Grammy-winning singer St. ___ / WED 5-31-23 / Rap group with the classic 1986 album Licensed to Ill / Newspaper tycoon who inspired Citizen Kane / Fifth-century conqueror / Help for mom-and-pop shops briefly / Biblical figure with an unnamed wife

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Constructor: Brandon Koppy 

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BEASTIE BOYS (37A: Rap group with the classic 1986 album "Licensed to Ill" ... or a description of 17-, 24-, 48- and 57-Across?) — DESCRIPTION

Theme answers:
  • WOLF BLITZER (17A: Longtime host of CNN's "The Situation Room")
  • TIGER WOODS (24A: 11-time P.G.A. Tour Player of the Year)
  • BEAR GRYLLS (48A: The man in "Man vs. Wild")
  • BUFFALO BILL (57A: Wild West showman who lent his name to an N.F.L. team) (that team, of course: the Miami Dolphins)
Word of the Day: WORD (CLUE) —

Beastie Boys  were an American hip hop group from New York City, formed in 1978. The group was composed of Michael "Mike D" Diamond (vocals, drums), Adam "MCA" Yauch (vocals, bass), and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz (vocals, guitar, programming). Beastie Boys were formed out of members of experimental hardcore punk band the Young Aborigines in 1978, with Diamond as vocalist, Jeremy Shatan on bass guitar, John Berry on guitar, and Kate Schellenbach on drums. When Shatan left in 1981, Yauch replaced him on bass and the band changed their name to Beastie Boys. Berry left shortly thereafter and was replaced by Horovitz.

After achieving local success with the 1983 comedy hip hop single "Cooky Puss", Beastie Boys made a full transition to hip hop, and Schellenbach left. They toured with Madonna in 1985 and a year later released their debut album, Licensed to Ill (1986), the first rap record to top the Billboard 200 chart. Their second album, Paul's Boutique (1989), composed almost entirely of samples, was a commercial failure, but later received critical acclaim. Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994) found mainstream success, followed by Hello Nasty (1998), To the 5 Boroughs (2004), The Mix-Up (2007), and Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011).

Beastie Boys have sold 20 million records in the United States and had seven platinum-selling albums from 1986 to 2004. They are the biggest-selling rap group since Billboard began recording sales in 1991. In 2012, they became the third rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the same year, Yauch died of cancer and Beastie Boys disbanded. The remaining members have released several retrospective works, including a book, a documentary, and a career-spanning compilation album. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is cute. Any puzzle that puts BEASTIE BOYS front and center is gonna get a lot of leeway with me, but this theme doesn't need leeway. It's simple, lively, and consistent, and the wordplay is kinda charming: a bunch of "boys" with "beastie" first names. Normally balk at calling grown men "boys" (outside of band name contexts) but for this one occasion, I'll happily allow it. The only themer I have mild qualms about here is BUFFALO BILL, and only because ... that's a stage name. And BILL is not his last name (whereas Blitzer, Woods, and Grylls—all last names). So old Bill there seems like a significant outlier. And yet only one of these guys was actually called his "Beastie" name at birth (Wolf). Tiger's name is Eldrick Tont Woods, and Bear was born Edward Michael. So liberties are being taken all around, and why not, who cares? It's fine. This is how we actually know all these guys, and all of their names follow a Beastie-first pattern. Done. Can you think of other BEASTIE BOYS. I got ... let's see, GOOSE GOSSAGE, there's one. And then there's MOOSE MALLOY, but that's only gonna resonate with hardcore Raymond Chandler fans ... I guess anyone named JAY or ROBIN might count, but that would feel like cheating. BUCK OWENS / HENRY / O'NEIL / ROGERS? Again, with so many options to choose from, BUCK feels weak. CAT STEVENS ... but you've already got a TIGER, so ... I guess he's out. It's not so easy to get a really unusual Beastie set, and to get them to come out all symmetrical like this—that takes some good luck (and probably diligence). Bit awkward to have another "Beastie Boy" lurking in the grid right over Bear's shoulder, though ... but there he is RATSO Rizzo, wondering why he didn't get the invite. "Hey, you guys having a meeting or party or somethin'? What gives?" 

I missed the whole BEAR GRYLLS phenomenon, but learned his name when Obama (!?) appeared on his show back in ... looks like 2015. Here's the episode description:
President Barack Obama and Bear Grylls explore the Alaskan wilderness, where they observe evidence of climate change, sample wild salmon and catkins tea made with water from melting glaciers; Obama discusses his official duties, parenthood and faith.
But never (ever) having seen his show, I can never really remember what he does. If you asked me even yesterday what BEAR GRYLLS is famous for, I'd've said, "Uh ... grilling?" But I knew *his name*, which was all that really mattered for the purposes of this puzzle. I was more fortunate when it came to my familiarity with the other names in this grid. ALLISON Janney is well known from "West Wing." I never saw "I, Tonya," but I have seen (many, many times) Nicole Holofcener's "Walking and Talking" (1996), and Janney has a small but memorable part as a neighbor lady in that movie. I also had no problem with St. VINCENT, a name that (as clued) is going to be the biggest proper noun stumper of the day for most people, I'm guessing. I own like five of her albums and listened to her (delightful) podcast ("Mixtape Delivery Service") for a while, so, between BEASTIE BOYS and St. VINCENT, this puzzle was really talking my (musical) language. St. VINCENT (not surprisingly), like BUFFALO BILL, a stage name. Her real name is Annie Clark. Ooh, looks like she's got a new podcast about the History of Rock ("History Listen: Rock," from Audible). Definitely gonna check that out, possibly today. I'm bizarrely happy about this discovery. Woo hoo, sometimes writing this blog pays off in unexpected ways.

The middle of this grid was the most fun for me. Something about BOGEYing into BEASTIE BOYS and St. VINCENT and then GOing VIRAL really worked for me. I also had a mini-struggle in there with RAN- at 27D: Shared with for feedback (RAN BY). Was not considering two words, and one-word possibilities were ... nil. Just when I was getting frustrated, the BEASTIE BOYS gave me the "B" and I saw that it was RAN space BY, which is just fine. I mean, not as one word, of course ("What the hell's a RANBY!?"), but as a two-word phrase, mwah, great. I laughed at TORY because it's the first thing I wrote in but I was *sure* it was wrong, since TORY is my reflexive response to "Conservative" only because I solve So Many Guardian (UK) cryptic crosswords. That puzzle has retuned my brain in weird ways. "Conservative" can signal "C" or "CON" or "TORY" or ... oh god, my brain is tripping into cryptic-solving mode, gotta stop it before it runs away from me. Anyway, surprised to see TORY be the answers, since nothing in the clue screams (or even whispers) UK. SBALOANS is an ugly longer answer, and DDAYS is never welcome in the plural, but overall the grid looks nice, I think. There were two kealoas* that I noticed today, but only SHH held me up (it hasn't been SSH since 2000, but ... you never know). As for WIENERS, well, I had the WIE- spelling already sorted before I ever looked at the clue. You can spell it WEINERS, right? Right? Martin, what do you think? 

See you tomorrow.

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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"Ich bin ___ Berliner" / TUES 5-29-22 / Thorny savanna tree / Title role in the Best Picture of 1962 / "The ___ of Pooh" (Benjamin Hoff book)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday of May as we head into summer. I’ll be sitting in front of my TV (or computer or phone) over the next couple weeks watching the French Open, which should be great even if the-always-dominant-on-clay Rafa isn’t playing. I’ve also been going on more bike rides (now that I’ve gotten my bike fixed up and won’t get flats every other day) and enjoying the weather and the nice park and bike trails near where I live. It’s also been perfect weather for drinking wine on the patio and reading a book, so I’m hoping we can stave off the extreme heat and humidity for a little longer. Anywho, on to the puzzle…

 Kathryn Ladner

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: EIGHT BIRDS (4D: With 50-Down, things centered in Across answers in this puzzle) — eight across answers in the puzzle have a type of bird centered in the answer

Theme answers:
  • PROBING (15A: Like some nosy questions) 
  • BEAGLES (16A: Dogs like Snoopy) 
  • FRATERNITY (23A: Brotherhood) 
  • MALARKEY (30A: Baloney) 
  • LAWRENCE (41A: Title role in the Best Picture of 1962) 
  • BALLOONIST (46A: Aeronaut propelled by hot air) 
  • REGRETS (57A: Feels remorse over) 
  • SCOWLED (61A: Made an angry face)
Word of the Day: IMANI (22A: ___ Perry, award-winning author of "South to America") 
Imani Perry (born September 5, 1972) is an American interdisciplinary scholar of race, law, literature, and African-American culture. She is currently the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a columnist for The Atlantic] Perry won the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction for South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. Perry is the author of six books and has published numerous articles on law, cultural studies, and African-American studies, including a book about Lorraine Hansberry. She also wrote the notes and introduction to the Barnes and Nobles Classics edition of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth. (Wiki)
• • •

I thought the puzzle was pretty cute and clean overall. The theme didn’t help with the solve at all and wasn’t something I saw until I stared at the puzzle for a little while after I finished. But, the construction of the puzzle and working those eight birds in there was impressive, and overall I enjoyed it. I especially like the theme if you think about the looking for the birds in the puzzle after you’ve finished the puzzle as a sort of bird watching, which is ultimately the theme. 

I had a fairly easy time with this puzzle (even without the help of the theme), partially because the fill was mostly quite smooth. The acrosses were fun words that you don’t often see in puzzles. I particularly liked MALARKEY, LIMEADE, BALLOONIST, and FRATERNITY, which are words that a constructor typically wouldn’t use or really be able to fit in the puzzle. There also weren’t too many typical crossword-y words, and I just generally didn’t have those moments where I groan at a puzzle because I was annoyed. 

I think the puzzle was let down slightly by the construction, which needed to be that way for the birds but which resulted in a lot of similar three-letter answers. Having ABA (10D), AMA (27A), ALA (56D), and also ALE (51A) in the puzzle is rather repetitive and clunky. Same with EWE (55D) and ENE (58D). Also, having RUED (24D: Felt remorse over) and REGRETS (57A: Feels remorse over feels off) didn’t do it for me; I’m generally not a fan of repeat clues unless they’re right next to each other, and these aren’t even close. I’m not sure about the spelling of CAGY (19D: Hard to pin down), even if Google tells me it can be spelled that way; I much prefer “cagey.” I also for whatever reason hated the clue/answer for 19A: Nickname that might drop -vin or -eb) with CAL. That’s a long way to go for a three-letter answer. My sister went to Cal (aka UC Berkeley), and I would’ve loved to see it clued relating to Berkeley! 

In general, I’ve got a positive impression of this puzzle and enjoyed the solve, though I don’t think I’ll be engaging in any more bird watching any time soon.

  • With the clue for 62A: Stupefied, my mind immediately went to Harry Potter and what happens after someone waves their wand and yells “stupefy,” and then the person on the receiving end becomes temporarily paralyzed. Anyway… IN A DAZE is much more apt for the real world. 
  • Yay for MENS REA (64A: Legal term meaning "guilty mind") in the puzzle! I sometimes actually fear seeing legal terms in a puzzle because it’ll feel embarrassing if I don’t get them easily. But thankfully this one popped to mind immediately. And there was another lawyer-y term in there: ABA (10A: Lawyers' grp.). I couldn’t miss that one, as they’re always sending me emails. Hmm… that reminds me that I need to go renew my bar membership. 
  • So I was one of the people who liked Comic SANS (38D: Comic ___ (oft-mocked typeface) before I realized it was the font that everyone loved to trash. Now there’s also the font Papyrus that people make fun of. (I’m mostly thinking of this SNL skit with Ryan Gosling about the choice to use Papyrus as the font for “Avatar,” which never fails to make me laugh.) 
  • Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing this as it’s getting kind of late, but I’ve had some fun looking at the puzzle and reading the answers across, from left to right, as if they’re phrases, Like: a BEAGLES EMBARGO or how you may have SCOWLED IN A DAZE or you might ACHIEVE PROBING as you analyze the puzzle. I can imagine President Biden serving MALARKEYDILLS at a White House function. 
Yes, I’ll wrap this up now. 

Have a great June and stay cool!

Signed, Clare Carroll, drinking wine in a sort of BALLOONIST BASK without any LIMEADE REGRETS  

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Head covering whose name means "curtain" in Arabic / MON 5-29-23 / Quaint cry of surprise / Off in mob-speak / Smoothie chain founded in 1990 / Jerry's cartoon counterpart / Surreptitious gesture with the head

Monday, May 29, 2023

Constructor: Katie Hale and Zachary David Levy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (for a Monday)

THEME: Rhymes with "puce" — last words in the theme answers all ... rhyme. I think that's it.

Theme answers:
  • HYPOTENUSE (16A: Longest side of a right triangle)
  • FAST AND LOOSE (23A: Reckless way to play things)
  • CHOCOLATE MOUSSE (38A: Dessert made with cocoa and egg whites)
  • "WHAT THE DEUCE!?" (47A: Quaint cry of surprise)
  • JAMBA JUICE (60A: Smoothie chain founded in 1990)
Word of the Day: "WHAT THE DEUCE!?" (47A) —
An exclamation used to emphasize surprise, shock, or bafflement. ("Deuce" is a minced oath in place of the word "devil.") (
• • •

Pretty flimsy excuse for a theme. Each answer's rhyming part is spelled slightly differently than the others (-USE, -OOSE, -OUSSE, -EUCE, -UICE), so I guess that's something, but not much. Probably just best to think of this as a Monday themeless. That way, you can appreciate a few of the themers as standalone answers ("WHAT THE DEUCE!?" being the obvious highlight). But then there's not much to appreciate besides the theme answers. LAY TO WASTE is good, STOOD ASIDE is OK, but on the whole the grid is definitely below average, with lots of short fill, much of it overfamiliar and stale. NENE LSAT SIB DEI ... just a BEVY of answers like that. Again, as is true every Monday, solving Downs-only helps. It's harder to be distracted by subpar fill and a weak theme when you are distracted by having to fight your way down the grid, inferring all the Acrosses and hoping to god you don't have one of the Downs wrong. It's always fun trying to piece together longer Acrosses from whatever Downs you are able to drive through them—a great test of your pattern recognition skills. The hardest one to get was probably the first, as I had the HYP- part and could only think of words like "HYPNOTIC" "HYPNOTIZE" etc. Maybe "HYPODERMIC." Didn't see the "O" right away because I couldn't get SPOOFS without some help (3D: Comedic sendups). But after sorting out HYPOTENUSE, none of the other themers presented any trouble. Didn't really notice the theme until I was done or nearly done, and as I've said it hardly matters, because the theme is hardly there. 

Besides SPOOFS, there were only four other Downs that I couldn't get either immediately or very quickly. The first was SLY NOD (21D: Surreptitious gesture with the head). My trouble was due entirely to my misreading "Surreptitious" as "Superstitious." "What the hell kind of superstitious head gestures are there, even!?" I was imagining superstitious people doing all kinds of strange things with their heads, possibly on Friday the 13th or when black cats crossed their paths, but none of the gestures seemed plausible or nameable. I worked the crosses for that answer to the point where it *had* to be SLY NOD before I finally noticed that I'd been misreading the clue the whole time. Fun! Also had trouble with (the grimly clued) WHACK, which I wanted to be WASTE (neglecting the fact that WASTE was already in the puzzle, in LAY TO WASTE). Seemed like there might be a few options for a five-letter head covering with an Arabic name, so I had to wait for inferred crosses to help me with HIJAB (49D: Head covering whose name means "curtain" in Arabic). DEBATE was also weirdly not obvious without some help (45D: Argue back and forth). But that's it for Downs-only trouble. Kind of a throwaway theme. Mondays have been much better than this of late—along with Thursday, the best themed day of the week in recent months. Today was a bit of a letdown. But as I say, I'm never truly bored or dissatisfied when I'm solving a Monday Downs-only. Hope you liked this better than I did. See you ... soon, I hope.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Mr. Wednesday's true identity in Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" / SUN 5-28-23 / Request for one-on-one time in the "Bachelor" TV franchise / Titular character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis / Mexican garments as they're spelled in Mexico / Equipped as a factory for production / Newspaper debut of 9/15/82 / They're found beneath sink holes

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Constructor: Chandi Deitmer and Taylor Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "U-Haul" — so ... you "HAUL" the "U" from one answer (rendering it wacky) to the adjacent answer (rendering it wacky), and it's all tied together by a TV catchphrase: "CAN I BORROW YOU FOR A SECOND?" (70A: Request for one-on-one time in the "Bachelor" TV franchise ... or a phonetic hint to four pairs of answers in this puzzle)

Theme answers:
  • LEISURE SIT / SUIT UP FRONT (24A: Enjoy a La-Z-Boy recliner? / 26A: Head exec?)
  • IT'S A LOST CASE / COLD CAUSE (46A: "My luggage has gone missing!"? / 49A: Germs from daycare, e.g.?)
  • CAKE DON'TS / DONUT DESPAIR (90A: Things to avoid when baking desserts? / 92A: Sadness at the last Boston cream being taken, e.g.?)
  • THIS OLD HOSE / PANTY HOUSE (116AMy garden waterer that's seen better days? / 119A: Shopping destination for your underwear needs?)
Word of the Day: "THIS OLD HO(U)SE" (See 116A) —

This Old House is an American home improvement media brand with television shows, a magazine, and a website. The brand is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. The television series airs on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television network and follows remodeling projects of houses over a series of weekly episodes.

Boston PBS station WGBH-TV originally created the program and produced it from its inception in 1979 until 2001, when Time Inc. acquired the television assets and formed This Old House Ventures. WGBH also distributed episodes to PBS until 2019, when WETA-TV became the distributor starting with season 41. Warner Bros. Domestic Television distributes the series to commercial television stations in broadcast syndication. Time Inc. launched This Old House magazine in 1995, focusing on home how-to, know-how, and inspiration. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well, this really didn't work for me, though I will say that it got better as I progressed, and noticed that the theme had more layers than I initially thought. That is, I got here:

... looked at the title of the puzzle, and thought, "That's it? We're just dropping 'U's? Oh, man... This is gonna be a long solve." And then things got kinda worse when I got to the revealer, since I don't find anything interesting or even remotely charming about "The Bachelor" (which members of my family have made me watch on various summer vacations), and don't give a damn about any of its rituals. Like, I know there is a "Rose Ceremony" (I think), and that is all I know—except for all the relationship clichés and fake "love" baloney. It's weird to me that "CAN I STEAL YOU FOR A SECOND?" is a catchphrase since it's just ... a phrase. That anyone might use. Anyway, this puzzle forced me to think about "The Bachelor," so Strike Two. But then I (finally) got to the second part of the theme—that is, the answers that actually "stole" the "U"s. I thought they'd merely been dropped, but no, they just got "stolen" by adjacent answers. Double your wackiness letter-drop / letter-add fun. Twice the Type Of Puzzle I Don't Really Care For! But at least the theme was not just a drop-a-letter now, so, points for complexity, and ... no longer Strike Two, I guess. Strike One? Ball Three? I dunno, the baseball metaphor falls apart at his point.

I was hoping that the "Second" part of the revealer phrase ("CAN I BORROW YOU FOR A SECOND?") was going to have some kind of meaning. Like, maybe the "U" would always appear in the "second" position in its new answer. But no, that isn't it. I guess if you're being generous you could say that "FOR A SECOND" means "FOR A SECOND theme answer that follows the theme answer from which the 'U' has been stolen." Maybe that was the intended meaning? Maybe I'm making that up? Maybe there's some third interpretation I'm not seeing? Anyway, this kind of theme lives or dies on the wackiness of the results, and these just don't get there. The last pair is the only good pair: THIS OLD HOSE and PANTY HOUSE are at least plausibly smile-inducing. The rest ... work, but with far less amusing results. 

Fill-wise, there were rough spots for sure. I've got angry green circles around the whole PTRAPS / PAC / ASAMI area, largely because ASAMI is the worst and PTRAPS has a really tortured clue on it (tortured in an attempt at misdirection—the worst kind of torture) (58A: They're found beneath sink holes). Who has ever called the drain in their sink a "sink hole"? Pfft. The IODIDE area was also rough for me. I don't really know what an IODIDE is, so there's that. And it crossed a very weird EDU clue (13D: Northwestern follower) (I wanted -ERS) and a very badly clued IDIOTIC (11D: Half-baked). IDIOTIC is way, way, way more strongly negative a term than "half-baked." "Half-baked" implies that maybe it makes sense at first blush, whereas IDIOTIC implies thoroughgoing implausibility and stupidity. Biggest trouble spot for me was everywhere around DONUT DESPAIR, since I wanted to the "Boston cream" in the clue to have something to do with PIES, which is what I initially wrote at the end of the answer. The clues in here were also very hard for me. I know nothing about "American Gods," so everything about that clue and answer, shrug (I guess ODIN is a god, so maybe "Gods" was supposed to be a hint???) (89D: Mr. Wednesday's true identity in Neil Gaiman's "American Gods") [people in the Comments are reminding me that “Wednesday” is derived from ODIN via “Woden”]FRENEMY (a good answer) was hard to see. TOOLED UP (???), no way. I just inferred the UP part eventually (62D: Equipped, as a factory for production). And then there was ORGY, the last thing I wrote in—totally inscrutable to me, with that clue (89A: Bodily function?). As "?" clues go, I think it's fine. Just couldn't get hold of it. Aside from the "I'M HIP" / "I'M HEP" kealoa*, I had no other issues. (Apparently I'M HEP has only appeared once, in 2010, so I should probably be slightly more confident in guessing "I'M HIP" next time) (this is the 18th appearance of "I'M HIP" in the Shortz Era).

["When it was hip to be hep, I was hep..."]

I forgot to mention one significant flaw in theme execution—at least it's a flaw in my eyes. In a "U"-based theme, where the dropping and adding of "U"s for comic effect is the entire point, there really shouldn't be Any Other "U"s involved in those theme answers. Clear the deck so that the "U"s can do their job without superflUous "U" distraction. But SUIT UP FRONT, woof. WOOF. Aside from being just a limp answer (both as a base answer ("sit up front") and as a wacky answer, it's got that dang extra "U" in there, mucking things up. Note how none of the other themers have this issue. And then note how they are better for it. [Spoke too fast—there’s a second superfluous (un-Hauled) “U” in LEISURE SIT] OK, let's see, anything else need explaining? I got very very flummoxed by 15A: Tap alternative (PSST!). Really wanted "sparkling" or "bottled" ... or else something beer-related. And then I wanted something dance related. Just brutal, that one ("tap" here is a physical "tap" on the shoulder, an attention-getting "tap"). No idea what SHOGI is (16D: Board game popular in Japan), so you can just look that one up if you want it explained (it's a chess-like game). The [Titular character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis] is actually TED Lasso, so the clue is weird to me (usually full name in clue = full name in answer). Never in my life heard the expression ["Show it here!"]. "Give it here!" sure, of course, yes. But "Show it here!," never. So "LEMME SEE" wasn't exactly hard, but the clue definitely felt awkward. An ANT is a [Six foot-runner]s because it has ... six feet. I wanted EMU (which is roughly six feet tall, and runs ... or so crosswords have told me). I think that's it for today. Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend if you got one! See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I think my family member actually made me watch "The Bachelorette." Same difference, I'm guessing.

*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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Diner owner in Garfield / SAT 5-27-23 / Squee-inducing / Sarcastic response to a first-world-problem complaint / Approval often uttered impatiently / Very clear say colloquially / California-based soft drink company

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Constructor: Samuel Smalley

Relative difficulty: Medium (though I made it much harder than it should've been...)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SONJA Sohn (4D: "The Wire" actress Sohn) —
Sonja Denise Plack (née Williams; born May 9, 1964), known professionally as Sonja Sohn, is an American actress, activist and filmmaker, best known for portraying Baltimore detective Kima Greggs in the HBO drama The Wire (2002–2008). She is also known for having starred in the independent film Slam, which she co-wrote, and appearing as Samantha Baker in the ABC series Body of Proof. Her role in  The Wire led to her work as the leader of a Baltimore community initiative called ReWired for Change. (wikipedia)
• • •

My entire experience with this puzzle can be summed up in three words: PEAK HOURS BEANSTALK. As in, "Jack preferred to climb the BEANSTALK early in the morning, rather than during PEAK HOURS, so that he could avoid traffic and fees (to say nothing of fies, foes, and fums)." I think you've got a just-fine, ordinarily difficult Saturday puzzle here, but when you drop PEAK HOURS and BEANSTALK, bam bam, and then *cross* them with HAIRY (23A: Like a lion), well, the puzzle becomes virtually impenetrable. TAMPER PROOF, even. I had inklings early on that something was amiss. For instance, I really hated HAIRY as an answer for [Like a lion]. "Lots of animals are HAIRY!" I internally jeered. But then eventually I confirmed ("confirmed") the "Y" with ALLEY, and so HAIRY really really didn't wanna budge. But down below, I couldn't make the short stuff work. No way to see NEWT or STAGY, for instance, and those short answers are the things I rely on for traction in a wide-open puzzle like this, as well as for access to the corners. And yet—with the (wrong) "K" in place from BEANSTALK, I figured the letter in front of it had to be an "S" ... and it was! SALUT! (40D: French toast). So now the two very long, very wrong answers had literally carried me across the grid and into the SW corner, where I started having success, so ... anyway, PEAK HOURS and BEANSTALK stayed in place a long, long time. I had much of the SW done and *all* of the NE done before I started to put enough of a squeeze on the center that those wrong answers finally popped out of place. 

But even getting TOTES ADORBS (my first long Across) (33A: Squee-inducing) didn't dislodge PEAK HOURS or BEANSTALK: wrong answers, yes, but they had the right letters for the TOTES ADORBS cross. And yet ... as is fitting and possibly even TOTES ADORBS, a dog came to my rescue: TOTO! TOTES to TOTO! I had the back ends of the other long Acrosses  (PROOF, TRAINS) pretty well sorted, and so when T-US-- PROOF just looked like total garbage, I boldly pulled both HOURS and STALK and bam, in went TAMPER PROOF, and then in went MODEL TRAINS (32A: Bad things to lose track of?). Felt great to finally get the breakthrough I needed. What felt less great was having the replacements of PEAK HOURS and BEANSTALK be significantly duller answers. PEAK TIMES is somehow much less vivid, and BEAN ... PLANT? Woof. As Jack might've said before descending the BEANSTALK, that's a long way down. Ah well, at least TAWNY was (infinitely) better than HAIRY. That's something.

The fat middle of this puzzle is fine, but I actually think the corners are the most entertaining part, which is saying something, as usually in a puzzle like this, the middle has all the marquee stuff and the corners tend to be kind of perfunctory. But today they're fizzing with energy: GINS UP GOODIE "NEED ME?" OPEN TAB DADJOKES had me in a good mood right from the start (to be clear, dad jokes never put me in a good mood, but as an answer, DAD JOKES was pleasing, and the clue really worked well (19A: Pop corn?) (as in "corny jokes your pop might make")). MOB FRONT "TO RECAP..." HERNIA  ... RACE BIB "ALL MINE!" BIG NO-NOS ... LAB WASTE "POOR YOU..." "SAVE US!" ... the corners are really working hard to ensure you're having a good time. I appreciate it. I even liked seeing WOAH, a lamentably tenacious bit of nonsense, because the clue was perfect—the clue *knows* the spelling is garbage (however popular) and it tells you so, with its addition of a disdainfully eye-rolling "in one spelling." This puzzle has me liking DAD JOKES and WOAH—a truly huge accomplishment. 

More stuff:
  • 1A: Creates by artificial means (GINS UP) — really wanted CLONES.
  • 14A: New Year's Day, informally (ONE ONE) — really wanted DAY ONE, really having trouble imagining someone saying "ONE ONE" and my understanding them, especially on New Year's Day, when it's at least possible I'll be nursing a hangover.
  • 18A: Some toy carriers (SLEIGHS) — ??? How many Santas are there?
  • 34A: Traveling sorts (HOBOS) — I feel like this is far too vague a clue for HOBOS. Without trains or bindles or secret code or unshaven faces, I'm at a loss. 
  • 9D: Actress DuVall of "21 Grams" (CLEA) — I know her from "Veep." She was the first answer I put into the NE, and absolutely crucial to getting traction up there.
  • 30D: Role played by a dog with a bigger salary than some human actors in the same film (TOTO) — Doesn't this describe most major dog roles? Surely ASTA and CUJO made more money than "some (!?!?!) human actors" in those films.
  • 43D: Going without, in a way (NUDE) — that's not an expression for NUDE. There are lots of slangy expressions for NUDE, and "Going without" is not one of them. You just omitted a word from the clue ("clothes"). YES, YES, I get that you wanted to do a misdirect, and have people think "Going without" meant "being deprived" in some way, but you can't just make stuff up, unless you wanna bring in the "?" to help you out. [Going without?]. I might accept that.
Hope you found things to like. See you tomorrow, or whenever.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Youth sports mismatch ender / FRI 5-26-23 / Nonmelodic genre / Ones who live large, in slang / Action in the card game Spit

Friday, May 26, 2023

Constructor: Hemant Mehta

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for me, might just be me)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: NOISE MUSIC (11D: Nonmelodic genre) —

Noise music is a genre of music that is characterised by the expressive use of noise within a musical context. This type of music tends to challenge the distinction that is made in conventional musical practices between musical and non-musical sound. Noise music includes a wide range of musical styles and sound-based creative practices that feature noise as a primary aspect.

Noise music can feature acoustically or electronically generated noise, and both traditional and unconventional musical instruments. It may incorporate live machine sounds, non-musical vocal techniques, physically manipulated audio media, processed sound recordings, field recordingcomputer-generated noise, stochastic process, and other randomly produced electronic signals such as distortionfeedbackstatic, hiss and hum. There may also be emphasis on high volume levels and lengthy, continuous pieces. More generally noise music may contain aspects such a improvisationextended techniquecacophony and indeterminacy. In many instances, conventional use of melody, harmony, rhythm or pulse is dispensed with. (wikipedia)

• • •

No flow whatsoever today, but I don't think it's the puzzle's fault. Not entirely. I just couldn't find the handle on a ton of clues, and much of the grid was just outside my knowledge or off my wavelength. I think the low point for me was looking at HO-DESKED and ... looking at HO-DESKED and ... just looking, really. Figured I had an error, but no. HOOD-DESKED? No, wait, too many letters. Ran the alphabet to get "T," and immediately thought "Oh, yeah ... I guess I heard that somewhere" (36A: Shared a workspace, in modern parlance). Basically "I guess I heard that somewhere" was the order of the day. And I'm speaking as someone who flat-out knew both BALLERS and PLAYER-HATERS ... though the latter took me a few beats because hoo boy shouldn't that have "in times of yore" or "once" or "quaintly" or something attached to it? I feel like I haven't heard that term since the '90s. BALLERS is most common in sports (to describe people who are very good at them) but has extended out from there to have (professional athlete) lifestyle implications ("baller" is also an adjective, just fyi). But back to my not knowing things: NOISE MUSIC (11D: Nonmelodic genre). I am sure I've heard the phrase before, maybe seen it in xwords, but that didn't help me at all when I had -MUSIC. That NE corner pushed me around badly until I managed to get SCHOLARSHIP up there (10D: Knowledge, or a means to acquire it). NOISE MUSIC is definitely a thing but also definitely a supervague thing that I never hear mentioned despite listening to and reading about music literally every day. I'm told Sonic Youth falls in this category, so apparently I am very familiar with NOISE MUSIC and just didn't know it. Really thought I heard some "melodies" on Goo but maybe I don't know what "melodies" are. Not sure what I know at the moment. All bets are off!

Speaking of "in times of yore" or "once" or "quaintly": MAKES LOVE! (30D: Pursues a passion?). Oof, that phrase has always made me cringe—it's got a creepy euphemistic quality about it, but its non-explicitness made it (for a time) exceedingly popular as a phrase for sex in popular music (back when popular music mostly wasn't allowed to be explicit about such things). Exceedingly popular. And yet I had MAKES- and just blanked. I couldn't really accept that the puzzle was gonna reach back to the 20th century for the sex term, so after MAKES OUT (which didn't fit), I just didn't know. Also didn't know: the OVER- part of OVERGRAZED (54A: Like some land no longer good for livestock) and the NOT ONE part of "NOT ONE WORD" (51A: "Keep this between us"). Me: "Well, MUM'S THE WORD doesn't fit, I quit." NOT ONE WORD seems like something you'd say when someone is about to sass you or taunt you or otherwise give you s**t and you want to indicate that they had better not if they want to avoid injury. So despite the fact that the grid looks like it should've been whoosh-whoosh—lots of interlocking long stuff—my experience was definite slog-slog. But then I blanked on stuff I knew today, so I don't think my judgment can be trusted. I had MERCY- and thought "ugh, what do they call it when they invoke the MERCY rule (!) to end a game? MERCY ... KILLING? No, way too harsh. MERCY ... CALL? That sounds wrong." Etc. That was the kind of day it was. Seeing the actual answer and looking right over its shoulder. (30A: Youth sports mismatch ender)

LOLLS and MULLS before MILLS (20A: Idly moves (about)), which had weirdly serious implications for getting "I COME IN PEACE" and LOINS (the latter was particularly baffling, as I thought the literal meaning of "Mutton chops" was meat and so was thinking the "?" wanted me to think about the sheep's ... actual mouth? ... I dunno man, I slept 7 hours so I don't know what's up with my brain this morning). The very idea that the word MEMO is on a check baffled me today—and I actually still handle and write checks on a regular basis.My [Tough nut to crack] was a PECAN before it was a POSER (speaking of "in times of yore" / "once" / "quaintly"—crosswords are literally the only place I see POSER). No idea what Spit is so SLAP is just four letters to me, absolutely no clue there (43A: Action in the card game Spit). SLAP hurt because it crossed CLING, which had the vaguest clue of them all (40D: Stick). I even picked wrong on the NOM/NOD kealoa* (51D: Academy recognition, for short). Tripping over my own shoelaces everywhere I went. The grid looks good, but the cluing and I just didn't get along. Nothing to be done about that. Just ... come back and try again tomorrow, I guess. See you then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. OK one complaint—that clue on SEGA is terrrrrrible (6A: Company whose name, aptly, is an anagram of GAMES minus a letter). "Minus ... a letter?" I got news for you, if you gotta anagram it and drop a letter, than you have lost your right to use the term "aptly." This is like saying that LUCY is an apt name for someone with CURLY hair because see you just drop the "R" and then mix up the letters, see, see!

P.P.S. OK one last complaint—"living large" is already slang; no need for "in slang" to be in that clue for BALLERS (23A: Ones who live large, in slang).

*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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Banned book of 1955 / THU 5-25-23 / Jojo Rabbit setting Abbr / Dogs that can run up to 35 miles an hour / Pronoun heard in Hamlet and Richard III appropriately / Exercise that incorporates ballet, yoga and Pilates / Well-manored sort / Green Balch American humanitarian who won 1946 Nobel Peace Prize

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley and Garrett Chalfin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SPLIT PEAS (35D: Certain soup ingredients ... or a homophonic hint to the answers to the starred clues) — words with double "P"s are "split" across black squares, right between the "P"s:

Theme answers:
  • WHIP/PETS (17A: *Dogs that can run up to 35 miles an hour)
  • POWER SUP/PLY (28A: *Electrical current converter)
  • PHILIP/PINES (45A: *Country composed of over 7,000 islands)
  • FLIP/PANT (61A: *Lacking seriousness, as an attitude)
  • REAP/PEAR (11D: *Show up again)
Word of the Day: Bracketologist (6D: Bracketologists' picks, often => ONE SEEDS) —
  1. an expert at making predictions about the participants in and outcomes of the games in a sports tournament, especially the NCAA college basketball tournament. 
    "UCLA didn't even belong in the tournament based on bracketologists' projections"( Languages)
• • •

"This better be good" / "Not good enough"—these were the phrases I either uttered or thought to myself just just before, and after, I got the revealer phrase. "All we're doing is splitting words? Why? I need a rationale." Well, I got one, and it was a letdown. I mean, cute pun, I suppose, but I like my Thursdays with a lot more bite than this. I don't think the journey is worth the joke. Not on a Thursday, anyway. If you're someone who routinely hates Thursdays because they get too tricksy, then this one was probably Right up your alley. You do get a gimmick that involves entering the answers in unusual ways, but it's nothing you can't navigate with a little patience. The only answer I can see tripping anyone up is EMILY—Saturday-level clue on that one, for sure (3D: ___ Greene Balch, American humanitarian who won the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize). But otherwise, this was pretty much a cakewalk. I think my issue isn't so much with the puzzle's theme, which does what it says it does, and does it competently enough, as with the puzzle's appearing on Thursday. The gimmick is perhaps *too* tricksy for a Wednesday puzzle, but that's where I might've enjoyed seeing it—on a day when I'm not expecting much and I get a little theme elevation, a little zing. But the final "joke" is just too corny, and the basic gimmick not interesting enough, to occupy the Thursday slot. And they even starred the damn theme clues for you—why? Figuring that kind of stuff out on your own is half the fun on Thursdays. This theme was remedial for a Thursday—which is great for a certain section of the solving population, I'm sure. Just not for me.

It is true that the splits don't just split, they also split into what look like two distinct, stand-alone answers (e.g., POWERS UP on the one hand, PLY on the other). That is a nifty little architectural bit. Doesn't really have anything to do with solving enjoyment, but it's a nice touch. I just don't see it throwing people off the scent much, if at all. I mean, if the first themer you encounter is 17A: *Dogs that can run up to 35 miles an hour and you get WHIP, then, unless you are entirely dog-ignorant, you know that the PETS has gone missing. And even if you're entirely dog-ignorant, you can't possibly think that WHIP is the right answer for that clue, and anyway they've *told* you to look out for trickiness by flagging this clue with an * in the first place, so ... there's no real room to struggle, actually. You're being spoon-fed so much. I finished the NW easily and immediately thought "OK, where's the PETS?" I honestly thought the revealer was going to be NO PETS, and I was like "damn ... and they managed to use an *actual pet* as a themer ... how are they going to keep *that* up? How many pets have PETS in their name!?!?" But the PETS was just on the other side of the black square, ho hum.

Between getting the theme and *getting* the theme (i.e. between WHIP/PETS and SPLIT PEAS), things got ... grim, in a couple of ways. First, I got police brutality with the "bad" COP clue, which maybe I wouldn't have read so brutally if it hadn't crossed COMA. Then I get the grimness of World War II not once but twice—the real grimness there isn't so much the grimness of war as the grimness of repetition. I mean, you clued AT WAR *via* World War II (1D: Like much of Europe beginning in 1939) ... and then put WWII in the grid? (26D: "Jojo Rabbit" setting: Abbr.). So you dupe "war" (it's in AT WAR and it's what the second "W" in WWII stands for), and then you emphasize the duplication by making the clue on AT WAR explicitly about that same war. Editors are supposed to do better. I hesitated to write in WWII, even though I knew it was probably right, because I couldn't believe they would dupe both the word and the war itself. So, grim in subject matter, grim in technical execution. And in case that wasn't grim enough for you, we got ASSAD waiting for you at the bottom of the grid. From war to war to war criminal, great. 

Didn't like the clue on "I INSIST" since ["No, really"] is more the thing you (maybe) say before you say "I INSIST," not a great equivalent *of* "I INSIST." ["No, really!"] looks is more a reaction to someone's disbelief, a rough equivalent of "IT'S TRUE!" or "I SWEAR!" But I'm just quibbling here, and anyway I kinda like an answer that starts with double-"I"s. Unusual. Thought ONE SEEDS (6D: Bracketologists' picks, often) were TOP SEEDS, which is basically the same thing, but the clue was weird to me because "picks" here seems to refer to picking the *outcomes* of the games, whereas I thought "bracketologists" made predictions about the brackets themselves, i.e. predictions about what the brackets will look like, and which teams will *be* ONE SEEDS. The "often" in this clue, though, suggests that the "bracketologists" in this case are, like any other schmo in a NCAA basketball tournament office pool, just picking ONE SEEDS to win the tourney. This is why I made "bracketologist" the Word of the Day. Looks like the word can be taken either way—referring to one who predicts both the "participants in and outcomes of" tournament games. Good to know. That's all. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I didn't even mention that this grid has a creepy asymmetry, which I do not care for. "Creepy" because it's not pronounced and purposeful—you can just tell that something is ... off. I first noticed when I saw there was no rotationally symmetrical partner for DISC (38A). The asymmetry here would make sense if it only involved the black square in REAP/PEAR, which (if you include the black square) is symmetrical with SPLITPEAS, but it goes beyond that. Those central black square formations just aren't ... right. DISC is in the center row, but offset, i.e. not dead center. Makes me a little queasy if I look at it too long. Boldly breaking symmetrical for thematic / artistic purposes, I can get behind that. But this slight alteration to symmetry ... it's Uncanny Valley territory for me. Do not like. I'd rather have a symmetrical grid where the split "P"s appeared in asymmetrical places, for sure.

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