French president's palace / MON 1-15-18 / Cruet filler at Italian restaurant

Monday, January 15, 2018

Constructor: Agnes Davidson and Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "FREE AT LAST" (61A: Final words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech ... or a hint to the endings of 17-, 24-, 39- and 49-Across) — "last" words of all the theme answers can also be verbs meaning "Free":

Theme answers:
  • NEW RELEASE (17A: Singer's latest)
  • TAX EXEMPT (24A: Like religious institutions vis-à-vis the I.R.S.)
  • "THE COAST IS CLEAR" (39A: "We can go safely now")
  • "BEG PARDON?" (49A: "Excuse me?")
Word of the Day: COSPLAYS (40D: Dresses up for a comic con, say) —
  1. 1
    the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.
  1. 1
    engage in cosplay. (google)
• • •

Thank God Almighty! A good puzzle! It's a holiday puzzle appearing *on* the actual holiday (holiday-adjacent holiday puzzles are always disappointing), and it manages to be appropriate to the day while still being playful and entertaining (instead of pious or somber). It was also easy as heck, so everyone will be feeling quite triumphant today. Fun for all! Nothing much here to irk or gall. From a constructing perspective, I'm wondering why *two* cheater squares were needed in the NW (and SE) corner (these are the black squares under 1D: SIN and after 1A: STP, as well as the corresponding black squares in the SE—black squares that do not add to the word count; they're generally used only to make a grid easier to fill). The grid doesn't seem that demanding ... theme's not that dense. But no big deal. I'll take a clean grid, however you get there, over an unclean one any day.

Not that many hesitations today. Briefly thought maybe 7D: Shout at Fenway Park was BOSOX instead of "GO SOX!" I don't really think about umbrella parts that much, so I was slightly more hesitant on RIB than I should've been, despite the fact that it's the word my brain threw up first. Took me a while to get GALLS (51D: Vexes) because my brain (stupid brain!) doesn't think "gall" and "vex" are synonyms. I associate the former with anger and the latter with frustration, which, I know, is splitting hairs, but that's what the brain does, what can I tell you? I hit that vacuum cleaner clue and thought "Ooh, you know this!" then with through ORACH and ORKIN and DYSON and the rest of my Rolodex of 5-letter things that start with "O" *or* are vacuum-related. Then I just got it from crosses. Yes, I've heard of ORECK, no, I would never have gotten it today without help. Also had BED for SPA (69A: Resting place?). Bed is more of a non-"?" answer. And thus ends my litany of trouble spots.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Italian castle town / SUN 1-14-18 / Comics superhero with filed-off horns / Connecticut city near New Haven / Steinbeck novella set in La Paz / Creator of Planet Money podcast

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Supreme Intelligence" — central answer is OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE (67A: Illegal interference ... or what can be found in ths puzzle's 1st, 3rd, 7th, 15th, 19th and 21st rows?). The idea is that on all the lines mentioned in the central answers's clue, you can find the complete name of a Supreme Court justice—a name that gets "obstructed" (interrupted by black squares) twice.

Theme answers:
  • line 1: ANTONI / N SC / ALIA
  • line 3: ABE / FORT / AS
  • line 7: EARL / WAR / REN
  • line 15: ELEN / A KA / GAN
  • line 19: SONIA / SOTO / MAYOR
  • line 21: STEP / HEN / BREYER
Word of the Day: Mike D'ANTONI (1A: Mike who was the 2017 N.B.A. Coach of the Year) —
Michael Andrew D'Antoni (born May 8, 1951) is an American-Italian professional basketball coach who was formerly a professional basketball player. He is currently the head coach of the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). While head coach of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, he won NBA Coach of the Year honors for the 2004–05 NBA season after the Suns posted 33 more wins than the previous season. He coached the New York Knicks starting in 2008 before resigning in 2012. He was hired by the Lakers after seven games into the 2012–13 season. D'Antoni, who holds American and Italian dual citizenship, is known for favoring a fast-paced, offense-oriented system. On June 1, 2016, D'Antoni was named as the new head coach for the Houston Rockets. (wikipedia)
• • •

THANK YOU to all who contributed to my blog this past week. It's been lovely to hear from so many different people from around the country (the world, even). I have no good way of gauging how many readers I have or where they are, so it's nice to have a week where people check in from all over. You are of course free to contribute at any time during the year—you can always find the PayPal button and snail mail address in the sidebar of this blog. But this is the last time I'll put this info in the body of my write-up until 2019:

Rex Parker c/o Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton, NY 13905

As one of my favorite readers wrote me this week, "Here's to a Natick-free 2018!" May the puzzles get better and your solving skills get stronger. Now—onward. Puzzleward!

• • •

This is a show-off puzzle—it's designed entirely to be looked at once it's completed, and in no way designed to be enjoyable while you are actually solving it. Or, rather, it is intermittently enjoyable, in the way that a large themeless puzzle might be, but without any theme answers save that central one ... it's like there's no there there. Or, rather, there is a there there, but while you're actually doing the activity of solving, it's largely if not entirely invisible. It's possible—just possible—that you got so bogged down in that SW corner that you *needed* to discover what the theme was in order to complete this thing, but it seems like most people would just solve the thing without paying much attention to the theme or bothering to stop to figure out what was going on. I almost didn't see that the *first* names of the justices were involved, and, in fact, would *never* have seen it if BREYER hadn't been un-"obstructed." That made me notice STEP / HEN, which then made me realize that all the justices were complete names. That, of course, made the puzzle more impressive, architecturally. Sadly, I could not go back in time and make it relevant to my solving experience in any way. Not yet, anyway! Crossword Time Machine still has kinks.

Weirdly small grid. Well, "weird" in the sense of "rarely seen." It actually makes perfect sense for this theme, since OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE is 20 squares. Thus the grid is 20x21 instead of the standard 21x21. All of my fill complaints / questions involve highly thematic portions of the grid—the most complaint-worthy of which is the SW, where "TO HELEN," OTRANTO, and ANSONIA (!?) team up to make a weird proper noun Bermuda non-triangle. HOP STEP also eluded me—and I've been watching a Ton of NBA Channel (118A: Evasive basketball move). I thought it was "jump step," but maybe when it's tiny it's a HOP STEP. Anyhoo, that corner, yikes. I know the gothic novel "The Castle of OTRANTO," so I was able to navigate the corner OK, but it definitely felt dicey. Oh, and I also know GANYMEDE pretty well from mythology (less well from astronomy). His name appears early on in the Aeneid as one of the many indignities Juno has had to endure (Jupiter lusted for young Ganymede and so raped him, which was kind of Jupiter's thing). Only a couple of other proper nouns seemed likely to cause trouble: IBANEZ (whom I know better as a former baseball player, though that's IBAÑEZ) and ORIENTE (which ... I got entirely from crosses. Never heard of it) (59D: Cuban province where the Castros were born).

  • "Supreme Intelligence" — I don't really understand the title of this puzzle. I get "Supreme" alright, but "Intelligence"? How is that relevant?
  • 53A: "I knew that would happen!" ("CALLED IT!") — I had "NAILED IT!," which feels at least slightly defensible as an answer.
  • 105A: Hooded cloak (CAPUCHIN) — I know the monkey, and the monks (... hey ... I just got that! ... oh, no, wait, they're technically friars ... nevermind), but did not know the hood thing. It looks like the friars wore "sharp, pointed hoods," and yet the garment definition of CAPUCHIN reads: "a hooded cloak for women" (my emph.). No word on what the monkeys prefer to wear. 
  • 107D: What has casts of thousands? (IMDB) — probably the toughest answer for me to get, and it's a "gateway" answer (i.e. one of those answers that gives you access to an entirely new section), so I had to jump into the SE corner and work my way back out.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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