Game island represented by hexagonal tiles / THU 2-29-24 / Boldly stylish, in slang / Mideast spice blend / Asymmetrical crustacean / Creature whose scientific name translates to "ice-lover from Greenland" / Pastries usually accompanied by chutney / What the 1660s Pascaline machine, named for Blaise Pascal, could do

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Constructor: Esha Datta

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: WILD PITCHES (57A: Mistakes in baseball ... or what 18-, 24-, 34- and 51-Across might produce?) — animals with instruments in their names, clued via pictures of said animals playing said instruments:

Theme answers:





Word of the Day: Jhumpa LAHIRI (62A: Jhumpa ___, Pulitzer-winning author of "Interpreter of Maladies") —

Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri (born July 11, 1967) is a British-American author known for her short stories, novels, and essays in English and, more recently, in Italian.

Her debut collection of short-stories Interpreter of Maladies (1999) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into the popular film of the same name.

The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was made into a major motion picture. Unaccustomed Earth (2008) won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, while her second novel, The Lowland (2013), was a finalist for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. (wikipedia)

• • •

This would've been a pretty hard puzzle if they hadn't resorted to child's placemat cartoons for the clues. You wanna see the alternative, text-only clues (which showed up alongside the picture clues in my solving software, somehow)? Here, check it out:
  • 18A: Asymmetrical crustacean*
  • 24A: Creature whose scientific name translates to "ice-lover from Greenland"*
  • 34A: North America's heaviest flying bird*
  • 51A: Zazu from "The Lion King," e.g.*
Now *those* would've provided a proper Thursday challenge. As it was, I read the note in my software that said there were picture clues, and so I dutifully switched over and solved on the NYTXW website, where (as promised) I got the picture clues and ... yeah, I just filled in all the theme answers with hardly any thought at all (as hardly any was required):

You should not be able to do that with themers. Not on a Thursday. I can see why people might like the picture clues—they're "new," "fresh," "innovative," "cute," whatever. I don't think they're a flaw. But I hope you can see how someone (namely me) might be disappointed that difficulty was sacrificed for a visual gimmick. The non-theme stuff played like a Wednesday for me, and with the themers practically filling themselves in (faster than I could ever hope to fill in even a set of Monday themers), the puzzle ended up feeling very slight. Toothless.

In retrospect, I would've preferred the written-out clues. But there's at least one substantive reason to prefer the pictures to the written clues. The picture of a bird playing a horn kind of masks or distracts from the anomalousness of HORNBILL. It's the only answer that doesn't have an animal in its name. That is, you have CRAB playing a fiddle, a SEAL playing a harp, a SWAN playing a trumpet, but you do not have a BILL playing a horn. BILL is only a part of the animal playing the horn. A HORNBILL is a real bird, for sure, but you have to fudge the specific instrument (or instrument player) + animal wordplay of the theme to make it work. It's fine. All the answers are animals with instruments (or instrument players) in their names, and that's sufficiently coherent. But HORNBILL is, structurally, a bit of an odd-man-out. 

The fill on this one is average to slightly below. ESO PIA TSETSE AARE AGEE ÉTÉ ATA AVIA AWW have this one feeling pretty crosswordesey, and IN A TUB ... well, you know how awful I think that is, since we Just Had It In A Puzzle Last Week. And then there's COR, which is not only crosswordese, but also adds an extraneous instrument to an already instrument-themed puzzle. For elegance's sake, all instruments should be banished from the non-theme answers, especially ones that are clued Using Words That Are Actually In The Theme Answers (30D: ___ anglais (English horn) / HORNBILL). There's a doubling of "IT" ("I SWEAR IT" / "NAILED IT"), which is not that big a deal, and yet I noticed ... it. ZAATAR is pretty spicy, I like that (12D: Mideast spice blend). Seems conspicuously, if not gruesomely, understated to clue GAZA as simply a "site of conflict" right now. I mean, true, and yet ... kinda euphemistic. There are ways to clue GAZA that don't point straight at violence ([Largest city of Palestine], [Historic Mideast city where Samson died], etc.). Maybe one of those would've been preferable here. But maybe the clue doesn't matter because the very name GAZA is going to evoke images of violence right now, no matter how you clue it.

Notes and explanations:
  • 26A: Game island represented by hexagonal tiles (CATAN) — I had trouble understanding what a "game island" even was. Like, what category of thing is that? Here, it's the title island in the game "Settlers of CATAN" (which is apparently now just called "CATAN")
  • 19D: Pause to play? (RECESS) — I'm not sure what the surface-meaning is supposed to be here (why would you hit "pause" in order to "play" something?), but the clue ultimately wants you to understand the answer as a pause (from school during which children often go outside) to play, i.e. RECESS
  • 1A: Line just above "total," maybe (TIP) — I had TAX, which had me wondering what kind of [Energizing snack] started with an "X"—maybe an XXTRA BAR ("20 Times The Protein Of Our Regular Bar!") (3D: Energizing snack = POWER BAR)
  • 62A: Jhumpa ___, Pulitzer-winning author of "Interpreter of Maladies" (LAHIRI) — the only thing that really slowed me up today, and it was my own dumb fault—I misremembered her name as LAHARI and never bothered to check the cross, which should be HIT, but when you've got HAT in the grid, well, HAT doesn't exactly scream "Error!" at you, so ... I had to hunt my error after I was done, and didn't discover it until I'd checked every answer in the puzzle (since LAHARI didn't register as wrong, I didn't see my error til I got to HIT, which is the very last answer in the grid, 59D: Popular song).
  • 33D: More quickly? (ETC.) —the idea being that if you want to indicate that there are "more" things in your list, but you want to do so economically (without enumerating every single item), then you use the abbreviation ETC. It indicates "more" ... quickly (i.e. in a short abbr.)
  • 42D: Place for soap? (MELROSE) — kind of a deep cut: this is a reference to the '90s primetime soap opera MELROSE Place.
Please enjoy the rest of your Leap Day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Spanish sparkling wine / WED 2-28-24 / Bunny first appearing in "Space Jam" (1996) / Franz's partner in old "S.N.L." sketches / Bit of attire that sends the message "I mean business!" / Walled city near Madrid / Comedian Hedberg who said "I'm against picketing but I don't know how to show it"

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Constructor: Greg Snitkin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium to Medium (depending on how you navigated alllll the names)

THEME: "WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT" (53A: The main takeaway ... or, when considered in three different senses, a description of 20-, 33- and 41-Across)  — this phrase is an apt description of the three theme answers, but you have to understand (or punctuate) "IT" differently each time:

Theme answers:
  • COMPUTER SYSTEMS (20A: Things with hardware and software components) ("I.T.") 
  • SCARY CLOWN (33A: Someone terrorizing kids in a 1986 Stephen King novel) (IT)
  • HOKEY POKEY (41A: Participation dance in which you "turn yourself around") (the "it" in the last line of the HOKEY POKEY verse (namely, "... and that's WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT!")
Word of the Day: HOKEY POKEY (41A) —
The Hokey Cokey, as it is still known in the United Kingdom, Ireland, some parts of Australia, and the Caribbean, (now known as Hokey Pokey in the U.S and Canada), is a campfire song and participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well-known in English-speaking countries. It originates in a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in the UK. The song became a chart hit twice in the 1980s. The first UK hit was by the Snowmen, which peaked at UK No. 18 in 1981. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, I never realized how completely nonsensical that HOKEY POKEY song is before. What the hell is "It" ever referring to? All the left hand / right hand nonsense? But no, because you do the left hand right hand nonsense, and then you "do the HOKEY POKEY and you turn yourself around." But The Lyrics Never Describe That Part (i.e. exactly what "do the HOKEY POKEY" means), and also, how can "it" refer to HOKEY POKEY, when "you do the HOKEY POKEY and you turn yourself around / And that's what it's all about"? So ... the HOKEY POKEY is "about" the HOKEY POKEY? And we teach children this rhyme? No wonder my students have trouble with pronoun usage. Pronouns need clear antecedents / referents! The "it" in the HOKEY POKEY song has no idea what it (!) is pointing to. Thank you for attending my new segment, "Rex Parker Critiques Children's Rhymes," join me next time for a thorough take down of "E-I-E-I-O" ("No consonants!? Unlikely ..."). 

[what in the...?]

This is one puzzle where the revealer really rescued the entire theme enterprise. The themers seemed listless (except SCARY CLOWN, which just seemed bizarre), and the overall fill ran weak (and heavily, drearily name-y; more on that below), and then TALKAHOLIC, ugh, I would've shut my computer right there if I weren't contractually obligated to go on. Just a ridiculous non-word. What's next, GUACAHOLIC?! (mmmm, guacaholism ...). Your acceptable punny -aholic prefixes are SHOP- and CHOC-. TALKAHOLIC is gratingly cutesy and not really used. Never seen it. Never heard it. If people don't use it, you don't use it, that's the rule. Thumbs down, goodbye. But then I worked out WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT and looked back at the themers, and suddenly the dull COMPUTER SYSTEMS could at least be appreciated as a repunctuated "IT," and I could now understand why "SCARY CLOWN" was clued without naming IT, and, most of all, I could understand what the hell HOKEY POKEY was doing here at all. The revealer instantly evoked that silly rhyme. A true "aha" moment (or at least an "ah" moment). 

As for the rest of the puzzle, it was gunked up with names to an unusual, and possibly dangerous degree. From MITCH to LOLA to BREES to HANS AVILA ELSA LEON ELI and especially MARADONA (44A: Diego ___, one of two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award), who was indeed a very famous soccer player, but whose name crosses (at a vowel) a "Spanish sparkling wine" I've literally never heard of* (CAVA) (34D: Spanish sparkling wine). There are any number of WAYS to fill that little section, I have absolutely no idea why someone would go with CAVA there, especially given that M-RADONA crossing. Vena CAVA is at least familiar to me from biology class. Irene CARA is familiar to me (as is the Italian adjective "CARA," as in the phrase "CARA mia!"). Maybe no one will trip on that cross. But it feels like a hazard that might imperil non-sports folks. My only name problems were LOLA (who? If you debut in Space Jam, are you even a real part of the BBU (Bugs Bunny Universe)?) and ELSA (!?!?!?!?!) (47A: Captain von Trapp's betrothed, in "The Sound of Music") and BREES (6D: 2020 N.F.L. retiree who leads all QBs with 123 regular-season games of 300+ passing yards) (a "Drew" in this clue would've really helped; stunning how little an impact his career has left on my sports brain—when FAVRE and BRADY wouldn't fit here, I was out of ideas ... sidenote: weird how many QB names are five letters ... FOUTS ... ELWAY ...). I get Drew BREES confused with ... sigh, OK, one played for the Saints and the other played for the Chargers ... oh *&%^ it's the same guy! BREES was a Charger ('01-'05), then a Saint '(06-'20). Phew, OK ... this is what happens when you decide, after decades of paying attention to sports, that the NFL is no longer for you—all your carefully amassed knowledge just ... melts into a lump.

  • 54D: Fabled slacker (HARE) — this is from the fable "The Tortoise and the HARE"; the puzzle is really leaning into kid's stuff today
  • 42D: "We totally should!" ("YES, LET'S!") — also the term for very small "yeses"
  • 52A: Knight's "trusty" companion (STEED) — imagining the poor STEED sitting over there wondering why you'd ironically quote-unquote his trustiness. "Hey, I see your air quotes, buddy! I'm gonna remember that the next time you're running away (yet again!) from a dragon, or a dwarf, or a garden snake, [mumbles] ungrateful simp..."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*apparently not only have I heard of it, I made it my Word of the Day ... back in 2011 (which is the last time it was clued this way!)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Wallow moodily / TUES 2-27-24 / Oscar winner Mahershala / Machu Picchu resident / "Defend the rights of all people nationwide" org. / :-(

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Hi, everyone! It’s Clare, here for the last Tuesday in February. My wonderful, wonderful Liverpool just won the men’s League Cup (a tournament among the English clubs), and it was glorious. This is the last season for Liverpool with the best manager of all time, Jurgen Klopp, so we’re trying to make sure he goes out with a bang. I’m also getting ready for “The Slam,” when Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz play each other in Vegas in a week. (I’ve certainly seen enough ads for it.) I’m still adjusting to being back from Mexico — after eating my body weight in tacos and drinking my body weight in margaritas.

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

 Nate Cardin

Relative difficulty: A great day for personal bests (I checked to make sure I wasn’t accidentally solving a Monday puzzle)

THEME: Two-word answers where the first word in each answer ends in -INKY 

Theme answers:
  • SLINKY DOG (18A: "Toy Story" dachshund with a springy body) 
  • WINKY FACE (20A: This emoticon: ;-)) 
  • STINKY TOFU (35A: Vegetarian street food known for its distinct smell) 
  • KINKY BOOTS (40A: Tony Award-winning musical with the song "Sex Is in the Heel") 
  • PINKY RING (56A: Little finger adornment) 
  • RINKY DINK (59A: Small-time)
Word of the Day: STINKY TOFU (35A: Vegetarian street food known for its distinct smell) —
Stinky tofu is a Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is usually sold at night markets or roadside stands as a snack, or in lunch bars as a side dish, rather than in restaurants. Traditionally, the dish is fermented in a brine with vegetables and meat, sometimes for months. Modern factory-produced stinky tofu is marinated in brine for one or two days to add odor. According to a Chinese legend, a scholar named Wang Zhihe hailing from Huang Shan in Anhui Province invented stinky tofu during the Qing dynasty. After failing the imperial examination, Wang stayed in Beijing and relied on selling tofu to make a living. One day, having a huge quantity of unsold tofu on his hands, he cut the tofu into small cubes and put them into an earthen jar. The stinky tofu that Wang Zhihe invented gained popularity and was later served at the imperial Qing Dynasty palace. The dish has now become extremely popular in Taiwan. (Wiki)
• • •

I solved this puzzle so quickly that I didn’t have time to either enjoy it or find it annoying. My solve was the epitome of “no thoughts, just vibes.” I suppose it’s impressive to come up with six words that end in -INKY and fit them into a puzzle (when there aren’t that many possible words for this)? And it’s impressive to end the puzzle with two -INK words? But that’s about the best I can do for the theme. The rhyming felt rudimentary, and I was missing some sort of revealer. 

KINKY BOOTS (40A) as a theme answer was at least fun. It’s an absolutely amazing musical (my sister saw it on Broadway and has a picture at the stage door with Billy Porter). RINKY DINK (59A) is also a pleasant phrase — makes me think of “co-inky-dink,” which is an objectively fun thing to say. WAGS (13D: Moves excitedly, like a puppy's tail) crossing SLINKY DOG (18A) was clever, and 6D (:-() and 20A (This emoticon: ;-)) crossed. I also liked ALTRUIST (45A: One with unselfish motivations) and ASYMMETRICAL (10D: Like a dress with a diagonal hemline, say), as they’re words not commonly in puzzles. I actually wore an ASYMMETRICAL skirt to work today, so this was especially fitting for me. The hardest part of the puzzle may have been trying to remember how to spell ASYMMETRICAL

We had a mini theme of musicals in the puzzle with “KINKY BOOTS,” “Mamma MIA,” “It’s Raining MEN” (in the jukebox musical, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), ANNA (of the “Frozen” musical), and AGONY (a song featured in “Into the Woods”). If the shoe FITS could have been a song in “Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella” (yes, I’m reaching). 

PODIA (2D: Speakers' platforms) was maybe the only word that gave me pause. It’s obviously legit, just ugly. I liked seeing the WNBA in the puzzle, but we can probably get a little more creative than the __ Vegas Aces (23A for LAS), which is about the most obvious clue of all time. I really didn’t like the clue/answer for 66A: Top part as HEAD. The answers for 41D (YUCKY), 6D (I’M SAD), and 44A (I’M OK) didn’t thrill me. And having two I’Ms in the puzzle seems odd. In general, the blockiness of the grid meant there were a ton of three-, four-, and five-letter words, none of which did anything for me other than fill space and which contributed to the easiness of the puzzle. 

Overall, the puzzle felt much more like a Monday. It was my fastest Tuesday solve ever, which I suppose counts for something. But there just wasn’t much to it.

  • AGONY (52D: Ecstasy's opposite) is one of the all-time great songs. The actors in videos of stage performances I’ve seen are great. But this version by Chris PINE (56D: Christmas tree, often) and Billy Magnussen is everything to me. I can’t see the word AGONY anymore without immediately wanting to sing it out loud dramatically.  
  • 43D “Wallow moodily” is a perfect clue. 10/10 no notes. 
  • The answer for 43D: SULK crosses USC (46A: Trojans' sch.), which is coincidentally what USC does a lot after they play Cal (obligatory mention for the sake of my sister, who says the initials stand for the University of Spoiled Children) 
  • NADA (11D: Nothing, in Mexico) was fun in the puzzle coming off the trip to Mexico. I was just thinking about it, though, and I’m not sure that I said NADA once while I was there, and I spoke a decent amount of Spanish. (Don’t ask anyone how my accent is, though…)
  • As long as you insist, here is a clip from Liverpool winning the trophy:)
And that’s all from me! Have a great leap day, and I’ll see ya in March. 

Signed, Clare Carroll, off to take a DRINKY DRINK of my chai

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Old coin in France / MON 2-26-24 / Greeting that originated on the Indian subcontinent / Extra-attentive coddling, for short / "Definitely husband material!"

Monday, February 26, 2024

Constructor: Joe Marquez

Relative difficulty: Medium (solved Downs-only)

THEME: "DRINKS ON ME!" (59A: "I'm paying for this round" ... or a literal hint to this puzzle's theme) — three different drinks (found in shaded squares inside longer answers) are each found atop the letters "ME" (found in circled squares):

Theme answers:
  • RIVER MOUTH (17A: Where silt builds up to create a delta) / RCA DOME (20A: Former stadium for the Indianapolis Colts)
  • TWIN-ENGINE (28A: Like many small, powerful airplanes) / BLAME (34A: Culpability)
  • "HE'S A KEEPER" (46A: "Definitely husband material!") / MELTS (49A: Oven-warmed sandwiches)
Word of the Day: NAMASTE (42D: Greeting that originated on the Indian subcontinent) —
Namaste (/ˈnʌməst/, Devanagari: नमस्ते), sometimes called namaskar and namaskaram, is a customary Hindu manner of respectfully greeting and honouring a person or group, used at any time of day. It is used in the Indian subcontinent, and among the Indian and Nepalese diasporaNamaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called añjali mudrā; the standing posture incorporating it is pranamasana. [...] The gesture of folding hands during a namaste is called the Añjali Mudrā. In addition to namaste, this mudrais one of the postures found in Indian classical dance such as Bharatanatyam, and in yoga practice. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this one was dead in the water for two reasons. The first, smaller reason is that "DRINKS ARE ON ME." That is the phrase. That is what you say, formally or informally. That is the complete sentence, and since the clue is a complete sentence—but more importantly because it's what you actually say—the answer should be "DRINKS ARE ON ME." Also, sidenote, if it was a "next round" situation, you wouldn't say "DRINKS (ARE) ON ME" at all, since the last ones weren't, and the next ones won't be. You'd just say something like "I got this round." Sigh. OK, so there's that. But the bigger issue, for me, the drinker, is that ... these are all wines. These aren't "drinks," they're a subcategory of "drinks," specifically wines. If you're going to do a "DRINKS (ARE) ON ME" theme, then mix your drinks up, for god's ... sake (!). Give me a BEER or a GIN or a SOJU or something! Yes, SAKE is rice wine, not grape wine, but ... bah, WINE is so weak as a "drink" here, given that the other two answers Are Also Wines. There's just not enough breadth to the drinks menu. Extremely disappointing. The whole "on ME" part of this theme is kind of cute, but ... make it "DRINKS ARE ON ME" and then lose the "VERMOUTH" answers and get yourself a drink from a different drink family. Something *not* "WINE," preferably. Those changes would've made this theme much more tolerable.

As a Downs-only solve, this one gave me a little resistance, but nothing I couldn't work through, eventually. The longer Downs all came relatively easily, and since those answers are often the killers in a Downs-only situation, I felt lucky. But I ended up having a little trouble with a couple of short side-by-side answers in fairly sequestered parts of the grid, specifically the answers that turned out to be AGOG / HOSE and LAUGH / ANGLE. I wanted EWER (!) for HOSE (13D: Alternative to a watering can), which tells you exactly how long I've been doing crosswords (A: too long). I also kinda wanted RAPT before AGOG (does anyone ever really want AGOG?) (12D: Breathless with excitement). As for the LAUGH / ANGLE part, I had to wait until I got the "HE" part of "HE'S A KEEPER" before I was able to get any purchase on either of them. I kinda wanted LAUGH, but was not at all sure (26D: Ha-ha-ha) ... until the "H" confirmed it. As for ANGLE, that was just hard without help from crosses (27D: Hidden motive). But with "HE" and then LAUGH, it wasn't too tough to pick up ANGLE. Since I know NAMASTE primarily as the word you frequently say at the close of yoga practice, the clue didn't help me too much at first (42D: Greeting that originated on the Indian subcontinent), but the SAKE / "ME" bit, plus SAFARI, gave me enough letters to get there. Only other issues were minor two-letter missteps: ECU for SOU (one of the crosswordesiest kealoas* you're ever likely to encounter) (7D: Old coin in France), and then BROKER (?) for BANKER (34D: Loan officer, e.g.).

"I KID YOU NOT!" is a fantastic bit of flair, liked it a lot (30D: "No joke!"). And as a standalone answer, I think "HE'S A KEEPER!" is pretty great as well. I wish there'd been more to love. And I love drinks! This theme should've worked on me! Ah well. Maybe next time. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = a pair of words (normally short, common answers) that can be clued identically and that share at least one letter in common (in the same position). These are answers you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable, Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

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Mathematician Noether / SUN 2-25-24 / Ancient Greek area north of Thessaly / Color-blending technique / Slathered in sauce, in restaurant-speak / Knocking onomatopoeia / Natural decorations on some bookshelves / Home of the 123-story Lotte World Tower / Sorry ass?

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Constructor: Scott Hogan and Katie Hale

Relative difficulty: Very very easy

THEME: "Special Treatment" — familiar phrases imagined as health care puns :(

Theme answers:
  • 22A: I visited the cardiologist, who ... DIDN'T MISS A BEAT
  • 31A: I visited the dermatologist, who ... MADE A RASH DECISION
  • 47A: I visited a dentist and now I ... KNOW THE DRILL
  • 69A: I visited the anesthesiologist and now I've ... LOST MY TOUCH
  • 89A: I visited a sleep specialist, who ... GAVE ME THE NOD
  • 105A: I visited the radiologist, who ... SAW RIGHT THROUGH ME
  • 120A: I visited the podiatrist and now I ... STAND CORRECTED
Word of the Day: EMMY Noether (130A: Mathematician Noether) —
Amalie Emmy Noether (US/ˈnʌtər/UK/ˈnɜːtə/German: [ˈnøːtɐ]; 23 March 1882 – 14 April 1935) was a German mathematician who made many important contributions to abstract algebra. She proved Noether's first and second theorems, which are fundamental in mathematical physics. She was described by Pavel AlexandrovAlbert EinsteinJean DieudonnéHermann Weyl and Norbert Wiener as the most important woman in the history of mathematics. As one of the leading mathematicians of her time, she developed theories of ringsfields, and algebras. In physics, Noether's theorem explains the connection between symmetry and conservation laws. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this is so painfully corny. Why do people keep making these? I guess because Will keeps taking them. I absolutely Do Not Get It. These long pun stories, they're a time-honored tradition, but they seem like the biggest cop-out. Just a huge non-theme. Ordinary phrases linked by only the most preposterous imagined scenarios, which turn the ordinary phrases into puns of some kind. And the puns aren't even groaners. They're either completely weak (i.e. obvious), like DIDN'T MISS A BEAT, or they are borderline inscrutable, like GAVE ME THE NOD (are we calling sleep "THE NOD" now?), or they are completely made up—nobody but nobody ever "visited the anesthesiologist." That is not a doctor that you go to. That is a doctor that attends surgeries. I've only ever seen anesthesiologists at my actual damn procedures. I never "visited the anesthesiologist." And what, just to get some numbing drugs? What the hell? That makes no kind of sense. Plus, the idea that anesthesiologists make you lose "your touch," what? You go under. That is losing a lot more than your "touch." Then there's the fact that the themers change tense, and veer back and forth between the doctor doing things and the patient doing things. It's a mess. An old-fashioned, unambitious, uninspired mess. Completely baffling. 

And there's not nearly enough longer / interesting fill to make up for the cornball theme. In fact, there's hardly any. I'm looking around for literally any answer I was happy to see, and I can't find any. "YOU GAME?" OK, yes, that's pretty good; that, I approve. That's got something. But the rest of it ... it's not bad, but at best it's just ... there. Taking up space. The theme is all there is today, and the theme ... well, if it's your cup of tea, god bless you. I envy you. I was just hurrying through this thing, grateful that it was easy (so I could be done with it quickly). 

I don't know who this JENNA is (30A: Partner of Hoda on "Today") and I had trouble remembering and then spelling Linda COHN (started with COEN) (93D: "SportsCenter" anchor Linda), but other than that the only trouble I had with this puzzle came entirely in and around the worst of the themers: GAVE ME THE NOD (again, ?!?!?!). I'm on various social medias, and I don't really know what ADD is (86D: Button on social media). I "Like" you or I "Follow" you or I "Friend" you, maybe. ADD is ... weak and generic. So it didn't occur to me. The clue on WIENERS is actually really good (66D: Pack of dogs?) (i.e. hot dogs), but it was hard, and crossed the dumb themer I couldn't get, so it made that section harder. I don't know anyone who decorates their shelves with GEODES, so that was nowhere near the front of my mind as an answer for 77A: Natural decorations on some bookshelves. And for some reason [Have over] was a tough clue for HOST (for me). Oh, and the "GAME" part of "YOU GAME?" wasn't readily apparent to me either (59D: "We doin' this?"). So all along the length of GAVE ME THE NOD, I had issues. Elsewhere, zero issues. None. No resistance. Comically easy.

  • 1A: Favors (ASKS) — "Favors" here is a noun
  • 5A: Slathered in sauce, in restaurant-speak (WET) — I feel like this is specifically burrito-speak. Are there other speaks that apply?
  • 57A: Sorry ass? (EEYORE) — I kinda like this clue. He is a sorry ass. I don't so much like that "ass" is also a crucial component of another clue in the puzzle (110A: Rude ... or, without its first two letters, rude person (CRASS)). Feels like a dupe, even though "ass" doesn't technically appear a second time.
  • 96A: Professional who works a lot (VALET) — so, a car lot.
  • 37D: Behaved like the lion in Oz (
    COWERED) — I guess he does that. Some part of me doesn't like this answer because he's the "cowardly" lion, and ... COWERED is a homophone of "coward," which actually fits the lion better ... I dunno. It's legit, but it's rubbing me the wrong way. Like ... wrong "coward," man.
  • 67D: Man's name that becomes a distance if you move the first letter to the end (EMIL) — I am usually so bad at these "when you move a letter"-type clues, but damned if I didn't nail this one right out of the box. 
  • 95D: Knocking onomatopoeia (RAT-A-TAT) — got this off the "R," which isn't that impressive. I think I would've gotten it even without the "R"—it's the only "knocking onomatopoeia" I can think of.
  • 101D: Ancient Greek area north of Thessaly (THRACE) — I am aware of lots of ancient Greek names without being (very) aware of where any of them go on a map. Still, I was happy to piece this one together quickly.
  • 103D: Color-blending technique (OMBRÉ) — this is a hair-coloring technique, as I understand it. Where the hair shades from one color into another, often getting lighter toward the tips. I first learned of OMBRE (in crosswords) as an old-timey card game, like Euchre or Whist, whatever those are (I learned them from crosswords too, I think ... or else from the poetry of Alexander Pope, I forget ... yep, sure enough, they play OMBRE in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock"; weird the things you (kinda sorta) remember from sophomore-year British Literature).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Pink-headed mushroom in Mario games / SAT 2-24-24 / Hybrid fruit akin to an aprium / Sight on a Hawaiian lava flow / Cousin of a mariposa lily / Period before sunset with ideal lighting for photography / Perfume named after a pop star / The cab's here! / Its influences include the Cuban mambo and Jamaican mento / Basketball player's cry while being fouled on the shot

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Constructor: Rebecca Goldstein and Rafael Musa

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ANAIS Mitchell (64A: Tony and Grammy winner Mitchell) —

[Bonny Light Horseman (2020)]
Anaïs Mitchell (/əˈn.ɪs/; born March 26, 1981) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and playwright. Mitchell has released eight studio albums, including Hadestown (2010), Young Man in America (2012), Child Ballads (2013), and Anaïs Mitchell (2022).

She developed her album Hadestown into a stage musical (together with director Rachel Chavkin), which received its US debut at New York Theatre Workshop in summer 2016, and its Canadian debut at the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton the following year. The show opened at London's National Theatre in November 2018 and then on Broadway on April 17, 2019, at the Walter Kerr Theatre. The Broadway production of Hadestown won eight Tony Awards in 2019 including the Tony Award for Best Musical. Mitchell received the Tony Award for Best Original Score; she was also nominated for Best Book of a Musical. The Broadway cast album of the show took home the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2020. Mitchell's first book, Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown, was published by Plume Books on October 6, 2020. Mitchell was included in Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Mitchell is a member of the band Bonny Light Horseman, whose self-titled debut was released in 2020. The band's second album, "Golden Rolling Holy", was released in 2022. (wikipedia)

• • •

Once again, I find my beloved Friday puzzle running on a Saturday. Better late than never! This was breezy and bright and loaded with pop and fizz, and with the exception of TOADETTE (!?) felt broadly accessible. Deep cuts from the Greater Mario Universe feel extremely generationally exclusionary, but as long as the crosses are fair (they are), and as long as the puzzle isn't drowning in proper nouns of a similar nature, then whatever, it's Saturday, you can deal. I can deal. I did deal. Sometimes, if you are older and you squawk about gaming terms or YouTubers or whatever, younger solvers retort (!) that "well if I have to know all these older names, then it's only fair blah blah blah" but the difference is, TOSCA (say) or Bjorn BORG is not a niche name, not a name that only aficionados / players / fans would know. It's not like I'm a damn opera fan—I know TOSCA from doing crosswords, not from being Gen X. And BORG (who will be an unknown to many younger solvers) was just ... on the planet playing TENNIS when I was alive. These "old" names aren't being set forth as generational markers, as some kind of old-signaling. They're there because they fit in the grid, and are legitimately broadly famous (even if BORG's fame has mayb faded slightly). Whereas TOADETTE is an absolutely intentional "look at this millennial/GenZ answer I managed to put in the grid!" Which is fine ... in highly limited amounts. Annnnyway, all constructors should be careful with names At All Times, and puzzles should be broadly inviting to all demographics. And I think this one is. Truth be told, I actually kinda like TOADETTE. Makes me slightly happy that younger (than me) people are making puzzles that have their own vibe and that include some things that don't interest me at all. Makes me happy for the state of puzzling. Just give us olds a chance, is all I'm saying... (TOADETTE made her debut in 2003, I'm told, in something called Mario Kart: Double Dash (!?), so she's getting on in years herself)

There were other fairly contemporary names in the puzzle as well, but these were mostly recognizable as normal human names (LARA, ANAIS, NANCY). Then there's actor John CENA, whom you should just commit to memory, just like actor Michael CERA, who doesn't appear today, but will appear again, someday (it's hilarious that I confuse these two, because if you saw them side by side ... they do not seem confusable). But the lovely thing about this puzzle is that the non-TOADETTE names in this puzzle are actually short and few in number. What shines forth is the marquee stuff, which is what marquees are supposed to do: shine. GOLDEN HOUR! Literally shining! RUNS POINT, "OH GOD, YES!," RENT STRIKE—all strong. My favorite answer of the day, though, is "I HATE TO ASK..." which I had as "I HAVE TO ASK..." until (completely ironically) TOADETTE came to the rescue! (I didn't know TOADETTE, but figured TOADEVTE had to be wrong). 

The puzzle is fun in part because it's drawing from so many cultural spheres, and seems to take a real delight in language. From the two funky portmanteaus (PLUOT, TIGONS) to the "go to waste" wordplay in the COMPOST BIN clue (62A: What may go to waste? No! What waste may go to), to some of the clever short clues (22A: The cab is here!, or 50D: Who says?), this puzzle had a playful energy that I really liked. It also has a relatively wide-open and flowing grid, which allowed for a lot of zoom-zooming and not a lot of stuck slogging in dreary sequestered corners. Plus, it had colloquial sass: "AW, GEE!" "COME NOW" ... it has the pronoun "I" in it three times, but I ... yeah, I'm pretty sure I don't care. Put as many "I"s in your grid as you want, I won't stop you.

  • 2D: State (AVOW) — classic kealoa*. I was definitely Team AVER today.
  • 41A: Love scene? (TENNIS) — "Love" is just a possible TENNIS score, so the "scene" where such a "love" is found ... is TENNIS.
  • 10A: Perfume named after a pop star (RIRI) — this is Rihanna 
  • 22A: The cab's here! (NAPA) — wanted CURB. Wrong kind of cab! ("cab" here = "cabernet")
  • 4D: Basketball player's cry while being fouled on the shot ("AND ONE!") — only if they make the shot. If you're fouled on the shot, it's one free throw if you made the shot, two if you missed it (assuming it's not a three-point shot, in which case you get three free throws).
  • 36A: Historic husband of Claudia Octavia (NERO) — "Historic husband" is awkward. Like ... he was historically great at being a husband? Or ... he just ... existed ... in history? You can lose "Historic" and the clue works Just Fine.
  • 8D: Hybrid fruit akin to an aprium (PLUOT) — I thought the word was PLUCOT, but hybrids (and their names) have apparently run amok, so PLUOT and PLUCOT are both things, but somehow ... different. I saw one of these hybrids in the grid several years ago and was like "WTF is that?" and then went to Wegmans and found out WTF that was, namely, delicious.
  • 21D: Person who's left, for short? (DEM) — Lotta leftists I know are shaking their heads at this one, but yeah, OK, generally, Democrats are left of center (wherever that is) on the political spectrum.
  • 46A: Made a sound with a flute (CLINKED) — the "flute" is a champagne glass.
  • 50D: Who says? (SIMON) — Who says? SIMON Says. Per the game of the same name
  • 35D: Adjective that, when its lone vowel is doubled, becomes an advocacy organization (GLAD) — the advocacy org. is GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). I once (long ago, in the twentieth century) wrote an article about Braveheart and the widely divergent responses it occasioned from two organizations in particular—the SNP (Scottish National Party) on the one hand, and GLAAD on the other. And ... yeah, that is the story of how I know GLAAD and what it stands for. Good day!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. just noticed the ONE dupe (AND ONE / ONES). Not ideal. But they’re on opposite sides of the grid, and I didn’t notice at first, so not a catastrophic misstep 

*kealoa = a pair of words (normally short, common answers) that can be clued identically and that share at least one letter in common (in the same position). These are answers you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable, Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc. 

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