Form of algae also known as rockweed / SUN 12-31-23 / Crispy Japanese cutlet / Condo-organizing Kondo / Reality star Theresa of "Long Island Medium"

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Constructor: Matt Linzer and Rafael Musa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "It's Going Down" — the BALL DROP (seen in TIMES SQUARE on NEW YEAR'S EVE) is depicted, literally, five times in this puzzle; that is, five Across clues have both "Before midnight" and "After midnight" clues, with the "Before midnight" clue leading to a regular old Across answer, but the "After midnight" clue making sense only if you follow the BALL DROP (i.e. the word "BALL" going Down), and then continue on with the Across letters that stem from the end of "BALL"...

Theme answers:
  • BALL DROP (86D: End-of-December tradition depicted five times in this puzzle)
  • NEW YEAR'S EVE (29A: When to see the 86-Down)
  • TIMES SQUARE (119A: Where to see the 86-Down)
Theme answers ("Before Midnight"):
  • HERBIVORE (23A: Before midnight: Sloth, e.g.)
  • POWER BROKER (25A: Before midnight: One with major influence)
  • WATER BILLS (68A: Before midnight: Some household expenses)
  • FOOT BATHS (62A: Before midnight: Devices with warm water and massaging rollers)
  • GO BEYOND (87A: Before midnight: Surpass)
Theme answers ("After Midnight"):
  • HERBAL LOTIONS (36A: After midnight: Ointments infused with cottonwood or calendula, e.g.)
  • POWER BALLADS (40A: After midnight: Journey's "Open Arms" and Guns N' Roses' "November Rain," e.g.)
  • WATER BALLET (85: After midnight: Synchronized swimming)
  • FOOTBALL GAME (77A: After midnight: Event for Cowboys or Broncos)
  • GO BALLISTIC (109A: After midnight: Totally lose it)
Word of the Day: KATSU (124A: Japanese crispy cutlet) —
(n.) resuscitation of an unconscious judoka (
JUDOKA (n.) — one who participates in judo (
Katsu (ChinesePinyinWade-GileshoCantonesehot3rōmajikatsu) is a shout that is described in Chan and Zen Buddhism encounter-stories, to expose the enlightened state (Japanese: satori) of the Zen-master, and/or to induce initial enlightenment experience in a student.[1][2] The shout is also sometimes used in the East Asian martial arts for a variety of purposes; in this context, katsu is very similar to the shout kiai. (wikipedia)

Tonkatsu (豚カツ, とんかつ or トンカツpronounced [toŋkatsɯ]; "pork cutlet") is a Japanese dish that consists of a breadeddeep-fried pork cutlet. It involves coating slices of pork with panko (bread crumbs), and then frying them in oil. The two main types are fillet and loin. Tonkatsu is also the basis of other dishes such as katsukarē and katsudon. // The word tonkatsu is a combination of the Sino-Japanese word ton () meaning "pig", and katsu (カツ), which is a shortened form of katsuretsu (カツレツ), an old transliteration of the English word "cutlet", which was in turn adopted from the French word côtelette. (wikipedia)
• • •

***ATTENTION: READERS AND FELLOW SOLVERS IN SYNDICATION (if it's currently mid-January, that's you!)*** : Hello from the first properly wintry week of the season in Central New York! It's January, which means it's time once again for my annual week-long pitch for financial contributions to the blog. Every year I ask readers to consider what the blog is worth to them on an annual basis and give accordingly. So ... 17 years ... not bad. At this time last year, I was recovering from COVID and still dealing with the very fresh grief brought on by the untimely death of my cat, Olive. I was very grateful for the blog at that point, since it grounded me in routine and gave me a place where I could lose myself in a pastime I love, and share that love with others. OK, yes, true, I don't always *love* crosswords. Sometimes it's more hate-love or love-hate or "Why are you being like this, you stupid puzzle!?" It ain't all positive vibes, as you know. But I realized last year that part of what makes this blog so fun for me, and what makes it a solace to many readers, is the sense of commiseration it provides. Sometimes the puzzle thrills you, and maybe I agree with you, and maybe I don't; and sometimes it infuriates you, and maybe I agree with you, and maybe I don't. But either way, the blog is here; it's *always* here. You get to have your feelings validated, or you get to shake your head at my errant judgment and often breathtaking ignorance, but either way, you get to share an experience that's an important part of your daily life, and maybe you learn something new. Above all, I hope you feel that there is a real person with a real life and real emotions and (very) real human flaws who's telling you what it was *really* like for him to solve the puzzle. I never wanted to be an expert, offering some kind of bloodless know-it-all advice and analysis. I wanted blood. Blood on the page. There will be blood! ... But also, music videos. And Words of the Day. And, if you hang around long enough, cat pictures. Like this one:

This is Ida (she put herself in the bin, I swear). Ida is the happy sequel to last year's grief. At the beginning of January, I was mourning. By the end of January, I was still mourning, but now I had a new companion (as did my other cat, Alfie, who *really* needed one). Why am I talking about my cats? Because they are constant, they give shape and rhythm to my day, and I love them even if they sometimes drive me crazy. Just like crossword puzzles! (See that! Segue! This is why you should pay me the big bucks!) 

However much I love writing this blog (and I do, a lot), it is, in fact, a job. This blog has covered the NYTXW every day, without fail, for 17 years, and except for two days a month (when my regular stand-ins Mali and Clare write for me), and an occasional vacation or sick day (when I hire substitutes to write for me), it's me who's doing the writing. Every day. At very ... let's say, inconvenient hours (my alarm goes off most mornings at 3:45am). Over the years, I have received all kinds of advice about "monetizing" the blog, invitations to turn it into a subscription-type deal à la Substack or Patreon. But that sort of thing has never felt right for me. I like being out here on Main, on this super old-school blogging platform, just giving it away for free and relying on conscientious addicts like yourselves to pay me what you think the blog's worth. It's just nicer that way. 

How much should you give? Whatever you think the blog is worth to you on a yearly basis. Whatever that amount is is fantastic. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are three options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar on the homepage):

Second, a mailing address (checks can be made out to "Michael Sharp" or "Rex Parker"):

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

The third, increasingly popular option is Venmo; if that's your preferred way of moving money around, my handle is @MichaelDavidSharp (the last four digits of my phone are 4878, in case Venmo asks you, which I guess it does sometimes, when it's not trying to push crypto on you, what the hell?!)

All Paypal contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by email. All Venmo contributions will get a little heart emoji, at a minimum :) All snail mail contributions will be gratefully acknowledged with hand-written postcards. I. Love. Snail Mail. I love seeing your gorgeous handwriting and then sending you my awful handwriting. It's all so wonderful. My daughter (Ella Egan) has once again designed my annual thank-you cards, and once again those cards feature (wait for it) cats! My cats: Alfie & Ida. This year, an elegant set of five!

These really capture the combination of beauty and goofiness that I love in cats (and puzzles, frankly). I'd say "Collect All Five!" but every snail-mail contributor will get just one and (hopefully) like it! Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just indicate "NO CARD." Again, as ever, I'm so grateful for your readership and support. Please know that your support means a lot to me and my family. Now on to today's puzzle... 

• • •

This one felt pretty anticlimactic. Yesterday's lackluster confetti puzzle really did this puzzle a disservice. This is the much more substantial holiday theme. Yesterday, there were just 8 unchecked squares that spelled out CONFETTI, and then a weak revealer (PARTY) and then a bunch of individual black squares that "turned into" confetti when you finished the puzzle (assuming you solved in the app an not on paper). That puzzle was clearly New Year's Eve-themed, or trying to be, and CONFETTI was spelled out in giant circle or "ball" shape, that I speculated might (?) be an attempt to depict the ball that drops on NEW YEAR'S EVE in TIMES SQUARE. And now here we are, on the Actual Holiday, and you've got an Actual BALL DROP theme, but it all feels kind of belated. And no confetti. This one deserves confetti much Much more than yesterday's puzzle did. At least this one had an actual *theme* related to the ball dropping, and not just a post-solve pictorial element. Even so, even if you ignore the fact that yesterday's puzzle took some of the wind out of today's puzzle's sails, this one had some issues that kept it from landing perfectly. The main one was the theme cluing—seems like both "Before midnight" and "After midnight" clues should've originated from the same number, since both answers originate from the same place. Very weird / awkward to have the "After midnight" clue attached to the Across entry that is just the tail end of the "After midnight" answer, since the actual answer begins much earlier, before the BALL drops. So, yeah, weird to have the "After midnight" clues linked to "entries" like LISTIC and LGAME. Also, only one of these theme answer sets is truly perfect, in my mind: WATER BILLS / WATER BALLET—that is the only set where a. BALL is hidden inside the longer answer (that is, where it doesn't mean "ball," as it does in "Power Ball" or "Football") [UPDATE: oof, my mistake here, “Power Ball”is not part of either answer, just a trick my eye played on me] and b. the second Across part actually looks like a standalone (albeit unclued) word unrelated to the longer answer it's a part of (LOTIONS can stand alone, obviously, but it's the actual word in the "After midnight" answer, whereas the LET at the end of WATER BALLET looks like a standalone word but is totally unrelated to the longer answer of which it is a part). Nice, elegant execution of the theme on WATER BILLS / WATER BALLET. All the others just get by.

I do think the theme is both more ambitious and just generally better than yesterday's theme, and I think the "Before / After midnight" concept is pretty ingenious. The execution just felt a little clunky. And again, the Saturday premature NYE puzzle didn't do this puzzle any favors. Today's theme took me a little while to pick up because of the confusing way the thematic clues were numbered, as well as because SIN was sitting right underneath the theme answer whose clue was [Sloth, e.g.], and I was certain, *certain*, it was thematic—that somehow [Sloth, e.g.] with SIN right underneath it was part of the whole "It's Going Down" theme. Like ... if you look Down (one row), you can see a different meaning for the theme clue (!?). SIN would certainly make perfect sense for [Sloth, e.g.]. Anyway, red herring, and one that probably only I could see.

Seems like NIGHT (60A: "What hath ___ to do with sleep?": Milton) is a bad answer to have in a grid where your theme clues all have "night" in them. That was probably the hardest answer for me to get in the whole grid (and I teach Milton regularly—is that Paradise Lost quote*** famous? If so, it somehow eluded me).  Never heard of a BUG OUT BAG (39D: Evacuation survival pack). That reeks of overstuffed wordlist. The term is GO BAG. I'm not saying BUG OUT BAG doesn't exist, just that it seems far less common. I've heard GO BAG a lot. BUG OUT BAG, as I say, never. SEA OAK also seems like something you'd never know existed unless your wordlist told you (94D: Form of algae also known as rockweed). Impossible to imagine voluntarily watching even one second of something called "Long Island Medium," so CAPUTO!? (32A: Reality star Theresa of "Long Island Medium"). CAPU-no! No way on god's green earth. All crosses. Most of the rest of the fill seems fine. A little heavy on the preposition-ending phrases (EYEING UP, RANTS AT, NEW TO). Pretty sure the term is SAW LOGS, not SAW WOOD (10D: Snore, idiomatically)

I don't think there are any particularly dangerous crosses today. HEPA / PIPET seems like a possible tough spot. Maybe SEA OAK / KATSU (anyone go with SEA OAT / TATSU? Probably not, but it's fun to imagine). Anything need explaining? ESS is the first letter (i.e. "kickoff") of "soccer" (8A: Soccer kickoff?). No idea what a SHAKA is (didn't know that "hand sign" had a name), but I've seen it in crosswords before, so it came to me eventually (18A: "Hang loose" hand sign). I assume the "three-ingredient sandwich" in question at 84A: Fourth ingredient in a classic three-ingredient sandwich (MAYO) is a BLT. My first thought was PB&J, but then I remembered that the P and B are just one ingredient, and also that MAYO on a PB&J sandwich would probably induce vomiting. OK, well ... that's all for this year! My favorite puzzle of the year was this Andy Kravis puzzle from The New Yorker ("A Freudian Puzzle") (July 14, 2023). The execution is flawless, and it's legit funny. Truly amazing. Did you have any favorite puzzles or clues this year? Share them in the comments; maybe I'll mention some tomorrow. 

Time now for the last Holiday Pet Pics of the year (don't worry, I have enough to last many days into the new year (again, please, no more submissions this year). What do we got today? Puppies under trees!

[Bella and Cody are dreaming of Christmas cookies, I'm told. I don't know how Martha knows that, but it seems plausible (thanks, Martha)]

Another Hanukkitty!
[CJ looks ready to battle the flames. Again, I don't know how Hanukkities aren't constantly on fire (thanks, Mara)]

Another cat in tree... or ... wait ... is Clementine *in* the tree? If so, she is ornament-sized:

[This one makes me laugh every time because I just cannot see the cat until ... I see it ... quietly plotting my death (thanks, Richard)]

Here's Henry, trying to act casual:

["Yeah, I know, Charred Skeleton Elf and Elf-on-the-Shelf, right behind me. Just be cool, man. Ignore them, maybe they'll go away..." (thanks, Mary)]

Some cross-species siblings today, Moose and Lucy! 

["I am overwhelmed, please come get me"]

[I am good elf, please give me assorted foodstuffs to wrap, I won't eat them this time I promise" (thanks, Spencer)]

And finally, because it's appropriate, my first (and so far only) New Year's Pet Pic! This is photo-shopped, but I don't care. A cat in a monocle is a cat in a monocle, and it's gonna win me over every time

[Thanks, Suzanne]

Happy New Year, everyone.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

***The Milton quotation is from Comus, not Paradise Lost. I lazily trusted Google, which returns the following as the top response (from Quora) when you Google the quotation:

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Cabinet resignee of 1988 / SAT 12-30-23 / Pair of hand drums, in Indian music / Letter of completion, in brief / Part of a turntablist's headgear for short / Dad on "Black-ish" / They work in meters / Relative of a slot canyon / Drogo Jason Momoa's character on "Game of Thrones" / Across a wide expanse of rural land / Coat named for a former Irish province

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Constructor: Simeon Seigel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: PARTY (63A: Event suggested by this puzzle's circled squares, read clockwise from the top) — circled (and unchecked, i.e. uncrossed) squares spell out CONFETTI ... that's ... it? 

Word of the Day: "The ERL-King" (50D: Goethe's "The ___-King") —

[The Erlking, Albert Sterner, ca. 1910]
"Erlkönig" is a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It depicts the death of a child assailed by a supernatural being, the Erlking, a king of the fairies. It was originally written by Goethe as part of a 1782 SingspielDie Fischerin.

"Erlkönig" has been called Goethe's "most famous ballad". The poem has been set to music by several composers, most notably by Franz Schubert. // An anxious young boy is being carried at night by his father on horseback. To where is not spelled out; German Hof has a rather broad meaning of "yard", "courtyard", "farm", or (royal) "court". The opening line tells that the time is late and that it is windy.

As the poem unfolds, the son claims to see and hear the "Erlkönig" (Erl-King). His father claims to not see or hear the creature, and he attempts to comfort his son, asserting natural explanations for what the child sees – a wisp of fog, rustling leaves, shimmering willows.

The Erl-King attempts to lure the child into joining him, promising amusement, rich clothes, and the attentions of his daughters. Finally, the Erl-King declares that he will take the child by force. The boy shrieks that he has been attacked, spurring the father to ride faster to the Hof. Upon reaching the destination, the child is already dead. [Happy Holidays!] (wikipedia)

• • •

You took my hard Saturday puzzle away for this? It's not even New Year's Eve yet. If you're gonna take away my hard Saturday puzzle, there better be good reason, and New Year's Eve Eve isn't it. Further, I don't really get it. Hard to think of a revealer more anticlimactic than PARTY [insert lone, sad, half-hearted party maker sound here]. Just ... PARTY? Are you or are you not a New Year's Eve-themed puzzle? Do the circled squares represent the earth orbiting the sun? Do they form the shape of a clock dial, or the famed ball that drops at midnight in Times Square? Because I know they Sure As Hell do not represent the CONFETTI that they spell out. CONFETTI does not fall in a perfect circle. There is nothing about those circles that evokes CONFETTI beyond the letters they contain. My best guess is that the black squares (!?!) represent the confetti. There are no contiguous black squares, so they kinda look like individual pieces of ... well, CONFETTI? Maybe? But then why doesn't the revealer say that: "... suggested by the black square pattern in this grid"? You see, I'm just guessing at this point. There are imaginative and unusual elements of this puzzle, particularly the unchecked squares that actually Do end up being checked by the broader theme (for newer solvers: one of the "rules" of crosswords is that all squares have to be involved in an Across and a Down, so you have two ways of getting at it—this puzzle takes away the cross, but gives it back to you, in a way by having those uncrossed letters be involved in an overarching, theme-defining answer, so ... the "rule" was broken, technically, but not substantively). There's just not enough thematic material here, and (the big problem), what is here is not particularly evocative of CONFETTI, or of any PARTY in particular. I hope that app solvers at least got some kind of confetti-animation explosion at the end. Some bit of visual entertainment for your troubles. [Well, look at that ... I was correct on all counts]

[Enjoy your not-solving-related decorative elements, I guess!]

This puzzle didn't just deprive me of a themeless puzzle, it also deprived me of any struggle. At all. This played like, what, a Tuesday? Wednesday? The hardest thing about it was all the old crosswordese and the odd congregation of proper nouns (these categories overlap). The fill started out cringily old-fashioned and it did not improve until I got into the longer stuff. I mean, you don't see "I, TINA" or "The ERL-King" around much any more, you really don't. I took some screenshots of the moments I went "ugh," then stopped as I worried I'd be going at it all day.

IRABU CERT EFREM EBAN MEESE and KHAL, LOL KHAL, (61A: ___ Drogo, Jason Momoa's character on "Game of Thrones"), man, constructors, you are letting "GOT" turn you lazy as hell. How many characters deep are you gonna go on the show? (apparently "KHAL" is a title (for a warlord)). At least KHAL is, uh, "fresh," whereas those others I just listed, hoo boy, no. As for the marquee answers, those six 15s, they're mostly fine, but they're a bit on the dull side, with OVER HILL AND DALE being borderline archaic. Quaint, for sure. Your marquees on a Saturday would normally (probably) be much better, as those answers wouldn't be restricted by a theme, as they are here. For a themed puzzle, the six 15s today are kind of impressive, though there is a significant point penalty for not using Talking Heads in the clue for 36-Across:

No real mistakes today, except TABOR (?) for TABLA at first (33A: Pair of hand drums, in Indian music) and then GULLY before GULCH (45D: Relative of a slot canyon). I don't think there's much that needs explaining today, but just in case ...

  • 12A: Bucket of Bolts (JUNKER) — both slang terms for a beat-up and poor-functioning automobile
  • 35A: Speakers in many classrooms, for short (PAS) — Public Address systems
  • 22A: Letter of completion, in brief (CERT) — short for "certificate"
  • 11D: "Dear" man (SIR) — because you might open a letter or archaically address any dude as "Dear SIR..."
  • 32A: Boot (CAN) — I assume these are verbs meaning "fire" or "expel" and not nouns meaning "ass"
  • 39D: Gig components (MEGS) — abbrs. for gigabytes, megabytes
  • 47D: "The Faerie Queene" woman whose name means "peace" (IRENA) — I would tell you who she is but she Doesn't Even Show Up On The Extensive List of "Major Characters" at the Wikipedia Entry For "The Fairie Queene" ... there are like 30 characters on that list, no IRENA. How in the world are we still getting this clue / answer? I've actually read huge chunks of "The Fairie Queene"—taught it, even. But oof, no, this is bottom-of-the-barrel crosswordese. 
["West-ERN Spur"]

More Holiday Pet Pics

First, three cats from Matt: Ronda, Earl Grey, and Scarlet (again, not sure what the "Holiday" connection is here, but these cats are too cute to exclude on a technicality)

[Dear lord, those eyes]

[Earl looks worried. Somebody pet Earl]

[sometimes you want to smush your cat but you don't want to wake her and it's honestly a dilemma]

Here's Jeeves, frolicking by the fireside:

[Thanks, Peggy]

[Maggie is 16. She has learned to roll with this reindeer horns nonsense (thanks, Katherine!)]

This is Tuna, the tiniest Christmas kitty. Tuna is a sad baby who has to wear sweaters because it's oh so cold. Won't you help Tuna this holiday season (scritches and treats gratefully accepted).
[Thanks, Robin]

And lastly today ... a deer

["Hey ... hello! ... anyone home!? Hey, hi. So ...  they left me, Santa and them. I was late, I guess, technically, but now I'm just stuck here by myself ... anyway, you got any snacks?" (thanks, Angela)]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sierra follower / FRI 12-29-23 / Foil to Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar" / Lock lips, to a Liverpudlian / Attire for many a Degas subject / Tacky item in a kindergarten classroom

Friday, December 29, 2023

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Cuba libre (12D: Cuba libre ingredient => COKE) —

Rum and Coke, or the Cuba libre (/ˌkjuːbə ˈlbr/ KEW-bə LEE-braySpanish: [ˈkuβa ˈliβɾe]; literally "Free Cuba"), is a highball cocktail consisting of colarum, and in many recipes lime juice on ice. Traditionally, the cola ingredient is Coca-Cola ("Coke") and the alcohol is a light rum such as Bacardi; however, the drink may be made with various types of rums and cola brands, and lime juice may or may not be included.

The cocktail originated in the early 20th century in Cuba, after the country won independence in the Spanish–American War. It subsequently became popular across Cuba, the United States, and other countries. Its simple recipe and inexpensive, ubiquitous ingredients have made it one of the world's most-popular alcoholic drinks. Drink critics often consider the drink mediocre, but it has been noted for its historical significance. (wikipedia)

• • •

Good morning and Happy Robyn Friday to all who celebrate! I actually struggled with this one more than I typically do with Robyn Weintraub puzzles, but since I rarely truly struggle, that doesn't mean very much on the ol' difficulty meter. Mainly I was getting a bit bogged down in some of the short stuff, but only for short bits of time. The long stuff still did what I expected it to do—impressed and whooshed. It's weird, though: I had a kind of deja vu, as I really thought I had seen Robyn use both SNOWBALLFIGHTS and OSCARTHEGROUCH before. Completely untrue, at least in the NYTXW, but now I'm wondering where I got that idea from. Maybe she's leaned into "Sesame Street" before. I do so many puzzles, there's no possible way I can remember where I saw such and such an answer (most of the time). Anyway, the sense of deja vu (errant though it was) did not keep me from enjoying either answer. [UPDATE: it’s not deja vu … or, rather, it literally is—I already saw (that is, listened to) Robyn construct this puzzle on a BBC podcast several months ago!] Judged by my incredibly high Robyn standards, this one had maybe a little less sizzle than I expected. There's only one really good colloquial expression ("NOT YOU TOO!?"), although I guess you could throw "IT'S A FACT!" in there too. "I DON'T MIND" is of course just fine, but it doesn't quite have the spice (despite literally sitting on TACO SAUCE). The long answers are strong and solid everywhere, and only the occasional short answer gave me any reason to feel anything close to SCORN. Stuff like ATIT LOCI in the NE and LAIC OTTO in the west (OTTO is notto so baddo (33D: Miranda who played Eowyn in "The Lord of the Rings"), but that was the only thing in the grid I'd absolutely never heard of, besides "forcola," which I assume is some kind of OARlock equivalent ... yes, although I guess it's called a "rowlock" not an "OARlock" ... oh, no, wait, look: those two words are the same ... SIGH(S), I feel better now). I don't know if this puzzle OOZES CHARM, or if I would even want that from a puzzle (rarely a fan of oozing), but this one has enough variety and pep to make for a perfectly charming Friday.

That said, FUR COATs are vile and if I never see another COEXIST bumper sticker it will be too soon. Not much on Bumper Sticker Liberalism, or bumper stickers in general. That's it for genuinely off-putting fill, though. As for the (minor) struggles, they came early on, and almost entirely on the west side of the grid (marking up your finished puzzle with green ink really gives you a strong visual idea of where you struggled the most). Really had trouble with TANGO, as ugh, the puzzle's reliance on the radio alphabet continues unabated. It's like the damn thing was invented so that crossword constructors could write tricky clues. If you want me to give you a [Sierra follower] in five letters, I'm going to give you LEONE or MADRE, and then I'm gonna cast about for some kind of phrase of brand name like, I dunno, Sierra MIST (not long enough). Complicating matters up there were STEW (13D: Mélange) and WAY (21A: Approach), neither of which were obvious to me from their clues. Curiously, wanted an equally edible SOUP for [Mélange] (after wanting OLIO a bit earlier) and wanted [Approach] to be a verb. Nearby, I had no idea how "Raspberry" was being used at 13D: Raspberry relative—I thought it was the thing you blow at someone contemptuously, so I wanted RAZZ (?!) ... and then I wanted a fruit of some kind. I don't think of either Raspberry or RUBY as a color (primarily), so that was tough. And the BUT cross was hard to pick up as well (22A: Signal for a change in direction?). But with easy-to-get long answers shooting every which way, these little trouble spots sorted themselves out fairly easily.

Other little glitches... Can never remember if it's OCTAVIAN or OCTAVIUS (36D: Foil to Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar"). Somebody asked the question about different spellings of the emperor's name on r/AskHistorians at reddit and my man wrote a whole-ass essay on Roman naming conventions, concluding with:

  • Octavius for his childhood, until the death of Caesar in 44 BCE.

  • Octavian for his period as a rising power during 44-31 BCE, after the death of Caesar and before the defeat of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

  • Augustus from 31 BCE, when he "became Emperor", until his death.

  • Good to know! I'm just gonna assume it's all correct and one of you all will tell me if it's not. Good? Good. Moving on to more glitches. I thought [Lower] was a verb so I wrote in SADDEN ("to make ... low?") instead of SADDER. I just stared at [Match ___] and, well, after I realized it wasn't going to be GAME I got briefly depressed and my brain refused to entertain other possibilities. The crosses really had to carry the load to get me to WITS. Then there was my biggest mistake, which was really an answer I failed to write in fully. I remember *getting* "NOT YOU TOO!?" and writing it in, but apparently I did not write it all the way to the end, so I ended up with "NOT YOU TOU!?" because I initially thought that the garnish in your Cuba libre might be a CUKE (12D: Cuba libre ingredient). Cukes make wonderful garnishes for certain drinks (a Pimm's Cup, for instance), but not a Cuba libre, apparently—standard garnish there is a lime wedge. Well now I want a Pimm's Cup but it's ... [squints at computer clock] ... 5:03AM, so might hold off on that for twelve hours or so and start with coffee.

    The Holiday Pet Pics continue now (please, no more submissions til next year!). 

    More kitties under trees!

    [Bentley! (thanks, Ross)]

    [Spikey! (thanks, Carolyn)]

    Puppies being majestic!

    [Is that a border collie? Because if any dog's got the stamina to lead the damn deer all over the world in one night, it's a border collie ... whatever Malo is, he's clearly very good (thanks, Brett)]

    [Tessa rules the senior center from her throne (thanks, Robert)]

    And finally a couple of kittie siblings, Odette ...

    ... and her brother, Swann, seen here celebrating Christmas ... Swann's way 😎

    [Thanks, Shirley]

    See you next time.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    [Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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