Volcano output / MON 7-31-23 / Casper is a friendly one / Add one's two cents / Provoked / Group of showbiz elites / CT scan alternatives / Material for LPs / Stares said to inflict curses

Monday, July 31, 2023

Constructor: David Litman and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy


Word of the Day: CLOWN CAR (5D: Comically packed circus vehicle) —
clown car is a prop in a common circus clown routine, which involves a large number of clowns emerging from a small car. The first performance of this routine was in the Cole Bros. Circus during the 1950s.[1] The effect is usually produced by removing all of a car's internal components like door panels, headliners, engines, seats, and any interior barrier to the trunk, and then filling the enlarged space with as many clowns as possible.[2] Greg DeSanto of the International Clown Hall of Fame estimates that somewhere between 14 and 21 clowns and their props could fit into a car prepared in this manner.[2]
• • •

Theme answers:
  • VENUS WILLIAMS (19A: Tennis great with a sister who's also a tennis great)
  • KING CHARLES III (24A: British royal crowned in May 2023)
  • SONIA SOTOMAYOR (45A: First Latina justice, successor to David Souter)
  • SEE YOU IN COURT (51A: Words before legal action … or what one might exclaim to 19-, 24- and 45-Across?)
Hi folks -- it's Rafa back again. Hope you all aren't tired of me! I usually guest blog about late-week puzzles, so writing about a Monday puzzle is a bit new to me. Monday puzzles have a special place in my heart, as they were my gateway drug into the world of crosswords. (The crossworld, as they say...)

As such, I feel very strongly that Mondays need to be ultra smooth! Every Monday puzzle could be someone's first puzzle ever, and if they see things like ARETE or SSTS or ASTA or OSES, etc., etc., they might think puzzles aren't for them. But puzzles are for everyone! So the Monday puzzle has a huge responsibility to be fun and accessible and smooth.

Look! It's lava!

Thankfully I enjoyed this one. Three kinds of court: sport, royal, legal. Each represented by a very well-known person ... and a very in-the-language revealer. I wish there had been a way to clue the revealer in a way that didn't refer to one of the court meanings, so that all three felt like they had equal footing. Minor nit ... you can't have it all, and the theme works well enough for me.

A Frida Kahlo self-portrait

Generally not a fan of The Monarchy™, but at least it was fun to see KING CHARLES III for the first time in a crossword. Could have gone without YEOMEN, though. I think you only get one (1) English royal term per puzzle! O'TOOLE also had old and fusty vibes, but overall the fill was nice and smooth as a Monday should be.

Potatoes are delicious

It was a bit to soon for me to see RAMI Malek, because I just got home from watching Oppenheimer which (don't cancel me) I didn't really care for. Why do movies have to be 3 hours long these days? Less is more! (Barbie is great though -- go watch that!)

Nothing much else to say about this one. A cute Monday offering!

  • SAUL (32A: AMC's "Better Call ___") — I have never watched this show nor have I watched Breaking Bad. I think I'd really enjoy them but the activation energy for me to start a show with that many seasons is so high.
  • TSOS (56A: General ___ chicken) — I have also never had General Tso's Chicken. (Is it good? Should I try it?)
  • IONS (10D: Atoms with charges) — If I may be pedantic for a moment, molecules can be ions too! I guess you can say that molecules are atoms so the clue is fine, but I might prefer [Atoms with charges, e.g.]


Leaf-wrapped Turkish dish / 7-30-23 / Bit of Old Norse / Publicly makes fun of, slangily, with "on" / Social movement that Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed "the most American thing in America" / Sliced into thin strips as carrots / Verb for a biblical cup / Leaf-wrapped Mexican dish / Choctaw word for "people," as seen in a U.S. state name / Periwinkle by another name

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Constructor: John Kugelman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Doing Front Flips" — spoonerisms of a sort, where the "fronts" of two words in a familiar phrase are "flipped," creating wackiness:

Theme answers:
  • MISTER BUNNY MAGS (23A: "Hugh Hefner was quite the media mogul. They called him ...")
  • WEARABLE THING TO TASTE (38A: "I know they've had them on all day, but let the kids eat their candy. After all, a Ring Pop is a ...")
  • GEEKS BEARING GRIFTS (56A: "Do you really trust these Bitcoiners? Beware ...")
  • WHEN IT PAINS IT ROARS (78A: "That poor lion has a mighty toothache. Boy, ...")
  • THREE MARE SQUEALS A DAY (94A: "Enjoy your stay on our horse farm. Hope it's not too noisy. You can expect ...")
  • THRONE'S STOWAWAY (114A: "Can you believe I sneaked into Buckingham Palace in a trunk and saw the king? I was a ...")
Word of the Day: CHAUTAUQUA (19A: Social movement that Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed "the most American thing in America") —
 (/ʃəˈtɔːkwə/ shə-TAW-kwə) is an adult education and social movement in the United States that peaked in popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, showmen, preachers, and specialists of the day. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in America". [...] Lectures were the mainstay of the Chautauqua. Until 1917, they dominated the circuit Chautauqua programs. The reform speech and the inspirational talk were the two main types of lecture until 1913. Later topics included current events, travel, and stories, often with a comedic twist. [...]

The most prolific speaker (often booked in the same venues with three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan) was Russell Conwell, who delivered his famous "Acres of Diamonds" speech 5,000 times to audiences on the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, which had this theme:

Get rich, young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.  


Grimaced at the first "front flip" and that was pretty much that. One of those days when the gimmick is just gonna be cornball spoonerisms and you just have to endure. Long day's journey into blight. The one upside was that despite being long (i.e despite the grid's being your typical big 21x Sunday), the journey was not, in fact, long. Ridiculously easy puzzle from start to finish. Maybe that's your reward for dealing with this conceptually flat theme. It's just spoonerisms. That's it. And to make them ... work? ... apparently full paragraph-length clues are required. Tortured premises that require pages and pages (seemingly) to set up, and all for very little payoff. Dadjoke and subdadjoke payoff. I will say that the clue on GEEKS BEARING GRIFTS almost redeemed this puzzle in my eyes. That is a zinger, an all-timer, a truth-telling theme answer if ever there was one. Bravo there. The rest, er, I'd rather not relive it. There was too much animal suffering (squealing mares? pained lions? what the hell?) and too much ... too much. Trying too hard. So very hard. For so very little. But again, love the epic dunk on Bitcoin. Here for it, for sure.

Trouble spots, there were very few. I couldn't spell CHAUTAUQUA and also I only knew CHAUTAUQUA as a place (specifically, a county, lake, and resort in western New York). The social movement ... if I knew about that, I definitely forgot. I also definitely botched TERRE Haute, despite having been to an academic conference there once. I spelled it Latinly, like the TERRA in "terra incognita" or "terra cotta" or "terra firma" wow there are a lot of Terras. I wrote in NAYAD at first at 124A: Forest nymph, which I knew was a bad spelling as I was typing it, but did it stop me, no. Anyway, naiads (the correct spelling) are water nymphs, not forest nymphs (which are DRYADs). Wrote in OKIE before OKLA (80D: Choctaw word for "people," as seen in a U.S. state name). Wanted the [Leaf-wrapped Turkish dish] to be DALMAs, which I now realize is because Raymond Chandler's pre-Marlowe detective was named John DALMAS. Incredibly bizarre, extremely unlikely conflation, but there it is. 

No idea about ANIL, which is just old-school crosswordese term for a kind of blue (source of indigo dye). I've probably seen the name many times before, just hasn't stuck. I would say the "Slumdog Millionaire" clue is fresh, but that movie is now fifteen (!) years old. Wanted JUMPS AT, not JUMPS ON, but I suppose the latter is justifiable (92D: Eagerly accepts). Always wanna spell DRIEST just like that, not like DRYEST (77D: Least sweet, maybe). I know MYRTLE as an old lady's name (as in, the name is old ... fashioned ... and most likely to belong (today) to someone old) [UPDATE: apparently MYRTLE is not a color—periwinkle is a *plant* (related to MYRTLE), and I continue to be ignorant of oh so many things…]. Had no idea it was a kind of blue. Cool thing to learn. 

Bullet points:
  • 40D: Restrain, as breath (BATE) — this is not a word that anyone uses in this way. "Bated breath" is def. a thing (if a cliché thing), but BATE as a standalone verb feels bad, however dictionary-defensible it might be.
  • 72D: Didn't pick up what someone was putting down (MISSED A CUE) — This week's "ATE A SANDWICH" award goes to ... this answer.
  • 33D: Kind of whale with two blowholes (BALEEN) — had the B-L and how in the world was this not Baby BELUGA in the deep blue sea, swim so wild and swim so free?!?!!?
  • 49D: Kind of cat with short, curly fur (REX) — sounds adorable, handsome, wise
  • 69D: Big name in chicken (PERDUE) — always spell it like the university (PURDUE)
  • 109A: Kvass grain (RYE) — this reminded me of this wonderful tweet I saw yesterday (yes, some things about The Company Formerly Known As Twitter are still wonderful):

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Truck maker since 1947 / SAT 7-29-23 / Philosophical denier of duality / Literally way of the gods / Vodka cran alternative / Foods that can be prepared hedgehog-style so-named for the crisscross patterns of cuts / Purveyor of game pieces / Some slow-cooked southern fare informally / Daily Beast alternative familiarly / Song from Company that marks the show's climax

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SHINTO (25A: Literally, "way of the gods") —

Shinto (Japanese神道romanizedShintō) is a religion from Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan's indigenous religion and as a nature religion. Scholars sometimes call its practitioners Shintoists, although adherents rarely use that term themselves. There is no central authority in control of Shinto, with much diversity of belief and practice evident among practitioners.

polytheistic and animistic religion, Shinto revolves around supernatural entities called the kami(神). The kami are believed to inhabit all things, including forces of nature and prominent landscape locations. The kami are worshipped at kamidana household shrines, family shrines, and jinja public shrines. The latter are staffed by priests, known as kannushi, who oversee offerings of food and drink to the specific kami enshrined at that location. This is done to cultivate harmony between humans and kami and to solicit the latter's blessing. Other common rituals include the kagura dances, rites of passage, and seasonal festivals. Public shrines facilitate forms of divination and supply religious objects, such as amulets, to the religion's adherents. Shinto places a major conceptual focus on ensuring purity, largely by cleaning practices such as ritual washing and bathing, especially before worship. Little emphasis is placed on specific moral codes or particular afterlife beliefs, although the dead are deemed capable of becoming kami. The religion has no single creator or specific doctrine, and instead exists in a diverse range of local and regional forms. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well I don't think this was QUITE BAD, or bad at all, but I did think "ARE YOU HIGH?" and "I GOT NOTHIN'" many, many times. For the most part, this puzzle wasn't for me, though I did appreciate the fact that it was properly Saturday-tough. The whole early part of the solve was just a disaster. I had CATS and ARIA up there and not a lot else. MEMPHIS BBQ was nearly impossible to parse (3D: Some slow-cooked southern fare). CAMEL HUMPS involved some bit of common ignorance that never would've occurred to me (1A: These don't hold water). TIME OF YEAR had an exceedingly vague clue (17A: Season). So I just got roasted up there. PGA COURSE feels so ... roll-your-own (9D: Pebble Beach or Quail Hollow, e.g.). Like, yes, but also no. GOLF COURSE was what I wanted, but it didn't fit. PGA COURSE. Uh, sure (not UH, YES, which feels like another doubtful thing). Just because the play says she's a "Shrew" doesn't mean she is, indeed SHREWISH (10D: Like Shakespeare's Katherina). That clue felt ... bad. Not sure when any of it finally began to come together with any certainty. I had ventured to other sections of the puzzle and come back to the NW before I finally got a grip. No hope in the NE at first. STAKE before PURSE (32A: Prizewinner's winnings). Never even heard of JESSE (38A: Biblical father of David). I think SCRAP got me going, which is hilarious, since SCRAP is wrong (it's SCRUB). I got COSMO from there, and then maybe OTO- (?) and SHINTO. "EYES ON ME" was probably the first time I felt like "OK, I've got something solid going here," and that moment came very late. I was almost a quarter into the puzzle before I felt like I'd really got my footing. 

No idea about "BEING ALIVE," and I've seen the documentary about the making of the soundtrack for "Company" (just forgot the song titles, I guess) (28D: Song from "Company" that marks the show's climax). No idea about MANGOS, just ... yeah, literally nothing about that clue meant anything to me (42A: Foods that can be prepared "hedgehog-style," so-named for the crisscross patterns of cuts). I had NACHOS in there at one point. BANK CARDs are not "precious," so no idea what that clue is trying to do (36D: Precious plastic). OXEN pull ... "weight?" Shrug. I just don't know. MONIST? (42D: Philosophical denier of duality). Sigh. HUFFPO is semi-unreadable, so I try never to think about it. Clickbait for liberals. Not my thing. I liked seeing QR CODE. I've been seeing them A Lot on this trip. I don't love them as a phenomenon, but the answer looks cool in the grid. Maybe that's the problem—not much looks cool in the grid. I'll grant that MEMPHIS BBQ has a certain something. And maybe "ARE YOU HIGH?" can pass for cute. But PEST STRIP is not cute. Neither is FILE SERVER. I kinda like the clue on SPORTS DESK (58A: Purveyor of game pieces), but I'm kind of indifferent toward the answer itself. Anyway, I'll just say "I appreciate the workout," and move on. Hope this gave you more pleasure than it gave me.

Oh my god my friend Shaun is trying to explain "JESSE stem" and "JESSE tree" to me and it has something to do with Advent and this is what happens when you lack a religious background: you tell your Christian friends you're baffled by some bit of biblical trivia and they just look at you like "ARE YOU HIGH? JESSE is important. David is a shoot from the stump of JESSE. It's all tree imagery. He's also referred to as the root of JESSE's stem. Do you know that song...?" "No, stop, I do not know any bible songs, you lost me at 'stump'" "Jesus is the rod of JESSE" "Seriously please stop." "O come o rod of JESSE's stem..." "You're singing now!? What the hell?" And so forth.

  • 11A: Canal implement (Q-TIP) — so, the canal of your ear
  • 33A: Delivery room offering, informally (EPI) — short for "epidural"
  • 2D: Song in mariachi? (ARIA) — the letters "ARIA" appear in the word "mariachi"
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Polyamory portmanteau / FRI 7-28-23 / Titular protagonist in a Marcel Proust novel / Thin pancakes in Mexican cooking / Mexican garments also called jorongos / Mints sold in transparent plastic boxes / Move in a flash hypothetically / Apple product that once had an X added to its name

Friday, July 28, 2023

Constructor: Rafael Musa and Hoang-Kim Vu

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Mancala (61A: Pieces in the game mancala = STONES) —

Mancala (Arabicمنقلة manqalah) refers to a family of two-player turn-based strategy board games played with small stones, beans, or seeds and rows of holes or pits in the earth, a board or other playing surface. The objective is usually to capture all or some set of the opponent's pieces. // Versions of the game date back past the 3rd century and evidence suggests the game existed in Ancient Egypt. It is among the oldest known games to still be widely played today. (wikipedia)

• • •
Super-psyched when INCH UP proved correct at 1A: Edge forward. Less psyched that "UP" ended up crossing the "UP" in UPDO (5D: Certain bun), but I think that's it for UPs in this grid, so as violations go, it's pretty minor. Getting 1-Across right off the bat on a Friday (or Saturday) is typically a harbinger of a fast solve, and today was no exception. The quadranted structure kept the puzzle from getting too whoosh-whoosh (a sensation I associate not just with speed, but with dramatic darting around the grid), and yet it still had a nice flow and a bouncy demeanor. Low proper noun factor, so it felt very accessible. I'm slowly reading Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time or whatever the current favored translation of the title is, and by "slowly" I mean I am still in the first part, which is called "SWANN's Way" (20D: Titular protagonist in a Marcel Proust novel). It's great, really beautiful, but I've been reading it before bedtime and ... it's not that kind of book. It dwells on little things for long periods of time, really turning over both objects and feelings and examining them from different lights, and without a strong, clear narrative through-line (it's deliberately meandering), it's easy to forget what the hell you were reading the night before. Still, gorgeous. NYRB recently reissued James Grieve's 1970s translation of "SWANN's Way," and that's the one I'm reading. You don't need to know this, but maybe you were thinking about reading it some day. The Grieve translation is clean, crisp, clear. Recommended.

Not recommended: the word THROUPLE. The state of THROUPLEdom, I'm agnostic on, but the word THROUPLE is singularly ugly. And nonsenscial. A couple is two. I get that you are reconceiving "couple" but why not just make it its own thing. I proposed THREEDOM and my housemates (not that drunk) thought it was pretty good. "We Invite You To Celebrate Our THREEDOM!" "Let THREEDOM Ring!" You can do a lot with THREEDOM, I'm just saying. I'm also not loving OVERDRAW as a verb. I'm sure it exists, but we're sitting here trying to use it in a plausible way and not really succeeding. Also, it's not a concept having to do with "credit," so the clue kinda clanked as well (16A: Take more credit than warranted?). I'll trust you that LAND ART is a thing, but that was one of the hardest answers in the puzzle for me, for sure (27A: Outdoor installation using earth, rocks, vegetation, etc.). "WHO DOES THAT?" was also hard to come up with, or at least mildly challenging (17D: "The nerve of some people!"). The clue suggests being affronted, where the answer suggests mere astonishment. I see the connection. Now. But not then. MAC OS feels bad. Can't put my finger on it. Just bad. It's a debut, and I'm ... not surprised. Kinda telling that no one's ever touched this. MAC OS is just ... descriptive. The Mac operating system. Doesn't really feel like a "product" in the sense of a brand. I know only OSX, and apparently, the OS is past X now, so ... something about the wording just felt odd or off to me. The housemates (who work in software, in various capacities) think the clue is fine, but they're also disagreeing mightily about minutiae so who knows if they know what they're talking about. I mean, they're my friends, they're very smart, but you never know. 

[From the vacation house in Grand Marais, MN:
Two group portraits: one with my ass, one without]

I had Gretzky as The GREATEST instead of The GREAT ONE. Apologies to Muhammed Ali. CREEDS before CREDOS (3D: Tenets). Kealoa* at HURTS / HARMS (4D: Damages). I said this puzzle was lightish on proper nouns, but there are a few potential stumpers, like Marc COHN, really surprised that I retrieved that name as easily as I did (48A: "Walking in Memphis" singer Marc). My friend Shaun (sitting over there, on the couch) has a "soft spot" for this song, but when I asked her how to spell the singer's name just now, she said "C-O-E-N," so even the soft-spotted person couldn't spell his damn name right. I think he's the most obscure name in the grid. Certainly more obscure to me than SWANN or Janis IAN or J.P. SOUSA or Bob SAGET or TIG Notaro or even MR. BLUE, though there were lots of Mr. Colors in that movie. That's all you really needed to know about the movie to solve that answer. I ended on TAMPON, which was a total surprise. I had PAD but was thinking "What could a PAD alternative be?" Not the direction I imagined the cross-referenced pairing was going to go. Don't normally love an informationless cross-references like this, where you have to solve one answer (via crosses) before having a hope at the other, but finishing on TAMPON was oddly ... I want to say thrilling. I may be overselling it. But I was happy the puzzle went there, having been squeamish about such things for many, many years. I hope you found things to like about this one. 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.  

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Morty's cartoon pal / THU 7-27-23 / Root in potpourri / Bridge columnist Charles / Actor Werner of Jules and Jim / Designation that's cheaper than vintage usually / Locale of the house depicted in American Gothic / Rea ___ graphic designer who created The New Yorker's typeface and mascot / Showcase Showdown guesstimate / Her first word was Bart

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Constructor: Guilherme Gilioli

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: addition — four Across answers are clued as equations, where the Across answer in question is the sum of the two answers that precede it in its row: 

Theme answers:
  • CORE = EPIC + CENTER (i.e. "epicenter") (19A: 17-Across + 18-Across = 19-Across)
  • VERSE = LIME + RICK (i.e. "limerick") (35A: 32-Across + 33-Across = 35-Across)
  • FIND = DISCO + VERY (i.e. "discovery") (43A: 40-Across + 42-Across = 43-Across)
  • BIND = CONS + TRAIN (i.e. "constrain") (59A: 56-Across + 57-Across = 59-Across)
Word of the Day: Charles GOREN (37D: Bridge columnist Charles) —

Charles Henry Goren (March 4, 1901 – April 3, 1991) was an American bridge player and writer who significantly developed and popularized the game. He was the leading American bridge personality in the 1950s and 1960s – or 1940s and 1950s, as "Mr. Bridge" – as Ely Culbertson had been in the 1930s. Culbertson, Goren, and Harold Vanderbilt were the three people named when The Bridge World inaugurated a bridge "hall of fame" in 1964 and they were made founding members of the ACBL Hall of Fame in 1995.

According to New York Times bridge columnist Alan Truscott, more than 10 million copies of Goren's books were sold. Among them, Point-Count Bidding (1949) "pushed the great mass of bridge players into abandoning Ely Culbertson's clumsy and inaccurate honor-trick method of valuation."

Goren's widely syndicated newspaper column "Goren on Bridge" first appeared in the Chicago Tribune August 30 1944, p.15. (wikipedia)

• • •

I'm writing at a table in the main room of the vacation house ("The Panorama House" in Grand Marais, look it up!). My housemates are playing all kinds of music, loudly, currently "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel, so it's pretty weird in here right now. Not exactly the best writing conditions. Better than earlier, when they were playing Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler, worse than when they were playing Abba and Pet Shop Boys. Still, I am used to writing in total silence, in the dead of morning, so 10pm party time is throwing me off a little. I'll try to soldier on. I was able to solve this puzzle, under similar conditions, very easily.  Very very easily, the second day in a row where the puzzle didn't really seem to be trying to give me ... anything. The theme is a math-ish theme that definitely came as a surprise, when it finally came, but ultimately it felt slight. Only really involves four short answers, even if it does force us to reevaluate the addends in the equations (i.e. the other short answers in the same row as the equation-clued answers). Definitely got an "oh, cute" out of me, and maybe that's enough. But mainly it felt like a blandish themeless, which is not at all what I look forward to on a Thursday. Now my friends are playing Abba again, "Knowing Me, Knowing You," and I'm kind of bopping in my chair and trying hard to concentrate on this puzzle. OK, that song's over now ... but now it's "Jive Talkin'," so I'm back to bopping. It's going to continue like this. I won't give you any more specifics, but just ... imagine. Anyway, the puzzle is OK, but remedial, once again.

The ugliest part, for me, wasn't the theme (which worked just fine); it was the proper noun pile-up near the middle of the grid. Just a grim name mash-up. EDHARRIS is fine, but he slams into GOREN and IRVIN (!?!), who crashes through RICK, who severs OSKAR. It all felt pretty awful. I knew two of these names, kinda sorta remembered another, but then OSKAR and IRVIN were complete and utter ????? Now, as I've said, the puzzle was, overall, a piece of cake, but even so, this name-iness was unpleasant. Too trivia dense, too know-it-or-you-don't, too proper nouny. Too too. Grease is the word, is the word, that you heard, sorry, the music's still playing and it's hard to tune out. 

I wanted LACTASE to be LACTOSE but the latter is a sugar and the clue wanted an enzyme, so ... fine (4D: Enzyme in dairy pills) (no one in this house knows what a "dairy pill" is ... why would you take a "dairy pill"?) (we just figured out that it's just a "lactose intolerance pill"; "dairy pill" is a weird, misleading formulation that none of us has heard of). Not a great word, but a word nonetheless. UPC CODE (10D: Bars for checking people out) is awful since the "C" in UPC stands for ... CODE. Somebody call the Department of Redundancy Department. Not sure why this strikes me as worse than "PIN NUMBER," but it does. Haven't seen ORRIS in a million years and I hope it's a million more years til the next time (29D: Root in potpourri). Extreme crossword vibes. (Update: "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond ... '70s flashbacks ... my dad ... earth tones ...). I had some PIE tonight (from Betty's Pies, Northern Minnesota's pie mecca). If there's more to say about this thing, I'm sure you'll say it in the comments. Peace out!  

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


They use "like" in a non-Valley Girl way / WED 7-26-23 / What a communion wafer represents with the / Return to original speed musically / What a guitar gently does in a 1968 Beatles song

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Constructor: Mary Crane

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: FINISH LINE (53A: End of a race ... or a hint to the conversation closers at 18-, 26- and 42-Across) — familiar phrases are reimagined as descriptions of "conversation closers" (or LINEs you would say to FINISH a conversation):

Theme answers:
  • STOCK SPLIT (18A: Lover's "It's not you, it's me"?)
  • SHRINK WRAP (26A: Psychiatrist's "I'm afraid our time is up"?)
  • SHALLOW END (42A: Comment like "Sorry you're upset! Gotta run, late for my nail appointment"?)
Word of the Day: "The THREE-Body Problem" (33A: "The ___-Body Problem" (Hugo Award-winning novel by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin)) —

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese三体lit. 'Three-Body') is a science fiction novel written by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth's Past (Chinese地球往事) trilogy, but the whole series is often referred to as Three-Body. The trilogy's second and third novels are The Dark Forest and Death's End, respectively. The series portrays a fictional past, present and future where, in the first book, Earth encounters an alien civilization in a nearby star system that consists of three sun-like stars orbiting each other in an unstable system. The title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics

The Three-Body Problem was originally serialized in Science Fiction World in 2006 and published as a standalone book in 2008. In 2006 it received the  Yinhe [Galaxy] Award for Chinese science fiction, and in 2012 was described as one of the genre's most successful novels of the previous two decades. By 2015, a Chinese film adaptation of the same name was in production. The English translation by Ken Liu was published by Tor Booksin 2014. The translation became the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. (wikipedia)

• • •
Greetings from the north shore of Lake Superior. I am in far northern Minnesota for summer vacation with my best friends, and while I considered taking the Whole time off, I figured I could squeeze in a few short-write-ups while I'm up here, especially since I'm planning on doing as little as possible. Might as well break up the nothing with a little something. But by that same token ... well, I'm on vacation, and my friends are singing Abba at full voice in the next room while solving jigsaw puzzles, so I'll be able to stand doing this laptop typing thing for only so long before I start feeling like I'm missing out, I'm sure. So, yeah, let's get to it. 
This one did not quite come together for me. The themer set, in fact the very concept, just didn't quite cohere. SPLIT just doesn't jibe with WRAP and END very well. An END is a finish, and a WRAP is a finish ("that's a wrap!"), but a SPLIT ... sigh, yes, when a couple "splits," they are finished, their coupleness is over, but "It's not you, it's me" is not a SPLIT. It's a "stock" (i.e. cliché) line you might say if *you* are splitting up with someone else. But the puzzle wants me to believe that the line itself is a SPLIT. It's not. Also, what is up with that clue on the third themer. It's a mess. The first two are tight and follow a pattern: [So-and-so's "[line]"]. [Lover's "It's not you, it's me!"?]. [Psychiatrist's "I'm afraid our time is up"?]. And then there's this convoluted mess of a third clue: [Comment like "Sorry you're upset! Gotta run, late for my nail appointment"?]. Not sure what "Sorry you're upset" has to do with any of it. Or "nail appointment" for that matter? One or both of those things is supposed to indicate "shallow"ness, I guess, but the distance between that clue and SHALLOW END is vast, and the waters separating them choppy. Awkward as heck, and totally off-pattern from the much more sharply imagined first two theme clues. 

The grid does give you some hefty long Downs to add to your solving pleasure, and while the first two were nice (AT THIS RATE, DREAM HOUSE), their counterparts were both icky to me in different ways. I always find the term FRIEND ZONE somewhat repulsive (28D: Situation involving unrequited love), since it's something one dude says to another, usually mockingly, about said friend's inability to score, but it's super-gendered (only ever said of guys whose desire for a woman isn't returned), and it implicitly assumes that the woman has *done something* to the guy (put him in said zone). There's an undercurrent of hostility to the whole concept. It's also part of this dumb idea that being friends with a woman is some lesser state of being. I'm currently on vacation with my best friend of 30+ years, who (it turns out!) is a woman. We are friends—there is no "zone," and our love is very much requited. So boo to FRIEND ZONE and the bro culture that birthed it. Boo also to YO-YO DIETER and all eating disorder clues (29D: One whose weight goes up and down). 

There are three "ON"s in this grid (ON TASK, ON MEDS, IN ON). One too many. Also, probably shouldn't put "End" in your revealer clue ([End of a race...]) when END is in one of your theme answers (SHALLOW END). The whole puzzle was startlingly easy, despite the theme's being not at all transparent. I mostly got the theme answers by just imagining what familiar phrase might fit in the space available. Everything else came almost instantly. PAINT was by far the hardest thing to come up with (45D: Coat that might be satin?). I don't really know paint terms well, so the concept of a "satin" finish didn't register with me at all. I got a WEE smile out of the clue on SIMILES (23A: They use "like" in a non-Valley Girl way). Don't remember much else, as it all flew by. I'm going to fly now, while my wife and friends are still awake. At least I think they are. I don't hear singing any more, but I do hear "Twist & Shout," so hopefully someone is still awake to solve jigsaw puzzles with me. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Spice related to nutmeg / TUES 7-25-23 / Setting for a bicycle race? / Rock band with a slash in its name / Happy or sleep, e.g.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday in July. I’m writing this after another round of Monday trivia and another pitcher of spicy hibiscus margaritas (shared, of course), but I hope this is all coherent. :) I hope everyone has been staying cool in July! I just got back from a family reunion/beach trip, and the days were either extremely hot or full of thunderstorms. I’m home now, slightly tan and only a little bit burnt. In other news, today was my first day at my new job, and it seems great! So I’ll be focusing on that for a while, along with watching the U.S. women in the World Cup, and of course, doing crossword puzzles. 

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Gary Larson and Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Easy-medium (I might’ve had too many margaritas to decide)
THEME: A wacky/fun cluing of common expressions

Theme answers:
  • TOSSES AND TURNS (20A: Two things associated with a game of horseshoes?) 
  • ROCK AND ROLLER (33A: Two things associated with the tale of Sisyphus?) 
  • KISS AND MAKE UP (40A: Two things associated with Gene Simmons?) 
  • TOWN AND COUNTRY (53A: Two things associated with the Vatican?)
Word of the Day: SAGUARO (8D: Treelike cactus)
The saguaro is a tree-like cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea that can grow to be over 40 feet tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. They may grow their first side arm around 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. Arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity, as more apices lead to more flowers and fruit. (Wiki)
• • •
The theme for this puzzle was fun and original — a bit kitschy and a bit clever without being too much. My favorite theme answer was definitely KISS AND MAKE UP (40A), which was an absolutely perfect clue and answer. (The answer even crossed AC/DC (34D), another hard rock band.) The rest of the theme answers didn’t quite reach that height, but I didn’t really care because I was too in love with KISS AND MAKE UP. ROCK AND ROLLER (33A) was also clever, given that Sisyphus had to keep rolling a rock up a hill in hell for all of eternity. Ha. 

I don’t have a ton else to say about the puzzle (and that’s truly not because of the margaritas!). The fill was mostly good. As is often the case with Tuesday puzzles, I liked some of the long downs, mainly CRISS CROSS (3D: What streets do on an urban map), CLIP ON TIES (30D: Articles of neckwear that are a snap to use?) and CAR SICK (4D: Nauseated while on the road). AMENITY (41D: Wi-Fi or room safe, at a hotel) and KIMONOS (43D: Japanese wraps) were decent answers that I haven’t seen in a while. There also weren’t too many proper names in the puzzle, which I appreciated. 

Amusingly, I tried to make NERO the answer in several different places in the puzzle. With a couple of letters in place, I wanted NERO instead of NERD (7D: Person who might do the Vulcan salute). And then I wanted NERO instead of REMO (63A: San ___, Italy). When I finally filled in NERO at 62A: Detective Wolfe, I barely even realized I’d finally gotten my wish. 

To find things I didn’t love, I really have to work for it. The one clue/answer that stands out to me was 47A: “Strangely…” as IT’S ODD. I think my distaste goes back to the fact that I strongly dislike clues that are so open-ended; there could have been a ton of answers to that clue. There was some blatant crosswordese like ETTU or HEN or STY or SKY, but I didn’t find that really overwhelmed the rest of the puzzle.

  • Of course, the only thing I can think of for EDNA (28D) Mode is “No capes!” EDNA Mode is an icon. 
  • 27D: Wee ‘uns as TOTS reminded me about my very young cousins (technically my first cousins once removed — their parents are my cousins) on our beach trip. We hung out with them a lot, and I got to bring out my inner child and dig a large hole that my three cousins loved playing in. One of my cousins was obsessed with the TV show DO, RE & MI (48D: String before fa-sol-la) and, for basically the whole vacation, talked about having watched it in the car ride to the shore. (Her mom wasn’t so amused.) 
  • Also on our beach trip, there were tons of people out on the sand with metal detectors, presumably looking for COINs (4A) or other valuables. 
  • Chicken Little being hit by an ACORN (51D) really takes me back to my Game Boy– and Nintendo DS–playing days. Man, that was the life. 
  • My dad, sister, and I are seeing Barbie today — we called ourselves “Two Barbies and Ken” at trivia. (We finished second among 16 teams. Who knew that Baltimore had one of the biggest aquariums in the world?) We’re prepared to dress in all pink and to cry a lot, because the movie is apparently very emotional. (Yes, that includes our dad.) 
  • Lastly, because it wouldn’t be a Clare write-up without mentioning BTS, here’s a song from Jungkook (a member of BTS) that just reached No. 1 on Billboard and set a ton of records in the meantime. Enjoy:)
Signed, Clare Margarita Carroll (yes, my middle initial is actually M)

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Beginning of a balcony soliloquy / MON 7-24-2023 / Guitar clamp / Card with a single spot on it

Monday, July 24, 2023

Constructor: John Ewbank

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:44)

THEME: SCARLET LETTERS — All the theme answers are made up of the letters S, C, A, R, L, E, and T, with no others

Theme answers:
  • [Livestock holders on freight trains] for CATTLE CARS
  • [Partner of a pepper mill] for SALT CELLAR
  • [Stay very far away, as from a hazard] for STEER CLEAR
  • [Courses that might have models] for ART CLASSES

Word of the Day: HARTE (19th century writer Bret) —
Bret Harte (born Francis Brett Hart; August 25, 1836 – May 5, 1902) was an American short story writer and poet best remembered for short fiction featuring miners, gamblers, and other romantic figures of the California Gold Rush.
• • •

Hi Barbies and Kens, it's Malaika here with a guest write-up! Solving Snack is Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk (straight from the pint so I don't have to wash a bowl) and Solving Music is the new Taylor song "Castles Crumbling." I zoooomed through this puzzle, I know Mondays are the easiest day but it felt particularly breezy. I think I benefitted from being familiar with crossword-y words like EMOTES or the weird-to-parse UN DAY or IOUS.

I was able to enter CATTLE CARS and STEER CLEAR very early on, and tried to play Guess The Revealer-- something bovine?? Oh how wrong I was. I believe this type of mechanism is called a "letter bank" although I'm not 100% sure of that definition, so perhaps you can correct me in the comments. The theme entries were all decently fun (raise your hand if you had "salt shaker" first), and the revealer seemed perfectly suitable. My mind wasn't blown or anything, but a very solid Monday.

Cow tools

And I will always give a round of applause to people who can pull off little stacks of vertical non-theme answers in the corners!! Ross Trudeau and CC Burnikel are good at this. I like to call those "colonnades," which is an architecture term for pillars that are in a row, because it describes the vertical nature of the entries and because I like cute little terms for things. I am more familiar with the terms "good sport" and "sore loser" but GOOD LOSER felt very "sure, why not." 

I recently gave a little How To Make A Crossword Puzzle talk, and one of the attendees asked me how to make a hard clue easier, especially if it's trivia or jargon. This puzzle had lots of examples of how you can add extra information. For example, the clue [Spider-Man adversary who was struck by lightning] could have just been the first two words, but adding the detail about lightning makes you think about electricity, which leads you to the answer ELECTRO. (Shout out to Jamie Foxx's uhh..... electric portrayal of him, by the way.) [Font style that the shortcut Ctrl+I activates], which clued ITALICS, is another good example. "Ctrl+I" is a good hint that the first letter will be I, and "font style" is a clear descriptor that could have been much more vague, like "formatting option."

marry me pls

  • ["That's hilarious," in a text] for LOL — I get that it's boring to say "Will Shortz (70 yrs old) has a different frame of reference from Malaika (26 yrs old)" but here I am, beating a dead horse around the bush, or whatever the saying is. That is simply not what LOL means anymore because language changes and evolves etc etc okay I'm done now.
  • [Soccer game cheer] for OLE — I have been trying to watch the Women's World Cup, but the time change makes the schedule Hell-ish. If any of you are in East Asia or Australia / New Zealand, I hope you are enjoying it!!
  • [Inedible part of a cherry] for STEM — Cherries are in season and delightfully cheap over here! My local produce store is selling big bags of them for $1.99 and they're so ripe and juicy.
xoxo Malaika

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