Japanese chess / THU 6-22-17 / Balaam's talking beast / Katniss's partner in Hunger Games / Prison guarded by Dementors /

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Constructor: Ruth B. Margolin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: EYESEEEYE — phrases following pattern "___ [body part] to [body part]" are represented in the grid with the "___" part literally between the [body part]s:

Theme answers:
  • HANDPASSHAND (pass from hand to hand) (20A: Transfer, as in a bucket brigade)
  • EARSMILEEAR (smile from ear to ear) (33A: Grin broadly) (I think "grin from ear to ear" is the more common phrase, but this is acceptable)
  • TOESTANDTOE (stand toe to toe) (40A: Confront one another head-on)
  •  FACEMEETFACE (meet face to face) (50A: Rendezvous)
Word of the Day: TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores)
noun: tidal bore; plural noun: tidal bores
  1. a large wave caused by the funneling of a flood tide as it enters a long, narrow, shallow inlet. (google)
• • •

Jet. Lag. Jetlag. Why didn't I get someone to cover today? Dunno. But here I am after west-to-east travel that got me home around 1 a.m. this morning and now it's some other a.m.  this morning and I'm solving and writing. It's fun. So I'd like to thank Ms. Margolin for lobbing a softball this morning—one that took me something like the usual amount of time, but that I knew was easier than usual. The basic concept is simple but effective, and was very easy to pick up. And then once you pick it up, it had the same advantage palindromic themes have, in that if I got one end, I could fill in the other immediately. Again, my tired brain and body thank you, Ms. Margolin. The puzzle was probably more interesting in the fill than in the theme, where OUTDOORSY and AZKABAN were both genuine pleasures, the clue on SIGH gave my weary brain a slap in the face (1D: Heaved "ho"?), and AAAMAP (25D: TripTike, e.g.) provided sufficient visual weirdness.

This puzzle would've been "Easy" even for sluggish me if I'd ever (ever) head of a TIDAL bore (41D: Like some colossal bores). Add to my never-heard-of-it the fact that it had a ruthlessly tricky clue, and then add in the fact that I got NICEAN instantly (and spelled it thusly) (29D: Christians' ___ Creed) and that little inch-wide section in the SW explains almost all my "difficulty" today. Proud to have remembered EILAT even if I had to leave the last vowel blank because of non-remembering. Had ILLS for AILS but there's no shame there (53D: Troubles). [Book of the Bible after Amos] is a pretty hilarious clue for me, in that it supposes that I have any idea where Amos is (OBADIAH). There are three "IN"s in this grid, but that doesn't really bug me. Today, I'm just happy to be here, at my good old desk with my good old writing set-up, even if I do have a good old travel headache. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. CHEEKDANCECHEEK would've made a Very cool 15.

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Some native Nigerians / WED 6-21-17 / Insect made of paper / Pitchfork-wielding assemblage / Covered with sludge / Hip-hop pal / Component not found on digital watch

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (easy theme, but the fill / cluing ... MUCKY)

THEME: BUTTERFLY (35A: Word that must be added to 1-, 8-, 65- and 66-Across to make sense [with a visual hint in the grid] — put "BUTTERFLY" before the corner Acrosses. I guess those four black double-L formations are visual representations of the insect in question:

Theme answers:
  • ORIGAMI (1A: Insect made of paper)
  • MADAME (8A: Puccini opera)
  • SOCIAL (65A: One going from party to party)
  • MONARCH (66A: Orange, black and white flutterer) 
Word of the Day: IBOS (54A: Some native Nigerians)
The Igbo people (English: /ˈɪɡb/; erroneously Ibo, formerly also Iboe, Ebo, Eboe, Eboans, Heebo; natively Ṇ́dị́ Ìgbò [ìɡ͡bò][citation needed]) are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern (which is the larger of the two) and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)
• • •

I knew as soon as I opened this that the black squares were gonna be some element in the theme, but lord knows what. I saw a bunch of "L"s. Then moths kissing. Shrug. Once I got that central element, then the puzzle got very easy (all of the themers, transparent), but there was enough rough / odd fill and iffy cluing to make the puzzle somewhat harder, overall, than an average Wednesday. The theme just doesn't come off very well. The visual is a little weak, and the four corner answers are ... I don't know, not much of a revelation. ORIGAMI feels like a stretch. Butterfly isn't a shape I readily associate with that art form (unlike, say, the crane). And it's just a paper version of the "insect" in the MONARCH clue, so there's not a lot of variety. I guess there aren't that many words that can precede "BUTTERFLY" comfortably. Maybe that's a sign. Sometimes you have to a let an intriguing idea go instead of forcing it.

Speaking of forcing it, ENDWAYS! AT ONE GO! These are awkward, uncurrent phrases. IBOS is old-school crosswordese (and now apparently very much the non-preferred term—IGBOS is gonna be harder to shoehorn into grids). If you're gonna use ITGUY, then your clue should indicate gender. [PC problem solver] has nothing "guy" about it. [Hip-hop pal] is jarring. The "pal" part really ... doesn't nail it. Something tonally off-sounding. Very MUCKY (btw, wtf?). The entire center area could be soooo much cleaner, without that much effort. ON DATES was awkward, UHS was awkward, RAINHAT is always awkward, RAYOVAC ... is a brand, but one I never see. ICE COLD is a great answer, but I wasn't a big fan of the clue (17A: Phase in beer ads). Clue on MACK was just fine (19A: Vehicle company with a bulldog logo), but I botched it bad: four letters, starting in "M" — I went with MINI. In my defense, well, this ad, for starters:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Hill that's steep on one side gentle on other / TUE 6-20-17 / Southern region where blues developed / Pilgrimage site in central italy / Roamer of Serengeti / Like group you're in if you're out

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Constructor: Jason Flinn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: AIRPORT TERMINALS (55A: Arrival and departure locales hinted at by 17-, 21- and 50-Across) — final words in the three themers are all airlines:

Theme answers:
  • MANCHESTER UNITED (17A: One of the premier clubs in the Premier League)
  • MISSISSIPPI DELTA (21A: Southern region where blues developed)
  • SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST (50A: Annual Austin festival)
Word of the Day: CUESTA (47A: Hill that's steep on one side and gentle on the other) —
A cuesta is a hill or ridge with a gentle slope on one side, and a steep slope on the other. In geology the term is more specifically applied to a ridge where a harder sedimentary rock overlies a softer layer, the whole being tilted somewhat from the horizontal. This results in a long and gentle backslope called a dip slope that conforms with the dip of resistant strata, called caprock. Where erosion has exposed the frontslope of this, a steep slope or escarpment occurs. The resulting terrain may be called scarpland. (wikipedia)
• • •

The one and only thing I like about this puzzle is that it looks interesting. 16-wide, with those ridiculous 11-letter non-theme Acrosses riding shotgun with the top and bottom themers? Bonkers. Oh, and KICKS BUTT is kinda fun. But besides that, this thing was deeply unpleasant. I'll start with the theme, which is just a bloated last-words theme. The revealer fails twice, first by being a really booooring entry, and second by being ... not really what ... those last words are. Those are airlines. They may have their own "terminals." Or they may not. Theme answers themselves are fine, but the revealer was kind of a letdown. And then there's Maude! I mean, the fill (and cluing). Hoo boy. Here we come to the Downside of the puzzle's "interesting" look. Those 11-letter Acrosses abutting the grid-spanning themers make for a ****ton of cruddy short fill in the crosses. INA SSN OPE (ugh) TRA EDA SYS TEMAS (double ugh). Things get rough in other places too: ACHOO TWPS (ugh ugh ugh) INTWO NCIS—that's a pretty section. My favorite*, though, was AKEY crossing CUESTA. That was my last square. I hate riddles. I hate bad fill. AKEY is an answer to a riddle, and it is also bad fill. CUESTA was just a thing I've never heard of that clearly doesn't belong in a Tuesday. I saw "hill" in the clue and thought "CREST ... A?" Oy.

I don't like the clue on LGBT (40D: Like the group you're in if you're out, for short), as it seems to imply that being "out" is a precondition of being L or G or B or T. Now it doesn't say "*only* if you are out," so I guess you can lawyer that clue into being technically accurate, but it feels off, and all for the sake of wordplay (in/out) that isn't even that good. The clue did get some pretty high-power defense when I complained about it last night, though:

Ben and Andy are certainly right, but I still think the use of the conditional in the clue is lazy and confusing. In frustration, I'm gonna go punch IDEATE in the face (12D: Conceptualize). I'm just tired of looking at it, is all. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Doll-making tribe of Southwest / MON 6-19-17 / Heroine of Jean Auel's Clan of Cave Bear / Desserts with layered fruits whipped cream

Monday, June 19, 2017

Constructor: Susan Gelfand

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (theme type, incl. its complete reliance on proper noun knowledge, made this slightly tougher than the average Monday)

THEME: DUETS (37A: Performances by two singers ... like 21- and 49- Across and 3- and 29-Down) — familiar phrases are clued as if they were two singers:

Theme answers:
  • PAGE TURNER (3D: Singers Patti and Tina?)
  • ROTTEN APPLE (21A: Singers Johnny and Fiona?)
  • URBAN LEGEND (49A: Singers Keith and John?)
  • KELLY GREEN (29D: Singers Tori and Al?) 
Word of the Day: Tori Kelly (of KELLYGREEN (29D: Singers Tori and Al?)) —
Victoria Loren "Tori" Kelly (born December 14, 1992) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer and voice actress who slowly gained recognition after starting to post videos on YouTube at the age of 14. When she was 16, Kelly auditioned for the singing competition television series American Idol. After being eliminated from the show, Kelly began to work on her own music. In 2012, she independently released her first EP that she produced, wrote, and mixed herself, titled Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly. The following year, Scooter Braun became her manager after seeing her videos on YouTube and introduced her to Capitol Records, with whom she signed in September. Kelly's second EP Foreword came out in October 2013 as her first major label release. On June 23, 2015, Kelly's debut album, Unbreakable Smile, was released. The lead single, "Nobody Love", was released in the spring and became her first US Billboard Hot 100 appearance. Kelly was nominated for Best New Artist at the 58th Grammy Awards. She voiced a shy teenage elephant named Meena in the 2016 animated film Sing. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a nice theme concept, though I think it's more a Tuesday or (with tougher cluing throughout) Wednesday concept. The "?" clues are tricky, and I had to fill in at least some of every theme answer from crosses before I had any chance at getting it. [Singers Keith and John?]??? Give me that out of context, and I'm gonna be like "uh ... SWEAT ELTON?" And I've never ever Ever heard of Tori Green. I mean, never. I see where she got a Best New Artist Grammy nomination recently, but ... she ain't close to Monday-famous. No major awards, no major hits (her highest charting song hit only #51??) ... just no. I mean, all best wishes, but right now, nah. I recognize only one "Singer Tori," and her last name isn't Green.

Fill is not bad. I'd've tried to get rid of phrase parts like VOOM and THEM'S and LEONE, foreign crosswordese like ÉTÉ and plural TÊTES, and lastly AYLA, which, ugh, no, nails on chalkboard. That is pure, uncut crosswordese: a weird four-letter fictional name that isn't well known. This isn't like EYRE or AHAB or IAGO. AYLA should retire to the Island of Crossword Has-Beens and stay there except in case of real crossword emergencies. She can take care of ASTA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Popular rapper with feline-sounding name / SUN 6-18-17 / Neutrogena dandruff shampoo / Asian plumlike fruit / Up for paradoxically / Onetime rap moniker / Intoxicating polynesian drink

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Normal

THEME: "Silent Treatment" — familiar phrases clued as if their silent letters didn't exist. Silent letters (in circles) spell out KNIGHT (so ... per the title ... Silent "(K)Night" ... which has like three silent letters in it, actually ... but ... I don't know; I think that's the theme)

Theme answers:
  • DOUBLE (K)NOTS (23A: Reversals of reversals in sentences?)
  • GIVES A DAM(N) (41A: Donates shelter to some beavers?)
  • RENAISSANCE FA(I)RE (57A: Soup, black bread and, for the wealthy, meat?)
  • REI(G)NING MONARCHS (81A: Kings and queens bringing their steeds to a halt?)
  • AFTER (H)OURS (98A: "Excuse me, but my partner's and my kids go first!")
  • TARO(T) SPREAD (119A: Feast consisting entirely of Hawaiian foodstuffs?)
Word of the Day: TYGA (30D: Popular rapper with a feline-sounding name) —
Micheal Ray Stevenson (born November 19, 1989), known by his stage name Tyga (a backronym for Thank you God always), is an American rapper. In 2011, Tyga signed a recording contract with Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records and Republic Records (formerly Universal Republic Records). His major label debut Careless World: Rise of the Last King, includes the singles "Rack City", "Faded" featuring fellow Young Money artist Lil Wayne, "Far Away" featuring Chris Richardson, "Still Got It" featuring Drake, and "Make It Nasty". He released his third album Hotel California, on April 9, 2013, and includes the singles "Dope" featuring Rick Ross, "For The Road" featuring Chris Brown, and "Show You" featuring Future. (wikipedia)
• • •

The basic gimmick here is super duper basic and old. Words have silent letters ... yup, they sure do. So the only "joy" is the wackiness of the clues, which are not very funny, as written. So it's a bit of a dud. Then I thought, well, the circled letters must do something ... and they do. They do spell KNIGHT. Which (I guess?) relates to the title ("Silent Treatment"), in that the puzzle has a silent, if not a holy, KNIGHT in it. OK. It's just ... weird, because the waters are all muddied by the fact that the *word* "KNIGHT" itself has A Bunch of silent letters in it, not just the "K." Also, even though the "k" in "knight" is silent, technically ... in the context of the puzzle ... *every* letter in "knight" is silent. So it's just ... loose and unclear, concept-wise. A puzzle's gimmick / theme / revealer / whatever should *snap* into place. Boom. Pow. There it is. No questions. No loose ends. This theme wasn't that strong to begin with, in its bones, and then the added spelling-"knight" bit, rather than clarifying matters, only raised more questions about what, exactly, the puzzle was trying to do.

Also the puzzle got a little cute in the fill, perhaps because it was trying to make up for a pretty anemic theme, with only six themers in play. Scrabble-f***ing gets you the ludicrous AQUACAR (?) / LOQUAT crossing in the NW and the less explicable DR. OZ / ZETA crossing in the SW. DROP / PETA is better if only because the cluing options for DROP are so much more numerous. You can go thousands of ways with DROP, but only one kinda icky way with the celeb doc. It's patchy, this grid. There's the SNOOP LION / ANTI / TYGA patch in the north, which I kinda like, but which will be very rough for you if you don't follow contemporary R&B/hip-hop music. Then there's the is-this-a-parody-of-bad-crosswords patch in the east, where things break down something awful. TGEL (62A: Neutrogena dandruff shampoo) (what ... is that? whatever it is, it's not good fill), crossing GOT A C (so bad it's almost good but not quite) and the dreaded E-CASH (64D: Digital currency). The puzzle on the whole isn't terrible, but it just never quite found its footing, never quite came together, and was far too ... yeah, patchy, in the end, to be very enjoyable.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. what is a TAROT SPREAD? I have never heard of that? Is that what it's called when the tarot card leader lays out your ... cards? To read? Familiarity-wise, that answer seems like a major outlier.

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Rows / SAT 6-17-17 / Uncut / Flow / Friends / Believe

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Constructor: Ryan McCarty

Relative difficulty: Medium


Word of the Day: SEMIBREVE (26A: Whole note, to a Brit) —
In music, a whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head and no note stem. Its length is equal to four beats in 4
time, that is the whole 4
measure (or bar). Most other notes are fractions of the whole note (e.g., half notes and quarter notes are played for one half and one quarter the duration of the whole note, respectively).

The symbol is first found in music notation from the late thirteenth century, and its British name derives from the semibrevis of mensural notation, which is the origin of the British name. The whole note and whole rest may also be used in music of free rhythm, such as Anglican chant, to denote a whole measure. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Can I PIG IT? Everyone say "yes you can!" Lena here, covering for Rex on this debut puzzle by Ryan McCarty. I don't see a lot of Saturday debuts-- it's my favorite day of the puzzling week and I'm a tough customer when it comes to themeless fare. Also when I'm blogging a puzzle for Rex everything takes me like 50 times longer than it does him, and so when the puzz drops at 10pm I know I'm in for a long, and potentially cranky, night.

As themelesses go this one is not terribly sparkling in terms of the overall fill, but the marquee/seed entry, SCHUYLER SISTERS (33A: Sibling trio in "Hamilton") is certainly a modern-day crowd pleaser. Sometimes it's nice to drop in a grid-spanning answer like that with few/no crosses. Maybe you look around to see if anyone saw you just totally own the longest answer in the hardest puzzle of the week.

My solve started at 1D (French anise-flavored liqueur) with the declaration "It's either PERNOD or PASTIS" and confirmation of the latter by incorrectly filling in TIFFS for 19A (Rows) and its correct-yet-incorrect T. Oops. TIFFS also allowed for ENTIRE (2D: Uncut), and so before I knew it I had a wrong answer locked in. I think it stayed in there for a while, too-- I seem to recall ending in the NW and realizing my mistake through TOURNIQUET (4D: Flow stopper, of a sort).

Someone told me that I need to crawl out from under my rock and watch "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." I barely made it through one. Her voice is the vinegar that curdles the show. And that's just one of the problems I have with it. Anyway I dissed the show and now I've got the star's full name stabbing straight down the middle of the grid-- this is the kind of cosmic revenge I can get down with. ELLIE KEMPER (14D: Title actress on Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") was ELSIE KEMP_R for a bit because I didn't know LIDA ROSE (20A: Barbershop staple from "The Music Man") and couldn't remember Ms. EDERLE (46A: Channel swimmer Gertrude). 

Although the fill didn't particularly dazzle me I did find myself enjoying many of the clues. I wanted 25D (Goes for the bronze?) to be ORES so bad because crosswords (you get what I'm saying here, right Crossworld? Those "wait what, you can verb that word?" answers), but I do like the actual clue/answer (SUNS). I also have a masochistic love for those nasty little one-word clues like 3D (Flow), 30A (Friends), and of course the devilish 19A (Rows). They keep me on my toes. Oh yeah, and (Meal maker?) for PESTLE is an excellent clue-- exactly how I like my question markies.

Imagining DANES waging war, fighting for territory, to become the (Builders of the original Legoland) cracked me up. 

The tortured plural STASES (57A: Equilibria) and the tortuered partial ILIE (37A: "Would ___?) did not crack me up. I have burned down almost-complete grids for less ugly fill, and if I were trying to get a puzzle in the NYT I wouldn't have even considered it. And I wouldn't have been terribly attached to the content of that corner-- IONIAN, QUINTE and HISPANIA are not the kind of answers I would be sad to lose. 

Overall a pretty smooth and ultimately pleasant debut themeless. Not too easy, not too hard. Just right for piggin' it. 

P.S. Fun fact: if you accidentally highlight text in Blogger you cannot make it go away. I tried, but ultimately just picked the closest color to the background because, like I said, I'm piggin' it.

Signed, Lena Webb, Court Jester of CrossWorld

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Old baseball mascot with C on his cap / FRI 6-16-17 / French philosopher who wrote Reflections on Violence / Popular nail polish brand / School once headed by Mies van der rohe / Always one of kind sloganeer / Potent pot component for short

Friday, June 16, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium (felt very hard at first, but in the end, my time was only just a tad north of normal)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: EVA Green (30D: Green on the silver screen) —
Eva Gaëlle Green (French: [ɡʁin]; Swedish: [ˈɡɾeːn] born 6 July 1980) is a French actress and model. She started her career in theatre before making her film debut in 2003 in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Dreamers. She achieved international recognition when she appeared as Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem in Ridley Scott's historical epic Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and portrayed Bond girl Vesper Lynd in the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006). In 2006, Green was awarded the BAFTA Rising Star Award. // Since 2006, Green has starred in independent films Cracks (2009), Womb (2010), and Perfect Sense (2011). She has also appeared in the television series Camelot (2011), and played Angelique Bouchard in Tim Burton's big-screen adaptation of Dark Shadows (2012). In 2014, she played Artemisia in the 300 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), and Ava Lord in Frank Miller's and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). She also starred as Vanessa Ives in Showtime's horror drama Penny Dreadful (2014–16). Her performance in the series earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards. In 2016, she played the titular character in Tim Burton's fantasy film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. (wikipedia)
• • •

Brutal, brutal beginning, and then ... I dunno, guess things picked up, because I finished somewhere in the 7s, which is pretty normal. Oh, and daughter tried to talk to me mid-solve, and I *tried* to listen w/o telling her to buzz off, so ... even with that added level of difficulty, I still came in with a normal time. But to start, nothing, but nothing would work. Nothing. Tried ONIONS at 1A: Alternatives to olives (TWISTS) and it didn't get prettier from there. At least I had the cocktail part right. What's weird—we love our martinis and we *only* ever order them with TWISTS. So ... yeah, I think that counts as "ironic." Who is SOREL? I Do Not Know (6D: French philosopher who wrote "Reflections on Violence"). That hurt. Edward SOREL is a fantastic cartoonist; if you have to use SOREL, why not him? This French guy is Saturday, not Friday. But no matter. Had SATIRE instead of TRACTS (ugh, what a terrible, general, not-particularly-Swiftian answer) (1D: Swift writings). Is "center" really ever abbreviated CTR. in arena names? Yikes. AS AM I before SO DO I, 'cause... how would you know? (25A: "That makes two of us") And you can see, I'm not even out of the NW yet. As I say: brutal.

NE got me ATTN and THC, but zero thereafter. I somehow got a grip with TESH (how embarrassing) somehow, with the assumed "S" (at the end of 35A: Toaster components), I got SASHIMI at 37D: Dish often garnished with white radish. From there, I was able finally to get some traction (despite the mysterious, haven't-heard-the-name-since-childhood CHINET (43D: Big namein disposable tableware)), and after I got past the absurd MR. RED (MR. MET's weird cousin no one likes to talk about?) and the ugh-groan clue on FIRST (28D: Who's there) (took me many seconds of thinking to see how that was right), the puzzle all of a sudden opened up, and there wasn't much struggle thereafter. Weird how just a little momentum can send you barreling through a grid that 30 seconds earlier had been totally impenetrable. There ended up being many fine answers in this grid (incl. SOCIAL MEDIA and GENDER FLUID–which has been in the NYT before). My solve was just rough, and some of the cluing seemed rough (both as in "hard" and as in "yuck"). The BATTED clue is irking me no end (7A: Went for a run). I *assume* the context is baseball ... and no. You're trying to get on base. You're mostly trying not to make an out. Yes, you might "go for" (awk!) a "run," and I see what you're trying to do there with the misdirection, but the whole thing just ignores the actuality of baseball too much. The clue caused me actual pain. Not LEGIT, imho.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I'm seeing people post re: their fast times, so my initial struggles could easily have been a personal anomaly.

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Former Cleveland Orchestra conductor George / THU 6-15-17 / European sister brand of buick / Old beer with ad line from land of sky blue waters / 2000s Japanese P.m. / Suisse sweetheart

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Constructor: Richard F. Mausser

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "THE DIRTY DOZEN" (53A: Hit movie released on June 15, 1967 ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — twelve different answers (w/ asterisked clues) must be preceded by "DIRTY" to make sense

Theme answers:
  • JOKE 
  • JOB
  • LIAR
  • RAT
  • WORK 
  • LOOK
  • TRICK 
Word of the Day: OJAI (61A: California tourist destination) —
Ojai (/ˈh/ OH-hy) is a city in Ventura County in the U.S. state of California. Located in the Ojai Valley, it is northwest of Los Angeles and east of Santa Barbara. The valley is about 10 miles (16 km) long by 3 miles (5 km) wide, surrounded by hills and mountains. The population was 7,461 at the 2010 census, down from 7,862 at the 2000 census. // Ojai is a tourism destination with boutique hotels and recreation opportunities including hiking, and spiritual retreats, as well as for a farmers' market on Sundays with local organic agriculture. It also has small businesses specializing in local and ecologically friendly art, design, and home improvement—such as galleries and a solar power company. Chain stores (other than a few gas stations) are prohibited by Ojai city law to encourage local small business development and keep the town unique.  // The origin of the name Ojai has historically been known as derived from a Native American word meaning nest. The city's self-styled nickname is "Shangri-La" referencing the natural beauty of this health-and-spirituality-focused region. While there are no known references, it is commonly claimed that the mountains visible from the city were used, but then cut, from the 1937 movie as the mystical sanctuary of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. (wikipedia)

• • •

It's an anniversary puzzle that actually appears on the right day, so that's something. Also, the mirror symmetry grid looks kinda cool. Beyond that, I don't know. It's clean enough, and there are some OK answers here and there, but this gimmick was transparent, and it made the puzzle overall way too easy. The only interesting part was the revealer, which provided an answer to the annoyed question I was asking in my head from about 5 seconds in until I finished: "Why is this happening!?" I got the "dirty" angle before I ever even got out of the teeny NW corner. I thought there'd be other words involved somehow, but no: "dirty" just kept coming. Made all the asterisked clues a cinch to get. I finished in under 4 (!?), which is about where I was Tuesday, and a good half minute faster than yesterday. I like this better than I would a puzzle where LORETTA'S WIT is a theme answer, but honestly that's not saying much.

I would tell you where I struggled, but I didn't. I held back writing in a few things to make sure the crosses checked out, and I balked at least once at writing in IDEATE, despite the fact that it's the first thing I considered (37A: Brainstorm). I think of the clue as a noun, but of course it can also be a verb. Only place I can imagine someone's having trouble is maybe in the SZELL / LPNS section (i.e. the SE). Nope, wait—my wife just came in and told me her error. She'd never heard of HAMM'S (5A: Old beer with the ad line "From the land of sky blue waters"), so she guessed TAMM'S, thinking (re: 5D: Giggle), "Well, that's a really stupid way to spell TEEHEE, but OK ..." To be fair, the correct answer is also a really stupid way to spell HEE HEE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Jewish organization known for its outreach work / WED 6-14-17 / Secretary of State during Korean War / Syllable in oldies songs / Bush denizen for short / Actor Robert of Tv's quincy / Early platform for legend of Zelda for short / Modern education acronym

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: BY GEORGE! (61A: Exlamation that describes 13-, 20-, 30, 39- and 51-Across) — all themers are works created by someone whose first name is "George":

Theme answers:
  • "STAR WARS" (13A: 1977 Lucas film)
  • "MIDDLEMARCH" (20A: 1871 Eliot novel)
  • "RHAPSODY IN BLUE" (30A: 1924 Gershwin composition)
  • "DECISION POINTS" (39A: 2010 Bush autobiography)
  • "MY SWEET LORD" (51A: 1970 Harrison song) 
Word of the Day: CHABAD (15A: Jewish organization known for its outreach work) —
Chabad, also known as Lubavitch, Habad and Chabad-Lubavitch, (Hebrew: חב"ד‎) is an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement. Chabad is today one of the world's best known Hasidic movements and is well known for its outreach. It is the largest Hasidic group and Jewish religious organization in the world. (wikipedia) ("known for its outreach" = some weakass wikiplagiarism in the cluing)
• • •

The theme is stupid in a way I kinda like. Silly, maybe, rather than stupid. Anyway, the revealer provided a nice aha—though actually I never saw that the revealer was the revealer, so I was left staring at the grid for many seconds afterwards wondering what the hell—the damned 8-letter *non*-themers didn't help. Again, all non-themer Acrosses should be *shorter* than the shortest Across themers ... for a reason. FRITO PIE, my eye. Actually, GOOGLE IT, my eye. That is stupid in a way that I don't kinda like. There's being innovative and there's just being too cute by half. [Easy way to get information...] = GOOGLING. That is the only acceptable answer there. If you wrote that in, realized it was "wrong," but refused to change it, you are not only forgiven, you are blessed.

This one played harder than normal, in large part because the constructor decided to drop it to 72 words (?!?!) for a Wednesday themed puzzle, which is weird. Lots of white space *and* a theme-dense grid. This didn't make for the smoothest of solves. I very nearly left an error behind at the ACHESON (who? seriously, how old do you think I am?) / CHABAD crossing. I had an "S" there because ... I think I confused CHABAD and SHABBAT (not Jewish, though that's probably a 'duh' to you right now). Anyway, I can see someone faltering at that cross, easily. Roughest part for me was, well, where all the red ink is here:

ARIDE = ABADANSWER, so having [Bum ___] for the clue and having the answer not be STEER and then having the answer be ARIDE ... that was a bummer. USED is an Amazon "category"?! So many Amazon categories. So so many. I have never gone to "Used." I know you can buy "Used" merchandise, but calling it a "category" just did nothing a clue is supposed to do. So many ways to clue USED without that dumbness. TAPINTO is good; the clue was just tough in that way that very vague clues are tough (5D: Access). So a pass for this one, but kind of a low one because of design / fill / cluing issues.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. LOL at everyone who wrote in ANEWHOPE at 13A: 1977 Lucas film, you know who you are.

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Title for Maria Theresa of Austria / TUE 6-13-17 / Terse put-down of Sandra's Gidget performance / Chef known for New New Orleans cuisine / Long-necked wader / Firenze farewell / Maiden name preceder / Quick suggestive message

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Tuesday)

THEME: expanding letters — familiar phrases containing stand-alone letters have those letters spelled out as words, resulting in wackiness

Theme answers:
  • BEE STUDENT (18A: Apiarist?)
  • TEE BILL (29A: Invoice from a souvenir shop?)
  • DEE FLAT (31A: Terse put-down of Sandra's "Gidget" performance?)
  • EX FILES (45A: Where to keep divorce papers?)
  • CUE BERT (47A: Signal Ernie's buddy to step onstage?) (Q*bert is a video game)
  • GEE STRINGS (59A: "Wow, you have violins!"?)
Word of the Day: LUXOR (16A: City across the Nile from the Valley of the Kings) —
Luxor [...] is a city in Upper (southern) Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate. The population numbers 487,896 (2010 estimate), with an area of approximately 416 square kilometres (161 sq mi). // As the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open-air museum", as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. Immediately opposite, across the River Nile, lie the monuments, temples and tombs of the West Bank Necropolis, which includes the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. (wikipedia)
• • •

Right over the plate. Cute little theme, nicely executed. Nothing flashy. Tuesday easy. I give it a bee. This constructor is an old pro, and it's always nice to see her byline—I don't always love her puzzles, but when I see her name, I know I am definitely not going to be getting junk.  Puzzle feels hand-made in a good way. Somewhat conservative / old-fashioned in its fill, but polished. Crafted. It's a good look. As usual with easy, early-week puzzles, I was only dimly aware of what the theme was. Because the first few I ran into were all -EE letters, I was surprised / mildly befuddled to come across EX and CUE. This is what happens when you solve fast—the contours of the theme get blurry. I love when the puzzle saves its best themer for last (a very Merl-esque move), and today's did not disappoint. It is rare that the "wacky" clue really lands for me, really makes me laugh, but for some reason the bizarrely ingenuous ["Wow, you have violins!"?] leading to the racy (-sounding) GEE STRINGS really got me. "GEE! STRINGS!" I just love how excited that imaginary kid is (in my head the exclaimer is a kid ... it's just funnier that way). Standing O for that clue. EX FILES and CUE BERT clues also work. The themer clues up top are less interesting. I do think it's kinda bad form to have non-themer Acrosses that are longer than your themer Acrosses (see LOOK HERE, EPISODES), but that's a very minor technical issue.

It is weird how much I get slowed down by very small answers. I've been noticing this happening a lot. Here are all the parts where I "struggled" (I finished in the mid 3s, so I never really struggled):

Wanted BAIT and HOOK before WORM, which, when I got WORM, seemed awfully stupid of me. I mean, "wriggly" is right in the clue, for ****'s sake. Even with the "M" I didn't get MASK for 4D: Lone Ranger accessory. Considered the whole cowboy get-up, but forgot he was a "masked man." Dumb. Didn't know if the [Recycling receptacle] was a CAN or TIN or BIN (again, in retrosepct, this seems obvious, but mid-solve, my brain was not sure). LUXOR was the answer I wanted at first for 16A: City across the Nile from the Valley of the Kings, but I didn't trust it. So I checked crosses. 13D: 17,000-year-old find in France's Lascaux cave is a verrrrrrrry specific clue for something as general as ART. I could see the ART (cave paintings) in question, but ART ... yeah, never woulda thought, w/a clue like that, I'd end up at mere ART. Wanted ROMP for ROUT, which happens precisely Every time I get a clue like 64A: Decisive defeat, in four letters. Ugh. And then there's the worst mistake of all: the one where I wrote in SRS for 44A: Many SAT takers: Abbr., and then couldn't make heads or tails of 44D: Legal authorities (JURISTS). Solving brain says: SAT = SRS, PSAT = JRS. It's a reflex. Never mind that my own daughter is a JR who took the SAT earlier this year. Never mind that *I* took the SAT as a JR. Crossword brain knows what it knows and it knows JRS take *P*SATs. Blargh. Still, I ended up w/ a perfectly Tuesday time. And that final themer ensured that I also ended on a high note.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Throat dangler / MON 6-12-17 / Repeated short bits in jazz / Swiss capital to French speakers / Comic actor who was original cast member of SCTV

Monday, June 12, 2017

Constructor: Dan Margolis

Relative difficulty: Normal Monday (maybe slightly on the easy side)

THEME: BOY MEETS GIRL (50A: Beginning of a rom-com ... or a description of 20-, 36- and 41-Across) — famous actors whose last names can also be women's names:

Theme answers:
  • BILLY CRYSTAL (20A: Actor who has hosted the Oscars nine times, a number second only to Bob Hope) (Why is that trivia appended to the end of the clue??! Weird. Adds nothing.)
  • RAUL JULIA (36A: He played Gomez in 1991's "The Addams Family")
  • JOHN CANDY (41A: Comic actor who was an original cast member of SCTV) 
Word of the Day: AMATOL (24A: Powerful explosive) —
noun: amatol
  1. a high explosive consisting of a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. (google)
• • •

This is perfectly acceptable. I like a puzzle that isn't afraid to go light on the theme material. Theme density is fine, but slightly overrated, IMHO. I think there should be room for 3- and 4-answer themes. Adding that extra themer runs the risk of a. stretching the theme too far, or b. compromising the fill, both of which risk diminishing solver enjoyment. I will say that for a theme this light, I do wish the fill had been slightly cleaner / stronger. It wasn't terrible, but with a simple theme like this, with just 42 squares involved, maybe LESS of the IONA / ENYA / BERNE / VEES-type stuff (to say nothing of the execrable and unnecessary HAVEI). This puzzle could've been from 30 years ago, but today, that's not so bad. It's light, airy fun, and the revealer delivers a small but genuine aha moment.

I felt slower than I ended up being, largely because I drew a total blank on an important, corner-rounding word: AMATOL. I just don't know what that is. Or didn't. I've seen it. I'm sure it's been an answer before. I had a small inkling of the letter involved ... but one of them was a "Y" (AMATYL?), so I didn't put anything in until I got all the crosses, and at least one of the crosses (ORIENT) didn't come easily. I basically had to go elsewhere and then loop back around and fill that eastern section from below. I also had CARA before CARO, and ICON before INFO (54D: Help desk offering) (I think my brain was thinking "desktop"). I also completely blanked on SANDY (32D: Devastating hurricane of 2012). Utterly. Totally. Five-letter hurricane = IRENE. After that, I'm out. And then the -ING suffix on PARTYING (39D: Spring break activity in Miami Beach or Cabo) eluded me completely because I was thinking of something very beach-specific (PARTY BOAT?), and so once again, Acrosses to the rescue. And still, my time was 2:50, which is something close to dead normal.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Barksdale drug dealer on Wire / SUN 6-11-17 / One of pair of best friends in greek legend / When repeated Polynesian getaway / Dead Sea Scrolls sect

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Constructor: Charles M. Deber

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Think Twice" — words that can be part of one group of things and also another group of things because language is funny that way...

Theme answers:
  • Honestly, there's no way I'm typing all these dumb clues out
Word of the Day: Len CARIOU (41D: Len of stage and screen) —
Leonard Joseph "Len" Cariou (born September 30, 1939) is a Canadian actor, best known for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd in the original cast of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which earned him a Tony award. He currently plays the patriarch, Henry Reagan, NYPD Police Commissioner (retired), in the multi-generational television series Blue Bloods on CBS. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is LOL bad. Delete your puzzle bad. We're-functionally-a-monopoly-so-our-product-sucks-whaddya-gonna-do bad. Whose ides of a good time is this? "Think Twice" is a dumb title. It should be called, "Look all over the grid for *&%^ you don't care about that isn't clever or funny or entertaining in the slightest." Cross-reference after cross-reference after cross-reference, and for what? Words that can have (gasp!) TWO different meanings!? Yeah, it's the *&%^ing English language—it does that. Tedium doesn't begin to get at this solving experience. I mean ... one of the actual answers in this grid is WEATHER WORDS. Just let it sink in. Let that answer pour all over you. Let it bathe your skin in its glory. Sorry, GLORIES. Sincerely, did no one think of what it would be like to solve this. To encounter themers that simply made you stop solving and have to look all over hell and gone for two answers and then figure out how they're alike and then etc.? In a way that had absolutely Zero humor, Zero entertainment value? It's astonishing. BRIDAL THINGS IS AN ANSWER IN THIS PUZZLE. Unless you write letters, this is what you get, from now until eternity—Sunday puzzles as joyous as stubbing your toe and tripping and falling hard on your elbow and then trying to get up but your head hits the counter and when you finally do get up your dogs are looking at you like "???" and you forgot why you came in the kitchen in the first place. That joyous.

Also, the fill does Nothing to mitigate the thematic horrors. The west in particular is pretty rich. REARER!? Oh, sure, that came right to mind (?) (50A: Silver, for example, in the opening to TV's "The Lone Ranger"). And FLEETED!? Sorry I'm late. I FLEETED here, but apparently not flast enough. Florgive me. The AGEES is the band you get when the Bee-Gees aren't available. AURI is abysmal. A professional designer absolutely does not "need" TASTE, which is massively subjective and also have you seen some "professionally designed" hotel lobbies? No. My favorite part of this puzzle is the most out-of-place, ridiculous, "why-am-I-here?" answer in the whole puzzle: HORNY (95D: "Me So ___" (1989 rap chart-topper)).  "Uh ... is this the right address? ... they said y'all needed a stripper, but ... this ...this appears to be an Old Country Buffet ... I've done some weird gigs, but ... I'm gonna call the home office, make sure I got the right address ..." Bah. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. In case you missed it, here's the Jun. 6 article by Adrianne Jeffries entitled "The NYT Crossword Is Old and Kind of Racist," for which I was interviewed (there's audio of the interview). 

P.P.S. Looks like they told the HORNY clue to go home after all (in the online version):


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