Intervening, at law / SAT 8-19-17 / Method of fishing / Some fruit pastries / Feature of Namibia and Libya / Root used in perfumery / Noodle soup noodle / 1990-94 New Jersey governor

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ORRIS (24A: Root used in perfumery) —
Orris root (rhizoma iridis) is a term used for the roots Iris germanica and Iris pallida. Once important in western herbal medicine, it is now used mainly as a fixative and base note in perfumery, the most widely used fixative for potpourri. Orris is also an ingredient in many brands of gin.

Fabienne Pavia, in her book L'univers des Parfums (1995, ed. Solar), states that in the manufacturing of perfumes using orris, the scent of the iris root differs from that of the flower. After preparation the scent is reminiscent of the smell of violets. (Wikipedia)

• • •
Greetings, CrossWorld! It's Lollapuzzoola 10 in NYC this weekend, so you've got me, Tyler Clark, for the Saturday and Sunday puzzles while Rex is off solving and snacking.

This went relatively slowly for me, how about you? I started in the NE, then rather worked my way around clockwise, finishing in the middle. Or, at least, I thought I was finished. As I was trying to speed through the opening Downs, I got to (4A: Shows the way) and felt pretty confident with LEADS ON. When I finally finished, I had ORROS crossing it (see Word of the Day, above). Botany is not a strong suit, so being fairly confident with my crosses, I didn't give it the skeptical review it deserved until ruling out nearly everything else. (So, LEADS IN / ORRIS is the correct cross there.)

My other stumbling block was geography. Not sure why I haven't filed this away under four-letter French river or, for that matter, spent any time learning the 102 departments of France ... except maybe that there are 102 of them. Anyhoo, I had _ISE RIVER for (29D: Waterway that lent its name to two French departments) and since at that time I only had __IS_NRI_T for the cross, somehow I convinced myself I should start with F. Only once I realized the "Joint" in (27A: Joint flare-up?) was PRISON did RIOT replace RIFT, completing OISE RIVER.

I found plenty to like, including TRESPASSES (34A: Goes over the line?), IMITATIVE (28D: Like store brands vis-à-vis name brands, typically), TRANSFERS (30D: Students arriving late?), DOWSES (21A: Looks forward to the next spring?), APERITIFS (44A: Dubonnet or Campari), and CONNIVER (49A: Lowdown sneak).

Others slowing me down included (22A: Feature of Namibia and Libya) which I filled in with ARIDNESS on faith, because I had only previously been aware of ARIDITY, (32A: Method of fishing) which might as well be the Word of the Day –Alternate: SEINING
Seine fishing (or seine-haul fishing) is a method of fishing that employs a seine or dragnet. A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.

Boats deploying seine nets are known as seiners. There are two main types of seine net deployed from seiners: purse seines and Danish seines. (Wikipedia)

Anyone else start (8D: It covers bridges, typically) with DENTAL APPLIANCE instead of DENTAL INSURANCE? And how many of you knew MESNE (42D: Intervening, at law) without Every Single Cross?

See you Sunday!
Signed, Tyler Clark, Fan of CrossWorld

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Internet meme of star of Matrix looking sullen / FRI 8-18-17 / Birthplace of philosopher Parmenides / Fragrant prom present / So effective you can skip day sloganeer once / Frequent designation for Elizabeth Taylor / Jazz/samba fusion poularized in 1960s / Level connectors in Donkey Kong / Toy consisting of spool on string

Friday, August 18, 2017

Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TAMARA Taylor (46D: Actress Taylor of "Bones") —
Tamara Taylor (born September 27, 1970) is a Canadian actress. Her most notable role is that of Dr. Camille Saroyan, head of the Forensic Division, in the forensic crime drama Bones. [...] Taylor has made guest appearances on NCIS, Numb3rs, Lost, CSI: Miami, Without a Trace, Party of Five and Dawson's Creek. In her feature film debut, Senseless, she played Marlon Wayan's love interest. She portrayed Debrah Simmons in the 2005 romantic-comedy Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Halle Berry's best friend in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and had a brief role in Serenity, the movie conclusion of the TV series Firefly by Joss Whedon. Through her part in Serenity, Taylor was able to audition for a show with actor David Boreanaz, who had previously worked with Whedon in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. She also appeared in the TV series Lost, as the former girlfriend of Michael and mother of Walt.(wikipedia)
• • •

A very pleasant experience. I have learned a lot about coffee from my local roasters, so the major coffee-producing islands are well known to me (they're mostly Indonesian, though coffee's grown all over the tropics from the Caribbean to Madagascar). First thought: JAVA. Obviously, far too short. Second thought: SUMATRA. You tend to find SUMATRA coffees as dark roasts. Anyway, having some sense of coffee terroir put the 1-Across Rule into effect. Maybe it's not a "rule." I just like the snappiness of the phrase "1-Across Rule." I finished well under 6, and while that's nowhere near a record, it is faster-than-normal for me. I didn't necessarily Love the fill in this one, but I definitely Liked it, and the wide-ranging frame of reference (from Donkey Kong to "Hamilton" to SAD KEANU) kept me entertained.

People are telling me the E and NE were the trouble spots. I can see how LADED (not my favorite word), with its ambiguous-verb-tense clue, might've thrown folks (it threw at least one of my friends). And the NE is slightly tough in that you have to remember a deodorant sloganeer (8A: "So effective you can skip a day" sloganeer, once). I don't know how anyone can have MITCHUM in their grid and not link it in some way to Robert. Seems like a huge waste. But the real trouble spot *for me* was the SW, where THE over THE seemed so improbable that I couldn't commit to it. Also, YINYANG took me a while to accept. To be clear, I do now accept it, but it's odd as a single unit clued 63A: Joined forces?. Also, 59D: Often-misused irregular verb (LAY) could easily have been LIE (since the very existence of LIE is the reason LAY is so "often misused." And ITTY is baloney since it's obviously ITSY (and both are baloney, tbh, without BITTY / BITSY). Proper noun arcana like "RIO RITA" wasn't that welcome (17A: 1942 Abbott and Costello musical comedy), and proper noun ??? like TAMARA was tough (for me), but even when I got stuck, there was always an amusing answer right around the corner to pick me back up and get me going again. Good fun.

Next three days I will be blogging from NYC, where I'm attending Lollapuzzoola 10, NYC's best (and now only) crossword tournament, on Saturday. Expect brief and weird write-ups until things return to normal on Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Arabian stimulant / THU 8-17-17 / Faction in China's cultural revolution / Golfer Walter with 11 major championships / Tibia connectors / Mesh for securing items in truck bed / Range located along 60th meridian

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: GANG OF FOUR (62A: Faction in China's Cultural Revolution ... or a hint to each set of circled letters) — Clues are just [First (then Second and Third) set of circled letters]. Block of four circled letters intersect each answer, and the answer ends up being a clue to which the circled letters are the answer *if* you supply FOUR at the beginning. So:

Theme answers:
  • GOOD RATING (circled letters are S-T-A-R => FOUR-STAR
  • MOTOWN SINGERS (circled letters are T-O-P-S => FOUR TOPS
  • GLASSES WEARER (circled letters are E-Y-E-S => FOUR EYES)
Word of the Day: Walter HAGEN (5D: Golfer Walter with 11 major championships) —
Walter Charles Hagen (December 21, 1892 – October 6, 1969) was an American professional golfer and a major figure in golf in the first half of the 20th century. His tally of 11 professional majors is third behind Jack Nicklaus (18) and Tiger Woods (14). // Hagen won the U.S. Open twice, and in 1922 he became the first native-born American to win the British Open, and won the Claret Jug three more times. He also won the PGA Championship a record-tying five times (all in match play), and the Western Open five times when it had near-major championship status. Hagen totaled 45 PGA wins in his career, and was a six-time Ryder Cup captain. The Masters Tournament, the newest major, was established in 1934, after his prime. (wikipedia)
• • •

The circled squares ... OK, so the words are both FOUR letters long and the word FOUR precedes them to make a correct answer to each themer. That bit is neat. But there's not much else that's neat. First, it's a answers-as-clues puzzle, and I just dislike those reflexively. GLASSES WEARER? I'm supposed to be glad *that's* in my grid? Also, four letters huddled together like that in an unremarkable square formation hardly connotes GANG. FOURSQUARE is an app ... and it fits in the same space as GANG OF FOUR. Seems more ap(p)t. (I'm being told it's not much of a thing anymore, so you'd have to clue FOURSQUARE as the game, which I played quite a bit in elementary school) (Ooh, you know what I also played a lot in elementary school: CONNECT FOUR! There's a revealer for you, though you'd have to change first themer to GREAT RATING, for symmetry's sake). Further, there are only *three* examples of the theme, and that is really scratching a chalkboard in my mind. Do four of them or go home. Oh, and another thing, a GLASSES WEARER is "FOUR EYES" only if you are an asshole kid from the '60s. It's a stupid low-key slur. Oh, and last of all, when you have GANG OF FOUR in your grid, at least give it the cool clue that it deserves:

Fill was forgettable except maybe CARGO NET (38D: Mesh for securing items in a truck bed). Still not sure how QUIZ SHOW is a [Quest for knowledge?]. Presumably you already have the knowledge and are showing it off for fun and profit. DYE LOTS is an incredibly boring technical answer, and one that creates an unfortunate dye mini-theme (with crosswordesey AZO20A: Like some synthetic colorants). Are we just calling Ireland "ERIN" now like it's a normal, non-poetic thing? (17A: One side of St. George's Channel). Did you know "Nobelist" anagrams to NIELS-bot? (25D: Nobelist Bohr). Well now you do. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Silent film opener / WED 8-16-17 / J Peterman employee on Seinfeld / Kind of soup mentioned in Genesis / Kind of tea from Asia / Name assumed by billiards great Rudolf Wanderone

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SPIN CLASS (60A: Modern exercise option ... or what the answers to 17-, 26-, 36- or 49-Across could teach?) — answers are all dudes who spin ... things:

Theme answers:
  • SPIDER-MAN (17A: Peter Parker is his alter ego) – he spins webs (not really, see below)
  • SKRILLEX (26A: Grammy-winning music producer and D.J.) — he spins records (OK)
  • MINNESOTA FATS (36A: Name assumed by billiards great Rudolf Wanderone) — he spins ... what, the cue ball? Pfff, OK
  • PAT SAJAK (49A: Longtime co-worker of Vanna White) — he spins ... nothing. I mean, he sometimes spins the wheel late in the game when they're running out of time, right, but ...???! Don't the contestants spin? Vanna spins more than Pat (does she still "spin" the damn letters or is it all touch-screen digital malarkey now?)
Word of the Day: IRIS-IN (47D: Silent film opener)

noun, Movies, Television.
the gradual appearance of an image or scene through an expanding circle.(
• • •

Seems very, very musty and tired, both at the theme and fill levels, and I know at least one of these guys is not at all old, so what the hell? SKRILLEX is pretty 21st-century, but all the other dudes ... and the fill? Very old style. They brought ASSAM back, damn. And "L.A. LAW" (current!). And IRIS-IN, which I know will befuddle many, and which I know only because I saw it once (or twice) in crosswords. ANI DiFranco is back, EMO Philips is back. The LSTS are active again. "AJA" is on the turntable. It's not even that the fill is so terrible; it's just relentlessly "you again?" And the theme is too wobbly. SPIDER-MAN *slings* webs. To say he "spins" webs is to fundamentally misunderstand him. He's not Charlotte. He doesn't wait around for flies. He *slings* the damn webs. "Webslinger" is, in fact, one of his aliases (whereas "Webspinner" ... isn't). I wouldn't say a billiards player "spins" balls, although he might *put spin* on a ball (give it some English, I think is the term), so fine, I'll give you Fats, and SKRILLEX, but PAT SAJAK I will not give you. He. Doesn't. Spin. Contestants spin. As I say above, I think Pat might spin if it's late in the show and they're running out of time, but in general, no. No. Unless the game has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years (last time I looked at it, I think) that it's become unrecognizable. Which I doubt. So the theme just doesn't go the distance.

[Dammit, this song says "spins a web"! Bah! I stand by my objection!]

Amazingly easy, though, this thing. Had vowel trouble with SKRILLEX (had -IX) and MARADONA (wasn't sure about that second "A"); had trouble figuring out BOB (33D: Short cut); and didn't know HBO NOW was a thing (HBO GO, I know). The only issues that were even semi-serious, though, came in the SE, with IRIS-IN and KATANA and the clue on ANNIE (64A: Fictional orphan protected by Punjab). Also, as I've said before, I'm terrible and "comes after and before"-type clues, so IT IS needed crosses (57A: Words said before and after "what"). Still finished in the low 3s—a fast Wednesday time for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. [Kind of tea from Asia] is about the worst clue I've ever seen. Every kind of tea is "from Asia." Black, green, oolong ... Asia, Asia, Asia. Come on.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Tiered Eastern temple / TUE 8-15-17 / Rousing audience response informally / Pageant title since 1983 / Multiple jobs metahporically

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Collection agency — All theme clues follow pattern [___ collector?], where the clue phrase is a familiar one, but the answer reimagines the meaning of "___":

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Stamp collector? (PASSPORT)
  • 28A: Record collector? (GUINNESS BOOK)
  • 45A: Bill collector? (CASH REGISTER)
  • 57A: Shell collector? (PASTA BAR) 
Word of the Day: TOOTLE (43A: Play a fife) —
verb: tootle; 3rd person present: tootles; past tense: tootled; past participle: tootled; gerund or present participle: tootling
  1. 1.
    casually make a series of sounds on a horn, trumpet, or similar instrument.

    "he tootled on the horn"
  2. 2.
    go or travel in a leisurely way.

    "they were tootling along the coast" (google)
• • •

I think this works, at least at the most basic level. All the clues take familiar phrases and reorient the meaning of the thing being "collected"—so, not postage stamps but ink stamps in a PASSPORT; not vinyl records but record-setting accomplishments; etc. So it's passable. That said, GUINNESS BOOK really really really doesn't stand alone well at all. It's kind of meaningless without "of World Records" after it. Looks like the official title of the organization is just Guinness World Records (no book needed). So I'm highly dubious that GUINNESS BOOK, on its own, is a thing. The other themers are things, though there was a wide variety of negative responses to PASTA BAR on Crossword Twitter last night, ranging from "What is a PASTA BAR?" to "How many kinds of 'shells' are there, really?" (The clue was pretty forced)

Yesterday felt slowish but was pretty fast. Today felt fast but was just normal. Wrote in MISS AMERICA before MISS TEEN USA (date in the clue means MISS AMERICA was clearly wrong, but I saw "Pageant" and I had MISS and my brain just reacted). I read "happy" instead of "unhappy" at 34D: Final and unhappy outcome, so despite my having END, BITTER didn't fly right in there. Had an odd lot of trouble getting / understanding 19D: Word after mountain or before season (PEAK). I am notoriously bad at the before / after stuff. Just terrible. I had the PEA- and still no idea. That's how bad I am.

Theme is pretty light today, so there's room for some nice longer answers, and the overall quality of the fill isn't too bad. Not good, but not irksome. Happy to give this one a highly-qualified thumbs-up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Brit's teapot cover / MON 8-14-17 / First symbol on musical staff / Colorful flower also known as heartsease

Monday, August 14, 2017

Constructor: Rich Proulx

Relative difficulty: Normal Monday (so Medium, shading easy)

THEME: MEATLESS MONDAY (51A: Weekly occurrence when 20-, 31- and 38-Across might be consumed) — three themers have clues Meal Option #1 (and #2 and #3)

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Lena OLIN (27D: Actress Lena of "Chocolat") —
Lena Maria Jonna Olin (born 22 March 1955) is a Swedish actress. She has been nominated for several acting awards, including a Golden Globe for The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and an Academy Award for Enemies, A Love Story (1989). Other well-known films in which she has appeared include Chocolat (2000), directed by her husband Lasse Hallström, Queen of the Damned (2002), Casanova (2005) and The Reader (2008). Olin was also a main cast member in the second season (and a recurring guest star in later seasons) of the television series Alias. Olin starred in the Swedish sitcom Welcome to Sweden. (wikipedia)
• • •

Too straightforward. Just three vegetarian options. Nothing clever about it, except that, by running the puzzle on Monday, the revealer (MEATLESS MONDAY) becomes somewhat self-referential. I don't know who started MEATLESS MONDAY or when. Feels like something of fairly recent vintage. Let me take ten seconds and google it:
Meatless Monday is an international campaign that encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet. // Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns Inc. in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. Meatless Monday was founded in 2003 by marketing professional Sid Lerner. (wikipedia)
So you've got a new clue for SID now, too, if you want it (I'm not serious, don't do that). In my experience, MUSHROOM BURGER is not that common a thing. Portobello Burger, sure, yes, very much so. The other two answers are fine, but they just ... lie there. I like BIKE ROUTE (57A: Path for cyclists). That's kind of fun. But the fill on this thing is solidly in a traditionalist RUT. The grid is built in a choppy way that gives us lots of short fill, and so all the uber-common stuff just batters you. And then there's the occasional WISC or EGAL that really hurt, unless you are numb from being subjected to them so much. LUI? It's Monday, come on. Your fill has to be smoother than this. Next!

Some more stuff!:
  • IRATE (58A: Fit to be tied) — that clue sounds too quaint for what I imagine IRATE to be.
  • BOIL (40D: Directive in pasta recipe) — not a verb I considered at first. BOIL is literally the only thing you do to pasta (besides maybe salt), so "recipe" had me thinking of something ... else. I don't know what else, but else.
  • PANSY (3D: Colorful flower also known as heartsease) — LOL what? "Colorful flower" tells me nothing, and "heartsease" tells me less. Easily the hardest clue of the day. Oh, [In ___ way] was no cakewalk either (HARM'S). And [XXX] leads to simply ADULT? Can't believe I finished this in 2:49 considering how iffy some of these clues are.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Bit of Bollywood soundtrack / SUN 8-13-17 / Nickname for Oxford university / duck Chinese entree / Vaccine holder / Skinny type / Dweller in virtual city / Onetime honor for cable TV shows / Advertising icon who wears single earring

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Constructor: Eric Berlin

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "The Magic Show" — theme answers are magic tricks that are literally depicted elsewhere in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • VANISHING COIN (23A: Magic trick performed at 78-Down) (78D: Provide part of a coverage policy for) should be COINSURE, but the COIN ... has vanished)
  • LINKING RINGS (47A: Magic trick performed at 119-Across and 104-Down) (those answers intersect at a RING rebus square) 
  • SAWING A LADY IN HALF (67A: Magic trick performed at 123- and 124-Across) (LADY is split across ELLA and DYS)
  • CHANGING CARD (91A: Magic trick performed at 55-Across) ("Peking" changed to PEACE ... I am just noticing this one as I type it, holy hell, no Wonder that area destroyed me)
  • LEVITATING MAN (115A: Magic trick performed at 15-, 16- and 17-Down) (all those Downs have their first letters missing and those letters spell out M-A-N ... presumable "MAN" has "levitated" above the grid) 
Word of the Day: CONIES (96D: Furs from rabbits) —

noun, plural conies.

the fur of a rabbit, especially when dyed to simulate Hudson seal. ( ("Hudson seal" wtf?!)
• • •

This is ambitious and, at times, very clever. But too often the phrasing on the themers felt quite off, and the overall quality of the fill was on the low side. The short bad stuff becomes a major issue when it's not offset by a preponderance of wonderful fill and/or a great theme. ERGOT LAH IBN OTOE ANNI and I hadn't gotten out of the NW yet. You can tell what the tolerance level is going to be for elder-fill pretty soon after starting a crossword. There just wasn't nearly enough snappy fill to rescue this thing. IN A SNARL ... you don't ever want to give your long answers over to such awkward phrases. Or to bygone things like the ACE AWARDs or to arcane things like TRIOLETS. Or to arbitrary things like TEN TO ONE. Or to actual old terms *signifying* oldness like GRANDDAD. It was very interesting to see how the various theme answers played out in their respective parts of the grid, but awkward theme phrasing + DUDS aplenty in the fill meant the overall solving experience wasn't so hot.

I have no idea what CHANGING CARD is. That is not a trick I know or have every heard of. I mean, I'm guessing that the magician somehow makes a card appear to change ... but it's no SAWING A LADY IN HALF, in terms of iconic magic tricks, I'll tell you that. LEVITATING MAN is worse. What is that? I know that Blaine has appeared to make himself levitate, but is that the LEVITATING MAN ... trick??? Oy. Changing KING to ACE at 55A: PEACE was absolutely brutal, especially considering that section was already blarghishly tough, what with GYM SHOES (I had OLD SHOES) and GLYPH (??) and is-it-LOA-or-is-it-KEA (worst magic trick ever) and the utterly ridiculous, please-take-it-back-and-smash-it YOWEE. I thought I was going to die in that section. And I mean die, as in not finish. At all. I stalled for what felt like a long time. I guess I would've gotten in there eventually once I noticed the theme clue indicating a CHANGING CARD but yowie that hurt. Anyway, I like the ambition but it was too rough and wobbly for me.

That said, Eric Berlin is in general an excellent puzzle-maker *and* he is one of the only people I know making top-notch puzzles *for kids*. Solve sample puzzles and sign up for a free weekly puzzle here:

All my love to the non-Nazis of Charlottesville.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. re: 30A: Sugar found in beer (MALTOSE)


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Gudrun's victim in Norse myth / SAT 8-12-17 / Cambridge student informally / Applesauce topped nosh / Vintage military plane / Candle scent popular at Christmas / Some ancient Cretan statues

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Constructor: Kameron Austin Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Greaves (26D: Greaves, e.g.) —
A greave (from the Old French greve "shin, shin armour" from the Arabic jaurab, meaning stocking) is a piece of armour that protects the leg. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hell of a one-two punch this week with the Friday and Saturday themelesses. Both of them first rate. This one was definitely tougher, though only about as much as you'd expect a Saturday to be tougher than a Friday. Again, the 1-Across rule was in effect, as I threw down CANTAB immediately (it's about the stupidest word for any collegian that I can think of, and I know it only from crosswords). Puzzle opens up nicely when you can plunk down 1-Across with no problem. Danced around some tough cluing—verb in adjective's clothing at 2D: Not fancy at all (ABHOR), ambiguous adjective at 1D: Dateable one (CATCH)—until finally COMMITMENTPHOBE became clear and I was into the heart of the grid. There were an odd lot of gimmes up top—CANTAB DAMONE ETSY RIPPER COINSTAR—so it's a good thing there was a real wrench in the works that made me have to stop and earn my progress. That wrench: TOPONYM (16A: Champagne is one). With "Champagne," I was thinking beverage and also region, but TOPONYM is a very uncommon word, and even having TOPO- didn't help (TOP what? TOP what!?). How did I remember LILIAN Jackson Braun's name?? Probably just from seeing it on the spines of books in the crime/mystery section. She must be fairly prolific. I feel like her books often take up a fair chunk of shelf real estate. Anyway, she helped today. Thanks, LILIAN (d. 2011).

What is a BAYBERRY? (10D: Candle scent popular at Christmas). Seriously. That answer crossing TOPONYM was rough. Also rough: the SW corner. That was where I finished, and for a while it looked like I wasn't going to. First problem down there was that I went with NEUROELASTICITY as opposed to BRAIN PLASTICITY (clue has "neuro-" in it, so that's my bad) (41A: Ability to learn and adapt neurologically). After that was sorted, I had to confront the fact that I didn't really know what "greaves" were. In my head they were like some kind of reed or other basket fiber (osier?), and maybe you used them to bind ... things?? 🎶Bringing in the greaves, bringing in the greaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the greaves?🎶 No idea what I was thinking of. Let's just say that I was so in the weeds that when I had it down to L-G ARMOR I went with LOG ARMOR. I also had SOILED (duh) instead of ROILED (46A: Muddied). So both WARBIRD and WENT were problems. Finally realized LOG ARMOR was ****ing stupid, and fixed it. The rest is history.

  • ATLI (5D: Gudrun's victim, in Norse myth) — vintage crosswordese. Normally highly unwelcome (like its cousin, ATRI). But I can handle a stray bit of antique oof when the overall product is this smooth and pleasing. 
  • WYNNE (40D: Arthur ___, inventor of the crossword puzzle) — Have you read "FUN" yet? It's a novel and a comic and a history of the crossword all in one. WYNNE figures prominently.
  • RANSOM OLDS (36A: Founder of two automobile companies)RANSOM OLDS is the TRINI LOPEZ of this puzzle. Full name action!
  • "SAYS ME!" (49A: Bully's reply) — I had "MAKE ME!" Felt right.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Breakfast brand since 1897 / FRI 8-11-17 / Hilarious succeeded him in AD 461 / Film character who says ET stay with me / Rap group whose name comes from martial arts film / Onetime Mughal capital / Singer of 1965 hit Lemon tree / Self-titled pop debut of 1991 / View from Piazzale Michelangelo / Fail ancient crowning stone

Friday, August 11, 2017

Constructor: Hal Moore

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: TRINI LOPEZ (56A: Singer of the 1965 hit "Lemon Tree") —
Trinidad "Trini" López III (born May 15, 1937) is an American singer, guitarist, and actor. His first album included a version of "If I Had a Hammer", which earned him a Golden Disc. Other hits included "Lemon Tree", "I'm Comin' Home, Cindy" and "Sally Was a Good Old Girl". He designed two guitars for the Gibson Guitar Corporation, which are now collectors’ items. (wikipedia)
• • •

I hadn't even gotten out of the NW before I was thinking "I Love This Puzzle." That corner (and I would extend this to the puzzle as a whole) was a like a great scifi show w/ a majority black cast (but not that sucky "Matrix" sequel, whichever it was ... "Revolutions"?? ... anyway, a hypothetical such show, and a great one). Stargazing and TIME TRAVEL but also NELL Carter in WATTS with the WU TANG CLAN (that sounds like a guess in the world's coolest version of Clue). Once the SHETLAND PONY showed up, I knew this was my kind of party. Never mind that I count nine (9!) different short answers that I Do Not care for (IONE ALTA LEOI LIA ONETO INA AGRA CEE PLEB). It's amazing what my heart will overlook when the puzzle as a whole is so interesting and fun. Once again, the 1-Across Rule was in effect—when a longish 1A is a gimme, odds are I am going to burn the puzzle down, and that is in fact what happened, despite a couple of weird pauses in and around the dinosaur in the NE and in and around the "ancient crowning stone" in the SE.

"E.T." and "Doctor Who" *and* "THE X-FILES"!? I don't / didn't even watch the latter two, but I can't help but admire the commitment to the conceptual grid-flooding. Two things you might be learning for the first time today. One, TRINI LOPEZ is a man. I know *I* thought TRINI was a woman for a long time, since I had never heard anything by ... him, it turns out. You used to see TRINI a lot in the grid, so getting that answer wasn't tough for me, but I can tell from Twitter that that answer (and that corner in general) was a disaster zone for a lot of people (it is probably both the oldest and shakiest corner today). Two, IRV Gotti is not some old Italian guy. He is a Gen-X black man who is a very prominent hip-hop producer from way back (if your idea of "way back" is the '90s) (puzzle actually has a strong '90s-music flavor, with WU TANG CLAN and IRV and ALANIS putting in appearances). My favorite mistake (speaking of '90s music...) was at 28D: "___ again?" where I quickly and admiringly put in "YOU." I mean, YET's OK, but that clue really really wants "YOU." Overall, a delightful EXTRAVAGANZA. I hope you had at least half as good a time as I did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Roman emperor who overthrew Galba / THU 8-10-17 / Wine informally / Musician whose first name is toy / Standout in quad / Letters that might precede 10001

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Constructor: John E. Bennett and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BY HOOK OR BY CROOK (55A: Whatever it takes ... as hinted at in the arrangements of black squares around the circled letters) (which spell out FISH near the "hook" and LAMB near the "crook")— DESCRIPTION

Other theme answer:
  • ONE WAY OR ANOTHER (17A: Whatever it takes)
Word of the Day: Martha RAYE (5D: "The Martha ___ Show" of 1950s TV) —
Martha Raye (August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994) was an American comic actress and singer who performed in movies, and later on television. She also acted in plays, including Broadway.[1] She was honored in 1969 with an Academy Award as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient for her volunteer efforts and services to the troops. [...] She was known for the size of her mouth, which was large in proportion to her face, earning her the nickname The Big Mouth. She later referred to this in a series of television commercials for Polident denture cleaner in the 1980s: "So take it from The Big Mouth: new Polident Green gets tough stains clean!" Her large mouth would relegate her motion picture work to supporting comic parts, and was often made up so it appeared even larger. In the Disney cartoon Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, she is caricatured while dancing alongside Joe E. Brown, another actor known for a big mouth. In the Warner Bros. cartoon The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos (1937), she was caricatured as a jazzy scat-singing donkey named 'Moutha Bray'. // In 1968, she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in the form of an Oscar. On November 2, 1993, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton for her service to her country. (wikipedia)
• • •
That doesn't look like a hook and *that* doesn't look like a crook so this puzzle is D.O.A. Don't try to sell me the black-squares-as-shapes thing unless that visual is tiiight. Also, looks like this puzzle has precisely two theme answers (excluding FISH and LAMB), and yet it's still CLONKed full of flub like TONIO and BMOC (what year is it?) and OTHO (otho they din't!) and SST. Strange-shaped grid made for lots of short stuff, which always makes for something short of a good time. I love love love THE THING IS ... (3D: "What you have to realize..."). It is the thing that is best about this puzzle. But otherwise, MEH, you can have it back.

Two interesting moments during this solve. The first was when irresistible rage met immovable laughter at 12D: Silent part of "mnemonic" (THE "M"). It's both terrible and stupid. And terribly stupid. It wants to be clever, but is more hateful because it wants it so bad. I would accept THEL (as in "Take ___ Out of Lover and It's Over" (1982 Motels hit)) much much more readily than I would accept this nonsense. THEM is not only a perfectly good word, it's a word that can be clued so so so many ways. Fun ways. Also, THE "M" is not at all silent in "mnemonic." No it's not. Look again. See. Not. Unless clue is THEFIRSTM, the answer is *invalid*. And also stupid. The second interesting (and far less stupid) part of the solve came in the SW corner, where I messed up virtually everything you could mess up—so bad that only somehow figuring out the themer from a couple of correct letters allowed me to make any sense of that corner at all. I have MALES for 45D: Bucks (MOOLA). I had DANG for 50D: Darn it! (HOLE) (sidenote—you want to use that (sorry to reuse this word) stupid cluing tactic where you go [Verb it!] and the answer you want is actually the "it"?! And you want to do it not once but twice!?!? (see PANDORA'S BOX 25D: Don't open it!). Who thinks this way?). I had AS ONE for 58A: Together (IN ALL). Total wreck. And then the themer bailed me out.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Onetime English poet laureate Henry James / WED 8-9-17 / Flock loser of rhyme / What Rick called Ilsa / Forbidden fragrance in old ads

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Constructor: Adam G. Perl

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (proper noun issues...)

THEME: "Where a [sounds like a poker hand] can beat a [sounds like a poker hand]" — the answers have nothing to do with poker:

Theme answers:
  • CHESS MATCH (17A: Where a queen can beat a king)
  • DOUBLES TENNIS (39A: Where an ace can beat a pair)
  • SOCK DRAWER (61A: Where two pair beats three of a kind) 
Word of the Day: Onetime English poet laureate Henry James PYE (47A) —
Henry James Pye (/p/; 10 February 1744 – 11 August 1813) was an English poet. Pye was Poet Laureate from 1790 until his death. He was the first poet laureate to receive a fixed salary of £27 instead of the historic tierce of Canary wine (though it was still a fairly nominal payment; then as now the Poet Laureate had to look to extra sales generated by the prestige of the office to make significant money from the Laureateship).
• • •

There is a cuteness and cleverness in back of this theme, but the whole shebang is pretty wobbly, for a number of reasons. The reorientation from poker to a CHESS MATCH is pretty clear, pretty straightfoward. It's a game, the "beat" make a kind of sense, even if you'd never ever say a queen "beat" a king if you were referring to actual chess. But fine. Association between clue and answer gets softer in the next themer, DOUBLES TENNIS, as "a pair" makes no sense here. You only ever serve to one human in DOUBLES TENNIS, and unless it's match point, an ace "beats" precisely no one. Also, association between "pair" and doubles team is not strong. But OK, you're playing a little word game, we'll give you Super Duper leeway. Finally there's SOCK DRAWER, which is both the funniest (if this kind of humor is your thing) and the weakest of the bunch. If I open my SOCK DRAWER and see three of a kind, I still have socks for the day. True, I will have to find that fourth sock by tomorrow, but today I'm good. It's a tie. 

The fill is where this one gets rough, and occasionally unbearable. There are too many proper nouns of dubious fame here. Yes, constant solvers will have seen LEHAR and BEHAN and BINET, but probably Only In Crosswords because they get Overused because of their odd letter patterns (esp. those first two—having LEHAR and BEHAN in the same grid should cause it to implode or otherwise collapse; they're essentially the same name to me, the "holy crap I have -EHA- in my grid how do I make it work!?" (REHAB would of course be the ideal fix, but ...). Crossing BEHAN and BINET is just cruel. LEHAR and BEHAN are both known for precisely one work apiece. You gotta be better at handling proper nouns. Crossword addiction can convince you that today's names are far, far, far more commonly known than they are. Also, I grew up in CA and have never heard of the EEL River, so that is a beast of a clue (57A: California's ___ River). Also, a word about *&$&ing PYE: Literally no one knows who Henry James PYE is. I have an English Ph.D. and have been around English Ph.D.s most of my life, I've barely if ever heard of him. He was "poet laureate" over 200 years ago. He wrote nothing anyone has heard of. I love this line from wikipedia: "As a prose writer, Pye was far from contemptible." It is both stupid and sadistic to clue PYE this way.

Other slowness came from ONE instead of YOU in the central Down answer, and CRAFT instead of CARVE at 34A: Sculpt. Very choppy grid meant lots of short stuff meant less-than-lovely answers, most of the time, though GO TO THE DOGS and LAME-BRAINED are winners, for sure.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Onetime HBO series set in New Orleans / TUE 8-8-17 / Great Expectations protagonist / Kleenex of cotton swabs

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Constructor: Dan Flanagan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: no. / no. — clues all look like fractions that = 1 (i.e. one number over itself) but they all have different meanings...

Theme answers:
  • 17A: 4/4 (COMMON TIME)
  • 27A: 11/11 (VETERANS DAY) 
  • 44A: 20/20 (GREAT VISION)
  • 60A: 50/50 (EVEN STEVEN) 
Word of the Day: COMMON TIME (17A: 4/4) —
com·mon time
ˈkämən tīm/
noun: common time
  1. a rhythmic pattern in which there are four beats, especially four quarter notes, in a measure. This pattern occurs often in classical music and is the norm in rock, jazz, country, and bluegrass. (google)
• • •

Huh. OK, I like that the numbers involved go up. That's a nice feature. I'd never heard of COMMON TIME before—I was glad to see it was a thing, 'cause when I googled it I thought the answer just meant "common time signature," or "time signature one hears in a lot of songs." That is, I thought the answer was using "common" commonly, not specifically. But nope, COMMON TIME is a real, coherent thing. An actual term. Learning! But GREAT VISION ... yeah, that wasn't so great. For me. It's just an arbitrary term. COMMON TIME, specific term, VETERANS DAY, specific, GREAT VISION ... a subjective concept used here to describe vision that is commonly (!) considered very good. Swing, miss. EVEN STEVEN also feels like some cobbled together junk, i.e. it's a turn of phrase, a colloquialism. Too cutesy. So the first two themers work for me, the others feel jury-rigged for reasons of symmetry. Not nearly as precise. Thus, a letdown. I've done (much) worse Tuesday puzzles, for sure. But this one's just OK. Neither good nor bad. It hits and it misses.

Fill was also just OK. Some nice stuff, like NAMEDROP and QUICKSAND, but lots and lots of common (!!) stuff; you know, ECO ERES ADELE. Swing a cat and you'll hit a ton of it. ARAL AERO IOTA URSA PAAR ISTO UAE. On and on and on. SSN! The more I look at the grid, the less I like it. Lesson: stop looking! My only holdups today involved themers: COMMON TIME (because I didn't know what that was) and GREAT VISION (because that is not a specific thing, as we have been over). I also blanked (for seconds, which felt like minutes) on 39A: "Great Expectations" protagonist ... and I had -IP in place! I knew the answer, of course, but my brain tried to feed me the Dickens pseudonym (which I know only 'cause of crosswords), BOZ, and so the answer came out BIP, but ... I knew that wasn't right. So there was this weird giant pause right in the middle of my otherwise lightning-fast solve (just broke 3 minutes). So at least it went by quickly. Good for a Tuesday, but since that bar is so low, it's still just OK overall.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. TOE is in the grid, and [Tiptoe] is a clue (40A). A no(e)-no(e).

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A lot of them can be found on a lot / MON 8-7-17 / Something that might be picked up at the beach / Character on a collectible card / Inn, informally / Pretentious

Monday, August 7, 2017

Hiii! It's the last Annabel Monday before my internship at ThinkProgress ends, so I'll be slightly less tired next time. ...Maybe. (Seriously, though, my summer has been awesome.)


Relative difficulty: EASY

THEME: FILM DIRECTOR — The second words of the first, second and third words of the theme clues are, respectively, "LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!"

Theme answers:

  • BRIGHT LIGHTS (20A: Feature of the big city)
  • CANDID CAMERA (28A: Practical joke show first aired in 1948)
  • COVERT ACTION (44A: Secret military operation)
  • FILM DIRECTOR (53A: Speaker of the last words of 20-, 28- and 44-Across)

Word of the Day: MOTET (61A: Sacred choral work) —
In western music, a motet is a mainly vocal musical composition, of highly varied form and style, from the late medieval era to the present. The motet was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music. According to Margaret Bent, "a piece of music in several parts with words" is as precise a definition of the motet as will serve from the 13th to the late 16th century and beyond.[1]The late 13th-century theorist Johannes de Grocheo believed that the motet was "not to be celebrated in the presence of common people, because they do not notice its subtlety, nor are they delighted in hearing it, but in the presence of the educated and of those who are seeking out subtleties in the arts".[2]

• • •
OK, I'll be honest, I listed this one as easy because most of it was, but I got stuck in the bottom forever. Who thinks TAN when they hear "something that gets picked up at the beach?" I assumed it would be something like a shell or a rock.  And does ARTSY always mean pretentious? Maybe I'm mistaken in assuming this was hard for anyone else, but to ERR is human, I guess. If so, MY BAD.

Loved having FLOTSAM and JETSAM next to each other - did you know those were the names of Ursula's eels in The Little Mermaid? Man, she's easily the best Disney villain in my book.

The theme was simple. The same could be said for the whole puzzle, actually (other than the bottom where I got stuck!). It wasn't drowning in movie star names or obscure novelists, the clues were almost too straightforward (again, with a few exceptions), it was basically the ideal Monday. I'm sure Rex was bored out of his mind for the two minutes or so it took him to do it, though.

They frolic in streams and they love each other
  • KEVIN (26D: Actor Costner or Spacey) — I cannot believe they forgot Bacon. Come on.
  • OTTER (19A: Animal that frolics in streams) — I love whenever this word comes up especially with such a cute clue because did you know otters hold hands when they sleep
  • POKEMON (43D: Character on a collectible card) — Possibly the only Pokémon reference this year that wasn't a snarky comment about Pokémon Go, so, props for that. 
  • SIRI (7D: iPhone assistant) — One of Siri's lesser-known capabilities: musical collaboration.
Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired college student. (I typed "high school" last night out of habit. Whoops.)

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