Egg-shaped Hasbro toys introduced in 1971 / SUN 12-17-17 / Nighttime Cartoon Network programming block / Protagonist in Infinite Jest

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Constructor: Andrew J. Ries

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "Oh, One Last Thing" — familiar phrases have long "O" sound added to end, resulting in wacky phrases:

Theme answers:
  • STIFF AS A BORDEAUX (24A: Comparatively strong, like some French wine?)
  • VANITY PHARAOH (40A: Egyptian leader obsessed with his appearance?)
  • NEW YORK MEZZO (43A: Certain Lincoln Center soprano?)
  • ROLLING IN THE DEPOT (63A: Shooting craps while waiting for one's train?)
  • I REST MY QUESO (85A: Comment from a cook who cools the cheese sauce before serving?)
  • KOSHER PICCOLO (89A: Woodwind that's O.K. to play?)
  • LOVE IS IN THE ARROW (104A: Cupid's catchphrase?)
Word of the Day: MIRA NAIR (44D: Director of 1991's "Mississippi Masala") —
Mira Nair (born 15 October 1957) is an Indian American filmmaker based in New York City. Her production company, Mirabai Films, specializes in films for international audiences on Indian society, whether in the economic, social or cultural spheres. Among her best known films are Mississippi Masala, The Namesake, the Golden Lion-winning Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (wikipedia)
• • •

What are we doing here? I mean ... what? Add-a-sound? That's it? What year is it? This was grating. I learned who MIRA NAIR is—that's the puzzle's one upside. I'm genuinely startled by the rest of it. Startle by how ambition-free it is. How 1998 it is. How not funny the theme clues are. Just startled. Also, a hearty "*&%^ you!" to 102D: Go forcefully (through). I had PLO_ and wrote in a "D" ... and then wondered how [Certain soft drinks, informally] could be DEDS. Wanted to change it to DADS (the root beer), but was 99% sure PHEROMONA was wrong. DEWS!? F*** that S***. Seriously, shove your skater-bro-speak nonsense. The puzzle had already lost me by this point, but finishing here, with this weird cross, took me from mere dislike to contempt. Don't get cute, especially when you haven't bothered to get serious about your *&$^ing theme in the first place. Man, I am swearing tonight. I care a lot. What can I say?


Misspelled PHARAOH, probably because of that stupid horse a few years back, and so that section of the puzzle got rough for me. Between the *G* SPOT and the MODEL *T*, parsing many answers in that area proved difficult. Also, I don't really know who LOUIS NYE is, though the name rings a faint bell (21A: Comedian who was a regular on "The Steve Allen Show"). MIRA NAIR, I absolutely did not know. The whole puzzle, I was thinking that "Mississippi Masala" was "Mississippi Burning" (1988, not 1991). Needed every single cross to get her, and still wasn't sure about it at all. Spelled HASEK like so: HACEK (90D: Goaltender Dominik in the Hockey Hall of Fame). Nope. I'm never ever sure if I've got the vowels right in AMIDALA. Can't believe anyone still knows what WEEBLES are (116A: Egg-shaped Hasbro toys introduced in 1971). They were advertised on TV when I was a kid and *I* forgot they existed. Really helped that for Saturday's puzzle I'd spent several minutes combing through Paul ANKA videos on YouTube (38D: Paul who sang "Lonely Boy"). I forgot that "Rolling in the Deep" was a thing, so ROLLING IN THE DEPOT was by far the hardest themer to pick up. But despite the proper noun trouble (all over), this was a pretty quick solve. Until PLOD / DEDS, that is. Ugh. Sundays, man.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Polanski could've been avoided. You have to *try* to add him to your puzzle. I don't get it. (TESS)

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William Shatner sci-fi novel / SAT 12-16-17 / Creatures captured in Herclues 10th labor / De manera elsewise

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: "Marcus WELBY, M.D." (35D: TV M.D.) —
Marcus Welby, M.D. is an American medical drama television program that aired Tuesdays at 10:00–11:00 p.m. (EST) on ABC from September 23, 1969, to July 29, 1976. It starred Robert Young as the title character, a family practitioner with a kind bedside manner, who was on a first name basis with many of his patients (and who also made house-calls), James Brolin, as Steve Kiley, M.D, a younger doctor who played Welby's partner, and Elena Verdugo, who played Welby and Kiley's dedicated and loving nurse and office manager, Consuelo Lopez. Marcus Welby, M.D., was produced by David Victor and David J. O'Connell. The pilot, A Matter of Humanities, had aired as an ABC Movie of the Week on March 26, 1969. (wikipedia)
• • •

Now this is my kind of *Friday* puzzle. Even in blurry, just-woke-up mode, I was able to cruise through this thing in just over 6 minutes. In fact, it was so entertaining, so unfull of garbage, and so doable, that it woke me up in a gentle, pleasant way. In that sense, it functioned a bit like my morning coffee (which I haven't made yet). Easy Saturdays (that are also *good* Saturdays) are delightful things. I have often invoked the 1-Across Rule, which states that if 1-Across is a gimme, the likelihood that the puzzle will play Easy shoots way up. Today, I discovered the 1-Down Rule variant. With nothing in the grid, 1A: Extra-special delivery? was no help (nothing about that clue screams OCTO-!), but 1D: De ___ manera (elsewise: Sp.) (OTRA) was a gimme, even for this Spanish non-speaker, and then boom ANKA! And ANKA gave me two more Downs (TEAK! CHEN!) and zoooom, buh bye. Felt like no time before I went RAW FOOTAGE to PING to ZAPPA, 1, 2, 3. After a brief struggle with TEE UP (28D: Do some course prep?) and SEDGE (29D: Papyrus, e.g.), and a predictable RIP-for-RAP mistake, I was halfway done.


In poetry, there is a term for a strong pause in the middle of a line—it's called a "caesura." Well today, for me, this puzzle *definitely* had a caesura. In fact, the strong pause highlighted the grid's architecture—there are two halves (N/NE and S/SW) joined only by two relatively tiny passageways (roughly, the "P" in UVLAMP and the "T" in TAMALE). I moved quite freely through the N/NE half but then could not squeeze through either aperture into the S/SW. Seemed like every Mexican food item I knew started with "T" (46D: Taqueria offering), so no help there, and I thought bazaars would have TENTS (23A: Bazaar parts), so stuck there too. So I went from a sprint to a dead stop. But then I just inferred the "S" at the end of SHOPS and went from "no idea" to "ohh, right!" at 22D: Start of a fitness motto ("USE IT ..."). Then there was something about a mantis's EAR, and I was back in business. Zoom to the end.


PLEASE STAY doesn't sound like anything a "Courteous host" would say (11D: Courteous host's request). It sounds like something a desperate host, or potentially creepy date, would say. I can imagine contexts where a host might say that, I guess, but that clue still feels off. My only real objection, though, is to the YA in "WHERE ARE YA?" (47A: Informal question to someone who's late). That is baloney. If you're allowing that, you're allowing "YA" to sub for "YOU" in any phrase, anywhere, at any time. In fact, this incarnation of the YOU-to-YA thing feels particularly awkward. Formal sentence structure ... but then just "YA" thrown in there. "WHERE YOU AT!?" That's informal. "WHERE ARE YA?" does not have enough stand-alone cred to warrant that ridiculous spelling change. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Blithe Spirit role / FRI 12-15-17 / Jason of Harry Potter films / Corporate trademark inspired by Ivy League mascot / Laundry whitener oddly enough / Old-time actress Irene / Last of Mohicans daughter

Friday, December 15, 2017

Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: no 

Word of the Day: "Blithe Spirit" (13D: "Blithe Spirit" role => ELVIRA) (!?) —
Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not really into the 16-wide thing here. Themed puzzle can break the rules if the theme answers really necessitate it, but themelesses better have a Dang good reason, and there isn't one here. Actually, there's only one "good" reason to go super-wide like this on a Friday or Saturday—to give us a 16-letter answer (which we would never otherwise see, except possibly on a Sunday, I guess). No 16s here. The stagger stack in the middle is fine, but nothing earth-shattering. The rest of the grid is fine, but dry, and those open corners just feel .... taxed. Like, they're straining to keep it together. The most problematic thing, though, is an irritating over-reliance on proper nouns of dubious fame. Two different fictional character names!? (CORA, ELVIRA) Some guy named Jason ISAACS (?) (he played Lucius Malfoy ... [crickets]) (20A: Jason of the Harry Potter films).. And.a Mark Twain short story I've Never heard of. I think I know exactly one Twain short story: the jumping frog one. "A DOG'S TALE"?! Ha ha no. I guess the clue gave you some hints. I had TALE and no idea. That NE corner was brutal for that reason. REROOT, dear lord (14D: Take hold again, as a plant). I have no idea how I (correctly) guessed SAUL, but if I hadn't, I'd've been in major trouble (12D: Anointed one in the Book of Samuel). Clue on MGMLION was brutal (21A: Corporate trademark inspired by an Ivy League mascot). Anyway, this is adequate but uninspiring. Not enough emphasis on entertainment, too much obscure proper noun stuff (handle your names, constructors!). Oh, and ENTREPRENEURS is perhaps my least favorite word, so that didn't help.


LET IT GO > LET IT PASS (18A: Advice for touchy types). I didn't know "drift" was a kind of "rock," so GLACIAL DRIFT was rough for me (7D: Rock moved by ice). Even rougher was MIRROR SHADES. I had MIRROR- and still had no idea what could follow (21D: Reflective pair). I really have no occasion to think about mirrored sunglasses, so the term ... never occurred to me. If I never see KEBAB(S) again, it'll be too soon. I never have any clue how the puzzle is going to spell it. Incredibly irritating to have to go to the crosses for the vowels. I think the best thing in this grid is METABOLIC RATE and its clue (30A: Burning figure). I am looking side-eyed at NAPAS, which feels like a non-term (6D: Certain California wines). NAPA is a region, not a grape. I'd buy ZINS or MERLOTS or PINOTS but NAPAS?! NAPAS are cabbages. And that RISE clue, yikes. I had to look it up afterwards:
Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. It usually ranges from 7 inches to 12 inches. (Primer)
I realize now that I have heard it, but only in the term "low-rise jeans." It's very clear that this puzzle and I just have very different ideas of what "fun" clues look like.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Grace's last name on Will Grace / THU 12-14-17 / 2800 mile river to Laptev Sea / Hero architect in Fountainhead / Potential dragon roll ingredient

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: BURY THE / HATCHET (40D: With 43-Down, make peace ... or what you must do to complete this puzzle?) — the letters "AX" are "buried" underneath the grid (i.e. they extend off the grid—you have to mentally supply them)

Theme answers:
  • NONE OF YOUR BEESW(AX) (3D: "Butt out!")
  • STELLAR / PARALL(AX) (5D: With 45-Down, effect used by astronomers to measure distance)
  • SIT BACK / AND REL(AX) (9D: With 46-Down, chill out)
  • PERSONAL INCOME T(AX) (11D: Everyone's duty?)
Word of the Day: Chuck COLSON (44D: Chuck who was part of the Watergate Seven) —
Charles Wendell "Chuck" Colson (October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012) was an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship, Prison Fellowship International, and BreakPoint. He served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. // Once known as President Nixon's "hatchet man," Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal, for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg. In 1974, he served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. (wikipedia) (emph. mine!)
• • •

I think the concept here is decent, but I didn't enjoy solving this much at all. This is probably because it relied on several proper nouns I just didn't know: a fictional TV character's last name (?) (ADLER) and Chuck COLSON, who ... yeah, before my time. I have asked for COLSON Whitehead to be the COLSON clue in the past, to no avail. I am never going to remember Chuck COLSON. He's not historically significant enough now. Some "bygone" people can survive their "bygoneness" and some can't. Chuck can't. So the names weren't great and the short stuff was all fussily / vaguely clued. No luck at all at first with TANK, ATON, OAF, FLUB, LYES, SPOT, NEWT, OHSO, etc. I also wrote in LENAPE instead of LAKOTA (stupid "L") (47D: Great Plains tribe), and never heard of STELLAR / PARALL(AX), and wrote in PERSONAL INCOMES (?) before I ever knew what the theme was, and then later forgot it was a themer and was wondering why the hell my SE corner wouldn't come together. Got BURY THE / HATCHET before I got any themer, then figured it out with SIT BACK / AND REL(AX). I enjoyed NONE OF YOUR BEESW(AX), but not much else. Four buried AXes ... OK. It's fine, passable. Not for me, really, but not bad, by any means.


My favorite part of this puzzle was discovering that Chuck COLSON was Nixon's "hatchet man." That is an amazing secret bonus theme-related answer. I also like the unusual grid shape (with its L/R symmetry and that weird isolated bucket of answers hanging in the middle of the grid (LAB MICE on top, TIN on the bottom). But overall this one just left me cold. It's not the puzzle's fault. It certainly met minimal standards for a Thursday. It just didn't amuse or amaze me. Speaking of amusing and amazing, you should really give Paolo Pasco's independent puzzles a try. Get them here (at his puzzle blog, "Grids These Days"). His latest is a model of what a "wacky" theme should be. OK, by now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Crumbly cheese similar to feta / WED 12-13-17 / Iron compound found in steel / Unconventional soccer kick / Storied gift bearers

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Constructor: Benjamin Kramer

Relative difficulty: Challenging


THEME: MAKE AN ENTRANCE (55A: Arrive with fanfare ... or what the circled squares do?) — circled squares are verbs that at least vaguely describe what someone "making an entrance" ... does*:

***
*UPDATE (2:24pm EST): I did not understand this theme at all. Apparently you're supposed to understand "ENTRANCE" as a verb, and all the circled words are synonyms of "ENTRANCE," despite the fact that "MAKE AN enTRANCE (v.)" makes no ****ing sense at all; anyway, the write-up below was written when I did not fully grasp the theme, though most of what I have to say still stands...
***

Theme answers:
  • FRENCH ANTILLES (18A: Island group near Dominica)
  • DRIVE THROUGH (31A: Option at many a fast-food restaurant)
  • SIDE LIGHTING (40A: Producer of horizontal shadows) 
Word of the Day: TOE POKE (60A: Unconventional soccer kick) —
toe-poke (plural toe-pokes)
  1. (soccer) A hard kick to a football with the toe end of the boot. (wiktionary)
• • •

It's hard for me to pay any attention to this truly bad puzzle, both because it is truly bad and because Make Alabama Great For Once! Woo hoo! But back to the puzzle, yikes. Let me count the ways. First, the grid is inexplicable. Why is the word count so low? 70 words!?! The fill is sooo bad, why not at least try to make it smoother by taking the tremendous load off those NW / SE corners?! Or just build an entirely different grid. Honestly, this isn't just baffling, it's infuriating. Even if you thought this theme was good (it's not, more on that in a sec), *tell this constructor how to make a more viable grid*! Do your damn job, ugh. This is so disturbing, professionally. Best puzzle in the world? Grrrrr. So FERRITE (16A: Iron compound found in steel) and SIRENE (3D: Crumbly cheese similar to feta) and TOEPOKE—am I supposed to be *happy* with that? And -OTIC, ffs!?!?! It's mind-boggling. Almost, but not quite, as mind-boggling as cluing ORE as [Old Swedish coins]. Is it December April Fools Day? I have no idea what's happening.

[BREAD] [7D: "Cabbage"]

The theme is stupid because MAKE AN ENTRANCE means none of the things in the circled squares, and those circles do not actually MAKE AN ENTRANCE—i.e. they are a fundamental part of the words that they are in. It would've been .... something? ... if you had actually *added* those circled squares into a pre-existing word or phrase and somehow gotten another (wacky?) word or phrase. Then "entrance" would've made at least *some* sense. But they are just *found* in the answers they appear in. They don't "enter." Again, how is no one noticing this? I really dig NFLLOGO as an answer (10D: Imagine on the middle of a Super Bowl field)—it's insane-looking. The rest: shred.

OK, back to enjoying a rare night of hopefulness. Bye all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Cartoonist Hoff of New Yorker / TUE 12-12-17 / James founder of auction house / Grant biographer Chernow

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a Tuesday)


THEME: some recent art sale 

Theme answers:
  • LEONARDO DAVINCI (7D: Creator of 38-Across)
  • "SALVATOR MUNDI" (38A: Renaissance painting that was sold in November 2017 for a record $450.3 million)
  • RESTORING (10D: Eliminating the effects of wear and tear on, as was done to 38-Across)
  • OLD MASTER (35D: 7-Down, for one)
  • CHRISTIE (14A: James ___, founder of the auction house that sold 38-Across)
  • CHARLES I (65A: English king who once owned 38-Across)
  • OIL (12D: 38-Across, for one)
  • ART (60D: Work of ___ (38-Across, e.g.))
Word of the Day: OREAD (35A: Mountain nymph) —
In Greek mythology, an Oread (/ˈɔːriˌæd, ˈɔːri.əd/; Ancient Greek: Ὀρειάς, stem Ὀρειάδ- Oreas/Oread-, from ὄρος, "mountain") or Orestiad /ɔːˈrɛstiˌæd, ɔːˈrɛsti.əd/; Όρεστιάδες, Orestiades) is a mountain nymph. They differ from each other according to their dwelling: the Idaeae were from Mount Ida, Peliades from Mount Pelion, etc. They were associated with Artemis, since the goddess, when she went out hunting, preferred mountains and rocky precipices. (wikipedia)
• • •

Straight trivia puzzle that seems to exist only because the main themers intersect at the central "O." Just not puzzly enough. Also, CHRISTIE is not a great themer (everyone knows the house as "Christie's"). Neither is the participle (?) RESTORING. This was slapped together in order to be (somewhat) timely, and odd forms of theme answers were shoehorned into this grid to make it all come out symmetrical—an ironic way to treat a grid that exists solely because the central themers intersect symmetrically. Then there's the fact that the whole idea of paintings selling for hundreds of millions of dollars, to Saudi princes or anyone, is at best uninteresting, at worst repulsive. Not my thing.


Considering how dense the theme is, the grid is pretty clean. IN A NET is of course unfortunate, but everything else hold up. I made only one significant mistake—went with DRYAD over OREAD at 35A: Mountain nymph. Since the "R" and "A" and "D" were actually correct, it took some time for me to see the error. I looked at "MY-" at the beginning of 32D: Make a declaration with a straight face (MEAN IT) for far too long. Thought, "MY ... BAD? MY ... ???" Then surrounding answers came together and I made the switch. Nothing else here was much trouble. I was going to rate this puzzle Medium, but that's because when I was done I thought I'd solved a Wednesday. But it's Tuesday. . . it's Finals Week, so I've kind of lost track of what day is what. Anyway, this is more difficult than the average Tuesday based solely on your need to know details of recent trivia, and your need to keep eye-jumping all over the place because of the cross-referenced themers. I was slower than usual, but it wasn't what I'd call *harder* than usual, if that makes sense. Or even if it doesn't. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Prehistoric Southwest culture / MON 12-11-17 / Service organization with wheel logo

Monday, December 11, 2017

Constructor: Brian Thomas

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: HEADPHONES (63A: They bring music to one's ears ... or a hint to 17-, 21-, 33-, 45- and 54-Across) — types of "phones" are at the "head" of each theme answer:

Theme answers:
  • ROTARY CLUB (17A: Service organization with a wheel logo)
  • CELL BLOCK (21A: Prison unit)
  • MOBILE HOME (33A: Domicile with wheels)
  • SMART ALECK (45A: Wiseass)
  • PAY FREEZE (54A: Action taken by a company in distress)
Word of the Day: ANASAZI (4D: Prehistoric Southwest culture) —
The Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.[1] The Ancestral Puebloans are believed to have developed, at least in part, from the Oshara Tradition, who developed from the Picosa culture. // They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and cliff-sited dwellings for defense. The Ancestral Puebloans possessed a complex network that stretched across the Colorado Plateau linking hundreds of communities and population centers. They held a distinct knowledge of celestial sciences that found form in their architecture. The kiva, a congregational space that was used chiefly for ceremonial purposes, was an integral part of this ancient people's community structure. // In contemporary times, the people and their archaeological culture were referred to as Anasazi for historical purposes. The Navajo, who were not their descendants, called them by this term. Reflecting historic traditions, the term was used to mean "ancient enemies". Contemporary Puebloans do not want this term to be used. (emph. mine) (wikipedia)
• • •

OK I'm definitely better at night-solving than waking-and-solving. After a cruddy week of solving last week, I destroyed this puzzle in 2:40. Too bad I didn't like it better. The theme is dense, but dense with redundancies—cell phones and mobile phones are pretty much the same thing, and smart phones are just a subset of ... one of them. So the grid is dense with themers, but not ones that really diversify the theme or make it more interesting. In fact, all the themers are pretty dang dull. And then the grid (under pressure from all the theme stuff) is even duller. Just blah. Waytoo much junk for an easy puzzle (SEENO, ENDO, HABLA, ONICE, bleeping ODA!?). Complete snoozefest on every level. Usually being superfast endears me to a puzzle, but not today. Not even close.


Here were the parts that put up any resistance at all: ANASAZI (I can never remember this term, and it's not a term contemporary Puebloans like, so ... ); HUM (34D: Good engine sound) (I think I had the onomatopoeia MMM there at first, until LAUDING fixed things); ON ICE (had ON TAP) (31D: In reserve). That's it. Thank god it went by fast; I didn't have time to get well and properly bored. Nothing more to say about this one. I'll provide more commentary when the puzzle gives me more to work with.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Chocolate-coated snack stick / SUN 12-10-17 / early 2000s outbreak for short / Irish form of Mary / Traditional Filipino dish marinated in vinegar soy sauce / Hermione's patronus in Harry Potter books / Standout hoopsters

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard and Laura Braunstein

Relative difficulty: Easy-Challenging (I finished in Easy time, but I had an error; the puzzle is *very* proper-noun heavy, so you just as easily torch this puzzle as fail miserably...)


THEME: "Full-Body Cast" — actors names ("cast"!) have "body" parts embedded (smushed and rebused) inside them—so the rebus squares are BIT PARTS (112A: What eight actors took on for this puzzle?). I guess the body parts are tiny (i.e. shrunk down to fit in one square), hence "bit"...

The Cast:
  • EARTHA KITT (25A: "Batman" actress, 1967-68)
  • DON CHEADLE (31A: "Traffic" actor, 2000)
  • JOHN LEGUIZAMO (36A: "Super Mario Bros." actor, 1993)
  • ELSA LANCHESTER (54A: "Bride of Frankenstein" actress, 1935)
  • DENZEL WASHINGTON (65A: "Training Day" actor, 2001)
  • MICHELLE YEOH (80A: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" actress, 2000)
  • RYAN PHILLIPPE (94A: "Crash" actor, 2004)
  • OLIVER PLATT (102A: "Frost/Nixon" actor, 2008)
Word of the Day: POCKY (73D: Chocolate-coated snack stick)
Pocky (ポッキー Pokkī, Japanese pronunciation: [pokʲꜜkʲiː] (About this sound listen)) /ˈpɒki/ is a Japanese snack food produced by Ezaki Glico. Pocky was first sold in 1966,[1] and consists of chocolate-coated biscuit sticks. It was named after the Japanese onomatopoetic word pokkin (ポッキン). // The original was followed by almond coatings in 1971, and strawberry coatings in 1977. Today, the product line includes variations as milk, mousse, green tea, honey, banana, cookies and cream, and coconut flavored coatings, and themed products such as "Decorer Pocky", with colorful decorative stripes in the coating, and "Men's Pocky", a dark (bittersweet) chocolate and "mature" version. (wikipedia)
• • •

For a Sunday-sized rebus, I solved this one very quickly. Normally rebuses slow me down—even after I've caught on to the gimmick, the rebus squares can still be peskily elusive little buggers.  And I'll admit to having trouble finding the body part in DENZEL WASHINGTON, as well as trouble remembering that RYAN PHILLIPPE even existed (haven't thought about him since "Cruel Intentions" (1999)). But otherwise, I cruised right through this thing, despite (and occasionally because of) all the proper nouns involved. The grid felt very dangerous—the constructors not only larded it with proper nouns, but dropped in some terminology not often seen in crosswords. POCKY! Do you all know what that is? I do ... but I think of it as having emerged as a foodstuff in America well after my childhood, so I don't know how much older folk know about it. And "NARUTO," yikes. I teach comics and *I* had trouble with that answer (largely because I don't read contemporary boy-manga (i.e. shonen)). I am very familiar with the title, but the spelling ... kept eluding me.


But the answer that actually brought me down was an answer I thought was more exotic than it turned out to be. I had the "Traditional Filipino dish" at 56A: Traditional Filipino dish marinated in vinegar and soy sauce as POREADOBO. Once I saw the clue, I figured it would just be some exotic word I didn't know, and I'd have to rely on all the crosses. So I did ... and one of the crosses betrayed me. 37D: Crash, with "out" (ZONK). I had the "Z" early on and unblinkingly wrote in ZONE. I think of "crash" as having to do with losing focus / steam, though it can also mean sleep. I don't feel like "ZONK out" and "Crash" are that interchangeable, whereas I think of "crashing" and "zoning out" as things I start doing every night on the couch around 9pm. Anyway, it's my bad, I'm sure ZONK is the better answer. I just fell in a hole I had no hope of getting out of. It happens. Rarely, to me, but it does.


I enjoyed the puzzle—the grid is full of sparkle. I had a few issues with the theme, though. HEAD, I would argue, includes EAR and EYE. Like, if you brought me a HEAD and it didn't have EARs and EYEs, I'd be like "what did you do to this HEAD!?" So there's redundancy in this body "part" list. Twice. Oh, no, wait: thrice—LEG presumably contains SHIN. You get the idea. Further, the LIVER is an internal organ, so that's ... weird. All the other parts are external / visible. So the assortment of body parts is pretty ragtag. But otherwise it's a pretty solid rebus, one I caught very early (at Cheadle) and only struggled with at OLIVER PLATT (I never saw "Frost/Nixon" and had no idea he was in it—I don't think of him as having any particularly iconic roles). Also, I happily put in RADAR at 103D: Real-time tool for meteorologists, so finding that LIVER was hard. And, again, why would I be looking for an internal organ?? But again, the whole thing was mostly entertaining and enjoyable. T'AIME is very rough, but it's the only answer I would absolutely bounce from the party (62D: "Je ___" (French words of affection)). The rest can stay. I mean, I probably wouldn't *talk* to IATE, but he can still hang if he wants (81D: "Must've been something __").

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I finished a new off-season baseball crossword. Enjoy:

Rex Parker's Off-Season Baseball Crossword #2: 
"Angel ... in the Outfield?" (PDF) (.PUZ

P.P.S. I-65 does not run through ATLANTA, so I don't know what happened with that clue. Typo for "I-75," I imagine...

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Longtime first name in gossip / SAT 12-9-17 / Doctor of 1960s TV / Whence many paintings of Pueblo Indians / Gladly old style / Old-time worker

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Tony ARMAS (48A: Former Red Sox slugger Tony) —
Antonio Rafael Armas Machado (born July 2, 1953) is a Venezuelan former professional baseball outfielder who played in Major League Baseball. He is the father of pitcher Tony Armas, Jr. and the older brother of outfielder Marcos Armas. // Armas Sr. was one of the top sluggers in the American League in the early 1980s. Twice he led the American League in home runs, and topped all of Major League Baseball in runs batted in during the 1984 season. He was, however, prone to injuries that affected his career. In his major league career, Armas went to the disabled list twelve times, missing 302 games. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was pleasantly surprising, for a few reasons. First, I expected it to be not great, possibly bad, because that's a lot of white space and most people can't fill that much empty space cleanly. And yet it was actually pretty good. Remarkably clean, especially given how many longer (7+) answers have to run through other long answers. The fill buckles a bit on the margins, in the short stuff, but that's where it's supposed to buckle (a little) when you're doing showy themelesses. In fact, 1-Across was probably the worst thing in the grid (not a great place to put your Worst Thing In The Grid, btw). Took one look at it, thought, "uh oh, here we go..." But no. I hardly winced at all after that, and honestly, all the longer answers are solid as heck. Not sure I'd call the grid FREAKING AWESOME (7D: Fantabulous), but it's definitely where a NYT Saturday should be, quality-wise.


The other surprise was the easiness. Big corners, a middle without any short toeholds ... I was pretty sure I'd be clawing my way through this slowly, but I hardly broke stride after I got the NW sorted out. Got FREAKING AWESOME off the FREA- and then proceeded immediately to go after the SE corner—via the "M" trifecta of MEESE / MANSE / MAXINE (there are three *more* "M" words down there, but they didn't work in concert to propel me through the puzzle, so screw them). Ironically, the answer I struggled with most down there was Tony ARMAS (48A). I say "ironic" because he was a big deal during my prime baseball card-collecting days, so I should've known him. He's got one of those names that ... rings a bell, but also sounds like a lot of other baseball names. Actually, I think it's a five-letter baseball Tony thing. Tony OLIVA. Tony PEREZ. I think those (more famous) names were blocking my way. But I worked out all the Downs, eventually.


Then back up the grid via PIED-À-TERRE (26D: Home away from home), then easily down into the SW corner (though ON A PLATE was rough—40A: Without putting in any effort), and then finally up into the NE corner, where I thought I might get very badly stuck. None of the Downs were clear to me from their clues. Is "ping resistance" a real thing? When I google it in quotation marks, I get a crossword site first thing. And dear lord just how "old" is the "old catchphrase" for ANACIN!? (11D: Product with the old catchphrase "Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!"). Before my time, for sure. Nothing about that phrase says "aspirin." (Also, there are at least three answers flagged as "old" in this puzzle, which is two too many, I'm afraid) But I guessed SEEN AS and the short Acrosses came pretty easily. Last letter in was the "R" in TOREROS / RATE. The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I finished a new off-season baseball crossword. Enjoy:

Rex Parker's Off-Season Baseball Crossword #2: 
"Angel ... in the Outfield?" (PDF) (.PUZ

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Tupper of Tupperware fame / FRI 12-8-17 / Orange soda loving character of 1990s Nickelodeon / Queen hit with lyric so don't become some background noise / Alexander pioneer early head of New York's subway system

Friday, December 8, 2017

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (for others, probably—harder for me)


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: DERNIER CRI (18A: Latest thing) —
noun
noun: dernier cri
the very latest fashion. (google)
• • •

Man, this has been a rough week for me. The kind of week that makes me start worrying about my age. My times have been terrible, which wouldn't be so bad (we all have bad weeks) except the kid who posts his times on Twitter every night has set personal best time after personal best time. Even looking back over this completed grid, I have no idea how I could've come close to a personal best time. I mean, it wasn't a disaster (ca. 7 min.), but it was 2x personal best, and more like a Medium Saturday for me. And I have historically done very, very well on Paolo's puzzles. This has always pleased me, as he is young enough to be my son (he is, in fact, the same age as my daughter). So for a while there I could fancy that my "wavelength" was that of a high school senior. Apparently no more. Although ... it wasn't the "youthful" stuff that got me. In fact, there's not a lot that's especially TEEN about this puzzle. Maybe KEL, but honestly, original "Kenan & Kel" watchers are like 30 now. No, the stuff that got me was, like, ORR (?) and DAE (??) and then the clues, dear lord. I could've stared at 1D: 15, 30 and 50 are common ones and never ever come up with SPFS. I had SPI_E and still zero idea what 9D: What may be on the horizon? wanted (SPIRE). EARL Tupper?! Jeez louise, no (21A: Tupper of Tupperware fame). NANANA and not LALALA (8D: Refrain syllables). I'M IN LOVE and not I LOVE YOU (30A: Comment from the smitten). I won't even bore you with how many different answer went into the grid ahead of POPO (15A: Law force, slangily). DOZE and then WINK before WANE (24A: Start to go out), WAKE before WAVE (24D: Aspect of hydrodynamics), and on, and on, and on. How in the world does 17: Truth we hold to be self-evident? (FACT) work? That is, how is [Truth] not enough there? How does "self-evident" come in? I get that you're evoking "...we hold these truths to be self-evident..." but ... why? I was looking for "self"-related stuff. Grr.


But the grid is, its longer parts, fantastic. So much fresh fill. Long answers cascading into each other all over the place. I think the grid was Inside Puzzledom in a way that I am not. I have less than zero interest in ESCAPE ROOMs. I don't think I even know what a PUZZLE BOX looks like. I got those answers without too much trouble, but those answers seemed to be winking at people who weren't me. The bottom half of the grid was much easier for me, with only DAE / THEELEMENTS giving me significant trouble. NEKO, gimme (53A: Indie singer ___ Case), SUBTWEET, for Sure a gimme :) (34D: Social media post that refers to another user without directly mentioning that person) ... but that whole area N and NE of BATCAVE, yikes. Disaster. Didn't love the clues on this one, but I can't fault the grid. It's lovely.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1961 Literature Nobelist Andric / THU 12-7-17 / Express train from Delhi to Agra / Occurrences during half moons / Perpetual period in Narnia

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: GOLLY GEE! — theme answers are phrases where last word is a homophone of the first letter of the first word. The "note" tells you to look for an "exclamation" that fits the theme pattern:


That exclamation is "GOLLY GEE!"

Theme answers:
  • JOHN JAY (17A: *First Supreme Court chief justice)
  • CHINA SEA (21A: *It's west of Okinawa)
  • BUSY BEE (35A: *Sort with a full schedule)
  • TEXAS TEA (48A: *Oil, jocularly)
  • UP TO YOU (51A: *"I don't care either way")
Word of the Day: IVO Andric (15A: 1961 Literature Nobelist Andric) —
Ivo Andrić (Serbian Cyrillic: Иво Андрић, pronounced [ǐːʋɔ ǎːndritɕ]; born Ivan Andrić; 9 October 1892 – 13 March 1975) was a Yugoslav novelist, poet and short story writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961. His writings dealt mainly with life in his native Bosnia under Ottoman rule. (wikipedia)
• • •

Though I resent being told to do stupid pet tricks upon completion of the puzzle (if I get the Happy Pencil, I am done, peace out, good night), I still thought this was pretty cute. Simple idea, with a ... well, not a "revealer," exactly, but a kind of a punchline, I suppose. I didn't pay attention to the starred clues at all while I was solving, so it felt very much like a themeless. I had a horrible time getting started, as AMO was the only answer I got on my first pass through the NW. Then I went with AVERT at 9D: Circumvent (AVOID). That was rough. I don't really know the term LOSS LEADERS that well, so that answer took forever to come together. K STATE (which I *do* know), also rough. Oh, and I stupidly (and repeatedly) misread 10D: Hypothetical settlement as "Hypothetical statement" (perhaps because my way is a pretty common phrase and the clue's way is nuts). I don't know the term "Bluejacket"—I now assume it means "sailor" (i.e. TAR). Blargh. But then the whole west and south came together very quickly, so despite the deathly start, I ended up with a pretty average time.


NEAPS? Like ... the tides? The plural there is so rough. Also, the TAJ Express, yikes, no idea. I knew 1A: 1, for 45º (TANGENT) was gonna be one of them sine secant cosecant etc things, but I didn't know which (trig was a long time ago for me). So, yeah, the NW brutalized me to start. Oh, and again with the ORG. chart. I think you need to be more BIZ-nessy to enjoy this puzzle, what with its ORG charts and LOSS LEADERS and what not. Why would you clue TRIPLE AXELS in a way that focuses on women *not* attempting them?! Bizarre. Puzzle already light (like, very very light) on women or woman-oriented content, why use a non-gendered answer to highlight gender division in this negative way? I really don't like how the grid is so radically segmented, with the NW and SE corners offering no connection with rest of grid except all the way toward the center. East and west of puzzle are just walled off from one another at top and bottom of grid. Makes for a kind of icky solving experience. But as I say, the theme is cute and the (apt) exclamation (indicated by the note) was easy enough to work out. So I FEEL OK about it all. On to the next.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Moab's neighbor in Bible / WED 12-6-17 / Midwife to fairies in Shakespeare / Make bones about something

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Constructor: Clive Probert

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



THEME: Ms — all clues start with "M." Every answer has at least one "M." Because .... "M"?

Theme answers:
  • all of them
Word of the Day: MNEME (3D: Muse of memory) —
In Greek mythology, Mneme /ˈnmi/ (Greek: Μνήμη Mnḗmē) was one of the three original (Boeotian) muses, along with her sisters Aoide and Melete before Arche and Thelxinoë were identified, increasing the number to five. Later, the Nine Olympian Muses were named. She was the muse of memory. (wikipedia)
• • •

Me, last night, upon solving this:


Upon waking, I stand by this. There is no point to this. There is no pleasure that results from this. Only bad things come from this, most notably tortured, terrible clues. Good clues are hard enough to write; when you insist they start with only one letter—especially when there are ZERO OTHER THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING IN YOUR PUZZLE—you are only spreading misery.



I knew something terrible was afoot when I ran into *&%^ing MNEME at 3D: Muse of memory. She's not even one of the damn nine muses. She's part of some "original" triad along with the equally "famous" AOIDE and MELETE, whom you of course see *all the time* (/sarcasm).


No doubt you found yourself at some point wondering "how does *that* clue fit *that* answer?" My worst case of this came when I encountered the clue on DEMUR (49D: Make bones about something). Nobody makes bones. They make no bones ... about something. And again, all this ridiculousness is happening with absolutely no payoff. There is no other point but the "M"s.


When the "best puzzle in the world" not only continues to pay constructors abysmally (while profiting enormously) but also perpetrates *this* nonsense, I retreat into the world of independent crosswords, where no one hates their solvers this much.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Honey brand since 1921 / TUE 12-5-17 / Resource in Masabi Range / Instrument with cane blades / Sister brand of Baby Ruth

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Constructor: Harry Smith and Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: odd (TV newsy?) jobs — clues are jobs, but the "?" on the clue indicates wacky wordplay, so the answers are not what you'd expect:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Anchor man? (POPEYE THE SAILOR) — because he has an anchor tattoo, I assume
  • 25A: Sound technician? (MARINE BIOLOGIST) — as in "Puget Sound"—the one theme answer that is, in fact, a job
  • 48A: Beat reporter? (ALLEN GINSBERG) — a "beat" poet — I guess he was a "reporter" in that he documented / gave voice to the "Beat Generation"
  • 65A: Executive producer? (WHARTON) — business school at U. Penn—it "produces" some of our *finest* "executives" (/sarcasm)
Word of the Day: OH HENRY (62A: Sister brand of Baby Ruth) —
Oh Henry! is a candy bar containing peanuts, caramel, and fudge coated in chocolate. It was first introduced in 1920 by the Williamson Candy Company of Chicago, Illinois. (wikipedia)
• • •

Saw someone post a sub-3-minute time on Twitter just before I solved this one, so naturally I was way over my average. I *hate* seeing other people's times before I solve, and normally I either solve right at 10pm, so that this doesn't happen, or I deliberately avoid social media until I'm done. This time, it was only 10:05 and I so I (complacently!) checked Twitter. UGH. Anyway, it was going very well, very easily, until I tried -AR-S (18D: Hard-to-believe stories) and my mind drew a total blank. This meant that when I looked at the first theme answer (the clue for which I didn't understand) I saw POPE ... somebody. Without that "Y" from YARNS, that answer just looks nuts. I also wrote ICK for UGH (double UGH!) (7D: "Yuck!"), so I got slowed way down. I ended up rebooting in the NE, which was not a great idea. Had PUTT for CHIP (10A: Golf shot near a green), no idea about HALE, no idea about IRON (12D: Resource in the Mesabi Range). Just fussed a lot. After that, all the non-theme stuff was fairly easy (except HATTIPS) (56A: Quaint gestures of gratitude). The theme, I never really got. It seems thin and strange, with very arbitrary clues / answers. The grid shape is interesting, but it's a result of not really trying hard to get a solid set of rotationally symmetrical answers. Sometimes, all you can get are a bunch of answers you can center, and so you go with mirror symmetry. Anyway, didn't care for the theme at all, but the grid is (mostly) impeccably filled. Only the tilde-less ANO (52A 2017, por ejemplo): is at all irksome (I have vowed never to clue ANO as if it were AÑO again, unless the cross is also Ñ—the world doesn't need another asshole).


Harry Smith is a TV journalist, so this is kind of a vanity puzzle. I guess it makes sense for these celeb collabs to be centered on the celeb's celebness. I mean, why else do this celeb thing? It has nothing to do with making good puzzles (though often the puzzles are, in fact good). It's a marketing gimmick. Something to get social media buzz. I'm pretty cynical about it all, but there is some weird thing about the celebrity collaboration that makes the constructor halves of the pairings do really good work. Doug Peterson / Lisa Loeb was good. Quigley / Lithgow too. This one ... sure, good. More for the overall quality of the grid, rather than the theme, but good is good (*especially* on a Tuesday, which has the worst track record of all of the days).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Corporate raider Carl / MON 12-4-17 / Falafel holders / Three-time Frazier foe

Monday, December 4, 2017

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME:  Colloquial expressions with first words that all end in "-ay" and are followed by "it." (Yes, that's the best description I've got.)


THEME ANSWERS:
  • "SAY IT AIN'T SO!" (17A: "Tell me the rumors are false!")
  • PAY IT FORWARD (28A: 2000 Kevin Spacey/Helen Hunt film)
  • "MAY IT BE" (38A: Oscar-nominated Enya song from 2001's "The Lord of the Rings")
  • LAY IT ON THICK (48A: Offer effusive praise)
  • PLAY IT BY EAR (62A: Improvise)
Word of the Day: "MAY IT BE" (Oscar-nominated Enya song from 2001's "The Lord of the Rings") —

"May it Be" is a song from Irish recording artist Enya. It was composed by Enya and Roma Ryan for Peter Jackson's 2001 film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The song entered the German Singles Chart at number one in 2002 and was performed by Enya at the 74th Academy Awards. "May It Be" was acclaimed from music critics and received nominations for Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, Academy Award for Best Original Song and Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hi, everyone!

My name is Clare Carroll, and I’m filling in for Annabel, who has finals this week. (Good luck!) I’m a senior history major at the school that seems to be the most commonly chosen for crossword puzzles. Any guesses? Four letters… Ivy League… a student is an Eli...slogan is “lux et veritas.” Yale!

We also have maybe the cutest mascot in history, a bulldog named Handsome Dan.
Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but I thought overall this puzzle was very meh. Doing the puzzle, I thought the theme was something about common phrases with “it” in the middle. I didn’t even realize until I’d finished that all of the first words of the answers rhymed. That just didn’t strike me as very clever. Also, I have a bone to pick with the Times: Why is Kevin Spacey in this puzzle? First of all, I don’t know the movie. Second of all: NO! Spacey should not be allowed anywhere – including in puzzles – again.

There were a few good clues, but most were kinda flat. In general, I found a few parts of this puzzle hard because I’m still pretty new to puzzles and am getting used to some of the older references. For one, I had no idea that 36A: Leave rolling in the aisles was SLAY because I have never heard that expression before. I know that RCA is a fairly common crossword puzzle answer, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never seen one. I also have no idea who Carl ICAHN is. I see he was big in the ‘80s – as in, a decade before I was born.

I didn’t get a couple of the pop culture answers that I’m usually pretty good at and felt like I should have known. I’m a huge country music fan, but I have no idea who Travis TRITT is. I kept trying to make Randy work there instead. And I feel like I should have known the 2000 movie with the person who shall not be named again, even if it isn’t a super-well-known film. I’m also an incredibly big Lord of the Rings fan, but I had no idea that MAY IT BE was a song in one of the movies. Plus, everyone who’s anyone knows that “Into the West” is the best LOTR song!



One of the clues I especially liked was 33D: Spears at the dinner table for ASPARAGUS. My first thought went to forks, but I pretty quickly realized what the answer was. Two others really fooled me. I LOLed for 7D: Neighbor of the radius being ULNA. My first thought again went elsewhere, because I assumed the answer had to do with the radius of a circle. Another one that got me was RANGE for 58A: Cowboys’ home. I could not get the idea out of my head that the clue had something to do with the (hated) Dallas Cowboys, AT&T stadium, Jerry Jones, etc...

My TV/movie knowledge helped me out in the puzzle. (See, Dad, I watch TV for a reason!) I recently watched an episode of “Friends” where Ross makes a reservation using Winona RYDER’s name. So, her name was fresh in my head. I also knew about Joe PESCI, of course, because “My Cousin Vinny” is my all-time favorite movie. And, I immediately knew ICE-T was the rapper turned actor, because I used to watch “Law and Order: SVU” all the time. Dun dun.

Anyhoo, thanks for letting me be a little part of CrossWorld! Having to really dissect what I thought about the puzzle and each clue individually was a fun experiment. Now, I’m off to write 10 pages for my senior thesis and another 10-page paper. This should be fun!

Signed, Clare Carroll, a happy Eli. 

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