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

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

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

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

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

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

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*For a definition of "Natick," click the "FAQ" tab up top; in a nutshell, a "Natick" refers to a crossing of relatively obscure proper nouns at an unguessable letter. I coined the term when I encountered just such a situation at the crossing of *N*. C. WYETH (whose name I now know well) and …. NATICK.
8/29/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Depression Era architectural movement / THU 8-28-14 / Part of spiral galaxy farthest from center / Kitschy quality / Carriage puller in rural dialect / Boutros-Ghali's successor as UN chief / Adolf Hitler according to 1983 hoax / 1920s-30s Ford outpu
Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOWN / WARD (21D: With 40-Down, how rain falls … or a literal description of the answers to the four themed clues) — four theme answers all run DOWN and all are definitions of WARD:

Theme answers:
  • PATIENT AREA (3D: 21-/40-Down to a doctor)
  • BEAVER'S DAD (10D: 21-/40-Down on 1950s-'60s TV)
  • PRISON WING (28D: 21-/40-Down to a penologist)
  • ACTRESS SELA (24D: 21-/40-Down in Hollywood)
Word of the Day: MODERNE (38A: Depression Era architectural movement) —
Streamline Moderne, or Art Moderne, was a late type of the Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s. Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

I feel like this puzzle's heart is in the right place. Something about its playful spirit makes me want to be fond of it. It's just that there are some core problems, and then a bunch of non-core problems (mainly the fill), that make me want to say, you know, E FOR effort, but nowhere close to A MINUS. (Both the answers mentioned in that last sentence are part of the problem today—EFOR is just terrible fill, and A MINUS is so inaccurately clued that I don't know where to begin. It just is. As someone who grades, a lot, trust me, there's nothing "nearly perfect" about an A MINUS, if only because this would imply that an A is perfect, which, just, no. No no. No.). So let's take the theme. To start, DOWNWARD is one word, not two. Picky? Yes. But with no "?" or … anything to indicate you're snapping a word in half, I don't see how you can do this. So there's that. Then there's the definitions-for-answers, which I don't care for, but I recognize other people's opinions about this feature might differ, and that's fine. It's just … BEAVER'S DAD actually strikes me as quite an interesting and unexpected answer of the Definition variety, where the others do not. PATIENT AREA is a pretty weak/general definition for "WARD." Are "wing" and "WARD" synonymous now? "Wing" signifies to me a sizable architectural feature. Is that what "WARD"s are in prisons? WARDs are "sections" of hospitals, and "sections" of prisons, so making one a highly vague "AREA" and the other an oddly specific and ambitious WING just seems wildly arbitrary.

There should've been "?" or something similar somewhere in all the theme clues. I mean, imagine seeing [Down Ward in Hollywood], no "?", in your clues. Makes no sense. Never mind that having "Down" in so many clues is weird when it's half your revealer. Not sure how you'd get around that, but it feels like a design flaw. Also, [How rain falls]? This is a most bizarre clue for DOWN/WARD. Of all the way rain might fall … down? What *doesn't* fall down? Do other things fall up? Sideways? Man alive there's gotta be some better way to clue DOWN/WARD. [How rain falls] is only a hair's breadth better than [Opposite of UPWARD].

Fill is hurting all over. Currently having a debate online about whether BRA SALE is "green paint" or not. I have no problem with it, but it does have that "yes it's a thing but no it's not a specific enough thing to be an answer" quality. But "bra sale" googles astonishingly well, so I'm going to stand by my pro-BRA SALE instincts. But I won't stand by a lot of this other stuff: STR ARB ARIB ESS (when you already have both ACTRESS and EGRESS in your grid) NO TASTE (?) IN A TRAP DE ORO ITT GES GIS + two RE-words etc. With very little strong fill to offset it. (Note: I liked OFFSETS fine) OUTER ARM is easily the most interesting answer in the grid (23A: Part of a spiral galaxy farthest from the center). Vivid, inventive, good. Rest of it kind of creaks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
8/28/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Truckers contest / WED 8-27-14 / Lightning setting / Political alliance of 1958 / Relative of cuatro informally / Do Not Call Registry org / First name of wolf in Big Bad Wolf / Bit of packaging detritus / Oil giant that's part of Tesoro Corporation
Constructor: Gareth Bain and David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -A to -ER — wacky phrases that are homophones of normal phrases if you are British (I think)

Theme answers:
  • CONGER LINES (17A: Libretto for "Eel Trovatore"?)
  • FRANK ZAPPER (24A: Microwave for hot dogs?)
  • CHARLIE THE TUNER (37A: Actor Sheen after starting a new career in piano maintenance?)
  • SALES QUOTER (50A: One who knows the earnings report by heart?)
  • TUBER PLAYER (60A: Actor in a Mr. Potato Head costume?)

Word of the Day: FTC (11A: Do Not Call Registry org.) —
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act. Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission Act was one of President Woodrow Wilson's major acts againsttrusts. Trusts and trust-busting were significant political concerns during the Progressive Era. Since its inception, the FTC has enforced the provisions of the Clayton Act, a key antitrust statute, as well as the provisions of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. Over time, the FTC has been delegated the enforcement of additional business regulation statutes and has promulgated a number of regulations (codified in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations). (wikipedia)
• • •

Cornball puns really aren't my thing. The clues on the first couple are pretty funny, but the "humor" here kind of went over, or beside, or in some relation to my head other than the intended one. Plus QUOTER's not really a word. I mean, it is, but it isn't, so that answer really clunks. Also, I did not like the last themer, TUBER PLAYER, at all, because of its inclusion of a -ER word that did *not* conform to the theme … unless the guy on "tuba" is in fact a "playa," in which case, good for him. Seems like this theme might have been as funny, if not funnier, in reverse: -ERs to -As. [Like someone who refuses to root for the Lightning under any conditions?] => TAMPA RESISTANT. Huh? Huh? Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe that's been done. But this didn't amuse me enough to make the mostly uninteresting trip through the rest of the puzzle seem worth it. Fill was overly common and somewhat tiresome to work through, though the long Downs (FOAM PEANUT + WHAT A LAUGH) are pretty charming (11D: Bit of packaging detritus + 29D: "That is SO stupid!").

Puzzle played hard, mostly because of some tough cluing on some short and relatively arcane stuff like ARCO (From *that* clue? No way. I had ESSO at first) (1D: Oil giant that's part of the Tesoro Corporation), and ZEKE (??) (26D: First name of the wolf in Disney's "The Big Bad Wolf") and all the 3-letter answers in the NE. I know the peanuts in question only as PACKING PEANUTS, so without FOAM up there, those short answers were in danger of not coming at all (especially as I didn't know the FTC answer, and can't remember ever seeing that abbr. in a puzzle, though I must've). In the end, there's just too much SETI ERST ERIN UAR TSAR ACHOO MOR LIU UKE EEGS EEO and not enough fun stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
8/27/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Guitarist Kottke / TUE 8-26-14 / Traveler on silk road / 50th state's state bird / Department store founder James Cash / Tuna type on menus
Constructor: Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: MPS (56D: AWOL chasers … or a hint to the answers to the six italicized clues) —all theme answers are two-word phrases where the first word starts with "M" and the second word starts with "P"

Theme answers:
  • MAKE PEACE (5D: Sign a treaty, say)
  • MENLO PARK (56A: Edison lab site)
Word of the Day: MILK PUNCH —
Milk punch is a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage. It consists of milk, brandy (bourbon), sugar, and vanilla extract. It is served cold, and usually hasnutmeg sprinkled on top. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't much understand the point of a puzzle like this. Unless the theme answers really bring something new and interesting to the table, then you just have a perfunctory exercise on your hands. This theme type can be done a million and one ways—just pick your initials. DAS? TAS? MDS? RNS? Why limit yourself to people? LPS, CDS, MGS, DTS, all await your entheming. This puzzle is totally serviceable, but completely unimaginative—the kind of thing I'd expect to find in many other venues, where no one expects much beyond a 5-to-10-minute diversion, but not the kind of thing I expect in the (still repeatedly alleged) Gold Standard of crosswords. There's not much to fault here, but not much to praise, either. It's just … here. It does have MISS PIGGY, I'll give it that. And it did teach me that there is such a thing as MILK PUNCH—googles at about 1/10 the strength of "eggnog," but sure, "relatives," why not? I learned a new term. And hey, the NYT says there's a MILK PUNCH "revival" afoot. So maybe you'll want to get in on that.

The only difficulty in this puzzle came at MILK PUNCH, specifically at the part where that answer leads up into the north part of the grid via BERTHS (8D: Playoff spots). Didn't know the drink, and then couldn't make sense of the playoffs clue at first, and so transitioning from one part of the grid into the other … didn't go smoothly. But I just rebooted in the north with DAM and ERA and everything was on track again. Zero hiccups. Oh, I wrote in STEAMY for SULTRY (21D: Torrid). That probably cost me some time. And I needed a few passes at AFRESH before I saw it (36D: Over again). But really, these are all terribly minor snags. Mainly this puzzle came, and this puzzle went.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
8/26/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Muzzle-loading firearm / MON 8-25-14 / Lipton alternative / Rice-shaped pasta / Second-rate prizefighter / Big pollinators / All-American Soap Box Derby city
Constructor: Greg Johnson

Relative difficulty: Medium (for me … seems to be leaning harder-than-normal for others)

THEME: first mistake — first part of compound word can also mean "error" (wait, can "bumble" mean "error" (n.)? … yes. Not common, usually a verb, but yes. Maybe they're all verbs, but "bobble" is transitive, unlike the others, so … I dunno.

Theme answers:
  • BLUNDERBUSS (20A: Muzzle-loading firearm)
  • BUMBLEBEES (11D: Big pollinators)
  • STUMBLEBUM (29D: Second-rate prizefighter)
  • BOBBLE-HEADS (51A: Promotional ballpark giveaways)
Word of the Day: TETLEY (25A: Lipton alternative) —
Tetley is a British beverage manufacturer, and the world's second largest manufacturer and distributor of tea. Tetley's manufacturing and distribution business is spread across 40 countries and sells over 60 branded tea bags. It is the largest tea company in the United Kingdom and Canada and the second largest in the United States by volume. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Global Beverages (formerly Tata Tea). (wikipedia)
• • •
Thought for sure I'd end up with a well-above-average time as I stumbled all over this grid, but then I finished and the clock said 2:57. That's normal for a Monday. So … maybe I just did the fast parts Real fast, because there were a number of parts where I got stuck (Monday-stuck, but still). Something about the weird "it" in 4D: Had it in mind made me refuse to pull the trigger on the full MEANT TO (I had MEANT …). Then I couldn't come up with TRAYS based on that clue (24A: Surgical instruments). Had the BLU- in BLUNDERBUSS and still needed many crosses because I thought there was some firearm I'd never heard of that started BLUE-. BLUE- something, I thought. Couldn't come up with the tea company right away, despite having the T-. Couldn't come up with the GAME part of GAME TABLE because … well, come on. That's some generic b.s. right there. What Kind Of Game!? I was lucky enough to see that [Self-confidence] led to APLOMB very quickly (even though I don't think I knew they were synonymous … I think I thought APLOMB and ALACRITY were synonyms …). I also knew Lady Gaga played the PIANO. So I made up some time on the back end, but still felt slow. Checked the times at the NYT site and they are ridiculously high. Like, I beat my normal time cohort by about a minute. On a Monday, that's an eternity.

As for the theme, it feels pretty wobbly to me. Or arbitrary … something doesn't quite gel. I see there is a kind of internal logic (words that mean "error" inside words that have nothing to do with "error"), but there seems to be some desire to unite the answers based on sound, specifically "B"s. They all start with "B"s … except one. They all have "-BLE" as their second syllable … except one. Their third syllables all start with "B" … except one. So the theme doesn't really come together that well. In another, alternative-universe version of this puzzle, there are SLIPCASES and GOOFBALLS and BONERPILLS.

In unrelated news, I saw this today, and found it quite compelling. You keep thinking it's going to retreat into cute, quirky Irish comedy, because it is very funny in places, but then … uh, no.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/25/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Figure skater Mao / SUN 8-24-14 / Connie's husband in Godfather / Boccaccio wrote biography of him / Cantor German mathematician who invented set theory / Joseph Anton memoir autobiographer / Lane acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure
    Constructor: Patrick Berry

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "Second Shift" — second and third letters in first words of common phrases swap places. Wackiness ensues.

    Theme answers:
    • BLOT ACTION RIFLE (23A: Paintball gun?)
    • LEI DETECTOR (28A: Device that can tell if someone's recently vacationed in Hawaii?)
    • SLIVER MINE (33A: Narrow shaft in a mountain?)
    • BRA OF CHOCOLATE (44A: Item from the Victoria's Sweetness catalog?)
    • DIARY MAID (57A: Anne Frank, e.g.?)
    • ERA OF CORN (73A: "Hee Haw" heyday, say?)
    • SATINLESS STEEL (89A: Novelist Danielle without her glossy dress?)
    • CLOD CEREAL (95A: Honey Bunches of Oafs, e.g.?)
    • CALM CHOWDER (101A: Soup after it's been taken off the burner?)
    • CROONER'S INQUEST (113A: What might determine if the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie is truly amore?)

    Word of the Day: HARRIET Lane (117A: ___ Lane, acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure) —
    Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston (May 9, 1830 – July 3, 1903), acted as First Lady of the United Statesduring the presidency of her uncle, lifelong bachelor James Buchanan, from 1857 to 1861. Among the handful of women who have served as first lady while not being married to the president, she is by far the best known. (Most of the other women were relatives of widowed presidents.) // The capital welcomed its new "Democratic Queen" to the White House in 1857. Harriet was a popular hostess during the four years of the Buchanan presidency. Women copied her hair and clothing styles (especially when she lowered the neckline on her inaugural gown by 2.5 inches), parents named their daughters for her, and a popular song ("Listen to the Mockingbird") was dedicated to her. While in the White House, she used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans in reservations. She also made a point of inviting artists and musicians to White House functions. For both her popularity and her advocacy work, she has been described as the first of the modern first ladies, and her popularity at the time is compared to that of Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s. The presidential yacht was named for her—the first of several ships to be named for her, one of which is still in service today. // From her teenage years, the popular Miss Lane flirted happily with numerous men, calling them "pleasant but dreadfully troublesome". Buchanan often warned her against "rushing precipitately into matrimonial connections", and she waited until she was almost 36 to marry. She chose, with her uncle's approval, Henry Elliott Johnston, a Baltimore banker. Within the next 18 years she lost her uncle, both her young sons, and her husband. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Well you're not going to find a theme with a simpler conceit than this. Are you? That isn't a dare, by the way. Anyway, just the tiniest of adjustments (or "shifts," if you must), and the original answer goes all Transformers (™) on you. This is a dangerous game. if you are going to enter the ring with something this lo-fi, and something that relies on what the Ancients called "humor," then your game better be tight. While this effort didn't wow me, it batted about .500 in the Wacky Humor department, which is a higher average than virtually any other wackiness-depenendent puzzle is likely to see. Kind of a tepid opening, but once we hit BRA OF CHOCOLATE I was like "Now we're talking …" DIARY MAID was a bit jarring, as I'm not used to seeing Anne Frank used for whimsy, but ERA OF CORN was dead-on, as was CLOD CEREAL and CROONER'S INQUEST. The clues are particularly nice. Again, the rule with Wacky is go big or go home. I love the invented products in today's clues. I'm telling you right now that Victoria's Sweetness would do huge (Huge) business. How does that not exist already? A little adjacent candy shop where you can buy the perfect complement to Gift of Underwear? Somewhere there is an EXEC going "oh hell yes." And then there's Honey Bunches of Oafs, a perfect vintage Mad Magazine-type spoof name. True, this puzzle is not a jaw-dropper, but it's entertaining, and the fill (as always w/ Mr. Berry) is air tight. Could've been a bit more colorful, perhaps, but overall this was somewhat north of Satisfying.

    Puzzle seemed to be of roughly uniform difficulty throughout, except for the NW, which seriously, if somewhat briefly, threatened to remain a wee white hole. Thankfully I had the LEID in the theme answer, and from that was able to infer LEI DETECTOR, because before that, yeesh. First pass at all the Acrosses and Downs yielded squat, plus I had a 1/4 dozen flat-out wrong answers. OILS for TALC (29D: Masseur's supply); BASS for ALTO (17D: ___ clef); OLD for SAW (32A: Dated). Couldn't remember where Ovid was from. "Virgil's from Mantua, and Ovid's from … from … come on, 20+-year-old Latin education, where are you!?" Turns out clue didn't care where he was from; just wanted EXILE. In the end, LEI DETECTOR settled things. But it was a harrowing 30 seconds or so.

    It was a nicely literary puzzle today, with RUSHDIE and DEFOE really classing up the joint. And of course Danielle Steel. Didn't mean to overlook her. There were several names I did not know, but they ended up being names I had at least seen before—names that were recognizable as names one might have, as opposed to some dumb name like EDEL. I mean I know a GEORG Solti (98D: ___ Cantor, German mathematician who invented set theory) and a HARRIET Tubman (117A: ___ Lane, acting first lady during Buchanan's tenure) and a Carne ASADA (83A: Figure skater Mao), so even though I didn't know any of those names based on their clues, it was just a matter of a few crosses before I set each of them in place.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Casio game / SAT 8-23-14 / Refusal from boy lass / Arm from Mideast lad / Margarie might be described thus / Covered with slug mud / Mesa prerequisite / Sci-fii character remembered for her large bus / Part of euro
    Constructor: Timothy Polin

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


    Word of the Day: BACCARAT (3D: Casio game) (so … [Casino game])—
    Baccarat (/ˈbækərɑː/French: [bakaʁa]) is a card game played at casinos. There are three popular variants of the game: punto banco (or "North American baccarat"), baccarat chemin de fer (or "chemmy"), and baccarat banque(or "à deux tableaux"). Punto banco is strictly a game of chance, with no skill or strategy involved; each player's moves are forced by the cards the player is dealt. In baccarat chemin de fer and baccarat banque, by contrast, both players can make choices, which allows skill to play a part. Despite this, the winning odds are in favour of the bank, with a house edge no lower than around 1 percent. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    A slog, but not a hard slog, just … like walking through mud. You know you can do it, it's clear you'll make it to your destination, but the whole process is just somewhat slow and possibly unpleasant. The whole concept here is so arbitrary that I just didn't get it. I mean, I guess there are some cute N-less clues, misdirecting you now and again, but the thing is, once you grok the theme, they aren't cute—I'm no longer seeing their surface; I'm just scanning for a place to drop the "n." So maybe I was supposed to laugh at something like [Refusal from a boy lass], but that didn't happen. I guess the main variable here is "how long did it take you to figure out the theme?" Time to discovery is going to vary Wildly, I'm guessing. But once you do pick it up, you can (surprisingly) pretty much immediately fill in the "theme" answers (directions! who doesn't love those! I mean, me, but who else!?). The instructions are astonishingly literal. There is not twist, turn, or punchline (that I can see). You just go through the motions until you are done. Grid is decent but unremarkable. I feel slightly ripped off—this should've been a Thursday. I want my hard themeless Saturday back.

    I could tell very early on something was off—as I'm sure was the case with virtually everyone. None of the clues make sense without the "n"s, after all. But [Hardly ice outside] tipped me off that there'd be letters missing in the clues (though when and where, I didn't know). And then … [Kat's "I"] … I didn't know what to do with "Kat," but figured ICH had to be right, or might be right. Then I "confirmed" it with MANIA for 1A: Rage. But then I also, off the "C" in ICH, managed to get PEACE for 14A: Quiet parter?. Then I began to see the "n"-ness of it all, and started fixing and adding answers accordingly. NE probably gave me the most trouble, but none of it was very hard after I understood the theme. Slower than normal, but only because of the added step of having to supply the damned "n" in every clue.

    • 20A: Arc's target, maybe (XTC) — Even when I knew that I was dealing with a "Narc," this was hard to get, as I had the "X" but didn't know the drug Ecstasy, or "X," was spelled that way. To me, XTC is a band. A great band.
    • 11D: Margarie might be described thus (ERSATZ) — this was the troublemaker in the NE—I had the terminal "Z" but could Not think of a word describing margarine that fit the bill. Also, I don't think that is how the name "Margery" is spelled. I see from googling that the name (as spelled) exists, but yuck.
    • 33D: Doe, e.g. (POET) — I liked this one. Simple, elegant, massive change in apparent meaning. (The clue should be [Donne, e.g.], of course) 
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld / Mayor of Simpleto
    8/23/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    1963 Pulitzer winner Leon / 8-22-14 / Brand of bait pellets / Juan's sweetheart / Dos little words / Member of great quintet / So-called Helen of West Indies / Raise crops on Plains maybe / Literally fire bowl / Killing star Mireille
    Constructor: Sam Ezersky

    Relative difficulty: Medium (maybe slightly tougher)

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: DRY FARM (45D: Raise crops on the Plains, maybe) —
    dry farming
    A type of farming practiced in arid areas without irrigation by planting drought-resistant crops and maintaining afine surface tilth or mulch that protects the natural moisture of the soil from evaporation.
    • • •
    Decent effort here. Gave me a little more trouble than a Friday usually does, almost entirely because of the SE corner. Is it YANK ON or YANK AT, which White House nickname, which Mideast president, what is DRY FARM, etc.? Nothing in the NW corner gave me much trouble, and virtually everything in the SE did—so much so that when I was done, I had an error, and only after I'd methodically checked every answer (and I mean Every answer: all the Acrosses and all the Downs) did I finally arrive at PAS … which is the French word for "not," but NOT the Spanish word for "peace"; that would be PAZ (63D: Guerra's opposite). I never did like EZER in my grid (like EDEL, as well as EDER (not pictured), it's pernicious name-crosswordese), and while I like him slightly better in his full-name form (67A: Mideast president who wrote "The Battle for Peace," 1981), I apparently can't spell his name. Went with WEISMAN. But no. I also didn't know "RAGA rock" was a  thing, got stymied by the tough/good clue on PART I (53D: Epic start), and want to punch LA-Z in the face with all my might (61D: ___-Boy). Until an L.A. sports team called the Zippers comes along, and they are depicted "on the scoreboard" as LAZ, I never want to see that "answer" again. Thank you.

    What is a BBQ SANDWICH? I'll admit I don't eat much meat, but I assumed that, with BBQ, the meat … was named … somehow. "Want a BBQ SANDWICH?" "Sure. [takes bite]." "You like it?" "Mffyeah … shsgood … [chew chew]." "It's rat." "[spit take]!" Thus concludes my mystery-meat BBQ SANDWICH skit.

    SE corner aside, this puzzle was full of things I'm quite familiar with, for better or worse. I knew FRANK GEHRY—I've been to the very distinctive, lovely hall mentioned in the clue (30A: Walt Disney Concert Hall designer). I got IBN and TE AMO and MPEG and INO and DCON and LIRR and LYE and ENOS and 3/4 of EDEL (22D: 1963 Pulitzer winner Leon) so easily that I kind of wanted to high-five myself a few times, mid-solve. Except for GEHRY and possibly DEEP THROAT (47A: "All the President's Men" figure) and eventually BLISTER PACK (60A: Pill holder), there wasn't a lot that excited me. But overall, this is fairly solid work.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/22/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Intermediate in law / THU 8-21-14 / Cryptozoological beast / bag of shells Ralph Kramden malapropism / 1948 Literature Nobelist
    Constructor: Jules P. Markey

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: POST OFFICE BOXES (39A: Mail conveniences … or a hint to eight squares in this puzzle) — eight PO boxes, one at the beginning of each word in four two-word theme phrases:

    Theme answers:
    Word of the Day: MESNE (47A: Intermediate, in law) —
    1. (Law) intermediate or intervening: used esp of any assignment of property before the last: a mesneassignment.
    2. (Law) mesne profits rents or profits accruing during the rightful owner's exclusion from his land
    [C15: from legal French meien in the middle, mean³]
    • • •

    Very easy, as rebus puzzles go. Once you grok the concept, you can sail through this thing pretty easily. There is a certain elegance to the execution here, as the "PO" boxes follow a pattern. More often (I think … I may be making this up, but I feel like it's more often) rebus boxes are more haphazardly arranged in the grid, balanced in terms of overall dispersal, but not perfectly regular and predictable, as they are today. As a solver, I tend to like the unpredictable arrangement better, but there' something to be said for tying your one little letter pattern ("PO") tightly to the longer "theme" answers. I can't decide  today if the predictable positioning makes the puzzle more or less dull. There's a certain repetitiveness that sets in once you figure out the rebus pattern you're searching for. Once you realize you're just hunting "PO"s … yeah. Then that's what you're doing. At least the four longer answers give you some kind of additional structural integrity. You're not just playing "find the PO"—you actually get results at the end where "PO" matters. Still, there was something workmanlike about this. Maybe it's that the puzzle was just too easy, or the answers weren't interesting or the clues clever enough. There just wasn't any "ooh" moment.

    Biggest problem here was probably the fill, which is below average in too many places. I can take an ITER on the chin now and then, but when you give me an ITER / MESNE combo, I'm gonna get a little PO'd (20A: Roman road + 47A: Intermediate, in law). I think AMERE is one of the worst partials (5 letters) I've ever seen (7D: "___ bag of shells" (Ralph Kramden malapropism)). ALAW is a pretty strong contender in the 4-letter category (14A: Is ___ unto oneself). Actually, now that I really look at it, the rest of the grid is solid enough—it's just dull. SOPORIFIC (ironically, the most exciting answer in the grid, along with MAKE A FIST) (8D: Sleep-inducing + 3D: Prepare to give blood). The whole thing was a walk around the block—nice, but insufficient exercise, and I'll have forgotten about it 15 minutes after it's done.

    I don't think POISON POWDER is a thing. Or, rather, I know that it *is* a thing, as I googled it. But if the first (entire) page of results is any indication, it's exclusively a Pokémon thing. According to, "Poison Powder causes the target to become poisoned. Poisoned Pokémon lose 1/8 of their maximum HP each turn." Whatever that means.

    I really wish this theme had been tied to the police. I mean, POPO describes this theme a helluva lot better than POST OFFICE BOXES does. Hmm, there appears to be a Mr. Popo in the Dragon Ball universe. Before I explain what Dragon Ball is and how it does and does not relate to Pokémon, I'm just gonna sign off.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/21/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Start to grunt / WED 8-20-14 / Runoff conduit / Game in which pieces can be forked / Name that's Old Norse for young man / Wasabi bar snack / Autograph seeker's encl / Start of magic incantation
    Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: The FREE "Wheel of Fortune" letters (55D: Like the initial letters of the answers to the six starred clues, on "Wheel of Fortune") — initial letters of the six starred clues are a stand-alone R, S, T, L, N, and E, respectively

    Theme answers:
    • R RATED MOVIE (17A: *Fare for those 17 and up)
    • S STAR (22A: *Astronomical red giant)
    • T ROWE PRICE (28A: *"Invest With Confidence" firm)
    • L FRANK BAUM (48A: *Best-selling novelist who wrote the children's poetry volume "Father Goose")
    • N*SYNC (54A: *"It's Gonna Be Me" group)
    • E STREET BAND (60A: *The Boss's backup musicians)
    Word of the Day: Hedy LAMARR (6D: Hedy of "Ecstasy") —
    Hedy Lamarr (/ˈhɛdi/; 9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000)[1] was an Austrian-born American actress and inventor.[2]
    After an early film career in Germany, Lamarr moved to Hollywood at the initiation of MGM head, Louis B. Mayer, where she soon became a star during MGM's "Golden Age." Max Reinhardt, who directed her in Berlin, called her the "most beautiful woman in Europe," having "strikingly dark exotic looks", a sentiment widely shared by her audiences and critics. She garnered a degree of fame and notoriety after starring in the Czech director Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy, a 1933 film which featured closeups of her acting during orgasm in one scene, as well as full frontal nude shots of her in another scene.
    Lamarr was also notable as co-inventor, with composer George Antheil, of an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, which paved the way for today's wireless communications and which, upon its invention in 1941, was deemed so vital to national defense that government officials would not allow publication of its details.[9] At the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Sixth Pioneer Awards in 1997, she and George Antheil were honoured with special awards for their "trail-blazing development of a technology that has become a key component of wireless data systems." (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I've seen variations on the initial-letter thing before, but not this variation. It's interesting, though none of the resulting themers are particularly remarkable, and two of them are so common and crosswordy (SSTAR, NSYNC) that they either disappear into the grid or outright detract from the theme, depending on how generous you're feeling. You have six themers, but it feels like four because of those two short dull answers. The upside of those short, dull answers is that the grid is less crowded with theme, which allows for a pretty interesting overall grid. The shorter fill isn't great, but the abundance of solid longer stuff, esp. in the Downs, is impressive. RHAPSODY, TEA KETTLE, GREW WEARY, CLASS ACT—all wonderful. The clue on the revealer, though—it seems incomplete. I mean, there is one, specific context in which RSTLNE are free: at the end, during the showcase or whatever it's called. Right? I mean, they don't just give you those letters during ordinary turns, do they? So the clue there should be more specific. Much more. But it's not like the answer was hard to figure out, so no harm done.

    I crushed this puzzle—half minute faster than yesterday's, and not a Wednesday record, but well below my average time. But my experience appears to be slightly anomalous today (based on posted times), so I've adjusted the difficulty rating accordingly. I was lucky enough to catch the letter thing right away—which brings me to another criticism of the theme execution. For elegance's sake, I wouldn't have any answers *besides* the themers that had single letters within them. Acronyms and initialisms are fine, but HARD G? … I'd've tried desperately to ditch that if I could've (1A: Start to grunt?). I got it immediately (not always the case with those SOFT / HARD letter answers), which may have been the key to my starting quickly. Then I was confronted with an initial RR- in the first themer, which made that easy to uncover as well. Once I got T. ROWE PRICE, the theme concept was obvious, and things got even easier from there. I had a few hiccups. STARES for GLARES, ESTOS for ESTAS, some flopping around in the TMS / NOMEN / ESSES section … but overall, piece of cake. Only thing that I didn't know, in the end, was what it means for a piece to be "forked" in CHESS. But I don't play, so that's not surprising. Here's a definition of Fork (Chess) for you, from wikipedia:

    In chess, a fork is a tactic whereby a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent's pieces. The defender often finds it difficult to counter two or more threats in a single move. The attacking piece is called the forking piece; the pieces attacked are said to be forked.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/20/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Wyoming senator Mike / TUE 8-19-14 / Deals buyable via tap on app / Goldsman Oscar winning screenwriter Beautiful Mind / Charge of 1% against occupy Wall Street
    Constructor: Sam Buchbinder

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

    THEME: YELLOW BRICK ROAD (58A: Path taken by 37-Across to find the ends of 17-, 26- and 44-Across in [circled letters])— path taken by DOROTHY (37A: 23-Down of a classic L. Frank Baum novel) to find a BRAIN, COURAGE and a HEART (for characters not available in this puzzle) in OZ.

    Theme answers:
    • ARTIFICIAL BRAIN (17A: IBM's Watson, essentially)
    • GET UP THE COURAGE (26A: Embolden oneself)
    • NEAR TO ONE'S HEART (44A: Dear)
    Word of the Day: AKIVA Goldman (30D: ___ Goldsman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "A Beautiful Mind") —
    Akiva J. Goldsman (born July 7, 1962) from Manhattan, New York is an American film and television writer, director, and producer.
    He received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, which also won the Oscar for Best Picture.
    Goldsman has been involved specifically with Hollywood films. His filmography also includes the films Batman Forever and its sequel Batman & RobinI Am Legend and Cinderella Man and numerous rewrites both credited and uncredited. In 2006 Goldsman re-teamed with A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard for a high profile project, adapting Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code for Howard's much-anticipated film version, receiving mixed reviews for his work. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Everyone loves "The Wizard of Oz," so building a theme around it seems like a good idea. And probably could be. I didn't think this idea worked very well, though. Even more than yesterday's, today's theme just isn't tight, clean, crisp. Dorothy wanted to go home … right? Am I remembering that right? To say that DOROTHY went to OZ to find a brain, courage, and a heart is to abbreviate the plot of the story in an absurd way. She wants to find those things *only* because of the three characters she meets on the way to OZ. In fact, when she sets out, those items are Not on her mind at all. So without the Scarecrow and Tin Man and Bert LAHR, this theme feels hollow, incomplete, weird. Nevermind that IBM's Watson seems like it should be "artificial" intelligence (a real phrase) instead of ARTIFICIAL BRAIN (a phrase I've never heard) and that all ONE'S make me a little queasy. The DOROTHY / HEROINE bit in the middle is kind of a nifty trick. I wonder if HEROINE wasn't one of those dumb-luck discoveries that constructors sometimes stumble into—a bonus theme-related answer you realize belatedly that you can build around existing themers.

    I'm realizing now that I would've liked ARTIFICIAL HEART a lot better …

    The fill is a mixed bag. The bottom half of the grid is pretty nice. There's a barrage of fine fill down there, with HECKLE and RUBLES and NAKED EYE and CLASSISM and KLUTZY. With the exception of BIALIK (15A: Actress Mayim of "The Big Bang Theory") and GROUPONS (16A: Deals buyable via a tap on an app), the middle-to-top part feels a bit more gunked up, and I will never understand why someone chooses AKIVA in that position. Why are you picking an obscure proper noun there? At first I thought there might be some pangram aspiration—that shoehorned "Q" seemed like strong evidence, as did the double-proper-noun (and also shoehorned) "Z" at ENZI / ZAC. With those bits already in play, the AKIVA EXERT area looked like more evidence that the grid was being tortured for pangrammic reasons. (Remember, the problem isn't the pangram per se, it's what chasing one makes you do to the grid) *But* … a. the letters in AKIVA are all found elsewhere in the grid and b. this puzzle isn't a pangram after all. No "J." Now I don't know if that's the editor's doing or the constructor's or what. But I almost wish there was a "J," because at least then I'd *understand* what AKIVA's doing here. AKIVA is a name you might reasonably consider for a Friday or Saturday, if it helps you hold some very impressive section of the puzzle in place. Here, it just doesn't belong. That section's just too easy to rebuild with more familiar words / names.

    Clue on CLASSISM feels off (66A: Charge of the 1% against Occupy Wall Street). "Class warfare," sure. But I've never heard a rich person (on camera or in person) accuse Occupy of CLASSISM. Not saying it has never happened. Just saying it's not common enough or representative enough to warrant the clue. The Occupy/1% clash deals with broad, serious issues of systemic economic inequality, not with whether someone eats quinoa or drives a pick-up.

    Lastly, DAT'S what I'm talkin' about!?!?! (37D).  No. DAT is what *you*'re talking about, and only if you are speaking Brooklynese. *I* say "That's what I'm talkin' about." I really do. I say it a lot, because I quote "Dazed & Confused" a lot. I never — ever — say DAT'S. Can't say strongly enough how wrong this clue feels.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/19/2014 11:51:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    English Channel port town / MON 8-18-14 / Cable TV's Heartland formerly / Suffix with Oktober Ozz / Avian Froot Loops mascot / War-torn part of Russia / Trash hauling boat
    Constructor: Ian and Katie Livengood

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

    THEME: A FISH OUT OF WATER (40A: Misfit … or what you get after the sequence described by the ends of 17-, 21-, 57- and 63-Across) — ends of the theme answers create the sequence BAIT, CAST, BITE and REEL

    Theme answers:
    • OSCAR BAIT (17A: Film designed to attract Academy Awards consideration)
    • COLORCAST (21A: Like most TV shows starting in the 1960s)
    • UNDERBITE (57A: Problem with teeth alignment)
    • MOVIE REEL (63A: Projection room item)
    Word of the Day: POOLE (16A: English Channel port town) —
    Poole Listeni/pl/ is a large coastal town and seaport in the county of Dorset, on the south coast of England. The town is 33 kilometres (21 mi) east of Dorchester, and Bournemouth adjoins Poole to the east. The local council is Poole Borough Council and was made a unitary authority in 1997, gaining administrative independence from Dorset County Council. The town had a population of 154,718 according to the 2011 census, making it the second largest settlement in Dorset. Together with Bournemouth and Christchurch, the town forms the South East Dorset conurbation with a total population of over 400,000. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Wow. It's rare I don't enjoy an Ian Livengood puzzle, but this one rubbed me somewhat the wrong way. In a puzzle like this (Ends-of-Answers puzzles), the rationale needs to be good and the sequence (if, like today there is one) tight. But there is no sequence here. Or, rather, there is no parallel construction here, so it's just four words associated with events that happen in a sequence. You BAIT the hook, you CAST the line, you … see, here's the problem: you don't BITE anything. Either you *get* a BITE, which makes it a noun, or the *fish* BITEs, which disrupts the logic of the sequence, since up to that point, *you* (the fisher person) were doing things, not the fish. The fishy words could all be nouns, but that wouldn't make sense as a sequence—REEL really needs to be a verb for the FISH OUT OF WATER thing to work. So I appreciate that there's a general fishiness to all the endings, the "sequence described" just isn't one. That clue lies.

    Then there's COACHES UP. What? I would say 75% of the resistance in this puzzle came from my trying to figure out What In The Hell was happening with that clue. It googles not that well, *and* where it does google decently is the realm of *sports*. This vague [Instructs] clue hardly works. If COACHES = [Instructs] (And It Does), how do you "informally" get an extra word (i.e. UP). I guess "wife" can, informally, be "old lady," which is longer, so "informal" doesn't *have* to mean "shorter," but adding UP to a phrase to make it mean The Same Thing … baffling. I see that it has some sports currency, but feels terribly makeshift. I love slang, and I love sports slang, but this … I don't love. It feels very much like an answer you make up when you're staring down a Down that runs through three themers, i.e. when you're staring down --AC---U-. I guess REACHES UP was deemed too pedestrian and COACHES UP seemed new and edgy? I don't know. Maybe I just have personal antipathy to it as a dumb, redundant phrase. Anyway, bad taste in my mouth.

    • 29A: Cable TV's Heartland, formerly (TNN) — the other answer that added difficulty to this puzzle. Is "Heartland" the name of an actual cable channel??? Never heard of it. I had no idea if it was a slogan or metaphor or a show or what.
    • 14D: Chemical formula for sodium hydroxide (NAOH) — More dislikes—chemical formulae. I'll grant you NACL, but after that, booooo. NAOH is a typo of NOAH, at best.
    • 23A: War-torn part of Russia (CHECHNYA) — depressing as that name is, it's the best thing in the grid by far. Feels fresh, interesting, timely(ish), relevant. I also like BLACK EYE and POLICE VAN, and especially like that they cross. 
    I have to go process "Boyhood," which I saw earlier this evening (short review: it's great). Also have to  continue calming down after coming home and finding back door wide open and one dog missing. Daughter seems to have forgotten an important element of leaving the house, i.e. shutting all the doors. Anyway, I found the dog relatively easily. Half-circled the block, doubled back to stay close to home (where I figured she might gravitate), and there she was, on the sidewalk halfway down the block and across the street. I called her, and she looked at me like "who the hell is talking to me?" Then she realized who I was and came Sprinting toward me to tell me all about her neighborhood exploration shenanigans. She's had a full weekend. Yesterday she picked up a woodchuck and swung it like she was competing in the hammer throw. Again, traumatic for me, but pure joy for her. I'm just glad that at 12 years old, she's still so full of life. And glad she didn't run in front of a car. She's a perfectly trained, obedient dog, but leave her outside unattended, and it's Hop The Fence To Adventureland. So, yeah, gonna drink a little to settle my nerves, and toast her continued pulse. Good night.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/18/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Popular six-second clips since 2013 / SUN 8-17-14 / Title film locale in Springwood, Oh / Singer with 2009 hit Tik Tok / Accoutrement popularized by a Seinfeld episode / Mortal queen of Thebes who was transfigured into goddess / R&B sing with 2004 #1
    Constructor: Caleb Madison

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (for reasons I don't understand, as the theme was easy enough to pick up …)

    THEME: "Sittin' Solve"— theme answers are "___ AND ___" phrases that have been converted to "___IN' ___" phrases by way of Texan homophony. Yes, Virginia, there is wackiness.

    Theme answers:
    • WRITIN' WRONG (20A: Spellin' things incorrectly?)
    • JACKIN' COKE (29A: Stealin' a hard drug?)
    • ROCKIN' ROLL (32A: Pushin' some bread back and forth?)
    • BARRIN' GRILL (66A: Not allowin' anyone to cook burgers and franks?)
    • TIMIN' AGAIN (104A: Recheckin' with a stopwatch?)
    • SHOWIN' TELL (106A: Demonstratin' how to shoot an apple off someone's head?)
    • CUTTIN' PASTE (116A: Usin' less stickum?)
    • HITTIN' MISS (2D: Givin' a female casino patron another card?)
    • BUYIN' LARGE (12D: Makin' some big purchases?)
    • WILLIN' GRACE (38D: Hopin' favor is bestowed?)
    • NIPPIN' TUCK (73D: Btitin' a friend of Robin Hood?)
    • HAULIN' OATS (75D: Carryin' a load of grain?)

    Word of the Day: Clark GREGG (79D: Clark ___, "The Avengers" actor) —
    Robert Clark Gregg (born April 2, 1962) is an American actor, screenwriter and director, best known for his role as Phil Coulson in the films Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Marvel's The Avengers (2012), and in the television series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs on the ABC network. He also voices the character on the animated television series Ultimate Spider-Man. Gregg has also co-starred as Christine Campbell's ex-husband Richard in the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, which debuted in March 2006 and concluded in May 2010. He also played FBI Special Agent Mike Casper on the NBC series The West Wing and Cam, the on-and-off boyfriend of Jack (and client of Grace) on the NBC series Will & Grace. [BOOM, stealth "Will & Grace" / WILLIN' GRACE tie-in! All the points to Slytherin'!]
    • • •

    Former Shortz assistant and former co-constructor of mine Caleb Methuselah Madison has a new offering for us. He wrote me ahead of its publication, not (as I expected) to plead for a kind review, but to ask ("insist" is closer to it) that I tell everyone about his insane summer vacation experiences, about which he has created a most bizarre and mesmerizing tumblr: "If you didn't see on my various social media hubs, I spent [the summer] living in an RV in Forks, Washington with the owner and only tour guide of the last surviving "Twilight" tour company, taking pix and interview people in the town. It was surreal and crazy and what am I doing with my life." So there you go. Now I am going to segue to the puzzle via the observation that, like many of today's young people, Mr. Madison is highly attuned to the tech / pop culture / social media world (witness the tumblr account you have just witnessed) (segue!). This puzzle grid roils with such modern contrivances as The ZUNE The SNAPCHAT and The EMOJI and The VINES (actually *The* VINES are a musical group, which Caleb also probably knows—his name-dropping of CIARA and KESHA and 50 Cent lets you know he's fluent in most popular music forms right up to 2009). Throw in SASHA Fierce and whoever Clark GREGG is, and you can see that Mr. Madison is a young man of this century.

    Like Friday's puzzle, this puzzle's theme was somewhat unremarkable (from a solving standpoint) and easy to uncover. Unlike Friday's puzzle, this grid abounds in good fill. It looks like a highly segmented nightmare, scattershot through with black squares, like an English muffin or a honeycomb or some kind of horrid life-size human maze that you'd get lost in as a child. The design made me think the puzzle would be easy to cut through, and that the interesting answers would be few and far between, but I was wrong on both counts. Clues were both smart and tough, so that I *repeatedly* got stuck and had to break my preferred method of constant interlock solving (Always Work Crosses, Never Jump Around … unless ordered to by these guys) and leap into the void anew. It looks like you'd have a million different ways to get into each section of the puzzle, but in practice, if you wanna come down the left and drop into the SW, it's go through INO or go home. You can try to get around via GRAVEN, but that's a narrow aperture as well. Even coming up via V-NECKS really just takes you back to GRAVEN again. What I'm saying is that it was a funhouse of a puzzle, and I got all confused and twisted around. The experience was not entirely unpleasant.

    Some of the theme answers did, in fact, amuse me (HAULIN' OATS, for instance), and it's at least somewhat impressive that the Down theme answers run through one and sometimes two other theme answers. Yes, the preponderance of short answers in a big puzzle meant that there was some yuck along the way. I did not stand and applaud for: INO CIARA AGGRESS ELMST ELIE ELS KAN IDE EEO and some other things. But stuff like VERTICALS and MAN PURSE and SNAPCHAT and MORAY EEL kept me very much entertained. ROBOTRY! So proper. That's what Jeeves, my butler, calls it. I'm a rube who says "robotics."

    My post-vacation cold means I'm even more behind on puzzle-solving than ever, so it'll be another week, at least, before I discuss the Great Puzzles out there in the rest of puzzle world. I'm all hopped up on the start of the Premier League season today, so I'm gonna go watch highlights and drink some tea and see you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/17/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Winner of annual posedown / SAT 8-16-14 / Genre for Django Reinhardt / 1959 #1 hit for Fleetwoods / Eric Cartman's mom on South Park / Next President comedian / 2009 Grammy winner for Crack Bottle
    Constructor: Peter Broda

    Relative difficulty: Medium for me, but this will vary widely today...

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: VITUS (26A: One of saintdom's Fourteen Holy Helpers)
    Saint Vitus /sɨnt ˈvtəs/, according to Christian legend, was a Christian saint from Sicily. He died as a martyrduring the persecution of Christians by co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian in 303. Vitus is counted as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of the Roman Catholic Church.
    Saint Vitus' Day is celebrated on 15 June. In places where the Julian Calendar is used, this date coincides, in the 20th and 21st centuries, with 28 June on the Gregorian Calendar.
    In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name "Saint Vitus Dance" was given to theneurological disorder Sydenham's chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
    Vitus is considered the patron saint of actorscomediansdancers, and epileptics. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping, and is the patron saint of Bohemia. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Saw the constructor name and buckled my damn seatbelt. I know Peter Broda (and you should know him too) from his independent puzzle site, The Cross Nerd, which ceased regular production earlier this summer but seems poised to maintain irregular production (you can sign up for his Google Group and get new puzzles sent free, right to your Inbox).  I gave one of Peter's puzzles Puzzle of the Week honors back in March, and he's been on the short list many other weeks this year. I generally think of his stuff as slightly too edgy or avant-garde for the NYT, so I'm glad in this case that I was wrong. This is a fresh and colorful puzzle, one that abounds in lively longer words and phrases. He's got a great ear for modern colloquialisms, and this lends his puzzles a lot of character and charm. Sure, AHA MOMENT's been done before, but "NOT YOU TOO!" and "DID I STUTTER?" are wonderful, wish-I'd-thought-of-it phrases, and even short ordinary stuff like META (41A: Like some horror films, in modern lingo) and GUMS (28A: Windbags beat them) is jazzed up by clues that situate those words in the context of the slangy way people talk. Common turns of phrase are something an observant, artful constructor is always looking out for. They lend unexpected pop to puzzles, and are more likely to make me smile than virtually any other category of answer.  I love a deep dictionary cut like PTARMIGAN, but there's something magical about an answer rooted in the vagaries of human speech. Makes the puzzle feel alive.

    Yes, there are weak spots. SAME'S and ELSE'S are particularly insidious S-ending contractions, and MESS TENTS is just a giant safety net of 1-point letters. ENATE never excited anyone, IDI and OTERI are hoary, and RST YOO must be kidding. Still, there's just too much good for any of that smaller stuff to matter much. I don't like the choice to cross IAN and LIANE and then give both of them contemporary TV show clues (51A: "Pretty Little Liars" actor Harding / 46D: Eric Cartman's mom on "South Park"). That's the kind of thing that gets you into Natick territory real quick. But that "I" really couldn't have been any other letter, so no real harm done.

    I found this one relatively easy to start with because I knew the [Genre for Django Reinhardt] had to have JAZZ in it somewhere. I wanted GUITAR JAZZ or JAZZ GUITAR, but … no fit. So I just mentally slid JAZZ to the end of the answer and checked the crosses. Let me tell you, when you start with the Js and the Zs, especially in initial positions, those crosses come quick. Got all of them in short order (though had JOLT for JUMP at first). So despite not knowing VITUS and thinking PTARMIGAN (3D: Prey for an arctic fox) had a "T" on the end (through a bizarre conflation of TERMAGANT and CORMORANT), the NW went down easily enough. Had a little trouble with the word after DEGREE—seriously considered MINES and MINTS before the (now seemingly obvious) MILLS came into view. Had DRAKE / CHEEKIEST before eventually correcting to DR. DRE / CHEERIEST. Bottom half of the puzzle was very pliable, in general. Hardest part of puzzle for me by far was uncovering (!) MS. OLYMPIA. First letters were both solid and (to me) inscrutable. MSO-??? The only famous MS. I know is surnamed PAC-MAN. But then EPONYMS and UNSURE ended up coming pretty easily, and I eventually set MS. OLYMPIA into place to end the puzzle.

    I did not know YO HEAVE HO was a thing (2D: Cry that helps people pull together). YO HO HO, yes. HEAVE HO, yes. YO HEAVE  HO, no. But there it is.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/16/2014 4:16:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Sonatas have four of them / FRI 8-15-14 / Seed in Mexican cuisine / Wuornos Monster role / Location of William Tell legend / Lover of Orion in Greek Myth / Suffix with opal
    Constructor: Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: PANAMA CANAL — circles spell this phrase out. Circles also (like the canal) connect the CARIBBEAN SEA (20A: One end of the [circled letters], which opened on 8/15/1914) and the PACIFIC OCEAN (50A: The other end of the [circled letters])

    Word of the Day: BLEB (7D: Air bubble) —
    1. A small blister or pustule.
    2. An air bubble.
    [Probably alteration of BLOB.]
    blebby bleb'by adj.

    Read more:
    • • •

    A nice visual representation of the thing it's supposed to represent, and published on the right day. So it was fitting, and well executed. But one big drawback: the theme was *super* easy to uncover, and once you grok it, you just fill in all the relevant squares and … done! Only not done, because there's a themeless puzzle kind of superimposed on top of the whole thing. So it's a bit Frankenstein's monstery (no, spellcheck, not "monastery"), only less scary. Theme part is elegant in conception, ho-hum to solve. Themeless part is slightly below average (probably because it's Not Actually Themeless, and thus compromises had to be made with the fill that never have to be made in themlesseses (even if they sometimes are)).

    Some tough cluing in here, as well as some stuff I didn't know. In the latter category, ZAZU (still haven't even seen "The Lion King") (1A: "The Lion King" bird), and BABKA, which I wanted to be be BABA … BHABA? … BABBA? … (9A: Easter cake). NOURI might've been slightly hard for me to come up with, say, six months ago, but he's in the news, like, today. He just stepped aside for the new guy, whose name would Truly be hard, as I can't remember it (looks like it's Haider al-Abadi). Anyway, point is, NOURI was a gimme. Toughest part for me, by far, was the very far SW, where I finished the puzzle. I had everything but two squares. I had -I- for 53D: Peculiarity. This left -IRES for 53A: Sonatas have four of them and -LAPS for 60A: Gives it up, so to speak. None of this was computing. Had the wrong "Sonatas" in mind (an intentional trick, I'm imagining) and had no grasp of the idiom involved with the "it" was supposed to be giving up. You might've heard a host or emcee say, on introducing a musical act, "Give it up, for … Bread!" (actually, I think that's anachronistic, but you get the idea). "Giving it up," in that context, means clapping. But again, I couldn't see that at first. So I checked all my answers, and they all looked right, and then the Sonata/Hyundai connection kicked in, and boom TIRES bam TIC and (simultaneously) bam CLAPS. And the puzzle was solved.

    Love the clues on THE PILL (36D: Medical product with no conceivable use?) and CHESS (29A: What a check might be delivered in). I did not know HAJJI (40A: One with a once-in-a-lifetime experience?) could be spelled like that, but if HADJ can be HAJJ (which I have seen), then why not? Would've been nice if the fill weren't so rough around the edges (especially in that little northern patch, but in other peripheral places as well). But the theme gives it a nice visual element, and the tough cluing made it relatively fun to solve.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. A word about Lollapuzzoola, the greatest crossword tournament in the country, which took place just this past weekend. If, like me this year, you couldn't make it to NYC this year but really want to see what the LPZ puzzles are all about, good news: you can get them for yourself via the Play At Home option. And it's cheap! Here are all the deets, from tourney cohost Patrick Blindauer:

    Hope you're all having a great summer! I just got back from NYC where I cohosted the xword tourney known as "Lollapuzzoola 7: It Ain't Over 'til It's Over." If you missed it, don't worry: the puzzles are still available at (until August 16th), and you can still compete in the At-Home Division, if you like. For $10, you can get a PDF which includes instructions, the 6 tournament puzzles, a tiebreaker puzzle, and a 6-puzzle mini-extravaganza that I wrote especially for the occasion. The other constructors this year were Cathy Allis, Mike Nothnagel, Tony Orbach, Doug Peterson, Brian Cimmet, and Patrick Berry, so you know you're in for a real treat.

    Visit to order a copy for yourself and/or a friend, and hopefully we'll see you at Lollapuzzoola 8, which is already scheduled for 8/8 in NYC next year! 

    Puzzle on,
    8/15/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Czech reformer Jan / THU 8-14-14 / Lovable 650-pound TV character / Biblical betrayer / Commercial start for Pen / Former Ford full-sizes / Another name for Odysseus / First mass-production auto company outside the US
    Constructor: Jason Flinn

    Relative difficulty: Challenging

    THEME: UNDER/PASS (52A: One of two engineering features depicted in this puzzle) — six different answers go through an UNDER/PASS, i.e. start on one side of the grid but then get interrupted and continue on the other side of the grid:

    Theme answers:
    Additionally, two long Downs represent things an UNDER/PASS might go under:
    • ELEVATED HIGHWAY (5D: One reason for a 52-Across)
    • RAILROAD TRESTLE (7D: Another reason for a 52-Across)

    Word of the Day: HEL (15D: Daughter of Loki) —
    In Norse mythologyHel is a being who presides over a realm of the same name, where she receives a portion of the dead. Hel is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and theProse Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In addition, she is mentioned in poems recorded inHeimskringla and Egils saga that date from the 9th and 10th centuries, respectively. An episode in the Latin workGesta Danorum, written in the 12th century by Saxo Grammaticus, is generally considered to refer to Hel, and Hel may appear on various Migration Period bracteates.
    In the Poetic EddaProse Edda, and Heimskringla, Hel is referred to as a daughter of Loki, and to "go to Hel" is to die. In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, Hel is described as having been appointed by the god Odin as ruler of a realm of the same name, located in Niflheim. In the same source, her appearance is described as half black and half flesh-coloured and further as having a gloomy, downcast appearance. The Prose Edda details that Hel rules over vast mansions with many servants in her underworld realm and plays a key role in the attempted resurrection of the god Baldr.
    Scholarly theories have been proposed about Hel's potential connections to figures appearing in the 11th centuryOld English Gospel of Nicodemus and Old Norse Bartholomeus saga postola, potential Indo-European parallels toBhavaniKali, and Mahakali, and her origins. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Ambitious but faulty. A real UNDER/PASS would not divide the road (here represented by the broken words/phrases) in two—it would obscure the road from view. Lack of precision was one of several reasons this thing was Off The Charts hard for a Thursday. I don't know what the newspaper version of the puzzle looked like, but all the clues for the second parts of the split phrases were just "-" in the e-version that I solved. When I've seen this convention in the past, there is some kind of continuation from a previous or adjacent clue. Not so here. Also, big problem—the revealer was one of the clues affected by the phrase division. So I had no idea, none, for a very long time. Managed to put down everything on the east side of grid *except* those little 3-letter Downs (15D, 55D), so I had no clue how things were supposed to be pieced together. HEL??? (15D: Daughter of Loki) Ugh. I mean, super-ugh. PTA was gettable (55D: Org. concerned with pupils), but NEA could've gone there too, so I left it blank and kept flailing. Stalling, more accurately. All those (So Many) threes in the middle of the grid, too—ugsome to work through. VAL? AIR? HUS? WIT???? ASL? (as clued, "?"-wise). There was just nowhere to get traction. I forget … oh, no, now I remember. I figured out the broken phrase thing with 12A: One who gets a charge out of charging? (again, like this wasn't hard enough—damn "?" clues…). I could see SHOP- and thought "SHOPpers …" then the "-OLIC" bit across the grid called out to me. SHOPA HOLIC! After that, the puzzle sped up considerably, but man that took a lot of (often unpleasant) work.

    `Biggest obstacle to me, in coming up with the theme, was that I figured a "C" was somehow involved. You see the letter "C" there, right? Two of them, one top middle right, one bottom middle right. Because I didn't have HEL (again, ugh), I had -OLIC (so … COLIC?) and -RATE (so … CRATE?), but then there was -EBEN (no such thing as CEBEN). Down below, same issue. -ASS (so … Mama CASS?). -NOTE (so … C-NOTE?). But then, again, the outlier: -DOIT (CDOIT???? No). I sort of knew that "C" couldn't be involved (what were those reverse "C"s supposed to be, then?), but I couldn't shake the suspicion. Stupid "-" clues really had me thinking "adjacent." So I'm half-mad that I got stumped and half-mad at the fact that what stumped me was an inaccurate representation of the physical phenomenon in question (again, underpasses obscure—they don't divide). I like how CEE-LO showed up to taunt me later on (26D: Green formerly of "The Voice").

    Hard clues. CITROËN, rough (26A: First mass-production auto company outside the U.S.). OMICRON, rough (45A: Head of Olympus?). NOMAN (!!?), super-rough. Thank god most of the 7-letter Downs in the corners were pretty easy, 'cause otherwise I'd've been staring down a pretty empty grid (although Woe Unto You if you never knew / forgot about THE GAME; yikes!) (2D: Rapper whose 2006 album "Doctor's Advocate" was #1). EMO pop is not a thing. It's just not. EMO is a thing (or was). [EMO pop] is a Tuh-errible clue. Other possible confusion: RAIL for REED (35A: Epitome of thinness); ARTY for EDGY (63A: Avant-garde); AID for RID (43D: Relieve).

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/14/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Sugary punch slangily / WED 8-13-14 / Eurasian plain / Twain's New York burial place / Brat holder / Jenner of reality tv / Children's author Asquith / Caron title role of 1958
    Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: LANGUAGE BARRIER (64A: Foreigner's obstacle … or a hint to the hidden words in 17-, 29-, 37- and 49-Across) — A language appears inside each theme answer, as a kind of "barrier" between the first word and the second word in each phrase:

    Theme answers:
    • ANGER MANAGEMENT (17A: Class for the hotheaded)
    • ALL ATINGLE (29A: Covered with goose bumps)
    • SHORT HAIR (37A: Result of a buzz cut)
    • THE BREWERS (49A: Miller Park crew)
    Word of the Day: KRIS Jenner (63D: Jenner of reality TV) —
    Kristen Mary "KrisJenner (née Houghton, formerly Kardashian; born November 5, 1955) is an American television personality, business woman and author who has appeared on Keeping Up with the KardashiansKourtney and Khloé Take MiamiKhloé & LamarKourtney and Kim Take New YorkGood Morning AmericaThe Talk, America's Next Top Model and her own short-lived talk show, Kris.
    Divorced from lawyer Robert Kardashian, she has been married to Bruce Jenner since 1991. She has four children with Robert (KourtneyKimKhloé, and Robert) and two with Bruce (Kendall and Kylie Jenner). Jenner's autobiography, Kris Jenner... and All Things Kardashian, was released on November 1, 2011. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Well, after 4 different flights this spring/summer, after 14 different take-offs and landings and one trans-Pacific voyage, I finally got a cold. Thankfully, I got it on *this* end of the trip (i.e. the after part), which has not always been the case in the past. My sister likes to point to vents and say "This is where the virus gets in!" And it did. Anyway, this sucks. But one things the horrible state of the world will do is make your cold look pretty ***ing trivial, so I'm hanging in there, mostly lazing around in a half-stupor, watching movies (tonight, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly"), and reminiscing with my sister about how disturbing the lyrics to "The Piña Colada Song (Escape)" were to our 10- and 7-year-old selves. (If you've seen "Guardians of the Galaxy" with your kids, then perhaps you too have been asked questions about this song—something along the lines of "What's it's real title? It can't just be called 'The Piña Colada Song'" or "What is a 'personal ad'?"

    This puzzle was about average. I'm surprised that it wasn't filled better—junk kind of abounds. I'm used to cleaner fill from this constructor. At least I think I am. See 'summer cold,' above. SLO EPT BRIC ONCEA and on and on—really, really rough. Also, THE BREWERS is a wicked bad theme answers. Theme answers need to land solid, and while the first two do, the third teeters badly, and the fourth faceplants. Not a fan of the THE. Actually, I am a fan of The The. Just not this the (the).

    [College … I wore this song out]

    Bottom part rocks a bit harder than the top. With the exception of ROS :( the SE is quite fine, and the BANG-UP / BEYONCÉ pairing is nice as well. Now I'm going to go watch late-night comedians remember Robin Williams (and maybe Lauren Bacall, too). See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/13/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Actor Jack who was Quincy / TUE 8-12-14 / Single accompanier / Chocolaty spread since 1964 / Short opera piece / Counterfeiter fighter / Prologue follower / Fishbowl accessory / King in Little Mermaid
    Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "I'M NOT A DOCTOR / BUT / I PLAY ONE ON TV" (26A: With 40- and 48-Across, much-mocked ad phrase that could have been said by the answers to the four starred clues) — quote, plus the names of four relevant actors:

    Theme answers:
    • DEMPSEY (13A: *"Grey's Anatomy" actor Patrick)
    • SEYMOUR (15A: *Actress Jane who was a "Medicine Woman")
    • KLUGMAN (68A: *Actor Jack who was "Quincy")
    • CLOONEY (69A: *"ER" actor George)
    Word of the Day: ARIETTA (16A: Short opera piece) 
    A short aria.

    [Italian, diminutive of ariaaria; see aria.]

    • • •

    I was really hoping to find ORK or even NANU in the puzzle today, but no dice. Robin Williams did play a doctor, but not on TV (that I know of … hang on … checking …). Huh. Looks like he played "Dr. Eddy" on a recent episode of "Wilfred," a TV show featuring a man in a DOG suit  (Here's a 1:30 interview with him re: that gig, actually). Well, that was an unexpected discovery. Anyway, my point is that it's a little difficult to focus on puzzles at the moment. I can't say I was a huge fan of Robin Williams' post-1980s work, but the 1980s stuff, from "Mork & Mindy" to "Good Morning, Vietnam," was all very iconic and formative for me. It's a big, sad loss, his death. Here's a VIDEO:

    The puzzle was OK. I liked the quote (though it was very easy to get and then write out in its entirety). The list of actors was … a list. Just names. Nothing exciting there. Arbitrary—7 letters? In you go! Fill on this was tilting toward the below-average side, with a lot of short dull stuff and some crosswordese (ARA, NENE) I actually hadn't seen in a long time. Absence has not made my heart grow fonder, strangely enough. But the theme is solid, in that it makes sense and has a clear rationale, and the fill is not terrible—it even has some nice-ish moments (INTRUDERS, SNOOPY, NUTELLA).

    • 16A: Short opera piece (ARIETTA) — wasn't until I started googling this that I realized "Oh … that's gonna be just a short aria, I'll bet." And sure enough. I wonder what you call a short NENE.
    • 52A: ___ close to schedule (ON OR) — is this a phrase you all use? Wanted ON OR from the second I saw the clue, but resisted it, as … well, it seems among the more awkward options for the clue. Also, ON OR is never not terrible, generally, so I will always resist it, at least a little.
    • 31D: Bartender's stock (RYES) — wanted RUMS.
    • 10D: U.S. equivalent to the U.K.'s Laurence Olivier Award (TONY) — pretty badly written clue. Equivalence here would be "Olivier," not "Laurence Olivier Award." 
    OK, here you go. See you tomorrow.

    ["I said 'leave,' Mr. Keating…"]

    Let me add that there are other things in the world making it hard to focus on puzzles. Namely this:

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    8/12/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Polish hero Walesa / MON 8-11-14 / iPhone assistant / Longtime Nikon competitor / Annual El Paso football event / Company said to use about 1% of world's wood / Of ancient greek period / apt rhyme of crude /
    Constructor: David Steinberg & Bernice Gordon

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: H-LL vowel progression — five words that begin with letter pattern H-LL, with each successive themer bringing a new vowel in the second position (A thru U):

    Theme answers:
    • HALLELUJAH (18A: "Thank God Almighty!")
    • HELLENISTIC (23A: Of an ancient Greek period)
    • HILLBILLY (35A: Jed Clampett, e.g.)
    • HOLLANDAISE (49A: Sauce made with butter, egg yolks and lemon juice)
    • HULLABALOO (55A: Uproar)
    Word of the Day: HERNIA (21D: Result of overstrain, maybe) —
    hernia is the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it from within. There are different kinds of hernias, each requiring a specific management or treatment. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Well I MADE IT back from LA JOLLA—Seriously, super weird coincidence to see that answer (that juxtaposition!) today after my weeklong vacation there. Had a wonderful time with the whole (dad's side of the) family: dad and stepmom, their four kids (and spouses), and then *their* five kids. Fifteen total. Much beaching and drinking and Legolanding and Zooing and eating, not necessarily (though not unnecessarily) in that order. Had a delightful if comically absurd niche-fame moment when my (deep breath) stepbrother's stepdaughter's boyfriend (exhale), whose name is Logan, informed me one evening, when I was at my computer, mid-solve, that his mom reads my blog all the time and was not going to believe that he was meeting me. My family then tells him he should take a picture. So here I am, solving, having a conversation, and semi-posing for a picture, simultaneously. Hashtag TALENT.

    Just a little behind-the-scenes peek at the exciting world of Guy Sitting At His Computer. And now, the Monday puzzle.

    This puzzle was just fine. At 74 words (a little low for Monday) and with some not necessarily straightforward spellings, this one could've played a little tougher than normal, though it didn't for me—a shade under 3, and thus pretty much average. One nit, elegance-wise: HILLBILLY is an odd man out, insofar as those initial four letter spell a word related to the meaning of the larger word, i.e. the HALL-word is not related to a HALL, the HELL- word is not related to HELL, the HOLL- word is not related to HOLL because that's not a thing, and the HULL- word has nothing to do with any sort of HULL, but I'm pretty sure HILLBILL(ies) live in HILLs. Or near them. HILLARY or HILLEL might've made interesting candidates, though the latter couldn't have gone in the center. Anyway, HILLBILLY is at least a colorful word. Overall, the fill is average to slightly cleaner than average, I think. Doesn't contain anything too memorable, though it's got some nice touches like OLD CHAP and the aforementioned LA JOLLA. Also, can't recall ever seeing HERNIA before. I thought that word was on one of them there anatomical no-fly lists, but here it is. Look out for URINE, coming soon to a puzzle near you (and why not?).

    I had exactly one solving snag—NAIL UP (47D: Seal, as a shipping crate). I guess I've never done … that. Something about the UP part just didn't want to come. But it seems like a common enough expression. For crate shippers.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Thanks to Evan, Keith, Catherine, Angela, and Doug, for allowing me to enjoy family time this past week, undistracted by the minutiae of blog management. I am, as always, grateful.
      8/11/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      "Coffee Cantata" composer / SUN 8-10-14 / Baseball's Alvarez / ___ prosequi / French "Inc." / City north of Seattle
      Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

      Relative difficulty: Pretty Easy

      THEME: Number-One Friends — Theme answers are familiar phrases, the first words of which are all names of White House dogs.

      Hi, everybody. It's PuzzleGirl again and this write-up is going to be super super short. As you probably know, today was a big day. Lollapuzzoola 7! The puzzles were great this year and the day really couldn't have been any more fun. Brian and Patrick have done such a great job with this tournament! Congratulations to the big winners, Jon Delfin (Express Division) and Patti Varol (Local Division). Lots of other trophies and prizes too. Seriously, what other tournament rewards people for cheating (Jonah Wolf), worst handwriting (Joon Pahk), and singing a cheesy 1980s novelty song (Adesina Koiki)? Too much fun!

      If you want to get the tournament puzzles (and trust me, you do), surf on over to the LP7 website and order them for $10. Tell them PuzzleGirl sent you.

      So let's do a quick recap of this puzzle. Of course, the first thing you want to do with a Liz Gorski puzzle is take a look at the grid and see what awesome thing she has done with it. I thought this one was a teddy bear, but turns out it's a dog, which is also pretty cool.

      Theme answers:
      • 24A: *What to call a female ambassador [the Johnsons] (HER EXCELLENCY)
      • 116A: *Pairing up for safety [the Clintons] (BUDDY SYSTEM)
      • 3D: *Cleaning supply [the Bushes 43]
      • 15D: *"My Fair Lady" co-star [the Reagans] (REX HARRISON)
      • 67D: *Singer with the 1964 #2 hit "My Boy Lollipop" [the Bushes 41] (MILLIE SMALL)
      • 70D: *Egg order [the Obamas] (SUNNY SIDE UP)
      • 62A: What the answer to each of the six starred clues starts with (WHITE HOUSE DOG)
      I had the most trouble in the southwest corner where MILLIE SMALL was completely unknown to me. I vaguely remembered that MILLIE was the name of a White House pet, but I don't recall ever seeing the word MARL (121A: Earthy deposit) and I wasn't 100% sure on RAMA (115A: Any of nine kings of Thailand), so I was a little surprised to see Mr. Happy Pencil.

      Other than that, I think I'll just say that I noticed some fun cluing and a bit of Scrabbliness. I don't understand 68-Across at all: Max Peel, for example: Abbr. (ANAG). But I'm sure I'll feel stupid when you explain it to me. Favorite entries for me include TEST RIDES (50A: Motorcycle demos, e.g.) and CYCLOPS (One with an eye for a storyteller?) and favorite clues are probably 100A: What a packing person may pack (PISTOL) and 89A: Modern know-it-all? (SIRI).

      And with that, I'm afraid I must leave you. With any luck, Rex will be back tomorrow.

      Love, PuzzleGirl
      8/10/2014 4:28:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Creature that moves by jet propulsion, 8-9-2014, Biblical quartet, Spelunking supply, British footballer Wayne ___, Lear's youngest, How Mount Etna erupts
      Constructor: Josh Knapp

      Relative difficulty: medium-challenging

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: LASCAUX (30A French locale of prehistoric cave paintings) —
      Lascaux (Lascaux Caves) (English /læsˈk/,[1] French: [lasko][2]) is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in thedepartment of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old.[3][4] They primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossilevidence to have lived in the area at the time. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list along with other prehistoric sites in the Vézère valley.[5] (from Wikipedia)
      • • •
      Hello, Rexworld. This is treedweller, filling in while Rex completes his photo essay, "Crosswordese in the Wild." Sorry for the late post; though I got through it, I couldn't help but FALL ASLEEP (2D Drop off) a few times during this one. Don't get the wrong idea—if it had been a lousy puzzle, I probably would have just googled for the solution and moved on. But, as I'm beginning to appreciate more each time, the best thing about late-week grids is when I'm sure I'll never finish, but then I do. This one was a nice mix of things I knew but couldn't see at first because of the vague cluing, and things I guessed wrong and eventually managed to correct. If not for the proper-name crossing in the SW, there would be nothing in the grid that I wasn't at least a little familiar with after I got it. Some will call that one cross a Natick (41D Fashion Designer THOM Browne / 45ABritish footballer Wayne ROONEY), but, really, what could have gone there except O?

      • 1A Colonel's charge, once KFC — I started with TNT, tried out PFC, and eventually backed into the right answer. It seems like a clunky way to start, but it works for me. I remember when it was Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I know they changed the name some time ago.
      • 1D Contents of some lockers KNAPSACKS — I'm not sure I ever heard anyone use this word in real life (though I like the two Ks). Perhaps these lockers are in 1954.
      • 25D Monocle, in British slang GLASS ONION — been hearing the Beatles all my life, but never new what this meant. 

      • 44D Conqueror of Valencia, with "the" CID — I only ever saw it con "el."
      • 49A Curtains END — nicely placed.
      Signed, treedweller
      8/9/2014 8:20:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      NCIS actor Joe / FRI 8-8-14 / Anderson of Nurses / It was you, operatically / Lovingly, on a music score / Rostock bar stock
      Constructor: Bruce Haight

      Relative difficulty: Piscine

      THEME: Goldfish — Three little goldfish swimming northwest.

      Word of the Day: MAIDEN (7D: First ) —
      Iron Maiden are an English heavy metal band formed in Leyton, east London, in 1975 by bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris. The band's discography has grown to thirty-seven albums, including fifteen studio albums, eleven live albums, four EPs, and seven compilations.
      Pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden achieved initial success during the early 1980s. After several line-up changes, the band went on to release a series of US and UK platinum and gold albums. Despite little radio or television support, Iron Maiden are considered one of the most successful heavy metal bands in history, with The New York Times reporting in 2010 that they have sold over 85 million records worldwide. The band won the Ivor Novello Award for international achievement in 2002. As of October 2013, the band have played over 2000 live shows throughout their career.
      • • •
      Hello, crossword fans. Doug here, filling in at the last minute. One of Rex's subs bailed out, so I got the assignment. Lucky me. Right now, I'm sitting in a room in Manhattan with PuzzleGirl, gearing up for Lollapuzzoola on Saturday! She says "Hi" to everybody. Have you signed up for Lollapuzzoola yet? If not, stop reading the blog and get on it. I'll be here when you get back.

      Interesting mini-theme in this one, with the fishy squares relating to the two 15-letter entries, SOMETHING'S FISHY & ON THE WATERFRONT. I'm semi-comatose after a big dinner at Shake Shack, so let's jump right to bullets.

      • ALL THAT (37A: Excellent, in slang) — I had the H from ROHE and typed in BITCHIN. BITCHIN is a more bitchin' answer than ALL THAT, don't you think? 
      • FOP (60D: Metrosexual sort) — Fun word.
      • LOOK-SEE (62A: Gander) — PuzzleGirl liked this one. I do too. (How's that for incisive commentary?)
      • LEAN-TOS (39D: Rough housing) — That's a nice tricky clue.
      • OSCARS (28D: They're clutched during some speeches) — Clue of the Day. Loved it.
      As I look back at the grid, I see a lot of subpar short stuff: AS AN, OSIS, EROO, ROHE, EIS, ALIA, NOI, ESOS, HOS. The fish were fun, but the plankton-level fill needs work.
        Signed, Doug Peterson, Sleepyhead of CrossWorld
        8/8/2014 4:26:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Saturn's wife / THU 8-7-14 / Singer with the 1971 hit "Mercy Mercy Me" / Dorothy of old "Road" films / Jackson with 13 #1 country albums / Sch. of 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston / Wordsmith who wrote "Last but not least, avoid cliches like
        Constructor: Joe DiPietro

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: Quips About Puns About Jokes About Anagrams About Me Which Is Funny Hahahahaha — Quip puzzle where the joke is broken into give symmetric pieces and spells out IS IT / JUST ME OR / ARE THERE OTHER / ANAGRAMS OF 'EM? (i.e. there are no anagrams of "'em" except for "me")

        Word of the Day: JOACHIM (21D: ___ Löw, coach of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team)

        Joachim "Jogi" Löw, born 3 February 1960, is the current manager of the German national football team and a former football midfielder. In 2014, he led the German team to victory at the World Cup in Brazil.
        Germany started their 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 4–0 victory over Portugal. In the second game against Ghana, Germany came from behind to draw the match 2–2. In the third game, Germany beat the USA, led by former German coach Jürgen Klinsmann, 1–0, with the lone goal scored by Thomas Müller. In the second round match against Algeria, Löw's tactics were called into question after playing a high defensive line allowing Algeria to break through on numerous occasions. Nonetheless, Germany won 2–1 after extra time, thereby setting up a quarter-final clash with France. Germany edged France 1–0.
        In a remarkable World Cup semi-final match Germany defeated Brazil 7–1 to reach the tournament's final. The result was Brazil's worst defeat in FIFA World Cup history. Löw led Germany to their fourth World Cup title win with a 1–0 victory in extra time against Argentina in the final. (Wikipedia)
        • • •
        Howdy, folks. Evan again, back for Round II of my double-header. A reminder that Lollapuzzoola 7 -- only the most fun crossword tournament on a Saturday in August -- is right around the corner. If you're still on the fence about going, get off said fence and go. And say hi to me while you're there. Oh, and I know I plugged some indie meta puzzles yesterday, but there's another one just out: Francis Heaney's contest puzzle for the American Values Club Crossword (the deadline is this Sunday). I haven't gotten to it yet, but Francis has made some stunningly brilliant metas for them before, so I very much look forward to solving it.

        So, we've got ourselves a quip puzzle, which is a rare species of crossword at the Gray Lady nowadays. For my own taste, I don't so much care for quote themes since it requires cross-referencing multiple answers and doesn't usually involve enough wordplay. Its value hinges primarily on how funny you think the resulting punchline is, and you only get the one punchline when you've pieced it all together, rather than multiple bits of cleverness in four or five theme answers. So if it's a really funny or unexpected joke, the theme looks pretty good. If it's a lame joke, then the theme is pretty bland. I found this quip only sorta amusing, and I think it really only works in print. I can't really imagine it getting a great laugh if you said it aloud since I think most people would assume you were saying "them" rather than "'em," and you'd have to spend time explaining it all.

        So the theme wasn't really for me. Having said that, there are only 37 letters occupying theme squares, which means the grid can breathe a little bit with some good fill answers like NO COMMENT, DUST MITE, MAN UP, USERNAME, RUNS A TAB, and KATE SPADE (with a clever though fairly recently used clue, 56A: Bag lady?). There isn't much in the way of crap fill, which is good, though MUNIS (24A: City bonds, informally) isn't my favorite answer and I keep looking askance at DITSY (17A: Like a dingbat) as though it should be spelled DITZY. Overall, the fill is solid.

        I will, however, take issue with some non-thematic stuff. First, HE’S GOT IT (38D: Approving remark after "By Jove") seems like a long, arbitrary partial answer. It wasn't hard to get since I know it from the complete phrase "By Jove/George I (think) he's got it," and if BY JOVE or BY GEORGE were singular answers, I'd have no problem with it since they're exclamations that stand on their own. But HE'S GOT IT by itself is missing the crucial piece to the phrase. It would be like if BY ITS COVER were an answer, clued as [How you should not judge a book]. It's part of a common phrase we all know, but the answer itself is incomplete.

        Second....the JOACHIM/OPS/CROSS stepladder. JOACHIM isn't exactly the most common name and may be completely unrecognizable for those who didn't follow the World Cup. I'll even say that I like JOACHIM as an answer -- he makes a very timely appearance in the grid and he's an unusual though lively entry (and how long until his nickname JOGI becomes a regular answer?). I was fortunate enough to dredge his name up from memory of the World Cup broadcasts, but if you didn't watch it, you're not going to get much help from the crossing clue on OPS (23A: Saturn's wife), so you may be tempted to write in JEACHIM OR JUACHIM (by the way, OPS is the Roman equivalent of the Greek RHEA). Even OPS as clued crossing CROSS as clued (7D: Pen name) is just cruel (it's a brand of pen, in case it's not clear). I wouldn't mind those tough clues in a late-week puzzle by themselves, but if you're not up on your World Cup coaches, or your Roman deities without planetary names, or your brand of writing instruments -- and I'll go out on a limb and say that these particular proper nouns are not going to be familiar to many, many solvers -- then that combo is going to be an absolute killer. Easy fix: just clue OPS like [Black ___] or [Photo ___] or something like that. Problem solved. And it's not like an easy clue would be unusual for a Thursday puzzle -- see 25D: Composer Stravinsky (IGOR) and 28D: Kit ___ bar (KAT).

        Last, I’m giving IT IS I a few demerits for the fact that it’s a little too close to the first piece of the theme IS IT (and that there’s another stray “it” in HE’S GOT IT). I don’t mind the occasional repeat of small, common words like “is” or “it” when they’re part of the general fill (for instance, "up" repeats with MAN UP and EYES UP (46D: Looks at covetously)), but the repeats stand out a little more here because a) in one instance they're part of the theme and in another instance they're not; and b) two non-thematic repeats of the same word in one puzzle is a lot.

        • 1A: Extends credit (LENDS) I got off on the wrong foot with LOANS. Same problem with putting in LSAT where I wanted MCAT (6A: Exam for a future G.P.), though that mistake was more about carelessness in reading the clue; I think I saw G.P. only out of the corner of my eye and assumed it was D.A., or something. Who knows.
        • 22A: Temple of ___ (DOOM) — This is odd. It feels like there should be a more explicit reference to Indiana Jones in the clue, yet they made it look like it’s a standalone phrase. Is “Temple of Doom” a common phrase outside of the movie? If so, I haven’t heard of it.
        • 41A: Italian Riviera resort (SAN REMO) — I got this one confused with SALERNO before RUNS A TAB jumped out at me.
        • 48A: Still liquidy (UNSET) The puzzle: U_SET. Me: "How can that be any word except UPSET?" Brain: "It's not UPSET. Stop trying to force an answer where it doesn't work." Me: "Shut up, Brain, or I'll stab you with a Q-tip!"
        • 49A: Lead-in to a 2000s “-gate” (CIA) — The Valerie Plame affair, yes? Yes. I first considered SPY(gate), a.k.a. the scandal surrounding the 2007 New England Patriots when the NFL discovered they were videotaping other teams’ defensive signals during games … which, coincidentally, seems fitting with the correct answer.
        • 54D: Oversize sunglasses, these days (RAGE) — If you say so. The only oversize glasses I ever got a real kick out of was Will Ferrell as Harry Caray.
        • 56D: Company with a bucket list? (KFC) — Nice clue.