Friday, October 31, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /
Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: none except a vaguely spooky Halloweenish vibe created by the two "Cask of Amontillado"-related answers near the grid center... —

Word of the Day: AWEIGH (26A: Barely clear, in a way) —
adj. (of an anchor) raised just clear of the sea or riverbed.


Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/aweigh-2#ixzz3HgaqPUsG
• • •

Grid itself is solid enough. I liked NO-BRAINER, and the clue on METALLICA (44A: Anthrax cousin). But the solving experience was less than enjoyable, for a host of reasons. First there's the clunk. Not the CLINK. The clunk. That's the sound of the off-brand word COGNOSCENTE. It's a word. But you never hear it used in the singular. Like, ever. I guarantee you a  majority of solvers had no (or little) idea what letter to put at the end there, or had an idea and it was wrong. I considered "O." Graffito, graffiti … it seemed logical. Anyway, COGNOSCENTI is the word everyone uses. Plural. And then there's the massively Variant SATE SAUCE. In case you haven't put it together yet, that's "satay sauce." The way I know it's "satay" is a. every crossword version of the word ever (incl. four times in the NYT since I started this blog, vs. zero times for SATE), and b. this product:


(I should note, however, that Fireball Crosswords editor and future NYT crossword editor (I assume / dream) Peter Gordon appears to like the SATE spelling; he is the only editor, per the cruciverb database, to clue SATE via the "Asian" "appetizer")


Then there's the wild unevenness of the puzzle, difficulty-wise. I had that NW corner done in about 30 seconds (ROCK BANDS was my first answer). And while the middle took me a while, the lower corners were easy enough that I could just jump in there, plant a few gimmes (TOONS and KERI in the SE, LES and NOBIS in the SW), and polish them off without too much trouble. But then there was the NE, where I had RAW TALENT and TSA and then nothing. It's possible that knowing that AWEIGH fit its clue would've helped, but I sure as hell didn't know that's what AWEIGH meant, so I just stared at AWE--- wondering WTF. [Book after Hosea]? Blank. Even with terminal "L," blank. That one-off Oscar nominee guy … I had the "T" and could think only of TEVYE (is that right?). I think that's the character name. No hope on Sea-TAC without any crosses. Long Downs and JACK just wouldn't come without sufficient help from crosses. So I sat awhile, until I just guessed that SEPIA was an "effect" of Photoshop and JOEL was maybe a bible book. And that was that. AWEIGH. Ugh. Admittedly, my problems with that corner might be idiosyncratic. It was the difficulty *imbalance* that was bothering me, more than the difficulty itself. Also, TOPOL, yuck. Also, problems up there were related to the whole last letter in COGNOSCENT- problem (above).

But the worst thing about the puzzle is the factual error at 32A: Like Fortunato, in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." I can see how the constructors or editor really really wanted (for some reason) to link the not symmetrical but somewhat centered answers BURIED ALIVE and HORROR STORY. But here's the thing. Two things. A. if you want to go horror, go one or three or none. This 2/3 bit is just awkward. But more importantly B. don't force a common clue term on disparate answers unless the answers can handle them. Now, there are HORROR STORYs out there that feature people being BURIED ALIVE. I'm sure of it. It's just that "The Cask of Amontillado" isn't one of them. Being immured, walled up, is not (not) (not not) the same as being BURIED ALIVE, however underground the walled-up chamber might be. Lots of sites on the Internet will use the phrase BURIED ALIVE to talk about what happens to Fortunato, but, like many if not most things on the Internet: wrong. Wikipedia? Wrong. I kept trying to make WALLED UP fit. Look, I'm sure the clue is defensible, but immurement and being BURIED ALIVE seem to me very, very different things. It's the difference between (quick) suffocation and (somewhat less quick) starvation/dehydration. Both gruesome, yes, but different. Fundamentally different. My friend Amy seems to think you *could* suffocate in a walled-up chamber if the mortar seal were tight enough. Admittedly, murdering folks is somewhat out of my purview. Still, I'm standing by my primary contention, which is that the dude gets walled up, not "buried." Needless to say, the middle was difficult for me not because I hadn't read "Cask," but because I had.


Off to (re-)read Poe. Tis the season.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
    10/31/2014 4:00:00 AM
    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
    Nonhuman singer of 1958 #1 song / THU 10-30-14 / Like liquor in Ogden Nash verse / Focus of Source magazine / Covert maritime org / French woman's name meaning bringer of victory /
    Constructor: David Woolf

    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



    THEME: CHIP — CHIP rebus, in a grid shaped like a poker chip.

    Word of the Day: PINEAL (23D: Kind of gland) —
    The pineal gland, also known as the pineal bodyconarium or epiphysis cerebri, is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces melatonin, a serotonin derived hormone, that affects the modulation of sleep patterns in both seasonal and circadian rhythms. Its shape resembles a tiny pine cone (hence its name), and it is located in the epithalamus, near the centre of the brain, between the two hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two halves of the thalamus join. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I'm all jacked up on baseball. The grid looks like a baseball to me. Baseball.

    So it's a chip rebus where the grid looks like a chip, and that's about all I have to say about this puzzle. I mean, it is what it is. Somewhat interesting to look at. Somewhat interesting to solve, in the way that all rebuses are. Or most. Fill has some nails-on-chalkboard moments (EMEERS [ouch] STAC ICEL ONI). I thought ARIZONAN. ARIZONIAN googles better, but then again it is a brand of tire, so … Would've been nice if there were actually a famous VERONIQUE to pin that answer to. Do people still ELOCUTE? Did they ever? My favorite part of the puzzle was finding the "CHIP" in ARCHIPELAGO. That's some nice hiding. Plus I just like that word. SPY CAR feels like a barely real thing. Is anything 007 uses a SPY thing?


    Took me a while to see the rebus, and to get started in general. Upper right went first, but once I got to 26D: Nonhuman singer of a 1958 #1 song, where I had -MU-K, I stalled. Restarted in the west with ECOL, then stalled out at 16D: Tribe of the Upper Midwest, where I had -PEW-. You see the pattern here. Once I built up everything *around* the "16" square (including SPY CAR and PIEROGI), the CHIP thing came to me. Puzzle got easier thereafter. Mainly I was glad to get to quite wondering whether QDOBA was a "spice" (29D: Fast-food chain named after a spice => CHIPOTLE).
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. Wait. What? This grid is supposed to look like a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE!? (56A: Treat represented visually by this puzzle's answer). Well that makes more sense, as it has chips in it, and less sense, as it is easily the ugliest CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I've ever seen. Are the black squares also chips? Looks more like a throwing star or a mangled jack-o-lantern or a jack-o-lantern that's been disfigured by a throwing star. Seriously, though, black square destroy whatever cookie visual is supposed to be happening here.
      10/30/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Longtime Prego slogan / WED 10-29-14 / State that borders Bangladesh / Bach composition
      Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



      THEME: "IT'S IN THERE" (54A: Longtime Prego slogan … with a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — "IT'S" is embedded/hidden in five answers

      Theme answers:
      • FRUIT SALAD
      • QUIT SMOKING
      • SPLIT SCREEN
      • PIT STOP
      • HIT SONG
      Word of the Day: GINA Lollobrigida (19A: Actress Lollobrigida) —
      Luigina "Gina" Lollobrigida (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒiːna ˌlɔlloˈbriːdʒida]; born 4 July 1927) is an Italian actress, photojournalist and sculptor. She was one of the highest profile European actresses of the 1950s and early 1960s, a period in which she was considered to be a sex symbol.
      As her film career slowed, she established second careers as a photojournalist and sculptor. In the 1970s, she scooped the press by gaining an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary Communist dictator of Cuba.
      She has continued as an active supporter of Italian and Italian American causes, particularly the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). In 2008, she received the NIAF Lifetime Achievement Award at the Foundation's Anniversary Gala. In 2013, she sold her jewelry collection, and donated the nearly $5 million from the sale to benefit stem cell therapy research. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Watching World Series Game 6, so don't have much energy to give the write-up tonight, which is just as well, as this is one of the weaker Liz G offerings I've seen in a while. The core is solid enough. I barely remember that Prego slogan, but it rings a faint bell, and it's made into a fine revealer here. Not sure how hard it is to hid "IT'S," but we get some pretty nice theme answers as a result. Nice central crossing there where PIT STOP meets HIT SONG. But the fill here is crusty and dusty in the extreme. Everywhere I look there's half-century-old crosswordese or trite fill gunking up the works. [Deep breath] OLEO EOS ELI SSE RESOD (!) BIOG (!?) SSNS RET ARIOSO ANTE DONEE EVERTS ULNA ASSNS EGIS (Var.!) AGORA OBI REATAS ASSAM ORAN ORR. I want to say SELA too, but we'll let her and LIU slide. Still, that is nutso-level Avoid-If-At-All-Possible fill. I am struggling to understand this. Liz's "Puzzle Nation" puzzles are always much cleaner than this. I wonder if she has tacitly joined the ranks of independent constructors who keep their best work for themselves and dump lesser stuff on the NYT. That's probably inaccurate—again, I think the core concept here is solidly NYT-worthy. But the fill, man, it hurts. WEIRD. [NOTE: apparently this puzzle was accepted for publication 7 or 8 years ago … I can't even begin to say everything there is to say about how f'd up that is …]


      BONGS and KNEE BENDS! Sounds like fun. But I'm gonna stick with baseball for now. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      10/29/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      First anti-AIDS drug / TUE 10-28-14 / Golden Horde members / Company that owns Ferrari / Luck that's workin for ya / Old-time actress Hagen / That something in Arlen Mercer standard / Subject of massive statue in ancient Parthenon
      Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


      THEME: NBA (48A: Org. whose only members with non plural names appear at the ends of 17-, 25-, 41- and 56-Across)

      Theme answers:
      • ALL THAT JAZZ (17A: Related add-ons, informally)
      • "DAYS OF THUNDER" (25A: Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman racing film)
      • OLD BLACK MAGIC (41A: "That" something in an Arlen/Mercer standard)
      • BEAT THE HEAT (56A: Keep cool in summer)
      Word of the Day: "DAYS OF THUNDER" 
      Days of Thunder is a 1990 American auto racing film released by Paramount Pictures, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott. The cast includes Tom CruiseNicole KidmanRobert DuvallRandy QuaidCary ElwesCaroline Williams, and Michael Rooker. The film also features appearances by real life NASCARracers, such as Rusty WallaceNeil Bonnett, and Harry Gant. Commentator Dr. Jerry Punch, of ESPN, has a cameo appearance, as does co-producer Don Simpson.
      This is the first of three films to star both Cruise and Kidman (the other two being Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut).
      • • •

      It's a very nice theme idea. Just right for a Tuesday. When I hit "N.B.A." I didn't really bother reading the whole clue, and didn't think the theme was very tight. Then, when I finished, I saw the unifying idea. Nice—not just some random NBA teams, but the only four that have non plural names. That gives the theme the coherence and tightness it needs. Found the clue on ALL THAT JAZZ actually a bit tough. I think the "add-ons" part threw me, as I think of the phrase meaning simply "all the related things"; the notion of adding on isn't really a part of it (though I think the clue's perfectly defensible). My only real issue with the theme is that OLD BLACK MAGIC is essentially a partial, a fact which necessitates the weird cluing, with the unexciting "That" in quotation marks at the beginning. OLD BLACK MAGIC just doesn't stand on its own very well. But overall, the theme is reasonably clever and reasonably well executed.


      The fill is more troublesome. This is at least partially the result of the Highly segmented grid. Tons of black squares (40) creating tons of nooks and crannies composed mostly of 3s, 4s, and 5s, i.e. not the most exciting fill on the planet. But this puzzle's short stuff was pretty subpar, even by short stuff standards. In the same little section you have multiple icky answers: I WAS and OSE, GST and IMA, ALLA and ILIAC and OCHRES (plural) and ASTO, EERO TADA and LTYR (!). The ANDI / DVI crossing is particularly shabby. There's more, but why list it? Greater care in overall grid construction would've been nice. Also, I would've said SUBTROPICAL, not SUBTROPIC, but perhaps that's just me. Never lived anywhere where either adjective would apply.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      10/28/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Eleniak of Baywatch / MON 10-27-14 / Long-running western anthology / Eponymous star of 1960s sitcom / Tennis champ Kournikova
      Constructor: Stanley Newman

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



      THEME: DVD RECORDER (53A: TV hookup option … or what you are by solving this puzzle?)— two answers have "DVD" as their initials:

      Theme answers:
      • DICK VAN DYKE (21A: Eponymous star of a 1960s sitcom, the only American TV star with his three initials)
      • "DEATH VALLEY DAYS" (37A: Long-running western anthology, the only American TV series with its three initials)
      Word of the Day: "DEATH VALLEY DAYS"
      Death Valley Days is an American radio and television anthology series featuring true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945 and continued from 1952 to 1970 as a syndicated television series, with reruns (updated with new narrations) continuing through August 1, 1975.
      The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team BoraxBoraxo) and hosted by Stanley Andrews (1952-1963), Ronald Reagan (1964-1965), Robert Taylor (1966-1969), and Dale Robertson (1969-1972). With the passing of Dale Robertson in 2013, all the former Death Valley Days hosts are now deceased. Hosting the series was Reagan's final work as an actor; he also was cast in eight episodes of the series. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This puzzle is puzzling. First, there are two theme answers. That makes this as thin a theme as I've ever seen on a Monday. Yes, the revealer is part of the theme, but even so—really, really, really thin. Second, DVD RECORDER? Do those still exist? Did anyone ever own one? A google search reveals that said recorder is a real thing, but it's telling, I think, that the first page of hits returns an article entitled "Why DVD Recorders Are Getting Harder to Find." DVD RECORDERs did not kill the VCR—first the DVR and then streaming services did that. I cannot imagine why anyone would own a DVD RECORDER? I refuse to believe it is a common "TV hookup option." To be fair, the clue doesn't say "common." But still, it's weird to build your puzzle around such an uncommon, semi-archaic device. Third, why is it interesting that DICK VAN DYKE and "DEATH VALLEY DAYS" are "the only" things in their categories with these "three initials"? Seriously. Does that fact make anyone go "wow?" Would I expect lots of "American TV stars" or "American TV series" to have those initials? "How I Met Your Mother" is undoubtedly the only "American TV series" with the initials "HIMYM," but … so?


      Lastly, if the theme is going to be this thin, the fill should be much better. It is by no means terrible, and there's some good, timely stuff in the cluing, most notably JEANNE Shaheen (50A: New Hampshire senator Shaheen), who is in a tough fight to hold on to her Senate seat right now. PAPA JOHNS is a pretty lively answer (gross pizza, gross corporation, but lively answer) (32D: Rival of Domino's). But the grid is so segmented that almost all we get is warmed over short stuff. I don't understand why, in the age of construction software, a corner like the SW corner exists. MDLII may be the most needless RRN (Random Roman Numeral) of all time. It's not like any of the other fill down there is glowing. Tear it out. Rebuild.


      That's all. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      10/27/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      META-CHALLENGE SOLUTION
      Here you go:



      THEME: X MARKS THE SPOT / ALPHANUMERICS — if you take all the Xs in all the grids from the past week, in order, and change each one to a letter of the alphabet based on the number that's in its box (i.e. "X" in a box numbered "20" = T, "X" in a box marked "5" = E, etc.), you end up with the phrase

      TEMPUS FUGIT (i.e. "time flies")

      You can see the Xs in the today's grid are in the boxes numbered "7" (which represents "G", the 7th letter of the alphabet), "9" (which represents "I"), and "20" (which represents "T")—these are, as you can see, the last three letters in the solution phrase, "tempus fugit."

      So the mathematical times symbol (i.e. "X") ends up indicating (via ALPHANUMERICS) the letters in a Latin phrase related to time.

      [Note: "time flies" are the last words in the Tears for Fears video I posted Saturday. Not that that should've helped you any …]

      Fugit-aboutit!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      10/27/2014 2:25:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Unusual diacritic used in Portuguese / SUN 10-26-14 / Lila Oscar winner for Zorba Greek / Yellow diner packet / Long-distance swimmer Nyad / Vice of Dorian Gray / English city where Magna Carta originated / Martial artist Jackie / March birthstone tr
      Constructor: Caleb Emmons

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



      THEME: "Winners' Circle" —

      Puzzle note:


      So the letters spell out CHAMPION or DEFEATED depending on whether you enter the winners' or the losers' names, respectively.
      • HERCULES / HYDRA
      • ACHILLES / HECTOR
      • ALI / FOREMAN
      • BATMAN / THE PENGUIN
      • DEEP BLUE / KASPAROV
      • DAVID / GOLIATH
      • TORTOISE / HARE
      • KING KONG / GODZILLA

      Word of the Day: ESCARP (39A: Steep slope) —
      n.
      1. A steep slope or cliff; an escarpment.
      2. The inner wall of a ditch or trench dug around a fortification.
      tr.v.-carped-carp·ing-carps.
      1. To cause to form a steep slope.
      2. To furnish with an escarp.
      [French escarpe, from Italian scarpa. See scarp.] (answers.com)


      Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/escarp#ixzz3HCfkDLd3
      • • •

      I didn't see the note at first, so I just figured you were supposed to put in the winners … it is called "Winners' Circle," after all. Then I tried to guess what we were supposed to do with all those letters. Wrote them out (in order of appearance, not, as the note indicates, "roughly clockwise" proceeding from the upper left). Got ACHAMNIOP, which was enough for me to see CHAMPION. Then I connected the circles, figuring that perhaps there was some kind of figure I could make by doing so. Ended up with the world's ugliest star. Thought "if this is part of the puzzle design, that is Messed Up." But no, the "star" was my own invention. The part of the design I couldn't see (because, again, I hadn't seen the note and was just following the apparent directions implied by the title) was the fact that inserting the letters of the losers got you DEFEATED. That's ingenious. Didn't blow my mind, exactly, but made me nod in a vaguely appreciative way, which is something. [Note, the reason I didn't see the note at first is because notes in Across Lite are not printed anywhere you can clearly see—you have to notice that there's a little yellow note icon near the upper left corner of your grid, and then click on that]


      My only issue with the puzzle (aside from occasional clonks like LOC CIT and IS MAN and IN ROME and O TILDE (!)) is that all of the battles depicted in the crosses are singular and definitive … except that between BATMAN and THE PENGUIN. If BATMAN had, indeed, "defeated" THE PENGUIN, then he would no longer be a character. Does anyone know when / where / how BATMAN "defeated" THE PENGUIN? No, you don't. Because Comics. THE PENGUIN is always alive and well somewhere (most notably, at the moment, on FOX's "Gotham"), and there is no victory. There is never victory. Or defeat. Not of the iconic main characters, anyway. There's just … comics. I can tell you when / where / how all the other battles in this puzzle went down. Not that one. So minus one there.



        A couple of other things. First, you should check out Hayley Gold's webcomic about the NYT crossword, called "Across and Down." She's supposed to have a comic up tomorrow about this past week's meta-puzzle contest, so be sure to check that out. Second, the Crosswords LA tournament took place last weekend, and the entire set of tournament puzzles (specially constructed for the tournament by an all-California cast of top-flight constructors) are now available. Here's the blurb:
        Curated by Crossword Fiend Amy Reynaldo, there are tough puzzles by David Quarfoot and Byron Walden, plus more approachable puzzles by Merl Reagle, Trip Payne, Patti Varol, and Melanie Miller. Also included are a pair of warm-up puzzles from Andrea Carla Michaels and Susan Gelfand -- and a puzzle suite by John Schiff (a team activity).
        Eight crossword puzzles (+ the non-crossword puzzle suite) for just five bucks, with proceeds going to "a grassroots 501(c)(3) dedicated to cultivating a childhood love of reading (Reading to Kids)." Get the puzzles in either .puz or .pdf format here

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        10/26/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        1977 PBS sensation / SAT 10-25-14 / Trumpeter Jones / Musical partner of DJ Spinderella Salt / Singer Aguilera's nickname / Mysore Palace resident / Sci-fi disturbances / Sassiness slangily
        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Medium

        [In lieu of a finished grid, please accept this picture of my dog balancing a cupcake on her head.]

        THEME: none, except, you know, the META


        Word of the Day: "PIE JESU" (42A: Requiem Mass part) —
        Pie Jesu (original Latin: Pie Iesu) is a motet derived from the final couplet of the Dies irae and often included in musical settings of the Requiem Mass. // The settings of the Requiem Mass by Luigi Cherubini, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Duruflé, John Rutter, Karl Jenkins and Fredrik Sixten include a Pie Jesu as an independent movement. Of all these, by far the best known is the Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem. Camille Saint-Saëns said of Fauré's Pie Jesu that "[J]ust as Mozart's is the only Ave verum corpus, this is the only Pie Jesu".
        Andrew Lloyd Webber's setting of Pie Jesu in his Requiem (1985) has also become well known. It has been recorded by Sarah BrightmanJackie EvanchoSissel KyrkjebøMarie OsmondAnna Netrebko, and others. Performed by Sarah Brightman and Paul Miles-Kingston, it was a certified Silver hit in the UK in 1985. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        So I'm playing along with Management (NYT Management) and not posting the grid. Because Contest. Even though most people don't give a rap about the contest and would just as soon know what the meta is right now. I know, man. Believe me. I hear you. But since you don't even have to fully solve today's puzzle to get the meta-puzzle clues, I'm not sure how necessary a grid reveal is. If you were able to unveil the meta clues in today's puzzle *and* you have experience solving metas, then getting the answer should be a cinch. But don't feel bad if you're stumped. Many people's initial forays into meta-puzzling are fruitless and frustrating. But I love a good meta, and this one is at least good. My only problem is … I was right. About earlier grids—they were made weaker, fill-wise, because they were meta-weight-bearing, i.e. if there'd been no meta, Every Single One of the themed puzzles this week would've been better. But … on the whole, the puzzles weren't what I'd call "bad," and the meta is really quite nice.


        I knew what the meta was before I solved this puzzle. I got an email from a well-known constructor telling me she was able to grok the meta early based on comments I'd made on my blog. This was surprising to me, as I had not solved the meta yet, and so anything I revealed via my blog was entirely accidental. So I made her tell me what it was I said that tipped her, and I was able to figure out the theme from there. My initial hunches were all good—there was just one little connection that I, a reasonably seasoned meta-solver, should've made, but didn't (a connection laid out pretty explicitly in today's grid). When she told me (or hinted at it, anyway), I did a sincere and hearty "D'oh!" The trick is something out of Meta-Solving 101, Rexy! Maybe 102. Anyway, many top meta-solvers were able to smoke out the meta answer early. I wasn't really trying very hard, but still, I think I should've seen what was up, considering I was sniffing around the right places.


        OK, so … yeah. See you tomorrow, maybe. I forget what the prize is for this contest, but I hope you win it.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        10/25/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Title carpenter of 1859 novel / FRI 10-24-14 / Flowering plant named for Greek god / Henchman first seen in Spy Who Loved Me / Richard March inventor rotary printing press / One with short hajj
        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



        THEME: none — I mean, none on its own. There is, of course, the meta:



        Word of the Day: Richard March HOE (25A: Richard March ___ (inventor of the rotary printing press)) —
        Richard March Hoe (September 12, 1812 – June 7, 1886) was an American inventor who designed an improved printing press. […] In 1843, Richard invented a rotary printing press that placed the type on a revolving cylinder, a design much faster than the old flatbed printing press. It received U.S. Patent 5,199 in 1847, and was placed in commercial use the same year. In its early days, it was variously called the "Hoe lightning press," and "Hoe's Cylindrical-Bed Press," and was later developed into the "Hoe web perfecting press." (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Well, I don't think this puzzle has a theme, but who knows? I don't see anything "times"-related except a couple more "X"s (they're baaack…) and that lone watch clue for LCDS (4D: Watch things, for short). Maybe if I blacken all the letters in the word "TIMES," I'll get a picture of a beetle or a pterodactyl or Richard Simmons. I noticed that "ATE" appears 5 times (TIMES) in this grid. I don't think that means anything. I noticed "TEST" appears 3 times (TIMES) in this grid. I don't think that means anything either. I noticed that T.S. ELIOT is an anagram of TOILETS. You can do with that what you will. Mainly I noticed that this is the cleanest grid of the week, perhaps because it was the first one not required to do two things at once (i.e. have a theme *and* relate to the week-long meta somehow). Fill is mostly clean, and there's enough excitement in the SE corner for three puzzles. GIN JOINTS is easily my favorite answer in the whole damned puzzle.


        Solved this one in a way that is increasingly familiar: slow start, then traction, *speed*, then slow finish (as, almost inevitably, the last place I arrive at in the puzzle is the toughest for me). At first I didn't have much besides EAU and STD and the incorrect FOBS (instead of LCDS). But for some reason [Patient looks?] all of a sudden became obvious (XRAYS), and that got me going. Never heard of an ORG CHART, but it was inferable, and so I was out of that corner pretty quickly after the initial push from XRAYS. Things sped up from there. The crosswordtastic LENYA got me into the SW and I destroyed that corner in a matter of seconds despite not knowing who UZO Aduba is (I guess I'll be seeing that last name in crosswords soon, too). LET IT BE instead of LET IT GO slowed me down a tad, but GANJA got me back in the game. EGOTISTS over ELITISTS at first (38D: They think they're special), but that didn't last long. Burned my way right up into the NE section, where I experienced my final, slower, push to completion after throwing up not CZARS but TSARS at 10D: Bygone emperors). This made ZIP UP and CRASS harder to get than they should've been. HOE was a mystery, but I expect he was designed to be. In the end, pressure from the words I did know in that corner forced TSARS to turn to CZARS and I was done.


        Not sure why APTEST wasn't clued as an AP TEST, since we've already got one (even more strained) superlative adjective in the grid at SEDATEST. But I don't have any other nits, really. This was fine. Excited to see how all these puzzles tie together tomorrow. I've been asked not to comment on tomorrow's puzzle At All (because of the whole contest thingie …). I'll play that by ear. There will definitely be a post. Whether you'll get commentary or a grid, I don't know. Come back and find out, won't you?


        Aw crap, I just realized that the first word of the first clue (1A: Times for speaking one's mind?) is TIMES so now it's back to that dimly lit room in my house where I keep all the clues and photos tacked to a wall and connected with pins and string like some cliché detective / serial killer in every hour-long murder drama on TV for the past two decades. I hate it in there!

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        10/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Tabasco turnover / THU 10-23-14 / Michael of Weekend Update / Brewster arsenic old lace role / cousin of exampli gratia / Tolkien's Gorbag Bolg / 2006 million-selling Andrea Bocelli album / Designer who wrote things I remember
        Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



        THEME: [Times Square]— there are four "squares" made out of the word TIME—actually, each "square" is made out of two TIMEs running clockwise. These "squares" are arranged symmetrically in the grid.

        Word of the Day: Michael CHE (40A: Michael of "Weekend Update" on "S.N.L.") —
        Michael Che (born May 19, 1983) is an American stand-up comedianwriter, and actor. He was briefly a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and has previously worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live. Starting at the end of September 2014, he will serve as a Weekend Update co-anchor for the 40th season of Saturday Night Live, alongside Colin Jost[2] Che will be replacing Cecily Strong in Weekend Update. Che is the first African-American co-anchor in the history of Weekend Update and the first former Daily Show correspondent to leave for Saturday Night Live (although a former SNL cast member has later joined The Daily Show.) (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Smoother and cleaner today, though the theme is so slight that I nearly missed it entirely. I was actually concerned at the end when I had TIM for the answer to the revealer, and couldn't figure out why I hadn't encountered any other weird, partial, potentially rebus-y answers anywhere in the grid. I figured there'd be a TIMES square. An ambitious rebus, that. But I believed! Sadly, or happily, we got the TIMEs square we got. Four of them, actually. And so another puzzle about "time" goes into the meta mix. Only one "X" today, so the weird "X"-ification that seemed so promising as a meta element in puzzles from earlier this week appears less important now. Nothing about this grid stands out as particularly odd, except perhaps a general dullness. There are no marquee answers, and not much in the way of fresh, colloquial, modern fill. HATE MAIL has some bite. I called that new clue on CHE, by the way. Earlier this month. Here it is. Proof.


        No real trouble with today's grid. Wanted HUNK before HULK, though both seem weirdly (if differently) judgmental. Wanted AVALON for [Camry competitor], but Toyota makes both, so probably not a great guess. MORTIMER Brewster was a big "?" but MORITMER's a name I've seen, so getting it from crosses = cake. Probably the hardest answer for me to get today was DAYSAIL, as I don't DAYSAIL or NIGHTSAIL or SAIL and have (thus?) never heard the term. The grid offered up so little resistance that I cut right across (and down) and ended up connecting the NW with the SE before I'd filled much of anything in. AMA MERV VANISH HIE IDOS OPIATE LIED. Boom. Then I went back and filled in the stuff I'd blown by. SW corner was the easiest, SASHIMIS was the iffiest (plural???? that answer is … damn it! I genuinely want to say 'fishy' but I hate puns! I guess it's just 'suspicious' then.).


          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          10/23/2014 4:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Actor Gerard of Buck Rogers / WED 10-22-14 / Mikado maiden / 007 film of 1981 / Biotechnology output for short
          Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



          THEME: smiley face — Black squares in the grid form a smiley face / jack o' lantern image. A few of the Across answers relate to eyes:

          Theme answers:
          • PEEK-A-BOO, I SEE YOU (17A: Words to a baby)
          • FACE / TIME (32A: With 33-Across, meeting with someone in person)
          • "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" (59A: 007 film of 1981)
          Puzzle note:

          Word of the Day: LEON Czolgosz (65A: Czolgosz who shot McKinley)
          Leon Frank Czolgosz (Polish form: Czołgosz, Polish pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʂɔwɡɔʂ]; May 5 1873 – October 29, 1901; also used surname "Nieman" and variations thereof) was a Polish-American former steel worker responsible for the assassination of U.S. PresidentWilliam McKinley.
          In the last few years of his life, he claimed to have been heavily influenced by anarchistssuch as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          There's an oddball quality to this one that I kind of like, and PEEK-A-BOO, I SEE YOU indeed a great answer, but overall, we seem to be somewhat south of normal quality (normal NYT quality, normal Blindauer quality). A lot is now riding on the meta payoff. Well, nothing is actually riding on it—unless you've hatched some kind of nerdy betting scheme —but since all the puzzles have felt Off in some way so far, and the fill has seem oddly compromised in inexplicable ways, it'll be hard to see how it all was worth it if payoff time doesn't pay off. Now I didn't think today's puzzle was bad, by any means. But again it was weirdly harder than its day of the week would suggest, and the theme was really Really loose (face answers? first and last are about eyes, middle … isn't … ?). The cross-referencing continues apace, for some reason. The triple-cross-ref involving OZONE (and DIOXIDE and OZONE) has to be one of the least exciting reasons for having to move my eyes (!) back and forth and back and forth that I've ever seen (!) in a crossword. Again, Xs are crammed into places in ways that compromise fill (XER not great, XOO tuh-errible). I look at a short abbr. like GMO, which is, to be fair, a thing I can, in retrospect, define (genetically modified ingredient), and wonder why it and proper noun TIMON are even there when that little upper-lip section can be filled So much more cleanly, w/ about 5 seconds work (that's how long it took me). But, again, the fill is not, overall, bad. There are delightful areas—like the chivalric stand-up comedy in the SE (LANCELOT and his ONE-LINERs) and the zaniness of CARL ORFF's YUMYUM NEWSROOM in the SW.


          ROZ Chast gets a mention—her fabulous memoir about her parents, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, just got short-listed for the National Book Award in the nonfiction category, where it is competing with books about the Taliban, China, and evolution, which I'm sure makes sense somehow. I resented being forced to remember "Scent of a Woman" (28A: Emulated Pacino in a "Scent of a Woman" scene => TANGOED); I assumed the answer was ORATED or BLOVIATED or CHEWED THE ***** SCENERY. There were names I didn't really know, but that happens—a GIL here, a LEON there. Having KARATE for KUNG FU really mucked me up for a while. I seem to have transposed "Li'l Abner" and "TIMON of Athens" at 22A: Another time, in "Li'l Abner" (AGIN), as I calmly and wrongly wrote in ANON. I would read a Shakespeare-ified "Li'l Abner" (or a Dogpatched Shakespeare … maybe something about taking up arms AGIN a swamp o' troubles … you get the idea).

          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          10/22/2014 11:48:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Actress Donovan of Clueless / TUE 10-21-14 / Kristoff's reindeer in Frozen / Rho tau linkup / What Apple's Project Purple became / Big chargers in Africa
          Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

          Relative difficulty: Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)



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

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

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


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


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

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

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



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

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



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

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


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


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

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


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

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

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


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


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

          Good day.

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

          Relative difficulty: Medium



          THEME: none

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

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


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

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

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



          THEME: none

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

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


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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Medium



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

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

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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Medium


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

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


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

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


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


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

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

          Relative difficulty: Easy



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

          Theme answers:
          • COAL CANARY MINE (23A: Leading indicator?)
          • ROUND SQUARE PEG HOLE (31A: Misfit)
          • CANDY KID STORE (49A: One who's enthralled, metaphorically)
          • MILLION NOT YEARS (66A: Never)
          • TEA TEMPEST POT (84A: Much ado about nothing)
          • HAND GO TO HELL BASKET (97A: Deteriorate rapidly)
          • HAY NEEDLE STACK (112A: It's hard to find)
          Word of the Day: ARGO (58A: First steamship with a planned circumnavigation of the globe) —
          Argo was an iron screw steamer launched in 1853. She was the first steamship to intentionally circumnavigate the earth. (wikipedia)
          • • •

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


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


          • REWON
          • RELIT
          • REDYED
          Yesterday I learned TRAVE. Today I learned SONDE (19D: Atmospheric probe).

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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Easy



          THEME: none

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Medium


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

          Word of the Day: PANTY (13A: Raid target) —
          pant·ies
          ˈpan(t)ēz/
          noun
          informal
          modifier noun: panty
          1. legless underpants worn by women and girls. (google, [define panty])
          • • •

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


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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


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

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

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


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

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

          Relative difficulty: Easy



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

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

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


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