and UNMOORS seemed like a real word for that situation. But "mother ship" = space ship, so in that sense, sure, UNDOCKS. Had the tiniest bit of trouble with the indefinite article in ASMIDGE (1A: The tiniest bit). Had a total geographic breakdown with ODENSE (49D: Danish birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen), which I had first as ODESSA (I *knew* ODESSA wasn't "Danish," but ... my typing fingers, running purely on crosswordese instinct, did what they did). Then I tried ODENSK, is that a thing? I know GDANSK is a thing, is ODENSK? Nope, not so much, no. Thankfully, SHAMBLK is not a thing (70A: Drag one's feet), so was ultimately (literally, ultimately) able to SHAMBLE my way to ODENSE

The fill has some ICK FACTORS for sure, with ETTU, ADUE, AFTS and ANO forming a kind of shambling gang of the Crosswordese Undead. Several kealoas* today (LO-CAL / LO-FAT, ERS/ORS, NADA/NONE), but none of it really made a difference to the solving experience. This fill is ultimately unremarkable. The theme is the thing. You liked the visual gag, you didn't, who can say? But that's all there is. Wish I'd experienced the intended "edge"-less grid in real time, but I didn't, so ... there. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. ALFA Romeo made a "Spider" model car for close to 30 years (33D: Spider in a garage, informally?); AFTS is short for "afternoons" (27D: Some times, in brief) ... I think everything else is straightforward? 

*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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Noted Venetian marketplace / WED 4-26-23 / Nickname for Francisco often / Dizzying camera technique invented for 58-Across / Acronym in genetic sequencing / It may punctuate a sarcastic remark / Chicago exchange informally / Vessel for a nursery rhyme / Many-eyed giant of myth / Product in snail-shaped dispenser

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Constructor: Aaron M. Rosenberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: VERTIGO (58A: 1958 film that is the subject of this puzzle) — shot-specific movie theme—all the movie-related answers are arranged in a kind of square spiral that mimics the staircase in the vertiginous DOLLY ZOOM shot toward the end of VERTIGO (dir. by Alfred HITCHCOCK), when Jimmy STEWART chases Kim NOVAK up the mission bell TOWER:

Word of the Day: DOLLY ZOOM (21A: Dizzying camera technique invented for 58-Across) —

dolly zoom (also known as a Hitchcock shotVertigo shotJaws effect, or Zolly shot) is an  in-camera effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception.

The effect is achieved by zooming a zoom lens to adjust the angle of view (often referred to as field of view, or FOV) while the camera dollies (moves) toward or away from the subject in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout. The zoom shifts from a wide-angle view into a more tighter-packed angle. In its classic form, the camera angle is pulled away from a subject while the lens zooms in, or vice versa. The dolly zoom's switch in lenses can help audiences identify the visual difference between wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses. Thus, during the zoom, there is a continuous perspective distortion, the most directly noticeable feature being that the background appears to change size relative to the subject. Hence, the dolly zoom effect can be broken down into three main components: the moving direction of the camera, the dolly speed, and the camera lens' focal length.

The visual appearance for the viewer is that either the background suddenly grows in size and detail and overwhelms the foreground, or the foreground becomes immense and dominates its previous setting, depending on which way the dolly zoom is executed. As the human visual system uses both size and perspective cues to judge the relative sizes of objects, seeing a perspective change without a size change is a highly unsettling effect, often with strong emotional impact. (wikipedia)

• • •

If you've never seen the movie, well, you should, it's great, but also, this must've been, uh, slightly disorienting for you?  I don't think I've ever seen a theme this specific before, based entirely around a single, fairly short shot in a movie. In fact, when I'd finished the puzzle, I thought the spiral of words was simply a representation of the whirling dizziness brought on by VERTIGO—a kind of square version of the circular swirl on the movie's poster:

But no, it's definitely a representation of the staircase in the DOLLY ZOOM shot itself (which you can see here, around the 1:20 mark):

I teach courses in crime fiction and noir and I have grown to love this movie over the years. At first, I was really repulsed by STEWART's character when he turns stalker / abuser toward the end of the film, so the movie just wasn't *fun* for me to watch, the way Rear Window was fun and North by Northwest was fun and even Psycho was fun. Abusive treatment of NOVAK was too realistically creepy for me to enjoy. I still think it's creepy, but I've grown to appreciate the film's considerable beauty. Plus, its DNA is in sooooo many later films (including, surprisingly, THE CONVERSATION (1974), which I just taught). But back to the puzzle—it's definitely ambitious and original in design. You might lose a lot of people with that spiral (I think some will take it, as I initially did, to be a generalized swirl and not a specific staircase), but it's all there—the clues *do* refer to that specific scene, the actors, the TOWER. It works, and the grid manages to hold symmetry (axial symmetry this time). It's a very narrow topic and the theme answers are entirely trivia, but if the movie is your jam, then it's hard to be mad at this very creative theme.

The fill ... well, with a theme like this, where the themers run all over hell and gone, filling the grid cleanly is a huge chore, so with that higher level of difficulty in mind, I think this one comes out OK. You get two showy 15s and an APOPLEXY in the bargain, which is more flashy long stuff than you have any right to expect in a theme this dense. At first I thought MONKEYING AROUND (60A: Goofing off) was trying to pass itself off as a themer, coming as it does in a final, climactic-seeming position. But then I realized the symmetry was on a tilt and that answer was just a non-thematic counterpart to the other 15, "I DEMAND A RECOUNT" (11D: Cry after being narrowly defeated). I balked at ONAVISA (46D: Way to travel, for many tourists), as I balk at many longer prepositional phrases that don't seem air tight (e.g. INACAR and ONAPLANE feel bad, whereas OVERTHEHILL and INABIND feel good, complete, standalone strong). FIGMENT felt incomplete as clued. "FIGMENT of your imagination" is the full phrase. You would never say "oh, that's just a FIGMENT ..." I see we're still doing POPO, which I wish would go (go). But mostly the fill holds up, does its job, stays out of the way. It's fine.

I had trouble in various places, most notably with PANCHO, which ???? I had no idea had anything to do with "Francisco" (40A: Nickname for Francisco, often). That "PAN-" section thus ended up being slow for me, as I couldn't readily get PUMA (40D: Deer stalker), and I had zero idea about NORMANDY (as clued) (42D: Operation Overlord locale). So many nicer, non-war ways to think about Normandy, but OK. I always confuse ARGOS and ARGUS and did so again today, but had enough good sense to leave that second vowel blank until I got the cross. Botched *both* vowels in HIRAM (47A: Ulysses S. Grant's given name at birth), though now I can't remember how. It's possible I wrote in ABRAM, confusing Grant's given name with Garfield's middle name (the way I'm always confusing Grant and Garfield, tbh ... damned late 19th-century bearded "G" presidents ... I'm looking at your non-consecutive ass too, Grover Cleveland ... though it looks like Cleveland just had the mustache, not the full beard). Mostly, though, the puzzle was the normal Wednesday level of difficulty, and the theme was pretty easy if you know the movie (and maybe even if you don't). 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Like thin clouds / TUES 4-25-23 / Half of a 1960s folk quartet / Aardvark's prey / Eat like Pac-Man

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Hello! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday in April. Hope everyone has had a lovely (and warm) April. The weather here in DC has been pretty great, and it’s meant getting to ride my bike in shorts and a tank top rather than with three layers and a rain jacket and ear warmers and gloves. Except I’m now getting a tan line from my backpack from when I bike. Oops! I’ve also been enjoying watching my Warriors, who tied the series with the Kings on Sunday, and Liverpool is kinda sorta maybe making a push for a top-four finish, which would qualify them for the Champions League. With Liverpool out of the running to win the English Premier League, I’ll be rooting for my sister’s team, Arsenal, to crush Man City when they play on Wednesday in one of the biggest games of the season! Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Grant Boroughs

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Two words, cued literally, that can be pronounced as one word ending in -ies, at which point the pronunciation switches from ‘-ize’ to ‘ease.’

Theme answers:
  • QUARTER LIES // QUARTERLIES (17A: "It's worth only 20 cents," "It has Abe Lincoln on it" and others?) 
  • PAN TRIES // PANTRIES (26A: Flute-playing Greek god makes an effort?) 
  • CAD DIES // CADDIES (40A: Terse summary of Alec d'Urberville's fate? (spoiler alert!)) 
  • PREP PIES // PREPPIES (53A: Peel the apples, roll out the dough, turn the oven on, etc.?) 
  • SPECIAL TIES // SPECIALTIES (65A: Neckwear reserved for fancy occasions?)
Word of the Day: Oxlip (7D: Yellow primrose) —
Primula elatior, the oxlip is a species of flowering plant in the family Primulaceae, native to nutrient-poor and calcium-rich damp woods and meadows throughout Europe, with northern borders in Denmark and southern parts of Sweden, eastwards to the Altai Mountains and on the Kola Peninsula in Russia, and westwards in the British Isles. (Wiki)
• • •
This is a theme that made a lot more sense in hindsight and that I somehow enjoyed more after finishing it. I can’t even tell you how long it took me to figure out how to describe the theme for this write-up. But looking back, having the two words made into one was executed well. And while it’s not exactly the most inventive of themes, it made for a solid Tuesday puzzle. 

While solving, though, I was confused by the theme and didn’t put two and two together (or in this case, one and one). It didn’t help that I think the worst clue for the theme answers was the first one, at 17A, with QUARTER LIES, which kind of put me off from the start of the puzzle. The idea of a quarter being worth 20 cents or Abe Lincoln being the face on it didn't make me think of lies; those notions are so wacky I wasn't quite sure what they were supposed to be. If we’d started with SPECIAL TIES (65A), I think I would’ve enjoyed the solve a lot more. It also didn’t help that I’ve never seen “preppy” used as a noun, so I couldn’t wrap my head around PREPPIES (53A). I tried “prep work” at first, even though that didn’t make a ton of sense. 

This was a quite clean puzzle, without a ton of crosswordese, which I appreciated. I also liked a lot of the words the constructor chose to incorporate into the puzzle. My favorite for whatever reason was CHOMP (32D: Eat like Pac-Man). That’s such a random and fun word to say, and you can totally picture Pac-Man moving around the game just chomping up those little pellets and the ghosts. Some of my other favorite words were SOAPY (28D), WISPY (47A), HEIST (57D), and PATSY (73A). I liked the clue and answer for 42D: Word with song or dive — so, SWAN song or SWAN dive. ONE HOP (56A: Like some grounders in baseball) was also fun. And there was some nice symmetry in the puzzle with NOKIA (6A) being on top of EXECS (15A) and TAMPA (1A) directly above OCEAN (14A)

The long downs were nice, with MOUSE TRAP (12D), REPORTERS (33D), and ENTREATED (34D). I didn’t really like CAMPINESS (11D), mostly because I think the adjective is used way more than the noun. Something can be “campy,” for sure. Talking about CAMPINESS? Not so much. 

Now for some dislikes… I find most repeated clues in puzzles to be annoying. They can work if the clue is clever and the answers are next to or near each other. But in this puzzle, the clue was a rather odd “mined find,” and one answer was in the middle of the puzzle while the other was in the SW. That just felt weird. I didn’t like IS ON TO (31A: Sees through). While it may be crosswordese, I’ve never used (or seen) the plural of serum as SERA (38A: Some skin-care products) in the real world — and I use five-plus serums (or, I guess, SERA) on my face nightly. 

There were some places for some potential confusion, especially because there seemed to be a few more proper nouns in this puzzle than usual. OXLIP (7D: Yellow primrose) is a quite uncommon type of flower (even my gardening aficionado mother had never heard of it). I hope everyone knows KEIRA Knightly (8D), especially from her turn in the amazing 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” although the spelling with the “e” before the “i” might’ve tripped some up. I’ve seen Parker POSEY (59D) in a couple things, but I didn’t recognize her name right off the bat.

  • In my humble opinion, a window seat is much better than an AISLE (70A: Preferred seat assignment, to many) on a plane! It’s especially helpful on a long flight when you want to lean up against the window to sleep. 
  • I’ve done many a LAP (67D) around a track. I used to do a lot of 5K races, which is 12.5 laps; a 10K is 25 laps. Once in high school, we did some fundraising thing where we did our long run for the week around the track. I ran something like 12 miles that day, which was a scary (and boring) 48 laps. 
  • I’ve been to the Louvre and was lucky enough to see Nike of Samothrace (aka Winged Victory). I used to only ever wear NIKE (27D) shoes when running, but I recently switched over to HOKAs, which offer a lot of lovely support. 
  • On Wednesday, my sister and I are going to see a BTS member in concert in NYC! It’s the opening day of his tour, and as you might imagine, we’re rather excited. His name is Suga (aka Agust D aka Yoongi), and what kind of fan would I be if I didn’t share his newest song, which is amazing:)
And that's it from me! Have a great May.

Signed, Clare Carroll, more a fan of hard cider than of beer in the heavens (or BREW SKIES // BREWSKIES)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Humanoid robot who appears in all nine "Star Wars" episodes, informally / MON 4-24-23 / One-act Oscar Wilde tragedy / Yammerer's sentence type / Foldable part of a Twister game / Crackle as a fire

Monday, April 24, 2023

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "WHAT'S POPPIN'?" (61A: Slangy question of greeting ... or a hint to 18-, 23-, 40- and 53-Across) — things that you pop:

Theme answers:
  • CORN KERNELS (18A: Edible parts of an ear)
  • PIMPLES (23A: Benzoyl peroxide targets)
  • CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE (40A: Item smashed before a ship's maiden voyage)
  • WHEELIE (53A: Basic bicycle trick)
Word of the Day: SHE-RA (34D: Comic book superheroine whose name is an anagram SHARE) —

Adora, known by her alter-ego She-Ra, is a fictional superheroine in the Masters of the Universe franchise. She is introduced as the protagonist of the 1985 Filmation series She-Ra: Princess of Power and again appears in the 2018 reboot She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. A series of toys under her name was produced by Mattel in 1984.

Her first published appearance was in the 1984 minicomic "The Story of She-ra", which, like the subsequent He-Man and She-Ra animated feature film, introduced her as He-Man's twin sister, Princess Adora, kidnapped by Hordak in her infancy. That minicomic, which features He-Man, the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull, and Castle Grayskull itself, also features one of the very first published appearances of both Hordak and Catra. The minicomic was shipped with the 1985 released original She-Ra action-figure/doll.

In the 1985 series, She-Ra was intended to extend the appeal of the Masters of the Universe setting by being of interest to young girls in the same way that He-Man appealed to young boys. Filmation writers Larry DiTillio and J. Michael Straczynski created the backstory for the property. She-Ra was introduced in the movie The Secret of the Sword as Force Captain Adora of the Horde ruling Etheria, but turned out to be Princess Adora, the long-lost twin sister of He-Man, Prince Adam. (wikipedia)

• • •

Do people still say "WHAT'S POPPIN'?" Maybe. Seems plausible. These theme answers aren't so much things that pop as things that someone pops, so there's a slight agency problem with the whole concept, but basically it's all pretty straightforward and innocuous. Anodyne. Kinda dull. I absolutely did not need want or ask for the image of someone popping their PIMPLES all over my Monday (or any day) puzzle. That was unpleasant, however much it "fit" the theme. Otherwise, it's mostly just a yawn. The grid is much more boring than it might otherwise be because it's constructed so that there are only *two* non-theme answers more than 6 (!?!?) letters long in the whole grid. That's 78 answers total, five of which are themers (7+ letters long), and two of which are 8 letters long, leaving a whopping 71 (!?!?!) answers of 6 letters or shorter. You cannot expect a grid to be very interesting with a make-up like that. THREEPIO is the most interesting thing in the grid, though PARMESAN is definitely the tastiest. Speaking of PARMESAN (41D: Freshly grated cheese at a trattoria), the "trattoria" in the clue had me thinking we were gonna get the more Italian-sounding "Parmigiano," but technically the cheese is either PARMESAN or "Parmigiano Reggiano" (both of them are PDOs, or "protected designations of origin," but outside the EU, the name "PARMESAN" can be used for similar cheeses (per wikipedia), whereas "Parmigiano Reggiano" always refers to the specifically Italian PDO). Cheese knowledge, that is what I'm getting out of the puzzle-blogging experience today. You take what you can get.

The Downs-only solve was a cinch today. Only two significant hesitations in the whole puzzle, first at RUN-ON (30AD: Yammerer's sentence type) and then, worse, at 59D: Crackle, as a fire (SPIT). Never heard of anyone refer to a fire as "SPITting." News to me. Had SP- and still no idea. But once I worked out all the nearby Down answers, the -IT became undeniable. Problem solved. Nothing else made me pause for more than a few seconds. I puzzled for a bit over how to write C3PO (or some "informal" version of his name) into the grid, but that didn't take long (9D: Humanoid robot who appears in all nine "Star Wars" episodes, informally). I would've known SHE-RA even without the (ridiculous, condescending) anagram part of the clue, but I'm a little surprised to see her clued as a "comic book character." I mean, true enough, she debuted in a "mini comic" (apparently—see "Word of the Day," above), but she actually gained fame as the title hero in the animated *TV series*, "SHE-RA: Princess of Power" (a spin-off of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe"). He-Man and SHE-RA were possibly the first major cartoon series that I felt too old for. In terms of TV addictions, I had moved on from cartoons to MTV at that point. Still, I was young enough to be cartoon-adjacent, to see the ads etc., so I know the names He-Man and SHE-RA well, even if I couldn't tell you much of anything about them.

The weirdest thing that happened today during the Downs-only solve was getting PELO-- and wanting PELOPS well before I wanted PELOSI. PELOPS was a mythological king and (probable) namesake of the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece. Here's a cool PELOPS story from
Pelops was a grandson of Zeus, the king of the gods. According to many accounts, his father, Tantalus, cooked and served Pelops to the gods at a banquet. Only Demeter, bereaved over the loss of her daughter, failed to recognize him and partook. When the body was ordered by the gods to be restored, the shoulder, Demeter’s portion, was missing; the goddess provided a replacement of ivory.
And if you don't know what happened to Tantalus ... well, it's not good. But of course the answer ended up being PELOSI, the erstwhile Speaker of the House (57A: Former House speaker Nancy). Not as interesting as PELOPS, frankly, but far more Monday-friendly. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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