Sunday, January 25, 2015
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Republican politico Michael / SUN 1-25-15 / Embroidery loop / Did 1930s dance / WIth Reagan memoirist / Secure as sailor's rope / Cutlass model of 1980s-90s / Whirlybird source / Kiss drummer Peter / She's asked When will those clouds all disappear i
Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: "Twist Ending" — familiar phrases where last two letters have been switched ("twist"ed?) to create wackiness (with customary "?" cluing)

Theme answers:
  • I CANNOT TELL A LEI (23A: "Those wreaths all look the same to me!"?)
  • SCAREDY CAST (3D: Group of actors who all have stage fright?)
  • YOU'VE GOT MALI (39A: Start of an oral listing of African nations, perhaps?)
  • RAISING THE BRA (53A: Showing less cleavage?)
  • A QUARTER TO TOW (84A: Cheap roadside assistance?)
  • ILLEGAL A-LINE (99A: Knockoff dress labeled "Armani," say?)
  • ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (116A: Caution to an orphan girl not to leave her wildebeest behind?)
  • OBTUSE ANGEL (70D: Lovely but stupid person?)

Word of the Day: LINDIED (96D: Did a 1930s dance) —
The Lindy Hop is an American dance that evolved in HarlemNew York City, in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazztapbreakaway and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is not the kind of theme I expect to be able to pass muster anymore. Can't imagine why it was accepted. It's completely adequate, but the core concept is ancient, and not terribly imaginative, and Sunday is a marquee day. I don't understand how a theme like this deserves showcase status. This theme is (more or less) infinitely replicable. Just find any word where the "twist" thing with the last two letters works, find a phrase that ends in one of the variations, boom, theme answer (DIRTY POLO, FORD PINOT, etc.). Now, it's possible that if your answers and/or clues are truly, genuinely funny, then the tiredness of the concept won't be an issue, and this puzzle does manage to get off a couple good phrases, most notably RAISING THE BRA and ANNIE, GET YOUR GNU (which is enjoyably ridiculous). The rest are just OK, at best, and I CANNOT TELL A LEI doesn't make sense at all, even as clued. You can't tell them … apart … you mean? Right? You would never use that phrasing to mean what the clue says you mean. Never.


The fill here is often ILLY chosen. It's probably average-ish, over all. The NE and SW corners deserve some praise, but there's probably a bit too much ENERO ATEM AMENRA for my taste. This puzzle has this weird thing it's doing with both adjectival and past tense -ED suffixing. That is, stuff, that I never see with that suffix somehow has that suffix. ENCORED? PILLARED? LINDIED? All defensible, I'm sure, just like PETTER (?) is probably defensible. It's just odd. ANISES? If you say so. At least that one makes me (or my inner 8-year-old, which is just a euphemism for "me") laugh.

[Time has made this … disturbing. Moreso …]

I published a puzzle once called "Final Twists" (Penguin Classics Crossword Puzzles, ed. Ben Tausig). But there, the "twists" involved the whole word (not just the final two letters) *and* (this is key), they all involved titles of crime novels (which, of course, typically feature "final twists"). [Raymond Chandler crime novel about giant banana skins?] = THE BIG PEELS. Etc. So the theme, you know, made sense. Here, "Twist Ending" is just this random thing you're doing to totally unrelated phrases, so the theme lacks coherence. Also, A QUARTER TO TWO would never fly as a crossword answer, so it shouldn't be able to fly as a base answer for a theme phrase.

Hey, the 3rd Annual "Finger Lakes Crossword Competition" is coming up on Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Ithaca, NY. I'll be there again this year, doing a Q & A and judging. Ithaca's own Adam Perl will be constructing puzzles especially for this competition. You Northeasterners (and esp. you central NYers, you know who you are) should consider coming. Last year was a lot of fun. Proceeds benefit Tompkins Learning Partners, which supports adult literacy in the community. Click HERE to get more info.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" — 13 interconnected puzzles that lead to a final answer — is now available at his website. It's a contest, the grand prize of which is a book of poetry written by Eugene T. Maleska (who knew?). Here's the "Space Puzzlefest" description:
Patrick Blindauer's Space Puzzlefest consists of about a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer (in a different way each time). All of these answers get combined at the end to form a final answer, which you can email to Patrick to be entered in the Feb. 27th drawing for the Grand Prize: a copy of "Sun & Shadows," a book of Vogonesque poetry written by former New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska. You can enroll at http://patrickblindauer.com/puzzlefest.php; for only 17 Buckazoids you'll receive an invitation to Patrick's Space Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. Come on a stellar puzzventure with Patrick Blindauer's "Space Puzzlefest" (oxygen not included)!
1/25/2015 5:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
German-born photographer Barth / SAT 1-24-15 / Hungarian liqueur sold in green bottles / Traditional Japantown feature / Ancient Moorish palace in Granada / Meaningful language unit / Ohio university nicknamed Big Red
Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Easy



THEME: none

Word of the Day: UNICUM (17A: Hungarian liqueur sold in green bottles) —
Unicum is a Hungarian herbal liqueur or bitters, drunk as a digestif and apéritif. The liqueur is today produced by Zwack according to a secret formula of more than forty herbs; the drink is aged in oak casks. During Communism in Hungary, the Zwack family lived in exile in New Yorkand Chicago, and Unicum in Hungary was produced using a different formula. Before moving to the US Janos Zwack had entrusted a family friend in Milan with the production of Unicum based on the original recipe. After the fall of communism, Péter Zwack returned to Hungary and resumed production of the original Unicum.
Unicum is regarded as one of the national drinks of Hungary. The production facility offers tours which include a tasting session of the three different varieties (Unicum, Unicum Next, and Millenicum). Though Millenicum was a special edition, it can still be found at a few retailers. It is somewhat stronger than the original, with a slightly sweeter aftertaste. Zwack Frissitők is a pineapple-based version of the drink. According to the manufacturer, the original Unicum is no longer distributed in the US, having been replaced by Unicum Next (a sweeter, thinner-bodied drink with a more prominent citrus flavour), re-branded as "Zwack". (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, this one was easy. Wicked easy. I was going to track my progress through the puzzle, with periodic grid snapshots, but no interesting patterns emerged because my solve was smooth and very nearly unbroken. I can describe it very simply: start in NW and get everything but fail to move into the center because STUDIO??? and HOME … GAMES, maybe (no). So restart with ALA / AWE, and from there, just finish the whole puzzle in one big swoop—across the NE, down to the -HIRT in LOSE ONE'S SHIRT, which lets you pick up STUDIO SET (aha) and HOME MATCH (a haha), and then DETECTIVE WORK and KIDS THESE DAYS become unmistakable, then LED ASTRAY and DIVE INTO down into that SW, then SEDATIVES and SWAN'SNECK, maybe (yes), down into that SE corner, which is done in about ten seconds (not much exaggeration). Never even saw the nutso clue on UTA (42A: German-born photographer Barth). Speaking of nutso, UNICUM. In a supremely easy puzzle, that thing is a crazy outlier. Definition (as clued) didn't even show up on a straight-up google search of [UNICUM]. Apparently there are *other* definitions of UNICUM that google thinks I want to know more (including Urban Dictionary's, which … you don't want to know; let's just say it involves unicorns…). I had to add "Hungary" to the search to get this alleged "liqueur." Not great answer with obscure clue, which is weird, because a. it didn't make the puzzle much harder at all, and b. the rest of the grid is not only filled with much more familiar terms, it's just much better overall. This is a very clean, non-gunky grid. Had we ditched the UNICUM and toughened up the cluing quite a bit, we'd be in near-ideal Saturday territory.


It all starts from ALA / AWE, though. When I look back, it's that moment that propels me into the grid. Not sure where I'd've gotten into the grid if not there. Hard to imagine a path not taken. Maybe ELLY / SKYLIT. Maybe EVA / DIVE INTO. But neither of those crossings is positioned for maximum grid leverage. ALA / AWE sits at the front ends of a bunch of words in that quadrant. Got WELD and ETHEL immediately and then swoosh, off I went. Wouldn't have been able to push off with the same force if I'd started other places. My first entries were actually, as I said earlier, in the NW: HAS / YENTA, weirdly enough. That gave me MY WORD at 1A: "I swear …", which was fantastically wrong, but the "O" was right, and it gave me ON CD, which confirmed STUDDED, so MY WORD didn't mess me up for long. Only other errors I had were DEFACER for DEFILER, a misspelled VELURE ("velour"), and … yep, that's it. No, wait, I did have HOME GAMES before HOME MATCH. But IMED (one of the few less-than-great answers) set me right.

["Lithuanians and Letts [!] do it …"]

Hope those who normally struggle with Saturdays had some success today. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
1/24/2015 5:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Shetland sweater style / FRI 1-23-15 / Tonic for tired blood / Phishing fodder / Onetime dwellers along Big Blue River / Starting point of train trip to Timbuktu in song / Hill historic home of Theodore Roosevelt / Filaments in wrought iron / Shepher
Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



THEME: none

Word of the Day: FAIR ISLE (40D: Shetland sweater style) —
Fair Isle is a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours. It is named after Fair Isle, a tiny island in the north of Scotland, that forms part of the Shetlandislands. Fair Isle knitting gained a considerable popularity when the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle tank tops in public in 1921. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour.
Some people use the term "Fair Isle" to refer to any colourwork knitting where stitches are knit alternately in various colours, with the unused colours stranded across the back of the work. Others use the term "stranded colourwork" for the generic technique, and reserve the term "Fair Isle" for the characteristic patterns of the Shetland Islands.
Other techniques for knitting in colour include intarsiaslip-stitch colour (also known as mosaic knitting). (wikipedia)
• • •

I didn't enjoy this much, but it's definitely not as bad as I thought it was about 1/3 of the way in. I didn't get FACE PALM, KILOHERTZ or (toughly, nicely clued) GEOCACHING (9D: Coordinated activity?) til very late, and what I got early … wasn't pretty. This isn't terribly surprising, as I tend to need to hack at the short stuff (more likely to be ugly) before I can uncover the long stuff. It's just that I went a considerable amount of time today with virtually no long stuff. ONA. NON and ICI.  EFILE OLEO MEWL ROM TERI. EMTS. And I was missing old stuff that was way out of my wheelhouse. A song about Timbuktu … a partial about Teddy Roosevelt (really mad at myself there, as I watched all that damned Ken Burns documentary and apparently it did me virtually no good) … a sweater type (which, it turns out, was popularized by a Prince of Wales from a century ago…?). I actually developed open antipathy for this puzzle just reading the clue at 12D: Joe of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman", which only increased when I realized that could've had a "Star Wars"-related clue (LANDO). GERITOL, indeed.

["Got another lover in Timbuktu…"]

But as I say, the ship righted itself somewhat in the latter half of the solve, as more interesting fill started to show up. I had some early-morning gunk in my head, apparently, as I not only had SILL for SLAT (2D: Blind spot?) (right idea, wrong answer), but had -OBS and just stared, too lazy even to run the alphabet properly. COBS, of course. Ears of corn. Also had MI-ER at 18A: One likely to take an elevator to work and wondered why a MISER wouldn't want to take the stairs … but of course, MINERs take an elevator to and (if they're lucky) from work.


There are some things that shouldn't be plurals, and EEKS and (especially!) CIAOS are among those things. [Inuit companion] should be "qimmiq" (aka the Canadian ESKIMO DOG). Also, they aren't Inuit "companions" much any more since the breed is virtually extinct. The American ESKIMO DOG originated in Germany (go figure) and as a breed is very much alive and well, thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
1/23/2015 11:33:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Fencing thrust / THU 1-22-15 / Part of Scottish accent / Nonlethal ammo brand / Quaint preposition / Lab assistant for Dr. Frederick Frankenstein / James Bond portrayer / WWII noncombatant
Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: FIFTH / COLUMNS (15D: With 45-Down, subversive groups … or what the answers in the circled squares comprise?) — all the circled Downs (five "columns" in all) have an implied / missing "Fifth" at the beginning of their clues:

Your "Columns":
  • JUPITER (1D: Planet) / BORON (46D: Chemical element)
  • SOL (4D: Note on the musical scale) / DEUTERONOMY (25D: Book of the Bible)
  • PIERCE BROSNAN (6D: James Bond portrayer)
  • AUGEAN STABLES (18D: Labor of Hercules)
  • ALAN SHEPARD (9D: Man who walked on the moon) / MAY (59D: Month)
Word of the Day: BURR (46A: Part of a Scottish accent) —
noun
  1. 1
    a rough sounding of the sound r, especially with a uvular trill (a “French r ”) as in certain Northern England accents.
  2. 2
    a rough edge or ridge left on an object (especially of metal) by the action of a tool or machine. (google)
• • •

Well this is certainly the nicest puzzle of the week thus far, and far and away the best filled. There's a groaner here and there, but way too much solid, interesting stuff for the lesser stuff to become a real distraction. Themewise, I like that the pentacular (it's a word now) theme has two components—the missing "Fifth"s as well as the five total "columns" that are involved. The main problem, as I see it, is one of entertainment value. The cluing offered no opportunities for anything but the most literal approach. Most of the time, the missing "Fifth" wasn't relevant or even noticeable; I got all the longer theme answers with virtually no crosses in place (though having the "AU-" in place on the Herclues one definitely helped) (also of help—having some longstanding familiarity with that guy's labors). Cluing was just blah, and missing "Fifth" wasn't noticeable / couldn't be registered in any kind of compelling way. So I love the idea, and the look of the grid, and I think it's nicely filled, but between the puzzle's overall easiness (under five minutes?!) and the aggressive straightforwardness of the cluing, there was somewhat less scintillation that I would've liked in my Thursday puzzle. Still, I'll take it over any of this week's M-W stuff.


I only learned the term "fifth column" a few years back, when I was looking for theme answers for my marijuana / "THC"-themed puzzle "Inside Dope." That puzzle also contained BIRTH CANAL. Edgy! Anyway, knowing the term allowed me to get the revealer without even looking at the clue. I got COLUMNS from crosses and then … I dunno, I just never even looked at 15-Down. My main issue up there was going with RADII for 19A: Neighbors of ulnae (CARPI). CARPI is probably my least favorite thing in the grid (and keep in mind this grid has ESS and YERS). It's a real plural, but I've never seen it (that I can remember). TARSI, I've seen. CARPI sounds like it would describe a fish-like odor. At any rate, I was playing around with my dog's FOREPAWs earlier in the evening, so that answer came to me easily and helped me straighten out that corner (the only part of the puzzle that gave me the slightest trouble). Stuff like NIA, ENYA, NAOMI, OREO, all just came too easily. Middle of the grid might've been harder had not the long themers there been a total cinch. PASSADO and GAG RULE make a really lovely center "column." This puzzle definitely has more pluses than minuses.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    1/22/2015 11:16:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Roman magistrate / WED 1-21-15 / Kinkajou cousin / Thriller set on Amity Island / Michael of Flashdance / Handrail support / First Burmese prime minister / Self-portraitist Frida / Mr. Spock's forte
    Constructor: Jim Hilger

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (slower than normal, though oversized 15x16 grid might have something to do with that)


    THEME: [T] FORMATION (50A: Following the nine black squares in the center of the grid, a hint to five pairs of answers in this puzzle) — "nine black squares" form a "T"; "five pairs of answers" also form "T"s, and intersect at the letter "T"

    Theme answers:
    • WATER / TIGHT (5A: With 7-Down, incapable of leaking)
    • AFTER / TASTE (isn't that one word?) (26A: With 28-Down
    • OFTEN / TIMES (ditto) (29A: With 30-Down, frequently)
    • TITLE / TRACK (52A: With 54-Down, song with the same name as its album)
    • DUTCH / TREAT (56A: With 57-Down, meal for which everyone pays his or her own way)
    Word of the Day: Michael NOURI (37D: Michael of "Flashdance") —
    Michael Nouri (born December 9, 1945) is an American television and film actor. He may be best known for his role as Nick Hurley, in the 1983 film Flashdance. He has had recurring roles in numerous television series, including NCIS as Eli David, the father of Mossad officer (now Special Agent) Ziva DavidThe O.C. as Dr. Neil Roberts, and Damages as Phil Grey. He also appeared as Congressman Stewart with Queen Latifah in the 2006 comedy movie Last Holiday and Detective Thomas Beck in the science fiction action film The Hidden. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Another very cute idea that doesn't quite get the execution it deserves. It strains under the weight of its own (admirable) ambition. I love the many-layered quality of the theme: the pairs form "T"s, they intersect *at* "T", and the black squares in the middle form a *T* that's part of the revealer. Nice nice and nice. But, first, I think there's something a little off about treating a compound word like a two-word phrase (which happens twice here at OFTEN/TIMES and AFTER/TASTE), and, second, I think there's something really, tragically off about the fill in a couple of places, most notably the INUTILE (!?) MOL PUF NOURI disaster zone. IDI and UNU should really never appear in the same grid together. Too much historical palindromic crosswordese for such a small space. IRENA ERI ATEN, wince, ABAB TRS, wince. And EDILE … jeez, I mean, EDILE? That is some last-ditch, desperation stuff. Just because the editor won't hold your fill to high standards doesn't mean you shouldn't. Dear world, hear my plea: put EDILE behind break-only-in-case-of-emergency glass, for pete's sake. What we have here, in the end, is a massive contrast between the theme (visually interesting, impressively dense) and the fill, which, with the exception of several of the longer Downs, is pretty subpar. I mean, A BOAT … really? And so close to EDILE? Too bad I already named the God of Bad Short Fill "OOXTEPLERNON," because MR. TAWN PUFENE has a nice ring to it. Maybe he can be the henchman.

    [Profanity off the starboard bow …]

    MOTOR TREND! PETTY THEFT! WATCH TOWER (if we're allowing compound words to be split, which apparently we are…). Can you think of others?

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    1/21/2015 5:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Evian competitor / TUE 1-20-15 / Violinist Leopold / Guernsey chew / English princess who competed in 1976 Olympics / Like some rich soil / Fabric once described as comfort in action
    Constructor: Susan Gelfand

    Relative difficulty: Medium



    THEME: COMIC RELIEF (60A: What the starts of 18-, 24-, 37- and 52-Across can provide?) — four familiar two-word phrases where the first word is the last name of a famous COMIC:

    Theme answers:
    • CAESAR SALAD (18A: Dish with croutons and Paremsan cheese) (Sid Caesar)
    • MURPHY BED (24A: Pull-down sleeper) (Eddie Murphy)
    • CRYSTAL GEYSER (37A: Evian competitor) (Billy Crystal)
    • ROCK OPERA (52A: "Tommy," for one) (Chris Rock)
    Word of the Day: ROWENA (15A: Ivanhoe's love) —
    Rowena /rˈnə/ was the daughter of the Anglo-Saxon chief Hengist and a wife of VortigernKing of the Britons, in British legend. Presented as a beautiful femme fatale, she won her people the Kingdom of Kent through her treacherous seduction of Vortigern. Contemporary sources do not mention Rowena, which leads modern historians to regard her as fictitious. […] She was a titular character in William Henry Ireland's play Vortigern and Rowena (1796). Her name was later borrowed by Sir Walter Scott for the beautiful Saxon heroine in his historical novel Ivanhoe (1819), after which it came into use as an English given name(Presumably due to the original legendary Rowena's character flaws, her name was not commonly used until after the appearance of Ivanhoe.) (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Yesterday, the theme carried the day, in spite of the fill. Today, the theme comes in quite wounded and there's nothing the fill (better, but just average) can do to save it. There are several little issues with the theme, but one big issue—the revealer. COMIC RELIEF makes zero sense as the revealer. The COMIC part, I get. But why RELIEF? It's a totally extraneous, completely non-descriptive element … a bed can provide relief, I guess, but a salad … I dunno, maybe … an opera … pushing it … and geyser, no way. Nobody ever got relieved by a geyser. So RELIEF is a meaningless, throwaway word—not cool in a revealer. May as well have been COMIC TIMING for all the thematic sense that phrase makes. Billy Crystal was part of the '80s comedy benefit program "COMIC RELIEF" … but the other guys weren't. Were they? I thought that was Crystal, Williams, and Goldberg. Also, one of these four is not like the others (again). Murphy, Crystal, and Rock were all stand-ups (Rock is the only one who still is, I think). Caesar, however (per wikipedia) "was considered a "sketch comic" and actor, as opposed to a stand-up comedian." Now, since all the other comics were at some point on SNL (again, not Caesar, another way he's not like the others; see also "dead"), they were all "sketch comics," in a way, so maybe there is consistency there. Like I said, the main issue is RELIEF, which just … hangs there. OPENING ACT … well, that wouldn't have worked either, since it wouldn't have captured the comedy part very well, but at least it would've had some relationship to where we find the words-that-are-also-comics. The aptness of revealers is Really important to the overall quality of a puzzle (not all puzzles have revealers, but if they do, they must be spot-on).


    Puzzle also suffers from a touch of the datedness. When Rock (older than middle-aged me) is the young guy in your set of comics, you know your comic sensibility crystalized (!) at least two decades (probably more) ago. Opening words of the themers = an arbitrary, not-terribly-coherent list of (broadly-defined) "comics." And the fill, while nice in a few places (the NW corner, due N and due S, the CAMEROON/RASHOMON pair), is overall only OK, and perhaps has a bit too much screechiness in the short stuff (BAAS ENE ETES AUER MES ELD). If the theme had landed, I'd've noticed this stuff less. But it didn't. So I did.

    [REDACTED due to REDACTED]

    If you wanted to do a modern stand-up theme, here are some more options (besides ROCK):
    • WATTS RIOTS
    • COOK ISLANDS
    • BURR GRINDER
    • BLACK FRIDAY
    • NORTON ANTIVIRUS
    I'm sure there's more.

    Did you hear the one about the IRONER and the ANALYZER? No, of course you didn't.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    1/20/2015 12:32:00 PM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Youngest Downton Abbey daughter / MON 1-19-15 / Skype necessity / Shellfish hors d'oeuvres / Mystic's device with letters numbers
    Constructor: Jean O'Conor

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Monday*) (Solving time: 3:06)



    THEME: SNOW-CAPPED (31D: Like alpine peaks … or what each half of 3-, 7-, 9-, 37- and 44-Down can be?) — themers (which all run Down) are two-word phrases or two-part compound words, each part of which can be preceded by SNOW to make a familiar term:

    Theme answers:
    • WHITEBOARD (3D: Surface for a dry-erase marker)
    • BANK JOB (44D: Heist of a sort)
    • BUNNY SUIT (37D: Easter costume)
    • CRAB BALLS (7D: Shellfish hors d'oeuvres)
    • PLOWMAN (9D: Farmer with oxen)
    Word of the Day: CRAB BALLS —
    [I don't know … they appear to be just like crab cakes, except in ball form. More ball than cake. Else, same. Here's some recipes.]
    • • •

    The theme here is a real winner. Theme type is very familiar, but the density and the aptness of the revealer (with all the themers running Down) make this one more interesting than usual. And it's still pretty much Monday-easy. Nice work. I struggled more than usual (losing perhaps 15 to 20 seconds all told) because of BALLS. CRAB CAKES are approximately 12 thousand times more familiar than CRAB BALLS (which I've literally never seen anywhere). Every damn restaurant has CRAB CAKES on the menu. So that's a pretty significant potential pitfall right there. Easy enough to climb out of, because, after all, it's Monday, but still. Not getting BALLS meant increased trouble picking up both WEBCAM (I kept wanting WIFI … WI-something) and SYBIL (that show got old Fast and I'd totally forgotten the youngest daughter's name, though we just saw that actress in something recently … hmm … oh, "Black Mirror," which you should totally watch. She's in the second episode of that.). So this one was eelier than the average Monday, but not annoyingly so. Spellcheck is angrily underlining "eelier" in red ("you must mean, 'eerier,' you idiot"), but I stand by my comparative adjective.


    While this puzzle has a very good theme, for a Monday, it botches the fill in several areas because, like an addict, it can't seem to lay off the high-value Scrabble tiles, and each one of them creates a mess. Actually, not true. The constructor contains the "J" in BANK JOB very nicely, with very little fallout—but that's a necessarily letter, a theme answer letter. The others are just gratuitous, and we all pay a price. EXGI is not good fill. EZEK and NOTER, really not good. ZOO and ZAHN are fine, but they cause the collateral damage of ANA and ONEA—yuck. When you're already testing your ick limit with TOPER and ACNES (plural!), and when your theme is already golden, your goal should be smoothness, not 8- and 10-point tiles. We know the editor really only cares about the theme, and fill shmill, and in this case, I think good theme beats less-than-good fill, but there's no reason it had to be this close.


    I would've preferred a Chaucer clue for PLOWMAN (9D: Farmer with oxen) and a Sally Field clue for SYBIL (36A: Youngest "Downton Abbey" daughter). I watched "Maximum Overdrive" (1986) earlier this evening and it was fantastically terrible. I mention this because Marla Maples is in it (briefly), and for some reason Paula ZAHN reminds me of her (34D: Newswoman Paula). Why is that? It makes no sense. I think I'm confusing Paula ZAHN with the woman who took Jane Pauley's place on The Today Show … ugh, what's her name? Oh, Deborah Norville ... though why *she* should make me think of Marla Maples, I also don't know. Anyway, the moral of this story is, don't see "Maximum Overdrive." Or do—it's pretty hilarious. Giancarlo Esposito ("Gus" on "Breaking Bad") gets killed by an arcade. There are no typos in that last sentence.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      PS Thanks to all who have sent me snail mail in the past week. I am considering starting a letters column, "Ask Rex," perhaps. In fact, here's the first installment:
      Joan asks: "Will you do a column answering questions someday?"
      Rex answers: Maybe!
      Short, sweet, informative!

      You all have some pretty great observations and anecdotes about puzzles (and other things). It's been a joy opening the mail this past week. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
      1/19/2015 5:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Revolutionary patriot Silas / SUN 1-18-15 / 1970s-80s TV sheriff / Arrangement of hosing / Early 1900s gold rush locale / California city where first Apple computer was built / Quaint contraction / 1960s chess champion Mikhail / Tick-borne affliction
      Constructor: Joe Krozel

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



      THEME: "Changelings" — five-word sentences that are also word ladders of a sort (i.e. each successive word has but a single changed letter):

      Theme answers:
      • HUGE LUGE LUGS LOGS LOTS (27A: Gigantic sled hauls firewood quite a bit)
      • MAID SAID SAND SANK SINK (34A: Domestic worker claimed shifting beach engulfed basin)
      • PALE PALS PASS LASS LESS (60A: Friends who have never been to the beach don't walk by the girl so often)
      • KIDS KISS MISS MOSS MOST (67A: Children show their affection for model Kate able all others)
      • LOUD LOUT LOST LAST CAST (92A: Boisterous oaf confused the previous set of actors)
      • WILT WILL FILL FULL FUEL (100A: Mr. Chamberlain intends to top off his gas tank)
      Word of the Day: DSCS (58D: Mil. decorations) —
      The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military award that can be given to a member of the United States Army (and previously, the United States Army Air Forces), for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force. Actions that merit the Distinguished Service Cross must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other U.S. combat decorations but do not meet the criteria for the Medal of Honor. The Distinguished Service Cross is equivalent to the Navy Cross (Navy and Marine Corps), the Air Force Cross (Air Force), and the Coast Guard Cross (Coast Guard).
      The Distinguished Service Cross was first awarded during World War I. In addition, a number of awards were made for actions before World War I. In many cases, these were to soldiers who had received a Certificate of Merit for gallantry which, at the time, was the only other honor for gallantry the Army could award, or recommend a Medal of Honor. Others were belated recognition of actions in the Philippineson the Mexican Border and during the Boxer Rebellion.
      The Distinguished Service Cross is distinct from the Distinguished Service Medal, which is awarded to persons in recognition of exceptionally meritorious service to the government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Sunday! Bloody Sunday, in that I finished with an error. But otherwise a lovely Sunday, as I have occasion to thank all the readers who responded to my fund-raising pitch this week. Your generosity was really quite touching, and your messages (by computer and by pony express) … well, they range from the earnest to the cranky to the warm-hearted to the downright loopy. So much fun opening the mail this week! I have a diverse and hilarious readership, which, you know, I knew, but it was nice to get so many concrete reminders this week. You all are a really supportive community, and I'm genuinely, non-snarkily grateful for your continued readership. Thanks for all the kind words and commiseration. Now I gotta find someone to share this swag with:



      Same dude also sent me three $1 bills. I've been having fun "making it rain" all afternoon. The dogs don't really get it, but they know better than to judge me by now.

      Anyone who has yet to contribute and would like to can always find the Paypal button as well as a snail mail address in the sidebar. All contributions acknowledged with email (Paypal) or thank-you postcard (snail mail).

      SUNDAY PUZZLE

      "Why is the luge lugging log sluts?" I sincerely thought for a nanosecond while solving this puzzle. This theme is an exercise in word manipulation, which, I guess, any theme is, but here, the meaning (or plausibility) is virtually irrelevant. It's just that the phrases aren't so much wacky (which would imply humor) as they are absurd. Contrived, more like. And not just the phrases, but the clues. Words are reduced to their parts, their mere physicality, meaning (for the most part) be damned. I can't even picture the SAND SANK SINK one, and the syntax on the FILL FULL FUEL just seems clunky to me, at best. I sort of like KIDS KISS MISS MOSS MOST—that one sings. And the PALE PALS and the LOUD LOUT are passable. But overall, once you get the gimmick here, there's not much to smile at. Theme is easy to pick up, and once picked up, easy to knock down.

      [Kids miss KISS most]

      As with recent "easy" theme puzzles, this one has somewhat amped up cluing. Difficulty is mostly achieved through vagueness / ambiguity (e.g. multiple answers with same clue, e.g. [This and that] [Comics canine]). Looking back on the puzzle, I'm not sure why my time didn't come out "Easy" or even below average. I think I just stared too long at what ended up being my error: DSES / SEAM (instead of DSCS / SCAM). Now I *knew* (or felt deeply anyway) that DSES wasn't a thing. But I tried DSO (which I know) and it didn't work, and after that, well I'm at a total loss when it comes to keeping straight all the damn mil. award abbrevs. (UK, US, or otherwise). They're just noise. Clutter. Crosswordese. A nuisance. "C" should've been something I could pick up from the cross, but ugh, look at that clue on SCAM (66A: Arrangement of hosing?). What is that? What is it going for? Is there a play on words. Why would you write such a torturous clue? I mean, it wouldn't have been more clear, but [Hosing arrangement?] would've at least made more sense. It sounds like "housing arrangement," which is almost a thing. But the main problem, my problem, was that I watch / read too much '40s-era material (noir and otherwise), and so I figured SEAM was the answer. I have actually seen women arrange the SEAMs on their hose, so that it's straight up the back of the leg. And if you say "but nobody calls stockings 'hosing,'" I say "a. it's a '?' clue and b. nobody calls a SCAM an 'arrangement of hosing' either but here we are."


      Nothing much else to say here. LOUISCK is always welcome fill (88D: Comedian who said "Every day starts my eyes open and I reload the program of misery"). I just got an email from him earlier in the day. OK, so it was a mass email, but still. It felt like he knew me. Were there other points of interest in this one. I can't see them. Gonna go back to watching "True Detective" and writing thank-you cards. Seriously, you guys (and gals) are the best.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        1/18/2015 5:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        1983 Joel Schumacher film / SAT 1-17-15 / Johann opponent of Martin Luther / Gossipy affair / Michaels of rock reality TV / Figure also called crux ansata / Hip-hop's tha Kyd / First one opened in Garden City Mich 1962
        Constructor: Josh Knapp

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: SYD tha Kyd (39A: Hip-hop's ___ tha Kyd) —
        Sydney Loren Bennett, known by her stage name as Syd tha Kyd or more recently Syd (born April 23, 1992) is a singer, producer and DJ from Crenshaw, Los Angeles, California. She is one of the main producers in Odd Future and a singer, producer and mixer in the Neo soul group The Internet with Matt Martians. She is the main producer for fellow Odd Future rapper Mike G and the older sister of non-musical Odd Future member Travis "Taco" Bennett. (wikipedia)

        • • •

        Hi all. It's the LAST DAY in my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

        Rex Parker
        ℅ Michael Sharp
        54 Matthews St
        Binghamton NY 13905

        And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

        I assume that worked.

        For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

        • • •

        SATURDAY'S PUZZLE: "ODE to JOIN"

        Oh, man, sometimes Friday nights / Saturday mornings are The Worst, blog-wise. If I come home wiped out and just want to go to sleep, I can't, or, I can, but then I'm looking at having to blog a *Saturday* puzzle straight of bed in the morning. If there is one kind of puzzle that you shouldn't do with foggy just-out-of-bed brain, it's a Saturday puzzle. This took me probably twice as long as it should have. I honestly have no idea how difficult it was on a normal fully-awake-human scale. Felt hard (for reasons I'll get to). But maybe less hard than I made it on myself. So "Medium-Challenging" is a best guess. First off (or, second off at this point, I guess), let me say the grid looks great. All kinds of fun stuff popping off all over the place. But it was the cluing on this thing that made it really hard to process. Well, that, and my two small but absolutely lethal errors. And the fact KAZAKH never crossed my mind (until the second "K" and "Z" showed up … late).

        It's weird: I started and finished in the NW. When I finished, it all went down quite easily. When I started, I got nowhere. I blame this entirely on 6D: It might have decorative feet, and more specifically I blame it on my wrong answer, ODE. I thought there was something tricky going on with "feet" there. Because on Saturday I look for tricky. And I teach poetry. Bad combo (today). ODE made me want 1A: Polishes to end in ON. But then the Fibonacci clue made no sense and neither did anything else and I just sat. Stumbled around til I found BRET Michaels (which, I suspect, is how a lot of people find BRET Michaels), and though I didn't feel good about latching onto him (see previous parenthetical comment), he got me started. NE was my first corner. Then I couldn't do a thing with the middle. Well, I got FORCE MAJEURE (a phrase recently running around my brain because of the very cool-looking Swedish movie of the same name that I am definitely going to see). But otherwise, the middle was shot through with holes. I was able to ride CORIANDER down to the SW and (easily) finish off that quadrant, but then there I sat, with a grid that looked something (i.e. exactly) like this:

        [Beethoven's lesser-known "ODE to JOIN"]

        Look at cute little ODE up there, ****ing everything up. Adorable. You can see he has been joined in Errorsville by his younger sister, JOIN (34D: Come together). That—that right there, 34D—is a trap By Design. Clue is written to be valid for JELL but also to apply to a different, more common "J" word (JOIN). And, 6 in the morning, I fell in. And right next to invisible KAZAKH. Ugh. Disaster. I should also remark on RICHTER SCALE at this point, which is a great answer, with a Great clue (40A: Provider of shock value?), but even with this much filled in, I couldn't see it to save my life. Things that floated through my brain: RICHARD SCARY (misspelled), RICHELIEU, RICHIE RICH… I mean, JOIN wasn't helping, but still, you'd think I could pull it out of the fire with that much in place. No. I had to diver into the SE with no crosses (dicey) and try to find new footing. Wanted ACE, didn't trust it, then (luckily!) tested NICE and got a NEPAL crossing. New hope! At this point I retried ACE and then KEEPS ON (wrong, but a good start), and then, aha, it's KOJAK, with another good but Brutal clue (52D: Noted Greek officer). I *own* the first season of "KOJAK" and took forever to get this. So then, from KOJAK, I get the SE corner, which means I get KLATCH, which means I get JELL *and* LIONIZE *and* KAZAKH, bang bang bang. Then up to DECAMP ERIE FIGLEAF and we're as good as done. And it's URN. An URN might have decorative feet. Not an ODE, whose feet are without decor, it seems.


        Hard clean fun. Well, less than "fun" for me, but that's not on the puzzle. That's on 6am.

        See you tomorrow.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          1/17/2015 12:38:00 PM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Time for Debussy's faune / FRI 1-16-15 / Hemoglobin carrier / Picturesque subterranean spaces / Journalist who wrote 1943 book here is your war / Alcopop alternative / Like tarantella dancers
          Constructor: Michael Wiesenberg

          Relative difficulty: Medium



          THEME: none

          Word of the Day: ERYTHROCYTE (55A: Hemoglobin carrier) —
          Red blood cells (RBCs), also called erythrocytes, are the most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate organism's principal means of delivering oxygen (O2) to the body tissues--via blood flow through the circulatory system. RBCs take up oxygen in the lungs or gills and release it into tissues while squeezing through the body's capillaries. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

          Rex Parker
          ℅ Michael Sharp
          54 Matthews St
          Binghamton NY 13905

          And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

          I assume that worked.

          For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

          • • •

          FRIDAY'S PUZZLE

          Hey, this is pretty good. I like this grid shape; my one NYT themeless puzzle had a very similar shape. It gives you four showcase areas, four stacks/groupings where you can take cool, longer fill out for a spin. What I like most about this grid is the breadth of subject matter. Science! French music! Hybrid punctuation!  I gagged a bit on EGOISTICAL. Try saying it in a way that doesn't make you sound like an affected, tea-drinking whist-player. I don't know why you're drinking tea, but you are, and I don't really know what "whist" is, but it sounds like you're saying it when you say EGOISTICAL. EgoWHISTical. Normals say "egotistical," of course. Gotta let that one off on a (dictionary) technicality, but don't gotta be happy about it. But nothing else clunked for me. Clues were gritty without being inedible. A fine time was had by all (of me). Here's what that time looked like. Let's start with the opening:


          As you can see, I was following the time-worn tactic of drilling down the short stuff first and then seeing what your brain can do, pattern-recognition-wise, with the longer Acrosses. I had *just* enough after my first pass at the Downs to pick up SWEET POTATO (even though I had half of 1D wrong). A bit later, when I couldn't make headway, I took out AM and tried DO SO, and when that didn't work, I think I got SEE YOU LATER and IS SO simultaneously. That corner fell from there. When I hit a wall trying to move into the SW, I headed to the east, which proved most tractable. STIR IN, FATTEST, SOLOISTS, all easy pick-ups, and so the NE went down without much trouble. Soon I had a grid that looked like this:


          Again, drilled down through the long Acrosses and waited for pattern recognition to do its thang. Thank god (!) for OBSERVANTLY because those other two Acrosses in the SE were not going to cough up their secrets very easily. But with OBSERVANTLY in place, the little Downs in the far SE fell easily, and after virtually all their crosses were in place, first NATURE TRAIL and then ERYTHROCYTE came into view. Big stroke of luck that JUICE BAR was so easily inferable from just the -BAR. "J" helped me take care of the whole middle, and then there was just the SW. Here's what happened there:


          Hurray for the '80s. Do people still drink WINE COOLERs? (26D: Alcopop alternative) They sure did when I was in high school. I mean, I didn't—I was a total square who was too terrified to break any law (until college, when I started knocking over banks). But Bartles & James were practically folk heroes in the '80s. Anyway, again, I just needed that little bit of help from the crosses and boom went WINE COOLER. All you need is one of those long answers in any given quadrant to get serious traction. A minute or so later, I was done.

          Bullets:
          • 8D: Restrain, as one's breath (BATE— OK, upon reflection, there are some clunkers in here.  Breath might be (figuratively, floridly) "bated," but nobody BATEs their damned breath. Nobody SOEVER. DEUT ITI ATA LEB NRC also aren't great, but that's a pretty small handful. And the longs are generally good, so I'm not too disturbed. 
          • 30D: ___ Beach, Calif. (PISMO) — my dad took me and my sister to PISMO Beach in the summer of '78. In an RV. This trip was weirdly memorable. It was the trip on which I was introduced to baseball cards (Topps had this solitaire game you could play with the cards—basically a game recreation type thing—and I sat at the RV table and played and played and played … I can still see Jim Rice's big smiling mug …). My sister tripped over a parking curb while holding an ice cream cone and went right over onto the pavement … but maintained total control of the cone (she was 6). And this song was very, very popular: (Also, within a month my parents would be divorced. But … this song!)
          • 4D: Brew ingredient from a 2-Down (EYE) / 2D: See 4-Down (NEWT) — This was wicked confusing ("Brew" being highly ambiguous), but when it came together, the phrasing all checked out. I like my cross-references spot-on and close together (check and check).
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

          PS Look what I got in the mail today! Fan art! Very sweet… (it's a magnet!)


          1/16/2015 5:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Flat-bottomed boat / THU 1-15-15 / Ottoman honorific / Nearly blind jazz great / Fashionable 1980s item resembling bit of astronaut's attire / Popular recreational watercraft / Sussex river where Virginia Woolf tragically ended her life
          Constructor: Herre Schouwerwou

          Relative difficulty: Medium



          THEME: Quote by Ogden Nash, with punctuation included:

          Theme answers:
          • "I COULD HAVE / LOVED NEW YORK / HAD I NOT LOVED / BALTI-MORE"
          Word of the Day: DORY (41A: Flat-bottomed boat) —
          The dory is a small, shallow-draft boat, about 5 to 7 metres or 16 to 23 feet long. It is usually a lightweight boat with high sides, a flat bottom and sharp bows. They are easy to build because of their simple lines. For centuries, dories have been used as traditional fishing boats, both in coastal waters and in the open sea. Variant spellings are doree and dori. (wikipedia) [note to constructors: please immediately forget that you ever saw those variant spellings, thank you]

          • • •

          Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

          Rex Parker
          ℅ Michael Sharp
          54 Matthews St
          Binghamton NY 13905

          And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

          I assume that worked.

          For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

          • • •

          THURSDAY'S PUZZLE — Needs More John Waters

          Here's the thing about quote puzzles—the quote amuses you or it doesn't. That's pretty much that. There's nothing to think about or plan, from the constructor's end. Sure, you have to worry about layout, but here the constructor cleverly / cheatingly (depending on your point of view) fudges things to get the layout to work, so with that settled … yeah, you either enjoy the quote or you don't. I thought it was OK, I guess. Not Nash's finest hour. I really do think the "punctuation" angle is cheap rather than interesting. I mean, who cares about a hyphen? It doesn't add anything. It's "clever" only insofar as it allowed the constructor to pull off quote symmetry. It has no other cleverness. And other, less fortunate punctuation marks go sadly unacknowledged. "What about me?" cries ILLSAY. "When will I get full representation!?" wails EER. The LIL TMEN are probably saying something too. I'm just saying there's no value added w/ that damned hyphen square. I was fully prepared to leave that square blank, until I went back and read the theme clue more closely. I'm bugged by the fact that the quote doesn't appear to be a poem—it has no rhyme, no metricality. Or maybe you elide the second "I", which would leave you with something vaguely iambic. Also, I'm not sure why loving BALTIHYPHENMORE precludes your loving New York. I myself am municipally polyamorous. Don't judge.

          [More]

          Speaking of cities, UTICA. That was my first entry. Clue says it's a city in New York, it's five letters long … UTICA! Good ol' UTICA. Gateway to … somewhere north of here, I'm sure. After I got going there in the NW, I sort of sidled down the west side of the puzzle and then up into the middle until I had shot through much of the quotation. Then I inferred (most of) the quote and finished the remaining couple of corners thereafter. Cluing seemed toughish in parts, perhaps because it had to be to keep this thing at all Thursday-worthy. For some reason [Sports division] seemed a really vague clue for EAST, and I had to start running the alphabet to get the "B" at 52A: Trust fund? (BAIL) / 52D: Exhibit some immodesty (BRAG). I'm not familiar with Stephenie MEYER. She really, really sounds like the person who wrote "Twilight," but I suspect not. Oh … wait, she *is* the author of "Twilight," and I totally misread the clue. I somehow processed ["The Host" author Stephenie] as ["The View" host Stephenie]. Well … that was disturbing. I wonder what other massive emendations my brain is engaged in on a daily basis.


          Though I didn't care for the theme today, I do admire the way the constructor handled the long Downs. Lovely pairs in the middle and then longer bookends in the NE / SW. All colorful and interesting. Grateful for the '80s throwback MOON BOOT (37D: Fashionable 1980s item resembling a bit of astronaut's attire). I'd forgotten those existed. Would've been better in the plural, but I'll take this. It offsets the clue/answer pair at 6D: Bamboozle (EUCHRE), which I nominate for the olde-timiest puzzle entry ever. EUCHRE's already a pretty marginal / bygone card game, but slang for "bamboozle," which is itself pretty olde-timey?! That's … nuts. When was the last time anyone used EUCHRE to mean "bamboozle," keeping in mind that I won't believe you if your answer is any later than 19-aught-5.

          Knock knock. OUSE there? Good night.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            1/15/2015 5:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Hoppy brew for short / WED 1-14-15 / Millrose Games highlight / 501st royal daughter / Cousin of calypso / Borat portrayer Baron Cohen / Bit of cash in Kashmir / Band with 1987 6x platinum album Kick
            Constructor: Caleb Emmons

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



            THEME: Unexpectedly Roman — common names / phrases are clued as if certain parts were Roman numerals:

            Theme answers:
            • LEMONADE MIX (17A: 1,009th juice drink?)
            • PRINCESS DI (11D: 501st royal daughter?)
            • IV DRUGS (39A: Four prescriptions?)
            • XXX RATINGS (30D: 30 consumer reviews?)
            • XL TEE SHIRTS (61A: 40 concert souvenirs?)
            Word of the Day: Millrose Games (28D: Millrose Games highlight = MILE) —
            The Millrose Games is an annual indoor athletics meet (track and field) held each February in New York City. They started taking place at the Armory in Washington Heights in 2012, after having taken place in Madison Square Garden from 1914 to 2011. The games were started when employees of the New York City branch of Wanamaker's department store formed the Millrose Track Club to hold a meet. The featured event is the Wanamaker Mile(wikipedia)
            • • •

            Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

            Rex Parker
            ℅ Michael Sharp
            54 Matthews St
            Binghamton NY 13905

            And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

            I assume that worked.

            For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

            • • •

            WEDNESDAY PUZZLE aka "AMOR ON A STICK!"

            This is one of those great ideas that just doesn't have enough great possible answers, so you either abandon the idea or force it. Today's offering is what "force it" looks like. Can you guess which two are the good theme answers—the ones that really work well? I'll give you time [Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo; doo doo doo doo DOO … doodoodoodoodoo … etc.]. The correction question is "What are LEMONADE MIX and PRINCESS DI?" The others are compromises. What's the big difference? Well, you probably can tell, but I'll spell it out anyway. See, MIX and DI are words/names that the clues convert to Roman numerals. This means the Roman-ness is totally hidden, completely unexpected, because MIX and DI are not already abbreviations. That is, their letters have not already been converted into initials / symbols. This makes the conversion extra cool. Converting XXX RATINGS (not really a phrase to start with) to 30 RATINGS does not involve much imagination and produces little to no "aha" feeling. To simplify: MIX-to-1,009 is not a conversion I could see coming, whereas IV-to-4 … is. Where is Otto DIX!? LIV Ullman!? Hell, even CD PLAYER would've felt more in-the-pocket than XL TEE SHIRTS (which both looks absurd written out ("tee?") and is not likely to be said as written, i.e. people still say "extra large" most of the time…). Sometimes good theme ideas should just remain ideas unless and until you have a full complement of Good Theme Answers.


            The fill is once again labored and subpar, with the possible exception of MAXED OUT (which is sadly offset by its ridiculous symmetrical counterpart, ON A STICK). Everywhere you look, musty, tired fill. You see it. I see it. Everyone sees it. Why is this still happening? This has been a rough week for the NYT, an unexpected and unwelcome return to form after a pretty good holiday run of puzzles. Second ASAP we've seen this week. Second WAS, too.  These are the things one notices when there is next to nothing interesting in the puzzles to talk about. SQUASH over KETTLE is a nice little juxtaposition. That's all the good will I have to spend on this one. There's always tomorrow. Dum spiro spero. Etc.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
              1/14/2015 5:00:00 AM
              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
              Ernest nicknamed Texas troubadour / TUE 1-13-15 / Billboard's top rock group of 2000-09 / Resident of so-called Chicago of Japan / Prize annual international award for mathematics / Eating non-halal to Muslims / Prefix with plasty
              Constructor: Michael Blake

              Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



              THEME: NICKELBACK (58A: Billboard's top rock group of 2000-09 … or where to find a 23-Across (before 1939) or 17-Across (today))— stuff on the back of a nickel

              Theme answers:
              • MONTICELLO (17A: Tourist attraction in Charlottesville, Va.)
              • AMERICAN BISON (23A: Largest wild animal in the United States)
              • E PLURIBUS UNUM (47A: "Out of many, one")
              Word of the Day: Ernest TUBB (39D: Ernest nicknamed "The Texas Troubadour") —
              Ernest Dale Tubb (February 9, 1914 – September 6, 1984), nicknamed the Texas Troubadour, was an American singer and songwriter and one of the pioneers of country music. His biggest career hit song, "Walking the Floor Over You" (1941), marked the rise of the honky tonk style of music. In 1948, he was the first singer to record a hit version of "Blue Christmas", a song more commonly associated with Elvis Presley and his mid-1950s version. Another well-known Tubb hit was "Waltz Across Texas" (1965) (written by his nephew Quanah Talmadge Tubb (Billy Talmadge)), which became one of his most requested songs and is often used in dance halls throughout Texas during waltz lessons. Tubb recorded duets with the then up-and-coming Loretta Lynn in the early 1960s, including their hit "Sweet Thang". Tubb is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

              Rex Parker
              ℅ Michael Sharp
              54 Matthews St
              Binghamton NY 13905

              And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

              I assume that worked.

              For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

              • • •

              TUESDAY'S PUZZLE

              This puzzle forced me to remember NICKELBACK, and for that I will never forgive it.

              ["I don't wanna hear that song no more"]

              I can't decide what's more depressing: the clue for the revealer, or the revealer itself (one of my friends is saying: "coin toss" …) (the other: "the clue is fitting for how good NICKELBACK is"). But I'll refrain from trashing the band in question, and the hordes of people who apparently enjoy their music, because it would just be piling on. If they are one of the most popular bands of this century (and it appears they are), they are also one of the most vilified, their name synonymous (in many circles) with Terribleness. Think I'm exaggerating? The nickel-hate is so widespread, The New Yorker published a damn thinkpiece on it last year. Me, I actually probably couldn't pick their music out of a shitty music line-up. My brain lumps them in with Creed for some reason (which maybe tells you nothing, but maybe tells you a lot). This is all to say that the revealer is likely to evoke unpleasurable feelings in those who know the band in question, and just bemusement in those who don't. The theme in general is awfully, awfully dull, and the fill the same. Not sure what "tickled" the editor about this one, unless it's the jarring revealer. Puzzle doesn't have much else to offer but fairly pedestrian fill (though SINGAPORE and SCRIMMAGE are just fine).


              Looking this over, I really have to say more about how subpar the fill is here. For an easy puzzle, there's way way way too much DAT and AGIN and ATEM here. Way way way way too much. "ERES ECRU!" Fill is just sad all over. The answer that's jarring me the most, however, is CUE TIP. It sounds like a real thing, but it does not look like a real thing. This is because 99% of the time, if someone says "CUE TIP," what they are really referring to is a cotton swab or the rapper in this video:


              Clearly cues have tips. Still, there's something off-seeming about CUE TIP. Also OSAKAN, which is an answer that has long been used, but … it's not great. And once again grid construction is the issue: with EPLURIBUSUNUM and NICKELBACK locked into place, you've got -S-K--. There's not much *but* OSAKAN that can go there. In fact, I'm not sure there's anything. Hang on … well, there's Levi ESHKOL, but since you're already screwing up your face and going "Who?" I'm gonna say OSAKAN is actually the better choice. But the theme answer arrangement really paints the constructor into a corner there.

              Hoping for more scintillating fare tomorrow. This week's been limping along a bit, puzzle quality-wise.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                1/13/2015 5:00:00 AM
                Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                Desert of Israel / MON 1-12-15 / Friend of Stitch in movies / Beta preceder / Edvard Munch masterpiece / Illmatic rapper / Seller of Squishees on Simpsons / Disclaimer before some internet comments
                Constructor: Jason Flinn

                Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



                THEME: blank TO blank — familiar expressions that represent entirety and that follow the pattern "[blank] TO [blank]"

                Theme answers:
                • STEM TO STERN (17A: All, for a ship's captain)
                • CRADLE TO GRAVE (23A: All, for a life insurance agent)
                • SEA TO SHINING SEA (38A: All, for an anthem writer)
                • START TO FINISH (52A: All, for a race organizer)
                • TOP TO BOTTOM (63A: All, for a house cleaner)
                Word of the Day: Don AMECHE (67A: Actor Don of "Cocoon") —
                Don Ameche (/əˈmi/; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993) was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian, with a career spanning almost 60 years.
                After touring in vaudeville, he featured in many biographical films, including The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). He continued to appear on Broadway, as well as on radio and TV, where he was host and commentator for International Showtime, covering circus and ice-shows all over Europe. Ameche remained married to his wife Honore for fifty-four years, and they had six children. (wikipedia)
                • • •

                Hi all. It's time for my week-long, just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

                Rex Parker
                ℅ Michael Sharp
                54 Matthews St
                Binghamton NY 13905

                And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

                I assume that worked.

                For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

                • • •

                TODAY'S PUZZLE

                So, Monday. This theme is super-basic, but works just fine for a Monday, I think. The middle answer is a little wonky to my ear because of the anomaly of two words on the other side of "TO," and also because it is not a generalized expression of totality. Actually, if I start to think down to that level, only 3/5 of these answers work. STEM TO STERN, START TO FINISH, and TOP TO BOTTOM are idioms that one might use in multiple contexts, whereas CRADLE TO GRAVE refers solely to a human life, and SEA TO SHINING SEA … that's just from a song, I think. You wouldn't use it idiomatically or metaphorically. Or maybe you would? To refer to widespreadedness? I see how the cluing wants you to think there's thematic consistency (every theme clue following the pattern ["All, to a ___"]). But the set isn't the tightest. And yet it's the two words after "TO" that bothered me most. And the repeated word (SEA). That's an anomaly too. Even so, I'm not terribly bothered.

                [If you're prone to seizures, I wouldn't stare at his jacket too long…]

                The grid has kind of a novice, hand-filled quality to it, with a lot of tired, workmanlike short stuff, but I will say this—those long Downs are well chosen. If you have a solid theme and can really stick your two long Downs, you're kind of home free on a Monday, as long as you don't serve up a heaping helping of gunk in the short fill. And while the short fill's far from ideal, it's not terrible. Just ordinary. And I do love "THE SCREAM" and PSYCHOTIC—they give the puzzle not just character, but a  serious, unexpected edge. My main question about this grid, from a constructor's point of view, is "Why weren't the second and fourth themers switched in the original design?" I say this only because that terminal "V" (here, NEGEV) really stands out as a very self-limiting design issue. I mean, it's a relatively inconsequential corner, and the fill there now doesn't stand out as particularly bad, but in general, when building grids, you try to avoid or seriously limit theme answer placement that ties your hands unnecessarily. "V"s are happy in almost any slot except the last one. In the last spot, you instantly limit yourself to abbrevs., foreign words, Roman numerals, and other less stellar stuff, and even that stuff's in short supply. Here, on a Monday, in a little corner, no harm done. But I'd think you'd at least try to fill the grid, initially, with CRADLE TO GRAVE and START TO FINISH flipped. Maybe he did that, and it just didn't come out as well. Entirely possible.


                I solved this weirdly, in that I started in the NW and went diagonally all the way across the grid to the SE, without stopping. this is not always the most efficient way to do things, but for some reason, this time, I was able to burst out of that diagonal into the rest of the grid and polish it off fast. Once I got one theme answer, the others offered themselves up easily. Only hiccup was trying to write WIPED and WHIPPED simultaneously in the answer that ended up being POOPED (48D: Plumb tuckered out). I'm not a big fan of cross-referenced clues, but seems like the FETCH clue shoulda/coulda been linked to DOGS somehow, rather than continuing to perpetrate the lie that any dog anywhere is named "Fido."
                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                  1/12/2015 5:00:00 AM
                  Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                  Dutch treaty city / SUN 1-11-15 / Martin's partner of old TV / Aladdin antagonist / Lee singer with 2011 #1 album Mission Bell / C.S. Lewis's lion / Old orchard spray / Children's author Asquith /
                  Constructor: Peter A. Collins

                  Relative difficulty: Medium



                  THEME: "Personal Statements" — famous people whose last names begin with "S" have their names re-imagined as possessive phrases, with the "S" becoming an apostrophe-S attached to the first name. Clues are lengthy joke set-ups...

                  Theme answers:
                  • 23A: The makeup affected the appearance of all the cast of "Casino," including ___ (SHARON'S TONE)
                  • 35A: Afgter the 1946 World Series, the dugout was filled with the Cardinals and their happy sounds, including ___ (ENOS'S LAUGHTER)
                  • 51A: She said that when it comes to '60s teen idols, all you need to know is one thing: ___ (BOBBY'S HER MAN)
                  • 67A: The bartender poured beers of r all the action movie stars, including ___ (SYLVESTER'S TALL ONE)
                  • 85A: The members of the Metropolitan Opera were hit with a host of problems, including ___ (BEVERLY'S ILLS)
                  • 99A: At Thanksgiving the Indians were impressed with the Pilgrims and their earth-toned platters, especially ___ (MYLES'S TAN DISH)
                  • 116A: While trading barbs during the filming of "M*A*S*H," no one was able to match ___ (LORETTA'S WIT)
                  Word of the Day: CONNS (65D: Steers, as a ship) —
                  CONN (also CON) (v) To conduct or superintend the steering of (a ship or airplane): watch the course of (a ship) and direct the helmsman how to steer. (Webster's 3rd Int'l)
                  • • •

                  DEAR SYNDICATION-LAND! (if it's Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, that's you—you're well over half my readership!): It's time for my just-once-a-year-I-swear pitch for financial contributions to the blog. If you enjoy (or some other verb) this blog on a regular or fairly regular basis, please consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for your enjoyment (or some other noun) for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. I'm in my ninth (!) year of writing about the puzzle every single day, and while there are occasions when the daily grind gets a little wearisome, for the most part I've been surprised by how resilient my passion for solving and talking about crosswords has been. It's energizing to be part of such an enthusiastic and diverse community of solvers, and I'm excited about the coming year (I have reason to be hopeful … mysterious reasons …). Anyway, I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. This year, said generosity allowed me to hire a regular guest blogger, Annabel Thompson, who now brings a fresh, youthful voice to my blog on the first Monday of every month. So thanks for that. As I said last year, I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

                  Rex Parker
                  ℅ Michael Sharp
                  54 Matthews St
                  Binghamton NY 13905

                  And here: I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users.

                  I assume that worked.

                  For people who send me actual, honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail (I love snail mail!), this year my thank-you cards are "Postcards from Penguin"—each card a different vintage Penguin paperback book cover. Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … "Kiss, Kiss" by Roald DAHL? Or "The Case of the Careless Kitten" by ERLE Stanley Gardner? Or the Selected Verse of Heinrich HEINE? It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Please note: I don't keep a "mailing list" and don't share my contributor info with anyone. And if you give by snail mail and (for some reason) don't want a thank-you card, just say so. No problem. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

                  • • •

                  I grimaced my way through most of this puzzle. The theme concept seemed plagued by problems from the outset. First, I've seen this theme before, at least once, most notably in a puzzle by the great Bernice Gordon a few years back (September 2009). I doubt the concept was original to her, but she did it well, and she did it in a 15x15, the size to which it's best suited. The gag wears thin quickly. In addition to the mustiness of the concept, there's the labored quality of the cluing—these exceedingly long, highly contrived clues that make the theme answers (i.e. the punchlines) go Thud. Some of the clues don't even make any sense. The SHARON'S TONE one, for instance. The way that clue is written, the answer should just be her name: SHARON STONE. "… all the cast of 'Casino,' including SHARON STONE." If you make it SHARON'S TONE, then you are asking me to imagine someone's using nearly impossible syntax. I get that the premises of the clues are outlandish, but the basic grammar ought not to be. I was initially bothered by the fact that some re-imaginings asked for sound changes and others didn't, but I'm not bothered by it now. The themers all work as sight gags. That's fine. But the oldness of the theme and the contrived, unfunny nature of the clues—those are less fine.

                    Fill is OK (OK), but seemed surprisingly shaky in places, notably the far SE and SW corners, and then in and around LOCKA :( and ALAR (so, toward the upper middle of the grid). I liked BUBBLY and MONOGAMY and WHOLE MILK and EYE LIFT. By far the greatest struggle for me today was figuring out what I had wrong at 58D: High-minded sort? I had POTUSER, so I knew that was wrong. I know what POTUS is, but a POTUSER is clearly not a thing. So I checked every cross. Methodically. And it kept coming up POTUSER (didn't help that the fill through here is generally cruddy and the clue was a "?" clue—both of these added to self-doubt/confusion). Then I had my (big) aha moment. POTUSER isn't one word. It's POT [space] USER. I see that that is a phrase one might use, but [insert drug here] USER feels slippery-slope-ish. DRUG USER seems like a thing. But METH USER? Yeah, OK. Maybe that works too. But that's a phrase one actually says, whereas we're more likely to say "pot smoker" or "pothead" than POT USER (which googles pretty poorly as a phrase). Anyway, I won't gripe too much here, because I realize most of my griping is sour gripes; I just failed to parse it correctly. Full stop.


                    Also had real trouble in the BREDA (never heard of it) AFR FENLAND (really never heard of it) LATTER area. Wanting ATL for AFR really, really didn't help (89A: It's east of S.A.). Best error of the day: MAORI for MASAI (20A: People of Kenya) (my wife's from NZ, you'd *think* I'd know the MAORI aren't from Kenya). Biggest laugh of the day: ASS IN, The Sequel! (25A: Guilty ___). Back to back days for that improbable and fun to reparse partial! Good stuff. 

                    See you tomorrow.
                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                      P.S. Yoni Brenner, a student of mine from back when I TA'd in the Great Books program at Michigan (16 years ago), has a funny piece in this week's New Yorker ("The Eight Serious Relationships of Hercules"), and I'm way prouder and more excited than I have any right to be. It's cute and smart. Check it out.
                      1/11/2015 5:00:00 AM
                      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                      Frenchy portrayer in Grease / SAT 1-10-15 / Cigar with both ends open / Scorer of first double eagle in US Open history 1985 / Masterpiece designated quasi una fantasia / Dingo dodger / Lemon 1984 Tigers
                      Constructor: Joe Krozel

                      Relative difficulty: Medium



                      THEME: none

                      Word of the Day: REYNOSA (17A: City across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Tex.) —
                      Reynosa is a border city in the northern part of TamaulipasMexico. It is located on the southern bank of the Rio Grande, directly across the border from Hidalgo, Texas in the United States. As of 2013, the city of Reynosa has a population of 672,183. If the floating population is included in the census count, the population can reach up to approximately 1,000,000. (wikipedia)
                      • • •

                      This was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be when I first looked at it. This is a very competent exercise in database management skills. Soon, robots will just make puzzles for other robots and we will pay to watch. Until then, this. Yes, there's some nutso fill (N STARs? REYNOSA? VENGE! ASS IN? ["Get your ___ here!"]), but seriously, almost all the interlocking 15s around the perimeter are solid. Only one (inevitable?) ONE'S answer in the bunch—easily the worst of the nine 15s (RESTS ON ONE'S OARS). I was surprised that a puzzle with this much white space was so (comparatively) easy to solve. I stopped a few times to take screen grabs (see below), and even then finished with a totally normal Saturday time. I credit this apparently normal state of affairs to the apparently normal, actual fill that populates much of the grid. Now, I hate the very phrase WASHINGTON STATE (it's just Washington—D.C. is the one that should be qualifying itself), and I am stunned to the point of being nearly almost completely AGOG that SAGEHENS got the clue it got (6D: Nevadans). I know for a fact that there's a Pomona College alum working right alongside Will on this stuff, and yet, when this one opportunity comes along to share our ridiculous mascot with the world, you pass it up? You Pass It Up? They should revoke your damned degree, Joel. For shame. No chirps for you.


                      So here's how you solve a daunting grid like this. Or, rather, here's how I solved it. Go straight for the short stuff. Had no hope at CTEAMS or ABOO or MIN, so I dove into the middle, where the odds of making something happen seemed higher. And I was right. I figured that's probably something-STAR at 14D: Many an old red giant, and then with that "T," that's probably ETHAN Frome, and pretty soon I had this:


                      It's a start. Then I figure [Nevadans] probably ends in "S," so I plug it in, then guess SWEDE (correctly) (34A: Celsius, for one), and then drive straight down through the middle to the bottom. Then … nothing. So pfft, OK, now I'm going straight for the NE, where I've got the front ends of some Acrosses. Thankfully, I take one look at 7D: "Such gall!" and can see clearly that it's "THE NERVE!" And then somehow I know CHEROOT (15A: Cigar with both ends open). No idea where that came from. REYNOSA is a total no-hoper, but once THE MRS. goes in, I get ROSIE THE RIVETER easy (I don't think I would've needed any crosses at all, honestly) (11D: Per a 1942 song, "She's making history, working for victory"). So then here's my grid at this point:


                      Right after I snapped that shot, I got MOONLIGHT SONATA no problem, and then things sped up considerably. Biggest issues between here and the end were that ON ICE was wrong (it was IN ICE) and so what was looking like TONTO ended up being PINTO at 48D: One with patches. Good thing, because … I was like "I … guess … TONTO had patches … on his … whatever he wore…" This helped me get EPI-, which was not on my radar at all. Other than that, no real issues. Had to go back and pick up the "Y" in REYNOSA, and had to carefully piece together T.C. CHEN (!?) (29A: Scorer of the first double eagle in U.S. Open history, 1985), but otherwise, as I say, having almost all real-word answers helped smooth out my landing. I'm not sure I really Liked the puzzle, but it definitely exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Not a DUD.
                        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                        1/10/2015 5:00:00 AM
                        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                        Deviate from Hoyle / FRI 1-9-15 / Footwear brand since 1916 / Blessed 1971 Joan Baez album / What we pay for civilized society / Maker of Pixie Crinkles / Resin-yielding tree whose name comes from bible / Angular acceleration symbol / James so-called
                        Constructor: Patrick Berry

                        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



                        THEME: none

                        Word of the Day: ELMORE James (18A: ___ James, the so-called "King of the Slide Guitar") —
                        Elmore James (January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963) was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and band leader. He was known as King of the Slide Guitar, but he was also noted for his use of loud amplification and his stirring voice. (wikipedia)

                        • • •

                        I've run out of superlatives, honestly. Low word count, no junk, loads of fantastic phrases. Everything you could ask for from a themeless. All that white space, coupled with some deliberate obscurification of clues (see ELMORE, for instance), coupled again with some small but consequential errors on my part, meant that this played Way harder than most Fridays for me. Good thing SPACE INVADERS was a gimme, or I might never have gotten unstuck. I spent a Lot of time with this puzzle before I had what I would call legitimate traction. For many, many minutes, I had a horrid, patchy grid. This turned out to be largely the result of early, horribly debilitating errors. First, OAFS for SAPS (5D: Lunkheads) (I still don't like that clue for SAPS, since SAPS are taken advantage of (not necessarily stupid, per se), whereas Lunkheads are just generally stupid, but nevermind that for now…). That one wrong answer was probably the difference between a normal time and a terrible time for me. Ugh. Lesson: if a section's not coming together, Pull Stuff Out. I had a lot of that corner done, but still couldn't see FLOTSAM, INEXPERT, or (ugh) TAXES (which seems so obvious in retrospect). Without that NW momentum, I had no help at the top of the long Downs, and so essentially all wind went out of my solving sails.


                        Then there was the sucker move, which of course I made: UNSER for RAHAL (20A: Indy 500 winner Bobby). Both Bobbies won the Indy 500 (note the deliberate exclusion of date from the clue). As if the starts of those long Downs weren't jacked enough from my sucky start in the NW, now I got a wrong answer in one of the early crosses? Dang. That one little answer also messed up my turn into the NE. So, yeah, I was all over the map on this one until I threw SPACE INVADERS across and started squeezing the middle from both sides. Had some trouble with PANIC BAR (?) and STORY ARC (nice clue—31D: Thread in a series), but the SE was a cakewalk (you walk in there with the front ends of your long Acrosses—huge advantage). Not sure how I know BALM OF GILEAD, but I was really glad I did (not sure I knew it was a tree, to be honest—I just inferred it from a handful of letters). I just watched "Maleficent" last month, so that was all I could think of for 7D: 2012 film adaptation of "Snow White." There are so many damned fairy tale-based movies and comic books and TV shows now, I can't really keep track. The infantilization of the world is upon us! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go read my comic books.
                          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                          1/9/2015 5:00:00 AM
                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                          Part of krone / THU 1-8-15 / Marias Mexican penal colony / 2005 Nobel-winning playwright / African nation with much-disputed border / Singer with #1 debut album Animal 2010 / Brand once pitched by Josephine plumber / Nobel-winning novelist Kertesz
                          Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

                          Relative difficulty: Challenging



                          THEME: HALF MEASURE (59A: Inadequate effort … or the contents of six squares in this puzzle?) — rebus in which two juxtaposed measures (provided by Downs) become twice that measure in the Across, e.g. CUP from "cupid" (35D) and CUP" from "hiccup" (23D) create HAROLD [CUP] [CUP] ER in the Across; and since two [CUP]s make a "PINT"—you get HAROLD [PINT]ER (in your mind)

                          Theme answers:
                          • LIVING [QUART]ERS / RI[PINT]WO & TA[PINT]O
                          • HAROLD [PINT]ER / HIC[CUP] & [CUP]ID
                          • RE[CUP]ERATED / MC[GILL] & [GILL]IAM
                          Word of the Day: George MAHARIS (25D: George of "Route 66") —
                          George Maharis (born September 1, 1928 in Astoria, New York) is an American actor who portrayed Buz Murdock in the first three seasons of the TV series Route 66. Maharis also recorded numerous pop music albums at the height of his fame, and later starred in the short-lived TV series The Most Deadly Game. (wikipedia)
                          • • •
                          Big thumbs-up for the theme concept. Took me a long to pick it up, but when I did, I thought it was cute. Execution, however, had major issues, and really cut into my puzzle enjoyment significant. We'll start with a minor but still irksome theme issue: nobody but nobody uses the word "GILL" to mean "1/2 cup" anymore, so that's a bit of a black eye against this thing. Quart and Cup and Pint are ultra-common, and Gill is the opposite, so Gill has serious Fourth Square problems (a concept I borrowed from "Sesame Street"'s whole "Which of these squares is not like the others" bit):

                          [One of these kids is ….]

                          But the bigger problem was the fill, which was D.O.A. at 1-Across (1A: Nobel-winning novelist ___ Kertész). I'm exaggerating, but not by much. I wrote in IVOR because ugh it's one of those names constructors never use except in desperation. MOIRA, better, but still not great, ARETE, not a name, but worse. NEER, please NEER pack your NW with this much junk again ever, please. Speaking of desperation names: MAHARIS (25D: George of "Route 66"). No one wakes up and thinks "Oh boy, can't wait to put MAHARIS in my puzzle." More like "aw … crap … what the hell am I gonna put here … well, database says MAHARIS is a thing [looks up MAHARIS] … I guess it's OK?" End scene. I had an errer. An errar. I had MEHARIS. Why, because ERA (the "correct" Across answer at 27A: Time past) is inaccurately clued, and ERE means "before" and I thought maybe it could mean "time before," like, uh, YORE or something. I feel certain it had that meaning in Middle English, but this could be an erstwhile medievalist's false memory. At any rate, the clue on ERA is just wrong, in that one can be living in an ERA. Currently. Like, now. ERAs do not belong exclusively to [Time past]. Just a terrible crossing / clue / yuck. But core problem is, of course, MAHARIS.


                          Rest of the grid isn't as bad, fill-wise, but it's subpar. EEO EFTS ULEE AHAT and what not. Still, theme is good, and as we all know, that's the only thing that matters in this Administration. I'm still gonna give this a thumbs-up, overall. It's a very rough product with a very good core idea.
                            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                            PS What is a "Bugs Bunny pun"? (see  47A: Word in many Bugs Bunny puns (KARATS)). Is it a pun Bugs makes? A pun you make about Bugs? Are there lots of ("many") Bugs Bunny cartoons where he (he?) talks about gold? I get that Bugs likes "carrots" and that's the pun, but … 
                            1/8/2015 11:54:00 AM
                            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                            Late TV newsman Garrick / WED 1-7-15 / Third-largest French speaking city in world Ivory Coast / Slangy word of regret / JFK-based carrier
                            Constructor: Greg Johnson

                            Relative difficulty: Medium


                            THEME: Story of THESEUS and the [Minotaur] — theme answers relate to this myth. Circled squares spell out "MINOTAUR," which the puzzle note says goes in the center of the grid: "When this puzzle is done, the circled letters, reading from top to bottom, will spell something that belongs in the center of the grid."

                            Theme answers:
                            • THESEUS (13A: Maze runner?)
                            • LABYRINTH (22A: Home of the [circled letters])
                            • THREAD (15A: Item used by 13-Across to navigate the 22-Across)
                            • KING MINOS (48A: Ruler of 30-Down)
                            • ESCAPE (63A: Avoid, as the [circled letters])
                            • ARIADNE (64A: Daughter of 48-Across who helped 13-Across)
                            • CRETE (30D: Home of the [circled letters])
                            • SWORD (26D: Weapon used to slay the [circled letters])
                            Word of the Day: Garrick UTLEY (21A: Late TV newsman Garrick) —
                            Clifton Garrick Utley (November 19, 1939 – February 20, 2014) was an American television journalist. He established his career reporting about the Vietnam War and has the distinction of being the first full-time television correspondent covering the war on-site. (wikipedia)
                            • • •

                            This just doesn't work, for several reasons. First of all, it's a very straightforward puzzle masquerading as some kind of elaborate, tricky puzzle. But the elaborate / tricky part is smoke and mirrors. The "circled letters" are not uncommon letters, scattered asymmetrically around the grid. No great feat to find MINOTAUR in a descending pattern in the grid. In fact, you can do it in yesterday's puzzle. Go ahead, check. The center blank square: who cares? Not hard to construct, filled with nothing. The grid is not exactly "maze"-shaped (any more than any other grid is). So, what is there? Just a myth puzzle with blah answers. I don't know how this puzzle looks in the actual paper—maybe there's some cool visual element that the online version can't capture. The weirdest / least explicable thing about this puzzle is that the thing in the center (the isolated center, ???) is indicated by letter strewn all over the grid. So … it's not in the center, the MINOTAUR. Literally, not. But it is. So … I don't know what that's all about.


                            Fill was average, skewing poor/tired. Hardest part for me was the NE, which was also the Oldest. Garrick UTLEY (???) crossing 12D: Old TV's "Queen for A DAY" (??). Actually, the latter was easy to infer. But SHOULDA wasn't (17A: Slangy word of regret). And ATH (!?!) wasn't. [Sports dept.] is ATH? The ATHletic department? Yikes, that's weak. Unwelcome returns include OHNO, RRR, NSC. How does the "hint" in the ABIDJAN clue help? (42D: Third-largest French-speaking city in the world [hint: it's in Ivory Coast]) I've never heard of ABIDJAN at all. I kept looking for cognates of "ivory" or "coast." Nothing. That answer redefines "outlier," in that it's by Far the most obscure thing in the grid. Well, that and UTLEY, but I'm guessing far more people know UTLEY than know ABIDJAN. I'm just too young to know UTLEY. Nothing wrong with learning some geography, but in this puzzle, ABIDJAN is a sore thumb.

                            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                            1/7/2015 5:00:00 AM
                            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                            Betty who appeared in Who Framed Roger Rabbit / TUE 1-6-15 / Starling Silence of Lambs protagonist / Image often accompanying phrase Legalize it
                            Constructor: Joel Fagliano

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



                            THEME: DNA (62D: Molecule hidden in 4-, 11-, 23-, 25- and 29-Down) — All theme answers contain letter string "DNA" somewhere in side them (strung across two words)

                            Theme answers:
                            • TOOTH AND NAIL (4D: Fierce way to fight)
                            • BRAND NAMES (29D: Wilson and Hoover, but not Eisenhower)
                            • OLD NAVY (25D: Gap subsidiary)
                            • GOOD NATURE (11D: Cheerful disposition)
                            • ISLAND NATION (23D: Comoros or Barbados)
                            Word of the Day: Betty BOOP (1D: Betty who appeared in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") —
                            Betty Boop is an animated cartoon character created by Max Fleischer, with help from animators including Grim Natwick. She originally appeared in the Talkartoonand Betty Boop film series, which were produced by Fleischer Studios and released by Paramount Pictures. She has also been featured in comic strips and mass merchandising.
                            A caricature of a Jazz age flapper, Betty Boop wore a revealing dress that displayed her curvaceous figure. Despite having been toned down in the mid-1930s as a result of the Hays Code to appear more demure, she became one of the best-known and popular cartoon characters in the world. (wikipedia)
                            • • •

                            Another day of 2015, another Shortz insider with the constructor credit. That is one way to maintain quality control, I guess. This is a decent, more-interesting-than-usual Tuesday offering, though the fill (surprisingly) was groan-worthy more often than I expected. The NW gave me the lovely POST DOC, but also a good handful of subpar stuff like British ENROL (?), OHIOAN, AT BAR, OHNO. But then the themers are all solid. TOOTH AND NAIL is probably the most vivid and memorable, but it's also the structural outlier (all the rest are two-worders where DNA touches both words—again, one thing I learned from Patrick Berry: hidden/buries word should (ideally) touch all elements in the theme phrase). But this is admittedly a quibble. There are other parts of the grid that are clunky (esp. for a Tuesday). Both ATAD and ABIT? As if one of those weren't off-putting enough. Yuck. Then OOO / YOWIE (an expression no one really ever uses as a true substitute for "Ouch!" except maybe in comics). STADIA … legal but never-used plural. ENOS … I don't mind your mom and dad, ENOS, but I've never been the biggest fan of you. Also, the puzzle is *heavily* segmented, which made it a bit of a pain to move through—luckily that fat center was pretty easy, with both CLARICE and OLDNAVY as gimmes (for me).


                            A word about POT LEAF (31D: Image often accompanying the phrase "Legalize it"). This is the fourth puzzle I've done this calendar year by an under-30 constructor in which drugs and/or normally covered body parts and/or bodily fluids and/or sexual terminology has figured prominently. And, in theory, I have no problem with any of these things. But there does seem to be a prevailing notion among younger constructors at the moment that the way you make your puzzles "young" is by a. making drug references, b. showing how much you know about tech and social media, or c. including answers that would make a 14-year-old boy titter (and these constructors are all former "boys"). So … I guess I'm calling for restraint of some kind. Balance. Formerly proscribed entries can be fun, but if your primary goal when filling puzzles is to make oldsters go "OH NO, NUDE TITS!" then I think you need to reconsider your goals. That said, I have no real problem with POT LEAF. It's definitely a thing. I have no real problem with pot, either. I just want younger constructors to be more thoughtful about exactly what "younger" means. [I'll deal with my concerns about contemporary pop culture ephemera later…]
                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                              1/6/2015 12:09:00 PM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Chaney who starred in "The Phantom of the Opera" / MON 1-5-15 / Priest's robe / Nickname for Catherine / Airport with the Tom Bradley Intl. Terminal / Passover meals / National gem of Australia
                              Roses are red,
                              Violets are blue,
                              It's Monday again,
                              The first one of the month, too...

                              Hi-ho, Annabel the blogger here!

                              Constructor: John Guzetta

                              Relative difficulty: Easy




                              THEME: Bird-brained — Theme answers are bird-themed terms for various types of people.

                              Word of the Day: QUATRAIN (11D: "Roses are red," e.g.) —
                              quatrain is a type of stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines.
                              Existing in various forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient GreeceAncient Rome, and China; and, continues into the 21st century, where it is seen in works published in many languages. During Europe's Dark Ages, in the Middle East and especially Iran, polymath poets such as Omar Khayyam continued to popularize this form of poetry, also known as Ruba'i, well beyond their borders and time. There are twelve possible rhyme schemes, but the most traditional and common are: AAAAAABB, and ABAB.
                              (Wikipedia)
                              • • •

                              Theme answers:
                              • LEGAL EAGLE (16A: Skillful lawyer)
                              • OLD BUZZARD (24A: Cantankerous fellow)
                              • SPRING CHICKEN (37A: Relative youngster)
                              • BUDGET HAWK (51A: Hard-liner on government spending)
                              • SILLY GOOSE (60A: Goofball)

                              The five-letter SORER and ENERO, plus the long LEGAL EAGLE, made for a much more interesting top left corner than usual. I also loved ONO and KIMONO being right next to each other in the bottom right corner. The puzzle may have leaned a little heavily on the plural nouns - I counted five - but it made up for it with OUIS, decidedly not a word you see every day. The clue for DRACULA really drove me batty, though.

                              The theme was pretty simple and fun, just right for a Monday! I actually used to have three chickens: Chicken Little, Little Jerry Seinfeld, and Ernest Henningway. Maw used to send me out every mornin' at dawn to feed the chickens; well, AIN'T that just the way on the suburban farm? Unfortunately, two of them died - in the spring, no less - and we had to give the last one away. But it was really fun - free eggs, and free fried chicken!



                              Interesting that you'd never see a "relative youngster" actually using the expression SPRING CHICKEN, isn't it?
                              My mom LIZ with Chicken Little, may she rest in peace (the chicken, not my mom). Cluck cluck cluck!


                              Bullets:
                              • 27A: "Can you ____ in a sentence?" (spelling bee request) (USEIT)— Spelling bees! I made it to 12th place in my county spelling bee before being eliminated on "taiga," which, as I'm sure you all know from crosswording, is a type of ecosystem; there are many taigas in Siberia. In my defense, a) the girl after me got "dreidel," and b) who expects a 12-year-old to spell "taiga"?
                              • 37A: Public mention (SHOUTOUT) — After all those bird-themed clues, I couldn't resist this particular shout-out: THE RAVENS WON LAST NIGHT! YAY!!!
                              Also, shout-out to Wellesley for accepting me!!!

                              • 56A: Urging from a dinner host (EAT) — All I can say is...
                              • 17A: "Evil Woman" grp. (ELO) — So my school is putting on Xanadu, and of course, being the ham I am, I had to try out for a lead role...and this was the song we were to prepare for tryouts. I practiced a million times - in my room, in the shower, in the car with my mom (the doctor says her eardrums will be just fine in a couple of months). Did you know that "Evil Woman" features a high D, and that my voice goes up to about an A on a good day? Totally nailed the auditions, though, somehow, and got the part of the Muse of Music, I'll let you all know how that goes...
                              Thanks to all the people who congratulated me on my Wellesley acceptance - I'm still in AWE myself and I can't wait for September!!
                              Signed, Annabel, tired high school student.
                              1/5/2015 5:00:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Pioneering urbanologist Jane / SUN 1-4-15 / Rocker Weymouth of Talking Heads / Hipster beer for short / Drug also known as Ecstasy / Literary genre of David Copperfield Ender's Game / Stark Oona Chaplin's Game of Thrones role
                              Constructor: Finn Vigeland

                              Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



                              THEME: "The Descent of Man" — some Across answers descend (i.e. turn south / go Down) when they reach the final "-MAN" part

                              Theme answers:
                              • BILDUNGSRO(MAN)
                              • I'M ONLY HU(MAN)
                              • "DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOW(MAN)?"
                              • MORGAN FREE(MAN)
                              • WONDER WO(MAN)
                              Word of the Day: SEA EAR (76A: Abalone) —
                              n.1.(Zool.) Any species of ear-shaped shells of the genus HaliotisSee Abalone.
                              (thefreedictionary.com)
                              • • •

                              Finn is a good constructor, and there is much to like here, but overall I found the puzzle off-putting for one simple (pervasive) reason: the straining after hipness / coolness / youthiness. This may seem an odd complaint coming from someone who routinely laments the crustiness of crossword themes and fill, but … look, I have my limits. There is a self-indulgence here that got tiring by about 1/3 of the way through. We didn't all just graduate from Columbia with a degree in urban planning (JACOBS). We didn't all take a post-graduation trip to Brazil last year (AMAZONAS. -AS? Not -IA? Gah!). We don't all watch "Game of Thrones" and we don't all do "X" (or, as the kids are maybe calling it, MDMA).  (This is the kind of stuff I would say to Finn's face over drinks; he would, in turn, mock me for being ignorant and old, or so I assume). So those first two (JACOBS and AMAZONAS) … yes, they're practically autobiographical, but I think they're legit. But MDMA and TALISA are bad fill masquerading as hip fill. And here's my main point—Fresh is good, youth-oriented is just fine, but hip pop culture clue can't rescue bad / crutch fill. And drowning your puzzle in millennial internetty stuff doesn't make it good; also, it can alienate a huge chunk of readers. Balance is important. Balance. Smoothness. This puzzle didn't have enough of either for my taste.


                              What's weird is that I totally forgot about the theme. Fill was so hard for me (in many places), and the theme was so basic (seen it, in different incarnations, before), that I don't think it leaves a lasting impression at all. And just five theme answers? Am I counting that right? Wow. That's … thin. Some of the long Downs are much lovelier and more memorable than any of the -MAN-ending themers. DARE I ASK?, IN THE BAG, ASYMMETRY, BREW PUB, SCHUMANN, RICE WINE, all nice. But the only thing I'm actually going to remember about this puzzle is struggling to turn up stuff like TALISA and MDMA (which I swear I have written out "BDMA" now at least three times…). I guarantee you that MDMA section is gonna break a few (older) backs, esp. with ATWO (argh, not ANDA!?) and the unexpected XWORD up there, yikes. In the end, the puzzle was, for me, EVERSO NOT SO SO HOT, despite having some entertaining moments.


                              Bullets:
                              • 51A: What a hippie lives in? (THE NOW) — a hippie? Really? A puzzle this hip/ young / GenerationEmoticon and your referent for this concept is "hippie"? Way more new-agey. Do hippies even exist?
                              • 6D: "Delaware Water Gap" painter George (INNESS) — this answer would be vastly improved if you stuck a GU- on the front. Just a bunch of common letters. See also LEONIA (!?!?) (105D: New Jersey town next to Fort Lee). "Oh, next to Fort *Lee*, oh, I see, of course," said no one.
                              • 18D: Is a mixologist (TENDS BAR) — it's a very drinky puzzle too; 'cause that's what the Young do, man. They're all up in the BREW PUBs with their ALE GLASSes, drinking RICE WINE and PBR (actually, that last one's mostly a sad middle-aged guy thing).
                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                              PS The clue on LEO is practically a constructor signature (9D: Enthusiastic, sociable, confident type, it's said). As I told my wife last week, I will not be surprised to find myself saying the words "President Vigeland" at some point in my life.

                              PPS and now a message from reader Ralph Bunker: There is a metapuzzle related to the Imitation Game movie that has some serious prizes including a registration to the 2015 ACPT. It is available at http://www.chem.umn.edu/groups/baranygp/puzzles/enigma/
                              1/4/2015 5:00:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Month in which Creation began by tradition / SAT 1-3-15 / Classic Harlem ballroom / Its last model was 1941 Skylark / Rosetta Stone figure / Dean's East of Eden role / Just for Men target / Rebellion colonial uprising / Liquor with slogan west of exp
                              Constructor: Sam Ezersky

                              Relative difficulty: Easy



                              THEME: none

                              Word of the Day: HUPMOBILE (60A: Its last model was the 1941 Skylark) —
                              The Hupmobile was an automobile built from 1909 through 1940 by the Hupp Motor Company, which was located at 345 Bellevue Avenue in DetroitMichigan. Its first car, the Model 20, was introduced to the public at the Detroit Auto Show in February 1909. The company initially produced 500 vehicles. […] In 1914, Eric Wickman tried to establish a Hupmobile dealership but couldn't sell them so he started transporting miners in one of the vehicles and founded Greyhound Lines. The National Football League was created at Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio in 1920.
                              The Skylark's grille later inspired the grilles used on Lincoln Continental models in the 1940s. Their heater technology became widely adopted in the industry. The Hupmobile dealership in Omaha, Nebraska is a prominent historic landmark. The dealership building in Washington, D.C. is now the H Street Playhouse. (wikipedia)
                              • • •

                              As I wrote Sam, mid-solve, "you had me at TONY DANZA" (3D: Boxer-turned-sitcom). I don't know how long ago he wrote this one. A while. But not that long, as he is only, like, 12 years old (he's a sophomore at UVA … sophomores are 12, right?). Anyway, I think he's only too aware of this puzzle's defects, and there aren't many, so I won't dwell on them. Let's just get them out of the way: the OLEIN / NERTS juxtaposition is unpretty. Ditto AINTI over IFY. ELUL VALS ENL is not a run of Downs anyone should aspire to replicate. I think that's all I got. Bottom half of the grid is much cleaner, even if it is, lamentably, DANZA-free. Overall, this was pretty snazzy. Lots of highly varied fill, much of it fresh and colloquial. OH I FORGOT, BY THE BY, HOLD ON A SEC, SAYS ME, all wonderful. Too bad it was so easy. I did this is at a very leisurely pace, taking time during the solve to write to Sam, and check Facebook … still solved it under 8.

                              [20 years old this year!!!!]

                              First foothold was in a banal / ugly part (where footholds often are): the CDT / AINTI crossing (latter was a total inference). At that point, I saw the DANZA clue, and the "Z" alone gave me MOZZARELLA STICK. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have needed the "Z." MOZZARELLA STICK would've been my first guess. With that in place, grid opens up. Way up. Also, for inveterate solvers, ALAN ADALE is a gimme (16A: Merry Men member). I mean, on a platter. I know him *only* from crosswords, where his name is, let's say, grid-friendly. So he opened up the NE. SE was easy-ish because SAVOY was a gimme and therefore SKYYVODKA (36D: Liquor with the slogan "West of Expected") went in and ECO-something went in and LIVE RADAR went in. Only issue down there was TRASK, which I didn't know, but crosses worked it out. Finished in the SW, which was by far the hardest part, but wasn't, in the end, hard. If I'd ever heard of HUPMOBILE (60A: Its last model was the 1941 Skylark), it would've been much easier. Not knowing that answer made me have to work, but again, not much. BOTHA, OR OUT, GRIT, OBS … none of them hard. So, more teeth would've been nice, but this was still fun to solve. Very passable stuff.

                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                              PS, one of the answers in today's puzzle reminded me of a puzzle I completely forgot to tell you all about—one you really should do, even though the "season" has passed: it's Erik Agard's Xmas Eve puzzle, "Gift Exchange." Get it here. Do it. Free. It's … unique. Coincidence: today's NYT constructor, Sam Ezersky, co-wrote Erik's puzzle. Then again, so did I. So did A Lot Of People. Check it out.
                              1/3/2015 5:00:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Sci-fi narcotic / FRI 1-2-15 / Sportswriter Pasquarelli / Detroit debut of 1927 / Panegyrical lines / Fearless star 2006 / Newbery medal winning author Eleanor / Macroeconomics pioneer / 1958 #1 hit composed by Vice President Charles Dawes
                              Constructor: David Steinberg

                              Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



                              THEME: none

                              Word of the Day: LEN Pasquarelli (50A: Sportswriter Pasquarelli) —
                              Len Pasquarelli is an American sports writer and analyst with The Sports Xchange and a 25-year veteran of covering the National Football League (NFL).The Sports Xchange is a network of professional, accredited reporters and analysts who cover each team or sport full-time.
                              Prior to joining the Sports Xchange, he wrote for ESPN.com  starting in 2001 and was a frequent contributor to the other ESPN outlets, including SportsCenterESPNEWSESPN Radio and ESPN The Magazine. Before ESPN, Pasquarelli served as a senior writer for CBS SportsLine.com. He has also covered the NFL for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1989 to 1999, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinelfrom 1985 to 1989, Pro Football Weekly from 1982 to 1985, and Pittsburgh Steelers Weekly from 1978 to 1982.
                              Pasquarelli is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and has twice won national awards as the Best NFL Reporter of the Year. He also has won several writing awards, including an Associated Press Deadline Sports Reporting Award in 1988. (wikipedia)
                              • • •

                              Pluto is not a planet. But a "minor planet" can be a "dwarf planet," which is what Pluto is, now, technically, which is confusing. If it's not a planet, then call it by some term doesn't have "planet" in it. Because if the term's got "planet" in it, it sounds like, uh, a planet. OK, now that that's over, this is pretty nice. Again with the long, low-lying sections (see Thursday), though here we get that thick, grid-crossing middle section (the puzzle's real highlight). Gotta admire how cleanly the whole central section came off. Acrosses are rock solid (and colorful), and the Downs are all real things. You do get something of an -ER smash-up there toward the lower right center (SWEEPER, POKER, HALER, GAINER), but it's pretty inconspicuous, and only one of them is a comparative adjective, so it's not like you're getting a bunch of the same parts of speech. Yeah, overall, this one really works. Will's core of insiders (Chen, Fagliano, Steinberg) are a pretty talented bunch, and we're seeing a lot from them recently (2 for 2 in the new year!). He needs them. Badly. Always happy to see their names.


                              HIS EMINENCE is practically an anagram of IN EXISTENCE. Two letters off is "practically" in my book. TIS EXINENCE. There's a strong reliance on common letters, but a. the grid never gets dull, and b. believe me, real words made from common letters are way, way better than the nightmarish stuff you'd be staring down if David had tried to cram in more "J"s. David's apparently been going to night school at the Patrick Berry Academy of Smooth.

                              Bullets:
                              • 18A: Shooter for kids (TAW) — The crossword remains the only place in the world where kids still play marbles.
                              • 19A: 1958 #1 hit composed by Vice President Charles Dawes ("IT'S ALL IN THE GAME") — Had all of it but the last word, and couldn't dredge it up. This made moving out of the NW impossible. Had to reboot down below, and even then had trouble moving into the middle. But MINESWEEPER was a gimme, and the center started to fall right after I got it. Toward the end, with no additional letters in place to help me, "IT'S ALL IN THE GAME" suddenly entered my head, clear as a bell. 
                              • 31D: Got by (MADE DO) — Kept wanting this and then kept thinking "But … it's MADE DUE, right?" Dear lord.
                              • 39D: Women, in pulp fiction (DAMES) — now you're speaking my language (pulp, that is). DAMES was the last of a four-in-a-row run of Downs I had to open the SE corner (IRIS, CDS, PETE, DAMES).
                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                              1/2/2015 5:00:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Canned food made by Nestle / THU 1-1-15 / Organlike legume / Taxi eschewer for short / 1961 Tony winner for best musical / Site of 1953 CIA directed coup / Neil Armstrong declaration
                              Constructor: Jill Denny and Jeff Chen

                              Relative difficulty: Easy



                              THEME: PAR FOR THE COURSE (53A: Average … or a literal hint to 17-, 26- and 42-Across)— well-know phrases containing words that are slang for golf scores; instead of the word, we get the golf score, represented literally (i.e. as a number that is situated over or under PAR in the grid)

                              Theme answers:
                              • THE TWO HAS LANDED ("TWO" is under the "PAR" in CAR PARTS) (because an "eagle" is two under par)
                              • THE ONE MAN ("ONE" is over the "PAR" in POOL PARTY) (because a "bogey" is one over par)
                              • "BYE BYE, ONE" ("ONE" is under the "PAR" in WATER PARK) (because a "birdie" is one under par)
                              Word of the Day: Jule STYNE (37A: "Funny Girl" composer)
                              Jule Styne (/ˈli stn/; December 31, 1905 – September 20, 1994) was an English-born American songwriter especially famous for a series of Broadway musicals, which include several very well known and frequently revived shows.
                              Among his most enduring songs is "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", cowritten with Sammy Cahn in 1945. (wikipedia)
                              • • •

                              Feels like a theme type I've seen before, but I could very easily be imagining that. It's nicely executed, at any rate. The grid has been skillfully constructed to isolate problem areas, minimize theme-density damage, and maximize smoothness. This is why it's a bit unorthodox-looking, with those low-lying, long NW and SE corners, and totally walled-off E and W parts. Gotta contain and manage the "over PAR" parts. Result: the fill in this is highly untortured. Not an obscurity in sight. Almost *too* over-the-plate. Well done. My only significant criticism is that … do people say "bogeyman"? I see that it's spelled that way in wikipedia's primary entry for the term, but I have only ever heard a pronunciation like "boogie." This meant that the golf-term replacement for THE ONE MAN just didn't land. Aurally speaking. For me. The boogeyman is gonna get you. The bogeyman is going to get you only if you fail to sink that putt.


                              Bullets:
                              • 36A: Part of a spanish explorer's name (DE LEON) — as in PONCE. This took me too long. I kept trying to think of a name that was on the tip of my tongue, but when I got it … it was DE GAMA :(
                              • 32D: Wallop (PASTE) — Had the "P" and went with the obvious-yet-wrong answer.
                              • 56D: New Year's ___ (EVE) — semi-topical!
                              • 34D: Canned food made by Nestlé (ALPO) — nice attempt at misdirection there, w/ Nestlé really making you think human food.
                              Hope you survived New Year's Eve and are chock full of hope and resolutions. Thanks for your readership and support.

                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                              1/1/2015 5:00:00 AM
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