Five-time world champion figure skater Carol / MON 2-28-11 / One of four singing brothers of 1950s / Nonmusical Abba / Fashion style setter Wintour

Monday, February 28, 2011

Constructor: Mike Buckley

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: *A*A — four theme answers begin with "xAxA" word (where x is a variable); also, four different xAxA words can be found in the Across answers in each of the four corners

Word of the Day: Carol HEISS (64A: Five-time world champion figure skater Carol) —

Carol Elizabeth Heiss Jenkins (born January 20, 1940 in New York City) is an American figure skater. She is the 1960 Olympic Champion in Ladies Singles, 1956 Olympic silver medalist and five-time World Champion (1956-1960). [...] Following her retirement from figure skating in 1960, Heiss played the female lead in the 1961 film Snow White and the Three Stooges. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am trying to write this while watching — and tweeting non-stop about — the Oscars. Not easy. So this puzzle ... a kicky little number. More Tuesday (or easy Wednesday) for me (time in the high 3s). Very name-heavy, with somewhat toughish cluing throughout (e.g. MALTA clued 28D: Its coat of arms has a cross, but no falcon). There were also at least two answers I've *never* seen before: Cindy HEISS (???) and RATED A (!?!) (5D: First-class). Is that last one a bond thing? I now of nothing that is RATED A (certainly none of the papers I'm grading right now, zing!). Holy crud, Celine Dion is singing Happy Birthday at me. I don't care if it's for The American Cancer Society, it's torture. See this is what happens when I blog with the TV on. Argh. Between the unknown answers and TIES UP for TIE-UPS, I had issues (45D: Gridlocks). I also did a total face-plant while trying to spell ELLLLLIOTTTTT (how many Ls, how many Ts?). Theme density probably had something to do with the somewhat unMondayish fill. But whatever. So it belongs on a different day? So what? It's still good. I do miss RARA, WAWA, and PAPA. Also, NANA seems not to fit that well, as that first "A" is flat, like the vowel sound in "MA'AM," unlike the first "A" in all the other *A*A words.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: "Till next time!" ("TATA FOR NOW!")
  • 26A: "Heavyweight" of 1960s folk/pop (MAMA CASS ELLIOT)
  • 43A: Group in a hit 2002 film with "divine secrets" (YAYA SISTERHOOD)
  • 56A: Liquor-soaked cake (BABA AU RHUM)
  • also, GAGA, DADA, NANA, and HAHA

Catnip is a LURE (39A: What catnip is to a cat)? If I want to LURE my cat anywhere, I just open a can—any can. Catnip = DRUG. I'm not sure I ever knew "ANTZ" was set in Central Park (47A: Animated 1998 film set in Central Park)—maybe I'm confusing it with "A Bug's Life." Why did I think Wintour's first name was EDNA (11D: Fashion style-setter Wintour=>ANNA)? I needed a clue for ELI, and I think I may have found one (25D: Automaker Ransom Eli=>OLDS). Puzzle would have been much tougher if I hadn't had much crossword experience (against my will) with Mr. ED AMES (46D: One of four singing brothers of the 1950s). Crossing HEISS? Yipes. IDED = [Point at 46-Down]. So weird-looking... EBON EBAN! (51D: Nonmusical Abba) The end.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Plant with purple flowers / SUN 2-27-11 / Aircraft control surface / Weekly since 1955 / TV title character who said I'm not Amazon

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: V-2 — theme answers are two-word phrases where both words begin with "V"; further, the grid has two unchecked letters (both "V"), and black squares in the middle of the grid form a double set of "V"s...

Word of the Day: CHIVIED (13A: Annoyed with persistent petty attacks) —


, -vied, or -ied, -vy·ing, or -y·ing, -vies, or -ies.
  1. To vex or harass with petty attacks: political opponents who chivvied the senator.
  2. To maneuver or secure gradually: "had spent two weeks chivvying this division toward combat readiness" (Tom Clancy).
To scurry.

n., pl., -vies, or -ies.
  1. A hunt or chase.
  2. A hunting cry.

[Variant of chevy, a hunt, hunting cry, from Chevy Chase, title of a ballad about a border skirmish, from Cheviot Chase, a large unenclosed hunting tract in the Cheviot Hills.]

• • •

Unusual and mostly delightful Sunday puzzle. Nice change of pace in the grid structure, the unchecked letters, and the mostly vertical theme answers. A couple places in the grid seemed completely nuts to me, especially the NE, where CHIVIED (13A: Annoyed with persistent petty attacks), VINCA VINE (16D: Plant with purple flowers), and "OUT IN L.A." (22A: 1994 Red Hot Chili Peppers album) were entirely unknown to me (glad to see that the Red Hot Chili Peppers album was a rarities + demos album, and not an album of original material ... my '90s pop culture cred took a hit on that one). I can't really believe that much strangeness was allowed to live in one place in the grid, *but*, to the puzzle's credit, the theme came to the rescue and I worked it all out. Nearly spun out at SLIDE ON (40D: Use for skating) and SEVENS (40A: Common rolls)—had GLIDE ON, which caused a momentary freak-out. But I had the good sense to pull the "G," and, again, it all worked out. Had a bit of trouble in the west (mostly because I didn't bother to check the cross-reference in the MCCABE clue (57D: Warren Beatty title role with 56-Down), though also because I don't know my ELEVON (91A: Aircraft control surface) from my VINCA VINE), but it didn't last. Thornier than average, but I like that on a Sunday. Thumbs up.

Theme answers:
  • 4D: The other way around (VICE VERSA)
  • 27A: John McCain and John Kerry (VIETNAM VETS)
  • 16D: Plant with purple flowers (VINCA VINE)
  • 59D: Weekly since 1955, with "The" ("VILLAGE VOICE")
  • 73A: "Wedding Crashers" co-star, 2005 (VINCE VAUGHN)
  • 63D: Vessel seen just below the surface? (VARICOSE VEIN) — nice clue.
  • 107A: Keepers of the flame? (VESTAL VIRGINS) — I work in Vestal. No idea what the virgin situation is there.
Interesting to see HUMVEES at 1-Across [Desert Storm transports], since I walked past a fleet of them at the local armory today while I was walking the dogs to the (snow-covered, completely empty) park. I have never seen anyone coming in or going out of the armory, but I've seen the HUMVEES and other vehicles around town, so ... something's going on. Binghamton's got upstate NY security locked down, America. Just so you know. The park was gorgeous because no one was around and so I could let the dogs go commando (no leashes!) on the little league field. Tried to go to our normal walk in the woods, but there was nowhere to park (lot snowed over, side of the road not plowed), so we went back and frolicked in the neighborhood. Here's me and my dogs, frolicking in our front yard. Well, the dogs are frolicking. I'm mostly just standing there:

Never heard of: HETH (1D: Eighth Hebrew letter) or IRONWOOD (9D: Tree with very hard timber). "IRONWEED," yes. Iron & Wine, yes. IRONWOOD, no. Also, no idea that Jude LAW was ever British P.M. He's had such a varied career (47A: British P.M. after Lloyd George).

There was a "Real World" joke on this past Thursday's episode of "Community," so that show was fresh on on my mind (57A: "The Real World" airer=>MTV). What was not fresh on my mind was the toy company DUNCAN—haven't thought of them in years (since the last time I played with a yo-yo, probably) (85A: Toy company behind yo-yos). I like how things get all Hebraic with HETH and MT. ARARAT (3D: Post-flood locale) and TEL AVIV (37D: Setting for part of 2005's "Munich") and TEACHER clued via rabbi, and then veer wildly in the center of the grid toward the pop cultural with "AVATAR" and then VINCE VAUGHN on top of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, former CO-ANCHORS of "Weekend Update" on SNL. Big fan of both Fey and Poehler: those women now anchor two of the only sitcoms worth watching: the Emmy-winning "30 Rock" and the amazing and highly underrated "Parks & Recreation," respectively.

Lastly, loved the clues on XENA (10D: TV title character who said "I'm not an Amazon") and SARCASM (54D: "Oh, joy!," e.g., typically). And I'm not even being sarcastic. Oh, joy!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Competitive lumberjack / SAT 2-26-11 / Gregor's sister in Metamorphosis / Hydra's neighbor / Group worshiping teocalli / Glamorous high profile pair

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Constructor: Bob Peoples

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BIRLER (49D: Competitive) —

v. birled, birl·ing, birls
To cause (a floating log) to spin rapidly by rotating with the feet.
1. To participate in birling.
2. To spin.
A whirring noise; a hum.

[Blend of birr and whirl.]

birler n.
• • •
PFFT (57D: Indication of a dud).

As you can (maybe) see from my grid, I finished with an error. I'll eat my hat, scarf, *and* mittens if I'm the only one who made the error — BUD / DIRLER for BUB / BIRLER. Look, there are lots of things I don't know, and I certainly finish puzzles with errors from time to time, so please understand that it really isn't sour grapes that makes me say that that crossing is horrible. Fatal, even. You have to figure the percentage of the population that's going to know that BIRLER is a thing. I put that percentage at pretty small. There's no way even to infer BIRLER, to pick it over DIRLER (the way I *totally* inferred the godawful ORNIS from the word "ornithological"—52A: Avifauna). Since the cross makes *much* more sense as BUD, not BUB (who says that?) (48A: Pal), this means folks who don't know BIRLER will naturally, understandably, put in the "D." And most will go on with their days having no idea it's wrong. The clue on BUB should not have had BUD as a possible (here, more probable) answer, but I'm not sure how you do that, frankly. This really is a construction failure of the highest order. Nevermind that you ran BIRLER through ORNIS (!?) and alongside the dreaded, never-thought-I'd-see-its-ugly-ass-again SODDY (53D: Like some outfields). The rest of the grid is a toughish Saturday with some good parts and some less-than-good parts, but the middle south? Should've sent the constructor back to the drawing board.

Not a fan of gaining your difficulty through obscurity instead of tough, clever, misdirective cluing. GRETE (29A: Gregor's sister in "The Metamorphosis"), AMTRAC (42A: Amphibious W.W. II vehicle), and non-KEN Burns were all big "???"s for me. Crossing old, bygone, largely forgotten actors in the SW? Not cool. I know ED WYNN only from crosswords (64A: "The Diary of Anne Frank" Oscar nominee) and HENREID? (38D: He played Laszlo in "Casablanca") ... I just saw that damn movie and couldn't remember his name. Wasn't til I was done that I figured out what RENOS stood for (RENOvationS) (47A: Decorating do-overs, for short). Thankfully, crosswords taught me ALEN (56D: Chrysler Building architect William Van ___). Too many odd names in one small place (leaving aside MRS. MALAPROP (55A: "She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile" speaker), who is pretty famous and just about the loveliest thing in the grid). NW and SE are charming, but the rest was a bit of a chore, except the BUB / BIRLER / ORNIS part, about which, no more.

I had two absolutely deadly mistakes—ELATION for ELYSIUM early on (8D: Perfectly happy state), and FURNACE for RAT RACE toward the end (44D: Exhausting thing to run). Oh, wait, I forgot one: COMPANY for NOT MANY (40D: Two, say).

Important toe-holds USAF in the NW (5D: Ace's setting: Abbr.), ZONE in the NE, ANAT. in the SW, and LAH in the SE (though that last one did very little for me, frankly). The saddest thing about the entire puzzle, for me, was how I was saved from near death by ... MR. MISTER (32A: Band with the 1985 #1 hit "Broken Wings"), a band I once almost got beat up for mocking (true story—that guy *really* liked MR. MISTER...). These sensitive '80s rockers floated down and, like a guardian angel or mystical spirit guide, completely cracked open the upper part of the grid for me. Without MR. MISTER (whispering "Take / These broken wings / And learn to fly again / Learn to live so free..."), I might still be working with ELATION. So, despite finding their music cloying and semi-repulsive, I offer my thanks.

Sticking with '80s pop, here's the RIC (58A: Documentarian Burns) I wish I'd gotten:

Started out with IT COUPLE (1A: Glamorous, high-profile pair)—how lucky was that?—and then quickly ran into my ELATION problem. ZONE helped me get AZTECS (9A: Group worshiping at a teocalli), which made NE not so tough—though it took me many, many crosses to come up with SPENSER (14D: One-named fictional detective), which I always assumed was a last name, not an ENYA-type single name. Guessed ELIS at 25A: Big Red rivals out of crossword reflex. I assume Big Red is Cornell. Crossword reflexes helped again in the SE, where my sense that [Longtime classical music label] must be a "Saturday" way of getting at the ultra-common ERATO helped me get past FURNACE and into RAT RACE.

Lastly, [Inveterate brown-bagger] is perhaps my favorite clue ever for SOT.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


High priest in Aida / FRI 2-25-11 / 1988 animated action film set in 2019 Tokyo / Winner famous 1938 rematch / 16th-century assembly

Friday, February 25, 2011

Constructor: Henry Hook

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: "AKIRA" (37A: 1988 animated action film set in 2019 Tokyo) —

AKIRA (アキラ?) is a 1988 Japanese animated epic action film. It was written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who based it on his manga of the same name. The film is set in a futuristic and post-war city, Neo-Tokyo, in 2019. The film's plot focuses on Shotaro Kaneda, a biker gang member, as he tries to stop Tetsuo Shima from releasing Akira. While most of the character designs and basic settings were adapted from the original 2182-page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the manga. The film became a hugely popular cult film and is widely considered to be a landmark in Japanese animation and film. (wikipedia)

• • •

Not sure how a puzzle with a word count this low (66) could be so lacking in longish, interesting fill. Big problem for me was finding the jokiness of the THE DIET OF WORMS (19A: 16th-century assembly) and IT'S FOR THE BIRDS (44A: Detractors' comment concering 19-Across?) pairing really corny. There's just not much else to admire here. I enjoyed the challenge — clues were devilishly clever at times — but the vast majority of answers are either ordinary or (less often) unpleasantly odd. The west felt particularly ugly to me, mostly because of the pile-up of regional answers. CANARSIE is going to be nuts to a non-New Yorker (32A: Brooklyn neighborhood), just as LAVAL (LA VAL?) will be to a non-Montrealer (23D: Montreal suburb), and AVILA ... well, that one I just inferred from knowing that there is a Saint Teresa of AVILA (34A: Kansas City university). But still, a Kansas City university? Does anyone outside K.C. know that? Elsewhere ... RAMFIS (7D: High priest in "Aida") is about the stupidest-looking name I've ever seen. I could Not believe it was right. I was delighted to see "AKIRA," which I love (in both its manga and anime forms), but I know most of you don't know it. No, you don't. I'm glad it's here, but it probably made the east a little hard for some folks.

I look at the rest of this grid and simply don't have much to say. Lucked out by knowing "AKIRA," ANITA (24D: Novelist Brookner), and IEOH straight off (though I spelled that last one IAOH for some reason) (44D: Architect ___ Ming Pei). Also saw right through the clue at 36D: Bench, for example (CATCHER), which ended up being a Big help in that nightmarish western region (got me PLATE, which helped me get both SCAMP and VALET ... ended up educatedly guessing that "A" at LAVAL / CANARSIE). Not many initial missteps, though did want ARID instead of SERE, and IDOL instead of ICON, and, oddly, TALC for CALM (confused my Beaufort scale with my Mohs scale). This puzzle was a worthy opponent, but not a particularly pretty one.

  • 1A: Spice mix used in Indian cuisine (MASALA) — I felt certain that I had whatever this answer was in my cupboard, and I literally sounded out the first part just to get some letters in the grid. I think the spice I was thinking of was GARAM MASALA. I just plunked the M and A down and waited to see what would happen...
  • 21A: Winner of a famous 1938 rematch (LOUIS) — as in Joe. This took me way too long. I had LOU-S before the answer ever dawned on me. Stupid RAMFIS. Rematch was against Max Schmeling.
  • 5D: 1970s pinup name (LONI) — as in Anderson. I don't remember her as a pinup, but I guess she was ... Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs are the pinups I remember best from that era.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


God of south wind / THU 2-24-11 / Fashion rule for liberated / Muscovite prince moneybag / End of 1978 new-wave album title

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Constructor: Gary Cee

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: NO UNDERWEAR (35A: Fashion rule for the liberated ... or one of four arrangements found literally in this puzzle) — letters "NO" are found underneath the letters "WEAR" four times in the grid

Word of the Day: GIING (64A: Cleaning, as if for military inspection) —

tr.v. Slang, GI'd, GI'ing, GI's.
To clean (barracks, for example) thoroughly for or as if for an inspection.
• • •

People will probably like this one for its sassy theme — which is undeniably clever. I didn't care for the construction of the grid overall, though, which is disappointing, because I really want to like this puzzle. I just didn't think the fill was, in general, up to the quality of the theme. I want to love WE ARE DEVO (20A: End of a 1978 new-wave album title), but the constructor in me balks at the idea of the "end of a ... title" (esp. one of that length) being a suitable stand-alone answer in the grid. The NE felt a little icky — ARIANA (11D: Afghanistan's national airline) is one of those answers constructors know and (speaking for myself) try hard not to have to use because it's a relatively obscure proper noun and a massive grid crutch, giving you lots of handy letters in a handy arrangement. PHENOL crossing wasn't lovely either (24A: Embalming chemical).

But let's write my reaction in that NE corner off to personal prejudice. Fine. My dislike for the SW corner is going to be harder to write off. That is one ugly mixture, from the insanely improbable-looking GIING (dear lord) to the random pope+Roman numeral *crossing a prince+Roman numeral* (!!!) (44D: 10th-century pope interred at St. Peter's Basilica + 58A: Muscovite prince known as "Moneybag") to the apostrophized WEARIN' (50A: "The ___ o' the Green" (old Irish ballad)) to the bizarreness of an alleged god named NOTUS (54A: God of the south wind) . . . yikes. ROSSSEA (46A: Body of water named for an English explorer) is like ARIANA to me — all I see is "exotic crutch." It's hard not to love a puzzle with a GOLD PIANO (55A: Elvis instrument now in the Country Music Hall of Fame) and NO UNDERWEAR, but I didn't love this one. Again, smart theme, but subpar fill.

Side note: didn't like the clue on the revealer, NO UNDERWEAR. Specifically, I didn't like "rule." It's a state of being, not a "rule." Do people really make the non-wearing of underwear a "rule?" What a weird issue to be a hardliner about. Also, did not like that the "WEAR" in "WEARIN'" is from the same semantic universe as the "WEAR" in UNDERWEAR (whereas the other "WEAR" strings have nothing to do with clothing or the lack thereof).

  • 1A: Zapper's casualty (GNAT) — me, immediately: "TVAD"
  • 43A: Lötschberg Tunnel locale (ALP) — just ... an ALP. One of them, over there, somewhere.
  • 55D: Sound heard at the end of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (GONG) — I do not remember this, and yet I got it off the first "G"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Baseballer turned spy Berg / WED 2-23-11 / 1945 flag-raising site / * button Facebook icon / 1974 title role Dustin Hoffman / Gonzalez affair 2000

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: OUTSIDE CHANCE (54A: Remote possibility ... or a hint to 20-, 29- and 44-Across) — word CHANCE can be spelled by combining the first and last sets of letters in each theme answer

Word of the Day: Yawl (58A: Yawl's pair=>MASTS) —

A yawl (from Dutch Jol) is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an additional mast (mizzenmast or mizzen mast) located well aft of the main mast, often right on the transom, specifically, aft of the rudderpost. (A vessel with the mizzenmast located forward of the rudderpost is called a ketch. See further discussion below.) A mizzen sail (smaller than the mainsail) is hoisted on the mizzen mast. (wikipedia)
• • •

Fell asleep very early last night, so only getting to the puzzle now (7:13am). Still, my streak of having a post up every day by 9am (4+ years, I think) continues unabated...

This puzzle is just fine, but felt more like a Tuesday (both in terms of concept and difficulty). I like puzzles that take a familiar phrase and then use it as a play on words to develop a puzzle theme. The reimagined phrase often leads to some of the most interesting and inventive puzzles / answers. I've seen this type many times before (the small word on the "outside" of long theme answers), and while CHURCH OF FRANCE (44A: Group overseeing Notre Dame Cathedral) does nothing for me, the other theme answers are interesting. Clue on CHAINLINK FENCE is well phrased (29A: Barrier with a diamond pattern)—accurate without being obvious. Got "CHANTILLY LACE" instantly (20A: Big Bopper hit), despite its being well out of my pop culture sweet spot ... or maybe that's inaccurate. I always think of my pop culture sweet spot as 1976-91, but during a couple of those years (late high school), I listened to nothing but oldies, Motown, and classic rock (refusing to listen (much) to contemporary pop radio was as "rebellious" as I would ever be as a teen). Plus, I remember my dad occasionally doing a ridiculous imitation of the "Hello Baaaaaby" intro to this song.

[What is she Saying to him on the other end of that line!?]

Not much to slow me down today. Took me a few crosses to remember the late TONY SNOW (8D: Press secretary under George W. Bush). Full name! Very nice. Took me even longer (strangely) to get CANDLE (47D: Thing to snuff), as I discarded WICK as a possibility and moved on to snuff-as-tobacco. "I'M OFF" required some crosses (31D: "Bye for now!"), but virtually everything else fell right into place. Having dogs and a cat may have helped a little with both LEASH LAW (40D: Ordinance aimed at pet owners) and CAT SIT (45D: Watch a kitty) (the former a necessary nuisance, the latter an act performed by many different friends over the years). My favorite clue, by virtue of its being fresh and contemporary, is the one for LIKE (22D: __ button (Facebook icon)).

  • 15A: 1945 flag-raising site, briefly (IWO) — easy enough. I've never heard it shortened to just IWO, but then I wasn't alive when people would have been discussing it a lot more often than they do today. See also ETO.
  • 34A: Baseballer turned spy Berg (MOE) — yeah, he probably should have been my "Word of the Day"; if I've heard of him, it was in a crossword puzzle, and I promptly forgot him. Here's a tidbit from wikipedia:
A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, Berg spoke several languages and regularly read 10 newspapers a day. His reputation was fueled by his successful appearances as a contestant on the radio quiz show Information, Please! in which he answered questions about the derivation of words and names from Greek and Latin, historical events in Europe and the Far East, and ongoing international conferences.
  • 53D: 1974 title role for Dustin Hoffman (LENNY) — in which he played Comedian LENNY Bruce. Never seen it. For future reference — perhaps — LENNY is also the constant companion of CARL on "The Simpsons"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Snowy region of Austria / TUE 2-22-11 / 1922 novel with Dublin backdrop / Neighbor of Irkutsk on Risk board / Perez with nasally voice

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MAGAZINES (61A: What the starts of the answers to the eight starred clues are) — theme answers are all two-word phrases where the first word is also the title of a familiar magazine...

Word of the Day: TYROL (25D: Snowy region of Austria) —

Tyrol (German: Tirol) is a state or Bundesland, located in the west of Austria. It comprises the Austrian part of the historical region of Tyrol. [...] The capital is Innsbruck. The city is known for its university, especially in medicine. Tyrol is popular for its famous ski resorts, which include Kitzbühel, Ischgl and St. Anton. Other larger towns are Kufstein, Schwaz, Reutte and Landeck. (wikipedia)
• • •

I am virtually certain that I have seen this theme before—probably not with this kind of theme density (impressive), but still: seen it. So themewise, it's a bit blah for me, but gridwise, on the whole, it's pretty smooth and definitely more interesting than your average Tuesday, so thumbs up on that account. I hit a few snags here and there—thinking KARO (32A: Syrup brand) was spelled CARO, thinking the cameos were OPAL instead of OVAL (67A: Like many lockets) ... actually, I think that's it. The rest of it went off without a hitch, pretty much. The answer it took me longest to come up with was, strangely, STIR (29D: Hubbub). Brain just wasn't making the connection. Otherwise, right over the plate. Tuesdays are often hit-or-miss, and this one mostly hit. So hurray. Actually, the more I look over the grid, the more I'm impressed that a puzzle with *this* level of theme density has fill *this* smooth. I love a grid that shows signs of the constructor's sincere and thoughtful effort to make every corner as full as possible of real, honest-to-god, in-the-language words and phrases. When the worst thing I can say about the fill is "I didn't care for the plural AGUAS" (19A: Spanish rains) and "Maybe EDO and maybe ETO but please not EDO *and* ETO" ... well, then, the grid is pretty sleek.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *Reese Witherspoon's role in "Legally Blonde" (ELLE WOODS)
  • 21A: *Highest-grossing film of 1977 ("STAR WARS")
  • 23A: *Lakeside vacation rental (JETSKI)
  • 33A: *Purchase for a vacation, maybe (TIME SHARE)
  • 40A: *Lose control of a car (SPIN OUT) – OUT is also a magazine...
  • 43A: *Personal esteem (SELF WORTH)
  • 56A: *Emmy-winning AMC series set in the 1960s ("MAD MEN")
  • 57A: *House that drains finances, slangily (MONEY PIT) — coincidence: I just saw Shelley Long tonight in an episode of "Modern Family" that has been on my DVR for a few days ...

Tuesdays are time-crunches for me, so—straight to bullets.

  • 14A: "___ et mon droit" (British monarch's motto) ("DIEU") — you'd think by now they'd have dropped the French stuff
  • 26A: Browning who directed "Dracula," 1931 (TOD) — one of those weird three-letter names like DIK Browne and BIL Keane.

  • 28A: 1922 novel with a Dublin backdrop ("ULYSSES") — Irish literature: Not my strong suit. Still, this one was easy to suss out.
  • 47A: Neighbor of Irkutsk on a Risk board (SIBERIA) — weird how much puzzle action the game of "Risk" gets. I've never played the game.
  • 50A: "Touching" Olympic event (EPEE) — two-man luge involves some "touching," it looks like ...
  • 71A: Sign near a stairway (EXIT) — my mind does not associate these two things (EXIT sign and stairway). At all.
  • 37A: Perez with a nasally voice (ROSIE) — as with HOODIE (5D: Top with a top), I had some hesitation about how to spell the last syllable (-EY, maybe?).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Feature of many Judd Apatow films / MON 2-21-11 / 1971 Gay Talese title derived Ten Commandments / 1950s-60s TV studio / Flavorful citrus parts

Monday, February 21, 2011

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: NWES (64A: Compass points (seen spelled out in 20-, 26-, 43- and 53-Across))— EAST, WEST, SOUTH, and NORTH, respectively, are found embedded in four theme answers

Word of the Day: PHINEAS T. BARNUM (20A: He's famous for the words "There's a sucker born every minute") —

Phineas Taylor Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, businessman, and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not care for this one at all. How did I dislike it: let me count the ways:
  1. NSEW is a wreck of a revealer, a nonsense letter combo that has no business posing as legitimate fill; further,
  2. The directions don't even appear in that order in the grid! I mean maybe, Maybe if NSEW represented the order of appearance of the directions, I would tolerate it. But as you can see, the directions appear not in the order NORTH SOUTH EAST WEST, but EAST, WEST, SOUTH, NORTH; further,
  3. Only one theme answer has the ideal structure for a theme of this nature, where the embedded word touches every element of the theme answer—GROSS-OUT HUMOR works, whereas the others leave words hung out in mid-air (BARNUM, UNITED, and FATHER don't have any part of the directions inside them)
  4. No one calls him PHINEAS T. BARNUM. He's P.T. BARNUM, or, I suppose, PHINEAS TAYLOR BARNUM. To write out the P. but not the T. feels arbitrary and preposterous.
Non-themewise, the fill is dull and tired. Maybe if I hadn't spent the better part of today trying to fill an easy, Monday-type grid with perfectly smooth fill, I wouldn't have been so annoyed by the fill today, but in an easy Monday puzzle, most of the following should be gone (not all—most): ADESTE, ILS, DIDST (ugh), BLEST (2x ugh), IMNO, CZAR, IAMA, ODER, ORIEL, ATARIS (plural), ERS, NAE, DTS, ORO, ETS. No one of those is very terrible, but it's a lot of unlovely and tired stuff for an easy puzzle. Strangely, this is a 74-worder (low for a Mon.), but it has a boatload of black squares (40), so it looks all chopped up and more like a 78-worder, and certainly. The higher the word count, the easier a puzzle grid is to fill smoothly. I'd have worked harder to fill this more cleanly. I guess with all the black squares, you couldn't really drop the word count on this one any more, though. Theme answers are of an "inconvenient" length (12+), which necessitated or at least encouraged the insertion of those chunks of black that wrap around and hug one end of each theme answer. Whatever—end result is a mess. And conceptually, as I say, I didn't think the mess was nearly worth it. I did like HEY, MAN! (46D: "Yo!"), BUS FARE (42D: Money for a trip across town, say), and especially UNDULANT (11D: Like a wave).

Wife thinks it should have been CAB FARE and not BUS FARE, and my friend Donna doesn't like [Baby's headgear] as a clue for BONNET. "It's disturbing imagery. When I think of "headgear," I think of things that support the head or protect the head or adjust the teeth ... or things for people who fall a lot. Babies just don't do that." Her alternative clue: [Something nobody wears except Laura Ingalls Wilder].

Theme answers:
  • 20A: He's famous for the words "There's a sucker born every minute" (PHINEAS T. BARNUM)
  • 26A: Words of solidarity (UNITED WE STAND)
  • 43A: Feature of many a Judd Apatow films (GROSS-OUT HUMOR)
  • 53A: 1971 Gay Talese title derived from one of the Ten Commandmenets ("HONOR THY FATHER")

I think GROSS-OUT HUMOR is going to give people mild trouble today—it's not something that leaps to mind when I think of Apatow's movies, though it's perfectly accurate. Also, perhaps people aren't that familiar with the Talese title. I'm sure there are some who didn't know P.T. Barnum's first name was PHINEAS. Hence my rating it on the tough side of average for a Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Jails British slang / SUN 2-20-11 / Astrologer to rich famous / Band 1998 song One Week / Three-stringed instruments / Spartan walkway

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Wunderbar!" — Each rectangular "bar" formed by three contiguous black squares represents the letter string "BAR" and thus forms part of the answer adjacent to and in line with it, e.g. [three black squares]ELY = [BAR]ELY

Word of the Day: QUODs (39D: Jails, in British slang) —

noun, dated

Prison; often in phr. in quod, in prison. (1700 —) .
Listener Now, one of this chap's maternal uncles...has got to pay a 50 quid debt or go to quod (1968). verb trans.

To put in prison. (1812 — 1930).

[Of unknown origin.] (
• • •

A lovely, clever, original puzzle. Unusual theme, interesting execution — just cool all around. Even outside the theme material, the puzzle was exciting — several big, open spaces filled (mostly) beautifully, esp. in the N and NE (OCTOMOM SASHIMI is on the menu in hell, I believe) (21A: Noted parent in tabloids + 25A: Food often dipped in soy sauce). MAKE HAY, DOG HANDLER, OH DEAR ME, and BALALAIKAS (100A: Three-stringed instruments) all really liven up the joint, as does SADISTIC (which is how some might describe the highly ambiguous clue, 12D: Really mean). Once I picked up the theme, I found the rest of the theme answers very easy to get (spot me three consecutive letters to any answer, and I'm pretty confident I'll take it down fast). But the non-theme stuff was varied and tricky enough to keep the puzzle right at a typical Sunday difficulty level for me. I picked up the theme fairly early on with ***ENAKED LADIES and had no trouble with any of the theme answers that followed. There are some slightly rough patches—the center, perhaps because of the theme density in that region, has some unlovely stuff like NGOR and QUODS and EBEN and GOL, but it was all short and gettable (though QUODS / QTY gave me a bit of a fright). Not a huge fan of RESOLDER and (esp.) ISOLATORS, but these are minor infelicities in an otherwise delightful grid. Grade: A.

Theme answers:
  • 26A: Band whose 1998 song "One Week" was #1 for one week (***ENAKED LADIES) — To understand how I feel about the ***ENAKED LADIES, please watch this highly informative video from a recent episode of "Community" (Jeff Winger says it all):

  • 46A: Pear variety (***TLETT)
  • 48A: Milky Way, for one (CHOCOLATE ***)
  • 66A: Onetime head of the Medellin drug cartel (PABLO ESCO***)
  • 69A: Mattel announced their breakup in 2004 (***BIE AND KEN)
  • 84A: Classic western slugfest (***ROOM BRAWL)
  • 87A: It's just below a B (SPACE***)
  • 109A: Plan on ordering a drink, say (BELLY UP TO THE ***)
  • 27D: Sharply reprimanded (***KED AT)
  • 28D: Just (***ELY)
  • 99D: Cravat holder (TIE ***)
  • 88D: Lounge in a many a hotel (PIANO ***) — a few point off here for essentially replicating the "BAR" meaning from 109-Across
I know of Fibber McGee and Molly (20A: Hometown of old radio's Fibber McGee and Molly=>PEORIA) only from the sitcom "Newsradio," where Andy Dick's character gets a set of Fibber McGee and Molly audio tapes as a gift from his boss, while the rest of the staff gets new sports cars. I can't embed the clip, so I'll just embed a different clip from that show featuring the late, more-than-great Phil Hartman:

I have no idea how I know Sidney OMARR (30A: Astrologer to the rich and famous)—possibly because I own some old paperback by him. "My Bed Has Eyes" ... is that right? No, here it is: "My Bed Has Echoes." Even better. Talk about obscure (the book, not the astrologer himself). I have a BETTIE Page mug on my desk, right here (40A: 1950s pinup queen ___ Page). If you put a hot beverage in it, her bikini top disappears. In huge letters on the bottom of the mug it reads: "NOT MICROWAVE OR DISHWASHER SAFE," so I don't drink out of it. It's more a paperweight / decorative item. Yesterday, people wanted STOA instead of ODEA. Now, here's STOA (42A: Spartan walkway). Yesterday, people wanted OMNI instead of EVER. Today, here's OMNI (49D: Present opener?). Weird. Haven't seen Tea LEONI in a long time (in crosswords or otherwise) (80A: Sandler's "Spanglish" co-star). I thought the "Simpsons" had invented Dolores DEL RIO (114A: Actress Dolores of the silent era) as a fictional costar of Troy McClure (voiced by the aforementioned more-than-great Phil Hartman) who appeared in such films as "Calling All Quakers" and "Preacher With a Shovel." But that was Dolores Montenegro, it turns out. Took me a while to fully read the second half of the clue at 18D: Civil war locale beginning in 1991, so SOMALIA stayed hidden for a bit as my mind scoured mid-19th-century America. Speaking of, apparently "Fourscore" is one word. I did not know that, which caused me to wonder why the answer to 32D: Fifth word of the Gettysburg Address (AGO) wasn't YEARS. Of course I also tried to solve 83D: Part of the next-to-last line of the Lord's Prayer (DELIVER US) by reciting what turned out to be not the Lord's Prayer but whatever you call the prayer that starts "Now I lay me down to sleep..."

  • 6D: "Star Wars" guru (YODA) — I have a wee YODA figurine on the shelf in my bedroom. I think I found it in the gutter one day. Or else I got it for nothing at some garage sale.
  • 14D: Pioneer in quadraphonic records (RCA) — got an angry email from someone who insisted the correct answer was CBS. Refrained from yelling at said someone for talking about the puzzle before I'd even solved it. (Please don't write me about the Sunday puzzle until after 7pm Saturday evening, thanks).
  • 100D: Recurring Matt Damon title role (BOURNE) — not RIPLEY. He should do another RIPLEY, though. I'd like that. Malkovich did a great RIPLEY in "Ripley's Game," btw.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Santa drawer / SAT 2-19-11 / Controversial color enhancer / Classic novel with biblical parallels / Picasso painting sleeping mistress

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Constructor: Tim Croce

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Emma SAMMS (48D: "The Colbys" co-star) —

Emma Samms (born Emma E. W. Samuelson; 28 August 1960) is a British television actress best known for her role as Holly Sutton on the American daytime soap opera General Hospital and for replacing Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon Carrington Colby on the primetime soap opera Dynasty. (wikipedia)

• • •

This was good, but had way too much short stuff to be very interesting. Tons and tons of 4- and 5-letter answers, more (or so it felt) than your average Monday puzzle. I count 14 answers at 9+ letters and 56 (!) 3-, 4-, and 5-letter answers. No mid-range fill. That's weird. Grid is also weird, with a ton of black squares (again, about as many as one might expect to see on a Monday). Not a lot of fun in going into one of these 4x4 nooks. The one in the SW was the toughest for me, and was not, in the end, very tough. I solved this faster than I did yesterday's, which I did in pretty good time. First thing in the grid was JAZZ (11A: What makes cats happy), and from there proceeded to wipe out most of the grid without much resistance. There were so many blind alleys, I kept expecting to get caught short in one of them (esp. the center), but that just didn't happen. Not a bad experience, but not a memorable one either. I'm thrilled to take a Saturday down in under 8 minutes, but somehow doing so today didn't feel like such a big accomplishment.

All the 4s and 5s gave me ample opportunity to slice into those longer answers, and they all went down without a peep. Up top, after getting EAST OF EDEN (20A: Classic novel with biblical parallels) out of the NE, I dropped ODEA, RDAS, and NAST (9D: Santa drawer) in order, which gave me HAD A BAD DAY (15A: Needed to relax and unwind, say), and the whole NW fell from there. Tried LEMON tart at first, but then a fat gimme just fell in my lap at 24D: "Wannabe" hitmakers (SPICE GIRLS), and LEMON became PECAN (35A: Kind of tart) and center went poof. GO WIRELESS (nice answer) was probably the toughest for me to pick up because I solved it from the back end and it looked like an adjective (ending in -LESS) despite the clue's clearly calling for a verb phrase (43A: Eliminate lines of communication?). From SPICE GIRLS, OMAR (54D: Baseball's Minaya), and MMES, I was able to take out the entire SE in about 30 seconds—the easiest Saturday quadrant I've ever solved, probably. Hardest section for me was that pesky 4x4 bit in the SW. Nothing in clue for N.F.L. UNIFORM to signal abbrev., so N.F.L was hard to see (50A: Wear for some guards), but EXES and FLAX were virtual gimmes, and with the exception of an APSE-for-NAVE hiccup (50D: Mass gathering place), that last section wasn't that hard, in the end.

Got interviewed by local NPR station today for some future segment on crosswords. Interviewer had me solve a puzzle in studio, commenting as I solved — the only puzzle she had handy was the Newsday puzzle, which I normally don't do. But I dove in and really enjoyed it. Turned out it was written by my friend, all-star constructor Doug Peterson. So happy to have a decent puzzle to talk my way through.

  • 19A: "Wielding ___ Sword" (Piers Anthony novel) ("A RED") — I think I read some of his stuff when I was an adolescent. Never heard of this title, but phrase was very easy to pick up from crosses.
  • 31A: Language with 44 consonants (THAI) — this clue may as well have said, simply, [Language], though that is an interesting bit of trivia.
  • 58A: Controversial color enhancer (ALAR) — had SLUR here at first, figuring a SLUR would be controversial and (euphemistically) colorful, language-wise.
  • 11D: "Death in the Desert" writer, 1930 (JAMES AGEE) — got the JAMES easily, then just guessed the AGEE part a bit later. Never heard of this work.
  • 55D: "Le ___," Picasso painting of his sleeping mistress ("RÊVE") — thought it might be "Le DORA" or "Le MAAR," but the masculine "Le" was wrong and anyway the very idea is preposterous. Blew through that corner so fast I never even had to figure it all out. Crosses just took care of it.
  • 28D: Hissy-prone missy (DIVA) — wanted SNIT, but figured that was gender-neutral. Then wanted some kind of cat ... got DIVA from crosses.

[Why God invented Youtube]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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