Toddler on "Family Guy" / THU 11-30-23 / Enterprise Holdings holding / French region known for its rieslings / Gaming company with the Yakuza franchise / Disney title role for Liu Yifei / Forte and Strong once worked on it for short / Cylinders like the 20,000+ housed in London's Musical Museum

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Constructor: Jeffrey Martinovic and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: TIME TRAVEL (57A: Science fiction concept depicted three times in this puzzle) — a three-letter word for a unit of "time" appears in circled squares inside an answer three times; that word has to "travel" backwards or forwards along its row, and attach the beginning or end of the other answer on that row, in order for the clues for that row to make sense:

Theme answers:
  • MAN / PAGE LAYOUT (19A: Make do / 20A: Unfold, as a series of events) (move AGE backward one answer to get MANAGE and PLAY OUT)
  • SHOE RACKS / SING (33A: Astonishes / 37A: Clearing, as device storage) (move ERA forward one answer to get SHOCKS and ERASING)
  • GALL / IMPROVE ON (43A: Armada ship / 45A: Unscripted comedy) (move EON backward one answer to get GALLEON and IMPROV)
Word of the Day: Jennifer EGAN (32D: Jennifer who wrote "A Visit From the Goon Squad") —
Jennifer Egan
 (born 1962) is an American novelist and short-story writer. Her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. As of February 28, 2018, she is the president of PEN America. [...] Egan has been hesitant to classify A Visit from the Goon Squad as either a novel or a short story collection, saying, "I wanted to avoid centrality. I wanted polyphony. I wanted a lateral feeling, not a forward feeling. My ground rules were: every piece has to be very different, from a different point of view. I actually tried to break that rule later; if you make a rule then you also should break it!" The book features genre-bending content such as a chapter entirely formatted as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Of her inspiration and approach to the work, she said, "I don't experience time as linear. I experience it in layers that seem to coexist ... One thing that facilitates that kind of time travel is music, which is why I think music ended up being such an important part of the book. Also, I was reading Proust. He tries, very successfully in some ways, to capture the sense of time passing, the quality of consciousness, and the ways to get around linearity, which is the weird scourge of writing prose." (wikipedia)
• • •

[The only MARLA I recognize]
Conceptually, this is very solid, and the revealer explains perfectly all the circled-square business you've been wrestling with throughout. Didn't exactly get an "aha" from me, but definitely got an approving "oh." I mean, it's straightforward, but accurate, that revealer. Yes, the "time" has to "travel" along its row for the Across clues on that row to make any sense. Moving the "time" isn't nearly as impressive as making sure that even with the "time" in the "wrong" place, the answers in the grid make sense. That is, though the actual answers in the grid, i.e. MAN, PAGE LAYOUT, SHOE RACKS, etc. are essentially unclued, they're still plausible answers. Not gibberish. The concept wasn't hard to grok, and once I got it, filling in the themers was somewhat programmatic—again, as with this past Sunday's puzzle, the grid just straight-up *tells* you where the tricky parts are, eliminating the struggle (and fun) one could have had finding those parts. There's a theoretical version of this puzzle with no circles, and it's very solvable, just ... much harder. But it's Thursday. It's supposed to be hard. But in the interest of accessibility and efficiency (gotta make everything bite-size or you'll lose engagement!), we get the hand-holding assistance of the circles. They do look nice, and they do clearly, visually highlight the gimmick. I just miss the truly Challenging puzzles of yore. I subscribe to other puzzles for that, now. But again, the workmanship here is good, and the theme is very clever. By no means an unenjoyable solving experience.

The upside of the grid design, with the theme compressed toward the center, is that there's lots of real estate before the first themer and after the revealer, and those areas have been put to very good use, with vibrant longer answers that give the grid added color and interest (beyond the theme). UNION CARD MEAT LOVER RAP BATTLE LIES AHEAD, all solid to very good answers. Ditto the long Downs that shoot out of those areas: PIANO ROLLS and WINE TASTER. They've given attention to the marquee answers, made sure they weren't just taking up space. I appreciate that. The shorter fill suffers a bit—it's got some gunk (NRA ISAO NSA NAE SNL SAO INSO ADREP) and is extremely proper-noun heavy, which can get to be a bit of a nuisance after a while. But all of the names were either pretty famous or else very gettable from crosses, so ... yeah, only a bit of a nuisance (KIM and MARLA were the only ones that I struggled with, and MARLA at least rang a bell—definitely watched "The Practice" a quarter century ago). Feels like an eternity since I've seen RAISA Gorbachev, which is surprising given all those super-common letters, but maybe wives of bygone non-U.S. heads of state can't be expected to have a long shelf life. Actually, it's only been three years since RAISA's last appearance, which isn't even the longest RAISA drought of the Shortz era (that would be June '03 to June '07). Not surprisingly, her puzzle heyday was late '80s / early '90s, closer to her ... REIGN? No, that's the wrong word, but you get the idea.

I guess the idea is to make the tricksy puzzles very easy (for the most part), outside of the trick, so this one just hands you SOPHS at 1A: The class of '26 in '24, say, and from there, it's not hard to get good traction. I'm guessing a lot of people had their first "wha?" moment right where I did—when the apparent answer at 19A: Make do (MAN) refused to make any sense. "I know you can MAN your station, MAN the helm ... but woof that is a stretch to get from there to [Make do]!" Indeed. At some point my brain went "oh, it's MANAGE, where the AGE?" and then the circled squares started waving and yelling at me "it's over here!" After that, the puzzle held no mysteries except for what the revealer would be. Only out-and-out mistake I made was ARIA for ACTI (28D: Opera piece) (a very obviously intentional cluing trick, in retrospect, since ARIA is four letters, starts with "A," and actually fits the clue much, much better than the real answer) (boo). I weirdly wanted REEL instead of EPEE at first (60D: Bit of sporting gear with a bell guard), imagining that maybe there was some kind of bell guard on fishing equipment (!?). But I had sense enough not to write that in. Oh, and I thought that what Tupperware did, helpfully, was BURP (it's NEST) (13D: What Tupperware containers do, helpfully). I don't understand that clue on ALAMO (54A: Enterprise Holdings holding), but I assume it has to do with rental car agencies (yes). Is this ugsome corporate clue really worth your little "Holdings holding" sing-songy rhyme? (A: no). 

Don't think any clues need explaining. OPEDS are "takes" in the sense of "opinions" (56D: Takes in the paper?). SLEDS are "zippers" because they "zip" along the snowy ground (69A: Zippers on a snowy day). LAS are [Sixth notes?] because 1. Do 2. Re 3. Mi 4. Fa 5. Sol 6. LA! 7. Ti 8. Do. That was a fun clue for a less-than-fun answer. OK, that's it. Coffee time. Hope you enjoyed this one at least as much as I did. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Iconic logo in athletic apparel / WED 11-29-23 / Bette Midler's "Divine" nickname / Fast bygone jet for short / Modern term for the psychological exhaustion showcased in this puzzle's theme / Ancient readers of the Book of the Dead

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: DECISION FATIGUE (38A: Modern term for the psychological exhaustion showcased in this puzzle's theme) — phrases of indecision, clued by phrases from an imagined speaker trying to decide between "A" and "B" (and by the end, "even C") ...

Theme answers:
  • ON THE FENCE (16A: Thinking A or B ... hmm ...)
  • WISHY-WASHY (23A: Thinking A ... no, B ... no, A)
  • OF TWO MINDS (48A: Thinking A ... but also thinking B? Gah!)
  • UP IN THE AIR (60A: Thinking A ... B ... maybe even C?)
Word of the Day: Vince LOMBARDI (9D: Hall-of-Fame coach who purportedly said "Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit") —
Vincent Thomas Lombardi (June 11, 1913 – September 3, 1970) was an American football coach and executive in the National Football League (NFL). Lombardi is considered by many to be the greatest coach in American football history, and he is recognized as one of the greatest coaches and leaders in the history of all American sports. He is best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, where he led the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years, in addition to winning the first two Super Bowls at the conclusion of the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm not really seeing the FATIGUE here. Also, I don't really know the phrase DECISION FATIGUE. Is it "modern"? It doesn't feel "modern." In fact, nothing about this puzzle feels "modern." It is decidedly (!), emphatically, unequivocally rooted in the last century, from the entire crew of proper nouns (I.M.PEI, DESI, LOMBARDI, YMA, MISS M, The Rolling Stones' YAYAS) to the quality and character of its overall fill (AER ITSY SST ASPER CRU etc.). Feels like a puzzle that was made entirely by hand—the cheater squares* (before CRU, after HIS) are otherwise totally inexplicable. This should've been easy to fill much more cleanly with software assistance, without having to resort to unnecessary black squares. Making puzzles entirely by hand is *hard* so I'm just going to assume that this one was made that way and give it a bit of a break on the fill. Still, slightly ironic that the revealer phrase is allegedly "modern" when the grid as a whole is very much ... not. (With apologies to ANN Patchett, who is, in fact, very much of this century). 

Anyway, as I said, I don't think FATIGUE is conveyed very well at all here. You've got indecision. That's what you've got. I guess if you take the themer clues as one long monologue, you could imagine that the would-be decided is "fatigued" by the end there (I know I was). But really you've just got four adjectival phrases conveying indecision, the end. I don't think WISHY-WASHY goes with the others. It's not really a this-or-that decision-related word—"feeble or insipid in quality or character; lacking strength or boldness," says Oxford Languages (aka Google). Yes, I guess lack of boldness i.e. total commitment is a kind of indecision. Ish. Sorta. But not nearly to the same degree that ON THE FENCE, OF TWO MINDS, and UP IN THE AIR are. There's nothing surprising or particularly clever going on here, thematically. Just four indecision-related phrases that fit symmetrically. The cluing is trying its darnedest to make the theme into something more ... dramatic, or cohesive, I guess, but having a generic voice go "A? B?" isn't exactly evocative of ... well, anything. 

The long Downs are rock solid, and FAT CHANCE and "I SAW THAT!" are winners under any circumstances. There wasn't much that was challenging about this puzzle *except* the clue on ECHOES (4D: REPEATS, repeats, repeats), which, in my software *and* on the NYT puzzle site, appears to have the last "repeats" in some kind of subscript. I thought for sure that there was some technical glitch in my software, so I went to the NYT puzzle site, but found basically the same thing:

Now I see that what was happening was that the font size was shrinking ... which is a cool way to convey the fading sound of an echo. The apparent subscript thing just interfered with the effect. Anyway, I had the initial "E" for that one and semi-confidently but possibly wishywashily wrote in not ECHOES but ETCETC. But after I finally got that cleaned up, the only significant hesitation I had for the rest of the solve came while trying to parse MAESTRI from the back end (57A: Super conductors?). -I, -RI, -TRI, -STRI ... still no idea. -ESTRI ... there, finally, I got it. MAESTRI. Oof. Not a great aha, this arbitrarily Italianed plural ("maestros" is totally acceptable, probably more common, and certainly less pretentious than MAESTRI in English). Wrote in "I'M LATE" before "I'M BUSY" (29A: "It's going to have to wait"). Enjoyed the serendipitous intersection of TWO (in OF TWO MINDS) and DOS (45D: Twice 32-Down (i.e. twice UNO)). That's all I've got to say about this one. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*black squares that do not add to the overall word count, usually added to make the grid easier to fill

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lyra's brightest star / TUES 11-28-23 / South American grasslands / What an Uno player has in hand upon crying "Uno!" / Soccer star Hamm

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Hello, everyone! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday in November. And you know what the end of November means — we can start fully celebrating the full holiday season. I’m breaking out my ornaments and decorating tomorrow. As I’m writing this, I just got back from trivia night, and we won!! The tiebreaker question at the end was, “What was the average price of gas per gallon in 1978?” We got the closest, but could the price really have been only 65-ish cents?! My Steelers made me happy last weekend when, after firing their offensive coordinator, they seemed to realize it’s legal to throw a pass downfield over the middle and generated over 400 yards of offense for the first time in many years. Other than that, I’m busy with work and enjoying the crosswords (and this isn’t a plug but also the NYTimes Connections game). 

ANYHOW on to the puzzle…

Gia Bosko

Relative difficulty: Pretty easy

THEME: Rhyming scheme involving colors

Theme answers:
  • GRAY DAY (17A: Colorful rhyme for gloomy weather) 
  • REDHEAD (18A: Colorful rhyme for a "ginger") 
  • GREEN SCREEN (24A: Colorful rhyme for a filming background) 
  • MELLOW YELLOW (44A: With 46-Across, colorful rhyme for a 1966 Donovan hit 
  • ORANGE DOOR HINGE (58A: Colorful (albeit rare!) rhyme for an item at a hardware store)
Word of the Day: SEPSIS (19A: Harmful reaction to an infection)
Sepsis is a serious condition in which the body responds improperly to an infection. The infection-fighting processes turn on the body, causing the organs to work poorly. Sepsis may progress to septic shock. This is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs. When the damage is severe, it can lead to death. (Mayo Clinic)
• • •

Well, the theme and the clues gave me the blues. Not entirely, but I couldn’t resist the rhyme, and I do think clues blues is a better rhyme than ORANGE DOOR HINGE (58A). The theme seemed to hinge (if you will) on that clue/answer, and I can sympathize with the constructor wanting an exclamation point there, but the answer just didn’t do it for me. 

I did really like MELLOW YELLOW (44/46A). I distinctly remember my dad often singing the single line, “They call me mellow yellow” – though he pays so little attention to music that he was probably picking up on the soft drink ad, not the song by Donovan. MELLOW YELLOW didn’t quite fit because the other answers all had the color first, but close enough. 

The vertical symmetry in the puzzle grid looked nice, and, while it probably wasn’t intentional, I liked the big sort of T shapes in the middle of the puzzle along with the clue for 41D: Partner of a crossed “t.” 

I didn’t know Benjamin HOFF (65A: Benjamin who wrote "The Tao of Pooh"), so I Googled him and now know that he wrote some popular books and then in 2006 wrote an essay that denounced the publishing industry and announced he was quitting writing books. I also wasn’t familiar with MEMOREX (42D: Big name in cassette tapes, once). I see that some commercials – “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” – were quite famous, but that was well before I was born, and somehow ads for recording tape don’t pop up much these days. I also had a mind-blowing revelation when I learned that LATISH (47D: Not quite on time) is the proper way to write that word and not lateish or late-ish. Whoops. 

The top part of the puzzle got off to a strong start, with GET RICH, TOOK OFF, AIR HOLE, ANDORRA, GRAY DAY, and REDHEAD. Then the puzzle got progressively less interesting to me. I think “Go bananas” should have been FREAK “out” (35A) or something akin to that. I hated TGIF (56D: What you might say as you crack open a beer). Does anyone actually still say that? Do people only crack open beers on Friday? And… NEATO!! My nemesis word is back. In a write-up a couple of months ago I said I never wanted to see that word again, and now it’s back haunting me. Last time, it was clued as “cool beans!” and this time it was “swell.” I personally think it’d be swell if we got rid of this word from our lexicon. Cool beans? Some of the rest of the answers were crosswordese and were just okay; I find the crosswordese excusable if there is an amazing theme, but this wasn’t one, at least for me.

  • I’m a REDHEAD (18A), so it feels like this clue was tailor-made for me. (I do dye my hair, so I’m cheating a bit here but, oh, well.) In the realm of RED… my Liverpool Reds have been doing pretty well — we managed a tie against Man City at City’s home stadium when we didn’t look great. We’ll see how the rest of the season shapes up. 
  • GEESE (24D: Birds in a gaggle) are awful when they’re on the bike path. They really just stand there on the path and make you barely squeeze past them and then look at you in a very mean way that makes you think they’re about to attack you. 
  • Everyone needs to watch “The Americans.” It was a criminally underrated show and is one of my top three favorite shows of all time. I was obsessed with it. All six seasons are perfect. The series finale was the best and most fitting I’ve ever seen (even better than “Breaking Bad,” in my opinion). And Matthew RHYS (4D) and Keri Russell connected while starring in the show and are now partners and have a kid! 
  • Another underrated show that was on Netflix was GLOW (33D) about female wrestlers. Side note: I really liked the clue (What fireflies and happy faces do) for that one! 
  • It wasn’t quite a GRAY DAY (17A) in DC today, but it was rather cold and getting colder as we head into December… It’s going to make biking rather hard, but I shall try to double up (or triple up) on layers of clothing and see if I can make it work. 
And that’s all I’ve got! Stay warm and enjoy the holidays, and I’ll see you in December.

Signed, Clare Carroll, whose colors are Black and Gold

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ale-simmered German sausage, informally / MON 11-27-23 / French meat stew for which Julia Child penned a popular recipe / Threaten to tip, as a wildly driven car / Colorful banded rocks / Song created from multiple songs

Monday, November 27, 2023

Constructor: Ricky J. Sirois

Relative difficulty: Pretty hard, solving Downs-only 

THEME: "TO BE FAIR..." (60A: "Admittedly ...," or , when said aloud, a punny description of 18-, 24-, 39- and 49-Across) — theme answers are all "2B Fare," i.e. two-word food items where both words start with "B":

Theme answers:
  • BEER BRAT (18A: Ale-simmered German sausage, informally)
  • BEAN BURRITO (24A: Vegetarian dish on a Mexican menu)
  • BEEF BOURGUIGNON (39A: French meat stew for which Julia Child penned a popular recipe)
  • BANANA BREAD (49A: Loaf often made with walnuts)
Word of the Day: CAREEN (6D: Threaten to tip, as a wildly driven car) —
a. To lurch or swerve while in motion: "The Tasmanian boat was a wreck... the stove had broken free of its mounting and was careening about with every wave" (Bryan Burrough).
b. To move forward rapidly, especially with a swaying motion or with minimal control; career: "I saw my life as a car with no brakes careening down a dangerous mountain road" (Tom Perotta). ( (my emph.)
• • •

Well, I did not fare too well. Also, this didn't taste that great. The punniness made my teeth hurt, and the grid really has nothing interesting to offer besides a BARFIGHT (admittedly, pretty exciting). It's just a list of food and then a below-average, rickety grid. The pun ... yeah, it's a pun, alright. I don't know. Just doesn't seem worth the effort. Or the (relative) boredom. Again, it's just a plain old list of food. I guess BEEF BOURGUIGNON is kind of an interesting answer in its own right—a flashy grid-spanner, in its way—but it's not enough to lift the fill on this thing above the ho-hum. Plural NISSANS, plural TSETSES. I kept waiting for something, anything interesting to happen, and it never did. ERG AGATES OLGA IBET SHEA OGRE STAT ADE ANNS ICED ADO STL NEO EMIL and on and on and on, like it was trying hard to win the BEIGEst puzzle award. The 6s in the NW are OK, and those in the SE aren't terrible either, but overall there wasn't much fun to be had here. The theme boils down to a one-answer corny pun, and the grid is largely a snooze. Compare last week's Monday, which at least had real inventive wackiness going on, and a grid that was at least trying. 

Downs-only solving was enormously challenging today, for a variety of reasons. The first very bad trap I fell in was MEDLEY for 22D: Song created from multiple songs (MASH-UP). That's ... pretty much the definition of a MEDLEY: "a song created from multiple songs." And the "M" was right, and the "E" in the second position gave me a BEEF BURRITO! The problem then was figuring out what the hell kind of [Woodsy home] I was dealing with at 7D. I was like "NEST? DEN? LAIR" As you can see, I thought I was looking for an animal's home. Oh, and earlier, I had another wrong answer, right alongside (missing) CABIN: POUND. I had POUND for 8D: Equivalent of 16 oz. (ugh, ONELB). Which, again, is technically correct. Perfect for the clue. Just ... not perfect for this puzzle. Sigh. Between POUND and MEDLEY and BEEF BURRITO, I was gummed up there for a while. But not nearly as gummed as I was in the SW, all around the revealer, which I didn't know was a revealer (this is what happens when you don't read the Acrosses), and which I couldn't make into anything. The problem of parsing "TO BE FAIR..." was seriously exacerbated by three (3) different crosses. First, and worst, was AHOOT. Oof. Just ... the worst fill in the whole grid. Couldn't do anything with it. Thought it was ARIOT for a bit. Also had the cross at 54A as AGORA for a while, figuring "no other letters but 'G' work there" (wrong!). So I kept looking at AG--- and wondering how to get to 50D: Something hilarious. It was not ... hilarious. Then there was IN A FEW (46D: "Soon"), pfft, which I had as IN A SEC, and but thought might be IN A BIT (Wrong and wrong!). IN A FEW ... did not cross my mind for ages. Then there's the worst of the problematic revealer crosses: RARES (53D: Some hard-to-find collectibles). Plural. RARES ... RARES ... Did I say AHOOT was the worst thing in the grid? I take it back.

[Woodsy the Owl! Did he live in a CABIN (7D: Woodsy home)? I forget]

Had HERE for 56D: Present (GIFT) and had to hold off on the last letter in CAREEN because I can never tell the difference between CAREEN and CAREER (turns out—there isn't one; see "Word of the Day," above). But those were minor issues. Nothing like the MEDLEY/POUND fiasco, or to the trainwreck caused by RARES & Friends. Maybe if the revealer had snapped into place more cleanly, I would've appreciated its punniness more. It's a longshot, but ... it couldn't have hurt. Look, I see the pun, there it is, it does what it does. But considering how much I had to work for that revealer, the payoff was not nearly sufficient. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hurl with gusto in Gen Z slang / SUN 11-26-23 / Comedian Lydic of The Daily Show / Nickname for a muscly Disney protagonist / The ___ Honors annual picture book awards / Historic quinoa cultivators / Fully divests one's stake / 1982 Stevie Wonder hit / Classic name in wafers / Sequin-covered undergarment popularized by Lady Gaga / Heaven on Earth to ancient Greeks

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Constructor: Adam Wagner and Michael Lieberman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium 

THEME: "Growth Spurts" — familiar phrases have the word "INCH" added to them, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily (i.e. "?"-style):

Theme answers:
  • ENDLESS LOINCHOPS (3D: Barbecue buffet offering?)
  • ASPIRIN CHANTS (58D: Things like "What do we want?" "Headache relief!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"?)
  • COIN CHA-CHING (7D: Invent the sound of a cash register?)
  • CHINCHILLA XING (30D: Peruvian road sign?)
  • BABY BUM PINCH (67D: Affectionate squeeze of an infant's bottom?)
  • BALLER IN CHINA (13D: Yao Ming, before joining the N.B.A.?)
  • LATIN CHEST CRAZES (43D: Reasons that South American furniture stores have super-long lines?)
Word of the Day: William of OCKHAM (36D: English philosopher William of ___) —
William of Ockham
OFM (/ˈɒkəm/; also Occam, from LatinGulielmus Occamus; c. 1285 – 10 April 1347) was an English Franciscan friarscholastic philosopherapologist, and Catholic theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logicphysics and theology. William is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on the 10th of April. [...] In philosophy, Occam's razor (also spelled Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor; Latin: novacula Occami) is the problem-solving principle that recommends searching for explanations constructed with the smallest possible set of elements. It is also known as the principle of parsimony or the law of parsimony (Latin: lex parsimoniae). Attributed to William of Ockham, a 14th-century English philosopher and theologian, it is frequently cited as Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which translates as "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity", although Occam never used these exact words. Popularly, the principle is sometimes inaccurately paraphrased as "The simplest explanation is usually the best one." This philosophical razor advocates that when presented with competing hypotheses about the same prediction and both theories have equal explanatory power one should prefer the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions and that this is not meant to be a way of choosing between hypotheses that make different predictions. Similarly, in science, Occam's razor is used as an abductive heuristic in the development of theoretical models rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models. (wikipedia)
• • •

[Wife, daughter, sister—hiking near 
the Flatirons in Boulder]
Hello! Welcome back, and happy birthday! No, wait, you're supposed to say that to me. Let's start over ... [You: "Welcome back, and happy birthday!"] Hey, thanks, that's very nice of you! I had a lovely week of giving thanks at my sister's house in Colorado, where I mostly took long walks, watched birds, looked at mountains and read books. And ate. And ate. And ate and ate. Mexican food, at first (no good stuff where I live, so I had to take advantage). And then ... well, just everything. I ate it all. Cheesecake! I don't even like cheesecake but my mom's was so good that I couldn't resist. I must've eaten Thanksgiving dinner at least three times. All in all, a productive, relaxing, embiggening week. Thanks very much to the Rexplacements, Rafa and Eli, for being their usual astute, charming, and reliable selves. I thought I could handle blogging while also visiting my family in a different time zone, but ... nope, too difficult. Possible, but not enjoyable, so Rafa and Eli agreed to help out, for which I am grateful. And now it's my birthday—well, as I'm writing this, it's actually my birthday eve, but my wife already made the cake and I'm already two slices in (still got that holiday eating momentum going). It's a rich chocolate cake—the second slice was probably a bad decision, but it's so beautiful that it's hard to lay off. Anyway, I'm full and rested and ready for crosswords! 

[There are actually seven INCH's in this puzzle, but ... close enough]

So ... hmm. OK. Maybe I'm missing something. I don't really get the INCH thing, conceptually. I mean, I see that the puzzle is called "Growth Spurts," and I guess the idea is that the regular phrases have "grown" by one INCH ... but I kept waiting for the revealer that never came. It all felt so arbitrary. INCH INCH INCH INCH etc. why? Just 'cause? OK, but something about the relentless march of INCH's made this one feel dreary. Once I got my second INCH-containing answer, I realized they were *all* gonna have INCH in them, so I just filled in all the four-letter shaded sections with INCH. I didn't even get the pleasure / challenge of figuring out where those INCH's were going to show up. It's so horribly condescending of the puzzle to tell you the location of hidden words like this. Let Me Find Them. That's part of the fun. Or ... at least, it could add some element of resistance, which would make solving this something more than just an occasionally amusing walk in the park. I get that they're trying to make the puzzle more "accessible," but this is just giving away too much of the game. Stop treating solvers like babies. If you're worried about newer solvers, the truth is that newer solvers are never gonna get better at sussing out the harder themes if you keep cutting corners for them. There's nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing about the placement of the INCH's, so ... why shade them, except to do some unnecessary hand-holding? Bah. In my day. Etc.

The themers aren't all good, but some of them are pretty inventive, with the INCH really really really changing the parsing, to say nothing of the meaning, of the base phrases. I liked the turning of CHILLAXING into CHINCHILLA XING the best, with BALLER IN CHINA right behind. "Latin Chest" was too meaningless to be funny, and COIN CHA-CHING too absurdly specific. The wackiness meter sat somewhere around 5 (out of 10). Needed to be maybe a little higher to carry the theme across the huge Sunday grid, but as this type of wacky theme goes, I thought this was fine. But the wind went out of my sails a bit early on because it was *all* INCH's, and they were *all* marked, and so the joy of work and discovery just wasn't there for me today. 

[93A: Mississippi city in a Neil Simon title]

Fill-wise ... I don't know why I balk at stuff that seems like it came from an overstuffed wordlist. I just can't get excited by SELLS UP or UTAH UTES or GOAL NET ... stuff that exists, yes, but that isn't interesting enough for a human being to have put in a NYTXW grid yet (just checked and, yes, these are all debuts, hurray for my sixth sense—they felt like debuts, but not like Exciting debuts). I'm guessing DISCO BRA is a debut (again, yes). "Popularized"? Is it really "popular"? I dunno. The only thing of note I can remember Lady Gaga ever wearing was that meat dress. Where is MEATDRESS!? Why isn't MEATDRESS in the grid? Did she not "popularize" it enough? I like DISCO BRA crossing STYLE ICON, though STYLE ICON was By Far the hardest thing for me to get in this grid. The problem started with the world's worst plural, BAES (!?!?!), which I had as HONS (!??) and then just BABE (imagining that one might call one's sweetheart [Sweeties] as well as "BABE"). Some words just don't want to be plurals, and BAE is one of them. I ended up having to come at STYLE ICON from below, and once I got ICON, despite having the "T" and "Y" in place, the only thing I could think that worked was QUEER ICON. Pretty sure QUEER ICON fits both Lady Di and Prince (Lady Di for sure, Prince ... whether he wanted to be or not). Nothing else in the puzzle gave me nearly so much trouble, although geography trivia briefly threatened to wreck me in the east with NYASA (50A: Lake on the Malawi/Mozambique border). Thank god for fair crosses. 

I'm doomed never to know any reality show judge, ever again, no way no how, so sure, GAIL Simmons, if you say so (71A: "Top Chef" judge Simmons). Again, fair crosses make it alright. Once again I confused NILLA Wafers and NECCO Wafers and ended up with NECCA for a bit (75A: Classic name in wafers). I don't know why you're wearing socks because of SANDAL TANS (115A: Reasons to wear socks post-vacation). If you wear shoes without socks, people still can't see your feet ... and if you're not wearing shoes, you're wearing ... sandals, probably, so ... I guess there are types of shoes that do show the tops of your feet, so OK, but that clue could've been ... better. Different. Something else. YEET that clue, for sure. Also YEET the crossing of ASK NOT and I CANNOT. That's too much NOT action in one little place. Not cool. 

That's all. Pinch your baby's bum for me, but not too hard, that's mean! Enjoy your last Sunday of November. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. [They're just over two feet] for ANKLES is cute. I used a version of the same clue in my thank-you postcard crossword (for supporters of this blog) earlier this year! (18-Down). I doubt I was the first. But a good clue is a good clue.

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Series of steps in Spain / SAT 11-25-2023 / Something often containing a single parenthesis / Qatar left it in 2019 / Ending with hot or honey / Legal checks / Illinois city near St. Louis / To us, in Latin

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Constructor: Jeff Stillman

Relative difficulty: Hard


Word of the Day: CHER (54D: Singer whose likeness was the highest-selling doll of 1976, surpassing Barbie) —

Cher (/ʃɛər/; born Cherilyn Sarkisian; May 20, 1946) is an American singer, actress and television personality. Often referred to by the media as the "Goddess of Pop", she has been described as embodying female autonomy in a male-dominated industry. Known for her distinctive contralto singing voice and for having worked in numerous areas of entertainment, as well as adopting a variety of styles and appearances, Cher rose to fame in 1965 as one half of the folk rock husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher before launching a successful, six-decade-long solo career.
• • •

Hi everyone, it's Rafa back for another guest blog. Hope you enjoyed my puzzle yesterday, and Eli's guest post about it. Rex should be back tomorrow in case you are tired of us!

The license plate does say TREASURE STATE

I've always thought that blogging about a puzzle you disliked is a lot harder than blogging about a puzzle you loved. This is going to be a difficult post to write because this puzzle was absolutely not for me in any way! I think the best format here is to just have some bullet points going over some of the aspects here that didn't work for me:

  • -ENNE is bad fill to me in three (!) ways. It's a suffix, which is gluey, and way less satisfying to fill in than an actual word. But it's also very rare ... what words even use the -ENNE suffix? Comedienne??? Which is a segue into reason number three ... it's weird to have gendered suffixes like this for things that do not have to be gendered! A comedian who is a woman is just ... a comedian! Really I could not be less into this piece of fill.
  • EEEE is also really, really, really not great. It feels so goopy, just a string of four Es in the grid like that, somehow worse than an abbreviation or suffix or prefix in my brain. But also, most importantly, is it even a thing, really? I've bought shoes many times in my life and have never seen EEEE out in the wild. EEE (also bad, don't get me wrong!) has been a bit more of a crossword staple ... but a fourth E? No, no, no.
  • WOOERS feels like a really awkward -ER form to me.
  • DNAS plural is pretty tortured. "DNA samples" sure. But DNAS? I just don't really buy it as a thing.
  • This one is probably on me, but I'd never seen HISSY stand alone like that. "Hissy fit" feels very in-the-language to me, but HISSY felt a bit off and, so, not as satisfying (though it has strong dictionary support, so as I said, probably on me).
  • The ALTON / MALONE crossing could have plausibly been any vowel to me. ALTON is a city of 25,000 in Illinois ... okay. I know Cheers is a well-known show, but I've never watched it.
  • The entire NOBIS / ASTRA / ABEL / SCOTTS / HAUER situation was just a laugh-out-loud Natick-fest to me. Never heard of any of these the way they were clued! ASTRA was inferable, but tough when so many crossings were unknown ... it's pretty rare that I have to look things up but there was just absolutely no way this section (particularly the NOBIS crossings with ABEL and SCOTTS) was going to come together.
  • MIS and RES are both super gluey use-only-if-very-desperate pieces of fill, and the clue echo didn't really rescue it as much as make it more visible.
  • KOTO was new to me, and I couldn't quite remember BLUTO, so that crossing was also a complete guess. I think KOTO is totally fine fill ... good even! It's fun to learn a new instrument from a puzzle! But it's important to make sure all the crosses are rock-solid.
  • This is really the least of our worries here, but ISM and GEO are two more suffix/prefix type entries. (Though I loved the angle on GEO! Have you guys seen the TikTok-famous guy who always knows exactly where he is after seeing a blurry, pixelated, upside-down photo for 0.1 seconds? He's iconic!)
  • I get that it's Saturday, and again I love learning things from puzzles, but LAI felt like gluey fill that I didn't find particularly interesting.
  • I see it has pretty good dictionary/Google support, but E-CRIMEs do not feel like a thing to me. Some e- things are things! Like e-bike, that's a thing! e-commerce, that's a thing! e-file, becoming less and less of a thing, I think (who *doesn't* e-file their taxes these days? do we really need to specify anymore?) but still, yes, a thing. But some e- things are not things. e-money: not a thing! E-CRIME (IMO): not a thing, etc.
  • BAD ONE doesn't really stand alone as a crossword answer. Would [any adjective] ONE work as fill? It just came across as a bit made up.
  • X-ray SPEX only really Googles as an English rock band. There is a Wikipedia page for "X-ray Specs" ... but SPEX doesn't really feel super in-the-language to me. (I might be wrong ... does anyone actually use "spex" when referring to glasses? Maybe!)
  • ICBMS: don't love nuclear weaponry in my puzzle, but also this acronym is pretty much impossible to infer to someone who might (understandably, I'd say) not have brushed up on their nuclear weapon acronyms recently.
  • UGHS is a really weird plural. It doesn't really feel natural to say or write "ughs." Something like "ahas" is way better in my book, because "aha" can be used colloquially as a noun ... something like "what a satisfying aha at the end of that puzzle!" ... but not really with UGHS.
  • MILLION MOM MARCH is a wonderful answer, but I think it would have been a stronger marquee closer to when it actually happened, 23 years ago. I really wanted MARCH FOR OUR LIVES here, which feels a lot more recent and relevant, and I was sad when that didn't quite fit!
  • CIS labeled as a "modern" descriptor felt a bit weird ... I understand that "cis man" and "cis woman" were a lot less widespread terms in the past but cis men and cis women have been a thing for all of recorded history! Not a super huge deal, but the modifier didn't really work for me.
  • And, finally, RECTI: yet another 5-letter (!) uncommon prefix.

Soooooo, with all that out of the way ... there were some very nice longer entries! IMAGE AWARDS, YES I SUPPOSE, THE PLOT THICKENS are all fantastic! But it just really was not worth it for me today.
Neptune is, indeed, an ORB

Oh, and there were two outstanding clues in this puzzle: SIMON (22D: Says who?) and CHER (54D: Singer whose likeness was the highest-selling doll of 1976, surpassing Barbie). Good wordplay! A fun fact! That's what I come to crosswords for.

This is a KOTO

I'm afraid I don't really have much else nice to say about this one, so I'll stop here. I hope you were able to ENJOY this one a lot more than I did!

Signed, Rafa

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