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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard and Laura Braunstein

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


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

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

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


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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

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

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


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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

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

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Constructor: Paolo Pasco

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


THEME: none 

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

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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: Medium


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


That exclamation is "GOLLY GEE!"

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

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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Constructor: Clive Probert

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



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

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

Me, last night, upon solving this:


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



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


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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Constructor: Harry Smith and Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium


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

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

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


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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


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


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

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

Hi, everyone!

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Signed, Clare Carroll, a happy Eli. 

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    Hybrid music genre of the 2010s / SUN 12-3-17 / Four-hit achievement in baseball lingo / Band with 1989 platinum debut album junta / Early Cuzco dweller / Novel narrated by soon-to-be mutineer / Typical Vanidades reader / Fantasy novel hero who rides dragon Saphira / Much-covered 1955 Bo Diddley hit / Hybrid music genre of 2010s

    Sunday, December 3, 2017

    Constructor: David Steinberg

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


    THEME: "Shell Game" — the grid seems to want to imitate a shell game, where you (me, you, someone?) tried to guess which shell the PEA is under (there is a rebused PEA square in the top half). So there are various shells up top (in circled letters) and then those same shells in a different order below, but then instead of a "PEA" under a shell, we get an "F"—I have no idea why—and then also there are answers which are alternative clues for if the "F" *had* been the "PEA" ... so SWIFT becomes SWIPE AT if you go with the clue ATTACK WITH A PAW (86A: The clue for 127-Across, if this shell game weren't a scam) and FRY becomes PEARY if you go with the clue ARCTIC EXPLORER (65A: The clue for 128-Down, if this shell game weren't a scam)

    Word of the Day: EMO RAP (104D: Hybrid music genre of the 2010s) —
    Emo hip hop (also known as emo rap, emo trap, and sad rap) is a subgenre of hip hop fusing beats common in hip hop music, and more specifically trap music, with lyrical themes, vocals, and musicianship common in emo music, along with elements of other closely associated genres like indie rock and nu metal. Prominent artists of the genre include Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and nothing,nowhere. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    This is simultaneously elaborate and ridiculous. There are two reasons why the design concept here is a failure. The first is the most important one—what "shell game" is played with Three Different Kinds Of Nut Shell!?!?!  I can't get my head around this. The second design flaw is the "F" ... why "F"? What the actual (actual!) "F"?!  I get that if I take the "F" out and put the "PEA" in (i.e. "if this shell game weren't a scam") I'd get SWIPE AT / PEARY, but, on a literal level, what is the "F" that is under the "walnut" shell? I get that the PEA has disappeared but what is this "F" that has appeared in its place? A fake? A failure? Fluorine? Between the clues-as-answers (always more difficult / more ugh-some) and trying to figure out how they related to the "F" thing, this one felt really slow. It's also 22 wide, which is weird / odd. I am baffled at how much (apparent) work went into the architecture of this thing when the basic concept just dies such a hard death. I am on Twitter with others trying to fully understand the PEA and the "F" and we can't seem to agree or fully understand, so ... that is not a good sign. I think "F" is supposed to be *nothing* but ... it's an "F" ... and it's in a circle ... so instead of nothing being under the "walnut" (scam!) there is a circled "F." It just makes no sense. Better to design a puzzle where there is Literally Nothing there (SWIT / KING, e.g., turning to SWIPE AT / PEAKING when you mentally supply the "pea").


    The rest of the grid is whatever it is. It is nice in parts, ZAGREB CROATIA is a little ridiculous as long answers go. I don't say "egg" with a SHORT E sound. It's more like the "a" in "cake" than the "e" in "heck." This is to say that I got totally stymied by SHORT E (41D: Egghead?). Really wish "?" clues, and esp. ones with letter answers like this (hard by nature) would always be Precise. When you get into pronunciation, things get regionally dicey, fast. ACCUSALS is brutal (in America, we call them "accusations"). Also, COACT? I'm sure it's a word, but no (act). Jennifer EGAN is great and I'm saving her new book for winter break. Had BUS RIDE for BUS TRIP and LATINO for LATINA and just couldn't remember how to spell Loch LOMOND. The grid is mostly solid. CRACK TEAM over GAG REEL = solid work. It's just that the theme is a total bust.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. believe me, I *understand* that if the shells weren't different, then the whole idea of their being mixed up couldn't be visually conveyed very easily, if at all. But when your "fix" is to make them all different kinds of shells, i.e. a kind of "shell game" found nowhere in the history of the universe, then ... back to the drawing board.

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    Classic see n say toy figures / SAT 12-2-17 / Notes in old Napoli / Ancient carvers of giant stone heads / Sam author of classic Cyclopedia of 5,000 puzzles / Sharpened points of quill pens / Three-time World Series champ with A's

    Saturday, December 2, 2017

    Constructor: Mark Diehl

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


    THEME: none 

    Word of the Day: GRACE CUP (9D: Final toast of a meal) —

    noun
    1.
    a cup, as of wine, passed around at the end of the meal for the final health or toast.
    2.
    the drink passed.
      (dictionary.com)
    • • •

    DOUBLE DOG DARE
    Saw the constructor's name and thought, "uh oh, here comes a tough one."  And in fact that is how it played for the first minute or so—tough. I always work the Downs sequentially on a puzzle like this, with long Acrosses up top, and I got jack squat on my first pass (though my first thought was DORRIT for that Dickens clue, so ... mild self-congratulation there). I had CAB at 4D: Plane compartment (BIN) and nothing else. Then I went to short Acrosses up there and that's where I finally got going. SEER --> STIR --> SOLTI --> ELITE. At some point I finally looked at the Across clue I *should've* looked at right off the bat: 14A: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" composer (ENNIO MORRICONE). Total, complete, utter gimme. Now, even with that in place, those Downs up top didn't get That much easier, but I was able to work my way back along the top pretty systematically. Then I got an assist from below due to RIESEN --> NIBS --> EBAY --> BENE --> ESTAB, and the upper half was pretty much taken care of. GRACE CUP gave me a ton of problems because I had no idea what that was. But after I got that answer finally pinned down, I moved into the lower half of the grid—and took off like a shot.


    I'd say I spent 3x as much time solving the upper half as I did solving the lower. Maybe 4x. There was almost no resistance down below, mostly because I had terribly good luck in the proper noun department. Dropped SAL BANDO off just the SA- (34D: Three-time World Series champ with the A's). Dropped JOAN MIRO from just the J- (37D: "Triptych Bleu, I, II, III" artist). Biggest score was getting ELLEN DEGENERES off of almost nothing. I had the "D" from SAL BANDO and then a wrong letter from the greatest wrong answer of the day: at 41D: How hair dye may make you look (YOUNGER), I had written in YOUR AGE. But the clue suggested "not into men" and funny, and unsurprisingly, ELLEN's name sprang to mind. Once she went in, I just crushed everything. Finished by dropping COHEN NESTLE IMPELS ALINE and DODO, in quick succession. Very triumphant finish to what I think is a fine Saturday grid.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Auxiliary propositions in math / FRI 12-1-17 / Popular Italian brew / Nickname of B-36 bomber, ironically / Italian born fashion model who became a US citizen in 2016

    Friday, December 1, 2017

    Constructor: Lily Silverstein

    Relative difficulty: Easy (not for me, but apparently for everyone else)


    THEME: none 

    Word of the Day: PERONI (44A: Popular Italian brew) —
    Peroni Brewery is a brewing company, founded in Vigevano in Lombardy, Italy, in 1846. It has been based in Rome since 1864. The company's main brand in Italy is Peroni (4.7 ABV), a pale lager sometimes known as Peroni Red in export markets. However, it is probably best known worldwide for its premium lager, Nastro Azzurro (5.2% ABV), which was the 13th best-selling beer in the United Kingdom in 2010. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I loved the grid, but man I fell into terrible holes in both the NW and SE corners, and so this ran about 1.5x my average solving time. I log on to Twitter and everyone's bragging about personal records, so ... I'm gonna go with the crowd here. Sometimes when I wake-and-solve, cobwebs have not quite cleared out, so I'm often slower than I would be at 10pm; thus, the difficulty level needs some adjusting. I had a sincere "Well, I'm stuck forever" moment right here:


    Why didn't I consider that an AMP would go with a "receiver"? Don't know. It's a common 3-letter word. Shoulda come to me. But I was looking for a go-with *pair* like "pork & beans" or "mac & cheese," so "receiver & ....??!" Had ADIEUX (and then ADIEUS) for 1D: Hellos and goodbyes (ALOHAS in the plural is awful, btw). [Ballet technique]? Without more info, no. My brain just kept saying "PLIÉ?" Stupid brain. No idea cartoonist name would be Barbera go-with HANNA. I keep up appearances. MORALE? Sure, yeah, but that wasn't even on my radar. Thank god I successfully guessed LOOMED at 14A: Was a major, if invisible, presence at. I shreded every Down, in order, from CENAC to ORTIZ, and still couldn't finish off that corner. Rough.


    Whole center of puzzle was easy, though I still do not get 36A: Parts played on classic sitcoms? (GENDER ROLES). No idea. None. How are "classic sitcoms" related to GENDER ROLES any more than your local bagel shop is related to GENDER ROLES? Everyone. Plays. Gender. Roles. Just because you're not Ward or June Cleaver, deep in your conventional gender rut, doesn't mean you aren't playing some kind of gender role. This clue needs to stop it.


    I've never heard of PERONI. I know, I know, "How could you not have heard of the UK's 13th most popular beer!?!?!?!" My bad. Also, does the NYT know that ZILLIONAIRES are fictional? Like, that is not a specific term. There is no number one zillion. I hated that clue so much. Of course I put in BILLIONAIRES, which are *actually* 37A: Tiny top percent of one-percenters. Garbage clue. [The super-rich, slangily], I would accept. This idiotic fraudulent clue, no.


    But anyway, I blew through most of NE, center, and SW. But then I hit 46: Shortly and went with ... IN A TRICE (sigh), which I was reluctant to put in because it's so old-fashioned, but (sigh, sigh) ... I Confirmed It With RIME (48D: Frozen dew). And that's the end of that. Took forever digging out of that one. Also had EON for ERA, since it obviously fits the clue so much better (58A: Long stretch). An era is a *kind* of long stretch, defined by .... something. It's not just "a lot of time." So the clues just sucked in places, but the grid is really nice, so I'm gonna blame the editor for the clues (as you always should), and congratulate the constructor. 

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Red giant in constellation Cetus / THU 11-30-17 / Pope before Leo VI / 1984 Schwarzenegger sequel / Round floor cleaner / Chrysler model discontinued in 2010

    Thursday, November 30, 2017

    Constructor: Trenton Charlson

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


    THEME: BATTLESHIP (60A: It's four units long in a popular board game (with the game's other pieces hinted at by the circled letters)) — The theme is the game "BATTLESHIP," and themers contain different sea vessel types that are Xd out by Xs in the answers ... the Xs signifying HITs (62D: Success in the game 60-Across ... or a hint to interpreting the circled squares)

    Theme answers:
    • 17A: 1984 Schwarzenegger sequel (CONAN THE xx) ("Destroyer")
    • 25A:  Early form of airmail? (xxxxx PIGEON) ("Carrier")
    • 37A: Chrysler model discontinued in 2010 (PT xxx) ("Cruiser")
    • 50A: Grinder (xxx SANDWICH) ("Sub(marine)") 
    Word of the Day: JOHN X (6D: Pope before Leo VI) —
    Pope John X (Latin: Ioannes X; d. 28 May 928) was Pope from March 914 to his death in 928. A candidate of the Counts of Tusculum, he attempted to unify Italy under the leadership of Berengar of Friuli, and was instrumental in the defeat of the Saracens at the Battle of Garigliano. He eventually fell out with Marozia, who had him deposed, imprisoned, and finally murdered. John’s pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    LOL at anyone knowing a. who JOHN X is, b. who Leo VI is. I Was a Twenty-Something Medievalist and I had no clue. I thought there was a major problem with the theme at first, because I assumed that the Xs in PTXXX represented a "boat." You know: PT BOAT. And so I thought "wait, why are all the other sea vessels used in non-sea vessel contexts in the theme answers *except this one*?" But it turns out that the Xs represent not BOAT but CRUISER, so ... yeah, nevermind. I obviously didn't see the actual clue. This happens (not infrequently). I guess the theme is fine, then. I didn't think much of it, as I couldn't remember the sequel to "Conan the Barbarian" and so had no idea what the Xs were doing for a very long time. The reveal was ... OK. CUL and ABO and ALBA and EEO are yuck and too much of the fill is dull, but I love "JUKEBOX HERO" and LOOSE CANNON. They are nice. I do admire that (I think) the sea vessels in question in the answer are actually as big in the game as they are in the grid, i.e. the carrier is 5 places long, the destroyer 2, etc. I am not looking this up. I am taking it on faith that the constructor got this right. If I am wrong, please just leave me to my wrongness.


    More wrongness:
    • 65A: Red giant in the constellation Cetus (MIRA) — I had LYRA. I believe that that is ... a constellation, at least. Oh look, it is. I find its being a constellation a consolation.
    • 6D: Pope before Leo VI (JOHN X) — Yeah, no. I had all kinds of crap here at first, including a JOAN. 
    • 29D: Actress Headey (LENA) — I have no idea who this is, so I naturally assumed I was just misremembering the name of actress Glenne Headly.
    • 55A: Org. whose symbol is an eagle atop a key (NSA) — NRA. Then BSA. Oh well...
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Japenese drum / WED 11-29-17 / Coconutty girl scout cookie / two-tone apex predator / Gnocchi topper / Gospel star Winans

    Wednesday, November 29, 2017

    Constructor: Erik Agard

    Relative difficulty: Medium


    THEME: MOTOWN (74A: Record label for the singers starting 18-, 40-, 45- and 66-Across) — a Supreme, a Contour, a Miracle, and a Temptation walk into a bar...

    Theme answers:
    • SUPREME COURT CASE (18A: 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges, for example)
    • CONTOUR KIT (40A: Product of assorted tones of makeup)
    • MIRACLE MOP (45A: So-called "self-wringing" cleaning implement)
    • "TEMPTATION ISLAND" (66A: Early 2000s Fox reality show) 
    Word of the Day: TAIKO (44A: Japanese drum) —
    noun
    noun: taiko; plural noun: taiko; plural noun: taikos
    1. a Japanese barrel-shaped drum. (google)
    • • •

    Who are the Contours and what is a CONTOUR KIT? That answer was a double WTF for me. I can sing my way deep, deep into the catalogue of the Supremes, the Temptations, and (Smokey Robinson and the) the Miracles, but I couldn't pick a Contour out of a line-up. I believe they exist, I just see no way in which they belong as the fourth themer in a MOTOWN theme that includes those other, absolutely iconic groups. The drop from their fame to Contour fame is verrrrrrrtiginous. They sang "Do You Love Me?," a #3 hit from the early '60s. Literally nothing else they sang cracked the Top 10, or even the Top 40, except ... the rerelease of "Do You Love Me?" in 1988 (thanks, "Dirty Dancing"!).


    Whereas:
    • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had 6 Top 10 hits! 
    • The Temptations had 15 Top 10 hits!!
    • The Supremes had 20 Top 10 hits!!!
    There's no way a Contour deserves to share the theme stage with the others. The fact that I don't know some make-up term is less noteworthy, but never to have heard of the term? Ever? That's at least a little odd. Granted, the women I know and love aren't terribly into make-up, but ... I actually do know lots of terms that have little or nothing to do with me or my loved ones. Just not that one. So, yeah, that answer was doubly weird for me. The rest of this seemed fine. I like the oddness of having the "singers" be singular elements from groups better known as plurals. Wacky.


    No way on earth that TAIKO (!?) is a Wednesday answer. I thought I had learned all the exotic four- and five-letter instruments (SAROD! TABLA! KOTO!), but apparently not. It's a very Erik thing to do—throw some never-seen non-Anglo-American term at you like a pitcher throwing a fastball at your head. I don't mind it. I actually think it's OK, assuming the term is not some bullshit obscurity but actually just a word / term that's reasonably common ... elsewhere. Constructor's gotta be competent, gotta cross things fairly, but ... yeah, folding in some should-be-known terms from outside the conventional crossword lexicon: fine by me. If you are a skilled constructor, knock yourself out. 


    Felt a little slow, but the puzzle is extra-wide, so it was probably perfectly normal, difficulty-wise. I had trouble in the middle, when I had MIRACLE and added DRY to the end (!), and *then* dropped PENDS down at 31D: Is in the offing (LOOMS). Yikes. I also didn't want to believe that MILA was in the puzzle on back-to-back days, so I imagined that the Uris title was "URSA 18" (27A: Leon Uris's "___ 18"). Needed every cross for TAIKO, obviously. Very impressed with INNIT, for some reason (28D: "Don't you agree"," in British lingo). "TEMPTATION ISLAND" is some pretty old / forgettable reality TV. It was pretty low-rent and sleazy, and it only ran from 2001 to 2003, which is a long time ago now. I've been married as long as that show has been *off* the air. So I'm not thrilled with it as a theme answer choice, but ... again, the crosses are fair, so I'll allow a little reality TV dumpster diving, I guess.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. Obergefell v. Hodges => the marriage equality case, in case you didn't know

    P.P.S. this is very accurate:


    Yes. I had *no idea* what the 1A: What you see when you look up? (ACROSS) was going for. Presumably, ACROSS refers to the word "ACROSS" above the ACROSS clues in the crossword. Sadly, this clue makes zero sense if you're not solving in the newspaper. Here, I'll show you:


    A gigantic portion of your solving audience isn't solving on paper, guys. Editing!

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