1935 Hitchcock thriller, with "The" / THU 8-31-23 / 2009 fantasy rom-com starring Zac Efron / 2008 rom-com starring Katherine Heigl and James Marsden / Popular store chain with a green, red and orange logo / Ewe got this! / Juvenile stage of a newt

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Constructor: Freddie Cheng

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "NO. CLUE" (47D: "Haven't the foggiest!" ... or, when the first two letters are put at the end, an essential part of seven answers in this puzzle) — Seven answers can only be made sense of if you add the CLUE NO. to the front of the answers:

Theme answers:
  • [17] AGAIN (17A: 2009 fantasy rom-com starring Zac Efron)
  • [7]-ELEVEN (7D: Popular store chain with a green, red and orange logo) 
  • [8] MILE (8D: 2002 film that earned Eminem two MTV Movie Awards)
  • [27] DRESSES (27D: 2008 rom-com starring Katherine Heigl and James Marsden)
  • "[30] ROCK" (30D: NBC comedy series starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin) 
  • [39] STEPS (39D: 1935 Hitchcock thriller, with "The") 
  • [50] CENT (50D: Rapper Curtis Jackson, more familiarly) 
Word of the Day: [50] CENT (50D) — 

Curtis James Jackson III (born July 6, 1975), known professionally as 50 Cent, is an American rapper, actor, television producer, and businessman. Born in the South Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, Jackson began pursuing a musical career in 2000, when he produced Power of the Dollar for Columbia Records; however, days before the planned release, he was shot, and the album was never released. In 2002, after 50 Cent released the mixtape Guess Who's Back? he was discovered by Eminem and signed to Shady Records, under the aegis of Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records.

His first major-label album Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003), was a huge commercial success. The album spawned the Billboard Hot 100 number one singles "In da Club" and "21 Questions" (featuring Nate Dogg), and was certified 9× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). That same year, he founded G-Unit Records, signing his G-Unit associates Young BuckLloyd Banks and Tony Yayo; prior to becoming the de facto leader of the East Coast hip hop group G-Unit. 50 Cent had similar commercial and critical success with his second album, The Massacre (2005), which contained the single "Candy Shop" (featuring Olivia). He underwent musical changes by his fifth album, Animal Ambition (2014), and is currently working on his sixth studio album. He executive-produced and starred in the television series Power (2014–2020) and is slated to produce its spin-offs.

50 Cent has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and won several awards, including a Grammy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, thirteen Billboard Music Awards, six World Music Awards, three American Music Awards and four BET Awards. As an actor, Jackson appeared in the semi-autobiographical film Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005), the war film Home of the Brave (2006), and the crime thriller film Righteous Kill (2008). Billboard ranked 50 Cent as the 17th best rapper of all time on their '50 Greatest rappers' list (2023); and named him the sixth top artist of the 2000s decade. Rolling Stone ranked Get Rich or Die Tryin' and "In da Club" in its lists of the "100 Best Albums of the 2000s" and "100 Best Songs of the 2000s" at numbers 37 and 13, respectively. (wikipedia)

• • •

Piece of cake, and pretty fun, though the number answers themselves were an odd set, oddly dispersed. Four movies! Out of only seven themers total? Seems like you're *this* close to figuring out how to make this a movie theme as well as a number theme. I actually thought the theme was going to be strictly movie-related early on, right after I got [27] DRESSES ... but then I remembered I'd already gotten [7]-ELEVEN, which is not a movie (yet — if you're a brand, I assume you'll eventually have a movie, those appear to be the rules now. Look for [7]-ELEVEN, starring a middle-aged Zac Efron, in IMAX, summer 2030!) (Hmmm ... there's definitely a script here and if this movie ever gets made remember it's my idea mine pay me). Four movies is a lot of movies for a non-movie theme. The themers were also weirdly placed, by which I mean, obviously the answers had to go where the numbers were, but only one of those answers was Across, whereas six (!) were Down. This isn't a flaw, just a wacky feature. The theme draws heavily (almost exclusively) from pop culture, which may have left some people in the dark at times, as pop culture-heavy themes often do. I was lucky enough to know all these titles, even if I couldn't have told you a thing about [17] AGAIN or [27] DRESSES (really missed that '00s rom-com phenom, I guess) (not "FEE-nom" but "fuh-NOM," it has to rhyme, please play along). In a perfect world, this grid probably wouldn't have actual written-out numbers in it (see TEN-FOUR)—kinda clashes with the "missing number" vibe; but the world is imperfect and I don't think the obtrusive numbers are that obtrusive. There was very little difficulty in this puzzle, and the theme's trickiness was not very tricky, so I was feeling that lack of Thursday thorniness and trickiness. Felt a little flat for what is supposed to be the Trickiest Day of the Week. But conceptually, the gimmick is definitely Thursday-worthy, and I enjoyed the overall solving experience. 

There were a couple of cute clue pairings in this puzzle. Cute because not cross-referenced (i.e. no [See 14-Across] or whatever), but just ... playful. First, there's the obvious one, the JAM / JAR cross in the NE (10A: Preserves, maybe / 10D: Preserves preserver). It's a nice little decoration. Brightens up an otherwise potentially drab corner. Then there's the long-range "O" echo, where the puzzle starts (in the NW) with an "O" clue (1A: Follower of November = OSCAR, the "O" in the NATO phonetic alphabet), and then ends (or nearly ends, in the SE) with another "O", also an Across, also in five letters (68A: The first "O" of O/O = OWNER, as in "owner-operator," an abbr. most closely associated with the trucking industry). Less appealing were things like RANDR (That's "R & R" i.e. "rest and relaxation") (5D: Vacation time, informally). The puzzle has dramatically reduced its reliance on ampersandwiches over the years; feels like it, anyway—you used to see them all the time: RANDB, BANDB, SANDL ... CANDW, even (one appearance, 2007)). I almost like RANDR as a kind of retro-chic answer, but ... no, I think it's still not great. Now it just looks like the name of an app—an app for meeting randos? Why would you want that?

This puzzle made me remember Dennis RODMAN, so that's a demerit, for sure. Also, SAND CAT? (56A: Desert feline). Are you making that up? That was the one answer where I just inferred it and hoped for the best. "Sure, the desert ... has sand ... so why not? SAND CAT." [Peeps] are FAM because all the small marshmallow chicks are part of one big happy FAMily (actually, your "peeps" are your "people," i.e. your FAMily). I'm off to make the coffee. See you tomorrow, FAM. Hmm, no ... "FAM" sounds wrong in my mouth. Not my slang at all. How about, "See you tomorrow, SAND CATs!" Yes, yes, that's better. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld  

P.S. Update: SAND CATs are real and omg so cute. Kitty!!

P.P.S. found another clue pairing that I like. The revealer, NO CLUE, neatly parallels NO HOPE (6D: Zero chance of a good result). Seems like the puzzle is taunting or trash-talking the solver, but I don't mind.

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Inuit skin boat / WED 8-30-23 / Hamlet's interrogative after "How now!" / Language from which we get bupkis and shtick / Reds great Roush / Round, squishy toy

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners 

Relative difficulty: Medium 

THEME: some story — Across clues are all fill-in-the-blanks where you just have to infer the missing word from context; taken together, all the Across clues (+answers) tell a story about some people named Dana and Ava ... something about tubas, maybe? ... I honestly haven't read it

Theme answers:
  • Sorry, there's no way I'm typing out that whole damned story
Word of the Day: "A RAT?" (57D: Hamlet's interrogative after "How now!") —
"How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" 
Hamlet slays Polonius, whom he mistakes for the King hiding behind the arras in Gertrude's room. Earlier, the King, realizing that Hamlet has deduced that it was he who killed his father, sent Polonius to Gertrude's chamber. Hamlet comes storming down the hall screaming "mother, mother, mother!" Polonius hides behind the wall hanging, intending to spy on the conversation and report back to the King. The queen is terrified that Hamlet intends to murder her, however, and so cries out for help. Foolishly, Polonius also cries for help, and Hamlet, thinking the King has followed him into the chamber, thrusts his sword into the drapery and kills Polonius. In the aftermath of this mistaken murder, Hamlet seems strangely untouched by his own deed, which argues for the authenticity of his madness. (enotes.com) 
• • •

One of the most unpleasant solving experiences of all time. Really wish this had appeared on Monday, so I could've solved it Downs-only and spared myself ... all that. Nothing to say about this one. Oh, except RIDABLE, LOL, what? RIDABLE!? A risible answer. Is that even a word? "Is this bus RIDABLE?" "No." "Uh ... but ..." "Sorry, no, UNRIDABLE. You want the 15 Northbound." [door closes in would-be rider's face] [end scene]. NOTEDLY is really happy that RIDABLE is in the grid, because RIDABLE is so glaringly bad, it's drawing attention away from NOTEDLY, which is just awkward (I'd use NOTABLY; I don't think I would use NOTEDLY, if only to avoid the confusion of people thinking you said "NOTABLY") (7D: With distinction). The hardest Across for me to infer was AIRLEAK, since I wasn't 100% sure about KAY Ivey's name (I only know she's awful in just about every way an American politician can be awful; here's one way) (40D: Alabama governor Ivey). I'd also weirdly "misspelled" RIDABLE as RIDEBLE (I think my brain was like "I guess you spell it RIDEABLE?," realized there wasn't enough space for that, and then ... improvised). Also, the clue, [Wheezing like an ___ in an old tire and deep blushing] was about the gibberishiest thing I've seen in a crossword clue. Finally getting to AIRLEAK involved remembering UMIAK (27D: Inuit skin boat), a bit of crosswordese I haven't seen in a while (a fine enough word, but one folks are likely to need crosses for, and if you needed crosses for your Downs today, you had to wade into that story, and, well, god bless you, I'm sorry). Don't care about "GOT" so SER was slightly uncertain (64D: Title for "Game of Thrones" knights). The random Roman numeral after the random pope, also uncertain (LEOV). And then there was EDGINGS (25D: Curtain trims, e.g.). With an "S"? Plural? EDGINGS? Pretty sure EDGING is singular (as is "trim," for that matter). I'd also accept EDGEWORK. I don't know why, but I would. (Hmm, apparently that's more sociological concept than fabric concept. Nevermind). EDGINGS, you say? Huh. Feels like ELKS. Or FISHES. 

That's all. The sooner I put space between me and this puzzle, the better. Enjoy your corny story, or throw it in the trash, whichever. Either way, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. BIRD IN HAND??? (28D: It's a sure thing). There's "A bird in the hand" (it's worth two in the bush). There's also "hat in hand" and "cash in hand." There's even The Proclaimers' "Cap in Hand." But there is not, I'm afraid, BIRD IN HAND. There is, however—NOTEDLY—a little birdhouse in your soul. And so, here's a little musical twofer to take you into your post-crossword day. Once again, goodbye.  

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"Hello, sailor!" / TUES 8-29-23 / Key of Dvorák's "New World" Symphony / Morrison with a Presidential Medal of Freedom / Corduroy feature

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday in August. Summer has flown by, and I’m rather excited for the weather to cool off (*crosses fingers*). I’m also excited for the U.S. Open and soccer and football and and…! My sister and I placed second at trivia last night with the name “Team Coco,” so you know we’re rooting for Coco Gauff to win the U.S. Open. I’ve now been at my new job for a month or so, and I’m really loving it. I’m amazed at how much I enjoy going to work; I got to call a client the other day and tell her she was granted asylum, and that was pretty incredible. Anywho… on to the puzzle!

Michèle Govier

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy

THEME: BOW TIES (With 61-Down, accessory worn by 19-/21-, 26-/29-, 45-/49- and 54-/56-Across, as depicted four times in this puzzle's grid)

Theme answers:
  • KRUSTY THE CLOWN (19A: With 21-Across, "The Simpsons" character who is a children's TV host) 
  • COLONEL SANDERS (26A: With 29-Across, fast-food spokesperson with a goatee) 
  • CHARLIE CHAPLIN (45A: With 49-Across, silent film star who portrayed the Little Tramp) 
  • THE CAT IN THE HAT (54A: With 56-Across, title Dr. Seuss troublemaker)
Word of the Day: ICE WINES (31A: Vineyard products made with frozen grapes)
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing for a more concentrated grape juice to develop. The grapes' must is then pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet juice. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. (Wiki)
• • •
This puzzle was pretty cute. At first, I thought there were insects crawling over the puzzle, before realizing that those were, in fact, bow ties that nicely cinched together the two parts of the theme answers. The design element of the puzzle really tied things together (see what I did there?), and none of the theme answers were especially hard to get. My least favorite was definitely THE CAT IN THE HAT (54/56A) because of the way it was separated; the other answers made sense, but breaking this answer as THECATIN and THEHAT looked quite odd. I was also super bummed that The Doctor didn’t appear in the puzzle!! The Eleventh Doctor (in the incredible TV show “Doctor Who”) is known for his epic bow ties and for saying, “Bow ties are cool.” (Which they are). 

Some of the fill was fun, but some was pedestrian. The SW corner, in particular, did nothing for me. The only answer that stood out there at all was CD TRAY (45D: Retractable feature of a PC or stereo, once), and a reference to a bygone, not-exactly-central feature of electronics isn’t especially a highlight for me. I got a bit tired, too, of the CAN I (22D: "Please?"), WILL DO (15D: "I'm on it!"), and ARE TOO (47D: "Am not!" response) type answers. See also: YOO (66A: "____-hoo!") and ELSE (68A: "What ___ is new?"). One of the central answers is NICE (36D: "Sweet!"), which feels rather basic. And, I have a vendetta against SELF HEAL (37D: Herb named for its medicinal properties). I’ve never heard of this, and the idea of that being an herb makes very little sense to me (even if a Google search tells me it’s kinda sorta a thing). 

On the other hand, OCTUPLES (3D: Grows eightfold) was a fun word, DISRAELI (42A: British P.M. before Gladstone) is a good old name to have in the puzzle, and I always love seeing TONI (20D: Morrison with a Presidential Medal of Freedom). PHO (23A: Dish eaten with both chopsticks and a spoon) is a fun word, too. EYE (24A: Camera lens, essentially) was nicely clued. TANG (55D: Zesty taste) and TART (56D: Fruity pastry) were symmetrical and played off each other well, and I got to learn all about ICE WINES (31A). I also let out an audible chuckle at SPF (53A: Block number, for short?), PLOT (1A: Feature of a garden or novel), and ABACK (5A: One way to be taken). Maybe it’s the margaritas we drank at trivia night talking, but I do think there were some clever and fun clues/answers in the puzzle! 

All in all, this was a nice debut from Michèle Govier.

  • Mini marijuana theme in the puzzle, anyone? With CBD (10A), TOKE (58D), and sort of the SELF HEALing herb (37D). 
  • For 43D, I started running through all the symptoms I get when my allergies hit — runny nose, itchy eyes, breathing issues, etc. Funnily enough, the allergy symptom I don’t get is a RASH (43D: Allergy symptom). 
  • I initially saw 33A: MIO as being a Spanish word and started to break out the Spanish I’ve been relearning. I’ve got my little 18-day streak on Duolingo, and I’ve been reading a book in Spanish that I know well, watching a Spanish TV show, and listening to some Spanish lessons on the Metro. Maybe I’ll finally be fluent in, like, eight years. 
  • I know there’s no soccer connection in the puzzle, but hey, did everyone see the Liverpool game on Sunday?! The Reds went down 1-0 in the 25th minute and then three minutes later went a man down when our captain/star defender got a red card. Then a Liverpool player scored in the 81st minute. And he scored again in the third minute of stoppage time, to give us a 2-1 win. It was wonderful. 
  • I shall leave you with Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor:
Signed, Clare Carroll, taking a bow (tie)

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Three Stooges snicker sound / MON 8-28-23 / Boba Fett's occupation in "Star Wars" films / Palindromic tug boat sound

Monday, August 28, 2023

Constructor: Brian Callahan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: UNCOUPLES (64A: Disconnects ... or what's found in the answers to the four starred clues?) — each theme answer features a "couple" of words, both of which contain the letter string "UN":

Theme answers:
  • RUN AROUND (16A: *Evasive treatment, with "the")
  • BOUNTY HUNTER (23A: *Boba Fett's occupation in "Star Wars" films)
  • AS DRUNK AS A SKUNK (39A: *Seriously hammered)
  • SUNDAY BRUNCH (52A: *Weekend occasion for avocado toast and mimosas)
Word of the Day: "OYE Como Va" (47D: "___ Como Va" (1971 Santana hit)) —

"Oye Cómo Va" is a 1962 cha-cha-chá by Tito Puente, originally released on El Rey Bravo (Tico Records). The song achieved worldwide popularity in 1970, when it was recorded by American rock group Santana for their album Abraxas. This version was released as a single in 1971, reaching number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 11 on the Billboard Easy Listening survey, and number 32 on the R&B chart. The block chord ostinato pattern that repeats throughout the song was most likely borrowed by Puente from Cachao's 1957 mambo "Chanchullo", which was recorded by Puente in 1959.

The song has been praised by critics and inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. Due to its multinational origins—Cuban, Puerto Rican and American—and its many versions by artists from all over the world, "Oye cómo va" has come to represent "the interconnectedness, hybridity and transnationality" of Latin music in the United States. (wikipedia)

• • •

A singularly uninspiring revealer. I actually thought the word was DECOUPLES. What's the difference? DECOUPLES would be a good ("good") revealer if you had theme answers like DOUBLE DOORS, DR. DEMENTO, DON DRAPER, stuff like that. But UNCOUPLES ... not a lot of fun there. There are certainly "UN"s in each of the two words in the theme answers, but with AROUND and BOUNTY the "UN" sound is submerged / hidden / changed, so you don't even get a nice rhyming thing going. Just ... the letters "UN." Since the revealer itself is not exciting at all, and "UN"-ness doesn't really have anything entertaining to offer, we're left with one nice themer (in an appropriately marquee position) (AS DRUNK AS A SKUNK), and that's pretty much it. The other themers are fine as standalone answers, but they don't add nearly enough color to the grid. Same goes for the long Downs. And then you've just got a lot of overfamiliar short stuff (SSNS and RPMS and ETAS and what not). The theme never really gets off the ground, and neither does the puzzle as a whole. But if you solve Downs-only, at least you got to feel ultra-powerful—there's almost nothing to hold you back from a quick solve today. I've got less than a half dozen potential sticking points written down here, and I don't think any of them is likely to prove fatal. So maybe you at least got a solving time record out of it. That's something. Take what you can get. 

The long Downs always threaten to be the trickiest part of a Downs-only solve, and today, that was half true. Well, half half true. A quarter true. That is to say, GO DOWNHILL was a snap (29D: Deteriorate ... as sledders do?), especially once you get those themers into place and get the "D" and the "N" But SPORTS NUTS ... well, the NUTS part definitely slowed me down a tiny bit, in that I wanted FANS, which seemed like a perfectly good answer for the clue (10D: Ones with season tickets to football, baseball and basketball games, perhaps). Mostly what I wanted for that answer was some term for "rich people." I know a lot of SPORTS NUTS, I don't know a single person who has season tickets to three different sports, my god. I was definitely a sports nut for much of my life, and I never had season tickets to anything. So I had FANS, but then GNAT made that impossible and I corrected to NUTS. I guess the insane three-sports season tickets were supposed to indicate that we were dealing with something more than mere fandom (even though "fan" already means "fanatic"). Fine. I also had trouble coming up with HYPER, a term I haven't heard much since the '80s (55D: On a sugar rush, say). Just couldn't come up with a good term. But eventually I surrounded the answer, and HYPER became undeniable. The hardest (though not very hard) part was the last part: specifically, SASSY (52D: Smart-alecky). I wasn't *terribly* certain about "US TOO" (53D: "We agree"), and then, faced with -TILE in one of the Acrosses, I went with the (to me) obvious UTILE! From there, just one Down away from puzzle completion, I took one look at S-U-- at 52D: Smart-alecky and wrote in SAUCY! And that's how it would've stayed, had not COLED stared back at me like "... Really? You're gonna go with me? COLED? Are you sure about that?" I was not. So I pulled all of it and regrouped. STILE got me over the hump. The end.

The one thing I didn't stumble on that I can imagine one *might* stumble on, from a Downs-only perspective, is "NYUK!" (25D: Three Stooges snicker sound). I think it's safe to say that general cultural awareness of the various sounds made by the various Stooges is, uh, on the wane. I wouldn't even know the sound is "NYUK" if I hadn't seen it in crosswords a number of times. I think you can reason your way to "NYUK!" if you have no Stooges knowledge at all, but it would take some educated guessing, and some patience. But those are basic crossword skills, so ... if you are a non-Stooges fan, or otherwise suffer from Stooges nonawareness, but still persevered, congrats. Treat yourself to a TAB Cola. I'll see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Costa Ricans informally / SUN 8-27-23 / Rahm who won the 2023 Masters / The Y of JPY / horribilis 1992 per Queen Elizabeth / Craft project with rubber bands / Second picture in an alphabet book, maybe / Title that shares etymology with "kaiser" / Protagonist of a touching story?

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Constructor: Rich Katz

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" — theme clues must be interpreted as if their first syllable referred to a letter of the alphabet:

Theme answers:
  • DOWNWARD DOG (3D: Depose?) (two-word "pose" where both words start with "D")
  • NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (24A: Entitle?) (two-word "title" where both words start with "N") (etc.)
  • OFFICIAL ORDERS (51A: Omission?)
  • BEST BUDDY (68A: Befriend?)
  • GALILEO GALILEI (88A: Gee whiz?)
  • MIDDLE MANAGEMENT (116A: Embosses?)
  • TABLE TENNIS (72D: Tee-ball game?)
Word of the Day: ANNUS mirabilis (26A: ___ horribilis (1992, per Queen Elizabeth)) —
Annus mirabilis
 (pl. anni mirabiles) is a Latin phrase that means "marvelous year", "wonderful year", "miraculous year", "year of wonder" or "amazing year". This term has been used to refer to several years during which events of major importance are remembered, notably Isaac Newton's discoveries in 1666. [...] Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. Despite the poem's name, the year had been one of great tragedy, including the Great Fire of London. The title was perhaps meant to suggest that the events of the year could have been worse. Dryden wrote the poem while at Charlton in Wiltshire, where he went to escape one of the great events of the year: the Great Plague of London. // The title of Dryden's poem, used without capitalisation, annus mirabilis, derives its meaning from its Latin origins and describes a year of particularly notable events. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dryden's use of the term for the title of his poem constitutes the first known written use of the phrase in an English text. The first event of the miraculous year was the Battle of Lowestoft fought by English and Dutch ships in 1665. The second was the Four Days Battle of June 1666, and finally the victory of the St. James's Day Battle a month later. The second part of the poem deals with the Great Fire of London that ran from September 2–7, 1666. The miracle of the Fire was that London was saved, that the fire was stopped, and that the great king (Charles II) would rebuild, for he already announced his plans to improve the streets of London and to begin great projects. Dryden's view is that these disasters were all averted, that God had saved England from destruction, and that God had performed miracles for England. (wikipedia)
• • •

I have nothing to say about this theme. Well, not nothing, but almost. It was easy, it was remedial ... there it is. Make of it what you will. I got DOWNWARD DOG first and thought, "so it's just two-word phrases where both words start with the same letter?" and sure enough yes. That is it. There's wordplay in the cluing, of course, where ordinary words have to be interpreted as if they had something to do with the letters it sounds like their first syllables are making, OK ... but somehow this didn't add much enjoyment or levity to the whole solving endeavor. I guess [Peashooter?] is kinda cute as a way to get to POOL PLAYER, but most of these clues felt pretty listless. And the fill didn't come to the rescue in any way. It, too, just lays there. Mostly. Then there's MANYFOLD? I know the word "manifold," but MANYFOLD ... that is ... something. SIEGED. I know "besieged" but SIEGED, no, that's a new one. And what the hell is a "megagram"? Is that a real thing? I have to think it isn't, because ... well, TONNE is a pretty ordinary (if Britishly spelt) word, and when you have that word, why in the world would you say "megagram." Sounds like a really big telegram (Remember telegrams!? Me either!). LIDDED? Like ... my eyes? Sure, I guess that you could get a lawyer to defend that one, but all of these answers feel really marginal and screechy (as in "nails on a chalkboard"-y). AGRO- and not AGRI-!? (112D: Farm-related prefix). And that clue on OMAR, yeeeeeesh (114D: First name in neo-Marxism) (the letters "OMAR" appear in order in the "word" "neO-MARxism"). If "neo-Marxism" were a thing, maybe that clue would've landed better? I mostly just don't appreciate what the puzzle thinks it's doing today.

As for ANNUS horribilis ( 26A: ___ horribilis (1992, per Queen Elizabeth)) ... which Queen Elizabeth!? I mean, of course it's QEII, if the year in question is 1992, but come on. Have some respect for the far more important Queen Elizabeth: number your Elizabeths, please and thank you. Also, do you know, do you have any idea, why Queen Elizabeth (II) thought 1992 was "annus horribilis"?!? Well I assure you it has nothing to do with anything "horrible" happening in the world as a whole. No, it's the most selfish insular petty crap you can imagine, P.S. abolish the stupid monarchy, please and thank you. Here are Elizabeth (II)'s reasons why 1992 was so bad it deserved a hyperbolic Latin name (per wikipedia):

After her speech had been recorded, one more notable event transpired: the separation of Charles and Diana (9 December). 

Yeah, your daughters-in-law thought your stupid sons were CLODs and they went after hotter guys, boo hoo. Maybe have better sons next time, I don't know. Man, I hadn't realized how much I hate monarchy until I started thinking about this stupid ANNUS clue. And I always cringe when the puzzle contains ping-pong or TABLE TENNIS, as it seems so obviously intended to ingratiate the puzzle to the editor (a famously serious and accomplished player). I'm not being fair, as the answer fits the theme very well, and yet ... yeah, that's just how I feel. It looks like fawning sycophantery, and I'm against it. 

There were no real challenges today, though there were a few stumbles. The hardest answer for me to come up with was REGISTRAR, largely because of its deeply ambiguous clue (43A: Record holder). I also had a bunch of tiny mistakes: AGRI- for AGRO-, AGAPE for AGASP (81D: Speechless with shock), LEILA for LAILA (always!) (67D: Ali who retired undefeated), DIET (?) for DUMA (45A: Russian legislature), the usual hesitation on the last vowel in LATKE ("is it 'E' or 'A'!?"). I also made one incredible mistake, namely: I had Y--K in place, looked at the clue (80A: 19th-century adversary of an 18-Down), and, despite having 18-Down in place (REB), and despite knowing very well that the War of the Roses did not take place in the "19th century," I chose only to focus on the word "adversary" and instead of YANK, I wrote in YORK (the House of York being notorious 15th-century adversaries of the House of Lancaster). Like ... you have to really commit to not reading the clue thoroughly in order to come up with YORK in that situation. I'm perversely proud of how perfectly bad that answer was. Hope you enjoyed the puzzle more than I did. If nothing else, it KILLS TIME, right? Right. 

See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ceremonial plates for the Eucharist / SAT 8-26-23 / Not online, to a texter / Model Boyd of London's "Swinging Sixties" era / Deceive so as to deflect / Woman with enfants / Language spoken in Middle-earth / Cast-iron cooking directive / Five-minute rock classic with an iconic organ intro

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Constructor: Adrian Johnson

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PATTIE Boyd (30A: Model Boyd of London's "Swinging Sixties" era) —

Patricia Anne Boyd (born 17 March 1944) is an English model and photographer. She was one of the leading international models during the 1960s and, with Jean Shrimpton, epitomised the British female look of the era. Boyd married George Harrison in 1966, experiencing the height of the Beatles' popularity and sharing in their embrace of Indian spirituality. She divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Harrison's friend Eric Clapton in 1979; they divorced in 1989. Boyd inspired Harrison's song "Something", and Clapton's songs "Layla", "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Wonderful Tonight".

In August 2007, Boyd published her autobiography Wonderful Today (titled Wonderful Tonight in the United States). Her photographs of Harrison and Clapton, titled Through the Eye of a Muse, have been widely exhibited. (wikipedia)

• • •

I liked this quite a bit. Those NW and SE corners are really wonderful, and everything else is at least solid. The puzzle doesn't over-rely on obscure words (only PATENS comes close) or proper nouns (though there are few nice ones). Instead it's full of familiar words and phrases, many of them fresh and colloquial and surprising. That SE corner is one of the nicest four-layer cakes I've ever seen. 10 on 10 on 10 on 10 and no misses. INITIATIVE is the weakest of the bunch, and it's not weak at all. And the four-layer cake is toothpicked into place by more solid long answers: PONTIFF, ANIMATES, GNOMISH (!), INSEAMS. And then you've got the witty decorative flourish in the icing, or the cherry on top, maybe, with that WEST clue in the far southeast (52D: Inapt locale for this answer). Don't ask me why there's ATIT on the cake, maybe it's a novelty cake depicting a STRIPTEASE, I don't know. Look, I'm not the best with cake metaphors, this puzzle surely deserves better. But I like cake and I liked this puzzle and that's what matters, I think. 

I loved the way that the NW corner opened up. I started out with a very good but also very bad guess at 1-Across, throwing down ACT ONE'S AGE for 1A: Behave in a way suitable to one's situation (ACT THE PART). I stared briefly and triumphantly at my impressive opening gambit ... only to notice that ONE'S was actually in the clue itself, so there was no way ACT ONE'S AGE could be right. Gah! So then I pulled it and did what I usually do first: work the short Downs. Very quickly I was here:
Just a couple of measly four-letter answers and zing! There goes the first long one. It's a great feeling. And CRAMPING UP is a great answer. I was in a good mood that only continued through the entirety of the NW, as I went HOPPING from answer to answer with relative ease, and then descended the PINE LOGS down to the middle of the grid, where SKA music was playing and NAKED people were going gaga. Truly a fun time.  

There were a couple of minor sticking points on the journey to my final destination (the eastern WEST). I had the elder relative as GRAN, not GRAM, so at 41A: First N.F.L. quarterback to pass for 50,000 yards, I wrote in the first six-letter quarterback I could think of whose name started with an "N"—Joe NAMATH. Then I had a repeat of my 1-Across experience: feeling Pret-ty good about myself for a half second before realizing "wait, that canNot be right ... that's way too many yards for NAMATH." Plus the "T" in NAMATH was where an "S" or "N" needed to be (36D: Mexico City-to-Cancún dir. => ENE), so I pulled NAMATH, changed GRAN to GRAM, considered MONTANA (wouldn't fit), and then immediately thought of MARINO. Football problem solved. I couldn't tell you a damn thing about contemporary football, but I've got '70s-'90 pretty much on lock. Once MARINO was sorted, the rest of the corner was easy. Side note: nice little Eucharistic crossing there in the SW with PATENS crossing PONTIFF. PATENS is probably the "obscurest" thing in the grid, but it's redeemed, saved, forgiven by the crossing of the Holy Father, amen. (My papal metaphors aren't any better than my cake metaphors, I realize) (Oh, and [See star?] because the PONTIFF is the "star" of the (Holy) See)

The hardest part of the grid for me was coming up with PATTIE Boyd, which is dumb, as I know very well (now that I looked her up) who PATTIE Boyd is, primarily because of her place in the musical love triangle with George Harrison and Eric Clapton. I think I wanted PATTY at one point, but was apparently unwilling to make her into an "-IE" PATTIE, and so remained stumped for a bit. I was also very stumped by the clue on SEAR (28D: Cast-iron cooking directive). I had the "S" and thought "... 'STIR'? ... surely that's not cast iron-specific enough." And it wasn't. Can't most pans SEAR? Whatever, I muddled through the PATTIE SEAR section, eventually. Everything else was pretty much whoosh-whoosh (but a somewhat more methodical and low-key whoosh-whoosh than the one I usually look for on Fridays. Saturday whoosh is a little more controlled, but no less satisfying). 

  • 11A: This might change your mind (LSD) — had the "L" and "D" and just blinked, like "why would a LAD change my mind? A LID can't change my mind, can it?" Etc.  
  • 11D: Hot lines? (LOVE LETTER) — good clue/answer, sandwiched between TOMBSTONE and SPARE TIRES. I know I singled out the NW and SE corners, but this corner is worthy of attention as well. Hell, I even like the SW corner. HELLRAISER with a SOUSAPHONE GOES GAGA! That's quite a headline! If you don't like that, you don't like puzzles, what are you even doing here?
  • 27A: Seeds may go down in them (UPSETS) — so, tournament seeds. If a seeded player plays an unseeded player and loses ... well, there's your answer.
  • 23A: Deceive so as to deflect (SHINE ON) — the puzzle's one awkward moment. Something about the phrasing of the clue made the answer hard to see. It's not a phrase I'd ever use, I don't think, so I was unsure even as I (eventually) wrote it in.
  • 45A: Three in Q3: e.g.: Abbr. (MOS.) — so many abbrs. in this dang clue/answer pairing. There are three months (MOS.) in *any* quarter, so the "Q3" bit here is just to make a little "three" echo in the clue. Could just as easily have been Q1. 
  • 44D: Dolphin's facility (SONAR) — I like the use of "Dolphin's" here, as this answer is adjacent to MARINO, who played for the Dolphins his entire career. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Portmanteau in 2010s fandom / FRI 8-25-23 / Nickname that drops -an / Most populous majority-Hispanic county in the U.S. / fries Krusty Krab menu item / Spice used as a breath freshener / Dish flavored with tamarind paste and fish sauce

Friday, August 25, 2023

Constructor: Rafael Musa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ELI Apple (32A: N.F.L. cornerback Apple) —
Eli Apple (né Woodard, born August 9, 1995) is an American football cornerback for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Ohio State, where he was a part of the team that won the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, and was selected by the New York Giants in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He has also played for the New Orleans SaintsCarolina Panthers, and Cincinnati Bengals. (wikipedia)
• • •
First off, a classic shout-out to my number-one fan:

That was a very charming way to open the puzzle. Maybe you "opened" differently, but for me, I'm always attacking the short Downs in the NW first on a Friday (or Saturday, or most days, really), so I got "HI, MOM!" straight away. Much nicer tone-setter than its 1-Across counterpart (HELLSCAPE!). Did not like how trivia-y the puzzle became shortly thereafter, with both MIAMI-DADE and ILHAN OMAR clued like.. well, trivia questions (with superlative, Guinness-Book-type words opening the clues: "Most..." "First..."). They're fine answers, though, and not hard, in the end, but something about stacking proper nouns with very similar trivia-clue phrasing made rubbed me wrong. But after that, the puzzle ended up not being any more trivia-testy than your average crossword. It was trying a Little too hard to be youthful, but Rafa is youthful, so I can't fault that. Also, probably not "youthful" so much as "more youthful than I"—I, who missed the "Spongebob" craze entirely (people my daughter's age really really really seem to know this show ... though not my daughter, so much, as she never watched much TV). Original BELIEBERS are probably getting old now, so not exactly "youthful" anymore. Maybe I'm imagining things and this puzzle wasn't youthful at all. "TOO REAL!" feels like a youthful expression, and it crosses BELIEBERS, which crosses the Krusty Krab KELP fries; I think that density of (relatively) youth-oriented answers screwed up my overall perspective. Looking it over, the puzzle actually seems largely generationally neutral. It's just not dripping in old, familiar things, which is undoubtedly to its credit. I didn't find anything about the grid particularly scintillating, but I liked it overall, and it did give me a bit of that "whoosh-whoosh" feeling that I'm always chasing on Fridays, with NO PAIN, NO GAIN and the very surprising PORTA-POTTIES zing-zinging across the center of the grid pretty quickly (I actually no-looked PORTA-POTTIES today ... I would not recommend dealing with PORTA-POTTIES this way irl). 

There's one clue I feel like I'm not getting, and that's 16A: Like something wicked and dark? (UNLIT). I don't know what "wicked and dark" is supposed to be a reference to? What is the wordplay? Why is there a "?" on this clue. If something is dark, it's UNLIT, OK, but the phrase "wicked and dark" just doesn't register with me, so I'm obviously missing the "?" joke. I had UPLIT here, imagining someone telling ghost stories with the lights off and only a flashlight illuminating their face from below. Or something like this:

That definitely seems "wicked and dark" to me. There’s also this picture my wife sent me last night from downstairs… 

[We’ve been having … a bat problem; should be
fixed now, but we remain vigilant. Well, my wife does]

When I google ["wicked and dark"] I just get references to *this* crossword, so ???? I'm at a loss. There's a horror movie called The Dark and the Wicked (2020), but that seems an unlikely reference here, if only because "dark" and "wicked" have switched places in the clue. I'm sure one of you will explain what the hell this clue is about, thank you in advance. [UPDATE: “wicked” = having a wick (!?!), so the clue is referring to a candle … wow that is awful]

Hardest part of the grid for me was the NE, where I could not for the life of me think of something you might "shuck" besides corn. This is probably (definitely) because I saw the musical "Shucked!" last weekend, and, well, let me tell you what the musical was about. One word:

["Just as sure as the day that you were born...."]

I was staring at that initial "O" at the answer for 21A: Shuck it! and thinking "... but CORN doesn't start with an 'O'." And then the only thing I could think of that one might shuck was clothes, so I tried to make that "O" into some species of OUTERWEAR, but that didn't work. I do not eat OYSTERs, nor do I shuck them. But I am aware that people do (and do), and so when I finally (literally finally) got the answer: D'oh. I tried to come into that NE corner from below, to no initial avail, since I wanted "I GOT THAT" instead of "I'LL TREAT" (12D: "It's on me!"). The phrase is usually "MY TREAT!" so that clunked in my ear, for sure. Also no idea who ELI Apple is. I read his wikipedia page and ... again, I do not get this (apparent) trend of including the names of professional athletes who haven't done anything of note besides be professional athletes, something that would mark them as truly exceptional, such that someone who is not a hardcore fan might have heard of them. I'm sure ELI Apple is very good at his job, but no records, no league-leading stats, no Pro Bowls, no championships. Why is he crossworthy? Is the idea that he was once a #1 draft pick for the New York Giants, and so, by the power of the puzzle's New York provincialism, he's fair game? It's kind of baffling.

Round up:
  • 19A: What ties can get you into, for short (OTS) — if the score is tied, you (sometimes) head into "overtime" (OT).
  • 39A: Heads outside? (PORTA-POTTIES) — "Head" is an old-fashioned (military? nautical?) word for "toilet," kids.
  • 27A: Small grouse (SNIPE) — I continue to think that SNIPEs are fictional because of that one "Snipe Hunt" episode of "Cheers." Every time I'm reminded that they're real, I'm taken aback.
  • 36A: Certain page with blanks (MAD LIB) — I've never accepted this term in the singular and I'm not gonna start now. MADLIB is an exceedingly accomplished DJ / producer / rapper, try him next time you need to go with an "S"-less MADLIB.
  • 39D: Spelling Bee feature (PANGRAM) — found this bit of NYTGames self-referentialism kinda smarmy, actually. (In the "Spelling Bee" game, if you find a word that uses all of the letters, that's called a PANGRAM)  
  • 41A: Note-taking spot? (ATM) — so, banknotes. I thought it was cute.
  • 50A: Flat-bottomed boat (SCOW) — can't stop spelling this word SKOW. Would love to, but somehow can't. Now I'm off to sing "Flat-bottomed boat, you make the rockin' world go round!" for the rest of the day. See you tomorrow.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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