Bowl-shaped part of ear / THU 2-28-13 / French wave / Family name on Roseanne / 1997 Nicolas Cage John Malkovich thriller / Bit of mountain flora

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: PRO AND CON (1A: With 4- and 7-Acros, both sides ... or the missing starts for all the remaining Across answers) — all across answers start with (missing) PRO- or CON-, i.e. you have to supply it mentally in order for the answer to make sense. [Forgot to mention last night: black squares in middle of the grid form pluses and minuses, representing, presumably, PRO AND CON—nice visual touch]

Word of the Day: TERCET (13D: Group of three rhyming lines) —
  1. A group of three lines of verse, often rhyming together or with another triplet.
  2. Music. See triplet (sense 4).
[French, from Italian terzetto, from diminutive of terzo, third, from Latin tertius.]

Read more:
• • •

I love the puzzle that this puzzle wishes it was.

Why promising ideas are allowed to go to press in this bad a state of disrepair is beyond me. Let me illustrate what I mean with one simple  suggestion: change 14A to DONE. Go ahead. With one very simple move, you have removed the most laughable bit of fill in the whole puzzle. Seriously, I laughed as I was filling it in. NOED? (9D: Declined) One of my friends suggested it should've been clued "Don't do it, Asner!" I mean ... it's utterly unnecessary. And nobody caught it, no one suggested a change. Stunning. The level of inattention to fill quality is stunning. *I* should not be able to improve a puzzle with one minor change like that. A constructor who actually cares about clean fill, or an editor, or assistant, or someone, anyone, should've looked at NOED, thought "oh come on," and noticed the fix. This is to say nothing of ASE'S (!?) (4D: "___ Death" (Grieg work)), FICT (50D: Half of a best-seller list: Abbr.),  and the ridiculously spelled PNOM (1D: ___-Penh)—the answer single-handedly responsible for all the slowness I experienced in this puzzle—I thought for sure the puzzle was a rebus, because PHNOM (the correct spelling) wouldn't fit. Then there's the fact that CONCHA (23A: Bowl-shaped part of the ear) and CONCHES (62A: Big shells) are essentially the same word. If you saw them both in the same grid normally, you'd be like "what the hell? that's not right." So I don't know why that sentiment shouldn't apply here as well.

The core concept is clever, in its way, though PRO AND CON isn't the strongest self-standing phrase. PROS AND CONS, sure. But I don't have a problem with the core concept. It's the pitiful execution, the absolute tin ear when it comes to fill, that is maddening.

  • 37A: Family name on "Roseanne" (CONNER) — really wanted it to be DAN before I got the theme.
  • 49A: 1997 Nicolas Cage/John Malkovich thriller (CON-AIR) — really wanted it to be "FACE/OFF" before I got the theme. I must've thought the clue said "Nicolas Cage/John Travolta."
  • 5D: Conjunction that's usually part of a pair (NOR) — first thing in the grid, which eventually helped me figure out the middle word of the revealer (AND), which eventually got me to the theme. It took a while, but NOR got me there. 

Initial reports from the American Red Cross indicate that "American Red Crosswords" has raised at least $10,000 so far. That's just the amount that came in via the link we provided on the website, and I know of many people who donated via other links, so the amount is likely somewhat higher. The crossword collection will be coming to iPhone and iPad soon. Stay tuned.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Yellow-eyed birds of prey / WED 2-27-13 / Cybermenaces / Sonata finale often / Late 19th-century anarchist's foe / Pre-election ad buyer / Online party reminder

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Constructor: Daniel Kantor

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: CHANGE OF HEART (37A: Decision reversal ... or, literally, what can be found inside 17-, 22-, 49- and 58-Across) — rearrangement of letter string "heart" can be found in each of four 15-letter answers.

GREAT HORNED OWL (17A: Yellow-eyed birds of prey)
SECRET HANDSHAKE (22A: Part of a fraternity ritual, perhaps)
COMPUTER HACKERS (49A: Cybermenaces)
SEEN BUT NOT HEARD (58A: How children should be, in a saying)

Word of the Day: COHOS (54D: Some Pacific salmon) —
The coho salmonOncorhynchus kisutch, (from the Russian кижуч kizhuch) is a species of anadromous fish in the salmon family. Coho salmon are also known as silver salmon or "silvers". It is the state animal of ChibaJapan. [...] The traditional range of the coho salmon runs along both sides of the North Pacific Ocean, from HokkaidōJapan and eastern Russian, around the Bering Sea to mainland Alaska, and south to Monterey Bay, California.[2] Coho salmon have also been introduced in all the Great Lakes, as well as many landlocked reservoirs throughout the United States. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was an extremely easy puzzle. My not-so-impressive time represents a. my dealing with rather upsetting pet issues *right* before sitting down to do the puzzle (I just wasn't in a mood to speed) and b. my spending 30 seconds or so looking for a stupid IPADS for IPODS error (66A: Apple products since 2001). One look at the year in the clue, or at the cross, would've told me PAD not POD, but I guess I was distracted. Anyway, there was not one point in the puzzle where I slowed down or struggled. In a very segmented grid like this, there are lots of short answers, and that tends to signal "easy." Here's the downside of not driving longer Downs through more than two theme answers: lots of short stuff and not a lot of sizzle. Since all the themes (except the reveal) are 15s, you can't sneak a long Down around any of them, so there's no non-theme answer longer than 6 in the whole puzzle. Hence easiness, and dullness. Now, the theme answers themselves are gold. Really great individual answers. The theme is not exciting—I immediately thought "I've seen this before ... this must have been done a bunch." Which is not true. Or, rather, it's true that the revealer has been a theme answer a bunch before, but the  concept has not been executed in quite this way. So basically this is a grid with four very good answers. Theme isn't that clever and fill is clean but unremarkable. I had to pause slightly at RAW BAR (11D: Where to order oysters), NAIFS (25D: Unworldly ones) and ABA (44A: Counselors' org.) (I had APA, thinking of a different kind of "counselor"). My favorite non-theme answer in the puzzle by far is "I'M LIKE..." (12D: "My answer was ...," in teen-speak). It's terribly, horribly accurate, and not just for teenagers. Plenty of grown-ups, most of my students, and occasionally I use this phrase. I have often found myself standing in line for coffee on campus, counting the "LIKE"s in the conversations around me. You get up into the double-digits very, very quickly. Sometimes within a few sentences. This is all to say that the phrase "I'M LIKE..." is ubiquitous. I also really like the clue on PAC (32D: Pre-election ad buyer, maybe). Still waiting to see SUPER-PAC in a puzzle (I think).

That's it.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Peer Gynt widow / TUE 2-26-13 / Figure in the tale of Jason and Argonauts / Times Square sign shown in lowercase letters / Liquide clair / Raccoon relative

    Tuesday, February 26, 2013

    Constructor: Gary Cee

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Road music — songs about roads

    Theme answers:
    • THUNDER ROAD (17A: Where "we can make it if we run," per Bruce Springsteen (1975)
    • VENTURA HIGHWAY (24A: Where "the nights are stronger than moonshine," per America (1972)
    • PENNY LANE (37A: Where "all the people that come and go stop and say hello," per the Beatles (1967)
    • ELECTRIC AVENUE (52A: Where "we gonna rock down to," per Eddy Grant (1983)
    • BAKER STREET (61A: Where "you'll drink the night away and forget about everything," per Gerry Rafferty (1978)

    Word of the Day: Alaska's KENAI Peninsula (14A) —
    The Kenai Peninsula is a large peninsula jutting from the southern coast of Alaska in the United States. The name Kenai is probably derived from Kenayskaya, the Russian name for Cook Inlet, which borders the peninsula to the west. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    An odd Tuesday. My time says "normal," but the sensation was odd. At 74 words, it's got a more open grid than you usually see on Tuesday (the result of which is longer non-theme answers: to wit, a bunch of 7s and a couple 9s running Down). Also, the theme seems like it will be very easy for those who follow popular music (me) and perhaps not for those who don't. Even though all these songs are at least 30 years old (holy @#$&, Eddy Grant was 30 yrs ago!?), I still imagine that many solvers will have to methodically piece together (from crosses) at least one of these—whereas I could enter them all with no crosses. These are not obscure songs, but still, all-pop-culture themes can really lock some people out (while inviting others right in). Lastly, on the oddness front, is the KENAI / TKTS crossing. If I hadn't had some vague glimmer of a recollection that TKTS was a theater-related abbreviation appropriate to "Times Square," I would've been dead (1D: Times Square sign shown in lowercase letters). I know I've seen KENAI before, but it sure wasn't coming to me. That [Times Square sign shown in lowercase letters] is gonna be even more you-know-it-or-you-don't than the theme answers: a gimme for New Yorkers (and theater-lovers, maybe), and a giant WTF "?" for many others. My favorite part of the solve was the brief moment where I had T-TS at 1D and thought "hmmm, Times Square, eh?... let me see ..."

      There are two Extreme Ugh answers in this grid: HELLE (47A: Figure in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts) and ASE (65A: "Peer Gynt" widow). Terrible, obscure stuff that really has no business in a Tues. (or most any day). But as I've said before, any time you have a grid where you are trying to drive Downs through *three* theme answers, problems are bound to follow. It's kind of amazing there isn't more ickiness, actually. The center, for instance, is pretty clean. I started very slow on this puzzle, largely because of the mysterious TKTS. Also because I didn't look at theme answers early enough. If I had, I would've taken off. Whatever time I lost futzing around up front I made up for with my accrued pop music knowledge / storehouse of thousands of song lyrics that live in my head through no effort of my own. I liked the theme—it's consistent, and, insofar as I kinda had to sing to myself to get the answers, fun. Also, I just like the image of John Paul STEVENS (46D: Former Supreme Court justice often seen in a bow tie) in his bow tie crossing ELECTRIC AVENUE.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


        Hunger Games chaperon / MON 2-25-13 / Old-time actress Dolores / Observance prescribed in Book of Esther / It's headquartered at Naval Station Pearl Harbor / Actor Brendan of Journey to Center of Earth / Hearty-flavored brew / Slender shorebird

        Monday, February 25, 2013

        Constructor: Angela Olson Halsted

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*)

        THEME: Cut to the quick — theme answers all end in words that can mean "quick"

        Theme answers:
        • 17A: Iced tea brand (LIPTON BRISK)
        • 27A: Observance prescribed in the Book of Esther (THREE-DAY FAST)
        • 47A: It's headquartered at Naval Station Pearl Harbor (PACIFIC FLEET)
        • 62A: Country singer with the 2012 #1 hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (TAYLOR SWIFT)

        Word of the Day: Dolores DEL RIO (36A: Old-time actress Dolores)
        Dolores del Río (August 3, 1905 in Durango, Mexico – April 11, 1983 in Newport Beach, California) was a Mexican film actress. She was a star inHollywood in the 1920s and 1930s, and was one of the most important female figures of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. She was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time, a mythical figure in Latin America and quintessential representation of the feminine face of Mexico in the world. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Congratulations to my good friend Angela on this, her NYT solo debut. This was definitely crunchier than your average Monday, with some mild WTF-ery here and there (color me ignorant of the THREE-DAY FAST thing, and also of the RYE BEER (26D: Hearty-flavored brew), which, presumably, such a fast would preclude ... you can't drink beer on a fast, can you? Is there such thing as a beer fast? Is there!?). Had trouble here and there—with the aforementioned answers; with the end of LIPTON BRISK (me: "it's tea ... but 'tea' is in the clue ... but it's LIPTON tea ... uh ..."); with COAST (off the "T," I went with INLET for some reason) (37A: Where an ocean and a continent meet); with MASCULINE (at least until I got past the MA- part, which suggested any number of "man"-type answers ... yeah, I know, "man" is in the clue, but I was flying) (34D: Like a he-man); oh, and FRASER (51A: Actor Brendan of "Journey to the Center of the Earth")—that clue is absurd. Is that movie recent? If a movie falls in the woods ... I thought answer called for another "old-time" actor because the title certainly sounded old. But it's just the guy from "Encino Man." Weird. I had to laugh at TAYLOR SWIFT; Angela has a daughter about my daughter's age, and I know there is some Swift fandom in the house. Even though I'm a huge hardboiled fiction fan, I like the modern update on the old [Sam Spade's secretary] clue for EFFIE (53D: "The Hunger Games" chaperon). Interesting. So: simple theme, nicely executed, occasional weirdness. All in all, nice Monday, good debut.

        I was playing Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" on my turntable earlier today. My first thought on looking at the album cover: "How in the world have I never seen either FERDE or GROFÉ in a puzzle before!? How Was This Man Denied His Place In Crosswordese History!?!"

        Gotta run.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


          Hostage playwright 1958 / SUN 2-24-13 / Boxer nicknamed Hands of Stone / Best-selling author who served as nurse in Civil War / Postseason football game played in Mobile Ala / Big name in '60s peace activism / Candy since 1927 / Four-time baseball All-Star Jose

          Sunday, February 24, 2013

          Constructor: Joe DiPietro

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: "I Surrender" — Nine [Back down] clues. Each answer runs BACKward and then veers DOWN

          Word of the Day: ARS (29A: Some seen in mirrors?) —
          The letter "R" ... here pluralized. See, there are "R"s in the word "mirrors," so ... tada?
          • • •

          This is an ingenious puzzle. Something about its structure made it tougher-than-usual. Shouldn't have been, once I grasped the concept, but it was. Couldn't think of right words to go in missing slots much of the time—what does one do to a white flag (I could think only of RAISE)? Likewise, couldn't come up with the GIVE part of (reversed) GIVE SOME GROUND for a while. I think the cluing difficulty may have been slightly elevated as well. Fill manages to be fairly solid despite demanding theme. I despise ARS — it's terrible fill, and a cutesy "?" clue is about the worst thing you can do to terrible fill. It's still terrible, but now it's irksome and hostile. ARS? Come on. But that's about the only vomitous thing in the grid. There was some stuff I didn't know, like CLEM (38A: Mrs. Miniver's husband in "Mrs. Miniver") ("oh, in "Mrs. Miniver"! I'm glad you put that in the clue because otherwise I might have confused her with the Mrs. Miniver in "Sanford & Son"), but mainly my slowness was due to tricky / vague cluing and failures of pattern recognition. Oh, and PALTERS. Don't know that word (77A: Talks without sincerity). Am I being sincere? Yes. Ironically, or aptly, yes.

          Your back downs:
          • 22A: BEAT A HASTY RETREAT
          • 24A: CAPITULATE
          • 43A: HEAD FOR THE HILLS
          • 53A: PULL OUT
          • 65A: LOSE ONE'S NERVE
          • 82A: WITHDRAW
          • 90A: GIVE SOME GROUND
          • 112A: CRY UNCLE
          • 115A: WAVE THE WHITE FLAG

          Got started quickly with FIFER at 1A: Drummer's accompanier (took me somewhat longer to get [Ball partner] (ARNAZ)). My favorite wrong answer of the day was at 6A: Best-selling author who served as a nurse in the Civil War. I wrote in AL CAPP. And then thought, "Whoa. That is *fascinating*." I'm serious. Two seconds later I realized my considerable error (it's Louisa May ALCOTT). Just guessed the [Big name in '60s peace activism] was ONO. Just glad it wasn't U NU. Managed to pull BEHAN out of my crossword bag o' tricks (32D: "The Hostage" playwright, 1958). I've been burned by him before. Actually I pulled BEHA- from my bag—couldn't remember if last letter was "R" or "N." The only expression I associate with Roberto DURAN is "No mas!" so 123A: Boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" took a good bit of effort. REYES, however, was considerably easier (5D: Four-time baseball All-Star Jose). Helps that he's still playing. And that I actually follow baseball. I don't know if SENIOR BOWL is original or not, but it feels so, and I liked it for that reason. I can't remember ever watching one, but I'm aware of its existence—good enough (67D: Postseason football game played in Mobile, Ala.). PEZ turns 100 in 14 years (76D: Candy since 1927). Get to work, commemorative crossword constructors! I'm sure you'll have competition.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

            P.S. If you haven't yet downloaded "American Red Crosswords" (24 original puzzles from the country's top constructors, ed. by Patrick Blindauer, intro by Will Shortz), you should do that. Donate money to the Red Cross and get a mess of good puzzles. It's win-win.

            P.P.S. a biggish announcement: "American Red Crosswords" will be available for your iPhone/iPad very soon. This is kind of a big deal. Very exciting. I'll keep you posted.


            Violin virtuoso Leopold / SAT 2-23-13 / Board game found in Egyptian tombs / Yeomen of Guard officer / Dublin-born singer with 1990 #1 hit / Mil branch disbanded in 1978 / Roots family surname / Cerebral canals

            Saturday, February 23, 2013

            Constructor: Todd Gross

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

            THEME: balls — actually, none (there are symmetrical numbered balls clues, but that's not a theme ... unless the whole puzzle is ball-shaped, and thus ... who knows/cares?

            Word of the Day: EXON (35A: Yeomen of the Guard officer) —
            A sequence of DNA that codes information for protein synthesis that is transcribed to messenger RNA.

            [ex(pressed) + -ON1.]

            Read more:
            [Actually, probably this ...]

            An exon is one of the officers rank in the Yeomen of the Guard.
            The first mention of Exon is in the ceremony of All Nights, which is fully described in the chapter relating to Charles II. They were added to the staff of officers in 1668 just about the time when Marsham’s account of All Night was written. The derivation and meaning of the word Exon has been and is a puzzle to many, but it is undoubtedly the French pronunciation of the word exempt. An exempt was an officer in the old French Garde Du Corps. “Exempts des Guedes du Corps” are described in a military dictionary as “Exons belonging to the Body Guards,” There was in France an officer of police called “Un Exempt (exon) de Police.” When Charles II formed his Horse Guards he created a commissioned officer who was styled indiscriminately the exempt or the Exon, and in each of the two troops this officer ranked with the Captain. There is further confusion connected with the title of Exon, for in his commission he is styled corporal. But it appears that in Elizabeth’s reign “corporal” was a commissioned officer, and the term was synonymous with Captain. Down to the time of the Coronation of George III, which took place on 22 September 1761, corporal was only another word for Exon, as may be seen on referring to the official programme of the Coronation, wherein mention is made of “the Corporals or Exons of the Yeomen of the Guard.” The exempt in the French Garde du corps always had charge of the Night Watch, and the Exon is the English Body Guard was especially appointed for that service. Curiously enough the word Exempt is also used in the orders of the Yeomen of the Guard with its English meaning. (wikipedia)

            • • •

            This is why only the best of the best should go to such a low word count. Why oh why would you make a *mostly* good themeless when the parts that are *not* good are *so* not good. You're close! Work on it 'til it's right. EXON is terrible, but I'll give you that. And I'll give you EDAS, I guess, though that's pushing it (7D: Writer LeShan and others). IEST ... ugh, OK, we're reaching my limit, but still—the long answers around the whole circle really are nice, so ... fine. Now all you have to do is finish up in the center and bam, done. So go ahead. Do it. Always Be Closing! But this—what is this? CER? (28D: Battle of ___ (first Allied victory of W.W. I)) Uh, OK, we're limping toward the finish line now, but it's in sight, it's in sight, IT'S NOT FAR. It's ... uh ... oh come on. Really? This is the whimper with which this world ends? SE-ET / A-ILINE? (Board game found in Egyptian tombs + Chemical used in dyes). I realize now, in retrospect, that if ANIL is a dye (the crosswordesiest of dyes, but a dye nonetheless), then ANILINE perhaps should be inferrable. To some. But I guarantee you that that one square is going to derail scads of folks today. And not in a "oh, too clever for me, wish I coulda figured it out" kind of way. No, in a "what? [run the alphabet] ugh, I give up" kind of way. That. Crossing. Is. Objectively. Terrible. This puzzle should've been accepted conditionally—the condition being "fix that damned center." Long answers, good. Short answers, and esp. middle, unacceptable. As a constructor-friend said just now: "The longer entries are nice but can't make up for the short fill. This puzzle is like eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's and then getting tased."

              But for that one square, the puzzle wasn't that hard for me. Many of those longer answers were gimmes or near-gimmes. I put in METROSEXUAL (12D: GQ sort of guy) off the "M." SINEAD O'CONNOR (10D: Dublin-born singer with a 1990 #1 hit) off the "SI-." STAPLES CENTER with just a smattering of letters in place. Once I got the top set up, the rest of the big circle seemed to fall like a series of dominoes—inexorably. But the creamy center, the dreaded creamy center, accessible by only two roads—the dominoes did not have any effect there. I actually knew both words leading into that center, but I still struggled somewhat. And then I was staring at just SE-ET / A-ILINE. The end. I guessed "M"—wrong! I guess "N." Right. The end.

              Thought 1A: Dragging vehicles were DOG SLEDS or some kind of SLEDS. Wrong kind of drag (ROADSTERS). I did not know SAMUEL ADAMS was 10A: Massachusetts governor after John Hancock, but he wasn't too hard to piece together. I had OMNIA for OMNES at first, but ITERA looked wrong as the plural [Cerebral canals]. And it was (ITERS). So I fixed OMNIA. Young adult series about vampires somehow fall outside the entire reading Venn diagram of my household, which is surprising, as young adult stuff gets consumed by the bucketload here (not by me, but by wife and daughter). Sorry, TOD (26A: "The Chronicles of Vladimir ___" (hit young adult book series about a vampire). Leopold AUER was a gimme! AUER will be with me forever, as he derailed me very early on in my blogging career, and I have never forgotten. I might have sworn eternal vengeance, I'm not sure. Wasn't sure of the spelling on KINTE, but guessed right (41D: "Roots" family surname). Sumac by any other preceding adjective is still YMA (47D: Soprano Sumac). 1978 did nothing to lead me to WAC, but crosses were all easy, so, no sweat (48D: Mil. branch disbanded in 1978).

              Nothing else to say, so goodnight.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                Handel work featuring David / SAT 2-22-13 / Cretan peak / Yucca named by Mormon settlers / Live at Apollo airer / Coiner of phrase global village / Phishing string / Noted Titanic couple / Biblical figure believed to be buried near Basra / 1994 Emmy winner for Dvorak in Prague

                Friday, February 22, 2013

                Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

                Relative difficulty: Challenging

                THEME: none

                Word of the Day: "Mrs. 'ARRIS" (11D: "Mrs." in a Paul Gallico novel title) —
                Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris is the title of a Paul Gallico novel originally published in 1958. In the United Kingdom, it was published as Flowers for Mrs Harris. It was the first in a series of four books about the adventures of a London charwoman. (wikipedia)
                • • •

                As quad-stacks go, this is fine, but quad-stacks are generally miserable things, and I mostly felt miserable solving this thing. First, it was misplaced on a Friday (very clearly a Saturday puzzle, difficulty-wise). Second, just ... all the junk you get with quad-stacks. MARSHALL MCLUHAN is a very fine 15 (29A: Coiner of the phrase "global village"), but the rest are just OK at best. WTF is an ORATORIO SOCIETY? (38A: Group that might perform 16-Across) That's a thing? I know each of those words individually, but would never think to put them together. That's the thing about most tall stacks—you get at least one if not several 15s that are perhaps defensible, but pretty weak. ACCOUTERING is a word I hope never to encounter again (24D: Getting in gear). I eat OATMEAL every morning. I suppose that I have OATMEAL CEREAL every morning (9D: Quaker offering), but of course I'd never say that. The most irksome thing about the puzzle was how many "?" clues there were. Ridiculous. Lost their charm Very quickly. I think half a dozen should be about the max, and they should be *spot* on. Today, 11 (?!?!). And most are ... you know, OK, though "suggestion" is absurd for SEDAN (13D: Auto suggestion?) and the distance between your average BOXER and "lord" is pretty great (49D: Lord of the ring?). Overall, this was just a slog, with only Mr. Mcluhan, JOSHUA TREE, and JUDY GARLAND giving me any pleasure (15D: "Judgment at Nuremberg" Oscar nominee).

                Pretty quick start in the NW, but this is a highly segmented grid, so making good progress in one area doesn't have much bearing on your overall success. So I came out of there and couldn't turn down, so went across and methodically put away the NE. But no matter what I did, the quad-stack wouldn't budge. Even when I drove ASTORS (26D: Noted Titanic couple), TEN HORSEPOWER (19D: Like some outboard motors), and JUDY GARLAND right through it, none of the Acrosses made any sense to me. A lot of those short Downs in there were super-ambiguous. In fact ... I think AT ME and NYE'S were the only ones I had. PEAK for HEAP (35D: Mountain). GYNS (is that a thing?) for MOMS (29D: Delivery people?). ROOF for LIEN (32D: It may be on the house). EAVE for LIEN. MARIO'S for LUIGI'S (26D: Nintendo's ___ Mansion). Bumbled around in the south and eventually worked it all out, but that still left a ridiculously empty middle. So I just started throwing in answers off the top of my head, just to get some kind of action going, something that might turn up a juxtaposition or letter string that triggered a correct 15. It was changing MARIO'S to LUIGI'S that got me both -GAME and -SOCIETY, which finally tipped the scales in my favor. I think I ended with A RAT—somewhere in there.

                You have to admire the alliteration in 14A: Biblical figure believed to be buried near Basra (EZRA), if nothing else. I always thought of JOSHUA TREE as a place (in CA), not an actual tree, so that clue / answer surprised me a bit (15A: Yucca named by Mormon settlers). I'd complain about there being nothing to signal the abbrev. in MT. IDA, but a. I've been told that, arbitrarily, one doesn't really have to signal it in "hard" puzzles (?), and b. I knew instantly that it was MT. something (20A: Cretan peak). OSSA was too long, so ... IDA. SSNS is bad fill, but [Phishing string: Abbr.] is about as good a clue as that answer's ever gonna get. Steinbeck's twins? Ugh, I don't even remember what this is from. East of Eden? Yup. Caleb (CAL) and Aaron. OK. Probably should remember that. Thought the "That '70s Show" answer was OWEN WILSON at first (it's been a while since I saw that show) (and it's LUKE WILSON) (57A: He played Casey Kelso on "That '70s Show"). Needed 3 of 4 crosses to get [Linchpin locale] (AXLE). Strangely, CRUET was the first thing I put in the grid (3D: Oil vessel). Without it, man, I'd've been lost up there. OZAWA won an Emmy? (2D: 1994 Emmy winner for "Dvorák in Prague) JESSE Reno is ... somebody? (1D: General Reno for whom Reno, Nev. is named) "SAUL" is a Handel work? (16A: Handel work featuring David) Easy with CRUET, likely impossible without it.

                Good night.
                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                  Apiarist's facial display / THU 2-21-13 / Grand ungodly godlike man of fiction / Biblical hunter / Last Pope Paulo numerically / Bewitched wife familiarly / wonder Tone Loc Crowded House / Offenbach's belle nuit o nuit d'amour

                  Thursday, February 21, 2013

                  Constructor: Paul Hunsberger

                  Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

                  THEME: ROUGH / AROUND THE / EDGES (32D: With 21- and 25-Down, lacking refinement ... like this puzzle's grid) — letter string "ROUGH" appears once on each side of the grid (in DROUGHT, BOROUGHS, TROUGHS, and THOROUGH)

                  Word of the Day: RED ALE (2D: Traditional Irish brew) —
                  Irish Red Ale, also known simply as Irish Ale or Red Ale, is a style of sweet, malty ale brewed by many Irish breweries. The red color comes from the use of small amounts of dark or roasted grains. Despite the name, this beer style may also be brewed as a lager. (
                  • • •

                  Marred for me by the completely fake answer TWO-HIT (7D: ___ wonder (Tone Loc or Crowded House, e.g.). I see that the term has some google traction, but most often as part of a larger discussion of the *real* term, "one-hit wonder." I am a Crowded House fan, so I saw the clue and went "ugh, they're calling them 'one-hit wonders' again," because I'm used to people doing that: remembering "Don't Dream It's Over" and forgetting "Something So Strong." I simply thought the clue was being very loose with the term "hit," as people who use the term "one-hit wonder" often are. No one uses the term "two-hit wonder," so it never Ever occurred to me that it could be a thing, let alone a thing that might appear in a puzzle. The fact that it's essentially a partial is just the cruddy icing on the stale cake. Also, while I love the answer BEE BEARD for the image alone, but "facial display?" (8D: Apiarist's facial display) What apiarist puts bees on his face for display? This sounds like some kind of circus trick, not something a professional apiarist would do. Weird. The puzzle as a whole represents a decent attempt to build a puzzle (here, a kind of visual pun) out of a common expression. There's not that much ickiness, but what little there is really hurts. TWO-HIT, SESTO (27A: Last Pope Paulo, numerically), and ECH (!?!) are real gut kicks. RAMA isn't helping. But most of the rest is solid.

                  I started Very slowly—absolutely tanking the NW before moving on to the NE, where I got some traction. Why DROUGHT didn't occur to me right off the bat at 1A: Dust Bowl phenomenon, I have no idea. Ugh. And of course once I wrote in ONE-HIT, all hope was lost up there (until the very end). Got going with  BED to EDY to BEE-something to EDUARDO (a name I know only bec. I once blew it in a crossword—then I saw "The Social Network"; now I remember) (15A: Facebook co-founder Saverin). That corner fell, but I couldn't get out (the BEARD part of BEE BEARD not being intuitive to me). Started over with MASSE in the SE (another good / common crossword word) (50A: Spin-heavy shot), and worked that corner all the way around to the center, finally hammering out ROUGH, which immediately gave me the reveal, ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES. Before I got ROUGH, I thought it was going to be something ACROSS THE something. After I got the reveal, the rest was pretty easy. SE fell fast (easy once you know ROUGH is on the edge somewhere) and then I finished in the formerly intractable NW. If not for the ROUGH I knew had to go in there, I could still very well be stuck. ULULATE helped too (4D: Howl). Rough corner—SESTO and RED ALE took some real effort.

                  • 20A: "Grand, ungodly, godlike man" of fiction (AHAB) — went from "how the hell am I supposed to ...?" to "Oh, of course" pretty quickly.
                  • 54A: Spin-o-___ (360-degree hockey maneuver) (RAMA) — never ever heard this. Good thing I never saw the clue.
                  • 10D: Offenbach's "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour," e.g. (DUET) — nooooo idea. Would've guessed ARIA if crosses hadn't prevented it.
                  • 37D: One is named for the explorer James Ross (POLAR SEA) — Close to a gimme for me. ROSSSEA is a not-uncommon crossword answer. Three consecutive Ss makes it, let's say, useful in certain tight spots.
                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                  Arthur his family in Hoop Dreams / WED 2-20-13 / Repeated cry in Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop / Kazakh border lake / Classico rival / Burmese P.M.

                  Wednesday, February 20, 2013

                  Constructor: John Farmer

                  Relative difficulty: Medium

                  THEME: BOOK — circled letters in corners spell out "BOOK"; puzzle note reads: "The answer to each starred clue is a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase. A certain four-letter word (spelled out clockwise by the circled squares) [i.e. BOOK]  can follow the first half and precede the second half of each of these answers, in each case to complete another compound word or familiar two-word phrase."

                  Word of the Day: U NU (15A: Burmese P.M.) —
                  U Nu (Burmese: [...] also Thakin Nu; 25 May 1907 – 14 February 1995) was a leading Burmese nationalist and political figure of the 20th century. He was the first Prime Minister of Burma under the provisions of the 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma, from 4 January 1948 to 12 June 1956, again from 28 February 1957 to 28 October 1958, and finally from 4 April 1960 to 2 March 1962.
                  • • •

                  Weird. This is one of those puzzles that seems quite competently made, but that I did not enjoy solving at all. There are a gajillion theme answers + the BOOK thing, which is impressive, from a purely architectural standpoint. Given that density, the fill is actually pretty good. But stuff like U NU (which I think was a big gimme for enthusiasts before my time, but which, thankfully, has been virtually exterminated in the Shortz era) and AGEES (?) (25D: Arthur and his family in "Hoop Dreams") and KATS and INKA and KOH (22D: ___-i-noor diamond) still hurt. Worst was SLC, which I couldn't make any sense of. I figured I had an error. I didn't know if the "capital" in the clue was maybe ... a monetary denomination? Wasn't til UTAH finally went in that I realized that I did indeed have NARCO spelled right, and that SLC was Salt Lake City. I've heard the term BLUE JACKET, but had no idea it meant simply "Sailor." So this was just ... someone else's puzzle. Maybe a much older person. Lastly, I am not a big fan of having to read a lot of $%#@ at the end to figure out what the theme is. Also, never heard of "Vanity BOOK." That must've meant something to someone at some time. Just nothing to me today.

                  Theme answers:
                  • 17A: *Approval indicators (CHECK MARKS)
                  • 21A: *Ban (BLACKLIST)
                  • 39A: *December 31 (YEAR END)
                  • 55A: *What a "forever" stamp lacks (FACE VALUE)
                  • 64A: *Union supporter? (MATCHMAKER)
                  • 11D: *Magazine with an annual Hollywood issue ("VANITY FAIR")
                  • 28D: *Sailor (BLUE JACKET)

                  There were some lovely and original answers and clues here and there. Loved everything about HEY HO (31A: Repeated cry in the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop"), mostly because it quite literally forced me to remember the song, tune and all. Had to sing it to myself to remember the answer. Somehow the clue on ARC also struck me as fresh (35A: Shape of the Aleutian Islands, on a map), or at least thoughtful / creative. Don't know what "judokas" are, but I know what "judo" is, so DOJOS clue was both colorful and gettable (48A: Places for judokas). Less happy with OSH, both for just ... being OSH ... and then for being clued in a cross-referenced clue (71A: City ESE of the 10-Down). Pro tip: don't tangle your crap fill up in cross-rerferences. Just makes it more annoying. Also, what the hell is up with the clue on KOBE (59A: 2007-08 N.B.A. M.V.P., to fans)? You know why "fans" call him that? 'Cause that is actually his name. KG, K-ROD, DR.K—these are what sports stars are "to fans." I'm trying to imagine "MICHAEL" or "STEVE" clued this way, and can't.
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                    Coastal Brazilian state / TUE 2-19-13 / Ottoman nabob / Sainted king who inspired carol / Old one in Austria / Elongated fruit from tree / Pertaining to Hindu scriptures / Furry allies of Luke Skywalker

                    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

                    Constructor: Barry Franklin and Sara Kaplan

                    Relative difficulty: Medium

                    THEME: Interrogative-ish — first syllables of theme answers (mostly) sound like question words "who" "what" "when" "where" "how" and "why"

                    Word of the Day: BAHIA (6D: Coastal Brazilian state) —
                    Bahia (local pronunciation: [baˈi.ɐ] is one of the 26 states of Brazil, and is located in the northeastern part of the country on the Atlantic coast. It is the fourth most populous Brazilian state after São PauloMinas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, and the fifth-largest in size. Bahia's capital is the city of Salvador, or more properly, São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, and is located at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of All Saints,officially first seen by European sailors in 1501. The name "bahia" is an archaic spelling of the Portuguese word baía, meaning "bay". (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    BAHIA + BEV = wretched. The latter is especially wretched because *utterly* unnecessary. Who says "BEV"? That's a woman's nickname, at best. Change that "B" to "R" or "N" or something that makes -EV recognizable. Do waitresses say "BEV?" Who Says BEV?! With the exception of LET IT SNOW (3D: Phrase sung three times in a row in a holiday song) and KNEE SOCKS (4D: Shin coverers) (both nice), the fill is so-so, at best. With six theme answers, this is perhaps not surprising. Anyway, I didn't enjoy this, partly because of the BAHIA / BEV thing, partly because of the multiple Christmas songs out of season, and partly because I've apparently been pronouncing WATSON wrong all these years. It's WHAT-son, is it? Those vowel sounds are from different worlds when I say them, whereas the others are pretty close matches.

                    Theme answers:
                    • HOOVER DAM (18A: Construction on the Colorado River)
                    • WATSON AND CRICK (23A: DNA modelers)
                    • WENCESLAUS (I do not like the carol and I do not like the ridiculous spelling of this guy's name) (29A: Sainted king who inspired a carol)
                    • WEREWOLVES (these, I like) (41A: Lycanthropes) 
                    • HOUSING PROJECT (45A: Publicly funded residential complex)
                    • WYATT EARP (55A: Lawman at the O.K. Corral)

                    Crosswordese expertise came in handy today—for the first time ever, I got PAPAW right off the bat (or more accurately off the "P") (1D: Elongated fruit from a tree). Recent puzzle of mine had the theme answer BEY OF PIGS, so BEY was front-of-brain (58D: Ottoman nabob). Konrad Adenauer was known as "Der ALTE," or so crosswords tell me; at any rate, ALTE's a gimme for me now (59A: Old one, in Austria). And everyone knows the EWOKS, or should (37A: Furry allies of Luke Skywalker). I have to say that while I don't like EELY or ERINS or TERRI (10D: Country singer Gibbs) in that NE corner, I do like VEDIC (11D: Pertaining to Hindu scriptures). It just looks cool. Also, I like PLANK, esp. as clued (12D: Pirate ship feature). Took me several crosses to pick it up, and when I got it, I thought, "Yes. That's good." I'm in the middle of a great comic about pirates right now—"Cursed Pirate Girl" by Jeremy Bastian. No PLANKs yet, but I'm only about half done.

                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                    Home of groundhog Punxsutawney Phil / MON 2-18-13 / Green with 2010 hit Forget You / Los Angeles district near Sherman Oaks / Stringed instrument for madrigal / Mortise's partner in carpentry / Singsongy cadence / Set of people receiving placebo

                    Monday, February 18, 2013

                    Constructor: Jeffrey Harris

                    Relative difficulty: Medium

                    THEME: CONTROL GROUP (46A: Set of people receiving a placebo ... or what the ends of 20-, 28- and 41-Across belong to?) — theme answers all end with words that are kinds of controls (such as one might find on a TV or dashboard)

                    • GOBBLER'S KNOB (20A: Home of the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil)
                    • CUTE AS A BUTTON (28A: Simply adorable)
                    • BAIT AND SWITCH (Underhanded commercial ploy)

                    Word of the Day: GOBBLER'S KNOB 

                    Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby is a groundhog resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2 (Groundhog Day) of each year, the town of Punxsutawney celebrates the beloved groundhog with a festive atmosphere of music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise (which occurs at 7:26 AM Eastern Standard Time on February 2 in Punxsutawney)[1], Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler's Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an "early spring."[2] The date of Phil's prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. He is considered to be the world's most famous prognosticating rodent. During the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his "wife" Phyllis.
                    A select group, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil year-round and also plans the annual ceremony. Members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle are recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos. As of 2011, Phil has two co-handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths. (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    Oh, puzzle, you had me at GOBBLER'S KNOB. I watched "Groundhog Day" this past Groundhog Day, and am more convinced than ever that it's among the greatest comedies of all time. Probably one of the ten best movies of the '90s. Just perfect. Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the film's release, so this answer is all kinds of timely. However, it is likely to slow most Monday solvers down, since unless you've seen and know the film Really well (as I do), it's possible you fumbled around a bit there. Also possibly at ACRED (wtf?), and, if you're like me, at JEEZ (I swear I *just* did a puzzle where it was spelled GEEZ ...). Oh, and THE BLUES—that was a pretty tricky clue (4D: Low spirits, as experienced by St. Louis's hockey team?). So tricky, I actually thought it was a theme clue at first. So there are a bunch of places one might get briefly snagged, but the rest was typically Monday-easy, so overall, it was a Monday. A Monday Monday, albeit one I liked more than I typically like Mondays. The theme is of a very basic (last words) type, but with theme answers like those, the unoriginality of theme type is meaningless. Theme works, fill is great, so: success.

                    Oh, and maybe you didn't know CEE-LO (39A: Green with the 2010 hit "Forget You"). The clue is accurate but misleading, as the song is really called "F*ck You," but for radio play they obviously had to change it. I know his name well and still froze a bit when trying to enter it. Somehow I want it to be C-LO, like J-LO ... but with a C.

                    [WARNING: Profanity ahead]

                    CANOERS (39D: Ones paddling down a river, say) made me wince a bit, but in retrospect I don't see anything terribly wrong with the word. It's just that when words get -ERed and pluralized at the same, that's usually a bad sign. I mean, fine for, say, BOMBERS, but bad for, say, SCARERS. I didn't set a personal record time on this puzzle, but I did manage to put my name on top of the leaderboard at the NYT site for the first time ever. That bit of glory lasted all of thirty minutes, and since then many of my friends have posted times *well* under mine. Oh well. At least I'll always have this screenshot (that's me at #1):

                    See you tomorrow.

                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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