Sound unit found in many Asian languages / SUN 3-31-24 / Final phase of a video game, perhaps / Toy brand for a budding engineer, maybe / With "the," a sudden flip from attraction to disgust, in modern parlance / Its water is nearly 10 times saltier than ocean water / Police captain in "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" / Sibilant summons

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Constructor: Spencer Leach

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Turns of Phrase" — familiar phrases (following a "___ THE ___" pattern) have their first and last parts switched *and* (most of the time?) changed to homophones, creating ... yes, wackiness:

Theme answers:
  • ALARM THE RAYS (22A: Spook some creatures in an aquarium's tank?)
  • DAZE THE COUNT (33A: Deliver a blow to Dracula?)
  • CITES THE SEE (47A: References a Vatican Library source?)
  • SCREWS THE TITANS (60A: Referees a Tennessee football game poorly?)
  • HONOR THE DEW (79A: Write an ode to a caffeinated soda?)
  • HEAT THE BEETS (90A: Start preparing borscht?)
  • PRESS THE MEAT (104A: Make smash burgers?)
Word of the Day: TONEME (84A: Sound unit found in many Asian languages) —
phoneme in a language that uses different tones for different meanings. (wiktionary) //  [PHONEME: "any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat." (google / Oxford languages)]

• • •

For a puzzle that seems to want desperately for you to see it as youthful (the Taylor Swift lyrics and the YEETing and whatever that clue on ICK is, etc.), the theme is remarkably basic and corny and last-century. The puns are sometimes funny, sometimes not, mostly ho-hum, definitely old-fashioned. It's not showing anything terribly inventive or interesting, and if you look too hard at the theme, it starts to unravel a bit. I mean, you have to understand the parameters very loosely. It's really just a sound change thing. Sometimes the spellings of words change, sometimes they don't, sometimes the meanings change drastically, sometimes you just change a noun into its related verb (i.e HEAT into HEAT). You always change the spelling of the last word (except with SEE ... and COUNT ... where just the meanings are changed), but you never change the spelling of the first word (except with DAZE ... and CITES ...). It all works best if you don't really look at the grid, but just *say* the new ("turned") phrase: "raise the alarm" => "ALARM THE RAYS." Perfect. Textbook wackiness of the aural kind. Taken at that level, the themers all work ... except HONOR THE DEW—the phrase is not "do the honor," but "do the honors," plural. You might "do someone the honor of" something, but as a standalone phrase (which is what we're doing here), it's "do the honors." HONORS THE DEW would've worked perfectly ... but it's HONOR THE DEW because that's what fit in the allotted grid space. Symmetry is a harsh mistress, it's true, but if the *correct* version of your themer doesn't fit, it doesn't fit, and you should find something else. Of course the grid could've been built with CITES THE SEES (plural) and HONORS THE DEW as a symmetrical pair. But it wasn't. If this puzzle were full of wonder and delight and genuine humor, I wouldn't be noticing this relatively trivial defect. But the theme is just OK, so I notice. Greatness excuses unevenness. Without greatness, though ... leeway retracted.

"THE ARCHER" peaked at #38, but I guess charts don't matter anymore, we're all just supposed to know the whole Swift catalogue by heart (6D: Taylor Swift song that begins "Combat. I'm ready for combat"). God bless her and her fans, but come on. I mean, she's a Sagittarius, awesome, me too, but ... at least give me a clue that has *something* to do with bows and arrows. "Combat. I'm ready for combat" only suggests bows and arrows if you're living in medieval times. I wanted "THE something something WAR" or "THE ARMOUR" (British sp.??). Had to get through CLOROX, with its awful pandemic profiteering clue, to finally figure out "THE ARCHER." Other things about which I had no or little clue: BETTA (I had TETRA) (LOL if BETTA is "common" why is it debuting in the NYTXW only *today*?); and TONEME, yeeeeeesh, that one, crossing KNEX (not LEGO) (74D: Toy brand for a budding engineer, maybe), was rufffff. The very last letter I put in the grid was that "E." TONEME, also a debut. I'm not sure "congratulations" are really in order for either of these debuts. THNEEDVILLE (also a debut) at least has the virtue of being huge and bold. I never read "The Lorax" as a child (I learned to read from the Dr. Seuss dictionary, but my Dr. Seuss story education didn't go any farther than "One Fish, Two Fish" and "Green Eggs and Ham" (absolute staples)). Still, I must've picked up enough "Lorax" lore over the years that eventually THNEEDVILLE came to me. A big goofy answer that has broad demographic appeal—that's something I can get behind. 

Hard stuff (for me) included ARSE ([Git] really reads like a countrified "Get out of here, animal or child or other nuisance!"—as opposed to what it is here: British for "foolish or worthless person") and AULI'I Cravalho (commit that name to memory because she is young and full of vowels and she is working, most recently in the 2024 remake of Mean Girls). Weak stuff included HBO SHOW (just... "show?") and "IT'S A ZOO" (really wants an "in there" or "out there" to be fully viable) (10D: Comment from someone exiting the mall on Black Friday). Clue on TOOK was tortured (113A: Jumped over, as a checkers piece)—"as a ___" implies that it's just one example, but "Jumped over" is *the only* example for this meaning of TOOK, so the clue is kind of lying to you. The long Downs in the NE and SW are quite good, and "HELL YEAH!" is welcome whenever wherever. Great energy. "HANG IN THERE" and "NO ME GUSTA," also praiseworthy. And I enjoy both PISSARRO and HOT DATES, so the grid is not without its pleasures, for sure. Most of these pleasures were non-thematic, though, which is kind of an issue on a Sunday, when there's just So Much Theme.

Speaking of pleasures, here are my Puzzles of the Month for March 2024 (two themed, one themeless):

March 2024 Puzzles of the Month:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tackle item hung from floaters / SAT 3-30-24 / Paradoxical line of amazement / Two-character Mamet play / ___ Records, onetime label for the Kinks and Petula Clark / Hanky, slangily

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Constructor: Blake Slonecker

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GILL NET (1A: Tackle item hung from floaters) —

[The Salmon Fisher, Eilif Peterssen (1889)]

Gillnetting is a fishing method that uses gillnets: vertical panels of netting that hang from a line with regularly spaced floaters that hold the line on the surface of the water. The floats are sometimes called "corks" and the line with corks is generally referred to as a "cork line." The line along the bottom of the panels is generally weighted. Traditionally this line has been weighted with lead and may be referred to as "lead line." A gillnet is normally set in a straight line. Gillnets can be characterized by mesh size, as well as colour and type of filament from which they are made. Fish may be caught by gillnets in three ways:

  1. Wedged – held by the mesh around the body.
  2. Gilled – held by mesh slipping behind the opercula.
  3. Tangled – held by teeth, spines, maxillaries, or other protrusions without the body penetrating the mesh.

Most fish have gills. A fish swims into a net and passes only part way through the mesh. When it struggles to free itself, the twine slips behind the gill cover and prevents escape.

Gillnets are so effective that their use is closely monitored and regulated by fisheries management and enforcement agencies. Mesh size, twine strength, as well as net length and depth are all closely regulated to reduce bycatch of non-target species. (wikipedia)

• • •

Well this was hard, which is what a Saturday should be, but again I cannot say that it was particularly fun. GILL NET was probably the most unfun thing in the puzzle, and it was the first (and last) thing I encountered. There are certain words, like GILL NET, and to a lesser extent CORN PIT, that make me wish constructors curated their wordlists better. I don't know why you would ever want something as ... let's say, niche ... as GILL NET at your 1-Across position. Following that up with CRAPPER, well ... that sets a tone, for sure (see also NOSE RAG, yeesh). There was lots of clever cluing in this puzzle, and some of it worked well, but the grid itself is just OK. As with yesterday's puzzle, not nearly enough marquee answers for my taste. Unlike yesterday's puzzle, though, this one is absolutely choked with proper-noun trivia. I found this puzzle difficult and I knew almost all the trivia stuff. Can't imagine what it would've been like if it was beyond your ken (as GILL NET was beyond mine—the only thing in the grid that was). I wrote in OLEANNA like "oof, do people still know that?" (59A: Two-character Mamet play). And right next to that, TIM REID (great actor, but possibly obscure to younger solvers) (58A: Actor who played DJ Venus Flytrap on "WKRP in Cincinnati"). A thirty-year-old tennis comeback down there too (48D: Tennis star with a famed 1995 comeback), and a bygone record label (53A: ___ Records, onetime label for the Kinks and Petula Clark), and two financial services names (fun!) (sarcasm!). I knew all these names, and maybe you did too, so maybe there's no problem. But it felt like A Lot. 

The joy (as often happens) came from the longer answers, which managed to stay hidden from me for a while. Really tough to bring down. Shot 'em full of crosses and they still wouldn't fall, but when they finally did, they were all satisfying. The hardest one really gave me a "D'oh!" feeling when I finally got it. I was, of course, reading the "Patient" (and thus the "check-ins") in 32A: Patient check-ins all wrong. "Patient" turns out to be an adjective, not a noun, and the medical context is absolutely phantasmic. I had REMINDERS and still no clue. "Appointment REMINDERS? Take-your-pill REMINDERS? What the hell fits in 6 letters!?" Plus, one of the GENTLE crosses, 33D: Stripling, could've been LAD or TAD ("a small child, esp. a boy"—, so yeah, GENTLE was tough to come up with (esp. since I was getting no help from the largely empty NW (aka the GILL NET corner). But the clue works. The misdirection works. You got me, and I'm not mad, which is always the goal. Mad at GILL NET and the CRAPPER (worst buddy pic of all time), not mad at GENTLE REMINDERS at all. CHRISTMAS SEASON also had some nice misdirection (it's when "the lights" go outside, not when the lights are extinguished) (8D: When the lights go out?). And while "THERE ARE NO WORDS" didn't have any tricky misdirection in its clue (7D: Paradoxical line of amazement), the clue was still interesting (kind of funny), and hard. So the bones of this puzzle are strong, at least.

Lots of things to explain today so ... let's start explaining (best we can)

Explainers (and gripes and highlights):
  • 16A: Stanley Cup edge (HOME ICE) — "Edge" here means "advantage"; when you play at home, as opposed to away, you (presumably) have the "edge."
  • 20A: With 22-Across, pricey import (FOREIGN / CAR) — this didn't track. What is a FOREIGN CAR, anyway? I always thought Honda and Toyota were "foreign" (i.e. Japanese), but they're not "pricey." Does the actual manufacture have to take place abroad to qualify? Even looking up "FOREIGN CAR" isn't that much help. People can't seem to agree what the term means with any precision.
  • 25A: Kennedy center? (ENS) — the "letteral" clue strikes again! (these are the letters, the "n"s (ENS) at the "center" of "Kennedy")
  • 26A: Verb that becomes a five-letter alphabet run if you change its middle letter (ABIDE) — this is so dumb that I kind of like it. Anyway, it was a gimme (I had the "B" from BAD SPOT and could infer all the other letters from the clue)
  • 35A: Means of excellence? (A AVERAGES) — "Means" = mathematical term, equivalent to ... "averages"
  • 44A: +/- (OR SO) — gotta say it out loud ("plus or minus") for it to really register
  • 60A: Name in 2008 Wall Street news (STEARNS) — Ah, the global recession and subprime mortgage crisis. Who doesn't love remembering that? (this one was a vibe-killer, the GILL NET of the southern half of this grid)
  • 3D: Where the Cedar Revolution took place (LEBANON) — the one answer that I had sitting comfortably in the NW after my first pass. At some point I learned that that's a cedar tree on LEBANON’s flag, and never forgot it.
  • 34D: Grp. concerned with digital learning (NEA) — really really thought there was going to be a "digital" misdirect here (i.e. that the answer would have to do with fingers ... maybe something to do with braille, sign language, I dunno ...), but no. Just ... e-learning in general (NEA stands for National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country). Kinda boring. But NEA is boring fill, so who cares? Moving on.
  • 52D: Big blow (GALE) — saw right through this one, i.e. knew it was going to be wind-related and not impact-related. Had the "G" and wrote in .... GUST :(
  • 5D: Simple souls (NAIFS) — and we're back to GILL NET. Again. I had the answer here as WAIFS, which isn't a particularly good answer for this clue, but unlike NAIFS, it's a word humans actually use. NAIFS, esp. in the plural, looks insane. Almost as insane as seeing PISCINE clued as anything but a French swimming pool (12D: Like some schools = schools of fish; in English, PISCINE just means "of or related to fish").
  • 15A: Instruction to trick-or-treaters (ONE EACH) — the NW corner strikes again. I had "TAKE ONE" here. "ONE EACH" sounds brusque and, when facing excited little children dressed in ridiculous costumes, kind of dickish. Don't be so miserly. Or just put the candy in the kid's bag yourself if you need to be so controlling. 
  • 1D: Wood source (GOLF BAG) — A "wood" is a variety of golf club. Woods and irons (drivers putters and wedges too, or so I'm told, I'm allergic to everything about golf that isn't miniature)
See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hunks of plastic? / FRI 3-29-24 / Enlightened Buddhist / Sweet message bearer / Emoji that might be used in response to a funny text / One of the Minecraft protagonists / Computer acronym since the 1960s / Question asked while tapping

Friday, March 29, 2024

Constructor: Jake Bunch

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ARHAT (2D: Enlightened Buddhist) —


In Buddhism, an arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत्) or arahant (Pali: अरहन्त्, 𑀅𑀭𑀳𑀦𑁆𑀢𑁆) is one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved Nirvana  and liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth. [...] Mahayana Buddhism regarded a group of Eighteen Arhats (with names and personalities) as awaiting the return of the Buddha as Maitreya, while other groupings of 6, 8, 16, 100, and 500 also appear in tradition and Buddhist art, especially in East Asia called luohan or lohan. They may be seen as the Buddhist equivalents of the Christian saint, apostles or early disciples and leaders of the faith. (wikipedia)
• • •

We've entered the Age of ARHAT, I guess. This is the dawning of the Age of ARHAT. Age of ARHAT. Honestly had to stop and take a deep breath after writing in ARHAT for the second day in a row (!?!?). Six years since that word's appeared at all, and now we've got it on back-to-back days!? And today, it was the first answer I confidently wrote in, so the initial impression this puzzle made on me was far from favorable. ARHAT next to (not ASAP but) STAT, crossing PASSER, crossing (not NONET but) OCTET—that's two unrewardingly ambiguous short answers + ARHAT. Not exactly a winning opening number. Luckily, things improved. The marquee answers are solid (all the long Acrosses, I mean), but there aren't enough of them, so what you get as your primary experience is a lot of shorter and midrange stuff, which the puzzle tries to make interesting with a lot of try-hard cluing, especially cluing that tried to force a younger / pop culture profile on the whole thing. See clues on SKULL (9D: Emoji that might be used in response to a funny text)*, GOT ("Game of Thrones"), and especially STEVE, dear lord, what!? I thought you just built stuff in Minecraft, I didn't know there were "protagonists." Billions of STEVEs in the world (give or take) and this is what you give me? Could be any guy's name. FRANK. PEDRO. BILLY. Why not? No way I'm gonna know, no way I'm (ever) gonna care. In general, I think it's "good to learn things," but Minecraft, LOL, no. I know it exists. That's enough. On the other hand, the clue on KENS was outstanding (26A: Hunks of plastic?) ("hunks" as in "handsome / fit guys")—the best thing in the puzzle. Weirdly tough and then ... bam. Perfect. Big "aha," instead of [blank stare] or "ugh" or "oh ... [eyeroll]." Reminds me of a video I've watched several times this week—David Ehrlich's "Top 25 Movies of 2023," which is basically a giant music-video-style tour through all of his favorite films from last year. I actually saw 13 of his 25, so there were lots of good movie memories in there for me, but whether you've seen the movies or not, this is highly entertaining (and occasionally very funny) (trigger warning: prepare to have Celine Dion stuck in your head for days):
Judging from where the blue ink is on my printed-out puzzle (I really need to get new green felt-tips...), looks like the bottom of the puzzle was much easier for me than the rest of it, but overall, and even down below, I had lots and lots (and lots) of initially wrong answers. WHIM before WANT (48D: Fancy). WAVED TO and WAVED AT before (ugh) WAVED HI (35D: Greeted someone across the room). The aforementioned ASAP before STAT (3D: "Don't delay!") and NONET before OCTET (18A: Large combo). HYPOS before KILOS (26D: Contents of a drug shipment). TIED UP before TOSS-UP (15D: Anyone's game)*. BARK AT before TALK AT (?!) (15A: Lecture). Hardest thing to parse, by far, was FELT UP TO (12D: Was ready for). "Was ready for" gets nowhere near the context implied by a phrase by FELT UP TO, which suggests you've been ailing in one way or another. It's not an inaccurate clue, but it's vague in the extreme. FELT UP TO was always going to be hard to parse, and the overly general clue just made it harder. The CANNIBALS joke didn't land because of the "you" (me?) part of it (13D: Ones who might roast you). None of us, literally zero solvers, will ever be roasted by CANNIBALS, so please stop. I get that you're trying to be funny, and that you wanted me to think of a comedy roast (mission accomplished), but the "you" takes this into preposterous territory. The cluing today ... sometimes it lands (KENS!) but too often you can feel the *effort*, which rarely leads to anything genuinely funny. 

I don't even know what [Drag racer?] is getting at. Because you ... drag your SLED up the hill? [I’m told this is supposed to refer to dog sledding. As with most things, this clue needs more dog-specific content] And [Place for bucks at the bar?]?? I understand the answer (a MECHANICAL BULL bucks and you might find one at some (Texas?) bar), but I don't know what the surface meaning of the clue was supposed to refer to. What wordplay or pun is that? Are "bucks" one dollar bills. Am I supposed to think of a cash register till? The "?" clue on SUN, on the other hand, makes sense (4D: High light?). It's playing on the term "highlight," but it's giving you a light that is actually high (in the sky). [Hunks of plastic?] also works, in that I know what actual "hunks of plastic" are ... but then "hunks" ends up having a different / unexpected meaning. Real hit-and-miss "?" action today.

ONLSD is somehow worse than ONPOT, largely because if you absolutely have to use the prepositional phrase, the only one that seems standalone valid is ONACID (20D: Tripping). Otherwise, you just open up the floodgate for any drug phrase: ONUPPERS, ONLUDES, ONSPEED, ONBENZOS, ONCOKE (can you tell I only know about drugs from '70s crime films?) ONSHROOMS, ONMDMA etc. ON ACID at least has some standalone currency. Unlike ONLSD. Or GON. I have nothing to say ONGON except I wish it were gone. In short, the thin stacks of long answers up top and down below work just fine (52A: Question asked while tapping ("IS THIS THING ON?"), in particular, is excellent), but there needs to be like twice this much marquee fill, and the rest of the grid, while mostly very reasonably filled, was clued in a way that too frequently felt off (off my wavelength or just off the mark). 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*I feel like the phrase "anyone's game" is mostly used adjectivally, roughly synonymous with "too close to call," so the noun "TOSS-UP" didn't quite track for me, though I see how it's defensible.

P.S. how in the world is this the top result when I search "STEVE" on Google???

Who the hell even is that?! (some financial crimes guy featured in The Wolf of Wall Street!?). How much is he paying to be First STEVE? What a degraded piece of junk Google is as a search engine.

P.P.S. OMG if you google [STEVE] (I can't believe this is my life, googling [STEVE]), almost all of the "Images" are Minecraft STEVE!? Just a wall of Minecraft STEVEs, with a smattering of Jobs and Harvey.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

*a SKULL 💀 emoji signifies that your joke was so funny that the listener has (figuratively, hopefully) died


Nirvana achiever / THU 3-28-24 / Shade-tolerant perennial / Dustin's sweetheart on "Stranger Things" / Songwriter Barry who once had six consecutive #1 hits / Iberian greeting

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Constructor: Dominic Grillo

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: POTATO / HEAD (1D: With 58-Down, classic toy that dropped gendered titles in 2021) — circled squares contain the various "body" parts of (formerly Mr. or Mrs.) POTATO HEAD, all positioned in the wrong places because, as the puzzle says, on the toy, those parts are INTERCHANGEABLE (59A: Like the parts of this puzzle's toy, as depicted throughout the grid)

  • SMILE (up top where the HAT should be)
  • NOSE and HAT (are these supposed to be EARs or HANDs, I cannot tell)
  • EAR (I think this is the NOSE's place? Maybe EYES?)
  • EYES (How did they get both EYES to go in the single NOSE hole? Or are the EYES one piece with this toy?)
  • HAND (down below where the SMILE should be ... I think)
Word of the Day: "The Story of ADÈLE H" (57A: "The Story of ___" (1975 film by François Truffaut)) —

The Story of Adèle H. (French: L'Histoire d'Adèle H.) is a 1975 French historical drama film directed by François Truffaut, and starring Isabelle AdjaniBruce Robinson, and Sylvia Marriott. Written by Truffaut, Jean Gruault, and Suzanne Schiffman, the film is about Adèle Hugo, the daughter of writer Victor Hugo, whose obsessive unrequited love for a military officer leads to her downfall. The story is based on Adèle Hugo's diaries. Filming took place on location in Guernsey and Senegal.

20-year-old Isabelle Adjani received much critical acclaim for her performance as Hugo, garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee ever at the time. The Story of Adèle H. also won the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Film, and the Cartagena Film Festival Special Critics Award. (wikipedia)

• • •

I guess it's a joke. The body parts are in the wrong place. Or am I just not looking at it from the right perspective? I don't know. I haven't seen a (Mr.) POTATO HEAD in four decades. I didn't know they still existed (beyond the Toy Story movies). The black squares toward the center form a kind of potato silhouette, and then the circled squares are placed in relation to that. As a piece of grid art, it's inventive. As a puzzle to actually solve, it wasn't really my thing. I've never had much patience for puzzles that are architectural stunts, largely because the solving experience so often seems not to be a consideration, and the fill often seems to suffer (as it does, in many places, today). But my main problem here is I don't think the architectural element is that good. It's sloppy-seeming. I tried (half-heartedly, I'll admit) to figure out what body parts were supposed to go where, and I couldn't figure it out. No idea where the HAND slot is *supposed* to be. Where's the other EAR? The other HAND? Why are there apparently two EYES in (apparently) the NOSE place, a place that wouldn't (would it?) have two holes? (looks like the toy's EYES might actually come in one piece, but in the grid, that is not how they appear). There's an admirable stab at whimsy here, but visually it all seems a bit of a mess. I mean, beyond the intentional mess of mixed-up body parts. The mess is a mess, is what I'm saying.

Segmentation of the grid, particularly the extreme isolation of the center part (with only the narrowest of pathways in), made the puzzle somewhat difficult to travel through, and made that center section way harder than it would've been otherwise. You can only get in there via two answers: SEDIMENTS (which has a "?" clue, which meant that it was initially no help to me) (31A: Bank deposits?) and CHINESE YUAN (48A: Currency once pegged to the U.S. dollar). Luckily I knew the latter. I knew SEDIMENTS was probably something to do with river "banks," but SILT was the only word I had in my head, so I had to work from inside the potato before I got SEDIMENTS. And what do we have inside the potato? The plural of "poetry," LOL, I teach poetry (literally; later today, in fact) and I have never used the plural POETRIES in my life (I'm probably exaggerating, but not by much). If you were going to use it, you certainly wouldn't use it the way the clue has clued it, by reference to what are basically GENRES. [It can be epic or lyric] = POETRY. That would work. [They can be epic or lyric]? Hell no. Maybe (maybe) you might talk about the various POETRIES of the world—using it as a word for various poetic traditions. But mainly it's just poetry, man. No plural needed (or wanted). As for knowing names of poker guys, ugh, I remembered PHIL IVEY with a few crosses, but I can't say I enjoyed it (24D: Winner of 10 World Series of Poker bracelets). There's a dumb spelling game in here (37A: Synonym found after deleting half the letters of EXHILARATE) and a Britishly-spelled MITRE and the wholly underwhelming bonus (?) theme answer OVOID (46A: Shaped like this puzzle's subject). Also, I know PCP only as a drug and have never used that term to refer to my doctor, though I recognize that it's a valid abbr. (for "primary care physician"). So the middle part was the hardest part was the most unpleasant part.

But PHIL IVEY was not the fill that made me wince the most. That honor goes to ADELE H, truly the worst crossword name partial of them all. Let me tell you all the ways it is bad. First, it's a partial. It's not the movie's title—it's a part of the movie's title. It is hyperspecific—there is no other way to clue ADELE H, and no other ADELE H in the universe to help you as an analogy. Like, I might not know a particular TIM or BOB or SUZIE (13A: Dustin's sweetheart on "Stranger Things"), but I can at least recognize those names as names that humans have. ADELE H, not so much. Further—that movie is exceedingly Not famous. It's nearly 50 years old and somehow, though I watch hundreds of movies a year, most of them on the Criterion Channel, and I read lots of writing about film, this film never comes up. It's a 50-year-old minor film by a major director, but (I'm pretty sure) most solvers will not have heard of it (let alone seen it) unless (like me) they learned about it from crosswords. Further, and worst of all, if you're a solver who doesn't know the film, then you don't have any idea that ADELE H is actually two words, or two parts: an ADELE part followed by the initial "H." ADELEH looks like one name in the grid. "Who the hell is ADELEH?" I can almost literally hear thousands of solvers asking in unison today. This is only the fifth time ADELEH has appeared in the NYTXW, and only the third during my blogging tenure (since '06). And all because of a terminal "H" occasioned by the placement of the HEAD in "POTATO HEAD." Stunningly, all appearances of ADELEH come from the Shortz (now Shortz/Fagliano) Era. The 1970s, when this movie at least had some currency, didn't want anything to do with ADELEH a crossword answer, and neither should you. Delete it.

Other stuff:
  • 57D: Pulitzer-winning author whose name is found in nonconsecutive letters of "page turner" (AGEE) — this may be the stupidest clue I've ever seen in my life. "Nonconsecutive?" I hope you wrote in PETE and just left it there in defiance of this stupid clue. 
  • 25D: Deeply asleep, hyperbolically (COMATOSE) — one way to rescue your puzzle from excessive grimness (see also the clue on UZI).
  • 38A: Taiwanese president ___ Ing-wen (TSAI) — really should commit this to memory, but so far no luck. Had THAI here (?!?!) until SIGNAL BOX helped me out.
  • 15A: O-O-O part (TAC) — as in the game Tic-TAC-Toe
  • 45A: "Be mindful when clicking," in brief (NSFW) — Not Suitable For Work. Clue isn't really specific enough, since you should be mindful when clicking in many, many situations, not just when your buddy sends you porn.
Off to teach the POETRIES. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Naval threats, according to an old saying / WED 3-27-24 / Release following the GameCube / T that comes before Y / Characteristic sound of Yoko Ono? / Chum, in Champagne

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Constructor: Rich Katz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Instructions for turning SCREWDRIVERS (54A: Toolbox tools): RIGHTY TIGHTY / LEFTY LOOSEY (19A: With 36-Across, mnemonic device for turning 54-Across ... or a hint to the answers to the starred clues)  — you must mentally supply "tight" on the right side of the grid three times (following, or to the "right" of, three answers), and "loose" on the left side of the grid three times (before, or to the "left" of, three answers)

Theme answers:
  • SKIN tight (9A: *Closefitting)
  • "HANG tight!" (35A: *"Don't go anywhere!")
  • "SLEEP tight" (64A: *Rhyming partner of "Good night")
  • Loose TOOTH (13A: *Wiggler in a child's mouth)
  • Loose LEAF (39A: *Like some paper and tea)
  • Loose LIPS (65A: *Naval threats, according to an old saying) 
Word of the Day: "Loose LIPS Sink Ships" (65A) —

Loose lips sink ships is an American English idiom meaning "beware of unguarded talk". The phrase originated on propaganda posters during World War II, with the earliest version using the wording loose lips might sink ships. The phrase was created by the War Advertising Council and used on posters by the United States Office of War Information.

This type of poster was part of a general campaign to advise servicemen and other citizens to avoid careless talk that might undermine the war effort. There were many similar such slogans, but "Loose lips sink ships" remained in the American idiom for the remainder of the century and into the next, usually as an admonition to avoid careless talk in general. (The British equivalent used "Careless Talk Costs Lives", and variations on the phrase "Keep mum", while in neutral Sweden the State Information Board promoted the wordplay "En svensk tiger" ("A Swedish tiger" or "A Swede keeps silent": the Swedish word "tiger" means both "tiger" and "keeps silent"), and Germany used "Schäm Dich, Schwätzer!" (English: "Shame on you, blabbermouth!").

However, propaganda experts at the time and historians since have argued the main goal of these and similar posters was to actually frighten people into not spreading rumors, even true ones, containing bad news that might hurt morale or create tension between groups of Americans, since the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in charge of dealing with enemy spies) had rounded up the key agents in June 1941, so that the nation "entered the war with confidence that there was no major German espionage network hidden in U.S. society." [...] 

Historian D'Ann Campbell argues that the purpose of the wartime posters, propaganda, and censorship of soldiers' letters was not to foil spies but "to clamp as tight a lid as possible on rumors that might lead to discouragement, frustration, strikes, or anything that would cut back military production." (wikipedia)
• • •

This theme grew on me as I circled the grid and realized how many layers it had, but I cannot tell you what a corrosive effect bad fill has on my initial mood and impression when solving a puzzle. I went "uh oh" at the very first answer I entered (IROC) and then "you must be joking" when the very next answer I got was OTOH. Junk, junk, right out of the box. I took a screenshot right there, but had no idea that things would actually get worse before I'd ever even left the NW corner (I threw that first screenshot away and took this one instead):

[note: doubling OTOH with IMHO later on did not, I repeat not, make things better]

Only-for-the-vowels IONIAN, the dreaded ON TOE ... this is the kind of tiresome short stuff that longtime solvers will have become inured to over the years, but I think a lot about people who aren't longtime solvers and how crummy this fill must seem. Plus, there's no reason to accept bad fill as a standard in the most high-profile crossword in the country. Again, it's a matter of density here—no one answer in particular, but a concatenation, a barrage. True, the NW is the worst of it, but the olden/boring fill is everywhere, as if the puzzle is barely holding itself together to accommodate the theme ... only the theme isn't really that demanding. Yes, you have not just three longer answers, but the six short ones that are more or less fixed in place. That does put stress on the grid. But it's your job to make the effects of that stress near invisible, particularly in a grid that doesn't actually hold any good fill at all beyond the instructions / revealer. It is fun (in a way) to discover the right/left gimmick, so you don't necessarily need sparkly fill today. But you do need it all to groan a little less.

Another issue with the puzzle—an inevitable one—is that the entirety of RIGHTY TIGHTY / LEFTY LOOSEY goes in in one whoosh. True, you don't know the gimmick that's awaiting you, so the solve is nowhere close to over, but it's odd to give away that much real estate at once, especially since (as I say) there  is not another really interesting answer in the entire grid. The rest of the solve is just gunk and gimmick. Luckily, the gimmick is a good one. Didn't feel that way at first, but the theme ended up developing in an interesting way, with multiple ahas to be had. Firstly, I had TOOTH and had no idea anything was "missing" from the answer. Seemed right—a TOOTH can often be found wriggling in a child's mouth. Correct on its face. Mentally-supplied "Loose" not required. I could see that that clue was starred (*) but the answer seemed literal so I didn't think much about why and moved on. I got the long instructions right after that and didn't really read the clue all that closely (I tend not to with paragraph-long clues), so I thought the only thing left to discover was the last long answer, which turned out to be SCREWDRIVERS, which was ... disappointing. I mean, on-the-nose, obvious. Of course that's what RIGHTY TIGHTY / LEFTY LOOSEY refers to (that, or screw-top caps, jar lids, etc.). Nothing new there. Thud. Then I got LEAF and thought "that sounds wrong ... LEAF tea? LEAF paper? ... are those the terms?" But ... close enough, I thought, and kept going. I think it was only when I finally hit bottom, where LIPS made no sense without "loose," that I saw the gimmick. Or part of it—it was fun to realize a little later that missing "loose" was accompanied by missing "tight," and that each missing-word answer was appropriately oriented in the grid ("tight" answers on the right, "loose" answers on the left — RIGHTY TIGHTY / LEFTY LOOSEY, ta da!

I liked also that the missing-word answers varied in terms of how hard they were to pick up, and that SLEEP, for instance, really played on the missing word (forcing some solvers, undoubtedly, to wonder how in the hell SLEEP rhymes with "Good night"). Then there was the ambiguity trap at 35A: *"Don't go anywhere!," which, if you didn't fall into it, you probably didn't know existed. But I fell in. I came up from below, had the "H," and wrote in not "HANG" but "HOLD." The whole puzzle promptly seized up as every short cross over there failed, though even with "HANG" in place, ZIG was hard (why not ZAG?) (26D: Veer quickly) and TIN was hard (why not CAN?) (25D: Recyclable material). So that tiny area was a thorny mess for me. Otherwise, largely because the long theme stuff was so easy, this one played on the easy side, for sure. 

  • 21A: T that comes before a Y (TAU) — not sure what the "Y" is, so I'm gonna look it up now ... OK, it's upsilon (or ypsilon), the twentieth letter of the Greek alphabet, and yup, it follows TAU directly. "Y" is what upsilon looks like in capital form (in lowercase, it's just a regular old "u").
  • 61A: Characteristic sound of Yoko Ono? (LONG "O") — a "letteral" clue, asking you to consider "Yoko Ono" not as a musician but solely as a name—a name containing four LONG "O"s. Yesterday, SILENT "B," today LONG "O," tomorrow who knows?
  • 34D: Name found when reading between the lines? (ELI) — this is some cryptic crossword-type cluing: ELI is a buried word that you can find if you literally read between "thE LInes." Cute.
That's it. Enjoy your day. See you tomorrow (Opening Day!). Take care.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Fairy tale monster / TUES 3-26-24 / Simplifies, as a fraction / "Harrumph!," to Scrooge / Mama's hermana

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Hi, everyone! It’s Clare, back for the last Tuesday in March. I’m coming off of a third-place finish in trivia, which I’ll accept given that it was our first time back in a while. This month, I’ve been watching a lot of March Madness (particularly the women) and getting way too invested in my teams winning (and in Caitlin Clark). It’s also a rather busy time at work — USCIS has decided to increase filing fees on April 1, which means my firm is trying to get a whole lot of filings out before then. And all this has been happening while I’ve been dying a bit from this second winter that made me nearly freeze to death (before getting some hot cocoa) at a Washington Spirit NWSL game. (We won in dramatic fashion with an extra-time goal.)

Laura Dershewitz and Katherine Baicker

Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday)

THEME: AD HOMINEM (34A: Kind of fallacious argument … or, phonetically, a hint to the answers to the starred clues) — Add a homonym at the end of the word/phrase that sounds like the prior word or syllable

Theme answers:
  • HOTEL SUITE SWEET (17A: Mint on a pillow, maybe?) 
  • PIGTAIL TALE (27A: "Pippi Longstocking," for one?) 
  • MR RIGHT RITE (46A: Marriage ceremony for the perfect guy?) 
  • SECOND TO NONE NUN (57A: Mother superior?)
Word of the Day: LARS (20A: "___ and the Real Girl" (Ryan Gosling film)) —
Lars and the Real Girl is a 2007 American comedy-drama film written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, and Patricia Clarkson. Its plot follows Lars, a kind-hearted but socially awkward young man who develops a romantic yet nonsexual relationship with an anatomically correct sex doll, a RealDoll named Bianca. Though a commercial failure, the film was positively received by critics, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. (Wiki)
• • •
I thought the theme was quite fun and inventive. As a result, I enjoyed the solve more than I often do. Who doesn’t like a SUITE SWEET or a TAIL TALE or a RIGHT RITE or especially a SECOND TO NONE NUN — though I had to puzzle out that final one for a while. I realize three of the four final words are homonyms of the previous word, while the fourth (PIGTAIL TALE) uses a homonym of the previous syllable, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this was one of the more clever themes I’ve seen on a Tuesday. And I rather enjoyed it. 

The rest of the fill surrounding the theme was on the tougher side, which contributed to my slower-than-usual time. SUI (57D: ___ generis (unique)) and MIEN (46D: Appearance) felt like words for puzzles later in the week. I wanted AEON (31A: Many millennia) to be eons, even though I knew the answer had to be singular. 

Some of the downs were nice — I Iiked having CROATIA (2D: Country that adopted the euro in 2023), OUTRAGE (3D: Indignation), STATURE (44D: Reputation), and REDUCES (40D: Simplifies, as a fraction) in the puzzle, although I thought TIE IT UP (12D: Force a game into extra innings, say) was pretty meh. And THE SUNS (11D: Phoenix basketball team, familiarly) isn’t really a nickname for the team. The name of the city’s men's basketball team is just “the Phoenix Suns.” I suppose you could make the argument that by adding “the” you’ve turned it into a nickname, but then you could claim almost any sports team is a familiar name if you just add “the” (such as “the Steelers,” “the Warriors,” “the Giants,” “the Penguins,” etc.) The team nickname is part of the name — there’s nothing familiar about it. 

There were a couple of mini themes in the puzzle — with 1A: Get moving (SCOOT) and 6A: Get moving? (PROD), along with 36D: Fairy tale monster (OGRE) and 47D: Fairy tale monsters (GIANTS) — which I thought added to the puzzle and the theme especially.

  • I knew the answer to OHIO (16A: Dayton’s state) because my cousin is an assistant coach at Dayton for the men’s soccer team! 
  • I absolutely love The Sports BRA (24A: (Portland bar dedicated to women's athletics) and have been following along ever since it opened. It’s unique and lovely and amazing, and I love that it was in the puzzle. I’m jealous of everyone who can go. 
  • I distinctly remember wanting to be like Pippi Longstocking (27A) when I was younger; one time I slept upside down on my bed with my head where my feet were supposed to be. I was also Pippi Longstocking for Halloween one year with a wig and everything — including pipe cleaners to make my pigtails stick out. I now have red hair… maybe she was the basis for my dying it that color. 
  • BEDSIDE manner (50A: (doctor's demeanor)) makes me think of Cristina Yang from “Grey’s Anatomy,” especially because I’ve seen a million and one promotions for the show’s 21st season. (Cristina’s BEDSIDE manner was notoriously awful.) The fact that the show has been around for that long is simply wild. 
  • Fun fact: Something I learned tonight at trivia about “Shrek” (which features a famous OGRE) is that it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (i.e., do two women talk in a film about anything other than a man?). 
  • I’ve seen “My Cousin Vinny” with Marisa TOMEI (29D: Marisa who played herself in a "Seinfeld" cameo) more times than I should probably admit. I remember having a sleepover with my friend when I was younger, and we watched the movie three times over two days because it was just that good. If I ever have the chance to give my Letterboxd four favorites, that movie is definitely in there.
Signed, Clare Carroll, a not so bare bear

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