Offspring of Beauty / THU 4-30-15 / Paige of Broadway London's West End / Galloping Gourmet in Germany / Clothing line from Oscar-winning singer

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Constructor: Herre Schouwerwou

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Famous people (or, once, a fictional character) + other word (except in the case of HERR KERR, where the pattern's reversed for some reason) = wacky phrase that sounds like actual phrase. Oh, and they all rhyme with "air" (again, HERR KERR seems like an outlier here, but I guess "KERR" = "CARE," which I would never have guessed). Looks like all the (alleged) "-air" sounds are spelled differently. Was that the goal? — I don't really know if that's an accurate description, but it's the best I got.

Theme answers:
  • POEHLER BARE (polar bear)
  • CHER WEAR (shareware)
  • BELLE HEIR (Bel Air)
  • HERR KERR (hair care) (??)
  • THOREAU FAIR (thoroughfare) 
Word of the Day: NON-METAL (41D: Any of about 18 elements on the periodic table) —
In chemistry, a nonmetal (or non-metal) is a chemical element that mostly lacks metallic attributes. Physically, nonmetals tend to be highly volatile (easily vaporised), have low elasticity, and are good insulators of heat and electricity; chemically, they tend to have high ionization energy and electronegativity values, and gain or share electrons when they react with other elements or compounds. Seventeen elements are generally classified as nonmetals; most are gases (hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, chlorine, argon, krypton, xenon and radon); one is a liquid (bromine); and a few are solids (carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, selenium, and iodine). (wikipedia)
• • •

No time for a full write-up today.

This was a weird one. I found it hard, despite the fact that when I look over the grid now, there's nothing hard-seeming about it, except that theme, which is bizarre. FREAKY, even. Fill is pretty clean, which, as you know, I like. But the theme … it doesn't hold together well at all. I like its wacky spirit, but despite the "-air" rhyme thing, it's got virtually nothing holding it together. The people involved aren't even all people. The non-people words are all different parts of speech, and one of them comes first (HERR KERR), where every other time they come second. People don't have anything in common besides being reasonably well known (again, for the third time, HERR KERR is an outlier—I had no idea what that guy's name was. I think he's from a generation before mine. I couldn't tell you his first name. All I want to say is "Jerome" … it's "Graham"). Grid is strangely built, with giant corners and ultra-choppy middle. No harm done there, as those big corners are cleanly filled. They did add some difficulty to the solve.

So the theme is very loose and inconsistent. It is also responsible for most of the difficulty (big corners and tough cluing responsible for rest—lots of one-worders and vagueness). If theme had made more sense, I would've enjoyed this one.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Puppet lady of Mister Rogers Neighborhood / WED 4-29-15 / Limey's drink / Rose song from Music Man / Bear's Wall Street partner / Excels over in slang / Mixing male female characteristics slangily / Dead: prefix

    Wednesday, April 29, 2015

    Constructor: Daniel Landman

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: POLYGON (39A: ELK, EARL, LEAK or GEAR, geometrically) each circled (or otherwise marked) letter in the grid is a VERTEX (or point where two lines converge) in a different kind of POLYGON. Connecting the letters in the the different words in the POLYGON clue will get you different POLYGONs. Which POLYGONs, you ask? Here you go:

    Theme answers:
    • RIGHT TRIANGLE (20A: ELK, geometrically, in the finished puzzle)
    • TRAPEZOID (28A: EARL, geometrically)
    • RECTANGLE (48A: LEAK, geometrically)
    • PARALLELOGRAM (58A: GEAR, geometrically)
    Word of the Day: VERTEX (52D: What each of this puzzle's circled squares represents) —
    1. 1
      the highest point; the top or apex.
      "a line drawn from the vertex of the figure to the base"
    2. 2
      each angular point of a polygon, polyhedron, or other figure.
    • • •

    There's a reason I don't do sudoku. Nobody cares about where the 1or the 8 or the 6 goes in any given section. There's no meaning there. There's nothing to say. In fact, the numbers don't even have to be numbers. My daughter had some version called colorku (kolorku?) where marbles were nine different colors. Same idea. My point is that ELK and EARL and LEAK and GEAR are arbitrary arrangements of letters. The meanings of those words are irrelevant (though it is relevant, I think, that they are words—that adds at least one layer of difficulty / elegance to the whole endeavor). In the end, shapes. Geometry. I like geometry fine. But there's no meaning her. No (real) wordplay. And so if you like drawing on your grid, or are really turned on by shapes, then there's pleasure here for you. Otherwise, the theme is a kind of irrelevance. I never did anything with the finished grid, and just inferred the various shapes base on pattern recognition once I got a few crosses. Theme was more distraction to me than an interesting, intrinsic part of the solving experience. But here, look—in the native NYT app, apparently you can make a pretty picture like this:

    [screenshot courtesy of S. O'Neill]

    I feel like this puzzle is the prettier cousin of yesterday's puzzle. Or handsomer. Or smarter if those other comparative adjectives are somehow too superficial or demeaning to you. No, I'm going back to prettier. Fill is less constrained by demands of the theme, so there are fewer outright painful moments. But there's not a ton of excitement in the fill either, and with a kinda-just-lies-there theme with straightforward answers, the fun factor was on the lowish side for me today. Uncharacteristically, I think my favorite part was the NW, i.e. the first bit I filled in. I'm lukewarm on ANDRO-, and ACHS is the worst thing in the grid, but the rest of that section, over to FERRET and down to MOAN, is all pretty solid and even unusual in places (from COOING ON A DATE to drinking GROG in a HANGAR in SHAHDOM). Toughest part for me was LIDA. I don't know my "Music Man" songs that well, I guess.  Needed every cross. I also stumbled a bit in the SW, where BACKACHE preceded BACK PAIN, causing problems and even briefly making me reconsider how I was spelling Bear STEARNS. But I had the good sense to pull ACHE out pretty quickly, so damage down there was minimal. A curious puzzle that, for me, was (like all 2D geometrical figures) flat. I give it a B FLAT. Because it be flat.

      Good night.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Vocalist Flack / TUE 4-28-15 / Common gnocchi ingredient / North of border media inits / Demanding film role preparations

      Tuesday, April 28, 2015

      Constructor: José Chardiet

      Relative difficulty: Challenging (for a Tuesday) 

      THEME: SQUARE ROOTS (34A: Math calculations exemplified 14 times in this puzzle) — ROOT appear in circled squares, in square-like configurations, 14 times because 14 is … is the square root of 196, which … if you had 1+9+6 you get 16, the square root of which is 4, and there are 4 letters in ROOT and also it's April (the 4th month). Or 14 is a totally arbitrary number. I guess that is also possible.

      Word of the Day: STROPHE (61A: Poetic stanza) —
      1. the first section of an ancient Greek choral ode or of one division of it.
        • a structural division of a poem containing stanzas of varying line-length, especially an ode or free verse poem. (google)
      • • •

      Trying to find the good here, but it's real hard, Lord. It is real hard. I look at CBC TOA CTR, just for starters, and I think Why Lord Why? Why will you make me endure this? I want to believe in Providence, but it's hard to have faith any of this is going anywhere good. More than midway on my life's journey I walked into this dark wood and cried out, only Virgil did not come to help me out. He was busy composing posthumous STROPHEs, no doubt (what the what? I have a literature Ph.D. and I know that word solely from French). I just want to stop and note that ATOR is an actual answer that is in this puzzle. I think I lost 20 seconds just gaping at ATOR, honestly. If 14 is a meaningful number of SQUARE ROOTS, or if there is *anything* to this puzzle *at all* beyond the letters ROOT arranged into (rough) squares 14 times, I will listen. I will. Otherwise, I'm just left asking "Why?" The fill suffers so much, and there's no joy here. You Do The Same Thing Fourteen Times. Also, weirdly, the one (and only) solace of a puzzle theme like this *should* be that it makes solving easier, but it weirdly doesn't. Took me almost as long as a Thursday (Normal Tuesday: mid-3s; today: upper 5s). The whole thing is just befuddling.

      Does anyone really drink SAGE TEA? And how is PEG a good name for a baseball pitcher? Because pitchers … hit batters? Really? I mean, they do, at times, but with (I'm guessing here) < 1% of pitches, which means that that's hardly characteristic, which means Not A "Good" Name. Or maybe the clue is referring to "peg" as a "throw, esp. a hard throw made in an attempt to put out a base runner" (actual def. at M-W). Let me explain what a pitcher's job is … no, on the other hand, I don't have time. Main point, a pitch is not that kind of PEG. Unless this is some "pitcher" / "catcher" sex thing, in which case … maybe PEG works, actually. But that seems unlikely.

      Baby talk is always horrendous in a puzzle, and POO is pretty much peak horrendous. You already made me endure BOOBOOS and then you throw POO at me? C'mon, man. Trying to say something positive today is hard because the puzzle seems contemptuous of the solver. I wouldn't say the puzzle SPIT AT me, but it was definitely indifferent to my pleasure (selfish puzzle!). Ironically, the one answer I liked, largely because it seemed creative / inventive (POOR TAX), was one I botched at first pass. I had the thimble and dog and top hat paying a POLL TAX. I also, improbably given my years of solving experience, completely forgot how to spell Mies van der ROHE. Brain was like "well, it's ROWE or it's ROEW, and it's neither." Thanks, brain!

      I asked Twitter to help me out with feedback on this puzzle. (I do this sometimes in the 10pm to 11pm hour when I'm at a loss / bored). Here are some responses I got:

      • S. O'Neill writes: "Not sure I could have gotten the top middle if not for the theme answer there. So at least the theme was useful for something."
      • But E. Cooper writes: "Wasn't as bad as I was expecting based on your tweet. Overreaction." Asked for further comment: "meh, I prefer my puzzles POO-free but nothing jumps out to me. i think sq rt theme was done recently but not constructor's fault." 
      • And E.B. writes: "... don't know why 14 of them. 16 would make more sense, but 14 was already way too many, so why not just go with 9? #LessIsMore"
      Let's all pledge to do better tomorrow.

      Oh, and maybe you'll find this interesting—the WSJ appears to be getting a daily crossword.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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        Transylvanian count informally / MON 4-27-15 / Desert green spots / Precious stringed instrument informally

        Monday, April 27, 2015

        Constructor: Johanna Fenimore

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (time: 2:52)

        THEME: [Left speechless] — same clue for five answers:

        Theme answers:
        • BLEW / AWAY
        • DUMBSTRUCK
        • GOBSMACKED
        Word of the Day: HOOKAH (9D: Hashish pipe) —
        1. an oriental tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube that draws the smoke through water contained in a bowl. (google)
        • • •

        Vanilla in extremis. I'm not sure I used "in extremis" correctly there. I meant to convey both "extremely" and "deathly"—though "deathly" is an exaggeration, and Death by Vanilla, honestly, I can imagine worse things. It's just that the grid is constructed in such a way that there is virtually no non-theme fill longer than 6 letters, and what there is is mostly 3 4 5s, which is (predictably) very, very familiar stuff. So there's almost no interest outside the theme (HOOKAH is wondering what it's doing in this puzzle—it's got no one exotic or adventurous to hang out with here; no, wait, I see it's met HECK YES and they appear to be getting on pretty well). But if it's workmanlike, it's at least solid. CIEL (22D: Sky: Fr.) has absolutely no business in an easy Monday puzzle like this, but nothing else strikes me as yuck or out of place.

        But the theme … there's a wonkiness. An off-ness. It has something to do with KICKED IN THE HEAD (which, in its familiarity / commonness, is a massive outlier), but much, much more to do with verb tense / part of speech. With the exception of BLEW / AWAY, all the others are past participles or adjectival. So is "Left" a transitive verb (I left her speechless) or a past participle (I was left speechless)?  Seems like meaning shifts from answer to answer. BLEW / AWAY and KICKED IN THE HEAD seem to necessitate a transitive verb interpretation, where as all the others seem synonymous with "blown away" (i.e. they can all be preceded by "I was …"). Maybe it doesn't matter that you have to continually shift context to make [Left speechless] make sense. I found the inconsistency maddening, but I can be OCD like that. And I am still having a tough time accepting KICKED IN THE HEAD at all. If you google "in the head" there's "soft in the head" and "not right in the head" and "hole in the head" right there on the first page of results. Ooh, there's one hit titled "People Are Getting Kicked in the Head Out There," but that's about police violence, so … more literal. Anyway, here is the only kick(ed) in the head I can unhesitatingly accept:

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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          U-shaped bone above larynx / SUN 4-26-15 / Racoonlike animal / Worrier's farewell / Mother of Levi Judah / Relative of Cerulean / Viola's love in Twelfth night / WWII Dambusters for short / Franz's partner in old SNL sketches

          Sunday, April 26, 2015

          Constructor: Patrick Berry

          Relative difficulty: Easy

          THEME: "Which is Wish" — Wacky "ch"-to-"sh" sound changes:

          Theme answers:
          • LAST DISH EFFORT (23A: Valiant attempt to finish off a seven-course meal?)
          • LAWN SHARES (30A: What an investor in golf courses might buy?)
          • SHEEP THRILLS (36A: Grazing in a meadow and jumping fences, for two?)
          • YOU BETTER WASH OUT (48A: "Be sure to lose!"?)
          • MIX AND MASH (64A: Two blender settings?)
          • KARATE SHOP (68A: Dojo Mart, e.g.?)
          • MUSH TO MY SURPRISE (82A: What I unexpectedly  had for breakfast?)
          • MARSH MADNESS (92A: Swamp fever?)
          • POKER SHIPS (100A: Floating casinos?)
          • SHEAF INSPECTOR (112A: Reviewer of the paperwork?)
          Word of the Day: HYOID (57A: ___ bone (U-shaped bone above the larynx)) —
          The hyoid bone (lingual bone) (/ˈhɔɪd/; Latin os hyoideum) is a horseshoe-shaped bonesituated in the anterior midline of the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage. At rest, it lies at the level of the base of the mandible in the front and the third cervical vertebra (C3) behind.
          Unlike other bones, the hyoid is only distantly articulated to other bones by muscles or ligaments. The hyoid is anchored by muscles from the anterior, posterior and inferior directions, and aids in tongue movement and swallowing. The hyoid bone provides attachment to the muscles of the floor of the mouth and the tongue above, the larynx below, and the epiglottis and pharynx behind.
          Its name is derived from Greek hyoeides, meaning "shaped like the letter upsilon (υ)". (wikipedia)
          • • •

          After my last two less-than-stellar outings, I came into this one itching for a fight, but … this thing is a pussycat. It's cute and has no fight in it at all. While this was probably simpler and more easily solvable than I like my Sundays to be, sometimes I think you gotta lower the bar and give up-and-comers and neophytes a taste of Sunday success. This puzzle seems designed for just that purpose. Theme couldn't be much simpler, conceptually, and the fill is virtually without obscurity—smooth in a way that is completely characteristic of Patrick Berry grids. Would've been nice if the theme answers / and clues had been funnier, or at least zanier, on the whole. The whole set got just two mid-solve smiles out of me—a little one for SHEEP THRILLS (the incongruity here is great … if you've ever been around sheep, the idea that anything "thrills" them is pretty hilarious), and a big one for the big winner of the day: MUSH, TO MY SURPRISE. That's the kind of bizarre, nutso answer that can make an easy, straightforward puzzle tolerable and even enjoyable to solvers who generally like their puzzles tougher. In general, I kept wanting the theme clues to Go Bigger, Bolder, Weirder. You could've done more gruesome stuff with MARSH MADNESS than simply 92A: Swamp fever? (though as two-word clues go, that's a good one).

          Only struggle for me today was in and around HYOID, which I either didn't know or forgot. Vague cluing on KEYCASES (45D: Ring alternatives), as well as my not really knowing what KEYCASES are (except, you know, by retrospective inference), made that center area rocky, at least for a bit. I misspelled SAGAL, as per usual, and I took some time to solve the KEA / LOA issue (side note: the KEA / LOA issue is my least favorite cluing conundrum of all time … write in "A" in third position and check crosses … zzzz). Oh, also had to work a bit for 49D: Worrier's farewell (BE SAFE), both because I couldn't understand the connection between the two words in the clue, and because I had UTEP for UTES (61A: Pac-12 team) (not a fun hole to fall into), and therefore had BEPA-- sitting there. Note: UTEP is in Conference USA … maybe I'll remember that next time. I put in ILSA for INGA (76D: "Young Frankenstein" character) and MASS (?) for MENU (67D: Preprandial reading), but otherwise, no trouble. I burned the whole SE half of the puzzle to the ground  so fast I thought I might've beat my Sunday record. No. Not close. But still easy.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

            P.S. What is up with the title? Is that … what is that? Usually there's some play on words or joke or something. I see the CH-to-SH change, but that phrase is meaningless and without clear referent. [Note: yes, of course, the base phrase is "which is which," and it's changed to "which is wish," but that is not clever. That is simply an arrow pointing right at the theme—not suggesting or hinting at the theme. Pointing. Directly. It's also nonsense. Grammatically impossible. Gibberish. But maybe the title is part of the puzzle's overall orientation toward easiness.]

            P.P.S. SHE'S DANISH … missed opportunity right there.

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            Leader in electronic music with multiple grammys / SAT 4-25-15 / Bonus round freebies on Wheel of Fortune / Beacon of wise per Shakespeare / Notable features of David Foster Wallace books / Brand name with 2/3 capital letters in its logo / Group with motto self above service / 17-time all-star of 1960s-80s

            Saturday, April 25, 2015

            Constructor: James Mulhern

            Relative difficulty: Challenging

            THEME: none

            Word of the Day: György LIGETI (62A: Composer György whose music was featured in Kubrick films) —
            György Sándor Ligeti (HungarianLigeti György Sándor [ˈliɡɛti ˈɟørɟ ˈʃaːndor]; 28 May 1923 – 12 June 2006) was a composer of contemporary classical music. He has been described as "one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century" and "one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time".
            Born in TransylvaniaRomania, he lived in Hungary before emigrating and becoming an Austrian citizen. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            Very hard, but a weird kind of hard. The kind of hard that was mostly easy but then dead-stop. Then medium and then Dead-Stop 2: The Revenge. The dead-stops came, not surprisingly, in the dead-end alleys in the NE and SW. Those were like completely separate, self-contained, wholly different experiences from the broad swath of puzzle from NW to SE. Just brutal. And things started out so well. Here's what my puzzle looked like just 5 seconds in:

            OK, yes, it's SKRILLEX, not SKRILLAX (1A: Leader in electronic music with multiple Grammys), but the fact that I was 87.5% right on that answer right out of the gate meant that I had traction galore. I figured this would just be one of those days where the constructor and I were on the same pop culture wavelength, and I would sea voyage to victory. This was before I enter chamber of horrors 1: the NE. I had the bottom part of that section from STRATEGO and SAME-SEX, but DFW clue (12D: Notable features of David Foster Wallace books) meant nothing to me and -AGE was zero help with 'ROID RAGE and … something BOX. I wanted SMALL. I then wanted SWEAT, but couldn't convince myself that was a thing, or a metaphor based on a thing. But the real super duper horrible problem for me up there was the horrible quicksand I fell into with a pair of wrong answers: LODGES for 9A: Elks and others (ORDERS) and LOP for 9D: Cockeyed (OFF). Yes, it's ALOP (if it's anything). I see that now. But it *really* felt right. So I sat a long time. Keep in mind that LODGES got me the "D" for DROOP, which only hardened my commitment to LODGES. Gah. Finally tore everything out and tried END NOTES for the DFW clue. From there, I brought back SWEAT BOX and everything worked out. Sigh.

            Back to the fun middle! Sailed almost too easily around the bend in the SE and over to the entrance to the SW corner, which, like the NE, didn't want to let me in. Here, I have to quibble with the clues on the gateway answers (i.e. those Acrosses across the top of the SW section). [Space racers] is screaming for a "?" The U.S. and the SOVIETS were indeed involved in a Space Race, but no one in the world, let alone outer space, would call either party a "racer." Come on. That's nuts. And bananas. Banana nut bread, that is, without the deliciousness. And then "CHOCOLAT" (42A: 2000 film set in France that was nominated for five Academy Awards) … oh, actually "CHOCOLAT" is fair. Arcane, to me, but fair. It's the clue on ATLAS that irked me—34D: Global superpower? How? I get that it contains maps, which makes it kin to a globe, but what is this "superpower" of which you speak? It's a big book. It can't fly and doesn't have heat vision. In fact, it has no powers, beyond the powers that any books have. "?" is not saving that one [Ed.: Whoops. My bad. It's ATLAS the guy mythologically holding the "globe" on his back … clue is fine, brain is not. Carry on].

            Even after I got the top part of the SW: trouble. If it hadn't been for the outright gimmes of AYN (45A: First name in Objectivism) and VONNEGUT (39D: Author who created the fatalistic optometrist Billy Pilgrim), I'd never have finished. Even with them: trouble. A bygone Secretary of Energy? A bygone movie music composer? A SCAPULAR?! And AD UNIT? Nixon memoir? I really wish the payoffs had been stronger in these tough spots. Instead of the exhilaration I felt early on, I ended up feeling exhausted. It was also unfortunate to finish up in the weakest part of the grid (which wasn't terribly weak, but still—no joy but VONNEGUT down there). I love the buzz and energy (and relative cleanness) of most of this puzzle, but ultimately found it slightly too proper-noun heavy overall. Still, it's only truly faulty in the SW. There are different kinds of hard. NE was Hard-Good. SW, Hard-Mean.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

              P.S. Should "notable" be in the clue for an answer that contains the word "NOTES?"

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              Albanian cash / FRI 4-24-15 / Gershwin musical whose name sounds like approval / Bank with landmark tower in Dallas / Charley who caught Warren Spahn's 1961 no-hitter / Three words that best describe Grinch in song / French Facebookers connections / Queen Revenge Blackbeard's ship / Otto's preceder / South American rodents / Rosa lilla tulipano

              Friday, April 24, 2015

              Constructor: Joe Krozel

              Relative difficulty: Challenging

              THEME: none

              Word of the Day: Charley LAU (41A: Charley who caught Warren Spahn's 1961 no-hitter) —
              Charles Richard Lau (April 12, 1933, in Romulus, Michigan – March 18, 1984) was an Americancatcher and highly influential hitting coach in Major League Baseball.
              He was signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent. After spending three seasons with the organization (1956, 1958–1959) he was traded (with Don Lee) to the Milwaukee Braves for Casey WiseDon Kaiser, and Mike Roarke. After the Baltimore Orioles purchased him from the Braves in 1962, he adopted a contact hitter's batting stance (feet wide apart, bat held almost parallel to the ground). That season he had a .294 batting average with six home runs and thirty-seven runs batted in.
              After hitting .194 in 23 games, he was sold by the Orioles to the Kansas City Athletics on July 1, 1963, hitting .294 in Kansas City and having a batting average of .272 in 92 games. On June 15, 1964, he was traded back to the Orioles for Wes Stock. On May 31, 1967, he was purchased by the Braves, now located in Atlanta, and on November 27, 1967, he was released by the Braves.
              On April 28, 1961, Lau caught the second of Warren Spahn's two career no-hitters. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              [opens puzzle] [sigh "stunt grid" sigh deep sigh pffffffffff … OK, shake it off, Rex. Shake It Off. You can do this. Clear eyes, full heart, solve puzzle!]

              Some good things did happen. After falling flat with DOGWOOD at 1A: Tree with white flowers, I got LEKS (not proud) and PDS and remembered that CATALPA was a kind of tree (that I've seen only in crosswords, but still…). So crossword info retrieval system was in nice working order today. Also, very early on, things looked very promising when out of the blue, what did I see but a genuinely interesting, bold, entertaining 15: STINK, STANK, STUNK! (17A: "The three words that best describe" the Grinch, in song). I liked that so much, I took a picture:

              This ended up being the highest of high highlights in the puzzle, but at least it happened. Ironically, the answer that STINK, STANK, STUNK the very least in this puzzle was … this one. After that, I just had to hunker down and fight my way through what I knew was coming: odd names, old names, weird plurals, foreignisms, and whatever VETOER is. Oh, and I played a little game with myself called "Where's the ONE'S"—any time you get a ton of 15s in a puzzle, there's a good chance you're gonna get yourself at least one ONE'S, and today did not disappoint. "Where are you ONE'S … I know you're out there … come on out, I won't hurt you …" And then bam! There it was:

              Good ole ONE'S.

              What did I learn? I learned that CONDIMENTS come in AISLEs now, and that Juli INKSTER spells her first name without an "e" (which makes me stunned that she hasn't appeared more as four-letter fill).  I learned that "OH, KAY!" … exists. I learned the Italian singular for "flower" (39D: Rosa, lilla or tulipano) (FIORE). I don't think I learned anything else. But I did get the chance to test my seldom-used run-the-alphabet skills, which was the only was I managed to finish this puzzle. You see, I came to a crashing, screeching, seemingly terminal halt at the very end when it came time to sew things up in the SW. Neither of the 15s computed and mystery names and "?" clues were conspiring to keep me baffled. Here's what I was staring down:

              Now, you can see that I've got an error in the crosswordese plural name (ugh Ugh UGH) at 28D: Writing brothers Leon and Abraham (EDELS). So that's problem 1. Problem 2 is failure to parse TRINITR-T… I'm thinking "trinitron" … which was a Sony product, maybe? A television brand? But that makes no sense. Problem 3 is Charley who? and problem 4 is the inscrutable (to me) "?" clue on 2D: One doing the rounds very quickly? Eventually I figure out the EDERS/EDELS problem, but that just leads to Problem 1B: making sense of the "?" clue at 35A: Subtractions from divisions? Nothing makes sense. I finally figure out that 3D: Something to level with is TNT, and I think it's TRINITROTOLUENE, but since that doesn't result in immediate finishing of puzzle, I'm not sure. In the end, I have to run the alphabet at the second letter in 35A: A--LS. And just as I'm despairing, as I near the end of the alphabet, the "W" slips in and my brain goes "nope, nope, nope ... WAIT A MINUTE!" And then AWOLS WEAPON LAU the end. I assume anyone who struggled struggled in this same place or not at all, but maybe you got stuck around MITA and PACAS or up in "OH, KAY!"-ERMA'S-land. Who knows? Well, you do. Anyway, I struggled, I won, now I move on.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                PS Hey check out this nice newspaper profile of my monthly guest blogger, Annabel Thompson.

                [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


                Tessellating artist / THU 4-23-15 / Cloisonne artisan / Singer recognized as King of youtube in 2012 / Commodity-trading card game / Product of zymurgist / Garden of Oscar Wilde poem

                Thursday, April 23, 2015

                Constructor: David Steinberg and Bruce Leban

                Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


                Word of the Day: MORNAY (27A: Sauce made with roux, milk and cheese) —
                1. denoting or served in a cheese-flavored white sauce. (google)
                  "mornay sauce"
                • • •

                Canned humor like this is lost on me. I've never really understood "jokes." Like, "did you hear the one about the guy … horse walks into a bar … minister, priest and a rabbi …" Stuff that can be told by anyone. You hear someone tell it. Then you tell it. Maybe it's in a book. I don't know. I don't know because since I was 10 I've tuned out the second anyone breaks into one of these. I realize this quip is not a joke. It's a quip. But still at the end I am mentally supplying an anxious voice going "… get it?" Yes, I do. Just today a guy walked into the cafe where I hang out almost every day and I heard him tell a joke about a Roman ordering … something … drinks, maybe? … anyway apparently the guy holds up two fingers, making a "V" shape, and says "I'll have five." GET IT? Yeah, you get it. Anyway, the quipster thought it was hilarious. I realize this joke / pun stuff is a matter of personal taste, so I can't fault the puzzle. The puzzle is a quip puzzle. There's nothing to say about quip puzzles. You like the quip or you don't. Non-quip elements seem fine. No stellar fill, but no gunk either. I really like my Thursdays tricky, but you can't always get what you want. Let corn lovers have their corn once in a while, I always (well, never before, but now) say.

                [35D: 1980 hit with the lyric "That sweet little boy who caught my eye"]

                Solving experience was weird because I knew I was going to have to just hack away at crosses to get the quip going, so I did so, diligently, methodically, effectively. Quickly. But early on I got into that far west middle section and came up with the second quip line starting "TOKL." I stopped, 'cause that letter string was setting off "Wrong" alarm bells. Checked crosses. They seemed good. So I thought "Nothing starts 'KL-' except … 'kleptomaniacs'? Can that be…?" And then I mentally inserted it and checked each letter, each cross, one at a time, and they all fell right into place. Or at least they did  as far as KLEPT-, when I knew I was right. That bit of luck blew open the middle of the grid and made the puzzle very easy—for the most part. I did struggle in the SE with BATTLE (clue vague) and ESCHER (clue suggesting type of artist, not a Specific Artist) and a couple other answers. I somehow remembered CIMINO (46D: Michael who directed "The Deer Hunter"). "Setting" is one of those clue words that can be very hard to pin down, meaning-wise, and I got slowed up by it twice today, first with 39D: With 48-Down, setting for Toledo (LAKE / ERIE) and again with 52A: Setting for many old films (TCM). Former made me think time zone, then maybe continent or other land mass; latter made me think of film shooting location. Wrong and wrong.

                I loved Rebecca de Roux Milk and Cheese Sauce in that movie she was in with Tom Sea Voyage, "Dangerous Commerce." Classic Tom Sea Voyage.

                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


                  Strawberry Fields benefactor / WED 4-22-15 / Cockatoo topper / No. 5 producer / Kyrgyzstan city / Hangout in Barry Manilow hit / Big part of Easter Island sculpture / Website with Write Review button

                  Wednesday, April 22, 2015

                  Constructor: Alex Vratsanos and Sam Ezersky

                  Relative difficulty: Medium (time: mid-4s)

                  THEME: PAIRS OF CARDS (56A: Some poker holdings … or a hint to 20-, 24-, 30-, 41- and 52-Across) — theme answers are two-word phrases where both words can precede "CARD" in a common phrase:

                  Theme answers:
                  • CREDIT REPORT (20A: Equifax offering)
                  • HOLE PUNCH (24A: Three-ring binder user's gadget)
                  • NAME CALLING (30A: Some childish insults)
                  • TRADING POST (41A: Place to deal in fur, once)
                  • HIGH SCORE (52A: Arcade achievement)

                  Word of the Day: TOPE (29A: Bend an elbow) —
                  1. drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis. (wikipedia)
                  • • •

                  So TOPE is "archaic literary"? But, but, but crosswords made me think it was "contemporary normal." Next you'll be telling me no one says AGAPE or AGAZE or AREEL or any of the classic A-words any more. If that's the so-called Real World, you can have it. I'll TOPE til I'm AREEL, thanks very much.

                  [A-DRINKIN' = valid]

                  PAIRS OF CARDS—I feel like we need to have a talk about Revealer Aptness (RA). I keep saying this phrase out loud—PAIRS OF CARDS—and it keeps not sounding like a phrase. It's not a poker phrase. Not a stand-alone phrase, anyway. Its colloquial value is null. This is hugely disappointing, as the theme answers themselves are *tight*, which they almost neh-ehhhhhhver are in this type of puzzle (the Both-Words-Can-Precede (BWCP) type). Most BWCP puzzles leave you with at least a few improbable linkings. Two words that don't really make a Phrase, but that can, in the right (dim) light, pass for a phrase. But this set of themers doesn't have that problem at all. They are legit. All of 'em, legit. Not a wobbler in the bunch. But then comes the big finale, the big reveal, the coup de grace etc., and it's ... PAIRS OF CARDS? Again, I keep saying it. I've said it twenty times now. It does describe what the theme is, but as a revealer phrase, it's simply not worthy of this fine theme concept. It is undeniably true, on a literal level, that PAIRS OF CARDS are [Some poker holdings]. A lawyer could argue that successfully. But you don't want to have to lawyer your revealer. Your revealer should, like a fool, Represent Itself … or better yet, smartly settle out of court because its case is so ****ing good. I'm not so much mad at this puzzle as I am SAD AT this puzzle. PAIRS OF CARDS sends the whole house of cards falling to the ICE-FREE floor. [Why say the floor is ICE FREE, you ask? What's that got to do with anything? Well, along with PAIRS OF CARDS, ICE FREE was the only other answer in the grid where I just shook my head and SAID "NO."]

                  We've got some textbook Scrabble-****ing going on with the "J" and "X"—high-value Scrabble tiles shoved into little corners in a way that makes for harmful surrounding fill—but TOPE and UNPEGS aren't terrible prices to pay. Grid gives us lots of vivid 6s and 7s, which are crucial to maintaining a lively themed grid (that is, crucial to having liveliness be a feature that extends beyond the theme itself). I sat IN IDLE for a while before I realized I was really sitting IN A RUT (apt). I  whiffed on my first pass through the whole NW quadrant, largely because I somehow completely missed the Manilow clue (2D: Hangout in a Barry Manilow hit). 7-letter gimme and my eyes drove right past it. Sorry, Barry. PANNED 8A: Gave the thumbs-down before I SAID "NO" to it. Finished in the TOILET. [Yes, I think I'll stop right there]
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                    [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


                    NFL Hall of famed Bronko / TUE 4-21-15 / Voting bloc from Reconstruction to 1960s / Chinese divination book / Slow Spanish dance / Cezanne et 4-verticale / Bettor's comeback / Hwy cut into two parts by Lake Michigan

                    Tuesday, April 21, 2015

                    Constructor: Gerry Wildenberg

                    Relative difficulty: Challenging (**for a Tuesday**) (time: over 4 minutes)

                    THEME: (SA- thru SU-) x 2 — two-word phrases where both words start with "S" and the subsequent letter in each case is a vowel, starting with "A" in the first theme answer and ending with "U" in the last:

                    Theme answers:
                    • SATURDAY SABBATH (17A: Jewish observance)
                    • SESAME SEED (22A: Hamburger bun topper)
                    • SIMPLE SIMON (33A: Nursery rhyme character "going to the fair")
                    • SOLID SOUTH (49A: Voting bloc from Reconstruction to the 1960s)
                    • SURGE SUPPRESSOR (55A: Power strip part)
                    Word of the Day: Bronko NAGURSKI (37D: N.F.L. Hall-of-Famer Bronko ___) —
                    Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski (November 3, 1908 – January 7, 1990) was a Canadian-born American football player. He was also a successful professional wrestler, recognized as a multiple-time world heavyweight champion. (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    America: we are all supposed to know who Bronko NAGURSKI is. I know, I know, it's not fair, but this is Obama's America, so love it or leave it or something. I first griped about the obscurity of this guy earlier in the month, in an indie puzzle (I think), but then some kid taunted me by saying it was a gimme, but I wrote that off to the kid's being a show-off (pfft, kids). But now here we are. From never-seen-him to seen-him-twice inside a month. I can see how his name would have a certain allure for odd name fetishists, i.e. most crossword constructors. I still think he's as far from a Tuesday answer as Ceres is from Mercury, and that placing him in that particular place (37D), where his name is the *only* way into the top part of the SE, was particularly cruel (and had an even greater De-Tuesdaying effect). But Bronko NAGURSKI is the new normal. I am learning to live with it.

                    The theme … I didn't notice until I was done. Well after I was done, actually. Immediately after, I went to google to confirm that SURGE SUPPRESSOR is baloney, or at least not the thing one first thinks of when confronted with the phrase "SURGE ___." And I was right. Tell 'em, google:

                    I wanted PROTECTOR. Everyone wanted PROTECTOR. Yeah you did. Shut up, you did so. That answer and SATURDAY SABBATH (which I always thought was just SABBATH) both felt forced, especially compared to the others, which were tight—though, full confession, I flat-out Did Not Know SOLID SOUTH. Never heard of it. I took US History. And yet … I had nothing. Run NAGURSKI through SOLID SOUTH and SUPPRESSOR (which this puzzle does) and you can see where I spent most of my time floundering. That SE was like it's own little mud pit. Muddy because difficult and muddy because kinda ODORiferous, fill-wise (USTEN EMOTER OOP … and TOE SIN: The Lowest Sin Of All). The rest of the grid felt pretty clean.
                      Lesser: ALTI, EXC, MDI
                      Greater: "LEAN IN," CASHIER, CLAMOR

                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                      P.S. To "AT" "SS" and "ME" at the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Law Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign—I'd love to reply to your thoughtful, handwritten letter, but I'll need more than just your initials.

                      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


                      Sarcastic comment about task ahead / MON 4-20-15 / Tribe traditionally living around Lake Superior / Chivalrous rule obeyed in this puzzle / Mr. Jock TV quiz bags few lynx classic pangram / Lord of Rings baddie

                      Monday, April 20, 2015

                      Constructor: Tom McCoy

                      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**) (Time: 3:08)

                      THEME: LADIES FIRST (59A: Chivalrous rule obeyed in this puzzle) — familiar male/female pairs have their order reversed in keeping with the "Chivalrous rule" in question:

                      Theme answers:
                      • JANE AND DICK (17A: Classic learning-to-read series (hint: 59-Across))
                      • MARY AND WILLIAM (23A: Virginia university (hint: 59-Across))
                      • GRETEL AND HANSEL (37A: Grimm fairy tale unit (hint: 59-Across))
                      • JULIET AND ROMEO (52A: Shakespeare play (hint: 59-Across))
                      Word of the Day: GAH (57A: Cry of frustration) —
                      1. used to express exasperation or dismay. 
                        "had to go the dentist this morning (arrived late—gah!)" (google)
                      • • •

                      See, I use "GAH!" all the time, but would never have thought it crossworthy! But here we are. It's a new day. A new era. It's morning in America. Again. But better this time. Because GAH!

                      "Chivalrous" has taken on a weird meaning in modern parlance. "Chivalry" was a code of conduct for medieval knights, as well as knight wannabes and knight cosplayers and others fantasizing nostalgically about a time that probably never was and certainly wasn't as genteel as Victorian chivalry enthusiasts imagined it to be. But even that phony Victorian version of "chivalry" doesn't quite get us to men holding doors open for women. Medieval knights would not have held doors open for ladies and said "LADIES FIRST," mostly because no doors*, but also because chivalry tended to be concerned with bigger, broader, more fundamental issues, like Not Raping Women. That was a biggie. Seriously. They codified that *&%^. Well, Arthur did, at any rate. They had to Write It Down (or at least proclaim it) because it was very much not a given.  Holding doors (or its equivalent) would not have rated mention. And yet somehow these little faux-deferential gestures that keep gender hierarchy firmly in place have come to define with we call, mostly ironically now, "chivalrous." This is all to say that the revealer clue is perfectly appropriate for our modern, fallen, big dumb world that's bad at history and feminism. Here's the main thing about old-school chivalry—you didn't get to do it. And by you, I mean yeah you. It's a class thing. So expecting Bob from Accounting to be "chivalrous" at Applebee's is perhaps not fair. It's certainly anachronistic.

                      ["Those that don't know how to be pros get evicted!"]

                      The revealer is the thing in this puzzle. It's everything. It's the punchline and the raison d' … raison d' … seriously, no ETRE today? The one day I need ETRE, and no ETRE? Fine. Lower-case "d'être." It's a nice, easy, entry-level puzzle that makes up for a certain straightforwardness in the theme with some pretty bouncy and daring moments in the fill. The most noteworthy patch in the grid, for me, was the GAH / "OH, FUN!" meeting place. Frustration *and* sarcasm. I know these things! How are you, old friends? I soooo didn't expect to see you here today, especially not holding hands like this. What a pleasant surprise. That "H" in the GAH / "OH, FUN" crossing was my last letter, mostly because I couldn't believe either was real. "Really?" I probably quickly asked myself. And yes: Really. [Actually my main issue down there was SNAP ON. Apparently I don't SNAP anything ON. Now STRAP ON, sure, we've all been there. But SNAP ON … not in my repertoire (of whatever it is we're talking about)].

                      This puzzle has 14s. Two of them. You so rarely see 14s. So that was refreshing, if probably utterly unnoticed by 98% of solvers.

                      • 12D: Tall Paul (BUNYAN) — completely blanked on how to spell the second half of the name. "Canyon" was like "Spell it like me!" Stupid "canyon."
                      • 35A: Bundle up (WRAP) — I had -AP and wrote in REAP. Something about sheaves, I think.
                      • 28D: Boise's state (IDAHO) — fun fact: half my family is from IDAHO—grandma still lives there—and I've been to the state many times. Yet I've never been to Boise. We're a panhandle people. There was that one summer we were Sun Valley people. But mostly panhandle.

                      Lesser: A DUE, AWS, SNO
                      Greater: SCALY, "OH, FUN!", OJIBWA

                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                      *Of course doors existed. But they were not so common an architectural feature in the Middle Ages, particularly of home interiors, as they are now.

                      [Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


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