Honeydew producer / SAT 9-30-23 / W.W. II combat inits. / Rock band with the 2023 album "This Stupid World" / Modern coinage for someone turned successful through their celebrity parents / Republicans in the 1850s, typically

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Constructor: Ahmed Bayoumi

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Carrie MAE Weems (20A: Contemporary artist Carrie ___ Weems) —

Carrie Mae Weems (born April 20, 1953) is an American artist working in text, fabric, audio, digital images and installation video, and is best known for her photography. She achieved prominence through her early 1990s photographic project The Kitchen Table Series. Her photographs, films and videos focus on serious issues facing African Americans today, including racismsexism, politics and personal identity.

She once said, "Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in the country." More recently, however, she expressed the view that "Black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion ... is the real point." She continues to produce art that provides social commentary on the experiences of people of color, especially black women, in America.

Her talents have been recognized by Harvard University and Wellesley College, with fellowships, artist-in-residence and visiting professor positions. She taught photography at Hampshire College in the late 1980s and shot the "Kitchen Table" series in her home in Western Massachusetts. Weems is one of six artist-curators who made selections for Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2019/20. She is Artist in residence at Syracuse University. (wikipedia)

• • •

Aging Gen-X music fans of the world, rejoice, for YO LA TENGO hath arrived in the crossword puzzle. New Jersey strong! I actually *own* This Stupid World (2023), so when I saw that record title in the clue (39A: Rock band with the 2023 album "This Stupid World"), I had this eerie "waaaaaait a minute..." feeling, and kinda looked at the puzzle sideways, like "have you been in my record collection?" YO LA TENGO have been around for decades, but they aren't exactly hit-makers, so I'm (very) surprised to see them here. I have it on pretty good authority that the band's guitarist and singer Ira Kaplan is a crossword fan. I mean, he co-constructed this American Values Club puzzle from ten years ago (with Ben Tausig), so I'd say that's pretty good evidence right there. Anyway, usually I complain about niche pop culture answers because they are not in my niche, but today, holy cow, the puzzle went straight to my niche, for once. Feels like I was due. If you felt like YO LA TENGO was obscure and totally unfair, I hear you, and I understand. Still gonna keep doing my little happy dance here at my desk, but I do understand.

Overall, though, this puzzle fell somewhat flat for me, largely because the fill really creaked and groaned in places. AFLOW? ANOTE? OCOME? MII? URE? CRESC? ETO? SEEST? To say nothing of the rather gruesome SEA dupe at the bottom of the grid (AIRSEA + ASEA) (41D: Kind of rescue search + 53D: In the Red, say). I also didn't think the marquee answers were terribly marquee. I really thought the puzzle was trying to pull off some kind of theme with those first three long answers. Something about the legacy of slavery in America? I turned to the calendar at one point to see if there was some holiday I was unaware of. But then the next long answer was MARINE BIOLOGIST, and I thought, "oh ... guess there's no theme after all." The main issue is nothing feels particularly sparkly. And the shape of the grid means that while there are a decent number of longer answers, there are A Lot of short ones too. So many 3-4-5's. Kinda takes the life out of the grid a little. I should also say that I truly madly deeply hate the term NEPOBABY (15D: Modern coinage for someone turned successful through their celebrity parents). I hate the prefix NEPO-, I hate the infantilizing BABY (since no one's ever talking about an actual baby). It just reeks, the whole (relatively recent) concept. The only good thing to come of the whole NEPOBABY discourse is Megan Amram's "Shouts & Murmurs" column in this week's New Yorker. It's about the ultimate NEPOBABY: Jesus. I laughed so much that I actually stopped midway through so I would have more to laugh at later. And it's not even that long. I only read three paragraphs, is what I'm saying. Don't tell me how it ends!

I'm sitting here trying to understand how an APHID produces a honeydew (44D: Honeydew producer). Is it like how someone "produces" a movie, i.e. no one really knows? No! Turns out that in addition to being the name of a melon (which is what I was picturing), honeydew is also "a sweet, sticky substance excreted by aphids and often deposited on leaves and stems." Just what the crossword needs—excrement! Nobody wants to hear your music at the beach, throw your WIRELESS SPEAKER into the sea (sea ... sea ...) (58A: What you might use to play music on a beach). 

What else? "Gram" is a name one might call one's grandma. Ditto "Nana" (12D: Grams = NANAS). An ALIBI is a story you might tell a detective, I suppose (24A: Detective story?). DRAKE is a very famous rapper (I had no idea about the Aubrey Graham business) (3D: Rapper Aubrey Graham, who's known professionally by his middle name). SPUMONI is a molded gelato, usually with three flavors arranged in layers (7A: Dessert with layers). CADDIEs carry golf bags (1A: One who's left holding the bag?)A WIN is a [Good thing to have on the record] because, well, you (probably?) want more wins than losses in your win/loss record. That should do it.I'm gonna go read and/or harass my fluffy white cat now. Happy last day of September! See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Feeling of dread before the start of the workweek, in slang / FRI 9-29-23 / Blunt salespeople / Tube feature with the / Baked in Italian / Protagonist in a long-running Phyllis Reynolds Naylor book series

Friday, September 29, 2023

Constructor: Malaika Handa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (NE corner = Medium; rest = Easy)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALTON B. Parker (10D: ___ B. Parker, Democratic candidate for president in 1904) —

Alton Brooks Parker (May 14, 1852 – May 10, 1926) was an American judge. He was the Democratic nominee in the 1904 United States presidential election, losing in a landslide to incumbent Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

A native of upstate  New York, Parker practiced law in Kingston, New York, before being appointed to the New York Supreme Court and elected to the New York Court of Appeals. He served as Chief Judge of the latter from 1898 to 1904, when he resigned to run for president. In 1904, he defeated liberal publisher William Randolph Hearst for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. In the general election, Parker opposed popular incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. After a disorganized and ineffective campaign, Parker was defeated by 336 electoral votes to 140, carrying only the traditionally Democratic Solid South. He then returned to practicing law. He managed John A. Dix's successful 1910 campaign for Governor of New York and served as prosecution counsel for the 1913 impeachment of Dix's successor, Governor William Sulzer. (wikipedia)

• • •
Sunday SCARIES? That is some infantilizing dopey terminology right there (112A: Sunday ___ (end-of-week anxiety, casually)).
That is what I wrote last year when I first saw this term. I have not seen, or heard, this term since then, until today, and so even though people last year told me it was a thing, my overall opinion has not shifted one bit. Also, last year's appearance of this term really took the novelty wind out of SUNDAY SCARIES's sails today (13D: Feeling of dread before the start of the workweek, in slang). I looked at the clue, had the SUND-, wrote in SUNDAY and thought "oh this is that dumb thing that was just in the puzzle ... SUNDAY .... SCARIES? No, that's too dumb ... [writes in SCARIES] ... well, it fits ... [starts checking crosses] ... well, what do you know! SCARIES! I managed to remember something! Wish it weren't this dumb phrase, but still, woo hoo!" Deeply ambivalent about getting my first whoosh-whoosh feeling of the day from so dumb an answer (dumb!), but whoosh is whoosh and you take it where you can get it, I guess. Anyway, here's what SUNDAY SCARIES did for me:

Straight down the grid, confirmed by SIKHS etc. After this, I was very much in business. I had that "didn't I just see this?" feeling again, not long after SUNDAY SCARIES, with RENT STRIKE. Wasn't this part of a recent theme? Maybe something to do with "X"s? Yes—just fifteen days ago! There, it was rendered as RENTX (with the "X" repping "strike"), but it's the same idea. Again, so glad my brain is actually retaining little bits of information from all these puzzles I do. Mostly everything seems a blur. But as I was saying, the novelty winds were blunted today by things my brain registered as duplicates of recent answers. I think I actually liked the less visually flashy NW and SE corners better than the gaudier pillars of long answers that run through the SW and NE. "MOONSHINE? .... I SHOULDN'T ..." is a miniature drama unto itself, and the SORE LOSER / FRENEMIES pairing seems tight as well. You can imagine your frenemy being a sore loser when they lose to you. For sure. 

The NE corner is solid enough. Possibly unlikely fact about me—I love me a SCENTED CANDLE ... though depending on the scent, I also hate me a SCENTED CANDLE (14D: Source of a burning odor?). I've got "Orchard Citrus" sitting here next to my desk. It's got three wicks, for a more even burn (I think). It's pretty nice. 

I got it in Beacon, on the way back from the City. I could go on about candles, but this is not (yet) a candle blog, so let's deal with the rest of the NE. I think I'm bored of POT DEALERS and just pot answers in general and all the marijuordplay that comes with them (puns on "joint" and "blunt" and "high" etc.) (15D: Blunt salespeople). Also, do dealers sell blunts? Having never purchased any drug (besides prescriptions, and alcohol), I thought dealers sold pot by the ounce (or fractions of an ounce), and then you rolled the blunt yourself. I'm so pot-ignorant that I only just now (literally) learned the difference between a blunt and a joint. In case you didn't know, here you go:

blunt is a roll of cannabis inside a cigar or blunt wrap. These wraps are made out of tobacco, which adds a buzz and energy to your cannabis high. Typically, they’re bigger than joints and spliffs and last a lot longer.

Blunt wraps are often sold at corner or grocery stores and come in 1- and 2-packs. They are often flavored. You can also cut open a cigar, empty it, and use the wrapping for a blunt. Cigarillos, such as a Swisher Sweets, Phillies, or Dark & Milds, are also great for blunts. (leafly dot com)

Would you call the corner grocery store a "dealer"? If they sell blunts, then they do "deal" in pot, so ... OK, fine. I have friends who smoke, and they'd be laughing at me right now if they read me, which they mostly don't, god bless them.

The NE corner was toughest for me not for any pot reason, but because it had the greatest concentration of Nuisance Names—those little names of unknown-to-you actors and models and what not that can clog up a grid like hair in a drain, and can (like hair in a drain, I guess) kinda hinder the flow. For me, today, these were ALICE AVA NESS TESS ALTON. The crosses were easy enough, and they were all name-like enough, that I could power through most of them no problem, but TESS and ALTON occupied the same general space, and then the GETS part of GETS INSIDE was not at all clear to me (I had GOES and considered RUNS), and *then* the clue on GAP was mysterious to me until the very end (I guess I don't recognize "Tube" as "The London Underground" without the "The" in front of it) (9A: Tube feature, with "the"). 

I also absolutely misread the "ranch dressing" clue up there, which is to say I missed the "?" (20A: Brand of ranch dressing?), and so sincerely thought STETSON was a brand of salad dressing until I was going over the grid post-solve. But no, it's ranch dressing question mark. As in what one might wear on a ranch ... therefore STETSON (the hat). The biggest help to me up there in that section was, strangely, COTTA, which I just know ... from crosswords. I really (really) like that a word meaning "baked" is crossing POT DEALERS. Extremely nice, extremely subtle touch.

Good work overall here, even with the Nuisance Names and the sense of extreme déjà vu on a couple of the longer answers. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. speaking of MOONSHINE there's a really good movie playing on Criterion Channel right now called The Last American Hero, starring Jeff Bridges, with Gary Busey, Ned Beatty, and Valerie Perrine (1973, d. Lamont Johnson). It's mostly about stock-car racing, but it takes place in North Carolina (I think) and the main character's dad is an old-time, oft-imprisoned MOONSHINEr. Lots of MOONSHINE content. Based on a 1965 Tom Wolfe essay for Esquire (!?). Very entertaining.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Court athlete informally / THU 9-28-23 / Portmanteau for a certain self-taken video on a smartphone / Video game hero who battles the evil Dr. Wily / Common five-petaled flower / Place to order patatas bravas / Bygone owner of Capital Records

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Constructor: Ricky Cruz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: key signatures — regular clues appear to the right of musical notation indicating initial key signature (i.e. the five lines of the staff with clef + various sharps and flats); thus, the clues are imagined as if they are in a certain key (IN C, IN A, etc.), and those key phrases are added to the ends of the clued answers to get new, unclued answers:

Theme answers:
... clued as follows:
MONSTERS (17A: Some energy drinksIN C = "Monsters, Inc."

BALLER (30A: Court athlete, slangilyIN A = ballerina 

PALEST (45A: Most wanIN E = Palestine 

FALL (61A: Leaf-raking time) IN G FLAT = falling flat 

Word of the Day: EIDETIC (34A: ___ memory (ability to recall images with high precision)) —

Eidetic memory (/ˈdɛtɪk/ eye-DET-ik; also known as photographic memory and total recall) is the ability to recall an image from memory with high precision—at least for a brief period of time—after seeing it only once and without using a mnemonic device.

Although the terms eidetic memory and photographic memory are popularly used interchangeably, they are also distinguished, with eidetic memory referring to the ability to see an object for a few minutes after it is no longer present and photographic memory referring to the ability to recall pages of text or numbers, or similar, in great detail. When the concepts are distinguished, eidetic memory is reported to occur in a small number of children and is generally not found in adults, while true photographic memory has never been demonstrated to exist.

The word eidetic comes from the Greek word εἶδος (pronounced [êːdos]eidos) "visible form". (wikipedia)

• • •

"EROICA" (as seen in Psycho)
Less time today because I have to teach and also because much of my writing time was just taken up trying to image-capture and typeset the theme clues (above). Lots of tech fail on my part! Speaking of tech (if not exactly fail), I'm gonna start with MEGAMAN and SLOFIE, which is the kind of fill that makes me sad because it reminds me of how much of what passes for young-skewing or current or hip fill these days is extremely online or otherwise tech-oriented. Congrats to the tech overlords for convincing everyone that the pathway to freedom and self-expression and identity lies in screens. This isn't new (TV ruined boomers, TV and home video gaming ruined my generation (X), etc. etc.) but the phone has perfected it and now reality happens on screens and ... I don't know what's happening in this meat-sack world we used to call "reality." Bodies ... moving around ... angry ... not paying attention. Anyway, I am trying to make peace with the fact that minimizing the role of screens in my life is going to mean accelerating my detachment from popular culture (including cutesy self-documentation terminology). Sucks to get old, but it sucks more to be glued to the depression- and anger-making machine that is your phone / The Internet, so ... I dunno. Win some lose some (I've been reading Naomi Klein-not-Wolf's Doppelganger, please forgive my tech despair). MEGAMAN has been around since 1987, so there's no good reason that's unfamiliar to me (14A: Video game hero who battles the evil Dr. Wily). Gaming was never my thing. Shrug. As for SLOFIE ... look, the reason I hate SLOFIE more than I would normally hate an extremely embarrassing tech portmanteau like SLOFIE is that it was the *last* thing I entered, the last thing I pieced together, and I was truly enjoying the puzzle up to that point. So just when I'm ready for the puzzle to stick the landing, it serves me the heaping plate of garbage that is SLOFIE. Real mood-killer, that stupid "word." You absolutely do not have to cram the latest dumb word into your grid to prove that you aren't one of the OLDS, I promise. The high quality of your work is enough. I'm just glad I could piece together what the elements of the portmanteau were (slow + selfie), because I famously (and probably not exclusively) never can remember how to spell Jackson POLL-CK.

But anyway, the theme: it's great. I particularly love how it takes musical crosswordese you see all the time (key signatures like IN C, IN A, IN E, or notes like G FLAT) and then, by incorporating them into this bizarro magical musical theme, makes them parts of longer, familiar words and phrases ("MONSTERS, INC." BALLERINA etc.). Putting a regular old clue *in a key*. Like, actually giving it a musical setting, literally putting it on a staff ... it's ingenious. MONSTERS might have been hard for those who are not up on their energy drink terminology, and BALLER might have been hard for those who are not up on their basketball terminology, but the basic concept here seems very clear ... once you finally see it. Happy to see FALL IN G FLAT, the obvious best of the bunch, occupying its rightful place at the bottom of the grid—always good to finish big. Only wish I'd actually literally finished there, instead of with the "O" in SLOFIE. Just saying the word feels awful. Just looking at it. It's like the sound of a sloth vomiting.

Hey, did you know EIDETIC!? I did! Or, I "did"—by which I mean I got "EI-" and looked at the clue and my brain shrugged and went "... is this something?" while handing me EIDETIC. "I dunno, brain, let's find out!" And it was right. LOL, there are so many technical words like that that all just blur together in my head in a jargony soup. "Diegetic" is in there ... "epideictic" ... "enclitic" ... "ekphrasis" ... "E"s seem to be involved a lot. Anyway, threw up EIDETIC from half court and ... swish! Outside of that word (and the MEGAMAN SLOFIE, of course), everything in the grid felt familiar and solid and nicely varied. BONE IN! CAT TREATS! NEGRONIS! TAPAS BAR! It's a tasty night out for you and your cat! The "?" clues did their thing, i.e. slowed me down a bit. [Frequent flier?] (JET) could've been a lot of things (initial thought: BAT). I thought [Jerky?] was going to have to do with spasms, but I took the wrong misdirection path there. "Jerky" as in "Jerk-y" as in "like a jerk," i.e. IMPOLITE. Nice. Didn't like the boring "on the Hollywood Walk of Fame" clue they gave GLADYS Knight. It's the worst possible clue you can give a celeb. It's like you hate them and don't want to mention anything they've actually done. And in GLADYS's case, she's done a lot. Legend. 

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hindu Mr. / WED 9-27-23 / Steamed ___ classic Simpsons sketch / Eponym of a popular vodka brand / On vacation in work calendar shorthand / Alternating current pioneer / Westernmost city in Texas / So-named "father of modern linguistics"

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Constructor: Scott Koenig

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: A syntactically well-formed but semantically NONSENSICAL sentence from NOAM CHOMSKY — "COLORLESS / GREEN / IDEAS / SLEEP / FURIOUSLY"; all the words are clued separately and straightforwardly *except* FURIOUSLY, which gets a ridiculous, novel-length, ironically NONSENSICAL revealer clue (61A: Following 17-, 37-, 40- and 43-Across, end of a properly formed yet 11-Down sentence by 25-Down demonstrating the distinction between syntax and semantics)

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously
 was composed by Noam Chomsky in his 1957 book Syntactic Structures as an example of a sentence that is grammatically well-formed, but semantically nonsensical. The sentence was originally used in his 1955 thesis The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory and in his 1956 paper "Three Models for the Description of Language". There is no obvious understandable meaning that can be derived from it, which demonstrates the distinction between syntax and semantics, and the idea that a syntactically well-formed sentence is not guaranteed to be semantically well-formed as well. As an example of a category mistake, it was used to show the inadequacy of certain probabilistic models of grammar, and the need for more structured models. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, thanks for the lecture, I guess, but as a *crossword puzzle*, this was seriously disappointing. I guess if you're a linguistics major or huge Chomsky fan, you get a thrill of recognition, maybe, but otherwise, why is this the theme of a *crossword puzzle*. There is absolutely nothing happening here. It's basically a quotation. There's no wordplay, no cleverness, nothing. Just "here is this guy who said this thing that is famous in his field" that's it. From a solving standpoint, it's a weak themeless with a completely unintelligible revealer (no way I'm reading a clue that long, with that many cross-references, if I don't have to—I just figured out FURIOUSLY from crosses). Someone apparently noticed that the NONSENSICAL sentence in question could be broken up symmetrically and so ... that's what they did? And built a puzzle around it? I'm completely at a loss as to why this was deemed theme-worthy. I'd never heard of this "sentence," and I won't be alone there, but that's hardly the point. The point is that there's no there there. When I finished, I had to look up a thing about Chomsky and now I know it but it was totally unrelated to the quality of the solving experience—in fact, antithetical to the entertainment value of that experience—and I don't feel particularly wiser for having looked it up. And even if I did feel wiser, the puzzle would still be painfully stiff and straightforward and professorial (in the worst sense of the word). If there's a hidden thematic element that makes this puzzle brilliant, congratulations on that, but also if a tree falls in the woods, the quick brown fox, every good boy does fine, etc.

[still from the "Simpsons" episode, "I Am Furious (Yellow)"]

This started out hard for me, as the clue on COLORLESS was no help at all (17A: Like helium and carbon dioxide). Lots of things are COLORLESS. I never think of helium as COLORLESS. I think of it as atomic number 2, making balloons rise and your voice go funny when you inhale it (kids: don't). So I needed most of the crosses there. Plus BABU, no idea (5A: Hindu Mr.). If I've seen it, it's been forever. Some PLOTTERS are up to good, I'm quite sure, so that clue was tough too (4D: They're up to no good). But once I got out of the NW, as is fairly typical, things smoothed out and got a lot easier. Seems quite bad to have both UCSF and SFO in the same grid. A horrible, obvious duplication that should've been excised. I had the -O but was extremely reluctant to write in SFO precisely because I already had UCSF in the grid. Boo to that pair, for sure. But the only thing that truly slowed me down, after the NW, was that illegible mess of a clue on FURIOUSLY. Even there, the crosses were kind, so the time spent spinning my wheels was negligible.

OLDS remains obnoxious and (by now) dated when clued this way (69A: Parents, to kids). Sharon OLDS is a fantastic poet, try her sometime maybe. I mean, she doesn't have a FINSTA (probably), but she's still worth knowing. Speaking of FINSTA, oof (46A: Second social media account for posting private jokes and such, informally). I was wondering when that term was gonna come along. I was wondering that back in like 2015 ... and then time passed ... and FINSTA didn't show up, and the term itself started feeling bygone ... and at *that* moment, the NYTXW thought "Yes, *now* is the time to pounce!" Very on-brand. Anyway, if you are Gen-Z or are lucky enough to have a kid who is, then FINSTA is a known quantity to you, and if not, possibly not. Pretty sure it's a portmanteau of "fake insta(gram account)" ... yes, that is correct. And it's a debut answer. I'm certain that other crosswords, particularly indie crosswords, have used it by now, but it's new to the Times, today. And it probably deserves some novelty credit. I also think it plays nicely off of TIMESUCK (41D: Doomscrolling, e.g.). 

Anything else need explaining? OOO = "Out of Office" (2D: On vacation, in work calendar shorthand). An NDA is a non-disclosure agreement (the term has now appeared in the NYTXW four times, all in the last two years) (33A: Secrecy-enforcing contract, for short). OMG I almost forgot about steamed HAMS! LOL that is the deepest "Simpsons" cut I've ever seen in a crossword (39A: "Steamed ___," classic "Simpsons" sketch). And the clue does not help you at all. I couldn't begin to explain the "sketch." So much going on: the classically awkward and semi-erotic dom-sub relationship of Superintendent Chalmers and Principal Skinner; the extreme upstate-NY specificity of the cuisine in question; the near house fire. It's epic. And again, it's so deep in "Simpsons" lore that I don't know how anyone outside of regular viewers of the show from the '90s could have any idea what the clue was trying to get at. There's probably a linguistics joke here, but my colorless green ideas are sleeping furiously right now, so I don't know what it is. Anyway, here's the "sketch" (which has its own title cards and theme song!!!): "Skinner & the Superintendent":

That's all. Have a nice day. It's my 20th wedding anniversary, so I'm gonna spend much of the day with the love of my life wondering how I got so lucky. Just like every day. Truly great experience, five stars, would recommend. Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Spills the beans / TUES 9-26-23 / Home of the palace Hanaiakamalama / First-year law student, for short / Cub Scout units

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Hi, everyone, it’s a Clare Tuesday! Hope you all have had a good month and are staying safe and healthy while it seems like everyone is getting sick. I’ve been enjoying work and also enjoy all the biking I do with my commute and otherwise — and it’s getting even better now that the weather is becoming a bit cooler as we head into fall. Fall also means that football is back. (Go, Steelers!)! My Steelers had a rough opening game but have been looking better. And Liverpool has been doing great so far this season, with some new players on our team, so I’ve been pretty happy. We’ll see if any of this changes by next month, though… Anywho, on to the puzzle.

Shannon Rapp and Rebecca Goldstein

Relative difficulty: Fairly easy (one of my faster Tuesday times)

THEME: FOOD WEB (38A: Dietary network in an ecosystem … or a punny hint to the answers to the starred clues) — All theme answers related to both food and computer terms  

Theme answers:
  • SPAM FILTER (17A: Program that detects junk emails) 
  • SPAGHETTI CODE (23A: Slang term for convoluted and unstructured computer programming) 
  • HAMBURGER MENU (49A: Online icon comprised of three parallel horizontal lines, familiarly) 
  • JAVA UPDATE (60A: Download that may improve streaming lags)
Word of the Day: CHLOE Zhao (6D: "Nomadland" director Zhao) —
Chloé Zhao (born Zhao Ting, 31 March 1982) is a Chinese-born filmmaker. She is known primarily for her work on independent films. Her debut feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), premiered at Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and earned a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Zhao garnered international recognition with the western film Nomadland (2020), which won numerous accolades. Earning four Academy Award nominations for the film, Zhao won Best Picture and Best Director. Throughout her filmography, Zhao carries relatively the same styles and techniques. The main actress in her film Nomadland, Frances McDormand, told Rolling Stone about Zhao's process, saying "she's basically like a journalist... she gets to know your story, and she creates a character from that" and that she "draws a razor-sharp line between sentiment and sentimentality". A Filmmaker Magazine article quoted Zhao saying "I want to find new ways to place the camera to evoke more of a feeling. My goal is to put the camera inside of [the character]". (Wiki)
• • •
This was a rather enjoyable puzzle! The theme was pretty cute and fun — it was nice that all of the theme answers were not only food items but were tied to computers. FOOD WEB (like the World Wide Web) worked really well as a revealer. I also liked that it was smack dab in the center of the puzzle. That’s a standard place for a revealer, but I thought the placement added extra meaning because the term functions as the center of a sort of WEB that’s reaching out to the theme answers. I love the visual that I get with SPAGHETTI CODE and am happy I’ve now learned the term. I also learned what a HAMBURGER MENU is. I will say that I’m not sure how a JAVA UPDATE relates to a streaming lag, but maybe my lack of data/computer knowledge is showing. 

To extend the food theme, there were some other answers in the puzzle that related back (whether intentionally or not). CHOP (6A: Hack (off)), which could be a pork chop; ALLA (19A: Penne ___ vodka); JAM (60D: Toast topping); FAT (48A: Major component of a ketogenic diet), that one gets from meat or nuts in the diet; ACME (63A: Tiptop), a supermarket chain where they sell food; and MOLE (67A: Beauty mark), which is a Mexican sauce. I liked how those were woven in there. 

Other than the theme, I really liked the long downs in the NE and SW corners. I especially loved SALAD BARS (11D: Places to see the romaines of the day?) because it made me chuckle, and I for some reason really like the word HUNCH, so 32D was fun. I’LL BE FINE (12D: "Don't worry about me") was the only long down that I thought was just fine. For another long-ish down, I liked RAMPART (4D: Fortification in "The Star-Spangled Banner"), which isn’t a word you often see. And the clue/answer for 45D: Parent in a blended family as STEPDAD is nice. 

There were a lot of clues with quotation marks, which I don’t always enjoy but didn’t mind too much in this puzzle (see: 10A, 12D, 18D, 33D, and 53D). Except I would like to never ever see the word NEATO (53D: “Cool beans!”) again. 

While the solve was pretty smooth and easy for me, I did have a few hang-ups. I had SPAM “folder” instead of FILTER for a while, which threw me off from the start. I could not wrap my head around 22D: Pre-year 1, in brief (BCE) and understand that it wasn’t referring to a specific year but rather an era. I was thinking the answer related to a kid being in pre-k or pre-school or something along those lines. I also had a hard time getting HIT IT (7D: Bandleader's direction) because I had no idea this is something a band leader ever says/said – no band I follow has ever uttered the phrase. My dad tells me HIT IT is actually a thing, but even Google doesn’t give me much information about it. When I think of HIT IT, I think of going water skiing or being in a tube on a lake and telling the driver of the boat to HIT IT (and then go faster). I also couldn’t get PHOTO (31A: Camera output) for a bit because that was just so obvious that it didn’t even cross my mind it would be the answer. 

I found GAVEL (51D: Courtroom banger) to be amusing. And then it tied in with ONE L (59A: First-year law student, for short) for a mini legal theme. HOE (28A: Groundbreaker?) also got a laugh out of me, which I think is more a sign that I need sleep than anything else.

  • With LOVER (34D: 2019 Taylor Swift album with a romantic theme), we have to talk about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce and their (completely PR, methinks) relationship. She went to his game yesterday and was in a box with his mom and seemed invested in the game. The Chiefs blew out the Bears, and then he rented out a restaurant for the Chiefs and Taylor Swift, fueling talk that maybe Kelce is Swift’s new LOVER
  • When I see the topic of the mercator MAP (46A: Mercator projection, e.g.), I will always think of this clip from The West Wing where C. J. Cregg (the press secretary) meets with cartographers who argue for a different map. It’s absolutely incredible (and mind-blowing to realize just how distorted the sizes of some countries and continents are on the mercator MAP!) 
  • I loved seeing CHLOE Zao (6D) and AVA Duvernay (56A) in the puzzle. They’re both incredible directors. If you haven’t seen Zhao’s movie “Nomadland” or Duvernay’s show “When They See Us,” do yourself a favor and go watch them now. 
  • My family of professional writers has shaped me (warped me?) enough that a grammatical mistake in the clue at 49A (Online icon comprised of three parallel horizontal lines, familiarly) jumped up and bit me on the nose. It should be “composed,” not “comprised.” As my dad has drilled into me, the whole comprises its parts, but the whole is composed of, or made up of, those parts. 
  • For 13D, I was thinking about what a steeped drink was and had a kind of brain freeze. And then I took a sip from my mug… of TEA
And that’s it from me! Stay safe and have a great and ~spooky~ October.

Signed, Clare Carroll, your resident INTERNET COOKIE

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Slender tower of a mosque / MON 9-25-23 / Math diagram with an array of dots / Colombia/Venezuela border river / Alif ba ta or hamza / Temporary as a position of leadership / Monkeys with long snouts

Monday, September 25, 2023

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for me, solving Downs-only)

THEME: "SO WHAT'S THE STORY?" (62A: "Care to fill me in?" ... or a hint to 17-, 23-, 37- and 55-Across's final words) — last words of themers are components of stories:

Theme answers:
  • ARABIC CHARACTER (17A: Alif, ba, ta or hamza)
  • SCATTER PLOT (23A: Math diagram with an array of dots)
  • EARTH TONE (37A: Color such as khaki or ocher)
  • GOAL-SETTING (55A: Preplanning activity)
Word of the Day: BABOONS (41D: Monkeys with long snouts) —

Baboons are primates comprising the genus Papio, one of the 23 genera of Old World monkeys, in the family Cercopithecidae. There are six species of baboon: the hamadryas baboon, the Guinea baboon, the olive baboon, the yellow baboon, the Kinda baboon and the chacma baboon. Each species is native to one of six areas of Africa and the hamadryas baboon is also native to part of the Arabian Peninsula. Baboons are among the largest non-hominoid primates and have existed for at least two million years.

Baboons vary in size and weight depending on the species. The smallest, the Kinda baboon, is 50 cm (20 in) in length and weighs only 14 kg (31 lb), while the largest, the chacma baboon, is up to 120 cm (47 in) in length and weighs 40 kg (88 lb). All baboons have long, dog-like muzzles, heavy, powerful jaws with sharp canine teeth, close-set eyes, thick fur except on their muzzles, short tails, and nerveless, hairless pads of skin on their protruding buttocks called ischial callosities that provide for sitting comfort. Male hamadryas baboons have large white manes. Baboons exhibit sexual dimorphism in size, colour and/or canine teeth development.

Baboons are diurnal and terrestrial, but sleep in trees, or on high cliffs or rocks at night, away from predators. They are found in open savannas and woodlands across Africa. They are omnivorous and their diet consists of a variety of plants and animals. Their principal predators are Nile crocodilesleopardslions and hyenas. Most baboons live in hierarchical troops containing harems. Baboons can determine from vocal exchanges what the dominance relations are between individuals. (wikipedia)

• • •

[GIBBONS (not pictured: BABOONS)]
Oof. That was rough. Those 7s (the longish Downs in the corners) really roughed me up, particularly in the NW, where neither PORSCHE nor ATAHALT would come. At all. Plus, never heard of a SCATTER PLOT, so I just stared at S--TTERPLOT like "???" Maybe I have heard of SCATTER PLOT, because eventually that's what I (tentatively) guessed, and that helped me see PORSCHE, but yeesh and yikes. PORSCHE is so far down my mental list of German automakers. Me: "BMW, AUDI, VOLKSWAGEN, MERCEDES ... OPEL? ... man, I am out of ideas." And ATAHALT, so ugly. That section was the toughest overall, but it was not the section that really did me in. That honor belonged to the southwest, but in that case, the problem was All Mine. See, I had -ONS at the end of 41D: Monkeys with long snouts, and while my brain definitely pictured BABOONS, my brain wrote GIBBONS. And the "G" worked and the "I" worked and the "B" (!) worked and the second "B" ... didn't. It gave me MBAT at 58A. And I knew that was wrong. I prayed that was wrong, anyway ... and it was. So I just kept pulling GIBBONS out and then ... putting it in ... and then ... trying to think of other monkeys, and then ... wondering if anything else might be wrong (it wasn't). I kept thinking "OK, what if that cross is MCAT? MEAT?" Only after a bit did I decided to run More of the alphabet, hit the "O," and go "O .......... d'oh! It's BABOONS!" It's BABOONS. (And MOAT)

As for the theme, it feels a little off to me, somehow, starting with the revealer. I found it really hard to parse, and even when I got it I wasn't sure I had it. I can definitely hear someone saying it, exactly as written, but the "SO" part also feels a little extraneous. Beyond that, it's just a "last words"-type theme. CHARACTER, PLOT, and SETTING make sense. TONE ... less so. I mean, yes, stories have tone, but all writing has tone, whereas the other words are all associated much more strongly with fiction in particular. Also, as I say, no idea what SCATTER PLOT. That's on me, for sure; it just seems very non-Monday, as theme answers go. But while that answer is merely somewhat harder than normal, I think GOAL-SETTING is actively not good. I had it correct but could not conceive how it would be clued. I just looked at the phrase like "what ... is that?" Turns out it's the setting ... of goals. PLACE SETTING and JET-SETTING are much much better SETTING answers. TREND-SETTING too. GOAL-SETTING feels forced somehow. BURIAL PLOT & JET-SETTING are the same length and seem like better themer options than their counterparts here.

["Me and Rex took the car, ha ha! Stay home ... Stay."]

Other than the [German automaker] and GIBBONS debacles, my only issue was how to spell NASSER (50D: Egypt's Lake ___, near Aswan Dam). I had NASSAR at first, which gave me ATON in the cross, which is a totally plausible answer. But NASSER ended up feeling more right. Or, rather, NASSAR started feeling wrong. Started looking like a typo of NASCAR. And since ETON > ATON (barely), I decided to gamble on ETON, and it paid off. That's enough for today. See you tomorrow

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy 17th birthday to ... this blog :) Thanks to everyone for reading and hate-reading me all these years. I really appreciate it.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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