Monday, December 22, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Dadaist Max / MON 12-22-14 / Ugly Middle-earth characters / Title cop played by Al Pacino / Hidalgo home / Repeated word in Banana boat song
Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: PED XING (39A: Something often seen on a street corner, briefly … or , literally, something seen in eau corner of this puzzle) — four crossing "PED" letter strings:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: SOLON (70A: Wise man) —
Athenian lawgiver and poet. His reforms preserved a class system based on wealth but ended privilege by birth. [Thus…]n.
1. wise lawgiver.
2. legislator. (

• • •

Seen it. Well, a version of it, back in 2009, when the crossing PEDs were rebusized. But no matter—this is clean and reasonably clever. Very theme-dense. My only beef is … well, two beefs. 1. I prefer when the hidden/embedded word spans two words (as in SHARP EDGE) rather than simply sits inside a word (STAMPEDE) or (worse) sits inside one word in a two-word phrase, leaving that second word just flapping there in the non-thematic wind (SPED AWAY). There are many PEDs to deal with here, so phrase-spanning PEDs in every case would be too much to ask for, but it would have been elegant to have them in all the longer answers. And then 2. I prefer when embedded words find themselves in phrases in which their base meaning is disguised. In this case, that would've meant no "PED" where "PED" was referring to feet. But both IMPEDIMENT and PEDAL have the same Latin root (interestingly, STAMPEDE appears to have no etymological relationship to L. pes, pedis 'foot'). I can forgive IMPEDIMENT, since it isn't so obviously foot-related, but PEDAL feels too spot-on. Too related to the PED in PED XING. Yes I'm over thinking this, but (also) yes I think elegance is a worthy consideration, even in a Monday.

  • 11D: Simple aquatic plant (ALGA) — this is one of three spots where I had some hesitation. Actually, here, I wrote in a flat-out wrong answer: ALOE. 
  • 32D: Late (TARDY) — Had TAR-Y. Wrote in TARRY—a weirdly related but clearly wrong answer. 
  • 70A: Wise man (SOLON) — Had the S- and couldn't come up with it immediately. Forgot SOLON was a generic term and not just a specific Athenian lawmaker.  
That's all for today. My holiday eating regimen is sapping my energy a bit ...
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    12/22/2014 5:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Actress Strahovski of 2000s TV / SUN 12-21-14 / Computerdom informally / Roy Rogers's real last name / Risky chess move / Zion National park material / Tree whose pods have sweet pulp
    Constructor: Joel Fagliano

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: "Season's Greetings" — add "HO" sound for wackiness:

    Theme answers:
    • HO HUM DINGER (22A: Homer that leaves people yawning?)
    • HOKEY WORD (24A: "Shucks!" or "Pshaw!"?)
    • BLACK-EYED HOPIS (42A: Southwest tribe after a fistfight?)
    • DESPICABLE HOMIE (67A: Backstabbing pal?)
    • NO-MONEY HOEDOWN (91A: Barn dance that's free to attend?)
    • CROSS HOBO (114A: Vagrant after getting kicked off a train, say?)
    • HOKUM TO PAPA (117A: Stuff your dad finds ridiculous?)
    Word of the Day: MARA Liasson (111D: ___ Liasson, NPR political correspondent) —
    Mara Liasson (/ˈmɑrə ˈl.əsən/; born June 13, 1955) is an American journalist and political pundit. She is the national political correspondent for National Public Radio[1] and also a contributor at Fox News Channel. (wikipedia) (I will never not make public radio correspondents my WOTD … I'm coming for you, Ira Flatow …)
    • • •

    If you never solved a Christmas-themed puzzle in your life before today, this one likely seemed cute to you. And it is, without a doubt, a well-made puzzle, with a consistent theme and very good, fresh fill. If Joel (who works for W.S.) is being groomed for Will's job, well, fine by me. He's super-talented and lives in the 21st century, so thumbs-up. But back to the theme—I knew what it was before I started. Or, rather, I said to myself, "It's not just adding 'hos' to things, is it?" And then that's exactly what it was. Very good HO-adding, for sure, but very predictable HO-adding nonetheless. Either I am some kind of psychic *or* I've seen this theme before at least once. I mean, seriously, it was the most obvious / cliché theme I could think of off the top of my head, so it must've been done more than once. Still, though, these answers are new to me, and pretty funny on the whole. And you'll struggle to find bad fill here. The future looks bright. Here's to more careful editing, better attention to detail, and cleaner fresher fill in 2015. Not sure why I'm making the New Year's speech now, but I am.

    My coup of the day was remembering SLYE (14D: Roy Rogers's real last name). Took me just 25 short years to commit that old-school GEM to memory. Yay me. TIM COOK (5D: Steve Jobs's successor at Apple) and EBOLA VIRUS (16D: Cause for quarantine) give the puzzle a very up-to-the-minute feel, while YOGA POSE and SOY LATTE show that the NYT *knows* its demographics. KUDOS also to BAR SCENE and its clue (11A: Likely feature of a college town). Took me a lot of crosses too see it, but when I did: your prototypical "aha" moment.

    PUZZLE NEWS: Matt Gaffney's (amazing) Weekly Crossword Contest is going to a subscription-only basis in 2015 (and good for him—good puzzles are worth paying for). 52 top-tier meta-puzzles for just $26. All the details here. For aficionados and aficionados-in-the-making. Get some.

    See you tomorrow.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. SOY LATTE anagrams to SLYE TO A T. Like, when you describe a young Roy Rogers perfectly. "That's SLYE TO A T!" she said, delightedly.
    12/21/2014 5:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Literary/film critic Janet / SAT 12-20-14 / Plato portrayer in Rebel without Cause / Flying female fighters in WWII / Dr archenemy of Fantastic Four / Jazz/funk fusion genre / Faddish food regimen / Practice with Book of Shadows
    Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: Dock ELLIS (50D: Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD) —
    Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. (March 11, 1945 – December 19, 2008) was an American professional baseball player. A pitcher, Ellis played in Major League Baseball from 1968 through 1979 for the Pittsburgh PiratesNew York YankeesOakland AthleticsTexas Rangers, and New York Mets. In his MLB career, he had a 138–119 win–loss record, a 3.46 earned run average, and 1,136 strikeouts.
    Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later stated that he accomplished the feat under the influence of LSD. Reporters at the game say they do not believe the claim. Ellis was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in 1971. That year, the Pirates were World Series champions. Joining the Yankees in 1976, he helped lead the team to the 1976 World Series, and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the process.
    Ellis was an outspoken individual who advocated for the rights of players and African Americans. He also had a substance abuse problem, and he acknowledged after his retirement that he never pitched without the use of drugs. After going into treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons. He died of a liver ailment in 2008 at the age of 63. (wikipedia)

    • • •

    Wow, Christmas is coming early this year. Or maybe it's the eight great puzzles of Hanukkah. Just a crazy Friday/Saturday themeless constructor line-up this weekend. Wilber/Peterson yesterday, Der/Livengood today. Makes me want to ask "Where the hell have y'all been lately?" But let's focus on the wondrous bounties of the present moment. I found yesterday's a snappier puzzle than this one here, but this one here is still lovely. A little sturdier, a little more inside-the-box, but still packing a decent wallop, and hiding a few real surprises. Biggest surprise (the one that came closes to knocking me flat on my ass) was UNO DUE TRE (13D: Italian count?). Try parsing that **** from the back end. Me: "What the hell ends in -UETRE!?" Had me doubting DEA and everything. Didn't help that the Italian answer was abutted by the highly questionable MANSLAYER. I mean, really, what is that? Murderer = slayer. MANSLAYER is redundant, at best. What, is it supposed to remind me that I'm not dealing w/ Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer"? Manslaughter, I've heard of. Maneater, same (watch out boy, she'll chew you up). But MANSLAYER, choke yuck ack. I had the -SLAYER part and still struggled to get that. I teach crime fiction: no MANSLAYERs up in there.

    Still, there's great answers APLENTY here. REAL GOOD stuff. Speaking of APLENTY, not so easy to see when you have decided 36D: Caterwaul is HOWL. Had 35A: In abundance ending in -ENTH for too long. Also went for NINJA over WICCA (9D: Practice with the Book of Shadows). Even in retrospect, seems plausible. The only thing I'd really never heard of was "NED'S Declassified" (54D: "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show)). But then I never even saw the clue. That corner, and its symmetrical opposite, were pretty easy. It was the other corners that smacked me around a bit. 6x9s somehow way harder to piece together than the 5x8s. Puzzle started out very easy with a gimme at 1D: Tagliatelle, e.g. (PASTA), with the "P" then confirming my suspicions that 1A: Where much grass grows was POT-related. There were a sizable number of Gimmes today: PASTA, MOLIERE, SERAPE, novel-ETTE, Dr. DOOM, Janet MASLIN. Still, puzzle clocked in only slightly faster than usual. I think the clue on ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was my favorite, though I don't think it needs a "?", actually. Clue is pretty damn literal.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      12/20/2014 5:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Major media event of '95 / FRI 12-19-14 / Almost any character in Jon Stewart's Rosewater / Never-seen neighbor on Mary Tyler Moore / Novel subtitled Parish Boy's Progress / Scimitar-horned creature / Fictional school bully with henchmen named Crabbe
      Constructor: Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: LINE CUT (41D: Black-and-white engraving) —


      An engraving from a drawing consisting of solid blacks and whites, without gradations of color. (

      • • •

      This is stunning work. This is what the "best crossword in the world" should look like All The Time—or at least most of the time. Fresh fill, vibrant phrases, clever cluing. There's a host of suboptimal fill—NEC SST ANI AMO ETD ENE DIR—but it's largely innocuous and it's holding together these gorgeous banks of longer answers. Looping, cascading, dancing—the lovely, crafted quality of this grid stands as a sharp visual rebuke to most recent NYT puzzles. Now, it's not really fair, as today we have not one but two of the very best constructors working today. No exaggeration. Can't remember the last time I did a puzzle by either of these guys where I was like "[frowny face]." At worst, good; mostly, great. Haven't seen a lot of their work in the NYT of late. They have been working other venues, for a variety of what I'm sure are very good reasons. But it's great to see them here. OJ TRIAL! Even their dated stuff sounds fresh!

      Fast start on this as SPA TON and ELK went in 1 2 3, and those long Downs were not far behind. Had trouble rounding the corner up into the NE, as LITERS was not an intuitive answer for me to 5D: Some bottled water purchases (I was looking brand name). But I got STANDS ALONE from just the S-A- and things came together from there. TULLES is not a word I know. I confuse it with TUILES and TOILES and other things that are all jumbled together in my mind in a closet marked "Fabrics." Looks like each successive quadrant got a bit harder for me in this one. Easy NW, Pretty Easy NE, Mediumish SE, and Medium-Challenging SW, where not (exactly) knowing LINE CUT and not getting how SAGA is a good answer for 53D: Novel format and not being completely certain of SPIREA (45A: Flowering shrub whose name comes from the Greek for "coil") had me struggling a little. Also, I thought the "T" in SALT was "treaty" :( It's TALKS (49D: Part of SALT).

      Best little surprise of the day was OPEN MRIS (23A: Tests that accommodate claustrophobes) Plural doesn't thrill me, but the term is very current, very common, and yet nothing I've ever seen in puzzles before. I also liked SENIORITIS, as it is timely (you'd know what I mean if you could see some of the student work on my desk right now…). My biggest hiccup of the day was 43A: Find a spot for, say. I had ADOPT. Later, I had ADMIT. Neither of those was right.

      Gonna go watch the last "Colbert" now and then be sad.
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        12/19/2014 5:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Defunct G.M. division / THU 12-18-14 / Ingolstadt-based automaker / Pharaonic symbol / Stannite cassiterite / TV channel with slogan Get Smarter Now / Dialect in ancient Greece /
        Constructor: Timothy Polin

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        THEME: PIG LATIN (62A: Hint to interpreting the five starred clues) — clues are all real words / names that, when heard, can be interpreted as PIG LATIN renderings of other words:

        Theme answers:
        • 17A: *X-ray [i.e. Wrecks] (JALOPIES)
        • 24A: *Ashtray [ i.e. Trash] (RIP TO PIECES)
        • 32A: *eBay [i.e. Be] (LIVE AND BREATHE) (not STINGING INSECT?)
        • 41A: *Outlay [i.e. Lout] (KNUCKLE-DRAGGER)
        • 48A: *Airway [i.e. Wear] (DETERIORATE)

        Word of the Day: George SEATON (67A: George who directed "Miracle on 34th Street") —
        George Seaton (April 17, 1911 – July 28, 1979) was an American screenwriterplaywrightfilm director and producer, and theatre director. […] Seaton joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a contract writer in 1933. His first major screen credit was the Marx Brothers comedy A Day at the Races in 1937. In the early 1940s he joined 20th Century Fox, where he remained for the rest of the decade, writing scripts for Moon Over Miami, Coney Island, Charley's Aunt, The Song of Bernadette, and others before making his directorial debut with Diamond Horseshoe in 1945. From this point on he was credited as both screenwriter and director for most of his films, including The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Miracle on 34th Street, Apartment for Peggy, Chicken Every Sunday, The Big Lift, For Heaven's Sake, Little Boy Lost, The Country Girl, and The Proud and Profane.
        But Not Goodbye, Seaton's 1944 Broadway debut as a playwright, closed after only 23 performances, although it later was adapted for the 1946 film The Cockeyed Miracle by Karen DeWolf. In 1967 he returned to Broadway to direct the Norman Krasna play Love in E Flat, which was a critical and commercial flop. The musical Here's Love, adapted from his screenplay for Miracle on 34th Street by Meredith Willson, proved to be more successful.
        Seaton won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay twice, for Miracle on 34th Street (which also earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay) and The Country Girl, and was nominated for Oscars three additional times. He received The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1961. He directed 1970's blockbuster hit Airport, which earned 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Seaton's screenplay. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Not much time to give to this one, as I had to sit here and wait nearly an hour for the NYT's website to behave. So now it's late. Anyway, the puzzle was mostly worth the wait—very clever. I don't usually like the whole answers-as-clues genre of puzzle, but the weird way this puzzle revealed itself made the answer phrases delightful, in a "what the hell?" kind of way. In retrospect, they can seem a bit forced (esp. LIVE AND BREATHE as an answer for the simple word [Be]), but the phrases are colorful and bouncy and I have no problem with them. I do think [Bee] would've been a better clue angle than [Be], but with the theme answers this densely packed, you gotta go with whatever works. The good thing about all the theme answers is that they are all good stand-alone phrases—unlike STINGING INSECT, which would make a fine clue for [Bee], but is no good on its own in the grid. All of these themers are plausible fill—not just clues posing as fill. Yes, this makes a big difference to puzzle quality / enjoyment, at least for me.

        Fill is pretty nice, especially considering theme density. TINORE makes me squish my nose up a bit, but nothing else made me flinch even a little. OK, maybe GSN, which seems to be a casualty of trying to redeem ADEAL (45D) with the cross-reference IT'S (65A). If that's a problem, it's a small one. Favorite clue is probably 30D: Attribute of the 1%? (REDUCED FAT). It's bold, just this side of far-fetched. But that's why god invented "?" clues—to give leeway to boldness. I didn't know SEATON, but the rest of this was pretty much over-the-plate. Approved.

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          12/18/2014 5:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Leakes of reality TV / WED 12-17-14 / Litotes for beauty / Hairy son of Isaac / Ebenezer's ghostly ex-partner / Ancestor of Gaelic Manx / Reporter's question collectively
          Constructor: Stu Ockman

          Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging 

          THEME: some rhetorical devices — I don't even know, really...

          Theme answers:
          • IT'LL TAKE FOREVER (17A: Hyperbole for an arduous task)
          • MAKE HASTE SLOWLY (22A: Oxymoron for cautious travel)
          • NOT UNATTRACTIVE (45A: Litotes for beauty)
          • AS THICK AS A BRICK (50A: Simile for denseness)
          Word of the Day: NENE Leakes (56A: Leakes of reality TV) —
          Linnethia Monique "NeNeLeakes (/ˈnn/née Johnson; born December 13, 1967) is an American actress, television personality, producer, author and fashion designer. She is best known for being on the reality television series The Real Housewives of Atlanta, which documents the lives of several women residing in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2013, she was commissioned to star in the spin-off series I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding, which focused on the preparations for her remarriage to husband Gregg Leakes.
          Leakes portrayed the recurring character Roz Washington on the sitcom Glee since its third season in 2012, and has also played Rocky Rhoades on the award-winning sitcom The New Normal until its cancellation in 2013. Leakes appeared as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice 4, where she finished in seventh place in 2011, and the eighteenth season of Dancing with the Stars. It was also announced that Leakes would be joining the cast of Cinderella on Broadway from November 25th, 2014. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          The best thing about this puzzle is the new, fresh (though totally unknown to me) clue for NENE. I was like "who the what?" but that's pretty legit screen cred she's got there. Nothing I've seen, but the clues can't all be "Broad City" and "Rockford Files."

          [PKW is fill I can get behind…]

          The rest of this puzzle is a disaster. Ill-conceived and weakly executed. We seem to have yet another non-theme. Just a very, very loose assortment of rhetorical devices that have nothing in common with each other, content-wise. They're just rhetorical devices. Oh, and they're all 15 letters long. Which brings us to this puzzle's bigger problem—72 words??? It's hard enough to make a good themeless at 72 words. Why in the world would you torture a themed grid like this if you don't have to. I mean, if you can pull it off cleanly, more power to you, but hoo boy. No. From the DPI / ALT / WELL KNIT (!?!?!) opener to the KEW / KUE (!) / AMI / AH ME (!!) closer, this thing has "No" / "Do Over" / "Refresh!!!" written all over it. EELER?! ADELA! So creaky … ISMANIS! RITTATEE! Boo. Delete. Escape. Reboot.

          HYPER in the grid when "Hyperbole" is one of your rhetorical devices? No.

          I'm done. I hear tomorrow's puzzle is good. So let's hope my intel's solid.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            12/17/2014 5:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            French army headwear / TUE 12-16-14 / Cab Calloway phrase / TV network once called Pax / Jane who won 1931 Nobel Peace Prize / Robert De Niro spy thriller / Children's author illustrator with National Medal of Honor / R&B singer backed by Love Unlimi
            Constructor: Joel D. Lafargue

            Relative difficulty: DOOK

            THEME: THE BEE GEES (60A: Trio whose members start 17-, 26- and 44-Across) — theme answers all share the first names of the brothers GIBB (66A: Last name of 60-Across):

            Theme answers:
            • BARRY WHITE (17A: R&B singer backed by the Love Unlimited Orchestra)
            • ROBIN WILLIAMS (26A: Late comic genius)
            • MAURICE SENDAK (44A: Children's author/illustrator with a National Medal of Arts)
            Word of the Day: Jane ADDAMS (45D: Jane who won a 1931 Nobel Peace Prize) —
            Jane Addams (September 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935) was a pioneer American settlementsocial worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women's suffrage and world peace. In an era when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilsonidentified themselves as reformers and social activists, Addams was one of the most prominent reformers of the Progressive Era. She helped turn America to issues of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health, and world peace. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed the vote to be effective in doing so. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly being recognized as a member of the American pragmatist school of philosophy. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. (wikipedia)
            • • •

            The theme is a non-starter. It's a non-theme. There is nothing happening. It's so literal, so weirdly untricky, that I half-suspect I'm on Candid Camera. Or, in slightly more modern parlance, that I'm being Punk'd. The gratuitous, extra, doesn't-have-a-symmetrical-partner GIBB is just the unasked-for cherry on an otherwise unadorned sundae. I'm at a loss. There's no word play. There's no play at all. There's no twist. There's nothing. Yes, those are the names of the brothers, and those names are not uncommon. Other people have those names. Some of those people are famous. Who cares? One of them sings; that's kind of a connection. Kind of. But. But. There's just nothing here. No revelation. I can't remember seeing a theme this rudimentary in forever. How in the world does this theme "tickle" anyone? A bunch of two-word phrases where the first word started with "B" and the second word started with "G"—*that*, while not earth-shattering, would've made Sooooooo […] ooooo much more sense. BILL GATES! BUDDY GUY! BETTY GRABLE! But this. This. What is this?

            The fill is EDUCE-A-MINT. It is what it is. HI-DE-HI.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
              12/16/2014 5:00:00 AM
              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
              Actor Jack of Great Dictator / MON 12-15-14 / Shaw of 1930s-'40s swing / Setting for Meatballs Friday 13th / Trash-talking muppet / Sports car with spider model / Seinfeld's ex / diet early 2000s fad
              Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel and Dennis Ryall

              Relative difficulty: Easy (my fastest time in years)

              THEME: STOP (69A: "Freeze!" … or, when broken into three parts, how the answer for each of the six starred clues goes) — they start with "S" and end with "P"

              Theme answers:
              • SLAP (1A: *Obstetrician's action on a newborn's behind)
              • STANLEY CUP (18A: *Goal an N.H.L.'er shoots for?)
              • SKINNY DIP (20A: *Go swimming in one's birthday suit)
              • SKI TRIP (40A: *Visit to Vail, maybe)
              • STEEL TRAP (56A: *Sharp mind, figuratively)
              • SUMMER CAMP (61A: *Setting for "Meatballs" or "Friday the 13th")
              Word of the Day: Jack OAKIE (65A: Actor Jack of "The Great Dictator") —
              Jack Oakie (November 12, 1903 – January 23, 1978) was an American actor, starring mostly in films, but also working on stageradio and television. […] Oakie is probably most notable for his portrayal of Benzino Napaloni, the boisterous dictator of Bacteria, in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), for which he received an Oscar nomination for the Best Supporting Actor Award. This role was a broad parody of the fascist dictator of ItalyBenito Mussolini. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              Wow, this was easy. Even for a Monday, easy. Cluing was very straightforward and the theme is essentially a non-theme. Starting with "S" and ending in "P" … so, five unrelated things. Oh, sorry, six. I forgot about SLAP. Couple of things about this theme: it's an old concept, this breaking STOP into three parts. When I've seen it done before, it has involved a letter change (i.e. turning "S" to "P," to wacky effect). I don't think I've seen this interpretation of the S TO P concept before. I don't know what to say about it. There it is. I do think the theme density, particularly up top, gets you into some fill problems. I mean, stacking those two themers gives you an overlapping succession of letters that are not that fill-friendly. Ends -TD. Ends -AI. Has -NP- in the 3 & 4 spots of a five-letter answer. Probably lucky to get out of that mess with ERL as the only atrocious bit of fill. On a Monday, I think ERL, ALAE and OAKIE are all pretty much unacceptable. Like ERL, OAKIE is in a danger zone (right next to overlapping themers again). And I have a theory about ALAE, which is that it's also a victim of theme pressure—my hypothesis is that STP was supposed to be a themer. That this grid was designed to have STP there, in the crossing center position. Then perhaps the editor was like "that's a really weak themer, let's pretend it's not one" but then didn't have constructors rework the grid. How else to explain the fact that it's an answer that goes from S to P, in a totally acceptable theme position, that is yet unstarred? This means ALAE is sitting smack between two very theme-dense areas, which would explain its existence. Otherwise, how in the world do you end up with ***ing ALAE in your Monday puzzle?

              The clue on SLAP is disturbing on several levels. It's the syntactic level that bugs me most, though. "Action on a behind" is such odd, inelegant, creepy phrasing.  Otherwise, cluing seems fine. Just dull.

              SALARY CAP, STUTTER STEP, STOCK TIP … you could go on and on. But please don't. Let's just leave this be and move on.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                12/15/2014 5:00:00 AM
                Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                Title hunter of 1922 film / SUN 12-14-14 / Full complement for Quidditch team / Closest friend slangily / Korda who directed Sahara / Flux 2005 sci-fi film
                Constructor: Jim Peredo

                Relative difficulty: Medium

                THEME: "Well, Golly!" — "Gee" sound added to familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued wackily ("?"-style)

                Theme answers:
                • KITTY LITURGY (23A: Religious rituals for cats?)
                • KANJI ARTIST (42A: Master of Japanese writing?)
                • WEIRD ALGAE (52A: Strange pond scum?)
                • GENIE JERK REACTION (67A: "Grant your own damn wishes," e.g.?)
                • BEE GEE LINE (87A: "How deep is your love?" or "You should be dancing"?)
                • GPS, I LOVE YOU (93A: Comment from a driver who finally reached his destination?)
                • OH, DARJEELING (115A: Surprised comment upon rummaging through a tea chest?)

                Word of the Day: ZOLTAN Korda (26D: Korda who directed "Sahara") —
                Zoltan Korda (3 June 1895 – 13 October 1961) was a Hungarian-born motion picturescreenwriterdirector and producer. He made his first film in Hungary in 1918, and worked with his brother Alexander Korda on filmmaking there and in London. They both moved to the United States in 1940 to Hollywood and the American film industry. […]  In 1940, Zoltan Korda joined his brother Alexander in HollywoodLos Angeles, California. Working through United Artists, he served as executive producer of The Thief of Bagdad. Zoltan Korda spent the rest of his life in southern California. He made another seven films, including the acclaimed 1943 World War II drama, Sahara (1943), for which he wrote the screenplay. It starred Humphrey Bogart. His films included A Woman's Vengeance (1947) with Charles Boyer and Jessica Tandy. (wikipedia)
                • • •

                This is the oldest theme in the book—or one of them—but it's mostly redeemed by a couple of features: genuinely funny theme answers, and a fairly wide open, fairly clean grid. I have to say that just this week, the overall fill quality of the puzzles appears to have taken at least a slight upturn. I haven't seen an avalanche of crud all week, that I can recall. I don't know if this is an anomaly, but I hope not. Perhaps there will be a renewed sense of commitment to polish. One can hope.

                This is not the most contemporary of grids. Most of the fill feels like it could've come straight out of the era in which one might've said "Well, Golly" unironically. Even the internet slang (NETIZENS) feels dated. Still, though, we're not talking about bad dated. We're just talking about a lack of contemporary reference, which is fine if most of the answers are well-known words or phrases, one that people of any generation might know and use. I do want to give props to BESTIE, though—a nice little modern flourish. There's only one teensy glitch in the theme, and that's that you have to change the stress of the phrase pronunciation when you add the "gee" sound in GENIE JERK REACTION. "Knee" goes from stressed to unstressed syllable. This (admittedly minor) change doesn't happen with the others. It almost happens with DARJEELING, but I think of that word as (oddly) having three equally stressed syllables. Am I in the woods here, in the minutiae, chasing fireflies as they (don't) say? But it's true, none of those other added "gee" sounds change the stress of the original phrase. Consider it an observation rather than a criticism.

                [Two of the base phrases are Beatles songs—can you find the other?]

                Trouble? Some. Not much. ZOLTAN and JALAPA (exotic proper nouns both) were unknown to me, so there was some effort required in the NE. I had to scan the whole grid to find my error at DIPS / DOODLER. I had TIPS / TOODLER. I couldn't make any sense of the DOODLER clue (66D: Many a bored student). I had TODDLER at one point. I also couldn't process 103A: Arsenal workers (ARMORERS), as I now know Arsenal primarily / exclusively as an English Premiere League football team, and thus briefly couldn't remember what "arsenal" even meant. Even picturing the damn cannon logo of the football team, I couldn't remember. I had ARBORERS at one point, that's how far I'd lost the thread. Also, 121A: "Just ___" left me blank. And I had AS-. "Just a se-"? "Just as I…"? Not (for me) an easy FITB. Anyway, overall, nice little diversion. Simple theme, pleasantly executed. Nothing stunning, but not a faceplant, either.
                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                  12/14/2014 5:00:00 AM
                  Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                  Lakers commentator Lantz / SAT 12-13-14 / Mackerel variety on Hawaiian menus / 1958 #1 hit whose only lyric is its title word / Title girl in literature's Prairie Trilogy / Fashion designer Knowles mother of Beyoncé / Anderson of sitcomdom / Kebabs s
                  Constructor: James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

                  Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                  THEME: none

                  Word of the Day: Langston Hughes's "CORA Unashamed" (6D) —
                  The Ways of White Folks is a collection of short stories by Langston Hughes, published in 1934. Hughes wrote the book during a year he spent living in Carmel, California. The collection, "marked by pessimism about race relations, as well as a sardonic realism," is among his best known works. Like Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman (1899) and Wright's Uncle Tom's Children (1938), it is an example of a short story cycle. […] David Herbert Donald called "Cora Unashamed" — one of the stories in The Ways of White Folks — "a brilliantly realized portrait of an isolated black woman in a small Middle Western town, who stoically survives her own sorrows but in the end lashes out against the hypocrisy of the whites who employ her." That story was adapted into a film of the same name from The American Collection directed by Deborah M. Pratt, starring Regina Taylor and Cherry Jones, and released in 2000. Cinematographer Ernest Holzman won an American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Award, for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Movies of the Week/Mini-Series'/Pilot for Network or Basic Broadcast TV, for his work on this film. (wikipedia)
                  • • •

                  Yeah, here we go. Here's Friday's puzzle. Found it. It was hiding. In Saturday's spot. Finished this one several minutes faster than I did yesterday's, borne forward on a fortuitous series of gimme-waves (BUTTOCKS! ANTS ON A LOG! LONI!) and helped along by generally easier clues. Maybe the difficulty difference has something to do with word count. Yesterday's was lower (68, I think, v. today's max 72), and it's just generally easier to find toeholds in higher word-count puzzles. The way this grid is structured, it's basically all toe-holds. No big patches of white. I guess the NW and SE are sizable, in their ways, but they're riven through by so many 3s and 4s that finding purchase shouldn't have been that tough. To its credit, the puzzle kept those 3s and 4s pretty toughly clued. Still, there are just so many ways to come at this one, so many ways to work around whatever impasse you might hit. This is not a bad thing. What's weird, though, is that the fill on this one is actually not as good as yesterday's, overall. I mean, it's not bad, either, but there is a bunch more short junk here (yesterday's grid was pretty damn clean—it was the off cluing that I had a problem with). The only bits that really bothered me was the BAD / EMS cross-reference (EMS is indeed BAD; don't make it worse by forcing me to spend longer with it than I have to) (42A: With 54-Across, spa town on the Lahn River) and STUS ("Lakers commentator"???? *And* others??) (19A: Lakers commentator Lantz and others). And the ridic clue on ONO (5D: Mackerel variety on Hawaiian menus). Most of the other common short stuff is shake-offable, and more than made up for by solid longer fill.

                  I think of LIQUOR UP (17A: Become ripped) as a transitive verb phrase. You LIQUOR someone UP. Or maybe you also get liquored up. Something about the phrasing here, making LIQUOR UP something akin to REST UP or GAS UP, just felt off. I get that you wanted to use misdirection in your clue, but: clonk. KNURL has to be one of the ugliest words in the English language (7D: Small projecting ridge). Linguistically Moreauvian. Unholy offspring of two words that should never have gotten together. I have to boo at STREET MEAT, as I just don't think that's a thing. STREET FOOD (what I put in the grid at first)—totally a thing. STREET MEAT sounds like some kind of sex slang. I'd like to give high-fives to "TEQUILA" (as clued!), HIT ME UP, and JABBER. The clue on CALI is exquisite (25A: City known for its traffic violations). I liked this puzzle, though the [Somewhat] trilogy (40D, 21D, 36A) really saps the puzzle's energy. It's like I'm being encouraged to think, "Meh."

                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                  12/13/2014 5:00:00 AM
                  Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                  Iowa politico Ernst / FRI 12-12-14 / NHL players representative Donald / Relative of harrier / Number of weeks in il Giro d'Italia / Land east of Babylonia / Tuber grown south of border / Car modified for flying in Absent-minded professor
                  Constructor: Evan Birnholz

                  Relative difficulty: Challenging

                  THEME: none

                  Word of the Day: JONI Ernst (34D: Iowa politico Ernst) —
                  Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver; born July 1, 1970) is an American politician who is the United States Senator-elect from Iowa, elected in the November 2014 election, defeating Bruce Braley, her Democratic opponent. She previously served as a Republican member of the Iowa Senatefrom 2011 to 2014 and is also a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in the United States Congress and the first female veteran in the U.S. Senate. (wikipedia)
                  • • •

                  Grid is just fine, but the clues were a. Saturday-level, and b. too cute and/or forced for me, much of the time. This was a Saturday puzzle. No question. A Medium to Medium-Challenging Saturday puzzle for me. A nearly 2x Friday puzzle. Could've been Friday. But the clues. JONI Ernst is not anyone, yet. She might be, in 2020, but she's not now. Now she is that Senator-elect best known for introducing hog castration to the lexicon of modern political advertising:

                  [Double threat: JONI and ERNST]

                  And FEHR? I'm supposed to know the N.H.L.'s *players' rep*!?!?! Baffling. I can't name the players' rep for any of the major sports. I wasn't aware it was a thing I was supposed to commit to memory—especially the players' rep of the least popular of the four major US sports leagues. Attempts to get cute with the [Talk show V.I.P.] double-up meant that I was asked to believe that a BOOKER is a "V.I.P." A BOOKER is important, I'm sure, but name one. . . I know. Me either. That clue was probably (or should've been) [N.J. Senator Cory] or something like that, originally. Between the two talk show clues and the Saturday-hard clue on ABBESS (1A: Person at the top of the order), and FEHR (again, ?!), I couldn't finish the NW until the very end. Eastern grid (the southeast in particular) was somewhat more tractable, though BASEMEN has a terrible clue (35A: Ones trying to prevent stealing). It's trying to get all misdirective and cute, but it's awkward and inapt from a baseball perspective. Without "first" "second" or "third" in front of it, BASEMEN is odd. Not used. And catchers are the real steal preventers. It's defensible, this clue, but yuck. Get cutesy, you better *land* it. Otherwise, wince.

                  I had no idea how to spell ELISHA. I wanted ELIJAH. This made things awkward in the west. Also, I thought 32D: Run through the gantlet, say was TYPO. Sincerely. "Gantlet" is one of those words that is "right" but shifting hard to "gauntlet," which is what most people *say*, and what dictionaries list as the primary spelling ("gantlet" being the variant). British dictionaries list "gantlet" as "American." Anyway, doesn't really matter. Point is, I was sure the answer was TYPO. Well, not sure, because I figured out quickly that that wasn't going to work. HAZE… I got all from crosses. This patch in the west would've been Very hard had I not Hail Mary-guessed ADONIS and crossed it successfully with IDOL. The place was pretty blank before that moment. Finished with FIGHT, also poorly / cutsily clued (28A: All hits all the time?). That's a radio slogan, I think, but it is a poor "?" clue for the generic word FIGHT. [All hits all the time] sounds like a very violent FIGHT, i.e a subset of FIGHT. I "FIGHT" all the time without hitting anyone. Point is, boo. Again, grid is pretty nice, but the cluing just missed the mark too often for me. And, again, this should've run tomorrow.

                  I will say, though, that the clue on "THE WIRE" (48A: Series of drug-related offenses?) is excellent.
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                    P.S. congratulations to a certain young woman who guest blogs for me on the first Monday of every month—she found out just yesterday that she got into Wellesley, early decision.
                    12/12/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Longtime Burmese PM / THU 12-11-14 / Togs with red tags / Brand name in immunity boosting / Fox's partner on X-Files / Ancient site of Luxor Temple / Old service site informally / Aerial anomaly / Cat Stevens surname now / 1975 Tony-winning play with
                    Constructor: Joe DiPietro

                    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                    THEME: [THROUGH] — phrases that go "___ through ___" are represented by the first part of the phrase literally passing through the last part of the phrase:

                    Theme answers:
                    • NACHO [through] THEBES
                    • EXPELS [through] LIP
                    • IS NOT [through], DINGBAT!
                    • SMUT [through] ISLAM
                    Word of the Day: ED AMES (42A: One of a group of singing brothers) —
                    Ed Ames (born Edmund Dantes Urick; July 9, 1927) is an American popular singer and actor.[1] He is best known for his pop and adult contemporary hits of the 1960s like "When the Snow is on the Roses" and the perennial "My Cup Runneth Over". He was part of a popular 1950s singing group called the Ames Brothers. […] In the early 1960s, the Ames Brothers disbanded, and Ed Ames, pursuing a career in acting, studied at the Herbert Berghof School. His first starring role was in an Off Broadway production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, going on to starring performances in The Fantasticks and Carnival!, which was on Broadway. He was in the national touring company of Carnival.
                    Ames' dark complexion and facial bone structure led to his being cast regularly as a Native American. He played Chief Bromden in the Broadway production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, opposite Kirk Douglas.
                    Talent scouts at 20th Century Fox saw Ames in the production and invited him to play the Cherokee tribesman, Mingo on the NBC television seriesDaniel Boone, with Fess ParkerPatricia BlairDarby Hinton, and Veronica Cartwright. His character's father was an English officer. In an episode of Season One, Ames also portrayed Mingo's evil twin brother, Taramingo. Ames' main character was actually named Caramingo, but went by Mingo throughout the entire series. Ames played a bandit on a 1962 The Rifleman episode and guest-starred as Kennedy in the 1963 episode "The Day of the Pawnees, Part 2" on ABC's The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, with Kurt Russell in the title role. He guest-starred in 1963 on Richard Egan's NBC modern western series, Redigo. (wikipedia)

                    • • •

                    A reasonably strong example of this type of puzzle (where a common phrase is completed by mental addition of a word represented by an answer's action, direction, etc.)? There are mild consistency issues (two third-person singulars, CUTS and PULLS, but then a SLIP and a GOING; also two THE X phrases, but then a ONE'S X and an IN THE X phrase), but the core idea is just a missing "through," so on a syntactical level, all these theme answers work. I don't like PULLS [through] IN THE CLUTCH much, though. The IN just glitches the whole effect. IN is fighting "through" for directional primacy. It just feels like a clunker to me. Also, that section has PLU, which is D-grade fill. I honestly didn't know what it meant when I was finished (47A: Like arts and crafts: Abbr.). Couldn't think of anything it could possibly mean. Turns out it's an abbr. for "plural." Not anywhere I've ever seen, but somewhere. You can bet if it's in the grid, some dictionary somewhere has confirmed that it's legit. Still, PLU = ugh. I think the theme answer / grid set-up just gets you in a tight jam from the get-go, as you have very limited options where H---G is concerned (37A). And since PULLS and SLIP are also immovable, it's probably lucky that PLU is the only real casualty in that middle section. This puzzle has some junk, but it really doesn't make the puzzle creak and groan too much. Even the obvious Scrabble-f***ing in the SW *and* SE doesn't in fill that's *too* bad. NAM and NDAK and ATTN are not good, but we see them pretty frequently, and ESTERC … also, in my book, not good, but at least it's unusual. So mild thumbs-up for this one.

                    • 60A: Longtime Burmese P.M. (U NU) — old-skool crosswordese. Up there with U THANT. U NU is the shortest full name you'll ever see (at least in a crossword grid).
                    • 24A: Togs with red tags (LEVI'S) — About the last thing I got. I own LEVI'S. Several pairs, I think. I don't know what "red tags" refers to. I had no idea that was an identifying feature. Also, "togs," ugh. Sounds like a word ED AMES or one of the guys from The BOX TOPS would use. Actually, no, those guys are too hip.
                    • 18D: Ancient site of the Luxor Temple (THEBES) — I always (and I mean Always) forget that there is another THEBES besides the one in Aeschylus's "Seven Against Thebes" and Statius's "Thebaid" (i.e. the Greek one).
                    • 26A: Aerial anomaly (UFO) — gave me trouble. Thought the "aerial" was the thing your analogue TV used to need to get reception.
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    12/11/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Chair designer Charles / WED 12-10-14 / Greek walkway / Taiwanese PC maker / Street performer in invisible box / Rocker Huey / Land bordering Lake Chad / Title for Tarquinius Superbus /
                    Constructor: Tom McCoy

                    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

                    THEME: Selenium Hinton — authors whose names start with two initials have those initials reimagined as symbols for elements of the periodic table:

                    Theme answers:
                    • THORIUM WHITE (for T.H. White) (20A: "The Sword in the Stone" author, to a chemist?) (couldn't remember dude's name and had to *force* myself not to simply do a 180 and look on my shelf…) (also, this clue really really really should've been ["The Once and Future King" author, to a chemist?]—the "Sword in the Stone" is just one volume in "TOAFK," and is better known, title-wise, as a fairly cruddy animated movie) 
                    • CESIUM FORESTER (for C.S. Forester) (34A: "The African Queen," author, to a chemist?) (yes, Lewis would've been better, but Lewis wouldn't have allowed for the all-important theme answer symmetry…)
                    • PALLADIUM JAMES (for P.D. James, R.I.P.) (43A: "The Children of Men" author, to a  chemist?)
                    • MERCURY WELLS (for H.G. Wells, lover of Margaret Sanger, about whom you can read at length in Jill Lepore's new (fabulous) book, "The Secret History of Wonder Woman") (58A: "The Island of Dr. Moreau" author, to a chemist?)
                    Word of the Day: Tarquinius Superbus (66D: Title for Tarquinius Superbus => REX) —
                    Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (died 495 BC) was the legendary seventh and final king of Rome, reigning from 535 BC until the popular uprising in 509 that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. He is commonly known as Tarquin the Proud, from his cognomen Superbus, a Latin word meaning "proud, arrogant, lofty". (wikipedia) (not a single mention of the word "REX" in the whole wikipedia write-up …)
                    • • •

                    I laughed out loud at the very first clue I saw (1A: Rocker Huey), which is always a good sign. I mean, it's not ha-ha funny, but something about those two words next to each other got me.

                    More solid goodness from Mr. McCoy. There's a hell of a lot of luck here, but you gotta be paying attention to be lucky like this—there just aren't that many well-known authors who go by their first two initials, and whose first two initials are also atomic symbols. Then throw in the fact that the thematic tetrad has to be able to fit into the grid symmetrically once their names have been converted to chemistry form … !? It's incredible that there are four such author names in existence, because there aren't that many author names left on the table, frankly. C.S. Lewis. S.E. Hinton, a few others. SELENIUM HINTON actually would've worked as an answer for this puzzle (theoretically, you could swap it out for Forester or James), but the names in the grid are almost certainly and definitely certainly more famous, respectively.

                      The fill is junkiest, predictably, in and around where the "Q" and "Z" (respectively) have been shoehorned into the grid. Most of the fill east of and including STOA is a bit icky as well. Still, I've seen soooo much junkier fill of late that this thing looks absolutely spit-shined by comparison, so I can't complain too much. And actually, on second glance, the fill around "Q" isn't too bad, and it probably seemed a pretty natural choice in that position, given the fixed (thematic) position of the "U" from MERCURY WELLS. MERCURY WELLS, by the way, is my favorite of the theme answers, because it sounds so much like someone's actual name. Like a late-'70s Golden State Warriors point guard or a jazz saxophone player or a beat poet or something. Whereas PALLADIUM JAMES maybe you could pass off as a drag queen, at best, while the others just sound like nonsense. Longer Downs in this one are pretty good, all manly JAWLINEs and ROUND-EYED wonder. High-five to that DRAWERS / DEBRIEFED pairing up there. Maybe they're not close enough to be a real pair. But I see a pair. A pair from which SHIH-TZU should stay far, far away. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry—I'm not sure I do either). See you.
                        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                        P.S. I get, and applaud, thematic consistency, but I don't really "get" why the book examples in the theme clues are all, also, movies. Feels like it was by design (why "Sword in the Stone" and not the more famous *book* title "The Once and Future King"?), but maybe it's just coincidence. Anyway, that's a kind of "consistency" I would find puzzling, as I do Not see the point.
                        12/10/2014 5:00:00 AM
                        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                        Doggone quaintly / TUE 12-9-14 / Black Swan role / Gotcha facetiously / William Sydney Porter's pen name / Doggedly pursuing / Mad Libs label / Fork-tailed bird / Gently used transaction / Pre-ayatollah leader
                        Constructor: Paul Hunsberger

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

                        THEME: SHOE (67A: Item depicted by this puzzle's circled letters) stepping on gum — this is what the circled squares depict when you connect them all with a pen or maybe just your mind...

                        Word of the Day: D LEAGUE (7D: N.B.A. farm system, informally) —
                        The NBA Development League, or NBA D-League, is the National Basketball Association's official minor league basketball organization. Known until the summer of 2005 as the National Basketball Development League (NBDL), the NBA D-League started with eight teams in the fall of 2001. In March 2005, NBA commissioner David Stern announced a plan to expand the NBA D-League to fifteen teams and develop it into a true minor league farm system, with each NBA D-League team affiliated with one or more NBA teams. At the conclusion of the 2013–14 NBA season, 33% of NBA players had spent time in the NBA D-League, up from 23% in 2011. Beginning in the 2014–15 season, the league will consist of 18 teams; 17 will be either single-affiliated or owned by an NBA team, with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants being the lone exception. (wikipedia)
                        • • •
                        Well, once I was done, I could indeed draw a reasonable facsimile of a shoe by connecting all the relevant letters. And there's some GUM, cute. Sadly, though, before I got to the art portion of our puzzle, I had to endure the actual-putting-letters-in-boxes portion of our puzzle, and *that* was decidedly less fun. The fill here is nothing short of abysmal, especially for a 78-word Tuesday, especially for the puzzle that bills itself as the best in the world or whatever they're saying now. I'm trying to find some way to express my feelings about -EERS, and  … I think my favorite ("favorite") thing about it is that it's crossing EERO. If you're going to put bad (i.e. terrible) fill in your grid, why not be comical about it. Cross it with something that is also not desirable, and that kind of rhymes! At least that makes the badness semi-interesting. ODO and OVO and AH, SO!? If "GUM" is the thing the toe of the shoe is stepping on, I can only assume that the AH, SO under the heel is a kind of metaphor for that other material you wouldn't want to step in.

                        The puzzle doesn't even bother to try to hide the easternmost SOLE and the HEEL. Honestly, this puzzle is at least two drafts away from being presentable. Hide those words and make the fill even semi-presentable, and you've got a cute little Tuesday. But as is, no. It's bad. AIRCON? I keep laughing every time I look at that answer, for three reasons. 1. No one ever says that (though in last two minutes I've had one person tell me it's British, and another tell me he (not British) grew up saying it but was recently mocked by a 20-something for saying it), 2. It's hilarious that it's clued as [House cooler, for short], as us normals have an even *shorter* way of saying it (or writing it, anyway) … and 3. because I like to imagine AIRCON is some kind of sequel to "CON AIR." Gah. You know, the problem is almost never "bad idea." It's almost always, lately, "decent idea that hasn't been sufficiently well developed or polished or crafted." The "Good enough!" mentality reigns. So many OYS.

                          I liked D LEAGUE (7D: N.B.A. farm system). That's about it.

                          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                          12/9/2014 5:00:00 AM
                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                          "Airplane!" star Robert ___ / MON 12-8-14 / Carole King hit from "Tapestry" /"Airplane!" star Robert ___ / Lily with bell-shaped flowers / Charlotte of "The Facts of Life" / Nickname for Willie Mays / Certain vacuum tube
                          Well, now that last week's SNAFU is over, it's back to our...regularly...scheduled........ANNABEL!!!!!!!!!

                          Constructor: Kevin Christian and  Andrea Carla Michaels

                          Relative difficulty: Hard (for a Monday!!!) (for ME on a Monday that is)

                          THEME: SAY SEE SCI SO SIOUX — The first syllable of each theme answer starts with an S, and rhymes with A / E / I /O / U

                          Theme answers:
                          • SAYHEYKID (17A: Nickname for Willie Mays) 
                          • SEENOEVIL (25A: Catchphrase for a monkey with its eyes covered)  🙈
                          • SCIFICONVENTION (38A: Where Darth Vader might meet Captain Kirk)
                          • SOFARAWAY (52A: Carole King hit from "Tapestry")
                          • SIOUXCITY (64A: Iowa port on the Missouri River)

                          Word of the Day: SEGO (25D: Lily with bell-shaped flowers) —
                          The Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii, is a bulbous perennial which is endemic to the Western United States. It is the state flower of Utah.  
                          The bulbs of this and other Calochortus species were roasted, boiled or made into a porridge by Native Americans and were also used as a food source by the Mormon pioneers in Utah. Currently, it is grown as an ornamental for its attractive tulip-shaped flowers. (wikipedia)

                          • • •

                          What a great puzzle to come back to after last week's SNAFU! Really liked the alliteration in the northeast corner (ONETO, OCTET, OTERI, ORA). There were also a few words I genuinely didn't know, which was nice for a Monday, and I found out that SEGO lilies are really pretty! The Down clues in particular, though, left me a little AT SEA. I wonder how Down-only people did today?

                          The theme was nice, and as simple as, A-E-I-O-U. I didn't understand it at first, and needed one of Rex's BFFs (my mom) to help me, but once I did, I liked it a lot. It would have been cool if the words had been linked in more ways, though, but hey, it's a Monday!



                          SCIFICONVENTION (38A: Where Darth Vader might meet Captain Kirk)This one stuck out as a theme clue a little, because of that extra C, but A) it sounds the same so it doesn't matter and B) you'll never see me complaining about a SCI-FI CONVENTION! friend went to one of those, and brought me back some Kirk and Spock figures from Star Trek, so naturally, I sent them on an adventure around my room. 
                            "What is it, Mr. Spock?"
                            "It appears to be some sort of...mind-weapon, used in one of this planet's brutal coming-of-age rituals."
                           They also went waltzing, and got attacked by an alien strangely similar to a, basically, Season 3 of the original series.
                          • BIGOT (8A: Archie Bunker type) — I have never watched All in the Family, but I immediately recognized Archie Bunker from a 1982 MAD Magazine parody, which then made it into an 864-page anthology, which I have read so many times I have some of it memorized. So, fellow students, if you want to be super smart, read comics all day.
                          • ARE (Diamonds ___ a girl's best friend) — Song jackpot!!! Okay, okay, so I originally knew this one from Moulin Rouge, not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but Marilyn Monroe's version has shown me that both are equally fabulous. "Square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks don't lose their shape…"
                          • KOI (Japanese pond fish) — When I was little, I had two goldfish named Tilly II and Tess II. (These were replacements for the first Tilly and Tess, who died the day after we got them because goldfish do that a lot.) At a certain point, Rex's BFF my mom decided she did not want to take care of them any more, and, apparently, they're bad feng shui, so she put them in the neighbor's koi pond fifteen years ago. They're still alive, swimming around, making friends with the koi and thinking of me and my mom! 
                          …Wait, the Internet says koi eat goldfish... 
                          • FAVA (____ bean) — "I ate his liver. With fava beans and a nice chianti."
                            Just like the koi did with Tilly II and Tess II!
                          Well, that about wraps up this Monday. Thank you Rex for being awesome, and thank you all for reading, and don't eat any goldfish! (Seriously - I'm not even sure they're NONTOXIC.) I will see you all next month, on time, hopefully!

                          Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired high school student
                          12/8/2014 5:00:00 AM
                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                          Coordinated gene cluster / SUN 12-7-14 / Operatic baritone Pasquale / Bartiromo of Fox Business / Engineers competition set in ring / Warren who wrote war of roses / Sci-fi shooter / Superfood used in smoothies / Godfather enforcer who sleeps with fi
                          Constructor: Jeff Chen

                          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (with chewy Medium-Challenging center)

                          THEME: "Holdup Man" — puzzle is about ATLAS (102D: Mythological figure hinted at by the answers to the eight starred clues as well as this puzzle's design); ATLAS is (in the grid) positioned directly beneath and thus visually sort of "holding up" "the world" (that floating ball of squares in the middle of the grid). Theme answers are common phrases that you can kind of punnily associate with the whole ATLAS situation…

                          Theme answers:
                          • SUPPORTING ACTOR (23A: *One who's not leading)
                          • BRACE YOURSELF (29A: *"I have some bad news…")
                          • PILLAR OF STRENGTH (16D: *Comfort provider during difficult times)
                          • WEIGHT OF THE WORLD (37D: *Crushing burden)
                          • UPPER BACK PAIN (100A: *What a massage may relieve)
                          • SHOULDER THE LOAD (114A: *Not shirk a difficult task)
                          • HEAVY DUTY (69A: *Very durable)
                          • MR. OLYMPIA (45D: *Arnold Schwarzenegger, once)
                          Word of the Day: DEEP WEB (78A: Content that's hard for a search engine to access) —
                          1. the part of the World Wide Web that is not discoverable by means of standard search engines, including password-protected or dynamic pages and encrypted networks. 
                            "the biggest weakness of the Deep Web is also its greatest strength: it's really hard to find anything" (google)

                          • • •

                          This puzzle is like a very well-made car that I would not, personally, care to purchase. This is to say, I recognize that what we have here is a thoughtful theme and heroic (!) execution, but the cuteness of the theme answers was a bit cutesy. For Me. I still admire the hell out of this thing for a lot of reasons, namely its sheer creativity (specifically, to the "earth" in the middle of the grid) and the pair of loopy but fun answers I've never seen or heard of before, but trust actually exist (DEEP WEB, ROBOT SUMO). The "earth" part of this grid was both the most impressive and the most enjoyable part of the solve, largely because it was the only part of the solve with any teeth. I really had to fight to conquer that damned orb, whereas I went through the rest of the puzzle like it wasn't there. If I hadn't hit the chewy center, I'd've had a record Sunday time, easy. As it was, I still finished under 10 (fast for me). Impressive that the "earth" part has two additional theme answers, as well as one very creative abbr. I've never seen before (P.O. BOX NO.). I don't know what native WIT is, or who Pasquale AMATO is, and if I've seen Warren ADLER before, I don't recall, but otherwise the extraterrestrial parts of the puzzle put up virtually no resistance. Toughest part was probably the far SE, where [Forte] (LOUD) and [Break] (TAME) were terse and enigmatic enough for me to need all the crosses—including SUMO, which I had to infer.

                          OK, good Sunday. Onward. Oh, a reminder (to myself as well as you): my regular first-Monday-of-every-month guest blogger will be back for tomorrow's write-up, even though it's the second Monday of the month (I screwed up and spaced out last week, doing the whole write-up before realizing it wasn't my turn). So do return for that. Bye then.
                            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                            12/7/2014 5:00:00 AM
                            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                            Site of 1789 rebellion / SAT 12-6-14 / Bygone Asian dynast / Certain street dancer in slang / Four-time Pro Bowler Michael / Bygone bomber whose name is call in bingo / Director Justin of Fast Furious franchise
                            Constructor: Josh Knapp

                            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium to Medium

                            THEME: awesomeness

                            Word of the Day: HMS BOUNTY (1A: Site of a 1789 rebellion) —
                            HMS Bounty, also known as HM Armed Vessel Bounty, was a small merchant vessel purchased by the Royal Navy for a botanical mission. The ship, under the command of William Bligh, was sent to the Pacific Ocean to acquire breadfruit plants and transport them to British possessions in the West Indies. That mission was never completed, due to a mutiny led by the acting MasterFletcher Christian. This was the famous Mutiny on the Bounty. (wikipedia)
                            • • •

                            I've gotten into this weird habit of late. I fall asleep early (like 9 or 10pm), then wake up a couple hours later, then solve / blog, then (eventually) sleep some more. It's pretty great. I remember reading some years ago about "second sleep"—that pre-modern sleep patterns were likely to feature a middle-of-the-night waking period. And I remember thinking, "that sounds cool." And it is. I mean, I still have that semi-sh***y "just woke up from a nap" feeling for a while, *right* before I solve the damned puzzle, so it's not all bourbon and chocolate, but I'm pretty in to the overall rhythm of the sleep-solve-write-read-sleep thing. Why am I telling you this? I don't know, but I loved this damned puzzle. I mean, Loved it. Frame it and hang it, because you're just not going to see much better than this. So clean, so current, so smartly clued. Time and again I had that great "Huh? … what the hell? … damn … OH!" feeling when solving a clue. I got through it in reasonable time, but the whole time I had that exhilarating/nauseating feeling I used to get when I'd break through to a new level of Donkey Kong and stuff would just be coming at you so fast and you feel like you're barely holding it together but you're somehow not dying! Yee haw. I don't think there's a bad answer in the grid. Not one. SO-SO POPO! Even the tiny stuff is making me smile.

                            [22A: Dimwitted title character of a 2001 comedy]

                            HA ha, I only just now got the clue at 51A: Number one number two (ADAMS). It was bugging me that I couldn't parse the clue correctly. "I know ADAM was the 'number one' man, but how do you get from there to plural ADAMS?" A: You don't. It's John ADAMS, the first ("Number one") vice president ("number two") of the U.S. Oh, HANDM—that is almost an answer I don't like, but only because it's really H&M (the way BTEN is B-10). But I've been kind of nostalgic for ampersandwiches lately. Feels like they don't come around much any more. So here's to you, HANDM. If HANDM is the worst a puzzle HANDs you, you're in good shape. I will say, though, that I'd've changed MENNEN to TENNER (10-pound note), just to get rid of HAND so close to HANDM. Picky, yes, but … well, you read this blog, so you can't be surprised.

                            I realized mid-solve that the puzzle was something special (which doesn't happen often—usually I'm just on GO!). Threw KIM JONG-IL across, thought "damn, that's good," then allowed myself a moment's reflection on everything I'd solved to that point: all real answers, no crap anywhere, a banks of long Downs (UNFAZED NEOCONS TWO-TONE) that's amazing in its own right, even though it's masquerading as a mere passageway from one section of the grid to another. And somehow the puzzle managed to finish (SE corner) on a high note. Oohed and aaahed (!) at every long Across as it came into view down there. It's very clear that high word--count themelesses that have been polished within an inch of their lives are the puzzles most likely to hit my happy zone. All killer, no filler, I AVER.

                            [TWO TONE]
                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                              12/6/2014 6:24:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Title bird in Rimsky-Korsakov opéra / FRI 12-5-14 / Old show horse / Umami source briefly / Furry oyster cracker / Social even in no no nanette / French soliloquy starter / 2002 Denzel Washington thriller / Ancient game much studied in game theory
                              Constructor: Tim Croce

                              Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging, though maybe closer to Medium if I'd been less stubborn ...

                              THEME: none

                              Word of the Day: Victor Herbert (53D: "___ Modiste" (Victor Herbert operetta)) 
                              Victor August Herbert (February 1, 1859 – May 26, 1924) was an Irish-born, German-raised American composercellist and conductor. Although Herbert enjoyed important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiered on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He was also prominent among the tin pan alley composers and was later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produced two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.
                              In the early 1880s, Herbert began a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he began to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, moved to the U.S. in 1886 when both were engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. In the U.S., Herbert continued his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions were his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which entered the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He led the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898 to 1904 and then founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducted throughout the rest of his life.
                              Herbert began to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Even more successful were some of the operettas that he wrote after the turn of the 20th century: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste(1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, Herbert began to compose musicals and contributed music to other composers' shows. While some of these were well-received, he never again achieved the level of success that he had enjoyed with his most popular operettas.
                              • • •

                              Pretty ordinary except for the SE, where I floundered quite a bit. In retrospect, it really looks like I could've pulled myself out of the SE quicksand much faster if I'd just looked up—I had TURNED THE TA- in place in the central answer. Surely that would've been enough to see TURNED THE TABLES, which would've given me BR- at the head of 38D: Showed signs of life, which, when coupled with the smattering of crosses I think I already had, would most certainly have given me BREATHED and thus gone a long way toward opening up that corner. But I did not do that for some reason, and so BREATHED remained hidden, as did EEL (Gulper? Yeesh, no way) and MLLE. (…? I don't think I've ever even heard of Victor Herbert before today, let alone his opera with an abbr. in its title; again, yeesh, no way). BBGUNS, really hard to see. DIE LAUGHING, also Really hard to see with that clue (57A: Totally break up). So I pieced things together somewhat slowly, from OSAKA (off the "S") to OBLAST (a guess … I just know that word as a term relevant to Russian geography). So many common letters in that corner (mainly "E"s and "L"s) that the "K" from OSAKA and the "H" (!) from BREATHED ended up being really important just to get some kind of grip on how to parse those long Acrosses. Sadly, there was little that was entertaining about this struggle-corner. It is an adequate corner. Nothing wrong. But nothing great (except possibly the phrase DIE LAUGHING, whose clue I didn't really like). I felt this about most of the puzzle, actually, even though the rest of the puzzle was much easier for me—mostly adequate, partly interesting, only occasionally enjoyable.

                              [I saw this in the theater. I was roughly ten. I am seeing parts of it again right now for the first time in 34 years. Pretty sure it scarred me. Feels like a repressed traumatic memory. By 1980, my Bud Cort movie exposure was dangerously high. I have no idea what my mom was thinking.]

                              There's some gold-medal Scrabble-f***ing in the middle of this grid. When I wrote in that "Q" from COQ and then saw that the "Q" had a symmetrical "J" as its counterpart, I think I literally laughed out loud. Way to cram in those high-value tiles! That does … well, nothing to the quality of the grid. It has this superficially showy look, but the answers involved are pretty blah, even "JOHN Q" (27D: 2002 Denzel Washington thriller), a movie no one will remember but for crosswords. So depressing that STEVE CARELL gets a sad, already dated Maxwell Smart clue. He's done much better work *and* is currently an awards-season favorite for his portrayal of philanthropist / philatelist / naturalist / murderer John Eleuthère Du Pont in "Foxcatcher." He deserves better than a 2008 Maxwell Smart clue, is what I'm saying. "Daily Show"? "Crazy, Stupid, Love"? "Anchorman"? "Over the Hedge"? Holy crap, how is "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" about to turn 10 Years Old!?!? That just came out!

                              Otherwise, let's see … I really enjoyed 1A: "Perish the thought!" ("GOD, I HOPE NOT!").  While the rest of the grid is not bad, it's a bit dull in the long stuff and a bit creaky in the short stuff (ENE, XESIN, BIS, NOE, ATEN, NIM, ITE, TRE, IRREG, ETRE-TETE-COQ-MLLE, etc.) for my tastes.

                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                              P.S. clue on SUN TAN OIL is quite good (31D: Browning selection?)
                              P.P.S. "acid"  in clues (33A), ACID- in the grid (13D)  :(
                              12/5/2014 5:11:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Plant protrusion / THU 12-4-14 / Woman's name with ring to it / Singer on Canada's Walk of Fame since 2005 / 1977 horror film set at sea / Car that famously debuted on E Day /
                              Constructor: Kacey Walker and David Quarfoot

                              Relative difficulty: Medium or Challenging, I don't know

                              THEME: ANAGRAMS (63A: What the three possible answers to each of 26-, 36- and 44-Across are, leading to 27 possible solutions to this puzzle) — three theme answers are clued as SCRABBLE racks (7A: Game with its own dictionary); each theme answer has three possible solutions, all ANAGRAMS of one another

                              Theme answers:
                              • WORRIED / ROWDIER / WORDIER (26A: Play in 7-Across with the rack DEIORRW)
                              • RESIDED / DESIRED / DERIDES (36A: Play in 7-Across with the rack DDEEIRS)
                              • GARDENS / DANGERS / GANDERS (44A: Play in 7-Across with the rack ADEGNRS)
                              Word of the Day: SKID (25D: What one might attach to a vehicle after a snowstorm) —
                              1. The act of sliding or slipping over a surface, often sideways.
                              a. A plank, log, or timber, usually one of a pair, used as a support or as a track for sliding or rollingheavy objects.
                              b. A pallet for loading or handling goods, especially one having solid sideboards and no bottom.
                              c. One of several logs or timbers forming a skid road.
                              3. skids Nautical A wooden framework attached to the side of a ship to prevent damage, as whenunloading.
                              4. A shoe or drag applying pressure to a wheel to brake a vehicle.
                              5. A runner in the landing gear of certain aircraft.
                              6. skids Slang A path to ruin or failure: His career hit the skids. Her life is now on the skids.
                              • • •

                              I admire the construction, but I didn't enjoy the solve. This is likely just bad luck on my part—putting in one of the three possible answers and having the necessarily forced/awkward cross clues make no sense to me. I say "necessarily forced/awkward" because they are clues that have to work for two different words. That's twelve different Down clues, each of which has to work for two different answers. So I wrote in RESIDED for the central Across, and then couldn't do anything with the short stuff on top of it. Nothing. This is all because I had never, ever heard of a SKID, meaning "a runner attached to the underside of an aircraft for use when landing on snow or grass." Just, never. So I kept going "well, it's SLED …" And that's pretty much where I stayed for a long time, until I realized, "oh, just put one of the ANAGRAMS in and see if that changes anything." Then in went DESIRES, and I saw SKIS, and then, hey, it's SIRI (31A: One with all the answers?), not SAGE or SIRE or whatever the hell else I'd been trying. Seriously, that SLED trap, combined with the actual answer's being a word unknown to me, really put a damper on my enjoyment of this. This is very much a constructor's puzzle—one meant to elicit "oohs" and "aahs," but not necessarily designed with solving fun in mind. But I will say that, to its credit, that ANAGRAMS thing actually worked. I mean, it saved my ass. So at least knowing the theme actually helped with the solve.

                              My other major issue with this puzzle was that, aside from that one epic faceplant in the middle of the grid, it was a cinch. Tuesday/Wednesday-easy. Having SCRABBLE as a flat-out gimme was just, well, too much gimme. And there were no great / interesting longer answers. So all the interest / challenge was in those crosses. Which meant all the interest / challenge was in the clues that were, by necessity, most tortured. I'm not mad at the puzzle. I think it's smart. It's just not a flavor of puzzle I personally enjoy. Also, I am an inveterate hater of SCRABBLE, in general, so this thing had its work cut out for it from the jump.
                                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                                P.S. I do not recall "Citizen Kane"'s having Roman-numeraled scenes (5D: When Kane dies in "Citizen Kane") (SCENE I). I mean, it's great, but it's not Shakespeare.
                                12/4/2014 5:00:00 AM
                                Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                Daisy Mae's love in funnies / WED 12-3-14 / Mongolian for red / Jason who was 2000 A.L. M.V.P. / Nonpolygamous grouping / Swing Shift actress Christine / Suisse sweetheart
                                Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

                                Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

                                THEME: PANDA (38A: World Wildlife Fund logo … or a three-word hint to the answers to the four starred clues) — two-word phrases: first word P-, second word A- …

                                Theme answers:
                                • PARTY ANIMAL
                                • "PATCH ADAMS"
                                • PARK AVENUE
                                • PENNY ARCADE
                                Word of the Day: Jason GIAMBI (15A: Jason who was the 2000 A.L. M.V.P.) —
                                Jason Gilbert Giambi (/iˈɑːmbi/; born January 8, 1971) is an American professional baseballfirst baseman and designated hitter who is a free agent. In his Major League Baseball (MLB) career, which began in 1995, he has played for the Oakland AthleticsNew York YankeesColorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians.
                                Giambi was the American League MVP in 2000 while with the Athletics, and is a five-time All-Star who has led the American League in walks four times, in on-base percentage three times, and in doubles and in slugging percentage once each, and won the Silver Slugger award twice.
                                Giambi took performance-enhancing drugs during his career, for which use he has publicly apologized. Giambi was named one of the Top 10 Most Superstitious Athletes by Men's Fitness. (wikipedia)
                                • • •

                                A light romp. Did it about a minute and a half faster than I did yesterday's puzzle, which is to say, I did it in reasonably normal Wednesday time. This feels like more of a Tuesday than a Wednesday concept; with a little cluing adjustment, this could've played yesterday and yesterday's could've played today, and while that would not necessarily made yesterday's puzzle more pleasant, it would've made it slightly more explicable. But enough about that, let's talk about this. It's very straightforward. It's a theme type I know I've seen before, possibly with CANDY (or the like) as the revealer. This is wordplay 101—take a common word, and then parse it differently, imagine it as multiple words, see where it leads you. Patrick's brain has been doing this in its sleep (and out of it) for years and years. There's nothing mind-boggling about this concept, or this grid, but the fill is reasonably clean and there are some interesting words and longer phrases, and so, as easy puzzles go, this seems like a success to me. I'm trying to think of other P and A phrases—seems like there should be a bunch—but I'm not having much success. PAUL ANKA, PLATE APPEARANCE (15!), PAPER AIRPLANE …

                                There's an added level of constructing difficulty here, as the themers cross. This is the reason that *these* themers (and not others) were chosen—they fit symmetrically in the grid. On the one hand, this gives the grid an interesting shape, with giant NW and SE corners (leaving only tiny NE and SW corners, and a rather choppy middle diagonal section connecting them). Sometimes it's nice not to have the themers be in the more predictable Across places. "PENNY ARCADE" is a popular, long-running webcomic, but I'm guessing that's well outside the knowledge base of your average NYT crossword solver. I'd've appreciated the comics clue, but only about a dozen other people would've felt the same, so oldey timey clue it is! I resent having to remember that "PATCH ADAMS" exists (not the way I want to remember Robin Williams), but having it in the grid did add to the list of potential answers for my "hidden African countries" puzzle (along with ANIMAL INSTINCTS (15!), that brings total such answers to two—I'm on my way!)

                                NYT still having issues with turnaround time. This puzzle was made in 2009 …

                                Patrick Blindauer has his own puzzle site where you can get a new free puzzle on the first of every month (which means there's a new one I haven't done yet … whoa … I'm doing it right now. The trick with the main theme answers is pretty amazing … go get it (under "Play")). He's also got a new Space Puzzlefest coming out later this month: a dozen puzzles that are part of a larger metapuzzle. Check it out.
                                  Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                                  12/3/2014 5:17:00 AM
                                  Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                  Reorganize computer data to improve performance informally / TUE 12-2-14 / Landslide winner of 1972 / April Love singer 1957 / Drinking buddy for Falstaff / Harmful bloom aquatic growth / Seductive Austin Powers android / Polynesian dietary staple /
                                  Constructor: Timothy Polin

                                  Relative difficulty: Challenging (like, off the charts for a Tuesday)

                                  THEME: Curses in one direction are taken literally in the other, I think —

                                  Theme answers:
                                  • 'ZOUNDS / ZEBU ("Holy cow!" / Holy cow)
                                  • DAMN / DAFT ("Nuts!" / Nuts)
                                  • WOW / WALTER ("Great Scott!" / Great Scott)
                                  • TELLS / SHOOT (Rats / "Rats!")
                                  • BLAST / TREAT ("Fudge!" / Fudge)
                                  • GEE / HOMBRE ("Man!" / Man)
                                  • HECK / SOCK ("Darn it!" / Darn it)
                                  • CURSES / BOWS ("Fiddlesticks!" / Fiddlesticks)
                                  Word of the Day: ALGAL (36A: Harmful ___ bloom (aquatic growth)) —
                                  An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae (typically microscopic) in an aquatic system. Cyanobacteria blooms are often called blue-green algae. Algal blooms may occur in freshwater as well as marine environments. Typically, only one or a small number of phytoplankton species are involved, and some blooms may be recognized by discoloration of the water resulting from the high density of pigmented cells. (wikipedia) (I assume "ALGAL" just means "of or related to alga")
                                  • • •

                                  Not going to spend much time on this one, largely because I found it so unpleasant. This may be the most badly misplaced puzzle I've ever solved. Took me nearly 2x my normal Tuesday time. This would've been OK, in theory, but in practice, I had to suffer through one damned antiquated quaint oath after another, and then through crosses that were often painfully forced. [Fudge] = TREAT? That's like [Camaro] = CAR. Total junk. If you don't have the "e.g." after it, it's not a legal clue. Likewise, [Great Scott] needs a "?" in order to indicate WALTER. Would you ever, in any other context, use just [Man] to clue HOMBRE? No. [Man of La Mancha], [Man, in Havana], yes. Just [Man], no. I think the core idea in this puzzle is kind of interesting, but man ("Man!") was it painful to solve. ALGAL?! I just stared at ALGA- / TEL-S forever, wondering what the hell? ALGAL is … it's just so bad, as fill. Is it ENOUNCE bad, you ask? Almost. Not sure how many D'OHS (!?) I uttered during this solve, but I'm going to say "several." TOMTIT DEFRAG (… now I'm just writing random absurd stuff from the grid …) ALAI IRAE. So much shrugging. If this had been a. a Thursday puzzle, and b. more cleanly filled, I might've been somewhat more kindly disposed toward it. But as is, yikes. Yoinks. Egads.

                                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                                    12/2/2014 5:00:00 AM
                                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                    Website for customer reviews / MON 12-1-14 / Spoon-bending Geller / Mineral layer involved in tracking / Sleuth in old crime fiction
                                    Constructor: John Guzzetta

                                    Relative difficulty: Medium

                                    THEME: blank my blank — "adoring" expressions from people of different professions (if you accept "arsonist" as a profession…)

                                    Theme answers:
                                    • "ROCK MY WORLD" (17A: "You really___!," said the adoring seismologist)
                                    • "SUIT MY FANCY" (11D "You really___!," said the adoring tailor)
                                    • "FLOAT MY BOAT" (51A: "You really___!," said the adoring ship captain)
                                    • "LIGHT MY FIRE" (25D: "You really___!," said the adoring arsonist)
                                    Word of the Day: REDOUBT (10D: Fortress) —
                                    redoubt (historically redout) is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, although others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a hastily-constructed temporary fortification. The word means "a place of retreat". Redoubts were a component of the military strategies of most European empires during the colonial era, especially in the outer works of Vauban-style fortresses made popular during the 17th century, although the concept of redoubts has existed since medieval times. A redoubt differs from a redan in that the redan is open in the rear, whereas the redoubt was considered an enclosed work. (wikipedia)
                                    • • •

                                    Hey, this actually works pretty well. I'd've done Everything I could to get rid of PEE (!?), and I think the "arsonist" clue really ruins the "professional" consistency of the theme clues, but other than that, I think this puzzle works. It's easy, the theme is bouncy, the fill is clean and interesting. ARDOR and "arson(ist)" are etymologically related, but something tells me nobody but me will notice that, so no foul. Most of my trouble came with REDOUBT, both because I never use and never see that term anywhere (thus often completely forgetting that it exists at all), and because I had a typo in the third letter, and thus was looking at a word starting RES- (instead of RED-) for far too long. YELP gets a nice modern clue (18D: Website for customer reviews), though URI is still down there "bending" spoons (seriously, that PEE corner needs a total reboot).  I had SUIT MY TASTE at first, instead of SUIT MY FANCY; went with the "I" spelling of REATA; and couldn't make any sense of the chicken clue, both because I wasn't sure if "Ready" was a verb or an adjective, and because, well, the clue just looked silly somehow—couldn't process it. As a chicken … readies things for market? Seriously, that clue is going along just fine until it hits "chicken," and then the wheels kind of come off (and again, I say, the house at PEE corner must go). But ALL TOLD, this gets a thumbs-up.

                                    [trying to fact-check my claims about ARDOR / "arson," I accidentally looked up "ardor urinae," which is an ardor no one is going to make a movie about any time soon, I tell you what …]
                                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                                      P.S. I *completely* forgot that the first Monday of every month is guest blogger ANNABEL's day … my bad. She graciously agreed to do next Monday instead (12/8).
                                      12/1/2014 5:00:00 AM
                                      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                      Armored as horse / SUN 11-30-14 / Singer whose I Get Ideas was on charts for 30 weeks / Julius Wilbrand invention of 1863 / Where Indiana Jones reunites with Marion / Flowering tropical plant / Textile patented in 1894 / English glam-rock band with s
                                      Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

                                      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

                                      THEME: "Zap!" — the ADs have been "zapped" from familiar phrases. So the "AD"s are visible, but they've been rebused into individual boxes (a visual representation of fast-forwarding?); wacky "?" clues reference the "AD"-less phrases (though you need the "AD"s in the crosses). Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the ADs are not there in the Acrosses, but are there in the Downs … this is, of course, impossible to represent visually … but it explains the "AD"-containing crosses. Anyhoo, here are your long themers:

                                      Theme answers:
                                      • BRO[AD]-MINDED (19A: Focused on one's fellow fraternity members?)
                                      • IRISH BALL[AD] (24A: Dublin dance?)
                                      • CHANGE OF [AD]DRESS (36A: What Clark Kent needs to become Superman?)
                                      • ON THE SH[AD]Y SIDE (45A: Somewhat bashful?)
                                      • FIVE O'CLOCK SH[AD]OW (63A: Local afternoon newscast?)
                                      • [AD]OPTION AGENCY (83A: Business offering the right to buy and sell securities?)
                                      • FOLLOW THE LE[AD]ER (93A: How to find what a creep is looking at?)
                                      • L[AD]IES FIRST (109A: Says "I didn't do it!" before fessing up?)
                                      • LEGAL [AD]VICE (115A: Cigarettes or booze?)
                                      Word of the Day: TONY MARTIN (72D: Singer whose "I Get Ideas" was on the charts for 30 weeks) —
                                      Tony Martin (December 25, 1913 – July 27, 2012), born Alvin Morris, was an Americanactor and singer who was married to performer Cyd Charisse for 60 years. (wikipedia)
                                      • • •

                                      I thought this one worked reasonably well, and the cluing felt well and truly toughened up, making the Sunday something other than the dull walk in the park that it has occasionally become in recent years. I have already gotten mail from people wondering what the hell "Zap!" has to do with ADs, making me wonder if this concept isn't dated already, a hold-over from a time when people recorded shows on VHS tapes. Certainly, the idea of fast-forwarding through ads is still with us (if you use a DVR, you've almost certainly done this), but I don't think I've heard the expression "zap" in this context in ages. I generally associate it with the '90s. I have no explanation or evidence to support my feeling that the phrase is no longer with us in the way it once was. Just a gut feeling. I also thought the current pope was es-shoe-ing the whole RED SHOE thing these days. Clue is still correct, historically, but the first thing RED SHOE made me think of was "uh uh."

                                      While I generally like this theme, there are a couple clunky things. First SHADY and SHADOW are too closely related, etymologically, to both be crucial theme-answer words. They're not exactly dupes, but they're close kin, and a truly well-crafted and elegant construction isn't going to the "shade" well twice in the same puzzle. [Addendum: a second dupe—a friend just pointed out that SH[]OW doesn't just dupe SHOWY, it intersects it] Second problem is also a result of inadequate attention to craft. If you're going to zap ADs, you *zap* ADs or you omit them entirely, i.e. there should be no "AD"s in this thing, *anywhere*. Again, this is a matter of elegance. One could argue "that rule applies only in the theme answers." OK, but in a puzzle called "Zap!", I expect them to be zapped. Everywhere. And I especially don't want the first answer I encounter, 1-A-bleeping-cross, to be ADDS (!?). I see only one other instance of "AD" in the grid (at ADANO), meaning that it wouldn't have been hard At All to zap them. Just do it! Get rid of 'em. Come on. Raise the bar, NYT. A theme idea this good deserves commensurate execution.

                                      Biggest trouble spots for me were the SE and NE. I got into the far SE corner pretty easily, but the rest of that quadrant, yikes. Might've helped if I'd ever heard of CANNA, or knew what West ELM was. Had to infer the S and the S and the Y in MESSY to pick it up and then travel up from there. Harrowing! But I had a much worse time in the NE, where the phrase IRISH BALLAD just … didn't seem like a coherent thing to me, I guess, so much so that I had IRISH --LLAD and thought I must have an error. I had never heard of either of the missing crosses there: IMAGER (OK, maybe I've heard that, but yuck, is that really the term for the viewfinder?) and BARDED (I've read soooooo many works with armored horses in them, and have never ever seen this word). If I didn't know that SLADE was an [English glam-rock band with six #1 hits], I might've had fatal trouble up there. I had GIRDED for BARDED and my first glam-rock answer was T-REX. But I survived. And overall, I enjoyed the challenge.

                                      Puzzle Worth Noting this week goes to Tyler Hinman's seasonal creation for American Values Club crossword, which does some truly stunning things with the black squares. It's titled "Open Up," and you can get it for $1 here, or just subscribe already, what the hell?
                                        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                                        11/30/2014 5:00:00 AM
                                        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                        Historic residential hotel in Manhattan / SAT 11-29-14 / But in Bonn / King of old comics / Onetime host of CBS's Morning Show / Boxer who won 1980's Brawl in Montreal / Principal lieutenant of Hector in Iliad / Nickname in Best Picture of 1969 / Mas
                                        Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

                                        Relative difficulty: Medium

                                        THEME: THREE-LETTER WORD (32A: Something not found in this puzzle's answer) — not a theme, really, but since this sits right across the middle of the grid, and refers to an overall quality of the grid, I'm calling it a 'theme.'

                                        Word of the Day: ANSONIA (51A: Historic residential hotel in Manhattan) —
                                        The Ansonia is a building on the Upper West Side of New York City, located at 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and West 74th Streets. It was originally built as a hotel by William Earle Dodge Stokes, the Phelps-Dodge copper heir and share holder in the Ansonia Clock Company, and it was named for his grandfather, the industrialist Anson Greene Phelps. In 1899, Stokes commissioned architect Paul E. Duboy (1857–1907) to build the grandest hotel in Manhattan.
                                        Stokes would list himself as "architect-in-chief" for the project and hired Duboy, a sculptor who designed and made the ornamental sculptures on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, to draw up the plans. New Orleans architect Martin Shepard served as draftsman and assistant superintendent of construction on the project. A contractor sued Stokes in 1907, but he would defend himself, explaining that Duboy was in an insane asylum in Paris and should not have been making commitments in Stokes's name concerning the hotel.
                                        In what might be the earliest harbinger of the current developments in urban farming, Stokes established a small farm on the roof of the hotel.
                                        Stokes had a Utopian vision for the Ansonia—that it could be self-sufficient, or at least contribute to its own support—which led to perhaps the strangest New York apartment amenity ever. "The farm on the roof," Weddie Stokes wrote years later, "included about 500 chickens, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear." Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold cheaply to the public in the basement arcade. Not much about this feature charmed the city fathers, however, and in 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky. (wikipedia)
                                        • • •

                                        Fell asleep before the puzzle came out. Then woke up in the middle of the night and solved it. Since I was woozy with sleep and it was Saturday (i.e. the toughest day of the week), I went slowly. Methodically. Poking away. This is all to say that I finished in my normal Saturday time, but the puzzle might've been easier than a "Medium" difficulty rating suggests. I never got significantly hung up, as I sometimes do on Saturdays, though there were a couple of areas that felt threatening for a bit. This is one of those highly segmented jobs that plays more like five mini-puzzles than one large one—these can often be deadly. You get caught in one of these (roughly) 7x6 or 8x7 sections, with no THREE-LETTER WORDs to grab on to, and the white space can just eat you alive. Luckily for me, the grid-spanners were fairly forthcoming, meaning that I was able to get a good decent preliminary toehold in every section. Got I CAN'T SLEEP AT ALL rather easily (it turned out to be I CAN'T SLEEP A WINK, which is why the SW was briefly harrowing). After the west was won, just a little tinkering in the middle allowed me to see THREE-LETTER WORD. Then I got very lucky, and with just the -WD- in place, got WEEKEND WARRIORS. After that, the NW (with HORSE already in place from the 52A cross-reference) played like a Tuesday, and then it was just a matter of fighting through the I/E dilemma at ERMAS, and finally fighting through the NYC provincialism of ANSONIA (!?). And I was done.

                                        All things considered ("all things" being the relatively low word count and the four big chunks of white space in the corners), this puzzle felt pretty clean. The "theme" is mostly trivial, but that center answer neatly describes a feature of the grid that makes it hard both to fill and to solve, thus giving it a nifty meta-puzzle feel ("meta" in the sense of its being a puzzle about a puzzle, not "meta" in the sense of there being another puzzle to solve after you complete the grid … unless I'm missing something … it's the middle of the night, so who knows …?). No 3-letter words, but (not surprisingly) the four-letter answers do groan a little under the strain of the construction. They are almost always the worst thing in any section of this puzzle. Two long Downs are lovely, and none of the 5+-letter answers made me wince, so overall I'd say that's a victory.

                                        OBAMANIA feels weird to me. I don't remember seeing it in '08, and I'm finding it hard to say. Awkward. It wants to come out OH'-buh-MAY'-nee-uh or oh-BAH'-muh-NEE'-uh, neither of which sounds like anything you'd use, given the high likelihood that your conversation partner would respond to you with "What?" I don't doubt the validity of the answer—it's one of the more interesting things in the grid. I just can't manage to say it in a way that sounds reasonable. I don't know who EVE BEST is, but then, until last year or so, I didn't know who "Wallis Simpson" was either. I saw Michael DORN on screen earlier in the evening; wife and daughter are working their way through "Star Trek: TNG," and today I sat on the margins and ate leftover birthday cake and occasionally asked dumb questions or offered commentary, "MST3K"-style (especially during the smooth jazz sequence where fake-Picard asks Crusher to dine with him in his chambers…). Anyway, Worf was in today's episode. He eventually agreed to mutiny against the fake captain. Everybody lived.
                                          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                                          11/29/2014 6:26:00 AM
                                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                                          Gulf of Aqaba resort city / FRI 11-28-14 / Trading insider Boesky / Space blanket material / Italian port on the Tyrrhenian Sea / Theater magnate Marcus / Mother of the Freedom Movement, to friends / Tolkien protagonist
                                          Constructor: Tracy Gray

                                          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

                                          THEME: BLACK FRIDAY (56A: Time of annual madness … or a hint to four squares in this puzzle) — rebus in which "SALE" appears in four different squares.

                                          Theme answers:
                                          • JERUSALEMCROSS / SALERNO
                                          • SPRINGSALEAK / NEWSALERT
                                          • ROSALEEPARKS / SALEM'SLOT
                                          • ADAM'SALE/ESALEN
                                          Word of the Day: ESALEN (64A: Big Sur institute) —
                                          The Esalen Institute, commonly just called Esalen, is a retreat center and intentional community in Big Sur, California, which focuses upon humanistic alternative education. Esalen is a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food. The institute offers more than 500 public workshops a year, in addition to conferences, research initiatives, residential work-study programs, and internships.
                                          Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962. Their goal was to explore work in the humanities and sciences, in order to fully realize what Aldous Huxley had called the "human potentialities".
                                          Esalen is located about 45 miles (72 km) south of Monterey and nine miles (14 km) north of Lucia. Esalen is situated on 120 acres of Big Sur coast. The grounds were once home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, from which the institute got its name. (wikipedia)
                                          • • •

                                          A puzzle to celebrate idiotic consumerism. Great. Fantastic.

                                          Even if I didn't find the "madness" this puzzle is celebrating slightly repugnant, even if I was a huge love of BLACK FRIDAY shopping, I would still have found this puzzle wanting. There were a couple big reasons for this:

                                          1. It's just a SALE rebus. I mean, that's it. Straight. Basic. Kind of dull. If you're going to have a revealer like BLACK FRIDAY, it seems like you could exploit black squares or the letters FRI or something, anything interesting. That's certainly what a Fireball or American Values Club or other high-end independent outlet would've done. Something truly creative. This is simply a SALE rebus. Four SALEs. I do not see how this is an adequate way to represent a self-described "Time of annual madness." Four SALEs is not madness. It's barely Presidents' Day weekend.
                                          2. While the theme does get us a couple nice rebus-containing answers (SALEM'S LOT, and, especially, NEWS ALERT), it also gets us dreadful old crosswordy answers like the ADAM'S ALE / ESALEN crossing, and the improbable and utterly uncrossworthy middle-name version of Rosa Parks's name. Also, SALEM and JERUSALEM are too related to inhabit the same grid. Salem, in the bible, is the "royal city of Melchizedek, traditionally identified with Jerusalem." This is where other SALEMs get their name. I consider JERUSALEM and SALEM dupes. Bad form.

                                          Fill overall is middling, with EILAT and SHMO being the most irksome stuff (though that ALOHAS MESON SYST bank is pretty rough, too). Most of the rest is solid, but none of the non-theme stuff really shines. The main difficulties in this puzzle were a. figuring out that there was a theme at all (who's looking for it on Friday?), and b. just finding out where those four squares were. I didn't know until quite late that there was a theme. I had almost all the N and NE worked out. But I had SPRINGS A - (crossing NEWS RT, which I didn't blink at). So I thought there was a rebus of some kind, but from where I was sitting, it looked like the rebus was "LEAK." Then I scanned the clues to see if there was a revealer, and found it, and then things got much easier from there. The cluing is really uninspired on this one. I'm looking around for clues to single out for praise, and honestly don't see any. Seems like your big blow-out BLACK FRIDAY puzzle should be bolder and more creative than this. So many people will be working the puzzle today—what the hell else are you gonna do, stuck at home with the family you've already spent so much time with? Why not give solvers something daring, bold, and truly tricky?
                                            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                                            11/28/2014 5:00:00 AM

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