Musical interval used to convey sadness / TUE 10-31-23 / 2011 dark-comedy slasher film that takes place during a family reunion / Upper Manhattan neighborhood also known as El Barrio / Catchy-yet-quirky music genre / 2018 slasher film set at a remote lake house

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Constructor: Kathy Lowden and Erik Piepenburg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Tuesday**) 

THEME: horror films — I think maybe, collectively, they're supposed to be telling some kind of story, or issuing some kind of warning (???), but basically it's just a bunch of horror films:

Theme answers:
  • HALLOWEEN (17A: Horror film franchise named after a holiday)
  • HE'S OUT THERE (24A: 2018 slasher film set at a remote lake house)
  • SCREAM (34A: Horror franchise with the antagonist Ghostface)
  • GET OUT (41A: 2017 horror film that won Best Original Screenplay)
  • DON'T LOOK NOW (47A: 1973 horror film starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland)
  • YOU'RE NEXT (60A: 2011 dark-comedy slasher film that takes place during a family reunion)
Word of the Day: MINOR THIRD (30D: Musical interval used to convey sadness) —
In classical music, a third is a musical interval encompassing three staff positions (see Interval number for more details), and the major third [...] is a third spanning four semitones. Along with the minor third, the major third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is qualified as major because it is the larger of the two: the major third spans four semitones; the minor third, three. [...] The minor third is commonly used to express sadness in music, and research shows that this mirrors its use in speech, as a tone similar to a minor third is produced during sad speech. (wikipedia)
• • •

Coincidentally, I watched a horror movie last night. It was called Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), and actually it was more meta-horror than real horror—a horror movie posing as a documentary about horror movies, wherein a film crew follows a Michael Myers / Freddie Kruger wannabe around as he prepares for a big night of slashing. It was clever and kinda funny and not at all horrifying. It featured direct references to HALLOWEEN and clearly owed a lot to SCREAM's knowing use of horror movie conventions. Anyway, horror films were on my mind. And then I solved this puzzle, and ... here are some more of them. I don't really get the concept here, beyond merely listing horror films. I guess if I squint and am generous, I can see the titles, collectively and sequentially, as a kind of spooky story, especially those last two ("Don't look now ... you're next!"). Weirdly, SCREAM kind of interrupts the flow, as the other titles (following HALLOWEEN) are all complete sentences and/or commands. Maybe SCREAM is a sound effect. I don't know. I also don't know what the hell HE'S OUT THERE and YOU'RE NEXT are. Literally the first I'm hearing of them, right now, right this second. YOU'RE NEXT has a "cult following" (acc. to wikipedia). It made money and got reasonable reviews. But it's not in the league of these other movies, fame-wise or any-wise ... except for HE'S OUT THERE. YOU'RE NEXT looks like HALLOWEEN next to HE'S OUT THERE. I see that HE'S OUT THERE ... came out. I recognize none of the names associated with it. There's no box office information on its wikipedia page. The shoehorning of this obscurity into a theme with such otherwise well-established horror movies is jarring. Bizarre. 

Also, great as DON'T LOOK NOW is, it feels like an outlier in this set. Not part of the modern horror-verse the way these other films are. It's generally described as a thriller. It's set in Venice. There's a serial killer subplot, but it's mainly a film about profound grief (with one very famous sex scene thrown in for good measure). In so many ways, this movie is not like the others. But then I love it so much that I don't mind its standing out a bit. It's the mere listiness of the theme, and the dubious fame of two of the themers, that are the real problem here. I thought last Tuesday's Halloween-themed puzzle was the stronger effort.

Three OUTs is a lot of OUTs. I'll give you two of those OUTs because they're actually in the titles of your theme answers, but you cannot have any more OUTs. ASKS OUT? Bzzzt! No. Violation. Also a violation? A lot of the fill in this grid. There's just no reason for stuff like ACHT and NRA and ANAL in those relatively undemanding corners. Hey, wanna see a trick? Watch me make an NRA disappear!

And holy cow, AMAH!?!!? (51A: Asian nursemaid). There's a blast from the past. Crosswordese of the highest order. Hasn't appeared in the NYTXW in four years. I see AMAH brought fellow old-timer ELOI along as a date, nice. Then there's ATS and ATAN ... in addition to being gunky, these answers conspicuously duplicate "AT." I still don't believe ALT POP is a thing (Indie Pop yes, ALT POP meh) (33D: Catchy-yet-quirky music genre). The fill really suffered all over today. The longer Downs are at least interesting. I found both of them kinda hard. Didn't know EAST HARLEM was a discrete place (distinct from, say, other parts of Harlem) (10D: Upper Manhattan neighborhood also known as El Barrio) and my knowledge of music theory is limited, so MINOR THIRD, while a term I've heard, didn't come quickly (30D: Musical interval used to convey sadness). I wanted MINOR CHORD, I think. But my ignorance doesn't matter here—what matters is that those longer answers are unusual and interesting, and they give the grid a much-needed boost.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Crispy plantain chips / MON 10-30-23 / Freshwater eel of Japanese culture / Colorful marine invertebrate /

Monday, October 30, 2023

Constructor: Kenneth Cortes

Relative difficulty: Easy (Downs-only, no trouble)

THEME: BRIGHT IDEA (56A: Stroke of genius ... or the theme of this puzzle)  — "IDEA" appears hidden inside three theme answers; the grid has been weirdly dimmed, so that the "IDEA"s (which appear in regular old white squares) appear "BRIGHT":

Theme answers:
  • STUPID EASY (18A: Not difficult at all, in slang)
  • GUIDE ANIMAL (26A: Seeing Eye dog, e.g.)
  • HIDE-AND-SEEK (44A: Game in which one might shout, "Ready or not, here I come!")
Word of the Day: TOSTONES (39D: Crispy plantain chips) —
Tostones (Spanish pronunciation: [tosˈtones], from the Spanish verb tostar which means "to toast") are twice-fried plantain slices commonly found in Latin American cuisine and Caribbean cuisine. Most commonly known as tostones in Puerto RicoMexicoNicaraguaCubaFloridaHonduras and Venezuela, they are also known as tachinos or chatinos (Cuba), platano frito or frito verde (Dominican Republic), bannann peze (Haiti), patacones (in PanamaVenezuelaColombiaCosta RicaPeru, and Ecuador) and, sometimes, patacón pisao in Colombia. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wait, is "Seeing Eye dog" a brand name? Why is "Eye" capitalized? I would've written it without a capital "E," and possibly with a hyphen. Wow, yes, it's trademarked. Well, you learn something new every day. Or maybe not every day, but occasionally, anyway. I didn't have any problem with the capitalization, but I do have a problem with the answer, GUIDE ANIMAL, which ... are there Seeing Eye warthogs? The only GUIDE ANIMAL I've ever seen or heard of is a Seeing Eye dog. I guess the dogs that don't learn the trademark method can't be called that, is that the deal? Anyway, GUIDE ANIMAL feels ... off. The internet is telling me that a "miniature horse" might also serve as a GUIDE ANIMAL, but I resolutely refuse to believe this. Thumbs down to GUIDE ANIMAL.

Also thumbs-down to this ridiculous grid-dimming gimmick. Any theme that relies on making the grid look this terrible isn't worth it. Anyway, it's not that the IDEAS are BRIGHT so much as that the rest of the dang grid has been miserably benighted. I thought there was a glitch in my software. At least the puzzle was STUPID EASY, so I didn't have to spend too much time staring at this gray monstrosity. STUPID EASY was, in fact, the puzzle's one big highlight—a nice burst of colloquial freshness, and a very clever way of hiding your IDEA. Ironically, the theme answer with the word HIDE in it didn't "hide" the IDEA nearly so well. Always disappointed when "hidden" words don't touch every word in the themer, and the IDEA in HIDE AND SEEK can only wave at nearby SEEK, who sits there cold, lonely, and essentially uninvolved. A dark day, indeed, for SEEK.

My Downs-only solve was quite triumphant today. I flattened this one, with a big assist from the theme, which allowed me to go ahead and fill in all the "bright" areas with IDEA very early:

The only potential pitfalls I could see, from a Downs-only perspective, were both food related. UNAGI came to me pretty easily (27A: Freshwater eel of Japanese culture), but I'll admit I had to think a bit about those TOSTONES (39D: Crispy plantain chips). I read the clue and thought "Oh, come on ... I know those ... I've had those ... what are those?" But I didn't sweat it, I just kept solving, knocking over one Down after another until the only Down I had left was the [Crispy plantain chips]. I had both "S"s and the second "O," but every other letter was indeterminate—that is, it could've been multiple things. TORO could've been BORO, BONDS could've been BINDS or BENDS or BANDS, etc. Eventually I just started from the top and started plugging in plausible letters to see if they rang any bells, and, well, that meant I started with the "T" in TORO, and that was all I needed. I practically shouted "TOSTONES!" And that ... was that. Game over.

Other tiny issues ... As usual, didn't know if it was "F" or "V" in today's OLAF (1D: "Frozen" snowman). I lucked out with those sequential "A"s in SEA ANEMONE (11D: Colorful marine invertebrate)—they were both inferable from the crosses, and then ... well, the answer clearly had to have a word break between those "A"s, and knowing that, SEA ANEMONE came fast. I had some hesitation at BOGUS (48D: Not genuine). I'm not quite sure why. Once I got AFROS squared away (by inference) (50A: Jackson 5 hairstyles), I had the "O," and BOGUS went right in. Oh, and I had to work a bit to get HIP (8D: Cool-sounding body part?), since all I could think of was EYE(S) (because it ... kinda rhymes with "ice" ... which is ... cool???). Wrong kind of "cool," it seems. I continue to not believe that SALSA DIP is a thing (4D: Accompaniment for a tortilla chip). It's just called SALSA. Yes, you can "dip" your chip in it. Still, just SALSA. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


OutKast or Black Star / SUN 10-29-23 / Famed New York City deli / "Siddhartha" author / Get seriously conked / Energy sanctions measure / A red one is sweeter than a green one / Understand someone else's side

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Constructor: Alina Abidi

Relative difficulty: Easy/medium

THEME: Fabric-ations — Pairs of theme answers use the same fabrics as letter banks, tied together with the CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH revealer

Theme answers:
  • GINGERBREAD (23A: Holiday building material (GABARDINE)) // BINGE READ (25A: Stay up all night finishing a book, maybe (GABARDINE))
  • SENATE SEAT (38A: Washington post (SATEEN)) // ASSENT (40A: Thumbs-up (SATEEN))
  • CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH (61A: Having similar qualities ... or what four pairs of answers in this puzzle are?)
  • OPENER (79A: Precursor to the main (NEOPRENE)) // ERROR-PRONE (81A: Liable to make mistakes (NEOPRENE))
  • ARM'S REACH (101A: Grabbing distance (CASHMERE)) // CREAM CHEESE (103A: Philadelphia specialty (CASHMERE))

Word of the Day: ZEBRAFISH (11A: Striped minnow used in drug development) —
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a freshwater fish belonging to the minnow family (Cyprinidae) of the order Cypriniformes. Native to India[2] and South Asia, it is a popular aquarium fish, frequently sold under the trade name zebra danio[3] (and thus often called a "tropical fish" although both tropical and subtropical). It is also found in private ponds.
• • •

Hi all -- it's Rafa here covering for Rex.

This was cute! I started solving this thinking I had the theme all figured out. And I have to confess I was a bit underwhelmed. Okay, we're using different fabrics as letter banks? Sure, "fabric-ations" is a cute title ... but why is this happening? What is this puzzle's raison d'être? Why are we repeating fabrics in consecutive across slots? I'm generally not a huge fan of anagram or letter bank puzzles, so I tend to approach them with quite a bit of skepticism.

Delicious LUMPIA

But then, the revealer! This revealer delighted me like few ever have. It's perfect. Very in-the-language phrase. Totally describes what is going on. Explains why we are doing letter banks and not anagrams. Explains why we are repeating fabrics. If there is a revealer hall of fame, this revealer should be in it. If people write books about revealers, this one should be on the cover. A revealer studies college class should have this revealer as its main case study. You get the picture.

A delicious OMELET

Revealer gushing aside, I do wish some of the cloths/fabrics had been a bit better known. To be fair, I am no cloth/fabric expert, but GABARDINE was new to me, and I was familiar with satin but not SATEEN, and NEOPRENE felt very familiar but I couldn't quite recall what exactly it was. Of course, there are a lot of constraints to make the whole thing work, so I understand it was slim pickings. Some of the theme entries (looking at OPENER and ASSENT) also felt a little too short, and did not have the same wow factor as GINGERBREAD or CREAM CHEESE. The revealer, though! It's all worth it for the revealer.


The fill was super solid. Can't really find a single thing that gave me pause ... it's very well-made. HODGE / HESSE might be a tricky crossing, but I don't think any other letter could plausibly go there (maybe a Y?). LUMPIA was my favorite entry in the entire puzzle. I love food in crosswords! LUMPIA, OMELET, JALAPENO, GINGERBREAD, CREAM CHEESE ... yes, please. (Actually, no jalapeños. I am sensitive to spicy foods, alas.) The ARM'S REACH / FIRE EATER / SAY NO MORE stack is phenomenal.

  • ATE (15D: Did a great job, in Gen Z lingo) — This clue rubbed me the wrong way. A cursory internet search will show lots of discourse about conflating AAVE with Gen Z lingo. (I did not read/watch all of these, and I therefore am not claiming to agree with everything said in them.) It is not my place to rehash this conversation here, but this clue did not sit right with me. At best, poorly researched ... at worst, appropriative. To be clear, I'm not trying to cancel anyone here. I have had fill/clues in my puzzles that in hindsight feel similarly off to me now. Just explicitly calling it "Gen Z lingo" really struck me and I wanted to leave a note.
  • ANTIHERO (78D: "It must be exhausting always rooting for the ___" (Taylor Swift lyric)) — I am obsessed with Taylor Swift. Have you been listening to 1989 (Taylor's Version)? Tell me about it in the comments.
  • POLL (109A: Big ask?) — Very cute clue!
  • PLASMON (60D: Type of quasiparticle)  — I'm choosing to be kind to my brain and not try to research and understand what a "quasiparticle" is ... I just thought things were particles or not particles! Like neutron = particle. Armchair = not a particle. But maybe it's not that simple!
Signed, Rafa


Oratorio highlight in A-B-A form / SAT 10-28-23 / Superstrong redhead of kid-lit / Athlete prone to nerves, in slang / Princess with an LGBTQ following / Himalayan resting place / Cut corners, perhaps? / Scan in neuroscience research, in brief / Stretchers go on top of them / Tool used in meat pie preparation / Paddington Bear's place of origin before arriving in England

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Constructor: Ryan McCarty

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MITERED (23D: Cut corners, perhaps?) —
  1. the official headdress of a bishop in the Western Church, in its modern form a tall cap with a top deeply cleft crosswise, the outline of the front and back resembling that of a pointed arch.

  2. the office or rank of a bishop; bishopric

verb (used with object)
  1. to bestow a miter upon, or raise to a rank entitled to it.

  2. to join with a miter joint. (

• • •

A great Saturday grid, but one that was hard in (for me) extremely annoying ways, because I had not one but two single squares that I was not sure of. At all. Well, the FLAY / FMRI I was mostly sure of, since FLAY seemed to beat SLAY for plausibility (never ever heard of FMRI, nor could I even infer what the "F" stood for) (it's "functional") (???) (10A: Scan in neuroscience research, in brief). So I went with "F" and was right, but it's deeply dissatisfying to have an unusual initialism like that where one of the initials can't even be inferred. FMRI has appeared in the grid only once before, seven years ago, and I put a "(?)" next to it then, too. Whereas regular old MRI is in the grid every week, seemingly. FMRI remains a yikes abbr.—for me, anyway. But FLAY > SLAY (or any other -LAY word—believe me, I ran the alphabet). So fine. Bad square overcome. But the bad square barrage was not over. Well, I don't know if one more bad square constitutes a "barrage," exactly, but it sure felt like one. This square, much more baffling to me than the "F" square, was what turned out to be the "M" square in MITERED / MATS. I kept running the alphabet over and over on -ITERED (23D: Cut corners, perhaps?) and couldn't make sense of anything except TITERED. Which is apparently not even a word? I knew TITER had something to do with chemistry (related to the strength of a solution), so I figured a. it was also a verb and b. "cut corners" had something to do (metaphorically) with ... I dunno, dilution??? 

As for TATS as an answer for 23A: Stretchers go on top of them, I thought this was (like TITER) a technical term. Maybe stretchers "stretched" an existing tattoo into a more elaborate tattoo? Or maybe stretchers were some kind of equipment used in tattooing, something that provided a certain kind of coloring or helped with healing or god knows what? I have practiced yoga off and on for a long time, but I don't think of myself (or people in a yoga class) as "stretchers," though yes, of course, on a technical level we often are. I finally decided, because it made more sense in the Across, that "M" was the way to go, but MITERED? No idea what that meant, besides maybe "clad in a pointy Pope hat." A "miter joint," I probably would've been able to define, but MITERED, woof and yikes and yeesh, no. So all the happiness I was otherwise experiencing with this tough but lovely grid kind of got sucked out of the room, not once but twice, because of the single squares where I had to run the alphabet to get the letter, and even then didn't really understand why the letter worked. 

Also struggled mightily because I had WIND UP for 1D: Ultimately arrive (at) and would not let it go. I thought YEANED meant "gave birth to baby goats" (it does!). So I had that in there at 1A: Had kids on a farm? Because "kids" are baby goats, the idea that a "lamb" was involved never occurred to me. Anyway, WIND UP was so entrenched that when I (finally) beat it back to -AND UP and saw it had to be LAND UP, I just stared at LAND UP like it was an alien, like I'd never seen the phrase before. END UP, WIND UP ... LAND UP? I know that if I heard it in context, it would make total sense, but someone, sitting there all by itself in the grid, it looked nuts. Still looks half-nuts. Everything south of this puzzle's equator was So much easier. Twitter is now (allegedly) "X" so the clue on TWITTER RANT feels borderline wrong—in that such a rant is now a (technically) bygone thing (30A: Certain onslaught on social media). Newspapers are hilarious going with "X (formerly known as Twitter)" every time they mention the site, which is as good a reason as I can think of to never mention that site again. Anyway, despite its semibygoneness, it certainly *was* a thing, and makes a nice addition to that amazingly clean stack of longer answers in the middle. CHOKE ARTIST is the highlight (33A: Athlete prone to nerves, in slang), but everything works. No weakness, no sagging. Miter joints are notoriously weak, but this MITERED section is rock solid.

I kinda don't like MONSTER HIT, in that I kinda don't get MONSTER HIT. Is this a baseball hit? ["Sockeroo"] is, I'm afraid, unevocative to me. I do hear "MONSTER HIT" in baseball sometimes, but maybe "Sockeroo" means any kind of hit? I truly do not know. I kept putting in and taking out MONSTER HIT because it didn't sound quite real. What else is there to talk about? Let's make a list:

  • 7A: Product whose main ingredient is canola oil (PAM) — it's a cooking spray? I haven't seen it since the '70s, except in the occasional crossword
  • 14A: Oratorio highlight in A-B-A form (ARIA DA CAPO) — yeesh, more highly technical vocabulary. I don't really know what this is, but I know the phrase "DA CAPO," and I sure as heck know the word "ARIA," so I pieced it all together.
  • 25A: "___-Raq" (2015 Spike Lee film) ("CHI") — I remembered this one. Rhymes with "Iraq" (kinda). Set in CHIcago.
  • 39A: Comedian Eldjárn with the Netflix special "Pardon My Icelandic" (ARI) — no idea, got it all from crosses. ARI does not seem like the most Icelandic of names, so nothing about the clue helped at all.
  • 52A: Nonsensical movement (DADA) — Thought of "movement" in physical terms at first. Not sure DADA itself, as a movement, is nonsensical, but DADA art definitely takes things into the realms of irrationality and nonsense, so OK.
  • 34D: Himalayan resting place (CAT BED) — Sometimes I forget that cats have breeds, and I definitely forgot that "Himalayan" was one of them. I went looking for some kind of memorial structure favored by the Nepalese, or the Yeti.
Hope you had an easier time than I did. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. “Café” and “bazaar” are LOAN words

P.P.S. in the LAMBED clue, “kids” is being used as slang for “children”—nothing to do with goats. It looks like a “goat” misdirect but then … isn’t? 🐐 🐐 🐐

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Romanian philosopher Cioran / FRI 10-27-23 / Actress George of "Animal Kingdom" / It was called Big Meadows on the California Trail / Cooperative hunter with the coral grouper / Admonishment from Austin Powers / Barossa Valley export / Bibimbap and tamago kake gohan for two / Casual Friday gaffe

Friday, October 27, 2023

Constructor: Adrian Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EMIL Cioran (49D: Romanian philosopher Cioran) —
Emil Cioran (8 April 1911 – 20 June 1995) was a Romanian philosopher, aphorist and essayist, who published works in both Romanian and French. His work has been noted for its pervasive philosophical pessimism, style, and aphorisms. His works frequently engaged with issues of suffering, decay, and nihilism. In 1937, Cioran moved to the Latin Quarter of Paris, which became his permanent residence, wherein he lived in seclusion with his partner, Simone Boué, until his death in 1995. (wikipedia)
• • •
"IT'S NOT EASY" was what I was thinking about this puzzle at various points this morning. Real sluggish, but I think the main sluggish thing is me, not the puzzle. For various dumb reasons, I did not sleep well this week. I got my first full night's sleep in days last night, but somehow that has not resulted in solving superpowers, but rather an early-morning brain torpor that caused me to forget, among other things, that not only do I *know* an H- bird in five letters, I see said bird practically every day and have recent pictures of said bird on my phone (HERON!). That kind of brain torpor. But also: this puzzle was just out of my wheelhouse in many ways. One of those ways was Romanian philosophers (!??!!!??!). Like, I know we're not supposed to call answers "obscure" because who's to say what anyone's knowledge base is one man's obscure is another man's how dare you etc. but EMIL Cioran seems pretty dang obscure to me. I can only imagine that the constructor is a fan and at one point had tried to crossreference EMIL with NIHILIST (34D: One who might say "Nothing is real"), since, as the "Word of the Day" entry explains (above), EMIL Cioran "engaged with issues of suffering, decay, and nihilism." Would be a big coincidence to have that guy *and* NIHILIST in the same grid were it not planned. Anyway, EMIL was just one of many things that made me shrug. Like, who is this LEILA actress and also what is "Animal Kingdom"? (30D: Actress George of "Animal Kingdom"). I know "Wild Kingdom," but that was a documentary show about animals from the '70s hosted by Marlin Perkins and sponsored by Mutual of Omaha ("Mutual of Omaha is people / You can't count on when the going's rough"). Hang on, looking up "Animal Kingdom" ... huh, it's an American version of an Australian crime show that ran 2016-2022 (on TNT) and starred Ellen Barkin. Well, I like her, and I like crime, but nope, there are a jillion crime shows and a jillion networks and I can't keep them straight, and since LEILA George's film/TV-ography is tiny, I dunno, man. I wouldn't be surprised if even people who watched that show didn't know that actress's name. I know CrossWorld needs LEILAs, but come on ... and to put that name *right* at that tiny tiny one-square-wide chokepoint, interrupting all possible flow from one section of the grid to the next, argh. On a Friday, you wanna *maximize* flow, not minimize it. Or maybe the whole world is full of "Animal Kingdom" fans. I don't know. I just know the whoosh was Not there for me today. But since much of this feels like a Me Problem, I've set the difficulty level to "Medium." Argue about it if you must.

I thought you got SLIMEd on some actual Nickelodeon show. I didn't know it was part of an *Awards* show as well, so I was basically out of step with this one from 1-Across (people have been getting SLIMEd on Nickelodeon for years, most notably on "You Can't Do That on Television" and then "Double Dare"). Had CORE and GIST before MEAT (4D: Heart). Had SCABS before SCARS (14D: Results of cuts, maybe). This led to both BAJA and BEND before RENO (20A: It was called Big Meadows on the California Trail). And I think the more common / snappier phrase is "IT'S NOT THAT EASY." "IT'S NOT EASY" alone sounds a little flaccid to my ears. Anyway, all these things meant that I came limping rather than whooshing out of the NW. The SW was somewhat easier (EMIL notwithstanding), though parsing "SADLY, YES," again, a bear. I had "SAD TO SAY..." (56A: "Alas, it is so"). Lost continuity flow at Point LEILA and so had to restart cold in the SE with MRS. Davis (a recent TV show I've actually watched! It's loony! Good loony, imho). But as in the NW, I had to struggle to get out of the SE. Clues on SLATE and RIPENS just didn't click (I mean RINSES ... RIPENS was the wrong answer I wanted at first, and now it's haunting my write-up) (55A: Gets ready to dry, say) (you have to ripen the fruit before you dry it, I reasoned!). Couldn't parse "CAN I SEE?" The clue on NIHILIST didn't seem nihilistic at all (lacked the downbeat pessimistic tone I associate with the concept). No idea what the Barossa Valley is, so no idea about its "export") (47A: Barossa Valley export => WINE) and I could barely read the clue on THAT—did not see that apostrophe in there after the first quotation mark around the "s" (43A: Word before and after "'s") so I was trying to think of ___ S or S ___ phrases where "S" was a completely separate letter. That was ... fun. In the end, that SE corner was easier than the NW, but still, no flow to be found in this one until the very end (for me, the NE, where THE LORAX and CELESTE NG teamed up to finally give me a jolt of that Fast Friday Feeling I'd been craving). 

There's nothing wrong with this grid. It's well built. It doesn't have the number of marquee answers I'd like to see on a Friday—in fact, it doesn't have more than a small handful that rise to that level. Only "I DON'T WANNA!" and maybe LIVE WIRE have that marquee energy. I also liked RICE BOWLS, and if the thought of Austin Powers didn't make me cringe, I'd like "OH, BEHAVE!" as well (15A: Admonishment from Austin Powers). But the grid is more solid than sparkly. Oh, I kind of like "BE SEATED" as well; you wouldn't say it sparkled, but something about it feels fresh. So there are high points, for sure. It just wasn't in my wheelhouse, over and over. Even the answer that was an alleged translation from the French made no sense to me. I thought "I know French," but then ... nope, no way I could get from "five winning numbers" to KENO ... "cinq [something] nombres" ... gets you to KENO ... no. According to wikipedia, “The word “keno” has French or Latin roots (Fr. quine, “five winning numbers”, L. quini “five each”).” So there's just ... a single word (quine) meaning "five winning numbers"? I remain lost. So much TRIVIA today (39D: Pub ___). Just not my thing. Wouldn't go to pub TRIVIA if you paid me. Well, maybe if you bought me a drink. Maybe. But I can't think of a worse way to spend my time in a pub than playing TRIVIA. I'll just take my book (or crossword puzzle) to the end of the bar and drink alone. You guys have fun. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Maker of small front-end loaders / THU 10-26-23 / Curriculum overhaul triggered by the Sputnik crisis / Boating noun and verb / Polymath called The First Teacher by medieval scholars / Character who nails a doubloon to the Pequod's mast / Farm animal in tot-speak / Noted honky-tonk venue, familiarly / Subgenre lead-in / Forager with tiny hooks on its tongue

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Constructor: John Donegan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Counting words — familiar expressions with numbers in them are represented literally in the grid, with all terms in the expression represented as discrete, countable units. So:

Theme answers:
  • "Two birds with one stone" => BIRD BIRD STONE (20A: What a multitasker might kill)
  • "Two places at once” (or “…at one time") => PLACE PLACE AT (32A: What it's impossible to be in)
  • "Once bitten, twice shy" => BITTEN SHY SHY (39A: Reluctant to relive an experience)
  • "Three Men and a Baby" => "MAN MAN MAN BABY" (54A: Top-grossing movie of 1987)
Word of the Day: NEW MATH (41D: Curriculum overhaul triggered by the Sputnik crisis) —
New Mathematics
 or New Math was a dramatic but temporary change in the way mathematics was taught in American grade schools, and to a lesser extent in European countries and elsewhere, during the 1950s–1970s. [...] These curricula were quite diverse, yet shared the idea that children's learning of arithmetic algorithms would last past the exam only if memorization and practice were paired with teaching for comprehension.More specifically, elementary school arithmetic beyond single digits makes sense only on the basis of understanding place value. This goal was the reason for teaching arithmetic in bases other than ten in the New Math, despite critics' derision: In that unfamiliar context, students couldn't just mindlessly follow an algorithm, but had to think why the place value of the "hundreds" digit in base seven is 49. Keeping track of non-decimal notation also explains the need to distinguish numbers (values) from the numerals that represent them. [...] Parents and teachers who opposed the New Math in the U.S. complained that the new curriculum was too far outside of students' ordinary experience and was not worth taking time away from more traditional topics, such as arithmetic. The material also put new demands on teachers, many of whom were required to teach material they did not fully understand. Parents were concerned that they did not understand what their children were learning and could not help them with their studies. [...] In his book Why Johnny Can't Add: The Failure of the New Math (1973), Morris Kline says that certain advocates of the new topics "ignored completely the fact that mathematics is a cumulative development and that it is practically impossible to learn the newer creations, if one does not know the older ones". Furthermore, noting the trend to abstraction in New Math, Kline says "abstraction is not the first stage, but the last stage, in a mathematical development". // As a result of this controversy, and despite the ongoing influence of the New Math, the phrase "new math" is often used now to describe any short-lived fad that quickly becomes discredited. In 1999, Time placed it on a list of the 100 worst ideas of the 20th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

I like this one, mainly for the creative variations on the theme. PLACE PLACE AT is particularly inspired. The idea of representing "at one time" as just AT ... it's so bold it's almost perverse. INSANE, even [“two places at once” is probably the intended interpretation, “at one time” works as well]. The others were more straightforward, but were varied enough (phrasing-wise, and numerically) to keep things interesting. The only downside was that the theme was exceedingly easy to pick up, and once picked up, even easier to apply to the remaining theme answers. The first BIRD alone gave me BIRD BIRD STONE, and after that, all the expressions were easy to work out from very little evidence. I had the bizarre experience of doing another puzzle earlier today, just hours before I solved this one, that had a remarkably similar conceit—it had a progression of "single" "double" "triple" and "quadruple" phrases that were represented according the same principle as the themers in this puzzle (DOG DARE DOG DARE for "double-dog dare," for instance). I don't know if having solved that puzzle primed me for this one, or took away some of the surprise and joy I might've experienced solving this one. Just a strange, strange coincidence. But at any rate, as I say, I liked this fine. The grid isn't quite as flashy as it might be, outside the theme, but it holds up OK. I liked EYEBALL, and I especially liked it as a symmetrical counterpart to HAUNTED (43D: Spirit-filled?). Very timely for spooky season—HAUNTED EYEBALL! That's the trick in "trick or treat" ... in case you were considering not giving kids CANDY this Halloween... (50D: The treat in "trick or treat").

Perhaps because the theme ran so easy, the non-theme clues felt like their difficulty was ratcheted up all over, and yet that didn't make the puzzle much harder. Lots of ambiguity (What kind of "surfer" in 15A: Surfer's wish? Which meaning of "digital" (or "number") is at work in 31A: Digital number? etc.). I had the most trouble in the middle, the exact middle, with OAR (37A: Boating noun and verb) crossing COST (33D: Damage, so to speak) and YEAHS (which seemed like they might also be YESES) (29D: Hearty affirmations). But as trouble goes, it wasn't much. My favorite error of the day was when I thought that FDR purchased the first U-BOAT! (40D: F.D.R. purchased the first one => E-BOND). I also had the cow as a MOO-MOO instead of the more formal MOO-COW (49A: Farm animal, so to speak). I only know "haymaker" as a kind of punch (fist punch, not drink punch), so the fact that there are literally "haymakers" that make BALEs (not hay?), well that was news to me (57D: What a haymaker makes). My only clue complaint today involves APPT (28D: Book it: Abbr.). The "[Blank] it!" variety of clue only works in non-abbreviated form, and it only works with a "!" on the end. So ... [Beat it!] for DRUM or [Run for it!] for OFFICE, those work. When you add the "Abbr." part, somehow the snappiness and energy of this clue type just dies. And the lack of a "!" on the clue is against convention, which seems unfair. So the clue is both ill-advised (for abbrs.) and poorly written (or proofread). 

Paris is the dude who kinda sorta started the Trojan War by abducting Helen (who was the bribe that Aphrodite offered Paris in exchange for his choosing her as the winner of the world's stupidest beauty contest) (see "The Judgment of Paris"). So yes, Paris's city was Troy, thus [City of Paris?] = TROY. You have TEN fingers (probably), and fingers are "digits," so that's why 31A: Digital number? makes sense. A MAID knocks on many hotel/motel room doors (10A: One knocking on many doors). As for Do or DYE (13D: Do or ___ (hair salon name)), I don't know why hair salons are so prone to punny names (Shear Madness!) but they are. Usually, the puns are easy to understand (Curl Up and Dye is probably the most famous). But I saw one in Ithaca this past week called "Hair A-Phayre" and ... I'm at a loss as to what the pun is. I mean, obviously it’s “Hair Affair,” but what is Phayre? Do people “phayre” their hair? Is the owner named "Phayre"? If I had hair, I probably wouldn't go to "Hair A-Phayre," but I might go to "Hair A-Phair," on the off chance that they played a lot of Liz Phair, or maybe Liz Phair worked there between gigs. "Exile in DYE-ville," is that something? 

My Gen-X roots are showing, so I'll sign off now. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. the wrong answers for the FDR clue that people are posting in the Comments are hilarious. FDR! He bought the first ... E-BIKE! The first issue of EBONY! What a collector! (Keep those errors coming!) [Update: he seems also to have purchased the first E-BOOK *and* the first T-BIRD!]

P.P.S. there seem to be a lot of people who don't the "A-a-a-and ... SCENE!" clue (1A). Conventional theater-speak (particularly improv-speak) for when the scene being performed is over.

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