I can relate in Gen Z slang / FRI 6-30-23 / Dancing duo of the early 1900s / "Waiting to Exhale" or "Bridget Jones's Diary," dismissively / Dining option where bow ties might be expected / Endangered predator of the Southwest / Certain modern investment informally

Friday, June 30, 2023

Constructor: Carly Schuna

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: IDLI (48D: Steamed rice cake) —
Idli or idly [...] (plural: idlis) is a type of savoury rice cake, originating from South India, popular as a breakfast food in Southern India and in Sri Lanka. The cakes are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches so that they are more readily metabolised by the body. [...] To make Idli, four parts uncooked rice (idli rice or parboiled rice) to one part whole white lentil (black gram, Vigna mungo) are soaked separately for at least four hours to six hours or overnight. Optionally spices such as fenugreek seeds can be added at the time of soaking for additional flavour. Once done soaking, the lentils are ground to a fine paste and the rice is separately coarsely ground, then they are combined. Next, the mixture is left to ferment overnight during which its volume will more than double. After fermentation some of the batter may be kept as a starter culture for the next batch. The finished idli batter is put into greased moulds of an idli tray or "tree" for steaming. The perforated molds allow the idlis to be cooked evenly. The tree holds the trays above the level of boiling water in a pot, and the pot is covered until the idlis are done (about 10–25 minutes, depending on size). A more traditional method is to use leaves instead of moulds. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one is trying really hard to be "fresh." Really hard. I appreciate the effort. I do. It's just that the phrasing on that central answer felt off. It has big "I need to make this 15 letters" energy. My daughter is Gen Z and my students are currently all Gen Z (and have been for year now) and "mood" is absolutely ordinary slang, but the phrase I usually here is that something is "a mood" or (more often) "a whole mood." Sometimes in texts or social media posts you just get stand-alone "mood," which concisely conveys the entire "I can relate" sentiment. But "THAT IS SUCH A MOOD," while it's totally comprehensible as is, just feels ... I dunno, too formal? Not even a contraction on "THAT IS"? When you go for something that's super-current, sticking the landing feels important. When I google (in quot. marks) "THAT IS SUCH A MOOD," one of the first hits is the NYT's own crossword blog, and yes, google knows me, and knows that I am a crossword person, and probably knows my favorite drinks and songs and what I had for dinner last night and blood type, but still, if a phrase is perfect, it generally won't return crossword sites on the first page of hits. As for "HELL TO THE NO," it's corny and dated, but I liked it (19A: "As frickin' if!"). I threw that across the grid with a prayer, thinking "lol that's probably not right," so when it was, I was happy. I like "I MEAN, REALLY!" the best of all the colloquial phrases, because it is both current and right on the money, phrasing-wise (48A: "Surely you know that's ludicrous"). I was (much) less happy with CHICK LIT, a stupid derogatory term that I know about but have actually never heard (most everyone I know is a huge reader and it's actually pretty rare for someone to talk shit about an entire category of book, esp. books by and about women (I should add that most everyone I know is a woman)). CHICK LIT also just doesn't have the snap and crackle (and currency) of CHICK FLICK, which is what I wanted when I first read the clue (both titles being most famous as movies, not books—though they were certainly famous books as well) (14A: "Waiting to Exhale" or "Bridget Jones's Diary," dismissively).  

This puzzle felt aimed at a younger generation than my own, but that's cool ... and it's not what made it difficult. I struggled a lot, but primarily with the shorter, less generationally-specific fill. So much vagueness. And a host of hard-to-grasp "?" clues. Between the vagueness of 3D: Wear out (TIRE) and the "?"-ness of 1D: Isn't oneself? (ACTS*and* 1A: Crash protection? (AUTOSAVE), I had trouble just getting started. Hard to get into the western section because of hyper-vagueness of 23A: Up *and* 23D: Well. Two clues, two words, whole lotta shrugging (AT-BAT, APTLY). The -EST suffix on 38A: Bottom (again with the one-word clues!) never occurred to me (LOWEST). I had LOW-END in there, I think. 42A: Hangs on was vague (LASTS). 43D: Business card abbr. wasn't TEL (STE.) (stands for "suite"). Had the CAS- and no idea what [Borrowing option] was supposed to mean. Another inscrutable "?" clue down there with 47D: Brief out line? ("I LOSE") (?) (I guess when you are "out" (in poker?) the "line" you might say is "I LOSE" (!?))(only just now realizing what the "pun" there is supposed to be, i.e. "outline" broken into two words). The SW was somehow also hard, as I initially forgot IDLI existed, and that MIEN clue (49D: Air), again, the vagueness! And INNER, same (60A: Spiritual). PASTA BAR clue eluded me for an embarrassingly long time (i.e. I can't believe it eluded me at all) (59A: Dining option where bow ties might be expected). LOOPHOLE was great but, again, the clue was so vague that I couldn't get hold of it (56A: Way out). What should've been a whoosh-whoosh Friday often felt like a grind. More Saturday than Friday pacing for me today. 

Somehow the clue on ONE-ON-ONE feels very wrong (61A: Like a tryst, usually). Who would ever describe their trysts this way??? Also, did you do a tryst survey? "Usually?" Please cite your sources, lol. I'd guess the number of "trysts" that are ONE-ON-ONE is some number nearly indistinguishable from 100%, but that's not the issue. The issue is this term does not go with that scenario. ONE-ON-ONE is for (non-sex) meetings. Or interviews. Or certain defensive scenarios in sports. I guess Hall & Oates do give you some cover on this one, but still, I'm frowning and shaking my head. Oh, speaking of Hall & Oates, I saw No Hard Feelings yesterday, and it contains a truly great Hall & Oates musical moment—I keep wanting to talk about this movie, but since I saw it cold, with absolutely no idea what it was about before I went in, and was so happy I did, I don't want to tell anyone anything specific. But trust me, there's a Hall & Oates scene, and a great one. Also, the movie as a whole is extremely enjoyable. I haven't laughed in the theater like that in a while.

That's all. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


America's first vice, so to speak / THU 6-29-23 / Old-time poker / Patagonian prairie / Clubby order for short / French clog and the root of an English word meaning disrupt / Sheath of connective tissue / Free to pursue other opportunities dysphemistically / European capital that uses the Cyrillic alphabet

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Constructor: Simeon Seigel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: EXCHANGING RINGS (37A: Sharing in a symbol of commitment ... or what four rows in this puzzle are doing to form new phrases) — if you "exchange" (i.e. swap) the two "rings" (i.e. circled letters) in each row that has them, and then mentally reparse the row (i.e. move the black square), you get four new phrases:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: FASCIA (30A: Sheath of connective tissue) —
nounfasciaplural nounfasciasnounfaciaplural nounfaciasplural nounfasciae
  1. 1. 
    detachable covering for the front part of a mobile phone.
  2. 2. 
    a wooden board or other flat piece of material such as that covering the ends of rafters.
    "a further piece of chipboard acts as a fascia to disguise the ceiling fixtures"
  3. 3. 
    the dashboard of a motor vehicle.
    "the interior boasts a Mercedes-like fascia"
  4. 4. 
    a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ. 
    "the diagnosis of Dupuytren's contracture is usually very easy because the palmar fascia is obviously thickened" (google / Oxford Languages)
• • •

Well this is definitely a better-than-average use of circles in a puzzle, I'll say that. My first thought on looking at this grid, with its array of completely disconnected circles was "Uh oh. What dumb message are these going to spell out?" But then I dove in and promptly ignored the circles. Completely. Because I could. They have absolutely nothing, zero, nada to do with actually solving the puzzle. They spell nothing intelligible. HATSPING? PHASTING? STAPHING? PHANGIST? Nope. Nothing. The circles don't explain the theme—the theme explains the circles. That is, the revealer explains them. If the MUSTACHE puzzle earlier in the week gave us a revealer that essentially did nothing (i.e. only told us what we already knew), today's revealer does absolutely everything. The theme is unintelligible without it. Is this better? Probably. But still, it had nothing at all to do with the solve. From a pure solving perspective, this is an easyish themeless puzzle. It's just got the little trick at the end. And I like the trick—it's really clever. But as a themeless, this is just OK (I mean, compared to real themelesses of the kind you see on Fri. and Sat.—the ones with grids that are genuinely sparkly precisely because they are Not encumbered by a theme). It's not a bad grid, but it's mostly just something to get through. The puzzle's real reason for being only becomes apparent post-solve. Well, that is, unless you actually stopped after getting the revealer and tried to figure out what was happening mid-solve—but even then, I can't see how knowing the gimmick would have any effect at all on the remainder of the solve. The answers in the grid are still just ... answers in the grid. So there's a nice surprise waiting at the end of this one (or whenever you decide to look back and see how the revealer works) but the theme is disconnected from the solving process in a way that I always find mildly dissatisfying. It's like you made a puzzle so you could do a little wordplay magic trick. It's a neat trick. But I came here primarily for the solving experience, not the after show.

I'm underselling a bit how impressed I am by the trick, though. It's a bit of a double trick because nowhere does the revealer indicate that you'd have to mentally move the black square in order to make sense of the row, post-exchange. I mentally exchanged the rings in each row and just squinted confusedly until I got to HITCHIN GPOST. "Well, that kind of looks / sounds like 'hitching post' but ... ohhhhhh ... we have to move the black square!? Why didn't you say so? OK ... OK, that's pretty cool. That's an extra layer, for sure." I don't love how detached the theme is from the solving experience, but I do appreciate that the reveal is an actual reveal and not some totally sad let-down. Two things, though. First, where weddings are concerned, I think of "exchanging" as something done first and foremost with VOWS. Rings are definitely exchanged, so there's nothing wrong here ... it's just ... there's something odd about an "exchange" phrase not even being the most important "exchange" phrase in its specific wedding context. As I type this, I realize that this isn't a complaint at all, just a weird thing my brain is doing, calculating that most people, presented with the sentence "In a wedding ceremony, you exchange ___" would fill in the blank with VOWS. But maybe they wouldn't. And it obviously doesn't matter because the gimmick works as is so who cares? Well, tell that to my brain, is what I say. I also say that LAPPER is comically terrible as an answer, and gets a pass solely because it's doing real thematic work. In any other context, absolutely not. My cats lap water everyday, and of all the things I call them (and I call them more things than I could begin to list for you) I have never not once called either of them a LAPPER. Though now I'll probably start. Today. This morning. Because brain. 

The solve itself started hard, as solves often do, with lots of misdirection in the initial (i.e. NW) clues—[Runs through], [Catch, in way], ["Notorious" initials]—that last once may have been obvious to you, but my first thought for ["Notorious" initials] is always going to be B.I.G. (from the rapper whose name was the basis of the late Supreme Court justice's own moniker). I also didn't know the trivia up there. Blanked on SOFIA as a place (I can't remember the last time I heard Bulgaria referred to ... anywhere. I had to look it up just now to make sure it was still a country). TRUTV is always a shrug. Forgot HORNETS were genus Vespa, if I ever knew it. But once I got out of there, the puzzle got easier. Tail ends of the long Downs were elusive to me. I've somehow never heard of a BELLY BAND, so BAND required crosses. And as for SCRAP PILE ... OK, but the phrase I know is SCRAP HEAP (32D: Heap of junk). And then maybe SCRAP YARD? PILE never occurred to me until crosses forced the issue. SEA CABIN is ... what is that? That's something an overstuffed wordlist coughed up. "Emergency quarters?" If you say so. Nothing about that phrase really screams "emergency," but OK. Funny (sorta) to see LLANO so shortly after having seen LLANERO in the puzzle (when was that, earlier this week?—no, late last week, on Friday). I thought the clue on RAN WITH IT was clunky (19D: Reacted purposefully when handed "the ball"), but that is a great answer, and a great answer to have ... running ... through the middle of the grid. I don't love this puzzle enough to BEAR HUG it, but I do admire several of its features for sure. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. In [America's first vice, so to speak] (ADAMS) the "vice" refers to "vice ... president." You really have to abuse the language to make the joke here. No one calls the vice president the "vice." If you're shortening it, it's "Veep." And you don't really "poke" people with a LANCE, but the extreme euphemism is perhaps worth it for the clue's clever card-related misdirection (7D: Old-time poker).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Onetime boxy Toyota / WED 6-28-23 / Saxophonist who pioneered modal jazz, to fans / Classic collection from the magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction / Fabric derived from wood pulp / Stereotypical shout-out on a jumbotron

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Constructor: Matt Fuchs and Victor Sloan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: animals in things — familiar phrases that involve animals being "in" things, represented visually by said animal crossing said thing:

Theme answers:
  • PARTRIDGE in a PEAR TREE (3D: With 14-Across, first (and last) gift of a seasonal song)
  • FROG in one's THROAT (10D: With 15-Across, cause of some hoarseness)
  • SNAKE  in the GRASS (30D: With 38-Across, hidden traitor)
  • ANTS in one's PANTS (35D: With 42-Across, source of restless anticipation)
  • BEE in one's BONNET (58D: With 62-Across, persistent little obsession)
  • CANARY in the COAL MINE (44D: With 59-Across, harbinger of danger) 
Word of the Day: modal jazz (43A: Saxophonist who pioneered modal jazz, to fans (TRANE)) —

In musical parlance, the word “mode” simply means “scale”; it is often used to describe a scale other than major or minor. Our present-day major and minor scales derive from the “modes” of medieval music, which in turn derive from the music of ancient Greece. Modes were used as a resource by some relatively modern classical composers like Debussy and Bartok, who felt the need to go beyond traditional major/minor tonality. In the 1950s, jazz musicians also began to work with modal approaches.

The term “modal jazz” refers to improvisational music that is organized in a scalar (“horizontal”) way rather than in a chordal (“vertical”) manner. By de-emphasizing the role of chords, a modal approach forces the improviser to create interest by other means: melody, rhythm, timbre, and emotion. A modal piece will generally use chords, but the chords will be more or less derived from the prevailing mode. [...] Miles Davis, always a trend-setter in jazz, utilized this approach in his composition “Milestones” (1958), on the album of the same name. The structure of this tune is AABBA. The A sections are based on the G dorian scale; the B sections are based on the A aeolian scale (see “The Classical Modes,” below).

His next album, Kind of Blue (1959), is the definitive example of modal jazz, and was a pivotal moment in the evolution of jazz. [...] 

The modal approach was pursued further in subsequent recordings by Miles and by other jazz artists. John Coltrane’s work in the 1960s with pianist McCoy Tyner advanced the modal concept in an intense, even spiritual direction (e.g., his albums My Favorite ThingsImpressionsA Love Supreme), and deeply affected the subsequent development of jazz. (Peter Spitzer, jazzstandards.com)

• • •

It does what it does, and then it keeps doing it. This seems like a clever concept, but it played really flat, and knowing the concept made all subsequent themers easy to uncover, and since the themers all ran in two directions, knowing the themers made whole sections of the puzzle easy to uncover. So it was a bit like a child's game, but instead of "What sound does the cow make?" or whatever, it was "What's the froggy in? What's the birdy in?" Etc. I cannot fault the execution–it's very theme-dense, and the fill holds up reasonably well under the circumstances. I also like, or at least don't mind at all, that the answers aren't perfectly symmetrical, or that the connecting words in the phrases are not all the same (i.e. "in a" "in the" "in one's"). The grid has been built specifically to isolate the themers into their own little sections, their own little habitats, and then each section has been carefully constructed around its themers. This is why you have such a segmented grid (those NE and SW corners are particularly dramatically cordoned off). So it's all very neat, but it was all very same-same, and ultimately very simple. I am impressed that they found enough animals in enough things in enough familiar phrases to make this one work out. A CAT in the CRADLE would've been remarkable (especially if you could've worked SILVER SPOON into the grid somewhere), and WOLF in SHEEP'S CLOTHING would've blown my mind. Maybe that's the issue I'm having—none of these animal phrases were big or bold. They were all very ordinary, with nothing rising to marquee-level material. [side note: I know CAT / CRADLE wouldn't have worked because of specific phrasing, just let me enjoy the song]

Was worried about the fill at first, especially with 1-Down being A-PAT (!?!), which is about as terrible a partial as I can imagine under any circumstances ever (1D: Pit-___). I also have no idea what ALPINISM is, but I'll take the puzzle's word for it that it's a mountain-climbing sport. Sounds like a lifestyle, like NUDISM, but OK, "sport," fine (now if NUDE ALPINISM is your thing ... well, respect). By the time I got to SPIT AT, I'd grimaced at least three times at the fill, and by UAR it was up to four. But grimacing mostly ceased after that. INSIDE MAN and GOES BROKE gave the puzzle some life, and the Alanis clue made me smile remembering the time in the mid-90s when NPR had an English professor on to talk about what, precisely, was—and was not—IRONIC about the putative examples of irony in the song "IRONIC." Oh my god, I just confirmed that this radio spot actually happened! I can't find a recording, but here's the description at NPR's site (The president of the MLA! 1997! I can remember exactly where I was standing in my girlfriend's kitchen when I heard this, LOL, memory is weird):

Weird to go to the boxy bygone car for an ordinary word like SCION. Maybe editors knew this was gonna play way, way too easy and they needed a speed bump or two. Four "AT"s today seems particularly bad (AT SEA AT LAST SPIT AT GRABS AT). Like ... that's a lot of "AT"s. Even if you don't care about two-letter words, that is a lot of "AT"s for a non-"AT"-themed puzzle. Yeesh. I don't know if I loved either EUROAREA or STYLE TIP, but I thought they were at least original- and inventive-seeming, so that's something (63A: Currency zone whose members include Finland and Malta + 65A: Advice on a fashion blog). 

Anything need explaining? The TAT clue was very clever, I thought (18A: Parlor decoration, for short) (a decoration you get on your body, not ... I don't know, a Tiffany lamp or decorative ashtray or something). Ooh, [Flat sign] definitely held me up for a few seconds for sure (TO LET). I was looking for a musical flat, or maybe a sign that your tire (tyre!) had a flat. I guess the "flat" part means that the phrase "TO LET" is primarily British (their version of "For Rent"). You can't argue with the clue at 45A: Noted seashell seller? SHE definitely does sell them. Down by the seashore, I hear. I've never seen her, but people talk about her a lot. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Horror film monster who has become an L.G.B.T.Q. icon / TUE 6-27-23 / Famed 1990s TV psychic / One-act Strauss opera adapted from an Oscar Wilde play / Beret-wearing rebel familiarly

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Constructor: Anthony Gisonda

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (maybe harder if you don't know The BABADOOK, maybe easier if you do...)

THEME: MUSTACHE (59A: What each set of circled letters in this grid represents) — circled squares both spell and take the form of different varieties of MUSTACHE:

The Mustaches:





Word of the Day: The BABADOOK (44A: Horror film monster who has become an L.G.B.T.Q. icon, with "the") —
The Babadook
 is a 2014 Australian psychological horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent in her feature directorial debut. It stars Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel HenshallHayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear. Based on Kent's 2005 short film Monster, the film follows a widowed single mother who must confront her son's fear of a mysterious humanoid monster in their home. [...] The Babadook premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on 17 January 2014 and was given a limited release in Australian cinemas on 22 May 2014, initially failing to become a commercial success in its native country. However, it generated wider attention internationally, grossing $10 million against a $2 million budget. The film received universal acclaim, with particular praise for the performances of the cast, creature design, premise, and themes. At the 4th AACTA Awards, it won for Best Film, and Kent won for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay, respectively. In the years since its release, it has become a cult classic partly due to its popularity as an internet meme. [...] In October 2016, a Tumblr user joked that the Babadook is openly gay; in December 2016, another Tumblr user posted a viral screenshot showing the movie classified by Netflix as an LGBT film. Despite the absence of overt references to LGBT culture in the film, fans and journalists generated interpretations of queer subtext in the film (dubbed "Babadiscourse") that were often tongue-in-cheek, but occasionally more serious, highlighting the character's dramatic persona, grotesque costume, and chaotic effect within a traditional family structure. In June 2017, The Babadook trended on Twitter and was displayed as a symbol during that year's Pride Month. The social media response became so strong that theatres in Los Angeles took the opportunity to hold screenings of the film for charity. Michael Bronski said to the Los Angeles Times: "In this moment, who better than the Babadook to represent not only queer desire, but queer antagonism, queer in-your-faceness, queer queerness?", and drew comparisons to historic connections between queerness and horror fiction such as Frankenstein and Dracula. (wikipedia)
• • •
This one was really betrayed by its revealer. Such an anticlimactic thud of a way to conclude a pretty interesting shape-themed puzzle. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that it was a MUSTACHE theme if all you had in the grid was the DALI, but after FU MANCHU or HANDLEBAR or whichever MUSTACHE you uncover next, it's obvious, so that when you finally get to the revealer, it's completely redundant and non-revealing—telling you what you already know. There's no wordplay, no snappy phrase, no nothing. Just plain old MUSTACHE, so what should be the punchline ends up being just a "[Shrug], couldn't think of anything good to put here so ... MUSTACHE." The clue doesn't even try to be clever. It's just pointing at the MUSTACHEs like, "nice MUSTACHEs, right?" I guess it's possible that you somehow got MUSTACHE first (?) or at least early, but since it's essentially unclued if you don't have the MUSTACHEs in place, it seems unlikely that revealer's gonna help you get the themers. Puzzle is designed for the reverse to happen, but the reverse just leads you to "yeah, I can see that already, thanks." So the puzzle has a revealer problem. There's gotta be a better, more oblique way to come at the revealer. As is, it's a letdown. But ... *before* I got let down, I thought this was pretty good, as shape puzzles go. You get four solid, visually accurate MUSTACHE types, of varying degrees of ornateness, and HANDLEBAR really does look great right across the middle of the puzzle's face. A very marquee MUSTACHE, for sure.

I did not know the DALI was a MUSTACHE type. I actually thought his was a variation on the HANDLEBAR, but it seems to be its own thing. I have never heard of anyone but Dali sporting a DALI, maybe that's the (slight) issue I'm having with that one. Dali's MUSTACHE is of course an iconic part of his image. It was like a creature unto itself. At certain moments, it's basically a reverse FU MANCHU:

The fill in this puzzle started out rickety. After coming out of the NW into ANAL / ALLIN / I LIED, I started having bad feelings about how much short gunk was going to dominate the puzzle, but things picked up a bit in the middle of the grid, and only plural USOS really felt clunky (35A: Shows for soldiers, informally). MISS CLEO and The BABADOOK give the middle a lot of personality, and the middle was already brimming with HANDLEBAR MUSTACHE personality, so that was remarkable. GLAM ROCK, always sizzling (18A: Ziggy Stardust's music genre). ON OCCASION and AS PROMISED aren't exactly sizzling, but they are weirdly satisfying as perfectly apt two-word phrases that require a little thought, maybe a few crosses, to parse accurately. This is important on Tuesdays, when the fill can run flat (because answers need to be relatively easy to get). I tried to make AS PREDICTED work at 29D: "Just like I said I would..." and ran out of room. I don't think I made any other outright errors. I was lucky enough to know of The BABADOOK, even though I've never seen it. I think if you're on social media a lot, and you follow a lot of film and LGBTQ folks, the Discourse just finds you. If you have never heard of The BABADOOK, I suspect this puzzle played at least a little harder than usual. Either way, I hope you were able to find some love in your heart for this whimsical little Tuesday. If you just pretend the revealer doesn't exist, it's really quite enjoyable.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


"Be silent," in music / MON 6-26-23 / Act friendly despite feeling otherwise / Familiar cliché in storytelling like the love triangle or the girl next door / PBS science fiction series since 1974 / Feline with a very fluffy coat / Apt name for a Dalmatian

Monday, June 26, 2023

Constructor: Taylor Johnson and Christina Iverson

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

THEME: "PICKY, PICKY, PICKY" (61A: "So particular!" ... or, in different senses, like 17-, 32- and 42-Across?)— theme answers are people who pick:

Theme answers:
  • VEGETABLE FARMER (17A: One growing asparagus, spinach, corn, etc.)
  • TEAM CAPTAIN (32A: Squad leader, in sports)
  • BANJO PLAYER (42A: Certain bluegrass musician)
Word of the Day: LOMÉ (30D: Togo's capital) —

Lomé (UK/ˈlm/ LOH-mayUS/lˈm/ loh-MAY) is the capital and largest city of Togo. It has an urban population of 837,437 while there were 1,477,660 permanent residents in its metropolitan area as of the 2010 census. Located on the Gulf of Guinea at the southwest corner of the country, with its entire western border along the easternmost point of Ghana's Volta Region, Lomé is the country's administrative and industrial center, which includes an oil refinery. It is also the country's chief port, from where it exports coffeecocoacopra, and oil palm kernels.

Its city limits extends to the border with Ghana, located a few hundred meters west of the city center, to the Ghanaian city of Aflao and the South Ketu district where the city is situated, had 160,756 inhabitants in 2010. The cross-border agglomeration of which Lomé is the centre, has about 2 million inhabitants as of 2020.

• • •

OK look I will admit that I still have some geographic confusion around Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, and Togo. They are all very far from one another, and yet those "T"s and "G"s, man, my head keeps filing them all in the same box and then mixing them up. I think I know Tonga the best because it's part of Oceania, as is NZ, and since I've been to NZ a half a dozen times or so (my wife was born there, as I've probably told you many times), I've had plenty of occasion to pin Tonga down on the map in a pretty fixed way. But the other two countries, yikes, they won't stick. This is all to say that LOMÉ was oddly slow in coming. I remembered it, eventually, with some help from the "L," but even after getting it, I could not have located it on the map with anything like certainty. Very humbling thing to face up to on a Monday. Otherwise, this puzzle was pretty doable (I solved Downs-only, as usual). My main, perhaps only, objection to the theme is VEGETABLE FARMER. We just call them ... farmers? Our farmers (the ones we buy produce from every weekend at the farmers market) grow vegetables, yes, but at least one of them also grows hemp (they're leaning more heavily into CBD products, and may eventually be making a play to grow marijuana, I dunno). One of the other farmers also raises meat and poultry. Anyway, I've only ever thought of the people we buy produce from as "farmers." If you say "farmer," it's pretty much assumed that you're referring to someone who grows "vegetables." It's only if you're *not* growing vegetables that you'd offer a qualifying adjective. I would also say that most TEAM CAPTAINs do not "pick" their teams unless the specific context is P.E. class in middle or high school. So that was a little odd. But I really love the revealer—it's silly, in a way that makes the puzzle fun. Much better than PICKERS or PICKING or something like that. I also like that there are bonus picking answers in the grid. You can pick your SPOT, for sure, and you can definitely pick NITS, and if you do the whole "She loves me, she loves me not" thing, well then you can pick PETALs as well. Just don't pick your ACNE.

The FARMER part of VEGETABLE FARMER gave me most of my non-LOMÉ trouble today. I also wrote in SYSOP (!?) before ADMIN (19D: Web page moderator, for short), and left the second vowel blank at TAC-T because I wasn't 100% sure of the musical term (51D: "Be silent," in music). Also went for Hi-RES TV before Hi-DEF (9D: Hi-___ TV). I misspelled Megan MARKEL, thusly, but luckily OVAE and TETL looked hellishly wrong, so I managed to fix it (47D: Meghan ___, Duchess of Sussex => MARKLE). Needed to infer a lot of crosses before I closed things out with MAKE NICE (40D: Act friendly despite feeling otherwise). That answer alongside the vaguely clued / kinda hard-to-parse LEGUP made the SE a bit tricky, but only just a bit (45D: Advantage). The fill wasn't terribly memorable, but "EYES ON ME!" gave the puzzle a bit of a bossy attitude, which I liked (4D: "Pay full attention while I'm talking!"). 

I dropped my wife off today at a two-week writers workshop near Saratoga Springs, so now I'm home alone with the cats. Normally, The Lady feeds them ("The Lady" being what they call my wife, I presume). But The Lady isn't here so they are beginning to circle me and eye me hungrily. Ida just threatened to walk across my keyboard, so I better go before things escalate. See you again soon.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1970 hit for Neil Diamond / SUN 6-25-23 / Considerably large, in Appalachian dialect / Still shot of a moving image, in tech-speak / Tactical reductions in lighting as during WWII / Sommelier's superlative / How Cassius looks to Caesar in Shakespeare / Repeated small role for Paul Rudd / Like much prized blue-and-white porcelain / Relationship conditions so to speak

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Constructor: John Westwig

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Opposites Attract" — imaginary wacky phrases where the first word and the first part of the second word are "opposites":

Theme answers:
  • IN OUTING (22A: Event at a hot new club?)
  • SHORT LONGING (24A: "I wish I were under four feet tall," e.g.?)
  • PRO CONNING (38A: Career for a scammer?)
  • SPRING FALLING (67A: Slinky?)
  • ODD EVENING (91A: Dinner date that makes a good story?)
  • WHOLE PARTING (109A: A kiss, a hug, a wave, the works?)
  • ON OFFING (112A: Title of an essay by a hit man?)
  • EASY HARDING (37D: "Whoa there, Warren G.!"?)
  • NICE MEANING (41D: Compliment for a lexicographer?)
Word of the Day: BRIAN MAY (79A: Lead guitarist of Queen, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics) —
Sir Brian Harold May
 CBE (born 19 July 1947) is an English musician, singer, songwriter and astrophysicist. He achieved worldwide fame as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, which he co-founded with singer Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor. His guitar work and songwriting contributions helped Queen become one of the most successful acts in music history. [...] May was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2005 for services to the music industry and for charity work. May earned a PhD degree in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, and was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013. He was a "science team collaborator" with NASA's New Horizons Pluto mission. He is also a co-founder of the awareness campaign Asteroid DayAsteroid 52665 Brianmay was named after him. May is also an animal rights activist, campaigning against fox hunting and the culling of badgers in the UK. May was knighted by King Charles III in the 2023 New Year Honours for services to music and charity. (wikipedia)
• • •

Gonna have to make this relatively brief, mostly because I found solving this to be a singularly miserable experience and I really don't want to dwell on it, or inflict my dwelling on it on all y'all. The theme is DOA. There's just nothing there at all. It's a ham-fisted wielding together of opposites into ... well, gibberish. None of it makes any sense, none of it is funny. IN OUTING? I don't even know what these phrases are trying to do. Do you call going to the club an "outing"? My wife: "An outing? That's a picnic." Indeed. A longing to be short (who? why?) is a SHORT LONGING? A longing for Martin Short would've been funnier, but "funny" does not seem to have been a sincere consideration. It's just goofiness all over, but not the big kind of ambitious goofiness that you need in a wall-to-wall wackiness type of theme. PRO CONNING? It's one exasperated sigh after another today. So there's that. Then there's the fact that the puzzle is also weirdly very hard in many places, partly because of a seemingly unending flurry of "?" clues, partly because of that giant white middle, which ended up being hard to get ahold of, and partly because of truly bizarre fill like OF A LIFETIME and MINGERA (I had to read the clue aloud and spell it out for my wife before I realized that it was hyphenated: MING-ERA, oof). Is a SAND GLASS just an hourglass, or something else? How (de) do you justify spelling the (already idiotic) HOW-DE-DO like that? (11A: Rural greeting). I spelled it out for my wife and when I got to that "E" she just made a face like "yikes" and I was like "I know, right?! That's the face *I* made!" I laughed out loud, but not in what I'd call a joyful way, at FBI SPY, what in the world? (56D: Certain government agent, informally) "Hi there, I'm a FBI SPY, a very real thing that is dangerous and sexy and not at all redundant or made-up, yes I am, yes sirree. And hey, have you met my friend here, Mr. CIA SPY? Also not made-up. But shh, we're deep undercover!" There are four "ON"s in this grid, but that's not nearly as gruesome as the two LABs! Two LABs, yeesh. Unless they are my neighbor's two chocolate labs, two labs = absurd. And one of them is LAB ANIMAL, which is just grim. Grim. Grim. That should've been the Word of the Day.

Maybe the idea was that the theme is obviously subpar and so the giant middle, with its hoard of long answers, was supposed to be some kind of value-added feature. Like "ok, sorry about the theme, but here's a fun feature!" And it's true that some of the best things about the grid are in there. SCREEN GRAB, very nice (32D: Still shot of a moving image, in tech-speak). NO MAN'S LAND, same (52D: Unclaimed area). SIREN SONG, sure, I'll take it (72A: Famous drawing of a ship?). 

Not sure why seemingly every other clue needed a "?" on it. In addition to all the themers. I count ten (10) "?" clues, some of which are harmless (4D: End of a college search? (EDU)), some of which are kind of clever (81D: Stop hiding behind? (MOON)), and some of which are awful (98D: Good name for a political pundit? (ILENE)). The net effect was to make a hard puzzle harder, and an unpleasant experience ... longer. More drawn out. I just wanted it to end but the "?" clues were ganging up on me. MINGERA! LOL. I think my reading that as one word is actually the highlight of my solving experience today. When the puzzle doesn't give you pleasure, you can always rely on your own mistakes for a good laugh. Oh, my other favorite moment was when I assumed that Warren G. was the rapper. I mean, that's the rapper's name: Warren G. "On a mission trying to find Mr. Warren G." From the song "Regulate"? No? Not a '90s rap crowd? Sigh, OK. Anyway, I had EASY HARD- and was like "Uh ... EASY HARD RAP? EASY HARD RAP!? Wow, I know they can be tin-eared about hip-hop over there but that is Particularly bad." Again, the LOL is on me. It's not the rapper, it's everybody's favorite boring corrupt 1920s president, Warren G. HARDING! Someone should write a rap song about Teapot Dome. If They Might Be Giants can write a song about James K. Polk, surely someone can oblige me here re: Warren G. 

SLOP ON ... I just keep staring at that truly horrid and impossible-to-imagine phrase? I had SLOP UP there at first, which was bad enough, but at least I could kind of understand the phrasing: you serve something up, and if what you serve up is slop ... SLOP UP? But SLOP ON, as clued, makes no sense. On what? The clue doesn't say. Your plate, I guess, but the clue and answer do not substitute neatly for one another in any context that I can imagine. Nevermind that, as I say, this is the first of four (!?) "ON"s in this grid (along with PUNTS ON, ON OFFING, and ON TOP). I gotta quit. I said I'd keep it short and that has not happened. I apologize. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll see you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I'd like to thank The New Yorker for this amazing non-mention of me earlier this week, truly an honor to have my name omitted from your publication!
[it's 6 A.M., actually, but close enough]

P.P.S. Can NOT believe I forgot to discuss RIGHT SMART (!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!) (14D: Considerably large, in Appalachian dialect); I guess trauma will make you block out certain experiences ...
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