Quechua speaker / WED 6-30-10 / Mendeleev's tabulation / Pigeonholed in moviedom / Singer of Casta diva aria / 1943 penny material

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Constructor: Kristian House

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Doing stuff to one-named singers — common phrases are clued as actions performed on one-named singers

Word of the Day: Quechua (22D: Quechua speaker => INCA) —

Quechua is a Native American language family spoken primarily in the Andes of South America, derived from an original common ancestor language, Proto-Quechua. It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 6 to 8 million speakers (estimates vary widely). Some speakers of Quechua also call it 'runa simi' (or regional variants thereof), literally 'people speech', although 'runa' here has the more specific sense of indigenous Andean people.
• • •

Well that was easy. Mid-4s on paper, a good 10-15 seconds faster than yesterday's puzzle. Started writing with 1A: Harry James's "___ the Craziest Dream" ("I HAD") and never really stopped — though I hesitated a few times toward the end. Finished up in the W, where I didn't know (i.e. didn't remember) ERIC Carle (43D: Children's author Carle) and didn't know IRINA (figured it had to be ELENA) (27D: "Three Sisters" sister), and couldn't remember (at first) why the hell Mendeleev was important (38D: Mendeleev's tabulation=> ELEMENTS). Only other sticky clue in the whole grid for me was the one on NORMA — and that's opera, so no shocker there (31D: Singer of the "Casta diva" aria). I wonder if this puzzle is going to skew easy for young(er) people and tough(er) for older people. All the one-named singers whose names are being punned on have a post-1989 fame (chronological order of fame, by my internal clock, goes HAMMER (ca. '89), SEAL (ca. '91), JEWEL (mid-90s?), and PINK (2000s). Notice how my dates get vaguer the farther I get away from college. Individual years were clearly delineated before I graduated college. Afterward, less so. By the 2000s, everything becomes a big blur, punctuated by major life events / national trauma.

["I HAD a dream, I had an awesome dream ..."; warning, if you are scared of clowns, Do Not Play]

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Conk the "You Were Meant for Me" singer? (CROWN JEWEL)

  • 10D: Protect the "Kiss From a Rose" singer from the cops? (HARBOR SEAL)

  • 28D: Amuse the "Get the Party Started" singer? (TICKLE PINK)

  • 62A: Scratch the "2 Legit 2 Quit" rapper? (CLAW HAMMER)

So ... I liked this puzzle a lot. Clever theme, nicely executed. Good fill. Solid. Does Not look like a (mere) 74-worder. Fill seems overwhelmingly short (mostly 4s and 5s). But there are four cheater squares (NW/SE and N/S), and then a couple of long answers paralleling theme answers in the NE and SW, so I guess that explains how the grid can look and feel 76/78 but really be 74. That distinction may seem minor, but it's not. 78s are easy to construct/fill, 76s a bit tougher, 74s tougher still. You'll rarely see themed puzzles at 72, and almost never lower.

  • 39A: 1943 penny material (STEEL) — I did not know that. Just that one year? Was it a war-time thing? Yes! Acc. to wikipedia: "The 1943 steel cent, also known as a steelie, was a variety of the U.S. one-cent coin which was struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper."
  • 53A: Pigeonholed, in moviedom (TYPECAST) — great answer. "Moviedom" is a terrible word, but "Pigeonholed" is wonderful, so it evens out.
  • 57A: Site of a 1976 South African uprising (SOWETO) — Little bits of South African history being dispensed between football matches all month long on ESPN and ABC. Enjoying watching matches, but was reminded again today (uh, yesterday) how deeply unsatisfying it is to see a match decided by penalty kicks. Mark of a non-real sport (sorry, hockey).
  • 4D: White Label Scotch maker (DEWAR'S) — We have this bottle of something called Yukon Jack in our liquor cabinet, which I think I bought believing it was whiskey. It isn't. It's some kind of liqueur that you drink only if you are a desperate lonely cold Canadian lumberjack. Still, it'll get drunk.
  • 22D: Quechua speaker (INCA) – I know this as a contemporary language of South America. Didn't know INCAs spoke it. Only reason I know the language name at all is because my ex-girlfriend studied with Sabine MacCormack, who wrote "Religion in the Andes," among many other books.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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French city in 1944 fighting / TUE 6-29-10 / Island near Java / Potential enamorada / Heroine of Verdi's Il Trovatore / 99 Red Balloons singer 1984

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: BLACK / AND / WHITE39A: With 41- and 43-Across, cop cruiser ... or a description of the five animals named in this puzzle

The animals:

  • SNOW LEOPARD (20A: Asian cat)
  • ZEBRA (13D: Equus quagga)
  • PANDA (30D: One of the 2008 Olympic mascots)
  • SKUNK (53D: Polecat)
  • KILLER WHALE (60A: Shamu, for one)

Word of the Day:
TOCSIN (35A: Alarm bell) —
    1. An alarm sounded on a bell.
    2. A bell used to sound an alarm.
  1. A warning; an omen.

[French, alteration of toquassen, from Old French touque-sain, from Old Provençal tocasenh : tocar, to strike (from Vulgar Latin *toccāre) + senh, bell (from Late Latin signum , from Latin, signal; see sign).]

• • •

Doing some of my solving on paper now, so not terribly certain of the difficulty ratings as a result, but this one felt somewhat on the challenging side (for a Tuesday) and a quick glance at the leaderboard at the NYT puzzle site shows slowish times for a Tuesday. My time would put me at 12th (out of 100 as of right now), which, considering I solved on paper (significantly slower method), I'm quite happy with. The theme ... was B&W animals. And there they are. Only thing I can say is that I did not know SNOW LEOPARDs were black and white. And I didn't know the PANDA had been an Olympic mascot (though 2008 Olympics were in China, so that makes sense). Difficulty lay first in the theme clues, which were vague / odd (esp. the ZEBRA one), and second in the NE corner, which is crammed with hardish stuff (including ZEBRA). Corner is hard to get into because of LEONORA (who?) (25A: Heroine of Verdi's "Il Trovatore"), and then METZ (and not ST. LO, as you suspected) (10A: French city in 1944 fighting), and then TIMOR, which is familiar enough, but not when you're trying to fill it in w/ no crosses (12D: Island near Java). Luckily MAI and ARIE and IAMB and TOR were gimmes, so with some fussing and erasing, it all worked out. Just bogged me down. Also, TOCSIN (35A: Alarm bell) is only dimly dimly familiar to me, so I had to come at the eastern part from below. Otherwise, my only problems were stupid mistakes. Writing in SCRAWL for SCROLL (44A: Form of many a diploma) — I think I read it wrong — and utterly blanking on ___ WHALE. Seriously. Just stared at it, imagining what specialized name an orca could possibly have ... [headdesk].

  • 1A: AARP or the National Rifle Association (LOBBY) — bad start. Wanted an abbr. because of "AARP" in clue. Spelled-out "NRA" should've clued me in.
  • 6D: Potential enamorada (SEÑORITA) — again, not a Tuesday clue. A fine clue, but more Thursday.
  • 8D: Like some exercises (NAVAL) — more vague/tough cluing.
  • 38D: "99 Red Balloons" singer, 1984 (NENA) — weird coincidence: just caught about five minutes of an old "Family Guy" episode, in which there is a very strange "99 Red Balloons" joke. And then I walked directly upstairs and did this puzzle. That was my second weird coincidence of the day. The first was watching "Spectacle" (fantastic Elvis Costello-hosted show about music) this morning, and learning from Costello's interview with Clinton (sax player) that Robert Byrd was an accomplished fiddler. Got in my car afterward, turned on NPR, and learned that Byrd had died—NPR not only mentioned his fiddling, they also played a snippet from his fiddle album of the late '70s!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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1961 hit for Shirelles / MON 6-28-10 / Curly ethnic hairstyle colloquially / Schreiber who won Tony for Glengarry Glen Ross / Small American thrush

Monday, June 28, 2010

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: -A-A — eight-letter phrases where the first part starts with XAXA (where "X" = consonant)

Word of the Day: VEERY (28D: Small American thrush) —

The Veery, Catharus fuscescens, is a small thrush species. It is occasionally called Willow Thrush or Wilson's Thrush. It is a member of a close-knit group of migrant Catharus species, which also includes the cryptotaxa Grey-cheeked Thrush (C. minimus) and Bicknell's Thrush (C. bicknelli).
• • •

Didn't enjoy this while solving, because a., VEERY (28D: Small American thrush), what the hell? and b. no idea what theme was while solving and c. if I never see BABAWAWA in a puzzle again it'll be too soon. Then I hit JEWFRO and nearly all was forgiven (50D: Curly ethnic hairstyle, colloquially). I canNot believe that got in. Has it been in before? It's quite in-the-language, but seems like it might offend someone, somehow. If the word "JEW" is involved, the NYT tends to tread *very* lightly. I've had readers object to the word JEW's appearing in the grid At All (unless it's clued as part of the Marlowe title, "The ___ of Malta"). Anyway, JEWFRO is great and fresh and Easily the best thing on the menu today. There are lots of Xs (and EXES), and the grid shape is odd (in that theme answers are not identifiable by layout), so those are pluses as well, I suppose. Could've done without three RE-words. Also, LATEN and (moreso) EMBAR are two of my least favorite xword words. EMBAR could likely have been done away with, no problem, so I guess that's just a matter of taste. Constructor thought it tasted good. I thought it tasted like Miracle Whip (that's "not good," btw).

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Dreamy state (LA LA LAND)
  • 56A: Gilda Radner character on "S.N.L." (BABA WAWA)
  • 5D: One in a million (RARA AVIS)
  • 10D: "Hubba hubba!" ("VA-VA-VOOM!")
  • 38D: 1961 hit for the Shirelles ("MAMA SAID")
  • 40D: Owner of the largest bed Goldilocks tried (PAPA BEAR)

So the puzzle was Medium-Challenging, barely. I mean, it was at the upper end of normal for me, time-wise, so, close call, but between VEERY and the unorthodox grid, I figured it would, overall, take people slightly longer than normal (which, on Monday, may be a matter of seconds, as it was with me).

  • 25A: Schreiber who won a Tony for "Glengarry Glen Ross" (LIEV) — I know him by sight, but I have no idea how. Couldn't name a movie he's been in off top of my head—was he in the Orson Welles biopic? Yes, "RKO 281" — whoa! He was in one of my very favorite movies of the '90s: the highly under-rated and largely forgotten "Walking and Talking" (with the sensational Catherine Keener). Wow. I want to watch that movie right now. I think Schreiber played Anne Heche's jewelry-designing husband.
  • 58D: What moons do after full moons (WANE) — dear god, how many moons are there? It's the same damn moon that's full and that WANEs ... gotta be a clue that doesn't involve repeating the word "moons"
  • 59D: Abbr. before a name on a memo (ATTN.) — NAME is in the grid (RENAME). Kind of stuff I notice only when I really don't have a lot to say about a puzzle.
Hey, what's the opposite of JEWFRO? ... it's GOYDOME.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Universal soul in Hinduism / SUN 6-27-10 / Ukrainian city in WWI fighting / Alfalfa's sweetie / Miro museum architect Jose Luis / Fiji competitor

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Constructor: Michael J. Doran

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "To Thine Own Self Be True" — Clues are "I"-words that are imagined as two separate words: pronoun "I" + verb — answers are various jobs

Word of the Day: LUTSK (7D: Ukrainian city in W.W. I fighting) —

Lutsk (Ukrainian: Луцьк, translit. Luts’k, Lithuanian: Luckas, Polish: Łuck, Belarusian: Луцак or Луцк, transliterated Lutchak or Lutsk) is a city located by the Styr River in north-western Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Volyn Oblast (province), as well as the administrative center of the surrounding Lutskyi Raion (district) within the oblast. The city itself is also designated as its own separate raion within the oblast. [...] In 1850 three major forts were built around Lutsk and the town became a small fortress called Mikhailogorod. During the First World War the town was seized by Austria-Hungary on August 29, 1915. The town was slightly damaged. During more than a year of Austro-Hungarian occupation Lutsk became an important military centre with the headquarters of the IV Army under Archduke Josef Ferdinand stationed there. However, poor food supply led to a plague of epidemic typhus which decimated the city's inhabitants. // On June 4, 1916 four Russian armies under general Aleksei Brusilov started, what later became known as the Brusilov Offensive. After up to three days of heavy artillery barrage, the Battle of Lutsk began. On June 7, 1916 the Russian forces reconquered the city. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917 the city was seized by Germany on February 7, 1918. On February 22, 1918 the town was transferred by the withdrawing German army to the forces loyal to Symon Petlura. However, on May 16, 1919 it was captured by Polish forces under Gen. Aleksander Karnicki.

• • •

A very nice idea, as far as the clues go. The answers aren't always A-ONE — PONZI SCHEMER doesn't feel like a thing, LUGER is a fugly word, the ELECTION winner "ran" too, etc. — but they're successful enough for this puzzle to get an overall thumbs-up. It took me longer than I care to admit to glean the theme — I was half-heartedly trying to anagram the clues in the back of my mind as I pressed forward with the puzzle, then thought maybe the clue numbers were involved somehow ... but after I got nearly ever letter of FILM CRITIC from crosses, I put two and two together. Despite my slow start, I ended up a tad under my normal Sunday time. All my hangups involved questions of geography. No idea about:

  • SKOPJE (39A: Macedonian capital)
  • LAMBERT (4D: St. Louis airport)
  • MINEOLA (vaaaaaguely familiar) (94D: Long Island town where the Wright Brothers experimented)

Also balked at spelling of SKÁL (wanted SKOAL, like the chewing tobacco) (97A: Swedish toast). Also balked at nearby RHO (92A: When written three times, fraternity in "Revenge of the Nerds"), as the only thrice-named frat I remember from "Revenge of the Nerds" is the Tri-Lams:

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Irate (FILM CRITIC)
  • 28A: Isled (OLYMPIC LUGER)
  • 52A: Islander (TABLOID WRITER) — Having "Isled" and "Islander" as clues feels a bit redundant; further, TABLOID WRITERS libel...
  • 88A: Iran (ELECTION LOSER)
  • 109A: iPhone (TELEMARKETER)
  • 117A: Ibid. (EBAY PATRON)
  • 33D: Icon (PONZI SCHEMER)
  • 42D: Ideal (CASINO WORKER)

Strangely, my only non-geography-related trouble-spot came at 89D: Suffix with pant (-IES). I had something like AIRONS for 99A: Large planes have two, and so had "pantier" as my imaginary, hypothetical word. Then I got the plane answer down to AIRLES, and decided that *couldn't* be right. Took it out, stared, and then there it was, mockingly obvious "S" (and so AISLES) —something about suffixes that won't allow me to think of them as ending in "S".

  • 25A: Universal soul, in Hinduism (ATMAN) — I get this word and ARHAT confused. Both related to Eastern religions, both five letters, both start with "A," both learned from xwords ...
  • 37A: Lovingly, in music (AMOROSO) — what does that look like? Do you make emotional faces? Kiss your violin?
  • 48A: Shanghai-born N.B.A. star (YAO) — [Gigantic Rocket] would have made a nice clue.
  • 59A: Miró Museum architect José Luis ___ (SERT) — in one of today's more comical solving moments, the first answer I wrote in here was ... MIRÓ!
  • 126A: Title girl on the first Beatles album (ANNA) — no memory of any ANNA song. And "Please Please Me" was one of the very first CDs I ever bought (mid-80s). OK, now that I listen to it, it's very familiar:

  • 2D: What to play Super Mario Galaxy on (WII) — instinctively wrote in NES...
  • 24D: Part of Eritrea's border (RED SEA) — what is it with "Eritrea" that I'm compelled to believe that it's a European country. I mean, I know it's not, but some instinctive part of my brain always flashes "Europe" before the sane part kicks in and fixes things. Oh, and I wanted a country here, duh.
  • 31D: Alfalfa's sweetie (DARLA) — I think DARLA is a super-hot name. Alfalfa, on the other hand ...
  • 52D: South American monkeys (TITIS) — not sure I've seen it in plural; mildly amusing, especially crossing ACHES FOR (!) and LICKING (!!!!!!!!!!) (74A: Greatly desires + 68A: Rout)
  • 53D: Basketry fiber (ISTLE) — not to be confused with longtime Denver Nuggets center Dan ISSEL

  • 65D: Fiji competitor (EVIAN) — Fuji = film, FIJI = water.
  • 97D: Ocean dweller with five points (SEA STAR) — I know these as "star fish."
And now your Tweets of the Week — puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @RiaDawn2011 dude. my dad spelled waste w-a-s-t on this crossword. bahahahah!
  • @willishumphrey Okay, why am I n traffic & I look ova and this lady is driving and a crossword puzzle and talkin on the ph??? WTF????
  • @CAROLiN3_bby My brother, Robby, and Christain are fighting over a crossword puzzle on the kids menu. Haha woww.
  • @Raudive You know your teacher is off when there is a crossword on your final.
  • @stasheez Dese lil girls is throwin bows cuz dey losin the crossword puzzle tournament lol this job is funny
  • @ninaholmberg On the bright side, being stranded at the body shop w/o work email means I can devote my full attention to the NYT crossword. cc @olivia
  • @Fuzzie_74 Poke my eye out with chopsticks. Couple sitting opposite are rubbing each other while doing a crossword puzzle.#nerdpettingewwwwwww
  • @20Winxx NYT crossword clue: "Bam!" blurter. My first answer: Batman .......... D'OH!!!!
  • @alexcarlton I now carry a box cutter so I can whittle pencils to do crosswords and kenkens. I'M REALLY COOL, wanna date me yet?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Trading center during Klondike gold rush / SAT 6-26-10 / Colliery access / 1960s-'70s Citroën / Baltimore neighborhood that includes Marble Hill

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Constructor: Robert H. Wolfe

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: NERI (39D: St. Philip of Rome) —

Saint Philip Romolo Neri (Italian: Filippo de Neri) (July 22, 1515 – May 25, 1595), also known as Apostle of Rome, was an Italian priest, noted for founding a society of secular priests called the "Congregation of the Oratory". (wikipedia)
• • •

Not that exciting, especially after yesterday's whimsical affair. This one was just a slog—typical Saturday difficulty, but no Saturday joy. As far as I can tell, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" (56A: "Seriously?") is the only reason for this puzzle to exist. Maybe I'd extend that compliment to "SOMETHING'S FISHY" (17A: Rat smeller's words). The rest was either plain or overly commonplace, and the cluing was obscure rather than playful (despite the onslaught of "?" clues). In a 70-worder, why is there so much weaksauce? NERI? ALOW (27D: On a deck beneath)? ANISES (31D: Members of the carrot family)? ASI/ASA? OCTA (5D: Prefix with -valent)?! ERY (14D: Green attachment)?! And what is with the out-of-left nonsense cluing on DAHL (6D: Gary who invented the Pet Rock), AMI (7D: 1960s-'70s Citroën), ELK (47D: Pennsylvania's ___ Mountain (skiing area)), NOSE (12D: A hook might give it a hook), TATA (28A: Heathrow takeoff sound?), etc.? I get it, it's Saturday, things are tough all over. But the AHA in this grid (38D: Brainstorm outburst) is a cruel reminder that I didn't exclaim that word once while solving this (well, not in joy, anyway; maybe IN ANGER 44A: Way to look back?). I did like the grid shape—unusual, though it increased the amount of short fill, which inevitably increases the amount of crap fill, sadly.


Lots of trouble getting started today. I've been doing late-week puzzles on paper (instead of on-screen) lately, and it's really a major change. Feels like wading through mud, and my eyes don't seem to know where to go. On-screen solving has conditioned my brain, eyes, fingers—going off-grid (as it were) is putting me a little off balance at the moment. Anyway, I started in the middle of the grid (almost never happens when I'm solving on-screen), with "EAT IT" (massive gimme—34D: 1984 hit with the lyric "Have a banana, have a whole bunch"). Got IN AGNER, AHA, and STEN (35D: 9-mm. weapon) from there, but didn't get much further—that east coast, with its ANISES and NERI, was opaque to me for a while. Poked around in the NW, but didn't get much. Ended up getting first real toehold in the far SW, with ABA (56D: Grp. concerned with precedents) and ARAB (50D: Many a dinar spender) leading to BARREL (60A: Crude container) and then up out of there to my first grid-crosser, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Grid construction thwarted easy movement from section to section. Fragile, narrow, one-square connections everywhere you look.

Plunked ADIT down as soon as I saw the clue (11D: Colliery access). Ditto DYNE (42A: Unit in an erg's definition). Those are some olde-timey Maleska-era repeaters.

Don't have much more to say about this one. It was a Saturday. I struggled, then I finished. The end.

  • 19A: Roll (PEAL) — Total guess on the "-AL." I assume this has something to do with thunder? Can't tell you how Wrong OCTA- looks—that's why I balked at PEAL.
  • 41A: Trading center during the Klondike gold rush (WHITE HORSE) — Entertaining the possibility of ORLON (where ARGON ended up — 29D: Composition of some plasmas — ????), put the "O" after the "H," which made WHITE HORSE jump forth, despite the fact that I don't know anything about it and couldn't have told you where it was located before I started this puzzle. To me, WHITE HORSE = heroin.

  • 62A: "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" singer in "The Sound of Music" (ABBESS) — noooo idea. Don't think I've ever seen the whole movie, actually. Pretty inferrable, though. I knew there were nuns involved. Nuns and Nazis.
  • 25D: Baltimore neighborhood that includes Marble Hill (UPTON) — a Baltimore neighborhood? And I thought having to know Minneapolis suburbs was bad. Appearance of Baltimore in puzzle gives me an opportunity to plug the new John Waters' memoir, "Role Models," once again. Read it in about a day and a half, which is *fast* for me. The essays are fascinating and funny and — best of all — I never had any idea what was coming next. Zigs and zags. Johnny Mathis to the Manson Family to Tennessee Williams to "Outsider Porn" to the joys of book-reading. Truly outrageous in parts. He's fantastic.
  • 51D: Dinar spender (SERB) — One of those quirks of currency naming: DINAR is the name of currency in nine countries across three continents. So ARABs and SERBs both spend them.
  • 57D: Semana segment (DIA) — one of the grid's half-dozen or so gimmes.
  • 58D: Chain-sporting star (MR. T) — in looking for the episode of "The Simpsons" on which MR. T appeared, I found this choice bit of Krustyiana, which reminded me why I love the show so much:
[Krusty is infuriated, because he doesn´t have a star on the Jewish walk of fame.]
Krusty: Why don´t I have a star?! I´m much better than... (squints) Chaim Potok?! What is he,a Klingon?!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Mythological thread-cutter / FRI 6-25-10 / Native Australian winds / Bellini opera set in English Civil War / George Sand title heroine

Friday, June 25, 2010

Constructor: Robin Schulman and Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "I DO" — rebus puzzle with 9 "I DO" squares (including five in the central Across answer, "IDOIDOIDOIDOIDO" (34A: Abba hit of 1976)) — further, the first letters of the Across clues spell out a message, which puts the puzzle and theme in context:


Word of the Day: "I PURITANI" (31D: Bellini opera set in the English Civil War) —
I puritani (The Puritans) is an opera in three acts, by Vincenzo Bellini. It is his last opera. Its libretto is by Count Carlo Pepoli based on Têtes rondes et Cavaliers by Jacques-François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine, which is in turn based on Walter Scott's novel Old Mortality. It was first produced at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris, January 24, 1835. At the same time, Bellini composed an alternative version intended for the famous Maria Malibran, who was to sing it in Naples; in fact, this version was not performed on stage until April 10, 1986 at the Teatro Petruzzelli, Bari. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm going to be an ogre for a second and say that I thought the puzzle was massively self-indulgent *before* I found out that the first letters of the Across clues spelled out a message *about the constructors themselves*. I knew Byron was getting married, and I figured this co-constructor was his wife (or wife-to-be), so my initial feeling when I uncovered the "I DO" rebus was ... not as charitable as it ought to have been (I have "REBUS—f*ck" scrawled atop my puzzle). And then—well, to find out that this very hard puzzle was so hard (in part) because of the self-congratulatory hidden message!? Grrrrr. But ... Byron is one of my very favorite constructors, and he is getting married today, after all, and thus I am having a really hard time carrying my irkedness much further. So it stops here. From here on out, the only person I'm upset with is ME. Oh, and Robin and Byron: congratulations.

I was my own worst enemy today, in many ways. Started off with ALDA to ARAB to ADDS and thought "huh, not so bad." But things toughened up from there. NW was a slog, mainly because of the deliberately misdirective clue + rebus combo in DIDGER(IDO)OS (18A: Native Australian winds). But here's where I maimed myself—I thought the rebus was "ID"; i.e. I thought DIDGERIDOOS was spelled with just the one "O," and despite "getting" MA(IDO)FHONOR (11D: Shower holder), I somehow just imagined that first "O." And so I went looking for "ID" squares. This quest came to a halt only after I realized the Abba song and saw that "ID" squares wouldn't cut it. Rebus revelation was groan #1, "IDO" (not "ID") revelation—groan #2. Groan #3 would be the worst of all. By a mile. By miles and miles.

See, after groan #2, I found the puzzle quite doable: SE went down very quickly, and NW only a little less so (PALPS, yuck—1A: Bug detection devices?). And then we arrived at the great SW. Neither of the long Downs made any sense to me, but ATE KOSHER went right in (51A: Shunned shellfish, say). Somehow managed to swing PLANT FOOD (56A: You might get it at a nursery) and GO FOR (46D: Fetch), and then ... the fatal blow. Off the "G" in GO FOR, I opt for HOT DOG at 45A: Ballpark fare. Absolutely perfect answer. Further (further!!!) I "confirm" HOT DOG with TOOK TO at 39D: Accepted. Not the greatest fit, but it made total sense to me, and it's Friday after all, so fits aren't always great. The point is, HOT DOG was unimpeachable. And thus began the longest period of freefall that I've had in months and months. Deathly cutesy cluing on SILENT R was bad enough (38D: February 4th, to some?), but with wrong letter solidly in place, answer was completely invisible. Same for WORTH A LOT (30D: Dear). "I PURITANI" was just a bunch of letters to me, so I can't blame HOT DOG there, but ... oh man. Nothing more lethal than having a wrong answer of which you are certain. Wasn't until I really tried plugging "IDO" into any possible answer (I knew it was in there somewhere) that my brain went "Hey, buster. DOG has "DO" in it ... any chance that's important?"... &%^ING CHIL(I DO)G!!! And SA(ID O)K TO!?! Limp to finish line from there, with "U" in (unheard of) TRUSS (37A: Wooden or metal framework) and (extremely unheard of) "I PURITANI" being the last letter in the grid.

Remaining "IDO" answers:
  • 19A: Davy Jones or any other Monkee — TV (IDO)L
  • 3D: Teen drivers? — LIB(IDO)S
  • 20D: Spanish man's name that means "peaceful" — PLAC(IDO)
  • 26D: Bribed — PA(IDO)FF
  • 27D: George Sand title heroine — IS(IDO)RA
  • 28D: Some snowmobiles — SK(IDO)OS
  • 35D: Punctilious type, slangily — (I-DO)TTER
  • 59A: Good place for a smoke — HUM(IDO)R
  • 49D: Birthstone for most Leos — PER(IDO)T
  • 25A: Inhabitants of central African rain forests (OKAPIS) — lucked out; was cluing OKAPI recently and so know more than I ought to about them.
  • 1D: Final section of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (PART V) — figured this would be something strange or possibly literally in Greek. No. Just PART V.
  • 2D: Brand with the slogan "All Day Strong" (ALEVE) — wanted CERTS. Really.

["When you wanna smooch, does she ... call the pooch?" !?!?!?!?!]

  • 4D: Geithner's predecessor at Treasury (PAULSON) — didn't know it off the bat, but it's a very familiar name, so it came from crosses quickly.
  • 5D: "Bird" with a flexible nose (SST) — as SST clues go, that's pretty good.
  • 10D: Mythological thread-cutter (ATROPOS) — One of the Fates. I wanted Ariadne, but she didn't cut thread—she just gave Theseus thread so he could find his way back out of the Labyrinth.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Jazz great Evans / THU 6-24-10 / More colorful sloganeer / Clara Harriet 1960s TV / Cawdor title / Mortgage giant founded 1938

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Constructor: John Farmer

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: TAKE A STEEP NOSE DIVE (61A: Plummet ... or what this puzzle's theme answers do?) — this answer and two others start out Across, head Down, and then resume their Acrossness. Down and second Across parts are unnumbered in print version; in e-versions, they are numbered, but have "-" for their clues ... *and* the part that "dives" spells out NOSE. Ta da!

Word of the Day: THOR (31D: Onetime part of the U.S. arsenal) —

Thor was the first operational ballistic missile in the arsenal of the United States, operated by the US Air Force. Thor was 65 feet (20 m) in height and 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter. Named after the Norse god of Thunder, it was deployed in the UK between 1959 and September 1963 as an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) with thermonuclear warheads. It was later augmented in the U.S. IRBM arsenal by the Jupiter. // A large family of space launch vehicles—the Delta rockets—were derived from the Thor design. A modified version is still in use today as the first stage of the Delta II.

• • •
This would have been a whole lot better if a. the theme answers hadn't leveled out ("Plummet" only tells part of the story), and b. the phrases involved were tight—far tighter than these. Are the phrases supposed to be commentary on the solving experience? If so, that's kind of clever. I have to DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM (with this puzzle) because at first IT MAKES NO SENSE TO ME. OK, I like it better now. [Addendum—the letters NOSE make up the part that "dives" — how I didn't see this last night is beyond me.] The top half was hardest, probably because I just gawked at 1A for so long—wanted DIG IN, but had DIA- in place. Ugh. Also, those long Acrosses right underneath did Not come easy. Moses' wife was ETHIOPIAN (14A: Like Moses' wife, per Numbers 12:1)? I tried ETRUSCAN at one point (didn't fit, and is absurd). The train robbers I've seen on film generally took valuable stuff, not MAIL SACKS (though, of course, there could be valuable things in the mail, theoretically) (17A: Loot in an old train robbery). Seemed too pedestrian to be right. Didn't think PATTIE had that many letters (15D: Peppermint ___) (clue wanted the candy, not the character). Couldn't get ON SPEC from 8D: Without assignment for the life of me. FT DODGE means nothing to me (9D: Old Army base on the Santa Fe Trail, briefly). Even 6A: Squad leader, e.g.: Abbr. (NCO) wasn't helping me. I wanted SGT. So there was the problem of not knowing the gimmick and the added problem of not getting a ton of help from crosses. At some point I noticed the pattern of the "-" clues (which, in print, are just unnumbered Acrosses and Downs), and finally the DIAGNOSE answer went in. Rest of the puzzle wasn't nearly as tough, but initial struggle still made this feel Fridayish.

Theme answers:
  • 1A: Find out what's wrong (DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM)
  • 30A: "Huh?" ("IT MAKES NO SENSE TO ME")
Clues are tough all around. First thing into the grid ... well, the first was DEMME (1D: "Philadelphia" director Jonathan), but the next was probably THANE (16A: Cawdor title), which I know from teaching Shakespeare. Sadly, though I've taught DANTE even more than I've taught Shakespeare, I had No Clue about the quote used to clue him (18A: "A great flame follows a little spark" writer). Another part of my woes in the northern climes of this grid. 4D: Jazz great Evans (GIL) had me wondering if BILL spelled his name with one "L." REV didn't make any sense to me even after I solved it (44D: Short circuit?). I'm guessing that REV is supposed to be short for "Revolution." No idea that Helen Keller even went to Japan, let alone that she brought back a dog (54D: Dog breed Helen Keller introduced to the U.S. in 1937=> AKITA). Never heard the slogan in question at 59D: "More colorful" sloganeer (NBC TV), though with the peacock logo, it makes sense. ICBM was cake (30D: Part of the U.S. arsenal), but THOR ... was not.

  • 19A: Monogram of 1964's Nobel Peace laureate (MLK) — Not a gimme. I'd forgotten he won this. Figuring it out helped me get "A HIKE!" (3D: "Take ___!")
  • 43A: Jug handle, in archaeology (ANSA) — textbook crosswordese. The only problem it gives me nowadays is that I have to stop and think "is ANSA the jug handle or the Faulkner character?" (the latter is ANSE).
  • 66D: Robert Langdon's field in "The Da Vinci Code" (SEMIOTICS) — Like "Lost," the whole "DVC" phenomenon is something I've deliberately completely avoided. "Ooh, if you like puzzles and mysteries, you'll like ..." Uh, no. No I won't. I promise you.
  • 6D: Actor in the Best Picture winners of 1975, 1983 and 2006 (NICHOLSON) — wanted this but refused to put it in because I believed there was a Nicholson Best Picture date missing: 1997. Turns out "Titanic" won that year, not "As Good As It Gets" (for which both NICHOLSON and co-star Helen Hunt won Oscars).

  • 70A: Milan-based fashion label (PRADA) — helped me decide if LASAGNA was spelled with a final "E" or final "A" (46D: "Mangia!" dish).
  • 43D: Clara and Harriet, in 1960s TV (AUNTS) — cute but tough. I think the former is from "Bewitched." I don't know who AUNT Harriet is (the "Batman" TV series!? Wow).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


THE THURSDAY 6/24/10 Puzzle

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

THE THURSDAY 6/24/10 Puzzle

More AcrossLite / applet fail...

I got a heads-up from the NYT: "Thursday June 24 ... In the print version, some squares that would seem to require numbers do not have them. In Across Lite, the numbers appear in the squares but the clue is simply a hyphen. (Across Lite can’t handle a completely blank clue.) This makes the clue numbering different in the print vs. electronic versions. The solving experience is barely affected (it’s somewhat more elegant in print) but discussions of clues in the blog might confuse readers who don’t know that the numbers differ."

So expect my numbering of clues to be off for you paper solvers tomorrow. Audible sigh.



FIctional airline on Lost / WED 6-23-10 / Time-consuming task for musketeer / Armpit anatomically / Morlocks victims H.G. Wells story

Constructor: Alex Boisvert

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SIGN ON THE / DOTTED LINE (50A: With 60-Across, ink a contract ... or a feature of 17-, 25- and 37-Across) — SIGNs of the Zodiac appear on DOTTED LINEs in three theme answers

Puzzle Note: In the print version of today's puzzle, some of the horizontal rules of the grid are not solid all the way across. They appear broken, for reasons relating to the puzzle's theme. Specifically, the horizontal rules under the following squares are not solid:

  • Row #3 -- under squares 5-7
  • Row #5 -- under squares 9-13
  • Row #8 -- under squares 6-10
Word of the Day: BIMINI (47D: Bahamas getaway) —
Bimini (pronounced /ˈbɪmɨni/) is the westernmost district of the Bahamas composed of a chain of islands located about 53 miles (81 km) due east of Miami, Florida. Bimini is the closest point in the Bahamas to the mainland United States and approximately 137 miles (209 km) west-northwest of Nassau. (wikipedia)
• • •

Even with my complete (initial) bafflement at the 1A: "Still mooing" clue (RARE), and my moment to say an exasperated "*&%$ you" to the puzzle for asking me to know some lame bit of trivia from "Lost" (32A: Fictional airline on "Lost" => OCEANIC), I still put this out of its misery in a very low time. Under my average Tuesday. There's just no resistance today. I guess the weirdness of the grid made it unsuitable in some way for a Tuesday, because this thing screams "Tuesday" otherwise. BIMINI is the oddest thing in it, and that's not that odd. L'CHAIM looks a little odd, but it's straight over the plate, as far as foreign phrases go (18D: Toast at a bar mitzvah). As for the theme — it's a clever idea in theory, but it can't be much more than anemic in execution, since only three signs are embeddable in this way. I mean, just try hiding SAGITTARIUS inside of a phrase. I suppose you could have thrown a Hail Mary and gone for, say, WICCAN CEREMONY or MEXICAN CERAMICS or INCAN CEREAL. I'm kidding; those are silly. LIBRA isn't broken between two words the way the other signs are, which is disappointing, but then again, how are you gonna break LIBRA (without being even sillier than the above "CANCER" examples)? GLIB RASTAFARIAN (hmmm, that is 15 ...).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Tots (LITTLE ONES)
  • 25A: Make fine adjustments to (CALIBRATE)
  • 37A: "On the Waterfront" Oscar winner (EVA-MARIE SAINT)

Clues made things livelier than they might have been today. "Still mooing" really got me, and RELOAD wasn't much easier to pick up straight away (1D: Time-consuming task for a musketeer). I like that STENO is finally getting the "dated" cluing that it deserves (15A: Job made almost obsolete by voice recorders). I don't recognize the tagline from "MAD" magazine, but it's a good one (57A: "Usual gang of idiots" magazine). I learned a little something about PULSARS today (42A: Stars that exhibit the "lighthouse effect"), though while solving, I really saw was "Stars..." and I got the answer from whatever crosses I had. For those, like me, who don't get the clue: "Pulsars are highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation. The radiation can only be observed when the beam of emission is pointing towards the Earth. This is called the lighthouse effect and gives rise to the pulsed nature that gives pulsars their name" (wikipedia).

  • 66A: Substance (MEAT) — I had GIST.
  • 2D: Armpit, anatomically (AXILLA) — first word in the grid! A handy bit of anatomic vocabulary to know — learned it from crosswords. It'll come back on you.
  • 7D: Temporary tattoo dye (HENNA) — I feel like HENNA tattooing was a recent fad, though the practice has ancient roots. Maybe Madonna did it or something...
  • 9D: "Sending out an ___" (much-repeated line in a Police hit) ("S.O.S.") — not sure why the "hit" isn't named ("Message in a Bottle"). Is there a tie-in to "Lost" here too?

  • 27D: Winter fisherman's tool (ICE SAW) — yeah, I thought it was ICE AXE too. Wife exclaimed from next room: "AXE and ICE AXE in the same puzzle!?" My comment: "No comment."
  • 34D: Target for Teddy Roosevelt (TRUST) — He busted them. Nice Teddy tie-in at 22D: Mt. Rushmore neighbor of Teddy (ABE).
  • 37D: Morlocks' victims, in an H.G. Wells story (ELOI) — More MORLOCKS, Less ELOI (no, I mean "less," not "fewer," as I'm referring to the word itself and my desire to see it ... less frequently).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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