Nanki-poo's pursuer in Mikado / WED 10-18-17 / Nine-time baseball All-Star nicknamed Cuban Comet / Painting on dry plaster / Lure with phony online persona / Pioneering botanist

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Constructor: John Lithgow and Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Challenging (those names...)

THEME: theater terms, reimagined — terms familiar from the theater are clued as if they were not ... from the theater:

Theme answers:
  • CURTAIN CALL (17A: Decision to go with drapes instead of blinds?)
  • CAST PARTY (10D: Fly fisherman?)
  • STAGE LEFT (33D: Why one missed the coach?)
  • SUMMER STOCK (55A: Accountant's shares in a company?) 
Word of the Day: SECCO (48D: Painting on dry plaster) —
noun: secco; noun: fresco secco
  1. the technique of painting on dry plaster with pigments mixed in water. (Google)
• • •

Wow, ouch. Theme concept / quality, fine, but the cluing got tough, and the names in this grid, help me Rhonda! Brutal. I'm mad at myself for totally blanking on Minnie MIÑOSO (Manny Mota and Sal Mineo were running around in my brain creating interference), but I'm mad at the *puzzle* for thinking that KATISHA (!?!?!?!!) / KEYES was an acceptable crossing. Textbook Natick. That "Mikado" name is utterly uninferrable. I'm looking at it now and still don't quite believe it's real. And "Flowers for Algernon" is just some book I haven't thought about in 30 years—I'm quite sure I never knew the author's name. Presented with -EYES, well, there are several letters that can go there. "K" makes most sense, but KATISHA is in no way reassuring. LATISHA is an actual human name, but then LEYES really looks wrong. I honestly don't understand how this crossing doesn't send up red flags to constructor and editor alike. You put KATISHA (again, !?!?!!) in a grid, you gotta go through all the crosses and be meticulous about their fairness. You gotta pay special attention to proper nouns. I mean, these are just the basics. Ugh. You see how I cannot even focus on the theme because of this name mishandling stuff? Not the result you want. (Wife just walked up here and discussed her trouble spots—exactly the same as mine: baseball name, Natick crossing, and SECCO, whatever that is).

I like the theme, and I also like the little value-added bonus theater-related answers/clues, like APRON (26D: Area in front of the front row of a theater), FAT (61A: Like Falstaff), and PAL (44A: Broadway's "___ Joey"). I also really love the bizarre scenario conjured up by the clue on "I DON'T" (47D: Surprise declaration at the altar). There's this one weirdly inconsistent thing about the theme, which is bothering me for some reason—the clues on all the themers reimagine the meanings of *both* words in each theme answer (this is why those clues are so hard) ... except in the case of CURTAIN CALL, where the "curtain" remains a "curtain." True, it's a home decor curtain as opposed to a theater curtain, but tomato tomato. I'd call a fly fisherman a "casting party" (i.e. one who is casting). The STAGE LEFT clue (33D: Why one missed the coach?) is brutal, largely because the first thing I think when I see "coach" is not "stagecoach." Anyway, the theme is SOLID, not CORNY. The crosswordese is minimal. But the names, man. The names. Yeesh.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Raunchy 1981 comedy with two sequels / TUE 10-17-17 / South Asian shade tree / Brand of kidswear with superman batman options / Pro at building financial worth slangily / 1951 film featuring Nero / High level HS class with integrals

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (on the slow side for a Tuesday) (3:48)

THEME: CON MEN (43D: People who target the starts of 17-, 30-, 40- and 57-Across) — starts of those answers are words that describe victims of CONMEN:

Theme answers:
  • PIGEON COOP (17A: Base for long-distance carriers?)
  • CHUMP CHANGE (30A: A mere pittance)
  • SUCKER PUNCH (40A: Unexpected hit)
  • MARK ANTONY (57A: Cleopatra's lover) 
Word of the Day: "PORKY'S" (46D: Raunchy 1981 comedy with two sequels) —
Porky's is a 1981 Canadian-American sex comedy film written and directed by Bob Clark about the escapades of teenagers in 1954 at the fictional Angel Beach High School in Florida. Released in the United States in 1982 with an R rating, the film spawned two sequels: Porky's II: The Next Day (1983) and Porky's Revenge! (1985) and a remake of the original titled, Porky's Pimpin' Pee Wee (2009) and influenced many writers in the teen film genre. Porky's was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1982. (wikipedia)
• • •

The theme is typical First Words stuff with a weirdly offset revealer. Nothing to write home about. The only thing I want to talk about is IBANKER (23D: Pro at building financial worth, slangily). I have never heard of this. I needed every single cross and still wasn't sure it was right. After I was finished, it still took me a few moments of thinking to figure out what the "I" even stood for. First tweet I saw online about the puzzle was this:

And I practically shouted "OH THANK GOD." Now I feel I can say, with impunity, that the decision to put this term in this position is profoundly, startlingly misguided. This is what happens when you become overly enamored of your giant word list—which you've apparently amassed without careful thought as to whether the world (i.e. crosswords) would be improved by all the thousands of alleged "slangily" terms there are in the world. You could easily do So Much Better in this section, replacing IBANKER with actual, real words—good ones!—without any, or with only slight, changes to surrounding fill. Don't get high on your own supply, constructors. Make good choices. Wow. OK. Moving on.

This puzzle was harder than normal, both because IBANKER (smh) and because of clues on the themers that are weird and hard. 40A: Unexpected hit (SUCKER PUNCH) was unexpectedly deceptive (I thought "hit" in the Broadway / Hollywood sense). And I have never ever been a fan of "?" clues on themers when "?"s are not part of the theme, i.e. they all should have them or none of them should have them. When I get a "?" on a themer (*especially the first themer*), I naturally assume the "?" is part of the theme. So of course there I am like some sucker / chump / etc., with the PIGEON part of 17A: Base for long-distance carriers?, wondering how the wordplay is going to express the theme... and all I get is COOP. I felt some heady mix of ennui and bathos as I filled in COOP. Is that all there is? Yes, that is all. Oh, and it has nothing to do with the theme. Enjoy.

Then there's the astonishing amount of crosswordese. Veteran constructors should not be serving us this much crosswordese. Conservatively, this is how much crosswordese this grid has:

Note that I let ORE and IOTA and IRA and even BNEG slide. I did enjoy UNDEROOS and "PORKY'S". I did not enjoy ANTONY and ANTONYMS being in the same grid. A six-letter shared letter string!? My construction software flags that *&$% at four. Six!? Wow. Now I want to build a weird crossword theme around the answer MARK ANTONYM. Ooh, if you just move the "M" to the end of MARK ANTONY you get ARK ANTONYM ... maybe there's something there ... I mean, probably not, but only by pursuing your most ridiculous notions are you ever going to find truly interesting themes. Your notebook should be 90% failed ideas! Minimum! Where was I? Oh yeah, IBANKER. Ugh. IBANKER? I hardly I-know her! Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Quaint train amenity / MON 10-16-17 / Substitute terms for sensitive subjects / Long-running PBS film series

Monday, October 16, 2017

Constructor: Jennifer Nutt

Relative difficulty: Medium (i.e. Normal Monday) (3:00)

THEME: KILLER WHALE (59A: Creature found "swimming" in 16-, 22-, 28-, 42- and 47-Across) —letter string "ORCA" is embedded (i.e. "swimming") in all the themers:

Theme answers:
  • RADIATOR CAP (16A: It must be removed before pouring coolant into an engine)
  • WINDSOR CASTLE (22A: Elizabeth II's home outside London)
  • PARLOR CAR (28A: Quaint train amenity)
  • INDOOR CAT (42A: Feline that doesn't stray)
  • LIQUOR CABINET (47A: Where rum and rye may be stored)
Word of the Day: BLAT (34D: Trombone honk, e.g.) —
verb: blat; 3rd person present: blats; past tense: blatted; past participle: blatted; gerund or present participle: blatting
  1. 1.
    make a bleating sound.
noun: blat; plural noun: blats
  1. 1.
    a bleat or similar noise.

    "the blat of Jack's horn" (google)
• • •

Retro City. Reminds me of doing a puzzle in the early '90s, with my good friends OBI and ALEE and AGUE and AGRA and hey there's SRO (Sold Right Out!)*. And the theme—also old school. I've embedded my share of words across two words in a theme answer before, but usually the words change. Ooh, no, the first puzzle I ever ever made had WINK in it four times (in honor of Palin's debate performance, which gives you a rough idea of how long ago I made it). Did a "beer bellies" puzzle once, but the embedded words were all *different* beer types. And revealers should be clever—they should make the whole theme snap into focus in some interesting way. KILLER WHALE is just ... KILLER WHALE. I am unconvinced by the "swimming" part of the clue. It's just an embedded letter string, like so many embedded letter strings in so many puzzles that have come before. As a puzzle from a quarter century ago, it's fine. As a puzzle from today, it's ... a puzzle from a quarter century ago.

This was not hard, but there were definitely sloggy parts. Had LIE for FIB (10A: Something that might be said with fingers crossed behind the back), which is what happens when the "I" is the first thing to go in there. That tripped me. Then I just ... don't think of NGOs, like, ever (well, not in crosswords, anyway), so no idea there. If you'd asked me to name "train amenities" off the top of my head forever, I'd never have arrived at PARLOR CAR (whatever that is). "P.O.V." isn't a show that leaps to mind when I think of PBS (though I do know of it). MS DEGREE is just an odd / unexpected phrase. GRE was cross-referenced. I had the "X" and guessed EXITS before AXLES (51D: Highway tolls may be based on the number of them). My answer is very very good, though. Stupid "X." I like CODE WORDS, but not much else here, though the crossing of TUDORS and WINDSOR CASTLE is pretty cute. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. my wife thought this was a Tolkien-related theme until she got to the revealer

*it's actually Standing Room Only (or, in another context, Single-Room Occupancy)

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Office restoration / SUN 10-15-17 / Bit from Sunshine Biscuits / Nozzles into blast furnaces / Cork popper / Ones holding down things?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Constructors: John Guzzetta & Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Slightly harder than average

THEME: “Wise Move” - Two-word base phrases whose first words each end in a Y with a long E sound; that sound has been moved to the end of the phrase. In other words, the “Y’s move”.

Theme answers:
  • GRAVE TRAINEES (23A: Interns at a cemetery?)
  • TWEET BIRDIES (38A: Take to social media following a good round of golf?)
  • DOG TREATIES (61A: Pacts between packs?)
  • STUD ROOMIES (73A: Ones sharing quarters at the most macho fraternity?)
  • SMART PANTIES (98A: Stylish underwear?)
  • GROCER STORIES (114A: Things swapped at a convention of supermarket owners?)
  • JUICE PARTIES (15D: Social gatherings where fruit drinks are served?)
  • COUNT FAIRIES (60D: Take attendance in a magical forest?)
Word of the Day: TUYERES (83A: Nozzles into blast furnaces) —
A tuyere or tuyère (French pronunciation:  [tɥijɛʁ]; English: /twiːˈjɛər/) is a tube, nozzle or pipe through which air is blown into a furnace or hearth.

Air or oxygen is injected into a hearth under pressure from bellows or a blowing engine or other devices. This causes the fire to be hotter in front of the blast than it would otherwise have been, enabling metals to be smelted or melted or made hot enough to be worked in a forge. This applies to any process where a blast is delivered under pressure to make a fire hotter. (Wikipedia)
• • •
Rex is off celebrating his wife’s birthday, so you have a guest post today. And I just got home from watching the (problematically named) Edmonton Eskimos beat the Toronto Argonauts in a thrilling CFL game, so you have a guest poster in an unusually good mood. Which is fortunate for this puzzle, because even though the theme is pretty stale, I ended up kind of liking it. There is one obvious problem — GRAVE TRAINEES and TWEET BIRDIES don’t really work as answers, because the base phrases (“gravy train” and “Tweety Bird”) are never pluralized. Actually, I guess there are two obvious problems, the other being that none of these are really LOL funny (104A: It doesn’t mean “lots of love”). They’re more like “mildly amused smile” funny. I liked JUICE PARTIES and SMART PANTIES, but mainly because the base phrases (“juicy parts” and “smarty pants”) are fun to say.

(Okay, three problems, because the clue for TWEET BIRDIES made me think of the current U.S. President and his dual obsessions with golf and Twitter, and making me think about Trump is an automatic strike. I’m tempted to make a joke about how he might TWEET BIRDIES, but if he golfs as badly as he negotiates with Congress, administers disaster relief, runs a health care system, hires staffers, responds to hate crimes, and generally avoids behaving like an enormous garbage mound masquerading as a human being, then he’s never had a birdie in his life.)

If you’re going to do this theme, I think you need really killer theme answers — otherwise, you run the risk of the solving process becoming tedious. But while these weren’t great, they weren’t terrible either. I’d call it a serviceable theme that never quite wore out its welcome (it helped that I jumped around a lot more than usual, and didn’t actually figure out the theme until halfway through solving).

There’s some unusually poor fill here, like TOMTIT (?), POTSY (?!?!), IN AS (37A: Lead-in to much), NEEDER (!!!), and the worst part of the entire puzzle: the stupidly esoteric TUYERES crossing the defunct five-letter acronym US RDA right on top of ADA crossing EARLE. That’s going to be a point of failure for some people. So the bad fill was really bad, but the good news is that there’s a lot of rather good fill — POWER NAP, AWAY GAME, MEDIA STORM, SCORSESE, GET MOVING, SOUR MASH, and so on. I’m willing to forgive a lot of short crud and even a few outright clunkers when there’s some fun long stuff to keep me entertained. The stacks of 7’s in the NE and SW corners were also good, including ONE TO GO (118A: “Just about done”) and NOSE JOB (11A: Bridge work?). However, I did raise an eyebrow at the clue for MAIN MAN (112A: Homie) given the NYT crossword’s iffy history on race. I thought some of the cluing was quite fun, and in many cases harder than I’m used to on Sundays. My favourites were the deceptive 19D: Drawn (EVEN STEVEN), 62D: Routine problem, for short (OCD), and 99D: Cork popper (TOY GUN). And it’s always nice to see the funniest comedian on television, Samantha BEE, referenced in the puzzle.

A few shorter points:
  • I’m an English teacher and I didn’t know that the plural of “iamb” was IAMBI (40D: Some feet), so that slowed me down a lot in getting the last themer.
  • 67D: Watches via Netflix, say for STREAMS — how unexpectedly modern!
  • I rarely drink, so I never knew that NO TIPS was a 87A: Policy at a wedding’s open bar, maybe. That seems kind of mean, actually!
  • Not sure why I like 103D: Like much mouthwash (MINTY) so much. Maybe it’s the alliteration.
  • STONE TOOL (33D: Paleolith) is a weak answer — very green painty.
  • Apologies for any weirdness in the formatting — today I learned that Blogger really doesn’t like it when you try to post with an IPAD.
That should do it. Not a perfect puzzle, but enough good fill and amusing clues to keep me entertained while figuring out a simple but acceptable theme.

Signed, Ben Johnston, Tutor of CrossWorld

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Farmhand in Wizard of Oz / SAT 10-14-17 / Half of 1997 telecom merger / Britt real name of Green Hornet / Eponym of North Carolina city / husky voiced singer jezebel of jazz / Hit TV series based on Colombian telenovela / 2015 #2 hit for rapper Fetty Wap / Neighbor of Twelve Oaks in fiction

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Constructor: Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (very challenging for me, but I am an idiot who forgot that AMMAN, Jordan exists...)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: NYNEX (9D: Half of a 1997 telecom merger) —
NYNEX Corporation /ˈnnɛks/ was a telephone company that served five New England states (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) as well as most of New York state from 1984 through 1997. [...] NYNEX merged with Bell Atlantic on August 14, 1997, in what was, at the time, the second largest merger in American corporate history. Although Bell Atlantic was the surviving company, the merged company moved from Bell Atlantic's headquarters in Philadelphia to NYNEX headquarters in New York City. On June 30, 2000, Bell Atlantic acquired GTE to form Verizon Communications. (wikipedia)
• • •

I messed this up every possible way, starting with AXEL / LAHR at 1D: Spin out on the ice? / 19A: Farmhand in "The Wizard of Oz" and then over and over again after that. I confuse HERON and EGRET so I botched 2D: Symbol of the National Audubon Society too (apparently a lot of people confuse them—when I google "egret," "egret vs heron" is one of the predictive search options ... dear god, I hope that's because people confuse them and not because people make them fight). Unsatisfyingly, the only way I got started was by kinda sorta being sure of TYPEA (4D: Ambitious and high-energy) and then also SATS and ATEST. So a bevy of less-than-fun words got me my first traction. I did OK after that, bumbling along in a vaguely counterclockwise fashion. Always fun to deal with the DODO vs. BOZO dilemma ... and then I somehow put in PLACE instead of ELECT (48D: Give a seat). But eventually I got the whole bottom and came back up through the center and handled the NW and then ... things really got ugly.

As you can see, I thought there was something called NYNET. The "NET" part really, really felt plausible, both because it feels very telecommy and because that "T" ended up preceding a "W" in the Across, which felt like kismet—those letters go great together! Ugh. I abbreviate "crossword" as XWORD not infrequently on social media, but NYNET kept me from having any idea that that was the answer. But the worst problem up there was my incredible blanking on the [World capital once known as Philadelphia]. I mean, I even knew that that was going to put me in a Middle Eastern part of the world and I *still* couldn't retrieve AMMAN. I stared at A--AN and the only thing my brain would allow was ASWAN. Not a world capital. ASWAN. ASWAN. ASWAN. It just wouldn't let other possibilities in, except occasionally even stupider possibilities like ASLAN. Eventually, after being dead stopped with the above grid for what felt like ever, I ran the alphabet at the second blank in A--AN and eventually hit "M." And that was it. AMMAN to LOGARITHM (argh) and "US AND THEM" and it was all over quickly. From huge empty spaces to done because I was able to get the two "M"s in AMMAN. The gap between failure and success is very often that narrow.

Grid is nice, though the proper noun pop culture stuff is awfully heavy—and stacked in the NW. "Dark Side of the Moon" bores me (listened to it front to back for the first time this summer) and I couldn't name a song on that album but "Money"—"US AND THEM" just seems awfully obscure for a longer answer. It wasn't exactly a hit. And putting it next to the Green Hornet's "real" (LOL) name, ouch. I'm guessing tons of solver had never heard of "TRAP QUEEN," but as the clue says, it was a legit hit (unlike, for example, "US AND THEM"). I didn't groove on this too hard, but it's pretty alright. The fill is only wobbly in a few places (please somebody drive a stake through the heart of REUNES!), and the longer answers are mostly very interesting and contemporary. Good thing I knew ANITA / O'DAY—would've been a bloodbath without her (27A: With 33-Across, husky-voiced singer known as the Jezebel of Jazz). I might still be solving.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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18th century pioneer in graph theory / FRI 10-13-17 / Sites associated with innocence project / Lesser player of uncle leo on seinfeld / 1997 film whose poaster shows woman wearing dog tags

Friday, October 13, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TORTONI (56A: Ice cream treat) —
noun: tortoni; plural noun: tortonis
  1. an Italian ice cream made with eggs and cream, typically served in a small cup and topped with chopped almonds or crumbled macaroons.
• • •

This is a fine Friday. Fill is fine. Answers are fine. Fine. Adequate. None of the longer answers did much for me—whole NW was kinda dull, and only PILOT SCRIPT and the BERSERK part of WENT BERSERK really gave me any entertainment value. Rest of the puzzle is just mid-length short answers of an entirely forgettable variety. Again, there's nothing offensively bad or lazy or sloppy (well, maybe RIS ...). But there's little in way of KAPOW. The most notable moment for me was having no idea what TORTONI was (I've seen it in puzzles before, but still have yet to encounter it in real life). I also committed the unpardonable sin of writing in an answer without looking at the clue. Had SPIL- and wrote in the ... "L" (?!) (39D: Like milk you shouldn't cry over). So even if I *had* known what TORTONI was, it wouldn't have mattered because my answer ended in -LONI :( My TORTONI problems cascaded into the SW, where I couldn't see any of the Downs leading into that small corner—not REAL, not CONDO, not HOT AIR. So I had to dive in there and rely on IRA / OREIDA to bail me out. Not a great feeling, but you do what you gotta do.

Did you know that WENT BANANAS and WENT BONKERS both fit for 27D: Totally lost it (WENT BERSERK)? Well now you do. I knew it wasn't MOSHO Dayan, but I was not so certain it wasn't MOSHA Dayan, so BANANAS hung in there as a possibility for a bit. Do y'all really know that a czar's SON is called a grand duke?! In what ... nobility scheme are those things even ... things? "Grand duke" sounds like some made-up rank in a white supremacist organization, though it's entirely possible I'm (understandably) conflating Grand Wizard and David Duke. Anyway, SON was hard for me. Most of the rest–not hard for me. I'm mainly amusing myself now by imagining ILLINI as a really dope kind of pasta and IMALONE as a reclusive and melancholy form of sea snail. So it's probably time to call it a night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Grayish to yellowish brown / THU 10-12-17 / Max popular video game series of 2000s / Classical rebuke / Giant first inductee in WWE Hall of Fame

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: homophones — Across clues are all homophones of *actual* clues (no way in hell I'm typing out all the Across clues and their homophones, sorrynotsorry)

Word of the Day: BISTRE (47D: Grayish to yellowish brown) —
noun: bistre
  1. a brownish-yellowish pigment made from the soot of burned wood.
    • the color of the pigment bister.
• • •

Wow. That was ... not fun. Printout of my puzzle looks kind of cool, since all the Acrosses are just one word (and whatever "Re" is), but this is one of those puzzles that makes you shake your head and go, "Why?"—a stunt puzzle that is probably interesting-sounding in your head, but on paper is laborious to solve. The grid is so unpleasant. On its own terms, it's nowhere near NYT-quality (even recent NYT-quality). It's like one of them grids you'd see in some Giant Book Of Supermarket Checkout Line Puzzles compendium. Nothing holding it together. Fill all mediocre and weird. Multiple MIROS, pffft, fine, OK, but multiple DRYROTS!? Nay. Nay. Neigh. And what on god's green earth is BISTRE!? Apparently that's not even the preferred spelling (?). We get a word that hasn't been seen in the NYT crossword in almost *30* years, and then we get the, what, British spelling? I spent more time than I should just checking and rechecking every BISTRE cross because, well ... look at it! It's hardly a word. I'd've bought BISTRO as a color before BISTRE.

And where is the joy in ... figuring out the homophones. I mean, is anyone going "Aha!" (joyfully, I mean) upon realizing [Lickers] (!?) = "Liquors"? Or (even less likely) upon realizing [Liquors] = RYES. You could never, ever, ever clue RYES that way in a regular crossword, so why do you get to do it here? RYES *kinds* of liquor. It would be like [Cars] cluing TOYOTAS. Absolutely not. I think the same thing goes for [Missal] -> [Missile] -> ATLAS. It's all pretty galling. I will say that I got to put my pretty finely-honed Downs-only skills to work here, at least at first. I refused to look at the Note (per usual) and when the Acrosses made no sense, I went into Downs-only mode, which is the way I typically solve all Newsday puzzles (except the Saturday Stumper), most early-week LA Times puzzles, the cruddy Sunday puzzle we get in our local paper ... any puzzle that is too easy to be much fun. So I got pretty far with Downs-only until I stalled a bit, revisited the Acrosses, and noticed what was going on. After I got theme, only BISTRE (!!) really floored me. With the Acrosses, I struggled with DEPOT (23A: Bass)—thought [Base] would mean "mean" or "low" or "bad," not a noun normally related to trains; ATLAS (32A: Missal)—didn't really know it was a missile; and GLIMMER (53A: Re)—kept saying "Reeee" to myself, hoping it would eventually mean something. But it's the musical note. Do RE mi fa etc. And "ray" -> GLIMMER. What fun!

Turns out the Note wasn't much use anyway:

So ignoring it completely was the right move. This is rarely not the case.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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East Asia gambling locale / WED 10-11-17 / Start of dieter's brag / Saison sur la seine

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: THE OK CORRAL (GUNFIGHT AT THE) (28D: With 62-Across, renowned 1881 event that lasted about 30 seconds) — there is a "corral" of sorts in the middle of the grid made out of synonyms of "OK" (WELL, JAKE, FINE, FAIR); two of the gunfighters also make an appearance (DOC HOLLIDAY, IKE CLANTON) (17A: Deputy marshal at 62-Across, 11D: Outlaw at 62-Across)

Word of the Day: MACAO (1A: East Asia gambling locale) —
Macau (/məˈk/), also spelled Macao and officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is an autonomous region on the western side of the Pearl River estuary in East Asia. Macau is bordered by the city of Zhuhai in Mainland China to the north and the Pearl River Delta to the east and south. Hong Kong lies about 64 kilometres (40 mi) to its east across the Delta. With a population of 650,900 living in an area of 30.5 km2 (11.8 sq mi), it is the most densely populated region in the world. A former Portuguese colony, it was returned to Chinese sovereignty on 20 December 1999. (wikipedia)
• • •

This gag is so ridiculous that I like it. Better bonkers than boring. Just the idea that a simple four-sided figure is supposed to be a "CORRAL" is hilarious to me. Like, if you drew that shape on a board and asked people to guess what it is all day long, no one would ever say "CORRAL." "Square! Box! Frame! [ten minutes later] Room? Postage stamp? [three hours later] uh ... Wyoming?" Etc. But the puzzle tells me it's a CORRAL and I'm like "well, look at that, it *is* a CORRAL! Got no livestock or horses in it, but sure!" Themewise, the only part I didn't really like was GUNFIGHT AT. Wish that space could've been used for something else theme-related. The theme is really only about the corral. The shape and the synonyms. "Gunfight" could've easily been incorporated into the clue for THE OK CORRAL, which stand just fine on its own. Instead the revealer—the punchline!—has a clue that starts [See 28-Down...]. Oof. Not elegant. But I don't know what else could've gone is the GUNFIGHT AT space. None of the other participants fit, except MORGAN EARP, who isn't exactly, uh, the famous one. Anyway, despite the revealer issues, I think the theme is a winner.

The fill is rough, though. MACAO (not MACAU!?) at 1-Across tells you things are gonna get Old School right quick. I wouldn't know that place existed without crosswords. And I'm still not sure SALUTERs or SNARLERs or OCHRES (plural?) exist, ouch. ARB is among my least favorite pieces of crosswordese. See also KOD. LUI abutting ÉTÉ is just mal. Gotta have a lot of SANG / FROID to attempt that cruddy French combo. But I've seen much worse grids, and WILLOWY and MONIKER are nice little words. So the puzzle's got problems, but not enough to keep me from basically enjoying it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Grain disease / TUE 10-10-17 / 1967 Montreal event / Fur trader John Jacob / Superhero group including Beast Cyclops

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Constructor: Mark MacLachlan

Relative difficulty: Normal

THEME: ATNO (67A: What "This" refers to, in this puzzle's theme: Abbr.) — theme answers begin "This," where "This" refers to the number of the clue, and the answer is the ELEMENT (a NOBLE GAS in each case) that has that clue number's AT. NO. (i.e. atomic number):

Theme answers:
  • NEON (10A: This, on the periodic table)
  • ARGON (18A: This, on the periodic table)
  • KRYPTON (36A: This, on the periodic table)
  • XENON (54A: This, on the periodic table
  • HELIUM (2D: This, on the periodic table) 
Word of the Day: ERGOT (15A: Grain disease) —
Ergot (pron. /ˈɜːrɡət/ UR-gət) or ergot fungi refers to a group of fungi of the genus Claviceps. // The most prominent member of this group is Claviceps purpurea ("rye ergot fungus"). This fungus grows on rye and related plants, and produces alkaloids that can cause ergotism in humans and other mammals who consume grains contaminated with its fruiting structure (called ergot sclerotium). (wikipedia)
• • •

This one gets points for having a really weird theme-answer layout, as well as, like, three revealers (!). Not necessary, not entertaining, but different, and different is ... well, it's not always good, but it's better than tediously familiar. I don't really get why I should care that they are all NOBLE GASes. I guess that gives the theme a certain unity, but so what? You're doing it just to ... do it? No play on "noble" or anything? And the whole "This" way of cluing (at least in the dowloadable .puz version) is really awkward. Apparently the method of indicating "this" varies across platforms, w/ some getting "arrows" (?). I didn't get arrows. And about AT. NO. ... see, here's the thing about AT. NO. ... AT NO time is that a good answer. Making it your third (!?) revealer doesn't elevate it from its permanent status as cruddy crosswordese no one wants to see unless absolutely necessary" (see also LT. YR.).  There's the "This" trick and little else. It's just straightforward trivia for periodic table nerds. Fill is pretty weak up top (REVE ILES ERGOT REARM AGGRESS MTN), less horrible below.

[Warning: violence, profanity]

Weird to clue AUTO as [Modern prefix with complete or correct]. It is not a modern prefix. The terms "autocomplete" and "autocorrect" are modern, but that prefix ain't never gonna be modern, in any context, ever. It's an old prefix. Putting it in front of something new doesn't make it "modern." I have never seen ERGOT outside of crosswords. It is a word that destroyed me very early on in my crossword blogging career, and I have never forgiven it (see also ASOK, oy). And now I find out there's such a thing as "ergotism"!? I don't even want to click through to find out what it is. Sounds horrible. Although ... from a crossword perspective ... it is interestingly just one added letter away from "egotism." All hail the genius who can make an interesting theme out of that fact. Not much else to say about this one. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Civil rights pioneer Du Bois / MON 10-9-17 / Google viewer tool for charting word frequncy over time / 1974 John Updike novel / Homer simpson's favorite beers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Constructor: Joe Deeney

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for a M)

THEME: CALENDAR REFORM (52A: The change from Julian to Gregorian ... or what would be needed to make 20-, 31- and 40-Across possible?) — themers are just odd phrases related to days, weeks, months...

Theme answers:
  • "EIGHT DAYS A WEEK" (20A: 1965 Beatles hit that starts "Ooh, I need your love, babe")
  • "LAST WEEK TONIGHT" (31A: HBO show hosted by John Oliver)
  • "A MONTH OF SUNDAYS" (40A: 1974 John Updike novel) 
Word of the Day: NGRAM (28D: Google ___ Viewer (tool for charting word frequency over time)
The Google Ngram Viewer or Google Books Ngram Viewer is an online search engine that charts frequencies of any set of comma-delimited search strings using a yearly count of n-grams found in sources printed between 1500 and 2008 in Google's text corpora in English, Chinese (simplified), French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, or Spanish; there are also some specialized English corpora, such as American English, British English, English Fiction, and English One Million; the 2009 version of most corpora is also available. // The program can search for a single word or a phrase, including misspellings or gibberish. The n-grams are matched with the text within the selected corpus, optionally using case-sensitive spelling (which compares the exact use of uppercase letters), and, if found in 40 or more books, are then plotted on a graph. (wikipedia)
• • •

This one felt unusually tough for a Monday, but my time was 3:08, which is only just "tough." I tripped right out of the gate—despite knowing very well who W dot E dot B dot Du Bois is, I would never ever have expected him to be used in a clue for WEB, so I thought "Whoops, a civil rights pioneer I don't know, probably an AVA or something ... next!" And then I could not see WIRE at all (1D: Electronic money transfer). So I was flailing from the jump. I follow baseball pretty closely, but in no way could I have gotten ROD CAREW from that clue without a bunch of crosses (17A: Only major-league player to enter the 3,000-hit club in the '80s). I've only ever seen REVERSI in crosswords, so I put it in only tentatively, and really couldn't commit to that last letter until the the cross went in (10D: Classic game with black-and-white discs). And NGRAM, forget it. I've (vaguely) heard of the Google NGRAM Viewer, but no way I was getting there from that clue. Needed every cross.

The theme ... well, the revealer doesn't mean much to me, so it was neither "aha" nor "haha." And the answers ... I think only "EIGHT DAYS A WEEK" really fits the (putative) theme. You talk about last week tonight, so that's not inconceivable. I guess one could imagine a calendar month where every day was Sunday, but that's not really what the expression is suggesting ... shrug. The grid seems oddly built. 74 words is pretty low for a Monday, which may be why it played harder than usual. There are some unpleasant plurals here, namely AHOYS and (especially) DUFFS (43D: Homer Simpson's favorite beers). Ugh, "beers," it hurts. It's his favorite beer, not "beers"! This is coming from someone who owns and wears a Duff t-shirt, so please trust me here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. NEW YORK is the "title city" of "NEW YORK, NEW YORK" (7D: When repeated, Frank Sinatra title city); its being "repeated" has nothing to do with its being the "title city"; it's the "title city" and it's repeated; it's not the "title city" *because* it's repeated.

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Princess Fiona after sunset / SUN 10-8-17 / Brand two time nba all star / Sculptor collagist Jean

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard and Alex Briñas

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Power Ballads" — clues are all [some superhero's favorite band/singer] and then there's some apt jokey answer. Final themer imagines them all together for a SUPERGROUP (114A: What the musical artists in this upzzle would form if they performed together?) (because they're super ... heroes ... YA DIG?)

Theme answers:
  • BILLY OCEAN (23A: Aquaman's favorite singer?)
  • ARCADE FIRE (25A: The Human Torch's favorite band?)
  • GREEN DAY (35A: The Hulk's favorite band?)
  • COLDPLAY (44A: Iceman's favorite band?)
  • TAYLOR SWIFT (55A: The Flash's favorite singer?)
  • METALLICA (68A: Magneto's favorite band?)
  • THE SPINNERS (78A: Spider-Man's favorite band?)
  • LIL WAYNE (89A: Batman's favorite rapper?)
  • MC HAMMER (99A: Thor's favorite rapper?)
  • FRANK ZAPPA (112A: Electro's favorite singer?)
Word of the Day: ELTON Brand (49D: ___ Brand, two-time N.B.A. All-Star) —
Elton Tyron Brand (born March 11, 1979) is an American retired professional basketball player. After playing college basketball for Duke, he was selected with the first overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, and later played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. A two-time NBA All Star and an All-NBA Second Team selection in 2006, Brand is currently the General manager of the Delaware 87ers. (wikipedia)
• • •

I was in Ithaca tonight seeing Maria Bamford, so I did not see the Sunday puzzle when it first came out. Early tweets about it suggested it wasn't the greatest, so I was not looking forward to getting home late and having to solve Yet Another tedious Sunday. But honestly, this one seems far less tedious than average, esp. of late. I mean, it was very easy, and conceptually simple, but it worked. It wasn't inconsistent. It had a solid final answer / punchline (I wouldn't really call it a "revealer"). My only real issue with the theme was: who the hell is Iceman? All the other heroes are pretty famous. Half of them are downright iconic. But I teach a course on Comics and don't even know what an "Iceman" is. Oh, I see he is in fact one of the original X-Men. If I cared about / paid attention to Marvel more, I'd surely know that. Anyway, my not knowing Iceman hardly affected my pleasure—I just accepted that Iceman existed and COLDPLAY was obvious, and on I went. The fill in this one was pretty good, especially for a theme this dense. SAN FRAN! (38D: City by the Bay, informally) That clue on ALLEGEDLY! (3D: [legally covering our butts here]). I dunno ... it felt about what I wish an average Sunday puzzle were—a pleasant, living-in-this-century, competently-executed diversion.

Here were my main trouble spots (they weren't that troubling, for the record):

When I started, I couldn't get TSA (1A: Agcy. for Kennedy and Reagan) or TABS (1D: Things the police may keep on suspects), and thought "uh oh, this isn't promising." Kennedy and Reagan are airports! Who knew? I mean, I knew ... but I didn't know when first reading this clue ... you get the idea. Later clues were not so befuddling. I just wrote in PREGNANT at 28A: With child, informally, neglecting the "informally." I find the word PREGGERS off-puttingly cutesy, so my brain will do anything to keep me from having to deal with it, including causing me to misread clues. Anyway, PREGNANT caused SEDATE instead of SERENE (10D: Untroubled), so that took a little time undoing. But NAY / "YA DIG?" was by far the toughest and most baffling, both because the clue on NAY was inscrutable (93A: Not only that but also) and because "YA" is not a "word" I am used to "spelling." I hear "Feel me?" in other people's conversations, but "YA DIG?" less so. Anyway, I had to get that section right down to the last letter before I finally threw in the "Y."  I had RECALIBRATE for RECALCULATE (67D: What 14-Across will do if you miss a turn) and despite years of practicing yoga I totally blanked on TREE pose. Whoops (109D: What the upright yoga pose vrikshasana simulates).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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2017 Tony-winning play about 1990s diplomacy / SAT 10-7-17 / Director costar of bigamist 1953 / Dystopian backdrop / Second-oldest national park in North America / Weapon swung by gaucho / Literally singing place / 1970 hit with spelled out title

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: OSTERIA (39A: Basic Italian bistro) —
noun: osteria; plural noun: osterias
  1. an Italian restaurant, typically a simple or inexpensive one. (google)
• • •

Ouch. That one roughed me up. It's a glorious grid in many ways—scads (GOBS?) of long answers, thick stacks handled with deftness and precision. But despite a plethora of short answers (crossing the longer ones, in every corner), there just weren't many real toeholds, and getting traction was tough all over. Further, I just didn't know ... any of this stuff. Well, OK, I knew a bunch, but I haven't Not known this much in ages. OSTERIA (nope) crossing ON THE UP (nope). That was fun (i.e. harrowing). Only way I got that initial vowel was by inference. Jesus had a grandma? OK, sure. Her name was just ... ANNE? How did I miss this? I assume a SWAYBAR (?) is part of a car, but if I had to name a hundred car parts, that wouldn't be one of them (38D: Stabilizer in suspensions). "BEE SEASON"!? Did anyone see that. The title drifted into my mind ... somehow. No reason it should have. I can't tell you a damn thing about it, just that the title implanted itself in my mind at some point. Me while solving this puzzle: "Queen had a hit in 1989???" After getting nearly all the crosses, I figured out the first bit, and yeah, I can kind of hear the chorus, or the title anyway, but that's it. NAN Britton has probably been in front of my face before, since I was definitely into Harding scandals at one point, but I forgot her. Throw in the fact that even the stuff I did know was clued in tough to brutal fashion, and yeah, this was the hardest I've worked in a while.

ADORATION instead of ADULATION, argh (57A: Offering to an idol). Also, bigger argh, "YMCA" instead of "LOLA" (4D: 1970 hit with a spelled-out title). I know Very Well the year "YMCA" came out, and I know very well it's not 1970 ... hence the "argh." That stupid little mistake was probably the most lethal, in retrospect. And I dropped HAIG in like a boss! (1D: "Caveat: Realism, Reagan and Foreign Policy") But then pulled him because I couldn't make the corner work! HELLSCAPE, AXIOMATIC, and IDA LUPINO are all things / words / people I love, so it's pretty humiliating to have struggled so much. GOBS of trouble with GOBS, as it's one of those stupid bleeping -O-S words meaning "many." I tried both of the other (more common) words before finally getting the correct one. NATE the Great and OGRESS were two of the very few answers I got immediately (37A: Princess Fiona, for one). I had no idea PSYCHODRAMA was a "therapy" (?!) (46A: Form of therapy in which patients act out events from their past). I just thought it was a phenomenon describing, like, a hellish roomate's whole annoying deal. Anyway, I admire this puzzle, even thought it beat me up. One thing I don't admire, however, is PC LANGUAGE (24A: Unslurred speech?). What a bullshit term that is. That's not even a real thing. That's some right-wing crap. What the hell is it? Not saying "******"!? Seriously, just "not using slurs" is PC LANGUAGE? That's messed up. Here's what I tweeted shortly after I wrote that stupid answer in:

I stand by this.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Historic pueblo near Albuquerque / FRI 10-6-17 / Enfant terrible of children's literature / Catch 22 pilot who repeatedly crashes

Friday, October 6, 2017

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ACOMA (29D: Historic pueblo near Albuquerque) —
Acoma Pueblo (/ˈækəmə/; Western Keresan: ʔáák’u [ʔɑ́ːk'ù]; Zuni: Hakukya; Navajo: Haak’oh) is a Native American pueblo approximately 60 miles (97 km) west of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States. Three villages make up Acoma Pueblo: Sky City (Old Acoma), Acomita, and Mcartys. The Acoma Pueblo tribe is a federally recognized tribal entity. The historical land of Acoma Pueblo totaled roughly 5,000,000 acres (2,000,000 ha). The community retains only 10% of this land, making up the Acoma Indian Reservation. Acoma Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark.
According to the 2010 United States Census, 4,989 people identified as Acoma. The Acoma have continuously occupied the area for more than 800 years, making this one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States (along with Hopi pueblos). Acoma tribal traditions estimate that they have lived in the village for more than two thousand years. (wikipedia)
• • •

Berry's puzzles are never not smooth. A three-stack of 12s crossing another three-stack of 12s, with all involved answers rock solid—impressive. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that Berry has zero interest in having his puzzles be current. His cultural frame of reference skews old. Old even for him—I think he's GenX like me, but his puzzles are solidly boomer. All the cultural references are things *I* had to learn from watching old TV and doing crosswords.  I guess if you learn to make puzzles in an era when contemporary references were shunned (i.e. the pre-Shortz era), then maybe it's hard to learn new tricks, especially if you are soooo good at your old ones. But compared to the puzzles of under-40 constructors, this one feels as "Old-fashioned" as having a BARN as your "dance venue" (43D). The only "modern-style" answer has a badly botched clue (8D: Smoked, modern-style). Smoked, modern-style is ... smoked. People still smoke. Lots of 'em. And it's called smoking. Further, vaping is not not not smoking. It is a substitute. I struggled like crazy in that NW corner because I figured "Smoked" had to be slang, as in "beat handily at something." Also got undone by (old) "Catch-22" name, which I knew was crosswordese, but I couldn't remember which crosswordese, and I initially guessed wrong:

And then there was (old) guitar maker: FENDER part easy; first name ... pfft shrug. Wanted LES, but knew that was the other guitar guy (Paul). I would've been deeeeaaaad up there if I hadn't frantically and systematically gone through the orchestra to find any instrument that could fit the -I--AS pattern (8A: Orchestra section that plays mostly harmony). Once I hit VIOLAS, everything else locked in. Rest of puzzle didn't pose nearly as much of a challenge.

Old names get a little out of control in the south. Any puzzle with MOREY Amsterdam (34A: Amsterdam of "The Dick Van Dyke Show") over Vice President DAWES (36A: Coolidge's vice president) crossing JULES from a 23-year-old movie is still busy prepping for Y2K. Had no idea what ACOMA was. Probably seen it before, but certainly couldn't remember. Never ever think of "philosophy" as SOCIAL STUDIES (which is a term I only hear used in relation to middle and high school civics courses), so the SOCIAL part was rough, just as the ACCOUNT part of ACCOUNT HOLDER was rough (32A: Recipient of blank checks). But that makes just two real rough patches. The rest was smooth sailing. And as I say, the grid is pretty impeccable (TINA'S not withstanding). It just ... doesn't want kids on its lawn. Part of me understands. Speaking of kids, I gotta go pick up mine. See ya.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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