Hannibal Lecter's choice of wine / MON 12-31-12 / Make show-offy basket / Triangular pieces of browned bread / Orange snacks / Welsh form of John

Monday, December 31, 2012

Constructor: Jeffrey Harris

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: FINGER FOODS (60A: 17-, 30- and 45-Across, literally and figuratively) — theme answers are all foods you eat with your fingers, and the second word of each phrases is an action you can perform with your fingers (at least I think that's what's going on)

Word of the Day: EDIE Falco (54A: Falco of "The Sopranos") —
Edith "EdieFalco (pron.: /ˈdi ˈfælk/; born July 5, 1963) is an American television, film and stage actress, known for her roles in Oz asDiane Whittlesey, as Carmela Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos, and as the titular character on the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. (wikipedia)
• • •

Didn't notice the theme until I was done, and then (and now) wasn't quite sure what the gist of the theme was. Are the phrases supposed to  read like sentences, so that we imagine the food doing something with its (figurative) fingers? If so, CHEESE CURLS doesn't really work, as you can "curl" a lot of things–the word just doesn't conjure up fingers. If it's just that the second word in the phrase is something one's fingers can do, then I don't understand what's "figurative" about the answers. In short, I'm in the "not getting it" camp. Or I'm in the "Getting it and not appreciating / liking it" camp. Not sure which camp is nicer. I kind of hope I'm in the first camp, because that means there is some nuance I am not appreciating, which means the puzzle is better than it seems, which is good. Outside the theme, the grid is just a grid. Nothing noteworthy except "THAT TEARS IT," which is a line from one of the greatest scenes in movie history:

["I wonder if you wonder..."]

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Crisp, spicy cookies (GINGER SNAPS)
  • 30A: Triangular pieces of browned bread (TOAST POINTS)
  • 45A: Orange snacks (CHEESE CURLS)
I had one great misunderstanding while solving the puzzle, which is that I assumed that the basket being made in 67A: Make a show-offy basket was ... woven. Me: "There's a verb for fancy-basket making now? Ugh. I wonder what kind of Maleskan monstrosity this answer's gonna be ... oh. Ohhhhhh. That kind of basket. Of course. Nevermind."

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everybody.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Jazz pianist McCoy / SUN 12-30-12 / Pope Agatho's successor / Hoppy pub quaff / Capone henchman / World capital that's home to Zog I Boulevard / Eponymous Italian city / Paperback publisher since 1941

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Constructor: Steve Savoy

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Plus Ten" — familiar phrases have "IO" added to them (because those letters look like the number "10"). Wacky phrases and cluing ensue.

Word of the Day: McCoy TYNER (17D: Jazz pianist McCoy ___)
McCoy Tyner (born December 11, 1938) is a jazz pianist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career. (wikipedia)
• • •

I struggled with this more than I do with most Sundays. I picked up the theme early (with COOLIO CUSTOMER), but somehow that didn't help much with taking down the theme answers. Actually, there were three that were really recalcitrant: STUMP ORATORIO (largely because the phrase "stump orator" isn't familiar to me, though "stump speech" is); CURIO RENT EVENTS (which is the clumsiest and most awkward of the theme answers, largely because the "10" breaks the base phrase into extra words); and OFF THE CHARIOTS (the first part of which is in an awfully brutal NE corner). The fill is pretty dire in places. I hit that IT TOO / OUT ON / A TO section and winced, then wondered if I'd ever seen a set of triple-intersecting partials like that. Singularly ugly. NOT SO HOT. Etc. In general the non-theme fill was forgettable-to-irksome. Not much else to say about this one. I quite liked a handful of theme answers (most notably STUDIO MUFFIN), but the rest left me a little cold

Theme answers:
  • 22A: Sign-off for Spanish spies? (CLASSIFIED ADIOS)
  • 34A: Two bottled liquids kept in a cabinet? (WINE AND IODINE)
  • 47A: Champion model maker at the county fair? (DIORAMA QUEEN)
  • 65A: Wacky exercise regimen? (WILD CARDIO)
  • 68A: 20 cigarettes per unit and 10 units per carton, e.g.? (PACK RATIOS)
  • 82A: Green room breakfast item? (STUDIO MUFFIN)
  • 93A: Musical composition about a lumberjack's seat? (STUMP ORATORIO)
  • 113A: Try-before-you-buy opportunities at knickknack stores? (CURIO RENT EVENTS)
  • 15D: Like Ben-Hur and company when not racing? (OFF THE CHARIOTS)
  • 46D: "Gangsta's Paradise" buyer? (COOLIO CUSTOMER)

I learned a few things today. I learned that the country is Rwanda but the (or a) language is RUANDA (100D: Bantu language). Actually, that's not true. RUANDA is just an alternate spelling. Another name for this language is "Kinyarwanda" (I just discovered). I knew AMOS was Famous, but I did not know he was Wally (109A: Wally of cookie fame). I learned that the capital of Albania (also with two spellings—today's = TIRANE) has a boulevard that sounds like it was named after a "Superman" villain (71A: World capital that's home to Zog I Boulevard). I also learned that the OKAPI is "elusive." I've seen them in captivity; they don't look like they'd particularly good at eluding anybody (63D: Elusive African animal). Maybe this just means they live in remote places that people seldom go.

  • 29A: Zero-calorie cooler (ICE WATER) — had the "T" and went with something-TEA at first. 
  • 37A: Language that is mostly monosyllabic (LAO) — I think I know only one three-letter language.
  • 54A: Drain cleaner, chemically (NAOH) — I am chemically impaired, but I took a successful flyer on the NA- part, and the rest took care of itself.
  • 63A: Movies often with shootouts (OATERS) — something about the syntax of this clue feels awfully unnatural.
  • 79A: Hoppy pub quaff (IPA) — India Pale Ale, a strongly up-and-coming bit of three-letter fill.
  • 105A: Paperback publisher since 1941 (AVON) — I own many old AVONs. Scores. Close to 100, probably. Besides getting my Ph.D. and honing my crossword skills, the other endeavor to which I dedicated a lot of time in the '90s was collecting vintage paperbacks
  • 118A: Part of an applause-o-meter (NEEDLE) — surely one of the greatest NEEDLE clues ever. 
  • 14D: Eponymous Italian city (BOLOGNA) — Seemed like it could've been anything. As I said earlier, that corner was rough. LEO II??? ROOTLE??? TYNER??? WEIGHER!?!?!?! There was a long moment when I thought I might be unable to finish. I started that corner with PIUS I and RUSTLE (at 21D: Pope Agatho's successor + 28A: Grub around). Ugh. 
  • 30D: Cymric (WELSH) — Ouch. Did not know. 
  • 50D: Skewed to one side (ALOP) — astonishing how easily this "word" comes to me now. An important bit of minor crosswordese.
  • 63D: Capone henchman (NITTI) — an even more important bit of minor crosswordese.
If you have yet to discover Andrew Ries's "Aries Puzzles" site, where he publishes a free Rows Garden puzzle every week, do yourself a favor and check it out. Andrew is also offering a 12-puzzle meta-crossword contest in January called "PRINT MEDIA IS NOT DEAD." There are prizes and what not. Definitely worth the (small) investment (10% off thru the end of the day today).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


One-seat carriages / SAT 12-29-12 / Supporter of Heller decision / Bygone theory of astronomy / 1959 doo-wop classic / Idylls of King stylistically

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ADIGE (36D: Verona's river) —
The Adige (ItalianAdige Italian pronunciation: [ˈaːdidʒe]VenetianÀdexeGermanEtschLadinAdescLatinAthesis) is a river with its source in the Alpine province of South Tyrol near the Italian border with Austria and Switzerland. At 410 kilometres (250 mi) in length, it is the second longest river in Italy, after the River Po with 652 kilometres (405 mi). (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty typical Saturday puzzle. A little on the hard side, maybe, but not painfully so. My biggest problem, by far, was having JUST ONE SEC instead of WAIT ONE SEC (31D: "I'll be right with you"). As you can see, there's a lot of overlap there. I just couldn't get -JS (at 30A: Bugs) to work with any letter of the alphabet. Eventually I got the OFFICIAL part of ELECTED OFFICIAL, which got me WAIT, which got me VWS as the [Bugs] in question. Was not aware that REPULSER was a word (22A: Hideous one), so that took some patience. I thought maybe it was some strange word I'd never seen before, like, oh I don't know, REPUGNIK or something. But no, just a REPULSER. I like how he (or she) joins the crowd of SELF-PITIERS at 25D: "Woe is me!" types. If you weren't such REPULSERS, maybe you wouldn't be so miserable—you ever think of that, SELF-PITIERS!? I thought not.

Top and bottom parts were fairly easy. Most of the trouble came toward the center, for some reason. Would've helped if I'd had any idea how to spell LIECHTENSTEIN(ER) (42A: Alpine native). I did not want that first "E" to be there at all, so I kept coming up short, even after I had the answer figured out. A friend of mine actually predicted that "A TEENAGER IN LOVE" would be in this puzzle (true story), so I exclaimed triumphantly on his behalf when I figured that one out (41A: 1959 doo-wop classic). I taught "Idylls of the King" just over a month ago, so I knew the answer to 40A: "Idylls of the King," stylistically had to be ... what? I tried VICTORIAN POETRY. It fit! It was wrong! "VICTORIAN" describes period, not style. NARRATIVE POETRY is indisputably correct, though I'd say that's a genre designation, not a stylistic one. If you hate the answer ONE REED, I have info that may (may) make you hate it less (27D: Clarinet need). It's not (just) that a clarinet uses one, single reed (as opposed to an oboe, which is a double-reed instrument). It's also that reeds carry designations on a scale from one (soft) to five (hard). So a ONE REED is an actual thing. See here.

  • 1A: Urban contemporary (TRITT) — Keith Urban. Travis TRITT. 
  • 11A: Sports org. of 1967-76 (ABA) — They had red, white & blue balls. And Dr. J.
  • 17A: Bygone theory of astronomy (PTOLEMAIC SYSTEM) — Got "PTOLEM..." and then realized I didn't really know the phrase that would follow. Still had trouble even after getting all of PTOLEMAIC. 
  • 33A: "Ugly Betty" actress (VANESSA WILLIAMS) — I wanted America Ferrera or Amerigo Vespucci or whatever her name is (pretty sure it's the former, or something like it). 
  • 19D: Ones to whom an organization's messages are sent (SERVICE LIST) — did not know this term. Had the -LIST part and needed crosses to get the rest. 
  • 26D: Land visited by Paul in the New Testament (GALATIA) — I got this rather easily for one whose biblical knowledge sucks much more than it ought to. Didn't he write a letter to them there GALATIAns?
  • 49D: Supporter of the Heller decision, 2008: Abbr. (NRA) — looking up Heller decision now ... per wikipedia (and I Really should've known this): District of Columbia v. Heller554 U.S. 570 (2008), was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that theSecond Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home and within federal enclaves. The decision did not address the question of whether the Second Amendment extends beyond federal enclaves to the states, which was addressed later by McDonald v. Chicago (2010). It was the first Supreme Court case in United States history to decide whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
  • 34D: One-seat carriages (STANHOPES) — never heard of these, but this is a pretty elegant little word. It's surprising to me how many different types of carriages there were. Surreys and hansoms and bears, oh my. But given how much we obsess about and categorize and subdivide automobile types, I really shouldn't be surprised. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Birthplace of Natalie Portman / FRI 12-28-12 / Sabre ou pistolet / Failure of imagination per Graham Greene / Like bars that are often near horses / Hard to block jumper in hoops / Quaker makers / Critter with humanlike fingerprints / Brandy alternative / Pale Blue Dot author / Spitfire landing locale

Friday, December 28, 2012

Constructor: Ashton Anderson

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: JEJUNE (1D: Dull) —

  1. Not interesting; dull: "and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases" (Anthony Trollope).
  2. Lacking maturity; childish: surprised by their jejune responses to our problems.
  3. Lacking in nutrition: a jejune diet.
[From Latin iēiūnus, meager, dry, fasting.]

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/jejune#ixzz2GJTWQEBw
• • •

I always forget the meaning of JEJUNE. Something about it suggests "morose" to me. Not sure why. Maybe I get there by way of an association with the immature, particularly teens or tweens, who can be mopey and moody and (another "m" word) morose. Or maybe there's another explanation. Or no explanation. Anyway, I did not find this puzzle morose *or* dull, even though it was a pretty FAST ONE (51A: Flimflam). High word count makes for a very fillable grid, and so there's very little to grouse about here, and lots to admire, or at least enjoy. As you know, I'm not a big fan of the expression JUST SAYIN' (1A: Opinion add-on), but I am a big fan of the idea of someone JUST SAYIN' "ENCHILADA"—you know, for no particular reason—so that juxtaposition redeems 1A in my head (and heart) (15A: Taqueria treat). I'm also enjoying the CLUCKing KOALA (16A: Critter with humanlike fingerprints) and the SCHNAPPS-induced PARANOIA (35D: Brandy alternative + 36D: Theme of "The Tell-Tale Heart") that this puzzle is conjuring up. Nothing mind-blowing here, but nothing icky either. All in all, a light tasty snack.

I got into the grid by way of a run of three-letter Downs—namely, THU, SIS, and ALA. Not that the positive effect of this run was immediate. I couldn't see any of the crossing Acrosses at first, and I even yanked SIS at some point, fearing the answer might be BRO. But I was 50% sure of YALIE (7D: Clinton, Bush or Cheney), largely because it gave me IDES, which I knew was right. Then NAME DROP dropped, with very little prompting (just the "E" in IDES, I think), and the whole NW took shape from there. Learned an interesting bit of trivia about [Natalie Portman's birthplace] and moved on. Nothing else in the grid gave me much trouble except 51D: Quaker makers? I had -EARS and still had no idea what was going on. Finally figured out FAST ONE, which gave me FEARS, which still left me shrugging ... for a few seconds. Then I got it. FEARS make you quake, so they make you (or whomever) into a "quaker." Pretty cute. Had a little more trouble in the NE with 31A: Square for a roll (PAT) (think butter). I wrote in DIE very quickly; then, when the Downs wouldn't work, a little, sane voice drifted up from some dungeon in my brain and informed me that a DIE is not a square but a cube. I blew this voice off at first, rationalizing that a DIE is "square" in a very loose, colloquial kind of way ... but in the end, the thing that is handled on the range was just much more likely to be a something-PAN than a somebody-DAN, so: bye bye DIE. The rest is history.

  • 30A: Sabre ou pistolet (ARME) — short and uncommon French word (uncommon for non-French speakers to know, that is). Inferrable, though, to be sure. 
  • 53A: "A failure of imagination," per Graham Greene (HATE) — Cool quote by an excellent writer. 
  • 63A: Spitfire landing locale (AERODROME) — according to wikipedia, "all airports are AERODROMEs, but not all AERODROMEs are airports." Good to know!
  • 64A: "Pale Blue Dot" author (SAGAN) — Oh, right. Earth. Title meant nothing to me, so the answer provided a nice "oh, right" moment.
  • 62A: Old car with ignition trouble? (PINTO) — my favorite clue of the day. Made me laugh. I like a clue that forces me to imagine ugly cars bursting into flames. 
  • 2D: Like bars that are often near horses (UNEVEN) — wow. Nice misdirect. Never saw the gymnastics angle coming. 
  • 28D: Most Atari-playing kids (GEN X'ERS) — I played Intellivision, but ... yeah, this is pretty much accurate. 
  • 38D: Hard-to-block jumper, in hoops (FADE-AWAY) — "in hoops" = not needed. I love this answer. Great bit of sports lingo. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Dancing Years composer Novello / THU 12-27-12 / Tito's surname / Balneotherapy locale / Output from old printer / 2001 French film nominated for five Academy Awards / Oenophile's installation

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Constructor: Julian Lim

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Literal beginnings — theme answer are familiar phrases where first part of the phrase is a word or prefix that can suggest a part of a larger whole. This first word or prefix is understood literally, resulting in clues that looks like all-caps words but are simply parts of the words in the second halves of the theme answers.

Word of the Day: Josip BROZ Tito (38A: Tito's surname) —
Marshal Josip Broz Tito (Serbo-Croatian pronunciation: [jɔ̌sip brɔ̂ːz tîtɔ]; born Josip BrozCyrillic: Јосип Броз Тито; 7 May 1892 – 4 May 1980) was a Yugoslav revolutionary and statesman, serving in various roles from 1945 until his death in 1980. While his presidency has been criticized as authoritarian,due to his successful economic and diplomatic policies, Tito was "seen by most as a benevolent dictator," and was a popular public figure both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Viewed as a unifying symbol, his internal policies successfully maintained the peaceful coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation. He gained international attention as the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, working with Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. (wikipedia)
• • •

This theme is easy to understand but difficult to describe succinctly. It's a cryptic-ish type theme of a variety that I've definitely seen before. It also falls under the theme category "clue-answer reversal" (i.e. the clues are really the answers to the cryptic clues, which are found in the grid—we solve the problem backwards). I don't think the theme coheres very well. Two answers give you a precise *half* answer (FIN, SON), where the other two just give you completely arbitrary parts (TIN, LIP). At least with WRITING there isn't any viable option other than TIN. With ECLIPSE there at least three others besides LIP. If the theme is a bit stale and, let's say, less than taut, the grid is pleasantly spicy, with impressive NE/SW corners, and lots of vivid answers like HARDCORE, AVENUE Q (5D: Hit Broadway musical with the song "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today"), SPAMALOT, and WOODCUT (23A: Output from an old printer). There are some bumps here and there (EXALLY more and more terrible the longer you stare at it, and BROZ looks like the title of a terrible buddy comedy, or the commercial name under which you might market bras for men), but overall I'd say the fill is pretty accomplished.

I would be shocked to hear that the AMARE did not originally have a basketball clue. AMARÉ Stoudemire is a huge basketball star (literally, he's huge—6'11"), and he's a New York Knick, which means he should be pretty dang familiar to solvers in the NYT's main base of operations (i.e. NYC). But instead we get fusty Latin (I mean, I love Latin, but this isn't one of your more interesting, or commonly known, Latin words—not in the infinitive, anyway) (22A: To love, to Livy). I like the combo of old school and new school illustration in the pairing of  WOODCUT and INKER (51A: One working on some panels). I'm teaching both 17th-century literature and Comics next semester, so I'll likely have occasion to talk about both these terms. I was slow out of the box on this one, largely because it took me a ridiculously long time even to see the gimme at 3D: Hoi ___ (POLLOI). No idea what my eyes were doing. They were everywhere else but there, and I was failing left and right to get any traction. Once I grokked the theme and settled in, things eased up, and I ended with a fairly normal Thursday time.

  • 20A: U.S./Canadian sporting grp. since 1936 (AHL) — I had N.H.L. Seemed reasonable. 
  • 2001 French film nominated for five Academy Awards ("AMÉLIE") — gimme. Never seen it, but I can see the movie poster in my head clear as day. The title has become something of a crossword staple, for obvious, vowelly reasons.
  • 37A: Balneotherapy locale (SPA) — I saw three letters and the word "therapy" and just guessed SPA. I'm assuming "balneotherapy" has something to do with having your face rubbed with baleen or some such nonsense. (actually, it just means the treatment of disease by bathing)
  • 40A: Rapper behind the 2012 "Gangnam Style"YouTube sensation (PSY) — it was just a matter of time before this guy made the grid. His rise to "fame" was so fast that he was on SNL before I'd ever even heard of him. Within two weeks I couldn't stop hearing about him, or hearing parodies of him, etc. Hyper media saturation.
  • 50A: Oenophile's installation (RACKS) — pretty sure I had CASKS here at first. You'd have to Really love wine...
  • 22D: Designer of the Tulip Chair (SAARINEN) — Yay for the EERO-less SAARINEN
  • 60A: Quarters in Québec? (ÉTÉS) — wanted "quarters" to mean "living spaces." Took me a few seconds to understand this clue even after I got the answer. 
  • 8D: "The Dancing Years" composer Novello (IVOR) — I think this was the first thing I put in the grid. This is sad, and shows you how deep my knowledge of crosswordese runs.

We're snowed in here. Going a bit stir crazy with everyone home from school and off of work and stuck inside. Gonna go shovel some snow now even though it's now after 11pm. Stay warm. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Pearl Mosque city / WED 12-26-12 / Rose-red dye / Cooper's handiwork / Boomers babies / Folkie who chronicled Alice / Egocentric person's mantra / Often-dry stream / Qin dynasty follower

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Constructor: Dan Schoenholz

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "ME ME ME ME ME" (35A: Egocentric person's mantra)— rebus puzzle w/ 13 different "ME" squares

Theme answers:
  • 4D: Chile relleno, e.g. (MEXICAN MEAL)
  • 18A: Best Director of 1997 (JAMES CAMERON)
  • 56A: Statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (MEDIAN INCOME)
  • 33D: ABAB, for one (RHYME SCHEME)

Word of the Day: MARE (29A: Dark area on the moon) —
The lunar maria pron.: /ˈmɑriə/ (singular: mare /ˈmɑr/)[1] are large, dark, basalticplains on Earth's Moon, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. They were dubbedmariaLatin for "seas", by early astronomers who mistook them for actual seas. They are less reflective than the "highlands" as a result of their iron-rich compositions, and hence appear dark to the naked eye. The maria cover about 16 percent of the lunar surface, mostly on the near-side visible from Earth. The few maria on the far-side are much smaller, residing mostly in very large craters. The traditional nomenclature for the Moon also includes one oceanus (ocean), as well as features with the names lacus (lake), palus (marsh) and sinus (bay). The latter three are smaller than maria, but have the same nature and characteristics. (wikipedia)
• • •

The "-Challenging" part of the difficulty rating comes almost entirely from being blind-sided by a rebus on a Wednesday (nine times out of ten, roughly, these types of puzzles appear on Thursdays). Once you suss out the rebus, the puzzle isn't that hard at all. As you might imagine, rebusing "ME" is not very hard. Gajillions of words have that little letter string in them. So this puzzle ups the construction difficulty level (as well as the stylishness) of the grid by managing to get all the "ME" squares into the puzzle's central answer and the four long answers (one in each corner of the grid). So the "ME"s aren't simply scattered around the grid—they're quite neatly contained; five in the central answer, and then two in each of the long answers. They aren't symmetrical, but thank god for that. I like that there is some rhyme / reason to the "ME" placement, but exact symmetry would a. likely be impossible, and b. would make the puzzle too easy to solve. The real trick in making a puzzle like this isn't getting the "ME" squares into the grid so much as making sure you don't have *any* "ME" strings that have *not* been rebused. All "ME" strings are rebused. No strays. "ME" is such a common sequence that you'd have to be quite vigilant to ensure that none appeared in your grid in a non-rebus context. Anyway, I thought it was a decent rebus puzzle, and that the constructor did a reasonably good job of making a potentially weak theme concept rather interesting.

I picked up the rebus at Anouk AIE. Had a hard time picking up MEXICAN MEAL, perhaps because this is a supremely weak phrase. It's a "green paint" answer—i.e. it's a phrase one might say, sure, but it is far too arbitrary an adj./noun pairing to qualify for crossworthiness. MEXICAN STANDOFF is a thing, MEXICAN MEAL is not. MEXICAN FOOD, yes. MEXICAN MEAL, no. MEXICAN JUMPING BEANS ... you get the picture. Anyway, it's an answer that was perhaps necessitated by the theme constraints, and it's gettable, so let's move on. I wanted BIOTA were BIOMES ended up, and I wouldn't know either of these words were it not for crosswords. See also the unlovable, use-only-when-desperate EOSIN (41D: Rose-red dye). Otherwise, the grid was pretty light on tired fill. After I picked up the theme, I had no real trouble anywhere except near the end when I put in the reasonable EENY at 65A: Choosing-up-sides word and then noticed that it had to be MEENY ... but didn't bother to actually go to that square and change it. So I didn't get a Happy Pencil when I was done. This is what happens when your brain makes changes to your grid but your fingers don't.

Thanks to Jenny and Liz and Milo for filling in for me the past couple of days. Very nice to relax with family and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Sadly, I did not get the one thing I wanted for Christmas, which is for the NYT to release the puzzle at 9pm instead of 10pm Eastern time. Yes, that is likely the saddest thing anyone has ever requested from Santa, but that hour, man ... you have no idea.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    1966 Johnny Rivers hit / TUE 12-25-12 / Create skid marks, perhaps / One with lots of experience / Prison, informally / Combat pilots' missions / Philosopher Kierkegaard / El Prado works

    Tuesday, December 25, 2012

    Constructor: Ellen Leuschner and Victor Fleming

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: 48A: LETTERS TO SANTA — three theme answers contain the letters S, A, N, T, and A in that order, as indicated by the disconnected circled letters

    Word of the Day: TO —

    1 expressing motion in the direction of (a particular location)
    2 identifying the person or thing affected
    3 identifying a particular relationship between one person and another
    4 indicating that two things are attached
    5 concerning or likely to concern (something, esp. something abstract)
    6 governing a phrase expressing someone's reaction to something
    7 used to introduce the second element in a comparison
    • • •

    My name is Milo and I'll be your Rex for this crossword. It seems the king himself had a few too many eggnogs last night and needed someone to take his place, and since even Ebenezer Scrooge gives his employees Christmas Day off I decided to cut him some slack. If it's between writing a blog post and being visited in my sleep by three preachy ghosts, I've got no problem dedicating my silent night / holy night to crosswords. Besides, winter break has left me with nothing to procrastinate, so this is a welcome change of pace. On to the crossword!

    I didn't mind this puzzle. The theme isn't exactly a humdinger, but the revealer was fresh and the three entries were suitably juicy. The fill was nothing to write home about, but it gave us a POP TART and a GIN RUMMY and a DONE DEAL. Maybe it's the sound of carols or the smell of tree, but I'm feeling in the Christmas spirit, and I'm willing to be generous this holiday season and say that I enjoyed the minutes I spent entering letters in these squares, and thank Ellen and Victor for this fine gift.

    If I were to complain, though, I might ask why the "to" in the revealer makes sense when the phrase is being reparsed for this theme. The original "to" is used in Sense 1 (see above) but I can't really imagine which option we're supposed to take on with regard to these circled letters. Maybe Sense 5? The letters which spell SANTA do concern (or are likely to concern) Santa, who is certainly "something abstract." Maybe we're supposed to read it as "letters which combine to Santa" in the same way we might say "summing to 100." But who complains on Christmas? LETTERS TO SANTA is a phrase, while "letters are Santa" and "letters spell Santa" are not, so this is fine.

    I might also point out, in this hypothetical scenario in which I were complaining, that non-adjacent circled letters are aesthetically iffy and constructionally lazy. It's possible that I would also note that a more restrictive version of this theme with more theme answers and a kick-ass revealer ran in the Times eight years ago today. But SECRET AGENT MAN and SLAM ON THE BRAKES and SEASONED VETERAN are all solid 15s, so that complaint would be uncalled for.

    Oh yeah, that reminds me—

    Theme answers:
    • 20A: 1966 Johnny Rivers hit (SECRET AGENT MAN) — This is my favorite theme answer, and a good example of old pop culture (from the year 29 BM) that is still gettable.
    • 25A: Create skid marks, perhaps (SLAM ON THE BRAKES)
    • 43A: One with lots of experience (SEASONED VETERAN)
    I had a weird solving experience with this one: I started by entering GTOS in the 1D slot, noticed that each theme answer had five circled letters and decided from the S that they would spell SANTA, and then filled in the three theme answers without crosses. I tried to stick SECRET SANTA into the revealer but it wouldn't fit so I went back to Square 1 (literally) and worked from there. I finished only slightly under normal my normal Tuesday time, so this may play more challenging for people who didn't stupidly guess the theme off of one letter, but I've given it a "medium" so as not to offend anyone.
    • 37A: Prison, informally (STIR) — Is this a thing? Cruciverb shows that this meaning has never been used for the NYT, and only once before in any publication. I've never heard of it, but a quick search checks out. I liked the clue repeat with the subsequent 38A.
    • 39D: Combat pilots' missions (SORTIES) — This word always sounds to me like a drunken pronunciation of "sororities," enough that I've never actually committed its actual meaning to memory. The crosses were all solid, though, so it was no big problem.
    • 31D: Philosopher Kierkegaard (SOREN) — Embarrassed to say that I blanked on this one, which put that section of the grid at a standstill until I remembered that the 34A: World workers' assn. (ILO) was just three quarters of my name.
    • 46A: El Prado works (ARTE) — You have no idea how convenient it is for constructors that romance languages exist. We can just add Es to things and nobody complains. Also—acronyms, European rivers, and Mel Ott. Seriously, we love that guy.
    Signed, Milo Beckman, Acting Regent of CrossWorld


    Merry Christmas, BFFs, Mon 12-24-12, Savanna grazers, South American plains, Spain's longest River, Sycophants

    Monday, December 24, 2012

    Greetings from the North Pole!!! Liz and Jenny here, aka Rex Parker's BFFs.  Today, we're not only his BFFs, we're also his little helpers.  Rex is busy wrapping presents for the brilliant daughter and the beautiful wife (a little elf told us that he went to Jared!). Since Hanukkah was so last week, we graciously agreed to be his Christmas Eve elves.

    Oh, and also, he wrote the puzzle, and blogging about his own puzzle is totally not kosher.

    Constructor: The King of Crosswords, aka Michael Sharp, aka Rex Parker, aka our BFF

    Relative difficulty: As Easy as beating the NY Giants last night

    Here's the fabulous Rex-written puzzle:


    Word of the Day: SYCOPHANTS —

    Sycophant[1] is obsequious flattery.
    Alternative phrases are often used such as:

    In Sunday's blog, Rex said the following:
    Christmas Eve puzzle is by ... Me! So I won't be here tomorrow. But someone will. One of my sycophants, no doubt. So see you Christmas day! 

    Guess he couldn't find any SYCOPHANTS, so as always, we selflessly agreed to do his job.
    • • •

    We loved this puzzle.  It was fun, it was easy, even Liz's 7-year old daughter knew some of the answers (Thursday comes after Wednesday!! (56D) Acorns come from oak trees!! (57D) Ok, maybe she had to recite the days of the week to get to Thursday, and her first guess was a pine tree, but come on.  She's 7.  It's late.  And she gets an A for effort...someone give that kid a trophy!!)

    Theme answers:
    • 17A Yesterday's joe? (STALE COFFEE)
    • 24A Scouring pad material? (STEEL WOOL)
    • 36A Bonus for showing panache? (STYLE POINTS)
    • 47A What Jackie Robinson did, famously, in the first game of the 1955 World Series? (STOLE HOME)
    • 56A Informant? (STOOL PIGEON)
    To be honest, we were a little stumped by the theme (see above).  We were looking for the Christmas tie-in.  Or the Festivus reference.  Kwanzaa anyone?  But it was a good solid theme and very fun to solve.

    • 14A The ____ State (New York)?  (EMPIRE) — Also known as home to the one and only REX PARKER himself!!!
    • 16A Rite ____ (drugstore)?  AID — Also, our new most un-favorite store.  Why?  Because on Tuesday, December 18, Liz went into her local Rite Aid to buy a pair of reading glasses (we know what you're thinking..."no way are the BFFs old enough to need reading glasses!!!"  But alas, it's true, we're older than we look). Anyway, what was on display at Rite Aid on Tuesday, December 18?  VALENTINE'S DAY CANDY!!! That's right. A full 7 days before Christmas.  Can't we just celebrate one holiday at a time???  (Don't ask if she bought any of the aforementioned candy...we have no comment).
    • 44D 1986 Tom Cruise Blockbuster? (TOP GUN) —We think that we LOVE this movie.  But, we're in this movie club with our BFF, and we've been watching "all" of the movies that were released in 1987.  There are so many that we thought we remembered loving, but really we hate it ("3 Men and a Baby" anyone?)

    We'd like to thank our BFF for allowing us to blog about his puzzle.  Merry Christmas to all who celebrate.  Happy New Year.  Peace on Earth.  And all that sappy crap.  Until next time, we leave you with our favorite Christmas song.  

    Signed, Liz and Jenny, aka the Sycophants, er...BFFs!!

    One last thing.  In case you were wondering, here's what we'll be doing on Tuesday:


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