Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
Rent character Marquez / SUN 11-23-14 / Headmaster honorific / Five-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner / Poem in our eyes per Emerson / Chinese company whose 2014 IPO was world's largest in history / What Gustave Dore's Confusion of Tongues depicts
Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: "Surround Sound" — theme answers are wacky two-word phrases where first word is completely aurally subsumed by the tail-end of the second word. First word is disyllabic in every case:

Theme answers:
  • RANDOM MEMORANDUM (23A: Office missive sent out arbitrarily?)
  • GRANITE POMEGRANATE (30A: Stone fruit?)
  • LUNAR BALLOONER (48A: Aeronaut who's headed for the moon?)
  • ROTC PAPARAZZI (66A: Photographers who stalk future lieutenants?)
  • PEWTER COMPUTER (84A: Desktop machine made of malleable metal?)
  • MENTIONS DIMENSIONS (101A: Provides some idea of an object's size?)
  • COLLIE MELANCHOLY (113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?)
Word of the Day: ASUNCIÓN (37D: South American capital) —
Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción (Spanish pronunciation: [asunˈsjon]GuaraniParaguay) is the capital and largest city of Paraguay.
The Ciudad de Asunción is an autonomous capital district not part of any department. The metropolitan area, called Gran Asunción, includes the cities of San LorenzoFernando de la MoraLambaréLuqueMariano Roque AlonsoÑembySan AntonioLimpioCapiatá and Villa Elisa, which are part of the Central Department. The Asunción metropolitan area has more than 2 million inhabitants. […]
It is the home of the national government, principal port, and the chief industrial and cultural centre of the country. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a passable theme, but I expect more than "passable" from Patrick Berry. Way, way more. To be blunt, Patrick Berry needs to be, minimally, Very Good, every time out. The overall quality of the NYT is really riding on a handful of stalwarts who are capable of producing puzzles of a very high order. Wentz, McCoy, Gorski, Chen, Steinberg, Berry … these people just can't fall down or even trip on the job. They have too much of other people's mediocrity to make up for. Unfair? Of course. But that's the current reality of the NYT crossword. There are definitely some good moments in this puzzle—the acronymic use of ROTC (i.e. relying on how it sounds, not how it's spelled) is inspired , and the clue on COLLIE MELANCHOLY(113A: Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy?) is genuinely hilarious. But MENTIONS DIMENSIONS and RANDOM MEMORANDUM just lie there. Too much real estate to give over to boring answers, especially in a puzzle whose theme is so basic that it really Needs to be great at every turn.


There were times when this felt like the easiest Sunday I'd done in a while, and other times where I got oddly bogged down by a single word or small handful of them. Turns out I am capable of confidently spelling neither MEMORANDUM (considered -EM ????) nor POMEGRANATE (somehow thought maybe there was another "N" in there just before the "G"; again ????). OXFAM is familiar to me after-the-fact, but during-the-solve, it was nowhere. Needed nearly every cross. I somehow wrote in MOAN at 98D: No longer standing tall? (MOWN), which really stopped me at the end, as I considered TAITTER as an answer to 108A: Feed supplier (good clue for TWITTER, btw). Given a five-letter answer starting with "I" and given the clue [2006 World Cup winner] the only (and I mean *only*) country I could think of was INDIA, which, I was 99.7% sure, was wrong. When I got ITALY, I laughed. Sorry, ITALY. Forgot about you. Also forgot Jessica Simpson's sister's name, mostly because I forgot about Jessica Simpson, who (like her sister) hasn't been relevant for years. Anyway, ASHLEE is spelled thuslee, which caused some minor confusion in the south.

Had LEAD for LEAK (73D: Boon for an investigative journalist), and then RHYME for 45D: What some dreams and themes do (RECUR). I guess I just ignored the "some" in that clue. My bad. But the worst struggle I had was in the NE, where SALE TAG for NAME TAG (16D: Retail clerk's accessory) really gunked things up. Had LILI for MIMI, EASE for WANE, and thus EOLAN for 14D: George Eliot, but not Marilyn Manson (WOMAN). And then I just sat and wondered what the problem could be. Eventually pulled NAME from NAME TAG and all the right answers popped into view. Happy 195th birthday to George Eliot, by the way. Read Middlemarch for the first time this past summer and Loved it.

    Some quick announcements:

    First, though I haven't done all the puzzles this week, I am going to give a Puzzle of the Week nod anyway, this time to Andrew Ries and his latest Aries XWord puzzle, "Symbol Synonyms." Neat gimmick, where all-caps clues are single words which can be reimagined as a Periodic Table abbr. + clue word, which combine to clue a familiar phrase. Thus, [AUGUST] is the clue for GOLD RUSH (AU = gold, GUST = rush, as of wind). [CURING] => COPPERTONE, [CAPE] => CARBON COPY, and [ALBUM] => ALUMINUM CAN. Andrew Ries's Aries XWord puzzles are available only by subscription, but said subscriptions are ridiculously cheap. You can solve free samples at his site. Definitely check him out.

    Next, I am very happy to plug Patrick Merrell's Kickstarter campaign for his book project, "Zep: A Puzzling Adventure," a graphic novel he wrote and drew a quarter-century ago. Patrick is a professional cartoonist as well as a professional puzzlemaker, and the project looks genuinely fantastic. Read all about it, see samples, and watch a short (adorable) video at his Kickstarter page. Seriously, do it. It's worth a look. The project is a Kickstarter Staff Pick! His book's got a hidden puzzle! An Evil Dr. SUMAC! What's not to love?

    Lastly, a plug for the country's newest significant crossword tournament, The Indie 500, brought to you be a crew of some of today's best young constructors: Erik Agard, Evan Birnholz, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, and Andy Kravis (all of whom run independent puzzle sites of their own). The tournament will be held for the first time in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2015. But more than plugging the tourney itself, I want to call attention to the fact that they are accepting puzzle submissions from novice constructors (with no more than 10 published puzzles) to fill the last slot on their tournament puzzle slate. Eligibility requirements are right here. So mark it on your calendar and, if you're relatively new to constructing and think you've got a great idea for a tournament puzzle, consider submitting. I know all the people running this show, and their collective skills and professionalism are legit. Go. Solve. Do. Fun.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
      11/23/2014 5:00:00 AM
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
      Castle town in 1937 film / SAT 11-22-14 / Q preceder / Stowe antislavery novel / Moon named after Greek personification of terror / Fictional locale of John Wayne western / Classic sea adventure of 1846 / Grocery product with a multiply misspelled na
      Constructor: David Steinberg

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: "RIO LOBO" (48A: Fictional locale of a John Wayne western) —
      Rio Lobo is a 1970 American Western film starring John Wayne. The film was the last film directed by Howard Hawks, from a script by Leigh Brackett. The film was shot in Technicolor with a running time of 114 minutes. The musical score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the movie was filmed at Cuernavaca in the Mexican state of Morelosand at Tucson, Arizona.
      It was the third Howard Hawks film varying the idea of a sheriff defending his office against belligerent outlaw elements in the town, after Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado(1966), both also starring John Wayne. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Oh, well, this is more like it. Hold this up to yesterday's to see the difference between night and day. No, that's no good as a metaphor. First it's cliché and second it doesn't get at the quality gap here. How about "the difference between chocolate and carob." Not perfect, but closer, This grid has the same (high) word count as yesterday's, but the results are electric. This is partly because even though he's just a high school senior, Mr. Steinberg is an old pro, and partly because he didn't try to cram a "Q" into the grid just 'cause. (The second part of that sentence is related to the first part.) Here's what happens when your long answers, all the way around, are fresh and cracking—your less toothsome answers? Nobody cares. I don't like RRR or TARARA or EOSIN any more than you do, but they are *not* what I remember about this puzzle, not what I see when I look at this grid. I see an aggressively contemporary puzzle packed with "Z"s and "X"s and colloquialisms both fresh and "dated" (nice save on FOSHIZZLE there, David and/or Will). This is among my favorite D.S. themelesses, if not the best he's ever done.

      ["NO SOAP, Mr. Norton!"]

      The SE felt a little makeshifty, as MIAMI AREA sets an odd "any city + AREA" precedent, and DROID RAZR … oh, that's a thing now, I see. Motorola (the name I normally associate with RAZR) "resurrected the RAZR brand for a line of Android smartphones" (per wikipedia). I see that there is one called the DROID RAZR MAXX—consider that particular gauntlet thrown, constructors.

      I mostly breezed through this puzzle. You can tell that 1D: "The ___ the words, the better the prayer": Martin Luther was a comparative adjective, so I put in the -ER. Then when I couldn't remember the damn Fashion designer Saab's name, I saw 4D: "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" philosopher. Total gimme (HUME). I once studied in Edinburgh, so that might've helped there, but I think I would've picked up HUME from that title anyway. So then I remembered the Saab was ELIE, then I guessed the "acid" in the 2D "bleach ingredient" ended in -IC, then I easily picked up CECE (26A: Woman's name that sounds like a repeated letter) and RIB. Then SCRIBE. And I was off. One major, nearly fatal hitch. I hit a brick wall at the end, with the following holes:

      • WIIMO-ES (13D: Handy things in the game world?)
      • -U-E (29A: Turn off, maybe)
      • -A-ET (29D: David who wrote the screenplay for "The Verdict")
      • DEI-OS (37A: Moon named after the Greek personification of terror)

      This caused me a very, very frustrating 45 seconds or so. WII MOVES? Is that a thing. That seemed the only possible answer, but a. it sounded stupid, and b. -UVE made no sense for [Turn off, maybe]. It makes no sense at all, actually. The moon answer, pfft. And I was never gonna get to MUTE from that clue. It's an oblique clue. I MUTE the TV while it's still on. You can MUTE the sound, I guess, but you'd say you MUTEd the TV. Anyway, no big deal—I just wasn't gonna get it from that clue with those letters in place. That left the screenplay guy. Somehow "David" and "screenplay" eventually triggered MAMET—a name I know well, but Not At All from "The Verdict," an early-'80s Paul Newman film I never saw. So I was in real danger of a triple-proper-noun beatdown there for a little bit. But then David MAMET saved the day.


        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        11/22/2014 5:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Kinkajou's kin / FRI 11-21-14 / Country Girl memoirist O'Brien / Source of delicacy tomalley / Late legend in countdowns / Title woman of 1977 Neil Diamond hit / Novelist Shreve / State bordering Poland
        Constructor: Kevin Christian

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


        THEME: none

        Word of the Day: LOCAVORE (57A: Farmers' market frequenter, maybe) —
        locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. One common - but not universal - definition of "local" food is food grown within 100 miles of its point of purchase or consumption. The locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned as a result of interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness becoming more prevalent. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Trying to pinpoint why this one was slightly dissatisfying, despite the presence of gems like BUTTDIAL and LOCAVORE. I think, with a word count this high (the themeless max of 72), there should simply be more gems, and there should certainly be a greater overall level of fill quality. The puzzle is by no means poor, but it felt adequate rather than carefully crafted. Every corner in a puzzle like this should feature at least one thing that is new and great. Nothing in that NW corner sufficiently offsets the crosswordesiest golfer and the world's worst [Footnote abbr.]. The words leading out of that section, NO CLASS and GNEISS, both made me slump a little in sadness (when I eventually got them, which was Not right away). PANED is a bit icky and I'll never understand the choice of "F" in the 31 square when so many other letters would've put you in a clearly preferable non-FAYS situation. (Wait … I'm being told this puzzle is a pangram … and … whaddya know, there's our only "F" ... [audible sigh] …). ET SEQ makes so much "sense" … now.


        I can't even continue writing about a mediocre puzzle when I am now aware that the mediocrity is clearly and directly tied to the stupid pangram stunt. Good night.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
        11/21/2014 5:00:00 AM
        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
        Slit made with saw / THU 11-20-14 / Sea urchin at sushi bar / First story to feature ZORRO 1919 / Lacoste competitor / Historical buffalo hunter / Descriptor for olde England / Bygone Chevy subcompact
        Constructor: Timothy Polin

        Relative difficulty: Medium (could lean toward "Challenging" for some, given the not-famous story title and not-famous "real name" that take up so much real estate)


        THEME: ZORRO (44D: Subject of this puzzle) — contains "first story to feature ZORRO" ("THE CURSE OF / CAPISTRANO") and the "real name of ZORRO" (DON DIEGO / DE LA VEGA). Then there's the note:


        So connect the "Z"s and get a much bigger "Z," it seems.

        Word of the Day: Skink (54A: Skink, e.g. => LIZARD) —
        n.
        Any of numerous smooth shiny lizards of the family Scincidae, having a cylindrical body and small orrudimentary legs and living chiefly in temperate and tropical regions.

        [Latin scincus, from Greek skinks.] (thefreedictionary.com)
        • • •


        This is solid work. It's not the most accessible puzzle, in that the bulk of the theme answers—in fact, all the theme answers besides ZORRO—are bits of trivia that no one but a pulp aficionado is likely to know. I would not call myself a pulp aficionado, but I did read Dynamite's recent run of "ZORRO" comics, so the details here are at least vaguely familiar to me. I didn't know Z's name of his first story off the top of my head, but with some coaxing from crosses, I got both of them quickly enough. I'm not much for drawing on my answer grid, but that connect-the-Zs trick here is neatly done. I'm most impressed that the multitude of "Z"s, each of which must be in a precise position, did not turn the fill to goo. I probably should've made KERF my Word of the Day, because what the hell … but aside from a minor clunk here and there, this grid held up very well, considering the strictures.


        I finished in 6+ minutes, which is pretty normal for Thursday, but I feel like the first minute was one big free fall. I didn't have a damn thing in the grid after my first pass at the NW. Weirdly, the first thing I up in the grid was DAP (5A: Skip over water, as stones), whose definition here I know only from crosswords. Then there was INKAINKA was ugly, but INKA was easy. But I still didn't make much headway up there. I ended up poking into a bunch of nooks an crannies (first the west, then the NE…) before I ever put any of the bigger answers to gather. LEONINE (28D: Having a sense of pride?) + OOZED (36A: Displayed conspicuously) ended up (finally) bringing a lot of separate sections of the puzzle together. I normally solve in a somewhat more connected, methodical fashion, but I couldn't do that today, for whatever reason. Somehow this didn't affect my time much. Decent theme, cleanish fill, nifty little trick. Totally acceptable Thursday.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          11/20/2014 5:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          Czar's edict / WED 11-19-14 / Self-proclaimed leader of ISIS, e.g. / Krupp Works city / Instrument with sympathetic strings / Tropicana Field site informally
          Constructor: Jacob Stulberg

          Relative difficulty: Easy



          THEME: THERE'S NO TWO / WAYS ABOUT IT (18A: With 64-Across, words of certainty .i.. or a hint to 23-, 40- and 56-Across) — "NO" appears at the beginning of each theme answer, and "NO" going the other way (i.e. "ON") appears at the end of each theme answer. So there's "no" two ways about (i.e. on either side of of, framing) each theme answer.

          Theme answers:
          • NORA EPHRON (23A: "Silkwood" screenwriter)
          • NON-PRESCRIPTION (40A: Like Advil vis-à-vis Vicodin)  (is the "vis-à-vis" necessary here? Advil is NON-PRESCRIPTION. It just … is.)
          • NOMINATION (56A: Convention outcome)
          Word of the Day: UKASE (53D: Czar's edict) —
          ukase, or ukaz (/juːˈks/Russianуказ [ʊˈkas], formally "imposition"), in Imperial Russia, was a proclamation of the tsar, government, or a religious leader (patriarch) that had the force of law. "Edict" and "decree" are adequate translations using the terminology and concepts of Roman law.
          From the Russian term, the word ukase has entered the English language with the meaning of "any proclamation or decree; an order or regulation of a final or arbitrary nature". (wikipedia)
          • • •

          I actually like the basic concept here. The theme repurposes a fairly common colloquial expression, and does so in a precisely literal way. Now, the theme answers aren't exactly scintillating (NORA EPHRON is great, the others are forgettable), and that's a Lot of real estate to waste on the revealer, but overall the theme holds up. Shockingly, neither NORA EPHRON nor NOMINATION (!?!) is in the cruciverb.com database. Now, that database is not without its gaps (one of my LAT puzzles somehow never made it in), but it's pretty damned deep, and goes back roughly 20 years, so the complete absence of both those terms is stunning to me. I'm slightly down on NON-PRESCRIPTION, but only because NON- is so close to NO. Seems like ideally "NO" would be "hidden" (i.e. the letter pairing would appear in answer where it didn't have the negative meaning of the word "no"). But it's gotta be pretty hard to get answers to follow this NO…ON formula. So the concept is nifty, the resulting theme answers so-so. The fill is completely unremarkable. Net result is neither good nor bad. It just is. Actually, I take that back—it's a little on the disappointing side. It's painfully dull. Grid structure doesn't allow for any longer interesting answers, and the 5-letter and shorter stuff is pretty mothbally. But if you're looking for good fill on a regular basis, you're really doing the wrong puzzle at this point.


          So … UKASE. I learned this word from crosswords, and I have never seen it outside crosswords. It strikes me that if genpop (i.e. non-puzzle-nerds) were to look at this grid, *that* is the term they'd be least likely to know. Maybe ERSE would be the bigger WTF, but UKASE strikes me as fairly arcane. Is that true? I consider it really bad fill, largely because a. as I said, it's arcane, and b. it's lazy. It's not in anyone's grid because it's beloved—it's there because vowel/consonant/vowel/consonant/vowel, and someone's used it before so Good Enough! But I know some people who are not nearly as UKASE-intolerant as I am, so maybe mine is a highly idiosyncratic personal reaction.

          Bullets:
          • 49D: ___ dragon (huge lizard) (KOMODO) — turns out I really, really can't spell this. First vowel had me flummoxed. Wanted KIMODO. That still looks better to me.
          • 21D: Self-proclaimed leader of ISIS, e.g. (CALIPH) — I'm generally opposed to calling attention to terrorists in crosswords, especially if they are still active. I don't feel very strongly about this, however.
          • 51D: Like a "before" versus "after" photo subject, say (FATTER) — puzzle seems oddly fat-obsessed of late. FAT AS A PIG, very recent. "Phat mama" in the THAI clue. OK, so maybe not "obsessed."
          • 33A: Little pain in the you-know-where (IMP) — it's weird to me that the puzzle can be all ANAL this and ANAL that but somehow blushes at "ass."
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
          11/19/2014 5:00:00 AM
          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
          PBS station behind Live from Lincoln Center / TUE 11-18-14 / Muse sometimes pictured with book or scroll / Voice in role of Mefistofele e.g. / Tina Fey display / Waldorf salad morsel
          Constructor: Jacob McDermott

          Relative difficulty: Medium


          THEME: POWER COUPLE (36A: Beyoncé and Jay Z, e.g. … or a hint to 17-, 30-, 44- and 61-Across) — both words in two-word phrases can precede "power" in a common word or phrase … I think:

          Theme answers:
          • SUPERSTAR (17A: Luminary among luminaries)
          • FULL STEAM (30A: Flat out)
          • HIGH HORSE (44A: Snooty attitude)
          • MUSCLEMAN (61A: Bodybuilder, for one)
          Word of the Day: KIGALI (50D: Capital of Rwanda) —
          Kigali, with population of almost 1 million (2009), is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is situated near the geographic centre of the nation. The city has been the economic, cultural, and transport hub of Rwanda since it became capital at independence in 1962. The main residence and offices of the President of Rwanda are located in the city, as are the government ministries. The city is coterminous with the province of Kigali City, which was enlarged in January 2006, as part of local government reorganisation in the country. The city's urban area covers about 70% of the municipal boundaries. (wikipedia)
          • • •

          First, Jay-Z is hyphenated, so get that straight. (BREAKING: for first time ever, I am wrong)


          Second, these powers don't all wash. FULL is about as valid as LOW, in that it is simply a degree of power, not a different power type. And HIGH … I'm still working that out. Is that like "full," in that it is a degree? Because other options are divine (which would be "higher power") or adjectival (which would be "high-powered"). I'm not really sure what "muscle power" is either. I mean, I know what it is, but it's not a phrase I hear. Where's FIRE? BRAIN? I get that "FIRE BRAIN" is not a thing, but in a puzzle like this, all your FIREs need to be in a row. Tight, exact, buyable. These weren't.

          Also, KIGALI is a major outlier, fame-wise. It's a world capital, so it's a valid NYT crossword answer, but it's weird on a Tuesday (note: it hasn't been in *any* NYT puzzle in over nine years). If I had to name 100 world capitals, first, I don't know that I could, and second, I wouldn't name KIGALI. I feel like I'm learning of its existence today. I'm happy to know it, but all you have to do is look at the fill in that corner (the terrible, terrible fill in that corner … EPIS!?) to know that the corner could've been much more carefully constructed, much more polished. Either the constructor *really* wanted KIGALI (doubtful), in which case it wasn't worth it, given the fill results; or else KIGALI's just another "good enough" thing that fit, and no one spent any time thinking about it at all. The latter seems much more plausible.


          Fill is weak overall. It just is. It's terrible only in the SE, but it's pretty anemic all over. This is the new NYT norm. It just is. But I can tell you now that I'm not going to get used to it. I have to keep saying that it's happening. I know it's tedious to hear, but it's even more tedious to solve. Let's just look at UNCAS. That belongs in no puzzle. Maybe if you've got a tough themeless you're trying to get to work out, OK. But here, on a Tuesday, no. And yet the constructor has virtually no other options, given how he's laid out the grid. U-C-S is set in stone. UNCAS would've been the first non-theme answer he settled on. Switching the 2nd and 4th theme answers would've left you with I-C-A, which is an even more implausible combination to work out. But this is where, as a constructor, you're supposed to redesign the grid, find new theme answers … something. Not just plow ahead because UNCAS is a thing. The whole thing reeks of "good enough." Only it's not. I don't mean to HECKLE. This is not SNARK. This is just a straightforward description of business as usual these days.
            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            11/18/2014 5:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            Football Hall-of-Famer Michael / MON 11-17-14 / was here WWII catchphrase / Classic video game with ghosts / Crimean conference site
            Constructor: Tom McCoy

            Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



            THEME: TWINS  (67A: Minnesota baseball team … or what 18-, 30-, 44- and 53-Across all are) — I guess all the theme answers are twins, then. That seems to be what the clue is telling me.

            Theme answers:
            • KOFI ANNAN (18A: Ban Ki-moon's predecessor at the U.N.)
            • ASHTON KUTCHER (30A: "Two and a Half Men" co-star starting in 2011)
            • MARIO ANDRETTI (44A: Sporting champion with a drive for success?)
            • VIN DIESEL (53A: "The Fast and the Furious" co-star)
            Word of the Day: CHICK MAGNET (25D: Sexy guy) —
            chick magnet means someone who has many female admirers, or an object which has the property of attracting them (eg. a sports car).
            Chick Magnet may also refer to:
            • • •

            What I like most about this puzzle is that the theme is almost defiantly pathetic. Surely many famous people have been TWINS. The baseball clue on the revealer is just the arbitrary cherry on top of the flimsy sundae. It's like an anti-puzzle, an un-puzzle, a deconstruction of Mondayness. This puzzle's got your Monday theme right here [grabs crotch]. Theme schmeme, look at this grid. I mean, you can take OBE and ORI back whence they came, and IRES is easily the worst piece of fill you'll see this week, but the rest is clean, cool, smooth, glistening, joyous. The long Downs shimmer, delightfully yin-yanging the conventional masculinity gamut, while the relatively open center comes off with barely a hitch, and the longer symmetrical Acrosses toward the middle echo my elementary-school self upon entering any pizza parlor, convenience store, or other video-game containing establishment: "YES, YES! PAC-MAN!" It's not a great puzzle, by any means, but I definitely did ENJOY myself, and honestly, I don't know what else to ask from a Monday. Be entertaining, be clean, exit stage right.


            Bullets:
            • 11A: Place ___ (part of a table setting) (MAT) — had about 3 seconds of refusal time, during which I refused to move forward on account of I thought "placemat" was one word. Spellcheck's not flagging it, so ...
            • 38A: Gumshoes, in old crime fiction (TECS) — I teach old crime fiction, I am deep into Chandler's The Long Goodbye right now, and also deep into a "Noirvember" film noir binge. I have yet to see TECS anywhere. Gumshoe, occasionally; shamus, for sure. Peeper, Op, Dick, Sleuth, all good. But tec … that's rare to the point of invisibility, at least in hardboiled American crime fiction. 
            • 7D: Reading place … or a reading device (NOOK) — clever pick-up of Barnes & Noble's Kindle rival. I had the terminal "K" and wrote in DESK. Made sense at the time. Not now, of course.

            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
            11/17/2014 5:00:00 AM
            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
            New England town official / SUN 11-16-14 / Actress Normand of silents / Neighbor of Chiapas / Modern name of Mare Mecca / Instruments with flared bells / Byzantine emperor known as philosopher / Tom big role in Purple rose of cairo / Blades that soun
            Constructor: Andrew Ries

            Relative difficulty: Medium



            THEME: "Don't Quit Your Day Job" — theme answers are famous people, clued as people who are bad for certain jobs based on a literal interpretation of their last names:

            Theme answers:
            • WILLIAM HURT (23A: Oscar winner who would make a lousy anesthesiologist?)
            • JOHNNY ROTTEN (33A: Punk rocker who would make a lousy grocer?)
            • BRAM STOKER (39A: Horror author who would make a lousy firefighter?)
            • NICOLAS CAGE (57A: Action star who would make a lousy free-range farmer?)
            • GEORGE BURNS (76A: Bygone comic who would make a lousy baker?)
            • BOBBY SHORT (90A: Cabaret pianist who would make a lousy electrician?)
            • GLORIA ALLRED (97A: Lawyer who would make a lousy anti-Communist leader?)
            • STEVIE NICKS (112A: Singer who would make a lousy mohel?)
            Word of the Day: ALGID (45A: Cold) —
            adj.
            Cold; chilly.

            [Latin algidus, from algēre, to be cold.]
            algidity al·gid'i·ty (-jĭd'ĭ-tēn.

            Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/algid#ixzz3JBVbQTOF
            • • •

            First observation is that the theme is not nearly tight enough. Not even close. Pick anyone who's last name is also a word in the English language, and you can plausibly write a clue about them that would fit with this whole "inaptness" theme. Fiona APPLE would make a lousy IBM salesperson, John (or Al, or Seth) GREEN would make a lousy spokesperson for, I don't know, the coal industry, Kanye WEST would make a lousy Asian Studies professor, etc. etc. etc. Also, the puzzle's marquee non-theme answers felt off or old or … something less than exciting. GRAD PHOTO is very close to a "green paint" answer. Also, the abbreviated "grad" isn't indicated anywhere in the clue. IN A CAST is about as coherent as IN A CAR—it's a very real phrase, but not one you'd hang your hat on. I have no idea what a SELECTMAN is, or what's "New England" about it. Also, SHOE LAST! Yikes. I have forgotten my cobbling terminology! that "A" in LAST was my (… wait for it …) last letter in the grid. While I think the theme is cute, in its way, the answers were mostly very easy to get, and the fun level was middling at best. I endured it more than I enjoyed it.


            I didn't enjoy the BUG ZAPPER and the HAPPY MEAL, JUXTAPOSE and CHIME IN ON, and even the made-up-seeming EXHIPPIES. I guess you can slap "EX-" in front of virtually anything and argue for its validity, and HIPPIES is at least vivid and evocative. I think I don't get the dick joke at STEVIE NICKS. The mohel is *supposed* to cut skin, right? Seems like shaving would've been a better way to go here, context-wise. I get that dick jokes are tempting, but this one just seemed inapt.


            Are MEME and MEMENTO etymologically related? Seems like it. Also: BOBBY SHORT? I have no idea who that is. I'm listening to him now, and he seems great, but fame-wise, he's an outlier in this grid (in a different browser tab, I'm debating w/ another blogger about who's less well known, him or GLORIA ALLRED…) Anyway, he's light years less famous than MARTIN. I guess BRAM STOKER needed a symmetrical partner really bad. Still, again, with soooooo many potential ways to go with this theme, seems like you could've done better than BOBBY SHORT. By "better," I mean more famous/iconic, the way All the other themers in this puzzle are.


            Difficulty level was about average, with the toughest part by far being the place where BOBBY SHORT met the SHOE LAST in and around a random pope and a role (???) in "Purple Rose of Cairo" (BAXTER). Also had some trouble around ALGID + ERNO and LEMAN (?). But all in all, quite doable, perhaps because almost all the themers were super-easy to pick up.
              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
              11/16/2014 5:00:00 AM
              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
              Half-filled auditorium to Frost / SAT 11-15-14 / Illness affecting wealthy / First video game character to be honored with figure in Hollywood Wax Museum / Author who was title subject of Best Picture 1937 / Home tech product discontinued in 1987 / L
              Constructor: Peter Wentz

              Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



              THEME: none

              Word of the Day: Sir Richard STEELE (38D: Literary contemporary of Addison) —
              Sir Richard Steele (bap. 12 March 1672 – 1 September 1729) was an Irish writer and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine The Spectator. (wikipedia)
              • • •

              I've never seen a Saturday puzzle embarrass the rest of the week like this. I mean, the quality gap between this and the next best puzzle this week, let alone the average, is Grand Canyonesque. This was clean and delightful from front to back. Beautiful short-fill management—largely inoffensive and, due to the fantastic longer fill that dominates the grid, inconspicuous. I think YOHO is the only answer I actively dislike. Maybe XKES. I have to try hard to work up consternation, is what I'm saying, and if I have to work at it, it's not authentic, so: raspberries. I liked the stuff I got easily (AFFLUENZA), I liked the stuff I struggled for (MOON WALKS) … I just enjoyed myself. Would've been nice if the puzzle had put up a bit more of a fight on a Saturday (Saturday night being, as they say, alright for fighting), but when a puzzle is making me smile at virtually everything, right down to the clue for LOS (21D: ___ Pollos Hermanos ("Breaking Bad" restaurant)), I can't complain. I can only admire.


              Here's something else that's great about this puzzle—it feels fresh despite not being drenched in up-to-the-minute slang or pop culture. It's got a huge range of answer-types: colloquial phrases, sports slang, ordinary words, animals, meats … but none of it is generationally exclusionary. It's colorful *and* accessible. I really enjoyed the literariness of the puzzle, with the great Frost quote up top, and then T.S. ELIOT talking to EMILE ZOLA about STEELE down below. I did struggle a bit in parts. I had most of KNEE PATCH (all but 2 letters, I think), before I realized what the clue was going for with "extender" (15A: Pants extender?). I wanted SMACKED for 32A: Hit as well as MINCES for 40A: Chops meat. This created a late-stage clusterf*** in the SE. But STEELE was a gimme, and it helped change MINCES to MUTTON, and things began to look up from there. I don't think I knew a HONEY BEAR was a real thing. I know that Pooh is a HONEY BEAR (right?), but … he's also fictional, so … yeah. It all worked out. Finished with the "M" in MILER. Then (literally) slow-clapped my appreciation.
                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                11/15/2014 5:00:00 AM
                Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                Frequent Wyeth model / FRI 11-14-14 / Pat Patriot Billy Buffalo / b'av annual Jewish fast day / Alternative to Avia / Discoverer of Amazon's mouth / Basis of Nintendo Wii's processor / Store debut of 2008
                Constructor: Joe Krozel

                Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



                THEME: That's not a theme

                Word of the Day: ETONIC (37D: Alternative to Avia) —

                • • •

                RAISED LETTERING
                CAPITAL LETTER

                LETTER. Twice in the same grid. That's a precedent I hope no one finds "instructive." If the justification is somehow related to the "B" business, then "B" is for baloney.


                I like that the grid kind of looks like one of the Space Invaders. It's chiefly the "eyes," I think—the little 2-black-square configurations near the upper middle of the grid. I also think some of the longer answers are nice, or at least clean. FOOTBALL MASCOTS in particular is unexpected and delightful. I have no idea what the "B" clues in the middle are supposed to be doing. That is somebody's idea of cleverness, I suspect. Just not mine. B, Bb, Bb6 ... I don't know how that is anything but an arbitrary progression. I've seen some of these half-ass non-themes on Fridays before, and I continue to not understand. There's no harm done, of course, and the central Acrosses are all solid answers that cohere nicely and don't do too much damage in the crosses (TISHA, ENOL, and Too Many LOLAS being the only weak spots). But the cluing is just shrug-inducing. Hey, why not do an A, AB, ABA, ABAB, ABABA version? Consider it a challenge.


                My solve started out rough, both in terms of my inability to get much and in terms of the puzzle's coughing up some of its less savor clues right from the jump. I hit five fill-in-the-blank clues within the first thirty seconds and at that point was Really worried about what kind of theme I was headed into. But that was apparently just bad luck, since there are only … eight? Eight seems like a lot. Is that a lot? I haven't made a habit of counting fill-ins. Anyway, when the first two Acrosses (1 and 12) and the first Down (1) you look at are all fill-in-the-blanks, that's what's called an unpromising start. But things picked up eventually. Cluing seemed tougher than normal, but not dramatically so. Short stuff gets gunky in parts, but there's nothing gut-wrenching, and the longer, cleaner answers are generally the ones that shine through. I have no idea what that "B" stuff is about, but at worst it's harmless.


                Ooh, almost forgot. This puzzle sets a record for Longest Pope LEO, so congrats on that. LEO VIII! (19A: 10th-century pope). Not sure I've ever seen a pope where the Roman Numeral part was longer than the name part. Impressive. Wait, sorry, I'm getting word that this puzzle merely ties the record, set in 2003 by Bob Peoples in an LAT puzzle (LEOXIII). Ah well, this was a valiant effort nonetheless. Since we are unlike to see a Pope LEO XVIII in our lifetimes (there have been only 13 so far), you should consider this record unbreakable. It's been done, man. Try the Piuses.

                Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                11/14/2014 12:30:00 PM
                Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                Olive to Ovid / THU 11-13-14 / Praise of Chimney Sweepers essayist / Stage name for 2012 singing sensation Park Jae-sang / Botanical opening / Between innings feature on Jumbotron / Ottawa based media inits / John who played Joshua in Ten Commandemen
                Constructor: Tracy Gray

                Relative difficulty: Medium



                THEME: ON — Five clues begin "Literally, with X-Across" and the answer is missing an "ON" because the first part of the answer is "literally" ON the other one, so SEAS *ON* PASSES etc.

                Theme answers:
                • SEAS(ON) PASSES (17A: Literally, with 20-Across, ski resort purchases)
                • CARS(ON) CITY (16A: Literally, with 19-Across, a Western state capital)
                • SURGE(ON) GENERAL (35A: Literally, with 39-Across, head doctor)
                • CORD(ON) BLEU (59A: Literally, with 63-Across, distinguished chef)
                • HARRIS(ON) FORD (55A: Literally, with 62-Across, longtime action star)
                Word of the Day: SAHEL (23D: Semiarid region of Africa) —
                The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara Desert to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the southernmost extent of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The Arabic word sāḥil (ساحل) literally means "shore, coast", describing the appearance of the vegetation found in the Sahel as being akin to that of a coastline delimiting the sand of the Sahara.
                The Sahel covers parts of (from west to east) the GambiaSenegal, southern Mauritania, central MaliBurkina Faso, southern Algeria and Niger, northern Nigeriaand Cameroon, central Chad, southern Sudan, northern South Sudan and northern Eritrea. (wikipedia)
                • • •
                  Again, we have an example of a good theme idea marred by ungreat fill. Here's the thing about fill–It's Most Of The Puzzle. We are very definitely, solidly, in an era at the NYT when fill quality really doesn't matter. Interesting theme ideas are accepted and overall grid quality gets little to no attention. I see claims (occasionally) that fill standards are higher now, but I see almost zero evidence of this. Instead I see corners with ALII and OLEA and RIAS. Sorry, that's one corner, not multiple corners. One, little, nothing corner (the symmetrical corner has ELIA / SDAK issues). I do like KISSCAM, but that corner is already compromised by your theme. So the one bit of interesting fill the puzzle does have ends up crushing the surrounding fill until it squeals. AAHEDAT is a train wreck. I can barely look at it. In fact, the whole area there feels clunky. TEASELS and SAHEL … it's like the grid is *barely* holding together. With AAHEDAT, I'd say it's not really holding together at all.


                  Now this puzzle is, both thematically and fill-wise, superior to yesterday's puzzle, but this is the problem. The bar is So Low. People will enjoy this at least in part because it's better by comparison with yesterday's. That, coupled with a truly interesting theme concept, means this one will probably mostly pass muster with solvers. But the fill still needs work. I enjoyed working out the ON answers, but once you grok the concept, they're all pretty easy to get. What's most distressing about the fill quality is this is not a hard grid to fill. It looks like the central theme pairing really put some strain on the grid, but the other four pairs are isolated and have mostly short answers around them. I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to build a grid where your connecting answer isn't the one ending in -GA (here, RUTABAGA, the root (!) cause of the fill issues in that area), but perhaps one that ends -EL. You'd have to rebuild the grid some, and refill it from nearly the ground up, but more things end -EL than end -GA. Seems like you might buy yourself some freedom. At any rate, the SAHEL / TEASELS / AAHEDAT area, coupled with the OLEA and ELIA areas, really diminished my enjoyment of this one. Theme gets a B, fill gets a C-.
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    11/13/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Chaiken who co-created L Word / WED 11-12-14 / Mexican cigar brand / Baseball hall of famer mistakenly listed in chanukah song as Jewish / Slangy commercial suffix / Playwright who wrote what is originality undetected plagiarism /
                    Constructor: Daniel Landman

                    Relative difficulty: Medium



                    THEME: BROKEN / RECORD (37A: With 40-Across, repeat offender? … or something found, literally, in four rows in this puzzle) — letter string "RECORD" is "BROKEN" (by black squares on four different lines:

                    Theme answers:
                    • GRANDMÈRE / CORDS
                    • EIRE / COR / DESERT
                    • RACIER / ECO / RDAS
                    • PEREC / ORDAINING

                    Word of the Day: HORSE CAR (11D: Transportation in Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A.) —
                    n.
                    1. a streetcar drawn by a horse or horses.
                    2. a railroad car or a truck for transporting horses.
                    [1825–35, Amer.] (thefreedictionary.com)
                    • • •

                    This would be a great idea if you could pull it off. But this puzzle decided Does Not pull it off. The resulting fill, in theme rows and just All Over, is a disaster. From the crosswordesey to the outright, unequivocally bad (IAL, PSSTS, ORAMA), the damage done to this grid is really inexcusable. If you need a nine-letter word ending in "RE-" how in the world do you end up with French "GRANDMÈRE"? I want to say there are roughly a jillion English words / phrases that would've fit the bill. That's just the first of many odd choices. I call this kind of theme a "canshould," i.e. just because it *can* be done, doesn't mean it *should*. Again, I can imagine this theme concept in different, more experienced hands being pulled off nicely. But in the theme rows alone you've got EIRE, COR, RDAS, and PEREC (?!). And then, hoo boy, the rest of the grid is just drowning in suboptimal stuff. I knew before I got out of the NW that this puzzle was gonna be trouble. Fill problems are probably most intense in the N, with PSSTS PPD SPEE and COR all falling under the to-be-avoided category, but DECI EDUCED ESOS AER ADV GAI ABONE and the aforementioned IAL and ORAMA, not to mention ECO TEAMO INGE ULNA SRS and other ultra-common dull stuff. The grid simply isn't worth the theme concept. Are the long Downs OK? The long Downs are OK. But they are nowhere near justifying this grid. Should've been sent back with a note: "Good idea—send it back with a Much cleaner grid, and I will happily reconsider it." But instead: Good Enough! Run it! A friend of mine just wrote me a message with virtually the identical observation: the proper response to this was, "Good idea, but as is, no."


                    I just can't get over PSSTS and IAL. It's not like I haven't seen them before, but in a grid already hamstrung by subpar fill … more than one PSST? That just strains credulity. And the only time I wanna see freestanding "IAL" is if Gore ever writes an autobiography with that title.

                    Bullets:
                    • 62A: Georges who wrote "Life: A User's Manual" (PEREC) — I have only ever seen this name in crosswords, and Only Ever With This Clue. It's klassic krosswordese. See also SPEE. Old-timey non-fun.
                    • 63D: No great catch (CAD) — this clue struck me as very odd. I don't think of a CAD as someone you catch at all. A schlub is no great catch.
                    • 67A: Name hollered in the "Flintstones" theme song (WILMA) — I actually wrote in YABBA. As I drifted off to other parts of the grid, a little part of my brain was going, "You know YABBA's not a 'name,' right?"
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    11/12/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Confectionery brand with logo designed by Salvador Dali / TUE 11-11-14 / Town with Yiddish speakers / Powdered lunch product from Lipton / Steep slope around rampart / Digital device used to access Netflix Hulu
                    Constructor: James Mulhern

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



                    THEME: DOUBLE UP (60A: Share a single bed … or a hidden feature of 17-, 23-, 36- and 50-Across) — letter sequence "UP" appears twice in each theme answer:

                    Theme answers:
                    • CUP-A-SOUP (17A: Powdered lunch product from Lipton)
                    • SUPER DUPER (23A: Just marvelous)
                    • SUPPORT GROUPS (36A: Alcoholics Anonymous and others)
                    • CHUPA CHUPS (50A: Confectionery brand with a logo designed by Salvador Dali) 

                    Word of the Day: CHUPA CHUPS 
                    Chupa Chups (/ˈtʃʌpətʃʌps/; Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtʃupaˈtʃups]) is a popular brand of lollipop and other confectionery sold in over 150 countries around the world. The brand was founded by Enric Bernat in 1958, and is currently owned by the Italian multinational corporation Perfetti Van Melle. The name of the brand comes from the Spanish verb chupar, meaning "to suck". (Wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    CHUPA CHUPS are "sold in over 150 countries around the world," you say? Is one of those countries the U.S., 'cause … what the hell? I'm not saying no one has ever heard of these, but I am saying that every other answer in this puzzle is eleventy times more famous than that answer. Literally 110 times as many people will have heard of CUP-A-SOUP, is what I'm saying. I not only needed every cross to get CHUPA CHUPS, I didn't believe the crosses when I got them. The bit about Dali is interesting trivia, but does Squat in terms of helping the solver. Since I had ECHT for ACHT (54A: Eight, to Dieter), and [Hors d'oeuvres toppings] just made no sense, I was in real danger, briefly, of not getting CHUPA CHUPS at all. PATÉS in the plural is not something I've seen, and certainly not something I'd've clued that way (vaguely). Between that and the legit-tough NW (the somehow non-O-containing CUP-A-SOUP, the absurd attempted cuteness on the clue for SOO, the word ESCARP (!), and the odd specificity of APPLE TV), this was my slowest Tuesday ever. Slowest in the last five years, at any rate. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but not by much. TUNA OIL clued as [Good source of omega-3 fatty acids]?? TUNA seems like a good answer to that clue. TUNA OIL sounds like the crap in the can you pour out.


                    The theme is just fine, and the fill is largely interesting, but I have no idea what this is doing on a Tuesday, and the CHUPA CHUPS thing … I just can't get around it. I have never seen that brand. I have never heard of that brand. I like candy. I am nearly 45 years old. Clues were all over the map. Innocuous AFTER DARK gets ridiculous murder mystery clue [Under the cloak of night]. And SOO, ugh. Talk about swinging and missing. SOO = SOO Canals or Jack SOO and that is it. You're going to need a lot more "O"s if you want me to believe your answer is a rough equivalent of 14A: "Your point being…?" Actually, you can add a million "O"s—won't matter. That clue's just wrong. The answer is SO. Maybe ["ANYway …"] would work, but again, you'd need at least one more "O." And how is SPLOSH the [Quiet sound of water on the side of a pail, say]? Water makes no sound on the side of a pail unless the pail is on its side and the water is dripping onto it, in which case the sound is not SPLOSH. However, if we are going to stipulate that water in a pail somehow makes a sound against the side of said pail, then first just how big is this pail that its water is making sounds?, and second that sound is a SLOSH, at best. The "P" implies an impact that is absent in pail water. Now SPLISH and SPLASH are certified water sounds (established in the 1958 case of Bobby Darin v. Bathtub). I have no idea what SPLOSH is.


                    It's a shame that the rogue theme answer and clunk-tacular moments like ESCARP / SOO had to drag this one down. It really does have some delightful parts, from "LOVE CHILD" to LOUIS C.K. But the decent grid and decent theme end up being victims of some bad cluing and very bad scheduling. This should've been a Wednesday, or else drastically reclued.

                    Also, KEN-KEN is not popular (42A: When repeated, a popular puzzle). Just stop.

                     Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    11/11/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Wild Alpine goat / MON 11-10-14 / Video game with paddle / Golf ball elevator / Idyllic garden / Popular satirical news source
                    Constructor: Bruce Haight

                    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


                    THEME: "No way!" — is the clue for four answers

                    Theme answers:
                    • "DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH!"
                    • "FUHGEDDABOUDIT!"
                    • "YOU'RE KIDDING ME!"
                    • "THAT'S RIDICULOUS!"
                    Word of the Day: Marvin GAYE (35D: Marvin of Motown) —
                    Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984), born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr., was an American singer-songwriter and musician.
                    Gaye helped to shape the sound of Motown Records in the 1960s with a string of hits, including "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", and duet recordings with Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell, later earning the titles "Prince of Motown" and "Prince of Soul". During the 1970s, he recorded the concept albums What's Going On and Let's Get It On and became one of the first artists in Motown to break away from the reins of its production company.
                    Gaye's later recordings influenced several R&B subgenres, such as quiet storm and neo-soul. Following a period in Europe as a tax exile in the early 1980s, Gaye released the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit "Sexual Healing" and the Midnight Love album.
                    He was fatally shot by his father, Marvin Gay, Sr. on April 1, 1984, at their house in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. Since his death, Gaye has been posthumously honored by many institutions, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    I assume you all know who Marvin GAYE is. I just made him WOTD so that I could have something nice to listen to while I contemplate this blah puzzle.




                    This is one of those "From the Vault" puzzles, which, even if it was made yesterday, feels like it was made in some crossword version of "Yore," when themes this basic and fill this banal were thought to be just fine. Okey-doke. Jake. Swell. There's nothing offensive about this puzzle. It's pure filler. You won't remember it by lunch, let alone tomorrow. There's no zing, no "cool," no "clever!" The theme just is. And the fill is … well, not good, but it's probably NYT-average these days, frankly. I do like JAVA. I do like reading about knights (and detectives) on QUESTs. I do like Marvin GAYE. So if I just kinda squint at this puzzle and then allow my mind to wander, I can turn my experience with this grid into some kind of good time. Otherwise, no.


                    Bullets:
                    • BOHR (13D: Physics Nobelist Niels) — You'd think after 20+ years of seeing this guy's name in scores and scores of M and T puzzles I'd remember it's not spelled BOER.
                    • TOTEM (31D: ___ pole) — I found this hard. SOUTH fits. NORTH too. I guess those "Poles" would be capitalized. Honestly, the only "pole" that entered my mind was "fishing."
                    • STRIP (49A: Undress) — Had the "P" and wanted UNZIP. I didn't think it was right. I just *wanted* it.
                    • UNITES (44D: Marries) — Really don't like this in a grid that already has UNIFY. UNI- is doing essentially the same thing in both of them. Could've done ULSTER there or … really a million things. It's a freakin' Monday grid that you could refill and refill and refill a ton of different ways. This is why the missteps / clunks are so annoying. FORA? INB? All unnecessary. 
                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    11/10/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Eponymous Bloomer / SUN 11-9-14 / Robotic dog on Dr Who / Alternative name for Troy / Facetious unit defined as amount of beauty needed to launch one ship / Modern purveyor of Scrabble Monopoly / Prey of morlocks / Lerner's partner on Broadway /
                    Constructor: Tom "The Real" McCoy (sometimes "Da Real," "Realz," or "the GAWD," "GAWD" standing for "good at word designs")

                    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium


                    THEME: "Colorful Characters" — four phrases that follow the pattern [color] [word] have the word reimagined (homophonically) as a letter, which appears only when you color in answers in the grid from which that particular color has been left out. That is, the four theme answers, when read out loud and reinterpreted homophonically, FORM LETTERS (102A: Impersonal notes … or what four groups of this puzzle's answers do (totaling 11 words)) which you can find in the various corners of the grid:

                    Theme answers:
                    • YELLOW SEA (57A: Body of water found in this grid's upper right corner) gives us a yellow "C" made up of
                    [yellow] BRICK
                    [yellow] BELLIES
                    [yellow] STONE
                    • BLUE JAY (6A: Bird found in this grid's lower-right corner) gives us a blue "J" made up of
                    [blue] BERRY
                    [blue] RIBBON
                    [blue] MOON
                    • GREEN TEA (80A: Beverage found in this grid's lower-left corner) gives us a green "T" made up of 
                    [green] LIGHT
                    [green] GABLES
                    • BLACK EYE (85A: Injury found in this grid's upper-left corner) gives us a black "I" made up of 
                    [black] HOLES
                    [black] LISTING
                    [black] MAGIC

                    Word of the Day: MILLIHELEN (34A: Facetious unit defined as the amount of beauty needed to launch one ship) —
                    There is no source that I can find for this—just one of those things that's out there in nerd humor land, with various attributions. I am, however, enjoying David Lance Goines' "Table of Helens and Equivalents," which includes the Microhelen, which provides enough power to "christen a motor boat and start a grass fire," and the Gigahelen, which can "launch the equivalent of one trillion Greek war ships and destroy the solar system."
                    • • •

                    OK, it has taken me so long to color and scan my grid and then format all of the above that I totally forget what this puzzle was about. Luckily, I just have to look at the grid and there are bright letters there to remind me. This is a great After-The-Facter, i.e. you can appreciate the puzzle's core concept properly only after you've finished. This one also sort of requires you to color your grid, or to have a vivid imagination, or not to give a **** one way or the other. I went with coloring. What I will remember about this puzzle is MILLIHELEN, and the fact that the letters spell nothing, and anagram to nothing. JICT! Is that something? Like … a Jute and a Pict had a baby and boom, JICT!? (that one was for all my British medievalists out there. Scop!  (pronounce like "'Sup!?" — it's how we greet each other. ANYway…)). I could tell Jerry. I can take judo. I crave Tom Jones. Can I jump that? What if I told you this was a meta? Well it is. Seriously. But I don't know the answer. Please tell me the answer. Spend all day trying to figure it out, then report back. I'll be waiting.


                    We've seen this word/letter homophone thing recently, as the basis for some other theme in some other puzzle. But I like this one. Of course I don't remember the other one, so it's not a fair comparison. Still, I stand by whatever it is I just said. This grid has axial (as opposed to rotational) symmetry. I don't know what the "(totaling 11 words)" bit is doing in the revealer. Kind of unnecessary. If they don't get the gag, solvers aren't going to be helped by counting words. But otherwise, I thought the title, theme answers, colored letter answers, and revealer all worked together nicely. This puzzle was actually fun. ELEVENTY times funner than lots of other Sunday puzzles I've been subjected to (48D: 110, to Bilbo Baggins). Big puzzles are hard to make good. They usually end up feeling long. More long than good. This was both. Could've been longer, i.e. it could've been harder (quite a bit), but still, the ride was enjoyable. Clever.

                    Bullets:

                    • AMELIA (118A: Eponymous Bloomer) — I get her confused with AMELIA Bedelia. They're pretty different.
                    • BY FAX (6D: Quaint way of sending documents) — had the "X" and went with TELEX, which is an actual thing, unlike BY FAX, which is an arbitrary phrase boo. 
                    • K-NINE (17D: Robotic dog on "Doctor Who") — that's cute. Unless the "K" is silent, in which case that's just stupid. 
                    • APP STORE (41D: Modern purveyor of Scrabble and Monopoly) — great modern clue and answer. Hurrah.
                    • ILIUM (92D: Alternative name for Troy) — which brings us full circle:
                    Was this the [thousand-MILLIHELEN] face that launch'd a thousand ships
                    And burnt the topless towers of ILIUM…  
                     — Christopher Marlowe, "Dr. Faustus"

                    Good day.

                    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                    11/9/2014 5:00:00 AM
                    Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                    Sainted maiden of literature / SAT 11-8-14 / Up-coming world phenomenon / 1914 Belgian battle line / Eisner's successor at Disney / Literally skyward / Song whose title follows Para bailar / Eco-chic clothing option
                    Constructor: Barry C. Silk

                    Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


                    THEME: none

                    Word of the Day: "Bob" IGER (56A: Eisner's successor at Disney) —
                    Robert Allen "Bob" Iger (born February 10, 1951) is an American businessman and the current chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company. He was named president of Disney in 2000, and later succeeded Michael Eisner as chief executive in 2005, after a successful effort by Roy E. Disney to shake-up the management of the company. Iger oversaw the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, following a period of strained relations with the animation studio. He also led the company to acquire Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012, further broadening Disney's intellectual property franchises. (wikipedia)
                    • • •

                    Trying to figure out why this one seemed so joyless compared to most Barry Silks. I think it's largely the swing-and-miss cluing. Or, rather, all the "?" cluing that was more forced than clever. [Binder?] for PACT … I get it, but yuck. Is the "joke" that we're supposed to think of a three-ring binder? Not sure what the joke is on 41DGoes with the flow? (STREAMS), as that clue is either too literal to need a "?" or relates to streaming video, in which case … the clue doesn't make any kind of joke at all. How in the world is QUARK [A tiny bit strange?]. What is "strange" about it? Oh, I see that "strange" is a "flavor" of QUARK (… [crickets] …). OK then. But [Up-coming world phenomenon?] annoyed me the most, though there I was more annoyed by the answer. Call me terra-centric, but I don't think a phenomenon that no human being experiences should have a name. You experience this on the moon, right? When I finally got EARTH RISE (I needed every cross) I honestly didn't know what it was. That whole NW corner was just a [shrug] to me. Don't play golf, don't know what EARTH RISE is, never heard of Spender, etc.


                    Mainly I am surprised that a 72-worder is this lifeless. High word count themelesses should Pop. This one is clean, but EARTH RISE and GREEN TAPE just don't seem like strong marquee answers to me. Those are this grid's seed entries, right? I mean, they must be, as they are the main original-seeming answers in the grid. But neither of them is flashy or even very interesting, so while they're fine entries, they don't have top-billing-type oomph. Of course I enjoy BATSIGNAL, but there should be so many more such delightful answers, and the cluing overall needs to be more playful, less dull. What the hell is "Eco-chic"? (5D: Eco-chic clothing option).  That's a thing? Ugh (seriously, I thought the answer here was UGGS). Anyway, HEMP is a clothing material option, not a "clothing option."


                    Did not care for SOLS / EL AL. I'm more a SOTS / ET AL man myself.

                    See you Sunday.
                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                      11/8/2014 5:00:00 AM
                      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                      Discharge from RAF / FRI 11-7-14 / Kierkegaardian concept / Title film character whose last name is Patel / University dubbed Country Club of south / Decisive board game victory / Alibi Ring Lardner story
                      Constructor: Patrick Berry

                      Relative difficulty: Medium


                      THEME: none

                      Word of the Day: GAMMON (3D: Decisive board game victory) —
                      1. n.
                      A victory in backgammon reached before the loser has succeeded in removing a single piece.
                      tr.v.  gam·monedgam·mon·inggam·mons
                      To defeat in backgammon by scoring a gammon.

                      [Probably from Middle English gamen, gammengame, from Old English gamen.]
                      2. n.1. Misleading or nonsensical talk; humbug. 2. Gammon See Shelta.
                      v.  gam·monedgam·mon·inggam·monsv.tr.To mislead by deceptive talk.v.intr.To talk misleadingly or deceptively.

                      [Origin unknown.] 
                      3. n.1. A cured or smoked ham.2. The lower part of a side of bacon.

                      [Middle English gambon, from Old North French, from gambe, leg, from Late Latin gamba, hoof; see gambol.]


                      4. tr.v.  gam·monedgam·mon·inggam·monsTo fasten (a bowsprit) to the stem of a ship.

                      [Origin unknown.] (thefreedictionary.com)


                      • • •

                      Yet another nice offering from Mr. Berry. This one gave me more trouble than his Fridays usually do, partly because I just woke up from something like 12 hours of sleep (hit the couch at 6:30pm, don't remember much after that), but mostly because of that NW corner, which I couldn't get into at all at the start and which I had to fight hard to bring down in the end. Never ever heard of GAMMON except as a suffix of "Back." I've probably seen Cary Grant's birth name before, but you'll forgive me if it's not tip-of-my-tongue stuff. He died when I was 15. Speaking of when I was 15, where's a good Robin LEACH clue when you need one? Champagne wishes! Caviar dreams! BIG BUCKS! "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" was crucial '80s viewing. I'd've nailed a Robin LEACH clue.

                      ["Television's Unchallenged Authority on Wealth, Prestige and Success"]

                      ["Di? Nasty?"]

                      So, yeah, you know it's gonna be a weird day when the first thing you put in the grid is DEMOB (6A: Discharge from the R.A.F.), a word I learned from crosswords. And that's what was weird about this puzzle—I'd get stuck, then I'd buzz saw through a section (following DEMOB, the whole N and NE), and then I'd just be stuck again.


                      Took me a very long time to get into the middle—BULLETIN BOARD, DESTINATION, and BLINDALLEYS were vaguely clued enough that even having their front or back ends in place didn't help much. But MELINDA was mine once I finally found her … in the grid … FINELY hid …

                      [from the BBC…]

                      FURMAN is a school whose existence is news to me, and man can I name a lot of schools. A lot. Not FURMAN, though. But if ELON weren't in crosswords all the time, I probably would've have heard of that either. But I got around FURMAN pretty easily. It's the NW that left me desperate at the end, even with THREEFOLD, ARMREST and LOOSE-LIMBED thrown in there. I know the "Harold and KUMAR" movies, but … they didn't pop into my head until I finally just guessed SCARS at 4D: Warrior's collection, and then the -AR gave me KUMAR, which gave me ALKALI, and I was able to close things from there. The proper noun stack of LEACH / KUMAR running through the unheard-of GAMMON really messed me up in a way no other part of the grid did. But I got it all done. Not an epic struggle. Just a minor one, offset by much easier patches. This one was not stunning, but it was definitely enjoyable.

                      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                      11/7/2014 12:39:00 PM
                      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                      Mythical Greek who clew Castor / THU 11-6-14 / Product of organic decay / Hoopster Jeremy / Belated observation of 4/14/12 / Feast of unleavened bread / Airplane with propeller at back
                      Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

                      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



                      THEME: PARTING of the RED / SEA — the word PARTING literally parts the (unclued) words RED and SEA. Assorted related words can be found around the grid:

                      Theme answers:
                      • MOSES (19A: Leader of a noted 37-Across)
                      • EGYPT (54A: Location of the 37-Across)
                      • ISRAELI (11D: Beneficiary of the 37-Across, in modern times)
                      • PHARAOH (41D: Loser on account of the 37-Across)
                      Word of the Day: PTOMAINE (37D: Product of organic decay) —
                      n.
                      A basic nitrogenous organic compound produced by bacterial putrefaction of protein.

                      [Italian ptomaina, from Greek ptōma, corpse, from piptein, ptō-, to fall.]


                      Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/ptomaine#ixzz3IFszGvKu
                      • • •

                      I was surprised at how straightforward this ended up being. The trick didn't trick me at all. Puzzle was easy enough that the PARTING RED SEA bit just filled itself in rather easily. I mean, I already had MOSES at that point, so putting together the answers/concept from inference wasn't tough. And that's it—the middle, literal part and then four pretty predictable related answers, with the slightly awkward cluing ("beneficiary" (?); "modern times") needed in order to make ISRAELI relevant. Not sure what subtextual message is being conveyed by aligning (via symmetry) ISRAELI statesman Abba EBAN with a YETI. Or former Egyptian president Anwar SADAT with the family UNSER. Perhaps nothing. But perhaps conspiracy theory. Fill on this one is middling to below middling, except for BEER PONG, which is fabulous, both because it's a colorful phrase, and because it ties in perfectly with the theme (Don't believe me? Check your bible … it's toward the back somewhere …)


                      I did not know PTOMAINE, so I needed every cross there. I also had no idea what the clue at 43A: Belated observation of 4/14/12 was going for, so when I wrote in BARGAIN (43D: Deal) and thus picked up the "B" in BERG, I had no idea why BERG was right. I get it now, but I wonder if this clue isn't trying a little too hard to be clever. The clue refers to the sinking of the Titanic. So the date in question is 1912, not 2012. "Belated observation" refers, presumably, to the fact that no one saw the BERG 'til it was too late to do anything about it. OK. Fine. But what you have to ask yourself is: what did the Titanic hit? If you answered iceBERG, and you did, then you can see at least part of what makes the payoff here somewhat underwhelming (leaving aside the fact that many solvers will have to look up the date, or won't even bother). All of which raises the question (or at least a question): are there other, non-ice BERGs? "'Look out for that dirtberg!' she cried." I don't think I've seen any other prefixes on BERG besides ice. So you'd think we'd let BERG stand alone in common parlance. And yet …


                      I had PADWAN (!?) for OBI-WAN for a tiny bit. Forgot about IDAS (3D: Mythical Greek who slew Castor), as I (and millions of others, no doubt) am wont to do. I always, and I mean always, spell SAO PAULO "Sao Paolo," so that happened. Went for PEEP AT before PEEPER (47D: Eye). Misspelled PESACH "Pasach" (25A: Feast of unleavened bread). So basically my mistakes were not exciting. And the puzzle itself was not that exciting. And so here we are.
                        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                        11/6/2014 5:00:00 AM
                        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                        Swimmer Kristin / WED 11-5-14 / 1954 hit for Chords / Cary who played Robin Hood / 1965 hit for Dixie Cups / Modern acronym meaning carpe diem / BP merger partner of 1998 / 1973 song by Rolling Stones subtitled Heartbreaker / Pre-1939 atlas name / So
                        Constructor: Gareth Bain

                        Relative difficulty: Easy



                        THEME: songs with nonsense titles

                        Theme answers:
                        • "DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY" (17A: 1964 hit for Manfred Mann)
                        • "OB-LA-DI, OB-LA-DA" (26A: 1968 song from the Beatles' "White Album")
                        • "IKO IKO" (37A: 1965 hit for the Dixie Cups)
                        • "SH-BOOM" (39A: 1954 hit for the Chords)
                        • "MMM, MMM, MMM, MMM" (46A: 1994 hit for the Crash Test Dummies)
                        • "DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO" (60A: 1973 song by the Rolling Stones subtitled "Heartbreaker")
                        Word of the Day: MT. COOK (47D: Highest peak in N.Z.) —
                        Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Until 2014, its height was officially listed as 3,754 metres, but new measurements have given a revised height of 3,724 metres (12,218 ft). It lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island. A popular tourist destination,[2] it is also a favourite challenge for mountain climbers. Aoraki / Mount Cook consists of three summits lying slightly south and east of the main divide, the Low Peak, Middle Peak and High Peak, with the Tasman Glacier to the east and the Hooker Glacier to the west. (wikipedia)
                        • • •

                        There's something cute about this, I suppose, but I think I found it less charming that I was supposed to.  I think my interest in the puzzle waned considerably when I hit the Crash Test Dummies clue and just pounded the "M" key over and over and over again. Perhaps the pleasure is in remembering the songs, if you happen to be fans of them. It's an interesting set, albeit an odd one. Four of the songs are "hits," but two … aren't. Or they sort of are because they're by legendary bands, but they're not clued as "hits" because … I don't know. "DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO (Heartbreaker)" got as high as #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think that's a "hit." "OB-LA-DI etc." wasn't even released as a single til 1976, and only got as high as #49. Five sixths of these answers feature repeated sounds, leaving "SH-BOOM" out in the cold. I dig the nonsense, but the coherence factor seems slightly lacking.


                        Then there's the grid, which is brutally segmented, resulting in a slew of (mostly gruesome) three-letter answers. Seriously, tons of them. The middle is especially intolerable, with its BOK LAO IDE and its ISMS and its EMI RMN SIM. RAI and ANI and HOR above, OTT and ONT and POR below. It's pretty rough. No long(er) Downs to add spice to the grid. So it's a fine puzzle if what you're looking to do is take a little nostalgia tour of novelty songs, but as a puzzle, it's a little lacking in heft, oomph, zip, sh-boom.


                        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                        11/5/2014 5:00:00 AM
                        Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                        Car introduced by Elon Musk / TUE 11-4-14 / Science of Logic philosopher / Eastern Catholic ruling body / Nonhuman sign language learner / Place for court-ordered monitor / Band that sang Friends theme song / First family of 1840s / Galaxy competitor
                        Constructor: Joel Fagliano

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



                        THEME: ordinary phrases re-imagined as "reviews" —

                        Theme answers:
                        • LOVE BITES (3D: Critic's negative review of singer Courtney?)
                        • MOON ROCKS (18A: Critic's positive review of drummer Keith of the Who?)  
                        • HOUSE / RULES (31A: With 40-Across, critic's positive review of a Fox medical drama?)
                        • TIME SUCKS (32D: Critic's negative review of a newsmagazine?)
                        • BIG STINKS (55A: Critic's negative review of a 1988 Hanks film?)
                        Word of the Day: Charles EAMES (41A: Chair designer Charles) —
                        Charles Ormond Eames, Jr (1907–1978) and Bernice Alexandra "Ray" (née KaiserEames (1912–1988) /ˈmz/ were American designers who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film. […] Charles Eames was greatly influenced by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (whose son Eero, also an architect, would become a partner and friend). At the elder Saarinen's invitation, Charles moved in 1938 with his wife Catherine and daughter Lucia to Michigan, to further study architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he would become a teacher and head of the industrial designdepartment. In order to apply for the Architecture and Urban Planning Program, Eames defined an area of focus—the St. Louis waterfront. Together with Eero Saarinen he designed prize-winning furniture for New York's Museum of Modern Art "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition. Their work displayed the new technique of wood moulding (originally developed by Alvar Aalto), that Eames would further develop in many moulded plywood products, including chairs and other furniture, splints and stretchers for the US Navy during World War II. (wikipedia)
                        • • •

                        There's one big problem here, which is that no one reviews "newsmagazines." You can read music reviews, TV reviews, and movie reviews virtually every day in, say, the NYT, but "newsmagazine" review? No. Thus, TIME SUCKS sucks (though on its own, unattached to any theme, it would be a fine answer). It was a big letdown that all the answers weren't musical, actually. The first two you're like to encounter (the first two I encountered, anyway) were LOVE STINKS and MOON ROCKS. If that theme had kept on like that, I'd've been really impressed. Perhaps that's not possible. The theme is a nice idea, imperfectly executed. Kind of a let-down, in the end. Grid construction overall is nice, with a nice set of longer Downs driving their way through the grid. I liked TRAINED EYE and loved GROUP HUGS. Rest of the fill is just fine.


                        I think this played harder than the usual Tuesday (for me) because the theme answers were simply harder to pick up. Had LOVE, didn't know what came next. Ditto MOON. The rest of their answers weren't *hard* to get, but I had to work for those back ends.  Weirdly, the answer that might've held some people up (the REMBRANDTS) was a gimme for me. I'm not proud about that. It's just a fact. I knew it cold. I remembered their name. I don't know why. Otherwise, hold-ups were just dumb stuff I fumbled. TITAN for BARON (23A: Powerful industrialist). HAGEL for the non-Chuck HEGEL (47D: "Science of Logic" philosopher). Multiple crosses needed to pick up both THE WAVE (4D: Stand-up routine?) and D-DAY (62A: Decisive time). I literally never get D-DAY unless I have at least two letters (the first two). I always think of it as a specific day, not a general word for a type of day. I hope someone rants about the NYT's right-wing bias—cluing TED as [Sen. Cruz] on election day?! Coincidence?! Well, yes. But … Coincidence!?!?!?! (see, when you say it with more "!"s and "?"s, it gets more plausible-sounding) (yeah, I know he's not up for election this cycle … that's how deep this goes, man) (!?!?!?!?).

                          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                          11/4/2014 5:00:00 AM
                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                          Monday, November 3, 2014
                          Well, it's November 3rd, and you know what that means - a new month, a new selfie, a newbie doing the write-up! That's right





                          I, Annabel, am back!

                          Constructor: Janet R. Bender

                          Relative difficulty: Medium-challenging (on a Monday! for a newbie!)


                          THEME: CC - theme answers are two words, both starting with C

                          Word of the Day: REO (42D: 1920s car that had its inventor's initials) —
                          The REO Speed Wagon (alternatively Reo Speedwagon) was a light motor truck manufactured by REO Motor Car Company. It is an ancestor of the pickup truck.
                          First introduced in 1915, production continued through at least 1953 and led to REO being one of the better known manufacturers of commercial vehicles prior to World War II. Although the basic design and styling of the chassis remained consistent, the Speed Wagon was manufactured in a variety of configurations (pickup and panel truck, passenger bus) to serve as delivery, tow, dump, and fire trucks as well as hearses and ambulances. Other manufacturers provided refits for adapting the Speed Wagon for specialized purposes. The Speed Wagon used REO's "Gold Crown" series of engines and was well regarded for power, durability, and quality.
                           (Wikipedia)
                          • • • 
                          This one was actually pretty hard for me, I will admit. I spent a very long time on the top right square; the answers were all pretty vague, so I had BOARD for 9A (Writing surface for chalk), SCARE for 11D (Frighten), and SHORT for 12D (like one-word answers) all in there at some point. However, clues like AVES(7D: Birds, scientifically speaking), NIKE(59D: Brand with a swoosh) and TOGAS(57A: Ancient Roman robes) were like MANNA (36D: Food from heaven) to a Latin student!

                          The theme was potentially not the most original at first glance, but in addition to CC, the puzzle seemed to contain a good amount of double letters. Lots of EE's and LL's. So that was a pretty cool way to expand it!

                          I really liked the bottom left square - the inelegance of WOOER(54D: Beau with roses, say) contrasts very nicely with IONIA(63A: Ancient 71-Across land in modern-day Turkey), which in turn ties directly into GREEK (71A: Like Zeus and Hera). WOOER is also next to ICING (53D: Cake topper), both things you would associate with a wedding cake. Just an all-around well-woven square! The same good vibes are in the top middle with SLAV/WAVE/SWAP/AMES (5A: Bulgarian or Croat; 15A: Something a surfer catches; 5D: Exchange; and 18A: Iowa State's city, respectively).

                          Theme answers:
                          • COMPASS COURSE (20A: Ship heading) This one frustrated me very much! COMPASS BEARING? COMPASS HEADING? I even tried COMPASS POINT. As a sailor, I really should have gotten this, but I really have never heard COMPASS COURSE...
                          • COLBY COLLEGE (27A: Liberal arts school in Waterville, Me.) Did somebody say college?!?! Shhh. I just submitted my first application, and there are many more to come, and it's all very stressful, and I think maybe we should stop talking about college now. Puppies! Let's talk about puppies...
                          OH NO, NOT THE PUPPIES!!

                          • COLOR COPYING (49A: Service at Staples or FedEx Office) This pretty much sums up how I feel about copying machines. 
                          • COUNTRY COUSIN (58A: Person in overalls sucking a piece of straw, stereotypically) At the risk (okay, forget "risk;" it's happening) of going into video overload, did somebody say…

                            ...COUNTRY??!?!?!??!?!?!?? Okay, just be glad I only posted this song and not the dozens of others I could have added; Ladies Love Country Boys, Country Girl, Girl in a Country Song, The Country Boy Song...heh, well, you know who to go to for country music recommendations! 

                          Bullets:
                          My 9-year-old sister would like you all to know that she combined a Halloween Double Stuf and a regular Double Stuf. "Half Halloween Oreo. Half regular Oreo. One hundred percent awesome."
                          • YOICKS (52D: Bygone cry of good spirits)  —  Alright, this is my new word of the day. It's just so much fun to say!...And apparently dates back to an eighteenth-century fox-hunting cry, although it sounds like a '70s Scooby-Doo yelp. Which would explain why it's so difficult to use in a sentence. Yoicks!
                          • ALARM (11D: Frighten) —  All I can say is that I'm happy that mine went off an hour later today. Thank you Daylight Savings Time! Thank you Benjamin Franklin! Now I can sleep until 10AM instead of 11AM, and people won't judge me so much! 
                          • DONTASK (45A: Exasperated response to "How was your day?") — An appropriate clue for a Monday, eh? This immediately made me think of this song: 


                          Finally, I wanted to thank you all for the positive feedback from last month. As an amateur blogger,  that kind of thing means a lot to me. All of you deserve an ODE (29D: Praiseful poem) for your kindness! (Or in that one anon's case, your honesty...haha!)

                          Signed,
                           AT, tired high school student.
                          11/3/2014 5:00:00 AM
                          Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                          Chaplin of Game of Thrones / SUN 11-2-14 / James Joyce's Ulysses per 1921 court decision / Juliet's combative cousin in Romeo Juliet / Classic glam band named for extinct creature / Show tune with repeated line come to me
                          Constructor: Brendan Emmett Quigley

                          Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



                          THEME: "BP Station" — words in common phrases have their initial "B" changed to an initial "P," resulting in wackiness:

                          Theme answers:
                          • PLAQUE ART (23A: Engraving on an award?)
                          • SECRET PALATE (29A: Food critic's love of fast food, maybe?)
                          • CHRISTIAN PAIL (48A: Collector of offerings at a revival?)
                          • PERTH CANAL (55A: Waterway of Western Australia?)
                          • "THAT'S MY POI!" (79A: Admonishment to someone eating off your plate at a Polynesian restaurant?)
                          • THE THREE PAIRS (85A: What's promising about a K-K-Q-Q-J-J-7 rummy hand?)
                          • PLAYS OF GLORY (108A: Buzzer beaters and game-winning catches?)
                          • PERCH PIER (118A: Place to reel in some freshwater game fish?)

                          Word of the Day: William O'NEIL + Co. (brokerage) (77D) —
                          William J. O'Neil (born March 25, 1933) is an American entrepreneurstockbroker and writer, who founded the business newspaper Investor's Business Daily and the stock brokerage firm William O'Neil & Co. Inc. He is the author of the books How to Make Money in Stocks24 Essential Lessons for Investment Success and The Successful Investor among others, and is the creator of the CAN SLIM investment strategy. (wikipedia)
                          • • •

                          On the plus side, this was not the typical (of late) Sunday cream puff. This had teeth. Clues were harder than usual all over. Annoying when this involved proper nouns outside my ken (O'NEIL?!), but mostly welcome. The theme … shrug. I think something this simple has to be much funnier, has to land its jokes harder and more frequently. THE THREE PAIRS just dies. Most of the others are OK, but only THAT'S MY POI really made me laugh. I like how the puzzle has that Merl- (as in Merl Reagle) -esque punchline thing going on, where the final theme answer doubles your pleasure/fun. Worth noting that it's not a simple letter substitution. Every B-to-P change brings with it other spelling changes to the altered word. This gives the puzzle a greater consistency and complexity, but it's the kind of subtlety that only dogs can hear. I'm the dog. I like dogs. But still, the key to a theme like this is funniness of the resulting wacky phrases, and these were just middling, for me.


                          Wife just brought me a Manhattan, so I'm gonna make this relatively quick. I flailed around so badly at the outset that I seriously considered the possibility that some kind of BP or GAS rebus was at play. Why so hard getting started? Didn't know DOLLEY had an "E," never considered OLLA as a "cookware item" (though clearly it is), [Ill] looks like Roman numeral "3" so WOE was never gonna happen, etc. I had TYBALT and SEALAB and not a lot else for a bit. Couldn't make any sense of what the context was supposed to be for [Collector of offerings at a revival?], so I had virtually all the letters in place, from crosses, before I finally got CHRISTIAN PAIL. Didn't know MIMI. Never heard of A-LINER. I know a female track star with JOYNER in her name, but I don't know an Al. No one would ever refer to a SCENE TWO without an ACT (whatever) preceding it, so that "Tempest" clue at 72A: When Prospero makes his entrance is nuts. Had TI--TER and still had no idea about TIGHTER. Never heard of ACES UP. Had RATTY for TATTY. Like I said, hardish all over. But that, I didn't mind. Bring the heat on Sundays. Fine by me.


                          See you tomorrow… oh, no, I won't. Annabel Thompson will be back for her first-Monday-of-the-month write-up, so that will surely be a welcome break from me. Come by and read her.
                            Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

                            P.S. clue of the day = 123A: "Well, I'd love to keep talking …," probably (LIE)
                            11/2/2014 4:00:00 AM
                            Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                            Academica author / SAT 11-1-14 / 1979 comedy set at Camp North Star / Husband of Elisheba / European Parliament locale / Porter Ally McBeal role / 1989 AP Female Athlete of Year / 1977 law school memoir / Apostle of Cuban Independence / Subject of tr
                            Constructor: Trip Payne

                            Relative difficulty: Medium



                            THEME: COVERT OPERATIONS — That's the title this puzzle was *designed* to have. Also, blurb was to have read: "No one said there was going to be math!" But fate and other nonsense intervened to give us this untitled puzzle with a condescending blurb.

                            Anyway, the basic idea is that the numbers in the themers relate to the numbered boxes in the grid, so you need to substitute the answers from those numbers and *then* read the equation out loud in order to make sense of the clues, ID EST

                            Theme answers:
                            • BATTLEFIELD (19A: 81 ÷ 27)—i.e. PLACE (81A) divided by WAR (27A), i.e. [Place divided by war]
                            • NEUTROGENA (34A: 61 + 86)—i.e. PERT (61A) Plus RIVAL (86A), i.e. [Pert Plus rival] ("PERT Plus" being a brand name)
                            • REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42)—i.e. MANY (56A) times OVER (42A), i.e. [Many times over]
                            • GROSS PROFIT (83A: 33 - 21)—NET SALES (33D) minus COSTS (21A), i.e. [Net sales minus costs]
                            Word of the Day: NELLE Porter (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal" role) —
                            Nelle Porter is a fictional character on the Fox television show Ally McBeal. She is portrayed by actress Portia de Rossi and appears in Seasons 2 through 5 of the show. A Boston-based lawyer, Nelle joins the fictional law firm of Cage & Fish with the ambition of someday becoming a partner. Romantically involved with partner John Cage during Seasons 2 and 3, she later appears mainly as a source of comic relief. She is also notable for her close friendship with Ling Woo, one of the show’s most remarked-upon characters. (wikipedia)
                            • • •

                            Title-less-ness and lame-blurb-ity are just two of many indignities this puzzle has suffered over the past year. This puzzle is semi-infamous in crossword circles—it's the puzzle that was supposed to be an American Crossword Tournament puzzle (hence it's non-standard size), but Mr. Shortz decided to leave it out for cameras to see during a TV profile, and since it was (if memory serves) clearly labeled as a tournament puzzle. Ah, here we go … it was a  "Business Insider" profile. Shows the completed puzzle and everything. Big gaffe. So puzzle couldn't be used, and then [drama redacted], and here we are. It's a wonderful puzzle, and I don't think the title is necessary for many top solvers and regular meta-solvers. Actually, it may not be necessary at all, from an ease-of-solving standpoint. Whether you know the title is "COVERT OPERATIONS" or not, you still have to figure out that you aren't actually doing "math," but using the answers associated with the numbers to create phrases that would make appropriate clues. Cosmetically, I prefer the puzzle with the title. But you get what you get. And this is good stuff (back story aside).


                            I had no idea what was going on until I was done. Until after I was done. Like most of you (probably), I actually did the math. But I was bugged by [81 ÷ 27]. Why write it that way? Why not simply [9 ÷ 3], if we're just doing math? Made no sense… and that was beginning of the thinking that got me to look at the boxes with the numbers in them (the same way you had to look at the boxes with the numbers in them to make sense of the Patrick Blindauer meta-challenge from last month). When I noticed that the "56" in the clue for REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42) was the clue number for MANY (56A: ___ a time), I thought "'MANY times …' aha!" and then sure enough, the "42" part was OVER (42A: Supervising). So REPEATEDLY is [MANY times OVER]. It sure is.


                            I started out pretty fast on this one, but then it turned out that I had to get Every Single Themer from crosses + inference. That definitely slowed me down. Difficulty level otherwise felt more Thursday than Saturday. No tough or obscure fill (except NELLE, ugh—I remain philosophically opposed to any and all "Ally McBeal" clues, and this only gets truer with each passing, blessedly "Ally McBeal"-free day) (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal role). Toughest parts of the puzzle for me, by far, were those tiny, mostly walled-off corners in the NE and SW. Somehow managed a good guess in the SW with YEARS leading to SPRY and things coming together from there, but in the NE I was not nearly as fortunate. Why? Well, I can't spell NEUTROGENA. I had it as NEUTRAGENA. Still seems reasonable. Anyway, as I had no idea what "Academica" was, 11D: "Academica" author was blank. I had it ending -ERA. So that effectively meant No Access to that NE corner. And since the clues up there were at least slightly vague / hard. I flailed around quite a bit before I put together the correct answers. Managed to finish and still be wrong. Had HOSTS for 21A: Lists for (this seemed reasonable from an Internet standpoint), and so with the NEUTRAGENA misspelling, my author ended up as CIHERA (™, by the way—it's my new pen name, and it's pronounced "Sierra").
                              Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
                              11/1/2014 4:00:00 AM
                              Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
                              Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /
                              Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

                              Relative difficulty: Medium



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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

                                Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging



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

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

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

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


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

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