Transporter with sliding doors / THU 8-31-17 / FDR created program with slogan we do our part / Rapper who famously feuded with Jay-Z / Locale of hostile criticism metaphorically / City with famous bell tower

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Constructor: Zachary Spitz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (once you get the gimmick)


THEME: CORNER / OFFICE (31A: With 44-Across, V.I.P. area represented four times in this puzzle) — rebus puzzle where corner squares are all words that can precede "OFFICE":

Offices:
  • BOX (NW)
  • POST (NE)
  • OVAL (SW)
  • HOME (SE)
Word of the Day: YAKITORI (38D: Japanese style of chicken)
noun
noun: yakitori
  1. a Japanese dish of chicken pieces grilled on a skewer. (google)
• • •

This puzzle is relatively easy. Also, hey, puzzle, don't get cute with me, or wink at me, or joke with me about how hard or easy the puzzle is. You don't know me. Stay in your lane. Just be a puzzle. If I say you're relatively easy, that's that. Zip it. This theme was not at all tough to uncover. NW came together fast, so the BOX corner went in early, and it was a short trip from there to the revealer, which only needed a couple crosses to become evident—plus it was a two-answer revealer, which really opened the grid right up. So ... different types of offices go in the corners, and I knew this inside the first minute. The puzzle definitely toughened up in places. The OVAL and (especially) the POSTER boxes were much tougher to figure out than the other two. I didn't know what YAKITORI was, so that took every single cross, and thus made that SW corner harder to work out (FDA APPR(OVAL) was a doozy of a themer—probably the best of the bunch). And I had everything *but* the corner at 13D: Archetype and still couldn't get it. Stared at -ER CHILD but the only thing I could imagine was (INN)ER CHILD. Also BRAIN CHILD, but that didn't fit. Cross wasn't much help, as I had TMAN instead of GMAN (9D: F.B.I. agent, informally), and couldn't figure out what the hell a [Conjunction in a rebus puzzle] was supposed to be (kept wanting NOR) (??). Also misspelled AMBIENCE (thusly), but that's par for the course. Anyway, theme easy, overall cluing, a little less so.



Proper nouns of yore were probably over-represented here and *definitely* were not thoughtfully dealt with. Most egregious: non-gun-related, alphabet-souped NRA crossing "Love Boat" actor Gavin insanely-spelled MACLEOD (I had to look at the grid twice to spell it just now). I guarantee you that "A" roughs up tons of people (I know this because it roughed me up and I already know of two confirmed other cases and the puzzle hasn't even been out that long).

 [true fact] [9A: Kicker's target]

I mean, come on, if you're gonna drive NRA through a very bygone actor's name, make it a non-bygone NRA. Common courtesy / decent editing. Also, LeRoy NEIMAN hasn't been famous since he did those Burger King / summer Olympics posters when I was a kid (so, yeah, like, 1976). I didn't mind DIANE over ANKARA, though, because I just watched the "Cheers" episode where a guy comes into the bar and pretends to be a spy but DIANE sees right through him because the guy seems to believe that ANKARA is in Bulgaria. So, yeah, DIANE over ANKARA is never going to seem more right than it does at this very moment.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Grandpa Walton for short / WED 8-30-17 / Cyber Monday business

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



THEME: BLADE — a word ladder that goes from BLUNT to SHARP through BLADE—which helps clue two answers on the W and E edges of the puzzle, respectively: RAZOR (24D: Item with a 39-Across) and KNIFE (36D: Item with a 39-Across)

Theme answers:
  • BLUNT
  • BLURT
  • BLART
  • BLARE
  • BLADE
  • SLADE
  • SHADE
  • SHARE
  • SHARP 
Word of the Day: CUTTLE (54A: Sea creature with eight arms) —
noun
noun: cuttle; plural noun: cuttles
  1. a cuttlefish. (google) (seriously, that is the full definition) (because "cuttlefish" is what people actually call them)
• • •

This is what puzzle used to be like, kids. This is what used to pass for a gimmick, this is what used to pass for fill. Very 20th century. I thought AN ERA (ugh) had been put on an ice floe circa Y2K. And that stupid money slang that *nobody* has used since Bugs Bunny, but that still finds its garbage way into garbage puzzles!? DOREMI, clued as [Cabbage or kale]? No. Pass. Hard to express how unpleasant, bordering on painful, it was to solve this thing. By the time I was done, I was stunned to see my time was only in the mid-4s. It felt grueling. I expected to see a time about half again as long. I got complete stuck at least once, and for a few ugly seconds I wasn't sure I was going to get the far east at all. I kept hitting groaner after groaner (both clues and answers). And for what? A word ladder—the stupidest and most hated of crossword gimmicks. Were you happy to see Paul BLART? No, who would be? But you gotta go through BLART (*apparently*) to get the precious word ladder to work. *Only* a veteran constructor could've gotten this thing published. At least I hope so. Kids. Please. Don't do this. (I actually don't think a kid is capable of conceiving a puzzle like this, so much does it belong to AN ERA of yore)


Stopped following the NFL because [so many reasons, too tired to get into] so I totally forgot DEREK Carr existed. This made the east very hard, as I never knew Mayella EWELL existed (and I've read the book), and I don't know what a CUTTLE is. I know very well what a CUTTLEfish is, as I have seen the documentaries and oohed and aahed at the shape-shifting and what not. CUTTLE? No. Further blanking on Latin (!?), and a cutesy clue on the terrible RELET (34D: Filled again, in a way), meant bad bad things for me over there. Still not sure how I extricated myself. I resent clues like 6D: Rep. or Dem., e.g. (ABBR.)—where the clue's like some obnoxious kid going "ha ha, gotcha," when all they've done is hit you with an EGG (i.e. Nothing Clever).


How many different answers did you try for 22A: No longer in bed? I tried at least three, I think: ARISEN, AWOKEN ... OK, two. So the anchor is "no longer" in the sea "bed"—AWEIGH! Great. That, and the insane / Saturdayish clue on STAPLES (27A: The "L" in this store's log hints at the store's name), made the NE hard as well. Oh, and I had EGO (11A: It may be coddled) instead of EGG, of course. The last thing you want a word ladder (again, ugh) to be is unnecessarily fussy and hard. Since there is Zero joy in the theme ITSELF, you gotta be very careful elsewhere. This wasn't. There is more not to love in this (ICERS, FIERI, BARRE, ELA, bleeping ZEB!?!?!) but I'm hungry and still groggy from being [No longer in bed?]. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Onetime Ritz rival / TUE 8-29-17 / Brand of candy hearts / Letters on exploding boxes in Angry Birds / Texter's qualifier / Many a feline Facebook posting / Pessimist in Pooh books

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe slightly harder because of the made-up themers)


THEME: TOO CLEVER BY HALF (54A: Overly inventive ... or a hint to the answers to 17-, 26- and 42-Across) — familiar expressions containing numbers have those numbers increased by 50%, resulting in semi-wacky wrong phrases that, well, make the revealer somewhat descriptive of the entire puzzle:

Theme answers:
  • THIRTY (instead of 20) QUESTIONS (17A: Classic game needing no equipment)
  • FIFTEEN-FOOT (instead of 10-ft.) POLE (26A: You might not want to touch something with this)
  • TWELVE (instead of 8) DAYS A WEEK (42A: 1965 Beatles hit) 
Word of the Day: Edward James OLMOS (34A: Edward James ___, star of "Stand and Deliver") —
Edward James Olmos (born February 24, 1947) is an American actor and director. Among his most memorable roles are William Adama in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Lieutenant Martin "Marty" Castillo in Miami Vice, teacher Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver, patriarch Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. in the film Selena, Detective Gaff in Blade Runner, and narrator El Pachuco in both the stage and film versions of Zoot Suit. In 1988, Olmos was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the film Stand and Deliver. (wikipedia)
• • •

My wife makes a good point, which is that this puzzle might've been a lot more fun if there'd been a way to wackily clue the actual answers in the grid, instead of just having those answers be flat-out wrong. No wacky clues. Just very, very literal clues (doesn't get much more straightforward than [1965 Beatles hit], snooze). I'm not sure if the puzzle is TOO CLEVER BY HALF or just not clever enough. I kinda like the basic concept—I just wish it could've come across in a more entertaining way. There was nothing fun about writing in THIRTY QUESTIONS and going "well, that's wrong." I like that the grid has those long Downs—woulda been easy to clip them (putting black square at end of CROUP and beginning of HORSY), and the grid might've been easier to fill, but we would've just had more (probably dull) short fill. RIOT POLICE and FALSEHOODS give us at least a little flash outside of the theme (even if it is kinda depressing, as flash fill goes).


Most of the fill here is just OK. Maybe, uh, a little over-reliant on the E-words (-FILE, COLI, -BOOK). I struggled a little with slang that was outside my normal range of usage, i.e. TOOTS and CHIN UP. I also thought the [Drilling grp.] at 1D was OPEC (it's ROTC), and [Event name suffix] was a tough clue for CON, so I was very slow out of the gate. What makes a "feline Facebook posting" an LOLCAT? Also, are LOLCATs still a thing? That answer required many crosses for me to understand. Something about it feels off. Also off-feeling: STABLE as a "Kind of income" (44D: Kind of income a lending officer likes to see). Just because an adjective can be used to describe something doesn't mean that the adjective is a "Kind." If my car is parked, if you asked me what kind of car I owned, I wouldn't say "parked" (however literally accurate that might be). Because that would be too clever by at least 2/3.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Kipling mongoose / MON 8-28-17 / Notable grammatically incorrect declaration by Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist

Monday, August 28, 2017

Constructor: Dan Margolis

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (harder, slightly, than avg Monday)


THEME: Equines — themers end with equines

Theme answers:
  • STUBBORN AS A MULE (17A: Extremely obstinate)
  • ONE-TRICK PONY (26A: Person who's talented but not versatile)
  • THE LAW IS A ASS (44A: Notable (and grammatically incorrect) declaration by Mr. Bumble in "Oliver Twist")
  • ON ONE'S HIGH HORSE (57A: Acting haughtily and pompously)
Word of the Day: BERM (39A: Road shoulder) —
noun
noun: berm; plural noun: berms
a flat strip of land, raised bank, or terrace bordering a river or canal.
  • a path or grass strip beside a road.
  • an artificial ridge or embankment, e.g., as a defense against tanks. (wikipedia)
• • •

Nah. It's just not good enough. The theme is too loose: there's no progression or revealer or anything. Just ... equine types? No. Not NYT-worthy (or shouldn't be). Also, that ASS answer is ridiculous. I am an English Ph.D. and have no idea what this quote is doing. PAIN IN THE ASS totally fits—why would you not go with that infinitely better / more in-the-language phrase? Please don't give me any prim, well-I-never type answers. If you can have THELAWISAASS, you can have PAIN IN THE ASS. Wake up and smell the coffee and get with the times, etc., NYT. Yeesh.


CGI (51A: Staple of sci-fi filmmaking, for short) x/w GIGS (52D: Play dates?) was the last square I got, and it was tough, as both clues were deeply unclear about what they were after. Beyond that, the main problem was (duh) that ridiculous LAW/ASS answer. I mean, really. Come on. You want ASS in there, do a little work to come up with something familiar / Monday-ish. And BERM? Blargh. I call that the shoulder, as do road signs. I think my NZ wife calls it the "Verge"?  Weird that none of the above definitions (see "Word of the Day," above) contain the word "shoulder." It's almost as if "shoulder" and whatever BERM is are different things. ALOT is overly common, as opposed to ALOG, which is just terrible. Do you like OHMS *and* ERGS in your puzzle? Lucky you, today. I don't understand why this puzzle exists. Tepid filler. "Holy mackerel" is American. EGAD isn't. Try Harder, Everyone. God bless the people of Houston. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. New episode of my crossword podcast, "On the Grid" (w/ Lena Webb) is now available for your enjoyment. 

P.P.S. Here are a couple of newish indie crossword puzzle sites that are very much worth checking out, both of them run by *very* young people (literal infants! well, teenagers, anyway). Paolo Pasco's "Grids These Days" and Jenna Lafleur's "Jenna Sais Quoi." Give 'em a try and spread the word.

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Loosely woven fabric with rough texture / SUN 8-27-17 / Gangnam style hitmaker / Candy that fizzes in mouth / Facial feature of Bond villain Ernst Blofeld / Old Russian ruler known as moneybag / Antiparticle first observed in 1929 / Backflow preventer in drain

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: "Location, Location, Location" — four clues read [some other clue, literally?], and that other clue doesn't exist—rather, the numeration is embedded inside some other answer. Thus:

Theme answers:
  • 29A: 23-Across, literally? = LAST PLACE (because if you go to 23-Across (which is actually *inside* 22A: Astonishing March Madness success, e.g. (CINDERELLA STORY)), you will find the word LAST sitting there. So 23-Across is a PLACE you find LAST, or LAST PLACE)
  • 43D: 56-Down, literally? = DEAD SPOT (because DEAD has a SPOT inside 42D: Contributed to the world (MADE A DIFFERENCE))
  • 55D: 60-Down, literally? = TEST SITE (because the SITE of "TEST" is inside 14D: New Hampshire (THE GRANITE STATE))
  • 106A: 118-Across, literally? = CANAL ZONE (because the ZONE occupied by CANAL is inside 116A: Detective in a lab (FORENSIC ANALYST))
Word of the Day: RATINÉ (9D: Loosely woven fabric with a rough texture) —
n.
A loosely woven fabric with a rough nubby texture. (freedictionary.com)
• • •

Architecturally interesting, but a straight-up drag to solve. Fussy and unenjoyable. Any theme whose entire premise is cross-referencing is already on shaky ground, and then add in the essentially unclued theme answers (blah blah, literally?), and the fact that you have to get those longer answers even to begin to see what the theme answers are referring to ... yeah, no. You made your little piece of art, but from a solving standpoint, there's no fun here. Well, FUN FACT is kinda fun (95D: That the sum of the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666, e.g.). But not much else. In addition to the "?" clues on all the themers, there seemed to be a ton of "?," which really added to the difficulty level. I'm only counting seven of them, but more than half of them were impossible for me to get without many crosses. Not unfair, though it would've been nice if more of them had really hit the mark. 79A: Disaster film? (OIL SLICK) is the only one I really like. The others are just OK.


By a long long long shot, the hardest part of the grid for me was the entire MADE A DIFFERENCE section (and thus the nearby DEAD SPOT section). Everything was made worse by my having FIELDING instead of WIELDING at 64D: Handling well. I don't associate "well" with the mere fact of WIELDING; hence my initial answer. I just had to pepper that area with short stuff until it started to cohere, which seemed to take forever. I also booted LILI (wrote in GIGI) (70D: 1953 Leslie Caron film). Not much else was really beyond my ken today, except RATINÉ, which ... wtf?  I kept wanting GOES LONG for 34D: Runs for a long pass, say (GOES DEEP), even though "long" is clearly already in the damn clue. Oh, and even though I was actually *in* Fort Collins this summer, I saw the clue 118D: Sch. in Fort Collins (CSU) and wrote in ... TCU. Maybe I was thinking Fort Worth (which is weirdly where TCU actually is ... though I could not have told you that before doing this write-up). Anyway, that's all. That's it. Not a bad puzzle, but one that I found grating, just because of its architecture and basic premise.

[97A: ___ Lenoir, inventor of the internal-combustion engine]

New episode (004) of "On the Grid" (my crossword podcast with Lena Webb) is out now (on Soundcloud and iTunes) so if you've got 37 minutes to spare in the coming days, check it out. Thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Cedar Revolution locale / SAT 8-26-17 / Advice for wannabe loser / 1998 Disney princess / Storied party host / Phrase used as basic tenet of improv comedy / Literary hero who gets resurrected

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: BOYLE'S LAW (15A: PV = k, to a physicist) —
Boyle's law (sometimes referred to as the Boyle–Mariotte law, or Mariotte's law[1]) is an experimental gas law that describes how the pressure of a gas tends to increase as the volume of the container decreases. A modern statement of Boyle's law is
The absolute pressure exerted by a given mass of an ideal gas is inversely proportional to the volume it occupies if the temperature and amount of gas remain unchanged within a closed system.[2][3]
Mathematically, Boyle's law can be stated as
P\propto {\frac {1}{V}}
or
PV=k
where P is the pressure of the gas, V is the volume of the gas, and k is a constant. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't think I've ever needed a good puzzle so bad before. Between presidential bigotry and a massive, lethal hurricane, the world was a little too much to take this evening. So it was wonderful to spend time with such a smart, artful, wide-ranging, *living* puzzle. It somehow contained several things I did not know *and* was right in my wheelhouse. The things I didn't know just didn't stand a chance. This is how I like to encounter "things I didn't know": as objects I am flattening on my way to the goal line. There is no part of this puzzle, no nook cranny or corner, that isn't fresh and clean and entertaining. Even the jury-rigged weirdness of "TASTE OK?" made me happy. Once I imagined someone saying / asking it, I realized, "Yeah, that clue's accurate" (8D: "How's the food?"). I hate the word KNEEHOLES (63A: Some office openings). That is the only negative thing I have to say about this puzzle.

[16A: "Um ... I'm standing right here!"]

I knew I was in for a rollercoaster ride when I went swooping into the puzzle via 1D: Former laptop line (iBOOK):


Boom boom boom! OK, that last boom was more thud, as I somehow failed to register the date of the Disney princess (23D: 1998 Disney princess) and missed by eighteen years. And I saw "MULAN" in the theater, too! Ugh. Always hurts to whiff on something you actually know cold. But no matter. Got the NW done quickly and glided over to the NE via EPEE and CHASE, and made short work of that corner as well, despite not knowing LESH (11D: Grateful Dead bassist Phil), or BODYMAN (38A: President's personal aide). Once I worked out "MULAN", getting into the SW was a tad tricky, as I thought the "Forum" of 36A: Forum icons (AVATARS) was Roman, not digital, but YES AND, TAG, and GREG got things moving. Last obstacle was trying to make sense of 43A: Advice for a wannabe loser (DIET TIP). "That's worded weird ... who wants to be a loser?" Who indeed. SE threatened to be difficult, but COME ALIVE proved a good guess at 61A: Start hopping, and ta da, done. Under 7, and that's *with* stoppage time for an early screen grab.


Wishing everyone ... well, just survival, at this point, would be nice.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Newswoman Cabrera / FRI 8-25-17 / Waters near Mount Erebus / Hallucinogen nicknamed embalming fluid / TV family from planet Remulak / Maker of Scentini fragrances

Friday, August 25, 2017

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium? Maybe a tad harder than medium?


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ALEWIFE (11D: Member of the herring family) —
The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is an anadromous species of herring found in North America. It is one of the "typical" North American shads, attributed to the subgenus Pomolobus of the genus Alosa. As an adult it is a marine species found in the northern West Atlantic Ocean, moving into estuaries before swimming upstream to breed in fresh water habitats, but some populations live entirely in fresh water. It is best known for its invasion of the Great Lakes by using the Welland Canal to bypass Niagara Falls. Here its population surged, peaking between the 1950s and 1980s to the detriment of many native species of fish. In an effort to control them biologically Pacific salmon were introduced, only partially successfully. As a marine fish, the alewife is a US National Marine Fisheries Service "Species of Concern". (wikipedia)
• • •

Wait, if an alewife is a fish, what's a fishwife?

This is a fine puzzle, but it left me a bit cold. None of the answers really sang to me. I like grids that sing, especially themeless puzzles, which, let's be honest, are easier to construct *well* than themed puzzles are, because, well, you don't have an onerous *theme* hanging around your neck. I have historically liked Friday and Saturday puzzles more than any other day of the week, but I think that's in large part because they aren't simply harder to f*** up. You can do what you want, bend the grid to your will. Themes don't force you into embarrassing fill compromises. So maybe our standards for themelesses should be higher. That, or I should take it easier on themed puzzles (unlikely). Today's puzzle was harder than any Friday I've done in a while (that I can remember), but I still finished in under 7, so... I think I don't know what's average for me on a Friday anymore. Or else I can no longer distinguish adequately between moderate but meaningful resistance and full-on hardness. Several sections of this (the NW, the SW, due east) were very very easy. But their symmetrical counterparts were all bears.

[60A: "No problem at all"]

I just blanked on HEGIRA (25A: Muhammad's flight), and this was a crucial blanking, as that's a transition answer (taking me from one section of the grid to the next). With the first two letters in on a 6-letter word, I'm normally good to go, but ... nope. So I had to reboot to get into the NE, which ended up being bonkers, with PCP (10D: Hallucinogen nicknamed "embalming fluid") instead of LSD and a fish (ALEWIFE) I didn't know existed. Plus I went with HAVE A SNOOZE before TAKE A SNOOZE at first, oof.  In the west, I didn't know ANA (32A: Newswoman Cabrera), could Not get TAN (35A: Like much sandpaper) and forgot INDRA (39A: Hindu war deity), such that even with the (easy) BANANA PEELS in place, I got stuck for a bit over there. And then there was the SE, where the capitalization of Dumpster (49A: Raccoon in a Dumpster, e.g.) really, really threw me. I thought "Raccoon in a Dumpster" was a show or a meme or something. A title, at any rate. Certainly not a plain old raccoon in a plain old Dumpster-brand Dumpster. Argh. Again, a transition answer failed me, so I struggled a bit getting my teeth into that corner. So it felt hard, but my time seems pretty normal, but it's possible I have to recalibrate "normal." I can't pan (...) this puzzle—it's reasonably well made—but I think I'm gonna start demanding that themelesses be truly joyous and delightful experiences. I mean, it's the "best puzzle in the world," right? Seems appropriate to expect greatness.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Old-style hacker / THU 8-24-17 / D in emoticon / Cartoonist who popularized Uncle Sam / British Invasion band that launched Van Morrison's career

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Constructor: Neil Patrick Harris and David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging? (solved it upon waking, got weirdly, possibly uniquely lost...)


 [Now you see him] 

[... now you don't]
[this is the only version in which the Downs all make sense]

THEME: HARRY HOUDINI (58A: Subject of this puzzle (who has himself done a 39-Across)) — Houdini, an ESCAPE ARTIST (20A: 58-Across, notably), has done a DISAPPEARING ACT (39A: Part of a magic show), both in real life and (importantly) in this puzzle (you have to take him *out* of the grid at 58-Across for all of the Down crosses to make sense.

Word of the Day: THEM (36A: British Invasion band that launched Van Morrison's career) —
Them were a Northern Irish band formed in Belfast in April 1964, most prominently known for the garage rock standard "Gloria" and launching singer Van Morrison's musical career. The original five member band consisted of Morrison, Alan Henderson, Ronnie Milling, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon. The group was marketed in the United States as part of the British Invasion. (emph mine, just to highlight the wiki-cluing—which is when your clue lifts language directly from a wikipedia article, usually from the first paragraph) (wikipedia)
• • •

This was pretty fun to solve but it's Really fun to look at after the fact. I only just noticed that if you put HARRY HOUDINI into the grid, while the Down clues won't work, all the Downs are real, viable crossword answers. A very belated "wow" on that one. Didn't affect the solving experience, but that is some pretty Next Level stuff right there. Beyond that, this is a variation on the disappearing answer trick (I've seen it a few times before), executed in a very simple but ultimately impressive way. The non-theme stuff is OK. There are some weak patches, but (especially toward the bottom of the grid, where the requirements of the theme are very taxing) they're pretty forgivable. I don't know how anyone is supposed to remember the weird name of a single character from an only moderately popular movie from 30+ years ago, but OK, sure, EDWINA (61A: Lily Tomlin's role in "All of Me"). Beyond that, there wasn't much obscurity, and the gunky short stuff (ETS, ECOL / SCI, RSA, INS, APOP etc.) was not oppressive.


Bullets:
  • THEM (36A: British Invasion band that launched Van Morrison's career) — whaaat is this? This was, strangely, the toughest thing in the grid for me, both because I have never heard of this band, and because OAT fits at 37D: Part of a stable diet? (HAY). I got your little "stable" trick there, but ... no, apparently I didn't get it. THEM! THE "M"? To me, THEM is a pronoun, or a movie about giant, radioactive ants.  
  • STEAL UP (46A: Approach furtively), with "on") — did you know CREEP UP and SNEAK UP both fit here? Yeah, you probably knew that.
  • PHREAK (5D: Old-style hacker) — I *just* learnead what this is this past weekend, so that was a lucky coincidence. Phreaking involves (involved?) hacking phone systems (most notably to bypass charges and long-distance fees, back in the day when those were things). 
  • PAN (17A: Film technique — or a bad thing for it to get?) — this clue is a flop, and a bad one. First, you pan a film, not a "film technique" (?), i.e. not the specific camera action, the PAN. Pronoun "it" must refer to "technique" here, and so ... no. Second, whether it's the film itself or the "technique," it gets PANNED. The idea that the "technique" "gets" a (single, discrete) "PAN" is ridiculous. One other irksome clue: LANAI (26D: Hawaii's ___ City, on an island of the same name). So ... really, [Hawaiian island] is the clue you want here. Just [Hawaiian island]. All the rest is ridiculous. If the place were sufficiently famous, then you wouldn't need the post-comma bit, which itself obviates the need for the pre-comma bit. Come on, editors.
  • OMAN (53D: Country whose national anthem is "Nashid As-Salaam as-Sultani") — this was the only theme-affected Down answer that had a plausible +1-letter equivalent. This is to say, I had YEMEN in here at one point.
  • ADORBS (19A: Like, so cute!) — I like this answer a lot. Very contemporary. Also, it's directly under HEGOAT, and I imagine a HE GOAT (esp. a baby one) could be pretty ADORBS. I also like SEX TAPE, which is directly under OILED ... so that's nice.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I can't believe this is still unclear, but I'm getting mail, so here's my response to that mail: "I know what "to PAN" means, both in film and in criticism. But you would never PAN a PAN shot. The "it" in the clue must refer to "technique" and you would not PAN the technique of panning. You would PAN the "film" itself."

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Schiller work adapted by Beeethoven / WED 8-23-17 / Penny memory follower / First name in stunt cycling / Escape tool secreted in cakes in cartoons / Urban Dictionary fodder

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Constructor: Joe Kidd

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: You tell me ... looks like "EL" (or "ELS") is added to familiar phrases to get wacky phrases, clued wackily ... but can that be it? I feel like I must be missing something... 

Theme answers:
  • SECURITY CAMELS (19A: Dromedaries on patrol?)
  • CHICKEN BROTHELS (36A: Henhouses of ill repute?)
  • MARRIAGE VOWELS (49A: The "I" and "o" of "I do"?) 
Word of the Day: CALE Yarborough (41A: Nascar's Yarborough) —
William Caleb "Cale" Yarborough (born March 27, 1939), is an American farmer, businessman and former NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver and owner. He is one of only two drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships. He was the second NASCAR driver to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated (the first was Curtis Turner on the February 26, 1968 issue. His 83 wins tie him with Jimmie Johnson for sixth on the all-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner's list (behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, who are tied for fourth with 84). His 14.82% winning percentage is the ninth best all-time and third among those with 500 or more start. Yarborough won the Daytona 500 four times; his first win coming in 1968 for the Wood Brothers, the second in 1977 for Junior Johnson, and back-to-back wins in 1983 and 1984. In 1984, he became the first driver to qualify for the Daytona 500 with a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). Yarborough is a three-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Driver of the Year Award (1977, 1978, 1979). (wikipedia)
• • •

What am I supposed to do with this? What is anyone supposed to do with this? Someone professing himself a "professor emeritus" wrote me some hate mail today, haranguing me for being so negative blah blah blah. I've been getting that criticism forever, so mostly I ignore it, but to get that letter earlier today and then to be confronted with *this* puzzle at 10pm ... I dunno. It's like the universe is trolling me. Even if I wanted to be some kind of Nice-Thing-Saying person, some kind of Fount of Positivity, I would be stymied by this puzzle. It's baffling. I've seen add-a-letter puzzles, and drop-a-letter puzzles (they're among the oldest theme types in existence), but I can't remember seeing multiple letters added this arbitrarily. Why is there no revealer? What is the point of this three-themer clunker? Elevated trains? I went looking for Ernie ELS thinking maybe he could explain it all to me, but found only Elena OCHOA. She just shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm just happy to be here," she said. I have seen many bad puzzles, ill-conceived puzzles, poorly executed puzzles, but I'm hard pressed to remember anything this ... pointless.


Almost broke 3 minutes on this sucker (very Very fast for me, for a Wednesday), but I had some trouble backing my way into that final themer (the clue for which was the most inscrutable of the lot, by far). I don't want to dwell on how olden and stale the fill is (generally), but please survey or resurvey it. ADRIP is the obvious laffer, but even after that, there's so much junk in this grid. It's all ODEA and ARIA and EVEL and CALE and EMAJ etc etc AH ME. My wife rightly asked, "Why did the gardener only buy one SEED?" (40A: Gardener's spring purchase). She also asked, "Where's the revealer?" But we're all asking that. Some of the longer Downs are just fine—and that is the only praise I can give this. How is this the "best puzzle in the world?" How?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Windows precursor / TUE 8-22-17 / Undergraduate law deg / Common churchyard confier / Spritual center in yoga / TV blocking device / Red River Valley city in upper midwest / Calypso influenced genre / here are my thoughts online

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: cities that contain their own state codes

Theme answers:
  • OZARK (5A: Southern city just south of a national forest with the same name)
  • ASTORIA (7D: City almost at the end of the Columbia River)
  • TUSCALOOSA (3D: Where the Crimson Tide play)
  • GRAND FORKS (11D: Red River Valley city in the upper Midwest)
  • BLOOMINGTON (25D: State university city in the Midwest)
  • SANTA MONICA (28D: Sunny city with a famous pier)
  • ALBANY (46D: Original eastern terminus of the Erie Canal)
Word of the Day: ASTORIA
Astoria is a port city and the seat of Clatsop County, Oregon, United States. Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean, the city was named after John Jacob Astor, an investor from New York City whose American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at the site in 1811, 206 years ago. Astoria was incorporated by the Oregon Legislative Assembly on October 20, 1876. // It holds the distinction of being the first permanent United States settlement on the Pacific coast and for having the first U.S. post office west of the Rocky Mountains. Located on the south shore of the Columbia River, the city is served by the deepwater Port of Astoria. Transportation includes the Astoria Regional Airport with U.S. Route 30 and U.S. Route 101 as the main highways, and the 4.1-mile (6.6 km) Astoria–Megler Bridge connecting to neighboring Washington across the river. The population was 9,477 at the 2010 census. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is filler. The very definition of filler. Cities that contain their own state codes? You wanna know how hard that is? Here, I'll show you: PORTLAND. That is how hard it is. Want more: WALLA WALLA! CARMEL! I haven't even left the Pacific Time Zone. What is clever about this? What is entertaining about this? Precisely nothing. I finished the puzzle very quickly having no idea what the theme was except "longish city names." Cities have nothing in common except including their own state codes. This may be the most forgettable puzzle ever made. There is nothing in the fill to redeem it either. It's not god-awful. It's just borderline non-existent, and fantastically disappointing (if you expect any bang for your considerable NYT dollar). Does anyone outside Oregon know there's an ASTORIA, OR??? Its Population Is Under 10K!!! And who the hell thinks of OZARK as a "city" anyway? Come on, man.


I can never remember LLB or how it differs from LLD or L... TD? LLC? TLC? LST? I guess "B" is for Bachelors and "D" (in LLD) is for Doctorate? Yeah, that's not gonna help, I guarantee you. The fill is so boring, I don't know what to talk about. ZOOM IN ON is coolish, but its coolness is undermined by existence of yet another longer "IN" answer (SWOOP IN). The only two good answers in the grid, and they're fighting with each other. I slightly like CHAKRA, as a word (43A: Spiritual center, in yoga). Is there a CHAKRA, Alaska? No? Too bad. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Feet in the city / MON 8-21-17 / Computer savvy office fellow / Friendly communist ghost / Head off to star at some pictures / Slim monarch who gets around fast

Monday, August 21, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Challenging (misplaced, strange)


THEME: THE GAP (39A: Something to mind ... in 18-, 24-, 47- and 58-Across) — you have to imagine a "gap" in the theme answers for the wacky clues to make any sense; so:

Theme answers:
  • URBAN LEGENDS => Urban Leg Ends (18A: Feet in the city? (3 wds.)
  • KINDRED SPIRITS => Kind, Red Spirit (24A: Friendly Communist ghost? (3 wds.)) 
  • QUICK THINKING => Quick, Thin King (47A: Slim monarch who gets around fast? (3 wds.))
  • GOOGLE IMAGES => Go Ogle Images (58A: Head off to stare at some pictures? (3 wds.))
Word of the Day: TOULON (42A: City in southern France) —
Toulon (French pronunciation: ​[tu.lɔ̃]; Provençal: Tolon (classical norm), Touloun (Mistralian norm), pronounced [tuˈlun]) is a city in southern France and a large military harbour on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department. // The Commune of Toulon has a population of 165,514 people (2009), making it the fifteenth-largest city in France. It is the centre of an urban area with 559,421 inhabitants (2008), the ninth largest in France.[1] Toulon is the third-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast after Marseille and Nice. (wikipedia)
• • •

You call that a "Mind THE GAP" puzzle? That's not a "Mind THE GAP" puzzle. *This* (NYT, January 17, 2013) is a "Mind THE GAP" puzzle (and a good one) (seriously, it is—much better than today's).

So many problems. You widened the grid for this? First, the whole "Mind THE GAP" premise really doesn't have much to do with putting a break into words. Find the gap, maybe, but you "mind THE GAP" so as not to hurt yourself by tripping on or otherwise stepping into an actual gap that is there in physical space. You don't provide it. It's just there. Also, THE GAP is terrible as a revealer. Full phrase or go home. THE GAP is a store. Stop it. Further, all you're doing is breaking words into two words ... that is the Full Extent of this puzzle's cohesiveness. Nothing related to subways, nothing related to anything. Just "hey I broke a word in two and there was wackiness." In so many ways, this theme is not ready for publication. It's undercooked *and* it's missing some crucial ingredient to make it all come together. As is, it's a runny mess. Moreover. TOULON is a bonkers word to have in a Monday grid, or any grid. On a Friday or Saturday, fine, but a Monday? It is a hilarious familiarity-outlier. Like ... nothing in this grid comes close to how not-well-known that answer is. The fifteenth-largest city in France? The ninth-largest urban center? On Monday? Astonishing that no one, from constructor, to editor, to testers, thought that was an issue. Lastly, this is really more a Wednesday-type theme. Clues were Monday-easy on the the non-theme stuff, but usually this level of wackiness, with zero indication of the base phrase that is being punned on, wouldn't see light of day til mid-week. So yeah, myriad problems here. Sometimes I think no one is minding the store.


Meanwhile, I had a nice weekend.



I attended Lollapuzzoola 10, the world's greatest NYC crossword tournament, and, well, see pictures, above. My wife and I did OK. The tournament was (as usual) great fun—jam-packed, with tons of new faces—and I got to meet interesting people (a lot of younger people just getting into crossword nerddom!) and eat interesting food and see a Mets game. Lovely lovely lovely. A great way to bring my summer to an official close (teaching starts Thursday). Thanks to Tyler Clark for covering for me Friday and Saturday. And oh, yeah, if you want to do the Fantastic tournament puzzles (all by top-notch constructors) you're in luck. You can get them here, cheap.

See you tomorrow.

Signed (from 37 stories over Manhattan), Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

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Inspector Clouseau's employer / SUN 8-20-17 / "A Navel" artist, 1923 / Wine-and-cassis drink / Third one's a harm? / Moaning Hogwarts ghost / From the top, to a musician / The first pope, to French speakers / Part of a locust tree / Baseball exec Bud / Hansen of a 2016 Broadway hit

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: Found In Your Inbox — Punny email subject lines that become more familiar phrases when preceded by RE-.

Theme answers:
  • [RE]QUEST FOR PROPOSAL (22A: Re: ___ (suitor's subject line))
  • [RE]TREAT IS NOT AN OPTION (29A: Re: ___ (stingy date's subject line))
  • [RE]VERSE COURSE (45A: Re: ___ (song lyricist's subject line))
  • [RE]ACTION TIME (65A: Re: ___ (film director's subject line))
  • [RE]AD ONLY FILE (69A: Re: ___ (sales agent's subject line ... with an attachment))
  • [RE]MOTE CONTROL (88A: Re: ___ (duster's subject line))
  • [RE]WARD FOR INFORMATION (104A: ___ (prison librarian's subject line))
  • [RE]ACHES FOR THE STARS (115A: ___ (celebrity physician's subject line))
Word of the Day: WORD (FAUVE) —
Fauvism is the style of les Fauves (French for "the wild beasts"), a loose group of early twentieth-century modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism. While Fauvism as a style began around 1900 and continued beyond 1910, the movement as such lasted only a few years, 1904–1908, and had three exhibitions. The leaders of the movement were André Derain and Henri Matisse, whose members shared the use of intense color as a vehicle for describing light and space, and who redefined pure color and form as means of communicating the artist's emotional state.
• • •
I officiated a wedding for a lovely couple in Slippery Rock, PA, Saturday afternoon, just a couple of hours before tackling this puzzle, so I felt a weird kinship with it when encountering ALTAR (53A: Place to say 9-Down) paired with I DO (9D: See 53-Across).

Substitute crossword blogger Tyler here for Day 2 of 2, welcoming you to the Sunday puzzle, whether you're CROAT (10D: Dalmatian, e.g.) or SCOTTISH (14D: Like the people who invented golf), a resident of ASIA (54D: China setting) or an admirer of MAO (58A: World leader who proclaimed "Women hold up half the sky"). And I'm including if you're one of the 4.5 million OMANIS (62A: Dwellers on the Arabian Peninsula) or a citizen of OSLO (123A: European capital).



We'll start with the good stuff. VIDIOT (16D: Couch potato) was new to me. Since I couldn't find a toe-hold in the NNW (we'll come back to it), I didn't have SAVE yet (14A: Back up on disk) and needed to see most of IDIOT to intuit the portmanteau that was expected. I liked RAIL clued as (51D: Third one's a harm?). (If you're not previously familiar with the term "third rail", you may hear it again in discussions of political issues.)



I liked APERCUS (100A: Pithy observations) and GMC TRUCKS (78D: Sierras, e.g.). Also, we had IPOD NANO (86D: Apple product discontinued in 2017), where we usually just get one or the other. Then there's the topical EVAN (108A: Hansen of a 2016 Broadway hit), which hit won 6 of the 9 Tony Awards for which it was nominated this year.



There are a couple of family movie references, in ALDRIN (15D: Astronaut after whom Buzz Lightyear was named) and MYRTLE (63D: Moaning Hogwarts ghost). Well, and MONTY (68D: ___ Python), depending how early you're willing to introduce your kids to their oeuvre.



Now, I have two complaints about this puzzle. The first is musical. The correct abbreviation for the musical term Staccato is not STAC (31D: Short and detached, in music: Abbr.) but rather stacc. I could find a hundred examples in fairly short order to share with you, and in all the music I read studying percussion, piano, voice, conducting and ultimately getting my degree in musicology, I don't ever recall seeing it abbreviated with a single C. So, that's annoying. Here's just one example, from Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring:


The second is the NNW block. This whole SAKI (6A: H. H. Munro pseudonym) / KIR (8D: Wine-and-cassis drink) / ARP (7D: "A Navel" artist, 1923) / SURETE (6D: Inspector Clouseau's employer) / ST PIERRE (26A: The first pope, to French speakers) chain is ugly. I wonder if I would have liked it better if SAKI / I DO was instead SAKE / EDO? Or even cluing SAKI as an alternate spelling of Japanese wine? Maybe I'm just bitter that I still haven't memorized SAKI = H. H. Munro, whom I've never read, although I recognize it as crosswordese-that-I-should-know-by-now. It's just a lot of short, ugly stuff connected to some long, foreign stuff, and I didn't like it. Am I alone on this?

Bullets:
  • DA CAPO (74D: From the top, to a musician)Capo meaning, literally, head
  • THORN (49A: Part of a locust tree) — As opposed to roses
  • SELIG (85A: Baseball exec Bud) — Presided over the steroid era
  • AFRO (34A: Hairstyle rarely seen in the military) — A fresh clue on a common answer
  • AUTO (82D: Motorcade unit) — This felt fairly generic for the clue; or was I supposed to appreciate the misdirection to LIMO?
  • ON TOAST (97A: "Down," at a diner) — It's possible I'm not frequenting enough diners

Signed, Tyler Clark, Fan of CrossWorld

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Intervening, at law / SAT 8-19-17 / Method of fishing / Some fruit pastries / Feature of Namibia and Libya / Root used in perfumery / Noodle soup noodle / 1990-94 New Jersey governor

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard



THEME: none

Word of the Day: ORRIS (24A: Root used in perfumery) —
Orris root (rhizoma iridis) is a term used for the roots Iris germanica and Iris pallida. Once important in western herbal medicine, it is now used mainly as a fixative and base note in perfumery, the most widely used fixative for potpourri. Orris is also an ingredient in many brands of gin.

Fabienne Pavia, in her book L'univers des Parfums (1995, ed. Solar), states that in the manufacturing of perfumes using orris, the scent of the iris root differs from that of the flower. After preparation the scent is reminiscent of the smell of violets. (Wikipedia)

• • •
Greetings, CrossWorld! It's Lollapuzzoola 10 in NYC this weekend, so you've got me, Tyler Clark, for the Saturday and Sunday puzzles while Rex is off solving and snacking.

This went relatively slowly for me, how about you? I started in the NE, then rather worked my way around clockwise, finishing in the middle. Or, at least, I thought I was finished. As I was trying to speed through the opening Downs, I got to (4D: Shows the way) and felt pretty confident with LEADS ON. When I finally finished, I had ORROS crossing it (see Word of the Day, above). Botany is not a strong suit, so being fairly confident with my crosses, I didn't give it the skeptical review it deserved until ruling out nearly everything else. (So, LEADS IN / ORRIS is the correct cross there.)



My other stumbling block was geography. Not sure why I haven't filed this away under four-letter French river or, for that matter, spent any time learning the 102 departments of France ... except maybe that there are 102 of them. Anyhoo, I had _ISE RIVER for (29D: Waterway that lent its name to two French departments) and since at that time I only had __IS_NRI_T for the cross, somehow I convinced myself I should start with F. Only once I realized the "Joint" in (27A: Joint flare-up?) was PRISON did RIOT replace RIFT, completing OISE RIVER.



I found plenty to like, including TRESPASSES (34A: Goes over the line?), IMITATIVE (28D: Like store brands vis-à-vis name brands, typically), TRANSFERS (30D: Students arriving late?), DOWSES (21A: Looks forward to the next spring?), APERITIFS (44A: Dubonnet or Campari), and CONNIVER (49A: Lowdown sneak).



Others slowing me down included (22A: Feature of Namibia and Libya) which I filled in with ARIDNESS on faith, because I had only previously been aware of ARIDITY, (32A: Method of fishing) which might as well be the Word of the Day –Alternate: SEINING
Seine fishing (or seine-haul fishing) is a method of fishing that employs a seine or dragnet. A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.

Boats deploying seine nets are known as seiners. There are two main types of seine net deployed from seiners: purse seines and Danish seines. (Wikipedia)

Anyone else start (8D: It covers bridges, typically) with DENTAL APPLIANCE instead of DENTAL INSURANCE? And how many of you knew MESNE (42D: Intervening, at law) without Every Single Cross?


See you Sunday!
Signed, Tyler Clark, Fan of CrossWorld

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