Friday, April 25, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
BlackBerry routers / FRI 4-25-14 / Hypothetical particle in cold dark matter / Colorful party intoxicant / FIve-time US presidential candidate in early 1900s / Elvis hit with spelled out title
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ADRIANA Lima (16A: Supermodel Lima) —
Adriana Francesca Lima (Brazilian Portuguese: [ɐ̃dɾiˈɐnɐ frɐ̃ˈsɛskɐ ˈlimɐ]; born June 12, 1981) is a Brazilian model and actress who is best known as a Victoria's Secret Angel since 2000, and as a spokesmodel for Maybelline cosmetics from 2003 to 2009. At the age of 15, Lima finished first in Ford's "Supermodel of Brazil" competition, and took second place the following year in the Ford "Supermodel of the World" competition before signing with Elite Model Management inNew York City. In 2012, she came in 4th on the Forbes top-earning models list, estimated to have earned $7.3 million in one year. (wikipedia)
• • •

Last I heard, Joel Fagliano was going to be working for W. Shortz full time starting in the near future (following Joel's impending graduation from a pretty decent little southern California college). If this is still true, this is a very good thing, assuming his intelligence, youth, sense of humor, and fairly exacting standards have at least some influence on the whole puzzle-publishing alchemy at the NYT. I liked this puzzle a lot. Any weak spots are pretty small and forgettable next to the longer, better stuff they're helping to hold in place. Clues were pretty tough/clever over all, but with enough gimmes to allow for footholds in many places, making this a thorny but (difficulty-wise) pretty normal Friday puzzle. My only real criticisms are more matters of personal taste than of puzzle fundamentals. I weirdly resent having to know the names of so-called supermodels. I will (probably) forget ADRIANA Lima's name as soon as I turn off my computer. Nothing against her personally. She's probably very nice. I just … feel like the age of the "supermodel" is over, or should be. I pretend that it is, anyway. Also, I will never accept "A New Hope" as the title of anything (27A: Princess Leia was one of "A New Hope" = HOLOGRAM). Honestly, I saw that clue and thought "Wait, which one is that? … Oh, they mean 'Star Wars'." It's "Star Wars." I know. I saw it seven times in the theater. The poster hangs in my living room. I think I'd remember its name.

XOXOXO is somehow simultaneously lovely/sweet and mildly irksome (7D: Love letters). Feels arbitrary. You could do XOXO (I've seen that). Now XOXOXO. Probably XOXOXOXO (because why not?). And yet it's a hell of a lot better than [Tic tac toe loser] answers like OOX or XOO. And you *do* get Xs out of it, and Xs are rarely bad (unless they're involved in Scrabble-f*cking, i.e. the gratuitous squeezing of high-value Scrabble-tile letters into the grid at the expense of overall fill quality … but you knew that). IDEM is never pretty, IMHO. But there's really little else to complain about. CATERWAUL, RAISE HELL, SEX SCENE and JELLO SHOT all give this puzzle the feel of a party that's gotten a little bit out of control. Just a little. In a good way.

I started badly, with PATSY / STUD (!?) instead of CHUMP / "MR. ED" (1D: Sucker / 19A: Show horse). But at least I had the good sense to yank it pretty quickly. SOPHS to PKGS to XKE to XOXOXO got me started, and while there were hold-ups here and there, I moved through the grid pretty steadily and easily. I dispute [It's nothing new] as a clue for DEJA VU. Seems inaccurate. It probably is Something New—you just have an eerie *sense* that you've seen it before. Plus, it's probably not identical In Every Respect to whatever you thought had happened before, so "nothing" seems wrong. Off. Also, the clue on HAVRE? Is that the only places French ships are allowed to dock? Presumably other ships dock there too? The clue is hardly distinctive enough for that answer. But [Unlocked area?] for BALD SPOT and [Blackberry routers] for iPHONES? Loved those.

Mistakes (besides the initial one) include FRENEMY for EX-ENEMY (37A: Germany, to Britain) (I like mine) and … I think that's it, actually.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
4/25/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Public-road race / THU 4-24-14 / Wassailer's tune / Scratch-card layer / Finnair rival / Spillsaver brand / Conan nickname
Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: four-syllable clues — Only theme answer = 20A: The theme, part 1 (EVERY ONE OF THE / CLUES HAS EXACTLY / FOUR SYLLABLES)

Word of the Day: RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) —
Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. This motorsport is distinguished by running not on a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants and their co-drivers drive between set control points (special stages), leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points. Rallies may be won by pure speed within the stages or alternatively by driving to a predetermined ideal journey time within the stages. [I have no idea why the French spelling, with the terminal "e," is (sometimes) retained …] (wikipedia)
• • •

Stan is a fine editor (Newsday) and a veteran constructor, but I don't understand this. Who cares if a clue has two or three or seven syllables? How hard is it to write four-syllable clues? I mean, people do entire puzzles where the first letters of clues are just one letter, or where the first letters of clues, in order, spell out elaborate crap. Four syllables? I would think any good constructor could do that for most any grid. Also, this grid is not demanding, and the fill is just OK. Nothing exciting or special. And given that the backbone of the whole puzzle is just … instructions, I fail to see where the interest lies. Why is this interesting? Is this fun? I certainly don't find it bad or offensive, but its reason for existing—why anyone might think this an entertaining idea—is totally beyond me.

This one played pretty easily for me, but then again I had just finished a much more intricate, much harder puzzle (this week's Fireball—a barnburner), so piecing this together felt like child's play. There were a few hang-ups. Wanted LIFE VESTS then LIFE BOATS for LIFE BELTS (which … I don't really know what those are, but I can imagine). NORA (47A: Mrs. James Joyce) and RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) and AMANA (41D: "Spillsaver" brand) were not easy for me to pick up, so coming down out of the middle into the SE was tough. Also, I had TEN- at 37D: Break time, perhaps, but couldn't conceive of writing out O'CLOCK, so remained baffled for a bit. Had ROUE for RAKE (68A: No gentleman). Would never have thought of a scratch-off layer as made of LATEX (though I'm not doubting the science) (3D: Scratch-card layer). Thought 32A: French department was going to be a generic word for the category rather than a *specific* department. Considered RYDER for FEDEX (22D: Golf cup sponsor). None of this is that remarkable or interesting. Just your ordinary snags. Really wish there were something juicy to talk about here, but I don't see it.

The NYT feels like it's in a pretty bad rut at the moment. Monday's puzzle aside, it seems like all the really good work is coming out elsewhere. Hope that turns around soon.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
4/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Very high trumpet note / WED 4-23-14 / Keyboardist Saunders / River of Hesse / Unstable subatomic particle / "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist /
Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MERCURY / SEVEN (71A: With 1-Down, first American astronauts) — last names of all seven astronauts populate the grid, clued by their first names, which are in all caps FOR SOME REASON. There are a couple random extra theme answers: SPACE RACE (12D: Old U.S./Soviet rivalry) and ROCKET (9D: NASA vehicle).

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KAON (38D: Unstable subatomic particle) —
In particle physics, a kaon /ˈk.ɑːn/, also called a K meson and denoted K, is any of a group of four mesonsdistinguished by a quantum number called strangeness. In the quark model they are understood to be bound states of a strange quark (or antiquark) and an up or down antiquark (or quark).
Kaons have proved to be a copious source of information on the nature of fundamental interactions since their discovery in cosmic rays in 1947. They were essential in establishing the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics, such as the quark model of hadrons and the theory of quark mixing (the latter was acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008). Kaons have played a distinguished role in our understanding of fundamental conservation lawsCP violation, a phenomenon generating the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe, was discovered in the kaon system in 1964 (which was acknowledged by a Nobel prize in 1980). Moreover, direct CP violation was also discovered in the kaon decays in the early 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. It does nothing. It lists a bunch of names, only a handful of which are legitimately famous. There is no anniversary here. The theme is dense, but so what? The fill is consequently Tortured. This is just baffling. What is the point? Why are the theme clues (the astronaut names, anyway) in all caps? That makes no sense and follows no crossword convention that I know of. When I got SCHIRRA for 1A: WALLY I was like "… ??? … is there some wordplay involved here? Do I have the answer wrong? What is a SCHIRRA?" Later I hit an astronaut name I recognized, so I had to just go on faith that SCHIRRA was a name (see also CARPENTER, COOPER, SLAYTON (?); I knew SHEPARD, GRISSOM and GLENN. Good thing GLENN is famous, because that SE corner was threatening to be undoable for a bit there. A ridiculous obscure Dickinson for WHEREON? Even with WHEREO-, I wasn't entirely sure of the last letter. Thank god I remembered MERL Saunders (*not* in everyone's crossword bag o' tricks, I assure you). That at least kept me in the game down there (62A: Keyboardist Saunders).

Never heard of SUPER C (48A: Very high trumpet note). Again, *thank god* -OOPER was inferable as COOPER, because that letter after SUPER could've been anything, as far as I was concerned. Figured C > H, since C, unlike H, is a note. So C. LOESSER … (69A: "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist) … again, pure crossword muscle memory there. Ugh. I stared at NOTO- / -AON for many seconds before deciding on what letter could possibly go there. THE DIE is a terrible partial. I've never seen ACETALS, or maybe I have, but it looks like a ton of other acetyl / acetate / acetone answers I've filled in over the years (18A: Volatile solvents). DOODLER I like (26D: School desk drawer?); also ATROPHIED (21D: Weakened due to inactivity). The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry. Baffling.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS same theme published in NYT in 1998:

4/23/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Music critic Nat / TUE 4-22-14 / 1963 John Wayne comedy western / Onetime SNL-type show / Smoky-voiced Eartha / Insurer with duck mascot /
Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Tick Tock — circles in theme answers spell out TICK on left side and TOCK on right

Theme answers:
  • TICKLED (17A: ___ pink)
  • COMMON STOCK (23A: It's not preferred for investors)
  • TICKED OFF (32A: Peeved)
  • "MCLINTOCK" (42A: 1963 John Wayne comedy western)
  • TICKET BOOTH (48A: Spot at the front of a theater)
  • BUTTOCK (62A: Half moon?)
Word of the Day: "MCLINTOCK" —
McLintock! is a 1963 comedy Western directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring John Wayne, with co-stars including Maureen O'HaraYvonne De Carlo, and Wayne's son Patrick Wayne. The film, produced by Wayne's company Batjac Productions, was loosely based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. (wikipedia)
• • •

Less than enjoyable solve for me, though this was not entirely the puzzle's fault. For some reason, the .puz file I downloaded had a glitch that turned all apostrophes and quotation marks into "â". This added an annoying interesting level of difficulty to the solve. But then there was the puzzle, which had a somewhat dull theme, the execution of which resulted in a highly unpleasant, radically segmented grid. God, those 4-long black blocks (two on each side) are deathly. They create these mini-puzzles which can't help but be dull and tragically crosswordesey. See the eastern block in particular, with its RATA AROO EEKS (!?) and AOKS (!?!?). Who pluralizes those!?! Theme answers were not special or interesting—except BUTTOCK. Thumbs up there … so to speak. Why not go with TICKETS and TICKLED PINK? Or … I don't know, something different? Concept here is mildly interesting, but the grid design is fatally flawed, and the execution slightly awkward. This grid really should've been rebuilt, or the theme answers reconceived entirely.

Never heard (or barely heard) of COMMON STOCK, so that took a lot of crosses to bring down. Everything else was reasonably familiar. I did blank on KAMPALA right out of the gate, though. Had to go immediately to crosses, but even with the "K" I was like "… ? … KINSHASA doesn't fit … where is KINSHASA? … gah!" I put it together pretty fast, but I'm highly self-disappointed at not getting that answer straight off. Thought Tony Soprano might be a MOB BOSS (42D: Tony Soprano, for one) … I mean, he was, just not in this puzzle. HENTOFF, however, was a gimme (8D: Music critic Nat). I've been reading a lot of old Cosmo magazines lately (don't ask) and was stunned to see that he was actually Cosmo's music critic back in '79. He covered some pop and rock, but also a whole lot of other music I didn't expect to find in a late-'70s mainstream women's magazine: jazz, blues, classical, reggae. His columns are an interesting window into the music of that era—beyond the pop charts.

["Love I Need" from the 1978 album Give Thankx … seriously: Thankx!]

OK, gotta go finish watching the horrifying documentary on the Hillsborough disaster (the 25th anniversary of which was last week). See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS BEQ's site has been down due to some sort of Typepad meltdown. Here are the .puz and .pdf of his latest puzzles if you want them.
4/22/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Restaurant guide name since 1979 / MON 4-21-14 / TIe-dye alternative / Strike zone arbiter / Longtime sponsor of Metropolitan Opera / Decennial official / Second-oldest General Mills cereal /
Constructor: John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: COUNTER EXAMPLES (58A: They disprove claims … or 17-, 23-, 38- and 47-) — theme answers are examples of people who count:

Theme answers:
  • HOME PLATE UMPIRE counts balls and strikes (17A: Strike zone arbiter)
  • BANK MANAGER counts money (23A: George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life")
  • BLACKJACK PLAYER counts cards, sometimes, perhaps (38A: One getting hit in Vegas)
  • CENSUS TAKER counts people (47A: Decennial official)
Word of the Day: BATIK (7D: Tie-dye alternative) —
Batik (Javanese pronunciation: [ˈbateʔ]Indonesian: [ˈbatɪk]) is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique.
Originating from Java, batik is made by drawing designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colors are desired. Indigenous patterns often have symbolic meanings which are used in specific ceremonies, while coastal patterns draw inspiration from a variety of cultures; from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks.
Batik has been used as everyday clothing since ancient times, and it is still used by many Indonesians today in occasions ranging from formal to casual. On October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage. (wikipedia)
• • •

This seems like a very good Monday puzzle. Do I have the theme right? I think so, but sometimes when it's seemingly simple, I worry I've missed something. Do blackjack players *always* count cards? I don't play. I thought that was … not illegal, but monitored / barred by casinos … somehow? … not that you could stop people … anyway, that's the only answer that seems at all potentially wobbly. Well, I don't know that counting is the primary activity I'd associate with a BANK MANAGER, but then again, to be fair, I don't really think about BANK MANAGERs much. The revealer is a nice play on words. The puzzle is easy but also pizzazzy, which is a word I invented that you are free to use.

Here's where I faltered, however briefly (almost always very briefly). USMA … is not an abbr. that comes to mind easily (3D: West Point inits.). It's better than USM (see my tirade about this non-thing earlier this year). And it is a place. An academy, to be precise. But my fingers typed in USMC anyway, because that is the only USM- answer my brain will accept without manual override. BATIK seemed hard to me (7D: Tie-dye alternative). I think it's kind of bygone, like tie-dye. I would never wear either, so I'm kind of out of my depth here. I love Buster Keaton but do not think of him specializing in PRATFALL (19D: Buster Keaton specialty). That's when you fall on your ass? Or just fall? He did that, yes, but he's a physical comedian of the highest order. PRATFALL seems somehow diminishing. I wrote in ZABAR for ZAGAT (32D: Restaurant guide name since 1979). I couldn't get SULTAN off just the "S," boo hoo. Oh, and I never actually "got" MARKS (24D: A, B, C, D and F). In America, we call those "grades."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
4/21/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Jermaine of NBA / SUN 4-20-14 / Financial writer Marshall / Chaim 1971 Best Actor nominee / ESPN broadcaster Bob / Artist's alias with accent / Fine hosiery material / Renault model with mythological name / Best-selling novelist whom Time called Bard
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "On Wheels" — theme answers contain words that are also car models. Underneath each model name are two "wheels," represented by circled "O"s

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Chaim TOPOL (95D: Chaim ___, 1971 Best Actor nominee) —
Chaim Topol (Hebrewחיים טופול‎; born September 9, 1935), often billed simply as Topol, is an Israelitheatrical and film performer, singer, actor, writer and producer. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Tony Award, and has won two Golden Globes. […] 
Some of Topol's other notable film appearances were the title role in Galileo (1975), Dr. Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon (1980), and as Milos Columbo in theJames Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981). (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not find this as scintillating as I normally find Liz Gorski puzzles. It's just models of cars, with the added, small detail of the "tires" underneath each model name. I like that a circled "O" makes a nice approximation of an actual tire shape. Beyond that, the puzzle was just average. Also, exceedingly easy. Was done in under 9, which crazy fast for me, for a Sunday. True, I did have to chase down two errors, but they were slight—I'd written in STA for STN (12D: Common newsstand locale: Abbr.), and never corrected it when the crossing answer eventually turned into the probably-nonsensical HORA SONATA. Also, I'd written in ROMA, which seemed very reasonable, at 78D: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME). This left me with BEATLE BAILEY, which looks Just Fine to my eye. Thanks, Beatles, for making that spelling seem reasonable. Speaking of BEETLE BAILEY, that clue (93A: Walker's strip) was wicked hard, especially compared to the softballs that dominate the rest of the clue list. I needed nearly every cross before the answer became evident. Actually, I don't think it ever became evident—not until I'd finished and went back and looked at the puzzle, anyway. Clever clue, good clue, but jarring clue in comparison to all the rest.

Ah, I just got 96D: City that sounds like a humdinger? (BUTTE). My sister likes to tell the story of the time she and her family went on a road trip and the GPS had pronunciation problems—it kept telling them that they were nearing "Crested Butt." She had (still has) young boys, so as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. This is just to explain why now, when I see BUTTE, I think "butt" and not "beaut!" One other answer that gave me an odd lot of trouble was BRING (54D: Give rise to). That clue was not helping at all. I see now, that April showers BRING May flowers, so it works, but I had -RING and still wasn't really sure what the answer was. Weird.

Puzzle of the Week this week was not close. There were some very good puzzles. A Peter Gordon themeless (Fireball Crosswords) with interlocking pairs of 15s that puts All 15-Stack Puzzles To Shame (read about it here). A beautiful Doug Peterson themeless (Washington Post Puzzler, 4/13) that's fresh and slangy while still being clean and accessible (get it here—make sure you choose 4/13) (read about it here). Another Doug Peterson puzzle—this one co-authored with Joon Pahk ("Party Lines" / Chronicle of Higher Ed., 4/18)—that features ridiculous but truly funny puns (get it here) (read about it here). And a Ben Tausig puzzle ("Odds and Evens") that made me laugh repeatedly with its alternate ways of reading the theme answers (get it here) (read about it here). But the clear winner was this week's American Values Club contest puzzle by Francis Heaney, entitled "Flight Path" (4/16) (get it here for a dollar, or just subscribe to American Values Club Crosswords already. Geez). "The grid below represents a prison, from which you must escape"—that's the opening line of the puzzle's explanatory note. While not terribly hard (it's listed as a 4.5/5 difficulty level, but I'd put it more around 3), it is truly elegantly constructed, and even after I figured out what the general trick was, it was still a great pleasure to watch the solution fall into place. Francis made my favorite puzzle of 2013—another American Values Club contest puzzle called "Seasonal Staff" (read about it here). He's setting the bar for contest puzzles, and puzzles in general, really, really high.

Speaking of contest puzzles, still lots of time to get in on Patrick Blindauer's "Xword University" puzzle suite. He blurbs it better than I could:
Ever wanted to earn your Honorary Bachelor's Degree in Enigmatology? Well, now you can. Patrick Blindauer's 5th Puzzlefest, "Xword University," has a collegiate theme and is available now at It consists of a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer. Combine all of your answers to solve the meta-puzzle, and email the correct answer to be eligible for the random drawing of puzzle books. (Contest ends at 11:30 ET on April 27 but XU will remain open indefinitely.) For only $15 you'll be guaranteed admission and will receive an invitation to Patrick's College Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. 
Patrick's puzzles are reliably great, so you should probably enroll now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
4/20/2014 4:00:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Principal port of Syria / SAT 4-19-14 / Mezzo-soprano Regina / Big Chicago-based franchiser / Either of two holy emperors
Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: HAME (51A: Part of a plowing harness) —
One of the two curved wooden or metal pieces of a harness that fits around the neck of a draft animal and to which the traces are attached.

[Middle English, from Middle Dutch; see tkei- in Indo-European roots.] (
• • •

I guess the way you make these things more palatable is by making them easy. This is a perfectly ordinary, perfectly forgettable 15-stack puzzle. None of the 15s, except perhaps THE GOBLET OF FIRE, holds any real interest, and even that one is at least technically inaccurate, since ever installment of both the book and movie "series" begins "Harry Potter and …" But since it's the only thing I really enjoyed today, I'll let that slide. There is pretty heavy reliance on unusual / obscure words / names. RESNIK is new to me (last letter in the grid was that "S") (46D: Mezzo-soprano Regina). What the hell is a HAME?!?! (51A: Part of a plowing harness) Yeesh. Greta SCACCHI I managed to dredge up from somewhere, but lord knows where (35D: Greta of "The Red Violin") (What is "The Red Violin"? Nevermind; I'll google it) . Then there's the truly terrible crossing of LATAKIA and KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park). I just guessed. Must've seen KENAI somewhere before, 'cause I guessed right, but I know I've never seen or heard of LATAKIA. Once Again, cluing here involves all the creativity of reading the first line of a wikipedia entry (very first words of that entry: "Latakia […] is the principal port city of Syria […]"). And of course it's misleading, as "principal" makes you think "I should've heard of this," while in reality, LATAKIA is just Syria's 5th largest city, behind Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Hama (only three of which you've heard of, and only two of which you'd heard of before the atrocities started there). As for KENAI (26A: Alaska's ___ Fjords National Park)  … I think my reasoning was "DENALI ends in 'I', so try that." because otherwise I honestly don't know.

Finished in under 8, and that's *with* taking a break to see if I guessed LATAKIA correctly. Also, I would've been faster if I'd been able to recall MIA SARA's name (40D: Actress in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off")—that should've been a gimme; I know damn well who she is. That movie is a Gen-X sweet spot, and I'm ashamed to have failed to ace this clue. I blame, in part, MIA HAMM. Also couldn't call up SNCC (35A: March on Washington grp.)—hmmm, I think I was confusing it with something else, something with "Christian" and "Southern" in the name, because I don't recall ever hearing of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (despite having written SNCC into grids before). Aha! Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That's what I was thinking of. Phew. I feel mildly better now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
4/19/2014 11:34:00 AM
Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Capital on Niger / FRI 4-18-14 / Art enabled / Blue symbol of Delaware / Add tiger's chaudron For ingredients of our cauldron
Constructor: James Mulhern

Relative difficulty: Medium (Easy-Medium for me)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BAMAKO (48D: Capital of the Niger) —
Bamako is the capital and largest city of Mali, with a population of 1.8 million (2009 Census, provisional). In 2006, it was estimated to be the fastest growing city in Africa and sixth fastest in the world. It is located on the Niger River, near the rapids that divide the upper and middle Niger valleys in the southwestern part of the country.
Bamako is the nation's administrative center. The city proper is a cercle in its own right. Bamako's river portis located in nearby Koulikoro, along with a major regional trade and conference center. Bamako is the seventh largest West African urban center after LagosAbidjanKanoIbadanDakar, and Accra. Locally manufactured goods include textiles, processed meat and metal goods. There is commercial fishing on the Niger River.
The name Bamako comes from the Bambara word meaning "crocodile river". (wikipedia)
• • •

This one just flowed for me. From beginning to end, I had only minor hitches. Looking back on it, I'm surprised how easily I got through some sections, esp. the NE. All my first guesses were correct. Wasn't sure if it was ET ALIA or ET ALII, but I decided to drop CELLI at 10D: Parts of many chamber groups, and that made all the difference. EPOCH and then APIA came easily, and I saw straight through the enigmatic cluing at 10A: Art enabled (CANST). I did not see straight through the enigmatic cluing at 18A: Moving supply (LITHE) (great clue), but all the crosses fell easily into place. The one real stick point—the answer I had to come at from both directions before I finally took it down—was BAMAKO. Had the BAM- and thought "oh … no. African capitals. Crap." Actually wanted BAMAKO (despite having no idea where it was), but the "K" looked weird wrong at that point (my first pass at the word), so I abandoned ship and went back to work where I had started, in the NW. Worked my way steadily and easily from there, clockwise, back to the SE, where it turned out BAMAKO was right all along. So I solved until I ran into BAMAKO, retreated, and then solved again until I came back to BAMAKO from the opposite side. The end.

I like this puzzle, despite some wobbly short fill, particularly in the upper center and ENE sections. FO SHIZZLE reads as hilariously dated to me, but I still enjoyed seeing it (1A: "Definitely, dawg!") ("Dawg" also reads as dated). I like that the 15s are Downs in this one. Longest answers in themelesses are usually Acrosses. But aside from that little grid oddity, it's a pretty standard grid, with solid, somewhat above-average fill. Great clues help add to the entertainment value. I already covered [Moving supply] and [Art enabled]; I also liked [Something awful] for LIKE CRAZY, which fooled me completely, despite the fact that I use "something awful" in that idiomatic way all the time. I had MAMMAL for MARMOT (54A: Woodchuck, e.g.), and disbelieved that WANS was a word (36D: Pales). Otherwise, as I say, this was an enjoyable, largely bump-free ride.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    4/18/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Hardy hog breed / THU 4-17-14 / Pioneer in New Criticism / Palestinian nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2013 / Fine dandy in old slang
    Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (though once again, I wouldn't really know, as the NYT continues to fail to put out a readable .puz file on time so I'm using their truly terrible "Play For Fun" interface, which advances the cursor against your will to apparently random parts of the grid once you've completed an answer … it's like the Enjoyment Crushing Society over there, my god…) 

    THEME: THINK / THROUGH (45A: With 61-Across, carefully consider … or a clue to this puzzle's theme) — you have to mentally supply THROUGH in intersecting phrases, as the first word in the phrase *literally* runs through the latter part of the phrase:

    Theme answers:
    • WENT [thru] THE ROOF
    • PAID [thru] THE NOSE
    • SHOT [thru] THE HEART
    • ROSE [thru] THE RANKS
    Word of the Day: DUROC (50A: Hardy hog breed) —
    noun: Duroc; plural noun: Durocs
    1. 1.
      a pig of a reddish breed developed in North America.
    early 19th cent.: from the name of a stallion that is said to have been bought by the breeder Isaac Frink on the same day as the pigs from which he developed the breed. (google)
    • • •

    Mixed bag. Novel grid design is a plus, and the core concept is clever. I did not, however, like the way the theme execution made for nonsense words in the Downs. I guess I'm questioning the way "THROUGH" is being used here. Intersecting conveys a better sense of THROUGH. Here, it's like THE just stepped a little to make room for the first word. THEN ROOF just looks silly. [Direction from caveman contractor following "Put up walls"!?]. Revealer oddly wasn't. I.e. I picked up on the concept reasonably early, so when I got to the "revealer" it was a gimme, not a revelation.

    Fill on this one was so-so. I LOST IT and STINK AT feel barely legitimate as cohesive phrases, and I'm somewhat surprised a lot of the short fill is as mediocre as it is. DUROC, yikes (50A: Hardy hog breed). DUROC is the new ATLI (see yesterday). Lots more iffy short fill—too much to list. I've seen I AM SO DEAD before — twice — so though you may like it, it's straight out of a constructing software word list. Clue on TROT is not good, but we are subjected to it because of the perceived "need" to have three identical clues in a row (48D: Go quickly). It's telling that all the actual examples of TROT in a sentence, if you google it, refer to its slowness relative to an *actual* quick pace. "The horses trotted slowly through the night. "Our horses slowed to a trot." So, yes, it's faster than walking. But only in a fairly tortured and tenuous way would you use it to mean "go quickly."

    AM NOT is a retort to a specific accusation, not a broad existential statement. How ["You know nothing about me"] works, I have no idea. [Stare with an open mouth] is GAPE. If not, it's GAWK. It is GAWP … well, never in real life, but in crossword puzzles, it's real life shmeal life. The clue on OKE is unintentionally hilarious: ["Fine and dandy," in old slang]. Old? You mean, older than "fine and dandy"? Wow, that is old. When "fine and dandy" is your "After" photo, that is … something. But again, the theme has a certain charm, and the puzzle is kind of smiling at you, so why not just focus on that. Also, this puzzle was half-written by a woman, so the three-week-long sausagefest has … well, not ended, but been slightly mitigated, at any rate. Hurray?
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      4/17/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Mythical king of huns / WED 4-16-14 / Yellowstone bugler / Cuddly sci-fi creature / What scientists use to predict rates of chemical reactions / Arkansas footballers informally
      Constructor: Michael Dewey

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (again, no idea, as the AcrossLite file at the NYT site was Once Again "corrupt") (it's kind of an embarrassment how bad they are at the tech stuff over there) (oh hey, look, I bugged the right person and the file is no longer corrupt. Too late for me, but …)

      THEME: "TITANIC SINKS!" (58A: Headline of April 16, 1912) — theme answers are, in whole or, in the case of one answer, in part, related to the sinking of the Titanic...

      Theme answers:
      • MAIDEN VOYAGE (20A: Post-christening event)
      • COLLISION THEORY (28A: What scientists use to predict the rates of chemical reactions)
      • TIP OF THE ICEBERG (49A: Small part that's visible)
      Word of the Day: ATLI (45D: Mythical king of the huns) —
      A legendary king corresponding to the historical figure of Attila. In the Volsunga Saga he is the second husband of Gudrun. (
      • • •

      This doesn't work. First, there's the not major but still significant problem of this "tribute"'s having been done before—and recently, at a time that made much more sense, i.e. just two years ago, when it was the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Second, there's the tepidity of this theme execution. Weak, obvious, untricky answers, including one (COLLISION THEORY) that has a word in it  (THEORY???) that has Zero relationship to the disaster (the collision is not a theory; what caused the collision is not a theory … boat hitting iceberg caused the collision; there were theories about what caused the ship to sink … at first … but … now we know it was an iceberg, right? So ...). Just so weird / awkward to have all the other theme answers be spot-on and literal (to the point of dullness) and then have this lone outlier, totally unrelated to the Titanic except in a half-metaphorical kind of way. I'm baffled. Why was this even accepted? Further: fill is very much subpar. ATLI is ghastly, bottom-of-the-barrel crosswordese. In fact, it's almost definitive in its crosswordesiness. AGER and EDO and KAT, not much better.

      I did like OH BOTHER, appropriately/ironically. Had LEAP for [Bound] at 1A, so not the fastest start. I had MAGI for MARY at 10D: Crèche figure—kinda knew I was wrong, as MAGI are figures, plural, but MA- + "Crèche" = MAGI in my brain. Wanted I GOT IT before I DID IT (50D: Cry of success). Odd coincidence (I assume) that I have seen ECLIPSE (5D: Sun block?) at least three times in the past few days, considering there was a lunar ECLIPSE, what, just yesterday? Thought [Globe's place] as a clue for BOSTON was pretty clever. But outside of that answer and the Pooh answer, there's not much here to love.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/16/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Middle part of pedestal / TUE 4-15-14 / TV show anchored by Bill O'Reilly from 1989 to 1995 / Holder of tomorrow's lunch
        Constructor: Gary Cee

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: BASE ON BALLS (63A: Batter's reward after pitches like those described at the starts of 17-, 24-, 39- and 51-Across) — first words of theme answers can also describe non-strike pitches in baseball. Four misses, four balls => walk, i.e. BASE ON BALLS

        Theme answers:
        • HIGH TREASON
        • LOW BLOW
        Word of the Day: DADO (26D: Middle part of a pedestal) —
        1. Architecture. The section of a pedestal between base and surbase.
        2. The lower portion of the wall of a room, decorated differently from the upper section, as with panels.
          1. A rectangular groove cut into a board so that a like piece may be fitted into it.
          2. The groove so cut.

        Read more:
        • • •

        This is a perfectly reasonable puzzle. About as exciting as a walk, to me, but … hey, walks can be exciting. If they come late in the game, with the score even or close to it, perhaps. There's really nothing here to fault. There just isn't much to get excited about either. I like that none of the themers use their first words in positional ways, i.e. the words are used metaphorically, as opposed to the way they're used in baseball (literally). Always good to have your "first words" being used, in their own answers, in non-theme contexts. But the themers themselves aren't particularly original or scintillating, and neither is the fill—though DOGGIE BAG (3D: Holder of tomorrow's lunch, maybe) and MARSEILLE (35D: "The Count of Monte Cristo") have a certain unusualness and vividness that I like. This is a placeholder puzzle. Well made but instantly forgettable.

        [Submit, as clowns]

        This puzzle must've been pretty damned easy, in the main, because I made two major mistakes, resulting in a good deal of fumbling around, and yet I still came in at just over 3. My brain clearly took in the "Mumbai" part of 20A: Music of Mumbai (RAGA), but apparently it took in little else, since, with RA- in place, I wrote in RANI. This made both DOGGIE BAG and ENHANCE impossible to get at first. The other mistake I made—again off the first two letters—came at 47D: Orange source. I had OR- in place, so naturally I wrote in [...drum roll…] ORLANDO! Ugh. Became clear very quickly, as I tried to work the crosses in that SE corner, that something was wrong. Knew the [Old record player] couldn't start with "F," so wrote in HIFI and instantly saw ORCHARD. The rest of the puzzle–a blur of fast typing. I might've gotten held up near the center, with DADO, a word I only ever see in puzzles … but the point is that I *do* see it in puzzles (learned it from puzzles), so I *did* remember (after a second or two of cogitation), so no harm done. Oh, I also wrote in ASKED instead of PRIED, since nothing about the clue  (57A: Was inquisitive) suggested the inappropriateness or excessiveness implied by PRIED.

        Just a note: the NYT published only three female constructors in March. No woman has yet been published in April.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/15/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Caribbean island nation south of Martinique / MON 4-14-14 / Famous debate words from Reagan to Carter / Endorsement from Tony Tiger / Churchill's description of the Royal Air Force during W.W. II /
        Constructor: Gareth Bain

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (I have no idea; I solved on paper because stupid .puz file was "corrupt," and can't really gauge Monday "difficulty" when I solve on paper … beyond "yeah, it's Monday, so of course it's easy…")

        THEME: THAIR???  — homophones??? Is that it? I guess so.

        Theme answers:
        • "THERE YOU GO AGAIN" (17A: Famous debate words from Reagan to Carter)
        • THEIR FINEST HOUR (37A: Churchill's description of the Royal Air Force during W.W. II)
        • "THEY'RE GRRRRREAT!" (58A: Endorsement from Tony the Tiger) (this spelling is either arbitrary or inaccurate. The cereal boxes I'm seeing have three "R"s. If you go with five "R"s, you should have some basis for doing so … perhaps there is one, but I have no idea what it is)
        Word of the Day: ST. LUCIA (49A: Caribbean island nation south of Martinique) —
        Saint Lucia Listeni/snt ˈlʃə/ (FrenchSainte-Lucie) is a sovereign island country in the eastern Caribbean Seaon the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. Part of the Lesser Antilles, it is located north/northeast of the island of Saint Vincent, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. It covers a land area of 617 km2(238.23 sq mi) and has a population of 174,000 (2010). Its capital is Castries. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        I had to ask around about what the theme was because I couldn't believe it was just THERE / THEIR / THEY'RE, a concept so slight I can't believe it made the grade. Taken on their own, the theme answers vary in quality. Taken together as a theme … well, that's more USA Today-level stuff. Now, Gareth generally builds beautiful puzzles, and this one is more than solid, fill-wise—bit heavy on the short ordinary stuff, light on the longer interesting stuff, but in no way lazy or tiresome. Still, this puzzle has that first theme answer and not a lot else to recommend it. I have to call b.s. on that last theme answer. You can't just add "R"s to suit your fancy. This seems to be a case of "if wikipedia says it, it must be true." But the expression is in print enough that the three-R version should be taken as the established spelling. Picky? Yes. But accurate is accurate and verifiable is verifiable and made-up is made-up.

        Gotta go eat and then make Tom Collinseseses because "Mad Men."

        See you tomorrow.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/14/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        El cheap cigar slangily / SUN 4-13-14 / Actor Gulager of old TV / Tony-winning Robert Morse role / Triatomic oxygen molecule / 1980s Chrysler offering
        Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: It's Taxing! — familiar phrases are wackily clued ("?") as if they have something to do with taxes.

        Theme answers:
        • WITHHOLDING CONSENT (25A: Agreement for an amount to be taken from one's salary?)
        • MANY HAPPY RETURNS (33A: What C.P.A.'s wish for their clients?)
        • ROLL THE CREDITS (49A: C.P.A.'s advice for lowering future-year liabilities?)
        • TABLE FOR TWO (67A: Chart used to calculate a married couple's taxes?)
        • SCHEDULE CHANGE (81A: I.R.S. update?)
        • EMERGENCY SHELTER (93A: Last-minute way to reduce tax for a desperate filer?)
        • BRILLIANT DEDUCTION (104A: C.P.A.'s masterstroke?)
        Word of the Day: PILE (39A: Reactor) —
        1. A quantity of objects stacked or thrown together in a heap. See synonyms at heap.
        2. Informal. A large accumulation or quantity: a pile of trouble.
        3. Slang. A large sum of money; a fortune: made their pile in the commodities market.
        4. A funeral pyre.
        5. A very large building or complex of buildings.
        6. A nuclear reactor.
        7. A voltaic pile.

        Read more:
        • • •

        If you're going to make a puzzle about taxes, you should go out of your way to make it much, much more interesting than actually doing your taxes. This one was pretty boring, I thought. Yes, "withholding," "returns," etc. are all words that have tax-related meanings, but there's just no joy in this wackiness. Taken on their own, virtually all of the theme answers make me sleepy (I am one whisky sour to the wind, it's true, but puzzles are supposed to *reverse* alcohol's soporific power, not aggravate it). Taken as joke answers … well, the jokes just aren't funny. Most of the theme answers sound like tax-related answers all by themselves. The reorientation of the "?" clue isn't reorienting enough for there to be a real jolt of humor. These are the kind of lame puns unfunny CPAs might make around the office. Fill is adequate but forgettable. This one must've tickled Someone. Just not me.

        Solving issues—I have no idea how PILE is a [Reactor], and I apparently can't spell HAMAN (46A: Purim villain), so that eastern section took a while to come together. Vague cluing on RAPID (59A: Fast) meant delay in the symmetrical western section as well. EBANKS is horrible (76A: Websites of interest?). LENITY is real but dated / old-fashioned / strange / [frowny face] (99D: Laxness). A single DREG is more amusing than anything else. Face with FT--- at 74D: Army base near Petersburg, Va. I tried ORD and DIX. It was LEE. Frowny face on *me* there. I remembered ECOTONE! Well, I kinda sorta thought it was ECOTYPE, but still! Close! (52D: Transition area from deciduous to evergreen, e.g.REDBONE was … unexpected. Also unknown. Well, unknown as a [Breed of hunting dog]. The blues musician, I'm familiar with. Or there's these guys…

        Puzzle of the Week! There were three that stood out to me this week. The first was Byron Walden's great American Values Club puzzle, "Equal Say" (get it here) (read about it here). Byron gets an astonishing amount of mileage out of relatively simple concepts. His themers tend to be both wildly inventive and *legitimately* funny. Next was Peter Wentz's Friday themeless, which I rhapsodized about two days ago. Jam-packed with fantastic fill, and smooth from stem to stern. Really great work. But the ribbon this week goes to Frank Longo for his Saturday Stumper (Newsday), an epic themeless that kicked my ass up and down the block earlier today. What made the puzzle great was the combination of solid, interesting fill and unbelievably brutal cluing. [They develop less of a head cold] for BEERS. [Electric splitter, maybe] for ROOMIE. [Once common stage direction] for WEST (I might actually have stopped and applauded that one). If you like real challenges—the kind that might require many sittings before you conquer it—then you should definitely be doing the Stumper (available in many local papers, as well as here, every week).

        Lastly, two plugs that have nothing to do with crosswords. Just want to promote a couple of artists whose work I admire. The first is Amelie Mancini whose amazing baseball art — which includes baseball card packs with themes like "Bizarre Injuries" and "Marvelous Mustaches" as well as cool t-shirt designs and assorted other stuff — can be found at Left Field Cards. I get compliments on my "Knuckle Ball" t-shirt all the time. I caught a girl sketching it on the subway ride to Yankee Stadium last summer. Anyway, Amelie's work makes me smile, so maybe you'll like it too. And then there's the new graphic memoir by my friend AK Summers, who used to be in a writing group with me Back In The Day. I was so so excited to see that her brilliant book "Pregnant Butch" had come out this year. I was lucky enough to get to read parts of it in its very early stages. I learned a lot about comics from reading her drafts, and from the conversations our group would have about her book's tone, pacing, layout, humor, etc. Here is a very nice interview with AK at The Guardian, which will give you some idea about who she is and what the book's about. Get her book wherever book-type things are sold. Here, try Powell's. They're cool.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/13/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Popularity boost due to certain TV endorsement / SAT 4-12-14 / Mythical abode of heroes slain in battle / Fur Traders Descending Missouri painter 1845 / 21st-century pastime for treasure hunters / Pungent panini ingredient / Collages novelist 1964
        Constructor: Mel Rosen

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: ASCI (47D: Sacs studied by 58-Across) —
        An ascus (plural asci; from Greek ἀσκός "skin bag") is the sexual spore-bearing cell produced in ascomycete fungi. On average, asci normally contain eight ascospores, produced by a meiotic cell division followed, in most species, by a mitotic cell division. However, asci in some genera or species can occur in numbers of one (e.g. Monosporascus cannonballus), two, four, or multiples of four. In a few cases, the ascospores can bud off conidia that may fill the asci (e.g. Tympanis) with hundreds of conidia, or the ascospores may fragment, e.g. some Cordyceps, also filling the asci with smaller cells. Ascospores are nonmotile, usually single celled, but not infrequently may be coenocytic (lacking a septum), and in some cases coenocytic in multiple planes. Mitotic divisions within the developing spores populate each resulting cell in septate ascospores with nuclei. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        I liked this puzzle way more than I thought I would. Figured Mel Rosen's sweet spot would be somewhat far afield from mine, and while perhaps on other days that has been true, today: false. Or, rather, partially true, but in a way that still allowed me a pleasurable experience. Flummoxed by PYE DOGS, ALEKSEI, ASCI and BINGHAM (this despite living in Binghamton … no connection, I presume). But everything else was either reasonably common knowledge or slightly uncommon knowledge that I also happened to share. I took one look at 1A: Popularity boost due to a certain TV endorsement and thought COLBERT BUMP. Then thought, "No way. Too show-specific." But it fit so I wrote it in and went after the crosses. Astonished/thrilled when I got a few to work. Pretty timely 1A, I gotta say, what with Colbert getting the (future) Late Show gig just yesterday. I look forward to the inevitable on-air self-celebration caused by this "honor." Anyway, longtime viewers of his Report will be very familiar with the BUMP; others … I don't know. I guess you'll just have to fight your way out of that corner with a sharp object and gumption.

        I felt like I kept lucking into answers. 1A was the luckiest, but … take SAFECO. I only learned just last week that SAFECO was an insurance company. Today, that info helped a ton with getting into that SE corner. I filed my taxes today, so I think I just saw that damned IRS logo. It seemed like I was either making lucky initial guesses or having just enough crosses to be able to make sense of some of the longer answers. I got GEOCACHING off the "G," and I'm not sure I would even  have needed that (27D: 21st-century treasure hunters). I spend a lot of time in the woods, and every once in a while you see people who look lost, or at least out of place. Geocachers, it turns out. This puzzle has some odd words, but overall it's pretty clean, laudably contemporary, and entertainingly varied in its range of answers. Its faults (there are a few, mainly in the short fill) are eminently forgivable.

        Finished in just over 8, though I must've lost at least half a minute in pure Lionel Richie Frustration. I could not accept not knowing a 1987 Lionel Richie hit. "Truly" … "Hello" … "Dancin' on the Ceilin'" … COME ON! I do not remember SELA at all. I'm playing it now … barely registering. "Hit?" It's got a super reggae feel. I guess it beats yet another SELA Ward clue.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/12/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Ruess lead singer of Fun / FRI 4-11-14 / Eastern hereditary title / Home of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park / Target of 1972 ban / Daddy Warbucks's henchman / Order of ancient Greeks / Planet whose inhabitants age backward / 3 O'clock blues hitmake
        Constructor: Peter Wentz

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: KURTIS Blow (29D: Rapper ___ Blow) —
        Kurt Walker (born August 9, 1959), professionally known by his stage name Kurtis Blow, is an Americanrapper and record producer. He is the first commercially successful rapper and the first to sign with a majorrecord label. "The Breaks", a single from his 1980 debut album, is the first certified gold record rap song. (wikipedia)

        • • •

        Delightful. Little easier than Medium for me today, but PW frequently serves up crossword fare that is right in my sweet spot, and today was no exception. I had no idea the dude from fun. was named NATE (38A: ___ Ruess, lead singer of Fun). Other than that, though, the answers were all pretty familiar to me. Baseball season just started (FACE MASKS), I bought "The Metamorphosis" on a lark in the Phoenix airport last week (KAFKAESQUE), I live next door to Johnson City, NY, Home of the SQUARE DEAL, I own the 12" single of KURTIS Blow's "The Breaks," there was a TED TALK(S) on my campus this past month, etc. Despite a pretty decent free-fall mid-solve, where I had some but not all of the answers in the center and for some reason just couldn't budge, I put this thing away in the low 6s.

        You can really tell how difficult the wide open spaces are to fill well by looking at this puzzle—the middle is fine, but with the exception of KAFKAESQUE (which feels like it must've been a seed answer) (32A: Maddeningly surreal), it pales in comparison to the much snappier and more varied NW and SE corners. Not only do several answers end -ERS, almost every answer is a plural. Look at that diagonal of Ss from the end for MCS (46A: Runs the show, for short) running NE for … well, forever. I certainly don't care that much. The answers don't have that horrible forced, made-up quality that you sometimes see in these big white spaces. But the heavy reliance on plurals shows you how hard it is to cover that much ground without having your fill quality start to sag and groan.

        I started with ORE, BLADES, and CZAR, which gave me the B and K to get the BACK in MOVE BACK and the R, L and Z to get I REALIZE, and things took off from there. Once I threw those long Acrosses into the center, I thought for sure I'd keep flying, but despite getting FAT CATS, FACE MASKS, PACKERS, and starting work on the NE, I had empty patches in the middle and couldn't get into the SW. The patches, it turns out, had the golden Initial Ks in them. No hope for KATE MOSS (34D: Model introduced in the 1990s) or KINESCOPE (32D: Part of a TV archive) or KITTENS without them. Eventually pieced together KAFKAESQUE after checks of all the crosses determined -KAES- had to be right. Let me tell you, nothing like getting KAFKAESQUE to open your grid right up. Initial K was what allowed me access to the SW, and that Q got me down into the SE. Finished both the NE and SW in an eye blink. SE I had to wrestle a little, as NATE and DORIC and DIVEST and DUPED and CODE proved very slippery. Luckily, all the longer Acrosses down there were a relative cinch.

        Spring Break! (for me, anyway)

        See you tomorrow.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/11/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Creator of Sheriff Deadeye Cauliflower McPugg / THU 4-10-14 / Fast food chain founded by Italian immigrants / Alma mater for Toni Morrison Zora Neale Hurston / Sabin's study / Rio maker / Defib administrator
        Constructor: David Steinberg

        Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging

        THEME: SIX FLAGS (59A: Popular day trip destination … or a hint to the starts of the answers to the starred clues) — just what it says:
        Theme answers:
        • BLACK TIE (13A: *Kind of affair)
        • AMERICAN PIE (19A: *1971 song with the lyric "Helter skelter in a summer swelter")
        • RED SKELTON (25A: *Creator of Sheriff Deadeye and Cauliflower McPugg)
        • CHECKERED PAST (33A: *Sketchy history)
        • WHITE SALES (40A: *January events)
        • PIRATE RADIO (48A: *Some illegal transmissions)

        Word of the Day: EMETIC (58A: Emergency room agent) —
        Causing vomiting.
        An agent that causes vomiting. (
        • • •

        Disappointing. Tuesday theme on a Thursday = huge let-down. Puzzle was slightly more difficult than usual (for a Thursday) due to amped-up cluing, but at its core it's just a "first words" puzzle, and not a terribly interesting one. I guess the low word count is what makes it tougher / later week. Shrug. There wasn't much value added there. It's not like the wide-open spaces were particularly scintillating. I mean, it's all fine. Nothing offensive (unless you find the vomit implied by the EMETIC offensive). Just not a very interesting *Thursday* puzzle, and not really that interesting a puzzle for any day of the week. I finished with an error at what is perhaps the puzzle's weirdest clue—12D: Honey-do list rejection. First, you don't reject an item on a honey-do list with a verbal rejoinder. Or … maybe you do, but the scenario is kind of forced / hard to imagine. Second, you don't reject an item on a honey-do list, period. You just do it. Or don't do it and hope she (I'm making gender assumptions here, as I've only seen this concept in a woman-listmaker / man list-doer scenario) doesn't notice. But "NO, DEAR." I'm not sure that's gonna work for you. I like my answer, "NO DEAL!" as it is a. not condescending and b. potentially disavowable as ironic. "Just kidding, dear. I'm on it." Anyway, REAL makes no sense for 30A: Bench warmer? (REAR), so that mistake is all on me. I was briefly thinking Johnny Bench …

        Really had trouble getting out of the gate (in the NW). I somehow never even saw 14D: Rio maker (KIA) and "AMERICAN PIE" in my first fumblings up top—those would've saved me a bunch of time. I tend to wait to look at themers until I have at least a few crosses (mistake today). Finally got some traction UBOAT and SBARRO (after trying to make PT BOAT work at 7D: 8-Down sinker (ASHCAN)). Once I got going, the puzzle played Medium, maybe even a little easier than Medium. I don't normally love cross-referenced clues, but the grammar enthusiast in me really would've loved to see such clues on the intersecting HER and SHE. Favorite clue of the day was probably [Mark in the 60s] for DEE.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        4/10/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Seminomadic Kenyan / WED 4-9-14 / Product of domesticated insect / Mikado accessory / Trivia whiz Jennings
        Constructor: John E. Bennett

        Relative difficulty: Easy

        THEME: "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES?" (37A: Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas … with a hint to this puzzle's circled squares) — six sets of four circles form little "boxes," and the letters in those squares spell out types of boxes:

        Theme answers:
        • MAIL
        • GEAR
        • PILL
        • SAND 
        • SHOE
        • SALT
        Word of the Day: PAPAL States (5D: ___ States) —
        The Papal States were territories in the Italian peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of thepope, from the 700s until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the eighth century until the Italian Peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. At their zenith, they covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio (that includes most of Rome), MarcheUmbria and Romagna, as well as portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy. After 1861 the Papal States, reduced to Lazio, continued to exist until 1870. Between 1870 and 1929 the Pope had no physical territory at all. Eventually Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini solved the crisis between modern Italy and the Vatican, and in 1929 theVatican State was founded as the smallest of all nations. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        On the one hand, this is a cute puzzle with a reasonably tight theme. The central question is *mildly* contrived, but it's plausible, and neatly directs our attention to those circle formations. This last part is important because I finished the puzzle having no idea what the theme was. There was no need to know. It was a super-easy puzzle. Knowing the theme helped not one bit. It played like an afterthought: "Oh, there was a theme? Oh … yeah … look at that." I think a theme like this works much better with a higher level of difficulty. There's no chance for the theme to help you, or to play any role at all, when the puzzle is this easy. Hard to fully appreciate something you didn't notice at all.

        I also think that in a puzzle like this, you gotta construct the grid in such a way that you don't have all these false themers, i.e. long Across answers (8+) arranged in the grid the way that theme answers typically are. Weird to have such prominent-looking answer be completely unrelated to the theme. Fill is just OK. The theme boxes cause some trouble (IS NO, IS ON), but actually most of the mediocrity is elsewhere—common short fill abounds. Not a sin, but not scintillating, either. PSST OMAN TNT ALI ODEON AGEE SEER … taken individually, just fine; piled up, a bit tedious. How many PEDROS does it take to make this puzzle? More than ONE, apparently. ONE is usually enough.

        By far the hardest part of this puzzle was PAPAL—that fill-in-the-blank is a massive outlier in terms of difficulty. First, the clue is super-ambiguous. Second, when's the last time anyone thought about the PAPAL States? Everything else in this puzzle is straight over the plate: familiar, and non-cleverly clued. [Seminomadic Kenyan] makes things a little interesting in the SW, but for a puzzle with a WATER SNAKE, it had very little in the way of teeth. It's very competently made, but not terribly exciting.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/9/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Two-horse wager / TUE 4-8-14 / Bucolic verse / Jungle film attire / Unit involved in shell game
          Constructor: Ian Livengood

          Relative difficulty: Easy

          THEME: Ambigu-its — common phrases (following the for verb-IT-preposition) are recontextualized  by their wacky, overly literal clues

          Theme answers:
          • 17A: "That's enough!," to a hot dog-eating contestant? ("KEEP IT DOWN!")
          • 25A: "That's enough!," to a store clerk at Christmas? ("WRAP IT UP!")
          • 36A: "That's enough!," to an assembly line worker? ("MOVE IT ALONG!")
          • 51A: "That's enough!," to a collagist? ("CUT IT OUT!")
          • 61A: "That's enough!," to a carnival thrower? ("KNOCK IT OFF!")
          Word of the Day: Jared LETO (10A: Jared of "Dallas Buyers Club") —
          Jared Leto (/lɛtɒ/; born December 26, 1971) is an American actor, singer-songwriter, musician, director, producer, activist, philanthropist and businessman. After starting his career with television appearances in the early 1990s, Leto achieved recognition for his role as Jordan Catalano on the television series My So-Called Life (1994). He made his film debut in How to Make an American Quilt(1995) and received first notable critical praise for his performance in Prefontaine (1997). Leto played supporting roles in The Thin Red Line (1998), Fight Club (1998) and American Psycho (2000), as well as the lead role in Urban Legend (1998), and earned critical acclaim after portraying heroin addict Harry Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream (2000). He later began focusing increasingly on his music career, returning to acting with Panic Room (2002), Alexander (2004), Lord of War (2005),Lonely Hearts (2006), Chapter 27 (2007), and Mr. Nobody (2009). He made his directorial debut in 2012 with the documentary film Artifact.
          Leto's performance as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, among numerous other accolades. […] 
          Leto is the lead vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter for Thirty Seconds to Mars, a band he formed in 1998 in Los Angeles, California, with his older brother Shannon Leto. (wikipedia) (emphasis mine … I have my reasons)
          • • •

          I should listen to Frank Zappa every time I solve because man did I torch this puzzle. Haven't been under 3 on a Tuesday in what feels like a good long time, but I was well under today. Was able to get most of the theme answers without even looking at the clues. You could just feel from the first word what a phrase was going to be after a while. This is a nice, tight theme—"That's enough" is a better clue for some of the theme answers than it is for others, but I think it holds up, overall. The best theme answer (by which I mean best theme clue) was the first one, which I really wish came at the end (Merl Reagle–style … whenever possible, let your last themer be your punchline). I don't really like "collagist" or "carnival thrower" because they are overly specific and oddly phrased, respectively. But still, the core concept is a solid and entertaining one.

          Here's what held me up (if only for a tiny bit): first, ON TAPE (13D: Like books for long car rides, say). This is not a surprise, as this concept of listening to books ON TAPE is already an anachronism. Maybe they're on CD, more likely they're on some kind of mp3 player. Would've gotten held up on ECO-LAW (a term I never see in the wild) (45D: Body of environmental regulations), but the E and W were my first letters, so I got it instantly. Only other stop-and-think-a-bit moment was with CREW TEAM—since that answer had the trickiest clue of the day (3D: Unit involved in a shell game?), and is an uncommon (and pretty cool) answer, my mild struggle is completely unsurprising. Everything else—instant.

          Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go check on the NCAA Championship game.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/8/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Old name for Tokyo / MON 4-7-14 / San Diego baseballer / Canals Michigan/Ontario separator / First Arabic letter
          Constructor: Douglas Taillon

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

          THEME: 2 — lots of two-related stuff, plus a 2-ish image in the center of the grid (made out of black squares)

          Theme answers:
          • 16A: High-stakes wager (DOUBLE OR NOTHING)
          • 59A: Boeing 767, for one (TWIN-ENGINE PLANE)
          • 13D: More, at a meal (SECOND HELPING)
          • 14D: Someone who's so nice you almost want to smack him (GOODY TWO SHOES) (this clue is insane; excessive niceness is Not what's behind this term. No reasonable person wants to "smack" another person simply for being nice. The clue misses the essential smugness / unctuousness required to invite smacking)
          • 28A: See 68-Across
          • 68A: One of a couple for the Roman god JANUS (FACE)
          • 45A: One of a couple in a 767 (AISLE)
          Word of the Day: JANUS (28A: See 68-Across) (68A: One of a couple for the Roman god 28-Across => FACE)
          In ancient Roman religion and mythJanus (LatinIanuspronounced [ˈiaː.nus]) is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, passages, endings and time. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. The Romans named the month of January (Ianuarius) in his honor. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          Sometimes you have a tight, well-conceived, expertly executed theme, and sometimes you have a general idea and you just throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Today, the latter. Not sure what the occasion for all the 2-ness is (it would be nice if it had a clear context, point of reference … something). But the theme answers seem really arbitrary. The JANUS cross-referenced stuff is oddly placed, esp. considering the other 4s in the corners are all specifically doubles. Which of these four is not like the others: PAIR, DYAD, DUAL, FACE? FACE! You are correct! GOODY TWO SHOES has nothing to do with doubleness at all. Yes, there are two shoes, but absolutely nothing about that expression relates to doubleness. AISLE? There are a gajillion things that come in pairs, and … AISLE? I see that it's connected to TWIN-ENGINE PLANE, but … why? Nothing's connected to DOUBLE OR NOTHING, so … I'm not getting the structural logic here. That said, I liked that the grid was unusual looking—don't really care about the "2" in the middle, unusualness is always good on a Monday. And some of the fill was quite nice. Conceptually, it's all just too loose for me. But it's not bad, by any means.

          There were exactly three places during the solve where I either faltered or had to think a little bit. First, right away, at 1-Across. Wanted DYAD for [Couple]. A reasonable answer, it turns out. Then at 39D: Split with an ax I had the "C" and wrote in CHOP UP instead of the correct CLEAVE. Lastly, I didn't quite grasp what [One of a couple in a 767] was going for, so had to fall back on the crosses until it became clear. Otherwise, I was pretty much filling in answers as fast as I could read the clues.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/7/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Circus performer Kelly / SUN 4-6-14 / 1986 girl's-name song by Boston / DuPont trademark of 1941 / Dual-sport athlete Sanders / Indonesian tourist haven
          Constructor: Patrick Berry

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

          THEME: "At Times" — two-word noun phrases where the second word ends "-ER" are clued as if they referred to particular kinds of people; that is, the -ER is imagined as a verbal suffix meaning "one who does x," thus completely changing the meaning of the second word.

          Theme answers:
          • 23A: Clumsy pharmacist, at times? (MEDICINE DROPPER)
          • 28A: Dressage rider, at times? (COLT REVOLVER)
          • 47A: Old-fashioned barber, at times? (FOAM RUBBER)
          • 54A: Inexperienced shucker, at times? (OYSTER CRACKER)
          • 65A: No-limit Texas hold'em player, at times? (ALL BETTER) 
          • 74A: Farmer, at times? (CHICKEN TENDER)
          • 84A: Sleeping sunbather, at times? (BACK BURNER)
          • 103A: Dieter, at times? (SNACK COUNTER)
          • 110A: Person getting out of a tub, at times? (BATHROOM SLIPPER)

          Word of the Day: MONOSKI (14D: Snowboard relative) —
          1. (Skiing) a wide ski on which the skier stands with both feet
          ˈmonoˌskier n ˈmonoˌskiing n (
          • • •

          This was a Patrick Berry 3 … which is a normal person's 7. This is to say, it's a good puzzle, but not nearly of the caliber of most PB1 puzzles (PB1 is Patrick Berry; PB2 is Patrick Blindauer; just FYI). I kept waiting for "times" to be involved in some important way. Like … maybe multiplication would be involved somehow? And then I thought perhaps letters had been added or rearranged; but it's just ordinary phrases, made interesting / funny / clever by their wacky clues. There is something very inventive about the theme, conceptually, and the clues definitely add a nice level of humor at times (at times!). And the fill is PB1-grade all the way—with care and polish and attention to detail evident in every corner of the grid. So theme is OK, fill is great, thumbs up. If this review seems at all tepid, it's just because Berry has set the bar so high. The Bar Is Too Damned High!

          I had this weird experience solving where I noticed that the times posted at the NYT applet seemed to be running high. This made my brain think "uh oh, a tough Patrick Berry," and right away, within the first couple minutes, I found myself running slow and getting kind of frustrated. Then I remembered something I'd read recently about an experiment where people who were told beforehand that a problem was easy found it easier than those who were told it was hard. That is, people were primed to believe something, and that affected their experience of that thing. So mid-solve, I consciously told myself—you were primed. You are struggling and getting frustrated because you believe this is a tough puzzle. Forget what you believe. Just solve the puzzle. It's just a puzzle. And through purely willed confidence,  I took off and solved this thing in slightly below-average time (just over 10 for me). I have learned that I am overly sensitive to frustration when solving—I can feel myself getting annoyed and self-critical, which saps my speed and also weirdly blinds me. I get in bad ruts, fail to read clues properly (or at all), keep things in I should tear out, etc. I don't think everyone is as emotionally volatile as I am when solving, and that is undoubtedly a good thing. I think the trick is to proceed with confidence and self-assuredness and a level head, even when the puzzle is kicking your ass sideways.

          I have never heard the phrase TRICK UP before (88D: Dress in fancy duds). TRICK OUT, I think I've heard. Also never ever heard COCKERS. I'm sure it's real. I've just not heard it. I don't know many cocker spaniels, though, so this is perhaps not surprising. Anyway, the TRICK UP / COCKERS area in the SW gave me a little trouble, is what I'm trying to say, but only a little. Had a conversation about my wife's MAORI middle name (Ataahua) at dinner with friends earlier tonight, so that answer was personally timely (14A: Indigenous people known for their tattoos). I like to the ZOOT / OOZES crossing—something about the two Os going toward the Z, and then the two Os going away from the Z at a right angle. Looks cool. Clue on IAMB is fantastic (31D: One of four in "As I Was Going to St. Ives"). I was like "There were LAMBs in that rhyme? … oh … IAMB … OH! Wow, yes. that is true." I was less thrilled at being forced to remember "AMANDA," a song which always sounds 10 years older than it actually is. 1986!? How is that possible? (20A: 1986 girl's-name song by Boston)

          Puzzle of the Week (last week's edition) — I missed last week because I was all the way on the other side of the country at a memorial service for my step-siblings' father (I was also visiting my own father). Sorry to give last week short shrift, since it feature amazing work by (once again) Erik Agard (some of the clues in his "Themeless 18" are just unreal—crazy good) and Andy Kravis (whose "Unlucky in Love" is a lot of fun and has a great revealer). Winner, though, was Peter Broda for a vowelless puzzle ("Vowelless #9") that just was something close to perfect. I have three words written on it, in various places: "awesome" "killer" and "wow." So you should do that puzzle.

          Puzzle of the Week (this week's edition) — it was a good week. Trip Payne's Cuckoo Crossword (for Fireball Crosswords) was tough and entertaining and made me laugh over and over (Cuckoos are very wide-open grids filled with a Ton of totally made-up, ridiculous phrases, magnificently and absurdly clued in a way that makes them—miraculously, despite all their made-upedness, doable). Patrick Blindauer's April puzzle is a parody puzzle (find it here, under "Play"). Specifically, a parody of this NYT puzzle from last month. I didn't realize it was a parody at first, and thought "ah, that's pretty good." Then I found out about the parody angle, which revealed another hidden level to the puzzle. Really spectacular. But my winner this week is one of the best NYT puzzles of the year—a holiday puzzle done right: Andrew Reynolds' April Fool's Day puzzle. I was traveling when it came out, so didn't get around to solving it til the 3rd or so, but I'd already heard murmurs about how good it was. I opened it and was like "hmmm, circles … I don't know." Then I solved it. It's brilliant while also being simple, elegant, and utterly solvable. It's rare that you get a fancy trick puzzle that is also so accessible. I just loved it. So it wins this week.

          See you tomorrow.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

          P.S. Happy birthday to my sister, who does not do crosswords.
          4/6/2014 4:25:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          1996 Rhett Akins country hit / SAT 4-5-14 / Cro-Magnon orphan of literature / Debut Peter Tosh album rallying cry for pot smokers / Internet traffic statistics company / Fictional home five miles from Jonesboro / Singer with 1996 triple-platinum albu
          Constructor: Ashton Anderson and James Mulhern

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (also possibly anywhere from Medium to Challenging, depending on possible pop culture potholes) 

          THEME: none

          Word of the Day: ALEXA (9D: Internet traffic statistics company) —
          Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California-based subsidiary company of which provides commercial web traffic data. Founded as an independent company in 1996, Alexa was acquired by Amazon in 1999. Its toolbar collects data on browsing behavior and transmits it to the Alexa website, where it is stored and analyzed, forming the basis for the company's web traffic reporting. As of 2013, Alexa provides traffic data, global rankings and other information on 30 million websites, and its website is visited by over 8.8 million people monthly. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          Ah, a nice, palate-cleansing 72-worder with delightful, fresh fill. I needed this. I think this one skews somewhat young, somewhat slangy, and therefore somewhat might annoy somewhat people. Somewhat. But I really liked it, and despite some pretty tough patches and tricky cluing, I managed to move through it with no significant snags. Worst hold-up was probably in the MA BELL / ALEXA section of the puzzle, there in the NE. MA BELL is very toughly clued (8D: Parent company?). And ALEXA … Well, in retrospect, I have heard of ALEXA, but while solving the puzzle, I had no idea. Also, I mysteriously had AYLA as AYER (?), so thank god for I GOT YOU and LILT, which were the only things I could throw up into that section at first, but which ended up being just enough for me to see "LEGALIZE IT" (16A: Debut Peter Tosh album, and a rallying cry for pot smokers). Very nice to cross that answer with REEFER, by the way. Less nice to cross REEFER with FER … but we'll let that slide (mostly).

          Taught a lot of sonnets this semester, so at 17A: Scheme for the start of a sonnet, I was like "Well, it's ABBA or ABAB … AB-something, so just write in AB-." And I did. And that was enough for me to get HABANERO (2D: Certain chili), and off I went. I have a Gay TALESE book on the shelf right behind me (I once directed a thesis on the New Journalism), so no problem there. I wanted 32A: U.S. Open champion whose last name is a toy to be one name. One last name. Also, a tennis player. But KITS was a gimme, and TOM KITE came soon after. Got stuck at the exact halfway point (with everything north of the central diagonal filled in, up and around to ROTH / LORNE). Looked at timer and it said 4-something. High 4s. But I couldn't get any crosses, so I was faced with jumping into the abyss. Figured I wouldn't break 10. But then I got AEROBE straight off. Then ORR and ENRICH, and then I was off again. Biggest problem toward the end was unpacking "LUCKY ME," which seemed to take forever. Getting PATTY CAKE (great clue—44A: It involves hand-to-hand coordination) made getting into SE easy, despite my having no idea what CONEYS are (besides rabbits) (45D: Carnival items served with chili). Finished in the mid-8s, without even seeing the clue for PEELINGS (37D: Some kitchen detritus).

          [She solves crosswords too. For real. "That's usually how I write a song. I usually have the hook or the chorus before anything else, and I don't know what it's about. And it's like doing a crossword puzzle for however long it takes, trying to figure out the theme of the puzzle.”]

          Despite never having heard of CONEYS or "SHE SAID YES," and despite half-forgetting AYLA, I fared pretty well. No need to know or even be familiar with all the pop culture in a puzzle in order to take it down. If people had trouble with this one, I'm guessing it was in and around FIONA APPLE, or in and around PRIMAL URGE (which had a hard/ambiguous clue—5A: Drive to drink, e.g.). Lastly, big ups to the clue on DOOFUS (41D: Tool). I don't think of those words as precisely synonymous ("DOOFUS" implies a kind of affable idiocy, where "Tool" implies at least a soupçon of dickishness), but still, discovering that "Tool" was idiomatic made me laugh.

          Check you later.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/5/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Third Watch actress Texada / FRI 4-4-14 / Frank Loesser show tune / Sporting goods chain with slogan Get outside yourself / Chart in Cadiz / Love Death on Long Island novelist Gilbert / Songwriters hall of fame member who wrote April Love /
          Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith and Joe Krozel

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: none

          Word of the Day: TERNES (3D: Lead-tin alloys) —
          1. (Metallurgy) Also called: terne metal an alloy of lead containing tin (10-20 per cent) and antimony (1.5-2 per cent)
          2. (Metallurgy) Also called: terne plate steel plate coated with this alloy
          [C16: perhaps from French terne dull, from Old French ternir to tarnish] (
          • • •

          I was tipped off that double quad stacks were coming, so I took a deep breath and resolved, right before  opening the puzzle, to love it. LOVE IT. That resolution lasted like 90 seconds. I'll never understand this obsession with stacking for its own sake. Stacks compromise fill, and today was no exception. A wholesale disaster up top. 1- 2- and 3-Down are utterly unknown to me. 14- and 15-Down are suffixes you never want in your grid even on their own—alongside one another … wow. TENTER is, let's say, weird (though some of my crossword constructor friends are having a gay old time right now making boner jokes on FB). TEN HOURS is just an arbitrary amount of time. The 15s up there mean nothing to me. Thank god I had some recollection of ADELAIDE, because 1- 2- and 3-Down would remain unsolved otherwise. REISIEIDIO is making me laugh. Seriously, the top half of this grid is an object lesson in the terribleness of quad stacks, or stunt puzzles in general. Always seems like the constructor has a. a tin ear for fill and phrases, and b. contempt for the solver (i.e. is showing off).

          The lower half of the grid is marginally better. First two 15s, at least, are lovely. Too bad they had to got and stack those two on top of Two More. BUNS are "supplies"? I'D NO idea. SAMMY WHO???   (30D: Songwriters Hall of Fame member who wrote "April Love"). What is "April Love"? Hmmm. Looks like something Pat Boone sang 60 years ago. "Third Watch"? People watch that? People know who TIA Texada is? (37D: "Third Watch" actress Texada) There's this horrible perfect storm happening here, where I have contempt for quad stacks *and* I live nowhere near whatever cultural planet these constructors live on. The latter is just too bad for me. The former isn't. The former is a real thing. The compromises in the fill are just too much. Beyond the pale. The lower half is, in every way, better than the top. If the top half had matched the bottom, with at least two good long answers and virtually all acceptable crosses, I might have kept my original "Love-It" resolution. But of course that didn't happen.

          Congrats to one of the constructors on using ANTS IN ONE'S PANTS for the *sixth time* in his constructing career (acc. to cruciverb's database). Two more and he gets a free sandwich.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

          PS I still have no idea what SAMS stands for. None. (1D: Some defensive weapons, in brief).
          PPS Tyler Hinman tells me it's "surface-to-air missiles." I can sleep easy now.
          4/4/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Three-stringed Eastern instrument / THU 4-3-14 / Young-adult fiction author Darren / 1942 title role for Rita Hayworth / Chorus starter in 1972 David Bowie song / One side 1967 war
          Constructor: David Benkof and Jeff Chen

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

          THEME: CH- CH- CH- CH- CHANGES (58A: Chorus starter in a 1972 David Bowie song … or the theme of this puzzle, phonetically)— four theme answers all start with "CH-", but each one is pronounced differently from the others (hence "changes")

          Theme answers:
          • CHANUKAH MENORAH (17A: December display)
          • CHAOS THEORY (24A: Mathematical field that includes the so-called "butterfly effect")
          • CHARLOTTE BRONTË (36A: One of literature's "three sisters") (thought this might be OLGA, IRINA, or whatever the other one is called…)
          • CHAIN-SMOKED (44A: Went from butt to butt?)
          Word of the Day: FANBOY (9D: Many a sic-fi devotee) —
          1. 1.
            a male fan, esp. one who is obsessive about movies, comic books, or science fiction. (the definition that comes up when you Google [define fanboy] … I have no idea how to cite that or who, exactly, the authority is…)
          • • •

          I mostly enjoyed this. I very much enjoy Bowie, so that reveal was a lot of fun for me to fill in. It was also a nice revelation re: What The Hell The Theme Was. I was like "hmm … starts with CH- … that's a little thin." But the reveal nicely articulates what the theme is all about; and it's snappy in its own right. Nice. Super-segmented grid means lots of 3- 4- and 5-letter entries, i.e. a mostly easy solve. They squeeze a lot out of the few 6+- letter answers they do have, with COP CAR, "GET THIS," and FANBOY all winners in my book. Why you clue FISH that way I have no idea. I guess the puzzle was playing very easy, so they decided to use this one clue to toughen it up. I doubted FISH for a while because I thought "no way they go to *that* guy for such a common word" (35A: Hamilton ___, two-term secretary of state under Grant). Kept trying FISK. Kept getting AKEAD in the cross. Eventually stopped trying FISK. Did have problem with AVIAN FLU / UVM. I didn't even blink at AVIAN FLU, and then tried to rationalize UVM as some … veterans? Virginian? … thing I just didn't know. USM is terrible (7D: Mil. branch). If you google [Define "USM"] you will get jack squat. It's USMC. USM should be thrown in the trash along with other things we never use (and ENISLE; I mean, if you're throwing things away, why not?).

          If you solve on paper, you might wanna check your LAILA ALI / SHAN crossing. I have this weird feeling that some folks will have LEILA / SHEN. Seems a not unreasonable guess.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/3/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Pachacuti's people / WED 4-2-14 / Actress Dash of Clueless / Jewelry designer Peretti / So-called potted physician / Challenger's announcement at pickup game / Singer Smith of punk music / Beast in documentary Blackfish
          Constructor: David Levinson Wilk

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

          THEME: that's out of — wacky ("?"-style) clues are not wacky at all, but literal; while it appears that the phrase "out of" in the clues starts an idiomatic phrase, it's really a cue for you to make the answer (clued by the first part of the clue) OUT OF the words that follow, i.e. anagram the phrase following "out of" to get an answer to the first part of the clue. [Breathe] Thus:

          Theme answers:
          • 17A: Weapon part that's out of this world? = weapon part that is made out of the letters in "this world" = SWORD HILT
          • 11D: Drenched gangsters who are out of the woods? (SHOOT DEW)
          • 41A: Attack on a Mideast land that's out of thin air? ("HI, TRAIN!")
          • 40D: Military laundry that's out of harm's way? (WARY HAMS)
          • 66A: Fisherman's feat that's out of character? (RACE CHART)
          Word of the Day: ECOTONE (10D: Environmental transition area) —
          An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.
          The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          Was worried I'd forgotten how to not like a puzzle, but it's like falling off a bike or log or one of those: no sweat. Cute idea (literalizing idioms that begin "out of…"),  but the answers are nonsense. IRAN HIT is nonsense. WET HOODS is nonsense. There was no joy in getting these. There was especially no joy because I had no idea what was going on until I was finished. My "aha" moment was more of a "hmmm maybe if I could go back in time and somehow know this *while* solving I might've felt differently about this puzzle but I really doubt it" moment. The grid looks great, otherwise (except for that MCLI / ITA / AGR part). ECOTONE's a crutch, but I GOT NEXT is killer, and who doesn't love ARMPIT? Sexy.

          "NOW A TRY A IT ON!" — things a horrible caricature of an Italian tailor might say!?

          I had S-A and -UR for a long time (i.e. seconds, but still). Lichtenstein's locale is, undoubtedly, EURope, and yet somehow that feels a bit like having the clue [Kentucky's locale] for NORTH AMERICA. But SEAs have "swells" so I figured it out. I like the groupings of people in the NW and SE corners. LESTER Holt and STACEY Dash are an unlikely double date—romantic comedy waiting  to happen—and I love the image of sad Kirk COBAIN and sad DOOBIE Brothers sadly standing on the street, staring at DISCOS that won't let them in because they aren't dressed right. It's possible Men AT WORK are there too.


          Many thanks to Matt, Ben, Angela, Doug, The Klein Sisters, and Andy for keeping things going while I was gone. I'm most grateful. Now to sleep, which I haven't done in … let's see, today, then 16 hours transit time from CA including red-eye flight, then yesterday, carry the one … [falls asleep calculating]

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          4/2/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Game with a 32-card deck / TUE 4-1-14 / Peak in Greek myth / Opera singer in an opera / Robb Stark's realm in "Game of Thrones," with "the" / Genetic sequence groups
          Constructor: Andrew Reynolds

          Relative difficulty: It'll make a fool out of you

          THEME: "HEADS OR TAILS" — (37A: Winner of the wager in 17-/56-Across, depending on how you fill the circled squares in this puzzle), with (17A/56A, Common format for a wager) being BEST THREE / OUT OF FIVE

          Word of the Day: NOLTE (40A: Nick who was named People's Sexiest man alive in 1992) —
          Two sides of the same coin.

          • • •

          Andy Kravis here, rubbing for Sex. I mean, subbing for Rex. April Fools'!

          Did you remember today was April 1st? Will Shortz and Andrew Reynolds sure did. I expected some trickery today, and I was not disappointed. Today's puzzle gives us five circled squares, representing coins, each of which can be filled with either H or T:

          Theme answers:
          • GUS(H/T) (3D: Sudden outburst) crossing IS(H/T) (19A: Suffix with cartoon)
          • FIS(H/T) (11D: It may be landed with a hook) crossing BAS(H/T)ES (21A: Clobbers)
          • (H/T)INT (24D: Bit of color) crossing (H/T)UMBLE (24A: Bring down)
          • (H/T)ONES (37D: Improves, in a way) crossing (H/T)(E/A)(A/I)(D/L)S (37A: Winner of the wager in 17-/56-Across, depending on how you fill the circled squares in this puzzle)
          • (H/T)AUNT (46D: Plague) crossing (H/T)OOT (46A: Blast)
          Besides HONES and TONESthe HEADS/TAILS entry affects three more down entries: MALT and MELT (32D: Diner menu item)TIT and TAT (33D: Part of retribution, in a phrase); and RILE and RIDE (34D: Antagonize). By my count, that's 8 squares (and 13 clues) that have two possible answers.

          Puzzles like these, which can be filled more than one way and still be correct, are commonly referred to as Schrodinger puzzles. Most recently, the January 30, 2014 NYT was also a Schrodinger puzzle, though the quantum element was limited to a single square. And, lest anyone ever let us forget, Will Shortz's favorite crossword puzzle of all time is the famous CLINTON/BOB DOLE Schrodinger puzzle of 1996.

          Back to the puzzle at hand. Once you've filled in all five circled squares, at least three will contain either H or T, and that's how you know whether HEADS or TAILS won. In my initial speed solve, TAILS won 3-2, even though I had HEADS at 37A. But since Mr. Happy Pencil doesn't come up in Across Lite unless you've got 5 H's and HEADS at 37A, I think we all know who the real winner is. Which side of the coin won your solve?

          This is an extremely impressive construction. 78 words and 40 blocks are reasonable numbers for a Tuesday puzzle. Of course the gimmick would be much better suited for a Thursday puzzle, but it's a fantastic April Fools' puzzle. And the theme is really the star here: the surrounding fill is fairly unremarkable, about on par with or slightly better than with most other Tuesday NYT puzzles. Mostly 3- to 6-letter entries, with the only long non-themers being the unremarkable MOUSE PADS and UNINSURED (the latter with a nice Obamacare reference in the clue). There are a few entries that I think are slightly out-of-place for a Tuesday: CODONS (44D: Genetic sequencing groups); UVEAS (25D: Eye parts -- side note, did you notice the "eye parts" mini-theme running through the grid?); maybe MT. IDA (32A: Peak in Greek myth) is too hard for Tuesday, maybe not. Not a fan of the plurals ROES and ETHELS, nor OST, ERAT, or ENE. Given how difficult this grid was to build, "unremarkable surrounding fill" is a huge accomplishment.

          There were a couple of entries that had some noticeably nice, fresh clues (which I suspect came from the relatively young Mr. Reynolds): NORTH (30D: Robb Stark's realm in "Game of Thrones,"with "the") and fun. (57D: Band with the 2012 #1 hit "We Are Young"). Also nice to see ARGO clued as the Best Picture Oscar winner (as it has been more often than not since 2012), though for some reason Argo feels to me like it happened a lot longer ago than "We Are Young."

          All in all, one of my favorite early-week NYT puzzles this year. Getting such a challenging puzzle on a Tuesday? ICING on the cake.

          Signed, Andy Kravis, (H/T)ipster of CrossWorld
          4/1/2014 4:16:00 AM

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