Monday, September 22, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Dadaist artist Jean / MON 9-22-14 / Appurtenance for Santa Sherlock Holmes / Coastal land south of Congo / Sweet rum component / Bank heist group / Company downsizings
Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**)

THEME: Picket line — first words are all narrow, stiff implements

Theme answers:
  • STICK-UP MEN (17A: Bank heist group)
  • CANE SUGAR (24A: Sweet rum component)
  • POLE CAR (37A: Indy 500 leader)
  • STAFF CUTS (47A: Company downsizings)
  • ROD STEWART (57A: British rocker with the 1979 #1 hit "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?")
Word of the Day: Bobby RIGGS (27D: Bobby who lost 1973's Battle of the Sexes tennis match) —
Robert Larimore "Bobby" Riggs (February 25, 1918 – October 25, 1995) was an American tennis player who was the World No. 1 or the World co-No. 1 player for three years, first as an amateur in 1939, then as a professional in 1946 and 1947. He played his first professional tennis match on December 26, 1941.
At the age of 55 he competed in a challenge match against Billie Jean King, one of the top female players in the world. "The Battle of the Sexes" match was one of the most famous tennis events of all time, with a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. (wikipedia)
• • •

So I looked up "rod" in my giant J.I. Rodale Synonym Finder, and sure enough, there were "cane," "pole," "staff," and "stick" all listed as possibilities. Still, somehow "stick" and "cane" feel like different animals to me, the former redolent with the aroma of tree-ness, the latter inseparable from its specific status as a walking aid. "Pole" and "rod" seem less organic, more generic. "Staff" seems somewhere in between—probably wooden, but not as arboreal or sculpted as "stick" and "cane," respectively. Am I over thinking this? Of course. It's not like I noticed a theme at all when I was solving. I'm just saying I've seen tighter themes. I mean, why not have a series of answers that start "alpenstock," "quirt," "crosier," "stanchion," and "caduceus"? I mean, aside from the practical consideration that there are no phrases that start with any of those words? Rodale says it's OK! Quirt! Do it!

Why was this measurably harder than your average Monday? I finished in 3:20 (about half a minute slower than average) and noticed that my time would have put me near the top of the leader board at the NYT puzzle site—not a place I should be anywhere near with that time on a Monday. Both the long Downs (the 9s, I mean) were tough for to get, the first  ("COME GET ME") because of the unusualness of the clue phrase—11D: "I'm stranded and need a ride"—as well as the SPAM / SCAM trap I can't be the only one to have fallen into (10A: Almost any "Get rich quick!" offer); the second (PUTS ASIDE) because the clue carries the suggestion of moving something to the "back burner," and ASIDE is a fundamentally different direction than "back." I get that we're working in figurative language here, but try telling that to my brain.

Do not like the OLE-over-OLE (from POLECAR) in the middle of the grid. STAFF CUTS strikes me as a real thing, but not a very lovely, clean, or tight thing. A [Fight between late-night hosts, e.g.] is, in modern parlance, a BEEF. A FEUD involves Hatfields, McCoys, Clampitts, or Families. I have no idea what "late-night hosts" could have to do with FEUDs, since it's no longer the early '90s. Cross-referenced STATE clue slowed me down, as did the "Where's my dang globe?" quality of 54A: Coastal land south of Congo (ANGOLA). Side note, and true story: my wife bought a globe today. "I saw it at Target … it was $14." Not the strongest rationale, but countries have been invaded for flimsier reasons, so we left it there.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/22/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Drama critic John of New Yorker / SUN 9-21-14 / Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain / Late disc jockey Casey / Posthumous John Donne poem / pioneering song by Sugarhill Gang / Old track holders / Dog for gentleman detective / Germinal novelist
Constructor: Michael Ashley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Nascar Rocks!" — "Rock" songs that have been subjected to racing-related puns:

Theme answers:
  • WON'T GET FUELED AGAIN (27A: "Hey, what did you think when you missed that last pit stop?" [The Who, 1971])
  • I KISSED A GRILLE (42A: "Did you do anything for luck before today's race?" [Katy Perry, 2008])
  • MOVES LIKE JAGUAR (65A: "How did that new car handle out there on the track?" [Maroon 5, 2011])
  • BRAKE ON THROUGH (93A: "What did you try to do after the caution flag came out?" [The Doors, 1967])
  • LIVIN' LA VEHICLE LOCA (109A: "Are you enjoying your time out on the Nascar circuit?" [Ricky Martin, 1999])

Word of the Day: John LAHR (19A: Drama critic John of The New Yorker) —
John Henry Lahr (born July 12, 1941) is an American theater critic, and the son of actor Bert Lahr. Since 1992, he has been the senior drama critic at The New Yorker magazine. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle had its work cut out for it with me, as few things interest me less than "Nascar." Hunting, Dr. Who, "The Bachelor" … these are also possible Sunday theme topics that would hold no interest for me. But today, Nascar. [Deep breath]. OK, let's do this. And … they're off? Is that right? Or is that horse racing? Start your engines!?

So here's the thing. Well, several things. First, puns. Always an uphill battle there. There *is* a pun sweet spot that I do believe exists, somewhere between "obvious/corny" and "ridiculous/nonsensical," but it's so hard to hit. Today's were a mixed bag, with the first three arguably successful, the fourth way too spot-on to be interesting, and the fourth a total train (or today, car) wreck. "Vida" and VEHICLE sound nothing alike, the resulting phrase makes no sense on any level, etc. Total fail. You're supposed to end with your strongest themer. Maybe there's a subtlety to the theme that I'm missing—like, you know how people (allegedly) watch Nascar because they *want* to see crashes!? Maybe this last answer is so terrible because it's trying to give the people what they want: flames; wreckage; car-nage. It's a theory.

And what's up with there being only five themers!? That's absurd. I've seen (many) daily puzzles with more theme answers. You'd think we'd at least get a fascinating, zippy grid as some kind of payoff for the super-low theme answer count, but no. The fill is probably a bit below par, overall, with some notable exceptions in the longer fill: "THE FLEA" (one of the most brilliant poems ever written, I teach it next month, etc etc, though the "posthumous" part is weird—all of Donne's poems appeared in print only after his death, but circulated relatively widely in manuscripts before that … so "posthumous" is correct only where *print* is concerned, and gives a false impression about the poem's public life and popularity during Donne's lifetime … is what I'm saying) … where was I? Oh right, good long stuff: "RAPPER'S Delight …

 DOGGEREL, and the symmetrical, improbable double feature of "ANIMAL HOUSE" and "CITIZEN KANE." Mostly, though, it's EHS and ERS and NEEDER (!?) and on and on with less-than-great stuff. Also, SCOUT MOTTO is a clue, not an answer. I don't even know what WAGNERIANS are? Fans of Wagner are called that?? I'd've gone with "Wag hags" or something at least slightly catchy. Anyway, the theme has some charm, but is less than expertly executed, and inexplicably slight. Fill is so-so at best. I will give the theme credit, however, for having a wide range of "rock" songs, including a couple from this century. Often, with pop culture, constructors tend to favor their own comfort zones. So hurray for breadth (even if that does mean that I'm kind of half-way hurraying for Katy Perry).

Puzzle of the Week this week is a meta puzzle contest puzzle by Neville Fogarty—the guest constructor this week at Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. You should go do it. Still plenty of time to enter. The grid is nicely made, but it's the meta part of the puzzle that's truly impressive, at least to me. It's quite a toughie, though, I should warn you. Many people I know are still struggling to figure it out. This is not uncommon with MGWCC—sometimes the metas are a walk in the park, and other times, less walk more crawl, less park more tundra. Still, if you manage to get the meta, I promise you'll have a nice "aha" moment (as well as a pretty sizable feeling of accomplishment).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/21/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter / SAT 9-20-14 / Red juice hybrid / Word with deux nous / Nobelist Frederick pioneer in radiochemistry / Home of Unesco World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri
Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none … whoops, sorry, I mean CTR (56D: Abbr. found a the 56-Down of this puzzle's four longest answers)

Word of the Day: Frederick SODDY (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) —
Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

[Note: I did this entire write-up without realizing that there was a theme… see bracketed note following the original write-up, below]

Solid, aggressively contemporary offering from Mr. Agard. It has all the hallmarks of an Agard puzzle—hard, modern, trickily clued. I found this one less awe-inspiring and slightly more laborious than I typically find his independent puzzles (which you can experience on a mostly weekly basis at his website, "Glutton for Pun"). But it's nonetheless an above-average themeless. I think my slightly diminished enthusiasm comes from the Harry Potter answer, QUIRRELL (14A: Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter) —a name I don't really remember, and I've read them all (looks like he's from the first book … OK then). Kind of a deep cut. It's original, but it'll be meaningless to lots of people. All the crosses are fair, though, and in fact the fact that the final letter seemed to have to be an "L" really helped me see LG ELECTRONICS more quickly than I would've otherwise—["Life's Good" sloganeer] is a terrible clue; or, rather, "Life's Good" is a terrible slogan. Banal and meaningless. I see that "Life's Good" is a phrase with the initials "L.G." but I doubt that helps anyone remember the connection between slogan and company.

"PROJECT RUNWAY" was a gimme, but with another dull clue (33A: Fashion series since 2004). I was grateful for the easy answer, though. Helped me change SANTA to CLAUS (37A: Asner's "Elf" role)—bit of a cheap trick, that. After that, the bottom part of the grid got a whole lot easier. Got HTTPS right away and closed in on the SW corner from both sides, then ran through the SE corner in a flash (having just come back from ASANA practice earlier in the evening). It was the NE corner that really held me up. Speaking of held up, 8D: Holds up (LASTS) really held me up, largely because I read it as having the sense in which I am using it in this sentence (i.e. "delays"), one of at least two possible (wrong) clue interpretations I can think of there. I had ASPECT RATIO and AGRA and ENTRE, but couldn't get much more to fly up there for a little while. And besides the "S" in SNL (32D: TV inits. since 10/11/75), I had nothing at the bottom part of that NE corner either. Eventually figured out DIET SODA, then SEP., and then got all the big stuff up there, including the lovely and (for a nice change of pace) old-fashioned / quaint-sounding UNWIELDY and PANOPLY.

All that was left was the obscure D&D clue (29D: Dungeons & Dragons attributes) (no idea how "attributes" was being used there; had -WERS, considered only TOWERS) and the even more obscure (to my mind) radiochemistry clue (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) (had S-DDY). Oh, and 29A: Viewfinder? (I had -OLL). Only by running the alphabet and finally getting POLL did I finally settle on POWERS / SODDY. SODDY seems pretty shoddy to me—he's the QUIRRELL of Nobel laureates—but again, crosses ended up fair, so … I think I'm supposed to be "excited" to "learn new things," or something like that. Anyway, this is all very good, very suitably Saturday. Nothing to geek out over, unless you geek out over Harry Potter (as some do), but with a clean grid, fresh fill, and fiendishly riddlish clues (now Tom RIDDLE, I know), this shows great promise.


[So, there was a theme—CTR at "center" of each longer answer … that explains why the fill wasn't as banging as I expected from an Agard "themeless." This is what happens when you a. aren't looking for a theme because it's Saturday, and b. blow through a corner so easily you don't actually see all the clues. Anyway, the theme is impressive (dead center!)—it didn't add any fun to the solving experience (CTR not being the funnest of answers), but the puzzle architecture is an interesting thing to remark upon, post-solve]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/20/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Colony in ancient Magna Graecia / FRI 9-19-14 / Alcopop relative / South American cowboy / One living in urban poverty pejoratively / Toon toned down for 1930s Hays code / Divine showbiz persona / Nickname for Oliver Cromwell
Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PEIGNOIR (36D: Negligee) —
A woman's loose-fitting dressing gown.

[French, from Old French peignouer, linen covering used while combing oneself, from peigner, to comb the hair, from Latin pectināre, from pecten, pectin-, comb.]

Read more:
• • •

This has charm and bounce. It's contemporary, but also features PEIGNOIRs and Oliver Cromwell, so it's got range. ONE POTATO is making me laugh—out of its cluing context, it makes about as much sense as THREE ORANGES. But it recalls singsongy childhood incantations, so even its relative partiality, I like it. SLUMDOG I like less (48A: One living in urban poverty, pejoratively). When it's not part of a movie name, its pejorativity really leaps off the page. The NE corner stands out as dull and weak in a puzzle that is otherwise solid and entertaining. RELLENO and LLANERO are virtual anagrams of one another (just one letter difference), and when combined with all the common fill / common letters in much of the rest of the fill up there (ELEA, TELE, ATEIN, NEO), the result is an anemic corner—though it's anemicness is probably highlighted today by contrast with how good the rest of the grid is, particularly the NW.

Speaking of the NW—HUMBLEBRAG was an instant gimme at 1A: Self-praise couched in self-deprecation, in modern lingo, and launched me into the grid with such force that I finished the whole thing in roughly a Wednesday time. That might be bragging, but I assure you, it is not humble. I just crushed this thing. Maybe it's because Finn and I are friends … OK, so we just went out to dinner that one time, and it was with a bunch of other people, but that's the closest thing I have to "friends" so just let me have this one, OK? He's my friend! We act alike and think alike and even finish each other's … sentences! That's right? How did you know I was going to say that? Are you and I also friends? No? HOMIES? Hmm. At any rate, I felt a mind meld going on, and consequently I Owned this puzzle.

LENA DUNHAM was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine this week. The clue for her was far too easy, I think. I'd've gone with [something writer actress something blah blah who is writing a four-part story for Archie Comics in 2015]. It makes me almost giddy to know that Archie will be my daughter's gateway drug to LENA DUNHAM. My daughter, having just started high school, having just started having a meaningful SOCIAL LIFE, having (god bless her) no interest in "Twilight" or Taylor LAUTNER, could use, I think, some LENA DUNHAM in her life. But baby steps. Archie steps.

Gonna go watch the Scottish referendum returns. Looks like NAE, but the night's still young …

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/19/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Celebrity couple portmanteau / THU 9-18-14 / Tree in giraffe's diet / Tree-dwelling snake / Unhelpful spelling clarification #1 / Female motorcyclists in biker slang
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: CASEY (16A: Man trying to clarify the spelling of his name in 21-, 25, 38-, 52- and 57-Across) — Theme answers all start "C as in …," "A as in …," etc. with each answer ending (unhelpfully) in a word that sounds like another letter of the alphabet; thus:
The "punchline" being that one might think the fellow's name is "QRCIU" (66A: What the listener might think 16-Across's name is?)

Word of the Day: KIMYE (32D: Celebrity couple portmanteau) —
Proper noun
  1. (slang) The couple consisting of celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
Blend of Kim and Kanye. (—"Your Dictionary: The Dictionary You Can Understand")
• • •

This was a weird one—mostly in a good way. 16 wide. That's a little weird. I got the basic theme concept early on, at C AS IN CUE. Before I had that answer filled out, I thought it was going to be something playing on different possible pronunciations of "C"—something like "C AS IN CEL." Once I got it, though, I saw that the resulting words were going to sound like different letters. Cool. Funny. And the man's name is going to be CASEY. Great. Let's go. The problem for me was mainly one of let-down. First, the other theme answers, by their very nature, didn't have much playfulness about them and (since I knew the core concept) were in no way surprising. And since the grid has no real sparkle—it's very clean and solid, but it's mostly Monday-level fill with no remarkable longer answers—I worked through it without that much pleasure (except a bit of smug pleasure, which turned quickly to guilty pleasure, at getting KIMYE and YOLO so quickly).

Let-down part II was that the revealer is an absurdity. I don't just mean that QRCIU is literally absurd, i.e. meaningless, but that the core conceit—that one would think that that is how the fictional CASEY was spelling his name—is preposterous. If you say "C AS IN CUE," no one thinks you are saying the first letter is "Q." Actually, scratch that. With "C AS IN CUE," the conceit actually kinda Does work, in that there is a word that sounds like CUE (namely QUEUE) that *does* start with "Q." It's the other letters where it doesn't work. Anyone hearing "blank as in blank" knows that the first blank is a letter and the second blank is a word. Not a letter. A AS IN ARE could not lead anyone to think that the second letter is "R" because there is no word *starting* with "R" that sounds like "ARE." And I see there is a "?" on the end of the 66-Across clue, so … OK, but this is simply not how the "blank as in blank" thing works. I can see now that picking up on the "the last words in the theme answers all sound like letters" concept almost instantly really spoiled whatever the revealer was supposed to do for me. So I started out impressed, but the feeling wore off a bit by the end.

Best wrong answer—66A: What the listener might think CASEY's name is?: QUE SI.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/18/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Dickens' scheming clerk / WED 9-17-14 / Original Veronica Mars airer / Literary hybrid / Drink made with Jameson / Gender-bending role for Barbra Streisand
Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel and Don Gagliardo

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: POLLINATION (62: Job done by the insects seen above the circled words in 17-, 26- and 50-Across) — grid features three flowers (IRIS, ASTER, ROSE) and a "BEE" atop each one:

Theme answers:
  • IRISH COFFEE (17A: Drink made with Jameson, maybe)
  • YES, MASTER (26A: Genie's reply)
  • PROSE POEM (50A: Literary hybrid)
Word of the Day: POGO (42D: Okefenokee possum) —
Pogo is the title and central character of a long-running daily American comic strip, created by cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973) and distributed by the Post-Hall Syndicate. Set in theOkefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States, the strip often engaged in social and political satire through the adventures of its anthropomorphic funny animal characters.
Pogo combined both sophisticated wit and slapstick physical comedy in a heady mix ofallegory, Irish poetry, literary whimsy, puns and wordplay, lushly detailed artwork and broadburlesque humor. The same series of strips can be enjoyed on different levels by both young children and savvy adults. The strip earned Kelly a Reuben Award in 1951. (wikipedia)
• • •

Good morning. Late post today (7:15 am-ish). Poor night's sleep on Monday + full day teaching Tuesday + long walk in the woods with the dogs + first night of Binghamton Restaurant Week last night (which involved a Little alcohol) = me walking in the door last night and almost instantly falling asleep for ten hours. These things happen. The puzzle was cute. I didn't notice the theme at all until I'd finished, and then I had a nice little moment of "oh, look at that: BEEs." You usually see "hidden" (in this case "circled") words straddling the two words of a theme answer, but they're pushed off to one edge here for a reason—in order to more easily accommodate the BEEs. So that seems fine. Grid isn't crowded with theme answers, so the fill has a little room to breathe and as a result is not terrible. If I could send one answer back, it would probably be REDOSE. Maybe ROLEO or EDA, neither of whom I have ever seen outside a grid. But like I say, the rest seems pretty solid, particularly the long Downs. SWEET TALK wins Best Answer (11D: Cajole).

SWEET TALK was also the hardest thing for me to see. I did most of this puzzle at a Monday pace, but that NE corner held me up a bit because I couldn't see either of those long Downs for a bit. Had AMS (?) for 16A: Like early morning hours (WEE(pro tip: when the clue clearly calls for an adjective, try an adjective). Never heard of Fort Donelson National Battlefield, so TENNESSEE had to come from crosses. Forgot there was a PETER Farrelly. And worst of all, had Mountain DEW *and* had never (ever) heard of "mountain ASH." I assume it's a … tree? Yes! "Mountain ash is a name used for several trees, none of immediate relation" (wikipedia). Useful! So there was a little struggle up there. The rest of the puzzle put up no resistance, except Miss ELLIE (51D: "Dallas" matriarch). She was a little ornery. Got her confused with a cow there for a bit (ELSIE).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
9/17/2014 11:15:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Resin used in incense / TUE 9-16-14 / 1990s R B group with repetitive sounding name / early mets manager Hodges / Family in 2009 best seller This Family of Mine / City midway between Detroit Toronto
Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium (with lots of variation likely)

THEME: ON and ON and ON (52A: How a motormouth talks … or what 20-, 29- and 43-Across literally have in common) — theme answers feature the letter pairing "ON" three times

Theme answers:
  • TONY TONI TONÉ (20A: 1990s R&B group with a repetitive-sounding name)
  • LONDONONTARIO (29A: City midway between Detroit and Toronto)
  • MONSOON SEASON (43A: June to September, in India)
Word of the Day: ELEMI (33D: Resin used in incense) —
Canarium luzonicum, commonly known as elemi, is a tree native to the Philippines, and anoleoresin harvested from it. // Elemi resin is a pale yellow substance, of honey-like consistency. Aromatic elemi oil is steam distilledfrom the resin. It is a fragrant resin with a sharp pine and lemon-like scent. One of the resin components is called amyrin.
Elemi resin is chiefly used commercially in varnishes and lacquers, and certain printing inks. It is used as a herbal medicine to treat bronchitiscatarrh, extreme coughing, mature skin, scars, stress, and wounds. The constituents include phellandrenelimoneneelemolelemicinterpineolcarvone, and terpinolene. (wikipedia) (not to be confused with the 1985 John Malkovich film "ELENI" or the 1983 book it's based on)
• • •

This theme is slightly kooky and fairly entertaining. Must be pretty difficult to come up with a symmetrical set of these 3xON phrases, because LONDON, ONTARIO is a pretty deep cut. I've been there … well, I drove past on my way to McMaster University in Hamilton. Anyway, I have first-hand experience of the place, is what I'm saying, and I don't know how commonly known LONDON, ONTARIO is in the States. TONY TONI TONÉ was very well known at one point, but I have a feeling that answer is going to be the primarily stumbling block for a good chunk of solvers today. They had a string of #1 R&B hits in the late '80s / early '90s. Raphael Saadiq (whose name is crying out to be in crosswords) has a pretty successful solo career now. Even if you had heard of them, it's quite possible you didn't know exactly how to spell their name. For that, you can certainly be forgiven.

ELEMI is pretty horrid, but most of the rest of the fill is pretty good. I thought the pedal was a "WAH WAH" pedal. Just one WAH? Wha? Puzzle played very easy for me, generally. One answer that gave me a little trouble was the one with perhaps the best (in the sense of craziest-sounding) clue—3D: Like sheer fabric or sautéed onions (TRANSLUCENT). Very nice (despite the duped ENT, which is also duped in TENTS and CENT, and which is anagrammed in TEN). Also, RAINS ON crossing MONSOON SEASON—hat tip to that. My only real mistake came at 52D: Choice on a gambling line (OVER). I had ODDS.

That is all.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/16/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Polynesian island whose internet suffix is tv / MON 9-15-14 / Old British rule in India / Diana Rigg's role on Avengers
    Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: JELLY (67A: What quivering legs feel like … or a word that can precede the starts of 17-, 27-, 45- and 60-Across) —

    Theme answers:
    • BELLY DANCER (17A: Performer who may have a navel decoration)
    • FISH AND CHIPS (27A: Some British pub food)
    • ROLL OF THE DIE (45A: Risk, figuratively)
    • BEAN SPROUTS (60A: Common stir-fry ingredients)
    Word of the Day: TUVALU (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) —
    Tuvalu (Listeni/tˈvɑːl/ too-vah-loo or /ˈtvəl/ too-və-loo), formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway betweenHawaii and Australia. It comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of  to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an oceanic area of approximately 900,000 km2. Its nearest neighbours are KiribatiNauruSamoa and Fiji. Its population of 10,837 makes it the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, with only the Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. In terms of physical land size, at just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than theVatican City at 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi), Monaco at 1.98 km2 (0.76 sq mi), and Nauru at 21 km2(8.1 sq mi). (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Quaint. A "word that can precede" puzzle. Feels like I haven't seen one in a while, though I do so many puzzles, maybe I have and I just forgot (they don't tend to be memorable). JELLY Bellies and JELLY beans are really too close to one another. In a puzzle like this, your themers (in this case, your JELLYs) really should all be quite distinct, one from the next, and as far as I know the only difference between your bellies and your beans is that the former is a brand, and … maybe it's smaller and less waxy? I don't know. I do know that they're too related to hold down different theme positions. This theme is stretched a little thin. Hard to do. DONUT isn't going to give you many good answer options, and you've already got the edible sweet "jelly roll" represented here. Jelly sandals are definitely a thing, but maybe not a Monday thing? Anyway, I call "foul" on the JELLY Belly / JELLY bean redundancy.

    I would've called foul on "ROLL OF THE DIE," because I have always heard "dice," but there's plenty of attestation for the answer in the grid. Overall, the fill is pretty decent, for the most part. OENO-, S'IL, and (*especially*) -ISE have no place in most grids, but especially in an easy Monday grid. The -ISE is clearly a casualty of the rampant Scrabble-f*cking there in the SW (you can see the same thing happening in the NE, only the result there are slightly less dire). Just for fun, I redid those corners, maintaining all the gratuitously Scrabbly letters.

    I like mine better, though some may balk at IMO and/or IGO—and of course my best advice is Never Do This. Make the grid as Good as it can be, not as chock full o' "Z"s as it can be. This is especially important for new constructors. Trust me on this. Go for smoothness and overall high quality over superficial 'zazz that means you have to stomach "-ISE" in your grid.

    ["Dr. JAZZ Dr. JAZZ, make my JELLY roll…"]

    Mid-range non-theme answers in this puzzle are quite good. EMMA PEEL + "The PRISONER" = '60s TV fabulousness and the JOHN DOE / FATALLY symmetry is very nicely done. Perhaps not intentionally done, but who cares? KIDNAPS, also good. Wish "ARCHER" had gotten the TV clue it deserves. Speaking of "TV," what is up with that TUVALU clue? (47D: Polynesian land whose Internet suffix is .tv) It's true, that is the most obscure thing in this otherwise easy grid, but it seems a little much to give away two letters in the clue. Crossword clues very rarely just hand you letters like that. Ouch, just saw INAS. Gonna stop now before I notice more warts. Puzzle was OK!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      9/15/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Lost lady in Raven / SUN 9-14-14 / Philippine province with repetitive name / Cleaning aid since 1889 / 2012 gold-medal gymnast Raisman / Ocho Jamaican resort / Clove hitch sheepshank / German city on Baltic / Hip-hop record mogul Gotti / Speedy Nort
      Constructor: Tony Orbach and Patrick Blindauer

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: "Celebrity Spoonerisms" — just what it says. (Definition of "spoonerism" HERE)

      Theme answers:
      • CAINE PILLAR (from "painkiller") (26A: Actor Michael's means of support?)
      • FEY HEALED (from "hay field") (28A: Comic Tina recovered from her wound?)
      • LEE SCION (from "sea lion") (42A: Heir of martial artist Bruce?)
      • FIRTH BOTHER (from "birth father") (52A: Annoyance for actor Colin?)
      • GERE BOGGLES (from "beer goggles") (68A: Thunderstruck critic's review for actor Richard?)
      • SHEEN CLEATS (from "clean sheets") (88A: What actor Martin calls his athletic footwear?)
      • WEST MYTH (from "messed with") (97A: Urban legend about rapper Kanye?)
      • BYRNE TACK (from "turn back") (114A: Musician David's equestrian accouterments?)
      • POEHLER SOUR (from "solar power") (117A: Tart cocktail named for comic Amy?)
      Word of the Day: ALY Raisman (59A: 2012 gold-medal gymnast Raisman) —
      Alexandra Rose "AlyRaisman (born May 25, 1994) is an American artistic gymnast.
      At the 2012 Summer Olympics, she was captain of the gold medal-winning US women's gymnastics team, and individually won a gold medal on the floor and a bronze medal on the balance beam. She was also on the US teams that won a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships. In 2013, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Very straightforward theme that rides entirely on whether the spoonerisms (and/or their clues) are funny. Spoonerizing for spoonerizing's sake—who cares? Spoonerize your way into a gloriously ridiculous phrase—bingo. The more unlikely and outrageous the spoonerism is, the better. I thought these were mostly pretty good. Some—like CAINE PILLAR and SHEEN CLEATS—felt a little dry, but FIRTH BOTHER is great for both the weirdness of its surface as well as the unexpected base phrase; POEHLER SOUR and BYRNE TACK both have radical respellings despite being perfect spoonerisms, and so have a certain visual interest; and GERE BOGGLES is just a home run on all counts. It belongs at the center. My main criticism of this theme is how loose and arbitrary it seems. I mean … I assume you could do several more Sunday puzzles with this same conceit. I don't think "Celebrity" is a narrow enough category. Something a little narrower, something that could've lent itself to a halfway decent title … I mean, this title's not even trying. You're very close to all actors here. LEE was an actor, and you could clue WEST as an actress, so it's just BYRNE that's holding you back. Actually, I take that back: Gabriel BYRNE is a pretty prominent actor, actually. So maybe all actors and a title that plays on the word "acting" somehow … I'm just saying that not a lot of thought appears to have gone into making the theme tight, or the title interesting.

      The clue on FEY HEALED (Comic Tina recovered from her wound?) is kind of unfortunate, given that she was in fact wounded, with a knife, as a child … I mean, not that she'd be offended or anything. There was just a violence about that clue that made me wince a bit. She did, however, heal nicely, so … maybe it's a triumphant clue after all and I'm just looking at things the wrong way. Let's talk about something else. How about difficulty? I blazed through most of this except for the NE—where my [Blade in the back?] was a SPATULA (!?) and the Polo-CATHAY connection made no sense to me until after-the-fact (CATHAY is Marco Polo's name for "China"). I also had some trouble in the East, where OH HAPPY DAY (39D: "Praise the Lord!") provides an object lesson in the Dark Side of Great Answers. Tony and Patrick must've *really* wanted OH HAPPY DAY because right down the whole length of that thing, the fill gets markedly uglier and more forced than it is anywhere else in the grid. The top part is the worst, with AOKS (!) UNHIP KIEL and ALY awkwarding up the joint pretty badly. That KIEL / ALY crossing very nearly killed me. Never heard of the gymnast, but luckily remembered that a. KIEV is in Ukraine, and b. KIEL was a relative obscurity I complained about a few months back. I briefly considered KIEM / AMY, but to my credit, couldn't take KIEM seriously. Further down the OH HAPPY DAY ladder we get ORA and RPTS (no and no) and then ANS. As always, the problem isn't a single entry but a gruesome pile-up. Was the trade-off worth it? That's the question.

      Puzzle of the Week this week was easy to decide. You definitely owe it to yourself to subscribe to Fireball Crosswords (what is taking you so long?) and immediately solve the latest puzzle by Peter Broda, a meta puzzle called "Cross Hatching" that is truly clever. I would discuss it more, but it's a contest puzzle, and the deadline hasn't passed … or maybe it has … I'm too lazy to check, so I'm gonna play it safe and stay mute.  But Broda's "Cross Hatching" is not my Puzzle of the Week. No, that honor goes to Patrick Blindauer's "Change of Heart" puzzle (NYT), which broke the internet, or at least the parts of the internet attached to CrossWorld. It rattled more cages, more loudly, than any puzzle I've ever covered. Ever. So for looming large over the puzzle week (and likely the Puzzle Year), … point to Mr. Blindauer.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out Matt Gaffney's superb new Mental Floss article on how crossword puzzles are made WORD-WEAVING 101: HOW TO LOVINGLY AND SKILLFULLY CREATE A CROSSWORD PUZZLE"). He builds a puzzle right before your eyes, letting you in on his thought processes at every stage. It's the best concise explanation of crossword construction basics that I know of.
      9/14/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Comedian Paul / SAT 9-13-14 / Montreal eco-tourist attraction / Source of conflict in antiquity / Italian after-dinner drink / Anchors of some malls / Classic storyteller who wrote under pseudonym Knickerbocker
      Constructor: Josh Knapp

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: Paul MOONEY (41D: Comedian Paul) —
      Paul Gladney (born August 4, 1941), better known by the stage name Paul Mooney, is an American comedian, writersocial critic, television and film actor. He is best known for his appearances on Chappelle's Show and as a writer for the comedian Richard Pryor. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Three quarters Easy-Medium, one quarter free-fall. I spent as long on the little SW corner as I did on everything else. I don't even remember the rest of the puzzle. I guess it was OK. It looks OK. But it didn't give me any real trouble. After some flopping around in the NW, I changed 17A: When bars close in Boston from AT TWO to TWO AM, and then got "DOWN HERE!" off that "W" and the final "E" (from DEC., the only flat-out obvious answer up there). Things came together from there. After getting SINE, I had first two letters of all those Downs in the middle, and that was enough to get all of them reasonably quickly. Lucked into the NE corner by guessing IN BETA from the terminal "A," then getting ITEM and TEXT ME. With the exception of a SET-for-LOT error (8D: Universal area), nothing up there was too tough. CPL and ORE were, in fact, gimmes (no such gimmes in the grid's SW counterpart). LEMONGRASS was a piece of cake, and with GRAPPA and GRIMM going in very easily, it didn't take long to bring down that SE section either. That just left the SW…

      Ugh. The SW corner left me feeling more exasperated than satisfied. More my bad luck than anything the puzzle did wrong, though I wonder if this corner wasn't markedly harder on some objective level. That is, I have no way of knowing if this corner is consistent with the difficulty of the rest of the grid (in which case my stumbling was an idiosyncratic glitch) or if the corner really is clued in a way that radically separates it from the rest of the grid, difficulty-wise. First problem, for me, was 40A: "Gotcha," in old lingo (I'M HIP). Just had the -P, and could come up with nothing. This was due to not understanding At All that "Gotcha" meant "I understand you." All I understood from "Gotcha" was "I tricked you," "I nailed you," "I nabbed you," etc. Maybe those all have exclamation points, i.e. "Gotcha!"? I don't know. But (horrible, trite, overused, wish it would go die) I'M HIP never Ever occurred to me. I probably should've gotten CINEMAS, but I've only ever heard of retail stores being mall "anchors," so CINEMAS was nowhere on my radar. Wanted REISER for the [Comedian Paul]. MOONEY was rough. When I googled him (after I finished), I recognized him (from "Chapelle's Show"), but I sure didn't know his name. Never considered the "long race" was an election (TUE). Good clue, but trickiness there just hyper-brutalized an already brutal corner.

      Never considered that the "bridge" at 58A: Something on either side of a bridge was anything but a … well, a bridge. You know, with cars and stuff (had CROSSSPAN there at one point … is that a thing?). [Kind] was too vague for me. [Fair] was too vague for me. Thought [P.E.I. setting] was CAN or ATL. LYRIC, no hope … not for a while, anyway (46D: Words that are rarely spoken). If I think of that word, it's usually in the plural. Despite considering NOUN and AOK at various points, the only way I finally cracked that SW corner was by forcefully, somewhat desperately putting down TENACIOUS for 56A: Like bulldogs. That worked with AOK and made me try out LOCO at 49D: Unscrewed (instead of BATS or NUTS, which had been in there before). Then that "K" from AOK really looked like it needed a "C" in front of it … and bam went LYRIC. Then it was all over but the shouting. But I didn't really care. End result: hard, competent, forgettable. No terrible parts, no sparkle, no charm. CHEESEBALL, LEMONGRASS, and "DOWN HERE!" are winners. I wish there were more. Clues were better than fill today—special commendation for [Chase scene producer, for short]. An SNL clue that's not only new, but clever? Much appreciated.

      Another weekend, another two themelesses by men. The gender divide is widest where themelesses are concerned. Cannot remember the last time I saw a female constructor's byline on one. I miss Karen Tracey, is what I'm saying. I just googled [Karen Tracey Rex Parker] and THIS is the first hit that came up. Just read that first paragraph—that's some effusive praise from young Rex Parker. Come back, Karen Tracey!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      9/13/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Pioneer in Nevada gaming industry / FRI 9-12-14 / Tamid ever burning synagogue lamp / Inits of Thoreau's mentor / Musician with 2012 album lux / artistic friend of zola / Rival of Captain Morgan /
      Constructor: Michael Wiesenberg

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: NER Tamid (39D: ___ Tamid (ever-burning synagogue lamp)) —
      In Judaism, the sanctuary lamp is known by its Hebrew name, ner tamid (Hebrewנֵר תָּמִיד), which is usually translated as "eternal flame" or "eternal light". Hanging or standing in front of theark in every Jewish synagogue, it is meant to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalemas well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple. It also symbolizes God's eternal presence and is therefore never extinguished. It is also intended to draw parallels between God and fire, or light, which is emphasized throughout the book of Exodus in the Torah. Additionally, it is often used to symbolize the light released from the shards of the receptacles that God used to create light and goodness.[citation needed]
      These lights are never allowed to dim or go out, and in the case of electric problems, alternative emergency energy sources are used to prevent it from diminishing.
      Though once fueled by oil, most today are electric lights, including some that are solar-powered. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This is definitely solid enough to pass muster on a Friday, but I did find it a bit of a BORE. There were some nice colorful bits here and there, like I'M OUTTA HERE and DEAR READER… and HOW ON EARTH!? But there was also a lot of blah, including longer phrase (BE NICE TO, DRIVE TO WORK) that seem more like random excerpts of human speech than strong, self-standing phrases. The threes in this one are Particularly rough. NER is about as low as it gets, partial-wise, and RWE, EHS, SITU, AOKI … not a ton better. FURL is a funny word I believe to be real (by inference from its UN-prefixed cousin) but have never heard. Oh, look, "Secure neatly" is the first definition you see when you google "FURL"—and umbrella is mentioned there as well. We all appear to be furling all the time and yet Never calling it that. What's wrong with us?

      It's ARENA ROCK. It's not STADIUM ROCK (1A: Queen's music). Just 'cause google tells you something's a thing doesn't mean it's *really* a thing. If you know in your heart of hearts that the *real* phrase is actually different, don't settle for the knock-off.  OVERSTRESS and ENSNARED and INTERSPERSE just look like reasons to hurl a lot of common letters at me all at once. I liked ROMA TOMATO less for the answer itself than for the hole it made me fall into, namely thinking the answer *started* TOMATO. I had -OMAT- at the front end of that answer, and instinctively wrote in TOMATO-, figuring the rest of the answer would work itself out somehow. Didn't know what DIT was supposed to stand for at 12A: Film developer?: Abbr., but I let it ride for a while. ROMATOMATO now looks awesomely ridiculous to me, and I am amusing myself by saying ROMATO-MATO over and over. Domo arigato, ROMA TOMATO!

      Good day.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      9/12/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Sturdy tree in beech family / THU 9-11-14 / Canadian pop singer Lavigne / Rapunzel's prison / Cowboy's home familiarly / Yellow-centered bloomer / Partner of Dreyer / Cow in Borden ads
      Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

      Relative difficulty: Challenging

      THEME: "Change Of Heart" —
      Note: "This crossword was the most-discussed puzzle at Lollapuzzoola 7, a tournament held in August 9 in New York City. The event was directed by Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer. Hint: The title is key to solving the puzzle. Time limit: 45 minutes."
      Across answers are incompatible with the Downs unless you "change" their "hearts" (i.e. middle letters). Sure, you get the wrong answers in the Acrosses, but you get the Downs right, *and* you've got a plausible grid to boot, with real words / phrases / names / abbrs. resulting from all the changed "hearts." (All "heart" "changes" shown in red on the grid above)

      Word of the Day: GERARDO (7D: "Rico Suave" rapper) —
      Gerardo Mejía (born April 16, 1965), better known as simply Gerardo, is a Latino rapperand singer who later became a recording industry executive, and more recently a youth pastor. Born in GuayaquilEcuador, he and his family moved to Glendale, California, when he was 12 years old.
      Based in Los Angeles, California, Gerardo became known for his bandana, skintight jeans, locking, and shirtless torso. He sometimes refers to himself as the "Latin Elvis", the "Latin Frank Sinatra" or the Latin "Tony Zuzio" or "Joe Rider". (wikipedia)
      • • •

      If you solve your puzzles Downs-only (as some expert solvers have been known to do, especially on early-week puzzles), then you would've had a perfect grid without ever understanding that there was a trick, twist, or theme of any sort. Acrosses would've all looked good, and you'd've had no reason to doubt any of your answers. In fact, your answers would've been "right"—the answers considered right by the computer, anyway. I really wasn't sure how I was supposed to fill this thing in, even after I figured out the core gimmick. Well, actually, at first I *thought* I had the gimmick figured out, but I was overdoing it—I thought *every* middle letter, in both Acrosses *and* Downs, was different in both directions. Needless to say, my grid was riddled with blank squares, into which I had no idea what to put. Then finally I realized oh, it's just the Across answers that have the "heart problems" (a less breakfast-table-worthy title for this puzzle…). Then things got quite a bit easier. I thought maybe something would be spelled out, that there'd be some pattern to the heart changes … but no. You just change the "correct" Across answer to conform to the Down answer. Nevermind the "wrong" answer in the Across—your grid still looks great.

      I don't know what to say about this puzzle. Hard to talk about fill quality and all that in a puzzle that's so thematically constrained. I do think it's important that all the Downs be Super-famililar, especially the ones that go through Across "hearts," because technically those crosses are not true crosses, i.e. normally you have two chances at every letter—the Across and the Down—but not here. If you don't know a Down that runs through an Across "heart," then the only thing that can help you is knowing that the Across, even with the changed "heart," has to form a real possible crossword answer. But you can't really *know* that about the puzzle except by inference, probably after you've already completed the puzzle. This is all to say that I fear for the people who have never heard of GERARDO. GE- are really the only plausible letters to lead it off, considering they're the only ones that make sensible Acrosses, but again, if you don't know that you need to make sensible Acrosses (there's nothing tell you you do), and you aren't up on your one- (maybe two-) hit wonders from the early '90s, then yikes.

      I think that's all I have to say today. I predict feelings will be mixed about this one. I'm torn. I kind of wish there was something tying it all together, something punchy and unifying, something more than just the title. But it's unique and ambitious and memorable—all good(e) things.

      Weirdest moment—realizing just now that the [spoiler alert!] in the clue for EARTH (26D: "Planet of the Apes" planet [spoiler alert!]) was referring to the end of the movie. I thought it was referring to the puzzle itself, i.e EARTH is, literally, a "Change of HEART." Needless to say, thinking that EARTH was a theme answer caused some, uh, confusion. I kept waiting for other changes of HEART, like, uh … HATER? I don't know.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      9/11/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Sinatra's big band leader / WED 9-10-14 / Bandoleer filler / Cleanser brand that hasn't scratched yet / Beachgoer's cooler-offer / Half exorbitant fee
      Constructor: Jim Peredo

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: Been There, Done That — "message" referred to in the clue 69A: Where you might see the message formed by the last words in 21-, 32-, 42- and 54-Across (T-SHIRT)

      Theme answers:
      • "HOW YOU BEEN?" (21A: "What's goin' on?") (first guess: HOW YOU DOIN'?)
      • "PUT 'ER THERE!" (32A: "Let's shake!")
      • "NO HARM DONE" (42A: "Don't worry, I'm O.K.")
      • "GIVE ME THAT!" (54A: "Hand it over!")

      Word of the Day: Tommy DORSEY (52A: Sinatra's big band leader) —
      Thomas Francis "TommyDorsey, Jr. (November 19, 1905 – November 26, 1956) was an American jazz trombonisttrumpetercomposer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", because of his smooth-toned trombone playing. Although he was not known for being a notable soloist, his technical skill on the trombone gave him renown amongst other musicians. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid-1930s, he led an extremely popular and highly successful band from the late 1930s into the 1950s. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I have to say that I love the theme answers. The theme itself … we'll get to that. But the answers in their own right, regardless of the theme, make a great set. A colloquial barrage, the first two expressing happiness upon meeting an old friend, the third expressing forgiveness for his friend's stupid loud ring tone, and the fourth expressing less forgiveness. I just like saying all four of these answers in a row. Joy up top, annoyance underneath. As for the theme itself, I've never seen the old/trite phrase "Been There, Done That" on a T-SHIRT. It's annoying enough when someone says it out loud—why would you want to print something that banal and meaningless on a shirt and thus figuratively shout it at everyone you see? I actually haven't even heard anyone say the phrase in something like a decade, maybe more. I feel like it was big in 1993. Anyway, theme shmeme. But theme *answers*, as a set—big thumbs-up.

      Fill is average. Maybe slightly below. Long Downs are just fine, but the shorter stuff really creaks. Stuff like JAI and LOA and ATTA and KARTS, which are really just phrase parts, are less than ideal. I was not aware the KARTS could go without the GO. In most cases I think "K" beats "T," but TARTS > KARTS as fill, I think. And UTE / UKE is probably a tie. The team name "Redskins" is flat-out racist and you shouldn't dignify its somehow continued existence by putting it in a puzzle clue—dropping the "red" doesn't make it better. When they eventually change their name, and they will, I really hope they find something more creative than "SKINS." The Washington Skins … would be creepy.

      Puzzle was mostly easy. Clue on PER YEAR threw me off (8D: How salaries or rainfall may be reported), as it sounds like the reporting itself is happening only once a year. I'm not sure I even know what "report" means in this context. "Measured"? "Recorded"? Anyway, I probably wanted something like ANNUALLY, and had to wait for crosses to fill it in. I briefly invented a kind of styptic pencil that you use on TICKs (16A: Styptic pencil target). I think it's going to be a big seller. I also CHARred whatever was on my barbecue. I don't associate SEAR with "blackening," or, rather, I associate CHAR with "blackening" more. Couldn't figure out which CD was being referred to, and even when I thought of the financial instrument, I couldn't remember (quickly) what the "C" was or how to abbr. it. CERT. is a less-than-great answer, so I felt ill-rewarded for my confusion. And then lord knows how you spell HOOHAHS. I had 65A: Electric bill abbr. as KWT and thus ended up with HOOHATS.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        9/10/2014 11:27:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Country getaways in Russia / TUE 9-9-14 / Cher's son Chaz / Discovery in British mystery / Pinball infraction / Old-fashioned charity
        Constructor: Ed Sessa

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

        THEME: The Twist — long, cross-referenced theme answers give us the artist (CHUBBY CHECKER) (10D: Starter of a dance craze in 18-Down) and the year the dance craze started (NINETEEN-SIXTY) (18D: See 10-Down); Then circles descending the grid in a winding pattern spell out "Come on, let's twist."

        Word of the Day: Chaz BONO (3D: Cher's son Chaz) —
        Chaz Salvatore Bono (born Chastity Sun Bono; March 4, 1969) is an American advocate, writer and musician. He is the only child of American entertainers Sonny and Cher.[2][3]
        Bono is a transgender man. In 1995, several years after being outed as lesbian by the tabloid press, he publicly self-identified as such in a cover story in a leading American gay monthly magazine, The Advocate, eventually going on to discuss the process of coming out to oneself and to others in two books. Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming Out Process for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families (1998) includes his coming out account. The memoir The End of Innocence (2003) discusses his outing, music career, and partner Joan's death from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
        Between 2008 and 2010, Bono underwent female-to-male gender transition. A two-partEntertainment Tonight feature in June 2009 explained that his transition had started a year before. In May 2010, he legally changed his gender and name. A documentary on Bono's experience, Becoming Chaz, was screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and later made its television debut on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        A number of problems here. First, "Come on let's twist" isn't a great stand-alone phrase, as there is no part in that song wherein that phrase is not followed immediately and without pause by "again." Wait … nope, sorry, I'm confusing it with "Let's Twist Again" (1961). OK, this makes the circled phrase even stranger, as "Come on let's twist" doesn't appear in lyrics to "The Twist" (1960) at all. Those words are all in there, individually, but not in that order. My point—the phrase is inapt. Close in spirit, but off in reality. At one point CHUBBY CHECKER says "Come on and twist." That's close. But again … not accurate. Second, the phrase, as represented in the grid, is a very poor approximation of the dance The Twist. It's more like a conga line. It winds. It oscillates. It travels across the grid floor. Close in spirit, but again, off. Then there's the fact that NINETEEN-SIXTY is a super dull answer. There is all kinds of good will and good intentions in this theme, but the execution is just … well, it's off.

        Didn't appreciate the two long symmetrical Across answer with the same clue: [Electricity source]. Why the hell would you introduce a fake theme in the middle of your puzzle? Maybe there was some thought that it would be cute. Maybe that was an editorial decision. Don't know. But it was a distraction. The fill is subpar, for sure. I've got 12-15 examples of undesirable fill written down here, but I don't really feel like typing them all. You can see well enough yourself. It's not atrocious. It's just tedious. I was slow today, partly because of cross-referenced themers (always a time suck), and partly because I wrote in WALL OUTLET where WALL SOCKET was supposed to go. Major gaffe. A RAIL for A REED was another gaffe, though a minor one. Both my wrong answer and the right answer are partials you Really want to avoid because no one but No One wants to get tripped up on a cruddy partial. Getting tripped up is a part of solving, but when a cruddy partial does the tripping, yuck.

        You probably missed yesterday's Mental Floss article, "How is a Crossword Made?", because it was yanked shortly after many knowledgable constructors and solvers (including yours truly) began mocking it on social media (but of course the Internet remembers all, so here you go). The misinformation was staggering. Mind-boggling. Hilariously erroneous. To Mental Floss's credit, they took the article down quickly. Both the original Mental Floss article and the Business Insider video it links to perpetuate the *tenacious* myth that Will Shortz "creates" the NYT crossword puzzles. Obviously the editor's role in shaping the crossword is crucial. Editing a puzzle well takes real skill and time and effort. But "create" the puzzles??? No. Not unless you clearly qualify the claim in a way that Emphasizes The Crucial Role Of The Constructor.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        9/9/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Like oak leaves brains / MON 9-8-14 / 2011 Tony-winning religious satire / Hyperlocal way to campaign / Boingo service at airports / Skater Sonja
        Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

        Relative difficulty: Easy

        THEME: THE BIG FIVE-OH (53A: Milestone birthday, informally … with a hint to 20-, 31- and 41-Across) — theme answers have five "O"s in them:

        Theme answers:
        • BOOK OF MORMON (20A: 2011 Tony-winning religious satire, with "The")
        • DOOR-TO-DOOR (31A: Hyperlocal way to campaign)
        • VOODOO DOLL (41A: Black magic item)
        Word of the Day: VALE (55D: Hollow between hills) —
        A valley, often coursed by a stream; a dale.

        [Middle English, from Old French val, from Latin valls; see wel-2 in Indo-European roots.] (
        • • •

        Easy. Very easy. So easy that even after I stumbled toward the end—right around the tail-end of the revealer—I still ended up with a well-below-average time. It's not normal that I have to think at all in order to discover what the theme is on a Monday, but today there was definitely some thinking. Probably wasn't more than a few seconds, but it was not immediately clear to me what the connection was, largely because I was wondering what the number "50" had to do with the theme answers. The answer is, of course, nothing. Perhaps one of the reasons I didn't see the theme right away is the revealer itself. I don't understand why there's an "H" on the end. I see that "THE BIG FIVE-OH" is the name of some "humor" books, perhaps playing on the surprise(!) one feels upon turning "50," like "Holy $%&% I can't believe I'm 50 already." I don't know. I just know that I would never have spelled it with an "H." And with an "H," the whole point of the theme is kind of messed up. There are five "O"s. There are not five "OH"s. So without a question mark on the revealer … d'oh!

        OOO is a terrible answer on any day, but especially terrible today, when we are drowning in "O"s. I should say that I think the core concept here is cute, and the fill is mostly good. The parts I stumbled on were all surrounding the end part of the revealer, namely:
        • OLAF (42D: Scandinavian saint) — left final letter off, fearing it might be OLAV.
        • VALE (55D: Hollow between hills) — as you can see from the "Word of the Day" definition, DALE works just fine there, and that's what I had.
        • LOBED (51D: Like oak leaves and brains) — hit this clue and had No idea what was going on. I like LOBED about as much as I like the far more common EARED, i.e. not very much.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        9/8/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Atomic clock part / SUN 9-7-14 / Expensive Super Bowl purchase / Ayatollah predecessor / Small flycatcher / Dutch Golden Age painter / Die Meistersinger soprano
        Constructor: Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: "All-Encompassing" — 8 different squares in the puzzle have to be entered as mini-compasses; that is, like so:

        W       E

        WE works in the Acrosses; NS works in the Downs. Unchecked squares near the center of the grid reenact the same compass construction

        Word of the Day: MASER (80A: Atomic clock part) —
        maser (/ˈmzər/) is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The word "maser" is derived from the acronym MASER: "microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The lower-case usage arose from technological development having rendered the original definition imprecise, because contemporary masers emit electromagnetic waves not just at microwave frequencies, but rather across a broader band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Hence, the physicist Charles H. Townes suggested using "molecular" to replace "microwave" for contemporary linguistic accuracy. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        It's weird—as I was solving, I thought, "OK, so you've got all the cardinal direction letters in those theme squares … WE in the Acrosses, NS in the Downs … seems kind of arbitrary …" And herein lies the only problem with this theme, which I now think quite ingenious: you have to write really, really tiny to make it work visually (and if you're solving on screen, as I do, the fact that the letters are actually laid out like a compass doesn't register visually at all). So the unchecked squares are kind of crucial today, as they give you a large-scale vision of what each individual theme square is supposed to look like.

        I first grasped, or semi-grasped, the theme with CLEANS HOUSE, when I knew that had to be the answer, but then it looked like actual answer was going to be CLEAN HOUSE. Naturally, this caused alarm in the Grid Patrol region of my brain, as I figured the puzzle had a major clue/answer correspondence error. But no—"NS" occupied the single square, so the right answer worked after all. Hmmm, now that I look at the grid, I think I actually figured out the cardinal point thing with the westernmost theme square, i.e. SENSEI / TWEEN. I'd written in TEEN, but couldn't get SENSEI to work in the Down … and then something clicked. Then I went back and cleaned house in the NW. After that, the theme squares were mostly easy to uncover (with only one little hiccup—see below).

        There's some very nice fill, including a bunch of stuff I've never seen before. PALEO DIET is great (as an entry, not as a diet). Mary QUANT rings only the faintest of bells—she's a big reason that section of the grid took me longer than any other. That, and the fact that I couldn't parse the compass points right the first time I threw ORSON WELLES in there (I put the "NW" in one square instead of the "WE"). A PEWEE (53D: Small flycatcher) is a bird, right? [Looks it up…] Yes. I had it as a PEWET for a bit, perhaps confusing it with a godwit or … oh, no, my confusion is much more reasonable, as there is in fact a bird called a PEEWIT (or PEWIT). Also known as the northern lapwing. NORTHERN LAPWING is 15 letters long, in case you're interested in that sort of thing, you crossword constructor types. Where was I? Um … MASER! That was the one part of the puzzle where I got every letter from crosses, then double-checked all the crosses, then just crossed my fingers that that was a thing. And it was! Thought 11D: Expensive Super Bowl purchase was an AD SPOT, not a TV SPOT. With -A-A- in place at 92D: Stick on the grill? I went for KABAB. So that was some kooky fun (real answer: SATAY). The puzzle in general felt clean and pleasant. Nice work.

        Puzzle of the Week this week is the one I mentioned on Friday—Patrick Blindauer's brutal "Bi-curious" (an American Values Crossword production). Get it here for a buck. It will take you ten times longer than most puzzles take you, so your buck will go a long way.

        Since I really dropped the ball on Puzzles of the Week over the summer, I'll direct you to Matt Gaffney's survey of his favorite puzzles for August (and July).

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        9/7/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Ratso's given name / SAT 9-6-14 / Predigital beeper / Profiles in Leadership publisher briefly / Completer of career grand slam 2009 / Big chain closed on Sundays / Kid lit character with long face / Stereotypical wear for the paranoid
        Constructor: James Mulhern

        Relative difficulty: Medium (though not for me—I tanked it)

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: NEOLOGIC (37D: Linguistically adventurous) —
        a.1.Of or pertaining to neology; employing new words; of the nature of, or containing, newwords or new doctrines.
        A genteel neological dictionary.
        - Chesterfield. (
        • • •

        I cruised through the NW but then lost my grip and never really got it back. I put some of the blame on my family, who somehow are all still up and having audible conversations right outside my office door (I need quiet to solve well), but mainly I was just tired, I guess, and couldn't make things compute fast enough. Both routes out of the NW went cold for me, quickly. CELERY … what? Salad dressings?? I don't know. ROOT? Is it ROOT? SEED didn't occur to me til very late (though when it did, it seemed obvious). So things died down there. The other road out of the NW ran toward the NE, but ROAD- … ? ROAD what? [Predigital beeper?] That clue makes no sense, in that "predigital" is meaningless, so far as I can tell. Have ROADRUNNERs not evolved fingers and toes yet, is that the idea? Or is it that they (like all other living things on the planet) predate the digital age? Misdirections usually have some meaning, however tenuous. "Predigital" here appears to be completely arbitrary and unrelated to the actual answer. I guess whoever wrote that clue thought "Hmm, the word 'digit' is in the symmetrical clue, so why not this clue too?" And now I've answered that rhetorical question. (My friend suggests that the cartoon ROADRUNNER was not digitally animated, and that that must be the context … that seems to be the only possible explanation for the clue … even though, technically, that ROADRUNNER 'meeps'…)

        Once I got TEST in there, I was able, finally, to see PINKY SWEAR (easily my favorite part of the whole puzzle) (48A: Use a two-digit confirmation code?). And then the SW went down easily. This was the weird thing about how long the puzzle took me. I had these extended freefalls, where nothing was working, and then somehow the right letters would slide into place and I'd see an answer and a whole section would go up in smoke. It's just that the freefalls, esp. in the NE and SE, were so long. Tried to get NE first but … nothing. Well, actually, ORSINO and OSE and EEYORE and even a guessed-at GASSY, but still—no budging.

        Couldn't get LOOM from LO-. Couldn't get EROS from ---S (wanted HOTS at first). ENRICO, no way. AERIE? Not from that clue. Just … stuck. And downstairs, things were also bad for a bit. Main culprit was ALA instead of QUA at 58D: As. Let me tell you, that is a super-annoying thing to have been hung up on—a stupid little answer like that. Wasn't sure whether I gave ARIP or ARAP. No idea about BSA. Put in ABUTS, but it didn't make sense with ALA. Finally had good sense to tear ALA out, and insist on ABUTS. Then guessed BSA and finally (!!!) saw PERSIST. And even though I still had roughly 1/3 of the grid still to fill in, PERSIST was the beginning of the end. Once that went in, the whole eastern side went up quickly. Thank god I was able to get MAGNUM OPUS from the back end (i.e. OPUS). Otherwise, that NE might still be half-empty.

        There's nothing exceptional or praiseworthy about the grid, though there's nothing terrible either. It's ordinary (excepting PINKY SWEAR) and inoffensive. The cluing made it a bear (for me), but nothing else about it stands out. Overall, it's just OK.

        A great young crossword constructor tweeted earlier tonight: "constructor of tomorrow's NYT xword has 8 fri/sat publications since the last time any woman had one." That stat is insane.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        9/6/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        1957 Patrick White novel 1986 opera / FRI 9-5-14 / Deterioration of standards by competitive forces / Title heroine of Wagner opera / Silents actress Negri / Ray of old pictures /
        Constructor: Joe Krozel

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: WAITING (20D: On hold … or what the seven rows of black squares in this puzzle's grid spell in Morse code)

        Word of the Day: REEDUCATION CAMP (16A: Propagandists' detention site) —
        Reeducation camp (Vietnamesetrại học tập cải tạo) is the official title given to the prison camps operated by the government of Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War. In such "reeducation camps", the government imprisoned several hundred thousand former military officers and government workers from the former government of South VietnamReeducation as it was implemented in Vietnam was seen as both a means of revenge and as a sophisticated technique of repression and indoctrination, which developed for several years in the North and was extended to the South following the 1975 Fall of Saigon. An estimated 1-2.5 million people were imprisoned with no formal charges or trials. According to published academic studies in the United States and Europe, 165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's re-education camps. Thousands were tortured or abused. Prisoners were incarcerated for as long as 17 years, with most terms ranging from three to 10 years. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        The good thing here is that most of the fill is real, not strained, and not wince-inducing—at least not wince-inducing for the normal, purely technical reasons. There was, however, I have to admit, some wincing. Namely at 16A: Propagandists' detention site. REEDUCATION CAMPs were fresh on my mind after having seen Rory Kennedy, the director of the new documentary "Last Days in Vietnam," on "The Daily Show" the other night. Having heard so recently about how horrific the "camps" were, the clue here today struck me as oddly … anodyne. Creepily so. First, I couldn't tell if the clue was saying that the people who *ran* the camp were "propagandists," or if "propagandists" were the ones "detained" there. I'm still not entirely sure, but I think the clue is saying propagandists run the thing. But "propagandist" is way too mild a term, as is "detention," and somehow leaving the victims of said propaganda / detention completely out of the equation … there's just something in that clue that feels casually violent and inhumane, given the scale of suffering and death at the those "camps." Cross that answer with LEAVES TO DIE (dear lord, really?) and you've got one massively tin-eared and tone deaf puzzle on your hands.

        But leaving aside the significance of the words themselves, this is a nicely filled 15-stack-based puzzle. The theme … I don't even know. I guess the black squares say what the puzzle says they say. Why anyone should care or how it adds any value to the solving experience, I have No idea. I'm just grateful that as far as terrible short stuff goes, I don't have much to grumble at beyond the occasional HOTL and ANGE. Long answers (besides the aforementioned) are nice, though PATRONAGE HIRING (52A: Political machine practice) googles pretty poorly as a phrase, and STEMLESS GLASSES is only about a half step up (down?) from PEER ASSESSMENTS in terms of outright crutchiness. The  HILLBILLIES / MODERN DANCE juxtaposition offers an amusing visual, for which I am grateful.

        If you want to solve a truly exquisite code-based puzzle, you owe it to yourself to drop $1 on Patrick Blindauer's latest American Values Crossword puzzle, entitled "Bi-Curious." Hard as hell, but once you put it all together, wow. It's got at least two genuine "aha" moments. Give it time—it might grind you down—but the payoff is worth it, I swear.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        P.S. RIP Joan Rivers, who was a badass, pioneer, and role model.
        9/5/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Byron of Mythbusters / THU 9-4-14 / Pop Singer Vannelli / Sherlock Holmes accessory / Game with horns / Orthodox trademark / Loki's brother in movies
        Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: FLIP ONE'S LID (61A: Go crazy … or a hint on how to enter five answers in this puzzle)— all theme answers are hats, entered into the grid backwards:

        Theme answers:
        • REKLATSREED (17A: Sherlock Holmes accessory)
        • TEMLEH (28A: Biker gear)
        • ORERBMOS (31A: Siesta shader)
        • EKLUMRAY (47A: Orthodox trademark)
        • ARODEF (49A: Sinatra cover)
        Word of the Day: ERICK Aybar, 2014 All-Star shortstop on the Angels (29A) —
        Erick Johan Aybar (born January 14, 1984) is a Major League Baseball shortstop with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. // Aybar was signed by the then Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as an amateur free agent in 2002 and made his Major League debut on May 16, 2006 a pinch runner against the Toronto Blue Jays. He recorded his first Major League hit, in his first start, on May 20, 2006 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a single to right field in the fourth inning off of Brett Tomko.
        Aybar hit his first career major league home run on September 25, 2007, in a game against the Texas Rangers.
        On September 5, 2009, Aybar tied a franchise record for most triples in a game, 2, against the Kansas City Royals.
        September 8, 2009, Aybar had his first career walk-off hit, against the Seattle Mariners.
        In 2009, Aybar hit .312 (eighth in the AL) and posted the fourth-best OPS (.776) of all AL shortstops.
        On November 1, 2011, Aybar was awarded his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
        On July 10, 2014, Aybar was named an All Star for the first time in his career, replacing injured Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon. Aybar was hitting .283 with 6 home runs and 45 RBI through 89 games at the time of his selection. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Pretty clean, pretty easy. Headgear choices are arbitrary, but widely varied in terms of both shape and cultural origin, and variety is the spice of life, or so I hear. Once you get that REK- at the beginning of backwards DEERSTALKER, the theme becomes evident—or, if not completely evident, at least evidently backward. Once you're on the lookout for backwards entries, they're quite easy to find, and since neither the fill nor the cluing is particularly difficult (for the most part), this one should've proved smooth sailing, as "tricky" puzzles go. We (my elitist crossword friends and I) make fun of ONE'S answers on a regular basis, inventing new and more preposterous ones (!) whenever the mood strikes us, so the revealer here made me laugh. That said, I have no problem with it in this context. I'd hate it in a themeless, where, you know, you've got theoretically infinite options, but as a way of conveying the theme, it's ONE'S or YOUR, and though I find YOUR snappier, ONE'S is aptly general in this case.

        I had a bit of a rough, albatrossish start, running and flapping my wings in an ungainly manner before the air finally took me. This is to say that I wrote in TSA at 5D: Org. whose annual budget is classified (NSA), and then could not make 1A: Sober work. "CL … CLOUT? … nope … OK, that's an 'A' so … CLEAT? How is [Sober] 'CLEAT'? That makes no … oh" (CLEAN). Then I thought the SAT no-no was answering IN INK (6A: Improper way to take the SAT => IN PEN) (taking it IN PEN these days is very hard to do, as the ink tends to get all over the screen…). After that, only KARI (who?) and ERICK (sp?) gave me any trouble at all. Oh, there was that one typo I had to track down at the end—I wrote in THOR, but somehow, in typing in the answer to 31D: "This is exciting!" I ended up with OO BOY. Luckily, TOOR was relatively easy to pick up with a quick scan of the grid.

        MIXOLOGIST is a lovely entry, and I enjoyed remembering GINO "I Just Wanna Stop" Vannelli (though honestly, at first I misread the clue and wondered how I was going to fit MILLI in there…). In all, this was a nice puzzle, and I never felt like I Just Wanted to Stop, ONE'S or no ONE'S.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          9/4/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          St Louis Blues composer / WED 9-3-14 / 2013 Tonto portrayer / 1960s TV show featuring cross-eyed lion Clarence / Worked on trireme / Get Smart adversary / Mobster's gun
          Constructor: Peter A. Collins

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: HEAD STARTS (59A: Race advantages … or a hint to 17-, 23- 38- and 49-Across)— theme answers start with words that can also mean "bathroom" or "restroom" or "toilet" or what have you:

          Theme answers:
          • CAN OF WORMS (17A: Metaphorical mess)
          • PRIVY COUNCIL (23A: Monarch's advisers)
          • W.C. HANDY (38A: "St. Louis Blues" composer)
          • JOHN F. KENNEDY (49A: Only president to win a Pulitzer)
          Word of the Day: LANTANA (42D: Showy flower) —
          Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the verbena family,Verbenaceae. They are native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa but exist as anintroduced species in numerous areas, especially in the Australian-Pacific region. The genus includes both herbaceous plants and shrubs growing to 0.5–2 m (1.6–6.6 ft) tall. Their common names are shrub verbenas or lantanas. The generic name originated in Late Latin, where it refers to the unrelated Viburnum lantana.[2]
          Lantana's aromatic flower clusters (called umbels) are a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white florets. Other colors exist as new varieties are being selected. The flowers typically change color as they mature, resulting in inflorescences that are two- or three-colored. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          For a large handful of seconds there at the end, it was -C. WYETH all over again. I was just staring at -OOF and -C. HANDY, having no idea what letter could go there. I've heard of W. C. HANDY before, but only from puzzles, and I certainly couldn't remember his first initials. And [Scares a cat, in a way] made no sense to me initially. Required me to run the alphabet until I hit the dog noise, WOOF(S). One other proper noun ("DAKTARI"), and the Word-of-the-Day plant genius I'd never heard of, helped keep this one well on the tough side. I thought I knew what "DAKTARI" was, but it turns out I was thinking of "Hatari," a John Wayne movie set in Africa. When I saw [1960s TV show featuring the cross-eyed lion Clarence] all I could conjure up in my mind was Lamb Chop and Sheri Lewis and … wait, no, I was thinking of Kookla, Fran & Ollie. But somehow in my mind those three hang out with Lamb Chop and Sheri Lewis. Anyway, my point is I clearly never saw any of these puppet shows as I was not alive in the '60s much, and the time I was alive (about 35 days) is not terribly memorable. It occurs to me now that perhaps the show "DAKTARI" didn't involve puppets at all–that I just assumed that, based on the deep unlikelihood of an actual cross-eyed lion's existing, let alone auditioning for TV roles. Anyway, it turns out I know the "word" "DAKTARI" as a 10,000 Maniacs song that appeared on an album I used to (and maybe still) own called The Wishing Chair. It was the album just before In My Tribe, i.e. just before they became college rock royalty. Anyway, I never understood what she was saying on the song—how was I to know it was about a cross-eyed lion.

          I like the theme—it's tight and has a nice revealer. The fill is a bit wobbly for my tastes. ASAN CANTI TROI EVAC OSHA SOYA DEE SDS NEAPS (plural!?) EDEMA YADA OCTA SRTA OARED YETI ATIT (!) ETAS OCULO PENH ENTS … there's just a *lot* of dull and/or subpar stuff. But KAZAKHSTAN does ease the pain a bit (28D: Former Soviet republic). That's a spectacular long Down. This puzzle is all about the theme, and the theme is good.

          I'm quite tired from my first day of teaching. I am not in match shape, as they say. So I'm off to bed. Until tomorrow...
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            9/3/2014 4:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Fishhook attachment / TUE 9-2-14 / Female students condescendingly / Hobo's accessory / Snoop Dogg for one since 2012
            Constructor: Ethan Cooper

            Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Tuesday***)

            THEME: COLLEGE EXPENSES (54A: What tuition and the starts of 17-, 22-, 37-(?) and 47-Across are):

            Theme answers:
            • TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE (17A: Perfect illustration)
            • ROOM TO IMPROVE (22A: Unfulfilled potential)
            • BEER NUT (37A: Pub tidbit)
            • BOARD MEETINGS (47A: Gatherings in which C.E.O.'s are chosen)
            Word of the Day: PLASM (5A: Blood component) —
            'Plasma.' It just means 'plasma.' Apparently you don't gotta say that last 'a' at all. And here I've been saying it with the 'a' all these years, like some kind of time-wasting sucker...
            • • •

            Mixed but mostly positive feelings about this one. On the plus side, it's timely (university semester starts tomorrow for me, and likely many other tens of thousands of people), and the puzzle overall feels very fresh. Even something like "UM, NO"—it's like when I see a young person wearing something stupid, but wearing it with confidence and style, such that I have to admit I'd rather see said stupid piece of clothing than Yet Another Backward-Baseball-Capped generic-looking dead-eyed conveyer-belt rider wearing what everybody else is wearing. In this example, "UM, NO" is the stupid piece of clothing and, let's say, ULNA is the conformist clothing, and college is the conveyor belt. I just decided that "UM, NO" is a lime green boa. Anyway, this grid has a kind of style. It's up to date on what Snoop's been doing lately, but still finds time for OBOES, and it likes to keep tabs on both the recent Batman moves (NOLAN) and old-school film noir (HUSTON). Seriously, that NOLAN / HUSTON row is pretty cool.

            On the down side, this puzzle thinks card tricks are MAGIC (!?) (48D: Card tricks, e.g.). Also, there's a 3x3 patch there in the SE that is almost entirely Ss and Es. The ELSE'S EOE ISMS cluster*uck is kind of gross. I'm grateful that MAXIM is clued as a word and not the idiotic lad mag, i.e. porn for people who are afraid to buy porn. Themewise, there are a few issues. ROOM and BOARD really should be in sequence. They don't travel well alone. Presumably one will buy more than one textbook. Also, since all the other first words of the theme answers are used in non-college contexts, you could've pulled your BOOK answer even further away from the whole college context by going with something like BOOKKEEPER or "BOOK 'EM, DANNO" or something. But that's not a very big deal. The big deal is the BEER NUT answer. This is the answer that divides me in half—the half that thinks "ha, cute, good one," and the half that thinks "ugh, yes, great, let's wink at how awesome it is to binge-drink and date rape and exacerbate depression and all the other unfortunately very real things that often happen when college kids meet beer." That latter half of me is the half that has a daughter going to college in four years. It's also the half that has to overhear dozens of dumbass conversations every week about getting wasted, having gotten wasted, and the prospects for what will become next week's Having Gotten Wasted.

            Oh, also, one BEER NUT? Really? A single BEER NUT? When have you ever seen and or eaten just one BEER NUT? That's ridiculous. It's a brand. The brand is BEER NUTS. Also, baseball helmets have earholes, not EARFLAPs (41D: Batting helmet feature). The word "flap" implies a certain mobility, an ability to fold back or away. The word does not apply to baseball helmets. Or shouldn't. So thumbs up to youthful exuberance, thumbs down to the whole fratboy vibe with the BEER and the COEDS (64A: Female students, condescendingly) and the MAXIM (I've decided it's a lad mag after all, no matter the clue).

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            9/2/2014 4:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Socialite who inspired 1950's "Call Me Madam" / MON 9-1-14 / Carpentry spacer / Old politico Stevenson / 1957 hit covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968 / One of 1980s demographic /
            Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

            Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**)

            THEME: TAMES anagrams (30D: Breaks … or an anagram of the ends of five Across answers in this puzzle):

            Theme answers:
            • PERLE MESTA (17A: Socialite who inspired 1950's "Call Me Madam")
            • SHIPMATES
            • DELI MEATS
            • LOSE STEAM
            • LEGAL TEAMS
            Word of the Day: PERLE MESTA —
            Perle Reid Mesta (née Skirvin) (October 12, 1889 – March 16, 1975) was an Americansocialite, political hostess, and U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg (1949–1953).
            Mesta was known as the "hostess with the mostest" for her lavish parties featuring the brightest stars of Washington, D.C., society, including artists, entertainers and many top-level national political figures. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            I finished this in normal Monday time, but the times posted at the NYT website are running much more Tuesday than Monday, so I think this played slightly harder than usual. There might be many reasons for this. PERLE MESTA, for one. No one under 50 knows who that is. And when I say "50" I'm being generous. Clue is no help, as no one knows what "Call Me Madam" is either. Trust me. That's a rough Monday themer for the pre-retired set. I know her because of that one time I didn't know her and fell flat on my face. Since then I've seen either her first or her last name several times in puzzles. Never her full name, though, that I recall, so I almost want to give the puzzle credit for originality there. The theme in general is surprisingly rudimentary—the kind I'm surprised make the grade any more. Feels very MUSTY, to say the least (28A: Stale-smelling). The number of plurals necessitated by the theme makes the puzzle especially blah. And SSGT is bad enough in the singular. In the plural, it literally makes me laugh (49A: Army NCOs). I enjoyed the banks of 7s in all the corners, especially ZERO SUM ICECUBE (3D: Like a game with equal winners and losers + 2D: Drink cooler), which would make a nice band name or title for a dadaist sculpture of some kind. Fill is not terrible, but neither is it above average. It just is. This puzzle is. See you tomorrow.

            Happy September.

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            9/1/2014 4:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            French filmmaker who led Cinéma Pur movement / SUN 8-31-14 / British author who wrote Old Devils / Careless hands crooner / Rush-hour subway rider facetiously / Former Oldsmobile model
            Constructor: Joel Fagliano

            Relative difficulty: Medium

            THEME: "Heard At The Movies" — random words strung together, which, when said out loud, sound like the names of BEST PICTURE WINNERs (109A: What you get when you say 23-, 31-, 47-, 64-, 79- or 97-Across out loud):

            Theme answers:
            • CHALLAH BOWED HEAVE (23A: Jewish bread / Played, as a violin / Throw (1950))
            • HONDA WATT AFFRONT (31A: Toyota rival / Measure of power / Insult (1954))
            • DWELL FIERCE SUSS LAVE (47A: Reside / Savage / Puzzle (out) / Wash (2013))
            • THUG ODD FODDER (64A: Hooligan / Strange / Silo contents (1972))
            • WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE (79A: Wildlife protector / Difficult / Hotel door feature (1980))
            • HOW TOUGH HAVE RIGA (97A: "In what way?" / Like overcooked steak / Possess / European capital on a gulf (1985))
            Word of the Day: RENÉ CLAIR (20A: French filmmaker who led the Cinéma Pur movement) —
            René Clair (11 November 1898 – 15 March 1981) born René-Lucien Chomette, was a French filmmaker and writer. He first established his reputation in the 1920s as a director of silent films in which comedy was often mingled with fantasy. He went on to make some of the most innovative early sound films in France, before going abroad to work in the UK and USA for more than a decade. Returning to France after World War II, he continued to make films that were characterised by their elegance and wit, often presenting a nostalgic view of French life in earlier years. He was elected to theAcadémie française in 1960. Clair's best known films include The Italian Straw Hat(1928), Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Le Million (1931), À nous la liberté (1931), I Married a Witch (1942), and And Then There Were None (1945). (wikipedia)
            • • •

            Joel Faglia-Yes! So the first and last of these theme-answer concoctions don't really work (not the way I speak, anyway), but the others are remarkably close to the actual movie titles they purport to sound like, and even though the theme was supremely easy to figure out, figuring out individual titles was kind of fun (I somehow never noticed that we'd been given the years of the films in question—for which I'm grateful; puzzle was easy enough without extra hints). This is a highly segmented grid—outside of the theme answers, you get mostly short stuff, so that prevents the fill from being especially noteworthy, but there's no question that this grid is solid, smooth, polished. Joel is Shortz's right hand man at the moment, and not for nothing. He has mad skills for someone who only just graduated from (the greatest) college (on earth).

            I don't know how you get around the initial [HCHCHCCHHCHC-] sound on CHALLAH. It's such an obtrusive, noisy sound that it kind of obscures the "ALL A-" sounds it's supposed to be imitating. Bigger problem for me in that answer, though, was BOWED. I thought that violins were BOWED (rhymes with TOAD), not BOWED (rhymes with Maureen DOWD). So between the extra sounds and apparent non-rhyming, I had no idea that I was looking at an aural simulacrum of "All About Eve." Not at first, anyway. "Out of Africa" was a tough one too. Even a best-case pronunciation makes you sound like an early version of Stephen Hawking's voice simulator. There's just no good way to get stress on HAVE, the way you'd have it on the first syllable in "Africa." Also, I say REEE-ga for "Riga," so "HAVE RIGA" is a very bad sound likeness of "Africa," to my brain. But as I say, the others are damned good, as insane as they look.My brain is kind of terrorized right now by the phrase "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE"—I'm a B-movie fan, but I don't think I could stomach "WARDEN HAIRY PEEPHOLE."

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            8/31/2014 4:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Mercury's winged sandals / SAT 8-30-14 / Synthetic purplish colorant / Musical title character who made us feel alive again / Outlook alternative / London's onetime equivalent of Wall Street / Cloud Shepherd sculptor / Funky Cold Medina rapper / Beve
            Constructor: David Steinberg

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

            THEME: none

            Word of the Day: TALARIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) —
            Winged sandals such as those worn by Hermes and Iris as represented in Greco-Roman painting and sculpture.

            [Latin tlria, from neuter pl. of tlrisof the ankles, from tlusankle.] (
            • • •

            This has some good stuff in it, but the marquee answer (ZZZQUIL) is something I've seen in puzzle(s) before (pretty sure BEQ did it first), and once you've seen ZZZQUIL once, the zing kind of goes out of it. How easily did I get ZZZQUIL? Here are the first two entries in my grid—and yes, I actually stopped solving to take a picture:

            One, two. Bam, bam. As you can imagine, once you drop a word like ZZZQUIL in your grid, things get remarkably easy, at least for a little bit. Had no trouble with any of those Z-crosses. In fact, the momentum from that word propelled me all the way down the western seaboard until I hit the bottom, where I hit a wall (more on that later), and then easily across the grid into the NE and on down to the SE, where things got a little trickier. Across the whole top of the puzzle, I was entering answers pretty much as fast as I could type. The NE in particular just gave way. It was kind of disorienting, actually. On Saturdays, I'm geared up for resistance. Not finding any was bewildering. But I got a dose downstairs, first in the SE, where I couldn't get any of those Downs to work, except ATOM ANT, which I stupidly had as ATOM MAN. Never used AOL MAIL or been to a TRIPLEX (!?), wanted "If I HAD …" (as in "… a hammer …"). So there were problems. Also, the ROGAINE clue flummoxed me. I wanted something to do with styling gel. But JEAN ARP and ROSANNE Cash helped me eventually get it sorted.

            The big problem was in the SW. Actually, that's where the problem had its source, but its negative ramifications extended up and over to the lower center of the puzzle. Faced with A-E at 47D: Aldous Huxley's "___ and Essence", I really thought the answer had to be AGE. That was the only word that seemed to pair sensibly with "Essence." But then I was looking at 50A: Ones with issues? being SAGAS, and try as I might, I couldn't justify that. Plus, I really wanted 50D: Worked with to be PLIED (spoiler: it was). But PAGAS … didn't compute. So I kept trying to find ways to make that answer work, and failing. Eventually, I put PLIED in definitively and checked all the other crosses. AGE was the only one I wasn't certain about. Pulled it, and voila, PAPAS became clear (though I can't say I was 100% certain of "APE").

            That left me with The Guessing Square, id est TAL-RIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) crossing -NC (58D: Party concerned with civil rights, briefly). I figured it was a vowel, but honestly wasn't certain. I entertained DNC and RNC, even though they are parts of parties, not parties themselves. The only other "party" I knew of that might qualify was the African National Congress (or ANC), but [Party concerned with civil rights, briefly] seemed like such a phenomenally vague and narrow way to construe the party that had been in power in South Africa for twenty years (i.e. in charge of All Things, not just 'civil rights'), that I really doubted it could be right. But I was out of options. So cross fingers, brace self, enter "A"—and I got the Happy Pencil! Puzzle Solved. But that's not what I would call an ideal cross, and not a positive note to end on. Puzzle is mostly very solid overall, in terms of grid construction, but between the aftermarket ZZZQUIL at the beginning and the outright guess situation at the end and the astonishing easiness in between, my enjoyment was diminished somewhat.

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

            P.S. Whoa, I just discovered the definitive history of ZZZQUIL in crossword puzzles. Who knew!?
            8/30/2014 4:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Doc Savage portrayer / FRI 8-29-14 / Political theorist Carl / Neighbor of St Kitts / Football Hall of Famer Tunnell / Miss Julie composer 1965 / Kroger alternative / Longtime Laker Lamar / Player of Fin Tutuola / Host of 1950s TVs Bank on Stars
            Constructor: Daniel Raymon

            Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

            THEME: none

            Word of the Day: RERI Grist (25A: Soprano Grist) —
            Reri Grist (February 29, 1932) is an American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer African-American singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            This puzzle gets one major thing right—the long answers in every quadrant are solid, and in a few cases flashy and great. 1A: Poll Internet users on (CROWDSOURCE), perhaps took me way too long, but when I got it, the struggle seemed worth it. There's a wonderful colloquial vibe all over, with IN A NUTSHELL, EXCUSE ME, REST ASSURED, and AND THEN SOME all lending the puzzle a lively chattiness. Good long stuff will make people forget bad short stuff—that's the general rule. Today, though … man, this puzzle really tests that rule. It's not so much that the fill is "bad," in the sense that plural suffixes are bad and variant spellings are bad and random roman numerals are bad (I see you, MMIV). It's just name-heavy. Not just name-heavy. Like, crazy-name-heavy. Laden with names that sound made-up. Names that just don't seem like plausible human names. But they are—they are real. I looked them up. Still, even after having looked RERI up, I'm not convinced it's real. I mean, she is. She's had a notable career. But her name's not famous, and it's certainly *entirely* unguessable (unlike, say, SCHMITT, whom I'd also never heard of, but whose name seemed plausibly human). What is a RONELY? Did he play Doc Savage on the radio? Do most of you even know who Doc Savage (pulp hero of yore) is? Oh, wait … crap. HA ha [seriously, genuine LOL]. It's RON [space] ELY, not RONELY. RON [space] ELY is best known for playing Tarzan. He played Doc Savage in a 1975 film you've never seen or heard of. Other big names in that movie include no one.

            Then there's the potentially deathly proper noun mash-up in the NNE. If I hadn't been given the "French for 'the handsome'" part of that LEBEAU clue, that whole area might still be staring me down (21A: Longtime N.F.L. coach whose name is French for "the handsome"). Dick LEBEAU is somebody whose name I've heard, so I don't doubt his crossworthiness, but I wasn't gonna get him from [Longtime N.F.L. coach] alone. So OK, I got him. From French. But if you don't know football and don't know French, you might be in trouble. It seems especially cruel, then, particularly to non-sports fans, to cross the one old-timey N.F.L. answer (LEBEAU) with *another* old-timey N.F.L. answer., this time cluing a name not only obscure, but preposterous-looking. EMLEN? That guy hasn't been in the NYT, or any major puzzle, for 15 years. Thank god I'd heard of "NEVIS & St. Kitts" [by which I apparently mean "St. Kitts & NEVIS"] because otherwise that "N" is Entirely unguessable. And if you don't know the rules of French, you'd be forgiven for perhaps thinking LABEAU instead of LEBEAU. And *then* you'd have a real mess on your hands. Proper nouns, particularly ones that are manifestly obscure and unguessable, Have To Be Handled Carefully. If you must include them, keep them Far away from each other and try not to cross them with other proper nouns at unguessable letters. This is a big danger of a massively name-heavy puzzle (like this one)—you're always dancing through a Natick minefield. I don't think there are any true Naticks* here, but there are definitely some scares. The main issue is that Bizarro names distract from the otherwise high quality of the puzzle.

            I didn't even mention LIAT, a name I now know because of crosswords, but … again, a very non-name-seeming name. Sports, opera, geography, cinema: whatever your cultural ignorance, this puzzle has a proper-noun groin-kick waiting just for you. The sports-averse must feel particularly pummeled. Crossing not-terribly-famous N.F.L. names and then a double dose of Bo Jackson!? *And* Lamar ODOM? All In A Single Quadrant Of The Puzzle!?!? I legitimately feel sorry for you anti-sports folks today. I really do.

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

            *For a definition of "Natick," click the "FAQ" tab up top; in a nutshell, a "Natick" refers to a crossing of relatively obscure proper nouns at an unguessable letter. I coined the term when I encountered just such a situation at the crossing of *N*. C. WYETH (whose name I now know well) and …. NATICK.
            8/29/2014 4:00:00 AM

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