THURSDAY, May 31, 2007 - William F. Stephens

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BACK (55D: Missing word in 21-, 31-, 40- and 50-Across, applied literally) - four theme answers are the tail ends of phrases that begin with BACK; the actual word BACK is "missing" in every instance; further, the theme answers appear BACKwards in the grid.

Better late than never. It's well after noon - It's been a long time since I waited til this late in the day to write about the puzzle. Stayed out late last night watching the Indians destroy the Red Sox at my friend Murph's house - it's one thing to see your team lose, it's another, worse thing to have to suffer through that losing for nearly four hours as the opposing team racks up an embarrassing, astonishing eighteen hits. Ugh. We kept ourselves entertained, however, by scoring the game, which is a practice I've only recently taken up - and now I'm quite addicted. Here are my scorecards for last night's game (I'm still getting the hang of the shorthand, which can get quite complicated if you let it).

Then this morning I got up late and had to take Sahra to school, then had a 10am appointment, then had lunch. And here I am. As for the puzzle, it took me way longer than it should have to figure out that the theme answers were running backwards, and even longer to figure out that BACK was a key feature of each answer.

Theme answers:

  • 21A: From the beginning again (eno erauqs ot)
  • 31A: Revived (daed eht morf)
  • 40A: 1985 Michael J. Fox film ("erutuF eht ot...")
  • 50A: Controlling things once more (elddas eht ni)

I got TO SQUARE ONE (i.e. ENOERAUQSOT) without even remarking that the phrase is BACK TO SQUARE ONE. Wasn't til I hit TO THE FUTURE (i.e. ERUTUFEHTOT) that I realized something was missing.

Non-theme wise, there is much to admire here - lively phrasing and some choice obscurity - but there are a few rough spots as well. Actually, much of this puzzle's fill walks the line between impressive and annoying. Take AMOS Burke (19A: Burke of TV's "Burke's Law") and ILONA Massey (47D: Massey of "Love Happy") - the former is known to me only because of my weird interest in the history of American Crime fiction, and the latter is not known to me at all. And yet I don't hate them. In fact, I have a weird affection for AMOS, as I do for all characters from short-lived TV shows of the 20th century. ILONA I can tolerate because I'm almost certain I've seen her before, and complained about her before, so, I figure, why complain twice.

Then there's the krosswordese krossing of EIRE (61A: U2's home - U2 are from IRELAND; can the leprechauny pretension) and ERIE (51D: I-90 runs along it). Part of my brain just goes 'yuck.' But the other part is amused by the anagrammic quality of the crossing, and also by the fact that ERIE (the worst kind of common fill) is kind of given new life by being echoed twice in this grid: not only anagrammically, but also geographically (via I-90, to OHIO - 54D: I-90 runs through it). So the fill's all kind of terrible, but through the magic of creative cluing, I magically don't care. In fact, I'm vaguely entertained by it all.

Cleverness:

25A: 1960s greetings (V signs) - briefly thought this was PEACE signs and that the puzzle was a rebus of some kind, maybe with WAR and PEACE ... but no. V is for ... well, peace, right? Or, if you're Nixon, Victory of some kind.

29A: Classic walkways (stoas) - not sure where I retrieved this answer from. I always thought STOA was the plural. I guess not. It's Latin feminine singular, thus pluralized -AE.

26A: Like pawpaw leaves (oblong) - all hail the return of the pawpaw plant to the puzzle. It's been too long. OBLONG is a fantastic word.

29D: Plant diseases (smuts) - Not my kind of SMUT. SMUT looks really wrong in the plural. SMUTS. Sounds like, I don't know, a blue (bluer!) version of The Smurfs.

35D: Preceders of snaps (huts) - a fantastic clue, and one that it took me way too long to figure out. For those non-sports fans, the quarterback in football, will often say "hut" several times before the ball is "snapped" to begin a football play.

42D: Subject of a Debussy prelude (Faun) - Mr. Tumnus! Actually, this is not C.S. Lewis's faun, but some anonymous woodland creature. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" is a beautiful piece of music that I am listening to Right Now.

46D: Kisses from grandma, say (pecks) - well, let's hope so. If your grandma has her tongue down your throat ... part of me wants to say "You might be a Redneck," but I'll just say, something is very wrong.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, May 30, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TIMOTHY LEARY (53A: Speaker of the catchphrase that starts 20-, 27- and 47-Across)

Worst Nothnagel puzzle Ever! HA ha, I'm just kidding, this one was good. LEARY has been all over the puzzle lately (well, twice this past month, at least), and now, here he is, with his full name, ruling over his own interplanetary puzzle domain. There was something vaguely outer-spacey about this puzzle, with ORBIT (isn't that where LEARY's ashes are now: in ORBIT around the Earth?) (28D: Go around and around) and the first theme answer, TURN ON AN AXIS (20A: Revolve). I really wish LSD had been in the puzzle; it would have accompanied DAZE (69A: Stun) so nicely. Or maybe the YETI (17A: Himalayan legend) and N SYNC (32A: "Bye Bye Bye" boy band) are part of some drug-induced vision that the puzzle is trying to conjure up. Who knows?

The Theme, clearly expressed in RED:

  • 27A: "Don't miss the next episode..." ("Tune in tomorrow...")
  • 20A: Revolve (turn on an axis)
  • 47A: Become a recluse, perhaps (drop out of sight)
My favorite part of the puzzle was 37A: Start of many a pickup line ("Hey baby..."), both because the words LIE (41A: Tall tale) and ABED (34A: Sleeping, say) are immediately to the right of it, and because I imagine that the guy follows HEY BABY with some outrageous claim about himself (perhaps something along the lines of "I'm really good friends with Tom SNYDER - 25D: Talk show host Tom), and when the girl doubts him, he exclaims, perhaps drunkenly, "IT'S TRUE!" (23A: "Honest!").

I do not like the word TOILETS (52A: Rest stop features) in my puzzle. I can handle all kinds of near-profanity and sexual innuendo, but TOILETS, no. There's not a ton to say about the non-theme fill. There are a pair of answers in the NE that I like a lot, one because it's exotic and unusual (SUMATRA - 10D: Indonesian island crossed by the Equator), and the other because it's educational (KNOX - 11D: The "K" in James K. Polk - love those K's). I like the mixed message sent by the intersection of TUNE IN TOMORROW and "See IT NOW" (23D: Edward R. Murrow's "See _____"). And lastly, as a counterpoint to the drug-addled theme of the puzzle, I enjoy the simple, "Dennis the Menace"-like pleasures of LILYPAD (46D: Frog's perch) and POPOVER (43D: Light muffin).

That's all. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TUESDAY, May 29, 2007 - Jim Hyres

Monday, May 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BAR (38A: It can precede the starts of 16-, 26-, 43- and 58-Across and 10- and 33-Down)

Well, I guess I picked a good week to start scaling back the size of this blog, because I have Nothing to say about this puzzle. It is completely unremarkable, as far as I can tell. 6 kinds of BARs, 4 horizontal, 2 vertical, with BAR sitting in the center of the grid, clued in the ungainly fashion I love so much. Here are your theme answers:

  • 16A: #1 hit (chart topper)
  • 26A: Some 1960s-'70s attire (bell bottoms)
  • 43A: Watch (keep an eye on)
  • 58A: However (nonetheless)
  • 10D: Playground game (hopscotch)
  • 33D: Manhattan Project and Operation Overlord (code names)

That last one was pretty tricky, and actually held me up a bit. The only name I could think of was OPPENHEIMER, and then, even with CODE in place, I still had no idea what the clue was going for. Aside from that, the only interesting thing that happened to me on the way to solving this puzzle was working MISHIT (42A: Faulty shot, as in tennis) backwards and giggling to myself when the answer read --SHIT.

I will now force myself to do a Featured Five, though this puzzle is giving me very little to work with.

15A: Ending with pay or plug (ola) - Do I even want to know what PLUGOLA is???

20A: Summer coolers (ades) - if you play online Boggle (and I know some of you do), then you know that the program does not recognize ADE as a word. I remember, almost 20 years ago, seeing ADE in the puzzle for the first time and thinking that it was ridiculous as a stand-alone word. As far as I was concerned, ADE was a suffix that went with LEMON-, maybe LIME-, and possibly GATOR-. And yet many years later I had gotten used to it, such that Boggle's refusal to accept it made me angry.

40A: Alan of "Betsy's Wedding" (Alda) - If it's Alan _____ in four letters, it's ALDA, so why not throw down the most ridiculous piece of work on his CV? Oh, maybe Alan _____ in four letters could be LADD. But I don't think their careers overlap, so distinguishing between them shouldn't be too difficult.

13A: W.W. II conference site (Yalta) - I had MALTA. You'd think I'd know the difference by now.

2D: Sounded content (aahed) - While I recognize this as a marginally valid word, nothing can change the fact that this "word" looks stupid when written out. The only words I care to see in the grid that begin AA are AARDVARK and A.A. MILNE. I will say, though, that the constructor makes a valiant effort at redeeming this "word" by including a version of its counterpart on the other side of the grid: OOH (59D: "La-la" preceder).

In parting, allow me to share my miscues (in addition to the MALTA/YALTA confusion):

  • 21A: Comforting words ("It's OK") - I had "I CARE" for a while
  • 10A: In (hot) - I had HIP
  • 52D: _____ fixe (prix) - I had ID√ČE
  • 44D: Mourning of the N.B.A. (Alonzo) - spelled it with an "S," causing me to make my next error:
  • 62A: Skyrockets (zooms) - I had SOARS

I'll end by saying something nice - BERET has never been clued better than it was today: 63A: Prince's "Raspberry _____".

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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MONDAY, May 28, 2007 - John Underwood

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TWENTY QUESTIONS (55A: Game suggested by the first words of 17-, 25- and 42-Across)

Despite the fact that I have summer "off" (as in, no teaching duties) - or, rather, because I have summer "off" - I have to dedicate significantly more of my time to writing beginning Tuesday morning, and so this blog, while it will continue, will be somewhat shorter on a daily basis than it has been historically. More concise and efficient, I hope. Less long-winded and self-indulgent. Streamlined. Downsized. So that I can survive in the New Economic blah blah blah. The bottom line is that I have to concentrate on writing that will either bring me immediate $$$ (that starts Tuesday, for sure) or get me published outside the blogosphere (thus bringing me imagined future $$$). While I have enjoyed my time as a crossword blogging altruist, I am, at the end of the day, living in the Material World ("and I am a Material Girl"). I'm not quitting, just scaling back, so my legions of fans needn't panic just yet, wink.

Today's puzzle was Another Pleasant Valley Monday, with a cute little theme and mostly easy fill. The theme answers are as follows:

  • 17A: Sex appeal (animal magnetism)
  • 25A: Where to grow carrots and spinach (vegetable garden)
  • 42A: Places to find some gems (mineral deposits)
The Featured Five (a new daily section of blog designed to keep me on a clue count)

43D: Rapper a k a Slim Shady (Eminem)

First of all, "a space k space a" looks all kinds of wrong. Put periods after each letter or squish 'em all together, but for god's sake don't leave them floating there like that. The "k" looks particularly unnatural. I enjoy EMINEM despite the fact that his lyrics have occasionally been deeply disturbing (killing one's girlfriend, etc.). He's mainly a clown, and a very effective one at that. He's a sensational rapper and his lyrics are often way more thoughtful than he's given credit for. Also, he was quite good in "EIGHT (34A: Two cubed) Mile," directed by Curtis Hanson of "L.A. Confidential" and "Wonder Boys" fame.

50A: With 52-Across, Thomas Gainsborough portrait, with "The" ("Blue / Boy")

First, I like art in my puzzles. Second, I like the way this two parter is executed - in consecutive Across clues, so that you can actually see the connection in the grid (unlike, say, 30D: With 18-Down, Tibetan V.I.P. (Dalai / Lama), where the parts are far from one another and the second part is actually higher up in the grid than the first ... which is not illegal or wrong, just not as elegant or tidy as BLUE followed immediately by BOY).

40A: "Don't let these guys escape!" ("Get 'em!")

Great bit of colloquialism. Love it. You know what I'd really love to see in the grid: DIG 'EM. He's the spokesfrog for what are now called "Honey Smacks" - growing up, I knew them as "Sugar Smacks." Here is a priceless bit of information about the cereal's name change. Thanks to whatever genius wrote this copy for Wikipedia:
In the early 1990s, it had been discovered that the current mascot, Dig 'Em Frog, was just calling the cereal "Smacks", so the word "Honey" was dropped from the name, and the product was then simply called Smacks. In 2004, the cereal was given back the name Honey Smacks, which is now its current name. It is known in Mexico as SMAK. In Europe, they have always been known as Smacks.

Best part of that quotation: "it had been discovered?" What, by anthropologists?! "While pursuing my degree in Cereal Studies at Reed College, I discovered..."

4D: Soccer _____ (Mom)

Wow. This is great. I can't believe I haven't seen MOM clued this way before. It's so perfectly post-Clinton. Will we ever see 2004's "Security DAD," or "NASCAR DAD," or whatever the hell they were calling the conservative white male minority that has controlled the world time immemorial? I think I'd prefer ["Major _____"] or even ["Ghost _____"] to [Security _____].

41D: _____ Stone (hieroglyphic key)

First, why does this answer get a parenthetical explanation, where [Soccer _____] does not? Seriously, I wanna know. Second, ROSETTA Stone is also the name of language acquisition software that I somehow have to get my hands on without paying any money (it's expensive). I really want to learn another language - or I could just brush up my Very Rusty French.

Stumpers

Speaking of French, what does "On the qui vive" mean??? I weirdly knew the answer to 56D: On the _____ vive, but I don't know where or why I've heard that expression. I could look it up now, but no time. Words I didn't know very well in this puzzle included DAVIT (37A: Anchor hoister) - which I've seen recently in a puzzle and still couldn't dredge up without many crosses - and 46A: D-Day craft: Abbr. (LST) - which I know has appeared in crosswords many times before, but I still can't ever remember it. I have enough WWII-related short answers to keep in my head as it is (LST stands for "Landing Ship, Tank" by the way).

Final Thoughts and Questions:

Are DEMS really 13D: Clinton followers, for short? You do know he's not president anymore, right? I mean, we all wish that weren't so - that he could have been like FDR before the Constitutional amendment and gone on and on, but he's gone. And he's not coming back. And if you are thinking that anyone's following Hillary anywhere, you are Dreaming. And as for SUNLIGHT, I thought it stimulated your body to produce Vitamin D - I didn't know it was considered a 9D: Source of vitamin D. Maybe that's what "source" means and I'm splitting hairs. Lastly, enough with bridge-related clues already. I have seen GOREN (27D: Charles who wrote "Winning Bridge Made Easy") twice now, both times on Mondays. That's enough. The next time you wanna clue GOREN ... well, first change it to GORAN, and then try [Netman Ivanisevic].

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SUNDAY, May 27, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Dinner Theater" - theme answers are titles of famous plays that have been rewritten to create food-related puns, seven out of eight of which involve MEAT

I adore this puzzle. It was one of the more enjoyable Sunday solving experiences I've had in a while. Some of my happiness with this puzzle may be due to my record Sunday time (I finally broke @#$#-ing 20 minutes ... crushed it, in fact). But most of my happiness comes from the genuine cleverness of the theme and its smooth - and legitimately funny - execution. Some of the puns are a bit of a stretch, but they're all so imaginative and snappy that it doesn't matter. I am on record as a non-fan of puns in general, but apparently if the pun involves a. theater, and b. meat, I'm right on board.

Your theme answers:

  • 23A: Play about tenderizing meat with one's toes? ("Barefoot in the Pork") - the first one I got, and, by far, my favorite of them all
  • 31A: Musical drama about a butcher who sells deer meat? ("The Merchant of Venison") - there's music in that play? Why don't I remember that?
  • 40A: Musical play set at McDonald's? ("The Burger's Opera") - and the 18th-century literature scholars of the world rejoice... all six of them. [These six might also rejoice over 41D: "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion" author (Hume) - Scotland's most famous Enlightenment-era thinker.]
  • 59A: Musical drama that tells the tale of a sausage casing? ("Wurst Side Story")
  • 64A: Musical drama about a man eating soup? ("Porgy and Bisque") - the most difficult theme answer for me to get, primarily because I solved the back end first and couldn't figure out what in the world BISQUE could be punning on
  • 85A: Play about a guy ordering beef from Dublin? ("Abie's Irish Roast")
  • 91A: Play about swine intestines that are semidivine? ("Chitlins of a Lesser God") - OK, I changed my mind - this one's at least as good as BAREFOOT IN THE PORK, and its clue is manifestly better
  • 106A: Play about meat that's good to eat anytime? ("A Ham for All Seasons")

I am most impressed that Mr. Berry was able to pull this off using only Very Well Known plays - no esoterica here. All original titles will be quite familiar to anyone in the habit of the doing the NYT crossword, with John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" being perhaps the most obscure. I'd say that "Abie's Irish Rose" is the most obscure - and it would be, to a non-puzzling audience. but ABIE and ROSE are crossword staples going way back, so this title is familiar. And today, if it's not familiar to you from your own theater-going or puzzle-solving experience, then perhaps it's familiar to you from the clue to 20A!!!! It's really, really weird that one of the theme answers is ABIE'S IRISH ROAST, when the clue for 20A is Anne who wrote "Abie's Irish Rose" (Nichols). Normally, you don't find words repeated in both the clues and the grid, and you especially don't find whole titles repeated. Not sure what happened here. It's not as if there weren't some other way to clue NICHOLS. Whatever. I can't stay mad. This puzzle still rules. I would love to see the rejected theme answers for this puzzle, if any.

19A: Pfizer product used before brushing the teeth (Plax) - not a product I encounter with any regularity. It's a good thing I knew (from puzzles) that OXEYE is a 4D: Common daisy, or else I'd have had to run through practically the whole damned alphabet before I finally got the "X" in PLAX.


52A: Actress Barbara Bel _____ (Geddes) - not sure what she's best known for, but I know her best from "Vertigo." Not sure what this says about me, but here goes: when I saw "Vertigo," I was far more attracted to Ms. GEDDES than I was to Ms. Novak. I am quite sure that this is not the reaction Mr. Hitchcock intended.

82A: 1962 hit film whose climax is on Crab Key island ("Dr. No") - a long, long way to go for ths reasonably common bit of crossword fill. I am woefully unschooled in Connery-era Bond films. I grew up on Roger Moore.

105A: Allen Ginsberg's "Plutonian _____" ("Ode") - a long, long way to go for ODE. Of all the ODEs in the world... this isn't a complaint. It's a totally inferrable answer, so I like that the clue is (literally?) from outer space.

103A: Person who has something going on? (wearer) - my least favorite clue / answer in the Whole Puzzle. By Far. If it's in the act of "going on," then it is not yet being worn. Further, WEARER is just a terrible, never-used word. This is all the griping I will do about today's puzzle.

112A: Elbow-bender (sot) - I love the phrase "elbow bender" because it's just ridiculous - who doesn't bend his/her elbows from time to time?

114A: Character in many a joke (St. Peter) - I did not know this, because I am an outspoken non-fan of "jokes" in general. I find that most people who tell "jokes" do so to substitute for the lack of a genuine, functioning sense of humor.

118A: Juvenal work ("Satires") - I get an inexplicable thrill out of the fact that the answer is a plural, but, as a title, also a singular.

8D: N.L. and A.L. city (CHI) - NY is the only other answer that would work here. Please don't try to convince me that the (A.L.) Angels are now, like the (N.L.) Dodgers, an L.A. team. I don't care what the scoreboard says, that's just stupid and wrong.

10D: Mr. _____, scheming vicar in "Emma" (Elton) - Thank god I saw "Clueless" (many times) and that "Clueless" was a remarkably spot-on adaptation of "Emma" (right down to character names, it turns out)

16D: Composer Scarlatti (Alessandro) - I know Scarlatti's name well, but at first I looked at the 10-letter space here and thought "what man's name could possibly be that long?" Now I know.

17D: Popular quarry for British hunters (fallow deer) - this is just a pretty answer. I don't have anything particular to say about it.

32D: Possessed girl in "The Exorcist" (Regan) - Oooh, I'd forgotten this. "The Exorcist" is wicked scary, in that pre-1980 way (i.e. before horror became irrevocably campy and / or comically gory). See also "The Omen" and "Rosemary's Baby." I much prefer this clue for REGAN to anything "King Lear"-related.

42D: The Isle of Man's Port _____ (Erin) - one of the few completely unknown (to me) answers in the grid. ERIN is of course obscenely common crossword fill, so why not go to the four corners of the earth to find a new way to clue it. My preferred ERIN clue is one that refers to [Actress Moran from "Happy Days"]. Ireland be damned.

43D: Nonhuman co-hosts of TV's "Mystery Science Theater 3000" ('bots)

So Many things to love about this clue. First, thank god the answer is BOTS and not ROBOTS, because BOTS is the more commonly used term on the show. Second, I love that there is a "Mystery Science Theater" clue in a puzzle whose theme is Theater. Third, MST3K (as it's commonly known) deserves more puzzle recognition like this. I remember seeing it for the first time in 1992 and thinking it was the funniest, most original TV show I'd seen in ages.

73D: Five-Year Plan implementer, for short (U.S.S.R.) - I'm pretty sure my wife taught me this, and not very long ago. "Implementer" is a god-awful word, btw (though I'm not sure how I'd reword the clue to make it any better).

85D: First name in Objectivism (Ayn) - as in Rand. My mom was way into Ayn Rand at one point in her life. I have many, many old copies of "The Objectivist" - the periodical expounding Objectivism to the world. My mom is one of the least Randian people I know, so I don't know exactly what the appeal was. All I know is that I am the proud owner (inheritor?) of a signed, special anniversary edition of "Atlas Shrugged." Or was it "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal?" Whatever, someone will pay me money for it some day, that's what I know.

88A: Buttonhole (accost) - I had no idea that the clue and the answer were synonymous. Not sure what I thought "buttonhole" meant. Maybe something like "pigeonhole."

96D: Some mantel pieces (ewers) - If you have a EWER on your mantel, please explain why, in 30 words or less. I need to know.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, May 26, 2007 - Joe DiPietro

Friday, May 25, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

I went to print this puzzle out in Across Lite, so I could solve it in pencil on the couch, with the Angels slowly crushing the Yankees in the background. But there is a stupid "page not found" error tonight for anyone trying to download the puzzle; so I solved it on-line - NOT my favorite way to solve, especially late at night (any time after 10pm is "late" for me). So I struggled a bit, including a sizeable full stoppage in the NE - what is it about the NE? It seems like the section of the puzzle most likely to get me, week in and week out. I really should go back and study my blog records to see if this is true. It's certainly been true the past two days.

My main problem was, again, getting into the NE from its west side. Yesterday's Down answer there was BLOB, and you know how I fared with that one. Today's is 8D: Duty (tariff), which is not terribly difficult, EXCEPT ... once again a wrong answer kept me from seeing it. In my defense, my wrong answer is glorious and way more clever than the allegedly clever real answer. The wrong answer in question: for 20A: Come down briskly? (ski), I had SNO. Get it? Get it? It's good, dammit. SNOW "comes down," and if you write it "briskly" (i.e. lop off the end, as you see in some commercial contexts), you get SNO. Hot hot hot. Wrong, but hot. So TARIFF had an -OFF ending, and I was busy trying to figure how anything ending -OFF could mean [Duty]. If you have a "duty," you are ON, not OFF. PAYOFF? RIPOFF? TIPOFF? Nope, nothing.

To my great credit, I somehow remembered ELSA Schiaparelli (10D: Designer Schiaparelli). I don't know what a HOT PRESS is, exactly, but it sounds like a reasonable answer to 11D: Give a smooth and glossy finish, in a way. Despite struggling up here, I actually liked two of the long Acrosses:

  • 8A: It can aid one's climb to the top (toe hold)
  • 16A: Smothering (all over)
The clue for APNEA is not half bad either: 22A: What might prevent you from staying out? I wanted APRON for a little bit, though I now forget why.

Great wrong answers I had this evening:
  • IN CHUNKS and then EN CRUTES (!?!?) for IN CRATES (42A: How apples and oranges may come)
  • ALAS for ALIS (5D: First word of Oregon's Latin motto) - note to self: "Latin motto"; I do love the idea of a state whose motto begins ALAS: "Alas, poor Eugene..."
  • CRAMPON for TOEHOLD
  • MATE for TATE (40A: 1992 Pulitzer poet James) - and thus ...
  • MAXI for TAXI (40D: Waiter at a hotel) - the logic of the clue dawned on me only just now, as I was typing it out
  • RAP and BOP for POP (57D: Some music)

I solved this puzzle in weird fashion, starting with SEES TO IT (7D: Makes sure something's done) and then moving through the upper center of the puzzle. From there, I fanned out wherever I could until I managed to get traction. Still this may be the first time I've ever worked a puzzle coast to coast (well, North coast to South coast) - here, from SEES TO IT, to READER (43D: Schoolbook) - without completing or even making my way into any of the corner quadrants.

Sweet Gimmes:

I'd like to thank the following answers for revealing themselves so readily:

1D: Singer with the 1980 #1 hit "Upside Down" (Diana Ross) - a staple of my early radio listening experience. My first experience of Ms. Ross was during the disco era (starting with "The Wiz"). Only during high school did I finally find my way back to her Supremes stuff (I listened to "oldies" and especially Motown almost exclusively in my last year or so of high school, as a rebellion against the largely regrettable top 40 music of 1986-87).

4D: "De vulgari eloquentia" author (Dante) - "On the Eloquence of the Vernacular" - Dante famously wrote the first Major, Serious, Authoritative work of European literature in a vernacular tongue ("The Divine Comedy," in Italian) - an incredibly daring thing to do at the time. I love that he wrote his treatise on the vernacular in ... Latin.

55D: One-named rap star/actress (Eve) - She has a song called "Who's That Girl?" that I enjoy quite a bit. Nothing like Madonna's song of the same name.

49D: 1974 Dustin Hoffman movie (Lenny) - never saw it, but somehow knew it instantly. It's a biopic of LENNY Bruce, as I understand it.

What the...?!

19A: "The heck with it" ("Nerts!") - I eventually guessed this, with only a couple crosses, but the trick was: how to spell it. NERTZ? NURTS?

6D: Hound for bucks? (dun) - if I know this meaning of this word, it is the faintest kind of knowledge.

1A: Fandangles (doodads) - I know "fandango," but not "fandangles." Thankfully, it sounds like what it is, i.e. a made-up name for something you can't identify by name.

17A: DNA component (adenine) - just don't know it. Was sure some part of it was wrong and was a bit surprised when the applet accepted my completed grid.

41A: Massenet's "Le _____" (Cid) - Long way to go for El CID

30A: Massen of the 1940s film "Tokyo Rose" (Osa) - !?!?

Didn't like the phrasing of the answer ON DEPOSIT (2D: Banked), but my displeasure was more than made up for by the splashy SPIT TAKE (37D: Bit of slapstick) and the excellent cluing on MATADOR (38D: Ones who accept charges). All in all, a challenging and reasonably enjoyable puzzle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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FRIDAY, May 25, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Hard

THEME: none

Least enjoyable Nothnagel puzzle ever. Pains me to say that, as I am a very big Nothnagel fan, but something about this puzzle was off. The metaphor of grinding gears, or slogging through mud, comes to mind. First problem was the fill, which did not sizzle, but sort of ... lay there. Second problem was the cluing, which seemed unimaginative.

World's Worst Board Meeting

When your longest answers are stale phrases you might hear in any meeting of boring, besuited people in any wood-paneled or cubicle-divided room in America, then your puzzle has problems. Both FISCAL QUARTER and BEGS THE QUESTION are utterly forgettable. Their best attribute is that they intersect at the "Q" - fancy. Consider how much tepid business- (or potentially business-) speak is in this grid. I would make a little short story out of it, but the thought of doing that just makes me tired. . . alright, I changed my mind:

"Corporate Leadership: A Play in One Scene"

"Phil, what's on the AGENDA (28A: Part of convention planning) for today's meeting?"

"Well, our investment strategies plan is DUE BY (31D: Expected before) the end of the next FISCAL QUARTER (33A: Subject of a financial report), so let's start there."

"Yes, that is important. Our last plan received a MERE (25A: Simple) A MINUS (2D: It's less than perfect) from the Board, and we want only GRADE A'S (13D: Good eggs)."

"You know, sir, it would be EASY (47A: Skill level option) to EDIT (6D: Mark up) last quarter's plan .... perhaps if we include Bill's idea about the PYRITE (52A: Source of sulfuric acid) mine in WALES (5D: Its flag has a large red dragon)..."

"... and don't forget to mention the NEW ORDER (12D: Government reorganization) of MEAT (25D: Chuck, say) from QUITO (53A: World's second highest capital)..."

"Those ideas suck. No wonder this company has AILED (30A: Hurt) these past couple of years .... profits continue to EBB (41A: Shrink)... we need an investment TSAR (15D: Plot target of the Decembrists)! We don't have NINE LIVES (55A: Feline gift), you know?"

"Well, sir, we do, IN A SENSE (11D: Not fully). I mean..."

"LORD (42A: Prayer opener), do you ever stop bullshitting?"

"That's just not fair, sir."

"Oh shut up, Phil. The only good idea you've ever had was upgrading the office from AOL (50A: Part of AIM) dial-up to a cable MODEM (37A: Kind of port) system so that we could receive CALLS (24D: Secretaries often hold them) and work on-line at the same time. And what was that? 7 years ago? Yet you get paid how much? Too much, if you ask me. Driving around in your SAAB (20A: "Born from jets" sloganeer), with your purebred FOXHOUND (33D: One followed on horseback) and pet MACAQUE (37D: Monkey with cheek pouches), listening to Alannah MYLES (49D: "Black Velvet" singer Alannah _____) ..."

"I don't have to sit here and listen to this."

"You don't like what I'm saying - SUE ME (38A: Snide challenge)."

[Phil leaves in a disgruntled rage]

"Remind me to fire that creepy LONER (16A: One not mingling much) - never liked him. In fact, I'm thinking of bringing in a team of AXEMEN (39A: Guitarists, slangily) to fire all of you ridiculous HIRELINGS (17A: Flunkies) unless you start pulling your weight. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, so get comfortable - we're going to be here a while. In fact ... ROZ (10D: "Shoe" waitress), run out to Starbucks and BRING (9A: Sell for) me back some CHAI (46A: Starbucks option). Any of you folks want anything? Frank?"

"No thanks, sir. I'M ON A DIET (14A: Words that often follow sweet offers?)."

FIN

I'm sure that I could have worked the absolutely unheard of DIESES (45D: Double daggers, in printing) into that dialogue if I could have figured out what the hell it means (looked it up, still mystified). Also never heard of NOB (56D: Cribbage jack) - like bridge, cribbage is game I've never played - from a bygone era, as far as I'm concerned. And why in the world would you refer to MY LAI (49A: Hamlet in 1969 headlines) as a "Hamlet?" I do get 100K+ hits when Googling [My Lai hamlet], but about seven times more for [My Lai village]. HAMLET seems painfully and aggressively English - although the "Unofficial Dictionary for Marines" (!?!?) does specifically define HAMLET thusly: (Vietnam) A village of less than 100 residents.

My main problem with the puzzle, difficulty-wise, was a deep, deep pit of my own making that it took me an eternity to crawl out of. A perfect storm of three wrong answers kept the NE completely blocked for at least as long as it took me to solve the entire rest of the puzzle. After I got LONER, I saw 9A: Sell for and wanted FETCH, but that did not sit well on top of LONER. And yet, for a while, I couldn't decide which to keep and which to ditch. Worse, 9D: Mass looked like this: -L-B; and, perhaps because FETCH had given me an "F" in 9D's first position, I thought FLAB would be a perfectly good answer. Then decided no, impossible, the answer must be ... SLAB. So SLAB was road block one. Road blocks two and three were on the other side of the NE quadrant: 22A: One's native land and 25A: Simple. I had SHE and MEAN. The answers are SOD and MERE. Thought one of them might be wrong. Never dawned on me (not for a long while, anyway) that they might BOTH be wrong. I object like crazy to SOD. I have never referred to my "native land" as, simply, SOD. "Today, I leave Cancun and return to my SOD." No. Not "one's" native land. Try, "one pretentious Englishman's native land."

Answers I liked included:

1A: Actor with an L.A.P.D. auditorium named after him (Jack Webb) - Took me a while to get it. Couldn't get EASTWOOD out of my head, even thought I knew Dirty Harry was on the S.F.P.D. "Dragnet" is the classic L.A. crime show, and though it's a good 20 years before my time, I should have gotten this answer more quickly.

58A: Way of turning (to one side) - it's a bit forced, but playful in a way I kinda like.

18A: Vienna State Opera music director starting in 2002 (Ozawa) - great name. Was kicking myself when I finally changed SLAB to BLOB and got the initial "O" here, which finally allowed me to see OZAWA. I'm no classical music specialist, but I know enough to know that Seiji OZAWA is super-famous.

43D: Title pig of Ian Falconer kids' books (Olivia) - total gimme. Fabulous books. Reminds me very much of reading to my daughter at bedtime (we're deep into Harry Potter now, which I love, but I sorta miss the sweet simplicity of OLIVIA).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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THURSDAY, May 24, 2007 - Patrick Merrell

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Relative Difficulty: Easy to Medium

THEME: Cloned letters - three theme answers all contain a number-letter component, which is rendered literally in the grid, as the given letter appears as many times as the number indicates.

This theme was possibly the most difficult to describe of all the themes I've had to describe in these past 8+ months. Once you see it, the theme is self-evident - and it was very easy to crack - but describing it clearly and succinctly - that was a challenge.

Your theme answers are:

  • 17A: "Creature From the Black Lagoon," e.g. (DDD monster movie) - "DDD" = "3D"
  • 41A: Gathering of budding agriculturists (HHHH Club meeting) - "HHHH" = "4H"
  • 62A: Some running competitions (KKKKKKKKKK races) - "KKKKKKKKKK" = "10K"
I loved the theme even though the answers are arbitrary, number-wise (i.e. why the progression from 3 to 4 to 10?). Once I got those 3 D's in the NW (early) the theme became evidently almost instantaneously, and the only real question I had, theme-wise, was whether 62A would be 5K or 10K - 5K would have made at least a little more sense, as 5 would seem to follow (3, 4 ...) much more logically than 10 would. But whatever. Progression be damned, those 10 K's look GOOD in the grid. "K" is my favorite letter and, to me, the most fascinating letter in the English language. More on that another time. I will say that "K"'s one drawback is that whenever three or more are gathered together, the connotations are less than savory. But this is part of why I find the letter fascinating - because its significance runs from good (A thousand! Strikeout!) to evil (KKK, K-Mart, etc.). And I want to give this puzzle some kind of award for super-K action, because not only are there 10 K's in that one theme answer, but there are EIGHTEEN K's total in the grid! Today, just for fun, I'll cover only the non-theme K-containing answers (followed by a final paragraph concerning the few answers that were new to me or particularly challenging).

1A: Food that's stuck on a plate (kebab) - I swear to you that, with the grid completely blank, the first thing I wrote in here was SATAY. Then I saw 3D: With 2-Down, what a villain may come to, knew that it was BAD END, and proceeded to write BAD where END should have gone and vice versa. So it was a rough start; I never tripped again, however, and am fairly certain that I set a personal Thursday record with this puzzle. The KEBAB kross is KID (1D: Western moniKer).

15A: Site of an annual auto hill climb (Pike's Peak) - Got it off the PI-. Really, what else was it gonna be? This answer gets you two glorious K's, one crossing the all-too-familiar EKE (13D: Pull (out), as a narrow victory), but the other crossing the colorful IKE, clued here as 8D: Mike's partner in candy.

20A: Shatner's sci-fi drug (Tek) - On this one, I had to make an edumacated guess on the "T." The "K" was obvious, coming from A POKE (10D: Give _____ (prod)), but the "T" came from ERTES (16D: Some art prints), and even though ERTE is crosswordese at its finest, with just the ER- sitting there I hesitated a bit before I was able to conjure the answer into existence. On a side note, the "E" in TEK came from ESME (9D: Salinger girl), which, when I saw it ... was like seeing a former girlfriend I hadn't seen in 20 years. Familiar yet strange. ESME is old skool crosswordese that has not been in the puzzle during my tenure as crossword blogger.

5D: "The Greatest Generation" author (Brokaw) - I always hated the title of this book. I understand that it is reverential for a good reason - they saved the world and all - but, look, the so-called "Greatest Generation" beat their wives and hated blacks at least as much as any other generation, so let's not get too carried away with the love-fest, all right? The "K" kross here is SKIER (19A: One trying to stay up while going down - nice clue).

30A: Attention-getting haircut (mohawk) - Also a tribe, and river, in New York. Sanjaya sported a fake MOHAWK earlier in this season of "American Idol" - a show which lost all credibility when Melinda ended up not even making the finals. Jordin Sparks is a fine singer, but they have taken her out of the oven about a decade too early, as far as I'm concerned. My favorite part of last night's season finale (besides any time Kelly was on stage - I Love her) was ... well there were two. I am in total love with Gladys Knight, so I got all swoony and emotional watching her sing "Midnight Train to Georgia," even though she was dressed like a middle-aged lady going out for an afternoon of shopping at the local mall. The other great moment was Blake singing / beat-boxing with Doug E. Fresh, because Doug E. Fresh is a rap Legend; because Blake finally got to be Blake after being forced to sing the Crappiest Song in Idol History the night before; and, finally because I knew that 90-someodd% of the audience truly had no idea who Doug E. Fresh was despite the fact that they pretended they did. Least favorite part of the night - repeated reaction shots of David Hasselhoff and Jeff Foxworthy and other Loser Celebrities in attendance last night. Do I really wanna know that Tony Bennett makes Jerry Springer cry? Answer: no. The "K" kross here was NICKEL (18D: Jefferson site), which I managed to spell correctly this time (I've been known to write NICKLE).

39A: Canon rival (Nikon) - "I got a NIKON camera / I love to take a photograph / So mama don't taaaaaake my Kodachrome awaaaaaay." This answer takes us into the fabulous East Coast of this puzzle, with the awesomely parallel and somehow mathematically-related BIKINIS (27D: Two-piece suits? - that "?" threw me for a bit) and SINGLET (29D: Wrestler's wear). The two-piece suits and the one-piece suit were separated by an answer which should have been clued [Why Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers kicked ass]. Instead we got the far less interesting clue, 28D: Study involving nature and engineering (bionics).

73A: Target sport (skeet) - I don't have anything to say about this "K." SKEET was one of the more ill-conceived and grating characters featured in DC's recently concluded series "52." How to describe him? How about: a floating, know-it-all computer-butler. From the future. He plays Jeeves to a B-List superhero, Booster Gold. That's all I care to say about that. The kross here is SACK (61D: Bed, slangily).



My favorite part of the solving experience was hitting the far West and nailing all the long Downs in rapid succession, with very few crosses. I mean AMPHORA (21D: Old wine vessel), POOHBAH (22D: Bigwig), and T.H. WHITE (23D: "The Sword in the Stone" author) didn't even have time to get their guns out of their holsters before I set them down (sorry, rewatched "Once Upon a Time in the West" yesterday and it's deeply affecting my worldview at the moment). Potentially tricky parts of this puzzle include:
  • 9A: Avant-garde composer Brown (Earle) - ???
  • 46A: Dye plant (anil) - krosswordese, but not known to everyone
  • 58A: Gray side: Abbr. (CSA) - obvious once you see it, but you've gotta know that the Blue and the Gray are the opposing sides in the American Civil War, then know that the Gray was the South, and then finally know that the abbreviation for the South was CSA (Confederate States of America). Lots going on in such a little clue.
  • 63D: "The Jungle Book" python (Kaa) - not familiar to me. Reminds me of Shatner shouting "Khaaaaaaaan" but getting cut short.
  • 53D: Longtime "ABC's Wide World of Sports" host (McKay)
  • 32A: Suffix with hex- (ose) - HEXOSE!?! Boo!
  • 33D: Suffix with benz- (ene) - BENZENE - that's better.
  • 48A: Suffix with vapour (ise) - there's a "U" in "vapour" now? Jolly good.
  • 31D: Queens's _____ Stadium (Ashe) - curiously, an anagram of the answer I wanted here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, May 23, 2007 - Bruce Venzke and Stella Daly

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to Medium

THEME: Quip from a hunter = :(

The only thing that put this puzzle at a Wednesday level of difficulty was its quip-ness - hard to get those long Acrosses until you've filled in a lot of Downs. I actually got the first half of the quip, parts 1 and 2, quickly. Then part 4. The last half of part 3 was the last part to give. But as I said, the non-theme fill was a cinch, more Tuesday than Wednesday. I had a little trouble getting into the NW and finally polishing off the mid-SE, but overall, no sweat. Just over 6 minutes solving time today.

The "quip":

I TRIED TO BUY (21A)
A CAMOUFLAGE SUIT (27A)
BUT I COULDN'T FIND (46A)
ONE ANYWHERE (54A)

Take my wife, please!

The problem with your average quip puzzle (and this one is no better than average) is that non-theme fill tends to suck - all originality is sacrificed on the altar of the quip. Check out the crosswordese: SWAB, HALO, ADEN, ALEE, ESAU, ABED, SASE, TET, ION, OAF, HIED. In the miserable SW corner alone, we have OSLO, NEAR, ERIE, SERA, LAIC, and ORES - a veritable slag heap of craptacular fill. This is not to mention all the highly unimaginative fill, e.g. SHOE, FEAR, CENT, TOE, etc.


Despite its horrible quip nature, this puzzle has some fabulous fill, most notably 24A: Composer Rimsky-Korsakov (Nikolai), whose "Capriccio Espagnol" I listen to often (thanks, Andrew); 49D: Kind of statement, to a programmer (If / Then); and 50D: Vegetarian's stipulation ("No meat"), which is very original. I had -MEAT, and without looking at the clue, I filled in COME AT - NO MEAT is so much better. I'm a fake vegetarian, in that I don't eat meat or poultry, but I eat fish (which technically makes me a "pescavegetarian," but that name is soooo pretentious that I can't bring myself to use it).

BONDAGE (9D: Slave's state) is nice too, though the clue could have been ... spicier. D CELLS was a little tough to uncover (48D: Some batteries). Have D CUPS ever been in the puzzle - would ... they ... pass the breakfast table test? If I saw D CUPS in the puzzle, I would most certainly exclaim HOLY COW (43D: "Geez Louise!"), if not something a little stronger. WADI (7D: Dry riverbed) is a very cool word that I know only from crosswords. There is only one answer in today's grid that I flat out didn't know - 47D: "Almost Paradise" author Susan (Isaacs). The only "Almost Paradise" I know is a generic power ballad from the mid-80's by Ann Wilson (half of Heart, and one of the greatest female rock vocalists of all time) and Mike Reno (uh, who? - oh my God he was the lead singer for Loverboy!).

"Almost paradise
We're knocking on heaven's door
Almost paradise
How could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever
In your eyes...
Paradise"

Speaking of cheesy pop songs, I ATE UP everything about the NW corner, especially Mr. SEDAKA (3D: Neil who wrote "Stupid Cupid"), who looks rather awesome standing next to ATOMIC (2D: Like some energy) and BANANA (1D: Yogurt flavor - random clue, btw). I would pay good money to go see "Neil SEDAKA and the ATOMIC BANANA," even if they insisted on closing the show with a cover of "Almost Paradise."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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TUESDAY, May 22, 2007 - Roger Wolff

Relative difficuly: Easy

THEME: "Do-Re-Mi" - three 15-letter theme answers are the definitions of "Do," "Re," and "Mi," respectively, according to the song "Do-Re-Mi" from "The Sound of Music"

This puzzle is pretty awesome. I would love to have seen the look on Mr. Wolff's face when it dawned on him that

DEER A FEMALE DEER (17A: Doe, in song)
DROP OF GOLDEN SUN (36A: Ray, in song), and
NAME I CALL MYSELF (55A: Me, in song)

are all fifteen-letter phrases. What luck. I like how other theme-related answers (clued in non-movie fashion) are strewn about the grid, including DO-RE-MI (43A: Money, slangily), GERMANY (35D: 1990 reunification site) (yes, the film is set in Austria and Switzerland, but the Third Reich is ascending...), and EDELWEISS (11D: Alpine flower) (like "Do-Re-Mi," a song from the movie). As far as conception and execution of theme goes, I'll give this puzzle a 98 out of 100, with two points taken off for not picking up the song's fourth note in the theme answer, e.g. [Far, in song => LONG LONG WAY TO RUN ... damn, 16 letters ... 2 RUN? That's what it would be called if it were covered by Prince]. My favorite part of this puzzle is that - in a puzzle dedicated so thoroughly to "The Sound of Music," the constructor decided that the one movie title in the grid would be ... ROBOCOP!

32D: One dressed in blue (policeman)
15A: Plan that stinks (rotten idea)

ROBOCOP was indeed a POLICEMAN and a ROTTEN IDEA (just ask his creators).

27A: Teeny-tiny distance (micron)
48A: Charged particle (anion)

Puzzle science. Before I started doing puzzles, I knew that an ION is a charged particle (atom with extra electron??), and that MICRO- meant small, but MICRON was barely in my vocabulary and ANION not at all. They are useful.

14A: On deep water (asea)
5A: Covered with water (awash)

I'm a-fraid that I a-must a-say that I'm a-ppalled by the inclusion of both these words, and so close to each other. Other pair I'm not too fond of: the intersecting IN ESSE (44D: Real) and ESTE (63A: Spanish direction).

Today's "Celebrity" Peanut Gallery

  • 20A: Three-time U.S. Open champ (Lendl) - I played a lot of tennis when I was a teenager, and I was a huge John McEnroe fan. Thus, I hated Ivan LENDL with the white hot jingoistic passion of any red-blooded American tennis fan. It helped that he looked like the skinny bastard son of Frankenstein's monster.
  • 3D: Oscar-winning Witherspoon (Reese) - Just yesterday I saw it written somewhere that she had won an Oscar for her performance in "Walk the Line" and my reaction was ".... really? How did I forget that so fast?" Oh, I know where I read it - in an article on her divorce from Ryan Phillippe. Apparently both of them want physical custody of the children ... but I digress.
  • 4D: N.B.A. first name that's Arabic for "noble" or "exalted" (Kareem) - what is this, twice in three days for KAREEM? Quite a comeback for someone who's been retired almost twenty years.
  • 12D: Entertainer Pinky or Peggy (Lee) - Peggy LEE gives me fever. I don't know what Pinky LEE does.
  • 26D: Actress Verdugo (Elena) - I know her from crosswords, and that is all.
  • 47D: Golfer Mediate (Rocco) - best name in the puzzle. This guy would make a great way to clue MEDIATE, actually.
  • 56D: "The Greatest" (Ali) - not his birth name; see also KAREEM. I've told you all about the ALI signature hanging over my desk here. Some day I will scan it for you (and me, I guess, so in case there's ever a fire or something I have a record of it).
  • 58D: Author Deighton (Len)

My favorite answer in the grid (besides ROBOCOP, of course) is ONE, TWO (54A: Boxing combo) just because it's colorful and fun and kinda violent. My least favorite: MOLINE (39A: One of the Quad Cities, in Illinois). Don't like how it looks (a typo of Alfred MOLINA's last name?) or sounds ("Mo-LEEN?" "MO-line?"). Also, don't like that it's pretty obscure to a non-midwesterner. Otherwise, this puzzle was pretty damned enjoyable.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I take it back: "ALLISON Road" (18D: "_____ Road," 1994 hit by the Gin Blossoms) is my least favorite answer - anything that makes me recall the pop culture HADES (1D: Pluto's alias) that was the early-mid 90's deserves a good beating. What a dumb name for a song. At least the puzzle didn't make me remember the Gin Blossoms' other, bigger hit, "Hey Jealousy" ... dammit, now I've gone and made myself remember it. I'm off to find another, less inane song to get stuck in my head.

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