Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Mythical king of huns / WED 4-16-14 / Yellowstone bugler / Cuddly sci-fi creature / What scientists use to predict rates of chemical reactions / Arkansas footballers informally
Constructor: Michael Dewey

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

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

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

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

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

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

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

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

    Read more:
    • • •

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

    [Submit, as clowns]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See you tomorrow.

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

    Relative difficulty: Medium

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

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

    Read more:
    • • •

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

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

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

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

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

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: none

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

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

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

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

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

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none

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

    • • •

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

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

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

    Spring Break! (for me, anyway)

    See you tomorrow.

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

    Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging

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

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

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

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

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

    Relative difficulty: Easy

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

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

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

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

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

      Relative difficulty: Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

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

      THEME: none

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

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

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

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

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

      Check you later.

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

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: none

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

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

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

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

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

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

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

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

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

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

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

      • • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Signed, Andy Kravis, (H/T)ipster of CrossWorld
      4/1/2014 4:16:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      #2 hit by Richard Harris / 3-31-14 / Jane Fonda sci-fi / Ars Poetica

      Yay! We're back!  Just like the first ray of sunshine after a long, gray, endless winter. For those who don't know us, we're Liz and Jenny, aka Rex's BFFs. Here's a little more about us: Our spirit animal is an ELK (31A - Antlered animal); our celebrity soulmate is Brad (29A-Of "Moneyball") PITT; if we were a snack food, we'd be a (14A-Triangular chip) DORITO; if we could have any hairstyle, we'd have an (40A-Bushy hairdo) AFRO; the place we should live is (53D- Jakarta's Island) JAVA; if we were a constellation, we'd be (51A-The handle of the Big Dipper is its tail) URSA MAJOR. (Rex hasn't begged us to blog in a while, so we've been killing time taking BuzzFeed quizzes. Don't know you take them too).

      Constructor: Robert Cirillo

      Relative difficulty: So easy, even we can do it! (Oh right...that's why we're here)

      THEME: MA and PA — All starred clues are 2-word (except for one that is 3-word) phrases where the first word starts with "MA" and the last word starts with "PA"

      Word of the Day: SEINFELD

      Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998. It lasted nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself. Set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, the show features a handful of Jerry's friends and acquaintances, particularly best friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards).

      We know, we know, it's not in the puzzle. But, in addition to taking BuzzFeed quizzes, we've been watching a lot of Seinfeld reruns on the the TV. There are so many references to Seinfeld in the answers. Is Mr. Cirillo a fan? All clues point to YES!

      Speaking of Seinfeld...last April, Liz went to LA. On the flight out, she told her husband "If I could meet any star in LA, I'd want to meet Larry David."

      Look what happened at baggage claim!!
      Theme answers:
      • MAsquerade PArty (16-A: *Where Romeo and Juliet meet)
      • MAssage PArlor (24-A *Often-seedy establishment)
      • MAcarthur PArk (42-A *1978 #1 Donna Summer hit that covered a 1968 #2 hit by Richard Harris)
      • MArdi Gras PArade (56-A *New Orleans event with floats)
      Ma and Pa reminds us of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer makes Jerry take his shoes to the Ma and Pa shop to be cleaned or re-soled or something. And Kramer gets a nosebleed, puts his head back, and sees wires sticking out of the ceiling. Somehow the fire marshall gets involved and Ma and Pa can't afford to fix the wires and they skip town with all of Jerry's shoes. Oh, and guess what??!! They don't even have kids! So they're totally not even a Ma or a Pa!!

      Seinfeld clues:
      • MAandPA (35-A Rural couple...or what the respective halves of the four starred clues start with) — see above
      • MAssage PArlor (24-A *Often-seedy establishment) — George gets a massage from a male masseuse, and he thinks "it" moved
      • MAcarthur PArk (42-A *1978 #1 Donna Summer hit that covered a 1968 #2 hit by Richard Harris) — Jerry has a box of stuff from his grandparents and in it, is a statute that George wants because, when he was a kid, his parents had the same statue, and he used it as a microphone to sing "Macarthur Park" and accidentally threw it during the finale and it broke.
      • PITT (29-A Brad of Moneyball) — Elaine worked for Mr. Pitt!
      That's all for now. For those in the Mid-Atlantic area, join Rex's BFF Liz at the 12th annual Annapolis Book Festival on April 5 from 10-4:30. Until next time, just remember, if we were a 1968 Jane Fonda sic-fi film, we'd be (10D) BARBARELLA; if we were a breakfast food, we'd be an (59A-Yolk's place) EGG; if we were a car, we'd be a (60A-famously available in any color, as long as it was black) MODEL T; and if we were a song, we'd be (46D-a 1961 hit) RAMA LAMA DING DONG!

      3/31/2014 4:01:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Graz's land: Abbr. / SUN 3-30-14 / Where "hello" is "sveiks" / "Twelfth Night" duke / Ring Lardner's "Alibi ___" / "Eternally nameless" thing, in Eastern religion
      Constructor: Peter A. Collins

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: Musical Interpretation — The words of a well-known song are placed in the grid according to other words from the song title that indicate placement. If that makes any sense.

      Theme answers:
      • 28A: [ROCK] [AROUND] THE CLOCK
      • 37A/43A: SMOKE [ON] THE WATER
      • 66A: A TEENAGER [IN] LOVE
      • 78A: TIME [AFTER] TIME
      • 95D/89D: STAND [BY] YOUR MAN
      • 90D: BAD MOON [RISING]

      Good morning, everyone. PuzzleGirl here with you again. This time I have plenty of time to write the blog post, so if it ends up short what the hell is my excuse going to be? Read on to find out.

      Cute theme here from Mr. Peter A. Collins who, by the way, is a totally nice guy. Never met him in person, but the few interactions I have had with him have always been pleasant if not delightful. He's a teacher up in Wisconsin or Minnesota -- somewhere up there where it's cold and people are nice. Today he's treating us to some musical wordplay. Cute! I happened to hit SMOKE ON THE WATER early on, so no trouble with the theme.

      After I found that lovely clip for you, this is what I saw at the bottom of my Google results:
      Um ... no thanks.

      I didn't have too many problems in this grid. Trickiest entries for me were:
      • 58A: Former Disney president Michael (OVITZ) - There was a Michael Eisner at Disney too, right? That's the only one I could think of.
      • 96A: Thumbing-the-nose gesture (SNOOK) - Learn something new every day!
      • 99A: Mideast V.I.P. (AMIR) - Not a fan of this spelling.
      • 43D: The "T" of Mr. T (TERO) - Feel like I should have known this, but didn't.
      • 100D: Inspector of crime fiction (MORSE) - Never heard of him but thanks for the excuse to post a picture of Michael Morse. You Giants fans are so lucky to have him! You're gonna love him!
      Other Stuff Worth Noting:
      • 20A: Now and Again? (TWICE) — I have to believe this clue has been used before, but I don't recall ever seeing it and it's pretty cute.
      • 25A: Like Neptune among the planets in the solar system (OUTERMOST) — Poor Pluto.
      • 62A: Olympic leap (TOE LOOP) — Once I started thinking about track events, it took me forever to come around to figure skating.
      • 72A: Pond denizen (EFT) — This is one of those little pieces of crosswordese that you just have to know, right? There's nothing cool about it, kinda boring. But now whenever I see it I remember how it was a key part of an answer (or question, I guess) on Jeopardy when Joon Pahk was on the show. I remember seeing it and thinking "Oh he better get this!" and of course he did. (This is the part where I start watching Jeopardy! clips for God knows how long.)
      • 79A: Memorable series in "Psycho" (STABS) — Eww.
      • 101A: Meatless day in W.W. II: Abbr. (TUE) — Random!
      • 2D: Actress Tierney (MAURA) — And this is the part where I get sucked into watching videos of "NewsRadio" on YouTube. I'll be back in a couple hours.
      • 3D: Suffering (IN BAD SHAPE) — I always like seeing colloquial phrases in the grid. (See also 57D: Muff a grounder (BOOT IT)).
      • 67D: Former faddish exercise regimen (TAE BO) — When I was pregnant with my son I saw an ad for TAE BO and thought it looked super super fun. So I bought the tapes and ... well, then I had my son, and then I was a new mom, and then I was a mom of a toddler, and then I was a mother of two young children, and now it's 15 years later and where the hell are those tapes anyway???
      • 76D: Description on many eBay listings (RARE) — My daughter discovered eBay a couple days ago. She bid on some boots and asked if she could have an advance on her allowance for the amount she was short. I agreed. She won the auction (So. Exciting.) but realized that she had forgotten about the shipping cost. So she needed a little bit more money from me. Okay, no big deal, she'll pay me back. But the next thing that happens is she has to admit to me that she also won another auction. She had also bid on another pair of boots and "didn't realize" she couldn't "take her bid back." Part of me believes that she just made a mistake because, hey, it's her first time using eBay. Another part of me thinks I'm being swindled. Ah, the joy of teenagers.
      • 107D: Longing looks (LEERS) — I don't know about this clue. I don't really think of a LEER as "longing." I think of a LEER more as ... rude, crude and creepy. Who's with me?
      • 110D: Didn't stop in time, say (OD'ED) — This made me sad.
      Of course there was a little bit of, shall way say, suboptimal fill here and there (you got your ORA, your GMT, your ERA, your ETA, your SYS, and your TSP, just to name a few), but it's Sunday, which means the grid is huge and what are ya gonna do? You do the best you can with a cute theme and some interesting fill here and there and you call it a night. That's what you do.

      You'll have a couple other subs tomorrow and Tuesday. With any luck, Rex will be back where he belongs on Wednesday.

      Love, PuzzleGirl
      3/30/2014 4:01:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      1967 Hit by the Hollies / SAT 3-29-14 / Locals call it the Big O / Polar Bear Provinicial Park borders it / Junior in 12 Pro Bowls
      Constructor: Barry C. Silk

      Relative difficulty: Saturdayish

      THEME: None. It's Saturday!

      Don't fret, folks. The full write-up will be up soon...

      Hey, everybody! We had a little miscommunication here at the Rex Parker blog. Sorry about that. My name is PuzzleGirl and I'll be your host for the next couple days. Seems like you are actually doing just fine in the comments without me, but I will go ahead and ramble a little about this puzzle anyway. I thought it was on the easy side for a Saturday, but I always think that about Saturday puzzles that I actually finish. When I first started reading this blog, I was positive -- POSITIVE -- that people were lying when they said they finished Friday and Saturday puzzles. There was NO WAY that could be true. And yet, just a few years and a couple thousand puzzles later here I am at the point where I can almost always finish the Fridays/Saturdays. It's like that old joke. A guy comes up to me on the street and says "How will I ever finish a late-week NYT puzzle?" and I respond "Practice, practice, practice." Okay, maybe that's not an old joke. Maybe I just made it up and it's not even funny. Whatever! Let's talk about the puzzle!

      Those familiar with Barry Silk's ouevre (can you tell I've been using the new app?), were not at all surprised to see  a 1967 hit by the Hollies (ON A CAROUSEL) up there in the NW corner. Barry has a thing for oldies and you will almost always find one (or more!) in his puzzles. This is one of those songs that I'm pretty sure I don't know, but I bet I'll recognize it when I hear it. Let's take a listen, shall we?

      [If Barry reads the blog, he will enjoy that. I'm not sure if he reads it or not. If you're out there, Barry: Hi! I posted that song for you! Thanks for the puzzle! I'm trying to teach people about the things you like to put in your puzzles! Why no Philadelphia sports references in this one??]

      I had the toughest time in the center where I entered DIP where ICE was supposed to be and STATURE for STARDOM (which I just mistyped STARDUM - ha!). OKECHOBEE is just barely hanging out back in the cobwebs of my brain, so even the fact that I was pretty sure it needed to start with an O (duh), I couldn't see it for a while with that R in there. In fact, with the R from STATURE and the P from DIP, I thought the "Big O" reference might have something to do with the Orioles' Cal Ripken. IS IT BASEBALL SEASON YET?

      And with that, I'm going to leave you for today because it's already so late. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow with the Sunday puzzle.


      3/29/2014 2:56:00 PM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      First name in '60s radicalism / FRI 3-28-14 / Screw up / English hat similar to a fedora / Superlatively bouncy

      Constructor: David J. Kahn

      Relative difficulty:  Easy, moderately breezy

      THEME: Themeless

      Word of the Day: BLUECHIPS (3D: "Relatively low-risk investments") —
      "in reference to the high-value poker counter, from 1904 in the figurative sense of "valuable;" stock exchange sense, in reference to "shares considered a reliable investment," is first recorded 1929; especially of stocks that saw spectacular rises in value in the four years or so before the Wall Street crash of that year." (Online Etymology Dictionary, which looks suspiciously like the OED)
      • • •
      Hello! This is Ben Tausig, editor of the American Values Club xword and person who does other things as well. I'm glad to be back as a guest blogger for my friend Rex.

      Big ups to David Kahn generally, but today's puzzle didn't elate me. There's a mini-theme afoot, in which CAPTAINPHILLIPS (38A) crosses SOMALIPIRATES (16D: "Hijackers who captured 38-Across"), and then Tom Hanks returns with a strained wink in the clue for SAG (48A: "Org. of which Tom Hanks is a member"). I checked to see if today was Hanks's birthday. No soap. There is in fact, delightfully, an official Tom Hanks Day, but it's April 12th. Is there some rationale I'm missing? And just like that, I'm halfway down a "Crying of Lot 49" rabbit hole.

      [This 2005 film, in which I co-star, certainly won't clear anything up (Hanks is prominent, but you must be patient and maybe crazy enough to watch until the end.)]

      The highlight of the puzzle (along with the aforementioned BLUECHIPS) was ALEXANDERCALDER (63A: Mobile creator), which fell quickly and brought big, colorful shapes to mind. None of the other stacked 15s (ORLANDOSENTINEL, SOURCESOFINCOME, and LOSEONESMARBLES) produced the least sensory excitation, in answer or clue -- an unacknowledged part of puzzle construction is evocation. The solver should perform mental gymnastics, sure, but it's nice to give them some imagery, if not some music and scents, in return. LOSEONESMARBLES (64A: "Go mad") has no pungency. ORLANDOSENTINEL (15A: "Central Florida daily") has all the haptic delight of smudged black ink on fingers after finishing a story about the passage of a local levy.

      I won't dwell on partials COSA, AROW, ALLOR, KEA, and GEES, obscurities MEHTA, TRILBY and KLEBAN, the redundancy of ALLOR and ALLSET, or the mehness of MTNS, EDENS, MMII, ETAS, EST, ARR, and HRS. This might be a bit too much junk, but that happens in themelesses and can't be judged too harshly.

      I will, however, call out ENOTE (12D: Modern message), for which I can't find support of any kind. E-whatever is a scourge and an anachronism retained almost exclusively by crosswords. Perhaps at some point in the past it seemed like "e-" could and would be affixed to anything -- e-mail, e-mag, e-rugby, e-buffet, e-chimpanzee. But now, maybe because the Internet of things, e- feels extremely dated in almost all cases. No one says "Hey guys, I'm going on an e-date! Wish me cyber luck! Winking emoji!" You can e-file or send an email, but that's about all you can e-do without getting actual-laughed at.

      Signed, Ben Tausig, acting King of CrossWorld
      3/28/2014 4:40:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Celebrity cosmetician Laszlo / THU 3-27-14 / Frog's alter ego, in a fairy tale / Abba not known for singing
      Constructor: Jean O'Conor

      Relative difficulty: Slightly tough for a Thursday

      THEME: FULL CIRCLE — grid contains the formulas for the area and circumference of a circle, plus the FULL CIRCLE kicker

      Word of the Day: TASMANIA (Southernmost state) —
      Forever the butt of mainland jokes, Tasmania) has shrugged off the stigma of its isolation – the whole world seems to be discovering the physically dazzling, unique and accessible island. Suitably impressed, and a tad sheepish, the rest of Australia has finally stopped laughing and started visiting. ‘Tassie’ (as it’s affectionately known) has it all: vast, uninhabited slabs of wilderness, swimming at Seven Mile Beach, bountiful wildlife in Narawntapu National Park, gourmet food and wine in the Tamar Valley, a thriving arts scene and new-found urban cool.(
      • • •

      Matt Gaffney pinch-blogging for Rex for one day, and I got a very nice crossword to write about. It will probably be one of the five puzzles I nominate for Crossword of the Month at my blog next week, and that includes work published anytime in March in any medium in the country. It's a novel and interesting theme idea and, with one point of exception, very nicely executed.

      The grid conceals PI R SQUARED and 2 PI R in symmetrically placed down entries, which tell you the measurements around or inside a circle. Then there's a nice-but-not-necessary FULL CIRCLE kicker clued as (10-A: With 66-Across, back to the beginning ... or a description of 21- and 48-Down?), referring back to the formulas. And here are the six entries that cross them:

      Theme answers:

      LIFE OF (PI) (20-A: Best seller about shipwreck survivors)
      R MONTHS (24-A: September through April, in a culinary guideline)
      (SQUARED) AWAY (28-A: Settled up)
      SIDE 2 (47-A: Where to find "Yesterday" on the album "Help!")
      MAGNUM, (P.I). (53-A: Tom Selleck title role)
      R MOVIES (58-A: "The Godfather" parts I, II and III, e.g.)

      Note some fine points in the execution of this theme: 1) the two formulas are placed symmetrically in the grid; 2) PI is used as one lexical unit in both cases, not just as the letters "PI" in a longer word; 3) the R is used as the letter R itself in both cases, not as part of a word. That is really maximizing this theme's potential; if she had just used the letters PI in longer words and/or just used the R's as part of longer words no one would have complained (or if they had, they would have been plausibly accused of nitpicking), but these two elegant touches  elevate the theme considerably.

      Another aspect of the execution I liked was how much information was given to the solver. I knew something was up in the middle of the grid but didn't know quite what; then I thought we might be getting two PI R SQUAREDs or something? But no, two different formulas, with "full circle" describing both. So a nice little mystery to unravel.

      Apple Pi 

      So what's the exception to this puzzle's execution? It would have been extremely cool if it had run on Friday, March 14th, a.k.a. National Pi Day (3.14 being the date, of course). Maybe it's rare to have a Friday themed puzzle, but I'm pretty sure it's happened before and this would've been a perfect time for an exception. Would've added another nice level of "aha!" for solvers at no extra charge.

      The grid was good, with not many Scowl-O-Meter triggers (WAC/DAR might be a tough cross, but not much beyond that) and some nice entries like BIKINI TOP, Word of the Day TASMANIA, ARTEMIS and SEWED UP. The whole NW corner is elegant.

      That's it from me. Visit a bunch of cool crossword websites here.

      Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for today only
      3/27/2014 4:05:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Eldest Stark child on Game of Thrones / WED 3-26-14 / Holey plastic shoe / Anti-Civil War Northerner / N.B.A. great in Icy Hot commercials
      Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: ATOMIC / NUMBER (18D: With 38-Down, property of the first part of the answer to each starred clue (appropriately positioned in the grid))— answers to starred clues all start with an element of the Periodic Table, and the number of each clue is the same as the ATOMIC / NUMBER of the element in question.

      Theme answers:
      • IRON MAIDEN (26D: *Medieval device with spikes) (Iron = At. No. 26)
      • CARBON COPY (6D: *Typist's duplicate of old) (Carbon = At. No. 6)
      • COPPERHEAD (29D: *Anti-Civil War Northerner) (Copper = At. No. 29)
      • NEON LIGHTS (10D: *They're big on Broadway) (Neon - At. No. 10)

      Word of the Day: Port PHILLIP Bay (49A: Australia's Port ___ Bay) —
      Port Phillip (also commonly referred to as Port Phillip Bay or (locally) just The Bay), is a large bay in southernVictoria, Australia; it is the location of Melbourne. Geographically, the bay covers 1,930 square kilometres (480,000 acres) and the shore stretches roughly 264 km (164 mi). Although it is extremely shallow for its size, most of the bay is navigable. The deepest portion is only 24 metres (79 ft), and half the region is shallower than 8 m (26 ft). The volume of the water in the bay is around 25 cubic kilometres (6.0 cu mi). (wikipedia)
      • • •

      This is a clever puzzle, but it left me cold. I've seen all kinds of element-themed puzzles before (I did a pretty interesting one just last week … or maybe the week before that … in the Chronicle of Higher Education), and I think they're fine, generally, but this theme doesn't really add any enjoyment to the solve. It's a grid that's designed to get you to marvel at the constructor's cleverness. But for me … there's just this moment at the end, when I'm done, where I notice that the numbers of the clues and atomic numbers correspond. And then I shrug. Now there are some good answers in here, and the fill is probably better-than-average (ignoring that NES / ESSE / STER nexus up there). So overall it's a decent effort. But I think some solvers (esp. the ones who routinely geek out about anything sciencey) will be far more impressed by this than I was. I think it's clever. Neat. OK.

      Puzzle was harder than usual due almost entirely to proper nouns completely unknown to me. Never heard of COPPERHEAD that wasn't a snake; no idea that Sydney's bay was called PHILLIP Bay; and ROBB (47A: Eldest Stark child on "Game of Thrones") … let's just say I knew my complete lack of interest in all things "Game of Thrones" would eventually come back to bite me in the ass, puzzle-wise. And here we are. I also had no idea what 50D: Barbaric sorts (HUNS) was at first. Seemed like it could be a million things. And had IN A moment, instead of AHA moment at 64A: ___ moment. Cluing today felt pretty fresh, which I enjoyed, even if part of that freshness was "GOfT"-related. You got CROCs (36A: Holey plastic shoe), you got Shaquille O'NEAL's Icy Hot commercials (5D: N.B.A. great in Icy Hot commercials), you  got DJS taking REQUESTs at PROM. All in all, not a bad day.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      3/26/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Shoe designer Blahnik / TUE 3-25-14 / Swiss peak in Eastwood title / Pleasingly plump / Shakespeare character who says I have set my life upon cast / Film noir weather condition
      Constructor: David Woolf

      Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*) (3:43)

      THEME: "IT AIN'T OVER UNTIL / THE FAT LADY SINGS" (17A: With 57-Across, a die-hard's statement) — two other theme answers claim to "prove" this "statement":

      Theme answers:
      • WALK-OFF HOMER (27A: Hit that proves 17-/57-Across)
      • BUZZER BEATER (445A: Shot that proves 17-/57-Across)
      Word of the Day: MIRIAM (9D: Moses' sister)
      Miriam (HebrewמִרְיָםModern Miryam Tiberian Miryām ; Arabic: مريم (Maryam); see Miriam (given name)) was the sister ofMoses and Aaron, and the daughter of Amram and Yocheved. She appears first in the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. // At her mother Yocheved's request, Miriam hid her baby brother Moses by the side of a river to evade the Pharaoh’s order that newborn Hebrew boys be killed. She watched as the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the infant and decided to adopt him. Miriam then suggested that the princess take on a nurse for the child, and suggested Yocheved; as a result, Moses was raised to be familiar with his background as a Hebrew. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I like the phrases involved here, but the theme feels off to me. If you're going with AIN'T, you're definitely going with 'TIL, not the fully, proper, UNTIL. Also, neither a WALK-OFF HOMER or  BUZZER BEATER really proves the fat-lady statement. In a situation where either event could occur, no one in the building really thinks it's "over." Perhaps they did, earlier in the game, when there was a sizable lead. Anyway, the point is that when a single play can swing an entire game, no one is uttering the fat-lady phrase. That's a phrase for when you're down 10 in the fourth inning, or down 10 with a minute to play (in basketball).

      Fill here is definitely on the weak side. Mainly tired stuff, your OLEGs and OREMs and SSRs and RATAs and OREOs and OBIEs and AWOLs and ENISLEs and what not (ENISLE is on my 10 Most Not Wanted List). Bit of Scrabble ****ing in the NE doesn't do too much damage. TEM is bad, but XYLEM livens things up a little. The Z-crosses at BUZZER BEATER (i.e. FLOOZY and ZAFTIG) are both very nice, but much of the rest felt creaky. Not sure why it played slightly harder than usual for me, especially given that the second half of the long quote was pure gimme. Took me a few passes to see PRISM, oddly (1A: Rainbow maker). I never know if it's MANOLA or MANOLO (5D: Shoe designer Blahnik). Doubted FLOOZY because the word seemed pejorative and I wasn't sure it applied (never actually seen "Chicago"). Forgot that EIGER was a [Swiss peak in an Eastwood title]; that is, forgot it was a Swiss peak, and forgot that Eastwood was in "The EIGER Sanction." Oh, looks like he directed it, too. SULFA is interesting (42D: Certain bacteria-fighting drug)—don't think I've seen that very much before. Don't think I'd know the word if I hadn't been on that class of antibiotic at some point in my life. At any rate, it's different, and different is (mostly) good.

      That's all.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      3/25/2014 10:29:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Belgian treaty city / MON 3-24-14 / Rick's love in Casablanca / Pop Singer Carly Jepsen / Where many digital files are now stored
      Constructor: Tom Pepper

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: DIRTY WORDS (60A: Curses … or the starts of 17-, 27- and 44-Across) — First words of the three theme answers are all words that suggest dirtiness

      Theme answers:
      • FILTHY RICH (17A: Not just well-off)
      • GREASY SPOON (27A: Low-class diners)
      • STAINED GLASS (44A: Window material in many cathedrals)
      Word of the Day: Treaty of GHENT (42A: Belgian treaty city) —
      The Treaty of Ghent (8 Stat. 218), signed on December 24, 1814 in the Flemish city of Ghent, was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and theUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum — that is, it restored the borders of the two countries to the line before the commencement of hostilities. The Treaty was ratified by Parliament on December 30, 1814 and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). Because of the era's lack of telecommunications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States. An American army under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 . The Treaty of Ghent was not in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 18, 1815. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Torn, once again. Fill is very nice and avoids most of the banality and ugliness that are the real dangers of early-week puzzles. But the theme is kinda soft. Only three answer … must be a million words that somehow suggest "dirty" … one of these is used in a way that actually suggests "dirty" (GREASY SPOONS), where the others aren't (not literally, anyway). At least the first two theme answers are colorful (ironically, STAINED GLASS, which is literally colorful, metaphorically isn't). I think my favorite thing in this grid is actually THE CLOUD. High contemporary quotient. But it's kind of a thin, throwaway theme. Well made, but with a theme that wasn't much to my liking. Still, I'm happy not to be groaning mid-solve, as often happens with easy puzzles and their multitude of short answers.

      I flew through this in below-average time, which on a Monday is below about 2:50. 2:38 today. Felt faster, actually, but I am a stumblebum on the keyboard, and I tripped out of the gate on BY FAR, which I just couldn't see until I had all but one cross. Later, balked at both HEDGE (didn't fully read the clue, only registered the "fund" part) and couldn't come up with DIRTY without crosses. Would've liked to see a cleaner east, without the less-than-great ACNED and VAL, but those answers are hardly offensive. I seem to have the ILSA / ELSA thing down … or else I just lucky guessed it this time. Who knows?

      Back to basketball. See you tomorrow.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      3/24/2014 4:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Pitcher Mike with 270 wins / SUN 3-23-14 / Eponymous German physicist / World capital on slope of active volcano / Resort city in 1945 news / Birthplace of Buddha now / Bootleggers banes / Garden State casino informally / Ex-Fed head Bernanke
      Constructor: Ian Livengood

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: "Bright Ideas" — Quotation from THOMAS EDISON (86A), aka THE WIZARD OF MENLO PARK (96A: Nickname for 86-Across), inventor of the INCANDESCENT LIGHTBULB (106A: Development of 86-Across … as depicted in the middle of this grid):
      "I HAVE NOT FAILED. I'VE JUST / FOUND TEN THOUSAND WAYS / THAT WON'T WORK." (26A: Start of a motivational comment attributed to 86-Across)
      Circled squares form image of lightbulb, and spell out (reading counterclockwise, from the top): "AHA MOMENT"

      Word of the Day: Dolph LUNDGREN (116A: Dolph of "Rocky IV") —
      Dolph Lundgren (born Hans Lundgren; 3 November 1957) is a Swedish actor, director, and martial artist. He belongs to a generation of film actors who epitomise the action hero stereotype, alongside Sylvester StalloneChuck Norris,Arnold SchwarzeneggerBruce WillisSteven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
      He received a degree in chemistry from Washington State University in 1976, a degree in chemical engineering from theRoyal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in the early 1980s, then a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering from theUniversity of Sydney in Sydney in 1982. Lundgren holds a rank of 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate and was European champion in 1980 and 1981. While in Sydney, he became a bodyguard for Jamaican singer Grace Jones and began a relationship with her. They moved together to New York City, where after a short stint as a model and bouncer at the Manhattan nightclub The Limelight, Jones got him a small debut role in the James Bond film A View to a Kill as aKGB henchman.
      Lundgren's breakthrough came when he starred in Rocky IV in 1985 as the imposing Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Since then, he has starred in more than 40 movies, almost all of them in the action genre. He portrayed He-Man in the 1987 fantasy/science fiction film Masters of the Universe, and Frank Castle in the 1989 film The Punisher. In the early 1990s, he also appeared in films such Dark Angel (1990), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), alongside Brandon Lee;Universal Soldier (1992) as opposite Jean-Claude Van DammeJoshua Tree (1993), opposite Kristian Alfonso andGeorge SegalJohnny Mnemonic (1995), opposite Keanu Reeves; and Blackjack (1998), directed by John Woo. In 2004, Lundgren directed his first picture, The Defender, and subsequently helmed The Mechanik (2005), Missionary Man (2007), Command Performance (2009), and Icarus (2010), in which he also starred. After a long spell performing indirect-to-video films since 1996, 2010 marked his return to theaters with The Expendables, an on-screen reunion with Stallone, alongside an all-action star cast which included, among others, Jason StathamJet LiStone Cold Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke. He reprised his role as Gunner Jensen in The Expendables 2 in 2012 and the upcomingThe Expendables 3 in 2014. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Solid work, but just too easy, with a gimmick that was too transparent. I knew what this puzzle was going to do as soon as I saw the title and read the Note: "When this puzzle is done, the circled letters, reading counterclockwise from the top, will spell a phrase relating to the puzzle's theme." OK, I didn't know the phrase was going to be "AHA MOMENT," but "Bright Ideas" as a title screamed both "Edison" and "Lightbulb," and I honestly predicted the bulb shape before I even opened the puzzle. This does not make me a genius; it just makes me semi-conscious. This would be a nice gateway puzzle for people who think the Sunday is too hard for them. But I was done in under 10, and since the whole theme was essentially already known to me before I started, it just wasn't that gripping. I will say that the long Downs are gold—Ian is a Really top-notch constructor, and there's hardly anything junky in the whole grid (though because the grid is so segmented, there are a *lot* of short answers, and they can't all be winners). He's one of a handful of constructors I know who do truly care about the overall quality of the grid—The Whole Grid, not just the theme. So the puzzle is expertly made, and it's got sports teams and bands and science and SESAME BAGELS (60D: Deli stock with seeds)—a very nice mix of knowledge, with punchy answers abounding. So even if the theme was D.O.A. for me, a. it won't have been for everyone, and b. there is still a decent puzzle framework underneath that theme.

      There were few challenging or scary moments for me. Typically, the place that gave me the most trouble was the last place I solved—the "Q" in IQS / QUITO was the last letter in the grid. I may have briefly forgotten that QUITO existed. In fact, I'm definitely sure that briefly happened. But we're not talking about minutes of struggle here. Seconds. Just somewhat more seconds than other parts took me. OPEN CIRCUIT isn't a concept I know a lot about, so there was some initial futzing around in that area (I had Buddha born in NEMEA at one point …) (73A: Birthplace of Buddha, now). I blanked on SHARON, briefly. [Lockup] = CAN just made no sense to me until I had it all. Then I was like "Oh, yeah … I teach a course in crime fiction, so I should Probably know that." Really didn't care for the book "Life of Pi," so when I saw that clue I was like "How the *** should I know that guy's last n—… oh, wait, I know it. It's PATEL" (102D: Pi ___, "Life of Pi" protagonist). Turns out my brain still retains useless information—maybe not as well as it did when I was a teenager, but pretty well.

      I'm gonna get back to basketball-watching / exam-grading, but first: Puzzle of the Week!

      So if you want to see why, like Whitney Houston, I believe the children are our future, you'll want to tune into some of the work being done by young constructors on their independent puzzle sites. It's like getting a peek inside a test kitchen. Sometimes the stuff comes out a little rough or weird or not to my liking, but more often I am privileged to witness some truly inspired work—boundary-breaking stuff that you aren't likely to see in mainstream outlets. This week I'd like to single out Neville Fogarty's "College Humor," which has a nice, timely theme, but was super tough for me due to the fact that I am old (at least compared to Neville). Great stuff if you're young, great practice for navigating treacherous proper noun waters if you're less than young, and with a solid theme holding it all together. You should also head over and check out Peter Broda's latest themeless offering, "Freestyle #30," at his site, The Cross Nerd. As I mentioned elsewhere this week, this puzzle has a single clue/answer in it of a type that I find cheap and deeply annoying—but a. not everyone agrees with my philosophy on this, and b. more importantly, that answer aside, the puzzle is a pyrotechnic display. This guy has virtuosic tendencies where themelesses are concerned. So fresh, so current, so wow. I laughed in admiration mid-solve—that's about the highest praise I can give a puzzle. But the winner this week is Ben Tausig's Inkwell Puzzle for this week: "Upbeat Mixes," an easyish puzzle with a super-clever, funny, feel-good theme. Professional, polished, entertaining, witty. Good, good work. I won't spoil it—you can get it free here from Ben's Weekly sword Google group. Hope you like it.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. neglected to give Andy Kravis's "Themeless #12" the shout-out I'd intended last night when I was doing this write-up. I gotta get more organizized. Anyway, this puzzle leads with a dramatic 1-Across and doesn't let up from there. Sweet stuff. Andy drops grid science every Sunday at Andy Kravis, Cruciverbalist at Law (in fact, there's a new puzzle out Today). Add him to your list.
      3/23/2014 4:00:00 AM

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