Edward VII familiarly / THU 7-20-17 / Shorthand system inventor Pitman / Fictional swordsman / Screenplay directive / Massey of old movies

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (my exceedingly slow time was probably highly idiosyncratic)


THEME: ugh, I don't know, some puns on interrogative words or something god it was awful

Theme answers:
  • "WATT'S THE PROBLEM?" (17A: James is keeping me from getting a steam engine patent?)
  • "HOWE'S BUSINESS?" (35A: Hockey, to Gordie?)
  • "HU LET THE DOGS OUT?" (56A: A former leader of China gave his shar-peis some exercise)
Word of the Day: LOBAR (11D: Lung-related) —

adjective: lobar
  1. relating to or affecting a lobe, especially a whole lobe of a lung. (google)
• • •

Painful. Painful because the theme is so groany and old and thin, painful because the puzzle is 100 years old in all the worst ways, and painful because I spent a hard 3-4 minutes just stuck in the NW wondering if I was ever going to get the last four squares. I blame EXEDOUT, one of the dumbest crossword entries in modern times. No One Would Write That. But look, let's just blame my problems in the NW corner on me and get back to the real problem, which is ugh. There are only three of these theme puns. They aren't funny. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this? Why these people? Why not Where or When or Why puns? Why not why (OK, so no one's named WYE probably ... still). Watt and Howe have clues related to what they did, but Hu? Hoo boy, no. Howe and Hu are exact homophones, but Watt is natt. It's a wacky weak not-funny pun puzzle. You wanna pun, you better bring heat. Fire. Or go home. No more of this soft dad humor b.s. It's depressing.


And I haven't even started in on the multiple answers that are deserving of contempt. I have "F.U." (or a longer version thereof) written All Over my marked-up grid. I've already introduced you to EXEDOUT, which crosses COSA (I did not know this meaning) and CUTTO (dear lord that is terrible fill ... "phrase" more than "directive" ... just ugly in the grid). This was my long dark night of the grid. Here's the squares I *didn't* have, for an awfully long time:


EXE---T just would not compute for me at 15A: Edited, in way. Thought for sure that Spanish thing was ESTA or ESTO or ... something like that that I'd maybe seen before. And C-TT- looked utterly wrong. Totally impossible. It got so bad, I was doubting "REBECCA" at one point (1A: Hitchcock film with Laurence Olivier). Only after I ran the Big Ten in my head did I think *O*SU at 24A: Big Ten powerhouse, for short, and that finally unclogged things. But I actually don't have "F.U." written next to any of that (though I probably should). Instead, it's written next to:

Bullets:
  • REWARM (1D: Nuke, maybe) — no. WTF is REWARM. If you "Nuke" something, you REHEAT it, for *$&%'s sake. That's what nuking does. REWARM, ugh, boo. Terrible.
  • OLEOOIL (59A: Margarine ingredient) — stop. Just stop. OLEO is a thing. OLEO OIL is just some vowelly nonsense. Fill your grid better. Your fill is about as scrumptious as OLEO OIL (whatever that is!)
  • BERTIE (25A: Edward VII, familiarly) — What Year Is It? How on god's green do I know what pals called some bygone king who died before I was born. He died in 1910. "Feel the Bert!" Make it stop!
  • ISAAC (31D: Shorthand system inventor Pitman) — Shorthand. Shorthand? Shorthand. Soooo many ISAACs in the world and ... shorthand. Like the puzzle isn't already a parody of the dated NYT old white dude puzzle ... you had to go ahead and add shorthand. Fine.
Also, stacking French words is terrible form (see AMI over ÉCOLE). The end

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. apparently OLEOOIL (I can't believe I have to revisit this junkwad) has a different clue on other platforms. Why ... I have no idea:

 

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Made for moments sloganeer / WED 7-19-17 / Line from Student Prince appropriate to this puzzle / Early 2000s apple product / anti-doping target, informally / Descriptive of los Andes / Hold aside for year as college athlete

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Constructor: Michael S. Maurer and Pawel Fludzinski

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: DRINK DRINK DRINK (32A: Line from "The Student Prince" appropriate for this puzzle) — this puzzle contains various toasts from around the world

Theme answers:
  • TO YOUR HEALTH!
  • DOWN THE HATCH!
  • SALUD!
  • L'CHAIM!
  • TIRAMISU!
  • AMALFI!
  • KANPAI!
  • NEHRU!
  • PROST!
  • ROID!
Word of the Day: "The Student Prince" (See 32A) —
The Student Prince is an operetta in four acts with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly. It is based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's play Old Heidelberg. The piece has elements of melodrama but lacks the swashbuckling style common to Romberg's other works. The plot is mostly faithful to its source. // It opened on December 2, 1924, at Jolson's 59th Street Theatre on Broadway. The show was the most successful of Romberg's works, running for 608 performances, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s. It was staged by J. C. Huffman. Even the classic Show Boat, the most enduring musical of the 1920s, did not play as long – it ran for 572 performances. "Drinking Song", with its rousing chorus of "Drink! Drink! Drink!" was especially popular with theatergoers in 1924, as the United States was in the midst of Prohibition. The operetta contains the challenging tenor aria "The Serenade" ("Overhead the moon is beaming"). (wikipedia)
• • •
This is terrible. Truly not good, on every level. So bad it makes me almost never want to drink again. We can start with the boring, basic, nothing theme. Let me get this straight—the theme is ... toasts. That's it. Just toasts. And there are just four of them (?). Four ... toasts from around the world. Oh, and then a "formal" and an "informal" ... toast (in English). These latter toasts are at least mildly colorful, but still ... toasts. And the revealer ... wow. Like most of this puzzle, it is out of the past (and not in the good, film noir way). I have no idea what "The Student Prince" is. None. Never seen the movie, wasn't alive during Prohibition to see the operetta. No idea. Didn't matter, as the answer was obvious, but how ridiculous to have a revealer that old and marginal, and on a Wednesday.


Speaking of old and marginal, let's move on to the other reason this puzzle is bad—the fill. I thought we'd finally gotten rid of much of this junk: KCAR? ROK? IDI? ARNE? *&$^ing ALER!? Gah, this is a mess. A mid-20th-century mess. A NEHRU jacket-era mess. Then there's the truly-bad-in-any-era EMAC (40A: Early 2000s Apple product) and SERIE (59A: Something to watch on la télé). Then there's merely bad ALTOS IMIT HOSP. Then there's the complete lack of anything interesting (besides maybe REDSHIRT) (35D: Hold aside for a year, as a college athlete). I mean, C'MON, man. Round these undead answers up and send them back to the tombs whence they came. In the end, the puzzle's only virtue was its short life span—I drove a stake through its heart in less-than-Tuesday time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Colonial-era headgear / TUE 7-18-17 / Cleverness thought of too late to use / Peter who wrote Serpico / Dressing up as fictional characters with others / Cartoon character who explores with Boots

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


THEME: ON THE UP AND UP (42A: Straight-shooting) — two other themers start with devices that can take you up (or down, actually, but whatever). So since there are two ... UP ... and UP:

Theme answers:
  • STAIRCASE WIT (17A: Cleverness thought of too late to use)
  • ESCALATOR CLAUSE (30A: Flexible contract provision) 
Word of the Day: SCRY (27D: Foretell the future by using a crystal ball) —
verb
verb: scry; 3rd person present: scries; past tense: scried; past participle: scried; gerund or present participle: scrying
  1. foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface.
[this clue really should say [*Pretend* to foretell the future etc.], come on ...] [also, what the hell is "other reflective object or surface"!?]
• • •

These are not the most familiar of themers. I knew one. My wife knew one. They were not the same ones, and the one I knew, I knew only in French—never heard STAIRCASE WIT, but I inferred it from "l'esprit de l'escalier." ESCALATOR CLAUSE baffled me. I had CLAUSE and ESC- and had to resort to crosses because ESCAPE wouldn't fill the space. I like the weird grid shape, and I actually kind of like the super-light theme (3 answers? 39 squares?), and the fact that they didn't even bother trying to give the revealer a dopey revealer clue. Simple. People can figure it out without your getting all corny with it. And yet I don't think I Like liked this puzzle. Any puzzle with REUNE(S) starts with two strikes against it, and ugh, SCRY and ATTA and AER and TNN ... so much MAASwordese, blargh. A puzzle with only three themers should have Much better fill than this. "Annie Hall," yes, ANTEHALL, no (31D: Entrance room where guests wait). So despite its quirky charms, I'm gonna say nay. Wait. Wait, no, I changed my mind—I thought it was a near-miss, but then I noticed that you can kinda sorta make a case that the grid has a kind of staircase/escalator shape (taken from SW corner to NE corner), and even if that is what we in the business call "reading too much into things," I don't care. I need Tuesday not to fail every week. So consider this the most marginal of positive reviews.


Aside from ESCALATOR, I didn't have much trouble here. Biggest issue by far (compounded by its adjacency to ESCALATOR) was with 26A: Place to find a pen and teller (BANK). I had the -NK and my eye got only as far as "pen" and I wrote in ... OINK. Now this "makes sense" insofar as a pig oinks and a pig lives in a pen. In all other ways, it makes no sense, particularly considering that OINK is not a "place," ugh. Otherwise, smooth sailing.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Rod-shaped bacterium / MON 7-17-17 / Brand of sheepskin boots / Annoying feature of online stream

Monday, July 17, 2017

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: ODDS AND ENDS (55A: Miscellany ... or a description of the final words in 15-, 23-, 30-, 38- and 43-Across) — final words of themers are both odds (i.e. odd numbers) and ends (ends of their respective answers)

Theme answers:
  • AIR FORCE ONE (15A: President's plane)
  • STRIKE THREE (23A: Cry before "You're out!")
  • GIMME FIVE (30A: "Up top!")
  • GAME SEVEN (38A: Conclusion of a close World Series)
  • ON CLOUD NINE (43A: Ecstatic)
Word of the Day: SAO TOMÉ (39D: Príncipe's sister island) —

São Tomé and Príncipe (/ˌs təˈm ən ˈprɪnspə/ SOW-tə-MAY-ən PRIN-si-pə or /ˈprɪnsp/ PRIN-si-pay;[7] Portuguese: [sɐ̃w tuˈmɛ i ˈpɾĩsɨpɨ]), officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres (87 miles) apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres (155 and 140 miles), respectively, off the northwestern coast of Gabon. // The islands were uninhabited until their discovery by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Gradually colonized and settled by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, they collectively served as a vital commercial and trade center for the Atlantic slave trade. The rich volcanic soil and close proximity to the equator made São Tomé and Príncipe ideal for sugar cultivation, followed later by cash crops such as coffee and cocoa; the lucrative plantation economy was heavily dependent upon imported African slaves. Cycles of social unrest and economic instability throughout the 19th and 20th centuries culminated in peaceful independence in 1975. São Tomé and Príncipe has since remained one of Africa's most stable and democratic countries. // With a population of 192,993 (2013 Census), São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African country after Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. Its people are predominantly of African and mestiço descent, with most practising Roman Catholicism. The legacy of Portuguese rule is also visible in the country's culture, customs, and music, which fuse European and African influences.

 • • •

This is an exemplary little Monday. Full of mainstream, gettable, common answers. Not overly reliant on crosswordese or abbrs. or partials or other nonsense. And the theme—makes sense! The revealer reveals! Wordplay! Accurate wordplay! Hurrah. The numbers go in order, of course; I want to call that "elegant," but I think it's actually necessary ... although some variant with answers like "HEY NINETEEN" and "FRESHMAN FIFTEEN" (15!) could've been interesting. Anyway, this puzzle will not blow your mind, but it is a very fine example of what a Monday should be: easy, accessible, smooth, quirky, fun. Tom! Nice work, Tom.


I really gotta remember not to look at Twitter until I've finished the puzzle because even though people don't usually spoil it outright, I don't like seeing people's posted times. Gets in my head. Sets up expectations. Ruins the experience. This is a bit like how I feel about books I read or movies I see—the less I know going in, the happier I am. Clean slate! Anyway, I looked at Twitter and saw someone posted a personal record time, so I thought "crap, that means I'm gonna trip all over myself solving this thing." But I didn't. Solve felt choppy, for sure, but I came in a good 10-15 seconds under my Monday average (so ... in the low 2:40s). And that's despite confidently filling in a completely wrong second half of the answer at 29D: Means of tracking workers' hours. Went with TIME CLOCK, perhaps because they are a part of local business history here in Binghamton, NY: "1889: Harlow E. Bundy and Willard L. Bundy incorporate the Bundy Manufacturing Company in Binghamton, New York, the first time recording company in the world, to produce time clocks" (wikipedia). UNSNAG was the only iffy part of the puzzle for me (42D: Release from being caught on a nail, say), but I *guess* it's a word, so OK. Overall, a nice treat to tide us over until Wednesday (since Tuesday will inevitably be a disaster).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Five Norwegian kings / SUN 7-16-17 / Nighty-night wear / Bird bills / Actress Kazan / Word before Cong or Minh / Resident of Tatooine / Irish for "We Ourselves" / Hong Kong's Hang Index / Scott of "Joanie Loves Chachi"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels and Pete Muller

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: DRINKS ALL AROUND (29D: "It's on me!" ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) — Drinks are "all around" in circled letters in almost-symmetrical places "all around" the grid. Starting at 12 o'clock and proceeding clockwise, we have six drinks on our menu:
  • BEER (what I'm drinking right now)
  • PINK LADY
  • COSMOPOLITAN (at 5 o'clock, which it is, somewhere)
  • WINE
  • TIA MARIA (I read this backwards at first, and was all, "What's a MAI TAI RA?")
  • DIRTY MARTINI
Our revealer crosses COCKTAIL LOUNGES (61A: Places to get looped).


Word of the Day: NED ROREM (82A: "Miss Julie" opera composer, 1965) —
Ned Rorem (born October 23, 1923) is an American composer and diarist. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976. He received his early education in Chicago at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the American Conservatory of Music and then Northwestern University. Later, Rorem moved on to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and finally the Juilliard School in New York City. Rorem was raised as a Quaker and makes reference to this in interviews in relation to his piece based on Quaker texts, A Quaker Reader. In 1966 he published The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem, which, with his later diaries, has brought him some notoriety, as he is honest about his and others' sexuality, describing his relationships with Leonard Bernstein, Noël Coward, Samuel Barber, and Virgil Thomson, and outing several others (Aldrich and Wotherspoon, eds., 2001). Rorem has written extensively about music as well. These essays are collected in anthologies such as Setting the Tone, Music from the Inside Out, and Music and People. His prose is much admired, not least for its barbed observations about such prominent musicians as Pierre Boulez. Rorem has composed in a chromatic tonal idiom throughout his career, and he is not hesitant to attack the orthodoxies of the avant-garde. (Wikipedia)
• • •
If the spirit moves you
Let me groove you

Laura here, toasting Rex with a BEER as he takes a break. We've seen more than a few alcohol-themed puzzles over the years -- heck, there's a whole book of them -- but here's a new twist (Charles Dickens walks into a bar. "I'll have a dry martini." Bartender: "Olive or twist?"). Nice double-revealer crossing in the center; fun finding the embedded drinks all around the grid. I would've liked slightly more consistency in the themers -- we have the generic categories BEER and WINE but then cocktails like DRY MARTINI, PINK LADY, and COSMOPOLITAN, and a liqueur: TIA MARIA. The challenge, I can imagine, was to find symmetrical alcohol varieties that would then fit all-roundly all around the grid. While I toast the constructors' ambition, their grid suffered in terms of fill that would accommodate the theme. ERNA (111A: Met soprano Berger), ERLE (20A: First name in courtroom fiction), ELSA (110A: Captain von Trapp's betrothed [which reminds me of this McSweeney's classic]), ORLE (53D: Shield border), and ERTE (101A: Artist who designed costumes for "Ben-Hur") are all handy combos of letters that have vowels on the ends and consonants in the middle. Cheers: new take on old theme; jeers: tired fill to get the new take to take.

As one of the 44D: Boomers' offspring (GENX), I appreciate a grid that contains both Joanie Loves Chachi (34D: BAIO [Scott of [the aforementioned] [who was a total asshole regarding costar Erin Moran's death earlier this year]) and FONZ[ie] (57D: 1970s TV cool dude, with "the").

"Sit on it!"
With Andrea's collaboration today, and -- since I last guest-posted -- puzzles by Susan Gelfand, Lynn Lempel, Zhouqin Burnikel, Ruth Margolin, and collaborations from Elayne Boosler and my college classmate Lisa Loeb, we are now up to 14% women constructors so far this year: 28 out of 169. 2017 is still tracking to be the worst year on record for women constructors at the New York Times. I encourage all aspiring constructors to take a look at Andy Kravis's new project, Grid Wars -- he has some excellent tips.

Bullets:
  • SENG (12D: Hong Kong's Hang ___ Index) — An alternative to NYSE as a stock index in the fill.
  • DRAKE (30A: Male duck) — Could've clued as "'Hotline Bling' artist who got his start on 'Degrassi: The Next Generation'." 
  • NOME (43D: Gold rush city of 1899) — I had gotten this through crosses, and then going back and looking at the grid, at first I thought it was something like: Response to "Me!": "NO, ME!"
  • DRAPE (106A: Hang) — How about, instead: "Clothing material source for 110A's rival"?
Signed, Laura Braunstein, Sorceress of CrossWorld

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Video game character rescued by Link / SAT 7-15-17 / Incredible in modern slang / Watt per ampere squared / Traditional rite of passage among Masai / Capital whose name means city inside rivers

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Constructor: Zachary Spitz

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Jack OAKIE (29D: Oscar nominee for "The Great Dictator") —
Jack Oakie (November 12, 1903 – January 23, 1978) was an American actor, starring mostly in films, but also working on stage, radio and television. He is best remembered for portraying Napaloni in Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (wikipedia)
• • •

Gonna pass on this one because of the stupid *&$^ing frat-boy (SIGMA CHI?) juxtaposition of BALLS and DICK at the top of the grid. Did he have a bet with his friends as to how much sexual material and innuendo he could cram in here. ARSE and SEX and KNELT and BLEW (!) and, I don't know, MELON? Ugh. SO BAD. Actually, more SAD than bad. The actual grid, overall, is pretty well made. But it's just a tiresomely Dude puzzle anyway, even without the cheap tittering. I mean, the only women in the puzzle look like this:



Oh, and this:


And then Michelle WIE, who is here because her name is convenient (24D: 2014 U.S. Women's Open champion). Even EVA manages to not be a woman, Somehow (5D: Spacewalk, for short). Oh, whoops. Almost forgot about TRACI Lords. OK ... so, she's a legit actress with a long resumé, but given this puzzle's ... let's say, prurience ... I'm guessing it's most interested in her early career (full disclosure: I own her album "1000 Fires"; it's pretty good).



I have seen AMAZEBALLS in a puzzle before, so this felt old, even though it is (apparently) new to the NYT (not saying much) (1A: Incredible, in modern slang). The only answer I really like here is TWEETSTORM (62A: Digital barrage). Marginal foodstuff names (DATE SUGAR? ROCK MELON?) are not my idea of a good time. ATTU and CKS are really really not my idea of a good time. PLUTOMANIA is super made-up, and also sounds like some kind of Disney fetish (57A: Excessive desire for wealth), which is SAD, as that corner is nice otherwise. OK, I'm done with this one. I miss Patrick Berry's Friday puzzle. See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS one of my Twitter followers just floated the theory that the puzzle was actually giant subtweet of the president*.  SAD and TAX EVASION etc. I think if you look *exclusively* at the SE corner, you can make that case. Otherwise, I dunno...

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Beach grass that prevents erosion / FRI 7-14-17 / Onetime owner of Skype / Short-legged item of furniture / Playwright who wrote Hell is full of musical amateurs

Friday, July 14, 2017

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SEA OATS (13D: Beach grass that prevents erosion) —
Uniola paniculata or sea oats, also known as seaside oats, araña, and arroz de costa, is a tall subtropical grass that is an important component of coastal sand dune and beach plant communities in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. Its large seed heads that turn golden brown in late summer give the plant its common name. Its tall leaves trap wind-blown sand and promote sand dune growth, while its deep roots and extensive rhizomes act to stabilize them, so the plant helps protect beaches and property from damage due to high winds, storm surges and tides. It also provides food and habitat for birds, small animals and insects. (wikipedia)
• • •

The one downside of being a constructor as immensely talented as Patrick Berry is that, well, when you lay down a SEA OATS people can *really* see, touch, taste, and feel the SEA OATS. The only place where I struggled even in the slightest was in and around and all over the SEA OATS, so my brain now believes this to be "the SEA OATS puzzle" even though SEA OATS is only one moderately-sized, literally marginal answer. Everything else about this grid is so smooth, so unforced, so well known, generally, that something pulled deep from the bottom of the fauna well really, really stands out. But focusing on that one answer is ridiculously unfair, not just because (as I said) it's all alone in its strangeness, but because despite its strangeness, it's actually a real thing. The clue wasn't bad, the answer wasn't some implausible phrase or super-olde-timey character actor's name. It's just a word I didn't know, which is fine. It will be the answer (I bet) that is the most unfamiliar to solvers. But so what? It Was Crossed Fairly. Rare and fairly crossed is all I ask my "???" fill to be.


Another reason I don't remember the non-SEA OATS part of this puzzle very well is that I finished it in 4:24. And at 5am?! It's dark and raining out, and both wife and daughter are out of town. Perhaps I have discovered my optimal solving conditions: darkness and utter solitude. Sadly, those conditions would probably be highly sub-optimal for my non-solving life, so I'll just enjoy this little solving success while I have it. I guessed SCRAP right away (1D: Throw away), confirmed it with PIPES (22A: Singing ability, informally), and I was off. Had STATE, threw down BANKS, and then "confirmed" it with ... BALKED (27A: Made objections). Oh well, can't expect all your first guesses to be good ones. Luckily SILVER LININGS went down supereasy, and I could sneak into the SW from down under. Swept back up and solved on a SW-to-NE diagonal, going through that center stack faster than I've ever gone through any largish stack in my life. Only resistance was back end of HARBOR MASTERS, and all I needed was a few crosses to pick that up. Lucky to remember DOANS pills (from '80s TV ads, I think). Despite ON FILM before ON TAPE (and the aforementioned oceanside disaster that was SEA OATS), the NE succumbed pretty easily. That left the SE, where the horrible clue on NHL (47A: Montreal is part of it: Abbr.) stalled me a bit, but not much. Once I got SWORE and SHAW in there, the corner fell quickly.


Back to that NHL clue. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens are in the NHL, but you would never, ever, ever have the following clue: [Los Angeles is part of it: Abbr.] for NHL. Or for NBA or MLB, for that matter. It's a major metro area; presumably it's a part of Lots of things. Come on. Anyway, this is a very impressive grid, even if no one answer really stands out. My favorite thing about it was crushing it. I'll take a smooth, clean, largely uneventful Berry puzzle any day (but especially Friday). The only (tiny) flaw, from a structural standpoint, is how much the grid relies on plurals. ALL the long central answers (Across and Down) are plurals, as are several more 8+ answers. Plurals are real words, so there's no real harm done. They're a useful constructing crutch, but it's odd to see So Many of them here. I doubt anyone but me noticed, though. Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Command in Macbeth / THU 7-13-17 / Product whose jingle uses Dragnet theme

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Constructor: Lewis E. Rothlein

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: X MARKS THE SPOT (15D: Treasure hunt phrase ... or a hint to seven Across answers) — seven squares that have SPOT in the Across direction, X in the Down

Theme answers:
  • IN A SPOT
  • GUEST SPOT
  • SPOT OF TEA
  • DESPOTISM
  • "OUT, DAMNED SPOT"
  • SPOTIFY
  • SPOT ON 
Word of the Day: MAT (2D: Hair clump) —

• • •

Interesting concept, UNEVEN execution. It was weirdly easy to tiptoe through the grid without getting any theme stuff. AUEL ALEPH IPAD SHWA (...) AWASH, stall. Reboot with SUTRA RIFF ATTY TRAILMIX and then (drum roll) I hit -IFY and figured it all out. Thus, when I came to the "revealer," it didn't really "reveal" much. It was "redundant." "Unnecessary." I am surprised this theme hasn't been done before. The revealer has certainly been a theme answer before (a lot) but never quite in this way (that I can see, or remember). There are some good moments here ("OUT, DAMNED X!") but there's an awful lot of gunk. AGE ONE is just bad, and the repeated ONE (see ONE CUP) makes it worse. UNTUNE is pretty yuck, and yuckier for being in same corner with another longish UN-prefixed word (UNEVEN). You've also got the dreaded full-phrase ETALII and the awful-when-spelled-out ITEN. The density of junk is what's bad here—and there's not even a "X" in that section to deal with. ON A TEAM? Can you just put any prepositional phrase in a puzzle? IN A PUZZLE? There's just too much wince-y stuff here.


Once you crack the theme, there's not much to trouble you. I honestly had no idea that MAT was spelled with just one "T"—I've never had occasion to spell it and never gave it a thought. For a nanosecond, I thought there might be a "TT" rebus for some reason. For more than a nanosecond, I thought Japan might be a FRENEMY (43D: Japan, to the U.S. => EXENEMY). When I get an answer like TYE so easily, I feel like I'm cheating #crosswordese. I hadn't really thought out "Tum, t-tum-tum-TUMS!" but hey, yeah, that is the "Dragnet" theme (62A: Product whose jingle uses the "Dragnet" theme) ("Dragnet" ... what do you mean, 'What's 'Dragnet'? ... it was a show ... on television ... television ... tel-e-vis-ion! ... it was this box oh nevermind."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Computer that accurately predicted Ike's 1952 election / WED 7-12-17 / Modern-day remake of WC Fields film / Gardner who wrote Case of the Negligent Nymph / Animals that provided hair used in Chewbacca's costume / Kind of boid that catches the woim

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Constructor: Elayne Boosler and Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: Challenging


THEME: Modern-day remakes — famous 20th-century film titles with updated (i.e. "remade," i.e. 21st-century) title elements, and then a revealer that is also "remade": GMO POPCORN (?!) (60A: ... and something to eat while watching the remakes)

Theme answers:
  • UBER DRIVER (18A: Modern-day remake of a Robert DeNiro film?)
  • THE PAYPAL DICK (28A: Modern-day remake of a W.C. Fields film?)
  • HOLIDAY AIRBNB (Modern-day remake of a Bing Crosby film?)
Word of the Day: "The Bank Dick" (See 28A) —
The Bank Dick (released as The Bank Detective in the United Kingdom) is a 1940 comedy film. Set in Lompoc, California, W. C. Fields plays a character named Egbert Sousé who trips a bank robber and ends up a security guard as a result. The character is a drunk who must repeatedly remind people in exasperation that his name is pronounced "Sousé – accent grave [sic] over the 'e'!", because people keep calling him "Souse" (slang for drunkard). In addition to bank and family scenes, it features Fields pretending to be a film director and ends in a chaotic car chase. The Bank Dick is considered a classic of his work, incorporating his usual persona as a drunken henpecked husband with a shrewish wife, disapproving mother-in-law, and savage children. // The film was written by Fields, using the alias Mahatma Kane Jeeves (derived from the Broadway drawing-room comedy cliche, "My hat, my cane, Jeeves!"), and directed by Edward F. Cline. Shemp Howard, one of the Three Stooges, plays a bartender. // In 1992, The Bank Dick was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". (wikipedia)
• • •

This had highs, lows, and creamy middle—just like a good, or at least entertaining—film, I guess. From the jump it was hard, because of the Funny. Not surprising to see an abundance of wacky, quirky, "?"-type clues when the co-constructor is a comedian, but (for me) they drove the difficulty level up. Even the simple (and comedian-related) 1D: Give it up, so to speak (CLAP) had me falling on my face, as I had the "C" and instantly guessed CEDE. Had no idea what was going on with DANNO until the last cross (65A: Guy with a lot of bookings?). Still have no idea what 42D: Film lovers may run in it? means (SLO-MO!?!? Maybe if you specifically love "Chariots of Fire," I guess, but ...?). Had trouble seeing through tricky vagueness of 42A: Completely busted (SHOT). Clue on BODYSCAN also too general for me to understand it for a while (39D: T.S.A. screening). I guess it's funny to end with GMO POPCORN (takes "remake" to a different level), but GMO doesn't really replace anything in a familiar phrase (i.e. it doesn't fit the theme pattern), so it felt cheap / off / wrong. Please don't tell me GMO replaces "fresh" or "hot" because GMO POPCORN (?) (whatever that is) can be both. Another wonky thing about the theme: UBER DRIVER is a very real thing, where the others are ridiculous not-real things (and therefore, in this context, Much better—go wacky or go home). How many sub Gen-X people have even heard of "The Bank Dick"!?!? I am a TCM addict, so I managed to suss it out OK, but I can see that answer giving solvers a ton of trouble, just because that is by far the least familiar film of the bunch ("Holiday Inn," also, if you're not a big old movie buff, not exactly common knowledge (anymore)).


The worst thing for me about this puzzle was I fell into a terrible trap that I'm sure hardly anyone else fell in, but I know ... I pray ... that at least one other solver out there, somewhere, had this exact, insane experience: I wrote in RUBON for 15A: Apply, as lotion (RUB IN)—since That Is The Phrase I Would Use—and then ended up with FORE at the beginning of what looked very very very much like a golf clue (8D: What may have a dog leg to the left or right?). So I never, ever (ever) questioned the FORE part. Had *&%^ing FOREPLAY in there at one point, and ended up with FOREPLUG. Since "fire hydrant" is The Phrase That I Would Use, the idea that FOREPLUG was an obvious misspelling of FIREPLUG ... never occurred to me. I do not play golf, so I just assumed FOREPLUG was some dumb golf term I didn't know. The End. Too bad, because the FIREPLUG clue is pretty cute. And if the "I" cross had been clear *or* the wacky "?" clue hadn't contained a golf term ("dog leg"), I would've been able (ABEL!) to get an appreciate it. But instead I fell into a pretty hilarious hole and never got out. Game over. You have an error. So sorry. Better luck next time.

["Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. that clue on OILY is four-star (45D: Kind of boid that catches the woim?)

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Big name in nail polish / TUE 7-11-17 / Matchmaking site since 1997 / Fruit in som tam salad / Nickname of Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman / Uncle criers

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



THEME: POWER COUPLE (36A: Victoria and David Beckham, e.g. ... or what 17-, 26-, 47- and 57-Across each have, in a way) — the "couple"—"AC" and "DC"—both appear in each of the theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • PEACHES AND CREAM (17A: Hunky-dory)
  • SACRED COW (26A: Untouchable one)
  • ACTED COOL (47A: Stayed calm)
  • BACKGROUND CHECK (57A: Pre-employment screening) 
Word of the Day: Porter GOSS (64A: Former C.I.A. director Porter ___) —
Porter Johnston Goss (born November 26, 1938) is an American politician and government official who served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 until 2004, when he became the last Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency following the passage of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which abolished the DCI position. // Goss represented Florida's 14th congressional district from 1989 to 2004. His district, numbed as the 13th District from 1989 to 1993, included Fort Myers, Naples and part of Port Charlotte. He served as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 1997 to 2004, was a co-sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act and was a co-chair of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry. (wikipedia)
• • •

This works. I mean ... it does. It does its thing, and the revealer is cute (and apt) and the theme answers stand alone as pretty colorful entries, so (especially considering Tuesday's spectacularly terrible track record) I'm happy. Good enough! AC is one type of power, DC is another, together they are a couple of powers, or a POWER COUPLE. Shazam. ACTED COOL is a bit makeshift, as answers go, but the others are strong. I guess that, now that I think about it, I have heard PEACHES AND CREAM used in the way the clue suggests (17A: Hunky-dory), but at first, I had PEAC- and couldn't figure out how I was gonna make HYKEEN stretch out to eleven letters. I also quick-read (i.e. badly read) the clue on BACKGROUND CHECK (57A: Pre-employment screening). I had the CHECK, and then I read the [Pre-] part and somehow (perhaps because I just traveled by plane a couple weeks ago) I got TSA Pre-check in my head and everything got screwy. The areas around the front and middle of that answer were the toughest parts of the puzzle for me by far (though still not that tough).

[this song has both PAPAYA and PEACHES AND CREAM (as clued) in it]

I still can't spell AVOCADO. AVA- wins again. I eat them regularly; you'd think I'd have it by now, but no. I was super-duper proud of myself that I remembered the nail polish brand (51A: Big name in nail polish). Had the ES-, wrote in ESTEE and *immediately* thought, "Nope, nope, you know this one ... you've seen it ... you've thought about how crosswordy it looks ... what is it?! EPPIE? No ... ESSIE!!" Yessie! Had far more trouble with both PEAT BOG (38D: Natural fuel source) and EL CHAPO (39D: Nickname of the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán) in the SW. And then really had trouble with OF OLD (50D: Long past) and CARPI, which is not a thing I can ever remember seeing before (49D: Wrist bones)—and perhaps for good reason. You see, the carpus is actually the whole damn set of bones in the wrist.


"Carpus" is the word for "carpal bones." So ... it doesn't really pluralize. On the "Carpal bones" wikipedia page, if you search "carpi," it comes up a lot, but as a genitive (i.e. "of the carpus"), not a plural. I guess you and I possess CARPI, OK, but ... I'm giving that one some anatomical side-eye, for sure.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Tel Aviv skyscraper first to be built in Mideast / MON 7-10-17 / Long tranquil period ushered in by emperor Augustus / Bridge declaration when not bidding

Monday, July 10, 2017

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium (skewing Medium-Challenging—about 10 seconds north of normal for a Monday)



THEME: WORLD PEACE (62A: Ancient dream of humanity that's hinted at by the starts of 17-, 24-, 37- and 53-Across) — I guess the first words all mean "peace" in their various languages...

Theme answers:
  • ALOHA SHIRT (17A: Colorful top often worn with a lei)
  • SHALOM MEIR TOWER (24A: Tel Aviv skyscraper that was the first to be built in the Mideast)
  • PAX ROMANA (37A: Long, tranquil period ushered in by the emperor Augustus)
  • MIR SPACE STATION (53A: Orbiter from 1986 to 2001)
Word of the Day: WORD (CLUE) —
• • •

What a drag. Just a drag, from the jump. That whole NW corner was just onerous to fill in. ABE ECOCARS SICEM AMOR SISI BALI HAI SHEL ... there's zero effort to make the answers or clues interesting. So I knew right away that things were going anywhere good. ALOHA SHIRT just confirmed it. That answer's not taking you anywhere fun. The dull, overfamiliar fill just kept coming. The revealer was a letdown, for a host of reasons. ALOHA and SHALOM do, in fact, mean "peace," but this really looked like a hello/goodbye puzzle to start. And then came PAX ROMANA, which ... refers to a state of peace ... just like the revealer ... so ... it's not much of a themer. Or it makes the themer seem redundant, one or the other. SHALOM MEIR TOWER is kind of ridiculous as a themer. I'm sure it's a real place, but it's an Astonishing outlier, familiarity-wise. Almost every bit of the difficulty came from trying to figure out what the hell went between SHALOM and TOWER (the rest of the difficulty came from the fact that this puzzle mysteriously/weirdly has just 74 words) (just means there were biggish blocks of white in every corner, a natural speed impediment).


The whole thing is forced and weird, and for no good reason. There's no wow-factor. No ooh or ahh. "These are words that mean peace." That's not a great concept. And when you add not-great fill to your not-great concept, the result is a not-great solving experience. Not really worth any specific commentary. I will say that the Venus trivia was pretty cool (64D: Period on Venus that's longer than a year on Venus (!)) (DAY), but that's all I'll say.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Hebrew name that means his peace / SUN 7-9-17 / Noted brand once owned by utopian colony in Iowa / Company behind Falcon 9 launch vehicle / Bakr father in law of Muhammad

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    Constructor: Will Nediger

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



    THEME: "First for Knowledge" — "Th" sounds turned to "F" sounds; yes, that is it.

    Theme answers:
    • FREEZE A CROWD (24A: Make lots of people stop in their tracks?)
    • CHEAP FRILLS (42A: Unnecessary extras that don't cost much?)
    • FELONIOUS MONK (63A: Brother who's a criminal?)
    • MIFF BUSTERS (86A: Annoy actors Keaton and Crabbe?)
    • SECURITY FRET (105A: Safety worry?)
    • SIX CHARACTERS IN / SEARCH OF AN OFFER (3D: With 44-Down, half-dozen real estate agents?)
    Word of the Day: "SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN Author" (3D/44D) —
    Six Characters in Search of an Author (Italian: Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore [ˈsɛi persoˈnaddʒi in ˈtʃerka dauˈtoːre]) is an Italian play by Luigi Pirandello, written and first performed in 1921. An absurdist metatheatrical play about the relationship among authors, their characters, and theatre practitioners, it premiered at the Teatro Valle in Rome to a mixed reception, with shouts from the audience of "Manicomio!" ("Madhouse!") and "Incommensurabile!" ("Incommensurable!"), a reference to the play's illogical progression. Reception improved at subsequent performances, especially after Pirandello provided for the play's third edition, published in 1925, a foreword clarifying its structure and ideas. // The play had its American premiere in 1922 on Broadway at the Princess Theatre and was performed for over a year off-Broadway at the Martinique Theatre beginning in 1963. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    It pains me that the Sunday puzzle can get away with this kind of tepid, dad-humor, change-a-sound theme in 2017. It's the marquee puzzle of the week—pays 3x what a daily pays—and we get this. It's not badly made, it's just conceptually dry and bland. The answers aren't funny, the clues aren't funny, and the punchline / showstopper themer (30 letters long) absolutely fizzles right at the very end–right in the bottom right corner, right in the last word. The wacky word is ... OFFER. [cough] [tumbleweeds]. Nevermind that I've never heard of "Six Characters in / Search of an Author." Let's just say that's on me, Philistine that I am. Still, though, to have these sound-change "jokes" be sooo tepid ... it's really disappointing. CHEAP FRILLS doesn't reorient the phrase, tone-wise, enough to be funny. FELONIOUS MONK was probably clever a decade or two ago, before an actual comedian-type person took Felonious Munk as his stage name, before &$^%ing "CSI" made "FELONIOUS MONK" the title of one of its episodes. It's an old pun, is what I'm saying. FRET really doesn't land as a noun in SECURITY FRET. Over and over, the spark and humor and zing just aren't there.


    As for difficulty, there was some. Felt like I got stuck a bunch, but then I hit a blistering pace toward the end, and finished with a slightly below-average time. Actually, maybe it is average. Maybe 10 and change is my average Sunday now. I should keep track of times for a few months and see where I am with my speeds. Slow start because [Flat, e.g.] was a tough clue for SHOE and also I wanted LETHALITY real bad at 23A: Deadliness (TOXICITY), nevermind that it didn't fit. MORNAY I've seen but forgot. EAR DROP sounds fake as hell. Could not figure out what Judd Apatow comedies were supposed to be like (BAWDY). Considered OH, WOW for a hot second. Spelled CRONOS thusly and so really didn't see KEFIR (which I barely know of anyway) (74D: Yogurtlike beverage). The clue on CAMEL is insultingly wrong and terrible. CAMELs have humps, not lumps. God, that kind of failed cutesiness is destructive. Rage-inducing. Clue should've had a "?" at a minimum (I mean, beyond the one it's already got for interrogative purposes). Ugh. ORKNEY is one of my most-want-to-go-to-there places, so I enjoyed seeing it here (92A: Scotland's ___ Islands), but honestly I didn't enjoy much else.


    I was gonna write about a *certain* ice cream flavor that was clued (erroneously, imho) as "popular" in a recent puzzle, a flavor that I challenged people to seek out at their local ice cream parlors. I asked for people to send me photos of this experience—the success, the failure, the outright refusal to eat said flavor. But I realized that this (Sunday) puzzle will go into syndication before the ice cream puzzle gets syndicated, and I didn't want to spoil things too much. So I'll post my ice cream findings (and your pics) on Thursday (the one-week anniversary of the offending clue). Meanwhile, please continue to seek out the ice cream flavor in question, and send any pics of your adventures my way. I've got pics from France! Video from Sweden! Disappointed / disgusted supermarket selfies! Can't wait to share.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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