Meat-filled puff / SUN 6-30-24 / Two halves of a platonic whole / Preferring platonic relationships, in a way / River in a classic dad joke / Paul ___, Hungarian mathematician with over 1,500 published papers / Hindu god of death / Spanish wine region / Landlocked African country / Coke-ette? / "Mm-hmm, get a little nearer"?

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Constructor: Ginny Too 

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Misstated" — US state puns ... that is it:

Theme answers:
  • "FLOOR IT, DUH!" (Florida) (22A: Getaway driver's plan obviously?)
  • "MISS IS ZIPPY" (Mississippi) (28A: "She sure runs fast!"?)
  • TEN ASEA (Tennessee) (34A: Captain and nine crew members?)
  • "ORE AGAIN!?" (Oregon) (45A: Jaded miner's remark?)
  • MINI SODA (Minnesota) (51A: Coke-ette?)
  • INDIE ANNA (Indiana) (60A: Actress Kendrick, when appearing in smaller films?)
  • DELL-AWARE (Delaware) (70A: PC-sensitive, in a way?)
  • "WHY OMING?" (Wyoming) (80A: "You realize this is a silent meditation, right?") 
  • EYED A HOE (Idaho) (86A: Considered buying that garden tool?)
  • "HUH, WHY 'E'?" (Hawaii) (96A: "Wait ... can we not play this in F sharp instead?")
  • "VERGE IN, YEAH" (Virginia) (102A: "Mm-hmm, get a little nearer"?)
  • "WHISK ON, SON!" (Wisconsin) (113A: Parent's encouragement to a budding chef?)
Word of the Day: RISSOLE (14D: Meat-filled puff) —

rissole (from Latin russeolus, meaning reddish, via French in which "rissoler" means "to redden") is a small  patty enclosed in pastry or rolled in breadcrumbs, usually baked or deep fried. The filling has savory ingredients, most often minced meatfish or cheese, and is served as an entréemain course, or side dish.

In Australia and New Zealand, a rissole is patty of minced meat and other ingredients, without a pastry covering but often covered in a breadcrumb coating, similar to Hamburg steak and Salisbury steak. (wikipedia)

• • •

Once again, if you enjoy groaner puns, have I got a puzzle for you. Not so much for me. But for you, maybe. If so, lucky you. For me: painful from start to finish. Never not painful. I admire some of the more, uh, ambitious puns, I guess, because at least they had the courage to flop hard, but mostly, yeesh, these were rough. And off. So often just way off. Huge variations in aptness. Stuff like DELL-AWARE and INDIE ANNA are dead-on, soundwise, whereas "FLOOR IT, DUH"!?!? ... I have no idea what that answer thinks it's doing, or how it thinks it's anywhere close to punny. There's a damn "T" in there, what the hell? The worst (by far) was VERGE IN, YEAH ... I mean, I can't even begin to imagine any context, even the most fanciful context, where anyone would utter those words. I don't even know what "VERGE IN" means. Who says that? "Get a little nearer" = VERGE IN????? What are editors for if not to say "uh, no"? The clue and the answer there are both nth-degree tortured. As if dad joke-level puns weren't hard enough to endure over the course of a Very Large 21x21 canvas. "MINI SODA?" No One Pronounces The State Name That Way. It seems as if the idea today was volume. Dazzle them with ... density? Twelve themers!? When the theme is unsavory, more is not better. Why not all the states? Since quality of pun seems not to matter at all, why not keep going? "CALIPH OR NIA?" [Choice between a Muslim ruler and actress Peeples?] Or WASH IN TUN [Use wine cask for bathing?] MISHA GUN [Firearm belonging to Baryshnikov?]. Go to town. I think I almost liked EYED A HOE and "ORE AGAIN!?" and "WHISK ON, SON!" But twelve of these, in a grid that doesn't really have anything else to offer as far as marquee fill ... I was enduring fare more than I was enjoying. (You Sundays-only solvers should know that the puzzle was on a Very good run this week, from Wednesday through yesterday—there really is a Sunday-specific quality problem) (Also, there are two WHYs in the state puns... why? That kind of duplication seems ... bad.)

The puzzle was mostly easy. The theme, despite having some bonkers entries, was very easy to work out, in general, so all the difficulty really came from the fill, which was fine but forgettable, with some occasionally ugly answers and forced cluing. It's weird how often I'm asked to know this ERDOS guy's name (7D: Paul ___, Hungarian mathematician with over 1,500 published papers). OK, only eight times in twenty years, but that seems like a lot. ERDOS makes me miss MS/DOS. Seems like you'd do everything you could to keep that name out of your puzzle. ERDOS makes EULER seem like a household name. A moratorium on five-letter "E" mathematicians, I beg you. Never heard of RISSOLE, so that was easily the scariest / diciest / iffiest part of the solve for me. TATAR / RISSOLE ... that cross wasn't exactly in doubt, since at least TATAR meant *something* to me, but in general, RISSOLE was a yikes for me. I did like the juxtaposition of RISSOLE and ZOLA. If there's not a ZOLA RISSOLE, there should be. The clue on GEESE is 49D: V-six or V-twelve?). I mean, yes, they fly in "V" shapes, vaguely, but 6? 12? Arbitrary numbers. I mean, why not V-eight? Bizarre. Also, GEESE crosses OASES, which (as clued) could easily (or so it seemed to me) have been OASIS (56A: Sandy springs)—that's what I wrote in at first, and that made GEESE very hard to see. I also had what felt like a close call at ABS / "BOOYA!" The spelling on the latter one felt odd, and ABS had a tricky / vague clue (67A: Core components) (I think I wanted CPU there at first). Do people really use the term "COHEIR?" (77A: One of several named in a will). You just refer to the heirs as "heirs", right? Normally? Like normal people do, when they say things? I don't know that I've ever heard of YAMA (105D: Hindu god of death). I had RAMA. Not a great feeling to discover YAMA via uncovering the absolute worst themer of the bunch ("VERGE IN, YEAH!"). I still can't fathom this answer. The tone, the context, nothing. "VERGE, ENYA!," while still nonsensical, would have been so much more pleasing.

There were some bizarre clues today. Like the one on WOOD. Such a nice, versatile, ordinary word, you could clue it any number of ways, but today you clue it as a synonym of ... "woods" (33A: Where fairy tale creatures often live)? I haven't heard the woods called a "WOOD" outside of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories (set in the Hundred Acre WOOD). Fairy tale characters live in the woods. With the "S" on the end. The fairy tale-based Sondheim musical (starring INDIE ANNA Kendrick!) is called Into the Woods, for god's sake, not Into the WOOD. Appropriate that that answer crosses LAID EGGS. Boo to that answer. You have to really do some heavy imaginative lifting to make "AND?" work at 119A: Sassy retort. Specifically, you have to mentally add the "?" And the sass. You end up with a kind of substitute for "Your point being?" ("YOUR POINT BEING?" would be a top-tier crossword answer, by the way, if you're looking to pad your wordlist). Do people really "frown upon" BURPs (15A: Frowned-upon sound)? I guess in some contexts it's considered rude, still, but fewer and fewer things are, and seems to me people are as apt to laugh at or ignore as "frown upon" a BURP.  As I learned the last time BURP appeared in the grid (yesterday? two days ago?), there's a whole kid-lit industry dedicated to how funny BURPs are. 

Additional notes:
  • 98A: River in a classic dad joke (NILE) — wait, you've made a puzzle that's inundated with dad jokes, but you're gonna be coy about this one? Weird. Does the "joke" involve calling someone "Cleopatra Queen of Denial?" If so, the first person I heard say that was Roseanne, I think. Famously not a dad. There's also this Pam Tillis song:
  • 1D: Two halves of a platonic whole (BFFS) — weird to refer to BFFS as "platonic" (how do you know they're not making out in private?) and also a "whole." I get that you want to make some kind of philosophy joke here, but like many of the "dad jokes" in this puzzle, it doesn't quite land.
  • 61D: Poet who wrote "Behold the duck / It does not cluck" (NASH) — as in Ogden NASH. Without crosswords, I wouldn't know he existed. His rhymes seem to have been very popular in the last century. "A one-L lama, he's a priest," etc.
The one-l lama, He's a priest. The two-l llama, He's a beast. And I will bet A silk pajama There isn't any Three-l lllama.
  • 87D: Certain camarade (AMIE) — French spelling of "comrade." Some of your "comrades" are friends. Friends who are female. Hence AMIE
  • 101D: What's left of the Colosseum (RUINS) — ever get misdirected by a clue that's actually being straightforward? I was thinking "left" was a direction ... and then I thought maybe the answer was going to be the word for "left" in Latin (but that's "sinister," so no fit). But "What's left" here is just "what remains."
I forgot to do Puzzles of the Month for May, so here's May *and* June 

Themed (two from May, two from June)
  • Joe DiPietro, "in old Rome" (letter strings "ONE" "TWO" "FOUR" and "EIGHT" rendered in grid as Roman numerals) (Thursday, 5/9)
  • Jack Scherban, "YOU AND WHAT ARMY?" (non-military figures with military titles) (Monday, 5/20)
  • Rebecca Goldstein, "I'M WALKIN' HERE" (famous walkers) (Wednesday, 6/26)
  • Paolo Pasco and Sarah Sinclair, STUFFED CRUST pizza (edges of the pizza-shaped grid are "stuffed" — two letters in each square) (Thursday, 6/27)
Themeless (one from May, one from June)
  • Billy Bratton, Saturday, 5/11 (SAMANTHA WHO?, GOAT YOGA, SAMESIES)
  • Alice Liang and Christina Iverson, Friday, 6/7 (TRIPLE SEC, SATANISM, IN A GOOD WAY)
See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Chewy barbecue bits / SAT 6-29-24 / Magazine with a "Skater of the Year" award / Exploding part of a touch-me-not / Parsons who worked on "Abbey Road" and "The Dark Side of the Moon" / Down during difficult times? / Modern medium for jotting things down / Touristy district in Rome

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Constructor: Adrian Johnson and Rafael Musa

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EID AL-ADHA (13A: Islam's feast of sacrifice) —

Eid al-Adha (Arabicعيد الأضحىromanizedʿĪd al-ʾAḍḥāEED əl AD-həIPA: [ˈʕiːd alˈʔadˤħaː]), commonly translated as the Feast of Sacrifice and also known as Yawm an-Nahr (Arabicيوم النحرromanizedYawm al-Naḥr), is the second of the two main Islamic holidays alongside Eid al-Fitr. In the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day of the twelfth and final month of Dhu al-Hijja, and celebrations and observances are generally carried forward to the three following days, known as the Tashreeq days.

As with Eid al-Fitr, the Eid prayer is performed on the morning of Eid al-Adha, after which udhiyah, or the ritual sacrifice of sheep, may be performed. In Islamic tradition, it honours the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God's command. Depending on the narrative, either Ishmael or Isaac are referred to with the honorific title "Sacrifice of God". Pilgrims performing the Hajj typically perform the tawaf and saee of Hajj on Eid al-Adha, along with the ritual stoning of the devil on the Eid day and the following days.

Eid al-Adha is also sometimes called the "Greater Eid" (Arabic: العيد الكبيرromanized: al-ʿĪd al-Kabīr). In India it is also called Bakra-Id. (wikipedia)

• • •

Aaaaaand once again Saturday is the new Friday. This was Friday- (not Saturday-) easy, and had all the pop and whoosh and flow and fun that I want my Fridays to have. Well, it wasn't all fun. I finished up in the SE, where there was definitely some grumbling. My grumbling. LOL that I'm supposed to know the name of a skating (i.e. skateboarding) magazine (42A: Magazine with a "Skater of the Year" award), though I will say that THRASHER was inferrable, as I guess I've heard of skateboarding as "thrashing" before. This "Glossary of Skateboarding Terms and Slang" (from Surfer Today dot com) defines a "Thrasher" as "an avid or enthusiastic skater," so there you go. Ooh, also, looks like there's an iconic skateboarding movie of 1986 called Thrashin'. Iconic to skaters, that is. Maybe not "iconic." Well-known, perhaps. Divisive, it seems. (This conversation between Josh Brolin and Tony Hawk (both in the movie) is very funny):

But beyond this random piece of skating trivia, there were other "???" moments in the SE, the worst of which, for me, was TRAIL AWAY (46A: What a speaker might do if nobody is listening to them)—specifically the "AWAY" part. The phrase is "TRAIL OFF," isn't it? I mean, don't answer, it definitely is. When I got TRAIL and OFF wouldn't fit I made the saddest/angriest face. But oh, before that, I had to actually *get* to TRAIL, and that wasn't easy, what with GRAM Parsons sitting in on the Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon sessions, dear lord! I had just listened to a series of podcasts about GRAM Parsons, so I should've known the timeline and especially the catalogue was wrong here, but, I mean, famous musical Parsons, four letters, the "A" works ... I was semi-locked in. Gah! (43D: Parsons who worked on "Abbey Road" and "The Dark Side of the Moon" = ALAN). I also encountered my third "ON" of the grid down here (READ ON, after ON HAND and ADD-ONS), which is a teeny thing, really, as glitches go, but my accumulated good will from the previous 3/4 of this puzzle felt like it was draining away, so I was feeling every little imperfection. Trivia nearly killed me (THRASHER) but then trivia really bailed me out, as Aidy BRYANT is a very familiar name to me. Stunned to discover AIDY has been in the grid only once (Oct. 2023). That's a name built for crosswords. Today's BRYANT clue doesn't even contain "Aidy," which made it hardish. But I could infer it from a few crosses. Anyway, this corner was a mild bummer, but my overall experience was something close to elated. And check out Aidy BRYANT in Shrill, it's very good. 

Back to the elation. Nice to have a big fat gimme at 1-Across today (1A: Sound from a kid = MAA). Gave me all the first letters in a bank of 6-letter answers, hurray. ADORED and AIN'T SO to POD and MESS UP and bam, the whole far NW is set before I have a chance to think. But now I've got EID ... and, uh ... if the next bit is not MUBARAK!, I confess, I give up. I *should've* known EID AL-FITR (which would've fit ... r), since that's the EID I know—the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. But I didn't even have that in my arsenal. And EID AL-ADHA—totally new to me today. But if it's one of the two main Islamic holidays, I can't exactly complain it's obscure, now can I? I enjoyed learning that there's more than one EID, and I especially enjoyed that I was able to learn this without my grid absolutely blowing up—all crosses fair! And I'm grateful that EID AL-ADHA introduced a little struggle into my solve (which needed it). My main experience of the NW was not the struggle caused by EID AL-ADHA but the explosion of great answers that started here and then shot across the grid in all directions. STRESS EAT (19A: Down during difficult times?) and SNOW ANGEL (17A: Something that's made lying down) into THEATER DISTRICT (getting DISTRICT was my first big whoosh) (6D: Play area), and then onto the UNEVEN BARS and getting down with the BOSSA NOVA, with very little trouble. And the hits kept coming: "I WON'T BITE"! RUSSIAN SPY! (great clue) (36A: Red plant?). RIB TIPS! (29A: Chewy barbecue bits). And "JUST FYI," so good, so colloquially on-the-nose (33A: "In case it's of interest ..."). I had just the terminal "I" and thought "what the hell!?!?" So nice to go from "what the hell!?!?" to "Oh, wow, yes, that's it. Seemed impossible, but ... there it is!"

I think I've covered my only real sticking points today. I absolutely botched AKON by totally misreading the clue. I kept thinking the last letter was moved to the front instead of the front to the back, so even after I'd finished the puzzle, I was wondering where the Hell NAKO, Hawaii was. You have no idea how many four-letter singers I tried in there. "ENYA? ... BONO? ... CHER? ... NE-YO? ... come on, one of you gotta have a Hawaiian name in you somewhere!" AKON => KONA. That was the key. 

  • 24A: Exploding part of a touch-me-not (POD) — no idea what this is. Looks like it's a plant that recoils from touch, also called a "touch-and-die" and "shameplant," wow. In addition to recoiling, they have seed pods that "explode," it seems. In addition to never having heard of this, I misread the clue (again!) as "Exploring part ..." and so was looking for "tendril" or ... I don't know, something, "reach-out-and-touch"-y like that. "Touch-me-not" apparently has (human) sexual meaning as well as botanical meaning. I'll leave you to explore (!) that meaning for yourself. [UPDATE: apparently "touch me not" is the name for "two unrelated groups of plants" (!?) and wikipedia gave me the "wrong" one. Sigh. Here's the "right" one (a variety of impatiens)]:
  • 27A: Online chatter? (BOT)chatBOTs are a pretty common (and horrible) feature of online life, especially if you're trying to deal with, say, your local internet service provider or the power company or whatever.
  • 31A: 1990 civil rights legislation, for short (ADA) — Americans with Disabilities Act
  • 2D: "You're lyin'!" ("AIN'T SO!") — after "ARE NOT!" wouldn't fit ... "AIN'T SO!" didn't take too long. I had yokel-speak on the brain because we're in the middle of a two-part Love Boat episode where Donny Osmond is an aspiring singer about to get his big break (singing on a cruise!?) but his "mountain folk" family has decided to show up and see him and he's embarrassed by their country ways so I'm sure he's gonna learn some kind of lesson about being yourself and loving your family blah blah blah. Anyway, his mom is played by Marion ("Mrs. C") Ross and his dad by Slim Pickens and his sister by Loni "I used to be in crosswords more" Anderson, who they've got done up as a pure "hillbilly" caricature, from the look to the accent. Kind of a cross between Ellie Mae (Beverly Hillbillies) and Daisy Mae (L'il Abner). Loni's engaged to some farmer guy but now that she's on this cruise, she's seeing what the big wide world has to offer, and this includes the notoriously sexy Rich Little yes that Rich Little no I am not making this up. Rich Little is the record producer or agent or I forget what but he's the guy who's gonna "discover" Donny Osmond ... but now he's hitting on Donny's sister Loni ... who is already engaged. What will Mrs. C think!? I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out once I watch Part 2. I forget why I started telling you all this in the first place. 
  • 10D: Modern medium for jotting things down (NOTES APP) — not an exciting answer, but original, probably, and very real. I use a NOTES APP all the time when I've got text I want to retain or ideas I need to dump and I don't know what to do with them just yet.
  • 31D: Robbins who co-wrote the "Rocky" theme "Gonna Fly Now" (AYN) — the kind of ridiculous trivia you resort to when you Know your puzzle is gonna play too easy. If it ain't Rand, then I AYN't gonna know what you're talking about. 
  • 48D: Make rent (RIP) — "rent" = "torn" here.
  • 54A: Something seen in a demo, for short (TNT) — "demo" = demolition. So I just learned that "dynamite" and TNT are not the same thing, and that where demolition is concerned "The industry’s material of choice remains dynamite, especially in concrete demolition and large, complex applications." ( Here's more, from wikipedia:
Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is often assumed to be the same as (or confused for) dynamite largely because of the ubiquity of both explosives during the 20th century. This incorrect connection between TNT and dynamite was enhanced by cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, where animators labeled any kind of bomb (ranging from sticks of dynamite to kegs of black powder) as TNT [...] Aside from both being high explosives, TNT and dynamite have little in common. [...] TNT has never been popular or widespread in civilian earthmoving, as it is considerably more expensive and less powerful by weight than dynamite, as well as being slower to mix and pack into boreholes. TNT's primary asset is its remarkable insensitivity and stability: it is waterproof and incapable of detonating without the extreme shock and heat provided by a blasting cap (or a sympathetic detonation) (my emph.)
I'm obviously out of my depth here, but I'm now weirdly wondering if TNT is, in fact, used for "a demo" (in the controlled, industrial sense). I can't say that I care, but I am wondering. OK bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Magnus Carlsen achieved one of 2882 / FRI 6-28-24 / What Anne Brontë and Anaïs Nin have in common / MGM co-founder Marcus / National advocacy grp. for L.G.B.T.Q. issues / "Frankly," in texting shorthand / New York Post gossip section named for its location / Mythical creature likely inspired by Madagascar's elephant bird / Letter derived from Phoenician's "heth"

Friday, June 28, 2024

Constructor: Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (on the slow side, for me, for a Friday)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PFLAG (27D: National advocacy grp. for L.G.B.T.Q. issues) —

PFLAG is the United States' largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for lesbiangaybisexualtransgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people and those who love them. PFLAG National is the national organization, which provides support to the PFLAG network of local chapters. PFLAG has nearly 400 chapters across the United States, with more than 350,000 members and supporters.

PFLAG (pronounced /ˈpflæɡ/ PEE-flag) is no longer an acronym, but the actual name of the organization. Prior to 2014, the acronym stood for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (later broadened to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Until removal of the hyphen in 1993 the name was officially styled as P-FLAG. In 2014 the membership of the organization voted to officially change the name to PFLAG to reflect the decades of fully inclusive work it had been doing in the LGBTQ+ community. (wikipedia)

• • •

Couldn't ever really find the groove with this one. Whatever that means. Maybe I didn't find my groove. The puzzle and I didn't groove. Something wasn't groovy. The NW set the tone. I kinda shrugged at the longer stuff but felt bombarded by short stuff that felt olden or clunky. The whole CPLUS PRU LOEW ULNA area was wearisome. And then there was the stuff I just don't care about at all, the stuff that is never gonna be my thing. No poker today (eternally not my thing), but there is KENKEN (no interest) and chess terminology (I've seen ELO clued this boring non-musical way a bunch—pretty sure I've had the chess meaning of ELO as my Word of the Day before—and I still couldn't tell you what any of the letters stand for) (ah, that's because the letters don't stand for anything; it's a rating system named after a guy named Arped ELO) (I'm already forgetting this fact as I type this sentence). It's hard to think of a bigger waste of marquee space than TELEPRESENCE (26A: Virtual participation in a remote event). Just a horrid word on its face. I guess it's original, but I can't say I'm happy to see it. NOT SO NICE, that answer (unlike NOT SO NICE, which is, in fact, pretty nice). The grid just felt more bony than meaty overall. I mean, literally bony. ULNA and SACRA, really? I know "sacrum" well, from years of yoga, but SACRA is a word I never see in the plural outside crosswords. INIT NONA HTTP ... they hold the puzzle together, but they're not exactly answers I WANNA SEE (though WANNA SEE? is another answer I actually like up top). This one just never got off the ground. Or I never did. For whatever reason, my Friday Fun Feelings just sat there, largely unactivated. 

The bottom half didn't liven things up much more than the top half did, though there's something intriguing and provocative about the THREESOME / IBUPROFEN juxtaposition, and "WHAT A TREAT!" is, in fact, a bit of a treat. But it's really (really) hard to get excited about DIAERESES (38A: What Anne Brontë and Anaïs Nin have in common). That three-vowel run ("IAE") had me certain something was wrong, though nothing was wrong. I was lucky enough to know PFLAG. If you didn't, I can see that section getting really thorny indeed. I think I've been spelling "diaresis" ("dieresis"?) wrong my whole life. Well, to the extent that I've been spelling it at all, which is ... unlikely. You're not supposed to call that double-dot mark in "Brontë" or "Anaïs" an "umlaut" because on a technical level it is not an umlaut despite looking exactly like an umlaut. It's function is to signal a new, discrete syllable. Basically it tells you "Brontë" has two syllables not one (i.e. "BRON-tay," not "BRONT") and "Anaïs" has three and not two (i.e. "ah-nah-ees" (or "uh-NAY-iss"), not "An ACE"). It's a hard word to love, TBH. Speaking of TBH ("to be honest"), really hope everyone is up on there textspeak, because that "T" cross for TBH seems potentially rough (seems reasonable for people to imagine that there's an "MLB on CBS"). I don't know how you'd rationalize CBH as an answer to that clue (33A: "Frankly," in texting shorthand), but I often have no rationalization of the things I put in the grid. I mean, ELO, for instance. See above. Hey, is CBH the cannabis stuff ... nope, that's CBD (short for "cannabidiol," the active ingredient in cannabis). You can add cannabis to chess, poker, KENKEN, and other things I am clearly no expert on (and not particularly interested in). 

Dupes aplenty today, NOT SO NICE and IT'S NOT FAR. NOS and NO-NONSENSE and NONA and NANO (I know those last two aren't proper "nos" but the alliteration is hard to stop once you start). Today I learned a new NONA. I put a NONA Hendryx song on the blog the other day when the puzzle *didn't* use her as a clue (it opted instead for the geometrical prefix NONA-, as in "nonagon"). NONA Gaye's discography seems pretty thin, but she did some pretty high-profile acting there for a while. She was in Ali as well as the Matrix sequels. She also collaborated with (and dated!) Prince. I mistakenly thought that NONA Hendryx was the daughter of Jimi Hendrix (she was born "Hendrix") but they're basically the same age. "Distant cousins," according to her. Anyway, connections to music royalty all around. 

Puzzle notes:
  • 42A: No small part (SPEAKING ROLE) — hey look, another "No" to add to the list of "NOS" and "NOTs" we've already got going. I wrote in STARRING ROLE here. I don't really understand the clue on this one—many SPEAKING ROLEs are in fact Very small parts. 
  • 4D: Top choices (T-SHIRTS) — big misdirect in the clue, but even so, I should've known the answer wouldn't start "TOP" (which I literally wrote in the grid for a bit, what the hell?!). I was thinking "hmmm, like TOP PICKS, something like that?" when I should've been thinking "That can't be right! 'Top' is in the clue, you idiot!"
  • 7D: MGM co-founder Marcus (LOEW) — wrote this in as LOEB. As in "Leopold and." Or, you know, the LOEB Classical Library (red for Latin, green for Greek):
  • 60A: Like the flavor of much mezcal (SMOKY) — mezcal is one of my favorite base spirits for cocktails and I still managed to fumble this one a bit. Had the -MO-Y and like "... EMORY?" Tik TOK to the rescue with the "K" (TOK, among the uglier entries of the day)
  • 37D: New York Post gossip section named for its location (PAGE SIX) — the things I don't care about just Keep Coming. I'm aware that the Post exists, but can't imagine reading it. And a "gossip section"? I'd sooner solve a KENKEN (which, believe me, is Saying Something)
  • 46D: Greek goddess of peace (IRENE) — so many great IRENEs in the world, why would you go this route? I was like "Is it IRENE? IRENA? IRINA?" Ugh. 
  • 39D: Mythical creature likely inspired by Madagascar's elephant bird (ROC) — I know this exclusively from some version of "Sinbad the Sailor," I think. Hey, do you remember the sitcom "ROC"? Early '90s? Fox? Starring the great Charles Dutton? Is that streaming? I remember really liking it. Gonna see if I can't track that show down... 

See you next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Flavoring in purple bubble tea / THU 6-27-24 / One of two heard in "This Kiss" / Prey for a moray eel / Noted name with an Oscar? / Material for some trifold display boards / Uruguayan soccer star Luis / Inn flowery setting for a Nancy Drew mystery / Laundry challenge for a mountain biker / Part of a row that might have a rho

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Constructor: Paolo Pasco and Sarah Sinclair

Relative difficulty: Depends on how long it takes you to get the gimmick—after that, Easy

THEME: STUFFED CRUST pizza! (41A: Feature of a deluxe pie ... and of this puzzle?) — grid is shaped (roughly) like a pizza, and the boxes on the edge (or "crust") of it are all "stuffed" with two letters instead of the usual one. The black squares in the puzzle are supposed to represent PIZZA TOPPINGs (26A: Pepperoni, mushroom or green pepper ... or what each cluster of black squares represents in this puzzle)

The all-crust answers (clockwise from the top):
  • CASTILLO (1A: Château : France :: ___ : Spain)
  • ALPACA (5A: Llama relative with prized wool)
  • KEEP TABS (21D: Closely monitor, with "on")
  • STINKY (46D: Foul)
  • REINDEER (66A: Vixen, e.g.)
  • ONE-UPS (65A: Outdoes)
  • MURALIST (36D: Artist whose work has a wide reach?)
  • WHOOPI (18D: "Sister Act" star, familiarly)
Word of the Day: STUFFED CRUST pizza (41A) —
Stuffed crust pizza
 is pizza with cheese (typically mozzarella) or other ingredients added into the outer edge of the crust. The stuffed crust pizza was popularized by Pizza Hut, which debuted this style of pizza in 1995. // Pizza Hut introduced stuffed crust pizza, created by Patty Scheibmeir, and launched it on March 25, 1995. It was marketed in a commercial with Donald Trump. // Pizza Hut was sued by the family of Anthony Mongiello for $1 billion, over claims that Pizza Hut's stuffed crust infringed on Mongiello's 1987 patent (US4661361A) on making stuffed pizza shells. Pizza Hut was found to have not infringed on the Patent in 1999, the court stating "...[the] plaintiff does not have a product patent, and its method patent is not infringed simply because some examples of defendant's completed product approximate plaintiff's product." // DiGiorno began offering a cheese stuffed crust pizza in grocery stores in 2001. [...] Pizza Hut New Zealand has sold Marmite stuffed crust pizza, and Pizza Hut Japan introduced a pizza with a crust of pockets stuffed with, alternately, Camembert, shrimp, sausage, and mozzarella. Pizza Hut Japan offered a crust stuffed with shrimp and mayonnaise, and Pizza Hut Germany offered a "German King" with a sausage, bacon, and cheese-stuffed crust. Pizza Hut Japan and South Korea have sold pizza with shrimp and cheese-stuffed crust, and Pizza Hut Hong Kong made abalone sauce "Cheesy Lava"-stuffed crust pizza. Pizza Hut Australia made a pizza with a crust stuffed with miniature meat pies. (wikipedia) (dang, I've been to NZ five times and no one ever offered this to me! I feel cheated)
• • •

It is stupid how good this puzzle is. How good the puzzle has been two days in a row now. The concept is actually ... kind of simple. Stuff the crust (of the grid) with two letters instead of one. Change the shape of the grid from square to round (-ish). Make the black squares look (kinda) like PIZZA TOPPINGs. Conceptually, simple. Execution-wise, I'm guessing less simple. A lot less. So so so nice to have a puzzle that is obviously an architectural marvel but that doesn't feel overly fussy or complicated and that isn't either torturous or tedious to solve. This one was hard ... and then bam, the gimmick dropped and it was delightful. Maybe a touch too easy—once you know the outer edges are "stuffed," the puzzle drops to like a Tuesday/Wednesday difficulty level. But the grid is juicy and varied enough to remain interesting for the rest of the solve, and I will confess that I gasped (ever so slightly) when the grid went full COLOR at the end. I am on record as not caring for this kind of tech-assisted gimmickry, but I think I object to the gimmickry most when it seems to be the main point of interest, or when it seems to be trying to make up for mediocre puzzle quality. Today, I loved the puzzle so much that the post-solve pop of pizza—the visual transformation to color—felt like a nice little bonus. I mean, I wouldn't eat anything that looked like that, but I can see the pizzaness of it all maybe a little more clearly. Mainly I was just stunned that my software was capable of such a transformation. I stubbornly refuse to solve in-app (or on the site)—it's just not convenient for my purposes, and I don't like the idea of my solving data being harvested—so I use Black Ink, which has generally not had the color / animation / post-solve whistles and bells that the app has been leaning into. So when my grid burst into color in the end ... part of my gasp was genuine surprise that my software could even do something like that. But surface-level effects aside, this puzzle was a joy to solve as a puzzle. As long as a puzzle holds up as a puzzle, you can make it do whatever you want once I'm done solving. Make it self-destruct for all I care. The puzzle is the thing, and this one was a joy.

The difficulty today is getting started. If you're like me (maybe??) you probably wrote in CASA at 1A: Château : France :: ___ : Spain and then quickly ground to a halt. Maybe you got mad that certain words you knew had to be right just wouldn't fit ("I know it's Steve CARELL ... or is it CARREL? Or CARRELL? Those don't fit either. Wait, is it CAREL? That ... looks wrong"). The secret to getting started on this one, for me, was Get Away From The Edge. "Step away from the crust, sir." God bless you, TORI Amos. Once I finally found an answer that I *knew* and that *fit*, I felt like I had some kind of chance. The puzzle bloomed out from TORI to IPO and ORSO. Then I looked at that long answer, which turned out to be the first themer. The answer seemed to be "PIZZA TOPPING" *and* I had some letters to confirm it, so I inched my way west via crosses, filling in PIZZA TOPPING backwards as I went. PINTA, ODISTS, APT ... And then, I was like "OK, so we're gonna run out of room here real quick. We're ... one letter short. So ... is it ... is it just a two letters / one square trick!!??! (puts in the "PI" and then checks 18D: "Sister Act" star, familiarly) Yes, that's it! OMG, it's a STUFFED CRUST pizza!!!!" I actually mentally shouted the revealer before I ever even got to the revealer itself. I just knew instantly that that's what was up. I had the pizza part and then the "PI" went in and whooooosh the whole theme came to me in a rush. 

Of course I still had to finish, and it seemed like the stuffed squares could potentially get perilous at points. I definitely tiptoed my way to CASTILLO (totally unknown to me), and struggled to make something ending in "-US" from 12A: Parting words ("CALL US!"?) (I like my ADIEUX to end with a proper "X" thank you very much). 

But mostly the crust didn't give me any flak. If anything, the crust was easy to get because every time you punched a cross through it, you got two letters to work from instead of just one. When crosses are giving you two letters, well, that's twice as much info they're providing. So the crust actually helped more than hurt, I think. My only complaint with the theme is the cluing on STUFFED CRUST (41A: Feature of a deluxe pie...). I have had many "deluxe" pies in my life and precisely zero of them have had STUFFED CRUST (if a pizza is actually *good* then the crust is good and I don't want any gunk in it, thanks). "Deluxe" has to do with toppings, not crust (just google if you don't believe me). Also, there are *plenty* of STUFFED CRUST options that are not "deluxe" at all. Just plain-ass pepperoni or whatever. If you really think there's some connection between STUFFED CRUST and the concept of "deluxe," at least put a qualifier in there ([Feature of some deluxe pies...]). Probably better off finding another clue entirely. A "Deluxe"-free clue.

Deluxe answers:
  • 9A: ___ Inn, "flowery" setting for a Nancy Drew mystery (LILAC) — seems like a tough clue, but I had the "AC" from ACERB (a word I've still only ever seen in crosswords ... irl we say "acerbic," I think).
  • 19A: Potential goal for a unicorn, in brief (IPO) — I forget the specific corporate meaning of "unicorn," but I've picked up enough dumb bizspeak from crosswords that I saw right through this and went straight to the crosswordesey IPO, no problem. (Here's the def of "unicorn" if you're interested) (IPO = initial public offering)
  • 50A: Rough houses? (STUCCOS) — I know stucco as a house-coating material. I did not know you called the whole damn house a "stucco." Still, I knew what stucco was, and that it was rough, and found on houses, so no trouble.
  • 3D: College team whose name is its home state minus two letters (ILLINI) — The Fighting ILLINI! (just two letters short of their home state, ILLINIDO)
  • 11D: Uruguayan soccer star Luis (SUAREZ) — now that I see his name, I have actually heard of him. I feel like he gets thrown out of games a lot, is that right? Oh, I see. He bites. And says racist stuff. Fun! (Here's a huge article him from the NYT last year) ("banned on three separate occasions for biting opponents during matches")
  • 17D: One of two heard in "This Kiss" (SHORT "I") — a "letteral" clue. I misread this as "The Kiss," as in the Klimt painting. "How am I supposed to hear a painting!?"
  • 28D: Mixed bag? (TEA) — the tea ... is mixed ... inside the TEA bag ... I guess?
  • 36D: Artist whose work has a wide reach? (MURALIST) — Is this because murals are (often) big (i.e. "wide") or because murals are so often outdoors, in public view, and thus available to a "wide" audience (wider than a painting in a museum would have)? Both? Neither? Shrug.
  • 43D: Material for some trifold display boards (FOAMCORE) — been 40+ years since my last science fair project, and if I ever knew the name of this stuff I forgot it. Still, not hard to infer.
  • 58D: Duane ___ (pharmacy chain) (READE) — obvious to New Yorkers, a lot less obvious (I think) to the rest of the world. I have never seen a Duane READE outside NYC.
  • 33A: "That one's mine!" ("I GOT DIBS!") — one of the delightful answers that made this puzzle a pleasure to solve even beyond the theme reveal. See also RUMOR MILLS, MUD STAIN, GO BROKE, LOLLIPOP, etc.
  • 59D: Noted name with an Oscar? (MAYER) — as in "wiener." Some STUFFED CRUST pizzas are stuffed with wieners. Wouldn't want that in my crust any more than I'd want REINDEER, ALPACA, or WHOOPI Goldberg in there. Let crust be crust and toppings be toppings! These are my conservative pizza views! Unstuff your crusts, people! The fact that I loved a puzzle based on a food abomination is a real Christmas miracle. This puzzle has powers. See you next time.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Memorable ad-lib in "Midnight Cowboy" / WED 6-26-24 / Bog buildup / Emotionally volatile situation, metaphorically / Prefix with -gon / Jay relative / Old-fashioned basketball attempts / Poker variety in which each player is dealt four cards / Bygone carrier whose first hub was in Pittsburgh

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Constructor: Rebecca Goldstein

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "I'M WALKIN' HERE" (52A: Memorable ad-lib in "Midnight Cowboy" ... or what the starred clues would say about their answers) — clues are names of famous people, and answers are places where they famously walked:

Theme answers:
  • SEA OF GALILEE (20A: *Jesus)
  • YELLOW BRICK ROAD (24A: *Dorothy Gale)
  • TRANQUILITY BASE (45A: *Neil Armstrong)
Word of the Day: "Midnight Cowboy" (from 52A: Memorable ad-lib in "Midnight Cowboy"...) —

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American drama film directed by John Schlesinger, adapted by Waldo Salt from the 1965 novel of the same title by James Leo Herlihy. The film stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, with supporting roles played by Sylvia MilesJohn McGiverBrenda VaccaroBob BalabanJennifer Salt and Barnard Hughes. Set in New York CityMidnight Cowboy depicts the unlikely friendship between two hustlers: naïve prostitute Joe Buck (Voight) and ailing con man Rico Rizzo (Hoffman), referred to as "Ratso".

At the 42nd Academy Awards, the film won three awards: Best PictureBest Director, and Best Adapted ScreenplayMidnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film (equivalent of the current NC-17 rating) to win Best Picture. It placed 36th on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, and 43rd on its 2007 updated version.

In 1994, Midnight Cowboy was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. (wikipedia)

• • •

OK so the only way I can imagine *not* liking this one is if you'd never heard of Midnight Cowboy or never heard the famous line in question. Weird that the clue says it's an "ad-lib"—I honestly didn't know that. So much of what appears to be ad-libs in movies is actually meticulously scripted and rehearsed, so I just assume everything in a movie was planned unless I hear otherwise. And now I'm hearing otherwise, I guess. Cool ... nope, wait. Maybe not cool. According to wikipedia, Dustin Hoffman says "it was an ad-lib," but producer says "nope":
The line, "I'm walkin' here!", which reached number 27 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, is often said to have been improvised, but producer Jerome Hellman disputes this account on the two-disc DVD set of Midnight Cowboy. The scene, which originally had Ratso pretend to be hit by a taxi to feign an injury, is written into the first draft of the original script. Hoffman explained it differently on an installment of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. He stated that there were many takes to hit the traffic light just right so they would not have to pause while walking. In that take, the timing was perfect, but a cab nearly hit them. Hoffman wanted to say, "We're filming a movie here!", but stayed in character, allowing the take to be used. (wikipedia)
These don't actually sound like contradictory accounts. Anyway, still weird to use "ad-lib" here and not just "line." Also weird (very weird) not to have a question mark at the end of the revealer clue, and for that same clue to use "would" instead of "might" ("... or what the starred clues would say about their answers"). You're being playful, fanciful, absurd in imagining these characters saying this line. To just say flatly that these characters "would" say the line is ... well it's preposterous on its face. You need some indication in the clue that you are being wacky. You need a "?" Or you at least need a "might" instead of a "would." 

But back to the actual puzzle. Thematically, it's close to perfect. A 10. Simple and elegant, with three genuinely iconic walkers (no forced examples here), and a revealer that genuinely surprises and entertains. "How are these going to hang together, exactly?" I'm thinking as I descend the grid, and then bam, I get that iconic line—"I'M WALKIN' HERE!"—which would be a ton of fun to encounter under any circumstances, but is particularly fun here as the answer that makes it all make sense. Plus there's the added bonus of getting to imagine Jesus, Dorothy, and Neil actually saying this line. I just imagine Dorothy angrily shoving a Munchkin out of the way...

What was nice about this puzzle was that while I was making my way to the revealer, I didn't feel like I was just ho-humming along, waiting to get to the punchline. The trip, the journey, the walk itself was a great pleasure, with many highlights along the way. The theme answers themselves are solid to vibrant, but I particularly appreciated that the puzzle had other high-quality answers to offer, starting with "OK, YOU WIN" (my first indication that this wasn't just going to be a phoned-in grid), and then continuing on with the spooky juxtaposition of SHRIEK and CAULDRON (loved that modern clue on CAULDRON) (10D: Emotionally volatile situation, metaphorically). You also get the wild WENT WILD along with the quainter and more tame (but for me, no less enjoyable) SET SHOTS (39D: Old-fashioned basketball attempts) before BARHOPping your way to a SMOOSHING finale. There's a lot of ordinary, perhaps less-than-lovely short stuff along the way (AVI LIC ONME ISTO USB NSA) and some crosswordesey names (EIRE, LEONA, RIRI), but the longer, more colorful stuff makes me forget any of that. I also appreciate the low-key way that the puzzle populates the grid with women and (outside of the themers) only women. Plus BRA, and HERS. A subtle way of saying "see, it's really not that hard." When a puzzle effortlessly centers women like this, it reminds me of my years and years (and years) of solving puzzles where the default POV was male—male passing as neutral.  Rebecca makes puzzles that feel like they're for everyone. It helps that those puzzles are also, typically, excellent.

  • 1D: "That's rough" ("OOF") — One of my favorite words, as you know. It comes in so handy when mere words won't do. I did not have much occasion to say "OOF" today, which was nice.
  • 35A: Jay relative (CROW) — had the "R" and started to write in WREN (?!). Because they look so different, I forgot (briefly) that CROWs and jays are both corvids. CROWs and jays are also both assholes. I mean, I love them for it, but yeesh. I watched a CROW do horrifying things to a fledgling of another bird species the other day and then fly off with said fledgling in its beak while the fledgling's family took off after it. Just a horror show. And jays are notorious jerks. They are always fighting with robins (the eternal neighborhood war) and that SHRIEK of theirs, yikes. Other birds are like "listen to my pretty song" whereas jays are like "I'M SQUAWKIN' HERE!" Whatever, I love them both. Team Corvid, for sure.
  • 57A: Bygone carrier whose first hub was in Pittsburgh (US AIR) — when I first moved here in 1999, I used to fly US AIR, Binghamton to Pittsburgh to ... wherever I was going back west (where my family lived / lives). Now I can't fly out of here at all—the airport has shriveled to a state of near uselessness and we do all our flying out of Syracuse (an hour+ away). The carrier's full name was US AIRWAYS, so I'm not sure what the story is behind the shorter US AIR. Don't know if it was just a "familiarly" situation or if US AIR had some more official name status at some point.
  • 43D: Prefix with -gon (NONA-) — LOL unlikely. When's the last time you encountered a NONAgon? Whoa, here's a factoid for you: "Temples of the Baháʼí Faith, called Baháʼí Houses of Worship, are required to be nonagonal." (wikipedia). My feelings about the NONA clue: missed opportunity to include yet another woman's name in the grid:
  • 38D: What may be left of center? (EPI-) — LOL yes that is one way to indicate a "prefix"—say that it's "left of" whatever word it's prefixing. In that sense, EPI- may indeed be "left of center"—specifically in the word "epicenter."  
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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