Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Mujer of mixed race / TUE 7-29-14 / Rapper who hosted MTV's Pimp My Ride / Away from a chat program say / Noted filmmaker with dog named Indiana
Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: Plants with animal names — First theme clue begins "Nursery worker's suggestion …" and then each clue simply follows the pattern "… for a ___"; nothing in the clues about animals, so that's just an added thing you have to figure out (after you figure out which kind of "nursery" the clue is on about, and after you figure out where the "first" theme clue is so you know what the first part of the theme clue phrase is, because w/o it, you've just got these ellipsis clues staring at you, which can be maddening …)

Theme answers:
  • SNAKEPLANT (18A: Nursery worker's suggest for a backstabber?)
  • CRABGRASS (3D: … for a grouch?)
  • DOGWOOD (36A: … for a scoundrel?)
  • WOLFSBANE (32D: … for a lothario?)
  • GOATSBEARD (57A: … for a fall guy?)

Word of the Day: MESTIZA (49D: Illusions) —
noun: mestiza; plural noun: mestizas
  1. (in Latin America) a woman of mixed race, especially the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian. (google)
• • •
At a minimum, it was interesting. And it was certainly way harder than the typical Tuesday, what with the rather complicated / double-unstated theme (unstated first because there's no clue tip to the animal angle, and unstated second because unless you know which theme answer is the so-called "first" one, all your theme clues are just partial clues). Seems like 3D should've been "first," in that it is closest to the upper left, where most people start, but there certainly is convention on the side of making the "first" theme clue be the first theme clue that appears in an Across position. Anyway, my first theme answer was SNAKE PLANT, a thing I've never heard of, so I just … had no idea what was going on. Eventually, after figuring out a bunch of themers via crosses, I could see that we were dealing w/ animal plants, and things got a tad easier. But then there was the whole XZIBIT (!) MESTIZA area, which is right hard for any day. I actually know both the rapper and the "mixed race" term, but the latter never dawned on me (til late) and the former … is he still somebody people know? Seems like he is solidly and completely bound in amber from circa 2003.

I fell into a horribly stupid self-made pit when, faced with --KEN at 64A: Wheelbarrow or thimble, in Monopoly, my eye took in only the first word and I wrote in (with what, in retrospect, was a weird amount of confidence) OAKEN. This did two things. First, it gave me a perfectly acceptable word at 58D: Spanish "that" (ESO—I had ESA); second, it gave me -IO as the last two letters of the rapper, and wham bam thank you COOLIO! Then things got ugly. Because just as I'd never heard of SNAKE PLANT, I'd never heard of GOAT'S BEARD, and the leap from "fall guy" to GOAT (given all the imaginative thematic nursery leaps I was already having to make) was pretty far. When I see "fall guy" I just see Lee Majors doing stunts and … what, solving crimes? Did he do that? I never actually watched the show.

So theme was … let's be generous and say "layered" in an "interesting" way. Felt a bit wonky as set up, clue-wise, and as I said, at least two of the plants meant nothing to me, so I didn't Love the theme, but the core concept holds up, and I rather like most of the fill. Except ICE FOG. I'm not fully convinced that's real. ICE stuff is like E-stuff, in that the puzzle keeps trying to sell me new products, and I just get increasingly skeptical. ICE TEA ICE RUN ICE AXE. I think I draw the line at ICEAX(E). OK, that's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/29/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Weasley family owl / MON 7-28-14 / Plump songbird / Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has football-shaped head / Those who put lot of effort into social-climbing in modern lingo
Constructor: Tom McCoy

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

THEME: STRING QUARTET (37A: Classical music group … or what the four sets of circled letters make up?) — I don't know how to describe this theme. Circled/embedded letters spell out … what? Strings can be made of "nylon" … and they are analogous in shape to the other three … I honestly don't understand what makes this theme consistent. Mainly I do not understand "nylon." Seems like a huge Odd Man Out.

Theme answers:
  • ZEROPERCENT (17A: Chance of an impossibility)
  • "HEYARNOLD" (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head)
  • ANYLONAGER (44A: For even a second more)
  • VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally)
Word of the Day: TRY-HARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) —
[I have googled [define "try-hards"] and mainly what comes up are gaming sites and sites where people are asking the question "what (the hell) is a 'try-hard'?" I'm deeply suspicious of the reality of this answer. I love "modern lingo," but certain minimum qualities of familiarity must be met, I think.] [Here's a "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" message board, if that helps]
• • •

Well, insofar as the fill was kind of zippy, and the overall puzzle was much tougher than your normal Monday, I was pleased. Probably should've been a Tuesday, but whatevs. Close enough for horseshoes etc. But there is one major problem here—kind of a deal breaker. This theme makes no sense. Or, it makes sense in only the loosest, vaguest way, like "here's some stuff in the broad galaxy of string-ish things." And if you're going to go that route, why not pearls, cheese, theory, etc? But here, there's ROPE, YARN, and CABLE … all of which can be made of many, many things, and share with "string" a physical shape (spaghetti-ESQUE is, I believe, the technical term). But NYLON is the material out of which one might *make* string, or rope, I think. So there's a consistency issue here. You want your revealer to just *snap* the whole puzzle into place. "AH … yes. Bam. Got it." Is the reaction you want. Here, I just made a face at the puzzle and then tried to piece together my comprehension failure. I asked my group (I have a group) and it turns out I wasn't alone in my bafflement, so … yeah. If you don't give a rat's [beep] about tightness of themes, then you can just enjoy the atypically crunchy fill and let it go. But this looks like Theme Fail to me.

What made this one slower than most Mondays. Well, first off, the theme answers are not exactly common phrases. They're real things, but all of them took me crosses / thought to come up with (not always the case on Mondays). "HEY, ARNOLD" was by far the toughest, as I had completely forgotten that show existed. My kid never watched it, I never watched it … I know it only because it's Out There. In the Air. Man. [Chance of an impossibility] sounds like it's going to be some interesting colloquialism, but ends up being highly literal. YOU was clued toughly (32D: Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed). I mean, not so's you'd be up all night sussing it out, but still, these little difficulties add up on a Monday. I was over 3:30, I think, which is 30+ seconds slower than usual (those thirty seconds feel much longer than than they are). I'd say 90+% of my Monday times fall in a very tight group between 2:45 and 3:15, so when the times are outside that range, I know something's up. But again, no big deal. I like a little struggle, a little bite, on Monday, as long as the end result is a good puzzle. Today … things didn't quite come together, theme-wise, but it wasn't a total loss.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/28/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine / SUN 7-27-14 / Pathet old revolutionary group / Longtime baseball union exec Donald / European capital to natives / Exemplar of indecision / Names featured in Al Hirschfeld drawings
Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "What's My Line?" — Theme clues are all familiar phrases following the pattern [___ line], and answers are all "lines" in the sense of something someone might say (i.e. unexpected answers, not immediately associated with the apparently context of the clue) (so, for instance, [Fault line] is a line one might utter if one was at fault, and not anything to do with an earthquake)

Theme answers:
  • SORRY WRONG NUMBER (22A: Telephone line)
  • SHOW ME THE MONEY (30A: Cruise line)
  • I'LL GET IT (14D: Help line) 
  • MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN? (15D: Date line)
  • ONCE UPON A TIME (52A: Story line)
  • MIGHT MAKES RIGHT (39D: Power line)
  • THAT'S ALL FOLKS (77A: Finish line)
  • IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME (101A: Fault line)
  • EAT FRESH (84D: Subway line) —this struck me as the freshest (!) of the bunch
  • TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE (111A: Laugh line)

Word of the Day: FARFEL (99A: Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine) —
noun, plural far·fel. Jewish Cookery.
a solid foodstuff broken into small pieces: matzo farfel; noodle farfel.
1890–95;  < Yiddish farfl;  compare Middle High German varveln noodles
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014. 
• • •

This was one for people who are a. way, way older than I am, and b. have a very, very different sense of humor than I do. Essentially, if you thought the NYT crossword puzzle had its heyday circa 1980, this was the puzzle for you. You can really taste the Maleska. Almost completely void of any contemporary frame of reference? Check. Cultural center of gravity of roughly 1955? Check. "Humor" (i.e. very very mild guffaws or chuckles that are guaranteed family-friendly and TRITE)? Check. Short fill that is ridiculously, bafflingly arcane, in places where it could easily, with little reworking, be replaced by something reasonable and familiar? Checkity check. I stopped solving within the first minute, at PRAHA, because I couldn't believe it was right. "No way you'd have that in an easy-to-fill corner like that … No way." And yet, way. I mean, that corner's got PSIS and ITGO, so it's not like PRAHA is doing some kind of valiant, Atlas-like labor  and holding the whole area up. Dear lord. HATLO!? "They'll Do It Ever Time"? OK, HATLO's work looks interesting, but that guy's been dead over 50 years and his strip was never terribly major to begin with. Real answers with clever / interesting clues beat obscure proper nouns (especially barely inferable ones like these) Every Single Time. It's construction 101. At this point, we're dealing w/ an editing problem, not a construction one. This theme is so stale, and the fill so mediocre-to-poor (and dated), that I don't know how puzzles like these keep getting published. In 2014. Solving this felt like slightly like punishment. Where was the fun? This was about as fun as filling out a SCHEDULE A (I imagine).

What year is it? Who says "MAY I SEE YOU AGAIN?" No, you may not, and get rid of the bow tie and desperate squeaking voice, and Vote Truman! The fact that the [Laugh line] is TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE tells you everything you need to know about this puzzle. I want you to walk outside right now and just start exclaiming "FARFEL FEHR!" When people ask "Why are you talking gibberish?" just say "Not Gibberish! It was in my puzzle! FARFEL FEHR!" The whole thing started feeling like a trivia contest—as if the puzzle were made harder by the inclusion of stuff like [Pathet ___ (old revolutionary group)] and [___ de Champlain (founder of Quebec)] and [Astronaut Slayton]. I wanted (much) more stuff like "IN THERE" (which is at least colloquial and has some zing) or DATA FLOW. But mostly all I got was punishing moldy stuff.

"Why are you opposed to learning new things!?" Because I'm a small-minded American. Also, I'm not opposed. I'm opposed to people using lame excuses for why cruddy fill is in their grids. Put it this way: if I put Samuel ETO'O in a grid, your reaction would not be, "Oh, I am so glad to learn of this Cameroonian footballer who is a star striker for Chelsea FC." Your reaction would be "WTF?" or "Not *sports* again [groan]" (yeah, I see you) or "Paging Dr. OOXTEPLERNON!" or some such. And much as I enjoy the names of footballers from around the globe, if my puzzle were a mainstream puzzle (such as the NYT), You Would Be Right To Groan, not because ETO'O is not a great name (it is) but because four-letter answers should not be spent on obscure names unless Absolutely Positively Necessary. See also, five-letter words, six-letter words, etc. And by "obscure" I mean "obscure to the majority of the target audience." To many football fans, ETO'O is not obscure.

Also, where is [Party line]? [Shore line]? [Zip line]? [Panty line]? [Bee line]? There Are So Many Lines, with (one imagines) So Many potential different answers, any number of which might've been entertaining / amusing / clever / fresh.

Had to suspend my Puzzle of the Week feature for a bit because I haven't been keeping up w/ All The Puzzles during my travels. I'll probably do something collective for July. I'm taking nominations if you've got 'em. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go gas up the ol' LANDAU (44A: Vinyl-roofed car).
The landau description was revived during the 1960s. There was a trend for making "fake convertibles" by applying vinyl roofs on regular cars. Some of these vehicles were called "landaus" by their manufacturers, and many were fitted with landau bars on the rear quarters (faux cabriolet). Some used the term "Town Landau" such as for one of the 1967 models in the Ford Thunderbird line. This generally meant a wider rear pillar with no rear quarter windows, or a partial vinyl roof that was applied only over the rear seat area (and is thus reminiscent of a town car).

A landau roof is also commonly used on the North American hearse; very long closed rear quarters, a vinyl roof, and huge, polished landau bars have been the preferred hearse style since before World War II. (wikipedia) (emph. mine)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/27/2014 1:29:00 PM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Zigzag ribbon / SAT 7-26-14 / Resort town near Piz Bernina / Airline relaunched in 2009 / Material also known as cat-gold glimmer / Dutch queen until 1980 / Cousin of goldeneye
Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none, or maybe "JERSEY SHORE," since there's a lot of Italian stuff in the grid like JOE PESCI and LAZIO and AL ITALIA, and WOW FACTOR kind of recalls the name of one of the characters (people?) on the show, JWoww, though as you can see she spells her name differently; I don't think it's a stretch to call the cast SEA CREATUREs … but no, I think I'm reading too much into the grid; I'm sticking with "none"; no theme; NIL.  

Word of the Day: RICRAC (46A: Zigzag ribbon) —
rickrack or ricrac  (ˈrɪkˌræk)
— n
a zigzag braid used for trimming (dictionary.reference.com)
• • •

Since I haven't slept properly in about a jillion hours (read: 48+) and am roughly 8 hours jet lagged at the moment, I figured I would struggle mightily with this one, but instead I tore it up, viciously, if not joyfully. I'd heard rumors that the puzzles had improved notably during my absence. Looking at some of the bylines, I wouldn't be surprised, but I'd hold off on the declarations that "It's Alive!" Ten days or so is not a noteworthy or statistically significant amount of time. It's easy to fall into the recency delusion. I mean, I've written this blog for going on eight years, and if I have a serious negative (or positive) reaction to a cluster of puzzles, I get mail about how I must be in a better mood these days, or "why do you blog if you hate puzzles so much?," when really there is no larger trend. Sometimes you flip "heads" five times in a row. Not likely, but it will happen if you flip long enough. This is all to say today's puzzle was decidedly average—a handful of decent, original answers and a pretty good StaggerStack™ there in the middle, and then either forgettable or below-average stuff most everywhere else. What's super-weird about this puzzle is it has a pretty low word count (64), but with all its short junk, it feels like the word count is much higher. Usually low word-count grids don't feel this choppy, and whatever their potential flaws, I don't have to endure stuff like ERL and ELIS and ADIN and OOO and partial names like NOVO and PIBB. WOW FACTOR (15D: Provider of "!!!") speaks for itself, and LOVE BITE adds some zing, but otherwise, pretty tepid.

Whole SW corner feels off. RATED A is a bond thing, then? You'd never use it to mean "Tops" in any situation I can think of. RICRAC is a new one on me; can't say it's bad, but can't imagine it was a "hoo boy can't wait to get this one in the grid" kind of answer. I spent many years studying the Middle Ages, where monks abounded, and I always new them as ASCETIC. The -AL sounds quaint and odd, like when people say "IRONICAL"—it's a word, but not the word one would, you know, use. EARING sounds like something Eliza (the notorious AITCH-dropper) would say. "Am I 'EARING you right, 'Enry?" she'd ask. I've never spelled DOOZIE like that. I'm a "Y" man, myself.

I've been doing mainly cryptic crosswords for the past two weeks while in NZ. Usually with family, usually over tea. Much more social than this US crossword business. Highly enjoyable, if (much) more time-consuming. Anyway, I'm back in US crossword mode now. I'm here blogging for another week, then I leave again (for less distant lands and for less time). I might blog at least a few puzzles during next week's trip, since I'll at least be in the country, and will be able to access the puzzle at a humane, west coast hour. Anyway, I'm hugely grateful to the people who filled in for me when I'm away. It's a considerable privilege to have so many people I can just hand the keys, without having to worry about, well, anything. So thanks to Erik Agard, The Klein sisters, Doug Peterson, Andrew Ries, Finn Vigeland, and especially Matt Gaffney.

Back with more hot blog action tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. way way Way too jet lagged to get into the potential problems with 36A: Eliza in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," e.g. (MULATTO). Not sure why you'd even have that in your word list, but … nope, nope. Too tired. Bed.
7/26/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Annihilate, arcade-style / FRI-25-JUL / Tudor who lost her head / Like God
Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: not too tough for a Friday

THEME: none, freestyle grid

Word of the Day: TOLEDO, OHIO (29A: The Glass Capital of the World)
Toledo (/təˈld/) is the fourth most populous city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Lucas County.[5] Toledo is in northwest Ohio, on the western end of Lake Erie, and borders the State of Michigan. The city was founded in 1833 on the west bank of the Maumee River, originally incorporated as part of Monroe County, Michigan Territory, then re-founded in 1837, after conclusion of the Toledo War, when it was incorporated in Ohio.
Toledo grew quickly as a result of the Miami and Erie Canal and its position on the railway line between New York and Chicago. It has since become a city well known for its industry, particularly in glass and auto assembly, as well as for its art community, education, healthcare, and local sports teams. The population of Toledo as of the 2010 Census was 287,208, while the Toledo metropolitan area had a population of 651,429.

                                                                        -- Wikipedia

Blazed through this one with a Feyeresque, Hinmanite, Delfinian time of 8:56. Couldn't find a toehold in the NE and was starting to panic with almost nothing filled in after a minute, but then this freestyle's many long entries began to fall like dominoes in those videos you see of all those dominoes falling: first (24D: Elated) had to be ON CLOUD NINE, and then with just the ???????K?? I got ARTICHOKES from (57A: Heads with hearts), and very soon after ON A LEASH from (30D: restrained); and then right after the aforementioned TOLEDO, OHIO.

My solve was looking like a skeletal grid, those simple ones you see on the placemat at Bob's Big Boy or wherever: I had all the long entries, each connected by one letter to another long entry, without any of the surrounding short fill. It was like cheating, like how long can this continue?, like the first 30 minutes of that Germany-Brazil game. Euphoric. Rode that vibe through the whole thing. Good feeling and so many nice long entries that we've barely scratched them even with that intro.

DOWN GOES FRAZIER! How-ard Co-sell's famous call from the Foreman-Frazier fight in Jamaica. Yes, I looked that up. I thought it was Ali-Frazier in Vegas. And I didn't realize it was Cosell.

A little short on time so the quick version is: nice long entries; a little scruffy on the short fill in places but not too scruffy; tough, tricky clues: let's call it a B+, indeed giving us the letters to ABACAB. An outstanding week of puzzles thus far, which Rex will finish off tomorrow.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: the 7th edition of the Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament will be held in Manhattan on Saturday, August 9th. I have to miss it this year but I've been the past two years and it's highly recommended. Relaxed, laugh-a-minute atmosphere and you get to meet all the fun (and very friendly) crossword people, not least of all tournament chieftains Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer. Check it here. I'm jealous that you can make it but I can't.

Thanks to Rex for having me, and to his readers and commenters for keeping it interesting.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld until midnight tonight.
7/25/2014 4:01:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Helmet part / THU-24-JUL / Outwit, in a way / Big bang maker
Constructor: David Phillips

Relative difficulty: toughish for a Thursday, until you get the trick

THEME: "Paint It, Black" — put the word IT into four different pairs of black squares

Word of the Day: PETER TOSH (32D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)

Peter Tosh, OM (born Winston Hubert McIntosh; 19 October[1] 1944 – 11 September 1987) was a Jamaican reggae musician. Along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer he was one of the core members of the band The Wailers (1963–1974). After which he established himself as a successful solo artist and a promoter of Rastafari. He was murdered in 1987 during a home invasion. --Wikipedia
• • •

Should I know the name David Phillips? I don't, but this is a very polished piece of work, especially impressive if he's a new constructor.

Theme answers:
  • (4D: Hit 2012 Disney film) WRECK IT RALPH 
  • (20A: "Looky here!") CHECK IT OUT
  • (59A: Not worry about something annoying) LET IT SLIDE
  • (22D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle) PAINT IT BLACK
Crossing your IT's yields eight long entries the other way:  ENCIRCLED, COATTAIL, CUTS INTO, SELECTEES, DULCINEA, PETER TOSH, STAIRCASE and ANATOLIA. Essentially what we have is this (excellent) grid with eight black squares added:

Two elegant touches: 1) the letters IT are used as the word "it" uniformly in all four entries and 2) the ITs are symmetrically placed in the grid. A third elegant touch is that no stray ITs appear anywhere in the grid, which would've been slightly unsightly. Not sure if this was by luck or design but if the author is reading this I'd be interested to know in comments. 

Two dings on the theme clues:

1) The clue for LET IT SLIDE sounds off. "Not worry about something annoying" is more like "let it go," while "let it slide" means "decide not to punish a minor infraction." This is a minor infraction, though, so I'll let it go.

2) This one rankles a bit, though: I think the revealer clue at 22D should have read "1966 Rolling Stones hit ... or what the constructor did four times in this puzzle."  I can't find a way to interpret the clue where the solver is painting IT black. I put IT in white letters in the solution grid, for example, but I didn't paint anything black. If I'm missing a reading of this then let me know in comments, but it doesn't seem as on-target as a visual aspect-revealer should be.

But still, a good use of the letters-in-black-squares idea. And check out that grid: at 72 words, it's wide-open (and clean) enough to be an above-average themeless. Don't miss those internal 4x4 blocks in green in the solution grid above; it's one thing to do a 4x4 box in a corner or edge, but quite another to do it in the center like this with long words beaming out of it in all directions. Bravo.

Lovely week of puzzles thus far, isn't it? A-, C+, A, B, and I'm giving today's puzzle a grade of A-. Hoping for a B on Friday so we have all the letters of "Abacab."
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for one more day of CrossWorld
7/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Talkative bird / WED-23-JUL /Tater tots maker / Mekong Valley native
Constructor: Howard Barkin

Relative difficulty: pretty easy for a Wednesday

THEME: "___ check" — Each of the six words used in the theme entries precedes "check" in a phrase

Word of the Day: TOCCATA (38A: Bach work) —  (from Italian toccare, "to touch") is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments (the opening of Claudio Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo being a notable example). -- Wikipedia

• • •
This is one of those "both words can precede (or follow) word X" themes, which we've seen a lot of in recent years. They're not terribly exciting since the reveal is always a slight letdown; you'd hoped there was something mysterious and intriguing going on with those starred clues, but then not really.

OK, so accepting the limitations of the theme type, let's see if super-solver (three-time finalist at the ACPT) and super-nice guy Howard Barkin can jazz things up a little for us. The three theme entries themselves are a good start, with nice phrases BODY DOUBLE, BACKGROUND SOUND ("background noise" Googles rather better, but this phrase is also legit and has the cool -ound/-ound echo) and the excellent PERSONAL BAGGAGE. How Howard must've delighted at seeing both PERSONAL and BAGGAGE on his list of check-preceding words, and then hitting a 15-letter phrase with them to boot. Euphoric boost for a constructor when you score a nice 15.

The revealer is a cut above as well: BLANK CHECK is the answer, and the clue is (Complete freedom ... and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue). So you fill in that blank with the six theme words.

The solve was just under five minutes for me and the grid was a mixed bag. Liked seeing those wide-open NW and SE corners, though my Scowl-o-Meter went off some with ARTE, REOS and the contrived RESEEKS right off the bat in that NW. But BARTAB/OREIDA/ATOMIC was a nice stack up there, with good crossers like TIME-OUT and ADIEU. OUGHT TO/TOCCATA/RUN COLD/SWAGGER are elegantly connected sevens in the middle, and ASKANCE, AGA KHAN and EQUATOR are good sevens elsewhere. It gets ragged/crosswordy in the tight parts (ANS - ATRA - MYNA - AKEY - DCIV - ASAN - AMB - STE), but maybe those sevens are worth it.

Americans are everywhere!

  • (19A: Got away from one's roots?) = DYED — That's a good one.  
  • (52A: Love letters letters) = SWAK — sealed with a kiss. And hopefully some other kind of adhesive. 
  • (35A: Palindromic girl's name) = AVA — lots of girls named Ava these days. How long before one of them becomes famous so we can give Ms. Gardner a well-earned break?
  • Speaking of OUGHT TO: I dig this entry in part because of its trippy (and solver-vexing) vowel/consonant pattern of VVCCCCV. Wordplay trivia: can you think of a common, 7-letter word that uses the same pattern? I can only think of one. Put it in comments if you've got it (or a different one).
A grade of "B" is the natural limit for this kind of theme in my book; something really crazy would have to happen to lift it any higher. And with its slightly above average revealer, above average phrases, and lots of nice longish fill, I think we can say that this one comes close to maximizing the concept, so: B it is. B for Barkin! Crossword-powered Howard.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for two more days of CrossWorld
7/23/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Screenwriter Sorkin / TUE-22-JUL / Making a bundle / Many Snapchat users
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: on point for a Tuesday

THEME:  — "either way, it makes sense" -- seven pairs of words cross in the grid and are clued to the two words/phrases they form

Word of the Day:  STOA (44D: Ancient Greek colonnade)  

  Stoa is a term defining, in ancient Greek architecture, covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoas were open at the entrance with columns, usually of the Doric order, lining the side of the building; they created a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere.

The name of the Stoic school of philosophy derives from "stoa". -- Wikipedia

Took me until almost the very end to catch this snappy and original theme. Seven pairs of words cross in the grid, and form a familiar word or phrase no matter which word you start with. They are:

(6D: With 8-Down, lime shade) = LIGHT GREEN; (8D: With 6-Across, approve) = GREENLIGHT
(16A: With 12-Down, not natural) = MAN-MADE; (12D: With 16-Across, mob inductee) = MADE MAN
(23A: With 33-Across, fan of the N.F.L.'s Packers) = CHEESEHEAD; (33A: With 23-Down, deli product) = HEAD CHEESE (disgusting phrase and thing)
(38A: With 38-Down, place to drop a coin) = WISHING WELL; (38D: With 38-Across, desiring happiness for someone = WELL WISHING
(40A: With 31-Down, jazz legend) = ARMSTRONG; (31D: With 40-Across, coerce) = STRONGARM
(58A: With 54-Down, waffle alternative) = PANCAKE; (54D: With 58-Across, bakery container = CAKE PAN
(59A:  With 57-Down, part of a morning routine) = BREAKFAST; (57A: With 59-Across, basketball tactic) = FAST BREAK

About halfway through the grid I got an eerie "it's too quiet in here" feeling, like in a horror movie: where were this puzzle's theme entries? I'd noticed a large number of cross-referenced clues but it wasn't until about 80% of the way through that it all clicked.

Notice the elegant touches: there are seven word pairs in the grid, which is a lot, and they're placed as close to symmetrically as could be hoped; they're all well-chosen and familiar; all the word pairs cross each other, logically since they're "cross-referenced," and aesthetically because it tightens the theme (and doesn't make you hunt all over the grid for a cross-ref answer).

That's an excellent crossword. In contrast to Sunday's puzzle, which was elegantly constructed but played somewhat dull, this one is both elegant and a fun solve since finding each pair of words isn't tedious and it's inherently interesting that two phrases comprised of the same two words take on radically different meanings if you reverse the order of those words.

I chided yesterday's puzzle for some weak fill, but if you read closely I actually chided it for "easily avoidable" weak fill. There are some crosswordy words in here -- STOA and ISERE especially -- but with a grid this tightly packed and no tough crossings on those two so it's just a small ding.


Clues are a little jazzier than yesterday's. No barn-burners but (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn) is good for RE-ROLL and (44D: Watched through binoculars, maybe) is good for SPIED ON.

It's grading week, and this one gets an A. Original and amusing theme, clean grid despite many theme entries, nice aha moment when I finally grokked the theme idea, and the cleverness of crossing cross-referenced entries. No wonder Will Shortz hired the author as his crossword intern.

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for three more days of CrossWorld
7/22/2014 4:06:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
New England cookout / MON-JUL-21 / Dumb ox / Delhi dress
Constructor: Matt Fuchs

Relative difficulty: So Easy

THEME: PRIVATE PARTS -- theme entries begin with a word meaning "private"

Word of the Day: CREOLE (Louisiana language) —
Louisiana Creole (Kréyol La Lwizyàn; French: créole louisianais) is a French-based creole language spoken by some of the Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language largely consists of elements of French and African languages, with some influence from other sources, notably Native American languages. -- wikipedia
• • •
I'm predisposed to like this crossword because I'm told it's written by someone named Matt who comes from my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, which he even worked into a clue (48D: Bethesda, Md., is in it). So if you sense any rose-colored glasses, that's why. On the other hand I'm 41 and he's 16, so there might be some middle-aged vs. youth bitterness mixed in as well. I guess in the end I'll just have to judge the puzzle on its merits. Where's the fun in that?

Theme answers:
  • (20A: Big name in ranch dressing) = HIDDEN VALLEY. I thought the brand was "Hidden Valley Ranch," rather than the brand being "Hidden Valley" and the only dressing of theirs you've ever heard of happens to be Ranch? Let me check. OK, this is legit. But Hidden Valley is totally coasting thru life on the strength of their ranch dressing. Looking at their website, they're all in on Ranch. Ride that wave.

  • (27A: Classic of English children's literature, with "The") = SECRET GARDEN. I'm pretty hardcore Anglophile but I've never heard of this. I would probably have clued it in reference to this song, released before today's constructor was born.

  • (44A: Small paid item in the back of a newspaper) = CLASSIFIED AD. Now known as a "craigslist ad." 
  • And then the reveal entry: (What unmentionables cover ... or what 20-, 27- and 44-Across all begin with?) = PRIVATE PARTS. "Unmentionables" is a great word.
So this is a decent theme, but we see the Achilles' heel of the NYT over the past few years painfully swollen yet again: easily avoidable lousy fill, early in the week. A little polishing could surely have relieved this Monday grid of EDUCE crossing ERG and ENS at both extremities,TOILE crossing ETD and EIRE (and EIRE crossing RES clued to the Latin word for "thing"), RIAS and ARHAT. The last two have unmissable crossings, but still, and for the hundredth time: it's Monday, you're supposed to be the gold standard, somebody spend ten minutes and polish the grid. Or schedule it for Tuesday or Wednesday at least. I write crosswords for a living and still don't know what EDUCE means without looking it up, and neither do solvers.


So I'm looking for a "best clue" candidate, and...well, there's nothing. There isn't a single clue I can say any real effort has been put into. Can you imagine unleashing Bob Klahn or Ben Tausig on evocative entries like BARHOP, PICASSO, USSR, CREWCUT, CLAMBAKE and CLASSIFIED AD? They'd be punning you into next week, and you'd love every cheesy syllable. Here, nothing at all to sink your teeth into. I can't even award a "best clue" designation since there's nada that stands out. You tell me in comments what the best clue is and the point will be emphasized.

If we're doing grades this week, I'll go C+ on this one. Adequate but not much more. Did dig the chunky NW and SE corners, though -- that shows some nice flash.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent for four more days of CrossWorld
7/21/2014 4:11:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
SUN 7-20-14 / Most hip / Low numero / Swaddles, e.g.
Constructor: Eric Berlin (whose amusing blog is here)

Relative difficulty: a little tougher than average for a Sunday

THEME: "A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE" -- bigrams spelling that central theme entry are given to certain grid entries and taken from others

Word of the Day: ST. LUCIA (105D: One of the Windward Islands)
The island, with its fine natural harbor at Castries, was contested between England and France throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries (changing possession 14 times); it was finally ceded to the UK in 1814. Even after the abolition of slavery on its plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island, dedicated to producing tropical commodity crops. Self-government was granted in 1967 and independence in 1979. -- CIA World Factbook

• • •

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex until his triumphant return on Saturday. I write a weekly crossword contest here and a daily themed mini-crossword here. I also write a weekly current events crossword for The Week which you can find here, a bi-weekly contest crossword for New York which you can find here, and a monthly 21x21 for Washingtonian which isn't online. I've been a professional crossword writer for 17 years, during which my puzzles have appeared in Slate, Billboard, The Daily Beast, Wine Spectator, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal -- and even, on 57 occasions, in The New York Times. My next book comes out in October.


This is intricate: the 18-letter central entry A LITTLE GIVE AND TAKE is divided (in the .pdf, apparently not in the .puz) into nine bigrams. Each of these is added to an entry somewhere in the grid (indicated by circles) and removed from another (indicated by an asterisked clue).

Rex doesn't pay enough for me to type them all out, but here are a few so you get the idea: the AL at the beginning of 72-A is added to 51-A (Openly defy), where correct answer "flout" has the AL inserted to make FALLOUT. This same AL is also removed from 53-A (Royal messenger), where grid entry HERD was "herald" before the theme trick.

Let's do another one, from the other end of 72-A: the KE that ends that entry has been added to 138-A (Asparagus unit), which was "spear" but in the grid becomes SPEAKER. That same KE has been removed from 8-D, where (Upbraids) clues not grid entry REBUS but rather "rebukes."

The other seven work just the same. If you can't figure them all out then I'm sure someone will help in comments below.

Do we judge a crossword as art or as entertainment? Let's do both.

Artistically this one is quite nice. First the constructor had to come up with eighteen words that successfully gain/lose these nine bigrams, then he had to fit them into the grid around that long central theme entry. This is probably what necessitated the odd 20x23 grid size; the columns across had to be an even number to keep symmetry while accommodating the (necessarily, because bigrams) even-numbered central revealer, and I'm betting the reason he did 23 rows instead of 21 is because 18 theme words to fit in. So let's call it an A on artistry. I should also mention that the idea of swapping certain letters between two entries is already known (as in this puzzle), but not on such a large scale as it's done here. And having the taken/given letters spell out an appropriate message is also novel to my knowledge.

As entertainment, it was good but not great. Once the central revealer falls and you figure out the trick it's a bit of a slog to finish; I just ignored asterisked clues as long as I could. It's not really a rush to figure out the remaining bigram added/lost pairs. So on the entertainment scale I'd give this one a B, and we'll average the puzzle out to an A-. Which is good.

  • Many good entries in the 6-, 7- and 8-letter range: ROUNDUP, BABYSAT, BURRITO, SIT ON IT!, HAVANA, THE MAGI, SMORES, Don KNOTTS, AIRPARK, SPAMALOT, UP TO IT, and the always amusing OWN GOAL.

  • Best clue: (97D: Shortening in recipes?) which wasn't OLEO but rather TSPS.

So that's a very good start to the week. I'll see you back here tomorrow night for a look at Monday's puzzle. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for five more days
7/20/2014 4:01:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
1965 Yardbirds hit / SAT 7-19-14 / Cap'n 1904 novel / Company with the King David Club
Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Saturdayish

THEME: No theme

Word of the Day: ERI [54D - "Cap'n ___"(1904 novel)] —
The Golden Boys is a romantic comedy, set on Cape Cod in 1905, about three 70-year-old retired sea captains who try to lure an attractive middle-aged woman into marriage. Developed under the working title Chatham, the film is an adaptation of the Joseph Lincoln novel Cap’n Eri. It stars David Carradine, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and Mariel Hemingway. It only made $43,600 at the box office. Ouch! (Wikipedia)
• • •
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here again. Wow, I lucked out this weekend. I got a Livengood yesterday and a Silk today. Score! Today's puzzle is a classic Barry C. Silk production. Some sports stuff, some oldies music, and a nice wide-open grid pattern. All in all, a spot-on Saturday puzzle for your solving enjoyment.

Were any of you bothered by GO ALL OUT (15A: Pour it on) crossing GO TO YOUR ROOM (8D: Call for a timeout)? I didn't notice the GO duplication while solving, and it doesn't bother me much. I've found that editors tend to be pretty forgiving about minor duplications. And both entries are fun, so really the only reason I mentioned it was to fill up a little space. We substitute bloggers have to meet our quotas.

  • PRETZEL LOOP (27A: Roller coaster feature with a food name) — Now that's a fun answer. Other roller coaster elements I found on Wikipedia: batwing, butterfly inversion, cobra roll, demonic knot, hammerhead turn, Norwegian loop, and the dreaded wraparound Immelman.
  • WILD CARD TEAM (20D: Underdog playoffs participant) — Great entry. Reminds me of the time the Yankees declined the Wild Card.
  • ESAU (25D: Biblical venison preparer) — I thought I'd solved all the ESAU clues, but whaddya know, here's a new one.
  • FOR YOUR LOVE (1965 Yardbirds hit) — OK, I admit I didn't know this song. I dig the lead singer's bongo playing.

  • ODESSAN (47A: Dweller near the Potemkin Stairs) —Somehow this was the first entry I filled in today. I've had a lot of Odessa facts drilled into my head over the years by crosswords.
  • YOUNGER (24A: Like Princess Leia vis-à-vis Luke Skywalker) — They're twins, and I guess Luke was born first. I'm not going to check Wookieepedia to verify. And as you can see, they're quite close. 
  • VAINER (43D: Like Cinderella's stepsisters vis-à-vis Cinderella) — We all tried UGLIER first, right?
  • C SHARP (1D: D preceder) — This is embarrassing, but I didn't know if it was C SHARP or E SHARP until I got the crossing letter from COSMOS. I can never figure out the musical note clues. In my world, they're all just letters randomly followed by SHARP, FLAT, MAJOR, or MINOR.
While I've got your attention, I might as well plug my two new books: Brain-Straining Crosswords and Lickety-Split Crosswords. They both hit shelves on August 5th. Buy the hard one for yourself and the easy one for a friend. Or buy ten copies of each and hand them out as party favors. That's even better! Thanks for hanging with me the past couple of days. Peterson out.

Signed, Doug Peterson, Warrior Prince of CrossWorld
7/19/2014 4:03:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Blue-flowered Mediterranean herb / FRI 7-18-14 / 1994 memoir with chapter on New Robot Novels / Campus spot for Bluto Otter and Boon
Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Fridayish

THEME: No theme 

Word of the Day: BORAGE (49A: Blue-flowered Mediterranean herb) —
Borage /ˈbɒr.ɪdʒ/ (Borago officinalis), also known as a starflower, is an annual herb. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds. (Wikipedia)
• • •

Howdy, crossword fans. Doug here. Rex is still off on his much-deserved vacation in New Zealand. Let me check his itinerary ... Oh, today he's planning to tour the boyhood home of The Bushwhackers. It's a National Monument.

I was chatting with Ryan Hecht (owner of the Clover Theater and co-founder of Lollapuzzoola) last week, and we decided that the Friday puzzle is usually the best puzzle of the NY Times week, especially when it's constructed by one of the classic Friday constructors: Berry, Quigley, Silk, Nothnagel. Ryan remembers the first time he was able to correctly finish an entire Friday NY Times puzzle. What a thrill! And that thrill gave birth to a crossword blog & hooking up with some dude named Brian to put together a weekly podcast and an amazing crossword tournament which, by the way, is the only crossword tournament currently held in New York City. (Register now!) But what if Ryan had run into an impossible crossing? Or if he'd been interrupted and never come back to that pivotal Friday puzzle? The course of human history would have been changed forever, and I'd have nothing to do on a Saturday in August.

An Ian Livengood byline is a welcome sight on a Friday, so let's get to the puzzle. Typically smooth Livengoodian grid. A bit on the easy side for a Friday, but I'm usually on Ian's wavelength. I'm going to give him a demerit for OON at 52-Across. There's a reason it spells "Noo!" backwards. However OON is a small price to pay for YA HEARD, 'FRAID SO, RUSSIAN MOB, RODEO DRIVE, SLEAZEBALL, THE REBELS, RAP GROUPS, etc. There's plenty to like here.

  • DELTA HOUSE (12D: Campus spot for Bluto, Otter and Boon) — Double secret probation! Super entry. All the long entries are fun today, though I'm not 100% sold on ...
  • I GET IT OKAY (28D: "All right already!") — Whaddya think? I wanted it to be I GET IT, I GET IT. This works, but it feels a tad arbitrary to me.
  • COSTAS (22A: Bob of play-by-play) — I initially entered UECKER, because who doesn't love Bob Uecker? Juuust a bit outside.

  • BED HOP (35A: Sleep around) — I was looking for something cutesy here, so the straightforward answer surprised me. This one and HELL (3D: Something to catch from scolding parents) give the puzzle a mildly saucy vibe.
  • I, ASIMOV (1994 memoir with a chapter on "New Robot Novels") — Ooh, I should read this. Asimov is great, and he wrote a bajillion books. 
Signed, Doug Peterson, Drafter of CrossWorld Codicils
7/18/2014 4:06:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:46 for rusty old me)

THEME: Baby got BACK — Literally, each theme answer that normally contains the word BACK has the word preceding BACK spelled backwards, and BACK is omitted from the answer

Word of the Day: ONE-C (14A: Draft status for someone in the Public Health Service) —
1-CMember of the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Public Health Service(Enl.) Enlisted. Member who volunteered for service, (Ind.) Inducted. Member who was conscripted into service, (Dis.) Discharged. Member released after completing service. (Sep.)Separated. Member released before completing service.
(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_Service_System#Classifications)
• • •

I laughed out loud when opening this puzzle. See, I've only babysat Rex's place once before, a couple years ago, and I got an Alan Arbesfeld Thursday then. Today I was hopeful of a Blindauer, maybe, or perhaps a Peterson, or a Gorski. Dare I hope for a Thursday Heaney?

But again I get a Thursday Arbesfeld! Nothing against Alan, who's a wonderful and prolific constructor. I guess that's what I should expect at this point.

And this puzzle did not disappoint. Sure, it's a trick I've seen before, but here it's done smoothly, with a minimum of dreckish fill, and with non-themed stacked 9s to boot. Well done!

Theme answers:
  • PMUHWHALE [humpback whale] (17A: Singer in the sea, literally)
  • LLAFPOSITION [fallback position] (27A: Plan B, literally) This one felt a little off, as I usually use FALLBACK with PLAN or OPTION, but it was fair enough.
  • RETRAUQSNEAK [quarterback sneak] (42A: Gridiron maneuver, literally)
  • YGGIPRIDE [piggyback ride] (57A: Little kid's lift, literally) I had figured out the PIGGY part here but kept thinking of PIGGY BANK, which of course doesn't include BACK in it. I find it a little weird that the ride is considered a "gift" in the clue here. I don't remember my piggyback rides being any sort of present but rather just a fun, spur-of-the-moment idea that would end with my dad hurting his back... (ED: Yes, it was "lift" in the clue, not "gift". Stupid speed-solving me. But I strangely like the imagery evoked when thinking of my dad hurting his back, so leaving in the anecdote. :) AJR)
If you're going to turn your theme answers into gobbledygook, the longer the gibberish the better. So I liked RETRAUQSNEAK the best, with bonus points for getting the Q in there, and crossing it with noted "Potatoe" speller Dan QUAYLE (43D: Bush successor).

This whole ONEC thing threw me (I've accustomed to ONEA as the lone draft status in crosswords), plus I plopped NOVA in at 1A right away, leading to some early frustrations. But then I got WHALE, sussed out the backwards HUMP, and was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Some cutesy-ness with fill and clues, but nothing too offending.

  • ON E (10D: In dire need of gas, say) — Cute way to avoid the ONE duplication with ONE-C. And totally in-the-language. A clue like "Using Molly, say" might be a clue for this answer if it appeared in an American Values Club crossword; likely too edgy for the NYT.
  • EMPTY NETS (13D: Fisherman's bane and hockey player's boon) — Odd to see it in the plural, but the clue redeemed any inelegance. I'm a huge NCAA hockey fan, longtime St. Cloud State University season ticket holder. 83 days til opening night! This one wasn't an empty-netter, but a literal last-second equalizer scored while SCSU had their net empty. 

  • NOLTE (9A: Oscar nominee for "Affliction") — Underrated movie. James Coburn was phenomenally monstrous as the drunk dad, and won his lone Oscar for it. Nolte likely clinched the nom in the scene where he pulls his tooth out with a pair of pliers over the kitchen sink. Very dark and completely depressing, but worth a watch. You know it's dark when Willem Dafoe is one of the good guys in the movie. 

I hope you don't mind this brief and low-pressure plug - I happen to write crosswords too. You can sign up for a weekly email-delivered crossword (Price: $5/year) here; I also offer a bi-weekly Rows Garden puzzle (Price: You tell me) which you can sign up for here; and you can browse the various books I've written here

Thanks for letting me hang out with you folks!

Signed, Andrew J. Ries, ESNE of CrossWorld
7/17/2014 4:07:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
1936 opponent of Franklin D. / WED 7-16-14 / The symbol for the Roman god Mars represents it / Bootleggers' foes / N.Y.C.'s Third and Ninth Avenue lines, e.g. / Refrain syllables / Comic with a "domestic goddess" persona / Nesting area for wading bir
Constructor: Daniel Raymon

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Triangles — Geometry throwback! Three sets of circles, each set forming a different kind of triangle, the circled letters spell TRI ANG LES

Theme answers:
  • SCALENE (21A: Like the figure formed by the three circled letters in the upper left)
  • ISOSCELES (36A: Like the figure formed by the three circled letters in the upper right)
  • EQUILATERAL (55A: Like the figure formed by the three circled letters at the bottom)
via The Wildlife Trusts
Word of the Day: HERONRY (11D: Nesting area for wading birds) —
Sometimes on the train north to the country, I catch a glimpse of a heron rookery in a swamp by the tracks. To call it a rookery, now a general term for a breeding colony, is to catch a linguistic glimpse of the great colonies of rooks’ nests — raucous, brawling places — that dot the English countryside. What I see from the train should really be called a heronry, a village of well-built heron nests high in the trees. In winter, they stand out against the sky like dense clouds or puffs of dark smoke caught in the uppermost branches. 
[more beauty from Verlyn Klinkenborg via The New York Times]
• • •
I like different. This puzzle is certainly not run-of-the-mill, and I admire that, in spite of a fair amount of unsavory fill the construction forced. Dani's given us logophiles a math-y puzzle, one that employs the physicality of the grid in a way that most puzzles don't. If you're wondering why the grid looks a little funky, it's because that's left-right mirror symmetry.

I gotta say, before I'd finished the puzzle, I was nervous that the circles were just scattered any which way, so long as they formed the appropriate triangle. Really glad to see them spell out TRIANGLES. Looking back, that explains some huge constraints on the fill, among them the plural name ARIS, the letter string RST, and two partials in the first three acrosses: ATAB and OHTO—that last one having no other clue but ["___ be in England"]. (Really. Guess we gotta popularize this Philip K. Dick short story.) I wouldn't quite say the better fill — AMERICA (especially as clued as the Colbert book), GAME LAW, MALE SEX, TEXTERS, CERAMICS — totally evens it out, but it at least partially drowned out OF A ETE TYNE.

[Not Imagine Dragons' best, but "not Imagine Dragons' best" is still pretty good]

As Dani notes at Wordplay, there's a slight hitch in the actual geometry, because depending on what medium you solve the puzzle in, the scalene triangle may not appear scalene—alas, the print version's squares are not perfectly square. (Ugh, squares ruining circular triangles, every geometrician's nightmare!) As such, in his original grid, the base of the scalene triangle ran parallel to the other triangles' bases, from the R of RECAP to the I of IAN, rather than the first I of ELITISM, which would have been a tad more elegant. Lucky how that switch worked out, but I wonder how Dani might have changed the North section of the grid if he hadn't been bound by the I in IAN.

Anyway, as I said, I'm not too bothered by all this. We've all seen better fill, but it's nice to get something different out of a theme—it's Wednesday. Plus, this puzzle brought back good memories of Mr. Winokur and Mr. Worrall, who taught me geometry way back when. Hey guys!

  • OF A (10D: All ___ sudden) — Quick poll: What would people think about cluing OFA as Organizing for America, the community organizing foundation now which grew out of Obama for America? asking for a friend
  • TMEN (17A: Bootleggers' foes) — Too often on TMEN and GMEN clues I write in that terminal S, only to reluctantly take it out later. Curses!
  • ALF (54A: 1936 opponent of Franklin D.) — OK, but said opponent was actually known as Alf. Did anyone go around calling Roosevelt "Franklin D."? (Eleanor: "Franklin D., time for dinner!") Why didn't this just say Franklin?
  • TRALALA (43D: Refrain syllables) — It was nice to see TRA-LA-LA in full! Too often poor TRA flies solo with the sad clue [Refrain syllable]. (Or, as it was clued by Francis Heaney in the American Values Club Crossword, [You know, we try to come up with original clues, but sometimes you have a word like this, and then what are you gonna do? You’re gonna use “Refrain syllable”]. If you're not solving the AVCX yet, get on that.)
  • ELS (22A: N.Y.C.'s Third and Ninth Avenue lines, e.g.) — Right in my wheelhouse. I just graduated with an urban studies major with a focus in public transportation. There's a TON of great old documentaries on YouTube on the sad destruction of the old New York els. (Like, well over 20. Here's an hourlong one if that just brought out the inner foamer in you.) (I just learned that word, "foamer," meaning train enthusiast, today. Useful!) If you only have three minutes, here's a quick newsreel:

And some great footage set to some classic 1950s music:

It's been a pleasure. You're in different hands tomorrow. Winter is coming.

Signed, Finn Vigeland, Foamer of CrossWorld
7/16/2014 4:01:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
World's biggest private employer / TUE 7-15-14 / Obama's veep / Italian hothead? / River through Flanders / "Entertainment Tonight" host Nancy / Pre-K enrollees
Constructor: Zhouqin (C.C.) Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium, depending on how good you are at reading cross-referenced clues

THEME: Founders — Four entrepreneurs cross the companies they founded

Theme answers:
  • TED TURNER (17A: Founder of 6-Down) / CNN (6D: World's most widely distributed syndicated news service)
  • STEVE JOBS (63A: Founder of 47-Down) / APPLE (47D: "World's most admired company," per Fortune)
  • JEFF BEZOS (11D: Founder of 36-Across) / AMAZON (36A: World's largest online retailer)
  • SAM WALTON (34D: Founder of 58-Across) / WALMART (58A: World's biggest private employer)
Word of the Day: ALTE (12D: Old one, in German) —
  1. strong feminine singular nominative form of alt.
  2. strong feminine singular accusative form of alt.
  3. strong plural nominative form of alt.
  4. strong plural accusative form of alt.
  5. weak feminine singular nominative form of alt.
  6. weak feminine singular accusative form of alt.
  7. weak plural nominative form of alt.
  8. weak plural accusative form of alt. [OK, dictionary, you've made your point — via Wiktionary]
• • •

Hello, CrossWorld. Finn Vigeland here, your friendly neighborhood college-age intern, interrupting my Game of Thrones binge-watching (#latetotheparty) to sub for the man, the myth, Rex Parker. I had the pleasure of dining with Rex (and PuzzleGirl, and their families) on Saturday before he left for New Zealand. He was unironically wearing a koala T-shirt.

On to today's puzzle! A nice outing from C.C. Burnikel, injecting a higher than average, though not unwelcome, dosage of trademarked names into our grid. (From the Times' specification sheet on Cruciverb: "Brand-names are acceptable if they're well-known nationally and you use them in moderation.") Really liked seeing scrabbly JEFF BEZOS in the grid, and liked that the AMAZON crossing was at the Z and not at some lame-ass letter like O, amirite?

Anyway, I liked this straightforward theme all right, although it really would have been stellar to have all four companies be from the same field—all news outlets or tech or something. Also, was anyone else just a little put off by the way APPLE was clued: "World's most admired company," per Fortune? All the other company clues were legitimate, objective superlatives; surely Apple is the world's most something in some universally recognized measurement? But the more I think about it, the more I like it, because I'm a total Apple fanboy, and the company is certainly best known for making drool-worthy products.

Other minor nit: WALMART derives its name, obviously, from WALTON, and they cross in the grid at the L, whereas of course the other companies are not named for their founders. Slightly inelegant, but not a big deal. Would have liked to see some non-white / non-men founders, but sadly, as far as household names go, they're few and far between. Read up on some lesser-known names in entrepreneurship here, here, and here.

Tina TURNER via YouTube, which has a female CEO (though not founder)

Puzzle ran on the easier side for me, with a few holdups in the NE, because I just straight-up forgot Nancy O'DELL (15A: "Entertainment Tonight" host Nancy) and I'm a bit rusty on strong feminine singular nominative forms of German adjectives (ALTE). I know I've seen the clue on ETNA (33D: Italian hothead?) before, but, especially next to a European river (banes of my existence), it still tripped me up. I was picturing some World Cup guy in a blue jersey yelling at a referee.

The fill was fine: you have your IONE AERIE ELIA EON EDO EMOTE ADE crutches, which we're all guilty of from time to time. But I quite liked SURECANYESIKNOWBOREDOM, and BREAKSUP, which, strung together, sounds like the brief story of a failed relationship.

  • AERIE (52A: Hawk's home) — Hey, the EYRIE is a place on Game of Thrones. We've already had NED and ROBB clues updated for the Stark men, as well as SER… any chance we can use EYRIE and not have to include the dreaded "Var." tag? Will?
  • ENOTE (66A: Cybermemo) — Raise your hand if you've ever said, "One sec, just gotta shoot my friend an ENOTE." *tumbleweed* (Can we please retire this answer?)
  • BIDEN (3D: Obama's veep) — Required viewing:

See you all tomorrow.

Signed, Finn of the House Vigeland, First of His Name and Slayer of Crosswords
7/15/2014 4:01:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle


Relative difficulty: EASY

THEME: UFO SIGHTING — The word "UFO" appears in all of the theme answers

Word of the Day: D'oh!
"D'oh" (typically represented in the show's script as "(annoyed grunt)") is a famous catchphrase of Homer Simpson. It was famously accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. The quote is normally used when Homer hurts himself, finds out something to his embarrassment or chagrin, is outsmarted, or undergoes or anticipates misfortune.
• • •
So Sunday night, around 10:30pm, I was about to start the puzzle (I forgot it was Sunday, and that Puzzle comes out early).  Before logging on to the new (and not-at-all-improved) world's worst app, the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle, I quickly checked twitter and saw a tweet from Rex Parker.  All of a sudden, I realized that he was jet-setting off to New Zealand with his beautiful wife and brilliant child, and that Jenny and I were supposed to be blogging for him tonight.  D'oh!!

Jenny had forgotten too, and was not available to help, so you just have me, Liz, and my 16-year old daughter Annabel, who will be taking over from me starting………….


Hi! I'm Annabel, and I had never done a puzzle before today. It only took me 18 minutes and 51 seconds. Well, I'm proud of myself for finishing it at all! Yay!

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Annoyed "Hel-LO!" (yoU FOrgot me)
  • 31A: Japanese compact SUV (SubarU FOrester)
  • 39A: Sandwich cookie with abundant filling (double stUF Oreo)
  • 57A: Eerie encounter…or a hint to 23-, 31- and 39 Across (UFO sighting)
As a non-Puzzler, I didn't even know that puzzles usually had themes, or that the repetition of UFO was even a theme. So I guess I've learned something new today. This puzzle did succeed in making me crave a few Double Stuf Oreos…the correct way to eat them, by the way, is to take the tops off of two and stick them together to create a Quadruple Stuf Oreo. Nobody will convince me that there is any other way to eat Oreos. And while we're at it, can we just discontinue single-Stuf Oreos? The cookie-to-icing ratio is completely off, no matter how you slice it.

  • 65A: Elvis's middle name (ARON) — I had no idea people - well, Puzzlers, at least, - actually knew this sort of trivia. My mother tells me you guys know everything. How do you do it? Does it take endless hours of Wikipedia?
  • 40D: Singing the praises of (LAUDING) — See?  Taking Latin instead of Spanish DOES pay off in the long run. ("Laud" comes from the Latin verb laudo, laudare, laudavi, which means "to praise," but you Puzzlers probably know that. You know everything, like Elvis's middle name.)
  • 62A: First, second or reverse (GEAR) — Brought back painful memories of last month when my mother tried to teach me to drive a stick shift. We stalled about a hundred times, I almost crashed into a parked car, and my knuckles are still an odd shade of white.
  • 53D: Treaty of ___, pact ending the War of 1812 (GHENT) — And here we had the clue which had me gently smacking myself in the forehead, repeating, "I just took an AP U.S. History test a month and a half ago, how can I not know this?" D'oh!!
Signed, Annabel, tired high school student.

ps--Liz again.  Annabel always said she wanted to learn to do the crossword puzzle but thought it was too hard.  I've always told her that she can do a Monday puzzle.  So just let me say right here, right now,  I WAS RIGHT.  Again.  (xxoo--love you Annabel :)
7/14/2014 4:01:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Food often with pentagonal cross sections / SUN 7-13-14 / World's largest particle physics lab, in Switzerland / Frequent features of John Constable landscapes / Traditional Gaelic singer
Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: CHILD'S PLAY!!! 

THEME: "We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident" — things that are the things that they are, like the thing that is the thing that is clockwise in circled letters, and what that thing is is a rose. real recognize real, gertrude stein.

Theme answers:
  • BOYS WILL BE BOYS (23A: Classic excuse for some misdemeanors) - can someone confirm that this is in fact a valid legal defense that will get you off the hook for a misdemeanor? asking for a friend
  • I YAM WHAT I YAM (35A: Declaration from Popeye)
  • WHAT'S DONE IS DONE (43A: Doubt-dispelling words from Lady MacBeth)
  • IT AIN'T OVER 'TILL IT'S OVER (72A: Famous Yogiism) - didn't know lenny kravitz was a yogi but it kind of makes sense
  • HATERS GONNA HATE (97A: Words dismissive of detractors)
  • IT IS WHAT IT IS (105A: Expression of resignation) 
  • ENOUGH IS ENOUGH (121A: "We will tolerate this no more!")
Word of the Day: WABE (110A: "Did gyre and gimble in the ___": "Jabberwocky") —
WABE FM 90.1 is a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia, that is affiliated with National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Radio International (PRI). WABE's format features mostly classical music, although the station will occasionally play a Beatles tune, a Broadway show tune, a film suite, or a selection from a film such as Star Wars, as long as the piece is in a classical-sounding arrangement.
• • •

sunday smooveness from the trill McCoy. this is that dude that did that "stretched out" puzzle, so you already know he's going in.

i was about a minute too slow on this puzzle but it was a minute of me thinking "man this is easy" over and over again. (maybe your experience was different and that's beautiful too. i just do what i do when i do what i do.) the fill was unobstructive. the clues didn't dazzle, but they low-key sparkled. dope theme. dope title. dope visual element. all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable experience that brought joy to my saturday night.

thoughts that i thought while i solved this puzzle:
  • EEW (5D: "Gross!") — no. still no. 
  • nice clue asymmetry in 7D/28A and nice clue symmetry in 48A/49A. clue is a clue is a clue
  • AUNTIE (38A: ___ Anne's (popular pretzel purveyor)) — shortz got alliteration for days
  • BUGLE (112D: Corn chip since 1966) — never not relevant: this
  • ERAGON (119A: Fantasy title character whose name is one letter different from the creature he rides) — that would be an E-WAGON, yes?
  • NIP crossing (126A: Certain wardrobe malfunction) made me nervous
  • A LA (36D: Chicken ___ diable) — idle chicken is the devil's workshop
  • ELMS (65A: Frequent features of John Constable landscapes) — 

go well,
erik agard, Gf.P.

p.s. it's not what you look like when you're doing what you're doing. it's what you're doing when you're doing what you look like you're doing.

p.p.s. i didn't solve all the puzzles this week but my favorite one that i did solve was that ezersky/fleming joint from friday. hot fire.
7/13/2014 5:12:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Sight-singing technique / SAT 7-12-14 / Banker/philanthropist Solomon / 1950s-'70s defense acronym / Middle of Aeschylus tragedy with / Saint who is one of Fourteen Holy Helpers / Army equivalent of leading seaman / Onetime center for distribution of
Constructor: Tim Croce and Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SPANG (45A: Squarely, informally) —
adv. Informal
Precisely; squarely: fell spang into the middle of the puddle.

[Probably from dialectal spang, to leap, jerk, bang, probably of imitative origin.]

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/spang#ixzz37DUzNyl1
• • •

This one is reasonably solid, but not at all to my taste. Felt a bit musty and not at all entertaining, amusing, fun. I taught the "Oresteia" in grad school, so I didn't have much trouble with the LIBATION BEARERS / ORESTES cross-reference, but that title is at least mildly arcane, so the pleasure one gets from solving it, if one gets any, comes more from that semi-smug feeling of being terribly well educated rather than from the answer's being inherently interesting or the clue's being particularly clever, well written, or funny. The other 15s are pretty nice, I'll admit, but most of what's crossing them is merely tolerable, and the cluing just wasn't very engaging. Puzzle has very little about it that is contemporary, and what there is feels quite trivial (here I'm thinking particularly of that clue on PATTI—18D: Stanger a.k.a. Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker").

The music stuff locked me out a bit (never can remember SOLFA (24D: Sight-singing technique), and had no clue ERATO was a classical music label), and I apparently have no idea what schnitzels are (CUTLETS). I know they were … some kind of meat, but that is all. But for the most part I had heard of the answers and could follow the clue logic—it just all felt a bit tepid. Your typical European rivers, your typical crosswordese answers in the places you'd typically find them, your DERAT, your SPANG (an answer that would've killed in 1830, but is perhaps less fresh today).

Outside the 15s, only "I'M IN AWE" struck me as at all interesting, though I very much liked the clue on WHEN, which it took me forever to understand, as I was thinking of a computer server (7D: "That's enough," to a server).

Had TUG ON for TUG AT, MAY I for CAN I, SAGO for TARO, LOAD for LADE, LENA for NEVA (man, even the mistakes this puzzle causes are trivial and boring). All in all, a sufficiently tough and doable puzzle, but one that I didn't particularly enjoy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/12/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Wiener Frauen composer / FRI 7-11-14 / Like 1938 Andrew Jackson stamp / What Kramer often called Seinfeld / He had 1948 #1 hit with Nature Boy / Cops in slang / R.V. park hookup option / Ad masco in sunglasses
Constructor: Victor Fleming and Sam Ezersky

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BARÇA (49A: Spanish soccer club, for short) —
Futbol Club Barcelona (Catalan pronunciation: [fubˈbɔɫ ˈkɫub bərsəˈɫonə], also known as Barcelona and familiarly as Barça, is a professional football club, based in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. (wikipedia)
• • •

I think I liked this. It's hard to tell since I blinked and it was over. Under five minutes—super fast for me on a Friday. I was faster than every currently posted time at the NYT, including people who normally Krush me, which leads me to wonder … why? Where was the difficulty? Was it in and around POPO (28A: Cops, in slang) and DEMI-JOHN (12D: Cousin of a carafe)?  I loved POPO but thought, as I was writing it in, "Is this something the average NYT solver knows?" I'm not exactly sure how I know it. Rap, probably, but now middle-class white folks trying to sound street use it quasi-ironically, so … who knows? I wanted to spell DEMI-JEAN thusly, but I think I was just confusing it with Sean Jean. Aw … nope. That's JOHN too.

But those 15s? Gimmes. Got them both at first glance, with just a few letters in place each time, and I doubt I'd've needed a single cross in either case. Those clues are transparent. I thought the same about 1A: Displeases one's buds? (TASTES BAD) and 1D: Scary little sucker (TSE-TSE), so I was off to a propulsive start right from the get-go. Let's see … I had a little struggle there for a few seconds when I thought it might be a SEWER PIPE instead of a SEWER LINE (15A: R.V. park hookup option). I wrote in ELGAR instead of LEHAR (due entirely to having only -AR in place when I saw the clue) (30A: "Wiener Frauen" composer"). Needed all the crosses to get FEAR (34D: What chickens have). Just didn't know BARÇA, so had to solve around it (thankfully, not hard at all). There were some other clues that held me up a little, but not such that the struggle is worth relating.

This puzzle won't be terribly memorable, but I thought it was quite solid.YEASTS are not things I'd normally think of as pluralizable—but that answer isn't bad/wrong, and there's nothing here to really gripe at. In sum: Fine work from this pair.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. article out today in online version of the Atlantic about the future of the crossword puzzle. I am quoted extensively. My words are twice misrepresented (I must have been unclear somehow: mea culpa): I am not "suspicious of making crosswords more accessible." I am suspicious of the claim that apps do that. Big difference. Also, I'm not a "print loyalist," in that I almost never solve on actual newsprint. Still, worth reading.
7/11/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Jules Massenet opéra comique / THU 7-10-14 / Fangorn denizens / Cousin of cor anglais / Hit 2006 horror film based on a video game series / Seminal 1962 book on environment / Poe title character / Spacecraft designer Musk
Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: SILENT — "Silent" must be imagined as a preceding word in six answers. First letters of all six theme answers are themselves "silent" in their crossings. [There are also a lot of other silent letters in the grid, which surely must be intentional, but how they complement the more obvious thematic answers or add *any* enjoyment to the solving experience, I have no idea]

Theme answers
  • [Silent] PARTNER / COUP (silent P)
  • [Silent] HILL / HONEST WOMAN (silent H)
  • [Silent] NIGHT / DAMNS (silent N)
  • [Silent] SPRING / ELLIS ISLAND (silent S)
  • [Silent] MOVIE / MNEMONIC (silent M)
  • [Silent] TREATMENT / LISTEN (silent T)
Word of the Day: UKASE (3D: Decree) —
  1. An authoritative order or decree; an edict.
  2. A proclamation of a czar having the force of law in imperial Russia.
[French, from Russian ukaz, decree, from Old Church Slavonic ukazŭ, a showing, proof : u-, at, to + kazati, to point out, show.]

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/ukase#ixzz37212DrHn
• • •

I am told that the preponderance of silent letters in the grid is somehow involved in the theme (even beyond the six silent letters directly tied to the six theme answers) … and I think this must be correct—otherwise how to explain DEMESNE (43D: Lord's estate), for example, not to mention all the mediocre-to-bad fill generally? But man, I didn't see that angle at all, and at least a few other people I know didn't either. The silent letter angle gives us a completely different take on "silent" … but … again, the placement and frequency of the theme elements seem utterly arbitrary. That is, yes, every first letter is silent, but then … is DEMESNE part of the theme? It feels abusively intentional, but it's extra-thematic, as far as I can tell. CZAR? LIGHTS? KOHL? AESTHETES? This is just a conceptual mess. Most people are never going to pick up on the silent letter thing, and are thus going to wonder why the Thursday puzzle skimped so badly on theme content. I don't know if discovering the silent letter angle is going to lead to more "ahas" or "ughs." I only know how I felt. I mainly feel confused. I wasn't even sure I had all the theme answers counted correctly at first. "Silent COUP … that's a thing, right? Is that a theme answer …?"

My friend Finn suggested that people might've appreciated this theme more if A. the "silent" letters in the theme answers had been circled, and B. there weren't these extra silent letters all over the place, making one wonder if they're part of the theme or not. I think he's basically right on both counts.

The fill is passable on this one, but far from scintillating. Not a big UKASE fan (3D: Decree), as I've only ever seen it in crosswords, usually as crutch-fill, but it's a real word, so I can't get too upset. DPT I didn't remember at all (9D: Vaccine combo). Seems unnecessary to have an initialism up there, especially (!!) in an easy-to-till little section like that. Even MANON (11D: Jules Massenet opera comique) and STYLO (13D: Pen, in Paris) are bugging me up there. It's just a wee 5x5 section—there just shouldn't be such reliance on initialisms and foreign words/names. I like HONEST WOMAN fine (5D: What a girl becomes after marriage, in an old expression)—it's dated and semi-sexist, but it's clued as an "old expression," so I don't have a problem with it. What I do have a slight problem with is the word "girl" in the clue. "Girls" are under 18. You wouldn't use "boy" to talk about a male person getting married, so … no. Do Better, NYT!!!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/10/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Title island of 2005 DreamWorks animated film / WED 7-9-14 / Hip-hop's Racist / Ancient fertility goddess / Some Scandinavian coins
Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: STAR-STUDDED (60A: Like the Oscars … or the answers to this puzzle's seven asterisked clues?) — letter string "STAR" appears in seven answers:

Theme answers:
  • JUST ARRIVED (17A: *Words on a birth announcement)
  • SALES TARGET (26A: *Quota for a rep to achieve)
  • COSTA RICA (37A: *Oldest continuous democracy in Central America)
  • TOURIST AREA (51A: *Where to find money exchange shops)
  • LESS TAR (13D: *Cigarette ad claim) [note: AD is in the grid at AD MEN]
  • ASTARTE (40D: *Ancient fertility goddess)
  • STARE (!?!?) (27D: *Prefight psych job)
Word of the Day: BAL Harbour, Fla. (11A: ___ Harbour, Fla.) —
Bal Harbour is a village in Miami-Dade CountyFloridaUnited States. The population was 3,305 at the 2000 census. [Must be a major tourist spot? Because 3,305 … ?] (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm legitimately surprised at how deficient this puzzle is. The revealer is promising, actually, and five of the theme answers fulfill that promise adequately (all the longer Across ones + LESS TAR). But ASTARTE is a sore thumb, in that it's the only longer theme answer where STAR is *not* broken across two words (a really inelegant inconsistency); and STARE … I can't believe anyone is trying to convince anyone that STARE is a theme answer. It's practically just the word STAR. Not only is STAR not broken across two words, it completely destroys the thematical symmetry. It's not a bonus answer, it's a wart. There's more: you should never, ever have these long Across answers that are *not* theme answers. MADAGASCAR *and* WISECRACKS are both longer than the theme answer they abut (COSTA RICA). Clunky design, which is also evident in the way those little 3x3 sections in the E and W just sit there like sad appendages. Segmentation adds to the slew of three-letter words, which really downgrade the overall fill quality. And thus we come to perhaps the biggest problem: deathly fill.  Where to begin? Maybe ACRED? Maybe GIE!? Those just made me wince. CAS ASWAS SORORAL USEIN, all wince-ome. With the rest, there's just an overwhelming mediocrity. The S / SW is particularly illustrative here. EST and TEE and (put 'em together …) ESTEE and then TSE and (remonogram me!) RLS and then a lot more Es and Rs blah.

This could've worked. Find a replacement for ASTARTE. Get rid of the absurd STARE. Redesign grid so you don't have these awkward structural problems, i.e. over-long Across non-themers, on the one hand, and a hyper-choppy, 3-letter-heavy grid, on the other. Then completely refill the grid with a hell of a lot more actual words. Really sad to see a decent concept just mangled in the execution like this.

I did like the clue on BEER GUT, though (11D: Opposite of six-pack abs, ironically).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/9/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Colonnaded entrance / TUE 7-8-14 / Duettist with Elton John on 1976's Don't Go Breaking My Heart / Former Israeli president Weizman / Bankrupted company led by Kenneth Lay
Constructor: Bruce Venzke and Gail Grabowski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BARS (67A: Signs of cell service … or a word that can follow both parts of 18-, 23-, 36-, 52- and 58-Across):

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: EZER Weizman (9D: Former Israeli president Weizman) —
Ezer Weizman (Hebrewעזר ויצמן‎, 15 June 1924 - 24 April 2005) was the seventhPresident of Israel, first elected in 1993 and re-elected in 1998. Before the presidency, Weizman was commander of the Israeli Air Force and Minister of Defense. (wikipedia)
• • •

These are a couple of constructors whose work doesn't appear in the NYT very often, but who are very prolific, with their (individual) bylines appearing on CrosSynergy (syndicated) and Newsday puzzles all the time. Today's offering is a pretty standard theme-type: BWCF (Both Words Can Follow) (see also BWCP, i.e. Both Words Can Precede). I think "standard" is probably a pretty good way to describe the whole thing. Themers and/or fill really have to sparkle in order for an oft-used concept like this to work well, and there's not much sparkle here. That's one of the problems with the theme—you're pretty tightly constrained. In fact, it's a wonder you can get give theme answers to work at all. But OPEN SPACE isn't going to rock anyone's world, and I had to look up what a COFFEE ROLL even was. Fill is mostly adequate, though it dips into ugliness perhaps a bit too often. DOI and RUEDE are rough, and ONCDS (plural!?) feels very forced. Then there's your standard (that word again) spate of uber-familiar but not particularly lovely stuff like SPYS and STS and REUPS and EZER and REATA. The PORTICO / YOGA MAT pairing is pretty nice (11D: Colonnaded entrance / 12D: You might sit cross-legged on one), but most of the rest of the grid is just OK, at best.

  • 3D: Duettist with Elton John on 1976's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (KIKI DEE) — 1976 is the summer I first started paying attention to pop music, and this song (along with "Afternoon Delight") are seared into my memory for that reason. I remember moving into our new house, which had an intercom system (!?) (which never got used ever as far as I remember), and it somehow could also play the radio, and so … yeah, you're 6 years old and you move into a new house and you fiddle with the crazy gadgets on the wall and there's KIKI DEE and Elton John and also a song about mid-day sex that you have no idea is about mid-day sex, but then again you are six and you think "making love" means "kissing on the couch" (the couch, for some reason, is crucial), so no one is surprised that "Afternoon Delight" is over your head.
  • 9D: Former Israeli president Weizman (EZER) — I've been putting this guy's name in the puzzle for years, but never knew who he was. His dates (very recent) startled me. I think … I think I don't know what an "Israeli president" does. Prime minister, familiar. President … ?
  • 47A: Fashion designer Gernreich (RUDI) — someday this name will stick. Not today. But someday.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/8/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Tom Sawyer's bucketful / MON 7-7-14 / Beach town that's home to Cape Cod's oldest lighthouse / Celebrity chef Paula / Leon who was Obama's first CIA director
Constructor: Lynn Lempel

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

THEME: BEAUTY / PARLOR (22D: With 33-Down, where to go for the ends of 16-, 20-, 40-, 56- and 62-Across):

Theme answers:
  • WHITE WASH (16A: Tom Sawyer's bucketful)
  • PRICE CUT (20A: Lure for bargain hunters)
  • MIND SET (40A: General way of thinking)
  • EXTRA DRY (56A: Like some champagne)
  • HONEY COMB (62A: Sweet spot in a hive)
Word of the Day: TRURO (50A: Beach town that's home to Cape Cod's oldest lighthouse) —
Truro /ˈtrɜr/ is a town in Barnstable CountyMassachusettsUnited States, comprising two villages: Truro and North Truro. Located slightly more than 100 miles (160 km) by road from Boston, it is a summer vacation community just south of the northern tip of Cape Cod, in an area known as the "Outer Cape". English colonists named it after Truro in CornwallUnited Kingdom.
The historic Wampanoag Native American people called the area Pamet or Payomet. Their language was part of the large Algonquian family. This name was adopted for the Pamet River and the harbor area around the town center known as the Pamet Roads.[2] The population of Truro was 2,003 at the 2010 census.
Over half of the land area of the town is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, and administered by the U.S. National Park Service. (wikipedia)
• • •

Solid work from Ms. Lempel. What is a SET? I feel like this is dated, or something only older ladies get, or that ladies got many decades ago? Also, do you really go to the BEAUTY PARLOR to get a COMB??? I mean, of course the stylist might comb your hair, but that can't be the reason you went there, can it? Although I guess that's true of virtually all the theme-related words. Maybe all of them but CUT (because, again, I don't really get what SET is). So "where to go for the ends of…" really isn't the best phrasing on that revealer clue, is what I'm saying. "Place where one might get …"? The phrasing of the revealer should be exact, and something about "comb" as a noun is rubbing me wrong. In this context, I mean. Obviously, "comb" can be a noun. But you would not get "a comb" (the way you would "a cut" or "a wash"). Or would you? I'm out of my league here, as I completely did away with the hair on my head four years ago.

This one took longer than most Mondays, largely because of the grid set-up. The revealer is cross-referenced, so if (like me), you hit the second half first, you will get slowed down some. Also, the grid is super-choppy. Highly segmented. It is much harder to build up momentum in a puzzle where answers aren't grouped, where they're scattershot and the grid is honeycombed the way it is in the center. The answers can be just as easy to get, but there's a lot more back-and-forth, eye-skipping, looking around, that one has to do to make quick progress. This will affect speed solvers much (much) more than regular solvers. All Mondays are bound to feel roughly equally tough (i.e. not at all tough) to casual solvers. Unless, of course, there's some ridiculously out of place proper noun or something that really gums up your works. Speaking of...

  • TRURO (50A: Beach town that's home to Cape Cod's oldest lighthouse) — Like the ring around the rosy-type game or whatever it was from last week's Tuesday puzzle, this seems intensely regionally biased. Population 2,003?! I remember seeing this for the first time in a NYT puzzle many years and being dumbfounded. Gibberish to me, and (I guarantee you) to tons and tons and tons of people who solve this puzzle and don't live in the NE. I can handle the answer here—it's fairly crossed—but I would never want it anywhere near my Easy puzzle. Sore Thumb Material, for sure. 
  • LOCI (15D: Centers of activity) — I think of LOCI as meaning, simply, "places." I think of LOKI as being a Norse trickster god. But back to LOCI—[Centers of activity]? I like FOCI better as an answer for that clue. LOCI does not imply activity to me. At all. Second definitions of this word are giving it as a "center or source, as of activities or power," but all the examples have qualifiers that do not justify this definition, e.g. "locus of power" ("locus" still seems like it just means "place" in this example—adding "of power" doesn't change the meaning of "locus"). Weird.
  • 8D: Yankee who was the first major-leaguer to have his number retired (GEHRIG) — all over the news this past weekend because of the 75th anniversary of his famous "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech (July 4, 1939).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
7/7/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Overlapping fugue motifs / SUN 7-6-14 / New World monkey / Star in Summer Triangle / Four-time NBA all-star pau / Setting of James Clavell's Gai-Jin / Wolfsheim gambler in Great Gatsby / Initialism in Beatles title / Title name in 2000 Eminem hit / C
Constructor: Daniel C. Bryant

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Oh, Say…" — buncha facts about "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER" (65A: This puzzle's theme, whose first notes are indicated by shaded squares); shaded squares (represented here by circles) form a visual representation of the anthem's opening notes as they would appear on a musical STAFF (8D: Locale for this puzzle's shaded squares).

Theme answers:
  • FRANCIS SCOTT KEY (24A: Lawyer who wrote 65-Across)
  • EIGHTEEN FOURTEEN (30A: Year 24-Across wrote 65-Across)
  • BRITISH PUB SONG (40A: What the music to 65-Across was, originally)
  • WHITNEY HOUSTON (88A: Performer who gave a memorable rendition of 65-Across in 1991)
  • PRISONER EXCHANGE (99A: Mission that 24-Across was on when he wrote 65-Across)
  • BALTIMORE HARBOR (113A: Where 24-Across was inspired to write 65-Across)

Word of the Day: Matt BAI (69D: Political writer Matt) —
Matt Bai /ˈb/ is national political columnist for Yahoo! News. Prior to that, he was the chief political correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, where he covered both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. Bai often explores issues of generational change in American politics and society. His seminal cover stories in the magazine include the 2008 cover essay “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” and a 2004 profile of John Kerry titled “Kerry’s Undeclared War.” His work was honored in both the 2005 and 2006 editions of The Best American Political Writing. Bai is a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in Medford, MA. In 2014, Bai appeared as himself in the second season of TV show House of Cards. (wikipedia)
• • •

Happy 6th of July, everybody!

This puzzle lost me at 1-Across, and continued to lose me more and more as that little NW corner filled itself in. I just don't have patience for fill this mediocre/bad any more. I wrote in ADINS immediately (1A: Serving edges), but with sincere hope that it was wrong. No dice. Here is my very smart and very kind tennis fan / constructor friend's best defense of ADINS:
We...e..e...e...ll, no denying it's a strained plural. You can't have a simultaneously co-existing handful of AD-INs, as you can balls, or strawberries, or All-England Club towels. But I suppose you could say, "Federer has not captalized on four AD-INs and is still serving as the length of this game stretched to seven minutes.
Why is there creaky, junky fill in an easy-to-fill little section of the grid? It just shouldn't be. Shouldn't. Be. So theme shmeme, I was already opposed to this puzzle before I'd even begun. First impressions are often right, because if that little NW corner isn't filled well, what are the odds any of the rest of it will be? (A: slim).

The theme consisted mostly of arbitrary trivia about the national anthem. The real thematic coup de grâce was the visual representation of the anthem's opening notes, which is very nicely conceived and executed. Sadly, it causes HEMIC, which is kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul, elegance-wise. There was some longer fill in here that I liked quite a bit: YOKOHAMA, COLD CASH, ESCAROLE, and NEOPHYTE, all lovely. I also like FACTOTUM, a word I never use and rarely see but like nonetheless. Seems like it should mean something completely different, like … a small bit of data or … some kind of sacred object or amulet or something. Maybe I never hear it any more because no one has "general servants" (whatever those are) anymore? Anyway, thumbs up to that SAT word. I read "The great Gatsby" for the first time (true story) last year and I don't remember the MEYER Wolfsheim at all.  And yet I remember the TITI (15D: New World monkey) and Val d'ISERE (29A: Skiing destination Val d'___), so who can say how my brain works?

Not much else to say here. Puzzle was extraordinarily easy. I was done in well under 10 despite knowing nothing about the national anthem besides FRANCIS SCOTT KEY. Oh, I have one other thing to say: let's never, ever do tribute puzzles on off days. Hit the day on the nose or don't hit it at all. Ridiculously anti-climactic to have this arrive two days late.

Puzzle of the Week this week goes to Patrick Berry for his Friday NYT themeless. Its only fault was it was too easy. Otherwise, it's as close to perfect a piece of themeless grid construction as you're ever going to see.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    7/6/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Broadway inspector / SAT 7-5-14 / Old Pokemon platform / Farm painter 1921 / Part of Roman empire in modern-day NE France / Greek city where Paul preached / Magister Ludi writer / Neckwear slider
    Constructor: David Steinberg

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Theodore BIKEL (13D: Theodore of "The African Queen") —
    Theodore Meir Bikel (born 2 May 1924) is an Austrian-American actor, folk singer, musician, and composer. He made his film debut in The African Queen (1951) and was nominated for an Academy awardfor his supporting role as Sheriff Max Muller in The Defiant Ones (1958).
    Bikel is President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America and was president of Actors' Equity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Partners for Progressive Israel, where he also lectures. His autobiography, Theo, was published in 1995. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I have to give this grid credit—considering how low the word count is (62), the fill is quite strong. But I didn't enjoy solving this one, and rarely enjoy puzzles that venture into super-low word count territory. The cluing today seemed both brutal and dull, with ordinary fill (e.g. MIRO, HESSE) clued in ridiculously unidentifiable ways, or clued very vaguely. There was no point where I thought "ooh, good clue" and only one point at which I thought "ooh, good answer": BIKER CHICK (25D: Woman in a leather jacket, maybe) (though it's worth noting that if you google image search "biker chick," you don't see many leather jackets, or non-leather jackets, or clothing period). Actually, I like GENDER BIAS too, though I don't really like the clue (9D: Male issue?), largely because the clue itself is gender-biased. Not that men don't often have that issue—there's just something irritatingly ingratiating about that clue, as if it should be followed by "amirite, ladies!? [wink]." FAKE IDS over DIVE BAR is, in retrospect, a lovely little juxtaposition. Actually, you can throw JIM BEAM into the equation too (27A: Big brand from Clermont, Ky)—a perfect triple stack for a BIKER CHICK to drive through. But I think I just don't enjoy the challenge in a challenging puzzle coming from the white spaces being so open that I can't get any footholds, and then finding out that the thing that was holding me back was SCARF RING (wtffffff?) or GEAR OIL or GARDENA or BIKEL or some other thing I've barely or never heard of.

    I killed myself today in a couple of places, most notably at 29D: Dot preceder, where I wrote in SITE NAME, and so much of it was confirmed that I left it in for far, far too long. That one, dumb error kept me from really opening up the middle for a good long time. I also had SGT where NCO was supposed to go, and YOUR HEAD (and then ONE'S HEAD) where COOL HEAD was supposed to go. Table-turner up there was finally seeing RAN IN (6D: Took for booking)—little phrase, big difference-maker. Struggled to make much headway in the SE until I stuck the -ICK down into it. Then it rolled over pretty readily (before that, it was SALLE and SUN GOD and a whole lotta nothing).

    Puzzle felt like three puzzles—the NE-to-SW middle part, and then the two fat and isolated corners. That's another feature I find off-putting in puzzles: hyper-segmentation. There's just that one little square's worth of passage into either of the corners, so you have very little opportunity to build off of stuff you've already got. This is all fair, but it makes the experience less enjoyable for me. Still, as I say, the grid quality is truly remarkable.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    7/5/2014 4:00:00 AM

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