Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Actress Donovan of Clueless / TUE 10-21-14 / Kristoff's reindeer in Frozen / Rho tau linkup / What Apple's Project Purple became / Big chargers in Africa
Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: [TIME] — that's the clue for three long answers; the answers are all definitions of TIME.

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Diane REHM (1D: Talk show host Diane of 31-Down) —
Diane Rehm (/ˈrm/; born Diane Aed on September 21, 1936) is an American public radio talk show host. Her program, The Diane Rehm Show, is distributed nationally and internationally by National Public Radio. It is produced at WAMU, which is licensed to American University in Washington, D.C. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this I liked much, much less. First, it's not a Tuesday by a long shot. My time was way more Wednesdayish. But much (much) more annoyingly, it's a theme type that I find dreadful, and the fill is inexplicable in places. Knowing that we are building toward a meta makes me inclined to reserve judgment a bit, but as a stand-alone puzzle, this felt quite off. MARATHONER'S STAT demonstrates how tortured these answers-as-clues can be. It's 15 letters, yes, but I had most of them and still couldn't make any sense of it. TIME is a Lot of people's "STAT." This identical clue for every theme answer / clue as answer/answer as clue gimmick is an ancient theme type, and the resulting answers are certainly below par for the form. Then there's the fill. Now most of it is OK, but the Scrabble-f***ing in the NW is particularly egregious. I gotta believe those Xs up top (in both the NW and NE) are part of the meta, because otherwise … ugh. I had to run the alphabet at I-HALL (4D: Promising beginning?). Crossing ELISA (!?!?!) with REHM on a Tuesday is nuts. I vaguely know REHM, but was not at all certain of spelling, and ELISA?—no hope. And you've got the lowly / crosswordesey ELIA up there too, with even more crosswordesey (and plural!) ALOUS near by? None of it makes any sense—except, again, as part of some as-yet unseeable meta.

All the cross-referencing (two to NPR alone) increased the unpleasantness. I do have faith that the meta will be impressive, but so far I'm missing having solid, entertaining puzzles that are great in their own right. Not that the NYT gives me great puzzles on a regular basis, but at least with everyday puzzles I'm not left wondering if seemingly weak spots are weak for some unseen reason. Bottom half of the puzzle is stronger than the top, but by that point I'd somewhat given up on the puzzle. Even if I enjoyed this theme type (and I don't), I just don't think this is a great example of the form.

So far we have two puzzles about time. I therefore assume that the meta will have nothing to do with time. We shall (!) see.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/21/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
John who won 1964 Heisman Trophy / MON 10-20-14 / Gulager of McQ / Time leading up to Easter / Jean of Bombshell / Nonkosher sandwiches / Political conventiongoer
Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

Relative difficulty: Medium (leaning slightly toward the Challenging side of the Monday spectrum)

THEME: time keeps on slipping slipping slipping … — actually, that's a terrible description. What's really happening is that as the theme answers progress, the unit of time that is a part of each answer gets larger.

Theme answers:
  • SPLIT SECOND (17A: Instant)
  • MINUTE RICE (26A: Product that competes with Uncle Ben's)
  • THE WITCHING HOUR (35A: Midnight)
  • "DAY TRIPPER" (50A: 1965 Beatles hit that begins "Got a good reason for taking the easy way out")
  • PASSION WEEK (58A: Time leading up to Easter)
Puzzle Note: 

Word of the Day: John HUARTE (29A: John who won the 1964 Heisman Trophy) —
John Gregory Huarte (born April 6, 1944) is a former American football quarterback and the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner. // […] Huarte played college football for the University of Notre Dame. During his sophomore and junior seasons, he averaged only a few minutes per game due to injuries and the Irish went 5-5 and 2-7, respectively. As a senior, however, he became the starting quarterback as the Irish won all but one game during the 1964 season, in which he was selected as an All-American and won the Heisman Trophy. By the end of the season, Huarte threw for 2,062 yards with only 205 passes, an average of over ten yards per pass attempt, many to receiver Jack Snow. (wikipedia)
• • •

Obviously I have no idea how this whole "meta-challenge" is going to turn out, but I can tell you right now that if I knew this puzzle, by itself, was a meta, the first place I'd look for answers (assuming the longer answers didn't make the meta plain right away) is in and around HUARTE. That is an Insane answer for a Monday. I've never heard of him, and a sports answer I've never heard of On A Monday is bonkers. Suspiciously bonkers. But metas tend to involve puzzles' longer answers, so … who knows what Saturday's puzzle will require us to do to solve this week's meta. But I'm just letting you know, HUARTE—I see you. I'm putting you on notice.

So, taken on its own merits as a self-standing puzzle, this is OK. Theme feels old, which is to say it feels like a theme I've seen before, possibly multiple times. Not with these exact theme answers of course. But I'm pretty sure the time unit thing has been done. At least we get a couple of good longer answers out of it: PASSION WEEK, which sounds like a fantastic ratings-grabber for a Christian game show; and THE WITCHING HOUR, which ties in nicely with the Halloween season. Some of the shorter fill is actually interesting / exciting today. See TAX TIP (interesting) and HARLOW (exciting). Most of the rest of the fill is unremarkable. I'm excited to see where this whole meta thing goes. But on its own, as Mondays go, this is about a C. Maybe a C+.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/20/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Pygmalion's beloved / SUN 10-19-14 / Soprano Licia singer at Met for 26 years / Stew dish known in Thailand as suki / Pull classic internet prank on / Harry Peter Parker's college friend / Gucci competitor
Constructor: David Phillips 

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Why Not?" — in familiar phrases, words w/ a terminal (or near-terminal) "Y" are changed to homophones that don't have "Y," creating all the wacky you'd ever want.

Theme answers:
  • TRUSTEE SIDEKICK (3D: Subordinate of a board chair?)
  • IDOLS OF THE KING (24A: Elvis's heroes?)
  • CLEAR THE WEIGH (37A: Embarrassed person's comment after getting off an electronic scale?)
  • SUNDAE BEST (49A: #1 item at Dairy Queen?)
  • SARI STATE (68A: Gujarat or Punjab, dresswise?)
  • CHAISE REBELLION (46D: "I've had enough of this patio furniture!," e.g.?)
  • DEVIL RAISE (85A: Wicked poker bet?)
  • GUISE AND DOLLS (94A: Two concerns of a secretive voodoo practicer?)
  • NO RIME OR REASON (112A: Lack of logic and a frosty coating?)
Word of the Day: RICKROLL (83A: Pull a classic Internet prank on) —
Rickrolling is an Internet meme involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up". The meme is a bait and switch; a person provides a hyperlink which is seemingly relevant to the topic at hand, but actually leads to Astley's video. The link can be masked or obfuscated in some manner so that the user cannot determine the true destination of the link without clicking. People led to the music video are said to have been rickrolled. Rickrolling has extended beyond web links to playing the video or song disruptively in other situations, including public places, such as a live appearance of Astley himself in the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The meme helped to revive Astley's career. (wikipedia)
• • •

Found this pretty unpalatable. First off, I didn't even see the "Y" thing at first. I just saw a bunch of Terrible homophone wackiness, so I just plowed through and tried to keep the wincing to a minimum. Even after having the "Y" angle pointed out to me, I don't think this is Sunday-worthy. Let's start with the wackiness, which often can't even be clued in a way (!) that makes the least bit of sense. [Lack of logic and a frosty coating?]?? What is that? The clue is nonsense, and not funny ha ha nonsense, but literally completely impossible-to-imagine nonsense. [Two concerns of a secretive voodoo practicer?] works, by comparison. The answer is still wacky, but at least it's a wackiness that can be got at via an almost normal-sounding question. SUNDAE BEST makes no sense syntactically as an answer to its clue, [#1 item at Dairy Queen?]. None. English isn't French—you can't just put the modifier after the noun and expect that to fly. Not in a self-standing phrase like this, you can't. Question requires "best sundae," of course. This is why you don't Touch wackiness unless you know what you are doing. "Wacky" doesn't mean "all rules and laws of grammar and sense are off!" Wacky only plays if you show some sense of awareness of and respect for the way English works. Speaking of, CLEAR THE WEIGH? That little number on the "electronic scale" is called a "weight." Of alllllllll the phrases one might come up with that have the word "WAY" in them, *this* is the one that makes the cut? I do not understand. Also, TRUSTEE requires a pronunciation change—this is a theme failing. It truly is. Your TRUSTEE answer is the answer you brainstorm and then throw out. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. Kill your darlings.

SARI STATE is a good example of how wackiness oughta work. It's a pun that is also literally true. Unexpected answer, chuckle-worthy—spot-on work. But much of the rest of the theme is a wreck on either the front end (cluing) or the back end (answer). And the fill is … the fill. It's NYT-average (i.e. probably weaker than it should be, but passable).

Do SHE-CRABs taste different than he-crabs? And, follow-up: Are there such things as "he-crabs," or are those just "crabs"? Whatever the answers to those questions, SHE-CRAB was utterly new to me. See also Harry OSBORN (are there not more famous / actual human OSBORNs out there?). Also had no idea about ALBANESE, a very grid-friendly but not well-known and thus crutchy 8. GALATEA is another long name with favorable letter patterns. Maybe he's more famous than ALBANESE, maybe he's not. Not sure. Since he's ancient, probably. I'm giving +1 to RICKROLL, because I haven't thought of it in a long time; it's a great piece of Dumb Internet History. And I always love remembering SENDAK. But that's about all the love I've got to give today.

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/19/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Strong ale in British lingo / SAT 10-18-14 / Kvass component / Gomer's biblical husband / Annie old Scottish love song / Former Zairian leader Mobutu / Brand once plugged by John Madden / Subject of Word on first episode of Colbert Report
Constructor: Evan Birnholz

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Kvass (43D: Kvass component => RYE) —
Kvass is a fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread. The colour of the bread used contributes to the colour of the resulting drink. It is classified as a non-alcoholic drink by Russian and Ukrainian standards, as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically less than 1.2%. Generally, the alcohol content is low (0.05% - 1.0%). It is often flavoured with fruits such as strawberries and raisins, or with herbs such as mint. Kvass is also used for preparing a cold summertime soup called okroshka.
It is especially popular in Russia and Ukraine, but also well-known throughout BelarusEstoniaSerbiaPolandLatvia and Lithuania, as well as in other former Soviet states such as GeorgiaKazakhstan and Armenia where many kvass vendors sell the drink in the streets. Kvass is also popular in Harbin and XinjiangChina, where Russian culture is a strong influence. (wikipedia)
• • •

The girders on this one are sturdy—those longer answers that run between grid sections all hold up nicely. The bulk of the rest of it, though, was just middling. Attempted cleverness sometimes missed, and toughness in the clues too often came from obscure info ("Annie LAURIE" is an "old Scottish love song"? ERIC BANA was in "Funny People"? Wait, what's "Funny People"? Etc.). I can recognize that the puzzle is basically well put together, but for some reason I was never able to work up much affection for this one. Maybe it was the general dullness of perfectly reasonable fill like MESSKITS and RAREBIRD, or the bits of gunk like SESE and SEE over SEA and AMIN clued as if it's not a dictator, via an expression no one says ever ever. People call their dad "pap"? Papa, pop, pops, poppa, pappa, pappy—all of these I'd buy before "pap." Even KICKSTARTER and TRUTHINESS felt … late. Like great answers …  from 2010. Mostly, the puzzle just wasn't meshing with *me*. WILCO as a radio word and not the band; HUSTLE as a generic verb meaning "move" rather than a word related to Pete Rose or a dance or a con; ARNE as a chair designer and not Duncan or that composer guy—clues kept seeming either dull or baffling. I needed every cross to get STINGO (?) and every cross to get COOPERS (I've only ever heard of *Mini* COOPERS, and since I thought the company name was "Mini," LOOPERS was the only guess I had even when I got to the -OOPERS stage). So it's a solid puzzle that just wasn't for me. Evan's puzzles usually are for me. You should do the puzzle at his independent puzzle site, Devil Cross.

There weren't gimmes for me today. I think AVAST and RAFA and CALC and POE were about it. Oh, and RAS—that felt like cheating. I'm a bit of a Batman fan, so RAS was my first answer in the grid. I made a rectangle from RAS using ASTUTE then CITE then CROTCH, and proceeded from there. The NW was a wasteland until about midway through my solve, when the -STARTER prefix suddenly dawned on me. KICK gave that section the KICK it needed and I took it down easily from there. Had the hardest time getting into and finishing off the SE. The STINGO + COOPERS debacle kept me from being able to work from the top down, and with no idea what letter preceded TEST at 46D: Statistical method for comparing the means of two groups (T-TEST), I had only DIR- for the start of 45A: Scorpio hunter of film and, embarrassingly, couldn't do anything with it until I had a belated epiphany. If DIRTY HARRY hadn't suddenly come to me, MAN that SE could've been tough. Couldn't see AUTOCORRECT for-EV-er. Have to admit it's a good clue. I finished up somewhere down there, probably w/ the final "A" in ERIC BANA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/18/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Olympian troublemaker / FRI 10-17-14 / 2007 satirical bestseller / Town at tip of Italy's heel / 2007 Jamie Foxx film set in Saudi Arabia / Church-owned newsweekly / Two-time belligerent against British Empire
Constructor: Michael Ashley

Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe leaning toward "Medium-Challenging")

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Paul DIRAC (49A: Paul who pioneered in quantum mechanics) —
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac OM FRS (/dɪˈræk/ di-rak; 8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984) was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a member of the Center for Theoretical Studies, University of Miami, and spent the last decade of his life at Florida State University.
Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation, which describes the behaviour of fermions and predicted the existence of antimatter. Dirac shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory". He also did work that forms the basis of modern attempts to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics.
He was regarded by his friends and colleagues as unusual in character. Albert Einstein said of him, "This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful". His mathematical brilliance, however, means he is regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is just fine. I had no idea what to do with names like BRODY and DIRAC and "THE KINGDOM" (?), and I spaced on WAITE and AMAHL, but I knew OTRANTO from the novel The Castle of OTRANTO and I knew ALAN MOORE from every comics class I've ever taught, so my name non-knowledge didn't set me back too badly. Nothing struck me as particularly great, and a few things seemed either off or incomplete. I AM AMERICA is definitely right, but that's a book I think of as needing its subtitle ("And So Can You!") to be complete. I AM AMERICA sounds earnest and dumb and not funny all by itself. Also, THE MONITOR—I didn't knot know people called The Christian Science Monitor this. Not a shorthand I've seen. Didn't keep me from getting it quickly (how many church-owned newsweekly's are there?), but THE MONITOR has about as much currency in my world as "THE KINGDOM" (still can't picture a single thing about this alleged movie). Wanted FASHION MODEL, got FASHION ICON … less good, I think. I mean, designers are often considered FASHION ICONs, and many of them are somewhat lumpy and ordinary-looking. Not emaciated, anyway. What else? … A lot of the longer answers are plurals … I don't know. It's a totally competent puzzle, but it hasn't got much 'zazz. My computer just autocorrected that to "zzzz." Make of that what you will.

I wasn't STRUCK DUMB by RITA MORENO, but I didn't enjoy seeing her (both those answers, actually). Saying Hulu offers STREAMS is like saying the internet is a series of tubes. OK, maybe it's slightly more defensible, but not really. "Hey, wanna watch some STREAMS?" Uh, no. No thanks. Wait, did you mean TV shows or movies? Oh, then sure. Streaming video is correct. STREAMS needs a better / more accurate / more spot-on clue here. [Watches live, perhaps]. Verb! That's what's happening.

Some of the shorter stuff is unlovely (AWAG and PYLES, I'm looking at you), but the shorter stuff is always the uglier stuff, and nothing stands out as particularly gruesome. Where were my errors? Let's see:

  • 1A: Something running on a cell (MOBILE APP) — pretty good. I solved it from the back end, and at first tried GOOGLE APP.
  • 1D: Start of many records (MOST) — I went with ANNO, which, in retrospect, is a weird answer to enter with the confidence with which I entered it.
  • 22A: Be up (BAT) — I was on the right wavelength here, but tried HIT first. 
  • 35A: Out of service? Abbr. (RET'D) — Tried AWOL.
  • 37D: Person's sphere of operation (FIEF) — went with AREA. Can't have been the only one.
  • 16A: Opera title boy (AMAHL) — again, right(ish) wavelength, but his name came to me as AMATI, which, in my defense, is definitely musical.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/17/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Edomite patriarch / THU 10-16-14 / Pacific Surfliner operator / Trevelyan Agent 006 in GoldenEye / Reville Hitchcock's wife collaborator / Inspiration for Johann Strauss II / Computer language named for Lord Byron's daughter / Penelope's pursuer / Go
Constructor: John Farmer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: REPEAT (69A: What three-letter words do in five answers in this puzzle) —

Theme answers:
  • WHOOPIE [PIE]S (18A: Cream-filled chocolate treats)
  • SCARLET [LET]TER (19A: Mark of dishonor)
  • PERCY BYSSHE [SHE]LLEY (39A: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" poet)
  • LANDON [DON]OVAN (57A: All-time scoring leader for the U.S. men's soccer team)
  • PAPAL [PAL]ACE (62A: Official residence)
Word of the Day: LUNA (3D: "Two-horned queen not the stars," per Horace) —
In ancient Roman religion and mythLuna is the divine embodiment of the Moon (Latin luna; cf. English "lunar"). She is often presented as the female complement of the Sun (Sol) conceived of as a god. Luna is also sometimes represented as an aspect of the Roman triple goddess (diva triformis), along with Proserpina and HecateLuna is not always a distinct goddess, but sometimes rather an epithet that specializes a goddess, since both Dianaand Juno are identified as moon goddesses.
In Roman art, Luna's attributes are the crescent moon and the two-yoke chariot (biga). In the Carmen Saeculare, performed in 17 BC, Horaceinvokes her as the "two-horned queen of the stars" (siderum regina bicornis), bidding her to listen to the girls singing as Apollo listens to the boys.
Varro categorized Luna and Sol among the visible gods, as distinguished from invisible gods such as Neptune, and deified mortals such as Hercules. She was one of the deities Macrobius proposed as the secret tutelary of Rome. In Imperial cult, Sol and Luna can represent the extent of Roman rule over the world, with the aim of guaranteeing peace.
Luna's Greek counterpart was Selene. In Roman art and literature, myths of Selene are adapted under the name of Luna. The myth of Endymion, for instance, was a popular subject for Roman wall painting. (wikipedia)
• • •

The core idea has some potential, but the grid ends up with gibberish in it, and the simple fact of a repeated letter string really isn't that interesting, from a solver-enjoyment point of view. What really kills this puzzle, however, is the lame revealer. REPEAT is far too generic—totally anticlimactic. A puzzle like this really *needs* the final punch of a revealer to keep it from being merely a structural exercise. This puzzle needed a CHUCK BERRY (see yesterday's puzzle), and all it got was a REPEAT—the revealer equivalent of a sad trombone sound, or a "thud." The theme has a couple things going for it. The repeated letter strings are in face "words" in their own right, as the revealer clue says, though PIE is a bit of a fail since PIE is a part of the answer WHOOPIE [PIE]S, whereas none of the other three-letter "words" are actually parts of their answers (i.e. LET, SHE, DON, and PAL have no etymological relation to the answers they're found inside). Also, the three-letter REPEAT words all come at the beginnings of words … though where else would they come, now that I think of it? Three letters end one word and begin the next. That's the idea. The more I write about the theme, the less impressed I am, so I'll stop now.

The cultural center of gravity on this one is set back a few decades. It's pretty old school in its frame of reference, ZAC Efron notwithstanding. All this means is that I got slowed down by a slew of proper nouns that just weren't in my wheelhouse. SALEM and ALEC, primarily, but also REESE (whom I know, though not by number) and ALMA (whom I know vaguely, but whom I couldn't see because I had written in AS ONE for 5D: Collectively (IN ALL). Long Downs are very nice, most of the rest of the fill is just OK, DEREG is terrible. All IN ALL, an entirely adequate Thursday that just wasn't my thing. They can't all be my things. Wait, is there a code? … PIELETSHEDONPAL … and that anagrams to … aw, I give up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/16/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Sorrowful 1954 Patti Page hit / WED 10-15-14 / Drifter of literature / Potent potable in Arsenic Old Lace / Astronaut Wally first person to go into space three times / Greece/Turkey separator
Constructor: David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CHUCK BERRY (56A: One of the original Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, whose name is a hint to the answers to the four starred clues) — "BERRY" has been "chucked" out of four phrases:

Theme answers:
  • HUCKLE FINN (17A: *Drifter of literature)
  • ELDER WINE (28A: *Potent potable in "Arsenic and Old Lace")
  • STRAW BLONDE (33A: *Nicole Kidman, hairwise)
  • RASP BERET (43A: *1985 Prince hit)
Word of the Day: HUCKLE 
[Perh. dim. of Prov. E. hucka hook, and so named from its round shape. See Hook.]
1. The hip; the haunch. 
2. A bunch or part projecting like the hip. 
Huckle bone(a) The hip bone; the innominate bone. (b) A small bone of the ankle; astragalus. [R.]  Udall.

Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/huckle#ixzz3GAxzlUz4
• • •

I don't have too much to say about this one except that the theme just doesn't work. I want it to work. I love the revealer—that is, I love the idea of reimagining CHUCK BERRY as a verb phrase. The problem is that when you chuck the berries, nothing interesting happens. You just have meaningless phrases without BERRY in them. There's literally nothing interesting about them, or their clues. If you're going to serve up nonsense, at least give a wacky clue. Something? This manages to take a potentially great concept (turning CHUCK BERRY into a verb phrase) and paint it beige. Also, this puzzle made me look up HUCKLE, because man does that answer seem like an outlier (all the other berry-less theme answers seem to be composed of real words, whereas HUCKLE FINN, what the hell?). And it turns out HUCKLE is an actual word. Ish. Sort of. I mean, it is, but not one you've likely used ever. Or seen outside of berry contexts. But it's kind of a cool word. I'm going to use it now to refer to any orthopedic pain I might have. Hip pain is so pedestrian—I'm gonna tell people I have hucklealgia. To which people will respond either by saying "Uncle who?" or by quietly walking away.

SCHIRRA (1D: Astronaut Wally, the first person to go into space three times) seems like weak fill to me, in that "first person to go into space three times" doesn't feel like a thing. I'm sure it's a tremendous accomplishment—I haven't been into space even once—but lots of people have been into space, and "first to three" doesn't pass the crossworthy test, for me. Overall, the fill is not bad, but not remarkable either. If your grid is this theme-dependent, and the theme clunks this badly, well, that's a problem. But hey, I learned a few things. Beyond the meaning of "huckle," I learned that planes park in APRONs (seriously, did not know this) and that the big TOE is called "hallux" in Latin / medicalese. I'm not sure I'll remember any of that. Well, I'll remember huckle. I'll always have huckle. Don't you (ba dum dum da dum dum) forget about huckle. Etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/15/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Missouri city familiarly / TUE 10-14-14 / Starr of old comics / How Titanic was going before it struck iceberg / Bygone communication
Constructor: Adam Perl

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Adjective-to-verb — nouns / noun phrases are reimagined as verb phrases related to various professions:

Theme answers:
  • TRADE SECRETS (20A: What gossip columnists do?)
  • PLOT POINTS (36A: What mathematicians do?)
  • HANDLEBARS (42A: What bouncers do?)
  • COVER STORIES (56A: What literary critics do?)
Word of the Day: Missionary Junípero SERRA (8D) —
Junípero Serra FerrerO.F.M., (/nɨˈpɛr ˈsɛrə/Spanish: [xuˈnipeɾo ˈsera]) (November 24, 1713 – August 28, 1784) was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded a mission in Baja California and the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco, which at the time were in Alta California of the Las CaliforniasProvince in New Spain. He began in San Diego on July 16, 1769, and established his headquarters near Monterey, California, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
The missions were primarily designed to convert the natives. Other aims were to integrate the neophytes into Spanish society, and to train them to take over ownership and management of the land. As head of the order in California, Serra not only dealt with church officials, but also with Spanish officials in Mexico City and with the local military officers who commanded the nearby presidios (garrisons).
Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988. Beatification is the third of four steps in canonization (sainthood). (wikipedia)
• • •

Old-fashioned but solid. At first, the fill had me thinking I was solving a 25+-year old puzzle, but when I hit the themers … well, I still felt that way, but not in a bad way. Concept is cute and charming. I suppose this theme has many possible permutations, but I can't think of any good ones off the top of my head. BOOK MARKS [Schedule Spitz and Twain?]. FLOOR BOARDS [Astound governing bodies?]. I'm sure I could do better given world enough and time. My suggestions don't really work with the whole [What ___s do?] clue angle, anyway. Oh well. It's 5 a.m.—you get what you get. As I say, the fill is a bit crusty, but at least the longer Downs are sturdy. TREETOP, SUBTEXT, and (especially) HIT THE ROOF are quite nice. Tuesdays are the hardest days to pull off, which I never would've thought before I began writing this blog a billion years ago. It's a kind of no man's land. So often the theme isn't smooth enough for a Monday and isn't clever enough for a Wednesday and so … Tuesday! So I think a simple and unassuming puzzle like this on a Tuesday is just fine, or at least not objectionable. I gotta believe that northern section could be done up a little better than HEHE EVA SERRA ATA … and that ADOPE is entirely unnecessary down below … but for some reason (perhaps because it's so early) I'm not terribly annoyed by the fill. Theme cute, long Downs interesting, satisfaction reasonable.

Weird puzzle feature: symmetrical 2-part stacks in the NE and SW—GIVE / AWAY and DOWN / EAST. Nice little dashes of color in the otherwise inevitably drab little corners of the puzzle.

  • 35D: Woman who has a way with words? (VANNA) — I like this clue, but this is the kind of clue that makes a puzzle feel old—not the inclusion of VANNA, who is certainly worthy, but the casual ease-of-reference, as if it were 1986, i.e. Peak VANNA. I don't think younger people a. watch "Wheel of Fortune" or b. know who VANNA White is at all. I didn't even know she was still on the show.
  • 34D: How the Titanic was going before it struck an iceberg (AMAIN) — this is bad enough fill without your having to remind me of that even worse movie.
  • 41A: Missouri city, informally (ST. JOE) — I wanted ST. LOU (is that a thing?). Seemed reasonable. I know the ST. JOE as a "shadowy" Idaho river that runs through my mom's home town (where my grandma still lives).
  • 14A: Doctor Zhivago's love (LARA) — feels like a long time since I've seen this piece of classic crosswordese, but I realize now that it's just been a while since I've seen this *clue*: Zhivago's love has been largely replaced by [Newswoman Logan] and [Tomb raider Croft].
Happy birthday, honey. (If you share a birthday with my wife, then yes, I'm talking to you, too.)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/14/2014 10:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Philippine island in WWII fighting / MON 10-13-14 / Walsh three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist / Sprockets George Jetson's employer
Constructor: Greg Johnson

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

THEME: GAME SEVEN (20D: Playoff series finale … or an apt title for this puzzle considering the number and length of its theme entries) — grid contains seven games, each seven letters long:

Theme answers:
  • CROQUET (15A: It's played with mallets and wickets …)
  • CANASTA (16A: … with 108 cards)
  • SNOOKER (22D: … with cues and 22 balls)
  • REVERSI (27D: … with black-and-white disks)
  • TWISTER (36A: … with a mat with colored circles)
  • HANGMAN (59A: … with dashes on paper)
  • MARBLES (60A: … with steelies and aggies)
Word of the Day: REVERSI 
Reversi is a strategy board game for two players, played on an 8×8 uncheckered board. There are sixty-four identical game pieces called disks (often spelled "discs"), which are light on one side and dark on the other. Players take turns placing disks on the board with their assigned color facing up. During a play, any disks of the opponent's color that are in a straight line and bounded by the disk just placed and another disk of the current player's color are turned over to the current player's color.
The object of the game is to have the majority of disks turned to display your color when the last playable empty square is filled.
Reversi is marketed by Pressman under the trade name Othello. (wikipedia)
• • •

You know a game that's seven letters long?: OTHELLO! Neither my wife nor I had heard of REVERSIor PANAY, or SPACELY, for that matter. I actually have heard of Spacely Sprockets, having seen a few episodes of "The Jetsons," but I still needed virtually every cross to get SPACELY. Wikipedia tells me that the company's actual name is SPACELY's Space Sprockets. The "employer" in the clue made me think of a person, not a company, and so I couldn't understand why I remembered a Mr. SPACELY and not a SPACELY Sprockets. And now I see—the "employer" here is the company, not the owner (whose name is Cosmo SPACELY, by the way, in case you're ever asked). There were no characters named SPACELY Sprockets. Usually, if you get a "Jetsons" clue,  you get ELROY. Maybe ASTRO. So let's just say SPACELY was out of place (ly) on a Monday. I probably would've changed it to SPARELY and then changed the Down (CAT SCAN) to RAT-SWAN. I'd've clued it [Post-apocalyptic animal hybrid]. Yes, that's much better.

But seriously, everyone knows the game OTHELLO, right? I gotta believe far fewer people know REVERSI. REVERSI seems like other games I've heard of but barely believe in, like ONE-O'CAT and ROLODENDRO or whatever that game was I got a letter about once … the one that sounded like a Harry Potter spell … ROLYPOLYO? … ah, here it is: RINGALEVIO! Good times. Anyway, the lasting image of this puzzle will be one of Mr. SPACELY playing REVERSI on PANAY.

I like the theme, though the clue over-explains things—let us discover the connection(s) on our own. We're not idiots. Most of us. I like the adjective SEVEN-GAME as a revealer better than GAME SEVEN, since the former accurately describes both a League Championship or World Series finale *and* this puzzle. But that wouldn't sit dead center, which the revealer (in this case) has to do, so GAME SEVEN is fine. The theme answers are just games, so no real excitement there, but the 7x7 thing is at least interesting, and it's tough to bring a theme-dense, white-square-heavy puzzle in in good shape on any day of the week. To make it almost plausibly Monday-easy is particularly impressive. It misses—this should've been a Tuesday—but it's close. I like that all the games are quite different from one another. I like the "Q." I like saying SNOOKER. So I'm generally pro-this puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/13/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Broccoli-like vegetable / SUN 10-12-14 / French port just up coast from Boulogne / First steamship with planned circumnavigation of globe / Locale that Hillary made famous / Two-time role for Chris Hemsworth /
Constructor: Pawel Fludzinski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Inner Workings" — phrases that have follow pattern "___ in ___" are represented literally in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • COAL CANARY MINE (23A: Leading indicator?)
  • CANDY KID STORE (49A: One who's enthralled, metaphorically)
  • MILLION NOT YEARS (66A: Never)
  • TEA TEMPEST POT (84A: Much ado about nothing)
  • HAND GO TO HELL BASKET (97A: Deteriorate rapidly)
  • HAY NEEDLE STACK (112A: It's hard to find)
Word of the Day: ARGO (58A: First steamship with a planned circumnavigation of the globe) —
Argo was an iron screw steamer launched in 1853. She was the first steamship to intentionally circumnavigate the earth. (wikipedia)
• • •

This (NYT) puzzle is just a bigger version of this (NYT) puzzle, from 2011. Today's puzzle even has three of the same theme answers as the 2011 puzzle. This puzzle should never have been accepted, for this reason as well as several others—most notably that the 2011 version wasn't the first time this puzzle had been done, either (earliest example I could find was from the L.A. Times in 2003, which a basic cruciverb.com database check of theme answers would've turned up). Also, once you get the theme, the whole solving experience becomes a bit of a snore, especially in a puzzle this big (the 2011 and 2003 versions were 15x15s, by comparison). It's unoriginal. It's a bit boring. The fill is average—not terrible, not noteworthy. Even the title is dull. The puzzle's failure really isn't the constructor's fault—he should've been told, "No thanks, I've already run a puzzle like this recently." But clearly that didn't happen. No one but no one should be shocked by this.

I think this will be one of those puzzles that people like insofar as they were able to do it, where normally they cannot. Perhaps someone finished a Sunday puzzle for the first time today. If this is the case for you, you should certainly congratulate yourself. It is a big deal, no matter the quality of the puzzle. I certainly couldn't tell you whether the first Sunday puzzle I solved was "good" or not. But I damn sure remember finishing (when, where, who with, etc.). So take whatever pleasure you can from this and pray for / hope for better Sundays to come. It's possible.

Yesterday I learned TRAVE. Today I learned SONDE (19D: Atmospheric probe).

I was fooled a couple of times today, most notably by the "Hillary" part of 45A: Locale that made Hillary famous (MT. EVEREST). I thought the clue was referring to our next president. I think that's what the clue wanted me to think. In that, at any rate, this puzzle was successful. I enjoyed remembering TIM Howard's performance in the World Cup this summer, and I enjoyed seeing RAPINI, as well as FAT CHANCE and TRIFECTA. That is the full extent of my enjoyment today.

Does the NRA endorse guns? Are they anti-NERF? I'm not sure what kind of joke that clue was going for. I'm also not sure how [24/7] = ANY TIME. "Come up and see me 24/7!" is not a phrase I can imagine someone's saying. "We're open 24/7" = "We're open *all the time*," not "... ANY TIME." But I'll stop the critique there, as this puzzle, as I've said, is D.O.A. and a critique is not really worthwhile. As I tell my writing students, "If you don't put any effort into writing your paper, I'm certainly not going to put any into grading it." Here's hoping we get something better than lukewarm leftovers next week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/12/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Architectural crossbeam / SAT 10-11-14 / Benson actor Phillips / Tourist city on Yamuna / Biblical land in what is now Yemen / Force to walk with arms pinned behind / Country that includes islands of Gozo Comino / Best Director of 1947 1954 /
Constructor: Evans Clinchy

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TRAVE (2D: Architectural crossbeam) —
  1. [Architecture.]
  2. A crossbeam.
  3. A section, as of a ceiling, formed by crossbeams.
A wooden frame used to confine a horse being shod.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin trabs, trab-.]

Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/trave#ixzz3Fnaoycdq
• • •

Yes, this will do. Higher word count than yesterday, resulting in more interesting fill, with only a modicum more junk (the more 3- and 4-letter words, typically, the more junk). It's been a big week for Laotian currency—who would've guessed? (46A: Laotian money = KIP). But honestly, the only words that grated at all were YER, LII, ATME and ADP (!?!?!). Oh, and TRAVE, but that didn't "grate" so much as "expose my ignorance of a word." Rest of the grid felt quite clean, though the vibe is a bit … vanilla? Can a vibe be vanilla? I like the contemporary feel of stuff like "BREAKING BAD" and KEVIN DURANT and SMART PHONES but none of that felt particularly daring or inventive. I found myself more nodding in approval than cheering. Except with FROG MARCH. Pretty sure I cheered for FROG MARCH.

I also like GREASE THE WHEELS, but I don't really understand the clue? Or, rather, I don't know why the clue went all literal. I didn't know wheels were literally greased (to make them roll … more smoothly?). I know the term GREASE THE WHEELS only as an idiomatic expression, usually referring to bribery or other forms of possibly illicit coaxing. Puzzle made me wonder whether that was right, or whether I had just imagined it because "greasing palms" is a bribery expression. But no, I didn't imagine it, GREASE THE WHEELS does have a meaning that skews in that direction. My point is I've never heard the expression used literally. Why you go literal over idiomatic, esp. w/ a "?" clue, I don't get. But I also don't think this is a big deal. Just a matter of taste. I still like the answer, and the puzzle as a whole. For a debut construction (… unless "Evans Clinchy" is a pseudonym, which it Really sounds like it is, but almost certainly isn't ...), this is fine work.

One thing, though: the puzzle was Way too easy. Your 1-Down is [Austen's "Northanger ___"]??? That's only one notch tougher than [The Beatles' "___ Road"]. If you'd wanted to stay literary, you could've gone with Wordsworth's "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern ABBEY." Or, I don't know, some harder clue for ABBEY that relied on its actual definition. That 1D was a total gimme, and when you Gim Me the first letters of all those long Acrosses, right off the bat, that's giving me a lot. Even the dreaded TRAVE / YER crossing couldn't keep me from blowing right through that NW section. Nothing much after that slowed me down either. SOC.—that, I didn't get. I'm guessing now that it refers to the SOCialist Party? I wouldn't call it a [Third party label: Abbr.]. It's way down the list of parties. 6th party, maybe. I went with AMIR at first for 31D: Eastern leader (AGHA). Thank god that was wrong. Jimmy BAIO is pretty damned obscure, but crosses were easy and BAIO is certainly a showbiz name, so that didn't slow me down either. ADP = super-icky and also unknown to me, but I didn't even see it, so easy was that SE section. Had TEAKS and TANDEM and DIVA and EMIR in place, so got all the long Acrosses easily and never had to look at those little Downs. Finished a shade over 6, without speeding at all—that's a helluva Easy Saturday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/11/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Persion ruler dubbed great / FRI 10-10-14 / Hail farewell / 1949 show tune with lyric Here am I your special island / City where Lehigh Delaware rivers meet / Presidential candidate who wrote No Apology
Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none, unless you call a bunch of stacked CH- words a "theme"

Word of the Day: PANTY (13A: Raid target) —
modifier noun: panty
  1. legless underpants worn by women and girls. (google, [define panty])
• • •

This is pretty strong overall. The grid type is common, and I'm not a fan of it—it's a grid not driven by great seed answers, but by whatever you can get to work well; low word counts will do that. It's also a highly segmented grid (really, three grids), which I also don't like as much as a grid that has more flow. But again, as an example of its type, it succeeds just fine. David manages to keep those big, open corners free of real junk, and gives us several fine longer phrases in the process. In the NW, TROUSSEAU, PROPMAN and "PLEASE DO" were probably my favorites, though that last one gave me fits til almost the last cross (the "D" in ADA)—I had "PLEASURE!," as in "It'd be a …" and then wast trying to figure out how "PLEASE TO" could possibly be right. Apparently the "bridges and canals" in 6D: Org. concerned with bridges and canals were about teeth, not waterways. I could tell that first word of 7D: "Unfair!" had to be "YOU…" though, so I worked that corner out eventually. Only way I got going, however, was by starting at the bottom of the corner and mentally inserting -ING at the end of 2D: Extending the life of (REUSING). That got me PANG and off we go. This is a typical hack for late-week / tough puzzles. Got nothing? See if you can't predict an -S or an -ED or an -ER or an -ING at the end of an answer. Sometimes a single accurately predicted letter from a word ending gets you a cross, and you're in.

I don't get the whole "CH-" thing in the middle of the grid. I've seen other constructors do versions of this—try to make the visually boring eternal slant-stack of 7s do something … coordinated. Here, all it did was make the puzzle easier; once I noticed a few CH- answers, I just started guessing CH- at the beginning of some of the lower answers. I like *solving* my Fridays, without the aid of such cheap help. Also, what's the point of "CH-"? Someone's initials? There's not point. And pointlessness is another thing I'm not fond of, puzzle wise. But, as I say, the grid doesn't suffer under these restrictions, so even if they are arbitrary, not much harm is done. Toughest part for me was the CHANTEY / AT SEA cross-reference. Weird to see a phrase replaced by a cross-reference (i.e. [Number 10-Down] = Number AT SEA). Usually you're just looking for a single word. Plus that whole NE corner was odd. I cannot accept PANTY. They come in pairs. Only in pairs. I don't care if the phrase is "PANTY raid"—that's fine, then clue it as a partial. But if you talking about the [Raid target], it's panties. They don't come in singular. PANTY is like jean that way.

SE was a piece of cake because of the XEROXED gimme (assuming you got CHATTERBOX already). I even got OVERALLS off just the "O." So that corner played way, way, way easier than any other part of the grid (another pitfall of these super-segmented grids—difficulty inconsistency). Overall, this was solid, enjoyable fare.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/10/2014 11:33:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Architect Louis / THU 10-9-14 / Comic Cenac formerly of Daily Show / Subject of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius / Mil mess personnel / Feature of Polyphemus from Odyssey / Bygone brand in shaving aisle /
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: no Acrosses / Downs — clues are just numbers, and when a number applies to both an Across and a Down, the answer is Across + Down

Word of the Day: Louis KAHN (38D: Architect Louis) —
Louis Isadore Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) (March 5 [O.S. February 20] 1901 – March 17, 1974) was an American architect, based in Philadelphia. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, he founded his own atelier in 1935. While continuing his private practice, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957.
From 1957 until his death, he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. Kahn created a style that was monumental and monolithic; his heavy buildings do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled. Louis Kahn's works are considered as monumental beyond modernism. Famous for his meticulously built works, his provocative unbuilt proposals, and his teaching, Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal and the RIBA Gold Medal. At the time of this death he was considered by some as "America's foremost living architect."
• • •

The puzzle is clean enough, but the whole thing felt like a waste of time. I don't understand the appeal of this puzzle. Yes, I see, you have done this thing with the cluing that is unusual. But basically the only real point of interest in the puzzle is the Across/Down pairings, CASH / CROP and JEAN / JACKET and so on. And with nothing to tie them together, no … hook or revealer or meta or anything, the whole thing felt like a pointless exercise. Fill is unremarkable except for PARASKI (cool, original) and SKINNY DIP (not the answer so much, but the clue, for sure—63: Be unsuited?). ONE EYE and KPS and a few other answers are pretty subpar. Yesterday, the theme was tight, it made sense, it was well executed, so the unremarkable fill was not an issue. Here, the theme is unremarkable (it's more physical peculiarity than theme), and yet its density puts terrible stress on the grid, resulting in mediocre fill. Since theme answers are boring as answers in their own right, and since there's not very much good non-theme fill to grab our attention, MPAA and OEDS and HEMA and KIP and ABED and TRA and LDOPA etc. and such stand out. And irk.

Goes without saying (though it shouldn't) that this gimmick is largely lost on the (large and ever-growing number of) people who solve on-screen. I had heard that the puzzle had some element that wouldn't be as impressive in AcrossLite, so I solved at the NYT site, but all that got me was a clunkier interface. Because you don't see the clues laid out in space, and because clues appear right over the grid depending on where your cursor is in the grid, the whole "no Across/Down" thing doesn't really register. I don't think solving in the paper would've made much difference, except I'd've noticed the clue gimmick quicker. Feeling of pointlessness would likely have remained. I had no real trouble with this except at the very end, where I had Real trouble filling out the little western portion. Couldn't get YOLK from [White counterpart] for a long time, even with YO- in place, and couldn't remember if it was BUNSON or BUNSEN / BURNER, and never heard of KAHN, and think of LATE as a word much much much much more often used at the beginning of pregnancies than at the end of them. So I stood still for a bit. Then YOLK came to me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/9/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Amerika novelist / WED 10-8-14 / Big 1975 boxing showdown / Beatle George's sitar teacher / Maker of Aibo robotic pets / Dr Pepper Snapple Group brand
Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: THE DESCENT OF MAN (11D: Darwin work … with a hint to three consecutive letters in 3-, 4-, 7-, 9- and 11-Down) — the letter string "MAN" "descends" the grid, starting at the top of the first long Down (3D) and then inching its way down the grid one three-letter stretch at a time with each successive long Down (4D, 7D, 9D), til it hits the bottom of the grid in the last long Down (11D).

Theme answers:
  • MANIFEST DESTINY (3D: Expansionist doctrine)
  • "I DEMAND A RECOUNT!" (4D: Election loser's cry)
  • TEN COMMANDMENTS (7D: Text on tablets)
  • THRILLA IN MANILA (9D: Big 1975 boxing showdown)
Word of the Day: SAC (50A: Onetime tribe of the Upper Midwest) —
The Sauk are believed to have had their original territory along the St. Lawrence River. They were driven by pressure from other tribes, especially the Iroquois, to migrate to Michigan, where they settled around Saginaw Bay. Due to the yellow-clay soils found around Saginaw Bay, their autonymwas Oθaakiiwaki (often interpreted to mean "yellow-earth".) The Ojibwe and Ottawa name for the tribe (exonym) was Ozaagii, meaning "those at the outlet". From the sound of that, the French derived Sac and the English "Sauk". Anishinaabe expansion and the Huron attempt to gain regional stability drove the Sac out of their territory. The Huron were armed with French weapons. The Sac moved south to territory in parts of what are now northern Illinois and Wisconsin.
A closely allied tribe, the Meskwaki (Fox), were noted for their hostility toward the French, having fought two wars against them in the early 18th century. After the second war, Fox refugees took shelter with the Sac, making them subject to French attack. The Sac continued moving west to Iowaand Kansas. Two important leaders arose among the Sac: Keokuk and Black Hawk. At first Keokuk accepted the loss of land as inevitable in the face of the vast numbers of white soldiers and settlers coming west. He tried to preserve tribal land and to keep the peace.
Having failed to receive expected supplies from the Americans on credit, Black Hawk wanted to fight, saying his people were "forced into war by being deceived." Led by Black Hawk in 1832, the mainly Sac band resisted the continued loss of lands (in western Illinois, this time.) Their warfare with United States forces resulted in defeat at the hands of General Edmund P. Gaines in the Blackhawk War. (wikipedia)
• • •

Thought I'd just rest my eyes last night and when I woke up it was 6:30. So it was an early-morning solve for me, and my mind was apparently grateful for the rest because even though I was yawning and  slumped over with tiredness, I blew through this puzzle without a hitch. It was weird to see the theme answers unfold, as I thought they were all quite nice, but I had no idea what could be holding them together. This meant that the revealer did its job exactly as it's supposed to—it came at the end and it made me see some cool aspect of the grid. Revelation. I've seen variations on this theme many times before—the descending letter string—but this one is executed perfectly. All the Downs are perfect grid-spanners (five 15s). They all actually go Down (you could technically run these themers Across and the theme would still work, but Down is so much better). The "MAN" inside the theme answers stays hidden til the end (i.e. MAN never refers to a human MAN until the revealer). And all the themers are rock solid. This means that I don't care as much about the rough fill too much. Theme is dense and (more importantly) well done, so OUTA ATUNE ESSES EZINE all lose most of their capacity to irk.

  • 1A: Try to sink (RAM) — I needed every cross to get this. I don't know why.
  • 50A: Onetime tribe of the Upper Midwest (SAC) — I needed every cross to get this. I do know why. I … well I was going to say "I've never heard of this tribe," but I knew as soon as I looked them up that this was déjà vu all over again. Apparently I'm doomed not to remember this tribe, possibly because SAC is a perfectly good baseball term. SAC space in my brain (!) is already taken. [Tribe that invented the bunt?], I would get.
  • 57A: All, in Alba (TUTTO) — had TUTTI. Seemed reasonable.
  • 16D: Poison sci. (TOX.) — short for "toxicology," I guess, but I don't remember ever seeing such a thing, in my grid or elsewhere. Roughly seven years since its last appearance in the NYT. It's tucked out of the way, and it's holding "OH THAT!" in place, so I don't really mind its weirdness.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/8/2014 11:35:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Oktoberfest exclamation / TUE 10-7-14 / Klugman's co-star on Odd Couple / denied Supreme Court phrase / Lee who led Chrysler 1978-92
Constructor: Mark Skoczen and Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: TOASTs (66A: 9- 20-, 28-, 37-, 48- or 53-Across) —with each theme answer clued as [Oktoberfest exclamation]

Theme answers:
  • "SALUD!"
  • "L'CHAIM!"
  • "CHEERS!"
  • "TO YOUR HEALTH!" (which is essentially what "SALUD!" means…)
Word of the Day: "CERT denied" (4D: ___ denied (Supreme Court phrase)) —
"Cert" is short for "certiorari," which refers to the appeal (petition for a writ of certiorari) a party files with the Supreme Court requesting the justices review the case. If the justices decide against hearing the case, they deny the petition. This is usually abbreviated and referred to as "cert denied." (answers.com)
• • •

I spent a lot of time today (Monday) in my crossword class (which I teach for the local Lyceum—a "lifelong learning association" for people of roughly retirement age) talking about easy puzzles and grid smoothness. It was very instructive to look at the fairly ambitious theme in the NYT, the somewhat less ambitious theme in the LAT, and the not-at-all ambitious theme in the Newsday, and to see what the fill was like in each puzzle. Newsday had just three theme answers, so the grid could breathe, and Stan Newman is ruthless when it comes to making sure his grids are free of crud. He's probably the most exacting editor in the business on that front. So though the Newsday theme was awfully basic, the fill was junk-free: this made the Newsday a good puzzle for the total novice. The LAT and NYT had a higher thematic bar, and their themes were more or less successful (really liked Monday's NYT theme, btw), but they also allowed so much more dubious short stuff: crosswordese and abbreviations and other less than ideal stuff. There's always going to be some kind of trade-off between themes and fill. As the complexity / density of the former goes up, the quality of the latter tends to go down.

The problem today is that while there are indeed a lot of theme answers, all that really does is extend a pretty dull theme while simultaneously taxing the grid—the denser the theme, the harder the grid is to fill cleanly. The north, with ILIE EELER and *especially* CERT, is just godawful. And since the theme is far from stellar, the bad fill is more intolerable than it might be otherwise. The phrase DOWN THE HATCH is great on its own, but there's really nothing to this theme as a whole. It's a bunch of TOASTs. The attempt to unite them all through the vaguely timely [Oktoberfest exclamation] clue seems forced. If I saw all these theme answers lined up, I would never in a million years think that the thing that unites them is Oktoberfest. Beer, drinking, sure. But "Oktoberfest" is overselling it. The theme is a list, and that list has only one interesting item ("DOWN THE HATCH!"). Without a clever theme, attention turns to the fill, and … that's bad news for this puzzle. To be fair, only the north is truly bad. But too much of the rest of it is truly blah. Yesterday's puzzle had its fill issues too, but the theme sparkled more, and those open corners in the NE / SW were truly wondrous to behold (esp. on a Monday, where one does not expect such things). This puzzle sputters by comparison.

There was nothing tough or tricky or particularly memorable about solving this puzzle. Had no idea about CERT (thought maybe WRIT, but I just waited for the crosses to help me out). Misread [Flight-related prefix] as [Fight-related prefix], which made a Very easy clue much, much harder. Someday someone will invent a better clue for TOFU than the horrendously stale and not terribly accurate [Vegetarian's protein source]. There are carnivores who eat tofu and vegetarians who won't touch the stuff. At least drop the apostrophe "s." Better yet, come up with a non-recycled clue of your own devising. That would be … something. Cluing is particularly stale today. Straightforward throughout. Not surprising for an early-week puzzle, but still, no reason "Easy" has to mean "unimaginative."

Thanks to Annabel Thompson for her lovely write-up yesterday. She'll be back the first Monday of every month until … well, until whenever she wants, frankly.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/7/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
MON 10-6-14 / Bobby of 1950s-'60s pop / Cheri formerly of "S.N.L." / Citi Field player for short / Lime-flavored cocktail
Hello CrossWorld!!! I'm Annabel, a Maryland high school senior and total newbie to this whole crosswording thing. You might remember me from this July, when Rex's BFFs were unavailable (read: forgot) to blog and so I had to step in. I loved the whole experience and emailed Rex, letting him know I would be available to blog on any Monday that he needed me. To my surprise, he told me he would be willing to let me blog on a semi-regular basis, because as you may know by now, Rex hates Mondays. So, here I will be on the first Monday of every month! YAY!!!!

Here I am in a Dalek hat.

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: MEDIUM for me, but like I said, I'm still a newbie.

THEME: MISSIN' G — The five theme clues all were -ING words without the G.

Word of the Day: OAS (13A: Western Hemisphere treaty grp.) —
The Organization of American States (Spanish: Organización de los Estados Americanos, Portuguese: Organização dos Estados Americanos, French: Organisation des États Américains), or the OAS or OEA, is an inter-continental organization founded on 30 April 1948, for the purposes of regional solidarity and cooperation among its member states. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States, the OAS's members are the 35 independent states of the Americas.
Since 26 May 2005, the Secretary General of OAS has been José Miguel Insulza.
In the words of Article 1 of the Charter, the goal of the member nations in creating the OAS was "to achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence".

• • •

This one took me 20 minutes, and yes, as you can see, I cheated on 14A/4D. (I had GETS and OGE, respectively. No, I don't have any idea what OGE means, but I reasoned, maybe it's a New York thing?) I thought pressing "Check" would just tell me whether I solved the puzzle or not, rather than tell me which squares were wrong, but alas...

(kind of like me driving)

Loved loved loved the theme! Anything that can make me hum "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Movin' Out" and then "Singin' in the Rain" is certainly a plus in my eyes...in fact, most of these turned out to be pretty good songs. (I say "most." Sorry Eagles.) To be honest, before I got the answers to the theme clues I assumed that "missing" meant these were actually missing works - IMA (63A: "___ changed man!") bit slow to the uptake, eh? At least once I did get the answers, I figured it out!
Hmmm, wonder how hard it would be to play all these songs on the OBOE (4A: Cousin of a clarinet)?

Theme answers:
  • 17A: 1975 Eagles hit about a woman having an affair (LYIN'EYES)
  • 24A: Title hit of a 1952 Gene Kelly musical (SINGIN'INTHERAIN)
  • 47A: 1930 Harry Richman hit whose title describes ostentatious living (PUTTIN'ONTHERITZ)
  • 59A: 1978 Billy Joel hit that gave its name to a 2002 Broadway musical (MOVIN'OUT)
  • 36A: Lost...or, in two words, an apt description of 17-, 24-, 47- and 59-Across (MISSIN'G) 
 I really found this theme to be super-duper...

  • SRS (58D: Class older than jrs.) — YAY CLASS OF 2015!
  • AROAR (10D: Loud, as in a crowd) — All I can say is, what a gorgeous word. I'm going to try to use it in a sentence every day this week. "The house was aroar when the Orioles SWEPT the Tigers last night - sorry, Rex."
Interestingly, Autocorrect does not believe "aroar" is a word. Then again, it seems to not believe "Autocorrect" is a word.
  • REBELS (57A: Antigovernment force) —There are a lot of places this is relevant right now, but this is a crossword blog, not a political blog, so I'm biting my tongue. On that note: LES MIS!

  • CHEMISTRY (12D: Element-ary school subject? — YAY PUNS! Wow, I have been saying "yay" a lot in this writeup. EXCITABLE (31D: Easily enthused) much?
Seriously, thank you REX (35A: Tyrannosaurus) for giving me this opportunity! While you will always be the king, I will aspire to someday become, at least, the democratic leader of a small principality in CrossWorld. Signed, Annabel, tired high school student
10/6/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Bad mouth in Britain / SUN 10-5-14 / Queen Amidala's home in Star Wars / Old roadside advertiser / Source of words mamba chimpanzee / big name in chainsaws leaf blowers / Flower that symbolizes paradise on earth
Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Timber!" — TREEs are "falling" all over the grid, as seven (7) Across answers take a dog-leg turn Down before resuming their Across path—the Down parts of the answers spell out types of trees (with each Down part clued as TREE)

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: OBADIAH (74A: Shortest Old Testament book) —
The canonical Book of Obadiah is an oracle concerning the divine judgment of Edom and the restoration of Israel. The text consists of a single chapter, divided into 21 verses, making it the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible.
In Judaism and Christianity, its authorship is attributed to a prophet who lived in the Assyrian Periodand named himself in the first verse, Obadiah. His name means “servant of Yehowah”.
In Christianity, the book of Obadiah is classified as a minor prophet of the Old Testament, due to its short length.
In Judaism, Obadiah is considered a “later prophet” and this Masoretic Text is chronologically placed in the Tanakh under the section Nevi'im in the last category called The Twelve Prophets. (wikipedia)

• • •

This started out with [Pasta suffix], so I was like, "Damn you, Samuel A. Donaldson!" [shakes fist at sky], but the puzzle improved considerably thereafter. I ran into ETHEL MERTZ, who I thought was just ETHEL—at only four letters long (apparently), the answer seemed like its final square would be an "EL" rebus square—but once I saw [TREE] as the clue for the cross, I thought "aha, ETHELMERTZ!" And so I had the theme figured out very, very quickly. And yet finding all the "falling" trees was still an entertaining exercise. Sometimes when you suss the theme early, especially on a Sunday, completing the rest of the puzzle can feel a bit anticlimactic and even laborious, but I enjoyed the seeing the creative ways Sam came up with to hide the trees. The puzzle title, "Timber!", is apt. Perfect, even. The puzzle wasn't tough, but it was pretty delightful.

It's true that the short stuff gets a Little iffy around the edges—the ANGE + SYST area out east, the MMI / MDSE area out west, the TZE / ALEAD section around Texas, the RLESS + DSO section around Indiana, etc.—but because the theme worked so well, and because many longer, entertaining phrases were never very far away, I never felt too put off by the short stuff. Whoa, what the hell is ENYO!?! (9D: Greek war goddess). I imagine her doing R&B / hip-hop versions of a certain Irish singer's work. At any rate, URSI + ENYO is pretty barfy, but, again, look at the fine stuff around it: RISQUE, QUARTZ, STEEL TRAP, IN SPIRIT, and the full phrase AS EASY AS ABC. This puzzle proves that there are two rules about junky (or, if you like, less ideal) fill. 1. Use it as little as possible, and 2. If you must use it, have some great stuff nearby to distract and appease solvers. Overall, I found this one to be a FULL-TILT, WHIZ-BANG good time.

No Puzzle of the Week this week because I'm behind on my puzzles. Brendan Emmett Quigley tells me his puzzle should be among the contenders, and I believe him because that's why he pays me. Do it for yourself and see! Seriously, though, more Puzzle(s) of the Week next week.

My big announcement this week is that starting tomorrow, and for the first Monday in every month hereafter, Annabel Thompson, a Maryland high school senior, will be taking over this blog. She is a relative newcomer to crosswords, so she will be providing a perspective on solving that is pretty much non-existent in the puzzle blogosphere. She is smart and charming, and she was a big hit with readers when she filled in for me (on short notice) this past summer. So when she expressed willingness to fill in for me in the future, I thought: I have a better idea... So tune in for her tomorrow, and I'll see you on Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/5/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Mount Charley Weaver's home town / SAT 10-4-14 / Lane London Theater locale / To whom Charles Darwin dedicated Different Forms of Flowers / Pioneer in literary realism / Southeastern fruits with large thick spines / Nonhuman Earth orbiter of 1961 / S
Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AGOB (25D: Oodles) —
[Nope … wait … I think that's two words … A GOB … can that be right?]
• • •

There are pockets of niceness here. Stack in the NW, nice. All the longer Downs in the middle, pretty nice. Acrosses down south, at a minimum, decent. So I think that overall it's at least a Pass. It's solid. I object mildly to ABOUT TURNS (of course I wrote in the far superior ABOUT FACES) and I object like the dickens to AGOB (or A space GOB, it seems). I know, ATON and ALOT show up ALOT, but those are so commonplace that I have come to accept them (if not (at all) like them). AGOB is, first of all, not a thing anyone would say. Second of all, I don't really need a second of all. Putting an "A" before a word is dicey in general, and this instance is just fug-ugly. ABUNCH I would not like. AHEAP I would not like. Not with AMOUSE or in AHOUSE would I like it. GOBS, weirdly, I would accept. No one says it, but it's a word, and while no one says it, far more people say it than say "A GOB."

RIAA and IDY are the only other answers that I really want to kick, though I'm no fan of whoever this ISIAH person is. Well, he's probably fine as a human being, but "Veep" doesn't exist to me. I live in a world where "Veep" isn't. So ISIAH isn't. I look forward to his acting in my world some day.

This one started in the NW for me, where MY PRECIOUS was a massive gimme. I got every answer that crossed it *except* GO TO RACK AND RUIN, which, unlike AH SO, is *actually* "old-timey" (3D: Org. that, when spelled backward, is an old-timey exclamation) => OSHA). AH SO is only "old-timey" insofar as it was OK to be racist against Asians in the "old times." Can we not agree that AH SO and all references thereto are forever banned forever and ever to the Land of Agob? I don't think this is too much to ask. I tried to get into the NE without any help and that didn't work at all, so I had to go down to DAG (easy) and build up from there. E and SE were by far the easiest parts of the grid. Done in a flash. Worked my way up to the rather dull NE, and then just had SW left to do. I kept putting in and taking out RIB. MIDAIR was my one sure thing down there until I figured the [Gold-certifying grp.] was probably an "association," so plunked an "A" in front of that "H" down there at 57A: "Really?", thus setting up the aha moment of OH YEAH! I put that corner away pretty quickly after that. Had to hunt down a typo, which was a drag, but a drag of my own making.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/4/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Bret Harte/Mark Twain collaboration / FRI 10-3-14 / Combined Latin Jamaican Hip-hop genre / Onetime Minnesota governor who ran for GOP presidential nomination nine times / Urban Dictionary fodder / Pfizer cold flu medicine / Muslim name that means su
Constructor: Tracy Bennett

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Ronald NEAME (23D: Ronald who directed "The Poseidon Adventure") —
Ronald Elwin Neame[1] CBE BSC (23 April 1911 – 16 June 2010) was an English filmcinematographerproducerscreenwriter and director. As cinematographer for the British war filmOne of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1943), he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. During a partnership with director David Lean, he produced Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948), receiving two Academy Award nominations for writing.
Neame then moved into directing, and some notable films included, I Could Go On Singing (1963),Judy Garland's last film, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), which won Maggie Smith her first Oscar, Scrooge (1970), starring Alec Guinness, and the action-adventure disaster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
For his contributions to the film industry, Neame was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Elizabeth II, and received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the highest award the British Film Academy can give a filmmaker. (wikipedia)
• • •

There were highs, there were lows. Some of the longer answers are really lovely, but a lot of the rest of the puzzle was overly common shorter stuff or mid-range names with convenient letters—names that just weren't that interesting (STASSEN?) (NEAME!?!?!). For every I'LL TRADE YOU, there was a TSETSES or ISDUETO to undercut it. I want to like GOAT RODEO, but I've never heard of it. Ever. I had G-AT RODEO and honest-to-god thought the answer was GNAT RODEO (come on, doesn't that sound like a good name for a Situation that's gone absurdly out of control? Much easier to control goats than gnats. I'd imagine. Never heard of ROOT ROT (2D: Horticultural problem caused by overwatering), so no help there. In the end, despite my affection for stuff like ALPHA FEMALE, I have to give this one a mild thumbs-down—the deciding factor being a super duper rough patch that includes a bevy of adjacent clunkers: NEAME (again, !?!?!?!), NROTC (dear lord that's bad fill) (looks like the vanity plate of a neurotic), and KHALIF (whose name is that? I get that it's *a* name, but … yikes).

  • DIMETAPP (38A: Pfizer cold and flu medicine) — I haven't seen or thought of this brand in forever, so when my brain wanted it, my Other brain was like "Are you sure that's a thing?" And because the horrific NEAME / NROTC / KHALIF runs right through it, I kept doubting it 'til the bitter end.
  • "D.C. CAB" (10A: 1983 action comedy with the tagline "When these guys hit the streets, guess what hits the fan") — One of my least favorite 5-letter answers. A movie that time would've long forgotten had it not been for the weird letter combinations that make it (occasionally) convenient in crosswords. Every time I see it, I think "crutch." See also (moreso) "AH, SIN" (51D: Bret Harte/Mark Twain collaboration).
  • EARLE (16A: Band-Aid inventor Dickson)EARLE is the NEAME of the NE corner (except slightly more inferable).
  • REGGAETON (65A: Combined Latin/Jamaican/hip-hop genre) — Approved! This gives the grid some contemporary flavor, some life, some sparkle.
[REGGAETON … plus a new clue for ORA]
  • YENTE (29D: Musical matchmaker) — ugh, my least favorite YENT-. How many damn endings are there for that letter string? YENTL, YENTA, YENTE … YENTI (the Jewish Abominable Snowman?)
  • STADIUM (3D: Kind of rock) — first of all, again, it's ARENA rock. Second of all, this clue (the whole clue type, actually) is absurd. It's a word that can precede "rock," but it's not a "kind" of rock any more than SEA is a [Kind of anemone] or HOT is a [Kind of dog] (to steal two example friends of mine came up with earlier in the day before this puzzle came out because yes we talk about this **** all the time…). [Kind of rot] = ROOT? I think not.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/3/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
NBC parent beginning in 2011 / THU 10-2-14 / Nickname for Fogell in Superbad / Parallel Lives writer / Gloucester haul
Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: E = MC … squared — Puzzle about Albert EINSTEIN (19A: 20th-century figure with a famous 56-Across represented literally six times in this puzzle) and his most famous EQUATION (56A: See 19-Across), which relates to his theory of RELATIVITY (26D: Subject explored by 19-Across), which probably has something to do with his having won the NOBEL PRIZE (9D: Recognition received by 19-Across) in Physics (1921).

Word of the Day: MR. SUN (33A: He's asked to "please shrine down on me," in song) —
Uh … this? 

• • •

This is very nicely done. I like that every "E" in the grid is involved in the equation/rebus. I like that every "E" in the grid is actually in a longer theme answer. And I like the way the "squared" part of the equation is represented visually by the fact that the E and the MC are inside a single "square." Also, for a pangram, the fill isn't terrible. It's not great, but I've seen grids tortured in pursuit of alphabetic completion, and this one's really no worse than your average NYT grid (which, true, hasn't meant much of late, despite recent laughable claims that fill standards have risen in recent years) (side note: always a classy move to throw the constructor under the bus). The main thing to focus on here is the theme, which is Thursday-worthy and expertly executed. One could quibble that the E/MC directions are not consistent (i.e. sometimes E is the Across letter, sometimes E is the Down), but you could counter that quibble by noting that the puzzle maintains consistency by having all the "E"s appear in the long themers, whatever direction they're headed. And counter-quibbler you would have the stronger argument.

  • COMCAST (21A: NBC parent beginning in 2011) — Hit a late snag with this one, as I wrote in NOBEL PRIZE off just the -IZE, but forgot that all "E"s had to be "MC"s in the other direction. So I had the NBC parent as -OEAST. Having no idea what a 21D: Gloucester haul could be (thought SOD … it was COD), I made a confused face for a bit. Then sorted it out.
  • MCLOVIN (31A: Nickname for Fogell in "Superbad") — you ever have one of those moments where you hit a clue and you Know you know that answer, you can picture the answer, you can feel the answer, but you just can't remember the answer, so you peevishly refuse to go on until your aging brain starts behaving again? No? Oh well. Nevermind. 
  • PLUTARCH (44A: "Parallel Lives" writer) — I knew he wrote "Lives." I didn't know they were "Parallel." This clue makes him sound like a rom-com screenwriter.
  • FILM CANON (5D: Most important movies) — probably the biggest stretch, answer-wise, in the grid. But it's got a wikipedia entry (of sorts), so maybe it *is* enough of a thing...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
10/2/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Violinist Leopold / WED 10-1-14 / Apollo Daphne sculptor / Robert Redford's great 1975 role / Lexicographer James who was OED's first editor
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: INSIDE DOPE (61A: Lowdown … or a hint to 17-, 24-, 36- and 53-Across) — letter string "DOPE" hidden inside four theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • GRAND OPERA (17A: Genre of Verdi's "Jérusalem")
  • AVOCADO PEAR (24A: Guacamole base, in British lingo)
  • PRIED OPEN (36A: Used a crowbar on, say)
  • WALDO PEPPER (53A: Robert Redford's "great" 1975 role)
Word of the Day: "The Great WALDO PEPPER" —
The Great Waldo Pepper is a 1975 drama film directed, produced, and co-written by George Roy Hill. Set during 1926–1931, the movie stars Robert Redford as a disaffected World War I veteran pilot who missed the opportunity to fly in combat and his sense of dislocation post-war in the America of the early 1920s. Margot KidderBo SvensonEdward Hermann and Susan Sarandon round out the cast. […]  Leonard Maltin noted that the film disappointed at the box office … (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, the bulk of this puzzle must've been waaaaay on the easy side, because I finished with a Tuesday-like time despite not having any clue about two of the theme answers (AVOCADO PEAR, WALDO PEPPER). Why would add the "PEAR" part, British people? What other kinds of AVOCADO are you distinguishing it from? Puzzling. As for the Redford movie, you have to be reasonably old and/or a Big fan of Redford (and/or aviation) movies to have heard of that movie, I think. I was alive in 1975, but at six years old, not really the target audience for the Redford movie (I'm guessing). I love doing Liz Gorski puzzles because I know I'm in the hands of a pro. If you're a fan of hers, or if you're just looking for another good easyish (M/T-level) puzzle to do each week, you should really check out her Puzzle Nation puzzles (subscribe here). She is perhaps the only independent constructor I know dedicated to making good Easy puzzles.

This puzzle didn't excite me as much as some of her other puzzles, for a number of reasons. The short fill is too often quite stale and the longer Downs don't have as much character as I'd like (though the NW is pretty decent, and I like the pair of longish Across answers that she manages to squeeze into the grid: BRUCE LEE and LIME TREE—not easy to do in a grid already crowded with five themers). Also, this theme was overly familiar to me. I've seen a version done with INFO (it was a Sunday puzzle actually titled "INSIDE DOPE" from five years back). I then wrote a response-puzzle with a similar title ("Inside Dope, Part 2"), but with a completely different theme (you can get that puzzle here) (or just read about it here). So the theme didn't strike me as original—but I do a ****-ton of puzzles, so that's not that surprising. As an example of its kind (the hidden-word theme), it's nicely done. Only non-theme answers I had trouble with were MURRAY (which I got entirely, albeit quickly, from crosses), BERNINI (whom I confused with Roberto BENIGNI and Brunetto LATINI and whoever BELLINI is simultaneously), and OWLISH (which is … not a word I know) (47D: Studious looking).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    10/1/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Friend of Gandalf / TUE 9-30-14 / Marbles British Museum display / Canadian comedy show of 1970s-'80s / Mineralogist for whom scale is named
    Constructor: Kyle T. Dolan

    Relative difficulty: Easy

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

    Theme answers:

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

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

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

    And the SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN wheel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Relative difficulty: Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: none

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

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

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

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

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. [Country standard] is a great trick clue for NATIONAL AVERAGE. I was thinking "Country" = music. Then I was thinking "standard" = flag ...
      9/27/2014 4:00:00 AM

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