Enemy of Hop-o'-My-Thumb / WED 6-19-24 / Abolitionist senator Charles / Creatures that kill Laocoön in the "Aeneid" / Good guess for a single letter in a cryptogram / Rocket-shaped frozen treat / Gorilla who was said to have developed the vocabulary level of a three-year-old human

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Constructor: Brad Wiegmann

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: compound words clued via "[verb] + [verb]" phrases — clues are familiar "[verb] and [verb]" phrases; the first [verb] clues the first part of the answer, the second [verb] clues the second part of the answers, and you end up with a compound answer that is a familiar word entirely unrelated to the clue phrase:

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Wait + see (STOPWATCH) ("Wait" = "STOP!" / "see" = WATCH) 
  • 25A: Give + take (HANDHOLD) ("Give" = HAND / "take" = HOLD)
  • 36A: Kiss + tell (SMACKTALK) ("Kiss" = SMACK / "tell" = TALK)
  • 51A: Hit + run (SLAPDASH) ("Hit" = SLAP / "run" = DASH)
  • 60A: Cut + paste (CHOPSTICK) ("Cut" = CHOP / "paste" = STICK)
Word of the Day: Laocoön (24D: Creatures that kill Laocoön in the "Aeneid") —
 (/lˈɒkˌɒn, -kəˌwɒn/; Ancient GreekΛαοκόωνromanizedLaokóōnIPA:[laokóɔːn], gen.: Λαοκόοντος) is a figure in Greek and Roman mythology and the Epic Cycle. Laocoön is a Trojan priest. He and his two young sons are attacked by giant serpents, sent by the gods when Laocoön argued against bringing the Trojan horse into the city. The story of Laocoön has been the subject of numerous artists, both in ancient and in more contemporary times. [...] Virgil used the story in the Aeneid. According to Virgil, Laocoön advised the Trojans not to receive the horse from the Greeks. They were taken in by the deceitful testimony of Sinon and disregarded Laocoön's advice. The enraged Laocoön threw his spear at the Horse in response. // Minerva then sent sea serpents to strangle Laocoön and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, for his actions. [...] The story of Laocoön is not mentioned by Homer, but it had been the subject of a tragedy, now lost, by Sophocles and was mentioned by other Greek writers, though the events around the attack by the serpents vary considerably. The most famous account of these is now in Virgil's Aeneid where Laocoön was a priest of Neptune (Poseidon), who was killed with both his sons after attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse by striking it with a spear. // Virgil gives Laocoön the famous line
"Equō nē crēdite, Teucrī / Quidquid id est, timeō Danaōs et dōna ferentēs"
[Do not trust the Horse, Trojans / Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.]
This quote is the source of the saying: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." (wikipedia)
• • •

[Laocoön and His Sons]
About as boring a puzzle as I've ever done. It was even boring to describe. I guess it's a neat trick, in its way, but as a crossword theme, it did nothing. Solving those answers involved breaking the clue down into two clues, two very very ordinary clues for very very ordinary short answers. "Wait" = "STOP!," "take" = HOLD, blah blah etc. And then you could kind of infer the overall answer when the short definition parts were not completely transparent. Maybe it's very hard to find "[verb] + [verb]" phrases that you can do this with. I don't know. But what I now know is that I don't care. Just because a theme concept is extremely restrictive doesn't mean that it is at all interesting to solve. It's not that this puzzle is badly made. It's not. But like dry toast, it really needs butter, or peanut butter, or (as I prefer) butter and then peanut butter (Me to my wife the first time I saw her do this: "Geez, how much fat do you need?" Boy did I eat (and re-eat) those words). It didn't help my enjoyment that a couple of the theme answers felt backwards. Words made from reverse verb phrases. A couple might hold hands, of course, but "hand-hold" as a verb is less common / slightly more awkward ("handhold" is apparently also a dance concept, if that ... helps). I recognize that SMACKTALK is a thing, but I'm way more likely to encounter it in verb form ("to talk smack"). (Side note: as I look it up now, I'm seeing that SMACK TALK is not a compound word, but two words, which kind of wrecks the theme consistency). It's all technically defensible, but not exactly on the money. 

The fill on this one, also, totally run-of-the-mill and forgettable. Even though I don't particularly like the theme, I do like SMACK TALK and SLAPDASH as standalone answers. They've got great energy, and are fine additions to any grid. The only other answer in this grid I was particularly happy to see was SEA SERPENTS. I have taught the Aeneid more than probably any other single work of literature (except maybe Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), and that scene with Laocoön gets me every time. It is brutal in a way that the clue fails to capture, and perhaps cannot capture. It's one thing to get killed by SEA SERPENTS (I suppose) it's another, much worse thing to get killed by SEA SERPENTS as a direct result of trying to tell your fellow countrymen the truth (about the damned Trojan Horse, which he struck with a spear); and it's still another, much much worse thing to get killed by SEA SERPENTS after having watched those same serpents first tear both of your sons apart right in front of your eyes. Like, Minerva does not mess around. Just brutal. There's a reason Laocoön is such an iconic figure (in art and popular culture). He's like this mix of Cassandra (doomed to tell the truth and have no one believe her) + extreme paternal suffering. The Trojans watch all this serpent-induced carnage go down and are like "holy *$%! ... wow ... so ... uh ... be nice to the Horse, I guess?" Extremely violent. But entertaining. Kinda like MMA, but, you know, fictional.

  • 21A: Touch of color (TINCT)— I went with the much more common TINGE. This, plus the awkwardness of HANDHOLD and the trickiness of the BUTTONS (10D: Remote possibilities?) clue and the fact that I did not know Charles SUMNER (31A: Abolitionist senator Charles) made the NE the hardest part of the puzzle by far (not actually hard, just harder than the rest)
  • 13A: "Never get involved in a land war in ___" (advice in "The Princess Bride") ("ASIA") — a line delivered memorably by the great Wallace Shawn:
  • 53A: "Fiddler on the Roof" setting (RUSSIA) — if the answer hadn't filled itself in easily from crosses, if you'd just given me this clue and an empty six boxes, I'd've guessed SHTETL (crossword brain!). Very cute that this "Fiddler"-related answer crosses MATCHMAKERS (9D: Fixer-uppers, of a sort):
  • 68A: Enemy of Hop-o'-My-Thumb (OGRE) — you know, I have absolutely no idea what Hop-o'-My-Thumb is, despite seeing him / her / it mentioned here and there my whole life. Looks like it's one of Perrault's classic fairy tales.
Hop-o'-My-Thumb (le petit Poucet) is the youngest of seven children in a poor woodcutter's family. His greater wisdom compensates for his smallness of size. When the children are abandoned by their parents, he finds a variety of means to save his life and the lives of his brothers. After being threatened and pursued by an ogre, Poucet steals his magic seven-league boots while the monster is sleeping.
  • 11D: Good guess for a single letter in a cryptogram (AN "I") — hmm. Depends on context. I'd say "AN 'A'" is better, or at least as good ("I" and "A" being the only common single-letter English words).
  • 38D: Rocket-shaped frozen treat (ASTRO POP) — These always looked so cool on the side of the ice cream truck! Turns out they look better than they taste, but on days like these (i.e. sweltering), I can't help but be nostalgic for mediocre brightly-colored frozen treats. The item that actually bears the brand name ASTRO POP is apparently a room temperature lollipop, booooo! When I see ASTRO POP, this is what I picture:

See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Extremely damaged, in military lingo / TUE 6-18-24 / Kinda comedic and saucy? / Pungent sushi condiment / Ending with Apple or Obama / Playful term for one's female friends

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Constructor: Aaron M. Rosenberg

Relative difficulty: Medium 

THEME: kinda — suffixes or prefixes meaning "kinda" (that's "kind of") are appended to the backs or fronts of familiar phrases that already contain those suffixes or prefixes (in non-suffix or non-prefix form), giving you wacky phrases where those suffixes or prefixes are whimsically, ridiculously, Seussically doubled:

Theme answers:
  • BURLESQUE-ESQUE (16A: Kinda comedic and saucy?)
  • SEMI-SEMINARY (28A: Kinda religious institution?)
  • JELLYFISH-ISH (39A: Kinda squishy and sting-y?)
  • QUASI-QUASIMODO (50A: Kinda hunchbacked figure?)
Word of the Day: FUBAR (21A: Extremely damaged, in military lingo) —

FUBAR (Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond All/Any Repair/Recognition/Reason), like SNAFU and SUSFU, dates from World War II. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Yank, the Army Weekly magazine (1944, 7 Jan. p. 8) as its earliest citation: "The FUBAR squadron. ‥ FUBAR? It means 'Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition," referring to unpaid military personnel with erroneous paperwork.

Another version of FUBAR, said to have originated in the military, gives its meaning as "Fucked Up By Assholes in the Rear". This version has at least surface validity in that it is a common belief among enlistees that most problems are created by the military brass (officers, especially those bearing the rank of general, from one to four stars). This version is also most likely to have had its origin in the U.S. Army, where the senior officers command from the rear, as opposed to the Navy or Air Force, where it is common for generals to command alongside their forces. FUBAR had a resurgence in the American lexicon after the term was used in two popular movies: Tango and Cash(1989); and Saving Private Ryan (1998). (wikipedia)

• • •

Good morning, fellow heat-handlers, I hope that you are handling the heat! The next few days are going to be suffocatingly terrible for the northeastern U.S., where I happen to reside, but I understand that things aren't much better in the upper midwest either, so ... yeah, stay hydrated, find some afternoon AC, and best of luck! I might have my first ice cream sandwich *and* my first vanilla malt of the season this week—must find joy in dismal circumstances (seriously, this is my least favorite of all the weathers). Today's puzzle theme falls under the category of "So Stupid That I Like It." It's just silly. That's it. Made-up words, but the kind of words I would absolutely make up because they need making up. Admittedly, they don't need making up very often, but if you've ever seen bad burlesque or a bad drawing of a jellyfish, or known a religious school of dubious accreditation, then these "words" may in fact have come in handy at one time in your life. I had real trouble getting started (with the themers, that is) because, well, you definitely need a bunch of crosses for that first one before you have any idea, so there's that. But if you solved that first themer from the front (as I did), then you got BURLESQUE first and (again, if you are me, specifically), you might've thought "so ... like Milton Burle? ... hey wait, that's not how you spell Milton Berle!" Comedic + saucy + "BURLE" had me thinking UNCLE Miltie, and then wondering what the hell the rest of the letters in the themer could be. Wasn't til I got all the way to BURLESQUEES- that I finally "got" it. Then I expected the next themer to also involve a suffix, but [zany sound effect] nope! Prefix this time. After that, smooth sailing—just enjoyed hunting the remaining suffix/prefixes and seeing what strange sound combinations they'd produce. JELLYFISHISH is by far my favorite—the most fun to say. -ISH has the most entertaining real-life applications, as well. "How do you like the knish? Pretty good, right?" "Well..."

As for the rest of the grid, I thought it was sufficiently bouncy and interestingly varied. It's undersized today, probably because handling 14s in a 15x15 grid is remarkably hard. Grid-spanners don't give you any black square problems, whereas having that one damned black square at the end of your themer creates cascading black square problems that affect where you can put the themer, which then affects where you can put the other themers, etc. A 15x15 grid would force these themers all closer to one another, creating a much more constricted constructing environment. The grid would suffer. Better to shrink the grid to 14, thereby eliminating your black square problem and giving your themers room to breathe. The only place the grid really felt under pressure today was in the NE—things get real ugly in and around that second "Q" because, well, it's a "Q," and "Q"s will do that. BCCS CPU SSE is definitely an OOPS situation, in that it's unpretty, but it's also a tiny part of the grid, and none of the fill in there is horrible, so as fouls go, it's very minor. The rest of the grid looks pretty good. Spicy, even. WASABI crossing FUBAR! Looking up FUBAR was funny for me, mostly because I knew "fuck" was involved somehow, but had forgotten how. It's got the FU like SNAFU, but unlike SNAFU, I couldn't remember what the initialism stood for. "Fucking U-Boat Attacking Rear!"? "Fuck U, Big-Ass Robot!"? So, becoming reacquainted with profanity, that was fun. Also fun: this sentence from FUBAR's wikipedia page: "FUBAR had a resurgence in the American lexicon after the term was used in two popular movies: Tango and Cash (1989); and Saving Private Ryan (1998)." Those are not two movies I would expect to find in the same sentence, or anywhere near each other. My actual first thought was "wow, what is it with Tom Hanks movies and FUBAR?" but that's because I was confusing Tango & Cash with Turner & Hooch. Who can blame me? I'm not convinced they're actually different movies. Both from 1989!? Come on...

Had ObamaCORE before ObamaCARE because of apple (core) and because I want ObamaCORE to be a real fashion trend that really exists in the real world (37A: Ending with Apple or Obama). I'm going to google it now and I better get a lot of pictures of tall dads in fleece vests or tan suits. Hang on ... LOL OK Obamacore is real ("real") but it appears to be a term referring to fashion of the (early) Obama Era, rather than Obama himself. Behold: The Dawn of Obamacore! (cue "Thus Spake Zarathustra")

[from ssense.com, 2022]

I liked the playful clue on GIRLIES, though I would not call my "female friends" that, ever, for maybe obvious reasons (38D: Playful term for one's female friends). The clue probably should've indicated that the gender of the speaker matters, but no biggie. I'm pro-GIRLIES. Traveling to Minneapolis in December to see CYNDI Lauper with my best friend, who is a woman, not a girlie, though I may start calling her that and see how it goes over. If I know her (and I do), it will go over ... interestingly. Anyway, GIRLIES just want to have fun, and that is just what we're gonna do. Hope you had fun with this one, and, again, stay cool, everybody. See you tomorrow.  

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Kudos to an eagle-eyed proofreader / MON 6-17-24 / 2018 Childish Gambino hit that won the Grammy for Song of the Year / Locale for beers on draft / Queer-friendly high school dance

Monday, June 17, 2024

Constructor: Kiran Pandey

Relative difficulty: Easy (solved Downs-only)

THEME: "AYE AYE, CAPTAIN" (55A: Affirmative at sea ... or a phonetic hint to what's found sequentially in 20-, 31- and 41-Across) — theme answers are familiar phrases in which two "I"s precede a famous "Captain":

Theme answers:
  • "THIIAMERICA" (20A: 2018 Childish Gambino hit that won the Grammy for Song of the Year)
  • FINDING NEMO (31A: Pixar film that takes place mostly underwater)
  • FISHING HOOK (41A: Holder of bait)
Word of the Day: NIH (35D: Medical research org.) —

The National Institutes of Health, commonly referred to as NIH, is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research. It was founded in the late 1880s and is now part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Many NIH facilities are located in Bethesda, Maryland, and other nearby suburbs of the Washington metropolitan area, with other primary facilities in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and smaller satellite facilities located around the United States. The NIH conducts its own scientific research through the NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) and provides major biomedical research funding to non-NIH research facilities through its Extramural Research Program.

As of 2013, the IRP had 1,200 principal investigators and more than 4,000 postdoctoral fellows in basic, translational, and clinical research, being the largest biomedical research institution in the world, while, as of 2003, the extramural arm provided 28% of biomedical research funding spent annually in the U.S., or about US$26.4 billion.

The NIH comprises 27 separate institutes and centers of different biomedical disciplines and is responsible for many scientific accomplishments, including the discovery of fluoride to prevent tooth decay, the use of lithium to manage bipolar disorder, and the creation of vaccines against hepatitisHaemophilus influenzae (HIB), and human papillomavirus (HPV).

In 2019, the NIH was ranked number two in the world, behind Harvard University, for biomedical sciences in the Nature Index, which measured the largest contributors to papers published in a subset of leading journals from 2015 to 2018. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well the "captain" part is solid enough but the "I" part is pretty weak, and the theme clues play pretty fast and loose with the word "sequentially." You do get an "I" and then (several letters later) another "I" and then a "Captain," but the intervening letters between those "I"s kinda mucks up the "sequentially" claim, at least a little. Sometimes the "I"s appear in one word, but one time they appear in two different words. And then one time there's actually a third "I" inside one of the "Captain"s. It's a cute idea, but the execution just doesn't feel dead-on. Also, it's usually FISH HOOK, right? I recognize that FISHING HOOK is a valid and not uncommon variant, but the -ING part feels contrived to get that second "I. The wikipedia entry is for "fish hook" (or "fishhook"). There's no fatal flaw to this puzzle, just a lot of little dings and dents. The fact that the puzzle felt the need to circle the "I"s feels like an acknowledgment that the puzzle was maybe not landing perfectly. I only wish there had been some way to accommodate my favorite captain. I'm speaking of course of Captain Merrill Stubing of The Love Boat. My wife and I are currently in the middle of watching the entire run of the show. We just finished the very special Season 3 episode where Captain Stubing finally goes and claims his biological daughter Vicki from her aunt and uncle who are raising her now that Vicki's mom is dead, and who somehow conveniently live somewhere in Mexico (!?) (lord knows what happened to Vicki's stepdad). Anyway, today's "I"-"I"-"captain"s are OK, I guess, but for my money, VICKI STUBING beats 'em all. (Unless MINI UNDERPANTS are a thing, then that wins)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in a puzzle focused on "I"s, there are too many "I"s in this puzzle. The proper noun, I mean. I CARE, I CALL, I MEAN IT. I ... think that's too many. Otherwise, the fill seemed OK. Adequate. "NICE CATCH" (33D: Kudos to an eagle-eyed proofreader) and TOMATILLO give the grid some much needed SPICE. Speaking of SPICE, I had SPIFF there for a bit (10D: Zhuzh (up)). I think of zhuzhing as adding more spiffiness than spiciness ("spiciness" kinda has sexy implications that zhuzhing alone does not). I guess I should love GAY PROM but that answer just made me sad. Can the gay kids not go to regular prom? Are there Queer-unfriendly dances? I mean, of course there are, that's a stupid question. I guess GAY PROM must be a non-school-sponsored thing for kids who don't feel welcome at their cruddy heteronormative homophobic school dances. Let's see ... [Uses internet] ... Yes, that's exactly what it is (there was one this past weekend in the Greater Cleveland area! Hello, Cleveland!), though it looks like QUEER PROM is *by far* the more common term. So hurray to the concept, but mild boo to "gay" instead of the more inclusive "queer." Still, more hurray than boo. I'll save the real "Boo!" for schools that give queer kids any shit at all about going to prom with whomever they want, in whatever fancy get-up they choose.

The Downs-only experience was pretty uneventful today. I weirdly spelled POLI-SCI as if it were a major involving *many* sciences (or the study of polysexuality) (POLY SCI!), so that was interesting (5D: College major for government studies, informally). I also had OVERT before FAMED (31D: Widely known) (a truly terrible guess) and BREW PUB before TAPROOM (9D: Locale for beers on draft) (actually a great guess, don't feel bad about it at all). Already told you about the SPIFF-for-SPICE thing, so ... yeah, that's all I got. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. listening to my favorite DJ Evan Funk Davies (efd) filling in for Clay Pigeon on WFMU this morning and this happened ♥️

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Nickname for Empress Elisabeth of Austria / SUN 6-16-24 / Onetime Britney Spears partner, in the tabloids / ___ & Mariam (musical duo) / Notable bankruptee of 2001 / Honolulu palace name / Lin Ching-___, icon of Chinese-language cinema / Location identifier for a digital photo / Horror director Ari / Extra point as the result of a foul, in basketball lingo / Classic British sitcom character inspired by Jacques Tati / Formicary resident / Item repeatedly stepped on by Sideshow Bob on "The Simpsons"

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Constructor: Chandi Deitmer and Wyna Liu

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Connections" — two-word phrases that basically describe the four all-caps words in the clues. I guess this is in reference to the NYT game "Connections," which, like the rest of the NYT's little games, I do not play (except for Wordle, but I played that before it was NYT property). How are the four words in the clues related? Today, each set of four can precede the same word in familiar phrases. So, for example ... APP, CONVENIENCE, GENERAL, and THRIFT can all precede "STORE," which is why the answer for that clue is STORE FRONTS (i.e. those clue words can all act as "fronts" (i.e. "opening words") for "STORE":

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Lin Ching-HSIA (87D: Lin Ching-___, icon of Chinese-language cinema) —
[Chungking Express (1994)]
Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia
 (Chinese林青霞pinyinLín Qīngxiá; born 3 November 1954) is a Taiwanese actress. She is regarded as an icon of Chinese language cinema for her extensive and varied roles in both Taiwanese and Hong Kong films. [...] She appeared in 55 films in the period between 1972 and 1979, and all her roles were romantic heroines in love stories. She then left for the U.S. in 1979 for a year and a half, to study and relax. // Known for being a "screen goddess" by Chinese film lovers, Lin's early collaborations with Hong Kong New Wave directors Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and Jackie Chan in Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), The Other Side of Gentleman (1984), Police Story (1985) and Peking Opera Blues (1986) brought her success. In 1990, she won the Best Actress trophy at the 27th Golden Horse Awards for her depiction of a Chinese female writer who fell in love with a Japanese collaborator in Red Dust (1990). [...] At the height of her popularity, Lin was one of the most sought-after actresses in the Chinese film industry. She starred in more than 100 movies. Lin was credited for boosting Taiwan's film production in the 1970s before earning even greater popularity in Hong Kong in the 1990s, becoming a trans-island legend of her time. // She retired from acting in 1994. Her last acting role was in Ashes of Time (1994).
• • •

Once again, the NYTXW is acting as a kind of advertisement for its own properties. First (and very recently) it included "THE DAILY," and then "OP-DOCS," as crossword answers, and now they're just using the crossword to plug their other games. It's a little tiresome, tbh, this constant self-promotion, although Wyna (today's co-constructor) is in charge of "Connections," so she's entitled, I guess. But I'm gonna pretend that the puzzle doesn't have the boring title "Connections" and has nothing to do with that game, and just take it as a regular old puzzle-theme, and on those terms, it's fine. I enjoyed it just fine. Better than average for a Sunday, for sure. Sunday is (by far) my lowest-rated day of the week, so "Better than average" may not seem like high praise, but I think it's also better than average for any day of the week—any themed day, anyway, except maybe Thursday. This one doesn't have the pleasing trickiness of the average Thursday. But it's conceptually solid, and even if the theme answers themselves aren't particularly exciting, the non-theme fill is actually pretty good, with lots of sparkling longer non-theme fill (HARD PASS, "SERVES ME RIGHT," PANCAKE MAKEUP, SHACKS UP, "I FIGURED...") and a grid that's solidly built overall. As for the theme, it's basically an amped-up version of the "Words That Can Precede" theme variety. Like, each of these themers could be the revealer in its own puzzle, tying together a set of answers featuring all the words in the clue: say, for example, BRAND NAME, "LIKE I CARE," NOTHING SPECIAL, "WHAT'S UP DOC?" ... and then NEW BEGINNINGS as the revealer ([Fresh starts ... or the starts of today's longer answers?]), something like that. Not saying it would be good, just saying that that's a theme type we've seen. But today's puzzle gives us that "First words" thing eight times over. In the process, it occasionally strains the meaning of some of those "starter" words (LAUNCHES? I dunno, man. PREMIERES feels a little wobbly too). But overall, everything works pretty well, everything's symmetrical. People who like "Connections" can get a little thrill of recognition. As I say, it's fine.

While the puzzle overall was relatively easy, there were some patches that seemed at least slightly treacherous, all of them involving (surprise) names. The worst of these areas feels like the result of theme density; that is, theme answers are very close together in this puzzle, with lots of Downs running through two and even three themers, and because those themers are fixed (the first answers in the grid, the answers you build the rest of the puzzle around), they put a lot of pressure on the grid, narrowing (sometimes dramatically) the fill possibilities for the Down crosses. This can cause cascading problems in fill quality. Today, the main problem was in the connective tissue running from the middle of SEASON OPENER down to the back end of ROCKET LAUNCHES—let's call it the ORRIS-IOLANI Highway. I say this as someone who knew both ORRIS (34D: Root used in perfumery) and IOLANI (51D: Honolulu palace name), which will Not (I'm fairly certain) be the case for many solvers. Even knowing IOLANI, I botched the spelling initially. I don't think this patch would have seemed as potentially ruinous if it hadn't been for SISI and its (to me) remarkably obscure clue (50A: Nickname for Empress Elisabeth of Austria). There's an Empress of Austria? And she's famous enough to have a "nickname"? I really should've made her the Word of the Day, because this is all news to me. If you wanted to find the blindest of my blind spots, you'd definitely go to late 19th-century Bavarian history, because I'm reading her wikipedia page and absolutely nothing is ringing a bell. She was married to Emperor Franz Joseph until her assassination in 1898 (!): "While travelling in Geneva in 1898, Elisabeth was fatally stabbed in the heart by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. Her tenure of 44 years was the longest of any Austrian empress." Anyway, her "nickname" was random letters to me, and I'm baffled by the choice to clue SISI this way, when it's the only thing connecting ORRIS to IOLANI. I once had an accomplished constructor/editor tell me that cluing "SI, SI" as an emphatic Spanish affirmative was problematic because it was kind of a caricature of how Spanish speakers speak. At least I think that was the reason. But I would've loved an easy [Emphatic Spanish affirmative] right there. Seems entirely plausible that solvers might wipe out on either one, if not both, of the "I"s in SISI (as clued).

[Your "S"-count may vary]

And the ugliness spills into adjacent fill, from the awkwardly possessive PLATO'S in the middle of the grid to the HOO-boy dated-as-hell K-FED (79A: Onetime Britney Spears partner, in the tabloids). I don't think history has been kind to the memory of K-FED, aka Kevin ... someone? See, I can't even remember. Federline! Hey, he's from Fresno, just like me! He now seems to be in a long-term marriage, possibly living in Hawaii, and working primarily as a DJ since ~2010. Good for him. He has not appeared in a NYTXW ... wait, ever!? Never ever!? I'm laughing so hard right now. This is so pure—the NYTXW catching a pop culture phenomenon very (very very) (very) (extremely) late. Wow. Wow. OK. Britney and K-FED divorced in '07, so ... yeah, sure, now feels like the right time to drop him in a grid, why not? Wow. OK. Happy NYTXW debut to you, K-FED

[A young Ike Barinholtz as K-FED! And a young Jordan Peele as the DJ!]

Still more names: MARTI! Totally blanked on it. That's my bad (73D: Leader in the Cuban War of Independence). I know Cuban history only slightly better than I know Austrian history. Thank god I knew RAMA, because otherwise I would've had no way of knowing how the fictional AVA of "Abbott Elementary" spells her name (EVA v. AVA). Then there's HSIA—no way, no hope. Doesn't help that she's known in the west primarily as "Brigitte Lin" (see Word of the Day, above). Turns out I have seen her before (in a couple of Jackie Chan films as well as Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express); I wouldn't call her "obscure" by a long shot, but I would say that maybe that particular name part is? I have no problem learning about Lin Ching-HSIA, but as far as cinematic icons in crossword puzzles go: still no Agnès VARDA? Still no Yasujiro OZU? I am addicted to "Criterion Closet" videos, where actors and filmmakers go into the closet at the Criterion Collection and fill their tote bag with whatever Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays they want from the shelves; the videos are only a few minutes long, and they're remarkably entertaining, if what you're entertained by is people geeking out about great movies. Anyway, VARDA and OZU are two of the most name-checked names in Criterion Closet videos. Because they are icons. Also, they have short names with unusual letter combinations, so I Can Not believe that with all the minor names I've had to wrestle with over the years, I have never (in the NYTXW) come across OZU or VARDA. This is a crime against cinema.

[I've watched Kerry Condon talk about Dogfight more times than I can count]

[Ozu's Late Spring, first thing into his hands]

Lastly, name-wise, AMADOU (101A: ___ & Mariam (musical duo). I am going to look these two up now, because absolutely zero bells are being rung. The clue doesn't even tell you what *kind* of music, or give you a song or album or ... anything! OK, they are from Mali, and were nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2008. I'll bet they're great. But maybe not what you'd call Crossword Famous, I don't think. Still, I don't mind meeting them, since AMADOU is crossed entirely fairly, unlike SISI, which ... yeah, still baffled by that one. 

[They are a married couple who met very young at Mali's' Institute for the Young Blind. 40-year career! 8 albums! Sometimes I *do* like learning things]

  • 27A: Snack sometimes served with birria (TACO) — I wrote in TAPA here at first. TACOs can be TAPAs, right? 
  • 12D: Ancient performance space (ODEON) — at first I thought maybe the AGORA, but no, it's that other five-letter ancient space of crossword fame.
  • 103A: Lives as lovers (SHACKS UP) — I love how '70s this answer is. The euphemism, the implicit judgment! Even the word "lovers," LOL, so throwback. I will take this opportunity to point out that there are three "UP"s in this grid, all pretty close together (SHACKS UP, SENDS UP, PANCAKE MAKEUP). I will also admit that I don't really care. On a Sunday, three appearances of a two-letter word seems fine. As long as the "UP"s don't cross, I'm fine with it.
["Packing up, shacking up's all you wanna do"]
  • 45D: Arab honorific (SHEIKH) — stared at SHEIK- and thought "... another H? Why ... why does that look wrong?" Looks like someone conflated SHEIK and SIKH. But SHEIKH is correct. I think it's just that American popular culture has tended to spell it without the final "H":

Hey, west coasters! The Westwords Crossword Tournament takes place next weekend (Sunday, Jun. 23), in Berkeley, CA. West coast tournaments are rare, so this is a great opportunity to mingle with your fellow nerds and meet some of the best constructors and editors working today. Importantly, you can also participate online, from anywhere in the world (that has an internet connection). Here's the blurb from tourney co-organizer John Lieb:
Registration is open for the Westwords Crossword Tournament, which will be held on Sunday, June 23. This event will be both In-Person (in Berkeley, CA) and Online. Online solvers can compete individually or in pairs. To register, to see the constructor roster, and for more details, go to www.westwordsbestwords.com.
They announced the constructor line-up *in crossword form*; I'll let you solve it and discover the names for yourself. Adorable! If I weren't already traveling so much this summer, I'd be going to this tournament. Maybe next year. But you should go. Or do the online version of the tournament. Support this wholesome social endeavor and these creative people!

See you next time. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Fur-lined outerwear / SAT 6-15-24 / Onetime subject of King Gyanendra / Interjection in Innsbruck / 16th-century coinage of geographer Gerardus Mercator / Classic tune used as an ice cream truck jingle, with "The" / Person who consumes a ritual meal to absorb wrongdoings of the dead / ___ Lou Wood, "Sex Education" actress / Anita nicknamed the "Jezebel of Jazz"

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Constructor: Ryan Judge

Relative difficulty: Very Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Rafael DEVERS (25D: Rafael ___, All-Star third baseman for the Red Sox) —
Rafael Devers Calcaño
 (/ˈdɛvərz/ DEV-ərz; born October 24, 1996) is a Dominican professional baseball third baseman for the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball(MLB). He made his MLB debut in 2017. Devers won the Silver Slugger Award in 2021 and 2023 and was an All-Star in 2021 and 2022. [...] On January 3, 2023, Devers and the Red Sox agreed to a $17.5 million salary for the 2023 season. On January 11, Devers and the Red Sox signed a ten-year contract extension worth $313.5 million, which will take effect in the 2024 season. [...] Devers was given the nickname “Carita,” which means “baby face,” because he was so happy and smiling as a child. He used the nickname for Players' Weekend in 2019. (wikipedia)
• • •

I guess the idea is that Saturday = Friday + proper nouns. Yesterday's puzzle was very easy for most people, and it was notably light on names, and devoid of any names that might be considered "niche" or "obscure." Today's puzzle was, for me, just as easy, if not EASIER, but I was aware as I was moving through it of how many more Name Bombs there were. If you know the names, then they aren't bombs—they're actually accelerators, and today, I knew most of them, so whooooosh. But it seems very likely that if solvers get hung up anywhere today, it's gonna be somewhere in the thicket of names. DEVERS O'DAY STYNE DON VITO VERA AIMEE, somewhere in there. Because the rest of it was cake. Wednesday-level cake. Cake that tastes like Wednesday (in my head, "Wednesday" is brown, so ... chocolate?). There are hardly any inky patches on my printed-out puzzle, which means trouble spots were nearly non-existent. I wish this puzzle had run yesterday and something much, Much thornier had run today. Today's puzzle definitely had the lightness, the breeziness, and the fun factor, but no bite. Well, there's the SNAKE BITE (51A: Injury that usually involves two puncture wounds), but that (ironically) was no threat at all. I guess I should just be grateful that I got back-to-back enjoyable Fridays, but it's hard not to notice how much they've eased up the late-week puzzles. Maybe their money-generating algorithms A.I. told them it would be best for sales and renewed subscriptions. Probably tons of computing power going into finding exactly how much you can dumb things down and still maintain brand value and integrity. But these days, if I want challenge, I gotta turn to cryptics, British cryptics in particular. Those things will punch me in the face and then drag me around the block a few times. Am I into that? I am not ... not into it. 

[VERA, Chuck, and Dave]

So let's pretend it's Friday, because this is a pretty wonderful Friday puzzle. Little bit of struggle for traction up front and then like fireworks I went exploding out of the NW. That corner has the front ends of two grid-spanning answers, so [Boom!] and [Boom!]

I love how symmetrical that screenshot is. Made me aware (in a way that I wasn't beforehand) that the grid has mirror symmetry along the NW-to-SE diagonal—an unusual way to bring the required / expected grid symmetry, for sure. To me, the white squares look like a bug of some kind, flying NW, and those answers that come bursting out of the NW are on its wings. It also looks a bit like a smiling tater tot wearing a fancy  hat, or a swole gingerbread man—the NW its head, the NE and SW its Popeye-like arms. I like the Popeye connection, since pumping those answers into those corners was definitely a Popeye-eating-his-spinach moment. Forearm muscles bursting, puzzle about to be pounded into submission. This metaphor doesn't quite work, as the puzzle would have to pound ... itself ... but now I've got the "Popeye the Sailor Man" tune in my head now so the metaphor stands. Ooh, just noticed that CHILDHOOD MEMORY mirrors "AM I MAKING THAT UP?" which is Perfect, as memories are so often misty, hazy, unintentionally embroidered. I have CHILDHOOD MEMORYs that can't possibly have happened (at least not exactly the way I remember them). Reading Proust (which I am) makes you hyperaware of what a weird web memory is, and how it's (inevitably) sustained and maintained over time by our own imaginations and (self-serving) storytelling tendencies. "Popeye" is definitely a CHILDHOOD MEMORY. As an adult, I discovered that "Popeye" was a comic before it was a cartoon, a comic created by occasional crossword answer E.C. SEGAR that evolved out of another comic called "Thimble Theatre." This is a little like "Nancy" evolving out of a Jazz Age flapper comic called "Fritzi Ritz"—a side character becomes extremely popular and basically steals the whole damn show. Wow, OK, I've drifted. Revisiting CHILDHOOD MEMORYs will do that. Back to the puzzle.

Two trouble spots today. The first one was AIMEE (17A: ___ Lou Wood, "Sex Education" actress). I've watched that damn show (the first two seasons, anyway) and still had no idea what that name was, or which character, or anything. I mostly remember Gillian Anderson. Thank god the name was spelled AIMEE and not AYMEE, as I briefly feared—I never have any idea if it's SHYEST or SHIEST. The first one is the one that looks right, but thank god my brain was like "No! AYMEE is not a thing!" and so we (me and my brain) went with the "I." Good choice. The other trouble spot was ... well, speaking of "spots," it was DIE, or the answer that I thought was DIE. A DIE is a [Small cube] (with spots!) so ... yeah, that was one trap I fell right into, face first. I guess ONE x ONE x ONE = ONE, so ONE is a "cube" in the mathematical sense. Beyond those two answers, I had only rudimentary and minor trouble. OCH before ACH (4D: Interjection in Innsbruck), SHOUTED before SHORTED (5D: Blew a fuse, say), that kind of (small) stuff.

Explainers and other note-type things:
  • 1A: 16th-century coinage of geographer Gerardus Mercator (ATLAS) — well I knew it was gonna be map-related, but that didn't help much. At least not until I got a few crosses. I opened today with LODE OCH SMOOCH SH(Y/I)EST.
  • 24A: A.M.A. member? (ASK) — I think "A.M.A." was a phenomenon that started on reddit. It means "Ask Me Anything." Celebrities would do "A.M.A." sessions, sometimes as part of some charitable endeavor (here's one with Will Ferrell from eleven years ago). Now people say "AMA" on social media all the time, mostly facetiously. For example.
[OK so he doesn't use the abbr. "AMA" here but he should have] 
  • 13A: It's bigger than a peck (SMOOCH) — did you write BUSHEL? I have no idea how big a bushel or a peck is, but I had enough crosses in place not to fall for BUSHEL.
  • 19A: Final track on Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter" ("AMEN") — first of all, great album. Second of all, I could not have told you what the final track was, but the "final" part made it easy to infer.
  • 39A: Classic tune used as an ice cream truck jingle, with "The" ("ENTERTAINER") — I did not know that ice cream trucks played this. Have they always? I know this song from The Sting (1973).

  • 42A: Marching band syllable (PAH) — probably the worst thing in the grid, but you're allowed a stray 3-letter clunker here and there. I wanted OOM here. Right idea, wrong ... tuba sound part.
  • 10D: Oppenheimer's creation ... which "Oppenheimer" certainly wasn't (A-BOMB) — this clue should absolutely positively have a "?" on it, since there is a hyphen in the first (actual bomb) meaning and not not not in the second (movie) meaning. It's a cute cluing idea (the movie "Oppenheimer" was certainly not a flop, i.e. A BOMB), but come on, editors. Get it together.
  • 21D: Person who consumes a ritual meal to absorb wrongdoings of the dead (SIN-EATER) — this has made one other NYTXW appearance (in 2021), which remains the only other time I've heard this term in my life, I think. But it's real enough.
  • 35D: Untruthfully? (ON A DARE) — a properly Saturday clue, for once. It's a bit of a stretch, but it's playing on the slumber party game "Truth or Dare." If you don't choose "Truth," then you have to do something ... ON A DARE. The clue is bonkers and only barely holds together, but that's what makes it charming, I think. I like your moxie, weird "?" clue! You stay in the picture!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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