Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Friend of Gandalf / TUE 9-30-14 / Marbles British Museum display / Canadian comedy show of 1970s-'80s / Mineralogist for whom scale is named
Constructor: Kyle T. Dolan

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "THE PRICE IS RIGHT" (35A: Long-runninggame show with a feature spelled out clockwise by this puzzle's circled letters) — circles spell out "SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN"; other theme answers are a "modern host" and a "longtime host" of the show:

Theme answers:

Word of the Day: ELGIN Marbles (58A: ___ Marbles (British Museum display)) —
The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles (/ˈɛlɡɪn/ el-gin), are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures (mostly by Phidias and his assistants), inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of AthensThomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman house to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.
From 1801 to 1812, Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some, while some critics compared Elgin's actions to vandalism or looting.
Following a public debate in Parliament and the subsequent exoneration of Elgin, the marbles were purchased by the British government in 1816 and placed on display in the British Museum, where they stand now on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery. (wikipedia)
• • •

Wait, the ELGIN Marbles aren't … marbles? Like, playing marbles? Little spheres? Aggies or taws or whatever marbles are called? I'm somehow disappointed.

So, the SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN, if you're not familiar with the show, involves the spinning of a giant wheel with number amounts on it; the contestant closest to one dollar without going over gets to be in the SHOWDOWN, which is this bit where you bid on something fancy … I think whichever contestant guesses value of his/her prize most accurately without going over wins said prize … I haven't watched the show in a while. But here's the thing. The wheel spins along an axis perpendicular to the one represented by the circles in this grid. It doesn't spin like the "Wheel of Fortune" wheel—it spins more like a water mill, with the rim facing outward and the numbers printed on the rim itself. Here—"WOF" wheel:


Point is: this circle is a highly inaccurate of the wheel on "THE PRICE IS RIGHT" (if, in fact, that was what the circled letters were going for, which … I'm not 100% sure).

Fill continues to be abysmal, or at least far below where it should be. I've seen rejection letters where the editor claims to be upholding very high standards in the matter of fill, but that claim is belied by the vast majority of puzzles that have come out lately. Not that the trend is new. It's just been highly noticeable in the past week and half or so. Longer stuff is not bad (LOVE BITES and BREWED UP and BEER CAN will do nicely), but shorter stuff is still manifestly subpar. I'll just highlight that southern region, with TERCE and OKSO (?), but there's also MEI and ARIL and SES and ATA and ONDVD and a bunch of stuff that's just OK. Just getting by. No craft, no attempt at polish. Just … good enough! Apparently "good enough" is the new "gold standard." No idea why the puzzle continues to limp along as it does. But it does. Broken theme, below-average fill … oh, Tuesday. Will you never win?
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/30/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Nixon White House chief of staff / MON 9-29-14 / Hit 2002 film with talking sloths / Racking vehicle on small track / Actor stand up comic Foxx
    Constructor: Eric Sydney Phillips

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

    THEME: HOME TOWN HERO (60A: Local success story) — a series of words / phrases related to a hypothetical "Local success story."

    Theme answers:
    • I KNEW YOU WHEN (18A: Words to a local success story)
    • CELEBRITY (24A: What a local success story achieves)
    • HUMBLE BEGINNINGS (39A: What a local success story comes from)
    • MAKES GOOD (49A: What a local success story does)
    Word of the Day: H.R. HALDEMAN (3D: Nixon White House chief of staff) —
    Harry Robbins "Bob" Haldeman (better known as H. R. Haldeman; October 27, 1926 – November 12, 1993) was an American political aide and businessman, best known for his service as White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon and his consequent involvement in the Watergate scandal. His intimate role in the Watergate cover-up precipitated his resignation from government; subsequent to which he was tried on counts of perjury,conspiracy and obstruction of justice; found guilty and imprisoned for 18 months. Upon his release he returned to private life and was a successful businessman until his death from cancer in 1993. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    The grid is 16 wide, so the fact that this played slow is not that big a surprise. But it played Very slow for me. Nearly 4 minutes. That is a Monday-eternity. I don't much care. This feels like it should've been a Tuesday, but close enough for government work. Is that the expression? I'm not sure. That expression feels at least as old as I would've had to have been for H.R. HALDEMAN to have been a gimme. As it was, I needed, no joke, every cross. Of course I've heard of him, but he's one of those "names in the air" that I can't place accurately, and I certainly didn't know (off the top of my head) his first two initials, let alone how to spell his name ("HALDERMAN?"). So my Nixonian ignorance might've played a role in my slowness today as well. I don't really understand themes like this, possibly because you so rarely see them—they're just a loose collection of phrases associated with a very general idea. There's a kind of progression (kind of) from past ("I KNEW YOU WHEN") to present (HOME TOWN HERO), but not really … CELEBRITY appears early, and BEGINNINGS is in the middle. It was all a bit too arbitrary and blah for me. The fill didn't help matters—very generic, except that HRHALDEMAN outlier there. Clue on NINE MONTHS is kind of cute (31D: Pregnant pause?). But I'll take last Monday's puzzle over this any day. I'm sorry I said anything critical about it at all, Ian Livengood. Come back, Ian Livengood, come back! Livengood! … Shane!

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/29/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Ottoman inns / SUN 9-28-14 / Relative of canary / Chief Justice during Civil War / Synagogue instrument / Flowing glacial feature / Taiwanese computer giant / 2007 purchaser of Applebee's / Shelfmate of Bartlett's / English hymnist / Sparkly topper /
    Constructor: Todd Gross

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "Four By Four" — theme answers are phrases made out of four four-letter words

    Theme answers:
    • SAME TIME NEXT YEAR (23A: 1975 Tony-nominated play about an extended affair)
    • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (46A: The Crossroads of the West)
    • HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH (16D: "Don't be ashamed")
    • TEAR DOWN THIS WALL (36D: Reagan's challenge to Gorbachev)
    • WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN (92A: Warm way to welcome someone)
    • LESS TALK MORE ROCK (119A: Common slogan for a music radio station)
    Word of the Day: Roger B. TANEY (35A: Chief Justice during the Civil War) —
    Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most remembered for delivering the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I was getting complaints about this one before I'd even opened it, and I can see why. The theme is simply not interesting. You can go to onelook.com (as one of my friends pointed out) and do a search of 4x4 possibilities; that search gives you all these, plus many others (most of them completely unusable—my favorites are LOCK THAT SH*T DOWN, SHUT YOUR CAKE HOLE, and the truly stellar FIST F**K YOUR FACE). I'm not convinced that LESS TALK MORE ROCK is terribly legit, but even if it were, there's just a big "Who Cares?" miasma hanging over this one. There are exactly two things remarkable about this puzzle: NO-GOODNIK, and the fact that this is possibly the easiest Sunday puzzle I've ever done. Got snagged at the very end in the north—a total outlier, difficulty-wise—but still finished in under 8 (!?!?). Otherwise, everything about this puzzle is deeply forgettable. I just don't understand how this would "tickle" anyone.

    I guess if I'm going to focus on any part of this grid, it should probably be that north area, which stands out only because the rest of the grid was So Dang Easy. I started entering answers and just kept going, barely even pausing, tearing up the grid until I hit the far north. There I encountered a whole bunch of things I either didn't know or couldn't see, all in one place. First, ICEFALL (9D: Flowing glacial feature). Then MAXILLA, which I sort of knew and sort of doubted—I know very well that AXILLA is armpit, so even though MAXILLA sounded right for 10D: Mandible's counterpart, I couldn't help thinking that I was confusing the real answer with axilla. MAXILLA sounds like an extreme armpit. "Take your axilla to the max, with MAXILLA!" The clue for ALT is just bizarre (11D: Not the main rte.). ALT corresponds to "main"—it's not the main rte., it's the ALT. rte. ALT by itself suggesting nothing about rtes. I know it as a prefix meaning alternative, as in "alt-country." I was half-expecting DET. (as in "detour"?). Then there was the very last thing I got—the absurd SERIN / TANEY cross. Both of those are obscure, and they cross at a not-too-guessable letter. Even if you think "those aren't obscure," they certain are compared to All The Other Answers In This Grid. Not well-known bird crossing not well-known Supreme Court Chief Justice at a Wheel-Of-Fortune letter? Odd.

    Reluctant to do a Puzzle of the Week this week, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't do as many puzzles this week as I normally do, so it's highly probable I haven't even solved some good candidates. Also, I'm still struggling with the Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Puzzle metapuzzle, which I'm told is great, but which I can't yet confirm (no "aha" moment for me yet). So I'll just say that the best puzzle I did this week was Patrick Berry's Friday themeless (NYT), though Byron Walden's "Mismatched Socks" (AV Club Crossword) (solution) is also worth a look. Best themed puzzle I did, for sure.

    [Update: Just figured out the meta for this week's MGWCC puzzle ("Repeat Offenders," by Francis Heaney). It is indeed amazing, though I have this small quibble that I can't discuss because the contest deadline hasn't passed … gah! Anyway, the puzzle is pretty epic, and definitely POTW-worthy]

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/28/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Deep-sea explorer William / SAT 9-27-14 / Name in 2000 headlines / One-man Broadway hit of 1989 / Who said I have wonderful psychiatrist that I see maybe once year because I don't need it It all comes out onstage
    Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith and George Barany

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: William BEEBE (2D: Deep-sea explorer William) —
    William Beebe /ˈbbi/, born Charles William Beebe (July 29, 1877 – June 4, 1962) was an American naturalistornithologistmarine biologist,entomologistexplorer, and author. He is remembered for the numerous expeditions he conducted for the New York Zoological Society, his deep dives in the Bathysphere, and his prolific scientific writing for both academic and popular audiences. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Seems like I've seen this exact grid, or something very close to it, for many central quad-stack puzzles. I guess the heavy segmentation, which results in a puzzle that plays like three separate puzzles, is kind of inevitable when you have a giant stack in the center. It all felt very familiar. A bit deja vu. I was less surprised or bothered by anything relating to the quad-stack than I was surprised and (mildly) bothered by the less-than-great short stuff up top and down below. I think TAWS OREN PACA TBAR TROP and PICAS are, as a group, worse than the short stuff holding the center together. They're certainly no better, and (the main point) they're far less explicable, since they come (down below) in much easier-to-fill areas of the grid. I enjoyed (and got thrown by) E-CIGARETTE (I had the back end and kept getting frustrated that CIGARETTE wasn't long enough…), but nothing else up top or down below was very remarkable. The quad-stack, on the other hand, has two wonderful entries ("I CALL 'EM AS I SEE 'EM" and "BREAKER ONE-NINER!"), and while ALOP and AMERE and "ERI TU" are no one's idea of a good time, they're certainly reasonable in a quad-stack situation. The strangest thing about my reaction to this grid is that I've grown oddly fond of the seemingly requisite ONE'S answer (today, IN ONE'S SPARE TIME). Some part of me feels like I should ding it, since it's kind of a cliché, but I find myself just nodding at it in acknowledgment, like "Hey, what's up?" or perhaps, even more enthusiastically, "There he is—up top!" [high five]. Perhaps this is because, as ONE'S answers go, IN ONE'S SPARE TIME is pretty dang solid.

    Puzzle is redeemed in its weaker parts by some pretty nice cluing. IBEFOREE does not amuse me, but that clue, 1A: Start of a weird infraction?, is clever (note: "weird" violates the IBEFOREE rule…). Lots of "?" clues today (I count nine)—pushed but did not exceed my tolerance limit for that mode of cluing.  Hardest "?" clue for me was 18A: Mideast pops? (ABBA), as I had no idea ABBA meant "father" in Hebrew, and Really had no idea who William BEEBE was. In the end, I went with the "B" at that crossing because a. no other letters made sense, and b. ABBA Eban is a thing. A crossword thing. Person, actually. Not 'thing.' And he was Israeli, which explained the "Mideast" part of the clue. BEEBE looked hella wrong, but "B" was the best option I had there, and it was the right one.

    Happy 11th anniversary to my remarkable wife. (And thus the crazy week of daughter's birthday / blog's birthday / wedding anniversary comes to an end…)

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. [Country standard] is a great trick clue for NATIONAL AVERAGE. I was thinking "Country" = music. Then I was thinking "standard" = flag ...
    9/27/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Ninotchka setting / FRI 9-26-14 / Brewer of Schlitz nowadays / Fad dance of 1930s / Asian tourist magnet / Like Tik-Tok in Land of Oz / Philosopher who wrote superstition is religion of feeble minds / Banned items at Wimbledon
    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: PABST (1D: Brewer of Schlitz, nowadays) —
    The Pabst Brewing Company is an American company that dates its origins to a brewing company founded in 1844 by Jacob Best and by 1889 named after Frederick Pabst. It is currently the holding company contracting for the brewing of over two dozen brands of beer and malt liquor from defunct companies including G. Heileman Brewing CompanyLone Star Brewing CompanyPearl Brewing CompanyPiels Bros.National Brewing Company,Olympia Brewing CompanyPrimo Brewing & Malting CompanyRainier Brewing CompanyF & M Schaefer Brewing CompanyJoseph Schlitz Brewing CompanyJacob Schmidt Brewing Company and Stroh Brewery Company.
    The company is also responsible for the brewing of Ice Man Malt LiquorSt. Ides High Gravity Malt Liquor, and retail versions of beers from McSorley's Old Ale House and Southampton Publick House (of Southampton, New York).
    Pabst is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. On September 18, Oasis Beverages, backed by TSG Consumer Partners, announced an agreement to acquire Pabst Brewing Company from C. Dean Metropoulos & Co for $700 million. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Please, constructors, print out this grid and stick it on your damned wall near wherever it is that you construct puzzles. This is the ideal you're chasing when pursuing "clean fill." You won't attain this ideal, but keeping it in mind might ensure that you don't fall embarrassingly short. 66 words, huge slant-stack in the middle, zinging fill all over the place, and there's hardly a clunker in the Whole Thing. C'EST. That might be the weakest link. AGRA and OMAN and INGE are common, but they are very much real things *and* please say hello to their little friends AIRHORNS ARGONAUTS BACKTALKS BINGONIGHT and SLEEPER HIT. The gap between the quality of this puzzle and the quality of the average puzzle this week is stunning. It's an education, actually. A friend of mine looked at the data from another crossword website, where all major and many minor puzzles are rated by users on a star system. Now I've never put too much store in this system, for a variety of reasons, but the numbers are nonetheless compelling: out of roughly 750 puzzles rated this calendar year, three of the lowest-rated eleven puzzles were from this week's NYT. The NYT had seven puzzles in the top 40 for the year, and three of those were made by ... [drum roll] … yeah, Patrick Berry. So if you line up the NYT puzzles from this week so far, you can see how great Patrick Berry is, or you can see how far the NYT's standards have fallen away from the ideal. Or both. Or neither, I guess, but "neither" is gonna be a tough one to defend.

    Here's something I can fault this puzzle for—I can't believe there are so many "-ING"s. And all interlocking! Is the NYT not embarrassed by such redundancy, such cheap trickery, such shoddy constructionship!? I mean SPIRITING, BUMMING, UMPING, ROCKING … where will it end!? OK, it ends there, but my fake-outrage stands.

    I got thrown a bit by 1D: Brewer of Schlitz, nowadays (PABST), because my first thought was PABST, but then I thought, "Oh, wait, no, it's that damned Russian company that just bought PABST and all the other old beer imprints, the one mentioned on the "Colbert Report" the other day … What Is Their Name!?" But they weren't relevant to the clue. PABST still brews Schlitz, despite the change in parent company. Ap-parent-ly.

    Please enjoy your Friday. I'm gonna do this puzzle again, from scratch, just for fun.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. I have mentally reclued 24D: Hard-to-escape situation. It's now [What yesterday's puzzle could've used?]
    9/26/2014 11:54:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Villain in Indiana Jones Kingdom of Crystal Skull / THU 9-25-14 / Rapper who co-starred in 2002's half past dead / Russian composer Arensky / Literally northern capital / Series of watering troughs / Czech playwright who coined word robot
    Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: Ten 3-letter body parts — Puzzle note reads: "The human body is said to have 10 three-letter body parts. All 10 of these are hidden in side Across answers in this puzzle. Can you find them all? The body parts, from left to right, top to bottom: GUM, TOE, JAW, RIB, EAR, ARM, HIP, LIP, EYE, LEG."

    Word of the Day: SPALKO (46D: Villain in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") —
    Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko was an agent of the KGB, as well as a scientist and military officer, working for the Soviet Union. She was a psychic, as well as a very skilled fencer and combatant. Spalko desired the use of the Crystal Skull of Akator to brainwash and manipulate the minds of American forces, giving the Soviets a tactical advantage in the Cold War. Her weapon of choice was a rapier. Spalko was an infamous leader, with a cruel disregard for innocent casualities and harboring a secret, selfish motivation. However, she did all this in the name of her country, and not out of pure maliciousness. As a soldier, she did only what was needed to complete the mission at hand. (Indiana Jones Wiki)
    • • •

    I was really, really hoping for something good today, as it is the 8th anniversary of this blog. I was psyching myself up, telling myself I was gonna enjoy it no matter what. But this puzzle … I don't even know where to start. First, it appears one's solving experience will be different depending on the medium one uses. I don't know what the "Note" looks like in the paper (I won't see that til tomorrow). I know that on the NYT website, if you just press "Play" and solve on the applet, you get the first part of the note, but have to click on "Reveal Answer" to see what the ten body parts are. But in Across Lite, the software I and many others use to solve the puzzle on our computers, the bright yellow Note symbol appears right away when you open the puzzle. And clicking on it revealed the *entire* note. So, right away, all the answers, as well as the order in which they appear (!), are revealed. The puzzle has no revealer. No title. Nothing to figure out. No surprise. We're just handed a complete explanation of everything about the structure of the puzzle—before we've even solved a single answer. But here's the thing—I can't pretend I was *that* disappointed at having the puzzle spoiled for me up front because it turns out There's Nothing To Spoil.

    Let's be very clear about this. This puzzle (once completed) is a word find … with only three-letter words in it … where the answers all run Across … and we are told the order in which they appear. As I am not five years old, I have a very, very hard time seeing how this is interesting or compelling in any way, especially on a Thursday, *especially* in "the best puzzle in the world" (per the NYT's own promotional material). Even if the answers *and* their order hadn't been revealed right up front, this would've still been insultingly dull. It is a word search for morons, and the word search part is *completely and utterly* separate from the content of the grid. So you get this mediocre themeless puzzle, and then the world's simplest word find.

    I'm struggling to understand how any human being involved in this puzzle's creation could've thought this would be fun (for adults) to solve. There's no cleverness. No trickery. No playfulness. Nothing required of the solver at all—well, there's filling the grid itself, which was tough, but, again, that part has Nothing to do with the theme. The puzzle is utterly meaningless without the note, and with the note it's not much better. And I retract the "mediocre themeless" comment. It's worse than mediocre. Themelesses tend to have Way more interesting answers and Way fewer SLOES and OTOES and STETs and omg it just goes on and on.  I will give this puzzle "PEACE OUT!" and that is all I will give it (4D: "Later, bro!"). It's a non-puzzle. Someone I know suggested to me just now that the childishly easy word find was a "sop" to the people who were so livid about Patrick Blindauer's "Change of Heart" puzzle two weeks ago. But I can't buy that. Just because you hated Ulysses doesn't mean you'll be appeased by Where's Waldo?.

    I did find CUM and BOSOM and ANUS, though, so I'm managing to amuse myself at least. What else have we got?:

    • 17A: Golden girl? (SACAJAWEA) — this was one of the highlights of the grid. I especially liked the clue (she appears on the golden $1 coin. I'm a bit concerned that some people will have messed up the JA RULE / CAPEK crossing. Maybe JORULE / COPEK? You don't see "R.U.R." in crosswords *nearly* as much as you used to, and thus aren't reminded nearly so much of CAPEK's name, so you'd be forgiven for forgetting (as I did). You'd also be forgiven for forgetting JA RULE, if you ever knew him in the first place. He hasn't been popular for a while. Oh, and since the U.S. Mint and all sites describing the dollar coin seem to think the "Golden girl" in question is spelled with a "G" and not a "J," you'd perhaps also be forgiven for having gone with GA RULE (or even GO RULE) as well.
    • 27A: Series of watering troughs? (AEIOU) — well, if you have to have such a terrible answer in your grid, I guess the best thing you can do is give it a cool, weird-ass clue. (The letters AEIOU appear in order, and each just once, inside the phrase "watering troughs")
    • 32D: Russian composer Arensky (ANTON) — never heard of him. Let's listen:

    I look forward to the return of crosswords, and my enthusiasm for them, tomorrow. It's been a mostly enjoyable eight years. I think I got at least two left in me. Thanks for your readership.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/25/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Battery containing liquid electrolyte / WED 9-24-14 / First family of Germany 1969-74 / Collaborator with Disney on film Destino / Acronym for linked computers / Actress with iconic line what dump / Like bass voice hairy chest
    Constructor: Andy Kravis

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

    THEME: X replaces a letter in a movie title, creating a wacky title:

    Theme answers:
    • "MARX ATTACKS" (17A: Film about a Communist invasion? (1996))
    • "A BEAUTIFUL MINX" (26A: Film about the woman most likely to catch men's attention? (2001))
    • "THE LOVELY BOXES" (46A: Film about an elegantly made crossword? (2009))
    • "EAT XRAY LOVE" (63A: Film about a romantic dentist's daily routine? (2010))
    Word of the Day: BRANDTS (53A: First family of Germany, 1969-74) —
    Willy Brandt (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪli ˈbʁant]; born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm; 18 December 1913 – 8 October 1992) was a German statesman and politician, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or SPD) from 1964 to 1987 and chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his efforts to achieve reconciliation between West Germany and the countries of the Soviet bloc. He was the first Social Democrat chancellor since 1930.
    Though controversial in West Germany, Brandt's policy of Ostpolitik can be considered his most significant legacy and it aimed at improving relations with East Germany,Poland, and the Soviet Union. Of similar importance, the Brandt Report became a recognised measure for describing the general North-South divide in world economics and politics between an affluent North and a poor South.
    Brandt resigned as Chancellor in 1974, after Günter Guillaume, one of his closest aides, was exposed as an agent of the Stasi, the East German secret service. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    The new titles are delightful but there's no rationale for the letter changes. None. You just change whatever letter you like to get something funny. That doesn't seem enough. Nothing substantial links the movies. There's no rhyme or reason to the letter replacement. I mean … "WAX HORSE." There's one. Presumably you could go on for days. "THE WIZARD OF OX." "STAX WARS." "ONE FLEX OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEXT." Etc. Also, "The Lovely Bones" and "Eat Pray Love" are primarily books (to me). I know they were movies, and I also know "A Beautiful Mind" was a book, but the latter was a major Oscar contender as a movie, while I feel like the others are better known as books than movies. This is neither here nor there, but neither is the reason for the X-switching in this puzzle, so I don't feel too bad.

    The baffling lack of rationale added considerably to the difficulty level (for me), as it took me forever even to notice the "X" thing. I had written in "MARS ATTACKS" … because it's a movie and I thought the answers were going to be real movies that were simply clued wackily … and then couldn't get 4D: Guileful to work. "What is FOSY?"  Wasn't until I was trying to figure out what abbreviated holiday started with DM- (answer: none)—in fact, after I put together ELF—that I realized, oh, change to X. Oh, MARX. Oh … OK. And then I finished. And then I didn't get it, and figured I was missing something. Andy has his own puzzle site, "Andy Kravis, Cruciverbalist at Law," and his puzzles are often very clever—so I figured I was missing something. Only after asking for help (from a friend) did I realize that I wasn't missing anything. Random letters become Xs and wackiness ensues. Again, the wordplay has a certain delightful quality, but this theme is just too loose for me.

    Grid is mostly clean. BRANDTS is an odd plural name, and I don't know what EEC is …oh, no, wait, it's the thing that preceded the E.U., right? OK. Yeah, I never liked that as fill. But I'd say with minimal exceptions, the fill is general solid throughout. "SIGMUND AND THE SEX MONSTERS!" — OK, that's a TV show, and way too long, but you see how this random "X" switch thing can go on and on and on … maybe the cutesy / meta crossword clue (46A) is what put it over the top. Sometimes tough to know what will "tickle" the editor and what won't.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Snowman in Disney's Frozen / TUE 9-23-14 / Jazz great named after Egyptian god / Everett player of Mr Bernstein in Citizen Kane / Lawrence who co-wrote two of Star Wars films / Roone who created Nightline 20/20
    Constructor: Gerry Wildenberg

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: GOLD NUGGETS (38A: Valuable finds suggested by the circled letters) — circled letters spell out gold if you read them … well, it looks like sometimes clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise …)

    Word of the Day: "AGON" (65A: Stravinsky ballet) —
    Agon (1957) is a ballet for twelve dancers, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Composition began in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; work was resumed in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957; the music was first performed on June 17, 1957 in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft, while the first stage performance was given by the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957 at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York (White 1979, 490). The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical language to one based ontwelve-tone technique; the music of the ballet thus demonstrates a unique symbiosis of musical idioms. The ballet has no story, but consists of a series of dance movements in which various groups of dancers interact in pairs, trios, quartets etc. A number of the movements are based on 17th-century French court dances – sarabandgalliard and bransle. It was danced as part of City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Coincidentally, I was reading about Charlie Chaplin just before starting this puzzle.

    There are a host of problems here. With the exception of SOBE, the puzzle feels about a million years old, with crosswordese (NLERS RIATA AAR … those are consecutive!) and olde-timey names (MAGDA, AKINS, SLOANE, etc.) and then stuff like HE-GOAT and SLIPSLOP (!?) that I just didn't know what to make of. The puzzle was not well slotted on a Tuesday—too wide-open, too tough. But the main problem was that the grid-filling was not up to the challenge posed by the ambitious theme. That NLERS RIATA AAR line alone tells you, first, that the grid was hand-filled (you can malign computers all you like, but they help keep less expert constructors out of Junk City), and second, that it was hand-filled according to OLD-LINE standards. UNSTOW? BLATS? This is very, very rough. The core concept is OK—it would've been more elegant if the nuggets all read in one direction or the other, I think, but the theme isn't the problem. It's what the theme does to the fill that's the problem. The grid is just too demanding. The limitations imposed by the nuggets coupled with dauntingly wide-open corners just set the bar too high, and the puzzle couldn't get over.

    • 28A: Jazz great named after an Egyptian god (SUN RA) — the names were just *tough* on me today. I know who SUN RA is, but off the "S" I had no idea, and that corner also has SLOANE (unknown to me) and ALDO (also, weirdly, unknown to me), and an YSER clue that I didn't find easy at all (10A: W.W. I's Battle of the ___). Proper nouns beyond my ken really gummed things up.
    • 43D: Roone who created "Nightline" and "20/20" (ARLEDGE) — a name I know, but just screwed up badly today. For some reason I wanted "ALRIDGE" … "L" before "R" at any rate. And with SLIPSLOP next door (again I say "???"), and uncertainty about whether EASES or ALL'S were even right, well, proper names strike again. I wouldn't have minded so much if the fill had been (much) better.
    • 65A: Stravinsky ballet ("AGON") — stunning to me a. that this word is even in a Tuesday puzzle, and b. that this clue is considered Tuesday-appropriate. Proper nouns here aren't just beyond me—they're dated, marginal, and (most importantly) unnecessary. I'll take "AGON" as a a Stravinsky ballet on, say, a Friday or Saturday, if it's helping hold up a lovely stack or corner. Otherwise, pass. Especially on Tuesday, pass.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    9/23/2014 4:00:00 AM
    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 me 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: http://www.answers.com/topic/peignoir#ixzz3DizUihDf
    • • •

    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:
    • C AS IN CUE
    • A AS IN ARE
    • S AS IN SEA
    • E AS IN EYE
    • Y AS IN YOU
    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. (yourdictionary.com—"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.] (thefreedictionary.com)
          • • •

          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. (thefreedictionary.com)
          • • •

          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

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