## Monday, January 31, 2011

Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Fictional Food Folk (or, Where the Hell is Uncle Ben?) — commercial "icon"s associated with various food brands

Word of the Day: POUF (52A: Hairdo for Snooki of "Jersey Shore") —

n.
1. A woman's hairstyle popular in the 18th century, characterized by high rolled puffs.
2. A part of a garment, such as a dress, that is gathered into a puff.
3. A rounded ottoman.

[French, from Old French, interjection used for a fall, of imitative origin.] (answers.com)

• • •

Nifty, simple theme, though I have some mixed feelings about it. I get that they are all food "icons," but the list seems a little ragged and arbitrary. Some have titles, some don't. Some are human, some aren't ... I guess CAP'N CRUNCH is humanoid, as is JOLLY GREEN GIANT, but I'm pretty the giantness takes him out of our species, as does his vegetable composition. And lord only knows what BETTY CROCKER is, since, unlike the rest of the icons, she is iconic for her name alone, not for her picture. I mean, maybe she has a face, but I've never seen it, whereas I can picture all the other icons instantly. And where is Uncle Ben, or Toucan Sam, or Count Chocula, or Tony the Tiger, etc. If we're limiting it to humans, Tony's at least as human as that damned giant. Plus, as we've established, BETTY CROCKER could be a lizard for all any of us knows. No, wait—she appears to have had a physical, human form in days gone by. I can't find a pic of her more recent than 1986, but my cursory research does verify her (fictional) humanity. Still, I'd have kicked BETTY to the curb and replaced her with COUNT CHOCULA — he gets you a title *and* a truly iconic figure with a familiar physical form. . . but I guess the puzzle already has one "Breakfast cereal icon," so ... hmmm ...

Andrea certainly knows how to put together a Monday grid—smooth and easy all around. Well, almost all around. Something about the POUF / EDUC / BEDELIA section felt slightly chunky by contrast. I'm pretty sure it's all POUF's fault. I've heard the word, but have never seen it, in a puzzle or anywhere else. I really thought it was spelled POOF, as in "it POOFs up on top." It's a perfectly real word (I looked it up, as you can see, above), but it's a real outlier, familiarity-wise, today. Not fond of the three-O'd OOOH, but the rest of the fill seems solid. One strange feature—somehow, in that one tiny section in the east, you've got JAI crossing JAI, ANT crossing ANT, and ITS crossing ITS. A JAITS square with an "N" center. Odd. Still, all in all, a reasonably delightful two minutes and forty-five seconds.

• 17A: Pancake syrup icon (AUNT JEMIMA)
• 23A: Baking icon (BETTY CROCKER)
• 35A: Frozen vegetable icon (JOLLY GREEN GIANT)
• 47A: Spaghetti-in-a-can icon (CHEF BOYARDEE)
• 57A: Breakfast cereal icon (CAP'N CRUNCH)
Bullets:
• 12D: Old-time evangelist ___ Semple McPherson (AIMEE) — I know the name, but realize now that I had no idea at all why she was famous. I'm more familiar with AIMEE Mann.

• 54D: Wile E. Coyote's go-to company (ACME) — I have no problem at all with constructors being a little self-referential in their puzzles...
• 36D: ___ Linda, Calif. (Nixon's birthplace) (YORBA) — like POUF, this seems non-Mondayish to me. I think I know LOMA LINDA (I went to school near there). YORBA took some crosses. Nixon went to college at Whittier, where there was a fairly sizable earthquake my first semester of college. I was reading Wordsworth's "The Prelude" in bed, preparing for my 8:20 class, when it hit. The memory is still weirdly vivid.
• 23D: Bronze animal in New York's financial district (BULL) — had the "BU-," saw the first clue word, "Bronze," and instantly wrote in BUST.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Sunday, January 30, 2011

Constructor: Kevin Der and Jessica A. Hui

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Circle of Life" — Rebus puzzle with all twelve animals of the CHINESE ZODIAC (which has a TWELVE-YEAR CYCLE) arranged symmetrically throughout the grid (41D: Collection of animals featured in this puzzle)

Word of the Day: Den HAAG (110A: Den ___, Nederland) —

The Hague [...] is the third largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam, with a population of 485,818 (as of May 31, 2009) (population of agglomeration: 1,011,459) and an area of approximately 100 km². It is located in the west of the country, in the province of South Holland, of which it is also the provincial capital. Along with Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Almere, The Hague is part of the Randstad metropolitan area that totals 6,659,300 inhabitants. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ingenious. Maddening — because of general toughness and odd answers and a RAFT of not-great short fill — but ingenious. Why is the RAFT Finnish, by the way (19D: Finnish transport?)? Do RAFTs have fins? I don't get the joke [Update: Oh, Huck Finn. Huh. All right]. Anyway, this puzzle is remarkably ambitious on an architectural level. I didn't know the NYT was doing 23x23 puzzles anymore. Also, I was told that rebus answers couldn't be more than 4 letters in length because it was unreasonable to expect solvers to be able to write long answers in the squares—at least that was the reason given for the rejection of a rebus puzzle I once submitted. I suppose you could draw the animals, but ... really? Did you do that? No, you didn't. Perhaps special dispensation was given to this puzzle because it's just so damned creative and daring. At any rate, I kept simply writing in the first letter of the animal involved, and then forgetting that that letter was supposed to stand for a whole animal (this kept me from instantly getting [TIGER] WOODS, for example: "TWOOD-? TWOODY? Was there a golfer named TWOODY?"). The marquee answer today is, of course, "CROUCHING [TIGER], HIDDEN [DRAGON]" (91D: With 88-Down, 2000 Ang Lee film) — just brilliant. Must have been just about the first thing in the grid (after the central crossers).

• BRASS [MONKEY] (1A: Rum, vodka and orange juice drink) / [MONKEY]ING AROUND
• RED [ROOSTER] / [ROOSTER] TAILS (10D: Wakes thrown up behind speedboats)

• [DOG]EAR / [DOG]OODERS
• PORKY [PIG] / SEA [PIG]
• DEMOC[RAT] / ROOM [RAT]ES
• F[OX]ILY / T[OX]INS
• CROUCHING [TIGER] / [TIGER] WOODS
• [RABBIT], RUN / ROGER [RABBIT] (114D: Much-wanted toon in Toontown)
• PEN[DRAGON] / HIDDEN [DRAGON]
• [SNAKE] SKINS / [SNAKE] PIT
• [HORSE]POWER / ON [HORSE]BACK
• IN F[RAM]E / BIG[RAM]S
NW was rough, with a random pope (17A: Pope after Marinus I—pope after who(m)?) and the weird BIGRAMS (1D: Two-letter combinations) and the weirdly indefinite-article-including ANE (3D: Most common draw in Scrabble). Did not like the clue on SNAKE SKINS (95A: Cobra products)—a cobra is a snake. Cobras do not produce SNAKE SKINS, except in the Redundant World of Redundancy. They produce cobra skins, or just skins. Never seen MUESLIS pluralized before, but why not (12D: Cereal mixes)? Love the double-breakfast moment with MUESLIS and GRANOLA (73D: Breakfast in a bar). Had noooo idea that Den HAAG was just Dutch for The Hague. Also had no idea who this RADO guy was (81D: "Hair" co-writer James). I know what a sea cow is, but a SEA PIG? News to me. My favorite non-theme answer is SALARY CAP (140A: Topic at an owners/players meeting), and I now have "Hey, JUDE" stuck firmly in my head (60D: Revelation comes after it).

Bullets:
• 49A: So-called "Heart of Texas" (WACO) — Makes me think of Branch Davidians and Dr Pepper.
• 111A: Ubangi tributary (UELE) — only word I know (besides the preposterous UEY and Bob UECKER) that starts "UE-"; very much worth committing to memory.
• 112A: Phalanx weaknesses (GAPS) — Very weird clue for GAPS. Also, my brain kept processing "Phalanx" as "Larynx"...
• 139A: "The Lovely Bones" composer, 2009 (ENO) — I did not know that. Add this clue to the seemingly endless list of ways to clue Brian ENO.
• 11D: Revealing 1970s wear (HOT PANTS) — great answer. Maybe better than SALARY CAP. I like that they are called "PANTS" even though they are shorts. Very short shorts.

• 18D: 1962 action film set in Jamaica ("DR. NO") — I really should see this movie. Is it possible that it's the most popular film title in all Crossworld?
• 36D: Hotelier Hilton (CONRAD) — if you attend the Crosswords L.A. Tournament at Loyola-Marymount University in May, you will compete inside a building named after this guy (if I remember correctly).
• 55D: Foppish courtier in "Hamlet" (OSRIC) — Ooh, "foppish." Good word. I don't remember foppishness in "Hamlet." It's been a while.
• 65D: 1985 John Malkovich drama ("ELENI") — would give "DR. NO" a run for its money if it were somewhat more famous (and thus more desirable as a crossword answer).
• 74D: High-tech officer in film (ROBOCOP) — For some reason, I don't like "in" in this clue. Want "of." Or "of movie fame," or something like that. "ROBOCOP" poses no threat to "DR. NO"'s supremacy.

SYNDICATED READERS (those doing the puzzle on 2/6)listen up!=>Matt Gaffney is running a special crossword contest from his (very popular) website—here's the message he sent me a couple days ago:
I'm running a special month here at MGWCC ("Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest") called "Literary February." Four book-themed puzzles, and *every* solver who answers the four February metapuzzles correctly wins a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

http://www.crosswordcontest.blogspot.com/
Matt's a fantastic constructor and his metapuzzles add an extra bit of fun to the solving experience. Get in on the action. You'll be glad you did.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Saturday, January 29, 2011

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: EEL GRASS (38D: Freshwater plant also called wild celery) —

Vallisneria is a genus of freshwater aquatic plant, commonly called eelgrass, tape grass or vallis. The genus has 6-10 species that are widely distributed, but do not grow in colder regions. // Vallisneria is a submersed plant that spreads by runners and sometimes forms tall underwater meadows. Leaves arise in clusters from their roots. The leaves have rounded tips, and definite raised veins. Single white female flowers grow to the water surface on very long stalks. Tape grass fruit is a banana-like capsule having many tiny seeds. (wikipedia)

• • •

Wow, this one put up almost no resistance, and my experience of Saturdays being easier than Fridays continues. More often than not, in recent months, I've dusted off the Saturday faster than the Friday. I thought Fridays were supposed to be easier, but I'm just not convinced they are any more. Can't imagine someone taking longer to finish this one than it took to do yesterday's, for instance (which took me about 50% longer). I started with the cinchy MEL (4D: TV diner employer of 9-Down), which gave me the obvious ALICE at 9-Down, and that pair gave me toeholds in two different parts of the grid. Pretty serendipitous. Crossed MEL with WHOEVER (15A: "It doesn't matter ... anyone's fine"), then crossed that with SWEATSHOPS (1D: Much of New York's Garment District, once) and proceeded to take the NW apart. I might have gotten slowed down here and there, but I never got stuck. Not once. Not complaining; just puzzled.

Today's puzzle provides an excellent illustration of how the joints, or narrow passageways connecting the more wide-open white spaces, bear a lot of stress so that the longer answers can shine (which is as it should be). The ugliest things about this grid are these passageways: OVIS over ATA in the SE, KOH in the N (27A: Soapmaking compound, chemically), AIS (aieee!) in the NW—all bad, but all holding big chunks of deliciousness in place, and therefore all forgivable and forgettable. Nothing terribly obscure today, except perhaps this IVOR guy (5D: English poet/composer Gurney), and EELGRASS, which I'd never heard of but got easily from crosses. Didn't know what [Lazuline] meant, but I had the BLUE and just guessed the SKY part (confirmed by ENYA—see, she's good for something; 55D: Mononymous four-time Grammy winner). In the "Lesson Learned" category today we have BANDBOX (58A: Smallish ballpark, in slang), which baffled me earlier in my solving career. I was told then that "any baseball fan knows what that means"—but I'd been a baseball fan for 30 years and had never heard it. To this day, the only place I've encountered it is in crosswords. Twice now. [Note, that may be a lie—I have a faint memory of seeing the word in print *just* after my first crossword BANDBOX experience]

Bullets:
• 1A: Eric ___, Google C.E.O. beginning in 2001 (SCHMIDT) — I think I just read that this won't be true anymore, or maybe already isn't true. Something about going younger, getting back the entrepreneurial spirit, businessspeak businessspeak, etc. Yep, it looks like Google co-found Larry Page (b. 1973) will take over as C.E.O. in April.
• 8A: Period between Shaban and Shawwal (RAMADAN) — "Period between" and Arabic-sounding names tells me all I need to know to get this one.
• 16A: Home of Nascar's longest oval (ALABAMA) — the whole damn state is the "home?" Random.
• 18A: Title for Columbus, in the Indies (VICEROY) — when you've got "-ICERO-" in place before you ever see the clue, this one's not hard, though I thought briefly CICERO might be involved...
• 40A: Present day figure in Paris? ("PÈRE NOEL") — i.e. Father Christmas
• 2D: Upscale wedding reception amenity (CHAIR COVER) — interesting answer, though "amenity" seems weird to me. They're usually plain and don't exactly provide added pleasure. Also, not terribly "upscale," in my experience.
• 7D: TV host with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame (TREBEK) — off the "R" in WHOEVER, I honestly considered DR. PHIL.
• 11D: He had righteous blood, per Matthew 23:35 (ABEL) — nice little misdirect there, using N.T. to clue O.T. figure.
• 28D: Texas city near the Coahuila border (DEL RIO) — really helps to know your southwest geography today, with DEL RIO and TAOS (21D: County with the restor town Red River) holding the key to the grid's NE territory.

• 31D: Staples of jazz music (TENOR SAXES) — Didn't think of Mavis Staples as a jazz singer, so took "Staples" at face value and was eventually rewarded for doing so.
• 45D: Emmy-winning reality show host of 2008, '09 and '10 (PROBST) — Jeff PROBST of "Survivor" fame. I used to watch that show. Wife still does. It's a (very) minor point of contention in the household.
• 42A: Cheap cigar, in slang (EL ROPO) — I know almost all my cigar terminology from crosswords. I can only think of CLARO right now, but I'm sure there's more.
• 33D: Big creature in un zoológico (OSO) — a bear. I had the last "O" and just guessed. Correctly.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Friday, January 28, 2011

Constructor: Kevin Der

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: René COTY (55D: President after Auriol) —

René Jules Gustave Coty (French pronunciation: [ʁəne kɔti]; 20 March 1882 – 22 November 1962) was President of France from 1954 to 1959. He was the second and last president under the French Fourth Republic. (wikipedia)
• • •

A fine 72-worder from Mr. Der, but one I had trouble moving through, generally. Very herky-jerky progress: nothing, a little progress, slow, very fast, stopped, creeping, fast, slow, "people really called him 'RIP?'," and done (45A: Washington Irving hero, informally). Finished significantly over my average Friday time, but I have this weird feeling that if I'd simply looked at the easier parts first, or earlier, things might have been different. Dunno. I liked the puzzle fine, though nothing made me cheer, and several clues left me feeling like "... yeah, I guess that's right. [Shrug]." I thought a SABOT *was* a clog—no idea "French" had anything to do with it (41A: French for "clog"). I knew the MEDES but have no association of them with the "Iron Age" (18A: Iron Age people). COME for [Take place]? Yes, OK. "Whatever may COME." I suppose. "NE'ER" is [Aye's opposite, poetically]? "Yes" and "never" are opposites? I guess "Aye" means "always" here ...? Do people know that meaning of "aye?" Odd. Veterans "recall" IRAQ? In that any veteran might recall any war he/she was in ... sure. I think of (animated) cartoons as having FRAMES and comics as having PANELS (27A: Cartoon series), but people call "Peanuts" and the "Wizard of Id" et al. "cartoons" all the time, so ... I mean, it all works, but often the cluing just did not feel CRISP(ED) (38D: Like rice in some cereal treats). Fill is quite smooth, though, with only TAL and INO seeming at all subpar.

[Which is worse: deceiving your daughter or letting her eat that "food"?]

First letter in the grid was the "S" at the end of SEARS (8D: Brands ... or carrier of brands), which immediately got me RUSTY (24A: Out of top form). Last letter in the grid was the "I" in RIP. I ended up using the RUSTY / TETES / EMS nexus as my hub, striking first into the NE, then (fruitlessly at first) into the SE, then S, then NW and N, and finally SW. Toughest parts were, first, the chunk between and including LYON (5D: Lord ___ (overseer of Scottish heraldry)) and TAL up top, and second, AIR TAXI (was briefly mystified by the letter string "A-RTA-I") (39D: On-demand flier).

Miscues included:
1. GUN for UZI (4D: Magazine holder)
2. ELIHU for ADIEU (7D: Literally, "to God")
3. LYMON for WYMAN (21D: Longtime Rolling Stones bassist) — no idea what I was thinking there
4. CRAZY TALK for CRAZY IDEA (15A: Nut's suggestion)
5. SLURP for SLOSH (30D: Washing machine sound)
6. GREAT MIND for QUICK MIND (49D: With 22-Across, genius's asset)

[Random three seconds of bikini-clad boobs in here ... No Idea why ...]

Proudest moment: getting BIENNIA with no crosses despite not knowing anything at all about the Ryder Cup except that it involves golf (42D: Stretches between Ryder Cups). Happiest moment: imagining a man who turns into toast when the moon is full (65A: Dead duck's cry).

Bullets:
• 10A: Savannah growth (COPSE) — didn't know COPSEs were more a feature of "savannahs" than anywhere else
• 19A: Mythical mortal who helped raise Dionysus (INO) — No clue. One of a handful of "No clue"s today. See also TAL (9D: ___ vez (Mexican "maybe")) and COTY.
• 31A: Frog-eating bird (ANI) — as with COPSE, I had no idea the clue information was particular to the answer.
• 47A: Vigil locale (SHRINE) — read "Virgil locale"; this probably would have happened even if I hadn't been currently teaching the Aeneid.
• 12D: Dish topped with crushed peanuts and lime (PAD THAI) — big, fat, tasty gimme.
• 36A: Herpetologist's supply (ANTI-VENOM) — briefly forgot what "herpetologist" meant. Somehow "HEPA filter" got in my head and I was thinking about air pollutants. . .
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Thursday, January 27, 2011

Constructor: Patrick Blindauer

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: J to CH — Change "J" to "CH" in familiar two-word phrases where second word starts with "J-" — wackiness ensues

Word of the Day: SOLFA (24A: Musical syllable singing system) —

In music, solfège (French pronunciation: [sɔl.fɛʒ], also called solfeggio, sol-fa, solfa or tonic sol-fa) is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable (or "sol-fa syllable"). The seven syllables commonly used for this practice in English-speaking countries are: do (or doh in tonic sol-fa), re, mi, fa, sol (so in tonic sol-fa), la, and ti/si, which may be heard in "Do-Re-Mi" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's score for The Sound of Music, as well as the Robert Maxwell song, "Solfeggio". In other languages, si is used (see below) for the seventh scale tone, while its earlier use in English continues in many areas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Mostly enjoyed myself with this one, though I got caught out at JACKO / SOLFA. No idea. Or, rather, *some* idea, because I eventually came up with "O," but only after being fairly certain it was "Y" — "JACK-" having led me to JACKY (O) far more readily than Michael "JACKO" Jackson (5D: Onetime tabloid nickname). SOLFA was a big ??? to me, though I must have seen it somewhere before, as it rings a very faint bell now that I look at it. I think the word "syllable" is in the clue precisely so that I *wouldn't* guess SYLFA, but all it did was reinforce SYLFA. Weird.

Theme is simple, but resulting theme answers (and clues) are funny, so I approve. With only four theme answers (I say "only" only because it's Mr. Blindauer, who can cram 'em in), I'm surprised there was as much lackluster short fill as there was; you know, your EEKs and OERs and MMMs and ENCYCs and YSERs and INITs and ESTOs and INTLs and ORTOs and ESSEs ... none of which is terrible on its own, but which in aggregate felt a little sub-Blindauer. A couple of right jabs for the pop culture haters today in LUPE and KATIE (I read all those damned books and don't remember KATIE, 52D: ___ Bell, witch who was a fellow student of Harry Potter at Hogwarts). I was luckier with LUPE (31A: Hip-hop's ___ Fiasco). I own an album of his and (no joke) I had this song in my head as I was solving the puzzle this morning, even before I hit the LUPE clue (Kanye West, featuring LUPE Fiasco):

• 17A: Mean, illegal wrestling hold? (DIRTY CHOKE)
• 34A: Standard tobacco wad? (ORTHODOX CHEW) — I had "ORDINARY CHAW" at first ... ?
• 43A: Woo President Arthur? (COURT CHESTER)
• 63A: Fat fool? (BROAD CHUMP)
Weird to be done in by a pop culture clue (JACKO) when I benefited so much from knowing all this puzzle's pop culture (and sports) answers. Watched ALEX P. Keaton every Thursday growing up, Jerry RICE was the most accomplished wide receiver of my generation (if not of all time) (5A: Rice with three rings), never saw "Dune" but know most other films of David LYNCH pretty well ("Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart" were popular when I was in college), am currently making my way through the entire run of "Arrested Development" featuring Michael CERA as young George Michael Bluth (37D: Michael of "Superbad"), and Gordie HOWE was featured prominently in an episode of "The Simpsons" ("Bart the Lover") where Bart cruelly creates a fake secret admirer for his teacher Edna Krabappel and when asked for a picture sends in one of Gordie HOWE (28D: N.H.L. star nicknamed "Mr. Hockey").

Bullets:
• 15A: One of a literary trio (ATHOS) — of "The Three Musketeers"; I'm currently reading Dumas's "The Count of Monte Cristo" and *loving* it.
• 51A: Where Panasonic and Sanyo are headquartered (OSAKA) — i.e."Japanese city" ... not too hard to figure out.
• 60A: Noted earthquake locale (BAY AREA) — well that's true. Also, Jerry RICE played in the BAY AREA.
• 9D: River that begins in Nord (YSER) — Back-to-back YSER days. Who knows what we'll learn about the YSER tomorrow ...
• 13D: Screen swinger Ron (ELY) — anyone else want "JEREMY?" Anyone? No? OK.
• 61D: "Don't you forget about me" ("AHEM") — what an odd, interesting clue for "AHEM." The clue makes me (and every suburban kid my age) think of only one thing:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. a message from today's constructor, Patrick Blindauer:

"I've also got a crossword contest going at my website, patrickblindauer.com/shop.html,
which has actually being extended until March 1. The winner of the big prize is still being drawn on Feb. 1, but I'm releasing a bonus puzzle at the same time and every correct meta-answer I get before March 1 will get a free copy of one of my puzzle books."

## Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Constructor: David Murchie

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: NEAR / MISS (1A: With 65-Across, the starts of 20-, 26-, 43- and 51-Across taken together) — first words of four theme answers spell out the phrase "CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR"

Word of the Day: GATT (53D: Intl. commerce pact replaced by the W.T.O.) —

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (typically abbreviated GATT) was negotiated during the UN Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization (ITO). GATT was formed in 1949 and lasted until 1993, when it was replaced by the World Trade Organization in 1995. The original GATT text (GATT 1947) is still in effect under the WTO framework, subject to the modifications of GATT 1994. (wikipedia)
• • •

Why am I exhausted. I mean, it was only the first day of class. It's not like I actually *taught* or anything. And yet here I am, totally dead on my feet. Does not bode well. I better get my sea legs back quickly, or I'm in for a rough semester. Relaxing effects of yoga class undone by snarfing half a large pizza immediately afterwards, so ... honestly I have no idea what I'm doing right now. My fingers are moving over a keyboard, forming words ... the words are vaguely coherent, which I guess is a good sign. I was able to do the puzzle in below-average Wednesday time, so that must mean my brain is semi-functioning. Or else I've developed some kind of grid-filling muscle that doesn't require the rational, thinking part of my brain and just operates automatically, by some kind of primitive sense. Who can say? I am not normally a fan of the "first words spell a phrase"-type theme, but I actually like the phrases in this case (particularly "BUT SERIOUSLY..." and "CIGAR AFICIONADO"), so I'm mostly happy. There's a smattering of not-great fill, but it's well spread out and therefore not terribly offensive. LIAISES is a monumentally ugly word, but it's a real word, so I don't feel too good about the legitimacy of my complaint. In the end, this was a relatively fast, relatively fun romp, AROO and ELENI (27D: Nicholas Gage best seller) and INLA and UNIS and ABRA be damned.

• 20A: Alien abductions, e.g. (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS)
• 26A: "All kidding aside ..." ("BUT SERIOUSLY...")
• 43A: Unwelcome sign for a sales rep ("NO SOLICITING")
• 51A: Magazine opposed to the Cuban trade embargo ("CIGAR AFICIONADO")
Only one section gave me any trouble, and that was the first one I dipped into (and the last one I finished): the NW. No idea on the theme-related 1-Across at first, no idea on 1D: "Why, of course!" (that's twice recently we've seen "NATCH," an expression I know of but never hear anyone say), though animal (not virus) on 2D: Jungle menace (EBOLA), and had DANG and DARN and who knows what at 4D: "Fiddlesticks!" ("RATS!") to begin with. Not having commanded plow horses in a while, I did not know HAW was a command. Weirdly, I saw HAWS in another puzzle recently, clued as something like [Sounds of hesitation]. That didn't come to me easily either. 3D: You might wait for it at a stoplight was GREEN before it was ARROW. I feel slightly bad hating on ABRA since it was about the only thing up there I got right on the first pass. Rest of the puzzle wasn't nearly as confusing.

Bullets:
• 15A: "Double" facial feature (CHIN) — that's about as polite as that clue, with that frame of reference, could've been.
• 39A: Ring around the collar, say (DINGE) — somehow I much, much prefer this word in adjectival form. This is perhaps because "DINGE" is a dated racial slur. "Slang: Disparaging and Offensive. a black person." I know this from reading lots of old crime fiction, I think.
• 40A: Chamonix setting (ALPS) — Chamonix was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924
• 51D: 2000 election scrap (CHAD) — thought "scrap" meant "tussle" or "fight" ...
• 31D: River in a 1914 battle (YSER) — a pretty standard YSER clue, I think. YSER and ST. LO are two ultra-common four-letter xword words brought to us (or made famous to us, at any rate) by World Wars (I and II, respectively). Actually, they were made famous to me by crosswords.
• 26D: Low man at the Met (BASSO) — and not, as you suspected, the guy who has to hand-wash Pavarotti's sweat-stained costumes.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Constructor: Randall J. Hartman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: City palindromes — four 15-letter palindromic nonsense phrases (actually, three complete sentences, one phrase) that start with city names

Word of the Day: RAVI Coltrane (11D: Jazz saxophonist Coltrane) —

Ravi Coltrane (b. August 6, 1965 in Long Island, New York) is an American post-bop jazz saxophonist. Co-owner of the record label RKM Music, he has produced artists such as pianist Luis Perdomo, guitarist David Gilmore and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. // Ravi Coltrane is the son of the legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and jazz pianist Alice Coltrane. He is also cousin to experimental music producer Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus. He was raised in Los Angeles, California, and was named after sitar player Ravi Shankar. (wikipedia)
• • •

Good morning. Tuesdays and Thursdays are going to be tight from now through May, as the reality of my existence has come crashing back upon me, i.e. the new semester has started. Today, in fact. In under three hours, in fact. Somehow I ended up teaching at 8:30am this term. What the ...? I'm a morning person, but by "morning person" I mean someone who gets up early and putters around the house A Lot and is normally still in pajamas and watching DVR'd late-night TV at 8:30am and doesn't really get cracking until 10 or so. Those days are gone. Or at least they're gone Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anyway, I'll have to get to sleep pretty early and squeeze in a puzzle write-up first thing in the morning on those days. Just so you know.

I enjoyed today's puzzle. Felt very easy, but I ended up with a pretty normal time because my brain can process palindromes only so quickly (which is to say, "Slowly"). So I'd type the front end fast and then peck ... at ... the ... keyboard to get the rest. WARSAW NUN WAS RAW was the hardest because I had WARSAW and its mirror in place but no hint to the middle but "sister" and what the hell is "THE FAN?" I thought that was a Wesley Snipes movie? Robert DeNiro? Anyone? I missed the 1981 "THE FAN" (6D: Creepy 1981 Lauren Bacall film). Had "THE FA-" written in and didn't dare fill in that last letter on a guess. Thankfully, UMIAK was familiar to me (29D: Eskimo boat), and so NUN leapt forth. Everything else very easy, except RAVI, whom I can't remember ever seeing before. His parents and his namesake are, of course, very famous.

• 17A: Spanish moray still exists (SEVILLE EEL LIVES)
• 26A: Polish sister showed her inexperience (WARSAW NUN WAS RAW)
• 43A: Silver State boogie band autopsy expert (RENO ROCK CORONER) — that clue makes no sense, and since this one's a phrase and not a sentence, it is By Far the weakest of the bunch. Further, "boogie band?" What year is it?
• 56A: Red Sox fans mourned tearlessly (BOSTON DID NOT SOB)
Bullets:
• 16A: "60 Minutes" correspondent Logan (LARA) — she's part of a rising crossword class. Get to know her.
• 36A: W.W. II pinup features (GAMS) — one of the all-time great slang words.
• 41A: "Pet" that's a plant (CHIA) — apparently CHIA is not just a brand name but a real plant. My mom says she eats CHIA seeds on her oatmeal every morning. They're supposed to be high in Omega-3s.
• 5D: Teen loiterer (MALLRAT) — I haven't heard this term since Kevin Smith's mid-90s movie "MALLRATS" starring Shannen Doherty, but I still got it quickly.
• 37A: Fleet members (SHIPS) — I initially had SNIT for 24D: Sassy sort (SNIP), so my first answer here was ... puzzling.
• 49D: Sacred bird of Egypt (IBIS) — "Sacred bird" or "bird" + "Egypt" in four letters is IBIS as sure as virtually any rapper in four letters on a Tuesday is ICE-T (2D: "Rhyme Pays" rapper).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Monday, January 24, 2011

Constructor: Fred Piscop

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: JAR (54D: Where you might find the thematic parts of 17-, 26-, 41- and 54-Across) — theme answers all contain spreads one might find in a JAR: JAM, MARMALADE, PRESERVES, and JELLY

Word of the Day: RIPON (61A: Wisconsin college or its city) —

Ripon is a city in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 6,828. The City of Ripon's official website claims the city's current population to be 7,701. The city is surrounded by the Town of Ripon. // Ripon, named for the English cathedral city of Ripon, North Yorkshire, was founded in 1849 by David P. Mapes, a former New York steamboat captain. Within two years the city had absorbed the nearby commune of Ceresco, established in 1844 by the Wisconsin Phalanx, a group of settlers inspired by the utopian socialist philosophy of Charles Fourier. Mapes also initiated the formation of Ripon College, originally incorporated as Brockway College in 1851. (wikipedia)
• • •

Not much to this one. Blew right through it in near-record time (held back by stupid mistake; see below), never even noticing the theme, which is about as basic as they come. Don't like the "thematic parts" part of the JAR clue at all. Awkward. That's what happens when your theme words are half at the front, half at the back, I guess. Too bad there's not a ___ JELLY phrase (a non-edible one, that is ... besides K-Y, which wouldn't fly for many reasons...), because then you could just change that first answer to TRAFFIC JAM and you'd be in business. Oh well. I don't have anything to say about this one, beyond the fact that I made a stupid, time-costing mistake and wrote in FIJI for FUJI (1D: Volcano viewable from Tokyo) (I make that mistake a lot, sadly), and that I knew RIPON without having any idea why. It must be in puzzles from time to time. I think I assumed it was Much bigger than it is.

• 17A: Informal gathering of musicians (JAM SESSION)
• 26A: 1975 #1 hit for LaBelle ("LADY MARMALADE")
• 41A: Outdoor homes for endangered species, perhaps (GAME PRESERVES)
• 54A: Park that's home to Yogi Bear (JELLYSTONE)
Favorite part of the grid by far was LUXEMBOURG (26D: Country wedged between France, Belgium, and Germany), which is long and X-otic (especially next to the Frenchy ÉLYSÉE (42D: French president's palace)). I hesitated for a split second on the spelling of FLOYD, thinking perhaps it had two Ls (46A: "Pretty Boy" of crime). Turns out that's LLOYD. Brain isn't always sharpest at high speeds. Best / most interesting clue was 36A: Dish rated in alarms (CHILI). Makes perfect sense, but I still had to stare at it for a second or two, and get some crosses, before I understood what the hell it meant. Everyone knows OTIS of elevator fame, but perhaps slightly fewer know that his first name is Elisha (7D: Elevator pioneer Elisha). Consider yourself edified.

No need for Bullets today. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

## Sunday, January 23, 2011

Constructor: Chris A. McGlothlin

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "LETTER OPENERS" — 26 different starred clues each start with a different letter of the alphabet, from "A-ONE" to "Z AXIS"

Word of the Day: R-VALUE (6A: *Insulation measure) —

The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. Under uniform conditions it is the ratio of the temperature difference across an insulator and the heat flux (heat transfer per unit area, $\dot Q_A$) through it or $R = \Delta T/\dot Q_A$.The R-value being discussed is the unit thermal resistance. This is used for a unit value of any particular material. It is expressed as the thickness of the material divided by the thermal conductivity. For the thermal resistance of an entire section of material, instead of the unit resistance, divide the unit thermal resistance by the area of the material. For example, if you have the unit thermal resistance of a wall, divide by the cross-sectional area of the depth of the wall to compute the thermal resistance. The unit thermal conductance of a material is denoted as C and is the reciprocal of the unit thermal resistance. This can also be called the unit surface conductance and denoted by h. The bigger the number, the better the building insulation's effectiveness. R-value is the reciprocal of U-value.
• • •
First thing I noticed was the unusual and very cool-looking grid. The next thing I noticed was the almost complete lack of long answers. Hmmm. Theme was very, very, very easy to gather. It's ambitious (26 theme answers)—but there were a few problems. First, the lack of long answers makes for a somewhat dull grid. There's no humor, no tricks, no ... just not much of anything except the relentless revelation of letter-answers, which are very varied in quality / interestingness. Y CHROMOSOME is fantastic, as is its clue (116A: *Women just don't get it). But R VALUE? S TYPE? They're valid entries, but figuring them out is not entertaining. You know they're coming, eventually, but there's no aha moment, no surprise. Once you gather the theme (quickly), then it's mainly just a matter of plodding through grid. So theme-wise, I wasn't very intrigued. Strangely, though, I thought the non-theme fill was quite great in many places. NO DRAMA! IN DRAG! "LE SHOW!" (77D: Harry Shearer's program on public radio) Very daring. BENAZIR and SEQUOIA, also nice. My favorite answer, for reasons I don't quite understand, was LUMP SUM. Don't recall ever seeing it in a puzzle before. Fresh, and perfectly clued—the one moment in the puzzle (besides Y CHROMOSOME) that really did give me the aha I was craving. Sure, there's a PROSY here and a TERNE there and a HE'D somewhere else, but otherwise the fill was mostly nice. So theme gets not-so-high marks from me, but grid shape and fill definitely get a thumbs-up.

• A-ONE
• B-MOVIE
• CSPAN
• DDAY
• ESTREETBAND (26A: *The Boss's backers)
• FSTOP
• GMAN
• HBOMB
• IPOD
• J-LO (88A: *4x platinum album of 2001)
• K-TEL
• L BAR
• M DASH
• NSYNC (42D: *Group with the 2000 #1 hit "It's Gonna Be Me")
• O-RING
• P DIDDY
• Q-TIP
• R VALUE (?)
• S-TYPE
• T-TOP
• U-HAUL
• V SIX
• W TWO (...)
• X-RAY
• Y CHROMOSOME
• Z AXIS
Did this one on paper in my dining room with my wife and our friend Donna. They were busy doing other stuff, so I'd just call out clues and we proceeded that way. Most clues were easy to get on the first pass. I didn't even have to say how many letters or what crosses there were much of the time. I see a total of four write-overs in the grid. First, Donna said COMIXES and I wrote it in without thinking about whether it was a word or not—real answer was ADMIXES (46D: Mingles (with)). Then I didn't read the clue thoroughly and wrote in IDEA instead of IDÉE at 103A: Light bulb over one's tête? Next, I wrote in SHARD for SHRED (106D: Bit). Lastly, and most scarily, I had MENA at 101A: Actress Sofer instead of RENA at first. I think I got her confused with MENA Suvari (another actress whose first name lands her in the grid from time to time). Luckily, I had heard of ARCO and so could change the "M" to "R." But that cross felt a teensy bit dangerous.

Bullets:
• 24A: Oscar snubber of 1972 (BRANDO) — my partners didn't know it, but this was a gimme for me. Didn't he send a Native American woman in his place ...? I was three, so I don't remember. Ah, here it is: Sacheen Littlefeather. Youtube won't let me embed it, but you can see her (non-) acceptance speech here.
• 65A: ___ Mode, female character in "The Incredibles" (EDNA) — did not know this. Seems like a clue meant to toughen the puzzle up, at least a tiny bit (still, easily inferrable from a couple crosses).
• 89A: Maurice of Nixon's cabinet (STANS) — I know I've seen him in puzzles before, but I'm not sure how I'm ever going to remember that completely improbable last name.
• 122A: Last-second bidder on eBay (SNIPER) — I have been a SNIPER, though I didn't know there was a name for it until I did this puzzle.
• 40D: Repeated cry in Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot" (OLE!) — Me: "... HOT?" Then I remembered the opening OLE OLE OLE OLE part.
• 58D: 1909 Physics Nobelist for work in wireless telegraphy (MARCONI) — tip of my tongue. Said three different wrong answers out loud before I hit the right one. Sadly, I had to go to Starship to get the right answer...
["MARCONI plays the mamba ...?"]
• 111D: Lead/tin alloy (TERNE) — one of those words I've never seen anywhere but crosswords, and even then, only once (before today)
• 87D: ___ Trench (earth's deepest depression) (MARIANAS) — I thought the actual trench was MARIANA. MARIANAS TRENCH appears to be a punk/EMO band from Vancouver...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld