Chilean novelist Allende / TUE 1-31-12 / Victime of springtime hoax / MP3 player that weighs less than ounce / Newspaper puzzle with anagrams

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Constructor: Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Olla podrida — theme answers are familiar phrases whose last words all mean "mishmash"

Word of the Day: Katherine HEIGL (30D: Katherine of "Knocked Up") —
Katherine Marie Heigl  (... born November 24, 1978) is an American actress and producer. She is possibly best known for her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens on ABC's Grey's Anatomy from 2005 to 2010, for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress – Drama Series in 2007. She has also starred in films such as Knocked Up, Zyzzyx Road, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers, Life As We Know It, New Year's Eve and One for the Money. (wikipedia)
• • •

Weird, I just added Katherine HEIGL to my database, like, a couple days ago.

The theme is hardly brilliant, but it hardly matters. This is what a Tuesday should be: easy, solid, well-filled, with bouncy theme answers and some interesting other answers thrown in for good measure. Fill seems a *tad* on the mundane side of Doug, but that's more the nature of the grid than anything else (lots of short stuff). I know it as simply the JUMBLE, but the "DAILY" part sounds at least familiar. I had LEMONADE and no idea what followed. So there was at least a few surprises and a mild amount of drama, despite the overall easiness. Stuff like YAKIMA, GO UP TO, and GIRLIE make me happy. Nice when your mid-range stuff is so snazzy. Not much else to say today—and Tuesday and Thursday write-ups could be a little brief for the foreseeable future, as I start back up at school tomorrow with a godawful early start time that makes early-morning write-ups impossible. So everything has to be done at night on the very night I need to be getting to sleep earliest. Anyway, this is just to say that if T and Th (or T and R, in my Univ's code) seem a bit thin, there's a reason.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Newspaper puzzle with anagrams (DAILY JUMBLE)
  • 28A: MP3 player that weighs less than an ounce (IPOD SHUFFLE)
  • 47A: Frenzied rush (MAD SCRAMBLE) — I had MAD STRUGGLE ... maybe I thought JUMBLE was RUMBLE and SHUFFLE was SCUFFLE and just invented a new theme in which STRUGGLE would be the logical answer; yes, I like that.
  • 63A: Tart powdered drink preparation (LEMONADE MIX)

Screw-ups: DALE for VALE (DALE works too, right? Yes! "Synonym: VALE." We really should get rid of one of these words); that and MAD STRUGGLE may have been the only real stumbles. Took me too long to get ADJS (5D: Sm., med. and lg., e.g.)—and that clue has far too many "." in it. Never have liked YOS as a plural answer (69A: Informal greetings), though I know I've been tempted to use it on more than one occasion. I wrote an entire puzzle around the answer APRIL FOOL'S! once, so 11D: Victim of a springtime hoax was a nice familiar face. I have read exactly one ISABEL Allende novel—in college (67A: Chilean novelist Allende). It was required. And it wasn't "House of the Spirits." I want to say it was "Of Love and Shadows." Anyway, clearly it didn't leave a lasting impression. She lingers in my mind primarily because her first and last names are very grid-friendly.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Big Apple list / MON 1-30-12 / Ones not entirely gay or straight / Soothing juice / Food giant whose brands include Gerber and Goobers / Wrist elbow connectors

Monday, January 30, 2012

Constructor: Francesco Trogu

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: NEST (66A: Where 38-Across [BIRDS] lay 1-Across [EGGS] ... or a word hidden in 20-, 27-, 44- and 51-Across) — just what it says

Word of the Day: SETH Rogen (9D: Rogen of "Superbad") —
Seth Rogen (pronounced /ˈroʊɡɪn/; born April 15, 1982) is a Canadian stand-up comedian, actor, producer, screenwriter, and voice artist. Rogen began his career doing stand-up comedy during his teen years, winning the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest in 1998. While still living in his native Vancouver, he landed a small part in Freaks and Geeks. Shortly after Rogen moved to Los Angeles for his role, Freaks and Geeks was canceled after one season due to poor ratings. He then got a part on the equally short-lived Undeclared, which also hired him as a staff writer. // After landing a job as a staff writer on the final season of Da Ali G Show, for which Rogen and the other writers received an Emmy nomination, he was guided by film producer Judd Apatow toward a film career. Rogen was cast in a major supporting role and credited as a co-producer in Apatow's directorial debut, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. After Rogen received critical praise for that performance, Universal Pictures agreed to cast him as the lead in Apatow's directorial feature films Knocked Up and Funny People. Rogen and his comedy partner Evan Goldberg co-wrote the films Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Green Hornet. Rogen has done voice work for the films Horton Hears a Who!, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Paul. He became engaged to fellow screenwriter Lauren Miller, with whom he married in October 2011. (wikipedia)
• • •

Here's the thing about "hidden" word puzzles: the "hidden" word should touch every word in the theme answer. That's the ideal. If not, then your answers better sizzle, but the only one I really like here is BONE STRUCTURE (and that is the lone answer where NEST actually does touch every word in the answer). The puzzle has a somewhat bigger problem than banality of concept, however: ITUNES TOP TEN is a terrible, terrible answer. I have used iTunes for years. I have no idea what TOP TEN is being referred to here. One of many lists off to the side telling you what's selling well in a certain genre? That is hardly a thing. Google the phrase inside quotation marks and you get 200K+ (not great), with many of the hits being phrases inside sentences rather than references to a Specific List. By contrast, to choose a random example: if you Google "Sherman Alexie" you get 1.4 million+ hits.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Not-so-fancy places to stay (ONE-STAR HOTELS)
  • 27A: Maryland's nickname (OLD LINE STATE)
  • 44A: Big Apple list (iTUNES TOP TEN)
  • 51A: Osteoporosis threatens it (BONE STRUCTURE) — very weird clue. BONE STRUCTURE is a phrase I've heard *only* in relation to someone's face. Osteoporosis threatens your bones, period. This is like saying that faulty wiring threatens my house structure.

Made a tremendous number of tiny errors for a puzzle this easy. FLUBS for SNUBS (not sure what I was thinking there) (5A: Social slights); ULNAE for ULNAS (understandable) (24D: Wrist/elbow connectors); AXIS for AXLE (semi-understandable) (63A: Wheel turner); SINCE for HENCE (not-so-understandable) (57A: Therefore). Love the long Downs on this one, particularly GAG ORDERS (3D: Judges' decrees to keep information from the public). The rest of the fill is average. Grid is so easy to fill that I'm not sure why there are cheater squares*, but there they are.

*black squares that do not add to word count—they exist solely to make grid easier to fill and are generally kept to a minimum and used on an As Needed basis. Here, the black square after ALSO / before FARM.

  • 34A: Ones not entirely gay or straight (BIS) — bad fill redeemed by a very progressive clue. 
  • 42A: Soothing juice (ALOE) — I don't think those two clue words go together. "Juice" just isn't a soothing word.
  • 12D: Rostropovich's instrument (CELLO) — I know very well what instrument he played, and yet still, looking at ---L-, my only thought, for several seconds, was VIOLA. Didn't write it in because my brain was like "Idiot. Who ever heard of a famous violist?"

  • 6D: Food giant whose brands include Gerber and Goobers (NESTLE) — "Goobers" is a word I could happily never see again. It's just "boogers" with "b" and "g" swapping seats.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Locale of St. Catherine's Monastery / SUN 1-29-12 / River to Korea Bay / Sheiks garments / Simpsons character with platform shoes / George nicknamed Mr Basketball / Mythical figure blinded by Oenopion / Leucippus Deocritus philosophically / Gold rush town of 1899

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Networking Event" — familiar phrases wherein the first word is also a TV network; "?"-clues imagine that the phrases are network-related

Word of the Day: HONE (101A: You might rub a knife across it) —
  1. A fine-grained whetstone for giving a keen edge to a cutting tool.
  2. A tool with a rotating abrasive tip for enlarging holes to precise dimensions.
• • •

Found the cluing on this oddly hard. Clues were *just* out of my familiarity zone. I've never used [Savvies] or GROKS, for instance. I've been entranced, but never HEXED. I know HONE as a verb, but not a noun. I know ALBS, but not ABAS (64D: Sheiks' garments). I have no idea what trio a LAMPPOST could possibly be part of (79D: One of a secretive trio). I didn't not know ION was a TV network *or* that ION EXCHANGE was a thing. I did not know that beads of any kind came from CORALS. I spelled PAYTON thusly. Etc. I actually had an error up top because the clue for SINAI was utterly meaningless to me, devoid of anything SINAI-ish at all, and so when I ended up with SENAI (because of BEER instead of BIER at 5D: Drink served with Brezeln), I didn't even question it (18A: Locale of St. Catherine's Monastery, said to be the world's oldest working monastery). If the clue is fantastically esoteric, it must be because it's trying to justify the importance of some strange geographic location I've never heard of, I reasoned. Quality-wise, everything in this puzzle seems just fine. 

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Fancy footwear at a TV station? (SPIKE HEELS)
  • 24A: Advertising department at a TV station? (E-MARKETING)
  • 36A: Slide show at a TV station? (ENCORE PRESENTATION)
  • 56A: Q&A at a TV station? (ION EXCHANGE)
  • 72A: Expert at a TV station? (HISTORY BUFF) — this one doesn't repurpose HISTORY very well (or at all)
  • 86A: Enrollment at a TV station? (LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP)
  • 104A: Recruiters at a TV station? (FOX HUNTERS) — nothing about this said "FOX" to me. These days, with shows like "House Hunters," seemed like any three-letter word could've come before "HUNTERS"
  • 106A: Fish holder at a TV station? (OXYGEN TANK)   

  • 5A: Cowboys' home, familiarly (BIG D) — I remember the first time I saw this in a puzzle, mainly because it Naticked me (thought I was dealing with one word, and the cross was ... something, clearly)
  • 27A: ___ Levy, four-time Super Bowl coach for Buffalo (MARV) — I hear the fifth time's the charm...
  • 35A: Classic toy company whose name is its founder's middle name (LIONEL) — Toy trains. Does anyone under 40 still "play" with those? Reverend Lovejoy of "The Simpsons" is a model train enthusiast. No idea if the same can be said for DISCO STU (8D: "The Simpsons" character with platform shoes)

  • 50A: River to Korea Bay (YALU) — a river I know mainly from constructing. It's a lifeline I generally refuse to use (unless there's no alternative, obviously—so far that hasn't been an issue).
  • 82A: George nicknamed Mr. Basketball (MIKAN) — I wanted MIKUS. I think that's the last name of some of my parents' friends. Somebody and Connie? Where is this info coming from?
  • 103A: Country singer David Allan ___, writer of "Take This Job and Shove It" (COE) — parents were big POE fans, I'm guessing.
  • 109A: It's picked in the Pacific (UKE) — I took "in the Pacific" literally. 
  • 10D: Gold rush town of 1899 (NOME) — Gold, four letters, this is it.
  • 14D: Mythical figure blinded by Oenopion (ORION) — their names are disturbingly similar. I did not know ORION was "blinded." My daughter would likely laugh at my ignorance (so don't tell her, for god's sake; she's stroppy enough as it is). 

  • 49D: Leucippus and Democritus, philosophically (ATOMISTS) — "The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void." (wikipedia). ADAMISTS, on the other hand, are nudists. There's an interesting Venn diagram waiting to happen.
  • 88D: Half of a title role for John Barrymore or Spencer Tracy (MR. HYDE) — took a lot of doing. You never know what "half" is going to mean in a clue like this. MATA could be half a title role, for instance. I mean, not here, obviously, but, well, you get my point. Or you don't.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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King Hussein Airport locale / SAT 1-28-12 / Silverwing flier / Aretha's Grammy-nominated sister / Incredibles family name / Sheila's welcome

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SAND BARREL (56A: Many a crash cushion at a construction zone) —
[can't find a definition—[define "sand barrel"] yields very few hits. Looks like barrels filled with sand ??? never seen the term before]
• • •

Solve from NW to SE, and this is one puzzle (easy); solve it along the other diagonal, and it's something else (hard). Those NE and SW corners were light years harder than the other corners. Not sure why that should be, but that's how it worked out. This was a typical Barry Silk puzzle—solid but unflashy grid with clues designed to be as tough at every turn. Very few flat-out gimmes (mine were MEAL PLAN, BAG, RED, G'DAY (17A: Sheila's welcome), PEAR, and INDIE). Several places where I had all but one letter of an answer and still had no idea (first letter of -ICS for 27D: P.R. releases ... and my final letter, the "W" in BREW and BLEW, which I had to run the alphabet to get) (9D: Java, for one + 21A: Messed up). NE was hard mostly because all the shorter crosses for those 10-letter answers were fantastically vague. The one I was sure I had correct ended up being wrong (I had STOATS; answer was STOLES—14D: Some ermines). In the opposite corner, same problem. PARR and ERMA side by side? That's very rough play. (53D: "The Incredibles" family name + Aretha's Grammy-nominated sister)

Wrong answers: STOATS for STOLES, SHAD for HAKE (8D: Cod relative), ENL for LTR, ETON (?) for ELON (63A: School in the Piedmont region). I think that's it. Never heard of SAND BARREL or ROAD GRADER (62A: Civil engineering vehicle), which tells you how much time I've spent on construction sites. I don't think "'02" is enough of a signal that 5D: One of the subjects of the best-selling '02 books "The Conquerors" is an abbr. (HST). Also having trouble accepting the phrase NO TAIL as a "trait" (13D: Manx trait). It's not there, so it's not a trait—the "NO" part is what's bugging me. RED HAIR or GREEN EYES or adj. / noun of any kind, I'd buy as a "trait." I thought "coulee" was a racist term for a Chinese man ... but I was thinking "coolie" (see here). How is OMAN the toe of a boot? Italy is a boot. I have never, ever, ever heard the Arabian peninsula referred to as a "boot." Booooooooooo ... t.

  • 1A: Concern for a dermatologist (LUMP) — this is what we call a "F&ck You" clue, in that it takes this form *only* to trick you into writing in a wrong answer, in this case ACNE. Maybe we should call it an asshole clue, but "F&ck You" clue just has too much poetry on its side.
  • 22A: Roster curtailer: Abbr. (ET AL) — inventive, if weird, cluing
  • 39A: Signs near a teller's window, maybe (ENDORSES) — there should be a term for this–where clue is written to suggest a word is one part of speech (here a noun) when it's really another (here, a verb)
  • 47A: Silverwing flier (CESSNA) — I know nothing about planes, but I had the "C" and I also know that CESSNA is a reasonably grid-friendly plane.
  • 24D: Her help was solicited in a hit (RHONDA) — I guess this was pretty close to a gimme too.  

  • 38D: Universidad de las Américas site (SANTIAGO) — pfft, no idea. But I had the -GO, which was enough.
  • 40D: "Children of the Albatross" novelist (NIN) — she's a crossword double threat. First and last names, very useful. 
  • 51D: Daughter of Zeus and Themis (IRENE) — guessed off the "I"; seemed reasonable, though the possibility of IRENA crossed my mind. Then I decided that sounded more like a Russian tennis player than a mythological character.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Mosel tributary / FRI 1-27-12 / Scrooge star 1951 / Henry James biographer / Wailuku's county / French expert in body language

Friday, January 27, 2012

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: EEEEEasy

THEME: BOX (36A: Enclosure ... and an alphabetical listing of letters not appearing elsewhere in this puzzle's answer) — BOX appears free-floating, in the middle of the grid, inside a BOX made of black squares

Word of the Day: TALIA Shire (37A: Sylvester's "Rocky" co-star) —
Talia Shire (born April 25, 1946) is an American actress most known for her roles as Connie Corleone in The Godfather films and Adrian Pennino in the Rocky series. // Shire was born Talia Rose Coppola in Lake Success, New York, the daughter of Italia (née Pennino) and arranger/composer Carmine Coppola. Talia is the sister of director and producer Francis Ford Coppola and academic August Coppola, the aunt of actor Nicolas Cage and director Sofia Coppola, and the niece of composer and conductor Anton Coppola. She was married to composer David Shire, with whom she had a son, Matthew Orlando Shire. She has two other sons, actors/musicians Robert Schwartzman and Jason Schwartzman, from her second marriage to the late producer Jack Schwartzman.(wikipedia)
• • •

Yesterday we had a Wed. trying to be a Thur., today a Thur. trying to be a Fri. (while being as easy as a Wed.—full circle!). Freakishly easy, and interesting only at the architectural level. I want to fail it as a crossword, given that nothing "crosses" BOX, but you need (or can use) info outside the BOX to solve BOX, so ... good enough, I guess. Maybe "think outside the box" was the impetus of the phrase, since you (sort of) have to (literally) do that to solve the puzzle. At any rate, aside from the arrangement of the black squares, it's a dull and easy puzzle that suffers from the problems every pangram suffers from—most notably, a general all-over junkiness of fill that seems patently unnecessary. I mean, look at that eastern section. Ghastly. Inexplicable ... until you realize: W's gotta go somewhere (I don't know *what* the SW's excuse is. You already got your Q up top... In fact Z, Q, J, and K are all dispatched in exactly two Acrosses up top). Anyway, the fact that TALIA is the Word of the Day tells you nothing interesting is happening inside the grid. You got a box. A little picture. There you go.

[Yes, that *is* Tilda Swinton]

Started with EMMAS and never stopped (1A: Actress Stone and others). What was the logic behind making the cluing so easy? The only place I hesitated at all was the far SE, and then only because there were a pair of self-referential clues down there and I didn't know that ALDA was the host of PBS's "Scientific American Frontiers." AMPS also froze me out (even with -MPS in place) (55D: Concert pieces). But I finished this thing in under 5. Except for that one ridiculously fluky Friday where I finished under 4, this was almost certainly my fastest Friday ever. EDEL (63A: Henry James biographer) and SIM (5D: "Scrooge" star, 1951) are mildly obscure to ordinary folk, but to longtime solvers they're as ordinary as houseflies. MARCEAU is an interesting name and close to the most interesting thing in the grid (23A: French expert in body language?). Actually, I think JUST MY LUCK is my favorite answer (21A: "Figures I'd have this problem!"). Bouncy, colloquial, fresh—everything the rest of the grid is not.

  • 56A: Baseball All-Star Kinsler and others (IANS) — an attempt to toughen up the puzzle a bit, I gather. I watch a lot of baseball, so this was a gimme. Also, two plural names in the same (easy) grid? (see also EMMAS) Not great form.
  • 57A: "1984" shelfmate ("ANIMAL FARM") — interesting clue, but far, far too easy. Now if the answer had been "PILGRIM'S PROGRESS" (my shelf holds allegories...), that would've been a surprise.
  • 34D: Mosel tributary (SAAR) — one of your lesser-used 4-letter European xword rivers.
  • 51D: The Charleses' pet (ASTA) — to the NYT's credit, this dog is not nearly as common as he once was. But when you stick him in a corner like that SW corner, well, it's like he's at a group meeting for his 12-step "recovering crosswordese" program. O man, I didn't even see AGRA until just now. Quaint euphemism! It's old-timers' day at the crossword.
  • 2D: Wailuku's county (MAUI) — you don't say ... hey, has "YOU DON'T SAY" ever been an answer? 'Cause I think it'd be a good one. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


W.W. II Pacific battle site / THU 1-26-12 / Moore who wrote Gate at the Stairs / Horseshoe-shaped lab item / 1980s sitcom filmed with puppet

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ST- — common phrases have "ST-" added to beginning of one of the words in said phrases, creating wackiness

Word of the Day: TRUK (39D: W.W. II Pacific battle site) —
Operation Hailstone (known in Japan as Japanese: トラック島空襲 Torakku-tō Kūshū, lit. "the airstrike on Truk Island") was a massive naval air and surface attack launched on February 17–18, 1944, during World War II by the United States Navy against the Japanese naval and air base at Truk in the Caroline Islands, a pre-war Japanese territory. (wikipedia)
• • •

What the TRUK?!

This was a Wednesday dressed up as a Thursday (i.e. with fairly difficulty cluing throughout). The theme concept is not really Thursday-worthy—just a pretty loose add-a-letter (OK, two letters). No rhyme or reason to the add-ons. It's a theme that could be replicated over and over and over again, ad infinitum. I'd be shocked if it hadn't been done several times before. At least the ST-s could've been added to, say, all R-words (you're 3/5 there! STRAP MUSIC ... STRIPE FRUIT ... STRING FINGER ... come on!). JACK THE STRIPPER is mildly cute; the rest, shrug. And the fill. Pretty lousy. I cannot believe that that TRUK / UTUBE fiasco was unavoidable (44A: Horseshoe-shaped lab item). The grid parameters just aren't that challenging. The whole thing smacks of laziness, esp. at the fill level. Then you've got the AGASP / AROAR crossing (abarf) and then junky stuff all over the place. Not the NYT puzzle's finest hour, by any stretch.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Private quarters in a stable? (STALL FOR ONE)
  • 23A: Dallas tourists, perhaps? (TEXAS STRANGERS)
  • 37A: Name for a bachelorette party performer? (JACK THE STRIPPER)
  • 49A: Vacation spot for some who stop working? (STRIKERS ISLAND)
  • 60A: Not saluting for quite some time? (STILL AT EASE)

  • 15A: Moore who wrote "A Gate at the Stairs" (LORRIE) — ambivalence ... she is crossworthy, for sure, but she is only here (or in any puzzle) because of her friendly letters, and I don't like seeing her except where she's propping up something Very nice (in an otherwise very-difficult-to-fill section). LORRIE / ARRET is (yet) another inglorious crossing (7D: Stop over in Paris?). 
  • 41A: Announcement that comes from an envelope (OSCAR) — timely, as the nominations just came out. I've seen practically nothing. "Bridesmaids." I saw that. I am familiar with every film and its cast because I make it my business to keep up with this stuff—important for solvers as well as constructors. I tear through my "Entertainment Weekly" as soon as I get it and write down all the interesting-looking names that I didn't previously know.VIOLA Davis, for instance, or Berenice BEJO.
  • 5D: 1980s sitcom filmed with a puppet ("ALF") — he ate cats. My sister looked like sister on that show. My best friend in college liked (likes?) this show. I've never seen an episode all the way through. I associate ALF with MR. T. I don't know why.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Ian who won 1991 Masters / WED 1-25-12 / City of Kyrgyzstan / Palm smartphone / Sweet filling in commercial names

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Constructor: Gareth Bain

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TREE RINGS (38A: Indicators of age ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme) — CIRCLES in the grid hold three-letter TREE names

Word of the Day: Ian WOOSNAM (2D: Ian who won the 1991 Masters) —
Ian Harold Woosnam OBE (born 2 March 1958) is a Welsh professional golfer.
Nicknamed 'Woosie', 'Woosers', or the 'Wee Welshman', Woosnam was one of the "Big Five" generation of European golfers, all born within 12 months of one another, all of whom have won majors, and made Europe competitive in the Ryder Cup. His peers in  this group were Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, and Sandy Lyle (wikipedia)
• • •
Four sad, sparse circles in the grid don't make for a very strong visual statement. The theme is a cute repurposing of the phrase "TREE RINGS," but I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have since a. there weren't very many trees, and b. I've done a much more difficult and more satisfying tree rebus before. I know it was by Byron Walden, and I'm almost certain it was in the NY Sun several years back. Plus, this grid has some fill I'd try *really* hard to keep out of my grids, including BAI—I'd have gone HAMAS / SALTS / BAT or something like that; my guess is Gareth wanted to get "original" answers in there with MILLARD and HAMID, but being first with an answer just isn't good enough reason to make a corner rougher than it has to be. BAI is too high a price to pay for virtually anything. I mean, good god, even BAE is better than BAI. Other less-than-great stuff: OSH, INNO, KREME, ANGE, TREO, SSGT, OTIC, SIG, TROU, "ADIA," and (singular) BEE GEE (coincidence: I listened to Side A of "Spirits Having Flown" on vinyl today. Several times. While cooking. Good stuff). To the puzzle's credit, it has KAN[YEW]EST and COLD[ASH]ELL (an oath! EGAD!). I just tested a puzzle with KANYEWEST in it yesterday. That constructor is not going to be happy ... but I guess KANYE still hasn't appeared in full-name, unrebused form, so it'll still seem like an original answer.

Theme answers:
Had a pretty easy time with this one. Always easy to solve rebuses when the relevant squares are marked for you. First indication of the rebus came with the short answers up top, actually—the bull name and the river both looked ridiculous, so something had to be up. Once I figured it out, the rest of the puzzle was a cinch. Had no recollection of WOOSNAM at all—needed every cross there. Briefly blanked on SNERT. Needed a nudge to get TAY. Otherwise, no trouble.

  • 5A: Classic sci-fi terror, with "the" ("BLOB") — is "terror" the creature itself? Or is the movie the "terror?"
  • 26A: Followers of lambdas (MUS) — better than short for "music," I guess.
  • 32A: Phyllis's never-seen TV husband (LARS) — from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." How long will it be before this sitcom reference (very gettable to people over 40) is seen as unfairly obscure?
  • 47A: Pursuers of the Sopranos, for short (GMEN) — I wrote in GATS at first ... 
  • 40A: Sweet filling, in commercial names (KREME) — I think you mean "commercial name." Singular.
  • 28A: Song title for both Fleetwood Mac and Starship (SARA) — only one of these is listen-to-able. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


1941 Frank Capra film / TUE 1-24-12 / He played Jin-Soo Kwon on Lost / Noted talk show retiree of 2011 / Site of Haleakala National Park

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Constructor: Alex Boisvert

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: D- bag — theme answers all three-word phrases containing word "D-E," where center letter of that word changes with each answer, running through all vowels from A to Y

Word of the Day: THE EDGE (42D: U2 guitarist) —
David Howell Evans (born 8 August 1961), more widely known by his stage name The Edge (or just Edge), is a musician best known as the guitarist, backing vocalist, and keyboardist of the Irish rock band U2. A member of the group since its inception, he has recorded 12 studio albums with the band and has released one solo record. As a guitarist, The Edge has crafted a minimalistic and textural style of playing. His use of a rhythmic delay effect yields a distinctive ambient, chiming sound that has become a signature of U2's music. // As a member of U2 and as an individual, The Edge has campaigned for human rights and philanthropic causes. He co-founded Music Rising, a charity to support musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. He has collaborated with U2 bandmate Bono on several projects, including songs for Roy Orbison and Tina Turner, and the soundtracks to the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and the Royal Shakespeare Company's London stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine placed him at number 38 on its list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". (wikipedia)
• • •

A weird Tuesday outing. First, I learned that DANIEL DAE KIM (Korea's answer to Daniel Day-Lewis?) is famous enough to be a theme answer. I know "Lost" was a popular show, but ... I've certainly had puzzles rejected for "too obscure" theme answers that had greater name recognition than him. Second, so much black. 44 dang squares. Then I noticed that the grid was 16 wide and has 81 (!) answers (max is 78, typically, but I guess that extra column buys you 3 more??? I have a 16-wide coming out, and I remember thinking "still gotta keep it under 78"; and I did. Apparently there are rules, and then there are rules. Good to know). Throw in a handful of cheater squares and you have a somewhat interesting vowel progression theme inside a not-too-interesting grid filled with mostly 3-5-letter words.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: He played Jin-Soo Kwon on "Lost" (DANIEL DAE KIM)
  • 20A: "Through the Looking-Glass" character (TWEEDLE-DEE) — one of only two snags I had in the puzzle. Wrote in DUM because I thought the cross was RUM (16D: Drink sometimes indicated in comics by "XXX" — ALE)
  • 31A: Some collectible toys (DIE-CAST CARS)
  • 41A: 1941 Frank Capra film ("MEET JOHN DOE")
  • 55A: Cornerstone of the American legal system (DUE PROCESS)
  • 59A: Some hippie wear (TIE-DYE SHIRTS) — my second snag: I thought the hippie (singular) was wearing a TIE-DYED SHIRT 
There is a *kind* of symmetry in the "D-E" word placement within the theme answers. Second third first  third first second. Then there's the vowel progression—another nice feature. Dense theme, good theme answers, adequate grid, Tuesday-easy.

  • 29A: Site of Haleakala National Park (MAUI) — seemed a good guess off of "-A-I"; BALI or CALI or MALI seemed unlikely
  • 1D: "Cop Killer" singer who went on to play a cop on TV (ICE-T) — never did like "Law & Order" in any of its incarnations, but ICE-T's reality show "Ice Loves Coco"—now that's good TV.

  • 52D: Noted talk show retiree of 2011 (OPRAH) — she gave her name to crosswords. She will be missed. 
I've decided that from now on, I'm calling U2's guitarist "THEEDGE" — one word, one syllable. Sure, it's silly, but is it really any more silly than THE EDGE?
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Wife in The Good Earth / MON 1-23-12 / Stimpy's canine pal / Blue 1971 Cy Young Award winner / Pagan nature religion / Popular soup legume

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Constructor: Sarah Keller

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: Head over heels —three-word expressions, where the first and third words are body parts

    Word of the Day: VIDA Blue (60D: ___ Blue, 1971 Cy Young Award winner) —
    Vida Rochelle Blue Jr. (born July 28, 1949) is a former Major League Baseball left-handed pitcher. During a 17-year career, he pitched for the Oakland Athletics (1969–77), San Francisco Giants (1978–81; 1985–86), and Kansas City Royals (1982–83) He won the American League Cy Young award and Most Valuable Player Award in 1971. He is a six-time all-star, and is one of only four pitchers in major league history to start the all-star game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978); Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay would later duplicate the feat. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    I feel like I'm missing some key component of this theme. Body part + word + body part? Is that it? Not a lot of consistency there. All answers involve parts of the face ... except one. All answers have a preposition for the middle word ... except one. The one obvious answer that would fit the theme isn't even in the grid ("head over heels") (presence of HOOF also reminded me of "HOOF and mouth" disease ... not a great entry, or a pleasant thing to think about—I was in Britain during their epidemic of 2001. Lots of questions at customs about time spent on farms and what not. But back to the puzzle ...). Further, there are only four theme answers and still the grid is a festival of dull crosswordese (ARNE OLAN EDIE LIRR LSATS and on and on and on).  The theme answers are pretty colorful, but this is a somewhat below-average Monday, overall.

    Theme answers:
    • 20A: Fiercely (TOOTH AND NAIL) 
    • 35A: Embarrassingly imprudent (FOOT-IN-MOUTH)
    • 42A: Next to one another (CHEEK BY JOWL)
    • 59A: Fast and in large amounts (HAND OVER FIST)

    I learned in this puzzle that I don't know how to spell the simple word MAUL (1A: Manhandle horribly). I went with MAWL ... is that a type of hammer or something? I feel sure I've seen the word before ... nope, the hammer is also spelled with a "U" ... I'm sure all those years of reading Chaucer are to blame, somehow. Clue misreading had me wondering what Latin phrase there could possibly be that would refer to how someone does lawn work ("PRO BONO? Why would you cut someone's lawn for fr- ... oh, "law." Yes, that makes more sense"). My wife, who knows very little about sports (particularly American sports, particularly American sports from before she and I met) knew VIDA Blue because that is the name I gave to one of my daughter's stuffed animals many years ago (60D: ___ Blue, 1971 Cy Young Award winner). Against her will. "That's not his name!" "I had his baseball card as a kid. I think I know VIDA Blue when I see him." I can't be the only one who torments his (then) 4-year-old this way ... can I?

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Funeral song in Scotland / SUN 1-22-12 / Hero who debuted in Weird Tales 1932 / Villains in 1939's Stagecoach / Hallmark of Philadelphia sound / Duo with 2003 hit All Things She Said / Switched On Bach instrument

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    Constructor: Adam Fromm

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: "Snow White's Employment Agency" — all clues follow [Bad job for [dwarf name]?] pattern.

    Word of the Day: CORONACH (52D: Funeral song in Scotland) —
    A coronach (also written coranich, corrinoch, coranach, cronach, etc.) is the Scottish Gaelic equivalent of the Goll,being the third part of a round of keening, the traditional improvised singing at a death, wake or funeral in the Highlands of Scotland and in Ireland. Though observers have reported hearing such songs in Ireland or in the Scottish Highlands, and melodies have been noted down and printed since the 18th century, audio recordings are rare; not only was the practice dying out or being supressed through the 19th century, but it was also considered by its practicioners to have been a very personal and spiritual practice, not suitable for performance or recording. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Good idea. Very cute. Dopey's bad job was super-arbitrary (ALGEBRA TEACHER) and Doc's wasn't really a job at all (VILLAGE IDIOT), but other than that, the answers were pretty close to spot-on. Grid was easy to move through, though the west felt disproportionately tough—in part, perhaps, because of the arbitrariness of the Dopey answer (i.e. could've been *anything* TEACHER). My lanterns at the start of evening were UNLIT (duh), not RELIT. My experience with MINIMs is in the realm of medieval manuscripts, so this MINIM didn't leap immediately to mind (38D: Half note), and SOCIABLE (49D: Convivial) ... well, I didn't have the "B," so even with SOCIA- I didn't get anywhere at first (SOCIAL didn't fit, SOCIALLY was the wrong part of speech). A word about TATU (64D: Duo with the 2003 hit "All the Things She Said")—that word is 'ugh.' They were never big here. Two girls have a top 20 hit one year, kiss on TV, like, once, and now they're an acceptable crossword answer? No. Yes, 4-letter "U"-ending words are in short supply and Very Very necessary to constructors, but No. Banish. (I'm surprised to see this answer only once in the cruciverb database, and then only as a var. of TATTOO—I could've sworn I'd seen this "band" in puzzles before. Let's just make sure it never happens again).

    Theme answers:
    • Bad occupation for Happy? (GOTH MUSICIAN)
    • Bad occupation for Sleepy? (NIGHT WATCHMAN)
    • Bad occupation for Sneezy? (FLORAL ARRANGER)
    • Bad occupation for Grumpy? (MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER)
    • Bad occupation for Dopey? (ALGEBRA TEACHER)
    • Bad occupation for Doc? (VILLAGE IDIOT)
    • Bad occupation for Bashful? (TV PERSONALITY)   
    Tripped hard on CORONACH, a word I've never seen ever. That "H" was a total guess, though seemed like the most plausible letter, however improbably it might be that any novel would end with the word "THE" (86A: Last word of "Finnegans Wake"). Other "never heard of it" words include VOLAR (98D: Relating to the palm of the hand) (because the palms are what you fly with?), and CANEM (4D: Cave ___) (Latin for "Beware the dog" [!?]). Put in BIGWIGS when what was called for was (the much worse) BIGGIES (115A: Honchos). Got stumped by both "market" clues—didn't know "Best" was a verb in 84A: Best in the market (OUTSELL), and thought the [One going to market] was a person of some kind, not the PRODUCT itself. I would not have known how to spell ALAKAZAM (46D: "Voilà!"). It's about the most exciting thing in the grid.

    • 32A: Hero who debuted in Weird Tales magazine in 1932 (CONAN) — I used to read this comic and it still took me forever to figure out which hero was intended. I think I know too many pulp heroes. 
    • 44A: Villains in 1939's "Stagecoach" (APACHES) — A John Ford film I have never seen. I should fix that.
    • 105A: Hippocampus hippocampus, e.g. (SEAHORSE) — pfft, no way. I mean, in retrospect, yes, "hippo" means "horse," I know that much, but the hippocampus is a part of your brain, right? Needed many a cross to pick this one up.
    • 25A: Group with the 1995 #1 hit "Waterfalls" (TLC) — hard to remember now, but for a few years in the '90s, they were Huge. I remember seeing their TV debut on "Arsenio" and thinking "What The...?"

    • 82D: "Switched-On Bach" instrument (MOOG) — clueless once again, but a four-letter "instrument" starting with "M" can't be many things, and the "Switched-On" clue helped me get this one right.
    • 96D: Hallmark of the Philadelphia sound (HORNS) — some great acts were part of this "sound," particularly Melvin & the Blue Notes. Here's some O'Jays for you.

    • 99D: Apple software bundle that includes GarageBand (iLIFE) — well it's i-something, right? I'm a Mac owner, so this wasn't tough. 
    • 104D: "The Gondoliers" bride (TESSA) — if I knew anything at all about "The Gondoliers," this would be the time when I would tell you. 
    A million thanks to everyone who made a financial contribution to this blog over the past week. It means more to me than I can say.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Fiddlehead sources / SAT 1-21-12 / Dodgem feature / Oberhausen opera highlight / Golden Pavilion setting / 1976 Rodgers Harnick musical about Henry VIII / Supporter of Yoda / Opera's Obraztsova

      Saturday, January 21, 2012

      Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

      Relative difficulty: Medium 

      THEME: none 

      Word of the Day: LENOS (63A: Soft, meshed fabrics) —
      n. pl. le·nos
      1. Weaving in which the warp yarns are paired and twisted.
      2. A fabric having such a weave. (
      • • •
      [It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

      • • •
      I did this puzzle in pencil, untimed, so I'm not exactly sure of how tough it was. Felt suitably Saturdayish. Why do people continue to pursue the 4x15 stack? It just doesn't yield very good answers. SEEDLESS RAISINS is essentially an excuse to cram a lot of RLTNE letters in there (40A: Sultanas, say), and PRIME is about the only interesting part of PRIME REAL ESTATE (though I do like the clue—38A: Great parking spot, slangily) (note the doubling of STATE near bottom of the grid). Unsurprisingly, the non-central areas of the grid are more interesting, particularly the spooky pairing of "ARE YOU ALONE?" and "COME INTO THE OPEN" (no thanks, I'm gonna stay hidden til you go away, k? K) (14A: Phone query before a private conversation + 17A: Emerge). When I first saw the clue at 5D: Somme silk, I said, out loud, "ugh, fabrics," an exclamation I was to repeat. Twice. Fabrics tend to have short, foreign, terrible, and (to me) unmemorable names. SOIE I got just because it's a French word and I had some French. CIRÉ I managed to remember because of some prior experience, and some sense that it's etymologically related to the (again) French word for "wax" (31D: Highly glazed fabric). LENOS, on the other (other) hand, I had noooo shot at. So strange was that word to me that I really felt like the "N" was a total guess (later, I ran the alphabet and realized "N" was the only viable option)—which brings me to the A PLAN clue (47D: "But not without ___": Pope). What the hell? It's *Alexander* Pope, in case you were wondering, and the quotation is from "An Essay on Man." That's a major literary work, but ... well, it's hardly "Othello" or "Moby-Dick" or some other quotable literary classic. Feels like a very "screw you" kind of clue.

      PAL UP is not an expression I know (6A: Get chummy). PAL AROUND (with), sure. But I PAIR UP. PAL AROUND, PAIR UP. I also don't remember Yoda using a CANE (20A: Supporter of Yoda). My little Yoda figurine must have lost his CANE somewhere along the way. George TAKEI's name looks like a "free offer" only if the offerer is prone to using Roman numerals. He's well known, and a major gay activist, so surely there's a reasonable way to clue him.  I thought for sure that [Match game?] was ARSON (nope, LOTTO), so it was interesting to see fire-language misdirection later on in the grid with the clue for PYROMANIA (54A: Lighting problem?), which I would've clued as a Def Leppard album, but that's just me.

      Really loved the clues on SEX (21A: Masters focus) and ZONED (13D: Like a lot, maybe). Both of them stumped me, especially the latter.

      • 1A: Fiddlehead sources (FERNS) — one of the symbols of NZ, so I should know this. A "fiddlehead" is the "furled frond of a young fern" (wiki).
      • 25A: Dodgem feature (CAR) — I learned "dodgem" from a crossword puzzle long ago. I think it was a Word of the Day. So some things actually do stick.
      • 53A: "Mickey" singer Basil (TONI) — huge gimme. On heavy rotation I was an MTV-addicted youngster.

      • 60A: Roquefort source (EWE) — took me longer than it should have. Went looking for a French word (EAU? No). 
      • 62A: 1976 Rodgers and Harnick musical about Henry VIII ("REX") — saw the clue and thought "Damn, I know this. I wrote about it a few months back ... it's something short and weird ..."
      • 12D: Opera's Obraztsova (ELENA) — suitably Saturday. Better than the already-tired [Justice Kagan].
      • 25D: Roosevelt established it as Shangri-La (CAMP DAVID) — nice bit of trivia. Guessed it off the -VID.
      • 30D: Oberhausen opera highlight (ARIE) — German word for "ARIA?" Pretty terrible, though I gotta give some credit for trying to invent a new clue for this answer. OK, not *new* new, but certainly not common, i.e. not R&B singer India.___, not Racer Luyendyk.
      • 48D: Golden Pavilion setting (KYOTO) — My first thought was "isn't that a supermarket chain in southern California?" (it's just "Pavilions"). On geographical ignorance, see also [Seti river setting] = NEPAL.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Bourbon enemy / FRI 1-20-12 / 1997 film with song Tupelo Honey / Head nurse on Scrubs / North American home 30,000 islands / What dickey simulates / Inventor given gold medal by Titanic survivors

      Friday, January 20, 2012

      Constructor: Patrick Berry

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: BITT (5A: Mooring post on a ship)
      A vertical post, usually one of a pair, set on the deck of a ship and used to secure ropes or cables. 
      tr.v. bitt·ed, bitt·ing, bitts
      To wind (a cable) around a bitt. (
      • • •

      [It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

      • • •

      Deceptively simple. So clean and clear that it starts to border on ho-hum. Nothing here is gonna jump out and bite you, or make you jump up and cheer. It's all just ... creamy. No particularly grabby or contemporary answers, but all of it solid, which is remarkably hard to pull off when you have this much white space to fill. I found the puzzle extremely easy until I hit the NE, which stopped me cold. Couldn't come up with the latter parts of BUYS OUT (24A: Secures every share from) or RAN SHORT (28A: Had some inventory problems), and while I got LITHE OK, I put in both ABAFT and STERN before finally alighting on ABEAM (16A: Nautical direction). Thought maybe [Prompter] was a relative adjective, or else something akin to a cue card, so CATALYST was tough to come up with. I had no idea LAKE HURON had that many islands (12D: North American home of 30,000 islands). Astonishing. While I think the whole concept of RENT-TO-OWN is a terrible idea, I think that answer looks mighty nice in the grid (11D: Like some store furniture). Only other issue was putting in NATCH for NO DUH (1D: "Well, of course"). Otherwise, very smooth sailing.

      • 9A: Head nurse on "Scrubs" (CARLA) — not a show I ever watched, and yet I can picture the character clearly. Weird. "Scrubs" featured actor Donald FAISON. He has a name that could be useful in crosswords, but so far, no one's used it.
      • 19A: Highly rated 1997 film with the song "Tupelo Honey" ("ULEE'S GOLD") — ULEE is super-common in crosswords, of course, but, strangely, this marks the crossword debut of the full title "ULEE'S GOLD."
      • 37A: Inventor given a gold medal by Titanic survivors (MARCONI) — Something to do with radio, no doubt. He didn't invent the lifeboat, did he?
      • 52A: Colorful Amazon swimmer (NEON TETRA) — worked by inference here, and managed to get the whole thing off just the "N"
      • 41A: U.K. Triple Crown racecourse site (EPSOM) — standard xword fare. Very much worth knowing.  
      • 26D: Bourbon enemy (BONAPARTE) — me: "But ... how could anyone hate bourbon? It's sooooo good."
      • 3D: Mammy's son (ABNER) — something to do with the comic strip, no doubt. I was utterly stumped.
      • 13D: Tiramisu ingredient, often (AMARETTO) — wanted some kind of cheese, possibly ricotta. The actual cheese in tiramisu is mascarpone.
      • 38D: Leroux who created the Phantom (GASTON) — knew this without knowing how/why.
      • 30D: The Village ___ (musical group with the 1963 hit "Washington Square") (STOMPERS) — well, I guess that's as good a STOMPERS clue as you're going to see. Maybe [Tantrum throwers, at times]. Or these.

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


      Bret harte/mark twain play / THU 1-19-12 / 1994 Ray Liotta action film / Holy Roman emperor who succeeded father 973 / 1920s-40s baseballer / Big gobbler

      Thursday, January 19, 2012

      Constructor: Derek Bowman and Sarah Keller 

      Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

      THEME: TO-DO LIST (66A: Agenda ... or, together, what the seven starred clues and their answers constitute?) — all the starred clues have answers that are synonymous with "TO-DO" (i.e. "disturbance")

      Word of the Day: "AH, SIN" (9D: Bret Harte/Mark Twain play) —
      Ah Sin (1877), a play by Bret Harte, Mark Twain. [ Fifth Avenue Theatre, 35 perf.] Broderick (Edmund K. Collier), a “knave through circumstances over which he ought to have control,” attacks Uncle Billy Plunkett (P. A. Anderson), “the Champion Liar of Calaveras,” leaving him for dead and attributing the attack to mill owner York (Henry Crisp). Just as a lynch mob is about to hang York, the wily Chinaman Ah Sin (Charles T. Parsloe) solves the crime by connecting an incriminating coat to Broderick. The Augustin Daly production, developed from a character in Harte's poem, was a failure, but it is remembered because of the speech Mark Twain, dressed in white, gave at the end that many critics claimed was better than anything in the play. Sensing a poor reception, Mark Twain began by wryly telling the audience that the play was “intended rather for instruction than amusement” and suggesting, as an example, that “for the instruction of the young we have introduced a game of poker.”
      • • •
      [It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

      • • •
      Maybe it's just the 10 hours (!) sleep talking, but I *loved* this puzzle.  Thorny without being filled with annoying, obscure words; delightful in the broad subject range of its answers; and smart in its theme and the execution thereof. Very clever repurposing of "TO-DO." And So Many Theme Answers—all symmetrical, all *intersecting* other theme answers, and yet nowhere does the grid feel strained or awkward. The only thing that bugged me had nothing to do with the quality of the puzzle—why does HULLA have two "L"s but "BALOO" doesn't? My brain rejects this lack of "L" symmetry. I don't know who Derek Bowman is, but Sarah Keller is an old pro—though usually you see her stuff on Monday or Tuesday. Whatever they've got going is working and they should do it again sometime.

      Theme answers:
      • 1A: *Rumpus (BROUHAHA) — more spelling issues here. I mean, "OU?" It's not HOUPLA or HULLABALOU or HOUHAH, after all...
      • 7D: *Hubbub (HURLY-BURLY)
      • 16A: *Excitement (HOOHAH)
      • 10D: *Turmoil (COMMOTION) — stands out like a sore thumb for being the one theme answer one might actually use unironically / unsillily.
      • 32D: *Tumult (KERFUFFLE)
      • 63A: *Foofaraw (HOOPLA)
      • 30D: *Ruckus (HULLABALOO)  

      With so little connection between the east and west halves of the grid, this really was like two different puzzles, though both ended up being about the same in terms of difficulty. I've been constructing puzzles over the past week (for eventual publication as well as for private clients) and I think being in constructing mode helps your solving brain, if only slightly. I used OAXACA in a clue yesterday (3D: Southern Mexican state), and I had to write a KSU clue a few days ago (P.S. almost all KSU clues are the same as this one—32A: The Wildcats of the N.C.A.A.). When you construct, you not only encounter all the words that eventually end up in your grid, but all the words that could've been in your grid, the ones you select, discard, put back in, spin around, write your friends about to see if they're good / terrible, etc. Anyway, I didn't need much special help or luck today, as the short answers were generally easy enough to give me significant purchase on the longer stuff. ANA and UNS in the NW, LMN and YMA near the middle, TAM and EBAY (51A: Web site that includes the heading "Dolls & Bears") in the SE. Do boxers have "matches" (25D: Match enders, briefly = TKOS)? I guess they do. But that's a word I associate more with soccer (aka football). Boxers have "bouts."

      • 17A: Like the maximum-height New York City apartment building that's not required to have a fire evacuation plan (SIX-STORY) — I think I spent half my solving time reading this clue. Shouldn't every NYC building have, at least, a "plan" for getting people out of the building if it's burning?
      • 28A: Inits. on many uniforms since 2002 (TSA) — good clue; had me stumped all the way.
      • 34: Figure on Scotland's coat of arms (UNICORN) — I was looking for THISTLE, but luckily already had some important crosses, most notably the "U"
      • 64A: They may be painted in a bathroom (TOENAILS) — I always imagine women doing this on the couch while watching soaps and eating bon-bons. Not accurate?
      • 37D: Hungarian hero ___ Nagy (IMRE) — Crosswordese 102. Not much else available in the -MR- department. 
      • 39D: 1994 Ray Liotta action film ("NO ESCAPE") — never heard of it, and yet I got it easily, off of "NOES-." I've been watching 1987 movies lately. I recommend seeing "Black Widow" (starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell) and avoiding "The Bedroom Window" (starring a completely miscast Steve Guttenberg ... but also a frequently naked Isabelle Huppert, so ... you could choose to take the bad with the good, I guess). The fact that both movies have the initials "BW" is a complete coincidence, as far as I know.
      • 45D: 1920s-'40s baseballer with a retired "4" (MEL OTT) — lack of any indication of how great he was left me searching for a much less legendary player. The fact of a retired no. doesn't tell me much about real greatness. No "Hall-of-Fame," no position, no team ... totally gettable, but not the gimme it might have been.
      • 46D: Holy Roman emperor who succeeded his father in 973 (OTTO II) — [Holy Roman emperor who [some random bit of trivia that will clarify things for you not at all]]
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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