Fragrant neckwear / TUES 4-30-24 / Pixar film set in Mexico / Three-word Last Supper question / Why Pinocchio's nose grows

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Hi, everyone! It’s Clare for the last Tuesday — and last day — of April. Hope everyone stays cool as the heat ratchets up. We already had a high of 90 degrees here in D.C. today. I tried to enjoy the fair weather over the weekend and went for a nice long bike ride. But I had to contend with the fact that, well, everyone else also decided that being outside was a great idea. In other news, I’ve been crying over the Premier League and my Reds. But I’ve been celebrating how the Steelers did in the draft this year! It seems like quite the good class, led by Troy Fautanu, an offensive tackle we took in the first round, who seems to be just about the loveliest (and most talented) person around. 

Anywho, on to the puzzle…

Constructor: Michèle Govier

Relative difficulty: Easy-medium

THEME: WIGGLE ROOM (62A: Space to maneuver, or a hint to five sets of circled letters in this puzzle) — The circled letters zig zag going down and form five names of rooms one might find in a home

Theme answers:
  • PARLOR 
  • PANTRY 
  • LOUNGE 
  • STUDY 
  • ATTIC
Word of the Day: BREADFRUIT (16A: Crop named for its doughy texture when cooked) —
Breadfruit is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry and jackfruit family believed to be a domesticated descendant of the breadnut originating in New Guinea, the Maluku Islands, and the Philippines. It was initially spread to Oceania via the Austronesian expansion. Its name is derived from the texture of the moderately ripe fruit when cooked, similar to freshly baked bread and having a potato-like flavor.The trees have been widely planted in tropical regions, including lowland Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean. In addition to the fruit serving as a staple food in many cultures, the light, sturdy timber of breadfruit has been used for outriggers, ships, and houses in the tropics. (Wiki)
• • •
Well, that was a cute theme. I initially saw LOUNGE and STUDY and thought we were in for a Clue-themed puzzle. But WIGGLE ROOM (62A) is clever, and it’s an impressive bit of constructing to get five theme answers to work like that in the puzzle. I was initially quite confused about where the circles started and stopped for whatever they were going to spell out, so I mostly just focused on the fill rather than the theme. But looking back, I appreciated the theme’s ingenuity. The only thing is that LOUNGE there in the top-middle of the puzzle looked a bit lonely without another room at the bottom, but that would’ve been very tricky for the constructor. 

The thing about a clever, complicated theme, though, is that it often leads to a lot of crosswordese and meh fill. And this puzzle, I’m sad to say, was no exception. SPRIER (19A: More agile) and APER (3D: One doing impersonations) are just ugly. IRR (6D: Nonstandard: Abbr.) and HGT (38D: Fig. on a driver's license) and YTD (31A: Since Jan. 1, on pay stubs) are abbreviations that aren’t particularly exciting. Then you’ve got ERA (45A), EONS (54D), ESAU (10D), LEI (44D), TRE (47A), ENYA (65A), and ESS (68A) (among others), which you’ve seen a million times in crosswords. Side note: ESS (68A: This + vertical line = dollar sign) was clued in maybe the weirdest way I’ve ever seen. 

I got stuck in a couple spots in the puzzle, which slowed me down. I unfortunately didn’t know DEY (17A: Susan of "L.A. Law"), and I struggled with SPRIER (19A) and BREADFRUIT (16A) (not something I’ve ever eaten). That speed bump was compounded by the fact that I knew the Romanian currency began with “le” but took a while to come up with LEU (7D). And in the SW corner, KETOSIS (53A: Metabolic state on a low-carb, high-fat diet) threw me. 

Then there were some oddities in the puzzle. I think it’s generally sophomores who are taking the PSAT (15A) (while juniors start taking the SAT). A sourdough starter begins with flour and water exposed to the air, where there’s natural yeast, but it seems off to refer to YEAST (31D) as an ingredient. My biggest issue in the puzzle was with TEASES (21D: "Still ahead ..." and "Coming up next ...," in broadcasting lingo)! Those phrases are teasers, not TEASES, in TV terminology. 

But then there was NATTER (23D: Talk idly), which is objectively a fun word. Some others I liked were NO FRILLS (5D: Without bells and whistles), GIBRALTAR (34A: British territory visible from Africa), OREGANO (40A: Contents of a pizzeria shaker), and ELDEST SON (43A: Usual heir in patrilineal systems), none of which you usually see in a crossword. I liked NILLA (5A: Nabisco wafer brand) on top of OREOS (14: Ingredients in some black-and-white cheesecakes). My favorite clue was for LEI (44D: Fragrant neckwear). Having COCO (58D: Pixar film set in Mexico) (which is a fantastic movie) in the puzzle was fun. And I really liked STREET (46A: Auto setting), even though the constructor definitely tricked me on that one.

Misc.:
  • I have this very distinct memory of NILLA (5A) wafers, where I was at a dance recital in Lake Tahoe when I was maybe seven years old. I was a grasshopper in a ballet performance (complete with a head-to-toe green outfit and a green hat with antennae). When I was backstage watching all these older, cooler people get ready, I saw a box of Nilla wafers. I didn’t know who they were meant for, but I tried a couple and thought they were the best things ever. And since then… I’ve barely ever eaten any. 
  • With YTD (31A), I’m reminded of work and the number of paystubs, W-2s, 1099s, and tax returns I look at for my clients. I often have to calculate yearly income or create financial charts detailing the financial hardship they face. At this point, I probably know more about my clients’ financial situation than my own. 
  • I read historical romance books, and they talk about ELDEST SONs (43A) a lot
  • My dad, like everyone else, began a sourdough starter (31D) during the pandemic, and his is still going strong! He’s become a pro at making whole wheat bread. I only wish I could enjoy it, but, sadly, I’m intolerant to gluten:( 
  • I hope the basic list of theme answers worked for everybody at the top. I wasn’t sure how to clue them or otherwise describe them…. If I’d written out each answer that had a circled letter in it, I’d have basically been rewriting the whole puzzle.
And that’s all from me! See you in May. 

Signed, Clare Carroll, writing this from the F 
                                                                
                                                             
                                                                 
                                                                
                                                                   
                                                                      room

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Lizards with sticky toe pads / MON 4-29-24 / Unorthodox spot from which to take a meeting while working from home / Point at an off-target spot / Ring surrounding a nipple

Monday, April 29, 2024

Constructor: Tom Locke

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (solved Downs-only)


THEME: HUE AND CRY (65A: Public uproar ... or a phonetic hint to the two words in 17-, 28- and 48-Across) — first part of the theme answer is a color ("hue"), second part is a homophone of a word meaning "cry":

Theme answers:
  • BLUE WHALE ("wail") (17A: Marine creature that can weigh over 400,000 pounds)
  • BLACKBALL ("bawl") (28A: Bar from joining a private club, e.g.)
  • WHITE WINE ("whine") (48A: Chardonnay or pinot grigio, e.g.)
Word of the Day: WILCO (18D: Radio reply after "Roger") —
Procedure words (abbreviated to prowords) are words or phrases limited to radio telephone procedure used to facilitate communication by conveying information in a condensed standard verbal format. Prowords are voice versions of the much older procedural signs for Morse code which were first developed in the 1860s for Morse telegraphy, and their meaning is identical. [...] [definition of WILCO]: "I understand and will comply." It is used on receipt of an order. "Roger" and "Wilco" used together (e.g. "Roger, Wilco") are redundant, since "Wilco" includes the acknowledgement element of "Roger". (wikipedia) (my emph.)
• • •


Hey, this works! I don't know if I loved this theme, but I loved that it made sense and was consistent and did not seem forced or awkward at all. All the theme answers are real, ordinary terms and fulfill the requirements of the theme perfectly. A clean, light theme, a little wordplay, no burps or cracks or smudges. Monday! This is it. Fillwise, things are a bit creakier—no good longer answers to spice things up, and a decent amount of somewhat crummy short fill (ABRA is the worst, as always, but ITSY's not much better—the rest of it's mostly just ordinary and tiresome). MISAIM, really? If you are pointing at an off-target spot ... yeah, I guess you are misaiming, OK. I never saw this clue, so parsing MISAIM was a bit of a ??? Also, reading that clue now, "pointing" is kind of ambiguous. I imagined someone literally pointing, with their finger. "Why would you point at an off-target spot?" was my main question. But I see it now. "Pointing" implies being deliberate—you point at something to indicate or identify it. But here, the pointing is simply the orientation, not the orientation you intended. The clue decouples aiming and pointing. This is my mental hurdle. But I'm over it. Now.


There wasn't much real difficulty here, but there were plenty of minor stumbling blocks for me on my Downs-only voyage. The first and worst was my god I could not figure out the Halloween decorations. We have both a spider-web welcome mat and a spider-web shower curtain that we Never Take Down ... but still my only thought for 1D: Some Halloween decorations (WEBS) was BATS... then CATS ... then nothing, even after I got the "B" ("ORBS?," I half-seriously wondered). No chance at EYEFUL at first pass (4D: Quite a sight to behold)—needed to infer several Acrosses before I could parse that one. Had BARE before BALD (7D: Hairless). Got GECKOS easily and needed it because I could Not parse DOG TREAT even when I had it down to DO-TREAT ("DO A TREAT?," I half-seriously wondered). Thought the [Unorthodox spot from which to take a meeting while working from home] (BED) might be LOO (LAV? CAN?). Guessed right on the LUTE v. LYRE challenge (33D: Bard's instrument). Took me a bit to get "YOU IN?" because I was imagining a professional dealer, who would not (I don't think?) say this (46D: Dealer's "Wanna play?"). Had a real dilemma on my hands with 66D: Long stretch of time, which I wanted to be EON (correct!) but which seemed like it could maybe possibly also be ERA. That would've given me ERRS and SOAS in the crosses, and the improbability of the latter is what made me choose EON, though ... I can imagine the puzzle trying to perpetrate SOAS on me. It hasn't been seen in fourteen years, but it has been seen (usually clued [In order (to)]). Also, the "Long" part of [Long stretch of time] just goes better with EON than ERA. Still, that was a definite Downs-only danger zone.


The only other issue I had was FACE before ABUT (55D: Be up against). An understandable and highly fixable mistake. Overall, a textbook Monday: simple but clever. Light theme, smooth (if somewhat tired) fill. I'll take it. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Suspicious, informally / SUN 4-28-24 / Rapper who shares part of his name with the world's tallest building / Trees that can grow multiple acres wide / Footwear retailer founded in Montreal / Gazing angrily / Some Olds of old / Percussive shaker / Slopes attire resembling overalls / Marsalis family patriarch

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Constructor: Mike Ellison

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: "The Sounds of Music" — notes in the scale (the octave from DO to DO) appear in gray squares as the tail ends of various musical (-ish) Across answers, turning downward; this downward turn is explained by two revealers: SCALE DOWN (42D: Cut back ... or an alternative title for this puzzle?) and FALL TONES (52D: Autumn colors .. or an alternative title for this puzzle?)

The "scale" / "tone" answers:
  • TUXEDO (19A: What a conductor might wear to a concert)
  • PAVAROTTI (24A: One of a trio of famous tenors)
  • CINDERELLA (28A: Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical written for TV)
  • "I TOLD YOU SO" (57A: 1988 #1 country hit for Randy Travis)
  • WIZ KHALIFA (82A: Rapper who shares part of his name with the world's tallest building)
  • "WHO AM I?" (107A: Question asked in a "Les Misérables" song)
  • "THAT'S AMORE" (111A: Classic tune inspiring a joke about eels)
  • GLISSANDO (123A: Musical slide)
Word of the Day: WIZ KHALIFA (82A) —
Cameron Jibril Thomaz
 (born September 8, 1987), better known by his stage name Wiz Khalifa, is an American rapper, singer and actor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [...] A tribute to his hometown of Pittsburgh, the song peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100 and received two Grammy Award nominations. "Black and Yellow," along with the top 40-charting singles "Roll Up" and "No Sleep" preceded the release of his third album and major label debut, Rolling Papers(2011). It was met with commercial success and peaked at number two on the Billboard 200, although critical response was mixed. [...] His fifth album, Blacc Hollywood (2014) became his first to debut atop the Billboard 200, and was supported by the lead single "We Dem Boyz." His 2015 single, "See You Again" (featuring Charlie Puth) was released for the soundtrack to the film Furious 7, in tribute to late actor Paul Walker. The song peaked the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 non-consecutive weeks, received diamond (14× platinum)certification by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA), earned three Grammy Award nominations, and remains Thomaz's most commercially successful release. His sixth album, Rolling Papers 2 (2018) matched its titular predecessor in chart position, and was supported by the sleeper hit single "Something New" (featuring Ty Dolla Sign). (wikipedia)
• • •

Ah yes, that famous scale, DO TI LA SO FA MI RE DO! I can't believe the scale wasn't in any kind of order [NOTE: I was wrong. It is in order, from bottom to top; stupid me with my top to bottom reading habits... so the SCALE goes DOWN in two ways; that makes this puzzle cleverer than I thought it was; my daughter came into town last night, so I was distracted ... is my excuse. Anyway, gonna leave the write-up as is. Sorry for the oversight]—should not have been hard to do—but then if it had been in order, the whole thing would've been far Far too easy, instead of merely too easy. I got the "DO" part, and then got SCALE DOWN, and that was basically the end of my thematic enjoyment and interest. I filled in the scale from top to bottom, in order ... but then that wasn't right, but it hardly mattered. Once you know the note placement is random, you can just go looking for the notes, ho hum no big deal. The second revealer, FALL TONES, was supposed to be a bonus, I guess, but it merely felt redundant, and anyway the term is FALL COLORS (or EARTH TONES). After I'd finished, I wondered why so many of the "themers" were songs, and only then did I notice that all the "themers" were musical in some fashion, although TUXEDO is a ssttrreettcchh—nothing inherently musical about TUXEDO; they had to force it to be musical through the cluing (which references a conductor's attire). You can tell that the theme kind of knows how weak it is by how many "bonus" elements it tries to throw at you—musical themers! a second revealer!—but in the end it's just a bunch of randomly placed two-letter "notes" turned down. Very weird to refer to those notes as a "scale" and then not arrange them in "scale" order. Very weird also to have the musical term CRESCENDO sitting dead center ... but with nothing thematic to do. Like the other themers just abandoned it there. "Hey ... hey guys, remember me? Guys? Come on ... hey, why does GLISSANDO get to be the second "DO," that's not fair! Fine, be that way! I'ma go hang out with Vanilla Ice and THE PIPS. They'll appreciate me!"


Also, it's SOL. Decades of crossword-solving have taught me that the note is SOL, not SO. DO RE ME FA SOL LA TI DO. Here, look:

xwordinfo.com

OK, some of those clues have nothing to do with music, but look at all the ones that do: [G, in C]; [Fifth note in an octave scale]; [Fa-la connector]. I know that "SO" is an acceptable variant, but I would've been a hair's breadth more impressed with this theme if it had pulled off a SOL instead of a mere SO. I guess there are no musical terms ending in SOL. Not a lot of songs about PARASOLs or LYSOL, I suppose. Ah well. 


I just went over to the puzzle website to make sure there was not some music or puzzle animation that I was missing. Apparently not, which seems slightly startling. They went to such great lengths to make those wheels spin last week that I thought for sure they'd do some big musical number, some song, dancing notes, god knows what. But nope, just gray squares and an out-of-order scale, just like my downloaded puzzle. Hmm, now that I look at the clues and grid a little more, it looks like the puzzle is so desperate to convince you there's really a theme here that it's trying to make As Many Clues as Possible into music clues. DOMO? MOPS? ANT? All of them (and more) getting musical treatment. I didn't notice. If the theme is weak, it's weak, and no amount of "bonus" stuff is gonna rescue it.


The fill is fine, OK, pretty average. CIERAS is less than lovely (bygone and plural?) (98D: Some Olds of old), but not much else made me wince. Well, HINKY, a little, especially crossing CIO (Chief Information Officer). And I had to say the ENACTED clue to myself over and over again before I could begin to understand it (7D: Written in code?). If you enact a law then it becomes part of the legal or penal or criminal code ... I think that's what the clue is going for. Also, HOUDINI was an escape artist so he ... got out ... of various forms of bondage (47D: Whose performances were as astonishing as all get-out?). I know Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but I did not know ELLIS (he's one of many accomplished musicians who died early in the COVID epidemic (see also John Prine and Adam Schlesinger, among others)). I was proud of myself for getting BANYANS off just the "B"—pretty sure I learned about the existence of those trees from crosswords, and that knowledge really paid off today (94D: Trees that can grow multiple acres wide). Speaking of knowledge I possess solely from solving crosswords—ALDO shoes! (115D: Footwear retailer founded in Montreal). And the word AGLARE, LOL, what? (22A: Gazing angrily). I mean, I know what, but still, what? Such a dumb word. Only mistake I made today was thinking that [What guacamole often costs] was EUROS. You cannot dispute that guacamole is sold in the E.U. and therefore often costs EUROS, so please respect my perfectly good if technically wrong answer, thank you, good day.



Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Unfair, to Brits / SAT 4-27-24 / Pistol used by James Bond / NASA rocket name since 1957 / Hybrid shape with straight edges and rounded corners / Modern driving aid / Company logo derived from a state symbol

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Constructor: Rich Norris

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Thomas NAST (11A: "Father of the American Cartoon") —

Thomas Nast (/næst/German: [nast]; September 26, 1840 – December 7, 1902) was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist often considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon".

He was a sharp critic of "Boss" Tweed and the Tammany Hall Democratic party political machine. He created a modern version of Santa Claus (based on the traditional German figures of Saint Nicholas and Weihnachtsmann) and the political symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party (GOP). Contrary to popular belief, Nast did not create Uncle Sam (the male personification of the United States Federal Government), Columbia (the female personification of American values), or the Democratic donkey, although he did popularize those symbols through his artwork. Nast was associated with the magazine Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886. Nast's influence was so widespread that Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Thomas Nast was our best teacher." (wikipedia)

• • •


I thought the term was "TIPSHEET" and I thought the term was "DOORMAN" and that pretty much sums up my experience with this one—slightly off my wavelength. Like a radio station I never can quite get to come in clearly. On the other hand, knowing the term "NOT CRICKET" finally came in handy (I'm married to a Kiwi, so some of these Briticisms make their way into my house and brain that way, though I'm not sure how I know this particular Briticism) (53A: Unfair, to Brits). But I didn't have many other solving smiles today, except maybe "SQUEE!" (38A: Excited outburst), which is kind of ADORBS. Most of the longer answers felt a bit bland (LOCAL PAPER, STEP-BY-STEP) or clunky / awkward (AT A PREMIUM, BOOK ON CD), or, like, DOPESHEETS and DOORKEEPER, from some parallel universe where the answers are all slightly off—eerily ... -ISH. Also lots of stuff I just don't know much about—numismatics, regattas, guns. I read a lot of crime fiction and watch a lot of crime films, so the WALTHER PPK is familiar to me (20A: Pistol used by James Bond), but as I was solving, the only part I could get (or remember) was the WALTHER part. "PPK" played like a bunch of random letters that I had to get from crosses. I've never seen the word SQUIRCLE in my life and I hope never to see it again (35D: Hybrid shape with straight edges and rounded corners) (just inferred the SQU- part after changing CLING to CLUMP (41A: Stick together)). I know Thomas NAST well from teaching courses on comics but note I said "comics" and not "cartoons"—when I see "cartoon" out of context, I think animation. So even something familiar (and highly crosswordesey) like NAST didn't come easily for me today. Still, there were enough gimmes to give me the traction I needed to finish this in a pretty normal Saturday time. It was a fitting challenge, but not a fun one. Hard to get excited about advertising logos (TEXACO STAR) and tech from circa 2010 (SIRI, ROKU, WAZE) (SIRI is the youngest of these (2011), that surprised me (WAZE = '06, ROKU = '02 (!?))).


Did you know that DUMBWAITER and DOORKEEPER have the same number of letters and both start with "D"? Well, presumably you knew the "D" part, but I was surprised when I tested DUMBWAITER and it fit and it was "confirmed" by PERK and (I thought) STES (52A: Penthouses, e.g.: Abbr. => APTS). But AKA really wanted to be AKA (39A: Blotter letters), which messed up DUMBWAITER, and finally REEBOK confirmed that no, it wasn't DUMBWAITER. Do upscale buildings even have DUMBWAITERs? Well, yes, if the buildings are older mansion-type things, then they do. I'm semi-satisfied by the aptness of my wrong answer. I don't think I fell into any other holes besides the DUMBWAITER hole. I did try to spell WAZE "WAYZ" (28D: Modern driving aid). I also typo'd Mad LIBS as "Mad LIPS," which had me wondering (for a minute or so!?) what the number PI could have to do with "some coins" (17A: Like some coins => BIMETALLIC). You ever have your own typo hold you up? Maddening.


Other stuff:
  • 30A: Regatta leaders (COXES) — made two bad assumptions here—one, that the regatta had to do with sailboats (like most regattas I've ever heard of), and two, that "leaders" meant "the ones who are ahead of everyone else in the race" (as opposed to the person sitting in the boat "leading" the rowers).
  • 33A: Things drawn in a group (LOTS) — wanted OXEN, but I think that's just because OXEN might "draw" a plow. 
  • 7D: NASA rocket name since 1957 (ATLAS) — this is probably a gimme if you grew up during the Space Race. I don't know how I got this. It's vaguely familiar. Once I got the "T" and "S" it went in. I thought it was going to be something much more esoteric, somehow.
  • 38D: Kind of snapper, for short? (SLR) — the snappers are back. Yesterday, they were long-haired (actually, long-tailed) turtles, today, cameras (single-lens reflex).
  • 57A: B.C. and others (ERAS) — LOL what? The entire history of time before the putative birth of Christ is just one "era" now? That's like when Phoebe asks Rachel what period the (Pottery Barn) apothecary table is from and Rachel says "uh, it's from Yore ... like, the days of Yore, you know?"

See you Sunday, I hope.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Sports analyst Kimes / FRI 4-26-24 / Some long-tailed turtles / Device for an online conversation / Alternatives to booths, perhaps / Bare-bones outfit / Bird that can be "fire-capped" or "yellow-browed" / Big Apple fundraiser with a kind of apple in its name

Friday, April 26, 2024

Constructor: Matthew Stock and Christina Iverson

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MINA Kimes (4D: Sports analyst Kimes) —
 
Mina Mugil Kimes (born September 8, 1985) is an American journalist who specializes in business and sports reporting. She has written for FortuneBloomberg News, and ESPN. She is a senior writer at ESPN and an analyst on NFL Live. (wikipedia)
• • •

Move over ["Dracula" heroine Harker]! There's a new MINA in town. I've been wondering when we were gonna see MINA (or KIMES) in a crossword grid, and here we are. Maybe a random proper noun to many of you, but I see her at the gym every time I'm there, which is to say my gym has ESPN on many of the TVs and so whenever NFL Live or Around the Horn or something like that happens to be on, there she is. I was at the bar earlier this month—there she was:


So even if you didn't know her, there's a good chance you've seen her ... ambiently. Ambient Kimes! She's also a crossword aficionado and an all-around charming human being, so this puzzle banked A Lot of goodwill with me right up front by including her. After that ... yeah, things were fine. Some highs, some lows, a pretty average Friday. Not a lot of whoosh for me today, as I couldn't get either of the long Across answers up top to go in, even with many many crosses already in place. Stared at -INBALLOTS for a bit, for sure (11A: Alternatives to booths, perhaps). And -CANTELEPHONE, too (14A: Device for an online conversation?). Oh, voting booths. Oh, tin cans. Connected by a string ("line"). I see, or saw, eventually. The front ends of those answers had impossible (for me) crosses. [Bar] for CANTINA was brutal (so many meanings of "bar"...), and MICRON, forget it, no idea (11D: One-millionth of a meter). If [Dots on a map] aren't ISLES then I don't know what they are, or at least am not confident enough to guess. That whole little NW bit was a mess. It ended up being the last thing I filled in. and man it felt dicey—was sure I was going to end up with some horrible-cross situation, but once I finally got SNAPPERS into place (I'd been reading the clue as [Some long-haired turtles] (???)), I could sorta squeeze that area from above and below and finally WRITE in the last answer, which I believe was WRITE. And right. The end. (Actually, it was TOWNS, but it's harder to pun on TOWNS ... something something Downs? Ah well, we'll never know...)


Those are good long answers up top, even though I struggled like hell with them. I also (aptly?) enjoyed FULL OF IT (34A: Talking nonsense) and the clue on MET GALA (45A: Big Apple fundraiser with a kind of apple in its name)—I love Met apples! Can't get enough of them! The long answers down below were the mirror opposite of their up-top cousins today, in that I solved both of them almost instantly, with very few crosses in place—and from the back end! They just seemed transparent. In fact, the only real difficulty down below came with the ambiguous clue at 37D: Perfect, e.g. (TENSE). I kept pronouncing and repronouncing "perfect" in my head, trying to figure out which it would be, per'-fect (adj.) or per-fect' (v.). But even knowing it's the adjective doesn't necessarily help too much. So that one crossed with DOS slowed me a tad (47A: They're OK) (i.e. DOS as opposed to DONTS). And then I wasn't sure of the vowel in PL-NKO (32D: "The Price is Right" game). If you'd told me it was PLUNKO I'd've believed you, so thank god RUDS is not a thing (41A: Purges => RIDS). Basically solved this one is clockwise fashion and so I ended where I started, with the difficulty of the NW. Was worried the SNAPPERS and the unheard of (by me) chess moves (PINS) were gonna absolutely wreck my big finish, but TOP DOGS got me through (20D: Big enchiladas).


Notes:
  • 16A: National Bullying Prevention mo. (OCT.) — a worthy ... month, I'm sure, but how in the world and why in the world would anyone know this? May as well just clue it as [It's one of the mos., just guess]
  • 42A: ___ the Lucky, nickname of a noted explorer (LEIF) — I'm guessing this is LEIF Erikson. I was not aware of his nickname. Apparently he got it for rescuing a group of shipwrecked sailors (hurray!) and converting Norse Greenland to Christianity (hur ... ray?).
  • 7D: One for the record books? (CLERK) — the person who keeps the records (in their books) is a CLERK
  • 53A: Signs of friction (SPATS) — wanted these to be SCABS (or SCARS)
  • 6D: Intellectual gatherings (SALONS) — bad case of Crossword Brain today, in that I really wanted SYNODS here
  • 25A: Trail marking (BLAZE) — when you "blaze a trail," you don't light it on fire, you mark it out ... with blazes, i.e. marks on trees.
  • 30D: Cool bits of trivia (FUN FACTS) — fun fact: FUN FACTS are rarely fun and never actually "cool." Unless SNAPPERS really do have long hair—that would be a cool fun fact.

See you tomorrow!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Novel parodied by Umberto Eco's "Granita" / THU 4-25-24 / City in the Pacific Northwest with a Russian-sounding name / Spider-Man adversary played by Jamie Foxx / Plant with lance-shaped leaves / Longtime judge on "Britain's Got Talent" and "America's Got Talent"/ Something checkered in New York's past? / Detroit ___, nickname for Malcolm X / Powerful card in the game President

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Constructor: Hanh Huynh

Relative difficulty: Easy (after you get the trick)


THEME: HOLY COW (61A: "Wow!" ... or a phonetic hint to this puzzle's theme) — the letter string "COW" appears three times inside longer answers; each time, the letters in "COW" are separated by circled squares which represent "HOLE"s—those squares are literal holes (i.e. empty space) in the "COW" answers (so that you get a bunch of "hole-y COWs"!), but actual letters ("H,O,L,E") in the Down crosses:

The "hole"-y COWs:
  • SC O WL (14A: Dirty look)
  • SIMON C O WELL (21A: Longtime judge on "Britain's Got Talent" and "America's Got Talent")
  • MOSC O W, IDAHO (46A: City in the Pacific Northwest with a Russian-sounding name)
The "hole"-y crosses (!):
  • CHOLER (3D: Ire)
  • WHOLE NUMBERS (4D: 1, 2, 3, etc.)
  • PEEP HOLES (7D: Low-tech security measures on some doors)
  • CORNHOLE (9D: Popular backyard game)
  • HOLES OUT (47D: Sinks the putt)
  • WHOLESALE (44D: Not retail)
Word of the Day: MOSCOW, IDAHO (46A) —

Moscow (/ˈmɒsk/ MOSS-koh) is a city and the county seat of Latah County, Idaho. Located in the North Central region of the state along the border with Washington, it had a population of 25,435 at the 2020 census. Moscow is the home of the University of Idaho, the state's land-grant institution and primary research university.

It is the principal city in the Moscow, Idaho Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Latah County. The city contains over 60% of the county's population, and while the university is Moscow's dominant employer, the city also serves as an agricultural and commercial hub for the Palouse region.

Along with the rest of the Idaho Panhandle, Moscow is in the Pacific Time Zone. The elevation of its city center is 2,579 feet (786 m) above sea level. Two major highways serve the city, passing through the city center: US-95 (north-south) and ID-8 (east-west). The Pullman–Moscow Regional Airport, four miles (6 km) west, provides limited commercial air service. The local newspaper is the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. (wikipedia)

• • •


Woo hoo! If it makes me happy, it can't be that bad, and this one made me smile like I haven't smiled (at a puzzle) in a while, from the first "aha" ("Those squares are HOLEs! ... OK, why?") through the interesting themers and relatively clean grid to the revealer and the final "aha" ("HOLE"-y COWs!? ... omg, so dumb, I Love It!"). The revealer Really did its thing for me today. It really really paid off not trying to think too hard about the theme as I was solving (beyond the "HOLE"-goes-in-circle part). "All will be revealed," I assumed, and boy was I right. And then, like some kind of bonus blessing from the crossword gods, I followed the revealer with a trio (!?) of "?" clues All Of Which Landed: 
  • 42D: Like like like this clue clue clue ... (ECHOEY)
  • 37D: Something checkered in New York's past? (TAXI
  • 44A: Wicked stuff? (WAX) (think candles)
OK that first one doesn't actually have a "?" in it, but you see what I mean—it tries to get cute ... and absolutely pulls it off. It's hard enough for the puzzle to get one of those wacky "?"-type clues to land most days, so three!? Right on the heels of a perfect reveal!? My lucky day. If this isn't one of my April "Puzzles of the Month," well, that means we're going to have some amazing puzzles in the next week, because right now this is my favorite themed puzzle of the month by a pretty decent margin (with Kwong's "A STAR IS 'B' OR 'N'" puzzle from last Thursday a worthy runner-up).


The hardest part was getting started, which, as I've said many times, is typical, especially with a tricky gimmick to SUSS out. 1A: Snap was probably the hardest answer in the whole (!) puzzle for me. I had JIF. Then wanted SEC. Then put Las Vegas on Mountain Time (MST) and tried MIN. Strike three. But I wasn't out! At some point the P from PST (Las Vegas's actual time zone) got me PIC ("gah, a camera snap!"), but the circled squares were still a mystery. From THRONES I was able to get enough of the puzzle to see NUMBERS, which allowed me to infer the "HOLE" (for WHOLE NUMBERS), which (finally) allowed me to see CHOLER! That's some olde-timey ire right there! You rarely see CHOLER outside older literature and vocabulary tests (thanks, Mr. Berglund!). So, a little work to HOE out those "HOLE"s (in "SCOWL"), and then a tentative "HOLE"-ing out of the "HOLE"s in SIMON COWELL, and when those "HOLE"s worked, I knew the remaining circled squares would also be "HOLE"s and the grid opened right up. What had been a medium-tough puzzle all of a sudden became quite easy, and I got some of that Whoosh feeling I usually look forward to on Fridays, sailing through SADDLES and SIMON COWELL, and ELECTRO and LOLITA, to end up in MOSCOW, IDAHO, where I have been before—my mom grew up in St. Maries, ID (also in the Idaho Panhandle) and at least one of her two sisters (my aunts) (obviously) went to college in Moscow (at the U. of Idaho). My aunt Nancy lived for a time in Lewiston, ID, which is only 30 miles or so south of Moscow. This is all to say that seeing MOSCOW, IDAHO in the puzzle made me happy in a way it is unlikely to have made most of you happy. You don't see the Idaho panhandle in puzzles much—Coeur d'ALENE sometimes, maybe—so it was delightful to see it brought into the thematic spotlight here. Despite not having spent a lot of time there, it's a part of the world I feel close to and am very fond of. 


Were there trouble spots? After getting the first HOLEs, not a lot. I hit the laptop brand (28D: Laptop brand) with only the "L" in place and had this flash of "&$^%, how should I know?" but then not more than a second or two later my brain was like "easy, buddy, you know this, it's LENOVO." Me: "Wait, how do I know that? I've never seen a LENOVO laptop in my life." Brain: "Who knows what you know? It's a mess in here, frankly. Just keep going!" I did not know (or forgot) that Malcolm X was ever nicknamed Detroit RED, but the rest of that NE corner was so easy that it hardly mattered (13D: Detroit ___, nickname for Malcolm X). I didn't really know the Spider-Man adversary in question, but I could infer ELECTRO pretty well after the first few letters (I like it—it's got good ... energy) (24D: Spider-Man adversary played by Jamie Foxx). I've got Carmen MCRAE on WAX in my house, so no trouble there (45A: Jazz singer Carmen). Only DETOO and LESSEE made me scowl (!) today. Otherwise, this was close to an ideal Thursday experience. Could've been a little tougher, but it's hard to complain about the difficulty level with a puzzle that sticks the landing like this. I have wondered aloud "Where have the delightful puzzles gone!?" Well—found one. See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Furniture retailer with an arboreal name / WED 4-24-24 / Tragic NASA mission of 1967 / Lewis who sang the theme for "Avatar" / Classic computer game in MoMA's video game collection

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Constructor: Jeffrey Martinovic

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: LATERAL SYMMETRY (62A: Feature of this puzzle's grid and the answers to the six starred clues) — both the grid and the indicated answers (that is, THE INDIVIDUAL LETTERS THAT MAKE UP THE THEME ANSWERS) have lateral (mirror) symmetry along a vertical axis 

Theme answers:
  • MAUI, HAWAII (3D: *Home to Haleakala National Park)
  • "WAIT, WHAT?" (4D: *"Hold on, repeat that?")
  • "MWAHAHA!" (45D: *[Evil laugh])
  • MAXIMUM (46D: *Calculus calculation)
  • "MAMMA MIA!" (10D: *Musical whose name is an Italian exclamation)
  • HOITY-TOITY (11D: *Highfalutin)
Word of the Day: WEST ELM (4A: Furniture retailer with an arboreal name) —
 
West Elm (stylized as west elm) is a retail store that features contemporary furniture designs and other housewares. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma, Inc. There are currently stores in the United StatesCanadaMexicoAustraliaUnited KingdomSaudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Customers are able to shop in-store, online, or through a catalog by telephone. The larger products such as sofas and beds are only displayed in stores for customers to see and feel in-person, likening West Elm to a pure catalog/online retail company. (wikipedia)
• • •

Again, I don't understand why this is an idea you'd want to build a theme around. Who cares or notices that (capital) letters of the alphabet have LATERAL SYMMETRY? And as for the grid ... crossword grids have LATERAL SYMMETRY all the time. All. The. Time. It's not a remarkable feature. Not in the least. So you've got a totally ordinary architectural element and then you've tied your hands behind your back and limited yourself to just ... [counting] ... eleven letters of the alphabet for your theme answers, all so you could go "look, those letters have LATERAL SYMMETRY?" When I say I don't understand, I mean I don't understand how anyone thought any of this would be fun or interesting from a solver's point of view. I mean, is anyone, literally anyone, excited to see MAUI, HAWAII? MAUI, HAWAII? Oh, that Maui! I was thinking maybe Maui, North Dakota, but of course, MAUI, HAWAII, I see it now (/sarcasm). I don't mind the other themers at all—they're nice answers, some of them—but do I care that their letters have LATERAL SYMMETRY? I do not. Also, did you know that there are no other Down answers besides the themers that have the same lateral symmetry? I would say this is nice attention to detail, and it is, but it's a detail that a. no one is going to notice, and b. potentially compromises the grid, i.e. your best choice for an answer at any given point when building your grid might, in fact, be a laterally symmetrical one, but for this theme, if the answer is a non-thematic Down, you'd now have to go off of that best choice if it were in fact laterally symmetrical ... and for reasons no one cares about. And if you think avoiding lateral symmetry is easy, notice that the Acrosses have HAM, and TAU, and WOAH ... all of them composed of laterally symmetrical letters. This is all to say that a lot of careful attention had to go into making a tree fall in the woods that no one is there to hear until you call out to them and say "hey guys, listen to that tree falling!? Hear it!?" Erm, kinda? Not really.


I say EWW to ERM. I say EWW to EWW too, in that I was told only yesterday that the spelling is actually just a two-letter "EW." Does the puzzle think I don't remember yesterday? Well, in general that's a pretty good bet, the days do kinda bleed into one another that makes them hard to distinguish, but that "EW" business, I remember. WOAH is also terrible but at least it was clued with special attention to its ugly wrongness (51A: "Slow down!," spelled unusually). Except ... WAIT, WHAT? No one would spell WOAH that way for *that* meaning of the word ("slow down"). Younger people do tend to spell it that way, but only to express astonishment, not to stop their horses. Bizarre cluing choice. ATAD is not "the smallest amount"—it's a totally unspecified amount—but I guess figuratively you can get away with this clue (I had ATOM here). ABYSM? (70A: Bottomless pit). LOL just say this word out loud to yourself a few times if you wanna feel silly. This is different from an ABYSS how? And how is it "appropriate" that OPRAH has a middle name that's the same* as her best friend's first name? (34D: Celebrity whose middle name is Gail, appropriately enough). It's a weird coincidence, I'll grant you, but there's nothing "appropriate" about it. If your middle name were WOOD and you grew up to be a carpenter, that might be "appropriate"; but unless we think of OPRAH as having grown up to be a windstorm, "Gail" doesn't really qualify as "appropriate."  


I don't know my Laotian currency from my Albanian currency, so KIP was an adventure (26D: Currency of Laos) ... wait, is Albania the LEK ... it is! Hey, maybe I do know my Laotian currency from my Albanian currency. Fascinating development. There were no particularly difficult parts of this grid, except maybe the far north, where my consumer habits didn't prepare me for what was being offered, i.e. I am only vaguely aware of WEST ELM and probably would've told you it was a clothing retailer (plus I thought the "arboreal name" was going to be WOOD-something); and as for IMODIUM (18A: Alternative to Pepto-Bismol) ... I know the name, but not how to spell it, and after Pepto, my familiarity with brand names in this category drops off sharply. Even ARCADIA, which is kind of in my wheelhouse, didn't come to me quickly (I thought maybe "Pan's domain" was something like ORGIES or PARTYING or something like that) (15A: Pan's domain in Greek myth). So I had to run a lot of crosses through that section before it filled out. Otherwise, smooth sailing. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

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